Knights of Hope – Chapter 18 – Unravelling

“I don’t see what I can do to help” John slumped into a chair opposite his guest. “I was pretty wasted that night.”

“Tell me this then” Verity persisted “did you sample both drinks that Matt made up for Braylin and Trebor?”

Frowning he squirmed in his seat. “I tasted one. That’s for sure. It was blah.”

“Blah” she asked looking for more description.

“Yeah blah” he sat forward “it had no kick. It was straight coke.”

“Oh” she crossed her legs “it was nonalcoholic.”

“That’s what I said” he flopped back dramatically “Bray and I used to tear it up back in the day.”

Verity noted the bloodshot eyes and the slight tremor in the young man’s hands. “Looks like you’re still tearing it up” she observed.

“It’s not the same though” he groused “the night of the party I thought the old Bray was back. He was wasted but he….”

“He what” she prompted attempting to get him to continue to open up.

“All the years we played together and he never not once looked at me the way he looked at Trebor. That night I finally faced it. I realized he never would.” Lifting pain filled eyes to meet hers “Trebor is who he needs. Who he wants. He’s a better person with him than he ever would be with me. I just wish…”

“That you hadn’t encouraged him to continue drinking that night” she half guessed his role in Braylin’s demise that night.

Running a hand through his tangled blonde hair he nodded “not one of my proudest moments. I was just so scared.”

Nodding Verity could feel her sympathy rising for the boy. “You can still make things right,” she said.

Lifting his head to stare at her. “How” he demanded “I’m a terrible friend. I thought more of myself then I did him. I was so desperate to keep him in my life that I was willing to sacrifice his happiness so that I wouldn’t be alone. Who does that?”

“Someone who needs help. Someone who has hit rock bottom and needs to make a change” she gave him an encouraging smile. “Help me clear his name and get Matt to admit he spiked Braylin’s drink.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make up for what I did” he mumbled lost in his own thoughts. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong but now I can see what I did was the worst. He was never really happy doing all the party stuff we used to do.”

“You can still make amends” she patted his hand. “It’s never too late to make changes. Become the friend you think Braylin deserves and you wish to be.”

“But it wouldn’t do any good. He’ll never feel about me the way I do about him.” He pressed his hands to his head groaning. “He’s still going to be with Trebor and I’m going to be alone.”

“Let’s take things one step at a time” she suggested. “Help me clear Bray’s name then worry about what comes next.”

Blinking he inhaled deeply, making an effort to get a grip on his emotions. “Do you think it’s possible? I’ve fucked up a lot.”

“Have you learned anything from this?” she asked.

“I’ve been trying not to think about it too much” he sat up straight. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll worry about myself later. What’s important right now is helping Braylin. It’s the least I can do for the mess I caused.” He gave her a tearful twitch of the lips “he’s gotten me out of more than one mess. It’s my turn to return the favor.”

“Alright” she nodded, biting her bottom lip. There was so much more she wanted to ask him and why, she wondered wasn’t he reaching out to his parents when he obviously needed help. Giving herself a slight mental shake she forced concern for him back to concentrate on what she needed him to do. She just hoped when the time came he was sober enough to do it.

***

A few days later after a big game Matt was undressing in the locker room pleased with his performance. “That was a barnburner if I ever saw one. Did you see how many celly’s I made? Not to mention the breakaways. Man no one can touch me on the ice. I’m fucking fantastic.”

A low rumble of discontent rose among the other players. Terry, an older player tossed his mitts into his locker. “Hockey is a team sport not your personal one man show.”

Other players nodded in agreement. “We’re tired of you taking the biscuit regardless of whether you have a shot or not.”

“It’s not my fault that you’re benders and pylons on the ice” Matt laughed in their faces “you’re all jealous.”

“Jealous my ass” Terry scoffed “with your theatrics on the ice you make it look like we’re at the fucking ice capades instead of a hockey game. We’re the laughing stock of the NHL.”

“Who cares? We’re winning, they’re not” Matt said unconcerned. Smirking all around “we’re winning because of me. I told you I was good. I told you I was better than McGavin ever was.”

Terry slammed his locker shut. “We’re a team not your fucking one man show. No one person wins the game. It’s a group effort.”

“What’s your problem?” Matt demanded getting into the bigger man’s face. “Are you afraid I’m making you look bad? Sorry I’m not the duster you all expected me to be.”

Terry’s hands clenched at his sides “you’re that good ….”

“If Bray was still here you’d be a duster” John pointed out to the rising snickers of the others. “He was all about playing as a team.”

“Yeah I suppose he would be” Matt scoffed, looking the blonde up and down “especially if he let a grinder like you have the biscuit.”

The tension rose as another player joined John in saying “Bray had his faults but he was one of the best.”

Matt’s mouth gaped “you’ve got to be joking. McGavin let you all down. Let the team down. You’re a better team without him.”

“”We’d rather lose as a team than win with you” Terry asserted, frowning heavily at him.

“Oh come on” Matt grabbed the older man’s arm. “What does it matter how you win as long as you do?”

Jerking his arm away scowling. “It matters because everyone has a role to play. Everyone works hard. Everyone deserves the credit for the part they played on the team whether they are the best or grinder. No one wants to ride the skirts of someone like you.”

Watching the man stride away towards the showers Matt scoffed. “He’s jealous. I’m younger and better than him. He’d be better off quitting before he becomes just another has been.” Turning towards the others he found them all resolutely standing with their backs to him. “The way you’re treating me you’d think I was the bad guy. I’m the guy leading us to the championships, not McGavin. I’m not the guy who decided to get high. Maybe you should think about that instead of complaining.”

Slamming his locker shot Mike brushed past Matt. “Even on Bray’s worst days he was a better player than you ever will be.”

His mouth dropping open he turned to Joseph. “I don’t get it. We’re a better team without McGavin.”

Joseph exchanged a worried look with Rory before turning to face Matt. “You’re the only one who shares that opinion.”

“What” he demanded shocked “I thought you were on my side. Didn’t McGavin hurt your cousin? As I recall McGavin pushed him down a flight of stairs. I mean you don’t want to play with someone who does that do you?”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened that night” Joseph tossed his jersey into his locker. Reaching for his towel he moved towards the showers “I don’t think Braylin intentionally tried to hurt Trebor that night.”

“Who cares about intentions” Matt snapped “he was wasted. He was to blame regardless of his intentions.”

“Yeah I wonder” Joseph mumbled, pushing past him.

“He killed my sister” he called after him “doesn’t that tell you something about the guy?”

Rory turned to face him “if I were you I’d be careful. People can still sue for defamation of character. We only have your word that he killed her. Where’s the proof? Why isn’t he in jail?” He quickly turned, avoiding Matt’s attempt to grab him.

Turning in circles Matt could see the other’s walking away shaking their heads at him. “You need me. I’m the best you have. I can skate circles around all of you.”

“Give it a rest” John advised him moving towards the locker room door. “They all know you’re just in it for the glory not the game. That’s the difference between you and Bray. Bray loves the game. You can see it in his eyes the moment his blades hit the ice. He shared the limelight with everyone because it was for the game. It wasn’t about him.”

“Yeah like I’m going to believe anything you say” Matt sneered his face twisting in disgust “you’re just another junkie.”

***

“Things seem to be going well between you and your hockey player” Geoffrey observed from where he sat cross legged on the floor.

“They are,” Trebor sighed, closing his eyes, a soft smile crossing his lips.

“I think Lia and I are done for” he said as the quiet lengthened between them.

“What” Trebor cried, sitting up shaken from his daydream of being surrounded by kids with pink hair, all wanting to know when daddy was coming home.

Drawing circles on the floor with his index finger Geoffrey refused to meet his cousin’s gaze. “Yeah things haven’t been good for a while. Not that comes as a surprise to anyone who knows how volatile our relationship has become.”

“I’m sorry” he murmured. Trebor felt bad for him but Lia was a force to be reckoned with on the best of days. On the worst of days she could stomp all over your feelings without a second thought. Probably a good quality to have for a lawyer not so good in a relationship. “Want to talk about it” he offered, cringing a little inside as the words came out.

Geoffrey’s shoulders rose and fell “not really.”

Sitting in silence neither one knew what to say to the other. The door opened before things became too awkward. Braylin’s voice was loud as he called out “look who I found outside.”

“He’s not here,” a woman’s voice said, low and anxious.

“You said his car was parked outside” Braylin said “they have to be here. Let’s try outside by the pool.”

Getting to his feet Trebor sheepishly waved at them. Braylin smiled moving to his side. Leaning into the kiss Braylin pressed to his cheek Trebor said “hi Lia. What brings you here?”

“I’m hoping Geoffrey was here” as she spoke, her eyes swept the room, searching.

“I don’t know if he wants to talk to you,” Trebor said, measuring his words carefully.

Her face paled a little beneath her bright green hair. “Please, I need to tell him something. Then if he still doesn’t want me here I’ll go.”

Getting to his feet Geoffrey leaned against the wall trying to pull off a nonchalant attitude. “Say it and go,” he said.

Looking in his direction, her eyes were almost painful to see. Nudging Braylin in the side Trebor said “we’ll be in the other room if you need us.”

“No” Geoffrey cried “don’t go.”

The desperation in his eyes and voice made them stop. Turning towards Lia she too nodded wanting them to stay.

“I’m sorry” she began licking her lips like she was nervous.

“Is that it” he demanded incredulously “you can do better than that. Where’s the eloquent speech?”

Hugging herself tightly she half turned away “I shouldn’t have said the things I said to your parents.” She blurted the words out quickly as if she were afraid if she didn’t say them at once they’d never come out at all.

“It wasn’t just what you said” he said taking a step towards her “It was the way you said it.”

“I know” her voice quivered as her calm exterior slipped. “I just wanted to help” she gave him a beseeching look, her hands reaching out to him.

“You called them idiots” his voice was stiff, accusing. 

Her hands fell limp to her sides. “That’s the way it looked to me. Refusing my help” She glanced towards Trebor “you agreed with me when Trebor refused to listen to me about his issues at the hospital. I thought you would, with your parents too.”

“I never said you didn’t have good ideas,” he said, relenting a little. “I said you never listen to anyone once you’ve made up your mind what they ought to do.” He glared at her, his anger just below the surface. “You don’t seem to realize that other people have good ideas too. If you want others to take you seriously you need to listen to them and their concerns otherwise you’ll never be able to help them effectively.”

“I do,” she protested.

They all looked at her as if she had lost her mind. It was Geoffrey who broke the stunned silence. “You only listen when it suits you or the agenda you have. Did it even occur to you that my parents had already consulted with a lawyer? Thanks to you and your big mouth they have to start over. The property dispute was close to being resolved but now …. Who knows.” He glared at her temporarily at a loss for words. “They’re going to have to pay for another surveyor, additional lawyer fees and hope the asshole neighbors won’t be able to fight it.” He took a deep breath “that’s all thanks to you not being able to keep your big mouth shut.”

“But I…” she hung her head “I just wanted to help.”

“You made things worse” he said “you’re not a lawyer yet. I know you’re learning all kinds of things about the law. Things you want to apply but you’re not there yet.” Pausing he took steps towards her “you need to learn, to listen and occasionally keep your mouth shut.”

Nodding, she turned away tears rolling down her cheeks “I really am sorry.” As they stood and watched she turned and slipped through the door.

Trebor broke their shocked daze. “Go after her,” he urged, turning to his cousin.

Geoffrey nodded, moving towards the door, his movements stiff and disjointed. Pulling the door open he called out “Lia wait.”

Moving to the door left open by their guests Braylin asked “do you think they’ll be able to work things out?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “everyone deserves a second chance. Lia is a lot of things but she’s passionate about things and she cares about Geoffrey.”

“Yeah you’re right” he agreed, closing the door. “What’s for supper?” he asked, changing the subject.

“I thought maybe we could go out for seafood,” Trebor suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” Braylin agreed. “Maybe over dinner you’ll tell me what your mom had to say when she called this morning.”

“Maybe,” Trebor said with a sigh. He was enjoying being home. He wasn’t in any hurry to go back to the old grind but soon they’d have to.

Knights of Hope – Chapter 17 – Almost

“Mrs Bennett what can I do for you” the coach asked once the last of the players left the ice.

“I’m looking into the incident that happened at my nephew’s home a few weeks ago,” she explained.

“Oh that” he snorted “from where I’m standing there’s nothing to look into. Braylin likes his alcohol. Pity he can’t handle it. He fell off the wagon. No big mystery.”

“Maybe. Maybe not” she shrugged unconcerned with his attitude. “It is interesting that he tested positive for drugs though. I mean every addict has a gateway drug. He never seemed to be one to do drugs. What do you think caused the change?”

“Who the hell knows” he grunted “look lady I’ve got more important things to do than worry about why the guy decided to get high before taking his first drink. I’ve got a game to win.”

“Kind of callous aren’t you? I mean Braylin was one of your guys. He helped make the team as good as it is. I’d think you’d have a bit more loyalty to him.” She gave him a withering glare. “You suspended him for testing positive for drugs.”

“So” he challenged crossing his arms in front of him.

