Tag Archive | Charity Hollis

Glitter – Chapter 16 – Feelings

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“Don’t worry about a thing” Graham assured his daughter. “We’ll take care of everything.”

“Thanks Dad” she sniffed. It seemed that all she did was cry lately. “I don’t know what I’d do without you but are you sure?”

“I’m positive” he said with quiet assurance. “With Noble’s help I’m sure everything will run smoothly.”

“I can do it myself” Noble grumbled chafing that his parents had insisted on calling his grandpa to help.

“It never hurts to have help” Graham said with an easy smile towards his grandson. “I won’t step in unless absolutely necessary.”

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“We appreciate your help” Ryan assured him despite the sour expression on his son’s face. “I’m sorry we interrupted your vacation plans.”

“Don’t worry about that” Derek said with an easy grin putting an arm around Graham’s shoulders. “We’re glad to help.”

“Thank you” Charity quickly gave her step dad a hug.

“Have you called Zane” Graham asked.

“Why would I do that” she demanded “he cut us out of his life years ago. All he has time for now is his new family.”

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“It’s your decision sweetie” Graham assured her “I think he might want to know what’s happening with his granddaughter.”

“I’ll think about it” she said “I can’t promise more than that.”

“That’s all I ask” Graham hugged her tight. “I feel responsible for the way things went between you and your dad when our relationship fell apart.”

“That’s not your fault” she said “it was mine and his. We could have tried harder but it’s too late now.”

“It’s never too late” he said “but you better hurry up before you miss your flight.”

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“Unity are you ready” Charity called turning to find her daughter shuffling into the room. She was wearing a sweatshirt and carrying a fluffy blue blanket. “It’s not going to be that cold on the main island. The weather is going to be the same as it is here.”

“But I’m cold” she whined.

“Sweetheart let her take the blanket” Ryan urged “you know the plane is going to be cold.”

“You’re right” Charity attempted to smile turning to face her family. “We’ll be home before you know it.”

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Justice stepped up to his little sister shoving a fluffy bear into her arms. “Something to keep you company” he mumbled.

“It’s Mr Truffles” she cried “he’s your favorite.”

“Shh” his eyes darted around the room “not so loud.”

Smiling up at him she giggled “you don’t make a very good bad boy. You’re too nice.”

“Hey I’m not nice” he protested “just ask Dad. I block doors preventing old people from leaving.”

“You didn’t” she gasped wide eyed.

“I so did” he nodded pretending this was just another day. Not a crisis. Blinking he grumbled “you better be okay.”

Squeezing the bear in her arms “I’ll take good care of Mr Truffles for you.”

“You better” he gave her a mock glare before bending to give her a hug whispering in her ear. “He’s almost as precious as you are.”

***

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Graham leaned against the door waiting for his grandson to look up from the pile of paperwork he was shuffling through. When he still didn’t look up, Graham cleared his throat. “I know you see me. I’m not going away until we talk.”

Groaning Noble sat back glaring up at the older man. “I’m busy.”

Taking a seat Graham leaned forward. “I know you want to prove yourself worthy of running the resort. This isn’t the way.”

“It’ll work” he insisted.

“It won’t” Graham said letting his words sink in.

“You don’t know that” Noble scoffed “you haven’t even given it a chance.”

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If you’d pull your head out of your ass for a moment I’ll tell you why it won’t work.” This time there was an edge to Graham’s voice that wasn’t there before.

“It’s not working because you and Loyal aren’t supporting me. Every chance you get you talk against it.” The  petulant expression on Noble’s face might have been pitiable if he hadn’t spoke out of a sense of wounded pride.

“You don’t have the authority to make the kind of changes you want to make” Graham pointed out. “As I recall your dad already vetoed the idea before he left. How do you think he’d feel if you went ahead and made the change behind his back?”

“He wouldn’t say anything” Noble insisted “especially when he sees how well its working.”

“No” Graham shook his head “I have final say in any major decisions. I happen to agree with Ryan on this one.”

“It’ll save us money in the long run” Noble insisted “I did the math. It makes sense.”

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“I’m not arguing with you” Graham said sternly. “You can see the discontent in the employees already. Some have already threatened to quit.”

“So” he shook his head finding it difficult to believe why his grandpa was so against this. “Let the quit.”

“You’ll spend more in the long run by having a high turnover rate and training costs than you ever would in keeping good loyal employees happy.” Graham pointed out.

“I hadn’t thought of that” Noble admitted with a sigh “but I’m sure it’ll work out. The math makes sense.”

“Let me suggest something to you” Graham leaned forward sensing that Noble might be receptive. “While your parents are away. Try running the resort the way they do. Get a feel for the business before you go making changes. Earn the staff’s respect and they’ll support you in any future changes.”

“That’ll take too long” he groaned impatience shining through.

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“It won’t be as long as you think” Graham sighed thinking it was just yesterday when he and Zane had started out. The resort was everything he never wanted but it turned out to be the glue for his growing family.

“I’ll consider it” Noble sighed “do you think you could talk to Loyal form? Ask him to come back.”

Graham stood p not relishing the dubious task of convincing his other grandson into coming back and supporting his brother. “I’ll try but it would mean a lot more if you apologized.”

“What do I have to apologize for” Noble demanded frowning “I’m the one doing all the work.”

Shaking his head Graham left the office promising to try.

***

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“Hey” Belle called running up beside Loyal as he walked along the beach. “You haven’t been around much. Are you okay” she asked remembering the last time they’d been together.

Stopping he stared at the girl in front of him. It took him a moment to remember who she was. “Belle” he murmured.

“Don’t tell me you forgot about me” she pouted.

“Err” he felt the blood rush to his cheeks. Had he gotten her name wrong?

Smiling she took his arm. “I’ve been worried about you. How is your sister?”

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Staring at the hand Belle wrapped around his arm. Warm, soft and gentle. Her touch made him think of his sister. “She’s getting treated at the Children’s Hospital on the main island. We’re all hoping she’ll respond and go into remission.”

“I’m so sorry” she spoke softly.

“She’s so young” he blinked back tears. “Half the time I can’t believe this is really happening. It’s a nightmare I can’t wake up from.”

“You’re welcome to join us” Belle suggested jerking her head towards her friends.

Sniffing Loyal shook his head. “I’m not very good company.”

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“It’ll do you good” she insisted tugging on his arm a little.

“No really I’d rather be alone right now.” Shaking his he continued “I don’t have the energy to pretend to have a good time and ….” Sighing he shrugged unsure what else to say.

“And you don’t want people asking why your in a bad mood” she finished for him. “I can understand.” She bit her bottom lip “I could keep you company. I mean if you want company. You did say you wanted to be alone.”

A ghost of a smile tugged at his lips. “No I’d like that. I might not say much but” he gave her a shy look that said more than any words he could come up with.

Taking his hand she squeezed it tight. Silently she turned towards the ocean. The sun was just beginning to set. “You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to” she said keeping her voice low as she watched the waves.

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His heart skipped several beats as he lost himself to the moment. The razor’s edge of guilt prevented him from fully getting into the moment. How could he be enjoying himself when his sister was fighting for her life. “I shouldn’t be happy” he mumbled to himself as he stared at the woman beside him. Her long dark hair reminding him of his sister. Would she live to be an adult? Would she know the joy of falling in love?

“She wouldn’t want you to stop enjoying life” Belle said looking up at him.

“I know” he acknowledged “why should I be so lucky?”

“Don’t question it” Belle reached up to cup his face between her hands. “Life’s too short to let moments go by without appreciating them.”

Closing his eyes he leaned into her. Breathing deeply he took in her scent. He may always associate the beach with the scent of rose petals. For the moment he let himself relax.

***

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Jenna slowed her steps as she passed the doors leading to the pool. The boy she’d met her first day on the island moped beside the pool. He held a long pole she assumed was used for cleaning. He didn’t seem to be doing much cleaning just staring into space. Before she realized what she was doing her feet were moving her towards him.

Justice looked up, a vacant expression in his eyes. Jenna doubted he was seeing anything around him. The lively spark she had seen before had been extinguished. “You missed a spot” she teased as she came up behind him.

Grunting he whirled around losing his footing on the slick pool side. For a moment his arms pen wheeled before he fell backwards into the pool. Jenna squealed as the spray of water soaked her. He came up spitting water from his mouth. “What’s the big idea” he demanded swimming to the edge.

“Hey don’t blame me” she said taking several steps backwards “it’s not my fault you spazzed out and fell in.”

“You shouldn’t sneak up on people” he grumbled gathering his things. Dripping water from head to toe as he went. His shoes squeaked as he walked as he began to put the pool supplies away. Surveying the puddles he left in his wake he pulled out a mop and bucket.

“That’s not going to do any good” she observed.

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“Why the hell not” he challenged pulling his we shirt over his head.

“Well” her eyes traveled down his body in obvious appreciation of his defined pecs and abs. Shaking her head she lifted her eyes to meet his. “You’re just going to make more puddles as long as your clothes are wet.”

“And whose fault is that” he grumbled kicking his shoes off without untying them.

“I still maintain my innocence” Jenna giggled “Don’t you have any other clothes you can change into?”

Glaring at her beaming face he said “yeah I have other clothes. I’m not a pool boy every day.”

“Why don’t you change then” she asked attempting to keep her face straight and failing.

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“Why didn’t I think of that” he hit the side of his head “oh yeah.” He snapped his fingers “I’ll drip all over the floor. My uptight brother will kill me for making a mess inside his pristine resort.”

“He was your brother” she asked astonished. “I thought he was more the age to be your dad. Still pretty hot though.”

It took him a moment to realize who she was referring too. “Not him. He really is my dad. My brother is the one in charge until my parents get back.”

“If you tell me where to find your clothes I’ll get them for you” she offered.

“It would be the least you could do after startling me in the first place” he said.

“Oh please” rolling her eyes “if you weren’t such a spaz that wouldn’t have happened.”

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“I have a lot of things on my mind” he huffed.

