My heart sank as I saw a distressed little girl throwing paints on the floor as she screamed and cried. I took a moment to collect myself before entering the Oh So Curious Children’s Home attached to the city hospital.
“Carrie?” I said, softly. “Carrie… it’s me… Lizzie!”
“Go away, Lizzie!” Carrie screeched, hitting my leg through blinding tears.
I winced. Carrie stomped in the colorful composite she created on the floor. I knew what was happening. She was in denial and she was angry. I would be too.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” I knelt down and tried to comfort the child.
“My daddy loved you and you left us,” Carrie cried.
She’s confused, I figured. I was the one that Rob left behind. But then again, Carrie had been about four when everything happened. She probably didn’t remember clearly, just that her friend was there one day and gone the next. Just like my friend. My heart seized with sadness. Rob was dead. A brain aneurysm in the park, they said. With no next of kin, I was listed as an emergency contact. I wondered if there was some sort of mistake.
“No mistake,” the director of child services said. “Rob had an attorney draw up the papers for him should something ever happen to him. He wanted you to be Carrie’s legal guardian.”
I was shocked. I was in denial. I climbed the stairs instead of taking the elevator so I’d have more time to process. I was still trying to wrap my head around being a mother of triplets. Now Carrie was left in my custody and care by my ex-boyfriend? And what would Joseph say? I still hadn’t been able to reach him. Where is that man? Or is he avoiding me? I tried not to think about it.
“If you aren’t prepared to care for the child, she can stay here with us should you choose to give up your legal claim,” the director said.
“Wait, what?” I blinked rapidly, pulling back from the hug I was giving Carrie. I rubbed my forehead. “Look, no. She’s my responsibility.”
“Please don’t leave me here,” Carrie whimpered. “Please don’t. I can’t lose you too.”
My heart nearly broke in two.
“She’s coming home with me,” I said firmly. “Get her things and whatever paperwork I need to sign.”
“You will need to contact the attorney about the official adoption,” the director replied.
“Yeah, whatever,” I said, more flippantly than I meant, as I bent down to hold Carrie again. “You’re coming home with me.”
After four hours of crying, sobbing, screaming, kicking, biting, and huffing, Carrie finally collapsed in the guest bedroom of my sister’s home. Lee and Sammy were very confused upon my return, but they were more understanding when I explained after Carrie fell asleep.
“That poor girl,” Sammy sighed.
“What an ordeal she’s been through,” Lee pressed her hands to her lips, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m so sorry, Lizzie.”
“And you really are the legal guardian?” Sammy asked.
“That’s what they told me. Rob wanted Carrie to be in my care. I have…” I sighed, and rubbed my forehead. “…the contact of the attorney and my letter from him. The hospital gave it to me.”
“We’ll let you read it alone,” Sammy said. “Come on babe,” he wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulder and guided her away.
I settled on the bench outside the house within earshot of Carrie’s window should she wake up and be confused, or scared, or sad and need me. I tried to call Joseph.
“Joseph, we need to talk. Where are you? I’m sorry. Please call me. There’s something you need to know and it transcends what transpired between you and me.”
I sighed heavily as I lifted the folder of papers Rob’s attorney left for me at the hospital. Inside was a handwritten letter from Rob. I took a deep breath.
Dear Elizabeth Green,
That sounds so formal, but a formal letter deserves a formal greeting.
I smiled wistfully as I could hear Rob’s voice in my head.
I never set out to be a parent. I don’t know about you, but I was told at an early age I could never have kids. A genetic defect, the doctor told me.
I gasped. Wait… what?
Sure this is light cheery reading for the bedside. Okay, here we go. If you’re reading this letter, it means I’m no longer in this world. About a year ago, Catarina Lynx, whom you know as Cat, passed away in Asima and I was the only surviving relative of Carrie’s. Now Carrie has no one. I don’t tell you this for you to pity me or to guilt you into taking care of my precious baby girl. I’m telling you this because my attorney said I’m required by law to say this – Carrie has no biological living relatives. Now you know, and anyone else who needs to see this document by law.
