It was funny; the sun was shining above, and the birds were singing their morning song all around them as if it were a normal day, but for these people shrouded in black, there was a loss—but the importance of this loss was less than most people knew.
Daniella Thomas-Yuy stared at the gleaming wood coffin in front of her, frowning. She wasn’t thinking about the happy times she had with the deceased or the great sorrow in her heart for his passing; instead, she wondered idly if she had left the oven on. Then she remembered she hadn’t, relieved, and tuned in the droning voice of Reverend Ross as he went on about ashes and dust.
When the seemingly perpetual address was over, Danie sighed and took her baby daughter from her husband. She adjusted her expensive sunglasses upon her nose. All the women at the funeral were wearing them, though two-thirds of them weren’t hiding red eyes.
Danie caught up with her big sister at the limousine, little Josephine asleep on her shoulder. She called out and her big sister paused. Once Danie had reached her sister, they climbed in together.
“Nice funeral, huh?” Danie quipped.
Jessica Thomas-Chang removed her sunglasses to reveal a pair of indignant blue-green eyes. “It was a relief.” She took a deep breath as the husbands and children filled the space. “I’m glad he’s dead. I know that’s not a very nice thing for me to say, but I am.”
Danie nodded, understanding. “You’re not the only one, Jess. I noticed Gretchen and Claudia didn’t shed any tears over their dear father passing.”
“Not like I blame them.” Jessica shook her head at the sight of the only Thomas sister in tears. “But Moira’s heartbroken.”
“He was a good father to her,” Danie remarked, “but he was a warden to us. Maybe we were heathens or something.”
A slight joking gleam was in Jessica’s eyes. “Yeah, we were. We were a whole bunch of ballet-dancing, violin-playing, fashion-modeling heathens.”
Danie rolled her eyes at the comment. Beside her, her husband Heero turned to stare at her. They locked eyes. He patted her hand as if to say, I’m sorry. She shook her head as if to reply, Don’t worry. It wasn’t like he was a good father anyway. Heero nodded. The doors closed. The limo pulled off.
* * *
“That was a waste,” Shannon Thomas grumbled as her family members came into the Yuy house behind her. “Why did we even go? I missed a perfectly good episode of Dawson’s Creek because of this poor excuse for a family reunion.”
Angel Kiyoshi glared at the indignant eighteen-year-old. “You’re a dumbass. They’re just reruns.”
“Alright, you two,” Danie admonished, hands on hips. “I don’t want to hear anymore arguing.”
“Eighty-six the ‘mother’ crap or you’ll be baby-sitting all week.”
Shannon grumbled more, but knew she’d be cleaning applesauce from her cheerleading uniform if she didn’t be quiet, so she trudged up the stairs in silence. Her twin sister Abigail Thomas-Yuy sighed as little Josie reached out for her.
“Sissy!” Josie cried.
Abigail took Josie from Heero and headed toward the kitchen. Angel followed. Danie leaned on the banister, overcome with a headache. Heero rubbed her shoulders.
“Hey you. You alright?”
Danie gave a slight nod. “I’m alright. I just need to lie down.”
Heero embraced her, making some of the pounding ebb away. “This thing with your father—”
“My father has nothing to do with this. I’m just stressed. Taking care of three teenagers and a three-year-old while working a full-time job can be hell on your nerves.”
Heero knew when his wife was hiding something from him, but he didn’t press her. She’d kick him in the groin if he did.
“Go take a nap then,” Heero told her. “Abby’ll feed Josie.”
Danie nodded and ventured up the stairs to their bedroom. She could feel Heero’s eyes boring into her back, his worried, overprotective eyes. When she reached the room, she flopped facedown onto the already-made bed. She shed a tear, but she had no idea why.
* * *
“You alright, Angel?” Abigail asked as she placed Josie in her high chair. The lanky, unsmiling, and handsome young man sat down at the table in front of Abigail and beside the high chair. Abigail had learned to sense his changes in mood—as seldom as they were.
“I’m alright,” Angel responded thickly. Abigail tried to catch his eye but he stared at his hands, which were playing with the fake flowers in the middle of the dining room table.
Josie swallowed a mouthful of applesauce, then turned to Angel, reaching for his hands. “Sissy! Let’s patty-cake!” she cried.
