G4 Chapter Twenty Five – The End Of An Era

Emmitt had come to see his old friend one last time. Andy held to him, as they all sat in the living room, visiting with one another. Danae had just put the children to bed and joined Andy. “Travis, I want to thank you for everything, my friend.”

“You act like you’re saying goodbye, Emmitt.” He hoped it wasn’t true, but the look on Andy’s face told a different story.

“Well, the truth is, I have been much better. I know time is short, Travis. Please, let me say what I need to say.”

“Very well, then.”

“When you left Dragon Valley after high school, I thought I’d never see you again. At the time, I thought I was okay with that. But I never realized until we met again how much I had missed you. I thought I was content with living my life in that wretched place until Lionel offered me that job. My life changed, Travis. Without his help, I would have never been in a position to find you again.” Emmitt wiped tears from his eyes.

“There wasn’t a force that could make me go back to Dragon Valley, Emm until I thought you were dead. And when Talia told me you had died, I was angry. I would have gone back for you.” He remembered that day as if it was yesterday. It was one of the worst days of his life.

“When Lionel sent me here to negotiate the Llamas sale, I knew I had to contact you. Little did I know how close we would be again. We’re practically brothers. You and Charlotte got me through a pretty tough time, the day we thought we lost Andy. What an awful day, and then it was the best day. But without you coming to get me that morning, Travis, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here with you right now. It scared me how despondent I became in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine burying my only son.”

Emmitt’s eyes filled with tears. “I know one of us has to leave the other behind, and I’m sorry that you have to be the one left. We both know I haven’t got much time, Travis. But it’s time for me to go be with my Tessa. She’s been waiting for me for a long time.”

Travis knew he was the only one left in his family. Talia had been gone for a few years, and his parents were long, long gone. Emmitt was all he had left, and now, he was losing him all over again. “I’m so glad we had these extra few years together, Emmitt. You came back into my life at the best possible time, with the best news I’d gotten in over ten years. I can never repay that. But I’m so thankful for you, Emm. My brother. My best friend. Thank you.” Travis sobbed, even though he didn’t want to. Saying goodbye was never easy. Charlotte hugged him and wept alongside him.

Turning to Danae, he spoke softly. “Danae, sweetheart, thank you for two beautiful grandchildren. Love them, teach them. Please don’t let them forget me. And take care of my son for me. I will die peacefully, knowing he is loved.” There was not a dry eye in the house.

“Emmitt, thank you for my Andy, for raising him right, for teaching him everything he knows. He’s the man I love today because of you.” Danae wept as she spoke. “Over the years, I’ve really grown to love you, and I couldn’t have asked for a better father-in-law.” She hugged him gently and swallowed a sob.

Andy couldn’t speak, and Danae just held him as he tried to find the words, but only four left his lips. “Dad, I love you.” He leaned to Danae. “My sweet,” he whispered, “I’m going to spend tonight with Dad. I don’t think he will make it until morning, and I don’t want him to die alone. Will you be okay here?”

“I’ll be fine. Come home to me tomorrow, and call me if…” she couldn’t finish her sentence, but he nodded.

“I’m sure it will be tonight.” Andy sighed. He was not ready for this. “I love you, my sweet Danae, with all I am. Wait for me.” He stood to help Emmitt up. “Come, Dad, let me get you home. I’m staying with you tonight.”

“Thank you, Son.” Emmitt cried as he waved to his friends and his family, though they were one and the same. “I love you all.”

*****

Andy called Danae at 3:30am, with great sorrow in his voice. “Nae,” he choked. “Pa is gone, peacefully in his sleep.”

“I’m sorry, baby,” she wept. “I’ll tell Daddy and Mama. Come home when you’re ready. I know you will need me.”

Danae walked softly to her parents’ bedroom, but Travis was already awake. His eyes filled with tears as he saw her approach. “Is he…”

“Yes, Daddy. Andy said it was peaceful.” It tore her up to watch her father cry. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sorry too, Punkin. He was your father-in-law. You’ve suffered a loss, too.” He motioned for her to come to him, and he hugged her tightly. “I’m glad we got to say goodbye. Not everyone does.”

“I hope Elyse will remember him, but I don’t think she will. She’s too little.” Her words cut Travis to the heart. If she was too young to remember Emmitt, she would not remember him or Charlotte either.

“I’ll tell your Mama when she wakes. She hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and I don’t want to wake her with such sad news.” Travis kissed Danae’s forehead and said goodnight.

He lay in bed thinking about Emmitt, thankful that they had been reunited. Thankful for Andy, thankful for their grandson and granddaughter. But the sorrow was too much for him, and he cried himself to sleep.

He woke the next morning, feeling like death warmed over. His head was pounding, his nose stuffy and his body ached all over. Charlotte was still sleeping beside him, and he pulled her close to him, breathing in her familiar, vanilla scent. His kisses woke her.

“Mmm, good morning, honeybear,” she cooed. But when he did not answer her, she felt alarmed. “Are you okay, baby?”

“No,” he sniffled. “Emmitt passed this morning just before 3:30. Danae came to wake me up, but I was already awake. I had a feeling he wouldn’t make it. The world is a better place for having had Emmitt Murphy in it.”

“Oh honeybear,” Charlotte wept. “I’m sorry.”

“Nae said something that broke my heart. She doesn’t think Elyse will remember him…” Tears flooded his eyes.

“If she won’t remember him, then she won’t remember us, either.” The revelation hit her hard.

*****

In the month since Emmitt’s passing, Travis had grown increasingly restless. He knew the Reaper was coming for them, but he just couldn’t tell when. It’s odd, he thought, Emmitt and Chris both knew their time was up. Will I know? Will Charlotte know? He didn’t mean for it to torture him so, but it bothered him.

Eamon and Elyse continued to grow, and Danae stayed at home, taking care of two babies under two years old, and her aging parents. Travis spent a lot of time with his grandson in his arms while he rocked. Charlotte acted worried about him.

“Danae, does your dad seem okay to you? It seems he spends so much time just rocking that baby.”

“I don’t think it’s unusual, considering how much loss he’s had lately. His career, his best friend. He really hasn’t been the same since he retired, as much as he hates to admit it.” Danae sighed heavily.

“How is Andy doing after his dad’s passing?”

“He’s okay. He misses talking to him and working with him. But I think he’s happy he isn’t in pain anymore. They both missed Tessa. I think Andy is happy they’re together again.” Elyse was on the floor playing with her blocks. “I miss him. He had incredible wisdom. I wasn’t really done learning from him.”

“I really need to get after Devin to come around more often. We aren’t going to live forever. Your dad misses him.”

“Good luck. If he didn’t look so much like Daddy, I’d ask you if he belonged to the mailman,” Danae teased. “He isn’t anything like Darce or me. He’s so… cocky. Arrogant. Over sure of himself.”

“Yeah, that’s what Smitty told your dad at the retirement presser. I understand he lives his own life, but someday he will be sorry he didn’t spend more time with your dad.” Devin had been a constant source of disappointment and frustration for Travis, and she hated to see it. The kid was a good soccer player, but his rotten attitude erased all of the talent. Andy had told Charlotte he was one more shot away from getting kicked off the team, and she hoped it didn’t happen while Travis was still alive. That would break his heart.

“He was such a good kid when we left for college. Something changed in him. And it wasn’t for the better.”

Charlotte shrugged. “Danae, if you figure it out, let me know.”


It was an early winter morning, and the sun was shining on a new dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. It was Travis and Charlotte’s wedding anniversary, and she knew it would be the last they would celebrate. But still, she didn’t want to bring it up. Death was a frequent topic of discussion lately, and she was done with it for now. This day, the anniversary of their wedding, was a happy day.

Travis still slept soundly. The house was surprisingly, and eerily peaceful, which meant Andy had already left for work, and the babies were still sleeping. She snuggled into Travis’ embrace as he slept, her movement waking him. “Happy anniversary, my sweet Charlotte,” he purred into her ear. He never missed it, not once.

“Good morning, honeybear,” she replied. “Happy anniversary, my love.” She could still smell the musk on his skin from yesterday, and she still loved how it smelled on him.

“What do you want to do today?” he asked.

“I haven’t thought about it much,” she admitted. “With everything that’s been going on, I’m surprised you want to celebrate it.”

“Oh Charlotte, you have to be kidding. You are still here with me, and that is plenty of reason to celebrate. How many couples can boast being together this long, especially after…” No, he thought. Don’t bring that up again. But it was too late.

“Honeybear, you promised.” She kissed his fingers and he held her tighter. “You promised you would forgive yourself. I can’t…” she began to weep. “I can’t meet the Reaper knowing you are still angry with yourself.”

“I’m trying very hard, honey.” He meant it. But every time he got to that place, he saw the hurt on her face, the pain in her eyes, and he hated himself all over again. “I just hate what I did to you.”

“Would you be angry with me for this long?” She had to ask it.

“Of course not, my love. Never.”

“I am part of you. When you’re angry with yourself, baby, I feel like you’re mad at me, too.” She sniffled. “I know you have great ability to forgive, because I have seen it. But the one person you’ve never forgiven is yourself. Baby, you need to let it go. Please.”

Travis stopped to think. “Help me to forgive, honey. I don’t know how.”

“Yes you do, honeybear. Just remember how you felt when I told you I forgave you. The sense of relief. The freedom. Remember how I love you.”

“But that was easier.”

“You’re a prisoner to your unforgiveness, Travis. Let’s try this.” She took a breath and turned over to face him. “Close your eyes and picture what tortures you.”

“Okay. I can clearly see you, thinking I’d cheated on you. The betrayal. The disappointment.”

She wrapped her arms around him. “Say this to yourself. ‘I forgive you, Travis. I forgive you, Travis. I forgive you, Travis.’ Say it out loud.”

He opened his eyes and looked at her. “Really? This is your big self-help speech?”

She frowned at him. “How has your method worked so far?”

“Point taken,” he sighed. “Okay. I forgive you, Travis. I forgive you, Travis…” On the second one, he choked up. “I forgive you, Travis. But why? Why do I forgive you?” He had to admit, he felt like a crazy person talking to himself.

“You forgive yourself because you know you didn’t mean it. You forgive yourself because I forgave you. You forgive yourself, because if you don’t, you’re angry with me, too.”

“Why would I be angry with you?”

“Because I’m part of you. If you are angry with yourself, you’re angry with me, too.”

“That makes no sense, Charlotte.”

“But it does. You say you wouldn’t hesitate to forgive me, but you do hesitate. Don’t you see, Travis? The two shall become one. We are one. We have been since the beginning, and we still are now. One being. One flesh. One heart. One soul.”

He nodded. “Okay, I see it now.” He wiped tears from his eyes. “I forgive you, Travis,” he said one last time.

“Do you believe it this time?” She watched his face, trying to discern his feelings.

“I believe it.”

“No more apologies?”

“No more apologies, baby. My goodness, I love you, honey.” Travis kissed her.

“Travis?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Make love to me.”

“This is what I live for,” he cooed.

Danae was downstairs cooking breakfast for Elyse when Charlotte and Travis came downstairs. She smiled at them. Even now, they were still not quiet. In fact, they woke her. But it gave her comfort that some things, no matter their age, would never change. “Good morning you two,” she winked at her mother, gently shaking her head.

“What’s for breakfast, Punkin?” she asked her, ignoring her acknowledgment. Charlotte poured coffee for her and Travis.

“I’m making Nana Destiny’s banana pancakes. This recipe card needs to be copied before I can’t read it anymore.” Danae giggled. “It has been well used over the past how many years now?”

“More than I care to think of, baby girl.” Charlotte walked to Elyse and kissed her forehead. “Hi sweet pea, good morning!” The baby cooed at her and giggled. Charlotte’s best guess was the recipe was the best part of one hundred years old.

“Where is Eamon?” Travis asked, not spotting him around.

“He’s still sleeping, or was when I brought her down. I haven’t heard him on the monitor, though, so I’m guessing he’s still asleep.” She adjusted her bra. “I need to nurse him soon, though. I’m a tad uncomfortable.”

“Was Darcey working today?” Charlotte could have sworn it was their day to watch the boys.

“No, Shan wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home with them today. She didn’t want Eamon to get sick, which I appreciate.” Danae finished cutting up pancakes for Elyse and drizzled some syrup on them for her. Instead of a fork, the little girl used her fingers. Danae laughed. “Silly girl!” she cooed and made the child giggle. “Could you watch her while I grab the baby?”

Charlotte sat down by Elyse’s high chair, the tiny fork in her hand. “You bet I will.” Danae heard the sound of airplanes and choo-choo trains as they approached Elyse’s little mouth, and the sound of her giggles.

Travis, who was reading the morning paper, looked up from his reading long enough to watch his wife with their granddaughter. Elyse was now 20 months old, and Eamon, just 3 months old. Danae walked down the stairs with a cranky, hungry little boy, and sat on the sofa in the living room. Travis got up and joined her.