A tear pricked my eyelid. Poor baby.
When Catarina and I met, she was wild. She was wild and crazy and I loved her. And she had a nine month old baby girl named Carrie. The little girl’s biological father was Seoulan. His family was shamed that he got a white woman pregnant out of wedlock and so he took his own life.
Oh my gawd! I nearly dropped the papers. Was I reading this right?
I am the only father Carrie has ever known. She is my little girl. I adopted her when Cat and I got married. This is what Cat used against me when she worked with the courts to get full custody of Carrie back despite my years of proven loyalty and dependability and my consistency as a father in Carrie’s life. I want you to know it had nothing to do with you no matter what Cat said to you or you might have thought, or even what I told you. So please don’t blame yourself. I hope you didn’t. I know I didn’t end things well with you. I’m sorry I didn’t let you in. You see I’m super protective of my daughter. I don’t care what a piece of paper says. I’m her dad and that’s that.
Tears slipped down my cheeks. At the time, I did think that Catarina used Rob’s relationship with me against us, and drove us apart, using Carrie as a pawn to get what she wanted and to play her stupid game. Now I knew the truth and it all made sense.
I cared about you. I even loved you. And then I left. I chose my daughter over you. I don’t regret my choice. I do regret not taking better care of myself because I can’t be there to watch my daughter grow up and that plum sucks! I know that you’re probably wondering why you of all people. You have a good heart, Lizzie. You care with your whole heart, and you make people feel special and loved and needed. I watched my daughter grow attached to you and I realized that if anything ever happened to me, despite everything that happened between us, you’d be there for her. You’d be there if I asked you. I know I have no right to ask you, but I want you to be Carrie’s legal guardian since I’m gone.
I choked back a sob, and lifted my head back to take a deep breath, sucking in air as I stared up at the night sky. Rob, why? Why didn’t you let me in? Why did it take your dying to let me in? I dropped my head back down and looked out across the water. And Joseph? He won’t let me in either. Why? Why am I so hard to trust and to love?
You’re probably crying by now. I know I am. Know that I trust you, and that I am truly sorry for all the pain I caused you. I ask that you be a pillar in my daughter’s life and help her grow up to be the kind of woman you are.
“Oh, Rob,” I wailed. “You give me too much credit.”
Carrie needs someone she knows and loves and trusts. I’d rather it be you if you don’t mind than strangers. I couldn’t bear for my little girl to be raised by people she doesn’t know. It won’t be easy, I know, but I trust that you will be a fantastic mom to my kid, the kind of mom Cat could never be, the kind of mom I would want for her, because you are one of a kind, Lizzie.
It was signed Rob Buckely. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe all the kind things he said, and the truth about how he wasn’t Carrie’s real dad, but he became her real dad and took on that mantle because he loved Cat enough and he loved Carrie enough to do the stand-up thing and be a good guy. I vowed right then and there to try and be half the woman Rob made me out to be. I would honor his dying wishes.
I slipped into my bedroom and planted a kiss on Carrie’s forehead.
“Good night, angel,” I whispered fiercely. “I promise. I won’t ever leave you again, Carrie.”
Author Note: I always suspected something was up with Rob and Carrie, but I never could prove it. Then the little girl aged up and she didn’t look entirely like Rob or Cat. I’m not sure if InfraGreen planned that (well, she didn’t plan for Cat… that was my weird game fluke that seems to assign random parents and exes to people). It was always my goal to have Rob pop back up in part two here as a foil for Joseph and potential drama, but it just never fit until now. I didn’t need drama. Joseph and Lizzie created drama in spades. I also planned for Lizzie to adopt at least one child and voila! Looks like she will. Lizzie happened to run into Rob in Wintonborough and it just worked, but then he died tragically, and I was deeply saddened. I knew Carrie would need a new home and it just made sense that Rob would pick Lizzie. There isn’t a children’s hospital in game and when I cheated to find out where Carrie was after Rob’s death, she was ironically at the spa. So I just rolled with it. Thanks for reading. This chapter featured InfraGreen‘s Carrie Buckley.