Angel looked miffed, like he wanted to run away as fast as humanly possible. Patiently Abigail said, “Angel is not your sissy, Josie-bear.”
Josie would not accept that she was wrong. “Sissy!” she insisted fervently.
“Only girls can be your sissy, Josie-bear. Angel is a boy.”
Josie thought upon this a moment before saying, “Broda!”
Angel stared at Josie as if she were a simpleton. “Wrong again, rugrat. There’s no way in he—”
“Angel!” Abigail interrupted, astonished. She placed the applesauce-laden spoon down near the bowl. “Dad would kill you if he heard you swear in front of Josie.”
Angel pulled apart off one of the cloth petals and threw it aside. “I don’t know why you refer to him as your father. You two aren’t even genetically related.”
“Well, he is like a father to me.”
“I don’t see how. All he does is screw around with your mother and makes sure she doesn’t notice that he can’t handle you and Shannon.”
Abigail glared at Angel for his sardonic remark. Josie saw the discarded spoon and sloshed it in the bowl. “Heero Yuy is a nice person, thank you very much. And he’s been more of a father to me than my so-called biological father. Besides, it’s Shannon that he can’t handle. She hates Heero.”
“With good reason. I wouldn’t want him as a father either.”
Abigail slid the vase toward her and fake petals flew everywhere. Angel glared back at her. For a moment, no words were exchanged between the two of them. Meanwhile Josie played with her old applesauce, oblivious to Angel and Abigail.
“You obviously are blind, Angel,” Abigail told him.
Angel’s jaw clenched. “I am not blind. I can see fine, thank you very much. And I suggest you leave me alone before I do something I regret.”
“Like what?” Abigail challenged. “Like be nice for once? Or interact with the rest of the people in this house? Look Angel, you’ve been living here for three years and you have yet to change from that sour-faced little boy you were thirteen years ago. We’ve been nothing but nice to you.”
“More like annoying,” Angel spat.
Abigail pushed back the chair and climbed to her feet, palms on the table. She leaned in so Angel could hear her clearly.
“Well, Mr. Kiyoshi,” Abigail began, “if you feel that spending time in this house with this family is a waste of your precious time then lord forbid that we keep you here.” She gestured in the direction of the door. “Go then. Go back to your family.”
“I don’t have one,” Angel said tersely. Abigail’s face fell into an emphatic, contrite mask, the anger draining from her system. Before the apologies could spill over her lips, Angel rose to his full height, seeming to tower over her. “My mother died when I was born and my father…” Suddenly Angel’s face contorted in deep-seated anger. “I hope he burns in hell.”
Josie was content with her applesauce so Abigail walked around the table to Angel. She placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked down at his feet, not able to meet her eyes, but she could feel him trembling under her touch.
“I’m so sorry, Angel…” Abigail shook her head, trying to find another way to ask but finding none. “What did he do to you?”
Angel remained silent, head bowed. His longish black hair hung over his eyes, so Abigail couldn’t see them. Josie jabbered behind them, happy in her own world. Abigail pleaded with him silently to open up. A moment later, he pushed past her and left, leaving her to lean on the table and ponder.
* * *
“Mama? Can I ask you something?”
It was later on that night, after dinner. The girls of the Yuy house were congregated in the living room. Josie was on the couch getting her daily dose of Scooby Doo, which kept her quiet. Danie sat beside her, looking at some files for work. Shannon sat in the armchair off to the side, playing with Abigail’s brown hair. At the sound of Abigail’s voice calling her, Danie looked up from her work.
“Well of course, Abby,” Danie told her. “You can ask me anything.”
Abigail was still hesitant. “Do you know…well… Do you know what happened to Angel’s father?” Danie took off her reading glasses. “Angel…he won’t talk about it.”
“He’s a jerk,” Shannon commented, platting Abigail’s hair. “He wouldn’t tell any of us anything.”
“I don’t know about that,” Danie contended. “He seems to like Abby more than the rest of us.” She smiled as Abigail turned red. “And I think it’s mutual.”
Abigail reddened even more. “Mother?! Could we get off the subject—?”
Danie cleared her throat. “Sorry. But anyhow…” Her expression turned somber. “I don’t know what to tell you, Abby. Heero doesn’t know—either that or he doesn’t want to tell me about it. I gather it was pretty bad. I mean, he seems to hate male authority figures because of it.”
