After an appetizer, Justin moved the party to the back patio. His son Mike, spatulas in hand, had set up the grills along the fence, near the birch trees. Ken stood next to him with a pair of
tongs, showing him how to tell when the chicken breasts were ready to flip and how to keep from charring the skin. A charring sound and the heavenly aromas of roasting ribs, chops, sausages, and
wings filled the air. Fat spit and sizzled.
Across the lawn, Natasha and her friends played hard in a bouncy castle held to the ground with ropes tied to spikes. Balloons floated about. All wore pastels-soft blues and green and yellows. Even
pinks and whites. Mademoiselle Rosa and her team bustled about their duties.
Justin caught Ken staring Gisela’s way more than once. He frowned. What was the little punk thinking? Sure, he’d seen Justin and Gisela at the club. Could he know about what followed? When Gisela
started showing, would he make any sort of connection? Or think it was his? A lot to ponder. Maybe Justin should start thinking of what he might have to do. No telling what that stupid little punk
might do. Harm Gisela? The baby? Wouldn’t put it past him, the little punk. Goodness, he’d underestimated Gisela’s charm. A stab of jealousy pierced right through his gut. He’d not allow that son
of a bitch near Gisela.
He leaned back, relaxed. Punk won’t try anything here, though. Let it sit. Beside him, Martha leaned close to Katelyn. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask,” she said in a low voice. “Your sister, is she
all right?” He followed their gaze to Elizabeth disappearing into the house.
Katelyn looked up from her phone and put her latte down. “Uh, yeah, I guess she’s just going through a rough patch, but you know Liz, she keeps stuff to herself.”
“Martha’s right, though,” Justin said. “She is looking somewhat off. Maybe Ambrose...” He spotted Elizabeth’s husband with Mike and Ken, sprinkling water on the grill, producing bursts of steam.
Probably teaching them how to sear in the juices or some shit.
Martha said, “I just hope it’s nothing serious.” She refilled her glass. “Liz! Over here, dear. Oh, and look who’s just arrived.”
Justin's sister approached and pulled him into a hug. “Sorry I’m late. Had to pass by the office to circulate the tender documents.”
Justin remembered Susie had requested for a meeting with him yesterday. He didn’t even bother to look at the documents she’d left on his desk—possibly the tenders she was talking about. These were
not to be circulated without his signature. Hell, he wouldn’t risk going into that for now.
“You’re just like dad, a staunch workaholic,” he said.
Susie’s arms squeezed a fraction tighter. “Look who’s talking. You’re the worst workaholic alive.”
He breathed more slowly, every muscle losing its tension. This was love, genuine love. ‘’I’m glad you came.’’
Elsie and Tamara came behind their mother, saying hello to the guests. After disentangling from her brother, Susie greeted everyone else and joined her daughters at the barbeque. Justin closely
watched her, hoping she wouldn’t talk to Gisela about yesterday. But he wouldn’t take a chance and quickly texted.
No talking to G bout yesterday.
Go to hell. She quickly responded.
The birthday song echoed in the air, first sung by the maidservants before the rest of the crowd joined in. A maid showed up from behind a corner, wheeling in a big staircase vanilla cake on a
trolley. More trolleys lined up behind her, carrying sweets, chocolates, biscuits, champagne, glasses… After they’d put the cake on the stand, Mademoiselle Rosa lit the small candles and pinned
them around it. There was jubilation as Olivia came forward.
Justin had never seen his daughter so happy. More than the birthday, it must have had something to do with Ryan. They’d been sitting alone by themselves, a few steps from the barbeque, and seemed
to care less about their surroundings. Were they dating? Hopefully not—not until she was through with university.
After Olivia had cut the cake, Mademoiselle Rosa took over. She passed the pieces to the birthday girl and her friends to distribute to the guests. It so happened that Gisela was standing next to
her when everyone had been served, save for the hosts.
Justin ran a finger through his mustache when Gisela started coming their way. She wouldn’t even lift her eyes, and he had a wild urge to throw his arms around her neck and kiss the worry from her
face. He’d never felt so helpless.
Ambrose, perhaps noticing their discomfort, lifted his glass of whisky. “To the birthday girl! May she live to blow a thousand candles.”
There was a burst of applause, and glasses clinked in the air, followed by roars of well wishes.
“Uh-huh, yeah, long live Olivia.”
“May you live to have many more.”
“May you grow to be toothless.”
“Oh, that’s lovely, Olivia’s so happy,” said Katelyn. She leaned in and tore off a piece of cake from the fork Gisela was holding out to her mouth.
Justin’s heartbeat quickened, and sweat beaded above his lip. He was next. Gisela moved closer, her hands trembling, and when she’d held out the fork close to his mouth, the piece of cake tumbled
“Oh, sorry,” she gasped, and when she tried to fork another piece, the plate fell off her hand, spattering the other pieces on the floor. “Oh my God.”
“It’s okay, G.” Olivia rushed over and exchanged a smile with her mum, before turning to Gisela. “There’s more cake, don’t worry.” She let Gisela go ahead of her, as she remained whispering to her
mum, half smiling. “She’s always afraid of dad.”
Katelyn rubbed her daughter’s shoulder. “I know, I know. Tell her it’s okay.”
Martha rolled her eyes. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Growing up an orphan can really rob someone of self-confidence.” Katelyn nudged Justin in the ribs. “Whatever you did to her? She’s always shy around you.”
