Lauren E. Rico

Excerpt: Familia

Women's Fiction

Prologue: Alberto

That Day

Alberto never understood why people were afraid of the dark. Ever since he was a little boy he’d welcomed the pitch black like an old friend. Whether the dark came of its own accord—like at the end of the day, or if he beckoned it with sleep, or booze, or drugs, it never failed to pull him into its open arms, wrapping him in black silky oblivion. It offered protection—if only for a few hours—from the brutal realities laid bare by the rising sun.

No, Alberto was not afraid of the dark, but the light scared the living shit out of him. And right now, the two seemed to be battling for control of his body. The daylight pulled him up briefly—just long enough for the pain to register. But then the tendrils of black unconsciousness coiled around his thoughts, pulling him back down into the deep end of oblivion. Sometime later, something beckoned him back up toward the surface. Something important. It was right there in front of him, but he was having trouble wresting himself from the blissful safety of the dark. Still, the daylight pulled at him, drawing him further and further out of himself and up toward the surface. And the closer he came, the more agonizing it was.

Every blink, every breath, every single twitch of movement sent searing pain rippling through his muscles, and he became aware of something digging into his face. Pebbles? He realized he must be lying face-down on the street. The thought was enough to make him open his eyes which were immediately assaulted by the early morning sun. He closed them again more tightly this time, but it didn’t matter. An aura of red shone through the delicate flesh of his lids, backlighting the tiny blood vessels and causing spots to float across his vision. There would be no more retreat into the black oblivion today.

It took a few long moments for his thoughts and his body to coordinate their efforts to drag him fully back to the present—and his current situation. He was splayed across a storm drain, his left cheek wedged into a deep fissure that split the asphalt.

“Mierda,” he murmured to himself. He pushed himself onto all fours, wincing and groaning in concert with his spasming muscles. “Okay, okay, okay.”

Slowly, he lifted a hand to swipe at the tiny stones still embedded in his face. It felt good to be rid of them, but he felt the warm, wet tackiness of what could only be blood. This upped his alertness considerably. Had he fallen and hit his head? Been struck by a car? If it weren’t for the fact that his limbs were intact, he’d have sworn he’d been hit by a train based on his pain level alone.

He pushed himself back onto his haunches. That’s when he felt more blood, a tiny river washing down his face from somewhere along his hairline. Fat droplets of crimson splattered on the ground, disappearing against the tarry blackness. Alberto took a deep breath and, with every ounce of strength he could muster, straightened to his full five-feet-ten-inches. Around him were the backs of the faded, weather-beaten houses.

It took a few seconds for him to place his whereabouts. He was at the end of the alley that ran behind his local dive bar, El Gallo Rojo in the heart of Puerto Rico’s La Perla. Only a stone’s throw from the cobblestoned streets and quaint shops of Old San Juan, “The Pearl” loomed dull and bedraggled in comparison—a dark and dangerous neighborhood that tourists were cautioned to avoid before disembarking their fancy cruise ships. Not that they didn’t find their way there regardless. Especially the ones looking for a little something “special” to take home. A little something that couldn’t be found in the gift shops—but was easy enough to secure on most corners and back allies of La Perla for the right price. Back allies like this one.

Alberto pulled the filthy, sweat-drenched t-shirt off his back and held it against his head to stave the flow of blood. He tried to piece together the events leading up to waking up here. There were drinks—lots of drinks. There were always lots of drinks since Rosaria had died seven months ago. It was the only way he could get through the day. Well, that and a little bit of that “something special” when things got really bad.

He forced himself to think back further until he could place himself at the bar, talking to Beatríz as he handed over the last bill in his pocket for one more beer. He’d needed to get out of the house—a tiny, concrete structure with faded blue paint. He’d promised Rosaria he’d paint it blue—her favorite color. He’d painted it for her after Isabellita was born. And they had been happy there. Right up until the night their second daughter was born. The night that everything went terribly, terribly wrong. The night that Alberto became a widower with a toddler and an infant. His girls. His Isabellita and his Marianna…

The instant her name sounded in mind, an impulse shot through his alcohol and grief-addled brain. He wasn’t prepared for the sudden, overwhelming sensation of all his synapses erupting at once, and he had to reach out, steadying himself against a palm tree in order to keep from being knocked flat into the street again.

