The One That I Want. Michelle Monkou
rel="nofollow" href="#u2b7edd5e-aa5c-5db5-b612-aee1d9e86c9c"> Chapter 10
Dresden Haynes stepped in from the biting, wintry mix into the cozy warmth of his parents’ home. Instead of the customary deluge of holiday decorations to usher in Christmas, the first floor was an exhibition of widespread chaos. For the first time in a while, he wouldn’t spend the holidays with his parents. This time he’d stay in Toronto while his parents, Patrick and Charlotte, no-longer-retired globe-trekkers, soon would be off to Kazakhstan as engineering consultants for a three-year stint on a water treatment contract.
This latest nudge to rock his routine off-kilter was one of many this year. All of it, especially a surprise meet-up with some members of his birth family and now the lengthy absence of his adoptive family, was out of his comfort zone.
Frenzied sounds of his parents’ preparations hit him in intermittent bursts. Overhead his father’s frustrations verbally punctuated the air just before loud, dull thuds and dragging sounds scraped against the ceiling. An assortment of suitcases blocked access to the staircase. Meanwhile, brown boxes outlined a path toward the kitchen, where he saw his mother with her sleeves rolled up.
Taking careful steps, he navigated his way through the foyer, around the assortment of boxes and down the hallway. Her determined expression remained rigid as she looked up at an awful abstract painting above the pantry door. He bit back the smile over her loud, dramatic sighs that floated toward him.
“Bought it at a yard sale. I think you should take it.” Charlotte shifted her attention as he approached to greet her with a kiss on the cheek.
“Let the new renters enjoy it.” Dresden failed to hide his shudder at the hideous collision of colors that masqueraded as art.
“You could move in until we return.”
“Nope. I like my place just fine.” His parents had chosen the suburbs, but he liked downtown Toronto with its beehive busyness. “And you know that my commute is closer to the university.”
“At least keep an eye on the place while we’re gone.”
“Stop worrying. I’ll play the grumpy landlord whenever necessary.” Dresden playfully bumped his mother’s shoulder. “Dutiful son. History professor. Landlord—I’m your best son ever.” And she was the best mother ever.
“Don’t run off our renters, either.” His mother softly slapped his arm.
Dresden nodded, also hoping she wouldn’t add last-minute items to his list of tasks.
Charlotte bustled past him toward the stove and lifted the lid off a small pot. “I don’t have much in the house to make a meal. Your dad and I’ve been eating out for the past two days. That’s tiresome and not great food. This morning’s feast?” She scrunched her nose to mimic his reaction to the offering of congealed oatmeal.
Dresden shook his head. “I’m fine. Ate not too long ago.”
“What brings you here? Not that I’m unhappy to see you. But we did have a really nice goodbye dinner with you last night,” she said as she opened cabinets, inspected the empty space and pulled out any forgotten items.
What did bring him there? A need. One that gnawed at his center. Although he suffered no physical pain, he felt a heaviness as the day broke and the hours until his parents’ departure grew closer.
“Thought you might need a hand. No matter how much you plan, there is always something that goes off-script. Decided to pop over, just in case...” He shrugged out of his jacket, tossed it on a chair and joined her with inspecting the higher out-of-reach cabinets.
“We’re fine. Movers will be here within the hour. And I do have one more day before boarding the plane.” She paused and a hint of a frown flittered on her forehead. “You, however, don’t have one more day to face your destiny.”
Dresden stared into the empty space of a cabinet. Not a speck of dirt in sight. However, his mood mirrored the bleak emptiness of the shelves. The void in his soul couldn’t give a glimpse of the future, and it didn’t offer any solutions, either.
The blame for his unsettled feelings sat squarely at one person—Verona, his birth mother—and her family, the Meadowses.
His parents, whom he refused to think of in any other capacity, had never hid the fact that he was adopted. They’d never shared the details, allowing him to choose whether he wanted to know. And he didn’t. Had no desire to unseat his parents from their position in his life.
But when Grace Meadows took his choice away with her revealing letter, the surprise had sucked the breath out of his lungs. She’d forced him to face the truth, to acknowledge that another woman and her family were connected to him. Her entreaty, though polite, had shredded his world, leaving him to question how he should or should not feel.
Then, like an encore performance, Leo Starks, her lawyer, further made inroads with his heartbreaking story about the loss of his family and finding love again with Fiona, Grace’s granddaughter. That same granddaughter, his half sister, had managed to breach his defensive wall with her fresh outlook and honesty, to extend a hand of friendship. One that he’d accepted, but not without conditions. He wanted nothing to do with Verona—the woman who’d given birth to him.
Despite his rules of engagement, because he was a Meadows, with their international news and lifestyle media empire, the media spotlight had turned on him. Why did the Meadowses have the power to whip up a fog of confusion around his life?
Dresden sighed, wishing for more palatable options to materialize for his sake.
“You’ve got to attend Grace Meadows’s birthday party.” Charlotte had a knack for delivering the toughest messages wrapped in soothing tones and gentle smiles. “You’ve already booked your flight for tonight. No procrastinating.”
“I can meet them anytime.”
“It’s your grandmother’s eightieth birthday.”
“Grace.” He couldn’t help the correction. Only in his thoughts did he play with such familiar terms of his birth family. Grandmother. Mother. Sister. But to say those words aloud and attach them to the respective member of the Meadows family—well, he couldn’t stop the constriction that gripped his throat when he envisioned the scenario.
“Go celebrate Grace’s life. She would love seeing you there.”
“How would you know?” He turned his back and busied himself with inspecting another set of cabinets.
“Because I want them to see what a wonderful and respectable man you’ve turned out to be.”
Throughout his childhood, to him, his mother was the average working mom. To his school friends, she had this larger-than-life persona, like a female Indiana Jones, who wasn’t afraid to work in faraway, sometimes dangerous, places.