Aaliyah stood by the phone and stared at Antonio. The front desk attendant was still speaking on the other end of the line, but Aaliyah wasn’t paying attention anymore.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“My mother was pregnant before the car accident. I kept having the dream, except you always took her place. My brain kept trying to make me see the connection and I haven’t until right this minute.”
“Antonio, your mother died in that accident.” Aaliyah frowned and shook her head.
“No. No she didn’t. My father died in the accident. My mother was the one who dragged me out of the car. She was alive when we got to the hospital, Lia. Like you were.” Antonio frowned too. “What if the same thing happened? I might have a sibling out there somewhere.”
“I highly doubt it’s this woman downstairs.” And with that Aaliyah remembered the phone in her hands. “Hello? Yes, sorry about that. No, we don’t know anyone by that name. Tell her to leave a message. No, we definitely do not want to see her. Thank you.”
Aaliyah hung up the phone and walked over to Antonio. “I’m going to be so happy when I can put a gate and a driveway between me and the crazies!”
Antonio stood up and snagged one of her hands. “I remembered something new, Lia. After thirty years, it just came to me. Like that!” Antonio snapped his fingers. In his eyes was a mixture of wonder and fear.
“Not that suddenly, my love. It has taken thirty years of the same bad dream and the loss of a child to get that one memory. You earned this.” Aaliyah stroked Antonio’s cheek. “Let’s hope this is just the beginning.”
Aaliyah kissed Antonio and walked over to the crib to check on a still-sleeping Adeya. “Your daddy remembered something little one. I think today is going to be a good day.”
Antonio and Aaliyah spent the morning talking about his new memory and by one in the afternoon, they had come up with a plan to get more information from the hospital and the police in Appaloosa. So while Antonio powered up his laptop, Aaliyah headed towards the pool with Adeya.
After Aaliyah dropped the toddler off at the daycare center, she headed for the water to go through her daily set of laps. Swimming helped clear her mind and she always felt better afterward and she needed that today. When she finally stepped out of the pool, Aaliyah felt more centered and calmer. She would focus on her family and helping Antonio find out about his own family. Enough of the self-indulgence and moping.
As Aaliyah walked towards the hotel building, a woman stopped her. “Excuse me. I am sorry, you do not know me, but my name is Cecelia Romero. May I speak to you for a minute?”
Aaliyah looked closely at this woman. She had a slightly foreign accent but seemed normal, didn’t have a camera and had been very polite. Looking around, Aaliyah noticed several people in the general area, including Nate, the bartender.
“Sure. I have some time.” Aaliyah led the woman over to a quiet corner of the hotel that was still in full view of Nate. “How can I help you?”
“Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I know this is going to sound weird but I think I might be related to your husband.”
Aaliyah frowned at Cecelia. “My husband and I do not appreciate jokes that may hurt our family. If you’re looking to somehow use us to become famous, please reconsider. The last thing we need is more drama in our lives.”
“No, it is nothing like that and I understand that this is a terrible time to introduce myself –”
Aaliyah cut Cecelia off, getting annoyed. “Yes, it is a horrible time. Why wait thirty years to find your own brother?”
“We did not know he was still alive! It was not until we saw his picture on the news about your family’s accident that we even realized he might be out there!”
Aaliyah’s heart squeezed at the mention of the car crash. “That was over a year ago. Why today and who is we?”
“We did not know where you were and we had to make sure, even though Antonio looks just like Papa and Emilio – that is my brother. Emilio and I refused to bother him if there was even a chance we might be wrong. But I don’t think we are. He is my brother. He is the spitting image of Augusto – my papa – and of Emilio, his age and birthday is right and his past is exactly what we were told happened to my parents. The only difference is that my brother and abuela were told that only one person survived the car crash. Me.”
Aaliyah stepped back and looked at Cecelia. She didn’t know what to say. There was nothing in that story that proved Cecelia was telling the truth, but Aaliyah believed her. Aaliyah wasn’t a big believer of coincidences. She believed that if you asked the universe for something, eventually you would get it – whether you liked what you got or not was a different story. Fate gives you what you ask for, not what you want.
“Okay, say I believe you. What exactly do you want from my family,” Aaliyah asked. She would not let any more hurt and disappointment touch her family if she could help it, but she had just made a promise to herself to help Antonio any way she could. Now here was the answer from the universe, she would be dumb not to at least follow up on this Cecelia’s story before dismissing it out of hand.
“I would like to meet him. I would like to know my brother and I would like him to know me and Emilio. I want him to meet his nieces and nephew and the dozen other people in our family. I want my family complete.”
