The grandfather clock ticked its rhythmic beat behind me as I squared off against my parents in our living room. Scratch that—Mom’s living room. Dad hadn’t lived here for three months now.
“We’re happy to see you, sweetheart,” Mom said, crossing her legs and uncrossing them. “We’ve missed you so much.”
I took the small envelope out of the back pocket of my backpack and put it on my lap. Then I looked at my father.
“When I was thirteen and I had to have a blood transfusion after that skiing accident where I cut open my leg, you told me that it was okay because it would be your blood, that it was a miracle we were the same blood type.”
Dad shifted in his seat. “Yes. You recovered.”
“It wasn’t a miracle, was it?” I asked softly.
Mom’s eyes widened to saucers. “Rachel, what are you asking?”
I put the picture of my dad and Seo-yun on the coffee table between us and pushed it in his direction, never breaking our stare.
Mom gasped and covered her mouth.
Dad sagged in his chair, like I’d popped the balloon that kept him upright. Then he smiled. “It wasn’t a miracle.”
“Because you’re my biological father,” I said.
Mom whimpered while Dad’s eyes watered. “Because I’m your biological father.”
I’d already known that, but hearing him admit it felt like the last piece of the puzzle I’d been looking for fell into place. In that moment, it was Landon’s voice in my head, telling me that maybe they’d kept the secret for so long because it had simply been that long.
“I have two questions.”
“Of course,” he said, his voice tight.
“Why the lie?”
My parents locked eyes, and I saw it then, the years of partnership, friendship, love, and parenthood that all passed within a glance. Dad nodded, and Mom took a deep breath.
“Because I was embarrassed. Not of you, Rachel. Never you…”
“Because you were married when it happened,” I guessed. “I did the math. It happened right after Dad left Dartmouth and did his three years to appease his father. Right?”
Mom nodded, the movement causing a small cascade of tears down her cheeks. “We were on the rocks. We’d been married three years, and we’d just learned that I was infertile. Your dad went to Korea for a year, and I didn’t know if we’d make it through.”
“I didn’t know about you,” he told me. “Not until Mrs. Rhee called me from the orphanage saying that Seo-yun had died. At that point, your mom and I were falling apart—I’d told her about the affair, and we were in the process of consulting lawyers about divorcing.”
“But you didn’t,” I said, knowing that I had been what kept their marriage together. I looked at Mom. “You forgave him? With me?”
Her lip trembled. “Not at first. I yelled, I screamed, I cursed God that he could have a child when I couldn’t, that his affair had given him the one thing I never would be able to. But…” She looked over at my dad.
“I couldn’t raise you on my own, and she knew it,” he continued. “I never stopped loving your mom. I can’t regret what happened in Korea because we have you, but I begged her take me back—to take us—and she did.”
Mom smiled at Dad and laughed a little. “I took him back because I loved him, and because more than anything, I wanted to be your mother.”
My chest tightened, and I blinked back the tears that prickled at my eyes. “You are,” I told her.
“I know, sweetheart. We agreed to work on our marriage and to bring you home. We didn’t want rumors swirling around you…or, selfishly, us, so we said we’d adopted you, and as soon as we had your dad’s papers in order, I officially adopted you.” Her face crumpled for a second before she regained her composure. “I have loved you from the moment I held you. I have never wanted to hurt you. Not like this. I just…” Tears broke free, and she crossed her arms over her stomach. “I just didn’t want you to look at me differently. To see Dad as yours, but me as a glorified stand-in.”
I flew across the small space, hitting my knees and hugging her. “Never. You’re my mom. Where I come from doesn’t change that, and I didn’t go on this search trying to replace you, because that would be impossible. Maybe I wanted to add another layer to my history, but Mom, you’re the core. If anything, I love you more because you loved me when you didn’t have to. You forgave something I’m not sure I could have and then loved me like I wasn’t the evidence that it happened.”
She held me tight, enveloping me in the scent of chocolate chip cookies and home—love. “We should have told you. I’m so sorry, Rachel.”
