Ferris / Marx Family Epilogues

One Year Later

“What are you doing out here?” Dakota asked joining her wife outside on their deck.

Turning from the panoramic mountain view Macy sighed “It’s so beautiful.”

“I guess so,” Dakota shrugged, unmoved by the view she’d grown up seeing every day. 

“Is that all? You guess so,” Macy shook her head. “Why did you agree with me about moving here when you obviously don’t want to be here?”

“It’s not that,” she protested.

Macy raised an eyebrow “uh huh right.”

“Fine,” she huffed, letting out an irritated huff. “I never thought I’d be the one coming back to live. I always imagined myself in some exotic place.” Shrugging a little “I just had a lot of dreams and being back here feels like I failed or something.”

“Failed,” she cried. “What makes you think that? There’s nothing wrong in coming home and making the ranch you grew up on thrive again.”

“I know,” she mumbled, taking Macy’s hand “It’s a mind thing. I’ll get over it. I promise. I loved growing up here. Riding horses. My parents. It’s a perfect place to raise a family.”

“It will,” Macy agreed, “although we have plenty of time before we start a family of our own. I want to get things fixed up around here first.”

“What if I tell you we’ll have to do both?” she asked, biting her bottom lip.

Frowning “what do you mean?”

“I’m pregnant,” she watched as her words sank in wondering how Macy would take the news.

A grin slowly spread across her face “we’re gonna have a baby?”

“Yes,” she grinned, nodding “I’ll let you and dad do whatever you want with the ranch as long as I can decorate the house anyway I want. Daddy and I can do that.”

“Deal,” Macy put an arm around her “don’t go overboard.”

“I won’t,” she rolled her eyes “I did go to school for interior design. I was thinking maybe I’ll see if  anyone else might want some  professional help.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Macy encouraged. “You might be surprised.”

“I might,” she agreed even though she didn’t sound like she believed it.

Three Years Later

“I like this one,” Natalia said as they stood outside the latest house they had looked at in their long quest to find a bigger home for their growing family.

“It’s nice,” Royce agreed.

“What’s wrong,” she asked, taking his hand.

Shaking his head “nothing really.”

Reaching up she gently turned his head to look at her. “Don’t say that. I know something’s wrong. Tell me. Please.”

Peering into her upturned face, a gentle smile tugged at his lips. “I was thinking about Jason. I miss him.”

Nodding she had a feeling it was something like this. “We could go visit him and Damian.”’

“I’d like that,” he smiled down at her. “We used to be so close. Now I hardly know what’s going on in his life.”

“That happens,” she took his hand again. “I felt the same way when we moved here and Belle stayed on the island.”

“Do you regret moving?” he asked, giving her hand a squeeze.

“Nope,” she shook her head “because as much as I miss her I know I’m meant to be here with you.”

Glancing back at the house Royce nodded as if making up his mind. “Once the house is fixed up the way we want it we can invite Belle and Jason to come visit. Who knows, maybe they’ll like it so much they’ll decide to move here.”

“Oh that would be wonderful,” she chuckled a little “then our kids could grow up together.”

Two Years Later

Montana was in the middle of a yoga class when she felt light headed. Losing her balance she reached for the wall to steady herself. Signalling for her assistant to take over. Walking into the changing room she splashed water onto her face. Moaning a little she rushed to a stall to rid herself of her lunch.

Hugging the cool porcelain she felt cold and clammy. She couldn’t deny what she knew to be true. She was pregnant. It was the same feeling she had the first time. Hope fluttered inside her before her stomach tightened in fear. 

She waited until the end of the yoga class before leaving the gym for the day. As much as she didn’t want to go through this again she needed to know for sure.

Tanner watched her leave. A part of him wanted to follow her, another part held back. Things hadn’t been the same since they’d lost the baby. It felt as if there was so much to say that they both got lost in the pain.

Later that night he came home to a dark house. He could see a light beneath the bathroom door. He knew before she even opened the door. His heart lurched inside him. Could he do this a second time? What if they lost this one too?

Montana stood in front of him. Eyes shining up at him. “I’m pregnant,” she announced, giving him a hopeful smile even as her eyes filled with hope and fear.

He could hear the underlying hope in her voice. He pulled her close. There was so much he wanted to say but the words wouldn’t come.

“This time will be different,” she murmured, “this time we’ll get to hold our baby. See their face.”

“We will,” he murmured softly, wishing he had her confidence. Hoping that this time would be different than the last. 

One Year Later

Damian could see the blue hair of his husband blowing in the breeze off the ocean. Slowly Damian walked towards him, tired from a long day at work he knew a peaceful night lounging in front of the TV would have to wait as he made his way towards Jason. 

Sitting down he waited in silence for Jason to say something. When the silence continued too long he asked “want to talk about it?”

Jason’s hands were buried in the warm loose sand. “How far is Appaloosa from Hidden Springs?” His question is a reminder of their upcoming move.

Smiling softly Damian had almost dismissed the idea of accepting the promotion knowing how Jason disliked change. “It’s not far. About an hour drive.”

“I think it would be nice to be close to my brother and his family. I didn’t realize how much I would miss him until after we came home from visiting them.”  Turning his head a little to look at Damian “is that promotion still available? Can we move?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted “but I’ll check if you’re sure you want to do this.”

Nodding “I think I’m ready.” Sighing a little “I’m sorry I reacted the way I did when you first mentioned it. The idea of moving was scary. It still does but what I’m really scared of is losing you. If you want that promotion I shouldn’t hold you back from accepting it.”

Pulling him close Damian said “you have nothing to be sorry for. It was a lot to ask of you.”

Shaking his head “not really. I acted like a baby but I’m ready to listen now and to discuss it.”

Four Years Later

Macy stumped into the kitchen. “I can’t believe they’re building another Simmart. Can’t they see what they’re destroying? The beauty of the natural world? The animals they’re killing?”

Turning from the stove “I don’t see what the problem is. There’s still plenty of natural wonders around. Besides, it’ll be so much more convenient to have a Simmart in town than having to drive a couple of hours to one.”

Putting her hands on her hips “what’s wrong with shopping at the local fleet store? Or shopping online?”

Rolling her eyes “because not all of us want to wear flannel and look like farmer John.”

“Is that all you think about?” Macy demanded “clothes?”

“No but I don’t see why you’re upset either.”

“Because it’s not necessary,” she cried, “we need to preserve the land for our children and future generations. If we keep doing this there will be nothing left.”

“I don’t see what can be done about it,” Dakota sighed “people need places to go, things to buy.”

“I know it’s just a waste is all,” she mumbled.

Two Years Later

“Do you think I should?” Royce asked when Natalia joined him.

“Yes,” she smiled at him. “You’ve been telling me for years how you’d run the spa if it were yours.”

“I know but this is different,” sighing he continued “it’s a big step from managing it to owning it.”

“You can do it,” she assured him.

“Are you saying I should dip into our savings and buy the spa…”

“If that’s what you want,” she said.

“I do but it’s not just up to me. There are other things to consider.” He took her hand “what if it fails? It would take us years to recover and what about the kids?”

“And our eventual retirement,” she chuckled a little, shaking her head at him.

“I’m being serious,” he grumbled, turning away.

“I know but there’s no guarantee in anything. The best we can do is hope for the best.” Taking his hand “I think you can do this. I’ll support you no matter what you decide. I will say this though, you’ll regret it if you don’t do it.”

Nodding slowly “you’re right as usual.”

“I usually am,” she smiled, leaning into him to give him a kiss.

Three Years Later

Montana looked up as her husband joined her on the beach. “Are the kids in bed?”

“They are,” he sighed, putting an arm around her. “They’re worn out.”

“Of course they are. Trying to keep up with you would wear anyone out.” She leaned into him smiling.

“I think you have that backwards,” he chuckled. “they wore me out. I feel like an old man.”

Her eyes skimmed over his body “you don’t look like an old geezer.”

“Geezer,” he huffed, pinning her to the ground beneath him. “I’ll have you know I’m not that old.”

“Even if you were. I’d still love you.” She moved enough to press her mouth into his.

“That’s something at least,” he murmured as his hands moved over her toned body.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded squirming beneath him. “We have two ten year olds in the house.”

“Who are asleep,” he reminded her.

“So? They could wake up,” she giggled at his touch.

“I don’t care,” he grinned undeterred by her protests.

One Year Later

“Thought I’d find you out here,” Damian leaned against the fence watching Jason as he worked in the garden.

“I find it relaxing,” he said, getting up and walking towards him. “How was your day today?”

“It was good,” his eyes narrowed a little at the dirt encrusted hands of his husband. “I’ve got to go back later for a meeting. I just wanted to come and check on you and the kids.”

“We’re fine,” he said, putting his hands behind his back. “Fox is napping.” He could see the worry in Damian’s eyes lessened a little. He’d been coming home to check on them ever since the accident. Fox had looked so small and frail the two months he’d been in the hospital. “You don’t have to worry about us. We’re fine.”