It wasn’t anything Danae hadn’t done before, and she didn’t mind her father watching while she fed her infant son. When it was her first baby, everything was so new and she remembered being so modest, but with Eamon, she didn’t mind nearly as much. Besides, Darcey had been telling her for a while now she thought time was getting short for both of them. There were just some subtle changes she saw in Charlotte that made her think she would go before Travis, but she couldn’t be sure.

“So Daddy, what are you doing for Mama tonight? Dinner out? Dinner in? A movie? More of what you started your day with?” She winked at him and gave him a knowing look.

“I wish we could end like we started. There isn’t that much stamina left in this old stallion anymore,” he joked. Danae blushed. “Oh, come on Nae,” he teased. She giggled at him and shook her head.

“That was just a little more visual than I needed, Daddy,” she laughed. Eamon fussed, and she sat him up to burp him, rubbing his back and patting him gently.

“Sorry, sweetie,” he said. “But you did ask.”

“Yes, I know I brought that on myself.” Eamon burped a little tiny burp, and she looked at him. “Your sister does better, sir,” she chuckled as she switched sides.

“I don’t know, Nae. I feel like we’ve done it all for our anniversaries. Vacations. Dinners out. Shoot, I even called her Amy on one anniversary. That was not my shining moment.”

“Oh Daddy, you didn’t!” Danae was shocked. “I bet that went over like a lead sinker.”

“I know you were too little to remember it. Devin was just a baby, maybe Elyse’s age. It was the morning we came downstairs and she was sleeping on the couch.”

“You know what? I do remember that! That’s what put you in the dog house that night?” She laughed, getting way too much enjoyment from it.

“Yes, that’s what I did. So stupid. I never said I was brilliant. That was your mama’s job.” Charlotte walked to where they sat with a sticky sweet Elyse in her arms. “I was just telling our daughter about the time I called you Amy on our anniversary.”

Charlotte rolled her eyes. “That wasn’t your dad’s greatest moment.”

“That’s what he just said, almost verbatim.” Danae laughed. “What else has he done that I don’t know about?”

“I think that’s it,” Charlotte chuckled. “You were old enough to remember the other stuff he did. And we’re not revisiting that anymore anyway.” She winked at Travis, and he smiled at her.

“Oh, I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.” She shuddered. “I don’t even like thinking about it.”

“Me neither, Nae,” Travis agreed.

“I think Eamon is done eating, if you want to rock him to sleep, Daddy. I’ll bring him up for you. I need to give Elyse a bath I see, before Mama licks her clean.”

Charlotte belly laughed. “I was just giving her kisses. I can’t help she tastes good.” All three of them laughed.

By mid-afternoon, Travis hadn’t decided what to do for Charlotte for their anniversary, so Danae decided to make lobster thermidor for them, and make them a pretty candlelit table downstairs. After the babies were down for a nap, she drove to the store to get ingredients she needed to make their favorite dish, and she realized the last time she had made it was the night she met Andy for the first time.

Just in time for dinner, Danae was pulling the lobster from the oven, and serving it on plates at a pretty table, set with china, silver, flowers, and candles. The stereo had love songs playing on it, and she dimmed the lights. And when she led them downstairs after telling them to dress for dinner, they were so surprised.

“Oh, Danae!” Charlotte exclaimed. “You didn’t have to do this for us!”

“I know I didn’t have to, Mama. I wanted to.” She watched as Travis sat his bride at the table, and he took his usual place at the head seat. Danae served them a glass of wine and dinner. They were so lost in the moment, they didn’t notice her sneak upstairs, and they surely didn’t see Andy come home and sneak past them.

“We are so blessed, my sweet Charlotte,” Travis said, relaxing in the atmosphere. “We are so lucky that she and Andy didn’t leave our home. I know they had their eye on a house at the beach.”

“I talked her into staying. She knew this house would be hers eventually anyway. It made sense. She has built-in babysitters when she needs to run an errand, and we get to see those precious little ones whenever we want. Win-win.” Charlotte sipped her wine and proposed a toast. “To us, honeybear. To the love of my life. Thank you for a life well loved.” She remembered her own father saying that to her mother in a love note, and adored the sentiment.

“To us,” Travis said, and they clinked their wine glasses together gently.

They ate together quietly, not saying much, but enjoying each other’s company. But then Charlotte broke the silence. “Travis, how do you think Emmitt knew it was his time?”

This was the very question that tortured him daily. “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know if he was just ready, or if he didn’t feel well. I remember Chris saying he didn’t feel well, and that Greg knew it was his time.” He had hoped to avoid the topic this evening.

“I was just wondering. My dad knew. Mama told me he woke that morning knowing he wouldn’t make it through the day.” Charlotte began to pick at her dinner. “I’m sorry I brought it up. I know how you don’t like it.”

“It’s okay, honey.” Travis sat back and pushed himself from the table. “I don’t want to leave this mess for Nae to clean. I’ll get your dishes. Go sit in the living room, and I’ll light the fire in a few.”

“No, it’s okay, love. Don’t bother with the fire tonight.” She took the last sip of wine from her glass. “I think the wine isn’t agreeing with me. I’m going to go upstairs.”

Travis nodded. “I’ll be up in a little bit, baby.”

He was wiping the last dish when he heard Danae scream. No! He thought as he climbed the stairs as fast as he could. When he reached the top, Danae was hysterical, and Andy was trying to calm her. Charlotte lay in a heap on the floor at the top of the steps, and Travis smelled the pungent odor of death. Danae saw him teetering dangerously near the stairs and pulled him to her, hugging him close. But he didn’t cry or weep, watching for the Reaper to appear behind the stench.

From thin air, it materialized, and it circled the family as they wept. But Travis simply watched, stunned, numb. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as it laughed at him, and swooped his scythe dangerously close to his head, or so he believed. And in an instant, Charlotte was gone, a white alabaster urn trimmed in gold left in her place.

“Daddy? Are you okay?” Danae asked him. But he just stood, looking at the urn, stupefied. He shook his head and looked at his daughter.

“W-what just happened?”

“She’s gone, Daddy. Mama is gone.” Andy wrapped her in a hug, and let her sob. “I need to call Darcey, honey,” she said to Andy, and she walked into their bedroom, and closed the door.

“She can’t be gone. We… we just finished dinner. I never got to tell her… how…” he sobbed, “how much I love her.”

Andy tried to comfort him as much as he could, but Travis just sat in his rocking chair, sobbing, inconsolable. Danae came back from their bedroom and her heart broke watching her daddy cry. In desperation, she knelt in front of Travis, her head on his lap, sobbing. Instinctually, his fingers reached for her hair, and he ran his fingers through it.

“She was coming up to lay down in bed. She said the wine got to her.” Travis cried. “She didn’t know… I didn’t tell her… I never got the chance…” his words were tortured. “I love her so much, she can’t be gone!”

Screenshot-1240

“Daddy, she knew you loved her. Every chance you got, you told her. There is no way she didn’t know.”

“She didn’t know the Reaper was coming for her. She just asked me about it, right before she came up here. She didn’t know!”

“You said she wasn’t feeling well. Maybe she did, Daddy.” She honestly didn’t know what to say, what would make him feel better, and it killed her inside.

Darcey opened the door downstairs and yelled up. “Danae!”

“We’re up here, Darce.”

Darcey reached the top of the steps and fell to her knees. Danae knew it would hit her especially hard. “Oh my… no!” Darcey repeated in between sobs. “She’s gone. She’s gone.”


Travis woke the next morning with a pounding headache and someone next to him. But the woman sleeping in her spot was not his sweet Charlotte, but Danae, his daughter. She felt him awaken, and she sat up next to him and put her arms around him. “I’m here, Daddy.”

“Hey Punkin,” he said sadly. “Why are you here?”

“I didn’t want you to be alone last night. Andy stayed with the kids in their room, mostly so he didn’t have to be alone.” She looked at his face, and he seemed so much older in just twelve hours’ time. “How did you sleep?”

“I think okay. I don’t remember going to bed. I don’t know how I got here.”

“Andy carried you here, Daddy. I got you undressed and into your pajamas. Don’t worry, I didn’t see anything.”

“I’m not worried about that, Nae.” It wouldn’t have been the first time she had seen him undressed. “It just bothers me I couldn’t remember.”

“Darcey was here, and she gave you something to help you sleep. She didn’t think you’d sleep on your own. She was a mess. Andy had to drive her home and walk back from their house at 10 last night. I think she’s taking today from work. If I was working, I would be, too.”

A soft knock sounded at the door. “Nae? Honey, the baby needs to be fed.” Andy had Eamon in his arms.

“I’ll take him, love, thank you.” She took their son and settled back down on the bed. “Stay here for now, Daddy. Just be with me while I nurse him.”

Travis nodded. “For a few minutes.” He got up and went into the bathroom, and came out in time to see Danae burping the baby. His little face looked at Travis, and he couldn’t help but smile.

“When I’m done nursing, would you like to rock him, Daddy?” She hoped he would say yes.

He nodded and wiped tears away. Just twenty-four hours ago, they were talking about their anniversary. And suddenly, he remembered their conversation about forgiveness. “You know, Danae, I just thought of something.”

She settled the baby and let him latch on to nurse, and she nodded. “What’s that, Daddy?”

“Your mama yesterday. She was acting weird all morning. Before we came downstairs, we were talking about her wanting me to forgive myself for the night I almost died. Because as of yesterday morning I still hadn’t, even though I promised her. She got angry with me. But now that I think of it, she wasn’t so much angry as she was desperate. Desperate to hear me say the words. Maybe she did know after all, and she didn’t tell me.”

“It’s possible, Daddy. It sounds like something she would have done.” She sat Eamon up and patted his back gently. “I’m going to change him before I settle him into your arms, Daddy. He is wet. Would you like coffee or anything for breakfast?”

“I’d love some coffee, sweetie. Thank you.” He got up to walk to his rocking chair, but stopped at the dresser to change clothes. Inside his dresser was Charlotte’s diamond ring, with a note:

My dearest Travis,

By the time you find this note, I’ll be gone. There was so much I wanted to tell you, but I sensed my time was short, and we promised not to be melancholy on our anniversary. Please give this ring to one of the girls. I’ll let it be your choice. The wedding band is in our jewelry chest, with Chris’ purity ring, Nana’s diamond, Mama’s anniversary band, and my dad’s sapphire ring. Please, if you give these things to the girls, tell them to keep them in our family. Do not let Devin have any of it, as I fear he will sell it or give it to some girl he doesn’t plan to marry. 

Thank you, my honeybear, for our life together, our children and all your love for my lifetime. It was all I ever needed. I will see you on the other side.

All my love,
Charlotte 

Danae saw his face contorted with pain as he read the letter she left him. “Oh Daddy,” she cried, holding the baby close to her. He dropped the letter and watched it fall to the floor.

“Her ring… it’s in my drawer, with this note. I can’t…  I can’t read it to you.”

“I’ll get it, Daddy. Go sit, and I’ll give Eamon to you to rock him.”

Travis nodded. Though he had opened his drawer to get changed, he stayed in his pajamas and stumbled to the rocker outside the nursery. Danae changed the baby and handed him to Travis. She hugged his shoulders and kissed his forehead. “I have the monitor, Daddy. If you need me, just yell for me, and I’ll be right up.”

“Okay, Punkin.” He cuddled his grandson into his arms and stared forward into space, rocking the baby until he fell asleep.

*****

It was the tenth morning since Charlotte had died, and he woke up in a bed without her for the tenth time since they had been married. He instinctively reached for her, and felt only a cold, empty place. Travis sighed deeply, not wanting to face one more day without the love of his life. This was a despair he’d felt before, but the first time was nothing at all like how he felt now. How could he even compare it? Charlotte had been his one true love. And she was gone. The emptiness threatened to consume him.

The sun hadn’t even come up yet, and he was wide awake, though this was nothing new. He tied his robe around him, shivering in the damp chill. With his slippers on his feet, he trudged down the stairs and started a pot of coffee. He glanced at his watch. It was 4:34am. Even Andy wouldn’t be up this early. With his new promotion, he was going in at ten every morning, and if Danae was lucky, Eamon would sleep a little longer without needing to be fed.

He poured himself a cup of brew and put a little cream in it. With his first mouthful, he shuddered. This was how Charlotte liked it, he thought. I need sugar. He stirred a half teaspoon of sugar into the cup and mixed it well, and walked into the living room. He set the cup on the table near the sofa, and started a fire in the hearth to take the chill off the morning air. He didn’t notice it was snowing until he really looked outside, and it was coming down at blizzard intensity. Too early in the season for this, he thought.

When the fire began to roar, he picked up his coffee cup and watched the flames for what seemed like hours. He heard soft footsteps descending the stairs, and looked up to see Danae, her hair disheveled, looking like she hadn’t slept a wink. She peeked around the corner from the staircase and saw her father sitting by the fire, thankful that Andy hadn’t forgotten to extinguish their fire from the evening before. “Good morning, Daddy.”

“It’s morning. The jury is out on good,” he grumbled. His leg was stiff with arthritis, and the weather and cold wasn’t helping any.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Can I get you anything?”

