My entire body is humming with nervousness as I enter the coffee shop. It's bustling, but not too bustling—and if it was too crowded right now, I think I'd just walk away. I'm too nervous to be around a bunch of people right now. Too freaked out. Too confused.
Nick's alone at a table right near the entrance, with freckled face buried in his phone, crumb-riddled muffin wrapper carelessly discarded beside him, thick glasses slid halfway down his nose, and half-empty coffee under his chin. He doesn't look up until I reach the table.
"Hey," I say, and sit down, hoping that being seated will calm my nervousness, but of course it doesn't.
He puts his phone down—a sure sign that he noticed how disturbed I sounded when I called him; if he didn't think things were serious, he'd still be texting. "Jess. Hi. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. Why does something have to be wrong? Nothing's wrong." I'm rambling, babbling, and, overall, lying.
"You sounded like shit on the phone. Just tell me why you dragged me out here. And why here? Why not at your place?"
"Because at my place, my parents could hear." My voice cracks on that word, parents.
He straightens, suspicious. "Why, what happened? Did they do something?"
"No—I mean, not right now. Sixteen years ago, they did." I want to stop being cryptic, but I just can't help it. God, why can't I help it?
"Jess, stop being weird. What's wrong? Just tell me."
It comes out in a rush. "I was looking for shoes to borrow from my mom but she wasn't home yet so I couldn't ask her so I just went in her closet without asking and I went way in the back because I couldn't find any nice shoes and I found these papers just lying there and I read them God why did I read them and they said—they said—" I can't finish the sentence for the life of me.
"Slow down! Hold up! What the fuck are you talking about?"
"I'm adopted." My voice cracks so hard, there's no going back. "They were adoption papers."
Nick's eyes—so green, it's funny how you focus on the most random things when you're upset—widen to the size of diner plates. "Oh, God, Jess, I'm so sorry."
"B-B-But that's not it." I want to tell him, but saying it out loud will make it real, and I don't know if I can handle that. "If it was just being adopted I wouldn't be that mad. I mean, I've suspected it for a long time. I don't really look anything like them. They have blonde hair, both of them, mine's brown, and my eye shape and color and face shape and everything—I don't like a thing like either of them."
"Okay, Jess." His hand finds my own, sitting on the table, and squeezes gently, and somehow that pressure, the feeling of having a friend, is enough to calm me just a little. "Tell me what's wrong."
I take a deep breath. I quiet my voice because I'm smart enough to know that these words aren't for all ears, and thinking of this, I start swearing at myself a thousand times over for having this meeting in a public coffee shop. And finally I say the words. "The name on the adoption papers—there was a name. Oh my God, there was a name, Nick."
"What name? Like, a celebrity or something?"
How did he guess? Oh God, I'm going to start hyperventilating in a second here if I don't get this out of my system. "Lynnette. Katherine. Campbell."
He doesn't comprehend for a second, probably because I used the full name I saw on the paper. Then his eyes turn to saucers again. "Lynn-Kate Campbell?" he demands, in a hissing voice, and he squeezes my hand too tight, so I pull away.
"Yes. Lynn-Kate Campbell. I looked it up on the Internet and that's her full name. Oh, my God."
Some kind of realization dawns on his face, and he leans back and smiles a little bit. "Jess, you know it can't be true, right?"
"I thought of that—I thought they might be pulling a prank on me—but they're not the type who does that kind of thing. They're average, boring suburban parents. Average, boring suburban parents don't try and convince their daughter she's Lynn-Kate Campbell's secret love child." By the end of this sentence my breath catches in my throat. "If this's a prank, it's fucking mean. I'm out of my mind right now."
Now Nick is squinting at me with this look on his face that I don't like one bit. "Jess…uh… you do look like Lynn-Kate Campbell."
"Oh my God, no."
"You do. You can't deny it. I mean, I wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't said, but…you do. Same nose. Same eyes. It's just the same face."
"No, Nick! I can't be."
"I mean, I still don't believe that it's true…" He sips his coffee in a distracted kind of way. "…but you do look like her."
"No, I can't be. It has to be a mistake. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. Some kind of weird fever dream."
"Are you sick?"
"No. But—well—maybe I am and I just don't know it. Something has to be wrong here, because this can't be true. I'm just me. I'm just Jess. I can't be Lynn-Kate Campbell's secret kid. That kind of thing only happens in movies."
"Okay. So what do you want to do?"
I stare at him. Somehow, I'd thought he'd tell me what to do. That's why I called him. He's my best friend, and he always knows what to do. But now…I guess not. I mean, in a situation like this, who the hell would know what to do?
"I—I don't know." My voice breaks again. Stupid voice.
"Maybe you'd just better forget about it," he suggests. "I mean, if it bothers you this much. Just forget you ever saw the papers and pretend you imagined it and move on with your life."