“I know it’s just…” he let his words hang unfinished between them. How many times could he say he was sorry? If only he had paid more attention…

“It’s not your fault,” Jason assured him. He raised his hand, forgetting about the dirt or Damian’s meeting as he gently stroked his face. “It was an accident.”

“You forgive me,” he asked, leaning into his touch.

“Nothing to forgive,” he moved in closer, wrapping his arms around him. “It could have happened to anyone. The important thing is our son is going to be alright.” He paused, swallowing “we’re going to be alright. I promise.”

Smiling a little he leaned in closer resting his forehead on Jason’s. “I’ve longed to hear those words for so long. I thought maybe…”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Words failing him he pressed his lips into Damian’s “we’re going to be fine. I promise. Together we’re going to be fine.”

Bennett Family Epilogue

Three Years Later

“Why so sad?” Hannah asked as she entered her daughter’s room. 

Temperance turned from the mirrored “I miss her mama.” Her bottom lip quivered as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I know sweetheart, I know.” She pulled her daughter into a hug squeezing her tight.

“We had so many plans,” she sobbed missing her best friend as much now as she did three years ago. “We were going to go to college together. Paris. Study art.”

“And now,” Hannah asked, tilting her daughter’s chin upwards. “You can still do all of those things.”

Shrugging “those were dreams two little girls had a long time ago.”

“I know,” Hannah spoke softly “but you can’t live your life following someone else’s dreams.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of Temperance’s lips. “Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if Unity had lived. Would we still want the same things?” Sighing she stepped back wiping her eyes “I guess I’ll never know. My dreams have changed. Will and I are going to study oncology. I want to help other families fight cancer.”

“I think Unity would understand,” Hannah gave her daughter a smile proud of the woman she had become.

One Year Later

“Are you and Mom really moving away?” Christopher asked, hoping his voice wasn’t showing the panic he felt inside.

Joining his son Donovan nodded “you’re Grandpa Eddie needs help taking care of Grandpa Rory after his fall.” He put a hand on his son’s shoulder “you’ll do fine. The house is yours if you want it.”

“It’s too much,” he protested weakly. He knew Jace and he was comfortable in the house. It would take the worry and anxiety out of finding somewhere else to live. “You and mom will come to visit right?”

Hearing the worry in his son’s voice he nodded smiling. “Of course,” he chuckled softly “we’ll come every chance we get especially now that we’ll be grandparents.”

Putting his hands over his stomach, his cheeks turning a slight pink. “How did you know?”

“Let’s just say your mom is a smart lady,” Donovan grinned.

“Don’t tell anyone,” he pleaded “I haven’t told Jace yet.”

“I suggest you do that soon son,” Donovan advised “babies don’t stay a secret for long.”

Nodding he smiled a little, his eyes full of wonder “do you think he’ll be happy about it? I know we talked about it but it was always later, when we were more settled.”

“There’s only one way to find out…”

“I know I have to tell him,” sighing a little he nibbled on his bottom lip. “I just worry that I’m asking too much from him.”

“I think you don’t give him enough credit,” Donovan said “Jace was strong enough when you needed help. He can handle this.”

Nodding he grinned “you’re right. I just need to get over my own fears and just talk to him.”

“Sometimes that’s the biggest hurdle,” Donovan agreed “I won’t keep you. Go talk to your husband.”

Three Years Later

“Do you think we should?” Temperance asked, looking down, unable to meet her boyfriend’s eyes.

“I don’t see why not,” Will lightly touched her arm, feeling her jerk from his touch.

“It’s going to be hard enough just studying medicine,” she murmured “how are we going to be able to handle a baby too?”

“We can do it,” he said.

“You keep saying that but I don’t see how,” she cried “Maybe I should get my teaching certificate while you finish medical school.”

Shaking his head “I don’t see how that will be any easier. In four years I’ll be a resident. Working the worst shifts and not getting paid much.”

“Then what?” she cried, blinking back tears “I don’t know what to do?”

“I do,” he said firmly, lightly touching her cheek. “You and I are going to medical school together. We’re going to have this baby…”

“But…”

Putting a finger to her lips “no buts. It’s going to be hard but we can do this. I know we can.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely,” he pulled her close, sealing the promise with a kiss.

Two Years Later

“You’ll be away a long time,” Jonas protested once Benjamin explained to him the job opportunity he had programming the Hidden Springs Police department’s computer system. Their son cooed happily in his arms not understanding what they were discussing.

“I’ll commute back and form,” Benjamin explained “I’ll be home every weekend.”

“You’ll be gone all week,” Jonas didn’t like the idea even if they did need the money. “Can’t you find work around here…”

“I’ve tried,” he ran a hand through his hair. “You know as well as I do that we need the money and this pays three times as much as I’d get doing odd jobs on the island.”

“I know,” he let out a defeated sigh as he set Kai on the floor and watched as Scout moved to the boy’s side, licking his face. “What if it doesn’t work? What if we lose him?”

“It’s a risk we have to take,” Benjamin said, sitting on the couch and patting the cushion beside hoping Jonas would join him. “If we don’t try we’re going to lose him anyway.”

Staring at their son as he pulled on one of Scout’s ears he nodded “i know. I’m so scared.” Ever since they’d found out about the tumor he’d been living in fear. Afraid the tumor would grow too fast and become inoperable. Afraid that Kai would die on the operating table unable to endure having a portion of his brain removed. Afraid that if this worked that the tumor would grow back. 

Benjamin tilted Jona’s chin upwards peering into his eyes. “I’m scared too. But we have to do this. I’ll do whatever it takes to afford this operation. If it means being gone for days at a time I’m willing to do it. I just need to know that you’re here taking care of our son while I can’t. This will work. I know it will. You just have to have a little faith.”

Smiling despite the tears “I’ll do my part. Our son is worth any sacrifice. I just hate thinking of you sleeping in a jail cell while you revamp their computer system.”

“It’s a price I’m willing to pay,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to waste money on a hotel room if I don’t have to. It’ll be worth it when our son is alive and happy.”

Two Years Later

“These are really good,” Jace said as he looked through the pictures Christopher had taken of their family on the beach.

“Do you really think so?” he asked.

“Of course,” frowning, he sat back watching his husband. “Why?” he’d recognized the anxious note in his voice and the glint in his blue eyes. It was the same glint he had right before he went off on a long ride around the island on his motorcycle. 

“I enjoy photography,” Christopher explained. “I entered several pictures into contests. I won quite a few of them.” Looking up his eyes gleaming “for the first time in years I’ve finally found something I’m really interested in and I’ve been…” he paused, unsure how Jace would respond to the next part “offered a job.”

“What kind of job,” he asked warily.

“It’s a high fashion magazine. So I’d be taking pictures of models mostly,” he watched Jace anxiously “I’d have to travel sometimes but you and Hazel can come with me.”

“She has school,” he shook his head “we can’t just up and leave whenever you want.”

“It’ll mostly be in the summer and she’d learn a lot if she came with us. Just imagine all the things she could see. France, China. Egypt.” Reaching for his hand “please I really want to try this.”

“It does sound like a great opportunity,” he tried to smile despite his rising anxiety “I can’t say I’m not scared but I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask and if it doesn’t work for our family I’ll become a freelance photographer and do weddings and stuff.” Christopher offered.

Two Years Later

Yawning Temperance reached for the coffee machine getting it ready for them. Giggling she said “we’re quite the pair.”

“Of course we are,” he chuckled from where he was leaning on the table watching her. “The family who drinks coffee together stays together.”

Glancing at the time “who would have thought I’d ever willingly wake up at four in the morning.”

“Not me,” he yawned “mom will be here in an hour to watch the kids.”

“Remind me to thank her for moving here to help us,” she closed her eyes, savoring the aroma of the coffee filling the kitchen. “I don’t think we could have done it without her and coffee.”

“You tell her that every time she comes over,” he grinned “she enjoys being grandma.”

“Good,” she chuckled, moving to sit on the table with him. “I wonder if she’ll take them to the park again.”

Raising an eyebrow at her “if that’s your subtle way of asking if she’s going to see that guy again you need a little more practice.”

“They’re cute together,” she grinned at him “it’s about time she found someone.”

“Don’t go playing matchmaker,” rolled his eyes at her “we have enough to worry about without adding that.”

Two Years Later

“I’ve been thinking,” Jonas said as Benjamin joined him on the couch. “Now that Kai is older and no longer needs to follow up with the doctor it might be a good time for us all to move to Hidden Springs. That way we can all be together and you wouldn’t have to travel back forth like you’ve been doing the last several years.”

“I don’t mind,” he put an arm around his husband. “I didn’t have to take the job they offered me on their cyber crimes unit.”

