(Opps last chapter I forgot the all-important disclaimer… so I'll do it now 'Not mine, never will be, I'm just messing up Joss's kitchen' Thanks as always goes to Meals (Xanya-forever) who not only Beta'd this chapter but has big scary exams that she is going to Ace!)
Ethan could believe he was doing this, a father – him! It still seemed impossible, but here he was, sitting in the waiting room of the damn Children services offices, waiting to pick a kid who he had never met, but was his daughter. He laughed out loud, a bitter sound that startled the two other occupants of the room, one of whom was a plump secretary, muttering curses under her breath as she thumped on the keyboard. The other was middle-aged women with stringy grey hair and a hunch back. The laugh sounded off the walls echoing again and again in his head. Damn this waiting! His head was pounding and his magic felt drained. He wanted to be at home, maybe with a good tumbler of scotch.
He didn't know what he was doing here. What did he know about raising a kid? His own childhood had consisted of drunken shouting, his mother's ragged sobs, and his father's scared fists. He wouldn't be a good role model; he was a selfish bastard who spent more of his time drunk then sober, but since that phone call nearly a month before, all he could think of was getting custody of his kid.
"Am I talking to a Mr. Ethan Rayne?"
The phone's infernal ringing had woken Ethan from his alcohol-induced slumber. He had rolled over expecting to find himself lying comfortably on his bed, but instead found himself slumped in the wicker chair on his balcony. His neck and back ached, and his head pounded from the vast amounts of alcohol he had consumed last night, Registering that the phone was still ringing, he had staggered through the balcony doors and picked it up with a heavy grumble. It was then that he was greeted by the overly cheer and formal voice on the other end.
The formal and cheery voice sounded again, and Ethan grunted a groggy "Ethan speaking."
The voice continued
"I hope I haven't woken you, Mr. Rayne, but I have a very important matter to speak with you about. My name is Cathy Grant and I work for Child Services."
There was a pause and when it was obvious that Ethan wasn't going to say anything, Ms Cathy Grant continued.
"Mr. Rayne, I would just like to take a moment of your time to ask you a few questions, is that alright?"
Ethan sighed, as his head pounded with every word Cathy Grant spoke. He just wanted to hang up the phone and maybe have another shot of whisky to make the pain go away. He could hear Cathy Grant's irritated huff as she was subjected to another length of silence. "Yeah go ahead" The words were slightly hoarse and Ethan wondered if Cathy even understood what he said.
"Mr. Rayne, do you know a Miss Bethany Hughes?"
Ethan stilled. Bethany was a name he had been trying to forget, a person who was unforgettable.
Ethan could hear Cathy Grant's impatience, the length of the silences before she prompted were getting shorter, but he couldn't speak. The memories that that name evoked were travelling before his eyes like a film on fast forward. He hadn't loved Bethany; it wasn't love that they had, love would have spoiled it all. People like them didn't love, but the passion between them was unforgettable. He had known her for years. They grew up in the same neighbourhood; her brother had beaten him up all through their childhood. Bethany had turned him into a man so to speak.
"Yeah." he granted again.
"Mr. Rayne, I realise this might be a bit of a shock to you, but Miss Hughes died nearly 12 months ago, in a car crash.
Shock. No it wasn't shock, it was denial.
"What? No! Not Bethy!"
His hoarse cry echoed down the phone line making Cathy Grant jump a little. She hated giving news like this, but within her line of work, it was a regular thing.
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Rayne, she died in a car crash in November last year."
Ethan tried to get himself under control. This couldn't be happening. Bethany dead? No, it couldn't happen. But it had. The rational part of his brain that didn't often make an appearance was slowly working past the denial, breaking through the shock and the hangover that was ceasing to exist.
"Mr. Rayne, I'm very sorry to be the one to inform you of this tragic accident, but it is not the reason that I am calling. In her Will, Miss Hughes named you as the father of her daughter, Julian. This was unfortunately just brought to our attention. We are not quite sure how it…"
Ethan tuned her out. What she was saying was probably important, but a daughter! The shock and denial had worn off just in time for another wave of shock to set in. A daughter? Him! He was hardly fit to look after himself let alone a child. A father? How did he know how to be a father! His own had walked out on him and his mother when he was nine, and before that he had been an asshole of a man who spent most of his time in a drunken rage.. Ethan's thoughts slowed down as he finally began listening to what Cathy Grant was saying.
"…killed only a couple of days-"
"Wait what? Killed - who was killed?"
Cathy Grant kindly repeated what she had been droning on about.
"Mick Cornal was killed in his home a couple of days ago."
"Why the bloody hell should I care? I thought we were talking about Beth… and her kid!"
"Mr Ethan if you had been listening you would have heard me explain that because of an error in our Eastern suburbs office, Julian was not removed from the house Miss Hughes was living in before her death. Instead she remained there with Miss Hughes' partner, a Mr. Mick Cornal. It was only after Mr. Cornal's death that we found out about this breach and sought to fix it."
This was too much. Ethan sunk down onto the floor, his head between his hands. This was out of control. His life was spinning away out of his grasp and he didn't know how to stop it.
"Mr. Rayne, I know this is a shock to you, but I must ask - do you want to claim custody of the child if it is proved that you are indeed her father?"
Ethan couldn't deal with this now, he needed time and maybe a few drinks.
"I need to think about this."
Cathy Grant's response was immediate and well practiced.
"Of course, Mr. Rayne, take your time. Here's my number, call if you have any questions."
(Be a Nice Poppet and Review… I'm not sure about Ethan's characterization. I promise Julian appears again in the next chapter.)