Tag Archive | Graham 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 4 – Sugar and Spice

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“Mommy” Aubrey called from the kitchen table.

Glancing up from the computer screen Trinity frowned. “Mommy’s busy right now” she said turning back to her work and the two columns that refused to balance. She had been at it for several hours and she still couldn’t balance the books of her biggest account.

“But mommy” Aubrey’s voice was small and insignificant compared to the problems she was having.

“Not now” she said going back to her sums that refused to make sense.

Aubrey sat with her head down, teas trickling down her cheeks. Silently she scooted her chair out and methodically began to put her colors away. Carefully she tore the page she had been coloring from her book. With deliberate strokes she printed her name at the bottom. It was the way the famous artist did at the museum her daddy took her to.

Taking her picture she tiptoed over to where her mother was muttering over her computer. A slight rustle of paper alerted Trinity to the little girls presence. “Aubrey” she sighed “I said not now.”

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Startled Aubrey let her drawing slip through her fingers and flutter to her mother’s desk. She squeaked turning and ran to her room.

Trinity’s eyes fell upon the drawing her daughter had been working on. It was very good for a five-year old. Picking it up from her desk she wondered when she had turned into her mother. She had spent most of her childhood trying to get her mom’s attention.

Saving her non-progress she stood up. Avoiding Vincent’s eyes as she walked across the room towards her daughter’s bedroom door. Knocking softly she opened the door to find her daughter curled up on her bed shoulders shaking. “Aubrey” she called softly crossing the room. Sitting on the edge of the bed she stroked her daughters fluffy head “I’m sorry.”

There was no perceptible change in the small figure lying with her back turned. “Sweetie I’m sorry” Trinity tried again. “I like the picture you colored for me.”

Sniffling Aubrey sat up rubbing her eyes. “You do” she asked her voice low uncertain.

“Of course I do” Trinity nodded “I’m going to have it framed so I can have it on my desk all the time.”

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The corners of Aubrey’s mouth quirked upwards. “You really like it that much” her eyes were round with surprise. “I could make you another one. One that’s even better. I mean I got out of the lines there. The color isn’t quite right.” Her small hands reached for the picture to take it from her mother’s hands.

Gently Trinity kept the picture from her daughter’s reach. “It’s perfect the way it is.”

“It’s not good enough” Aubrey insisted “I can do better.”

It hurt hearing her daughter’s words. Trinity never saw herself being a mother and she found out she was expecting she had cried for a week. Her biggest fear was coming to reality. She was becoming her own mother. Demanding perfection. Lifting her daughter’s quivering chin up she smiled down into her daughter’s eyes. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. You made it for me. That’s all that matters. I love it because you made it for me.”

“I’m sorry mommy” Aubrey leaned into her.

“For what sweetie” she asked

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“For disturbing you while you worked” she mumbled looking at the floor.

“I’m sorry for getting upset with you” Trinity said kissing the top of her daughter’s head.

“Now that you’ve apologized to each other” a deep voice said from the door “maybe we could all go out for dinner and a movie.”

“Yeah” Aubrey cried running to hug her father.

Smiling Trinity joined them moving a little slower but with no less excitement than her daughter. “It sounds like a date.”

***

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“Daddy watch” Aubrey called trying to get his attention.

Smiling Vincent turned from Trinity “I’m watching.”

“You sure” she demanded hands on hips.

“Positive” he got his phone out ready to capture her latest feat.

“Alright here goes” she poised herself in the sand. Her feet spaced evenly apart as she took off to make the best cart-wheel ever. Halfway through she lost her balance causing her to fall to her knees in the loose sand.

“That was awesome” Vincent clapped.

“I didn’t do it right” she complained crossing her arms.

“It was a very good attempt” Trinity said coming up beside her daughter. “Next time you’ll do better.”

“But I wanted it to be perfect now” she pouted.

“You can’t be perfect at everything” Vincent said putting his phone away. “Let’s go for a swim” he suggested.

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“No” Aubrey shook her head “I don’t want to.”

Kneeling in front of his daughter he asked “what do you want to do then?”

Thinking for a moment Aubrey smiled. “I want to build a sand castle.”

“Ok” he grinned sitting in the sand with her.

“Not with you Daddy” she objected “I want to do it by myself.”

Vincent stood up watching his five-year old daughter select a different spot in the sand to build her sand castle. Looking down as a hand landed on his forearm “my little girl doesn’t need me anymore.” He was half-joking despite the ache in his heart.

“She’s growing up” Trinity said moving to the blanket where they had their picnic lunch a couple of hours ago.

“She’s five” Vincent protested joining her.

“Don’t worry she still loves you” she assured him.

“I hope so” he muttered tossing a handful of sand in the air.

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“I love you” Trinity said reaching for his hand eyes sparkling in the sunshine.

“That’s not the same” he pouted.

“What am I old cheese” she demanded moving to get up.

Grabbing her hand he pulled her down to him. “That’s not what I’m saying. I love you to the moon and back.”

“I love you too even though your still as sappy as ever.” She giggled as his hands went around her waist slipping lower to her hips. “Not here” she warned “people are watching.”

“Let them watch” he nuzzled his nose into the side of her neck placing soft kisses along her collar-bone.

“What about Aubrey” she asked trying not to give in to her growing desire.

“She’s seen us kiss before” he tilted his head back “we’re on vacation. Relax.”

“I’m trying” Trinity muttered leaning into him.

“You know what our problem is don’t you” Vincent asked after a moment or two of silence.

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Trinity scowled up at her husband “what is our problem?”

“We don’t take near as many vacations as we should” he gave her a bland innocent look “we don’t know how to act while on vacation.”

“I’m not the only one who works too much” she grumbled taking offense.

Making hand dampening motions Vincent sighed. “I didn’t mean it that way” his eyes glancing towards their daughter making sure she was still occupied with building sand castles.

“You implied it” she huffed. Sitting up she pulled her knees to her chest. Her eyes looked out of the ocean waves. “I’m sorry” she apologized a moment later “I’m never any fun anymore.”

“That could change” Vincent said making sure to keep his tone light.

“Not anytime soon” she retorted “I have the Brockhaven case to review next. You know how awful their books are.”

