He was standing on the terrace, leaning on a wooden rail, watching us coming back from the beach. He smoked a thick cigar and his face was double hard to read as his eyes were covered with sunglasses.
As soon as I saw him, I dropped my gaze to my bare feet. The towel that I was wrapped with I felt like throwing on my head to disappear from here.
That's why I didn't stay with them all outside, just headed inside the chalet right away, muttering something about taking a shower. It was just an excuse because when I was washing away the mud from my hair, I already made a decision that today I wouldn't leave my room anymore. I noticed happily that someone finally transported my luggage here. Refreshed, I sat at the bed, grabbing one of my books. The balcony doors I left open, as I enjoyed a nice breeze coming inside. After all this stress it gave me some relief.
Of course, it wasn't enough to calm me down completely. The thought of some guy presenting himself as my father being just down the stairs was successfully ruining my concentration. I caught myself constantly reading the same sentence.
After some time, Dylan came to get me. He knocked at my door, opened it and stood there, informing me that it was time to have dinner. I was still banned from excusing myself from eating. It was like I had no right not to be hungry. Reluctantly, I got over the fact that I had to change my mind and show up at the table. Maybe I'd argue more to stay if not for that I was just so fed up with speaking and explaining stuff today...
The dinner was having a place outside, on the terrace. I saw two strangers there. A young man and an older woman who both were bustling around the table, setting it. Of course, there had to be a service. The table wasn't as big as the one that was placed in the dining room so the first thing I did, was to stop and hesitate before taking a sit. I had to chose it wisely. The twins were already seated and finally, I decided to squeeze between them as it was saving me from landing shoulder to shoulder with the man who was the last person I wanted to have in my personal space.
Shane and Tony gave me looks but they didn't stop their discussion about some huge party they were apparently planning to attend to. Soon, Dylan joined us and, together with him, there was the man at whose sight my head automatically hanged. I felt sick.
We started to eat and there were really many interesting dishes to choose from. Slowly, I was able to appreciate good cuisine again and normally I would probably want to try some Thai specials but today I ended up eating only a salad. It was incredibly colorful. Sweet-and-spicy sauce and cashew nuts made its taste intriguing but I was just picking at it because, at that moment, food wasn't my priority. My brothers were laughing and talking between each other and from time to time I also heard this stranger, hoarse voice that meant their father was putting in his cents' worth.
"Hailie, how did you like the beach?" He asked at some point and I stiffened at the sound of my name.
No, no, no, leave me alone. You leave me alone.
I shrugged, not raising my eyes at him and I was two hundred percent sure that someone would reprimand me in a second that I was disrespectful and blah, blah, blah. I was just waiting for it but, to my surprise, no one commented on my reply.
Wow, they did leave me alone.
When I barely finished at least half of my portion, I raised my head for the first time since I sat here and unconsciously stared at Dylan.
"I'm tired," I mumbled quietly as he was raising his pint and noticed my look. My big, begging eyes had to make it because my brother reacted the way I prayed he would.
"Get some rest then."
Immediately, I got up and ran away without any more words.
I really was tired and I was doing all I could to fall asleep but because of these damn time zones my body was convinced that it was morning instead evening and it automatically refused any cooperation. Additionally, in my head, there were too many thoughts to just turn my mind off and drift away like that. That's why I stayed awake till the late, night hours.
It's no surprise that this way I woke up quite late. When there was absolutely nothing I could get myself busy with to delay leaving my bedroom, I took a deep breath and sneaked outside, deciding it was time to try out the swimming pool. What else could I do? Enjoying my holidays and avoiding interacting with my wonderful family was the best solution to survive here.
