Chapter no 44 – The Acorn

Lesson, in Chemistry

It was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Elizabeth stared at Avery Parker, uncertain how to proceed. This couldn’t be true. Calvin’s own diary had revealed that his biological mother had died in childbirth.

“Miss Parker,” Elizabeth said carefully, as if picking her way across hot coals. “A lot of people have tried to take advantage of Calvin over the years. Many have even pretended to be long-lost family members. Your story is—” She stopped. She thought back to all the letters Calvin had kept. Sad Mother—she’d written to him several times. “If you knew he was in that boys home, why didn’t you go get him?”

“I did,” Avery Parker said. “Or rather, I sent Wilson. I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t brave enough to go myself.” She got up and walked the length of the worktable. “You need to understand. I’d long ago accepted that my child was dead. Now to suddenly learn he was alive? I was afraid to get my hopes up. Like Calvin, I too have been a target for countless scams, including from dozens of people claiming to be my so-called relatives. So I sent Wilson,” she repeated, looking down at the floor as if reviewing this decision for the fiftieth time. “I sent him to All Saints the very next day.”

The vacuum pump started a new cycle, and with it a hissing sound filled the laboratory.

“And—” Elizabeth prodded.

“And,” Avery said, “the bishop informed Wilson that Calvin was…” She hesitated.

“Was what?” Elizabeth urged. “What?”

The older woman’s face sagged. “Dead.”

Elizabeth sat back, floored. The home needed money, the bishop saw an opportunity, there was a memorial fund. Facts came pouring out of the woman in a dull, lifeless rush.

“Have you ever lost a family member?” Avery suddenly asked in a flat voice.

“My brother.” “Illness?”


“Oh god,” she said. “So you know what it is to feel responsible for someone’s death.”

Elizabeth tensed. The words fit snugly, like laces knotted twice. “But you didn’t kill Calvin,” she said with a heavy heart.

“No,” Parker said in a voice sick with remorse. “I did something much worse. I buried him.”

From the north side of the room, a timer beeped, and Elizabeth, trembling, went to shut it off. She turned to take in the woman standing at the chalkboard. She leaned to the right. Six-Thirty got up and went to Avery. He pressed his head against her thigh. I know what it’s like to fail a loved one.

“My parents had long funded unwed mothers homes and orphanages,” Avery continued, fiddling with the eraser. “They thought this made them good people. And yet thanks to their blind allegiance to the Catholic Church, they managed to make an orphan out of my son.” She paused. “I funded my son’s memorial before he was dead, Miss Zott,” she said, her breath shallow. “I buried him twice.”

Elizabeth felt a sudden wave of nausea.

“After Wilson returned from the boys home,” Avery continued, “I sank into a deep depression. I’d never had the chance to see my own son, never held him, never heard his voice. Worse, I had to live with the knowledge

that he’d suffered. He’d lost me, then his parents, then he ended up in that garbage dump of a boys home. Each of these losses signed, sealed, and delivered in the name of the church.” She stopped abruptly, her face reddening. “YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD FOR SCIENTIFIC


Elizabeth tried to speak but nothing came out.

“The only decision I was able to make,” Avery Parker said, trying to bring her voice back under control, “was to ensure that all the memorial funds went toward a science education. Biology. Chemistry. Physics. Exercise, too. Calvin’s father—his biological father, I mean—was an athlete. A rower. That’s why the boys at All Saints learned to row. It was a gesture. In his honor.”

Elizabeth saw Calvin. They were in the pair, his face lit by the early morning sun. He was smiling, one hand on the oar, the other reaching for her. “That’s how he got to Cambridge,” she said as the vision slowly faded away. “On a rowing scholarship.”

Avery dropped the eraser. “I had no idea.”

Details slowly continued to fall into place, but something still nagged at Elizabeth.

