“Barber,” Landon said, looking down at his phone. He didn’t recognize the number, but that wasn’t unheard of.
“Is this Landon Barber?”
“It is,” he said.
“My name is Lynn Collar. I’m calling about your sister, Jennifer.”
The hair rose on the back of his neck. He hadn’t talked to Jennifer in years. Not since she left home at eighteen. Shit, now that he thought about it, might be ten years since he’d talked to her. “What about her?”
“I’m sorry to say she died in a car accident two weeks ago,” Lynn said, her voice cracking on the other end. This person was obviously a friend, but not one that thought to contact family sooner. He kept that opinion to himself. Who was he to judge since he and Jennifer weren’t close?
He looked around for a chair to sit. He was in the squad room and realized maybe he didn’t want this conversation where others could overhear. Where a few were looking at him now.
“What happened?” he asked, walking to an interrogation room he knew was empty. That’s how he felt right now. Empty. It’d been so long since he’d said her name, let alone heard it.
Sure she was his baby sister—half sister—but with the eight years between them and the constant fighting going on in their house, he just kept to himself more often than not.
When it was time for college, he left and rarely went home after. Not to stay permanently if he could avoid it.
“A tractor trailer went off the road on the thruway causing a massive pile up. Jennifer was one of four people to die.”
“Where?” he asked, realizing he had no clue where his sister had been living.
“Just outside of Buffalo.”
He hadn’t even realized she was in New York State. Last he knew she was down south somewhere. Or at least that was what his mother had told him at one point when Jennifer had called looking for money those first few years she’d left home after high school.
“How did you know my sister?” he asked.
There was silence on the other end, then almost a whisper. “She was my girlfriend.”
His sister was gay? He never saw that coming. Then he wondered if his mother knew and that was the cause of so many fights between the two of them. His mother was pretty prejudiced. Another reason he didn’t go home after college. He was sick of hearing about everyone she couldn’t stand.
“I’m glad you called and told me. Is she buried there?” he asked, just thinking of that.
“She wanted to be cremated. I’ve got her remains here.”
“And that is why you’re calling? For me to come get them?”
“No. I mean, yes, they should go to her family. But it’s about your niece. Jennifer’s daughter.”
His sister had a daughter? No way his mother knew that. “What?”
“Chloe. Your niece. It took me so long to call because I’ve been going through Jennifer’s paperwork and finally found her will. She listed you as Chloe’s guardian.”
“Her daughter doesn’t even know me. Does she know of me?” Talk about being knocked on his ass.
“I really don’t know. I haven’t been with Jennifer long. Just six months. I can’t keep her. Chloe. I’ve got no right to her and, like I said, Jennifer had a will. But not only that, I’m just not…mother material.”
Like he was father material? “Who has her now?”
“She’s been with me for a few weeks. I don’t really want to disrupt her life, but I can’t keep her. If you don’t want her, then I’ll have to turn her over to social services. I’ve been in contact with them, because I just didn’t know what to do if I couldn’t locate you.”
He couldn’t do that. He didn’t know this child, but she was his flesh and blood. He’d never let her be a ward of the state. “No, no. I’ll come get her.”
“I’d call your mother, but Jennifer never had anything nice to say about her.”
“No. They had a strained relationship.”
“Your mother didn’t think Jennifer was gay. Told her it was a phase.”
Landon snorted. He could totally see his mother saying that. “What about Chloe’s father?” he asked.
“There is no father listed on Chloe’s birth certificate. I honestly don’t know if Jennifer knew who he was. It was a dark time in her life, she’d said, while she was trying to find her identity.”
“How old is Chloe?” he asked. He was starting to get his wits about him…somewhat.
“She’s eight. She’s a good kid. Really shy. Timid even. But her mother’s death has been hard. I think she’s going to need counseling too. I don’t know. Like I said, I just can’t handle her. I can barely take care of myself,” Lynn said, sobbing on the other end.
“Okay. Yeah,” he said, stumbling over his words. He never stumbled over anything. “I’m at work. And it’s like four to five hours away.” He looked at his watch and saw it was only ten in the morning. “I’ll be there within six hours tops. Can you just text me an address?”
“Sure. Thanks. And I’m sorry I had to make this call and dump this on you.”
“You aren’t dumping anything on me,” he said, only he didn’t believe it.
How the hell was he supposed to raise some eight-year-old girl he’d never met and didn’t even know existed?