I didn't come across anyone downstairs what was a nice surprise for me. Going through the kitchen, I grabbed a bottle of water and, after a moment of hesitation, a banana which I ate really fast in case someone would ask me if I had breakfast. A book was stuck under my armpit and a towel caped on my bag. On the terrace, I choose one of these huge, comfortable sunbeds and left my stuff on it and then, I sat at the edge of the pool. I put firstly one of my legs into the water, then the second one and after a while, I just slid down into it. The pool was chiller than the sea but not that much to make discomfort. I breathed out deeply, laying my body on the surface and letting it just drift limply. I even closed my eyes. The coldness of water perfectly composed with the heath of the sun that was warming up my face. There was an amazing silence around me. This is the definition of holidays.
My mom promised me that one day we would go together on similar ones. Well, we won't.
When I opened my eyes, I saw the man with the beard who was standing on the edge of the pool, looking at me. He had the same bracelets on his hands and he was holding a cigar again in one of them. The other one he hid in the pocket of his vanilla shorts. He also had a brown belt on and the baggy shirt he was wearing today was dark-blue, short-sleeved and had most of the buttons undone so his tanned torso was even less covered than yesterday. He was one of these men who at first sight seemed not to give a damn about what they wear but in the end, they presented more stylish than most of Instagram models.
I lost my balance and stood up rapidly, splashing water around me. I didn't know if I should get out of the pool or maybe it would be better to stay where I was, so I just froze at the spot, cautiously sharing my look with these dark, scrupulous eyes.
"Good morning," The man spoke a moment after he drew on his cigar.
"Good morning," I answered automatically, still alarmed.
"Am I interrupting?"
Yes, yes, you are. Go away. Get out of my sight. Disappear from my life. After all, you are good at it.
I pursed my lips because I had no courage to say it out loud but at least I managed to nod.
He sighed and took a step back, sitting at the edge of one of the sunbeds that were in shadow.
"Hailie, we really should talk. I don't want to force you but I insist that you hear me out," He said and when I didn't react, he gestured with his hand at my sunbed that was too close to his, as for my taste. He tilted his head a bit, "Please."
My body, as the opposite of my will, listened to him. Maybe it's because of his voice that was sounding gentle but had some weird authority and power in it. Or maybe they were those intensive eyes which seemed to see just me and nothing else around. I moved towards the pool ladder and I got out of the water, wetting the dark, wooden terrace floor. I grabbed my towel right away and covered myself with it. Not because it was cold but because I felt stupid flaunting in my bikini next to a stranger guy. It was light-blue and frilling, way too cute to be comfortable in it being watched by an older man. Especially that I still couldn't quite believe he was my father and I was taking into consideration the fact that he could turn out to be a pervert.
I sat on my sunbed, gazing at the pool and waiting for what happens next. I was almost shivering. Again, out of emotions, not temperature. After a moment of silence, the man spoke again.
"How is your life with the boys? Are they treating you well?"
I shrugged, still not moving my eyes away from the water. This pool was so beautiful.
"And Vincent? Is he good to you?"
Ha. That's a good question. I wanted to smirk sarcastically but I didn't because I didn't want the man to misread it and to see cheer instead of sarcasm. That's why I shrugged once again.
"I know he's quite... complex personality," he continued.
I tightened my jaw before I spoke.
"Vince took care of me after my mom's death and I will always be grateful to him for that," my voice sounded very dry and, even though it wasn't my intention, some reproaches could be heard there very clearly. The man noticed them as well because he sighed and put off his cigar in a glass of water that was on the ground, next to his sunbed. Then he rubbed his face with his hands and took another deep breath as if the exhaustion was killing him. Then he shook his head and the silence took over for a moment before he didn't break it.
"I've been living in this world half of century now, I have so much experience and it's this conversation that's apparently going to be the hardest thing I have ever undertaken..."
I was quiet. Oh no, I wasn't going to make it easier for him.
The man raised his eyes as if he was looking for support in the sky and then he came back to the earth and took out of his pocket another cigar that he quickly lightened and draw on it as if his life depended on it.
"I would like to explain to you everything in order, do you agree, Hailie? So everything I say would make sense. All right?"
I nodded mercifully as I didn't care that much anyway.
