A Mother’s Gift

I did it! I wrote a serial story. It has been a wonderful distraction for me during quarantine. Has Libby found her birth parents? Is Frankie her sister? Here’s are the answers. Thanks for reading.

A Mother’s Gift – The Conclusion

Jack’s face suddenly froze.  His thoughts abruptly changed from solving a mystery to wondering if in fact this young woman was his daughter and why he was never informed.

Before Libby or Jack could speak, a nurse bustled in and told the visitors it was time to leave.  “If all Libby’s tests are good in the morning she will be released and you can have this family reunion at home.”  Libby, Frankie and Jack all looked at the nurse, puzzled.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just that Libby is the talk of the floor being admitted with just that list in her pocket.  And you two look like sisters, I just assumed.  I’m so sorry.”  Jack and Frankie quickly said goodnight to Libby and headed home, each of their minds swirling with questions.

Libby was still for a moment, trying to absorb the implications of this new information.  Thankful to have her cell phone back in her possession, she considered calling Aunt Beth.  But seeing the fourteen text messages and three voicemails from Carolyn, she knew who her first call needed to be.  Carolyn answered on the second ring.  “Oh my God!  Libby, are you ok?”  Even though she was still feeling a bit shocked, Libby smiled at the love and concern in her friend’s voice.  “I’m ok.  And I hope you don’t have a hot date tonight, because I really need to talk with you.”

At the very same moment Libby was basking in the comfort of being able to talk with her friend, Jack was being confronted by his daughter. “I can’t believe all the lectures I have listened to from you about safe sex and now I find out you had a kid while you were in college and never even told us!  Does mom know???”  

“First off, IF Libby is my daughter, her mother never told me.  I didn’t know so of course your mother doesn’t know!  Frankie, I know this is overwhelming, but at this moment I really need you to take your brother Adam out for pizza while I have a private conversation with your mother.”  Frankie begrudgingly collected her little brother and headed out for dinner while Jack grabbed a bottle of wine and two glasses and asked his wife, Julia, to join him on the patio.   “So, who is this mystery woman Frankie is all excited about?  Have you got it all worked out?”  

Jack sat quietly for a moment, looking at his wife.  The two of them had supported each other through the ups and downs of life for over 20 years, but he wasn’t sure how she would react to this news.  “This mystery woman’s name is Libby.  She came to New Bradford searching for some relatives she found through 23andMe.  There are still some unanswered questions, but there is a strong possibility that she is the daughter of someone I dated my freshman year in college and a strong possibility that I am her father.  Julia, I had no idea.  I only dated Beth for a few months before she abruptly broke up with me and left school.” 

Julia was silent, sipping her wine and looking out over the flower beds where she spent countless happy hours working, admiring the fruits of her labors all while trying to grasp what her husband was saying.  Her husband, the father of her children, had a child with another woman!  Jack took her hand saying “Julia, please talk to me.”   “I think I’d like to be alone right now.”  She went upstairs to their bedroom. closing the door firmly.

Jack remained out on the patio, reeling from the day.  Had Beth had a baby and not told him?  What if she had told him?  Would they have married and his life taken a completely different path?  He couldn’t imagine not sharing a life with Julia and their two cherished, albeit somewhat indulged, children.  Frankie returned from dinner with her brother.  Adam, oblivious to the situation, said hello to his dad but quickly returned to the TV room to play video games.  Frankie asked, “Where’s mom?  Is she ok?”  

Before Jack could answer, Julia came into the kitchen and Frankie quickly wrapped her mom in a warm hug.  It was obvious her mom had been crying and honestly, her dad didn’t look much better. “Frankie, I think your father and I need a little time alone to hash this through.”  Frankie knew her parents had had the occasional disagreement in the past, but this was on a whole new level.  Realizing the need for her parents to talk, Frankie was uncharacteristically agreeable.  “Sure, mom.  I’ll go hang out with Adam.  I know this is all crazy, but for what it’s worth, Libby seems like a really nice person.”

With the dim hum of Mario Cart sound effects in the background, Jack and Julia returned to the patio.  Jack couldn’t believe how awkward he felt in a place that had offered the two of them comforting intimacy on so many evenings.  “Julia, I am reeling from this new information too.  But I dated Beth before I even knew you.  I was 19 years old!”  

