Ruben was quietly eating his lunch in his office, his mind drifting back to his conversation with Amy last Thursday and his dream about a more innocent, carefree Adrian. I've always regretted not being there for my daughter and there's nothing I can do to get those sixteen years back. All I can do is be a better man now. As for Amy, I don't even know how to begin apologizing to her. Maybe I shouldn't yet. Maybe I need to get my own house in order first. He didn't have any more cases that afternoon and the paperwork in his inbox didn't technically need to be filed until the middle of next week. He buzzed Julia.
"Yes, Mr. Enriquez?"
"Julia, I'm taking a personal day. Please forward all of my calls to my voicemail."
"Yes, Mr. Enriquez." Collecting his briefcase, Ruben headed home. Cindy was home for the next week and they had been having family dinners each night, taking advantage of this break in her schedule. She was in the kitchen having lunch herself when Ruben came in. She smiled and greeted her husband with a kiss.
"What are you doing home so early?"
"Oh? Rough case?"
"No," he said, loosening his tie, removing his suit jacket and joining her at the kitchen table.
"So then what's on your mind?" Ruben looked at his wife, not sure how to say what he wanted to say and so he opted for the upfront approach. Let's just rip off the Band-Aid and deal with it.
"Our family's mistakes and bad decisions." That got Cindy's attention and she dropped the sandwich she had been holding moments ago to stare at her husband, not sure she'd heard him correctly.
"Excuse me!?" Ruben rubbed the back of his neck in an attempt to ease some of the tension building there and continued looking at his wife.
"Last Thursday Amy Juergens came to see me; she scheduled an appointment and everything." Cindy's eyes got wide, filled with surprise and just a little bit of panic.
"What did she want to talk to you about, or are you not allowed to tell me?"
"It was a personal matter and it concerns our family so yes, I can tell you. She came to ask me some questions about the three of us." Now Cindy was curious and on the defensive. She knew she hadn't made the best choices in life but she wasn't about to let anyone talk down about her because of it.
"What kind of questions?"
"Well, for starters, she wanted to know why we bought a house next door to a girl we knew our daughter didn't get along with and a man you had had an affair with." Cindy chocked on the iced tea she had ben sipping. Ruben patted her on the back until she could speak again.
"She WHAT!?" Cindy asked, more surprised than upset.
"Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction, and I didn't have a good enough explanation for why we did either of those things. All I told her was that we had hoped she and Adrian would work out their differences on their own and that since the affair had ended and everyone had moved on, we didn't see a problem living next door to George."
"So she's still holding some kind of grudge against us?"
"No." Cindy looked at him confused. Ruben had been dissecting his conversation with Amy and realized something. "Amy was just trying to figure out if she could trust her next door neighbors or if we had intentionally set out to make her life more difficult."
"Wait, how exactly does she figure we made her life more difficult?"
"Cindy, did you ever stop to think about how Anne might feel about having you as a next door neighbor?" Cindy blanched for a moment. Honestly the thought had never occurred to her and she shook her head. "Well apparently Amy had to watch her mother's reaction as she occasionally crossed paths with the 'other woman' that helped end her marriage." Ruben could see that Cindy was about to defend herself and he put up his hand, motioning for her to stay quiet. "Amy only said that you played a role, she doesn't blame you for her parent's divorce. And honestly I never thought about it either. I was so focused on making sure Adrian and Amy got along for John and Ricky's sake that I forgot about Anne and Ashley. They were affected by the affair and divorce too and by buying the house we were subtly but constantly reminding them about it." Shame washed over Cindy's face and she sighed.
"I knew he was married before we began the affair. It was just nice to have someone to talk to and have around who was also funny with a kind of sarcastic wit that I could relate to." She sighed and stared at her plate. "I didn't really think it through when we bought the house I guess. I just really wanted to give Adrian the house and family that she'd always wanted." Ruben nodded and placed his hand over Cindy's on the table. "I didn't think it through either." They continued to sit like that for a moment before Cindy decided to continue eating her lunch and thinking about what Ruben had just told her. He let her finish her sandwich in silence and waited until she'd risen to take her dishes to the sink before he spoke again.
"Amy also asked me a couple of questions about Adrian." Cindy sighed, already knowing where this was going. Yes, her daughter slept around and yes, her relationship with Ricky was always been a back and forth one.
