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Jo Carroll taped up the last of her moving boxes and set it by the door. Only her mother's room remained for her to deal with. Jo had put it off until last. It didn't seem possible that a month had passed since Sharon Drake had been laid to rest next to Jo's dad, Joseph, in the cemetery not far from the apartment she and Jo had shared. Sharon's death had been as unexpected as the car-train accident that had claimed Joe Drake's life seven years earlier.
One morning Sharon woke up complaining of a bad headache. In the blink of an eye she'd collapsedand was gone before the paramedics arrived. The doctors told Jo it was a brain aneurysm, and she tried to take comfort in the knowledge that her mother hadn't suffered.
Now Jo was on her own. She wasn't a child. At twenty-five she could take care of herself. Since her dad's death, an accident that Jo herself had been lucky to survive, her life had revolved around her career as a concert violinist.
Hesitating at the threshold of her mother's bedroom, Jo nervously brushed her palms down her denim jeans. Sharon had been an intensely private woman, and a controlling one. Jo had put off this task as long as she could, but she'd crunched the numbers and she knew that moving was an economic necessity. Her monthly stipend as lead violinist with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and the little she earned working odd shifts at a coffeehouse, wouldn't cover the rent on this two-bedroom unit in a renovated brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue.
Her mother had insisted they needed to live where they could rub elbows with symphony patrons who could help advance Jo's career. But Jo wondered how her mom had made ends meet.
Determined to be done with it, she opened an empty box and started sorting her mother's belongings. She set aside a cameo pin to save. Jo planned to donate the rest to a women's shelter. The lack of anything of real value drove home the sacrifices her mother had been willing to make for Jo's profession.
Guilt welled up as she folded a worn, blue crepe dressthe last piece of clothing in the closet. Now, a final check to make sure she'd gotten everything and she'd be ready to call in the movers.
Wait! What was that on the top shelf? Whatever it was had been stuck behind a winter bedspread. She had to stretch, but Jo managed to get down a wooden box. Not too heavy, but it was wedged in tight. Her dad's name was carved on the lid. Jo's hands shook. She had no memories of him. The box was cedar, she realized as she sank to her knees and opened the lid, releasing a pungent scent.
Inside she found books and papers. High-school yearbooks along with news clippings and gilt-edged certificates.
Jo felt momentarily disappointed. She'd been hoping for a will or an insurance policy. But this was strange. The yearbooks were from a high school in Tennessee. White Oak Valley High. Jo didn't know anyone in Tennessee.
As she inspected a couple of the awards, a knot formed in her stomach. The name Colleen Drake was stenciled on each. All were first- and second-place wins from the Smoky Mountain Music Festival.
Breathing became difficult as Jo sifted through two dozen yellowed newspaper articles. A girl pictured in one bore an uncanny resemblance to her own few childhood photographs, which she'd already packed. Here was this Colleen Drake again. A gifted violinist with the same last name as Joe's family . Fumbling, Jo dropped the clippings. Out slithered a thin gold chain. Hanging from it was some kind of pendanta gold oak leaf. The leaf was inscribed on the back, Jo saw as she turned it over. Ornate script read Forever Love. Under the words were entwined letters that could be a G and a C, or perhaps two Gs.
Jo curled her fingers around the pendant. All the items in the box were puzzling. Actually they were a little frightening, she thought, absently tracing a three-inch scar along her hairline. A throbbing pain grew after she opened one yearbook and paged through class photographs. She would've been a high-school sophomore that year. There was her smile on the face of a stranger named Colleen Drake. Cold prickles ran up Jo's spine. Her first inclination was to put everything back in the box and pretend she'd never found it.
Curiosity made her open the second bookher junior year. That picture of Colleen Drake resembled her uncannily. It could almost be herexcept she never wore her hair pulled back away from her face the way it was in this photo. And Jo's birth name had been Drake, too, until she'd changed it for professional reasons.
The question was unavoidable. Who was Colleen Drake? Could this be her? Lights flashed behind Jo's eyes, warning of an impending migraine. She fended it off by sheer will. A cousinmaybe this was a cousin.
A spot in the third yearbook where a graduation photo should have been was blank. But Colleen Drake's name was typed there along with credits listing activities such as track, band and girls' chorus. What had happened to the girl with her face?
Unable to think clearly for the pounding in her skull, Jo cradled her head in her hands. Neatly layered rust-red hair fell forward, veiling the damning evidence.
After a minute, she felt calm enough to begin reviewing what she did know. There wasn't much. The severe injuries she'd sustained in the accident that had killed her father had erased her memory. When she woke up in the hospital following surgery, she'd panicked at her inability to recall anything. But then her mother had appeared at her side. Sharon patiently sat by Jo's bedside and painstakingly reconstructed her past, one story at a time. Some details bubbled up now. According to Sharon, Jo had led a privileged childhood, attending private schools and studying with music tutors. Master violinists. Sharon repeated these stories so often Jo felt as if she remembered living them. Everyone at the hospital considered it a miracle that she'd retained the ability to play her violin. They consulted doctor after doctor who'd all said that sometimes it happened like that following a head trauma. Maybe her memories would return, but maybe they wouldn't.
Whywhy would her mother lie to her? Why hadn't she said anything about this cousin or whoever she was? After all, she'd kept these yearbooks . Fear crept in. Who was left to confirm her mom's accounts of her history?
