- Juliette Hyland
A Well-Loved Secret - Short Story
Staring at the results wasn’t going to change their outcome Cary knew, yet, his eyes refused to leave the evidence. “Did you know?” His voice was hoarse but remarkably controlled.
Annaliese’s quiet sobs reverted to their dramatic level, and it was several minutes before she calmed enough to reply. “How could you ask? I didn’t mastermind an elaborate plan to…to…”
To inform me I’m a bastard, his brain had no issue supplying the phrase caught on his sister’s tongue.
“Who am I?”
“My big brother.” Annaliese said for the hundredth time.
Gesturing to the paper on the counter, “not according to this?”
“You taught me to ride a bike, picked on me ruthlessly and defended my honor. Hell, you threatened to kill Richard, if he ever left me, on our wedding day!" The usual quip sounded so different, as tears choked her voice. "A stupid DNA test doesn’t change that.”
His sister, or the woman he’d always called his sister, stomped on his foot. “Please, Cary. I’m sorry. I thought this would be fun. I never…” She stepped into his arms seeking comfort and they automatically locked around her.
Tears leaked from the woman who’d been his childhood compatriot. A test, taken for fun, “find your ancestry,” it promised. Instead it had unraveled basic principles he’d simply accepted. How could a Christmas present derail his family?
Annaliese’s phone buzzed and she looked up horrified, “Dad’s calling.”
Your dad, not our dad. Those words stayed locked away as Cary leaned over the sink. “Daddy, how are you? Everything is fine.” His father had never been overly emotional, the stoic product of another generation, but he’d always known when they were upset. Annaliese should have let the damn thing ring.
“He’s waiting for us at the coffee shop.” Her words were dull with fatigue and acceptance.
Fingers tightening on the edge of the sink, Cary growled, “You sent him the results.”
His sister’s heels clicked softly and she laid her small hand on his cheek, forcing him to face her. “I included him on the results sheet. It was a family present and we are family. I do not care what that stupid piece of paper states. You are stuck with me, big brother.”
Tears clouded his vision, as he let his sister lead him to her car. The rich smell of coffee alerted his dull senses to their arrival. Did you get coffee before or after you asked the man who raised you if he knew you weren’t his son? What was the etiquette for this situation?
Moving past the counter, Cary strode towards the mildly slouched bald man at the back table. As he took his seat, a warm cup of coffee slid in front of him and he smiled at the man he’d called father.
“You will have to get your own coffee, sweetheart. I don’t understand the mochas, frappuccinos…”
“How you two drink that stuff black is beyond me!” His sister smiled weakly, before she marched off.
Keeping his eyes focused on the white lid, Cary sipped his coffee and tried to think of the right words. “Did you know it rained like hell the day we brought you home from the hospital?” His father’s thick words, floated across the table. “You were so small, tiny. God, I was afraid to pick you up for the first few days. Never dreamed you’d tower over me.”
His father was smiling, Cary stared at him, unsure what was going on. “Watching you play football and realizing you were never going to be a star. You never gave up though, pushed through.”
“Never had the natural talent for sports.” Cary’s words felt stilted.
His father’s lips twisted a little to the right and his gray eyes were almost hidden as his smile widened. “I think your talent for words and songs served you better. All athletes must leave the field in the prime of their life, words can be mastered at any age.”
“Did you know?
His father’s eyes twinkled with the sheen of unshed tears, as he lifted the cup to his lips. “Does it matter?”
Cary rubbed at his eyes and bit his lips. “I don’t know. It feels so raw.”
“I suppose it does. The truth isn’t simple.” His father leaned back to check on Annaliese but she’d elected to stay away. “Your mother and I married for better or worse. Many of those days were better, but we had a few times, particularly in the early years I’d describe as worse.”
Cary’s memory of his mother was clouded by the final year she’d spent sick, confined to a bed, hating life. During his childhood though, she’d been unstoppable, always hosting neighborhood parties, running everything. Anger over-whelmed him, “she was beautiful and lively and she cheated on you. Not the definition of a loving wife, vows or not.” The words were bitter but his life felt like a deception.
He’d expected his father to agree but instead he gave a sad smile and looked at the empty cup in front of him. “She isn’t here to defend herself or to list my faults. I wasn’t perfect.”
“You’re defending her!” Cary’s cheeks flashed with embarrassment as two other tables turned to look at them.
“I weighed having this discussion at the retirement home, but figured you might not want the gossipy biddies knowing our business. We can go there if you'd like, I can close the door and you can yell all you want."
“Sorry,” Cary quipped.
Waving away the apology his father stated, “You get to respond to this however you need too, but I will tell you a few things. I am your dad. A piece of paper doesn’t get to change that.”
Silence fell as Cary nodded, “and?”
“Your mother loved me, as an imperfect man and I loved her, as an imperfect woman. Yes, to answer your first question. I have always known there was a chance you weren’t mine. Didn’t matter then, doesn’t matter now.”
It didn’t change anything but as the warmth of his father’s aging body encompassed him, a feeling of peace settled within him. Choking back tears, and not caring who watched, he whispered. “Thanks, dad.”