He finds the gravestone with a little help from the groundskeeper. It’s not particularly large; average and made of smooth marble with a name in both English and Hebrew. There are several stones on the grass before it; he knows it’s Jewish custom to place stones rather than flowers when visiting a tomb and wonders how recently they were put there and if any of them came from Rachel. Just the thought of her name makes his chest tighten and he squeezes the hand of the man walking beside him a little tighter.
It shouldn’t have taken him this long to make this trip.
He stands in front of the gravestone for a moment before reaching into his pocket, pulling out a small rock and placing atop the marble. He traces the letters of the name tenderly.
Joel Asher Lieberthal
A part of him is sad that Rachel didn’t find it within her to have his name listed as Joel Asher Berry-Lieberthal, because, after all, that was Joel’s professional name for a very long time but then again, maybe that was supposed to be his job and he’d definitely dropped the ball on that front.
“Joel Asher Lieberthal,” his partner reads. “Asher. It’s nice; I wonder what it means.”
“It means ‘blessing’ in Hebrew,” he answers. “Joel’s parents were Holocaust survivors. His father was at Dachau and his mother lived through the death march at Auschwitz. They didn’t think they would ever be able to have children; they’d tried for many years after they were married but couldn’t. And then one day they did. Joel was a blessing from God to them. And a few years later they had Elisha.”
He feels Vic lean into him and rests his head atop Victor’s.
“Who is this?” Victor asks. “I doubt he’s family but they share the same plot.”
He turns slightly towards the other marker on the plot. There is a small cross engraved in the headstone but there are also pebbles placed before it. He reads the name and it doesn’t sound all too familiar.
Tomás Gabriel López Gutiérrez
Gregory furrows his brow. Could it be that Joel had found a new partner after the end of their relationship? He’d never considered that possibility because, well, Joel was incredibly sick. There was simply no way around the constrictions imposed by his worsening Huntington’s. Was someone actually able to look past all the shaking and the yelling and the forgetfulness and the depression in order to fall in love with Joel?
He’s pulled out of his thoughts when he hears the soft crunching of leaves. He turns around to find a young woman walking up the pathway towards him. She seems vaguely familiar but he hasn’t lived in Ohio for fifteen years so he cannot be sure of who she is.
She’s a very pretty girl, olive-skinned with thick black hair pulled into a braid over her shoulder, and big brown eyes. She’s wearing a white blouse tucked into blue jeans and black Converse sneakers; the sleeves on her shirt are rolled up to her elbows. She carries with her a canvas satchel with an elephant printed on the side.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Berry?” she asks.
It’s obvious that she knows exactly who he is and it takes Gregory a minute to finally place her. She’s Santana, from Rachel’s high school glee club. He steps forward and lets go of Victor’s hand in order to offer it to the brunette.
“Hello…Santana, right?” he says amiably.
Santana looks down at his hand and then up at him; she doesn’t make a move to shake his hand at all.
“Yes,” she says, “Santana López. I’m very surprised you managed to remember my name when you couldn’t even remember your daughter’s for the past sixteen years.”
Her voice drips with bitterness and, out of the corner of his eyes, Gregory sees Victor tense up. They were not prepared to fight today; they were not prepared to run into anyone, actually.
Gregory shakes his head and drops his hand. “Look, Miss López, I don’t think that you are qualified to speak to me about my daughter. My relation-”
“First,” she interrupts, “it’s Mrs. López. And second, I am the person most qualified to discuss Rachel with anybody. I’ve been there for her for the past sixteen years. I’ve been there for her every day since you left her and your ailing husband to fend for themselves. I was there for the midnight calls, for the fits, for the hospital stays… You were conspicuously absent.
She hooks her thumb on a belt loop. “I’d like you and your new boyfriend/boy-toy/partner/husband/ significant whatever to please leave now. I don’t want you two to ruin Rachel’s visit with her daddy,” she says. “Plus, your presence isn’t welcome at my father’s gravesite.”
She doesn’t give him time to answer, just plops down on the grass in front of Tomás López’ grave and opens the canvas bag to extract a bouquet of Peruvian lilies and two stones. She places one of the rocks in front of Tomás headstone and mutters, “Hola, tata,” before reaching over and placing the second in front of Joel’s.
He takes a few steps back and Victor hurries to join him as they observe Santana. The woman splits the flowers into two bunches and places each batch in its designated vase. He is so distracted by Santana that he fails to realize that they’ve been joined by another young woman until he hears her voice.
“I never thought I would see you here.”
His head whips to his right and there she is. Rachel. She looks absolutely stunning in black jeans, a blue tunic and flats. But even lovelier than her glossy locks pulled into a chignon, than her bright eyes shining, is the fact that she carries a beautiful, bouncing baby boy in her arms. He has sparse dark hair and big brown eyes and wears black pants, a white Oxford and a black bow tie with white polka dots.
