Serenaded by the gentle sounds of the woodlands, Amanda sleepily made her way to the kitchen of their luxurious cabin. Pausing, she gazed through the skylight. The stars seemed so much brighter than she was used to. It had taken a week for her to finally start to relax.
Breathing seemed easier there. The air was clean and clear and not laden with the tension under which they had been living. There was a gradual lessening of that ever-present dread niggling at the back of her mind, wondering if this was the day he found out, or worse, if this was finally the day she received word that he had been killed. For the first time in years, the dull aching in her soul started to recede.
It was a beautiful night, clear with a slight chill. They’d use the huge fireplace the next morning, one of the employees having stacked up the wood. Grabbing a glass from the cupboard, she opened the refrigerator and pulled out the carton of juice. Maybe it was something revealed by the ambient light from the fridge or maybe it was a barely audible sound of breathing, but Amanda suddenly tensed.
Hackles rising on the back of her neck, she realized she wasn’t alone. Amanda slowly and deliberately put the orange juice down, all thoughts of sleep instantly banished. Smoothly grabbing the knife from the butcher block, she spun towards the darkened living room.
“Put the knife down, Amanda. I don’t want to take it from you, and you wouldn’t want me to.”
She couldn’t pull in a breath. The knife fell to the counter from her shaking hands. Thoughts racing through her mind, she tried to quell her panic. How did he find them? Is Crystal still in her room? Savagely suppressing tears as she thought of her daughter, she knew that she had to stall.
“Can I finish my juice, Manny?”
“Enjoy.” Speaking from the darkness, his voice sent a shiver snaking down her spine.
“Can I get you something?”
This isn’t a social call, Amanda.”
“Let me just get a glass. How long have you been here?”
“Stalling’s not going to work.”
“Were you thinking that Mr. McCord and Mr. Dennings were going to burst through that door? Were they going to rescue you after their sweep of the property? They won’t be rescuing anyone. Not for a long time.”
The shaking was back. She leaned against the counter, trying to project a semblance of stability. Her knees refused to support her on their own, but she couldn’t appear weak.
“You made three mistakes, Amanda. The first was never coming to me and telling me that you were falling in love with someone else before you fucked him. The second was not understanding that although I was never the smartest man in the room, I had many friends who were. The third is thinking that I would ever, ever allow someone to take my daughter from me.”
He snorted in disgust.
“How was this supposed to happen? Were you going to eventually send me a letter? Maybe tell me that this was for the best? That he could provide a better life for Crystal? That maybe you’d let me see her someday? Is that what you were imagining?”
“This had better not be another one of your lies, Amanda. Instead of telling me whatever was about to come tripping out of your whore mouth, why don’t you say something that would convince me not to kill you and your lover?”
“That’s ... Manny, that’s not you. You could never, I ... please, please don’t hurt him.”
“You can stop worrying. Unless he’s harmed my daughter, I’m not going to touch him. I don’t give a fuck what he’s done to my worthless slut of a wife, but if there is so much as a mark on Crystal, I will kill you both.”
“He’s never,” she felt nauseous. “she’s fine, Manny. She’s perfectly fine. She thinks we’re on a vacation.”
“When you and I are done, tell Jeremy what you know about me, Amanda. Tell him that if he’s hurt my daughter in any way, I’ll kill him. Tell him that if he tries to find us, I’ll kill him. And you can tell him that I don’t give a crap about you. He can stay with you until you’re old and grey, he could pass you around to the other titans of industry, he can leave you tomorrow. I don’t care.”
Fear gripped her, and her heart pounded. “Us. You said tries to find us. Who’s us, Manny? You can’t take her. You can’t take my daughter!”
For the first time he seemed angry, as if he was barely hanging on. “OUR daughter! She’s our daughter, you fucking cunt! You decided that it was okay to try to remove her from my life. You thought it was okay to hide in another state with your billionaire lover. You decided to try to change her name. You! Oh, I wasn’t supposed to know about the new identity?”
