For Angelo

By: Marian Tee



“I don’t hate my grandfather.” Lane whispered the words like a vow. “I don’t. But sometimes, I can’t help wondering, I can’t help asking God…how can a person be so cruel?”

Ah, God.

A single tear trailed down her cheek, ruining her makeup and maybe the rest of her life as well.

Damn you, Dad. I see what you’ve done now.

Lane’s question was so damn simple, and yet for all the years Nellie had spent studying in the best schools, she realized then that none of it had prepared her to answer such a question.

Only people with good hearts like Lane, people who weren’t like herself, could ask…and answer such questions.

“Everyone told me that I should be ashamed of my mother because of what she did,” Lane whispered. “But you see, I knew that she had done it…” She was visibly struggling to breathe. “I knew she had done it for me. I knew she thought there was no other way to raise me but to s-sell her b-body, and my grandfather—”

The girl choked back a sob, and Nellie wanted to choke the life out of the girl’s grandfather, if only the old man wasn’t already dead.

“He was supposed to be the smart one,” Lane finished brokenly. “He was supposed to be the educated one, so why—” The girl shook her head as if she was still unable to believe what she remembered…and lived through. “I begged him to help us pay for my mother’s bills, N-Nellie. I went down on my knees…”

Lane looked at Nellie with a gaze made dull by pain.

“But he said no. He said he would rather see my mother die than have his grandchild with him, and now…”

Nellie’s fingers dug deep into her palms, struggling to resist the urge to take the younger girl into her arms.

“My mother’s dead, and he’s dead, too.” Lane’s voice became toneless. “All that’s left is the money and I know it’s stupid, but I can’t s-stop thinking that if t-there wasn’t any money to begin with, then m-maybe everyone would still be alive. Maybe e-everyone would still be a-alive…and happy.”





****





Norman Mortimer knocked on the door of his daughter’s office but didn’t wait for her to answer, opening it and thus catching Nellie unaware. She was seated behind her table, eyes swollen with tears and her makeup completely ruined.

“I hate you.” But his daughter sounded more weary than furious.

Norman looked around the office. “Where’s your client?”

“She’s gone.” Nellie’s normally sophisticatedly sweet voice was harsh. “You really thought you’d get what you want? You’ll make me like you?” Nellie shook her head even as her heart cracked. “Someone who spends his entire life doing charity work, to the point of ignoring his own daughter’s existence?”

Norman’s heart sank. “You turned her away.”

“Because of you.” Nellie refused to acknowledge the way her heart kept breaking. “I told her I’m not the best person for her case and I’ll look for someone else to take over.”

Norman didn’t speak for a long time.

Nellie’s fists clenched and unclenched. She forced herself to remember all the nights she had cried herself to sleep, the way her dad kept breaking his promises to be there. On her birthdays. Her recitals. Or even just to read her a bedtime story. She had cried so much that in the end, all the tears inside her had dried.

Or so she had thought…until now.

Her father was still standing in front of her, and the way he gazed at Nellie made her sneer. “You didn’t win, Daddy. I’m still the bitch you made me to be.” She waited for him to yell at her, to fly into a rage like he always did.

But all he did was smile sadly.

“I never thought you were a bitch. Never will. You’ll always be Daddy’s little girl, and when I learned about Ms. Petersen’s case, I knew you were the only one who could help her.”

“Because she’s my ticket to heaven?” she asked snidely even as the urge to cry came back at her father’s unexpected words.

“Because I saw you in her, the way you were when you were young. Your mother kept telling you my work was more important than my family, but you refused to listen to her...even if back then she had been right. You still insisted on waiting up for me, until you fell asleep on the bottom of the stairs, and I’d come home to find your cheeks wet with your—”

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