It had been over a year since Antonio pulled Aaliyah out of that car. Over a year since he had watched his daughter die while he stood there, unable to reach her. Antonio sat at the bar and drank the last of his drink.
“Hon, you’re gonna have to eat something if you want anything more to drink. I’m not gonna be responsible for you stumbling home to your wife,” The bartender said to Antonio.
Trying for charm, he put on a smile and shrugged. “Alright, you have any wings?”
Antonio wasn’t worried about what Aaliyah would say. He hadn’t seen his wife all day. But he did plan on drinking some more, so why not sober up a little; his self-pity would last a little longer that way. He was so disgusted with himself, but he just could not go home yet.
His nightmares had gotten worse. Aaliyah had so much to deal with already, his issues had no place in her life.
Antonio ate his food and ordered another drink. “When’s last call?”
The bartender glanced up from rinsing a glass. “For you, I’m gonna say now. You should go home and face your problems rather than trying to drown them with whiskey.”
“Wow, you’re a regular Oprah,” Antonio said sarcastically.
“No, just a regular Marie. And you’ve definitely had enough.” Marie turned away and began wiping down the bar top.
Antonio immediately felt like a jerk and admitted to himself that it was time to go home.
Walking into the Hotel where his family was currently staying, Antonio took a deep breath and plastered on a smile. The paparazzi had found them and they hadn’t let up for weeks.
Wanting to get as far away as possible, Aaliyah had decided to go with her sister to Starlight Shores. They had stayed with Kandy for eight months before the reporters discovered where Aaliyah was. They had camped out in front of the house night and day and harassed everyone that tried to get past them. Not wanting to bring that chaos into Kandy’s life, Antonio booked them into a hotel.
Finally managing to get past the reporters and the cameramen, Antonio stepped into the elevator and pressed the top floor. Luckily for them, the hotel had the penthouse available and they were able to block off the top floor for his family. Antonio hired security to make sure that no unauthorized visitors bothered them and the hotel had gone above and beyond to secure their privacy.
Walking into the suite’s spacious living room, Antonio saw Aaliyah putting Adeya to bed. The toddler’s first birthday had come and gone with little fanfare. It seemed wrong to punish Adeya for the death of a sister she would never know, but Aaliyah hadn’t been up to celebrating on the first anniversary of Rae’s death and Antonio could not blame her.
Not wanting to disturb them, he walked into the bedroom and got ready for bed. He fell asleep before Aaliyah came to bed, but right before he lost consciousness, he thought he heard muffled sobbing.
It felt like they were living in an alternate reality. Antonio spent his days by the pool and his evenings at the bar, while Aaliyah spent her time with Adeya and Kandy.
So it was a surprise to see Aaliyah climbing into the pool one afternoon. Antonio wondered for a second if he should join her, but decided if she wanted to talk to him, she would make the first move. He knew that was a cowardly thing to do, but aside from that one moment during the memorial service when Aaliyah had turned to him for support, she rarely spoke to him and barely acknowledged his presence.
He had the horrible suspicion that she blamed him for the accident. Bem had made it his mission to find the driver who had hit them and then fled the scene of the crime that night and after 3 months the police had caught and arrested the man. He’d been texting while taking the turn and hadn’t seen them pulling into the driveway until it was too late to stop.
Yet even though they were able to get that justice, Antonio sometimes noticed Aaliyah staring at him and when he caught her eye, she would turn away in tears. He was getting frustrated and didn’t know how much longer he could take the silence.
As Antonio looked over at Aaliyah treading water, he said a silent prayer, hoping that this meant she was ready to start healing. Getting up, he walked inside to get the morning paper from the front desk. Today he would start looking for a new home, someplace Aaliyah felt safe and comfortable and wasn’t a damn hotel.
That night, Antonio woke up in a sweat, shouting. He glanced over to see if he’d woken up Aaliyah, but her side of the bed looked as if she hadn’t even come to bed. A moment of panic hit him before he could calm down. Looking around the room, he noticed the door to the living room was slightly ajar.
Antonio got up and headed for the living room. When he opened the door, he saw Aaliyah on a blanket that had been laid out on the floor with the baby tucked next to her, both of them sound asleep. Antonio moved over to them and picked up Adeya to put in her crib.
