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The Interview

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It was going to be really nice day, Emma thought as she took a swing on the monkey bars. Sunny and breezy. She liked going to the park even when she wasn’t meeting anybody there because it didn’t matter. You could always meet people. But it was really sort of a slow day because it was still pretty early.

There were only a few really little babies and their moms—and they were cute but too small to play with. Jane said that it took some people a lot longer to get their kids ready than others. Emma hadn’t rolled her eyes, because her mom had said it was rude (although she did it all the time). But seriously, like Jane had anything to do with it? Jane just showed up and said let’s go.

Jane was sitting on a picnic bench with her cell glued to her ear but Emma knew she was watching her. Jane had gotten in major trouble with her mom because she’d caught her texting when Emma was playing by the lake at the park. It had been sort of exciting to hear, although eavesdropping was rude, too:

“I don’t pay you to fucking text, Jane—I pay you to take care of my daughter. I’m not saying you can’t use your cell and talk your head off because I know that’s all you do anyway—but you will not text. You can talk a blue streak and still watch my daughter. But your eyes are off the prize when you’re texting. And if anything happened to her when you were texting or tweeting, being fired would be just the first and easiest thing that happened to you. We clear?”

Evidently they were clear because Jane never texted anymore. Which was, in a way, uncool because it was a lot harder to get away with stuff.

The only person who seemed old enough to talk to was this grown-up lady who was sitting at one end of a bench all by herself. Emma watched the lady and tried doing a few turns down the slide, which was actually sort of lame when you did it by yourself. She was old enough to know that a lot of stuff was like that. The lady was really pretty with long dark hair and she sometimes looked at the babies and their mommies and sometimes closed her eyes and seemed to like the sun on her face. Emma liked that, too.

She decided to see what was going on. She moved close enough to speak.


“Well, hello.” The lady smiled and Emma thought she was the second prettiest lady ever, after her mom.

“I can’t come closer to you because I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Mom said so.”

“Your mom is right. That’s a very good rule to follow. So, how about this. I’m Natalia.”

“I’m Emma.”

“Nice to meet you.”



“If I sit at the end of the bench, it will be okay because you can’t touch me and I can run away, okay?”

“Okay. That would be great.” Natalia wondered what sort of life this child or mother had that would create such an open and seemingly innocuous discussion of safety.

Emma took a seat at the other side of the bench and smiled brightly at Natalia before her face fell. “I’m sorry. Am I bothering you? Did you want to be alone?”

“Don’t be silly. You’re not bothering me a bit. I’m happy for the company.”

Emma’s smile returned in force. “Good. I wanted someone to play with but you see what’s going on. A lot of little babies. So I wanted to talk to you but you’re a grown-up so I have to be careful.”

Natalia nodded and asked with some concern, “Is anyone here with you, sweetie?”

“Oh sure,” Emma pointed at Jane and waved. “That’s Jane—my babysitter.”

Jane put one hand on her cell and shouted, “You okay, Em?”

Emma gave her two thumbs up and Jane continued her call.

“Well, Emma, I’d agree. It’s pretty empty here today.”

“Why are you here? Do you have a little boy or little girl?”

“I have a boy and I miss him so I thought I’d come out and enjoy the sunshine and see some happy mommies with their babies. That makes me feel nice and remember him even more.”

“Where is your boy?”

“Well, he’s a grown-up now. A man. And very brave so he joined the Marines to fight for his country.”

“You don’t look old enough to have a grown-up.”

Natalia considered her answer, “That’s nice of you to say. I had him when I was very young.”

Emma nodded sagely. “Do you have a picture of him?”

“Of course I do.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure. I’ll pass it over and you can stay there and grab it.”

“Nope. It doesn’t matter now. You’re okay. You’re nice.”

“Emma, every adult who acts nice isn’t always.”

“Oh, I know that. My mommy told me if a grown-up made me feel,” she counted them off on her fingers as if memorized, “frightened, nervous, unsure, anxious or just plain weird I should run away and tell someone I trusted. She says if I trust myself, never doubt my feelings and run when I’m scared, I’ll nearly always be safe from strangers. She said,” and this Emma whispered, “’Sorry it’s not 100%, kiddo, but it’s pretty damned close.’” Emma smiled sweetly, “My mom knows stuff like that. You won’t hurt me. I know it.”

