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"Melissa, go back to the car." Mercedes repeated. "Now."
I was about to protest their leaving, but Melissa beat me to it. Melissa looked at her mother and gave her a look that could only be described as sheer disappointment. "No! Can we stay? Please? I wanted to go to Heather's sleepover." Melissa pleaded with her laced fingers shaking in front of her face. "Please Mom? I want to stay with my friends."
Mercedes shook her head again. "This isn't a good idea, baby."
Melissa's hands and arms fell as her shoulders slumped forward. She frowned at her mother. "Mom, why not? I finally have friends here."
I took a step forward. "She can stay."
Mercedes' eyes snapped to me and she shook her head. "Not now." She looked back down to Melissa and repeated herself.
Melissa finally gave in, knowing that she wasn't going to win the battle. Her green eyes found mine. "Mr. Hudson, can you tell Heather that I'm sorry I couldn't…" Her words trailed off as she seemingly began to study my face like I had studied hers the entire time.
"It's Mr. Evans, actually…" I said, my words trailing off like Melissa's had. 'Mister' felt too formal, because I knew. I knew this little girl is mine. But I wouldn't ask now. Not in front of Melissa. I glanced to Mercedes who was watching us both intently. She didn't blink or breathe, like she was wanting in a nervous anticipation for what would happen next.
Melissa adjusted the sleeping bag slung over her shoulder, never breaking eye contact with me. "Are you the man in mama's locket?"
I narrowed my eyes. "Locket?"
"Oh my God." Mercedes said quickly, almost in panic. She grabbed Melissa by the shoulders and turned her around. "No, he isn't. Go back to the car."
"He looks just like him."
"The car." Mercedes said with warning in her voice. Melissa finally complied. She walked across the yard to the car parked at the top of the driveway, but not before looking at me one more time. When she closed the back passenger door, I turned to her mother.
"I'm sorry…we have to go." Mercedes said. The pace of her words was low and quick, like she wanted to get out of there quickly. "I really had no idea that this was your party."
"How old is she?"
"Eight years old. I'm sorry we have to go."
"Mercedes, wait." Eight years ago. Eight years ago. The time frame bounced in my head as I tried to think back about what happened during that time. Then I remembered…Mercedes and I were together. It was at the end of our relationship and I had started drinking, but we were still together. Then I remembered our last fight and Mercedes' demeanor during it. She had nausea and was vomiting…I thought it was worry over my drinking….but it hadn't been…
I looked over to the little girl in the back seat of the car. Melissa pressed her hands against the glass windows as she watched us. The little girl had green eyes, curly brown hair, and a smile like her mother. I already knew the answer to the next question, but I needed to hear it confirmed.
"Is Melissa my daughter?" I asked.
Mercedes crossed her arms. "You're bold. I haven't seen you in years-"
I took a step forward and repeated my question "Is she mine?"
Mercedes took a step back. "She isn't yours."
"Don't lie to me." I said. "Don't tell me that, Mercedes. It all makes sense now. Eight years, you cancelled your tour. You threw up in my apartment and you were nauseous. I thought you were sick because of me. But they were signs of pregnancy the whole time."
Mercedes' eyes blinked a few times. "You remember that?"
"I remember everything!" I said, my anger starting to build. I could feel it. I could feel my heart racing and blood pressure rising. "And I've seen her. That little girl has my mother's eyes. Don't tell me she isn't mine. How could you do this to me? How could you do this to her?"
"Keep your voice down! I don't want her to find out this way."
I tried to calm myself down so I looked to ground, because at that moment…I couldn't look at her. "Do you know what you've taken from me? Taken from her?"
I thought I heard a cry, which was the only reason I looked her way. Something in Mercedes broke as her hand flew over her mouth and she took a jagged breath. She closed her eyes. Her voice became imbued with emotion. "You don't think I feel awful? You don't know how many times I wanted to tell you. Sam…this isn't the way that I wanted to tell you."
Now, emotion seeped into my voice. "Were you ever going to tell me?"
"It was complicated. I didn't…I didn't know how to tell you that I was pregnant-"
"What?" The word was yelled, loud and clear.
We both looked to where the sound had come from. We saw Mercedes' back-car door open and Melissa standing in the middle of the lawn.
Melissa dropped her bag. "You're my dad? The man in the locket is my father?"
Mercedes hands flew to the sides of her face. "Oh my God."
