"NOOOOOOO!", Sergio shuddered and woke up to a distressfully squealing Paula.
"Please Mamma, NOOOOO! Please", he could hear the kid crying and begging in agony.
What could possibly cause a little 9 year old girl to scream on top of her voice so early in the day? While he dressed up to get out of bed, he thought of various scenarios that could be behind the little Murillo's loud cries. Probably she did not want to go to school today ? She wants to play with her friend after school ? Her Mamma didn't braid her hair properly ? She did not finish homework ? The kid is accommodative and understanding. She doesn't always put on a full drama show when things did not go her way. She would always willingly accept common grounds if she was presented with a deal after a good negotiation. Like mother like daughter.
As he walked outside the room, he heard an angry and extremely impatient Raquel give out to the kid. "If you don't finish it , I will never let you outside the house. No Netflix, No school, No friends, No beach and No fun projects with Sergio!. You choose, young lady." That is a lot of 'No's for a morning.
He reached the dining room to find Raquel pointing at a plate of avocado toasts, sautéed mushrooms and broccoli and a mug of fruit juice - one of Paula least favourite food presented right before school time. Bad choice, he thought. But, will never dare to tell her. Raquel was fuming and unwilling to surrender to her child's tantrums.
"I don't want to eat a tree!", shrieked Paula from another corner, referring to the broccoli. Funny reference. He could only hear her voice, but she is no where to be found. He scanned the room end-to-end and found her crawled under the couch in protest. Her face wet with tears, red from all screaming and just like her mother, her forehead veins appeared to indicate her stress.
Sergio doesn't generally intervene when his girls are at each other. But this time, it looks like they could use some help.
Paula spotted Sergio at the corner of the room and quickly jumped to him for comfort. Sergio held her for a while as she cried, wiped her tears and waited for her to speak.
"DO NOT TAKE HER SIDE ON THIS. STAY OUT OF IT! ", Raquel warned him pointing her finger right at his face. Okay, she is scary.
"Please Sergio...", frightened little Paula wept and begged.
"... Uhh Raquel, Maybe let me try something ? If you let me ?, he asked fearing if she would throw something at him. Of course, he did not doubt her parenting methods. She has always taken care of the child through all the ups and downs. He just wants to share the load, because she doesn't have to do it all alone. Not anymore.
Raquel paused and thought for a quite sometime. She took deep breathes to cool her off; realised she has been screaming for a while now and Paula is clearly terrified.
"Fine.. whatever.. I just need that plate empty in the next 30 minutes" she ordered, removed the pencil from her hair, freeing her hair from the tight bun and leaned on the wall to observe his so-called solution.
He gently put Paula on the ground, caressed her face, locked her hair behind her ears and wiped her face dry. The child's eyes were red and swollen all the crying.
"Paula..now... tell me what is wrong." he asked patiently in a very low soothing voice, totally opposite to the tone she has been listening since morning.
Paula was less frightened; her face relaxed as she looked down and spoke with a broken voice, "I don't like my meal".
"Why not ?", he asked and made it sound like a genuine innocent question.
"It is disgusting", she answered still not looking at his eyes.
"Well, now Paula. Please don't say that about your food. You know there are kids around the world who are not privileged to eat such healthy meals like you. Remember mamma and I took you to this orphanage and it made you so sad? You said you wanted to grow up and help such people?" he assured that she was a loving and compassionate kid. He wanted his words to rebuild her confidence in case she had been subconsciously blaming herself for the tantrum. However, he also did not want the kid to eat out of guilt.
She quietly nodded as she recollected her memory. She is still not totally convinced. "But..."
"But.. that is no reason to eat Brocolli.. ", he chuckled.
He could tell Paula is very confused and unsure if she should be delighted, but her eyes sparkled a bit.
"Sergio! what the ? ", Raquel questioned gritting her teeth.
He ignored her and kept his entire focus on Paula. "Of course. Broccoli is good for you. Your mom and I eat it because it is good for our brain and we want to be smart." he began hoping to work some reverse psychology. She definitely looked very confused.
"You don't have to be like us. You can always be like your bunny Pepe. It is soft, cute, everybody likes it. No ?" he asked rhetorically.
He could tell she is re-evaluating her choices now. But he continued. "About the Avocados, Well, I don't like it too. Your mom says it is good for our hair. Sure, she has beautiful, shiny, bouncy hair. My hair is good too , no ?" he asked with a raised eyebrows.
