Chapter 16. Allow Him To Live
Carlos looked as if he hadn’t showered in weeks or longer and like he had lost weight. Dirt and sweat covered his forehead, and his shaggy black hair looked greasy. “It’s me,” Carlos said.
Aria smiled and took a step toward Carlos, but I grabbed her arm to stop her. Aria looked at me, confused.
“Wait. I need to know what happened. How do we know you aren’t Charles?” I asked. I needed to be certain. It seemed that lately, we were wrong about people more often than not.
Carlos gave me a weak smile. “Charles? What are you talking about? Of course, it’s me. Charles died. . .” Carlos trailed off, and his smile faded as he took in our expressions.
“No, Dad, he didn’t,” Aria murmured.
Andersen rushed into the study and stopped behind Carlos. Andersen could have burned a hole in the back of Carlos’s head from the way he stared at him.
Carlos turned slowly to face Andersen. “John. It’s so good to see you,” Carlos breathed.
Andersen stared at Carlos with wide eyes. “I don’t believe it. Rosa said she saw you walk into the mansion, but I had to see for myself.”
“What if he is Charles?” Abel asked. “Ace is right. We have been wrong about everything that has happened to everyone. I mean, come on. We buried you. We buried three of you, and somehow none of you are dead. We all saw Carlos’s body, so this makes no sense.”
“B-buried me?” Carlos stammered.
“Carlos would have a unique scar on the back of his neck,” Andersen said.
“How do you know that, Andersen?” I asked. Aria and I walked closer to Carlos and Andersen.
“Because I put it there,” Andersen said. His gaze locked with mine, and I couldn’t deny the certainty and sincerity in his eyes.
Carlos chuckled. He put his hand beneath his hair and stepped back toward Andersen. Andersen looked at his neck and nodded. Carlos turned for Aria and me to see what they were talking about.
The scar wasn’t big, but it was funny shaped and a light pink, like he had been burned.
“I never noticed it before,” Aria said.
“His hair hides it,” Andersen said. “During a fourth of July when we were kids, I accidentally caught Carlos on the back of the neck with a sparkler. There is no chance that Charles had the same scar.”
“I remember. That didn’t feel very good,” Carlos said and chuckled.
“So, we buried Charles?” Luis arched a brow.
“Must have,” Andersen said. “I can’t say I believe it either. He looks exactly like you, Carlos.”
“Charles died at birth. How did any of you even know about him? I never spoke of him.” Carlos gazed around the room.
“I told them because I saw you,” Andersen murmured. “I thought I was hallucinating.”
Aria bounced forward, and this time, I didn’t stop her. Aria threw her arms around her father and hugged him. I stared at Carlos in shock. Carlos had been gone for over a year.
“How did you get away?” Austin asked.
“I escaped, but barely, and no doubt they’re looking for me. I’m not certain who took me. They kept me blindfolded. I didn’t get to eat much. I need a shower,” Carlos said. “We have to figure out who did this.”
“Go clean up, Dad. I’ll call Mom. We have a lot to figure out and a lot to fill you in on,” Aria said.
“Did you sell my house?” Carlos asked.
Aria shrugged. “Didn’t need two mansions. There is a lot you don’t understand, but we have time to fill you in. You’re safe here.”
Carlos nodded and turned to Andersen. Andersen helped Carlos out of the study.
“God, look at him,” Aria murmured. She stared after Carlos and Andersen.
“He’s weak,” I said. “He made it home, though, and that is all that matters.”
While Aria called her mother, I decided to wake up Benny to tell him what happened. I entered one of the many guest bedrooms and turned on the dim lamp beside the bed. I sat on the edge of the bed and shook Benny awake.
Benny’s eyes fluttered open, but he closed them again. His head rolled to the side.
“Benny, wake up,” I said.
Benny turned his head and opened his eyes. He blinked several times and rubbed his eyes. “Ace, what is it?”
“Sorry, man. We wanted to let you sleep longer, but something happened, and I thought you would want to know,” I said.