“I bet” she teased “like some girl.”

“As a matter of fact it was a girl” he teased. The slight tensing around her eyes let him know that little bit of misinformation bothered her. It was gone as quickly as it appeared.

“Turned you down didn’t she” she said knowingly. “Can’t say I blame her.” She turned walking towards the resort doors.

“Hey” he called after her “what about my clothes?”

“Not my problem” she laughed “you’re a smart boy. You’ll figure it out.”

Chapter 15 – Paint a Picture / Chapter 17 – Ocean Blue

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Glitter – Chapter 15 – Paint a Picture

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“Unity” Charity called through the bathroom door “you’re going to be late. Get a move on.”

Groaning Unity tossed her hair brush on the counter. Turning she rushed from the room. “I’m ready” she announced almost walking into her mom standing outside the door.

“Your nose is bleeding” Charity pointed out handing her a tissue from a nearby box.

“Not again” she complained holding the tissue to her nose.

Frowning Charity asked “what do you mean again? Have you been getting a lot of nosebleeds?”

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“It’s nothing” she tried to walk past her mom to grab another tissue to replace the already soaked tissue she held up to her nose.

“I’ll be the judge of that” Charity said stepping in front of her daughter. “Let me see” she held Unity’s face still as she inspected her. “How many nosebleeds have you had recently?”

Unity’s eyes slid to the floor. Her shoulders rose and fell in a desultory shrug. “I don’t know” she mumbled “a lot I guess.”

“How many is a lot? One? Two” Charity asked her voice rising as she confronted her daughter. Little things she had dismissed came to mind. The lethargy she had dismissed from working too many hours took on an ominous meaning now.

“I….I don’t know” she sighed “maybe three or four….”

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“A week” Charity prompted her heart skipping a beat when her daughter shook her head. “A day” she asked watching her closely.

Nodding as tears rolled down her cheeks “I had one early this morning. I got blood all over the pillow.” Impatiently she wiped the tears away “I’m sorry mommy. I hoped it’d go away on its own.”

Charity added inside her own head that her daughter hadn’t told her because she’d been too busy with the resort. Shaking her head she forced the feelings of guilt away. “We won’t worry about that now. Call work. Tell your boss you won’t be in today.”

“But Mom..” she began to protest “I told Kaia I’d cover her shift today.”

“Absolutely not” Charity said in tone Unity knew well. The one that said her mind was made up and arguing was pointless. Taking her phone out she continued “I’m calling your doctor.”

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“Ugh” she stomped her foot “it’s not fair.”

“If the doctor gives you the all clear then you can go to work tomorrow” Charity said.

“Fine” she rolled her eyes trying to pretend she was angry and not scared. Scared that something was really wrong with her.

“Sweetie it’s going to be okay” Charity tried to reassure her as she waited for the doctor’s office to answer her call.

Nodding Unity walked back to her room. She was more tired then she cared to admit. Her joints hurt and her head was throbbing. Taking her phone out she called the boutique. She could tell Mindy was irritated with her. The inconvenience of trying to find someone to cover her shift or run short evident in her voice.

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She knew she had no choice and if she were honest with herself she didn’t feel well enough to work. She wanted to rest but doubted she could with the way her mind was swirling.

Looking up as her bedroom door opened and her mom came in. “I got you an appointment at one o’clock. Why don’t you try and get some rest until then?”

“Okay” she murmured waiting for her mom to leave before sending Temperance a quick text

They found out. Dr appt at 1:00. I’m kind of scared.

Putting her phone down she knew Temperance wouldn’t respond until her break. They were supposed to be working together on the showroom floor.

***

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“Mr Milton what a pleasure to have you dining with us today” the hostess smiled welcoming him.

Glancing around the crowded restaurant Noble pointed “I’d like to be seated in her section.”

“Very well sir” the hostess said leading him towards one of the best tables in the section he wanted to sit in.

“This is lovely but I’d rather sit over there” he indicated to a smaller table set for two instead of a table for four.

“This table has the best view” the hostess pointed out setting the menu down as if that was the end of the discussion.

“I’m familiar with the view. If I were with a group this table would be perfect.” It had been ingrained in him since he was a child to be polite with the help even when they were in the wrong. “I’d rather have the smaller table and allow that larger group who has been waiting a while a chance to order.”

“Very well sir” the hostess’s clipped words told him his point had been made. As she walked away he wondered how long she’d been seating guests based upon prestige instead of group size and wait time. Something he would have to bring up at the next resort meeting with his parents. One day he’d be taking over the resort and he needed to know everything there was to learn about the business.

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“Good afternoon” a cheery voice said above his head. “I’m Stacy. I’ll be your server today.”

Smiling up at her he took in her long brown hair tied back in soft waves down her neck. “What would you recommend” he asked setting his menu aside.

“The lobster is very good today” she said without skipping a beat. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Yes” he scanned the drink menu “I’ll have Rhode Island Tea…”

“May I see your ID card please” she asked.

“I’m over twenty-one” he assured her.

“I’m sure you are however it’s policy to check all our guest ID’s if you appear to be under thirty.”

“Very well” he got his wallet out, extracted his ID and handed it to her. He watched as her eyes bulged recognizing his name.

Handing his ID back she smiled “one Rhode Island Tea coming up.”

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Watching her go he admired the way her work uniform hugged her curves. A moment later she was back with his drink. “Are you ready to order? Perhaps you’d like to try one of our appetizers? The sample plate is a customer favorite.”

Shaking his head he handed her the menu. “I’ll have the lobster tail and if you could bring out extra rolls. They’re a favorite of mine.”

“Of course” she turned to leave when he held his hand up stopping her “is there something else sir?”

“Yes” he smiled “you’re new to the island yet you knew the menu and the restaurant policies better than some of our more senior staff. I wanted to compliment you on a job well done.”

“Thank you sir” she said “it’s a pleasure working here. I’m working my way through college and this give me the practical knowledge for what I intend on doing once I graduate.”

“If it’s not too much to ask. What are you going to school for?” He admired the way the light danced off her eyes and hair.

“Restaurant management” she flashed him a smile “this is one of the best restaurants on the island. I’m glad to be a small part of it. I better get your order in.”

Watching her go this time admiring her for more than her figure. They could used someone like her running the restaurant. He’d have to mention that to his parents as well. Taking his phone out he made a couple of notes to remind himself for later.

***

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Justice stared up at the resort. He used to love coming here when he was a kid. Now that he was older he could only think about all the things he’d rather be doing than being at the resort. “Three months” he mumbled beneath his breath “then I’ll be free.”

“Excuse me” someone said behind him. Turning he felt his jaw drop. He realized he was staring at one of the prettiest girls he’d ever seen. He could tell she wasn’t from the island. She didn’t have the same laid back vibe that most the islanders had. That made her even more appealing to him.

“Do you mind” she asked indicating the door he was standing in front of.

Leaning back he smirked “don’t mind at all.”

Rolling her eyes she stepped down from the steps she was on. Glaring up at him she said “you’re blocking the door.”

“Yeah so” he crossed his arms. He enjoyed the way the sun danced over her long brown hair bringing out the reddish gold highlights in it.

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“You really should move” she said a small smile forming on her full lips.

“Make me” he challenged.

“I don’t think I’ll have to” she pointed towards smiling behind him.

A tapping behind him on the door had him turning to inspect it. He found his dad looking at him with a displeased expression on his face. “Sorry” he apologized opening the door wide enough to allow an elderly couple to shuffle out.

Once the elderly couple had shuffled past the girl giggled. “You really should have listened to me.”

“Yeah” he sighed shrinking beneath his father’s glare. “I wish I had.”

“Excuse me” the girl said as she squeezed past him to enter the resort.

“Hey” he called after her “what’s your name?”

Turning she giggled flashing him a smile. “That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”

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He moved to follow her but a heavy hand on his shoulder prevented him. Turning he found his dad giving him a severe look.

“Hey dad” he waved “lovely day isn’t it?”

“Justice” the way his dad said his name he knew he was in trouble. “You’re old enough to know better.”

“But young enough not to care” he added flippantly. The glower on his dad’s face deepened. “Lighten up” he said walking down the steps and away from the resort. “It was only a blocked door. How was I supposed to know those geezers wanted out?”

“That’s not the point” Ryan said “this is our business. I don’t care that you don’t want to work at the resort. I get that. It’s your choice. You don’t have to but you do have to respect it.”

Justice shrugged silently glaring at his dad. It was the same old speech he’d heard a hundred times. “Can I go now” he asked after the silence became awkward and uncomfortable.

Ryan nodded afraid he’d say something he’d regret. It seemed lately that no matter what he did it was never good enough when it came to his youngest son. He should pursue it but there were more important things then getting upset over a blocked door. Checking his phone for what felt like the hundredth time sighing when there was still no message. Charity had promised she’d let him know what they found out at from the doctor. He hated thinking his little princess was ill and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

***

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Loyal joined the others around the bond fire. He’d come to the beach to meet up with some friends instead he made new ones. “Belle you have a mean serve” he complimented the girl.

“Well I was taught by the best. Natalia was on the Volleyball team in high school and made me play with her so she could practice her serve” she explained

“All the girls on the opposing teams quacked in fear when they saw me” Natalia added proud of her achievements.

“They did not” Belle corrected her laughing.

“I wish I had seen you play” Loyal sighed.

“You just did” Damian chortled winking at his best friend.

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“That’s not what I meant” Loyal said “it’s different.”

“You just wanted to watch her on the court” Natalia teased “Belle is a beauty. Can’t really blame you.”

Looking away attempting to hide his face from view knowing from the burning sensation his ears and cheeks had to be crimson. He had been distracted the entire time playing volleyball. His eyes kept seeking Belle out instead of watching the ball.

“Natalia” Belle chastised her cousin “you’re embarrassing him.”

“Am not” she protested proceeding to ask Loyal what he’d been staring at moments before the ball had hit him on the head.