The next few minutes were a blur as Mercedes tried to calm down a hysterical, confused Melissa. When I went to help, Melissa backed away from me. It was her first reaction to me and it hurt. Mercedes solely decided to take Melissa to Jones' house.
I stood on the lawn, in the same spot as Melissa had just minutes earlier, trying to figure out what had just happened. How had it gotten this far? But my confusion turned to anger as I realized that there were people in my house that known about Melissa all along.
"Sam!" Blaine grabbed my forearm, trying to stop me from going back into the living room. "Don't do this!"
I snatched my arm back and Blaine lost his balance. The sound of Blaine stumbling into the foyer furniture echoed past me in the living room and the party grew silent. I heard Blaine plead for me stop and calm down first. But I wasn't going to stop. I wanted answers. I wanted them now. I walked back in the living room and looked around at the people who were blissfully unaware of what just happened.
"Who knew?" The anger in my voice permeated the living room and it took everyone by surprise. Confused faces stared back at me with different variations of slanted eyes, burrowed eyebrows, and scrunched faces. But on some of my friends' faces, these features quickly into features of guilt. They already knew what I meant.
"What the hell happened now?" Puck asked, throwing his arms into the air.
I took a deep breath to try to ease some of my anger. But it was to no avail. "Who in this room knew that I had a daughter named Melissa and kept it from me?"
Confusion and bewilderment turned into shock. Eyes widened, hands flew over mouths, and gasps filled the room after I revealed what had just happened. Again, I noticed that some guests weren't shocked, but had a more guilt ridden look to their faces. Especially Kurt.
Kurt crossed his arms and averted my gaze, when everyone else couldn't stop staring at me. Kurt's strange behavior before suddenly became clear. He was trying to warn Mercedes to not come here, unwittingly with my daughter. Kurt closed his eyes tightly, like he was wishing that he was somewhere else.
"Sam." Blaine walked into the living room. "Let's talk about this outside."
"No." Kurt opened his eyes, shaking his head. "No more lies. I'm done. Sam, I knew. I've known about Melissa for a long time and I am sorry that I didn't tell you about her."
"I think it's time to go." Matt said, pulling MJ a little closer to him.
I turned to Matt. "NO. No one leaves until I know everything."
Matt shook his head. "Look man, I didn't know."
"Me either." Puck said and Lauren nodded in agreement. Artie and my siblings also said that they had no knowledge of Melissa either.
I turned my attention back to Kurt. "How could you keep this from me?" The anger in my voice rose with every word, inching closer to my boiling point.
"Don't tell me to calm down." I said, walking toward Kurt. Blaine grabbed my arm again, and snatched it away again.
"Don't take this out only on Kurt." Blaine said. "I knew too. I lied too. And I'm sorry."
Rachel took a step forward. "I knew too."
Then Tina admitted that she knew about Melissa, but the last person hurt most of all.
I turned to see Mike. I shook my head. "No. Don't tell me…"
"I'm sorry." Mike said, but his words didn't mean anything. I didn't expect Mike to know. He had been my best friend since high school and he had too kept the secret of my daughter from me.
Mike explained that Tina had made him promised to never tell until Mercedes was ready. It had been his greatest regret and the secret that had haunted him with guilt ever since. Mike felt guilty for not only lying to me, but for being at the hospital with Tina when Melissa was born. He said it should have been me there, not him.
"But why?" I said. People were confessing to their involvement but no one had told me why they would do something so horrible to me. Why would they willing rob me of eight years with my daughter? I heard the sound of my heart beating in my ears, like marching soldiers.
"Do you want to know the reality of it?" Kurt asked. Then he stammered in his explanation. "Sam…you were a mess. Mercedes was pregnant and you too had just been a huge fight about your drinking and…we didn't think you were fit to-"
I took an aggressive step toward him and I closed my fists. Kurt closed his mouth quickly, stopping the awkward explanation. Kurt tightened his face, anticipating a hit.
"Melissa, is your daughter?"
I looked over to see Heather standing next to Katy. Heather was crushed. I was guilty. I had been so blinded by my anger that I didn't even think about how Heather would handle this.
"Sweetheart…" The word was drawn out. It was slow and sad and sorry all at the same time. Her big brown eyes begged me to tell it wasn't true, but I couldn't, especially after seeing another set of green eyes five minutes earlier.