“Do you like your job” he asked her.

“What” she blinked at him like she didn’t quite understand his question.

“Do you like your job” he repeated enunciating each word carefully.

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“Of course I do” she flipped her hand dismissively.

“It’s not what you had wanted to do in college” he pointed out.

Her shoulders rose and fell as she dropped her gaze to the sand. Her fingers drew circles. “We need the money” she said it like that was all there was to it.

Reaching for her hand Vincent stilled her idle circle drawing. “It’s not your fault” he said gently.

Staring at his hand, his thumb gently rubbing the top of her hand. “I keep thinking if I hadn’t been so caught up in my career things would be different now. If I hadn’t forgotten about our dinner date. If I had left earlier, even a minute sooner things would have been different.”

“Honey it’s not your fault” his voice cracked as he battled the emotions that were bubbling up inside him.

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Jerking her hand away “it was my fault don’t you get it? I was driving. I was rushing. My mind was on all the things I left unfinished. I was thinking of my job, my career instead of paying attention to the road. Maybe if I hadn’t been distracted I could have seen what was going to happen. I keep thinking I could have prevented it.”

She stumbled to her feet Vincent following her. “Don’t do this to yourself. It wasn’t your fault. It was an accident. A terrible accident.”

Her left hand reached out to him while her right hand softly traced the scars on his once unmarred handsome face. “If I had been going slower it would have been you who had died that night. Instead it was a little boy.” Her face crumpled as she remembered the screeching of tires and crunching of metal as the truck tore into their car as it ran the stop light that night almost 2 years ago.

Pulling her close Vincent held her as the memories tore her apart. He rubbed her back whispering soothing words as she cried into his shoulder. The accident had been the reason she quit her job despite his protests. He knew even if she didn’t at the time it was her way of punishing herself for the accident. An accident that was out of her control.

***

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“Daddy” Aubrey tugged on his pants leg “Is Mommy ok.”

“She’s a little sad” he smiled down at his wild haired little girl.

“Is she missing Toby” she asked.

He felt Trinity shiver in his arms at the mention of their son’s name. “Yes she is sweetie.”

“Mommy” Aubrey waited a moment looking up waiting for her mom to look down at her. “It’s alright if you still miss him. I do too… a lot.”

“Thank you sweetie” she sniffed moving from her husband’s arms. “I didn’t mean to make you sad too thinking about Toby on day like today.”

“I’m not sad” Aubrey insisted shaking her head. “Toby wouldn’t want me to be sad. So I made up my mind to be sad.”

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“You’re right” Trinity agreed shocked when her daughter threw her arms around her in imitation of her father.

“Love you Mommy” she murmured. Pulling back Aubrey asked “can we go see my friends now?”

“Are you down playing already” Trinity asked glancing at the half-finished sand castle.
Shrugging Aubrey shuffled over to it. “It wasn’t very good anyway” she kicked at the walls with her feet until it caved onto itself.

Vincent exchanged glances with his wife before squatting down beside his daughter. “Sweetie not everything has to be perfect.”

“I know” she mumbled.

“Then why” he gestured towards the ruined castle.

Shrugging she crossed his arms “I didn’t like it anymore.” She looked up her chin set in a stubborn line “can we go now?”

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“As soon as you pick up your things” Vincent told her. It worried him that since the accident Aubrey had become obsessed with the idea that she had to be perfect in everything she did. Any little mistake had her either quitting or sulking.

Joining Trinity at the picnic he sighed “maybe we should reconsider family counseling.”

Nodding she glanced towards the ocean. A far away look in her dark eyes. “You’re right we should” she said putting the last remnants of their picnic away.

Turning her towards him “I’m sorry” he murmured “this wasn’t a very good idea coming here.”

Looking up at him, her eyes moist, she shook her head. “It was a wonderful idea. We needed this. Our family needed this.”

“But…” he looked away to watch Aubrey picking up seashells along the beach. Every time the waves washed up on the sand around her ankles she’d giggle.

“Do you hear that” Trinity asked “that’s our little girl. No matter what that giggle was worth it.” She drew his head down to hers placing her lips over his to shush his next comments. “We’ll get through this. Maybe not today but sometime we will be a family again.”

***

 

 

By the time they made it back to the resort everyone was outside by the pool. Aubrey squealed in delight running to join her friends. “Jason, Royal you made it” she shouted.

“We’ve been here for hours” Royal informed her.

“Have not” Jason contradicted.

“Have too” Royal insisted glaring at his twin.

“Whatever” Jason muttered wandering off as his twin and Aubrey started to whispering into each other’s ears. “Benji can I join you guys?”

Benjamin looked up with a ready grin “sure Jason. We’re about to start the races.”

“What races” he asked confused.

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“Wheelbarrow races” Christopher said “it’s me and Justice. Noble and Loyal. You and Ben.”

“All we need now is a judge” Justice said eyeing the adults to see which one they could rope into their little game.

“Grandpa will do it” Noble assured everyone.

Loyal shook his head “I doubt it.”

“How come” Noble persisted brows knitting together.

“Derek is here” Loyal giggled “they’re in love.” He made kissy faces to the amusement of the other boys in the group.

“Eew gross” Benjamin scrunched up his nose like he smelled something bad.

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“You mean they kiss and stuff” Jason asked.

“Yeah gross” Benjamin affirmed.

“That’s not gross” Jason protested “I kiss my mommies all the time.”

“That’s different” Benjamin insisted.

Perplexed Jason asked “why?”

“It just is” his friend insisted.

“Ask him anyway” Christopher said to Loyal “I bet he’ll do it for us.”

 

Glancing over at his Grandpa Loyal shrugged. “He looks preoccupied” using a word he heard his parents use when he and his brothers were in the middle of some game or movie.

“You don’t even know what that means” Christopher objected.

“I do too” Loyal snapped “it means he’s busy.”

Glancing at Graham he shrugged “doing what? Holding hands? He can do that while he’s judging the race. Just ask him. We can’t have a race without a judge.”

“I’ll do it” Noble volunteered marching off towards the adults. “Grandpa will you be our judge?”

Graham smiled down at his grandson “a judge? For what?”

“For the race” Noble pointed towards the others who waved back “we’re having a wheelbarrow race and we need a judge.”

