A month after Danae’s premiere at the art gallery, it was almost Emmitt’s second birthday, and Eamon’s fourth birthday was shortly afterward. Neither of them could believe the baby was two already. It was just yesterday that they found out they were expecting him, or at least it appeared that way.
Even more unbelievable, the Murphy and Scroggins families had been on the island for almost three years, and Andy, Aaron, Avery, and Wyatt had led the team to their first championship. The second full season under their leadership would be underway shortly, and Andy was ready to announce Zachery Fulton, their new acquisition from Sunlit Tides, Avery’s former teammate on the Starfish team.
The press conference was scheduled for 1:00 pm. Andy’s training in PR kept him in the spotlight in his job, and though he didn’t mind it, he secretly wished Kirby would hire another PR person. Zach’s acquisition was big news in the soccer world, and though it was considered unethical by the owners of the Starfish, no league rules were broken. Andy simply had the instinct, knowing when to swoop in and make moves on valuable players.
In the media room of Kemp Stadium, reporters and their cameras gathered, waiting for the announcement. In the green room just on the other side of the wall, the four men who would be doing the presser gathered. A makeup artist prepped them, though Andy laughed at the idea that the camera would make him look pale. For Kirby, Aaron and Zach, however, it was necessary.
At 12:45, Andy entered the media room and explained the format for the presser and took preliminary questions off the record regarding the event. With five minutes until airtime, the other three men entered the room, Kirby took his spot at the table with Aaron Hall and Zachery Fulton. Andy made sure everyone had water available and gave Zach some last-minute pointers. It was truly the first time such a fuss had been made over him, and he was nervous.
At 1:00 pm on the nose, the cameras went live and Andy spoke.
“My name is Andy Murphy, team manager for the Isla Paradiso Sharks. Today, I am proud to announce the acquisition and signing of a talented player, a young man whose name is not well known, at least not yet. He comes to us from Sunlit Tides two years after his rookie season, where he led the Starfish in overall goals since the beginning of his short but very impressive career.”
“We are excited to announce Zachery Fulton as a starter for the upcoming season. We look forward to many successful years with him. Together with head coach Aaron Hall, team captain Wyatt Searcy, co-captain Avery Tillman, and the many other talented players on this team, we anticipate a championship title this season. Now Kirby, if you’re ready, I’ll hand this to you.”
At the house, Danae watched with Eamon in her lap, and Emmitt playing at her feet on the floor.
“Daddy?” Eamon asked, pointing at the television screen.
“Yes, baby, that’s Daddy.”
“What’s he doing, Mama?” he asked in his almost 4-year-old voice.
“He’s introducing Zach. You remember Zach, right? He gave you the teddy bear.”
Eamon beamed, clutching the toy to his face. “Bear bear!”
Danae smiled. “Bear bear.”
Emmitt looked at Andy’s face on the television and recognized him. “Daddy!”
Danae looked at her baby son, though he wasn’t much of a baby anymore. “Yes, Emm, that’s Daddy.” She picked him up and held him. He watched the screen, and each time Andy spoke, he laughed.
“Daddy! Daddy!” he cooed happily.
“Mama, I’m hungry,” said Eamon.
“You just had lunch, sweetie. How about some fruit?”
“No, thank you.” She knew he wanted a cookie, but she had given Elyse the last two in her lunch that morning.
“You’re not that hungry then, Eamon.” She kissed his head, and he looked at her.
“Eww,” he giggled. “No kisses!”
Danae laughed. “Alright! No kisses for you then. I’ll just give yours to Emmitt instead.” She cuddled the baby a little closer and covered his sweet face in kisses, relishing his baby giggles. Of the three children, Emmitt was the happiest. His smile was infectious, his giggles contagious and he was always cheerful.
“Mama!” Eamon pouted. “No fair.”
“You didn’t want Mama’s kisses,” she gently reminded him. “Emmitt loves Mama’s kisses, don’t you sweetheart?”
“Mama mama!” Emmitt laughed.
“Mama? When’s Lysie comin’ home?” Eamon asked.
“In about an hour, honey. Why don’t you and Emmitt go play, so Mama can do some cleaning?”
Eamon stood and took Emmitt’s hand, and walked him to their room to play. Danae laughed. It was the first time she’d seen him do that, and she was amazed.
Elyse’s school bus dropped her outside the gate, and Danae was there to meet her when she got home. Despite them living at the end of a long dead-end road, the Paparazzi still hung out relentlessly by the call box, and she didn’t trust any of them around her beloved children. Elyse ran to her, and Danae held her hand out for her. “Hi sweet pea!” she greeted her. “Your brother is waiting for you.”