"That's an idea. But nobody ever solved a problem by just ignoring it," I say in a weakly sad sort of way. I'd like to just forget more than anything—this is too weird to handle thinking about—but I know I'm incapable of forgetting something like this.
"Yeah, okay, in that case, ask your parents about it." He slurps his coffee.
"No. Bad idea. I don't want to talk to them about this. It's just too fucking weird."
"Well, who are you going to talk to about it? Lynn-Kate Campbell?"
"Are you joking at a time like this?"
"Sorry. No. Sorry. It's just—really, who are you going to talk to?"
I sit back in my chair, feeling angry and confused and defeated all at once. "I just don't know."
That night, I'm at home, sitting on the couch, watching TV. Trying to distract myself, but I just can't. All these thoughts are boiling in my head. Why did Lynn-Kate give me up? Who's my father? Was she pregnant with me while she was filming The Newsman, or while she was accepting her Oscar?
Oh, let's not think about it like that—I mean, as if it's actually true. I'd rather think about it as if it were a stupid daydream, because it is, and I shouldn't get too hyped up about it. Why would my parents pull such a mean prank on me? Or was it someone else? Am I being Punk'd? Are there cameras on me right now? I look suspiciously around the dim room. In the state I'm in, I'd suspect anything.
I try and calm myself. This is probably just silliness, whatever it is. There's a logical explanation. There's a funny explanation. In ten years I'll be laughing about this. No, in a week.
But maybe I'm so worked up because I know in my heart that it's true.
Just as this thought runs through my head, I hear light footsteps behind me—Mom, coming from downstairs.
"Hey, honey. I didn't get a chance to say hi to you earlier."
"Hey." I try to keep my voice light and airy. It doesn't work.
"What's wrong?" She comes over and looks down at me, all concerned. Her hair's in a bun. It's blonde, mine's brown. Even though the lights are down low, I can still see her face, her eyes—blue, mine are brown; round, mine are almond-shaped; her nose—curved up into a button while mine's straight as a pin; her mouth—small and pinched, mine's wide. Like Lynn-Kate Campbell.
I think all of this in just an instant, take it in. It makes me look disturbed enough that Mom's eyes widen in anxiety. "Sweetheart, what's wrong? You look so—"
"I saw the adoption papers." It comes out in a rush. I wish I hadn't said the words as soon as they leave my mouth.
The look on her face, oh my God. It's enough to confirm that either I'm really being Punk'd and she's the greatest actor on the face of the planet…or everything I've suspected is true.
She swallows. She tries to compose herself. "The… the adoption papers?" she says carefully.
"Yes. The Lynn-Kate Campbell stuff."
I feel awful for her, because she looks like she's about to have a heart attack. She looks like she feels even worse than me. "Oh, Jess, oh—we knew you'd find out sometime, but we hoped…not now. Not until the far future."
Everything comes out like a flood. "I'm the kid of one of the most famous actresses on the planet, she's won like six Oscars and she, she rubs shoulders with George Clooney and hangs out with Leo DiCaprio and, and she's on the cover of all those magazines saying she's having twins every other week, and, oh my God, she gave birth to me." My voice is shaking so hard by the end of the sentence that it's barely discernable. "Oh my God, I wish you had told me—"
"We couldn't tell you, honey," she says, putting her hand on my shoulder hesitantly, ready to snatch it away at a moment's notice. "She…she made us promise. Actually, we signed a contract."
I let out a laugh that's more like a blubber, a bitter little blubber. "Oh, she made you sign a contract of secrecy but you still leave the adoption papers just lying around for anyone to find—"
"They weren't just lying around for anyone to find." She withdraws her hand. There's a bit of anger in her voice and her face, now. "They were in the back of my closet, among my personal things. You shouldn't have been in there in the first place, Jess, just the other week we had a conversation about personal privacy."
"I just wanted shoes!" I cry. "I just wanted to borrow your shoes!" I can't take this anymore. I'm adopted, and I'm the kid of one of the most famous celebrities on the planet; it's just too goddamn much. I bury my head in my hands and don't look up or listen to Mom's words until I hear her footsteps going away.
When she comes back, a terribly short time later, she's got Dad with her. This is a nightmare.
They ask me if I can be patient and just listen, and I decide to agree—after all, it can't possibly get worse, can it? Oh, but I'm stupid to think that. Very stupid.
I sit on the chair, staring at nothing. They sit on the couch, staring at me. Mom looks like she's on the verge of tears. Dad looks massively uncomfortable.
Dad has salt-and-pepper hair, and almond eyes like mine. He actually looks a little bit like me, where Mom doesn't. He says, "We can't tell you much. You know, the contract."