“What made you test the team? You should have known one or more might have tested positive after a night of partying.” She let her words sink in “weren’t you jeopardizing the upcoming game if you had to suspend multiple players?”

“I received a tip,” he mumbled, beginning to look uneasy. 

“Ah” she smiled like a hunting dog picking up a scent. “A tip that could have come from no one else other than someone who was at the party that night. Possibly someone who had a reason to want Braylin off the team.”

“He’s not off the team” he mumbled “anyway that’s just a bunch of guesswork.” He moved towards the locker room.

“Then tell me who your informant was” she requested “let me talk to them.”

Standing by the door hand on the handle. “If you must know it was Matt Ryan.” Opening the door he glanced inside then stepped back letting the door close behind him. Turning to Verity he said “if you can give me solid reason to believe Braylin didn’t take the drugs knowingly or willingly then he can have his position back. No questions asked. He’s the best damned Center we have. Matt is good but he spends too much time showing off than he does playing the game.” Shrugging at his own rising irritation at the boy wonder. “It would bring me immense pleasure to bring the kid down a peg or two.”

Smiling for the first time Verity nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. From what I’ve been told Matt has it out for Braylin. Do you think he’s capable of spiking Bray’s drink?”

Watching him closely as he brought his hands to his face. Rubbing the dry weathered skin and the dense salt and pepper whiskers made a sound like sandpaper running across wood. “It’s no secret that the kid threatened Braylin. I thought at the time it was just posturing. Maybe even give Braylin a little competition to keep him on his toes. Now I wonder if there wasn’t more to it.”

Nodding the coach leaned against the wall. “I’ll have a team meeting. I’ll put it out there that you’re requesting to talk to everyone. I can’t do more than that. You’re not a cop, at least not one within jurisdiction. We can’t force them to talk to you.”

“Understood” she gave him a grateful smile “I want to do whatever I can to clear his name.”

“If you do,” he grinned, “I’ll give you and your family season passes to all our games.”

“I know my son would appreciate that,” she said, wishing she could follow him inside the locker room when he turned, disappearing inside. She wanted to talk to the one and only Matt. He needed to answer for what he’d done unfortunately he also sounded like someone capable of swaying people’s opinions to back him. She was looking forward to talking to the kid and proving he’s not as clever as he thinks he is. If she could manage it she hoped to maneuver things so that when she got a confession out of him it would be in front of the entire team. That way there would be no doubt in anyone’s minds regarding Braylin. She had to figure out the right lever to use to rattle him enough to admit what he’d done.

***

“Mrs Bennett, that meal was delicious” Braylin beamed at the older woman.

“Thank you,” she patted her husband’s hand, “but I’m not the one who should be getting the credit.”

Ian grinned “you helped.”

“Well thank you both” Trebor stood gathering the plates.

“Put those down,” Ian barked at his grandson.

“You cooked” he protested “the least I can do is the dishes.”

“I’ll help,” Braylin offered, moving to follow him.

Celia stood shaking her head at both of them. “No, I’ll help. It’ll give you and Ian a chance to get to know each other.” Giving her husband a piercing gaze she admonished him “be nice.”

“What” he asked, somehow pulling off a face that both said he was offended and innocent at the same time. “I’m always nice. You’re the one always telling me I’m too nice.”

“And you are” she swooped down kissing the top of his head “I know how you are towards Trebor.”

Watching her walk away he said “I’ve been with her for over fifty years and she never ceases to amaze me.”

Frowning, Braylin looked towards the kitchen where Celia was talking to Trebor. She was old but she still had light strands of blue hair the same color as Trebor’s father. “You don’t look that old,” he observed.

“I’ll take that as a compliment” he chuckled “most days I don’t feel that old either.” Waving a hand towards the sitting area “lets talk.”

“I know what you’re going to say” he blurted as soon as they moved into the sitting room. Taking a seat in a chair while Ian sat on the couch he watched the older man carefully.

“So…you’re a mind reader” he asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Well no” he stammered “but it doesn’t take a genius to know you are protective of your grandson.”

“Yes that’s true” he agreed with a smile softening his features. “I don’t want to see him hurt. He’s been hurt enough to last a lifetime.”

“Yes I know” he nodded, leaning forward on his elbows, his hands clenched in front of him. Raising his eyes meeting the gaze of the older man. “I wish I could promise that I’ll never hurt him. I hope I don’t. I just…” he swallowed. A feeling like he was about to put his head in the guillotine overwhelmed him. “I don’t think I can promise something like that. It’s just not possible no matter how much I wish otherwise.”

His stomach hurt as it clenched, tying itself into knots as he waited for the man to seal his fate. There were so many things he could have said. All the cliches and impossible promises he’d ever heard uttered in unrealistic movies and TV shows came to mind. The sudden burst of laughter startled him more than anything the man could have said. Looking up scarcely believing his ears he asked “what?”

“Relax son,” Ian chuckled. “If you had tried to feed me the line of how you’d never hurt him I’d have known you were full of shit. Your answer was so much better than any of that dribble movies try to feed us.” He glanced over his shoulder towards the kitchen where they could hear Trebor and Celia talking and laughing together. “Celia and I had our ups and downs. At times I didn’t think we were ever going to make it.”

An expression of profound sadness marred his features. “Are you thinking of your daughter? The one who…” He stopped talking, realizing he should never have brought her up. He could see the long buried pain the mention of her had on the older man. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

“No it’s alright” he took a deep breath to steady himself. “I’m glad he told you. That means a lot. He feels safe enough with you to share that experience with you. His aunt isn’t my biological daughter. I treated her like she was mine. I loved that little girl” something in his light blue eyes showed he still did but the trauma she caused to him and his family was too much to forgive. “She’s the product of one of our down times. Celia and I had broken up when we were in college. The stress of being young teen parents proved too much for her. She wanted to enjoy the carefree lifestyle of her friends.”

Reading between the lines Braylin got the idea that Ian was the one who pushed himself to do what needed to be done. That he put his feelings aside and took care of things.

“I can’t fault her for that. I wanted to be one of the guys. I wanted to be the guy who didn’t have to go home every night to a screaming baby that kept him up all night.” Shaking his head he shrugged “I was luckier than most teen parents. I had the love and support of my parents. I wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for them.”

“Trebor told me about his great grandfather,” he spoke softly.

“They were close when Trebor was little” Ian smiled “two peas in a pod.” Nodding towards the kitchen he said “my grandson would skip school to spend the day with my dad. It broke my dad’s heart when Verity found out and insisted he not encourage his behavior. I guess it wasn’t setting a very good precedent encouraging a five year old to skip kindergarten. 

“Somehow I find that difficult to imagine,” Braylin laughed.

“Find what hard to imagine.” Trebor asked, walking in from the kitchen.

“Dishes done” he asked.

“Mostly” he grinned sheepishly “grandma wouldn’t let me touch her special bowls.”

“Still afraid you’ll break them” Ian stated in a knowing tone.

“One day you’ll be glad I was careful with them,” Celia said, joining them. “They’ll be yours when I’m gone.” Looking over at Trebor “I know you’ll take good care of them.”

“Hopefully that’ll be years from now,” Trebor said, making himself comfortable in Braylin’s lap.

***

“I almost don’t want to go back” Trebor sighed, his gaze on the deep blue sea.

Braylin was silent beside him. He watched the wind tousle Trebor’s already messy hair. “I could get used to it” he smiled down into Trebor’s surprised eyes as they stared up at him.

“Do you mean that?” he asked.

“Of course I do,” he assured him with a nod. “It’ll take a while to get used to how quiet it is. I’m used to a lot of noise but I can see us coming back here to raise our kids.”

“That’ll be years from now” he sighed, turning from him. He took a couple of steps before stopping. His brows knit together “wait a moment….”

“I was wondering how long it’d take you to notice,” he chuckled, watching him intently.

“You didn’t just propose to me did you?” he squinted into the sun trying to read Braylin’s expression.

“Hell no” , shaking profusely. He saw the flash of disappointment in Trebor’s downcast eyes. “Hey” he moved to soften his harsh words. Tilting Trebor’s chin up to him. “When I propose it’s not going to be some off handed comment. It won’t be an afterthought. It’s going to be special because that’s what you deserve. 

“Then why did  you….” his voice faded as the wind whipped his hair around.

“Because I’d like nothing more than to start a little family with you when the time is right.” He dropped his hand and began to walk along the sandy shore. Scooping up a rock he flung it into the ocean. “Right now we both have dreams that would make having kids impossible.”

“I agree but what does that have to do with getting married?” he asked.

“Would you really want to marry a mess like me?” he asked, throwing another rock into the waves. “I don’t even have a job. My life’s a mess.”

“Do I look like I care whether you have a job or not?” he demanded.

“You must otherwise you wouldn’t have asked your mom to help me clear my name” he said tossing another rock.

“That’s not why I did that” Trebor snapped walking away from the pink haired male.

“Hey where are you going?” he called, dropping the rock he was about to throw.

“Home”

Despite the raucous calls from seagulls flying overhead and the crashing waves on the shore, Braylin could hear the anger in that single word. Dropping the rock Braylin jogged up to Trebor before he could reach the road. “Hey what’s wrong” he asked “this can’t be because I said we needed to wait is it?”

Trebor stared at him in disbelief. His fairy tale world crumbled down around him. “Do you really think the only reason I asked my mom to clear your name was so that you’d get your job back?”

“Stands to reason,” he shrugged, lifting his shoulders.

“You’re such an ass” he turned and took off running.

“Shit” Braylin mumbled running after him. It didn’t take long before he was able to catch up. His hockey training and hours on the ice was no match for Trebor’s island upbringing. “If it’s not that than why? Help me understand why you’re mad at me.”

Stopping, he leaned over breathing deeply. “It was never about the job. It was always about you.” He could see in Braylin’s eyes that he still didn’t understand. “Tell me this” he demanded “why did you help me with Doctor Brackett?”

“That guy was an ass and I wasn’t going to let him take your dream away. You worked so hard to get where you are. He shouldn’t be allowed to keep you from it.”

Shaking his head Trebor said “you still don’t get it do you? That’s exactly why I asked my mom to look into this. Being a hockey player isn’t just a job, it’s your dream. I’ve seen the way you play. I’ve seen the fire in your eyes when you get on the ice. You love it. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t play. I wanted to give that back to you. Your dream. It was never about the job. It was always about you. You idiot.”

“Oh” he mumbled, feeling very much like the idiot Trebor claimed he was. “I hadn’t realized you got that.”

“Yeah I got that” crossing his arms in front of him “I may not know how to play but I recognize the drive. The dream.”

“I’m sorry” he sighed “you’ll probably never want to marry me now.”

“We’ll see” he smirked, lifting his chin up in defiance.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded, stepping closer his hand reaching out and lightly touching Trebor’s arm.

“It means exactly that” he shook his head seeing the familiar glint in Bray’s eyes “you ask me when you’re ready and we’ll see what my answer will be.”

“So you forgive me” he inquired running his hands up the man’s arms.

“Maybe” he said, backing away until his back came up against a tree. 

Braylin leaned into him, his mouth hovering above his. “Tell me what I need to do to earn your forgiveness.”

Eyes focused on the lips speaking the words that made his heart soar. “Kiss me and all will be forgiven.”

“Gladly” he smirked, bringing his hands up to gently caress the man’s face before tenderly kissing the lips longing for his touch.

Knights of Hope – Chapter 16 – Sunlit Tides

“Sleep well” Verity asked her son when he emerged from the bathroom the following morning. 

He gave her a suspicious look that deepened at the snicker his father emitted from the kitchen. “You heard” he cried wishing he could fall through the floor rather than endure the amused knowing glances between his parents.

“Son, you have nothing to be embarrassed about,” Garrett assured him, chuckling.

“We were young once,” Verity said, stopping to kiss the top of her husband’s head. “What would you like for breakfast?” she asked to get herself a cup of coffee.

“Are you cooking?” he asked, trying not to show the dismay he felt.

“As much as I know you love my cooking” she smiled over her cup. “Your father will be doing the cooking.”

“Oh good” his relief left him feeling weak. “Pancakes would be good.”

“Those are my specialty,” Garrett said, standing up and stretching.

Verity took his seat “we need to talk.”

The tone she used reminded him of when he was a kid about to receive a lecture about something he’d done. Mostly involving the importance of doing his best in school and getting good grades. Those were lectures he received before he’d buckled down in high school. After that it had been about…his mind skittered to a halt. He wasn’t ready for that talk yet.

“From the look on your face you know what I’m about to say.” She took a sip from her cup “he should know.”

“You don’t think it’s too soon,” he asked, taking a seat across from her. “I mean we’ve only been dating a few months.”

“Do you love him?” she asked, watching him closely.

His eyes shifted towards the window. The sound of the approaching train became louder the closer it got. The rattling of the windows in their frames. “I do,” he said as the train passed by his windows. His gaze met hers as he said the words.

“That’s what I thought” she nodded “I haven’t seen you this happy since…”

“Oliver” he whispered the name, shocked that he didn’t feel the usual stabbing pain in his chest uttering that name always caused.

“You know what happened to him wasn’t your fault” she reached across the table squeezing his hand. “It was a horrible terrible accident.”

