“Daddy” London glanced up from her desk where she was working on her homework. “Did you need something?” She had seen him straining to reach something that was just out of his reach on the floor.
“My pillow” he said sitting back with an irritated scowl. “It fell out of my chair” he attempted to reach for it again stretching as far as he could. His fingers scraped the edges of it but no dice.
Moving quickly London retrieved the pillow. “Is that better” she asked placing the pillow behind his back. She watched him for a moment looking for signs of discomfort.
“Do I pass inspection” he asked catching her watching him.
Instead of answering London threw her arms around him. “I love you Daddy” she cried squeezing him tight.
“I love you too sweetheart” he reciprocated attempting to mask the pain her unexpected hug ignited.
“Daddy” she sounded worried “are you ok?”
“Sure I’m fine” he lied giving her a huge grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You don’t have to lie to me to protect my feelings” she reprimanded him. “I can tell you’re in pain.”
He gave her a quizzical look “you can?”
“Yeah it’s in your eyes” she touched his skin around his eyes “you’re all tense right through here.”
“Sorry” he apologized “I am in pain. The air is too cold and humid around here.”
“Do you your pain meds” she inquired “I can get them for you. Mom showed me how just in case.”
“No not yet I can manage” shaking his head rueful “at least until Mom gets home.”
“Are you sure” she asked her voice taking on a tone he knew she picked up from her mom. “The best way to manage pain is to nip it in the beginning before it gets too bad.”
Looking at his daughter he nodded in agreement. It was amazing this grown up little person was only ten years old. She spoke about pain management like it was a normal everyday topic of conversation. He supposed it was for her. “If you know where Mom keeps it then I’ll take some.” He regretted the necessity of needing a gatekeeper on his own meds; especially his ten year old daughter. Unfortunately it was necessary after he had inadvertently taken too many when one of his other meds affected his memory and he couldn’t remember when or how many he had taken. It was a scary time for all of them.
Without hesitation London went to retrieve the meds for her dad. Returning she held out a glass of water along with a couple of pills to him. “Take these Daddy” she instructed.
“Thank you sweetheart” he murmured accepting her offerings. It was depressing to think how fast his little girl was having to grow up because of him and his condition. He wanted her to have a normal life not one that included taking care of him.
“Don’t be sad Daddy” she gave him a grin “I like helping. I’m going to be a doctor one day. I’m going to make sure no one else has to be in a wheelchair.”
“Don’t you want to be something more exciting” he asked feeling guilty for robbing her of her carefree childhood. It reminded him too much of how he had joined the military thinking that was how he could honor his father who died for his country. He didn’t want London feeling obligated to follow a course she thought he wanted her to do.
“What could be more exciting then helping people” she asked “I love you Daddy. I like helping you. I hope one day I can help other families not have to go through what we do.”
The conviction in her soft spoken voice was enough to ease his conscience. He knew her goals could change as she got older but so far it hadn’t wavered since she was old enough to know what a doctor was and why her daddy was permanently attached to a chair with wheels.
Late that evening Teasha joined Phoenix in their room. “How did she take the news” he asked.
“As well as could be expected” she gave him a tired smile.
“I suppose she hates me now” he mumbled looking away.
Silently Teasha crossed the room. Gently she knelt beside his chair holding his face. “Our daughter loves you. She understands this will help you.”
“But” he blinked back frustrated tears as they rolled down his cheeks. “She shouldn’t have to sacrifice her happiness for my health.”
“She’ll see her friends every summer” Teasha assured him “she’ll be ok.”
“She’ll have to go to a different school” he said “she likes it here. I just don’t think we should uproot her from everything she knows.”
“I agree it’s going to be difficult and it’ll take time to adjust but we have to do this. Believe me when I tell you she’d rather have you than any of the things she’ll be giving up in the move.” Stroking is face remembering the way it once was so full of life. “You’ll see this will be good for all of us.”
“I hope so” he leaned his forehead against hers. “I just don’t want her hating me because of this.” Closing his eyes he knew all too well how difficult it had been on his family to move every few years. Being an army brat meant moving wherever his dad was stationed at. His younger brother resented each and every move. Phoenix didn’t want that for his daughter. He never wanted to see his daughter looking at him the way his brother looked at their dad.
“She won’t” Teasha assured him. “She loves you. She wants you to be healthy. She’ll understand why we need to move. You’ll see it won’t be as traumatic as you think.”
