“It’s you! It’s really you! Gina, she answered! I can’t believe I really got you…on my fourth try even! All the way to Italy. Not that you know where that is, Gina, sweetie!”
“How’s the christening going?”
“Everybody’s here…except you.”
Regina’s guilt deepened.
“We’re all out in the backyard. It’s so hot. But you know Daddy. He had to grill. Mama’s hovering to make sure he doesn’t burn the steaks like he did last time. She keeps saying maybe you’ll meet a man in Italy. She’s still upset that you dumped Bobby. She hasn’t given up on you meeting an Italian even though we all know that’s not why you went. Don’t tell her I told you, but she made me call you. She even dialed. She wants to know if the love bug has bitten.”
Regina stared down at the extraordinarily good-looking man on the terrace and then swallowed. “Right.”
“She’ll be so disappointed. She was sure Italy would do the trick.”
Regina swallowed, her throat feeling extremely dry all of a sudden.
“Gosh, I miss you,” Susana said. “Gina asks about you every single day. When are you coming home?”
“Gina’s crying her head off. She wants you here. We all do. Especially since Daddy just said the most awful thing to her.”
“What did he say?”
“I don’t know what gets into him. I quote, ‘Now that we’ve got two new cute baby boys, we don’t need you anymore.’”
Oh! “He didn’t! Not again!”
Time whirled backward. Instantly, Regina was transported to the day when a darling, bald Susana had been brought home from the hospital in a flurry of parental excitement. Flushed with pride at being a big sister at last, three-year-old Regina had run to the baby carrier.
Her father had knelt, and she’d climbed into his lap and had thrown her arms around him.
They say you don’t remember things when you’re three, but they’re wrong. His words had been like poisoned darts wounding her soul.
Now that I’ve got a new, cute daughter, I don’t need you anymore.
Regina had backed away from him, and he’d picked up Susana.
“Why don’t we sing ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’?”
Regina had raced to her own room and had hidden in her closet. Ever since, she’d been jealous of her sister and had doubted her father’s love. Instead of abating with maturity, her dark feelings had grown more intense since Susana had married Joe and had given birth to her precious trio.
Her father didn’t care about any of Regina’s accomplishments. All he could talk about was Susana and the grandchildren. Not that Regina wasn’t smitten by the children herself. Not that she didn’t hate herself sometimes for feeling the way she did.
The green monster, especially when it involved a sister, had to be one of the most hatefully twisted feelings ever.
“Put Gina on,” Regina whispered, biting her lips.
Gina’s racking sobs got so loud Regina had to hold the phone away from her ear.
The poor, poor darling.
“Gina. It’s Aunt Reggie. Listen to me, sweetheart. Papaw loves you. He was just teasing.”
“I hate the baby brothers!”
Regina remembered all the times she’d felt as though she’d hated Susana just for being cute and petite and blond and adored, when Regina had been beanpole skinny in middle school. Not to mention flat-chested and too tall for all the boys.
“No, you’re a good big sister. You love your little brothers. Dino and David need a good big sister. Papaw is being a bad Papaw! He does that sometimes. Everybody has a weak moment once in a while.”
“You’re beautiful and adorable! Everybody loves you, darling. Especially me.”
“And Pawpa,” Regina said, even though she’d always secretly believed that once Susana had been born, he hadn’t really needed his oldest daughter anymore.
“I love you, Aunt Reggie! Chocolate cake! Bye!”
“They’re about to cut the cake,” Susana said. “She’s just like you when it comes to chocolate. Just like you in so many ways.”
“You know I’m her biggest fan.”
“I’m just glad I caught you.”
“Me, too. Kiss all your darling children for me. I’ve missed them so much. I’ve bought two suitcases full of clothes and toys for them.”
“Joe says hi.”
Joe. Regina chewed on her bottom lip. What if Joe had married her? And she’d had children?