Benny sat up and rubbed his eyes again. “Okay. What is it?”
“This is going to be hard to believe, but it’s true. Do you remember how we thought Jenny and Andersen were dead?”
“Yeah. . .” Benny trailed off and raised his eyebrows.
“We were wrong about Carlos. He is alive, and he is here. He went to shower, but I’m sure he will be done soon,” I explained.
Benny stared at me in disbelief for a long moment. “But—” Benny stopped and knitted his eyebrows together. “No, you know what? I believe you. It’s like nobody died. Maybe we should check Jax’s casket too,” Benny grumbled.
“Um, I don’t think so. Jax is definitely dead.”
“How do you know this guy isn’t Charles?” Benny asked as he climbed off the bed.
“Andersen proved it, more or less. The man we buried is Charles, or at least, that is what we think.”
“This is fucked up,” Benny muttered.
Everyone sat around the study in silence. None of us were sure what to think or say. Benny sat down on the couch and opened his computer.
“You shouldn’t have woken Benny up,” Aria said to me. Her eyes scolded mine.
“Benny wouldn’t have wanted to sleep through this,” I argued.
“He’s right,” Benny said.
Aria sighed. “Okay. Mom is on her way.”
“You’re going to have to tell her gently, bebita,” I warned. I poured bourbon into my glass and took a sip.
“I know,” Aria said. “I haven’t told her why. I just told her it was important, but I’ll catch her at the front door.”
“Is she bringing Chad?” I asked.
“Yes,” Aria said simply.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to drop all of this on your father at once? He’s been gone for so long, bebita, and it’s a lot to take in,” I said. I rubbed my chin as I considered things we didn’t need to tell him right away.
“He’s tough,” Aria said and narrowed her eyes at me. “What is with you?”
“I just don’t want to throw him into shock,” I snapped. “Just being here and seeing all of us is a lot. I’m thinking about what is best for him. Don’t question my reasons. You know how I feel about your father.”
Aria crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s not that fragile.”
“I never said he was,” I muttered.
The others ignored our conversation. Nobody wanted to get into the middle of Aria and me. They knew better.
The study door swung open. Andersen and Carlos walked in together. Carlos looked ten times better than he did by simply showering and changing his clothes. I considered the idea that Aria was right about Carlos being able to handle all the news.
Carlos poured a glass of bourbon and sat on the couch across from the desk. He smiled at Aria. “I love what you have done with the place.”
Aria walked to the couch and sat beside Carlos. I sat down on the other side of him. Aria grabbed his hand in hers.
“Tammy is going to be here shortly,” I blurted out.
Carlos looked at me then back to Aria.
“You need to see her,” Aria said. “She needs to see you.”
Carlos sighed. “I suppose that is true. How is she? Did she have the baby?”
“She had a boy. His name is Chad,” Aria said. She squeezed his hand as if to reassure him. “It’s going to be a lot for you to process and everyone else.”
“Aria, why don’t you go wait for your mother. I’ll fill your father in,” I offered.
Aria gave me a disbelieving look.
“I’ll tell him,” I promised.
Aria couldn’t deny the sincerity in my eyes. She pecked her dad on the cheek and left the study.
Carlos turned to me. “So, how is she doing, really? Did she take things over, or did you? What all happened?”
“I know you must have a million questions, and I’ll answer as many of them as I can. Aria did great, but we hit a few rough patches. I had to run it for a little while, but she’s better now.”
“Better?” Carlos raised an eyebrow at me.
“Aria and I got engaged. The night before our wedding, while I wasn’t home, someone dropped a bomb off. Aria and the other girls were here. Andersen got hurt as well. Actually, we thought that Jennifer and Andersen were dead.”
Carlos immediately looked to Joey with a remorseful expression. “Oh, Joey. I’m sorry.”
“She’s not dead, Carlos,” Joey said.
The boys all gathered around the sofa.
“And neither is. . . Andersen,” Carlos said. He pursed his lips and looked back at me.
