Ryan pulled me closer and sighed, a warm sleepy sound that gave me wanton shivers. Probably the best part of marriage, besides the whole security/being with the one you love forever thing, was feeling his lean, sexy, naked body snuggled up against mine every night and waking up to that same lean, sexy, naked body in the morning.
It had been two months, and I still wasn’t done marveling over the fact he was mine forever. It was quite easy to be appreciative of him, all dark hair, brooding bedroom eyes, the smile that made me tingle, the easy way he had with Benjie, his son and my new step-son. In short, marriage was quite a wonderful thing, and I was glad I had gotten over my insecurities and abandonment issues long enough to say “I do.”
He nibbled my ear and I groaned a little, thrusting my bottom back into his lap, snuggling myself as close to him as I could. He murmured, “Good morning, beautiful,” and moved his mouth down to my neck. His fingers made delicious circles on my stomach and I sighed. Yes, life was good.
I was tempted to stay in bed with my new husband and take advantage of him, but I suddenly remembered that today was a special day. My eyes snapped open and I was instantly awake. The anticipation hurtling through my body was stronger than coffee, and unfortunately, more of a distraction than my husband’s lips on my skin. I pulled away from Ryan quickly, leaping up before we got too carried away.
“Hey, where are you going?” he protested in a husky, sleepy voice, frowning and reaching for me.
I skirted away and said, “It’s today, remember?”
“Catie, your mom said she’d call you at noon. It’s eight. We have four hours to kill.”
“I know, but I don’t want to sound like I just woke up. What if she thinks I’m a bum who stays in bed all day and decides that she doesn’t want a daughter who’s a lazy bum, and—“
He grabbed my hand, pulled me down on the bed and claimed my mouth in a smoldering kiss that almost made me forget to panic. “Catie, stop it. She’s going to love you. Quit freaking out, ok?”
Yes, I was freaking out. After all, it’s not every day you speak with your mother on the phone for the first time.
My first contact with my birth mother, Maria DiCarlo, was on my wedding day. My wonderful sensei and father-figure, Isamu Takeru, had located her and told her all about me. She wrote me a letter Isamu delivered to me right before we said our vows. I was thrilled and scared all at once, and had I not had other things to worry about, such as not tripping down the aisle and keeping my best friend Kelly from running off with any of the groomsmen before the reception, I think I would have really have had a meltdown. My mother!
It had been weird enough to hear from my now-estranged Gran that I was adopted, and I’d barely wrapped my head around that when Maria re-entered my life.
After the wedding, I wanted to call her, I really did, but the old insecurities I thought I had buried got the best of me. It was frightening to me to even consider contacting my birth mother. It turned out that I was not as forgiving a person as I thought I was.
Really, I was bothered by the fact that she had gotten rid of me in the first place. A lot of adoptees can rationalize that their birth parents only wanted what was best for them, wanted them to have a better life than what they could provide and gave us the best chance they could. But when it all comes down to it, we were abandoned. I honestly wondered if I had always known that my adoptive parents, Shelly and Keith, weren’t really mine. Perhaps that’s where the abandonment issue started, even before they died in a plane crash.
Whatever it was, it was deep-rooted and hard to come to grips with.
Ever since learning of her existence, I thought about Maria constantly. I carried her picture in my wallet and took it out to study it whenever I could. Her eyes were the same violet color as mine; her hair was the same dark brown with natural waves. The laugh lines on either side of her mouth bracketed her wide, even, happy smile. Fast-forward the clock twenty or so years, and that was how I’d look.
I guess I was a little hurt that she could be smiling in that picture. Those faint little laugh lines proved she’d spent a lot of time laughing when her little girl was miles away crying for the parents she’d lost, the parent she never even knew she had.
I knew nothing of my father, and the emails Maria and I had been exchanging over the past month carefully excluded any mention of him. I wondered about that, but didn’t dare to ask. Having a mother again was like a gift, and although I still harbored some resentment toward her, I didn’t dare do anything that might forfeit that gift.