“Not that I blame him,” Shannon retorted under her breath.
Abigail ignored Shannon. “Maybe he was abused,” Abigail speculated. “His father must have done something to him.”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
Shannon shrugged and then turned to her pile of hair accessories. “Maybe Angel’s father was like Grandfather.”
“There is no one quite like your grandfather,” Danie told her. “Believe me when I say that.”
“I don’t get it. What did he do to you anyway?”
Danie picked up the file in her lap and placed it on the coffee table. Josie remained unaffected, giggling over Scooby Doo’s canine gibberish. “It wasn’t just me, Shannon,” Danie replied. “It was Jessica, and Gretchen, and Claudia-Michelle, and Eric.” Danie shook her head at the memories of her childhood, her father’s during-dinner sermons dotted with orders to follow him, follow his craft. “Mom used to always take us to the ballet and the opera. Sometimes we’d even go see the symphony orchestra. She wanted us to be artistically well-bred I guess you can say. My father was okay with it—that is, until we started taking an interest in the arts. It was Jessica first, naturally because she was the oldest. She loved classical ballet. Soon she had us all dancing, even though we were nothing more than toddlers. It was her life’s ambition to become a prima ballerina.
“Claudia-Michelle loved when we went to see the symphony, so naturally she fell in love with that. She picked up violin and aspired to be a concert violinist. She taught Moira and me how to play, so we all played together. Moira picked up piano too and was playing like Mozart by the time she was five. I admit I wasn’t as passionate about classical music; I was more concerned about singing like an opera singer and dancing like a ballerina.”
Shannon snorted. “Sure Mom. Like you can let loose like that.”
Danie gave her a grim smile. “You’d be surprised.”
Abigail nudged Shannon then turned back to Danie. “So what about Aunt Gretchen and Uncle Eric?”
“Well,” Danie continued, “Gretchen followed Jessica, though she became interested in modern dance as she got older. Eric liked music. He said dancing was for sissies.” Danie laughed at the memory, but then her face turned somber at the next thought. “Then, my father put his foot down. He told us all of these things that we had passion for—the dancing, the singing, the music—would make better hobbies than careers. He said he had a plan for us: we’d all go to medical school to become doctors and then we’d have this family practice. And money. That’s what he wanted most: money. Lots and lots of it.
“Naturally, Mom was pissed. She didn’t want him dictating our futures. That wasn’t his place.” Danie paused. “Then Jessica told him off and disobeyed him. And ever since then, she hated him, and the rest of us have made it our life goal to deviate from his ‘big plan’.”
“Wow,” Shannon murmured. “I had no idea.”
“I didn’t want you to.”
At that moment the doorbell rang. Heero appeared from his study and stuck his head in. Before he could speak, Danie waved him off. A second later, the front door opened.
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Heero.
Uh oh. Danie vaulted from the couch, afraid that Heero was about to commit murder. Shannon, being nosy, followed. Abigail sighed and decided to stay. Besides, someone had to watch the little one.
* * *
Danie couldn’t believe her eyes. For a moment she thought perhaps that someone was playing a joke on her. Or perhaps the Gods decided they were going to ruin her again, like the night this had begun.
Yes, he was there standing on her doorstep, looking like the young star he was eighteen years ago.
“Hi Danie,” greeted Alex.
A savage blow to his mouth had been her greeting back.
* * *
Alex held ice wrapped in a towel up to his swelling lip. He sat on the loveseat, looking plaintively at Danie, who was across the room occupying the armchair that Shannon had left. Heero stood beside her, hand on her shoulder. The twins and Angel perched on the couch, in the middle of things, three pairs of eyes switching back and forth between Danie and Alex. Josie was in bed.
“I would like to know, first of all, what would inspire you to show your face after eighteen years,” Danie snapped, jaw clenched.
The eyes switched to Alex.
Alex swallowed and took the towel away from his lip. “Well, I heard about your father dying and I…I got to thinking about…” He faltered. “What happened.”
The eyes switched to Danie.
Danie blinked, expression stony. “I don’t see the correlation.”
The eyes switched to Alex.
Alex sighed. He knew this was going to be a tough sell. “I’m these girls’ father, and, well, I want them to get to know me before I…pass on. Whenever that is.”