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“Can’t I just watch” Graham asked reluctant to leave Derek by himself.

Derek nudged him “go ahead. The kids need a judge. I’ll watch.”

“You don’t mind” Graham asked taking his grandson’s hand to the excited clapping of the others.

“Why would I mind” Derek smirked “I have a much better view from here.”

“No mushy stuff” Noble warned “a judge has to keep his eyes on the race.”

“No mushy stuff” Derek promised eyes on Graham’s face.

 

 

Graham’s cheeks held a slight blush as he allowed his grandson to guide him to the finish line and explain his duties as judge. He could feel Derek’s eyes watching him giving him a peculiar warm feeling inside his stomach. It was nice to feel desirable again he thought as he waited for the kids organize themselves for the race. He waved at Derek while he waited. It had been too long since anyone had made him feel this way. He caught Charity watching him, a knowing grin on her face. He may not have much to be thankful from the years he had been with Zane but their daughter was of the good things. He wouldn’t regret that or the grand kids that resulted from it for anything.

Chapter 3 – Puppy Dog Tails / Chapter 5 – Everything Nice

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

Hannah – Chapter 37 – Letting Go

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Ryan set his duffel bag on the tile floor. He craned his neck to look around the resort lobby. He had hoped to see Charity as soon as he walked through the doors. He had wanted to see her eyes light up the way always did when she saw him. He wanted to see her lips twitch with barely contained amusement. Most of all he wanted to feel her slim firm figure in his arms.

“Ryan” Charity’s voice asked behind him.

Turning slowly he waved self-consciously at her. “Surprise” he announced as she jumped into his arms.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she laughed as he twirled her around.

“It wouldn’t have been a surprise if I told you” he reluctantly set her down. His eyes drank in every nuance of her appearance. “You look different” he said breathing in the fresh mango scent of her shampoo.

A slight frown creased her brow “different how?” she gazed up at him.

“Where’s your hat?” he asked after a moment of silently gazing into each others eyes

“It’s too hot” she shrugged as if that was sufficient.

“I miss the hat” he teased running his fingers through her soft tresses.

Pulling away from him she said “I can go get it if you’d like.” She giggled as he pulled her to him. This time he brought his mouth down on hers, smothering any reply she might have made.

***

“Zane” Graham put a restraining hand on his husband’s shoulder. Zane turned towards him a baffled bewildered look in his eyes. Graham smiled shaking his head “she’s not a little girl anymore.”

Zane growled deep in his throat. “She’s my little girl” he took a step forward.

Clutching at his arm Graham guided Zane away from the happy oblivious couple. “She’s a grown woman in love.” He watched as his words sank into his husband’s conscience.

“But I….” he glanced over his shoulder “I’m not ready” he mumbled sounding defeated.

“Whether it’s now or twenty years from now” Graham chuckled a little “we’d never be ready.” He nodded towards Charity who was unaware of her parent’s distress. “She’s happy. Ryan’s a good boy. We’ve known him since he was a little kid. We couldn’t ask for anyone better for our daughter.”

Zane let out a strangled sigh “I still don’t like it.”

Shaking his head Graham at a loss at what else to say. “You don’t have to like it. You just have to tolerate it.” He brought his hands up to hold Zane’s face still. “Whether you like it or not Charity is in love. That boy is in love with our daughter. I will not have you spoiling this for them.” Graham still had memories of his father’s displeasure in the face of any small triumph he had. It was either not good enough. Not appropriate. He was too young. His father didn’t approve. He would not have that for his daughter.

“I’ll be nice” Zane conceded like a small child being made to apologize.

“Promise?” Graham prompted.

Nodding Zane mumbled “I promise.”

“Good” Graham smiled kissing his husband lightly on the lips “I knew I could count on you to do the right thing.”

“Yeah sure” Zane smirked “I still don’t like it.”

***

Two weeks later Ryan and Charity were strolling along the beach towards sunset. He held her hand marveling at how right it felt inside his. He turned to smile down at her when he found her gazing up at him. “What?” he asked reaching over to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

Shaking her head slightly she leaned her cheek into his palm. “I don’t want you to go home” she murmured.

“It’s only for a little while” he stroked her cheek “we’ll see each other again. Classes will be starting in a few weeks.”

“I know…it’s just” she sighed turning away from him. She hugged her arms around herself staring into the setting sun. The ocean slapped against her ankles. “Will you….” she turned around her words lost as she put a hand to her mouth a wordless cry escaping.

“Marry me” Ryan finished her question a huge earnest expectant grin on his face. He held up a ring, the last of the sun’s rays glinting off the heart-shaped pink diamond.

Tears gushed from her eyes as she nodded in response to his question unable to formulate coherent words. She held her hand out to him. He took her trembling hand, kissing the top of it with his firm soft lips. “Charity Hollis I love you. I’ve loved you since the moment we met. You let me be your protector when you didn’t need to be protected. You are one of the strongest women I know. I love that strength.” He slipped the ring onto her finger. Caressing her hand between both of his. “I love the moments when you let that strength slip and show me the vulnerable little girl you keep hidden inside. The moments when you look to me for answers you could find yourself. The times when you let me be your hero.” He stood up still clasping her hand “I want to live the rest of my life with you by my side.”

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“Yes” she cried throwing herself into his arms. “Yes I’ll marry you.” She peppered his face with light feathery kisses. She brought her hands up to hold his face while he held her securely in his arms. “Ryan Milton you used to infuriate me when we were kids. Always trying to protect me. I thought I didn’t need protecting. We grew up and I came to rely on your steady loyal support. I never knew how much until it was gone. I was lost without it. I was lonely.” She pressed her lips to his before adding “I wanted nothing more than to run into your arms and beg you to take me back. I’m sorry I ever believed anything that woman said about you. It was never your fault.”

“That’s all in the past” he carefully guided her down to the cool damp sand as he wrapped his arms around her. “From this moment on is what’s important. I’m yours. Your mine.”

She leaned into him “I like the sound of that.”

“Good because that’s the way it’s going to be from this moment on.”

***

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“Your dad doesn’t like me” Donovan whispered in Hannah’s ear.

