Danae, Andy, Darcey, Clint, Charlotte, and Devin all sat in the stadium for the championship game, waiting for the team to take the field in their most important game of the year. It was an experience that none of them had ever had before, sitting in the VIP box, with a catered meal, with Emmitt, and Lionel and Tarah O’Reilly, the new owners of the Starlight Shores Llamas. Lionel popped a bottle of very expensive champagne open, and poured glasses for everyone, except for Darcey. Tarah, recognizing the three-month baby bump, poured the expectant mother a glass of nectar.
“To the championship, to the best Shores Llamas team this city has seen in a long time. To the team captain, Travis Jones, and the head coach, Aaron Hall. Thank you for your support through the transition, and well past. Tarah and I are very appreciative for all of you.”
“Here here!” concurred Tarah, and they all clinked their glasses together.
Emmitt walked to Charlotte and kissed her hand. “Thank you for letting us have Travis down on the field tonight, even though he won’t be playing. It was important for him to be on the side with Aaron.”
“He would have been broken, sitting up here watching. There’s no other way I’d have let this go tonight,” she told him. And it was true. Since his injury, Travis had made tremendous progress, but he said if the team went to the championship, he needed to be on the field, even if he couldn’t play.
Down in the locker room, Aaron and Travis led a last-minute team meeting and pep talk. “Gentlemen, as your team captain, I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of you. Since my injury, you all have stepped up and brought your A-game, making today possible. This game is crucial, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. If we win, we rejoice, and if we lose, we still rejoice. Go out there, give it your best, and have fun.”
“Guys, I can’t say anything more than what Travis said. I’m proud of you all. Give ‘em hell, boys!” Aaron dismissed the meeting and led the team out onto the field.
Travis, though he was dressed to play, was not cleared to play. But Charlotte knew it was very important for him to be with the team. He’d already missed all of the post-season. Missing the championship game would have been devastating to him.
The team was playing well, and going into the end of the first half, they were up five points, score 8-3. The mood in the VIP box was cheerful, with Lionel and Tarah hosting a great party. It was really Charlotte’s first time meeting and socializing with them, and she was impressed that they were such gracious hosts. The box phone rang, and Emmitt answered it.
“Charlotte, it’s for you,” he smiled and winked.
“Hey baby,” came Travis’ happy voice. “Are you enjoying the game so far, honey?”
“Of course I am! We’re having a great time up here with Lionel and Tarah. How are you feeling?”
“Mentally, I’m super! We’re on the cusp of my first championship! My leg is throbbing to beat the band, however.” Travis sounded blissful, and it made her happy.
“Don’t overdo it, honey. I don’t have my bag with me.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me! I’m good.” She heard some commotion in the background. “Baby, I have to go. We’re going back out. I just wanted to tell you how much I love you. And thank you, for everything.”
“I love you, Travis. Go win us a trophy.” Charlotte made a kiss sound on the phone, and they hung up.
Danae was smiling at her. “Is he happy, Mama? I can tell by the look on your face he is having a good time.”
“He is having the time of his life, baby girl.”
Clint looked down onto the field from the box, and couldn’t believe the view. “This is amazing.” Being part of an affluent family still astounded him from time to time, much like it did with Travis when he and Charlotte were first married.
Darcey sidled up to him and snuggled up. “This is what it feels like to be a Jones, Boo.” Clint laughed.
During the second half of the game, the opposing team brought the score close, and it looked like the Llamas might lose. Aaron looked to Travis for some advice.
“What should we do, Travis?”
“Get someone fresh in the game. Trey looks beat. He’s been out almost the whole game.”
“Without Smith, we’re doomed,” Aaron countered.
“How about Searcy?” Travis suggested. Wyatt Searcy was a late-season trade from Appaloosa Plains, and though he was talented, he didn’t usually get to play much.
“I’m glad I have you here, Travis. Searcy! You’re up. Take Guzman with you, and get Smitty off the field.”
A nearly exhausted Trey Smith hobbled off the field. “Who took me out of the game?” he asked, breathing heavily.
“I did, buddy. I know you have to be wiped out.” Travis motioned for him to sit.
“Stroke of genius to put Wyatt in there. He’s a good player. Give him a chance to shine, and he won’t disappoint us.” Trey grabbed a sports drink from the cooler, and sat back on the bench, trying to recover. “I sure do miss you on the field, old man,” he joked with Travis. Both men smiled.
