A week after Holly announced her pregnancy to the rest of the family, mom and Kevin requested that Elijah and I come over to their house for dinner because they had some things they needed to discuss with us. Babysitting services for my son and my siblings was happily provided by Cousin Phoebe who had no idea what was going on, other than at she was being presented with an opportunity to earn her advanced babysitting badge for Girl Scouts.
Once everybody was happily tucked away at our house (with Phoebe's mother as the supervising adult) we were back at my parents' house where the air was tense, but mostly on their part.
"Okay." I put my chopsticks and takeout carton down On the coffee table. "What did you guys want to tell us?"
"It must be something big," Elijah mused. "Because it's the middle of the week, and we all have jobs to get to in the morning."
"Calling it big is an understatement." Kevin mumbled.
"Are you two getting a divorce?" I asked timidly.
"No, nothing like that." mom assured me.
"Remember how you said your father hinted at a traumatic event that took place the year before you were born?"
I nodded, realizing that we were in for a long night. "Lay it on me."
"When I was fourteen and my brothers were in the summer of their senior year of high school, we got to go on a school trip to Ireland."
"But wasn't Ireland in the nineties a dangerous place?"
"Yes, but we were there during a lull, and if we had just left a day earlier like we were supposed to, we wouldn't have been there when all hell broke loose..."
Mom trailed off, teary-eyed and kept a hand on her big baby bump to soothe the babies inside while she used the other to firmly grasp Kevin's hand.
"We were going down a main street, when out of nowhere, a car bomb exploded."
I felt my mouth drop open in surprise, but nothing came out.
"The boys and I all got nailed with shrapnel and burns because we were close, but out of the five of us, I got hit the most. I don't remember what happened next, except for what your Uncle Liam told me - even though he was hurt almost as badly as I was, he picked me up in his arms and ran all the way to the hospital with me. The reason I don't remember any of that was because I was put into a medically-induced coma within an hour of our arrival."
"Mama, h-how are you even alive?" I finally squeaked.
"Because God is a miracle worker, and because the boys acted as my legal guardians, refusing to let the doctors pull the plug on me. I was comatose for forty-seven days, and we still didn't get to come home for another six months. Nana and Papa didn't even know if we were dead or alive."
"Why not?" Elijah asked. "That must've been hell for all of you, especially Megan and Desmond."
"We were all in intense physical therapy that took up a lot of our time and energy. Getting better was our first priority; everything else was a secondary goal, including contact with our parents."
"Is this when you took up dancing?"
"Yes, and I did that to strengthen my legs. Almost as soon as we returned, my rebelling phase began and I met Dexter on my first day back at school."
"Hang on, rewind." I held my hands in the 'time out' pose. "It was a car bomb, right?"
"Were you at Shankill Road? I read about that event in a text book once."
"That's exactly where we were."
Kevin turned to mom. "We should tell them how we first met."
"Do you think they're ready for that? Are you?"
"Well, Flora has also survived a disaster and you did just tell them about surviving a bombing. If she can survive that and Elijah can handle her PTSD episodes, I think they can handle this." he reasoned. "If you tell them, then I'll tell them about what happened to me when I found my mom."
Mom seemed to realize that the deal she was being offered wasn't one to pass up because Elijah and I were promptly met with one of her stern expressions.
"In early October of two-thousand and one, I was walking through Central Park to take a shortcut home from dance class. I was almost home when I accidentally saw something I wasn't supposed to."
I was already hanging onto every word. "What was it?"
"A drug trade. I was just passing by and didn't even notice them until one of them pulled out a pistol and shot me in the shoulder."
My heart tightened immediately. "How did you survive that? Were the guys ever caught?"
"They were caught hours later, totally stoned and they all got what they deserved. What's important to the story right now is who the first cop responder to the scene was."
Elijah turned to Kevin. "I'm going to take a wild guess and say that it was you."
"Bingo. I was on patrol with my partner at the time, and he chased the guys down while I kept Jenny from bleeding out until the medics arrived."
"And then what? You visited her in the hospital, one thing led to another and the rest is history?"
