He still can’t believe that any of this has happened. He wakes in the morning in his same bed, but a new room, and he feels disoriented, a sickness growing in his stomach as his mind struggles to remember before it hits full force. Annie is dead; Annie died. How can that even be? His mind struggles to deny it, is this one of the phases people always talk about? He wonders objectively, distracting himself from the panic inducing pain that hits him straight in the gut, whenever she comes to his mind. He can’t accept it, yet everything about his reality screams it to be true.
When Kenzie approached him about Ella, and temporary custody, he wanted to scream that it wasn’t good enough. He had always desired to be her Dad, full-time, every day of the year, but Annie had never welcomed him into their lives. The idea of losing her to Matt, to never seeing her again or knowing her future made him angry. He couldn’t save Annie, but he refused lose Ella too, so he agreed to Kenzie’s offer of temporary custody. All the while he prepared himself to fight for partial rights. He couldn’t see Matt wanting the responsibility full-time, he didnb’t believe that he ever wanted her to begin with outside of a vindictive nature. These thoughts comforted him with nothing else could, and he clung to them as reality even if it weren’t set in stone.
His Mom thought he had lost all rational thought, she always tolerated Ella in a friendly fashion, but as Ella grew older, and more introspective, she had distanced herself. Maria was certain that she’d grow up to be just like Annie, and she blocked herself from that disappointment now. Cesar could see that sullen part in Ella that she shared with her Mom, but this was an opportunity to give her all the things Annie couldn’t, and he had to take action.
She was insistent that he see things her way, to understand that cutting his ties with Ella was the healthy choice for him and the twins. She had said the same for cutting ties with Annie in the very beginning, but he never could, even after their relationship was obsolete, he loved her, and it wasn’t something to be switched off on command. He wondered if he should have cared more, was stronger with her, or more sympathetic, if there was anything at all that he could have done to save her from her destruction. The insecurity that he didn’t do enough tore at his very soul, and he couldn’t be forced to the sidelines when it came to Ella.
His Dad didn’t have any strong feelings, he felt for Ella, more sympathetic than Cesar’s Mom ever let on, but she was soft on the inside, beneath her shield. Both of them helped Cesar to find a three bedroom apartment, with his Dad it was easy. He owned two great dealerships, and just had to share that the mother of his grandchildren had died tragically, and people were struck. His car sales had never been so high, but Juan wasn’t sharing for that purpose, they really needed a great apartment, the type that would never hit the market because it had waiting lists.
And they had been able to find one, a nice three bedroom one on the North side of town, a block from Annie’s old house, but in much better repair. It was on the edge of mid-town, and the ruins, and boasted a swimming pool and park on the property. His parents helped move them in, and Maria set to work helping to furnish all the bedrooms and make it a home for all of them. She printed photos of Annie with the twins, and of Ella with her Mom, and spent extra time in Ella’s room, making it a place she could find comfort in.
She came to help Cesar get the kids ready for the funeral when the time came. The services had been delayed ten days as they searched to find Annie’s Dad. Cesar knew that they weren’t on any type of terms at all, but he thought he ought to know the fate of his daughter. He wanted him to be plagued by guilt, as he was, and he wanted to punish him with the reality of what he did to his daughter. She had deserved more, and he had failed her. But he could not be found, Annie being unwilling to share facts about her childhood, and him just as likely wanting to be lost, and so the ceremony continued without him.
Maria bought nice outfits for all the children, and a special dress for Ella to wear to the funeral. She had thought it was a kind gesture, that Ella might desire to dress pretty for the ceremony. Ella hated the dress, she fussed, and pulled on it, and wasn’t grateful for the thoughtfulness that Maria had exhibited.
Since Annie had no church affiliation, Cesar relented and had it at his parents home church, the one they had been married in decades earlier, and where they had dreamed for their only son to one day be wed. Cesar didn’t enjoy the church, and it felt wrong to celebrate Annie’s life here, but he didn’t know what else to do.
Juan was soft-spoken, and kind to Ella in sharing his condolences, and while Ella’s Dad Matt didn’t come to the ceremony, his ex-wife Jessica came and brought Ella’s big brothers with her.
As they were heading in, Ella pulled away from Cesar’s hand, terrified of stepping past the threshold and into the church. She’d never been in one before, she was terrified of the strange organ music escaping, and the musty smell of dust and candle wax. She hated her lacy dress that scratched and irritated her stomach and neck, she wanted to go home, her real home not the new place that was foreign and missing everything she cared about.
Cesar knelt by her, his face heavy with sadness, mirroring her own. It didn’t feel like she could ever smile again, as the weight was all too much, too thick to ever be lessened.
“I’m scared too,” Cesar whispered.
He pulled her in for a hug, patting the back of her head.
“I don’t want to go,” Ella tugged slightly back towards the car, the twins were safe with their grandparents. There was an urgency that she had to leave this place, that it was imperative to not go in.
