“Last weekend I was wandering around the house missing my dad and my mom. I ended up walking to their bedroom looking for anything of theirs I could hold on to. But when I checked the closet everything was gone.”
She stopped to take a breath. I set my mug on the table and gently took her hand in mine, silently letting her know that it was okay.
“Honestly, that wasn’t even the most heartbreaking thing I discovered.”
I raised my eyebrows in question.
“Sienna... I’m pretty sure I’m adopted, or-or at least one of my parents isn’t my birth parent.”
My eyes widened in complete and utter disbelief. ”What?! What do you- how did you come to that conclusion after checking your parents closet??”
“There was a box filled with all sorts of legal documents, along with my birth certificate. Aaron is my birth father, but Molly isn’t my mother. I... I found a photo of a woman named Jolene, who I’m sure is my birth mother.” She shook her head in frustration.
“At first, I thought my dad was having an affair, but there was another photo of Jolene holding a baby. On the back of it was my name and the day I was born. I just don’t understand... why isn’t she here? What happened to her? What if- what if she didn’t want me, Sienna?”
“Alex, no. Don’t you dare go there.” I said, tugging her toward me into a hug. “I wish I had the answer to your questions, I sincerely do. But I don’t... this is something you have to discuss further with your father.”
She pulled back, giving me a wrinkled look.
“Alex. I can’t even attempt to put myself in your shoes, but I know that being in the dark, not knowing about your mom.... I know it hurts. Please, call your father. You need closure.”
Suddenly the doorbell rang, disrupting our conversation. Alex seemed more than delighted to weasel her way out of this conversation to see who’d been behind it. I threw my hands up in exasperation.
“Hey, you’re late,” I heard Alex speak as she opened the door to whomever was standing behind it.
“Sorry, Gio’s was packed today. I sacrificed my buffalo wings just to pick up your disgusting pineapple and mushroom pizza.”
“I’ll say it time and time again. You think it’s disgusting, but I’ve literally been eating this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the past week and a half. Bite me!”
My ears perked up at the familiar voice that sent my heart into a fluttering frenzy.
“No wonder you smell so bad. Anyway, scoot out of my way so I can say hello to my lady and get this monstrosity off my hands.”
The smell of pizza grew closer to where I was sitting on the couch until Joseph was standing right in front of me. He grinned widely at me and set the pizza box down before running his hands through his tousled hair. I stood from the couch and hugged him. Joseph was the first to break away, leaving a kiss on my forehead.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hey- wait.” I stood on the tips of my toes and stuck my nose in his hair. Coconut. “I’m sorry,” I said, chuckling as I dropped back into the heels of my feet. “Your hair smells really good.”
“Thanks. I uh- used my mom’s shampoo today. I ran out of my own, but I just might start buying Garnier Whole Blends as my regular, especially since you seem to like it,” he said, scrunching up his face as a smile started to grow. I shook my head, laughing.
“I didn’t know you’d be coming here.”
“Yeah, Alex got hungry. I was already at Giovanni’s placing an order, so I picked up her pizza on the way.”
I plucked the two chocolate stained mugs from the table and made my way to the kitchen. Joseph followed. For some reason, I suddenly felt antsy and needed something to do with myself.
“Plus, you sorta left us confused after you disappeared earlier. But now that there is food for this impromptu gathering, I say it’s a good time for all of us to finally have a chat,” he continued, lightly slapping his hand against the marble countertop near the sink.
“I suppose,” I said, as I began washing the mugs.
My back was facing him, but I didn’t need to be looking at him to know his eyes were on me. I could feel his smoldering stare on my back. As if on cue, I heard the sound of his boots on the tile floor nearing me.
A moment later, Joseph’s hands found a resting place on the curve of my waist. A jolt of electricity shot through my body under his touch, sending the soapy sponge flying free from my grasp. I heard him chuckle behind me, clearly relishing the way I reacted to him. I needed to finish washing the cups before I accidentally broke one.
“What happened today?” he asked softly.
After placing the cups on the drying rack, I dried my hands on a towel folded by the sink and turned around in his arms to face him.
“During the exam I started to think about why I was sitting at that desk like Mr. Evans asked. Yeah, these tests have the potential to determine the course of the future, but for so long I’d been going along with the future my mom was creating for me. When I got home, as expected she was —”
“Foaming at the mouth?” he interjected.
“Pretty close to it. She was pissed that I walked out of the exam and she then went on to tell me that if I skipped school, I’d eventually do drugs. It was insane, pero la cosa que me enoja más es-” (But the thing that upset me the most was-)
“Mariposa... English please. You get me hot when you speak Spanish.”
I flicked his forehead and he pouted, rubbing the tender spot. “I’m trying to tell you something here!” I admonished him.
He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and sent me his signature smirk. “Dale, estoy escuchando,” (Go ahead, I’m listening.) he said.
“As I was saying, the thing that upset me the most was the fact that she tried to place blame on you. You were said to have corrupted my future along with my ‘innocence.’”
At my words, the amusement in his features was replaced with dejection. I took his arms that were on my waist and secured them even tighter.
“Hey. Don’t you think for a second that any of what my mother said was true.”
“Isn’t it though? I have influenced you.”
