One & Only (Canton) Online - Viv Daniels

ONE

I was six years old when I found out my father had another family. I knew he didn’t live with my mom and me, but that wasn’t so unusual in my neighborhood. He came by a few times a week and always got me presents on my birthday and Christmas. Whenever he visited, he gave me money for ice cream at the corner store. I was too young to understand he just wanted me out of the apartment. That time, though, I was taking a nap when he arrived. I woke up and heard him in the bedroom with my mom, so I thought I’d fetch the ice cream money from the wallet myself. His wallet had pictures in it. Pictures of him and a blonde woman and a little blonde girl about my age. There weren’t any pictures of Mom and me.

There were rules I knew I had to follow. Like how I wasn’t supposed to say “that’s my daddy” if I ever saw him outside of the apartment or if his picture appeared in the newspaper. When I had my appendix out at eight, he didn’t come to visit, though the wing of the hospital I stayed in had his name on it. But he paid for my braces and my clothes and the babysitter he’d hired to watch me that time he took my mom to the Caribbean.

When I was fourteen, I saw my sister again. I was on the track team that year, and we had a meet at her school, across town. I was walking back to the bus to grab my backpack while I waited for my next event, and came across a tennis meet going on, too. I wouldn’t have been able to pick her out of the group of slim, tan, blonde girls on the court, except I saw my father in the stands. He was shouting her name—Hannah—and cheering. Every time she scored a point, she’d preen in his direction. I folded my fingers through the diamond links of the fence separating the path from the court and watched her play. She was way better at tennis than I’d ever be at sprints or hurdles or whatever other event the coach assigned me to. But Dad hadn’t been there when I won the county science fair in the fall, either.

If Dad saw me near the court that day, I never guessed. But it wasn’t long after that that my mother reminded me of the truth. “You need to be more careful.”

“Huh?” I said, mouth full of spaghetti, head full of my Algebra II problem set.

“It’s only natural to be curious about…her. You think I haven’t wanted to see myself?”

Her? “You mean Dad’s other daughter?” Or his wife?

“But we can’t. This apartment doesn’t pay for itself. Neither does the food you eat or the clothes you wear.” Mom’s art didn’t pay for it either. Sometimes, when she was in between commissions, she worked at clothing stores or as a secretary. Never for long, though. Whenever it got in the way of her latest project, the whole grind of a 9-to-5 gig killed her creativity, and Dad always stepped in. “Steven has been really good to us. He doesn’t have to be.”

“Actually, he does,” I replied with all the surety a fourteen-year-old girl could muster. “It’s the law.”

“The law wouldn’t give us half of what he does on his own, Tess,” my mother scoffed. “He helps us because he loves us. He loves you. You’re his daughter.”

I thought about the way Dad had cheered Hannah on at the tennis match. Dad was my father in this apartment. Nowhere else. I hardly even looked like him. I looked like Mom, with her dark hair and pointy chin and figure like a Hollywood star out of an old black-and-white movie. Only my eyes were Swift—large and bright, with that indeterminate color that wasn’t blue or gray or green or brown. When we’d studied genetics in Biology, my lab partner had been stumped until our teacher told him to put down “hazel.”

“We owe him a lot, Tess. And if we hurt him, we’ll lose everything else.”

***

I didn’t understand what that meant until three years later, when I got accepted to Canton University. Dad’s alma mater. All the Swifts’ actually, for nearly a hundred years. Like the hospital where I got my appendix out, it had buildings bearing his name. It also had one of the best bioengineering departments in the country—thanks to a generous endowment by Canton