“It’s important,” he said, his face twisting in agony, his mind running through what to say, what was the right thing to do. “You’d feel sad if you missed this, I’ll be right by you the whole time.”
She didn’t feel softened to go in, but she relented, seeing no way to leave without his willingness to drive her.
Manny was singing loudly, with Juan doing his best to ignore the behavior, and Marisol was reaching out for a large photo of their Mom that was blown to poster size. It was a shame that they won’t remember her, Ella had heard that many times, and it felt like someone had stolen their past life right from them. She could never share in the memories with them, or point back to specific oddities of their Mom and laugh, she’d never have that, and she felt robbed. No one would ever understand what she missed about her Mom, or the way it felt to bring her so much sadness just by being alive.
Ella didn’t know Jessica, but when she passed her, Jessica had given her a sympathetic smile, and Ella wondered if she was nice. She was glad that her brothers were here, she felt less alone knowing they sat behind her for this. She had them to share in stories of how rotten their Dad was, but he was mostly a bad man, because he’d conceived her. She tried to not think that her existence had caused a marriage to end, a family to be broken, and she was grateful her brothers didn’t talk like that to her.
The giant poster was too much for Ella, the kind words that were fake about a made up Annie, one that Ella had never known, all mumbled out by an obese priest who boasted a sickly sheen; Ella had to avert her eyes. She knew that her Mom wasn’t coming back, but this didn’t feel real, this wasn’t anything like her Mom, that she could almost wish it were a bad experience she could tell her Mom about later on. “You wouldn’t believe what the priest said…” she might say, if given the chance, and her Mom would laugh because she knew it was a lie as much as Ella did.
After the ceremony, Juan and Maria took the twins back to the apartment, allowing Cesar to take Ella to the cemetery alone. They had buried her earlier in the week, since the ceremony was much later.
All of the events leading to this point had not prepared Ella for the gravesite, and seeing her Mom’s name written on it. She felt uncontrollable anger rising in her, hatred over her Mom’s selfishness, she’d never been enough to make her Mom better. She hated her, she hated herself; she screamed the accusations loudly, the day clear and warm, the birds stilled at her rage.
Cesar tried to comfort her, but he was broken, and not filled with anger like she was. He didn’t know what it was like to live with her, as her daughter, trying to always be good, to make her smile and not feel overwhelmed. To know in her heart that her Mom was exhausted by her, and not filled with joy. He didn’t know, he’d never know, and Ella didn’t want his pity.
She pushed him away until he left to sit nearby, Ella continued her screaming until she was exhausted and only had tears left to expend. She hadn’t cried yet, she had worried that maybe she was broken inside like her Mom, and incapable, maybe she was dead inside too, but then they came, and she cried harder then she realized she could cry, and she just wanted to be numb again.
When she was spent, Cesar took her home, the twins were outside playing on the equipment, Maria proclaiming it was a beautiful day. Ella was young, she didn’t spend time with many adults, saying cliche things about weather and clicking tongues, and it made a hatred grow in her, a blackness that ebbed and reached, ready to attach itself to anyone, and Maria was the closest.
Ella went up to her room, talking to her Mom that couldn’t hear her, wondering about a God, and the words the priest said. All the while in her heart wanting only to go home, to her bed that was held up on cement blocks, to the carpet with stains, and the rotten baby bottles littering the floor, to her Mom working third shift, but there when the bus arrived home.
Cesar came in to check on her later, finding her asleep on the sofa, and he wondered if he could do right by Ella, if she had a chance for a good future. He wanted to believe that the best future she could receive was with him, he hoped it wasn’t arrogance blinding him, he wanted to change the fate of the Carver girls, he needed to succeed at this, everything was on the line.
His Mom didn’t believe it could be done, but he was certain it was environments that shaped people, and he was set on giving Ella a loving home with opportunities. He couldn’t fix Annie, but he would save Ella.
Notes: (Title from a Carrie Underwood quote)
I expected Ella to cry at the grave, but she screamed at it, threw a tantrum, kicked the grave, and continued in this fashion for the majority of the afternoon, then she finally broke down and cried. She breaks my heart, poor girl.
I am going to have Cesar have partial custody of Ella, and Matt continue with half. She would want to keep in touch with both sets of siblings, and Cesar always wanted to be her Dad since way back when she was three years old. We all know that Matt doesn’t want full custody ether, so I think it’s the best situation.
I made a household profile for this new family, all the kids have Carver for a last name, Annie would have never put Gonzales, because she wasn’t positive the twins were Cesar’s until they were born with black hair. I’ll be putting up a tour of the apartment on tumblr soon as well, I was happy with how it turned out. I also have made a Playable NPC page to view all the families with a quick bio, including Cesar’s family. I’m excited to play Cesar and his family more, because they’ve always been supporting characters, and Cesar just found himself in the front seat, with a spotlight. He’s a good guy though, I don’t think he’ll disappoint.
Thanks for reading!
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