“She’s family,” Tom replied. “She’s always taken an interest in you. She would have helped with college, but you wanted to do ROTC. She never interfered. But you getting the job you’ve got, that was Mabel’s doing. She sits on the board.”
Frank laughed harshly, blinking back tears of frustration. “So, I didn’t get that job on my own merits? Great!”
“You’re more than qualified for that job,” his father snapped. “Mabel doesn’t believe in giving more than a man is capable of handling. If you notice, Ralph’s not got the job.”
“His people skills need polishing,” Frank countered.
“They need to be replaced,” his mother said, color rising in her cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe the things he’s said to us over the years. He’s a nasty, mean spirited. . . .”
“Polly, shh. We all know what he’s like.”
“Do we have any idea what he might have been up to?” Paula asked suddenly. “Ralph’s a snake. He’s one of the stupidest men I ever met. Always sneaking around doing something underhanded. Cheap, tightfisted, no-count. . . ..”
“Polly. . . .”
“Well, he is, Tom! Frank knows. He’s got no illusions about it.”
“Uncle Ralphie’s a character for sure,” Frank said.
“Don’t ever call him that. He’s no blood kin to you!” Paula’s voice rose in pitch. “He’s the Devil’s Own!”
“Ralph’s been horrid over the years. He was always threatening to reveal our secret. He even tried blackmail at one time—like we cared. We planned to tell you about all this and it didn’t matter that my mother was really Evelyn’s sister.”
“What?” Frank gasped.
“Mabel didn’t tell you that?” His father was stunned.
“No. She never told me her name. Aunt Marilyn is your real mother?”
“That explains a lot, doesn’t it?” Paula replied. “Marilyn is Tom and Richard’s godmother. She’s always been a major part of our lives. She eventually married, but she never stopped loving Frankie.”
“I always wondered why she looked at me that way. . . .” Frank murmured. “Such pain in her eyes. Do I really look that much like him?”
Paula went to a nearby shelf, pulling down a photo album. She carried it over to Frank. Sitting beside him on the sofa, she opened the book and flipped through a few pages. Laying it on his knees, she pointed to a photograph of a handsome young man in an Army uniform. His build and bearing were exactly like Frank’s. The smile, dimples, hair and dark eyes bespoke of their relationship. He was smiling at the camera, his arms around twin boys. A beautiful blonde, whom Frank recognized as his Great-Aunt Marilyn, stood next to them, her arm around the nearest twin.
Frank felt like the wind was knocked out of him. “Oh, my God!” It was like looking in a mirror.
“You never put together that he was your dad?” Marka asked Tom.
Tom shrugged, shaking his head. “He was Aunt Marilyn’s beau and Dad’s best friend. He was as much a part of our lives as anyone else. Every time he had leave, he was here. He taught us to throw a football, gave us our first riding lesson on Mabel’s horses. He lavished us with gifts and made a huge fuss over us whenever he could. Uncle Frank was a fixture. It was to honor his memory that we named you after him. It was Dad’s idea.”
“Was it a terrible shock finding out he was your dad?” Marka asked.
“Not so much. By then, we’d both been married a couple years, had a kid or two of our own. It was right after Jen’s first birthday that they told us.”
“Why don’t I remember Tom Cortland?” Frank asked.
“You should. He was at all the family functions until his death. I think you were fifteen,” his mother replied.
Frank shook his head. “I don’t remember a thing. Some of my memories are hazy. Like I know Mabel was around too, but she’s in this foggy bubble. . . .” He rubbed his nose, shaking his head. “It’s crazy. Why would it be like that?”
“You called him Uncle Tommy,” his mother prompted. “You loved him so much. . . ..”
Tom Atherton took the photo album from his wife as she dabbed at her eyes. “I think this is enough for now, don’t you? How about dinner? I bet you’re starving. If I know my son, he missed lunch and scarfed a burger in the car.”
Marka burst out laughing. “That’s exactly what he did!”
“Let’s see if we can improve on that meal. I was going to grill this weekend, but I’ve got all the fixings already. Blue cheese burgers?” He suggested, standing.
“Oh, Dad, does that sound good!”
“Hope you don’t mind turkey,” Tom said to Marka. “Some of us have iron trouble.”
“Frank told me.”
“Would you like to change, Frank? You can’t help Daddy in that suit. You’ll get it filthy.”
“Sure! The great thing about having parents who keep everything. . . . Is they keep everything,” he told Marka. “I could supply the Salvation Army with the stuff in my room.”
“I have something that would fit you,” Paula told Marka. “Let’s find you something to change into. You can’t relax in that. The suit is lovely, by the way.”
© Dellani Oakes