“Marianna,” he whispered to himself as images of the child flooded his memory.

He was pushing her stroller down the street. He’d stepped into the bar to show Beatríz how big the girl was getting to be and accepted a beer “on the house.” But, of course, it was never one beer, was it? And something had happened… someone had beat the shit out of him over… what? Something he couldn’t remember.

But where was Marianna?

Alberto felt the bile rise hot at the back of his throat as he allowed his eyes to scan the area where he’d just been lying—almost afraid of what he might find. But there was no stroller. No baby.

“Por favor Padre querido…” he murmured the instant he caught a flash of pink several feet away.

Please, dear Father…

He ignored the intense pain that came with each dread-filled step until he was looking down at the item.

Alberto Ruíz dropped to his knees, clutching the single, tiny pink sock to his chest as he looked upward, screaming his fear and his rage, shouting his pitiful pleas to the heavens. As usual, no reply came.

He couldn’t remember what he’d done.

But whatever it was, it had cost him his baby.

Chapter One: Gabby


There’s this misconception that truth is a fluid thing—that it morphs and changes, relative to the circumstances surrounding it. But that’s not the case. Truth—the real truth—is as immovable as a mountain. Forget about “alternative facts” or “perceived reality.” The truth is the truth and there is no amount of spinning, bald-faced lying, or underhanded fuckery that can change that. As Shakespeare once wrote: The truth will out. It’s just a matter of time.

My job is to make sure it “outs” sooner, rather than later.

“How’s the plagiarism piece coming, Gabby?”

At the mention of my name, I look up from the steno pad open on my lap where I’ve been half taking notes/half doodling. I sit up straighter in my chair—it’s one of the ones lining the walls of the conference room, serving as overflow for the “grown-ups” table. That’s where the editors, writers, photographers, and graphic designers sit. The rest of us mere mortals are relegated to the sidelines of the Flux Magazine morning editorial meeting.

I clear my throat and reply to Max, our super-hot, super-British managing editor.

“Uh… yeah, it’s going okay. I’ve been able to verify all of Lisa’s quoted sources and I’ve read the books involved—Jake Finnegan’s, as well as the three that he’s been accused of lifting from. So, now I’m digging through Finnegan’s back list—I want to see if this is a one-off thing, or if he’s been writing ‘frankenbooks’ all along and no one’s noticed until now.”

Everyone chuckles except for Lisa Mulberry, the author of the article in question. She wrinkles her cute little upturned nose at me. “Frankenbooks?” she echoes.

“Like Frankenstein?” I reply. She looks at me blankly. “You know, the monster—”

“I know who Frankenstein is,” she tells me impatiently. “What I’d like to know is who asked you to go digging through the backlist? If I’d wanted you to do that, I’d have told you so.”

Despite the fact that we’ve worked together for nearly three years, this woman seems to be under the impression that I’m an intern, there to serve her. I’m not. I’m a fact checker, meaning it’s my job to cover the magazine’s collective ass by verifying that all the information written by divas like Lisa are legitimate and can be proven on demand. And, yeah, okay, I can be a pain in the ass—always nipping at the writers’ heels requesting details about names, dates, and places—but they all love me when I can produce the proof needed to stave off a lawsuit.

I take a deep breath and do my best to sound pleasant, hoping she’ll take the hint and do the same.

“Lisa, I’m just saying, it’s not as straight forward as you might think. And this is a really serious accusation. I mean, we could destroy a man’s reputation. His career. So, I want to be sure we’ve got it right.”

“You mean me? You want to make sure I’ve got it right?” she spits back at me. “Do you really think I haven’t vetted this story myself?”

So much for pleasant and professional.

Max pipes up from the head of the table, and the one-two punch of his lush accent and his soul-searchingly-deep hazel eyes seems to smooth all Lisa’s ruffled feathers in one fell swoop. Not to mention her ginormous ego.

