A year passed quickly. They found a larger house where the boys could share a room and Izzy could have her own. Their relationship with Colt’s parents was improving even though he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of letting any of the kids stay with them. Motivated by Diana’s suggestion they did invite his parents to visit them for holidays and birthdays.
“Honey why are you so forgiving?” he asked Diana one night as they were getting ready for bed.
“It’s not that I forgive them” Diana said weighing her words carefully “it’s more I understand why she did it. Your mom saw an opportunity to fix a past mistake.” She shrugged “albeit the way she went about it was a hundred percent wrong.”
“It was I just don’t get it either,” he got a far away look in his eyes “I don’t remember much before Belle left. I wish I did. I do remember she was there then she was gone. If I had been a better brother…”
“Don’t” Diana said sharply “you were a six year old little boy with six year old concerns. There was nothing you could have done to keep your sister at home the night she left.”
“I keep thinking…”
“Colt please,” she took his hands “would you let Izzy take the blame if something happened to one of her brothers?”
“No she’s only six…”
“Exactly my point,” Diana said “you were six years old. The same age as Izzy. Don’t expect more from your six year old self then you would your six year old daughter.”
Looking down he nodded numbly “point taken.”
“But you still wonder what happened to her don’t you?” she asked. When he nodded she continued hoping she hadn’t overstepped her bounds “I…I asked a private investigator to see if he could find anything about her.”
“You did what?” he almost shouted. He didn’t believe his ears. Did she really believe that after twenty years they’d find trace of Belle? What if they could? Did he want to see her again? Would she want to see him? There were so many questions, so many feelings rumbling around inside him.
She looked down uncertainty overwhelming her “did I overstep my bounds? I just thought if we could find her maybe it would give your parents some peace. Even if she’s dead at least they’d know. I kept thinking if one of my kids was out there all alone I’d want to find them. I wouldn’t care how long it took I’d always wonder, always search.” Looking up at him worry in her eyes “I can stop the investigation if you want me to.”
“No no that isn’t necessary,” he stammered “I mean yest I want to find her. I was just shocked that you would do this for me for my parents.” She was constantly surprising him with her strength, her forgiving spirit, her sensitivity. “I love you.”
“I know,” she said quietly “that’s why I wanted to do this for you.”
Another year passed with no results in the investigation into his sisters where abouts. “She obviously doesn’t want to be found,” Colt said one night.
“It’s going to take time,” Diana told him looking up from the table where she was helping Izzy with her homework. She’s had over twenty years to disappear in.”
“I know but I keep hoping,” he sighed staring at the television. Sometimes he wished he didn’t know she was somewhere out there. A part of him wanted to go back to believing she had been killed in the car accident his parents invented when he was six years old. His phone rang interrupting his thoughts. “Hello” he pulled the phone from his ear the hysterical crying could still be heard across the room. He gave Diana a sharp look as she got up and came to his side. “Mom calm down I can’t understand a word your saying. Take a deep breath then talk.”
“Your father…I can’t….your father,” she gasped repeating herself.
“What about dad?” Colt asked half expecting to hear him pick up the line shooing his excitable wife away. “Mom” his voice was becoming aggravated “if you don’t tell me what’s going on how can I help?”
“Heart attack,” she cried into the phone causing Colt to pull the phone from his ear again “he had a heart attack. I kept telling him he should see the doctor. Would he listen to me? Not your father. No he just kept putting it off….”
“Mom” Colt spoke loudly into the phone trying to break into the flow of words his mom kept repeating “is he alright?”
“He had a freaking heart attack. No he’s not alright.”
“Yes I know but is he alright,” he repeated hoping she’d slow down and tell him what happened.
“What?” she asked focusing on him “Oh he’s in the hospital in ICU. He had triple bi pass surgery.”
“What do you need me to do?” Colt asked like the dutiful son his is. He knew without asking she wanted him to come home.
“Take over the farm,” she said “it’ll help your father rest knowing the farm was in good hands.”
“I’m not a farmer,” he protested feeling the weight of being the only child fall on his shoulders.
“Please son can’t you do this one thing?” she asked “it’s not like I’m asking you to give up your career. It’s only until your father is back on his feet.”
“I’ll…” he looked at Diana standing beside him then over at Izzy staring at him her homework all but forgotten. “I’ll have to discuss it with Diana first.” He knew what the decision would be. He was only delaying the inevitable. He was going home to be the farmer he never wanted to be.
