“Marcus, clear my afternoon schedule; You and I have some important business to attend to later,” I said as we rode to the Jacobson Design Firm early the following morning.
“What important business?” he inquired.
“You’ll see later on.”
He rolled his eyes. “Your ability to make any and everything dramatic is a true talent, Lupe.”
“As is your ability to put up with me. Are we close yet?”
“See for yourself.”
The car stopped outside of a brick building. It looked very old and was about four stories high. I rolled down the window and lifted my sunglasses. “Marcus where are we?”
“Brooklyn,” he replied exiting the car.
“Brooklyn? Why are we in Brooklyn?” I exclaimed in surprise.
“Because this is Jacobson Designs’ head office.” Marcus opened the door for me and I got out staring at the building in front of me in disbelief.
“Why on Earth would they want to have an office in Brooklyn of all places? Does my father-- er, uh, Mr. Marino know about this?”
Marcus rolled his eyes again. “I’m sure that your father knows. Now, can we please get going?”
“Of course,” I replied, putting on my mask of professionalism and letting my sunglasses fall back down on my face. “They’re not expecting us, correct?”
We marched up the stairs and through the double doors where we were welcomed by a small, plump woman with a friendly face.
“Good morning, how can I help you?”
“We’d like a tour,” I replied, without looking up from my phone.
Marcus sighed beside me. “Hello. My name is Marcus Hernandez and this is Penelope Marino. We are from Lucia Marino Inc. and we’re here for a run through.
“A run through?” she asked, confusion etched in her voice.
“Yes, a run through,” I said impatiently, finally looking up at the woman and removing my sunglasses. “We’d like a tour of the facility and then I need to speak with Brett Jacobson.”
Her eyes widened and she reached for her desk phone.
“Please put the phone down,” Marcus said as politely as possible.
“I’ll need to get permission to let you in--”
Marcus handed her my work ID badge that had my job title on it, briefly explaining what was happening, and she practically sprang out of her chair to get the tour started.
I was moderately impressed with what I saw as we walked around. Despite the lackluster appearanc of the exterior, the office was clean and bright. The employees were happily going about their work, which was odd for me to see. My father and I ran our offices like a ship and most of our employees feared us so there was no cheerful atmosphere to speak of.
At the end of the tour, we arrived at what I assumed was Brett’s office and the little woman was understandably hesitant to let us in.
“Well?” I said, folding my arms across my chest.
When she didn’t move, I rolled my eyes and pushed open the door. I was met with a rather peculiar sight. Brett was chasing a diaperless toddler around the large room, the two of them laughing heartily.
I cleared my throat and Brett whipped around. He frowned and picked up the toddler, carrying him over to the couch by the large window. He slipped a pull-up onto the child and handed him to the woman who had given us the tour.
“Ms. Marino. What a pleasure to see you again.” His tone indicated that it was not.
I smiled tightly. “Good morning Mr. Jacobson. Our CEO requested that I stop in for what we like to call a final run through before we finalize our contract.”
“And you make it a habit of showing up unannounced?”
“Do you have anything to hide?” I raised an eyebrow. “A secret child care facility perhaps?” I asked glancing toward the door.
“Nothing to hide Ms. Marino,” he sighed. “Just work to do.”
“That sure looked like important work.”
Anger flashed in his eyes as he offered me the seat in front of his desk. “Can we make this quick?”
“Certainly,” I replied. “Marcus? My tablet please.” Marcus handed me my tablet and exited the office.
I noticed Brett looking at me while I pulled up my documents. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s impolite to stare?”
He blew out a deep breath. “Wow. You are incredibly rude.”
“Excuse me?” I looked up and glared at him.
“I didn’t stutter,” he said, leaning back in his chair with a scowl on his beautiful face. “I have done nothing to you to deserve this foul attitude. Or is this how you treat everyone?”
“I’m an equal opportunity bitch I suppose,” I said with a shrug. “There can be no exceptions.”
“It must be very lonely living in an ice palace,” he mumbled under his breath. “So, I see Linda gave you a tour. What did you think of the office?”
“It’s nice albeit a little unconventional,” I responded, choosing to ignore his last insult. “Why Brooklyn though?”
“What’s wrong with Brooklyn? I find this area to be very inspiring. And seeing that we are a design company, that’s important. It’s also significantly cheaper to operate here compared with the area your office is located.”
