“Well, honey, time to meet my parents. I was gonna wait until Saturday, but circumstances what they are, I think we need to move on this.”
“I think you’re right.”
They pulled up in his parents’ driveway. Frank turned off the car and opened Marka’s door.
“I have no idea what I’m going to say to him.”
“Tell him you talked to Mabel. Tell him you know the truth.”
Frank tapped on the door, calling out as he opened it. His mother answered from the kitchen.
“Be right there!”
A tall, athletically built woman came out of the kitchen, removing her apron. Marka recognized her from the photo in Frank’s office.
“Hi, darling! Is this the colleague you mentioned?” She came forward, hand extended, a smile on her lips.
“Mom, this is Dr. Marka Ventimiglia. Marka, my mother, Paula Atherton.”
“Delighted to finally meet you.”
“Come sit down. Dad’s around here somewhere,” his mother said. “He just got in.” She went to the stairway, calling up. “Tom, Frank’s here! He’s got someone with him.”
“Oh, really? I hope it’s not his lame ass boss again. . . .”
“It’s a girl. . . .”
“Be right down!”
Tom Atherton was an older version of Frank. His brown hair was shot with gray and he wore glasses. His complexion was nearly as youthful, his dark eyes sparkled like jasper, surrounded by lashes as black and lush as Frank’s.
“I thought you were coming this weekend,” his mother said as she served tea.
“We were going to, but circumstances what they are, I re-evaluated the time frame.”
“You whip out that military speak when it’s serious,” Tom said, frowning.
“She’s not pregnant, is she?” Paula asked a little more excitedly than Frank appreciated.
“No! Mom, where did you even get that? For your edification, we haven’t had sex yet. Are we clear on that point now?”
Marka blushed, dropping her eyes. Frank took her hand, bringing it to his lips.
“Sorry, babe. Should have warned you that my folks and I are pretty blunt with one another. I’ve never lied to them.”
“Nor has he always told all the truth,” his father interjected. “He learned judicious editing at the teat.”
Tom sipped his tea. His wife punched him, slopping tea on his hands. He laughed as he wiped it up, followed by a kiss.
“That’s kind of what I wanted to talk about,” Frank said quietly.
He hadn’t touched his tea. Folding his hands, he leaned on his knees. Marka’s hand on his adjusted his posture to less aggressive. He relaxed as she twined her fingers with his. His parents watched the small gesture of familiarity, pleased.
“I’m lost,” Tom said. “Truth?”
Frank filled them in on the events of the last few days, judiciously editing the passage where he and Marka were on the floor of his room. He finished with the discovery of the fabulous ring.
His parents listed attentively. Tom’s head dropped slightly when Frank finished. Biting his lip, he adopted the same posture as his son, hands folded, elbows on his knees.
“So, did you talk to Mabel?”
“Yes. It was edifying.”
“So, you know the truth now.”
“Yes. Why didn’t you tell me?” He was angry, hurt. It upset him that his parents would hide something this important from him.
Marka’s fingers tightened on his. He almost flung her hand away. Instead, he kissed the back of it tenderly. The anger and hurt dissipated.
“We had decided to tell you on your next birthday. We wanted to tell you and Jen at the same time,” his father replied.
“We thought about it four years ago. But then Clay. . . .”
Frank gulped, nodding. Clay had died the day before Frank’s birthday.
“And you were in that awful place,” his mother continued. “We couldn’t add to your burden.”
“Mom, it wouldn’t have been a burden!”
Marka tugged on his hand, commanding him to look at her before he exploded. “Your mother’s right. It would have been too much. You’ve confused enough over it now. Imagine in that setting, told from thousands of miles away, right after a trauma. No. They did right.”
“When you came home to bury Clay, we couldn’t tell you then either. But Cortland money paid for the funeral and headstone so Clay could be remembered in a fitting manner,” Paula said. “Do you remember Mabel being there?”
“Not really. I had no idea.”
© Dellani Oakes