“Don’t be,” I told her. “The benefits of finding this out while I was gone is that it gave me time to get over the shock and the anger of the lie. I just needed to understand it.”
She pulled back, cupping my face and smiling through her tears. “The reason is that three people loved you more than anything, and we made some mistakes trying to protect you.” She looked over to my dad. “And maybe the we part didn’t turn out like we’d hoped, but you”—she looked back at me—“your strength, and your beauty, and your stubbornness…well, you’re the best thing we’ve ever done. So don’t be sad that we’re over, or think that you failed to keep us together.”
My mouth dropped open, and she just shook her head at me.
“I know how your mind works—I’m your mother. I need you to realize that you weren’t the glue that kept us together, as much as our purpose. And now you’re raised. You’re a gorgeous, self-assured woman, and now we need to find what else we’re meant for.”
I nodded and hugged her, pulling her tight. Then I stood to find Dad already standing next to me and embraced him just as deep. I couldn’t imagine the strength it had taken him to go back to her with me, for such a proud man to humble himself.
I couldn’t equate this man with the same one who had torn me from Landon not just once, but twice.
“I love you, Rachel. You are what I’m most proud of in my life,” he told me.
I nodded and pulled back. “And I love you. You’ve been the driving force of my life, Dad. But I haven’t forgiven you for Landon, and I don’t know if I can. You protected me, did what you had to when I was a baby, but I’m a grown woman, and just as I’m not standing here judging you for an affair you had when you were twenty-four, you can’t judge me for loving the kind of man you raised me around. If you didn’t want me near extreme sports, then you should have chosen a different career. You don’t get a say in who I love, and you don’t get to sabotage the best thing that’s ever happened to me because you don’t approve.”
“Rachel—” he started.
“I’m not done. You didn’t just go after Landon; you went after the entire Renegade team. You blackballed them, killed every sponsorship opportunity, and potentially ruined careers and lives because I wouldn’t follow your rules, because I dared to fall in love. What does that say about you? I don’t know how to reconcile that the man who did that is the same man I’ve always looked up to.”
“It was a business decision based on personal reasons.”
“It was wrong.”
Silence stretched between us, until he finally sighed. “I’ll make some calls in the morning.”
“That’s a start.”
“He turned down the Gremlin funding.”
My heart skipped a beat, then swelled with the love that had never died when it came to Landon. “Yeah, I know. You were wrong about him.”
He grimaced. “That remains to be seen…” He took a deep breath. “But if you insist, I will attempt to give him a second chance.”
“Since you were the reason he screwed us up the first time.”
“Dad, he’s not the one in need of a second chance—you are. And as much as I love you and understand that you were trying to protect me, if you ever try to come between us again, I will walk away from you without a backward glance.”
He paled, swallowing hard. “I won’t. I’ll trust you to make your own choices.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I said softly.
“You will,” he promised.
“I have one more question,” I told him.
“Why can’t you forgive Mom for doing the same exact thing you did?”
Mom handed me a cup of coffee as I sat up, blinking the sleep from my eyes. I was so tired I felt nauseous, thanks to a five a.m. bedtime.
Last night had turned into one epically long episode of Dr. Phil.
“You look like you need this.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, taking the cup from her and sipping carefully, praying the caffeine would hit straight to my veins. I needed to get to the airport early enough to not worry Landon.
One thing last night had taught me—forgiveness was earned and given. Maybe Dad hadn’t earned it yet, but Landon more than had, and I’d yet to give it. It was time for me to step up and let him love me.
“We okay?” she asked, balancing on the edge of my bed.
“Yeah,” I told her. We weren’t fixed, and I wasn’t sure we ever would be, but after a long night of talking, I felt like maybe we were on the right path. And if she and Dad figured their shit out, well, that was just a bonus.
“Good. Did you want to shop today? I know you’re on a tight schedule to get to Aspen tomorrow, but I’d love to sneak in some time with you,” she said, her swollen eyes hopeful.