“I’m going to refill my coffee in a minute. What are you doing up, Punkin?”

“The baby had me awake all night. He’s colicky.” She rubbed her eyes. “The stuff they don’t tell you about motherhood.”

Travis half-smiled. He and Charlotte had been lucky. None of them had been colicky when they were babies. “I’m guessing Andy is going to be grumpy today.”

“No, just me. I stayed in the nursery and walked the floor with him downstairs for most of the night. I just got him down to sleep when I noticed the light on. I thought I’d turned it off.” Even though she shouldn’t have coffee while nursing, she poured herself one anyway, and brought Travis a fresh cup. “Hopefully, Andy slept through it all. I know he has to work today. He doesn’t need the sleep disruption. He’s a busy man.” Travis was about to ask her a question when the baby’s sharp cry sounded on the monitor. Danae grimaced in frustration. “You have GOT to be kidding me.” She looked close to tears as she set her coffee cup on the table and trekked upstairs, returning moments later with a crying, colicky baby boy.

“Why don’t you let me hold him while you rest, honey?” Travis offered.

“No, it’s okay Daddy. He’s my responsibility. But now I totally get why you said babies are hard work. If he was our first, he’d have been the only one.” Travis chuckled.

Ten minutes later, Andy walked down the steps, yawning. “Oh honey, I’m sorry!” Danae cried. “Did the baby wake you?” She rocked him in her arms, trying to get him to settle down.

“No, not having you next to me woke me, my sweet. The baby’s cries were an afterthought.” He stumbled to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. “I can’t afford to miss today. It’s our quarterly meeting with Lionel, though I suppose I could work from home today, until after the video conference.” His hair was as messy as Danae’s. “Why is he crying like this?”

“Best I can tell is colic. The poor little thing has been crying for four hours straight. I didn’t want him to keep Elyse awake, so I brought him down here. We’ve been having a time for ourselves, haven’t we little one?” She kissed his head, and he stopped crying for five seconds before he screamed again.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to rock him, Nae? I don’t mind.” Travis held his arms open for the squirmy, crying baby.

“No, it’s okay Daddy. In fact, why don’t you go back to bed? You don’t need to be up at all today. No doctors, right?”

“Nope. Nothing going on.” He emptied his second coffee cup and set it back down. “I’m two cups of coffee down already. I don’t see me going back to bed anytime soon.”

“Let your dad take the baby, Nae. Get some sleep. After my video conference, I’ll come home and take baby duty so you can get some rest.”

Reluctantly, she gave Eamon to Travis, who nestled him into the crick of his elbow and rubbed his belly gently. To her great amazement, he settled down and stopped crying. “How? How did you do that, Daddy?”

“A trick I remember from parenting classes years ago, back when Amy was expecting. Because we were so young, we had to attend classes so we would know how to care for an infant. But colic is helped by different things. This was the only thing I remembered. It was a long shot, but so far, so good.” The gentle rocking motion settled the baby, and he yawned.

“I’m impressed, Daddy. I wish I woke you up hours ago.” Danae kissed him. “I’ll have the monitor on, so if you need me, just call my name, or let Eamon scream into it. I’ll be out in a jiffy.” Andy took her hand and led her back to the bedroom, mostly so she could sleep.

Travis held his infant grandson and remembered when things were better between him and Devin. He remembered sitting in that very chair, rocking with his son after Charlotte had fed him. I need to call that boy, he thought. Devin knew his father was deeply disappointed in him. But rather than fix the problem, he avoided contact with Travis like he was stricken with plague. Eamon started to fuss again, and Travis laid the boy on his lap and rubbed his back. Soft cries were replaced with coos of contentment, and Pop-Pop smiled.

Eventually, Travis got the baby to sleep, and he put him in the crib gently. Even Elyse was still asleep, so he went back downstairs to check on the fire and grab one more cup of coffee.

At 9am, Andy came downstairs dressed for work and ready to leave. He was only staying long enough for the meeting and would tell Lionel he needed to come home to care for Danae. And she was right behind him, with a tired little girl in her arms. But Elyse was hungry, so breakfast it was. “You look tired,” Travis observed. “Still not enough sleep?”

“Hardly,” Danae yawned. She sat Elyse in the high chair and prepared some cereal for her. Andy walked to her and kissed her.

“I’ll be home after the meeting, my sweet. Time for you to sleep, and Daddy to have some fun with the kiddos!”

Danae laughed. “If you think a colicky baby is fun, have at it.” She waved as he headed to the garage.

“He doesn’t get to spend as much time as he’d like with those kids,” Travis observed. “Lionel has put a lot of responsibility on him. It will only get worse when the new season starts. Eventually, he will have to travel again, Nae.”

“I’m not looking forward to it, Daddy.” She set the bowl of soft fruits and cereal in front of Elyse. She was capable of feeding herself, even if it was a bit messy. “It’s too soon.”

“Well, he will have to travel with the team. The good thing is, that accident was an anomaly and the likelihood of that happening again is slim.” Airplanes hardly ever crashed in Simville. The one that should have claimed Andy’s life was the first crash in over 40 years and was truly a freak accident.

“Well, he had better come home to me every time, or I will not be happy.” She half teased. “I need him here, with me and these babies. I’d be so lost without him, Daddy.”

“I know Punkin. Don’t worry. You will grow old together like your mama and I did.” And wait for one of you to die first, he thought.

Danae yawned. Andy’s meeting couldn’t be done fast enough, but she knew she had at least another two hours before he was home. “Daddy, why don’t you go back and lay down awhile? You look tired, too.”

“I’ll just sit in my rocking chair and doze,” he replied. It wasn’t ideal, but he did feel rested when he got up. He didn’t want to tell his daughter that his bed was too empty. At least in the rocker, he didn’t feel as alone.

“Alright,” she said. She picked Elyse out of the high chair and set her on the floor while she cleaned the tray. “Why don’t you rock with Elyse awhile, Daddy? She could use some Pop Pop time.”

“I’d love that,” Travis replied. “I’ll be upstairs waiting for her.”

Danae cleaned her up, changed her clothes and brought her to rock with Travis. She held out her hands to him, and he snuggled her on his shoulder. “I need to nurse Eamon, so I’ll be right here.” She went in and got the baby, hating to wake him. But if she didn’t nurse him soon, she’d be very uncomfortable.

*****

Charlotte had been gone for two weeks, and Travis was really slowing down. Despite her attempts to get him to eat, he was only picking at the meals she served him. Even Darcey came to check him out, but she told Danae it was the beginning process of death. “He doesn’t have much time, Nae. You might want to call Devin. He never came for Mama’s death. Maybe he’ll come to see Dad.”

She nodded her head. “I am not ready to lose him, Darcey.” In the two weeks since Charlotte’s death, Travis had really relied upon her, and it allowed them to get extremely close.

“We have a choice on this, Nae. But we have each other, and you have Andy and the kids. You’ll be fine.” Darcey hugged her before she left. Now Danae had an uncomfortable phone call to make.

“Hello?” Came a tired, grumpy voice on the other end of the phone.

“Devin, it’s Nae.”

“What do you want?” She recognized the slur in his voice, the fatigue. Devin was very hungover.

“I think you should come to see Dad today. He isn’t well.”

“That’s too bad,” Devin said, his voice cool. “Tell him I said happy trails.”

“Devin, I don’t know what is wrong with you, but this man gave you life. You’ll break his heart if he dies without seeing you.”

“That’s not my problem.” Devin huffed into the phone, and Danae heard a female voice that did not sound like Maribeth in the background.

“I feel sorry for you, Devin. What a colossal screw up you turned out to be.” Danae was disgusted. The life of privilege, wealth and fame was taking its toll on the youngest Jones child, and she was not impressed.

“Suck an egg, Danae. Don’t call me again.” Devin hung up the phone on her.

Danae growled in frustration, and Andy peeked his head out of the bathroom. “What’s wrong, my sweet?”

“My brother is a jerk, and I’m done with him.” She slumped on the bed and sighed heavily. “Darcey doesn’t think Daddy has much time, so I called Devin to see if he would come. He basically told me he doesn’t care. He isn’t my brother anymore.”

“Yeah, well, he’s walking a tightrope with Lionel right now. One more screw up and he’s looking for another team.” Andy shook his head, but it was not news to Danae. What he didn’t want to tell Danae was that she and Darcey had become his topic of discussion in the locker rooms, speaking about them as if they were tramps. Andy found out about it because Smitty had told him, and he was ready to strangle Devin himself.

“I just don’t understand. He wasn’t raised like this. None of us were. And yet, Darcey and I turned out okay, and he’s contemptible. He’s messing around on Maribeth. He is going to break her heart.”

“If she was smart, she’d walk away from him. But I know he buys her stuff to keep the steady flow of sex coming his way, so one is as bad as the other. As long as she puts out, so will he.”

Danae redialed Darcey’s number. “Darce, I called Devin. He’s not interested in seeing Daddy. I swear if he didn’t look like Dad…”

Darcey sighed. “Yeah, I know. I can’t even get through to him anymore. I’m disgusted with him myself.”

“I thought I’d let you know. I’ll call you.”

“Thanks, Nae. I’ll try to get the boys to see him today, but my schedule is tight.” She hated it but with Charlotte’s death, Darcey had taken too much time. She couldn’t spare one more day off.

“Okay. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon.”

Danae walked to Travis’ room, where he laid on the bed, resting. She approached him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Daddy? Are you okay?”

Screenshot-1650

“I’m tired, Punkin. I’m tired of being without your mama. Tired of being the last one left. I’m ready to go.”

“I’m not ready, Daddy.” Danae began to cry. “I know you are lonely—”

“No, sweetie, lonely doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s as if half of my soul died with her. I am empty. I feel hollow. Honey, that’s no way for a man to live.”

She sighed. “Let me know when you need me. Andy is home today, it’s Saturday, so I’m here for you.”

“Stay with me, precious. I need you now.”

“Let me tell Andy, Daddy. Do you want to see the kids one last time?”

“I’m good. But I would like to see Andy once more. There are a few things I need to tell him.”

“I’ll get him now, Daddy.” She left the room quietly and walked back next door.

“Andy, Daddy wants to see you.” Danae wept. “He doesn’t feel he has much time.”

Andy opened the door to Travis’ bedroom and stepped quietly inside. “Come in, Son,” Travis beckoned.

“What can I do for you, Dad?” Andy sat on the bed and took Travis’ hand in his.

“I just have some advice, so you don’t make the same mistakes I made. First, if Danae ever says she wants to give Elyse her purity ring, let her. It’s an important tradition on her mama’s side of the family. Don’t do what I did and throw a tantrum in a restaurant, go out and get drunk and nearly cheat on a perfectly good woman. That haunts me still, even though I promised Charlotte it wouldn’t. But there isn’t a day that passes I’m not sorry for the hell I put her through.”

“I promise, Travis.”

“If you’re going to be late, call her. She is like her mother, and she is a sensitive soul. I think you know that already, Andy. She worries quickly and without reason. Don’t give her a reason.”

Andy nodded. “Easy so far.”

“Love her with all you have, and she will never leave you. Again, she is like her mother. She loves deeply, and only one person for life. She is beautiful, and some men just don’t care what they say about a beautiful woman, or do with her. Keep her close, protect her and those babies with your life. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t make them again.”

“Believe me, Dad, I will never hurt her. She is my life.”

“I told my father-in-law those same words when I married her. But every ounce of pain she ever had, I inflicted it on her. Be careful, son. She is a jewel of great value. Don’t take her for granted, like I did with her mother. I almost lost the best thing I ever had because I was stupid.” Travis wiped tears from his eyes. “Look, I know you’ll probably never make the same mistakes I did. It’s just helpful advice from someone who has been there. I love you, Andy. Take care of my baby.”

“I will. You have my word. I love you, Dad.”

“You can tell her I’m ready for her. I’m sorry to take her from you today. But I need her. Or, I should say, she needs me.” Andy nodded and left the room, unable to speak.

“What did he say?” she asked him.

Screenshot-1641

“Every mistake he ever made, he wore it on his sleeve for me to see. And he begged me to not make those same mistakes with you. He is worried about that. But he is ready for you.”

She took a deep breath, her eyes filled with tears. “I’m not ready.”

“I’m right here, my sweet. When he’s gone, I’ll still be here.” He kissed her tenderly.

Screenshot-1642

Danae walked back to Travis’ bed. “I’m back, Daddy. What did you tell Andy?”

“Everything I needed him to know. Come,” he patted the spot next to him on the bed. “Lay down here with me, Nae. Let’s talk.”

She approached the bed and sat on the edge. She hated laying on her mother’s side of the bed, but she placed her head on Charlotte’s pillow. Already she felt the tears stinging her eyes. “What do you want to talk about, Daddy?”

“Let’s reminisce. What was your favorite childhood moment?”

