Isabella Campbell relaxed in her seat on the plane, glad to be going home. Her best friend, Zoe, had just texted that she had big news.
Bella could guess the news had to do with Tör, Zoe’s boyfriend. She smiled. Zoe deserved happiness after all the grief she had suffered; breast cancer and then the death of her brother overseas. Tör, with his pronounced Swedish accent, adored Zoe, called her his forever sweetheart. Bella smiled and sighed. Good for Zoe.
Ever since her disastrous falling out with Ethan, a geology professor at City College, she’d sworn off men. She recalled sliding her fingers through his thick black hair that last time they’d made love. Something she should never have agreed to. Something she regretted at the time, in spite of how he’d wheedled her into going back to his house for a nightcap. Oh, their lovemaking had been hot at first, but later, not so much. And make-up sex with him had been less than fun. More like he was trying to teach her that he was in charge. Something she wanted to forget.
Before they broke up, Bella would have expected Ethan to meet her at the airport, perhaps even embellishing it with a surprise marriage proposal. But she’d told him they were done, and now he was at the Grand Canyon. What she’d thought was a minor disagreement had escalated into yet another shouting match—he yelling, she trying not to listen. She’d been surprised at how relieved she felt, days after their last big fight. Now, all she sensed only a quiet emptiness that the future she’d dared to dream about wasn’t in the cards. My last, most recent, love affair bites the dust.
Bella looked out the window as the Seattle skyline came into view, the early evening rays competing with the lights going on around the city and on the surrounding hills. She sighed and closed her eyes. Home. Maybe next year, she’d ask Zoe to attend the library convention, perhaps consider it a special time to get away with Tör, married or not. San Francisco was a nice city for a mini-honeymoon.
~ ~ ~
The announcement of the arrival of Bella’s flight echoed in the terminal as she walked past a Starbucks kiosk and into the baggage claim area. Zoe trotted in her direction, waving both arms and smiling.
“Well?” Bella asked. “Did he propose? Show me.”
“He did. He wanted to come with me, but there was an emergency at the hospital. He said he’d call after he finds out how long he’ll be tied up.” Zoe wiggled the fingers of her left hand, one of which sported a large diamond solitaire.
“It’s gorgeous, Zoe. And you’re glowing. When’s the wedding?”
Zoe shook her head. “We haven’t pinned that down yet. He wants his whole family here, and that’s going to take some extra planning, since everyone lives in Sweden, except for his older sister. I want you to be my maid of honor, Bella. Will you do it?”
“Of course, but promise me I don’t have to wear a hideous dress in a color that doesn’t work with my hair. Especially not something pink. It’ll make me look like a giant Pepto-Bismol bottle.”
Zoe giggled. “Not to worry. We’ll pick out something that you love, something pretty that you can wear to the annual library dinner. How was the conference?”
“Really good. My suitcase—there it is.” She pointed to the carousel and grabbed her bag before it could angle away from her. “It’s loaded with lots of new books. The session I liked best was all about story times for children of different ages. Gave me lots of ideas.”
Zoe scoffed. “As if Mitchell will let you implement them. Especially if it means spending any money.”
“We’ll have to convince him. You and me. Together.”
Bella and Zoe headed for Zoe’s car. She stopped walking when the start of the Swedish national anthem sounded from Zoe’s left pocket. “Tör’s checking in. He must be on a break.”
“Let me talk to him.” Bella reached for the phone. “Congratulations, Doctor Lundberg. How does it feel to be engaged to my best friend?”
A prolonged laugh erupted from the phone. “Just fine, Bella. You two are coming home, right? And you had a good conference?”
“That’s the plan. Are you stuck at the hospital tonight, or can you join us for dinner? My treat.”
“Let me talk to Zoe, if you please.” Bella handed the phone to Zoe and concentrated on lifting her suitcase into Zoe’s trunk while she chatted with Tör, her cheeks blooming with color at something he said. “He says he’ll give me a call in an hour. Or as soon as he knows when he can meet us.”
“His hours at the ER have to be long, Zoe. Are you ready for him getting home late or having to rush off for some emergency when you’ve planned a nice dinner, or a special dessert?” She waggled her eyebrows at Zoe, who blushed again.
“Am I ever.” She glanced back at Bella. “And now that I’m engaged, we need to find you someone really nice.” When Bella shook her head, Zoe reached over and grasped Bella’s hand. “I mean it, especially after that awful Ethan. Someone who really loves you. Who sees how wonderful you are, caring and everything. To say nothing of beautiful, with that gorgeous red hair and those green eyes that remind me of Ireland.”
