A devoted fan of the Shattered Hearts series since its very beginning, I have to admit that I have always been a little anxious about finally getting to hear Abby’s story, knowing that its very premise would have the power to annihilate me emotionally. The tale of an adopted young woman’s journey into adulthood as she discovers and learns to embrace her origins—this is a story about family, about grabbing life by its horns and never giving up, and it is a story about the true meaning of unconditional love. I was ready for the heartbreak, I was ready for the ugly tears, but nothing in my wildest dreams could have prepared me for the sheer beauty of every single facet of this story. A perfect ending to a truly outstanding series, this was the ‘icing on the cake’ that made the entire cake for me.
“I don’t want to be fragile anymore.”
This is a story told from many sides, all essential to understanding the heroine in this book and to fully grasp the endless love that has surrounded her since birth. Abby is the biological child of Chris and Claire Knight, a couple we have seen fight for their happy ending and thankfully find it, but giving up Abby, their firstborn, has always remained a painful stain in their blissful happily-ever-after. Raised by Brian and Lynette, a childless but loving middle-class couple, Abby has grown into a happy and kind young woman, but her congenital heart defect has also prevented her from living a normal life, the life of a careless child who does not have to fear her heart giving up on her.
“This heart is a ticking bomb inside my chest.”
Abby has known of her adoption ever since she was thirteen years old, but it is on her eighteenth birthday that she discovers the identity of her birth parents through the contents of a safety deposit box created for her by the very people who have never stopped loving her or thinking of her as their own.
“These are my parents… This is the family I never knew I had.”
Even though Chris and Claire have always wished for an open adoption, Abby’s adoptive parents have never stopped struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy given the other couple’s celebrity lifestyle, any comparison to the Knights only further feeding their insecurities and fears of losing her. When Abby discovers all that their apprehension has kept her away from, this only drives a deeper wedge between them, making an already troubled relationship even more strained.
“It’s like… like you’ve always belonged here.”
Faced with a whole new family, a lifetime of love she was not even aware of, Abby leaps at the opportunity to experience being part of that family, as short-lived as it may be, discovering that regardless of her absence, her very existence has shaped the lives of everyone in it. Through the constancy of their love, she discovers herself, her purpose in life, the courage she never thought she possessed, and she learns that what she wishes the most out of life is to… live. And to be worthy of all the love surrounding her.
Now, I am intentionally omitting any mention of one of the most important characters in this book, the person who teaches Abby the true meaning of love, as his role in this story is something every reader should discover on their own. It is one of the most moving aspects of this story, one I still cannot find words to do it justice, and it is also what sets this story apart for me because it pushes the reader to see the true significance of every emotion it forces us to feel.
“I love you, my little blackbird. You should know by now that I’ll never say no to you.”
Even days after finishing this stunning tale, I am still incapable of handling the intensity of some of those emotions, but I am grateful for every single one of them. A flawlessly woven storyline connecting several interrelated but distinct voices into one unified human experience, this is a story that will never leave me and its beautiful message of hope and courage is one I wish for every reader to capture.
“You can be anything you want to be… Chase your dreams, Abby.”
Two months after
The hairs on my arms stand on end the moment I step inside Fidelity Bank in Raleigh. As if I can feel every time my parents walked through here over the past eighteen years. See the ghost of their footprints trailed across the speckled tile.
Caleb squeezes my hand as we head for the line of patrons queued up in front of the teller windows. I want to smile at him to show him that everything is okay, but I’m too nervous. My heart is pounding like a snare drum inside my chest. My fingers begin to tingle and I know I should stop and take a few deep breaths, but I can’t stop moving toward that line. I wriggle my fingers a little and Caleb tightens his grip, stopping in the middle of the floor as he recognizes the signs.
I look up into his green eyes and his eyebrows shoot up as he draws in a deep breath. I copy him, sucking in a large breath through my nostrils then letting it out slowly through my mouth. He does it a few more times and I follow along until the tingling in my fingers is gone. Then I blink my eyes to stanch the tears. It’s not fair to Caleb that he has a broken girlfriend. He deserves a girl with a healthy heart who can keep up with his lust for life.
“Better?” he asks, his voice soothing and hopeful.
I nod and he kisses my forehead. “Thank you.”
What is it like having a defective heart? Sort of like having a defective TV that only displays a few channels. You’re forced to listen to your friends talking about all the cool shows they’ve been watching. Shows you’ll never be able to watch. And you try to pretend you’re perfectly happy with your defective TV, but everyone knows you’re just trying to be a good sport.
Sports. That’s one thing you can’t watch on a defective TV. I learned that when I was thirteen. That also happens to be the age I learned about the safe-deposit box that brought me to Fidelity Bank today.
“I can help the next person in line.”
