I stared up at the stars and relaxed into the chair. The night was cool, but the fire was warm at my feet. “I’m glad we could come,” I admitted. “It’s great to see you all. I can’t believe how long it’s been.”
“I know. It’s been too long, really.” He sighed and took the last sip of his wine before setting it on the table beside him. “I’m really proud of you, Erica.”
Our eyes met briefly before I looked down, feeling suddenly shy. “Thanks, Elliot.”
“I watch Marissa and Clara grow up every day, and I see you in them. As much as I cling to these moments with them, knowing they won’t last, going through it all over again brings up a lot of memories. A lot of regret that I couldn’t be more for you.”
“It’s okay.” I didn’t know what to say. I had wanted him to be more too, but I’d come to terms that he couldn’t.
“No, it’s not okay.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked into the fire. “I want you to know that I had never loved anyone the way I loved your mother. Up to that point, she really was the most amazing woman I’d ever met. And you were this perfect little extension of her. Cute as hell and smart as a whip. I couldn’t help but fall in love with you too. I felt so lucky to be your dad. Then when she got sick...” He shook his head, sadness locking his jaw. “We never saw it coming. My whole world turned upside down. I was young, and Patricia was my life. Then…I was scared to death of doing everything wrong with you. All of a sudden, being a dad seemed like the scariest thing in the world. I was afraid I was going to mess everything up. That I wouldn’t do her justice, you know?”
I wanted to comfort him. To reassure him that everything had worked out. It had, hadn’t it? I reached out for his hand. He held it tight for a moment and then released it, returning his gaze to the small fire warming our feet.
“I tried calling you so many times,” he said quietly. “I wanted to try to explain as time went on, but it’s hard to do it over the phone. I wanted to make it out to see you too, but life got in the way. It’s no excuse, I know.”
“I’m here now. And I understand. I can’t imagine what you went through. I missed having you in my life. Both of you. But I managed. I’m a different person for it, I think. More independent than maybe I would have been.” I laughed softly, and he looked up. “I mean, poor Blake can’t pin me down to save his life.”
He smiled, the sadness in his eyes dissipating a little more. “Good. You keep him on his toes.”
I do plenty of that. More than I probably should, though Blake would never tire of reminding me of that fact.
I looked up at the sliver of the moon. As far as we’d traveled today, the people in my other life could see the same sky. I wasn’t so far away from that world, the life I’d created after all this time. Elliot knew almost nothing about that world—the people who’d become family, the experiences that had brought me to my knees, and the ones that had helped me get back on my feet. How could he?
“I wanted to ask you something,” I said quietly. I sat up straighter in my chair, bracing myself for what might come next. “Did Mom...ever talk to you about my father?”
He frowned, hesitation sweeping his features. He was awkwardly silent. I recognized his hesitation. I’d seen that same look when Marie had the chance to tell me the truth about Daniel but didn’t. In an effort to respect my mother’s wishes, she’d kept silent too.
“I already know who he is. He was in some old college photos that Marie gave me, and I was able to track him down. Marie finally confirmed it. I know Mom didn’t really want me to know, but I guess curiosity got the best of me.”
He nodded slowly. “I can understand that. Would be hard going all that time not knowing. But she did worry about what kind of influence he’d have in your life if you knew who he was.”
“If the way they broke it off was so horrible, I don’t understand why her family wasn’t more supportive, you know? Having your daughter show up pregnant after college graduation wasn’t ideal, but we were never close with her family. They always seemed closer to her siblings and their kids. In retrospect, it was like I was a pariah. We both were.”
He grasped his hands together under his chin. “I might as well tell you the whole story while you’re here. Who knows when we’ll get another chance.”
I frowned. “What whole story?”
He ran his hands through his hair and drew in a deep breath through his nose. “According to Patty, when she came home after graduation, she waited to tell them about the pregnancy until she’d heard from Daniel. When it was clear their relationship wasn’t going anywhere, she finally broke the news to her parents. Obviously they were upset. But when they found out who your father was, things changed. They weren’t as upset about her being pregnant as they were about his decision not to marry her. They wanted her to force him into it, to reach out to his family and expose the truth. They threatened to do it, and that’s when she moved out. She needed their help, but she wasn’t about to blackmail him into making an honest woman out of her. She wanted you, and she was going to figure out a way to have you and make a life.”
Pain tightened my chest. “Why would they do that?”
“Your mom came from a good family. Professionally, anyway. Professors, doctors. Having Patty marry into Daniel’s family would have been a coup for them. Patty used to claim that’s why they sent her to Harvard to begin with. It wasn’t cheap for them, but they thought she’d at least find a husband. A child out of wedlock wasn’t their idea of a success.”
I shook my head, hating to think of her in that light. Her family had been so cold, and now I knew why. Thinking about all the choices she’d made to keep me, at the expense of keeping her family close, sickened me.
“I’m sorry. All this sounds terrible. It’s why I never wanted to tell you and why Patty never wanted you to know. Sometimes you think you want to know the truth, but people can be cruel. Selfish and cruel, and there’s no way to tell you the truth without it hurting.”
“Not much about discovering Daniel hasn’t been hurtful, to be honest. He’s... Well, he’s a lot like you’d probably imagine.”
He stared at me in silence for a moment. “What kind of man is he? She didn’t talk about him much.”