It was a dark and stormy night when my life was shattered.
It all started innocuous at first. We were eating dinner, George and I. I had planned the night as a quiet, romantic meal with candles, flowers, and our best dinnerware. I set the table with a fine white linen tablecloth, my good cloth napkins, the real silver flatware I inherited from my grandmother, and our crystal champagne glasses we purchased on our honeymoon in Paris.
I was serving George's favorite foods; filet mignon with fried onions and mushrooms, fresh green beans cooked in butter, Caesar salad, fresh homemade dinner rolls, and champagne. For dessert, I had made a homemade blueberry pie to be served with New York Vanilla ice cream. We were seated across from each other, our eyes locked in romantic stares as we ate our food in comfortable silence. His foot was touching mine under the table, gently rubbing it. He was dressed in his best gray suit with a pale blue button-down shirt and the red tie I had given him when he graduated from law school. I was dressed in his favorite red cocktail dress, a small string of white pearls around my neck, and the sapphire ring he had given me on our first anniversary was placed on my right ring finger.
We were about halfway done with the main course when the lightning started, followed swiftly by an explosive crash of thunder, and the lights went out. The candles I had placed on the table lit the room, the shadows flickering across the meal and over George's face. His expression was more of concern, the playfulness of the evening gone. He regarded me with serious eyes as he debated if he should leave me to check on the power, or remain seated and wait. I smiled at him, hoping to encourage him to remain. But George is George, and he decided to check on the power. He got up without a word, walked over to me and planted a passionate kiss on my lips, then headed for the kitchen to get a flashlight out of the cabinet drawer. He turned it on, the light facing downward. “I'll be back soon,” he said calmly, “please continue eating the delicious meal you labored over all day.” And with that, he disappeared down the basement stairs.
The rain was pounding hard on the roof of the house, the water cascading out the gutters and onto the deck, which I could see from my seat at the dining room table. The torrential downpour continued for a while and I watched it with a weird fascination. Finally, my stare was broken when George returned from the basement.
“Everything is fine down there, darling,” he said as he joined me in the dining room. “I checked the neighborhood and no one in the area has power.”
“Wonderful,” I sighed, thinking of the ice cream I had in the freezer. New York Vanilla doesn't taste quite right after it's been thawed.
“We should just finish this marvelous meal by candlelight and enjoy each other's company,” he said, reaching across the table and taking my hand in his larger one. I could see his smile in the dim light.
With a smile, I picked up my fork and speared some Caesar salad, putting it into my mouth. It didn't quite taste the same, something was a little off.
Thunder continued to interrupt our conversation, booming whenever we started to converse. I became frustrated with not hearing my handsome husband and wondered if this is what it feels like when you get old and hard of hearing. We resorted to silence again, locking eyes and tender touches as we finished our steaks.
A knock on the door, faint at first, interrupted the thunder. I wasn't even sure I had heard it and looked towards our front door.
“Did you hear that too?” George asked as he turned to his right to face the door.
The knock came louder this time as if to answer George's question. He took his napkin off of his lap, wiped his face with it, and stood up. “I will go see who it is that is out in this appalling weather.”
I watched my husband walk over to the door and look out the stained glass window at eye level on the honey oak-stained portal. He looked back at me with a curious expression on his face, then opened the door.
I couldn't hear what was being said due to the incessant noise of the thunder, but soon I saw a soaking wet stranger enter our house. George ushered the person through the foyer to the linoleum-covered kitchen. I got up out of my chair and joined them, grabbing a few fluffy blue towels out of the closet on my way.
The person who was dripping water all over our floor was about 5 feet, 8 inches tall. I wasn't sure at first if this was a man or woman, the individual had long, dark, wet hair obscuring my view of facial features. I handed the person one of the towels, which was taken gratefully and placed on the being's face and hair. I looked over at George, who was studying the unexpected guest.
Once the face and hair had been patted dry, I handed another towel over and took the now rather wet towel back. George helped our visitor remove the saturated jacket and handed it to me. I took the garment and went into the bathroom where I hung it over the bathtub so it could drip. I returned to find the person had also removed wet shoes, socks, and another layer of clothing.
I tried to smile. “I would completely understand if water is the last thing you want right now, but perhaps a soothing shower might help you warm up,” I suggested. George looked at me and nodded. “I could loan our guest a robe and maybe even some clothing.” George stood 5 feet, 11 inches tall and his clothes would be a little big on this person. I'm about 5 feet, 4 inches, and my clothing would definitely be too small. I saw beautiful brown eyes look directly at me and for the first time, I heard the deep voice. “If it's no difference to you, I'd rather not shower in the middle of a thunderstorm,” the decidedly male voice said with a slight southern drawl. I agreed.
“I can still loan you some sweats and things to wear for a while. My wife, Sara, can take your things and put them in the dryer in the mean time.”
I looked at my husband in alarm. “It would be a long time, Darling, since our power is out.” George glance around. “Quite right, I'd forgotten,” he laughed. “Appears we will have to do this the old-fashioned way and stoke up the fireplace!”
The young man's face brightened into a smile. His teeth were straight and white, his face clean-shaven. There seemed to be something familiar about his smile, but I wasn't sure what. “That would be most kind,” he said.
George hurried off to get some clothing. He returned with a pair of dark blue sweat pants, a white t-shirt, some underwear, a gray college sweatshirt. He then went into the living room and began preparing the fireplace for use.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. Our guest nodded. “As a matter of fact, I am. I didn't bother to get something to eat before I got lost.”
“I can make up a plate for you while you warm up. You can enjoy a meal and tell us your story.”
“Sounds wonderful,” he replied with a warm smile. Again, I was struck by how familiar it appeared.