Bella looked away, her heart thudding at the thought of her last fight with Ethan.
“I mean it, Bella. You are beautiful. You are caring. And smart. I can’t imagine him accusing you of being selfish when he’s so, so—” She made a face. “Anyway, he’s off on one of his hiking adventures, so you don’t have to worry about running into him at the library or any other place around town. It’s the perfect time to forget about him and find someone else to love. You deserve it.”
“I’m not interested,” Bella insisted. “Maybe I’m not marriage material.” Another one of Ethan’s accusations, right before they broke up.
“Ethan’s the one who’s not marriage material.” Zoe pulled out of the parking garage and headed for the highway. “Let’s talk about something more pleasant than Ethan Butler. Like what we’re going to have for dinner. And where. Since it’s your treat.” Zoe’s laughter joined with Bella’s as they turned right onto the road leading to suburban Evergreen, Washington.
~ ~ ~
That evening, after dropping her suitcase at home and getting her car, Bella toasted Zoe and Tör at their favorite restaurant. The lights that winked at the water’s edge reminded Bella of a similar scene when she’d accompanied three other librarians to a bistro on the San Francisco waterfront. But tonight was sweeter. Zoe was her best friend and Tör loved her. Bella liked him for that, and for himself, too, how modest he was, never calling attention to his position as second-in- command at the Evergreen Hospital emergency room. She’d been surprised when Zoe had shown her around his unassuming little house, thinking that the good doctor lived on the hill, near so many other doctors, in those mini-mansions with views of Lake Geneva, or in one of those luxury high-rises on the lakeshore.
Tör’s cozy bungalow sat in a neighborhood known for attracting newly married couples and those starting families. Bella smiled to herself. That will be them in a year or so. She glanced at Zoe and Tör. They were silently gazing at each other, seemingly unaware that she sat across from them. Time for me to get home and give the lovebirds a chance to do their own celebrating.
Bella cleared her throat. “Hey, you two. I’m going to say good-night and head on home.”
Tör nodded his head and reached for his wallet.
“Don’t you dare. This dinner was my treat. You two stay as long as you want.” Bella reached forward and planted a quick kiss on Tör’s cheek before hugging Zoe. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the library and we’ll go over all the great stuff I brought home. So we can attack Mitchell together. United front and all.”
Zoe laughed. “It’s a deal.”
~ ~ ~
Bella returned home, tossed her dirty clothes in the laundry, and spotted the large stack of mail that had accumulated in her absence. She opened the windows to allow the springtime night breezes into the house, and microwaved a cup of tea. While it cooled, she reached for the mail. Might as well go through it now. She began sorting. One pile for the recycling bin, one pile for magazines and brochures she might want to go through before tossing, and one pile for “real” mail.
The pile to recycle, as usual, grew quickly. She set the cluster of magazines and brochures aside for later review. Three letters remained. She opened the bank statement and tossed the envelope into the recycling pile. The second letter, from her mother, was replete with news of her activities with the garden club, where she was approaching the final month of her presidency.
Bella’s pulse jumped when she read the return address on the last envelope. The name, Harris, stared back at her in stark black letters. But the address, at least the part not smudged, looked like Austin, Texas. Had they moved? And why were her baby’s adoptive parents contacting her now? The letter had been sent to her parents’ home in Portland, said address scratched out by her mother’s firm hand. To one side, Bella’s address was written, along with a command to please forward. The two different postmarks were dated months apart.
Had her mother steamed open the envelope before sending it on? She’d heard nothing from the Harrises for years, concluding that their silence must mean something she didn’t want to contemplate, something she couldn’t bring herself to ask. Was this the proof she feared? Bella stared again at the envelope.
With trembling fingers, she opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of paper, its message neatly typed. Her eyes scanned the words until tears blurred what she was seeing. She scraped her sleeve across her face, not bothering with a tissue, and tried again.
I, Nolan Harris, father of Destiny Harris, give you permission to contact my daughter directly. Her address is …
More tears. Bella couldn’t read further. Whatever information the letter also provided was less important than the words that burned into her brain. Destiny was alive. His daughter. My daughter. Except that wasn’t right. Bella hadn’t raised her. She glanced again at the letter. It was dated on Destiny’s twenty-first birthday. Last August. What had caused Mr. Harris to write? And why had her mother waited so long to send the letter?
