T-Minus 5 days
It's Monday evening. Rafael is dropping the kids off at the Villanueva's after karate. They're all really close to getting their red belts. "Remember, tomorrow the girls have soccer and Mateo has his play rehearsal," Petra tells him as she cuts up apple slices at the kitchen counter.
"The girls are done at 6 and I have to drop Mateo off at 5. I know."
"Can you pick me up some coconut milk from that place that's right across from the girls' soccer field? I'm making bienmesabe this weekend," Jane says from the couch. She keeps typing out a few letters and then erasing an entire line.
"Okay. You want anything else?"
"No," she says, still frowning at her laptop screen. "If I think of anything, I'll text you."
Speaking of which, Rafael's phone dings in his pocket. "See you two later."
"Good night," Petra calls to him before she leans over the back of the couch. She offers Jane an apple slice which Jane keeps missing biting into, so intent on her screen, until Petra sticks it into her mouth. "Stop it. You know your agent isn't going to care if you use the word 'furthermore' six times in your proposal."
"But I will!"
Rafael closes the front door quietly behind him and takes out his phone. The new message is from an unknown number. That never bodes well. It says:
Unknown number: hey raf! we'll b dropping by 2 c the kids this wknd @ fam brunch!
Well, there's only one person that could be. He hasn't seen Luisa in five years, since Rose broke out of prison (because of course she did). After years of being on edge, waiting for something bad to happen, they're all starting to relax. The FBI has even given the case back to the local authorities after five years without a single blip from Rose. Until now, apparently.
The reply is nearly instantaneous: yeah me & rose
U: come on raf, i just want 2 c my nieces & nephew. is that 2 much 2 ask
R: Yes! If you're bringing her
U: the feds have finally dropped our tail. this is our chance
R: I should send these messages straight to them
But he notices that their texts are already disappearing. He doesn't know where they're going. He can't get them back. And when he tries to screenshot, a message pops up saying that's not allowed.
The three dots blink for a while before she says: raf. plsssssssssss
R: She killed dad! And a bunch of people at the Marbella. AND kidnapped Mateo
U: both of which she regrets. terribly. give her a chance 2 apologize in person. she's changed. she really has
R: You're still on the run from the law
U: i haven't seen my family in 5 yrs. r u going 2 deny me that?
R: You gave that up when you chose her over us. She's not coming anywhere near my family
There's no response.
It's hours later, when he's getting ready for bed that his phone dings again.
U: well, that was incredibly hurtful & i will b showing up this wknd if only 2 smack u upside the head 4 being a dick. if ur nice, rose is willing 2 tell u who ur birth parents r
He fumes. As relatively drama-free the last five years have been, the one thing he's never been able to figure out is who his real parents are. It's not like it'll change anything, but it still eats away at him. He just wants to know.
T-Minus 4 days
The next morning, he opens the group chat between him, Jane, and Petra.
R: So Luisa and Rose are coming to brunch on Saturday, apparently
R: I got a text from Luisa yesterday. She wants to meet the kids
J: No. Absolutely not. Call whoever's working the case now to take her back to prison!
R: I would, but Luisa said Rose would tell me who my parents are if she could come. She's the only one who knows
J: Unbelievable. She kidnapped Mateo! Now you want her to be in the same room as him? Not happening. We're not coming this weekend.
R: Please, Jane. Our brunches are about family
P: I forgot Rose used to be your stepmother.
R: Not her
P: She is still technically a Solano.
R: Petra, you're not helping
P: Okay well what about Luisa?
J: What about her?
P: I don't think it's a bad idea for her to meet the kids. All of them.
J: Are you on Rose's side?
P: Of course not. But I do think it's harsh that the kids are ten now and have never met their aunt. Well, their other aunt. Who's not dead. Who didn't try to kill me. Multiple times. And Mateo wouldn't have been born without Luisa in the first place.
J: Don't bring up her medical malpractice as a good thing.
P: I'm not! I just don't see what Rose would have to gain from trying anything since she's been in the clear for the last five years. Why come back now to stir up trouble when her case has finally been put on the backburner?
R: Look at it this way, Jane. There's three of us and one of her. We can keep an eye on her in case she decides to pull any funny business. And Luisa will be there.
J: What does that have to do with anything?
R: Rose couldn't care any less about the rest of us. She's only doing this for Luisa
P: Exactly. We can grab her and use her as leverage worse comes to worst
J: Why are both of you so dark?