“I’d love to get to know you,” Shannon remarked.
“Shannon,” Danie chided.
“Mom! Don’t start. Besides I’m eighteen. I get to do what I want.” Shannon tossed her hair in an oh-so-flippant gesture and turned to Alex with the smile she hoped would land her the cover of Glamour one day. “Does this process entail going to expensive restaurants with all your famous friends?”
“Shannon,” Abigail muttered, abashed she would think about celebrities at a time like that.
“Hey, don’t spoil my fun. I’m trying to find some light in this situation.”
Alex chuckled at his daughter’s frankness. Noticing the youngest was quiet, Alex turned to Abigail. “Abigail?”
Abigail didn’t speak. She looked at her mother, who looked as if she were being made to swallow a cactus plant. Heero was somber. Some how her eyes rested on Angel frowning. Then she stood. All eyes were on her.
“Excuse me,” Abigail murmured. She drifted out of the living room without another word.
* * *
“Danie, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you’re being irrational.”
Danie paused while mixing the spices into the beef stew. Usually cooking with her husband calmed her down after a long day of work, but this time it just wound her up, and the aromas she usually savored only made her queasy. Troubled thoughts of the previous night and Alex’s appearance filled her mind. Now she placed the salt shaker on the counter and turned to Heero.
“I’m being irrational?” Danie demanded, eyes blazing. “How the hell am I being irrational? This man came into my life and turned it upside down. When I tried to get to him about the twins, his mother told me to stop calling. And now all of a sudden, I’m supposed to forget all that?! Tell me how, Heero! Maybe you can knock some sense into me.”
Heero shook his head as the thumping of teenagers on the floor above them increased. He walked over to his wife and placed a hand on her shoulder. No words were exchanged, but Danie calmed down. She stepped away from the stove and let Heero embrace her.
“Danie,” Heero began, breath warm and soothing on her ear, “imagine if you were him. On a certain level, you were him at one time. I mean, you wanted to make amends with your children, and so you did. You were given that chance. And the girls embraced you.”
Danie shifted to look him in the face. “Yeah, but this is different. I gave birth to them, and from day one I wanted to it right. I even changed myself so I could be more of a mother to them. I was there when they needed someone read them a bedtime story. I was there when they were scared at night. He wasn’t. That’s the principle here, Heero. I don’t want to be cruel, but I have to be fair.”
“Yeah, but he has his rights.”
“He lost them when his mother hung up on me. End of story.” Danie disentangled herself from Heero and turned the stew down so that it could simmer. “Go tell the kids that dinner is ready.”
She could feel Heero standing there trying to figure out a way to change her mind. Silence fell between them, the rain outside and the stew bubbling the only sounds in the kitchen. But that was the thing about Daniella Yuy: once she was set on something, it would take a miracle to change her mind.
* * *
The white and black ball zoomed toward the right and collided with Angel’s broad shoulder. Abigail gasped in horror as Angel’s face reddened under the blazing South Cali sun.
“I’m so sorry!” Abigail cried. She ran up to him, her black, purple, and silver soccer uniform flapping around her. The other girls on the field watched in rapt interest as the straight-as-an-arrow team captain attended to such a hot guy.
“Gosh, how hard did you kick that thing?” grumbled Angel, rubbing his shoulder. Then he sighed, irritation dissipating. “Look, Abby, I wanted to talk to you.”
Abigail did a double-take. “Talk to me?”
“Yeah, about your dad coming back last night.”
Abigail looked away. “Oh.”
Angel fidgeted, trying to come up with the words to be sympathetic. This wasn’t like him, playing the part of the shoulder-patting, advice-giving friend. He led Abigail to the bench nearby and sat her down. After a period of silence he spoke.
“Look, I noticed that you weren’t as excited as Shannon was,” Angel started.
“He just comes back and expects us to love him,” Abigail muttered, idly putting up her hair. “After eighteen years of not even hearing from him, he comes around as if nothing happened. What would you have done?”
“I don’t know. I mean, if it had been my father, I would have bashed his head in.” Abigail winced at the image. “But this is yours, Abby. He’s not the same as my father. Not all fathers are the same. I mean, look at your grandfather. He’s not the same as Heero or whatever, nor is Heero the same as my father.”
