Today I'm thrilled to bring you an offering of fiction.
Meg Perry, author of the Jamie Brodie mystery series has contributed a wee bit of a story called "Paternity" which crosses the worlds of Jamie Brodie with that of Adrien English. Grab yourself a nice hot cuppa and duck down behind your cubicle for a few enjoyable minutes of holiday cheer.
Young Research Library, UCLA
The end of each term in an academic library is an idyllic time...for the librarians. Students are furiously writing final papers and studying for exams, fueled by vast quantities of caffeine and panic. Instructors are buried to their elbows in those papers and exams, up against the university’s deadline for turning in grades, bitching to whomever will listen about how much student writing sucks.
At the library reference desk, however, a sense of peace reigns. The students’ research is done; they couldn’t write those final papers otherwise. Faculty are too busy grading papers to work on their own writing and research.
We librarians still cover our reference shifts, though; right up until the library closes for the holidays. Just in case.
It was December. There were two days left in fall quarter. It was nearing 2:00 when the kid approached the desk. Clinton Kenneally had already come, bestowed upon us his word of the day (levivah, meaning a fried potato pancake served on Hanukkah), and gone. I was scooted back from the desk, my feet propped on the garbage can, reading an advance copy of Oscar Wilde and Classical Antiquity. Beside me, Liz Nguyen was on her phone, in a five-way text conversation with her mom, aunt, and cousins about Christmas dinner.
The kid - young man - that appeared before us seemed to be agitated, yet also came across as oddly defiant. He was older than an undergraduate. He was tall and blond, with wispy facial hair. His deep tan didn’t fit with his overall presentation, which was that of a roadie for an impoverished garage band. He was wearing baggy black pants, a green t-shirt with a peace symbol, a ratty gray hoodie, and John Lennon glasses complete with blue lenses.
He looked vaguely familiar. That wasn’t surprising. If he was a UCLA student, he’d probably visited the reference desk before.
His straggly hair was flopping into his eyes, and he kept pushing it out of the way. He planted himself in front of us, looking back and forth between Liz and me, his expression a mixture of anguish and challenge.
Liz dropped her phone into her lap; I lowered my feet from the garbage can and swung around to face front. Liz said, “Hi. Can we help you?”
“You have to help me.”
Liz had been in a snarky mood all day. I saw her tip her head to respond in a manner that might not be entirely empathetic, and jumped in before she could. “That’s what we’re here for. What can we do for you?”
“I need information about paternity testing.”
Okay, that wasn’t a query we’d heard before, here in the graduate social sciences library. I said, “Did you know that we have a medical library on campus? They might…”
“No.” He gripped the edge of our desk, his knuckles white. “I need information for laypeople. I need to be able to understand it. But it has to be peer reviewed.”
So he knew what peer review was. He must be a graduate student. I said, “Why don’t you sit down?”
He glared at me. “Can you help me or not?” His voice cracked on the word not.
I figured the guy either needed a hug or a whack in the head. I tried to project an air of calm and serenity. “Yes, and I’m going to, but it’ll take a few minutes. Why don’t you sit down? You’ll be more comfortable.” As would I.
He dropped heavily into the chair across from me. I wiggled my mouse to activate the screen and re-entered my credentials. “I’m Jamie, and this is Liz. What’s your name?”
“Angus.” He started gnawing on the knuckle of his left forefinger.
I adopted my finest Highland accent. “Aye, it’s a good Scottish name, that.”
He blinked at me. “What?”
“Never mind.” I turned to the king of general-subject databases, Academic Search Complete, and typed paternity testing.
Apropos of nothing, it seemed, Angus asked me, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Uh - no.” I held up my left hand. “Married to a man.”
Liz said, “Me, too.”
Angus muttered, “Shit,” and fell silent.
I scanned through the results that the database had produced. “Jeez. One study - and it’s from China. What the hell is wrong with Academic Search Complete?”
Liz said, “Dunno. Try CINAHL.”
She made a “tsk” sound and turned to her own computer. “You didn’t take a class in medical research?”
“No, I didn’t. Why would I? Why would you?” Liz was a political science subject specialist; my area was history.
“So I’d know where to find health information for my own use, duh. What do you do when you want to look up something about your asthma?”
“I ask Karen Lewis to do it.” Karen worked at the Biomedical Library. “Why…”
Angus smacked the desk, making me jump. “Are you helping me or not?”
