Disclaimer: I do not belong the characters or anything else you recognize in this fic. Passions belongs to NBC, JER and a couple of other people, I'm sure. I am not making any money off of this. I write fanfic purely for pleasure, although I'm not opposed to receiving feedback :)
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2002
Summary: Paloma and Pilar have a talk. Winner of the TGIFF Mother's Day fanfic challenge.
Note: As I said, this was originally written for the TGIFF fanfic challenge. It takes place shortly have the Lopez-Fitzgerald house burnt down (as will become obvious in the story).
A tinny, electronic voice came onto the phone line to inform Paloma that sorry, the number she had called had been disconnected and won’t she please try again. Untangling the hand that wasn’t holding the receiver from the cord, she held the plunger down long enough to get a dial tone then tried again. It had been awhile since she had phoned, true, but not so long that she could have forgotten the phone number. No, she must have misdialled.
The second time she phoned, she got the same message. A slight frown marred Paloma’s face. She quickly hung up and tried again. During the third time she was forced to listen to the annoying, bland, female voice inform her that this is a recording, Tia Maria walked into the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I can’t get a hold of Mama,” Paloma answered, allowing the worry to creep into her voice.
“Maybe no one’s home,” Tia Maria replied in a reassuring voice. “It is the middle of the day over there. Perhaps they’ve gone out.”
“No,” Paloma said, shaking her head. “There was a message saying the number had been disconnected.”
Tia Maria’s mouth formed an “o” and she sank down into a chair at the kitchen table. “They probably just forgot to pay the bill and the telephone company cut them off. I’m sure they’ll be reconnected any day now.”
Although she agreed her family’s phone troubles came from not paying the bill, Paloma didn’t believe her aunt’s unconvincing explanation that they hadn’t done so because they had forgotten. The reason they had sent Paloma away in the first place was that they couldn’t afford to keep her. “Where’s your address book?” she asked. “I’m going to phone the Cranes and see if Mama’s working.”
Tia Maria nodded and left to find the phone number for her niece. She came back a few minutes later with an ancient book that was falling apart at its seams. While Paloma tried the Cranes’ number, Tia Maria busied herself with making coffee.
After two rings a nondescript female voice greeted her. “Hello, Crane residence.” Paloma had no idea which of the maids it was; she had never bothered learning any of their names since, her mother the only real exception, they never lasted long. Probably the one who had answered the phone would be gone by the next time Paloma phoned home, not to mention the next time she phoned the Crane mansion.
“Please may I speak to Pilar Lopez-Fitzgerald?” she asked politely.
“One moment.” The maid put the phone down as she went to search for the housekeeper. Paloma didn’t have to wait long for her mother.
“Pilar speaking,” she said briskly.
“Paloma?” Mama questioned, which warmed Paloma. Most of the time, she was mistaken for Theresa when she called.
“Oh, mi hija!” Mama cried. “I’m so happy to hear from you.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you at work, but I tried phoning home, but I couldn’t get through. They said the line had been disconnected.”
“Oh, mi hija,” Mama said again, but he exclamation was very different that it had been seconds ago. Her mother’s voice was filled with anguish and Paloma was suddenly very scared to hear the reason why the phones were disconnected. “I’m afraid I have bad news.”
“What happened?” Paloma asked, griping the phone so hard that she was surprised it didn’t leave marks. From across the room, Tia Maria looked up sharply, tipped off to the problems through something in Paloma’s voice.
“Our house - it burnt down.”
“What?” Paloma gasped.
“There was a fire and we couldn’t stop it in time.”
Tia Maria was trying to get her attention, motioning for her to explain what was the matter. “There was a fire,” Paloma said, a little stunned. She didn’t bother to cover the mouthpiece. “The house . . . ”
“Is Maria there?” Mama asked.
Paloma nodded, then, remembering her mother couldn’t see her, said, “Yes. Is everyone - Did anyone - ”
“No one was hurt, thank God,” Mama said. “Theresa inhaled a little smoke, but other than that everyone is fine.”
“No one’s hurt,” Paloma relayed to Tia Maria and her aunt closed her eyes in silent prayer.
“Can I talk to Ma - no, actually, that can wait. I’m sure this phone call is costing you and I haven’t spoken to you, mi hija, for a long time - too long.” Mama, even when she wasn’t trying, could always make her feel guilty. They had just lost the house and here she was worrying about here sister’s phone bill.
“I’m sorry I haven’t called, Mama,” Paloma started.
“It’s my fault, mi hija. I should have phoned you.” She sighed, sounding extremely tired. “But things have been so crazy around here lately.”
