“I’m sorry, have we met before?” My furrowed eyebrows must’ve been a signal to the woman as to me not knowing who she was, because she lightly chuckled, followed by a round of ugly coughs as she let herself inside.
“Actually yes, yes we have. I was at the hospital the day you were born.” She smiled. She eyed me up and down, as if trying to figure out where all the time has gone since she last saw me, and I saw a hint of sadness behind her weak gaze.
“Cecilia, who’s at the door this-“, my mother froze when her eyes landed on the old woman standing before me.
“Helen? Is that you?” My mother asked, clearly in a state of shock.
“Yes Renee. How are you dear?” She tried to make her smile grow bigger at the sight of my mother, but her face looked far too tired to even speak.
“Um... not to ruin this odd moment, but who is Helen?” I softly asked after several seconds of silence.
Both Helen and my mom laughed. “Cecilia... this is Helen, your Aunt Helen.”
My gaze immediately shifted from my mom to Helen as I took in her appearance once more. Her pasty skin looked as if she hadn’t seen any sunlight in years. She carried an oxygen tank behind her and her shaven head sported a paisley scarf that flowed down the side of her neck on one side.
I noticed her legs begin to wobble. “Please, sit down.” I took her hand and guided her over to the couch.
“Thanks dear.” She softly smiled.
“Helen, why are you here?” My mother calmly asked as she sat down beside me.
“I wanted to make amends on my idiotic brothers behalf. I now know what he’s been up to, and I wanted to come and give my sincerest apologies. I can’t believe he pulled the crap that he did. If I had known how he got the money, I never would’ve accepted it. I’m so sorry.” Her eyes began to water just slightly, as she placed her cold hand against my own.
“He’s gone.” I mumbled, “Forever.”
I frowned at how cold her skin felt.
Helen shook her head, “I can’t believe I’m related to that man. The pain he’s cause you and your brother. I can’t even imagine. I’ll be the first to admit that my brother is indeed a coward.”
“But my, you look so much like your father.” She cooed while softly patting my leg with her hand.
“I do?” I questioned, never having been told that before.
“Why yes! Don’t you see it Renee?” Helen looked at my mother for confirmation and my mom only slightly smiled with a curt nod.
“You do sweetie.” My mom confirmed.
“Helen... I’m sorry that he lied to you. He lied to all of us. You don’t have to beat yourself up over this. I knew from the very beginning that I couldn’t trust him, and I was right all along. All he does is create chaos, and I’m almost happy that he’s out of our lives for good.”
My mom gave me a surprised look at my sudden outburst, but she smiled in approval nonetheless.
Helen’s eyes began to water as she reached over and pulled me in for a weak hug.
“I’m so sorry we never the chance to get to know each other. You see, Michael told me long ago that you all didn’t want anything to do with me. I told him he was crazy, but I didn’t gather up enough courage to just come see you myself. The entire family rather drifted apart. I’m truly sorry for how much our side of the family has hurt you.” After that, she began coughing immediately. Her coughs sounded horrible, like a 65-year-old grown man’s cough.
“Oh Helen! Please, let me get you some water or hot tea!” My mother spoke as she stood up.
“Tea would be lovely dear.” Helen managed to say in between coughs.
“Are you okay Helen?” I asked once she finally controlled her coughing.
“Yes. Don’t you fret about me sweetie. I’ve been sick for a long time, this is just one of the ugly side effects.” She managed to give a small chuckle, and I felt inspired by her strength.
The universe decided she was going to be very ill, yet she somehow remained positive. She didn’t falter or appear to be in a state of self-loathing or self-pity. She accepted her illness and came out stronger because of it. She wore her headscarf with pride and I even noticed that she bedazzled her oxygen tank. She was a picture of bad health, but she never once let her personality subside, like everything else had.
“I wish we had a real chance at a relationship before you became sick. Now I feel like we don’t have any time to get to know each other.” I frowned as my fingers began to fidget against my lap.
“Fidgeting... just like Michael.” She smiled, “Cecilia, you may not feel this way, but to me you’ve been my niece for your entire life. I’ve always seen myself as your Aunt. We may not have ever spent time together, but we’re still blood. That’ll never change.” She smiled as she placed her gentle hands over my fidgeting ones.
I nodded and pulled her in for another hug.
“Just please promise me we’ll see each other again, you know, before anything bad happens.” I apologetically smiled.
