Linda begs me to stay for dinner, at which time I meet the rest of her family. Her father's name is Graham, and on his head is a small amount of blondish grey hair that's thinning on the sides. He has hazel eyes. Her older sister Susan and Susan's husband Damian have also come over for dinner with their children, five-year-old Jennifer and two-year-old Michael. Susan is about six months pregnant with their third child. Linda's older brothers, Colin and Roger, are there as well. They both favor their father.
"Doesn't Christian look just like Paul?" Linda asks her sister after we're introduced.
Susan squints and holds her head to the side. "I don't know. He looks more like Ringo to me."
"That's just because of his blue eyes. Other than that, he looks just like Paul!"
Susan shrugs. "Whatever. That's a lot more your thing than mine."
Linda rolls her eyes. "Oh, don't be such a square!"
Jennifer stares at me with wide eyes. "How come you talk funny?"
I grin at her. "I don't talk funny. You do!" I say in a cartoon voice.
She giggles. Something about her reminds me of Sabina, and I feel a twinge of homesickness.
"Tell me about your family," Linda urges.
"My father is a butcher," I tell her. "My mother worked as a nurse before they were married, but she stopped working after my brother Wolfgang was born. He's eleven now, and my sister Sabina is eight."
"So they're quite a bit younger than you," Alison remarks.
I sigh, weary of constantly having to explain. "He's really my stepfather. I've never met my biological father. He was an American soldier who had to go back to war before I was born." I take my wallet out and retrieve the bookmark from it. "My mother gave this to me on my thirteenth birthday. She told me he gave it to her for safe keeping before he left." I hand it to Linda.
"How pretty!" she exclaims. "It looks a bit old, but you can still tell it's a scene from the Bible. Daniel in the lion's den, isn't it?" She hands it to her mother. "Whoever drew it was sure talented!"
I watch as all the blood drains from Alison's face.
"Are you all right, dear?" Graham asks his wife.
Her only response is to dash to another room, returning a moment later with a bookmark identical to my own, except for being decorated with a different scene from the Bible. It's obvious both scenes were drawn by the same hand.
"It was pinned inside the dress I was wearing the day you found me," she tells her husband. "The doctor gave it back to me before I left the hospital, and I've kept it all these years. It's the most precious thing I own."
"Where did you get it?" Graham asks.
"My biological mother gave it to me the last Christmas I spent with her," Alison replies. "Kolya had one too. My Kolya! I haven't seen him in thirty years!" She's crying now, and the rest of us can only look on in bewilderment.
"Who's Kolya?" asks Graham.
"My little brother," Alison tells him. "I never told you, but my memory returned a long time ago. Kolya and I lost our parents in 1918, and Isaak and Lizonka took us in and raised us as their own. After I graduated from school, I got a job working for the New York Daily News, and a few years after that, they sent me to Australia to report on an air raid. That was when the shipwreck happened."
"Why did you never tell me any of this?" asks Graham.
Alison sighs. "Everything was just going so well, I didn't want to dredge up painful memories. I decided to simply let the past stay in the past and concentrate on the future instead."
"But what about Isaak and Lizonka?"
"They'd already been through so much, and done so much for us, I didn't want to disrupt their lives any further," she explains. "So my Kolya fought in the war, then!"
I wrinkle my brow. "My mother told me his name was Nicholas Borovsky. My middle name is Nicholas too, after him."
"Kolya is a Russian nickname for Nicholas," she explains.
"Russian?" I gasp.
She nods. "Kolya and I were born in St. Petersburg. Our parents were killed in the revolution. Isaak and Lizonka had been servants of theirs."
"So I'm Russian on my father's side. I had no idea."
"Yes, and you're my nephew." She stands and comes to embrace me. I'm intrigued, having never met anyone related to my father before. Now I know why I couldn't bring myself to ask Linda for a date.
"So should I call you Aunt Alison, then?" I ask.
"My real name is Alisa," she tells us. "Kolya always called me Alisonka when we were children." The rest of the Claytons are listening as keenly as I am. "The very last time I saw him was when I set off for Australia thirty years ago. Ever since my memory returned, I've wondered whatever became of him. Please, Christian, does your mother know nothing at all of his whereabouts?"
I've never felt more disheartened than when I have to tell her she doesn't.
"At least now I've met his son." She steps back to take a good look at me. "You look just like him, you know. The resemblance is striking."
I chuckle. "Linda thinks I look like Paul McCartney."
Aunt Alisa snorts. "You look like my Kolya, not some long-haired English musician." She gazes into my eyes. "So you play for an orchestra. What instrument?"
"Perhaps you could play a short piece for us before you have to return home."
"I'd be happy to. I turn twenty in June. That's only a couple of months away, and I'd love for you all to visit for my birthday. You could meet my mother and the rest of my family."
"Thanks for the invitation. It would be nice to get away from the cold. It's starting to bother me more and more as I get older."
"It's warm and sunny in June in West Germany."
Aunt Alisa laughs. "I know it is, and none of us have ever been there before. It would be a good time to visit."
"It's a beautiful country. You'll love it."
My biological father seems more real to me now than he ever has before, and I can't wait to introduce my new aunt, uncle, and cousins to my family.