"Well... Umm.. I wouldn't be so sure" she answered
What a brutally honest kid? Like mother like daughter. However, he did not take offence, he is happy that is method is working.
Raquel, on the other hand, not only, calmed down, but also, tried not to look too happy about his approach. It looked like it is going to work, but she doesn't want to give him credits easily. She kept a straight face, instead.
"Oh no no. Don't change your mind, darling. You already decided not to eat the tree-like vegetable and definitely not avocados. Come on. We have to stay together on this decision", he prompted.
"I don't know, papa. I want pretty hair and I definitely want to be as smart too", she slowly confessed.
"Oh come on..." he said pretentiously sighed heavily by her change of mind. She quickly stared at the plate contemplating her next course of action.
"Fine... What do you suggest, then ?" he asked helping her think out loud.
"I will eat it, but I have a few concerns..." she began
"Which are ? " he prompted.
"Well, I want my avocado toast cut into small bite size portions. the broccoli too. I am okay to eat the mushrooms just as they are" she proposed a deal.
"That can be done. In fact, because you were such a good kid, you probably can get a better deal. How about that ?" he counter-proposed.
She was surprised and brightened up instantly. She was curious as to what was coming her way.
Sergio quickly went into the kitchen. He cut her avocado toast as she asked, but he also added some sun-dried tomatoes and pepper to add more flavour. He then neatly arranged the bites on a new plate and offered it to the kid. It definitely looked more pleasing to her eyes now. Raquel scoffed at the outcome. As if she was going to eat it now, she thought.
He chopped the broccoli into smaller chunks sautéed it once again with some cheese and mild pepper sauce. He put the contents into a heart shape mould and placed it on a new plate. He gently removed the mould and it looked like a nice heart-shaped pie. He was sure Paula would love it and brought it to her with a lot of pride. To everyone's surprise, she had already finished her avocado toast and mushrooms and has been peeking at what he has got next.
She was very excited to see a beautiful heart shaped pie. It is no more florets of broccoli; it is, in fact, a beautiful appetising pie. Raquel could not hide her awe anymore. She was so amazed by the efforts he had put to make her child eat healthy. Their child.
As Paula worked her way through the pie, she had yet another surprise waiting for her. Sergio had a cut a small piece of bread toasted it and put a layer of mango jam on it. At this point, she was just overwhelmed with joy and grabbed the desert from his hand. Sergio couldn't help but laugh at the kid's enthusiastic appetite. While she finished her three course meal, she drank her juice without any more protest. She, then, jumped into Sergio's arms pressed kisses on his cheeks and gave him a tight hug. This earned more eye rolls from Raquel, but she was happy that Paula ate.
"Will you also take me to school ?" she asked Sergio with big puppy eyes.
He wasn't sure how to respond to that. He did not want to take Raquel's time with her child. So, he simply looked at her for help.
"Of course, he will, sweetheart. Don't forget to brush your teeth.", she responded and nodded at him. He couldn't be more happy to drive the kid to school. She ran into her room to get ready.
"Well, that went well." he said hesitantly, unsure of what Raquel is feeling after his heroic save.
"Oh, it sure did", she responded with a scoff.
"Oh no no, Papa Sergio saved the day. Go celebrate with your kid now, Sergio. Go ! ", she said with a merry smile pointing at the door, but he could sense the opposite in her tone.
Before he could say anything else, Paula stormed into the living room, dragged Sergio by his hand. "Come on.. Let's go" she squealed with joy.
"Bye Mamma", she hugged her mom, pressed kissed and totally forgot about the argument they had.
Raquel reciprocated with more kisses and hugs. "I will see you later", she nodded at Sergio.
She watched the two most important pieces of her soul leave the house. Paula holding Sergio's hand. Sergio carrying her little pink bag with the other. It is the sight she always wanted since she was living in Madrid. The time she was alone gave her a lot of time to think about her reactions this morning. The arguments with Paula did not bother her, because she always had episodes like this with her child. However, she couldn't help feel very upset about not being appreciative of Sergio's efforts. She always wanted Paula to have a strong, positive, involved father, but that was not the case. Even when she was married to Alberto, she was the only one who took interest in Paula. Although, it was sad in the beginning she learnt to accept it. When she moved in with Sergio, she sincerely hoped he and Paula get along well. But, now, Sergio is this super amazing father figure and she suddenly felt competitive.