Blinking back the hot tears he nodded. After all the years he was just beginning to accept that. It was why he’d been so adamant that someone tell that to Braylin. “I don’t know where or how to begin,” he murmured, “is it necessary. It’s been years.”

Lifting his chin up she spoke softly but with underlying firmness. “Yet it still forms who you are. Why you don’t drink. Why you feel the need to clear Braylin’s name. You were in his shoes once.”

“I know” his voice quivered as his eyes darted towards the bathroom door where the sound of the shower stopped. “I don’t know how to talk about it. I never talk about it.”

From the stove Garrett suggested “why don’t you and Braylin fly to Sunlit Tides? You both have the time.”

“But I…”

“Our treat” Garrett cut him off knowing his son was about to say he couldn’t afford it. 

“You’re not going to let me off the hook are you” he asked looking from one to the other of his parents.

“Nope,” they said in unison.

Verity turned to smile when Braylin walked from the bathroom, hair still damp and hanging in his eyes. “We have a surprise for you” she announced.

“You’ll like it,” Garrett grinned, handing him a plate of pancakes.

“Um great” he said sitting down handing the plate to Trebor “what is it?”

“They’re sending us to Sunlit Tides,” Trebor informed him.

“Yeah,” Garrett grinned, joining them “we thought you might want a little privacy after last night.”

Trebor smothered a laugh as Braylins face lit up like Rudolph’s red nose. “Yeah. We weren’t as quiet as we thought.”

***

Once they were unpacked and settled Trebor went outside to breathe deeply of the salty ocean breeze. “You’re not just a poor resident doctor living from paycheck to paycheck are you?”

“Not in the true sense” he leaned back enjoying the warmth of the man’s back. “I choose to make my own way without my parents’ help. If I ever need their help all I have to do is ask. Although since I turned twenty-five I have full access to my heritance.”

“So your parents are loaded,” he asked, kissing the back of his neck.

“I guess,” he shrugged. “I’ve never thought about it. I know we didn’t have to struggle for money. My parents always worked. My dad was in the coast guards. Every year during hurricane season Mom would worry that he might not come back when he was deployed to rescue someone who didn’t heed the warnings.” 

“And your mom is a cop” he asked.

“Actually a detective” he corrected, turning into Braylin’s arms. “She’s tried for years to find my Aunt.”

“The one who kidnapped you?”

Nodding he sighed “it frustrates her that she can’t find a trace of where she went. I hope she’s dead and rotting somewhere. I know that’s pretty heartless of me but I can’t help it. She’s an evil twisted woman.”

“I have a feeling you’re not telling me everything,” he said, holding the man who had become more important to him than literally everything else, including hockey.

“Maybe one day I’ll tell you about her” he sighed content and safe in his hockey player’s arms. “I don’t like thinking about her very much.”

Holding Trebor’s face between his hands he said “you don’t have to talk about her. It’s alright. You’re safe and she won’t ever hurt you again.”

“I almost believe you,” he smiled at him “but I’d feel better if she weren’t out there somewhere lurking.”

“Well” he groped for something reassuring to say or do but Trebor beat him to it.

“Let’s go to the beach” he suggested “I want to feel the sun on my face.”

“Gonna teach me how to surf,” he asked, taking Trebor’s hand.

“I could probably get someone to give you lessons,” he offered. “I know it’s weird for someone who lived his entire life on an island to never have learned how to surf but” he shrugged “that’s me.”

“We can take lessons together,” he suggested. 

“Alright” he agreed somewhat hesitantly.

“You don’t like the idea?”

“I’m not a very good swimmer either” he admitted “I’ve never been able to not think about all the sharks that might be swimming around me.”

Braylin stopped walking, staring at the man beside him. “For a guy who seems to have it all together you sure do have a lot of phobias.”

“You can blame my grandpa for this particular one” he laughed “he hates the water.”

“Will I be meeting your grandparents” he asked “or have they passed on?” He felt the familiar longing he always did when thinking of grandparents. His mind always went to his grandma and how much he still missed her. 

“Of course you’ll meet them. He’s not that old. I mean he’s not ancient. He hasn’t even hit seventy yet.”

They continued walking in silence until Trebor stopped, breathing deeping. “This is my favorite spot on the island.” he said “I always liked to come here when I needed to think about things.”

“it’s pretty secluded” he observed “I bet this was a great makeout place to bring your dates.”

“I…” he frowned. “I never thought of that. This was always my place. Kind of a secret place where I could always be alone.”

“But you brought me here” Braylin couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. “I’m honored.”

“Well” he looked around nervously “I had ulterior motives. I might not have thought of it then but I…”

“Oh” Brayling moved in close, his hands resting on Trebor’s hips. “Do you really want to do it here?” he asked, nibbling his earlobe.

“As you said it’s secluded and I want to throw caution to the wind.” His heart raced at his unexpected daring. He could feel the disbelief in Braylin’s stare. He could hardly believe it himself. 

“I think I’m going to like it here” he grinned, taking Trebor’s hand and leading him further into the island foliage.

***

“There’s one more place I need to take you,” Trebor said, his voice solemn as his calm exterior began to crumble.

Braylin felt his heart dip sure that their earlier romp on the beach was Trebor’s way of telling him goodbye. “Whatever you have to say to me you can say it here. You don’t have to take me anywhere special.”

Reaching across the short space between them Trebor took his hand. “I need you there. Please.”

The entreaty in his voice alarmed him. Telling him this request had less to do with him and more about Trebor. Something was eating at him and he needed him to be strong. “Alright” he said.

They walked along the dusty dirt road, the sun beating down upon them. “Can we stop and rest a moment?” Braylin asked, tugging off his shirt.

Frowning Trebor nodded “are you okay?”

“I’m not used to the heat” he explained “do you walk everywhere on this island?”

His shoulders moved a little “it’s just as easy to walk as it is to drive. It’s not a very big island.”

Fanning himself he grinned “at least I know how you got into such great shape. It’s all this walking.”

“We don’t have much farther to go,” he said by way of encouragement.

“Okay I’m ready” he said, getting to his feet and walking in the direction they had been going. He kept glancing at his companion. Trebor had become increasingly more silent and anxious the longer they trekked along this road. He wondered what he needed him to see. 

Trebor stopped in front of a well maintained cemetery. Opening the gate Braylin knew they had arrived at their destination.

It was a pleasant sunny outlook with birds chirping in the trees overhead. If it weren’t for the tombstones it could have been a park. Stopping in front of a gray slab, Trebor said “this is Oliver.” He sat on the grass in front of it.

Unsure what he was supposed to do he sat down beside him. “Was he a friend?” he asked, feeling that whoever this Oliver was he was more than a friend.

“We dated in high school,” Trebor explained, eyes staring straight ahead. “We had all these plans for what we would do afterwards. College. Medical school. Getting married.”

“What happened?” he asked when he fell silent.

“There was this party” he sniffed like he was crying. “Oli wanted to go but I didn’t. In the end he talked me into it.” He tugged at the grass beneath his hands, ripping it out. “It was fun the little bit I remember.”

Putting an arm around his shoulder Braylin silently encouraged him to continue.

“It was the first time I ever drank enough to get wasted. I was having fun. Letting loose. Drinking. Dancing. I never felt so free before. It was late when we decided to go home. I was in no shape to drive. Oli must have thought he was. He convinced me to give him the keys to my car. Instead of calling my parents to come get us. I should have called home. My parents would have come.” Tears were rolling down his cheeks. “I fell asleep almost as soon as we got in the car. I never saw the truck that hit us. I woke up to the sound of metal crunching and glass shattering. The smell of gasoline and the acrid scent of smoke in the air.”

Braylin pulled him closer until Trebor was nestled into him, hands twisting in his shirt. “If I hadn’t been drinking I might have been able to get Oli out. I could have saved him.”

There was little he could say or do to assuage the pain that racked the man he was holding in his arms. He now knew the reason why Trebor never drank. Why was he uncomfortable around those who do. It was understandable. It was amazing that he had been willing to be with him, a known partier. “I’m sorry” he murmured the inadequate words but wanting to offer what comfort he could.

“You needed you to know about this part of my past. I blamed myself for months afterwards. Wished I could die. That’s why I needed you to know that you weren’t to blame for me falling down the stairs. I knew it was an accident.” He was talking rapidly, needing to get the words out.

Nodding towards the gravestone Braylin asked “did he cause the accident? Was he driving drunk?”

“No” he took a wobbly breath “it was the truck driver. He fell asleep at the wheel. Oli’s blood alcohol was normal. He barely drank anything.”

“Then why….”

“It was my car. I gave him the keys” he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “It should have been me driving. I should have been the one to die. If he hadn’t been taking care of me he wouldn’t have died.” his shoulders shook as deep heart wrenching sobs wracked his body.

Chapter 15 – Someone To Believe In / Chapter 17 –

Knights of Hope – Chapter 15 – Someone To Believe In

Eli kept a lookout for his chance to catch Trebor before he left the hospital. When he came out of the doctor’s office he made his approach. “How’s the arm?” he inquired.

“I have to wear the cast for another 3-4 weeks” he shrugged “then I’ll have several weeks of therapy before I’ll know if I can come back.”

“You’re taking it fairly well considering” Eli observed.

“Yeah well” he paused. “I’m trying to be positive. Nothing else to do really short of going back in time.”

Nodding Eli sucked on his bottom lip. “How is he?” he asked.

Smiling a little Trebor knew this was really why Eli had stopped him. “Do you really want to know?” he challenged.

“Well….yeah.”

“Just making sure” he sighed “you haven’t exactly been around much checking in on him even though he’s right here in the hospital.”

“I’ve been busy,” he explained, “working more hours. It hasn’t been easy since you’ve been out of commission.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t filled my position with someone else,” Trebor said, trying not to sound as depressed as he felt. He’d worked hard to get where he was and one accident and it could all be gone.

“You left rather big shoes to fill” Eli chuckled holding his hands apart “kind of like big ass clown shoes. No one wants to be caught dead in those.”

“You’re an idiot you know that” Trebor said walking towards the nurses station to say hi to Lana before he left.

“Hey stranger” she called, running around the desk to throw her arms around him. “We’ve missed you so much. You have to come over for supper.”

“I’d like that” he said, releasing her “if that invitation includes Braylin.”

Her eyes shifted towards Eli who shrugged. “Are you two together again? Even after everything that’s happened.”

“We were never apart,” he corrected.

“But he” she met his gaze “he hurt you.”

“He did,” he nodded, “but not as much as he hurt himself. He needs me. He was there for me when I needed him. I can’t do any less.”

“What if he does it again?” she asked.

Lifting his arm “this was an accident. He never meant to hurt me. I was too close to the stairs.”

Taking a step back she shook her fluffy head. “That’s not what I was talking about. He stopped talking to you. Cut you off. I know you. That hurt worse than anything he could do to you physically.”

“Well in that case” he grinned “if he does that again feel free to have it at it.”

Taking a step forward “you’re really okay” she peered into his eyes. When he nodded she continued “alright he’s invited. How about Friday? Tell your parents to come too. I’d love to see them before they have to go home.”

“Thanks Lana” he swooped her up giving her a bear hug “you’re the best.”

Patting his back she grinned “I am going to give that boy of yours a good talking to though. Making us all worry about him like that.”

“You do that” he said releasing her “he needs to know he has people in his corner.”

***

Sitting in the backseat while his dad drove and his mom kept an eye on the map he had plenty of time to notice how uncomfortable and quiet the man beside him had become. Reaching across the seat he touched Bray’s hand.

Entwining his fingers with Trebor’s he attempted to calm his wildly beating heart. “Are you sure they want me there?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “they want you to come.” He could see his words barely scratched the surface of the man’s anxiety. “It’s going to be alright. Lana will probably give you some speech about not hurting me again. Then it’ll be over. They like you.”

“Okay” the anxiety in his blue eyes didn’t abate though.

Squeezing his hand Trebor leaned into him. “It’s been a difficult day, hasn’t it?” He knew Bray’s parents had left earlier that day. He’d worried about Braylin being alone in that apartment. He could only imagine how difficult that would be. He doubted he could do it. He’d always see the blood pooled on the bathroom floor. The steady drip as the water spilled over the edge of the tub. Squeezing his eyes shut he willed the images to the back of his mind mentally locking them away with all the other bad memories. In the place where they couldn’t hurt him anymore.”

Lana launched herself at Braylin as soon as they walked into the kitchen of their small apartment. He hesitantly moved his arms around her, returning her hug. Stepping back she swatted his upper arm. “Don’t ever do that again” she admonished him. “You made us worry about you.” Wiping her eyes she sniffed “I hate crying and you made me cry.”

“I’m sorry” he apologized at a loss for what he should do or say.

“Hey” Eli called from the stove “hands off my girl.”

“She’s the one attacking me,” Braylin protested. The knot in his stomach slowly unraveled. 

“She’s supposed to be yelling at you, not giving you hugs,” Eli said, stirring something on the stove. “You know something to the effect of. You are never to hurt our boy like that again.”

“Eli” she objected “I’m allowed to change my mind.”