“I’ve also done some research into the schools and Hidden Springs offers way more for someone like Kai than the schools here.”

Nodding Benjamin frowned “you’re worried about his vision. Hidden Springs has a top notch blind school. Do you think he’ll need to learn braille?”

“I want to give him every opportunity to be the best he can be” Jonas said “He doesn’t have any friends except his cousin. I think this will be good for all of us.”

“If you’re sure,” Benjamin agreed. He had fond memories of growing up on the island but he also knew the island could be cruel to those who didn’t fit into the mold of a beach perfect body and he didn’t want to put his son through that if he didn’t have to. “I’ll start the process of looking for a place in Hidden Springs or you could just come with me. Christopher and Jace could look after Kai while we look for a house.”

“I’d like that,” he leaned into Benjamin “I think this will be good for us.”

“Me too,” he agreed “it’s going to be a new beginning for us.”

Milton Family Epilogue

Six Months Later

Ryan reached for Charity’s hand. There was a slight pressure as she squeezed his hand. There were also the unmistakable sounds of muffled subs coming from her as well. Words escaped him. It was all so hollow. Meaningless. 

“It isn’t fair,” she cried, turning to face him. “Our little girl should be having fun. Falling in love. Figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up.”

Pulling her into his arms, smoothing her soft long hair. ‘I know,” he whispered. What could he say? Life wasn’t fair. They’d never know what Unity would have become only what she was. Their beloved little girl. Gone too soon.

Sniffing “I should be relieved that she’s not in pain anymore.” Her fingers curled around the collar of his jacket “I want her back. I want my baby back.”

Kissing the top of her head mumbling “me too.”

They were the last to leave the cemetery. Neither of them wanted to leave their little girl behind. As the sun began to set they turned from the freshly dug grave knowing that their little girl had gone ahead of them and one day they’ll see her again.

A Year Later

“You may now kiss the bride,” those were the words Noble would remember most about his wedding. That and the way Stacy’s ocean blue eyes gazed up at him. The way her lips felt as he gave his bride their first kiss as husband and wife. 

“Hey are you going to just stare at each other or are you going to open that box?” Loyal demanded winking at their dad.

“Oh,” he gasped, chuckling a little as he tore the wrapping paper off. 

“If I didn’t know better it almost looked like you were lost in thought,” Loyal teased “but we both know your head is empty.”

Snorting  a little he bit back the snide comment he was about to say. His twin had a way of getting under his skin. His annoyance was soon forgotten as he saw what was inside the box. “Dad you can’t….”

“Why can’t I?” he asked smiling “you and Stacy do most of the work already. I’m just making it official.”

“Are you sure?” he asked “I don’t mind waiting.”

“We’re sure,” Ryan nodded “you’re mother and I have discussed it. We want to travel while we’re still young enough to enjoy it.” Sighing his eyes filled with sadness “our hearts haven’t been in running the resort.”

“We know Dad,” Noble handed the box to Stacy to give his dad a hug. They could all see the sadness in their parents eyes that never seemed to lessen sense they lost Unity. “Thanks Dad,” he murmured wishing there was something else he could say or do.

Three Years Later

“I’m so proud of you,” Charity hugged her youngest son. “What are your plans now that school is done?”

“I guess I start my life as a nomad,” he quipped, laughing at the frown she gave him.

“Why can’t you get a job writing for the local paper?” she asked.

Rolling his eyes “you and Dad travel all the time. I’m doing the same thing except I’m getting paid to travel and write about it. It’s a win win if you ask me.”

“Are you sure this is what you want?” she asked, unable to disguise the worry in her voice.

“I’m positive,” he gave her another hug. “Don’t worry Mom. I’m not running away. This is what I want to do. I told Unity all about it and she told me to go for it.”

Nodding, she tried to smile “in that case I hope you come home every once in a while.”

“I will,” he assured her.

“I’ll be competing with all the pretty girls you’ll meet,” she winked “and you’ll forget all about me.”

“Never,” he chuckled as he followed her into the house.

Four Years Later

“You didn’t even give my idea a chance,” Loyal shouted, tossing the file aside.

“It’s not the right image for the resort,” he crossed his arms “don’t forget who makes the decisions here.”

“That’s all this is about, isn’t it?” Loyal could feel himself shaking “I know who runs the resort. You don’t have to remind me all the freaking time.”

“I’m glad you understand who’s in charge,” he said, not really regretting that he hadn’t really looked at Loyal’s ideas. He wanted his stamp on the resort now that he was running it.

“In other words my ideas and suggestions mean nothing,” he glared at his brother.

“I didn’t say that…”

“You didn’t have to,” he glanced out the window “I thought you wanted to run the resort together but I guess I was wrong.”

“I do but there can only be one decision maker…”

Sighing he shook his head “I understand that but making the decisions doesn’t mean only considering ideas that you come up with. I don’t even have a say.”

“If you don’t like it you can leave,” he huffed.

“Yeah I think it’s time,” he walked towards the door without looking back almost hoping that Noble would call him back.

Two Years Later

Justice paced the small waiting room. Every time a door opened he turned expecting a nurse or a doctor to tell him how his wife was doing. They’d only been married for a couple of years. He’d met her on one of his travels. She was traveling the world to learn the local cuisine in the hopes that when she returned home she would open a restaurant of her own.

With a jerk he brought his mind back to the present. A man was walking towards him. He hastened to meet him “how is she? My wife? How is she?” 

“I’m sorry,” he yawned before adding “we did everything we could but…”

“My wife…she can’t be…” His heart thumped against his chest, blinking he asked “and the baby?” Had he lost them both? 

“Your son is in the NICU…”

“A boy,” he mumbled “and my wife? She’s alright?”

The doctor moved to flash a light in his eyes “let me give you something…”

Pushing him away “I’m alright. I’m sorry.” He squeezed his eyes tight “my son, can I see him?”

“Follow me,” the doctor said “his lungs aren’t fully developed yet,” he explained as they began walking down the hall.

Four years Later

“It’s beautiful,” Belle said, taking her husband’s hand in hers.

“Five years and it’s finally ready to open,” he grinned down at her. “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“Of course you could have,” she leaned in him “but it wouldn’t look half as nice.”

“You did a great job decorating it,” he said, sounding proud of her efforts and contribution in making the place what they both envisioned. “Do you think the kids are mad at me for making them move?” he asked.

“They’re teenagers” she laughed “of course they are but they’ll get over it.”

Nodding he sighed “I hope they give the place a chance and come to like it as much as we do.” Lifting her hand to his lips “let’s get ready to meet our first guests.

Chapter 55 – Summer Social

London walked into the crowded resort. Her eyes scanned the room for her friends. A small smile spreading over her face when she spotted two girls waving at her. “So you finally asked her,” she said as Aubrey squeezed her tight. 

“I did,” she giggled, sounding pleased with herself. “I should have done it a long time ago.”

“Like I tried to tell you,” London huffed. “I do have some good ideas.”

“Yes you do,” Aubrey agreed before turning to Kaia. “Isn’t my date beautiful?”

“She is,” London agreed, giving the other girl a hug. “Why aren’t you two dancing?”

“We were waiting for you,” Kaia said.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” she said “you don’t need a third wheel tagging along on your first official date. Now,” she nudged them towards the dance floor “go dance.”

“Are you sure,” Aubrey asked “we want you to have a good time too.”

“I’m positive,” she gave them both a brilliant smile. “I promise I don’t mind besides how am I going to meet anyone with the two of you hanging around all the time?”

“Come on Aubrey she’s right,” Kaia urged, taking her girlfriend’s hand. “It’s time you show me all those dance moves you say you have.”

“I’ll  have you know I’m a really good dancer,” she huffed following her to the dance floor. “I could teach a class.”

***

“London over here,” Unity called, waving for the girl to join them. “How are you? It seems like forever since we’ve seen you.”

“I’m fine,” she bent to give her friend a hug. She could feel how frail and think she’d become since she’d last seen her at the beginning of summer. “Who is this?” she asked, noticing the boy standing beside the wheelchair. 

“He’s my date,” Unity smiled up at him “this is Riley.” Taking London’s hand saying “I hope you’ll agree to dance with him since I can’t.”

“I…” frowning. She tried to think of something to say. “Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude on your date.”

“You’re not,” Unity reached over to take Riley’s hand “he promised me he would dance with whoever I asked and I asked you. Please.”

“If that’s alright with you,” RIley added grinning at her.

Her heart skipped a beat. He was so cute and that smile made her stomach feel funny. “Yes of course, why wouldn’t it?” she stammered self-consciously. “I’m honored she chose me.”

“The honor is all mine,” he took her hand briefly as their eyes connected. “I wish there was some way she could dance too.”

“What can’t she?” London frowned down at her friend.

“Well I can’t actually dance in this thing,” she waved a hand at her chair attempting to smile while blinking back tears. 