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Knowing her cousin wouldn’t be giving up any time soon Belle walked over to where Damian was sitting quietly staring into the flames. “Penny for your thoughts” she said holding her hands out to the flames.

Grunting Damian looked up at her “not worth that much.”

“Your little cutie wasn’t on the beach today” she stated noticing how her friend tensed when she mentioned the blue haired boy he’d mentioned several times watching him as he surfed.

“He’s not my cutie” he grumbled grabbing a stick to poke at the fire with.

“What are you waiting for” she asked knowing that Damian would either tell her to mind her own business or he’ mope in silence. What he said next shocked them both.

“I don’t know” he admitted “I want to but….”

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“I think you should” she said “he may just be too shy to approach you as you strut your stuff.”

“Yeah I guess” he knew she was teasing him “there’s just something about him.”

“Want some advice” she asked knowing she was going to give it to him anyway. He shrugged giving her a slight affirmative nod. “Next time you see him. Talk to him.” she grinned “who knows it just might be the beginning of something good.”

“I…” pausing he grinned “I think I’ll do that.” Jerking his head towards Loyal “you better go rescue him before Natalia scares him away.”

“He does look a little upset” she nibbled on her bottom lip as she joined the others. Sitting beside Loyal she noticed he had his phone out staring at it with a bleak expression on his face. “Bad news” she asked.

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Lifting his head up, his eyes moist with tears. “My sister” tears rolled down his cheeks shocking them both.

“Hey” she took his free hand squeezing it a little “whatever it is I’m sure it’ll be alright.”

Sniffing he clinched his eyes shut. His hands curled into fists “no it won’t ever be alright. My sister’s sick.” Dropping his phone he rubbed his eyes “I skipped out on the family meeting. Thought it was just another boring resort update.” Repressed sobs shook his body.

Retrieving his phone from the sand Belle’s eyes skimmed the text message on the screen. The message was from someone named Noble:

Get your ass home. The family needs you. Unity has leukemia. Mom is hysterical and Dad’s not much better.”

“Unity is she….your sister” she asked setting his phone on the chair beside him.

Nodding he wiped his eyes “she just turned fifteen a couple months ago.”

Chapter 14 – Rare Expressions / Chapter 16 – Feelings

Glitter – Chapter 5 – Everything Nice

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“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?”

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

***

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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.”

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“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.”

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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?”

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“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.

***

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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.”

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

***

316317Smoothing 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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.

Chapter 4 – Sugar and Spice / Chapter 6 – Summer Jobs

Glitter – Chapter 3 – Puppy Dog Tails

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Renee opened the door. The interior room was dark. The curtains were drawn giving the room a perpetual gloominess. “Divia” she called. The house seemed to swallow her words. Heart lurching as her feet carried her deeper into the house. Opening their bedroom door. Looking around. Empty. Leaving the door ajar she moved towards the nursery. Heart beating painfully against her chest walls. She knew without a doubt she’d find her wife inside the nursery. The room they had decorated for their little girl. The one they never to got see or hold. The bright pink broke her heart a little more each time she went inside.

The agonizing moment when they received the call. The adoption agency had declined their application. Blinking back the stinging tear as her mind played back the impersonal voice telling them they had been declined upon further investigation. The same voice informing them they were unfit parents and would not be considered for further adoption opportunities. Just like that their hopes and dreams were gone.

Renee’s hand shook a she turned the door knob. The soft muffled sobs of her wife reached her ears the moment she opened the door. “Honey” he called out moving towards the sound. Dropping to her knees she pulled Divia into her arms. “It’s going to be ok” she whispered wondering if she really believed that anymore herself.

“No it wont” Divia cried body shaking.

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“We just started invitro” Renee knew she was treading on thin ice but she had to try something. “We need to be patient.”

“It didn’t work” Divia wailed.

“It’ll work next time” Renee assured her.

“What if it doesn’t” Divia persisted.

Stroking her wifes long blue hair Renee remained silent. There was no good answer to that. They couldn’t adopt not after what happened with their little girl. She’d like to find out who had informed the adoption agency of their so-called issues that made them unfit candidates. She had a few things to say to them. “I don’t know” she admitted softly. “What I do know is we can’t continue to mope around like we have been.”

“But” Divia stirred in her arms.

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“No” Renee brushed her finger tips over Divia’s cheeks. “Hear me out. We can’t go on like this. We need a change. The doctor even suggested we get away for a while. What better place than Isla Paradiso? Charity offered to let us stay at the resort.”

Indecision shone bright in Divia’s amber eyes “I don’t know.” Her hand rested on the pink crib gently caressing it. “It’s time” she sighed. “Do you think” she inhaled a deep breath. Held it a moment before continuing “can we have someone come in while we’re gone and get rid of all this?”

“Are you sure” Renee asked holding Divia’s face between her hands and peering intently into her eyes.

“No” Divia’s voice was small and shaky “but it needs to be done. I can’t hold onto something we never even had.”

“Alright” Renee squeezed her tight “I’ll make arrangements.”

“Thank you” Divia said in a voice barely audible.

***

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Walking along the beach Divia leaned into Renee. “Thank you for being so patient with me.”

Draping an arm around her trim waste Renee smiled down at Divia. “Anything for you darling.”

Smiling up at her Divia giggled “that’s so sappy.” Before Renee knew what she was doing Divia took off running along the sand.

Giving chase Renee caught up to her. Tripping on the loose sand she sent both of them sprawling to the ground. Laughing she glanced down into Divia’s eyes that were shining happily up at her. Trying not to think of the months that the same beautiful eyes had been dull and lifeless orbs Renee murmured “I love you.” She nuzzled Divia’s neck bringing her lips closer to her full soft lips. Their lips locked in a mutual sensual dance brushing lightly across each others melding their souls together.

When their lips lost contact with each other they became aware of the sounds around them. The cat calls from a group of teen boys ogling them. “I think we have an audience” Renee whispered to Divia helping her up from the sand.

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“I don’t care” Divia giggled glancing over her wife’s shoulder at the young boys. “Let them watch” she said situating herself into her wife’s lap. “I’m tired of worrying about what other’s think. I want to be happy.” Leaning back her long hair flowing across her bare back “are you happy” Renee asked holding her breath.

Lifting her hands to Renee’s cheeks she peered deep into her eyes. Her lips twitched “you know I think I am.” Her smile grew encompassing her entire face. “I didn’t think I would be but I am.”

“You have no idea how that makes me feel” Renee sighed pressing her forehead to Divia’s.

“I’m sorry” she murmured “I’ve been so absorbed in how I felt I never stopped to think you were hurting too.”

“Its alright” Renee assured her.

“No it’s not” Divia shook her head “I was selfish feeling I was the only one hurting.”

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“It’s ok” Renee closed her eyes absorbing  the peace of the moment. The raucous call of sea gulls, the roar of the waves crashing onto the shoreline, the gentle hum of subdued conversations of others on the beach. It was a moment she’d treasure. “Don’t go” she protested when Divia moved to get up.

“We have just enough time to change before meeting up with Hannah and Charity” she said holding her hand out to help Renee up.

“I forgot” she groaned “can’t we postpone it.” She wrapped her arms around her wife drawing her close.

“I wish we could” Divia giggled as Renee’s fingers traveled up her spine. Stepping back she took Renee’ hand and started walking towards the resort. “It’s the last chance we have to see Hannah and the kid before they fly back to Brooklyn Heights.”

“But we can see them there” Renee pouted.

“Don’t whine” Divia advised squeezing her hand “we have more time together before we  have to go home. Plenty of time to pursue those naughty little thoughts in your head.”

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“Who said they were naughty” Renee protested.

“I know you” Divia giggled “that look in your pretty blue eyes tells me what you’re thinking.” Stopping just outside the resort door “if you want any of them to come true you’ll quit complaining.”

“I’m not complaining” she raised her hand “scouts honor.”

“You’re not a scout” she laughed pushing the door open. “Hi Mr Hollis” she waved at the pink haired male at the hotel front desk. He waved at her in a somewhat distracted manner. “What’s up with that” she asked perplexed

“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice the hottie” Renee giggled.

Frowning she looked around the lobby “what hottie?”

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Nodding towards an older male in shorts talking to a couple of teenagers. “Him” Renee said keeping her voice low.

“No way” Divia protested “he’s old. He has to be close to my parent’s age.”

“I didn’t say I thought he was hot” Renee laughed “but the way Mr Hollis was looking at him he thought so.”

“Eew gross” Divia scrunched up her face.

“Act your age” Renee rolled her eyes “he’s a single good-looking guy. Why shouldn’t he be interested in someone?”

“I don’t know” Divia frowned “it’s just weird. I’ve known him since I was five years old. I don’t see him as anything but Charity’s dad not some sexual being.”

***

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Renee kept a cautious eye on Divia as she knelt to play with three toddlers at once. “Mama” one of them called launching himself at Hannah’s knees. “There’s my little man” she laughed picking him up. “You know who this is” she asked pointing at Renee.

Shaking his head snuggling her close “no” he whispered in her ear.

“Of course you do” she encouraged.

“Rae” he murmured between his chubby little fingers. “Down” he demanded after a moment trying to wriggle out of his mother’s arms.

“Christopher” she chastised him. “What do you say?”

“Peas” he giggled “down peas.”

Setting him down he made tracks for Charity’s twin boys Loyal and Noble. One of the boys took Divia’s hand tugging with determination to get her to follow them.

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“How is she doing” Hannah asked her voice low.

Dragging her eyes from her wife Renee smiled “better. Much better.”

“That’s good” she put a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder. “I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for the both of you.”

“It wasn’t so bad until the adoption fell through” Renee sighed.

“What happened with that” Charity asked joining them.

Keeping a wary eye on Divia she said “the agency said there were inconsistencies in our application.”

“That’s kind of vague” Hannah said sitting down on the nearby couch. “Didn’t they say anything else?”

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“Go ahead and tell them” Divia encouraged joining them of the boys in her arms. “Charity deserves to know.”

“What do mean I need to know” Charity asked looking confused.