Cecelia said this like it was the simplest thing in the world. And maybe it was. But for the years that Aaliyah had been married to that man, not once did he ever mention wanting to find out more about his real family. He spoke about Rose and Martin as if they were his real parents. Until this morning, Antonio never voiced a desire to change that.
“Nieces and nephew – you have children?”
“No. But Emilio has a son and twin girls and Lanya – his wife – is expecting again. There is so much joy in our lives. We would like to share some of that with your family.” Cecelia looked at Aaliyah with a small smile. When Cecelia talked about her brother and his family, she had this look on her face. It was…
Joy. Aaliyah could do with some joy right about now. “Okay. I will talk to Antonio, but I can’t promise anything. Understand?”
Cecelia nodded. “Si, I mean, yes, I completely understand. Thank you so much. Here, I will leave my contact information. Whenever he is ready, please, give me a call and we will come and meet him. Oh, thank you so much!” Cecelia pulled Aaliyah into a hug.
As Aaliyah sat down and read with Adeya later on that day, she thought about the conversation she had with Cecelia Romero. Even her last name was the same as Antonio’s parents. Aaliyah really hoped that this woman wasn’t a scam artist and just out to hurt her family. Aaliyah decided to call her father and ask him for his advice. If anyone knew what to do, it would be her dad.
Focusing on her daughter, Aaliyah read the words off the book while Adeya looked at the pictures. This whole thing with Antonio and this Cecelia woman would definitely become a huge part of their lives, whether or not it turned out to be true. Aaliyah started to worry about the kind of disruption something this big would cause. As if on cue, her phone began to ring. Leaving the book so Adeya could finish flipping through it, Aaliyah answered her phone.
“Hey Lee. Long time no speak.” The voice on the other end of the line teased.
“Jay? Oh my God. How are you?” Aaliyah’s excited voice startled Adeya and so after kissing her on the forehead, Aaliyah stood and walked towards the bedroom. “I haven’t spoken to you in forever. Where have you been?”
Aaliyah could hear sputtering on the line. “Where have I been? I’m right where you left me, in Appaloosa. You’re the one who left and never came back! It’s been a pain trying to keep up with all your travels. Bem tells me you’re in Starlight Shores now.” Janelle Hackett added softly, “I heard about Rae, Lee. I tried to contact you but I guess you weren’t taking calls. I’m so sorry.”
“I miss you so much Jay! It’s been so hard for me. Sometimes I feel like a horrible mother and wife and then there are times when I get so – angry. I’ve even started wondering if maybe I’m going crazy.” Aaliyah lowered her voice. “I swear that sometimes I think I see her, Jay. Out of the corner of my eye or when I’m turning a corner or right before I walk through a door, I’ll catch a glimpse of someone and I can swear it’s her.
“I know that’s crazy though and I haven’t told anyone about this, not even Antonio, but it feels so real! I can feel her and I just know in my heart her spirit is still here, waiting for me to notice her. Whenever I see Antonio I just want to cry. I love him so much; I couldn’t bear it if he looked at me like I was insane. But what if I am?”
“No. You are not crazy at all Lee. In fact, that’s why I called. I wanted to meet up with you in person because I didn’t know how you would take what I’m going to tell you. I received an opportunity from the Appaloosa Medical and Science Facility. They are starting a pilot program using – get this: ghosts!”
Aaliyah laughed, “Janelle, there are no such things as ghosts.”
“Really, Lee? Do you really believe that? Those random glimpses of Rae that you see – because I bet my life that’s who you’re seeing, is that not real either? I’ve seen them Lee, ghosts, with my own two eyes! I saw my grandmother, who you know I’ve always felt was stalking me beyond the grave just because I didn’t put that ugly hat in her coffin like she wanted me to. I saw her and I was right, she has been stalking me! It’s insane!”
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Aaliyah mumbled to the phone.
“Lee, I’m not asking you to believe with no proof. I’m just asking you to keep an open mind. These people, these scientists are trying to bring people back. It has to be a special case, of course. The person has to be a proven ghost, their spirit has to want to come back, but – it would be a miracle Lee. You could have Rae back! I gave them your contact info –”
“You did what!” Aaliyah yelled into the phone. Adeya started crying, she was startled so bad. “Damn it, Jay. You made me scare the baby!” Aaliyah walked over and picked Adeya up, hugging her and apologizing.
“Listen Jay, I have to go soothe my wailing child. You are something else, you know that? There are no such things as ghosts!”
Jay laughed on the other end of the line. “Ahh, grasshopper, you are in for such a surprise. Just keep an open mind, that’s all I ask. Okay?”