Scrambling to her feet, Jo found her cell phone and punched in Jerrold Cleary's number with shaking fingers. A longtime patron of Boston's symphony, Jerrold was Jo's mentor and her mother's staunch friend. Jo suspected her mother and Jerrold had a loose romantic relationship, but she had no proof of it, except
"Jerrold? It's Jo." She broke off her erratic thoughts and found herself babbling. "I thought I'd emptied Mother's closet, but I found a cedar box I think belonged to my dad. This is going to sound bizarre, but did Mother ever mention me having family? Maybe a cousin, Colleen?" A sigh slid out, but Jerrold's assurance was a relief. He and her mother often huddled together in the kitchen talking while Jo practiced for six or eight hours every day.
"Not that I know of, Jo," Jerrold said. "Are you all right? You aren't making much sense."
"I know. I'm sorry to have bothered you. I'll dig deeper." Jo hastened to say goodbye, but Jerrold cut her off. "You sound funny. I'll be right over."
"There's no need. I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this stuff. This must be a long-lost cousin from Dad's side of the family," she said, trying to believe it. The other possibility was too devastating to consider.
After she'd healed, on a rare outing to a mall, Jo openly envied the young women her age. She'd seen them holding hands and laughing with their handsome boyfriends. Her mother used to hurry her along or divert her attention. Was that significant?
"Don't come over, Jerrold. I'm about to call the movers. I have everything in the apartment packed." Except for the items from the cedar box. Jo scowled down at the phone gone dead in her hand.
She didn't call the movers, but returned to her mother's bedroom and sat down to read the news clippings.
Lost in her reading, Jo felt her heart race when the outer apartment door opened and Jerrold Cleary called her name. She met him in the empty living room. As a rule, his suits were impeccable, and she'd never seen him with a single iron-gray hair out of place. Today he looked rumpled and irritated. "Whatever crap you've unearthed, Jo, it's better tossed out and forgotten."
"Better for whom?" Jo never talked back, and the fact that she did now surprised both her and her visitor. Jerrold waved a dismissive hand.
"Better for your career. Your career is everything. You know your mother devoted her life to ensuring your success. I was going to pop by later with this fantastic news, but I think you need a boost now." Jerrold took a paper from his inner pocket and passed it to Jo. "I've finalized arrangements for you to go on the European circuit this summer," he said, all but preening. "And I negotiated three solos." He wiggled three fingers under Jo's nose, as though she might have misunderstood. "The pieces the conductor wants you to do are listed on the back of the schedule. You've played them all, but you need to start practicing until every note's perfect."
"You aren't listening. What if I'm not alone? What if I have family somewhere?"
He tapped the schedule she hadn't glanced at. "This is a huge coup, Jo. It's just a shame your mother won't get to see you play Ravel's 'Rapsodie Espagnole' on stage in Spain. Hearing you solo on the European circuit was her lifelong dream. But you know that."
Jo had difficulty taking in anything Jerrold was saying. And the ambitious itinerary she held might as well have been written in Chinese. "Jerrold, I can't go on this tour."
"Nonsense. I know violinists," he stated in his typically pompous way. "You all get cold feet. But you, Jo Carroll, are the most naturally gifted virtuoso I've ever had the good fortune to mentor. With dedication I predict you'll one day be as famous as Itzhak Perlman or Vladimer Spivakov. And as wealthy," he murmured, straightening his tie. "You, my dear, will be world renowned. My only reward will be to stand in the wings of a sold-out house, watching the audience give my protégée standing ovations."
"Jerrold, you aren't getting it." Jo thrust an award certificate at him. "Look at this. I don't know if I'm Jo Carroll. Or am I this other musician, Colleen Drake? It's too much of a coincidence that she looks like me and has the same talent. What if I'm her?"
Jerrold carelessly tore the certificate in half and dropped it. "Jo, you already know you're a Drake. Does the first name really matter? After the accident, Sharon and I decided using her maiden name, Carroll, for your stage name would ensure you privacy. Sharon Carroll would have been famous had she not gotten pregnant with you and been forced to scrap her singing career."
"Mother used to sing around the house." Running a hand through her disheveled hair, Jo circled the nearly empty room. "Daddy made acoustic guitars. And fiddles." She stopped midstride, aghast. "That all came out of nowhere, Jerrold. Did Daddy make guitars? I swear Mother only ever mentioned his violins. Oh, but I could be way off base. Mother auctioned Daddy's wood and his tools on eBay after I was released from the hospital." Jo pressed her aching head to the cool window.
"Stop agonizing, Jo," Jerrold snapped. "It's this move and going through your mother's things. I have no idea why you're insisting on doing this now when you should be spending every minute practicing for the summer tour."
"How can you talk about a tour when my life is in shambles?" Jo wadded up the schedule. She shoved the crumpled ball back at him. "I'm not going to Europe. I mean that, Jerrold. I'm going to follow up on what I've found. It's bad enough that I lost my childhood, but this confusion about what I thought I'd restored " She raked her hair out of her eyes, this time with a noticeably shaking hand.
"Don't tell me no, you ungrateful little upstart," Jerrold sputtered, his face an alarming shade of red.
At first Jo recoiled from his outburst. But midtirade she yanked open the door. "I'm not a child, Jerrold, so don't treat me like one. I know this is all a huge shock, but something just isn't right."