“Of course not,” Abigail broke in. “He’s better.”
Angel shrugged. “Maybe, but you have to give Alex a chance. If he messes up, bash his head in.”
Abigail made a sound in-between a choke and a gasp. “What’s this with bashing heads in?”
“That’s the way I solve things.”
Abigail rolled her eyes. “You’re so violent. I feel for your wife and children.”
Angel glared at her. “I’m not getting married. Ever.”
* * *
Heero didn’t know how he did it, but somehow he managed to convince Danie to let Shannon and Abigail spend time with Alex.
Shannon was excited. She had been following her father for years through magazines. She even had a poster of his group’s Rolling Stone cover a long time ago. Shannon and her cheerleading friends had gotten together and had even gone shopping for the right outfit. It was insane. Abigail on the other hand wasn’t as enthused as her big sister. She was more worried about her mother. But Danie had prodded her to go to at least spend some time with the guy once, and Abigail liked to make her mother happy.
When the night came, Danie had vowed to stay in her bedroom the whole evening. She soon abandoned the bedroom, since Heero was not in there to make it feel like home, so she drifted down to the patio in the backyard, watching the pool water shimmer and the stars above glitter. A breeze blew in, making the mid-autumn night cool. Danie was so wrapped up in her solitude that she didn’t notice someone standing over her. When she did, though, she felt like hitting someone. Namely him. Again.
“Alexander,” Danie growled.
Alexander stepped up gingerly to the towering Mrs. Yuy. He noticed again that Danie had gotten very tall in their time apart. She had to be at least six feet tall, which made this even more daunting.
“I’m here to pick up the twins,” he explained, hands moving nervously up and down his sides. “Um…your husband let me in.”
Danie stood and crossed her arms. Heero would be sleeping on the couch that night. “Well,” she said unnecessarily.
Alexander shuffled his feet and moved closer to Danie. “Look Danie—”
“Don’t even start, Alex. You just listen.” Danie moved closer to Alex, half of her face now in shadow, making her look forbidding. “I did this because I thought it would be a chance for you to redeem yourself. Yes—one chance. We all should get one chance don’t you think? One and only one. And Alex, if you hurt my daughters in any way, I will find you—and you won’t be able to have offspring.” Danie looked to the sliding glass door as Shannon’s voice filled the hallway. “I hope I’ve made myself clear.”
“Crystal.” He smiled, slapping Danie playfully on the shoulder. “Lighten up, alright?”
Danie tilted her head and curved her lips up in what looked like a grimace. I’ll lighten you up.
* * *
Shannon almost couldn’t believe her good luck. She had always been convinced that she was a special girl with social prowess and physical grace. But as she, wearing her expensive Express outfit, sat in her father’s plush studio apartment, adorned with gold records, award statuettes, and photos of him when he was younger, she realized that she was beyond lucky—perhaps blessed.
Gina Delaney wasn’t a bad person in Shannon’s opinion. Sure, she wore a bit too much makeup and looked like she was trying to try out for the sequel to Showgirls, but she shared most of Shannon’s interests. Beside her on the soft white couch, Abigail fidgeted nervously as Gina offered her some White Zinfandel. Shannon sipped her drink as grown-up as possible. Abigail waved the offer off, tracing the hem of her skirt—an old skirt, Shannon remembered with disdain—with barely veiled discomfort.
“So when are you getting married?” Shannon asked her father, tossing her hair over her shoulder and trying to look conversational.
Alex, who was perched in the matching armchair, smiled and pulled his fiancée closer to him. Gina looked down demurely like a girl probably half her age and ran her long, blazing red fingernails across Alex’s forearm gently. “Well, it all depends on Gina. The little lady hasn’t decided yet.”
Abigail raised an eyebrow dubiously, like the whole fact added to her father’s seemingly shady quality. Shannon groaned inwardly at her twin sister. Over-critical, just like Mom.
“Is it going to be soon?” Abigail inquired.
Alex didn’t answer and looked to Gina. After a moment, Gina shrugged and tried her best not to fall of the arm of the chair.
“Well,” she began carefully, “I still have to find a place that will please my parents and his mom.”
Shannon tapped her fingers on her glass and gave her father a joking grin. “Well, anyway, it doesn’t matter when or where you get married. Just as long as you do it. I mean, it’s about time for you to settle down, right Dad?”
