I let the letter fall to the sidewalk, the scene before me blurring as my eyes filled with tears. I let myself fall into a sitting position on the stairs and propped my elbows on my knees, placing my head in my hands and letting the tears join the letter on the ground.
Why does everything have to fall apart all at once?
“Vanessa?” Jeremy's voice asked tentatively. I opened my eyes and looked up while he sat down beside me and picked the letter up off the ground. “Read it.” I said, brushing the tears off my face and breathing deeply to calm myself.
His eyes ran across the paper, his face growing darker with every word. “We're losing the bookstore, then. It's official.” He said, folding the paper and setting it beside him with a look of complete disgust.
I nodded slowly. “I shouldn't feel so bad. We've known this was coming for months. I should go tell the guys.” I started standing, but Jeremy placed a hand on my shoulder, pulling me gently back down to my seat.
“Wait. Let's give them until closing. Vanessa, just because we knew it was coming, doesn't make it hurt any less. It's that man, Harold Rodgers, and his evil business that makes the whole thing so stupid, and ridiculous. Why he couldn't just find somewhere else to put his new building is a mystery to me.”
“Can we not talk about this anymore?” I asked, putting my head in my hands again. Images ran through my mind, the fire rising up from my house, Tyler walking away, the cancer results, countless doctor appointments, my grandma's last words, the first few days at the orphanage, my first foster family, and finally, the words from the letter that sat on the sidewalk.
“What else is there to talk about right now? We both know you won't be able to think about anything else for a long time.”
“Vanessa Paige?” A deep voice asked. I looked up to find a man with a heavily scarred face and a fedora looking down at me. “That's me.” I said, standing. He put out his hand which I took and shook. “I'm Clark. If my information is correct, your father disappeared when you were young, and you still don't know where to look for him?”
“My father's dead. I'll thank you not to bring up the subject again.” I said, turning to go back into the store. Jeremy followed me, opening the door for me. “I may have information on where you might find him!”
I paused, looking the man over for a second, just a small glimmer of hope attempting to break through my emotional barriers. Then I shook my head and entered the building, unwilling to go through that emotional roller coaster again. The door closed and the bell rang, a high pitched noise. I put on a fake smile, looking around the used book store for a moment before heading behind the counter.
“So, did the letter come?” Hannah asked. I looked up at her, her eyes cheerful even in the face of failure and defeat. “Well... Yeah.” I said, unable to lie to her. She raised an eyebrow. “So?” She prompted after I didn't say anything.
I glanced at the clock and sighed. “We're losing the book store. We have to be out of here by Saturday.” I said sadly. She gasped, putting a hand to her mouth and looking shocked. “I can't... this place... I'm sorry.” She said, pulling me into a tight hug.
“It's especially hard, right after... you know, Tyler and everything.”
I felt a wave of emotion roll over me as she said his name and looked away. She gasped again. “Oh, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have... I'm going to go help Jeremy.” She hurried out from behind the counter into the back room.
I rubbed my forehead and turned grandma's picture to face me. “I wish you were here. You would know what to do. How to save the book store.”
I sighed and took the picture off the counter, placing it inside the cardboard box that had once held our lost and found. As I set the picture inside, there was a small sound like metal hitting glass, so I pulled the box out onto the counter and moved the picture.
Sitting at the bottom were a set of dog tags.
They read Martin Abraham Paige.
My eyes were now wide and I picked up the small piece of paper that had been under the dog tags. If you want to know more about how I got these, meet me in Burningham park. We can discuss it there.
I fingered the dog tags slowly, took a deep breath, then put the chain around my neck. I reached across the counter to grab my keys and my jacket, then circled the counter and headed out the door.
“Hey, Vanessa, where are you going?” I heard Jeremy ask as I walked down the front steps. “Burningham Park. Jeremy, someone knows what happened to my father. I have to find out if he's still alive, or at least what happened to him.”
Jeremy rounded on me, forcing me to stop. He put a hand on both my shoulders and leaned in to look at me. “Vanessa, your father has been gone your entire life. The last time anyone saw him, you were three. That was twenty years ago! You are setting yourself up to be disappointed, and hurt. Please don't do this to yourself.”
I looked up into his dark brown eyes. “Jeremy, I have to do this. What if he is alive? What kind of daughter would I be if I didn't at least give this a shot?”
“There's no proof he even knows anything about your dad.” Jeremy insisted.
“He had his dog tags.”
He frowned, pausing for a second to think that over.
“I guess we're going to burningham park then, aren't we?” He asked, running a hand through his hair. I nodded, and he released my shoulders. “I need your support here, Jeremy, whether we find that my father really is dead or not.” I said.
“You have it.” He said after only a slight hesitation.
I smiled and we started walking to my car. “Do you think we should at least tell Hannah?” He asked, opening my door for me. I slid inside the small silver car and waited for him to get in the passenger seat before answering.
“No, she can take care of it. Besides, if we told Hannah that there was the slightest chance my father was still alive, she'd tell the whole town about how he hadn't really died and was instead in hiding, secretly protecting those he loves from all sorts of dangerous men in tan trench coats.”
Jeremy snorted. “I guess you're right.”
I pulled smoothly out of the parking space and into the stream of cars heading on their merry way. I imagined what I'd find waiting at the park, attempting to force myself not to get my hopes up anymore than necessary.
I'd only seen one picture of my dad, about two months before the fire had destroyed any other remnants of him. It had been a wedding picture, with him in his black tuxedo and my mom in her beautiful wedding gown. He'd looked handsome, and so happy that all my childhood I wished I could meet him, that I could have known him.
Nobody really knew where he had disappeared to. About eight months before mom had died in the fire, dad had gone on a trip and never came back. All mom ever got was a phone call saying that he loved her. Grandma said he sounded anxious and worried, that he sounded like someone calling as their plane crashed to the ground.
That's why no one ever went looking for him. They all assumed that he had died in a plane crash somewhere.
All except my mom.
Grandma said that mom spent every day looking for him, calling around trying to find him, that she said she would know if he had died, that a part of her would have died with him. Grandma said that until the very day she did pass away, she never stopped looking and never lost hope.
“Hey, are you okay?” Jeremy asked, breaking me out of my daydreaming. I realized that a few tears had run down my face and choked out a laugh. “I forgot how much I missed Grandma. How much we used to talk together.” I said, turning and stopping in a parking place. A signed stood high that read Burningham Park.
“Are you ready for this?” He asked. I let out a long breath and shook my head.
“No. But I need to find the truth.”
With those words, I opened the door and headed out to do just that.