Chapter 17: Family
Even though they had reconciled, Alex couldn’t stop thinking about what Maria had said to him when he said he would never hurt her.
I wish I could say I know, but I can’t.
That was probably the most heartbreaking thing he had ever heard someone say. But he couldn’t blame her for not being able to fully let herself fall for him yet. What she had went through would last a lifetime, and if he wanted to be with her, there were going to be things that wouldn’t come as easy if it were a normal relationship, but he was willing to do whatever it took if it meant he got to wake up to her face every morning.
After talking and working their issues, Alex felt like everyone could use something good, so he started inviting people to the awards.
The morning of had been stressful. He had to drive Elena to school on that Saturday for a practice run of the high school play she helped write, get his uniform from the dry cleaners, and write a speech talking about the case. Not to mention pick up Enrique and Adam because Enrique insisted on taking Adam on an Alex and Enrique road trip. Even though the drive was twenty minutes, and Maria and Natalie would both be there, which meant Disney music the whole way there. Not that Alex minded. Frankly, he enjoyed the Mulan soundtrack.
Alex already dropped Elena off at school early in the morning. Though she wasn’t happy about not being able to spend the morning of the day they looked forward to every year. Luckily the rehearsal was set to end before they had to leave for the awards, and she would be able to go. Alex had also prepared her early on that there was a small chance they wouldn’t be able to go at all because Maria was nearing the end of her pregnancy.
With his dark navy uniform on, all ironed and lint free, Alex pulled up to Enrique and Adam’s apartment and honked the horn loudly.
As they waited, Alex looked over at Maria, who looked absolutely stunning in her light grey dress and coat that hugged every part of her perfectly. Alex took her hand casually and rubbed his finger across her skin. Now it was something so normal he didn’t have to ask for permission.
“So, did you guys come up with a name yet, or are we just supposed to wait forever?” Elena said, who was sitting in the far back seat, said while adjusting the beanie on her head.
“We have one, but you have to wait,” Alex told her jokingly, causing her to roll her eyes. Maria nudged him, but he shook his head. “No, she has to wait. I just want to make her mad.” He teased, Elena scoffing.
“Oh my god, dad.”
Alex laughed, and would have said something more, but the two side doors opened, Enrique and Adam each getting in on one side. This time Alex rolled his eyes at the brothers. Their jet black hair was geld and styled to perfection, unlike Alex, who let his hair go whatever way it wanted.
“Adam!” Natalie said, wiggling in her pink car seat.
Enrique scoffed and folded is arms flamboyantly. “What am I Natalie? Chopped liver?”
Natalie giggled and shuffled her hands together, which was something she inherited form Maria. “Eww. Liver is gross.”
Alex looked in the rearview mirror at the three of them in the back. “What took you guys so long?”
“Hair,” they said in unison.
“Told you,” Elena added from the back shooting the brothers a playful glare.
Alex rolled is eyes. “Yeah well that’s great and all, but you guys might make me late. Again.”
“So then why are we still sitting her. Let’s go. Turn up the volume!” Enrique shouted before taking the sunglasses off and putting them on Natalie’s face.
“You guys are going to kill me,” Elena said, putting her earbuds so she could listen to music of her choice. Not that she minded Disney music, but at her age and now with Natalie around she heard it so often it was growing tiresome.
The drive consisted of everyone, except for Maria and Elena who were just laughing the entire time, singing the everyone song on the Mulan soundtrack.
When they got there, Alex parked the car further away than he normally would and in a place where he would remember because there were so many other police cars that were identical to his.
Enrique got out first so Elena could climb over the seat and get out, and so he could help Natalie out of her car seat.
Alex went over to Maria’s side and opened the door for her. He held his hand out for her, and when he took it he noticed there were slight tremors. He knitted his brows together in concern and looked at her alarmingly.
“Are you okay? Is something wrong?”
She waved him off. “No, everything is fine. My back is a little sore, but it’s nothing to worry about. And the tremors happen every so often. It will go away.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to brush anything off if it could be a bigger deal.”
“I’m fine, babe. Stop worrying so much.”