She giggled looking across the room where her parents were comfortably snuggling in each other’s arms. “Of course he does” she contradicted him.

“Then why does he keep glaring at me?” Donovan asked his nose nuzzling into her sensitive skin beneath his ear.

She closed her eyes enjoying the sensual way his warm breath caressed her skin. “He’s not glaring” she moved in his arms before either of them could get carried away “that’s his over protective daddy look.”

Donovan glanced over her shoulder. “He has that look every time he looks at me.”

Shrugging she kissed his cheek oblivious to the glare her dad was giving them. “Relax his bark is worse than his bite,” she nodded towards her dads on the nearby couch. “They like you; otherwise they would have us sitting in between them.”

Donovan looked across at Rory’s serious no-nonsense face before replying, his voice losing all of his former playfulness. “I don’t like that look at all.”

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“Don’t worry” Hannah giggled as she took his hand “daddy won’t let him hurt you.”

Donovan relaxed a little reassured by her words. “Maybe we should just watch the movie” he suggested trying to move away from her when Hannah put a restraining hand on his shoulder.

“We don’t have to do that” she shook her head “give them time.” She indicated her dad’s with a nod “they’ll get used to it eventually.”

He gave her an uncertain look before settling back into her arms. “I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic” she chided “if dad wanted you dead he could have left you under your car.”

He shivered a little remembering how helpless he felt pinned beneath his car. The thought that still haunted his dreams was whether he was the type to do whatever it took to survive or whether he’d give up and wait for death. Thankfully he hadn’t had to find out.

***

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Rory grunted rubbing his side where Eddie’s elbow made contact. “What was that for?” he demanded looking down at his husband.

“You know why” Eddie retorted his eyes on the TV despite having seen the movie a hundred times before.

“I honestly don’t know what you mean” Rory protested shooting the young couple a glare as the boy nuzzled his daughter’s neck. A low growl built up inside him.

“Down boy” Eddie squeezed Rory’s knee.

“I’m not a dog” Rory grumbled.

Chuckling a little Eddie crawled into his husband’s lap. “I can’t see the TV” Rory complained.

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“You’re not watching” Eddie said reasonably as he put his hands on either side of Rory’s face to keep him from watching their daughter. “Leave them be” he instructed firmly.

Rory resisted the urge to break the tenuous hold Eddie had on him. He heard the firmness in Eddie’s voice. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “I miss being the center of her universe.”

“I know” Eddie agreed “I miss that too.”

The sadness in his husband’s voice made Rory want to wrap Eddie up in a protective cocoon. “I haven’t been very helpful have I?” he asked contritely after realizing how difficult this must be for his husband.

“No not really” he shook his head slightly “but you’re forgiven.” Eddie leaned forward placing a kiss on Rory’s nose “you’ve been distracted.”

“I’m sorry” he repeated berating himself for not seeing the pain Eddie had been in. “I’ll do better. I promise.”

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The corners of Eddie’s lips turned upwards, “thank you” he murmured. “That means a lot to me. Hannah will appreciate it too.”
“She better” he grumbled “I just want her to be happy.”

“Then trust her” Eddie advised “Donovan loves her. He’s as protective of her as you are of me.”

Rory glanced over his daughter. This time without the glare of distaste. He sighed sadly “I miss our little girl coming to us to solve her problems.” He squeezed Eddie tightly in his arms “I don’t want to share her.”

“If you refuse to share we’ll lose her forever” Eddie said gently “don’t force her to choose. It’s not fair and we’ll lose.”

“I know” he leaned his head forward resting it on Eddie’s forehead “I wouldn’t do that to her. I love her too much.”

“Come on” Eddie climbed off of Rory’s lap. He held his hand out silently waiting for Rory to take it and follow him from the room.

***

“Where are they going?” Donovan asked his brows knitting together in concern.

“They’re giving us some alone time” she said with satisfaction. “It’s a good thing.” She moved into his lap. Smiling she ran her fingers through his red hair “now I know why daddy prefers sitting in dad’s lap.”

“Why’s that?” he asked unable to read the glint in her green eyes.

“It’s so much easier to do this” she leaned forward laying claim to his lips.

He jerked away from her “what if they come back?”

Don’t worry they won’t” she grinned grabbing his face between her hands “now hold still.”

He let her draw him close covering his mouth with hers. All he could think about was they way she felt grinding against him. He wanted to give in to his animal instincts. Fear that her parents would walk in on them held him back along with something else. Respect. Respect for the girl who was driving him crazy. Respect for her parents. In the past he wouldn’t have cared but he hadn’t loved any of them.

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As her kisses became more passionate and insistent he pushed her from his lap. “You don’t know what you’re doing to me” he panted in apology.

“If you wanted me to stop all you had to do was ask” she complained as her cheeks flared a brilliant shade of red.

“I didn’t want you to stop” Donovan explained “I wanted so much more but I ….” He bit his lip “what you and I have. I want it to be more than just a fling. I want…”

She snuggled into him taking his hand “yes” she asked expectantly “you want what?”

He turned towards her “I want forever. I can’t imagine my life without you. I don’t want to imagine life without you.”

Her eyes looked troubled “what are you saying? You’re not leaving are you?”

“No” he hastily assured her “I’ll never leave you voluntarily. I’ll go kicking and screaming if anyone tried to make me leave you.”

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“I’ll protect you” she said her voice solemn.

He smiled at her comment “I know you would.” He gently wrapped a strand of her long blonde hair around his finger. “I love you. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I hope one day to prove to you that I’m good enough for you.”

She shook her head than took the hand that had her hair wrapped around uts finger. “There’s nothing to prove. You’re the one I want now and always. You’re a good kind-hearted person who would do anything for his friends. I love that about you.” She smiled at him “I may wish your methods were a little more orthodox but I can’t fault you for your motives.”

“Do you really mean that?” he asked eagerly almost bouncing on the couch cushion beside her.

“Yes I do” nodding her head vigorously. “You don’t know how happy that makes me to hear that.” He threw her arms around her “it almost makes me want to ask…”

Pulling away to look into his face she repeated “almost makes you what?” She watched the almost embarrassed way he looked at his hands.

“I have nothing to offer you” he hung his head.

