Chapter 2

1790 Words
Come 5:30pm I am wracked with nerves. Dinner is ready, the table is set. I am desperately trying to maintain a positive attitude. When the doorbell rings, 5 times in rapid succession, I gasp involuntarily and scrunch my eyes shut. . Here we go… . When I open my eyes, Mom is already opening the door. Two squealing bundles of energy fling themselves at her. “Nana!” they cry in unison. She wraps her arms around them and rocks them side to side in a giant hug. “My babies,” she wails. There is so much love in her eyes. I’d never seen her with her grandchildren. I am flooded with a curious mixture of shock, admiration, and … jealousy. Where was that unconditional love when I needed it? . Snap out of it Ayla. . “This is your aunt Ayla.” My Moms’ voice snaps me back to reality. I slap a giant smile on my face. “Hi” I greet my niece and nephew for the first time in their lives. They both run at me and throw their little arms around my waist. I gasp, mostly in surprise, but also from the pain. My body is still tender with bruises. These squishy little kids are gorgeous and super friendly. It's unexpected. I thought for sure Sarah would have poisoned them against me. My heart swells with love for these tiny people grinning up at me without judgment. “Aunt Ayla, why are you crying?” Asks Ashton. “I’m just so happy to meet you finally.” I hadn’t realized it, but a couple of stray tears had slid down my cheeks and I am grinning like a lunatic. I really needed this hug. “Hey kiddos, don’t break her.” I hear my brother's deep voice. He rubs both their heads. The twins giggle and bolt from the room. “It was fine.” I smile at my brother. “Hey, Ayla.” He says collecting me an awkward, but gentle, side hug. He was 25 last I saw him. The only real sign he’d aged were the few light laugh lines. He’d filled out a bit. He wasn’t fat by any means, just bigger, somehow gruffer-looking maybe, more manly, but it suited him and he seemed more settled. “Hi” I squeak. Hearing the door close and the muffled greetings between my mom and Sarah, I glance toward them. Sarah briefly looks at me, then walks past me without a word, carrying their youngest daughter with her. Well, I’d expected outright hostility, ignoring me is better I guess. The little girl, Macy, smiles shyly and waves at me. Her sparse soft blond hair floats with each step as they walk by. I follow my Mom and brother to the living room. The big kids were already playing some electronic game I didn’t recognize. Sarah watched them with fake interest, actively ignoring me. The toddler had found a bucket of blocks to entertain herself. “What game are you playing?” I ask, plopping my butt on the floor between the twins. My bruised side protects but I ignore it. They both launch into explanations at once. I laugh. “Whoa kiddos, that’s a lot of information for me to take in all at once. Talk to me like I’m old and know nothing about video games.” They bust out laughing. Instantly, Ashton shoves his controller in my hand and starts walking me through the game. It seems like a pointless game to me but these kids clearly love it. They tell me about all their favorite skins and mods. I learn that means they can change what their characters looked like and add changes to their game world. Too much information, it's not really sinking in, but I do my best to keep up. Ashton and Alexandria, both seven, are fraternal twins. They look nothing alike. Ashton is Daniel’s mini-me. He has black hair and deep ocean-blue eyes. Alex has the same blue eyes but her hair is auburn. My fathers’ red and her fathers’ black hair mashed together I guess. Macy looks like her mother, only sweeter. Where Sarah’s hair was a golden blond, Macy’s was an almost white, platinum blond and so fine. In the sunlight when she walked in it almost glowed. Macy and Sarah have the same aquamarine eyes. She will be a gorgeous girl as she grows. After about 30 minutes of game tutorial and trying not to die. Macy announces that she is dying of hunger. Clutching her belly she limps across the room, groaning for emphasis. So fake, but so freaking cute. I say if they wash up we can eat. All three kids raced to the bathroom, practically bouncing of the walls along the way. Daniel and I would be been yelled at for running in the house. I guess Moms light up when they become Nanas. As I peel myself off the carpet I noticed Sarah glaring. Daniel offered a small smile. I return his smile and head to the kitchen, letting crazy Sarah's inexplicable issues roll off me. At least he is playing nice. Fingers crossed this peace lasts. It doesn’t take long to lay out all the taco/nacho bar stuff I’d prepped earlier. Seasoned ground beef, cilantro lime chicken, refried beans, rice, grilled onions and peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, taco