She poked her head into my office, looking panicked. “Yes, Miss Marino?”
“Why do you have such difficulty performing the simplest of tasks? Did you get the files I asked for?”
“Well, I, I-”
“Just leave.” I rubbed my temples in frustration.
I leaned back in my chair with a sigh and pulled up the documents for my noon meeting. What was the point of having a personal assistant if you had to do everything yourself? I missed Marcus so much.
As if on cue, the door to my office opened again and Marcus walked in.
“I hear you’re being a super bitch today.”
“Marcus!” I sprung out of my chair and hugged my best friend. “What brings you to my neck of the woods this morning?”
“Why are you terrorizing that poor girl?”
“Taylor! You know she’s been crying in the break room all morning, right?”
I scoffed and sat back down. “I’m not terrorizing her.”
He gave me a knowing look and sat in the chair across from me. “Lupe. Be real.”
“Fine. She is completely incompetent and it’s driving me crazy.”
“She’s not incompetent. It’s her first day doing the job without me. I have known you literally forever. She’s known you a week. You have to give her a chance.”
“Promise you’ll be nice to her.”
“Whatever,” I repeated, sticking my tongue out at him.
“You’re annoying. Anyway. How are you feeling?”
He gazed at me intently, waiting for my response. I had sent him a long text the night before detailing everything that had happened over the weekend.
“I’m okay, I guess. I’m worried about Mason.”
“Why? You said he took it well.”
“He took it a little too well if I’m being honest.”
My office phone rang and I held a finger up to Marcus as I answered. “This is Penelope Marino. How can I help you?”
“Miss Marino?! It’s Stacy, your father’s secretary.”
“I need you to come up to his office immediately.”
“What’s going on?”
“Just get up here please!”
I hung up the phone and ran out of my office toward the elevator.
“Lupe where are you going?” Marcus called after me.
I didn’t reply but he followed me onto the elevator anyway. “Stacy asked me to come to Papa’s office. I don’t know why but she sounded kind of frantic.”
The doors slid open and we rushed forward. Stacy was standing outside of the office with a fearful expression on her face. “Miss Marino! Thank goodness you’re here! A man went into your father’s office about ten minutes ago and now they’re screaming at each other. I heard your name a few times so I called you. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You did the right thing calling me, Stacy. I’ll take care of it.” I walked past her and pushed open the door to see Mason and Papa glaring at each other. “What the hell is going on?”
Mason looked over at me. The coldness in his expression made me want to shiver. “Is he always this insufferable?”
“What is going on?” I repeated coldly, my tone matching his.
He looked somewhat surprised at my demeanor and returned his glare toward father. “Francesco wants me to give up my real estate firm.”
Papa rolled his eyes. “That is not what I said, Mason.”
“You said you wanted to purchase my company!”
“You didn’t let me finish what I was trying to say!”
“Stop shouting!” I yelled. “Both of you, sit down. Now.”
If the situation hadn’t been so tense I would have laughed at how much Mason looked like Papa as they sat down opposite each other, grumbling the entire time.
“Papa? Why do you want to buy Mason’s company?” I asked, taking the seat next to Mason.
“I will be retiring soon.”
My eyebrows rose in surprise. “When did you decide that?”
He sighed. “We were waiting until Sunday dinner to tell you but Serena is expecting and I want to be there for her and your new sibling,” he said quietly. “I know that I messed up with you two and now I have a chance to try to be a good father with this baby.”
“Serena is pregnant?” I asked in disbelief. I guess that explained the nursery.
Mason cleared his throat. “Congratulations, I guess? But I’m still failing to see what this has to do with my company.”
“I want you and Penelope to take over here.”
“What?!” Mason and I exclaimed together.
We both started talking at the same time trying to make sense of what was happening. Papa held his hand up to stop us.
“It won’t happen overnight. There will be a long transition to help make sure you are prepared. Penelope, you have been groomed for this since you were a child. You too, Mason.”
“Me? How? I’ve only just met you!”