“Hey you’re the one who said….” he ducked when she launched a sponge at his head. “I’m just saying….”

“That was before…”

“Before what?” Braylin asked curiously.

“Before I saw you and realized you were hurting too” she walked over to the stove. “Now go set the table before you say anything else and ruin my meal.”

“Why are you mad at me?” Eli whined pouting as he got the dishes from the cupboard.

After supper they gathered in the living room. A small comfortable space barely large enough to accomodate all of them. “So how’s it going?” Eli asked, directing his words to Verity.

“How’s what going?” she asked evasively.

“You know the case” he persisted, missing Lana’s eye roll towards Braylin and her slight shake of the head.

“It’s going well. I’m meeting with a few people tomorrow” Verity tried to answer and be vague enough to not provide much information.

“No one’s admitting to spiking Brays drink then” he asked, making it impossible now to make it sound like it was anything else.

Hearing his name Braylin sat up from where he was leaning into Trebor. “Are you investigating me?” he asked looking around the room. His eyes coming to rest on the man beside him.

“I asked her to” he explained “please don’t be upset. I’m positive I’m right. I never believed you’d take drugs or hurt me.”

He swallowed, feeling everyone’s eyes upon him. “Alright I can appreciate that. It’s just hard to imagine anyone doing something like that on purpose.”

“Mom, what have you found out?” Trebor asked. 

“Not much I’m afraid” , sighing she continued “I know you want to clear Bray’s name but I don’t know if we can.”

“But you said it was possible for someone to spike his drink” Trebor’s voice rose. “You can’t give up. Not now. You said that Matt had motive.”

“He does but getting him to admit it is another thing” she explained “right now we have no proof.”

“Matt” he asked “you think he spiked my drink. Why? I mean he’s a jerk. I didn’t think he was that much of a jerk.”

“Did you at one time date his sister” Verity asked “he claims you killed her.”

“I what” he cried jumping to his feet. “I’d never intentionally hurt anyone. You’ve got to believe me.” His last sentence was directed to Trebor.

“I believe you. Always have” he held his hand out until Braylin took it and sat down again.  “Mom, did you find anything at all helpful?”

“All I know for sure is Matt’s sister Lindsey died instantly in a car accident when she was hit by a drunk driver…”

“It wasn’t me” Braylin insisted “I’ve done a lot of stupid shit while I was wasted but driving while intoxicated wasn’t one of them.”

“Did you ever lend your car to someone who might have” she asked.

“I don’t know. I might have” he frowned “but surely the cops would have asked me questions if it had been my car.”

***

Later that night Braylin and Trebor lay in each other’s arms on the floor of Trebor’s apartment. Pressing his lips to the side of Trebor’s face he asked “why do you believe in me so much?”

“You never gave me a reason not to” he turned his head enough to capture Braylin’s lips with his own moaning softly. “I wish my parents weren’t in the next room.”

“We could have stayed at my place” he ran his hand across his chest and stomach. He felt the shiver that ran through Trebor’s body. Pulling away he let the blanket fall down around him. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you found me like that.” He buried his face in his knees. “I never thought…I just wanted the pain to end.”

“You don’t have to apologize” Trebor moved up beside him running his fingers through the soft pink hair. “I’m so glad I was there. That I got to you in time. Nothing else matters. Just you.”

“Really” he asked, lifting his face up.

“Yes really” he gently wrapped his arms around the man he loved more than he ever expected. “I had such an awful feeling that something was wrong. Like there was a ticking time clock counting down the minutes. I knew I had to get to you. Dad even got a ticket speeding across the town to get me there.”

“He did that for me” his voice was muffled as his face was resting on Trebor’s shoulder. “And your mom really believes I was set up.”

“Of course,” Trebor assured him, kissing the top of his head. Sighing when Braylin’s hands moved across his back and down his spine coming to rest on his hips, his fingers just below the elastic of his sweatpants. “We’ll have to be quiet” he said in answer to the silent question in Braylin’s eyes as he gazed up at him.

Smiling his hands moved further down pulling his sweats down around his thighs. “I’m not the one who makes all the noise.” He lifted his head from Trebor’s shoulder, cutting off the retort he was about to make. Rolling him onto his back Braylin let his hands wander across Trebor’s body. He kept his eyes on Trebor’s watching them ignite with desire as he explored his body. Dipping his head down he ran his tongue down his body stopping just above his target.

Biting his fingers Trebor moaned softly. It was an effort not to give vent to the waves of pleasure overwhelming him as Braylin performed his magic on him. Looking in the man’s eyes he could see his hockey player knew what sweet torture he was inflicting on him. At that moment he didn’t care who was just one wall away. He needed this connection, this bond between them.

Chapter 14 – Soulmate / Chapter 16 – Sunlit Tides

Knights of Hope – Chapter 14 – Soulmate

They walked in silence for a block or two before Garrett turned to his wife. “What do you really think about all of this?” he asked.

“Honestly….I don’t know” she glanced up towards the skyline. “I miss being able to see the stars.”

A small smile tugged at his lips. “I know what you mean. I miss the island too.”

“He’ll come home,” she assured him.

“Not for a while” he sighed. “You want to prove that boy innocent don’t you? Because we can’t reach our daughter, you want to help him.”

Stiffening in his arms at the mention of Avalon or Lonnie as her friends called her. Ava only to her family. “Yes. Maybe a little. Mostly for Trebor. He needs this. He needs Braylin to be the guy he thinks he is.”

“What if he’s not?” he asked. “His own parents seem so sure this is just the beginning of another bender….”

“Are they any different than us?” she asked. “How many times has Ava done something similar? She’s been pulled over for driving under the influence. Possession. I could go on but you get my point. You get numb after a while.” She stroked his cheek “but the pain is in their eyes and hope that this time will be different. They want their son to have a win. This victory over his drinking. I want it too. For them. For Trebor. For all of us.”

So where do we begin” he asked, admiring her ability to focus on what needs to be and still keep in mind the people involved. He remembered a time when that same focus and drive almost tore them apart. They both had so much to learn back then. 

“It began at a party. Trebor swears that they hadn’t been drinking before they arrived.” Pausing she considered what she knew “the real question is would he have noticed if Braylin was drinking beforehand or not.”

“I’m pretty sure he would,” Garrett said without a trace of doubt in his voice. “You know how sensitive he is about anyone drinking. I’m surprised he even went to the party.”

“That’s what I was thinking too” she nodded. “I assume he went because Braylin wanted to introduce him to his friends and teammates.”

“That makes sense” he shrugged “so sometime during the party someone got close enough to spike his drink.”

“It’s been known to happen” she thought for a moment. “It must have been close to the time they arrived. Trebor says they weren’t there long before Braylin was complaining about having a headache.”

“And it was after that he started acting differently,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t sound like someone out to get wasted. I mean he would have known he wasn’t sick. He wouldn’t have wanted to draw attention to himself.”

“Unless he didn’t expect it to affect him like it did” she thought for a moment. “But I think you’re right. He would have acted differently. You don’t tell a doctor you’re not feeling well and not expect him to worry about you.” Taking a step or two she sighed “right now all we have is Trebor’s assumptions and our own. We need to talk to others who were there.”

“Why don’t we make a visit to my cousin then” Garrett suggested. “The party was held at Joseph’s house. He should be able to tell us something.”

“He’ll probably be touchy on the subject”  she said “his parents are concerned about his partying.”

“At this point I’m hoping we’ll scare some sense into him,” he said, taking her hand as they walked. “I don’t understand kids today. Why do they think getting wasted is such a good time?”

“Careful your age is showing” she giggled as he turned to glare at her.

“I am not that old,” he grumbled.

“You are to a twenty something year old” she laughed, “but to me you’re still that kid who had a crush on me.”

Wrapping his arms around her “that’s right” he smirked. “You’re older than I am. So….if I’m old what does that make you?”

Pushing against him she retorted “three years is not that much of a difference. It does not make me ancient or a cougar.”

“I’m not complaining” he pulled her close to him “I like my hot older woman.”

“You say the dumbest things” she huffed pretending to be offended.

“But you love me anyway,” he said, peering deeply into her eyes.

Her tongue flicked out, licking her bottom lip “more and more every day.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear” he squeezed her tight. “Should I give Joseph a call to see if we can come by later?”

“Yeah let’s set that up” she agreed “we can bring Trebor along with us. Get him out of the house. Maybe it’ll jog some more memories.”

“Be good for him” he nodded, pulling his phone out. Sniffing the air he grinned “maybe we should pick up some food too while we’re here?”

Patting his stomach “are you hungry again” she laughed at the face he gave her.

“I can’t help it if I’m a bottomless pit,” he retorted. 

“I’ll go get it while you make the call” she said walking away.

“Oh hey Joseph this is your cousin Garrett….Yeah Trebor’s dad….We’re in town for a few days and would like to get together.” A pause ensued while Joseph thought about it obviously not overjoyed at the prospect of them visiting. “Tomorrow’s fine.” He smiled as he put his phone away.

Joining his wife she asked “what’s wrong?” 

“I’m not sure,” he shrugged. “It sounded like there was a party going on. He wasn’t keen on us stopping by but agreed to see us tomorrow.”

“Probably afraid we’ll tell his dad” she said.

“Yeah maybe” he shrugged dismissing it for now. “Let’s get back. I’m starving.”

***

Joseph opened the door wide to them. Yawning as he mumbled a greeting to his guests as they filed past him into his home.

“Were you up all night?” Verity aske taking in his disheveled hair and blood shot eyes.

“Mom” Trebor objected edgy as he stood near the spot he’d landed after his headlong fall down the stairs. 

“Oh hey Trebor” Rory said coming down the stairs “I didn’t know you were coming over.”

Shrugging he replied “my parents wanted to see where Joseph lived.” Rory looked tired but he didn’t have the same bloodshot eyes as Joseph did.

“I wanted to say how sorry I am about Braylin” he said “he was a good guy. Wish I’d had the chance to get to know him better.”

“Don’t count him out just yet” Trebor protested “He may come back. Better than ever.”

“That’s not what Coach says” Joseph asserted. “I’m pretty sure Matt has been given his position on the team already.”

Trebor could feel the anger welling up inside him. Even more so at the snide tone Joseph was using in regards to the team. “Bray’s the best center your team has ever had” he asserted stepping into his cousin’s face wanting nothing more than to shove his fist down his throat.

“Not anymore he’s not” he retorted. “Matt can skate circles around him. After what he did I’d think you’d want him to suffer.”

“It was an accident” he asserted through clenched teeth.

Rolling his eyes Joseph shook his head “you really are stupid aren’t you?”

He lunged forward, his arm being caught by his dad before he could deliver the blow he’d been wanting to deliver ever since his cousin began talking. 

“That’s enough boys,” Garrett said, standing between them with a hand to his son’s heaving chest.

Taking advantage of the distraction Verity pulled Rory into the living room away from the others. “Were you here the night my son was hurt?” she asked.

Eyes turning towards the other he nodded “yeah. I joined the team when Joseph did. I kind of convinced him to throw the party. Thought it’d be a good way to meet and get to know everyone on the team. I didn’t know Braylin would come. I was told he usually didn’t.”

“Why do you think he came this time?” she asked, taking a seat on the couch looking expectantly up at the young man.

Hesitantly he joined her. “I think it was because of Matt giving him a hard time. Kind of threatening him.”

“Threatening how” she asked, keeping her tone curious, interested not intense as she sensed this could be what she was looking for.

“Well he kept saying things like Braylin should be careful. To watch his back. You know stuff like that.” He shrugged “what does it matter?”

“Everyone at the party knew Matt wanted Braylin’s position” Rian said as he entered the room.

“Oh come on,” Joseph cried, joining them. “Matt was trying to make amends. He even made them drinks. Non alcoholic ones” He said before anyone asked. “If you don’t believe me, ask John. He’ll tell you. He even tasted them.”

“Doesn’t that seem odd to you?” Verity asked. All the young faces turned to look at her. “Think about it. If Matt wanted to spike Braylin’s drink he had the perfect opportunity.”

“He couldn’t have known which drink he’d take,” Joseph scoffed. “Sure Matt was jealous. Who wouldn’t want to be center on a winning team?”

Verity was silent for a moment considering his words. “You’re right unless Matt handed the drinks to Braylin and Trebor. He would have known which one was spiked and could make sure that’s the one Braylin took.” She glanced at her son.

“That’s what he did” he nodded “at the time I didn’t think anything of it. Now though when I reached for the cup I initially reached for the one he gave to Bray.”

“That doesn’t prove anything” Joseph insisted although some of his certainty was gone.”If he wanted Braylin’s position on the team all he had to do was work for it. He’s good. He’d have gotten his chance.”

“Not likely” Rory shook his head “yeah he’s good but not good enough.”

“Just because we lost the last couple of games……”

“Games we should have won if Matt wasn’t hot dogging it on the ice” Rory grumbled in disgust. “He’s more interested in showing off that he gave the other team plenty of opportunities to steal the puck. Which they did.”

“Doesn’t sound like much of a team player if you ask me” Garrett chimed in.

“Yeah well” Joseph fell silent a moment then said “that’s still not enough to convince me that he’d deliberately want to hurt Braylin.”

