Warning: Mentions of depression, anxiety, talk of death. Also, just ignore the outfit change at the end of the chapter. I didn’t notice it until all the pictures were taken and I exited the game.
The girl was scared. That much you could tell. I wasn’t sure if she understood that David was her father or if she thought we were just random strangers, but she kept looking warily between the two of us, as if expecting something bad to happen at any moment.
That wouldn’t do at all, if she was to stay here.
“Hi there, I’m Irene. And you are Millicent, right?” I ventured carefully.
She nodded, quietly responding “Yes.”
“So, I’m thinking you must be tired and hungry right now. Would you like some waffles?” I tried to make the situation less awkward for all three of us.
“Thank you. Ms. Rae got me some food once we got off the train though,” she gave a small smile.
“How far did you have to travel to get here?” I asked.
“Um, five hours on the train? And before that, two hours in the car, I guess. Ms. Rae was with me though. I wasn’t alone,” she explained.
That was roughly seven hours of travel. Yikes. She must have been exhausted.
“Then you probably really want to sleep, right?” I wondered out loud.
Millicent hesitantly nodded.
“Well, then, let’s get your bed set up,” I announced, trying to sound more clear-headed than I was. The alcohol from the bar was still making its presence known to my brain, a fact that I really didn’t want a small child to notice.
“Would it really be ok for me to stay here?” she asked in surprise. “I know you weren’t expecting me.”
“Of course it’s ok, sweetie!” I hurried to reassure the little girl, who looked so much like her father, who unfortunately was completely quiet until this moment.
“Why didn’t Sharon tell me? About you?” he blurted out.
The girl shrugged with a strange expression. “I don’t know.”
I tried my hardest to keep my smile on. Of all the things he could say right now! David and I were going to have a talk after Millicent was out of earshot.
“That’s alright, Millicent. Do you have a set of pjs?”
She nodded eagerly. “All of my things are in the bag Ms. Rae brought with us.”
“Alright, then! Let me show you your new room and the bathroom. Let’s get you comfortable. We can talk about everything else in the morning,” I decided.
It didn’t take long for Millicent to fall asleep once she had access to a bed – the long journey to our house must have taken a lot out of her.
With one thing accomplished, I made my way towards Millicent’s father. He was still downstairs, seemingly waiting for me.
“There you are,” he exclaimed upon seeing me. “What are we going to do?”
“We are going to raise this child, your child, and we are going to do as great a job of it as we possibly can,” I announced.
“You mean, you’re ok with it? With the fact that I have a daughter from another woman? You’re not mad at me?” he asked somewhat panicky.
“David, we’ve been trying to have a child of our own for the past five years to no avail. I was starting to consider adoption, you know. And here we are literally handed this wonderful little girl, and she is yours. Maybe this was meant to be? I’m not saying I’m happy about what happened to Sharon. No child deserves to lose a parent at such a young age and Sharon herself was just our age…” I paused, trying to accept the fact that a woman so young has passed away leaving her little daughter unattended for, to the best of her knowledge. “What I’m saying is, we need to step up our game and be the support Millicent needs right now.”
“Thank you, Irene,” David sighed with relief. “For understanding the situation. I do want to do right by this girl. But I mean, I didn’t even know she existed until an hour ago…”
“I know, I know. But David?” I looked him straight in the eye. “You know I love you, right?”
“But considering why Millicent is here, it was an unwise decision to ask her why her late mother never told you about her existence. I really doubt Sharon has explained anything about breakups to a child of eight. Promise me you’ll be careful with her.”
“Ok,” he agreed quickly. “I know I messed up. I’m going to try and get to know her a little better tomorrow. Wow, who would have thought! I’ve had a daughter for eight years and had no idea about it.”
“You do. Now, let’s get some sleep ourselves. We both need to sleep off the liquor before tomorrow starts,” I decided, dragging him to bed.
The alcohol still in my system knocked me out in seconds, but when I woke up it was still dark.
Strange. I thought I’d sleep for much longer after the kind of day I had yesterday. But then again, thoughts of the little girl in the room across the hall instantly invaded my mind. She must be so confused right now. I hoped she was able to sleep, despite all the recent shakeups in her life.
I looked at the clock: it was only 4:30 am. However, I knew I won’t be sleeping again this night. Quietly as not to wake David, I got out of bed and left the room, thinking of heading downstairs for an early morning snack, but something took over and I found myself heading towards Millicent’s room.
I wanted to make sure everything was ok.
Approaching the door, I heard quiet muffled sobs coming from inside the room – she was crying. Of course, she was. I would have been crying too, in her shoes.
Should I go in? Or would she rather have her privacy? Following my first instinct, I carefully opened the door and stepped in.
Millicent was lying in bed, seeming unable to stop the sobs shaking her small body. From the looks of it, she has been crying for a while now.
