Worthy 51, The Phone Call

Rhiannon Worthy enters her home in Seattle, Washington, and slips out of her Crocs, then pads across the living room, sorting through her mail. She’s been on a 48-hour rotation at the hospital, where she’s a nursing supervisor, and she’s looking forward to some down time. It’s been a week since her daughter, Abigail and niece, Genevieve left for Atlanta, and Rhiannon is hoping for a phone call updating her on their progress later this evening. While Genevieve has gone there to possibly start school at Georgia Tech, Abigail tagged along for moral support, and will most likely be back in a week or so.

She hears a delivery truck pulling up near her home, but thinks little of it, until her doorbell rings. She answers to find a Fedex driver outside with a medium-sized parcel. “Rhiannon Worthy?” She signs for it, and thanks the driver, then takes the package to the dining room table. She does not recognize the shipping address, which appears to be a realty office in Massachusetts.

Rhiannon gets a utility knife, and opens the box. Inside, she finds an off-brand cell phone with its charger, sitting on top of an envelope addressed to her, and two individually-wrapped packages. There’s a post-it on the phone that reads, “Start here”. The phone is dead, so she plugs it in. Once it comes on, she checks the directory and finds a single phone number programmed in. She hesitates a moment, then clicks to dial. After six or seven rings, a man answers, “Ms. Worthy. So glad you called.”

“Who is this?” Rhiannon says.

“My apologies,” he says. “This is Marcel Duchard. Paul’s brother. We met, once, years ago, at Rosalind and Paul’s wedding.”

“I remember,” she says. “You’re not in the US are you?”

“No, I’m in Mozambique these days,” he says. “My Portuguese is still a bit rusty, but I like the climate. I won’t elaborate further on my whereabouts, for obvious reasons.”

“Why have you contacted me?” she says.

“I realized I had some unfinished business with regards to Rosalind’s estate, so I had the package sent to you with a means of contacting me,” Marcel tells her. “Once I’ve explained everything, you’ll never hear from me again.”

“Okay, why all the cloak and dagger?” Rhiannon says.

“I apologize for the intrigue,” he says, “but, as you might imagine, I need to be somewhat discrete in my dealings within the US. It’s for your protection as much as mine. The cell phone you’re using is a burner, and I strongly recommend that you discard it once our call is done.”

“Fine,” Rhiannon says. “What’s this all about? What do you mean by unfinished business?”

“You’re Rosalind’s executor,” he says, “and have probably noted, her estate was fairly straight forward. Everything goes to Genevieve.”

“Right,” she says.

“Well, there’s one piece of property she left out of the copy of her will that you have,” he says. “That, she left to you. In the package, the very next item will be an envelope with your name on it. That contains an updated copy of her will, with details on the property. I suggest you file that as soon as possible.”

“What property?” Rhiannon says.

“It’s an old waterfront warehouse Rosalind paid five thousand for around 1972,” he replies. “Rather astute move on her part, actually. The building’s part of a riverfront development now. Worth millions.”

“Rosalind owned that?” Rhiannon says.

“Yes. She’s been leasing it out to an art academy since she’s had it,” Marcel says.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Rhiannon says. “Why wasn’t this in her original will?”

“She didn’t want you to know about it until she was gone, for reasons known only to her,” he says. “Again, I apologize, as I should have gotten this to you sooner, but news is sometimes hard to come by when one is running from authorities. I only learned of Rosalind’s death when I tried to contact my neice a month ago. By the way, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks,” she says.

“The other packages contain information which should tell you everything you need to know,” he says. “They’re Rosalind and Regan’s diaries.”

“Regan?” Rhiannon says to herself.

“Rosalind left them with me for safekeeping,” Marcel goes on. “When I had to leave, I gave them to an attorney friend of mine. She saw to it they were delivered to you, along with a method for contacting me. She can also put you in touch with the witnesses to the will.”

“Why didn’t Rosie just give them to me?” Rhiannon says.

