“I miss you. I’m so glad you landed safely,” Candy said into the cordless phone. She glanced at the baby in his swing, kicking his legs. Cat was on the floor, coloring.
“I told you I’d call as soon as I landed in Phoenix. How are the kids? Is Cat okay?”
It didn’t surprise her it was Cat he asked about—never Michael, not by name.
“She misses her daddy. I’m taking Michael to the doctor tomorrow. Emily phoned, got the appointment. He’s going to need Cat’s medical records from Dr. Alvariz, too, and we’ll have to find a new speech pathologist here, Neil.”
“I’ll call Dr. Alvariz here and take care of the records for Cat. And stop worrying. I can hear it in your voice. After Christmas, we’ll get Cat started with someone to work on her speech. It’s not going to hurt her to have a break, Candy. We’ve got the holidays to enjoy, and I’ll be home soon.”
How did he always know she was stressed even before she did? Maybe it was in her voice. “How long will you be in Phoenix?” she asked. For a minute, she wished she was with him, even though it would be so much work to travel with the kids. She heard Neil say something to someone, and then he came back to the phone.
“I hope to be here just one night. I have movers meeting me at the apartment within the hour, and I’ll leave them to pack up and ship everything to us. If all goes well, and I expect it will, I should be on a morning flight to Cancun. I plan to spend only a couple days there, finalizing some business, and then start back with Sable and Ambrose.”
“Neil, drive safe. That’s a long drive back, and I’m worried about you on the roads at this time of year. You have to come through the mountains, and there’ll be snow. Please don’t rush. Just stay safe.”
He chuckled softly. “I’ll be fine, Candy. I love you. Listen, I spoke with Brad and asked him to swing around and check on you, make sure you and the kids are okay.” She could hear someone in the background, talking. “Candy, I’ve got to go. The cab driver is just pulling up in front of our place. I promise to call you later. Give Cat a big hug from me and tell her that her daddy misses her.”
“And Michael?” she said. She was so tired of Neil’s lack of interest in their son, even though he tried to deny it.
“Of course, Candy. I miss all of you, but he’s a baby. Cat isn’t. Michael needs you more. You’re his mother.”
That was fine, but she knew there was more to it. Now he sounded rushed.
“Listen, honey, I really have to go. I promise I’ll call later. Maybe stay at the ranch with Brad and Emily? They can help out until I get back.” He was sounding like Emily, and Candy wondered whether Brad would push the issue when he showed up to pick them up for dinner.
“You know what? I’ll think about it, but I’m sure we’ll be fine. I love you, too.”
“I’m here, Candy. Call me if you need me.” Then he hung up.
She held the phone, glad Neil had called. She found herself counting down the days, the hours, in her head until he’d be home. “Cat, that was Daddy on the phone. He said he misses you.”
Cat gazed up at Candy, her tiny white teeth showing when she smiled. “Daddy come home?” she asked, still holding her crayon.
“No, not yet, Cat. Soon, though. Your Uncle Brad is coming to pick us up and feed us dinner. You can play with Katy and Becky. Won’t that be fun?”
“Yeah,” she said, then jumped up, racing to the window to wait.
“Cat, come finish coloring your picture.”
“All done. I wait,” she said.
Candy put the phone down on the sofa table, taking in the newspaper and stack of mail. “Come on, Cat. Uncle Brad won’t be here for another hour yet. You can’t stand there that long. Come on over here and I’ll brush your hair; maybe you can find a new outfit to wear, something pink or red or…”
“Green!” Cat shouted. She loved that color, second to red.
“Okay, something green. I’m sure you have lots.”
Cat raced over and bumped the sofa table, knocking off the phone and the papers. “Sorry, Mommy,” she said, squatting down to pick up the papers. “Here, Mommy!” She handed an envelope to Candy and then reached for another, trying to be helpful. Candy couldn’t get over how far she’d come from the little girl she’d found in a Mexican orphanage, a girl who couldn’t hear, couldn’t talk, and didn’t understand what was happening to her.