Furious, he clenched his jaw and paused before continuing. “You’ve shown that you have no compunctions about taking our daughter, changing her identity and using your lover’s money against me. I’m supposed to trust you won’t do it again? Congratulations, it was a good plan, just poorly executed. I promise I’ll do better. I’ll do exactly to you what you tried to do to me. You’ll never see Crystal again.”
She was hurriedly rummaging through a drawer as he got up and started walking towards the stairs. he called over his shoulder. “Don’t bother, I found the gun in the drawer. It’s gone. I’m getting OUR daughter and we’re leaving.”
Amanda noticed the blood on his shoulder and arm as she ran and threw herself on him, trying to slow his progress. He grabbed her, pulled her towards him and slipped his arm around her neck. Amanda felt the pressure, a sensation of being submerged into darkness and then nothing.
She didn’t know how much time had elapsed before she awakened. Heart racing, she crawled the rest of the seven feet to the stairs and scrambled up to Crystal’s room as fast as she could. Her daughter was gone.
I remembered my mother, sort of, anyway. I thought that she was a blonde. She was tall and soft, but everyone is tall to a four-year-old. Her face is elusive. Sometimes, I’ll see a stranger and I’ll remember a feature in their face: eyes, cheekbones, lips, something that brings her to mind. The worst is scent. If I’m in a Macy’s or another store that sells perfumes, I’ll occasionally get a wisp of what she wore. It lingers in the air, tantalizingly out of reach.
She’s so vivid in my dreams. My mother holds me, comforts me and tells me she loves me. I grasp her hand so tightly as we walk down a tree-lined street. Then, as I start to wake, pieces fall away. Her hair-style falls from memory. Did she have long hair? Short? Was it frozen with hairspray like so many women twenty years ago? I’d awaken a little more and lose the shape of her face, her eyes and her nose. I had a feeling that she was thin, but there was nothing definite to that feeling. Almost fully awake, it’s the smells that remained: memories of soaps, body lotions, and perfume. They haunt me.
Dad dedicated himself to being a great father like some clergy dedicate themselves to God. My well-being was paramount; my interests became his new hobbies. Sometime in my early teenage years, I started to wonder how much of that was for me and how much was to prove my mother wrong. She’d never know, of course, but he would. Dad’s efforts were successful. I couldn’t imagine a better father. Looking back on my childhood with some distance I was able to see that all the mountains in my life were actually small hills, and all of our huge battles were nothing compared to what my friends went through.
I’d have dreams about Dad as well. It was the three of us, together again. We were in a large dark room with wooden floors. A spotlight shone down on us as we were dressed in what a child considered finery. The music would start, and Mom would take a step backwards. Standing on Dad’s feet, the two of us would begin to dance. We’d work our way in a circle, listening to the seventies songs that he and Mom loved. Whenever I turned backwards Mom was further away from us. Eventually she was in the dark, and Dad and I kept dancing.
A year into our new lives, we were at the park throwing around a softball when we saw a portable pet adoption RV. Maybe Santa has a stronger pull on a five-year-old’s heart than a puppy, but it’s iffy. We spent hours with the animals, and both fell in love with a chocolate lab. Dad said it was because the dog and I had the same dark brown eyes. Her name was Missy, and she went home with us.
I was twelve on 9/11/2001. It felt like I had lost my father for an eternity after the towers came down. It was actually less than six months, and he never left physically. He told me later that he was clinically depressed and sort of checked-out of life for a while. He felt that he should have done something, that he could have stopped the attacks from occurring somehow. His office that he normally guarded zealously was often open during that time and I would see him watching videos repeatedly of the planes striking the buildings and interviews with survivors.
That dark day and the six months afterward did something to me that I couldn’t identify at the time. It took me another three years to realize that I wanted to be a cop and be able to somehow help if anything like that happened again. Dad did what he always did; he stepped up and prepared me to succeed. This time, there were no hired batting coaches, no gymnastics coaches, he didn’t need to do any research or consult with anyone.