“I understand all that, just please put yourself in my position for a moment.  This is a bit out of left field, not something I ever expected.  When you see all the stories about finding your father/mother/siblings as a result of DNA testing, you never expect to be one of those stories.  But I know you love me and we’ll figure this out.  What is your plan for the morning?”

While Jack and Julia discussed what the next day would hold, Libby and Carolyn were finishing up their conversation.  Libby had filled Carolyn in on all the new developments.  They discussed in detail everything Libby knew about her Aunt Beth.  Libby had no memory of any tender moment between them that would lead her to think she might be her birth mother.  If pressed, Libby would describe her as politely disinterested at best.  After spending the last five minutes of their conversation with Libby finally convincing Carolyn that there was no need for her to make a trip to New Bradford, they said good night with plans to talk the next day.

Despite the hour, Libby knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep until she made another phone call.  It was early evening on the west coast when she rang her Aunt Beth.   The sounds of the hospital and the traffic outside all faded away as Libby tried to find the right words. “Hi, Aunt Beth.  It’s Libby.  I need to talk with you.”  There was a moment of silence before Beth responded, “All right.”  Libby explained all that had happened since their last phone call.  She told her about ordering the 23andMe kit, receiving the results, coming to New Bradford in search of people who shared her DNA and finding Jack Easton.  “He said the two of you dated his freshman year in college and then you broke up with him, left college, and never contacted him again.  With the 23andMe results and the fact that the two of you knew each other in college, are you and Jack Easton my parents?”  

Libby realized she was holding her breath, waiting for Aunt Beth to respond.  “Ever since your last phone call when you told me your mother had shared with you that you were adopted, I have been expecting this call.  I did give birth to you, but I was never your mother.  When I became pregnant my freshman year of college, I was totally freaked and wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I had no intention of following the path of marriage and motherhood, I was eager to get my college degree and go conquer the film business.  It was our mom, your grandmother McCarthy, who brought up the idea of my having the baby and letting Elaine and her husband adopt it since they had been unable to conceive and wanted a child.  The more she talked about it, it seemed like the best solution for everybody. Elaine’s attorney handled the private adoption and when you were three days old, we all signed the papers.  It was the right thing. Elaine had every maternal instinct I did not.  I still remember the look on her face when your grandma but you in her arms.  I transferred to UCLA and tried to forget it ever happened.  So, I’m not sure what you’re looking for.  I know I was never an attentive aunt and I never thought I could be a mother to you.  I barely remember Jack Easton. We were not some great love story, just a couple of dumb young kids floundering in our new-found freedom of college life.”

Libby took a deep breath and responded, “When this started, I was looking for answers.  I wanted to understand why my birth parents put me up for adoption and now I know.  I’m not looking for anything from you that you don’t want to give.  You’re right, Elaine was my mother and I’m not looking for another.  If you would like to get to know each other in the future I’m open to that, but if there’s no room in your life for that, I can accept that.  I’ve had a really long day Aunt Beth.  I’m going to let you go and try and get some sleep.  Take care.”  Libby hadn’t been expecting to be received as the long-lost daughter, but she’s hoped for a warmer response to her phone call.  She had never given birth, but she was pretty sure she would have at least some curiosity about her child, feel some sort of connection.  

Morning came and with the morning Jack and Frankie returned to the hospital.  Jack and Julia had talked and decided that with the 23andMe results and Jack’s acknowledgement of his relationship with Beth, there was no question that Libby was Jack’s daughter and Frankie and Adam’s sister.  They also talked with Frankie and Adam, reassuring them that while they had been a happy family of four, they knew there was room for Libby in their lives. Julia suggested if Libby was released, Jack invite her to stay at the house for a night or two.  Libby was touched by this unexpected kindness, but said she was going to spend the night in a hotel before starting the drive back the next morning.  “Well at least come for dinner.  Please!  You do need to meet my mom and we do need to talk more.”  Frankie’s gentle pleading was hard to resist and Libby agreed to come to dinner that night.

