“Mama, what do you mean my uncle is really my father?!” Kendra Flannigan shrieked in the hospital waiting room. Her hazel eyes were wide with shock. Her loud voice could be heard echoing in the quiet corridors nearby. Her fair cheeks were bright red with emotion.
“Keep your voice down,” Reeka Flannigan hissed through clenched teeth, showing that feisty side of her that most people only saw in the courtroom. The esteemed New York lawyer looked anxiously at the door, hoping that all of their other relatives were long gone by now.
The hospital had been overwhelmed by Flannigan family and friends all week. They’d come to say tearful goodbyes to Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Flannigan, who was not expected to make it into next week after a bad skiing accident last Sunday. Not only did the adventuresome real estate mogul break too many bones to count, he had yet to wake up from a coma and was currently breathing with the help of a machine.
“Did you sleep with your own brother, Mama?” Kendra asked in a lower tone. She looked horrified by her own question. She was.
“Stepbrother,” Reeka amended, moving to close the waiting room door, which was something that she should have done before she began to pull skeletons out of her closet. “And we didn’t know we were about to be kin at the time you were conceived.”
Kendra touched her right hand to her forehead, as if checking for a fever. “I think I need to sit down for this.”
“You are sitting down, baby,” Reeka replied gently, turning the lock on the door for good measure. She didn’t want anyone else to hear this long overdue conversation.
Kendra looked down at herself and frowned. “I am sitting down, aren’t I? I must be losing my mind then.” She raked trembling hands through her long sandy-colored silky locks.
“You’re not losing your mind, baby. You’re just in shock, that’s all.” Reeka returned to her seat beside her twenty-one-year-old daughter, the only child she’d ever had by the only man she’d ever loved romantically.
“You better believe I’m in shock. Who wouldn’t be if they just found out that their favorite uncle was actually their father, not just the father figure they’ve known and loved all their lives,” Kendra replied, unable to remove the look of horror from her eyes. The whole thing just seemed so unreal.
“I completely understand.” Reeka patted her on the back in comfort. “Take deep breaths in, baby, to keep yourself calm while I explain everything.”
Kendra did as she was told as her mother shared how she and Kenny met during one fateful spring break in Florida. At the time, they were both seniors at different colleges, had both lost a parent within the previous five years, and both dreaded going home on holidays and school breaks. Especially since both of their surviving parents were stuck in perpetual grief that neither seemed willing to leave any time soon.
“Kenny and I didn’t know that while we were falling in love in Florida, our parents were falling in love in New York. As everyone in the family knows, Kenny’s father met my mother when she moved into one of his apartment buildings,” Reeka continued, clasping her hands together in her lap now.
Kendra nodded. She recalled the story well about how her white grandfather was instantly smitten with her black grandmother when the feisty woman stormed into his corporate real estate office one day with a petition in one hand and a bright red sleeping bag in the other. The fully signed petition was a demand for him to fix the heat in her building. The sleeping bag was for her to sleep in his warm office until he did. So impressed with her, he called the repairman that very day and invited her to dinner the next. The rest was history.
“Imagine me and Kenny’s shock when we got calls from our parents on the last day of spring break telling us that they had eloped and with whom,” Reeka said, grimacing even now at that memory.
Kendra winced just imagining how painful that unexpected news must have been to her parents. “What did you and Unc…my father do after that?” she asked, still trying to wrap her mind around all this.
“We swore each other to secrecy and agreed to end our romance out of respect for our parents’ happiness,” Reeka replied. Her own hazel eyes filled with tears as her mocha cheeks deepened in color from the painful memories she had invoked. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. But what else were we to do? Our parents were so happy and fulfilled together after years of loneliness and stark misery. Plus, Kenny and I figured that since we were so young, we would have plenty of other opportunities to find true love again.”
“But you never did, did you?” Kendra asked softly, unable to recall a single person that either parent had even thought to settle down with over the years. They had barely even dated anyone else. Now Kendra knew why.
“No, we didn’t. Some kinds of loves only come around once.” Reeka blinked back tears after a few deep breaths of her own. “Anyway, Kenny and I ended up having to tell our parents the truth eventually.”
“When you turned up pregnant with me?”
“No.” Reeka shook her head. “When you came out bearing too many Flannigan features. That sandy hair of yours was way too close to their blond locks and your coloring was way too fair to be the child of the fictional black man that I lied to everyone about. Yet it was your twelve toes that alerted your grandfather to your true paternity.”
“I was born with twelve toes?!” A wide-eyed Kendra looked down at her feet, staring intently even though they were fully enclosed in a pair of stylish black boot. Boots that her generous father gave her along with many other expensive gifts over the years.
