“I packaged up your food,” Mark said quietly, trying to hand the box to Hazel. She sat in the far corner of the limousine with her arms folded and a scowl on her face. He set the box beside her on the seat and sat across from her so he could keep his gaze on her, hoping she’d look up and see his remorse. She didn’t.
The cool interior of the air-conditioned limousine was a stark contrast to the tropical heat and felt good for about two minutes. Mark could see that Hazel was shivering and he wanted to wrap his arms around her. Instead he tossed her the sweatshirt he’d brought with him in case it got cool later that evening.
Without a word of thanks, Hazel pulled the sweatshirt over her head and lifted the hood, effectively hiding from the rest of them.
The ride back to the mansion was quiet. Mark had laid into the guys as soon as Hazel had stormed away. Creating the wager in the first place was bad enough. Claiming winner in front of Hazel was uncalled for. He just hoped they hadn’t ruined his chances with her.
When they pulled into the circle drive, there were several more cars than had been there in the morning. Mark knew his grandfather was a well-loved member of their community and word had probably gotten around that he was sick. There would likely be a steady stream of visitors the whole time they were in Mexico.
Stepping into the grand foyer of the stately home was like walking into a funeral visitation. Little groups of three or four people huddled together, some with tissues dabbing at their eyes.
Mark’s mother glanced their way from one of those little huddled groups and her countenance was all Mark needed to learn the truth. The pity in her eyes. The way her brow creased and how she bit her lower lip. She squeezed the hand of the lady at her side and stepped away from her friends.
“Oh, Marcos, I’m so sorry.” She wrapped her arms around him, and he stood stiffly, no longer seeing the people in the room. His vision blurred and when a tear slipped down his cheek, he lowered his face close to his mom’s and leaned against her for support, simultaneously hiding his emotions from everyone else in the foyer.
He pulled his mom into his arms and held on, not wanting to even ask the question to which he already knew the answer. Instead he deflected. “Is dad okay?”
“You know your father,” Mom said. “He’s all business. Taking care of arrangements, making all the right phone calls, answering all the necessary questions. Planning, planning, planning.”
“Yeah, that sounds like him.” Mark chuckled lightly, pulling away from his mom and reaching up to dry the few tears that had escaped. He’d promised grandpa he wouldn’t waste any more time crying and mourning. He spent the day doing all the things grandpa would have wanted him to do.
Heck, he’d even kissed Hazel Cohen. His grandpa would be proud. That brought a soft smile to his face and he was tempted to turn around and search for Hazel in the small crowd behind him. But he didn’t. He couldn’t bear the thought of her continued anger.
Instead, he pushed gently past his mom to where he could see his dad in the next room talking to an official looking man with a leather binder and a three-piece suite. When Benjamin noticed Mark walking toward him, he barely excused himself from the audience with the other man and met Mark halfway across the room.
“Oh, my son,” Dad whispered as they held each other firmly. Neither of them cried. They just held each other. They were the same height now. Grown men. Equals. Never before had Mark felt so close to his father. In that moment he realized what this must be like for his dad, having just lost his own father.
“I’m sorry for your loss, dad.” Mark squeezed his dad just a little tighter. “Do me a favor. Don’t die anytime soon because I don’t think I’m as strong as you are.”
They pulled away slightly and looked one another in the eye. “You’d be surprised how much weight you’re able to bear at the time you’re needed.”
“I’ll take your word for it, okay?”
“Sure.” Benjamin patted Mark on his shoulder, then pulled his arm gently. “Come, I want you to meet our attorney, Fernando Alverez. He’s been handling our affairs for a while and will be conducting the reading of the will.”
“Good evening, Mr. Alverez,” Mark said respectively, reaching out his hand.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Marcos. Your father and grandfather speak highly of you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’m going to assume that you’ll be settling your finances in the States, but I want you to know I’m always here for you if you have any questions or need advice.”
“Advice about what?” Mark creased his brow and glanced between his father and Mr. Alverez.
“About your inheritance,” the attorney said, like it should have been obvious. “I know it’s a lot to take in. Most people don’t inherit quite this much money all at once, but your grandfather’s wishes were quite clear. He wants you to have it all now.”
“How much is… all?”
“Well, we’ll evaluate the final dollar amounts at the reading of the will the day after tomorrow, but it’s… a lot.”
“Don’t worry, son, we’ll help you get it all transferred and set up in the correct investment funds. We’ll do the best we can to protect it from inheritance taxes and the likes. You won’t have to do this alone.”
“First a crown, now an inheritance? What else are you going to tell me? Are there any other secrets I should know about?”
“Yes… but we should discuss it in private.”
“Oh great, because telling me I’m about to have a crown and a fortune dropped on my head is public knowledge.” Mark turned in a circle with his arms wide, raising his voice. “Everyone else seems to know my business. Why hide anything now?”
“Son calm down. We’re all mourning, and this is not the time or place. Let’s just get through planning the funeral and you and I can talk later tonight. Okay?”
“Whatever.” Mark stormed from the room. He wished he could go back in time to when life was as easy as walking on the beach with a pretty girl.
The grand foyer where more than a dozen people still congregated felt crowded and stifling. His three best friends stood just inside the door wearing their sandy beach clothes and forlorn faces. Alex had his arm around Hazel’s shoulder, and she looked like a scared little girl standing there in his oversized sweatshirt over her swimsuit and holding a Styrofoam box full of tamales.
Hazel took a step forward and met Mark in a hug. “I’m so sorry.”
“Let’s talk in a little while okay?” He wrapped her tiny frame in his big arms and kissed the top of her head. “I need a shower. Get this sand off me. And I possibly may need to throw up.”
She chuckled and looked up at him with a soft smile. “Yes to the shower, no to the puking, and I’ll bring you a cup of mint tea in a little while.”
“Deal.” He winked at her and then stepped over to his friends. He gave Noah and Drew each a side hug slash hand shake then pulled Alex into his arms and held him for several long seconds. “Thanks for being here with me guys.”
“Of course,” Drew mumbled.
“Let us know if there’s anything you need, man,” Noah said.
Alex just squeezed a little tighter before releasing Mark and they stepped away from each other.
“Guys, find some aloe or something,” Mark said. “You’re burnt to a crisp.”
“I’ve got just the thing,” Mark’s mom, Nisha, interrupted. “You boys get showered and I’ll bring up some salve.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Alex answered Nisha as the three guys trudged up the stairs.
“Thanks, Mamma,” Mark said, reverting back to his youth and wishing he could turn back time. “I’m going to get a shower too. Love you.”
“Love you too son.”