When he learned of my interest in joining law enforcement, he made sure that I was prepared. We went to the gun range, weekly, from the time I was fifteen. It never struck me as odd that everyone there knew my dad. It also seemed normal that they came to him with questions and asking for advice. We would have endless discussions about what he called TNS, tactics ‘n strategy. You walk into situation X. There are three armed men approaching a woman with a child. What do you do, step by step? Tactics. You get intel that a woman is planning to abduct a child. You know her last name and have five possibilities for whom she’s targeting. What’s your plan? Strategy.
He moved us to New York City, as I wanted to join the NYPD. We found a nice apartment in Queens and we grew accustomed to the huge city. I started researching the police department and taking practice tests. Dad kept training me. I wasn’t sure what polygraph experts had to do with my training, but that’s where we were. I was taken aback when they affixed their equipment to him, and he asked me to sit down.
“Honey, ask me anything you want about ... well, about anything, but I thought you might want to ask about your mom and the two of us.”
He had never lied to me. Dad explained as soon as I asked as a child that Mom wouldn’t be living with us and we wouldn’t be seeing her anymore. I remember being inconsolable for a long time. How long, I couldn’t say. Children’s perspective on time isn’t very accurate. Like most kids, I was resilient, and eventually bounced back.
I thought of it like a grand game when he let me choose my new name and helped me memorize our new family history. When I was ten, he sat me down and explained what happened. My mother, her lover, her taking me, everything was on the table.
“Dad, we’ve gone over that. You already told me what happened.”
“I know, sweetie. I just don’t want there to be any questions, any doubts. This firm is the best. I’ll get you the literature, but they consult with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the NYPD. I need you to know that I’ve been totally honest with you and held nothing back. You’re turning eighteen, and you’ll be able to go find her and talk to her if you want. I need you to be confident that everything I’ve told you was accurate.”
My father had taught me how to think logically and push aside emotion. I asked for a pad and pen and started working on questions. We went back and forth for almost an hour. It took me a while to figure out how to frame my questions as binary yes or no options.
“Did Mom love me?” “Did she love you?” “Did you think you were helping me by taking me?” “Do you ever regret cutting us off from her?”
After a while, every question seemed to lead to three more. I was getting off topic by chasing details down rabbit holes. When were finally finished, the technician left us alone in the room and I started sobbing. All of his answers had fit seamlessly with what he had told me as I grew up and I didn’t doubt that he was telling the truth, but there was a devastating feeling of loss. My questioning seemed to push everything I had been suppressing to the forefront. In spite of my hatred for her and what she had done, my heart ached with a privation of the soul and longing for my mother.
As I knew they would, the results came back confirming no attempts at deception.
It took me eighteen months to earn the sixty credits needed to be eligible for the NYPD. When I was seventeen, I started as an Auxiliary Officer, working after school. While I was at Fordham University, I started volunteering for the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information. Writing was fun for me. Choosing a right word was easy. Choosing the right word was different. Precision in writing was challenging and fun. They soon entrusted me with responding to simple inquiries from the public and working on drafts for speeches for precinct commanders. It didn’t go to my head; I knew that any speeches I worked on went through the hands of at least four other people before it was finished.
The written test for the NYPD was simple. After everything my father put me through, I was surprised at how easy it was. My raw score was perfect, but I didn’t know if it would be weighted. I did fine in the physical testing and was admitted to the academy just before my twentieth birthday.
At least twice a year I would send a letter to the Chief of Counterterrorism, telling him about my desire to be part of the Critical Response Command and my continuing education at Fordham. It was a shot in the dark, but one worth taking. I was too inexperienced and too young to be a serious candidate. It did, however, put me on their radar, which worked out well.
I was born on April 22nd and a week to the day before my birthday, Dad and I were deciding how we would celebrate. Jason, the guy I was seeing, had moved back to Iowa at the end of February, so Dad was the only man in my life. We decided on an early dinner at Trattoria L’incontro, and then I’d go out drinking and clubbing with friends.