I nodded. “That’s fair.”
We sat in awkward silence for a long moment. Brett was the one to break it.
“I understand that your father wants us to begin with the downtown New York location. Is there a timeline and budget already in place for that project?”
“Oh. Yes. I’ll email it to you right now.”
“You seem a bit distracted; Are you alright?”
I looked up from my tablet and saw him studying me intensely. “I’m fine, thank you for asking. Now about the paperwork...”
Thirty minutes later the documents were signed and we had arranged a lunch meeting for later in the week to go over more of the financial details.
“Forgive me if this is impertinent of me to ask,” I started as he escorted me from his office. “But who was that little boy?”
“My son, Malachi.”
I gasped and pushed his office door shut again. “You have a son? Oh, my God, are you married?! You’re married, aren’t you? I’m going to hell! I slept with a married man!”
Brett looked startled for a moment before a grin broke out on his face and he chuckled lightly. “Hey, calm down. I’m not married.”
He shook his head. “No. Malachi’s mother and I were only dating when we had him. She left shortly after he was born. She died in a car accident last year.”
“Oh,” I said quietly. “I’m sorry for asking. It’s obviously none of my business.”
“You’re right. It isn’t.”
“Well, now that I’ve sufficiently embarrassed myself, I think I’ll take my leave. I’ll see you on Thursday, Mr. Jacobson.”
“Wait. Can we please dispense with the formalities? I get that you want to forget certain things that happened between us but we’re working together. Call me Brett.”
I hesitated but eventually nodded. “Okay, Brett. And I suppose you can call me Lupita. But not in front of employees.”
He snorted. “Whatever you say, Lupita.”
Ten minutes later, Marcus and on our way back to the office.
“Excuse me, driver? Can you take us to this address?” I asked, handing him a small slip of paper.
“Lupe? Where are we going?” Marcus inquired.
“Don’t ask questions. Just ride.”
“Don’t be a bitch. Just tell me where we’re going.”
“Ugh fine.” I rolled up the partition window and turned to face Marcus. “My mother is alive.”
He stared at me blankly for a moment. “What the hell did you just say?”
I groaned and gave him an abbreviated version of the story.
“Uncle Francesco wouldn’t lie to you about your mother. Alicia must have heard wrong. He couldn’t do something that malicious...could he?”
“You know he would,” I replied rolling my eyes.
Marcus nodded sadly in concession.
“Either way, we’re going to find out,” I said determinately.
We arrived at our destination and Marcus started shaking his head. “No Lupe. I am not going in there.”
I shrugged. “Fine. I’ll go by myself.”
Stepping out of the car, I smoothed down my skirt and silently counted to five. Marcus’ door swung open and he got out mumbling expletives.
We walked into the city courthouse and were eventually directed to a caseworker. He sat down in front of us with a sigh as he looked over my paperwork. “Miss Marino. I understand you’re here to inquire about your mother?”
I nodded quickly. “Yes. I know I don’t have much to go on but I was hoping that you might be able to help--”
“According to my file, all we know is her name is or was Guadalupe Martinez and that she was born in 1972 in Monterrey, Mexico. She and her parents immigrated here when she was a child. She left New York shortly after your birth and hasn’t been heard of since.”
“What do you mean left New York? My father told me she died in childbirth.”
The man frowned at me. “I was under the impression that you knew that was a false statement.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, of course, I know that. I’m asking where she went.”
“Unfortunately, that is information that I do not have, Miss Marino.”
My shoulders slumped in defeat and I felt Marcus’ arm wrap around me. “What about Guadalupe’s parents?” Marcus asked. “Do you have their names or address?”
The caseworker glanced back down at the file. “Just that they share the same surname and that at the time of Miss Martinez’s departure, they were living in Chicago.”
“Well, thank you for your time, sir,” I said politely as we stood to leave.
He gave me a sad smile. “I wish I could have been of more assistance. Good luck to you.”
Marcus and I walked back to the car in silence. He blew out a deep breath once the driver pulled into traffic.
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” I said looking out the window. “My father’s lied to me our entire lives.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I love Uncle Franco but he’s not the most morally sound person.”
“Then why do you look so shocked?”
“Lupe did you not hear what that man said?”
“You’re Mexican! I finally have a reason to accept you! You’re officially my sister!” he exclaimed, reaching over and wrapping me in a suffocating hug.
“Oh, fuck off Marcus.”