Sleep evaded Aubrey like a criminal running away from the law. She threw herself from side to side, longing for her eyes to remain closed. It was a glorious Saturday morning, and she could linger in bed if she wanted to. Instead, she found herself downstairs watching TV just after dawn. The images before her were a blur for she couldn’t concentrate. Memories of all she learned last night danced around her head like an unrehearsed flash mob. She had to talk to Julio and see where they stood or else she’d be beside herself all day.
She turned off the TV and dialed his number. “Hey. Did I wake you?”
“Uhh…kinda, heh. What’s up?”
She winced at the grogginess in his voice even though she knew she had awakened him. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok, really. Everything all right?”
She heard him stirring a bit like he was getting out of bed and hated that she had disturbed him. “Yeah, I’m fine. I couldn’t sleep anymore.”
“Oh.” He chuckled. “I guess you talked to your dad.”
“Yeah. Do you want to get breakfast or something?”
“Sure. Where do you want to meet?”
“The Mexican Food Shack in Magnolia Promenade.”
“Ok. I’ll see you soon.”
Her parents weren’t awake yet, and she certainly didn’t want to disturb anyone else, so she got dressed and left.
Julio arrived before she did and got them a table. As soon as she sat but before she had a chance to greet him, the server appeared donning a million dollar smile ready to take their order.
“G’mornin. I’m Trey.” He had an accent like he was from the country. “What can I get for you, Miss Lady?”
His attention was odd and caught her off guard although it wasn’t unpleasant. “How’s the breakfast scramble?”
“It’s mighty fine, ma’am.”
“Ok, so, I can get that, but make sure the cheese is all the way melted. And, I like my eggs lightly scrambled. Oh, and the sausage–can you cook it at a high temperature so it’s kinda crispy on the outside–not burnt–but still nice and juicy on the inside? Oh, and I’d like orange juice, please.”
Trey chuckled. “You can have it any way you want, Miss Lady. And what about you, sir?”
“I’ll take water and grilled fruit.” He quickly glanced at Aubrey. “Uhh, grilled at a high temperature for really dark grill marks.” He winked at the server.
Trey laughed. “We’ll do just that.”
When Trey disappeared, she punched Julio in the shoulder. “Were you two making fun of me?”
“I was making fun of you. He was flirting with you.”
“No he wasn’t.”
“Trust me. He was.”
What a strange thing for him to notice. He never seemed to care about how guys behaved toward her before. Maybe it was because he was older now, and he was being protective. Yeah, that had to be it.
“I like your new look!”
He grinned. “Thanks.”
“You look so…grown.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No! It’s different for you, but it’s nice too.”
She couldn’t stop smiling. But, when thoughts of the original intent for the meeting cropped up, the smile faded. Aubrey wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but hoped for the best.
Julio must have seen the seriousness move across her face and got the discussion rolling. “So…tell me about your dad.”
As much as she wanted to tell him all about it, there was so much to recant she had no idea where to begin. “I don’t hate you.” She had no idea where that came from but was glad to get it out. “And my dad doesn’t hate you.”
He smiled and nodded.
“He, uhhhh…he said I should invite you to dinner…or something.”
“That’s good to hear.” He seemed to have trouble not smiling too. “So, tell me what you learned. I only know half of the story.”
“Have you ever heard of legacy families?”
“Vaguely. My dad used to talk about his legacy and me being his heir, but I didn’t know that was an actual thing. I’m guessing the Pruetts are a legacy family?”
“Yeah. Ten generations now.”
He seemed to have trouble swallowing.
Aubrey hesitated to continue. “Maybe you don’t need to hear this.”
Maybe knowing they didn’t hate him was enough. Learning the Pruett side of the story would only magnify his father’s wrongdoing. Julio probably already felt terrible about it. Did they need to belabor the point?
“It’s ok. I really want to know. Please, continue.”
“Fine. We used to live in this really big house in Willow Creek. All nine generations. All the heirs inherited the house and the money. And he said something about some flowers? I don’t know. Anyway, our dads grew up together. They were best friends. My mom…she had…some problems, and my dad needed to be with her. So he would call your dad to fill in for him at his restaurant. It’s in Newcrest. Things got worse for my mom, so my dad decided to step away from the restaurant for a while and let your dad run it until things got better. They went on a long vacation then. That’s when your dad…”
Trey came back to the table with their meals. “Alrighty. Here ya go, Miss Lady. Breakfast Scramble with lightly scrambled eggs and crispy sausage. And, grilled fruit for you, sir. Hope those grill marks are dark enough for ya.”
Julio attempted to smile. “It looks great, Trey. Thank you.”
“If y’all need anything, just holler.”
He winked at Aubrey and went back to work, leaving them to their awkward moment.
She couldn’t eat. This was a mistake. The goal was to make sure they were on the same page, but she made him feel worse about an already terrible situation instead.
“I’m sorry, Aubrey,” he said, finally. “I can give your dad the money back if–“
“He doesn’t want it.” She took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. “He’s a different person now, and…I don’t think there’s anything you need to do. Except…maybe–“
“Not become my dad? Yeah…I got that covered.”
Aubrey still felt bad about springing all of it on him so soon, but she was relieved that she hadn’t upset him. Perhaps, at a later date, they could discuss the details further, but for the moment she wanted to be rid of the conversation.
“How’s your mom?”
His shoulders seemed to slump slightly. “She’s getting married this weekend.”
“So soon? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s ok. You’re right though.”
There were so many questions Aubrey wanted to ask, but all of them seemed inappropriate and disrespectful.
“My butler told me she had been seeing him for a long time.”
She gasped. “Even while they were married?”
He snorted. “They were both screwing other people.”
Aubrey’s heart broke for she hadn’t realized her friend grew up in a broken home. “D-did you know?”
He sat back in the chair, chewing the bit of food in his mouth and gazing at the sky. “I don’t think I knew exactly what was going on, but I knew things weren’t right.” He blinked at his plate a few times before continuing. “I don’t remember much from when I was little, but I remember the three of us not being together a lot. Like, my parents spent time with me separately, and when we were together it was always quiet…and cold.”
“What do you think happened?”
“The butler said my mom cheated.”
“Do you believe her?”
“Yeah. My dad was a family guy. Very loyal to the family. That’s how he ended up stealing from you in the first place. I couldn’t imagine him stepping out on my mom.”
“Why do you think she did it?”
He shrugged. “She was probably bored. She’s a socialite and my dad was kind of a workaholic. Maybe she felt neglected or something. At least that’s what my butler said.”
“How does your butler know so much?”
He snorted again. “My dad was probably screwing her. This isn’t proper table conversation. How’s your eggs?”
She finally took a bite. “Ugh! It’s terrible!”
“Oh, that sucks. You want me to get Trey back over here? I’m sure he’d love to fix it for you.”
She didn’t want any part of that leathery mess and pushed her plate away. While Julio ate, she shared less depressing parts of the story. After a while, she received a text from Jonathan asking where she was. When she replied with her location and with whom accompanied her, he replied with a bunch of kissy faces.
“What’s so funny?”
“My dad is such a goofball!”
The content of his message concerned her, however. Ever since he knew anything about Julio, he had assumed they were dating in secret or something. Maya thought so too. And, admittedly, there were times she thought she wanted more out of their friendship. Now that Julio was a young adult, and she would be too shortly, she needed to ask herself and answer some hard questions. What did she want? A relationship with Julio? Was it wise?
Those were very hard questions she didn’t have the answer to, and honestly, she didn’t need them. She was still young and had other more pressing things to think about. Like her chemistry test on Monday.