Chapter 43 – New Beginnings

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“You should ask her out” Kaia encouraged as they walked back to Aubrey’s house.

“Who” she asked looking up confused.

“London” she cried “she’d be perfect for you.”

“Oh no” shaking her head her blond curls bouncing. “We’re just friends.”

“So” raising an eyebrow at her.

“So we don’t see each other like that” Aubrey said turning and walking away.

“Liar” Kaia hissed running after her. “I’ve see the way you look at her when you think no one else was looking.”

“You’re just guessing,” she objected.

“I’m not blind” Kaia insisted “i’ve seen you. I’ve never seen you look so dreamy eyed over anyone.”

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“I have not” she protested as color darkened her cheeks.

“Ask her out and find out” she urged ignoring her friends’ protests.

“This is ridiculous” she huffed crossing her arms and walking away. “She isn’t interested in me.”

“I think you protest too much” Kaia said causing Aubrey to stop and stare at her.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If you didn’t have feelings for her this wouldn’t be so hard. You’d just ask her out to prove me wrong.” Crossing her arms she stared down her friend.

“Alright I will” she snapped “if only to get you to shut up.”

Smirking “how much do you bet she’ll say yes?”

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“I’m not betting anything” she walked faster “we’ll go out as friends and that’s it.” Pulling her phone out she found London’s number. “Hey” she greeted breathlessly as her heart tried to push from her chest. “I was wondering if you’d like to meet up tomorrow for lunch?”

“Yeah okay” London’s voice was subdued in her ear “the resort?”

“It’s the only place I can afford” Aubrey giggled nervously.

“It’s a plan then” London agreed “I have to be home by five though. Mom goes to work at six and I have to be here for Dad.”

“I’ll have you home in plenty of time” Aubrey assured her. “You need help sitting with him?”

There was a pause while London thought about the offer. “No I don’t think so. Dad and I will just watch a movie or something. I haven’t been spending enough time with him.”

“Alright I’ll meet you in the lobby at 2 o’clock.”

“Um” London cried before Aubrey could disconnect “tell Kaia she’s invited too.”

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“Okay” Aubrey agreed watching her friend standing nearby “I’ll tell her.”

“Good” London her growing excitement could be heard in her voice “I know how much you like her.”

“I do not” she cried turning red as Kaia raised an eyebrow at her.

“but I thought you were friends” London cried.

“She is. We are. I thought you meant….” she squeezed her eyes shut “Never mind.”

“I’m sorry if I offended you” London was quick to apologize.

“You didn’t” she assured her “I misunderstood. See you tomorrow.”

“What did you misunderstand” Kaia asked was she put her phone away.

“Nothing” she mumbled wishing she could crawl under a rock somewhere.

***

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“How was lunch?” Phoenix asked London as she sat down in a chair beside him.

“It was…okay” she sighed face crinkling into a frown.

“Did something happen?” he asked quick to see the frown and hear the hesitancy in her voice.

“Well…not exactly” shaking her head as if that would clear her thoughts.

“Why don’t you tell me about it” he suggested.

Pulling at her fingers nodding “it’s kind of embarrassing.”

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“If it’s bothering you I’d like a chance to help.” He waited watching her, hoping he wasn’t putting too much pressure on her.

“Well um” biting her bottom lip she hesitated. Drawing in a breath she continued “what do you do if you think a friend likes you?”

“Likes you as a girlfriend” he asked.

“Yeah I guess” she squirmed beneath his scrutiny.

“Do you like them back?”

“I don’t know” she slumped forward resting her elbows on her knees. “I never considered it before. They were just my friend. I knew she was into girls but I thought she liked someone else.”

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“Does it make a difference” he asked hoping to draw her out. “Do you like girls?”

Turning to glanced out the window. The ocean was a calm serene blue. A sharp contrast to the feelings churning inside her head causing her stomach to somersault. “I don’t know. I liked Micah. I liked holding his hand and kissing him was fun. I also find girls attractive and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to kiss them.” She turned to look at her dad “shouldn’t I be attracted to one or the other? I’m so confused.”

He watched her a moment giving her question the consideration it deserved. “Not necessarily” he began noticing her shoulders sag “I’m sorry if that confuses you even more. It’s not easy trying to figure things out sometimes. My suggestion is not get hung up on trying to put a label to your feelings but to allow yourself to feel.”

“But all my friends seem to know what they are. Why am I so different?”

“Have you ever considered you might be bi” he asked.

A tiny crease formed between her eyes “that’s someone who likes both boys and girls right? I never thought about it before. I guess I could be.”

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“You don’t have to figure it out all tonight” he reached over taking her hand “you have plenty of time.”

“All my friends are pairing off and I…” she leaned into him “It was nice going out but after everything that’s happened I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

Kissing the top of her head “sweetie take all the time you need. There’s no race or time limit. There’s nothing that says you have to have all the answers right now.”

“Thanks Daddy” she smiled up at him. “What movie do you want to watch?”

“Me” he winked at her “I thought it was your turn to pick the movie.”

“I said…” laughing she picked up the remote “let’s see what Netflix has to offer.”

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“Or we could watch our favorite” he grinned at her “Tangled.”

“Dad” she smacked his arm playfully “you already had it picked out.”

“Of course” he chuckled “I was hoping you’d want to watch it with me like you used to before you got too old for it.”

“I’ll never be too old for it” she assured him giving him a peck on the cheek. “I hope you and mom know how sorry I am for everything.”

“We know” he draped an arm around her shoulders “we love you very much. We hope in the future you’ll come to us when you’re feeling too much pressure.”

“I will. I promise” she snuggled into him “I love you both so much.”

***

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“I think that went well” Tanner mused as Montana walked with him to his car.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw her parents watching from the porch. “I hope so” sighing she looked up at him.

Lifting his hand he brushed her hair back. Gently looking into her eyes “what makes you think otherwise?”

Shrugging she looked away. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing but….” she bit down on her bottom lip.

“But what” he pressed “I’m not going to stop asking until you tell me.”

“My dad’s have never been this accepting of any of my boyfriends before. They had all been the typical preppy good boy type.”

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“And I’m none of those things” his lips quirked up.

“I think you’re a good guy” she stood on her toes placing a soft kiss on his lips. “I’m not so sure my dad’s think so.”

“Would that be a deal breaker” he asked twirling a strand of her bright red hair around his finger.

Leaning forward she rested her forehead on his chest. Closing her eyes she listened to the sound of his heartbeat. Lifting her chin up “I’d like to say no. I just don’t know until I’m faced with it.”

“You’ve never gone against their wishes before” he stated peering into her troubled blue eyes.

Shaking her head sighing “I’ve always been careful not to upset Daddy. He’s…fragile.”

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“I got that impression” he wrapped his arms around her “I’m sure he’ll understand. He wants you to be happy.”

“Oh he does” she nodded against his chest “more than anything.”

Squeezing her tight he lifted her chin upwards “then you have nothing to worry about. You don’t have to be like this.”

“Like what” she demanded.

“You don’t have to be afraid of how I’ll react . I know your family is important.” Gently he cradled her face between his hands “if you decide you can’t be with me I’ll go away. You’ll never have to see me again. I promise I won’t pressure you to choose me over them.”

“It isn’t fair” she cried blinking at him surprise “why can’t I have both?”

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“I don’t know. Why can’t you” the question startled both of them.

“Daddy” she gasped eyes shifting between the two most important men in her life.

“Sir” Tanner nodded towards the older man half expecting to be told to never come back. Despite what he’d just promised he wasn’t sure he’d be able to neve see her again.

“Relax” Zach admonished him his voice shaking a little reminding him how much he wished people didn’t scare him the way they did. Turning to his daughter “sweetie I’d never make you choose between me and someone you love. You’re old enough to make those decisions without me. If Tanner is who you want to be with I’ll accept that. I thought I had made that clear already.”

“I know but…”

“You don’t have to worry about me” looking to Tanner he inhaled deeply. “Don’t hurt my little girl. She and her sister are my two most precious treasures in the world.”

“I won’t sir” he vowed thinking it would be worse confronting the almost fragile timid man than it would be Waylon if he ever failed to keep his promise.

***

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“Looks like disaster has been averted” Dakota announced turning from the window.

“We’ll see” Waylon grumbled watching as the young couple and his husband stood talking.

“Dad” shaking her head at him “it’s going to be okay. Daddy didn’t faint upon sight of him. It’s a good thing. Tanner’s a good guy.”

Somewhat nullified Waylon turned from the window. “What do you girls have planned for the rest of the day?”

Macy took Dakota’s hand. “We’re going for a walk along the beach.”

The look in the girls eyes had Dakota giggling. “Yeah don’t wait up for us.”

Raising an eyebrow Waylon thought better of asking what she meant by that. It wasn’t so long ago that he and Zach were young and in love. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” he admonished them knowing they would.

“Daddy” she protested “I already know what you did when you thought we were asleep.”