It didn’t happen. On April 15th, the day we were making plans, there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon. As soon as I saw the initial coverage on TV, I rushed to my precinct. My cell phone didn’t stop ringing the entire time I was en route. The department called, telling me to report immediately. I told them I was already on the way. Friends called asking if they should be worried. I tried to reassure them. Dad called and told me he’d have information for me soon. I had a rough idea of what he did for a living, so I didn’t question it.
I had never quit voluntary writing and editing for the Public Information office, and I assumed that’s where the touch of my particular angel came from. I was temporarily assigned to the Joint Terrorist Task Force and sent to Boston. Much like other departments had sent personnel to New York after 9/11, the NYPD sent people up to offer whatever assistance they could.
I was able to write clearly, assemble and explain data and do so quickly. It soon became mind-numbingly boring, but I was assigned to interview everyone the BPD and the JTTF wanted me to, write up a succinct analysis of the discussion and help others who had limited writing skills to do the same. It was twelve-hour days, far from home and without anyone I knew, but I relished the opportunity.
When I knocked on the hospital door of Marco Bianchi, I was greeted by more people than could have been allowed in the room. Policy be damned, his family was large, boisterous and supportive. I didn’t have details of why he was there, just instructions to come down and interview him. When I volunteered to come back later after he had spent time with his family, a large woman hugged me and pulled me into the room.
It was bizarre, off-putting and a bit frightening. For most of my life, my family had consisted of me and Dad. It felt like the entire Bianchi clan was there, loud and loving. The woman smacked the shoulder of a young man and made him give me his seat. I tried to object until she pulled the chair to the bed that Mr. Bianchi was in and almost forced me to sit.
I introduced myself, showed him my ID and asked if he would mind answering some questions. Maybe it was my inexperience, but I felt odd about asking the others to step out of the room. Looking back on it, that was clearly a mistake, but one that didn’t cost me anything.
Recorder, pen and pad were out and ready. “Mr. Bianchi, you were a participant in the marathon?”
“Yes, Officer Trubadeaux. And call me Marco, please. Mr. Bianchi is my dad.”
A young brunette woman in her late teens or early twenties spoke up. “He was on track to finish in just over three hours.” I guess that I looked confused. “That’s really good time.”
“Oh, okay, that’s great. Maybe next year, right?”
The room quieted and everything became uncomfortable. Marco tried to break the tension with an awkward laugh. “No, I don’t think that’s in the cards.”
I noticed the wheelchair in the room and how his legs were covered up with his sheet. The shape of his left leg and foot was clear, but the protrusion where the right should be was missing below where I assumed the knee was.
Face flushing, I felt that I had just made the worst blunder possible. I wanted to escape, get up and leave, but I felt a strong hand gently grasp my shoulder. “It’s all right, dear. They’re doing amazing things with prosthetics. Lots of people still run after ... well, after a loss like Marco’s.”
That hand on my shoulder was infinitely more comforting than the hug she gave me earlier.
“You don’t need all of us here. C’mon, everyone. Let’s give them a few minutes. Anthony, go home and get your grandfather. We’ll meet you in the cafeteria.” As they filed out of the room, she pushed a large Tupperware container into my hands. “Rainbow cookies and biscotti. You’re too skinny. Your boyfriend likes skinny girls?”
“I, uh, I’m not really seeing anyone right now.”
“Oh-ho, you hear that, Marco? The pretty police lady is single. We’ll get out of your hair. Maybe he’ll remember something later, you should give him your phone number.”
“Okay, okay, I’m going.”
She closed the door after everyone left and I couldn’t help smiling at Mr. Bianchi. He looked back, blushing delightfully.
“That was incredibly embarrassing. I ... She means well, she’s just sort of, I don’t know, irrepressible.”
“She’s lovely, Mr. Bianchi. No harm done. She’s a mom.” I didn’t know why I said that. My experience with moms was limited to the mothers of friends and what I read or saw on TV.
“Please, it’s Marco, and yeah, they get to be a bit much, but I love them. So, what questions can I answer for you?” He smiled encouragingly as I pulled out my generic preparatory notes. It was a good smile that was aided by his friendly green eyes.