P: And you're not? After all the shit we've been through?
J: Good point. Okay, fine. But if she sneezes wrong, I'm pulling out my killer right hook and going to town.
P: That's my girl.
J: Raf, don't forget to pick up the coconut milk. I'm still making the bienmesabe, but I won't like it.
R: I know
T-Minus 2 days
Jane is irritable and short-tempered all week long. Alba and Xo are adamant about not letting Rose anywhere near Mateo, but only discuss it in hushed voices out of his earshot. Of course, he realizes something's up.
"Why is everyone whispering all the time?" he asks one day.
"We're trying to decide whether you're going to family brunch this weekend, Mr. Sweetface," Jane says, smoothing back his hair.
"Why wouldn't I? We go every week."
"Yes, but there's going to be guests there this week. And I don't know if you want to be there because of them."
"Daddy's sister, your Aunt Luisa, and her..." Her face contorts, trying to figure out how to describe Rose (Daddy's stepmother? The drug lord formerly known as Sin Rostro? The epitome of evil?) until she settles on, "Her girlfriend, Rose."
"Why would that matter? Family is family, right?"
She laughs a little. "Not this time. I don't think so."
"Rose, uh, kidnapped you right after you were born."
"Really? That's so cool!"
"No! That is not so cool! It was terrifying! It's still terrifying."
"Are Anna and Ellie gonna be there?"
"Yes. Petra didn't have a problem with it."
"Then I wanna meet Rose and Aunt Luisa too!"
"That's nice, Mateo, but what if she tries to kidnap you again?"
"Mama, I'm not a baby anymore. I'll be a lot harder to kidnap this time around. I'm a brown belt! And if that doesn't work, I've got the right hook you showed me."
Jane gives him a tight-lipped smile. "If you're sure?"
She pulls him into a hug and kisses the side of his head, smacking her lips loudly. "Promise me you'll tell me right away if you get any bad vibes from her. And you'll put up one hell of a fight if I can't get to you right away."
"You're telling me to fight instead of using my words?"
"In this case, yes."
That night, Jane and Petra turn down the sheets before getting into bed.
"I don't understand how you can be so calm about this. I don't want her in the same room as Mateo. I still have nightmares," Jane says as she fluffs the pillows.
"I know," Petra says.
"You kick in your sleep when you have nightmares. Usually it's few and far between, especially when I spoon you, but it's been every night this week."
"Oh." Jane pauses in her fluffing. "You know you grind your teeth when you're really stressed?"
"Huh. That would explain why my jaw hurts so much in the morning."
"We should get you a mouthguard. But you haven't been grinding your teeth at all since we found out Rose and Luisa were coming to brunch."
Petra shrugs. "I have enough things to worry about. I don't see what the point would be working myself up over this as well."
"She ran an underground plastic surgery ring! She killed people, multiple people! At your hotel! And she took Mateo!"
"I absolutely understand but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Luisa's right. Maybe she has changed." She gets into bed. Jane stares at her incredulously until she adds, "I changed."
Jane gets under the covers as well. "But you're different."
Petra chuckles. "Am I? Do you remember how much we hated each other when we first met?"
"I liked you when we first met! I thought you'd be a wonderful mother. And hey, I wasn't wrong."
"Sweet talker," she grumbles affectionately, snuggling into Jane's side. "Okay, so maybe not when we first first met, but after that with the whole 'you must give me your firstborn' plot. I see a lot of myself in Rose."
"No!" Jane protests. "You're not like her."
Petra raises an eyebrow. "We're pretty similar all things considered: the cheating, the overbearing mother, various criminal connections. More similarities than differences. And if I, of all people, could change, then maybe she has as well. It's been years since we saw them last. Just because she was halfway around the world doesn't mean that she hasn't been redeemed."
"Hmmm. Seems like a lot to stake on a chance."
"Do you have the police on speed dial?"
"Me too, after everything that's happened at the Marbella. We'll have her locked up in no time if she does anything even remotely suspicious. And that's after the kids beat her up."
"It shouldn't be this comforting to have you threaten violence," Jane murmurs, kissing her on the forehead.
"Comforting?" Petra scoffs. The effect is ruined when she yawns. "I'll have you know that my threats are always...threatening."
Saturday, The Day Of
Petra is unfazed as she ushers in Jane, who's jittery, and Mateo, who immediately heads further into the suite to find his sisters.