Mom says, "Oh, screw the contract, tell her everything."
They argue for a minute. I try not to listen. I think of all the stories they told me, that my grandma and my aunts told me, about the day I was born. They were all there, they said. And they all had their details straight, the details of my birth—how long it was, how much I weighed, who was there, who wasn't, the exact moment my mom knew she was having the baby. Maybe Lynn-Kate Campbell herself spun the story for them, the lie they were supposed to tell me, so I'd never suspect anything.
I was born at one o'clock p.m., so I've been told. Mom and Dad were in a McDonald's when Mom realized her water had broken. Dad called my two aunts and my grandma to let them know they should come to the hospital, and they were all there—not in the room, but there—when I was born. The birth was very easy, took only four hours, little pain. I was a week and a half early. My eyes were open, and very blue. I was small enough to fit in the palm of a hand.
How much of that is true? Was it really Lynn-Kate Campbell who went through all that, or nobody at all?
My parents finally stop arguing and start explaining.
"We had been looking into adoption for two years by then," says my dad. "I guess that's why we were on their radar."
Mom butts in. "We'd been married for ten years already. We'd been trying to have a baby for almost all that time. Nothing happened."
I knew they had me after a long time of marriage, but I never imagined it was because they were infertile. Or, you know, whatever.
"One day the agency called us and asked us to send in headshots," says Dad. "Said it was for some kind of urgent promotional thing. We thought it was strange, but we were willing to do almost anything at that point."
"So we had the photos taken the very next day and sent in immediately," says Mom, nervously playing with a tassel on the sleeve of her blue housecoat. "And just two days after that, we got a call to come to the agency right away for a special meeting. We were confused—we had no idea what was going on, but like your father said, we were willing to do anything."
"As it turns out," says Dad, almost apologetically, "the meeting was with Lynn-Kate Campbell. Right before we went in, we were told that everything said within that room was entirely confidential, and if we broke that agreement we'd be subject to all kinds of penalties and lawsuits and you-name it. It scared us, but we went in anyway, and there was Lynn-Kate, just sitting at the table."
"She was looking," says Mom, "for a couple who resembled the projected analysis of what her baby would look like. Apparently she had some kind of fancy-dancy DNA analysis thing done on the baby—I mean, you—to see what it'd look like in the future. Then she made a deal with the adoption agency that they would find her a couple who looked like the prospective baby."
I huff a small laugh. Great job they did of that.
"And in return she'd give them her endorsement and become a spokesperson and all that," says Dad. "So… they picked us. And we agreed to take her child, when it was born, and raise it—raise you, sorry—as ours, and never tell you who you really were. It was all totally serious and confidential. It was almost like an FBI operation or something. Crazy secrecy. Every meeting we had with her, there were six bodyguards and at least one lawyer there. She was six months pregnant when we first met her. The day you were born, we were given you immediately and told to pretend your mother had given birth to you."
"They didn't tell us much," says Mom, looking nervous. "We don't know who your father is, but we think he must be someone famous, from all the secrecy. All they told us was that Lynn-Kate needed secrecy to protect her career. They told us that only sixteen people in the world knew of her pregnancy, and we were two of them."
I'm listening to this, I'm taking it in, but I'm not absorbing it. It's like some kind of ridiculous dream. This whole thing is completely unbelievable. Lynn-Kate goddamn Campbell.
Maybe I look like I've zoned out. They're staring at me with odd looks on their faces. "Jess? Are you listening? Are you okay?" says Mom.
"I'm listening," I say vaguely, dazedly. "Wow. I just can't believe this."
"We know, honey," she says, sounding distressed. "It's got to be hard."
"Wow," I say. I can't think of anything else to say.
They look like they want me to say something else.
I'll try, I guess. "I—I don't blame you guys," I say. "I understand." And it's true. After hearing all that, I guess I do understand. I'm not mad at them. I'm just…shocked.
They exchange glances.
"I'm going to bed," I say. "Goodnight."
They try to stop me with pleas, but they can't. I close my door and sleep like a baby.
The next day, I wake up at ten, and everything's all right, until I remember.
I'm not mad, I'm not confused or angry. I'm just freaked out. This is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me. I have no idea how to process it.
My parents don't try and stop me when I call up Nick or when I leave the house. Mom says one thing to me as I'm headed out the door: "You're going to come back, right, Jess?"
She sounds so anxious, I feel bad for her. "Yeah."
Me and Nick don't meet at the coffee shop—which was a stupid idea in the first place; we don't want anyone to hear us. Instead, we meet at the old abandoned playground at the edge of town, and sit on the swing set. There's no one around for a long way, and the only sounds are the clink of chains and the faint rush of the faraway highway.
Nick's swing cre-e-eaks as he pushes himself gently back and forth with one foot. "So, you talk to your parents?"
