In the last five weeks, I’ve read the letter I received from my mother’s rapist twice; the first time was before I knew who the letter was from and the second time I read it to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Yes, my mother’s rapist sent me a letter. Yes, that is how I refer to my father. This doesn’t change the fact that, for five weeks, I’ve been carrying my father’s letter around with me everywhere I go.

Even now, as I stroll across the driveway toward my old home, the letter is folded and tucked into the bottom of my purse. As I approach the door, I still get an urge to knock, even though such niceties are no longer necessary. Jackie, the best foster mother a girl could ask for, gave me a house key two weeks ago.

This is my home.

I open the door slowly, still slightly afraid that I’m going to run into Chris, though I planned this visit for a Thursday evening instead of a weekend because I knew he wouldn’t be here. I step inside and close the door softly before I make my way to the kitchen. Dropping my purse on the breakfast bar, I immediately head for the fridge to grab a bottle of water. As I close the refrigerator door, someone clears their throat behind me.

Turning around, I find Rachel standing on the other side of the breakfast bar. Her dark hair is pulled up into a messy ponytail, but she still manages to look perfectly pulled together. She never blinks as we stare at each other for a moment.

“Chris said you weren’t going to my birthday party next week,” she says, and her glare softens a little.

Rachel can be abrasive and she sometimes takes the phrase “honesty is the best policy” to the extreme, but she’s also intensely emotional and sensitive. She used to play piano with Chris’s band occasionally, but she just writes music now. She plays beautifully and actually taught me a couple of songs when Chris and I were still together.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to hang out with you guys right now.”

I don’t tell her that my therapist actually encouraged me to go to the party when I told him Chris had invited me. I don’t want to be one of those people who constantly says stuff like, “My shrink doesn’t think it’s a good idea.” The problem is, I catch myself thinking these kinds of things all day long. My therapist is adamant that I shouldn’t shut out the people I love in my attempt to get my head straight, but I’m terrified that everyone is secretly judging me for what I did to Chris.

Rachel and I were never best friends. It was always understood that Jake was her best friend and Chris was mine. Sometimes we got along great and sometimes we tolerated each other. I don’t feel obligated to go to her birthday party, but the hurt look on her face makes me feel like I may be becoming too detached in my quest to find myself.

“I know you think you’re doing what’s best for you,” Rachel says, “but Chris is right, you need—” Jackie walks in and Rachel immediately stops speaking.

Jackie looks radiant as ever; her short, dark hair and makeup are impeccable. As I watch my foster mother approach me for a hug, I can’t help but hope that she will find someone to share her life with. She’s always putting everyone else’s needs before her own.

She holds her arms open and beckons me. “Bring it home.”

I wrap my arms around her curvy waist and nestle my face into her shoulder. Closing my eyes, I inhale the crisp, floral scent of her perfume. This is the scent I’ve come to associate with love. Just the idea of having Jackie back in my life again makes my throat ache.

I haven’t called Jackie “Mom” since the first and only time I did so five weeks ago. I have this stupid idea that if I say it too often, it will lose some of its impact. When I told my therapist, Dr. Goldberg, that I was still having trouble calling her Mom, he asked if I felt guilty for loving Jackie as if she were my mother. I didn’t have an answer for that.

I let go of Jackie and she looks me over for a moment, taking in my baby blue UNC hoodie and faded skinny jeans with the hole in the right knee. I’m not wearing a whole lot of makeup today and my blonde hair is pulled into a messy ponytail that doesn’t look purposely messy like Rachel’s.

“You look beautiful,” she says with a smile. “Are you ready to go?”

“Go where? I thought we were having dinner at home tonight.”

I turn to Rachel and she’s trying not to smile. “We’re taking you out.”

Jackie raises her eyebrows. “Is that okay? I know it’s a school night for you, but we’ve been dying to take you to this new restaurant downtown. It’s classy and the waiters are gorgeous. Rachel and I have gone to ogle them three times since they opened up a few weeks ago.”

The idea that Jackie and Rachel have been hanging out without me makes me a little jealous. But right now I’m more suspicious of this change of plans. Jackie isn’t shy when it comes to men, so ogling waiters sounds like something she would find entertaining. She chooses to stay single because she insists serious relationships are more trouble than they’re worth at her age. I’ve always had a strong suspicion that she avoids relationships because she’s afraid of being devastated the way she was when Chris’s father left.

“I’m not dressed to go out to a classy restaurant. Anyway, why are you two so eager to take me out tonight?” I ask as I open my bottle of water and take a long swig.

Jackie and Rachel glance at each other before Rachel replies. “It was my idea. I wanted to take you out to ask you something.”