“The adoption agency Zane gave us as a referral was bogus” Divia explained.

“Evidently they only ever made one adoption before they closed” Renee added “otherwise it was a house where young girls could go to have their babies.”

“My adoption was legal though” Charity insisted.

“It would seem so otherwise you would have run into problems before now. Yours evidently was the only one. Your’s being legal made it easy to use a front for other less legal things.”

“I’m so sorry” Divia moved to sit beside her friend “it’s awful you had to find out this way.”

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Wiping at the tears she sniffed “that doesn’t mean Zane knew anything about the illegal stuff. I doubt he would have offered it as a referral if he had known.”

Hannah moved over to her side “I’m sure you’re right. Zane’s a lot of things but not even he would do something like that. Donnie Hollis on the other hand might. I wonder if he had anything to do with your adoption?”

“I hope not” Charity lifted horrified eyes to her friends “please don’t mention any of this to my dad. He’s been through too much as it is.”

“We promise” they assured her.

“Mama” Loyal said coming up to her putting a small hand on her knee “sad”.

“Yes mama’s sad” she sniffed “but not anymore.” She said tickling the little boy making him squeal with delight. After he toddled off satisfied that his mama was alright she said “thanks. He’s so fragile right now.”

“Is Zane still coming around” Hannah asked.

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“Yeah he doesn’t seem to understand it’s over” she blinked back more tears. “He doesn’t see the damage he’s done. The betrayal.”

“What your dad needs is to find someone new” Renee said filling the silence.

“He’s been hurt enough” Charity protested.

“They do say you need to get back on the horse after you fall off” Hannah said raising an eyebrow at her. “Are there any eligible men we could set him up with?”

“I saw one in the lobby” Renee giggled “Graham could hardly take his eyes off him.”

“Do you mean the new maintenance man” Charity asked.

“So you have noticed  the way your dad looks at him” Renee giggled causing them all to laugh.

***

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Three months later Renee opened the door to her house. It had been a difficult day. Her thoughts kept going back to the fairly recent announcements from Hannah and Charity that they pregnant again. She tried share in their joy. To be happy for them. She just couldn’t. She expected to come home to find the house dark and Divia huddled on the floor crying.

With a sinking heart she knew today was that day. The house was dark. Silent. She could hear the ticking of the kitchen clock. “Divia” she called knowing there’d be no response. For a moment she wanted to turn around and run. Run as far away as she could. She couldn’t go through this again. The crushing depression. The debilitating hour of lying awake for hours wondering why. Why were they destined to be childless? Why them? The questions ever ceased. Neither did the hollow empty feeling in the pit of your stomach. She was tired of pretending to be happy watching your friends families grow while yours stayed the same. Stagnant

Worst of all was the jealousy. It ate you up inside. Se put a hand over her mouth to muffle the anguished cries choking her. She leaned on the wall almost hoping it would topple over and crush her.

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Gulping a lungful of air she held it. Counting to ten closing her eyes and repeating to herself she had to be strong. Divia needed her to be strong. Pushing off the wall she continued through the house. “Divia” she called again fearing the worst.

She opened the old nursery door, empty ow of all remnants of the pink fantasy they had created for their little girl to come home to. It was dark. Sad. Shivering she closed the door on their hopes and dreams. Opening the room she shared with Divia expecting to find the blue haired girl sobbing into her pillow.

A frown creased her forehead as that room too was empty. Where was she? Her heart ached in her chest as her mind imagined a hundred awful scenarios. Had Divia wandered off? Had she down something awful to herself in her depressed state of mind? She knew how easily depression could affect your thoughts and entertain ideas you wouldn’t normally. She hadn’t thought it was that bad? What if he had been wrong? Had she missed the warning signs?

There was one more door to try. If Divia wasn’t in there she’d have to call everyone they knew. She wouldn’t leave a rock unturned until she found her. The door knob clicked as she opened it. Her breath whistled out of her as Divia looked up at her from the floor a stunned expression upon her face. Renee’s eyes focused on a stick the girl held between her fingers. Taking a deep breath she met her wife’s eyes “I thought we agree to wait…”

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“We did …. I ….” a large beautiful radiant smile spread across her face. “I hadn’t felt well for days. I thought it was the flu. I mentioned it to Hannah who laughed at me saying it sounded more like morning sickness.”

“So you took a test” Renee’s voice was flat tinged with fear. “What does it say?”

Holding it out for her to see Divia giggled “positive. It says positive.”

Staring at the positive test result Renee felt the fear, the anxiety drain from her body. “Pregnant” she whispered as she let Divia pull her into a hug. “I can’t believe it” she mumbled crying softly.

“Neither can I” Divia squeezed her tight “I hope it’s a boy.”

“I thought you wanted a girl Renee said looking into her wife’s happy face.

“I want a boy” she said firmly “Dad would love to teach him how to ride. To be a cool dude like him.”

Chapter 2 – Snips and Snails / Chapter 4 – Sugar and Spice

Glitter – Chapter 2 – Snips and Snails

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“Ity I can’t believe it” Hannah giggled as they walked into the living room together.

“What” the other girl asked as if she didn’t already know.

“You. A mom” Hannah flopped onto the couch “of twins.”

“You make it sound like a bad thing” Charity accused.

“Oh no” Hannah gasped “ it’s not that. You’ll be a wonderful mother. It’s just we’re getting old. We’re no longer the kids getting into trouble together. Soon we’ll be the parents chasing down the kids making sure they’re not getting into things they shouldn’t be.”

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“Put like that I’m not so much a mom but a fun sucker” Charity tossed a pillow at her best friend’s head. “Just wait until you one.”

“What” she asked innocently “a fun sucker?”

“A mom” Charity giggled “you don’t become a fun sucker until they’re older.” The thought sobered them both up a little. Giving her friend a serious look she asked “what’s wrong?”

Hannah’s shoulders rose and fell “I keep thinking about my half siblings.”

“Are they still blaming your dad for what happened” Charity asked. She knew Eddie would never hurt anyone intentionally.

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“Yeah” Hannah’s voice was flat. “They think Dad should have fought harder for them. They don’t seem to understand that he couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. Then as they got older it seemed cruel to separate them from Grandma and Grandpa.”

“I know Nana” Charity stroked the long blond strands “I’m sorry.” She knew how much Hannah had longed to be accepted by her half siblings but the older they became the more her half siblings resented her.

Wiping her eyes Hannah sniffed “I’m alright. It’s Daddy I worry about. He’d really like to have a relationship with them and his grand kids.” Shrugging she continued “that’s never going to happen with the way things are.” Charity bit her bottom lip as an idea came to her. Hannah shook her head as if reading her friends thoughts. “That’s never going to happen. At least not any time soon.”

“Why not” she said “then our kids could grow up together.”

“We’re not ready for kids yet” Hannah protested.

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Charity gave her a long inquiring look before saying “are you sure it’s we and not him?”

Hannah stared at the floor a little too long to just deny it. She could feel her friend’s eyes watching her. “Donovan wants to wait until we’re a little more settled before thinking about having kids.”

“You could always have a little accident” Charity suggested.

“No I couldn’t do that. Not on purpose” she shook her head adamantly rejecting the idea. “Although I am hoping he’ll change his mind after seeing your two bundles of joy.”

“I knew there was an ulterior motive to your visit” Charity shoved her friend from the couch.

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“Hey” she protested “your husband is getting a free computer upgrade thanks to our visit.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry” Charity said contritely helping her up.

“You should be” tugging on Charity’s hand pulling her down to the floor beside her.
“Ow” she cried rolling over on the floor “be careful.”

Sticking her tongue out Hannah ignored her friends threats until they both had to get up to tend to the hungry cries of twins.

***

“I know what you’re doing” Donovan said stopping to look at the ocean.

“What am I doing” she asked coming to a stop beside him.

Taking her hand he squeezed it tight. “This visit…” turning he peered into her green eyes. A brilliant shade of green, a little pensive and full of concern no doubt wondering what he was going to say next. A smile lit up his face alleviating the concern if not the sadness. “Ryan didn’t need my help with the computer upgrade.”

“Of course he’d day that” Hannah protested “he’s a guy.”

“Meaning we don’t ask for help even when we need it” he asked quietly. He let her hand go slowly turning away. His attempt at a lighthearted mood evaporating to dark.

“Donovan” she called out to him helplessly. She could see the tenseness in his shoulders. “I didn’t mean that….” She bit her bottom lip as he turned to face her. Looking a million years older than he was. “I’m sorry” she said moving towards him.

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“No I’m the one who should be sorry” his voice was low. “If I had listened to you we wouldn’t be where we’re at.”

“Where do you think we’re at” she asked running her hands along his chest and around his waist.

He snorted softly “I ruined everything. Our relationship. Marriage.” His voice choked “I almost went to prison.”

He tried to turn away but she wouldn’t let him. “Don’t push me away. I love you.” She brought her hands up to cradle his face “remember our vows? I promised to love you in good times and in bad times.”

“But” he wasn’t ready to let it go yet “because of me there’s been more bad times than good.” He couldn’t quite bring himself to look her in the eyes yet.

“Listen to me” she cried “I don’t want any more of this kind of talk. You made a mistake.”

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“If I had listened to you it could have been avoided” he attempted once again to turn away from her.

“I’m done arguing with you about this Donovan” she sighed “it was avoidable yet. But it was still a mistake.”

“I didn’t keep my promise” he buried his toes in the loose sand. “I shouldn’t have been doing what I was doing.”

“What were you doing” she asked him softly her eyes watching him closely. For the past year he hadn’t been able to say it. To admit it. If they were ever going to get beyond this point he had to say it.

Lifting his chin up. The sorrow in their blue depths was almost as bad as being physically hit. “I was hacking. I thought I was helping and it was all a set up.” He gulped letting her draw him close. “I’m so sorry. I should have listened. I should never have broken my promise.”