I let out a short laugh. “Keyword: influenced. You’ve never pushed me to do anything that I didn’t want to do. Before you came around I was scared. Terrified. I was terrified of my mother and I was terrified to step out of my comfort zone. After you...”
I draped my arms over his shoulders and braced his back. Warm, affectionate, protective. Things he’d been to me continuously. I wanted to be those same things for him.
“After you - with your encouragement, support and belief in me, you’ve helped me grow. I may have changed a little, but I have changed for the better.”
His face softened and his lips quirked.
“I know you feel at fault for a lot that has happened in your life... but unfortunately we can’t alter the past. Joseph, you are the greatest gift to this world and I will never stop trying to show you just how amazing you are.”
With his arms still in place around my waist, he pulled me in, pressing every inch of his body close and resting his forehead on mine.
“I absolutely adore you, Sienna,” he whispered.
“Ditto, mi pedacito de cielo.” (Ditto, my little piece of heaven.)
I reached up and brushed my lips against his in a chaste kiss. We held each other for a minute or two, but our gushy atmosphere shattered around us and crashed to the floor when Alex decided to throw in her hammer-like words without caution.
“I swear if you guys are doing it in my kitchen, I will kick your asses! It’s not like I eat in there, but still.”
“Even if we sanitized afterward?” Joseph shouted back.
“Hey! Don’t get any ideas, it’s not gonna happen,” I said, jabbing his taut stomach.
He gave me a pointed look.
“Pffft. Like you haven’t thought about me bending —”
“Let’s go, now is not the time to be a horndog.”
With a smack on his behind, I pulled him out of the kitchen and into the living room where Alex was waiting expectantly. She had a half eaten slice of pizza in her hand. I reclaimed my spot on the left side of the couch with my knees to my chest, while Joseph sat on the floor resting his head on the ottoman near the table.
“Have you told Joseph about your parents, or does he need to be filled in?” I asked Alex.
“We’ve talked. Everything is out in the open, I just- I don’t know what to do,” she replied, weaving her fingers in and out of each other.
Before I could finish my sentence, Alex’s phone that lay face down on the table started to vibrate. Once. Twice. Three times.
“I can’t. What if it’s him?,” she muttered, dropping her head onto her lap.
“Lex...” Joseph mumbled knowingly.
“Don’t ‘Lex’ me. My entire life has been a lie! I have nothing to say to him and there is nothing he can say that will change the way I feel. For all I know he’s not even my biological father. He could be some deranged lunatic who took me away from my mother and hid me away here, claiming me as his own!”
The call dropped and a minute later the vibration started up again. The phone inched toward the edge of the table as the rumbling persisted. Joseph heaved an exasperated sigh.
“Listen, I’m not gonna tell you that I know how you feel because I don’t. But what I will tell you is that harboring all of these ill feelings will do you zero good.”
Joseph moved from the ottoman and kneeled next to Alex by the couch, looking up at her.
“I know you’re angry. You have every right to be. I know your dad hasn’t done the best job he could being a father or taking care of you, but... haven’t you ever thought that maybe the reason he’s gone so often is because he’s dealing with your mother? Trying to make things better?”
“I know you are not trying to make excuses for him. He’s a grown tman.”
“That’s the last thing I’m trying to do. I know it’s a stretch, but hear me out. If it is him calling, you’ll never know if that’s the case or something completely different. You won’t ever get the explanation you so rightfully deserve.”
Without uttering a word, she stood from the couch and grabbed her phone from the table before making her way upstairs.
“We love you,” I reassured her.
She gave Joseph and I a watery smile before disappearing up the staircase and shutting the door of the room she entered.
⋅. ✯ .⋅
The two of us sat in the living room for a while, having a conversation about what type of Hershey’s chocolate was the best. He was trying to distract me from worrying about Alex too much, but that was almost impossible.
“Are you kidding me? Hershey’s with almonds has to be the worst bar ever made.”
Joseph was astounded when I told him that was my favorite chocolate bar. I shrugged in response, barely present.
“You know, I was prepared for your usually sassy comebacks.”
He scooted over on the couch where he had moved to shortly after Alex went upstairs. His lips pulled into a lopsided grin as he looked at me.
“Oh, trust me when I say I’m offended. Your taste buds are useless if they’re not being used to enjoy Hershey’s almonds.” I sighed, crossing my legs on the couch. “I’m just- she’s already been through hell with Aaron. I mean, coming back to this house is a daily battle for her. Now she finds out that the woman he’s married to isn’t her actual mother?? It’s unbelievable, Joseph. Alex doesn’t deserve this. I wish there was something more we could do for her.”
I let my head fall on his shoulder. “What?”
“The best we can do is continue supporting her, sticking by her side and making sure she’ll never have to face anything alone. The only person that will be able to truly bring her peace is Arron, and we can only hope that he sees what he’s doing is destroying his daughter. We can only hope he starts putting Alex first the way we put her first.”
I closed my eyes, taking a moment to mull things over in my head. He was right. Any real damage control had to be taken care of by her father. As her best friends, we just had to be here for her right now.
Joseph and I pivoted our heads in the direction of Alex’s small voice. She stood at the top of the staircase. When my eyes locked on hers, I saw that they were swollen and red. My heart sank at what came next.
“He’s coming home.”