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Teens & Young Adult Coming of Age Mystery

It was just an old trunk. It smelled of mildew, leather, and dust. Hannah Clark tentatively touched it with her finger and jerked back like a hot stove. "It's just an old trunk. It will be there tomorrow. I don't have to open it now," she said to herself. She turned away to leave the attic. 

           Hannah retreated down the stairs in defeat. Her hair the color of honey fell in her face, and she brushed it away in the habitual move of her delicate, trembling hand. 

           Why was this so difficult? She did so want to know about her mother, Ruth, but she was in fear of what she might find. Her aunt and grandmother were always so good and kind to her. They had taken on the role of her parents, and she loved them dearly. But they never talked about her mother.  Why? Was she murdered? Cut down in the prime of her life? Had she run off with someone unacceptable? Had she done something terrible? Was she crazy and in an asylum? Hannah ached to know, and yet…..

           "Were you looking for something?" asked Aunt Susan. Susan Walton had been Hannah's adoptive mother, as well as her aunt. She was a tall, striking woman but had never married. She had devoted her life to taking care of Hannah and now her own mother in her senior years. 

           "Yes and no," answered Hannah. 

           Aunt Susan looked at her with a question mark on her face. 

           "It's the trunk. I want to know what is inside, and I don't. I do want to know more about my mother. I'm eighteen now and have a right to know." 

           "Yes, you do," said Aunt Susan. "Let's go look together. Your grandmother has gone to town and will be there for a while getting her hair done. I've quite forgotten what is there. I haven't opened it since…."

           "Since what?" Hannah demanded. 

           "Since your mother left without a word." Aunt Susan put a loving arm around Hannah's shoulders. "Let's go to the attic, and don't say anything to your grandmother! It upsets her so to talk about Ruth."

           The trunk creaked as the lid was lifted. A tray on top contained letters tied with a blue ribbon, a cameo broach, and a pale blue ribbon and lace garter. There was also a pile of old photographs. They lifted the tray to reveal a short, slightly yellowed white lace dress, a short veil, and white pumps. In addition, there was a small white clutch purse and some books. 

           "That must have been her wedding dress," mused Hannah. She gently touched the tiny seed pearls sewn around the neckline.

           "She eloped with your father, Michael Clark. I don't know why Mother disliked him so. I think it was because he was in the Navy, and she didn't want him to take Ruth away. We didn't hear from her for a whole year. You were left in an infant car seat on the doorstep with a note and the trunk. She just rang the doorbell and left, and we heard nothing more from her. All that the note said was, "Please tell Hannah I love her." I know this is a lot to take in. I'll leave you here to ponder all of this. I'm always available to talk when you are ready." 

           Tears rolled down Hannah's cheeks. She had been left in a car seat? Why would her mother do that? Did she just not want to talk to Grandmother? Did she not want her baby, or was she just not able to take care of her? Where was her mother now? Why had she not come back for Hannah? 

           Hannah took several deep breaths. Maybe some of the answers were in this trunk. First, Hannah carefully picked up the photos. Her grandmother had given Hannah one small black and white picture of Ruth that Hannah had nearly worn out. Here in her hands were more pictures of her mother with various unknown people. This one must be her father. He was in uniform, standing with his arm around Ruth. She was beautiful with her dark eyes and light hair. It must be the color of mine, thought Hannah. She failed to find any resemblance to her father, though. 

           She looked at more photos. There were group shots of friends standing together and one of her mothers with another man. There was a look on their faces—love? Longing? Hannah could not quite put her finger on it. She would ask Aunt Susan if she knew any of these people. 

           Another deep breath, and Hannah reached for the letters. They were from Michael. These must have been written while Michael was deployed. They professed their love for each other, couldn't wait to see one another again. Her parents had loved each other. Hannah was happy, but what happened? She looked to see how they were addressed and learned that most were sent to this house.   

           The last one went to a different address. Hannah would check that out later. As he read the remaining letter, she was shocked to find that it was a "Dear John." Her mother didn't marry Michael? Or did she go back to him? Then who was her father?  She couldn't ask Michael, as he died in an airplane accident aboard ship on his next deployment. Hannah had never known him. This was maddening! 

           She ran downstairs to find Aunt Susan. She heard her grandmother's key in the door. Oh, this would have to wait until later, and Hannah didn't know if she could stand it. 

Hannah hurried through dinner and then paced the floor, waiting for her grandmother to go to bed. 

           "Hannah, darling, what is the matter," asked her grandmother. 

           "Oh, I just feel a bit antsy tonight."

           "Why don't you and Susan go to a movie or get some ice cream?" asked her grandmother. 

           "What a good idea," said Susan. 

           Hannah raced to the car. They drove to the local dairy bar and parked. 

           "OK, what is it?" asked Susan.

           "Look at this letter!!" demanded Hannah. "I don't think Mother married Michael!" 

           Susan read the letter, and the color drained from her face. 