Elyse ran past Danae towards the house, her backpack still on her back, yelling Eamon’s name. She was still chilly toward her mother, even though the boys had gotten back on track with her. Danae had come to accept that her only daughter was a daddy’s girl, and she would likely never have a relationship with her like Andy did.
“Lysie, do you have homework, sweetie?” Danae asked her.
“Yes, Mama.” Elyse sighed and braced for what would come next.
“Homework first, then play, okay?” She smiled at her daughter. “Maybe Daddy will take you guys swimming tonight when he gets home.” The press conference was long over, and she expected Andy home within the hour.
“I hope so,” Elyse said. “I want to go swimming with Daddy.”
With the children occupied, she started dinner. Lobster thermidor for her and Andy, and macaroni and cheese for the kids. With the new football season looming, time together would be at a premium, and she wasn’t looking forward to it. However, she had planned a date night at home with all the romance included.
A half-hour later, Andy walked through the door and dropped his briefcase in his office, his sport coat hung over his shoulder. Danae was in the kitchen, and even by her own standards, it smelled good in the house.
“I smell something delicious,” he announced as he turned the corner into the living room. He saw Danae and walked to her. “And there she is,” he stated, wrapping his arms around her. “How’s my favorite girl?”
“Good. I saw your presser today. I had no idea Zach was so young. He’s only twenty-three? He’s younger than Devin.”
“He’s much more humble than your brother, too. He was a good hunt. Once he gets his legs this season and learns Aaron’s plays, he’ll be extraordinary.”
“Why does twenty-three sound so young? I’m only thirty, but it sounds… young.”
“These babies are aging you,” he teased. “They’re keeping me young, though.” He kissed her quickly and ducked away from the inevitable swat that he had earned.
“That’s it. You’re still older than me, old man,” she teased back and shook her head, a huge smile on her face.
Elyse watched their exchange and rolled her eyes. “No hello from my sweet pea today?” he asked her.
“I’m doing homework first. Mama said I can’t play until it’s done.”
“That’s a good thing, Elyse. You need to learn priorities. Schoolwork is first, then playtime.” Andy firmly reinforced Danae’s rule.
“That’s no fun,” she grumped and turned back to her studies.
He smiled at Danae, walked back to her and hugged her again. “You’re doing a fantastic job with the kids, honey,” he whispered into her ear.
“She’s testing my patience today,” Danae replied softly. “She still hasn’t forgiven me.”
“Do you want me to talk to her, Nae? This isn’t right.”
Danae sighed. “No, babe. She has to come around on her own. But I’ve accepted that she will never love me like she loves you. It smacks of me and Daddy. Now I appreciate how Mama felt, but at least she had Darcey. I have no other little girl.” Her face conveyed sadness.
“I’ll talk to her anyway. You shouldn’t be deprived of a close relationship with your only daughter because of me.” He kissed her neck, and she nearly melted into the floor.
“You can do that all night if you want,” she purred.
“I’ll remember that, my sweet.” He winked at her. “I need to get out of this monkey suit.” He walked toward the bedroom to change his clothes. She followed him in, hoping for a preview of their evening together.
Danae wasted no time wrapping herself around him as soon as their door was closed. “Well, this is new,” he laughed, as he tried to peel himself away from her. “The kids are still wide awake, and the sun is out.” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. “You must have really loved the presser.”
“Well, you know,” she said, trying to keep a straight face, “The guy on television is a total hunk. He really got my motor running.”
“Which guy is that?” he played along.
“The one with the jet black, pin-straight hair. He wears a vest just like this one. A tall, dark, extremely sexy man,” she purred. “You know the one?”
“Mmm, yeah I’m familiar with him. I hear he has a smokin’ hot wife.”
Danae snorted. “You’re incorrigible.”
“Yeah well, you’re still smokin’ hot.” He kissed her tenderly. “Is tonight date night or something?”
“Did you forget?”
“Of course not.” He snuggled her into his strong embrace. “Oh honey, I’m looking forward to tonight.”
“Me too, babe. But you should put your trunks on, because that little girl wants you to take her swimming, and I promised her.”
“For them, in about an hour. For us, around seven.”
“Alrighty.” He changed into his swim shorts and Danae went to dress Eamon in his swimsuit.
“Lysie, bathing suit, honey. Daddy’s going to take you swimming.”
“Yes!” she squealed and ran for her bedroom.
A few hours later…
Danae fed Andy the last bite of dinner, and he sat back. “Baby, I’m stuffed. You make that perfect every time, just like the first time you ever made it for me.”
“It’s my specialty,” she said. “Now all we need is a karaoke bar, an awkward kiss and a glass of wine, and we have our first date.”
