Father's Day

Episode 5 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

“All right, everybody. Shoes on, jackets zipped, last minute potty-breaks.”

“Dad,” Shakira droned. “We’re old enough that we don’t need to worry about that.”

Aaron Brooks arched his eyebrow towards his daughter. “Oh, really? Well, what about last week when Malcolm didn’t go before we left and we had to pull over at a truck stop or else he would’ve had an accident?”

Malcolm folded his arms across his chest. “I wasn’t going to have an accident.”

The police captain grabbed his keys from the table. “C’mon. This is the last time we’re gonna be able to spend time with your grandfather for a while, so I don’t want to be late.”

“That is if he wins the election,” Michelle droned under her breath.

Aaron moved to his wife and wrapped his arms around her waist. “The polls look good. He may just pull this out of the bag.”

“I doubt it.”

Pulling her closer, he moved his mouth towards hers. “Oh, don’t tell me that being daughter-in-law to the mayor doesn’t excite you.”

“Being wife to the mayor might. Not this.” Pressing her fingers against his lips, she pushed him back. “Later.”

With a sigh, Aaron scooped his youngest child into his arms. Myron smiled. “Are we gonna have ribs for dinner, Daddy?”

“Always, son. Always.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“We’re lost.”

Ravenswood Cadavre glanced up at the street sign. He didn’t recognize the name. “No, we’re not lost. I just need to get to a north-south street and then we can get back on track.”

Melody sighed in frustration. “Why is it that you’ll never admit when you’re lost?”

“Because I know the way to my sister’s house. I’ve been there before.”

“Once, over a year ago.”

The detective grumbled. “This would’ve been easier if she hadn’t moved to Northchester.” Seeing a stop light up ahead, Ravenswood switched on his right blinker.

“Why are your turning here?”

“This should take us to the highway.”

Melody muttered something under her breath, but Ravenswood couldn’t make it out. He didn’t care, though. He was already nervous enough going to the party, and his fiancee’s criticism wasn’t helping matters.

“There’s a gas station. Will you pull over for directions?”

Ravenswood sighed and did as his girlfriend asked. He was pretty sure he could get there without help, but he didn’t want to argue. “I’ll be right back.”

Inside the small convenience store, there was an Indian man behind the counter. He looked up from his magazine and glanced towards the private eye. “Hello, sir. May I help you?”

“I need to make it to Route 29.”

The man smiled and held up an atlas. “Only ten dollars and forty-five cents.”

Ravenswood walked back to the car, scanning the travel guide. He flipped to the page he needed. “Ah-ha! I knew this road would take us there.” He opened the door and slid behind the wheel. “See, I told you—” He didn’t realize Melody was on the phone. She gave him a look, holding her finger to her lips.

“Yes, yes. Well, we stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. I’m sure we’ll be there soon. Thanks, Beth.”

Ravenswood cringed. “Why did you call my sister?”

“We’re already twenty minutes late. I wanted to let them know we got lost.”

“No!” he yelled, slamming his fists on the steering wheel. “Why did you tell them that?”

Melody looked scared, and when she spoke, her voice was sheepish. “We are lost.”

“But my father—” He turned the key in the ignition, shifting into drive. “He already thinks I’m an idiot. I don’t need to give him any more excuses.”

“I’m sorry.” Melody place her hand on top of his. “I’m sure he doesn’t think you’re an idiot.”

Ravenswood grimaced. “You don’t know my father very well.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The doors to the elevator opened. Sara Wolff clenched her fists, trying to get the nerve to exit. For weeks she had been waiting for this meeting, dreaming of how it might go. But now, as she stood on the threshold, all she wanted to do was run away.

“You can do this,” she whispered to herself as she took a step out of the lift.

The penthouse was located near the end of the long hallway. There was a small gold nameplate on the door and she stopped to run her fingers over the lettering.

“Sara Bruce,” she whispered to herself with a smile.

She rang the doorbell.

Sara could hear muttering from inside and the sounds of footsteps. A moment later, Michael opened the door. He was dressed in black slacks and a dark blue sweater. When he smiled, she realized he was as nervous as she was.

“Hi,” she greeted. “I think I’m a little early.”

Her brother glanced at his watch. “No, you’re right on time. C’mon in.”

Stepping into the tiny marble foyer, she glanced beyond, into the living room. She could make out the legs of a man who was sitting on the couch. As he rose and moved into view, she sucked in a breath and held it.

