“It’s good that you decided to have a proper wedding.” Dad nodded his head as he looked at Callum and I. We decided to break the news to them over dinner where everyone in the family were present.
“We’re so happy for the two of you.” Mama affectionately put her hand over mine.
“Another wedding in the family?! I am so excited! Oh I get to wear a gown again.” Ronnie clapped with glee. “Isn’t it kind of funny? Si Kuya Miggy ang unang na-engage at mas nauna pa kayo ni Kuya Coco na makasal. Wala pa rin bang date ang kasal niyo ni Ate Hazel, Kuya?”
Kuya Miggy suddenly coughed as if the food he was chewing was dislodged in his throat. He cleared his throat. “As of now, wala pa.”
“Ronnie, ang kasal hindi paunahan yan. It is a very serious matter and it is not a race.” Seryosong sabi ni Dad.
“At alam mo naman yang Kuya Miggy mo, masyadong metikuloso. But that’s not the topic right now. Ang kasal ng Ate Drey mo at ng Kuya Callum mo ang pinag-uusapan natin.” Mama calmly said.
“That’s great! Are we finally going to get invited to your wedding?” Coco arched a brow with a sly smile playing on his lips.
“We wouldn’t announce it kung hindi kayo invited.” I rolled my eyes at him, smiling.
“A wedding like when Ate Anais was riding a horse and then Kuya Coco waited for her and they stood in front of a lot of people?” Arthur cluelessly asked.
“Yes, that’s a wedding. And then after the wedding they’ll have a honeymoon like Mymy and Dada. A honeymoon is when they go to a far away place to kiss a lot and make a baby.” Sagot naman ni Cookie.
“Cookie.” Pinandilatan ni Anais ang anak niya, looking embarrassed. “Kumain ka na lang.”
“Dr. Daddy and Mommy doesn’t need to go to a far away place to make a baby. Last night, sabi ni Dr. Daddy they’ll start making one.” My son said. They were indeed cousins. No doubt about that.
I wanted to sink into my seat in embarrassment as the whole table laughed. I turned to see Cal with a smug smile on his face as he squeezed my hand. I rolled my eyes at him and shook my head.
“When are you planning to wed?” Asked Dad after the laughters had died down.
“As soon as possible.” Cal answered. “We just want it to be a simple wedding. Iyon ang gusto ni Audrey.”
“How soon is soon?” Dad arched a brow.
“Next week.” I answered.
“Next week? That IS soon.” Kuya Miggy commented.
“As Callum said, it’ll just be a small wedding. Nothing fancy. Kahit sa backyard lang gawin. We already got married once. Gusto lang namin ikasal ulit kasi you guys never got to be on our first wedding.” He said.
“Am I going to walk again and hold a thing like in Kuya Coco’s wedding?” Arthur asked.
“You’ll be my best man.” Callum affectionately kissed the side of his head.
“What does a best man do?” He asked.
“You get to stand next to me and wait for Mommy as she walks down the aisle.” He answered.
“Wala ka sa bachelorette party ko. We need to throw you one!” Anais excitedly said.
“Ate, kasali na ako d’yan ah. I’m of legal age na.” Sabi naman ni Ronnie.
“No, you will always be my baby girl.” Dad shook his head.
“Mama oh, si Dad!” Ronnie whined like the little girl she still was.
The help started putting a plate full of crispy bacon on the table. Suddenly we heard a gagging sound and everyone’s eyes were on Anais. She covered her mouth with her hand and stood hurriedly stood from her seat and ran.
“Anais, babe?” Coco ran after her.
“Is Mymy sick?” Cookie worriedly asked.
“Your Mymy might already have a baby in her tummy.” Ronnie explained.
“Our family is getting bigger.” Dad said with a wide smile on his face.
Dad offered financial help for our wedding but Callum strongly refused. He did not want Dad to pay a single penny for our wedding. Callum may not be as wealthy as Dad but he was fairly well off in his own right. We weren’t aiming to have a fancy wedding. We just wanted to make it official in front of people we love and care about. Iyon din ang naisip namin na magandang pagkakataon para ipakilala si Arthur bilang anak ko. Everyone outside our family knew him as our brother but I wanted them to know that he was my son.
We’d already contacted the church we planned to wed. The flower arrangements would be handled by our lovely Tita Marian. We’d invited a designer to make my wedding dress and suits for him and Arthur. Gusto ni Callum na pareho sila ng suit ni Arthur. It didn’t feel like we were in a hurry even though we only had a week of preparation before the wedding. Everyone was just enjoying everything. It was so smooth and simple.
