She could have done the process online, but leaving a digital trail was something she did not want to put to chance. The idea behind the whole thing was to be discreet about discovering the truth. Of course, it was a major contradiction of sorts that she had employed lies in her bid for answers, but ‘the end justifies the means’. This was her silent mantra for the past three days while she waited for the call back letting her know that the results were ready.
It’s not an easy thing to recover from a traumatic experience, far less one where you lose everything. Anakaye Simmons-Kincaid knew this better than anyone. At thirty-one, Kay, as everyone called her for short, had already suffered five major losses in her life – her first companion and sibling, ‘Missy’, the mixed-breed German Shepherd-and-Mastiff died when she was four (she got stuck in the electronic gate as it closed one evening); her childhood home in a residential community in New York had been ravaged to shreds by Hurricane Sandy just before her twenty-third birthday; one of her younger brothers went missing after the storm and had not been found since; she suffered three miscarriages in the first two years of her marriage to Joshua K. Kincaid III: one little girl and the other two undetermined; and most recent, she lost her father suddenly to a heart attack eight months back. Of these losses, the storm was the worst of the lot for her in terms of recovery. It was Sandy that left her pillaging the remnants of her pleasant memories in a bid to readjust her life, even sending her to therapy for PTSD.
To Kay, that was the lowest point in her life; when she had been left with only the clothes on her back, the breath in her lungs, and the prayer whispered recurrently on her lips – God rescue me! - Until recently.
The worst was supposed to be behind her by now. That’s what made Kay deeply admired by everyone around her. Her resilience. Her triumph in the face of difficulties. Her ability to continually rise from the ashes, dust herself off and keep going. These were not superhuman traits by any stretch. It was her daughter Jamie that supposedly had superpowers, not Kay. Jamie had a sixth sense from birth and she could most probably give Kay the answer to the results she awaited, but this was too big to chance on the predictions of a six-and-a-half year old girl, even one who was mysteriously “dyed in the wool” and had a record that rivalled Betensured (her husband and his father were big soccer fans so this was a common name at their residence). Experience taught Kay to hold on to those things in life that gave a firm footing, a sure foundation, a solidification of her sense of self. Like her faith in God, her talent in writing, her family of origin and their history, the family that she had now become part of and continued to shape. She had learned to roll down the portcullis on these things and guard them in the castle of her heart with a mix of effrontery and stealth reserved for high-priced snipers trained in the protective services. Stealth was needed now as she processed all this new information that she started receiving a few months back, information which, subsequent to her father’s passing, had begun to pour in like a once-dammed river now freed. She had worked hard to get her life back after Sandy. She had only met Josh a short time after that and he had stood with her then, moving on to becoming her husband and the father of her child - the next best things in her life. She would be damned if everything she knew and had built suddenly became unraveled by another unexpected turn of events. Not this time.
The first email came when the obituary was posted both in the local newspaper and on the Condolence Listing on the Church’s website. The sender had said he streamed the live services for the past few years, within the time span that Kay and her parents had moved to Portland and taken up membership at the only Baptist Church in Mount Tabor. He claimed he was her brother – David Simmons – the one that went missing for over seven years. He told her things about her childhood that only David or her two brothers Nathaniel and Jonathon who succeeded him would have known. He did not explain his absence nor the reason for the name that appeared on his email address: Jack St. Cyr. But he claimed that his life was in danger so he had to adopt a false identity; claimed he was being truthful, even used the word “sincere” in his missive to Kay, daring to state that it was “no pun intended”. Appreciating even the colorful humor in his writing (as she herself was a writer), she initially dismissed it and marked the email as spam. Who would be so evil to try to dredge up memories of her sibling for whom her family never got any closure? Especially at a time of the loss of their father? Josh Senior, her father-in-law, had warned Kay to look out for family members trying to swindle whatever possessions and assets her deceased father had left behind after his passing. It was unethical and unthinkable in her books.
Yet, a week later, she got another email from Jack St. Cyr. Using a second email address from another domain, he spoke about missing his family and not being able to make contact due to circumstances beyond his control. Even then, it would be dangerous for the family if he were to call or to show up to visit their mother in person. This ‘Mr. St. Cyr’ person had begun to annoy Kay and she thought of reporting him for harassment until she decided to play along. She requested that he send her recent photos of himself. She searched all the social media platforms to see if he had a registered profile. She even Googled the name Jack St. Cyr after checking in with NamUs for any updates from the government website on the search for David. In between her searching, Jack St. Cyr had not responded to her request for photos of himself but had presented photos of childhood memories that seemed to be pictures of the original blueprints that were captured on film.