We spoke for ninety minutes. He had an analytical mind and anticipated many of my follow-up questions. Things were hazy for him around the time of explosions and he apologized for not being more help. I left him my card. Walking towards the elevator, his mother and three other family members were headed down the hallway. She veered in my direction when she saw me.
“Officer, Marco has some difficulties remembering. You come back tomorrow around five. I’ll talk to him and he’ll have more for you by then.”
“Ahhh, thank you, Mrs. Bianchi, but he has my card. He can call me if he remembers anything else.”
“No, you come back tomorrow. He’ll have more for you. Five o’clock. We’ll have manicotti. You’ll come. He ... Marco, my boy, he smiled today. The first time since ... You just come back. Five o’clock.”
So I did, and then again the next day and the following. Soon, I was a regular. I had a job to do, so sometimes my visits were after normal visiting hours. My badge got me through. There were always pastries left on the rolling desk next to where I sat in my chair. She had Tupperware filled with food for me whenever I saw her.
“You’re far from home, helping us. Please, take it. You’re a lovely girl, you need to eat.”
If she was there when I arrived, she would be gone after no more than five minutes, leaving us alone. We talked about his large loving family and how they sometimes drove him crazy. We spoke about how I’d love to be driven crazy by a large family and how it was just Dad and me. Sometimes we’d just sit quietly as I typed away on my laptop, filing reports and helping others do the same.
There were good times and there were bad times. One of the few occasions I had arrived when his family wasn’t there was during the dinner service. That was decidedly one of the bad times. The man bringing the meals to each room stood to the side of Marco’s bed as he was berated.
“Does that look like chicken? It looks like fish to me. Did I order fish? I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Know why?” His voice grew in volume. “It’s ‘cause I’m fucking allergic to seafood! What the hell is wrong with you people? The leg wasn’t enough? Now I’m just supposed to grin and bear it and take whatever I’m given? Get the hell out of here and take this slop with you.”
The foodservice gentleman was professionally stoic, and I realized that he must contend with overwrought patients on a regular basis. I felt bad for him and worse for Marco. When he was with his family there was a veneer of joviality, no hint of inner pain. For the first time I was wondering how much damage had been done to him emotionally.
There were a couple of times when we sat in complete silence for hours, me typing, Marco staring at the wall.
There were also good days. He wasn’t in his room when I arrived early one evening. A nurse told me that he was in the pediatric ward working with some children. After walking over, I stood at the doorway watching, remaining unseen.
Marco was there with his brother Michael. There were about a dozen children sitting with him and he was holding up a Chromebook, showing them how something worked. When he was done, Michael passed one out to each of the kids. He was showing them how to access games and preloaded apps when a little girl called out. “Yeet!”
“Is yeet good, Melissa?”
“The best. Thank you, Mr. Marco. Oh, and Michael. Thank you, too.”
Michael laughed. “It’s all Marco. I’m the dumb brother who lugs stuff around. He’s the smart brother with the computer stuff. Me strong, him smart.” He scratched under his arms like a cartoon version of a chimp.
A confusing rush of emotions swept over me. I wanted to laugh and cry, both sad and uplifted. If I had suffered a loss like Marco had, I would be inconsolable. Here he was, helping children who were likely in situations as grave as his.
As I walked into the room, he called out. “And here’s Rebecca. Maybe she could help Michael read some stories while I tweak the Chromebooks.”
A little girl wearing a knit cap spoke up. “Mr. Marco, is that your girlfriend?”
“What? My girlfriend? I was waiting for you, Melissa! Are ... are you breaking up with me?”
The little girl covered her mouth as she giggled. Parents and staff approached Marco as Michael dug some books out of the same box from which he had pulled the Chromebooks. Smiling, he tossed me one. “Okay, who wants to hear a story from a real live police officer?”
I shot him a mock glare, but I couldn’t back out at that point. Michael and I alternated in the reading while Marco talked to the parents about security and parental controls.
As we headed back to his room, Michael pushing the wheelchair, Marco explained.