I look up and the woman behind the bulletproof glass is giving me that impatient, eyebrows-raised look. I step forward with Caleb and slip my driver’s license into the curved slot on the counter.
“I’m here to… to look at my safe-deposit box.” Look at? She must think I’m crazy.
She takes my driver’s license and swipes it through a machine. She types in a few commands, then she looks back and forth between the picture on my ID and my face.
“Do you have your key?”
“Yes,” I reply quickly as I begin digging in the front pocket of my jeans for the small silver key my father gave me two months ago.
I slide it into the slot and she smiles. “You can hold onto it.” She slides my ID back to me and I take both the card and the key back. “Just give me a moment. I have to go get my supervisor to help you.”
She disappears behind a curved wall and comes back with a man in a suit who’s sifting through a gaggle of keys on a chain as he walks. They arrive at the teller window and the man smiles at me.
He nods to his right. “This way, ma’am.”
Ma’am? I’ve never been called that before. I guess this is what it feels like to be an adult.
We reach an unmarked door that buzzes softly before it’s pulled inward. The man with the keys smiles as he waves us inside. He closes the door behind us, then he leads us to an enormous circular vault door. He slips a key into a lock, then he places his thumb on a print reader. A soft beep sounds and he enters a code on a touchpad. A heavy click sounds inside the door and he turns the wheel to open the door and pull it out.
The vault door opens onto a corridor, which runs perpendicular. Straight ahead of us is a room where another heavy, rectangular vault door stands open, revealing a narrow room lined from floor to ceiling with brass safe-deposit boxes. I look right and see more vault doors leading to other places. The man with the keys leads us forward to the room with the safe-deposit boxes. There aren’t any tables, just a single plastic chair with metal legs pushed up against the back wall of the narrow room. I may need that.
“Do you know which box is yours?” the man asks.
I look up into his dark eyes and my mind blanks, so Caleb speaks for me. “Fifteen-five-zero-eight.”
I nod in agreement and the man smiles as I hold up my key, still unable to speak.
He leads us to the middle of the room and taps a box on the left. “This is it.” He begins walking back toward the door. “Go ahead and take your time. When you’re ready, just press this button right here and someone will come back to let you out.”
I nod again. “Thank you.”
He nods as he closes the rectangular vault door, closing us into the room. My fingers are beginning to tingle again, but I don’t wriggle them. I don’t want to worry Caleb.
I hand him the key. “You open it.”
“Do you want me to look inside and tell you what I see?”
He looks at me for a moment, then he heads for the back of the room. He carries the chair back to me and pats the seat. I sit down and try to resist the urge to wring my hands.
“Deep breaths, Abby,” he reminds me.
“Just open it. I need this over with.”
He quickly slides the key into the lock and turns. He pulls box 15508 out of the slot and I lean forward to put my head between my knees. I don’t want to see until I know what’s in there.
“It’s a memory card and… Holy shit.”
“What?” My head snaps up, but I can’t see inside the box from this angle. “What is it?”
His eyes are wide, but I can’t tell if he’s excited or terrified.
“Caleb! Answer me. What is it?”
“It’s… There are some pictures in here.”
“Pictures? So… what? Why is that shocking?”
His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat as he gulps. “It’s not the pictures that are shocking… It’s who’s in the pictures.”
“What? Let me see.” I stand up to get a look at the contents of the brass box, but Caleb quickly slides it back into the slot. “What are you doing?”
“You asked me to tell you what I saw before you see it.”
I slap his arm in frustration. “Then tell me, damn it!”
“Abby, calm down.”
He looks into my eyes with that stern look that only Caleb and my dad can pull off.
I take a deep breath and nod. “Okay, I’m calm. What’s in the box?”
“It looks like… your biological father is… Chris Knight.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “What? Is that supposed to be a joke? Because that is not funny at all. Just tell me what’s inside the box.”
He’s not smiling as his eyes lock on mine. “This is not a joke.”
The silence is so absolute, I can hear my feeble heart stuttering under the weight of this news.
“Sit down, baby,” he whispers and I gladly sit as he pulls the box out of the slot again. “Are you ready?”
I nod and he carefully sets the box in my lap. The first thing I see is the picture sitting on top of the stack. It’s clearly a professional family photo. Chris Knight, his wife, and their three kids are standing in front of a large elm tree. They look so happy and… perfect. I’ll bet all the TVs in their house work perfectly.
Caleb kneels in front of me and reaches forward to wipe a tear from my cheek. “Are you okay?”
I shake my head, shaking loose another tear. “No.”
I lift the photos out of the box and move the top picture to the bottom of the stack. The next one stops me cold. It’s a picture of Chris Knight looking quite a bit younger. He’s dressed in a suit and holding… me.