"You thought I was crazy!" Heather said. "I told you. I told you that Melissa was trying to steal my life."
Heather ran and the slamming of the bathroom door could be heard all the way in the living room. I started to walk toward the hallway leading to Heather's room but Puck stops me.
"A lot of stuff just happened." Puck said. It was probably the biggest understatement of the year. "You need to take a walk and think. Your life isn't going to be the same and you need to figure it out for yourself first before you try to explain to Heather."
"No, Heather needs me and-"
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Stacy. "I got it."
Stacy walked down the hall towards Heather. Beth followed along as backup.
Puck sighed. "Let's go for a walk and talk about it."
I shook my head. "No. I need to do this alone."
I turned to the people who had betrayed. "Get out of my house."
After walking aimlessly for a few miles, I ended up in a park. I sat on the bench and started to think about Heather, Melissa, and Mercedes, when a car pulled up on the corner of the block. A woman walked out. I recognized her, but still blinked my eyes a few times in disbelief. Of course, this day would only get more bizarre for me.
I sat forward and looked down at the ground, until there was a pair of heels blocking my view of the sidewalk.
I shook my head. "I thought you said that you would never step foot in Ohio again."
"Apparently, my son is at your house." The woman said. "My son's father decided to kidnap, bring him to this hellhole and then had the audacity to force me back here. I needed to talk to you anyway…for a long time. So maybe it was for the best."
I looked up at the reporter, who I had felt staring at me. "Leave me alone, Santana."
Santana sighed. "Can you at least be open-minded? I really need to talk to you. Can we talk?"
I shrugged. "It depends. Is this off the record? Or will anything I say be published in a national magazine?"
"I deserved that." Santana said, crossing her arms. "This is off the record. By the way."
I shrugged again and Santana took it as an invitation to sit down.
Santana started. "Sam, I'm sorry."
"I'm hearing a lot of that these days."
Santana continued, "I know those three words can't do much. I lied and it turned your life upside down. Because of my lies, you almost didn't make it into the NFL. You were embarrassed on a national scale. They wouldn't even put you in the football hall of fame, which you deserve but because of me-"
"What's your point?"
"I want to make this right."
Santana took a deep breath. "Sam Evans, I want to write your biography."
I laughed. The first genuine laugh that I had in the last few hours. "Fat chance in hell. Why would I agree to that?"
"Because I talked to Adam."
"You're not helping your case."
Santana sighed. "Adam and I want to both go on the record and tell everyone what we did to you."
I paused and stared at her. "What about your career? Do you really want people to know how cut-throat you are?"
"If I can get your forgiveness, then yes." She sighed. "You don't know the kind of guilt that I've lived with.
I looked away, still shocked to have seen a face that I hadn't seen in years. "Santana…I can't. I just don't trust you anymore."
Santana nodded at an answer that she had expected. "I know that I have to earn your forgiveness and this book could be my way."
"I already forgave you, Santana. A long time ago."
Her eyes blinked a few times. "Why?"
"Being angry at you only hurt me. I forgive you and this guilt book isn't necessary."
"You forgive me." Santana said. "But you don't trust me."
"But what if I want your trust?"
I sighed, before leaning back into the bench and looking to the sky. "I don't think it's possible."
Santana leaned back into the bench too. She changed the subject. "Matt, told me what happened at the party."
I sighed. I felt Santana looking at me.
"Sam…I think you need to go talk to Mercedes." Santana said. "She is staying at her parents' house here in Cleveland. They moved here a few years ago. I have the address."
I looked at her, confused. "How?"
"I am a world-class reporter." She said with a smugness that was reminiscent of a younger Santana and that worried me. "Do you want a ride?"
I shook my head. "The last thing I need is for you to publish a story about this."
"I wouldn't do that."
I gave her an incredulous look. "You've done it before. The steroids story."
"I'm different, Sam." Santana sat up and looked at me. There was sincerity in her eyes, but I wouldn't let myself trust it. "Sam, I'm grown up. I'm not a lost little girl looking for her way anymore. I'm older, wiser and I'm finally happy. It took a long time for me to get here." She paused. "I've learned that when you find a friend as genuine as you that you hold on to them, because there aren't that many out there. And not only did I let you go, but I hurt you. I really wish that you would give me that opportunity to right my wrongs. Let us take you to see Mercedes and your daughter."