A soft knock on their bedroom door interrupted them. “Come in” Teasha called squeezing his hands hoping to reassure him.
“Mom. Dad” London murmured as she entered their room. Her eyes were red rimmed “are you sure we have to move?”
“I’m afraid so” Teasha said “I know it’s going to be difficult to leave your friends behind but it’s the best thing for Daddy.”
London lifted her eyes up before stepping forward. “Why can’t we move to Isla Paradiso? It’s an island too. Why does it have to Sunlit Tides?”
“That’s a good question” Phoenix said looking towards his wife. “We asked the doctor for suggestions and he suggested Sunlit Tides maybe Isla Paradiso could be a possibility. What do you think?”
“I think it’s worth looking into” Teasha agreed “we already have a houseboat on the island so moving there wouldn’t be too bad. Plus London knows a few people there already so it wouldn’t be like starting over.”
“Thanks Mom” London sighed with relief “I’d go anywhere if it meant helping Daddy but if it could be somewhere we already know than all the better right?”
“We’ll check into it” Teasha assured her. She moved to her daughter drawing her into a hug “I love you sweetie.”
“I love you too Mommy” she squeezed her arms around her mother’s neck. Next she approached her dad “Daddy I love you too” she leaned in close kissing his cheek “I hope you know that.”
“I do” he nodded thankful that she had come to them with the suggestion they hadn’t considered. He hoped the doctor would think it was a good alternative.
A few months later they were sitting on the deck of their houseboat enjoying the evening breeze coming in off the ocean. “Are you ready for school to start” Teasha asked her daughter sitting across from them.
“Yeah I guess” she shrugged “I wish I knew someone in my close. Justice at least is in the same school along with Unity.”
“Justice will be in middle school sweetie” Phoenix pointed out.
“Oh” she sighed “you’re right. I thought we’d be in the same school. I guess it’ll just be me and Unity then.”
“Unity is in fourth grade isn’t she” Trinity asked leaning against the railing.
“Yeah a year behind me” London turned towards her dad who was busy lighting a fire to roast marshmallows. “Unity says I need to decide who I want to be my boyfriend before school starts. How do I do that if I don’t know who my options are?”
“She said what” Phoenix choked on the words “you’re way too young for boyfriends.”
“I’m ten Daddy not a baby” she rolled her eyes “what do you think Mom?”
“Well” Teasha glanced at her husband who was still glaring into the fire. “I agree with your father. You are too young for boyfriends.”
Standing she dramatically stomped her feet. Rolling her eyes she announced “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
“Understand what” Teasha demanded “and before you answer cut the attitude or you can go to your room.”
“Fine” she sighed “a boyfriend gives you status. Someone to do your homework with. Someone always to be your partner for in group activities in class or projects. It’s not like we’ll be doing any gross mushy stuff.”
“Oh a friend” Teasha said relieved.
“Does it have to be a boy” Phoenix asked still stuck on boyfriend.
“Argh” she cried stomping towards the door “Why do I even bother. Why do you insist on asking questions when you know you won’t like the answers. All I want to do is fit in. I’m the new kid. The one on one wants to be friends with.”
“I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to get a boyfriend” Phoenix persisted watching her slam the door shut but did little to keep her from eyesight.
Looking at the fire Teasha laughed “I guess we get to eat all the smores.”
“I guess so” Phoenix agreed “thanks for backing me up. I know you didn’t think it was a terrible idea like me.”
“No not terrible. Just too soon” she sighed “I was hoping not to have to deal with boyfriends and hormones for at least another year or two.”
“A year” he gasped “I want her to be my little girl longer than that.”
“We have no choice” she sighed sitting on his lap “she’s growing up and boyfriends are going to be a part of the package.”
Wrapping his arms around her Phoenix sighed “I’m not ready for this.”
“Do you think I am” she teased giving his cheek a quick peck “we’re getting old.”
“Speak for yourself” he said giving her a tender kiss on the lips “I’m planning on being young forever.”
“Keep telling yourself that when you see all the kids tomorrow at the resort.” She leaned her head on her shoulder “the teenagers out number the kids now.”
“For tonight let me pretend we’re still as young as we were back in college” Phoenix grinned at her.
“Alright” she conceded taking his hand and watching the moon rise over the ocean.
Smoothing the wrinkles on her dress London mumbled “I’m a mess.”
“You shouldn’t have let Justice talk you into racing him” Unity giggled.
