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The Wrong Girl

“Listen, Jane. I don’t think she’s my real mother.”
Jane Ryland took the phone from her ear, peering at it as if it could somehow help Tuck’s incomprehensible tale make sense. Real mother? She didn’t know Tuck was adopted, let alone looking for her birth mother. Why would Tuck call her? And spill this soul-baring saga of abandonment, adoption agencies, then meeting some woman in Connecticut? Jane and Tuck were barely friends, let alone confidantes, especially after Tuck had—
The doorbell?
“I’m in your front lobby.” Tuck’s voice buzzed over the intercom at the same time it came through the phone. “Sorry to show up at your apartment on a Sunday, you know, but I couldn’t come to the Register, of course.”
Of course. It’d be humiliating for Tuck to visit Jane at the newspaper where they’d shared a cubicle as “news roomies” only months ago. Once a hotshot reporter, Tucker Cameron had been fired from the Register for sleeping with a source. The Boston Police public relations officer, of all dumb choices. In the months since, according to the nonstop newsroom gossip, the two pariahs, Tuck and Laney, had dropped off the map. Until now. But that was Tuck. Never a dull …
Jane pushed the red button in the intercom box, retied the drawstring on her fraying weekend sweatpants, and opened her front door, making sure Coda didn’t streak through her legs. The calico—a kitten, really—had arrived on the downstairs stoop a few weeks before, tiny paws icy with snow. All Humane Society intentions disappeared after the shivering fluff nuzzled into Jane’s shoulder, but neither of them was quite used to the other yet.
Jane heard the entry door click open, three flights down, and Tuck’s footsteps climbing the hardwood steps as she talked into her cell. “So what am I supposed to do now, roomie? I’m not a reporter anymore. No one will talk to me. Laney’s looking for a job. I’m like a—well, you’re the only one who can help me. The only one who was even nice to me. After.”
Tuck’s head appeared around the landing, a black knit cap over her dark ponytail. A puffy snow-flecked black parka emerged, then her black jeans. She paused, one leather glove grazing the mahogany banister, the other raised in tentative greeting. Tuck’s trademark swagger—her outta-my-way confidence—was missing.
“Tuck? You okay?” Just another February at Jane’s. First a stray kitten, and now—was Tuck crying? Tuck?
“I guess so.” Tuck stomped the last of the snow from her salt-stained boots, punched off her phone, stuffed it into her parka pocket. “I’m trying to be angry instead of miserable. But I can’t let this go.”
She swiped under her eyes with two gloved fingers, wiping away what could have been snow. “It’s my whole life, you know?”
“Tell me inside. Get warm. Dump your boots by the door.” Jane took Tuck’s soggy parka and cap, draped them over the banister, then ushered her visitor into the living room, pointing her to the taupe-striped wing chair by the bay window. Slushy snow pelted the glass, the wind clattering bare branches, the last of the afternoon’s feeble gray light struggling through. Coda slept on the couch, almost invisible, curled on a chocolate-and-cream paisley cushion.
“Wine. Thanks. This has really kicked my ass.” Tuck plopped into the chair, then twisted one leg around the other. “The lawyer I contacted at first was worthless, then the agency got my hopes up, but now, well, this is worse than not knowing. Which is why I’m here.”
Which made no sense whatsoever.
They’d been office mates for only about two weeks. Jane was dayside, covering politics. Tuck worked the night shift, seemed to care only about her sensational front-page Bridge Killer stories. Their paths crossed only when their stories did. Now for some reason Tuck seemed to think she needed Jane’s help, so here she was. That was Tuck.
“Hang on a sec, let me get you a glass.” Jane padded to the kitchen, grabbed the wine from the fridge, twisted it open. What would it feel like, not to know your own mother? As a kid, she’d thrown around adoption like a threat. “When my REAL mother comes to get me, you’ll be sorry,” a petulant eight-year-old Jane taunted her parents. She and BFF Laurie, slumber-party faces smeared in beauty goo, speculated in late-night whispers whether Jane’s chestnut hair and hazel eyes meant she might really be adopted, might really be royalty or Bono’s girlfriend’s abandoned daughter.
Jane did know what being fired felt like. It happened to her last summer and the sting hadn’t quite gone away. So if Tuck needed her for something? She held out the glass and sat cross-legged on the couch. Least she could do was pour some wine and listen. “Okay, all ears.”
With Coda’s purr a rumbling underscore, Tuck spilled the details.
Jane’s reporter training switched into gear, assessing what could be wrong, or a coincidence, or a mistake. She ticked off her questions, finger to finger, as she did with every story she covered.
“So back at the beginning. You called the agency. Your mother told you which one?”
“Yes. ‘The Brannigan,’ they call it. Brannigan Family and Children Services. Ten years ago, when I first called, they told me all the records were sealed until my birth mother gave the okay to open them. A closed adoption, you know? Then I guess I tried to forget about it. I mean, I was eighteen, she might have been dead. Plus, I knew my mom—adoptive mother—wouldn’t love that I was looking.”
Tuck paused, rolled her eyes.. “She’d have said, in that snarky voice she uses, ‘Why do you need another mother, Tucker dear? Am I not enough for you?’” She shrugged. “She’d probably still say that, even in her … condition. But she lives in Florida, she stayed in their condo thing after Dad died. So she’ll never know.”
“Condition? She’s…?” Jane searched for a way to ask. She missed her own mother every day. Poor Tuck.
“Yeah. Doctors say it won’t be long, and ah, I don’t know. I’m trying to deal with that, too. It’s hard.” She puffed out a breath, shook her head. “Anyway. Last week, after all that time, the Brannigan called to say they’d found my birth mother. It felt perfect, you know? With me and Laney serious, thinking of kids, and the last of my adoptive family almost gone? But now…” Tuck pulled the stretchy band from her ponytail, then twisted it back on. Took a sip of wine, carefully replaced her glass on the coaster.

She looked at Jane. “But now, even though I’m not at the paper anymore, I think I may be on to the story of my life.”

The Wrong Girl
by by Hank Phillippi Ryan

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765369141
  • ISBN-13: 9780765369147