“I can do the awkward kiss right now,” he purred. He pulled her to him and he kissed her. She tried to resist him, but she either couldn’t or didn’t want to. “That was very nice,” he said when he pulled away. “Now, tell me there is nothing between us, Danae, because I know you felt that.”
She belly laughed. “Okay, I felt it! I just don’t know what to do with it.”
“Say you’ll go out with me,” he played. “I’m new here, and I would love a girl who knows her way around.”
“You would, eh?” she flirted.
“Oh baby, you have no idea.” He picked her up and carried her into their bedroom, and locked the door behind him.
The next morning, the season schedule was released, and Andy hoped there were no ugly surprises in it. He and Kirby met for coffee at the restaurant while Kirby planned the menu for the dinner meal, and discussed the upcoming schedule.
“The first game is in Barnacle Bay versus the Dolphins. Didn’t we play them first last season?” Kirby asked, preoccupied.
“No, it was the Twinbrook Tigers last season.” Andy poured over the schedule. The game this season against the Llamas was in Starlight Shores, and he sighed. “Are we doing the next day meetings with team managers after games this season?”
Kirby sipped his coffee as he looked over menus and supply orders. “Nah, that turned out to be a bust. After the fiasco with Fiona and Cael, the league started rethinking that stuff.” The tantrum that Fiona threw became the stuff of legend and the great embarrassment of the Starlight Shores community. Shortly after, the league stopped the meetings.
“Danae will like that. She hates when I’m gone longer than overnight. Which reminds me, Kirby, this last negotiation in Sunlit Tides—”
“Yeah, I know it was a hardship for you and Danae to be apart that long. Elyse is so grown up, sometimes I forget you have two more children younger than five.”
“When they’re all in school, it won’t be so difficult for her.”
“I would suggest you hire a nanny, but I know that didn’t work out well last time, either. Is Elyse still giving her a rough time?”
“Yes,” Andy grumbled. “Danae claims she understands, but I know she wants a close relationship with Elyse while she is still little. There’s no guarantee once that child hits her tweens.”
“I would definitely encourage all the bridge-building while they’re little. Elyse has nothing to be cross about. She has a mother who loves her, a father who adores her and provides a very good life for her and her two little brothers.”
“She wants all of Danae’s attention for herself, and she wants all of mine for herself, too. The pediatrician says she’ll outgrow the selfishness. She is much more patient than I am with Elyse. When Danae’s feelings are hurt, I am much less tolerant than I should be.”
“It’s understandable. Danae comes first to you, as well she should, and vice versa. Long after the kids are grown, you’ll still have each other.”
“Thanks, Kirby. With twins, I knew you’d understand.” Andy closed up his laptop. “I need to get back to the office. Aaron and I are going through some staffing issues, and I need to get Zach settled into the team.”
“Are you and Nae busy tonight, Andy? You could come for dinner. I’m cooking.”
“We just had a date night last night. She made her specialty, and we relived our first date, awkward first kiss and everything. It was magical.” Andy laughed.
“I guess that’s a no, then.” Kirby stood to shake his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh, you don’t need to book me for the season opener with you. Rae will need me that night. Something with school for the kids.”
“Gotcha. See you tomorrow.” Andy slipped his laptop into his briefcase, walked toward the back door and got into his car.
It was almost lunchtime before he was finished with reservations for travel to Barnacle Bay. Accommodations were spotty at best during some times of the year, and he knew better than to wait until the last minute. He breathed a sigh of relief as he booked the last available block in the hotel for the team and a suite for him. Next were airline reservations, but they, in comparison, were much easier to make.
Andy was still sitting at his desk when Aaron walked by the office. “Murph!” he called, “You going for lunch today?”
“I haven’t decided, Aaron. I might work through. Where are you going?”
“Wyatt and I were going to grab a burrito before practice. Can I bring something back for you?”
Andy signed his computer off. “I’ll go with you guys, since there’s two of you. I just didn’t feel like eating alone.”
“You’re always welcome to come along.” Andy locked his office door, and they walked to Aaron’s car together. “Wyatt will meet us there. He has a surprise for you.”
“Uh oh, should I be worried?” Andy laughed.
“Trust me, you will like this one.”
The guys met at the little Spanish bistro adjacent to the Grand Tower resort. Immediately, Andy noticed that Wyatt was plus one, a pretty young girl who looked native to the island, and they were quite affectionate with one another. Wyatt stood as Aaron and Andy approached. “Hey brothers,” he greeted them.
“Who’s your friend, Wy?” Andy asked.
“You haven’t met her yet. This is Raisa. We’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks now. Raisa, this is my best friend, Andy, and you know Aaron already.”
