Chapter 74: As Time Goes - JR JR
“Thank you for staying with me.” Izzie’s head was on my chest.
We had both been awake for a while, but lacked the desire to start our day.
“Like I’d leave you.” My hand wandered up and down her back.
“There’s no telling when your parents will show up and –“
“I’ll never leave you upset.” I kissed the top of her head.
“Do you want to make love?” Her proposal was caviler.
“This joke was not funny on my birthday and the retelling is just as insensitive.”
“It was a persuasion tool last time and a sincere question this one. This’ll probably be our last opportunity. Families will be in and out of our suites. We both need to pack.”
“That’s a lot of pressure.”
“I think we are up to the task.” She rolled over to reach the nightstand on her side of the bed. “Close your eyes and cover your ears.”
“I need to take out my retainer and it’s far from sexy. Do it.”
I closed my eyes and used my hands to cover my ears. I opened my eyes when a small circular object was pressed against my lips.
“Minty fresh mouths will add to the experience.”
I opened my mouth and allowed her to insert the spearmint sweet into it. I moved my arms around her and held her as I waited for it to dissolve. She looked into my eyes and ran her fingers through my hair.
“I love you.” She kissed the tip of my nose.
I tried to get her lips, but she dodged mine to get my chin. She kissed my cheek the second time I tried. I huffed out of frustration.
“Now that’s a joke.” She finally pressed her lips to mine.
She kissed me on the lips instead of continuing to argue with me for the fun of it. We did some of our best work to date, reactive and completely infatuated with each other. The laughter that began after its conclusion was without precedence. But we kissed through it, chalking it up to giddiness.
“Mi hija, time to wake up. We –“ Izzie’s mom turned the doorknob. I hopped out of the bed, yanked up my underwear, and covered myself with my hands before she was completely in the room.
“We were sleeping.” I blurted as soon as our eyes met.
“You are consenting adults who use protection; that’s all I care about.” She adjusted the small white cat, who had patches of black and red on the top of her head and her tail, in her arms.
“Tilda!” Izzie cheered with her sheets pinned beneath her arms.
“She wanted to watch her mommy graduate. She has everything she needs to travel to her new home.” She walked to Izzie’s bed and transferred her. “I will leave you alone to get dressed.” Leslie exited, giving my body a quick glance before leaving.
Izzie held her cat close and nuzzled her. “Matilda, Milo. Milo, Matilda. He’s your daddy, pretty lady. You have a big brother named Dante.”
“How can you be so okay with what just happened?” I put my hands on my hips.
She shrugged. “She knows key details and she can’t exactly reprimand us. I’m emancipated and you’re someone else’s kid.”
“She bought our boxes.” She nibbled on her bottom lip.
“She knows my size?“
“Yes, but ---“
“Izzie, my future mother-in-law knows something very personal about me and very little else. There’s no excuse that could make that less embarrassing.”
“She asked a single question to make the initial purchase. I gave her a simple answer.”
I sighed and shook my head in disbelief. I couldn’t remain mad at her when I returned my eyes to her face. “A simple answer?”
“A single word.”
“Nothing else to no one.” I leaned down and kissed the top of her head to let her know I wasn’t actually mad at her.
“Everything else will remain between the two of us.”
“That includes Elle.” I began to get dressed in the clothes I wore the day before.
“Oh, come on. She shouldn’t count!”
“She most certainly does. She already knows too much. We’ve had this conversation.”
“Fine.” She pouted as she pet her cat. “Do you think Tilda is cute?”
“Yes. She is quite cute.” I pulled down my shirt.
“I know you’re more of a dog person, but I think you will really grow to love her.”
“Let’s not pretend it is a choice. You are a package deal.”
“Please try. It’ll mean a lot to me.”
I gave Matilda my full attention for the first time. She quickly won me over with her big green eyes. I scratched between her ears. She closed her eyes and purred.
“She likes you.” Izzie rubbed her back.
“I like her too. I’m a sucker for large eyes.” I kissed Izzie’s cheek, making her smile.
I checked my phone once I was finished getting dressed.
“I’m going to go take a shower. I’ll see you later.” She stole a quick kiss on her way to the bathroom.
“I love you.” I looked over my shoulder.
“I love you too.” She blew me a kiss.
I petted Matilda, who was seated on Izzie’s bed, once more before leaving. Izzie’s mom was watching television in the living room. I was mentally debating whether or not to say something to her when she rose to her feet.
“Hello again.” She smiled at me as she smoothed down her dress.
“Hi.” I blushed and put my hands into my pockets, struggling to make eye contact.
