Posts tagged “unrequited

Homecoming, Chapter 16

Posted on 10/02/2016

With Joselyn in Darah’s arms, Geraldine had no one to shield her from her mother-in-law’s heated glares. And once they’d entered the house, Abe asked Bart for help in the backyard so he wasn’t available either. She looked around the room, where Phoebe and Eleazar sat together, Darah sat beside Yelena, and Clement stood off on the side, watching her.

She blinked in surprise, her cheeks warm at his amused expression. How long had he been watching her? Heat scorched her face in embarrassment, wondering if he’d noticed the long gaze she gave Bart as he strode out with Abe. She certainly hoped not! Things were complicated enough.

Clement cleared his throat and looked to her in-laws. “Pardon me, I didn’t get your names.”

Geraldine gnawed on her bottom lip as her in-laws glanced at each other and back at him.

“Andres,” her father-in-law spoke up and gestured to his sour-faced wife. “Cristina.”

The Teka family nodded in acknowledgment and Geraldine grimaced. “Sorry, my head’s not where it needs to be.”

“Yeah, that kiss must’ve scrambled your brain huh?”

“Junior,” Phoebe sighed in exasperation.

Yelena covered a laugh with a cough. Cristina’s scowl darkened and Andres looked as if he’d swallowed a rock. Darah buried a snicker against Joselyn’s hair. Only Eleazar looked undisturbed.

Geraldine eyed Darah with jealousy, wishing she could hide her hot cheeks behind Joselyn. She turned to Phoebe. “Uh, can I help with dinner–”

“No!” Darah and Clement shouted, alarming Andres and Cristina. Geraldine looked wounded.

“She’s actually better than before,” Yelena spoke up, giving her daughter a smile.

Cristina snorted derisively and Geraldine’s shoulders drooped.

“Uh sure, Geri,” Phoebe spoke up and smiled at Geraldine. “I could definitely use your help.” She stood and gestured for Geraldine to follow. The two women made their way quietly to the kitchen before she turned, concern etched on her features. “Your mother-in-law is horrible!”

Geraldine gave her a dry smile and leaned against the counter. “That’s her being courteous.”

“Courteous, my big toe!” Her eyes swept over Geraldine’s face. “And you look like you’ve aged a decade in just 24 hours!”

Grimacing, Geraldine lifted a hand to her face. “Does it really?”

“I’m exaggerating but seriously, they can’t stay.” She frowned over her shoulder to where Abe and Bart were setting up the grill. “Bart told us they’re planning to stay more than a week.”

Geraldine heaved a sigh. “Seems that way.”

“Not if we can help it.” The determination in her voice made Geraldine look back at her. “If we have anything to say about it, they won’t last a week.”

The door swung open at the tail end of Phoebe’s firm declaration. “Who won’t last a week?” Abe asked, carrying an empty pan. Bart’s brows were furrowed in concern, seeing Geraldine in the kitchen.

“Should you be in here?” he asked Geraldine and arched a brow at Phoebe.

She scowled, affronted. “I can cook, Bartimeus.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Do you want me to repeat what happened outside?”

Though a warm shiver rushed down her spine and her lips welcomed a repeat, she steeled her frame and tilted her chin. “Try it and I won’t let you off.”

“Save your lover’s spat for later,” Phoebe cut in and turned to Abe. “I don’t like Geri’s mother-in-law.”

Abe glanced worriedly at Geraldine. “That’s not nice, Babe…”

“It’s okay,” Geraldine assured Abe.

“I don’t like the way she looks at her like she’s the one at fault,” Phoebe continued, her expression tightening. “Who does she think she is?”

Bart glanced over Geraldine’s shoulder at the open door. “I’m pretty sure they can hear you.”

“Let them hear mfff–” she scowled when Abe placed a hand over her mouth. The look he gave her softened her expression and she sighed when he lowered his hand. “Fine… but we have to do something.”

“We are doing something,” Bart answered, draping his arm over Geraldine’s shoulder. “Showing ’em Geraldine and Jozy are doing just fine together, then they’ll leave.”

“Well then, we better get you guys engaged first,” Phoebe muttered, hands at her hips.