Natalia blinked at this overload of information and said, “How do you know that?”

“You smile and you mean it. Grown-ups sometimes smile at you and say nice things but their smiles aren’t in their eyes, you know what I mean?”

“I do.”

The woman realized this was really deep territory and hesitated but this was a child who might be in danger. “Emma, is anyone hurting you?”

“No silly! My mom would kill them. She always says the word literally when she says that. Everybody knows it.”

“Wow. Good to know.”

Emma slid over closer to Natalia and asked, “What’s his name?”


“Your little boy.”

“Oh—it’s Rafe. That’s short for Rafael.”

“Rafael.” Emma said it a few times, seeming to savor it. “That’s a really good name for a boy.”

“Thank you. I thought so, too. His name is Rafael August Rivera.”

“August is sort of weird.”

“That’s for his father.”

“I’m sorry—I didn’t mean that mean. I’m just not used to August like a name.”

“No offense taken.”

Emma looked at Natalia’s left hand. No ring. She certainly knew what that meant. “So…you and Rafe’s daddy aren’t married anymore, I guess?”

Natalia took a deep breath, feeling like she was out of her depth with this child. “Rafe’s father died years ago.”

Emma immediately teared up and pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging them with her arms. “I’m sorry.”

The woman hesitated to touch her but patted her shoulder. “There’s no reason to be sorry, little one.”

“Yes there is. I made you think of something sad and Rafe doesn’t have a daddy.”

Natalia fought back tears because someone beside this child had to be the adult. “Emma. It’s not for you to be sorry about. I’m always happy to remember Gus and Rafe is okay, I promise.”

Emma wiped her treacherous tears from her face. She hated crying. “Can I see the picture now?”

“Of course. How old are you?”


“A good age! I can show you a picture of him at your age and one all grown up, okay?”

Emma smiled and said, “Great,” and Natalia wondered about the person who had created this bright, incredibly sensitive but ultimately happy child.

“This is my Rafael in his baseball uniform.”

Emma laughed, “Look at his hair! It’s so curly!”

“I couldn’t do anything about that—he came out that way.”

“He has your eyes, doesn’t he?” She looked at Natalia and then at the picture. “Exactly.”

“They’re prettier on him.”

“I bet he wouldn’t want you to say that. I know boys.”

“You’re exactly right.”

She pulled out another picture, one that always seemed to cause constriction around her heart—her son in his military uniform.

Emma considered it for a long while, “He’s very handsome, Natalia. I’m not supposed to know that yet, but I’m eight, not stupid.”

“Thank you.”

“He looks happy.”

“He is, I think. Proud of himself.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes. It’s good for him.”

Emma thought about this for a moment and said, “My mom says a mom can’t be happy unless their kids are happy.”

“That’s sort of true.”

At that point, so deep were they in conversation, that Jane suddenly appeared. “You okay Em?”


Natalia stood up and shook Jane’s hand, “Natalia Rivera. Emma and I are having a delightful conversation.”

Jane looked at Emma with fondness, “That’s why we call her Miss Congeniality. If you need a snack, Em? Or you need a break, Natalia, I’m right over there.”

“We’re fine. Thank you Jane.”

As Jane left, Emma semi-scowled, “Mom calls me Miss Congeniality, not Jane.”

“Well, it’s catching on then, right? It’s a trend!”

Emma swung her legs on the bench—they didn’t quite reach the ground, seemed to ponder something weighty then said, “If I tell you some things, you promise you won’t tell?”

Natalia’s heart fell. “Emma. If you tell me something that means someone is hurting you or that you might be hurt, I have to tell. That’s my job as a grown-up, understand? Beside that, no—I won’t tell.”

“It’s nothing like that. It’s just questions and stuff I want to talk about but I can’t talk to my mom because it would make her sad and my dad would try to make me see a therapist and that would make my mom even more sad and you can’t talk to eight year olds about stuff and my sister Ava’s in San Francisco.”

Natalia crossed herself mentally. “Okay. But we’ve set the rules, right?”

“Okay. Where is Rafe?”

“He’s in Afghanistan. He’ll visit in six months and then in six more months I pray he’ll be home.”