The girl stood and shook Andy’s hand gently. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Raisa, the pleasure is all mine. You have yourself a catch. Wyatt’s a great guy.” He nudged Aaron. “Now we just need to find a Señorita for this guy, and we’ll be all set.”
Aaron and Wyatt each had a beer, but Andy ordered a sweet tea while they talked about the upcoming season and the first away game. All the guys were excited about Zach coming on board the team, and with Aaron’s creative new plays, they were sure to be off to a good start in two weeks.
At home, Danae received a call from the museum curator to give an update on the exhibit and to advise her of payment, the first of four to compensate for her work. She jotted a note to herself to let Andy know of the deposit and carried at least three loads of laundry to the garage to sort. After the first load was started, she walked back to the house. The boys were both napping, but she didn’t want them to sleep for much longer.
She entered the boys’ room and woke Eamon first. “Eamon, honey,” she sang to him softly. He opened his eyes and smiled at her.
“Hi Mama,” he said, sleep heavy in his voice. She set him down on the floor and went to Emmitt’s crib next.
“Emmitt,” she sang softly, “time to wake up for Mama.” His happy face beamed when he saw her, and she changed him before setting him down to play. “I really have to work on potty training him,” she said out loud. A familiar horn sounded outside, and she glanced at her watch. “Elyse!” she exclaimed and ran for the gate.
“Mama!” she called to Danae from outside. Luckily, the bus driver waited for the gate to open before he pulled away. Danae waved and thanked him, and greeted Elyse with a hug and a kiss.
“How was school today, little sweet pea?” she asked. “Did you learn anything good?”
“It was okay,” Elyse grumbled her answer. “When is Daddy coming home?”
“He’ll be home in a little while, Lysie. Do you need help with homework today?”
Elyse looked at Danae as though something was wrong. “Why?”
“I remember Naomi used to help you with homework, and I’m pretty smart, you know. I can help you, too.”
“No,” she said, disinterested. “I’m okay.”
“Lysie, can I ask you something?”
She rolled her eyes. “What?”
Danae didn’t appreciate the attitude, but let it slide. “Why are you still angry with me? I pour my love over you every day, and I don’t get nearly any of it back. Why?”
“I’m not angry,” she protested.
“You could have fooled me, sweet pea. You know I love you. At least, I hope you know it.”
Elyse nodded. “I know.”
“Do you love me, Elyse? You can tell me. I won’t get angry, I promise.”
She looked straight into Danae’s eyes. “Yeah.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” she repeated. “Can I go play now?”
“Yes, but stay away from the pool until Daddy comes home.”
Danae sat in the living room, her head in her hands.
She didn’t hear the gate open when Andy came home, but Elyse did because she ran to greet him. He walked through the front door with her on his hip, wrapped around him and giggling. Danae wanted to smile at him, but Elyse was making her contempt very obvious. With hurt feelings, she simply got up and went to their bedroom and closed the door behind her.
“What’s wrong with Mama, Lysie?” he asked her.
She shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno.” He set her down on the floor.
“Do you have homework?”
“Why haven’t you started it yet?” he asked.
“Because Mama didn’t make me.”
“Start it now, please. Don’t make me ask you again, Lysie.”
“Yes sir,” she repeated.
He walked toward the bedroom door and opened it. “Honey?”
“Come in,” she cried.
“Uh oh. What’s wrong, baby?” He knelt down beside her.
“Our daughter. I thought I’d talk to her, but I got nowhere. She used to love me. I’m not sure I’ll get that back again.”
“Baby, of course, she loves you. She’s just going through a phase.” He hugged his wife and tried to comfort her. “Are you sure you don’t want me to talk to her?”
“No, I’m not sure about anything anymore. I want her to come around on her own. But I don’t know if she will.”
“I have an idea, though it won’t help with Elyse. Would you like to come to Barnacle Bay with me for the season opener? I have a suite all to myself. It’s only overnight, but I thought maybe you’d like to get away.”
“When do I have to let you know? Because right now, I don’t know which end is up.”
“The sooner the better, so I can book a seat in first-class for you.”
“I don’t know, Andy. I mean, I should stay home and be with them. But I’m burning out. I don’t want to feel this way. The boys are great, it’s her. I’ll never forget when we did yoga together. I’d read to her all the time. Now, she only wants you. I just want back what I had…” her voice trailed off as she cried. “I want my daughter back.”
Andy hated to see her cry, especially when it was so unnecessary. For months, he watched Elyse tear Danae’s heart to shreds. Every little bit of attitude, every cold word spoken shattered her, and it pained him to see her this sad.