“Wow, that’s a deep question to start with,” she laughed. “The Rock Tooth concert ranks pretty high. But I think I have one. That patch in the yard, where there’s never any grass. Darcey and I decided to make mud pies one summer. She turned the hose on and made that so muddy. We were covered, head to toe in dark, sticky mud. Mama was so mad at us.” She laughed at the memory. “That was a lot of fun.”

“I remember that,” Travis laughed. “That was the reason we installed the showers by the pool.”

“Really?” Danae was amazed. She couldn’t remember those showers not being there.

“Yep…” Travis coughed and groaned. “Oh, that hurts.”

“I’m sorry Daddy.”

“It’s okay Punkin. It won’t be much longer.”

Danae swallowed a sob. “What else do you want to talk about?”

“Well, let’s still reminisce. What was your least favorite childhood moment?”

She had to think about this one. “Well, getting in trouble at the freshman spring dance was pretty bad. But feeling like I was disappointing you over my curiosity about sex. That was probably my biggest regret. Looking back, it seemed like that was all I ever wanted to discuss. I mean, I know why.”

“Why is that, Nae?” This should be good, Travis thought.

“It’s pretty obvious, Daddy. You and Mama were always having sex in the next room, and you were not even close to discreet about it. It always sounded like so much fun.”

Travis’ face turned beet red. “All these years and you never thought to mention that to me once, Danae?” He looked as though he wanted to crawl under his bed, totally humiliated.

“It’s okay, Daddy. After a while, I was okay with it. You and Mama made it natural, normal. It’s a big part of the reason why I was always so curious about it, though, but I felt like I disappointed you in so many ways because of it.”

“Well, obviously you turned out okay, and you were innocent on your wedding night. You were tougher than Darcey, that’s true. But at the same time, when she started seeing Clint, your mama had no idea what she actually thought because she never asked questions like you did. You were an open book to her, just like she was with you. But Darcey, she seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. She never asked many questions of either of us.”

“Darcey was embarrassed for the same reason I wasn’t. She never got used to it. When Andy and I got married, I told him that hearing you two next door was ambient noise, and that you would have competition.” She blushed, not believing she was discussing her sex life with her father. “I mean, there was nothing wrong with that, Daddy. I actually admire you and Mama. The day she died, you guys woke me up that morning. Had I known that would be the last time I’d ever hear it…” her voice trailed off. “I guess I might have stayed and listened awhile longer.” She was a little ashamed to admit that.

Travis was truly mortified. “Nae, I had no idea. I’m incredibly sorry. No little girl should have to grow up like that.”

“Daddy, relax. It’s okay. Andy doesn’t complain a bit.” She blushed again.

“Okay, time to change the subject.” Travis coughed, his body ached. “Tell me your favorite memory with just you and me.”

“I don’t know, Daddy. That’s a tough one.”

“There has to be one.” A shiver shook his body, as though he was getting the flu.

“Well, even though Darcey was part of it, I loved our dates together. I always felt like your little princess, and you were my king.”

“I was hoping you’d remember those dates, Punkin. They were my favorite memories, too…”

“I almost didn’t want to date anyone else!” she laughed. Danae expected to hear his normal chuckle, but nothing came. “Daddy?” She touched his shoulder and sat up. “Daddy?” And again, she got no answer.

Suddenly, the pungent odor of death penetrated the room, and it made her nauseated instantly. She sat by his lifeless body, crying, warning Death itself to stay away. But the Reaper only laughed as it materialized right next to his bedside.

Screenshot-1652

“Please!” she begged it. “Please spare his life.” But the apparition merely shook its head, and took him from her, even as she held on for dear life. In his place, close to where he was, sat an urn that looked nearly identical to her mother’s. With one last laugh, the embodiment of death disappeared the same way it appeared.

Screenshot-1659

“Go,” she whispered to an empty room. “Go be with Mama. Spread your angel wings and fly, Daddy.”

http___pluspng.com_img-png_png-divider-lines-tiny-edge-line-decorative-divider-png-512

Up Next: Danae Elizabeth and Darcey Isabella Jones

G4 Chapter Twenty Four – Retirement, Babies and Saying Goodbye

“Mama!” Darcey exclaimed on the other end of the phone. “Your grandson is here!” Charlotte nearly dropped the phone.

“Oh, honey! Congratulations! How are you feeling? What did you and Clint name him?”

“His name is Noel Glenn, after Clint’s dad. Well, his middle name anyway. He is so cute!” Darcey was deliriously happy.

“I’m so happy for you! Stop here on your way home so we can see him, if you feel well enough to. I can’t wait to meet him!” The news made Charlotte’s day. Their first grandchild was born.

Travis came home from work, limping and sore. “Hey my queen,” he said. “How’s the love of my life?” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck.

“I have some good news, honeybear. Darcey’s baby came today. His name is Noel.” Charlotte was beaming.

Travis had no words, but he smiled as he wiped tears of joy from his eyes. “A boy!” he finally squeaked out.

“I think they may stop here tomorrow on their way home.” She watched him as he hobbled around the dining room table, and plopped himself on a chair. “You’re still hurting?”

“Yeah, the doctor has done all he can with this bone. It’s healed okay, it’s just still causing some pain. He’s not sure why.” He tried in vain to rub the soreness from it.

“What does Aaron say, honey? Are you going to retire?” She sighed. Oh, how she hated this for him.

“Well, Emmitt thinks it would be best, and Lionel is willing to pay out the rest of the current season on my contract, and when that’s done, I just get a pension.” He shook his head. “I’m not ready to be an old man, Charlotte.”

“I’m not ready to be an old lady, either. But we have no choice, honeybear.” She walked to him and rubbed his shoulders. “We’ve hit the telltale sign of being old. We have a grandchild.”

“Yeah we do,” he smiled. “I can’t wait to see him, either.” Nothing else could have put a smile on his face, except for that. “I am going to talk to Lionel when he’s in town next time and make it official. I’m going to retire. I know the press has been buzzing about it for months, really since my injury. Let’s face it, I’m way, way past my prime. I’m only fooling myself.”

“I’m here for you, baby, in any way I can be. I’ll even go with you to talk to Lionel, if you want.” She reached for his hand. “We got this, honey.”

“My goodness, Charlotte, how I love you.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and wept in her embrace.

“If it makes you feel any better, Dee is almost demanding my retirement too, she says, before I hurt someone on the job. She has a way of making me feel incompetent.”

“Remember how we thought we’d move to Isla Paradiso after we retired? Why don’t we still, honey?”

“Are you really asking me to move away from our grandchild, Travis? Darcey and Clint will never come see us, and I doubt Danae would be able to get time away from her job to travel.” Charlotte shook her head. “As much as I love the beach, I love our kids more.”

“It was a thought, baby. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.” And with her answer, Travis’ final dream died.

*****

“Travis and Charlotte! Always a pleasure to see you!” Lionel smiled at them. “Please come in and sit.”

“I wish this was a happier visit, Lionel,” Travis said. “I think you know why we are here.”

“I do, champ. I figured that was why your lovely wife was with you. She usually doesn’t come with you to normal meetings.”

“So, I think we should make this official. Announce my retirement officially in the next press conference, and then I’ll do one last Q&A and fan meet & greet. Then, I guess, I’ll ride off into the sunset in this old, battered up body.”

Lionel saw the defeat in his eyes. “Well, don’t feel so bad, my friend. My daughter will be taking over for me here soon. I’m not getting younger, either. I’ve been grooming her for the past three years. She’ll be in my position within the next four years. The Reaper catches us all eventually.” Lionel looked at his schedule on his computer. “I’ll let Andy know to schedule that presser for next week when I’m back in town, and we can do this together. There is no reason you need to walk this emotional road alone Travis, when we can all support you.”

Travis smiled, not able to speak. “Thank you, Lionel,” Charlotte spoke for him. “This is going to be difficult for us. A whole new way of life. He won’t be totally alone. I’ll be retiring soon, too. I’m getting all kinds of pressure from the hospital administrator. Plus, Danae and Darcey will be giving us new grandchildren soon.”

“That’s right!” Lionel exclaimed. “When is Darcey due?”

“We have a while, but they are both due at almost the same time. They always did like doing things together.” Charlotte giggled. “Danae is going to give us our first granddaughter, much to Emmitt’s dismay. He wants a grandson.”

“Oh, Emmitt will be just fine,” Lionel joked. “He will love a granddaughter just as much as a little boy, believe me. It’s all he’s talked about since Andy and Danae were married.”

Travis finally gathered himself enough to put a thought together. “Next week is good. No reason to delay the inevitable, right?”

“Exactly. Don’t worry, my friend. We have this covered. You won’t fade away into nothing. Your name will be legendary for ages.” Lionel had a surprise for him that would be revealed at the press conference. He hoped it would help send Travis into retirement with a bang. “Andy will get in touch with you regarding the presser. Charlotte is more than welcome to sit with you if she wants to be on camera.”

“That doesn’t bother me, as long as I don’t speak,” she blushed. “Besides, it won’t be my first time on camera. We’ve seen a lot of media attention in our lives, not all of it good, either. But we’ve managed.”

“Alright then,” Lionel clicked a few things on his screen and finished the email to Andy about the press conference. “I really hate that everything was cut short for you Travis. And even more, I wish we had some recourse on that injury. But the official ruling on the field was accidental, even though the coach and player were both ejected from the league. I think that was done on purpose, to avoid liability.” Lionel shrugged and stood to shake Travis’ hand. “Thanks for making time in your schedule to see me. I look forward to seeing you again next week.” The words escaped his lips, but there was no joy in seeing his star player’s retirement.

“Thanks, Lionel,” Travis replied. “We’ll see you next week.” He took Charlotte’s hand, and together they went to clean his locker.

*****

It was the last time Travis would put his PR uniform on, and he was still no closer to tying the tie than he was when he started wearing it. “Charlotte!” he called. “Please help.”

She walked from the bathroom, her hair half done. “There’s mixed feelings with this tie, you know,” she said, giggling. “On the one hand, I won’t miss tieing it. On the other hand, I will miss tieing it.”

He nodded sadly. “Thanks love.” He walked back to the mirror and straightened his vest out, and turned around, checking the back. “I still fill these pants out rather well,” he joked half-heartedly. “I make this look good.”

“You always did,” she growled at him, checking him out. “I need to fix this mop before it dries and I can’t finish it.” She walked back into the bathroom to finish primping.

Travis sat on the bed and slipped into his loafers. Since the injury, dress shoes were out of the question, and no one would see his feet anyway. A quick glance at his wristwatch revealed thirty minutes until the limousine arrived to pick them up. “How’s it coming in there, honey?”

“I’m done with my hair, and I just need to dab a little concealer on this scar.” The likelihood of her face being on camera made her self-conscious about the blemish that marred her appearance. “Which dress should I wear?”

“How about that red number I bought you in Isla Paradiso?” He hoped seriously she would consider it.

“Really? Isn’t that a little too… sexy for your final press conference?”

“I don’t think so,” he smiled impishly. For one final time, he would look forward to helping her out of it. “Besides, you look twenty years younger in it.”

Dang it, she thought. He always knew how to get his way. “If you insist,” she laughed. “You win, honeybear.” She walked from the bathroom and opened the closet, picked the slinky red cocktail dress from its hanger and wiggled into it. “Would you do the honors, my love?” she asked as she walked to him so he could zip it.

“It would be my pleasure, but not as much as it will be to take it off you later.” He chuckled as he zipped it.

Charlotte shook her head. “I don’t know why that surprises me. You’re something else.” She laughed and kissed him.

“How else do you think I’m going to make it through this presser, baby? If I don’t have something to look forward to…” He trailed off in thought and wrapped his arms around her. “I will need you after this, just so you know.”

“And I will be here for you, just so you know.” She kissed his nose and held him in her embrace. “We’re going to make it through this. I promise.”

The limo arrived on time to retrieve them and brought them to the Binder Clips Center. The crowd outside the stadium was impressive, media from all over the country was there to cover the historic announcement. Charlotte suddenly felt overwhelmed. “Wow, there’s a lot of people here for this.”

“You don’t have to come up on stage with me if you don’t want to, honey.” He took her hand and kissed it. “I know this is a big deal for you.”

“No, I’ll be okay. Hopefully, Andy let the press know not to question me ahead of time. I don’t want to humiliate myself.”

“I’ll be right there with you. If you don’t want to answer a question, then don’t. I’ll take it for you.”

The driver stopped the car by the home team locker room and allowed Travis to exit the car. He reached in to help Charlotte out, and together they walked into the locker room. The team was not practicing, and no one would be at the lockers as Charlotte walked through. Andy met them in the tunnel.

“Hey Dad,” he greeted Travis. “And Mom.” He hugged Charlotte. “We have a place for both of you on stage, but I can fix that if you don’t want to be on camera.”

“I’ll be okay, Andy.” She kissed his cheek.

“We have a few surprises for you today, Travis. The first two are in the stadium.” Andy led them out onto the field, and as soon as they spotted him, Darcey and Danae both started calling his name. Andy smiled.

“My babies!” He walked to the stands where they stood and hugged them. “I’m so glad you came, girls.” They were both pregnant and glowing.

