"Dad, who's this in the picture with Mom?" asked Nancy Drew, showing an old photo to her father, Carson. The father/daughter team decided to make the day worth it by cleaning out a few boxes in the attic in a very early spring clean when Nancy came across a box filled with her mother's old things.
"Oh, wow," sighed Carson, taking the photo from Nancy. It showed a woman with similar features to Nancy including her signature strawberry blonde hair and bright blue eyes along with a man who was not her father. The picture looked to be about 25 years old, almost the same age as Nancy, and, to her, the two looked more than just good friends. "He was a good man who treated your mother like a queen and loved her more than anything."
"What happened that they didn't end up together?" Nancy asked cautiously, taking the photo from Carson and studying it. The man looked familiar though she could not quite place him.
"Well, that's a very long story, hon," answered Carson, moving away from Nancy almost as if he wanted the conversation to end. Nancy followed close behind him though, shattering any thoughts of the subject being dropped. She stared down at the photo, twiddling with the furled edges and contemplating on what to say next.
"Dad? Were he and Mom…together?" Carson stopped going through the box but did not look up at his daughter. He knew from experience that she would hound him until he told her the truth. Her private detective instincts were always straight on point for getting the truth out of anyone. He just wished this particular subject never came up. He sighed thoughtfully and looked into her eyes. He saw so much of his beloved wife in Nancy but still missed the distinctive laugh and bright smile Kate always possessed. She could brighten the room in any storm even if the man whom he was about to tell his daughter about brought the storm with him.
"For a time, yes," Carson finally answered. Nancy could see the truth hurt her father but she was curious about the man who had stolen her mother's heart before her father did. He continued going through his box as he started the story. "His name was James Matthews and he was my best friend. We were all good friends in fact, a friendship that started while we were in middle school when James first moved to the area. Although I loved Kate from the start, she didn't feel the same way about me and always had an eye for James. She loved him very much but as the years progressed, he started having problems that caused some issues in their relationship. After I got my law degree and moved back to the area, Kate would visit me at my apartment when James would get into a mood, which was usually after he returned from one of his 'business' trips or so he called them."
"What kind of business was he in, Dad?" Nancy asked, putting down the old photo and helping Carson with the box he was going through.
"You always were the curious type, Nan. Much like your mother," laughed Carson, pulling out an old sweater with a crazy geometric pattern on it. He held it up to Nancy who snickered and shook her head in distaste. He laughed with her, folding the sweater up then throwing into a box marked "Donation." He sighed before continuing in both the box and the story. "Anyway, one night, Kate pounded on my door in tears, sporting a nasty black eye, courtesy of James. She told me he got mad at her over asking him how his trip was. Obviously, the trip did not go as planned so James took it out on Kate. I comforted her for about an hour before she fell asleep on my bed, while I slept on the couch. The next morning, James stopped by looking for her even though he already knew she was there with me. I tried to protect Kate but he got the better of me, knocking me out. When I came to, they were both gone and so was our friendship."
"That's awful!" cried Nancy, a single tear streaking down her cheek. The two finished the boxes in the attic and were walking down the stairs with the donation boxes and trash. "I hope she left him after that! I mean, she married you not too long after this whole thing, didn't she?"
"Yes, Nancy, but you are jumping ahead," Carson replied, following Nancy downstairs. The pair walked in silence though the house until the trash was thrown away and the donation box was in the garage. Hannah Gruen, their housekeeper, was cooking dinner in the kitchen when Nancy came in followed closely by Carson. They both sat down at the kitchen table with Nancy pulling out the old photo and placing it on the table.
"What's that?" asked Hannah, wiping her hands on a dish towel and walking over. Carson held it up to her and she immediately said "Oh." The housekeeper quickly turned around to go back into the kitchen when Nancy stopped her.
"Is there something I need to know?" she asked, her face beginning to turn red in anger since no one seemed to want to tell her about the man properly. "You knew him, too?"
"Yes and no, dear," began Hannah cautiously but a look from Carson shut her mouth quickly and she walked back into the kitchen without another word.
"Dad! What is going on here?" Nancy looked to her father who looked right back. "Please tell me this ends better than the way it began!"
"Let me go on and it will all be explained," Carson said. "I was hoping this conversation never came up and I forgot about the picture. I should have destroyed it when I had the chance. You see, soon after that incident, Kate would only be over while James was gone and when I wasn't busy being a public defender. The more times James left, the more she came over and I soon told her that I loved her. She finally admitted the same but we both knew that if James ever found out about us, he would kill us. Literally. He was once a good man before he got caught up in a drug smuggling operation."
"He was a drug dealer?" Nancy gasped in horror, putting her hand over her mouth.
"Not really," Carson answered. He stopped as Hannah placed two cups of coffee in front of them. The smells coming from the stove were overwhelming but Carson went on. "He was an independent contractor who moved the drugs from one country to another. He smuggled them with legitimate cargo and made a profit off both. He sometimes flew the planes himself but most of the time, he had a partner who piloted. I knew about his operation because he asked me at one point if I wanted to get in on it. I turned him down flat but he asked me not to tell Kate or anyone else for that matter. For a time, I kept that promise because he was, after all, my best friend but when our friendship went south, I debated for a time to tell someone about him. That person was Kate and she hated me for a while for not telling her but eventually came around when she realized why I didn't say anything. It was to protect her from what James did and she wanted to go to the police. This was right after the black eye incident but James continued his business with Kate and I keeping the secret until we felt was the right moment."