I wish I could, he thought to himself. The thing with Maria was that you never really knew if she really was okay, or if she was just saying it to avoid opening up. Even though she normally opened up when she felt comfortable enough, he didn’t want it to be too late.
The six of them met Rumi, Austin, Camilla, and Sam outside of the auditorium before going in. They all entered together, but quickly separated from Alex because he was supposed to sit in the front row.
As the dark green chairs filled with other police officers, deputy’s, and lieutenants, the ceremony started. He watched as a few people got awards for trainee detective, service to detective, and smarter detective including runner ups and overall winners. The last awards to be given were Detective Investigation of the year, most likely because they were the most popular and the one every detective aspired to win.
Alex fidgeted in his seat as the third place winner was called up. His name was Charlie and had a last name he couldn’t remember, and the runner up’s name was Tiana, instantly reminding him of the Disney princess. The both of them made a speech about what helped them win the award, and their accomplishments they achieved within the case.
Alex’s heart beat faster as he looked behind his shoulder to see everyone staring at him. But the one who caught his eye was Maria, who was watching him, a small smile on her face. She was happy. She was genuinely happy. Distracting him from her eyes, was her lips that mouthed, I love you. He answered with an, and I love you.
“And now for our overall Detective Investigation of the year award winner, Detective Alexander Kyle Rivers!” The older man on the microphone said. The crowd erupted in applause and he could hear the voices of everyone he knew yelling his name.
His heart beat faster and faster as he walked up the stairs and saw all the faces from the view of the podium. He wasn’t the type of person to spend hours writing a speech. He preferred to wing it, much like he had done throughout his whole career, and a lot of the time it didn’t work in his favor, just like right now. Suddenly he couldn’t remember anything he wanted to say, but when he saw Elena, Maria, and Natalie’s face, the words flowed.
“Thank you,” he said quietly taking the award from his hands. The man stepped down from the podium and Alex took his place. He adjusted his belt and placed his sweaty palms on the podium.
“So... this is a first,” he started, making a few people in the crowd giggle. “Well, I suppose I should start by telling how I got this award. Uh...” His voice trailed off and he looked back at everyone he loved and the words drifted back to him. “I got my case four almost five months ago. At first I thought it was greatest case I had ever gotten, but after a few days, I realized that it might be harder than I thought. Which it definitely was. But now I know it was all worth it, and not just because I am winning this award right now. Now, I’m not allowed to tell you about the case but I will tell you about what it has given me, and some of my backstory. I lived in Lansing Michigan for most of my childhood, moved out, then came back when life started taking its turn. I was around twenty-five or so when I came back with my four-year-old daughter, Elena, and if you piece that together, you could probably see that I wasn’t the most responsible person. When I moved back here, it was a fresh start. I spent a lot of my childhood in a dark place. It was always just me, my mom, and my brother. My mother was adopted by her parents, my brother was adopted, and so was I. Eventually people pass on. My grandparents died when I was at a very young age, and I honestly don’t remember anything but what my mom tells me. My brother also passed on when I was eleven, and it was tough. The three of us were very close, and to have him gone was hard on everyone. The three musketeers as we would call it got bumped down to the dynamic duo that really wasn’t dynamic because we weren’t complete. From then on, it was just my mom and I. No grandparents, no aunts and uncles, nothing but the two of us. Lansing used to be memories of that. But when I came back, I only saw light. Life was better. Life was good, until I realized that my life that I had given up, had not followed me back to Lansing. I was missing my... my daughters birth mother, and once it hit me that she would no longer be around, I found myself sinking into that dark place again. But this time, I reached out to people. I knew that this was something I wouldn’t be able to overcome alone, so I found people. My mom, my friends, who I now realize are family. I know now, that those were the people who helped me out of those dark times, and now I have more people now who keep me from going back to those dark times. Those people are my family.” He took a deep breath and looked to the people in the audience and found his family. Adam, Enrique, Maria, Natalie, Camilla, Sam, Austin, Rumi, and Elena. He also pictured his mother in his mind, who could not be here she was at a doctor’s appointment which was impossible to reschedule.
