Marcus followed me from the room, furiously tapping the keys on his cell phone as we stepped into the elevator. He pulled me into his arms as soon as the doors closed. “Mi Lupita preciosa,” he murmured into my hair. “Como te sientes? How are you feeling?”
“Not great, to be honest,” I replied with a sniffle. “My father has been lying to me my entire life and I...I don’t what to do.”
“Talk to him.”
“I don’t want to talk to that bastard. I said angrily, pulling away from Marcus.
“I know you don’t want to but you need to. You need to hear his side of the story. Uncle Francesco is nowhere near perfect but he loves you and I’m sure there’s a reason behind his actions. It may not be a reason we agree with, but you owe it to him and to yourself to find out what that reason was.”
The elevator opened and I walked outside, climbing into the town car that was waiting without another word.
Marcus leaned in and gave me a worried look. “Where are you going, Lupe?”
“My father’s house.”
“You want me to come with you?”
“I think I’ll be okay on my own.”
He nodded solemnly and closed my door before telling the driver where to take me.
I was pensive the entire drive to my father’s estate and felt the anger bubbling up inside. I had a twin brother and my father kept me away from my grandparents? Why? I couldn’t rationalize any of it and it was frustrating me to no end.
I was out of the car as soon as it rolled to a stop. I sprinted up the front steps and walked through the door as the maid pulled it open.
“Miss Marino!” She exclaimed. “What are you--”
“Where is my father?” I interjected.
“Where is my father?!” My voice boomed through the entryway.
“He’s in his study, miss.”
“Thanks.” I marched through the house with a purpose, finally ready to confront my father for all of his bullshit.
He looked up in surprise as the door slammed open and I stood before him, fuming.
“Penelope? What are you doing here? We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“I came to ask you a question.”
He frowned. “It must be important for you to come all the way out here. Close the door and have a seat.”
“I’m fine where I am, thank you very much,” I said, glaring at him.
He shrugged and folded his hands on the desk. “Suit yourself. What is your question?”
“Before I ask, I’m going to give you a chance to do the right thing for once in your miserable life. Tell me about my mother.”
His eyes hardened. “No.”
“I will not talk about that woman, Penelope.”
“Get over yourself, you prideful son of a bitch!”
My father was on his feet faster than I could blink. “Get out.” His voice was so cold I felt a shiver run up my spine. “You will not speak to me that way.”
I laughed mirthlessly. “Sure, I’ll leave. When I’m good and ready to leave. And remember that I gave you a chance to make things right after I ask you my question. Now tell me, dear father, why did you tell my grandparents to keep my twin brother away from me? You must have had an excellent reason.”
All of the color drained from his face as he stared at me in disbelief.
“Your silence is telling old man,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m leaving. Don’t call me.”
I turned on my heel and ran smack into Serena. She was glaring daggers at my father. “Francesco? Is that true? Penelope has a twin brother? And you kept her away from him?”
“Serena, Penelope, I can explain--”
“Save it. Penelope, I’m coming with you.”
I stared at her in complete shock and allowed her to drag me from the room. We were almost to the garage when my father came running toward us, begging us to hear him out.
“No, Francesco!” Serena said coldly. “I’ve heard all of your excuses for your mistreatment of Penelope and I am not interested in hearing more. I have been complicit for far too long.”
My father turned to me with a desperate look in his eyes. “Penelope, please. Just listen to what I have to say and if you still want to have nothing to do with me I will respect your wishes.”
In my entire twenty-six years of life, I had never seen him show any kind of weakness. The desperation in his tone and expression gave me pause. I nodded once. “You have ten minutes of my time.”
He sighed in relief. “Serena, amore mio. Please?”
She eyed him warily but also agreed to hear what he had to say. We followed him into the sitting room and took a seat on the couch opposite him. Serena had her arm looped through mine and smiled encouragingly at me. She had always tried to look out for me and I rudely brushed off her affection, thinking that it was self-serving behavior. I realized at this moment that I had been wrong.
I would have to deal with my feelings about Serena later. The conversation at hand was of much more significant importance.
“Well?” I asked.
“I don’t even know where to start. I never thought we would have to have this conversation.”
“Well, we are,” I said coldly.
He sighed. “Your mother and I had a wild and reckless relationship. We met in Italy and found out she was pregnant within six months of knowing each other. I was livid, of course, and did not believe that I could have fathered her child. She was angry with me for questioning her and we went our separate ways.
“I came back to the states, devastated, and threw myself into work trying to forget her. That’s when the company really took off. Your Uncle Jack was the one who made me finally see reason when it came to Guadalupe. I wrote her several times apologizing for my behavior and told her how to get in touch with me. She never wrote back.
“She called me when she went into labor and I met her at the hospital. She gave birth to you and told me that she wanted me to keep you; That she wasn’t cut out to be a mother. I started arguing with her that we could do it together when she started having contractions again. A few minutes later, your brother was born.”
He paused for a long moment and I cleared my throat. “And then what happened.”
“I quickly bonded with you, Lupe. You were everything to me; I was absolutely smitten. I loved your brother as well, of course, but according to your mother, I showed a strong preference for you. She refused to tell me what she meant by that. On the day that she was set to be discharged, I arrived at the hospital fully prepared for us to be a family. I had set up a nursery in my apartment, bought clothes, strollers and car seats. When I arrived in her room, she was gone, and she had taken your brother with her. You were lying in the bassinet with a note.”
“Do you still have the note?” I asked, my eyes brimming with tears.
He nodded. “Somewhere. But I don’t need the note.” He clenched his jaw angrily. “The words in that note are etched in my memory forever. It said, ′I can’t do it, Francesco. I was never meant to be a parent. And certainly not to a daughter. This is a good solution. I’ll keep the boy and you can have the girl. Do not try to find me. I’ll come back someday. Tell her I love her.′"
Serena gasped in shock and grabbed my hand. She squeezed it gently and I oddly felt comforted. “You didn’t look for her?” Serena asked.
“Oh, I looked for her,” he said bitterly. “And I found her too. You were around one year old at the time, Lupe. She was working at a strip club in Chicago as a waitress. I knew things were really bad. She was showing all of the signs of an addict and I offered to help her. Financially, emotionally, whatever she needed but she was angry and wanted nothing to do with me.”
“So you didn’t help her?” I asked, sadly.
“I tried! I sent her weekly checks but she never cashed any of them. I kept trying to get her to come back to New York or at least give me custody of your brother but she refused.” He ran his hand through his hair. “And then--” his breath caught in his throat.
“And then what, Papa?” I asked after a long moment, shocking all three of us. I hadn’t referred to him as ‘Papa’ in months.
“And then, I got a call from a Rosa and Jorge Martinez, telling me that Guadalupe had died of an overdose and that I was to blame. I again asked for custody of your brother and they flat out refused. And then they had the audacity to try to take you away from me.” Anger flashed in his eyes as he recalled the event.
I gasped as realization dawned on me. “That’s why you sent me to Spain.”
He nodded. “They didn’t have a strong case against me but their lawyer was ruthless. I was afraid that they might come and find you at school and say something to you that would make you want to go with them and I just--I couldn’t have you taken from me too.”
“Have you met him?” I asked quietly.
“No, I haven't," he replied, clenching his jaw. "But I made sure he lived a comfortable life. He had a trust fund and I sent them money every month until he turned eighteen. I do have a picture of him though.”
He pulled out his wallet and handed me a worn photo. I shook my head in disbelief as I stared at the photo in complete shock.
“Do you know him, Penelope?” My father asked eagerly.
“Yeah, I do! Mason, is my twin brother?!”