He is the cutest baby Gregory has ever seen.
“Rachel,” he says softly. “Sweetheart, I-”
Rachel shakes her head and cradles the baby closer to her body. “No. Please go. Santana and I would like to visit with our fathers and introduce them to their grandson.” She walks over to Santana and hands over the baby before kneeling beside the taller brunette and kissing her.
Oh. He had no idea that his daughter was a lesbian. His eyes drop down to her left hand and he can clearly spot two diamond bands on Rachel’s ring finger. They match those on Santana’s hand.
“Shalom, Daddy,” she says softly. “Hola, Tata. I know it’s been a while since we last visited but today Santana and I want to introduce you to somebody we love more than anything in this world.”
Santana stands the little boy on her lap and they all watch as he reaches out for the headstones. “This is Asher Gabriel López,” Santana continues. “He’s your grandson. Now that Rachel’s fulfilled her childhood dream, she helped fill one of mine. Pop, you would’ve been so proud of Rach; even though she’s totally skeeved out by blood, she held my hand the entire time I was in labor. I would’ve seriously been concerned about her getting a UTI from not taking a break to go pee if it hadn’t been such a short delivery.”
Rachel scoffs and rolls her eyes. “Are you done?” she queries playfully. When Santana pecks her lips, Rachel sighs and rests her chin on her wife’s shoulder. “We named him after you both because we will always love you. He was named after great men and Santana and I have no doubt that you will inspire him and guide him to becoming a great man himself. Plus,” she adds cheekily, “as any Jewish mother can tell you, I sure wouldn’t mind having a doctor for a son.”
Santana laughs and little Asher gurgles in apparent approval. Gregory clutches at his chest and can’t help but feel as though he is intruding on a private conversation. Truth is, he knows he is intruding; he knows he wouldn’t be if only he had toughed it out fifteen years before, if only he had made an effort to remain in Rachel’s life even if he could no longer be in Joel’s.
“We’re seriously thinking about giving our boy a brother or sister to play with very soon,” Rachel says. “Quinn gave birth to her second baby three months after Asher was born, and Noah’s already adopted two children and is looking into adopting a third. This time I would be the one carrying our baby.”
“We haven’t made up our minds on timing yet,” Santana clarifies. “But we don’t want to wait too long. We want to make sure that Asher has someone around the house to play with. It’s sometimes very lonely to be an only child.”
Rachel pulls away from Santana, sits up on her knees and leans forward to press her forehead against the cool marble to her father’s gravestone. “I love you and I miss you every day, daddy. I wish with my whole heart that you had gotten to meet your namesake because I think he would have you wrapped around his little finger, too, and that would surely be a sight. I hope I’ve made you proud.”
She quickly swipes under her eyes, removing all trace of tears before moving to the other marker. “Tomás, Tata, I’ve loved you from the moment Santana and I took you and Daddy out to dinner in Cleveland and you thought we were trying to set you two up on a date. When you looked at us, shrugged a shoulder and said you’d give it a try…” Santana laughs loudly and Rachel can’t help but indulge a giggle herself. “It is one my most favorite memories of you. You were Daddy’s best friend, you are my wife’s father, my son’s grandfather and you were a second father to me, too. It was a blessing to have you cheering for me at my graduations; having you there made me feel as though Daddy was there, too. I love you.”
Santana takes one of her son’s hands, presses the palm against his smiling mouth and then guides it to Tomás’ headstone. “Tata,” she says to Asher. She moves the boy’s hand over to Joel’s headstone. “Abba.”
Rachel touches Santana’s shoulder. “Do you want me to take Asher so you can talk to our fathers?”
Santana shakes her head. “No. I talk with them every day, mami. Tata and Pop know how I feel about them.”
Rachel smiles softly and rises to her feet. She brushes off her jeans and takes her son in her arms. Santana, too, gets to her feet. She grabs her bag and then sets an arm around Rachel’s shoulders.
Their little boy- Asher, Gregory thinks, a blessing, like Joel- turns to him and extends a chubby little hand, fingers splayed as though he were waving. Rachel turns to him and looks at him for a long minute. She kisses Asher’s head and hands him over to Santana.
The taller brunette shakes her head. “Rachel… let’s just go, mami.”
Rachel kisses Santana’s cheek. “This is something that I have to do. I won’t take long; get our boy into his car seat. I’ll meet you in a few minutes.” When Santana doesn’t budge, Rachel gives her a light tap on the butt. “Go on.”
Santana bites her bottom lip and then lets out a deep breath. “Fine. I’ll be waiting for you; don’t take too long, okay?”