“We thought they died, but it turned out someone kidnapped them just as they kidnapped you. They faked their deaths. We are certain that the same person who took you took them too,” I clarified. “Aria lost her memory, and she just got it back today. She had pieces, but it’s all the way back now. Andersen mentioned that he thought he saw you, but he said it was possible that he hallucinated or saw someone else. Andersen thought he might have seen Charles. It turns out it was you he saw. We were going to search for you.”
Carlos sipped his bourbon and nodded in understanding. Part of me wondered when I should stop throwing all of this on him. He looked paler than he did moments ago.
“We’re pretty sure the Aryan brotherhood is behind all of this. We intend to fight them. Miguel and Diego have agreed to help us too,” I said. “They won’t be around for a while, though.”
“Are you going to run things now that you’re back?” Luis asked Carlos.
Carlos shook his head. “What reason do I have? She’s doing good. I won’t take it from her, and I couldn’t. Everything belongs to Aria.”
“It would still be nice to have you around to help, Carlos,” Abel said.
“I’ll be here,” Carlos said. Carlos turned to me. “So, did you get married?”
I smiled and looked away. “Mm, no. We didn’t,” I said. “It’s not exactly on our to-do list, at the moment.”
“Good. I would like to walk her down the aisle since I’m not dead and all,” Carlos said and chuckled.
Tammy bursted through the study door with Aria following her. I turned to look. Tammy stopped when she saw Carlos. She threw her hands over her mouth in shock, and her eyes teared up.
I stood up and gestured for Tammy to come forward. “Tammy, I know it’s a shock, but it’s him.”
Carlos got to his feet and turned around. “Hey, Tam,” Carlos said and smiled.
“Oh my god,” Tammy gasped. Tammy dashed forward and jumped into Carlos’s arms.
Carlos tangled a hand into Tammy’s hair and wrapped an arm around her waist. He held her close for an immeasurable moment. We all stayed quiet and looked in any direction but them because the moment felt too personal for us to be a part of.
Aria carried Chad to Carlos. Carlos took Chad from Aria, and Carlos’s eyes widened as he took in Chad. Chad looked more like Carlos and Aria than he did Tammy.
“Wow,” Carlos said. “Boy, look at you. Your mother has been taking damn good care of you.”
Tammy smiled and patted Chad’s back. Chad didn’t know what to make of Carlos. Carlos wasn’t familiar with Chad.
We let Tammy, Chad, and Carlos talk and play. All of us lived by a rule, and that is family comes first. Aria sat down at her desk, and I sat down beside her.
“You had a baby too?” Carlos asked Aria.
“Yes, a boy. His name is Angel Carlos Garcia,” Aria said. “Do you want to meet him?”
“Of course,” Carlos said.
“I’ll get him,” I said. I started to get up but didn’t make it far. The study door opened. Angel walked in with Rosa.
“He wanted to see you,” Rosa said.
“I was just about to come to get him.” I opened my arms for Angel. Angel ran to me and jumped into my arms. Angel pointed at Carlos and smiled.
“Hey, little guy,” Carlos said. “Well, you look like both parents, don’t you?”
“He sure does,” Tammy said and chuckled. “He’s so smart too.”
“Mom and Ace delivered him,” Aria said.
“Whatever,” I snorted. “You and your mom did all the real work. I mostly watched.”
Aria bursted into giggles.
“You will get to the hospital in time with this one, bebita. I’m not delivering any more babies,” I muttered.
All the guys broke into laughter. Carlos stood up and approached Angel. Angel wasn’t shy at all like Chad. Angel waved at Carlos and then reached for him. Carlos took Angel and went back to sit beside Tammy and Chad.
The sky grew darker. Tammy put Chad and Angel down for bed after dinner. We spent hours catching Carlos up on everything that happened, including the new relationships and the ones that will or did come to an end.
“Benny, I think you should go back to bed. Dad, you should stay. I have to get some sleep, too,” Aria said.
“I’m really close,” Benny insisted. He had his nose nearly pressed to his computer screen. Benny barely spoke for hours and didn’t allow anyone to distract him.