"My wife, my Lissy, who I loved more than anything, gave me five sons. Firstly, Vincent appeared. That was an unplanned pregnancy. Later we decided on a sibling for him and that's how after a few years William was born, a second son. Lissy started dreaming about a daughter so we tried again. This is how we got another boy, Dylan. And right after him, completely unexpectedly, Lissy got pregnant with the twins," the man chuckled quietly and I still refused to look at him but I listened to him carefully. "How angry she was! Not because they were boys again but because not much time had passed since Dylan's birth. And here it was: again pregnancy, again huge belly, this time it was going to be even bigger. And, additionally, three little kids at home, including one newborn baby. Oh, what a row she kicked up! She was yelling like crazy. But, of course, it was her first reaction. She loved all the boys even before they were born. She was always taking good care of herself, especially while pregnant. Lissy was a spoiled and characterful woman but a good mother."
I was very curious how she looked like but the only thing my imagination could base on was her blue eyes that most of the boys had to inherit from her.
I glanced at the man, waiting for the continuation. He was staring at his cigar for a while and then looked far in front of him. There was nothing left after a moment of amusement which he was mentioning his wife with.
"She was often complaining about pain in her back. She was sure that it's because of all those pregnancies. She was having regular massages. One time, she went to one of her appointments and she never came back. She was found on the bed, covered with a towel, ready for treatment and dead."
I gaped at him with terror. I felt weak. I frowned and my body stiffened. That was terrible! I had no idea that under that circumstances my siblings lost their mother. Vince was right saying that the three youngest of my brothers were raised practically without her. They didn't even know her. They didn't know how she was like, what she liked, how her voice sounded when she was angry or comforting...
"Why?" I whispered quietly and although I didn't want to show how much I wanted him to finish this story, I couldn't resist not to show my interest in it.
He cleared his throat, stroke his beard and shrugged.
"That's how it is. There was a man, an incredibly stupid man, who thought he was the lord of the world and wanted to be at the top, above everyone. He decided to take my wife from me because, as he admitted in the last moments of his life, he knew that I have many sons but only one wife and that losing the mother of my children would hit me the most and weaken me like nothing else," in his voice, I could hear fury and contempt that faded in time but never disappeared. Now I couldn't turn my gaze away from him, absorbing this new information like a sponge absorbs water, "He forgot or dismissed the fact that I was an important player not without a reason. He also didn't predict that other important people, who normally were my rivals, would stand behind me. And all of them did that as in our world you can get off with tons of shit but there are basic rules that everyone follows. And murdering an innocent woman, wife, and mother, is absolutely unaccepted," now he was sounding very ominous and I tensed up. I felt as if I was watching a horror movie and something was about to pop out on the screen, "I don't want to go into details about it, Hailie, but the revenge was sweet."
To be honest, I didn't want to go into detail as well. In my head, I still had the pictures from the forest when the bald man attacked Tony and me. How Vince threatened him with a knife, how he looked at him. A sign of this look loomed now in the man's eyes.
"I'm not exceptionally proud of that period in my life. I was mourning my own way. I wasn't sober at the funeral. The only thing I remember is how much all those fucking wreaths stank. It was hot and I felt like throwing up. I wanted to murder all those damn weepers. One woman's voice was pissing me off the most. She was standing somewhere nearby, muttering some dumb songs. At some point, I turned away to her to tell her to shut the fuck up. Then I saw she was carrying my son. I looked at this big, blue eyes, crying and terrified, wet lashes, red nose... You can believe me or not but those boys used to be really cute kids. And my heart softened. Next to them, there was kneeling another nanny. She was holding Shane's and Dylan's hands, whispering something to them. And not that far away, there was Vincent. He looked like a small sculpture. He held his hands together, in front of him and had a serious face. He was staring at the coffin and didn't cry even once. That's when I thought to myself that this little shit has bigger balls than I. And William was standing close to him. At that time, he was admiring him like a hero, he wanted to do everything the same as his older brother. But here you could see the difference in their characters because Willy could barely stop his tears. During the whole ceremony, he was just blinking and blinking to prevent them from rolling down his cheeks."
