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Chapter One

 "Hey, Dad," I smiled as I walked into the kitchen pulling my long curly auburn hair into a high ponytail.

"Good morning Darling," my dad, Brenden, smiled over the rim of his coffee mug. "Going for a morning run?" He motioned to my outfit.

"Yep. I'm going to sneak one in before I meet with Alana and Brent to finish our school project." I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and slipped it into the open pouch on the back of my sports bra. I shivered as the cold bottle touched my skin. "Will you be here when I get back?"

He nodded. "I should be, I'm planning to finish a few reports and then relax for the day...I have no reason to head up to the hospital today." He said as he set his cup down.

"Ok," I smiled. "I'll see you when I get back!" I bounced out of the kitchen and out the front door. I jumped down the two front stairs and started my jog out of the front yard and down the rest of Elm Street.

My legs carried me down the familiar path; I passed the last five houses before taking a left down Longbranch Ave. I waved as I passed Mr. and Mrs. Copper, the elderly couple who always gave me my favorite chocolate cake on my birthday, as they did their daily walk around the block.

My legs pumped as I allowed my mind to drift and let my body carry me down the familiar path of my five-mile run. I ran past Ladybug Park, already full of families enjoying the beautiful Saturday morning. I ran past the community pool that had yet to open and the skate park already full of pre-teens showing off their skills.

I knew a lot of the families here; with my father being a doctor, we regularly had frantic parents coming over to make sure their child was okay after they fell or had a persistent cough. My father never minded though; their visits also helped answer some of the lingering questions they had about our little family.

I shook my head as I recalled the shocked faces when my father and I first moved to the community five years ago. My father – a blond hair blue eyed white man – rolled into town with a little girl with a caramel complexion, bright, vibrant green eyes, and a head full of curly auburn hair.

At first, no one believed him when he told them I was his daughter. I was only eleven then but I could remember the stares I got on moving day and the following days, months, and a select few years after we moved.

The story the neighbors initially came up with was he adopted me. To them, it was the most logical answer to our varying skin tones. The silence that followed after my father finally got them to believe I was biologically his daughter was a little unsettling. But since that day, things have improved.

            Above all, I was happy that the whispers and stares finally went away after the neighbors got to know us as people.

I ran down the last hill to the edge of the woods bringing me to the halfway mark of my five miles. I stopped for a few seconds, shook out my muscles, turned around and started my journey back home. I was making good time. I would be ready for that half marathon in three weeks with no problem.

I stopped in front of my house and stretched my arms over my head. I kicked my feet back, quickly stretching out my legs before reaching behind me and grabbing my water bottle out of my sports bra. I took a swig before I ran up the front two steps.

I rolled my neck and reached for the door handle. But before I could it, the door was yanked open, and a tall stranger filled my doorway.

A tall man was standing in the doorway.

A tall man, covered in tattoos, who did not belong at my front door.

I started to take a step back, but he was too fast. He reached out a heavily tattooed hand, grabbed my wrist, and yanked me into the house before I could utter a sound.

I looked around my living room, and I felt my mouth go dry at sight. There were six men, also covered in tattoos, all wearing black tee shirts, and brown cargo pants.  Each of them had a gun in their hands. Well, they looked like they were guns. I'd never seen the guns in their hands before; they looked like they were picked out on the set of Battlestar Galactica or some other sci-fi show.

"Abriana!" My father’s voice rang out.

            I sighed in relief as he ran out of the kitchen followed by a woman. She was tall - taller than me by about two inches but shorter than my father by like one inch. She was darker than me, the shade of dark chocolate, but she had the most vibrant green eyes, brighter than my own. Her dark brown hair flowed down her back in tight ringlets. It reminded me a lot of what my hair looked like after I washed it and let it air dry; hers was just darker.

"Dad..." I ran to him, hugging him close, instantly feeling safe in his embrace. "What is going on?" I asked him as he held me tightly.  I tried to block out the men behind me, but I could still feel their presence blocking our escape.

My dad looked around the room swallowing a few times. I knew this tactic; he was searching for the right words to say. He only did this when he knew the truth was hard for someone to hear.

"She's gotten so big," the woman whispered staring at me. Her eyes were glistening with, I think, unshed tears.

"They tend to do that as they grow up," my dad hissed at her.

"Dad?" I took a step back, looking at this strange woman then back to him. His body language was tight; he was running his hand through his hair. A clear sign that he was nervous.

"No," I shook my head as the realization slowly dawned on me.  She had hair like mine, eyes like mine...it was her.

After all these years - it was her.

"Abriana..." My dad spoke up. "This is your mother, Acadia."

I snorted. "You cannot be serious." I shook my head refusing to believe him; this doesn't just happen. A parent doesn't just up and decide to come back after walking out of your life 16 years prior. "What is going on?"

The woman reached her hand out towards me. "Abriana-"

"Don't talk to me." I cut Acadia off, slapping her hand away from me. Almost instantaneously, a flurry of movement erupted across the room. At once, all of the men stood up and pointed their guns at me.

"You will not raise your hand to the General," the man who opened the door ordered.

"Excuse me?" I scoffed at him. "I'm in my home. You are intruders, in my home. And you are not going to tell me what I can or cannot do,” I turned to face her, “especially when it comes to someone who claims to be my worthless mother."