“Oh, now Lisa, you know that’s not what Gabby was suggesting,” he says coaxingly. “She’s here to protect you.”

Actually, I’m here to protect Flux. The fact that Lisa’s ass happens to be covered in the process is purely incidental. Now, if I were the one writing this story… but, of course, I’m not. I’m never the one actually writing the story, a fact my colleague is only too happy to point out every chance she gets.

Clearly mesmerized by Max’s easy, boyish smile, Lisa shuts up and nods her acquiescence.

Damn this guy knows how to harness his hotness! It must be a British thing, because I can’t think of a single American man who can turn a frown upside down faster than the Surrey-born Maxwell Taylor-Davies.

“All right then, let’s continue, shall we?” he asks, not waiting for a response. “I’m excited to report that the results of our GeneTeam profiles are now available online. Kelly will be messaging each of you with a username and temporary password. If you volunteered for this assignment, please take some time this week to look over your results and put together a brief summary of the findings. I’d like to get this story up and running in the next week or two…”

“And what’s the focus going to be, exactly?” asks Randy Greenblatt, another staff writer. He’s considerably more talented and considerably less infuriating than Lisa.

Max shrugs and quirks an enigmatic eyebrow. “That remains to be seen. We’ve heard thousands of stories about families brought together—and torn apart—by the results of genealogical testing. I have a hunch we might just turn up something interesting among our staff. I’d love for us to be able to write a firsthand profile about that. But, barring the discovery of a little genetic ‘skeleton in the closet,’ we could also use the information to compare the different services based on our own little in-house test group. With everyone’s permission, of course,” he’s quick to add.

This is a fairly standard practice for Max, who has this idea that there are unexpected, undiscovered stories all around us, just waiting to be uncovered and told. Since he arrived nine months ago, fresh off a stint at a London-based tabloid, he’s solicited volunteers to visit psychics, attend seminars with A-list self-help gurus, and, as of three months ago, to spit into a little plastic tube to determine if one of us is related to Queen Elizabeth… or, better yet, Meghan Markle.

I normally pass on these extracurricular offers, but since my dad died last year, I’ve found myself missing that family connection. The only child of only children, I wasn’t one to grow up with aunts and uncles and cousins—which might have been okay if I had a solid network of close friends. But I don’t. Sure, there are a few girlfriends I see for drinks or lunch or a movie periodically, but the truth is that my parents and I were a very tight unit—just the three of us. No extended relatives, no close family friends. It was always just… us. And I liked it that way. Except, now it’s just me. So, I’m hoping to strike a little DNA gold by tracking down a second cousin or great-aunt I don’t know about.

“All right then, my friends,” Max says, slapping his notebook closed on the table in front of him before uttering his standard end-of-meeting benediction. “Now go forth and engage the masses!”

I linger, finding a reason to dig through my bag—repeatedly—until most of the room has cleared. Then I mosey on over to my boss, who is scowling down at something on his phone. After a few moments, he looks up at me, smiling.

“Excellent work, Gabby. I love that you go above and beyond to get it right.”

I fight off the urge to melt into a puddle on the floor. This is too important to get frozen in the tractor beam of his charm.

“Thank you, Max, I appreciate it. I was just… I was wondering if you’d given any more thought to that proposal I sent you last week?”

For the briefest of moments, I see a cloud cross his face. He hasn’t thought about it. He doesn’t even remember it.

“The… uh… the pitch for the profile of that tiny town in Minnesota? The one where the cats all wear sweaters? And the wacky lady with her psychic pies…”

Now there’s a spark of recognition in his eyes.

“Right! Right, right. What is it called? Maypole? Mayberry? Maytag…?”

“Mayhem,” I correct. “Mayhem, Minnesota. I thought it could be the first in an ongoing series about America’s quirkiest towns.”

He’s nodding. Maybe I haven’t given him enough credit. Maybe he did review it… but got busy with other projects in the interim. Maybe—

“Yes, yes, of course. Mayhem, Minnesota,” he echoes. “I have to be honest with you, Gabby, everyone is pretty much locked into assignments for the next several months. I don’t think I can free-up a writer to tackle a multi-part series at the moment. But perhaps after the New Year…”

“Me,” I break in a little too abruptly. “I mean, I’d like to take a shot at writing it myself,” I explain, certain that I was very clear about this part of the well-researched, well-thought-out proposal I sent him.