“Don’t embarrass him,” Macy pleaded.

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As she made to reply the door opened and Zach stepped inside. Slapping her mouth shut she let Macy pull her outside onto the deck. She could never say what she was about to say in front of Zach not if she ever wanted him to be able to look her in the eye again. Holding hands they walked towards the waters edge waving at Tanner as he left and Montana made her way inside the house.

“That went better than I thought it would” Macy said turning to look at her girlfriend.

“I’m glad it all worked out” she agreed looking over her shoulder “daddy seems to be accepting it better than Dad is.”

“You spend a lot of time shielding him don’t you?”

“We do” she sighed turning to face her “it’s habit. He’s been through so much. People in general scare him.”

“That’s understandable from what you’ve told me” she tugged on her hand “let’s talk about something else.”

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“Like what” she asked following her along the beach.

“Us” turning to peered into the blonds crystal blue eyes that always reminded her of a China doll. Grinning she bent down the sand cushioning her knee “I love you Dakota. I hope you feel the same way about me and agree to be my wife.” She held a ring that caught the late afternoon sunlight.

“What no declarations of rainbows and sunshine” she teased holding her hand out for Macy to slip the ring over her finger.

“Can’t promise what I can’t deliver” she pointed out. “I love you. I promise to do my best to keep that love alive. To always be there to help and comfort you.”

“Sounds good to me” she smiled holding her hand up. “Love is a difficult thing to hold onto. My parents told me that once. I believed them. I’ve seen them struggle and cry on each other’s shoulders.” Giving Macy a penetrating stare “I want that with you. Come what may.”

Macy slipped an arm around her “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Chapter 42 – Disaster Averted /

Chapter 42 – Disaster Averted

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Peter leaned against the door leading into the room where Francesca was. Every time he tried to turn the knob his heart raced and a cold sweat drenched his body. Inside the small emergency center the lights flickered as the storm raged outside.

Taking a deep breath he forced his leaden arm towards the door knob. His hand visibly shaking making it difficult to turn. An audible click as the door opened made him swallow hard, his Adam’s apple bouncing. His eyes took in her form curled up on the bed, her back towards him.

“Francesca” his voice cracked as he timidly approached her. Shoving his hands inside his pockets he stood still shifting his weight from side to side.

Wiping her eyes dry, sniffing loudly she slowly turned to face him. His whispered apology almost brought tears to her eyes again. Silently she held her arms out to him, beckoning him to her.

Blinking back the hot tears that threatened to burst free at her gesture he stepped forward. A feeling of foreboding swept through him like he’d fallen into quicksand. Stumbling forward he fell into her arms sobbing “I’m sorry. You could have died and it would have been my fault.”

“Shh” her hands soothed his hair rubbing circles on his back. “You couldn’t have known how bad the storm would be. The weather man said we had clear skies. It wasn’t your fault.”

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“I should have double checked” gulping he fought to draw air into his lungs. “Should have made sure you were all wearing life jackets.”

Placing a finger beneath his chin she lifted his face up. Shaking her head she gazed into his eyes. “It wasn’t your fault. They’re called freak storms for a reason. Bad things happen. It’s not your fault.”

A tear rolled down his cheek, “I love you so much” he buried his face in her shoulder “the thought of losing you scares me to death.”

Tears made her eyes sparkle in the dim light of the room. Her fingers trailed across is cheeks drying the tears from his face. “I love you too. That’s why I don’t want you blaming yourself. It wasn’t your fault. It was awful and scary but you kept us alive. You saved us.”

His lips quirked at the edges “if it weren’t for Lee we might have all drowned.”

“Okay” she half chuckled “you had a little help. You’re still my hero.”

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“Some hero” he grunted “I put you in danger.”

“Happens all the time,” she grinned at him, her fingers trailing through his hair “in the movies.”

“This wasn’t a movie” he sighed looking away “things could have been so much worse.”

“Let’s not dwell on what could have happened” she leaned forward placing a tender kiss on his forehead “let’s be thankful for what did happen. We’re alive. The boat is mostly intact.”

Lifting is head eyes twinkling with amusement at the mention of his boat. “I don’t care about my boat. The only thing I care about is you.”

***

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“Can I see her” Lee asked jumping to his feet stopping one of the doctor’s walking past.

Glancing at him “she’s resting” he informed him before continuing on his way.

Grabbing his arm he demanded “can you tell me how she is?” It took every ounce of self control he had not to shake the man. Everything inside him was screaming at him to walk through the door the doctor had just exited. He wanted to respect her wishes but he also needed to know she was alright.

The doctor stared at the hand gripping his arm than looked into Lee’s face. “She’ll be fine. She needs rest.”

Nodding Lee forced his fingers to release their hold on the man’s arm. Slumping into his chair he resumed his vigil in front of her door.

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Nurses came and went, smiling at him as they shook their heads at his request to see her. Minutes turned into hours as it slowly seeped into his tired brain that she didn’t want to see him. It didn’t matter if he had saved her life by jumping into the ocean after her or that he’d nearly drowned trying to save her. Stiffly he pulled his legs beneath as he stood and hobbled a few steps towards the exit. His feet had pins and needles shooting through them as blood rushed down to the extremities.

Walking past the receptionist desk he pushed the doors open. Wind and rain lashed at his clothes and body. Within seconds he was drenched. He staggered forward, past the parking lot towards a cliff that looked out over the ocean. Tears rolled down his cheeks becoming lost in the rain.

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“Is he still out there” Fawn asked nodding towards the door and the hall beyond.

Turning the nurse shook her head, “I’m sorry.” Patting the girls shoulder “isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I thought so” she sighed her thoughts turned inward. Her thoughts as chaotic as the raging storm outside her windows. “I didn’t want to see him” she muttered shoving the blankets to the side. “Didn’t” she muttered aloud knowing that he was gone made her regret having not seen him.

Slipping from the bed shivering as the cold bit into her bare feet. “He deserved to have the silent treatment” she muttered to herself. Pulling back the curtain she stared out the window.

A scream rose inside her as the scene that greeted her. She could see him standing at the edge of the cliff. He seemed to be staring down into an abyss. Fumbling with the latch she tried to force the window open. “Lee” she shouted into the wind drowning in the thunder. “Lee” she shouted again hoping he’d hear her.

Staring into the angry white capped waves he wondered how many hours it had been since he’d been in that very same ocean fighting for his life. For her life. It didn’t matter. She didn’t want to see him. He never see her eyes brightened as he walked into a room. He’d ruined that. Inching towards the edge, careful to not slip on the rain slicked slope. He had no desire to test his endurance a second time falling into the ocean; although it might solve all his problems. He could just let the water pull him under. He didn’t have to fight. No one would miss him…

His head jerked up as his ears caught the faint sound of someone calling his name. Squinting in the rain he thought he could see someone standing in a window beckoning to him. “Fawn” he cried stepping forward. His arms pin wheeled as his slipped from beneath him sending him closer to the edge and to the demise he’d be imagining just a few minutes before.

Slowly he managed to stop and inch away from the edge. Once he was on firmer ground he ran from the edge heart hammering inside his chest at how close he’d come to ending it all. Now that he was closer to the open window he could see Fawn waving her arms to him. Approaching the window he timidly said her name unsure what to expect. Air whooshed from his lungs as she threw her arms around him, pulling him to her. “I’m sorry” he sobbed into her shoulder “I never meant to hurt you. I never wanted to push you away.”

“I know” she hugged him tight her body trembling as cold water from his clothes were soaking into the light gown she was wearing. “I thought I never wanted to see you again. I wanted you to hurt the way I was hurting. Then I saw you and I thought you were going to jump…”

“I wouldn’t have done it,” he cried “I wouldn’t have done that to you. You’re my everything.” He brushed her wet hair from her face. “I’m sorry I ever made you feel like you weren’t important because of my obsession. No amount of money could ever replace you I know that now. I’m going to get help. I know that doesn’t make up for what I’ve done but I want to be a better person.”

“Do you mean that” she asked pulling back enough to look in his eyes.

“More than anything” he smiled into her eyes before pulling her into a kiss.

***

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“Hey” Edelle smiled down at Castel. She watched as his eyes crinkled in the corners as he focused on her face. “Don’t get up” she pressed gently on his shoulders. “You took a hit to the head and broke your arm.”

Confusion filled his eyes as her words worked their way through his brain. “What happened” he pressed a hand to his head.

“Well” pushing him gently to the pillow “you tried to steer the boat” she snorted pressing a hand over her mouth “it didn’t go well.”

“I’ve never driven a boat before” he mumbled.

“Steer” she corrected “you steer a boat not drive.”

“Whatever” he mumbled “I did the best I could when Lee dove into the water.”

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“Yes you did” patting his shoulder “it just too bad Peter’s boat got in the way.”

“I’m always going to be known as the guy who drove into a boat aren’t I?”

