Ryan and Gabi arrived early the next morning just as they had promised. I was shaken awake by a grinning Gabi.
“Why are you so chipper so early in the morning?” I asked, sitting up with a yawn.
“This view of you and Brett cuddled together on my couch just warms my heart.”
I whipped around and saw Brett’s arm casually resting around my waist and our legs intertwined underneath the blanket. I gave a little yelp and stumbled off of the couch.
Gabi laughed. “Don’t get up on my account,” she said as she sauntered into the kitchen.
Brett called out to me in his sleep as I followed Gabi. “Come back to bed babe, it’s Saturday.”
Giving a quick look around to ensure we were alone, I pressed a kiss to his forehead and he settled back into deep sleep.
I padded into the kitchen and hopped onto the counter while Gabi sat at the kitchen table nursing Bella.
“How was the banquet?” I asked hoping to avoid the verbal grilling I knew would eventually come.
“It was amazing!” Gabi replied with a smile, graciously sparing me. “It felt really great to encourage young women and help them along in their journey to success.”
“You sound like an infomercial,” I chuckled as I searched the kitchen for coffee.
“Coffee is in the top right cabinet,” Gabi said. “I know I sound cheesy but it was really great. I felt so inspired. But I missed my baby girl. That’s why we came back so early.”
I glanced at the clock in the kitchen. It was 8 am. “Where’s Ryan?”
“In bed. I’m forcing him to sleep. I told him that there are plenty of people here to make sure Bella is okay.”
“Good!” I said, putting the coffee on. “He was like a zombie last night.”
She sighed. “Hopefully he’ll sleep all day. He really needs to get his sleep back on track before he goes back to work.”
I opened my mouth to speak but was interrupted as Malachi toddled into the kitchen and reached for me. I picked him up and he immediately put his head on my shoulder with his thumb in his mouth. He sighed contently and fell back asleep. I carefully continued my crusade for coffee and joined Gabi at the kitchen table a few minutes later, happily sipping the piping hot beverage.
Gabi was staring at me with an expression of disbelief.
“What?” I asked, readjusting Malachi in my arms.
She just gave me a coy smile and shook her head. “Oh, nothing.”
An hour later, I was headed home, alone. I promised Malachi, and Brett by extension, that I would come over after my meeting with my grandparents.
Marcus was waiting for me at my apartment with bagels and more coffee.
“You’re a saint,” I said gratefully, kicking off my shoes and making my way upstairs. “But you don’t have to do this for me anymore. You’re not my assistant.”
“True. But I am your best friend and I figured you could use some support this morning.”
I smiled ruefully and wandered into my bathroom and turned on the shower.
“What happened to you last night?” Marcus called over the noise of the water.
“What do you mean?” I poked my head out of the bathroom.
“I thought you were going to text me and let me know how things were going with the kids.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, I guess I forgot. It was just so crazy with Bella, Aiden, and Malachi that Brett and I--”
“Brett came over?”
“Yeah. Alicia couldn’t make it and I panicked. He came over to help me.”
I frowned and steeped all the way back into the main area of my room. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” he said hurriedly. “I think I ought to go though.”
Groaning, I ran across the room to block the door. “Oh no, you don’t! Sit!” I commanded.
He eyed me warily but eventually sat down when he saw I wasn’t going to budge.
“That is the second time you’ve tried to run out on me this week. Why?”
“You have a boyfriend now, Lupe,” Marcus answered as this was a perfectly justifiable action for his behavior.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Are you really that dumb?”
“Don’t be an asshole and just get to the point.”
“I’m sure that Brett has had some questions regarding the nature of our relationship.”
“Yes, to which I assured him that we are nothing more than best friends, like brother and sister.”
“An answer he immediately questioned?”
My stoic gaze faltered a bit. “Yes, how did you know?”
“Dios mio. If I didn’t know any better I’d say you had fallen down and smacked your little head on the pavement,” he said, thumping me in the forehead.
“Ow! Why would you say that?”
“Because there’s no other explanation for you being this obtuse! Your boyfriend probably does not like the amount of time I spend alone with you. He’s just too polite, and too much of a gentleman, to express that.”
“Why would he--OH.”
Marcus laughed as realization dawned on me. “Ah. The penny finally dropped.”
“Shutup,” I muttered. “I’m going to go take a shower. When do we need to leave?”
Marcus checked his watch. “You’ve got about an hour.”
I nodded and ducked into the bathroom, quickly stripping and climbing into the shower. I let out a deep breath as the water cascaded over my naked body. I felt immense peace as I stood in the steamy room, finally alone with my thoughts. The shower was my favorite place to process things and boy did I have a lot to process.
