“Your uncle is a terrible man. He forced your father to leave,” she sobs. “Your father didn’t want us to know why he had to leave. He was worried that you’d go out and try to find him, especially after your grandfather came to stay with us- which- by the way- was arranged by your uncle.” My mother wipes a few tears away and says, “Your father didn’t want you to go out there to try and find him because he was scared that you’d get caught in the middle of something that would end up killing you...That’s all I know.” She sniffles and continues to sob as my phone buzzes.
Holding my mother against me, I ask her, “What’s his name?”
She shakes her head and says, “According to your father, he’s had many aliases. Your uncle moves around a lot. The last time I heard, he went by the name: Greg Foster.”
Greg Foster? Doesn’t ring any bells. “How long ago was that?” I push.
“Honey, that was years ago,” she says with a wave of a hand.
My phone buzzes again.
I can’t answer it right now; I lean in to try and comfort my mother as she sobs. This must not have been easy for her. Hiding my father’s half-brother from me for my whole life... having to keep this secret that my dad, no doubt, begged her to keep - can take a toll on just about anyone. It takes a moment for the shock of having an uncle out there somewhere to subside, along with the fact that my father was forced to leave.
My father didn’t leave voluntarily. I wasn’t the cause of it. For the first time, I feel like I can breathe. The guilt I have felt for over a decade finally lifts.
The moment of peace is short-lived. Blood begins to boil within my veins as all the things my grandpa has done to me floods my memory from that damn vault. It was all in vain. It was never my fault, and he made me believe that it was. All the name-calling, the whippings by his belt, the beatings, and the tortures he put me through were truly all for nothing. I believed him for years. I believed that I deserved it all. I believed that I was the scum on the bottom of my dad’s boot that he scraped off onto some curb where hookers sold themselves.
“Mikey dear, you should check your phone.” The soft voice and sniffles grab my attention. “It keeps going off.”
Standing up, I place the picture in my back pocket then reach for my phone; it’s Paul.
“Yeah,” I answer.
“Hey man, there was a situation at the shop.” I press the phone closer to my ear.
My thoughts are coming up with so many scenarios. “What happened?” I ask.
“It’s Elena.” My hands start to shake as though I had three pots of coffee with extra shots. “She believes there was someone following her while she was out shopping. She ran into your shop. She seems pretty shaken up by it.”
“Did you see them?” I ask through my clenched jaw.
I hear a sigh on the other end as he tells me, “No, I looked, but they must have figured out that if they were to come inside, they’d probably never see the light of day again.” Damn straight.
“Where is she now? Is she alright?” I’m feeling tense-looking over my mom’s Christmas decorations; is it really that time of year already? My mind is circling with all the possibilities that may have happened to Elena.
Did Marcus find her, scare her? Could she have been so close to not being able to have a Christmas this year?
“Yeah, she’s fine. I took her home.” I’m trying to stay calm as I pace back and forth on my mom’s shaggy red carpet. I prefer wood floors. “She doesn’t know I’m calling you –I’m in her bathroom right now...she didn’t want me to call you.”
The pacing stops. Why would she not want him to call me? When I see her, she’s going to get an earful.
There’s a sick twist of jealousy in the pit of my stomach at the thought of Paul taking her home. I should be grateful that he’s there for her when I can’t be, but at the same time, it surges forth that little green monster that often coaxes me into doing stupid shit.
“I’ll be on my way shortly, stall for a bit and stay with her until I get there. I’ll be there soon,” I tell him.
Paul assures me her safety as I glance back into the kitchen; I see mom cleaning up. I would stay to help her, but there’s another important woman in my life that I need to talk to.
“Ma,” I say, walking towards her at the sink. “I hate to do this, but I gotta get going.”
She rinses off a plate and placing it in the dishwasher, then asks, “Already? You just got here...”
Taking a glass from the counter, I place it in the dishwasher - at least I helped a little bit. “I know, Ma, there’s... I need to go.”
“It’s alright; I get it,” she pauses. “I would really like it if you came to see me more, it’s been nearly two years Mikey,” her voice cracks. “Maybe even bring Elena with you. I’d love to meet her.” She eyes me over the rims of her glasses.
Eh... not sure if that’s a good idea, but I nod my head anyway. Walking up to her, I hug her, but not without her saying, “You really like her, don’t you?”
I pull out of the hug to give her a challenging look and ask, “What makes you say that?”
“Well, if it were anyone else, you wouldn’t have agreed to bring her here with you sometime. You would have blurted the word ‘no.’ Plus, you’ve never dated before.” A small smile curls at the corner of her mouth.
Letting out a laugh, I say, “Don’t get ahead of yourself, ma.” I turn my back to head for the door and roll my eyes. I’m not even sure how long she’ll be in my life for.
As I walk out to my bike, eager to get to my girl, my mother shouts, “At least think about Christmas Eve service. It would be nice to have you there. And wear your helmet!”
Mounting my bike - I wave at her and reach for the helmet in the saddlebag. Begrudgingly, I put my hat in the saddlebag and place the helmet on my head. My mother smiles and waves at me as I roll out into the street.
The forty-minute drive feels like being forced to watch sap drizzle down a tree. I am anxious to give Elena a piece of my mind.