Junior came home to stay. With the help of a private tutor he had passed the last of his bar exams and graduated successfully, albeit toward the bottom of his class. Class ranking, grades, and tests would no longer comprise the slightest fragment of his life. He would work alongside his father at the firm, become a partner, eventually the senior partner, and someday inherit the family business. He would care for his sister Denise and her baby until she married, even after she married if necessary. These “certainties” were his future. He and his father had discussed them on numerous occasions and both were in complete agreement on all of it.
Albert Bennett Jr. was not as smart as his father, but he was a determined plodder. What he lacked in intellect he made up for in charm and good looks. Junior took after his mother who had been beautiful. He stood over six feet tall, trim and fit, with broad shoulders and a head full of dark, wavy hair.
“Hello, mutton head,” he said, hugging Denise affectionately. “I hear you’ve been up to no good.” His eyes twinkled with good cheer and his smile was dazzling. He reminded Eva of Rafael. “Do we have a little Albert III growing in there?” He patted her tummy impishly.
“Cut it out, Al,” said, Denise, playfully slapping his arm away.
“And,” he said, broadening the mischievous grin, “this must be the lovely and amazing Eva I’ve heard so much about. How do you do? I’m Albert. You can call me Junior.” He extended his hand. Identifying his glances of approval and desire, Eva was pleased. “I’m fine, thank you,” she said, accepting the handshake.
“You certainly are,” he said, winking.
In honor of his homecoming, Teresa served the family Junior’s favorite dinner: prime rib, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, buttermilk biscuits, and chocolate cake for dessert. Most of the dinner conversation revolved around Junior and his latest law school escapades, but Denise did answer an occasional question about how she was feeling and how she missed going to school and seeing her friends (but it was all worth it, she hastened to add). No one asked about Jerry, and Denise never mentioned his name either. If the baby were a boy, she said, she was going to name him Albert, and if it were a girl, she would name her Eva. Eva was flattered and she looked toward the head of the table where Albert Sr. sat nodding his head with approval.
Teresa cleared the entrée dishes and brought the cake and coffee and the bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream at Albert Sr.’s direction. He cleared his throat and said, “Everyone grab a glass, I have a few toasts I want to make. Teresa, come out here and join us,” he yelled in the direction of the kitchen.
“This is a momentous day for everyone in this entire family,” he said, raising his glass. “My son is now a full-fledged law-school graduate and soon-to-be licensed attorney, my daughter is a soon-to-be brand new mommy, and I’m,” he beamed with pride, “a soon-to-be new grandfather and,” he paused, looking around for dramatic effect, “a new husband.”
“Husband?” said Denise, shocked.
“That’s right,” he said, raising his glass higher, “I’m honored to announce that Eva has consented to become Mrs. Eva Bennett, my wife.”
“Oh, my God!” Denise cried, putting her napkin over her open mouth. “I knew it! I knew something was going on between you two. This is incredible!”
“What?” said Junior, cackling. “You’re not serious, right?”
Eva smiled at Albert Sr., raised her glass toward him, and said, “I told your father that it would be my honor to become the next Mrs. Bennett.”
Junior looked at Teresa Mendez who was looking back at him. They were both stunned beyond comment. Eva watched Junior drain his glass and immediately pour another. Teresa stood and scurried out of the dining room mumbling something about “needing to start the dishes.”
“Congratulations, DD!” yelled Denise, throwing Eva a kiss from across the table. “Oh, this is so romantic!” she gushed.
“Thanks, Denny,” said Albert Sr., carefully studying his son’s reaction. “Your turn to congratulate me, son,”
Junior put his glass on the table. His face was ashen. He looked from his father to Eva and back again. “It’s just so sudden, unexpected,” he said quietly. “You never mentioned a word about this on the phone.”
“Eva only agreed a few days ago,” he explained, winking at Denise.
“Even so, Dad,” he said, clearing his throat, “you might have given a guy some warning. This is a huge step in your life—hell, in all of our lives. This is a shock to say the least, I don’t mind telling you.” He looked across the table at Eva with a frosty expression.
“Your father wanted to surprise you,” Eva said graciously.
“Harrumph, well, he certainly did that.” He put the glass to his lips and drank deeply.
Albert Sr. eyed his son cagily. “Our marriage changes nothing as far our plans for you are concerned. You do understand that, don’t you?”
“Sure, Dad, sure,” he said too quickly. “I know.” He stood up. “Listen would you excuse me; I’ve got some phone calls I need to make. You know, touch base with some buddies now that I’m back. Eva,” he said, bowing slightly, “it looks as though we’ll be seeing a great deal of each other.” Turning, he strode from the room and headed for the stairway.
At the doorway he suddenly turned and said to Eva, “I don’t have to call you Mommy do I?”
Eva shot Albert Sr. an embarrassed look.
“If you’re trying to be funny, you’ve failed,” his father said sternly.
“You’re right, Dad,” he answered, directly challenging his father’s accusing eyes. “It’s not funny at all.” He promptly walked away.
Denise looked at her father and then Eva. Remaining mute, she took another bite of her chocolate cake and smoothed the napkin in her lap.
“Don’t worry, Eva,” Albert Sr. said, pouring himself more coffee. “I’ll find out what’s eating him. He’ll come around, you’ll see.”
Eva smiled faintly and sipped her drink. I’m not so sure about that, she thought glumly.