All in one week, I had begun a relationship with a single father, secretly reunited with my birth mother’s parents and awakened some maternal instincts that had been locked deep, down inside me. And I had no clue how to deal with any of it.
Brett and I had agreed to take things slowly, but my feelings were not following that plan as much as I wanted them to. I cared for him far more than I should after one week, no matter how blissful, of dating. My attachment to Malachi further complicated my feelings about the relationship. My new maternal instincts extended solely to that precious little boy. I loved my niece and nephew dearly but I knew that I would go to the ends of the Earth to protect little Malachi. And that scared me a bit.
And then there were my grandparents. They were an anomaly. They certainly weren’t what I was expecting. They had divulged no useful information about my mother other than the fact that I had her smile. Hopefully, they would be more forthcoming at our meeting that afternoon. We had chosen a more laid back meeting place to diffuse some of the awkward tension.
I stayed in the shower longer than I should have and had to rush to get dressed. I slid my feet into a pair of knee-high black boots over my jeans, threw on a white beanie and peacoat to complete the outfit, before scurrying out of my apartment after Marcus.
The ride to the restaurant was silent. I could tell Marcus was just as nervous if not more nervous than I was. He squeezed my hand in solidarity before we got out of the car. The elevator ride felt neverending.
We arrived early this time and my grandparents came strolling in a few minutes after noon. Rosa gave me a warm smile as she and Jorge took their seats.
“Hello, amor,” she greeted politely. “How are you--”
Marcus raised his palm, interrupting her. “Forgive me Mrs. Martinez, but Miss Marino has an agenda prepared for today’s meeting.”
Rosa and Jorge shared a look. “Agenda?”
I nodded seriously. “So that the conversation does not get derailed. I have several important questions that I need to be answered. Are we recording, Marcus?”
“Yes, Miss Marino.”
“Yes,” I answered curtly. Marcus and I decided that my approach to the first meeting had been too casual and needed adjusting. So I was conducting this meeting just as I would conduct any other business meeting.
“First things, first. Where is my mother?”
Rosa gasped. “You don’t know?”
“No need to be dramatic. What don’t I know?”
“Your mother died when she had you--”
“A lie. Please do not lie to me. It will do you no good. You can tell me the truth the easy way or I will find out the truth the hard way. Trust me; You do not want that if you wish to have any type of relationship with me.”
Rosa and Jorge shared another worried look.
“I will ask the question again. Please do not insult my intelligence with more lies. Where is my mother?”
Jorge sighed. “She’s dead.”
“I just said--”
“Hear me out, mija.”
I closed my mouth and nodded for him to continue.
“After Guadalupe and your father split up, she moved to Chicago with hopes of being an actress.”
“She left New York City to be an actress in Chicago?” I asked in disbelief. “How does that make sense?”
Rosa gave a mirthless laugh. “You can guess that dream was short lived. She resorted to working as a bartender to make ends meet. When that stopped working, she looked for--other ways-- to make ends meet.”
“Where were you guys, when all of this was happening?”
“She hid it from us. We didn’t even know that she had been with your father at all until almost a year after it happened.”
“How did you find out?”
“We ran into her on the street,” Jorge answered with an ominous glance at his wife. “With her son.”
The silence in the room was palpable.
“I’m sorry, with her what?” I asked in disbelief.
“Her son. Your twin brother.”
“I have a twin brother?! Where is he?”
“He is overseas at the moment,” Rosa said with a sigh.
“You have contact with him?”
“We raised him after...” she trailed off as tears filled her eyes.
My gaze softened a bit. “After what?” I asked quietly.
“After Guadalupe died of an overdose.”
I gasped and covered my mouth in shock. To some degree, I had known what she was going to say but was still taken aback. “When did that happen?”
“It will be twenty years next month.”
“Does my father know?”
“Yes,” Jorge replied. “He tried to get custody of your brother once your mother died but it was Guadalupe’s dying wish that we raise him.”
“So my brother doesn’t know about me? About us?”
Rosa shook her head.
I pondered what they had told me so far. Marcus cleared his throat to get me back on track and I glanced down at the questions in front of me. “Did you know about me?”
“Yes,” Rosa answered.
“Why didn’t you ever try to contact me?”
“Your father forbade it.”
“He what?!” I screeched, willing myself not to start crying again. “Why?”
“We don’t know,” Jorge spoke up this time. “But we’ve always wanted to be a part of your life, which is why we’re so glad that you found us.”
“Excuse me,” I stood up abruptly, wiping the tears from my eyes. “I have to go. I’ll be in touch. Marcus? The car.”