"You are right on the ball."
I looked at mom. "Do you have a scar?"
She nodded and pulled down the collar of her shirt to expose her shoulder and I got up to examine the scar. It was about four inches long and faded, but it was there.
I couldn't help it, but I suddenly felt ticked off.
"Why did you wait all this time to tell me any of this? I've been back in your life for quite some time now! Did you think I wouldn't be able to handle it?"
"Of course I thought you could, Flora, but we had so much on our plates around the time you got here, and it fell to me to keep everyone together, especially the Castles, the Espositos, the Quellers and the Shaws. Kevin, Thomas and Tillie were also part of it, but had their own chapter."
"What even happened?"
"We started getting new clues about who had Kate's mom killed back in ninety-nine." Kevin explained. "We also started getting tangled up in it when Mister and Missus Queller were murdered, when Alexis and Lily Joy were briefly abducted, and also when Jessica Rose and Gabriella first showed up. That's all just for starters."
"Dear God in Heaven above..."
"It took a long time to put to bed, especially when Melissa realized that her past is deeply intertwined with Kate's parents and even Jessica Rose."
"To put the cherry on top of all of that," mom added. "Melissa, Jessica and Gabriella disappeared for about five months to complete a 'quest' to honor Johanna Beckett."
"Kate's mom, right?"
"Right. The endgame of that part brought Jeffery and Sophia home."
"I'm with you so far, but what was the catalyst for all of this?"
"From what I can figure, Johanna Beckett's death kicked it off, but the underscoring catalyst has to be the deaths of Melissa's parents, Elijah and Lucy. Poor Melissa was the only witness, and even that aspect was a strategic move on the murderers' part. Unless you were part of any of these events directly like Kevin and I were, it's very hard to explain."
"I'll take your word for it."
"You arrived on the tail-end of everything, just when it was winding down and I was getting to know the grown-up you. Talking to you about these things was on my mind, but I just needed to get the courage first..."
Looking into her eyes, I saw the most courageous woman I've ever known, but also the eyes of a woman who really wanted my acceptance.
"Okay, mom." I hugged her and sat back down. "I'm sorry I got upset."
Elijah cleared his throat to remind us that he was still there and spoke to Kevin again. "So Jenny's told us about the bomb and getting shot, but you said that if she told us those things, you'd tell us about what happened when you found your mom?"
My stepdad sighed heavily and leaned back in his seat.
"My mom Leila left my dad for another man when I was about three and Thomas was a baby. Tillie wasn't born for a few more years yet. We never saw mom alive again, but one of our cases during the events that Jenny just talked about led us to investigate a dead body that turned out to be my mom."
"Not even five minutes later, I was shot by the perp who had laid her body out. The bullet hit me in the arm but didn't cause enough damage that surgery, serious pain meds and physical therapy couldn't fix. And not to worry, my shooter is also six feet under. I guess what we're getting at is that we both had things we wanted to tell both of you now."
"You were going to share these things from your life, Kevin?" I asked him.
"Of course. Everyone has their own things that need to see the light of day, and I'll never make you call me dad unless you want to, but you've been my family even before we met; I couldn't not tell you. And one that you and Elijah are getting married, now seemed like the right time to let all of it out. It's just getting the courage together that took awhile."
"We appreciate it." Elijah said. "Truly."
"I can't even begin to express how relieved this all makes me." Tears began forming in my eyes. "Excuse me a minute."
My whacked-out hormones were getting the best of me, and I just needed the space to calm down. Elijah helped me and I made my way to the kitchen alone. The twins expressed their joy that I was no longer sitting by bouncing around.
"Are you two trying to cheer mama up?" I cooed to them, running a hand over my bump. "Sorry I'm so topsy-turvy, my tiny loves. I just had a lot of information to process. I got it all, but it just makes me dizzy. I'm okay, though."
I knew the twins were now big enough to hear me, but they kept moving around like it was play time. Laughing at them, I just tracked their movements with my hands as I let my thoughts drift.
True, the gravity of everything that mom and Kevin had told us tonight was finally starting to hit me, but you know what?
I was content.