Rafael looks like he didn't sleep well when he shows up. "Are they...?" he demands when Petra opens the door, but she shakes her head.
At exactly ten minutes past the hour, there's a third knock on the door.
Luisa pulls Petra into a crushing hug when she opens the door. "Hey, Petra! Long time no see. How's everything with your ladybits? Did that rash ever clear up?"
When Raf clears his throat in embarrassment, she throws her arms around him too. "I missed you, you asshole."
"Luisa!" Jane hisses. "There are children present!"
"Jane!" Luisa says, kissing her on both cheeks. "Speaking of which, where are the rascals? I brought presents!"
"Why don't we wait until after brunch to give the kids their presents," Rose says as she staggers into the suite under a mountain of bags and packages.
The temperature instantly drops a few degrees. Jane backs out of the room, not taking her eyes off of Rose, and hurries to hug Mateo to her side.
"Mom, you're squishing me," they hear distantly from the living room.
Rafael folds his arms. "Rose, or whatever you're calling yourself nowadays."
She drops the presents in a heap on the floor before she straightens up and gives them all a sardonic half-smile. "Rose is just fine. It's been awhile, Rafael."
"I would say it's good to see you again, but..."
Luisa tugs on his arm. "Please, can you guys get along for a few hours? For me?"
"I'll behave if he does."
Luisa fixes Raf with a glare. "That goes for you too."
He narrows his eyes at Rose before he nods reluctantly. But they continue to stare each other down until Petra loops her arm around Luisa's and drags her into the living room, saying loudly, "So the rash is old news, but I think this new birth control is making me break out. Do you have any advice?"
Rose gives Raf another smirk before she follows them. He stays hot on her heels, determined to keep her in his sights at all times.
"You must be Mateo," Luisa says, bending down so she's face-to-face with him. She holds her hand out formally.
"Hi, Aunt Luisa," he says, his face still squashed against Jane's leg. He shakes her hand.
Luisa looks up and spots the one of the twins leaning on the couch. "And you're Anna. Or are you Elsa?"
"I'm Ellie. That's Anna." She points to her sister, who pops up from behind the couch.
"Girls!" Petra snaps. "Don't confuse her. That's Ellie and that's Anna," she says, nodding at both of them in turn.
"You were all so small when I saw you last. Well, Mateo at least. I don't think the girls and I have ever met." Luisa stands up and pulls Rose over by the hand. "Do you know who this is?"
"You're Auntie Luisa's murder girlfriend!" Anna says brightly.
"Petra!" Jane admonishes.
"What? We've been through this before. I feel like it's important for my children to know the truth."
Rose raises her eyebrows, a half smile curling at the edge of her mouth. "Well, they're not wrong."
"But she's trying to distance herself from that life," Luisa says pointedly. "Isn't that right?"
Rose nods, glum.
"Tell them what you're doing now, sweetheart."
Rose makes a face.
"Go on. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's an honorable profession."
"I know. I would trust each one of my coworkers with my life after what we've been through during peak hours, but you have to admit, it's a little embarrassing to go from running an international plastic surgery ring to making minimal wage for ass...pecially stupid people."
As the kids stifle their giggles at Rose's near miss, Raf shakes his head. "I still don't know what you do. That could be any number of things."
"Starbucks," Rose says, sighing. "I'm a barista at Starbucks now."
"But not for long! She's been putting in that go-getter attitude from her drug lord days. She's only been there for nine months and already assistant store manager! I'm so proud! Who knows, within a year or two, she could break into corporate!" She beams at Rose, who does visibly cheer up.
"I don't think it's a good idea for Rose to be anywhere near corporate with her track record," Raf says.
Rose rolls her eyes. Luisa shoots him a dirty look.
Petra clears her throat loudly. "Let's eat! I'm starving."
The meal itself is awkward. Luisa does most of the talking.
"...and then they said she's on track to become store manager, she just has to stop almost assaulting the rude customers. Although if you really think about it, stabbing a fork into the counter between someone's fingers isn't really so much almost an assault as a warning."
Rose hums in agreement. "Would you mind passing the pepper?" she asks Mateo.
Jane jumps as Mateo cheerfully hands it over.
For dessert, everyone gets a piece of Jane's sticky (nonalcoholic) sponge cake.
Rose savors her first bite. "This is very good, Jane," she says, sincere. "Me sabe bien."
Jane glares at her.
