Family Secrets – Chapter Eleven

Chapter 11

The shopping center is nearby, and is also quite small, so looking for Jane and Annie is not that difficult. Besides, Arnold has his cell phone and he can call them if he needs to.

“Dad, who is that woman? The one in the photo?” Jeremy asks again when they are inside the mall.  The drive over is short and intense and they don’t have a chance to talk.

“It’s a long story, but the main point is that this woman is someone I knew when I was 18 years old,” says Arnold, “and on top of that, she is the mother of…”

His phone rings and he answers it immediately. “Hello, Annie? Where are you? Jeremy and I are already at the mall.”

“We are in front of the sportswear shop,” Annie says.  “Something weird is going on, and…”

“Don’t move,” Arnold says.  “We’re on our way.”

“Dad, are you going to tell me who this woman is or not?” Jeremy asks again.

“Let’s start walking,” Arnold says taking Jeremy’s arm. “Does the name ‘Stroessner’ mean anything to you?”

“No, who is he?”

“He was a dictator back when I first came to Paraguay,” Arnold says.  He thinks for a moment.  “Forget about him for now.  Do you know the name ‘Montoya?’

“Of course, that’s Miguel Ángel’s last name.”  Jeremy stops in his tracks forcing his father to turn around and face him.  “She’s his mother?  The one you knew when you were a kid?  Why is she following us?  And who are the two guys who tried to kill me today?  Are they old friends of yours too?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Arnold replies.  “They weren’t friends.  They were enemies.  And what do you mean they tried to kill you?  You didn’t say anything about that before.”

“You have enemies?” Jeremy says softly, his eyes wide.

Then Jane comes running up to them pulling her mother along with one arm, while she protests the rough treatment.

“Dad. Something really strange is going on,” Jane says.  “I called Miguel Ángel.  He’ll be here any minute.”

“Where is she?” Arnold says.  They all know who he is talking about.

Jane points at the woman in front of the sportswear shop, with the hoody and sunglasses, still wearing them inside the mall.  She sees Jane pointing at her, turns and starts to walk fast towards the mall exit.

“Wait here. It’s all right.  I think I know who she is.  I’m going to talk to her.” Arnold walks quickly after her, trying not to attract too much attention.

The woman walks rapidly, and so Arnold walks even faster.  She dodges between other shoppers and Arnold almost loses sight of her.  Arnold can’t catch up with her even though he is practically running after her.  His memories flash back to their time in the forest, running after her, laughing…happy.

“Luján.  Please, don’t run anymore.”

She stops and then turns around. Arnold is only a few meters in front of her. They stare at each other intensely. She takes off her glasses and pulls back her hoody.  Arnold takes a few steps toward her.

“You didn’t come back,” Luján says in a soft voice.

“I thought you were dead.”

Neither one of them say anything else for a long moment.

“How did you recognize me after all this time,” Luján says quietly.

Arnold comes closer.  For a moment, he wants to kiss her, but no that wasn’t a good idea.  Arnold points at the gold rosary that hangs around Luján’s neck. “I would recognize it anywhere.”

“You haven’t changed a bit,” Luján says.

Arnold chuckles but then his face gets serious.  “What I don’t understand…”

“…is why I am following your family?” Luján interrupts calmly.

“Yes, exactly,” Arnold says with a puzzled look on his face.

“I don’t know.  I’m sorry.”  She is obviously embarrassed.  “I..I just couldn’t see you at the dinner tonight without knowing….about  your family.”  She pauses, then picks up her courage and looks Arnold straight in the eye.  “Ok, I wanted to know who you married, and whether you were happy.”  Now there is a tear in her eyes.  “For many years, I lived and dreamt about seeing you again, and I couldn’t understand why you didn’t come back like you promised.  And I had a son and then I fell in love with a wonderful man, and we have an incredible family. But when I heard your name, and realized it was you, the past returned to me, and I felt…” she says trailing off.

“So much….curiosity,” Arnold says, finishing her sentence.

“That’s it,” Luján says, relieved.  “I was curious.  I wanted to know if your wife was tall or short,  or beautiful, or…”

“Better than you, maybe…” says Arnold with a certain sadness, “Look Luján, all these years, we were happy.  We fell in love with other people.  We have kids…”

“Totally.  Very happy…and we grew up. We are adults now.” says Luján a little emotional. “But it’s obvious that we needed to see each other again, just to end this beautiful story…”

“Or continue it, but maybe as friends, writing the chapters that need to be completed…” Arnold says.

With these last words he makes Luján smile and at that exact moment Annie and Jane arrive with Jeremy, and Miguel Ángel enters the shopping centre.

“Mom…” Miguel Ángel shouts from the entrance and runs towards Luján.

“She’s your Mom?” Jane says loudly, confused.  “What’s going on here?”

“Jane?”  Miguel Ángel says.

“Why was your Mom following us?” Jane says angrily.

“Arnold,” Annie says.  “Who is this woman?  Do you know her?”

“She’s my mother,” Miguel Ángel says, getting irritated.  “What’s wrong with everybody?”

“Wait a minute,” Arnold commands.  “Calm down.  Give me a second to explain.”

It is the first time Arnold has been so close to Miguel Ángel, and he can now see the arrowhead that is hanging from his neck. There is no doubt.  Without asking, he takes the arrowhead in his hands, and turns it over to look at the other side of it.  His name is written there. His eyes begin to fill with tears.

Miguel Ángel looks at him puzzled. He takes a step back and then grabs his mother’s arm. Annie and Jane don’t understand anything.

“But, what is happening?” says Annie.

Jane just glares at Luján.

“Ok, let’s see each other later,” says Arnold to Luján.  “I need to have a talk with my family.”

“Yes, me too.”  Luján lifts the arrowhead necklace from Miguel Ángel’s neck and tries to give it back to Arnold but he refuses to accept it.

“It’s not necessary.  We’ve made a promise to have dinner tonight,” says Arnold. “Let’s figure it all out then.”

Although Luján is a bit confused and filled with emotion, she nods her head in agreement.  Then she turns away and heads toward the mall exit with Miguel Ángel on her arm, talking excitedly.

Arnold hugs Annie very strongly and then Jane.  “Are you both alright?” he asks.  They nod.  “Well, that was an adventure.  I have lots to tell you but let’s do it at home.”

Jane is about to ask a question, but Arnold interrupts her.  “No questions until we get home.”