Matias walked into the front door and frowned. And waited. After a few minutes, he sighed and checked his watch – it was taking longer than usual. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and in she came, running towards him. A small ball of energy on short pudgy legs with flailing arms, a mop of blonde hair for once not under a blue hat and – most disturbingly – a round face with the same shade of green eyes as him.
Stephanie was another of Eva’s impulsive decisions, the ones she never discussed with him. He’d come home one day to find a toddler tumbling around his home. He’d known instantly who she was, he’d seen pictures of her in Glasgow’s home.
When Eva told him the story of how the mother had just left her there, he knew they wouldn’t turn her away. That was never even an option but damn it, two of his children? He had to raise two of Glasgow’s kids but he couldn’t have one – just one – of his own?
Matt took a deep breath and lifted up the now squirming child. He could admit that it wasn’t the little girl he was upset with, it was Glasgow. It was with the universe for giving them hope and taking it away. Tony and Riley were having two kids!
Sighing again, he slammed those thoughts into a metal box in his mind and shoved it to the back of his brain. This would be the last time he thought about it. He had Eva and Al and now – he looked down at the clingy thing in his arms – and now he had Steph.
Eva walked into the room looking harried, “Sorry about that, I had to change her clothes. She made a mess playing with the mud outside.”
She smiled at him, a loving but strained smile. That was her standard look lately. He didn’t know if it was stress from Stephanie, the wedding or him. And to be fair, it was probably him. He hadn’t been his best self lately.
“That’s alright.” He sniffed at the child’s hair. “She smells good.”
That was so weak, you idiot. Matt chastised himself. He didn’t know what to say. Three months in and they still hadn’t really spoken – not after he blew up at her. “Eva…”
“I’m going to make some dinner, would you mind looking after her for a while?” She half turned, already trying to end the conversation.
“Sure. Sure.” He took Stephanie upstairs, as far away from Eva as he could get.
Eva stared down at the two of them, Stephanie sucking on her thumb in her sleep, and sighed. She didn’t know what to do. Matt clearly adored – okay, maybe that was pushing it – he liked the toddler well enough. But was it enough? Had she done the right thing?
They had a court appointment in a month to find out if they’d be allowed to adopt Steph and it was important that Matt be on board.
Eva leaned down to pick up Stephanie, trying not to wake Matt but the moment she touched them, two sets of eyes flew open. So much for stealth. “Hey,” she whispered.
Matt said nothing but loosened his grip on the child. She watched him watch her as she picked up the limp toddler. They weren’t on speaking terms, not really, not after the words they’d exchanged three months ago.
“What’s going on, Eva?”
“Stephanie is going to stay with us from now on.” She turned away, grabbing some items from the fridge to start dinner. Tony had gone with Al to the movies, knowing that Eva wanted to talk to Matt alone. As soon as they had left, she’d gone upstairs and brought Stephanie down to Matt. “Her mother doesn’t want her, Matt. What was I supposed to do? She’s Al’s sister.”
Behind her, Matt was a towering wall of boiling rage. She could feel it all the way down in her bones. And although he was silent, his thoughts…The longer it took for him to actually say something, the more she worried. Matt wasn’t a talker but he didn’t hold on to anger, either. He was a fair man and always listened to her side of an argument but he was never shy to express himself.
This silent seething unnerved her. Eventually, she turned around to say something, only to find him gone. She could have sworn he was still in the room but realized his anger was so great it was like a presence of its own.
She ran up the stairs, into their bedroom and stopped up short.
“What are you doing?” She asked when she saw him.
He was just sitting down on the chest at the foot of the bed. She didn’t know why it was shocking, perhaps because with the kind of anger he was projecting she expected there to be some physical evidence of it. Instead, he looked like he was simply thinking.
“You know Eva, I never thought I’d say this about you, but you can be real bitch. You are a cruel, heartless woman and if I didn’t love you and Alistair as much as I do, I’d leave.” He turned to stare at her then. “A part of me still wants to regardless and I think I’m going to struggle with that for a long time.”
“Of all the children to randomly pick up and bring into our home, you chose his child? The man who abused you, abandoned you while you carried his child, caused the death of my son!” He paused to take a deep breath and she heard the despair along with the anger in his voice. “Why? Why would you do something like that?”
She had no words. No answer that could make this easier for him so she just shook her head. He was up and in front of her in seconds, shaking her. “I want an answer, dammit! I want to know why! What is it about that man that makes him worthy of having children? What the fuck is so great about Glasgow that he got to be the father of your son? Alistair should have been mine! And now you want me to raise another one of his kids? When will enough be enough? Do I have to bleed before you’ll be satisfied? Because I am…” Matt let go and stumbled back. “Dear God, Eva, my heart is fucking bleeding…”
Eva stood rooted to the floor, shocked to the core. She watched as Matt stumbled back down on the chest and started to cry. He placed his head in his hands and sobbed and still she just stood there.
It wasn’t until she heard him whisper her name, a soft sound of supplication, that she thawed enough to trip over to him. Falling to the floor in front of him, she knelt and wrapped herself around him. He sat tense for a minute before pressing into her, crying.
All she could do was smooth her numb, cold hand down his back and make soothing noises.
Goddess, what had she done?
Eva snapped out of her thoughts to find Matt standing in front of her. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I said, is dinner ready? Do you want me to bring Steph down or put her to bed?”
“Oh, I think she’ll probably just take a bottle. She must be exhausted after all that mud-slinging today.” Matt nodded and reached out for Steph but Eva pulled back. “No, I got it. Go get some food.”