“I was losing my mind sitting there day after day. My company is doing well. They weren’t expensive and setting them up gave me something to do.”
As we passed the elevators, my hand found its way into his.
Two weeks later I was done and had to return home. We promised to write and call, and we did for months. I drove up to see him a few times and told Dad all about Marco and his family. We eventually drifted into that place where contact slowed and then almost stopped completely. He had his life with recovery and getting back to his computer consulting business, trying to make a living. I got back to my life with the NYPD, working hard and volunteering where I could, hoping to keep the momentum going on joining the Counterterrorism Unit after Boston.
I had been home for almost a year and was at the Public Information office on my day off. Everyone there loved to see me, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I was helping to lighten their load or if it was because I brought cronuts from Dominique Ansel Bakery.
“Trubadeaux, someone’s downstairs looking for you. Civilian. He’s in 11A.”
That was odd. I checked my phone, but there were no missing messages from Dad, and I didn’t think that any of my friends would know to look for me here. I went down to the designated waiting room and saw Marco sitting in his wheelchair.
“Hi. Your birthday’s coming up. I thought maybe we could get some dinner. If you don’t have other plans, I mean.”
“I ... Marco, what are you doing in New York?”
“This is where I live now. I moved down last week. My client base was growing in the area and I thought it would be good to put in a physical presence. I can work remotely, so my Boston clients will be fine. I may even be doing some consulting for the Department.”
Dad first met Marco at an early birthday dinner. It was almost a month before the actual day, but I didn’t mind. I wasn’t sure how dinner would go. Dad rarely had to share my attention, but he seemed to genuinely like Marco. In a quiet fashion, not as obvious as Marco’s mom, Dad quizzed him about his background, his goals, his injuries, and prognosis. I’d never seen him like that before. Dad was good, way too good to be an amateur. I was convinced that Marco had no idea what was happening and thought it was all just polite conversation.
The day after, we went alone to Peter Luger’s for a steak dinner and their bacon appetizer. NY is blessed with numerous great steakhouses, and Luger’s was near the top. I should have warned him ahead of time, but they only take their own credit card. Unfazed, Marco pulled out his wallet and he had to have at least $700 in cash. I had no idea why he was carrying that much around with him, but his company had to be doing well.
He invited me to the Mets home opener against the Nationals. We went to dinner before the game at a restaurant in the small Chinatown in Flushing near CitiField. We drove the short distance back to the park and he pulled a Red Sox jersey out of the backseat. Fans gave him a bit of a hard time, hurling casual Red Sox insults our way. It was tempered by his being in a wheelchair and that our seats weren’t in the bleachers.
One drunk was particularly obnoxious. “Hey, asshole, go back to Bahstahn.” He continued for a couple of innings until another fan spoke up.
“Shut the fuck up and enjoy the game. Look at the name on the jersey, jackass.”
Noticing that Marco was wearing a Bill Buckner jersey changed everything. Any true Met fan knew that Buckner letting the ball dribble past his legs helped assure the Met’s 1986 World Series victory. The drunk sent a few beers our way as an apology and we otherwise had a great time. People came up to Marco to slap him on the back and congratulate him on his jersey.
It was almost fated when we found a parking spot in front of my apartment building. Serendipity like that just doesn’t happen in New York City.
We took the elevator up, and Marco was uncharacteristically reserved. He had to know what it meant that I asked him up for a drink. Standing side by side as the elevator climbed upwards, I moved my hand towards his. As he went to take it, I pushed past and rested my hand on his thigh. When we hit the floor below mine, I brushed my fingers over his crotch and turned towards him, reaching up to pull him into a kiss.
I could feel his growth as he pushed into my waist. His lips met mine and the tentative forays of my darting tongue met his. Lost in each other, we both jumped a bit at the ding and rocking of the elevator as it arrived and the doors opened. Getting out, we rushed to my door. I almost dropped the key twice trying to get it open.
