His eyes are wide open, and when he speaks it’s with stunned horror. ‘Why are you always such a little—’ He stops himself and takes a deep breath.
‘Go on! Say it!’ I yell, tears filling my eyes. My next question comes out of nowhere. ‘Do you know who my real dad is?’
His mouth abruptly shuts.
‘Do you?’ I ask again.
He looks away from me and the blood drains away from my face. ‘Do you?’ I ask once more, this time with shock. I step around the coffee table and kneel in front of him. ‘Stuart?’ I ask, my pulse still racing. ‘Stu, please? Do you know?’
He won’t meet my eyes.
‘I thought that when Mum died I’d never find out the truth . . . If you know, you have to tell me.’ Tears track silently down my cheeks as I stare at him, my last hope for my world’s biggest secret.
Slowly, his eyes meet mine and I know that the answer is yes, he knows.
‘Please tell me,’ I beg, as the tears continue to stream relentlessly down my neck, soaking the rim of my T-shirt.
He rubs his hands over his face in a frustrated, lost gesture, upsetting his horn-rimmed glasses. He takes them off and pushes his right hand through his hair, studying the glasses in his left. I wait in breathless silence. He shakes his head.
‘I don’t know, Jessie.’
‘Stu, please,’ I say again. ‘I need to know. It’s why I’ve been so ... angry ... I can’t move on, I can’t say goodbye to her. Not really. I’m so hurt and upset that she kept this from me. Please . . .’ There is a lump the size of a ping-pong ball inside my throat now. ‘I just want someone to be honest with me. I don’t care if he’s in jail. I’ll get over it if he’s dead. What could be worse than that?’
He shakes his head. ‘He’s not in jail.’
My breath catches and I freeze, staring at his face.
‘And he’s not dead,’ he adds.
‘Then who is he?’
He sighs. ‘He has a family. He doesn’t know you exist.’
‘So that’s it? I can’t know who my dad is because he doesn’t know who I am? Because I might upset his happy little family? Well, tough! What about me?’
‘It’s more complicated than that,’ he tells me.
‘How can it be more complicated than that?’ I don’t under- stand. I so wish I did.
‘He’s . . . well known.’
‘What?’ My brow furrows. Now I’m even more confused. Is he a celebrity? A politician? ‘Have I heard of him?’
He nods slowly. ‘His name is Johnny Jefferson.’
My world tilts off its axis. Not because I think my dad is Johnny Jefferson, but because Stuart has just told me that my dad is Johnny Jefferson. How could he be so cruel as to openly taunt me?
‘How could you?’ I ask, my head spinning. Why would Stu mock me like this? To teach me a lesson for acting out?
‘I’m not lying to you,’ he says solemnly and I want to slap his face. ‘I’m not! I’m telling you the truth.’
‘I hate you,’ I reply bitterly.
‘Jessie,’ he says firmly. ‘Your dad is Johnny Jefferson.’
I stare at him. What is he talking about?
Stu sighs. ‘Your mum was a groupie of Johnny’s first band, Fence, before they became famous.’
‘A groupie?’ I shake my head in confusion. Aren’t groupies really slutty?
‘Yes. She followed the band everywhere, was obsessed with Johnny.’
My face flushes. ‘Are you being serious? If you’re lying to me I will walk out of this door and you will never see me again,’ I swear vehemently. Maybe that’s what he wants.
‘I’m not lying to you,’ he replies. ‘I swear on your mother’s grave that I’m telling you the truth.’
I feel dizzy as now my world completely breaks away from its axis and starts to roll downhill, gathering speed as it goes. I fall backwards and my back hits the wall. I slide down to the floor and stare up at him in shock, looking down at me from his armchair.
‘Are you serious?’
He closes his eyes briefly in resignation at my language, while I ready myself to hear the bedtime story to end all bedtime stories.