part three

"Pop?" She whispered, as a floorboard creaked softly beneath her.

He looked so frail. Sallow and old, engulfed by the hospital bed that had no place in this bedroom. She could barely remember a time before it, when this room had appeared like a place to rest and not a place to die. Medical paraphernalia overwhelmed it now. An IV stand and monitors stood vigilant by the bedside; close by were storage containers filled with the supplies needed by the home hospice nurses that visited nearly all day long. She'd tried to make up for it, arranging framed pictures by the bedside — a photo from his wedding to Gran, pictures from his tour of duty, various family photographs. But it was never the same.

Yet Pop never seemed to let it get to him. Sophia wished she could have that kind of attitude, especially nowadays, but she wasn't half the person her grandfather was. She wished she could convey that to the detectives standing just paces behind her. That she could make them see.

"Cricket," Pop croaked, and for a moment tears flooded her eyes. She sat on the edge of the bed and clasped his hand, doing her very best to not demand the detectives leave. She had no choice anymore. Adams, at least, hadn't balked as much to Sophia's insisting that she be present for the questioning.

"Pop," Sophia swallowed roughly, "these are detectives from the LAPD. They want to know about… about me. They say I'm not Mama and Daddy's kid. That someone stole me."

"That's preposterous. Of course you are."

"We have DNA evidence, Mr. Laurer, that says otherwise," Clarke spoke up, and Sophia really wished he hadn't, because suddenly her grandfather was staring at her as if she had betrayed the family. The look he gave her said everything she needed to know.

"You let these people into our home, Cricket?"

"I had no choice, Pop—"

"Your mother brought you home when you were two years old," Pop wheezed, his voice thick with irritation. "We hadn't seen her and your father in years. We just assumed…"

"But you never had any proof."

"You were ours. We loved you. We cared for you. It was completely moot in our eyes how we got to there from that point. And when your mother had Zoey, and she and your father just up and left — we loved you both. We questioned nothing."

The detectives were exchanging looks, ones Sophia didn't particularly enjoy seeing. Something was being scribbled down in their notes, and she did not like the possibilities. Adams was the first to speak. "Your daughter, Mia, and her husband — what was his name?"

"Tony," Pop said, looking ready to spit in disdain. "Common-law husband. We told her that man was trouble, but did she listen? No…"

"When was the last time you saw Mia and Tony?"

"1990. Two days after Zoey was born. The next morning, they were gone; the children left behind. We had no choice, we made do."

Sophia's eyes were brimming with tears. "Why?" She whispered. "Why didn't you tell us before?"

"And tell you what? You knew as much as we did. We had no idea that your mother hadn't given birth to you herself, or what had been done. Your grandmother and I, we pulled you kids up by your bootstraps and made sure you lived a good life."

She wasn't expecting this kind of emotion. Sophia had been certain she was past this, but evidently an acknowledgment of the truth produced something else entirely. She bit her lip so firmly there would surely be a mark, and it was with a grudging air that she stood, Pop's hand still clasped in hers. This was just what she needed, to prove the detectives right. She shouldn't have come in here.

"Cricket—" Pop wheezed, but it fell on deaf ears. Their connection was severed and she was gone, footsteps heavy down the hall.


"And how is she doing in school?"

Sophia eyed the social worker from DCFS with as much hospitality as she could muster, which wasn't saying much. She felt as numb as two Xanax would permit her. Upstairs, Josiane could be heard thumping around her room, dancing exuberantly to some children's pop record. It was a small solace.

"She's…" Sophia adjusted herself in her armchair, clearing her throat. "Her teacher says the same as always. She's very bright, very precocious. We're still waiting for her to come home one day predicting lottery numbers."

"But her work hasn't suffered?"

"No, not that I've seen."

"Have you spoken to her at all, about the situation?"

Her head bowed slightly, her fingertips moving to brush against her lip. It still felt a little sore from when she'd bit it in Pop's presence. She shook her head. "I don't see how she'll understand."

There were those eyes again. That sympathy that Sophia couldn't bring herself to grasp. "Well, I'm not too concerned. You obviously care very much for Josiane, and she is well taken care of. I see no reason to disrupt that. But with what comes next…" Sophia knew, the woman didn't have to detail it. The investigation, lawyers, an inevitable trial. "… I would recommend her seeing a child psychologist. Josiane will find out one way or another, and perhaps would have an easier time processing with a professional at hand."

The woman closed her manila folder. "On a personal note… have you considered moving Mr. Laurer to a hospice facility?"

Sophia was deadly silent.

"Something to think about, Sophia. You already have a lot on your plate. What you're going through requires a certain amount of grief, and you can't do that while dividing your attention between two people. Josiane needs you."

Silence.

"I'll show myself out."