“The people sitting in the audience for me today, are my my family. Ninety-nine percent of which are not my blood family. But I consider them to be my family because they are the people who care about me. One of them I’ve known their whole life. Most of them I’ve known for ten years, one of them I’ve known for four months, and the last I’ve known for two months. But that doesn’t make them any less family. This case that I have had the pleasure of being on, gave me that. It made me realize that family I had right in front of me, and it gave me more in the process.” Before he could continue, the crowd started applauding and he stood there, red faced, eyes locked on Maria who had happy tears running down her face. “So,” he finalized, “I guess you could say this investigation has done more for me then help me win this award. Because of this case, I was able to find my family. My real family. Thank you.”
The crowd clapped again as he stepped down form the podium, taking his seat again.
A more awards were given out and the even came to an end, everyone in the audience stood up and started filing out, and Alex returned to his newly recognized family.
Walking over to them, Maria slipped out from the rest of the crowd and met Alex halfway, tears still in her eyes. She held up her hands to her face and laughed. When they caught up with each other, they wrapped their arms around each other. Alex kissed her repeatedly on her cheek, then lips.
“Did you really mean all that? About the family thing?”
“Of course I did. You, and Elena, and Natalie, everyone else, and Gio, are all my family.” He put his hand up to Maria’s bump and rubbed his thumb on it. Maria then put her hand on top, but both quickly pulled away when they saw a camera flash in the corner of their eyes.
“Get a room!” Enrique yelled.
Both of them rolled their eyes and made their way back over to the group.
Every taking a few more pictures and talking about plans afterward, which Alex had declined because it was a long day and all he wanted was to be home with Maria, Elena, and Natalie.
Enrique and Adam decided to ride back to the restaurant with Camilla, Sam, Austin and Rumi, while Alex and everyone else went home.
It was just the four of them walking out because everyone filed out a few minutes earlier. Alex took Natalie and put her on his shoulders as they exited the building, and she stuck her tongue out as tiny little snowflakes fell. Maria and Elena were following behind in a somewhat awkward silence until Elena surprisingly sparked a conversation.
“You really like my dad, don’t you?”
“So,” she dragged her boots on the floor and looked down at her feet, “now that we are family, I guess, what are you? To me?”
Maria tilted her head to the side and turned to face Elena, so the both of them stood in the middle of the sidewalk. “That’s a good question. Honestly I’m not sure. I know Natalie see’s your dad as her dad, and I know I see him as my... well I don’t know that either. But I do love him.”
Elena went quiet, and drifted her gaze to the sidewalk.
“What are you thinking about?” Maria asked.
“Well, here’s the thing. I’ve never had a... a mom. I’ve never even said that word really. It’s kind of strange. I like you though, and I see you as my mom.”
“That’s good to know. I like you too.”
“So, do I call you mom now? Or are you not comfortable with that?”
“You can call me whatever you want.”
“Okay, mom... can I tell you something? As our first mother-daughter bonding... moment?”
Maria nodded, and took a small step closer.
“I like girls. Like-like, them.”
Maria widened her eyes for a brief moment before speaking. “Oh, really?”
Maria didn’t know what to say, so she didn’t say anything. Instead she stepped closer to Elena and hugged her sideways, trying to hug around her bump. “I’m glad you told me, daughter.”
Elena looked up her, this time her green eyes, that were identical to Alex’s, wide.
“Come on, let’s go catch up with your dad.”
After Natalie was tucked in, and Elena was in her room with her earbuds in not knowing Alex knew she stayed up till three in the morning on Fridays.
Alex was sitting on the bed, still in his uniform, checking his phone when Maria walked of the bathroom, and smiled across her face.
He smirked back, Maria not noticing. “Why are you so happy?”
“I now have another child.”
Narrowing his eyes, he said, “Gio has been here for a while.”
“Not Gio, Elena. While you took Natalie to the car, we were talking and we were talking about what we are, and we came to the conclusion that we are family. She said she see’s me as her mom.”
“Yeah, and then on top of that, she came out to me. Not that I didn’t already know that. Her and Tilda are pretty close from what I’ve seen.”
He couldn't help but smile. Hell or high water, this was family. And he couldn't be happier. “I’m so happy. We are a little family." He gripped something he held in his hand tightly. "Which is why I decided to do this.” He got out of the bed and walked over to Maria, and little black velvet box in his hand. Getting down on one knee, he opened it.
