Ashes to Ashes Page 39


That didn’t get me moving either, so I sat there, frozen to the seat, until Dex and Rebecca got out of the car and opened my door for me. I could tell that I if I didn’t step out on my own accord, they’d carry me.

“It’s going to be fine,” Dex said. “They’re just your parents. Appreciate them while they’re alive and not mental.”

I appraised him for a moment, thinking about how hard it must be sometimes for him, being more or less an orphan. Even his own brother, Michael, was like a mysterious stranger to him, wanting nothing to do with him, leaving Dex truly without any family. Now my parents were going to be his in-laws, whether they wanted to be or not. He had a lot riding on this as well.

I nodded. “Okay.”

The three of went up to the door, me in front, Rebecca and Dex to my side and slightly behind. I lifted my finger to ring the doorbell.

And the door flew open before I even had the chance.

It was my dad, looking as he always did with his round face, strong Italian nose, and rectangular reading glasses that he had to constantly adjust. Unlike his brother, he looked like he’d lost weight. He also looked really happy to see me.

“Perry!” he cried out, bringing me into a big hug. “It’s so good to see you, pumpkin.” He held me so tight that my own boobs were choking me. When he pulled back he stroked my face with his warm hand and gave me a squinty-eyed smile. “You’re looking beautiful.”

It’s not that my dad never paid me compliments before because he was always the more vocal, warmer parent. But for some reason, it was surprising me now. Maybe I was actually believing it this time.

His eyes darted over to Dex and Rebecca behind me, and I could see from the way he was moving his jaw that he wasn’t happy to see Dex, and Rebecca was throwing him for a loop. He addressed her first. “Hello, I’m Perry’s father.”

Rebecca smiled like a pin-up girl and gave his hand a hearty shake. She had dressed in a form-fitting grey retro skirt suit, complete with an hourglass inducing belt and kitten heels. I had wondered that morning why she was looking so professional, but now I was appreciating it—it made her look like the mature one, and one out of three wasn’t bad.

“I’m Rebecca.” She cocked her head at Dex. “And I believe you know Mr. Foray here.”

A smile twitched on my lips. Somehow my dad had to be more polite now that Rebecca was doing the introduction.

“Yes of course,” my dad said in a tight voice, offering his hand as he stared Dex down.

Dex stared right back with a stupid grin on his face and did the two-handed shake. This was like Uncle Al all over again, yet Dex seemed a million times more confident. I guess because he knew I was stuck with him now and so were they. “Mr. Palomino. Or can I call you Daniel?”

My dad’s smile froze momentarily. “You can call me Daniel,” he allowed.

“How about—“

“Dex!” I said sharply, afraid he was going to say something else that started with Da.

“Daniel,” I heard my mother’s voice from inside the house. “Stop standing out there and bring them inside.”

Oh boy. My mother. I took in a deep breath and stepped through the doorway.

My mother was standing in the middle of the hall, looking as if she was having the same anxiety attack that I was. Though she looked put together as always with a jeweled tunic and white capri pants, her gaudy bracelets jangled on her wrists because she kept nervously flapping them by her side. When did my mom turn into Lucille Bluth?

“Perry,” she said, once she saw me. She gave me the once over. And here it came, the look of disappointment, the remark about me gaining weight. Only she snapped her lips shut and forced a stiff smile on them. I wondered if my dad had said something to her about being nice. “Your face looks very pretty. New makeup?”

It was more about what she wasn’t saying than what she was saying, but I’d take it.

“New eye shadow,” I lied to her and she gave me a quick hug. She’d lost weight too and I could feel the bones in her back.

“Looks lovely,” she said, as she inspected me closer, her strangely tired eyes going from my hair to my chin, to my shirt, to my arm, to my hand…and suddenly her eyes were light blue discs bulging out of their sockets. Realization was setting in. She looked up at me in some sort of shock or horror or I don’t know what.

“What is this?” she asked as she picked up my left hand. She stared at the ring dumbfounded then looked to me for an explanation.

“I have some news,” I said, trying to pretend this was all totally awesome.

She eyed my dad, still not acknowledging either Dex or Rebecca behind him. “Did you see this?”

My dad furrowed his brow and walked over. His mouth dropped once he saw the shiny piece of jewelry. “When did this happen? And to whom?”

I let out a small snort. My god, were they ever in denial about whom their daughter had been living with for the last two months. I stuck my thumb in Dex’s direction. “That man, of course.”

And here came the real horror. My mom and dad looked over at Dex who gave them a small wave. “Mom,” he said with a crisp nod. “Dad.”

That set them off, both of them battering me with questions and ridiculous statements.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“You’re too young to get married!”

“This has to be a joke.”

