Chapter Four
Flashback: Esteban's Quest

"But you don't understand!"
Esteban banged his hands down on the desk, anger and hopelessness in his brown eyes. "You've never let me down before, Dave...what do you mean that this one is dead in the water!"
"What I said." Dave Pritchard shuffled together a pile of papers, pushing them his way. "I'm sorry, Esteban. I've done everything that I could, and more, but there's nothing more I can help you with. The girl and her mother have really disappeared. I've been in touch with people over there, and you've even had your own private investigator try and flush them out. They've gone underground - maybe they're even using false names. I don't know. But it still stands that, unless you can find the woman, there is no way you can chase her for custody of this child. Given the fact that the baby was born in Britain makes your case tenuous anyhow. You're an absentee father, who has made contact with the girl only once, and who has witheld alimony payments to the mother because of your suspicion over her character."
"You know it's not that way!" Desperation flared in Esteban's gaze. "You know I've put money by - just in Jessica's name, that's all! I don't want that woman getting her hands on it! And who cares where she was born? I'm her father! And I'm only an absentee one because the damn woman's disappeared!"
"I'm only putting it to you how a defence lawyer would." The attorney remained calm. "These courts usually side with the mother, and whatever your reasons, you have not paid Natalie Talley anything past the first few months to support your baby. I understand why, but I can't guarantee that a custodial court would. And the bottom line is, the woman and the girl are nowhere to be found. You can't challenge someone you can't find."
Esteban sank back in his chair, the anger seeping out of him. He buried his head in his hands.
"So it's over?" He asked thickly. Dave nodded his head slowly.
"I think so." He said honestly. "If your man in England flushes them out, well, maybe it'll be a different matter. But honestly, Esteban - forget about her. Write her into your will, if you like - keep putting money by for her. But as far as custody goes...this woman is a wily character and she took fright at your hints when you last communicated. She doesn't want the baby taken away from her - for whatever reason - and she is the child's mother. We have nothing but your intuition to go on that this means the girl will come to any harm."
"Listen." Esteban raised his gaze. "You're my friend as much as my attorney, and I trust you with these things. You know I don't fabricate things. Natalie and I had a short and very meaningless fling which got even shorter and more meaningless when I realised that she had something other than cigarettes packed away in her case to smoke after we were done. I haven't even told all of this to Carmen - I don't want her to think that my taste in women before we met was entirely out of the gutter. But you've known me since college, or maybe before. I know this woman is involved in drugs somehow. I don't want my daughter growing up in that environment."
"Esteban, I believe you." Dave's tones softened. "I always have and I always will. But without the woman, without hard proof...I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you. I don't like saying it...but it's over. Really. You do yourself no good by keeping it going. Think of your family and what it puts them through, too."
"I don't understand." Esteban looked confused. "My family?"
"Carmen." Dave pursed his lips, then, "What you told me when you came in had you smiling all over your face. But it's hard for her too, Esteban. This kid isn't hers, but she's willing to embrace all of this for you, because she loves you. And I've seen you with that little girl of yours. Eliza is a sweetheart and she adores you. It's not hard to see that."
"She's my little copperhead." Despite himself, a slight smile twitched at Esteban's mouth. "She looks like me."
"She does." Dave agreed. "And given the situation you're in with them, don't you think you should step back from Jessica - who we can't do anything about - and focus yourself on Carmen and Eliza? Especially if Carmen is expecting again...don't you agree?"
Esteban stared at his friend for a moment, then he sighed as if the fight had gone out of him. Slowly, he nodded.
"You're right, as you always are." He conceded. "I need to be there for Copper, and for Carmen, and for the new baby. They're my family and I have to stop chasing a broken dream. I don't want to give up, but I have to stop putting Carmen through things, too. She's not been so well this week, and I wonder how much this is all telling on her. The last thing I want is for my obsession with one missing child to put a healthy baby-to-be in any danger of it's life. Or Car herself, for that matter."
"Then that's what you should do." Dave smiled. "I'm sorry, Esteban. Noone is more sorry than me, believe me. But you have a beautiful wife, a charming little girl and a new family member on the way. Go to them."
Esteban got to his feet. He opened his mouth to say something else, but then thought better of it. Shaking his head, he left the office, closing the door behind him like a man defeated.
A soft voice came from the waiting area, and he met his wife's questioning gaze with a sad one of his own.
"It's over." He murmured. "Natalie's taken the child and fled. Noone can find her, and Dave's laid it into me exactly how hopeless all of this is. He says that it's time to let it go, and focus on the family I know I have...and he's right. You and Copper are more important right now."
"I'm sorry, Este." Compassion flooded Carmen's expression. "I know what it meant."
"Well, I'll have to survive it." Esteban said simply. He glanced down at the little girl sat in her lap, casting her a small smile.
"Well, Copperita, shall we go home?"
"Piggy back?" Copper eyed him emploringly. "Please?"
"I suppose I can't refuse that, since I've kept you all here longer than I intended." Esteban agreed. He lifted her up onto his shoulders, and the little girl squealed with delight.
"Giddy up, Papa. Giddy up!" She told him.
Carmen got carefully to her feet, slipping her arm into her husband's.
"We will be okay." She said gently.
"Car, promise me that you won't speak of Jessica to Copper or the new baby." Esteban met her gaze with an urgent one of his own. "Not now, not ever. Promise me?"
"Car, I don't want them to ever feel like this." Esteban bit his lip. "Like the family is not quite whole. That someone is missing. Will you? Please?"
"Yes, Este. I promise." Carmen nodded her head. "So long as you make me a promise too."
She smiled, touching his cheek.
"What promise?"
"That you be the father I know you can be...that I know you are." She whispered. "You have lost the first battle, yes, but Jessica is not the only one. Promise me to put her out of your head when you are with the children, otherwise they will ask questions and I will have to find answers."
"I promise." Esteban was silent for a moment, then, "I intend to finish what I started, putting the money by in that account. Then...that will be the end of it. It's time I stopped chasing something I can do nothing about, anyway."
He reached up to squeeze Copper's hand.
"These are the future." He murmured. "My future, and yours. And that's how it will have to be. You, me, and los niños."
"Yes." Carmen smiled, leaning her head against him. "And we will be fine. All of us. Just fine."

Prologue: July 12th, 1991
Chapter One: A Long Flight
Chapter Two: Family
Chapter Three: A Day Out
Chapter Four: Flashback - Esteban's Quest
Chapter Five: In The Genes
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven: Flashback - A Tragic Truth
Chapter Eight: A Tentative Bond
Chapter Nine: Some Truth
Chapter Ten: Flashback - This Is Farewell
Chapter Eleven: The Memorial Garden

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