“This shouldn’t take long,” Taylor clicked the pen she held in one hand. “What is your connection to Andre Parker?”
Mariah’s head still spun. Roger had walked into the door not five minutes ago announcing his return. She’d barely registered when he told her Taylor was on her way to ask her a few questions.
“Uhm, he’s, uhm,” Mariah blinked, shaking her head trying to catch up to the moment. “He’s the father of my oldest child. You know this.”
“Yes,” Taylor barely glanced up from scribbling on the note pad. “Yes, but this is for the official record. We need to make sure we’re covering all bases.”
“When was the last time you had any contact with him?”
Closing her eyes hard, Mariah rubbed them furiously, hoping to get a clue. “Uuuh, I think, gosh,” she panted. “It’s been a really really long time.”
Roger scoffed, sharpening Mariah’s focus considerably. Ah. They were back to this then. Okay. Fine.
“The last time I saw Andre was the night after high school graduation. Over 9 years ago now. The last time I had any contact with him was almost 9 years ago.” She put as much venom in her words as she could. Roger would have to get it through his thick head that she was NOT in love with Andre, much less in contact with him!
“What’s going on, Taylor? Roger only told me you’d be here to ask a few questions after asking me where Andre is. I’m really in the dark here.”
Taylor, glanced up again. There it was in her eyes. Taylor really didn’t care much for her. Why?
“He was reported as a missing person about a week ago.”
“Oh, wow. I’m so sorry to hear that! Is foul play suspected?” Did anyone other than cops on TV talk like that? It felt stupid once Mariah said it.
“Were you aware that Andre intended a visit to Appaloosa Plains before his disappearance?” Taylor ignored the awkward question.
“No. Like I said, we’re not in contact any longer. As far as I know, he didn’t know his daughter was alive.”
This time Taylor’s gaze hit Roger, who had the decency to look slightly abashed.
“Would you know anyone else in town he might have been coming to visit?”
“Uhm, Kelci? Kelci Jenner? Maybe? I dunno.”
The corners of Roger’s mouth rose fractionally and his eyes softened. Even Taylor smiled sadly.
“Oh,” Mariah nodded to herself. “I didn’t know they’d married. But I guess I should have known.”
The scratching of the pen on paper stopped.
“Why should you have known?”
Whoops. Not the time to go there.
“Maybe because he wouldn’t leave her for me, the mother of his child, so long ago?”
“Was this recently?”
“Dove’s going on 9. No. Didn’t we already go over the whole ‘it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen him’ bit?”
“Just trying to find a missing person, Ms.Sixkiller.”
“Perhaps he was on his way here to visit his parents. They still live in town,” Mariah offered.
This time, Taylor looked at her with something akin to pity.
“We’ve already talked to them,” Taylor clicked her pen closed. “I have no further questions, but I do want to issue a warning for you off the record.”
Bracing herself, Mariah took half a step back.
“Andre might not have been aware of Dove, but for whatever reason, his mother has half guessed she might have a grandchild in town. I suggest you brace yourself, and Dove, for a visit once they find out we came by here.”
As Taylor made her exit, Mariah got a hand on Roger’s arm.
“Mind explaining why you just had me questioned?” she hissed at him.
His shoulders slumped a little. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “Guess we might as well talk now. Let’s sit.”
Waiting for him to begin, she had a hard time reining in her patience. He was home! And he was still hung on the non-existent possibility that she might still be in love with Andre. Jackass.
“I didn’t tell you this, but Andre was working for Tex too,” Roger started apologetically. “You know what I did. Andre managed the casino Tex used to launder the money we made him, and we know that on some level Andre was at the very least aware of what was going on and we suspect much more.”
Suddenly, he shot her a fiery look. “You don’t know any of this.”
“I never have known any of what you’re doing, Rog,” she soothed with a sneer, annoyed at how far his trust with her had been broken. “No one will hear it from me.”
“Yeah,” Roger sighed. “Anyway, we thought we were finally closing in on Tex’s supplier and thought we might finally get a chance to shut that entire ring down but something happened.”
“The casino hadn’t been doing as well as Tex would have liked under Andre’s reigns. He was too busy schmoozing, wanted to run for mayor of Lucky Palms or something on his way toward becoming Leader of SimNation. He’d gotten careless with managing profits especially and the feds were getting suspicious, that’s how Kelly got involved.”
“Wait. Kelly is a fed?”
“She’s an agent, yes. And Tex finally figured out that the feds should be suspicious and didn’t see them clearly so he came in one day and shut the whole thing down. He wanted us to clean the entire warehouse out and up with instructions on where to meet up across the border with his goods. But this was all the front end of the chain, on the back end, Andre had disappeared three days before and Tex was a little too blasé about it.”
“We figured he suspected Andre was his mole,” Roger continued. “But Kelly was really freaking out. Devi, Tex’s mistress, had been suspicious of her for a while. Then you’ve got that I can’t cross the border, Kelly could. She was also worried that I was a little too close to Andre’s disappearance for my own good. She said it was to protect me from having to explain awkward things to LPPD later, but she phoned my supervisor and told him that I had outside connections to Andre that might lead to a conflict of interest if I continued to follow Tex. So here I am. I had Taylor question you because she’s the detective on the case here in Appaloosa Plains. I also needed to make sure there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that I was not involved. I’ll get a ton more respect from the force here for my experience, but if there are rumors I did something to my baby mama’s ex I won’t get to go as far as I’d like. Sorry.”