She could feel the wetness on her bare shoulder from his tears. It had been a difficult year. Not knowing if he’d get off. Fearing the worst. “I love you” she said her voice firm and determined. “I won’t let the past destroy our future.”

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Sniffing he pulled back enough to gaze into her eyes. A glimmer of hope brightened his eyes. “Do you mean that?”

Nodding she giggled squeezing him tight. “You’re mine and your stuck with me. You’re everything I ever wanted and I want to start a family with you.”

“Ah that’s why we’re here” he smiled down at her the ghost of his old self shining back at her. “You’re hoping I’ll change my mind….”

Giggling as he lifted her into his arms she squealed “is it working?”

He lost his balance falling on top of her into the sand. Catching himself with his hands he hovered above her breathing hard. “What if I say yes? Do you really want to have kids with a guy like me?”

She lay in the sand silently contemplating his question. When she saw the troubled retreat in his eyes she wrapped her legs and arms around him forcing him to face her. Instead of answering right away she brought her lips up to meet his. Pulling back just enough to say “Yes you silly man I want to have kids with you.”

***

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Giggling as they walked past the resort office Donovan stopped. “I promised Ryan I’d take a look at the computer system we set up to make sure it was running smoothly.”

“Ok” she smiled brightly up at him shoving him a little towards the door. “I’ll see you later for supper then.”

“It’s a date” he leaned down to kiss her. Just as their lips brushed against each others the door opened and Zane stumbled out. His face was pale like he was about to throw up. They watched in horrified silence as he weaved an unsteady course towards the lobby door. “Maybe I should follow him” Donovan suggested taking a step after him.

“Don’t worry about him kid” a harsh voice announced behind him making them both jump.

Turning they came face to face with a grizzled unpleasant sour face of an elderly man. “Donnie Hollis” the man held his hand out to Donovan “I could use a man like you with your computer skills.”

Donovan stared at the man’s hand like it were a poisonous snake. A sinking feeling opened up inside his stomach. Yet another person recognized him from his picture in the papers “I don’t do that anymore.”

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“Pity” the older man commiserated “I had a job lined up just for you.” Glancing over his shoulder he smirked “such a disappointment.”

Hannah followed his gaze. Mr Hollis was standing there, chalky white and every bit as shaken as his husband had been when he stumbled past them. “The resort isn’t for sale” she informed the old man.

“Everything’s for sale if the price is right” he shrugged dismissing her. “Your family isn’t in a position to bail anyone out.”

“You” her eyes grew wide as she realized what he was referring to. “It was you who set Donovan up. You wanted us to be financially strapped with legal fees so you could what? Make more trouble here so you could take control of the resort again.”

“You my dear have a shrewd mind beneath those golden locks” he moved to pat her head.

Shaking his hand off she walked past him into the office leaving Donovan behind to deal with him. “Your not welcome here” he said hoping the man would get the hint and leave.

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Shrugging Donnie Hollis handed the younger man a business card. “Call me when you change your mind. Someone like you never fully leaves the thrill of hacking behind for long. I could make it worth your while.”

“I don’t do that anymore” Donovan glared at the old man without acknowledging the offer that was made.

“In case you change your mind” Donnie said tucking the card inside the elastic waistband of Donovan’s shorts. “Call me” he said walking away with the stride of a man who knew he had won.

“Is he gone” Charity demanded as Donovan walked into the office.

Closing the door behind him Donovan nodded “yeah for now.” He leaned against the desk “what’s going on? I thought he gave up trying to buy the resort after the last time.”

“Well my so-called grandfather hasn’t given up…” her voice faded as she jumped up and ran to Graham’s side. He was slumped over clutching his chest. “Daddy” she cried watching his complexion change from chalky white to ghastly green.

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“Can’t believe….” Graham swallowed finding it difficult to breathe “can’t believe….he’d do that….to me.” He took several gulps like he was finding it painful to talk. “I…I thought” his eyes rolled up inside his head as he slid from Charity’s arms to the floor.

“Daddy” she screamed clutching at him as he slipped from consciousness.

“Call 911” Donovan ordered being the first one to come to his senses. “I think he may be having a heart attack.” Kneeling on the floor he checked for a heartbeat. Finding none he ripped the man’s shirt open, buttons flying everywhere. His long ago CPR course came to mind as he found the spot to begin chest compressions.

“No” Charity sobbed “that’s his favorite shirt.” She attempted to tug the remnants around him. “You’re hurting him” she cried noticing what Donovan was doing.

“Hannah a little help here please” he shouted “get her out of here. She doesn’t need to see this.”

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Startled out of her stupor Hannah wrapped her arms around her best friend. “Come on sweetie let’s go outside.”

“I can’t leave him” she protested “he needs me.”

“Donovan and Ryan will take care of him” Hannah assured her. “You want him to get better right?”

Nodding she presented a tear streaked face to her friend. “Nana what will I do without him? I can’t lose him.”

“You’re not going to lose him” she grabbed the distraught girl forcing her to look at her. “Repeat after me. You’re not going to lose him.”

Dragging her eyes from her father Charity repeated “I’m not going to lose him.” She fell forward into Hannah’s arms sobbing on her shoulder.

***

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An hour later they were sitting inside the white sterile walls of the hospital waiting room. Charity jumped up expecting to see her father’s doctor. Her expectant face crumbled upon seeing Zane walking into the waiting room. “Get out” she screamed. “You have no right to be here.” She jabbed a finger in the air pointing towards the door he just entered from.

“He’s my husband” he mumbled “I love him.”

“How dare you” she shouted needing someone to vent her feelings on. “You can’t say that and do what you did.”

Ryan crossed the room to go to her side. Slipping an arm around her he whispered in her ear. Turning she scowled at him “no I won’t sit down. He shouldn’t be here. It’s because of him that Daddy’s here.”

“You don’t understand” Zane cried reaching for her.

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Flinching she stepped away from his touch. “No you don’t get to talk your way out of this. You took money from the one man Daddy truly hates.”

“What was I supposed to do” he cried “let his dream of running the resort go up in smoke?”

“The resort was never Daddy’s dream. He only did it for you. You convinced him that running his own resort would prove that Donnie had no hold on him.”

“That’s true” Zane insisted.

“Don’t you get it” she cried “It means nothing. The man he hates most was the man you borrowed the money to buy the resort with. You kept on borrowing money when things started going wrong. Donnie was probably maneuvering things so that the resort would fail so he could come in and scoop it up for little to nothing.” She glared at Zane crossing her arms “how could you betray Daddy like that?”

“What difference does it make where the money came from?” Zane persisted “I borrowed it because I wanted Graham to be happy. I love him. He needed to know he could be a success. I made that happen. The resort will a success.”

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“Don’t you dare take credit for Daddy’s hard work.” She nuzzled into Ryan’s arms seeking comfort and support.

“I worked just as hard as him” Zane persisted.

“You spent the money” Charity contradicted. “I remember the arguments. I used to think Daddy was wrong always asking you where the money was coming from. Now I understand. You couldn’t be trusted.”

“You’re blowing this all out of proportion” Zane shook his head sounding more calm than he looked. “When Graham is better he’ll see I was right. He’ll forgive me like he always has. That’s what married people do.”

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Charity shook her head clutching at Ryan’s shirt. “That’s not how marriage works. You don’t go behind your partners back and take money from a person you know they hate. You don’t put them in a position to lose everything. You don’t betray them like that and expect to be forgiven.”

“You don’t understand” Zane shook his head “you’ll see. Things will be the way they’ve always been.”

“Come on sweetie let’s get some air” Ryan gently kissed her cheek “he doesn’t understand the magnitude of what he did.”

“I know and that makes it all the worse” she let Ryan him guide her outside.

Chapter 1 – Honeymoon’s End / Chapter 3 – Puppy Dog Tails

Glitter – Chapter 1 – Honeymoon’s End

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Her father’s raised angry voice was the first thing Charity heard as they opened the resort doors. She was aware of the startled curious stares from the guests milling around the lobby. Glancing over at Ryan she smiled when he chose that moment to squeeze her hand as if sensing her need for reassurance. Leaning in closer to him she whispered “what do you think could have happened while we were gone?”

Shaking his head he opened his mouth to respond when a flash caught both of them unaware. A man with a mic approached them. “What do you think of Donnie Hollis’s bid to take over the resort?”

Gasping Charity’s eyes grew large and round as a million conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. “The resort is not for sale. My father would not sell the resort to the likes of…of….that man.” She let Ryan take her hand and lead her away from the growing group of media sharks.

Stopping in front of her father’s office the angry voices grew in volume. Looking up she found Ryan watching her in concern. “Don’t say it” she held her hand up forestalling any comment he might have made.

“Charity” his voice was deep laced with concern for her. Not only could she hear it in his voice she could see it in his green eyes.

“No” she shook her head jutting her chin out. She refused to believe her father, the notorious son of Donnie Hollis, would sell his resort to the very same man who went to prison for embezzlement. “No” she repeated reaching for the door handle.

“Charity please” Ryan covered her hand with his stalling her. “We both saw the audit. The resort has been losing money. Has been for a while.”

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“He would have told me” she insisted turning the door knob.

“He might not have wanted to worry you” Ryan squeezed her hand until she looked up at him. “We were in the middle of getting married. Going on our honeymoon. When would he have told you?”

She let her hand slip from the door. He was right. Daddy wouldn’t have told her. He would have kept it to himself. That was why he looked so worried at the reception. The wedding crasher had turned out to be her infamous grandfather Donnie Hollis.” She leaned into her husband’s solid reassuring steady shoulder. Sighing loudly she buried her face into his chest.

He slipped his arms around her slim waist. Kissing the top of her head he suggested “let’s put our stuff away. Hopefully by then our unwelcome guest will be gone.”

A small smile tugged at her lips “ok.” They retraced their steps stopping short of where they  had left their bags. “I can’t” she shook her head unable to face the stares again.

Kissing her cheek Ryan nodded “stay here until I get back.”

“But you’ll need help” she bit her lip reluctant to be the center of the media’s feeding frenzy again.