Over the past few months, Sara had painted many mental images of her father. She had finally settled on one that looked a bit like Michael, but shorter, pudgy, and slightly balding. The man before her turned to be far different. He was tall, much taller than her brother; he had a full head of salt and pepper hair and wore wire rim glasses which made him look quite distinguished. What struck her the most, however, was his body. He was broad and muscular, and despite his age, he could easily pass for a professional bodybuilder.

“Sara, this is our father, Ulysses David.”

“In another life, Matthew Bruce,” he said.

Sara had promised herself she wouldn’t cry, but she could feel the tears threatening anyway. All she wanted to do was throw her arms around the man, to hug him close and tell him how long she had waited to meet him. But something held her back. His face was stern, his brown eyes hard. His lips pressed as he motioned to the living room.

“Why don’t you sit down.”

Michael nodded and gestured for her to do as told. Taking a deep breath, she took four long strides over to the couch.

Michael and Yule stood, both looking at each other. It was like a game of chicken, to see who would give-in first. It was Yule who finally relented, seating himself across from his daughter. Michael smiled and clasped his hands.

“How about I get everyone something to drink.”

“Ice water,” Sara stammered.

“Okay. I’m going to have a Diet Coke. And you, Dad?”

The man stood again. “You know, how about I go get the drinks. Sit down and help make Sara feel at home.”

Sara watched the man disappear into the back hallway. She let out a long sigh.

“Don’t worry,” Michael said as sat down in the chair next to her. “He’s just a bit nervous.”

Pushing down her anxiety, Sara forced a smile. “I know. It’s okay. I’m sure once we get settled, things will go great.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Ravenswood parked at the end of the cul-de-sac, and he and Melody got out of the car. It was below freezing, but there was still no snow on the ground. They walked up to the red brick house and rang the doorbell.

“Hi, come on in,” Beth greeted. She gathered the large brightly-wrapped gift Melody was carrying. “I’ll put this with the others.”

“Sorry we’re so late,” Ravenswood apologized.

“It’s no problem. Take your coats off. We’re just about to eat.”

As they walked into the kitchen, Ravenswood’s father, Albert, was already loading food onto his plate. Beth pointed to the various dishes arranged around the kitchen. “We’ve got ham, lasagna, penne pasta, au graten potatoes, roast chicken, rice pilaf, cornbread stuffing, and vegetable medley.”

“Wow. That’s quite a spread.”

“Well, we have a lot of people over. Also, I’ll be with Jacob’s family for Thanksgiving, so this is like our mini-holiday with you guys.”

A young boy came into the room. “Can we eat now?” he demanded.

Beth gave him a mock-scolding look. “Yes, we can eat now.” She gestured to the bowls on the counter. “What do you want, Xavier? You’re the birthday boy, so you get to eat first.”

“But Grampa went first,” said the boy.

Beth sighed. “First after Grampa.”

“Grandpas get to go first,” said the Cadavre patriarch. “Then people who are having a birthday. Everyone else is unimportant.” He chuckled at his own joke. Ravenswood and Beth both forced smiles.

As Albert left with his food, Beth gathered a plate for Xavier.

“Let everyone else get served,” Ravenswood said. “Melody and I will go last.”

Beth squeezed her brother’s arm. “You don’t have to do that, Woody. You guys can go now.”

Ravenswood shook his head ‘no’ and pulled Melody aside. “I think they were waiting for us to get here before they ate,” he whispered. “I noticed the hors d’oeuvre tray is empty. I should have stopped for directions earlier. I’m sorry.”

As the guests filed through the kitchen, filling their plates, Ravenswood pointed out the ones he knew. “And that’s cousin Orville,” he said at the end. “But I don’t know if he’s my cousin or my dad’s cousin. Or maybe he’s one of our second cousins. Or maybe something else, I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“Oh no, it would be too embarrassing. And if my father overhears me, he’ll get on my case about it. He told me once several years ago. He’s going to expect me to remember.”

After everyone else had made a pass through, Melody began serving herself. “You could ask Beth. Pull her aside later and ask her privately.”

Scooping pasta onto his plate, Ravenswood nodded. “That’s a good idea.”

There was no more room at the dining room table, so the couple brought their plates into the living room. Albert was sitting on the couch, eating while watching the football game. Xavier sat on the floor next to him, his plate on the coffee table.

“Hey, don’t I have two grandkids?” the older man said. “Where’s Marilyn?”

Xavier grimaced, “She and I had an argument and she ran upstairs crying.”

“I’ll bet it was a fight over something dumb. Little kids are always fighting over dumb things.”