"It's all true," I say glumly.
He chortles. "Yeah, sure."
"I'm serious. If they're lying, they're really good liars. They told me this whole weird story about how my existence was some huge scandal that Lynn-Kate Campbell had to keep secret."
He turns to look at me. "Are you actually serious right now?"
"I am not shitting you right now. It's all real."
The look on his face almost gives me a heart attack. "Omigod."
"I know," I say, glum again, feeling like I should melt into the ground. "This is all so weird and confusing and…God. All these thoughts and questions keep running through my brain. Like: does she watch me, or keep tabs on me, or something? Does she know my name, who I am? Does she want to meet me? Who the hell is my father? That kind of thing."
Nick still looks like he's been hit by a truck. "Omigod omigod Jess, you were born in the year two thousand. That was the year she made The Newsman with George Clooney. Your dad could be George Clooney."
"Shut up, my dad is not George Clooney."
"He totally could be." I can practically see the gears turning in Nick's head. "And, and she made that animated movie, what movie was that—Winnie the Pooh number eight hundred or whatever it was—"
"The one with the bear?"
"Yeah, the one with the bear, where the grandfather dies at the end." He points at me in a don't stop me now kind of way. "You know who was in that? Nicolas Cage was in that. Your dad could be Nicolas Cage."
"Shut the fuck up!" I'm almost laughing; this is all so absolutely ridiculous, it just can't be real.
"No, you know who you look like? Michael J. Fox. I've always thought so. Was she ever in a movie with Michael J. Fox?"
"Or maybe, just maybe, my dad is just some random non-famous guy she had a one-night stand with. Come on, Nick, it's bad enough I've just found out my mom is Lynn-Kate frigging Campbell. I don't want to think about all the Hollywood guys who could be my dad."
We're silent for a moment (a shocking anomaly, for Nick). Then I say, "So where do I go from here?"
He shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you. This is insane, but…does it really affect your life? I guess, just pretend you never found out and move on. That's what I would do."
"Shut up, Nick. If you found out Lynn-Kate Campbell was your mom, you'd be on the phone with her agent in five seconds flat."
"True," he admits. "But since I'm thinking rationally right now, I say, just forget."
"I can't," I say. "I want to—believe me. But I can't just forget something like this."
He reaches out, a hand on my shoulder, a half-smile on his face. "I know, Jess."
I smile back, if tentatively. We've been best friends for ten years, and I'm still lucky to have him.
We do some research together. We go to Nick's house and get on our phones and look up movies Lynn-Kate Campbell was in in 2000, what she was doing around the time I would've been conceived. We compile a list of celebrities who could be my dad. Nicolas Cage isn't on the list, not because it's impossible but because I told Nick I would kill him if he wrote that name down.
The list is seventy-five names long. Every man she was in a movie with in 1999 to 2000, from major to minor characters. Every male director. Every guy she so much as brushed shoulders with at Cannes that year. I look obsessively over photos of her in her dresses—Oscars, Cannes, the Met Gala—to see if she looks pregnant. She never does, even during the times she was definitely pregnant with me, but her dresses do start to get suspiciously flowy around July. I was born in November.
The more I see her face—she's so beautiful; how did she produce me? I look like a human potato—the more I realize how alike we look. It's in the tiny details: the curve of the face, the mouth, the nose; but it's there. There's something unmistakably similar about us. The more I see her, the less I believe this could possibly be some kind of sick practical joke on my parents' part. Me, Jess Barnett, being the daughter of Lynn-Kate Campbell, sounds ridiculous…until it doesn't.
She's so famous, it almost boggles the mind. Of course, I couldn't be the castaway daughter of some D-list porn star or something; it had to be Lynn-Kate Campbell, of all people. Now that I'm on her Wikipedia page reading her achievements, she seems even more prestigious, even more unattainable. She's won two Oscars, co-starred in the fifteenth highest-grossing movie of all time, had her own sitcom in the nineties that ran for nine seasons, won three Emmys in a row for dramatic acting in some HBO lawyer show I've never even heard of… She's dated all these stars (none around the time I was conceived, though), done all these crazy things, been hounded by paparazzi, been called one of the most beautiful women alive, one of the most successful, one of the most influential…
I get to the Personal Life section and I can't help it, I suck in a breath. I never knew she was married. Or that she had kids.
I read aloud to Nick, "'Campbell met cinematographer Dominic Houston in 2006 on the set of her film The Coyote. After two years of dating, in 2008, Campbell married Houston in a private ceremony in Bali. The wedding reportedly cost over two million dollars and included a six-course gourmet dinner served by Wolfgang Puck. Campbell and Houston have two children: daughter Catherine (born June 15, 2009), and son Matthias (born January 9, 2012).'"
