There is never an occasion where it is not impolite to gape or to consider another sane human a crazy liar, but that rule didn’t stop me from doing both this time. I looked from my mother to the book, and back, as if they were having a conversation which I had, so rudely, not been invited into.
“What are you on about?” There was no way that that giggling child was me.
My heart palpitated in my chest. For a minute I couldn't breath.
Calm down, commanded the voice in my head. There must be some mistake.
"No." I shook my head. "That can't possibly be me."
"I...had hoped it wasn't going to come to this," my mother whispered. Her hands were shaking as she scooped a lock of brown out of her eyes. "It's too complicated to explain, but Lily..." She stopped suddenly. Her body became rigid. "I can't...this is ridiculous."
I inspected her reaction. I wasn't going to be taking my eyes off her soon. And there, there was something hidden in the way she refused to look at the album in my hands. I couldn't say that I was an angry person in general, but my temperament flew up immediately the moment she confirm her deceit by beginning to occupy herself with the shopping.
"Why won't you tell me? She's not me, is she? Why are you lying? Is she actually my sister? Do I have a twin? Did she die?"
"Stop it!" my mother finally yelled as her face contorted. She whipped up her hands to cover her ears. "I can't take you saying such things. It's you, Maria, it's you. Those aren’t my pictures. You…were adopted.”
"What?" the air filled with so must stillness when I spoke again.
A bubble of laughter drifted from the kitchen. My mother wandered over and shut the door firmly, leaving us two alone to our thoughts.
"I wanted to tell you..." she eventually whispered, placing herself in her armchair.
"Evidently," I grunted. Raised an eyebrow. In an instant, it certainly explained a fair number of things.
“This is the album the agency gave me when I was checking out who to adopt.”
“So, then, everything about my father was not…” The lying…
“No. I did have a partner once, just before you…arrived. We couldn’t agree on whether to bring a child into our life… I very much loved you as soon as I saw you, but your- my partner couldn’t leave his self-made haven. He was idealistic and he couldn’t see both worlds. I, however, chose you.”
“But…” I gaped. “You let me live my whole life as a lie? As even a different person? Why did you let me believe that I was part of this household when it was so obviously clear that I don’t belong in this world you have thrust me into?”
Anger brewed in my chest, anger mixed with the raw passion of finding a lost life, and I didn’t care if my ‘mother’ was able to see it. Her face fell lower.
“I couldn’t… I didn’t know when, or how, to tell you.”
“I thought I was different. And you never made me feel better! Now I know I wasn’t making things up! Ha!”
Fury was inside me. I struggled to keep it down. Flicking through the remaining of the album, I was able to truly study the brown-haired baby on the other side of the pictures.
“Who is Lily, anyway?”
"You should understand that you'll always be Maria to me-"
I interrupted her with a sigh, almost resigned.
"I've got to know my past! Tell me! Please!"
"Why does it matter?"
"It matters to me and you should know it does," I cried through clenched teeth. "Did you think you could simply tell me and not expect me to ask of any more? What about those questions you know I have? My mother..." And I was lost. I gestured to nothing.
"Well..." My mother clasped and unclasped her hands. I could see her thinking deeply. "I suppose you're right. I have a responsibility to you. So, I'll tell you all I know. Don't expect much of me, please, Maria."
The woman I'd known throughout my lifetime to be my mother closed her eyes and steadied her shaking self against the armchair backboard. When she reopened her eyes, they were dotted with flecks of pain and tears.
"Lily was...the name your birth-mother chose. I wanted to distinguish you from that life, I wanted you as mine. Lily Highclere, she said, with no middle name. She chose it especially, she told me, because your name is a series of letters inspired by your 'true' life and those within it."
"You met with her?" I couldn't help it, but my clenched fists were shaking.
"No. Your mother left us nothing else but a pre-written letter. I suppose you'll want to take it all to heart, but I'd like to point out is that what your mother wrote to me, in her letter, concerning your name, was probably false."
So that was it, was it? Ignoring any more words from the pretender, I dashed upstairs, still clutching at the 'Baby's First...' picture album. I turned the key in my bedroom door, finally faced with a solace. As I sat, cross-legged, on my bed, I cradled the book between my hands, turning its pages again. I peered at the first picture, the youngest one, still disbelieving. On the inside of the cover, the writing which I had blindly glanced over previously, there was my name printed out in bold black typeface. It really was rather an unusual surname; the 'H' was written flicked, a reminder of the handwriting of the woman who I'd just left downstairs.
As though it were a beacon, a clincher to the truth, the date that had been written underneath my name said it all. It was my exact birthday.