“Unfortunately it happens all the time” Verity said “I think he might have had other motivations though.”

“Such as” Rian asked after everyone else had fallen into a glum silence.

“That’s what I’m hoping to find out” she stretched getting to her feet. “I guess I’m looking for a reason why Matt might be out to get him.”

Frowning, Rian nodded “I seem to recall Matt saying something about his sister…”

“She was killed in a car accident,” Rory added, looking towards Joseph for confirmation.

“Didn’t he claim Braylin was responsible for her death” Trebor asked to the room as a half remembered conversation came to mind.

The others all shrugged, shaking their heads. “I guess I have some research to do. Anyone know if Braylin was involved in a fatal drunk driving incident?”

Trebor shivered at her words. Memories of a past he’d rather not remember came to mind. Things he’d rather keep buried. It was like he’d been teleported back in time and space. Screeching tires. Shattering glass as the front window caved in from the impact. The smell of gasoline as it leaked from the lines. Smoke. The sound of screams. He yelped when someone’s hand touched his shoulder. 

“Son are you ready to go” his dad’s voice gente but concerned woke him from his nightmare.

“Um yeah” he nodded “I should check on Braylin at the hospital.” He turned towards the door ignoring the various expressions of those in the room.

***

Braylin stared out the nearby window. He didn’t move when the door opened. Distantly he heard his parents talking to someone. Probably a doctor. Not his doctor though. His doctor hadn’t been there. Probably wouldn’t be ever. The voices faded and the door closed. Silence. Assuming he was alone he turned his head from the window. He gasped when his eyes fell upon his doctor. Averting his eyes he asked “what are you doing here Doctor Bennett?”

“You scared the living shit out of me” he said the first thing that came to mind. He meant to say I love you. Don’t ever do this to me again. I don’t know what I’d do without you. But nope none of that came out of his mouth.

“You weren’t supposed to find me” he mumbled, moaning a little when he tried to lift his arm up to cover his face.

“I was worried about you” his voice was harsher than he expected it to be. All the bottled up anger and fear coming out at once. “You weren’t answering my calls. Returning my messages. What the hell did you expect me to do?”

“Forget about me. Let me go” he whispered. “All I ever do is disappoint the people who care about me. My dads. My brother. You. The team. Everyone.”

The anger drained from him leaving him drained. Crumbling onto the edge of the bed he stroked Braylin’s fingers. “You haven’t disappointed me. Not once. Not ever.”

“Look at you” he motioned with his chin. “I did that to you. All because I had to have a god damned drink.”

Trebor stared at his cast for a moment. “This wasn’t your fault.

Hissing as if he were in pain Braylin said “I know what I did. I knocked you down a flight of stairs. You could have broken your neck. You could have died.”

“But you didn’t” gently he reached his good hand out to stroke the man’s face.

Turning away from his touch Braylin cried “I’m dangerous to be around. A loser.”

“No you’re not” he insisted “I’m not going away no matter how hard you try to make me go.”

Sniffling Braylin turned to gaze at him, confusion in his eyes. “Why?”

“Because….I love you” he said, noticing the way Braylin’s eyes became wide with wonder and hope. “You never gave up on me. Not once when I tried to pretend I had everything under control. You saved me because you knew I was in trouble.” He leaned forward placing a tender kiss on Braylin’s forehead. “Now it’s my turn. You need help. I’m not giving up on you.”

“I don’t deserve you,” he murmured.

“That’s enough of that kind of talk” Trebor said “you can’t help who you fall in love with. We both knew the first time we got together that it was leading us to this point. We’re soulmates and all that jazz.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in that stuff.”

“I lied,” he grinned, seeing how Braylin’s eyes lit up. “I was afraid of admitting it. Running his fingers through Braylin’s somewhat greasy pink hair he continued “I really don’t know what I’d do without my hockey player.”

“I hope you never have to find out,” he said, all too aware of how close it was. They reached for each other’s hands simultaneously, their fingers intertwining. 

“Don’t ever do that again” Trebor commanded softly “I can’t lose anyone else.”

Chapter 13 – Hope / Chapter 15 – Someone To Believe In

Knights of Hope – Chapter 13 – Hope

Trebor could feel the tremors coursing through his body. The adrenaline made his hands shake when he needed them to be steady. The aftermath of trying to keep someone alive who had every intention of dying. The whispered plea “I don’t want to hurt you anymore.” Even then his last thoughts were of him.

Jumping to his feet he made a beeline towards the doors marked surgery. “Excuse me sir. You can’t go back there.” A nurse blocked his path, preventing him from going any further.

“I need to know how he’s doing” he attempted to go around her.

“The doctors will come out and talk to you” she assured him, crossing her arms in front of her ample bosom. 

Short of picking her up and moving her he didn’t have any other choice but complying. Sitting down his leg bouncing up and down in rhythm to the chaos inside his head.

“Son,” his father’s voice calm and steady beside him “they’re doing all they can.”

“What if he lost too much blood?” he asked “what if I didn’t do enough while we waited for the ambulance?”

Putting an arm around his son’s shoulders Garrett said “you did all you could do. He’s lucky you found him when you did. I’m so proud of you.”

“I should have known he was in trouble,” Trebor said, giving voice to the jumbled thoughts running through his head. “I should have tried harder to see him. I shouldn’t have given up so easily.”

“You didn’t know,” Garrett said, his words pinging off him like ricochet’s.

“I should have known” his gruff and stubborn “He was there for me and where was I when he needed me?”

“You were right where you belonged” Verity’s voice startled both of them. “You can spend your entire life second guessing yourself or you can accept that bad things happen that we can’t prevent no matter how much we wish we could.” She held her son’s face between her hands. “You followed your gut instinct that was telling you something was wrong. You were right. You could have ignored it. Hating yourself forever for not following it. That luckily didn’t happen. He’s still fighting or the doctor’s would be out here right now telling us they did all they could.”

Nodding he felt her fingertips drying his tears. She was right. He had been there when it mattered. “I should clean up” he murmured for the first time, realizing he was still covered in blood.

“You’re in luck” she held up a bag “I brought you some clean clothes to change into. You might want to have someone change that cast before you get an infection or something.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks Mom” he smiled gratefully at her as he took the bag from her fingers. She ruffled his hair “Mom stop. I’m not a little kid.”

“You’re my kid” she kissed his forehead “forever and always. Now scoot. Go get cleaned up.”

Standing he could feel how tired he was. “I should call his parents.” In his present state it felt like an impossible task. He had no desire for their first conversation to be him informing them of their son’s attempted suicide. 

“I already took care of that,” Verity informed him. “They’ll be here sometime tonight.”

“But….how” he asked although at this point he was sure he should’ve been beyond being surprised.

“You’re dad asked me to” she smiled at him “it’s the least we could do. You don’t have to do this on your own. We’re here to help. Now go. Get cleaned up.”

His parents would never cease to amaze him. He shuffled towards the bathroom. “Is it true?” Eli’s familiar voice called as he and Lana came around the corner.

Taking a good look at Trebor’s condition Lana nodded “it is true.”

“He’s still in surgery” he said to their unasked questions. “I don’t know how he’s doing.”

“I’ll go check on him,” Eli offered.

“Are you holding up alright?” Lana asked him.

“I’m still in shock I think” he said “my parents are here. Arrived this morning. Thanks for calling them.”

“You’re welcome” she said “I never thought he’d do something like this. I was just so mad at him…”

“I’ve already beat myself up over this” Trebor said “let’s not blame each other. Let’s promise to be more supportive in the future.”

“You’re right,” she said, moving in to give him a hug. She stopped just before touching him.

“I know,” he nodded, “I’m a mess. Mom brought me clean clothes to change into. I was just going to do that when you arrived.”

“Don’t let me stop you then” she smiled “I’ll go talk to your parents while you change.”

By the time he left the bathroom a doctor was talking to his parents. He knew he wouldn’t get much information about Braylin’s condition but any would be better than none. “Doctor Bennett the only thing we can share is that Mr McGavin is in critical condition but we expect him to make a full recovery thanks to your quick thinking.” He paused, frowning at the sight of the bloodied cast. “You should have that cast changed before infection sets in.”

“I’ll do that” he assured the doctor “I just needed to hear how Braylin was doing before I could consider anything else.”

***

The following afternoon Trebor found himself alone sitting beside Braylin’s bedside. Braylin’s dads insisted he sit with him despite his protests to the contrary. As a doctor he’d been inside this room or similar rooms seeing families at their worst. Crying over some loved one they were about to lose. It was the first time he found himself in the role of a heart-stricken family. 

The doctors had repaired the damage Braylin did to himself. Pumped him full of blood to replace what he lost. Risk of infection was high. Trebor could list all the things that could yet go wrong jeopardizing his recovery. One of the many hazards of being a doctor. He knew how close he’d come to losing Braylin altogether. If he’d been even a minute later than he was. it would have been too late. 

Closing his eyes, his hand crumpling the letter within his fingers. He couldn’t lose anyone else. The crumpling sound caught his attention. Braylin’s dad had found a letter Braylin had written to him. The words blurred as tears formed running down his cheeks. He didn’t want to read it. The words felt like a boulder crushing him. His brain insisted on forming the disjointed letters into words and the dreaded letter took shape. 

To my love, my beautiful Trebor,

It’s difficult to know what to write here & I’m not sure where to begin except to say, above all, that I am truly sorry for any pain that I have caused you since the moment that we met. To you I have always appeared so strong & levelheaded. To say that wasn’t planned in some way would be a lie, one of many that I have told throughout my life. It was the only lie that I ever led you to believe about me though. The truth is that I suppose I never moved past that boy who always had everything to prove to the world & to himself. 

The words that I spoke, the moments that we shared & the feelings that I have/had for you have all been true. You are the most incredible person I’ve met & to know you, the most magical part of my life. Stupid me. I always thought that hockey was the only love of my life & all that I’d ever need. That all changed when I saw that glimmer in your eyes for the first time. You gave me purpose & you held me up on days when I felt as though I was nothing more than a shell, even if you never knew. You saved me far longer than I thought that anyone could. 

I fucked up. I failed. I wanted nothing more than to be the man that you wanted, that you needed, someone worthy of your love. I let you down just as I have yet again let my family down. For the last time. I assured you all that I was clean & would remain that way forever. I’m sorry that I could not keep that promise. You deserve so much more & I feel like the biggest asshole for allowing you to waste so much time & energy on a piece of shit like me. I guess I’m selfish. I guess I’ve always been selfish. 

Please tell my family that I’m sorry & that I love them. Tell them that I said ‘thank you’ for the many chances that they gave to me. Tell my brother that I’m sorry I was never there for him in the ways that I should’ve been. Much like you, Bodhi too deserved so much more than I was capable of giving. 

My love for you grew each time that I laid eyes on you. No one in this world has ever made me feel the way that you did. Thank you for saving me from myself more times than I care to admit. This isn’t your fault. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I am far from the man that I always wished to be & there’s no reason for me to continue to suffer or to cause others to suffer just for loving me. 

Trebor, I love you so much. There are no words to express how happy you made me. You’ll go on to greatness; I know that you will. You’ll find someone who can make you much happier than I ever could. When you find that, don’t turn your back on it. You deserve it so much. You deserve the universe & every star it holds. I wish so fucking much that I could’ve given that to you. 

Goodbye to you, my heart & soul. I love you. I’m sorry. 

Bray

The letter slipped from his stiff cold fingers floating softly to the floor. “Why” he cried, lifting his head to gaze at Braylin’s face. The still silent figure of the man he loved cut him to his soul. The gentle beeping of the nearby monitor; the only sound in the room. “Why Bray? ” he cried, burying his face in his hands. “I never asked you to be more than you were.” He reached for Bray’s hand, careful not to disturb the banadages. “I only wanted you to see yourself the way I saw you. You are so much more than you give yourself credit for.”

The door opened behind him. He dabbed at his eyes, drying the tears that streaked his face. The sound of paper rattling as someone picked up the letter that had fallen forgotten to the floor. 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have shown this to you” a low voice spoke behind him. “I thought it’d help to know what he was thinking when he….” the man’s voice became choked up as he too fought tears.

“You must hate me,” Trebor cried, jumping from the hard, uncomfortable chair. His muscles were stiff and tired. He wanted nothing more than to run and keep running.

“What” the man behind him asked. If Trebor could believe what his ears were telling him the man sounded genuinely shocked at his statement.

“It’s all my fault” he cried, giving voice to the jumbled thoughts inside his head. “If he hadn’t felt pressured to be what he thought I wanted he’d never have done this.” He flinched when the older version of Braylin touched his shoulder.

“This wasn’t your fault” the older man spoke with conviction. “I’m glad he had you. My son” his voice cracked “he had his demons. He tried to beat them. I had hoped…believed he had.”

Jerking away he paced the small room. “No, he had beaten them. He….” his chest heaved “he wouldn’t have hurt me. No matter what. It was an accident. I was too close to the stairs. Lost my balance.” He ran a hand through his hair trying to formulate his thoughts into words.

“That doesn’t change the fact that he’d fallen off the wagon. Drank. Took drugs. It was too much for him.”