“What are you doing?”
“I know this isn’t how this usually happens but. We met three, four months ago, and you're having a baby, and we came together for terrible reasons. But I love you. That is something that won’t change, and I don’t need two more years of loving you to prove that. I love you. I love you, I love Natalie, I love Gio. I love our life, and the way you make me feel, and I don’t want to wait any longer because I love you and I want to call you my wife. So, Maria Anna Romano, will you marry me?”
She looked down at him, eyes filling with tears. “Alex...” she whispered, “are you sure you realize what you are doing?”
“Yeah, I’m proposing.”
“No. It’s not just that. You are proposing to me. I am not...” she moved her eyes around the room to find the right words, but Alex started speaking when she couldn’t find them.
Standing up, he took her hands, only to move one away and push her dark behind her ear and one under her chin. “Hey, I know what your thinking. You are thinking that you aren’t what I think I want, and you have a lot of baggage, and I don’t realize what I am doing. I love everything about you. I love the way your voice sound when you just wake up, and how your eyes always twinkle. I love your smile, your laugh, and how you feel things so deeply. I love the way you talk to Gio when you think no one is listening, and how you tell me what’s on your mind. I love how you aren’t afraid to tell me what’s hurting you, and the way you always hold my hand when you sleep. Maria, I love every single thing about you. I wish there was enough air so I could tell you all of them. I know you, and I love you. I know this is right because when I hold you in my arms, I know this is how it’s supposed to be. And, I know you might not want to get married because it might make you uncomfortable. I’ll wait as long as I have to if it means I’ll get to wake up to you every morning.”
She didn’t say anything. Instead she stepped closer to him leaned in for a kiss.
His hand touched her cheek, and he felt tingles where her skin touch his. He took his other hand and put it behind her back while she put her arms around his neck.
The air became warm around them even though the wind outside was cold. Alex ran his hand down her hip and drew her in closer than she already was. Leaning further down so she didn’t have to stand on her tip toes, he felt her breaths send shivers down his spine. Her soft lips felt perfectly placed on his, like they belonged there. The sound of driving cars in the background was too faded out for either of them to pay attention to it.
Growing deeper and deeper into each others arms, she felt her legs become weaker. His lips melted on hers, and he felt a warmth within him, knowing that this was right.
Breathlessly, they pulled back the tiniest bit so they were still in each others arms.
“Is that a yes then?” He asked, his voice deep and soft voice that sounded like his words were layered with honey.
She nodded, looking into his hazel eyes that had that color that could be fallen in love with one gaze. “Yes.”
He smiled at her larger than his lips could even stretch before pulling her into his tight embrace, wanting to keep her there forever. She buried her head into the crook of his neck, getting that feeling of protection and comfort. Those feelings she never thought she never thought she would have the pleasure of experiencing.
He kissed her soft lips affectionately again, and with one hand on her cheek, he trailed the other hand down her stomach again and felt her baby bump.
Retreating the smallest bit, but still feeling her lips against his, he said, “I love you.”
“And I love you.”
Alex got down on his knees and rubbed her stomach, kissing it a few times and rubbing it with his hand, feeling Maria’s laugh in his hands. “I love you, Gio.” He got up and kissed Maria once more.
She stared at him, smiling with her lips stained from her dark lipstick from earlier.
“What?” He said, smiling back at her.
“Nothing. I just like when you do that.”
He gave a breathy chuckle and dragged his hands along her arms until her hands were in his. “Come on, let’s go to bed. Its been a long day, and you need sleep.” He said, retreating back to his other side of the bed.
It was a faint pain at first, but got worse as the seconds passed. Moaning, she moved her hands to her abdomen and rubbed it. It only lasted a few moments and then it was gone, so she dozed off again until another one came back, this time, hurting a little more.
Maria shifted in the bed and widened her eyes when her leg drifted across wetness on the sheets.
“Alex,” she said, her voice unsteady. He didn’t move at first until she called his name again. Then he shot up.
“What? Is something wrong the baby?”
She breathed heavily, placing her hand on her stomach. “I think I my water broke and I... I think I’m having contractions.”