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Anyone could tell I was tired. One glance, and it was written all over my face. My eyelids fluttered close for a second time, as I fought the sleep drowning my system. Reece tried to convince me to sleep, but I wouldn't. I didn't want to miss anything. Though, he was probably right. I should take advantage of the long drive we have to take, going further upstate. It appears she's going in order of the journal entries, so the next place is an old ranch house, nearly two hours away.

Soon enough, we'd be hitting nothing but backroads on 9W. I had no idea how far 9W stretched. I could only give a distance from experience—when my mom used to drive us to an aunt's house from her side of the family—somewhere deep in Fishkill, New York. It was about two hours away from our house. Compared to that drive, this felt like a never-ending journey. 

"Fuck you, you stupid contraption." This is the third time Reece has cursed out the GPS on his phone in under ten minutes. Again, it was sending him in the wrong direction. Which is how we ended up on the side of the road. I turned my head, watching him play with the controls on the GPS. But nothing changed.

He sighed. "I'm sorry, Hope. This'll take a bit longer than I expected."

"It's okay." I shrugged. I was no longer in a rush. I knew my mom was safe and still breathing . . . to some extent. So, that calmed my nerves a little.

"You can turn on the radio or something to keep yourself preoccupied . . . at least until I'm finished." He sent me a sheepish smile. 

"Don't worry about me. I'm going to look through my mom's journal some more, to see if I can find anything else," I said. He muttered an okay before averting his attention back on the phone. Curling my legs under my butt in the seat, I sat back and pulled the journal to my chest. Nothing particularly interested me where I left off. There were just a few more journal entries explaining my mom's likes and dislikes to herself. It was like a brief summary of who she was. That is until, I saw something odd.

"What the hell?" I muttered under my breath. I caught a glimpse of what seemed like a cry for help written on paper. Well, that's how I viewed it at least. Why else would someone start off with we have a problem? It made me wonder when and why she wrote this entry.

June 15th,

Diana, we have a problem. I need to get something off my chest, and you need to hear it too. For the past eighteen years of Hope's life, I've been keeping a secret from her. Though, I'm afraid to tell her. I don't know how she'll react. She'll probably stop talking to me and I'd deserve it. But I want her to understand, it was never my intention to hurt her. If anything, it was to protect her. But it's about time she finds out.

"Hey, are you ready? I finally got the GPS working." Reece's voice disrupted the voice in my head reading.

"Oh, uh, yeah! Just give me a second. I found something interesting," I mumbled and fidgeted with the bottom of the page.

"Okay, take all the time you need." He nodded.

In the back of this journal is a picture of a woman. But, that's not just any woman. The woman just so happens to be Hope's real mom. Her mom, Anita Howard, who died giving birth to her. Diana, we were never Hope's mother to begin with. If anything, the father Hope thinks she knows, is just my son, Baxton Cohen. If she ever asks, make sure she knows, we didn't lie about him dying overseas. No, we could never. But she deserves to know she's adopted. She's been adopted since the day she left the hospital, as soon as Anita took her last breath in that hospital bed. Ever since then, it's been a struggle for everyone. I couldn't bear to see my grandchild get taken away by strangers when she has someone right here to take care of her, so I did what I thought was right. I raised her like my own. We raised her like our own. The Aunt May and Uncle Jesse she's grown to know—those aren't just her aunt and uncle—they're the only kids I have remaining. So, when you're ready to tell Hope the truth, hopefully before you lose your mind, make sure you show her a picture of the family she deserves. Make sure you show her Anita Howard, her one and only true mother.

I don't know whether it was reading the words adopted or real mom which triggered a reaction out of me. Everything came crashing down at once. I was waiting for my eyes to come across something that said just joking. But there was nothing more than a blank page. 

With quivering fingers, I flipped the journal to its backside, prying it open. 

Please, tell me this is all a joke. I wouldn't believe it until it was.

"Hope, what's going on?"

I ignored Reece and continued examining the back of the journal. Sure enough, there was a picture of a woman taped to the inside of the back cover. Her hair was light brown just like mine, curly, and long. Not to mention the brown color of her eyes matched mine. My eyes widened. We could almost pass as twins. I also noticed the baby in her arms, sound asleep. She looked happy in this picture. How could she have died so soon after just holding her baby in her arms? The thought scared me.

"My mom . . . isn't my real mom. . ." I bit down on my tongue, tightening my grip on the journal. The words wouldn't register in my brain.

"What did you just say?" he asked, dumbfounded. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words would come out.

"Hope, snap out of it!" When Reece didn't receive a reply again, he stormed around, pulling me up from my seat. I looked him in the eyes, bottom lip quivering uncontrollably now. 

"She's not my mom. She's my grandma. Everything is a lie," I whispered. The whisper came out as more of a revelation of assurance to me. Reece's face remained passive as he dwells on what to say. I let out a harsh sob, wiping the tears in my eyes.

"I thought I had a mom. But my mom isn't even alive."

"Hope . . . let me see the journal," Reece spoke calmly. I lifted the journal to his face, letting my cries get the best of me. How many more lies could I take before I broke? Were there any other secrets people were hiding from me? I couldn't understand why she didn't tell me sooner. I wouldn't have been mad. I would have understood the situation. But she waited so long. She made me believe she was my mom, when my biological mom has been dead this entire time. 

"Oh, Hope." Reece frowned. He grabbed the side of my arms, forcing me into his embrace. I stood there, silently crying into his shoulder. It hurt more than I cared to admit. I was sure my tears spoke of the pain for me.

"I need to call Aunt May. She'll tell me the truth. I need to know if this is real." Sniffling under my breath, I yanked my phone from my pocket. Reece kept his hand on my lower back, rubbing in circles.

"Okay, call her. Clear this up." He continued soothing me. I appreciated Reece's support. He didn't have to support me, but he did. He didn't have to bear with my actions, but he chose to. And I could never express just how much I didn't deserve him. But even if I didn't, I would hold onto him for however much longer I could.

"Thank you, Reece," I mumbled.

"Why are you thanking me?" His forehead wrinkled.

I laid my hands on his shoulders, pressing my face against the crook of his neck. "Because you're here. And you're helping me. I can't thank you enough. I wouldn't have made it this far if you didn't convince me not to give up."

"Hope, I'll always be here to help you when you need it. We may not have done a good job proving that to each other for the past three years, but I promise I'm here now. Remember." He held out his pinky finger, waiting for me to make a move. I stared, unable to do anything. The last time we did a pinky swear, we didn't talk for the next few years. Was I ready to risk that again?

I sighed and wrapped my pinky around his. "I remember."

"Good." He planted a kiss to my cheek, causing me to freeze up. If not for the situation at hand, I would have questioned him about it. But I'd let it go for now.  

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