The next two weeks in the McIre household were… intolerable. Everyone avoided each other as much as possible and if they accidentally found themselves in the same room, the tension would mount to breaking point. It was hard on everyone.

Meanwhile, Joanie was making little progress in the search for her birth parents. She had no information to begin with, and she really didn’t know where to start. Every time she saw what this was doing to her family, Joanie hated herself. She had everything she could ever want with the McIre’s. For eighteen years they had loved and taken care of her.

So why the hell couldn’t she just let it go? Well, not by lack of trying! She had promised herself that she would drop the whole thing, but time and time again she found herself on the internet, searching for ways to find her biological parents. The need and desire to find them was like a fire inside of her. Each day it got stronger and the stronger it got the more she couldn’t shake it free. She was afraid it would possess her.

She just needed to know why a woman would carry a child for nine months and then abandon it. Why would her real mother not love her enough to keep her? Joanie tormented herself with these questions every night and she cried herself to sleep thinking about it. She was losing weight over it.

It was three weeks after the “disaster breakfast” when Joanie’s parents called her into the study. Joanie’s heart thudded all the way down the stairs. She couldn’t imagine what they would say to her. Tension was still rife in the house, and still they avoided each other, so to be called like this…

“Good. You’re here Joan.”

Joanie got even more worried. Her father was being so formal, so distant. She wished he would ruffle her hair like he always did, or at least smile at her, anything. Both John and Beth were seated behind the intimidating desk, their faces serious. Joanie reluctantly took the chair opposite. She had a bad feeling about this.

“We’ve called you here to give you this,” a leather bound file was pushed towards her. “It’s all your birth and adoption information.” Her father said.

All the breath whooshed out of Joanie. They’d had it all this time? All this suffering could have stopped weeks ago, but they’d chosen not to. Tears sprang to Joanie’s eyes. How could they be so cruel? She reached for the file.

“We feel we must warn you Joanie. This…quest of yours: It’s hurting our family. Beth and I can’t let that happen.”

“What are you saying, Dad?”

“I’m saying that it’s time to make your choice now Joan. There’s a current address in that file. If you choose them, if you choose your ghosts, I’ll drive you there myself. Right now. But know that if you make that choice then…you sever all ties with the McIre’s.”

Joanie gasped. What?

She couldn’t believe that her father had said that. For the second time in ten minutes she asked herself: how could they? They were threatening to disown her! They were threatening to just switch off all the love they’d ever had for her like a valve. Had they ever loved her at all, then?

“And if I choose to stay?”

“Then you forget this nonsense. You never speak of it again”

Joanie wondered if they could hear her heart ripping into tiny shreds. She felt like she was bleeding inside. How could they?

“Then how can I stay, Dad-” She didn’t know if she should even call him that “I’ll go pack right now.”

Joanie prayed to God that they would take it back. She prayed they would tell her to stay, that they would let her find her birth parents with their blessing. Instead, Beth McIre grabbed her by the throat.

“You ungrateful little bitch!”

Beth’s voice was deadly quiet, and her sharp nails were digging into Joanie’s neck. She could feel blood trickle down her collarbone. Joanie jerked away. She had to get out of here before Beth killed her.

“That bracelet on your wrist Joanie,” John said, “the McIre bracelet; you know what it means? Our unity. Our trust. Our family!”

Joanie looked at the thin silver chain at her wrist. Every McIre had it. Our Unity. Our Trust. Our Family. With a rabid scream, Joanie ripped it off of her and threw it at John. There was no unity here, no trust, and definitely no family!

She grabbed the leather file and ran. She was no longer Joanelle Alanis McIre. She was just….no one.