“Clint is here, too!” Darcey motioned to him, and he joined the family.

“There’s my son-in-law!” Travis beamed and shook his hand. “Thanks for bringing my baby girl today, son.”

“We wouldn’t have missed it, Dad,” Clint replied. “It’s a big day, for all of Simville.”

The girls and Clint walked back to the stands and sat down. Andy rejoined them and escorted them to the stage. “Here, Mom. This is your seat.” The table had a marker with her name on it. Travis held the chair for her as she was seated.

“I’m going to get comfy, baby,” she said. “Go and do your thing. I’ll be here when it starts.” She kissed him.

Travis spent the next ten minutes signing autographs and posing for photos with his fans, the last time he would ever do so in a formal setting. And then, when he looked into the stands, he saw the very familiar faces of his teammates. Trey Smith was the first one he spotted, and he was touched. Trey walked down to the field level and embraced his friend.

“I hate like crazy that you’re having to retire, my friend. You still had a few good years left in you, before your injury.”

“You and I both know I’ve been fooling myself for a while now, but I appreciate the compliment. How’s Devin doing?”

“That kid, if he didn’t look like you Travis, I’d never know he was yours. Completely 180 degrees different. He has none of your humility and way too much confidence. Aaron is going to regret taking him on, I think.”

Travis sighed. On his last day at work, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “Keep an eye on him for me?” The last thing he wanted was for Devin to undo everything Travis had worked so hard to accomplish.

“You know I will,” Trey promised him. “I’ll kick his butt when he needs it, too.”

Travis laughed. “I need to go join Charlotte on stage. We only have minutes before this kicks off.” He shook Smitty’s hand and waved as he walked from the stands.

Travis took his place next to Charlotte and was joined by Aaron, Lionel, and Emmitt. Andy, who was leading the press conference, stood off to the side of the stage, announcing the format.

“Thank you all for joining us on this momentous occasion. For today marks the end of an era in the Starlight Shores Llamas’ history. Today, we bid farewell and happy retirement to a player who is quite possibly the best-known player in the league, and certainly the most loved. Whether you love or hate the Llamas, you know this man’s face and the talent he has brought to this team for the past forty years. No one was more devastated than we were when Travis Jones was injured during the last game of the season three years ago. Though he has worked hard to make his comeback, he has improved all that the doctors believe he will, and he will not be cleared to play again. As you can imagine, this saddens all of us in the Llamas franchise. Travis Jones is a friend, a mentor, the best team captain we’ve seen in decades, a devoted husband, father and my father-in-law. His presence here was felt every time he took the field, and his absence will be felt from this point forward.”

Andy motioned to Travis, and the camera panned to him. Travis stood and thanked Andy. “Thank you, Anduin,” he replied,” for that warm introduction. As many of you know, this game has been my life, and many of you in the Starlight Shores community and quite a few in other cities around the nation have become very special to my family and me. Your support over the years has meant more to me than you will ever know. My sweet Charlotte and I appreciate your outpouring of support, love, and prayers after my injury. And as much as I hate this, I am officially announcing my retirement, effective immediately. This will be my last public appearance in the stadium, my last time to address you, my last time to appear on camera.” He began to choke up, but swallowed the growing lump in his throat. “This decision was not made lightly, but it is one my family and I felt I have been putting off for far too long. Thank you, every one of you, for the memories. I will always love my fans, and I hope, long after I am gone, you will still love me, too.”

Lionel took the mic. “My name is Lionel O’Reilly, and my family owns this team. It has been my distinct honor to call this man my friend, to have the opportunity to have his extraordinary talents and intuition on the team. With his help, we have been the best team in the league for two years straight. We really couldn’t have done it without his expertise. So, to honor Travis Jones today, the Starlight Shores Llamas is officially retiring his jersey number. From this day forward, no one who wears the blue and white of the Starlight Shores Llamas will wear the number 10 on their back. This is unprecedented in Llamas’ history, as no one has ever had their number retired prior to Travis.” Lionel watched his expression of complete and total shock. Not even Charlotte knew about it, and she was crying tears of joy for him. “Congratulations, my old friend. You deserve this honor.” He stood and embraced Travis, who was really not holding himself together very well. Andy stood off stage, emotional, and informed affiliates to break for advertisement while the press conference got regrouped.

They only had minutes before they were back on the air, but Travis was overwhelmed. He leaned to Charlotte. “I can’t do this anymore. This is more than I expected.”

“I’m right here, honeybear.” She kissed his cheek. But he shook his head. Charlotte motioned for Andy, and he was there in seconds. “Andy, he can’t go on. He’s too emotional.” Andy nodded his head, and spoke into the mic, talking to the producers. He would finish up the presser with no Q&A for Travis, and that was quite alright with him.

When the event was over, Travis lost his cool, sobbing into Charlotte’s arms. He had never expected the retirement of his jersey number, and it touched him deeply. Lionel approached him and patted him on the back. “Congratulations, Travis. You deserved that honor, you know that.”

He looked up at Lionel, unable to speak. He only nodded and looked to Charlotte for help. “It’s an unbelievable tribute, Lionel, he just never expected it. And if he has no words, then believe me, he’s very overwhelmed. He’s not usually rendered speechless.” She smiled warmly at Lionel and he hugged both of them.

“I knew the importance of it wouldn’t be lost on him. But he and Aaron are the reasons we have had two championships, two seasons in a row, in addition to the name recognition. Merchandise for his name alone generates millions in revenue each season, which is why we have been able to compensate him so handsomely over the years. He has been an asset to this team for too many years to let him go unrecognized, which is why I was so pleased he wanted to do one last press conference.” Travis heard the words of praise and love poured over him, and he was still unable to speak.

“Hi Daddy,” Danae said to him softly, as she walked towards him. “I’m so proud of you!” He wrapped his arms around his little Punkin. Charlotte was thankful for the save, as her dress was getting damp from his tears. Darcey and Clint were also on the field to congratulate him.

After his commitments were fulfilled and the conference officially ended, Andy joined Danae and Travis. Emmitt, who had been at the conference, was too emotional to be around his best friend. His heart ached for Travis, and he hated to see the day come where he needed to walk away. But Emmitt was pleased that Lionel and Tarah chose to honor him by retiring his number. “Dad wanted to be here, but he sends his love and congratulations.” Andy hugged his father-in-law.

Lionel and Tarah invited Charlotte and Travis to The Tower after the media event, to celebrate his retirement. And after the limousine dropped them off at home, Travis walked into the house a different man.

“I’m exhausted, baby,” he said, emotionally drained.

“Are you still wanting to help me out of this dress?” She winked at him, and she noticed him turn his head.

“Are you kidding?” He looked at her longingly. “The promise of us being alone tonight is all that got me through today. Of course, I want to help you out of that dress.”

She winked at him and retrieved the bottle of wine she had saved for this specific occasion. “Then, why are we waiting?” He grabbed two wine glasses, and they walked upstairs to their bedroom and locked the door behind them.

*****

The next two grandchildren nearly arrived together, as the twins were expecting around the same time. Darcey gave Travis and Charlotte another grandson, named Shan Richard Scroggins shortly before their first granddaughter, Elyse Charlotte, was born. They loved all of their grandbabies, but Elyse was the apple of Travis’ eye because she looked so much like her mother when Danae was a baby.

“Danae, you outdid yourself,” Travis cooed at his infant granddaughter. “What does Andy think of her?”

“Oh, come on, Daddy!” she exclaimed. “He is in love with that baby girl.”

“I know he wanted a boy in the worst way. But this little sweet pea is too cute not to love!” Travis snuggled her close, breathing in the smell of fresh powder and clean baby.

“Well, we’re planning on one more, and then I think I’ll have all I can handle,” Danae laughed. The baby began to fuss, and she took Elyse from his arms to nurse her. “I’m going to put her down for a nap, and I think I’m going to take one, too.” She kissed Travis on the cheek. “Say night-night, Pop-Pop!”

Travis and Charlotte were settling into retired life, and though he was enjoying the break from constant pain, he really missed his career. Devin was gaining the accolades that he was used to… the spotlight, the fans, the attention. He truly missed being in the public eye, and not many people came knocking on the door for old man Jones anymore.

Charlotte stepped down from the hospital, but she and Travis got to see the boys while Darcey and Clint worked their shifts, babysitting often. It was nice to get the kids together so that Shan, Noel, and Elyse would know each other.

“Were they good for you today, Mama?” Darcey asked as she snuggled Shan into her arms. “I sure do miss them when I’m working.”

“They were angels, all three of them,” Charlotte beamed. “Shan and Elyse are learning to play well together.

“Well, hopefully, we will have another little Scroggins running around soon!” Darcey smiled. She and Clint wanted a big family, and she wanted a little girl most of all.

“Are you trying for another one?” Charlotte prodded. “I’d love another grandchild.”

“Well, not yet, Mama,” Darcey replied. “We’d like to have another year or so before we really try again. I’m not getting younger, and I don’t want to be raising babies into my 40s, so if it doesn’t happen soon after that, we might just stop at two.”

“You’re so young, Darcey. It will happen.” Charlotte embraced her daughter. “Just give it time.”

Danae walked into the house, her arms laden with grocery bags. “I’m home, Mama,” she announced. “Hey bug!” she exclaimed and hugged her sister. “We really need to do dinner again very soon.”

“Anytime, sissy,” Darcey agreed. “Right now, I need to get home. Clint and I have a date, and he’ll be unhappy if I’m not on time.” She gathered her children and left, leaving just Elyse playing in the playpen.

“How’s my little sweet pea?” Danae cooed at the baby. She picked her up and caught the aroma of a dirty little girl. “Yuck, Elyse!” she laughed. “Let’s get you into the tub!” She put away the few cold items she brought home and left the rest to put away later.

Travis stood in the doorway, watching his baby girl with her own little one, and he could hardly believe she was a mother. She’s a darn good mama, too, he thought. She noticed Travis watching her, and when she was done bathing Elyse, Danae snuggled her into her Pop Pop’s arms, and he rocked her to sleep.

*****

“Charlotte,” Chris’ melancholy voice was on the other end of the phone. “I have some bad news.”

“What’s wrong, Chris?”

“It’s Cade.” Even though they were no longer married, she was still the mother of his only son. “She is gone.” She heard him choke back a sob. Chris never remarried, and he never stopped loving her, despite the pain she had inflicted on him.

“Oh Chris, no!” She wished she was with him. “I’m sorry, honey. I know how much she still meant to you. How is Greg holding up?”

“He’s doing better than I am, surprisingly. He wasn’t very close with her.” Charlotte heard him sigh deeply on the other end of the line. “I knew it was never going to happen, but I always hoped that someday, she’d come back to me. That she would remember the vows we took. I never forgot mine.”

“I’m so sorry Chris. I can’t imagine how difficult this whole ordeal has been for you.” Her heart truly ached for her younger brother.

“Well, I just wanted you to know.” He wanted to say something else, but the words just never came.

“If you need anything, Christopher, you know I’m always here for you. I mean it.”

“Thanks, Charli. I love you.”

“I love you too, Chris. Remember where I am.” She blew a kiss over the phone and they hung up.

“What’s up with Chris?” Travis asked.

“Cade passed away. He’s not taking it well. At all.” Charlotte wrung her hands. “I’m worried about him, Travis. He seemed too sad for someone who hasn’t been married to her for the past almost twenty years.”

“Has it really been that long?” He started counting backward from the attempted kidnapping, knowing they had split right around that time. “Yeah, I guess it has.”

“I wonder if I should call him back?”

“Let Greg care for him, honey. They need each other.”

“I’m just afraid that Chris is next. He’s my little brother. I’m supposed to die first.”

“Just so you know, I’m in no hurry for that, honey. Let’s stick around and annoy the children as long as possible.” He wore an impish grin.

“Hmm,” she looked at him and smiled. “You look like you want to be up to no good.”

“I was hoping you’d notice,” he chuckled.

“You are still insatiable,” she smiled and kissed him.

“You are still beautiful,” he replied.


Danae was three months into a new pregnancy, and Andy scored a big promotion on the heels of his father’s retirement and a close call. Charlotte held Elyse as Danae wiped down the counters after breakfast. “Here, I’ll take her, Mama,” she said, holding her arms out for her eleven-month-old girl. “I need to nurse her.” Danae settled on the sofa in the living room, and Charlotte sat beside her.

“Are you going to find out what this baby is, Nae?” Charlotte asked her.

“We haven’t decided yet. We might. Andy wants a boy so badly he can taste it, so I hope with all I am that he gave me a boy to grow.” Elyse’s soft grunts and coos soothed Danae. “This little one will have a close sibling to grow up with. I can’t be mad about that. Sometimes, though, I wish she was a twin. I want her to have what Darce and I had for so many years.”

“What will you name a boy?” She already knew Danae had a girl name picked out, even though Charlotte didn’t care for it. But she wanted to honor Emmitt and Andy’s background and chose Eowyn for a baby girl. Andy loved the name, and so did Danae. Unfortunately, they were the only ones.

