An hour later, we were all upstairs, sitting at the table around a half-eaten cheese and cracker tray, an empty bottle of wine, and a two-liter bottle of Fanta Orange, minus two glasses poured. Peter and Veronica talked about their ski vacation, and how Peter’s skiing skills weren’t quite as advanced as he thought.
It felt good to laugh, to listen to Sam and Julianne talk, and to get to know them better. I couldn’t stop staring at them. Veronica was right; I did have Julianne’s eyes. And for the first time, I associated myself with beauty, because I always thought that Julianne Alderman was beautiful, inside and out. The bottom half of my face was from Sam. I had the same thin top lip with the M-shape in the center, and the full bottom lip. I also had his chin. I wondered if they thought the same things about me, or if anyone had ever thought these things about me.
Julianne reached across the table and held my hands. “You must think I’m a horrible mother, for not knowing. I’m a PA for goodness sake. But I told them, when they didn’t bring you back to me after your bath, that they had brought back the wrong baby. I knew, but they said I was just tired. Then they said it was the hormones. And through the years, other mothers said they had the same fears because of the stories you hear.”
“Julianne, I think it’s time we let Erin rest. She has school tomorrow.”
Julianne held her hand to her chest, fumbling with the buttons on her silk blouse; then she began to tremble. “I . . . I don’t know if she . . . do you want to . . .?”
“Why doesn’t she stay here for the night?” Veronica said. “After she calls Ms. Easter and lets her know where she is?”
“We don’t have a phone,” I said. “And she doesn’t really . . . I don’t think she’s expecting me.”
That seemed to upset Julianne.
“We have some of Whitney’s clothes still here. You’re welcome to them,” Veronica said.
“Do you want to stay here?” Julianne asked.
“I would appreciate that,” I said, feeling emotional again.
Sam stood and encouraged Julianne to stand with him. She clearly didn’t want to leave, but he encouraged her until she finally yielded, but not without giving me another hug.
When the door closed, Weston, Veronica, Peter, and I stood in the front room, looking at each other.
“Erin, you can stay in Whitney’s old room. This is a bit . . . unorthodox, but I think it’s in your best interest until Sam and Julianne and you decide where to go from here. From a legal standpoint, this is all a little fuzzy since you’re no longer a minor. Don’t worry. You’re Sam and Julianne’s daughter. Whatever you decide, they’re going to make sure you’re well taken care of. Weston, show her to her room. Let her rest. She’s had a long day.”
Weston nodded and led me up the stairs by the hand. Whitney’s room was on the opposite end of the hall from Weston’s. She had her own enormous bathroom, with a tub and shower and a linen cabinet that spanned from floor to ceiling, full of big, fluffy towels. Weston checked to make sure there was soap and shampoo.
“We can pick up anything else you need from Gina’s tomorrow, if you want.”
I dipped my head in agreement.
He led me back into the bedroom, and pulled back the comforter. “Clean sheets.” He opened the closet. “Clothes and lots of ’em.” He pulled open a dresser drawer. “Night gowns and pajama sets. Some of them silk, because Whitney’s a huge diva. Just leave your laundry in that hamper and Lila will launder them in the morning when she gets here. I’m pretty sure Whitney still has makeup and ponytail holders and stuff in the drawers by the sink.”
“She does,” Veronica said, breezing through the door. She handed me a new toothbrush, a full tube of toothpaste, and a brand new stick of deodorant. “Peter is always saying I overstock. You have won a twenty-year-long argument for me tonight, little miss.”
“I wish I could think of a way to say thank you. I’m sorry I …”
“Nonsense,” Veronica said, holding the knob while she hovered in the doorway. “We’re going to get this all worked out. You try to rest. See you in the morning. Wes?”
Weston leaned over and gave me a peck, and then followed his mother out. I walked into the spacious, sparkling white bathroom and undressed in front of the mirror. I took a long, hot shower, trying every brand name shampoo, conditioning treatment, and foaming face wash I could get my hands on. By the time I stepped out, I smelled like a salon, and my skin shone like the marble tile. I felt like Julia Roberts’s character in Pretty Woman.
I wrapped myself in one of the fluffy towels and combed out my hair, noticing how close it was to Julianne’s color. I found a nightgown and slipped it over my head, then climbed into the queen-sized bed. The springs didn’t squeak when I laid on it. I wasn’t even sure Whitney’s bed had springs. It felt like one big foam-filled cushion. I rested my head on the pillow, stretching my legs as far as they would go. They didn’t even come close to the end of the bed. My body sank down into the mattress, and the plush comforter cradled me in softness.
I turned on my side and leaned over, switching off the lamp. Before I could settle back under the blankets, the door opened, and Weston crept inside.
“Are you sleeping?” he whispered.
He knelt beside the bed. “Are you comfortable?”
“More than I’ve ever been.”
“Do you need anything else before I hit the sack?”
I shook my head.
“I don’t know if I can sleep knowing you’re right down the hall.”
I smiled. “Try.”
He chuckled and leaned down, giving me a better kiss than he could when his mother was still around. He walked to the door and turned around. “You’re going to be okay. This is just one more thing we’ll get through together.”
“I know.” It should have been scarier, being eighteen and finding out that the woman who raised me wasn’t my mother. But at the moment, I felt like I had a small army in my corner.
The next morning when I walked into school, it was like I was walking into a different dimension. Everyone stared at me like before, but now it was out of curiosity. In first period, Brady glanced over at me a few times, but the disgust was gone from his eyes. Even the teachers looked at me differently. It was like I left the day before as one person, and came back as someone else.