Chapter Two

1857 Words
** Casa Maximiliano loomed before me in its grandeur, occupying the outskirts of New York. The one and a half hour drive to New Jersey had not eased the nerves coasting over me at the thought of meeting up with my mother. Elena Maximiliano was a force to be reckoned with and underestimating her was a mistake. I had learned, at an early age, to always be prepared when meeting her. My walls were up, my spine steeled as I reinforced my thoughts and actions. I had already donned the perfect outfit, yet another layer of armor against her scrutiny. A white sweater dress with a nude colored belt that accentuated my waist and brought out my curves all the more, I had paired it a matching long white trench coat and the pop of color that the outfit needed and what made me feel more confident than ever- The thigh-high red boots were like magic, emboldening me more. I always felt powerful in a pair of red heels, strong and prepared to face anything and anyone. Including my mother. My curly hair was in a low but elegant bun, my mother's favorite and only acceptable hairstyle for me and herself. It would help to rebuff any comments she would have over my lack of stockings under the dress. I wanted to please her, to keep her from making any astute observations that always seemed to pick at my dwindling self confidence but sometimes, my stubborn streak always reared its head. I made a promise to give her ninety percent of me. The ten percent was mine- it was the only thing that kept me sane and held my resentment back... Releasing a deep, tired sigh, I grabbed a powder mirror from my nude designer bag, checking my make-up for the last time as I prepared myself for what was to come. The black, winged eyeliner matched perfectly with the mascara that made my thick lashes longer and my hazel eyes pop all the more. I'd opted out of lipstick, choosing instead to apply a fresh layer of lip gloss over my lips. I had licked away the original layer, a nervous habit that made lip beauty products my most expensive make-up purchase. I couldn't help it. "Its okay, Gia. You've got this. Its probably not as bad as you think..." I tried to reason with myself and although the words sounded false even to me, they were enough to push me out of the car, locking it before I made my way up the marble steps and towards the grand mahogany doors that opened wide to reveal a familiar face that smiled kindly at me and eased my nerves somewhat. "Bienvenida a casa, pequeña Gia. It is good to have you home. You grow more beautiful each day!" "Thank you, Maria. Its good to see you." I responded, granting the older woman a kindly smile as she took my coat and bag before leading me deeper into the house. Maria had been a part of our home for years and had raised me. She held a special place in my heart, bringing me unbidden warmth as the happy memories floated in. She had been like a mother to me, filling part of the void deep within my heart and soul that I refused to dwell in. Instead, I focused on taking in my home, which hadn't changed much since I had last been home on Dia de los muertos. Our Spanish Styled Manor equally contained interior design that was reminiscent of our culture with colorful rugs, eccentric paintings and the grandeur of the Maximiliano family. Expensive light fixtures, marble floors and artistic sculptures were sprawled throughout the house, melding perfectly with each other. Although Mother had involved a professional interior designer to ensure the house met the right standards, Grandmother had taken the reins soon after and finished the process, infusing a homey feel to it. I gazed at the family photos lining the wall leading up the spiral staircase to the second floor, a reflection of my grandmother's touch that made the place feel like home. Although I had spent most of my teenage years in this home, my favorite place in the entire world was the Family Manor back home in Barcelona. The memories I had made there had been enough to last me a lifetime, somewhat helping to drown out the bad. I followed Maria through the hallways and into the living room where I knew my mother would be waiting for my arrival. We stopped outside the closed double doors with Maria pausing as she always did before she knocked. She understood me better than most. She had seen my mother and I's interactions. She knew that I always needed a moment to compose myself before I faced her. And it was for that reason and many more that I adored her so much. "I saw your case on TV. You did an incredible job, cariño. I am so proud of you and how far you've come. I always knew that you would go on to change the world in your own way." Maria muttered, granting me a warm smile as she brushed a hand down my cheek affectionately. I kept the tears at bay, opting instead to return her kind smile with one of my own. Her words meant more to me than she would ever know, especially considering that I rarely heard them from the woman beyond the double doors. Her affection and understanding was a balm to my mommy issues, sating my tortured soul for a moment