“Probably” laughing at the face he gave her. “It could be worse.”

“How” he demanded moving to cross his arms but finding he couldn’t when his arm was stopped by the sling. “I hate this.”

“Then you shouldn’t have steered into an immovable object” she teased.

“Is everyone alright?”

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“Yes” she adjusted his sling “a little wet but okay.”

“What about the boats” he asked “I’ll for for the damages.”

“I’m sure they’re insured” she sat in a nearby chair “don’t worry about it.”

“I have to” he protested “they live in those boats. Insurance will only pay so much and maybe none of the damages to Lee’s boat. It may not cover unauthorized drivers.”

Taking his hand she rubbed it against her cheek. “That’s why I like you” grinning down at him “you’re always thinking about others.”

“I wish that were true” he laid back closing his eyes wincing a little. “Blair would certainly disagree with you. Back then all I did was think about myself.”

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“I’m sure you had some good qualities” she countered. “She liked you once for reason’s you’ve forgotten.” Entwining her fingers with his “it’s time you forgive yourself for the mistakes you made in the past. You’re not the same person anymore. Blair would see that if she were here.”

“You think so” he asked in a wondering tone.

“Of course” leaning over him “but it’s too late for her.”

“Too late” he frowned “for what?”

“To see what a wonderful man you turned out to be” grinning she pressed a kiss to his forehead “you’re mine now and I’m not letting you go.”

***

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It was late in the evening when Prisha head a loud knock on their door. Exchanging looks with her husband he shrugged. “At least it’s not as last as it was the night before.”

“That’s true” she agreed hoping this time two officers wouldn’t be there to greet them. “Edelle” she cried somewhat shocked. “I thought you weren’t going to be back until tomorrow night.”

“I couldn’t wait to see my boy” she cried eyes darting around the small entrance.

“Ajay’s just put them down for the night” she explained.

“Oh I’m sorry. I should have realized” Edelle stammered “I was just so anxious to see him again.”

“Don’t worry about it” Prisha assured her “I’d have been the same.”

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“Are you sure” she blinked trying to keep the tears at bay.”

“Come with me” she said leading the way up the stairs.

Hesitantly Edelle followed “I don’t want to be a bother.”

“You’re not” assured her “stop apologizing.”

“Okay” she sighed following her into Neel’s room. Her son’s blond hair sticking out from the blankets. “Hey buddy” she whispered hoping he would wake up on his own “mama’s here.”

Shifting he opened his eyes “mama” he smiled up at her lifting his arms up to her.

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“Have you been a good boy” he asked picking him up.

“Yes” he affirmed hugging her.

“Mama loves you so so much” she pressed a million kisses all over him. “Let’s go home baby.” For a moment it looked like he might protest “you can come back to play with Neel later or he can come over to play.”

“Otay” he yawned nestling into her eyes closing.

Taking the bag in her free hand that Ajay held out to her she smiled. “Thank you so much for watching him. I hope he wasn’t too much trouble.”

“He was better than own little monster” Prisha assured her.

“Anytime” Ajay added as they followed he out.

Chapter 41 – Babysitting /

Chapter 41 – Babysitting

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“You know I’m not supposed to be here” Kaia hissed following her up to the familiar houseboat.

“Relax” Aubrey turned giving her a reassuring smile. “Your parents will never know.”

“Famous last words” Kaia mumbled before turning to smile at the girl opening the door to greet them.

“Aubrey” London cried throwing her arms around her oldest friend. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“We missed you” she laughed nodding towards Kaia. “We’re glad you weren’t hurt.”

“Yeah” sighing she picked at her nails “that was a dumb thing to do. I should have known better.”

“We get it” Aubrey squeezed her tight. “You wanted to be normal, part of the in crowd.”

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“She was already part of a group” Kaia grumbled beside them “our group.”

“I know” she mumbled head hanging low, here long hair covering her face. “I’m sorry. I’ll understand if you don’t want to be friends anymore.”

“That would suit my parents just fine” she glanced over shoulder as if expecting them to appear.

“I thought you didn’t agree with them” Aubrey reminded her putting an arm around London’s shoulders.

“I don’t know” she crossed her arms in front of her “I’ve never actively defied my parents before.”

Reaching for the girl’s hand “please don’t do anything to upset them because of me. I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

Biting her lip Kaia nodded “you’re my friend. I’m sorry you got caught up with those losers.”

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“I should have known better” she sobbed covering her face with her hands. “I wanted to have fun. No worries. No responsibilities.”

“You went about it the wrong way” Aubrey ran her hands through her long hair smoothing it. “We all make mistakes. You don’t have to keep beating yourself up for it.”

“I should have asked for help. Talked to my parents. Something.”

“Let’s not talk about it anymore” Aubrey suggested “let’s do something fun.”

“Like what” Kaia asked.

“Let’s give each other makeovers” she clapped her hands together.

“I get dibs on straightening all those curls” Kaia laughed warming to the idea. “I’ve always wanted to see how you’d look with straight hair.”

***

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“Are we babysitting” Ajay asked as he entered the kitchen where is wife was humming softly in front of the stove.

“I hope you don’t mind” she smiled as he nibbled on her neck.

“When will she be by to pick him up” he wrapped his arms around her waist despite her protest otherwise.

“Not until Sunday night” giggling when he groaned when she pulled away from him. “Sorry to ruin your plans.”

“I wish we did have plans then maybe we’d be the ones needing a babysitter.”

“We did promise” she reminded him.

“I thought it’d be fro a few hours,” sighing he flopped into a chair “not the weekend.”

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“It’s not the end of the world” chiding him as she turned back to what she was cooking. “Besides as many times as we asked her to babysit this makes us even.”

“Have we really asked her to babysit that much” he got up sniffing the air. “That smells good, what is it?”

“Can’t you tell? It’s your favorite” she smirked at him enjoying the way his head was inclined towards her taking in the aroma of her cooking.

“Trying to bribe me” he teased.

“Possibly” she held a spoon out to him “does it taste alright?”

“Mmm it’s perfect” he purred.

“Good” she went back to stirring. “Do me a favor and check on the boys.”

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“Where are they” he asked getting up.

“In Neel’s room I think” she said somewhat distracted “started a movie for them to watch.”

Crossing the small boat house Ajay didn’t need to go far to see the boys weren’t watching a movie. Their giggles coming from the outside dock giving their location away. “What are you doing out here” he demanded causing both boys to freeze starting up at him with identical deer in headlights expressions.

Avery’s eyes filled with tears “we playing.”

“I can see that” hands on hips he regarded both boys. “What have mommy and I told you about playing on the dock?”

Looking own Neel raised his shoulders letting them slump a moment later. “You or mommy has to be with me.”

Gazing sternly down at his young son he asked “why did you come out here to play?”

Pointing towards Avery “he was with me.”

Lips twitching as he fought to maintain a straight face. “Avery is not an adult. You should have asked for permission.”

“Sorry” Avery said without prompting and moved quickly towards the door leading to the inside of the houseboat.

Neel watched him crossing his arms his chin jutting out “we play airopwanes.” Opening his arms he demonstrated what they were doing.

“Next time you ask before coming out here” Ajay repeated “it’s time to come inside.”

Neel’s mouth formed a single word protest that got no further than a thought. “Alright” he sighed defeated as he followed his friend inside under the watchful gaze of his father.

***

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A half an hour later, Ajay and Prisha were eating alone at the table while the boys were munching happily on hot dogs in front of the TV. Glancing at his wife Ajay asked “where’s Kaia?”

“She’s spending the weekend with Aubrey” she gave him a look that almost challenged him to say something.

His hand halted on its way to his mouth. “Is that a good thing?”

“I don’t see why not” she shrugged “they’re friends.”

“Are you sure they’re just friends” he tone showing he’d switched to protective dad mode.

“Doesn’t matter” one of her eyebrows rose daring him to say otherwise.

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“It does matter” he spluttered “we wouldn’t let her spend the weekend with a boy.”

Laughing so hard Neel from the living room turned asking “mama what funny?” Avery was nearby watching eyes alive with curiosity.

“Your father is funny” she said lips quivering as she tried to control her merriment. “Watch your movie.” When the boys were sufficiently diverted she turned back to Ajay. “I understand your concerns. I don’t think they’re justified. They are just friends.”

“You’re sure” he demanded.

“I’m positive” she patted his hand “don’t worry so much.”

“I try not to but it’s so difficult.”

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“You sound like the typical protective dad” she leaned over giving him a quick peck on the cheek. She got up gathering the dirty dishes “what i’m more concerned about is her other friend, London.”

“Isn’t she the one who was at that party” he asked. “Didn’t we forbid her to see her?”

“We did” she nodded “but how many friends did we have that our parents didn’t approve of?”

“I don’t recall any of them doing drugs” he protested.

“No but I married one of those friends they didn’t like” she laughed again at his expression.

“So you think she’s with that girl” she asked.