Jacob, Beth’s husband, entered the room. As the host, he had insisted on getting his food last. “What’s the score?” he asked Albert as he set his plate down next to his.

“14-7. The Generals are losing.”

“What? They were winning before. How did that happen?”

“I don’t know. We missed that part because we started eating so late.”

Ravenswood didn’t look up from his food. He knew his father was glaring at him. He felt his face flush.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Aaron Brooks walked into the front room. The Generals game was on the television and most of the family was gathered around the set, watching. Kim sat on the far sofa, bouncing a baby on her legs. It was surreal to think of his sister as a grandmother when she was only two years older than him.

Moving to the appetizer table, the police captain grimaced. The kids had managed to polish off the crackers and cheese, and there were only a few pieces left on the veggie tray. Grabbing a couple of olives, he popped them into his mouth and headed back over to the couch.

“How’s things at the station?” Kim asked. “Did you ever get those car-nappers?”

A tall man appeared from the kitchen with two cans in his hand and motioned one in his direction. Aaron took the beer from his brother-in-law. “Car-jackers,” he corrected his sister with a laugh. “Yeah. Turns out some of the guys on the force were connected.”

“I don’t know how you do it,” Darren said with a shake of the head. “It’s gotta be depressing seeing what shit this city is every day.”

Aaron shrugged and took a drink from the can. “You do what you can and try not to stress about the rest. What about you guys? How’s it going at the restaurants?”

“All right, I guess. Sales are picking up because we’re going into the holiday season, but we’re still struggling. Food costs keep rising, and it’s been awful getting honest, dependable employees. Everyone wants to collect a paycheck without having to break a sweat.”

Their father had been watching the football game. Tuning into the conversation, he approached his children. “Always makes me sad seeing people not give a care about hard work and earning a living. I’m just proud my kids have ethics and know the virtue of busting their ass.”

Kim giggled and the baby in her lap mimicked the gesture. “That’s because we had a good role-model, Daddy. I’ll tell you, I wish you were around the store more. You’re such a morale booster.”

Lloyd Brooks hadn’t officially retired from the rib business, but upon entering the race for mayor, he had turned over management to his daughter. Aaron loved Kim, and realized she was a good businesswoman, but no one seemed to be able to run things like his father could.

“What about the turkey legs?” said Darren. “Did you tell your dad about the turkey legs?”

Lloyd looked lost. “What about the turkey legs?”

“We’re going to be adding barbeque turkey legs to the menu. The Smoky Pit started serving them a few years back and they’ve done well, so we’ve decided to give it a try. I’m just hopeful it’ll be a success.”

The elder man smiled. “Of course, it will. You’re a good operations manager, Kim. I trust your judgment.”

If there was one thing Aaron had learned to depend on in his life, it was the support of his father. The man seemed full of enthusiasm, and was endlessly praising his children—even during times they didn’t quite deserve it.

“I hope so, Daddy, or you might not have a business to come back to when your term ends.”

Mable Brooks walked out of the kitchen, catching the tail-end of the conversation. “So, I go and forbid election talk today so we can have a nice family get-together, and you go and start talking restaurant business.”

Lloyd waved his arms. “Don’t fret at me, woman. Barbeque sauce runs through my veins instead of blood. Of course we’ll talk about it.”

The woman laughed and Lloyd walked up to her, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

Seeing his parents’ affection made Aaron sigh. He glanced at his wife across the room. Michelle was flipping through a magazine, a scowl on her face.

“Dinner’s going to be ready in a minute,” Mabel called to the room. “Can you all turn off the t.v. and help?”

The group watching the game suddenly let out a groan. Aaron’s younger brother shook his fist at the television and cried, “What a terrible play! Those bozos.”

Aaron shook his head. “I don’t think they’re paying attention, Mama. What do you need and I’ll give you a hand.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The three Bruces sat around the dining room table. Michael had arranged to have lunch catered in from the restaurant in the lobby. Sara poked at her Cobb salad. Yule slowly worked on his roast beef sandwich and fries. Michael had only managed to eat half of his turkey wrap before the tension got the better of him.

Yule had remained quiet most of the afternoon. Michael had resorted to general chit-chat about the family business to keep the conversation going. Once he had run out of things to say, he had asked Sara about her work. His sister spent a good deal of the meal telling them about her duties at the orphanage. She recounted the story of her how she had graduated college and obtained a paid internship at the Gale Home. Tragically, her boss had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a few months later and passed away after a year and a half battle with the disease. Sara had been named to take over the position until a replacement could be found. When six months had passed and a new administrator hadn’t been appointed, at the mere age of twenty-four, she had found herself permanently as the Home’s head.

