julia doesn’t know what to do the first time the anniversary rolls around. she has options: she could call molly, she could come visit her, she could send a card, something, anything.

what she finds herself doing instead is turning over the details of everything. when it was happening, everything had been so chaotic and so urgent she and karen had only reacted to every obstacle in front of them. at least, she thought they did. there hadn’t been time for much else when they’d found molly and the boy, curled up in the tub, covered in blood and shivering. it had been a shock to see them like that, curled up and small, unable to do anything but ask for help.

for all the arguing she and karen had done that weekend, it felt like it was under the bridge when they’d gotten them into the car and barrelled to the hospital. her sister was always steelier than she, and the laser focus for the drive while julia had panicked in the backseat? she wasn’t going to forget that, ever. the thing is, by the time they’d gotten both inside, julia had lost track of time. most of the days blended in, and her exhaustion overwhelmed her. karen had sent her home, saying, i’m her mother. i can deal with this.

she’d gotten the news over the phone that molly had been discharged, and the adoption had gone through. at the time, it felt like a nasty surprise; molly had been adamant on keeping the baby up until the birth. julia had only asked once, and karen had rebuffed her with, she’s a teenager. she changed her mind after how hard she had it.

at the time, she’d taken it at her word.

a year later, and it felt like a mistake to leave, and not to ask more. she can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, or why something in her thinks that. only that the time between them getting into care, and molly coming home, without her son… something about it felt off.

but she doesn’t pry. she puts a card in the mail, and molly sends her one back.

the third year, and julia finds herself in karen’s living room during a hustling and bustling get together that she isn’t sure why she said yes to it in the first place. everyone’s given up on asking her about kids or a partner, but they do still act confused about her business and the fact that she doesn’t indulge in the gossip of molly’s “missing time” with them.

she wanders away from the main party, finally annoyed by daniel’s incessant talk (why karen kept inviting him to this was beyond her), upstairs to the more than opulent office karen keeps. the degrees lining the walls makes her roll her eyes; their father still didn’t pay her a lick of attention for all that she achieved, yet she kept displaying them anyway.

at least, she reflects, karen had good taste in wood paneling, and the books she had were more interesting than simply financial law. her fingers ran over the books, able to hear the party dully going on below. she takes another drag on her cigarette, and with a huff, realizes that there isn’t much left.

“come on, karen, i know you have a trash can here somewhere,” she moves around the desk, and finally spots one. grasping one of her sister’s many trophies scattered about the room, she dabs out her cigarette on it, and throws her cigarette in the trash.

or, she means to. when her eyes follow her cigarette to the trash, trying to make perfect aim, she can see a crumpled up letter with the name: sunshine adoption agency on the top.

her mind thinks back to what karen told her: that the adoption went through the state. that it had been closed. immediately, she she snatches the letter from the bin, not bothering to think about anything besides stuffing it hastily into her purse. her heart pounds in her ears as she crouches down, hoping no one had noticed she’d disappeared, digging through the trash for more. there are no more letters from the agency there, so she turns to the large desk in front of her.

her fingers are slower than what she’d like as she finally pops it open, the wood groaning with the effort. julia has always been a cluttered person, but karen has always been very organized. and the fact that there are no letters among her neatly placed instruments means that either she’s keeping the rest of the paperwork under lock and key or that she’d already destroyed it.

julia purses her lips, staring at it all, trying to decide if she should take the letter with her or put it back in the trash. this was a dead end, and honestly, she could be wrong. maybe molly had agreed, and maybe the adoption had been put in place the way it was supposed to. maybe karen had lied to her to protect molly. it wouldn’t be the first time.

she shuts the drawer, and zips up her purse.

better safe than sorry. she makes her way down to the party again, making sure to close the door to the office as carefully as she can. she can hear mark (or was it matthew?) downstairs, cracking jokes.

she makes her way down to the front, adjusting her dress as she goes. the hairs on her neck stand up as she waves goodbye to karen, and she doesn’t breathe easy until she’s in her car, making her way back to the hotel.