“I’m afraid I’ve told you everything I can.” he says. “As you know, Rosalind could be rather mysterious in her dealings for no good reason. She set this up with me about a year after Paul died, and as her attorney, I couldn’t disclose anything about it until the time was right.”

“Okay, thanks,” Rhiannon says.

“Now, if there are no more questions, I’ll conclude our business,” Marcel says. “If you should speak to Genevieve, send her my regards. I’d contact her myself, but the last time we spoke, she told me she’d turn me in if she knew my whereabouts. I was a bit disappointed, but I understand.”

“What if I have other questions?” she says.

“I’m afraid you’re on your own,” he says. “I plan to lose this number as soon as I conclude this call, which I’m doing now.”

With that, the line disconnects.

Worthy, Part 33

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Genevieve is set to graduate June 14, and their trip to Atlanta is scheduled for the following Saturday. Neither of them is quite prepared to face the reality that, for Genevieve, it will most likely be a one-way trip. While Abigail will be happy to see Genevieve attending a good school, she doesn’t relish the thought of all the distance between them. Plus, there’s the added tension of dropping in on a family who, for the most part, may not even know nor care that she exists.

Their spare time is spent gathering as much information on Leah and Alyssa as possible. To that end, they spend a great deal of time on Facebook, messaging or chatting with Alyssa, who has been, so far, the easiest of the sisters with whom to interact. Abigail isn’t quite the social engineer that her cousin is, but she finds she enjoys communicating with Alyssa online, though she has to be sure to keep the fact sheet nearby that she and Genevieve maintain to keep track of the legend they’re developing on Zelda, and to record facts about Alyssa and Leah. Occasionally, while messaging, she slips and adds some personal fact not on the sheet and must scramble to cover. Sometimes she responds to Alyssa’s posts with an recipe she gets from her mother. She learns that Alyssa and her husband are expecting their first child around September.

“We waited,” Alyssa explains. “Sooner or later, though, you just have to say, now’s the time.”

On some level, Abigail feels a little guilty that they aren’t more honest with Alyssa, because she genuinely likes everything she knows about her. Alyssa teaches second and third graders in Fulton County, and has a side job where she plays a princess for children’s parties and other functions. She’s a distance runner, who also hikes, cycles and camps. One thing both Abigail and Genevieve have noted is a reluctance on Alyssa’s part about discussing her sister, Leah. Equally so, there are almost no records of Leah online, no property records, no traffic citations, no mention of her in the Journal and Constitution despite her being a business owner in town.

“She’s a ghost,” Genevieve says after an afternoon of investigating Leah fails to produce more information than her name in two obituaries, one for Margaret Blaine, her aunt, and one for Paxton Walker, her father. Abigail has a little better luck, searching trade publications for Leah, but only yielding a handful of articles authored by Leah, mostly security related.

“For someone with her credentials she should have published more,” Abigail says.

One person Abigail hasn’t kept in the loop about visiting Atlanta is Neil. Several months before Rosalind died, Abigail set him up on a date with her friend from high school, Zoë, who was also in the marching band and who writes poetry. While Abigail didn’t date in high school, she’s always felt she and Zoë might have made a good match, if Abigail hadn’t been so reluctant to bring it up, and if Zoë had shown the slightest inclination toward women. Neil and Zoë hit it off so well that after two dates, they started making plans to move in together. Since setting them up, Abigail hardly sees Neil except at band practice, and Zoë is usually with him, having joined the band as a flutist, guitarist, and singer. Having Zoë around totally took Neil’s mind off Abigail.

Freddy is another matter.

Since her days with the band in Portland, Freddy has always had a bit of a crush on Abigail but typically kept it under wraps, given the hostile and vindictive nature of his relationship with Annie. Freddy and Annie were always arguing and sometimes their arguments would escalate into violence, though never outright abuse. Rather their anger would be directed toward each other’s things, such as when Annie smashed Freddy’s CD collection, or when Freddy gave away Annie’s cat to a sweet old lady who lived a few blocks from them. An outburst by Annie toward Abigail one evening after practice alerted her that somehow she’s part of the reason for the tension.

