Come to my house when you guys are done primping. I’m helping babysit my little sister. Kade and I both had changed into our tuxes, minus the jackets, which we’d draped over the backs of chairs in the dining room. and planned to wait at our house until the girls were ready.
All of our parents were busy or out of town, so we planned to do pictures with friends at the event center where prom was being held.
Okay, see you in a couple of hours. Gracie texted back.
I put the phone down, turned back to the Disney movie and laughed for another two hours with my siblings. I was surprised the time had gone by so quickly when Gracie and Maddie walked in the back door.
“Gracie!” Reina pushed herself off my lap and scrambled to get down from the couch. She raced across the room and jumped into Gracie’s arms. To her credit, Gracie didn’t flinch about Reina messing up her evening gown. “Come watch Frozen with us.”
“How many times have you seen that movie?” Gracie asked, stepping over Clay, who was laying in the middle of the living room floor. She waved Maddie to follow her and sat beside me on the couch.
Kade rose from his chair to welcome Maddie over to the other end of the sectional, sitting beside her awkwardly.
“Hey, how’re you doing?” I asked Gracie, wanting to pull her close. We’d barely had a second alone since making our relationship official and I couldn’t wait to have her in my arms on the dancefloor.
“I’m good.” Gracie tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and lowered her eyes. Awkward shyness. So much fun on a date. “How are you?”
“Good. Are you excited for our date?” I wished we could leave now but we were waiting for my oldest brother Sean to get home from work. Not that Clay couldn’t handle babysitting our little sister, there was just an unspoken understanding that we would wait.
“Where are you going on a date?” Reina asked, turning to Gracie.
“We are going to prom,” Gracie answered, pulling on her ponytail.
“Can I come with you? Pleeeeease?” Reina knew how to turn up the charm.
“Not this time.” Gracie turned Reina around so she was facing forward. “Do you want me to braid your hair?” Good distraction.
“Yes!” Reina climbed down and ran to get her favorite comb and detangling spray. She came back and stood in front of Gracie, leaning her head back and looking up at the ceiling.
“Dang, you have a lot of snarls. Didn’t your mommy do your hair before bed last night?”
“She’s still gone visiting daddy,” Reina said, her eyes now focused on the television.
Gracie looked over at me with raised eyebrows. “I thought your parents were divorced.”
Oh boy, here we go. “I’ve never actually said that. You just assumed.”
“But… you go and visit your dad’s house every few weeks. Are your parents separated?”
“Uh… no, not officially.”
“Why didn’t you go with your mom to visit your dad?”
“They are bunny rabbits,” Reina said. “None of my brothers want to be in the same wing of the house because they don’t want to think about what mommy and daddy are doing. I don’t know what that means.”
Maddie snickered and Gracie openly laughed.
“Kids say the darndest things,” I said, chuckling along with the girls as if I wasn’t dreading the rest of this conversation.
“She’s just saying what the rest of us are thinking,” Clay said, rolling onto his back and tucking his hands behind his head. No one seemed to be paying any attention to the Disney movie anymore.
“What did you mean by the same wing of the house?” Maddie asked.
“Our big house has wings.” Reina flapped her arms like a bird. “Our little house doesn’t have any wings.”
I held my breath, hoping Gracie didn’t ask. She did. “How many houses do you have?”
“We have two houses,” Reina said without turning from where Gracie was still combing through tangles. “A big house and a little house.”
“Wait… this is your little house?” Maddie asked, glancing up at the cathedral ceiling, the 72” television mounted on the wall, and the imported furniture.
“I have two bedrooms at my daddy’s house.” Reina turned around and held up two fingers. “They call one of them my playroom because there are lots of toys. But I like Clay’s playroom better because he has lots of video games and bean bags. I’m not allowed to go into Kade’s playroom because there are too many guitars in there. And he has a whole drum set right in his playroom. It’s not as big as Uncle Nathan’s drum set. But that’s downstairs in the studio. I’m not allowed to go down there without daddy or mommy.”
I held my head in my hands, gripping into my hair.
“Well, I guess that cat’s outta the bag.” Kade snickered.
“Dude, this isn’t funny.” I lifted my head and glared across the room where my twin brother leaned back into the sofa beside his date.
“We only have six bedrooms in this house.” Reina continued her speech that was destroying my perfect little world. “And they’re all crammed together on one floor.”
“How many bedrooms are in your big house?” Gracie asked through clenched teeth, glaring at me. I was in so much trouble.
“I don’t know. A whole bunch of them.” Reina shrugged.
“Fifteen,” Clay said without lifting his head.
“Fifteen?” Maddie’s question was practically a squeal. “How come you don’t live in your big house?”
“We came to live here after Grandma Kendrick had her heart attack.” That was our standard answer as a family. Reina was repeating the narrative she’d been taught. Maybe Gracie would accept that and move on with our evening.
“If your mommy is visiting your daddy at his big house, why aren’t you visiting also?” Gracie was getting more out of this conversation with my little sister in five minutes than I’d told her in the two years I’d been her next-door neighbor and best friend. Might as well let this train wreck happen so we can finally get it over with. I knew what was coming next and I cringed.
“Daddy’s on tour,” Reina said. “They’re at a hotel somewhere in New York City. They played in a garden last night.”
“A garden?” Maddie asked. “Do you mean Central Park?”
“No, it was a square garden,” Reina said.
“Madison Square Garden?” Gracie’s jaw dropped and I saw the moment she connected the last dots that had been right in front of her eyes for so long she was probably embarrassed this had taken her so long to figure out. “Your dad is Kai Burton.”
“How did you know my daddy’s name?” Reina asked, turning around and looking at Gracie with big eyes.
Gracie looked around at all of my brothers, still with gaping mouth, Sean having just walked in the door. We all kind of held our breath, except Kade, who turned his head away, tracing the pattern on the arm of the sofa. “Oh my gosh, you all look just like him. I can’t believe I never…”
“Sorry,” I whispered.
“Why haven’t you ever told me who your father was?” Gracie sounded like she was going to cry.
“Wait, are you talking about Kai Burton, the lead guitarist of the rock band Buxton Peak?” Maddie finally connected her own set of dots.
“Please understand our perspective here.” I ignored Maddie and spoke directly to Gracie. “We just want to lead a normal life without all the fame and stuff.”
“By lying about who you were?”
“We didn’t lie… we just didn’t tell the whole truth.”
“Maybe you guys should talk about this another time.” Sean stepped over to pick up Reina who now had perfect little braids on either side of her head. “How about if I feed Reina her bedtime snack and you four can head out on your date. Souds like you have lots to talk about when little ears aren’t around.”
“Great idea.” Gracie stood and folded her arms across her chest. “We do have lots to talk about.”
“Alright, let’s do this.” Kade hopped up from the sofa, offered his hand to Maddie and lifted her to stand beside him. “The truth will finally set us free.”
“The truth,” I mumbled. Wait until she finds out the rest of the truth. I had an ominous feeling that this was going to be the worst night of my life.
Book Club Discussion Questions: What do you think? Was Gracie justified in her anger?