Chapter no 45 – Supper at Six

Lesson, in Chemistry

Within the lab, time seemed to stop. Six-Thirty lifted his head, watching the two women. The older one’s arms surrounded Elizabeth like a protective cocoon, Elizabeth’s loss something she seemed to know by heart. Although he would never be a chemist, he was a dog. And as a dog he knew a permanent bond when he saw one.

“I’ve spent the majority of my life not knowing what happened to my son,” Parker said, holding a trembling Elizabeth close. “I have no idea what his adoptive family was like, if the bishop’s story was completely false or only partly true. I don’t even know what brought him to Hastings. The truth is, I still know very little,” she said. “Or did until I checked the foundation’s

P.O. box and found something unusual buried beneath months of junk mail.”

She reached down into her bag and took out a letter. Elizabeth recognized the handwriting immediately. Madeline.

“Your daughter wrote to Wilson and mentioned her family tree project

—the one that appeared in Life. She insisted that her father had been raised in a boys home in Sioux City—somehow, she knew Wilson had funded it. She wanted to thank him personally, tell him the Parker Foundation was on her tree. I thought it might be a crank letter, but she had so many details. Adoptions are usually sealed, Miss Zott— a heartless practice—but with Madeline’s information, a private investigator was finally able to ferret out the truth. I have it all here.” She reached back into her bag to withdraw a large folder. “Look at this,” Parker said, her voice defiant as she extended

her own faked death certificate, payback for her non-cooperation at the unwed mothers home. “This is how it all started.”

Elizabeth took the certificate in her hands. Madeline had once said Wakely believed some things needed to stay in the past because the past was the only place they made sense. And as it was so often with the things Wakely said, Elizabeth saw the wisdom in it. But there was one last thing she felt Calvin would have wanted her to ask.

“Miss Parker,” Elizabeth said carefully, “what became of Calvin’s biological father?”

Avery Parker opened the file folder again, handing over yet another death certificate—although this one was real. “He died of tuberculosis,” she said. “Before Calvin was even born. I have a picture.” She opened her billfold and extracted a weathered photograph.

“But he—” Elizabeth gasped as she took in the young man standing next to a much younger Avery.

“Looks exactly like Calvin? I know.” She slid a copy of the old Chemistry Today magazine out and placed it next to the photograph. The two women sat side by side as Calvin and his even younger father looked up at them from their separate histories.

“What was he like?”

“Wild,” Avery said. “He was a musician or wanted to be. We met by accident. He ran me over with his bike.”

“Were you hurt?”

“Yes,” she said. “Luckily. Because he lifted me up, put me on his handlebars, told me to hang on, and rushed me to a doctor. Ten stitches later,” she said, pointing to an old scar on her forearm, “we were in love. He gave me this brooch,” she said, pointing to the lopsided daisy on her lapel. “I still wear it every day.” She glanced around at the lab. “I’m sorry about meeting here. In hindsight, I realize this might have caused you some pain. I’m sorry. I just wanted to be in the room where—” She stopped.

“I understand,” Elizabeth said. “I really do. And I’m glad we’re here together. This is where Calvin and I first met. Right over there,” she said, pointing. “I needed beakers, so I stole his.”

“That sounds very resourceful,” Avery said. “Was it love at first sight?” “Not exactly,” Elizabeth said, remembering how Calvin had demanded

that her boss give him a call. “But we ended up having our own happy accident. I’ll tell you about it sometime.”

“I’d love to hear it,” she said. “I wish I could have known him. Perhaps through you, I might.” She took a shaky breath, then cleared her throat. “I would very much like to be part of your family, Miss Zott,” she said. “I hope that’s not too bold.”

“Please, call me Elizabeth. And you are family, Avery. Madeline understood this a long time ago. It’s not Wilson she put on the family tree— it’s you.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.” “You’re the acorn.”

Avery, her eyes a watery gray, took in some distant point across the room. “The fairy godmother acorn,” she said to herself. “Me.”

From outside they heard footsteps, then a quick knock. The lab door swung open and Wilson stepped back in. “I’m sorry to intrude,” he said cautiously, “but I wanted to make sure everything was—”

“It is,” Avery Parker said. “It finally is.”

“Thank god,” he said, putting his hand to his chest. “In that case, as much as I hate to bring up business, there’s a lot that needs your attention, Avery, before we leave tomorrow.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“You’re leaving already?” Elizabeth asked, surprised, as Wilson shut the door behind him.

“I’m afraid I must,” Avery said. “As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t really planning on telling you any of this—not before we had a chance to get to know each other.” Then she added hopefully, “But we’ll be back soon, I promise.”

“Let’s say supper at six, then,” Elizabeth said, not wanting her to go. “The home lab. Everyone—you, Wilson, Mad, Sixty-Thirty, me, Harriet, Walter. You’ll need to meet Wakely and Mason at some point, too. The whole family.”

Avery Parker, her face suddenly familiar with Calvin’s smile, turned back and took Elizabeth’s hands in her own. “The whole family,” she said.

As the door closed behind them, Elizabeth bent down and took Six-Thirty’s head in her hands. “Tell me. How soon did you know?”

At two forty-one, he wanted to say. Which is what I plan to call her.

But instead he turned and jumped up on the opposite counter and grabbed a fresh notebook. Removing the pencil from her hair, she took it from him, then opened to the first page.

“Abiogenesis,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

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