Mari paced nervously back and forth across the hotel lobby, fighting to keep her breathing as steady as she could.
The woman behind the counter eyed her nervously, but said nothing.
She probably thinks I’m nuts. Mari thought, almost amused.
The woman had appeared quite bewildered when Mari had asked her to ring Joshua Yuen’s room and tell her that Stefan Rosebrook was there to see him.
“Uh… Stefan?” She had looked Mari up and down curiously for a moment.
“Short for Stefanie.” Mari explained with what she hoped was a casual smile. “A little inside joke.”
Apparently he’d bought it just as easily as she had, because according to the mousy young woman, he was on his way down to see her.
The boys had been keeping her in the dark as much as possible about the details of Josh’s visit… But they hadn’t been careful enough. One scribbled note left out on the kitchen counter, and Mari knew exactly where to find him.
She tried her best to fight the urge to vomit as the seconds continued to tick by. This is a mistake, a small voice in the back of her mind seemed to whisper. Go home.
But she couldn’t. Not until she saw him. Not until she spoke to him. Not until he understood what he was doing to her family by coming here. Not until he —
A flicker of confusion crossed the man’s face as his brown eyes locked with hers.
Mari watched as his warm smile slowly melted away, and she knew in an instant that no introduction would be necessary.
She stared at him in stony silence for several long moments as her eyes took in the face of the man who had fathered her sons all those years ago.
Mari hadn’t noticed that night at the bar, but it was clear now that he was much older than her — maybe even on the other side of fifty. How old is he? She found herself wondering. He was still handsome, of course — the years had been kind to him. But it suddenly struck her just how little she truly knew about this man.
The thought did nothing to help the sickening, twisting sensation in her stomach.
“Hello, Mari.” Josh’s deep voice broke through the uncomfortable silence. “I was going to come see you tomorrow, you know. You didn’t have to pretend to be Stefan.” He smiled slightly as he spoke.
Is he mocking me? Mari thought venomously, a noticeable warmth coming to her cheeks. She could not be sure if it was from embarrassment or anger.
“Oh, how considerate of you.” She replied at last, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“I honestly doubt anything I say will make you feel better,” he responded tiredly. “Would you like to take this conversation upstairs?”
For a moment, Mari hesitated. This is going to get ugly. She realized. Fast. And judging by the look on his face, he knew it too. “That’s probably for the best.” Her voice was curt and cold as she gave a tiny nod of agreement.
At first, Josh almost looked like he wanted to say something, but then appeared to think better of it. Without another word, he turned and headed back toward the distant elevator doors.
Mari followed reluctantly.
The trip upstairs was almost unbearable. Neither of them spoke for the entire elevator ride (which felt like it lasted an hour). Jesus Christ, how many floors does this place have?! Mari wondered. She stared down at the floor the entire time, though she could not help but steal the occasional glance in Josh’s direction. Once or twice, she caught him doing the same.
I bet it’s all he can do not to laugh at me right now… A white-hot wave of anger bubbled up inside of her at the thought. The stupid slut he left on her own with two babies… And now he’s back to steal them away from me.
Mari blinked away the unexpected burning of tears from her eyes as the elevator came to a stop at long last. Josh led the way down the hall and opened one of the pale white doors with his keycard. He paused somewhat awkwardly in the doorway, motioning for her to step inside.
She hesitated for a moment, swallowed back the lump in her throat, and crossed over the threshold. Behind her, she heard Josh do the same. The door swung shut with a soft click and a thud.
Then they were alone in the silence once more.
Josh cleared his throat uncomfortably. Mari turned around to face him.
“Would you care for a drink?” He asked softly, gesturing toward the suite’s mini-bar.
“Can we just drop the fucking act?” Mari snapped. “Please?”
Josh shrugged his broad shoulders. “What ‘act’?” He asked, clearly taken aback.
The question was so innocent, so sincere… Mari felt her anger flare up yet again at the sound of his calm, southern drawl.