Whirling around to face the man he found that both Braylin’s dad were there, holding each other’s hands. “With all due respect you don’t know him. Not really. He’s changed.” He raised a hand to ward off their words to the contrary. “He wasn’t drinking. Not once.”

“That’s what he wanted you to believe” the blue haired man said “he’s a master of hiding it.”

Shaking his head, chin wobbling. “I don’t believe you. He wanted to be the son you’d be proud of. He wanted to be the model big brother. He was driven to be the best on and off the hockey rink. He was kind and loving. Always willing to lend a helping hand even when I didn’t think I needed his help. He always went beyond my expectations.” Wiping his eyes he turned facking Braylin lying silent on the bed. “He always made me feel safe.”

“That’s the way we always hoped he’d be” the man’s voice was full of regret. Trebor recognized the tone. The years of worry and disappointment had built up to the point they didn’t know what to believe. They hadn’t been in their son’s life for years kept at a distance. Fear from both sides no doubt.

“He is that way” he stated firmly “I refuse to believe he took those drugs willfully. Something happened that night” walking towards the door “I’m going to find out what.”

***

Trebor drummed his fingers on the table waiting for someone to say something. With each passing second he wanted to ask them to say something. Anything.

Verity lifted her eyes. She met his gaze and nodded. “It won’t be easy to prove. It’s been too long.”

His initial excitement dwindled. An oppressive weight pressed on his chest. “I know he didn’t do this on purpose. Someone had to have spiked his drink.”

Placing a hand over his, she gave him a gentle smile. “I didn’t say it was impossible. I said it’s been too long and it would be difficult.”

“Listen to your mother,” Garrett said from across the table “if anyone can find proof that someone did this she can.”

They exchanged glances. Years of love and respect passed between them. Something Trebor had hoped he’d have with Braylin. He wanted that with Braylin. “Anything. I’ll do anything for him. No matter how difficult it is. He saved me once when I thought everything I’d worked for was lost. I have to do the same for him.” He looked up at his parents, “hockey is everything to him.”

Ruffling her son’s hair Verity shook her head at him. “No, not everything. If that was the case this wouldn’t have hurt him so much. He loves you. Feels he disappointed you.”

Blinking rapidly he asked “did you read the letter he wrote me?”

“We did” she glanced at her husband before adding “his parents wanted our opinion on whether or not to give it to you. They found it. I’m sorry.”

“Yet you still want to help me clear his name,” he said, making it sound like a question.

“Of course,” Garrett said, speaking firmly “we don’t give up on people.”

“His dad’s aren’t giving up,” he protested. “They’re scared. Hurt.”

“They are. If you’re right about this then we can give them back a little bit of hope and faith in their son” Verity asserted.

“So what do we do first?” he asked, wiping his eyes, drying them on the backs of his hands.

“First” she glanced at Garrett who nodded in agreement. “We make a list of anyone who might have a grudge against Braylin.”

“Do you mean like ex lovers or teammates?” he asked.

“That’s a place to start” she patted his hand before opening her phone to make notes. “Anyone you can think of?”

He stared out the window thinking through the jumbled memories of the past several months. Shaking his head about to say he didn’t know when pieces of a half forgotten conversation came to mind “There is someone. He’s new to the team. He took Bray’s position on the team. He…” frowning he tried to remember what it was that made him uneasy about him. Shaking his head “that night is such a hazy blur. There’s something I ought to remember but I can’t. It’s just not coming to me.”

“It’s alright” Verity assured him. “I’ll do some checking around. If you remember what it is, tell me.”

Getting up from the table he said “I’m going to lie down.” He took a few steps. Stopped. Turned “I think his name was Matt. The guy who took Bray’s place.”

“Get some rest, ” Verity said, shooing him from the room. “You’re father and I will go for a walk.”

Chapter 12 – Ticking Clock / Chapter 14 – Soulmate

Knights of Hope – Chapter 12 – Ticking Clock

Author’s Note: This chapter deals with the sensitive topic of suicide and suicidal thoughts. Please read with care. You’re wellbeing is more important than reading a potentially triggering story. Be safe and well.

There wasn’t enough air in the small dark room. He heard someone say his name but it didn’t matter. He had to go. He couldn’t stay. He took off running as soon as his feet hit the well lit hospital corridor. He felt somehow removed from the moment. He saw startled faces of nurses and doctors as he charged past them. It didn’t matter. None of it did. What mattered was the man lying in that hospital bed. He did that.

He burst through the glass doors gasping for breath. His lungs struggling to drag in enough oxygen to keep him going. Turning in circles he couldn’t figure out where he was. His car was gone. “Fuck” he said loud enough to make several heads to turn in his direction.

It wasn’t until he hailed a passing taxi that he realized he’d come out a different door and his car was near the emergency entrance. He’d come back for it. He couldn’t face seeing anyone else. 

Resting his forehead on the cool glass he closed his eyes. Trebor’s bruised face swam in front of him. He did that. It was on repeat inside his head repeating over and over again.

“Hey mister,” the driver shouted from the driver’s seat. “You aren’t going to get sick in my taxi.”

“No” he shook his head sitting up, wrapping his arms snug around his stomach.

“You don’t look good,” the man observed.

“I’m fine,” he assured the man. Turning he watched the buildings and pedestrians on the sidewalks as they glided past his window. What kind of horrors lay beneath those calm exteriors? He never thought about other people’s lives before and what they might have experienced in their lives. Thanks to him he gave Trebor another nightmare to endure.

He wanted to be something good. There was something about the way Trebor looked up at him. He never once held his past against him even though he had obvious issues with the things Braylin had done in the past. If he could believe Eli even now lying in a hospital, Trebor didn’t hate him. That was so typical of the kind of man he was.

Walking into his apartment he was confronted again with his failure. His so-called friend had only encouraged him down his destructive path instead of trying to stop him. His stomach churned at the sight of all the empty beer bottles scattered around the room. It reeked of stale beer. Locking himself away inside his room he was able to close the door on the mess and breathe fresher air.

Kicking his shoes and socks off he stumbled into the bathroom. Starting the shower he stepped inside letting the hot water pelt down upon his sore tired body. His clothes were soon soaked through to the skin. He didn’t care. He was past caring. Sinking down inside the tub he drew his knees into his chest shivering. He had nothing left. He’d lost it all. Ruined it all. Deep wracking sobs tore through his body leaving him weak, tired and hurting.

***

Two weeks later Trebor stared at his phone. None of his messages had been returned. It was like they fell into a black hole never to be heard from again. Pulling his feet up, pressing his knees into his chest. Leaning forward a low moan escaped as he rested his forehead on his knees.

Raising his free hand he wiped the wetness from his cheeks. He thought he was done with crying. The pain in his heart seemed to have taken up permanent residence inside him. After he lost Oliver he hadn’t hurt this bad. Did that mean he hadn’t really loved him the way he always thought he did? Or had enough time passed that the pain was dissipating? Or had he just reached a new level of pain? Was it even worth it? 

Every time he closed his eyes he saw Bray’s face. Not the way it was the night of the party. That wasn’t really him. It wasn’t the person he’d come to know. The person he loved.

A sharp knock on his apartment door had his heart leaping to his throat. Could it be? Unfolding his legs he raced to the door. A smile spread across his face anticipating who it’d be on the other side. “It’s about time…..” his smile faded as he came face to face with his parents. The crushing disappointment left him feeling weak and weighed down.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” his mother demanded her arms crossed in front of her.

“I….um” scratching his head he shrugged. It wouldn’t do any good for him to say he hadn’t thought of it. Or that he didn’t think it was important enough for them to fly all the way from Sunlit Tides to see him. Glancing towards his dad, his eyes silently pleading for him to intervene.

“Verity honey, he’s a grown man,” Garrett said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “He doesn’t have to tell us everything.”

“Thanks Dad” he blinked back tears when the older man pulled him into a bear hug.

“We’re here to offer our support” he explained “besides once your mother found out there was no way we weren’t dropping everything and coming here.”

“I knew I should have done a background check on that guy,” she asserted. “Did you know he had a history of drinking?”

“Mom please” his voice rose. “I don’t need to know every detail of his past. All I need to know is who he is right now.”

“The evidence says otherwise” she snorted, tapping a fingernail on the cast around his arm.

“This was an accident” he asserted.

“You don’t need to protect him” she cried “I’ve seen a lot of cases like this in my time. You don’t have to cover for him.”

“I’m not covering for him” he yelled “It was an accident. It wasn’t his fault.”

“We believe you son” Garrett gave his wife a severe frown shaking his head when she would have added something more to further her argument.

“You do?” he asked, gaping at his dad.

“I do” he nodded “you’ve always been keen to see the good in people. I trust your instinct.”

“I just want my baby to be safe” Verity conceded giving him a hug. “When I see my babies hurting I want to get the person who hurt them.”

“Mom I’m alright” he assured her “my arm will be good as new after a little bit of physical therapy once the cast comes off.”

Touching his face she smiled. “I’m sure you will be. You have your great grandfather’s willpower to make your dreams come true despite any obstacles thrown at you.”

Her words brought a smile to his face. “Thanks mom, I needed to hear that.”

“Now” she grabbed his shoulders “you’re much too thin. Haven’t you been eating.”

“Mom…” his protest fell on deaf ears as she went to inspect the kitchen for supplies. He would  have followed her but a light touch on his arm stopped him. 

“Let her alone,” Garrett said, “it makes her feel like she’s doing something. I’ll stop her from actually cooking. Have you heard from him since that happened?”

“Who?” he asked, watching his mom rummaging through his cupboards.

“You know who” his dad’s voice was firm and implacable.

Turning he shook his head “he won’t return my calls. I…” His voice caught in his throat. “He’s hurting Dad and he won’t let me help.”

Rubbing his chin, giving the impression of giving his son’s words deep thought. “Have you confronted him? In person I mean.”

“Well no” he looked towards the floor hoping for inspiration. “It’s pretty obvious he doesn’t want to see me. Why else wouldn’t he answer my calls?”

“Son” his father’s tone was low and serious. It transported Trebor back in time ten or 15 years. He was a kid again awaiting to hear a well rehearsed lecture over some infraction of the rules. “That’s a cop out and you know it.”

He sucked in air. He hadn’t expected that. It was true though. He did want to talk to Braylin but he was hesitant to do so alone. Not that he was afraid something would happen. He was sure of that. In his right mind Braylin wouldn’t hurt him. It did make him wonder if he was afraid to be alone with him. Why was he defending him? Was it what he should do or because he really believed it himself? “Dad, I don’t know what to do. Tell me what I should do.” A part of him hoped his dad would tell him exactly what he ought to do like he did when he was a kid. 

“I don’t know son” he glanced towards the kitchen. “I do know you need to sit down and have an honest conversation with him. If you love him you’ll be able to put this behind you. Whatever you do, don’t let him push you away.”

“What about mom?”  he asked, “she’s not going to like me going over there. Not alone.”

“Don’t worry about that. You won’t be alone” Garrett assured him “she’ll be too busy shopping to fill those empty cupboards of yours.”

***

Staring at his phone, scrolling through messages. His dads. Brother. Trebor. Coach. John. Messages of concern. Worry. Anger. Betrayal. They all believed he’d fallen off the wagon. All but Trebor but his messages hurt too much to read or listen to. It had been a hard go at first. After having a taste again he craved the searing heat of a good whiskey burning a trail down his throat to his stomach. He wanted the oblivion being wasted offered and the respite from his thoughts. What kept him from drinking? The image of Trebor lying alone in the hospital bed. He did that. 

He was a monster. Everything that was wrong in the world was inside him. He shouldn’t be allowed to live. He sank to the floor. His back to the wall. His head banged into the unforgiving solid wall. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. He kept up a steady rhythm. The pain dulled the voices yelling at him. He kept it up until one of his neighbors yelled through walls to knock it off. 

There was a sore spot on the back of his head. Tender to the touch. Without the constant banging he was left with the thoughts inside his head. The thoughts that taunted him. Merciless in their torment. “Shut up” he cried curling into a fetal position on the floor “leave me alone.”

It had to stop. He couldn’t take it anymore. No one would miss him. He only ever caused misery. He was a constant source of disappointment to his parents. His brother would be better off without him. His one real passion in life was hockey and he’d lost that too. Suspended. That word echoed in his head.  

His phone buzzed alerting him of a new call. Trebor’s smiling face lit up his screen. Needing to hear his voice one more time he answered the call. He heard the stunned shock in the man’s voice, no doubt expecting him to ignore this call too. 

“Bray don’t hang up” he pleaded “we need to talk.” 

He bit his bottom lip to keep from crying out and telling him how sorry he was. Trebor deserved so much more than him. He could never be the person he needed him to be. 

“Bray, are you there?” his voice sounded so concerned. The anxiety in it made him want to pull him close and comfort him. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming over there. I’m not taking no this time.”

Setting his phone down whispering “I’m sorry I won’t be here when you get here.” He’d spent the last few days cleaning. Making sure everything was in order. He didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone else to clean up. He’d made enough messes in his life already. His death didn’t need to be even messier.

