The drive back from the prison was long. And tense. The only positive was that the snow had stopped. Reagan slumped down in her seat and cried for the first half hour. It ripped Ryan’s heart in two to see her so upset.
Eventually, it began to rain and now the traffic was crawling. They wouldn’t be able to go home before heading to their grandparents house for dinner like they’d planned. It was a required ‘check-in’ while everyone else was in Paris.
Ryan glanced in Reagan’s direction and she had finally calmed down. “Hey you. Are you okay?” he asked.
Reagan shook her head slowly. “No, not really. That was awful Ryan. Mom looked so sad and so lost. Nothing like I remember her.”
“I know,” replied Ryan, his voice soft, “But she’ll be better now. It made her happy that you gave her the book. It helped.”
“You really think she liked it?” she asked, her expression hopeful.
Ryan smiled. It was good to see her relax. “I know she did,” he said. “Why don’t you close your eyes and take a nap the rest of the way. We have to go straight to Grandma’s. We’ll be there in about an hour as long as there are no wrecks along the way.”
Reagan thankfully did as he asked. Soon her breathing was soft and even so Ryan let his mind wander back to the meeting with their mother. It had not been anything like he expected.
He’d imagined a bitter angry woman would greet them and tell them she never wanted to see them again. That was the picture of his mother that had been painted over the years. He tried to remember what it was like before she got sent away. He didn’t remember much.
What he did recall was being taken care of by a nanny because she worked a lot. But a lot of people work, and according to Reagan, Ami had said she was good at her job.
He never remembered hearing his parents argue, and not long before ‘the trial’ they had gone on a week long vacation. He remembered because had been upset that he and Rea couldn’t go.
So maybe his mother did hook up with some guy she met at work. But he was the one driving the car that hit Ami….not his mother. Guilt by association is what it sounded like. And she got royally fucked, while the one that actually committed the crime is still out there somewhere, living free. Nobody should go to prison for 12 years because they had an affair. Maybe it was his father’s fault she strayed and wound up in prison.
Fuck! he thought, that’s going to mess with Rea’s head even more than that dickhead Archer did. He didn’t know how they would be able to see her again until after they graduated. Maybe they could just do phone calls. He let out a long sign and turned the radio on softly so as not to wake his sister, and maybe take his own mind off of his mother the rest of the way to their grandparents.
Reagan woke up and wasn’t sure where she was at first. Then everything came rushing back and the hole in her heart grew bigger. They were at her grandparents. Her mother was in a prison cell and her dad was with his family in Paris. Crap.
Ryan reached over and put his hand on her arm. “Come on Rea,” he said, “We’re here. You need to act normal, okay?”
“I don’t feel normal anymore,” she complained.
“Me either…but you have to… put a smile on your face,” commanded Ryan. “Look, there’s Noah’s pickup so Noah and Ami are here too.”
They ran through the rain to the front door. When they walked in, they were greeted by the aroma of Garlic bread and Spaghetti. It smelled heavenly and Reagan’s stomach growled, reminding her she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Her sweet grandfather pulled her into a bear hug and her cousin Will started babbling to Ryan. It felt like what coming home should be and made her sad that her mother didn’t get to come home.
Ben turned his attention to Ryan. “Ryan, how’s the Jeep doing?”
“It’s great,” he replied. “Dad took good care of her so she runs well.”
Ben chuckled. “Good. I think he learned that from his grandfather Leroy, not me.”
“Ryan!” interrupted their cousin Will, “Come play video games with me. Grandpa and Dad quit because they can’t beat me!”
Ben laughed. “Hey, I used to be good back in the day, but not so much anymore.”
“Come on squirt,” teased Ryan, “bet you a dollar I win!”
“You’re on!” replied Will enthusiastically, “Grandpa, you can come watch.”
Noah walked around the corner. “Hey, did you already snag Ryan?” he asked his son.
“Daadddy! He said okay. We gotta bet too!”
Noah looked at Ryan and he shrugged. “A dollar,” said Ryan apologetically.
“Reagan?” called out Sofia from the doorway, “Us girls are in the kitchen unless you wanna join the guys.”
Reagan reluctantly followed her grandmother into the kitchen as the guys ran downstairs to the basement to play video games. Ami was sitting at the table where the two women had been enjoying a glass of wine.
When Ami looked at Reagan, she smiled brightly, but then just as quickly, she frowned. “Are you okay Reagan,” she asked concerned.
Reagan forced a smile. She figured her makeup was probably a mess. “I’m fine. I just fell asleep on the way over. Excuse me. I should go to the bathroom and freshen up.”
When Reagan looked at herself in the mirror, it was obvious why they thought something was wrong. She had cried off all off her makeup and her eyes were puffy and swollen. She looked terrible. Instead of trying to repair the damage, she sat down on the toilet and began to sob defeated.