I sat up. "Us?"
Santana smiled and nodded. She waved at that car. A familiar blonde came out the passenger side and walked toward us.
"Nice to see you, Sam." Brittany said, sitting next to Santana on the bench. "Lord Tubbington misses your impressions and we're sorry we didn't invite you to our wedding."
"Brittany and I eloped two years ago in Las Vegas." Santana added, showing her ring on her hand. "You may not trust me, but you trust Brittany. Right?"
"I told Santana that if she any more stories about Glee members, then I would divorce her." Brittany said. "And take half of her stuff. So she wouldn't write anything about you, she has something to lose."
I shook my head.
"Trouty Mouth, I swear you better get in this car and go see your kid."
I laughed. "I haven't heard that nickname in years." Then laugh was replaced with silence as I stared at both of them for a while.
Despite my better judgment, I conceded, "You can drive me there. But I swear if you write anything about my daughter, I will come after you."
Santana nodded. "Understood."
When I woke up this morning, I couldn't have predicted anything that happened today. I definitely didn't think I would be on the Jones' front steps. I rang the door bell and it opened immediately.
Mercedes stood in the doorway with tears in her eyes. She let out a disappointed sigh when she saw me. "No. I thought you were the police."
"Police? What happened?"
"Melissa ran away."
"Damn flashlight." Deshawn said smacking the flashlight. It flickered a few times before coming on.
A search party had formed and we were all broken up into pairs to cover more ground. It was getting darker out and everyone was worried about Melissa.
Deshawn and I had been partnered up and given the area of the park near the Jones' house. We walked the two blocks in complete silence. The only words that had been spoken were the curses that Deshawn directed at the flashlight.
I looked past the trees to the playground. My eyes bounced from the swing set to the slide to the sandbox. No Melissa. We walked past the playground into the more wooded area of the park. As we walked further into the darkness, I noticed the street lights had begun to illuminate the edge of the park that we had passed. It was getting late and I worried for the little girl I had only met a few hours earlier.
Fishing my phone out of my pocket, I tapped the screen of the phone to get more light.
"Please, don't tell me you're making a phone call now, Nebraska." Deshawn said, shining his light on my phone.
"Makeshift flashlight." I said, walking out the path of the light.
"Oh." Deshawn said, turning his attention to the patch of bushes next to him.
"Has she done this before?" I asked. "Run away?"
"Once. About a year ago, when she thought that Mercedes was moving her to Southern California."
"I did that once." I said, remembering a time when I hid away in my grandparents' backyard. I was 12. It was the first time my dad had a potential new job offer in Florida.
"So she gets this from you? Great."
I ignored the last sarcastic comment. There was no point in responding. It was more important to find Melissa and arguing would hinder that. So it remained a quiet search, when Deshawn stopped abruptly.
He shook his head. "She ain't here."
I nodded in agreement. We had been looking for about thirty minutes. Also, we hadn't received any new updates from the search party and now it was completely dark out. We needed a new strategy.
Deshawn continued, "She wouldn't be this deep in the woods anyway." He chuckled. "And if she is, she probably has gone full Tarzan and become one with nature."
Deshawn turned around and started walking back. "Melissa probably can speak raccoon and deer by now." He laughed a little more, which started to irritate me. "Princess of the wild."
"It was just a joke."
"This isn't the time to joke. It's not appropriate." I stopped in my tracks. Deshawn stopped and turned to face me.
I continued, "A little girl is missing. My little girl."
I paused for a second, because the idea of having another daughter was still new to me. "Melissa is probably alone, scared, and lost. We need to find her. Not tell jokes. You need to take this more seriously."
Deshawn looked upset and offended. "Don't tell me to take this more seriously." His voice began to rise. "I am scared out of my mind right now. Melissa is gone and I have no damn idea where she is." He paused. "This is what I do, okay. I joke. When something upsets me, I joke. When something scares me, I joke. When something makes me uncomfortable, I make a joke. It's how I get through shit. Its how I get through life."
"No, you need to know this. Don't you ever insinuate that I don't care about her. I care for Melissa like she was one of my own kids. When you weren't there, I was the father figure. When you were in rehab, I was there. When you were off living life, I was there for her every time."
"That wasn't my fault." I shouted back at him. "If I had known, I would have been there."
"I know." Deshawn said in a still risen voice. But then he stopped and let out a deep sigh, one that seemed to calm him.
