Mari sighed as she shifted against the window at the main house. It was after dinner, a dinner she’d half-heartedly picked at. She was curled up in the bay window while Gage settled into the closest armchair and Raoul and Allison relaxed on the sofa together. Some program was on, but she didn’t pay it any mind. The words didn’t even register.
She’d turned down a family dinner the day before, nowhere near ready to face them so soon. Tonight, she gave in.
Only two days had passed since Tyler’s confession. He’d given her the space and time she asked for so far, but it wasn’t helping her clear her head. Her entire life her father was a mystery, one she didn’t think would ever be solved. Tyler had handed her the missing puzzle piece with ease, but it only revealed that even more pieces were missing. More than once her fingers drifted over the keyboard, itching to type in the name Blake Mason and see what came up. Each time she forced herself away from the laptop without doing it, afraid of what she might find.
Her break from Tyler was quickly noticed. Todd didn’t say a word, but there were enough moments after work when Tyler was nowhere to be found that it appeared he was going to before he changed his mind. Rylee had no such restraint. Earlier that afternoon she found herself on a conference call with her best friends demanding to know what put the brakes on her relationship.
Not even with two of the people closest to her did she reveal the entirety of the truth. She settled for a half-truth, explaining that Tyler wasn’t quite the man she thought he was and she had to figure out if she could deal with that before they moved forward. Rylee accepted it with relative ease. Julia was far more curious. Still, she let Mari get away with the vague answer as if sensing she wasn’t ready to share yet.
Multiple times she thought to confront Raoul and Gage with what Tyler revealed yet every time she started to, she lost her nerve and chose another subject. She found herself looking for a resemblance between her and Gage despite having always been told she could’ve been her mother’s clone. Now that she looked for it though, she could see it in the slope of their jaws. The recognition only made the truth more unbearable. Gage, at the very least, knew the truth. Raoul more than likely did as well and that ate at her until she felt nothing but confusion and pain.
Now, after days of avoidance, it finally came out.
“Do you know who my father is?” No finesse. No lead-in. Just the question.
Raoul stiffened as if the question had struck him, tearing his eyes away from the tv. He sat up straight and rubbed the palm of his hands down his thighs before cupping his knees.
“I wish I could say that was sudden,” Raoul said slowly. “I know we talked about him. I thought you’d decided against looking for him.”
She looked at him in silence for a minute. He had raised her, loved her like his very own daughter. She knew him. He was dancing around the truth.
“Do you know who he is?” she asked so softly she wasn’t even sure she’d given voice to the words.
He held her gaze for just a moment before he let his head hang. His answering whisper was just as soft as hers had been.
In that moment, with that one word, her world came to screeching halt and crashed down all around her. Her chest grew tight. Her eyes stung, making her blink to relieve them.
“All this time…” Her voice broke and she forced herself to clear her throat. “You knew I had questions, that I wanted to know.”
Raoul lifted his head. “It was your mother’s choice at first. It was a good choice, Mari. I swear. To protect all of you. When we lost her…I wanted and maybe even needed to honor that choice. Then you stopped asking and it became easier to not say, to not complicate things.”
“And now? What’s different? 6000th time is a charm?”
“Mari,” Allison interjected softly as she rested a hand on Raoul’s back. “I know this is hard for you-”
“Don’t, Allie,” she countered immediately. “This is between us. Just. Don’t.”
She continued anyway and reminded Mari of the discussion they had when Raoul first proposed. “We agreed that I’m a part of this family. This is hard, but we don’t need for there to be any more pain than necessary.”
Mari nodded as if she understood. She uncurled her legs, pushing to her feet. “As long as I’m the one bearing it, it’s fine huh?”
Allison made a sound of protest and Raoul shook his head. Never had she felt so completely and utterly alone. Tyler was using her, the family she knew had been lying to her for years, her mother was gone, and she didn’t even want to think about her father.
“Ellie Girl,” Gage interrupted as he crossed the room toward her. “Take it easy on ‘em.”
“Take it easy?” she repeated incredulously. “He lied to me my entire life! Kept the truth from me about the one person I needed to know the most about! I lost my mom! He could have given me my father!”
“There’s usually more to the story, you know that. This is a tough one for you and I’m not downplaying that. But it sounds like Raoul is willing to give you answers now. Let’s focus on that.”
Raoul focused tortured eyes on her. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you. Every time you asked me questions about him, I asked myself would it hurt if I told you something or gave you a little scrap. Every time I wasn’t sure about that answer and I couldn’t risk you. Couldn’t risk my baby girl.”
“You could have just told me he didn’t want me.” She hated her words cracked and that annoying burning sensation behind her eyes. “I could have handled that. I can handle that. That would have been better than leaving me to make up tales and wonder.”
Raoul was shaking his head before she even finished. “I couldn’t tell you that because I couldn’t tell you a lie. I only saw him in person a handful of times and only once after you were born. I loved you as much as if you were my blood child. I know what it looks like. What it feels like. And I saw it in him. I couldn’t tell you the truth, but I couldn’t tell you that lie. Not that one.”
She seethed. “I haven’t seen him since I was old enough to remember. What about a lifelong absence says he cares? That he wants me?”
“Then make me understand!” Her emotions were spinning out of control and she couldn’t make herself stay calm. “Why? If he loves me so much then why isn’t he here? Why didn’t he come when Mom died? Why were we ever not with him? Make me understand!”
Raoul opened his mouth, but no words came. The tears Mari fought so hard against spilled from her eyes and she roughly wiped them away.
“This is pointless. Forget I even-”
“Maybe, Raoul…Maybe it’s time for you to connect with her dad and let him tell his own story,” Gage suggested quietly.
Raoul’s startled gaze jumped to him. Gage cupped the back of Mari’s neck and guided her into his chest without taking his eyes off of Raoul. She shuddered against him, wanting to burrow into the familiar safe place even as she struggled with the knowledge that his words now carried weight. Not because he was Raoul’s friend, but because he was Blake’s brother. He was giving Raoul permission. She sniffed hard. Gage’s arms tightened around her.
“It’s time,” he repeated. “We’ll get you the truth from the source.”
Mari thought about those words and what they meant. She would meet her father. Suddenly she didn’t know if she was ready for that.
She raised her head to look up at Gage. “Why would he come now? After all these years?”
His answering smile was gentle and he reached up to wipe away a tear with his thumb. “Because love makes you do things, Ellie Girl. Crazy, terrible, and wonderful things. It’s an action word. And love never believes it’s too late.”
[I]Love is action, darling.[/i] She could almost hear her mother saying the words and she wondered if it had been the Mason’s philosophy or Miranda had taught them that.
She was finding it hard to form a picture of an absent father who loved her, but Gage and Raoul were both trying to paint it.
“But what if it is too late? It’s been years. I’m an adult…He’s just a name and a distant story now.”
“Miranda loved him,” Raoul said with a gravity that commanded attention. “I knew that, but more importantly, you knew that. That’s what you told me that day at her grave, that whatever else he was, whoever he is, she loved him. And you loved her like no one else on this earth. You thought that was important then. It should be now too. Maybe I should have done this years ago, but we’re here now.” He rubbed a hand over the back of his head. “Give him a chance, Marielle. I want that for you. Miranda would want that for both of you.”
“I-” she almost choked on her words and had to take a moment to gather herself. “This is a lot. Let me…just let me…just let me think.”
“Take your time,” Gage encouraged. “Take all the time you need.”