Finally there was a knock on the door. Ami’s soft voice sounded from the other side. “Hun, are you okay? Do you need anything?”
Reagan quickly swallowed her tears and tried to sound normal. “I’m okay. Just fixing my face.”
“Okaaaay,” she said and the sound of fading footsteps indicated she had accepted her answer.
She washed her face and quickly reapplied her makeup. With a pasted on a smile, Reagan walked out of the bathroom and joined the girls in the kitchen. “Wow, I didn’t realize how un-put together I looked until I checked the mirror. Car naps are the worst.”
Ami smiled. “No worries.”
“The food smells great,” said Reagan, and gave a nervous laugh before continuing. “Without Dannie and Taylor cooking, we’ve been eating sandwiches and cold cereal.”
“Well, it’s time to eat,” said Sofia. “Ami, why don’t you set the table. Reagan, would you go downstairs and drag the guys away from their video games.”
Reagan ran down to the basement to get the guys, thankful to be away from Ami and Sofia’s knowing glances. When she got to the basement she stopped and watched. They were having a blast, trash talking and laughing. Evidently Will had roped all four of them into a tournament. She laughed to herself because Ben and Will’s team was kicking butt against Ryan and Noah’s team.
Yes, this is a family, she thought once again. Why can’t hers be this way? She almost wished Ami and Noah were her parents. Instead, her mother was in prison and her dad had a new family. She had to work to control her emotions before she could end their fun to eat dinner.
Dinner was delicious and nobody brought up Reagan’s unkempt appearance from earlier. She found herself laughing at the guys recapping who was and wasn’t cheating in their game. It was actually quiet nice.
After dinner, Noah and Ami left, taking their dessert to go, claiming it was Will’s bedtime. Will wasn’t happy.
When Reagan and Ryan also tried to leave, Sofia said absolutely not. She wanted to talk. Reagan got a knot in her stomach. She prayed they didn’t know where the two of them just came from.
“I made coffee and we can have a some tiramisu. It’s Ben’s mother’s recipe,” said Sofia sweetly and glanced at her husband. He walked up behind her and slid his arm around her. They had a silent conversation between them in those two seconds.
Reagan continued to watch as her grandfather kissed his wife on the cheek. He remained in place, looking over her shoulder while she cut pieces of the dessert for them. “I made coffee,” she said, “we can have it in the living room by the fire.”
Reagan continued to think about her grandparents as they settled on the couches. The two of them were always outwardly affectionate with one another. She figured after almost 40 years of marriage, they would be comfortable just being in each other’s presence. Instead, the older couple behaved almost like newlyweds.
Her father and Dannie didn’t exhibit as many outward signs of affection, at least that Reagan noticed. She wondered why. Even Noah had put his arm around Ami when they were leaving. Maybe her father is just a cold fish. Perhaps that was why her mother strayed. One thing Reagan had no doubt about was that she would be very, very sure that whoever she married, if she ever married, was the one.
That made her think of Archer and Link. Were either of them ‘the one’? She didn’t think it was Link, even though he made her smile and was sweet. The jury was still out. However, she could totally envision herself with Archer, and that thought saddened her. She still missed him.
“Reagan?” said Ben.
“Hmmm?” She knew someone had already called her name once. She tried to laugh it off. “Sorry, I was daydreaming I guess. Food coma…”
“Ami said you were going to work for her this summer,” he repeated.
“Oh. Yes. She’s very generous to offer me the opportunity. She saw my drawings and said I could work with the design team. I’m really excited. If I like it, maybe I can go to school here and continue to work for her after graduation….I mean, if that’s okay.” God, she shouldn’t assume anything and was embarrassed she had shared her dream with them.
Ben laughed heartily. “Hey, I’m all for a little nepotism! If it hadn’t been for Leroy, well…God bless him…I might not be here today.”
“I don’t want to be given a job just because,” said Reagan backtracking, “I mean, I do want to earn it.”
“You will,” said Ben confidently, “You have a good work ethic. Got that from your father.” The pride in his voice was evident.
Reagan didn’t want anything from her cold fish father, nor to discuss him. She desperately wanted to shift the discussion. “Did Ryan tell you? He might be in line for a basketball scholarship. That’s why we stayed.”
“And we got wheels!” added Ryan.
Sofia laughed. “Ryan, you know you would’ve gotten that Jeep anyway.”
Reagan’s face fell a little at her grandmother’s words. She wished it were true. She glanced at Ryan and could tell, he didn’t believe it either.
“Ryan, let’s leave the girls in here and go downstairs,” said Ben, “I want to talk to you about basketball and I’m sure they aren’t interested.”
“Sure,” he said shooting Reagan a curious glance. He got up and followed his grandfather to the basement.
Once they were out of earshot, Sofia’s grandmother spoke up. “I’m glad they left,” she said softly, “I kinda wanted to talk to you about how you are doing. You looked really upset when you two arrived. Did you break up with your boyfriend or something?”