After the player switch, Wyatt came alive, playing much like Travis did at the beginning of his career. Light on his feet and agile, he was able to help the team pull ahead and stay there, scoring the winning goals. As the clock ticked down, and it was certain the Llamas would win their first championship in over twenty years, the fans in the stadium erupted in cheers. The opposing team accepted their loss gracefully, and players on both teams congratulated each other on a game well played. Wyatt, virtually unknown before Travis put him into the game, was named the MVP and recognized as the player with the most potential on the team.
Up in the booth, Lionel and Tarah popped open another expensive bottle of champagne and poured a glass for everyone. Darcey sipped on nectar as they all toasted to a great game well played. Charlotte couldn’t wait to see Travis. He had to be floating on a cloud, and she imagined he would be euphoric for days. Five minutes later, the box phone rang, and Emmitt answered it.
“Charlotte, it’s for you,” his happy voice sang out.
“We did it, honey,” Travis said on the other end. “We won a championship!”
“I’m so proud of you. They said up here you made the decision to put Wyatt in to play. He was great.”
“I did. He did not disappoint me, or any of us. This is one of the best days of my life. Baby, I love you so much, honey. Tell the kids I love them. We have a team meeting, and I have a presser afterward, but I’ll be up in the booth after awhile.”
“I love you, Travis. So very, very much.” Charlotte hung up the phone, beaming with pride.
Charlotte helped Travis into the house. Tonight, they had it all to themselves. Devin was invited to a team after-party, which Travis gave him permission to attend in his place. Danae was staying with Andy for the night, and Darcey and Clint went home. Though his mood was happy, his face showed a different story.
“You’re in pain, aren’t you baby?” she asked him, as she kissed his forehead.
“Horrible, yes.” His leg was healing, but it was taking longer than he wanted. But now that the season was over, he had time to recover.
“Do you want a shot to help you sleep?”
“No, I’ll be okay. The doctor doesn’t really want me on that stuff anymore.” He sat down in the living room chair and slumped over. “I’m so tired.”
“Sweetie, are you sure you don’t want something for the pain? There’s no shame in admitting you need it, you know.”
“I know. I was hoping we could do something else to get my mind off of it.” He winked at her.
She shook her head. “You can’t be serious,” she laughed.
“Oh, I’m dead serious,” he replied. “In fact, if I can get myself up these stairs, I’m going to rock your world.”
“Well, at least we don’t have to be quiet tonight,” she flirted.
The alarm sounded early that Saturday morning. No one had to be at work, no one was attending school. But the day came with dread because it was the morning of Danae’s wedding. Travis hadn’t slept well the night before, knowing that this day would be simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst days of his life. His Punkin, his sweet little Danae… today, he would give her away to a man he felt like he’d known forever, the son of his best friend, Emmitt Murphy. But, even knowing such an upstanding young man would be her husband gave him little comfort.
Charlotte had felt this same sadness, the same sense of loss when Darcey was married six months prior. Now, it was Travis’ turn, and he found he was equally not ready to say goodbye to his little girl. He had gone into the attic and retrieved one of her favorite childhood toys, a stuffed doll, and sat with it. We used to have so much fun with that doll, he thought. He’d talk through it for her, making it seem so alive, and it made her giggle. As he ran his fingers over the doll’s face, tears streamed down his face. Oh, what he would give to hear both of his baby girls giggle, just one more time. And inside, a piece of him died.
Travis set the doll down on top of a box of old toys and walked cautiously down the steps from the attic. No one else was awake in the house. He tiptoed to Danae’s bedroom and watched her sleep for the last time. Today, she was just his daughter. Tomorrow, she would be someone’s wife. Overcome with emotion, he walked quietly back to his bedroom and snuggled up with Charlotte.
She awakened when she felt him touch her. “Mmm, good morning honeybear,” she purred, barely awake. When he didn’t answer her right away, she woke up fully. “Baby? Are you okay?”
“No, honey, I’m not.” He breathed a heavy sigh. “I appreciate how you felt on Darcey’s wedding day, love. I don’t know how I’ll make it through this.”
“You’ll make it through the same way I did,” she replied, trying to soothe him. “With me by your side, every step of the way.”
“I love you, my queen. Queen Charlotte. I think that’s my new nickname for you, honey.”
“It has a nice ring to it,” she giggled. “But I’m no queen. At best, I’m a princess wannabe.”
“Queen is easier to say,” he joked. “Oh, if I could just laugh like this all day.” But he knew he wouldn’t.
Charlotte turned over to face him and wrapped herself around him. “We will make it through this. And tonight, when it’s over, we can make it better, together.”