“Get out of our bed!” Annie screamed at Abigail after seemingly appearing out of nowhere as Freddy helped Abigail carry some instruments to her car. Freddy interceped her and dragged her away before any real harm could be done, leaving Abigail to load her car alone.

Shortly after Neil and Freddy moved to Seattle, Abigail got a terse phone call from Annie telling her she was now free to pursue Freddy, and Abigail spent over an hour explaining why that wasn’t likely to happen, which Annie found terribly amusing. Since then Freddy has dropped a number of not so subtle hints that he’s interested in Abigail, only to be reminded by her why he should find someone else. She’s actually looking forward to putting several thousand miles between them.

At last Genevieve’s graduation arrives and Abigail and Rhiannon, along with Neil, Zoë, and Freddy attend. Genevieve is seated with the honors students, and she says she just missed out on being valedictorian due to the fact that she had not been enrolled in school there the full year.

After the ceremony is over, Neil asks her, “So, what’s up next?”

“I guess I’ll go to college somewhere,” she replies, being purposely vague about her plans at Abigail’s insistence.

Rhiannon almost gives everything away. “Weren’t you just accepted—”

“At a couple of good schools,” Abigail breaks in, giving Rhiannon a look which alerts her to keep it a secret.

“Definitely some good options,” Rhiannon says.

“Enjoy your trip to Atlanta,” Neil says. “You should look up Danny while you’re there.”

“How the hell do you know we’re going to Atlanta?” Abigail says, somewhat frustrated.

“Oh, the airline called the other day while you were in the shower. I was actually supposed to tell you that.”

“Just a nice little vacation, that’s all,” Genevieve says.

“Yep, just a quick two weeks,” Abigail says.

“I’ll give you Danny’s number. He works there at the CDC. Oh, and he actually goes by Winn. Jill and I are the only ones who still call him Danny.”

“Great. I’ll look him up.”

Once again Neil and the band arrange a party to celebrate Genevieve’s graduation. She and Abigail have been packing for several days, and early Saturday, toss a few more things into their bags..

“If things work out, I’ll pack up the rest of your stuff and ship it to you,” Abigail says.

“Sure thing.”

Saturday morning, Rhiannon drives them to the airport, and after an extended session of hugs and tears, they board their plane.

Worthy, Part 34

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The cousins arrive in Atlanta late afternoon on Saturday and take public transportation to Ponce de Leon, where Abigail has found a motel that won’t strain their budget too much. Arriving there, Genevieve says of the accommodations, “I can live with it, I guess.”

“You’ll appreciate this place more once you see how much we save.”

As with most lodgings, the motel has free wifi for guests. Genevieve wastes no time in getting her laptop set up.

“You don’t want to rest a little first — maybe do some sight-seeing?” Abigail says.

“I’m just getting set up. Checking how well the Internet works.” Genevieve turns in her chair to face Abigail. “Do you think it’s safe to leave the computer set up here?”

“Should be. If someone’s going to steal it they’ll steal it whether it’s set up or not.”

“I could just carry it with me.”

“Then someone could steal it directly from us.”

“This is true. I did bring my lock. Plus, I used that program that scrambles the drive if someone enters the wrong password too many times.”

“The one Leah had on her site?”

“It’s actually a pretty handy little program. I can see why she’d use it for marketing.”

“Well I want to rest a bit. Four and a half hours in the air was more than I bargained for. Next time I’ll know to get a layover somewhere.”

“I’m not tired,” Genevieve says. “I want to get started figuring out our plans.”

“We have all night tonight and all day tomorrow to map out what we want to accomplish for the first few days. Let’s get out and see some of the city.”

“Hey, where’s that place with the carving?”

“Stone Mountain.”

Genevieve looks it up on the computer. 

“Looks like the train doesn’t go there. There’s a couple of buses but they don’t go into the park. You’d think an attraction like that would be easily accessible by public transport.” 