"Abriana!” My father’s voice bellowed across the room, causing my head to snap to face him instead. “You will watch your mouth."

            Confusion spread over me. Did he have the audacity to defend her? Did he yell at me for talking back to that woman?

"Dad, you cannot be serious?!" I asked incredulously. "She left when I was three days old. I do not have to be polite to her."

"Abriana-" the woman tried again, but I did not have it.

"No!" I screamed at her. "Don't talk to me! You don't get to talk to me! You don't get to come back with a room full of men with guns and think you can talk to me." I gasped for air as I felt my chest tighten. My dad noticed and caught me as my knees gave out.

"Just breathe," he whispered over and over to me as I tried to collect my breath.

"What's wrong with her?" The woman asked, but I didn't have the air to tell her to shove off.

"She’s having a panic attack, a mild one," Dad answered for me. "It happens when she gets stressed.”

"She is broken." I heard one of the men whisper, but the woman quickly reprimanded him. At least I thought she did. Her voice was raised, but when she spoke, it was a language I couldn't understand.

"Dad," I whispered once I felt my breathing come back to normal. "Tell me the truth, what is going on?"

"Let's talk in the kitchen." He said in a low voice as he stood up and pulled me with him. I kept my head down as we walked away from the room of crazy. I glanced behind me and was relieved that the woman did not follow us.

Once we made it to the safety of the kitchen, I ran to the kitchen door, ready to escape. My dad pulled me back.

"Dad what are you doing?" I whispered, trying for the door again. "We need to get out of here."

He wouldn’t budge. "I did not bring you in here to escape." He gently placed a hand on my shoulder. "We need to talk."

I shook my head. "Dad, no this is not happening. We need to leave and get far away from here." I begged.

"You need to calm down and let me explain what is going on." He guided me over to the table, made me sit down, and then took the seat across from me. "I know this is a lot to take in...it's a lot for me to take in as well."

"What is she doing here? Why come back after all this time?"

"I am not sure of that yet. She and her team only arrived a few minutes before you got back from your run."

"Well, when are they leaving?" I asked.

"I do not know," he sighed. "But I need you to have an open mind about all of this."

I scoffed. "An open mind. You have got to be kidding me. You want me to have an open mind towards the woman who left us when I three days old. Three days Dad! How can you even ask me that?"

He sighed. "I know it's not an ideal situation, but we will never get to the bottom of this if we do not allow her to speak to us."

"Fine," I huffed. Rationally I knew there was no way out of this unless she was heard as she wanted. Once she said her piece I was kicking her out. "I will let her explain, but that does not mean I will be nice to the woman while she does it."

"I wouldn't expect you to." My dad smiled, stood up, and reached out a hand to me. "Come on. We can do this, together."

I grimaced but took his hand and stood as well, and we walked back into the living room. The men were still standing around the room, and the woman stood where we left her. There was a tablet floating in front of her, and she was typing away on it. I paused looking back at the tablet. It was floating, in midair. I looked at my dad, but he didn't seem as shocked by the tablet as I did.

He cleared his throat getting her attention. "Why did you come back?"

She stopped typing on the tablet, and it folded itself up and flew into her pocket. Again, I looked at my dad expecting some reaction, but there wasn't one. How was he not surprised at all?

"I came back for you Brenden...both of you," Acadia stated firmly. "I was forced to leave after I had you, Abriana. It wasn't something that I planned or wanted to do, but I didn't have a choice at the time. It wasn't safe for me to stay."

"Why not?" My dad asked with his doctor voice. It was calm and collected, but I knew my father. I could hear the strain in his voice. I felt guilt rack my body as it hit me how selfish I was being.

My aunts told me that my father loved my mom and after she disappeared he was devastated. One night, after having a bit too much to drink, they told me that for weeks he waited for her to come back. And for a while, they did too. They liked my mother, and they were hurt that she left without a word.

As far as I knew, my father hadn’t been in a relationship since that woman left. Seeing her after all this time must be killing him.

"It's not something I can talk about in the open." She glanced around the room. "Not until we are somewhere safe. But for right now, know it wasn't safe for me to stay and if I had any other option at the time, I would have taken it."

"And so, sixteen years later, you have the option to come back?" My dad asked, and I could hear the doctor voice slipping.

"When I left, I only expected to be away for a few weeks at most. I never planned on being away for years," she explained.

"I don't believe you," I said crossing my arms. "You left because you didn't want to be a wife or mother. I don't care why you are here; I don't want you here. I don't want you, and you're not my mother."

"Acadia," Dad said softly. "I don't know what you expected, coming here after all this time. You left me- us with no explanation and dropping back in like this was a big mistake." He gestured to the room. "I think you need to leave and give us time to think this over."

The woman swallowed, hesitating with her next words. "I understand, and you both have every right to feel that way. You will never know how sorry I am for all the pain I caused, but I am afraid you both misunderstand; I am not here for just a visit. I came here for both of you."

"Are you out of your mind?" I fought back the urge to laugh. "Do you think that line is going to work?" I shook my head and walked to the door ignoring the man there. "You can leave," I reached for the door but froze when a metal cylinder shot through the window landing in the middle of the room.

Before I had time to question what it was, it exploded, rocking the room and sending me flying back, knocking me into the wall behind me. I fell to the ground, my head exploding in pain as it slammed hard on the hardwood floor.

I felt the heat of the flames eat at my body as I blacked out.