“Thank you, sweetie,” she said as she took the newspaper, all scrunched up with inserts hanging out. She set it down and glanced at a handwritten envelope sticking out of the side of the paper. That was unusual, as everything else was printed. She picked it up and glanced over at Cat. “Go clean up your crayons,” she reminded her.
She glanced back at the envelope with the neat script in blue ink, addressed to Neil. The return address was in Mexico. “Who’s writing you, Neil?” She turned the envelope and tapped it over her fingers. She was going to put it down when she noticed the name on the return address: M. Perez. She had to think for a moment as her stomach tightened. That was Maria, of course. That was her last name.
Candy ached with anger. How dare this woman write her husband? She’d had enough, and she slid her finger under the seal to open it, pulling out two sheets of paper, all in handwriting. “What do you want now, Maria?”
“Mommy, all done,” Cat said, setting her crayon box on the sofa table atop the papers.
Candy had to pull her gaze away from the script to Cat. “Okay, honey, just give Mommy a minute.” She glanced over at Michael, sound asleep in the swing, his head tilted to the side, sucking on his pacifier, then back to the pages she was holding.
I cry for my baby every day. I miss him so. I miss you, and I don’t know how to reach you, as you won’t take my calls. You changed your number. When I called your cell phone, it was disconnected. Why won’t you call me? Why have you turned your back on me?
Candy glanced up at Cat, who was waiting for her. She saw the reflection of headlights in the window before she heard Brad’s truck. “There’s your Uncle Brad. He’s early.”
Cat raced to the window, and Candy had to fight the urge to read what this woman wanted. Maria was mourning the miscarriage and still pining for Neil. Why hadn’t he told her? It was pathetic, Candy couldn’t help thinking, even though she understood all too well the ache of losing a baby. She went to crumple the paper. She needed to open the door, get Cat and the baby ready, but instead she looked back down at the handwriting.
Please, Neil, I beg you: Let me see my baby. Tell me how he is! Is he okay? I know he has your smile, your eyes.
What the hell? For a moment, everything seemed surreal. All that registered was the buzzing in her ears. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the letter even though she could hear the truck door slamming shut and Cat racing to the door. She was frozen on the spot.
All the money you’ve given us can’t replace my son. I made a mistake. I want to be part of his life. You can’t keep hiding him. Why would you move so far away and take my son? He is my blood, he is part of me and part of you. I am his mother. Please don’t be so cruel…
“Candy, are you ready?” Brad was in the doorway. She had never heard him step inside.
She stared across the room at him. He’d picked up Cat and was holding her, but it seemed as if he were somewhere else—or maybe it was her. Her throat was tight, and, for a moment, she forgot how to breathe. She gasped for air, and Brad’s eyes widened. He hurried across the room to her.
“Candy, are you all right? What’s wrong, Candy?” He put Cat down, and then he had his arm around her and was leading her to the sofa to sit her down. She realized she was shaking. “What’s going on, Candy?” he asked, and he reached for the letter she was holding, but her hand was gripping it so tightly she couldn’t let it go. “Candy, honey, what is going on? Is it bad news?”
Brad had his hands on her arms. He was holding her together, and he had such concern in his eyes. They were a deeper brown than her husband’s, but they were so similar. His expression was different than Neil’s—older, wiser, maybe that was it. The shape of his face was more square, and he had lines around his eyes that were deeper than Neil’s. He was his brother, his older brother, a man Candy was fond of. She just stared at him, and then she was shaking her head. She tried to find something to say, but in the end she just held out the letter. Brad took it from her and started reading. She didn’t miss the furrow in his brow, the shock in his expression. He shut his eyes, lowering the paper, and glanced away for a second. When he looked back at her, the sympathy on his face, in his eyes, made her want to weep.
“You already knew!” she cried out, because it was something he hadn’t been able to hide.
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