Dinner was not the awkward affair Libby had feared. Julia had prepared a delectable meal of roasted salmon, fresh veggies and orzo.  The Easton family did all they could to make her feel welcomed. They kept the conversation light, talking about a local festival coming up, Adam’s baseball team, and Frankie getting ready for her first year of college.  After a yummy dessert of raspberry custard kuchen, Adam excused himself to go to a friend’s house down the street. Over coffee, Libby shared with Jack, Julia and Frankie an abbreviated version of her conversation with her Aunt Beth.  Jack offered to try contacting Beth, but Libby preferred to leave the matter alone.  Per her earlier decision, she returned to the hotel for a restless night and left on her drive back to West Grove shortly after daybreak.

Over the next month Jack and Libby exchanged a few emails, getting to know each other.  If Jack was restrained and measured with his correspondence, Frankie’s correspondence was the total opposite.  Hardly a day went by that Libby didn’t receive a text, an email or at the very least, a selfie of Frankie waving hello.  While reviewing floral orders for the next day or perusing catalogs for holiday items, Libby would often hear her phone ping. There would be a note from Frankie just saying hello or wanting to know Libby’s favorite food, favorite movie or book.  All the attention from Frankie helped counterbalance the fact that there had been no further communication from Aunt Beth.

July turned into August and Carolyn turned 30.  She celebrated by throwing herself a beach party.  Libby helped with the setup and decoration, complete with tiki torches, lanterns and trellises decorated with fresh flowers and strung with party lights.  And another party was being planned.  Frankie would be leaving for college the end of August and Jack and Julia were hosting a goodbye barbeque.  Libby was particularly touched that her invitation arrived with a handwritten note from Julia inviting Libby to stay at their home.  She also shared that Frankie would be very disappointed if her new “sister” wasn’t at her party.

Libby again left bright and early on a Sunday morning to make the drive to New Bradford, but this time there was no apprehension, just happy anticipation.  Frankie squealed when she saw Libby arrive.  She proceeded to drag her around the party, introducing Libby to all her friends as her new big sister.  There was delicious food and a sound system with a play list that had something for everyone. The guest of honor, looking cute as a button in her cornflower blue sundress, had a ball.  

Later that evening after the other guests had left, Libby found herself sitting at a table out on the patio with Julia and Frankie.  Jack brought them a cold bottle of Pellegrino to share and glasses of deliciously cold, crisp chardonnay for Julia and Libby.  He went back into the kitchen to look for a post-party snack for them, although how they could be hungry was a mystery.  Libby couldn’t help but envy the easy family dynamics of the Eastons and love for each other.  “I’m happy to be here and grateful that you invited me. It makes me miss my mother even more and the times we shared.  I think that I was hoping for some of that family connection when I reached out to Aunt Beth.  Perhaps someday.”

Julia turned in her chair to look directly at Libby. “Libby, I know you were taken aback by Beth’s matter-of-fact response when you asked if she was your mother.  For your own sake, I’m hoping you can come to accept that she did the best she could at the time.  And if possible, I’m hoping you can see what she did as a gift.  Her gift to you and to the woman who loved and raised you.  Motherhood is challenging under the best of circumstances, and at 19 it seems she was totally unprepared to be a mother.”  

The three women sat with their thoughts for a moment.  Frankie was the first to break the quiet.  “I know I am a lucky girl with a good life.  I’ve never sat around thinking something was missing, that something else was needed to make my life complete.  Finding out I have a sister is simply a bonus!  I’m so excited about getting to know you better.  So from where I sit, Beth gave you the gift of Elaine.  Then Elaine gave you the gift of me!” 

At this point, Jack came out with a plate of leftover hors d’oeuvres and his own glass of chardonnay.  “It’s been quite a summer.  Julia and I are sending one daughter off to college and hopefully getting to know another daughter better.”  Julia added “I agree!  One daughter is great, two daughters are wonderful.” Libby looked around into the kind faces at the table.  It had been quite a summer.  She had gone from feeling rejected and unwanted after receiving her mother’s letter, to feeling grateful and extremely lucky.  And Frankie almost had it right.  Beth had actually given Libby two gifts – life and Elaine.  But her beloved mother Elaine’s gifts were innumerable, and, yes, those gifts included the exuberant, sweet Frankie!  

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