“Daddy we have to go,” Izzy said from the table “Grandpa needs us.”
Turning to Diana he asked “what do you think?”
“He’s your dad,” she looked down “you know how much he loves that farm…”
“It would kill him if anything would happen to it,” Colt said feeling more and more caged at the moment.
“It’s your decision,” Diana told him “we’ll support you whatever you decide.”
“Thank you,” he said pulling her close. He needed to feel her against him. Her steady heart beat, her support strong and steady. He felt like a toy boat tossed about by tall waves at any moment he would be swamped and sink to the bottom of the ocean.
When he made the decision to help his parents with the farm he hadn’t expected to still be there a year later. Kevin was five years old and about to start school. Izzy was eight and going into the third grade. He was proud of both of them but he knew the longer they stayed here the harder it would be to go home. He had a career to get back to. Diana was able to write anywhere but he couldn’t perform, go on tours or record music while he was running the farm. He felt stifled, uninspired, dead inside. He was ready to go home.
He looked down as Diana slipped her arms around his waist. “Penny for your thoughts.”
“It’s going to cost you more than that,” he said kissing the top of her head. Spending time with his wife and children had been the only bonus of living on the farm.
“It’ll cost me nothing,” she grinned up at him “I can guess what your thinking.”
“You think so?” he challenged.
“I know so,” she laughed “you were thinking about how much you want to go home.”
“Is it that obvious,” he sighed looking out at the field ripe for harvesting.
“Only to me,” she told him resting her head on his shoulder “your mom is oblivious.” She hugged him tight “your dad complains a lot but hasn’t made a move to change anything you’ve done. The children love it here…”
“I know,” he said turning to face her as the sun set behind them “they aren’t going to want to leave when the time comes.”
“Will it come?” she asked. Colt’s father was still weak and frail from the heart attack he suffered more than 12 months before. She had begun to doubt he’d ever be strong enough to take over the farm again.
“I….” he stopped shaking his head no doubt thinking along the same lines as his wife. “I don’t think dad will ever recover his old strength and be able to run the farm again.”
She saw the worry in his eyes and the sadness of watching his parents grow old and weak. “I’m sorry” she said laying her hand on his chest “I know you can’t keep delaying going back to our life in Starlight Shores.”
“I know….but what am I supposed to do about this?” He waved his arms at the expanse of the farm “I can’t just leave them to fend for themselves. Dad will try to do it himself. Probably give himself another heart attack.”
“Maybe it’s time we consider hiring someone to manage the farm,” she suggested “I know your dad is dead set against it but surely he knows you can’t stay here indefinitely.”
“You don’t know my dad,” Colt snorted “he probably thinks his heart attack was an answer to his prayers to get me home where I belong.”
The night they planned to talk to his parents regarding hiring someone to manager the farm Diana received a call “Mrs Critchley?” the deep but kind voice asked.
“Speaking” she informed the caller.
“This is Mr Dorman the investigator you hired to look into the whereabouts of Isabella Critchley…”
“Did you find her?” she asked her voice vibrating with anticipation.
“Yes I did,” he said with a note of smug satisfaction and pride in his voice.
“Is she alive? Can we see her? Where is she?” the questions bubbled out of Diana’s mouth without thinking.
“Yes maybe and conditional,” he said in response to her questions.
“What do you mean?” Diana asked some of her enthusiasm dying down.
“She’s alive and concerned that her family may not want to see her. I tried to assure her that was not the case since I was hired to find her.” He let his words hang in the air for a moment before continuing “where I found her is less then desirable circumstances and she doesn’t want her parents to know her living conditions. She’s ok with meeting with her brother if he’ll come to her.”
“Oh” was all Diana could think to say She hadn’t believed they’d actually find her alive. “I’ll have to talk to Colt and see what he wants to do.”
“I would suggest you decide quick. I have the impression she’s about to run again. Next time we might not be so lucky.”
“You’ll have our answer tonight,” she told him before disconnecting. Turning she found Colt watching her.
“Answer to what?” he asked.
“That was the investigator,” she explained standing in front of Colt looking deep into his eyes. Taking his hands she said “he found your sister but she’ll only meet with you. He needs to know if you’ll agree to meet her tonight.”
“She’s alive,” his voice sounded breathless “of course I’ll meet her but what will we do about the farm?”
“I’ll manage for a few days” Diana told him “we’ll tell your parents you had to meet with your manager. No sense telling them about Belle until after you meet with her.”
“Right I can’t believe this is happening….”