“Tomorrow? Mom, I’m leaving today…” The clock blinked at me. Eleven thirty a.m. Holy shit. “Mom, I’m so sorry. But I’m late. Oh my God. Landon.”
“Today?” she asked.
“My alarm!” I shouted as I flung myself from the bed, tripping on the covers and falling headfirst onto the floor. My coffee spilled all over the comforter. Great.
“Oh, I turned it off. We were up so late, and you need your rest.”
I gawked at her from the floor. “I’m going to miss the flight!”
“Oh,” she said.
“Not oh, Mom. This is bad. So bad.” My head swam. He was going to think that I stood him up—hadn’t I basically challenged him last night? I’d already been so distant the last month. Hell, I hadn’t been remotely nice since freaking Dubai, and now this.
I scurried into my clothes. “Phone. Is my phone on?”
“No, but you can use mine.”
“I don’t know his number!”
“Well, that’s what these new cell phones do to you. When everything is in memory—”
“Mom! Not the time!” I said, firing up my iPad.
He was tagged at LAX but didn’t show as online.
And I was still an hour away.
I sent a message to him and held my breath, nausea turning my stomach, but he didn’t reply and the status showed unseen.
I sank to the floor. “I missed it. I can’t possibly make it in time.” I closed out the iPad. “I need to get to Aspen.”
“Well, you’re not going to get there by sitting on your butt and moping,” she said, taking my now empty cup and standing. “Get your stuff together and let’s figure something out.”
An hour later, my phone had been turned on and I paced the floor while Mom looked at flights into Colorado.
I’d tried Landon at least three times, but he wasn’t answering. Probably because he was in the air. Finally, I took a deep breath and called the one number I’d never thought I would again.
“Rachel?” I’d never been so relieved to hear Wilder’s voice.
“Is he there yet?” I asked.
“Landon? Who else would I be calling you about?” I snapped.
“Someone’s got her shitty attitude back.”
He sighed. “No. He’s not here. He called from LAX when you didn’t bother to fucking show up for him and canceled his ticket. Now, thanks to you, he’s missing the qualifications for the Big Air competition, which was the one he didn’t medal in last year, so he doesn’t get the automatic in.”
Okay, now I felt like an even bigger shithead.
“I’m sorry. I slept through my alarm.”
Wilder was silent.
“Wilder? Did you hear me?”
“Seriously?” he asked. “This isn’t some test to see if he loves you? If he’ll put you above everything? Because I’m pretty sure he just fucking proved it, and if that’s the kind of shit you’re going to put him through—”
“Will you stop fucking talking? How the hell does Leah put up with you? No, it’s not some test. My mom turned off my alarm because we had a huge family thing last night and she didn’t know I needed to catch a flight. That’s it.”
“Well, he’s not here. Thanks to you.”
“Can we move past that and discuss where he is?”
“Did you try his place?” Wilder asked.
I rubbed my forehead. “No, I thought the guards might laugh at me if I showed up asking about his whereabouts.”
“Yeah, those scary, armed dudes who stand outside the gates?”
Wilder laughed. “That’s his parents’ place. Not his.”
Why hadn’t I thought of that? “Okay, where is his place?”
“Oh, this is rich.”
“Wilder! For fuck’s sake!”
“Rachel!” Mom snapped at me as she came back into the room. “Language!”
I tried to inhale some patience with that breath. “What’s his address, Wilder?”
He told me, and I blinked, then opened and shut my mouth. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, that’s not something I could forget. And apparently it wasn’t something he could forget, either.”
I hung up the phone, kissed my mom on the cheek. “I think I found him!”
“Good. I think I may have found the way to get you to Aspen.”
She told me her plan, and I was all smiles as I ran out the door. This might work! My chest tightened and threatened to explode with how much I loved that man. All the hell I’d put him through, every test, every snarky comment—he’d taken them all and waited for me.
And as I pulled up to his place, I realized he hadn’t been waiting overnight for me to show up—he’d been waiting two and a half years.