It was obvious that Mariel was anxious. Tests haven’t favored her all of her young life. It was frustrating to say the very least. If it weren’t for her tireless focus to put in more hours then anyone else, she would not have even passed high school. Where she was not blessed in test taking skills, she was fortunately blessed with charm. It got her through places where books could not. Regrettably with this particular test, charm had no place.
“I don’t think I’m ready.” She said as her lips quivered.
“Well, no one is ever ready, really.”
“But I’m scared. I’m so scared, Melo.” She wanted to say that she was scared that everything would change, but she couldn’t muster the courage.
“I know. What if the results aren’t what you wanted, right? But there’s no way around it. You’re going to eventually have to take the test. At least, I’m here. I’ll wait for you until your ready and done.”
It brought some comfort hearing those words from Melo.
“Let’s take our time. Tell the driver that I’ll be taking you. I’ll prepare the car. At least for now, time is on our side.” Melo said with a genuine concern.
Though they had been with each other for a couple of years, Melo had never forgotten to give her the utmost respect. He opened doors for Mariel at every opportunity and never allowed her to leave his sight, his traits of being a protector. His mother taught him well, or at least, that’s what women have told him over the years.
The car was nearly silent as Melo shifted into first gear. Mariel loved that car. It was the only place where Melo would answer any question she had. No other place was acceptable, not even in bed lying next to him. It had been a while since Melo had driven, clearly because it did not coincide with his schedule.
Another Relfection entered the vacuum of the car guiding their thoughts towards a single point.
As Mariel began to speak, Melo simultaneously placed the song on loop, “Melo, can you tell me a story? How was it living in that condo all your life?”
He didn’t react. Melo kept his focus on the road taking the longest route possible to the office. The song continued playing without any consideration Mariel’s heart. Her curiosity gravitated her hand towards Melo’s but never close enough to grasp it. Melo rarely ever visited the past but rather it seemed like he was always looking forward. At times, Mariel could feel that he was never looking at her but somewhere much further.
Melo gathered his thoughts. He was patient and collected and was taught to never say things he wasn’t prepared to say. As he collected fragments that once were memories, he was suddenly sent back to a time where he could still hear his mother’s voice, a sweet and soothing voice that carried him through the test called youth. Even in tears, his mother found a way to bring comfort to an unforgiving time.
Holding a worn sweater, she guided Melo into the back seat of the car and gave her darling son a kiss on the forehead. Grace and dignity accompanied even in her simplest actions. In the passenger seat, she brought the sweater within a breathe of her nose. The scent of smoke and cologne reminded her of Melo’s grandfather. Tears ran down her flawless skin. At first, Melo was completely oblivious to what was occurring, only thoughts on how he was going to give Nicole the letter ran through his head until the tears were accompanied by subdued whimpers.
“Mother, are you okay?”
“Yes of course, my darling son.” Though Melo desperately wanted to climb out of his seat and touch his mother’s face, he accepted his mother’s response and remained in his seat. Fear and concern troubled his heart, but like all young boys when it came to courage, he lacked it.
The tears wouldn’t stop, yet the driver provided no comfort. It wasn’t indifference, but rather it was respect. Not including his own years of service, there was a long lineage of mutual understanding with his family and Ma’am’s. There was never a sense of superiority between the two families, but each family knew their boundaries, one being intervening in personal matters. From a small compartment behind the hand break, he took out a Beatles cassette and played it softly in the background, not enough to entirely drown the whimper but it provided a sense of privacy.
As they arrived at Melo’s piano lesson, the driver took his time parking the car providing a few extra seconds for everyone to regain composure. Truth of the matter was that Melo’s mother had collected herself a kilometer before arriving. She had already fixed her make up and concealed any evidence of tears. She waited for the driver to open her door before she oriented Melo, but as she unfastened her seat belt, Melo had already opened it.
“Okay, I’ll be right behind you. Listen carefully.”
Melo obediently nodded.
An elderly woman wearing a light blue dress waited at the entrance of the studio.
“Good morning, Mrs. Li.”
“Gorgeous day, isn’t Madam?”
“Indeed. I hope you’re doing well.”
“It’s been wonderful. I heard the most beautiful tunes today, and I’m looking for it to continue.”
“I appreciate the praise, but shall we? Melo and I have other obligations to attend after this lesson.”
“Of course. Of course, please this way.”