“Why not? My parents dance all the time,” London explained. “Mom dances around dad’s chair while he holds her hand. It’s really kind of cute.”

“Want to try something like that?” RIley asked, thankful that London suggested it.

Turning towards the crowded dance floor a doubtful expression on her face. “I don’t know. There’s an awful lot of people and I take up a lot of space. I don’t want to be in the way.”

“You won’t be,” London and Riley said together.

***

Will grabbed Temperance’s hand hoping to slow her down after he almost collided with a middle aged woman who was now giving him the evil eye. “What’s the hurry?” he demanded.

“No hurry, I just want to see Unity.” Looking across the room “aren’t they cute?”

Chuckling softly he nodded “they are. I’m glad. Riley has been wanting to ask her out for months.”

“I know,” she giggled “Unity has been crushing on him for just as long.”

“Maybe we should give them some time alone,” he suggested trying to hold her back.

“Don’t be silly,” she laughed up at him. “This is a dance. People are supposed to be social. Unity and Riley will have time to be alone another time.” She didn’t like the doubt she saw in his eyes, sighing she nodded “I know but I wish they had all the time in the world.”

Touching her arm he leaned forward kissing her forehead “me too. Let’s see what we can do to make this a night they’ll both remember.”

“You’re the best,” she smiled up at him.

“I’m not but I try,” she said, cheeks burning beneath her gaze.

“And you’re adorable,” she giggled, finding satisfaction in teasing him.

“You’re just as adorable,” he said as they made it across the room in time to help London give Unity and Riley space to dance together.

***

Meanwhile across the island Benjamin was planning on surprising his boyfriend. Jona’s had canceled their plans to attend the summer social saying he just wasn’t in the mood to dance when Scout was in a shelter being taken care of by strangers.

Walking up to the houseboat he smoothed out the wrinkles the drive had put into his clothes. Even though they weren’t going to the dance he still wanted to look good. Knocking on the door he ran his fingers through his hair while he waited for Jonas to come to the door.  Silently he tapped his toes on the deck. He hoped Jonas was home. Hoped he didn’t mind a surprise visit. Maybe he could help him forget his loneliness for a few hours. All he wanted was to put a smile on his face.

The door slowly opened and Jonas peeked out, his eyes sad and desolate. “I don’t feel like going out,” he mumbled.

Benjamin noticed he was still in the same clothes he’d been two days before when he came by to check on him. To tell the good news that Sed had left the island. Had taken down everything from Jonas website. However the damage had been done. Scout was still gone. “Let’s go for a drive,” he suggested. “You need to get out of the house.”

“I don’t know,” he hesitated, shrugging, “I don’t feel like it.”

“Just a drive around the island,” he urged ‘you don’t have to get out of the truck.”

“I guess …” looking down at his stained t-shirt “I should go change.”

“You’re fine the way you are,” he said, taking Jonas’s hand. He wrapped his arms around him, giving him a quick hug. 

“Ok,” he mumbled letting Benjamin lead him from the deck towards the truck. His eyes were focused on his feet so he didn’t see the excited dalmation wagging its tail inside the truck.

“I must be hearing things,” he mumbled to himself, “it almost sounds like Scout.” He looked up at Benjamin “do you hear a dog barking?”

Nodding he ran ahead to open the door to let the dog out. He watched as Scout was reunited with his human. Jonas bent down to hug his dog unmindful of the dog’s tongue as it gave him kisses.

“Scout,” he cried, burying his face in the dog’s fur. Standing up he turned a tear streaked face to Benjamin “you brought him home. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Benjamin said, walking him back to the house. The happiness in Jonas’s eyes was enough for him. They stopped, turning to face each other as they stepped onto the deck. Silently they moved towards each other, before they both realized what was happening Benjamin had lent forward and Jonas closed the gap between them. Their lips met, saying everything that needed to be said between them.

Chapter 54 – Taking Chances

Slumping on the couch, staring morosely out the window “I don’t want to go.”

“Why not? All your friends will be there,” Teasha said, turning to face her daughter on the opposite couch.

“So what,” her shoulders moved in a disdainful shrug “they’ll be too busy with their boyfriends…”

“Aubrey will be there,” Teasha pointed out “she’s not dating anyone.”

Rolling her eyes, “she likes someone.”

Phoenix put a gentle hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “If you really don’t want to go we won’t force you. I do however recommend you figure out why you don’t want to.”

“I already told you why,” she mumbled glaring straight ahead of her.

“Sounds more like you’re jealous of your friends…”

“Jealous,” she cried indignantly “why would I be jealous?”

“You said it yourself,” Phoenix samilled gently at her, “your friends are pairing up and you feel like the odd man out.”

“Do you blame me?” she pulled her leg into her chest “no one wants to be the third wheel. I don’t want to be that friend.”

“What kind of friend?”

“You know,” she rolled her eyes “the needy one. The pathetic one. The wallflower.”

“You my precious daughter are a lot of things but a wallflower you are not,” he lifted her chin up. “You may even meet someone at the social that’ll change your life forever.”

“Not likely” she huffed. “I guess I am a little jealous. It’s awful being the only one without a date”

“Let me make one more suggestion,” he said laughing at her perplexed expression. “Take the pressure off yourself. Remove the stigma of being dateless and give yourself permission to have fun. It’s been a while since you’ve done that. Plus Unity will be there. Don’t miss out on something just because you’re afraid of being different.”

Eyes shimmering with unshed tears “thanks Daddy. I will. I’ll have fun even if it kills you.”

“That’s the spirit,” Teasha said, happy that her daughter had changed her mind. “Why don’t we go see what you have to wear.”

“I’m not wearing anything fancy,” she said following her mom “It’s not like I have anyone to impress.”

***

Kaia glanced shyly at her friend then just as quickly away. Her heart hammered in her chest anticipating something she didn’t know what.

“Do I have something on my face?” Aubrey asked, turning to face her friend.

“Uh no, not at all. You’re perfect. Beautiful,” she gulped fearing the worst as the words she’d wanted to say for so long came tumbling out. “Never mind,” he mumbled, turning away.

Touching her hand “you think I’m pretty?”

Nodding she forced herself to look at the other girl. The pretty blue eyes gazing up at her making feel like she was falling down a tunnel.

“Well, I think you’re pretty too,” she said her cheeks flushing with heat. “I uh,” licking her lips as she tried to think what else to say. “I didn’t think you liked girls…”

“You never asked and I thought I liked boys until you …” sighing she half turned away “you started dating her and I wished it were me you were with.”

Lips twitching a little “you were jealous.”

“No,” she denied. When Aubrey giggled she laughed too “well maybe a little. A very little.”

“I liked you too,” Aubrey admitted “I didn’t think I had a chance so I…”

“Settled for her,” Kaia said contemptuously “you could have done so much better.”

“Well,” she shrugged, not sure what to say. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer. I didn’t know what else to do. Not a very good reason to date someone is it?”

“Nope,” her breath caught in her throat as Aubrey touched her hand.

“This time I know what I want.”

“You do?” she asked “and what is that?”

“You,” she smiled, “will you be my girlfriend and dte for the summer social?”

“Yes,” Kaia squealed, instantly slapping a hand over her mouth. “I mean yes I’d be delighted to be your date and girlfriend.”

***

Sed glanced up as a shadow fell across him. Smiling “I knew you’d get tired of that little wimp and come looking for a real man.”

Glancing around as if looking for something “what real man?” he scoffed “I asked you to meet me in the hopes you could be reasoned with.”

“Reasoned with? That seems to imply I’ve done something unreasonable.”

“Haven’t you?”

“Depends on what you call unreasonable,” shrugging he got up “if that’s all I think I’ll go now.”

Crossing his arms Benjamin glared at “why do you hate Jonas so much? What did he do to you besides date you once upon a time?”

“You’ve seen him and that stupid dog,” he scowled. “He gave it more attention then he gave me. Then he got popular posting pictures of that mutt.”

“Because  you’re jealous of a dog you set out to ruin him,” he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“I’m a goddamn prize,” he growled.

Shaking his head Benjamin hissed “you’re pathetic.”

“You better watch it,” Sed threatened “I can ruin you just as easily as I did him.”

“You can try,” he shrugged unconcerned, “but you’re not the only one who can play that gem. In fact,” he lifted his phone “I’ve got something I know you wouldn’t want getting out”

“Empty threats will get you nowhere with me,” he chuckled uneasily.

“You’ll soon find out how empty it is when I post this…” he held his phone up showing him what he had on him.

“You can’t…”

“Of course I can,” he smiled sensing victory “you do have a choice though. Leave Jonas alone and retract what you posted about so that he can get his dog back.” He held his phone up “otherwise I make sure everyone knows exactly who and what you are.”

A part of Sed wanted to call his bluff but he could see the determination in Benjamin’s eyes that he would do exactly as he said he would. “Fine I’ll do it.”