“Oh gee, I don’t know.” She shot at him. “Maybe acting like we know the first thing about each other? Or like this whole thing isn’t awkward as fuck?!” Mari sighed heavily, throwing her arms upward in exasperation. “You were some pretty-boy sports star and I was the easy piece of ass you fucked in a goddamn closet for Christ’s sake! So can we stop pretending this is normal and talk about what the fuck you think you’re doing here?!”
In an instant, the smile vanished from his face.
Josh shot her a look. “For the record, the closet was your idea.” He paced around the room as he spoke. His long legs and heavy stride reminded her of Tobi. Mari’s heart sank at the sight. “As for what I’m doing here,” he continued, “I think that’s pretty obvious, don’t you? I’m here to meet my sons.”
“Your sons?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Wait just one goddamn second. We have absolutely no proof you’re their father, okay?” Mari retorted, crossing her arms across her chest. “None. You can’t just show up here assuming shit like that.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Josh sputtered, the disbelief apparent on his face. “You’d have to be blind to miss the resemblance.”
Mari ignored him completely. “And what is this ‘my sons’ shit? They aren’t yours, do you understand that?!” She felt a warm wetness at the corner of her eyes once more. “They are my sons. They are my husband’s sons. What the fuck do you think gives you the right to say they’re yours?!”
“Because they are mine – biologically.” Josh spread his hands out in front of him, as though trying to placate her. “I don’t want to take them from you or Jonas. That’s not why I’m here, Mari. I just want to know them.”
“And you did get to know them!” Mari replied, her volume growing louder with every word. “I put up with those stupid emails and phone calls for WEEKS because I knew how much it meant to the boys! So don’t stand there and tell me you aren’t trying to take them. Why else would you be here?!”
Josh opened his mouth and appeared to be trying to reply, but Mari kept going.
“And you know what? Biology doesn’t mean shit!” A few tears slipped down Mari’s cheeks as she shouted over him. “How many of their diapers have you changed, huh?” She shot at him. “H-how many football practices did you drive Tobi to? How many science projects did you stay up all night helping Stefan with? How many tears did you dry? How many broken hearts did you fix?” Mari shook her head, wiping a few of her tears with the back of her hand.
“I’m their mother! Jonas is their father! And you…” She narrowed her eyes. “You’re nothing but a glorified sperm-donor.”
“I would’ve been there for everything!” Josh shouted. He stopped himself suddenly and took a deep breath. “When I found out about them, do you think I was happy about it? I’ve missed their entire lives.” His pacing grew faster as his anger appeared to grow deeper.
“Shit, Mari, I was ready to settle down and have a family by the time I was twenty-two. If I had known those boys existed, I would’ve been there. I would’ve been at every football game, helped with every science project. But I didn’t have that chance – and I don’t blame you.” He sighed. “You didn’t know how to find me even if you’d wanted to. But don’t you blame me for wanting the chance to know them now.” He said darkly.
Mari just shook her head. Why the Hell did I even bother coming here?! She wondered. In truth, she still had no idea. What did she think confronting him would change? What could she possibly hope to accomplish? Only one thing was certain — this was all a terrible mistake.
“If you’re looking for sympathy, you’re out of luck.” She said softly. “Those boys got along just fine for the past twenty-three years without you, and you got along just fine without them. You don’t need them, and they sure as Hell don’t need you either.” Mari moved slowly toward the door as she spoke.
“I won’t stop you from seeing them. I know how much they want this.” She fought to keep her voice even. “And I’ll let you go through with that stupid paternity test… But only for my boys. I don’t give a shit about their DNA. They could be fucking aliens for all I care. It doesn’t matter.” She glanced over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes at him. “They’re mine. They’re Jonas’. And they’ll never be yours.”
Mari almost made it to the elevator before her tears began to fall once more.
She wept the entire way home.
Thank you JoieWilder for writing all of Josh’s actions/dialogue.