“Trust me, you haven’t seen the last of good ol’ Helen dear. I’ll be around for a bit longer. I still have yet to see little Brody. Is he here?” She perked up at her own mention of him, and I tried my best to smile, though it didn’t work.
“Yes, he’s here, but he’s asleep right now. He just found out everything that happened with Michael, so he’s a little upset about it.” I frowned.
“Oh no... that poor child. It’s such a shame that the older you kids get, the harder it is to protect you from the disappointments of the world.” She sighed as my mother returned with three glasses of hot tea.
“I second that.” My mom stated as she handed us our drinks.
Helen took a sip and sighed contently. “Delicious.”
“I added a teaspoon of honey, to help sooth your throat.” My mom smiled.
“Wonderful. I already feel better!” She cheered as she shot me a grin, to which I returned.
After an hour of drinking tea and looking at old photo-albums, Helen decided it was time for her to head home. She went to call a cab, but I insisted on driving her home.
After I dropped Helen off, I pulled back into my driveway and noticed Layla’s car parked out front.
When I got out of the car and shut the door, Layla instantly came into view.
We both just stood there, a few feet apart, not saying a single word.
As soon as the liquid began to form around my eyes, we sprung towards each other and Layla hugged me tightly.
“Cecilia... I don’t even know what to say. Eric told me everything.” She softly spoke, “I’m sorry I missed your phone call earlier, I was in the shower at the time and when I called you back you didn’t answer.”
“Thank you for coming to see me.” I mumbled.
“I know there’s nothing I can do to make you feel better. All I know is that it does get better. It does take a while, and sometimes the end seems like a lifetime away, but the pain does eventually subside.”
I know Layla spoke from a knowing place. Her dad’s absence in her life was sudden, and not wanted, but she still knew what it felt like to lose someone that should’ve been your entire world. I smiled knowing that I had her and Eric in my life to help me through this.
“It’s just... I wondered all my life why I was never good enough. Then he comes back into my life in an instant and suddenly all of my insecurities were out on the table again for him to grab and manipulate. Just when I thought things were going to finally be okay, he switches it up again. He would rather disappear than be a father to Brody and me.” I managed to say.
“No, Cecilia. He doesn’t get to do that to you. You’re not worthless, and you and Brody are enough. He just couldn’t see it, or maybe he did, he just wasn’t man enough to admit it.” Layla sighed while leaning against her car.
“I know you feel like you’re nothing and that you were nothing to him, and maybe you were nothing to him.” I slightly cringed at her words, “But you’re so much more to a lot of people, Cecil. Even Eric.” She quickly added, which made me slightly smile.
“Really?” I asked.
“Absolutely.” She smiled.
“Thank you. You’re the greatest friend that I’ve ever had!” I laughed.
“As it should be!” She smirked.
That’s when I heard someone clear their throat.
I jumped and turned around, my eyes meeting my mother’s.
“Need something mom?” I asked.
“Yes actually, it’s passed your curfew. Enough with these shenanigans.” My mom sighed, “I’m ready for bed so let’s move.” She urged, holding the front door open.
“Alright, alright. Sheesh.” I mumbled.
“Goodnight Layla!” My mom announced as she turned around and headed towards her bedroom.
“Goodnight Renee!” Layla responded while heading towards the door to her car and pulling it open.
“See you!” I shouted towards Layla as I entered my house.
“You got it!” Layla shouted back, before shutting her car door and heading home.
My mom was still standing in the living room with a smile on her face. It almost startled me.
“So, does this mean you are speaking to Eric again too?” My mother asked.
“Well, I mean not really.” I sighed.
“Oh come on, give me the juicy deets!” My mother grinned.
“There are no deets! We’ve talked, he’s given his apologies and I told him that I needed time. That’s it. We aren’t back together or anything, we’re just taking things very slow. We’re going to eventually become friends again and whatever happens after that, happens.” I shrugged.
“Hm, well alright. Goodnight.” My mom smiled as she left the living room and went to bed.
“Goodnight.” I sighed, knowing that my mom was not going to leave this subject alone for a while.
Knowing my mom, she’ll save all her interrogating for lunch tomorrow.
My mom also invited Aunt Helen out for lunch tomorrow.
Tomorrow is going to be a long day.
First, a disappearance in the family tree, and then the daughter’s love life to gawk over.
I’m sure this lunch will go along just swimmingly.