“How did you find me?” I asked.
“I…” He lowered his eyes, and his cheeks reddened. “I wasn’t looking for you. I didn’t find you.”
“I didn’t know you and Milo were my children until a few weeks ago,” Leif swallowed and pursed his lips.
“How could you not know?” I took a step back, feeling betrayed by that statement.
Ezra moved in closer to me, in case I needed his support, but Jack stood off to the side of the room, unsure with how to react to any of this.
“You were so young the last time I saw you, and Milo wasn’t even born yet.” His dark eyes were sad and pleading. “I didn’t even know I had a son. Your mother had just found out she was pregnant.”
“You left us,” I said softly and took another step back. “You left us, and I don’t even remember you.”
“Alice, I had to leave you.” Tears filled his eyes. “I thought…” He rubbed his mouth and lowered his eyes. “I loved Anna very much, but we hadn’t been together that long when she got pregnant with you. I didn’t have time to think about what it would be like. And I loved you. I still love you so much, you and Milo. I left to protect you.”
“How could you not know I was your daughter?” I repeated, louder this time. “How could you love me so much and not know?”
“Do you know how many girls I saw that I thought were you?” Leif asked. “Every time I saw a little girl, I’d wonder if that could be you. Every time I heard the name Alice, I wondered if it were you. Eventually, I just… I numbed myself to the idea.”
“I don’t even know what that means.” I wiped at my eyes to stop tears before they fell.
“I didn’t let myself think about you anymore, or worry about you or your mother or your brother,” Leif said. “I knew I would outlive you, and I couldn’t deal with that. I tried to blot you out of my mind.”
“It was my birthday last month! And you didn’t think, ‘I had a daughter named Alice eighteen years ago today?’ That never even occurred to you?”
“I didn’t know you were eighteen, and I didn’t…” He shook his head. “You look nineteen, but you’re a vampire. You could’ve been a hundred for all I knew.”
“What about Milo? You didn’t put that together?” I asked.
“I didn’t even know he was your real brother,” Leif admitted. “I thought he was a brother like the way Ezra and Jack are brothers. He wasn’t even born when I left, and the last time I saw you, you were living in Idaho. I had no reason to think…
“Yes, I felt a connection with you, and with Milo,” Leif went on. “But I didn’t realize who you were until I heard you arguing with Jack a few weeks ago. And as soon as I found out, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make it up to you. I just hadn’t found a way to tell you yet.”
“I know you’re a vampire but… why did you leave?” I crossed my arms over my chest and wiped at my eyes again.
“Your mother was barely nineteen when I met her, and I loved her the moment I saw her.” Leif’s eyes stayed on me, and he never looked away as he talked. “She didn’t know I was a vampire. I meant to tell her, but she got pregnant with you right away. I couldn’t tell her then because I didn’t want her to do something drastic, like run away or have an abortion.
“I got her an apartment, and I stayed with her most of the time. I made up stories about work, but I took care of her the best I could,” he continued. “I didn’t think I could love anything more than I loved her, until you were born. I would’ve given anything to watch you grow up.”
“You didn’t though,” I said pointedly, and he nodded.
“The day before I left, Anna was standing in front of a mirror,” he said. “She had just started showing with Milo, and she had her shirt pulled up, rubbing the baby bump. I walked over to her and put my arms around and told her how beautiful she looked.
“She said, ‘Don’t lie. I’ve gotten so fat, and you haven’t changed a bit since the day we met.’” He closed his eyes on the memory. “She laughed when she said it, but I knew then that I only had a few more years before it would be too noticeable. She would get older, and I would be forever young.”
“So?” I asked. “Turn her. Or don’t. Tell her you’re a vampire. We could’ve moved before anybody noticed.”
“I thought of that,” he nodded. “I thought of turning her after she had Milo. I had wonderful fantasies of us running away together, living happily ever after. Anna and I young and beautiful forever, raising our children all over the world.
“But if I raised you that way, I knew you’d want this. I never wanted this life for you.” Leif’s smile only got more pained. “I wanted you to live. To have a real life. I couldn’t give you that if I stayed. I didn’t want you to end up like me.”
“Well, good thing you left, because I totally didn’t end up as a vampire,” I said. “Oh wait. Yes, I did. I just grew up without a father.”
“Everything I did, I did for you,” Leif said emphatically. “You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true. I left when I did because I didn’t want you to remember me or miss me. I wanted you to forget me and move on with your life.”
“It didn’t work, Dad!” I snapped. “I still missed you! When I was little, I used to cry myself to sleep, and Milo would ask me all these questions about you, and I would make stuff up to make him feel better. And Mom, she never got over you! She has been unhappy and bitter and… you left us alone with her!”
“I’m sorry.” Leif’s eyes welled with tears. “I didn’t know. I didn’t…” He looked down. “I was trying to protect you. I only wanted you to be happy.
“It destroyed me to leave you, Alice.” Leif pursed his lips. “That’s why I ended with the lycans. I thought they would kill me.”
“Was Mom your one?” I asked. “The one you were meant for?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jack look at me when I said that.
“Yes,” Leif said quietly. “She was. She is.”
I chewed my lip. I knew the ache of growing up with a father and why he didn’t love me enough to stay. And I knew the horrendous pain of losing someone I loved. My fight with Jack was so raw, I could barely speak and breathe.