“What can we get to on the train?”

Genevieve checks. “Not much of anything actually. Art center. Downtown. We have to take the bus to the train, or walk, or get a car.”

“Please don’t tell me that we’ll have to rent a car.”

“Only if we want to see most of the city. Look, I told you everyone in Atlanta complains about the traffic.”

“Everyone everywhere complains about the traffic. I suppose there’s always Uber.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Genevieve says. “I would like to do some exploring when you’re up to it.”

“Give me half an hour, then we can find something to eat.”

Worthy, Part 32

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The company where Abigail works handles all the genetic processing for FamilyFind DNA, which allows people to research their genetic heritage in addition to developing their family trees and connecting with matches. She proposes that Genevieve set up an account with them, so she can transfer her results for comparison with their database, which Genevieve does. Abigail sits down with Genevieve a week after her eighteenth birthday in April to review her matches. Abigail has already noted an extremely close match, a woman in the Atlanta area named Alyssa Caine, whose icon is that of a fairy princess, and whose username is “princess81”.

“Must be a Disney fan,” she remarks to Genevieve.

There are also a number of strong matches from a study of the Levy family, including three women who identify as sisters named Rosales from around Charleston, South Carolina. Their relationship to Alyssa Caine, if any, is unknown, but Genevieve seems to be similarly related to them. Abigail’s research into the surname suggests they’re most likely of Sephardic Jewish origin.

“Let me introduce you to someone,” she says to Genevieve.

When Abigail was still in college, she created an alter ego for herself on Facebook called Zelda Burch. Zelda is ultra conservative, pro-life, pro-NRA, pro-death penalty, and claims to be a stay-at-home mother of three. Her favorite activity, other than attending church, is to collect recipes, which she frequently shares with her “family” on Facebook. She also posts inspirational memes with cute baby animals, and frequently shares the results of click bait online polls she’s taken: in a former life, she was John the Baptist, and the Brady Bunch character she’s most like is Cousin Oliver.

Since college, Abigail often uses Zelda to troll anti-gay groups around the area. To learn more about Genevieve’s birth, she’s used Zelda to establish contact with her cousin Barbara. From posts on Barbara’s page, Abigail has determined that Barbara was “betrayed” by a cousin into acting as a surrogate for “some other woman’s baby”.

Abigail introduces Genevieve to Zelda and shares what she’s learned so far about the circumstances surrounding Genevieve’s birth from Barbara. Genevieve has an insight and looks up Alyssa Caine and while poking around Alyssa’s photos, they get their first shock. Alyssa has a photo of her mother posted, Sarah Melinda Rosales Walker.

“Do you see what I see?” Genevieve says.

Alyssa’s mother could almost be Genevieve’s twin.

In response to a friend request, Alyssa sends them a message to determine how she knows Zelda. Genevieve uses her social engineering skills to learn from Alyssa that her older sister once lived in Boston. Abigail calls up a list of Rosalind’s publications from MIT in the 90s.

“Alyssa’s maiden name is Walker,” Genevieve says.

“Between 1993 and 1997, one name keeps popping up, Walker, Leah J. She’s co-author on most of your mom’s research papers from that time and primary on more than a dozen with Rosie as co-author.”

“Leah. That’s her. It has to be.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Lucky 13. I know what it means now.”

“Lucky 13?”

“Never mind. It’s just something my mother used to say.”

Abigail searches Google for Leah Walker in Atlanta. This takes her to a page for L. J. Walker Security Consultants.

“Hey, check this out. Looks like she went back home.”

Abigail clicks the link for About. A photo of Leah appears along with her profile. Genevieve walks over and looks at the photo.

“Hello, mother.”

At that very moment, Abigail has an idea which she shares with Genevieve. “How would you like a graduation trip to the East Coast?”

Worthy, Part 31

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Abigail enters her mother’s home and drops her bag in the living room. Rhiannon comes in and is surprised to see her.

“Hey, kiddo. Twice in one week?”