Today was the day we’d picked to reach out and speak to each other. As soon as I thought about our upcoming phone call, my stomach clenched once and eased. I was terrified and elated at once. It was a weird sensation, like my insides were being drenched in hot and cold water in turns. If I had to face this myself, it was a sure bet that I’d be reduced to a quivering heap on the floor. But miracles do happen, and finally, I didn’t have to face this momentous occasion alone. Ryan would be here for me. He’d always be here for me, which was still something I was having trouble believing. It seemed too good to be true. Yet, here he was and as he constantly told me, here he’d stay.
I had to remind myself of this several times as I disentangled myself from his warm embrace and hopped in the shower. I washed my hair, reminding myself that my mother had the same wavy locks and wondering what products she used. As I got dressed, I thought about my mother’s figure and if she was as long in the waist as I was and if she had trouble finding jeans that fit right.
No place was safe from my musings, countless questions bouncing around inside my head and rendering me practically useless for anything productive. Did she walk like me? Talk like me? Was she as tone-deaf as I was? Did that stop her from singing in the shower?
The questions continued as I made my way to the kitchen to make some breakfast I’d probably be too nervous to eat. Did my mother have any food allergies, or was the allergy I had to bananas from my father’s side? Did she like pasta? With a last name like DiCarlo, she had to have some sort of Italian blood in her, didn’t she?
As if these frantic musings weren’t enough to completely drive me nuts, my overwrought brain kept thinking about the father I still knew nothing about, and whether or not that would change after today.
Was it asking too much to want both of my parents back in my life? Was my father even alive? Did he know I existed? And why did Maria very carefully refrain from mentioning him in any of our correspondence? I had no idea, but if I got up the nerve, I was going to ask her. After all, I had a right to know, didn’t I?
My hands shook as I wielded the butter knife on my toast. As I finished, it clattered to the counter, practically jumping out of my hand. I’m a brown belt in karate, and normally my reflexes were lightning-quick and my hands steady, but not today. I smiled ruefully. Yes, I was a nervous mess.
Ryan entered the kitchen as I was finishing up my toast. He was fresh out of the shower and the clean, masculine smell of his cologne and his freshly-scrubbed skin reached my nostrils and made my mouth water.
I smiled at him with a wicked leer and said, “Hi, handsome. Come here often?” I winked at him and he returned my grin with a wolfish one of his own.
“Every day. What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” He stepped to my side and wrapped his strong arms around my waist, nibbling my neck and sending sexy chills racing up my spine.
“I live here, remember?” I said, moaning a bit as his teeth lightly grazed my ear.
“Oh, yeah. That’s why my grocery bill’s so high.”
“Ha ha. You eat more than I do,” I reminded him as he turned from me and poured himself a mammoth bowl of cereal, topping it with about a pound of sugar and a gallon or so of milk. “Hungry this morning?”
“Yep. Making love to my wife every night burns up a lot of calories.”
“That just means we’re doing it right,” I told him with a smirk.
“Damn straight. Benjie still asleep?”
“You wanna go burn some more calories?” he asked with a wolfish grin.
I smiled back at him, momentarily tempted, but shook my head. “No. Don’t distract me. I’ve got to be on top of my game today.”
“Sweetheart, she’s going to love you.”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “She got rid of me once. What’s to stop her from doing it again?”
Ryan sighed. “Honey, give her a chance. You have no idea what was going through her head when she put you up for adoption. For all we know, she could have been forced to do so under extreme pressure or some awful dramatic circumstance. Promise me you’ll give her a chance to explain before you pull out the inner crazy?”
“I will. I’m just not sure how to be with her. What if I get angry? What if I can’t control what comes out of my mouth and I insult her?"
“I’m sure she’s prepared to handle that. Think about it from her side for a minute. She’s going to talk to the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-eight years ago. Don’t you think she’s played this conversation over and over in her head about a million times? Don’t you think she’s spent the past month rehearsing what she was going to tell you and how she was going to say it?”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” I allowed. And he was. I hadn’t really stopped to consider her point of view before, being too wrapped up in my own thoughts and misgivings to realize she would probably be worried about blowing it with me.