Temperance nodded linking arms with Unity “I think someone has a crush.”
Unity’s eyes grew large “do you like my brother?”
“No” London’s cheeks grew hot as both younger girls giggled at her.
“Good” Aubrey said joining them “you can dance with me instead. I promised Daddy I wouldn’t dance with any boys.”
“Oh” London bit her bottom lip “I was hoping to dance at least once with Benjamin and Justice.”
“Good luck with that” Temperance giggled “Jason has already been bugging Benjamin to dance with him.”
“Does Jason like Benjamin” Aubrey asked.
Shrugging Temperance nodded “he acts like it. It’s kind of cute in an annoying sort of way.”
“Don’t go to thinking you need to be annoying to get Justice to notice you” Unity advised turning to London “I guarantee that won’t work. Justice doesn’t like clingy people. At least that what he says.”
“Did the older boys bring dates” Aubrey asked. They all knew she was referring to the three teen boys Christopher, Noble and Loyal.
“They’re too busy mooning over Dakota and Montana” Temperance giggled “they’re gorgeous and older.”
“Which means” London asked.
Giggling Unity said “which means the boys are out luck. I mean my brothers are cute but they’re doofasses.”
Pointing towards an older man pushing his way through the crowd of people Aubrey asked “who is that guy?”
“He’s not supposed to be here” Temperance said turning to Unity with concern.
Unity shook her head “he promised he’d be good or I wouldn’t have told him.”
“Who is he” London asked repeating Aubrey’s question.
“That’s Zane” Temperance frowned “Unity’s other grandpa.”
“Oh” the two girls nodded wide-eyed. They had all heard about Graham’s first husband but neither of them had seen him before.
“Hey Gramps” Noble said cutting him off from going any further.
“Out of my way” Zane said straining to see Graham through the milling guests.
“He doesn’t want to see you” Loyal said joining his twin. “Why don’t you leave before you make a scene.”
“He’s my husband” he snapped attempting to go around the boys.
“Ex husband” Noble corrected “has been for almost fifteen years.”
“He didn’t know what he was doing” Zane protested “this is ridiculous to keep me from the resort we built together. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Says you” Loyal snickered.
“We’ve see you talking to old man Hollis” Noble added “if you really cared about Grandpa like you claim you’d have cut all ties with that creep.”
“Mr Hollis has done a lot for me” Zane protested.
“Sure he has” Loyal agreed “like having you beat up.”
“Ruining your marriage” Noble added.
“All so he could get his grubby little hands on our resort” Charity said joining her sons. “Boys I’ll take care of this.”
Nodding Loyal said to Noble “you stay. I’ll go get Dad.”
Zane eyed the boys with distaste “they act like I’m the enemy or something” he complained.
“You are” Noble growled.
“That’s enough” Charity chided him even she was proud of him for standing up for Graham. Turning her attention to Zane she said “Dad you promised you wouldn’t come. Not today.”
Zane craned his neck trying to catch a glimpse of Graham in the crowd before someone warned him he was there. He wanted to see his face without the perpetual frown that his presence always brought on. “I love him. I had to be here. To make him understand….”
“It’s too late for that” Charity shook her head “leave him alone. He’s happy shouldn’t that be enough to convince you he’s moved on with his life.”
“I need to talk to him” he entreated her like she hadn’t said anything “to explain why I did all of this. I did it for him.”
Putting a hand up Charity signaled for him to stop. “No dad. You did it for you. Daddy would have been happy running the dog shelter you had before you sold it and borrowed money to buy the resort. Daddy never wanted to it. That was all you. It was you who went to the one person you knew Daddy hated, Donnie Hollis. You took his dirty even though you knew how much it would hurt Daddy.”
“Do you really think I would do something like that to intentionally hurt him” Zane asked. “I wouldn’t do that. If I had known I’d have done things differently.”
“Somehow I don’t believe you” Charity shook her head sadly hugging her arms tight around herself. “You knew he’d be devastated once he found out or you wouldn’t have felt the need to lie about where you got the money.”
“That’s not….” he stopped as a hand came down heavy on his shoulder. Turning he looked into the serious disapproving eyes of his son-in-law.
“Mr Koehler it’s time for you to leave” Ryan said firmly “we don’t want to hear anymore of your lies.”
“I” he swallowed looking into his daughter’s eyes “I’m sorry” he mumbled turning and allowing Ryan to escort him from the property.