"I know." He said a second time, but this time there was an undertone of compassion. "I know that the majority of this isn't your fault, but you do need to acknowledge your part in this whole mess. I don't what you did, but you really hurt my sister."
The conversation ended there and again, we headed back in silence.
We decided to check local stores next. None of the store owners had seen her. Most wished us good luck on the search. Most said that they would keep an eye out for her. Nice people. But there was one that I would like to forget.
A bald electronics salesman stared at the picture that Deshawn had given him over his glass counter. Chewing his gum a mile a minute, he examined the photo.
"Huh." He said, flipping the picture over to the back. "Cute kid. What's her name?"
"Melissa." I said.
"She got a last name?"
"It's…um…" I hadn't even had a chance to think about what her last name. Was it Evans?
"Jones." Deshawn said, after he saw me struggle for an answer.
That hurt. I wanted my daughter to have my name.
"Bud, you should see your face. Did I hit a sore spot?" The salesman said, flipping the photo back over to the front. "You look pissed. I'm guessing that you're the dad. How do you not know your own kid's last name?"
"Have you seen her?" I asked, trying to suppress my anger. Anger that had come in spurts all day. I was trying to calm myself down, because I was about to take out all my day's frustrations out on him.
The salesman half-smiled chewing his gum louder. "Hey buddy, when's her birthday, huh?"
I didn't know why, but he got some sick pleasure out of taunting me. I took a step forward with clenched fists when Deshawn extended his arm in front of me. He shook his head and whispered, "It ain't worth it. He ain't worth it."
Deshawn dropped his arm and walked toward the counter. "Look man, a little girl is missing. And you're just wasting our time at this point. Now, have you seen her or not?"
The man dropped the photo on the counter and with two fingers; he pushed it back to Deshawn. "I haven't seen her."
We hit dead-end after dead-end and it didn't seem like we were any closer to finding her. On top of it all, I realized–thanks to a rude salesman–that I really didn't know anything about the little girl I was looking for. At that moment, I remembered Quinn talking to me about Beth. She told me how hard it was to have someone walking this Earth–who was a part of you–but you didn't know them. At that moment, I knew exactly what she meant and I think how she felt.
"Sam, that guy was a jerk." Deshawn said.
"What?" I said, surprised that Deshawn was showing me sympathy. Maybe, even more surprised, that he used my real name.
"That guy was being an asshole. You know more about Melissa than even you realize."
I narrowed my eyes. "How so?"
"Well, she is just like you."
I smiled. "Really?"
"Yeah, first off, the girl loves sci-fi. Like she maybe a borderline fanatic."
I listened to Deshawn as he rattled off how Melissa was like me. He told me about her childhood. He told me stories about her. He told me about her personality. He told me about how resilient, funny, talented, caring and creative she was. And as I learned more about her, I fell more in love with her.
"And she has your corny sense of humor. She laughs at the worst jokes."
I laughed a little and imagined spending Saturday afternoons sharing jokes with Melissa and Heather like my father had done with me. Then my mind wandered to the question of how much was Melissa really like me. I thought about when I ran away and where I had gone. Then it hit me.
"Does Melissa have anywhere that she goes to be by herself? To think things over?"
Deshawn nodded and mentioned the tree house, but they had already checked there. But I had a feeling that might be exactly where she was.
"Melissa." We both yelled as we searched the Jones backyard. I looked up to the tree house and decided that I would check it myself. I climbed the ladder and when I reached the top, I found a cool hangout spot and a little girl sitting in the corner.
"Found her." I said.
Deshawn rushed to the bottom of the ladder. "Thank God. Tell her to get down here immediately."
I looked down to Deshawn. "Can I handle this one? I want to talk to her."
Deshawn looked up to me and nodded in understanding. I wanted to start being there for her.
"I'm calling Mercedes." He said, before walking away.
I climbed into the tree house to see a little girl staring at me. Her only movements were fidgets in her chair, like she was nervous.
I smiled at her to try to show her that it was okay. "Hi."
Melissa smiled. "Hi."
Okay, so I think I win the award for most inconsistent updates. Guys, I'm really sorry for an almost year gap since the last chapter. But real life stuff got in the way. My goal is to finish this story and I'm going to try my best to accomplish that goal.
Anyway, please tell me what you guys think. I love reading your reviews