“I’m going to talk to her.” Andy stood, troubled. “This needs to end now. I’m done with it. If she doesn’t want you, then I don’t want her.”
“Andy, you can’t do that! She’s just a little girl. You’ll destroy her,” she pleaded with him.
“Maybe she needs a little tough love, Danae. But I can’t stand to watch you cry over this another minute without trying to fix it.”
“Please don’t. Save tough love for her teenage years. Don’t make her hate you, too.” They were both in uncharted territory with Elyse, and neither of them knew how to handle it.
“Daddy?” her little voice trembled. “Don’t you love me?”
“Lysie, how long were you standing there?” Andy asked her. By her reaction, he’d guessed she’d heard almost everything.
“Awhile,” she cried.
He opened his arms to her, and she walked to him, sniffling. “Lysie, it doesn’t feel good when you think someone doesn’t love you, does it?”
She shook her head, tears rolled down her cheeks. “No, sir.”
“Mama thinks you don’t love her. Do you?” He set her back down on her feet.
She cried harder and tried to hug Andy, but he wasn’t having any of it. “Answer me, Lysie. Do you love your Mama?”
“Daddy…” she bawled.
“Elyse Charlotte! Answer me now!” Andy demanded through clenched teeth.
She shook her head. “Daddy…” she cried harder.
“Go to your room, Elyse. NOW!” He’d had enough. Andy heard Danae’s ragged sobs, and he felt terrible for her. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry I asked her. I never expected she would say no.”
“At least I know. She looked me right in the eye and lied to me earlier.” She sniffled and took a deep breath.
“How do I address this? I’ve never heard of a child who doesn’t love her mother.” He was beside himself.
“Just leave it be, Andy. You can’t force her.”
“If I can’t force her, I’ll guilt her.” He wasn’t sure that was the right action, either.
“No, babe. Just… I’m going to survive this. Like you said, it’s a phase.” She wiped her tears away and sighed.
“I need to go talk to her now. What do I say?”
“Ask yourself how your mom would have handled it, Andy, and try that. That’s all I’ve been doing. But Mama was so much better at this than I am.”
“Sweetie, you’re a wonderful mama. Don’t let Elyse make you think otherwise.” He kissed her sweetly. “I need to go talk some sense into that child.”
“Don’t do anything rash or harsh, Andy. Please, don’t break her heart.” She got up and walked to the bathroom, washed her face and laid down on the bed, broken-hearted.
He got up and walked to Elyse’s bedroom. She was crying on her bed, snuggled up with her blanket. He knocked gently on her door. “May I come in, sweet pea?”
“Yes Daddy,” she sobbed. She sat up so he could sit down next to her.
“Elyse, what was that back there?” He stopped himself and collected his thoughts. “Honey, you really hurt your Mama’s feelings today. Why don’t you love her?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno.”
“No, that’s not a good enough answer, young lady. You have to know why.”
“I dunno!” she cried.
“You would feel terrible if you didn’t have a Mama to love you and take care of you. Think about that. I don’t want to see you until dinner. And no more swimming.”
“But Daddy!” she wailed, but he closed the door as he left the room.
Danae heard Elyse crying in the other room, and it troubled her. Andy walked back into their bedroom, met by her pained cries, and laid down next to her, trying to comfort her. Somehow, poor Andy had gotten tangled in the middle and didn’t know how to get out.
“It’s worse than I thought, Kirby,” Andy lamented the next morning over coffee. “Elyse told me last night she doesn’t love her mother. This is new territory for me. I’ve never heard of this.”
“It’s not usual, but not unheard of, either. Maybe a child psychologist would be helpful in this case. I’m not sure how I’d proceed either.” Kirby patted him on the shoulder.
“She wouldn’t even give me a reason, just ‘I dunno.’ I had Danae crying in our bedroom, Elyse crying in her bedroom. It drives me crazy that she is hurting Nae like this, and she does it so easily and without remorse.”
“I’m sorry, Andy. I wish I had some nugget of parental wisdom for you. But Rae handles the emotional meltdowns with the kids. Maybe I’ll have her call Danae?”
“That would be great. I finally lost my temper with Elyse last night and told her no more swimming with me in the afternoon. It’s her favorite thing, but now I feel like I was too hasty, just what Danae told me not to do.”
“That might be what wakes her up. If she thinks she will lose your affection, she might come around.”
Andy shrugged. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know my own kid anymore.”
They talked for a few more minutes, and Andy went back to his office and booked another round trip first-class seat for Danae. He was taking her to Barnacle Bay, end of story. She needed a break however short, from their ungrateful daughter.
