It took Antonio a year to get the international approval and permits he needed to work in Champs Les Sims, which was fine with Aaliyah because she got to finish her film work and settle all the things that needed settling. By the time moving day rolled around, Rae was three years old and as precocious as any small child was. Antonio found himself wrapped around her little finger, but he definitely was not complaining.
“Aaliyah, let’s go. We have everything we can possibly need and if we don’t hurry, we’ll be late.”
“Babe, the point of having a personal jet is that we’re the only ones on it. If we’re late, they’ll wait. Hmm, that’s a good slogan.” Aaliyah grinned at him and adjusted her sunglasses.
“Says the princess to the pauper.” Antonio pulled her toward him and gave her a hug. “I don’t like being late, even if they’ll wait.”
“Pauper? Puh-leeze. It’s your jet!”
Antonio laughed and helped Aaliyah into the car. He checked on Rae in the backseat, but she was out like a light. The poor thing had worked herself up into a frenzy with all the excitement going on around her that morning. He got into the car and drove to Appaloosa International Airport.
“I’d forgotten how beautiful it was in France.” Aaliyah leaned out the window and looked down at the town they were fast approaching. Antonio leaned over her and looked out too.
“Yeah, the view is gorgeous.” He kissed Aaliyah and sat back in his seat. Ruffling Darling’s short fur, he continued writing up the draft of his letter to the special merchant. He needed to get a jump-start on this project and wanted all the materials shipped in as soon as possible.
“This is your captain speaking. We are making our final descent into Champs Les Sims, France. Please stay seated until your steward gives you the signal to stand. We hope you enjoyed your flight.”
“Mommy, we there yet?” Rae asked groggily, waking up from her nap.
“We are, sweetie. How are you feeling?” Aaliyah leaned over to check on the toddler’s seat belt and to brush her hair out of her face.
“Ok.” Rae closed her eyes again and started humming to her doll. Antonio had a strong suspicion that his baby girl would take after her mother and very soon start speaking to herself. He smiled at that thought and went back to writing the letter.
When they arrived at the castle, Antonio stared in awe for a few minutes, then turned to look at Aaliyah. “Now this is a castle!”
Aaliyah laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. It has been in the family for generations. Kandy was living here for a while, while she studied at University, but she transferred to Starlight University after she decided to go pro. The house will need some love and care before it can be called magnificent. Or whatever other adjective you were about to use.”
Rae started crying then and Aaliyah made her way to the front door, trying to soothe the baby. Antonio knew how Rae felt; he was starving and tired too. He turned around to go back to the limo to grab the baby bag and his briefcase. The rest of their luggage had arrived earlier and was in the house. He was not looking forward to unpacking.
Antonio woke up with Aaliyah shaking him.
“Wake up Antonio. It’s just a bad dream.”
Grabbing her arms, Antonio gently pushed her away from him. He sat up and looked into Aaliyah’s terrified eyes. In all the years they’d been together, the memory had never been so bad to wake her up. Oh, he’d had the dream plenty of times before, but each time he’d manage to wake himself up before it disturbed his wife.
Aaliyah knew his past, but he never told her how bad the dreams could get, never saw a reason to. Now she stared at him with huge eyes and he didn’t know what to say.
“Has it been this bad before?” Aaliyah reached over and brushed hair out of his face. He snagged her hand and pulled her toward him.
With her tucked close to him, he said, “Sometimes. Not as bad as when I was a child, but sometimes it’s worse than tonight.”
Aaliyah wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. Antonio hugged her back and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m going to go check on Rosie.”
Aaliyah hugged him one more time and then let go and lay back in bed. She stared up at him as he pushed the covers back and got out of bed.
“I love you.”
Antonio looked at his wife, “I love you more.”
During the day, Antonio spent his time in the study, drawing up designs and sketches. Every now and then, Aaliyah or Rae would come in with food or something to drink – Aaliyah in a mug and Rae in her Sippy cup. However, he was always too busy to spend much time with his family.
Aaliyah would take trips to the market or the museums, mostly to keep out of Antonio’s way and to keep herself sane, he supposed.
Antonio stopped typing and shutdown his laptop. Rubbing his eyes, he left his office and made his way to the kitchen. It was eerily quiet. Aaliyah had taken Rae to see the Eiffel Tower, something he’d promised to do since they got to France months ago. He needed to spend some quality time with his family or there might be a revolt.