Glancing over to the clothing George had left on one of the kitchen chairs, I realized the young man may want to get into something dryer. “Here,” I said as I picked them up and handed them over to the boy, “ you can use the bathroom to change. Hang your wet things on the shower bar so they can drip, then come out here and I will have some food ready for you.” I guided the stranger to our bathroom, where he entered, closing the white wooden door behind him.
I went into the living room to see what George was doing. He had his suit coat off and placed precisely on the large, brown, leather chair. His tie was also off and folded neatly on top of the coat. He had rolled up his sleeves and was now fiddling with the flue on the side of the mantle. A whoosh of ash flew out as he got the air passage open. He turned and looked at me, a silly grin on his face. “It's been a while,” he said. I laughed, then turned back to the kitchen to make up a plate for our visitor.
George had the fire going by the time the young man came out of the bathroom in George's workout clothes. I guided him to the living room where George had set up a TV tray in front of the light blue sectional sofa. The individual sat down, and I placed the plate, silverware, and glass in front of him.
“Filet mignon?” he asked incredulously. George nodded with a smile. “You interrupted a romantic dinner for two,” George responded, his voice full of gratitude as he looked over at me.
“I am sorry,” the young man said, attempting to get up. “I can leave you two in peace.”
“Nonsense,” I said, gesturing for him to sit down. “The storm already disturbed our mood, you are not interfering.”
He settled down onto the sectional and began to eat. Sounds of enjoyment came from him while he shoveled beans, onions, and mushrooms into his mouth. He looked up at me with his brown eyes. “This is the best food I've eaten in a long time,” he breathed between mouthfuls.
After he had been eating for a while, and George studied him, the stranger sat back on the sofa and looked at us. We were seated across from him on the matching blue love seat. The fireplace was to our left, on the visitor's right. George had the flames going pretty well at this time and I no longer felt the chill. We could still hear the precipitation, but not as intense as earlier in the evening. The thunder had also abated. Our lights were still out.
The young man looked at me. “As I had told your husband, George, my name is Christopher Jacobson. My car died not too far from here just as the sky opened up. My cell phone wasn't working for some reason, so I decided I should see if someone around here had a phone that works. I knocked on several houses in the neighborhood, you were the first people to come to the door.
“I can't say I am surprised. After all, who would willingly let a stranger into their home in the middle of a storm knowing nothing about that person? I could be a serial killer, a robber, a con artist.” He looked over at George. “Yet, you opened your door and your home to me, offering me food and dry clothing. I am grateful for your compassion.” Christopher bowed his head towards us.
“And, by the way, the food was excellent. You are a marvelous cook, Sara,” he added. I felt my cheeks grow flushed.
“OK, so why am I driving around a strange neighborhood in the middle of a storm?” he asked rhetorically. “Not too long ago, my mother died. In her belongings, I found some documents regarding me that I am still not sure what they meant. As far as I can understand, it appears the man I thought was my father was not my biological dad. I was the result of an affair my mother had with a married man and my adopted father agreed to raise me as his own. He had passed away several years ago, taking this secret with him to the grave.
“I then contacted one of those DNA services to find out who my real family is. There was a match with a family, who I traced to this area. I would ask you if you knew them, but the rain made it impossible for me to read the paper I had written all of this information down on.” He took a still wet and limp piece of paper out of his pocket and showed it to us. George reached forward and took the wad from the young man and opened it up so I could see it too. The blue ink had run all over it, making all of the markings indistinguishable.
“I have the facts back home in Louisiana,” he said, “but that's of no help right here and now. I feel like I am so close, I wish I could do more.”
George looked at the young man. “What do you remember?” he inquired.
“I am related to a woman, about 35 years of age. I can't remember her married name or her first name.”
“What do you remember?” I asked, leaning in.
“My half-sister's maiden name was either Jefferson or Jeffries. I'm not sure.”
Startled, I jumped a little. George reached over and took my hand in his. “Do you know where all of this took place?” George queried.
Christopher shook his head. “My mother has lived all over the States. At one time she was in Ohio, another in North Carolina, another in California. I have no idea where she was before moving to Louisiana, but I suspect that is where she got pregnant with me. We have been in Louisiana all my life.”
I turned to George. His face was calm, bringing me down a little from the adrenaline rush I was experiencing. He nodded. I then faced Christopher.
“Do you have any more information?” I asked. “Any other distinguishing things that might identify your half-sister?”
The young man looked at his hands. “At home, I have a few things. Mother had some letters she had written to her lover, but they came back unopened. I could tell you his name if I had them. I should have remembered my own dad's name, but it's strange and I'm not sure how to pronounce it.”
“Was it Faron?” I asked quietly.
It was the young man's turn to start. “Yes,” he said slowly, “how did you......”
“Hon,” I said, reaching towards him. “I think I'm your sister.” Christopher looked at me, his face mirroring the confusion he felt inside.
“Nooooo,” he said, shaking his head. “What are the odds that the only house that would take me in during a thunderstorm would be the house where my half-sister lived? It's unthinkable.”
“And yet, I believe that is what happened. From the moment I first saw your smile, I couldn't get over how familiar it looked to me. You have the same grin my,” I stopped, “I mean Our father had.”
George stood up and walked over to Christopher. He reached out his hand to the young man. “Welcome to the family,” he said as my long-lost half-brother reached out and took it.
Ever since that fateful night, my life has never been the same. Besides getting to know someone new, my impression of our father has been altered in such a way it can never be repaired. I am a little upset that I can never confront him about his affair and the lies he told to me, my siblings, and our mother all those years ago. I feel a sense of betrayal and some innocence lost. My whole view of my once happy childhood has been shattered.
Christopher has met the rest of his half-siblings. The family gets together every year to reconnect and we brought him along to the last reunion. They have all accepted him as a brother. Even Mom, who didn't know about the affair, has embraced him completely.