He then picked up Aaliyah and walked back into their bedroom. As he was placing her onto the bed, Aaliyah stirred and opened her eyes. She looked up at him sleepily and Antonio brushed a strand of her hair away from her eyes.
“Antonio,” Aaliyah whispered and crawled into his lap.
Antonio held her and waited for her to say something else. She took so long, he thought she had fallen asleep. He started to shift her back onto the bed when Aaliyah’s arms tightened around him. “Please, just hold me a little longer. I’ve missed you so much,” Aaliyah murmured.
Taking a deep breath, Antonio pulled Aaliyah closer to him and held on. He would hold her like this all night if she needed him to, just as long as she still needed him. Placing a kiss on her hair, Antonio said, “I’ve missed you more. You don’t know how badly I’ve ached to hold you.”
Aaliyah started to softly cry and Antonio pulled away from her a little to kiss the tears that tracked down her face. Aaliyah lifted her head. “Please, Antonio, kiss me. Make the hurt go away. Make everything go away.”
Antonio looked down at his wife and brushed a soft kiss against her lips. He laid her down on the bed and kissed her again, more firmly this time. Leaning over her, he looked into her eyes and saw reflected there the answer to his unasked question.
“At some point, we’re going to have to talk Lia,” Antonio whispered softly. One hand reached up to comb through her hair while the other traced a line down her back.
“I know,” Aaliyah said breathlessly. “But not tonight.” She reached up and kissed Antonio again. “Not tonight.”
So began a new routine. In the morning, Antonio and Aaliyah would spend time together, mostly by the pool – Aaliyah would take a swim and Antonio would soak up some sun. In the afternoon, Antonio would work and look for a new permanent home and Aaliyah would play with Adeya. At night, Antonio would comfort his wife the best way he knew how and they would reconnect.
It was a start, although they still didn’t really talk to each other and his nightmares we less frequent but still happening. They had morphed into a combination of old memories and new ones. Sometimes he was the child and other times, the father. How unfair was it that he lost those he loved in car crashes, years apart.
Antonio felt that his subconscious was trying to tell him something, but he just could not reach the right memory. More and more, he would see Aaliyah in his mother’s place. The face and the body was Aaliyah, pregnant, happy, and singing, but it was his mother’s voice coming out of her mouth; sitting next to her in the car was his father and he was again a small child.
He didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean; why his mind kept showing him Aaliyah instead of his mother. They didn’t look alike or sound the same. Aaliyah had never met his parents. But he woke up feeling unsettled every time he had that particular dream.
One night, Antonio fell asleep, his arms wrapped around his wife. Tomorrow he would sit down with Aaliyah and have a real conversation about everything. They would work out their issues and start the road to healing. He also had great news; he had found them a new home. He was at least content if not happy.
Antonio woke up early the next morning in a cold sweat. He’d had the dream again. Looking over at Aaliyah, he frowned. As always, he felt like he was missing something extremely important. There was a memory that had been jogged by this last car accident that had to do with the first one, if only he could remember what it was! Antonio kissed Aaliyah and slid out of bed to order breakfast.
Today was the day they would talk.
“Lia, I have some good news.” Antonio decided that starting with the good news would be the best way to begin the conversation.
“Yeah? We need some good news.” Aaliyah picked up the toasted wheat bread and spread some jam on it before taking a bite.
“I think I found the perfect house. It’s in Cape Verde. I figured you would want to stay closer to your family now. It’s fairly large and it has a few stables for some horses. We could buy some and maybe go riding in the mornings.” Antonio stopped talking when he noticed Aaliyah crying.
“No no, don’t worry about me. Keep talking. These are happy tears.” Aaliyah waved off his concern and gestured for him to keep talking.
“Okay. Well, um, it’s a, um, four bedroom house, in case we have family over or decide to have more chil – sweetheart, are you sure you’re okay?” Antonio made to get up and sat back down suddenly.
The phone by the bed started ringing and Aaliyah got up to answer it. “Wait, Lia. Oh my God! I think I know what my brain has been trying to tell me all this time.”
Aaliyah picked up the receiver. “Hello? Who? There must be some kind of mistake, Antonio doesn’t have a sister.”
Antonio looked up at Aaliyah. “I might. Lia, my mother was pregnant before she died.”