Satisfied he nodded. Hearing Trebor’s voice gave him the courage to do what needed to be done. His thoughts were calming now that he’d made the decision. He’d finally have peace. No more being the source of endless disappointment and pain. No one else would be hurt because of him.

Selecting a knife from the butcher’s block that Trebor had insisted every kitchen needed he walked into his bathroom. Stripping he ran the bath. 

Closing his eyes he felt at peace. His decision was made. No looking back. No regrets. This was for the best. Everyone would be better off without him.

***

Staring at his phone Trebor had a bad feeling that something awful was about to happen. “Dad, something’s wrong. He answered but he wouldn’t talk. I’ve got to get over there.”

“Alright” Garrett said dropping what he was doing in the kitchen he ushered him towards the door.

Trebor was never more thankful for the parents he had then he was that second. His dad didn’t press him for more information. Simply took his word and was ready to go. Pressing his feet into the floor he imagined it propelling the car faster down the busy street. 

“It’s going to be alright,” Garrett said, glancing over at him from the driver’s seat.

He bit back the harsh angry scared words he wanted to say. In the pit of his stomach he knew it was too late. It was like he had a ticking time clock in his head and no matter how close they were it was always going to be done counting before he got there. He knew his world as he knew it was about to end. “I don’t know what I’ll do without him” he mumbled beneath this breath.

He could feel his dad’s steadfast gaze upon him. “With a little luck you won’t have to find out.” The car spurted forward hurtling down the street swerving around cars like they were parked.

Screeching to a stop, lights flashing in the rearview mirror Garrett urged “go. I’ll take care of this.”

Sprinting inside he ran up the stairs not wasting time waiting for the elevator. Using the key Braylin had insisted he take, he entered the silent apartment. Silence wasn’t normal for someone as vibrant and energetic as Braylin was. Something was definitely wrong. It was neat. Clean. Almost like it’s occupant had wanted to erase their existence. “Bray” he called out, heart pounding in his ears. He almost missed the trickle of water. “Bray” he called again knocking softly on the bathroom door.

Hands shaking he opened the door dreading what he would find. An anguished squeak came out upon seeing the scene that greeted his eyes. As a doctor he’d seen many things but nothing prepared him for this. Closing his eyes he swallowed the bile that rose. When he opened his eyes his doctor’s brain had kicked in, taking control. Getting things done.

Chapter 11 – The Party / Chapter 13 – Hope

Knights of Hope – Chapter 11 – The Party

“Joseph” Trebor asked, spotting his cousin across the room. “When did you move from Starlight Shores?”

“Didn’t Bray tell you? I finally made the team” he gave him an infectious smile.

“What” Braylin asked, putting a hand to his head “I had no idea.”

Trebor gave him a concerned look “are you okay?”

“I’m fine” he blinked, moving awkwardly “just have a headache.”

“You need something for it” he asked knowing from experience that Braylin wouldn’t take anything.

“I’ll be fine” he said “I just need to find somewhere quiet to lie down for a while.”

A blue haired guy walking past suggested “you can use my room.”

“Perfect” he grinned, turning to Trebor saying “stay and visit with your cousin. Have some fun.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, “we could go home.”

“I’ll be fine” he assured him “stay and mingle.”

Watching him follow the blue haired guy up the stairs he had a sense of unease enveloping him. His stomach churned as his anxiety rose. A hand landed on his shoulder, turning he stared into the grinning face of a good looking dark haired male.

“I’m Matt” the guy introduced himself “if I were Braylin I would never let you out of my sight.”

“Don’t let Bray catch you saying that” John laughed, gulping his beer. “You might come back with a stump.”

“He shouldn’t have left his date unattended” he gave Trebor a wink attempting to draw the man closer.

“I think you’ve got the wrong idea about me” he stepped back putting space between them. 

“I’ve got the right idea alright” he grinned “you just don’t realize it yet. I’m about to prove to everyone here that I’m the better man on and off the ice.”

“Yeah,” Joseph challenged, coming to his cousin’s aide “sounds more like you’ve got issues.”

“Yeah I’ve got issues” rolling his eyes towards the ceiling then back to Trebor. “I’m going to prove to everyone that he’s just a deadbeat drunk that doesn’t deserve the chances he’s got or the position he has.” Walking away when other teammates jeered at him. Stopping briefly whispering in Trebor’s ear “that includes you too, lover boy.”

Jumping when the man’s hand came down, lingering on his hips and sliding down cupping his cheek. His hand bunched into a fist but before he could punch the jerk an arm grabbed him preventing him. Glaring at his cousin demanding “why’d you stop me? He deserved to feel my fist in his face.”

“He’s just an arrogant asshole,” Joseph shrugged, releasing Trebor’s arm. “Besides, you can’t afford to damage those delicate hands of yours.”

“It would have been worth it” he mumbled “what’s his problem anyway?”

“Jealousy” Joseph suggested “Matt wants Bray’s position as center.”

“He can’t have it, can he?” he asked, concerned for Braylin. His knowledge of how hockey worked was still lacking. Overall he knew how losing his position on the team would affect Braylin. His dedication and ambition for the game equaled his desire to become a heart surgeon. If he ever lost his chance at achieving his dream he’d be devastated. It’d be no different for Braylin.

“No way” John piped in, breathing an alcoholic mist into Trebor’s face. “Bray’s the best center we have.”

Still it nagged at the back of Trebor’s mind. Would this added pressure put too much stress on his hockey player? He didn’t believe in his heart that it would. Unfortunately lesser things have proven to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

***

“I should go check on him,” Trebor said, moving towards the stairs. Loud laughter was emanating down the stairs followed by a raised irate voice. Joseph, John and Trebor moved towards the stairs at once drawn by the noise. The scene that greeted them as they opened Rian’s bedroom door made Trebor’s rising anxiety shoot to the roof. 

“It was an accident” Braylin swayed unsteadily on his feet, his words thick.

“You were only supposed to be resting up here,” Rian said, his voice shaking. “That’s the only reason I let you up here.”

“I got bored,” he mumbled. Looking around he smiled “hey Treb come to keep me company?”

“I thought you had a headache” he said gently pushing the hockey player away from him as his breath blasted him with alcohol. “What the hell! What are you drinking?”

“A little somethin somethin” he mumbled bleary eyed as more people crowded into the room. “My man Matt said it’d make my head feel better. Old family recipe he said. Guaranteed to work.”

“You gave him alcohol” Trebor demanded, glaring at the dark haired man.

“How was I supposed to know he couldn’t hold his liquor?” There was something in the man’s eyes that said he knew more than he was going to admit. There was a certain amount of malice in the guy’s words and eyes that wiped away any impression of innocence his words might have conveyed.

“Come on we should go” Trebor said taking one of Braylin’s arms.

“I don’t wanna” he pouted, shaking Trebor off. “I want to stay and party.”

“You really don’t” Trebor insisted moving closer “I know this isn’t you.”

“Yes it is” he lisped, swaying on his feet spilling the liquid from his red solo cup onto Trebor’s shirt.

“How many of those have you had?” he asked.

“Dunno” he tried to shake his head but the motion unbalanced him. Leaning onto the wall he let Trebor drag him towards the stairs..

“Give me the cup” Trebor held his hand out knowing their progress would be quicker if he could free the man’s hands.

“Not finished yet” he held the cup up to his mouth and tossed it back. Trebor moved in quickly, snatching the cup from him before he was able to down it all. “No” Braylin shouted, knocking him away with an elbow to his face connecting just beneath the eye.

Trebor’s arms pinwheeled trying to keep himself from falling backwards. Too late he realized he was closer to the stairs than he thought. There was nothing but air behind him. The loud popping crunch as his shoulder and elbow took the brunt of his fall echoed in his head as he fell the rest of the way down.

He must have blacked out for a minute or two. The next thing he became aware of was lying flat on the floor at the bottom. Matt’s concerned face near his. “You’re going to be alright. An ambulance is on the way.”

“Bray” he called out attempting to sit up. “Where is he? Is he alright?”

“He’s fine” Matt muttered “stupid jerk pushed you down the stairs.”

“No” he shook his head as he struggled to get up. Strong hands forced down , keeping him from going to Braylin. 

“Lie still” Joseph’s firm voice ordered above him.

“He didn’t push me” he had to make someone understand “it was an accident. He didn’t know I was so close. It was an accident.”

“Lie still” this time it was Matt ignoring him. “I told you he wasn’t what you thought he was. He’s just a no good drunk.”

“No” tears pricked the corners of his eyes. “I need to see him. I need to talk to him. Please.” No amount of struggling was a match with the combined strength holding him down. “Why are you doing this” he asked “he’s done nothing to you.”

“Nothing,” Matt hissed, “what do you call killing my sister?”

Trebor sucked in a deep painful breath. “He didn’t. He wouldn’t.” Shaking his head he repeated “he wouldn’t. I don’t believe you.”

“I’m doing you a favor,” Matt said, wiping his eyes with his shirt sleeve. “He hurts everyone who gets close to him. Look what he just did to you.”

“The ambulance is here,” Rian shouted, opening the door to them. Everything turned into a hazy mess when they moved him from the floor to the gurney. 

“I want to talk to my cousin,” he said to one of the paramedics.

Joseph leaned over him, concern radiating from his eyes. “They say you want to talk to me. I’ll call your parents, don’t worry about that.”

“Thanks but I need you to tell Braylin something for me” he could see the resistance in his cousin’s eyes. “I know he didn’t do this on purpose. I know someone spiked his drink. This isn’t like him. Please.” He grabbed Joseph’s wrist with his left hand squeezing hard. “Tell him I believe in him. This doesn’t change how I feel about him.”

“You’ll feel differently in the morning,” Joseph assured him. “I think Matt’s right. You don’t really know him.”

“You’re the one who doesn’t know him,” he protested.

“You’re not thinking straight” Joseph insisted “you’ll see things differently when you’ve had a chance to think about what happened. He’s not good for you.”

“Joseph please” he pleaded when his cousin walked away “please just tell him.” He knew when he was locked in the back of the ambulance his request wouldn’t get to their intended target.

***

Splashing water on his face Braylin stared at his reflection. “What the fuck happened yesterday” he asked himself. He had vague memories of things that he had done or said. Things that didn’t make sense. The hurt bewildered expression in Trebor’s eyes. Had he really pushed him down a flight of stairs? Someone said he had. He couldn’t have done that. Never. He felt queasy even thinking that he could have done it.

Shuffling into his living room his feet kicked over several cans and bottles. John was snoring on the couch. Several empty beer bottles were scattered across the floor and table tops. Rubbing his hands up and down his arms a strong sense of deja vu enveloping him. Had he fallen down a rabbit hole? What had he done?

“Shit” he yelled, stubbing his toe on a bottle “we’re late.”

Turning to the snoring man on his couch he poured the remnants from a bottle onto his face. “Get up asshole. Coach is going to murder us.”

“Damn” he groaned, holding his head “I forgot how much you liked to party.”

“I don’t” he protested although he was surrounded with proof of John’s statement.

 “Could have fooled me,” he said, dragging himself to the elevator. “We smell like shit.”

“Yeah well” he shrugged. It wasn’t the first time they showed up for practice smelling like a brewery.

Coach glared at them as they joined the others on the ice. Everyone else kept their eyes directed at their skates avoiding eye contact.

“Hey” he attempted to smile “they way you’re acting you’d think I’d killed someone.” It wasn’t the best joke he’d ever come up with. 

Joseph looked up with hostility in his eyes “you could have.” He skated forward, hands bunched “he could have broken his neck falling down those stairs.”

It was like everyone inhaled a breath and held it. They were all waiting to see what he’d do next. “What are you talking about?” he asked, feeling like he was falling into a suffocating pit of despair.

“Don’t tell me you don’t remember” he scoffed and several others nodded their angry glares aimed at Braylin. 

“I…” he gulped; it was like he was trapped in a nightmare and he couldn’t wake up.

Clearing his voice the coach announced. “It’s come to my attention that some of you may be using illegal substances.” Everyone became silent as the man’s voice commanded attention. “Today we’ll be conducting drug testing on everyone. Anyone coming up positive will be suspended from the game.”

He knew even before receiving the results he would be positive. His protests that he hadn’t taken drugs fell upon deaf ears. Drugs had never been his scene even when he was partying hard. His go to drug had always been alcohol. Drugs just weren’t him.

Leaving the coach’s office everyone kept their heads down except John who had been suspended as well. Joseph was glaring at him and Matt was smirking no doubt enjoying the moment of his demise and his rise to center on the team.

Turning he fled the locker room. Sensing that someone was following him he didn’t stop. He wasn’t in the mood for condolences or a walk down memory lane. He needed to confirm he hadn’t done the things Joseph had accused him of. No matter how messed up he was positive he’d never push anyone down a flight of stairs much less Trebor. That was impossible! It had to be impossible.

Checking the time as he got into his car he decided the best place to catch Trebor would be the hospital. Approaching the nurse’s station he could see Lana sitting behind a computer Her cold angry eyes met his confirming his worst fears. “You have some nerve showing up here.”

“I need to see him” he leaned onto the desk “please just for a few minutes. I …. Don’t know what happened.”