She hides her smile behind a sip of orange juice.
After the kids stack their dishes in the sink, they run off to the living room to play Mario Kart, dragging Luisa with them. Jane trails after them, wringing her hands. Petra rolls her eyes and takes her mug of coffee with her to comfort her girlfriend.
Which leaves Rose and Rafael.
"Shall we do the dishes? Just like old times?" Rose suggests.
He grunts and stalks into the kitchen. Rose follows, trying not to smile.
"Don't think this changes anything between us," he says as he picks up the sponge.
"I wouldn't dream of it," she says.
They work in silence for a few minutes, nothing but the rush of water and the clatter of dishes to accompany them.
He's the first to speak.
"I just want you to know that you've done enough damage to this family already and if you hurt Luisa..." He trails off, but the implication is clear.
Rose laughs. “I think it’s a little late to read me the Riot Act, considering our history.”
"We don't have any history."
She raises an eyebrow as she accepts a plate from him and places it in the dishwasher. "I'm disappointed in you, Raf. I never thought you'd be one to revise the past as you see fit."
“Are you referring to your stint as our stepmother? We’re not family. You killed my dad.”
“Yes, I did. And I know this is too little too late, but I am sorry about that. He was a...good businessman, and the world has lost a little of its collective ambition due to his death."
He clenches his jaw, but before he can say anything, she continues.
"But that's not what I was referring to. Do you remember what happened when you were arrested for your DWI's?"
Raf is determined to be stubborn and get her to spell it out. "Which time?" he asks, sarcastic.
"Any of them. All of them, unless you were brought in more than the four times I had to bail you out."
"No," he admits.
Fifteen years ago
He sat in the holding cell, his clothes rumpled and reeking of alcohol, as the guard opened the door for Rose. She'd taken a few steps into the cell and tried to keep her distaste out of her expression. "Really, Raf? Again?"
"Is he disappointed in me? Please don't tell him about this," he had slurred. "I just want him to be proud of me."
He knew better than to ask why Emilio wasn't there in person. And he knew not to contact Luisa after the first time she bailed him out, she'd immediately relapsed. So here Rose was, again.
"You can't possibly believe that he wouldn't notice after the first three. He's on a plane to Shanghai right now, but he did say he expected more of you. He thinks you can do better."
"This is the last time, I promise. Can you put in a good word for me?"
Rose had smiled. “Of course.”
And true to his word, it was his last time. It was the fourth and final time Rose had posted bail for him and taken him back to the Marbella.
"I don't know what you want me to say," he says.
"I'm not asking you to say anything. I just want you to acknowledge that whether you like it or not, we have history. Too much so for you to pull the big brother act now that your sister and I are openly dating."
He makes a face. "That's never gonna not be weird."
She shrugs. "You don't have to like it. But I think she's happy."
"That's the only reason why I put up with you."
"Same to you. We don't have to like each other, we just have to tolerate one another. For her."
He notices how much her eyes soften as she glances over to the living room.
Once they’re finished with the dishes, Rose retreats to the balcony, seeing how nervous Jane is when she’s around the kids. Luisa is playing Rainbow Road with the three of them. Anna's winning, at least until Ellie fires off a blue shell and Mateo takes the lead, cackling.
Jane and Rafael are deep in discussion about how to approach the next property he's trying to flip, although Jane's eyes keep flicking over to the balcony. Petra takes in the sight of her family, fondness threatening to burst at the seams, before she pecks Jane on the cheek (who doesn't even pause in the conversation) and gets up.
Rose turns to look at her when Petra steps onto the balcony closes the door behind her gently. "Not scared I'm going to spirit your children away?" she asks, with only a hint of bitterness.
Petra takes the lounge chair next to her and takes a sip of her coffee. "You can try, but they're hellions, especially when it's bedtime," she says, obvious pride in her voice. "Much less work just to leave them to me."
Rose humphs. "I'm surprised Jane sent you to check up on me instead of making sure I'm not up to something nefarious herself."
"I didn't come out here to keep an eye on you."
Rose raises an eyebrow. "Aren't you?"
She scoffs. "Of course not. I've got twins. I have enough on my plate without babysitting my former sister-in-law's girlfriend/ex's stepmother."
"Why are you here with me then? Instead of inside with your family?" Her inflection on the last word falters a bit. It gives Petra just enough pause to reconsider her response.
Rose laughs at this. "Only one of us here is wanted on charges of multiple murders."
