Aly kind of disappeared after high school, too. She didn’t go off to college, though. Not right away. If you’ve been paying attention—if any of us had been paying attention—it should have been obvious where she would go, what she would do with all her free time.
She needed to find her mother.
I never thought of Aly as my half-sister. I mean, we grew up together, there was really no need. But I think we all did think of Nancy—our mom—as her stepmom. I’m sure on some level, Nancy always thought that, too. I mean, there are baby pictures of mom holding Aly when she was like, I don’t know, six months old? But she isn’t holding her like a mother. She’s holding her like you hold someone else’s child, especially when you don’t have kids or haven’t been around them much: entranced by the cuteness, but just a little bit freaked out.
We always knew so little about Aly’s real mom, and honestly, we didn’t know what to do with that. We figured Dad would’ve told us if there was anything, really, to know. But we weren’t really thinking about how Aly felt about it. Because, I don’t know, we were stupid? And then Dad left, our collective worlds were shattered, the past became a landmine, maybe, but I guess not exactly the same way for Aly.
Our dad had always been the sometimes-absent glue holding our family together. He was a nice guy, or seemed to be, and we all trusted he had our best interests at heart. I guess Aly must’ve trusted him that way, too, until she didn’t. And once she didn’t trust him anymore, she wondered about all the things he might have been lying about.
What she found was disappointing, but hardly a surprise.
Jessica Kelley. That was the name on Aly’s birth certificate, and she wasn’t easy to track down, but she managed eventually. Tracked her to a trailer park in Kansas. When she got there, she found a guy only a little older than her hanging out on what passed for a front porch, tuning a fiddle while rocking in a rocking chair. “What you want?” asked Carter Mitchell. (His name she would find out soon enough.)
She thought he might look a little familiar, but shook the feeling off. She told him who she was looking for.
“What you want her for?”
“I’m her daughter.”
Carter Mitchell stopped rocking in his rocking chair. “Say what?”
Her mom was his mom, too.
“I always thought I sort of remembered mom having another kid out there,” Carter told her inside. He decided to make her some bacon, ‘cause he had it and he could. “I don’t know. We never talked about you, but I know how she got real sad sometimes.
“We got any other brothers and sisters? I mean, from mom’s side?”
“I got some halvsies on my dad’s. But nah, momma never did settle down, not after… well, not after you, I guess.”
It made Aly feel that much more sad, knowing her mom had been restless, maybe never gotten over the loss.
She didn’t stay sad long.
Soon enough, Jessica got back from work.
“Carter, what the hell you doing bringing your girlfriends around here without telling me first?”
“She ain’t my girlfriend, momma. She’s my sister.”
A momentary beat, trying to catch up. “Now you tell your daddy I don’t wanna have nothing to do with—“
“His daddy ain’t mine,” said Aly, looking at her mother for the first time.
The woman who’d given birth to her was in her mid-forties now. She would never have recognized her—in fact, she suspected she’d actually seen her earlier, in the diner she’d stopped at on the way, and hadn’t had a clue.
Jessica wanted to know an awful lot of things about her dad. She asked about her growing up, things she did, mistakes that might have been—but after a while, Aly realized none of the questions were really about her.
“I always knew your daddy’d fuck up some day,” said Jessica. “I just wish I’da been there when he did.
Aly didn’t feel any closer to her mother when she left that day. If anything, she felt more alienated. And, ironically, perhaps a little closer to her father.
“Hey, don’t mind her, what she said,” said Carter Mitchell. “I know she comes off like a heartless bitch, but she means well, you know? It’s not like she don’t… you know.”
All in all, Carter ended up being a better friend to her after that than her mom ever would be. Which is sad, I guess. But also kind of beautiful. She even brought him home to meet us. It ended up being kind of awkward, but not by that much, I guess.