Nick snorts. "Who names their kid 'Matthias'?"
"Don't you get it? Those are my siblings. I have siblings." I feel… conflicted is the word, I guess. "I always wanted siblings."
"Yeah? You think that Houston guy could be your dad?"
"Nah, they only met in 2006, it says."
"That could totally be a lie, though. Do you look like him? Google him."
I do, and show Nick the pictures. "Nah, look at him. He's, like, Chinese."
"Oh. Rules that out. You do look sort of like Nic Cage, though—"
I smack him.
When I get home, it's almost nine. When I enter the door and see my parents standing there waiting for me with strained looks on their faces, I think they're mad I'm so late, but that's not it.
"Jess, we have something to tell you," begins Mom.
I let out a strangled cry. "Oh, my God, I can't handle any more secrets!"
"That's not it. We…may have contacted Lynn-Kate Campbell's agent."
My words freeze in my throat and my heart freezes in my chest. "What?"
Dad clears his throat. "We couldn't think of anything else to do. The agent said Lynn-Kate would call back in two days tops, and that she'd probably want to talk to you personally."
"Me…personally?" I parrot. This is too much. I think I might faint.
Mom looks like she's on the edge between sanity and oblivion, and my reaction will determine whether she teeters over or not. "We need you to just agree with this, okay, Jess? It'll make it easier for everyone."
Dad elbows her, a frown on his face, and his voice quietens. "We agreed it'd be her choice."
"Well, yes, Jamie, but you and I both know there's no real choice in a situation like this—"
They're not going to stop arguing anytime soon, I can tell. I try to skirt around them, to get to my room and escape, but sadly they notice. "Where are you going, young lady?" Mom's voice—I think she hopes it's a boom, but it's really more like a shrill mosquito whine.
I turn slowly, stiffly, as if I'm caught in a tractor beam. "I just wanna go to bed." My voice is more like a whine, too.
"You can't run away from this," Mom says, lips pressed thin and voice just shy of a snap. "We need to discuss this as a family."
I hate the tone in her voice, judgemental, as if I'm the cause of all this. "Oh, so this is my fault? I'm the one who gave myself up for adoption? I'm the one who adopted me and decided to never let me know about how my real mother was one of the most famous people in the world?"
"I'm your real mother," says Mom with a catch in her voice that sounds like she's about to burst into angry tears. "And you shouldn't have been in my closet. If you hadn't been nosy, everything would have been fine."
Oh, my God. This is too much. "Are you fucking serious? You shouldn't have left important adoption papers just lying the fuck around!" I yell. It's the first time I've ever sworn in front of my parents. They don't seem to notice or care.
Mom changes tactics. "Just go to your room," she says tiredly, waving a dismissive hand. "We'll talk in the morning."
I'm so mad, and there are so many things I want to say, but I don't. To my room I go. For a moment I consider slamming the door like a five-year-old, but I decide against it, because I want to be the mature one here. At least, you know, as much as possible.
I don't even bother putting on pyjamas before flopping into my bed, facing the ceiling. On the wall, there are posters—Justin Bieber (never bothered taking it down after age eleven), Panic! at the Disco (never bothered taking it down after age thirteen), and Grey's Anatomy, which is the one I'm looking at now. I used to be really into that show—all the drama, shifting relationships, all that stuff—but now I don't watch it that often. But, like the other posters, I'm too lazy to take it down, so up it stays.
The reason I'm looking at the Grey's Anatomy poster is because Lynn-Kate Campbell played one of the main characters on it this past season. The poster on the wall is from season ten-ish, and the current season is like season sixteen quadrillion, so obviously Lynn-Kate isn't on my wall, staring down at me—which is good, because I don't know if I could take that right now. But anyway, seeing the poster reminds me of her, of all the feverish rampant advertisements that came on every few seconds last fall reminding us that Lynn-Kate Campbell, Oscar nominee, is joining the cast of Grey's Anatomy!
I think she turned out to be someone's long-lost sister or something. I don't know.
The idea feels really narcissistic, and I wrestle with it for a few minutes, but finally I succumb to my own peer pressure and whip out my phone to Google Image the woman I now know is my mother. I did this earlier with Nick, to find images of her in 2000 and see if she looked pregnant, but now it's different, because Nick isn't here, and it's just me, wanting to know if I look anything like my mother.
She's very beautiful—every picture of her proves it. Maybe it's just the makeup or the gorgeous gowns she wears, but I think even if you stripped all the Hollywood glamour away, she'd look great dressed in a potato sack. She's got a straight nose, long face with great cheekbones, dark wavy hair, eyes a bright and icy blue. Blue eyes, I think with surprise. I never noticed that about her. Mine are coffee-brown—I must've got them from my dad, whoever he turns out to be.