“We need to talk.”

“This sounds serious.”

“Did you know Genni isn’t Rosie’s biological daughter?”

“How do you— You ran her DNA didn’t you?”

“So you do know.”

“Of course. Rosie didn’t keep secrets from me.”

“How long have you known?”

“I’ve known Rosie couldn’t have children since she was in college. When she announced she had Genni, I figured she must have adopted. I didn’t learn the whole story until they moved in with us.”

“Which is?”

“She used an egg donor and a surrogate. Our cousin Barbara.”

“Barbara the religious freak?”

“She was a little less so back then. Actually she was kind of sweet.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Abigail asks.

“Rosie told me not to tell anyone. She didn’t want Genni to find out. The only people who knew were me, Rosie, and Barbara’s family.”

“And you didn’t think I should know?”

“You were barely a teenager when they moved in. I wasn’t going to dump all that on you.”

“You’ve had a lot of time since.”

“Would you have wanted to know if you couldn’t tell Genni? Trust me, it’s not knowledge you want to conceal from those you love.”

Abigail considers this. “I see your point. She knows, by the way.”

“I guess that was inevitable. How’d she take it?”

“How do you think? She’s devastated. I cheered her up a bit by telling her I’d help her try to figure out who her bio-mom is.”

“If anyone can, it would be you.”

“Do you know who the donor is?”

“No idea. That’s information Rosie took to her grave. I asked when it first came up and she said I didn’t need to know. She told me Barbara didn’t even know a donor was involved and was really pissed when she found out. I think that’s what pushed her down the religious path.”

“That’s what Barbara meant. When I talked to her, she was very critical of Rosie and told me to tell her she remembers. I almost feel sorry for her.”

“What I do know is that Rosie always thought whoever it was would come back and claim Genni.”

“That’s why they moved so much.”

“Yeah, that was part of it.”

“I wish you’d trusted me with this. When I was looking at Genni’s results, I was sure I’d made a mistake.”

“Does it not occur to you that Rosie might have planned all this?”

“Why would she have planned it this way?”

“She was nuts. Haven’t you figured that out yet? Of course a normal person wouldn’t have kept something like this from her child, but Rosie wasn’t normal. She had to know Genni would want to join your DNA study once she was gone. It’s probably why she was so adamant about not letting her join while she was alive.”

Rhiannon goes to the counter and retrieves a packet which she holds as she speaks to Abigail.

“What difference does it make, anyway? You and Genni have a great relationship. Would knowing she’s not your biological cousin have changed any of that?”

“No. But it might have helped prevent me from finding out the way I did.”

“I’m sorry you had to learn like that. But you knew Rosie had cancer all those years ago.”

“I didn’t know how radically they treated it. I never imagined she was unable to conceive a child. But, I have to confess I’ve never thought Genni resembled anyone in the family. I just thought she took after her father.”

“That’s because you never met Paul in person. She doesn’t look much like him either.”

Rhiannon takes the packet to Abigail.

“Speaking of Barbara, why did you have to call her about that study of yours?”

“I just asked if she wanted to contribute a sample.”

“I know she turned you down. She gave me an earful on the phone about people playing God.”

“She called you?”

“Yes. She also sent me this.”

Rhiannon hands her the packet. Abigail examines the contents, finding it to be brochures about a program at Barbara’s church.

“Pray away the gay?”

“Yes. Barbara understands that you probably won’t want to move to Massachusetts, though she did say she’d accommodate you for a good cause. She recommended several similar programs in this area.”

“All right. I thought I had heard every ridiculous idea there was, but this?”

“She suggested I take it to the Lord in prayer. I didn’t mention that the last time I was in a church was the one and only time Mom and I visited her family when I was little.”

Abigail puts the packet under her arm. “I’m sure I have a file someplace just for this. Tell me what else you remember about Genni’s birth.”

“Like I said, Rosie just sort of announced she had Genevieve. After Rosie moved in, she said she and Paul wanted a child that matched their competencies in math and science.”