Chapter 53 – Future Plans

“Do you think your dad’s will come back for the summer social?” Macy asked as Dakota joined her.

“Not a chance,” she shook her head laying beside Macy on the bed. “Daddy doesn’t like large gatherings. They make him nervous.”

Frowning Macy touched her girlfriends hand. “I’ve been meaning to ask you what your parents are planning to do with the ranch when they get too old to run it.”

“Sell it I think,” she shrugged unconcerned “I don’t really know. I haven’t thought about it.” Shifting her weight she asked “why?”

“I know it’s a long way in the future but I can’t help but think a ranch would be a nice place to raise a family…”

Drawing circles on the sheets beneath her Dakota said “I always thought Montana would go back and take care of them and the ranch.”

“She probably would,” Macy agreed, sighing “she and Tanner have plans of building and running a gym here on the island someday.”

“I highly doubt that will ever happen,” she scoffed.

“You don’t know that,” Macy sat up ‘they have solid plans and I know your parents think they have good ideas. Your parents would rather sell the ranch than to let them give up their plans.”

“So you think they’re really serious about all that gym stuff?” she asked.

“Yes I do,” taking Dakota’s hand “you know they are.”

Sighing she looked away, “I was hoping they weren’t.”

“I know,” she gave her hand a squeeze “which leads me back to why not us? We could move to the ranch now. Help your parents get the ranch showing a profit.”

“How?” she asked curiously.

“Well we could offer riding lessons,” she thought for a moment. “There’s the river that your parents say has tons of fish in it. I know people who pay lots of money to rent cabins and go fishing. So we could build some cabins and rent them out to people wanting to get away from the city for a few days.”

“Sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought,” Dakota sighed “we’ll have to discuss this with Dad. Their ranch has been in his family for decades.”

“I’m sure he’ll go for it,” Macy smiled at her. “I knod of floated the idea to him.”

“Of course you did,” she shook her head, finding no way out, “when did you want to move?”

“After the social. We could get married on the ranch.”

“Sure why not,” Dakota agreed “I think my parents would like that.”

***

Tanner led Montana into the deserted building. “Are your eyes closed?” he asked.

“Where are you taking me?”

“It’s a surprise,” he pulled her forward, careful to keep her from stumbling.

“I hate surprises,” she whined, gripping his hands.

“You’ll like this one,” he said “trust me.”

“I trust you,” she nodded feeling a little disoriented when he released her hand. “Can I look now?”

“Yes,” he said, heart pounding in his chest. “Well? What do you think?” He watched her as she slowly walked in a tight circle looking around the room. 

“Where are we?” she demanded gazing up at him.

“Don’t you know,” he asked “It’ll take a little work to make it the way we imagined it but this is our future…”

Her eyes blinked up at him “our future? You mean you bought this…”

Nodding “I know it doesn’t look like much …”

Smiling “It’s perfect.” Pointing “over there is where we’ll have yoga classes.” Pulling him by the arms “and over there we’ll be dance and ballet classes.”

Putting his arms around her “we’ll have karate lessons and even surfing lessons.”

“And don’t forget the regular gym equipment that people will want to use.”

“It’ll be just the way we always imagined it,” he grinned at her.

Leaning on him “this is the best surprise ever.”

“I’m glad,” he pressed his lips into her soft fiery red hair. “I was afraid you might have thought I was going to propose or something.”

“This is way better than any ring,” she laughed up at him “not that I would mind getting married but it’s not necessary although i think Daddy might be a little disappointed.”

“Nothing says we can’t get married later,” he said ‘I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.”

“Me neither,” she agreed “this is like our dream is finally coming true. He’ll be so happy.”

***

Royce sat on the beach watching the waves. His gaze breaking as a shadow fell across his face. “Oh hi,” he sighed listlessly.

“I’ve had better and more enthusiastic greetings in my life,” Natalia said sitting beside him. “What’s up?”

Glancing towards the house his brother and he had lived in for the last few months sighing. “I told him.”

“Oh,” she reached for his hand “I tak it he didn’t take the news well.”

“Better than I thought he would actually,” squeezing her hand “but knowing Jason he’s holding his emotions inside.”

“Or he’s grown up enough to know you won’t always be around,” she suggested.

“Maybe,” he grunted.

Looking at “maybe it’s not him who isn’t ready. You’ve always had him around to worry about but now he has Damian. He doesn’t need as much.”

“Is it wrong of me to worry about him?” he asked lifting his head enough to look at her.

“No,” she leaned into him “but it’s time to spread your wings and go your separate ways.”

“I know it’s just hard to imagine not seeing him every day,” sighing he got up “I feel like going for a walk.”

“It’s not like you won’t see each other again,” she said taking his hand.

“I know,” he looked down at their entwined fingers “how does Belle feel about you moving?”

“She told me not to be a stranger,” she chuckled softly “this past summer has been great but it wasn’t meant to stay like this. It’s time we all started our own journeys.”

Nodding he sighed looking ahead a troubled look on his face.

“Are you ready? Or would you rather it was Jason coming with you?”

“I love my brother but there are some things you do better than he does,” he winked at her.

“Oh I don’t know about that,” she grinned “Damian isn’t complaining.”

“Eew I did not need to know that,” he said.

“Well let me replace that image of your brother and Damian with one of us,” she said leading him under the house and into the sandy beach.

***

Damian woke to the sound of frantic knocking on his front door. “What the hell do you want?” he demanded throwing the door open.

Taking several steps back “sorry I…” Jason stammered turning to leave.

Catching him by the arm “I’m sorry. I was up late and I…” he frowned at the anguish in the gentle gold eyes peering up at him “did something happen?”

“I’ll come back later,” he shook Damian’s hand off “I shouldn’t have come.”

“Don’t be silly,” he scratched his head “please come in and tell me what made you come see me so early.”

“I …” he bit his bottom lip “Royce is moving and I have to find a new place…”

“Why?” he asked confused “you’re an adult. You don’t have to go with him.”

Frowning he gave Damian a confused look “i’m not going with him.”

“But you said,” now he felt confused “I need coffee.” he moved towards the coffee pot and began his morning brew. Turning from the coffee pot “tell me why you have to move. Why can’t you stay where you are?”

“Because my mom’s coming to stay at the beach house,” he said watching him.

“Why can’t you just stay there,” he asked.

“I can’t,” he wrung his hands “not with them in the same  house. It’ll make things feel weird. It’s different when it was my brother.”

“Oh,” Damian grinned realizing why Jason was turning red in the face “I’m sure they’d understand…”

“It’s not…” he sighed as Damian pulled him close.

“You could always move in here,” Damian offered.

Looking up at him “you want to live together?” Looking around at the tight quarters “you don’t have room.”

“How much stuff do you have,” he asked “I thought you said it was your parents house.”

“It is but you only have one bedroom…”

“How many bedrooms do you think we need?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s not like we need more than one bed.”

“Oh,” his eyes became large as his face turned red “I thought you meant like roommates…”

Shaking his head “we’re a couple. We’ll live together like we’re boyfriends.” 

“I like that.” he buried his face in his shoulder.

Chapter 52 – No Regrets

Lee glanced up at Fawn and smiled. He couldn’t believe how close he’d come to losing her. Nothing in the world meant more to him than her. Not even all the money the Bennett’s had.

“What,” she giggled, dangling a finger in front of his nose. “Do I have something on my face?” Her hand went up to explore her makeup.

Chuckling softly “you look fine. Perfect.” Sitting up “have I told you how much you meant to me lately?”

Gazing into his eyes, her breath catching in her throat. She could see so much more in his eyes than what his words were saying. Her lips twitched “no … not lately.”

Moving to sit beside her he brought her hand to his lips “then I must correct that oversight.”

“Well,” she challenged, raising an eyebrow “I’m waiting.”

“For what,” he gave her his best boyish grin.

“For you to tell me I’m the best thing that has ever happened to you.”

“And you are,” he gave her fingers soft kisses “and so much more.”

Laughing softly she leaned into him “pity it took being thrown into the sea for you to realize that.”

His arms tightened around her “I’m sorry I was so dense before. I don’t want to be that guy anymore. I want to be someone you can be proud of.” Sighing he glanced out the window “I’ve been offered a job on the mainland.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” she asked, watching him as he stood up looking distressed.

Taking her hand he encouraged her to join him “will you come with me?”

Peering into his eyes, seeing the emotions swirling around in them. Nodding “I will.”

For a moment his mouth popped open. He pulled her close afraid to let her go for even a minute. This was more than he could hope for and more than he deserved “I love you.” He murmured those often said but seldom felt words in her ears and knew he meant them.

***

Francesca stepped onto the slightly rocking boat. “Peter,” she called. Walking inside the silent houseboat looking for her boyfriend. Empty.

Frowning she was positive he told her to meet him here. Going down the stairs calling his name. 

