As soon as I walked into the house I grew up in I felt so at home. The dark mahogany wood tones in furniture and wood flooring hadn’t changed a bit since I was a child. Elegant furniture with red upholstery, golden accent pillows rounded off the classic rich Italian family home look.
But the smell that hit my nose nearly brought tears to my eyes and made my stomach rumble with anticipation instantly. I followed my nose after dropping off my coat and purse by the door in the closet.
Angelina danced around in the kitchen singing some song about a shark to baby Daniel who wasn’t a baby and followed her around on his feet. He was nearly two now. He was so big and such a happy baby.
“Danny! Is that my little man?!” I surprised him and he nearly dropped his sippy cup on the floor. His eyes grew wide as he saw me and Neil coming into the kitchen.
“Lo-Lo! Nee!” He had given us both shorter versions of our own names while he learned to speak and melted my heart. Deep down I wanted a hundred babies and I wanted them all to look like tiny Neils’ just like Daniel looked like a tiny Alex.
I scooped him up in my arms and kissed his fat little neck until he laughed hysterically. When I slowed down Neil came up from behind and tickled his feet. He flung his head back, screaming with giggles. It was music to my ears. It helped me forget who we were missing tonight.
“Gray Sullivan, good to see you.” Gray came around the corner and shook hands with Neil. I put down Daniel and took him in for a big bear hug. He was warm and smelled of faint whiskey, telling me he had been here a while probably talking with my oldest brother.
“It’s good to see you, honey. How was Bora Bora?” I was taken aback, I thought he didn’t know about the trip. Alex must have told him, right?
“Just wonderful, we didn’t want to leave. We actually stalled an extra week so Neil could buy some property.” He gave a proud nod to Neil on his endeavors when the man of the hour joined us.
He looked tired but no more than he ever had after a long day at work. His tie gone now, button-up shirt half undone, untucked from his dress pants. Much like how Neil came home most nights. His five o'clock shadow long expired now that it was nearly eight at night.
“Hey, little chick.” My heart warmed as he gave me a tight hug. I kissed his cheek and took the glass of wine Angelina had poured for me. I would surely be needing this tonight. Everything in me just wanted to tell him what I knew but the wine kept me quiet. For now.
As we all sat at the table and passed platters and bowls filled with warm, aromatic foods around in a circle to fill our plates when the questioning started.
“What did you guys do? I’ve never been there! It sounds so lovely though. Warm weather and sunshine!” Angelina had been dreaming of vacation now that Danny was old enough to stay with family longer than a night or two at a time. I had offered when we got back and settled I could take him for a week or so, so she and Alex could escape.
“I learned to surf, this girl named Hommoney taught me. She competes to earn money. She’s so good. She took me to all the local restaurants and shops.” Gray’s eyes shot up to mine when I mentioned the competitions so I carried on the story. “There weren’t any competitions when we were there though so I didn’t get to see her compete, unfortunately. It would have been awesome I’m sure.” I had assumed Howie didn’t tell Gray I had found him so I had to keep things hush until he told me otherwise.
“Sounds relaxing. You definitely deserved it.” Gray paused his drinking to mention.
I nodded and sat back hoping the conversation would naturally gravitate to something else.
“Getting back in the office soon?” Alex would bring up work. He had been keeping an eye on things for me since Gwen took over for me while I was gone. She was a young accountant I hired and trained last summer to help around the office when I had taken on some side projects of my own. She was doing fabulous.
“Yes, I’ll be back in the office tomorrow morning.” I kept my answer short and picked at my food. The wine was spinning in my stomach like a washing machine but I couldn’t make myself eat suddenly.
The conversation drifted off to redecorating a few rooms in the house and ultimately choosing which room Daniel would take once he outgrew the nursery.
“I was thinking it might be time to take care of Howie’s things.” Alex didn’t know how heavy the silence that blanketed dinner would be. No one else spoke but everyone stole a glance between me and Alex. I laid down my fork and tried to find something civil to say. “It’s been a year, we can’t shrine it forever. We didn’t even keep all dad’s things this long.” Alex refilled his wine glass waiting for a response.
Just like that, the pin was pulled and the grenade exploded. I couldn’t stop the hot angry tears that sprang to my eyes. A combination of keeping the secret from him, him mentioning dad’s things that I never got to help go through because Johnathan wouldn’t let me go home that weekend.
“I don’t think it’s time yet Alex-,” His fist met the table, a dampened sign of frustration.
“Yes, it is Loreina. It’s certainly time. It’s time for you to move on and stop idolizing the dead.” He didn’t mean it the way it came out and I knew that but I definitely took it that way.
“You think I’m idolizing Dad? Howie? Johnathan? No Alex it’s called trauma sustained from years of abuse and mind fucking, watching a man I falsely loved kill my brother and continuing to run a business that killed my father. Thank you, excuse me.” I stood and the chair raked across the hardwood floor causing a loud screech to echo through the halls. I walked off to the kitchen to cool off.
“Neil, is she alright? She’s different now since you got back from vacation. I thought she was dealing better with all this. I know I’m a bit of an asshole but I do still worry about her.” Neil sighed and stroked his beard looking for the right words.
“I’ve never met the Loreina who didn’t have the dark cloud named Johnathan over her head. I do know she’s still hurting about Howie. Maybe this is Lo without those two men in her life?” Alex just sighed and took a long sip of wine.
Angelina and Gray had kept a low conversation amongst themselves with Danny until Gray excused himself to the kitchen to check on me.
“Hey… Come here.” Gray startled me as I checked my phone for any sign of contact from my brother worlds away.
I gladly accepted the hug and just relaxed into his arms. This was the closest thing I had to a father left. I just couldn’t help but wonder why he hadn’t told me about Howie, it made me feel betrayed.
“Gray,” I searched for the confidence and the words to confront him but they escaped me. He pulled away from our embrace to look into my eyes, waiting for my pending question. “Thank you. For still being in our lives, it means a lot to me.” He grinned wide and kissed my forehead, silently telling me it’s his honor.
“I should go apologies to Alex.” As I turned to head back to the kitchen Neil stood in the doorway. I didn’t know if he had heard me nearly dare Gray to tell me the truth.
“Danny is getting fussy, I think we should call it a night.” I agreed, hearing him scream from the other room.
I found them in the nursery with the loud little boy who was currently fighting putting on pajamas. He was strong and liked to slap.
“I think we’re going to head out so you guys can get him settled in for the night.” Angelina nodded and managed to wrangle the slippery baby into his one-piece sleepsuit. She zipped him quickly and buttoned down the zipper before he could escape a second time.
“It was so good to see you, darling. Come by more often, yeah? We need to catch up.” I agreed, her genuine kindness radiated off of her even after a frustrating toddler kicked her butt.
Alex was fixing the sheets in the crib when I approached him. I didn’t know what to say after saying such dramatic things at dinner. So he spoke for us both.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up at dinner in front of so many people. It’s something you and I should have discussed alone.” He leaned in and kissed my cheek, taking my hands in his. “I want you to know you can come by or call whenever you need to talk. There’s no time limit on healing and I didn’t mean to imply that. We’ve always told each other our secrets, I don’t know why we would ever stop.” I blinked the straggling tear away and swallowed the shame that bubbled up over it.
“Of course I will.” It felt like a lie. I know I would tell him. I had to. One day in front of this man and I was already losing my sanity. I don’t know how long I’d be able to keep my damn mouth shut.