Eleven-year-old Eliza finds out a surprising secret about her past... and her future, in Giovanni Valentino's delightful vignette.
Other kids played around her, jumping and squealing at the prospect of a treat. But Eliza just couldn't find it in herself to be happy. She felt out of place here in her black dress and shiny black shoes.
She brightened up a little as she saw her Uncle Gavin walking towards her with two bowls.
"Here, honey." He placed a dish of ice cream in front of her.
"What is it?" she asked as she probed the ice cream with the plastic spoon. It had an odd salmon color and strange consistency.
"Try it," Uncle Gavin said as he dived into his giant banana split.
Slowly, she spooned out a small portion of the strange mix and hesitantly put it in her mouth. To her surprise, it tasted like strawberry. "I thought they were out."
"They were but they had vanilla ice cream, strawberry sauce and tools for mixing things." He smiled at her. "I'm a problem solver."
"Thanks. And thanks for taking me here."
"I thought you needed a break." Uncle Gavin pulled a section of banana out of his dish and popped it into his mouth.
"How did you get Grandma to let me leave? She said I had to stay for the whole thing." Eliza stiffened. She had put up with Grandma being a bitch for the last two days. It was like living in a prison. She got sick to her stomach thinking of having to live with her.
"We had a heated conversion but I was able to convince her," Uncle Gavin said.
"Why does everyone keep asking if I'm ok?" she asked as she poked at his ice cream.
"I have no idea. I'm not ok. I don't know how that could think you are." Uncle Gavin blurted out. He reached out and held her hand. "But they do it because they care about you."
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Eliza put her spoon down carefully on a napkin on the table. She took a deep breath and said, "Is this my fault?"
Uncle Gavin almost spit his ice cream out. "Who told you this was your fault?"
"No one has said it but it is." Tears streamed down Eliza's face. "If I hadn't been a wimp and gone to the school nurse, Mama Nancy and Mama Alice wouldn't have been on that road, at that time, and they would still be alive."
Uncle Gavin pulled her in close and hugged her tight. He held her for a minute before he said, "This isn't your fault. I can tell you this all day, but it will take time for you to accept it. If it is someone's fault, it is the man that was driving the other car, not you."
Eliza blew her nose and wiped away the volley of tears. "Grandma Liz says I have to forgive him but I don't think I can."
"Grandma Liz is a good Christian and they are all about forgiveness. I'm not ready to forgive him either but eventually we are going to have to."
"Why? Why should we forgive that jerk?" Eliza slammed her hand on the table and her spoon went flying off.
Uncle Gavin gave her another spoon. "We need to forgive him for ourselves. You can't go through life hating someone. It only destroys you. I want a better life than that for you."
"What happens to me now?" Eliza looked down at the table and sighed.
"What do you want to happen?" Uncle Gavin asked.
"Grandma Liz says I have to go live with her but I don't want to," Eliza whimpered.
"Grandma Liz is an option but that's not a done deal. You have some say in this." Uncle Gavin put his arm around her shoulders.
"I'm just a kid. Kids don't get choices," she said in low voice as she looked down at the table
"In this case, you will, and I'll tell you why. I know for a fact that I am listed as your guardian in your mothers' wills."
Eliza jumped in her seat. "Can I come live with you then?"
"That would be a good fit, but we have a lot to talk about first. My life may be a little too chaotic to accommodate a child."
"I won't be any trouble. I'm a good kid," Eliza pleaded.
"We can talk about it. It is a possibility." Uncle Gavin tousled her hair. Eliza huffed and put her bangs back into perfect place.
"Grandma says she is my only living relative and the courts always side with blood relatives. She says you're not really my uncle. You're just a friend of the family," Eliza fretted.
"Your grandma is well meaning but I am your legal guardian now. I have more say in your final placement that she does. If she tries to go to court, she will be in for a big surprise."
Eliza smiled curiously. She braced herself and blurted out, "Are you my father?"
"Interesting theory, what evidence do you have to support that hypothesis?" Uncle Gavin asked in a professorial voice.