She's one of those celebrities, like Brangelina or Tom Cruise, that you're aware of even from childhood, because she's too famous not to know. I try to remember what I thought of Lynn-Kate Campbell before I knew she was my mom. I just remember a vague awareness that she existed, a brief knowledge of the more famous movies she starred in, a hazy feeling that she was great in The Newsman, 2000's most celebrated movie that I must've seen at some point or another.
Actually, The Newsman might be the reason I exist, I think distantly. Isn't that funny.
I should've just forgotten about all this. The thought becomes stronger, more true, with every moment, with every new realization that springs into my mind. I should've just taken Nick's advice when I had the chance, and never mentioned this whole thing to my mom. Because what'll happen if Lynn-Kate wants to publicly acknowledge me, to reveal that I'm her kid? I might become one of the most hunted teenagers on the planet.
My imagination runs wild and my breath gets faster as I picture it: me, hounded by paparazzi, on the cover of magazines, every detail of my life laid bare for the world to see; me, the public's new obsession, the cameras' new target, Lynn-Kate Campbell's secret baby. I hate the idea more than I can possibly describe, and, to say the least, it scares the living shit out of me.
I decide that when I meet her—if I meet her—I'll beg her not to reveal my existence. I'll beg her to keep me a secret. I'll tell her I don't want her money, her fame, or any of it. It shouldn't be such a hard sell, anyway. I've been a secret for sixteen years so far. What's seventy or so years more?
Things are awkward in my house for the next few days, but at least my parents don't try and stop me from going out. I don't really go anywhere, anyway: just to Nick's house, or to get coffee. We talk about everything, but I don't tell him I'm going to be meeting Lynn-Kate. I just don't want to hear his reaction.
I'm still so confused, but I try to stay positive. All in all, it's not like I've learned I have terminal cancer, or something. All in all, it's really not that bad. Some girls would give their right arm to find out they're the secret love child of Lynn-Kate Campbell. Some girls. Not Jess Barnett, but some girls.
I'm lucky it's summer, because if I had been in school when I found all this out, I think I'd be failing already.
The next Monday, I wake up to the muffled sound of the phone ringing. Mom's voice, indistinct, answers it. Her voice changes—I can't hear the words, but I can tell something's wrong. Then, a minute later, my door creaks open, letting a bit of light in.
"Jess, Lynn-Kate's in town," says Mom. "She wants to meet you."
My heart rises to my throat.
"She's coming here in half an hour, so get ready." The door creaks shut.
Oh. My. God.
I'm a whirlwind through the house while my parents watch, my dad with discomfort, my mom with nervous eyes. I find clothes, put them on, decide they're ugly, strip them off, curse myself for taking too long. I put makeup on, then wipe it off because I'm sure I look like a clown. I decide to shower, turn the water on, look at the clock and change my mind. I try to locate my best bracelet, the pretty silver chain I got for some birthday, but can't find it. I'm a whirlwind, but it isn't good enough. By the time I hear the car rumbling into the driveway, I'm wearing a white skirt and striped shirt that I'd just cursed for looking too goddamn French together, but there's no time to take it off. She's here she's here she's here.
I sit at the kitchen table, fold my hands in front of me and hope I look calm. This isn't happening this can't be happening.
Footsteps outside, she's coming. I notice my parents have disappeared—why would they leave now? Omigod this can't be happening omigod.
A knock on the door. I have to answer it by myself.
Oh, my God.
At the very last moment, as I get up and walk to the door, I pray to any god that'll answer me that this turns out to be some massive prank and there's a hilarious clown behind the door honking a horn at me, or something, or anything—anything than what turns out to actually be there.
I open the door.
It's Lynn-Kate Campbell. In real life.
She's not that tall, only a little bit taller than me, and she looks much older in person, with fine lines at the corners of her mouth, and crows' feet around her eyes. "May I come in?"
Now my prayer turns to: please, God, don't let me make myself look like an idiot. "Sure," I say, and she enters the house.
Every moment feels an hour long now. I try not to stare at her, but I can't help taking a glance. She's just wearing a simple white pantsuit and flats, but somehow she still looks like a superstar. Maybe that's because I already know she is one.
My heart is ice in my throat and my stomach has migrated to my chest and basically all my organs are very fucked up. I can barely move.
"Is there somewhere we can sit down?" asks Lynn-Kate.
I almost gesture to the table, but, oh my God, I can't sit Lynn-Kate Campbell down at my raggedy-ass crumb-covered little wooden kitchen table. She probably eats her gourmet Wolfgang Puck dinners off a table carved from ancient Egyptian marble or something. No, she probably eats the ambrosia of the gods off the backs of supermodels.
The deck. Yes, the deck. "There's a deck outside," I suggest, "and it's a beautiful day." Praise God that I sound so calm and collected.
