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She sighed and shifted onto her side. Her family was pressuring her to stay for at least a week after the funeral, but she felt pulled back to New York—back to Mike. She worried about him; she hadn’t managed to get a hold of him since that morning. Aron understood, as did her father. They had always understood. Her aunt and uncle, on the other hand….
Her uncle had been the one to bring up the subject, with the deceptively benign question of when she was planning to return to New York.
“The day after tomorrow,” she’d responded, surprised.
“You won’t stay for the mourning period?” Her uncle’s expression had set, just slightly, and that should have warned her. But she hadn’t been looking straight at him, and so, she hadn’t seen it.
“I can’t. I’ve already used up all of my vacation days. If I stay much longer, my pay’s going to be docked.”
“You’ve lost family. Your boss doesn’t understand this?”
Truthfully, Jack probably would. But that wasn’t the only consideration. She knew her uncle well enough, though, not to bring up—
“It’s that man, isn’t it?” Benicio had demanded. “Your … Miguel?”
“Mike,” she corrected automatically.
“Are you going to marry him?”
Goaded, she’d met his eyes unflinchingly. “I would if he asked me.” And she spared a glance at her brother.
“Don’t look at me,” Aron had muttered in English—the conversation to this point had been in Spanish. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Will he ask you if you get pregnant?” Benicio demanded, and her father had barked,
“Stop it, Benny.”
“You indulge her too much,” Benicio retorted, not looking away from her. “You always have.”
Her father sighed. “I raised her to know her own mind.”
Later, after the meal and as Benicio and Terésa prepared for their stint of the vigil, her father had come to her room and knocked at the door. “Connie?”
He eased open the door and came to sit at the foot of her bed, as he had when she was a child. “Forgive Benny,” he had said, managing to confine his pleading to his eyes. “It’s the way he was raised.”
“You were raised in the same house,” she’d pointed out.
“Yes, but he’s the oldest son. It makes a difference.” He reached out and rubbed one foot as she sat, cross-legged, on the bed. “You know it does.”
She shook her head slightly, not ready to give up yet. “He complained when I got here that I never come see the family anymore … now, I remember why I don’t.”
Her father chuckled. “True. I think, if he ever saw you at work, he’d understand, but you know he’ll never come to you.”
She smiled involuntarily. “You make him sound like an eighty-year-old man, set in his ways.”
He grinned back. “Well, in some ways, he is. You know, when we were growing up, it was always presupposed that Benny would take over the vineyard … he was never given a choice, the way Carlos and I were, and it never occurred to him not to do it. He … does what he does for the family.” He sobered. “I think, sometimes, he resents it, and he resents that I didn’t raise you and Aron to be martyrs, either.”
“I thought you were a medical doctor, not a shrink,” she teased, her mood lightening.
“One has to be both, chica.”
She rearranged herself to give him a hug. “Gracias, Papa,” she whispered, and kissed his cheek before sitting back on her heels.
“De nada, chica. You understand a little more about Benny now?”
“I think so. But I’m still leaving on Sunday.”
He smiled at her. “Of course you are.” He cupped her cheek in one hand. “You take care of Mike.”
And as she lay in bed, in the dark, remembering, the tension broke within her and she began to sob into her pillow, stopping only as exhaustion settled over her.
Link to [Part 37]