"Dad, how could you?!" Nancy stood up fuming. Her father took her hand, guiding her back down to the chair.
"I regret what I did," Carson stated quietly, "as did your mother but I realized something from the experience. I knew I couldn't be the kind of lawyer I was meant to be by keeping it secret." Nancy began to calm down at hearing his regret and continued listening to his story in earnest. "Kate and I started to get really…close. A few weeks later, she told me her own little secret. Kate was pregnant and she really wanted to leave James in order to be with me."
"Dad, I had no idea," replied Nancy, her heart breaking at the thought of the painful decisions her parents had to make. "What did you do? And who's baby was it?"
"Well, I don't want you to this lightly at what I am about to tell you. James was on yet another trip at the time so we kind of secretly married. Kate never told me if the baby was mine or his but I wanted it to be mine so badly and Kate agreed. We didn't care if it turned out we were wrong. The baby was going to be ours and we were going to raise it together. Not James." Carson paused to let Nancy take in the information. She sat quietly thinking as both Carson and Hannah, who forgot about her cooking, looked at her, waiting for Nancy to explode. Tears flowed down her face but she wanted to know the rest of what happened to her mother and father. Nancy looked to Carson and nodded for him to go on. Carson took a sip of coffee. "James never knew about the baby or our marriage. His plane went down over the Pacific two days before he was to return home. Although she was going to leave him, Kate was devastated over the loss but still remained strong through the whole ordeal. They never found James, the plane, or the cargo. The FBI came around asking questions and we decided to tell them the whole truth about James and his business. They decided not to prosecute either one of us due to the nature of who James was and that we feared for our lives if we said anything. The case was closed at one point when James was officially declared dead."
The room remained silent for a few minutes until Hannah cried out about her dinner. Carson and Nancy sat silently watching Hannah pulled out what was left of their dinner from the over. It was burned to a crisp and not recoverable. Hannah sighed and began cleaning up the kitchen for the evening not knowing what they were going to have for dinner. Carson and Nancy soon forgot the whole scene as Nancy finally broke their silence with a question that would change her world even more.
"What happened to the baby?"
Carson cleared his throat nervously. He really never wanted to tell Nancy anything about James Matthews but now he had no choice.
"That baby was you, Nancy," Carson slowly answered taking Nancy's hand again. She looked at him waiting for the joke to come but when it didn't, her face changed. "This happened 25 years ago, the year before you were born. I'm telling you the truth."
"But I thought…wait…this doesn't make any sense!"
"He's telling you the truth, Nancy," replied Hannah, the burned casserole in her gloved hands. "I never met James but your father always worried that he would return."
"But you said he was dead!" cried Nancy.
"Yes, declared dead but they never found the body or the plane itself," answered Carson. His worst fear was coming true. Nancy knew about James and she wasn't taking it well. "Your mother and I agreed to never tell you unless you started asking questions. We were protecting you and when your mother died suddenly, I decided to not tell you at all."
"Ok," stated Nancy after a few moments of silence. She sighed, rising from the table and pushing her chair in. "I think I need some time to think."
Carson and Hannah watched Nancy grab her purse off the counter, pull her coat on and walk out the back door, not knowing where she was going to go. They looked at each other silently, Hannah moved to the sink to continue cleaning the dishes while Carson sat quietly.
"I guess I should have know that was coming," he finally replied, standing up and walking over to the sink to help Hannah clean the dishes. "That's unusual even for you to let a dinner burn like that."
"I know," sniffled Hannah, wiping a tear from her cheek. She took the pan to the sink to wash but stopped to face Carson. "Do you think it was right for us to keep that from her for so long?"
"I'm not so sure, Hannah," answered Carson sadly. "I feel like I broke her heart knowing that she may not be my child. Kate and I were only trying to protect her from the past but it seems like we somehow destroyed her instead."
"Nancy will understand eventually, just like her mother did when you told her about James all those years ago," Hannah said gently, placing her hand on his shoulder in comfort. "Where do you think that photo came from? I thought you destroyed them all."
"I did, or at least I thought I did. Kate must have kept it in a place I never would have looked. Maybe she knew Nancy would eventually find out anyway and just prepared the way for her. You know how Kate was. Nancy is just as sneaky as her mother was."
"I remember but now I'm worried about Nancy and even I don't know how to handle this." The water sprayed over the dishes but Hannah's hands did not move to scrub them. "Nancy always misses her mother even though she barely knew her. It just doesn't seem fair for Nancy to go through this and not be able to come to us for comfort. We did this to her."
"No, we didn't," Carson reassured her. "But I agree with you and I just wish she would come back." He knew he hurt Nancy by keeping this secret from her for all these years and he really did not know how to make it up to her. He thought about his options but then something came to mind that made him smile. "I have a phone call to make!"
"Wait, what?" asked Hannah but he was already out of the room heading towards his home office. If this doesn't work, Carson thought. Nothing will.