Ariel sat at her father’s desk and turned on his laptop. The twelve-year-old had normally used the tablet her parents had bought her at the beginning of the school year, but it needed to be recharged. She wanted to join her friends for an online game and figured her parents wouldn’t mind her using the laptop.
The log-in screen came on. Password, password. She opened the desk drawer and grabbed a spiral bound internet address and password logbook and thumbed through it.
When she found it scribbled in the “Notes” section in the back, she keyed it in. As the computer logged her in, she heard the clanking of pots and pans. Her mother was preparing dinner in the kitchen down the hall.
Ariel lowered the cursor onto the browser icon. At the same time she clicked the mouse button, a crash rattled her.
“Mama, you all right?” she shouted without leaving the chair.
“Yeah, I just drop a pan.”
Ariel returned to the computer screen and found a series of photos. I must’ve clicked Photos by accident. She was about to close the application, but one of the photos caught her eye. In it, her mother sat next to some woman with long, straight black hair and dark skin. Ariel clicked on the photo to blow it up.
Although everything below the women’s waists were cut off, Ariel could tell that the dark-skinned woman was pregnant. But it was the face that demanded a closer look. Ariel narrowed her eyes and leaned in. She had never seen this woman before, yet the face looked familiar.
Her mouth dropped. “No,” she gasped.
She turned to the family photo on the desk. She had seen it a million times since it had been taken two years ago, but for the first time, she noticed her hair and skin tone were darker than the two pale, fair-haired grown-ups standing on either side of her. She picked it up and placed it side-by-side with the photo on the screen. Even though the ten-year-old girl’s skin was lighter, her facial features were similar to those of the pregnant women: same dark eyes, same nose, same lips.
After Ariel put the photo back, she went through other photos. In another photo, a newborn, swaddled in a white blanket with “Ella Grace”—the same as the name in the login password—stitched on it, was sleeping in a crib.
Ariel picked up the logbook again and returned to the page with the login password: EllaGrace052402.
She stared at what she had originally thought were random numbers. 5-24-02—that’s my birthday!
She covered her mouth. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Hey sweetie,” her mother called from behind. “What are you up to?”