“Ah, yes. I see,” he replies. “Well, here’s the thing, Gabby. I’m sure you’d do an exceptional job with it, but you’re just so valuable to us as a fact checker at the moment.” He perches on the edge of the table and leans in closer to me, dropping his voice as if he’s telling me his deepest, darkest secrets. “Truthfully, you’re the best I’ve ever worked with. And, when you think about it, your job makes you an essential part of every story we print. You might not get the byline, but there’s no way these stories have a chance outside this room without your input.”

I stare at him, determined not to say a word. Every article on negotiations I’ve read—including a few published in our own magazine—says you need to let the other person fill in the awkward pauses. If I rush in right now, I’ll be letting him off the hook. And that’s not what I want. Not this time. Hotty hot Brit or not, I want a chance to prove I’m more than the girl who confirms that it’s Anne with an “e,” or Sarah with an “h.” But I guess he’s read those articles too, because he just smiles at me, content to wait me out. Finally, it’s his assistant, Kelly, who breaks our silent stand-off.

“Max? They’re asking to see you upstairs,” she tells him as she sticks her head through the door. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt…”

He holds up a hand, still smiling at me kindly. “Nope, all good, Kelly, thanks. I’ll be right there.”

When she’s left again, Max looks at me closely. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah… I just… I feel as if I’m ready for the next step, Max.”

“Look, I’ll see if I can get you a bump in pay. God knows you’re worth every penny,” he offers with a reassuring smile, then looks down at his watch. “Listen, I really do need to go. Was there anything else?”

I shake my head, defeated. Again.

My boss gets to his feet and starts towards the door to the conference room. He stops and turns briefly. “Hey, don’t forget to open your genetic testing results—you never know what might be lurking in your family history!”

“Right,” is all I can manage as he walks out, leaving me standing in the wake of his five-hundred-dollar-an-ounce cologne.

Well, that didn’t go exactly as planned. I’m getting a raise I don’t need for doing a job I don’t like. Not that I’m wealthy by any stretch, but my parents certainly left me in the enviable position of not having to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from. Thing is, I want my next paycheck to come from here—I just want it to be for checking my own facts, in my own article. I gather my things and go back to my cube, trying not to look as dejected as I feel—which isn’t easy.


Back at home in my third-floor brownstone apartment in Brooklyn, it takes several hours and a couple of glasses of Chardonnay to work up the nerve to pop open the laptop and check the results of my GeneTeam report.

“Time to meet the relatives…” I murmur to myself as I enter the complex string of characters I’ve been given for a login.

A home page welcomes me and offers me the option to “take a tour” of the report and my personal results. I opt out, figuring I can manage to find what I’m looking for without too much direction. I bypass the brightly colored world map that indicates where my ancestors are from—already knowing that I’ll find some derivation of Mediterranean origin. I can hash that out later. No, what I want is the section titled simply “Relations.” I’m immediately prompted to check several boxes allowing the company to display my matches. I know, of course, that this may not lead anywhere. It would require that someone—probably very distantly related to me—has gone through the same process, with the same company, and checked the same boxes that allow us to see one another’s profile information. The odds are…

Before I can even finish the thought, the page populates with an elaborate family tree graphic, littered with close to a dozen pictures of other members.

“What the—?”

I set the wine glass down on the coffee table and start scanning faces I don’t recognize, attached to names I don’t know. Who the hell are these people? This has to be a mistake. I navigate back to the map, homing in on the pie chart that breaks down my ethnicity like so many slices of apple crumb ala mode.

64% European

21% African

15% Native Taino

I blink hard, as if that will somehow clear my vision and change the results. It doesn’t. Native Taino? Doesn’t that have something to do with the Caribbean? Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica…

“Pfft. This is just too much,” I mutter, snapping a picture of the screen with my phone before sending it hurtling westward through the ether to my best friend Franny.

Five seconds later I’ve got a FaceTime call coming in.