Michael found himself enthralled by the tale. He had often wondered how Sara had managed to achieve so much at a young age. It was truly a case of being at the right place at the right time, despite how morbid it was.

Yule seemed interested in the story, but afterwards didn’t say much, and finished his sandwich in silence. Michael watched Sara deflate; it was obvious she had hoped to impress their father with what she had done in her life.

Struggling to come up with something else to talk about, Michael felt his anxiety growing. He could see the chasm growing wider between the two and felt helpless to stop it.

Once everyone was finished eating, Yule rose and gathered the plates. As he headed into the kitchen, Michael was surprised to see Sara follow after him. Clenching his fists, he stared at the door, wondering what was going on behind.

 

Yule set the tray of plates down on the counter. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The meeting had gone well so far, but he still found himself nervous and tense. He wondered how much longer he would have to entertain the woman.

The door to the kitchen opened and Sara walked in. Carrying the rest of the dishes to the table, she started to arrange them neatly. Yule realized it was just a tactic to linger. After a moment, she turned and squared her shoulders.

“Do you hate me?” she asked.

The question shocked Yule, both in its bluntness and the tone behind it. Sara was challenging him—the scared girl he’d been sitting with all afternoon was gone. He realized he was standing with the Dark Flame.

“Why would you think that?” he said, bringing some plates to the sink to avoid looking at her.

“I’ve worked in the adoption field long enough. I’ve seen birth parents upset and hateful towards their children. They gave up a baby and expected that to be then end of it. They resent that the child comes back years later and disrupts their lives.”

Yule returned to the counter, gathering the glasses into his hands. “Why would that apply to me? I didn’t give you up for adoption.” He met her eyes. “I thought you were dead.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question.”

“Well, I—” The glasses in his hands pitched backwards, pouring leftover wine onto his shirt. “Damn,” he groaned, rushing to the sink to deposit them there.

Sara grabbed a rag from the counter. The courage and resolve she had shown a moment earlier disappeared. “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I was distracting you.”

“Sara, it’s fine,” he reassured. “It was a clumsy thing.”

“Let me get this.” Kneeling down, she began to wipe up the puddle on the floor. “I really am sorry.”

“It’s all right, don’t worry about it. I’m going to go change.”

Yule pushed open the kitchen door, heading through the dining room. It had taken years to perfect making a not-so-accidental spill look like a true accident. He was proud he still had the knack.

Michael caught sight of him, rising from his chair. “What happened to you?”

“I’m such a klutz. Go occupy your sister for while, okay? I’m going to get out of these wet clothes. I’ll be down in a bit.”

Moving up the stairs, Yule glanced at his watch. 3:30. If he was lucky it would just be another hour or so before she left.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Xavier tore the paper off the small box, revealing toy cars. “Cool!” He set the toys down in order to reach for another gift. His six-year-old sister picked up the box and tried to open it. “Mom!” he yelled.

“Marilyn, that’s your brother’s gift. Let him play with it first.”

The little girl put the box down, then sat with her arms folded, pouting.

“This is boring,” Albert announced.

Beth rolled her eyes. “What do you care? You’re watching the game.”

“I turned the sound down,” he said, pointing to the set. “I’m being polite.”

Beth handed Xavier another gift. “Here, open Grandpa’s next.”

The boy tore open the wrapping. “Coloring books and crayons.”

Albert smiled and nodded.

“Thank you,” said Xavier.

Ravenswood handed his nephew a large present. “This one’s from both of us.”

The boy tore off the paper. His eyes widened and a smile spread across his face. “A magic kit! Awesome!” He turned to his mother. “Can I play with it now?”

“No, I don’t want you losing the pieces. Besides, you still have more gifts to open.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little advanced for somebody his age?” Albert said with a scowl.

“The box says ‘ages 8 and up,’” Ravenswood answered defensively. “He’s eight now.”

His father rolled his eyes and turned back to the football game. “Well, there’s no way we’re winning this one.” He turned to Jacob. “Do you think there’s any chance of us getting into the playoffs?”

“No, not even a little,” said his son-in-law.

Desperate to get on his father’s good side, Ravenswood said, “We still could. The sports guy in the newspaper says that statistically we could lose three more games this season and still make it.”

Albert glared at Ravenswood, but said nothing. He turned back to Jacob. “I think their big mistake was trading Marsischky.”

