Mari couldn’t tell who was more nervous – her or her son.
Tobi paced back and forth in the entryway of their rental home, glancing at his phone every few minutes to check the time – or maybe for a message from Colette.
Mari wasn’t sure.
She was too busy fighting off wave after wave of nausea that flowed through her stomach – And she had a feeling it had nothing to do with morning sickness. Mari took a few deep breaths, wondering what her therapist would think if he could see just how close she was to losing it.
As soon as this whole mess began, she had gone back to seeing Dr. Durand twice a month. And even he had a hard time hiding his shock when she first explained the whole situation to him. That’s when she really knew just how bad it was.
And though he’d been trying his best to help her talk through things… Seeing him again had not been helping nearly as much as Mari thought it would. And she had a feeling it wasn’t him that was the problem…
“Are you okay, Mama?” Stefan’s voice was uncertain.
Mari nodded weakly. “Y-yeah, I’m fine, honey.” She tried to smile. “Your little sister’s just acting up a bit, that’s all.”
She could tell in an instant that her son didn’t believe her, but he said nothing more – something for which she was very grateful.
She still hadn’t told her sons the truth – either one of them. Not the whole truth, anyway.
At Jonas’ urging, she’d shared with her sons the bare minimum – that she had known Colette’s father long ago, and had not seen him for many years.
“So things might get a little… uncomfortable.” She’d explained. “But… Just don’t worry about it, okay?”
Tobias had pressed her for more, of course. But Mari deflected all of his questions as best as she could, until he finally dropped it.
She watched him now as he continued to pace back and forth across the old hardwood floor, and could almost picture her father upstairs, doing the very same – Tobias and Alex were alike in more ways than just appearance. They both shared the nervous habit of pacing when they were stressed, or worried. And when Mari had told her father that a ghost from her family’s past would be showing up at their doorstep, well…
Thankfully he and Jade had opted to stay out of sight for this particular meeting. And Mari couldn’t help but feel relieved. Things would be awkward enough already…
The entire family nearly jumped at the sound of the doorbell echoing throughout the musty old house. They’re here. Mari thought, panicked. He’s here…
Tobias rushed forward in a flash and pulled open the heavy wooden door.
She had only a few seconds to take in the sight of the slender young woman who stood in the entryway before Tobias pulled her eagerly into his arms. Mari could hear the young girl begin weeping softly into his shoulder as she clung to him.
“It’s gonna be okay.” Tobias’ voice shook slightly, and Mari watched as he gently stroked the girl’s light brown hair. “We can do this.”
Despite everything, Mari felt a warmth in her heart at the sight. He really loves her… She realized.
A few moments later, the girl’s parents finally came into view as they stepped nervously through the front door.
Oh my God.
Mari felt like she was going to faint. Or vomit. Maybe both.
For a moment, Diego turned his head, and let his eyes meet hers. Pain. Guilt. Shame. Sorrow. Each emotion flickered there in his gaze for the briefest moment…
Then he stared back at the floor. And so did she.
“C-Colette…” Tobias’ voice brought his mother back to the present. “This is my Mama… and my Papa.” He gestured nervously toward the pair of them.
Mari tried very hard to force a smile. Her husband was much more successful.
“It’s… Um… Really nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Klein.” The girl’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Thank you for letting me stay with you. And, uh… c-congratulations, Mrs. Klein.” Colette glanced down at Mari’s stomach as she spoke.
Thanks, you, too. The response was so automatic that Mari nearly had to bite her tongue to choke back the words. She could not help but let her gaze flick down toward the teen’s tiny baby bump as well. The sight of it made her heart sink. Oh God, Tobi… WHY?
“You can call me Mari.” She spoke at last after hesitating just a moment too long.
Beside her, Jonas nodded. “And ‘Jonas’ is fine.” He assured Colette warmly. “We’re, uh… practically family now after all, right?” He let out a small, somewhat uncomfortable chuckle.
Colette’s cheeks reddened as she nodded slightly, then turned to face Tobias. “And, um… Tobi… These are my parents.” She gestured uncertainly toward her mother and father.
“Hi.” Tobias managed to choke out.
Colette’s mother narrowed her eyes at him, and said nothing.