Mariah’s head spun. If that was a short explanation, she’d hate to hear the long one.
“So what about your relationship with Kelly then?” she asked. Totally not for her own reasons. Sure.
“She’s gone,” he whispered. Mariah had seen that look before. He was heartbroken and while she was still very annoyed with him she couldn’t find fault with him for that. “She felt it would be best. Long distance is one thing, but she didn’t think she could keep it up internationally and undercover.”
“I’m so sorry,” somehow, she almost meant it.
“I want the kids every other weekend.”
Her head snapped up. That was a 180. After how he’d just blindsided her with his own mistrust, what made him think he could trust her now? Or just waltz in and take her babies? And that camping trip? The half-truths and a very hurt Dove? Nope. Not happening.
“No.” You will NOT get my kids without some ground rules about who sees them buddy!
“I want my kids, Mariah.”
“They don’t know you.” And they sure won’t know you if you’re too busy playing with another woman!
“No,” she said firmly and his face hardened. “They don’t know you. If you’d like, you can start coming once a week after school, and a couple of hours on weekends for at least a month. Then we’ll talk about you seeing them more often.” In MY HOUSE. With MY RULES. About MY KIDS. While I’M around!
“Pinky swear if you want to,” she quipped, offering her little finger. I’ll break each and every one of your fingers if any of the kids come home complaining about some new girlfriend.
“Nah,” he relaxed into a smile. “Nah, I believe you.” You shouldn’t.
“I believe it’s called co-parenting. They do need to know their dad.” But not your next booty call!
“Can I have Dove, too? When the time comes?”
“Of course! Unless they find Andre and he objects that is. The kids belong together.” With me!
Roger chuckled, nodding. “Alright.”
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Roger had held true to his promise of allowing the kids to get to know him better, arriving each Monday as soon as the bus dropped the three off. Yesterday’s visit had been a particular triumph for him. For the first time since the camping trip Dove had begun to warm to him again. It was because of that Mariah thought it might have been him at the door, even though it wasn’t his day to come.
Instead, the face through the window nearly stopped her in her tracks. It couldn’t be, but the person on the other side looked just like the missing Andre.
The closer she got, the more convinced she was it couldn’t be him and her heart stopped racing. This man wasn’t as tall, his face wider and more lined, his hair lighter than ever Andre’s was.
“Can I help you?” she asked, hoping for once in her life the couple in front of her might be religious peddlers. She had no use for The Watcher or His PlumbBob and slamming the door in someone’s face would give her an unusual amount of satisfaction right now. However, she wouldn’t get that pleasure today.
The woman looked up and the man took a deep breath, narrowing his eyes a little.
“I believe you’re the mother of our grandchild,” he said. Next to him, the woman nodded slowly.
Mariah closed her eyes, steeling her nerves. Taylor had warned her this day would be coming; she hadn’t thought it would be this soon.
With a sigh she nodded herself.
“Dove,” she answered. “Her name is Dove. Please. Come in.”
Leading them into the house, she indicated a loveseat for them while she took the other. No one spoke. No sounds were heard. The kids were upstairs playing so quietly you wouldn’t have known they were in the house. Mariah would have paid for a year’s supply of ice cream for dessert had one of the twins noisily raced down the stairs at that moment. Instead, she was left to feel the awkwardness of the situation while she scrambled to find the right way to start a conversation with Dove’s other family.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered at last. These people must hate her now they knew about her Dove. How she’d kept them from her while living in the very same town. Long ago, Mariah had taken pains to find out where they worked, where they preferred to eat out, what route they took while jogging all to make sure she could keep Dove out of their sight for as long as possible.
And now they knew of her, like Roger, they would try to take one of her most precious treasures. Their judgement of her was nothing compared to their intended crime against her.
“We haven’t given up hope they’ll find him, dear,” Andre’s mother replied at last. “We’re actually more curious about Dove. Is that what you said her name is?”
Mariah nodded without looking up.
“The police questioned you because you have his daughter? Dove is his daughter?”
Once again Mariah was only able respond with a silent consent.
“I don’t want to be rude, or appear ugly, but you are positively sure this is Andre’s child?”
This got her full attention at once.
“I’m positive,” she answered harshly. “I notified him when I found out I was pregnant. He acknowledged that Dove was his as well.”
The couple exchanged glances; a spark of excitement along with a hint of incredulity mixed with their mirrored surprise.
“I saved that last letter from him, if you’d like to see it,” she offered. “The folds are a little delicate from the years and it has a-”
“-No, nono,” the woman interrupted as his face softened. “No, that’s not necessary right now. We believe you. Uhm…”
Again the two looked at each other, this time he appeared to be urging her on.
