Peighton stood at the counter of the Avery Fertility Clinic. The receptionist in front of her hung up the phone, a fake smile plastered on her face.
“Can I help you?”
“I need to speak to someone about my treatment here a few years ago,” Peighton told her.
“Okay, who was your doctor?”
“Doctor Alyssa Avery.”
The woman frowned. “Doctor Avery retired ten years ago.”
“Yes, I know,” Peighton said. “I guess it was more than a few. Though it doesn’t seem possible that it was.”
“Right,” the woman said. “What is your birthdate?”
Peighton gave it to her while the woman typed into the computer. “And your name?”
“Peighton Claiborne,” she confirmed.
The woman shook her head. “I don’t have you in here.”
“That’s not possible,” Peighton said. “I was here. I came here what seemed like every week for three years, first for fertility treatments and then for prenatal care.”
“How long ago was it exactly, Ms. Claiborne?”
“Nearly sixteen years ago.”
She pursed her lips. “Okay, if you’ll just have a seat, I’ll see if someone can figure something out for you.” She pointed toward the crowded waiting room and walked away.
Peighton walked to the waiting room, finding a chair in between a largely pregnant woman and a nervous looking man. She remembered this room so well, having spent so much time here. It was a room full of memories, both good and bad, heartbreak and pure joy. She stared around, the wallpaper had changed and yet the feeling, the tension, was still here just as she remembered.
After what seemed like an eternity, a nurse walked out of a room in the back, a clipboard in hand. She looked around the room, her eyes landing on Peighton.
“Ms. Claiborne?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s me,” Peighton confirmed, standing up and throwing her purse strap over her shoulder.
“Follow me,” the woman said, waving her arm. Peighton did as she was told, walking behind her through the door and down a long hallway. She walked into a small room, letting Peighton in to sit down at a white desk. She shut the door behind them, sitting down across from her.
“How are you doing today?” she asked calmly.
“Fine, thank you, how about you?”
“I’m well, Ms. Claiborne. So, tell me, what can I do for you today?”
“I would like to talk to someone about the invitro fertilization treatment that my husband and I underwent fifteen years ago.”
“Okay.” She placed her hands on the desk, folding her fingers together. “See, the problem is that we recently converted all our files to digital, so we had to manually go in and enter all of the paperwork into our computer system. Unfortunately, some of our files may have been neglected during that process and it looks like yours was one of them.” She winced, obviously uncomfortable with admitting the mistake.
“What does that mean?” Peighton asked.
She held her hands up, reassuring her. “Rest assured, your files are somewhere. Most likely in our storage facility right now. Which means we can find them. It just may take us a bit of time.”
Peighton was dumbfounded. She stared at the woman, completely at a loss for words. “Um…”
“Please hear me when I say I am so sorry for this inconvenience. We have let our facility manager know and he’s sending someone to begin searching for your file. Once we have it, we will update you into the system and contact you. I can assure you, we realize just how big of a deal this is and I am very sorry for that.”
“So, you can’t help me at all?”
“Not at the moment, no,” she said matter-of-factly. “I do apologize.”
Peighton stood up, her world spinning. She inhaled deeply, trying to gather her thoughts.
“Ms. Claiborne,” she asked, standing up after her.
Without answering, Peighton spun around, opening the door and disappearing out of it.
“Ms. Claiborne!” the woman called after her. Peighton wouldn’t stop, she couldn’t. She felt as though she were going to be sick. She rushed down the hallway, hurrying past a few worried looking employees and out the door of the building. As she hit the fresh air, she doubled over, hurling up the contents of her stomach.
An older woman walked past her, touching her back softly. “Ah, morning sickness,” she said dotingly, opening the door and entering the clinic. Peighton stood up, touching her mouth with the back of her arm. She panted, trying to calm down. Cold sweat collected around her brow and she bent back over, clutching her knees.
Once she had calmed down slightly, she stood up, pulling the keys out of her purse and unlocking the car. The headlights flashed as she approached the driver’s side door, her thoughts whirling.
She could hear Todd’s voice in her head: Mistakes happen, babe. You just have to stay calm. They’re going to fix it. You’ll get your answers. Just give it time.
She dismissed his too-calm voice. You should be here to give me the answers, Todd. It’s your secret.
She picked up the phone as she approached a stop sign, dialing Frank’s number.
“Yeah?” he answered the phone.
“Do you have time for one last job before you leave town?”
“Depends on what job it is, I guess. What’s going on?”
“I need to hire you,” she told him.
“Hire me? What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Frank, I need you to be honest with me,” she said firmly, tired of all the secrets.
“Okay,” he said, an edge to his voice that showed he was uncomfortable.
“You know about Kyle’s…dad situation, right? I mean, I know we never discussed it, but Todd told you everything. So, I guess I’ve just always believed you knew.”
He was silent for a moment.
“You mean that Drew is Kyle’s father?”
“Yes, err, well, no. He’s not.”
“What are you talking about, Peighton?”
“I met with him.”
“You met with Drew?” he asked, urgency filling his voice. “When? Why? You never told me that.”
“I wanted to hear him out.”