She agrees, and out we go to the deck. I'd thought I'd have to set up a chair for her, but, life's little mercies, two chairs are already out and waiting.
She doesn't sit like a Hollywood star. She flomps down like some kind of walrus, sighing heavily. "I had a very long journey up here," she says. "Four hours' drive. God, you miss the smell of fresh air when you've been in a car for four hours."
I make a vague sound of agreement, and try to sit down like a lady. This is so surreal, it's like I'm trapped in some weird video game where up is down and down is up and nobody Jess Barnett's mother is a movie star.
Lynn-Kate looks at me and smiles a surprisingly gentle smile. "You're the spitting image of me, aren't you? Isn't that funny? I have two kids, you know, and they don't look anything like me. But you…you're my spitting image."
"Yeah," I say in a non-committal sort of way, trying to be aloof and calm and chill.
She sighs and leans back in her chair, looking out at the fence that guards our bare backyard, staring at nothing in particular. "It's funny. I came here today to meet you, but now, I have no idea what to say."
The words come out before I can stop them or even filter them. "Just tell me," I say. "Tell me who my father is, and why you gave me up, and—and everything." And then, to fix things up a little: "I'm not mad or anything. I'm not even mad, I don't care. I'm just curious. I want to know." The words sound stupid before I even say them, but again, I can't help it. They slip and slide and stumble out of my mouth, out of my control.
She gives me a strange look, but says, "I understand. I really do. But there are some things I can't tell you. I can't tell you who your father is."
Oh, my God, she doesn't even know who my father is.
She must see some look on my face. "No, it's just, there's a contract," she says hurriedly. "My pregnancy with you was surrounded by contracts left, right and center, mostly because it was such a secret. Your father…well, I can tell you that he's very well-known. He didn't want anyone knowing we were having a child, either. Both of our careers were just taking off at that point, and both of us felt that a child, the scandal of it, would ruin us. He was married at the time, you see, so you can just imagine." She lets out a small laugh: heh. "He and I signed a contract that neither of us would ever reveal, to anyone, the existence of our child unless it was absolutely necessary, and should the existence be revealed, I could never tell anyone—not even you—who the father was." She makes a tch noise. "I can be sure that if his name ever escapes my lips in relation to you, I'll be slapped with sixty lawsuits before I even have time to breathe."
"But—but I'd never talk. I swear to God, it doesn't have to leave this room—" We're not in a room, you idiot, shut up while you're ahead. "—well, this house, anyway. I'll be the only one to know. I won't tell my parents, I won't tell anyone." Except Nick, probably.
She shakes her head, looking very sad. "I'm sorry, honey. I swear to God, you can ask me anything you want, anything at all, and I'll answer—except about your father."
I can't help frowning a little bit, but decide to let it go. It doesn't matter that much, anyway.
I search for something to ask, but can't really think of anything. I know why she gave me up: to save her career. Other than that, what's there to ask? Do I technically make an appearance in any movies of yours? comes to mind, but wow, that's kind of a creepy question and—
"Do I technically make an appearance in any movies of yours?" I say. Why the hell did I say that?
She laughs. And she answers the question. There were some last-minute reshoots for The Newsman in late May of 2000, so I might appear in a few scenes of that, technically. And a few other movies as well. She had an awful time, she tells me, concealing her pregnancy while simultaneously not making anybody suspicious—but somehow she did it.
I ask her more questions. What's it like to be an actress? Does she have six houses? Et cetera. Most of the questions I don't even think about before they just pop out, but she answers all of them. This really isn't so bad, not so bad at all. She's funny, she's very nice, and she seems much more like a real person now that I'm seeing her in person and without a princess gown on.
Things get less awkward with every few seconds, although I'm still hyper-conscious that there's a barrier between us, that she's still Lynn-Kate Campbell and I'm still just Jess Barnett. Still, despite that, things eventually get as good as they could possibly get: after about an hour of talking, we're sort of like old friends, and I've made her laugh five times and counting.
Finally, I'm sensing we're getting to the end of the conversation, and I decide to ask one last question. "Are you going to tell the whole world about me?" And I steel myself for the worst.
To my surprise, she says, "Only if you want me to."
The answer shocks me—why would I want her to? "No. Uh, no thank you. I don't want that life. I don't want to be famous and have people know who I am."
She nods her head. "I understand. But I'll be paying for your education, of course, so it might be a little hard to hide that."
My eyes widen. "What?"
"Oh, of course. Your education, your housing, absolutely anything you want. I'll even give you a monthly allowance if that's what you want. Anything."
I'm so shocked that, for a second, I forget to breathe. Is she...blackmailing me? Finally I swallow and regain my speech. "Oh—oh, thank you, but I don't need that. I won't say anything; you can count on me."