Silence. It hung heavy around her. Where was he? Movement from the corner of the room caught her attention. “Peter what the hell. You scared me.”

Grinning he knelt on his knee “will you marry me?”

Crossing her arms she shook her head “no.”

His mouth fell in disappointment. “But I thought…” Sighing he slowly climbed to his feet “I’m sorry…” turning his shoulders slumping.

“Is that it? You’re just going to give up just like that?” 

“But you said…” he turned to face her hope in his dark brown eyes. “What do I need to do to change your mind?” Hope filling his words with life.

Taking the ring box Peter had tossed on the nearby dresser she walked towards him. “Peter, I think you’re wonderful. Caring. Sensitive. Funny. You’re a beautiful man…

Smirking a little “if I’m all those things then why won’t you marry me?”

Holding the ring out to him “because I don’t need a piece of paper to know you love me.”

Shaking his head he took the ring from her “Francesca you’re impossible. You know that right? I didn’t ask you to marry me because I need a piece of paper. I did it because I can’t imagine my life without you.”

Smiling up at him she held her hand out to him. As he slid the ring on her finger “I never imagined myself getting married. Kind of thought it wasn’t for me. I’m fine with the way things are between us.”

Smiling at her he tilted her chin upwards “this has nothing to do with tradition or doing the proper thing. I want you by my side forever. Hand in hand from this day forward.”

“Hmm” she smiled up at him “Me too. From this day forward and every day after that.”

Leaning his forehead on hers “did we just say our wedding vows?”

“I think we did,” giggling “now kiss your bride.”

***

“Achoman,” Avery cried running to greet Castel as he walked up to the porch.

Watching the young man lift her son into the air Edelle said “I’m beginning to think you are part mermaid.”

“Nope just a plain old human,” he set Avery down to give her a peck on the cheek “you look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she smiled up at him. Putting her arms around him “is something wrong?”

Shaking his head murmuring “it’s nothing.”

“Don’t,” she chided him softly, “I can tell something’s wrong. Tell me. We can work it out together.”

A small sad smile formed matching the melancholy in his eyes. “I should have known I couldn’t get anything past you.”

“It’s time you stop trying,” she took his hand as they walked inside the house. After giving Avery a snack she sat beside him on the couch. “Now tell me,” she requested.

Sighing shocked as the tears stinging his eyes. “My mom called to ask me to come home.”

“Oh?” Her chest tightened as she reached for him “when do you leave?”

His head jerked up “you want me to leave?”

“That’s not what I said. I just thought you would. It must be important for her to call. Don’t you want to go home?”

“I don’t know,” sighing again “I’ve spent most of my life running from that place. I can’t imagine ever wanting to go back.”

Taking his hands “maybe it’s time to stop running.”

“Humph,” he grumbled “you sound like my mom.” Lifting his eyes to meet hers “I have a feeling if I go home this time I won’t be able to leave. Dad needs someone to take over the family business. His health hasn’t been good for the last several years.”

“Then you have to go,” she squeezed his hand.

“I know,” he opened his mouth wanting to say more but changing in his mind.

Watching him she could see his struggle. Lifting a hand she tenderly caressed his cheek willing him to say what was on his mind.

“Will you come with me,” he asked finally “I know I have no right to ask. I’m no prize or even a good person. I’ll understand if you don’t want …”

“Shh,” she placed her hand over his mouth “It’s time you stop talking like that about yourself. You are a good person. You saved my son’s life. You put your life on the line to help Lee. It’s time you see yourself the way I see you.”

“What do you see?” he asked her, watching her carefully like his life depended on her next words.

“I see you. A man with flaws. A man with regrets. A man with a bigger heart than he gives himself credit for.” Leaning into him she pressed her lips to his “you are so much more than you realize.” Holding his face tenderly “of course I’ll come with you if you want me to.”

“Thank you,” he pulled her close. “with you I feel like this is where my life was leading me to me all along.”

Chapter 51 – For The One You Love /

Chapter 51 – For the One you Love

Rex entered the living room, stopped and almost walked out when he noticed all the bridal magazines spread out on the coffee table. Smiling up at him “busy planning the wedding” internally groaning as he sat down beside her.

“According to all the experts we’re already months behind,” she buried her face inside one of the magazines.

“I thought we were keeping it simple,” he felt his stomach lurch as he noticed some of the prices on the page. There was no way he was going to be able to afford all of this.

“We are,” she glanced up at him, a slight frown on her face. “But even the simplest wedding requires a lot of planning.”

“Yeah I know,” he flipped through the pages of one of the magazines until he found a marked page. “We don’t need fancy place settings. It’s only going to be us. My brother. Your brother. Their SO’s and our parents. A few friends.”

“Yeah but,” sighing she gave him a little pout. “It’s our special day. I want it to feel and look special.”

Taking her hand “it will be special because I’ll be marrying the most wonderful girl in the world. We don’t need to spend a fortune for just one day just to prove how special it is.”

“I know but the experts say…”

Chuckling softly “honey these experts have one thing on their mind. Making money. The way they do that is to convince us that we need all this. They don’t care how special it is as long as we buy what they’re selling.”

“That’s …” giggling she tossed the magazine she was holding on the coffee table. “That’s one of the most unromantic things I’ve ever heard.”

“But rue,” he closed the dozen or so magazines and scooped them up. “We don’t need these so-called experts. Let’s just call our parents and ask them to help us plan our special day. It’ll be what we want without all the stuff we don’t need just because it’s fashionable.”

“Alright,” she agreed, “I guess I was going a little overboard.”

“Maybe just a little,” he pulled her onto his lap “but that’s why I love you.”

“Is that the only reason?: she smirked up at him.

“Oh no there are other reasons,” he said “but we’d be here forever if I were to list them all.”

***

“Thanks for meeting me,” Grant gave the man walking beside a shy smile. “I couldn’t take all that wedding talk anymore. It’s nonstop.”

“No problem,” Kade laughed, his shoulders rubbing against Grant’s as they walked along the beach.

“Don’t get me wrong I’m happy for them,” sighing he stopped to gather some pebbles. He tossed them into the water.

Watching him Kade could see the sadness in the lines around his eyes. “You’ll meet that special someone some day.” His stomach flipped upside down jealous of whoever it was that won his heart.

“Do you think so,” he asked, stopping to stare at him. He took a step closer to Kade, heart pounding in his chest. He wasn’t sure if he trusted the feelings churning inside him. THe feelings that kept him awake at night or the dreams that gave him such a happy glow that he wanted to go back to bed to feel that good again. It was only now, that he admitted how confused he was at what was happening to him.

Kade swallowed, taking a half a step back. He’d seet that expression before in Grant’s eyes. It never failed to melt his heart and make wish for things he knew he couldn’t have. It was his fault for allowing himself to develop feelings for someone he couldn’t have. “I know you will. Whoever that girl is I hope she knows how lucky she is.”

“What makes you think it’ll be a girl?” he moved in closer “what if it’s someone standing right here? Right now?”

A frown creased his forehead “what are you saying? I thought you said you weren’t into guys.”

“I did,” he confirmed “at least I wasn’t.” Looking into Kade’s eyes, a hand reached up to caress his cheek “I think I might have been mistaken.”

Swallowing Kade felt his heart’s rapid beat inside his chest “are you sure? I’m alright being your friend.”

“But I don’t want to be your friend,” he tilted Kade’s face up to his. He held his gaze for a moment “I haven’t been more sure of anything in my life than I am right now.” He leaned in filling his senses with Kade’s fresh minty scent mixing with the ocean air. His eyes closed a moment before their lips touched for the first time. 

***

Moaning Douglas swatted Kyle’s hand away “let me sleep.”

“The sun is up and you promised we’d go fishing today,” Kyled poked him on the nose. “Come on get up. The fish won’t wait for us.”

“You should have thought of that when you were keeping up half the night,” he protested.

“I didn’t hear any complaints last night,” he chuckled “in fact, if I remember right, there was a lot of begging for me not to stop.” He started to kiss Douglas’s neck “want an instant replay?”

A different kind of moaning filled the room as Kyle concentrated a different more pleasurable way of waking his boyfriend up.

“Alright I’m up, I’m up,” he groaned.

“Yes you are,” Kyle mumbled diving beneath the covers.

Hands twisting in the sheets “you keep this up and we’ll never leave.”

“The fish will be there tomorrow,” he said undeterred.

An hour later Douglas walked onto the deck where he found Kyle steering the boat out to sea. “I thought we were leaving in the morning,” he said looking out to sea.

“I changed my mind,” he grinned over at Douglas “if we go today then we can lay anchor and have fun all night and still fish in the morning.”

Shaking his head “is that all you have on your mind?”

“It might not be if you’d move back in with me,” he kept his eyes forced on the sea ahead.

“We tried that once before,” Douglas sighed leaning against the pillar “it didn’t work out well.”

“This time will be different,” he promised.