“Millicent?” I ventured carefully. “Have you slept at all?”
Becoming aware of my presence, she tried to stop crying.
“Yes,” she managed to whisper through the tears. “A little.”
“Do you maybe want to talk to someone? I know you’ve just met me this evening, but I can try to help,” I offered. “Or at least to listen.”
She sat up, giving up on sleep.
“Why? Aren’t you supposed to be mean to me? Stepmothers are supposed to hate their stepchildren. Like Cinderella’s and Snow White’s stepmoms. That’s what everyone always says,” she sniffled.
I couldn’t help but smile. She was so precious.
“No Millicent, most stepmoms don’t hate their stepchildren. I can’t say that there aren’t some bad ones in the world, but most of them are pretty nice. Can I sit here with you for a bit?” I asked.
She nodded. I sat near her, trying to figure out how to talk to a distraught child.
“What’s wrong? You can tell me,” I let her know.
She hesitated for a moment before admitting, “I miss Mom.”
Of course, she did. It was silly of me to even ask that question.
She continued, “I woke up an hour ago and it hit me that I’m never going to see her again and it just made me so sad. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her.”
Upon this, she once again started crying, reminded once again of her loss.
I remembered the time when Mom was sick. How all of us were in a race against time to find a cure for her. How elusive that cure was and how small the chance of finding it was. For several months, we were all terrified of losing her. It still would have hurt terribly, but at least we had time to prepare for the worst.
Millicent didn’t. The accident happened completely out of the blue and she was struggling to process what happened. And she was still so very young.
“You’ll see her again, Millicent. Not soon, but one day you will,” I told the little girl. “But until then, you just need to remember that your mom loves you very much and that she is looking over you from where she is right now.”
“Do you really think so?” she asked hesitantly.
“I do, dear,” I hurried to reassure her.
“But I still feel sad,” she whispered. “Is it bad?”
“It’s not bad. It’s normal to miss someone you love. I’m not going to lie to you – you’ll be missing your mother for a long time, probably for your whole life. But eventually, you’ll learn to live with her absence. Of course, it’s going to take time, but that’s life. Sometimes it takes people away from us too soon.”
“I won’t forget her right?” she asked nervously. “After many years pass, I won’t forget everything about her, will I?”
“Of course not, dear. She is your mother. Her memory will always be with you. And in the time being, your father and I are here for you. I want you to know that you never need to be afraid of either of us and that you can tell us anything that bothers you.”
“What is he like? My father, that is?” Millicent asked.
“He is a very good person, you don’t need to worry about that,” I smiled. “He’s someone who would always try to cheer you up when you’re feeling down. And he really knows how to put a smile on someone’s face. Tonight, he was just surprised that you exist. We both are, to be honest.”
“It’s so strange,” she admitted. “Whenever I asked Mom about my dad, she would get this strange expression and stop talking. Except for this one time when she said he was going to try to take me away from her if he found out about me. I think, maybe, this is why she never told him about me.”
It made sense, really. David was from an affluent family and especially when his father was alive, Lionel might have tried something like that. Sharon’s worry wasn’t ungrounded. However, I knew David would never have done something to separate a child from his mother. Of course, from what I knew of their separation, he wasn’t in the best state of mind at that point in time. Perhaps that was another factor influencing Sharon’s decision.
I sighed. Life could get really complicated sometimes.
“Maybe, I guess we’ll never know. But you are here now. And when your father wakes up, you’ll have a chance to really get to know him. Would you like that, Millicent?” I tried to cheer her up.
She nodded, beginning to smile. “Yeah, that would be nice. And you can call me Millie. All my friends call me Millie.”
“Alright, Millie. And you can call me Irene, no “Mrs.” or anything, alright?” I responded.
“Ok,” she nodded, adding “Irene.”
It was beginning to dawn outside. The night was really over.
“So, Millie, have you ever made pancakes?” I asked the little girl.
“No, Mom either cooked or got takeout back at home,” she shook her head.
“How would you like to help me make them?” I offered. “Fresh orange pancakes with whipped cream and jam?”
“That sounds delicious,” she admitted and her stomach rumbled in response.
“Let’s go then! The kitchen awaits brave experimenters in the culinary sciences.”
Sharon Preston. My first ever serious girlfriend. The person I once said “I love you” to. The person I pushed away when grief and anxiety got the best of me.
She and I met in our freshman year of university. As an art major, she was exactly the last person my parents would have wanted to see me with. And she had spunk, she did. There were so many times when she would call out our professors, who were less than knowledgeable in their topics, earning herself their disapproval and major respect from the students.
It didn’t take me long to fall for her, even when I told myself I didn’t have time for such things. Sharon was the kind of person I have always wanted to be, so full of energy and ideas, always drawing attention to herself and whatever she was passionate about.