“Even before I walked in on you, I was planning to extend an invitation to you to go to brunch with Izzie and me. Breakfast food is her favorite. She says–“
“It’s the only food you can douse with powdered sugar without judgment.”
“Right, you know all that and then some.” Her smile widened. “She and Audrey have told me a lot about you, but I’d like to get to know you better. I’ll understand if you’re busy, --“
“My parents’ flights were delayed because of a tropical storm. They won’t be in until tonight. I’d love to go out with you.”
“Great. We are going to leave in about thirty minutes.”
“I will return shortly.”
I showered and dressed quickly. The advisors that remained in America for the week were busy preparing for my father’s arrival. Four bodyguards were assigned to accompany us to the restaurant. They drove close behind Leslie’s rental car. They sat in the booths on either side of ours.
“So, this is what it feels like.” Leslie made light of the guards’ hovering and patrons’ curious stares.
“I feel most embarrassed for the guards. They’re always caught wearing the same thing.” Iz held my hand beneath the table.
“We do have variety working in our favor.” She made me crack a smile.
“Keeps things spicy.” She nudged my shoulder with hers.
“Izzie says you like to play the piano.”
“Only for her. I was forced to learn it when I was young. She insisted on hearing me when she found out I could do it. She really enjoys it, so I do it every once in a while to make her happy.”
“What do you actually like to do?”
“I like to stay active. Swimming and sailing are tied as my favorite activity. Skateboarding is a close second. I enjoy dancing, but it is more of hobby than a passion.”
“Can you swim, Mi hiji?” She opened her plastic menu.
“Yes. He taught me last summer. He takes me sailing. You know we dance together. I watch him skateboard sometimes too.” Izzie opened a menu with her free hand and slid it in front of both of us.
“We’re not exactly alike, though. She’s obsessed with all animals that are not birds and I prefer dogs –“
“And Matilda.” Izzie butt in.
“And Matilda.” I agreed. “I read when required. She does it recreationally. She detests professional sports. I watch and attend matches regularly. She’s almost killed me on several occasions with the spiciness of her food---“
“You have a weak mouth, Sir, one you can only blame on your tame upbringing.”
“What do you blame for driving like a formula one racer?”
“Talent.” She flashed me a cheeky grin.
“The acceleration pedals of the world beg for your mercy.”
“The floor begs for yours.”
I shook my head at her. She kissed me on the cheek to make me stop.
We placed our orders when the waitress arrived. I couldn’t exactly recall what we were talking about, but I had an idea of where we were.
“We have plenty of things in common, but the way we feel and the way we react to them are different. We’re more complimentary than we are alike.”
“Like he knew what he wanted his yearbook quote to be about, but he couldn’t find the words.”
“She knew them.”
“’There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.’ It was written by Hemmingway.”
“There’s no way I would’ve been able to find that on my own.”
“He doesn’t like to read.”
“And she loves it.” I caught her looking at me. “She’s so smart.”
She shook her head. “I’m literate.”
“I’m sure you too know she is bright.” I shifted my attention to her mother.
“It is difficult to miss.” She smiled at the two of us. “What is your quote?”
“’If you can dance and be free and not embarrassed, you can rule the world’. It’s from actress Amy Poehler’s autobiography. You’ve gotta go contemporary sometimes. I’m always willing to endorse a funny girl.”
“It is very fitting. How long did it take you to find it?”
“Not long. I stumbled across it while I was listening to the audiobook version of the book while I was working on my site. I recalled it and wrote it down when prompted.”
There was a natural pause in conversation when the food arrived. I was very entertained despite the absence of words. Izzie’s sheer delight as she ate her French toast was an experience in itself.
“I watched your interview. I’ve had Izzie and Audrey explain it to me a couple of times, but I want to hear the words from you, why you want to be with her.”
I quickly glanced at Izzie, whose cheeks were inflated with sugared dough. I breathed a laugh at the sight.
“She has so much going for her and I love being around her. But the most important reason, I guess, is we’re looking in the same direction when it comes to our futures. We have personal desires, but what we want most is to leave behind legacy of positive actions that improve the lives of others.” I took Iz’s hand again.
“Like her website.”
I nodded. “I’m so proud of her. It’s inspired me to start working on a universal mental health care initiative this summer.”
“It’s his first solo campaign. He could’ve chosen anything and he picked my cause.”
“It literally saves lives. What is more helpful than that?”
“You clearly love her.” Tears appeared in Leslie’s eyes.
“He really does, Mamá.”
