Both ladies buzzed with excitement as they left the hospital and drove to Colfax County Airport. Alex used one of the several connections she made throughout the years in the Bureau and got themselves an executive jet. Not only will they get home in style, but it’ll save them at least an hour compared to an economy flight. Gina wanted to say goodbye to Veronica, but Doctor Mohammad honored Alex’s request and said she had been moved to another wing for further testing. The most she could do was hand the nurse a written note to give to her as soon as she wakes up.
Three hours in the air gave Gina time to think. Was this a good idea? It seemed insane, chasing after a person she hadn’t seen in years because of a supernatural theory. Imaginary? Perhaps. Also, going home without giving her folks a call or writing a letter. Will they get offended? How will they react to the reason for her unexpected return? Then again, they didn’t want her to leave in the first place. She may wind up being praised like the prodigal son. Either way, this hunch was too coincidental to ignore. If her theory on the pastor turns out to be far-fetched, she at least owed him a thank you.
For someone who was supposed to be on vacation, Alex stayed on the phone half the time, laying out instructions for her team as if she was still on the job. She’s the type who’ll get upset if something big had happened during her absence. Like her sister, Alex had no life at home either. Being on the field is what lit a fire inside of her. She lived for danger and excitement and only went home to sleep.
As the jet lowered from the clouds, Gina got goosebumps catching a view of the Manhattan skyline. Doubt had instantly been replaced with excitement, that feeling she used to get when coming home for a weekend pass from the academy. Even if the reason for this trip sounded ludicrous, it never felt more right.
Alex had her Forest Green Honda parked in the hangar of LaGuardia airport. Gina offered to pay for gas and tolls, but the insistent agent wouldn’t hear of it. Business, as usual, was the facade Alex wore on the outside. Deep inside, however, she was so excited to finally have her big sister back home.
Forty-five-minutes into the drive, it was mostly quiet. Conversations stayed at a minimum. Gina spent most of the trip going down memory lane, passing neighborhoods she played at as a kid and remembering the streets she used to patrol as a cop. Not wanting to overwhelm her, Alex did most of the talking and tried to keep Gina as calm as possible.
For Gina, however, settling her nerves became more difficult than imagined. She hasn’t seen her mother in years. How will she react? Has Alex even told her yet? Coming home was long overdue. Paul had no problem moving on with his life, even though it took him months to recover. How long will it take for her to climb out of the hole of guilt and punishment she buried herself in?
Entering Westchester County, Gina looked perplexed. “What are we doing here? Got lost in the Bronx?”
“Oh, silly me!” Alex said, tapping her forehead. “Forgot to tell you: Mom and Dad sold the house a couple of years ago. They no longer needed so many rooms, ya know? That’s what they say.”
“Did they move into an apartment?” Gina asked. “They bought a two-story townhouse up in Yonkers.” “Doesn’t that have many rooms?”
“Yes,” Alex laughed. “But they planned to rent out the bottom half for extra money. Also, Daddy wanted to handle the repairs, just to give himself something to do. Retirement can bring boring days at times.”
Once they arrived, Gina noticed some contrast between the new
neighborhood and their previous residence: quieter streets, steep hills, a lot more trees, and hardly any buildings. “How ya holdin’ up?” asked Alex as she parked in the driveway. Gina just nodded. “They’re not going to cook you and eat you. Mom’s gonna be gleaming once you walk through that door. You don’t have to tell her why you came back, just as long as you’re back. They’re going to be ecstatic! Can’t you see that?”
“I can’t,” Gina doubted. “I left because I was too afraid to face my problems like an adult. Damn...when was the last time I called to wish them a merry Christmas? What kind of person does that?”
“The human kind.”
“They must still have reservations about what I’ve done.”
“They don’t. From the moment you left, they prayed for two things: for you to find inner peace and for their days to feel like hours until our family is whole again. And here we are. Together.” At that moment, Gina forgot that Alex was the younger sister.
The ladies weren’t halfway out of the car before a skinny and much older gentleman with thin strands of slicked gray hair ran out to the front yard and hollered, “Mi niña! Mi niña, te Quiero!” Immediately, Gina knew it was her father, Raul Vasquez. She sprinted across the lawn towards him. Raul lifted her off the ground, giving her a tight hug. Alex laughed at seeing Gina being ragdolled from side-to-side. He then scooped up Alex and bear-hugged both
of them until they couldn’t breathe. This is the most energetic Raul had felt
in years, having his family back together. He excitedly ushered his daughters through the back entrance of the house and waiting by the door was an emotional Sienna Vasquez.
