Before I'm even fully awake the next morning, I find myself rummaging through the various boxes scattered around my room, looking for the smallest, tattiest but, at the moment, most important little book. I finally pull it out of a box labelled DRAWERS in a thick, black sharpie. The book is about the size of my palm and bound in green leather, with one of those magnetic straps closing it. As of right now, it's probably the most unused item in our apartment- I can't remember the last time a contact's details went into this address book and not my phone. It's been years since I've even looked at this thing but, hopefully, it hasn't been too long.
I flick to the M's and scan the small pages. Malik, Marks, McClaren-
I breathe a sigh of relief. There, right under Milton, is the name I'm searching for. But before I dial it, I hold the book for a moment longer, realising that the last person who wrote in this was probably my mother. The writing is hers, long and slanted- almost unintelligible in its scrawliness- but it looks like it could be mine. I almost forget why I'm doing this for a second, why I'm about to make the call that's going to lead to my destroying everything she worked for. Then I remember: who asked Anabel before tearing her life into shreds?
I close the book, fasten the magnetic strap, and place it back in the box. With fingers that are almost trembling I dial the number and press call before I back out. The phone rings once, twice, three times, and my chest tightens- what if the number has changed?- only to have it relax at once when the phone is finally answered.
"Morgan and Gill Solicitors."
"This is Annabelle Hastings," I say, way more confidently than I feel. "I'd like to book an appointment with Mr. Morgan for today."
My hopes begin to deflate when she says, "I'm sorry, but appointments must be booked in advance."
I close my eyes tightly. "This is kind of an emergency," I say.
She sighs, and then there's the tapping of long nails against a keyboard. After a minute of keeping me in restless anticipation she says,
"You're very lucky, Miss Hastings. There has been a cancellation."
Hope inflates again. "What time?" I ask.
There's more tapping. "Half-past eleven," she says, and I glance at the clock- it's already ten.
"That will be great. Thank you so much," I say gratefully, also silently thanking the stranger who gave up their appointment.
I start rushing, taking the quickest shower and scrambling to find a comb as I nearly trip over myself. By the time I'm ready it's already quarter to, so I grab a bag and make my way into the living room, mentally cursing myself as I see everyone up and moving boxes.
"Anna," Jen says, "where are you going? The removal guys are gonna be here soon."
I give her an apologetic look.
"Sorry, babe," I say, already at the door. "I have to do something." I turn to the boys. "Could you guys take the boxes from my room, too?" I ask, pleadingly. "Everything's boxed up and ready."
Rob nods and I shoot him a grateful look as I almost tumble into my heels.
I get to the office on the other side of town at around twenty-past, so I quickly straighten myself up before I walk in, taking in the building. Morgan and Gill's hasn't changed much since the last time I was here, almost four years ago. Although they did manage to get that sign fixed with the missing 'G', that made them look like Morgan and ill. Even the decor is familiar- the grey tweed chairs in the waiting area, th cup-less water dispenser, and the large oak desk against the wall that I walk to as I come in.
"Miss Hastings?" The lady says, looking up, in a voice I recognise from our phone call.
"Mr. Morgan is ready for you," she says, gesturing to the door on the left.
I pause at the doorknob but only for a second, not giving myself the chance to think anymore, and push the door open. A man- an extremely familiar man- stands up as I enter. Mr Morgan, like his building, hasn't changed either. He's still tall and wafer-thin, with keen, intelligent eyes shielded by his glasses, that he removes on, approximately, a five minute basis to clean with the handkerchief in his breast-pocket.
"Annabelle," he says, smiling as I walk in. "It's been a very long time."
I smile nervously, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. "Only four years," I say.
He gestures towards the seat opposite, grey tweed again, as he removes the glasses (on schedule) and rubs them.
"How have you been?" he asks. "How are your siblings?"
"We're good, thanks," I say, pausing for a moment. "Actually, that's not completely true."
He nods understandingly. "You're moving back into your parents' house again, soon, aren't you?"
I'm not surprised he knows. "You haven't asked why I'm here," I say.
"I had a feeling I would be getting a visit from you," he tells me. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm assuming this is about young Anabel."
"You're not wrong," I say, running the pad of my forefinger over my thumbnail nervously. "Actually," I carry on, "if I'm honest-"
"Please do be."
"-I don't know what I really wanted from coming here."
"Let's start with Anabel," he suggests.
I nod. "I brought her file," I say, pulling out of my bag. I hand it to him, watching as he flicks through it, but nothing looks like it particularly takes him by surprise. He sets it down a few minutes later, and the glasses come off again.
"It was Wednesday, no?" he confirms, talking about Anabel's arrival.
I tell him it was.
"I imagine it was quite a shock," he states.
"You'd think I'd be used to it by now, all the siblings."
He chuckles. "I don't think that's something you ever get used to, Annabelle."
I clear my throat, and get on with what I came here for- answers. "I read something, when I was going through the file." He looks at me expectantly. "It says Anabel's mother passed away when Anabel was three- that was four years ago."
Mr. Morgan lets out a deep breath and pushes the file back across the desk.
"What do you want to know, Annabelle?"
"Why now?" I ask, looking him in the eye. "Why wasn't Anabel brought to us four years ago?"
He doesn't shy away from my look; in fact, he stares at me right back.
"She was," is all he says.
The words in my throat die evaporate with my breath, so all that comes out is, "What?"
"She was brought to your family all those years ago."
Mr. Morgan finally looks uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Annabelle."
"For what?" I ask warily.
"She was brought to your family," he repeats. "She just wasn't wanted."
I blink. "Paul," I say, but it sounds wistful, even to me.
He shakes his head, knowing I know the reason already. "Your mother."
I rub my face. "My mother," I repeat, just making sure he didn't say 'brother' or anything that sounds remotely like what I hope he didn't just say. The look on his face isn't encouraging. "Mum rejected Anabel."
"Like I said, I'm sorry."
Something makes itself apparent and I look at him.
"How long have you known?"
Mr. Morgan doesn't beat around the bush anymore. "Since it happened."
"And you never told me."
"Your mother's wish."
"Oh, my God." I look at Anabel, staring at me from the photo paper-clipped to the edge of her file. "Oh, my God." And, at once, everything I thought my mother was comes crashing down around me. She rejected a three year old girl. A child. A homeless, abandoned child who, for all the effort her father's made in her life, was all but an orphan. What kind of woman turns away a little girl? But can I judge my mother? After all, I didn't welcome Anabel with open arms, but, I still took her in, which is more than my mother did.
I groan and rub my temples. But Anabel is my sister, I have an obligation to her. I mean, how many women would be able to take in their twenty-year-ex-lover's child by another woman? I'm pretty sure my mother and father met all of twice in their (ridiculously) whirlwind romance.
"Are you okay, Annabelle?" Mr. Morgan asks, and I'm suddenly reminded of the real reason I came here.
"No," I say. "Not really."
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" he asks.
"Yes, actually," I say, finally taking my eyes of Anabel's image. If I didn't say it now, I never would. "I need to get in touch with my father."