The two brothers exchanged glances, knowing Phoebe’s mind sifted through ideas. Abe sighed and draped his arm over his wife’s shoulders. “I have a better idea.”

All three turned to him, surprised and expectant. It wasn’t often Abe formulated ideas; he mostly critiqued and then implemented the ideas Phoebe or Bart or Darah came up with. His nickname aside from Big Bro was the Implementer.

“What you got?” Bart inquired quietly.

Abe glanced once at the opening and then beckoned them closer before sharing his idea.

“Mr. Andres,” Abe began as soon as everyone had settled on the table with their chicken and beef fajita meal. When the man looked up in surprise, Abe smiled. “We’re curious to hear more about Geri’s life in Peru… and her late husband, your son.”

Geraldine fought hard not to squirm and Bart’s tense body beside her echoed her thoughts on Abe’s plan to woo her in-laws. He believed that honoring their son’s memory would assuage Cristina’s resentment toward everyone especially Geraldine.

Finding redeemable qualities of her late husband proved harder than finding a needle in a haystack. Bart wasn’t exactly jumping for joy over having to hear about the man that had abused Geraldine… and even Phoebe was wary, but their options were limited.

In return for their good treatment toward the in-laws, Phoebe insisted that Abe’s plan last only for a week. She too was finding it hard to forgive Andres and Cristina for not interceding in Geraldine’s mistreatment from their bad-tempered son. Currently, she maintained a stiff smile as her husband addressed Andres.

“He was a good man,” Cristina spoke in Spanish, not caring for whoever didn’t understand. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears and Andres placed a hand over her shoulder. “He cared for those who loved him…”

Even though they had the good sense not to look at Geraldine, she felt the words addressed to her alone. Painful words accusing her of not loving her son enough.

“Yeah well, Bart’s a decent fellow.” Clement spoke up; throwing out Abe’s plan before it began. His eyes stayed on Cristina. “Even if my brother didn’t love Geri, which he does, he still wouldn’t lift a hand to her.”

The whole table fell in shocked silence.

Cristina narrowed her eyes at him. Andres looked constipated.

“Love never hurts, love endures and never fails. If your son really loved Geri,” Clement continued, their silence his platform. “He certainly didn’t treat her as you’re describing, did he?”

“Enough!” Andres slammed a hand on the table and Joselyn started to wail.

Eleazar, who had been sitting morosely between Clement and Darah, started to rock in his seat. Abe shot from his seat and pulled Eleazar into his arms.

Andres glared at Geraldine in disgust and turned to his wife, speaking in rapid Spanish.

Heart racing, Geraldine gratefully accepted her wailing child from Darah and started to rise.

“No!” Yelena put a hand to Geraldine’s, stopping her from leaving. She glared at both Andres and Cristina. “I have had enough of this, with you two!”

“Mama, no,” Geraldine pleaded with her mother. “Don’t.”

“Mija, it’s enough.” She looked back at the two. “I won’t take any more of your disrespect and shaming of my daughter. I don’t care if I stay in debt to you forever, go away and leave my children alone.”

Insulted and enraged, Andres’ face was red as was his wife’s. No longer was he the more docile of the two. He shot to his feet and barked for Cristina to stand. Then he spoke to Yelena in heated speech, and when she shot back an answer that sounded rude even to the non-native speakers, Andres’ face only got hotter and angrier.

Eleazar trembled and so did Geraldine even though Bart had pulled her into his side.

Then Yelena gestured for the scowling couple to leave. “Leave the food and get out.”

Phoebe’s eyes were wide in alarm as Andres and Cristina did just that. Then she faced Yelena. “What debt?”

Yelena wore a pained expression at the sight of her daughter and granddaughter’s tears. “My mother, Geraldine’s grandmother… incurred a great debt to Andres’ father. When she got sick, she asked for more money instead of coming to me, all because I despised my childhood with us being poor. She thought I would be ashamed of her and died with that belief, not knowing I would have to deal with it once she left.”

“Mama, please,” Geraldine pleaded, pressing her face against Joselyn’s temple.

Yelena sniffed. “Mija, I refuse to let them to hold you captive because of my mistakes.”