Liz frowned at him. “Yes, I’m helping you. Cool your jets.”
The phrase produced a burst of cackling laughter from Angus. I was starting to wonder if he was in a manic phase. “Cool your jets? How old are you?”
Liz slowly lifted her hands from the keyboard, crossed her arms, and cast her “evil eye” expression onto Angus. “You are an incredibly rude young man. For your information, that is a phrase that I picked up from my parents.”
Angus quailed in the force of Liz’s fierce scowl, demonstrating that he retained some shred of sanity and self-preservation. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just…” He took a deep breath. “Yesterday, I found out that my girlfriend is pregnant.”
I said, “Um - congratulations?”
Angus slumped in his seat. “My life is a fucking disaster.”
Liz asked, “Is the baby yours?”
He snorted. “You’re one to talk about rude.”
I needed to end this confrontation before it deteriorated. “She didn’t mean it that way. We’re just trying to help, right, Liz?”
Liz was still frowning at Angus, her arms still tightly crossed. “Yeah. Sure.”
I said, “You asked about paternity testing, so…”
Angus removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t care if it’s not mine. I want to marry her. I’ll raise the baby as my own. But Natalie...she’s crazy right now. And her family hates me.”
Sounded like the definition of a fucking disaster to me, all right. I said, “I have a couple of articles here about the legal and social ramifications of paternity testing. I’ll print them for you. Liz, you’re checking CINAHL, right?”
“Right.” She turned back to her computer with one last baleful glance at Angus.
I sent the articles to the printer under the desk. “If her family knows the baby’s yours, maybe their attitude toward you will improve.”
“Yeah, right.” Angus was gnawing his knuckle again. “Her stepmother won’t say my name. Calls me that boy. Her father’s never even spoken to me. Her stepbrother is my boss, and he’ll probably fire me as soon as the holidays are over. Although he said he wouldn’t.”
Being married to a psychologist, I was steeped in the belief that airing your problems had the power to improve your outlook. I decided to keep the conversation going. “Where do you work?”
“Cloak and Dagger Books. It’s a…”
Aha. That’s where I recognized him from. I said, “A mystery bookstore in Pasadena. I’ve been there several times. I think I’ve seen you there.”
Angus looked warily hopeful. “Yeah? Do you know Adrien?”
“Only to say hello to when I’m in the shop. He seems like a decent guy.”
“He is. Most of the time. But his boyfriend kind of hates me, too.”
He winced. “He - um - arrested me once.”
Oh. That would certainly color one’s perceptions. I was deciding how to respond to that when Liz said, “CINAHL wasn’t an improvement. But there’s an article here on the ethics of paternity testing. I’ll print it.”
I said, “And I’ll print this Chinese study for you, too.”
The printer whirred, spitting out pages. Angus appeared to be even more morose than when he’d arrived. I said, “There’s another benefit to paternity testing. If the baby is yours, the other guy can’t appear at some point in the future and demand parental rights or custody.”
Angus sat up straighter. “Yes. That’s mostly why I want the test. Warren is a scumbag loser asshole. He cheated on her. He wants her to have an abortion. I don’t want him to have any contact with my kid.”
I asked, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but...how sure are you that the baby’s yours?”
He shrugged. “I’m not. Natalie says it could be either of us. I told you, she’s crazy emotional.”
Liz said, “Discovering that you’re pregnant can do that. Take it easy with her.”
I stacked the articles and stapled each one. “There you go. If you have any questions after you read them… Are you a UCLA student?” Maybe he could avail himself of the campus counseling services.
“I was. I - uh - kinda got off track.”
Not surprising, with the whole arrest thing. I said, “You’re girlfriend’s going to need to see a doctor. If you have any questions about these articles, you should discuss them with him or her.”
“Yeah, okay.” Angus riffled through the papers, then stood. “Thanks for your help.”
I said, “You’re welcome. Good luck. And happy holidays.”
He grunted and walked away.
Once he was out of view Liz said, “Whoa. That kid has issues.”
“Ya think? I hope he’s the dad, though. If Angus thinks the other guy is a loser…”
Liz snorted a laugh. “Seriously.”
Her phone beeped. She read the screen and said, “Oh, hell to the no. We are not eating lasagna on Christmas…” and began to text furiously.
I reopened my book and propped my feet on the garbage can.
Find out more about Meg and her work here!
Find out more about Meg and her work here!