Emma sighed and, for a second, Natalia thought she might cry again, but the little girl straightened her shoulders. “You’re afraid he’ll be hurt or killed, aren’t you?’

The kid didn’t pull punches—that Natalia would give her. “I am. But I pray every day, many times on my knees, for my son to come home unharmed.”

In a complete non sequitur, Emma said, “My mom had my sister Ava when she was 17. When did you have Rafe?”

Natalia adjusted to the whiplash. “I was 16.”

“My mom gave Ava up for adoption. Her parents were dead and she had to take care of her sister and brother.”

“That must have been very hard, Emma.”

“To give Ava away?”

Natalia took a few moments to respond to the idea. “It wasn’t giving her away. Your mom wanted to give her a chance at a happier life and to help her brother and sister. Both things must have been very hard.”

“But you didn’t give Rafe away.”


“Did your parents help you?”

Natalia winced. “No. They didn’t.”

“But they were alive?”

Emma studied Natalia’s face as she said, “Yes, they were alive. And no, they wouldn’t help me.”

Emma shrugged, “Don’t explain. I know how people are.”

Natalia took another deep breath. What a child. “No one helped me. But I only had me and Rafe to feed—only two of us. It was harder than you can imagine, sweetie. Your mom would have had four. That was too many for such a young girl, I promise you.”

“So I guess it was good, you think?”

“Only God knows the answer to many things but it was probably for the best, yes.”

Emma smiled weakly, “And my mom and Ava? They found each other. Now they’re friends and Ava’s really my sister now.”

Natalia smiled and tugged at Emma’s pigtail. “Very hard stories sometimes have very happy endings. It’s hard to learn that but it’s true, little one.”

“You know what? I watch documentaries on television.”

Natalia adjusted to this subject change yet again. “Well, that’s good. They’re educational.”

“Yeah. Jane will let me watch anything except R-rated movies or X-rated, which would be gross anyway.”

Natalia grinned and said, “Did you see one you’re thinking about?”

“Yes. It was about the soldiers. And how they see things and feel things and they’re not hurt on the outside but they’re hurt on the inside,” she tapped her chest and said, “here.”

Now, Natalia did feel tears sting her eyes.

“Do you worry Rafe will come home hurt that way?”

“I pray that he will not every day.”

“But how do you know he won’t?”

“I can’t, Emma. I must pray and have faith.”

Emma again drew her knees up to her chest, “My mommy’s hurt like that inside.”

Madre di Dios, Natalia thought, what to do…”Why do you say that?”

“She’s happy with me and she’s always good with me but when she doesn’t think I see her, she’s so sad.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“She drinks too much.”

Natalia’s eyes narrowed and Emma saw it. “Not around me—never with me. I’m on sleepovers or Jane’s with me. I’m a kid but I hear people talking and I know what a hangover looks like.” Natalia felt like weeping to hear a child say this…but it was evidently her life.

“She dates people she doesn’t even like. I see her laughing and smiling at people and she’s lying. Why would she do that?”


“And she’s been married five times.”

Natalia’s eyes popped wide.

“That’s a lot, Natalia.”

“Yes, a few more than usual.”

“You know what’s weird?”

This conversation, Natalia thought, but said, “What, sweetie.”

“All of her ex-husbands are still really good friends of hers—I mean, except my grandfather.”

Natalia did a lightning round of genealogy and said, “Your grandfather?”

“Yeah. Mom was married to my dad and married to my granddad. I mean, not at the same time.”

The woman had no frame of reference for this and could only say, “That must make family gatherings awkward.”

“Yeah. But the rest of them all really like her—isn’t that weird?”

“You know what? Maybe that means that they should have just been friends and not gotten married. But it says something that your mom is such a good friend, don’t you think? If your mommy is hurting? People hurt in different ways and they sometimes don’t know what to do to fix that. Your mommy, I’m sure, loves you so look and hear me, young one.”

Emma stared into Natalia’s brown eyes as she said, “I promise you your mommy is doing her best or you wouldn’t be the happy, funny smart girl you are. Don’t you think?”

“I guess. But I want her to be happy, too.” Emma was quiet for a few moments before saying, “I’ll pray for Rafael too, okay?”

“I would love for you to. I would be so grateful. He would be grateful.”

“My mom’s not religious but she caught me praying one night and I was a little embarrassed.”