“I assume they were successful.”

“Rosie seemed to think so. I mean, look at Genni.”

“So probably a scientist, mathematician, or computer expert. It’s a start.”

Worthy, Part 30

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Abigail has finished processing Genevieve’s DNA results, and today she’s analyzing them. She immediately sees something’s gone wrong.

“This can’t be right,” she says to herself.

She looks up to see her supervisor enter.

“Hey Kyle, I need you to verify some results,” Abigail says.

“Something you can’t verify yourself?”

“I just want a second set of eyes to take a look.”

“You know this stuff better than I do. If you’ve reached a conclusion, it’s probably right.”

“I don’t want it to be right. I want you to look at this sample and tell me what I did wrong.”

He starts to respond, but Abigail silently pleads with him.

“Okay. Let me see what you’ve got.”

She hands him the file.

“It’s my mtDNA study. The top results are for the individual I’m comparing.”

He examines the results.

“Any possibility of contamination?”

“I took the sample and analyzed it myself. If it’s contaminated, I’m the one who contaminated it.”

“I see nothing wrong with your work at all. Going by these results, there’s no way this woman is related to this family.”

“But she’s my cousin.”

“Then she must be adopted. You didn’t know?”

Abigail becomes upset.

“This can’t be right. It can’t be.”

“Abby, stop letting your emotions overrule your judgment. The science doesn’t lie. You know that.”

She looks away from him as a tear runs down her cheek.

“How am I going to tell Genni?”

Worthy, Part 29

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Rosalind dies in early January, 2013.

Despite Rhiannon and Abigail’s offers to take care of arrangements, Genevieve insists on handling these herself. She alerts the few friends Rosalind had in Seattle, and members of the family who live nearby. Rosalind’s wish was to be cremated and disposed of as Genevieve sees fit. She does not contact MIT because she doesn’t know who to contact or if anyone there would even remember Rosalind.

On the day of the funeral, Genevieve is the first to arrive with Abigail getting there soon afterward. Genevieve makes an unusual request.

“I want to contribute to your DNA study. All I have left of Mom is that part of her that’s in me. Maybe this will help me feel closer to her.”

Since Abigail does field research, she always has testing kits with her, so she goes ahead and takes a sample.

Once they’re done, Abigail accompanies Genevieve into the chapel where the service will be performed.

“I told them to leave out all the god stuff because I know Mom wouldn’t like all that. But I’m going to read that passage from Corinthians about love. It’s always been one of my favorites and it doesn’t even mention god.”

“That will be great.”

Rhiannon arrives and gives Genevieve an update on the relatives she’s heard from who’ll be attending.

“Might have a good crowd,” Abigail says.

Genevieve positions herself near the door to greet anyone who shows up and Abigail and Rhiannon stand nearby for support. The room is set up for forty people and Abigail is happy to see the staff has to bring in extra chairs. She counts fifty-four altogether, mostly relatives, and several people she doesn’t recognize who must have been friends.

Once everyone’s settled, the funeral director welcomes everyone then introduces Genevieve. She thanks everyone for coming and invites them back to Rhiannon’s house for a reception afterward.

“My mother and I aren’t very religious, but there’s one passage we both like a lot.”

Genevieve picks up Rosalind’s urn and holds it in her arms. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Watching her, Abigail sees the little girl she’s always cared for transform into a confident and well-spoken young woman, and can’t recall a time when she was more proud of Genevieve.

After Genevieve finishes, she invites others to share their memories of Rosalind and a few stand and say a little. Finally, Genevieve once again invites everyone to the reception, then concludes the service.

Abigail and Rhiannon both go to Genevieve and hug her simultaneously.

“That was beautiful, Genni,” Rhiannon says. “Rosie would be so proud of you right now.”

Abigail keeps her arm around Genevieve. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m doing okay. I’ll be better when I can get out of this dress.”

Genevieve says a few words to the funeral director, then thanks him for the service. Finished with all the formalities, the three of them head back to Rhiannon’s.