Screenshot-1149

“I am not sure. I’m almost afraid to pick one out.” She smiled. “Andy likes the name Eamon. I think it will grow on me, but I’m not fond of it.” She sat Elyse up to burp her, and rubbed her back. “I like Ethan, but Andy says it’s too common.”

“I like either name, Nae. Eamon is different.” Charlotte cooed at the baby, making her giggle. “Oh, that is what I missed in this house. The sounds of a giggly baby.” Suddenly, Elyse belched, and Danae laughed.

“What was that?” she roared. “You silly little girl!” Hearing her mama laugh made Elyse laugh harder, and soon Charlotte’s beloved giggles were echoing from the walls everywhere in the house. “Other side, sweet pea,” Danae spoke softly, trying to calm the giggles so she would finish nursing.

Travis peeked his head out from the spa room. “Did I just hear giggling?” he laughed.

Charlotte smiled contentedly at him. “That you did, my love.”

*****

Danae put the finishing touches on a huge meal she prepared for the whole family. Everyone was coming for dinner. Darcey, Clint and their two boys, Emmitt, Christopher, and Greg. She waddled around the kitchen, putting seasoning into a pot of boiling potatoes. “Do you need any help, Danae?” Charlotte called from the living room.

“No, Mama, I’m okay so far.” Andy would be home shortly and would help her with the turkey. She took out her cutting board and chopped some vegetables to grill. “Is Elyse okay?”

“She’s fine, honey. She and your daddy are playing peek a boo together.” The house smelled fantastic. “Are you sure you don’t need help? That’s a big meal for one person to manage alone.”

“Mama, relax. I have this!” Danae smiled confidently. “Andy will set the table for me, and help baste the turkey when he gets home, which should be shortly.”

Darcey pulled into the driveway and brought her boys out, Shan on her hip, and Noel running ahead of her. “Stay away from the pool, honey,” she called out to the young boy as he ran for the back door. “Wow, Nae, it smells divine in here!”

“Thanks, Bug!” Danae squatted down and held her arms open for Noel. “Where’s my big boy?” The boy squealed and ran for her, giggling all the way. He sure did love his Auntie Danae. He jumped into her arms, and she covered his face with kisses, much like Travis and Charlotte had done with her and Darcey when they were Noel’s age. Suddenly, Danae felt old.

Clint opened the back door and was immediately stormed by his two boys. “Daddy!” Noel cried, running for him. And a distinct, “Da Da!” left Shan’s lips as he crawled to Clint.

“There’s my little men!” he said picking Noel up and kissing his cheek. “How’s my big boy today?”

Noel began babbling in his own two-year-old language. Clint could only understand about every third or fourth word, so he just nodded his head and listened intently.

“I wonder where Andy is? He was supposed to be home by now,” Danae said out loud.

“I think he needed to get Emmitt on his way home, Nae,” Travis yelled. “He can’t drive anymore. Doctor’s orders.”

“Ah, okay. He was going to start the grill for these veggies, but I suppose it can wait a few more minutes.”

A few minutes later, Emmitt walked in the door, and Elyse’s face lit up. “Papa!” she called to him, and he walked to where she and Travis had been playing.

“Hi sweetheart,” he cooed at her, and sat on the floor, joining his granddaughter and best friend in a game of paddy cake.

Andy had started the grill on the way in, and carried with him a gift for Danae, wrapped and ready to give. “There’s the sexiest man alive!” Danae exclaimed and waddled toward him. “Hi love,” she purred at him, and he kissed her.

“Hey, my sweet. I’m ready to start cooking if you are.” He winked at her, and she smiled.

“All washed, chopped and ready, babe.” She handed him a bowl of skewered veggies to cook outside.

“You know where I’ll be!” Andy grinned, and opened the back door, walking toward his outdoor kitchen.

The last two to arrive, Chris and Greg, were taking their time. Chris, since Cade’s passing, looked increasingly old. He walked beside Greg, who held onto his father, steadying him. Charlotte stood and hugged her brother. “Hi sweetheart,” she kissed his cheek. “How are you holding up?”

“I’ve been better, Charli.” He wore pain on his face like an actor wore makeup. His hair, which had always been fiery red, was silver, his face wrinkled with age, his eyes tormented by loss. Greg sat Chris down at the table and pulled Charlotte aside.

“Aunt Charlotte, I’m worried about Dad. I think his time is very short.” Tears rolled down the young man’s cheek. “Losing Mom took a lot from him. He still loved her, though I don’t know why.”

“You never forget your first love, honey,” she told Greg. “Just prepare yourself for the inevitable, and know we’re here for you.” Charlotte hugged her nephew.

Another car pulled into the driveway, and Charlotte looked out the window. “Who in the world?” She was not expecting Devin and Maribeth, but they walked in together, hand in hand.

“Hi everyone!” Devin greeted the family. “I heard there’s a party going on!”

“I didn’t think you’d be in town tonight, Dev,” Charlotte said, feeling guilty he’d been left out. The Llamas were supposed to be out of town for a game.

“Yeah, well, I’m sitting out a game.” He took Maribeth’s hand and kissed it. “It’s all good, though. They’re going to do just fine without me for one game.” Travis scowled at his son. There was only one reason a player would sit out, and it wasn’t anything he approved of.

“Watch yourself with Aaron, Devin. He doesn’t tolerate nonsense, and you have a good thing there, riding my tails on that team.” Travis warned him sternly.

Devin huffed at his father. “I’m riding no one’s tails. My success on that team is all me.” Travis shook his head. Where his son got the superiority complex from was anyone’s guess, but it certainly didn’t come from him.

“Just be careful, son. Don’t blow your opportunity.” Travis stood to hug Devin’s girlfriend. “Hi honey,” he said happily and kissed her cheek. “Good to see you.”

“Good to see you too, Mr. Jones.” The young girl giggled. Travis noticed she was wearing a diamond bracelet. I hope Devin doesn’t break your heart, he thought.

Twenty minutes later, dinner was ready and everyone sat down together. Danae had outdone herself on the meal, and Charlotte was happy to be surrounded by her family. After dinner, Charlotte and Darcey cleaned up, and Danae entertained everyone with a few songs she had written, while the two grandfathers entertained their grandchildren.

Shortly afterward, Chris called to Greg. “Son, please take me home. I’m not feeling well.” He helped his father up, and they said goodnight to the family.

Charlotte walked them to the door. “Goodnight, Christopher,” she hugged him and kissed his cheek. “I love you.” She hugged Greg. “Please let me know,” she whispered in his ear, and he nodded.

It was the last time she saw Chris alive.

Before 5am the next morning, Greg rang Charlotte’s cell phone. “Aunt Charlotte,” he wept. “Dad’s gone.”

She couldn’t contain her tears, and a sob woke Travis. “I’m sorry, Greg. If you need anything, let us help you.”

“Thank you,” he said, crying openly. “I have so much to do. I’ll call you later.”

Travis wrapped around her. “Was that Greg, honey?”

She nodded, unable to speak.

“I’m sorry, baby. But I’m glad we all got to see him last night.” He kissed her neck, and together they wept.


Not long after Chris was laid to rest, Danae delivered Andy’s long-awaited son, Eamon Travis Murphy. The happy grandparents were all thrilled, and Emmitt was pleased to have a grandson to carry on the Murphy name. He had coal-black hair like his father, his mother’s pale lilac eyes and the adoration of two very happy families.

Danae brought Eamon home from the hospital and laid him in Emmitt’s arms. With tears in his eyes, he looked at his son and beautiful daughter-in-law. “Anduin, you’ve done your old man proud this day. This little boy is worthy of the Murphy name.”

Andy beamed at his father. Though he knew Emmitt was proud of him, he was seldom told that as a child, and hearing it made his heart soar. “Thanks, Dad. That means a lot to me.” Danae walked to Andy and snuggled into his embrace. “To both of us.”

Travis watched his old friend, rejoicing in the birth of his first, and likely only grandson. And he realized how blessed he was in his life. Not only did he still have his best childhood friend, but they were in-laws and shared grandchildren and their lives more than he could have ever hoped or imagined. Emmitt’s son had come along for Danae right when she needed him and helped her to grow more than he was ever meant to himself. Not to mention, he thought of Andy as a son, too. And on top of all those things, he had the constant love of his wife, Charlotte, whom he loved with every fiber in his being. “You know, I don’t know what I ever saw in Isla Paradiso,” Travis finally said, his heart full. “Everything and everyone I love is right here. I don’t need to be anywhere else.”

Charlotte walked to him and hugged him. “I’m proud of you, honeybear. I know how much you wanted to retire there. But look how blessed we are, right here in our little home here on Foothill Drive. We have our friends, our family, our children and grandchildren, all living on the same street, within two miles of us.” She kissed him, and he smiled.

Screenshot-1201

After Andy brought Emmitt home for the night, and the children were tucked into bed, Travis lit the fire in the hearth in their formal living room and opened a bottle of wine. He poured a glass for Charlotte and himself, and called for her to come sit with him.

“Well, Mr. Jones, I see you have our evening all planned out,” she cooed at him. “It’s a good thing Nae and Andy went to bed early.”

“Even if they were awake, I’d still be here, toasting to our lives, our love, and our family with you. Charlotte, you have given me more than I ever dreamed possible. I never saw this life for me when I left Dragon Valley all those years ago. I thought I’d live a life of mediocrity somewhere, working for someone in a dead-end job until I died. I never dreamed I’d meet you. I never saw me living in the city, playing my favorite game to make a living. I surely didn’t see me with twin daughters and a son who, for better or worse, looks just like me. But here I am with you. I have to admit, I’m overwhelmed by it all.”

Charlotte smiled sweetly at Travis. This wasn’t where she saw herself, either. “I thought I’d end up an old maid, no children of my own, no one to love, occupying this house alone, maybe with a few cats. Or maybe I would have sold it and moved to a smaller house. Or, maybe I would have left Starlight Shores altogether. I thought for sure no one would want someone like me. Prudish, inexperienced, shy, maybe a little too nice. The funny thing is, I was content to stay like I was until I met you. I, too, never expected twins. They don’t even run in my family, so that was your contribution. I never expected a life with this much love.” She shrugged.

He thought back to all the times he’d messed up. He still had a hard time forgiving himself for most of it, even though it was forgotten. “I still can’t believe you forgave me for the night I almost died. Charlotte, that was the most remarkable thing I’ve ever experienced.”

“I really wish you’d forgive yourself, honeybear. It’s all gone so far into our past, I’ve forgotten it.”

“But I will never forget the look on your face, honey. It haunts me even now.”

“Before we meet the Reaper, please, Travis, please forgive yourself. I’m not sure I could face him knowing you hadn’t.” She rested her head on his shoulder and took his hand in hers.

“I just love you so much, even after all this time, my sweet Charlotte. But I will try.”

“What do you say, we go up and spend some much needed time together? I’ll bring the wine if you’ll tamp down the fire.”

“That, honey, sounds like a fantastic idea.”

http___pluspng.com_img-png_png-divider-lines-tiny-edge-line-decorative-divider-png-512

Up Next: Chapter Twenty Five, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Twenty Three – The Love Of A Lifetime

The flight was on its final approach to the tropical paradise, with Charlotte and Travis in the first-class section. Both of them had fallen asleep, snuggled up with one another, and the flight attendant woke Travis gently. “Mr. Jones, we are getting ready to land.” He woke, with Charlotte wrapped around him.

“Baby,” he said to her, “we’re almost on the ground, honey.” He kissed her cheek, and she awakened. 

“Wow, already?” she yawned and peered through the window. Everything seemed so tiny, but she could still make out the palm trees, white sandy beaches, and the landscape. It felt like their home away from home, and she hoped Rosa still worked as the concierge at the resort.  

The airliner touched down as though it had been flying on a cloud, and he smiled. “I truly love it here,” he said. But now that Darcey was two months away from giving birth, Travis knew he’d never convince her to move here. She wanted, no… she needed to hear giggles from grandchildren. 

“Me too,” she said softly. For the first time since they discovered it, she was okay with this being their last time there. So many good things waited for them at home. At the same time, it was a sad trip. A trip for closure, grieving a lifestyle they always wanted, but the timing was never right. 

At the baggage claim, a driver from the resort waited to pick them up, holding a sign that simply said, “Jones.” They had one small suitcase between them, and a carry on that Charlotte toted with her. Travis grabbed the bag, and the driver took it from him. “For you, Mr. Jones, there is no work,” he said with a smile. 

At the resort, they went to the concierge desk to find their old friend, Rosa. She looked different, however. Her black hair had turned to silver, and it looked like she had shrunk a little. But the gleam in her eyes when she spotted them was just the same, brilliant and fiery. “Mr Travis! Mrs Charlotte!” she exclaimed, hobbling toward both of them. “Oh honey, it’s so good to see you!” 

Charlotte wrapped Rosa in a gentle hug. “You look fantastic!” Charlotte complimented her. “Oh, how we’ve missed you and the island life!” She kissed Rosa’s cheek and broke their embrace. Rosa had her eye on Travis, whom she totally adored.