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“I wouldn’t say nothing” she said gently tilting his chin up “you have all I’ll ever need.”

“What?” he asked giving her a miserable look.

“Love” she said simply “that’s all I need.”

“It’s not” he contradicted her his tone a little more up beat.

“It’s a place to start” she asserted “I don’t need much. Just you. That’s all that really matters isn’t?”

“Put like that” he grinned leaning in close “how can I say no?”

“You can’t” she smirked knowing she had won the battle.

Chapter 36 – Not Afraid / Chapter 38 – The Truth Comes Out

Hannah – Chapter 32 – Missing You

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Ryan stifled his instant irritation at having his baby sister follow him around the house like a lost puppy. Every time he moved he stumbled into her. “Why don’t you go outside and play?” he asked.

“Will you come with me?” she asked eagerly tugging on his arm.

“Not right now” he tried to shove her towards the door.

“Just go outside with her” Trent suggested “she’s missed you.”

“Fine” he groaned.

“If you don’t want to, don’t bother” his sister cried running to her room. A moment later her door banged shut.

“Ryan would it have killed you to spend a little bit of your time with your sister?” Gayle asked.

“I was….” he looked from one parent to the next. Their disapproving, disappointed looks speaking volumes. “I was waiting for a text from Charity,” he mumbled looking down.

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“Charity would understand you needing to spend time with your family” Gayle pointed out. Crossing her arms she leaned on the wall “honestly Ryan you’ve barely said two words to any of us since you’ve been home.”

“She’s a pest” he complained.

“She’s your sister” Trent asserted “she may seem like a pest now but you’d miss her if something ever happened to her.”

“Yeah I know” he rolled his eyes “I don’t need a lecture. It’s just….why did you have to wait so long to have her.”

“It wasn’t by choice” Gayle said averting her eyes.

“Or lack of trying” Trent continued getting up to put is arms around his wife offering what comfort he could.

“I wanted a large family” Gayle explained as tears shimmered in her eyes “You came so easily soon after we were married.”

“We assumed it would be just as easy next time around” Trent squeezed her shoulder “we were wrong.”

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“I had almost given up hope when we finally had Faith” Gayle gave her husband a grateful look.

Ryan looked down at his phone smiling as a text came through from Charity. He felt his parents disapproving frown as he responded back. Looking up he demanded “what?”

“Aren’t you going a bit fast?” Trent asked.

“Fast” he repeated. He couldn’t his his astonishment. “I’ve known her practically all my life.”

“Then she’ll understand you need to spend time with your family.” Trent said trying to be reasonable. Glancing down at his wife of twenty years he said “son your mother and I understand how important Charity is to you….”

Gayle smiled up at him “we know this is all new and you want to spend every moment you can together…”

Ryan could hear the but hanging in the air as he asked “then why are you upset with me?” He glanced down to respond to the text he just received.

“Because there is such a thing as too much” Gayle gave her husband a pleading look.

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“Ryan you don’t want to smother the poor girl” he chuckled a little when that had his son tilting his chin up in defiance.

“I’m not” he protested “Charity hasn’t complained.”

“Nor will she until she can’t take it anymore” Trent said “girls tend to do that.” He grunted in pain as Gayle elbowed him. “What?” he asked looking down at her with a mischievous grin.

“That’s not true” Gayle shook her head at him “Ryan you do need time apart. Have you been out with your friends since you’ve been home?”
He took a moment to think about the past few weeks. “Hannah was over a couple of days ago.”

“Try a couple of weeks ago” Gayle corrected “she left after a couple of hours of watching you text Charity. I want you to think about something. Before Hannah left she said she felt like she had lost her two best friends.” She stepped forward placing her hands over his his stilling his fingers as they flew across the keyboard. “If Hannah’s feeling that way imagine how your family feels. You’re in the room with us but your mind is elsewhere.”

“Fine” he grumbled putting his phone away resisting the urge to take it out when he felt the familiar buzz alerting him to a new text. “Whatever” he muttered throwing himself into an empty chair.

“Look honey” Trent pointed towards their son “isn’t it heart warming how much he wants to spend time with us?”

Ryan rolled his eyes wondering how long he’d have to wait until Charity gave him the all clear to come to Isla Paradiso. He couldn’t wait to see her again. Texting was great but it didn’t compare to be being able to see and hold her in his arms.

***

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“Honey can you put that thing away?” Zane asked with a petulant tone.

“Don’t you remember what it was like when we first met?” Graham asked “it felt like we couldn’t get enough of each other.”

“I still feel that way” Zane smirked as his husband crawled into his lap.

“Get a room” Charity mumbled peering up from her phone display.

Chuckling a little Graham moved to the couch beside Zane. “Is this better?” he asked innocently.

“Much” she mumbled fingers flying over the keys as she typed.

“Charity can you put that thing down for a few minutes?” Graham asked “we haven’t had a chance to really talk since you came home.”

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked setting her phone on her thigh.

Her parents exchanged glances. Graham took a deep breath before asking “are you mad at us?”

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“Why would I be mad?” she reached for her phone to respond to the text she just received.

“Stop deflecting” Zane reached across the coffee table snatching her phone from her hands “Ryan can wait.”

“It’s called multitasking not deflecting” she hugged her knees to her chest sulking.

“It’s deflecting when you use this” he waved her phone in the air “as a means to keep from talking to us.”

“Whatever” she mumbled refraining from rolling her eyes.

“Wipe that look from your face” Zane snapped.

Charity gaped at him. It was plain to see she had no clue what face she had made that had so irritated him.

Graham glanced from his husbands face to his daughters. Sighing he said “sweetie are you mad at us for not telling you about your mother?”

Charity dragged her eyes away from Zane. She could see by the way Graham sat tense on the edge of his seat that he was anxious over her reply. It mattered to him whether she was mad. The simple answer was “yes” she snapped her mouth shut as soon as the angry word escaped her lips. She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. Her pink haired father seemed to shrink in on himself. “Daddy please” she pleaded “you have to understand. This total stranger came up to me with papers proving she was my mother. I didn’t know what to believe.”

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“I’m sorry” he sounded miserable “I hoped she wouldn’t track you down when she knew we couldn’t pay.”

