The knock startled me from my book. Gemi? I checked the peephole to be sure before swinging the door open wide.
"This is urgent. May I come in?"
"Of course." I stood to the side and gestured Gemi into my living room, a space so different from her own it seemed odd they were both in the same house. Where Gemi had decorated her upper level apartment with rich hues, straw baskets and tapestries on wall and floor, some would say my lower level wasn't decorated at all. I left the walls white, the hardwood floors bare, and the furniture minimal. My bike stood in the corner next to a tall bookcase. The sofa of pale gray leather and chrome I found at a garage sale. But Gemi was as comfortable in my place as I was in hers. She followed me into the kitchen where I flipped on the lights and turned on the kettle.
"Sit. Sit," I told her. "What's going on?"
"A long story, my friend. So much to say I hardly know where to begin."
"What's it about?"
"Carmen," she said as we settled at my Formica kitchen table, another garage sale find.
"Did she do something wrong? Was the job shadow a disaster? Was she a no-show?"
"No, nothing like that. She was waiting at the designated time and place. She was shy, but well-mannered. A bit overwhelmed by Mrs. Newbury and her wealth, I believe."
"I can only imagine," I said with a laugh, well familiar with the type of clients who contracted for Gemi's in-home care. "I think I'd be uncomfortable, too."
"She's really a lovely young woman, Carolyn."
"So what's the problem?"
"It's complicated. When I picked up Carmen, or shall I say Antonia, in front of the college, I immediately had my suspicions."
"Suspicions? What do you mean?" I asked.
"Have you never noticed bruises or excess makeup used to cover bruises?"
"I'm not the most observant person, you know that, especially when it comes to things like make up or hair or clothes. You saw bruises?"
"That's not the half of it, my friend. Antonia is a victim of serious domestic abuse."
In her simple, straightforward tone, Gemi told me about the dislocated shoulder, the bruises and welts over Antonia’s back and hips, about waiting at the Community Health Clinic, about the information from the domestic violence safe house. When the tea kettle clicked off, neither of us heard it.
"So you see, I had no choice. I had to bring them home with me," Gemi said.
"Them? What do you mean by them?"
"Antonia has a son. Did you not know this?"
"I had no idea until I read her composition on Friday," I admitted, ashamed at how little I knew, how little I observed. How could I have been so blind, so ignorant?
"Her son is in first grade. His name is Carlitos. Coincidence? I think not," Gemi said, a smile at the corners of her mouth.
"Oh my," I said. "And you brought them home with you? You mean, they're here in your apartment? Now?" I was on my feet heading for the front door when Gemi dragged me back to the kitchen table.
"Wait. Not tonight. They've had a very hard day, Carolyn. I've put them to bed. Antonia is finally asleep with the help of some pain medication. Let them sleep."
"But I want to see her."
"You have waited fifteen years, my friend. You can wait until tomorrow. We don't want to disturb her tonight. Besides, she doesn't even know that you are here or that I know who she is. We need to decide how to tell her this."
The kettle had clicked off so long ago, I clicked it back on and found the chamomile. Gemi watched as I squeezed honey into each cup and dropped in teabags.
“Mama Lucy would be so disappointed to know that you’ve succumbed to teabags and mugs. I have half a mind to write her a letter.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” I said with a laugh as I filled the cups with hot water, set them on the table and slid back into my chair. “You know I’ve never been able to replace the teapot she gave me. Each visit she tells me to take one home with me, but I’ve yet to see one that speaks to me the same way.”
“I know, my friend, I know.”
“So what should we do about Antonia?” I asked.
“Let her sleep as late as she is able. She’s safe. Perhaps for the first time in a long while. Let’s not take that from her.”
“When she and the child are awake, I will feed them a good breakfast, and then I will tell her you are both my friend and my neighbor.”
“So she doesn’t know anything?”
"No, I did not tell her. I only had her call her husband after promising me she would not reveal her whereabouts. There was no energy for anything more. Tomorrow is another day."