“He didn’t deserve that,” he said simply.
“He’s not Kyle’s father, Frank,” she reiterated, not in the mood to argue over Drew. “He had the paternity test to prove it.” She paused, waiting for him to respond. Then, to make sure he understood what she was saying, she went on. “Todd lied to me.”
“Maybe the letter was a fake,” he said, “I’d like to take a look at it.”
“I have it,” she said, “but I believe him. I don’t know why he’d go to the trouble of making a fake letter. We’ve never gone after him for money or made any attempt to contact him. We don’t want anything from him.”
“So, who then?” he asked.
“That’s what I want you to find out.”
“It could be Todd’s. He could’ve lied because he was worried about the history of your previous pregnancies. Maybe not having the stress and worry of it being his actually let you carry Kyle healthily.”
“He’s not Todd’s either,” she said. “I had Clay test him just in case.”
“You told Clay about this?” he asked, sounding shocked.
“Yes, I did. It’s my business, isn’t it?” she asked snappily.
“It is, I’m just surprised. You’ve never told anyone.”
“I trust Clay,” she said. “I know that you don’t, but I do.”
“I never said I don’t trust him, Peighton. I just…I’m protective over you. And Todd. And Kyle. I don’t want the wrong person to have too much information.”
“Did Todd tell you that he chose to use an anonymous donor?”
“What? No! Did he?”
“I don’t know. Our fertility clinic conveniently lost our file.”
“They did what?”
“Don’t play dumb, Frank. I smell you all over that. You got rid of the file for Todd, didn’t you? To make sure it was never leaked.”
He was silent.
“So, you know who Kyle’s father is, don’t you?”
Still, he didn’t respond.
“Frank, you have to tell me. I need to know.”
“I think you already know the truth, Peighton,” he said, his voice thick.
“Todd wouldn’t have had someone anonymous,” she answered, speaking the thought that had been in her head all along.
“No, he wouldn’t. Todd needed control,” he told her.
“So, who? If it wasn’t Drew, then who?”
“Maybe it was fox in sox, Dr. Seuss,” Frank joked.
Not amused, she scolded him. “Frank, be serious.”
“If you want to talk about this, we need to do it in person. I’m not having this discussion over the phone.”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Meet me at your house,” he said.
“I’m getting ready to pull down my street now,” she said. “But I don’t want Kyle to hear about this.”
“Kyle’s out with friends,” he told her, “and don’t worry. I’m having him followed. He’s in town.”
Smiling to herself though her stomach was churning with worry, she mentally thanked him. “I’ll be there soon.”
* * *
Peighton sat beside Frank on the couch, one leg bent up under her, her hands resting on her knee.
“Okay, so let’s hear it,” she said. He rubbed his beard, standing up and walking away to lean up against the wall. He kicked one leg out, rolling up the sleeve of his button-down shirt. “Frank, stop stalling,” she said firmly.
“I don’t know what to say, Peighton. This secret was Todd’s to tell you.”
“Well, Todd isn’t here to tell me, is he? So, you’re going to. You have to. I need to know the truth.”
“You’re opening up a whole can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened here. You can leave it the way it is, the way it’s always been. Nothing has to change for you.”
“Everything has already changed, Frank. All this time, Todd let me believe Kyle was Drew’s. And all this time I’ve felt guilty about that. I felt bad because my body wouldn’t cooperate with my own husband’s child. And then, when I found out Drew wasn’t the father…I felt so relieved. I was so hopeful that maybe I’d been wrong, maybe Todd really had been Kyle’s father after all. But now I know that he doesn’t belong to either of them. What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Kyle is Todd’s son, Peighton. He is, and he always will be.”
“Of course,” she said, surprised by his harsh tone.
“Biology doesn’t change that.”
“I know that,” she told him, standing up and walking toward him. She stood in front of him, begging him for the answers only he could give. “If Todd trusted you with the truth, I believe he’d be okay with me knowing.”
“I don’t know about that,” he said, looking away. “He never wanted you to know. He told me that.”
“But why? What can be worse than not knowing?”
“Knowing can be worse, Peighton. I don’t think you know what you’re asking.”
“Frank, please,” she pleaded with him, her eyes locking with his. He sighed, his hard expression softening as his crossed arms dropped. He rubbed his chin and she could see how close he was to telling her. “I can handle it,” she assured him, reaching up and touching his arm.
He looked down at her hand, moving his hands to hold hers. “Todd didn’t want Kyle’s father to be anonymous,” he told her. “He wanted to know what his son came from.”
“Okay,” she said, urging him to go on.
“He weighed all of his options. But, in the end, he wanted Kyle’s father to be someone he trusted, someone he knew.”
Peighton’s jaw dropped, realizing what he was telling her. Of course. It had been right in front of her the whole time.
“He swore me to secrecy. He was embarrassed that he even had to ask. He never wanted you to know the truth.”
She couldn’t respond, though her mouth remained open. She stared at him, her whole world crashing around her.
“No. Oh my god. You’re—”
He reached up to his head, pulling out a hair and holding it out for her. “I’m Kyle’s father.”