“Mr Travis! You got that championship! I watched it with Jayna… before she…” Rosa’s eyes filled with tears. “Miss Jayna is gone, Mrs. Charlotte. She loved you so.” 

Charlotte’s lip began to tremble. “Oh Rosa, no!” A single tear rolled down her cheek. 

Travis embraced her, kissing her cheek. “I’m so sorry, Rosa,” he said, sniffling back his own tears.

“I’m sorry, Mr Travis, Mrs Charlotte. I didn’t mean to start your vacation with tears.” Rosa dabbed her eyes with a pink handkerchief. She collected herself and typed on her computer. “Here are your key cards. You’ll be on the ground floor by the pool, close to the lobby.” She breathed a heavy sigh and wiped her eyes again. “I am so sorry. I hope you enjoy your visit with us, and I’m here whenever you need me.” 

Charlotte smiled softly at Rosa. “We’ll be okay, honey.” She took Travis’ hand. “Are you ready, my love?” 

“Always ready, baby.” He raised her hand and kissed her fingers. “We’ll see you soon, Rosa.” She waved as they walked toward their room. 

They strolled, hand in hand, slowly as they made their way along the flowered paths, past the pool and to their room door. Stopping at a hibiscus bush, he stopped and picked a flower and placed it into Charlotte’s hair. 

They had stayed in this building before, but just a few doors down when they visited for their anniversary so many years ago. Travis opened the door with the card and looked at Charlotte. “I’d better not,” he lamented. “My leg is still on the mend.” 

“I wasn’t expecting you to carry me, honey.” Charlotte looked into his eyes. “I just want this to be perfect, our time here. We don’t have to do anything but relax on the beach, or swim in the pool. I only want to be with you, my love.” 

“I want nothing more than to show you, honey, how much I still love you after all these years. However I can manage to do that, I’m all over it.” He touched her cheek, love in his eyes. “My goodness, Charlotte. You are so beautiful.” 

She blushed. “Even with the graying hair and wrinkles?” 

“Especially with the graying hair and wrinkles. Baby, you are my everything. You are my reason to live, to get up every morning, to breathe in and out, for my heart to beat. It doesn’t matter what you look like, because you’re still drop-dead gorgeous, from the inside out.” He wiped away a tear that formed in her eyes. “Charlotte, honey, I love you with every ounce of my being, heart and soul.” 

“I don’t know how I can compete with that, baby. You always know just the right thing to say. And I know, for absolute certain, that I could not live without you. Honey, when it’s our time, I hope we go together.” 

“Oh, honey, let’s not talk about that. Let’s live for now. The Reaper can wait for us some other time.” Travis kissed her tenderly. “Let’s go get settled.”

*****

Charlotte put on a brand new bathing suit, and Travis a new pair of swim trunks, and together they went to the pool. Hand in hand, they walked together, and she picked a pair of chairs that sat side by side and placed towels on them. “I’m going to go do my therapy exercises in the pool, sweetheart,” Travis said. “I don’t get a rest just because I’m in paradise.” 

She smiled at him. “Do you want something from the bar?”

“Just a sweet tea, honey. You get whatever you’d like.” He stepped into the pool and sighed relief. It was warm like bathwater, and it felt good to get some weight off his leg. The waitress walked by casually when Charlotte stopped her. 

“Two sweet teas, and an order of coconut shrimp,” she asked. 

“Absolutely, Mrs. Jones.” Charlotte looked a little stumped. How did the waitress know her name? 

She heard a commotion at the pool and glanced toward Travis, who was surrounded by fans wanting autographs and pictures. That poor man, she thought. He’s never going to have rest on this vacation as long as there are people around. Not that he minded, of course. Travis had always loved that part of being famous. He never forgot where he came from. It kept him humble and grounded, and he knew that without his fans, he would be nothing.

The waitress returned with the tea. The shrimp would be a little longer, the waitress explained. The kitchen was a little behind on orders. “That is fine,” Charlotte said. “No hurry.” 

Travis walked back from the pool after signing every autograph and posing for every photo the fans wanted from him. “Well, that was fun,” he joked. “It wasn’t good for exercising, but I love making my fans happy.” He rubbed the scar on his leg, as though it pained him.

“How is your leg doing?” she asked him. 

“It’s sore. Charlotte, we have some soul searching to do when we get home.” Travis was six months out after his injury, and it was becoming apparent that a full recovery wasn’t likely at his age. 

“What do you mean?”

“This leg, baby. It’s not getting any better, honey, and I’m not getting any younger.” He hung his head. “It may be time to think about retiring.”

“You know, whatever you decide, I’m here for you.” 

“I’m so glad we get to grow old together, baby. Thank you for loving me, through all my faults and all my mistakes.” 

“I don’t know how to do anything else but love you, Travis. You are my first, my only and my forever love. You always have been, and you always will be.” 

“I wish we had our whole lives to live again. There is so much I would do differently.” 

“Like what?” 

“Well, I never would have gotten drunk that night. If I hadn’t, Kathleen never would have been a problem.” Charlotte hated that it still haunted him. It had long ago been forgiven and forgotten. 

“You don’t know that for sure about Kathleen, baby. She could have been a nuisance with or without that night.” 

“That is true, but not as likely. She wouldn’t have ever gotten close enough without the bar incident.” 

“Well, that’s all in the past, honey. There’s no need to dredge it up now.”

“What would you have done differently, baby?” He sipped on his sweet tea. 

“The first thing that comes to mind? I wouldn’t have left Sim State without you when I graduated. That was months of needless pain trying to contact you after I left.”

“I’m sorry about that, too. I never should have blown you off like that. Every bit of pain in your life, I’ve inflicted it.” His pained look troubled her.

“But you’ve been there for the incredible highs, too. The birth of our children. Your whole career. Every single day I wake up and you’re there. Those moments far outweigh any pain.” 

“This right here is why I love you so much, Charlotte. Your incredible, loving heart. Your ability to forgive almost anything, and not just me, either. Mary Riggins. Baby, that woman nearly ruined your life, and yet you not only forgave her, but you founded the Logan Riggins Memorial Scholarship.”

“I wasn’t always this way, you know. I had a moment in my life where it all changed.” Her fingers touched the scar beneath her left eye. “I was a spoiled brat. I felt entitled to anything I wanted. My mother’s mess scarred me in so many ways. I grew up in fear of a man I never met. And yes, Mama and Dad loved each other, but they weren’t perfect, either. They fought. They screamed at each other. My mother was a handful, Travis, full of spunk and fire. Dad was no slouch either. Their love life was second to none, even ours.”

“I remember a fight they had. They didn’t know I knew about it, but somehow I found out about everything. Dad had been living with a woman when he met Mama, and apparently, she had been in love with him, but the love wasn’t reciprocated. As far as Dad was concerned, they were roommates and nothing more. And for years after they married, she still sent him gifts and love letters in the mail. And my Dad, bless him, he kept all of the things she sent him. And one day, Mama found the shoebox of love letters and a few of them were very explicit, detailing what she wanted to do with him, and how, and she had invitations for him to see her. And the fight they had when Dad came home from work that night was intense. All of these things, they chip away at your security when you’re a kid.”

Travis was listening intently, though he couldn’t relate to much of it. His childhood had been a living hell. “I would imagine so.”

“Look at me, going on about this. I don’t think sometimes.” She squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry, honeybear.” 

“Don’t be. You were telling a story.” 

“Yeah, so anyway. Mama and I had a big fight because of something she did. And I’d had enough of her selfishness, so I skipped school. On my way home, I hit another car and killed a man. An innocent man, whose only wrong was to turn in front of me. He didn’t deserve to die. And I felt guilty that I didn’t die, too. But when I was in the car, before they got me out, I swear I saw someone come to me and tell me to go back, like I had died. He told me I still had a lot to do here, and it wasn’t my time. I never knew him, but I think it was my Papa Arthur.” 

“That’s the moment my life changed. I realized I had been blessed with a second chance. That life was too short to hold grudges or fight with people you love. If I had died in that accident, Travis, my final words to my Mama would have been ‘I hate you.’ And she would have lived with that regret. That torment. I never wanted to do that again.” 

“I never heard the whole story of that accident. That’s incredible, Charlotte.” 

“It wasn’t the highlight of my young life. I have had to live with that man’s death on my conscience every day. So when Logan was brought into my ER, it was personal. I had to try to save him, because that should have been me.” 

The sun was starting to set, and the air was getting chilly. Travis realized they hadn’t eaten all day long. “I’m getting chilled out here in this wet bathing suit. Let’s go get cleaned up and order dinner in.” 

“Now, that sounds like the best idea you’ve had today, Mr. Jones.” She stood and gathered their towels and slipped into her shoes. Travis took her hand, and together they walked the short distance to their room.


The fragrance of jasmine woke Charlotte the next morning. How she loved mornings in Isla Paradiso. The temperature was cool, almost chilly if the breeze came in the window just right, and all that could be heard were birds chirping happily as they sought their breakfast. A warm sunbeam found its way in and filled the room with light. 

She dialed Rosa’s phone and was greeted with her happy voice on the other end. “What can I get for you this morning, Mrs. Charlotte?” 

“I was thinking just some coffee for Travis and me. We might stroll around the festival in the town center, and munch our way around the food tables there.” 

“Oh, what a beautiful morning to visit the bazaar! If you need a scooter for Mr. Travis, let me know, and I’ll arrange it for you.”

“I will, Rosa, though it’s better for him to walk on it. I love how you think of everything!” 

“I love you two. Of course, I do.” Rosa blushed on the other end of the phone. It wasn’t like her to get emotionally attached to their guests, but she adored Travis Jones.

“Thanks again, Rosa. I look forward to seeing you this morning.” Charlotte hung up the phone and made sure that Travis was covered and decent. 

A few moments later, a light knock came at the door, and Charlotte answered it. “Coffee and goodies for my favorite couple!” Rosa chirped. “Enjoy your morning! I left some maps of the festival attractions for you. Have fun!” 

“Thank you, Rosa!” Charlotte thanked her and brought the coffee cart inside. Travis woke when he smelled the coffee she poured. 

“Good morning, my love,” he said sleepily. “You look ravishing, as usual.”

“You need glasses, Travis,” Charlotte laughed. “I am literally just out of bed.” 

“That doesn’t matter to me,” he countered. “You’re stunning, even after your worst night’s rest.” He sighed at her, smiling. 

“Coffee?” she offered, pouring him a cup.

“You bet,” he replied, taking the cup she poured for him. “No breakfast?” 

“I thought we’d go to the town center to that festival. We managed to catch it while it’s in town this time around. Lots of food to sample walking around there.” She sipped her coffee, breathing in the steam. 

“I can walk around for a little while,” he said. “I’m sure there are places to sit.” 

“Rosa mentioned a scooter, if you’d like one, honeybear.” She thought it might be something he’d like, though he really could stand to walk on it. 

“No, those are for old folks,” he joked, well aware he qualified for that designation. And she only smiled at him.

“Let’s shower together, and get ready to go. What do you think?” she asked. 

“You always have the right suggestion. I’m all over that shower,” he cooed at her.

An hour later, the shuttle picked them up from the resort and carried them down to the town center. Using a cane, Travis walked alongside Charlotte, tasting different pastries and delicacies from all over the island. They stumbled upon an artisan who was making jewelry, and Travis was fascinated by it. 

“How do you do that?” he asked, as he watched the goldsmith polish a ring he had made. 

“Not very difficult at all,” the artisan explained. He showed the process, using props, how a ring is made. “If you pick a setting, I’ll set your choice of stone into it for free.” 

“Really?” Travis couldn’t resist. He took the goldsmith aside and asked about a special ring. “Can you make an anniversary band for my wife? Our forty-first anniversary is coming up, and I’d love to surprise her.” 

“I have this one already made,” he beamed and picked it out of a box not displayed for the public. “I know who you are, Mr. Jones. I made this one for someone special, and when I made it, I told myself I’d know who that someone special was when I met him. It would be my honor to sell you this ring for your lovely wife. And in honor of your recent championship, I’ll give you a great deal on it.” 

Travis took the ring from the man and inspected it. It had two hearts in gold, with a diamond set inside each heart. He knew instantly she would love it. “You’ve made me an offer I can’t refuse,” he said, keeping an eye on where Charlotte was. The two men shook on the deal, and Travis slipped the ring into his pocket. He would give it to her at dinner, and he couldn’t wait.

He caught up with her at a table selling handmade baby clothes, and she was gushing over the cute outfits. She held up a frilly dress with a matching headband and sighed. “If only Darcey was having a girl,” she said. 

“It’s really cute,” he replied, as he snuggled up to her. Immediately, she got suspicious. “Why are you so snuggly?” 

“No reason,” he laughed. “Do I always have to be up to something to want to be close to you?”

“You don’t have to be, but you usually are.” She looked at him, trying to read him. “You’re up to something. But I don’t have to be nosy.” She took his hand, and they walked to the next booth.

