The seconds ticked by like hours. It was one of the few times in Emberlynn’s life where it literally felt like time was standing still. The last two minutes replayed themselves over and over again in her mind as she struggled to make sense of it all.
Emberlynn still had no idea what exactly was going on, but she’d heard enough to have a vague idea, at least. And that idea alone was enough to make her feel sick.
But there was no way it could be true. It couldn’t be.
She rose slowly to her feet, feeling like someone else was in control of her body. It was like she was on auto-pilot.
“Hey, come here.” Xander was on his feet now as well, beckoning for Emberlynn to enter his embrace. “It’s gonna be okay.” The shakiness of his voice betrayed him. He knew just as well as she did that things were about as far from ‘okay’ as they could possibly be.
She shook her head, still unable to find her voice, before turning to follow her parents upstairs.
“Emberlynn…” Lola addressed her soothingly. The sound of her voice was enough to make Emberlynn pause. “Maybe you should give them a minute.” She suggested. “I… I think there are some things they need to talk about.”
“Yeah… Maybe we should sit back down.” To her surprise, Xander seemed to be agreeing with his mother. “Or we can go back to your place for a while. Hang out with Gucci and let things calm down a little, then come back here?”
Once again, Emberlynn shook her head, turning back toward the entrance hall. There was no way she was walking out of that house without answers.
This time, she ignored Xander and Lola’s insistence that she stay. How could she just sit there and do nothing?! She needed to know what was going on.
As she reached the top of the stairs, the sound of her parents’ voices finally reached her ears. Though they were muffled by their bedroom door, Emberlynn could still make out most of what was being said.
“This can’t be true!” Phoenix insisted. His voice was shaking and cracking horribly. Emberlynn could tell that he’d been crying. Maybe he still was. “She’s MY daughter! She has to be!”
“She is!” Gigi replied desperately. It was clear that she was still in tears as well. “She’s always been yours, Phoenix.”
“Don’t give me some stupid fucking metaphor, you know what I meant!”
“Fine. She’s NOT yours then. Is that what you wanna hear?!” Gigi’s sorrow now seemed to be mixed with frustration. “Lola was right. I was a scared, stupid kid who didn’t know what else to do… So I switched the real results with fake ones.”
Emberlynn had to strain to hear Phoenix’s next words. “So it’s true… I’m really…”
“You might be Xander’s father. I don’t know.” Gigi admitted. “But… you’re not Emberlynn’s.”
For a few moments, their voices came to a stop. All Emberlynn could hear was the sound of a loud and wailing sob. She realized with a jolt that it had been Phoenix making that terrible sound.
“Fuck you, Gigi!” His sobs were finally broken as he managed to choke out a few words. “You lying piece of… Fuck. I can’t. I can’t do this.”
Emberlynn heard footsteps then, growing louder.
And the next thing she knew, she was face-to-face with the man she’d been calling her father her entire life.
Phoenix completely broke down at the sight of her. As his sobs shook his entire body, he broke the distance between them, pulling Emberlynn to his chest.
“I love you so much, Emberlynn.” He managed to say in a hoarse whisper. “So much.”
She didn’t know what to do, or what to say. But seeing him in such a state was enough to finally push her over the edge.
“I love you too, Papa.” She replied as her own tears started to fall. “No matter what, okay?” It was so strange to be the one comforting him… But what else could she do?
It still felt like she was trapped in the middle of some kind of horrible nightmare — the worst one she’d had in her entire life.
How could any of this be real? How could this be happening? Was it all some kind of sick joke? It has to be…
Emberlynn did not pull away from Phoenix’s embrace until the creaking of the bedroom door reached her ears. She took a step back, staring into the tear-filled eyes of her mother.
The moment Emberlynn’s eyes fell on her, it was like the invisible wall that had been protecting her for the past several minutes suddenly came crashing down. All the terrible truths she’d been trying to avoid could be ignored no longer.
Her mother had been lying to all of them for years. Not only had she cheated too, but Emberlynn’s entire existence had been one enormous, terrible lie.
It was the deepest betrayal she’d ever felt in her life. A million times worse than learning that her father had cheated.
Emberlynn’s heart sank as the realization sunk in. But he’s not even my father at all…
“Honey, I’m sorry for running out like that before.” Gigi said softly, her tearful voice calling Emberlynn back to the present. “That wasn’t right. Let’s go back downstairs, okay? We… we need to talk.”