Should Bella make contact? How could she not? By letter? No phone number was provided. Maybe she would do a Google search for a phone number. Or perhaps she should meet her face-to-face, on the doorstep of the Denver address she’d been given. But would her daughter want that? The letter was from her father. Was Mrs. Harris deceased? Destiny’s address, the one Mr. Harris had provided, was not the same as that on the envelope. What did that mean?
Bella stood up from the table, inadvertently knocking over her mug, the remaining tea soaking into the envelope on which her mother had printed the rapidly blurring forwarding address. She snatched up the letter to protect those precious words from smearing.
I have to contact her. But did she dare? Maybe she should just go to Denver and knock on the door where she was living. Bella’s pulse ratcheted upward at the thought. Who would answer the door—Destiny or her mother? Maybe they wouldn’t want to see her.
She couldn’t just take off work again after being gone for three days, not without angering Mitchell Hargrove. She could use her sick time, but then Zoe would be left trying to convince Mitchell to give serious consideration to Bella’s plans for offering story times to children of different ages, something she and Zoe had discussed on the way home.
Bella patted the envelope dry and left it on the kitchen counter. She took the letter into the bedroom. After climbing into bed, she read it again, and then a third time after glancing in the direction of the small picture that topped the bookcase in the dining room next to Bella’s college graduation photo. Bella with her long, dark red curls and Destiny at age five, with huge blue eyes, an endearing smile, and a shock of slightly paler red curls that stood out around her head. Anyone who saw those pictures would know the woman and child in those photos were related. But Ethan never asked or even paid attention to those pictures.
Bella turned off the light, her mind whirling. Would Destiny want to be contacted? All the possible answers to that question reverberated in her brain. Yes, of course. Maybe. No. Definitely not. She doesn’t even care. After all, it had been more than twenty years since Bella had last held Destiny. Maybe she didn’t even live at home now.
After lying in bed for more than an hour, too keyed up to sleep, Bella wrapped up in her favorite terry robe and padded into the small guest room she used as an office. She flipped on the desk lamp and powered up her laptop.
She Googled the Denver address, hoping to find a phone number. Vanessa Harris’s name came up. Bella remembered her. The woman who didn’t even know how to hold a newborn. She’d seemed reluctant to touch Destiny when her husband had placed the baby in her arms. She punched in Vanessa Harris’s name in the search bar. A telephone number and the same address confirmed that Destiny must be living with her mother. Bella jotted down the phone number on Mr. Harris’s letter. She closed her eyes. What to say? I’ll just speak to her from my heart. Maybe she’ll be curious enough to write me back.
She opened a blank Word file, poised her fingers over the keys, and then began to type.
Your father sent me a letter on your twenty-first birthday that I only just now received. It went to my mother’s house. I haven’t lived there for many years. He gave me permission to contact you.
I remember your parents from when they came to take you home from the hospital. Your father cried when he saw you. I’ll never forget that. It made me feel like you were going to a loving home, one where you would be cherished.
Your folks probably told you about your adoption, and how very much they wanted you. I’m so grateful to your father that he said I could reach out to you. I’ve wanted to for a long time, but I didn’t know where you were. Now that you’re over 21, deciding whether we meet is up to you.
May I call you? I’d love to hear your voice and find out how you’re doing these days. Please know that I won’t intrude if you don’t want me to, but I would be so happy if we could have just one phone call. I’ve added my mailing and email addresses, and cell number so you’ll know how to reach me.
Your birth mother, Isabella Campbell
Bella reread her letter several times until her tears prevented her from seeing what she had written. She printed it off, signed, then sealed the envelope and placed a stamp in the upper right corner, her fingers trembling. Unsure whether Vanessa Harris would welcome the arrival of her letter, she used only her initials, IC—no, BC—above the return address.
Bella closed down her laptop and shut off the desk lamp before returning to her bedroom. The clock face glowed in the early morning darkness. Three-fifteen. Getting up for work was going to come around really soon. Bella slid under the covers, praying that she could now sleep.
Four hours later, she woke to the usual litany of bad news when the clock radio clicked on. She groaned, debated going back to sleep and begging Mitchell’s forgiveness for being late, but decided against it. A shower would revive her, help her face the day. She rolled over and snatched a glance at the letter lying on her bedside table. The words she’d written came back to her, along with her hope that the daughter hadn’t seen since she was a newborn would reach out to her. Will you reply, Destiny? Tell me that we can talk, maybe even meet? I’d be so grateful.
Bella climbed out of bed and headed for the shower. She would mail the letter. Zoe would know how long Bella should wait for an answer.