“No, I’m fine,” she said, once again uncomfortable the attention was focused on her so decided to switch the subject. “You and Grandpa, you guys seem to be so much in love. How do you do that?”
Sofia’s face visibly softened at the mention of her husband. “We went through a lot together before we were finally a couple. Grandpa needs reassurance that I love him. And I know he loves me, so it’s easy. Why do you ask, dear?”
“I just wonder, why couldn’t Mother and Daddy have made it work…” Her words trailed off as she thought of her mother sitting in that jail cell and the tears came.
“Oh honey,” said Sofia, and put her hand on hers. “You’ve been thinking about your mother, haven’t you?”
Reagan barely nodded her head, for fear if she spoke, she would blurt out where they had been.
“Have you told your father?”
That shocked her. “Why would I tell him? He hates her!” The words poured out without thought.
Sofia looked uncomfortable before she spoke. “Honey, I can’t pretend to know how it must feel for you, and even for your father, to know what she did to your family, our family. She hurt him, and you and your brother, very badly. I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to forgive her.”
She should’ve known his mother would take his side. “I’m sorry. It’s just, they are all together in Paris, like it’s all okay,” said Reagan, “while…”
She looked at Reagan curiously. “Honey, he told me you wanted to stay. I don’t understand. Did you change your mind?”
Crap. “No…never mind. It’s complicated. Just forget it.”
Sofia looked thoughtfully at her granddaughter for a minute. “Reagan, what aren’t you telling me? What happened today. You’d been crying when you got here. You’re crying now. Did you and your brother have a fight? Or your boyfriend?”
“Nothing Grandma. I’m okay. Really.”
“Reagan Kate,” she said firmly, “I know something is wrong. Why this sudden obsession with your mother? It’s okay to talk about it. Talking helps. You know that. Your dad took you two to family counseling after….” she abruptly stopped talking when Reagan lost it and began to sob.
“Oh hon,” she said, her words once again soft, “This is about your mother. I’m sorry sweetheart. Is it because Dannie and Cole are with Taylor and you’re feeling left out?”
Big time left out, she thought. “Grandma, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Just, please, forget it. I’m fine. Just tired.”
Sophia moved to the empty seat next to Reagan and pulled her into a hug, stroking her hair while she spoke softly. “I’m so sorry Reagan. If you ever do want to talk about it, I’m here, or even Ami if you can’t talk to your father or Dannie. We all love you and want to help.”
If Reagan closed her eyes, she could imagine that it was her mother hugging her and that made her cry more. She let her grandmother comfort her until she was finally able to pull herself together.
“That’s great about your basketball,” said Ryan’s grandfather, “What school do you think you want to go to?”
“I’d like to go to Brindleton Bay, but I would be happy at San Myshuno University,” replied Ryan. He was surprised his grandfather showed such interest. His dad rarely talked to him about where he wanted to go. Probably because he was so wrapped up in Taylor’s Paris trip. However, if he went to SMU, he would probably seem like a failure to his dad.
“Ahhh. My almost Alma Mater!” said Ben excitedly, “I went to SMU for a couple of years. That’s where I met your father’s birth mother, Grace. And let me tell you, I got into a helluva LOT of trouble in college. I was dirt poor and too proud to ask my mom or dad for money. But, well, at the time, we didn’t get along very well, or at all.”
“Yeah, I know how that goes. I mean…that’s tough, I’m sure,” said Ryan. Shit! he reprimanded himself.
“You’re not getting along with your father? Is that why the two of you didn’t go to Paris?” asked Ben, concern evident in his expression.
“No, it’s fine,” said Ryan trying to gloss over his earlier words, “I just needed to stay for the games and to practice. The college scouts came to the game on Saturday and I wanted to be sure to be there. Plus I might have lost my starting position if I missed.”
“Ryan, if you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here. Hell, I had a fucked up childhood. Even my early adult years were a big ass mess before Sofia came back into my life. I was too damn proud to reach out to my parents for help, even with an infant to care for, at least until that child, your father, was seriously at risk. So, son, I won’t be shocked at anything you want to tell me.”
Ryan took a deep breath trying to control the frayed emotions that his grandfather had stirred up. Could he talk to him? Probably not, he concluded. As much as he wanted to, he would likely tell his father.
“Ryan?” came Reagan’s voice from the doorway, saving him from having to respond. “I’m tired. You ready?”
“Sure Rea,” he said as he released the breath he was holding. “Thanks Grandpa. Maybe you can tell me more about your college days another time.”
Ben wrapped him in a bear hug. “Be careful on the way home and call me if you wanna talk,” he said as he patted Ryan on the back. Ryan’s emotions were so wrecked he almost lost his shit.
“Come on Rea, let’s go,” he said quickly when the older man released him. He was fucking tired. It had been a helluva day and he was ready for it to end.