“What am I looking at here?” she asks, blond brows scrunched over green eyes. They match the scrubs she’s got on.

“Oh, jeez, I’m sorry—I didn’t know you were working! You should’ve just let it go to voicemail and called me later…”

“Honey, there is no later. I’m always working,” she informs me flatly. “I’m a resident. It’s what I do. Now tell me what I’m looking at?”

“Supposedly that’s my genetic makeup.”

“Bullshit!” she declares with an incredulous laugh—as if I’m pulling her leg.

“I swear—that’s what I got back from GeneTeam.”

“Seriously? Looks like somebody in the DNA lab was hungover when they processed your sample! You sure you didn’t send it to the place that does doggie DNA?”

“Do you see ‘terrier’ listed anywhere on that pie chart?”

“Oh, yeah, like you’d be a terrier. With those dark curls you’d be a black poodle.”

“Not helpful.”

“Right, sorry. Okay, so it’s probably just an error. Maybe a contaminated sample.”

“Does that happen?” I ask hopefully.

“No idea,” she says, with a shrug. “Ask a doctor.”

“You are a doctor,” I point out.

“Yeah, an ER doctor. Not a geneticist. Now, need to know how to get a zucchini unstuck from your hooha? Yeah, I’m your girl. Or, like last week there was this guy with a—”

“Please don’t!” I head her off before this devolves into a conversation about the latest thing she’s had to fish out of someone’s orifice.

“Sorry, sorry. Anyway, what’s the big deal? Call the customer service number and ask them to send you a collection kit so they can repeat the test.”

“It’s not that easy,” I begin. “I did this for work and the results—even if they’re bogus—are part of the story the magazine is researching.”

She smacks her forehead dramatically. “Oh! Of course! How could I have forgotten? You did this for the boss. The hottie with the accent. What’s his name again? Marshall? Mitchell?”

“Maxwell,” I reply. “You know very well it’s Maxwell. Max.”

“Right, right. Maaaaax,” she says, drawing out his name. “Now I remember. He’s the guy who refuses to give you a chance to write an article of your own.”

I never should have told her about my frustrations at work. Now she’s like a dog with a bone. “It’s a big magazine and the bar is really high. I’m sure he’ll let me know when he thinks I’m ready.”

“I’m not. Seriously, Gabby, when are you going to learn? You’ve got so much talent, but you just stand around, waiting for things to happen to you. It doesn’t work that way. The people who get ahead in this world are the ones who actively go after what they want. That’s how the Lisa’s of this world get ahead—they step right on the backs of people like you who are too polite to ask for what they want.”

“It’s not like I’ve got a terrible job,” I point out. “A lot of people would kill for my job.”

My best friend snorts at me from the Pacific time zone.

‘I want to be a fact checker when I grow-up!’ said no one. Ever. In the history of everything. Just sayin.'”

“Okay, okay I appreciate your concern, but—”

“What’s wrong?” Franny asks when I stop short, mouth still set to form the rest of the sentence.

She can see me staring at my laptop, but she can’t see what it is that I’m looking at. Suddenly I wish she was here with me, in this room, helping me to sort through all this.

“Umm… It’s an alert from GeneTeam. It says I have a genetic match.”

“What, already? What does it say? Who’s the match?”

“Hang on, hang on,” I mutter as I point and click my way to the profile. “Um, she’s very pretty—long dark hair, dark eyes, probably about our age. Her name is Isabella Ruíz, and it says here she’s a fifty percent match.” We’re both silent for a long moment after I read the report out loud. Finally I ask the question that’s now crowded everything else from my mind. “Wouldn’t that make her…”

“A full sister? Yeah, it would,” Franny says, sounding as bewildered as I feel.

“Okay, this is just… This has all gone too far. First the wrong ethnic breakdown and now they want me to believe I have a sister that I don’t know about? How would that even work? Did my parents have a baby when I wasn’t looking and put her up for adoption or something? No, this is just—”

I stop when I see the alert pop up on my screen.

“What is it?” Franny asks from three-thousand miles away.

“She just sent me a message.”


