“Can we sit down?” asked Gianna.
Charisse stared at her. Gianna seemed more comfortable than Sunday, wearing jeans and a blue untucked blouse with long sleeves. Her curly hair was pulled back in ponytail, making the mother daughter similarities striking.
“Yes, of course,” said Charisse, finally. She led her over to a small couch.
They sat and stared at each other. Charisse’s nerves made her clench her jaw. She didn’t want to be the one to begin.
Gianna cleared her throat and said, “I’m sorry I missed out on your childhood, but it was better for me not to be around you and Marie.”
“Why? Why was it better for you to leave us?”
“Because I was a cocaine addict. Your father gave me an ultimatum that if I used one more time, I’d have to live in my apartment until I’d kicked the habit.”
“So why didn’t you live in your apartment?”
Gianna rolled her lips together and shook her head. “You don’t understand how hard the social pressures were for me. I couldn’t stand having to be perfect everywhere I went. I couldn’t stand the gossip if I had to go into rehab.”
Gianna’s voice sounded angry and made Charisse defensive. Charisse said, “You’re wrong. I do understand. I feel exactly the same way. Why do you think I have this salon? I didn’t want to be a socialite. I didn’t want parties to be my life.”
“And you have all this because I was not around to be a bad example to you and Marie. Your father gave you everything I could not.”
“I have all this because I worked my ass off. You have no idea what my life was like before the salon. I was in an abusive relationship. Who do I have to thank for that? The sick part is that when he left me I was devastated because he abandoned me just like you.”
Gianna scrunched her face up, and her eyes had tears in them. At last she looked like she might regret what she’d done.
In a shaky voice Gianna said, “I didn’t know about the abuse. I’m so sorry.” She placed her hand on Charisse’s knee, but Charisse recoiled. Gianna withdrew her hand.
After a couple of minutes had passed in silence, Charisse said, “Why didn’t you come back when you sobered up? Or do you still use?”
Gianna heaved a sigh. “I’m sober now, but it took a long, long time. And then I didn’t think you’d want me back in your life. The longer I stayed away, the harder it was to come back.”
Charisse didn’t respond. She wanted to close her eyes and have her mother disappear. She wanted a better explanation like she’d had to battle cancer and didn’t have the strength to return for a long time. Anything better than she just gave up on seeing them again.
Gianna clutched her hands in her lap. “But I’d like to be a part of your life now. I know you hate me, but I’d like to have a chance to change that. Maybe we could see each other for lunch on occasion.”
“You’re staying in New York?” She gaped at Gianna.
“I’m going to fly back regularly. I own a café, but I’m training a manager to handle short absences. I’ll have time to visit you and Marie if you’ll see me.”
She didn’t want to let Gianna back into her life so easily. Charisse had feared she wouldn’t get a second chance at having a child, but her mother had disregarded the two she’d had.
“Why did you kick Conor out of your cafe? When he told me what happened in Puerto Rico, I felt like you wished I’d never been born. I didn’t even know he was looking for you.”
Gianna combed her fingers through her hair like she was frustrated. “No, that’s not it at all. I’m so glad I had you and Marie. You were so wonderful that I couldn’t stand for you to find out what an addict I was. Conor surprised me. If he knew where I was, he probably knew other things too…things I never wanted you to know about.”
Tears streamed down Gianna’s cheeks. Charisse’s throat swelled. It was still shit reasoning, but at least there was some remorse, some acknowledgment that her children had been important at one point, just not important enough to return to.
Charisse took a deep breath and said, “Right now things are really crazy with my schedule, but maybe the next time you’re in New York, I could meet with you and Marie.”
Gianna blinked her tears away. “Thank you. Thank you for giving me a second chance.”
“Just be sure you follow through, especially with Marie. She’s defended you all her life. If you say you’re coming back and don’t, she’ll be devastated.” Charisse left off that she’d also be crushed.
“I won’t let you down this time. Marie and I are planning a night out this weekend. Would you come?”
Charisse shook her head. She needed more time to get used to this.
“I understand. Let’s say hello to Raul, if he’ll even speak to me.”
“Of course he will. He’s always professional.”
An expression of pain shot through Gianna’s eyes, but she stood up and left the breakroom without saying anything else.