Eliza perked up in her seat. He didn't say no. She loved it when Uncle Gavin did this. He didn't just dismiss her as a stupid kid. He gave her a chance to argue her point. "Well, you come to visit all the time but you only spend time with me, not Mama Nancy and Mama Alice."
"That can be explained as me being a good friend. How many times did I come to visit so your mothers could go to dinner or another event that they didn't want to drag you to?" Uncle Gavin said.
Undeterred, Eliza moved to her next point. "We share many physical features. I have blond hair. You have blond hair. My mothers both had brown hair. I'm very tall for a girl my age. Mama Nancy and Mama Alice were both normal sized women. You are six foot three."
"That is a good point but your grandmother has blond hair. Your grandmother is tall for a woman. Sometime, these traits skip generations."
"My mothers were very athletic and the outdoorsy type. You and I are very smart and like being inside." she said.
"Your mothers were both brilliant women. It is no surprise you are so smart. As for your activity argument, parent and teens often come into conflict that way. Maybe you are just rebelling."
Eliza mulled that over for a second. Gavin's arguments were irritatingly logical. Then it hit her. "Your eye!"
"You mean this one?" as he pointed to his other eye.
"No, my left." She giggled.
"Oh, this one," he said pointing at the correct eye this time. "What about it?"
"You have a little sliver of brown in your eye surround by bright green. That is a... what is it called... a unique genetic trait." She was excited by this. She was sure she had him.
"That is a unique genetic trait. My mother had it. Her father had it. And my daughter has it." Uncle Gavin was beaming. "A daughter I am very proud of."
Eliza threw her arms around her father and would not let go. Uncle Gavin held her for as long as she wanted. Several minutes passed before Eliza moved away.
"So can I come live with you?" she asked.
"It is a possibility. But we have to discuss some things first."
"First of all, I am very busy at work. I'm in my lab at all hours. I can try to cut down a little but I'm part of some very big projects and committees and everyone wants me to read their papers or consult on their work."
"I could come to your lab after school. I can do my homework there."
"That will only help a little. I'll have to hire someone to help out."
"I don't need a babysitter!" Eliza whined and stomped. A gesture she instantly regretted as it undermined her statement.
"It's not a babysitter. I need someone to drive you to things, make sure you eat and look after you. I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I guess." She sighed deeply.
"And then there is another thing we need to talk about." He paused as he summoned the effort to get this part out.
"It's ok. I'm a big girl. I can handle it."
Uncle Gavin took a deep breath. "You are not my only child."
Eliza sat quietly for a minute. "How many kids do you have?"
"That isn't as important right now. Most of my kids are like you. I help couples with conception issues and let the parents raise the baby on their own. I check in with them from time to time. I visit with the ones that have an interest in seeing me. What you need to deal with now is two of my sons live with me."
"Do they know you are their father?"
"My oldest son, Kevin, knows. He got curious around your age and his parents thought he could handle it. He is in a doctorial program at my university. So he lives with me. You'll like him."
"And your other kid?"
"Jimmy. He has no idea. He still calls me Uncle Gavin. He's eight years old. His parents broke up. It was a very messy breakup. One of his mothers started drinking and lashed out at her partner and Jimmy. The state tried to take Jimmy away but I went to court and convinced them to let me have him for now. His better mother lives with me too."
"What is he like?"
"He is a very happy and very hyper eight-year-old. He's a little more like his bad mother than I like. I hope to be a good influence on him."
Eliza sat quietly for a few minutes digesting this information. "You really think Kevin will like me?"
"Yes, he has always wanted a little sister. He has been great with Jimmy and, as I said, the boy is a handful."
"Will I have my own room?"
"Yes, I have a huge house with a swimming pool and a greenhouse. Now that I think about it, I should finally build that small lab in my house, so I can do some work from home."
"Can I tell Grandma?" she flashed a mischievous smile.
"Sure and I'll back you up when she has an issue with it. Just don't cut her out of your life. She is a good person and she really loves you." Uncle Gavin hugged his daughter again.
"I'm still going to enjoy telling her," Eliza said with a little too much glee.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Uncle Gavin hugs his daughter tighter. "Let finish our ice cream and go back to the wake."