“Isabella Ruíz. She just sent me a message—like right this second.”

Then I stop talking because all I can do is stare, lost in the words until Fran’s voice comes to me through the phone.


I turn my attention back to my friend who looks as concerned as she now sounds.

“The message… She says: ‘I think you’re my sister.’

“Wait, what? That’s crazy! She must be a crackpot. If she even is a she! I’ll bet it’s some pervy old dude looking for a little cyber bootie…”

I shake my head.

“No, this is vetted. You can’t just send a message to anyone. You have to have a DNA match.”

“Shit,” she murmurs. “What the hell does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper.

And that’s the God’s honest truth.

Chapter Two: Isabella


I refresh my messages. Again. And again. And again.

“A watched pot never boils,” comes the groggy voice from beside me.

“More like an anticipated email never arrives,” I correct Matéo as I glance down at him. “Am I keeping you up with the phone?”


As if to prove his point, he’s snoring only a few seconds later.

With a heavy sigh, I turn back to the screen I’ve been staring at for hours now. I’m waiting for a reply that may never come. But it wouldn’t be the first time, and that’s never stopped me before. I’ve been chasing ghosts for as long as I can remember. Well, one particular ghost, anyway. The ghost of a little sister I barely remember. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not even certain that I do remember her.

I’ve never mentioned this to Matéo, but I sometimes think that the vague images in my mind are a composite of the handful of photographs I’ve seen and bits and pieces of stories I’ve heard over the years. Pictures and stories about the little girl with the silky dark curls and eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea. Those I’m sure I do remember because I was fascinated by them—so striking against her golden skin. Just like my mother’s eyes. Our mother’s eyes. Mine and Marianna’s, I mean.

I used to look for her everywhere I went—every town I travelled through, every school I attended. Every church I was dragged to, every street fair, every beach. I would scrutinize every little girl who was the age that Marianna would have been at the time. Kindergarten, second grade, middle school, high school… I never stopped looking, though I became a little less obsessive about it—about her—as the years went by. Not because I’d forgotten about her, but because life happened to me.

We had a tiny, weathered bungalow in the heart of Santurce—now a haven for hipsters with money to burn, but when I was growing up it was more of a haven for sex workers, drug dealers, and carjackers. Like every other house in the neighborhood, the view from each window was obstructed by bars. Bars meant to put a little distance between our family and the grittier, seedier elements living just outside our front door.

After Marianna was taken, I became terrified that I might disappear off the face of the earth too—snatched up by some monster lurking in the shadows. But as time went on, I started to realize the monster wasn’t a person at all. It was the cases of beer and the empty bottles of rum. It was the heroin, or the oxy, or the coke—whatever my father’s drug of choice was at that moment. Because, in the end, that was the only way Alberto Ruíz could live with himself. He had to obliterate the man he was—the man he had been. The man who was my Papi.

It would have been so easy to follow him down that brutal, ugly path but by some miracle I discovered a bright spot in my bleak little world—painting. I loved it. And I was good at it—though not in any traditional way. Unlike other artists, my passion wasn’t born in some stuffy museum, it grew right out of the dirty, craggy streets lined with trash, broken-down cars, and broken-down people. Inspiration struck me right on the street where I lived, and by the time I hit my teens, I could be seen running around town at all hours, a rainbow of spray paint stuffed into an old army surplus rucksack. I’d set to work creating larger-than-life murals on the sides of the dirty and decaying buildings of the barrio—aka “the hood.”

In the beginning, I was unnerved by the attention I was getting from the gang members who ran the streets and drug dealers who staked the corners. They’d watch me—first with suspicion and then with curiosity. As my audience looked on, I turned the cement wall of an abandoned building into a series of geometric blocks and lines that, when viewed from a distance, became a replica of La Perla with its pink, blue, and yellow houses, with their shutters and balconies, their street-level doorways shrouded in shadow.

Eventually I became a source of entertainment on the slower nights in the barrio. Soon small groups would gather to watch me work—even jumping in to help me move the ladder I dragged all over town. I stopped being anxious around them—ironically coming to feel more secure as they kept a watchful eye—making certain I made my way back home in the late, dark hours. Through all of this, my father took up residence at which ever local dive bar would have him. On more than one occasion a gang member, or dope dealer would be kind enough to help me scrape him off the sidewalk and deliver him to his bed so he could “sleep it off.”