The corners of Ravenswood’s mouth sagged and he sank down onto the love seat. Melody sat next to him and put her arm around him.

Beth gathered up some of the wrapping paper from the floor and headed into the kitchen. As she passed the couch, Albert said, “Hey, I’ve got this question about my 401k. I’m wondering if I should take an early withdrawal.”

Jacob offered, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, particularly since you’re so near retirement. There’s a stiff penalty for that.”

“Beth, what do you think?”

His daughter shrugged. “Well, given that you’re going to be eligible to start receiving income in six months, it might be best to wait and avoid any tax consequences. I’ll have to look over your plan documents to be sure, though.”

“Great! Could you come out next weekend?”

Beth sighed. “Sure, no problem.” Turning back to her son, she smiled. “Okay, let’s open the next gift.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“Do you have a five?”

Myron gave a wide grin. “Go fish.”

“Boy, you are a shark,” Lloyd said as he pulled a card out of the pile.

Kevin laughed. “Dad, I thought you were the king of cards down in Mississippi.”

“I was the king of everything!” He motioned as if he was grabbing a pair of suspenders. “In my day, back in the woods, we went out and hunted pigs. Then we slapped them up on the spit and roasted them real slow. Then we played penny poker while the gals got the moonshine.”

The kids around the table started to giggle.

“Then we pulled out the banjo and started to dance around like this.” The man stood up, lifting his legs up high and swinging back and forth. Mable started to clap her hands while the others in the room started to hoot.

“Go, grampa!” Shakira cried.

Aaron grimaced, turning away. It was all a game. His father loved to tell stories of his early days in the south. However, he also loved to do the Uncle Remus bit, exaggerating and making a scene. Even though everyone knew it was a joke, he was irritated his father would even play into it.

Heading into the kitchen, Aaron walked up to pies which were cooling on the stove and tore a piece of crust off one of them.

“Your mother’s gonna whip you for picking at the desserts,” Lloyd said as he pushed open the swinging door. He walked up to the counter and pulled a knife from the drawer. “If you’re gonna sneak it, aim big.” With a smile, he cut a piece for them both. He then looked at his son. “You’re mad at me.”

“Not mad, just... disappointed.”

“Why?”

Poking at the pie, Aaron scowled. “Why do you always do that? Play the poor black man act?”

“Why? Maybe because I was a poor black man. Honestly, why does it bother you so much? Why does it upset you that I made my living selling chicken and ribs?”

“Because, that’s what they make fun of. The poor black man cooking barbeque in the back yard. It’s a stereotype.”

“You’re right. But for me, it was also fact. I don’t have to tell you the story. You know it all too well. I worked hard. I saved my money. I remember the times when it was a scandal for a black man to own a business, any business, not just barbeque. I found people to believe in me and give me that shot. I made it. So what if it was a series of fast food joints? People love it. They know me, they know my food. That’s the reason I’m running neck and neck in the polls. Lloyd, the Chicken King.”

“I know,” Aaron said. “But it embarrasses me.”

“Well, it doesn’t embarrass me. I’m proud. Those chicken joints bought my first house. They allowed me to expand to seventeen restaurants. They put you and your sister and brother through college. I don’t care if some idiot out there doesn’t understand the difference between an uneducated hick and a self-made man who cooked himself into being a success.” Lloyd placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “It may not be pretty. It may not be politically correct, but I am damn proud of what I’ve done in my life and you can bet the bank I wouldn’t be two days away from possibly being Mayor if it hadn’t been for those oil drum barbeques back home.”

Aaron inhaled deeply. “You do have the best ribs in the city.”

“You’re damn right I do,” Lloyd yelled. “And the best wings, too!” Both men smiled. “Now, c’mon. We’d better sneak out of here before your mother realizes we’ve been picking on her desserts.”

“Too late!” a voice called. Both men turned to see Mable glaring, hands on her hips.

“Woman, don’t look at me that way!” Lloyd said in mock terror.

With a smile, Aaron finished the rest of his pie.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

After the cake, the guests broke up into small groups and chit-chatted. Melody didn’t know anybody, but she soon discovered that Marilyn had gotten permission to open her brother’s toy cars and wanted someone to play with. She sat down and started making engine noises as she pushed the small vehicles around.

Ravenswood, Beth, and Jacob were in the kitchen. After making sure that Albert was in the living room and out of earshot, Jacob said to Beth, “When your father asked you about his retirement, why didn’t he listen to my answer? I know what I’m talking about. You told him exactly the same thing and he treated it as gospel.”