"What did Amy have to say?"
"She wanted to know if we were aware of how much Adrian picked at her." Cindy chuckled.
"Is that all? Ruben, we both know our daughter is strong willed and speaks her mind. Those things aside, teenagers tease each other and they have to learn to stand up for themselves sometime." She began rinsing her dishes and placing them in the dishwasher.
"This was different Cindy." At Ruben's quiet tone Cindy stilled and turned to face her husband.
"What do you mean?"
"Teasing involves name calling and nitpicking. Adrian was trying to remove Amy from her and Ricky's lives by trying to create tension between Amy and Ricky."
"What are you talking about Ruben?" Cindy asked a little too aggressively. She and Adrian may have had a rocky relationship up until recently and she wasn't up for the Mother of the Year award any time soon but she wasn't going to let someone bad mouth her child. Ruben sighed and hung his head and Cindy's heartbeat suddenly sped up at her husband's dejected form. This isn't good.
"Our daughter occasionally implied to Amy that she would someday replace her as John's mother and then raise him with Ricky simply because she was willing to have sex with him and Amy wasn't. Do you call that harmless teasing?" Ruben asked his wife without turning in his chair to face her.
"She said WHAT!?" Cindy asked in disbelief. How could a child of mine be that cruel and heartless! Cindy thought back to the day she had been called into Mr. Molina's office about Adrian's behavior and she had admitted to her daughter, for the first time, that she loved Adrian more than she realized. She imagined how she would've felt if some woman had told her that she couldn't be Adrian's mother simply because she wasn't willing to put out to her child's father.
"I honestly don't know where she got that idea but the moment Amy told me that I was severely disappointed in our daughter."
"Huh?" Cindy hadn't heard Ruben, lost in her own train of thought.
"Well aren't you, Cindy? Our daughter took it upon herself to verbally abuse a girl she didn't even know simply because she had gotten pregnant by our daughter's boyfriend before our daughter started dating him."
"It wasn't fair!" Cindy and Ruben both turned towards the stairs to see their daughter standing there, angry and in tears. They were unaware that Adrian had come downstairs for a snack and decided to sit just behind the wall and listen to them.
"What wasn't fair, Adrian," her father asked her.
"Ricky hooked up with her one time and she got his attention just because she got herself knocked up!" Cindy knew part of this little outburst was due to her daughter's pregnancy hormones but after hearing what Ruben had to say to her, she had had enough and decided some tough love was needed here.
"Oh? And how is that any different from your current situation? You got knocked up after having sex with a guy one time. Does that mean you shouldn't get any of Ben's concern or attention just because he's dating Amy and it's not fair to her now?"
"How can you take her side! You're my mother!"
"And as your mother I'm telling you to grow up!" Adrian and Ruben both stared at Cindy in shock. Ouch Ruben thought, but wisely kept silent. "Adrian, you're about to become a mother. You decided to keep your baby and that means your entire world is about to change several months from now and it's time you changed your attitude as well." Adrian just glared at her mother. Cindy motioned for Adrian to have a seat and her expression told her not to argue about it. Adrian plopped down in one of the kitchen chairs and continued glaring at her mother. Cindy continued to glare back.
"When did Ricky and Amy first have sex?" Adrian raised an eyebrow but answered her mother's question.
"The summer before our sophomore year."
"Were the two of you together yet?"
"Did you know Amy was pregnant with Ricky's baby before you two become an official couple?"
"Well, yeah but…"
"Do you think Ben should help you take care of your baby?"
"Of course but..."
"Then you had no reason to try to mess with Amy and you still don't."
"Huh?" Adrian wasn't following her mother's line of questioning and Ruben looked just as confused.
"What happened between Amy and Ricky happened before you met him. You also feel that the father of a baby should help that baby's mother so you shouldn't have been surprised when Ricky stepped up to take care of his son and that required him to spend time with his son's mother. If you knew Ricky was going to be spending time with Amy and that bothered you, you should've just broken up with him. Now that you're going to be a mother yourself soon, how would you react is someone told you they would be able to replace you simply because they were willing to put out for Ben?"
"Oh? How so?"
"Ben's not Ricky!"
"Ben's a good guy. He's not gonna ditch me the second some loose girl comes along."
"You were so sure Ricky would ditch Amy for you." Adrian was shocked that her mother just called her a loose girl. Cindy saw Adrian's expression and cut her off.
