“Mom, can I ask a question, a personal question?” Molly knew her mother would answer, unless it concerned Michael, her biological father.
“Of course.” Millie answered using a knife to cut her burger into fourths.
“Alisha said you might be the reason I don’t have a father. I mean, that we all don’t live together.” Millie didn’t smile, just sat staring a vacuous stare.
“I’ll answer that on August the 8th, that’s a little over seven months. The day you become a teenager, that’s what I’ve always promised.” Millie knew her timing wasn’t all that relevant but just a way to avoid a painful subject. Molly was beyond her years in intelligence and emotional control; she deserved knowing the full story.
Molly rarely got mad or said anything remotely hateful to her mother, but she was rational and persistent. “Was he mean like Colton? Am I the result of a one-night-stand, your lust for sex? How close did I come to being aborted?”
“Okay, okay.” Millie’s recent thoughts about dying and leaving Molly alone in the world prompted her to talk. “Actually, I’ve been searching for the right time to have this talk.” She reached and laid her hand on Molly’s. “We’re partners headed in a whole new direction. You deserve to know how you came to be in this world.”
For the next hour, Molly ate as Millie shared the entire story. Molly’s biological father is Michael Lewis Tanner. Lewis, as the name he preferred, hails from Boaz, a small North Alabama town fifty miles south of Huntsville. He’s the only child of attorney Micaden Tanner and high school teacher Karla Jacobson Tanner. He was raised in the countryside on an eighty-acre cattle farm dubbed, Hickory Hollow. Like Millie, after graduating high school, Lewis become an electrician journeyman. The two met on a job in North Carolina.
Molly silently concluded Alisha had been correct. Millie was the deciding factor. Although it had taken Lewis a while to propose Molly and Millie move to Hickory Hollow, she’d declined, for at least two reasons. She didn’t like the idea of living with his parents; her experience of her and Molly living in Sanford, N.C. with her parents convinced her no house was big enough for two families. Another reason, was Millie had vastly more opportunities as a paralegal in Chicago. Working for Lewis’ father at his law office was as unacceptable as living in the same household.
“Although, like me, Lewis had changed professions—he became a long-haul truck driver—he gave Chicago a solid try during the once-per-month weekends he had off work. You were only two. This went on about a year. Then, I was planning your third birthday and told him I wanted to invite his parents. Long story short, I’d never met them, and, get this, Lewis had never told them about you and me. After that, we simply drifted apart. He started staying on the rode two months at a time. Finally, we mutually agreed our relationship wasn’t in your best interest. The last time I saw him was a few days before Christmas, 2010.” Millie closed her eyes and whispered. “Tomorrow, that will be exactly nine years ago.”
Molly considered the tone of her mother’s words: soft, low, like they were filled with regret. This seemed to contradict Millie’s previous statement, “we simply went our separate ways.”
Molly was confused. To her, breaking up meant the end of a relationship, stopping all communications. She compared it to what was happening with Colton. “If the two of you went your separate ways why did Lewis send you a check every month?”
“Oh dear. This is a subtle reminder of my own failure. My inability to provide you with an ever-present father, one responsible, caring, and unchanging. Baby, all you’ve experienced with Colton’s declination and destruction has deprived you.”
Molly took the last bite of her burger and with mouth full said, “you kind of lost me. Are you saying that Lewis’ continuing support was the best he could do under the circumstances, that it was his only way of acknowledging his screwup?” Millie never ceased to be amazed at how mature and well-spoken her daughter could be.
“Lewis was and is an honorable, caring man. He loved you and still does. We both caused the problem.” Millie caught herself, she didn’t mean it like it sounded. She saw Molly’s mouth open and a wave of hurt roll across her face. “Baby, that didn’t come out right.”
“If I hadn’t been born you might not have let Colton move in. You were trying to, as you say, ‘provide’ me a father. Molly stared at her plate. “I’m sorry I’ve caused you such pain.”
“Molly Leigh Anderson, you are all wrong. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the most wonderful blessing I will ever, ever have. Your father felt the same way, but life isn’t always fair. He did and continues to do the right thing.”
“You’re talking about the support checks.” Molly was unusual, she was both highly imaginative and pragmatic. “Lewis, given he’s such a good man, will continue sending you a monthly check. This means he knows where to send it, thus, you’ve told him that we’re moving to New York City. Right?”