“But…but how did you finally find out that Calvin—”

“Chemistry Today,” Parker said, slipping onto the stool next to Elizabeth’s. “The one with Calvin on the cover. I still remember that day— Wilson came rushing into my office waving it in the air. ‘You won’t believe this,’ he said. I picked up the phone right then and called the bishop. Naturally he insisted it was only a coincidence—‘Evans,’ he said. ‘It’s a very common name.’ I knew he was lying and I intended to sue—until Wilson convinced me the publicity would not only be ruinous for the foundation but embarrassing for Calvin.” She leaned back and took a deep breath before continuing. “I cut off funding immediately. Then I wrote to

Calvin—several times. I explained things as best I could, asked to meet him, told him that I wanted to fund his research. I can only imagine what he thought,” she said, depressed. “Some lady writing to him out of the blue claiming to be his mother. Or maybe I do because I never heard from him.”

Elizabeth started. The Sad Mother letters bloomed again before her eyes, the signature at the bottom of each, radiating a sudden cruel clarity. Avery Parker.

“But surely if you’d arranged a meeting. Flown to California—”

Avery’s face turned ashen. “Look. It’s one thing to pursue a child with vigor. But once that child reaches adulthood, it changes. I decided to move slowly. Give him time to accept the possibility of me, research my foundation, realize I had no reason to delude him. I knew it might take years. I forced myself to be patient. But obviously,” she said, “given what happened—” She fixed her gaze on a stack of notebooks. “I was—too patient.”

“Oh dear god,” Elizabeth said, sinking her head in her hands.

“Still,” Parker continued in a monotone, “I followed his career. I thought maybe there’d be a chance, some way to help him. But as it turned out, he didn’t need my help. You did.”

“But how did you know Calvin and I were even…”

“Together?” A wistful smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. “It was all anyone could talk about,” Parker said. “From the moment Wilson set foot in Hastings, all he heard were veiled references to Calvin Evans and his scandalous affair. It’s one of the reasons why, when Wilson told Donatti he was there to fund abiogenesis, Donatti did his very best to try to steer him elsewhere. The last thing he wanted was for Calvin or anyone associated with Calvin to succeed. And then there was the fact that you were female. Donatti rightly assumed that most donors would not fund a woman.”

“But why would you, of all people, put up with that?”

“I’m almost ashamed to admit there was a part of me that enjoyed the position we put him in. He went to such great lengths to convince Wilson

you were a man. But Wilson did have a plan to meet you without Donatti’s knowledge. In fact, he’d booked a flight. But then…” Her voice trailed off.


“But then Calvin died,” she said. “And your work seemed to die with


Elizabeth looked as if she’d been slapped. “Miss Parker, I was fired.” Avery Parker sighed. “I know that now, thanks to Miss Frask. But at the

time I thought you might be trying to move on. You and Calvin never married. I assumed the feelings between you and my son hadn’t been mutual. Everyone said he was a very difficult man—that he held grudges. Obviously, I had no idea you were pregnant. You were quoted in the LA Times obituary as saying you barely knew him.” She took a deep breath in. “By the way, I was there. At his funeral.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened.

“Wilson and I stood a few grave sites over. I’d come to bury him for the final time, and to speak with you. But before I could summon the courage, you left. Walked away before the service was even over.” She dropped her head in her hands, tears spilling. “As much as I’d wanted to believe someone had loved my son…”

With those words, Elizabeth slumped beneath the unrelenting burden of misunderstanding. “I did love your son, Miss Parker!” she cried. “With all my heart. I still do.” She glanced up at the lab where they’d first met, her face flattened by grief. “Calvin Evans was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she choked. “He was the most brilliant, loving man; the kindest, the most interesting—” She stopped. “I’m not sure how else to explain it,” she said, her voice beginning to break, “except to say we had chemistry. Actual chemistry. And it was no accident.”

And maybe it was finally using the word “accident,” but the crushing weight of what she’d lost overtook her and she laid her head on Avery Parker’s shoulder and sobbed in a way she never had before.

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