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“I’ll manage” he assured her confidently.

Shrinking back she watched warily as he traversed the lobby. Flashes from multiple cameras went off at once. She marveled at how calm and collected he remained as he retrieved their bags. He didn’t stop once to acknowledge the men and women hedging in and shouting questions at him.

“You’re amazing” she cried launching herself into his already full arms.

“Yes I am” he grinned at her eyes sparkling.

“Don’t let it go to your head” she slapped his arm playfully before relieving him of some of his burden.

“You don’t have to” he protested.

“I won’t have my husband looking like a pack mule” she giggled glad to be home despite everything that had happened upon their arrival.

***

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Taking her hand Ryan started to walk down the hallway towards their small apartment they were lucky enough to have at the resort. As they neared the office door an elderly man strode out a scowl etched deeply into his facial contours. “You’ll regret this” he shouted fist waving in the air as the door slammed shut in his face.

“How dare you talk to my father like that” Charity bolted forward dropping the bags at her feet in the process.

“Father” the man snorted a look of contempt in his eyes. “That boy isn’t fit to raise a cockroach much less a child.”

“I think you have that turned around” Charity said coming to her father’s defense.

The older man raised an eyebrow “do you even know who I am?”

“Besides a jerk” she matched his condescending glare with one of her own “you’re Donnie Hollis. Embezzler. Spent the past twenty odd years in prison.”

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“I see my reputation precedes me” he straightened his suit lapels. “Good” he stared at her with eyes of steal “it makes things easier.”

“What things” Ryan demanded stopping beside his wife.

Eyeing Ryan up and down taking his measure Donnie said “I’m taking control of this establishment before dumb and dumber run it into the ground.”

“You can’t do that” Charity protested “my parents have worked hard to make this resort a pleasant place for families to come and enjoy the island.”

“There’s no money in that” the man laughed. His disdain evident in the way he stood. “Take a good look around you girl. This place is falling apart. It hasn’t been remodeled in years. It probably looks the same as it did on the day they bought it. The decor is hopelessly out of date. There hasn’t been any live entertainment for at least ten years. The paint is flaking. The plumbing is old. The pipes rattle in the walls.” He took a step closer “open your eyes girlie. This place is falling apart. It’s days are numbered. Even the families are going elsewhere. Places where the kids actually have fun.”

She hated to admit it but Donnie had a point. The resort did look old. She ran a hand along the wall “it needs a little TLC that’s all.”

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The man snorted “you’re as delusional as your father. Wake up before the bill collectors come knocking.” The man pushed past them to stride down the hall.

A growl built up inside her as she whirled around to pursue him. She slipped through Ryan’s hands as she sped after the old man. “What kind of father are you” she demanded grabbing his arm forcing him to stop and look at her.

Shaking her off he stepped back “I’m a shrewd businessman. First and foremost. I always keep track of the bottom line. Anything else is extraneous details.”

“Your family. Your son” she shouted giving vent to her anger “they are all second to the almighty dollar.”

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that” he raised an eyebrow “but yes that analysis is accurate.”

“You could help us save the resort” she could see by his stony face that he wouldn’t.

“Where’s the profit in that for me” he asked “I’m in this business to make money not lose it on a bad investment.” He dusted off his suit “the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be.” His disdain deepened as he looked over his shoulder but luckily for all of them he simply huffed before walking away.

***

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“I was hoping he’d be gone before you arrived” Graham’s soft voice spoke behind them.

“Daddy” Charity cried running towards him arms open wide as she greeted him.

As her arms tightened around him he squeezed her tight. “I missed you” he murmured. A look of shock crossed his face “I mean..I hope you had a good time. Enjoyed your honeymoon.”

Ignoring him she sniffed “why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what” he asked evasively unable to meet her eyes.

Reaching up she held his face still between her hands. “How bad is it” she demanded.

Making a noise like a deflating tire Graham seemed to shrink into himself. “It’s bad.”

“Bad as in we can manage bad” she looked up catching Ryan’s eyes, drawing comfort from the way he was watching her.

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“No honey” Graham pulled away with a heavy sigh “bad as in we can’t go on. Zane he …. he borrowed money from some” he stopped face twisting in anguish. “Let’s just say the loan came due and their methods of getting weren’t very pleasant”

“Where is Dad” Charity asked. She had expected him to be waiting for them at the airport when they arrived.

“If we’re going to talk about this we better go into the office.” Graham shuffled towards the door without waiting for a response.

Charity watched him like she was seeing for the first time. He seemed to have aged twenty years in the week she’d been gone. Following him inside Charity sat down on one of the empty chairs. Memories of her teen years coming to mind. She had sat in here for what felt like countless hours listening to her parents scolding her for some transgression or another. Now it almost felt like the roles had been reversed.

Graham sat like a man defeated behind his desk loaded with papers, the majority of which were unpaid bills. He lifted his eyes toward his daughter. The only bright spot in an otherwise bleak future. “Zane is in the hospital. A couple of goons beat him up when he couldn’t pay back the loan.”

Jumping to her feet she cried “is he alright?”

Ryan took her hands gently leading her back to her empty chair. “We’ll see him tomorrow just as soon as we can.”

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“Alright” she gulped air feeling as if she had fallen into a nightmare. A nightmare where everything was different but looked the same. Lifting her eyes to Graham she asked “what are we going to do about the loan? Those loan sharks won’t simply go away.”

“It’s already taken care of” Graham stood looking out the window. It was a gloomy prospect as it looked out upon the empty pool. “You can thank Hannah’s parents later for helping me get the money Zane needed in such a short time.”

For just a moment Charity allowed herself to wonder what it would have been like if Eddie had been the one her dad had chosen instead of Zane all those years ago. Would she even be here? Shaking her head she shoved those disloyal thoughts away. How could she even think like that when her dad was lying in a hospital bed? “Can’t they loan us enough to get the resort back on its feet again?”

“No honey I can’t ask them to do more than they already have” he shook his head. “The only thing left to do now is sell the resort.”

“No” she shouted “I won’t let you.” She turned to Ryan “he’s giving up without a fight. Tell him Eddie and Rory will loan us what we need. I know they will.”

“No they won’t” Graham’s voice rose, loud and firm catching their attention. “They’ve given us all they can. If the money your dad owed had been only a few thousand dollars that would have been something else. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for more. I have no doubt they’d do all they could to help.”

 

“How much did Dad owe” her voice quivered like she were standing on the edge of an abyss.

“Thirty thousand dollars” Graham sat down heavily behind his desk cradling his chin in his hand. “I’ll never be able to pay Eddie back.”

“We’ll figure something out” Charity insisted “we can’t let old man Hollis take the resort from us without a fight.”

“Honey we’re all tired” Ryan stood holding his hand out to her. “Perhaps when we’re rested things will look different, less bleak.” Turning to Graham he said “sir perhaps I could take a look at your books in the morning. Maybe I’ll see something that you overlooked.”

“I’m sure I haven’t missed anything but be my guest” Graham waved a hand at the clutter. He watched as the young couple moved towards the door. “Ryan call me Graham or Dad. Anything but sir.”

“Yes sir….I mean Graham” he nodded as he left the room.

***

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Charity glanced at a framed picture of herself and Ryan sitting on her dad’s desk as she swiveled back and forth in his chair. She was alone, lost in her own thoughts. It seemed like yesterday she and Ryan had returned from their honeymoon to find everything they had left in chaos. Hard to believe that was already a month ago. Even harder to believe they had another month before the new owners came to take over the resort.

This was her home. She tucked her feet beneath her. This was where she had met her best friend Nana. A small smile graced her lips as her thoughts returned to the days she and Hannah had played in the nursery together. It seemed all her favorite memories had been here. She met Ryan here. Her fierce protector. He never let anyone or anything hurt her.

He had proposed to her along the beach. Then they said their vows on the very same beach. How could she possibly let this place go? The resort was a part of her. She loved it. Had dreamed about all the things she would do to it when she was in charge. It would make a beautiful hacienda style resort. Many of the homes on the island were in that same style.

She pushed herself away from the desk glancing out the window. How could Zane put all that in jeopardy? Because of him her father had lost everything. She knew she was being unreasonable blaming him. She knew he had borrowed the money in the belief he was helping. All he did was compound the issues. Neither of her parents were good business men. Reviewing the books with Ryan proved that beyond any doubt. It’s amazing the resort had lasted as long as it did.

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The door opened and her dad’s pink hair emerged. “Sweetie I’d like you to come out and meet the new owner.”

Frowning she protested “we have another month.”

“I know sweetie but he’s anxious to get things started” Graham beckoned her to follow him.

With ill grace she followed frowning severely as they approached a tall dark haired man. Her footsteps slowed as they came to a stop. She wanted to run. Be anywhere but there. The man turned with a grin and held his hands out to her. “Ryan” she exclaimed “Dad said we were going to meet the new owners.”

Nodding he handed her a large manila envelope “open it” he encouraged, eyes gleaming as he watched her.

 

Giving him a curious look she tore open the envelope. Her eyes skimmed over the words. Deed of ownership. Hollis Resort. “You bought it” she breathed shallowly.

“Keep reading” he insisted.

Her name was listed on the line that said owner. “But I…How did…” Tears gushed as words failed her. “You did this for me” she said in a small hushed voice.

“Well” looking over his shoulder he smiled “we all did.”

She followed where he was looking to find the old gang. The kids that had helped form her. Zach and Teasha Ferris. Hannah Bennett. Divia Marx and Vincent Rake. “Thank you all so much” she cried moving in for a group hug “you have no idea what this means to me.”

Chapter 39 – Second Chance / Chapter 2 – Snips and Snails

Britland – Chapter 13 – What They Want

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The soft glow from the setting sun coming through the partially open curtains falling onto Britland’s face. Opening his eyes he breathed deeply, comfortable in the loving embrace of his lover. A soft blush deepened his cheeks. His mind replaying their first time together. His first time ever. He fumbled his way through it with trembling hands and was thankful for Carson’s patience. Not once had he been made to feel as awkward and shy he knew he was. Carson patiently guided him, making sure he was alright with everything they did before taking the next step.