He looked at Steph and nodded before turning away and heading down. He knew what she’d been thinking, she could see it in his eyes, feel it in her heart. In the last three months, they’d avoided each other, barely making eye contact, barely speaking. He was ashamed of his display of emotion, angry at her, sad and lost but unable to find comfort in her – the object of his pain; and those feelings of turmoil was always topmost in his thoughts.
But she wasn’t ready to discuss it. Matt was right; she was a cruel bitch because even after all the things he said, she would not give up Stephanie. Eva looked at the little girl in her arms. This child belonged to her and she was going to keep her.
Eva watched as her Frappuccino poured out of the maker before looking up at her friend, Melody. “I’m so nervous, I don’t think -”
“No,” Mel cut her off. “I don’t want to hear any negativity from you. It will be fine. The woman practically tossed her child at you and then got the hell out of town. If the judge doesn’t see that you’re the best thing for that little girl then she’s stupid.”
Eva smiled at her friend. “Thanks Mel.”
They walked over to some chairs and sat down. Mel was doing some artwork for the summer festival and Eva had met her there to catch up. She rarely had time for her friends anymore and it felt good to talk to someone about her issues. About Matt.
Mel shrugged as they sat down and took a sip of her coffee. “I’m just stating facts. Now, how’s Kieran?” She hated Alistair’s first name and only called him by his middle name. Now Al asked everyone to call him by his middle name. Ungrateful little…
“He’s fine, growing like a weed. Stubborn as one too.” Eva frowned at her friend, “Stephanie is almost four, Mel. How could I not know that Al had a sister? How could Al keep that from me?”
“You’re assuming he knew.” Mel pointed out.
Eva scoffed. “Of course he knew! He never breathed a word. So now I’m blindsided, have a small child to look after, and a wedding to plan. It’s too much!”
“Now I’m assuming you haven’t spoken to him about this yet?” Mel raised an eyebrow.
“He’s ten years old. I can’t be upset with him because he didn’t tell me his father’s personal business. Not after I asked him not talk to Glasgow about mine.” She sighed. “I’m just – concerned, that’s all. He never said a word, Mel. Most kids, they complain about their siblings, tell stories. Al never even mentioned her name.”
“Do they get along now?”
“I – I think so. It’s only been a few months but, I think so…” Mel didn’t say anything but when Eva frowned, she offered a smile. “I feel wiped out.” Eva pouted and Mel laughed.
“What about Mr. King, how’s he doing?”
Eva’s fake pout turned into a real frown. “I don’t know. He’s okay, I guess.”
Mel put down her drink and leaned forward. “What do you mean, ‘you guess?’ You’re about to marry the guy but you don’t know how he’s doing? What’s wrong, Eva?”
“It’s Matt. He – he’s different. Ever since Steph – ”
Mel snorted. “Well, that’s no surprise.”
“What do you mean?” Eva asked her friend, shocked. Was she the only one surprised at Matt’s reaction?
“Eva, you are about to adopt another man’s child. And not just any man but your ex-fiance.” Mel raised an eyebrow. “The man who is also the father of your other child. I’d be surprised if Matias wasn’t upset!”
“But he’s not just upset, he’s angry – all the time and -”
Mel cut her off. “Has he hurt you?”
“What? No, nothing like that. He’s good to me and the kids. It’s just…he’s hurting. And sometimes I wonder if maybe I’ve pushed him too far.” Eva placed her hands on her lap and looked down. “But Mel, I won’t give her up. I can’t!”
Melody sighed. “You should talk to him. You can’t expect him to be okay with every decision you make but you two are about to commit the rest of your lives to each other. Talking should be a priority. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.”
“You’re saying you want to raise a child that isn’t yours?” The judge looked at Eva in askance. It was their day in court, and Judge Mary Klein would decide whether she would give custody of Stephanie to Eva and Matt. “The mother is willing to give up all rights…” The judge looked through some papers on her desk. “Ah, yes. She sent in a Statement of No Contest.”
“Stephanie is my son’s half-sister. It wouldn’t be a burden at all,” Eva was quick to assure the judge.
Judge Klein looked down at her paperwork again. “You and Matias King want to fully adopt Stephanie Zenteri. That gentleman sitting behind you is Mr. King, I presume?”
“Yes, Your Honor. I am.” Matt stood up and addressed the judge.
“And you are willing to adopt this child, who – from what I gather – has no relation to you at all?”
Matias saw Eva staring at him, her back momentarily to the judge. Her eyes were pleading. He looked back at Judge Klein. “I’d like to adopt both children, if I may.”
A small gasp escaped Eva’s lips but Matt ignored her. She did a short bounce from one leg to the other, signaling her excitement.
“Hmmm,” the judge said.
“I can’t believe it.”
Eva turned to look at him. “She’s ours.”
“She is.” Matt glanced at his side mirror before turning onto their street.
“Al’s ours, too.”
“Yup,” Matt said again.
“Are you happy?”
He glanced at Eva and looked back at the road. “Yes.”
She was quiet after that and he was glad for it. He didn’t want to talk, he didn’t want to hear her talk, he just wanted to go home. Maybe he’d take a bath and relax. He felt exhausted.
“Matt, where are we going?”
He’d almost forgotten she was there. “What? We’re going home.”
She gave him a puzzled look. “You just passed the house, Matt.”
Frowning, he realized she was right. They were now three blocks past their home. Making a broken U-turn, he drove back to the house.
Once they got in, he sat down on the couch and turned the TV on. Eva sat down next to him and watched him carefully. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Eva, leave me alone, will you? For just one damn second!” The moment the words came out, he wanted to pull them back. “I’m sor-”
She stood up and frowned. “No. It’s alright.” She started to reach out but he flinched away. He really just needed a few minutes…her hand fell back to her side and she walked away.