sauce, corn chips, and tortillas. I figured everyone could make what they like with those options. Everyone loves tacos. The kids rush in, so full of energy and enthusiasm. It is infectious. Sarah however, looks miffed. “I don’t eat carbs.” She says flatly, holding out the bag of chips as if it had personally offended her. “Some of us can’t afford personal trainers.” She adds. There’s a dig. I ignore it. “I’m sure you can put together something you like, Babe.” Daniel waved his arm, indicating the clearly abundant spread on the counter. She shoots me an irritated look, “thanks, I guess.” she mutters the last bit. She doesn’t sound thankful but I smile anyway. . Cow. . What the hell is her problem? How long until my face hurts from fake smiling? I wasn’t going to be the b***h though. I’d learned how to deal with difficult people over the years. She was no worse than the drunk businessman who once asked me how much to touch my boobs after a meeting and just as crass. Adult conversation during dinner is strained but constant. It seems like everyone is trying to get along, except maybe Sarah. Thankfully the kids don’t notice any awkwardness. Bless those precious little buffers. They talk about anything and everything, non-stop. I’d never felt welcome or loved in this house but now, these three were smashing the walls I'd built around my heart. I am struggling to grasp how my brother and that woman have managed to create and raise such amazing little people. When dinner is done the kids jump up to take everyone’s plates to the sink. I am visibly floored. Sarah notices. “We don’t have staff. We had to train them to help out around the house.” Sarah sneers. You’ve nowhere else to go Ayla. Don’t take the bait. I smile at her, despite my overwhelming desire to slap her. I mean honestly, I didn't even say anything! “That’s great.” I reply, struggling to keep the mockery from my voice. “I’m just surprised, as I don’t remember either of you helping out around the house much when we were younger.” Sarah practically lived here during high school and community college after that. She and Daniel had friends coming and going all the time. It was always me that cleaned their mess, usually without too much complaint. It wouldn't have made a difference anyway. My goal was just to survive high school and get out of town as quickly as possible. The only time I kicked up a fuss was the morning I found a bunch of white powder on the patio table and a few half-smoked joints. Emma was only 5 at the time. They claimed it was caffeine powder that helped them study. Maybe it was, I really didn’t care. What I did care about with the fact that my sister could have discovered it before me. Then what would have happened? According to them I overreacted, my mother agreed that it wasn’t my business, so I never spoke up after that. I hear Sarah huff. Daniel and my mother both sigh, at the same time. Dam.n, It was not my objective to mess with their dynamics or delve into old resentments. I just wanted to get by and get on a new path with minimal waves. It’s hard not to fall into old rolls though. Sarah the bitchy girlfriend, Daniel the passive-aggressive bully, me the mild-mannered daughter who craved affection but never received it, and my mother oblivious to it all. I sigh. Here I am, messing up their perfect lives again. “Apologies,” I mutter. “You don’t know anything about us. You don’t know what we’ve been through together. You don’t know who we are now.” Sarah’s face was getting redder as her volume rose with each declaration. “You sit in your staff filled, ivory tower with your perfect husband and your perfect life and you come here to judge us, and how we raise our children!” I sit dumbstruck. Sarah’s breathing ragged as she glares at me. Daniel hugs her, shooting a disapproving look over his shoulder at me. My mother, of course, says nothing. Not that I expected her to. She’s never come to my defense before why would she start now. Naturally, I’m to blame for everything. Gods, when did I get so bitter? I take a deep breath. Rudeness is contagious after all. I speak calmly. “My ivory tower was a prison. My life was not perfect. You were right. What you said on my wedding day, I wasn’t enough for him. I couldn’t satisfy him. He’s been screwing countless tarts like you for years. In front of me, literally. And honestly, your kids are wonderful. You’ve done a great job with them.” Steadying my aching and shaking body, I rise and head to my room. Screw them all. That went about as well as I expected. I really thought I’d be able to hold my tongue though. I can negotiate with politicians and billionaires with grace but my family can reduce me to a quivering emotional mess in record time. Seriously, what is the matter with me?
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