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“I think that maybe we might have been too harsh,” she sighed leaning into him. “I’ve met London. She always seemed to be a sweet girl. I think Kaia would be a good influence on her.”

“That’s true” he agreed grabbing a towel to help dry the dishes as she washed them.

“Then we’re agreed” she asked.

“Agreed about what” he gave he a confused frown

“That’s it’s alright for her to remain friends with London” she looked up at him wondering if he’d been listening to anything she’d been saying.

“Yeah sure” he gave her a smile his mind clearly on other things.

***

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Prisha and Ajay sat on the couch snuggling together once they had put the boy’s down for the night. A firm knock on their door interrupted whatever plans they had for the evening.

Glancing at the time he frowned. “I wonder who that could be.”

“Whoever it is has some nerve” she complained “it’s almost eleven o’clock.”

“There used to be a time when we thought that was early” he teased going to answer the door.

“Yeah that was before kids” she reminded him.

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Opening the door he was caught his breath at the sight of two uniformed officers. “Mr Tovar” the older officer asked in a deep baritone voice.

“Yes can I help you” he said looking over at his wife who joined him.

“Did something happen” she asked. The sound of her voice leaving no doubt she was thinking something had happened to her daughter.

“There’s been an accident,” the officer continued.

“Is she alright” Prisha demanded “is my daughter alright?”

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Frowning the officers looked at each other. “We understood you were watching Avery Bennett.”

“That’s correct” Ajay nodded “he’s asleep.”

“His mother hopes he can remain here until she is able to come get him” the officer informed them.

“Is Edelle alright” Prisha asked once she realized her daughter was alright.

“The boat she was on has been damaged in a freak storm. It almost had to abandon ship. They are currently recovering and expected to return tomorrow night.”

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Putting a hand to her chest Prisha took several deep breaths. “Tell her Avery will be fine. We’ll keep him safe.”

“Very well” the officer nodded stepping back. “Have a good evening.”

Closing the door Ajay mumbled “I would have thought a simple phone call would have been sufficient.”

“I suppose they came in person in case we couldn’t keep Avery the entire time.” Leaning into her husband “I don’t care. Everyone is alright. That’s all that matters.”

“I doubt the island could handle anymore tragedies” he sighed pulling her tight.

Chapter 40 – Meeting the Family  /

Chapter 40 – Meeting the Family

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“Oh Shit” Royce mumbled stumbling backwards causing Natalia to bump into him as she followed him inside. His eyes were round at what he’d just seen. His brother’s shirt tossed on the floor, Damian’s hands roaming across his body both oblivious.

Laughing softly Natalia tugged on his hand “come on” she urged.

“Shit” the word exploded from his lips once more as he followed her.

“You’re reacting worse than some parents” she teased. “Haven’t you ever seen him making out before?”

“I didn’t even know he knew how to kiss” he ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for him. It was just….wow.”

“Kind of a shock I see” she slipped her around his. “It’s a beautiful night” she observed looking skyward.

Glancing upwards Royce sighed looking down he found her looking up. Her chin tilted gracefully upwards “it pales in comparison to you.” Gently he stroked a finger over her smooth cheek.

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Turning she smiled up at him, eyes sparkling in the moonlight. “You say the sweetest things.”

They leaned towards each other like they were drawn to each other. Royce’s arms wrapped around her slim waist pulling her into an embrace. “I wish I could invite you inside” he whispered in her ear as his body reacted to her’s pressed against him.

“I have a better idea” she grinned pulling him with her.

Groaning in protest he followed her towards the beach. Stopping he didn’t have a chance to wonder what they were doing as he watched her pull her shirt up and over her head. His breathing quickened as he took in her curves in the moonlight “are you sure about this” he asked his voice sounding thick as her only answer was to run her hands under his shirt.

“Want me to stop” she asked her fingers sliding between him and his jeans.

“No” he squeaked” what if someone sees us?”

Running her tongue across her bottom lip as her fingers released the button on his jeans. She followed them down. Gazing up at him she grinned “let them watch.” He gasped as her mouth was busy doing things to him that her words had hinted at.

***

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Pushing Damian’s hands away as he struggled to sit up. Hugging his arms around himself he looked for his shirt.

“What’s wrong” Damian asked with a groan.

“I thought I heard my brother come in” he sounded a bit out of breath. “He may have saw us, you know” he waved a hand to indicate the two of them.

“Kissing” Damian smirked laughing softly.

“Yeah,” he choked pulling his knees into his chest.

“Doesn’t he approve…”

Shaking his head Jason added, “it’s not that. He’s very supportive. It’s just that I’ve never…you know.” He covered his face in his hands “I probably gave him a heart attack.”

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“I’m sure he’s fine” he assured him patting the top of Jason’s head. “But we should probably cool it anyway.” He smiled as Jason pulled his hands away from his face, his golden eyes full of disappointment that was quickly replaced with sadness.

“I wasn’t any good” he mumbled chewing on his nails.

“What” Damian blinked frowning slightly. Pulling the younger man closer to him he explained “it has nothing to do with your performance.” Tilting Jason’s chin up he gazed into his eyes “what did you think was going to happen tonight?”

“That we’d…you know” his eyes darted away from Damian’s face. “I was wrong, wasn’t I?”

Smiling softly he shook his head. He could read disappointment, relief and hurt in his eyes. Bringing his hands up to cup his face he leaned forward kissing his forehead. “No baby you weren’t wrong. I wanted it as much as you did.”

“Then why….”

Placing his fingers over Jason’s lips he shushed him “This isn’t the way you’re first time should be like. It shouldn’t be a quickie on the couch. It should be special.”

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“Oh” he sighed leaning into the older man.

“When you give me that look it takes everything I have not to take you right here right now” he groaned lightly running his fingers through the blue locks. Scooting over on the couch he put some space between them.”What do you have in here to eat?”

“There’s probably some hamburgers in the fridge” Jason said. “Royce was going to grill them up…” Getting up he moved towards the door “I should tell him it’s okay to come inside.” Opening the door he looked around “he’s not out here.”

“He probably went over to Natalia’s” Damian said heading into the kitchen for the hamburgers. Gathering what he needed he carried out to the grill. “It’s a beautiful night” he said when he heard the sliding glass door open.

Jason moved to join him standing close watching him flip hamburgers. “What’s that?” he asked as the sounds of groaning could be heard and what sounded suspiciously like someone calling his brother’s name.

Damian caught his arm before Jason could go check it out. Lips twitching “they’re fine.” Forgetting the hamburgers he wrapped his arms around Jason’s slim body “one day you’ll be doing the same except you’ll be calling my name.”

“Oh” his eyes grew large as his cheeks flamed with heat. Pushing away from Damian he fled inside before his body betrayed his need and desire.

***

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“Dad” Dakota shouted running towards her parents as they stepped onto the dock.

Waylon squeezed her tight “it’s so good to see you.” Shaking his head as she went from him to Zack.

“There’s so much I need to tell you,” she grinned at them eyes sparkling.

“You’ve met someone” Zach surmised leaning into Waylon who could hear the effort it was taking him to be happy for their daughter. Waylon could see the pain and realization that their little girl was growing up in his light blue eyes.

“Wait till you meet here” she enthused without noticing her dad’s discomfort or the way Waylon whispered words of comfort in his ear.

Taking one of their bags she lead the way inside. “I’m sure you tired from the trip but you’ve got to meet here.” Setting down the bag she walked over to a young woman standing nibbling on her nails. “This is Macy, my girlfriend.” Turning she beamed at her parents as she introduced her girlfriend to them.

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“It’s nice to meet you” Waylon smiled extending his hand.

Taking it Macy gave him a nervous grin. Her eyes moving towards the silent man beside him who looked unsure how to handle the news. “I’m looking forward to getting to know. I’m sure you both would like a chance to rest.” Her eyes moved towards Zach in concern “Dakota tells me you lie to knit.” She waited patiently for him to nod before adding “I’ve always wanted to learn. Perhaps you could teach me? My nan tried but all I accomplished was a giant tangled mess.”

“It’s not as hard as people think” Zach said in a soft hesitant voice like he were afraid someone was going to yell at him for speaking. “It takes patience though.”

“As long as Dakota leaves me alone I think I can manage” she laughed at the disgruntled look Dakota gave her.

“In that case Dad and I will go for a walk” she informed her giving Waylon a look he knew meant they needed to talk.

“Sounds like a plan” Waylon agreed “if we can get a little nap first.”

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They turned to follow Dakota to their room Zach asked what she’d been dreading since they got there. “Where’s Montana? I thought she’d be here to greet us.”

Macy and Dakota exchanged worried looks before Dakota smiled taking her dad’s hand. “She had to work. One of the instructors called in sick and she had to cover for him.”

Waylon waited until Dakota had Zach distracted enough before he leaned in close to Macy “what are you two not telling us?”