“You’re wasting your life, Perry.”

“You don’t know him at all.”

“Is that a tattoo?”

“I hope you said you’d think about it.”

“Why do you have a tattoo?”

“This is ridiculous.”

“An anchor, what are you, a sailor?”

“You better give that ring right back.”

“Did Alberto know about this?”

“This guy asked you to marry him and you said yes?”

I folded my arms, ignoring them until they were done.

“He asked me to marry him yesterday,” I said sternly. “I said yes. I love him. End of story.”

My mom gave me a wave of disgust. “Love,” she scoffed, “you’re too young to know what that is, let alone get married.”

My father turned to Dex who was still standing beside Rebecca and taking their comments in stride. “Didn’t you know that it’s customary to ask the father’s permission before you propose to his daughter?”

“Well, I thought about it,” Dex said slowly. “But I figured you’d say no.”

“Damn right I’d say no!” he yelled at him, his face starting to go red. I really hoped this didn’t start a major argument because as sharp-tongued as Dex was, my dad’s temper was worse.

“Hey, dad,” I said, pointing at him. “This little reaction right here? Maybe that’s the reason I don’t live here anymore.”

“Oh, where did we go wrong?” my mom cried out dramatically. She turned away and started shuffling to the living room, probably to get the wine out. “It’s our fault, Daniel,” she muttered hopelessly as she went. “We pushed her away.”

Well, she wasn’t entirely wrong about that. I looked at my dad who wasn’t too happy about me talking back to him. But you know what, fuck that. I just watched Dex—my fiancé—get verbally slaughtered by my parents and he just stood there, taking it and not backing down. I wasn’t going to back down either.

“I’m sorry if you think I’ve made a mistake,” I told him. “I’m sorry if you think he’s not good enough for me or maybe I’m not good enough for him, or we’re just not good enough for you. I’m sorry I moved out, and that I’m, once again, not living the life you wanted me to. I’m sorry I’m just a big disappointment to you and I’m making all the wrong choices. I’m sorry…actually, you know what, Dad, I’m not sorry about any of that.”

His eyes grew larger behind his glasses.

I went on, pointing behind me at Dex. “I love that man and that man loves me. He loves me for who I am, no matter what I look like, what I do, how I act. He loves me and he understands me, and whatever he doesn’t understand, he tries damn hard to. You and mom can disapprove of him all you want, and you can disapprove of me all you want, but I really don’t give a shit anymore. I’m done trying to please you, to make you love me, to make you proud of me. I don’t need any of that anymore because that man over there gives that to me and he gives it freely. I’m happy, okay, and once the two of you realize that, maybe the happier you will be. Because you’re both looking pretty damn miserable with your lives.”

I was breathless by the time I finished my speech, breathless and feeling high, and it was punctuated by the sound of breaking glass.

I turned my head to see my mother standing in the hall, a wine bottle smashed at her feet. Droplets of it had splattered on her pants, looking like blood.

“Oh,” she said distantly, looking down at the floor in slow motion. “It’s okay, I’ll clean it up.”

Suddenly Rebecca was jogging down the hall to help my mother, leading her into the kitchen. Whatever I said had just stung the hell out of her.

Good.

I looked back at my dad who was totally acting like my mom didn’t just drop a whole bottle of wine. He was speechless. This was a first for him.

I felt Dex come up behind me, resting his hand on my shoulder as Rebecca came out of the kitchen with paper towels and started wiping up the floor.

“Mr. Palomino,” he said, reverting back to being formal. “I love your daughter. I promise I’ll keep loving her for as long as we’re together. I know she’s important to you, I know she’s precious. And I know she can be a pain in the ass. But I just want you to know that I have her best interests—and your best interests—at heart.”

My father slowly nodded, eyeing the both of us like he was unsure what we were going to say or do next. Having my father be afraid of me wasn’t a new thing, but this time it felt good. I felt like he was respecting me. I felt like I got some power back.

He cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders. He gave us a smile that might have been forced, but it was still there and that’s what counted. “Well, I hope you both like roast. It’s been in the slow cooker all day.”

Then he turned and walked over to Rebecca, helping her clean up the floor.

I looked up at Dex and twisted my lips as if to say, well that’s that.

He smiled warmly at me as if he were proud as fuck and kissed my forehead. That was that.

***

After the altercation, the rest of the evening went smoothly. Ada came home right after school and she burst into tears the minute she saw me, mascara running down her cheeks.

“You should have worn waterproof,” I said to her as I held her in a tight hug and she sobbed into my shoulder.

“I tried a new brand,” she said, pulling out a monogrammed handkerchief that was probably by some hip designer and dotted her cheeks with it. “It was too clumpy,” she sobbed.

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