“Err… I-I I dunno why she’s like that.”
Elizabeth nibbled a piece of cake. “I guess it’s because of the absence of a father figure in her life.”
To Justin, it actually now seemed like everything Gisela did only accentuated her beauty. The ugly scene she’d created was just proof of her innocence and naivety, which he liked very much. He kept
casting glances at the fireplace, to admire the slender legs hanging under her mini-skirt, the dimples, her long neck, and the braids flowing down to her shoulders.
Jeez, he turned, not sure if his gaze had been there long. “Hey, is that today’s paper. Give it to me.”
The maidservant who was passing by with the newspaper in hand stopped. “Yes sir.”
“Ah, to be honest, I abhor homosexuality, but support gay rights.” He briefly scanned the headline on the Daily before placing it on the table. “We should all try to understand people who are not
“Whoa, you support gays? They’re a disgrace,” said Martha, refilling her wineglass. “It’s a mental disorder.”
Elizabeth sipped her latte. “Hey, easy. It’s a free world.”
“Excuse me.” Justin retreated to the lavatory.
Hypocrite! Ambrose was a womanizer, but at least he wasn’t a pretender like him—admired for his morals yet… If only Katelyn knew the truth! How terrible she’d feel for being so naïve
No sooner had he entered the bathroom than he heard steps behind him. Ambrose nudged his side. “Man, your goose is cooked.”
“Oh, boy, I’ve never been so… on edge like this.” Justin exhaled. “Maybe I should ask Gisela to leave… But how? Can’t talk directly to her, neither can I text—Olivia might see it.”
“A minute.” Ambrose lifted a finger as he opened the door to the toilet. “My bladder’s bursting.”
A few minutes later, the two gentlemen stood in the lounge, at the foot of the stairs leading to the first floor—the same spot Natasha was waiting for Justin in the morning when he came down for
“Oh boy, what am I supposed to do?” asked Justin.
“Just play your cards under wraps, but you can’t leave her. She’s just out of this world.”
“I wish leaving her was an option.” Justin stroked his mustache. “I know it’s wrong, but I just want to be with her.”
“I totally understand you, I wouldn’t think of leaving her if I were in your position.”
Justin leaned on the banister. “Ambrose, she’s pregnant.”
“Say what?” Aghast, Ambrose sat on the steps. “You didn’t use protection? That’s damn risky.”
“Don’t make me feel worse than I’m already feeling. I just acted stupid that night.”
Ambrose tapped on the space next to himself. “Sometimes it happens. Don’t worry, she looks innocent.” He moved for Justin to sit. “So… what’s the plan, is she keeping the baby?”
“She wouldn’t accept anything else.”
Ambrose adjusted his cap. “Even better, she’ll now be yours forever. I should get myself such a young girl.” He stretched a leg. “Liz has totally neglected herself, she’s even developing a
“By the way, ah, is she okay? I don’t know but, I feel like she’s maybe… well, her breathing is kinda raspy, I could be wrong, but--” He looked Ambrose in the eye. “I’d suggest you see a doctor
just to be sure nothing’s wrong.”
“Bah. She’s fine. Just needs to exercise. Eat less. Look at how these young girls are looking good, then look at her.”
“Don’t dwell so much on the looks, Ambrose.”
“Look who’s talking now. Who wouldn’t want his woman to look gorgeous?”
Justin rubbed his neck. “I know I’ve lost the moral ground to tell you anything. But… just talk to Elizabeth…” He tapped Ambrose’s shoulder. “I should do an HIV test, what d’you think?”
“Good luck bro, I can’t do that test. Suppose it comes out positive?”
“I must know my status after what happened.”
“I’d better live without knowing my HIV status than die of stress should the test turn out positive.”
Justin’s jaw dropped, and he quickly turned to Ambrose, who also had his jaw dropped, with eyes wide open. Was that the sound of someone sobbing in the corner they were hearing?
Justin couldn’t move.
He slowly gained courage when Ambrose started walking towards the corner where the sobs were coming from. He followed him.
My word! It was Elizabeth, sitting with outstretched legs on the floor with hands over her chest. From the look of things, she’d been there all the while. A deathlike silence ensued, only
occasionally interrupted by her sobs.
Liz gasped, hands over mouth. “Oh-My-God.” She rose to her feet. “I-I-I…” The words wouldn’t come out.
She hurried out.
Justin limbs weakened, and he sat back on the steps. “Damn it, can she have heard everything we said?”
“I hope not.”
Justin buried his face in his hands. “She’s going to tell Katelyn.”
“No, she can’t.”
There was a loud bang at a distance, followed by screams. Justin ran toward the rear balcony where the noises were coming from. Ambrose was behind him. All the guests were on their feet,
surrounding something at the doorway.
Justin pushed through the throng and he couldn’t believe his eyes what he saw next. Elizabeth was lying on the floor, in her own pool of blood.
“Oh my God, what happened?” Ambrose crouched, trying to lift her up.
There were all sorts of responses amidst panic and confusion.
“She tripped on the step and fell.”
“It’s like she ran out of breath and just fell.”
“Oh, she’s lost consciousness, let’s hurry.”
“The ambulance is on the way; I’ve called for help.”
The emergency flying doctors were quick. In less than twenty minutes, they’d administered first aid and safely put Elizabeth in the ambulance.
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