“Hold on a minute,” Clement spoke up, his voice strained as his face. “Don’t tell me Geri married that creep to take care of her grandmother’s debt.”

Bart breathed a curse in both women’s silence and the remorse on Yelena’s face. His hold tightened around Geraldine when she started to squirm like Joselyn.

“That’s slavery!” Darah cried out, hushing up when Joselyn started wailing again.

Phoebe scowled darkly. “I knew I hated that woman for a reason.”

“It’s my fault,” Yelena eked out, tears streaming down her face.

“No Mama…” Geraldine began weakly, attempting to shush Joselyn.

“It is, mija,” Yelena insisted firmly. “I should’ve never succumbed to that weakness of fear for money. Just because I fear debt doesn’t mean I allow them to treat you like a criminal.” She shook her head. “Your father would be so angry with me. Your grandmother too.”

When Geraldine pressed her elbow into his side, Bart relented and let her go. He watched as she stood from her chair and moved to Yelena’s side. The two women and Joselyn cried together, the Teka family left to watch them in shocked silence.

Then Bart sighed. “So that’s it then?”

All eyes looked to him, but his remained on Geraldine.

“If you don’t let them be in Jozy’s life, you owe them your grandmother’s debt?”

“Bart…” Phoebe began.

“No,” Bart said, his voice hard. “Two times, Geraldine, you failed to tell me the whole truth. How can I help you when you don’t trust me completely?”

Tears brimmed her eyes as she looked at the angry man across the table. “I’m sorry, Bart.”

“As you should be, Geraldine.” He stood from the table and stormed away. Abe nudged a quiet Eleazar to the seat beside Phoebe and hurried after his brother.

Darah shook her head, incredulous. “What a mess.”

Yelena nudged Geraldine. “Go to him.”

“Yeah Geri,” Phoebe said softly. “He deserves an explanation.”

Geraldine swallowed hard as Yelena pulled Joselyn into her arms, bouncing her on her knee to quieten her. Arms empty, Geraldine slowly stood. “I’m really sorry,” she said to the remaining siblings.

“Word of advice,” Clement answered. “If you really care about Bart, don’t lie about it.”

She nodded, heart in her throat. He was completely right; she needed to be honest with Bart and herself.

For as long as she could remember, Abe was the big brother she never had. Of course she didn’t know that at the time, but looking back, her feelings for Abe had been that of admiration for his unflinching devotion to his family. In comparison, Bart wasn’t as gentle but no one could deny he was as devoted to his family as Abe. His sarcastic humor, unbelievable charm was as frustrating as it was appealing and she found herself anticipating his crooked grin and unsettling presence.

From the beginning, Geraldine knew her heart didn’t beat the way it did around Abe, but she tried her best to ignore it. After all, he didn’t know her as she knew him.

That day he returned home after Yonas and Ester had been laid to rest, he looked through her as though he’d never heard her name before or seen her face. It pissed her off majorly but she shrugged it off. They’d only known each other in passing and Geraldine told herself she’d mistaken Bart altogether.

The phone call she made to him in the airport before leaving for Peru three years ago, she’d hoped he would say something to change her mind. It was her fault for not being honest, but she blamed him because it was easier that way. Blaming others for her plight was her way to defend herself, or so she thought.

She’d spent her whole life blaming everyone; her grandmother’s foolishness had angered her, her mother’s self-sacrificing nature had frustrated her. Even before they treated her poorly, she despised Andres and Cristina, and their spoiled son. Maybe it had translated into disobedience and disrespect in their marriage, but she knew marrying him had been a terrible idea from the beginning.

Walking out to the porch, her heart skipped a beat at the sight of the two brothers standing in the driveway, their backs facing her. Abe was turned slightly to face Bart, his brow furrowed in consternation as though he tried to get through to Bart. When he sighed and glanced over Bart’s shoulder, his expression changed.

Geraldine managed a smile. “Can I speak to him alone?”

“No you may not,” Bart answered in a cold tone. “Go inside, Geraldine.”

“Bart…” Abe nudged his arm.

“I can’t go inside until we talk,” she answered gently, determined to beat his stubbornness in this.