Wrapped up in each other, I steered us to the couch. We kissed and our hands roamed of their own volition for a while before I knelt on the floor. As I started to undo Marco’s belt, he took my arms and gently pulled me up again. My blouse found its way to the floor as we continued kissing and I eventually slipped back to my knees.
Again, he pulled me up. It was then that I realized that he didn’t want me to see his prosthetic. It wouldn’t be the first time viewing it. I’d been with him at rehab many times and had seen him in shorts. It would, however, be the first time under these circumstances. I didn’t know if he was just nervous or it was tied into his masculinity somehow, but I knew I had to tread lightly.
Staying with him on the couch, I removed my bra. My lips found his earlobe, then his jawline and then his cheek and mouth. His palm supported my breast until he slid his fingers to the nipple. Light as a feather, he ran them over my areola before ducking his head and taking the nipple in his mouth. As he teethed, laved and teased, I slipped my hand down and into his jeans.
Marco finally used his free hand to push the jeans down as he lifted his butt. I hesitated until I felt the gentle pressure of his hands pushing down lightly on my shoulders. Once again, I slipped down to my knees. This time, I stayed there. Fishing his hard cock out of his boxers, I slowly licked, then kissed my way down the shaft. He didn’t last long, and I didn’t want him to.
The first one out of the way, the second would be much better. I led him to the bedroom where we made love for the first time. It was odd at first. We were both self-conscious. He was able to get purchase with his leg and we established a rhythm as he rested above me. Eventually we shifted and I rode him until we both came.
It was the most emotional and satisfying sex of my life and I knew then I never wanted to be away from Marco.
After finding some amazing therapists, he continued his recovery in New York. Marco alternated between his prosthetic and a wheelchair, with the wheelchair being utilized less and less. After three months, I moved into his apartment. His mother was giddy. Marco became verbally forceful with her when he saw how her frequent comments about beautiful grandbabies affected me.
“Sorry. I know that she can be a bit much sometimes. I grew up with it, so I guess it’s easy for me to deal with. She’ll back off.”
“It’s not that ... Look, Marco, we talked about this. I definitely want kids, it’s just that they scare the crap out of me. I’m terrified that I am going to be a bad mother.”
“What?” He took my hand and tilted his head as he stared in my eyes. “That’s crazy. You’re gonna be fantastic. The kids in the family all love you, and you are the kindest, most patient person I know. Why would you think that?”
Trying to give him a reassuring smile, I spoke softly. “I know, it’s crazy. Silly fears. I’ll get over it.”
I wasn’t my mother. I wouldn’t destroy my family. I just needed to keep repeating that.
Four months later, we were again at Peter Luger’s on Northern Blvd. He had insisted on the steakhouse, as it had been the first place we went to on an official date in New York. After dinner, he ordered us the apple strudels. They each came out warm on a white plate under a metal top. I opened mine to see “Marry Me” written in chocolate on the plate and a ring on top of the strudel.
“I, uhhh, I can’t get down on my knee, but Rebecca, I...”
“Yes. Of course, yes. Always yes. I love you, Marco.” Tears were streaming down both our faces and the rest of the diners slowly caught on and started applauding. Getting up from my seat, I stepped around the table. He stood and placed a hand on each of my cheeks. “I love you, Rebecca.” It seemed like our kiss lasted forever, and we only separated when we noticed the waitstaff standing there with glasses and a bottle of champagne.
Marco pulled out his phone and dialed. “Mr. Trubadeaux? Sir, she said yes.”
He called Dad? Of course he did. Marco was old school, from an old school family. He would ask Dad’s permission to propose to his daughter. We laughed, and we cried some more. Every time I took a forkful of strudel I’d stop and stare at the ring.
“I need a promise from you, Marco. You need to promise me that we’re going to be together forever and we’re going to have lots of kids.”
We started practicing as soon as we got home.
It was a beautiful day to be out and about. Even after the senator had to cancel, Amanda still had her driver take her to the restaurant where they had her table waiting. As unobtrusively as possible, her staff occupied the reserved tables nearby where they could be seen if needed. She nodded to a few acquaintances and politely listened to the social climber that approached as she ate. As she looked up when the woman left, she dropped her fork when she saw her daughter walking towards her.
