The two-storey structure had been modernised over the years, a fresh coat of paint added recently. But it was still the same home where he’d witnessed and known despair and desolation. Where he’d lived in fear of flying missiles and broken trust.
‘You won’t find the answers you need sitting in the car, Andro. You may not even find answers inside, but at least make the attempt.’
His father got out and rounded the bonnet. Sucking in a breath, Alejandro followed suit. As they neared the front door it opened. A half-sob, half-gasp sounded from within a second before his mother appeared.
Evita Aguilar had aged with grace. And despite the similar sadness that lurked in her eyes, she carried herself with a quiet pride.
‘Andro, mi chico,’ she murmured. She held out her arms.
He stepped into the embrace, and felt another crack in his chest. He allowed himself to be drawn inside, bustled over and fed.
But eventually, his restlessness resurfaced. His father grabbed a bottle of wine, his mother brought glasses and they settled on the small terrace that abutted the garden.
As it happened, Alejandro didn’t need to ask the questions burning in his heart.
‘We made your life hell,’ his father said gravely.
‘Yes,’ he responded.
Tomas glanced at his wife and the look they shared jarred something harder within Alejandro. ‘We had access to marriage counsellors, and divorce courts. Perhaps you want to know why we never made use of them.’
Alejandro swallowed hard, the shame at admitting his secret wish profound. ‘Yes.’
‘That answer is simple. We stayed together because we love each other. Despite the tumult. Despite it not making sense to others, even sometimes to us.’ Tomas reached for his wife’s hand. ‘No one has the right to judge us, or tell us how to love. Time and wisdom have helped us see the light in some ways, but in other ways we wouldn’t change a thing. So if you came here seeking rationality, or a straightforward, risk-free way to love your woman—and I know all this is because of a woman; you’re my son after all—we have no answers for you. You’ll have to find your own way.’
Shock scythed through Alejandro, followed closely by an absurd understanding. He didn’t know if what he felt for Elise was love, but it was certainly beyond his comprehension. And he’d been prepared to risk a business deal in order to hang on to it.
He didn’t know what his next steps would be, but he was willing to take the leap. A knot in his gut eased and his next breath came easier.
‘There are some things that we never forgave ourselves for, though,’ his mother said, her hazel eyes pleading with his. ‘We should’ve made sure you knew you were loved. I should’ve protected you more from my...insecurities. Losing you the way we did...’ A sob caught in her throat and his father passed her a tissue.
‘We probably have no right to ask you for forgiveness. But we would like you to consider it,’ his father said.
Alejandro swallowed again to displace the rock in his throat. Rising, he bent down and kissed his mother’s cheek. ‘I’ll consider it, Mamá. Goodbye.’
She caught and held on to his hand. ‘Will...will I see you again?’
He’d taken Elise’s advice. He’d confronted his past and had found a modicum of understanding.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In some ways that was true.
Some apples fall far enough. In other ways that was also true.
‘Yes, you’ll see me again.’
ALEJANDRO RESISTED THE URGE to catch a flight to Hawaii and returned to Chicago instead.
Twenty-four hours. Elise would be back in his bed before nightfall tomorrow. It was a thought that kept him marginally sane, although Elise sending back his plane because she felt bad about it ‘just sitting there doing nothing’ irritated him in the extreme.
He looked up from the document he’d read for the last half-hour without taking a single word in, and accepted the espresso Sergio set before him.
‘Do we know the weather forecast for Hawaii at this time of year? You haven’t heard of any cyclones or tornados reported in that part of the world, have you?’
‘No, señor. As far as I know the weather is copacetic over there.’
Alejandro tossed back the espresso. ‘Good. She’s been gone a week. I don’t want anything interrupting her flight back.’