“Because I’m the one he asked,” Beth replied. “He’ll ignore anything anyone else says.”

“You’re the football guy,” Ravenswood explained. “He’ll ask you about football. Beth is the financial person.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know anything about finances,” said Beth. “The problem is, I helped him with his taxes once. Once, years ago. Now he’s got it in his head that I’m the go-to person for all things money-related.”

“And why did you say you’d go to his house?” asked Jacob. “That’s a two-hour drive.”

“He wants someone to do everything for him. He could read it himself, but that’s too much work.”

“He could fax it to you or something.”

“Also too much work. He’ll pretend he doesn’t know how to use a fax machine.”

Jacob rolled his eyes and turned towards his brother-in-law. “Why is he getting on your case so much today?”

“Because I got Xavier a better gift than he did. He thinks I did it on purpose to make him look bad.”

“That... doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know.” Ravenswood took a quick peek to make sure his father was still out of hearing range. “Hey, who’s Cousin Orville? Is he our cousin or Dad’s?”

“He’s Mom’s cousin,” said Beth. “I think you met him at her funeral.”

“Ah.”

Jacob poked at one of the leftover pieces of cake. “So, how’s the private eye business? Catch any cheating wives lately? Or husbands? Domestic partners?”

Ravenswood chuckled. “No, not lately. Although I did have a case like that once. I’m mostly working at Stan’s now. That’s really busy.”

When Melody overheard mention of the coffee shop, she headed into the kitchen and held her fiance’s hand. “You wouldn’t believe how busy. Especially now that we’ve been getting more popular.”

“I still say it sounds like a step down.” Nobody had seen Albert enter the room. He addressed the group as a whole. “I wasn’t too happy when Woody became a private detective, but barista? What next, garbageman?”

Ravenswood sighed. They’d had this conversation before. “I’m not just a barista. Melody and I are going to buy the coffee shop from her father after we get married.”

“What are you going to do after it fails?”

“What? It’s not going to fail.”

“I’m just being honest,” said Albert. “Most businesses fail in their first year.”

“It’s not the first year,” Ravenswood challenged. “This is an established business with set clientele.”

Melody put her hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Ray, don’t go there.”

“All I’m saying is that you need to plan for the future,” continued Albert. “What happens if the coffee shop fails? You’ll need to get another job. A real job, not private eye. You’ll need something stable to support her. You know she won’t get a job.”

“What?” exclaimed Melody.

“What makes you think she won’t get a job?” said Ravenswood.

“Well, you know...” said Albert.

Ravenswood’s eyes narrowed. “Why? What is it? Because she’s a woman? Or she’s Polish? Or maybe because she’s younger that me? Which one is it? One of them? ...all of them?”

Beth looked terrified and so did Jacob. Melody wrung her hands.

“Melody is amazing at the coffee shop,” Ravenswood yelled. “She’s a harder worker than me.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be hard to accomplish.”

Ravenswood blood was boiling, and a string of expletives hung on his tongue. Looking at the faces of his family, he forced himself to calm down.

“Well, I should’ve known my advice would fall on deaf ears,” Albert barked. “You think your old man is stupid. I told you to save your money, you didn’t. I told you to stay in college, you didn’t. You flushed your life down the toilet and became an alcoholic. Ever since you’ve gotten out of it, you’ve acted like it was some big accomplishment. We’re all supposed to applaud because you stopped doing something you never should have started in the first place. And now you’re just convinced that doing this one thing right means that everything else you do is right, too. Marrying her, working in a coffee shop, moving into that stupid fancy apartment you can’t afford. When are you going to grow up?”

A million things went through Ravenswood’s head, but he simply turned away in silence. The room was quiet, everyone staring at the floor. It felt as if a bomb had gone off. In many ways, it had. Nothing was broken, nothing was on fire, but damage had been done.

After a few minutes, the elder man sighed and waved his hand towards his daughter. “Sorry I blew my top.”

“It’s all right, Dad,” Beth said, her voice pleasant but strained. She moved to the counter. “Let me give you some cake to take home.”

 

Melody found her fiance in one of the upstairs bedrooms, sitting on the floor. He had tears in his eyes. “He’s right.”

“About what?”

“I should have never asked you to marry me. I’ll just drag you down.”

Melody sat next to him and hugged him. “No you won’t. You’re one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met. I keep worrying I’ll drag you down.”

Ravenswood shook his head. “Look at me. I’m 38 years old and my father can still make me feel like a little kid.”