Amanda’s heart pounded as she saw the young woman striding determinedly towards her. She reached down to her seat and grabbed it as hard as she could, trying to force herself to stay calm. Regardless of what she was feeling, she would maintain a veneer of calm.
“Mrs. Bennet?” Crystal looked exactly how she expected her to, but photos can’t describe mannerisms and body language. Those were all her father’s.
“Hello, Crystal. Please sit down.” As she spoke, she waved off her staff who were sitting at other tables in the Michelin starred restaurant. They sat back in their chairs, but monitored the situation. Until ten seconds ago she thought she would never see her daughter again. Her emotions were swirling, but she exhibited an iron will as she remained collected.
“That’s not my name. I’m Rebecca Trubadeaux. How did you know who I am?”
She took a deep breath before continuing. “Every Christmas your father sends my parents a package with photos of you and generic updates. They’ve always loved you dearly and none of what happened was their fault. As much as I hate Manny, he deserves credit for that at least.”
“You hate him? You’re as messed up as he said. Your hypocrisy is astounding.”
“I know it’s not rational, Crys—, Rebecca. Sorry. Rebecca. I know I’m a hypocrite, but he took from me the thing that I loved the most in the world. Whether I deserved it or not, I hate him.” She felt the tears starting to build.
Rebecca looked around, noticed that she was the only one in the restaurant looming over a table and sat down. “I’ll be brief, Mrs. Bennet. I need to know about your side of the family’s medical histories. I had no idea if you would cooperate or not, but I figured you owed me that much.”
It suddenly seemed as if Amanda’s heart was in her throat. “Is, is there a problem?”
“No, not that I know of, but I just found out that my fiancé and I are having a baby.”
Everything that Amanda had missed suddenly crashed down upon her. First day of school, first kiss, drawings hung proudly on the refrigerator, crushes and heartbreaks, graduations and wedding announcements. The tears wouldn’t be held back.
Rebecca looked about, embarrassed and started to stand, ready to leave.
“No!” Amanda panicked. “Please, just a few minutes. Please. Look!” She pulled out her phone and showed it to Rebecca, scrolling through almost twenty-years of photos. “Every photo. Every one. They’ve kept me alive for two decades. I have the same photos in my home. The same photos in my office. Wait.” She scrolled through her phone again. “That number? That’s the security agency we used. For twenty years. More than eleven million dollars. They had three full-time staff working just on finding you. Their countless leads, all of them dead-ends.”
She took in a shuddered breath and paused for a second.
“I feel like a woman who has been holding her breath for almost two decades and someone just walked in and told me I could breathe again. I never stopped loving my daughter. Never.”
My hand was shaking as I sat on the couch and dialed the number. No matter what time I called, Dad always answered by the second ring sounding wide awake. “Baby, what’s wrong? Another nightmare?”
Whispering, I tried not to wake Marco. “I ... I saw her in a crowd. She turned to me and opened her arms. I tried running to her, but people kept getting in the way. They’re all women, Dad. They all sort of looked like her. I pushed through them, but she was gone. I spun around and they all turned their backs to me and started walking away. I kept spinning and spinning and I couldn’t feel my legs and I could make out any details and, and...”
“It’s okay, Becca. It was just a dream. Everything is all right. Breath for me, okay? Just like we practiced. Deep in, slow out.”
We spent another 10 minutes on the phone as he talked me down. I crawled back into bed and draped myself over Marco, cuddled to his back, my arm over his lean chest. Trying to slow my heartbeat, I willed myself to sleep. This was going to be a big day. We were having dinner with his extended family.
Marco had second-cousins who lived in Rego Park. They were five families living within a few blocks of each other. We had dinner at one of their homes at least every other weekend. It was like an expanded version of what I saw in Boston. Loud, boisterous and loving people of all ages, coming and going, extensions in the dining-room table and huge pots of gravy simmering for hours.
It was an odd combination of intimidating and comforting.