After ninety minutes of practicing Mozart and Chopin, it was clear that Melo had talent. For being only eleven years old, Melo had the potential to be a concert pianist, fluid, long and flexible fingers and a firm understanding of emotion in his composition. More importantly, he had all the resources to achieve such a goal. There was no problem in providing world-class instructors and obtaining the most sought out music sheets. It was just a matter of choice if Melo or his family wanted it to happen or not. As for the boy, he played the piano only for his mother. Other than Melo’s instructors and his immediate family, no other person in the world was given the pleasure of listening to his wonderful melodies.
As the clock hit exactly 10:55am, Melo thanked Mrs. Li and asked to be excused to find his mother. Sitting in a love seat behind Melo in the opposite side of the room, his mother, still holding the sweater, smiled so wide completely proud of her boy. Melo gathered his music sheets and escorted his mother out of the studio.
“Beautiful, absolutely beautiful Melo. Just like how we practiced it.”
“Thank you, Mother.” Melo tried containing his joy, but a smile escaped.
“Now, let’s hurry home. We mustn’t make your French and Spanish tutors wait.”
“Must we have French today?” Melo asked, clearly not looking forward to his tutors.
“Of course, otherwise your father will be angry. Now, let’s get into the car. We must get going.”
Obedient as always Melo entered the car without further resistance. He clearly was frustrated and scared. It was inevitable. His French tutor was about to destroy any self-esteem he had and his mother would allow it, believing that she must trust in the methods of the best instructors. When he was suppose to be practicing his French the previous night, he was mustering the courage to write and give a love letter to his classmate. He started wavering and began wondering if it was worth it. Mother would provide no comfort after a brutal lesson, and Father being disappointed would raise his hand allowing gravity to teach Melo a lesson in responsibility. The butterflies started mixing with adrenaline and the fear slowly morphed into courage as he suddenly yelled, “I don’t care if father gets angry! I don’t want to get tutored today!”
The driver turned off the radio. Melo knew father would get angry either way. He could at least save face.
“Melo, watch your tone.”
“You didn’t practice. Is that the reason why?”
“Yes.” Melo hesitantly said as he swallowed his pride.
“Then it’s more reason to attend.” Melo’s mother stayed firm.
Now agitated, Melo nearly screamed, “Why do I even need French! Father is never around anyways! I don’t even know why he would even care!”
She turned around and looked straight into Melo’s eyes. “Don’t talk about your Father like that.”
“Well its true. He’s never around. Tell me if I’m wrong. He could be doing anything. Anything but being here.”
Another Reflection played in its entirety once before Melo finally spoke a word.
“Growing up there, it’s not much different to how I live now. Everything was scheduled a month or two ahead of time. Tutors and instructors surrounded me, and Mother accompanied me to everything, quietly and patiently observing. Piano, French, Spanish, algebra, swim, fencing, basketball, and sometimes I would even have to accompany my father with his morning jogs.”
“That sounds horrible. Did you ever have fun? Did you have friends come over?”
“It made my mother happy.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“It’s hard you wouldn’t really understand.”
“Well,” Melo sighed, “my happiness was my mother’s happiness. It might have been genetics, but my mother was the same. Her happiness was my Grandfather’s happiness. Grandpa was a strict and uncompromising man, traits that him successful, but it made it incredibly difficult for my mother to make that man happy, more so to inherit the corporation. She desperately wanted to make Grandpa proud and continue the legacy, but she had two problems: One, she was a woman. Second, my mother was not born with much talent, but she did compensate with discipline and doing things the proper way. She never cheated nor took any short cuts. Even when it came to courtship, she told me she made it almost impossible for any man. That is, until my father managed to win my mother’s heart. What was more impressive that was he able to convince the old bastard to give his daughter away.”
“How did he manage to do that?”
“He made a deal with the devil.”’
Mariel became increasingly more curious. It was just the distraction she needed to remove the butterflies from her stomach. At least briefly, Melo succeeded in providing a calm to Mariel’s heart.
“I remember the day my mother told me the story. We were driving home when I said the most awful things about Father. I was young, frustrated, and found courage for all the wrong reasons. It was the only time she ever hit. She asked the driver to pull over, opened my door, and repaid my disrespect with a force I never would forget. ”
Mariel just remained silent as she watched Melo continue the story. Though his eyes were on the road, Mariel could clearly see the reflection of a young boy in aged and tired eyes.