Her family had lost everything after Sandy – photo albums, precious mementos, certificates, trophies, proof of childhood achievements, everything they would have held dear. So it stopped her in her tracks when she received the photos. How could someone get a hold of these which had supposedly been lost and destroyed in the torrential waters seven years ago? Maybe they were found intact (photo albums cover the images with plastic after all) by some lunatic who studied the family and traced her to her new home in Portland. Kay thought about all the 'maybes' that would help to dismiss this St. Cyr guy as a fraud but could not shake the feeling that he was on to something bigger than what was manifesting in his communication with her. She wanted to discuss it with her mom, but decided not to burden her with the possibility that someone was making a mockery of her lack of closure on her missing son. She wanted to discuss it with her best friend Zizzy.
Azalia “Zizzy” Miller was the first friend Kay had made in High School and they remained friends throughout the years. She would read all Kay’s short stories, comment on her writing, they’d read books together and would comment on them like a pair of book club hippies. Adulthood and marriage saw them living in separate states, but they kept in touch and would visit each other at least once a month. But it had been a while since they spoke as Zizzy had taken up residency at a hospital in Florida where she was completing her medical journey to becoming a cardiologist. Kay decided then to keep the matter under wraps, opting not to involve any of her loved ones as she had tried to convince herself there was no merit in any of it.
The ball dropped when she received a mysterious package delivered by courier mail to her office. She tried to pry information from the UPS guy but he could tell her no more than what she already knew as she signed for receiving it: the sender was Jack St. Cyr and she had to open the package to discover the contents. She called Josh and told him she got a call from a publishing house about possibly doing another book, asking him to pick up Jamie from school even though she was on the roster that day, and telling him that she would be home late. She went to a coffee shop on the other side of town, and sat in a cubicle in the furthest corner from the entrance. Her heart sped up rapidly as she opened the package and spilled its contents on the table before her.
There were three things inside – an old photo of her parents beaming in the mug shot with and a guy at the side of them, one who seemed vaguely familiar but whose identity she could not quite place; an original copy of an affidavit with a hibiscus imprinted in its insignia, and a pocket-sized toothbrush with a single strand of black hair woven into the pearly white bristles, sealed in tiny plastic Ziploc pouch. She checked her email to see if Jack St. Cyr had written her about these items but nothing new came after his last correspondence in which he had said that he would “hand her the keys and allow her to open the door of truth herself”. If those keys that were handed to her revealed the truth that they seemed to point to, then Kay could not afford to let anyone walk through those doors uninvited. Of all the necessary courses of action that she had to take, there was only one that superseded the rest.
For the next few days, the lies continued. She had visited her mother the following day and while she tended to her Grandpa, Kay discretely entered the master bedroom where her parents had slept, and took a familiar hairbrush from her mother’s dressing table. She had kept up the story to Josh about the new publisher and added meetings with other burgeoning writers to the imaginary list of run-arounds that she suddenly had to attend to. She met a black market dealer who created fake IDs and got herself a temporary DP to drive across the state to visit a testing centre. The lie for that trip was attached to the publishing deal as well. She presented the items at the lab for testing and was told that the results would come back within twenty-four to seventy-two hours.
Growing up in the Simmons household with parents that were Christians, honesty and integrity were major family values for Kay. To be faced with the possibility that Jack St. Cyr was really her brother David and that the story that he had given her about his present exile and a secret that her parents had supposedly been keeping all her life, had thrust Kay into an immediate torrent of lies and deceit which she kept up while she waited.
“The end justifies the means” she muttered to herself as she disconnected the call from The Lab that morning. She had just spoken to Josh and Jamie via video call from her small motel room, letting them know that she would be returning home later that evening. She packed her things and checked out of the motel as she headed for the results. Mentally, she steeled herself to bear the truth while she whispered all the childhood prayers that her parents had taught her along the way. She liked to be prepared. She liked having control. She liked filling her own story with chapters that were self-authored. But as she collected the lab results that morning and felt the physiological soccer punch in her gut, she fell heavily into the chair in the waiting room and lost control of her bladder. The result was a match. Not only was that hair strand sent by Jack St. Cyr a DNA match with her – the results showed a PI of 1000 and a 99.9% probability - but result from the tested strand from her father’s hairbrush glared up at her mockingly from the paper: PATERNITY EXCLUDED. Jack St. Cyr, or whoever he really was, had entered like a thief lying in wait. And what he had come to steal was everything…