Her eyes caught on a single line at the bottom—percentage match: 0.00%—and she reached out a hand to steady herself. An ugly, sticky realization was closing around her throat.
“I don’t believe this.” She sat up straighter, her voice gaining volume. “The lab messed up the sequencing. We need to ping them back, get them to redo it.”
“They did redo it. It’s not wrong.” It seemed as if her mom was talking from very far away, as if Eris were underwater, or buried under a mountain of sand.
“No,” Eris repeated blindly.
“It’s true, Eris.”
The finality in Caroline’s tone made Eris cold all over. And then she understood why her DNA wasn’t a match, why her mom wasn’t acting more surprised. Because Eris wasn’t her father’s daughter, after all.
Her mom had cheated on her dad, and kept it a secret for the past eighteen years.
Eris shut her eyes. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. If she kept her eyes closed it would go away, like a bad dream.
Her mom reached out a hand and Eris shot to her feet, knocking over the coffee table as she did. Neither of them looked at it. They just stared at each other, mother and daughter, so painfully alike—and yet to Eris they had never felt more like strangers.
“Why?” she asked, because it was the only word her mind could process. “Why did you lie to me all those years?”
“Oh, Eris. I didn’t mean—it wasn’t about you—”
“Are you serious? Of course it’s about me!”
Caroline winced. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just … whatever happens between me and Everett—it’s not your fault.”
“I know, because it’s your fault!”
Neither of them spoke. The silence scraped at Eris’s eardrums.
“Where did Dad go? When is he coming back?” she asked finally.
“I’m not sure.” Her mom sighed. “I’m sorry, Eris.”
“Stop saying that!” By now Eris was screaming. She couldn’t help it; she didn’t want to hear another apology from her mom. Apologies meant nothing when the person you trusted the most had been lying to you your whole life.
Her mom was utterly still. “I know this is really hard on you, and you must have a lot of questions. I’m here to answer—”
“Fuck you and your fucking explanations,” Eris interrupted, enunciating each word.
Her mom drew back in wounded shock, but Eris ignored it. Her mind was shuffling through all her memories of her mom: of when Caroline would come wake her up for elementary school, only to snuggle into Eris’s bed with her and fall back asleep, forcing Eris’s dad to come wake them both up, laughing about what sleeping beauties his girls were. Of the Christmases they had baked cookies to put under the tree for Santa, made almost entirely from raw dough, and then Dad would go eat them in the middle of the night even long after Eris knew Santa wasn’t real. Of every year before her birthday, when Caroline would make up a fake doctor’s appointment and pull Eris out of school to go shopping so they could pick out her presents and then go to Bergdorf’s for tea. “Your mom is so cool,” the other girls always said, because none of their moms ever let them out of school just for fun, and Eris would laugh and say, “Yeah, I know, she’s the best.”
It all felt fake now. Every gesture, every I love you; all of it was tinted by the great ugly lie underpinning her life. Eris blinked in confusion at her mom’s familiar face. “So you’ve known my entire life,” she said bitterly.
“No. I wasn’t sure.” Her mom’s eyes brimmed with unshed tears, but she managed to hold them back. “I always thought—hoped—that you were Everett’s. But I never knew for certain until now.”
“Why the hell did you let me take that DNA test, then?”
“You think if I knew there was a test I would’ve let you go?” her mom cried out.
Eris didn’t know what to say. She didn’t understand how her mom could have done this to her, to her dad, to their family.
“Please, Eris. I want to make this right,” Caroline began, but Eris shook her head.
“Don’t talk to me,” she said slowly, and turned away.
Somehow Eris stumbled to her round bed, nestled to one side of her enormous circular room. Shock and fear were swirling dangerously in her chest. She couldn’t breathe. She clawed suddenly at the neck of her shirt, still damp with her mom’s tears, and yanked it brutally over her head, then took a desperate, ragged breath. She was pretty sure she’d heard one of the seams rip out.
Can I be of assistance? her contacts prompted, sensing that she was almost crying. “Shut up!” she muttered, and they obediently powered down.
Everett Radson wasn’t her father. The truth of it kept ricocheting painfully against her skull like gunfire. Her poor dad—she wondered what he’d said when he got the lab results. Where was he now? A hotel, the hospital? She wanted to go talk to him, yet at the same time she wasn’t quite ready to face him. She knew that when she saw him—when she truly came face-to-face with it all—that everything would be different, for good.
Eris closed her eyes, but the world kept spinning around her. She wasn’t even drunk tonight. This must be the feeling, she thought bitterly, of her life coming untethered.