Zane patted his hand “sweetie you dad and I didn’t want you to feel you’re mother only wanted to find you for the money she might be able to exploit from us.”

She nodded feeling miserable for the pain she could see in their eyes. “I didn’t want to believe you kept her from me all this time.”

“But you still wanted to know her” Graham added “I understand that. Every child wants a relationship with their parents if they can have one.”

She nodded “all she wanted was money though.” She jumped to her feet feeling trapped. Before she could go more than a few steps strong arms engulfed her.

“I’m sorry” Graham held her smoothing her hair “it’s awful to realize that someone only wants you for what you can give them.”

She could feel his heart beat beneath her hand. “I’m sorry. I should never have listened to her.”

She felt the warm comforting arms of her other dad as he came up behind her hugging both of them tight. “It’s alright sweetie. You have us. You have Ryan.” Charity could hear the terse way he said Ryan’s name.

“Don’t you like Ryan?” she asked fear gripping her heart. “I thought you liked him.” She didn’t want to have to choose between her parents and her boyfriend.

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“Sweetie” Graham chuckled “your dad is never going to like any boy who takes you away from us.”

“You’re my little girl” Zane said with the same petulant tone he had used earlier “I don’t want to think about anyone taking you from us.”

“Ryan wouldn’t do that” she insisted “we’re going to run the resort together.”

Stepping back Graham grinned at her. “Are you planning our retirement already?”

“We’re not that old yet” Zane protested.

“I never said that you were” she watched as Zane put an arm around Graham. “It’s just when you are old you won’t have to worry about anything. Ryan and I will take care of you.”

Looking at Graham Zane winked “I don’t know about you old man but I feel all warm and fuzzie.”

Ignoring his husbands antics Graham took Charity’s hands. “You don’t have to worry about us. I want you to be happy. Pursue your dreams. You don’t have to tie yourself down to the resort just because you think that’s what we want you to do.”

“It’s not that daddy” she smiled at him “I want to take over the resort. I love it here and I want my children to love it as much as I do.”

***

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Feeling somewhat lost without his phone Ryan wandered into the backyard. His little sister was sitting motionless on one of the swings. “Hey kiddo” he leaned on the swing set watching her.

“Go away” she sniffed running a grubby hand across her eyes.

“Hey” he murmured dropping to his knees beside her “I’m sorry.”

“So” she kicked her toes into the loose sand “am I supposed to forgive you now?”

Taken slightly off guard Ryan sighed “yeah I was kinda hoping you would.”

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Grabbing the chain as she swept past him Ryan stopped her forward momentum. “I know I hurt you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

She gave him a disbelieving look. “Yeah right” she jumped from the swing. “Did you think calling me a pest wouldn’t hurt my feelings?”

“I wh…” he shrugged cheeks burning as he stared at the ground. “I’m sorry. What else can I say?”

“That wasn’t even the worse of it” she crossed her arms “you ignored me. Do you know how that made me feel?”

Ryan shook his head shoving his hands into his pockets. This was worse than anything his parents could have said to him. “What can I do to make it up to you?” he asked as the silence hung between them

“Jerk” she grumbled “I wanted to yell and scream at you.”

“I deserve it” he said quietly without moving.

“It’s no fun if you just stand there and take it” she took a small step towards him tears making her eyes water. “I really missed you Ry.”

“I missed you too” his voice gruff as he fought back tears.

“Liar” she gave him a severe frown.

“I did” he declared “I really really did.”

“Words are cheap” she said lips twitching “you need to prove it.”

“How?” he asked closing the gap between them.

“Dinner and a movie” she said glaring up at him.

“Its a date” he held his arms out to her. With a giggle she ran into them.

***

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Later that night Ryan lay on his bed. His phone pressed to his ear. “Sorry”he murmured “my parents confiscated my phone.”

“So did mine” Charity giggled “I guess we have been over doing it a little.”

“I guess” he agreed sighing “I miss you.”

“I miss you more” she grinned “what can we do about it though?”

“I was thinking….” he bit his lip suddenly afraid it wasn’t a good idea.

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“About what?” she prompted after his silence continued longer than expected.

“Maybe I could go there for a couple of weeks?”

“What about your family? Don’t you want to spend time with them?” she asked.

“It’s a couple of weeks” he rolled his eyes “besides we’re adults. We don’t even have to come home for the summer if we don’t want to.”

“That’s true” she said hesitantly.

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To Ryan’s ears she sounded distant and sad. “Don’t you want me to come?”

“Of course I do” she cried “it’s just…”

“Just what?” he demanded sitting up.

“I don’t know if my dad’s are ready for me to be dating seriously yet” she admitted.

“Is that all?” Ryan could hear the bitterness in his voice “do you want to break up?”

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“What?” she cried “of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“So I can come” he asked again.

“See if Hannah will come to” she requested “it might make my parents happier if it were a group thing.”

“Alright I’ll ask” he promised giving in “can I still come if she can’t come?”

“You think she won’t?” she asked panic rising in her voice.

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“I’ll ask. That’s all I can do” Ryan said trying to ease her anxiety “she’s in the same boat we are.”

“At least my dad’s know you” Charity laughed softly “I don’t envy Hannah having to introduce Donovan to her dad’s.”

“Especially Uncle Rory” Ryan laughed as he thought about Hannah “I wish her luck.”

“She’s going to need it” she agreed “tell her to come. She’ll need us if Donovan’s visit goes bad.”

“I’ll do that” he promised “Charity….” He swallowed audibly, heart beating fast in his chest. His palms felt clammy as he fought for air “I love you.”

Silence greeted his proclamation. After a moment she said “I love you too.” Her voice stilling his panic and wildly beating heart.

Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities / Chapter 33 – Where Is Here?

Hannah – Chapter 10 – A New Adventure

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Eddie watched his daughter while she packed the last few items she was taking with her in a box. He was proud of her and all of her accomplishments. Now it was time for him to let go. She glanced up and smiled “why such a long face daddy?” she asked bouncing to her feet.

“I miss you already,” he told her. He took a deep breath promising himself he wouldn’t cry in front of her. He’d save the tears until after she was gone.