I imagined little Will fighting with his emotions at his mom's funeral. I've never thought of how my brothers looked like when they were children but now I tried to picture it. I dressed them in mini, black and elegant suits and I almost burst into tears myself. A long time ago, they were just small, innocent boys. I have never thought about them this way before. It was something new for me.
I didn't even notice when I changed my position so now I was sitting facing the man, completely lost in his story. I could admit that he had something in his face that showed how honestly hard it was for him to speak these things out loud.
"I didn't want them to see me in this state. I ran away to Miami, promising myself that I'd spend there a few weeks, recover, put my shit together and come back," he stopped, sighing, "Florida swallowed me up for more than three months. I stayed at one of the most expensive hotels there, not caring about anything. At home, my brother took over the business and nannies took care of kids. And I went wild. I won't tell you exactly what I was doing, that's not for your ears, but you are a smart girl and surely you know what I'm talking about. Let's say that I don't even remember the first two months there..."
Oooh, it wasn't easy to listen to his confessions. When in the past I was trying to imagine my father, I was picturing him as a young guy, maybe a student, quite decent, too decent to agree to reconcile his university, full-time job and raising a daughter. A coward who got scared of responsibility and preferred to disappear than to face it. But I would never think of him as a person who was lying unconscious in a luxurious apartment on a messy bed with a stranger woman at the side and a white powder spilled on a nightstand. Oh my God.
"Then I met Gabriela..."
"My mom?" I blurted out, interrupting him, suddenly very engaged. As soon as I heard my beloved mom's name, my heart beat faster. I knew that the man was about to mention her sooner or later but anyway, I wasn't ready for it.
He smiled at me gently.
"Your mom. For the whole time I'd spent in Florida, I'd met a lot of women but she was the last one. She was so different. She was traveling through the States with a backpack. I remember how she impressed me when she was saying that she was making her dreams come true. I thought that damn, how is it possible that there are people like her, so brave who without millions on their account can just get on the train and take potluck...." he shook his head, still smiling, "So I noticed her in a club and I liked her right away. I invited her to my VIP lounge but she just chuckled cutely and refused. I remember her red curls waving when she was shooking her head. Her eyes sparkled with amusement... You need to understand that in those clubs men like me aren't used to rejection. Most women would let cut themselves just to be invited for a drink. Gabriela found herself there by accident, as she told me later, she was just accompanying to a girl that she met the same evening at the hostel."
My eyes were wide as saucers because I couldn't believe that my mom, who always warned me to be careful on every step, went with some stranger girl to an exclusive club visited by people of questionable reputation. I knew about her amazing travel through America but she never told me these kinds of details.
"I didn't let her go from my eyes for half of the night. Finally, I had a chance to talk to her again, when she was standing next to the bar. There was some dumbass hitting on her but he disappeared at my sight. Her new friend left with some other guy and Gaby was slowly going to leave. But we started to talk. We sat at those high, bar chairs and ordered some cocktails. And them more and more. I swear to you, Hailie, that I have never before nor after met someone who I was able, and, what's more, wanted to talk such long hours with," the man looked blindly at the view in front of him, "We spent the weekend in my apartment talking all the time, smoking cigars, drinking wine, stuffing ourselves with pizza, sitting in a jacuzzi, watching shitty movies and... doing the... the other stuff. Nevermind. It was like a dream. That was the first time, I felt I'm making a progress after my wife's death."
Mym mom smoking cigar? Spending time in an apartment of a guy she just met? It sounded so incredible that normally I would express my skepticism if not for the undisputed honesty that the man was clearly speaking with.
"I know it's hard for you to believe my words. You know a responsible and mature side of Gabriela and she really was like that but you have to know that I don't exaggerate anything by saying that we got this great understanding since the very beginning. It was as if two soulmates met. That connection we had was so amazing..." he shook his head again, bewildered with his memory, "I don't even know how to put it into words..."
