Chapter 1: The Letter
I'm at a stoplight when I catch her staring at me in the rearview mirror. Her icy blue eyes are inquisitive, searching and studying. Much too serious for a four-year-old. They draw me in and make me forget that we're in the middle of traffic.
I stick my tongue out and watch those baby blues roll in the back of her head. Her pouty red lips form a toothless smile, reminding me of her accident last week when she lost not only her first but second and third tooth in succession.
I always deduced her inability to walk across a flat surface as a hereditary thing. Her birth parents must have had four left feet between the two of them. There are days when I think wrapping her in bubble wrap would be beneficial, but she's a kid and bumps and bruises are a regular occurrence. My four and a half year old happens to know the ER staff on a first name basis and not just because her Pawpaw is the chief surgeon of the hospital.
"Daddy, the light is green," she giggles. "Dork."
She blows me a kiss with an impossibly tiny hand.
All is forgiven.
She talks about her day at school and about her excitement for her birthday that's coming up. Marley gets two parties. One on her actual birthday, February second, where her friends from school are invited to celebrate. The second is a more private family gathering, February fourth, the day she became a Cullen.
"George, in my class, he got a kitten for his birthday the udder day," she babbles. "And it's so tiny. He named her Marshmallow cause she's white and soft and fluffy. But she don't smell like a marshmallow, she smells like Uncle J after he gets home from the gym–" Her sentence is caught off by a loud and infectious laugh that fills the car. "She pooped right under Miss Aimee's desk during show and tell."
I carry my little hyena into the pizzeria and set her down at our usual booth while she continues to laugh like a maniac. "And she didn't know."
"All right, Muffin. Time to calm down before they kick us out," I chuckle, kissing her chubby little cheek. "I'm glad you had a good day at school."
"Oh, I did." She nods, her long strawberry-scented hair flying all over the place. "Everyone loved my baby blanket. They think it's just so cool."
The server stops by to get our order and Marley takes over, like always. An order of fried mozzarella sticks with extra dipping sauce, a pink lemonade for her and a Dr. Pepper in a big boy cup for me.
"You need to stop growing," I comment, tweaking her nose. I want to vacuum seal her at this age. Four and a half, with not a care in the world, and cute as a button.
"Daddy, I know what I want for my birthday," she says as she drowns a cheese stick in red sauce and takes a giant bite.
"And what's that, Muffin?"
There's marinara covering her mouth, she holds up one stained finger as she chews and swallows.
"I want a puppy. A great, big puppy with black fur and no barker, because that scares me." A shudder runs through her. "I want to play fetch with him in the backyard and lay on him for nap time."
"Marley, sweetie... we've talked about this." Her shoulders fall, as does her big smile. "I don't think we're ready for a big commitment like a puppy."
The rest of dinner is spent in disappointed silence. She doesn't fight to sign my credit card receipt for me and insists on strapping herself into her booster seat.
She falls asleep on the drive home. I have to carry her up the front porch stairs, stopping at the mailbox. Bills, an early birthday card for Marley from Aunt Carmen and Uncle Eleazar, and a regular everyday run-of-the-mill envelope to one Mr. and Mrs. Cullen.
There's never been a Mrs. to my Mr. It's always been just Marley and me. Just the way we like it.
I drop her off on the couch and slip the tiny rain boots she insists on wearing despite the beautiful weather off before heading to the kitchen. The jalapenos from my personal pizza has given me indigestion, so I pop a couple of Tums and open the bills first.
Cable, cellphone, utilities. A new satellite dish company wants me to switch over to them. No thanks.
The loopy handwriting on the business envelope intrigues me. The return address is a P.O. Box in Seattle, and we don't know anyone on the western half of the country, but I open it anyway.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cullen,
My name is Isabella Swan.
Against my attorney's advice and insistence, I've decided to contact you personally rather than going through legal action. I realize this has put me in a rather vulnerable situation and that if you choose to ignore my plea, this letter could potentially hurt me, but I feel this is the correct route.
This may sound crazy, ludicrous even, but please believe that I do not want to stir up any kind of trouble. I merely want what I feel I deserve and that's closure; peace of mind and reassurance…
"Daddy!" Marley calls from the living room. "Can you bring me ice cream?"
I toss the letter onto the counter and open the freezer. "What do you think this is, Marley Beth?" I call.
"It's my house and my birthday is coming. I want ice cream. Please?"
There are three walls separating us, but I can hear the pout in her voice.
"Mint chocolate chip, lime sorbet or pumpkin?"
"Pumpkin." She then giggles. "Pumpkin ice cream for your Muffin. Get it? It rhymes."
No, it doesn't, but I won't correct her on account that she's incredibly cute.
I give her a bowl of ice cream on top of a throw pillow so her hands don't get cold.
"Wanna watch Pan with me?"
"In a little while, Muffin. Eat your ice cream before it melts."
I turn the movie on for her and hand her the remote. Marley likes to rewind and watch her favorite scenes multiple times. I've seen Peter Pan so many times I can quote every scene verbatim.
She's already giggling when I take my place back at the kitchen island, picking the letter up once again.
… You adopted the little girl that I gave birth to. Due to unforeseen events that surrounded her birth, I was unable to make the mature decision of her whereabouts, and my father, who was my power of attorney at the time, signed away my rights to my child. A child I carried for eight months before my accident, a child I was told had died, due to the car accident that put me in a coma for six months.
Please don't panic. I'm not looking for a custody battle or destroying a happy family. I'm simply asking for reassurance that she's happy and healthy. I have information that could be beneficial for your daughter. The medical history of both the father and myself.
I've spent the past four and a half years mourning the loss of a child that I recently found out is alive and walking the same earth that I am. As overwhelming and emotional as this may be for you, a family that decided upon a closed adoption, most likely in the hopes that something like this would never happen, please keep in mind that it's a million times worse for me. A mother's heart lives in that of her child, and while she is no longer mine, I would like to hear that she's alive, that she's happy; and that she's living the life I gave her.
Should you choose to ignore my plea, trust me when I say that I will drop the matter. I've mourned for almost five years now, and if you decide not to contact me, then I will continue in the same fashion. Like I said, there won't be a custody battle; I'm not asking for visitation rights or anything.
My information is as followed:
Isabella Marie Swan
1918 Spring St.
Seattle, Washington 98103
Cell: (555) 555-1988
Fax: (555) 555-1000
Email: bswan at gmail dot com
I stare at the letter clenched in my hands. My heart races. Somewhere in the distance, I can hear Marley calling for me, but I'm panicking. I reach blindly for my cellphone and hit speed dial no. 3.
"Hey babe," she greets.
"Can you come over?" I choke out. "I–I need you."