“Okay everyone. Party’s over. Thank you for coming. Can you see yourselves out? Please” Emilia told everyone. People shuffled out, murmuring to one another and speculating about what had just happened. Despite everything, this was not how she wanted Zander to meet his father. Already he was scared of Max and that wasn’t her goal. Her husband could hate her for all she cared but she wanted him to have a good relationship with his son. Zander was a sensitive child and she’d taught him it was bad to mistreat women even if they’d done something wrong. Seeing his father mishandling his mother wasn’t a great example.
After the backyard had cleared, she looked from one person to the next taking stock of their appearance. Darren had changed a bit. When she’d left, he was still the kid even though he was older than Gwen but the suit he wore alone, spoke volumes of how different he was today. Lisandra and Gwen were still the same, glaring at her with hateful faces. Once upon a time, she had cared what they thought of her. Right that second, she didn’t give a flying Fuck. And Max looked to still be in shock. His eyes were glued to Zander who kept hiding his face behind her hip. The fact that he was scared of his father bothered her but she couldn’t deal with that right then. Later she would have a talk with her son and try to salvage Max’s image. “Right then family where to begin.” she said smiling. “Did you miss me?”
“How could we not?” that came from Darren who stepped forward and hugged her.
“Oh Darren, you’re still sweet as always. Out of everyone, I missed you the most”
“Yes. But I’m also mad that you left. Where have you been? I looked everywhere for you Em. Where did you go?”
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m here now and I’ll be staying for good”
“After you’ve settled down we’ll talk.” he said then grabbed a waiter passing by with glasses “Can you call Mel for me?” he asked just as the housekeeper appeared wheeling someone forward.
Emilia stared at Mrs. Carter not knowing how to feel. That woman had made her life a living hell and almost cost the life of her son just because she didn’t approve of Max marrying her. All the things she’d done came rushing back and Emilia couldn’t stop herself from saying “My, my Mrs Carter. How the mighty have fallen, wouldn’t you agree?” the woman stared at her and for the first time there was no contempt in her eyes. There was a second when she didn’t recognize who Emilia was but when she did, there was shock plastered all over her face. That same shock rose to another level when she saw Zander. As if still protecting her child from her, Emilia pushed him behind her. “I would say it’s nice to see you again but I would be lying”
“Why you.....” Max started but Darren held him back again.
“Easy bro. Your son is watching”
“I hate you” he snarled lowly so that only she could hear him.
Shrugging it off Emilia smiled at him “How you feel towards me doesn’t matter dear husband. Truly”
“Why are you really here? What do you want?” Gwen asked, finally finding her voice. Of the three women, she was the weakest. If her mother decided she didn’t like something, Gwen would also say she didn’t like it just to please her mother. Emilia hoped that she hadn’t changed because that little weakness would be her downfall.
“I’m back. This is my house too Gwen. In fact since it belongs to my husband, I own half of it”
“Nothing here belongs to you, you bitch”
“Lisa I will urge you to refrain from cursing in front of my son or I will be forced to wash your mouth with soap. Am I clear? And yes, all of you seem to forget that when Max and I got married we were so in love that I never signed a prenuptial agreement. Therefore half of everything he owns is mine. The other half belongs to my son.”
“I always knew you were after his money” Lisandra took that opportunity to start with her accusations “Didn’t I tell you just what kind of a woman she was Max? I kept saying she was a gold digger but none of you would listen to me. Look at her now, coming back here dressed like a....”
“You finish that sentence and I’ll show you exactly what I am Lisa. Go ahead, say another word in front of my son” Emilia told her. Frankly she was getting tired of that woman’s loud mouth. She wondered if anyone would care if she stuck a dirty sock in it. Lisandra did shut up, but glared at her just like what Max was doing. Surprisingly, Mrs Carter hadn’t said a word. She kept staring at Zander who wouldn’t let her leg go.