And you just had to see her face when she talked about art. She would light up like the sun!
By the time we were juniors, we were already planning our future together, to the point of renting a place to live in as a couple while we finished school. That way, we could spend all of our free time together, enjoying each other’s company, loving each other, and generally being together.
Everything was absolutely perfect.
Until the news of Emily’s death came and broke something inside of me.
I blamed myself for relaxing, for forgetting that I still had a responsibility to her, for allowing myself to be happy while Emily wasn’t. I fell apart.
Sharon tried to help, to get me out of my funk, to help me get myself together. But as it went, I shut everyone out, even her. For months, I’ve turned into a shell of a person, one wrecked by anxiety and depression. Everyone got the hint and left me alone.
Except for Sharon. She stuck around for a long time. She was still trying, even though anyone could see that my condition was taking a toll on her. It wasn’t her job to make sure I was still alive and breathing every morning, but she did. She actually cared about my well-being, a fact I might have noticed if I wasn’t so deep under.
Until the day she didn’t. I guess everyone had their breaking point and Sharon reached hers.
We had a big fight that day. Sharon was trying to get me to come down and eat something that wasn’t junk food, or even just to come out of the house for some fresh air.
She told me I was going to end up seriously sick if I continued on the way I did.
I told her I hoped it would happen sooner rather than later.
That was when she lost it for good. She was practically crying by that point. She told me that if I wanted to leave this world so badly, it only showed how I didn’t care about anyone around me. Showed how I didn’t even care about her.
I told her this wasn’t about her. Couldn’t she see that?
She only shook her head and announced that if I was so set on destroying myself, she would have no part of it. She would not allow her own life to be destroyed alongside mine.
She left me after that. I don’t remember at which point she took her things from the house, but by the time I ended up in the hospital, they weren’t there anymore. The day of our fight was the last time I’ve ever seen Sharon Preston in person.
I woke up in cold sweat, the vivid dream that brought all my old memories up still playing in my mind.
Sharon Preston. I loved her, I truly did. Did I love her as much as I loved Irene now? Maybe, maybe not. But I loved her nonetheless.
And now I’ll never have the chance to apologize for all the pain I’ve caused her.
My mind was brought out of its reverie by the voices coming from our kitchen. One was Irene’s, the other must have belonged to Millicent.
Millicent, Sharon’s daughter. My daughter. It was still a shock to know that for the last eight years, I had a living breathing child in this world.
Eight years… Now that I’ve had time to think about it, Sharon must have known she was pregnant at the time of our breakup. Her pregnancy must have been just the thing that gave her a push to end things with me. It made sense, really: as a mother, she had to think about what was best for her child. I understood her decision.
And now, she was gone and I was meeting my daughter for the first time.
Entering the kitchen, I was greeted by a sight straight out of a “perfect family” sitcom. Irene was preparing pancakes and Millicent was by her side, helping her mix the ingredients, reading out loud which other items had to go into the dough, and rinsing the fruits.
“Good morning, David,” Irene called without even turning around. No matter how quietly I walked, I could never surprise her.
The little girl turned around upon hearing my name. For a moment, we just stared at one another. Gosh, she looked so much like Emily. Except for her mother’s eyes. Her eyes were a definite reminder of her mother.
“So,” I tried to make her comfortable, “hi. You’re Millicent and I’m David, your father, and wow, this is awkward, but I’m really glad to finally meet you.”
“Hi,” she responded quietly. “It’s nice to meet you as well. So, what do you do?”
“Well, Irene and I run a pharmaceutical company. It’s a big building, which is connected to different places around the world, and it produces medications help people. And there are a lot of different people working on different projects, and you are probably getting bored listening to this, am I right?” I realized.
She shook her head. “I like hearing about things. It’s interesting.”
“That’s a good thing,” I smiled. “The more you know, the richer your life will be, right? What about you? What do you like to do? What do you like?”
“I like to draw,” she answered after thinking for a moment. “I like to watch TV shows. Especially about cooking. I can’t cook though. But Irene is showing me how to make pancakes!”
“I sure am,” Irene affirmed from her spot at the stove. “They are almost ready, too.”
“That’s wonderful,” I smiled at the now-excited child. “So, do you think we can be friends?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I’d like that.”
“Breakfast is served!” announced Irene. “Eat up. The weather is good today – perfect for a picnic in the park.”
“You have parks here?” Millicent asked, her eyes growing big. “How many?”
“Oh, we have plenty of them here,” Irene responded. “Hidden Springs is very green and every outdoorsman loves it here. Do you like parks?”
“I love them!” she smiled. “Do they have wildflowers and chipmunks? They are so picturesque!”
“You’ll see for yourself pretty soon, I think,” Irene smiled from across the table.