“Yes. Along with changing my last name and yours after your birth to make us both legal Flannigans, your grandpa arranged to have your extra toes removed. That’s how you really got those scars on the sides of your feet. All blood-related Flannigans have had that same surgery, by the way.”
Kendra looked at her mother now. “All this time you had me thinking that those scars were from cyst removals. What else have you lied to me about, Mama?” She suddenly looked distrustful of her mother, whom she’d never had cause to doubt before in their extremely open and amicable relationship.
“Just things pertaining to your true paternity,” Reeka explained, looking truly remorseful. “Everything else I made sure to tell you the absolute truth about.”
“Why are you telling me all this now?” Kendra suddenly wanted to know. “Especially since this news was obviously supposed to be taken to the grave again as it was in Grandpa and Grandma’s case.”
“I decided to break my silence so that you can fulfill Kenny’s second greatest wish before he…d…died.” Reeka nearly choked on a sob at that grim reminder.
“Which is?” Kendra prompted with glossy eyes. The pain of losing a favorite uncle was one thing. But to suddenly be faced with losing a father was another.
“Your unc…father always said that no matter how many material possessions he acquires on this earth, there are only two things he ever really wanted. The first is to finally make me his wife. The second is to hear you call him Daddy just once.” Reeka’s eyes glistened with fresh emotion. “Since Kenny can never have the first thing, I thought you might give him the second thing before he dies.”
“Let’s go take care of that now,” Kendra said, springing to her feet. “I’ll call him Daddy a thousand times if I need to. Anything to soothe his soul.” She headed for the door with a determined stride.
Reeka smiled, stood up, and headed to the door as well. “Like father, like daughter,” she muttered to herself at that display of spontaneity that was so like Kenny.
* * *
In Kenny’s room, Kendra stood on one side of her father while Reeka stood on the other. He looked so frail and pale lying there. Not robust and tan as he usually was.
Bending down to his right ear, Kendra whispered, “I know all about you and Mama. I just want you to know that I’m so proud to be your daughter. Even more proud to call you Daddy. My only regret is that I didn’t know sooner. Then I could have called you Daddy after every bedtime story you read me, at every birthday party that you insisted on paying for, after you bought me my first car, and especially during last Christmas break when you came and bailed me out of jail.”
“Bailed you out of jail?!” Reeka exclaimed, having heard that last part.
Kendra looked up at her mother and grimaced. “Oops. Did I just say that?” she said, inadvertently revealing that Reeka wasn’t the only one who shared secrets with Kenny. The same Kenny that suddenly wasn’t looking quite so pale anymore.
“Yes, you did.” Reeka frowned, speaking in a much calmer tone now. “What were you in jail for?”
“DUI after partying too much in celebration of my 21st birthday. But don’t worry. Daddy scolded me enough for two parents that night. He made me promise never to drink and drive again. I took it a step further and decided to never touch another drink again. I haven’t since,” Kendra quickly explained.
“Thank God.” Reeka heaved a sigh of relief, so wrapped up in their current conversation that she didn’t see the small smile forming upon Kenny’s face.
The doctors and nurses didn’t see his smile either, but they certainly saw the signs to what would be the beginning of a miraculous recovery. Kenny’s brain activity had increased significantly when the two ladies entered his room. It was increasing in leaps and bounds with each second they lingered. His blood pressure had stabilized and he was starting to breathe on his own.
“What’s going on?” Reeka asked worriedly when she saw the throng of medical personnel suddenly invading the room.
“Nothing short of a miracle, Miss Flannigan,” one of the doctors replied. “It seems that your brother is about to come out of his coma after all. He’s definitely breathing on his own again.”
“Brother?” Kendra echoed. “The man on that bed is my father and her future husband,” she announced proudly, uncaring that everyone was now looking at her as if she really had lost her mind.
* * *
One year and a half later, Kenny and Reeka Flannigan attended Kendra’s college graduation ceremony together. Although they had gone to many of her school events together before, this was the first time they ever attended as husband and wife.
No more hiding longing looks at each other across the room. No more sitting with at least one person between them. No more going out of their way to avoid touching each other, lest they surrender to the inferno of love and passion that always smoldered just beneath the surface when they were in the same room. No more secrets, lies, and restrictions of any kind for Kenny and Reeka.
Finally they were free to just…love.
How did everyone else take this new Flannigan union?
With extreme shock, disbelief, and gradual acceptance. It was hard not to accept their marriage. After all, no one could deny the fact that Kenny, Reeka, and even Kendra were happier than they’ve ever been before.
Moral of this story: Tell your kids the truth about their paternity before it’s too late…even if the details of that truth are ugly and painful.
(c) 2009 by Suprina Frazier
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