It’s 1988, and Diego finally returns. He meets his son, Danny, for the first time.
Diego crouched on the ground, holding out his hand. “Hi, Danny. Nice to meet you.”
Danny shook his hand solemnly. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“I thought… I kind of hoped we could—we could talk,” Diego said hesitantly.
“Let me tell Dad. He’ll watch Danny for me. Honey, go tell Popop Diego’s here.”
Danny ran in the house. “Popop, Dago’s here!”
Diego laughed loudly, tossing his head back with abandon. He looked years younger when he laughed, like the boy she’d loved 13 years ago.
Evander came to the door, taking off his reading glasses. “Oh, Diego.” He chuckled. “So it’s you. I couldn’t understand why he was telling me there was a dago at the door. Not exactly a word we use around here.” He trotted off the porch, holding out his hand. “Good to see you again, son. We’ve missed you.”
They shook hands. Evander pulled the younger man into a hug.
“Glad you’re back.”
“Thank you, sir. That means a lot to me.”
“Surely after all this time, you can call me Dad?”
Diego nodded, smiling. “I’d like that. My own father passed….” He blinked hard. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”
“We know,” Janet said. “We all went up for the funeral.”
“And Ilene. I’m so sorry for your loss….”
Evander nodded his thanks. “I have to believe they’re in a better place,” he said in a matter of fact tone. “So, you kids need some time. Do you have a place to stay? You’re welcome with us.”
“I’ve got a room. Thanks. I didn’t want to impose. I thought maybe Janet and I could catch dinner….”
“Sure. I’ll hold down the fort. You take all the time you need.”
“I’ll go in and say goodbye,” Janet said. She went inside to speak to Danny.
“Been a long time,” Evander said sternly. “You couldn’t write? You couldn’t call?” Although older, he was nearly as fit as Diego. His dark eyes registered his disapproval, as did his muscular arms crossing his chest.
“Did Janet tell you what I do?” Diego asked calmly. He kept his body relaxed, casual.
“She was pretty evasive.” Evander shifted his weight, lifting his chin.
“Evander, my job isn’t the kind that lends itself to Christmas cards and snapshots. I’ve tried for five years to get out….”
“But right now, you’re safer in than out?”
“Something like that. I love your daughter. If she’ll have me, I want to marry her.”
“She’s still married to Tex.”
“What? I hoped by this time he’d be out of the picture.”
“He refuses to divorce her. We’ve tried….”
Diego said nothing, lips pursed. Evander watched him sublimate the anger. He could see the younger man put it aside, channeling it into more acceptable emotions.
This is a very dangerous man. That bastard of a son-in-law of mine had better be very careful, or he’s gonna wind up dead.
Janet came out of the house. She had an overnight bag and her purse. Evander gave her a kiss.
“You sure, baby girl?”
“More sure of this than just about anything,” she said. “See you later, Dad.”
They had dinner at her father’s restaurant. Diego was impressed. The food was delicious and reasonably priced. The wait staff were efficient and well mannered. It was the best dining experience he’d had in over five years.
After dinner, they went for a walk on the Texas Tech campus and Janet showed him all her old haunts. More than one statement began with “Tex and I used to go….” The third or fourth one made Diego feel like he’d been slapped in the face. He stopped her, turning her to face him.
“Do you still love him?” He asked adamantly, taking her firmly by the upper arms. “Do you still want him?” He relaxed his grip when she winced, realizing it must bring back bad memories of another man’s violence.
“No!” Janet burst into tears. “How can you even ask me that? Your son is the most important person in the world to me. More than my father, Sookie, or you. That little boy is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. He’s your son, not his.”
©2020 Dellani Oakes