“I’ll cook dinner and we can all sit and enjoy a nice meal together.” Antonio groaned – he was starting to talk to himself too.
On his way to the kitchen, the front door opened and Aaliyah walked in with Rae in her arms.
Antonio detoured and met her in the foyer. “Welcome home, I was just going to make dinner.”
Aaliyah smiled and kissed him. “I’m glad I caught you before you could start. I just bought some tickets to see the new play down at City Hall. I want to get dressed up and go somewhere nice tonight.”
“Okay, how about I make us something light. Is an Autumn Salad good?”
“That would be perfect. I’ll go get Rae ready.”
An hour and a half later, they were fed and clean and ready to go. Aaliyah picked up Rae and said, “Antonio, I was talking to my mother and she told me that she and dad want to renew their vows for their 30th anniversary. I told her that we would be there of course.”
“Of course.” Antonio stopped walking towards the door and turned to look at his wife.
“And I told her I would stay for an extended visit.” Aaliyah looked over at Antonio, her eyes searching his.
“How extended are we thinking, Lia?”Aaliyah mumbled something and Antonio walked back towards her. “You’re mumbling Lia, what did you promise your mother?”
“I didn’t promise very long. Six months at the most.” Aaliyah shifted the toddler to her other arm. Antonio took the child from her.
“Six months in Cape Verde? I can’t be away that long Lia, this project is almost done, it’s critical I’m available. How about three months?”
Aaliyah just looked up at him. She knew him so well, knew that eventually he would cave. “Fine, you can stay for six months but I’ll have to get back here after the third month. That’s the best I can do sweetheart,” Antonio added when he saw her start to frown.
Darling trotted around the couch then and dropped the newspaper in front of Antonio’s feet. Aaliyah leaned down and scratched behind her ears. “Good girl. Mommy loves you!”
Darling barked and wagged her tail. Rae squirmed to get out of Antonio’s arms and went straight for Darling. Then began The Game. Rae would chase Darling and the dog would stay just out of reach. It usually ended with Darling letting Rae eventually catch and squeeze her to death. Both Rosie and Aaliyah loved that game. Antonio felt a little envious of the dog.
Looking back at Aaliyah, Antonio sighed. “Lia, three months and I promise to try to make it back before you have to come back here. Okay?”
Aaliyah looked up from watching Rae run after Darling. “Yeah, okay.”
In September, the Torres family found themselves in Cape Verde for the 30th Wedding Anniversary of Aaliyah’s parents. Antonio was a little anxious to see his in-laws again. Antonio loved being around Aaliyah’s family, they were so loving and open, something he didn’t expect when he first met them. For a royal family, Ijeoma and Adejola had done a great job in raising their kids to be normal people. None of them made a big deal about being royalty and they lived and worked just like anyone else.
Bem, the crown prince, was as close as Antonio had ever gotten to having a best friend. They had the most in common and Aaliyah would sometimes joke that he married her to get a Sports buddy. After serving in the military, Bem became a Forensic Scientist.
Aaron was a self-described philosopher and the only person who could get away with calling him Tony. In fact, Aaron was the only person who had bothered to give him a nickname, everyone else called him Antonio; even his parents had never given him a nickname. Aaron was still in the military and was thinking about making a career out of it.
Then there was Kandera. She was a singer, and Antonio had to admit, she was very good. He didn’t know what kind of person she was, since he rarely spoke to her, however, she called almost every week to speak to Rae and Aaliyah.
Aaliyah’s family was as diverse as a family could be, but they were a close unit and he was grateful to be considered a member of the clan.
The moment they walked through the door, they heard a loud laugh that could come from only one person. “That guy could bounce a bowling ball off his head, please, that was nothing!”
Antonio walked into the living room and saw Bem and Aaron watching a soccer game on the television. Handing Rae over to Aaliyah, Antonio walked towards them and shook Bem’s hand. “Of course I would find you in front of a TV, watching sports. Who’s playing?”
“Us versus Brazil, 2 to 1.” Bem turned to look at Aaliyah.
“Hey Lee. Come over here and let me make sure Antonio’s been treating you well.”
Aaliyah laughed and walked over to Antonio’s side. “He’s been treating me very well. Why, just last night, he -”
“Aaliyah!” Aaron looked scandalized.
“What? He wanted to know! Don’t ask me questions you’re not ready to have answered!”
Antonio couldn’t stop laughing. Aaliyah knew just what to say and do to make her brothers uncomfortable and she did it as often as she could.