“Why do you think you’ve attended the best schools in the world? Why did you have internships at Cole Industries? I may not have been able to be there for you physically when you were young but I have looked out for you your entire life.”
“You mean to tell me that you controlled my entire life?” Mason’s anger was palpable.
Papa shook his head quickly. “No, no! That’s not what I meant. I just made sure that you lacked for nothing. I wanted you to have every opportunity available to you. I sent money to your grandparents monthly for your schooling, clothes and whatever else you needed. Son, you have no idea how much I love you.”
“If you love me so much why didn’t you come for me?” Mason asked, his voice trembling as he fought back tears.
“I tried. I really did. Your grandparents wouldn’t let me be a part of your life. They wanted to honor your mother’s wishes and I tried to respect that.”
“What about when I was an adult? I’m twenty-six years old for Christ’s sake!”
“I thought it was too late. I feared that you would not want me in your life. That was my mistake.”
Mason clenched his jaw and glanced over at me before his gaze settled on father. “I’m going to need some time to process all of this, Francesco.”
He stood up and marched out of my father’s office. Father’s eyes fell on me.
“I’m going after him, Papa,” I said after a long moment.
He nodded. “As you should.”
“You can’t just spring stuff like this on him. He’s only just met us. You have to give him some time.”
“You’re right,” he replied, looking down at his hands. “I’m trying, honey. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
My gaze softened as I studied my father. It had never occurred to me how difficult this must be for him as well. The wrinkles on his face seemed even more pronounced than usual. I walked around his desk and wrapped my arms around his neck, much to his surprise.
“I know it’s hard, Papa. This is new territory for all of us. But we’ll get through it together, as a family.”
He smiled up at me as I drew back from the hug. “You are an incredible young woman, Lupe. Thank you.”
With one last smile at my father, I sprinted from his office in search of Mason. Stacy pointed me in the direction of the men’s restroom down the hall. I pushed open the door without hesitation and felt my heart break at the sight before me. Mason was sitting on the floor, with his face in his hands, his shoulders heaving as he sobbed. I slid down onto the floor next to him without a word.
After several long moments of silence, I lay my head on his shoulder. He let out a deep breath and rested his head on mine. “I thought I was okay,” he said quietly.
“It’s a lot to take in. It’s going to take time.”
Mason blew out a deep breath and sat up straight, running his hands through his hair. “You look like Mamá,” he said after a while.
My eyes widened in surprise. “I do?”
He nodded. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. Your resemblance is almost unnerving.”
“I’ve never even seen a photo of her. I know nothing about her,” I said quietly.
“She was...” he paused as if searching for the right words. “Troubled. But terribly kind and loving. I was so young when she passed but there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t miss her smile.”
He pulled out his wallet and handed me a worn photo. It was a young woman laughing as she waved at the camera. If it weren’t for the brown eyes, I would have sworn it was a picture of me. “This is her?” I asked, my voice thick with emotion.
“Yeah. This photo was taken before the addiction. Abuelo gave it to me when she passed. He said that he wanted me to remember her at her best.”
I stared at the precious picture in my trembling hands. I kept staring at it even when my tears blurred the image of my mother.
“Keep it,” Mason said after a while.
“I couldn’t possibly--”
“Keep it, Lupe,” he said again. “Mamá would have loved you.”
“And Papa does love you, Mason.”
He snorted. “He has a funny way of showing it.”
“I don’t disagree.”
The hum of the fluorescent lights above us was the only sound in the small space. After a long, but comfortable, silence, Mason stood up and extended his hand to me. “I’m taking you to lunch.”
“I have a meeting at noon,” I replied as he hoisted me to my feet.
“Cancel it,” he said with a shrug. “We have much to discuss.”
“I can’t just cancel a meeting!”
“Why not? You are the boss aren’t you?”
My eyebrows furrowed in confusion as Mason walked out of the restroom whistling. It had never occurred to me that I was in charge of anything at the company as I was constantly under my father’s thumb but he was technically right.
“Mason wait!” I called after him.
He turned back to me with a grin. “Are you going to play hooky little sister?”
I grinned back. “That sounds like great fun.”