“Please” she rolled her eyes standing up “you get wasted and Trebor takes the hit.”

“He’s been asking for you,” Eli said, coming up behind Lana who turned to glare at him.

“Can I see him?” he asked, eyes shifting between the couple.

“Why should we?” she demanded “he trusted you. Believed in you. Said everyone deserves a second chance.”

Tears pricked the corners of his eyes. He’d never meant to hurt the one person who believed in him the most. “Please” his voice cracked as his vision blurred. He wasn’t sure if it was the fact he was on the verge of tears or if he had convinced them he was sincere in his intentions. Whatever it was, relief washed over him like a bucket of water being poured over his head when Eli nodded “follow me.”

Following him Braylin asked “is he on rounds or something?”

“You for real when you say you don’t remember” Eli asked, staring at him.

“I don’t remember a damn thing” he muttered “I know we went to a party. Someone gave me a drink. I had a headache. After that everything is hazy and confusing.”

Stopping in front of a closed door Eli said “before I let you in here you should know that Trebor insists that you didn’t push him. That it was an accident. That’s probably the only reason why you’re not in jail right now.”

He swallowed suddenly, scared to find out what he’d see beyond the door. What had he done? His tongue flicked across his bottom lip. “You don’t believe him do you?”

“I don’t honestly know what to believe,” he said, opening the door. “For some reason Trebor believes you. That’s the only reason why I’m letting you see him.” The room was dark and there was the sound of monitors. “He just came out of surgery. His arm was broken in two places. He’ll be lucky if he regains full mobility….”

Braylin didn’t want to hear anymore as he stared at his heart and soul lying unconscious on the bed. He looked so young. Vulnerable. His arm wrapped in a large bulky cast. The realization that he may have cost him his dreams hit Braylin like a sledgehammer. Joseph’s words came back to him. He could have killed him. Broken his neck. One of Trebor’s eyes was bruised and swollen where Braylin’s elbow had connected. The vague memory had him gasping for air. He did this. He actually did this. He….oh god!!!

Chapter 10 – Trouble Brewing / Chapter 12 – Ticking Clock

McBride / Rake / Fowler / Hurst / Bowie / Mueller Epilogues

Kade smiled a little as he walked along the beach towards Grant. He could see Grant staring out across the water. From the far away look in his eyes Kade doubted he even saw it. “Penny for your thoughts,” he asked, coming to a stop beside him.

Jumping a little at the sound of his husband’s voice, Grant sighed. “Just thinking about the move,” his hand moved over to take Kade’s hand, his eyes never leaving the water.

“You’ll like Appaloosa,” he said like he had every other time the subject came up. From the corner of his eye he could see Grant’s shoulders move in a shrug. “But you’d rather stay here…”

“It’s not about me,” he protested, shaking his head and turning to face Kade. “It’s about what’s best for our family.” His eyes searched his husband’s face “you really want this job don’t you?”

Nodding Kade silently agreed. “I doubt I’ll get another chance…”

Guilt twisted Grant’s insides. Kade had already passed over one job for him. He couldn’t ask him to do it again. “I know. You should take it.”

Lifting his hands Kade caressed Grant’s cheeks. “It’s not just about me. We’re family. It involves all of us. I can’t take a job no matter how lucrative if moving makes you unhappy.”

Smiling softly he pressed a kiss to Kade’s hand. “Thank you but you’ve sacrificed enough. You’re taking the job. We’re moving.”

Kade heard the firmness in his husband’s voice and the sadness. “What about your brother? I thought you wanted to stay close to them.”

“He and Sandi are moving to Sunset Valley,” he sighed unhappily. “It’s the first time we won’t be living in the same place. It’s scary to think about …”

“It’ll be alright,” Kade squeezed his hand. “We’ll visit. You’ll talk on the phone. I know it won’t be the same…”

Smiling Grant nodded his head. “I’ll have to adapt. I know I will.”

“I know you will,” Kade pulled him close. “Besides you’ll have me to help.”

Smiling a little “you think that’s all I need huh? Your help.”

“Well…yeah” he chuckled a little. “What else do you need?”

Shaking his head “not a thing.”

“I didn’t think so,” he wrapped his arms around Grant holding him close as they watched the sun set over the ocean together.

2 Years Later

“I can’t believe we’re here,” Aubrey squealed as they approached the rental house.

“Believe it girl,” Kaiai walked up beside her, putting an arm about her girlfriend’s shoulders.

Leaning her head on Karia’s shoulder “have I thanked your parents for helping us find this place?”

“You have,” she nodded her voice firm despite the uncertainty she felt. Her parents weren’t exactly thrilled with her decision to live off compass. They wanted her to experience the whole college life and thought living with her girlfriend would be a distraction.

“They’re still not happy, are they?”

Shaking her head “I doubt they’ll be happy until I graduate.”

“With perfect grades,” Aubrey added. She knew Kaia’s parents were concerned but ultimately they just wanted the best for their daughter.

“Right,” Karai nodded with fierce determination. 

London stood back watching her best friend and her girlfriend as they gazed at their home for the next four years. She tried not to think she was a third wheel but that was exactly how she felt. How she always felt really. The girl who didn’t belong anywhere.

“Hey,” Aubrey turned, waving her friend over. “Why are you standing back there?”

“I” she gulped, stepping forward “I don’t want to get in the way.”

“What are you talking about?” Kaia demanded “you’re not in the way.”

“But,” she felt like running away. She might have if Aubrey hadn’t moved to take her arm. “Wouldn’t you rather have the place to yourselves? I could still get a dorm room.”

“We’re friends,” Kaia took her other hand. “Of course we want you here. We’re like the Three Musketeers.”

2 Years Later

“This is it,” Lee ran his tongue across his bottom lip, the only indication of how nervous he was.

A slight smile spread across Fawn’s face as Willow ran past them on her way to the backyard excited to play on the swings they had seen pulling into the driveway. “Willow approves,” she observed.”

“What about you? Do you like it?” he asked, turning to face her sucking on his bottom lip. “I know I should have asked before purchasing it but when I saw it I knew it was perfect…”

SHe kept her gaze on the house in front of them. “It’s a nice house,” she acknowledged stepping forward as she felt his arm attempt to wrap around her to draw her close. “But you’re still not off the hook,” she turned to glare up at him, crossing her arms. “You should have asked me first.”

Sighing he nodded “I know. I’m sorry.”

“As you should be,” she said, her words stiff and uncompromising.

“I’ll tell the realtor we’ve changed our minds,” he offered. “I don’t want to live anywhere you’re not happy with.” Glancing at the house a wistful sigh escaping “I really thought….”

Turning to inspect the house she couldn’t deny that it had a certain charm. It was a house she could easily fall in love with. “Let’s not be hasty,” her words slipped unwillingly from her lips.

“Does that mean  you forgive me?” he asked a hopeful gleam in his eyes.

“That depends,” she took his hand, smiling up at him.

“Lifting her hand to his lips “on what?”

Lips twitching in amusement “on what it looks like on the inside.”

“Let me show you,” he pulled her towards the front door eager to show her why the house was perfect for them.

2 Years Later

Edelle jumped from the couch the moment Castel walked into the room. Hurrying to him with a twisted smile worry flashing in her light blue eyes. 

“Did something happen while I was gone?” he asked, returning her hug.

“I’m just happy to see you,” she dabbed her eyes that were red rimmed as if she had been crying.

“What happened?” he asked. His stomach churned as apprehension surged through him. THe entire weekend he felt something had been off. He should never have let his father talk him into going to Bridgeport. The urgent business could have been taken care of over the phone via video conferencing. 

“Nothing,” she repeated unconvincingly. 

Giving her cheek a tender kiss he wrapped in his arms where she snuggled against him. “You don’t have to pretend you’re alright. I know you’re not.” Holding her face between his hands he peered into her troubled eyes. “Tell me what happened,” he requested softly, “are the boys alright?”

“They’re fine,” she sniffed, “it’s just…” She bit her bottom lip “your father’s lawyer came while you were gone.”

“Oh,” the simple word held all the anger he felt at the mention of his father’s lawyer. “I’m sorry,” he forced most of the anger from his voice “I didn’t know.” Now it made sense why his father had wanted him in Bridgeport.

“That guy was awful,” she gulped “especially when I refused to sign anything. I told him to send everything to our lawyer and we’d be in touch.”

“Good,” he said, pulling her with him to the couch. He could imagine the lawyer wasn’t happy with that answer. Had probably tried to persuade her into the direction they wanted her to go in. “I’ll talk to my father. The boys will have a choice in who takes over the business.”

“According to the lawyer Avery has no choice at all. He’s not blood…”

He’s my son as much as Ashton is,” he growled vehemently.

Taking his hand Edelle shook her head “I know but according to your parents….”

“Next time I have to leave on business we’ll all go,” he assured her. “I won’t let him pressure you into anything. I promise.” He knew it had been the right decision to move his family to Hidden Springs; this only confirmed it.

2 Years Later

“Riley? Is that you?” London asked as a young man came out of the elevator in the lobby of the local museum.

Frowning he stepped aside allowing the others to go around him. He smiled at the dark haired young woman. “Excuse me, do we know each other?”

“Wow,” she laughed, shaking her head “I really must be unremarkable.” She felt like running from the building. It was a feeling she knew well from childhood. She was always the invisible one.

“I wouldn’t say that,” he gave her a charming grin.

“That’s nice of you to say but it says something when I remember you and you don’t remember me.” She tried to laugh it off but it left her with a hollow feeling.

“Sorry,” he stretched out a hand, stopping her from leaving. “I don’t remember much about the island. I…” he stopped, blinking back tears. “Sorry. After losing Unity I didn’t want to remember much of anything about the island.”

She could see the pain in his eyes. “I can understand that. She was one of my best friends.” She often wondered how ten years could have passed since they lost her. “If you ever want to talk I’m here…”

“Thanks,” a gentle smile replaced the pain in his eyes. “I’d like that.”

Somehow after a few such conversations they found themself dating. Laughing at a joke, RIley told London shook her head “It’s funny that even then Unity knew we’d be good for each other.”

Nodding he agreed, “I almost didn’t call you because of that. I’m glad I did.”

2 Years Later

“I think it’s time,” Francesca announced, walking into the old houseboat and finding her husband standing across the room.

Turning he gave her a brief smile. “The kids fighting again?” he asked as if that were the only reason why she’d join him on the boat.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she sighed, rubbing her neck as if the kids really were the pain in her neck as she claimed they were. “They need their own rooms. A space they can call their own.”

Nodding he ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right,” his eyes swept lovingly across the small houseboat he had since before he had met Francesca. “I’m going to miss this place.”

“So will I but we need the money to buy a bigger home,” she pointed out. She placed a hand on his forearm “we’ll always have the memories…”

“It won’t be the same,” he sighed knowing she was right.

Shaking her head at him “don’t,” she cautioned, detecting he was close to changing his mind again.

Rolling his eyes he growled beneath his breath. If he thought it’d do any good he’d throw a temper tantrum to revival any four year old could throw. “I’ll call the realtor tomorrow,” he conceded even though he wasn’t happy with the prospect.

“Thank you,” she slipped an arm around him.

“They’ll probably need to come and take pictures before they can appraise how much we can sell the houseboat for.”

Frowning, she gave him a confused look “why? It’s not for sale.”

His brow furrowed in confusion “but I thought…”

“It’s not for sale,” she laughed. “We have enough in savings for a down payment without selling our boat and when our house sells we’ll have even more. It’ll be a good place to come on the weekend.”

2 Years Later

“Can you believe they want to destroy this?” Kaia huffed, crossing her arms.

Shaking her head at her wife Aubrey surveyed the lush park. “It’s a shame that people can’t see what they’re destroying.”

“It’s greed,” Kaia’s chest heaved “and for what? Another mall we don’t need.”

“People need to shop…”

“Oh don’t you and start playing devil’s advocate,” her nostrils flared. “People can go to the mall across town. They don’t need one in their backyard.”

Aubrey opened her mouth to speak but was promptly cut off. 

“And I can tell you the amount of empty stores inside that mall. Stores are going out of business all over the place. People don’t shop anymore. They go online. It’s quicker and easier. You never have to leave the house.” Her hands went to hips “we don’t need another half empty mall. We need to protect this land.”

Aubrey watched the fire flash in her wife’s eyes as she spoke. “Tell me what you want me to do. I’ll do anything you know that.”

“I know,” some of the heat dissipated as she smiled up at her wife. “Will you help me organize a rally?”

Nodding Aubrey squeezed her kaia’s hand. “I know some people I can call who can help.”

Squealing “I was hoping you’d say that.” She reached up grinning at Aubrey giving her a quick kiss. “I want to preserve this land for generations to come. I want our grandchildren to be able to come here and play and fall in love.”

Chuckling softly Aubrey wrapped her arms around her. “Our kids aren’t even grown up yet.”

“I know but they will one day and I want to make sure they have something.” She leaned back into her wife, sighing softly.

“That’s why I love you,” Aubry kissed her again “always look out for the future.”

Ferris/Marx Family Epilogue

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 / McBride/Rake/Fowler/Hurst/Bowie/Mueller Family Epilgues