"No, it's not in return for anything. I'm not buying your silence or anything like that," says Lynn-Kate, with a half-smile. "What you do with the knowledge that I'm your mother is entirely your business. I want to do this for you. I feel I owe you something, that I have a responsibility for you. I feel very guilty for giving you up, you know. Guiltier than I can say. I want to make it up however I can."
She's going to give me money. Wow. "I—I don't know what to say."
"Do you have your licence? I could get you a car."
Oh my God, I can barely speak. "This is too much," I manage. "Wow."
"What about college? University? Do you know where you want to go?"
There must be a look on my face that says I'm about to faint. "We don't need to talk about this now," she says quickly. "We can talk on the phone, later, if you want."
"O-Okay. Wow. Thank you."
She reaches out and puts a hand on mine, a little awkwardly. "I know it's probably a lot to take in," she says, not unkindly. "I know it's overwhelming and strange. But I don't want anything to change for you, not any more than it has to. All of this—this relationship, any publicity—it will happen on your terms. I want you to know that. Everything is up to you."
She's so nice. That's all I can think, is that she's too nice.
Oh, God, I'm going to cry.
I try to hold it in, and I succeed, but I'm pretty sure my contorted face looks like a gargoyle right now. Lynn-Kate looks alarmed. "Is everything—?"
"Everything's fine," I choke. "I just—this is, it's all so weird."
She laughs a little. "I get it. I understand."
My parents aren't my parents and my mother is an Oscar winner, but my tears are from being overwhelmed, not from sadness. Somehow, I think things are going to be okay.
"So I told her," I tell Nick, lying face-up on his bed the next day, "that I didn't really want any money, but she insisted. Like, she was insistent, man. She wouldn't take no for an answer."
"Why would you give no for an answer?" He's sitting on the floor, texting as usual (hopefully not spilling my secret all over the place, but I trust him more than anyone, and he swore to God he wouldn't, so probably not).
I stare at the tiles on the ceiling, idly counting them. "I don't know. I just would feel like, I don't know, a racketeer or something. I don't want to take her money."
He snorts. "Who says racketeer?"
"I just did. Anyway, I don't want her to think all I want is her money or her fame. She says she'll pay for my education and buy me a car, as a bare minimum, but I told her I won't take any more than that."
He looks up at me now, his glasses reflecting the light of the lamp on his bedside table. "Then what do you want from her?"
I sigh, heavy and low. "I don't know. We're going to talk on the phone more often, and she says she'll introduce me to her agent and blah blah blah, you know, all that. But she's not going to tell the world who I am, and she's going to be careful. That was my insistence, by the way, not hers."
"God, I wish I was you. I'd milk her for all she's worth. I'd be on the cover of People and have a Maserati and a closetful of mink coats before the week was up." He glances at me, suddenly guilty, as if he's become conscious that he's actually talking about my mom. "No offence or anything."
"None taken." I think for a moment, and come up with the perfect answer for his previous question. "You know, I think I want a mom. Nothing more than that. Just a mom."
"You already have one."
"I know, and I feel bad about it," I admit, "but after all the weirdness of this whole thing sort of faded away a bit, all I can think is just that I want to know my birth mom. She feels guilty about giving me away, and she wants to know me, too. I think I'd feel the same way if she wasn't famous. In fact, I know I would."
"How do your real parents feel about this?"
"I had a talk with them," I say, almost laughing as I remember it, "right after Lynn-Kate left. My mom was so worried that I was going to replace her and move away with Lynn-Kate. Hah. I told her I wasn't, but I don't think she believed me. My dad's not really a nervous guy, but he did seem a little worried. I told them they're still my parents, no matter what…" I let out a puff of air. "Even if they did lie to me my whole life and everything."
"They just wanted a kid," says Nick with a shrug. "I wouldn't be mad at them either."
We sit in silence for a moment, and I turn my head to look out the window. It's nearly sunset, and I should be getting home soon, but I don't think my parents will mind if I stay out a little later today. I think they'll understand.
Me and Lynn-Kate are going to meet in three weeks, which is when she finally has another free space in her schedule. We're going to just talk. I'd like to talk with her like I usually talk with my own mom: free, open, laughing and happy. And from there, we'll see where things go.
I stare at the ceiling, listen to Nick's breathing—he's a heavy breather ever since he got his braces off, for some reason—and for a moment, I'm not worried, I'm just okay.
Suddenly, I remember something Lynn-Kate said—that my father was married at the time, and that's why no one's allowed to know I'm his kid—and I whip out my phone to Google my suspicions, my fear growing with every passing moment.
Holy shit. Nicolas Cage's divorce from Patricia Arquette wasn't even finalized until 2001. Oh my God, my dad could be Nicolas Cage.