I looked at my boys as they both fitted into their suits. They even got the same haircut yesterday. Callum was fixing Arthur’s coat as they stood in front of the three-way mirror. They looked so cute together as they looked at themselves in the mirror.
“Magkamukha na talaga sila. Arthur’s like a mini version of Kuya Callum. They could really pass for a father and son, Ate.” Sabi ni Ronnie habang nakatitig sa dalawa. “No one can ever tell na hindi sila—”
“Ronnie.” Saway ni Mama. I knew Ronnie didn’t mean any harm at what she said, sometimes things just slip out of her mouth. Ibinaon na ng pamilya namin ang pinagmulan ni Arthur. Kinalimutan na namin ang pinagmulan ng kalahati ng pagkatao niya. We never talk about it and I didn’t think they even wanted to think about it. For us, he was just ours. Our little Arthur. He was a Cordova and soon he’d be a Francois.
“I’m sorry…” Ronnie bit her bottom lip.
“Callum is Arthur’s father and no one else’s.” I said loud and clear.
“We know that, honey. And he’s a good father to our Arthur. Nakikita ko kung gaano niya kamahal si Arthur at kung gaano siya kamahal ng bata.” Mama said.
Callum carried Arthur in his arms and walked towards us in their cute bow tuxedo. Callum was devoted to my son, to our son, and it showed how much he cared and loved him. Looking at them, I knew things couldn’t get any better than this. This was the life I craved with every fiber of my being.
“Look at this handsome little fellow. We all know who’ll be stealing the limelight on our wedding day.” Callum proudly showed him off to us.
“My baby looks like a young man.” I cupped his little face and rubbed my nose against his.
“A handsome young man.” Sabi ni Mama.
“I look like Dr. Daddy.” Sabi niya. “We have the same clothes and the same hair.”
“Yes, you do…” I nuzzled my face into his soft cheek.
“But you look more like Mommy. You had her eyes and her good looks.” Callum smiled, his eyes looking at me like I was the most beautiful woman on earth.
I bit my inner cheek to keep myself from smiling. We were going to get married for the second time pero kinikilig pa rin ako sa kanya.
“And I look like Daddy and Mama too. But they say I look like Mama more because we both have black hair and Mommy, Kuya Coco, and Kuya Miggy has Daddy’s hair, di ba, Mama?” He turned his head to Mama.
“Of course. Kayong dalawa lang ni Ronnie ang nakamana ng hair color ko.” Mama tucked a few strands of our little one’s hair behind his ear and kissed him.
“Pag nagkalittle brother or sister ako, will it have black hair like mine or like Mommy?” He curiously asked.
“What do you think?” Callum asked.
“I want it to have the same hair like mine para may pareho akong hair. Because even Cookie has blonde hair like Kuya Coco.” He pouted.
Isa-isang nagdatingan ang mga kapatid ko para sukatan na din sila ng susuotin sa wedding ko. We picked our son, of course, as our best man and Ronnie as the maid of honor. I also chose Therese and our old friends as the bridesmaid.
“Sorry, are we late?” Coco came in carrying Cookie in his arms and his other wrapped around the small of his wife’s waist. “Our apologies, Anais was being an extra brat these past few days.”
Anais snapped her head at Coco and gave him a death glare. “Ha-ha!”
“Which I perfectly understood.” He kissed her and she answered back with a scowl. “We dropped by her OB before we got here.”
“And?” Therese raised her brows, grinning from ear to ear.
“And it looks like ako na naman ang pinaglilihian ng asawa ko.” Coco proudly announced. “I don’t want to steal this moment but I’ll explode from so much happiness if I keep this in. Baby Cordova #2 is on the way, everyone!”
“Wow! That was quick. Congrats, Kuya Coco and Ate Anais.” Sabi ni Ronnie and then she turned to us. “Kaya after the wedding, Ate, you and Kuya Callum need to go to a far away place too. Para makahabol kayo.”
“Loka ka talaga.” I laughed and looked at my twin brother and his wife. “I’m so happy for you two.”
“I’ll be happy with whatever given to us pero sana naman magkaron na ako ng apo na babae.” Mama said, excitement in her voice.
“I have a feeling we’re going to have a baby girl, Ma.” Anais smiled, her eyes lowering to her still flat stomach.
“Talagang lumalaki na ang pamilya natin.” Dad said and looked at Mama with such tenderness that I swore made her heart melt. “This is what we’ve always dreamt of. To grow old together. To watch our children grow and our children’s children. We’ve truly made it, Cassie.”
“Oh, Nick…” Mama sighed nostalgically. Dad bent down to give Mama a kiss on the lips.