Jacob poked his head in. “Your dad’s gone. Thought you might want to know.”

“What did he say before he left?”

Good-bye, I had a wonderful time. He acted like nothing had happened.”

“Yeah. That’s how he does things. We’ll be down in a minute.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“So, this kid totally karate kicks him in the shin, which wouldn’t have been such a big thing, except the he’s a yellow belt. Nearly broke his leg.”

Sara brought her hand to her mouth and giggled. “Did his parents sue?”

“No. They knew he was just trying to pull a fast one. Dad did bounce him from the class, though, but he had to eat the tuition they owed him.”

“Yeah, twelve hundred dollars.”

Michael turned to see his father walking down the stairs. He had traded his wine stained button-down for a casual cardigan.

“You love telling embarrassing stories about me, don’t you?”

“Always,” Michael answered with a smug smile.

Sara blushed. “I love that sweater. It reminds me of one my father has. My foster father, that is.”

Michael leaned forward, his curiosity piqued. “You don’t talk about your foster family much. I’ve always wondered about them.”

Yule sat down next to his son.

“Well, there’s not much to tell.” Sara pulled her legs up onto the couch, sitting indian-style. “My foster father really cared about me, but his wife didn’t like me at all. She only tolerated me because people used to tell her how wonderful she was to take in this poor little orphan girl. Anyhow, my father had to travel a lot for his business. When he was home, things were good. When he wasn’t, they weren’t so good.” She sighed and looked down. “I really can’t complain, though. I had a nice place to live, and my foster brothers were fun to be with. Many kids don’t even have that.”

Michael sighed, his gaze shifting down. “I was lucky, too. I had Andy and Tony. They were my family. I spent all my time with them, even the holidays. Joe Toronto used to tell me that I was as much of a son to him as Tony was.” Michael was surprised at the emotions which were stirred. He sucked in a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “But times change, things change.”

“People change,” Sara whispered.

The room fell silent and the three sat, staring at the floor. Finally, Yule stood, raising a finger. “I’m sorry kids, I just remembered, I have to make a quick call. I’ll be right back.”

As the man left, Sara closed her eyes and wrung her fingers. Michael could tell she was trying to keep it together, but a tear escaped down her cheek. His frustration turning to anger, he rose and headed towards the study.

“I’m going to go talk to him.”

Entering his father’s sanctuary, Michael found the man sitting in a chair, a scotch in his hand.

“Important phone call?” he asked.

“I needed a minute alone.”

“Alone? That’s all you’ve done this afternoon is sneak off. Sara came to see you and you’ve barely said ten words to her. What the hell is your problem?”

“I don’t know, all right?” He lowered his voice. “I wasn’t ready for this. I told you that. I needed more time.”

“For what? Why are you so afraid of her? She’s your daughter.”

Yule clutched the glass carafe close to his chest and stared blankly into the fireplace. “She’s Maggie’s daughter,” he said, as if that should explain everything.

Confused and upset, Michael returned to the front room. The couch was empty, Sara’s coat and bag gone.

“Oh, great. Not again.” Walking to the foyer, he was surprised to see his sister standing there, hands folded in front of herself.

“This was a bad idea,” she said with a sad smile.

“No, it wasn’t, it’s just—”

“No,” she said, cutting him off with a raised hand. “This was my fault. I know better. I’m always telling people in these types of situations not to push it, to give it time; not everyone deals with these things the same way. And then, what did I do? I started pressuring, pushing Yule to see me.” She stepped forward, taking his hand in hers. “I spent my whole life dreaming of having a family—a real family. I got a brother. An amazing brother I look up to and admire more each time I’m with him. I’m so lucky. Even if that’s all I ever get, I’ll never be able to complain.”

Michael struggled, not sure what to say.

Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she smiled. “Lunch tomorrow?”

“Of course,” he whispered.

As her hand touched the doorknob, a voice called from the front room. “Sara.” The siblings turned to face their father. His eyes were red and he looked distraught. “Wait, please.”

Fingers trembling, she took a few steps forward.

“You were right. I don’t hate you. But I do resent that all these wounds that I thought were healed are suddenly open again. I spent so much of my life dealing with losing everything. It took me forever to think about those times without falling apart. It took me years to come to terms and be okay with everyone else dying—losing my family.” He stopped, trying to find the words. “You look just like your mother. When I see you, I see her. Everything floods back. All the pain, all the guilt.”

“Dad, it’s okay,” Michael started, suddenly feeling the need to protect his father.