Jumping a little she shook her head. “I’ll let Dakota explain. It’s nothing bad” she assured him which only deepened his frown. “It’s just not what you’ll expect and you might not like it.”

An hour later Waylon was walking beside his daughter while her dog sniffed around. “You wanted to talk, let’s talk.”

“I wanted to warn you that daddy might not react well to Montana’s boyfriend.” Biting her lip she watched the emotions flit across his face. As a family they all knew how difficult it was for Zach to accept change and he didn’t react well to certain types of people.

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Blowing through his nose he seemed to be starting out across the ocean. “Is he good to her” he asked he of all people knew you couldn’t always judge a person by what you saw on the outside. Zach understood that but he couldn’t always control that initial rush of fear that came over him.

“I think so” she nodded “he’s a surfer and gives lessons to anyone who wants them.” She followed his gaze “he just looks kind of rough, long hair, tattoos.”

“Oh” he nodded a muscle ticking in his jaw. “Not the pretty boy type we’re used to Montana dating.”

“He might freak daddy out” Dakota sighed “I’ve never seen him be anything but nice and he’s always gentle with her. He reminds me of you and the way you are with Daddy.”

“I’ll be the judge of that” Waylon his tone gruff after spending decades protecting his husband from things that would potentially give him an anxiety attack.

***

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“Daddy” Montana cried rushing into the house to give Zach a hug. Turning to Waylon her smile faltered as she notices his stiff manner towards her. “She told you didn’t she?”

“Where’s my hug” he asked holding his arms out to her. “Now tell us about him” he invited sitting down and crossing his legs.

“I was going to tell you” she gave her sister a scowl as she walked by. “It just never seemed to be the right time.”

“Why don’t you invite him over so we can meet him.” Zach suggested shocking them all into silence. “He does want to meet us I hope.”

“Of course he does” she gave Waylon a look silently asking him for help. Shrugging he nodded. “Tanner’s not like the other boys I’ve dated before.”

“What does that mean” Zach asked his blue eyes full of concern.

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“Nothing bad Daddy” she paused, searching for the right words. “He just doesn’t look like the typical preppy pretty boy I’ve dated in the past. He’s a surfer.” She could see from their expressions that they were imagining the worst movies and TV had type caste most surfers. “I promise he’s not like that. He’s really sweet. Dakota can vouch for that.”

“Don’t get me involved in this” she shook her head “you’re on your own with this.”

“That’s not very helpful” she cried wishing could wipe the knowing I told you so look from her sisters face. Yes she should have told them before they came to visit but how could she?

“I don’t know him well enough to vouch for him,” she said. “He did seem nice the few times we’ve met.”

Montana looked at her phone as a message came through. “You don’t have to wait to meet him. He’s coming over. I forgot my purse and he’s bringing it over.” She looked over at Zach hearing his gasp as he fought to control his breathing. “Daddy, you don’t have to worry. He’s really nice to me. You always said you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

“I know baby” he swallowed audibly closing his eyes as he fought to control his rising anxiety.

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Twenty minutes later Montana jumped from the couch to answer the door. Opening the door Tanner stood holding her purse out to her a silly grin on his face. Throwing her arms around him she whispered her thanks. Looking over her shoulder he asked “is everything alright?”

“Why wouldn’t it be” she asked her voice too loud and chipper for the solemn faces starting back at her. “Come in” she took his hand “my dad’s want to meet you.”

Tanner stood by her side squeezing her hand as they moved to meet her parents. Coming to a stop he whispered in her ear “it’s going to be alright.”

“I hope so” she briefly smiled up at him. “Dad’s this is Tanner. Tanner this is Zach and Waylon my dads.”

Waylon studied the young man from head to toe. If he’d formed any opinions he kept them to himself. It was Zach who timidly stretched his hand out first “it’s nice to meet you” he stammered voice quivering from nervous stretched vocal chords.

Taking the outstretched hand Tanner sensed this was the parent he needed to win over more so than the sterner looking man at the blond’s side. “It’s a pleasure to meet you” glancing down at Montana “you’re daughter has told me so much about you.”

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“She has” he asked sounding surprised.

“Of course daddy” she enthused “you and dad are important to me. I wanted Tanner to know all about you.” Taking Zach’s arm “I should have told you about him too. I’m sorry Daddy I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Nodding he hugged her “all I care about is your happiness and knowing he’s treating you right. I don’t care how long his hair is or what he does for a living.”

“I give surfing lessons to spoiled rich kids” Tanner elaborated with a chuckle.

“Do you have any goals for the future” Waylon asked still gruff and unyielding. “I doubt surfing lessons is all that lucrative. How do you expect to care for a wife and family?”

“You’re right it’s not” he shrugged unphased by the questions. “I’m hoping to open my own shop someday. Selling surfboards. I design them on my off days.”

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“We’ve discussed building a gym onto the shop as well where I could give yoga classes” Montana added.

“Those are certainly good goals” he acknowledged “do you have a plan on how you’re going to accomplish them?”

“Waylon” Zach warned “don’t interrogate him.”

“I’m not” he protested.

“You are and you know it” Zach took his hand “give him a chance.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be telling you that” he huffed grinning down into his husbands face.

“Not this time” he shook his head “I have a good feeling about him.”

Chapter 39 – First Dates /

Chapter 39 – First Dates

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Noble tossed one shirt after another aside. Nothing felt right. Walking into his brother’s room he opened his closet in search of the perfect outfit. Taking one shirt out he’d seen Loyal wear once. Smiling he nodded. This was what he was looking for.

Surveying the results in the mirror he smoothed his hair. “Perfect” he admired his reflection in the mirror.

“Is that my shirt” Loyal asked coming into his room.

“You never wear it” he said turning from the mirror.

“That’s beside the point” he crossed his arms looking his brother up and down. “Date” he asked smirking a little.

“Do I look alright,” he asked, ignoring the question.

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“Is this all for that pretty waitress at the resort” he persisted enjoying watching his older brother squirm.

Noble’s stomach twisted “are people talking about us? Her? Do you think this is a bad idea? What if I get reported for harassment?”

“Paranoid much” he chuckled pushing away from the wall. “You look fine. No one is talking about you. Relax. Have fun.”

“This is a bad idea” he moaned “I shouldn’t leave the resort unattended. There’s too much work to do. I need to stay focused.”

Walking over to him Loyal put his arms around his shoulders. “Calm down. The resort will be fine. It’s just one night. You deserve a break.”

“Will you go to the resort” he asked “keep an eye on things? At least until the night manager comes on duty?”

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“I have plans” he said stepping back.

“Please” he entreated “I’d feel better if someone was there I trusted.”

“What about Grandpa?”

“Grandpa’s getting too old for the long nights” Noble said dismissing it. “Please it’s just for a few hours. Mom and Dad put us in charge.”

“Fine I’ll do it” he walked from the room “I just need to make a phone call first.”

“Thanks” Noble called after him.

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Fifteen minutes later Noble was knocking on Stacy’s door. Smiling brightly when she opened the door in a light floral sundress “you look nice.”

“Thanks” she grinned leaning forward to give him a peck on the cheek. “Better the my usual outfit anyways.”

“You good in anything” he blurted.

“Thanks” she giggled holding the door open for him. “I hope you’re in the mood for a good home cooked meal.”

“Anything would be good after a steady diet of restaurant food” he quipped. “Just don’t tell the chef I said that.”

“Don’t worry your secret’s safe with me” she stepped aside letting him inside. “Did you want to select a movie? I have Netflix.”

“What do you like to watch” he asked “besides the typical chick flick?”

“Who says I’m typical” she demanded hands on hips.

“Uh” his eyebrows rose “you like action movies then?”

“Well” her giggles filled the room “it depends on the story.”

“How about I help you with dinner instead” he suggested.

“Deal” she gave him a stern look “just remember I’m in charge.”

***

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Loyal looked up from the computer at the front desk when the door opened. His smile broadened as he recognized the girl working towards him.

“Is this why you dumped me” she accused coming to a stop in front of the desk.

“I didn’t dump you” he corrected coming around the desk to face her.

“What do you call this” she demanded.

“I didn’t have a choice” he leaned forward, resting his forehead on hers. “Noble needed me here. I promised my parents I’d help.”

Sighing she reached up to stroke his cheek. “I know but it doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed. We had plans.”

“Will you forgive me he asked brows knitting together.

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“Hmm” she tapped a finger to her cheek. I don’t know. You did stand me up. For that I should be mad.”

“Technically I didn’t stand you up” he looked down at her “I did call call you. I didn’t just leave you hanging.”

“Two hours” she huffed swatting him. “That’s hardly any notice at all. It’s worth flowers at the very least.”

“Really” he asked wrapping his arms around her. “You think you deserve flowers.”

“And dinner” she arched an eyebrow at him eyes sparkling beneath her lashes.

“You must think you’re pretty special” he teased.