At home, Danae read stories to the boys like she did every morning after breakfast. They especially loved the books Bella had written, and Danae loved reading them. She nearly knew the stories by heart herself. By eleven, the boys were back in their cribs for naps, and Danae began cleaning the house. Today’s focus was all three bathrooms. The one that Elyse used was filthy, not because it didn’t get cleaned, but simply because Elyse was a slob and didn’t care.
She wanted to call Andy to lift her spirits, but she also hated bothering him at work when nothing was pressing. Instead, she turned music on in the exercise room and went for a run on their treadmill. The exercise felt good, and after a bubble bath, she felt almost good as new. That was until Elyse came home from school.
Danae waited for the school bus, and when she got home, she walked right past Danae without a word, into the house and flopped on her bed. Danae stuck her head into Elyse’s bedroom on the way to wake the boys. “Elyse, homework please.”
“I hate you!” she spat at Danae. She walked back to the bedroom door and stopped.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Lysie. Because I love you.” She continued to the boys’ room and woke them, tears stung her eyes.
Andy was home at his normal time with a smile on his face. Danae was in the kitchen preparing dinner when he peeked around the corner at her. “How’s my favorite girl?” he greeted her.
“Terrible. Today she hates me.” She sighed deeply. “Things just keep getting better,” she said sarcastically as she wiped her hands on her apron. “Maybe tomorrow, she will try to kill me in my sleep.”
Andy laughed, mostly because it sounded too silly to be serious. But Danae glared daggers at him. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I know this is no laughing matter.”
“I’m sorry, too. It’s not your fault.”
“I’m going to try talking to her again. But I’m sticking with no swimming until she loses the attitude.” Danae nodded as he went to get changed from his work clothes.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Elyse sneak into their bedroom. Andy was half-dressed when he spotted her in the mirror, and he jumped a foot. “Lysie, you startled me! What are you doing here?”
“I missed you today, Daddy,” she said quietly.
“Elyse, it is not okay to come into my bedroom without knocking.” He walked to the bed and sat down, picked her up and sat her next to him. She cuddled up to him and hugged him. “What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“I hate Mama,” she said, very matter-of-factly.
“That’s not a nice thing to say. You shouldn’t hate anyone.”
“But I do.”
“Why? Why do you hate your mama?”
She looked at the floor. “Because you love her more than you love me.”
Her confession rattled him. “What?”
“You told Uncle Aaron you love Mama more than anything or anyone. I heard you say it. Did you mean me, too?”
“Lysie, of course, I love your mama. I am married to her.”
“If Mama wasn’t here, would you love me more?”
“Elyse Charlotte, what kind of question is that?”
“Daddy, I want to marry you.” She was so serious.
He smiled at her. “You know, I’m already married to Mama. I love her so ver—”
“I know. I hate her. She gets all your love. There’s never enough for me.”
Andy began to understand. “Sweet pea, it’s okay to wish you could marry Daddy. Lots of little girls your age would like to marry their daddies, too.” He hugged her and kissed her forehead. “But Lysie, only Mama can be married to Daddy.” He watched her face. “You will always be my little sweet pea, and I will always love you, no matter what. I promise.”
“But, will there be enough love left for me if you love her, Daddy? Don’t you ever run out?”
“Honey, no, I never run out. I have more than enough love for you and your mama, and your brothers, too.” He looked her in the eyes, her beautiful, violet eyes, and told her, “You’re always and forever going to be my special little girl.”
She looked at him, trying to figure out if he was telling the truth. “You never run out? Ever?”
“Never ever, I promise.” He hugged her shoulders and kissed her cheek. “Are you okay, sweet pea? Are you okay with your mama now?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I sure hope so, baby girl. She loves you even more than I do, and that’s the truth.”
Elyse sighed quietly. “She does?”
“Yes, Lysie, she really does.” Andy gently wiped tears from her face.
“Can I go talk to her and tell her I love her?”
“I bet you would make her day, Lysie.”
“I love you, Daddy,” she said.
“I love you more, sweet pea.”
Elyse walked from the bedroom, sniffling. Danae was sitting at the dining room table, her face in her hands. Elyse sidled up to her, and put her head on her mother’s shoulder. Feeling her little body next to her, Danae cried.
She sniffled. “Yes, little love?”
“I’m sorry I said I hate you. I love you, Mama.”
Danae didn’t say a word, but picked her up into her lap, and wrapped her in a tight hug. Gently, she rocked Elyse in her arms. It sure felt good to cuddle her daughter again.
She released her from the hug and looked into her eyes. “Lysie, I love you so very much. I hope you never doubt that. You are my firstborn. You will have my heart until the end of time.” Danae kissed her cheek. “Do you understand what I’m telling you, sweetie pie?”