“I like the sound of that,” he cooed. “Care to join me in the shower?”
“I could very well do that,” she agreed.
When they finally appeared downstairs, Danae was making breakfast. “Good morning, lovebirds,” Danae smiled, and winked at her mother. “Breakfast will be ready soon.”
“Here, sweetie, let me finish. Let me spoil you one last morning.” Charlotte took over cooking duties and allowed Danae to sit. The bride poured coffee for both her mother and father and a cup for herself. Even though the morning looked the same at the moment, all three of them realized the family dynamic was getting ready to change drastically.
“Cakes are up,” she announced, as she placed the last one on the serving platter. Danae took a few and gave them to Travis. She noticed he was already limping, and it would be a long day.
“Here, Daddy. So you don’t have to get up.” She set the plate down in front of him and smiled sweetly at him.
He hugged her and kissed her forehead. “Thank you, Punkin,” he said, choking on his emotions.
Charlotte brought Danae to the chapel, to meet Darcey there. Hers and Nae’s gowns were already there, but Darcey had a maternity outfit on, as she was expecting their first child. They already knew the baby would be a boy, so Charlotte and Travis would have their first grandson in about 19 weeks’ time.
Darcey held the gown for Danae as she wiggled into it. The dress fit her beautifully, and for the third time would be worn as a young bride walked down the aisle in it. Charlotte zipped it for her, as Danae smoothed the fabric under her hands. “Oh honey, this is perfection,” she gushed. Though she never wore it down, Danae’s hair was halfway down to the middle of her back, and thick like her mother’s. But Charlotte brushed it, putting it into Danae’s signature look, an elegant updo she had worn since her early teen years. Darcey put the finishing touches on her makeup, and she was ready.
Travis knocked lightly on the door, signaling that Andy was in place and ready. Charlotte came out first and smiled at her husband. “You’re going to need this,” she said, handing him a clean handkerchief. She kissed his cheek and walked down to her seat on Devin’s arm. Darcey appeared next in her maternity gown, with Clint waiting to escort her down the aisle.
Danae opened the door to the bride’s room, and Travis fell to pieces when he saw her. “My sweet little Danae,” he cried. “Oh, how you remind me of your Mama.” He hugged her and kissed her cheek.
Gently, she wiped a tear from his eyes. “I love you, Daddy,” she smiled at him. “Thank you for such a beautiful wedding. And thank you for loving me, no matter what.”
“I love you, Nae Nae. You’ll always be my little girl.” He held his arm for her, and together they stood at the back of the chapel. “You are perfection, Danae Elizabeth. Andy is a blessed man.”
“You’re going to make me cry!” she exclaimed as they began to walk down the aisle. When they reached the arch, he lifted her veil, kissed her cheek and gave her to his best friend’s son. Emmitt was doing okay until he looked at Travis and saw him weeping. He shook his head and wiped a tear from his own eyes.
Andy and Danae exchanged vows and rings, and suddenly, Travis and Charlotte added another son to their family, and Emmitt added a daughter he never had and always wanted. And with the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, the best friends were now in-laws. From now on, they would share holidays, birthdays and grandchildren.
After Danae and Andy danced for their first time as a couple, Danae approached Travis to dance with him for their last dance. He held her close and they swayed to the music, and tears rolled down his cheeks. “I remember teaching you to dance, Nae. You stood on my feet, and we danced together. Remember, Punkin?”
“How could I ever forget, Daddy?” She rested her head on his shoulder, and she cried when she felt him tremble. “Don’t cry, Daddy,” she whispered in his ear.
“My sweet, little Danae,” he whispered back, and she smiled. “You will always be my little girl, honey. Forever.”
The party was starting to wind down, and Travis was a mess, but he had one last thing for Danae. He pulled both of them aside. “Your Mama and I paid for a few nights at the beach for you, since I know you can’t get away on a honeymoon. She left a bag with clothing and some other things at the inn, so all you have to do is show up.” He wrapped Danae in a tight embrace, for the final time that evening. “I love you Danae. Go, be with Andy. Spread your wings and fly.”
After they left the party, Travis was truly exhausted. His leg was throbbing and he was emotionally worn out. Charlotte was expecting him any moment as she chatted with Emmitt and Christopher.
“Hey baby,” he said weakly. “I’m done, honey. Are you ready to go?”
“I am,” she replied. “Thanks for coming Chris. Emmitt, we’ll see you soon, honey,” Charlotte hugged him, turned to Travis and said, “Let’s get you home, sweetie.” She drove them home and noticed Travis wincing in pain most of the way, even though the drive was fairly short. “Do you need your crutches, love?” she asked when they pulled into the garage.