“No, it’s not. I was only thinking about myself, about my own feelings. I wasn’t considering both of yours.” He locked eyes on Sara’s. “I wanted a daughter. I loved my boys, but I always hoped for a girl. Sally didn’t want any more kids. When Maggie told me she was pregnant with you, I was so happy.” Yule swallowed hard. “I don’t want things to end like this. Do you think we could try it again, next week? I’d like another shot.”

“Absolutely,” Sara said with a gentle smile.

Nodding once, Yule turned and headed up the stairs.

“I love you, Dad,” she whispered when he was out of sight.

Taking a deep breath, Michael smiled at his sister. “Why don’t you let me drive you home.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Xavier waved his magic wand over the top hat, then tapped it two times. “Abracadabra.” He reached in and pulled out a four of spades. “Is this your card?”

“Yes,” said Ravenswood. “That was amazing!”

Xavier smiled and began pawing through the box. “I’ve got another trick in here...”

“Okay, Xavier,” Beth said firmly. “You’ve shown them a lot of tricks, but Uncle Woody and Aunt Melody have to get ready and leave now.”

Melody giggled as she stood up and took her coat from Jacob. “’Aunt Melody.’”

“Well, you will be soon. No reason they can’t start calling you that now.”

“Speaking of the wedding, the rehearsal dinner is on the seventeenth at eight o’clock. You and Jacob and the kids can all be there, even though you and Marilyn are the only ones in the wedding party.”

“Dolan’s flying out Saturday,” Ravenswood added, slipping on his jacket. “He’ll have to go straight from the airport to the rehearsal, but he’s renting a car, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay, sounds good.” Beth opened the door for the couple. “You two should come over more often.”

Ravenswood placed a kiss on his sister’s cheek. “Just invite us. We’ll drop everything and run right over.”

Melody nodded. “Especially when your kids start having cousins.”

The two left and made their way towards their car at the end of the circular drive. As they got into the sedan, Melody gasped. “Whoa. I said that aloud, but it’s got me kind of worried.”

“What?”

“Cousins. I’m going to have babies.”

Ravenswood nodded. “Yeah. That’s what happens when you’re married. Are you all right with that?”

“I’m all right. It just... takes some getting used to.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think I’m ready, either.” He took her hand. “Listen, once we start having kids...”

“Yes?”

“If I ever say or do anything like my father does, smack me, okay?”

“I promise.”

Ravenswood started the engine, then shut it off again.

“Is something wrong?”

A bit sheepishly, he said, “Could you hand me that atlas?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Aaron helped his wife into her coat, snaking his arm around her waist. “How ‘bout we get the kids to bed and then work off some of that food we ate tonight?”

For a change, the woman turned and smiled. “I think maybe we could do that.”

Giving her a quick kiss on the lips, he felt a small hand tug at his coat. “Dad, Shakira says I can’t have the cookies when I get home because she wants them.”

“I’m sure your grandmother gave us enough for everyone.” Helping his son button his jacket, Aaron looked up at his father who had entered the front hallway. “We’re just about set. Thanks again for everything.”

“That’s what family is for.”

Michelle hoisted Myron up and carried him out the door. Aaron lingered behind a minute, speaking with his father. “So, what time on Tuesday?”

“We’ll have the rooms available after two o’clock, but I figure we should all gather there about five. It’s gonna be a late night.”

“Which hotel again?”

“The Lincoln.”

“That’s one of Michael Bruce’s hotels, isn’t it?”

“Yes. He’s donating the space. I think he plans to be there, too. He’s a good man.”

“And a good friend,” Aaron added. “We’ll all be there. I just hope the kids can stay awake. If you win, we’re gonna want the photo-op.”

“What’s this ‘if’? I’m only two points behind in the polls.”

Aaron inhaled deeply and smiled. “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy you were doing this, but I’m hoping you pull it off—whatever may come of it on my end.”

“We’ll do this, together,” the man said, thumping his son’s fist.

“I love you, Dad.”

“Love you too, boy.” His father gave him a bear hug, then pulled away. “Now, get those grandbabies of mine home.”

Opening the door, Aaron walked along the sidewalk and onto the driveway. Slipping into the mini-van, he turned to see all three children fast asleep. “Already?”

Michelle shrugged. “Long day. But, you watch, they’ll get home and be wide awake. I bet they’ll be up half the night.”

Aaron sighed with a nod. “Just my luck.” Shifting the car into gear, the vehicle slowly drove away.