I'm sitting in the car when my phone goes off. I get scared and glance at the number scrawled on the back of Mr. Morgan's business card, wondering how I got the call first. But the caller ID says Alan, so I pick up.
"Hey, Alan," I say. "Have you guys left yet?"
It sounds chaotic in the background and there's shuffling through the phone before I hear Alan's voice. "Not yet," he says. "Maybe in another half hour? We just wanted to know when you were getting back, or if you were meeting us at the house?"
"Um, yeah," I say, having drifted away for a second. "I have one more thing to do so I'll see you guys there."
"'Kay," he says. "Oh, and Rob says bring food. Preferably KFC."
I chuckle weakly, feeling myself being distanced from the conversation with every passing second. "Rob says?"
"Yup, bye," he says quickly, hanging up. I set the phone down, then consider picking it up again.
I don't need to go back to the apartment; I've said all my goodbyes and Ella's meeting us at the house later. I guess I should feel sentimental- that flat was our home for four years- but I seem to have bigger issues at hand. Like whether I should dial this number or not, or if I even want to. Do I want to know this man, whose name, up until this day, I don't even know? I feel guilty, like there's a reason my mother never wanted me to know, and I'm disrespecting her wishes.
There's a cruel, inner voice that reminds me that Mum isn't here anymore, that, after today's findings, maybe it's time I took her off her pedestal. And anyway, doesn't Anabel deserve to know this man, whoever he is- her father? But then I guess the same applies to me.
I remember Mr. Morgan's face when I'd made my request- he still didn't look surprised; in fact, he looked like he'd been waiting for me to ask him this favour all his life. There'd been some typing, some flicking through files, and then, there it was, scrawled on the piece of white card, waiting for me to pick it up.
The one thing he'd said, after all of this, as he handed me the card was,
"Don't go headlong into this."
I didn't know what he meant- I've waited twenty-three years to get in touch with my father, surely I've been taking it slow. But it's now, when I see Anabel's file lying on the passenger sheet next to me, that it makes sense. Diving into this without having talked to Anabel first is wrong- actually, its just plain stupid, which is my initiative to turn the car around and make my way to the house.
I need to talk to Anabel.
This time, there's no hesitation or wondering; I don't pause to consider and over-think what I need to do, which may be satisfying, but terrifies me in that part of my mind I'm trying to block out.
I must've spent more time than I thought since my phone call with Alan, because, when I get to the house, everyone is there, hauling boxes or, in Jen's, Jake's and Abby's case, a sofa. Alan perks up and nearly drops his box when he sees me. I recognise it as my DRAWERS box.
"Anna, did you bring the food?"
I look at him apologetically. "Sorry, love."
He scowls and walks inside, muttering under his breath, sixteen year old drama queen that he is. When they all come back out again, I turn to my brother.
"Rob," I say. "Why don't you take the others out for lunch?"- my meaning is blatantly obvious- leave Anabel with me.
Rob rolls his shoulders back. "Thank God," he mutters, before ushering everyone into the car.
"Can I talk to you, Anabel?"
The little blonde whips around, green eyes wide and startled. When it becomes obvious that there's no other Anabel I could be talking to, she nods meekly, following me inside.
So far the guys have only set up one sofa, so I settle on the floor, crossing my legs like I'm Anabel's age, who perches on the very edge of the sofa. We sit there in silence for God knows how long until the feeblest sound escapes Anabel.
"I'm sorry, what?" I say, taken aback.
"I'm sorry," she says, just loud enough for me to hear.
I look at her, confused. "You haven't done anything, Anabel."
She plays with her fingers. "I'm sorry that you have to, um, look after me. I know you don't really want to."
I feel disgusted with myself. "That's not true, Anabel." She doesn't look up. "Anabel, look at me."
She turns her big, watery green eyes onto me. "That's not true... but I'm sorry I made you feel like that."
What was I suppose to say to her that a seven year old could understand? That I feel guilty bringing her to my mother's home but hate myself for the way Anabel feels right now?
"You're an amazing girl, Anabel," I say. "In fact, and don't tell Jen and Abby I said this, but you're the perfect sister."
For a moment I see a hopeful glint in her big eyes, but it dies out quickly. "I don't feel perfect," she admits quietly.
I don't know what to say to that, so I ask her a question instead.
"Anabel, do you know our father?"
Her face forms a confused frown. "Who?"
I almost laugh at the similarity between our reactions.
"Joseph," I say, but the name feels intrusive coming out of my mouth. "Joseph Hastings."
"Like Jesus' dad," Anabel says, making me chuckle.
"The only thing they share, Anabel, is a name."
"Like us," she says.
I shake my head. "We have the same eyes," I suggest. Anabel doesn't look too convinced. "And we're both gorgeous," I add casually.
She laughs- the loudest sound I've heard her make so far, and it makes me happy.
"So tell me, Anabel, what do you like?"
She doesn't have to look up to talk to me now because she's looking at me directly now. "SpongeBob," she admits.
"I saw that yesterday," I tease, and she blushes. "Anything else?"
She pauses. "Poems."
I smile, intrigued. "What poems do you like?"
"Any," she says.
"Do you have a favourite poem?" I ask.
Another pause, then she nods. "Cats Sleep Anywhere."
I grin. "I remember that poem. But why is it your favourite?"
She looks at me thoughtfully. "Because no one can take a cat's home away because they sleep anywhere."
There's a slight sinking feeling in my gut. "Well, no one's gonna take your home away, either."
I want to reassure those unconvinced eyes that I mean it, that Anabel's here for good. But there's one more thing I need to do first.
"Back to our father, Anabel." She begins fidgeting again. "I think we should meet him."
She looks scared. "You want me to live with him?"
"No! No, Anabel. You live here now. It's just, we have to. He's our dad." I scooch forward on my butt and hold her hand. "Anabel?"
Finally, she nods. "Call him," she says, so I pull out my phone and the card, and dial.