“No, I’ll be okay. I just need to stretch out a bit.” They walked through the back door together, and he just decided to go right upstairs. “I’ll meet you in our bedroom,” he winked at her. Slowly, Travis hobbled up the steps. He got about halfway up when he couldn’t go anymore. “Charlotte!” he yelled.
“Are you okay?” she asked from the bathroom, as she removed her makeup and fixed her hair.
“No, I need you.” She rushed from their bedroom and saw him sitting on the stairs, about five steps from the top.
“Tell me how to help you, and I’ll do it,” she said.
“Do you have that shot you keep offering me?” He knew it would knock him out if she did it, but he was desperate.
“Are you sure, honey? Do you know what you’re giving up if you do that?” She didn’t mind, but she wasn’t sure he minded.
“I might sleep on the steps if I don’t have some help.” He sat there, frustrated. “I wish I’d never been hurt. Things would be so much better right now.” The emotion of the day, his frustration with the pain and things that were so far beyond his control caught up with him. When Charlotte got back to him, injection prepared and ready to go, he was sobbing, holding to the railing for dear life.
“Oh sweetie,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.” She sat on the step next to him and just held him. “Shh, it’s okay,” she tried to comfort him. “I don’t want to give you this medicine while you’re on the steps, love. It’s not safe. Help me help you, baby.”
He dried his eyes and gathered his composure. With his last bit of strength, he stood up, groaning from pain. Charlotte stood next to him, holding onto his belt, encouraging him to step with his good leg. “One more step, baby,” she said, as he arrived at the top step.
He stumbled to the chair outside the twins’ old bedroom and collapsed into it. “I… made… it.”
“Do you still want that shot, honey? You’re here.”
“Yeah, I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry to disappoint you tonight, but I’m in misery.” He wept softly, though he wasn’t sure if it was emotions or pain that made the tears come.
She took his hands and pulled him up, and hugged him. “You’re not disappointing me, baby. I understand. Let’s get you into bed, and I’ll get you some help.” She put her arm around his waist, and walked with him into the bedroom, got him undressed and into bed. Her heart broke to see him so uncomfortable, so sad about Danae. “Are you ready, honey?”
“Oh yes. Take this pain away,” he cried. He rolled onto his side and groaned.
She rubbed some alcohol onto his skin and gave him the injection. Within minutes, he felt better and started to get sleepy. “Rest, honey. Tomorrow is another day.” She undressed, and climbed into bed with him, curled around him, and fell asleep.
“Thank you, my love…” his voice drifted off in peaceful slumber.
Darcey’s baby was due in two months’ time, and once he arrived, Charlotte knew there would be little chance to get away. So she decided to surprise Travis for a change and booked a week vacation to Isla Paradiso at the same resort. This might be the last time we ever get away, she thought. His leg had healed, but Travis was still in physical therapy, trying to regain the strength he had lost while he was recovering.
She had already cleared his time off from work and had plenty of vacation time she had accrued at the hospital and never used. Charlotte was excited for him to come back from therapy that evening. She made his favorite dinner, lobster thermidor, and had it ready when he came home, with a bottle of sparkling nectar, already poured. When he walked into the house, the lights were dimmed, and candles illuminated the dining room. She was dressed in the red, skin-tight dress he had bought her in Isla Paradiso.
“Welcome home,” she purred. “I have a surprise for you.”
“Wow, aren’t we going to have dinner first?” he asked, looking at her.
“That isn’t the surprise, silly,” she flirted with him. “Here, sit. Relax.” She pulled a chair for him, and he sat down. She walked to the kitchen and served two plates of dinner, and brought one to him. In the candlelight, her hair didn’t look as grey as it did otherwise, but either way, she looked gorgeous to him.
“What is all of this for, my love? Is Danae pregnant, and you’re telling me?”
Charlotte giggled. “If she is, she hasn’t said anything.” She took his hands in hers. “No, I have a real surprise for you. It’s my turn to give you something that you will love.”
“The suspense is killing me, honey. What is it?” Travis was nearly on the edge of his seat.
“We’re going to Isla Paradiso, just the two of us, for a week.”
“Aww baby, that is awesome! What about work, though?”
“Already taken care of. Emmitt approved your time off, and Dee approved mine. We’re all set!”
“When do we leave?”
“Saturday morning. Two more days, and we will be in paradise.”
“Why wait?” Travis smiled. He took her hand and led her to their bedroom, and locked the door behind him.