This was, incredibly, how I met Matéo, the man sleeping next to me. He’d been a petty thief well on his way to becoming a drug dealer. He says that I changed him. But the truth is that love did. It changed both of us. Today he helps kids like himself as a social worker specializing in at-risk youth.

He must sense that I’m thinking about him—as he often does in that uncanny way of his—because he rolls over and squints at me.

“¿Todavia nada?” he asks in Spanish.

“No, nothing yet,” I echo in English.

He shifts up onto his elbow and quirks a dark, sexy brow in my direction. “Oh, so we’re practicing our English now?” he asks, switching languages with me.

I shrug. “You never know. I might be needing it soon.”

“You mean if she actually replies to your message?”

I flip the phone over and set it, face-down on the nightstand, and then slip down into the bed so I’m lying next to him.

“I wish I could unsend it.”

I can see his concern, even in the darkened room.

“Why? Isabella, mi amor, you’ve been waiting for this day as long as I’ve known you. And now it’s here. You’ve found her! You’ve finally found your baby sister!”

My reply is considerably less enthusiastic than his.

“Yeah, but have I?” I ask, as if he might have the answer. “What if I’m wrong? What if she’s not Marianna?”

“Who else could it possibly be with those genetic markers? Did Alberto and Rosaria have any other children you don’t know about?”

“No, of course not…”

“Okay, well, that alert you got says this woman—¿como se llama?”

“Gabriella,” I reply. “Her name is Gabriella DiMarco.”

“Italian?” He scoffs. “She was kidnapped by the Italians?” he asks incredulously, as if this were the most preposterous thing he’s ever heard.

I chuckle. I can’t help it.

“Yes, Matéo, Pope John Paul II snatched her off the streets of Old San Juan and took her away in his little Pope Mobile.”

“Pffft,” he waves a dismissive hand at me. “That thing only does like ten miles an hour. Nobody’s making a quick getaway in that thing.”

I wag a finger at him. “No, it can go up to a-hundred-and-sixty miles an hour.”


I nod. “Really. I suppose he needs to be able to outrun the devil.”

Chuckling, he pulls me into his arms so that my head is resting on his chest, and I can hear the dull, muted thump of his heart beating beneath me.

Digame,” he says softly.

He wants me to tell him about this woman I’ve probably scared away. I couldn’t help it—after five years on GeneTeam and countless alerts every time one of my dozens of cousins turned up as a match, I had no reason to expect this time would be any different.

“I got the alert,” I begin slowly, telling him the story for about the fourth time. “I figured it was Titi Annamaria, or my cousin Olivia—they both joined a few weeks ago. But then I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the number—a fifty percent genetic match! I read it over and over again, just to be sure.”

“And that means she’s your full sibling, right?”

“Yes. And… according to her profile, she’s twenty-five years old, which would be about right—but there was no birthdate given.” I shake my head. “I don’t know. These family DNA labs make mistakes sometimes, don’t they?”

I feel his shrug. “I don’t know. Not often, I don’t think. And besides, they’ve never given you a bad match before, have they?”


“And… there was a picture?”

This I haven’t told him. “Yes…”

“Okay, so… ?”

“I made it as big as I could without it distorting and, near as I can tell, the eyes are the right color. I think… it’s hard to be sure in a picture. But I’d know if I met her, Matéo. I know I’d recognize her if I saw her in person.”

Ugh. I sound desperate even to myself. This is pathetic—I’m not trying to convince my him; I’m trying to convince myself.

Matéo is quiet for a while as he stares up at the ceiling above us. Finally, he looks down at me with the expression he had the day I met him. The day I knew I’d marry him.

Bueno, sólo hay una cosa que hacer,” he says.

And he’s right. There is only one thing to do.

I have got to meet her, or I’ll never know the truth.

The question is, how interested is Gabriella DiMarco in knowing it?

Return to Familia: A Novel

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