I looked into the mirror again. Straight brown hair. Brown eyes. And that nose… so big…so ugly. My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was the alarm clock app. I pulled it out and tapped it, resetting the timer, then shoved my phone back into my pocket. Time for my next dose of spinach. I couldn’t afford plastic surgery, and, besides, they probably wouldn’t do it on someone as young as 16, but I had convinced my foster mom to buy me copious amounts of spinach.
Heading down the stairs, I thought again of the hours of online research I’d done on nose reduction. One site had promised good results. The “Nose Reformer” was only $42.99. I bought it and the thing had arrived in the mail just two days ago. Along with wearing the contraption nightly, the site advised the consumption of 6 cups of spinach each day. Apparently, spinach contains not only antioxidants, but also a large amount of vitamin K which supposedly activates cells that break down excess bone. So the site claimed that spinach would increase the effectiveness of the “Nose Reformer”. Luckily, I liked spinach.
Sitting at the table, I poured some salad dressing on two cups of spinach. I was trying to eat it when no one would be around but, today, I was to have no such luck. There was Jeff, my foster brother.
“Oh, look!” he squealed. “Jennifer’s eating rabbit food again! Trying to make your nose smaller?!” At that, he fell down on the floor, laughing like a lunatic. He was only ten but his teasing burned.
I blinked quickly. I wasn’t going to cry in front of him. The foster family I was with had four boys and Jeff was the oldest. They all made fun of me…even their father did. He had said I would just have to get use to being ugly. I stuffed another bite of spinach into my mouth, pretending the boy didn’t exist. I knew his parents only wanted a foster daughter so they would have free babysitting. I knew I would have to watch it or I would have to move again…and I’d been in worse places…much worse. I forced another large forkful of spinach into my mouth.
Later that day, on the bus, I was glad I’d kept my cool. Today was the one day each week that I got to see my mother. When I arrived at the mall, I found a spot to wait by the central fountain. She was always late and sometimes didn’t show, but I had come to accept it. She couldn’t do better for me. Strung out on drugs or whatever else…that’s why I was in foster care.
Finally she arrived, eyes darting here and there, brown hair disheveled.
I called to her, “Mom!”
She saw me and came in my direction. I noticed she was carrying a plastic grocery bag.
She sat down on the bench beside me and opened the bag.
“Look what I got for you, Jennifer!”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, taking the bag from her. White, stolen hotel towels. How would I explain this to the foster parents…again? I wondered.
“Wait just a second,” she said wrenching the bag back. “You didn’t see this!” Her mother pulled out a magazine.
I took it from her and looked at the cover. It was some news magazine with a man on the front cover.
“What about it?” I asked, finally.
“That’s your dad!”
“What?” I gasped, looking at the magazine more closely.
“Yup, that’s him. I’m sure…well, mostly sure. Yeah, it’s him all right.”
“But…I thought you never knew his name?” I said in disbelief. All this time, my mother had told me she didn’t know who my father was.
“No. But I recognize him. That’s the guy, all right.”
I flipped to the correct page in the magazine and scanned the article.
“I’m hungry,” announced her mother. “Aren’t we going to get some ice cream or something?”
As I paid for the ice cream and then ate without tasting it, my mother talked bitter nonsense at me, but my thoughts were on the man in the magazine. The article had said he was successful and rich and he lived right here in my city!
We wandered about aimlessly for several hours, as we did every week. I let her do most of the talking. She liked it that way anyway. When we parted, I stood at the bus stop again. But I wasn’t going home. I knew the location of the place where the man was CEO. It was almost 6:00 in the evening but he might still be working. I had to try.
When I stepped off the bus, I looked up at the tall, formidable building. I wasn’t going to be frightened away. If he were here, I would speak to him. I pulled open the glass doors and marched to the security desk inside.
“Hi,” I said casually to the burly guard, “I’m here to see Martin Seymour. I’m his daughter.”
“Oh,” said the guard, “sure, go right ahead.”
“What floor is his office again?” I asked.
“14,” the guard replied.
Feeling the guard’s eyes on my back, I walked slowly to the elevator. I pressed the call button. Fear clutched at my chest. I should leave. He wouldn’t believe I was his child. And even if it could be proven that this dude was my father, he probably wouldn’t want me. Nobody wanted me. And not only was I worthless, I was ugly, too. I almost turned around but a chime sounded and the elevator door opened. I stepped in.
On the way up, I thought about what I would say. I had considered this the entire bus ride but still had thought of nothing. ‘Hi, I’m your daughter’ was just so…
A woman sat at a desk in a large room. She must be his secretary, I thought. I approached her, feigning confidence.
“Hi, I’m here to see my dad,” I said to the pretty woman at the desk.
“Oh!” she said, looking me up and down. “Just a moment. Let me call him and let him know that you are here.”
“Well,” I said quickly, “it’s kinda a surprise. I’d love to just go in…if he’s not in a meeting or anything.”
“I guess it would be okay,” she said finally. Then she smiled. “It’s nice to meet you. I didn’t know Mr. Seymour had any children.”
I tried to smile back before I made my way towards the great, wooden door. I hesitated. Then I turned the latch and pushed inwards.
There, at a large, modern desk, sat the man from the magazine cover. He looked up and his blue eyes locked onto my face. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in an expression of bewilderment.
“That face…” he gasped, “that nose!”
I felt my face flushing and I started to back away out of the room.
“Wait!” he cried, jumping up from his desk and spilling coffee down the front of his white shirt.
Suddenly I felt like I had to get out of there. But before I could turn around, his hand was on my arm. I couldn’t pull away.
“Who are you?” he demanded, staring into my face.
Fear had taken my voice away so I just stared back at him, panic rising.
“You…” His voice softened. “You look like my dear Carissa, my twin sister,” he said, releasing my arm. “She died when she was your age….drowned. It’s like…seeing a ghost.”
“I’m…” I swallowed a lump and tried to get my voice back, “I’m Jennifer. I’m your daughter.”
Instantly, tears sprung to the man’s eyes. Quickly he pulled me into a firm embrace.
“A daughter,” he whispered. “My own child. If I had known you were out there, I would have made you a part of my life. I would have taken care of you.” He released me, held both my hands, and stared into my eyes again. Tears ran down the man’s cheeks. “And I will take care of you,” he said firmly. “All I have is yours. And you, Jennifer, now that I have found you…You are my greatest treasure.”