“You should never be embarrassed to pray.”

“Well, you don’t know my mom. I asked her if she was mad that I was praying and you know what she said?”

Natalia braced herself.

“She said ‘Hell no. I’m not mad. Never hurts to hedge your bets.’”

Natalia laughed out loud. “Your mom sounds fun. What does she do for a living?”

“She owns a franchise of hotels.”

Figures, Natalia thought, a rich woman with a sweet and troubled kid.

“What do you do, Natalia?”

“Well…to tell the truth I’m looking for a job right now. My last one was a temp job and they don’t need me anymore.”

“That sucks. I’ll make mom hire you—you’d be perfect.”

“For what? Why would you think so?”

“Because she’s happy on the outside and sad on the inside. You’re sad on the outside and happy on the inside. You’re perfect.”

“Well, if I ever meet her, we’ll see.”

“You’ll meet her.” Emma looked at her watch, “She’ll be here any minute.”

Ay Dios mio
, Natalia thought.

Is there anything more dismaying than seeing exactly what’s too good for you walking toward you to meet you? Knowing that was that? Natalia almost laughed as she watched what had to be Emma’s mother walking toward her. Not only by Jane’s closing her cell but also by Emma’s running to meet this impeccably dressed woman.

That was life, Natalia thought, looking down at her frayed jeans, the t-shirt and jean jacket she’d worn to sit at the park.

But Emma was pulling this wildly overdressed woman toward her and introducing her. Natalia’s manners brought her to her feet. “Natalia Rivera.”

The woman’s eyes were curious but not unkind, “Olivia Spencer.”

Emma tugged on her mother’s hand and said, “Don’t you need an assistant?”

“Yes baby.”

“I found you one.”

The shock in Natalia’s eyes told Olivia this was entirely Emma’s idea. She was not at all surprised.

“Well, Bean, you know, usually people have to have interviews before they get jobs.”

Emma smiled up at her mother, “I know. I already interviewed her. She’s perfect.”

“Is she? Well, why don’t you talk to Jane and I’ll talk to Natalia.”

“Okay. But you have to hire her. I say so.”

As the child ran off, Natalia blushed furiously. “I am so sorry. I had no idea she’d say something like that.”

Olivia’s eyes were cautious as she said, “And you were talking to my child why?”

“She came to talk to me—and she’s fun to talk to.”

Olivia raised both hands, “Don’t worry—I don’t blame you. She’d talk to a telephone pole. She must see something in you if she wants you to work for me.”

They both took a seat as Natalia said, “I have nothing to offer you.”

“You have no idea what I want.”

“Can I be blunt, Ms. Spencer?”

“Call me Olivia. And blunt’s my middle name although most people think the B.  stands for bitch.”

“Alright Olivia. I don’t say this for pity because I won’t take it. I was thrown out on the street by my parents when I was 16 because I became pregnant with my son. I have worked two and three jobs all of my life since then to support us. I have my GED. I can be a maid for you, perhaps. That’s all I’m probably fit for.”

Olivia stared at her. Hard. “Can you type? Use a computer?”

“Yes. I saved to buy a used computer and I taught myself to type with a CD from the library when my son went overseas to be able to email him.”

“I bet you can answer a phone.”

“Of course.”

“Can you handle a horrible boss?”

“I’ve loved every job I’ve ever had but I’ve had more than one horrible boss every year for 19 years, every day.”


“What okay?”

“Okay. Wanna job?”

Natalia shook her head. “This was an interview?”

“A little one. My daughter evidently did the extensive interview.”

“And you listen to her?”

“No—not about food or movies or sugar or she’d be eating pizza, ice cream, candy and drink a quart of soda a night. And Jane would let her. But she knows people. Emma, I mean—not Jane.”

“But you heard me? I’m not qualified.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. My current assistant has all the fire of a three-toed sloth—you can’t be worse. Do you want a job?”

“Yes, please.”



“Never say please to me. Ever. Everything’s your choice. Do you want a job?”


Olivia shrugged, “Okay. You have to give me a resume but I don’t care what’s on it. You have to pass a background check—any outstanding warrants, Rivera?

“Of course not.”

“The resume keeps HR off my ass. And don’t think I don’t understand they have to be anal but it’s a pain in my ass—which I guess…is two anals.”

