Chapter 17 : Surprise

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Xaro looks tearful as she walks up to Raul, who's sitting beside me on the couch. We're at Sylvia's house, having just come from Sunday mass we attended with the rest of the clan. The little girl, who looks to be around five, is one of Sylvia's son Luis's daughters. She's adorable in her navy blue sweater dress but she doesn't look very happy.

"Tio Raul?" she says. "Are you mad at me?"

"Mijita, no," he says gently. "Come here." He takes her in his arms and settles her on his knee. "Tell me what's wrong. Why do you think I'm angry with you?"

I have no idea what's going on but the sight of him with his little niece makes my heart skip a beat. Because most of my interaction with him previous to our marriage had been work-related, I sometimes forget how good he is with children. The thought occurs to me before I could squash it: what a wonderful dad he'd be if he had kids.

Not my kids. That wasn't part of the deal.

Xaro wipes her tears with her forearm before leaning into her uncle. "You said I'll be your flower girl when you get married." Her voice trembles a little.

"Ah. I see." He gives her shoulders a gentle squeeze. "And your Tia Kate and I got married without you."

She nods.

He turns to me and we exchange rueful looks.

We both expected this. There was no way we were going to elope without disappointing our families and friends. Sylvia and Carmen may know exactly why Raul and I snuck off to get married without telling anyone, but the others don't. Especially not Xaro who apparently thinks she's done something bad to have been deprived of her role in her uncle's wedding entourage.

"Of course you didn't do anything wrong, mijita," he says. "We had no flower girls the other day because we're saving that for our real wedding."

Her brown eyes grow wide. "Your real wedding?" she whispers.

"Er, yes." He looks at me again and I can tell he isn't sure how to explain it in a way a child of five would best understand.

"Yes, a real wedding," I add. "With a ... uh, priest."

The girl looks confused. "You didn't have a priest before?" she says. "But you can't get married without a priest."

I hide my smile. "You can if you promise to have a wedding with a priest later. And a flower girl, of course. It's not a real wedding without a flower girl."

She turns to Raul for confirmation and he nods. "You will be the best flower girl your Tia Kate could ever want," he says.

"Can I wear a daisy in my hair?" she whispers.

"Hmmm. I don't know." He pretends to ponder on the question and then turns to me. "What do you think, my love?"

My breath catches in my throat. "I, uh..." I stammer, the endearment catching me off guard. It's just for show, I remind myself. "Yes of course." I smile at the girl who's looking at me hopefully. "You can wear all the daisies you want. Is that your favorite flower?"

She nods, smiling now. "I like yellow," she says. "Sometimes pink."

"Those are my two favorite colors."

She wriggles out of her uncle's arms, her face alight with excitement. "Do you want to see the daisies in the garden, Tia Kate?"

"I'd love to. But you have to put on your jacket, it's a little cold outside." I get to. "We won't be long," I tell Raul.

To my surprise, he takes my hand and brushes a kiss over the back of my fingers. "I'll call you when brunch is ready," he says.

"Uh, right. Okay." I turn away, feeling my cheeks flare with heat.

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