“Why will this time be different? We can’t even get out of bed to do something as simple as fishing. How will we get out of bed to go to work?”

“How about a trial run,” he suggested giving Douglas a hopeful glance “besides last night doesn’t count. I’ve missed you.”

Laughing softly “I guess we can give it another try. I do need a new place to live after Sandi gets married.”

“Good,” he winked at him “we’ll play this weekend and then the trail run begins when you move your stuff here.”

***

“What about this one?” Riley frowned at his reflection.

“I like it”, Erika smiled softly at her youngest son. “You look very handsome.”

“Better than the dork you normally look like,” Aaron chuckled.

“Why aren’t you getting a suit,” he asked, trying to deflect attention from himself.

“I’m not going to the social,” he mumbled.

“Oh yeah, sorry,” he apologized “I didn’t … maybe you could go with mom.”

“I’ve got other plans,” he murmured walking away.

“I really am sorry,” Riley repeated, feeling bad for his brother.

Patting his shoulder “it’s ok. We’re going to have a movie marathon while you’re at the dance.”

“That sounds like fun,” he glanced over his shoulder. He knew his brother had been looking forward to the summer social and going with Raven.

“Don’t worry so much,” Erika whispered in his ear. “Aaron’s just upset. He’ll get over it.”

“Maybe I should stay home…”

Shaking her head she placed a finger over his mouth. “No,” she said “you’ve been looking forward to this even all summer. ONe of you should go. Aaron wouldn’t want you to stay home because of him and if you think he’s grumpy now just wait until he finds out why you stayed home.”

“But,” he wanted to be supportive of his brother but at the same time he really wanted to be there for Unity too. 

“No buts,” she turned him towards the mirror “you’re going to be the best dressed, the handsomest young man there.”

“Mom,” he cried cheeks flaming with heat as a couple of nearby girls giggled.

“They’re just jealous that you’re already taken,” she hugged him “Unity is one lucky young lady.”

Chapter 50 – First Steps / Chapter 52 – No Regrets

Chapter 50 – First Steps

Christopher rubbed his clammy hands down the sides of his pants. It was the first time he had left the house on his own since that night. It had taken him twenty minutes to open the front door another fifteen minutes to start his bike. He didn’t know where he was going just that he needed to know he could do it without help. Without prompting.

His sense of accomplishment faded as he stopped his bike in front of Jace’s house. Flashes from that night making him shiver in the warm sunshine of another beautiful summer day. Taking a deep breath he swung a leg over his bike. A part of him hoping the timid man wouldn’t be home, another part of him hoping he would be.

With his heart hammering in his chest he brought his hand up to knock. At first it was barely loud enough to be heard over the crashing waves below him. He could just leave with the knowledge that he tried. Gritting his teeth he knocked once more, louder this time. He counted to twenty before turning to leave.

“Oh,” he gasped, clutching at his chest as he came face to face with the man of the house. Mind swirling with the sudden appearance of Jace it took a moment for him to realize Jace had his hands full of half a dozen grocery bags. “Need some help?” he offered.

“I um…” Jace’s eyes darted from the bags in his hands to Christopher’s face back to his full hands. “Um yes. Help. Please.” A timid grin spread across his face. He let Christopher take a few of the bags from him. “I always carry too many so that I don’t have to make more trips.”

Once they were inside and everything put away Jace turned to his visitor. “Would you like to go outside? We could talk. I’m really sorry I forgot we had plans.”

“No um we didn’t have plans…” he said as they came to a stop on the deck “I wanted to see you.” Glancing at the ocean, his breathing rapid and shallow. The only sound was the beating of his heart and the crashing of the wave below them. “Will you come to the summer social with me?” He blurted out the question before he could think of a reason why it was a bad idea.

“I guess,” he nodded “I’m good at giving moral support.”

“No,” shaking his head, turning to face Jace. “I mean as my date.”

“Date: he asked meeting Christophers eyes with a slight smile and wonder in his eyes.

“Yes date,” he repeated, dazzled by the look in the other man’s eyes. “Will you be my date?”

“Yes,” he squeaked, his cheeks turning red. “But I uh don’t … I mean … What do I wear? Is it formal?”

“It’s semi semi-formal, basically no jeans but not tuxes either,” Christopher explained. Stepping forward he lightly brushed a finger across Jace’s heated cheeks “I’m sure you’ll look good in anything.”

The tender gesture and the compliment made Jace’s cheeks burn even more “thanks,” he stammered unable to think of anything else.

***

The first thing Benjamin noticed as he walked onto Jonas’s boat were all the boxes. Frowning he turned to knock on the door and came face to face with Jonas. “What’s wrong?” he held his arms out to draw the other man close. “Whatever it is we’ll figure it out together.”

“Everyone hates me,” he sobbed into Benjamin’s shoulder.

“What? No one hates you,” he wanted to reassure him but more than anything he wanted to give more than empty words. “Does this have anything to do with what Sed did to your Simstagram?” He could feel Jonas’s head move against his shoulder. A strong desire overwhelmed him to deal Sed the same medicine that he was giving Jonas. “You posted that you were hacked right?”

“Yes,” he sobbed “but no one believes it. The comments have been awful and … and …” His voice dissolved into incomprehensible gibberish.

“Jonas, honey if you want me to help you you need to tell me what happened,” He knew something was different today. Something was missing but he couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was. But something was definitely different. 

“I’m leaving,” he sniffed “I can’t stay here.”

“I don’t understand,” frustration and anger made him want to throw all the carefully packed boxes into the water until he got some answers. “Tell me why. I told you I’d help you clean all this up. Clear your name.”

“I know but no one else believes me,” gulping he took a step back “they took Scout.”

“What? Why?” That was what was different. Scout was gone. Jonas’s beloved dog. Who would dare take the kids dog?

“They said I wasn’t fit to have him. That it was for Scout’s well being…” Fresh sobs overwhelmed him.

“I’m so sorry,” Benjamin pulled him close. “Running away won’t bring him back.”

“I’m never going to get him back,” he wailed.

Taking him by the shoulders, he shook Jonah’s a little “Not with that defeatist attitude. I promise you we’ll figure out a way to bring Scout home.”

“You promise?” he asked looking into Benjamin’s eyes. Whatever he saw in their depths had him nodding “alright. I believe you.”

“Good,” he smiled “how about we put all this stuff away then.”

Sniffing “it feels so lonely here without Scout.”

“Would you like me to stay until Scout comes home?” he asked “I could sleep on the couch.”

“You’d do that for me?” he asked, sounding shocked that he’d offer to do that for him. 

“Of course I would,” he picked up one of the many boxes. “Now tell me where all this stuff goes.”

***

“Hey Dad,” Temperance waved as she walked past him on her way to her room. Stopping she retraced her steps. “Do you have a moment? She asked.

Looking up, a somewhat distracted expression on his face. “For you sweetheart I have all the time in the world.”

‘Dad,” she giggled rolling her eyes “I’m not a kid anymore.”

“But you’ll always be my little girl,” he winked at her “so what’s up?”

Sitting next to him she drew circles on the couch with her index finger. “You know the summer social is coming up soon.”

“Yeah,” he leaned back watching her, sensing there was more to the question. “Did Will cancel your date?” He couldn’t deny he’d be somewhat relieved if he had but anyone breaking his little girl’s heart would have to pay…

“No,” shaking her head slightly “but um there will be dancing and I …”

Frowning “there usually is. You’re always on the dance floor.” 

“I know,” she sucked on her bottom lip “but this is different.”

“Because Unity won’t be dancing with you,” he prompted, confused by what all the fuss was about.

“Unity will be going with Riley,” giggling at how cute he’d looked when he had told her and Will about it.

Placing a hand  over hers where it rested on the couch “sweetie help your old man out and tell me what has you so concerned.”

“I’m not concerned exactly,” she hedged. 

Groaning he shifted his weight on the couch. He wished his daughter were ten years old again, when it was easier to figure out what she needed.

“I don’t know how to dance,” she blurred out.

Blinking in shock at her vehemence. “Of course you know how to dance.”

“It’s not the right kind of dancing,” she cut him off “What if I step on his feet? Break his toes or something.”

“Oh,” he chuckled with understanding “I can teach you.”

“Really?” she cried throwing her arms around his neck “you’re the best.”

***

“I’m never going to get this,” Will moaned watching his mom rub her toes after he’d stomped on them for the hundredth time. 

“Stop saying that,” she admonished him. “All you need is a little confidence and practice.”

“The dance is next week,” he cried.

Laughing softly “you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.” Putting her arms out she invited him to take her into his arms, “now relax and enjoy the moment.”

THey danced around the room swaying to the music. “See I knew you could do it,” she praised him when the dong was over.

“I did it,” he grinned “I went through the whole song without stepping on your toes.”

“All you had to do was relax,” she hugged him close. “You’ll do fine at the dance.”