Natalia rolled her eyes. “You’re not funny.”

“I’m a little funny. Also, you have a drug screening first thing but don’t worry after that—you’d have to be on drugs to work for me after you know me, so I don’t even bother. You’re going to hate me pretty quickly.”

“How quickly?”

“Maybe after about two hours.”

Natalia laughed and Olivia really looked at the woman—she was gorgeous and yet she was something else.

“That’s pretty quick, Olivia.”

Olivia’s eyes suddenly looked exponentially different as she glanced from Natalia’s eyes to her mouth and back. “Quick? Yeah, I’ve been known to be quite fast.”

Natalia, although her heart certainly skipped a beat, seemed merely and oddly interested. “Do you know you do that? I mean, can you control that?”

Olivia was nonplussed, “What?”

“That eye thing you do. It’s really, really…sultry. Is that intentional? Can you just do that if you want?”

Olivia, in her many years of eye-shagging countless victims, had never been asked that. “Well…yeah. And…uh, yeah.”

“That’s really cool.”

Olivia had no idea what to say to that except, “Thanks.”

“I wish I could do that.”

“Well, you have dimples—they count.”

“Yeah, but they’re just cute. My one cute thing.”

Olivia looked her over and said, “I wouldn’t say that.”

Her look was so ostentatiously lascivious that Natalia laughed. “Are you flirting with me?”

“Hell, I don’t know. I usually don’t flirt with women but is it working? I always like to know what’s in my wheelhouse.” 

“It might if you weren’t my boss. What more will I hate about you beside sexual harassment?”

“Oh great—that’s a given now, huh? Well, I’m a tyrant.”

Natalia shrugged, “Had that. And I mean like Caligula.”


Natalia rolled her eyes, “You’d have to work really, really hard for that. Remember Caligula?”

Olivia scowled, “Can you read a spread-sheet?”

Natalia ducked her head in only semi-shame, “If you teach me—but if I learned to press a linen blouse like you’re wearing in one day, it can’t be too hard, can it?”

Olivia looked down at her elaborately ruffled blouse, “Is it hard?”

“It’s murder—like a really complex CSI episode murder.”

“No wonder they charge me so much.” She smiled, quite genuinely, “I’m telling you—you’ll hate me. I’m impossible.”

“Join the legions of my employers.”

“Hey. I’m one of a kind.”

Natalia shrugged again, unwilling to believe her luck, “You’ll have to prove it. But you’ll have to be patient with me.”

“Patience is my middle name.”

“I thought blunt was?”

“It’s patience until I have to hit people with blunt instruments so—there you go. Blunt. Patience. Girl for all seasons.”

“You’re so full of shit.”

Something about the hesitant phrasing of that made Olivia laugh. “You didn’t say that with conviction. You never curse, do you?”

Natalia blushed profusely.

“Uh oh. I smell a Catholic.”

Natalia's eyes snapped fire, “And what exactly does a Catholic smell like?”

To her surprise, Olivia slid close to her and gently placed her nose next to her neck, which made Natalia’s skin tingle as the woman pulled away and actually giggled. “Oh my God. That’s perfect. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap.”

“How’d you know that?!”

“The smell? My mother used Bronner’s, too. The Catholic part? Takes one to know one, I guess.”

“You’re Catholic?”

“Profoundly lapsed, but raised that way. My mother was the most ferocious Catholic on Earth.”

Natalia ran her hands through her hair and said, “Well, my mother and yours could have a death match.”

“My mother would lose. She’s dead.”

“Oh yes. I’m so sorry. Your daughter told me. I have no idea whether my mother’s alive.”

“Ah yes. What else did my daughter tell you?”

Olivia watched as Natalia closed down, became more guarded. “I promised not to tell but it was nothing bad.”

Olivia snorted, “Surely there was something about my five marriages.”

“I won’t break a promise. I will say exactly this. She wishes you were happier.”

Natalia watched as Olivia’s animated face dropped. She reached out to touch her hand, which Olivia jerked away violently, which startled her.

“Don’t do that, Olivia.”

“What? What exactly?” This was said quite harshly and was evidently the harder side Olivia had been talking about.

“Don’t go to that place where all mothers go sometimes.”