“Okay, now I’m even more confused. Why don’t you just ask me now?”

Rachel sighs, looking slightly annoyed that I don’t want to play along with this suspenseful dinner date she has planned for the three of us. “Claire, you know I don’t have a whole lot of girlfriends. And I haven’t spoken to my sister in three years. You’re the closest thing I have to a sister.”

My eyes dart toward my purse on the breakfast bar. I’ve only read that letter twice, but I remember every single word.

You may not recognize my name. Your mother did a good job of protecting you from her past. Henry Wilkins at Northstar Bank contacted me recently. He informed me that you refused the trust fund your mother set up for you before her death. I hope you will reconsider your position on this, as that money is rightfully yours.

I also hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for my transgressions and that you won’t hold my past against your half-sister. Nichelle just turned seventeen last week and she’s very eager to meet you.

I hope this letter finds you well.

Rachel rounds the breakfast bar toward Jackie and me then holds out her hand. I spot the giant rock on her finger right away and I’m instantly reminded of the two rings sitting on top of my bedside table in the dorm.

“Jake and I are getting married. I was hoping you’d be my maid of honor.”

I try not to let her see the panic I’m feeling inside. The idea of being Rachel’s maid of honor scares the shit out of me. Ninety percent of the time, Rachel is awesome, but it’s that ten percent that makes me want to run screaming out of this house.

“Congratulations,” I say as I reach out to give her a hug. I let go quickly and she eyes me, awaiting my answer. “Are you sure you want me to be your maid of honor? I’m so busy with school right now and it’s not like I live around the corner. I don’t know if I’ll be much help to you.”

“It’s not going to be a huge wedding,” she says, and her lips curl into a giddy smile. “We’ve been together too long for this to be a huge deal. We’re getting married in Vegas on New Year’s Eve. I just don’t want to stand up there alone while Jake has his two best friends next to him. My sister won’t be coming and since you and Chris broke up, the only girls I’ve had around are Tristan’s skanks.” She looks down as she speaks the next three words. “I’ve missed you.”

“New Year’s Eve is in seven weeks.”

Before I can reply, my phone starts ringing in my purse. I pull it out and see Chris’s name. I’m tempted to let it ring, but answering it will give me some time to think of an appropriate response to Rachel’s request.

He sounds annoyed and impatient, as if he’s in a hurry.

I hold the phone out to Rachel and she looks confused. “It’s Chris. He wants to talk to you.”

She rolls her eyes as she takes the phone from me. “What?” She purses her lips as she listens. “I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I forgot my phone at home.” She starts tapping her foot as she listens some more. “Whatever, Chris. It’s my wedding and I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

She hands me the phone and I can hear the distant sound of Chris’s voice coming through the speaker as I hold it at arm’s length. Rachel turns on her heel and marches out of the kitchen. I slowly bring the phone to my ear.

“Don’t listen to her. You don’t have to be in her wedding. It’s not your problem that she can’t maintain a single female relationship.”

“No, it’s not fine. I know you’re trying to get yourself figured out. Don’t let her guilt you into doing anything for her if you’re not ready.”

I’m not really fine. In the last three months, I’ve learned that my mother committed suicide; my father raped my mother and contributed to a trust fund in my name; Chris learned I gave up our daughter for adoption without his knowledge; and five weeks ago I was given two rings, one from each of the two most important men in my life. I am definitely not fine, but I’m better than I was five weeks ago and I should be even better in seven weeks—I hope.

“Shit. I wish I would have known she was going to ambush you. I wouldn’t have left.”

I don’t say anything because I’m actually glad he’s not here. I’ve only seen Chris once since the night I found out that Abigail’s parents don’t want us in her life; the night I lost her for the second time.

“I’m fine. Are you on your way home?”

He’s silent for a moment. “Xander and I have one more conference call in a few minutes then I’ll be on my way. Are you going to be there?”

“No. I’m going out to dinner with your mom then I’m heading back to the dorm.”

The silence between us is filled with all the things we haven’t said to each other since the night I rejected his marriage proposal five weeks ago.

“Are you coming over for Thanksgiving next week?”

There’s a note of desperation in his voice that makes me want to forget my Thanksgiving plans to be with him. “I can’t. I already promised Senia I’d go to her parents’ house.”

I want to add that I will definitely be there for Christmas next month, but December 25th seems so far away and insignificant right now.

There’s a brief pause where I feel like both of us are holding our breath, trying not to blurt out something we’ll regret.

I end the call and finally notice Jackie. She’s staring at me with that knowing look; the look of a mother who, without a single word spoken, can see and feel her child’s pain. I bite my lip as I try not to let her see what is so plainly obvious.