Of course, she wanted Paula to have a father, but she was worried she would be loved less. But, how could she possibly believe that is anywhere near the truth ? She remembered Paula's happy face when Sergio helped with breakfast. She also recalled how her daughter did not forget to kiss her goodbye before she left to school, even after all the yelling and crying. The kid had forgotten about the heated argument and they did not have to resolve their conflicts explicitly. Because, she is her mother and they are connected from birth. She was ashamed for her petty jealousy. She shook her head and started cleaning up the kitchen.
Sergio hesitantly walked in to the house fearing that he might have upset Raquel after overstepping. Fear kicked in when he could not find her in the kitchen or living room.
"Raquel ? ", he called and began searching for her.
She was nowhere to be found. He quickly ran into their bedroom which is an unusual place for Raquel around this time of the day.
"Raquel ?" he called once more frightened if she needed space from him.
"Cariño... ", she called coming out of the bathroom.
Dressed in a beautiful summer dress, loosely braided hair, she gave him a warm smile, that soon shifted into a frown after seeing his frightened face.
"What's wrong ?" she asked caressing his beard.
He couldn't resist but pulled her close to him and pressed his lips on hers. After the most passionate 20 seconds, they broke apart for their lungs to catch a break.
"Oh Raquel. I thought you went out seeking some space... from.. me.." he answered between gasps.
"Wh... Why would I... ?"
"Well, I thought you were angry at me for intruding..."
There was her perfect man blaming himself for her childish behaviour. Words cannot declare her love for him and it definitely cannot indicate how sorry she is for inconsiderate behaviour. Hence, she claimed his lips for another reassuring kiss. She, then, hugged him tight and gathering her thoughts while her head rested on his chest.
"I am so sorry for being childish...The truth is for a long time it has only been me and Paula...", she finally opened up
"I respect that.. I am sorry.. I will stick within my boundaries", he attempted to comfort her.
"No don't..." she rejected. He looked at her confused.
"I made you feel that you overstepped. I am so sorry. I loved what you did in the kitchen today. I appreciate it with all my heart.", she continued after a deep breathe.
"I guess... I was a little jealous I couldn't come up with that. But, Papa Sergio saved the day. And I am very thankful..", she said firmly
"Umm, what I am trying to say is.. I did all of these by myself for a very long time because I did not have a choice. I let my frustration out on that kid and scared her sometimes...". A shaky, guilty Raquel confessed her past seeking comfort in her man's non-judgemental embrace
He gently caressed her back and offered his understanding.
"But now, it doesn't have to be that way.. We have a choice. I wanted to be happy, less worked up. But now that it is happening in reality, I am struggling to accept it", she admitted with shame and tear filled eyes..
"So, I am sorry, I should have been more grateful. Poor Paula.", she soaked his shirt with her tears thinking about how she hurt her baby. The beautiful perfect little version of her.
"Well, she mentioned something about making you a shell jewellery to apologise for her tantrums", he blurted out the little girl's secret to ease her pain.
"I am learning to be a good man in her life for her to grow up in a healthy environment. I can never replace you, Raquel. Paula needs you as much as I need you. I was just trying to take some pressure off you in the morning", he muttered while he slowly kissed her head and ran his fingers on her back.
"Well, maybe do that every morning...", she suggested
"I mean, you love waking up early, don't you ? Make breakfast while you are up. I will feel better if I get extra morning sleep", she chuckled.
"You don't mind ?"
"For that lovely moulded broccoli pie ? Never, Professor". she bit her lower lip and whispered in a seductive tone.
"Now, that our child is fed, time to take care of the father. Come with me!", her eyes lit up. she grabbed his hand and led him to an amazingly fragrant dining room.
On table she had fixed a plate of guacamole toast bites, cheese garlic bread, grilled tomatoes, cream and broccoli soup, fresh fruit salad with whipped cream and coffee.
"Raquel... I do not know what to...", he was amused by what she could pull off in such a short time.
"If only, I had thought about this in the morning. It would have saved a lot of trouble. My poor baby was so upset" she sighed heavily. He looked at her empathetically and reached out to gently squeezed her hands.
"But, it was a good opportunity for you to bond, she was very happy with the breakfast platter, and I get a sea shell jewellery. So it's a win-win. ", she lit up again and they hastily dug into their food.