By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the series and a family tree, here.
The fire, which had offered such comfort from the damp and cold of the deteriorating afternoon, now felt oppressively warm. David pulled the collar of his shirt, swallowing hard. He must have read it wrong. For a second time, he squinted at the scrap of paper Meredith had handed him. An obituary — his great grandmother’s. He reached into the pocket of his shirt for his glasses and read the words again. “Survived by a daughter, Gladys and a son, Hayden…” he murmured.
“Cousin?” Meredith asked gently.
“That can’t be right,” he said, handing the clipping back to her. “Could it be a mistake?”
“Do you really think there’s another Ada Henry Jennings that lived and died at that exact same time, in that exact same place? Besides, why would it be in my Gran’s scrapbook, if it wasn’t your great-grandmother?” she asked. She re-read the clipping for herself. “1918…The influenza?”
He nodded. “Leaving behind a baby —or two, apparently— to grow up without either parent.” He frowned. “According to Dad, the great-greats took Hayden in. They raised him as their own. But I really don’t know much about his childhood. I was hoping perhaps your Gran’s collection would shed some light on it. But now…”
“We have another mystery on our hands.”
He removed his glasses and set them on the table. Then, after taking a healthy swallow of his tea, he said, “You know what this means, don’t you?”
She nodded. “You might have a great-aunt, second cousins. Relatives closer than me.”
“And,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This… Gladys would have been born before…”
“William and Ada were married,” she finished for him. “How positively scandalous.” She laughed softly. “It happened, you know, even back then.”
“It would have been so hard for them, though.”
“Of course,” she replied. “David, your grandfather, Hayden, never mentioned that he had a sister?”
“He died when I was little. And he didn’t share much with my father.” He paused, took a deep breath. “My father didn’t like talking about it, but I have the impression that he and my grandfather had a… difficult…. relationship.” He sipped again and returned the cup to the table in front of him. “They weren’t on speaking terms when Grandfather died. Dad left home when he was seventeen, joined the army, went to college on the GI Bill and never looked back.”
“But your father never said anything? That he had aunt somewhere?”
David stared at his hands. “No. He mustn’t have known. He would have told me. His mother gave him what little memorabilia Grandfather had saved. He made sure to pass it on to me.”
“Family was important to him, despite his … difficult relationship with his father?”
“Perhaps, because of it. He always wished for a large family. Mom had a tough pregnancy. They couldn’t have more children after me… He was a good father…” He lifted his hands, let them drop. “I think he really wanted some kind of connection to his own ancestors. That’s why I started compiling the family history. For my father. I was trying to finish it before my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. It would have been my gift to them.” He paused, then said quietly, “If they had made it.”
Meredith didn’t say anything. David had told her the story the first time they had met. How his parents had been driving south like they did every winter to their house in Florida. Thomas Jennings had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel and drifted into the path of an oncoming truck. He and his wife Ellen had been killed instantly.
“Anyway,” David sighed. “I can’t understand why there was no mention of this Gladys in William’s letters.”
“And why did they wait to get married?”
David’s eyes widened. “You’re right. Why didn’t they marry as soon as they learned Ada was pregnant? Surely, it would have saved them both a little humiliation.”
“You’re sure there’s nothing in the letters? Something you might have overlooked or not recognized for what it was?”
“We’ll have to look again.” He turned in his seat to face her. “Suddenly, I’m no longer so tired.”
Meredith rolled her eyes. “Well, I am. I’m the one who had … um, very little sleep last night.”
“Oh, right. Forgot about that.” He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe we finished that conversation.”
She stood and reached for their teacups. “Just leave it, David. I don’t want to talk about my abysmal love life and my weakness for charming, intellectual assholes.” She continued over her shoulder, “Let’s start dinner and make it an early night. I promise we can spend the entire day working on it, tomorrow. But for now, let’s talk about something else.”
“Fine,” he said following her into the kitchen. “What else would you like to talk about?”
“Well, since we’re on the subject,” she said, grinning wickedly. “You can tell me about your abysmal love life, instead.”
He laughed. “Now, I’m going to need something stronger!”
Thanks to some wonderful suggestions in the comments of my post on writing different timelines, I now have the ideas as to how to proceed. Special thanks to Meritings, Jack Binding and JS Malpas!