as resolve coursed through my veins. Although I knew she had spoken the words from the heart, a part of me also understood that she knew what I needed. To feel appreciated and seen before I walked into the Lioness' den and received no sort of affection or acknowledgement. Her kindness and motherly-love were a comfort I allowed myself to indulge in as I gave her a quick hug. "Thank you, Maria...I think I'm ready now." I stated the last part as I pulled away from her, allowing her to give me a reassuring squeeze before she knocked once on the double doors. The sound of my mother's curt 'come in' was enough to send another wave of anxiety through me but I stamped the feeling down and squared my shoulders, letting the same resolve that had engulfed me to consume my thoughts and actions once more. Satisfied by my determined look no doubt, the kindly older woman pushed open the double doors to reveal the sprawling living room. High ceilings with a crystal chandelier hanging overhead, expensive paintings and a lavish dining room beyond glass sliding double doors with a table that could seat twelve, the place was just as beautiful as I remembered it. The tones were more muted here with light gray rugs, white couches that contrasted with the nude colored Victorian chairs, one of which my mother occupied as she read a book, one she placed aside as I entered. The room was warm, no doubt from the fireplace but I had a sneaking suspicion it had to do with my nerves and the way mother's gaze assessed me. "We will begin setting up the dining room for dinner. Please excuse me," Maria echoed, earning a curt nod from my mother before she fixed her attention on me. I could feel Maria's reassuring gaze on me, one I met with a small smile before proceeding further into the room to greet my mother. The doors shut gently behind me, trapping me within the room and the ever-watchful gaze of my mother before she turned her attention to the old Rolex that adorned her hand. It was the one thing about my mother that could be said was 'out of fashion'. Although still an expensive watch, it did not match her appearance and yet she always had it. It was the only sign I had that my mother was capable of sentimentality. Always elegantly dressed and in designer attire- even now in her black palazzo pants, white blouse and matching black Louboutins, she was a picture of elegance with not a strand of her brunette hair loose from her neat bun. Working hours were over and yet she still looked like the put-together CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Her make-up was refreshed with mascara, blush and nude colored lipstick that made the small mole on her upper lip pop all the more. It was a genetic marker that all the Maximiliano women seemed to share. A beauty mole that beheld an enchanting story grandmother had told me once. My reminiscing was cut short as my mother gracefully rose to her feet at my approach, granting me the familiar stiff hug and soft kiss on my cheek as she always did. The feeling of nothingness was as familiar as always once I pulled away, dulling my emotions enough not to let the awkwardness between us break my heart even more. I had learned to live with her withdrawn nature. Grandmother had promised that she had once been different but it was hard to see Elena Maximiliano as anything other than a strict business woman and even stricter mother. "You're early. Good. I'd hoped not to have to send a car down to receive you once again." Her words made me internally groan, reminding me of the one time- two years ago- that I had been late to Family Dinner. Although Grandmother had been present to ease the sting of mother's disapproval once I arrived with one of our family drivers, she had never failed to remind me of the error- a way for her to discipline me and remind me of the importance of punctuality. It had worked, though, with my wariness of her superceding any other errand I would need to run on the day that we would be required to meet. "Its good to see you too, mother." I muttered in response, taking my seat on the couch opposite her Victorian Chair that gave her somewhat of an elevated vantage point from me. I had a sneaking suspicion that she dubbed the seat her favorite because she could look down at everyone who sat in the couches and look anyone seating in the other Victorian chair directly in the eye as she liked it but sometimes, I was sure my paranoia was simply winning out. I wouldn't put it past her, though, to do something so calculated... Her gaze settled on my bare thighs that peaked through the narrow space between my dress and the thigh-high boots. I waited for the comment, steeling my spine for it and reinforcing the deepest depths of me that cracked a little more at her scrutiny but she turned away at the last minute, choosing instead to gaze down at her phone. Shell shocked and somewhat confused by her change in behavior, I watched her closely, waiting for the shoe to drop- only for it not to. At least not in the way I expected it to. ***
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