He snuggled in close. His head comfortable in the crevice between Carson’s arm and chest. Their legs tangled together a gentle reminder of the passion they had shared. A low, quickly smothered sigh escaped Britland’s lips. He felt Carson shift beside him. Looking up he found Carson’s gentle lavender eyes gazing down at him.

“Are you alright” he asked sounding concerned as he pressed his lips to Britland’s forehead “no regrets?”

A small shy smile tugged at Britland’s lips “no regrets.” He brought a hand up to Carson’s torso drawing lazy circles with his finger tips. “I’ve never” he bit his bottom lip “I didn’t know” he looked up gazing into Carson’s eyes, cheeks heating up.

“What” Carson asked his fingers gently threading a trail up Britland’s spine stopping to tangle in his blonde hair.

“Nothing I just never knew it could be like that” he ducked his face attempting to hide. “You must think I’m an idiot.”

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“What makes you say that” Carson demanded gently tugging on the blonde’s hair to get him to look up.

“Well you’re so …. and I’m so….” he lifted his chin up eyes focused on the rumpled sheet beneath them.

“You’re so….what” Carson inquired sensing the turmoil going on inside the blonde but unsure what the problem was. He wondered if he had pushed Britland to far too soon. He knew what Britland said but sometimes what he said didn’t match how he felt.

Looking up Britland met Carson’s eyes “I know what you’re thinking.” Determination making his voice firm “you think I regret what we did, don’t you?”

“Do you” his pulse racing he waited for the blonde’s answer. He knew he should have waited. Should have made sure he was ready. His hands felt shaky and clammy as he held Britland lightly in his arms.

Britland’s brow furrowed as he leant his ear against his chest. He could hear Carson’s heart race. Was he upset with him? Was he tired of catering to his neediness? “I’m sorry” he murmured sitting up pulling the sheet around his shoulders.

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Carson blinked forcing tears back. What had he done? He pulled his knees up to his chest shivering from more than cold. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s me. I should have waited. I’m the one who should have known better. Stopped before we crossed that line.”

“I thought we were in this together” Britland stared at the floor trying to make sense of what Carson was saying. “I wanted it as much as you.”

“But I thought” Carson stirred behind him reaching for Britland he felt him stiffen at his touch.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t any good” he continued lost in his own thoughts “you could be with just about anyone and you chose me. An awkward first timer who had no clue what they were doing. You probably regret being with someone like me….”

Blinking Carson asked “is that what you think?” When Britland nodded looking miserable huddled inside the sheet Carson pulled him close “that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s a gift you gave me being your first. Experience isn’t everything.”

“You’re just saying that” the blonde mumbled eyes fixed on the floor at his feet.

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Carson gently lifted Britland’s chin so he could look into the blonde’s troubled green eyes. Words would do little to reassure him at this point. Slowly he lowered his face to brush his lips across Britland’s. He slid his tongue along Britland’s lower lip until he opened his mouth inviting him in. Their tongues swept across each other savoring each other’s taste. Britland raised his hands to the back of Carson’s head letting the sheet fall from around his shoulders.

***

400

Felix sat stiffly beside Crystal on the small couch. Ryan sat across from them with looked like a permanent glare on his face. Charity was in the kitchen attempting to make them dinner. Crystal moved as if to get up “where are you going” Felix asked reaching for hand.

She smiled sweetly, squeezing his hand “Charity could use some help with dinner.” She giggled at the unspoken plea in Felix’s eyes “don’t worry. Ryan won’t bite.” She winked over at her brother “he’s really just an old softy.”

Ryan glowered at her crossing his arms in front of him. “There are two things I don’t take lightly. Anyone who hurts my wife or takes advantage of my sister.”

“He’s not taking advantage of me” Crystal shook her head at him. “Now behave” she admonished both of them before joining Charity in the kitchen.

The two men stared glumly at each other. Ryan broke the silence by asking “what do you do for a living?”

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Jumping at the sound of his voice it took Felix a moment to gather his thoughts. What do you do for a living? Such a simple every day question. Yet Felix had no answer for it. He doubted Ryan would find the truth palpable. Up until this moment Felix never thought twice about his lifestyle.

“Let me guess” Ryan said sitting forward giving Felix a cold hard stare “you live off an allowance from your parents. No need to work right?”

“Yeah so” his voice was challenging even though inside he was squirming beneath Ryan’s steady gaze. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Tilting his head to the side Ryan considered the other man’s words. “I never said there was. You’re the one becoming defensive. So do you think something’s wrong with it?”

“I’m not defensive” Felix grumbled crossing his legs attempting to appear nonchalant. “I just haven’t found anything I like to do yet.”

“Have you been looking” Ryan asked “what kind of things do you like to do? I mean besides the obvious women, drink and money. I don’t like the idea of my sister dating a gigolo.”

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Gigolo. Felix’s mind repeated the word over and over in his head. He wasn’t that bad was he? A man whore? Sure he liked sex. Lots and lots of hot steamy sex. He preferred it with a different girl each time with a few exceptions like the horny neighbor lady and that was primarily because she didn’t take no as an answer. His eyes moved involuntarily towards Crystal. Feelings of unworthiness nearly drowned him as if he had a cloud over his head.

She caught his gaze. Smiled at him giving him a thumbs up sign before turning back to whatever she was stirring on the stove. His stomach growled. Whatever was being prepared for dinner smelled fantastic. Felix appreciated a good home cooked meal even though his mother had never cooked a day in her life. Meals were either take out or catered events. It was odd that the person Felix found to be the most challenging appeared to be basic, domestic, sweet and innocent. All the things his mother was not and would frown upon.

“What are you thinking” Ryan asked intruding upon his thoughts.

“That my mother would eat Crystal for lunch” he shrugged “my mother doesn’t put much stock on the domestic arts. She would say that’s what she hires people for.”

“My sister isn’t hired help” Ryan sounded like he was speaking through gritted teeth.

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Waves of anger and disapproval washed over Felix in waves. “I didn’t say she was or that I agreed” he mumbled unsure exactly what he said to give Ryan that idea.

“We may not look or act it but we do come from money” Ryan postured causing both girls to give him worried looks from where they were in the kitchen.

“It’s just never been important” Crystal added her brow wrinkled in concern.

“It’s not important” Felix assured her glaring at Ryan “I know your Dad is in some famous rock band.” He shrugged like it didn’t matter. “I know my parents. It’s not what they call old money. They like to tell everyone they’re aristocrats. Old money.”

“Ah” Ryan nodded relaxing “that’s explains it.”

“Explains what” Felix demanded somewhat confused.

“You’re lack of interest in doing anything useful” Ryan arched an eyebrow. The room seemed charged with tension while everyone waited to see what Felix would do.

“What’s that supposed to mean” he demanded “just because I don’t have to work or have any desire to do so doesn’t mean I’m not useful.” He had no idea why Ryan’s comments stung so much. Other people had said similar things. Almost always he had let their comments roll off his back. They were after all mostly true. He didn’t want to work. Saw no point in it.

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Ryan crossed his arms waiting “have you done anything useful?”

“Well no” Felix admitted recounting what he had accomplished since he had been on his own.

“Don’t you think it’s time you stop playing games” Ryan asked sitting forwards expectantly. His green eyes smoldered “if you’re serious about my sister you should be…”

“Hey” Felix growled standing up “she knows what I am. I’ve made no effort to hide it. I don’t see why you have such a problem with me if she doesn’t.”

Standing Ryan towered over him “I’m her big brother. It’s my job to protect her from jerks….”

“Guys” Crystal shouted at them “I told you to be nice.”

“We are” they said glowering at each other.

“Doesn’t sound like it to me” Charity said giving her husband a disapproving look.

Ryan shrank a little under her gaze. Shrugging he gave Felix a brief smile. “Just giving you a small taste of what it’ll be like when you meet our Dad. I suggest you come up with some answers to those questions I posed. Dad’ll ask and he’ll want answers.”

***

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The banging of the door as it hit the wall hard enough to dent the plaster made Britland jump in Carson’s embrace. “What the hell” Carson demanded looking into Britland’s shocked green eyes.

“Shit” Felix grumbled “this is a fine time for you to get some action.”

“Do you mind” Carson asked of the pink haired dynamo pacing in front of their open bedroom door.

Looking up Felix gave him a sour look that might have withered lesser men. “I need to talk to Britland” he announced seemingly unaware of the blonde’s discomfort.

“We’re kind of busy” Carson growled trying his best to block Felix’s view of the blonde who was doing his best to become one with the mattress. He glanced around for a blanket or sheet but found both wadded up on the floor. He could reach for them but that would leave Britland completely exposed. Not something he was willing to do even if it were only in front of Felix.

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“Yeah I can see that” Felix snorted “if it weren’t important I’d leave you to have at it. You’ve both waited long enough to get some.”

The unusual entreaty and almost apologetic tone in Felix’s voice had Carson’s attention. “Is something the matter?”

“Yeah” shaking his head as if the world had lost all meaning. “Do you mind getting dressed? I think I’ve seen more of you then I’ve ever wanted.”

Chuckling a little Carson glanced down at Britland who was staring up at him pleading with his eyes for him not to move. “That kind of happens when you forget to knock. Doors are there for a reason.”

“It’s never been a problem before” Felix said in an almost whining tone. “How was I supposed to know that you two would choose now to get your freak on? I mean I kind of thought Brit would hold out until the wedding night.”

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Carson looked down into Britland’s face to find it a dark emerald-green. His eyes were round and watery. Bending forward Carson placed a quick feathery kiss on the blonde’s forehead. “After this I wouldn’t be surprised if he does,” he winked at Britland “if you want to talk to him you’re going to have to leave so we can get dressed. Otherwise I think he’s going to stay right here and melt into the mattress.”