“I don’t think I’m special. I know” she pulled him closer “I wish you didn’t have to work.”

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“I’ll be off in an hour,” he said, “I don’t have to work tomorrow either.”

“But I do” she pouted.

“Can you wait until I’m done?”

“Can I wait here?”

“I don’t see why not” nodding towards the lobby “the lobby is available to sit in for everyone. You can even watch TV while you wait.”

“I’ll wait” her tone made it sound like she was doing him a favor. “There’s something you have to do for me.”

Walking behind the desk, “I can’t go and get you flowers.”

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“Not that” she shook her head at him. “You can come with me to my friends beach party next weekend.”

“I have to work…” sighing he stopped “I’ll figure something out. Noble owes me.”

“Yay” she bounced a little clapping her hands.

“I can’t promise anything” he cautioned “he hasn’t said yes.”

“All I ask is for you to try” she said walking towards the empty lobby. “Come get me when you’re done.”

“Will do” he said watching her go.

***

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Justice watched the girl in the swing next to him. She twisted the chains as she slowly rotated. A crease formed between her eyes as she concentrated on her feet. Giggling when she released the tension in the chains spinning around.

Glancing at her companion “what” she demanded.

Shaking his head laughing “you really don’t know do you?”

“Know what?”

“You’re such a little girl” he ducked as she swatted at him.

“I’m the same age as you” she cried missing the point he was making.

“That’s not what I meant” he pumped his legs. “You don’t care what people think. You do what you think without wondering what others think about it. I find that refreshing.”

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“You do” she said looking at him in surprise.

“It reminds me of my little sister” sighing he let the swing slowly come to a stop. “Sorry I didn’t mean to put a downer on our evening. It’s just refreshing to be around someone that carefree.”

“If it makes you feel better you’re not like most of the guys I know.” She smiled over at him “most of them just want to get my attention because of my…” She snapped her mouth shut looking away.

“Why? You some kind of celebrity” he teased.

“Who? Me? No” she laughed self consciously. “There’s nothing special about me.”

“I wouldn’t say that” he grinned “all the girls around here just want to date me because they think I’m rich.”

“Are you? Rich I mean?”

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“My brother Noble will take over the resort. Knowing him he will be.” He got a dreamy look in his eyes “I just want enough to pursue my dreams.”

She stared at her feet, toes digging into the sand. “What are your dreams” she asked unsure why she was interested when she knew when summer was over she was going home and probably never see him again.

“I’m still figuring it out” he pumped his legs a little setting the swing in motion. “All I know is I want off this island. First step to that goal is going to university.”

“Have you already applied?”

“I have” he sighed, “It’s going to be hard leaving all my family and friends behind. I just want to figure out who I am with them.”

“I know what you mean” she murmured softly pumping her legs as well shooting higher and higher. The harder she pumped her mind went to all the things she hadn’t told him. Who she was. Who her parents were. She just wanted to be accepted for who she was and not what people assumed she because of who she was related to. As these thoughts swirled around her brain she gasped when Justice jumped from the swing landing hard on the ground.

He rolled as he fell laughing he lay on the ground. “I take it you aren’t planning on staying on the island,” he said watching her land perfectly nearby.

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Squatting beside him shaking her head. “I have to go home at the end of summer” sighing she sat on the grass. “What I’ll do after that is anyone’s guess.”

Rolling to his stomach he propped his head up with his hands. “You always seem so sure of yourself. I was positive you had everything planned out.”

“Not everything” she admitted “I’ll miss it, the island.”

“I have a feeling there’s more to the story” he winked at her. “I was hoping you would stay long enough to go to the summer social with me.”

“I’ll probably have to work it” she laughed at his disgruntled face.

“If you say you’ll come with me I’ll make sure you won’t have to work.” Before she could reply he jumped to his feet “Race you to the car” he shouted taking off.

“No fair” she cried racing after him “you started before me.”

***

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Sitting next to the skittish younger male he asked “what’s on your mind?”

Lifting his phone he said “Jace was telling me how depressed Christopher was when he visited him.”

“Christopher” he asked “is he the friend who was….”

“Yeah” he shivered “we grew up together. It’s scary to think something like that could happen to him. He always defended us in school if anyone picked on one of us.” He leaned into Damian as he felt his arm slip around him, warm and comforting. “I mean I always thought he was invincible.”

“Things like this happen for no good reason” he murmured pulling Jason closer. “You’re shivering.”

“It’s cold” he mumbled relaxing into his boyfriend’s side.

Smirking Damian kissed the top of his head. “It’s seventy-five degrees in here. How can you be cold?”

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“Maybe I just want you to hold me” he blurted without thinking. When his words sank in he mumbled “I mean” cheeks beginning to burn with an uncomfortable heat. “I didn’t mean…it came out wrong.” He squirmed away from Damian only to be pulled back.

“I think you did mean it” he held the younger man’s gaze smiling into his flustered eyes.

“It came out wrong” he pulled his knees into his chest. “It’s not like there’s anything wrong with what I said….”

“No but then why are you so embarrassed” he asked shifting his position beside him.

“I’m not embarrassed” Jason stammered eyes staring at the other’s man’s lips.

“Then why did you turn all red” he laughed softly watching as Jason’s tongue ran across is bottom lip.Groaning a little he leaned in closer “you really have no idea how irresistible I find you.”

Shaking his head his lips curled in a pout trying not to think about all the times he hoped and longed to have his first kiss. The touch of Damian’s lips on his made him freeze too afraid to move in case he would ruin the moment.

Breaking the kiss Damian looked in his eyes as he felt Jason stiffen in his arms. “Are you alright” he asked concerned he was going to fast. It hadn’t been his plan to kiss him and he could tell Jason hand little if any experience.

“I’m fine” he ran his index finger across his lips eyes wide with wonder as he processed what just happened. “I’ve never been kissed be…I mean like that before.” He stopped unsure what to do next realizing for the first time that he was on his back on the couch with Damian on top of him. As his body responded to Damian’s he looked away mortified “you’re probably not interested in someone like me.”

Damian’s next move took Jason’s breath away along with what little reserves he had. Jason’s lips parted as Damian devoured his mouth making him whimper in need for what he wasn’t quite sure of. He brought his hand to the back of Damian’s head, his fingers curling in his long hair. His skin tingled as Damian’s hands slipped beneath his shirt. Soon it was off and on the floor and he couldn’t remember when their lips had parted long enough for him to have pulled it over his head.

Chapter 38 – Little Steps /

Chapter 38 – Little Steps

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“Was that Temperance” Talia asked looking up from where she was making mac and cheese for lunch.

“Yeah” he stared at his phone a perplexed look on his face.

“What’s the matter” she asked setting her spoon down. “She didn’t call to break up with you, did she?”

“Mom” he groaned “we’re not dating.”

“Uh huh” she turned to dish up the plates.

“She called to apologize” he explained taking the plate she handed him.

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“That’s nice of her” she said taking a seat at the table.

“It was my idea” he protested “I talked her into it because I wanted to impress her.”

“Will I know you” she looked up “you wanted to help. You knew how much she wanted to see her friend. You made it happen. Don’t make your gesture less than it was.”

“I guess” he mumbled not sure if it was a noble as his mom was making out to be. “I mainly wanted a way to show her I wasn’t the jerk she thought I was when we first met.”

“You really like her don’t you?” she asked.

Rolling his eyes “don’t go and plan our wedding.”

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“I’m not.”

“Yeah right” he mumbled taking a bite of his mac and cheese. “I saw that look in your eyes.” Pausing he ate in silence for a minute or so “we’re just friends.”

“You want to be more though” she prompted.

Squirming beneath her gaze, he nodded. “I know we’re too young. I really like her though. I want her to be happy.”

“Then what’s the problem” she asked getting up to wash her dish.

“I don’t know if she likes me” sighing he stared glumly into his plate.

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“Of course she does.”

“You’re just saying that” he mumbled.

“I’m not” she protested taking her seat across from him at the table. “She did just call to apologize, didn’t she?”

“Yeah” picking at his food he pushed it away from him.

“It seems to me she cares about you” she waited for him to respond before adding “if she didn’t she wouldn’t have felt the need to apologize. She must feel bad that you might have gotten in trouble.”

“I didn’t though” he said meeting her gaze.

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“Not because you didn’t deserve it” she gave him a brief smile. “However I understand why you did it.”

“I know” he sighed, “what do I do now? He’s totally out of my league.”

“Stop” she raised a hand “I don’t want to hear you talking like that. No one is out of your league.”

Giving her a disbelieving look he stood up “what should I do?”

“First of all you’re going to stop thinking you’re not good enough.” Standing up she ruffled his hair like she’d done since he was little. “Second you’re going to ask her to the summer social.”

Jerking his chin up “do you think she’ll say yes?”

“I’m positive” she winked at him before turning to finish the dishes.

***

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“Christopher” Hannah called through her son’s bedroom door. “You have a visitor.”

