"My name is Allison Trent, and I-" She stopped when she heard a low gasp. "You know my name?" she asked.
"I do," the woman said.
"How?" she wondered. "How do you know me?"
"Your mother was my dearest friend," Suzanne answered. "And I knew you when you were just a little girl."
Still trying to recall, Allison said, "I'm sorry. I don't remember."
"You and Charlotte were so young, and we only saw you a few times because we lived in Houston and you were in Boston." She paused. "How are you and Charlotte? I can't tell you how many times I've thought of you."
"We're fine," she answered. "I'm calling because I found your name and number on a piece of paper that was with an insurance policy belonging to my father. I was wondering if you knew anything about this."
Suzanne responded curtly with a hint of bitterness in her voice, "I know exactly why my name was there."
"I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me more. My aunt and uncle never mentioned you . . . or the policy, for that matter."
"I'm not surprised," Suzanne said with disgust. "I'm sorry," she added quickly. "It's been a long time, but I still get upset when I think about your parents and what happened."
"What did happen?" Allison asked.
Suzanne took a long, deep breath before letting it out. "I met your mom in college, and we became close friends. When we graduated, we both got jobs in Boston and shared an apartment. Actually I was the one who introduced your dad to your mom. He worked in the office next to mine, and a few of us would go out after work. He was a great guy, and I knew he and your mom would hit it off, so I invited her to join us one afternoon. I was right. They were meant for each other." She paused, and Allison could hear a smile in her voice when she continued. "We had a great time back then. Anyway . . . I eventually met Peter, and we were married. When his company transferred him to Houston, it was really hard for me to leave your mom and dad. They were like family. Your mom and I talked on the phone every other day." She laughed. "Our husbands weren't too happy about the phone bills, but they understood. Whenever possible, we would fly up to Boston or they would come to see us in Houston, but once your mom became pregnant with Charlotte and we had our son, Alex, it became more difficult to get together. Then you were born. Your mother was so happy. Our visits didn't happen as often. Still, we never lost touch."
Suzanne paused again, and this time when she continued she sounded very sad. "One day your mother called and said she wanted to ask me something very important. She said she and your dad were making out a will and wondered if Peter and I would be your legal guardians, should anything ever happen to them. Of course we said yes, we'd be honored. But you really never expect anything like that to happen." Her voice cracked from the emotion she was trying to hold in. "And only a couple of days later, we got the news."
Allison could hear the tears choking her words when she said, "I couldn't go to the funeral. I was nine months pregnant with our second child, and the doctor said I couldn't travel. I wanted to be there, but I couldn't.
"You and Charlotte lived at home for a while, and a couple of neighbors stayed with you. Just as soon as we could, we came to Boston, but by then your aunt and uncle had petitioned the court for custody. Unfortunately, we had no legal standing because your mother and father's will was never finalized. We fought to take you, but there was nothing we could do. Your aunt and uncle were your closest relatives. They put up a really strong fight, and they won . . . despite your parents' wishes."
Allison was stunned. "My aunt and uncle never told us any of this," she said.
"No, I wouldn't expect them to. When we told them we wanted to remain in your lives, they were outraged. There was quite a battle between us. They said that we would only make the transition more difficult . . . that it was best for you if we let you settle into your new home without interference. I disagreed at first, but then they said if we called or wrote to you, they'd block us. I certainly didn't want to cause you more distress. You'd been through so much. I hope we did the right thing."
Allison was speechless for a moment, and then lied. "Yes, you did the right thing."
"You were still so young, but I guess I hoped Charlotte might remember us at least. Of course we tried to keep you both out of the conflict and she hadn't really spent much time with us. I understand if she has no recollection."
"She never mentioned you. I'm sorry."
"Many times I've thought of trying to find you, just to see how you're doing, but then I worried that I'd be stirring up bad memories."