“I have left so much behind to hold onto relationships. I don’t want that for her. She has so much ambition and drive. She’s been through hell and none of it stopped her, but she loves you too. Love makes you do silly things.”
“I believe in the power of her dreams. There’s nothing I want more than to see her succeed.”
“I’m strong enough to leave if he changes his mind.”
“I never will. Both of you have my word.” I caressed Izzie’s thumb with mine as I kept my eyes on her mother.
She subtly wiped away fallen tears. “She’s my little girl. I want the world for her.”
“I do too. I’ve offered to give it to her, but she insists on chasing it herself. I’ll support her every step of the way.”
“He’s a keeper, Mi hiji.” Leslie to Izzie.
“I know.” She smiled at me.
I kissed her lips. She tasted like pure sugar. I was smiling as we parted. She truly was one of a kind.
The rest of the day was spent making small talk with my friends’ families while awaiting the arrival of my own. There was a knock on my door just as I was preparing to call it an early night. My parents were standing on the other side of it.
“Sorry we are late. We were advised to wait until tomorrow morning to see you, but I did not want you to think we did not care enough to see you as soon as possible.” My mother hugged me.
“This is much appreciated.” I squeezed her tight. “You came together?” I asked as I released her.
“We are staying at the same hotel. It made sense to drive over together.” My father was next to hug me.
“Would you like to see my room?”
My mother looked at my father, a bit apprehensive.
“It is not the picture of luxury, but it is a place I have cultivated by myself.” I stepped aside to allow them to see it from the doorway.
She slowly stepped inside, seeming afraid of the humble environment. “You sleep here?” She eyed my bed.
“And you are comfortable?”
“It is a dormitory, Katalina, not a villa.” My father expressed his understanding of its appeal.
“Still. You would think they would upgrade the quarters for him.” She further scanned the room. “Why are there two beds?”
“I have a roommate. He is an undercover guard sent for additional protection. We have grown to be good friends.”
“Adam, correct?” My father asked.
“Yes. Wilmer made a great selection.”
“He typically does.”
“I knew of Adam, but I did not know you were sharing a room with him. This is completely unacceptable –“
She took a deep breath. “You like it here. The specifications are none of my business.”
“Your modesty is admirable.” She found the bright side, offering me a smile.
“It’s not. I am no better than anyone else. Living without excess is refreshing. It allows me to appreciate more. You should consider it some time.”
“Perhaps. I would like to take you and your companions to lunch tomorrow.”
“Scusa?” I looked between her and my father.
He shrugged, letting me know he had no knowledge of her plan.
“I do not –“
“I want to rectify our last meeting. I do not want them to think ill of me. They are important to you.”
“You have to promise to be sensitive to social and cultural differences, and refrain from consuming alcohol.”
“I will. Again, I want to make a positive impression.”
I sighed. “I have to ask them, but it should be acceptable. It is nice to have quick breaks from ones parents. Being with mine will grant it.” I reluctantly agreed.
“You do not have to.” My father intervened.
She looked at him pointedly. “Vincent, I should be able to have something. You get him for the majority of the year.”
“You have every right to spend more time with him, but involving his friends after what happened last time could cause more harm than good.” He stood his ground.
“You make mistakes too. You cannot tell me you have been the perfect parent to him since we have split.”
“You are right, but I have not outright humiliated him.”
She gasped in outrage. “At least I would know to tell him the sex of his siblings.” She fired back at him.
He looked at me both apologetically and with betrayal. “I had every intention of being the one to tell you. Time slipped away from me. My plan was for today, but Gisele got to you first. I am truly sorry you had to learn of something so important from a third party source.”
“I did not know that. I thought things were back to the way they used to be. She called me to ask how my interview went and it came out. I am sorry.”
“You do not have to apologize to him. He should have known better.”
I rolled my eyes. ”I thought you were on better terms since your divorce.”
They looked at each other. “We are. We finally tell each other how we feel.”
“Which is with contempt most of the time.” She replied with a snide remark. “Loving you and his relationship with Jacqueline are the only two things we agree upon.”
“You support him being with her?” I was truly surprised.
“I already told you that was the case. He loves her and always will. No one else should be caught in the middle of them.”
“And you call me selfish yet again, when you know I had no say in our marriage. I have wanted nothing but the best for you since our split. You have no right to—“
“Can you please try to get along this week? This is supposed to be about me.”
“You are right. We apologize.” She was the first to give in to my request.
“Qualms aside, I am happy both of you are here. Graduating is an important milestone in my life and it was not a given at one point.”
“We are very proud of you, Son.” My father’s congratulations were sincere, not an automatic response.