The logic made sense, but it wasn’t true, at least not yet. “It’s okay to reach conclusions without all the facts, but realize they can be wrong.” Millie had been extra careful about disclosing her and Molly’s plans, limiting who knew to only Matt and Catherine. “Lewis doesn’t know. I’m confident he’ll keep sending the check to the law office.”
“Matt’s office.” Molly clarified, remembering that a few months ago, months after Colton had gone crazy and started his physical and mental abuse, she’d overheard her mother and Colton arguing over Lewis’ check. The monster had come to expect it by the tenth of each month and would verify its receipt by inspecting the household’s bank statement. But, it had stopped coming, or that’s what Millie told Colton. Shortly thereafter, Millie had told Molly she had asked Lewis to start sending it to her work address. Millie didn’t like lying but found it necessary in planning and executing her and Molly’s escape from the evil monster.
Millie pushed back her plate, half her burger and all her fries uneaten. “Baby, I hope and pray someday you will find love, true love, everlasting love. Please learn from my mistakes.” She’d done it again. She rushed to clarify. “My mistake in losing Lewis. There’s nothing more wonderful in life than falling in love, but it doesn’t come without effort. You have to invest every day.” Molly could tell by the ghostly white of her mother’s face that she was awash in regrets, and what-should-have been.
The waiter arrived with their check, and a dessert. “We didn’t order that.” Molly said as Millie wiped away tears.
The waiter smiled. “I heard you mention a birthday when I refilled your water glasses. It’s on the house. And, gluten free.” Molly thanked him.
When he walked away she stared at the slice of chocolate cake surrounded by blueberries and strawberries next to a large dollop of whipped cream. “People can be so nice at times.” Molly remembered the Christmas card she’d seen at her mother’s work desk last Saturday. She’d spent an hour in her office while her mom was in the conference room with Matt and another paralegal. Molly didn’t like to snoop but couldn’t resist looking inside. It was signed “Love always, Lewis.”
Millie pushed the dessert toward Molly. “Eat and enjoy. It looks great.”
Molly wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to continue asking questions. “Do you send Lewis a Christmas card, like he does you?”
“Molly took a bite of cake and asked, “why?” She had learned this was likely the most important question in the universe.
“Two reasons, maybe more. Lewis and I are good friends, and we have a daughter together. You might say our exchange of annual Christmas cards is to acknowledge and celebrate you.”
“Where did you send his card while he was married?” A year or so ago Molly had pestered her mother so much so revealed a few details about her father, including that he had married in 2012, had a son in 2013, and his wife died in an auto accident in 2015.
“To his home address.”
“So, he didn’t try to keep you a secret from his wife?”
“Does this not mean his parents would know about me?” To Molly, this seemed only natural. Those who lives in the same household would likely know about each other’s mail, excepting young children of course.
“Different mailboxes. Before Lewis married, he purchased a mobile home and set it up at Hickory Hollow.”
This raised another question in Molly’s mind. “Why wouldn’t he have done that when he asked us to move to Alabama.”
It was like Millie hadn’t thought of this. “Uh, I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. Remember, I had other reasons for not wanting to move to a place more backward than where I’d grown up.”
“What’s his six year old son’s name?”
“Kaden.” The waiter returned and Millie gave him a fifty-dollar bill for their meal, including a tip. “Okay dear, we’ve been here almost two hours. Let’s head back.”
Molly had one final question that she had to ask. “Mom, now please don’t take this wrong. Do you have any other children?”
Millie’s laugh reminded Molly of how she used to be, before the monster Colton came along. She was so hopeful, so alive, so happy. “Oh baby, you are my one and only. There has never been and will never be another child like you.”
“Uh, I’m not a child, and I have another question.” Millie knew there was no end to Molly’s questions.
“Okay, but this is it for now. I have some calls I need to make.”
“Since I now know Lewis’ full name and where he lives, do you think it would be okay for me to contact him? Wouldn’t that be normal?”
Millie stood, slung her bag over her shoulder, and motioned for Molly to follow. “Let me think about that, but right now I don’t want him knowing where we are. The fewer people who know we’re in New York City the better.”
Molly shrugged her shoulders, cocked her head sideways, and raised her hands, palms open, as though saying, ‘that’s not good enough.’ But, she kept quiet all the way back to the bus station.