“You always make me feel better,” I told him, walking over to him and wrapping my arms around his waist. I buried my face in his neck and inhaled deeply, cataloguing the smell of him, all musk and male and delectable cologne, for a later date. He smelled good enough to eat.
“That’s my job, Mrs. Ashford. Certified Mood-Elevator.” He kissed me deeply and backed up so his back was up against the counter. He leaned against it and pulled me with him, tipping me forward until I was reclining against the warm length of him. Being this way, all close and comfortable, was a balm to my ragged nerves.
“Ew!” A little voice piped up from behind me. Ryan released me reluctantly and I turned to face my step-son.
“Hey, Benjie, my man. How did you sleep?” I asked, ruffling his sandy curls and smiling down into his precious little face.
“Ok. Like a dog.”
I grinned. He was so funny sometimes. “Do you mean like a log?”
“Yeah, a log. What’s for breakfast?”
“You men,” I teased. “All you think about is food. How ‘bout some cereal?”
“Ok. Sugar Rings?”
I smiled. It was always Sugar Rings. “Coming right up.” I poured him a bowl and watched as he practically inhaled his food. I had no idea where the kid put it, but he finished the serving in record time and angelically asked for seconds. After he hoovered another bowl, he sprang from the table and galloped to the living room to watch cartoons.
This was another part of marriage I absolutely adored. Benjie was a great kid, and it surprised me how easy it was to love him. He wasn’t mine, and we both knew that, but I loved him like he was. I often thought about his mother, the frigid bitch Nancy, who chose marriage to a snazzy stockbroker over her only child, and pitied her. It was her loss. But she chose her path, and Ryan and I couldn’t be happier that we had the exuberant little boy with us full-time. However, loving Benjie as I did made me feel even more confused about my birth-mother. I couldn’t imagine throwing away a child, something small and sweet and totally dependent upon me. But she did, and although she ensured there was someone there who took over for her, it still bothered me.
The phone rang and I jumped and glanced at the clock. Nine-twenty. Who could be calling? Was it my mother, calling early?
“Hello?” I yelped into the phone, nerves getting the best of me.
“Daughter, you sound as though you have goldfish swimming in your stomach,” Isamu informed me with a smile in his voice.
“Sorry, sensei. I can’t settle. I’m wound up. This is it, the big day.”
“Daughter, do you remember how you used to feel at karate tournaments?”
“Yeah, like there were goldfish swimming in my stomach,” I said wryly.
“Meditate. Think positive thoughts. Visualize what your heart desires, and make it happen.”
I agreed and hung up the phone. Meditating was a great idea.
I went to the living room and sat down on the floor on the plush rug in front of the sofa. I closed my eyes and pictured the way I wanted things to go. It was a little hard to concentrate with the television blaring and some creepy cartoon character giggling madly and shouting every six seconds or so, but I managed. Ryan came up behind me and started to rub my shoulders, which served to relax me. It would be fine, I just knew it. I hoped.
I finished meditating and, refreshed, decided to do some housework. I whirled around like a madwoman with my dust rag and vacuum, using the physical activity to burn off some of the nervous energy still flowing through me, even after an hour of meditation. By eleven forty-five, the house had never looked or smelled cleaner.
At noon, the phone rang promptly, but my hand froze as I reached for it. Ryan, sensing my inner struggle, grabbed the handset neatly off the receiver and answered it.
“Hello? Yes, she’s right here, and a bit nervous, I think.” He paused, listened and chuckled.
“Yes, she has been, too. Here she is.”
I shook my head wildly. I wasn’t ready. What if I sounded like an idiot? What if she hated me? Oh God, what if I started speaking in tongues or gibberish or—
And then the phone was in my hand, and the voice on the other end was one it felt like I’d heard it a thousand times.
“Caitlin, it’s Maria. How are you, my dear?”
I collapsed into happy tears and soaked in the voice of my mother across the phone lines. All tension, all trepidation melted away, and I said something I’d dreamed about since finding out about her.
“Hi, Mom. Where’ve you been?”