           "Then she didn't elope?" mumbled Susan, as much to herself as to Hannah. "What else did you find?" 

           "Didn't you ever look in the trunk?"

           "No, I just glanced in it, thinking your mother left it for you when you were older." 

           "Well, I wondered if you know any of the people in these pictures, especially that man with mother," said Hannah. 

           Susan looked carefully at each picture. "This one is Michael. These are some of your mom's friends from school. I don't know the rest, including that man!" 

           They both sighed. "What next?" asked Hannah. 

           "Well, let's go over that trunk tomorrow with a fine-tooth comb. I still don't want to say anything to Mother until we know more. Tomorrow is her Bridge game, and she'll be gone all afternoon. Leave the photos and letters with me to read tonight, and I'll check out that return address on the computer when we return home. We'll get to the bottom of this, Hannah!" 

           Hannah had a fitful night's sleep, with nightmares of ships, sailors, and the man in the photo. Hannah had two classes the following day, but philosophy and calculus did not hold her attention. She hurried home, eager to find out what Aunt Susan had learned. 

           The address turned out to be a mailbox at a UPS Store, and they weren't allowed to give out any additional information. Susan had reread the letters and looked carefully at each photo for a clue to find Ruth's whereabouts but found nothing. 

           "Let's go back to the attic," suggested Hannah. "Maybe we missed something." 

They carefully examined each item again. The books were ones Hannah might have enjoyed at a younger age: Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Hobbit.   Perhaps Ruth enjoyed these and saved them for Hannah.  She would reread each of them later in search of a message they might contain from her mother.

           Hannah was caressing the purse when the light bulb went off in her head. She quickly opened the clutch. Inside was a folded piece of paper which Hannah carefully unfolded. It was a marriage license, which read:

           Name: James William Moorman

           License Date: 10 June 1998

           License Place: Memphis, Shelby, Tennessee, USA

           Recording Date: 23 Sep 1998

           Spouse: Ruth Walton

           "Oh my goodness! She didn't marry Michael!" exclaimed Susan.

"Is James Moorman my father?" Hannah put her hands to her head. This was just so much to take in. Her identity, everything she thought she knew, was in question. "Who am I?"

           Susan sat next to Hannah and gave her a hug. 

           "We'll sort all of this out.  Now we have something real to go on! We have an official document!" 

           Hannah was beyond thinking. "What do we do now?" 

           "We look James William Moorman up on the Internet. And don't worry about Mother anymore. It's time we tell her what we've found." 

           Hannah's grandmother appeared faint after she heard the news that her daughter had not married Michael. 

           "Breathe, Mother. It will be OK," said Susan. "I have found James' phone number. Hannah wants to call him." 

           "Oh my," was all she could manage. "Oh, I never should have been so hard on Ruth about Michael. Do you think we will find her? Could she still be…alive?"

           The three women looked at each other, each with the same thought but afraid to say more.

           Hannah went to her bedroom to make the call. She held the phone in her hand a long time before mustering the courage to press the buttons. 

           "Hello?"

           "Is this James William Moorman?" asked Hannah in a small voice.

           "Speaking."

           "Mr. Moorman, I might be your daughter," said Hannah. "Could we meet for lunch tomorrow?" 

           "Oh yes, of course." 

           Hannah was sure she had worn a path in her bedroom rug from pacing, but she could do nothing else most of the night. Aunt Susan and her grandmother insisted upon accompanying Hannah but would sit at another table, so Hannah could have privacy. They would be close enough if Hannah needed them. 

           When Hannah arrived, James was already at the table. He was tall and had light brown hair and looked like an older version of the man with her mother in the photo. He had a large binder with him. Hannah introduced herself and sat down. Strangely, she immediately felt at ease with this man. He had a very calming demeanor.

           "Hannah, I know who you are. I am your father. I deeply regret to inform you that your mother died in childbirth. We were young and stupid, and once I heard how your grandmother had reacted to your mother dating Michael, I feared she would not want me around, either. Especially after Ruth died. I left you in the care of your aunt and grandmother, as I thought they would do a much better job of raising a baby than I could by myself." 

           "Oh." Hannah was reeling from the news of her mother's death. "But why didn't you…."

James handed Hannah the binder.  It was filled with photos and clippings of all of Hannah's accomplishments. Many were from a great distance. 

           "You were there!" 

           "Always." 

           "I wish I had known!" Hannah sighed, and James gently reached for her hand. 

           "Where do we go from here?" asked Hannah.

           "I'd like to get to know you," said James.

           "I'd like to get to know you, too."

           "Your grandmother and aunt will always be like parents to you. That is your home. But maybe now that you are of age, we can at least be friends." 

           "I would like that very much, and you can tell me all about my mother! And how you met, and….Grandmother and Aunt Susan, come here! I'd like you to meet my father!" 

November 13, 2021 22:35

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1 comment

Boutat Driss
04:45 Nov 21, 2021

well done!

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