I glance up at Z, and he gives me an infectious smile.
“Anyway, let’s get you two inside. I’m sure you’re over being on the road after making that trip,” his dad tells us, and we follow them up the porch steps.
“It really wasn’t bad, since we split the trip in half last night,” Z informs, and my eyes widen as I shake my head at him. He’s not going to tell them about Club Alias, is he? He gives me a wicked grin like that’s exactly what he’s going to do, but to my relief, he only explains, “We stopped next to Ft. Vanter to see an old buddy of mine. Got some good sleep at a hotel last night before finishing up the trip.”
“Ah, how nice. Anyone we know?” his mom asks.
“Corbin Lowe. He was in the Army while I was in the Navy. I got to train with him for a few months back in the day. Good guy.” We walk into the kitchen, and he pulls a stool out at the island for me to sit at. I’ve been sitting for almost three hours now though, so I just prop my foot up on one of the rungs. “Are those what I think they are, Ma?”
I follow his gaze to the rack of cookies cooling in the center of the island.
“If you think they’re you’re favorite chocolate chunk and pecan cookies, then you are most certainly correct. But I just pulled them out, so you need to wait so you don’t burn—”
But it was too late. Z already snatched up one of the cookies in his big hand, tossing some that fell apart into his mouth, making garbled noises and breathing in and out trying to cool the hot treat.
“Hardhead,” his mom and I say in unison, and after a startled glance between us, we both burst into laughter.
“Well… there we have it,” his dad inserts.
“Wha?” Z asks, his mouth full but open as he continues to eat the blistering cookie.
“They say a man unconsciously tries to find a woman who reminds them of their mother. And the same with a woman and her father,” he explains, and I let out a snort by accident.
When they look at me, I try to smile, but it feels more like a grimace. “I think I consciously looked for someone who was the complete opposite of my father. Let’s just say I wasn’t a daddy’s girl.”
“Aw, honey. Eleazar was telling us about your parents. But you wanna know a secret?” His mom looks at me soothingly but without pity, and then glances at Z, as if asking for permission. At his nod, she continues. “Biologically, we are not Z’s parents. We adopted him when he was ten.”
My face shows pure shock, and the three other people in the room chuckle. “But you look so much alike!”
“That’s because they adopted me from Ma’s sister. Crazy, truly messed up situation back in Spain. But that’s a story for another day. Who I call my parents—” He gestures to the couple smiling warmly at me. “—had tried for years to have a baby, with no luck. When I was about to be sent into foster care because of my biological mother and father, Ma and Pop saw it as the perfect opportunity to finally add to their family.”
I nod, something in his eyes causing me to reach out and take Z’s hand in mine. “It’s why I’ve always understood your fucked up relationship with your parents. Because that’s all I knew for the first decade of my life. The coldness. The feeling of being unloved, unworthy. It was terrible. But then I was adopted by who was truly meant to be my parents. And that’s why I told you I’d bring you here, to show you how parents should treat their child. Because I knew both sides of it—how it’s not supposed to be, and exactly what a family should be like.”
“But no fear, Kayan!” she exclaims. “You have us now too. I will gladly be your doting, loving stand-in mom. We’ll exchange numbers before you leave, and you can call me whenever you want.”
“Don’t do it,” Z stage-whispers, and I glance at him with wide eyes. “Once you get on the phone with her, you can’t escape. The woman loves to talk about anything and everything, or nothing at all.”
Next thing I see is an oven mitt connecting with my handsome hulk’s face, and I turn to look at his smirking mother. “Nice shot,” I tell her, and she gives me a single nod before narrowing her eyes on Z.
“I resent that. First, my only child leaves me to join the Navy and travel all over the world as soon as he turns eighteen, and then he settles states away when he gets out of the military. What’s a mom to do? You bet your ass I’m gonna make you talk to me on the phone as much as possible,” she tells him, her Spanish accent thickening the more she spoke, but she never slipped out of English.