“Tell them to go away” he shouted from where he sat inside his dark room.

“That’s not very nice considering he came all the way here to see you.” She called refusing to let him push anyone else away. “You can’t stay in your forever.”

Donovan approached her “I’ll take care of this” he offered. “Go keep his visitor company. He looks like he could use some calming down.”

Nodding she walked away tears in her eyes. She resisted the urge to turn around and caution Donovan to be gentle and not to push him too hard.

10181019

“Christopher if you don’t come out I’m coming in” he called through the door. “You have until I count to ten.” Paused hoping his son wouldn’t force his hand. When there was no response he started counting “one…two…” the door clicked and his son peeked through the crack.

“I don’t want to see anyone” he mumbled eyes a mixture of fear and anger.

“I know you don’t” Donovan acknowledged “but sooner or later you’re going to have to come out. It’ll only get harder the longer you seclude yourself.”

Hesitantly Christopher opened his door wider, eyes darting from side to side. His chest moved rapidly up and down as he started to hyperventilate.

Putting an arm around his son’s shoulder’s Donovan walked with him to the room where his visitor waited. Opening the door they found another young man nervously tapping his toes on the floor while he waited. “Jace” Christopher mumbled in greeting. He was somewhat disappointed that his first visitor wasn’t one of his childhood friends.

1020

Standing up Jace clearly looked like he was about to run from the room. “I wanted to see how you were doing” he stammered staring at Christopher’s feet instead of his face.

Frowning Christopher found himself wondering what made his visitor so timid. “Thanks” he grunted.

Shoving his hands in his pockets he took a step back almost falling back into the couch he’d been sitting in before. “Yeah um I…” he stammered his breaths coming out in a wheeze.

“Are you alright” Christopher found himself asking somewhat concerned.

“I’m” he nodded pulling out an inhaler “my asthma always acts up the more nervous I get.”

1021

Frowning Christopher sat on the far end of the couch. “Sorry…I’m not good company” he looked across at the young man. His breath caught in his throat. Maybe it was the angle “it was you. That night. You helped me.”

Nodding his eyes darted towards Donovan seeking reassurance. “I didn’t mean to bring that up. I needed to know how you were.” Standing he moved towards the door “I should go.”

“Hey” Christopher called him back “thank you.” He stood reaching out and touching the boy’s hand causing Jace to flinch “sorry. I….I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay” he mumbled taking a step back “I don’t like … you know …being touched. People think I’m weird but Jason understood.”

“Jason’s a good friend” he smiled softly “I um” he stopped unsure what else he wanted to say but not wanting Jace to leave either. “Would you like to stay? Maybe we could watch a movie or something?”

1022

There was a moment of shock in the timid eyes “um yeah I’d like that.”

Grinning in relief he asked “what do you want to watch? We have a big movie collection.”

Cheeks turning a soft pink Jace mumbled “comedies. Romantic comedies.”

“You’re in luck” Christopher said over his shoulder as he went to where they kept the movies. “My little sister likes those too.”

Neither one of them noticed when Donovan left the room smiling as he watched both young men discuss what movie to watch.

***

996

Benjamin finished setting up the resorts website. He was proud of the design he and Jonahs has come up with. He couldn’t wait for Ryan and Charity to see it when they got home. He sucked in his bottom lip as he concentrated on his task. Why wait? He could email the link to them. Give them something to look at while they deal with Unity’s health issues. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he typed up an email so he could wait for their feedback.

“Hey” Kade called as he approached the front desk. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Oh hi” he glanced up frowning “do we know each other?”

“Wow I must have made a poor impression the first time we met” he joked. Leaning on the front desk “we met here at the resort a few nights ago. Sed was giving you a hard time.”

“Oh yeah” he blinked as he recalled that night. “Sorry I hope I didn’t offend you.”

Shrugging “don’t worry about it. However you can make it up to me by suggesting places I could visit while I’m here.”

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“There’s a whole section on our website that lists all the places to visit while you’re on the island.” He moved the monitor so that Kade could see it. “I could print a copy for you you” he offered when Kade made to copy a couple of interesting places.

“That would be great” he grinned. When Benjamin returned with the printout he asked “have you been to all of these places?”

“Most of them.”

“Does the resort offer guided tours” he asked a hopeful gleam in his eyes.

“That’s a good idea” he enthused “I’ll have to suggest that to the owners. Unfortunately at this time the resort doesn’t offer tours yet.”

“Oh” he sighed pushing off the desk.

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“If you could wait a day” Benjamin suggested “I could show you around. I have the day off tomorrow.”

A huge grin spread like sunshine across Kade’s face. “That would be wonderful. I can move all my meetings around so we can spend the day together.”

“If that works for you” he nodded “I can meet you here say at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. I can arrange for a picnic lunch to be packed by the resort restaurant.”

“I think it’s a date” Kade said taking a step back “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“You won’t regret it” Benjamin assured him looking forward to spending a day away from the resort and from his family.

***

1000

“Sucks to be you” Sed hissed in Jonah’s ear as he came up behind him.

Jumping Jonahs turned to find the man he most despised gloating behind him. “What’s that supposed to mean” he hoped his wasn’t as squeaking as it sounded. The smirk on the Sed’s face told him it was.

“It’s obvious you like him” he leaned in close crossing his arms. “That poppy dog look is unmistakable.” Tsking “too bad he doesn’t feel the same way about you.”

Swallowing hard Jonas’ blinked back tears. He had no reason to be upset. He never had a claim on Benjamin. “What do you want” he forced his tone to be cold, distant, firm.

“I’m here to watch the show” he stood up straight closing the gap between them. His eyes flashed with malicious delight “when he realizes that website design you made falls flat I want to see his face. I want to see your face when he realizes that you’re a failure.”

Taking a step backwards Jonas brought his hands up like he was trying to protect himself. “Why do you hate me so much” his voice hoarse.

999

“I don’t hate you” he laughed “I just don’t think you deserve to have anything.”

An indistinct groan came out as his eyes moved around seeking escape. He looked across the room towards the front desk. Benjamin was still talking to Kade. Why did both of his ex’s have to show up here? “Leave me alone” he almost pleaded as he turned away.

“Not gonna happen” Sed said behind him causing him to freeze in place. Laughing at the hurt bewildered expression on Jonas’s face reminiscent to a fly trapped in a spider’s web.

“Is this guy bothering you” Benjamin asked coming over to them.

“Um” he tried to come up with something to say that didn’t make him look like a loser.

Benjamin gave him an appraising look before deciding to ignore Sed standing nearby. “The website you designed is getting a lot of buzz. I can’t believe it.”

1001

“You helped” Jonas stammered.

“You’re the genius behind its success” he enthused “we should go out to celebrate. Tomorrow night. Dinner. I’ll pick you up.”

“Okay” he accepted feeling his knees go weak.

When Benjamin walked away Sed stepped in close whispering “enjoy it while you can. It won’t last long.”

Before Jonas could respond Sed walked away like a man on a mission. Watching him Jonas wondered what he’d done to deserve the man’s hatred. Surely it couldn’t be so simple or as petty as him being jealous of the affection he gave to his dog? He shivered wondering what Sed would do next.

Chapter 37 – Be There for You /

Chapter 37 – Be There for You

967

Riley stepped out of his room when he heard an unusual sound coming from his brother’s room. Knocking softly he called “Aaron are you alright?”

“Go away” he sniffed.

Turning he took a couple of steps towards the stairs before stopping and retracing his steps. “Not until I’m sure you’re alright.” After a moment of silence and what sounded like muffled sobs the door opened.

“I said to go away” he shouted in Riley’s face.

Any other time Riley would have backed off but his brother’s red swollen eyes had him stepping forward. “You’ve been crying, what happened?”

968

Ducking his head Aaron squeezed his eyes shut. “Raven broke up with me” his sentence ended on a sob.

“What? Why” he demanded forcing his way into his brother’s room and sitting on the bed. It was strange to see his older brother in such a state. He always thought of him as too tough to cry. He looked up to him, kind of like a dad figure since their father walked out on them.

“I’m pregnant” he sobbed, “I told him and he accused me of cheating.”

Pulling him close Riley just held him unsure what else he could do. It felt strange being the one comforting his brother in such a way. He couldn’t remember the last time Aaron had been this vulnerable. He was a little blown away with the idea that his older brother was pregnant. “Does mom know” he asked.

Sniffing his head moving against Riley’s shoulder. “She walked in on me taking the test. I hadn’t thought I was. I mean I’d been feeling sick and moody but I didn’t really believe I was.”

969

Rubbing his back Riley let him talk. “Did you know it was a possibility that you could get pregnant?”

He shrugged “I guess. I mean I haven’t had the test to know for sure. It’s not like we have the money for that. I thought we were being careful.”

“I thought you always topped.”

Grunting in surprise he nodded “usually except once. I guess that was enough.”

