Phoenix Montagno looked at the devastation around her.
The havoc she’d wreaked in the space that was her apartment hadn’t produced the results she’d wanted. All she’d made was a big mess.
Papers covered every square inch of the carpet immediately surrounding her, and in spite of the chaos she’d created, the one piece of paper she needed wasn’t among any of the others.
She sighed. How could she lose her birth certificate?
When she’d moved out of her parents’ house, she’d made sure to take everything important. That had included her high school and college diplomas and her birth certificate.
Her diplomas were there, along with her income tax paperwork going back three years—as if she’d ever need that. She’d never be audited. Not on her minuscule teacher’s salary. The IRS had far bigger fish to go after.
She’d found her social security card, but what she’d been looking for—the birth certificate—eluded her. She even remembered holding it in her hand and thinking how she’d better put it in a safe place, but she’d be damned if she could remember where that safe place was.
It should have been right there with everything else. Why wasn’t it?
Her parents were going to flip.
They’d offered to keep her important papers for her, locked up in their fireproof document safe. Instead Phoenix had insisted she would be responsible for holding on to her own things. She’d taken it, against their advice, and now she’d lost it.
Her father had always said she should be more organized. How everything important should be in labeled folders inside a locked, preferably fireproof filing cabinet.
That was his way, not hers. They were different people and they operated completely differently. Just as she hadn’t picked up even a little bit of her mother’s perfect housekeeping skills, her father’s organizational skills had also skipped her generation.
Phoenix huffed out a breath in frustration. How could she lose anything in this tiny apartment?
Her place wasn’t small in a bad way, just cozy and quaint. She loved the home she’d created and the space she’d chosen to create it in. From the big windows that offered a view of the park across the street to the location, close enough to town so she could walk to school and the coffee shop on nice days.
Most important of all, it was all hers.
Besides, it was what she could comfortably afford right now on her teacher’s salary—living in California wasn’t cheap—but the point was, her place was too damn small to lose something in it.
It was also too small for the big, not to mention ugly, metal filing cabinet her father would have her get if she’d listened to him—or if she admitted to him that she’d lost her birth certificate.
Phoenix liked her own filing system. She kept her important papers in a big floral hatbox on the floor in the corner of the room. What didn’t fit in there went into a few more decorative rectangular boxes. They were sold by stores for photo storage, but she used them for paperwork and was very proud of her decorating savvy in repurposing the items for her own unique use.
The most pressing things that required attention, such as bills that needed to be paid, went into the wicker basket on top of the hatbox. She had a system and it worked fine for her—usually.
She had to find that certificate, and not just because it was an important piece of identification. She needed it or there’d be no passport. Without a passport, there’d be no trip to Aruba during midwinter break with her friend Kim.
That was enough inspiration to find the birth certificate, but on top of her trip and her need for official ID for any number of reasons in the future, if she had to admit to her parents that she’d lost it, she’d never hear the end of it.
Sometimes it was painfully obvious she’d been adopted, and she wasn’t talking about her blond hair and blue eyes being the opposite of her father’s dark brown hair and eyes and her mother’s chestnut hair and green eyes.
When it came to her temperament, her interests, her easygoing nature, she couldn’t be more different. She loved her parents to death, but she was nothing like them.
The differences just proved the nature versus nurture debate. She could grow up with parents who had every aspect of their lives planned, organized, and compartmentalized, but somewhere deep in her DNA she carried the genes that made her the opposite of the couple who had raised her.
Usually being a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of girl worked for her. Not today.
This was too much to deal with alone. She needed backup.
Crawling toward her phone, on the floor just past the mess, Phoenix stretched and grabbed the cell before flopping back onto her butt amid the explosion of papers.
Phoenix dialed the number and waited for Kim to pick up.
Bracing for her friend’s displeasure, Phoenix drew in a breath. “We have a problem.”
“What kind of a problem?” The wariness was clear in Kim’s tone.
There was no way around it. She had to ’fess up. “I can’t find my birth certificate.”
“Um, okay. And that’s a problem because . . . ?”
“I need it to get a passport so I can go with you to Aruba.
“You don’t have a passport?” Her friend sounded shocked.
“No, I don’t have a passport. I’ve barely traveled outside of California, never mind leaving the country to go anywhere I needed a passport.” Phoenix sighed.
Kim was missing the point. Her lack of a passport wasn’t as big a problem as her current lack of the proper identification she needed to get a passport.
“Don’t worry about it. You have plenty of time to get a passport. We’re not going away for months.”
“But I read it can take months to get a passport. And that’s not the problem anyway. Didn’t you hear me? The problem is that to apply for a passport I need my birth certificate, which I can’t find. What do I do about my birth certificate?” Phoenix was ready to scream as her frustration mounted.
How could Kim, whom Phoenix knew was an intelligent woman, not understand the enormity of the situation?
“Oh, well, that’s easy. You just have to send away for a duplicate birth certificate.”
“Wait, I can do that?”
Her heart leaped. If what Kim said was true, it would solve everything.
“Yes. Of course you can, silly. Seriously, you think they expect people to be able to hang on to one little piece of paper from birth until death? That’s crazy. Did you think you were the only person in the country ever to lose their birth certificate?”
“No. I guess not.” That concept made Phoenix feel moderately better about the whole situation. Could it really be that easy? It was hard to believe. “You’re sure I can just get a new one?”
“Sure. My mother lost my brother’s. When he got old enough to drive and needed it to get his permit, she just had to apply for a duplicate in the county where he was born. It came in the mail like a week or two later.”
“Wow.” She could do this. Fix her mess without her parents ever knowing. “Wait. I’m not sure what county I was born in. I only know my parents adopted me in Arizona.”
“Just ask your parents.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? Will they care we’re going to Aruba? Aren’t you going to tell them? How are you going to explain your tan?”
“I’m not trying to hide the trip. I’m trying to hide the fact that I lost my birth certificate. My father thinks I’m scatterbrained as it is, and I doubt my mother has ever lost a thing in her life. I’ll have to try to get out of them where I was born somehow . . .”
“Think about it.”
“About what?” She was in no mood for Kim’s guessing games.
Phoenix frowned, not understanding what Kim was hinting at and wishing she’d just come out and say it. “What about my name? A Phoenix is a mythical bird.”
“And it’s also the largest city in Arizona, the state where you were adopted. And it’s in . . . hang on a second . . .Maricopa County. At least it is according to the search I just did online.”
“You think that’s where I was born? Phoenix, Arizona?”
“I think the odds are pretty good. If you really don’t want to ask them, I’d try applying for the duplicate certificate in Maricopa County and see what happens. The worst they can do is say you weren’t born there.”