“Daddy it’s going to be alright,” she threw her arms around him “I’ll be home for holiday’s and most weekends.” She knew she was going to miss her parents as much if not more than they would miss her. She just wanted the freedom to skip a weekend every so often to hang with friends or whatever.

“I know sweetie,” Eddie squeezed her back fighting back the inevitable tears “are you sure you don’t want your dad and I to help you move?”

“I’ve got it covered,” glancing at the time “Ryan will be here in about five minutes to load the last of my things into the truck.” She smiled sweetly up at him “don’t worry daddy I’ll be alright. I can take care of myself.”

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His heart broke a little inside. Where had the years gone? Why couldn’t she have stayed a little girl forever? Too choked up to speak Eddie nodded pulling her close. Kissed her cheek murmuring “I love you.”

“Love you too daddy,” she stepped away tears shimmering in her green eyes “I need to tell dad good-bye.” She rushed to the door afraid if she lingered she’d burst into tears and together they’d have a flood.

Looking up from the magazine he’d spent the last several minutes flipping through pages without seeing one of them, Rory stood letting it slide to the floor. “All set?” he asked as Hannah approached him.

Nodding she hurried across the room throwing her arms around him “I’m going to miss you so so much.”

Smoothing her long blond hair Rory kissed the top of her head “I’ll miss you too.” He took a deep breath as his chest tightened. No matter how long he knew this day was coming he still wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to watch his little girl walk out the door a young woman.”I love you so much sweetheart.” He hugged her tight wishing he could keep her with him just a little longer.

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A knock at the door announced the arrival of her ride. “That will be Ryan,” she said pulling away from him. Turning she dabbed at her eyes fighting for control.

“Uncle Eddie,” Ryan said as he came inside the kitchen “is Hannah ready to go?”

“She’s just saying goodbye to Rory,” Eddie told him trying to muster up a smile “she has a few more boxes in her room.” He led the way to her room.

Whistling softly Ryan shook his head “where is she planning to put all this stuff?”

“Knowing her she’ll be storing some of it in your room,” Eddie told him eliciting a groan from his nephew.

“I kind of figured that but she could at least ask,” Ryan groaned picking up the first box “what does she have in here? Rocks?”

***

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Eddie stood beside Rory waving as their daughter drove away to start her own adventure without them. “Hey,” Rory said softly turning to Eddie noticing the silent tears as they coursed down his cheeks “she’ll be back.”

“I know. It’ll just not be the same,” Eddie tried to walk away. Before he could do so Rory’s strong arms pulled him close holding him tight.

“Tell me what’s wrong?” Rory asked his voice soft undemanding. He knew there was more to it than just missing their daughter. It wasn’t what people liked to call empty nest syndrome either. Something serious was bothering his husband. He had spent too many years married to the man not to recognize the signs.

“College. She’s going to college.” There it was out in the open. The problem. The worry. The past. The memories. The turmoil. The upset. The end of normality. The start of a nightmare that had taken years for him to come to grips with. “What if?” he choked on the words unable to give voice to his fears.

Words failed him. What could he say? That nothing bad would happen to their little girl? He couldn’t. Life was too unpredictable. Rory wrapped his arms around Eddie holding him tight. He could feel the tremor run through his husband’s body. He longed for something he could say or do to ease his pain and fears. There just weren’t words. No platitudes that could ease Eddie’s fears and Rory didn’t want to give empty promises. “Whatever happens in the future,” Rory said finally finding the words “we’ll be there for our daughter. She’ll never be alone. She has good friends. People who won’t abandon her. Who will look out for her.”

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Eddie sniffed listening to Rory’s soothing words letting them calm his fears, his worries. He rested his head on Rory’s chest listening to the steady beat of his heart. Thump, thump, thump rhythmic, soothing. As long as he had this man by his side he could do anything. “Thank you,” he murmured “you’re right. I was letting my imagination runaway with me.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Rory tilted Eddie’s chin up “I love you.” It still came as a shock to him how easy it was to say those three little words and mean them. It was hard to imagine how close he had come to never knowing this feeling. Never knowing what it meant to love and be loved. He had almost lost it all.

He looked longingly into Eddie’s deep brown eyes. The same eyes he had looked into twenty years ago and lost his heart. This time was no different. “Eddie you have no idea how much I love and adore you.” He brought his mouth down to tenderly kiss his husband’s soft lips that yielded to him.

Leaning weakly against him Eddie ran his fingers up and down Rory’s back “I have a pretty good idea” he said pressing his body closer to Rory’s.

Moaning Rory pulled him closer as if he wanted merge their bodies together. “You know I think I have the same effect on you,” Rory smiled cheekily down at him.

“Let’s go inside and do something about it,” Eddie replied as Rory lifted him up. Eddie wrapped his legs around his husbands waist. As Rory fumbled for the door Eddie pressed his mouth against Rory’s his tongue exploring, tasting insistent until the door closed behind them and they fell to the floor.

***

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Charity glanced around her room one last time. Her mind on all the fun times she had within those four walls. The various transformations her room had gone through over the years. From baby pink to deep purple with tones of black to the current relaxing blue. She was going to miss it. Her dads. The islands. Her friends the few she had here.

Closing the door she found her parents waiting for her. Zane smiled holding his arms out wide. She giggled as she ran to him and he lifted her up into a bear hug. “I love you daddy” she said kissing his cheek.

“I love you too sweetie,” Zane told her with an easy smile.

Turning to Graham she could see the sadness in his eyes despite the smile he had plastered on his face. “I’m going to miss you too,” she told him squeezing him tight.

Graham’s arms curled around her small frame holding her tight. If he could he’d never let her go. Breathing in deeply he released her “love you baby girl.”

Standing on her toes she stretched to kiss his cheek “love you to dad.”

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Clearing his throat Graham asked “you have everything?”

“I think so,” she shrugged “if I’ve forgotten anything I’ll get it next time I’m home.” Her breath caught in her throat it was going to be months before she saw them again. The thought made her heart ache. She had never been separated from them for more than a few hours a day for school.

“If we don’t hurry you’ll miss your flight,” Graham said turning to practicalities.

“She could always take a later flight,” Zane pointed out a little too hopeful to have a few extra hours with his daughter before she left on the plane.

