As Emily stepped out of the trees, she spotted a man in jeans and a green-checkered jacket sitting on the bench. With dirty blond hair falling in his face, he was hunched over a newspaper, smoking. A small black Ford was parked near the trees just behind him. Emily identified Philip from the descriptions of himself and his car in his emails. He looked much older than she had expected – but anyone older than 20 seemed old to her.
There was nobody around. Usually there were kids on the monkey bars or slides with their parents nearby on the benches. She headed across the damp grass, her sneakers squeaking. “Philip?” Her throat was dry.
He lifted his head and grinned, his teeth yellow, his face covered with dark stubble, his eyes watery blue and red-rimmed, as if he’d been up all night. He flicked his cigarette on the grass and stuck out a hand to shake Emily’s. “Hey, I’m Philip. You must be Emily. You’re just like your mother. Your real mother.”
“Oh?” With her heart in her throat, Emily sank on the bench beside him and lifted her chin. “Um, does she have dark hair?”
“Yes, yes. And eyes just like yours. Green. You’ve got beautiful eyes.” Setting his newspaper on the bench, he leaned closer, his breath stale from cigarettes, his gaze penetrating, as if he could see into her brain and guess her thoughts. “You’re her, Allison, say fifteen years ago.”
Emily sat back. “Really?”
With a slow smile, Philip nodded. “Aunt Allison. You know, she still lives in North Lake. My parents moved there years ago. I don’t see them much, or her, because I’m on the road a lot – driving a truck – but I run into her once in a while.”
Emily’s heart was racing now. “Is she married? Does she have kids? What does she do? I found a letter and it said, like, she wanted to be a history teacher or something.”
His eyebrows shot up as he pulled back. “Whoa! One question at a time. We’ve got all afternoon. History teacher? Yeah, I think so.”
“Does she have kids?” She held her breath, afraid of the answer. After all, if Allison had kids, why didn't she raise Emily with them? Her stomach twisted in a knot.
“She’s got kids. Ah, I’ve got pictures in my car.” As he stood up, a long shadow fell across the bench. “Come on. I’ll show you. I’ve got some pictures of your mother, her kids, her house – everything. They’re in a box in my trunk, and you can have as many as you want.” He walked away, and then he turned back with a strange look in his eyes. “Coming?”
A little voice in her head told her to stay on the bench. “Um, I’ll wait here. Could you bring the pictures here?”
Philip rubbed his stubbly chin and looked away as if deep in thought. “Okay. I’ll be right back.” He sauntered over to the car and opened the trunk. Sticking his head inside, he dug around for the longest time. Finally, he looked up and called to Emily; she could see his lips moving but couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“Pardon?” With an arm across the back of the bench, she shouted over her shoulder, “What did you say?”
He seemed to be struggling with the box while mouthing something at the same time. Without thinking, she jumped off the bench and hurried to the black car.
Then he grabbed her.