It wasn’t like her son to be so shy. Zander Edgar Carter was born screaming his lungs out and he’d never stopped. Thea always complained about how loud he was but Emilia didn’t mind. Every time he talked, she was reminded that all it would have taken another minute longer, for her to lose him. One more minute and he would have never been born. All because of the people standing in front of them. Did Zander realize how evil they were? Is that why he was hiding behind her? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to bring him with her. She should have left him with Hendricks and Sawyer. They would have gladly watched over him until he was ready to meet his family. Until she was ready to let him meet them.
It didn’t matter how much they all disliked her. With the exception of Lisandra, they were all Zander’s family. He was at the stage in his life where he was going to need a father figure. Someone who could teach him the things she couldn’t. Who could take him fishing, play football with him, and tell him the insider rules about men in general. The things she didn’t know. Her son needed that. That was one of the reasons she came back to that house. Although judging form Max’s expression, he preferred her gone.
“Right then” she clapped her hands since no one was going to raise any more objections “Mel, would you please ask someone to take our luggage inside. We’re really tired and need to freshen up”
“Yes ma’am” Mel the Carter’s housekeeper said. She too was like Mrs. Carter but she wasn’t staring at her son. Her gaze was on Emilia as if not believing her eyes at all.
“Have them take my things to my bedroom and I’m hoping Zander’s room is just as I left it. Right?”
“Good. Take his things there. Tomorrow I’ll see what I can do to change everything because he’s not a baby anymore and I don’t think he’d appreciate sleeping in a baby’s room”
“Oh for God’s sake would you stop it with the yes ma’am. Call me Emilia or Mrs Carter” Emilia snapped and was surprised when the other woman broke into a smile. She moved forward with lighting speed and threw her hands over her shoulders hugging her.
“I’m so glad you’re okay my dear. I was so worried about you” Mel whispered into her hair. She hugged the woman back because she had been the only one who had accepted her wholeheartedly when she’d first married Max.
“I’m fine Mel. How are you? God, I missed you” they broke apart and Emilia was happy to see her dab her tears away.
“I’m fine, my girl. And who is this handsome man?” she asked pointing at her son.
“Zander Edgar Carter, meet your new nanny, Mel”
“Hello” he extended his hand and she breathed a sigh of relief. He would be just fine.
“Hello my boy. The last time I saw you, you weren’t even born. And now look at you, all grown up and looking just like your father did. I feel like someone threw me into a time machine” Mel marveled still holding his hand.
Laughing, Zander said “Time machines aren’t real. Hens and Saw argue about that all the time and they never listen to me when I tell them that no one has invented a time machine. Yet”
“Really? You’ll have to tell me more about it over.. What’s your poison?”
“Chocolate chip cookies. Do you have any?” and there was the Zander she knew. He was talkative, sweet, made friends with anyone who could give him chocolate chip cookies.
“We have plenty of those since your father has the same weakness. Come on honey, let’s go raid his secret stash. I know where he keeps them”
He turned to her “Can I go mom? Please?”
“Yes. Just don’t forget the rules Zander. I mean it” he had the tendency to eat more cookies than required and since his milk teeth hadn’t fallen off, she let him. But they still needed a limit or God knew how much that boy would eat.
“Five at most. I’m not a child anymore. I can count” he said with a bit of irritation laced in his voice.
“I know, you don’t have to snap at me”
Smiling sheepishly he raised his hands making her bend. Zander took her face in his tiny hands and kissed her nose “I love you mom. Even more than my cookies” and then he was skipping off with Mel, having forgotten about not wanting to stay in that house. She liked that at the mention of cookies, he forgot about everything else.
They all watched him go and after he’d disappeared into the house with Mel, everyone turned to look at her. The silence stretched on, until Lisandra broke it.