I wanted to smile at the thought that someone was speaking so prettily about my mom but then I remembered how this "amazing connection" ended for her and immediately my eyes darkened.
"But she wasn't special enough not to cast her off?" I asked dryly.
His look faded.
"Gaby really wanted to visit Key West and it happened that I had a house there so we rented a car and laid up there for a month. It was a paradise. I will say it out loud for the first time, to you, in a secret. If I met this woman a dozen or so years earlier than I did, she would have become my wife. But for the obvious reasons, at that moment, I wasn't looking for another one. And when Gaby started to feel bad and found out she's pregnant, our happy bubble burst and we met the reality. The tears were flowing down her cheeks when she was squatting next to me, holding my hands, begging me to let her go."
I frowned, not understanding.
"My mom wanted to leave?"
The man sighed heavily for the hundredth time today.
"She was like a therapist for me. She knew everything about me. She knew what I was doing for a living, she knew why I ran away to Florida, what happened to my wife..." he counted, "We agreed at the beginning that we were going to have a romance, live an adventure and then, we'd come back to our old lives. She didn't want to be with me, she didn't want to be in a relationship with someone like me..."
"But she was pregnant! That's should've changed things!" I called out, unconsciously leaning towards him. I was just told that I was raised without father at my mom's wish and I had no idea yet how I felt about it.
"On the contrary. Gaby was scared she'd end up like Lissy. What's more, she was scared you would. I can't blame her for that. After all those things she heard from me... Even my wife didn't know all of them. And this knowledge could be dangerous for her if I took her to my home. She also knew I had five sons. And she was so young, completely not ready to be your mom, leave alone stepmother of five kids..."
"But you didn't have to get married then and there! You could just visit us from time to time, you could..." I interrupted him just to stop talking. I blushed and hated myself for the desperation that clearly was sounding in my voice.
He drew on the cigar and was looking at me emptily.
"She was kneeling and holding my face in her hands, like that," here he brushed his cheek with his free hand, "She was staring at me intensively, all blubbered and she was chocking while asking me to let you live in peace. To let our child live, to trust her that she'd do everything to give you a normal, safe and loving home," he stopped and smiled gloomily, "It wouldn't be safe if I was showing up there even if it was just from time to time. She didn't want anyone to associate us. That's why I finally let her have it her way. It was a tough decision but I made it because I knew she was right," suddenly, he leaned towards me too so our heads were very close now. "She contacted me only once to notify me she gave birth to a daughter." I flickered when I felt his fingers delicately catching a strand of my hair which they put behind my ear, then stroking it gently. "I wasn't sure if she would give you the earrings I'd sent," I took a deep, shaky breath. The earings which I had since always, which I started to wear only a while ago, were a gift from my father? I froze. "A small, pitiful gift. After receiving it, she panicked so much that she moved her flat right away. A clear message that she still didn't want me in your lives."
Once again he touched my hair and then dropped his hand and moved away from me to put the cigar back in his mouth. I stayed in the same position, feeling that my heart cannot take it anymore.
A howl spread across the silence. I raised my head up rapidly, wondering what the heck the wolves were doing on the island until I heard a loud laugh that sounded right after that. Damned Tony howled again and Shane joined him. Dylan yelled something and the whole trio burst into a laugh again. Wherever they went in the morning, they were coming back, apparently in great moods.
The man rolled his eyes and stood up.
"We'll finish later," he mumbled and headed towards the chalet, leaving me alone on the terrace.
I had the feeling that he just made an excuse to escape our conversation which he so wanted to have with me. I felt horrible because, the fact that he was as emotional as I, gave me some kind of comfort.
I wanted to know the continuation of the story right now but I decided to be patient as I had too much new information to process anyway. I lied on my sunbed, grabbed my phone and dug out the picture of my mom from the gallery, trying to match her image to the woman from my father's story.
Looking at her wide smile, I could just shake my head with disbelief.