“I hope so,” he sighed, returning his mom’s hug. “Thanks for helping me and letting me abuse your toes.”

“If I can’t take a little toe abuse after giving birth to you then I’m not a very good mom.”

“You’re the best,” he grinned at her.

“Thanks I do my best,” laughing a little “you’ve grown into such a nice young man.”

“Mom,” he groaned, rolling his eyes.

“Well  you have,” she ruffled his hair. “Let me enjoy the moment before you go and do something stupid and ruin the illusion.”

Frowning, he stuck his tongue out at her “what’s for dinner?”

“Well that didn’t take long,” she swatted him playfully. “Your favorite. Pizza.”

“Delivery?” he asked hopefully “deep dish extra cheese and pepperoni?”

“All I have to do is order it,” she said. “Do we have any colas left?” She knew he had some friends over a few days ago and they usually drank several cans a piece.

“I think so,” he said uncertain if they had left any.

“I’ll order a liter and some cheesy bread and bbq wings.” She pulled her phone out to get the order in.

“Let’s watch a movie tonight” he suggested as he went upstairs for a shower.

Chapter 49 – Preperations / Chapter 51 – For the One You Love

Chapter 49 – Preparations

Staring at her reflection Unity sighed “nothing looks good on me.” Turning to face her mom, “I’m a walking skeleton. Do I have to wear a dress?”

“Sweetie…”

“Mom please,” rolling her eyes “don’t say I’m pretty. I know I’m not.” Her fingers strayed to the tufts of thinning hair peeking out from beneath the hat she wore.

Walking over to her daughter “do you want to know what I see when I look at you?” She turned her daughter towards the mirror. “I see a beautiful young woman. Not only beautiful but strong and brave. A fighter.”

“Mom,” she wiped a tear from her cheek “you’re going to make me cry.”

“Then you’ll make me cry,” Charity sniffed. “You’re going to be the prettiest girl at the Summer Social.”

Rolling her eyes she stared at herself in the mirror trying to see the girl her mom saw. All she saw was … herself. “Mom do you think RIley will like this dress?”

“He’ll like any dress you wear,” Charity assured her. “Boys don’t pay much attention to what we wear.”

“Then why do you fuss so much when you and Daddy go out?”

“Because I want to look my best,” she smiled at her daughter in the mirror. “Do you like him?”

Nodding her cheeks turning pink. “I’ve liked him for like forever.”

“Then he’s a lucky boy,” she squeezed her shoulders.

“I don’t think he’s lucky…not if he likes me.” Her bottom lip trembled “Maybe I shouldn’t go. I’ll call him when I get home and say I changed my mind.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Charity turned her daughter around so she could look her in the eyes.

“But he’ll only get hurt …”

Tilting  her chin upwards “is it him you’re worried about or yourself?”

“Unity’s eyes slid towards the floor. Her shoulders sagged as if she carried a heavy weight.

“That’s what I thought,” Charity sighed “you’re allowed to be happy. Enjoy what time you have. None of us are giving up and neither should you.”

“I’ll try,” she smiled up at her mom through her tears. “I really will.”

“That’s all I ask,” she pulled her close, hugging her tight. “Do you want the dress?” she asked, pulling away.

Turning to look at herself in the mirror once more “yes.” Grinning she added “with the wig Daddy got me I’ll look almost like I did before I got sick.”

***

“Dad, can we talk?” Justice asked, coming into the living room where his dad was reading.

Putting the book down Ryan sat back “of course, what’s up?”

Sitting on the couch Justice tried not to look as guilty as he felt. This was his dad not some stranger. “Um…” he inhaled deeply trying to settle his nerves and the rapid beating of his heart. 

Frowning Ryan leaned forward .”Is something wrong? I know your mom and I haven’t been around much this summer but we’re always here for you. You can tell us anything.”

Smiling at the concern he heard in the dad’s voice he shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong it’s just…” another deep intake of breath. “I got accepted into University…” He saw the relief and pride in his dad’s eyes “It’s on the mainland….” 

“Oh,” sighing he ran a hand through his hair. “Have you told your mom yet?”

Shaking his head, “not yet. I won’t be leaving right away. I’m planning on taking a gap year.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Ryan watched his son closely. He’d known for a while that Justice had wanted to leave the island. To do more than help run the resort. 

“It’s not that I want leave” sighing he toyed with this hair. “I love you guys. I just don’t see myself running a resort. It’s not what I want to do . Noble loves it. I don’t share that love.”

Snorting a little Ryan chuckled “it’s going to be difficult getting him to release control once Charity and I are able to dedicate more time to the resort.”

“Why not just let him have it?” Justice asked “retire early and take Mom on a second honeymoon or something.”

“That’s a good idea,” he nodded thinking about it “but you kids deserve some free time to enjoy yourselves while you can.”

“For Noble that’s running the resort,” he chuckled softly. “But I guess even he will want time to spend with this girlfriend.”

“True but you can’t change the subject that easily,” Ryan said “you need to tell your mom. She’s going to want her kids close by especially now.”

“I know,” sighing he leaned forward, “but I have to live my life too.”

“You do and your mom will realize that once she’s done crying,” he assured him. “You’ll be missed.”

“Thanks Dad,” he grinned “I’ll miss you too but I’ll be back to visit.”

“You better or your mom will hunt you down,” he warned.

“Don’t I know it,” and the both laughed.

***

“I don’t know…” Noble frowned at what his brother had spent hours doing.

“What?” Loyal demanded “I think it looks good.”

TIling this head to the side “it doesn’t look right.” He walked towards the proposed photo area for the guests at this year’s Summer Social.

“What’s wrong with it,” Loyal asked somewhat defensively. They’d been at this for hours and accomplished so little.

Graham looked up from the reception desk where he had been checking a guest. “Boys keep your voices down,” he admonished them. “The guests don’t want to hear you two argue.” Joining them he asked “what’s wrong with what you have?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Loyal huffed.

“Well,” Noble rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It’s too…” he waved his hands around searching for the right word “promie.”

“Promie,” Graham and Loyal repeated together staring at him.

“Yeah,” crossing his arms “it’s the Summer Social not the prom. It’s semi formal, beachy.”

Nodding Loyal sighed “You’re right. It’s a little too much like prom.” Taking a step back surveying all his hard work “maybe if we took some of the balloons down.”

“All the balloons,” Graham said, remembering all the families that come with their young kids. “We don’t want kids fighting over the balloons and popping them.”

“Yeah let’s nix the balloons,” Noble said. “Let’s do flowers instead. Maybe an arch.”

“I don’t know…won’t that be a little elaborate,” Loyal said thinking of all the dried petals he’d have to clean up afterwards.

“Better than people screaming every time a balloon pops and kids fighting.” Graham pointed out.

“Alright you win,” he sighed, not looking forward to redoing everything. “What kind of flowers should we get?”

“Something bright and cheerful,” Noble suggested.

“I’ll see what I can find,” pulling out his phone hoping Belle will be more helpful.

***

Stacy watched her friend put her phone away “what did he want?”

“Ideas on flowers, bright and cheerful.” She giggled a little “I guess Noble didn’t like the balloons. I tried to tell him that balloons were a bad idea but would he listen?”

Shaking her head she led the way to the store she wanted to take Belle to. “Do you think we should have volunteered to help with the decorating?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” she looped an arm around Stacy’s “today we shop.”

“Good idea,” she agreed “there’s a cute dress I want your opinion on.”

Raising an eyebrow at her “for the dance or  a romantic dinner for two?”

Frowning “what’s the difference?”

“Well,” laughing she followed the girl into the store “not much if you ask my cousin but for me a little slinky dress that’s just waiting for some lucky guy to remove is perfect for a romantic night.”

“In that case it’s a dress for the dance,” Stacy said her cheeks burning at the images Belle had conjured in her mind.

“I take it you two haven’t gotten to that point yet…”

“Um no,” shaking her head “have you?”

“Well,” she idly started looking at the clothes on the rack “I’m not one to kiss and tell.”

Staring at her a moment Stacy wasn’t sure if she should believe the girl. “Well um this is the dress,” she pulled it out and held it up “what do you think?”

“It’s….nice,” she wrinkled her nose a little “it’s not really my taste though.”

“You don’t like it.”

“It’s not something I’d wear,” she tried to find something nice “it’s a pretty color.”

“Wow it must be bad if that’s the best you can say about it.” She put it back “the truth is I don’t know what to wear. Will you help me?”

“Of course,” she looked around the store before saying “first let’s find a different store. This one makes me think of menopausal women trying too hard to be appealing.”

“It does,” she giggled “I guess all that time I spent with my Nana has rubbed off on me.”

“Well by the time we’re done you’ll have Noble’s eyes popping out at how pretty you are,” Belle assured her.

Chapter 48 – Unpopular Decisions / Chapter 50 – First Steps