I looked over at my wife in amazement. This wasn’t the reaction I expected from her upon finding out I had a child from a prior relationship. Not only was she extremely accepting of Millie, going out of her way to make the little girl welcome, but it seemed like she and the girl already became close friends. When has this happened? How did I deserve this miracle?
On the way to the park, Millie took in the town passing outside the window with wide amazed eyes. I was still getting used to the fact that I had a daughter, but her presence was becoming more and more normal by the minute. Right, even.
Looking over at Irene, I couldn’t help but notice how she seemed to be more relaxed that she has been in months. The absence of a child must have been weighing on her mind even more than I’ve noticed. Perhaps, this was why she and the girl drifted towards one another so quickly. They both needed one another.
The park was quiet that day. It seemed that the majority of Hidden Springs have chosen to spend their day off elsewhere and the relaxed atmosphere of the woody area combined with the smell of the grass, still fresh after last night’s rain, put all three of us into a better mood.
Millie was curious about everything, from the history of Hidden Springs to how Irene and I met. (Oh yes, we had to change the story up a bit for her, for now at least!) She was still clearly sad about what happened, but she was beginning to adjust. It was an interesting change from last night, when she seemed scared to even speak up. I figured she resembled Emily in more ways than one – my late sister was also shy with people until she was able to get to know them closer. Although, Millie seemed to adjust to situations somewhat better, I had to admit.
She also seemed to be in love with drawing, bringing a large sketchpad with her everywhere she went. For an eight-year old, she was pretty good.
“Isn’t she precious?” Irene whispered to me while Millie was preoccupied with her drawing.
“Yeah. It’s a bit of a struggle for me not to call her Emily at times, though,” I admitted. “She looks so much like her.”
“Does she? Well, she is your daughter,” Irene smiled. “Do you think she’s going to be ok? I know I can’t replace her mother, but…”
“I think she’ll be just fine. And I think she already likes you more than me. I’m a little jealous,” I joked.
“Yeah, well. She and I had a heart-to-heart talk while you were sleeping,” Irene explained. “We get each other.”
“My girls are already conspiring against me, eh?” I pouted. But truly, I was happy that this situation was working out in a positive way.
I hoped, wherever Sharon was right now, she could see that her daughter had not one, but two people who were going to do their best for Millie.
Eventually, as evening began to set in, we headed home. All of us were tired and a little sore from not sleeping much the previous night, but it was worth it. We knew we had to spend some time together to get used to each other.
As we approached our house, our group was greeted by the sight of an irritated-looking young man and a large Siberian husky dog.
Oh shit, I thought. I totally spaced out about that.
“Yo man! That’s not cool, you know. I don’t have all day to wait for people who decide to back out at the last moment,” the young man addressed me. “I only waited as long as I did because you were so adamant about this particular dog and I just know he’ll be grabbed up by someone else as soon as he’s back up for adoption.”
“I’m so sorry,” I hurried to apologize to the rescue worker. “Stuff came up and I kind of forgot you were coming today.”
“What is this about, David?” Irene bewilderedly looked between me and the dog.
“Um, I kind of applied for a dog adoption,” I admitted, realizing that I probably should have asked her about this first. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it. It was supposed to be a surprise for you.”
“A surprise for me? A dog?” she didn’t seem as happy as I imagined she’d be.
“You aren’t happy? I’m sorry. It’s just, you were feeling really down and I remembered how fondly you’ve talked of the dogs you and your brother had growing up. I thought bringing a dog home would cheer you up, you know,” I explained.
Her expression relaxed. “I’m not mad about the dog. It’s just, I don’t know if we have enough time for one. My parents weren’t working at a busy corporate office and their jobs allowed them to always have the pooches nearby. Besides, a Siberian husky is a very energetic breed…”
We were interrupted with loud giggles. Millie already made her way towards the dog, which was happily licking her hand, to her immense delight.
“Well, when you put it that way,” Irene conceded. “I suppose a dog wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”
“That settles it, you two. I’ll be on my way now. I left some dog food by your door, which you might want to use soon – Sherlock here is probably hungry by now. Oh yeah, by the way, he only responds to Sherlock, ever since our manager started to watch BBC in the dog room. See ya!”
And with that, the man was gone on his way, whistling as he rode away from us.
“Well, I guess we have a dog now!” Irene announced, urging everyone indoors.
Even though she was initially opposed to the idea, she quickly turned to smiles at the sight of Millie trying to hug a dog that was practically her size.
“Looks familiar,” she explained. “Ursa and Hawk would constantly play furry babysitters for us when Mom and Dad had to leave us alone for any time.”
That evening, while Millie played with Sherlock, Irene and I were relaxing together in front of the TV.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked, looking at her content face.
“I’m thinking that everything is going to be alright,” she replied. “For all of us.”
I hugged her close, and whispered “Yes.” Of course everything will be alright. There was no other option.