My boss stood in the doorway. "Hey, Leah, do you have a second? I need to talk to you."
I saved the document I was working on and followed him into his office.
"Leah, I want to relocate you to our headquarters in Germany."
Having been raised as an only child in Hong Kong, my heart thumped just at the thought of moving to another country. But of course, I accepted the offer. I longed to travel and experience other cultures - and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, right?
"Well, when do I start?" I asked. My boss smiled and looked up at the calendar. "What about ... now?"
Unable to contain my excitement, I rushed to phone my parents. "Mum! Guess what! I've been relocated to Germany ..." I burbled on and on, my happiness like a bubble around me.
I couldn't wait to get home and start packing. I lived in an old townhouse on The Peak, and it was going to be a big job to organise all my furniture.
Starting from the ground floor, I worked my way up the building. Books, photos, chairs ... they all went into a jumble of boxes.
I rarely climbed the stairs to the attic, and I'd never rummaged through its dusty contents. It was where my mother and father had stored the junk from when I was small. Clambering through the mess I could see sofas, broken laptops, a comic from secondary school ... but what was this? I picked up a scrapbook with my name on it and blew the dust from the cover.
I smiled to myself, wondering what I looked like when I was a baby. From the first page, a cute baby smiled back at me, a bit plump but, nevertheless, beautiful.
"Was that me?" I muttered in disbelief. I turned the pages and the baby grew into a toddler, and the toddler became a young child. But then as I reached almost halfway, I stopped. The writing on what was left of a torn page read: Leah's funeral, 1987.
What did this mean? I wasn't dead. I noticed another, newer scrapbook lying nearby. Inside, I read: Leah, two weeks after adoption.
Slowly, I pieced together the fragments of information until I understood what had happened. My parents, Olivia and Marc, had a child who had died very young. I was her replacement. The words "replacement" and "second-best" echoed in my head. I felt dizzy. The world was spinning around me and I couldn't keep up with it. I wasn't their child. I didn't belong to them.
I ran out of the attic and down the stairs to the living room. Snatching up the phone, I jabbed in my parents' number.
"Mum ... I know." Choking with emotion, I could barely get the words out. "I just found the scrapbook with Leah's photos. The other Leah. Your Leah."
I heard a gasp on the other end of the line. "You ... you found Leah's photos?" My mother seemed as shocked as I was.
"Mum? Why didn't you tell me?" My mother suddenly sounded weary and 10 years older. "Look, your dad and I will come over." She hung up before I managed to whisper, "Leah's dad. He's not mine".
We all sat around the dinner table, not knowing what to say. The awkward silence - a mixture of grief and embarrassment - seemed to make things even worse. Finally my dad broke the silence. "You looked just like Leah. Your eyes, your hair ..." He trailed off. Clearing his throat, he began again. "I ... we ... were devastated when our Leah got hit by a car. I nearly lost my job. We went to the orphanage and saw you, and you were like a magnet attracting us to you, standing out from the other babies. We just knew we had to have you."
His eyes were misty. "I'm sorry for not telling you. It was just so hard, so difficult to talk about. We wanted to ..."
He didn't know what to say after that. I knew what he had in mind. He was going to say, "tell you when you're older". But I was 23 now and an adult. I couldn't be a baby forever.
The anger inside me suddenly boiled up and, like lava from a volcano, came pouring out. I stood up and stared my father right in the eye. "I'm not your child, am I?"
He sighed, "No. But ..."
I interrupted him. "I'm not your child," I repeated, "And now I don't know who you are. To me you are like strangers and I don't want anything to do with you!"
Tears began pouring out of my eyes. "I'm not your beautiful Leah. I was stupid to think you loved me for who I am, but clearly I'm just the be-nice-to-her-because-she's-an-orphan kid you adopted because you missed your own."
I started screaming, losing control of myself. My mother tried to calm me down but I snarled at her and smashed my wine glass on the floor. My parents started to back towards the door. I knew I was acting like a spoiled three-year-old brat, but I didn't care. I rubbed it in their faces.
"I'm glad I'm going to Germany, I couldn't bear staying in the same city as you!" I yelled, slamming the door in their faces.
Once they had left, I suddenly felt drained. I needed rest, so I cleared up the glass and went to bed. The rest of the packing could wait until tomorrow.
I woke feeling guilty and sorry, but I was too stubborn to call them and apologise. Then an idea came to me: maybe I could find my real mother and father.
But a day of research didn't help. Defeated, I was about to return to bed when my cellphone rang. It was my boss, asking about the job offer. Then I made the most reckless decision of my life. He was stunned when I told him I wouldn't be going to Germany.
"I'm sure I'll regret it, but I know this is what I have to do," I explained.
Four months later ...
The phone rang but I couldn't be bothered to go and pick it up. It was probably someone trying to sell me something, I grumbled to myself. I hardly ever felt fresh or bright these days. I was losing myself; part of my soul just fading away.
But the phone rang again and again, until I stomped down the stairs and snatched it up.
"Do you mind? I'm pretty busy!" I said roughly. The other end was quiet. "Hello," I snapped, losing my patience. "Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Leah?" The woman's voice was unfamiliar, and she sounded like she had a cold or had been crying.
"Yep, that's me." I didn't know why I bothered to reply. I didn't know why I didn't just hang up.
"Leah ... I'm Sarah Jane. I'm your mother."
The words hit me like a lightning bolt, piercing my heart and rendering me almost speechless. "You ... my mother ... I ..."
"I read your advert in the newspaper, and saw your website. So you live on The Peak, huh? In a big house."
I frowned. "I guess so."
My "mother" let out a horrific laugh, the kind vampires always have in movies.
"I will move in with you! We can share things, like money and clothes, and be a real mother and daughter. How would you like that?" Her voice had turned harsh - it wasn't a question, it was an order.
I felt frightened; it was clear she didn't care about me - she wanted my wealth. Even if she was my biological mother, she wouldn't love me like my adoptive parents did.
As I remembered the fight we had all those months ago, tears began to run down my face. I thought they would never stop. To think: we hadn't spoken since then.
I missed them, and I knew I didn't want this ... this Sarah Jane.
"Hello?" she said rudely.
I had forgotten that she was still on the phone. "You know what, um, Mum? Thanks for the offer, but to be honest, I don't really want a mother like you." I hung up and stared at the wall. Was it just me or did the shadows really seem to look like my adoptive parents?
Minutes later, I called my parents. "Mum?" I asked in a quiet voice. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean a word I said. Please forgive me." My mum laughed - a kind-hearted, warm laugh - and replied: "Of course, my darling. I was never mad at you."
Her caring words made me laugh and cry tears of joy. We chatted on the phone for a bit, and then hung up. I smiled and lay on my bed. The old saying was true after all: love is always proved in the letting go.
This is the fourth finalist in Young Post's 2011 Summer Story competition, sponsored by Dymocks, in which HK$3,000 worth of book vouchers are up for grabs. Each week we will publish one of the finalists' stories, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on September 3