Antonio could hear Aaliyah sigh and he made a mental note to tease her later. He turned to Aaron. “Hey, buddy. Long time no see. The last time you disappeared, you were with that woman from your job. You got another girlfriend or something?”
Aaron grinned. “Yeah, man. She actually came with me.”
“You’re kidding. I thought you said no more relationships after the whole Layla fiasco.”
“Shhh, keep your voice down.” Aaron punched Antonio on the shoulder. “I remember what I said, but Alex came out of nowhere, man. Totally blindsided me.”
Bem laughed. “Yeah, she’s super cool. Pretty too, he picked a winner this time.”
Antonio shook his head. “Be careful, your sister did the same thing to me. Didn’t know I was missing a piece of my soul until I met her. I never stood a chance.”
“Look at you, talking like a man still in love. You sound like Pop. Now it’s just me in this wolf pack.” Bem grabbed a beer from the table and handed it to Antonio.
They all laughed. “Hey, without Aaliyah, I wouldn’t even be in this wolf pack.” Antonio pulled Aaliyah into a side hug and added, “Maybe you should find a mate.”
Bem grew serious and grabbed another beer. “Yeah, maybe I should.”
Antonio glanced at him and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
The day of the Vow Renewal Ceremony was perfect. It was a gathering of family and close friends and Ijeoma and Adejola were obviously still very much in love. Ijeoma insisted that she take pictures with every single person who came to the ceremony, which meant they were there for a very long time. Antonio had no complaints, however, as he spent the time dancing with his wife and daughter and laughing with Bem.
He hadn’t realized how much he missed talking to people he considered family. Granted, he had Aaliyah, and that was more than enough blessings for him. But hanging out with Bem while joking about who his mother-in-law’s next photo victim would be filled a void in his soul that he didn’t know he had. He would make it a point to be with his extended family more often. If he felt this way, he couldn’t imagine how Aaliyah must be feeling.
After spending all day taking pictures, dancing, and taking more pictures, Antonio was more than happy to crawl into bed with his wife. Snuggling her close he whispered into her hair, “I love you and our family.”
He could feel Aaliyah smile against his shoulder. “We love you more.”
The months seemed to fly by and soon Antonio had to say goodbye to Aaliyah and Rae. He’d been away from them before, but each time felt like the last and he ended up really late for his flight. The next couple of months were going to be brutal.
Once Antonio landed in France, he was on the phone with Aaliyah. He made sure everything was okay and then he hung up to call his contacts in town.
“I need twice the amount of workers and I need to see all the finished sketches ASAP. We have two months to get all the prep work done.”
Ten weeks later, Antonio walked into the bedroom that he and Aaliyah shared at her parent’s home. He stopped to look at her sleeping for a bit before getting ready to go to bed. He’d caught a red eye flight from Champs Les Sims so he could surprise Aaliyah. She thought he would land in the morning.
As he walked out of the bathroom, he saw Aaliyah standing by the foot of the bed and a huge grin broke across his face. “How far along are you?”
Antonio walked over and took her hands, leaning in to kiss Aaliyah’s tears away.
“Twenty-six weeks. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming tonight, I would have met you at the airport or at least waited up for you.”
Antonio laughed. “I wanted to surprise you, but it seems you had a surprise of your own.”
“I found out right before you left, but I didn’t want you to feel bad for leaving your pregnant wife and young daughter alone to fend for themselves while you basked in the sun in France.”
“Hmmm, well now that you mention it, that was terribly selfish of me, wasn’t it? How can I make it up to you?”
“You could kiss me again and all would be forgiven.”
Antonio laughed again and kissed her. Then he grabbed his wife’s hand and they went to bed.
The next few days were spent catching up on each other’s lives and making plans to go back to France for a few more weeks. Antonio’s project was three weeks away from completion and he wanted to meet with the town officials to discuss the grand opening.
“Lia, I was thinking about maybe having your parents come back with us for this grand opening. You think they’d have the time?”
Aaliyah looked up at him and smiled. “That’s a fantastic idea! I know mom would definitely come, but I don’t know if dad could take the time.”
“In the meantime, we need to figure out what to do about Rae’s birthday. Do you want to have it here or in France?”
“Here. It would be nice to have the whole family together for that and since we’re all still here, now’s as a good a time as any.”
After that, they sat in silence for a bit, just enjoying each other’s company.