“It’s not like he has anything I haven’t got or seen already” Felix huffed “I’ve already seen more of his boyfriend than I’ve ever intended.”

“Fiance” Britland corrected from beneath Carson.

“Oh” this time it was Felix’s turn to be shocked as he bumped into the dresser “um yeah …. finish what you were doing.”

“Dude the door” Carson called after him “talk about a mood killer.” Carson grumbled loud enough so that Felix could hear wherever he might have retreated to.

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He moved to get up and close the door when Britland wrapped his arms and legs around him preventing him from moving. “Babe you’re going to have to let me up. We can’t stay like this forever no matter how much we might want to.” He brought his face down to nibble on Britland’s bottom lip wondering if he could get the mood back.

“The door” Britland mumbled against his lips.

Nope guess not Carson chuckled pulling himself away from the blonde. “You’re going to have let me go” he said as Britland released him leaving him feeling somewhat cold and empty. By the time he closed the door and turned around he found Britland sitting on the bed with a sheet wrapped him.

Shaking his head Carson walked over to Britland whose face was a deep emerald-green. “One day you’re not going to be this bashful in front of me in the buff.”

Britland’s eyes grew even rounder at the idea “I don’t…” he stammered shrinking further into the sheet.

“It’s really not so different from walking around in your boxers” Carson grinned “you do that all the time.”

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“There’s a big difference” Britland objected as his eyes followed Carson around the room as he collected his discarded clothes. A part of him envied the other man’s ease at walking around in the nude with someone watching.

“You better get dressed” Carson smiled over at him as he pulled his pants up “Felix isn’t known for his patience.”

“Do you think you could um” he bit his lips feeling rather foolish for his request considering what they had just been caught doing.

“What’s the matter babe” Carson asked walking over to him.

“I can’t” he gulped glancing away unable to meet Carson’s concerned gaze.

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“Can’t what” Carson asked kneeling down beside him on the floor.

“I can’t” Britland pulled the sheet to his chin “not in front of you.”

“Babe there’s no need to be embarrassed” Carson chuckled softly “I’ve seen everything there is to be seen and ….”

Britland groaned remembering how his body reacted to having Carson’s hands and mouth on areas of his body that he was now desperately concealing beneath the sheet. “Go ahead and laugh” he mumbled “I know it doesn’t make sense…..but I just can’t.”

“Alright I’ll go” Carson’s shoulders shook as he tried not to laugh too hard. As he got to his feet he leaned forward placing a soft kiss on the top of Britland’s head. “I do love you and your many contradictions.”

***

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“You changed” Carson said looking up when the bedroom door opened and Britland walked out.

“Well yeah” he shrugged glancing over his shoulder. He had stripped and changed the sheets, gathered his discarded clothing that had been strewn across the floor. He had tossed it all into the hamper ready to be washed.

Deciding not to pursue that line of conversation Carson glanced at Felix who was busy staring at his feet, knees bouncing a chaotic rhythm. Carson raised an eyebrow but wisely kept his mouth shut. He had no desire to agitate the little pinked haired dynamo anymore than necessary. While Britland had been in the hospital Felix had been there for him, offering support, a shoulder to cry on. Carson had seen a side of Felix he hadn’t thought existed and only existed in Britland’s imagination. “I’ll be in my room” he told them with a brief smile encouraging Britland to come sit instead of standing and staring.

“Is he gone” Felix asked without lifting his head up.

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“Um yeah” Britland shuffled forward watching Felix in concern. “What’s wrong” he asked sitting in the opposite chair avoiding the couch still unable to rid his mind of what Felix and the neighbor lady had done on it.

“Is something wrong with me” Felix growled lifting his head up to glare at Britland.

“Nnno” he stammered unsure what was prompting the question. It was unusual for Felix to spend much time in self-reflection. It was even more unusual for him to let other people’s opinions influence him. “Are you alright” he asked his concern deepening as Felix buried his face in his hands moaning.

“I think there is” his voice muffled “I’ve never been in a relationship. Never had a job before.” His pale eyes were vague as his thoughts turned inward. “Am I really that useless?”

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“Where is all of this coming from” Britland asked “did someone say you were? Did you and Carson get into an argument?” He knew the two didn’t really like each other. They had been getting along recently but he suspected that had more to do with him being in the hospital than them liking each other. “I’ll go get him. We’ll get to the bottom of this.” He got to his feet but didn’t get far before Felix’s voice stopped him.

“It’s not him” Felix shook his head “it wasn’t anything he said.” He ran a hand that appeared to be trembling through his disheveled hair. “Crystal deserves so much more than I can offer.”

“Maybe we should get Carson” Britland suggested feeling he needed some back.

“No” Felix shook his head “only you. Please.”

The plea in his voice had Britland sitting again “did Crystal say you weren’t good enough?”

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Shaking his head vehemently, his eyes unfocused “no not her. Her brother kept asking me things. Things I had no idea how to answer. Things that normal people would know. What do I do? What do I like to do? Am I doing anything useful with my life?” He blinked several times “I realized then I wasn’t good enough. None of those things mattered before. I never cared before” he moaned hanging his head, elbows propped up on his knees.

“And you ran” Britland concluded. Watching Felix nod in agreement he realized he had never seen his friend so upset about anything in his life. In the past he had a revolving door of girls coming and going. It never occurred to Britland that Crystal would be any different. “I have a suggestion that might help you figure out some of the answers.”

Felix lifted his head eyes full of interest. “I’ll do anything,” his voice rising with excitement as he latched on to the hope Britland held out to him.

“I’m taking a few college courses at the university here in town” Britland explained “I don’t really want to model for a living. It’s not who I am.”

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Nodding Felix leaned forward eager to hear more “do you think that might help me figure things out?”

“It couldn’t hurt” Britland smiled “maybe we could even take a couple of classes together.”

“I’ll do it” Felix jumped to his relieved to have made a decision about his future. He walked towards the door “I can’t wait to tell Crystal.” He stopped face twisting in pain “oh no I can’t go back. I ran. She said don’t come back.”

“Come on” Carson’s voice made both of them jump.

“Were you listening” Felix accused shrugging off the larger man’s hands, eyes filling with indignation.

“I needed to use the bathroom” Carson pointed to the door he just came out of. “I heard enough to know you have to go back.”

“She told me I can’t” Felix deflated just as quickly as his anger rose. “She hates me.”

“Do you like her” Carson asked ignoring his statement.

“What difference does that make” he demanded drooping against the wall like a plant in need of water.

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“I repeat. Do. You. Like. Her.” He emphasized each word slowly and distinctly.

“She’s everything and more” Felix sighed “I ruined it just like everything else.”

“If you like her” Carson cut into the steady flow of recriminations “then show her. Tell her. Do whatever it takes to prove it to her.” Glancing over at Britland “under the counter by the coffee maker I have a bottle of wine my Aunt gave me. She thought it would go well with an engagement dinner I was planning to surprise you with. Can you get it for me?”

Nodding Britland hurried to do as he was asked. Retrieving it he held the bottle out to Carson who cradled it in his arms like baby. “If I give this to you, will you promise to do your best not to run again?”

Felix nodded although his eyes were suspicious “why are you helping me?”

Shoving the bottle into Felix’s hands he smiled “I don’t know really. I’m not sure I like you but Britland does. I have a feeling you’re in my life for good now.” He shoved Felix forward “besides I think everyone deserves a chance at finding love. If she’s the one and I think she just might be, I want to help you get out of your own way.”

***

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Felix stood in the empty hallway. He heard the door lock behind him a signal that there was no turning back. Taking a deep breath he inspected the bottle of wine in his hands. It was an exceptional, expensive wine maybe Carson wasn’t the dweeb he thought he was. The thought brought a faint smile to his face. Knowing he had delayed too long he walked the short distance to Crystal’s apartment. Lifting his hand he froze. What if she didn’t want him there? What if she didn’t give him another chance? Did he deserve one? He ran twice in one day. How many chances did he deserve?

He half turned from the door sure he had let the best thing to ever happen to him go. It was better this way. All he would bring her was pain anyway. He should just leave and spare her. She’ll forget about him in few days. He’d go back to drinking and having wild anonymous sex with random girls. That was the only life for him even if it wasn’t what he wanted anymore. The thought was somewhat disturbing to him. He had never considered settling down before. The idea of it made him nauseous.

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The door opened behind “what are you doing here?” Crystal’s voice demanded sending his heart rate soaring. What was he supposed to do now? Sorry didn’t seem enough. Yet that was all his overworked brain could come up with. Slowly he turned around, holding out the wine bottle, “I’m sorry” he mumbled holding his breath for her response.

Ignoring the wine she glared at him “you ran. Again.”

There was pain in her voice that he caused. He flinched when he looked up meeting her eyes. “I’m sorry” he repeated hoping his heart would stop beating in his chest so he could drop dead at her feet. Then his misery would be over and she could go on with her life.

“Tell me why are you sorry” she demanded hands on her hips voice rising. “I told you I didn’t give out infinite second chances. I told you to tell me when you were freaking out. Instead you ran.”

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“I know” he cried eyes darting around like a cornered animal. “I ran. All those questions. I didn’t have any answers. I don’t know what I like to do. I never had to find out. I don’t know what I’m good at. If anything. I’m not a useful person but I…” He stammered to a halt “I want a chance to find out” his words came in a near whisper like he was afraid to jinx it by saying it too loud.

Taking the wine bottle Crystal smiled softly “what are you going to do about it?”

“I’m” he met her eyes encouraged by the gentleness in them he replied “I’m going to beg for a second chance. Then I’m going to explore my options by taking some classes. I don’t know what I’m interested in yet but I’m going to find out.”

“Good” she held the door open for him “you better come in so we can enjoy this wine together.”

Hesitating before stepping over the threshold it almost felt like he was starting over. He couldn’t believe she was giving him another chance. A chance he didn’t deserve. A chance he didn’t intend to squander this time.

Chapter 12 – Breaking Barriers / Chapter 14 – Home For Christmas – Part 1