“Mother told me that I knew nothing. Though she knew I was still young, she would never allow that to be an excuse. Then it came out, the truth I had desperately wanted to know. Mother told me everything in its entirety. Father made a deal that would reverberate through the passage of every succeeding generation. In order to marry my mother, Grandpa had two conditions. One, he would be trained to run the corporation, a lifetime obligation. Second, all his children would carry Grandfather’s surname, a lifetime of sacrifice. It was the easiest decision of his life. He loved my mother that much. Though they spent more time apart, not a single moment was wasted when they were together.”
The only place she ever cried was in that car. At home, she couldn’t show any weakness. She had to be strong for her husband. A light week would include seventy hours of work. She knew her father would not be easy on the man if he were to eventually lead the corporation. Her father was not around most of her life, and now her husband would have to make the same sacrifice. The difference was her husband, tired and weary from work, would have a smile and joy of a sixteen-year-old boy who just had fallen in love just at the sight of her. Being strong at first was just an act, but as the years went on strength became a reality. She promised to herself she would not add needless worry to her husband’s life. She made sure their son would be provided with the very best education and given every opportunity to succeed in any venture. She would give him a son that he would be proud. It just brought such pain to hear her boy speak so poorly about the man she loved so dearly. She never wanted her son to resent his father.
“So what’s the real reason why you didn’t practice last night?” She asked with tears still running down her cheek. The shock of what transpired was still fresh. She could still feel in her hand. She was worried that Melo was being to resent his father. It was true he was rarely there for Melo. “Is it about father not waiting for you for his morning jog? You know Melo, there aren’t too many places in this world you can share your thoughts and heart in its entirety. In this car, we’re safe.
Melo rubbing his face said, “Nicole.”
“Who’s Nicole?” Shock moved from her hand to her eyes. After everything was said and done, the root of it all was a little girl. She gave a sigh of relief.
“A girl I like in my classroom. I was writing her a letter last night, but I don’t even know why I wrote it. She doesn’t even knows I exist.” Melo sighed, “I just didn’t want everyone to be disappointed in me. Sir Guy scares me, and I didn’t want Sir Guy and Father both to yell at me.”
She smiled. “We’ll reschedule tutoring today. We’ll drive around a little more. Tell me more about Nicole.”
“At the next right, we’ll be at the office, huh?” Mariel quickly reminded of reality as the car slowed down.
“I don’t think I can push through with this.”
“It’s really up to you. We can go home if you wish.”
“Wait, park the car. Let me think.”
As Melo parked the car, Mariel impulsively took her leave and went straight to the office. She couldn’t wait any longer, and she wouldn’t allow Melo to accompany her. She needed to know regardless how Melo would react.
Melo waited in the car. Voice of Autumn played softly in the background. Tomorrow he would have to wake up early, work out, eat breakfast and take his morning meetings. He was excited to get lunch with Mariel. After work he would surprise Mariel with dinner before he would have to meet with the accountant. He smiled to himself.
“When did Mariel become the only woman I would spend anytime with?” he asked himself. Just a year ago, he told her that they shouldn’t get married, and yet for some reason she still remains. Slowly without him ever noticing, he was left only with one woman in his life not but by chance, but by choice. Unlike every other girl before her, she never asked Melo to change.
She had the results. But she waited outside. Thirty minutes had passed before she found the courage.
When Melo saw her walk out of the office with the paper in hand, he already knew. Her body language said it all. Things were about to change.
Not only did you inherit my name, but also you had inherited my childhood. How I wish I could have given you a different life. How I wish I could have been there for you more. I did try my best, but with my old age and the many hours I put in at work, there simply wasn’t enough time. You may not know this but your grandmother’s dream was to keep the legacy of the corporation. I still wanted to make my mother proud, and I made almost every sacrifice to make that happen. Some day, you’ll know the entire story. Your mother is beautiful in every sense of the word, and when you’re ready she’ll tell you everything. Please make her proud and just wait for that car ride. Be patient, Melo. Some day you’ll too realize that you also inherited your capacity to love. My dear son, I am going to give you a choice though. On your twenty-second birthday, you have the option to take the reigns of the corporation. Unlike generations before you, you will have a choice. It’s not a life for everyone. After I made my choice, it made every other choice easier. It was almost like I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t give what I didn’t have. I hope you understand that. Don’t worry if you don’t choose to take the responsibility or continue the legacy. You have a nephew who’s been training and eager to make a man out of himself. No rush, my son. Take the opportunity. What opportunity you see. May it be an escape from your Grandfather’s curse or a chance to become the leader you were born to become.