Aria narrowed her eyes at him, but when he ignored her, she dropped it. Aria sighed and looked at me. “Are you ready for bed?”
“Yes,” I agreed. My eyelids felt like they weighed ten times the amount that they normally did. “Are you guys staying?” I looked around at all the guys.
“I’m going to stick around for a little bit and see if he figures anything out,” Joey said. The curiosity in his voice couldn’t be mistaken. The other guys agreed with Joey.
Carlos went off to find Tammy, and I followed Aria up to our bedroom. Aria went into the closet and changed into a pair of pajamas.
I stripped down to boxers and climbed into bed. I left the lamp on for her until she crawled into bed. The last thing I needed is for her to trip and fall. “Wake me up if you need anything,” I told her.
Aria scooted over and pecked me on the lips. “I’m fine, babe. You don’t need to cringe every time I move an inch.”
I scoffed. “I do not.”
“Really?” Aria challenged. “So, you won’t mind if I go downstairs to grab a glass of water?”
“That’s not fair,” I muttered. “It’s dark and late, and you are tired. I just wouldn’t want you to fall and get hurt or something.”
“Don’t forget that I have my memory back now, and I know you better than I did. I remember all the time we spent together after I got out of the hospital too. You have done nothing but worry about me,” Aria said. She traced my jawline with her finger.
My hand caught hers, and I clenched my jaw. I moved my head to the side and locked eyes with her. My murderous stare is enough to make anyone turn and run, except for her. “Can you honestly fucking blame me?” I spat through my teeth.
Aria sighed and pulled back slightly. “Babe, I’m just saying—”
“Don’t fucking say it. Don’t say anything else. God damn it. You don’t know what it was like. I watched you die. You didn’t just slip into a coma, Aria. You died and were resuscitated.” It felt like I had taken all I could and couldn’t take anymore, as if I were on the brink of exploding.
Aria crawled to my side of the bed.
“For what?” I spat as I pulled my jeans on. “For you to tell me that I’m being crazy or oversensitive?” I crossed my arms over my chest.
Aria sat on the bed in nothing but a piece of lacey lingerie that stopped at the top of her thigh. She leaned her weight to one arm and placed one hand on her bare thigh. She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows at me.
Damn, I hate it when she looks at me like that. Every time she does, it makes me want to. . . Focus, Ace! “Stop looking at me like that, bebita,” I murmured. My cock started to harden, but I clenched my jaw.
“Look at you like what?” Aria said and smirked.
I sighed and looked down at my feet. I had to get this out before all my thoughts were consumed by tearing off what she’s wearing. “I lived with the thought that you might not wake up. I had to face the idea that I might have to raise Angel on my own. So, if I can prevent something from happening to you, I’m going to. I’m going to find every possible way to keep you alive, even if that means that I don’t get to be. You had me falling apart. How can’t you see that?” My gaze flickered to her eyes when she didn’t respond.
The smirk on Aria’s face had vanished. She stared down at her hand, which fisted our comforter on the bed. When she finally looked up at me, I saw why she didn’t want to look at me. Her eyes were glassy from the tears that built in them. Aria got off the bed and closed the distance between us. She threw her arms around my neck and tangled her fingers into my hair.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and finished the distance between our lips. My mouth molded to her mouth. We stumbled back toward the bed. A desire to love every inch of her took me over, and it’s all I could think about.
A few raps on the door made us break apart. I turned and glared at the door. I’m going to kill whoever is behind that door — I thought to myself.
Aria giggled at my expression and probably knew what I thought about the interruption. She shoved past me and strolled over to the door.
Aria moved aside, so I could see who had interrupted us.
Benny stood in the frame of the door. I didn’t have to ask why he came up here because I already knew. Benny knew who sent the bomb. He figured it out like he always does, and for that, I’m going to allow him to live and not kill him for the interruption. As irritated as I was about the interruption, I was happy that he finally figured out the truth — the truth that we had wanted for a long time.