“I’ve seen her. She has my nose and her father’s hair color,” she continued. “I’d noticed her while the circus was in town. We’d taken one of our grandsons, Amber’s son, while they were in town. Patrick took him while I-I’m sorry for this but you didn’t seem to notice me-I followed you. I knew who you were, and when I saw Dove I remembered something your grandmother told me that I’d thought impossible.”
“I was one of your grandmother’s clients and she once told me we’d have a relative in common, a female, an eternal sign of peace between our families,” she said. At her side Patrick nodded benignly. “When you and Andre worked on that project in high school I just knew he would break up with Kelci for you for this to happen. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when it didn’t happen. Or so I thought.”
“Cassandra and I have been wondering: Were you a couple while he dated Kelci?” Patrick finally spoke again.
Mariah sighed heavily. She really didn’t know these people and airing her sins out to them was not something she wanted to do. Besides, their son was missing; telling them how horrible he was most likely wouldn’t go well for her.
“Yeah,” she said shortly. “Before he left for college we were still secretly seeing each other. It ended when he left town.”
“And you told him you were pregnant with his child and he agreed it was his?” Patrick prompted.
“Look,” Mariah stated. “Look, Cassandra? Patrick? Is that right?”
“Andre is missing, correct?”
Again, both heads bobbed an acknowledgement.
“If they find him, do you really want to know all of this?”
“We want to know our grandchild,” Patrick stated.
“We know Andre isn’t perfect,” Cassandra gave her a sad smile. “C’mon, Mariah. We’ve already found out his job might not have been legitimate, that he was eyeball deep in debt to some very shady characters and that he had a secret love child. I think we can handle whatever you tell us about who he really is.”
“He wasn’t… entirely aware of Dove,” Mariah said haltingly, casting about for words that didn’t want to come. “I told him I was pregnant pretty early on, but I didn’t hear back from him for months. Finally, when I was in the third trimester he wrote me back. He’d sent me some cash and insisted I abort her. That he didn’t want her, or me, or ever want to see either of us.”
Cassandra gasped, a hand flying to her mouth in horror while Patrick’s eyes went round as coins.
“He also stridently urged me to keep both the pregnancy, and his involvement, a secret. In particular, I don’t think he wanted Kelci or her dad to find out. But I’m also fairly positive he didn’t want either of you to know. Or his sister. I doubt he knew that I’d carried her to term. Or that she’s healthy and alive at all.”
“I’m very very sorry to be the one to tell you this,” Mariah finished lamely. “It must be hard for both of you to hear such things.”
A tear slipped down Cassandra’s cheek. Patrick bowed his head. The brittle hush wouldn’t be interrupted by Mariah. The dead needed to stay dead. Why won’t Abuella stay dead??? Yet again Abuella Sabria had meddled in my life. The old bat.
“I wish you would have told us anyway,” Cassandra finally whispered. “That’s our grandbaby.” Patrick nodded solemnly.
“She’s here,” Mariah offered, defeated by her empathy. “She’s home from school and is probably playing with her brother and sister upstairs.”
Both brightened, a smile nearly appearing on Patrick’s face. Perhaps he could sense what she was about to offer against her better judgement.
She sighed, internally wincing at her words. “Would you like to meet her?”
At this Cassandra beamed and both squeezed the other, nodding away.
“How old is she?” Cassandra asked.
“A very grown up 9,” Mariah managed a small smile. “I’ll go get her.”
A few moments later, she had walked her oldest down stairs, marching her up to her new relatives.
Cassandra beamed, clasping her hands together and crying. Patrick somehow managed to be too stiff and formal for the moment.
“Dove,” Mariah began, but she wasn’t allowed to finish.
“I’m your Mimi! Mimi Cass! And this is your GrandDad Pat.” Cassandra gushed at Dove.
Dove had shot her mom a single wondering look when the other two adults fell on her, enveloping her in a tight embrace.
“Our darling Dove! We’re so glad to meet you!” Cassandra’s voice wavered as both adults held Dove tightly, patting her back, stroking her hair, crying.
Mariah felt a twinge of sadness amidst her annoyance at the scene. Dove couldn’t be her exclusive property any longer. It was the beginning of the end. Roger wanted his kids, and after such a maudlin show of emotion at their meeting these two would claim grandparents rights and she’d have no choice but to allow visits.
Mariah snuck around behind the trio on her floor. A box of tissues in the kitchen would be sorely needed after all this blubbering.
Once she was around the group she turned to glance at her Dove’s face and decided to stop altogether.
Maybe she wouldn’t have to worry about sharing Dove so much after all.
Dove stood ramrod straight. And the look on her face?
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Sorry that was so long, but a lot of explanation was needed. There will be even more explanation next time. Though from a different direction and about other matters. lol
So! Who remembers Cassandra from the circus crowd? :D (3.15-Time to Move on) Go back and look for her if you’d like. Dove drew Cassandra’s notice during Ori’s fire dance though she’d been following them since the Illusionist’s show and only lost them briefly before the Contortionists appeared.
(For anyone wondering about the inlaws eating crow- It took Hubs’ grandmother chewing them all out to get it, but in the end they were most gracious with their apologies. For days. xD [Well, almost all of them-MIL still had to both discount it and take credit for the turn around all in one breath to any random relative that would give her an ear. The old bat.])