“Grandpa” Trober shouted upon entering the house “Grandpa” he repeated smiling as he listened to his voice echoing off the walls. Grandpa’s house was so cool he thought as he proceeded into the sitting area. It was empty. Undaunted Trober walked through the kitchen stopping as he entered the dining room “you’re not Grandpa” he said to the older man smiling over at him.
“I am” Gene teased “at least that’s what your daddy calls me.”
Trober’s eyes sparkled matching the merriment in the older man’s eyes. “Your old” he said trying to sound serious despite the smile that kept spreading across his face.
“That I am” Gene agreed pushing away from the table “what are you doing here?” he asked glancing at the time. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” he couldn’t help but chuckle. Only his five year old grandson would skip kindergarten. He couldn’t help but wonder what the boy would be like in ten years time. A rebel no doubt. A handful he could be proud of.
“Came to see grandpa” Trober said without blinking or remorse.
“He’s not home,” Gene told him “come back after school if you want to see him.”
“That’s not fair” Trober stomped his foot “I want to see him now.”
“You’ll see him later” Gene said standing up “get your things and I’ll drive you.”
Kicking the table leg Trober mumbled “Grandma Aimee would let me stay until Grandpa gets home.”
Laughing Gene shook his head “you know as well as I do that Grandma Aimee wouldn’t let you stay. In fact she’d make you walk to school and call to make sure you got there.” Walking towards a hook in the kitchen where he kept his keys he continued talking “you’re getting off easy by letting me drive you to school.”
“Oh man” Trober mumbled following Gene from the house.
“Is there a reason why you don’t want to go to school?” Gene asked as they walked towards the garage.
Trober stopped to consider the question while Gene waited patiently for him to answer. Knowing all the while it was a delaying tactic. “It’s boring” Trober finally came up with waving his hands around “there’s so many other things I’d rather be doing than sitting inside a dusty old room.”
Gene rubbed a hand across his mouth hiding the grin he couldn’t help. The boy was definitely a kindred spirit. “You have to go to school” he said repeating what he had been told hundreds of times by his parents decades ago. Ian had liked school for the most part and Garrett had been a lazy learner but still want to school without fuss. Trober was a different story altogether.
“I learn stuff all the time” Trober insisted a distinct whine in his voice “I don’t see why I have to go to school.”
Opening the garage door Gene said “what would you say if I said you had to go to school because I said so?”
Rolling his eyes Trober shook his head “that’s a stupid reason. I shouldn’t have to do something I don’t want to do just because you said so.”
“Kid I happen to agree with you but the state doesn’t” Gene said getting into the car.
Reluctantly Trober settled into the backseat fastening his seat belt “it’s not fair” he complained.
“Life isn’t fair sometimes” Gene agreed backing from the garage “until we can convince the state to change their minds about school. You have to go.”
“I’m going to start a protest” Trober declared from the backseat.
“Not today” Gene said looking at him in the rear view mirror “you don’t have any protest signs.”
Nodding thoughtfully Trober was silent the rest of the way to school. Getting out he turned to Gene with a grin “I’ll go on protest tomorrow. Today I’ll get followers to protest unfair school rules today.”
“Good luck with that” Gene waved him on hoping the boy never lost his spunk.
“That was the school,” Garrett said putting his phone away.
“Not again” Verity sighed “he’s too young.”
“To hate school?” Garrett laughed “afraid not. The teacher says he’s making protest signs to stop unfair school rules.”
“What?” she asked laughing.
“Yeah our son thinks it’s unfair to force kids to go to school,” Garrett chuckled sitting beside Verity on the couch “it’s going to be a long twelve years if he continues to hate school this much.”
“I’d like to know whose giving him these ideas,” she demanded turning up the volume on the TV.
Garrett watched the group of women protesters before glancing over at Verity “I hate say this but I think we’re to blame.”
“What do you mean?” she asked turning her attention to him.
Waving a hand towards the TV “we may be watching too much of this and not enough cartoons.”
“Oh” she said blankly as she watched the group on the screen waving around their signs “that explains the protest signs. Not his dislike for school though.”
“He’s a typical kid,” Garrett shrugged “I didn’t much like school either.”
“We need to do something” Verity insisted “I don’t want to fight with him everyday for the next twelve years to go to school.”
“I’ll talk to him” Garrett promised “Not to change the subject but what have you decided regarding that job you offered at the police station.”
“Totally changing the subject” he said snuggling into him.
“Alright I am but I really want to know,” he draped an arm around her dropping a kiss on her nose.
Glancing towards Ava playing on the floor Verity sighed “I don’t know. It’s a great opportunity but I” she sighed again “I don’t know.”
“I think you should take it” Garrett encouraged “you love investigating, solving problems. Helping people. You’re good at it.”
She moved restlessly in his arms “I do. I mean I did” she stopped confused “what about you and the kids?”