Despite Zane’s proposal to the contrary Graham hustled them from the house to the airport. “Let us know when you arrive,” he told her.

“I will” she promised looking down at her boarding tickets. This was it. It was really happening. She was no longer a little girl. She was a full-grown adult. A college student. Glancing towards her parents. Zane’s woebegone face made her almost regret not signing up for classes at the local college.

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She might have done just that if Graham hadn’t sat her down and made her admit what she wanted to accomplish with her life. It led her to choosing a school on the mainland that offered the classes that would help her accomplish her goals. It would be harder. In the end the reward would be something she and her parents would both be proud of.
She walked a few steps towards the long queue to get through security. She stopped and turned waving to her parents. The two most important men in her life. They had loved her. Molded her into the person she was today. She didn’t know how she could stand to be away from them for so long.

She ran back to them throwing her arms around them both “I can’t do this.” she cried.
Kissing her forehead Graham peered into her eyes “of course you can. Your dad and I are so proud of you and everything you have accomplished so far. Now go follow your dreams.”

Nodding she walked backwards a few steps loathe to lose sight of them. She bumped into someone, turning to apologize she lost track of them. She turned scanning the crowd but couldn’t find them. With a heavy heart she joined the line through security.

It wasn’t until she was seated on the plane, forehead resting on the window that she felt the first pangs of homesickness. As the island disappeared below her the first tears trickled down her nose. This was really happening she thought. She was on her own now.

***

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Donovan scowled out the window. His duffel bag clutched in his lap to keep it safe from being trampled. An overweight middle-aged man with a receding hairline snored like a jet engine beside him. There was no way he was ever going to be able to sleep with all that noise. If he had to go to college why couldn’t he have gone to the one in his home town? Why had his mother insisted upon this particular one?

The obese man turned in his sleep, his head lolling on Donovan’s shoulder. He couldn’t keep the disgust he felt from showing on his face. With effort he kept from shoving the man way from him. He promised his mom he’d stay out of trouble. He squirmed trying to find a better position in his cramped seat. Pushing against the boulder beside him he groaned. If only his mom hadn’t found out about his computer hacking. He would have had enough funds for a plane ticket.

He let his mind wander for a moment to the luxury of a first class ticket. Room to spread out, to stretch his legs. OMG what is that stench he thought bringing a hand to pinch his nose closed wishing he could burn his nasal passages from ever having to smell again. He coughed as another wave of noxious fumes enveloped him. Eyes watering he tried to crawl over the immobile blockade in his path. No matter what he tried he couldn’t get past the man.

People in the surrounding seats began to stir complaining of the stench assaulting their nostrils. A strange gurgling sound emanated from the sleeping man as more fumes engulfed them. Gagging Donovan couldn’t keep the bile down anymore as he heaved all over the man next to him.

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To Donovan’s astonishment and relief. The people around him applauded as the large man woke up in a huff and lumbered to the front of the bus. Leaving behind a trail of vomit in his wake.

A grandmotherly type older woman came up beside Donovan and helped him clean up the seat asking him “are you ok young man?”

“I’m fine ma’am,” he couldn’t hide his grin “I’m just sensitive to strong scents.”

She giggled “he was rather odoriferous.”

He chuckled feeling better now he had the seat to himself even if it reeked of vomit. It was still better than toxic gas. He leaned his head against the window wondering what college would be like. If he’d meet anyone interesting there. Mostly he wondered if he’d be able to keep his promise to his mom. Would he be able to resist the urge to continue his computer “activism”. He felt he was doing some good giving money back to the people treated the worst by unfair business practices. Did he really want to stop?

***

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Waylon sighed laying back on the bed he’d chosen in the room he was assigned in the dorm. He stared up at the ceiling wondering why anyone would go through the effort to texture it. It seemed to be an awful waste of time and effort for something most people never noticed. His stomach churned as his mind started to wonder who he’d be sharing the room with and the rest of the dormitory. He started to have doubts about coming here altogether. He should’ve have just gone to the local college in his hometown.

He could still have lived with his Uncle and Aunt as they had tried to convince him to do. He could have helped them on the farm, taken a few classes. They just didn’t understand why he wanted to be so far away from them. It wasn’t them but the tragedy that haunted him. All he could think about were all the unanswered questions. Why did his dad start the fire that killed all his family? Why had he been spared? He hated the pity in the neighbor’s eyes as they looked at him. The kids all stayed away from him. He was different. Cursed. His Aunt and Uncle tried but they couldn’t fill the void when his heart had disappeared into it.

If only he had answers to the whys in his life he might be able to move on. A part of him died that night. A part of him still belonged in that fire. He felt like cold ash surrounded by smoldering embers. The embers of that night still burned within him keeping the nightmare fresh and alive.

Growing restless he left his room hoping a little exercise would silence his inner voice. He changed into comfortable workout attire and set to work. Sweat poured off his body as he pushed his limits and his muscles began to burn from the exertion. He could hear voices filtering up from downstairs as others started to arrive. Happy, carefree voices from the sounds of them that both excited him and filled him with dread. Breathing hard he gathered his things and headed towards the showers stalling for time before he had to meet any of these people he would be living with.

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He let the hot water massage his tired muscles soothing and relaxing them. He could pretend he was the only person there until the unmistakable sound of the bathroom door opening and a stall door opened and shut. He couldn’t escape the fact that he wasn’t alone any longer. As much as he wanted to avoid it he knew he had to go out there and meet his roommate.

He waited until he was alone in the bathroom before getting out of the shower to get dressed. He finger combed his wet hair and left. Walked downstairs to his room. As he approached his door it sounded like everyone was inside his room. Great his roommate was the popular type.

He hesitated outside the door debating whether or not to go inside. Taking a deep breath he opened the door to find the room filled with girls and boys all laughing and talking. A girl with dark reddish hair turned with a smile to greet him “you must be the roommate.”

“Err,” he mumbled unsure what to say. He moved to put his things away when he stopped stunned. A gorgeous blond was sitting casually on his bed. Waylon felt his pulse quicken like he was still working out. For the first time since he got there he hoped he’d be accepted and make friends.

Chapter 9 – Monday / Chapter 11 – He Likes Me, He Likes Me Not