Now you want to talk to me,” Bart muttered derisively. “If it’s not the whole truth, Geraldine, I’m not interested.”

“It is the whole truth,” Geraldine said gravely and nodded her silent thanks as Abe moved past her to go back inside. She swallowed a breath, strengthening her resolve. Even if nothing changed between them, Bart deserved to know the whole truth. “I swear it, Bartimeus.”

He heaved a sigh and turned around, expression brooding. “Stop calling me that.”

Geraldine only smiled; even when scowling, he was a sight to behold. How long had she told herself she didn’t feel anything for him? Too long. “At least you turned around. At least you notice me when I call you that.”

“Notice you?” He arched a brow. “Geraldine, what–”

“May 9th, 1991, you remember that day?”

“Of course, high school graduation.”

“Mine too.”

He nodded, perturbed. “I know.”

“We went to the same high school, Bartimeus.” Geraldine drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “May 9th, 1991 was the day I got my first kiss. From you.”

<<Chapter 15 || Chapter 17>>

Homecoming, Chapter 5

Posted on 22/12/2015

Phoebe’s words echoed in his head as he drove the short distance to Geraldine’s house, battling disbelief and regret at the thought of Geraldine in an unhappy marriage. It made him dislike her dead husband more than he already did. He pulled up into her driveway and wasted no time stepping out.

Her sedan was parked beside the old truck she used to drive to their house three years ago. The familiar sight made him pause at the doorstep, wondering what would’ve happened if he hadn’t left things unsaid between them.

The front door opened and Bart peeled his gaze from the truck to the door. Yelena squinted at him through the narrow crack of the door, the woman showing no intention to invite him in.

He cleared his throat. “Hola, Mrs. Pena, yi—”

“I speak English,” the woman answered in a no-nonsense tone.

Bart nodded with relief, his Spanish embarrassingly-rusty. “Hello… uh, is Geraldine home?”

Yelena regarded him for what seemed like eternity before pulling the door wider. “In the study.”

With another jerky nod, Bart stepped into the house. The sweet aroma of cheese and pork tickled his nostrils, and although he’d just eaten a scrumptious dinner courtesy of Phoebe, his stomach growled in anticipation to taste.

A baby’s cry pulled him back to the matter at hand and he followed the sound to the study, for he’d never been in Geraldine’s home before. He didn’t have time to marvel at the sturdy wooden floors or the warm colors painting the walls, adorned with family pictures. Turning the corner, letting the baby whines be his guide, he stumbled on a striking scene that arrested his steps.

Geraldine sat while cradling her baby girl close, humming a melody to soothe her. Her short hair covered part of her face but Bart could see the serene smile on her lips as she gazed down at her child. The little girl looked cross-eyed as though fighting sleep, her hand curled in a tiny fist, resting on her mother’s bosom.

Bart wanted to pull out his phone and take a picture to remember this moment forever. That thought alone rocked him off-kilter and he took a step back, shoulder bumping the side of the door.

The sound lifted Geraldine’s head and her smile froze, doleful eyes staring at him.

Too late to run now, Bart gave her a wobbly smile. “Hey…”

She didn’t smile back and instead looked down at her baby girl who was now staring at Bart. Geraldine sighed. “She’s been agitated since I got back.” Her voice was gravely as though she’d been screaming for an hour straight, or crying. Because of him.

He winced. “Can we talk?”

For a moment there, Bart expected her to ask him to leave. He prepared himself for her sharp rejection, knowing he deserved it and more for not allowing her the chance to explain.

Geraldine brushed a hand over Joselyn’s hair and slowly stood. “Wait for me in the living room. I’ll give her to Mama first.”

Bart nodded and stepped aside as Geraldine walked past, leaving a becoming scent of lavender and baby. As he followed her down the hallway, Bart realized that he preferred the simple and un-fussy quality of Geraldine. She didn’t wear exotic perfumes that could damage one’s sense of smell or wear uncomfortable shoes that made her walk like a newborn calf. No, in every way Geraldine epitomized a woman a man would be proud to call his, and she was a good mother too.