Emberlynn shook her head. “I’m really not sure what more there is to say.” She felt her own tears falling even harder now as she spoke. Never in her life had she hated anyone more than she hated her mother in that moment. “And how the hell could I believe anything you’d tell me anyway, huh?! Papa’s right. You’re nothing but a lying piece of shit.” She spat, finishing Phoenix’s earlier sentence for him. “You make me sick.”
Though a small part of her could barely believe she’d just spoken to her mother that way, a much louder part couldn’t have cared less.
Gigi said nothing in reply. She simply began to cry even harder.
Emberlynn headed back downstairs without another word. She ignored the sound of her parents’ footsteps as they followed her. Why can’t they just leave me alone?!
She found Xander waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, looking anxious. In any other circumstance, the sight of his face would have made her feel calmer. But instead, she felt nothing. Just numb. “Ember? Are you okay?”
She shook her head, feeling like the entire room was spinning. “I need to get out of here.”
He nodded in agreement. “Me too. Let’s go.”
“Xander, wait.” Lola called out as she finally joined them from the living room. “Don’t go… Not yet.”
“No.” He turned to face her, his voice hard and cold. “Ember’s right. We’ve gotta get out of here. Because honestly? I can’t stand being in the same room as any of you anymore.”
“Please… won’t you give us a chance?” This time, it was Gigi who spoke. “We can explain.”
Emberlynn shook her head, her eyes darting back and forth between both her mother and Lola in disgust as she spoke. “You’ve had our entire lives to explain. It’s too late now.” She turned her eyes away from the pair of liars, letting her gaze rest instead on Phoenix’s broken face. All of her previous anger toward him didn’t matter anymore. Emberlynn felt nothing but love and pity for him now.
She noticed then that Xander was staring at Phoenix too, gazing at him as though seeing him for the first time. The sight made her heart sink even deeper. The man she loved so much was never even her father at all. He was Xander’s. God, this is so fucked.
“Mr. Rosebrook, I…” Xander muttered uncomfortably to the man whose DNA he shared. “M-maybe we can talk later or something. I dunno. But… we’ve gotta go.”
Phoenix nodded slowly, still not speaking.
“I’m sorry, Papa. I love you.” Emberlynn’s voice broke slightly as she spoke. She knew he needed to hear it right now, probably more than he ever had.
Phoenix simply nodded once more, saying nothing. Emberlynn wondered whether he even had the strength left to form words.
It broke her heart to leave him alone in the house with the two women whose lies had destroyed him so deeply… But she couldn’t stay there anymore. She just couldn’t.
“I’m so sorry, Emberlynn.” Gigi spoke softly as her daughter turned once more toward the door. “I never meant to hurt you.”
Emberlynn did not even bother turning around to look at her. In that moment, she felt nothing but disgust and contempt toward the woman who had given birth to her. “Shut up.” She snapped as she and Xander made their way to the front door. “I never want to see you again.”
Emberlynn did not stop crying the entire way home. She even caught Xander wiping his eyes a few times as they walked in silence together down the chilly sidewalk.
It was all so fucked up. Beyond fucked up, really. How could their mothers treat them this way?
They keep saying they love us, Emberlynn thought bitterly. But you don’t lie to the people you love. You don’t treat them like this…
Without even realizing it, Emberlynn had stopped walking. She heard Xander’s footsteps stop as well, and felt his eyes watching her as she looked out over the open, glistening water in front of her.
She reached up toward her ears then and, one right after the other, removed the sparkling diamond earrings that she had worn almost every day since she was nine years old. Emberlynn had always thought of them as the most precious and special gift her mother had ever given her — a gift, she now remembered, she’d been given the day before she and Xander first met as children.
Emberlynn held them tightly in her fist, her tears falling harder and faster as so many memories flooded her mind — memories of the mother she’d thought had loved her, of the man she’d always believed was her father… Memories of a life that was nothing but a lie.
Then she thrust out her fist, and opened it over the open water.
She watched as the earrings plummeted silently toward the water’s surface. For a brief moment, they caught the fading light of the sun, sparkling dazzlingly against the crystal water.
Then they broke through the surface and sunk down into the dark depths below, vanishing from her sight.