“What the fuck do you know, Mary Poppins?”

Natalia closed her eyes, then opened them, “One of a hundred memories. My son was four so I was 20 and I had three jobs. I always got up early to make him a hot breakfast before preschool and I came downstairs and he had put peanut butter on bread and was drinking water. He said he wanted me to get more rest. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, no matter how hard I tried. That’s where you just went. We’re mothers. It happens.”

Olivia seemed to be churning something in her mind, “I’m telling you, you’ll hate me.”

“I can name more reasons you’ll hate me and I’ve only known you, like, 20 minutes.”

“Fine. Hit it.”

“I’m a morning person.”


“Swear jar.”


“You were right. I don’t curse and you put money in the swear jar every time you curse or blaspheme.”

“You have to be fucking kidding me.”

“That’s already ten dollars. I’ve also been described as chipper—even perky.”

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose.

“And I always look on the bright side.”

“Oh my God.”

“Not a prayer—five more dollars.”

Olivia stared at the beautiful woman next to her, who seemed perfectly serene. “You really aren’t kidding are you?”


“You’d have an actual swear jar in your office?”

“I’d have an office?”

“No, Natalia. My assistant sits on my computer’s printer. Of course you’d have an office.”

“Well, yes. But it wouldn’t have to be obtrusive—the jar, I mean.”

“I could pay in advance?”

Natalia almost smiled, considering this. “It’s not the same but yes. And I’ll keep track.”

“Gee thanks.”

They sat in silence for a few moments before Olivia said, “Okay. When do you start?”

“Whenever you want.”

“This Friday? Come sign all the bullshit for HR and yeah five bucks to the jar.”

Natalia beamed at her.


Olivia reached into her bag, pulled out a business card and slapped it on Natalia’s thigh. She also reached for her checkbook, wrote a check and slapped that on Natalia’s thigh.

Natalia’s eyes grew enormous. “2000 bucks? What’s that for?”

Olivia looked at her with kind, serious eyes. “You ever had one of these professional jobs?”

Natalia lowered her head, “No.”

“Check what the dowdy bitches in HR wear—and that’s five bucks, I know. Just do something better. Nice slacks, skirts, blouses.”


Olivia’s voice was gentle, but firm. “Stop it. I know what it feels like—not to feel good enough. When you come to work on Monday, you’ll feel good enough.”

“I’ll pay you back.”

“Yeah, I know. You use Dr. Bronner’s. Five year payment plan, even if you don’t last and no interest. Those are my terms.”

Natalia started to cry and Olivia said, “Oh God—and that was a prayer not a swear thingy. Save me from female waterworks. So hey—buck up!”

Natalia wiped her eyes and blinked at Olivia.

“We’ll start you at 40 with benes and see how it goes.”


“Yeah, 40K?”

“Forty thousand dollars? For an assistant?”

Olivia slid closer to her again and lowered her voice, “It’s vulgar to talk about money but I am a multi-millionaire. My assistant can and will make lots more if she proves herself.”

“Oh—and if you want you can keep a suite at our Beacon flagship—one of the ones with little kitchens. That way you won’t have to pay rent and can ride the elevator to work.”

“How much would that cost?”

“Uh—like, free? I own the joint.”

Natalia didn’t know whether to faint, die or pray. “I promise, Olivia, I’ll be the best assistant you’ve ever had.”

Olivia smirked at her and said, “Well, technically, I haven’t had an assistant yet. Known one. In the Biblical sense?”

Natalia’s eyes widened, then narrowed, “Well, hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?”

“Hey! That was naughty for a Catholic—and good!”

“You’ll find out just how good on Monday.”

“I look forward to it.” She shook Natalia’s hand, “I think we’ve just had a fortuitous circumstance.”

“You mean a miracle?”

“Tomato, tomahto.”

“We’re not calling the whole thing off, though.”

Olivia smiled. “Not a chance. I better go round up Jane and give her the run down for tomorrow.”

As Olivia crossed the park, Emma ran up to Natalia, “Did she do it!?! Did she hire you?”

“She did!”

Emma threw herself into Natalia’s arms. “I knew it—did you see how pretty she is when she’s happy?”

“I did.”

“You’re going to be really happy together.”

“You think so?

“I know it.”


“You already told me how. I have faith.”