“You’re damn right I am,” Alex declared, pulling Gina into his lap and smothering her with smooches all over her face and neck. She giggled, once again reminding Shannon of someone quite a bit younger than she was. But Shannon was willing to overlook it. They looked so cute together!
But Abigail noticed the slightest bit of disquietude in Gina’s iridescent blue eyes.
* * *
Some days later, on a Saturday, Shannon knocked upon Danie’s open bedroom door while she was sitting on the bed mending one of Heero’s shirts. Danie, propped up on pillows and sitting up, looked up to find her daughter in her Kaminari University cheerleading uniform. She smiled at Shannon.
“Mind if I come in?” Shannon asked.
Danie patted the empty space beside her. “Come on in. I’m allowed to have visitors. Being pregnant’s not contagious.”
Shannon sighed. “Thank God!” She plopped down on the bed then leaned back on the pillows. “Well, the Lions won the game.”
“That’s good. Meet any cute guys?”
Shannon shrugged. “Well, not really. I wasn’t looking at the guys.”
Danie paused. Shannon was more flirtatious than she had ever been. It was strange for Shannon to not return from a home football game without guys’ phone numbers. She wasn’t alarmed, just mystified. Danie had gotten used to having most of Gracia’s male population on Shannon’s speed dial.
“Well why not?”
A strange blush crept up on Shannon’s face. “Well, Dad was there. And he had his fiancée with him. They’re getting married.”
Getting married? Alex? Danie burst out laughing at the notion. Shannon’s sheepish expression was replaced with an indignant flush.
“Why are you laughing?” Shannon demanded. “What is so funny?!”
“Look at what you just said, sweetie. Commitment is like a virus to your father. He may think that he is in love with this woman, but in the end he’s going to leave her, just like all those other times.”
Shannon crossed her arms over her chest. “I refuse to believe that Dad isn’t serious about Gina. You should see they way they are when they’re together. They’re even talking about kids and stuff.” Shannon paused as Abigail rushed past the door. “Hey sissy! Come here!”
Abigail appeared, frowning and holding her English text. “Yeah Shan?”
“Did you see Gina and Dad together?”
Abigail raised an eyebrow, wondering the importance of this. “Yeah…”
“Didn’t they look like a match made in Heaven?”
“Yeah, if Heaven’s relocated to Aaron Spelling’s house.”
Danie spluttered, laughing again. Abigail’s confusion became deeper. Shannon glared at Danie. She flounced off the bed, huffy. Danie stopped laughing. “Shannon! Come back.” Shannon whirled. “Honey, I’m just trying to make you see the truth.”
“Shan, be reasonable,” Abigail piped in. “You have to look at both sides here.”
Shannon pointed an accusing finger at Danie, violet eyes alight with anger. “Then maybe she should grow up and see the truth. She’s so stuck in the past that she refuses to see that the man has changed.”
Danie abandoned her sewing and climbed off the bed. “He hasn’t changed, Shannon. That man will always be the same. I hate to be the one to tell you this about your father. I know sweetie.”
“No you don’t!” Shannon cried.
“Yes I do!” Danie insisted. “The man can talk the talk, but he can’t walk the walk. When all the fun and games are over, you’re stuck at square one—without him. I’m telling you the truth.”
Shannon dropped her arms to her sides, fists clenched. “Well, I don’t believe you. You’re so close-minded, Mom.”
“Oh am I really?” It was Danie’s turn to cross her arms. “This coming from an eighteen-year-old whose world revolves around cheerleading and make up.”
Silence fell between the two of them. Abigail, sitting on the bed caught between the crossfire, felt a sense of dread. She could spot those angry tears in Shannon’s eyes. Danie’s face fell, contrite. Meanwhile, Angel stood at the door, watching. Before Danie could rectify her harsh words, Shannon flounced off. She bumped into Angel but pushed him out of her way. Abigail grabbed Angel before he could snap her neck. Danie rushed past them both to plead with Shannon’s closed door. Abigail looked down at the constant floor, wishing it could swallow her and take her from here.
