In The Genes
In the kitchen, Copper had just drained her glass of lemonade when there
was a knock at the door. Confused, she slipped off her stool, heading out
to the hallway.
"I'll get it, Mama!" She called, reaching for the latch and slipping it aside, opening the door and letting out an exclamation of delighted surprise.
"Luis!" She cried, hugging her brother tightly. "Oh, did you come to see me?"
"I knew you were visiting Mama this week, so I thought I'd come say hi." Her brother's eyes twinkled back at her. "See how you've survived since the wedding. Aaron with you?"
"No...no." Copper shook her head, leading the way into the kitchen and pushing the door shut behind them. "No, he had a project to work on back home and I thought it was better I do this trip alone."
Luis looked concerned.
"There isn't a problem between you two, is there?" He asked anxiously, as he helped himself to a glass of lemonade. "You've only been married since March, Copper, don't tell me you're fighting already!"
"Huh?" Copper stared. Then she laughed. "No! Oh, no! I see where your thoughts are, but no. I came alone because it was short notice and, well..." She paused, lowering her voice. "Luis, what has Mama told you about...things recently?"
"Mama?" Luis's brows knitted in confusion. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"Has she spoken to you about...about Jessica?"
"Oh. That." Luis's eyes darkened. "Yes. She invited me over for dinner last weekend and explained it all to me very carefully. Don't tell me you're involved in all of this, too? I was under the impression that this was Papa's big bad dark secret and that he hadn't told any of us."
"It's as new to me as it is to you." Copper shook her head. "And as new to us as it is to Jessica herself."
"What?" Luis stared. "You've been in contact with her?"
"Yes." Copper nodded her head. "In a sense I already knew her, though I didn't know who she was till more recently. It spilled out without either of us expecting it. I confronted Mama about it, and she told me what she knew. She said she would speak to you and Ros, too - I didn't realise she'd done so without telling you that Jessica had been found."
"Well, obviously she didn't think it necessary that I know." Luis shrugged his shoulders. "In truth, I kinda hoped she wouldn't be. That Mama had just had the urge to tell us out of conscience, or something. I should have realised there was more to it than that, but I guess I didn't think."
"Some hotshot reporter you're going to make, then." Copper teased, but her eyes were grave. "Listen, Luis. Jessica came back to Detroit with me. She..."
"She's here?" Luis's expression became incredulous. "You brought here here? To Mama's house? Here? Why?"
"I would have thought that was obvious." Copper looked confused. "Mama was Papa's executor, and Papa left the girl money."
"Oh, so she's hitched her way up here to come and claim her rightful inheritance, is that it?" Luis's lip curled. "Papa's dead, Copper - does she even care about that? I would've thought that it would matter to you. Or did she just come here to grab what she could get?"
"I'd say that about sums me up."
A fresh voice, cold and hard came from behind them, and both turned to see Jesta standing in the doorway of the kitchen, watching them.
"I'm a callous bitch from England who's taken it upon myself to trot all the way across the Atlantic just to bring misery and upset to my dead father's family. Because he's long since dust, I don't give a damn about anything he ever did, nor do I really give a rat's arse about his stupid, over-spoilt children. I've plotted for a long time to come here and ruin all of you by blackmailing you if you didn't give me what I wanted, and I might yet kill you all in your beds if it meant I thought I could run away with more of my Daddy's money."
Sarcasm dripped from her words, and she fixed Luis with a poisonous stare. "Does that satisfy you?"
"Do you think you're funny?" Luis met the gaze with one of her own.
"Not at all." Jesta shook her head. "Perhaps I'm deadly serious."
An icy smile touched her lips.
"Luis, I presume. Your mother was telling me how you're going into the press. How nice for you. I hope you take great pleasure in ruining other people's lives. No doubt you'll begin with mine, since we've evidently got off on the wrong foot."
"Jesta, please..." Copper sent her an emploring look. "Luis, this is Jessica. She's our sister, remember that. Whatever Papa kept from us, this isn't the time to..."
"No, Copper. You're my sister." Luis shook his head. "Rosita is my sister. This," he jerked his head in Jesta's direction, "Is what I said earlier. Papa's big bad secret that had to be hushed up. Why do you suppose he did that, huh? Was he proud of it? I don't think so. And no wonder. Look at her."