“What about us?” she asked “you’re not afraid to leave them at home with me are you?” he half joked. “If you’re afraid what we’ll eat I’ll take us all over to mom’s.”
“It’s not that” she laughed “but I’m glad you wouldn’t subject them to your idea of cooking.” She leaned into him taking comfort in the feel of his strong arms around her. She wished she could stay like this forever.
“Then what is it?” Garrett asked giving the impression of endless patience when inside he was dying of curiosity.
Sighing she craned her neck to look up at him a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. “I’m afraid. Afraid that I’ll become obsessed again.”
“Shh” he said softly “that won’t happen.” Garrett cupped her face between his palms “I trust you to see the line now. You’ve learned from your mistakes and so have I.”
A tear dropped rolling down the side of her nose. “How can you be so sure? What if I can’t let go? What if I neglect my family?”
He slid his fingers across her face drying the tears. “I trust you. You won’t let that happen again. Not now. Not this time. We’re both older, wiser more settled this time. It’s been over three years since you became a stay at home mom.” He kissed her forehead where her hairline began “I know it’s what you wanted and needed to do but can you honestly say that’s your dream come true?”
Closing her eyes she listened to his even breathing. Felt the gentle touch of his warm breath on the nape of her neck as he nuzzled her. Her skin prickled with anticipation of his touch. She calmed her heart taking in all the sensations. The mosaic of her life. She loved moments like this. The moments she could see the answers so clearly. Every one of the answers were interwoven with this man and the family they created together. This was the family she always wanted. The closeness she longed for but never had with her parents. Their lives focused around their jobs, the mystery solving, the case. She was left on the outside looking in. Lonely. “I do love the mystery. Solving the case. It’s not all I want though.”
“That’s good,” Garrett enthused “that means you won’t forget about us.”
She smiled at that “I was pretty bad before wasn’t I?”
“You were” Garrett agreed his voice gentle “your heart was in the right place.”
“You still maintain that I won’t go over board again become obsessed” she inquired.
“I’m positive this time things will be different” Garrett affirmed “solving mysteries is part of who you are. I never meant for you to give that up. I appreciate that you did for me and the kids. It’s what we needed at the time. I think if you wanted to go back to work we can manage.”
“Wife, mother and crime solving sleuth,” she smiled up at him content with the world “I like the sound of that.”
Putting his phone away Ian sighed giving his grandson a stern look. Glancing up Trober lost his grin “that was daddy wasn’t it?”
“Yes” Ian confirmed “they were looking for you. It seems you didn’t have permission to come here after school.”
“Yes I did” Trober said standing up straight meeting Ian’s eyes “Grandpa Gene said I could.”
“Yes you did” Trober insisted “this morning when you drove me to school. You said I could come back to see Grandpa after school.”
“You drove” Aimee said turning to Gene “you know what the doctor said.”
“He didn’t say I couldn’t drive” Gene protested “he said to avoid high stress situations.”
“Driving isn’t a stress free activity” Aimee said throwing her hands up in exasperation.
“It wasn’t that far” Gene protested voice rising “I’mm not an invalid.”
“No one’s saying you are” Ian interjected before the situation could deteriorate further. He gave his mom an irritable look. She knew better than to antagonize Gene, “the issue at hand is Trober.”
The young boy looked up in surprise at the sound of his name being said “I have no issue” he said giving them all a sweet smile.
Shaking his head Ian counted to ten before proceeding. “What have I told you about coming over here?” Ian asked his voice firm commanding attention.
Trober remained silent staring up at his grandfather “I’m to get permission before coming here after school.” He sighed crossing his arms “I did get permission. Grandpa Gene said I could.”
Ian gave his dad a frosty look stalling any intervention Gene might have made on the boys behalf. “Why were you here this morning?” Ian asked.
“To see you” Trober replied as if it should have been obvious.
“Did you have permission to come here this morning?” Ian asked.
“You didn’t say anything about needing permission to come in the morning” Trober protested “just after school. Besides Grandma Aimee never said anything all the other times I came. Why is this time different?”
“Don’t look at me like that” Aimee protested sensing Ian’s displeasure directed at her “I always made sure he got to school.”
Nodding Ian knelt in front of the boy “any time you go anywhere without your parents you need their permission. Do you understand?”
Trober’s eye darted around the room desperately looking for an allay. “What if my parents aren’t around to ask? Then what?”
Ian wasn’t fooled by the boys tactics. He knew the boy was looking for a loop hole. “If your not with your parents then you can ask another adult who is watching you. The important thing is your family needs to know where you are.”
“Alright” Trober acknowledged looking at the floor a sullen look on his face at his sudden loss of freedom. His parents would never agree to him coming here before school. They barely let him come here after school.
“Your parents are on their way here to get you” Ian told the boy “get your things together.”
