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“THERE was something unique about you I liked,” she had told him softly and those words kept replaying in his mind, for in that tone was an unmistakable passion.
He felt he was losing the battle to fight against the love he felt for her, but he knew he couldn’t because he had to think of his father, and what damaging effect it could have on him. He spoke with him often but that reconnection was now causing a problem with his mother and siblings.

“Why are you meeting with him so often?” his mother queried in a displeased tone.
“I am just trying to make up for all the years that were lost,” Alvin explained, “And he’s happy about that.”
“Yeah right,” his older brother Avinash scoffed, “After all, he has put this family through with his cheating and selfishness.”
“Yeah, I know,” Alvin responded, a bit defensive, “But how do I not talk to him?”
“And his young wife?” his sister asked, mischief in her smile.

“That wasn’t funny,” Alvin chided her, “You could have told me that.”
“And ruin a nice surprise?” she asked laughing.
Alvin shook his head with mock annoyance. He felt like he was caught in a tangled web with his father, Marissa, unforgiving mother and siblings.
“Damn!” he swore silently, “What a situation.”
His training and experience had shaped him into someone with patience, tolerance and understanding, and he knew he had to apply those mental skills carefully, so no one got hurt, especially Marissa.

He hadn’t seen her in a while, holding against his desire to do so but one day he just put to rest that mental battle and visited her gift shop.
She was sitting behind the fragrance counter, a little pained look on her face.
“Hey. How are you doing?”
She sighed, then said with a little smile, “I am fine. Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Kinda busy,” he said casually.
“I see, still avoiding me.”

He smiled a little apologetically, then looked at her and said openly what was in his mind, “I wish I didn’t have to.”
He saw that little pained look again in her eyes and wondered after he left the gift shop a short while later if she was unhappy.
He continued to work on his company that was shaping up great and he had left for a three-day business trip to neighbouring Trinidad, when he got a call from his brother, late on the second night.
“You need to come home now, Alvin.”
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s dad, he collapsed a few hours ago and is in the hospital.”

“What happened?” Alvin asked – an edge of fear in his voice.
Avinash didn’t answer for a moment then he said, “I think it would be better when we are all together to talk about it because, at this point in time, he’s not looking good.”
“And Marissa?” Alvin asked.
“I don’t know anything about her,” his brother answered in an abrupt tone.

A sudden compelling feeling had made him ask about her, maybe because of his father’s request not to hate her.
Alvin reached home early the next morning, greeted by his mother who looked worried and his brother and sister somewhat distressed.
“Has his condition improved?” he asked with some hope.
“No,” his mother answered, “And it seems unlikely it would.”

A dreadful feeling entered Alvin’s heart at that moment and he felt a deep reluctance to ask why, but he needed answers.
“Cancer,” his sister answered in an unsteady voice.
The living room suddenly became quiet, just that one word that pronounced an imminent death sentence. No one said anything for a while, unable to believe something like that had happened, then Alvin asked,
“Did he not tell anyone about this?”

“No and apparently he swore his doctor to secrecy,” his mother said.
“I can’t understand why he hid this from us.”
Alvin visited him at the hospital but he was unresponsive and as he looked at him, regrets filled his heart.
“We were doing fine, dad, starting to make progress on the time we had lost. Why this?”
He went to his father’s house to talk to Marissa but she was not there, the gift shop was closed and his calls to her phone went unanswered. He couldn’t sleep that night, troubled thoughts on his mind, some questions still unanswered.

In the early hours of the morning, his eyes closed in sleep and in a dream, he saw Marissa standing alone and crying quietly, and as he walked towards her, he heard his father’s voice, “Alvin, my son, please take care of her.”
A frantic knocking at the door jolted him out of his sleep, and he got up a bit disoriented.
“Alvin, wake up son,” his mother was calling.
He opened the door and saw a sad look on her face.
“The hospital just called,” she said, her voice breaking a little.

She didn’t want to tell him why, he knew and he sat down for a long moment trying to come to grips with the fact that his father was gone. The doctor revealed in a meeting with the family later that morning, that when the father was diagnosed with the incurable disease, he didn’t want to burden his family for their care nor sympathy. After giving them the details of his illness, the doctor concluded, “If it’s any comfort, you must know he dealt with it fearlessly and lived beyond the expected time.”
“He was a strong man,” Alvin agreed and as the family got up to leave, he asked the doctor,

“Was the wife informed?”
The doctor took a little moment to answer, “She was by his side just before the end.”
They were not pleased that he asked about her but if dreams were true, then she was alone crying and he had to do what his father asked of him.
To be continued…

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