“You have been conducting yourself very well lately. Your interview with Isabella was very respectable. She has truly grown on me. And before you say it, I know you liked her from day one.” Her addition to my father was more playful than aggressive.
“I was merely going to think it.” He mirrored her tone.
They left when Adam came to our room to go to bed. I invited everyone to lunch before turning in myself.
“Like what do we do if she has a melt down again?” Sami was in the passenger seat.
We took Morgan’s van so that we could travel together. Izzie and I had to share a seat in order to have enough room. We still donned a seatbelt, her seated on my lap.
“She promised not to.” I replied from my seat in the very back, trying my best not to yell in Iz’s ear.
“But what if she does? I don’t know if you know this about me, but I like to have game plans. If the chick goes haywire, what’s our escape route?”
“We just leave. There’s nothing stopping us.”
“What happened last time?” Adam was clueless for obvious reasons.
“She got trashed and started ranting about how Milo’s dad did her wrong. It would’ve been entertaining if it weren’t so sad.” Finn answered.
“I don’t care about what happened. I’m excited to see her. She was the hottest mess I’ve ever seen.” Ryan mused.
“Be as appropriate as possible. This is a public place.” Morgan warned.
“I know. This is the car, a safe space. I can express myself without judgment.”
“I’m judging you.” Elle stopped texting to look at him.
“You don’t count.”
We arrived at the upscale restaurant after half an hour of driving. We were dressed in appropriate attire, I predicted her dining style chose and relayed the information to the others.
“Are we at the right place? The restaurant doesn’t look open yet.” Morgan slowly pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot.
“She probably rented it out for a few hours.”
“She tends to do that.” Izzie tacked on, referring to her candy store.
“We’re in the big leagues. Miles, your mom knows how to ball.” Ryan unclicked his seatbelt.
“Her level of money opens a whole new world.” Elle commented.
“This goes against everything I stand for, but even I must admit renting out a place is pretty boss.” Sami was the first to hop out of the car.
Iz and I had more difficulty. She realigned her skirt and flipped her hair once on solid ground.
“Do I look okay?” She took my hand before she started walking.
“You look beautiful.”
“The stakes are higher now. She’s going to be my mother-in-law. I’ll be her son’s wife and the mother of her grandchildren.”
“That’s the general setup when it comes to marriage.”
“I’m serious, Babe. I don’t want her to question your sanity.”
“She won’t, at least when it comes to you. Just last night she said that she likes you.”
“Really? You’re not just saying that to make me calm down?”
“You can even ask my father. She said that you have really grown on her.”
“Good, well, I can actually enjoy my meal now.”
We were allowed into the restaurant by a host. A large circular table was placed and set right in the middle of the restaurant. My mother stood up from one of the ten chairs that surrounded it.
“I am so pleased all of you could make it on such short notice. Please have a seat.” She greeted.
All of us acknowledged her welcome with variations of hello. I took the seat directly across from my mother, wanting to keep a close eye on her.
“I would first like to acknowledge the elephant in the room. My last encounter with most of you was without dignity and that was not a proper representation of me. All of you are very special to Milo and he did not deserve to be represented in such a manner. To apologize and break the ice, I have brought each of you a gift.” She lifted her hand upon the conclusion of her introduction and motioned the wait staff to the table.
Eight of them gave each of my friends a giftwrapped rectangle. I looked over Izzie’s shoulder as she immediately ripped hers open.
It was the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! There was bookmark placed inside. Iz turned to the page. A prepaid travel card was taped above the passage ’You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers, who soar to high heights.’
My eyes lifted to my mother.
“It covers flights, hotels, and car rentals. Milo mentioned that you were unsure of how to remain together post-graduation due to travel expenses. They are now covered. When you have used all of your funds, have Milo contact me. They will be replenished.” She explained.
My heart stopped for a moment when I registered what she said.
“Is this for real?” Elle was the first to say something. Her voice was shrill with shock and excitement.
“Very much so. The relationship you share is something that should be preserved. I have the means. I want to do some good with it.”
“Thank you, thank you so much!” She squealed.
The rest of the table both expressed their gratitude and chattered amongst themselves, thinking of places to go and things to do together.
“Efcharistó. Se agapó.” I told her thank you and I love you in Greek.
She placed her hand over her heart and smiled. “S ’agapó pára polý.” She loved me too.
Things were bound to change as we grew older and our lives moved forward. We did not know how or exactly where it would take us, but we did know for certain that we would be able to share the places we have traveled alone and explore new ones together.