“You know you can count on me and mom to help you” he said “you’re not in this alone.”

970

“I know” he sniffed “all my plans are ruined now.”

“What plans” Riley asked curious. “It’s not like you were going to college. You just wanted off the island.”

“You think you’re pretty smart” he sniffed wiping his eyes dry.

“I have my moments” he chuckled softly getting up. “You can always go to the community college on the island. Me and mom could watch the baby.”

“I guess” he sighed “I wish…”

971

“That Raven hadn’t reacted the way he did to the news” Riley finished for him. “I bet he apologizes in a day or two. I’m sure it was just shock and he’ll regret what he said.”

“You think so” he asked hope lighting up his eyes.

“Yeah” he nodded hoping he wasn’t giving him false hope. “You’re my brother. I know you’d never cheat on him.”

“Enough about me” he said trying to smile “have you asked Unity to the summer social yet?”

“Do you think I should” he asked “she’s pretty sick…”

“I think it’ll give her something to look forward to” he assured him.

***

972

Temperance bounced a little on the bed causing Unity to smile up at her. “Since when did you become a morning person she grumbled sitting up.

“It’s not morning” Temperance corrected “it’s almost noon.”

“Did my mom send you in her to wake me up” she asked covering her mouth to muffle a yawn.

“You missed breakfast,” she said as if that explained everything.

“I’m not hungry” she said curling up on her side

“You have to eat if you want to get better” Temperance said pretending not to notice her best friend close closer her eyes and ignore her.

“I’m not going to get better” she mumbled hugging her herself.

“Not talking like that” she huffed.

973

“How else am I supposed to talk” she demanded, glaring at her friend. “I’m dying. I’m never going to college or go on a date. I’ll never know what it feels like to be kissed.”

“What about Riley” Temperance demanded “I bet he’d kiss you.”

“I don’t want a pity kiss” she mumbled.

“It wouldn’t be a pity kiss” she insisted adjusting her position on the bed.

The door opened as a nurse walked in carrying a tra. “Make sure she eats” the nurse admonished Temperance.

“Yes ma’am” she said with mock seriousness making Unity giggle. Turning she made a face at the tray “I’d be on a permanent diet if I had to eat this.”

“Hey! How is that supposed to encourage me to eat if you’re not willing to eat it” Unity demanded.

“Sorry” she pushed the tray towards her friend. “Eat. It’s more edible than it looks.”

974

Taking a tentative bite “eew if anything it’s less edible than it looks.”

“Really” Temperance asked.

“Yeah” she giggled “want a taste?”

“No thanks” she wrinkled her nose at it.

After several minutes of silence Unity let her spoon drop onto the tray. “I don’t think the nurse meant you had to watch me eat and count how many times I chewed.”

“I wasn’t” she protested “I was just thinking.”

“Good to know you can” Unity teased “want to share?”

“I was thinking about the summer social. It’d be nice if you were home in time for that.”

975

“I…don’t…know” she pushed the plate away “It’d be nice to see everyone.”

“It’s the highlight of the summer” Temperance enthused. “It wouldn’t be the same without you.”

“Every dance needs an awkward wallflower” she said picking at her fingers.

“That won’t be you” she assured her friend.

“Stuck in here it’s not like I’d be able to get a date. That is if I was able to go at all.”

“Of course you will” Temperance enthused “you’ll probably have a date before me.”

“Not likely” she lay down eyes growing heavy “you should call him. Ask him if he doesn’t ask you first. Will’s crazy about you.”

“You think so” she asked cheeks burning.

Before Unity could think of something else to say the door opened and her parents walked in. Her dad inspected the partially eaten food before sitting down in the chair next to the bed. While her mother stood awkwardly by the door like she wasn’t sure what to say.

***

976977

Smiling at the girls Charity sighed “Temperance I need to tell you something.”

“Are my parents mad at me” she asked expecting this conversation sooner or later.

“What do you think” Charity have her a stern look.

“Yes” she mumbled. Taking Unity’s hand “I had to come though.”

Putting a gentle hand the girls shoulder she nodded “I know. What you did was dangerous. You have to see why your parents are upset right? So many things could have gone wrong.”

978

“I know I’ll be grounded for life when I get home.” Hanging her head she sighed mournfully. She hated when her parents were mad at her.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that” Charity said motioning for her to sit down. “They’re glad that you’re helping cheer Unity up. She’s less depressed now. With any disease attitude is everything. She’s starting to respond to treatments again.”

“But I have to go home, don’t I,” she asked.

Taking her hand Charity took a deep breath. “No they want you to stay here for the rest of the summer.” She watched as a brilliant smile spread across her face. Now she had to extinguish it.

“I knew there was a catch” she sighed noticing the expression on the older woman’s face. “I guess I won’t be going to the summer social now.”

979

Shaking her head Charity couldn’t help but smile at the woeful look of regret in the girls eyes. “I wish that was it.”

Giving her a curious look Temperance asked “did something happen to my grandparents? I know they’re old … they’re both in their sixties.”

“They’re disappointed not to be seeing you” Charity said “but that’s not what I have to tell you. Something did happen while you were gone.” Squeezing her hand finding it difficult to find the words.

“My parents” asked voice quivering “they didn’t get into an accident did they? They’re not putting Christopher in charge are they? He’s great and all but he’s super bossy….”

Charity let her ramble for a bit as she figured out what to say next. When her words dwindled Charity squeezed her hand again “Christopher isn’t in charge. He’s” her voice faltered blinking back tears.

980

“What happened” she demanded “is he alright?” She got up fumbling for her phone.

Gently Charity reached for the phone taking it from her. “You can call later.”

“So he’s alright” she asked.

“He’s” she inhaled deeply “was assaulted on the beach.”

“What” she jumped to the feet “who would do something like that to him?” She ran from the room crying.

981

Following her Charity sat her down, telling her everything she knew. “He’s alright physically but he’s not himself.”

“I should have been there” she cried “I could help.”

“No sweetie” she pulled the girl close stroking her hair. “You’re right where you below. Right now your parents need to focus on Christopher and helping him through this.”

Nodding Temperance drew in a ragged breath. “Have they caught the guy yet?”

“Not yet” she hugged the girl close “the police are still looking for him.”

***

982

Several minutes later Charity left her sitting staring at her feet. Once she left Temperance pulled her phone out. It felt like an uncomfortable weight in her hand. How many times had she ignored Benjamin’s calls? It all made sense now why he’d been calling. She was the worst daughter / sister ever sitting here thinking everything was fine and it wasn’t.

How could she be so heartless? When did she become so self absorbed? She had always scoffed at anyone who said she was. Maybe they were right? Starting from now on she was going to be more observant and aware of others.

Looking at her phone she’d start now. She owed someone an apology. Well tow actually one to Riley and one to Will. She knew Will had talked Riley into going to the mainland. No doubt bribing him with the knowledge that it would impress Unity. There was no doubt he had feelings for her. They were probably both in trouble because of her now too.

983

Taking a deep breath she made her first call. “Will” she said when someone answered. “Please don’t hang up” she cried fearing that he wouldn’t want to talk to her.

“Why would I do that?” he asked curiously.

“Because you should be mad at me.”

“Why” he asked increasing her confusion.

“Well because” her free hand curled into a tight fist. “I got you and Riley in trouble. Of course you’d be mad at me.”

“You did no such thing” he protested “I’m the one who suggested it.”

985

“You wouldn’t have gone to the mainland if it weren’t for me” she insisted.

He laughed in her ear “Riley and I had been planning on going anyway. You should be mad at me. I’m the one who convinced Riley into taking you. I was the one who suggested it.”

“Oh” she giggled “that does make a difference.”

“I hope you’re not mad at me though” he enthused “I kind of like you.”

“You do” she asked astonished

“Why else would I do all of that for you?”

986

“Well … um … I guess it’s true then. Love makes you crazy.”

“I never said I love you” he protested.

“Like then” she corrected herself.

“We’re too young to know if we’re in love” he protested.

“I know” she rolled her eyes “you don’t have to spell it out. It was just an expression.”

“Sorry” he mumbled.

987

“Hey I was wondering if you’d do me a favor” she cried changing the subject.

“What kind of favor” he asked somewhat guarded.

“Would you send me anything you can about what happened to my brother” she asked “no one is telling me much and they won’t let me come home.”

“I’ll see what I can find,” he promised. “It’s kind of scary that something like that could happen here on the island; especially to your brother. He looks like he can take care of himself.

“I know” she agreed. It was the culmination of all of her parents fears. “I better go before Unity starts wondering what happened to me. Tell everyone hi for me and tell Riley I’m sorry.”

He was going to say it wasn’t necessary but she had already disconnected before he could get the words out. Shrugging he decided to see what he could find out about that night Christopher was assaulted. It had been the hot topic for days but now it had died down because of no news on the Police finding the guy who did it.

Chapter 36 – Contentions and Compromise/