Once she passed a drowsy Joselyn to her mother, Geraldine turned and pinned him with her brown eyes. “You don’t listen very well, do you?”

He flashed her an unrepentant smirk. “Since when did I ever listen?”

She didn’t take the bait, staring with a straight face until his smile faded. Then with a sigh, she gestured to the living room.

Bart watched her walk around the sofa, her shoulders bent in defeat. Then he moved to the chair she offered and sat, facing her.

Geraldine leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees, eyes on the coffee table and not on him. Behind them, Yelena took up the duty of putting her granddaughter to sleep, mumbling the same melody Geraldine hummed in the study.

Bart didn’t take his eyes off Geraldine, noticing for the first time the lines around her mouth and lining the corners of her eyes. Though she was physically beautiful, Bart knew something had aged her. He cleared his throat. “I’m ready to hear it now, if you’ll tell me.”

Her eyes didn’t move from the coffee table. “Thought it was nonsense.”

“I apologize for saying that.”

This time she looked up, not accustomed to him apologizing.

Bart wanted to laugh aloud; what a stubborn pair they were. He didn’t laugh though, not when she looked so serious.

Geraldine frowned. “So you’ll marry me then?”

He squelched the wave of panic that rushed over him. “Why don’t we discuss why you want to marry me first?”

Something unreadable flickered in her eyes and she lowered her gaze.

Bart shifted in his chair, fighting the urge to reach for her shoulders, to make her look at him.

“Three years ago, my only living grandmother passed…” she began in a hushed tone. “We usually spend the holidays with her and this last one, I barely saw her before she died. I was devastated and so was my mom. She hurt so bad and I didn’t want to make things worse.” She shrugged. “I was foolish and desperate, feeling alone in my grief. I didn’t know how to express the emptiness that I felt… so I just kept it in.”

He marveled silently how very different Geraldine was to Kasey although both were the only children of their parents. Geraldine was self-sacrificing and generous where Kasey was self-seeking and critical.

“Then I met this guy.”

Bart frowned.

“He was attentive; listened when I spoke, didn’t judge me when I went into one of my moods… y’know how I get.” Geraldine didn’t look at him when she said that, as though she figured he’d judge her.

Bart only felt shame for himself. He’d pushed her away and into another man’s arms.

She sighed, drawing back his attention. “My mom said it was too soon, that I was acting out of grief and needed to deal with it properly. All I knew was he made me happy and wanted. I didn’t have anything waiting for me back here so when he proposed marriage, I didn’t hesitate.”

The words felt like blows to his ears and heart, accusing him of treating her like a foe rather than the friend she’d come to be during those long days and nights arguing over the perfect shade of paint for the walls or the right size of tiles for the bathroom. He’d enjoyed her wit almost as much as he did her sharp tongue. Sure they’d fought like cat and dog, but Bart always looked forward to seeing her, talking to her, fighting with her.

“The first few weeks were fine,” Geraldine continued. “The honeymoon stage always is.”

Her tone had changed; less wistful and more exacting.  Bart sat up, reminded by the startling indication that Geraldine’s short marriage was anything but happy.

“But that’s what happens when you marry before really knowing that person, before becoming that person’s friend. The things that a friend could overlook in you, a stranger will hate with his very soul.” Geraldine licked her dry lips. “That was my husband in summary. He hated that I challenged him, told me shut up more times than I’d ever heard in my life. At first, I was shocked that this wasn’t the man that pursued me when we dated. But now I know my desperation to belong, to find comfort and refuge in someone, had blinded me to what was plainly there. He hated being challenged, being disrespected, being questioned. It just simply wasn’t done.”

Bart could feel rage rising within and he gripped his fists. “Did he hit you?”

Her silence was loud enough and he whispered an expletive, angry that she’d allowed herself to marry such a man and stayed even after finding out what a monster he was.

Geraldine looked up, sorrow in her eyes. “Yeah I know. The dumbest thing I’ve ever done.”

He scowled. “Geraldine…”

She held up a hand. “My mom begged me to leave, said it wasn’t worth it… but you know how I get.”

“Most stubborn person I know,” he said through clenched teeth. She’d probably stayed to prove to herself and anyone else that she could make her useless marriage work. He muttered another curse.