“Yes Mama,” she cried softly.
Danae put her down from her lap. “Do you have homework tonight, baby girl?”
“Just a little. Would you help me?”
“I will after dinner, Lysie. Go play with Eamon and Emm until dinner. Are we good?”
Elyse nodded and smiled. “Yes, Mama.” She leaned in for a kiss and giggled. “I love you.”
Danae wiped tears from her eyes. “I love you to the moon and back.”
Andy walked from the bedroom, smiling ear to ear. Danae noticed him and grinned. He sat at the table with her and rubbed her back. “What was that all about?” she asked.
“She was jealous of you, honey. She thinks I give you all my love, and I have none left for her.”
The revelation lifted a weight from her. This was familiar. “I remember when I was just about her age, wanting to marry my daddy. Mama told me she was already married to him. I was heartbroken.”
“Yes! She told me she wants to marry me. I reassured her that I will always love her, but I made it clear you are my only wife. She took it better than I thought she would.”
Danae hugged him, relief on her face. “Oh Andy, thank you. You gave my daughter back to me.”
“You’re welcome, my sweet.”
“Maybe it would be a good idea to stop calling me your favorite girl in front of her for a while, until this passes?”
“I never considered that could be a problem. Good idea, baby. You are a phenomenal mother, Danae. Never forget that.”
“I love you, so very much.” She buried her face into his chest as he hugged her.
“I crazy love you, honey.”
Two weeks later…
Danae took Andy’s hand as they boarded the airplane, destination Barnacle Bay. It was only for an overnight trip, but it was good to get away together. They settled down into their seats, and the concierge offered them complimentary glasses of champagne. She reached for his hand and they intertwined their fingers.
Barnacle Bay was an hour behind the island, and about two hours west by air. The team was back in coach, except for them and Aaron, who was two rows after them. He paid for the upgrade himself, a luxury he didn’t partake in often. Though he was very well compensated for his work, Aaron lived modestly.
A few hours later, a limousine brought them to the resort, a four-star hotel on the beach. Though it was smaller than the Grand Tower, it was much more scenic. The beach was littered with palm trees and overlooked the skeleton of a wrecked pirate ship, which was the main attraction in the Bay. The concierge gave Andy their room keys, and together they strolled to the suite. The climate was warm and humid, not unlike the island, but the sounds were much different. Wild boar, exotic birds, and small dingo-like dogs roamed the small island. In the distance, cicadas droned their clatter.
“Here we are,” Andy said as they approached their room. “Ladies first, my sweet.”
“Oh, Andy, this is beautiful!” she exclaimed as she entered. Inside the room was a king bed with a luxurious spread, a dresser made from dark cherry wood, a table with coordinating chairs, and a small refrigerator. But the amenity that stood out was the hot tub that sat on the private patio. The bathroom was nicely appointed with a toilet, bidet and a shower big enough for a family of four. Luxury linens and towels finished the room. And she was right. The room was beautiful.
He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “This is a four-star hotel. I’d love to see what they consider a five star.”
“I couldn’t imagine anything better than this.” She walked up to the bed and felt the bedspread. “This is sateen. It’s like touching butter.”
“I suppose we should try not to dirty it up, then.” He winked at her, hoping to elicit a reaction from her.
“Speak for yourself, Mr. Murphy. I fully intend on rumpling the sheets with you tonight.”
“It will be so nice to not worry about little ears and eyes, or when she’s going to ask to sleep in our bed.” Andy sat down and sank into the mattress. “Oh, baby, this is memory foam, and it feels like a cloud.”
“What are we waiting for?” she purred as she joined him on the bed.
“Nothing.” He walked to the door, opened it and hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the knob.
The next morning, they awakened to the sound of crashing waves and sea birds outside their window. The air was already warm, and the sun was shining brightly. Andy glanced at his watch in disbelief.
“Oh my word,” he gasped. “I’m late for the morning meeting! My alarm didn’t go off.”
“When is your meeting?” she asked sleepily.
“In five minutes. I will never make the stadium in time.”
“Babe, it’s only eight. We gained an hour, remember?”
Relief washed over him. “I still don’t have much time, but it’s better than five minutes.” He kissed her quickly as he walked toward the bathroom. “I’m sorry I have to leave you to pack up the room and check us out.”
“You act as though I’ve never done this before,” she chuckled. “I’ll be fine. Just don’t miss your meeting.”
His usual shower was shortened by half, and he hurried to get ready. Danae watched with great amusement as he scrambled. “You seem to be enjoying this,” he laughed. “Remember, I know where you sleep.”
“There was little sleeping done here last night,” she teased. “Probably why you slept through your alarm.”