“It’s all right, Mama,” Paloma said. She couldn’t figure out if she was lying or if she actually meant what she said and she tried not to think about it too closely, a little afraid of what the answer might be.
“It’s not all right, mi hija. With everything being so crazy, and with the money, and I wanted to surprise you and - ” She stopped. “It’s too late now. Did Maria mention it to you?”
“Mention what?” Paloma shot a questioning look at her aunt, who only shrugged.
“That’s what I was going to talk to her about. I had wanted to surprise you, mi hija, but I don’t think I will be able to anymore. I was saving up the money so you could come home for the summer.”
Paloma couldn’t say anything. She stood stock-still while her mother went on.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to do that anymore, mi hija, not now that the house burnt down. I don’t know how - ” She stopped herself, but not before Paloma heard the desperation in her voice and wondered what her mother wasn’t telling her.
“It wouldn’t have - I wouldn’t - I already have plans for the summer, Mama,” she said quietly.
“I got a job at a resort just outside of the city.”
“A resort?” Mama asked doubtfully. Paloma almost laughed out loud at the predictable response.
“It’s perfectly safe. It’s respectable, Mama. A couple of my friends worked there last summer and said it’s great. They’re going again this year, so I won’t be alone.”
“I just worry about you, mi hija. You’re my baby.”
“I know, Mama, but I’m not a little girl anymore. I’ll be fine.”
“I had just hoped - I just wanted all of my children to be home again.”
Mama sounded so heartbroken that Paloma made a rash decision that she might end up regretting when she actually thought it through later. “Maybe with the money I make over the summer, I can buy a plane ticket home to spend Christmas with you.”
“I would like that very much.” Her tone quickly changed to worry again. “But mi hija, it’s your money. You shouldn’t be using it on a plane ticket.”
“As you said Mama,” Paloma said firmly, refusing to back down now that she had made her decision, “it’s my money and I’ll spend it however I want to.”
The obligatory maternal protest must have been finished, because Mama said dreamily, “All five of my children home again for Christmas at last. It will be the best present ever!”
The corners of Paloma’s eyes crinkled in puzzlement. “Five?”
“Oh! Didn’t I tell you? Antonio! He’s coming home!” Paloma couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous at the joy in her mother’s voice and wondered if her mother would sound so happy when she was telling the others that Paloma was coming home, or if that was just reserved for those children who had run away, not for the ones who had been sent away. Paloma bit her tongue as soon as that thought went through her mind, even though she hadn’t said anything aloud. That wasn’t fair.
“Yes, mi hija. Isn’t it wonderful? Luis found him in Bermuda and he should be coming home any day now with his girlfriend.”
“Yes, Mama, wonderful,” Paloma said distractedly. That was Luis’ second trip to Bermuda in less than a year, and they hadn’t been able to afford to send Paloma home even once in over ten years.
“All my children, home again,” Mama continued, oblivious to Paloma’s lack of enthusiasm. “It’s all I ever wanted.”
Nothing was said for a moment, then Mama was once again back to business. “But this must be costing you a fortune. Say ‘hi’ to Maria for me.”
“I will, Mama,” Paloma promised.
“I love you, mi hija,” Mama said.
“I love you too, Mama,” Paloma whispered, chocking the words out of her suddenly lumpy throat.
The telephone conversation ended as it always did. As Paloma hung of the phone, Tia Maria abandoned the two mugs of coffee to cool on the countertop and went over to hug Paloma.
“Mama says hi,” she whispered.
“She isn’t good with telephone calls,” Tia Maria explained hollowly. “She never was.”
“I know,” said Paloma.
“She really does miss you, Paloma. That’s why she finds it hard to call. She feels incredibly guilty that she had to send you away.”
“I know,” said Paloma.
“Mi niña, you do this every time. You can’t let these phone calls get to you,” Tia Maria said, a little more sternly.
“I know,” said Paloma.
Her aunt’s face softened. “But none of that helps, doesn’t it?” she asked astutely.
Paloma stared at the worn down tiles on the floor. “It’s been so long, Tia Maria. Sometimes I don’t even remember what they look like. I could be staring at Miguel or Theresa in the face, and I don’t know if I’d recognize them. And I - I - I don’t think that I’d go back now, even if I could.”
“I know that, niña.”
“And I don’t know how to tell Mama. I know I’m going to disappoint her and she’ll hate me.”
“Pilar will understand,” Tia Maria told her. “And she could never hate you. You’re her daughter. She loves you.”
In a small voice, so low it was a wonder Tia Maria heard her at all, Paloma asked, “Then why did she send me away?”
Tia Maria hugged Paloma tightly, running her hand comfortingly through the younger girl’s hair and letter her niece’s head press into the chest, just below her shoulder.
And Paloma cried.