Born two days before Christmas in 2002 at the same time in the same hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of edelweiss. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!”
One baby was born to the king and queen of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and hazel eyes. The Winslow’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital. Evelyn was having tea with friends in her comfortable library at home when she suddenly went into labor.
The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair golden brown and eyes of green like her ancestors from ancient Persia. Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring, the little shop in Harlem where she worked when her water broke. Her kindly boss Ken Siegel carefully escorted her to Mercy Hospital.
It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same winter’s night. Hours later both women had given birth to sons.
Five days later on December 28th the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need while the waitstaff plumped Evelyn’s pillows and served her breakfast in bed.
Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor home to her basement apartment in Harlem. He offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner of the basement on which Rosa dozed restlessly while her infant son slept in an old borrowed cradle. The bathroom consisted of a toilet bowl and a sink where Rosa washed herself with a sponge, shivering in the cold December night. She breastfed Victor and cooked simple meals for herself on a hotplate.
The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake shared by Ken and a handful of trusted friends.
Shortly after Victor’s birthday, Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man. She cared deeply for him and believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had acquired a larger space and expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing store. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content.
The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of the other’s existence. Though they lived just two miles apart, the large and busy city allowed them to lead separate lives. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys with many friends yet sometimes they both felt an unusual void in their lives – something neither one could understand or easily dismiss.
One day between Christmas and the new year Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop to buy a new suit for his son’s 18th birthday.
“We’re closing early today, Mr. Winslow – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but I must ask you to come back tomorrow” Ken stated nervously when Carlton and Maxwell entered the shop.
“Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me” replied Carlton in his usual condescending manner. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit for his birthday. Are you trying to get rid of us?”
“I’m sorry but I have something personal to attend to. I really must close now!” Ken insisted.
But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the back room; they were laughing happily and Rosa held a small cake with a single candle. When the two teenage boys came face to face, a silence fell over the shop. They stared at each other in a strange sort of amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance.
Carlton gasped in shock when he saw Rosa and she became faint; they had not laid eyes on each other in a very long time. Ken rushed to Rosa’s side and whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to get rid of them. I never wanted him to see you or Victor. I failed you.”
Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my sweet husband. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame” Rosa replied softly.
Gathering all his courage, Ken stood up proudly and spoke directly to Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know twenty years ago I ran a small tailoring shop in Harlem. Rosa worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in that tiny shop … but you knew that because you came there often. Eventually I was able to acquire this lovely store and you became one of my regular customers. After Victor was born, I asked Rosa to marry me and we have been together for seventeen years. Mr. Winslow, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly; we are a family. But even someone as self-centered and obtuse as yourself would know at first glance that both Victor and Maxwell are your biological sons.”
Clearly stunned by this information, Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“Because you were married and your wife was also pregnant. You would never have supported us or accepted us as your family” Rosa cried.
“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.
Ken loudly slammed his hand against the front desk, startling everyone. “Victor is MY son. I am the one who lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” he shouted. “You would never have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind are selfish and spineless; you have money but you have no respect or dignity. Now, I must insist that you leave and never bother us again!”
“Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. You have to believe I would have done the right thing by you and your mother. You’re a bright boy; surely you can see that.”
Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton, the father he never knew, and said nothing. Finally, when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. “Mr. Winslow, you know nothing about me. Please do not dare to insinuate yourself into my life or the lives of my parents.”
Victor’s words stung and Carlton was taken aback. “Maxwell” he said angrily. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home. Now!”
“No, father. After all I just heard, there’s no way I’m leaving now. You can turn your back and walk away but I can’t” Maxwell replied. “I just found a missing piece of my life. I’m going to stay and get to know my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.“
Rosa and Ken looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.
Carlton was furious but he made no attempt to reach out to his sons. Instead, he angrily left the store and began walking home, wondering how he would explain this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.
NAR © 2019