Sighing, Aaliyah agreed. “Fine. But I make no other promises.”
Saying goodbye to Jay and promising to keep in touch more, Aaliyah finally hung up the phone. “Auntie Jay is cuckoo but we love her, don’t we?” Aaliyah cooed to Adeya.
“Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo,” Adeya repeated.
Aaliyah laughed and head out of the hotel room with Adeya.
Two weeks later, Aaliyah and her family were packed and ready to move. There was some issue with the house that Antonio purchased in Cape Verde and they were unable to move and Adeya didn’t have a passport yet. But Aaliyah wouldn’t spend another night in a hotel, so Antonio found them a temporary home in Starlight Shores. The town boasted a number of celebrities and royalty and so privacy was very much valued there; exactly what they needed right now. Aaliyah noticed that Antonio found a house with five bedrooms. She couldn’t help but wonder if he wanted to make sure there was enough room for both her and hopefully his extended family.
Aaliyah and Antonio had spoken about Cecelia and with the advice and help of her father, were running some background checks on her to make sure she was telling the truth. Antonio seemed wary but willing to meet with her and Aaliyah hoped that everything would turn out okay. Cecelia appeared to be genuine and sweet and she represented family that he could call his own; and that was exactly what Antonio needed.
A week after they moved in, Antonio was rubbing Darling’s belly and noticed that it was unusually large. Fearing the worse, they took her to the vet and discovered that Darling was expecting a litter. Aaliyah was shocked. Her little Darling had been having an illicit affair right under her nose!
The vet said she was well along and would give birth in the next couple of weeks. Aaliyah didn’t know the first thing about puppies aside from the fact that they were cute, like babies. As her and Antonio prepared the house for puppies, Aaliyah started warming to the idea of having babies in the house. Adeya was getting older and Aaliyah wanted her to have siblings. That was the game plan before Rae passed away and she was ready to get back on track.
The feeling that Rae’s spirit was still with her was even stronger now that they had their own home. Things in the house would be moved, Aaliyah would hear strange sounds, particularly early in the mornings. Aaliyah tried to talk about it with Antonio, but he wasn’t having those experiences and she was still worried that he would think she was going crazy.
One night while she was dreaming of Darling as a puppy, Aaliyah jerked awake. Looking towards the door she thought she saw something pass through it and jumped up and yanked the door open to find…nothing. There was no one and nothing there.
She did manage to wake up Antonio though and when he looked at her with concern written all over his face; she felt the tears start to fall from her eyes. “I’m going to get a glass of water,” Aaliyah whispered and walked away.
Within the month, the report came back and Cecelia’s story checked out. Antonio did have a sibling, two in fact and a score of aunts and uncles and cousins who were all eager to meet him. It was all a bit overwhelming for Aaliyah to process and she could not imagine what Antonio must be thinking. The first thing they decided to do was reach out to Cecelia.
Aaliyah called her and invited her to dinner, just her. They were going to start small and build up to this enormous group of people who they were apparently related to. A part of her was excited to meet Antonio’s family and learn about where he came from, but another part of her was scared this was all too good to be true. An entire family, readymade for him at the moment when he needs one the most? How convenient. She was waiting for Fate to throw down the other shoe.
All this talk of large families and siblings reminded Aaliyah that she was more than ready to expand her own family, and it wasn’t long before she felt the familiar queasiness that meant she needed to go break the news to Antonio. On her way to the phone she realized this would be their first planned pregnancy. It felt oddly comforting knowing that. The first time she got pregnant, she wasn’t sure if Antonio would even want to be involved in her life and the second time, she hadn’t known if she was ready. But this time – this time would be different. This time they were both prepared and excited and she would give birth to her new baby and there would be two children in the house, so help her, God.
Antonio, being Antonio, wanted her to go see a doctor to confirm and the appointment was made by Ashley, his amazing office manager before she’d even hung up the phone. That was her man, always a little too efficient for his own good.
A week later, she found herself in a waiting room with Antonio at Starlight Memorial Hospital waiting for the ultrasound.
“I thought this appointment was just to get confirmation, not a full blown check up!” Aaliyah glared at Antonio from across the room – where she purposely moved to when she heard what he’d done.
“Okay, so maybe I jumped the gun a little, but we might as well do this now rather than make another appointment to do it later. Right?” Antonio gave Aaliyah a hopeful look. She just glared at him some more.
“Aaliyah Torres?” A nurse called her name from a chart and Aaliyah stood up with Antonio trailing behind her. She’d almost forgotten how neurotic he could get at times. This pregnancy was going to be just lovely.