"Luis!" Copper protested.
"Yes, look at me." Jesta nodded. "This is what happens when you're not spoiled and pampered at every stop along the way. What I am is what I've made myself. None of Daddy's boy, Mummy's girl nonsense with me. I'm..."
"You're Dad's bastard baby and you're dressed like some kind of hooker." Luis shot back, anger in his eyes. "But I don't know if I should be surprised or not. Mama didn't say much about your mother, but I'll bet I know what sort of a person she was, if you're anything to go by. A con-artist, that was the impression I got. Someone who'd sell their own soul if it meant a tidy profit or a favour from someone tall, dark and handsome. I don't know why you're here, except to extort money from Mama. She loved Papa and you're here to take advantage of it. I knew it the moment Copper said you were here. Copper's never been able to turn down a hearfelt request, and of course she feels sorry for you. So might Mama. I'm not so easily fooled, though. There are three children in this family - you hear me? Three. Not four. Get your money and get out of our lives. We don't need you digging around in Papa's memory and stirring up things for Mama again."
For a moment there was a deathly silence. Then Jesta shrugged her shoulders.
"Fine." She said simply. "Whatever you say."
She headed purposefully towards the door, where she paused, turning back.
"For the record, I never asked to be part of your crummy family, Mother's boy." She said quietly. "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather be dead."
"Jesta, wait!" Copper exclaimed, but Jesta swung open the front door, heading out into the street.
"Oh, for God's sake, Copper. Let her go." Luis grimaced. "She's not part of this family. I'm not so stupid as you might think I am. I know who Jesta is - I've heard enough about her in press reports and, more importantly, from your emails. I know she's a troublemaker and I know she's caused you no end of hassle. I knew as soon as she came in on us who she was. For all we know she might not even really be Papa's Jessica. This might all be an elaborate con to get Mama to hand over Papa's money and take advantage of all of us. She'll be laughing in the press tomorrow at what a fool you and your group are - did you think of that?"
"And what if she is?" Copper's voice shook "What if it isn't a coincidence that his name is on her birth certificate? What if it's not fluke that she has Papa's nose and Papa's chin? What if the reason she's exactly the right age to be Jessica Talley is because she is Jessica Talley?"
"I don't understand you." Luis shook his head. "Are you taking her side?"
"I don't know." Copper got to her feet. "What I do know is that my brother, who I love very, very much has turned himself into a monster this afternoon. Jesta mightn't be my best friend in the world, but she is family, Luis. And I know what Papa would want us to do. What he did want us to do. I know what he asked of Mama, and I know that, had he lived, he would have asked it of us too, eventually. We were just too young. He didn't want to burden our lives with his secret while we were growing up...and he never got to tell us."
"Copper, whether she is or not, she's still the girl who's caused you no end of trouble." Luis shook his head. "She's still Jesta. What her genes say is irrelevant. She's not Papa's daughter any more than Aaron is Papa's son. You want her to be, because she shares his DNA, but she isn't. She's not one of us. She's not a Santiago."
"Well, if you're an example of how a Santiago behaves, then maybe she'd rather not be. Perhaps she's right." Copper's expression became cold. "And more, Luis, I am beginning to think I'm glad to have let go of that name, too. You can do as you choose...you can sit and worry about being a good Santiago. But I'm Elizabeth Pelligrini now."
"So you'll turn your back on Papa and on all of us, for the sake of that girl?" Luis stared. Copper shook her head.
"No, Luis. You turn your back on Papa." She said quietly. "Me...I will find out for myself whether Jesta can be my sister or not. But, whether she is or not, she can never have the chance now to know her father. He's gone, and we're the only things she has left to tell her about him. I don't know what her mother was - I only know that whatever she is like, she's scarred Jesta for life in some way."
"And right now, I'm going to go find her. She's out there in a city she doesn't know, and she'll get cold, lost and maybe even hurt. She's Mama's guest and I'm not going to allow that."
She pushed open the door, grabbing her jacket from it's peg and slipping it over her shoulders.
"Bye, Luis. Think it over."
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