Petra takes another sip of coffee. "You forget I've been a prime suspect in five different investigations over the years." She frowns. "Wait, does it count as one or two murders if one of the people is a twin brother I never interacted with but who I thought I was having an affair with but then it turned out that his brother, who I was actually having an affair with, murdered him and then came back impersonating him and kidnapped me and then I accidentally killed him in self-defense?"
Rose squints. "Two, I think, since both are dead."
"Five then. That I can think of off the top of my head. There are probably more I'm forgetting."
Rose shrugs. "Okay, so you've killed someone. So what? You still have your job, your family, your freedom." She huffs a laugh. "It's funny. I was waiting my whole life for the big payoff and then I was going to retire alone and live out my life in luxurious solitude."
When she falls into silence, Petra prompts her to continue. "But?"
She stares past her, through the glass door at Luisa, who is being dog-piled by the kids. "Then I met her. And everything changed."
Petra hums in agreement.
"I thought I could be happy if everything went according to plan, but then I had everything I thought I wanted, and all I could think about was her. We have each other now, and I'm happier than I thought I could ever be, but I don't know if it's enough for her. All she has is me. She wants so badly to be a permanent part of this family and that doesn't seem to be possible when we're together, which I understand considering the things I've done. I love her. I want her to be happy, but I'm too selfish to give her up."
Petra sighs. "I don't know what to tell you. There isn't an easy solution here."
"But maybe...you guys could come by more often? The kids obviously adore her."
Rose smirks. "I doubt Jane or Rafael would be big fans of that idea."
"Give them some time. Besides, I like having you here. It has its perks. Raf never does the dishes after brunch. And I can be very persuasive. I didn't rebrand the Marbella by being nice."
Rose smiles. "I'd call you a lot of things, but nice isn't one of them."
Petra coaxes her back inside when Luisa announces it's time for presents. Jane rolls her eyes as Luisa unleashes ten years' worth of missed birthdays and Christmukkahs. Rose stands in the corner, watching Luisa spoiling her nieces and nephew with a gentle, longing expression.
At a quarter to three, Jane reminds Mateo that he has to go home to get his things for rehearsal soon. He throws his arms around Luisa and to everyone's surprise (especially Jane, who yelps quite loudly), runs over to hug Rose as well.
“Did you really kidnap me right after I was born?” he asks, looking up at her.
Rose is the definition of taken aback. “Yes.”
“What happened?” Ellie asks.
"Yeah, why weren't we kidnapped? Were we not important enough?" Anna adds.
"Girls, being kidnapped is not a privilege!" Jane snaps.
Petra lays a placating hand on Jane's knee. "You two weren't born yet or I'm sure Rose would've kidnapped you too, just to make a point," she says soothingly.
Rose glances at Petra, nervous, but Petra merely shrugs. She catches Luisa’s eye, who is beaming to see Rose interacting with Mateo.
Rose swallows. “Well," she begins, "Luisa had stolen a dragonfly brooch from me…”
After Jane and Mateo leave, Rose suggests that they get ready to go as well or they'll miss their flight. While Luisa is busy smothering the twins with kisses amid squeals and giggles, Rafael escorts Rose to the door.
"So where are you two heading next?" he asks, a little too inquisitive for Rose's taste.
"Nowhere of consequence," she says. "Don't worry about it."
"It's hard not to when I know what you're capable of."
"Then you know that Luisa is safe with me." She pauses before she adds, with some effort, "Thank you, for giving her this."
"Yeah, well, I definitely didn't do it for you."
"I wouldn't expect anything else."
Before she opens the door, he catches her arm. "Actually, Luisa mentioned that you would tell me who my real parents are if I didn't make a mess of things."
She raises an eyebrow and deliberately pulls her arm out of his grasp. "Of course. But are you sure you want to know? I'd say you already have a pretty good thing right here. Well," she amends, "Luisa could stand to be invited to more family functions, but other than that..."
"Rose, I want to know."
She leans in and whispers into his ear. Her cool breath sends an ugly shudder down his spine. "Your parents are a couple that take turns playing the part of Pammy the Parrot. They've been right under your nose this whole time."
While he's still reeling, she opens the front door for Luisa, who squeezes between them and gives Raf a quick hug before she heads down the hallway to call the elevator. Rose grins at him. "Have a good night, Rafael," she says, almost sing-song. "We'll be in touch."