“Mom. Dad” Garrett enthused giving each a hug before turning to his grandparents. “Grandma” Garrett chided “encouraging my son in his rebellion.”
“I always made sure he went to school” Aimee asserted “doesn’t that count for something?”
“Of course it does” Garrett kissed her cheek careful not to hurt her fragile frame “Grandpa on the other hand” Garrett laughed at the mixture of guilt and mirth on the older man’s face “your a bad influence on my boy” Garrett intoned giving Gene a hearty hug.
“That’s what Grandpas are for” Gene chuckled.
“Hmm” Garrett laughed “I don’t remember you being so easy on me when I was Trober’s age.” Shaking his head at the older man Garrett turned to his son “are you ready to go?”
Nodding Trober sighed. He liked being at his grandparents house. If he could live here he would. It was safe. He didn’t have to worry about the boogeyman coming in and taking him away. He dragged his backpack over to where his dad was standing “do I have to go home? Can’t I stay here?”
“Son if you wanted to spend the night you should have asked first” Garrett knelt down to be on the same level with his son “we were worried about you.”
“I know” Trober sighed blinking back tears “I just wanted to be here…”
Giving the boy a slight smile Garrett held his arms out drawing the boy in for a hug. Squeezing the sturdy solid frame of his son Garrett said “I’m glad you like coming here but you need to ask first. Your mother and I need to know where you are. When you didn’t come home we were scared.”
Trober gave him a quizzical look. It never occurred to him that parents could get scared. Were they afraid of the boogeyman too? “Is it because the boogeyman took me away once?” he asked his voice low confidential.
Squeezing his son tight Garrett nodded “yes that’s why. We never want that to happen again.” Garrett had often wondered how much if anything Trober remembered of his time with Kara. He had been reluctant to ask too much afraid it would cause more harm than good. Maybe he had been wrong about that. “Are you scared the boogeyman will come?” he asked keeping his voice down so as not to be over heard.
“Sometimes” he mumbled “it’s safe here.”
There was the clincher. The magnetic draw as to why Trober always found his way here instead to his own home. Ian had rescued him. That bond. The assurance that he was safe in Grandpa’s home. “Would it make you feel better to come here after school for a little while?” Garrett asked. He didn’t want to award bad behavior but it didn’t seem so bad after knowing the reason why he came.
“Yes” he replied. The simple unembellished answer more than emphasized the depth of his need.
“I’ll see what I can do about that” Garrett assured him “in the mean time you have to ask before you come, ok?”
“I promise” Trober said “I’m sorry for scaring you and mommy.”
“I know bud” Garrett said lifting the boy in his arms.
“Gene” Aimee called from the bedroom. “Gene are you alright?” she asked throwing the blanket back. She shuffled across the floor towards their bathroom suite. He had been too long in the bathroom. His silence was becoming alarming. Opening the door she found him on the floor clutching his left arm panting. “Gene” she cried falling to her knees beside him.
His eye lids fluttered in response to her voice. A slight feeble smile flitted across his ashen face “get Ian” he gasped.
Leaning forward she place a kiss on his clammy forehead. She felt a slight pressure on her hand as he attempted to reassure her. She forced her arthritic joints to move faster then they had in years as she ran to get her son. Not once did it cross her mind to simply call his cell. “Ian” she called once she was in the hall “Ian” she called a second time.
Running up the stairs in response to her cry. Ian almost knocked her over in his haste to get to her. “Your father” she gasped “collapsed in the bathroom.”
Stunned he stared at her into panic, grief stricken face before leaving her side to find his dad. Stumbling into the bathroom he fell to his knees beside Gene. “Dad” he bit back the strangled sob that threatened to escape. He fumbled for his phone “I need an ambulance. My father’s having a heart attack.” He recited the address feeling as if he was trapped in a nightmare. He wasn’t ready. It was too soon.
His phone slid from his hand as he reached out to take his dad’s hand. “I’m here dad”he said trying to comfort the older man “help’s on the way.”
Gene’s dark brown eyes opened as he struggled to talk “take…care…of…your…mother…”
“Dad you’re going to be alright” Ian cried clinging to his hand “hang on just a little longer.”
“Promise…me” Gene pleaded.
Ian looked up as the bathroom door opened. Tears in his eyes as he found Celia holding onto Aimee who was weeping helplessly in her daughter-in-laws arms. “Dad you’ve got to hang on” Ian pleaded “it’s your time. Not yet. Not like this.”
“Please” Aimee pleaded “Please I can’t go on without you.”
“Celia honey take her out of here” Ian urged “please.”
Nodding Celia guided the distraught woman from the room. The sounds of her sobbing faded as the door closed behind them. “Dad you hear that” Gene nodded “you’ve got to hang on. She’s not ready to let you go. I’m not ready to let you go. We’re not ready. I know it’s hard but you’ve got to fight. Please dad don’t go. We need you.”