“Very funny. How do I look?” He struck a pose, displaying his new away game uniform.
“Ooh, I like the colors on this. Very sexy.”
“I wish you wouldn’t have said that,” he laughed again. He kissed her tenderly. “Unfortunately, that’s all I have time for right now. I’ll see you at the stadium for the game? It’s at 2:30 local time.”
“Of course. Do we have decent seats?”
“Not terrible. Behind the net, up in the grandstands. If Kirby was with us, we’d have a box. I’m not big enough to get those privileges.”
“Yet,” she added. “You’re not big enough yet.”
“Unless we become billionaires and buy us a soccer team, I’ll never be big enough for that.”
“Keep working hard. The sky’s the limit, babe.”
Andy chuckled. “I will want to retire someday. Just not now.” He kissed her. “I have to run. Let me know when you’re on your way, and I’ll meet you in the lobby area.”
“Sounds good. Tell the guys I said good luck! They’re going to be fantastic.”
“Yeah, they are,” Andy agreed. “I love you, honey.”
“I love you, too. Be safe.”
Danae arrived at the stadium ninety minutes before the game began, and met Andy just past the entrance. “Wait until you see inside the stadium, Nae. It’s beautiful.”
“I’m excited, Andy! I’ve never been anywhere but the Shores and home.”
As they were walking to their seats, a man in a white suit and Panama hat approached Andy. “Mr. Murphy?”
“You found me,” he smiled.
“Mr. Murphy, my name is Alonzo Faust, and I own the Dolphins. I’ll cut to the chase. What would it take to lure you away from ol’ Kemp in Isla Paradiso?”
“I’m not for sale. My wife and I are happy on the island.” He took her hand and held it tightly.
“Everyone has a price, Mr. Murphy. Name yours.”
“Mr. Faust, I’m flattered, but I’m not interested in leaving the Sharks franchise.”
“Not even three times your current salary?”
“It’s not about the money. It’s about my family, and we’re settled into our lives there. It’s about our happiness, and we’ve never been more content than where we are right now. I’m simply not interested.”
“Four times your salary, and a mansion on the hill. The best schools for your kids. The finest life you could provide for them, all for the taking.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Faust. I’m very honestly not interested.” He squeezed Danae’s hand. “Let’s go find our seats, my love. Pleasure to meet you.” He offered his hand, but Alonzo Faust walked away, disgusted.
“Babe, four times your annual salary now is almost a million a year. How could you so easily say no to that kind of money?”
“Danae, we’re building a life in Isla Paradiso with new friends, our family, Darcey and Clint. I couldn’t ask them to move again, and I don’t want to leave them behind. Besides, I’m rather loyal to Kirby, after all he’s done for us. His family is our family, too.”
“That is true. There is much more to consider. Plus, Mr. Faust rubbed me the wrong way. Almost sleazy.”
“Yeah, I didn’t get a good vibe from him at all,” Andy concurred. “No matter. Let’s go watch our boys get a season opener victory!”
“Now you’re talking!” she cheered. “Hey, babe?”
“Next time, can I wear your old jersey to a game?”
“Of course! I’d be honored.”
The Sharks easily won the first game with a spectacular twelve point victory over the Dolphins. Aaron’s plays had the opposing team scrambling, and Andy couldn’t remember enjoying a game as much as he did that one. It was late when they arrived home that evening, and the kids were already tucked into bed for the night.
“Thanks for covering us for the night, Trix. Here’s a little something extra, since we won the game.” He gave her a generous tip. “Go do something nice for yourself.”
“Thanks, Andy,” she said, grateful. “The kids were great, even Elyse watched some of the game when she got home from school. Don’t worry, though. Her homework is done.”
“I wasn’t worried. Thanks again, Trixie.”
“You’re welcome! Always a pleasure.”
Danae was in their bedroom getting undressed when Andy walked in, happy. “That game today was insane,” he smiled. “Aaron is a genius.”
“He’s pretty impressive. You don’t think Faust will try to steal him away, do you?”
“The thought had never crossed my mind, but I’m going to tell Kirby about him in the morning. I doubt Aaron would go. He’s happy here with all of us.”
“Thank you, Andy.” She kissed him before she slipped into her nightie.
“For bringing me with you. It was a nice getaway, even if only for a day.”
“Sometimes, the short ones are the best. But I want to go back and visit someday.”
“Me too, babe. Me too.”
“You know what we were doing exactly twenty-four hours ago?”
“I do,” she smiled.
“Want to pick up where we left off?”
“I thought you would never ask,” she purred.
Special thanks to Bee for her wonderful poses, and the others who have helped make this chapter come alive for me.