Mari could not help the wave of anger that flowed through her at the sight. She thinks this is HIS fault… She realized, horrified. Newsflash, bitch – your daughter is just as much to blame here!
Something in her expression must have given her away, because Mari suddenly felt one of Jonas’ warm hands reach for hers, squeezing slightly. Her anger began to cool slightly at his touch. Deep breaths, Mari. You can do this.
“I’m glad we could finally meet you.” Diego spoke at last, and the sound of his voice brought another flurry of unpleasant memories to the forefront of Mari’s mind. “I just… wish the circumstances were a bit different.” He added sadly.
“And you must be Stefan.” The man smiled gently at Mari’s other son.
Stefan simply nodded.
Then, to Mari’s surprise, he extended a hand toward Jonas in greeting. “It’s… Jonas, right?” Diego continued, shaking his hand firmly. “We spoke on the phone.”
She saw Jonas’ eyes widen slightly in surprise, but he kept his voice casual. “That’s me.” He smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too.” Diego hesitated, then glanced nervously at Mari once more. “And… It’s… It’s really great to see you again, Mari.” He said softly. “You look –”
“Don’t.” She didn’t even bother looking at him this time. “Just don’t.”
No one said anything for a few moments. Colette’s mother resumed her icy silence and stony stares while the rest of them all seemed to have chosen a different spot on the floor to examine.
“Hey, uh… Let me help you bring your stuff upstairs, okay?” Tobias finally broke the silence.
Without waiting for a response he leaned downward to lift Colette’s backpack of clothing from the floor, then took her hand and whisked her away toward the stairs.
“And, um… I’ll… help.” Stefan said quickly as he scurried away to follow them.
Oh my God, someone please kill me now. Mari thought as she stood in the unbearable silence. It was like one of her worst nightmares had finally come true – stuck in a room with the two people she’d spent nearly half her life hating.
“Well.” Amelie spoke at last, her accent heavy and her tone curt and cold. “I suppose I should drop off my things at the hotel.”
“We’re having dinner around 6:30.” Jonas said kindly. “You’re more than welcome to come back and join us.”
“Oh, I’ll most definitely be back.” Amelie assured him, nodding. “We have quite a bit to discuss.” There was an almost threatening edge to her voice as she spoke. “And I’m not so certain I feel comfortable having your son alone up there with my daughter.” The woman’s narrowed eyes glanced toward the stairs.
This time, Mari’s attempts to control herself were not quite as successful. “What the Hell is that supposed to mean?!” She demanded.
Amelie’s lip curled slightly. “Well, we all know what happened the last time he was alone with her. Who knows what he’ll do now.”
Diego stepped between the two women immediately. “Hey, hey, hey!” He cried out, his voice pleading.
As Jonas calmed her, Mari watched Diego turn to Amelie, glaring daggers at her and muttering something in French. The woman rolled her eyes and made a sharp reply in her native tongue, then turned and headed out the door without another word.
Diego held his face in one of his hands for a moment before speaking. “I’m sorry.” He said softly. “Amelie can be really… Well, sometimes she…” Diego shook his head, laughing somewhat awkwardly. “Let’s just say there’s a reason we never got married.”
Mari said nothing.
Jonas tried to smile. “Things are really… tense right now. We get it.” He said gently. “And… if you’d like to join us for dinner tonight, you’re welcome too.”
“Thanks.” Diego replied uncertainly. “We’ll see. I’m staying with my parents for the weekend, so I’ll see what their plans are… If not, tomorrow for sure. We… We really do have a lot to talk about…”
Jonas simply sighed. “I know.”
“I… uh… guess I’ll see you later, then…” Diego headed nervously for the door. He still had not glanced at Mari even once since that first time. “And… Thank you for welcoming my daughter into your home.” His tone was suddenly quite stiff and formal.
Then with a quick nod of farewell, he was gone.
“Fuck.” Mari let out a long, slow breath. How long had she been holding it? “I don’t know if I can do that again.” She said wearily.
Jonas’ face fell. “I hate to say this, babe…” He said gently. “But in less than six months… We’re all gonna be family.” He sighed. “Whether we like it or not.”