“I tried to be more subservient, hoping he’d just calm down and be normal again.”

His scowl darkened. “You, subservient?”

Slighted, she cut him a glare. “It worked… for a few months.”

Bart scoffed in disgust. “There’s nothing normal about a man who beats his woman, Geraldine.”

“I thought that maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Maybe there was some pride in me that challenged him without me knowing it did. I tried everything from being quiet for weeks to apologizing for everything, but even the sight of me made him so angry.”

Never before had Bart wanted to drive his fist into the wall. He wished to conjure up this deceased husband of hers and beat him to death again.

“Then I got pregnant.”

He stiffened.

“So I started to pray again. Hadn’t done it in a while.”

Bart looked at her, frowning. “Pray for what?”

“Anything. I don’t know.” She lowered her head but not before Bart saw tears pools there. “I didn’t tell him about the baby, too afraid of what he’d say, what he’d do.”

Bart couldn’t look away; gone was the strong and self-assured Geraldine and in her place sat a terrified woman shaking in her chair. He wanted to go to her but feared his touch would invoke more painful memories of what that coward did to her.

“At some point, I started praying for death.”

A cold shiver trickled down his spine. He couldn’t fathom it; Geraldine dead? Bart shook his head.

She sniffed. “And then he went away on a business conference trip. Didn’t tell me where but I knew the truth, knew what he was doing.”

Bart’s face tightened. “Was he cheating?”

Geraldine shook her head adamantly. “He barely had time to deal with me. But his work was practically his first wife and often the cause of our many arguments… He got caught up in some get-rich-quick pyramid scheme and I was afraid for him and our family.”

“Rightfully so,” he forced out, getting all the more furious.

She was quiet then, eyes glued to his hands. Bart quickly loosened them. “Then I got the news,” she breathed out as though from relief. “His boat had capsized somewhere south and he plus his employees were missing. For days, we waited for news, for his body, anything. I couldn’t eat or sleep, consumed with waiting for him, for anything. I hated myself for praying—“

“You did not pray for your husband’s death, Geraldine.”

She looked up at him now, guilt plain in her eyes. “I did, Bart. Even though I prayed it would be me, I wished it would be him. And God answered me.”

He scowled. “Stop it. God doesn’t cause people to die on account of others. You know this, so stop that nonsense talk.”

Geraldine sniffed. “His parents blamed me for pushing him to go on the trip. Said he’d been overwhelmed with the added responsibility of taking care of me, a college dropout who could barely speak the language and only caused him grief. They said he’d died trying to make me happy.” She let out a mirthless laugh.

Rage shook his inner-most being. “Don’t tell me they didn’t know what he’d done to you.” His scowl darkened. “You didn’t tell them?!”

She eyed him warily. “What mother wants to hear that her son was a wife-beater at his funeral?”

“So you quietly accepted guilt that wasn’t yours to bear?” Bart could barely mask his anger, it was suffocating him. To think that for three years he lived ignorant of Geraldine’s pain made him furious.

“It was all talk, Bart. He was the one that hurt me and he was gone.” She shrugged. “I figured their words couldn’t hurt as much.”

“Geraldine,” he forced out, impatient with her illogical reasoning. “They marred your character after their son tried to destroy you. That is not okay.”

She sighed heavily. “Which brings me to the next part.”

He stared in disbelief. “What could be worse than that?”

She snorted mirthlessly. “You have no idea.” Her face straightened. “They didn’t think I could raise Jozy well, questioned me as a mother since I was such a rotten wife.”

“They’re one to talk, after raising a monster.” He wished he could meet and call them out for blaming Geraldine,their son’s victim, and causing her unnecessary drama. “Someone needs to let them know the truth.”

“See?” Geraldine breathed, awe in her eyes. “That’s why I need you, Bart.”

He blinked; the look in her eyes and the thought of her needing him causing his brain to short-circuit. “Huh?”

Fat tears slid down Geraldine’s cheeks and she made no move to wipe them away. “Help me keep my child, Bart. Marry me and help me protect Jozy.”

<<Chapter 4 || Chapter 6>>

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