Rachel watches as Santana walks away for a moment before turning to face Gregory. “I don’t know whether or not this was your first time here but my guess is that yes, you’ve never before deigned to visit the man that loved and supported you for twenty years. I don’t know what the purpose of this exercise is-”
“What exercise?” Victor interrupts.
Rachel’s brow furrows and Gregory thinks she looks almost as though she didn’t know that Victor was there. “Why, bringing you along, of course,” she explains as though he were a toddler. “Your presence here is confusing to me. You weren’t interested in learning about my father sixteen years ago when you convinced his husband to leave a sick man who needed him; I sincerely doubt that you’re interested in learning about him now.”
Victor brushes an errant lock away from his forehead. “Listen, little miss, I don’t appreciate you-”
“Actually, it’s missus,” Rachel interrupts. “Mrs. López, to be precise…López-Lieberthal sometimes, so as not to confuse event organizers when they’re making seating arrangements. I’m sure that you don’t appreciate me treating you as some sort of incubus who seduced my dad away but I don’t appreciate you being here. Because it was- really, I know this- it was Gregory’s choice to leave, but you didn’t have to make it so easy for him.”
She looks at Gregory straight in the eyes and he feels a chill creep up his spine because he cannot find an ounce of the love and admiration that she used to feel for him there. “I don’t hate you. I’m not sure if that is a consequence of my upbringing or some lingering childhood notion that a daughter loves her daddy forever, but I don’t hate you. I don’t like you, though. I know that I was a difficult child, too engrossed in my passions, sometimes too obsessive and stubborn. I know marriage is not perfect, it’s not easy. I know that Daddy being so sick was hard. It must’ve been painful to see a once vibrant, capable and athletic man get angry and depressed at not being able to do something as simple as pick up a book. But when the going got tough, you ran. You ran and you didn’t think of me. I was sixteen years old and I was the one who was left to care for my father alone. I had to help feed him because he would otherwise drop food in his lap. I had to get him in and out of bed, I had to help bathe him and clothe him. I had to chauffeur him to his doctor’s appointments in Columbus.”
Rachel lets out a shaky breath and quickly wipes under her eyes. “I watched him waste away into a frightened, helpless man. And he was so, so scared. He was scared of leaving me behind without anyone to care for me. He was scared that twenty years later, I would be the one lying in a hospital bed unable to care for myself because he passed down one incredibly fucked up gene.”
Gregory doesn’t bother to wipe at his eyes. He looks pathetic, sobbing in front of a five-foot-three-inch woman in front of his ex-lover’s tomb. In his hurry to get out of the most stressful situation he’d ever lived, he had forgotten the inherent nature of the illness; it was genetic. He wonders if her CAG repeats are over thirty-five.
“I spent the first half of senior year of high school at the hospital,” Rachel continued. “I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that Santana and Tomás were a godsend. And when I graduated- I was second in my class, did you know- and I moved away from this town, Tomás López was the only father I had left. And he was the only one I needed.”
He reaches for her but Rachel steps back out of his reach. “Rachel, please,” he cries, “I was wrong. Please forgive me. Asher…I’d like to-”
“No.” Rachel stands with a hand raised. “Absolutely not. I am not letting you into my son’s life so that you can just confuse him. He has two grandfathers that are buried here in Lima and a pseudo-grandfather in Georgia who just loves to visit him. He has two absent biological grandmothers but also two wonderful surrogate grandmothers who dote on him. My son has aunts and uncles and cousins. His family is much bigger than mine ever was whilst I was growing up. He’s a happy little boy and I would like to keep that way.
“Please go home, wherever that may be, and let go of me and my son. Trust me, every day that passes it hurts a little less. I’m going to leave now. Goodbye, Gregory Berry.”
She keeps her composure the entire walk to the car. She keeps her composure as she buckles herself into the passenger seat. She keeps her composure when Santana asks her if she’s okay and she keeps her composure as they head out of Woodlawn. But as they turn on North Street Rachel catches sight of St. Rita’s Medical Center where both of their fathers used to work and she cannot help but weep. Santana pulls over and manages to squeeze their Lexus hybrid (“just because I wanna help the environment or whatever doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice all semblance style, Rachel”) between a Tahoe and a Camry.
“It’s okay, mami,” she says, pulling Rachel into her arms. “I love you. I’m sorry you had to go through that. You deserved so much better from him.”
Puck calls from Quinn’s mother’s house five minutes later and demands their presence at Judy’s meticulously prepared dinner table. Santana holds her hand during the rest of the drive and when she sits in Judy’s dining room with Asher on her lap, surrounded by Santana, Noah, Judy, Quinn, Caroline and their children, Rachel finally feels complete.