"Don't even try it. We've both slept around in the past and treated sex like a means to an end. We were both slutty in the past but we don't have to continue that pattern; we just have to realize that a bad reputation's hard to shake." Adrian had nothing to say to that. "Now, I don't know what else you've said to Amy in the past or what else you simply implied but trying to find ways to hurt and demean her just because you were jealous of her wasn't the way to handle it. And before you try to lecture me for lecturing you, we've had this talk already, and I'll fill you in on it later Ruben." He looked at her, clearly lost. Cindy was on a roll and seemed to be getting through to Arian so he kept quiet. "I know I wasn't the kind of mother you needed or deserved and that's on me, period. I also know that if you're willing to put in the time and effort to change, you can. Just look at your father and I. We were young and foolish in high school and, if we're honest here, neither one of us was the parent to you we should've been. We decided to change that when we started dating and that means we're not gonna allow you to continue destructive behavior. So until Amy contacts you, stay away from the Juergens family. No phone calls, texts, emails, getting information about them from other friends or third parties, and no going over to their house unless Amy invites you. Are we clear?" Adrian nodded her head, unable to find words to respond to her mother verbally. Grabbing a pack of apples slices from the fridge, she returned to her room silently.
Cindy sat at the table in a huff and ran a hand through her hair. Ruben just stared at his wife in awe and placed his hand over her other one. She turned to look at him and some of her anger dissipated when she saw the love in his eyes.
"I'm sorry I didn't fight harder to stay in your life." Cindy placed her free hand over his.
"I didn't let you and honestly, back then, I was too embarrassed and strong willed to have let you."
"And now?" Cindy smiled and leaned in to give her husband a kiss.
"And now I won't let you leave without a fight. I never stopped loving you, Ruben, and I'm glad we found our way back to each other." She sighed and hung her head for a moment. "I just wish our daughter hadn't gotten hurt in the process." They shared a look of understanding and then Ruben took her hand and led her into the living room. They sat on the couch cuddling and thinking about the regrets in their lives.
Adrian was in her room trying her best to stop her tears from falling as she thought about the past two school years. She and Ricky were a lot alike. They both had less than normal childhoods, although, his had been far more violent; they both had enough emotional baggage to fill an airport; they both enjoyed sex; and they both used sex, like her mother had said, as a means to an end. But somewhere in her and Ricky's back and forth she'd fallen in love with him, and she knew, without a doubt, that at least at one time he had cared about her. She thought back to the day she and Ricky had broken up for good and cried a little harder, their conversation seared into her memory.
"…you shouldn't have kissed Amy
"No, I shouldn't have. And you shouldn't have slept with Ben. But we were over before then. Anything we had going was over the first time I cheated on you. I don't know a lot about love but…I'm pretty sure if a man loves a woman, really loves her, he doesn't cheat on her."
"But I cheated on you too."
"Yeah you did. And I'm pretty sure that when a woman loves a man she doesn't cheat on him."
"You know what let's just…forget all that and start over."
"I don't want to forget all that. I don't wanna start over I just wanna end this. And, I'm ending it. You don't love me, Adrian and I don't love you."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't."
"No, come on, Ricky. I know you love me and I love you. Don't run away from me."
"I'm not running away from anything. I might be leaving at some point but I'm not running away I'm just facing the truth. And the truth is, Adrian, you and I cannot trust each other. You don't make a good girlfriend. I don't make a good boyfriend and someday I wanna be a good husband and good father. And this… you and me, this 'relationship' that's not the way to become a good husband and good father so…I'll see you around."
"Is this about Amy?"
"No, this is about me."
Adrian buried her face in her pillow and cried. She was jealous of Amy because she realized, long before Ricky did, that Amy held the key to his heart. He even confirmed it during the conversation she had with him shortly before Amy came home.
"Ricky, I know you. And I accept who you are, unlike Amy. She is never gonna understand you the way I understand you."
"Good, I'm glad alright. I don't want her to accept me or understand me. I want her to change me."
"No one can change you, Ricky."
"And no one can change you."
She knew Ricky well enough to know that deep down he was a good guy. What hurt was that he had never been willing to be a good guy for her. Was I ever really the girl that Ricky wanted? Why was I never good enough for him? Why does it still hurt?