Gina felt such an ache in her chest. She couldn’t control her breathing. “Mom!” she called out, running to her like a marathon runner approaching the finish line. Sienna nearly squeezed the air out of her daughter’s body, repeatedly tapping her red hair to make sure it was her. She then waved Alex over and
the ladies shared a warm group hug. Raul, acting poised, walked over and smothered the most important women in his life. A small tear rolled down his face.
While Gina, Alex, and Raul settled down in the living room, Sienna had
just finished creating a masterful ‘welcome home’ dinner for her family: Shrimp
Jambalaya with sausage, red rice, Caesar’s salad, freshly-squeezed lemonade to
drink and Flan for dessert. Safe to say everyone will sleep good tonight.
Raul had a photo album on his lap, thumbing through earlier pictures of his daughters as children. He pulled out the ones with their funny looking outfits and outdated hairstyles. Gina hadn’t laughed this much in years. Raul didn’t know much English, so Gina and Alex spoke to him in Spanish to keep the conversation going.
(Translated from Spanish to English:)
“Ah, Daddy! I wish you would’ve left these pictures in the attic of the old house,” Gina said still chuckling, “I still remember all the fights I had in school because of those damn pigtails!”
“Yes-yes-yes!” Alex laughed to the point of losing her breath, “They used to call you the lil’ Wendy’s girl!!”
“Figures you would remember that!”
“I also remember the beat down you put on those boys for all their heckling. They used to always run home crying for their mamas! Even the Kindergarteners cracked up!” Gina and Alex laughed together.
Wiping the tears from his eyes and slowing down his laughter, Raul said, “Gina, you always liked to fight, such a tough cookie. But pigtails or not, you still look like an angel to me.”
“Aww thank you, Daddy,” Gina leaned over and gave her father a peck on the cheek. “That’s your fault, by the way. All of my fighting talents came from you.” Raul laughed in agreement.
“And daddy’s little girl became daddy’s little knockout,” added Alex.
Before having a career in the postal service, Raul Vasquez fought as a professional boxer, with a record of 46 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw. His accolades include five world championships in four weight classes and had never been KO’d. He never became a marquee prizefighter, but there was never a worry about winding up in the poor house.
Although he equally loved both his daughters, a special bond existed
between him and Gina. While Alex was a baby, Raul would take a four-year- old Gina to watch live boxing at Madison Square Garden. Fellow boxers kept her entertained while Raul recited his workout routine. They also played soccer together in the park after school, birthing Gina’s athletic and gritty persona.
Alex became analytical and studious like her mother. While too young to take part in their father-daughter outings, Alex spent plenty of time in her mother’s office, drawing on the pages of law books while Sienna examined court cases. They also took morning dips in the Van Cortlandt Park pool and spent some afternoons at the library.
Seeing her mother rise to great heights in the Judicial system, Gina steered
away from athletics and switched her focus toward law enforcement. The duo then became a trio as the ladies would share their growth and awesome experiences. Raul was proud to contribute to the growth of his daughters becoming strong and able women.
Sienna set the table as if she planned an elegant banquet. Like so many times in the past, she stood by the kitchen door and called out, “Food’s ready!” In came her family, running to the dining room like kids at recess. Raul and Sienna sat at the ends of the table while Gina and Alex sat at the sides. As tempting as it was to devour the delicious food placed in front of their eyes, nobody made a move until they said grace.
Joining hands, the Vasquez family bowed their heads as Sienna spoke in prayer. “What we’re most thankful for is to share this meal as a family. And thank you for bringing my baby home.” Gina smiled. “Amen.”
Silverware clanged against the plates as they ate, drank, talked and laughed like a normal family once again. Gina ate more than her stomach could handle, asking for second and third helpings. She even licked the garlic breadcrumbs stuck on her fingertips. Alex had her fair share of food, but saved room for the tasty dessert waiting in the fridge.
Sienna hardly touched her plate. Although grateful to have Gina back home, something else was on her mind. She then stared out at the stars outside the window. Just staring. Expressionless. Then the light touch of Alex’s hand brought her back. Sienna smiled and rejoined the conversation.