* * *
Danie folded the last of the laundry and placed it in the laundry basket. The sound of footfalls broke through her thoughts, and she turned around to find a six-year-old with her father’s hair and eyes rushing in. The brown-haired streak flopped onto Danie’s bed full of energy Danie wished she could have again.
“Mommy, Mommy, can I go play outside now? I’m done with my homework.”
Danie ruffled the hair of her baby daughter. “Yes, Josie, you can go outside and play. Just be careful, okay?”
Josie grinned. “I will, Mommy!” With that she ran out again, leaving Danie with the laundry and her own regretful thoughts. Since baby Jason was asleep in the next room, she was guaranteed her silence and solitude. That was what she needed now, at least to think. Usually she welcomed the hurry to distract her, but today the thoughts couldn’t be avoided. The date on the calendar was March second—Abigail and Shannon’s birthday.
She hadn’t talked to her daughter since she moved out three years ago. A year after that, she broke all contact with everyone in the family, including her own twin sister. The magazines showed glossy photos of the happy little family, but Danie was more inclined to believe the tabloids, which speculated Alex’s fidelity.
Danie stepped to the window, which was open to allow the fragrant breeze to waft in. Down below her, she spied Josie playing with her friend Felice, happiness and exertion painting her face a rosy pink. Then her eyes shifted…and she saw an unfamiliar car make its way into her driveway.
Upon seeing the familiar pelt of dark-brown hair, just like her father’s, Danie knew who was home.
But she couldn’t shake the feeling of dread she felt as she exited the room and walked down the stairs.
* * *
“You’ve been awfully quiet, Abby.”
Abigail sighed and shook her head wordlessly, knowing there were no words to convey her feelings. The living room was quiet, filled with only the sounds of the clock ticking over the mantle. The wedding planner on her knee was opened to a page about bridesmaids’ dresses but she could care less. She was despondent, but she was also disconcerted and full of remorse. Knowing this, Angel grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips. Abigail mustered up a small smile.
“Thinking about Shannon?” he guessed.
“How is you can read my mind? I guess I’m that transparent, huh?”
He placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “I know the woman I love. And I know of a certain twin sister that hasn’t called her in months…”
Abigail sighed again. “Close to two years, actually. Ever since she moved out after that fight she had with Mom…” Abigail shook her head, remembering the tense exchange between mother and daughter. “I just hope she happy after all that she went through.” A lump formed in her throat. “And that she comes to the wedding.”
“She will, Abby,” Angel assured her. “Don’t be so down. It’s your birthday isn’t it? Aren’t you going to celebrate and be happy? You’re twenty-one now.”
Abigail shook her head. “It doesn’t matter how old I am. Besides, it’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to.” Knowing that Angel would say nothing more, Abigail went back to her book. The words and images blurred in a muddle of white, lavender, and black. She shut her eyes and closed the book. Holding her head in her hands, she heard Angel pause. As her shoulders quivered, Angel placed his arms around her.
The front door opened.
At the sound, Abigail lifted her head. Through her tears she saw three figures enter the hallway. One of them was Shannon. She’d recognize her anywhere. A woman with dark hair held Shannon by the shoulders. Behind them stood another woman. Abigail recognized Detective Dawn Richardson-Cain immediately, but she wondered who the last woman was. From down the hall toward the den, she heard footsteps, then a long silence.
“Shannon!” Pause. “Amanda?”
The woman nodded. “Hello, Danie.”
“What are you doing here? I thought Shannon was with Alex.”
Amanda took a deep, shaky breath. “Danie, Alex is dead.”
Shannon broke out into sobs. Although Abigail couldn’t see her mother’s face at the moment, she could picture it going ashen, and her stepfather would grab her hand for consolation. Abigail rose and walked to the doorway, watching the serene scene with rapidly tearing eyes. Shannon was in Danie’s arms. Heero looked pained but didn’t move.
Abigail turned to Amanda, who she now recognized as one of her late father’s ex-fiancées. It took a moment for her to realize that Gina wasn’t with them. Why not?
“Amanda, where’s Gina?” Abigail inquired.
Amanda and Dawn shared a glance before Amanda replied. “Gina…Gina is at the police station right now.”
Police station? Abigail blinked, the world seeming to spin around her. “Amanda, how did Alex die?”
Amanda looked down to the floor and answered after a moment. “Gina shot him twice in the back. She caught him cheating on her.”