I look at Anabel one more time to make sure she's certain. She doesn't look it but she nods anyway. I press call and place the phone to my ear. By the time it gets to four rings I'm both hoping and scared that no one will pick up. Then there's a voice.
"Hello?" he says, and the voice is gruff and deep.
I don't know what to say so all that comes out is, "Joseph? Joseph Hastings?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
I keep my eyes locked on my sister. "My name's Annabelle," I say.
There's a pause, then a sharp breath, then, "Olivia's?"
My throat begins to tighten, "Yeah. Olivia's daughter."
"How did you get my number?"
His saying that feels like a blow to the stomach. Is that really all he has to say to his daughter? It's been twenty-three years.
"My lawyer," I say finally. "He gave it to me." There's another pause then I say, "I think we need to meet."
"I think we do," he says, and I give him the address of a cafe. He says he'll be there at five, and then he hangs up.
I look at Anabel. "Seven," I tell her.
"I heard," she says.
We sit in the car until the others come back, at which point I decide I need to talk to them, too. I get out of the car, Anabel trailing behind me, and approach them.
"Me and Anabel are going out later," I say.
Abby stares at me. "Okay, what's going on?"
I stare right back at her. "We're going to meet our father."
I think I surprised her because she goes silent very quickly. No one says anything until Rob speaks up.
"Good," he says simply, but he doesn't sound upset or angry. He understands why.
The others all look at him. "Good?" Jen repeats. "Anna, you don't even know this guy."
"He's my father, Jen." I say carefully, not having expected her reaction. "And Anabel's."
"And what about Mum and Dad?" Abby pipes in.
"What about them, Abby? Don't me and Anabel deserve to know our dad, like you guys knew Paul?"
"But we're your family."
"And I'm not saying that you're not. But I have more family out there."
Abby opens her mouth to say something but Rob steps in. "That's enough, Abby."
She gives me an angry look and storms away. Jen goes after her.
I look at the boys and sigh.
"I thought this was what everyone wanted from me."
"You're doing the right thing, Annie," Rob says, giving me a hug.
The twins nod. "You two need to meet him," Jake says. "Whoever he is."
"When are you meeting him?" Alan asks.
Rob looks at his watch. "Well it's three-thirty now."
I look at Anabel. "Do you wanna eat something?"
"Okay," she says.
I fish a £20 note and a tenner out of my purse and give it to Jake.
"You guys order something for yourselves. We'll see you tonight."
Anabel and I end up at Subway, where the queue is stretching outside the little shop, so we wait. When we finally sit down (me with my Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, and Anabel with Steak and Cheese) I ask Anabel if she's nervous.
"Well, yeah," she says, picking at the bread. "Aren't you?"
"I am," I admit, and there's nothing more to say than that.
We get to the cafe at four fifty-five exactly and get a table. Anabel keeps watch at the window, which is quite pointless since neither of us knows what he actually looks like,
At ten past five, a man walks in and looks around. When our eyes meet he walks towards our table.
"Annabelle?" he asks.
"Joseph," I say.
He slides into the booth an rubs his stubbly face. "You look just like your mother," he says, his green eyes- our green eyes- trained on my face. He only notices Anabel a few moments later.
"This is Anabel," I say. He looks at her curiously. "She's also your daughter."
He looks like I just punched him in the stomach. "How-"
Anabel finally speaks. "My mum was Stacey."
That shocked expression again. "You look just like her," he says again, this time to Anabel. I know he's not lying because I've seen a picture of Anabel's mother.
"How are they?" he says awkwardly, addressing both of us.
Anabel doesn't say anything so I give him the blunt truth. "Dead," I say.
I almost feel bad for dealing him blow after blow, because he suddenly looks weary.
"I'm so sorry," he says.
"Not as sorry as we are."
He glances at Anabel. "When did you two..."
"She was brought to me on Wednesday."
He leans back and lets out a deep breath. "I don't know what to say," he admits.
I don't either anymore.
I don't know what I should be feeling- a special bond of sorts between the three of us? A feeling of recognition and home? But all I really feel is the tightening grip of Anabel's hand in mine, and slightly nauseous because I think the chicken in my sub was off.
We sit in silence until Joseph (Dad?) asks, "Do you have any other siblings?"
I say yes at the same time that Anabel says no.
"I have five others," I tell him, and that makes him go silent again.
"Your mothers," he says finally, "were both amazing women," but he looks mostly at Anabel as he says it, probably because he remembers Stacey more.
"You knew them both for a night," I say coldly. "How well could you have got to know them?"
"I knew that they were special," he says, and I feel almost sick at the way he groups them into one general category- the 'special' women. The ones who weren't special enough for him to stay with.
"How do you get on?" he asks. "Money-wise?"
"Fine," I say.
"You're looking after six siblings. Are you sure you can support all of them?"
Resentment begins to build up inside me. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you look twenty, Annabelle-"
"- and I'm not sure this is right by Anabel."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I think Anabel should live with me," he says.
I stare at him. "You've known her twenty minutes."
"You've known her two days. Is that really all that different in terms of the time you've had to get to know her?"
"She was brought to me," I say. "If someone thought you wanted to- or that you could- look after her, why wasn't she brought to you?"
"It doesn't matter," he says. "I want her to live with me."
"Well, that's too bad." I turn to a wide-eyed and stunned Anabel. "What do you want, Anabel?"
"She doesn't know best," Joseph says.
I ignore him. "It's your decision, too, Anabel."
She looks between the two of us. Finally, after leaving me tense, she says, "I want to stay with you, Anna."
I look at Joseph, having lost all will to call him 'Dad'. "You can't force her away," I tell him. "Now you decide whether you want to support us or not. Either way, we'll get on without you."
"She needs her father," he persists.
"She's needed one for the last seven years!" I say angrily. "Where were you then?"
Anabel squeezes my hand so I calm down slightly. "I'm sorry," she says to him, looking down, "but I want to stay with her."
"Then why did you call me here?"
"Because we thought you had the right to know. I thought you'd appreciate it, the chance to see your two daughters together. I'm sorry to see that's not the case." I stand up. "Come on, Anabel. We're done here."
When we're in the car again Anabel says, "Well, that went well."
"If 'well' means a complete disaster," I reply.
"Thanks," she says. "For keeping me."
I sigh. "You're not an object, Anabel. You're a person, you have a choice."
"What would you have done if I said I wanted to go with him?"
She stumps me with that one. "This sounds like the opposite of what I just said but I would've fought for you."
A pleased smile spreads across her face. "Thanks."
"Home?" I say.
She nods. "Home."