“Ew!” Ronnie made a face and faked choking her neck with her hands.
I just shook my head and laughed at her reaction.
Callum hooked his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him while carrying Arthur in his other arm. “Someday, we’ll be like your parents’ too.”
I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head on his chest. My parents’ relationship had always been my ideal. Since I was a child, I’d always just dreamt of being like my Mom and taking care of my family. I knew with Arthur and Callum, I’d have my own family I’d always dreamt of.
“Callum, wala ka yatang inimbitahan na kamag-anak o kaibigan man lang.” Dad asked the others were busy with their measurements being taken.
Cal sat right up, his spine stiffened. “They’re all in the States.”
“Wala ka bang kahit isang kamag-anak man lang dito?” Mama asked before he could answer Dad’s question.
“I don’t have any relatives here in the Philippines anymore. They all migrated to the States. Yung iba naman na nandito sa Pilipinas mga hindi ko masyadong kakilala.” He answered.
“What about your sister’s son? Hindi ba sabi mo nandito siya sa Pilipinas? Why don’t you try to invite him? What’s his name again? Raven?” I asked.
His jaw suddenly clenched. “We’re not in good terms. We don’t have a family like yours. I didn’t grow up in the best environment. I’ve been estranged with them for a very long time.”
“I see.” Dad nodded his head, understanding him. It was not a secret to us that our father was my grandfather’s son with his mistress. His half-siblings doesn’t recognize him as their brother. When our grandfather died, he’d completely cut ties with them. They became a complete stranger. The only relative he knew from the Cordovas was Aunt Andi, his cousin. She’d been more of an Aunt to us than his half-sister who we had never communicated with.
“Do they at least know that you’re going to get married?” Mama asked.
He shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think they care about what I do with my life. Audrey and Arthur are the only family I have now.”
“You’re a family to us too, Callum. We’re now a family.” Mama said.
“Thank you.” His eyes were warm with gratitude as he looked at Mama. “I’ve never had a family in a real sense. I wish I met you sooner.”
I smiled and pressed a gentle kiss on his jaw. I promised to myself that I’d give him the family he never had. We’re going to have a big one. We’d both fill each other’s empty space with love, happiness, and warmth.
“Ma’am Audrey, may package po kayo.” Agad na bungad sa akin ng kasambahay namin pagbaba ko kinaumagahan. My brows furrowed as I was handed a small box. I checked the box and there was nothing written on it but my name and address. The name of the sender and the returning address was left blank.
Was this a surprise gift for my wedding? But from who?
I decided to just open the box. Maybe then I’d have a clue on who it was from. The box was filled with shredded paper so I had to dig through it and then in the middle of it, I felt something hard. I took it in my hand and lifted it up.
I felt the water closing in on my mouth as I held the metal piece. My stomach dropped and my heart was beating so violently I thought for sure it would damage my ribs. It was all a shocking blur. My mind spun like an out of control carousel. My eyes twitched with unshed tears, my knees wobbled, and I broke into cold sweats. I wanted to pass out.
It took me more than a minute for my mind to process what I was holding in my hand. The metal had the same shape as the burn on my breast. It was from the branding iron that was used to me. I let out a scream of terror, with hot tears sliding down my face. My mind just went blank and I just kept screaming and crying, dropping the metal piece on the ground. My knees finally gave in and I sat there on the flooring. I screamed and cried with terror and anger as flashbacks of what they did to me came flooding back. It drowned me. I tried to keep afloat but the memories drowned me.
The next think I knew, I was in Callum’s arms and my family were standing around me as he tried to calm me down.
“Mga hayop sila! Mga hayop silaaaa!” I fisted my hands against Callum’s chest.
Callum picked up the metal piece in his hand and his hand tightened around it as he thought it would turn into powder if he squeezed hard enough. His face turned hard and his dark eyes bore fierceness and danger that would make anyone he looks at shiver.
“Dressed in the skin, the wolf strolled into the pasture with the sheep. Soon a little lamb was following him about and was quickly led to the slaughter.” Ronnie read as she held the card she took from the box.
“No one is going to hurt you again. I won’t let them…” He hushed me soothingly.
Dad’s eyes were red with tears at the effort not to cry as he stared down at me. He tried hard to keep a straight face.
“Magbabayad ang gumawa sa’yo nito, Drey. I won’t let them get away with what they did to you. I want to kill. I will do to them worse that they did to you. I will give them slow, painful, agonizing death. I will burn them to the soul before they even get to hell.” Tagis bagang na sabi ni Dad. There was a certain promise in the way he said those words.