“I still don’t believe he’s your son Max”
“No one is telling you to believe anything. As a matter of fact, I don’t give a fuck what you believe or don’t. It makes no difference to me”
“Oh look everyone. Little Emilia isn’t so little anymore. She knows how to curse”
“Damn right Lisandra. If I were you, I’d tread carefully. Now that I’m back, your days in this house are numbered”
“I’m not scared of you. This is my house too and you can’t kick me out”
The nerve of that woman. As if it wasn’t enough that she’d stolen her husband, now she pretended to be a member of the family too? Over her dead body “We’ll see about that Lisa.” turning to Max she said “Husband you’ll keep your mistress in check or I will be forced to take action against her. It will do you and everyone else well to remember that I’m not the same woman who left nine years ago. I’ve changed. I will not allow you or anyone to mistreat me or my son. If either of you put your hands on me or Zander, you will see a side of me you’ve never seen before. Especially you Max. I dare you to touch me again” she looked him in the eye just to make sure he understood what she’d said.
His first instinct had been to choke her to prevent her from getting to Lisandra. He was taking the side of his mistress and all Emilia could think about was that she had to be angry. If she could focus on her anger, she wouldn’t be able to feel the pain of betrayal. Those kinds of feelings had no place in her heart. She couldn’t let herself feel anything towards him again. Her son was in the picture and with Lisandra beside him, he would always pick her over anyone. So until that witch was gone, no feelings would be involved. Turning to Mrs. Carter, she looked at the woman again.
In the years she hadn’t been there, a lot had changed. The woman who had been the envy of her peers for how young and beautiful she was, couldn’t even walk anymore. Forget walking, she looked her age. Old and withered. Once upon a time, Emilia would have laughed had anyone told her this was how Mrs. Carter would end up. But time changed everything. Now she was the defenseless one while Emilia held all the cards. Shaking her head, she followed her son into the house. For the life of her, she couldn’t bring herself to feel sorry for Genevieve. That house could only have one Mrs. Carter and Genevieve’s reign as Mrs. Carter was over. Now it was her turn.
“Mom, mom, mom, you wouldn’t believe how many cookies Nana has. She said they were all mine if I ate my vegetables” Zander rushed to her the second she walked in the kitchen.
“Yes. Aunt Mel said I could get anything I want if I called her Nana”
Emilia raised her eyes to Mel who was leaning on the kitchen aisle “Don’t spoil him anymore than he is Mel. He’ll grow up to be a spoiled brat”
“I’m not a brat” he defended himself, wiping crumbs away from his mouth. “I eat all my vegetables, brush my teeth and take a shower all on my own mom.”
“Yes you do. But you also complain about everything. You’ve never taken a shower without complaining about the water or how you don’t have to take a bath everyday”
“Please, a man has to speak out his mind once in a while” he said in such a serious tone that she burst out laughing.
“As always you’re right.”
“Of course I am.” he went back to where he had been sitting. There was a glass of milk and half eaten cookies in front of him. Zander had the bad habit of taking a bite out of all his cookies so no one would dare eat them. And he kept saying he wasn’t a brat.
“Your things are already in your room, if you’d like to rest”
“Thank you Mel. I’ll go freshen up. Can you stay with Zander until I get back?”
“You don’t have to ask Em. He’s actually keeping an eye on me seeing as I’m so old and weak” she winked at Zander who smiled at her.
“She’s right mom. Don’t worry about her. I’m right here and I’ll take care of her”
Biting her lip to keep from laughing, Emilia nodded “Okay then my boy. Take care of your Nana”
“You got it” he called after her. She would have laughed had she not bumped into Max who was standing right outside the kitchen. Was he eavesdropping on them? Or was he that curious about his son? The anguish on his face made her want to take him into her arms and comfort him. He looked sad and she could only imagine what he must be feeling. He’d missed out on seeing his son for nine years. In fact she’d made him believe she had aborted their child before she left so he wouldn’t go looking for her. It had been a cruel thing to do but she had no option. It needed to be done.
But now that he realized she’d lied, what did he feel? Was he happy to know that he was a father? Was there a part of him, no matter how small, that was glad to see her again? And God why was she letting herself think like that? She couldn’t love him again. Her feelings had gotten her in trouble in the past. Loving Maxwell Carter again was impossible. She wouldn’t let it happen especially now that she had Zander to think about. Squaring her shoulders, she walked past him and headed upstairs. Max was her husband but it would be a cold day in hell before she loved that cheating son of a bitch again.