After a few hours of walking around, Travis was done and found a place to sit. He rubbed his leg, trying to work the soreness out when Charlotte noticed him. “You’re hurting, aren’t you?” she asked. 

Not wanting to admit it, and be the reason that Charlotte didn’t get to see the whole festival, he tried to fib. “No, I just needed to sit awhile.” 

“Well, it’s okay, I’m getting tired, too. I’m not thirty anymore,” she laughed. She took his hand, and they walked for the resort shuttle. She rang the courtesy phone and was told the shuttle would be there in no more than ten minutes. “Here, honey, sit while we wait. It’s okay.” She looked him in the eyes and saw pain. “Why did you tell me you weren’t in pain, love? It’s not like I can’t tell.” 

“I didn’t want to be the reason we left before you were finished shopping.” He felt frustration overtake him, and he sighed. “I hate this. I’m not ready to be an old man, Charlotte. Make me feel young again.” 

She walked away from him, about twenty or thirty paces, and turned around. She walked back toward him, shyly. “Is this seat taken, sir?” she asked demurely.

Travis smiled. “It is. You’re sitting here, Miss… what is your name?” 

“Charlotte. You have the nicest blue eyes,” she fluttered her eyelashes at him, flirting madly. “You’re not from around here, are you?” 

“No Miss, I’m not,” he said, pretending to be shy. “You are just the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, Charlotte. Would you like to, oh, I don’t know, come back to my resort and make passionate love with me?”

Charlotte giggled madly. “You know what? I would love to!” She put her hand on his leg and winked at him. She was about to kiss him when she made a funny face. Travis, who was already having a hard time staying in character, laughed out loud. “I love you, Travis,” she whispered into his ear, and rested her head on his shoulder.

“I love you so much more,” he replied, taking her hand in his. “Thank you.” 


The next few days were spent lounging on the beach, just relaxing in the sand and listening to the waves as they broke on the shore. The air was scented heavily with coconut and pineapple, Charlotte surmised, from beach bunnies slathering suntan lotion on themselves. Sea birds circled overhead, looking for their next free meal from an unsuspecting diner, their cries seemed natural and normal for the beach. The sun was warm, and Charlotte spent her time working on her tan. 

About twenty or so yards away sat a beach volleyball set, and an impromptu game broke out among strangers. Travis, deciding that looked like fun, went to watch on the sidelines. At first, no one recognized him, and he sat, thoroughly enjoying the game. And when one of the young girls on the women’s team recognized him, the game was over. People surrounded Travis and asked him to sign anything and everything they could get their hands on. And he posed for pictures and signed autographs until everyone had what they wanted. 

He hobbled back to where Charlotte sat, her eyes closed and listening to the waves, and sat beside her. “Did you have fun, baby?” she asked, having seen the whole thing.

“I did!” His name recognition had doubled, maybe tripled since his injury and the championship game. Charlotte didn’t mind sharing him with the public most days, but at night, he was all hers. “I thought I was going to get away with just watching, until a young girl recognized me.” He sat back in his chair, smiling. “I will miss the fans, when I retire,” he said sadly. “After I’m gone, will they even remember I existed? Or will Devin’s star burn as brightly as mine? Maybe he will take my place in every way.” 

“I don’t know, honeybear.” She knew the thought of retirement tormented him. She also knew he was a realist. Maybe this was his way of preparing himself for the inevitable. “I think your name will be remembered long after you and I are gone. You know, you live on in our children. Devin is your spitting image. As long as our kids are alive, you will be, too. And their children, and their children after that. Just like Nana Destiny lives in me and the twins.” 

“She really lives in Danae. That girl can sing. She will be a big hit in the Shores, if someone would just discover her.” 

“She’s signed with a good agency. She just needs that one break. A proprietor with an ear for talent. Someone willing to take a chance on her. Just one time.” Charlotte wished desperately that Jen Crawford still lived, and that her agency was still in business. But Jen had been gone longer than her mother. “But you know, she would walk away from any chance at fame, if Andy would allow her to just be a mama.” 

“I know. She has always wanted that. But I think she would do well to keep getting her name out there. Maybe once she has some name recognition she could do studio work while her kids are little, and then maybe tour once they get older.” 

“She isn’t even pregnant yet. I know they’re trying, but nothing.” Charlotte remembered their struggle with the twins. “I hope she doesn’t have the same problems we did, love. That would break her.” 

“She’s a strong woman, Charlotte. As long as she has Andy by her side, she could bounce back from anything.”

“True. I just hope she doesn’t have to.” She would never wish that heartbreak on either daughter.

About an hour later, Charlotte had enough of the beach and the sun. “I’m ready to go back, love, if you are.” 

“Me too. I’m getting darker by the minute,” he said, joking. “I’m almost as dark as Andy right now.” 

They gathered their belongings and called for the shuttle to bring them back to the resort. As they waited, Travis had to ask her. “Baby, what do you want to do for dinner tonight, honey?” 

“How about that little Spanish place next to the resort?” she suggested. 

“I was thinking more along the lines of the resort restaurant. Did you bring that dress with you?” 

“You know I did, silly.” She flirted with him. 

“Then it’s a date.” 

When they got back to the resort, they showered together, and while she was getting dressed, he slipped the ring he bought her into his pants pocket. He couldn’t wait to give it to her. 

“Honey, could you tie this for me, love?” He stood at the mirror, still very stymied by the tie on his dress outfit. She loved how his pants fit him, and she touched him as she walked by. “I’m going to need a cold shower if you keep that up,” he lamented. 

“Here, honeybear,” she said, ignoring him. “Your tie is done.” She straightened it out and looked at him. “Hmm, I wonder what it would look like with no tie, and this button undone?” And she slipped the tie off, unbuttoning the two top buttons.

“This restaurant is five star. I can’t go without a tie.” 

“I know. Can’t a girl dream a little?” she teased. 

“Dream all you want,” he cooed and wrapped his arms around her. He stroked her cheek gently. “My goodness, Charlotte. You’re amazing.” 

“I bet you say that to all the old biddies,” she joked as she buttoned his shirt, and put the tie back around his neck, tying it perfectly. 

“I don’t see any old biddies here. Just a smokin’ hot wife.” He kissed her passionately.

“If you do that again, dinner is off.” She smiled at him.

“Well, I have to see that dress for longer than five minutes, so dinner it is,” he said, pretending to be disappointed. She checked her hair in the mirror and touched up her makeup. 

“How do I look?” she asked. 

“Like a movie star,” he responded, and he meant it. She was irresistible.

Hand in hand, they walked to the lobby and approached the host station at the restaurant. “Ah, Mr. Jones,” the Maitre D’ greeted them. “Right this way.” He led them to a private table in a small room, Charlotte guessed, reserved for people with name recognition. Travis held the chair for her as she sat, and he sat directly to her right. 

“Champagne, please, whatever you have that is recommended,” he ordered. The waiter introduced himself and went to retrieve their drink order. 

“This is nicer than I remember,” she commented. “I wonder if they redecorated.” 

“Well, we were always in the main dining room. This is a special room, just for us.” He stared into her blue eyes and smiled. “Would you like to dance, my love?” He stood and held his hand for her. 

“I’d love to,” she said, taking his hand. He held her close as they swayed to the music, just enjoying each other’s company. She rested her head on his shoulder as they danced. Suddenly, he jerked, and he drew a quick breath. “Are you okay, honeybear?” 

He sighed, frustrated. “I’ll be okay. But if it’s alright with you, I really need to sit down.” He walked the short distance back to their table and sat. “I think it’s inevitable, honey. I’m going to need to have that talk with Lionel when we get home.” 

She knew what he meant, but she didn’t want to say it. Instead, she nodded and held his hand in hers. He felt her hands on his and remembered he had a brand new ring to put on one of her fingers, and he smiled at her. “There’s that look again,” she snickered. “What are you up to, mister?” 

“You could always see right through me, love. Close your eyes,” he requested. 

“Why?” 

“Don’t ask questions. Just close your eyes.” When she did, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the delicate gold ring. He took her hand and slipped the ring on her finger, and he saw her smile. “Okay, baby. You can look.” 

She gazed at her hand, and tears welled in her eyes. “Oh sweetie, this is so pretty!” She admired the artistry of the ring, the delicate design and the stones in the middle. “When did you get this?”

“The other day at the festival. Remember the goldsmith?” 

“Oh yeah,” she nodded her head. “I didn’t remember seeing anything this intricate.” 

“He said he had made this ring for someone special. He didn’t have it out for the general public to see, and said when he saw the right person, he’d know it. I have to admit, it was pretty romantic.” 

“I love it, Travis. It’s so perfect.” She smiled serenely at him, and she just couldn’t think of how she could love that man more than she did at that moment. 

“I love you, Charlotte. I’m so happy you love the ring.” Travis tried to ignore the throbbing in his leg. 

She was just about to ask him about it when the waiter came with the champagne, which was poured into glasses, and the bottle placed on ice. Travis lifted his glass and offered a toast. “To the love of a lifetime, with the sexiest, most beautiful woman alive. I will love you forever, Charlotte.” 

She blushed and raised her glass, not able to speak. “Travis, you are just amazing,” she finally said. “You have transformed me from a shy, sheltered young woman to the confident, professional woman I have become. This is all you, my love. Everything I am, it’s because of you.” 

“Baby, I can’t wait to get back to our room, honey.”

“Do you want to skip dinner?” she suggested.

“The thought crossed my mind, love.” He looked around for the waiter. “Could we please just have our check? I’m not feeling well.” 

“Certainly, Mr. Jones.” The waiter walked from the table and returned a few minutes later with the check. Travis signed it to their room, and he took her hand. 

“I love you so much, Charlotte,” he whispered in her ear. 

“I love you more,” she replied. They held hands as they strolled back to the room. Travis put up the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, and locked the door behind them.


The phone rang at six o’clock, and Travis answered it. Rosa’s voice, which was usually peppy and happy, had a trace of sadness in it that morning. “This is Rosa, Mr. Travis. Time to wake up.” 

“Thank you, Rosa.” Travis hung the phone up and sighed. It would be the last time Rosa would wake them. Charlotte was sleeping peacefully next to him, and he hated to wake her. Since they arrived a week ago, this was the day they dreaded. Nevertheless, he curled around her, brushed the hair from her neck, and nuzzled his face into her neck. His warm breath woke her, and she purred.

“Mmm, good morning honeybear.” She snuggled closer to him, not wanting the night to end. “It’s time, isn’t it?” 

“It is,” he said sadly. 

She turned over to face him, feeling emotional. “This is the last time we’ll ever come here.”

“I’ve thought of nothing else for most of the night. We have wanted this so badly, and now. Now, it seems like a distant dream.”

“We have good things waiting for us at home, love. Darcey’s baby. Who knows when Danae will give us one? All the giggles and stories and snuggles wait for us.” Charlotte wiped a tear from his eyes. “I know we wanted this, and we’re so close to retiring. But we didn’t count on the girls giving us grandbabies so fast. I’m afraid if we move here, we’ll never see them again, and given the choice between never coming back, and never seeing my family, I’m afraid this place loses in a landslide.” She kissed him tenderly.

“I know what you mean, honey. The idea of never seeing the kids again is painful.” He sniffled and held her tightly. “I suppose we should get up. We have a flight in a few hours.” 

Charlotte sighed. “We probably should.” 

They showered and walked to the lobby to have breakfast at the restaurant on the property, and then walked to the spa to grab some cologne and oils for the girls and themselves. One last walk back to the room had them feeling emotional, and as Charlotte packed the oils into their luggage, she cried.

After their bag had been retrieved, they had a little time to kill, so they walked around the property, hand in hand, enjoying the morning, reliving their memories together. “This is where we met Ron for the first time,” Charlotte mused, as they passed the bench. 

They walked past the pool, and Travis chuckled. “This is where we almost got drenched the night of our anniversary. Remember that thunderstorm?” 

“I couldn’t forget it,” she laughed. “I’ve never seen it rain that hard, that fast.” 

They got to the lobby, and Rosa stood at her desk, trying not to look at them. When they approached her, she gazed their way, and Charlotte saw tears in her friend’s eyes. “Mrs. Charlotte, Mr. Travis, I will miss you.” Rosa breathed a heavy sigh, knowing this would be the last time she would ever see them. She noticed Travis’ cane and wiped tears from her eyes. “I won’t even see you on the field anymore, will I, Mr. Travis?” 

“No, Rosa, probably not. I will be retiring soon. My poor old body can’t handle an injury like this anymore.” He hugged her and felt her tremble as she choked back a sob. “But my son, Devin, he is on the team. You’ll see a lot of him. You won’t be able to tell it’s not me.” He tried to lighten the mood, but he was doing a terrible job of it. 

“No offense, Mr. Travis, but your son will never be you.” She walked to Charlotte and kissed her cheek. “I will miss you, Mrs. Charlotte. Enjoy your grandchildren. Love them well, and be blessed, my dear friend.” 

“Rosa, I will never forget you. Ever.” Charlotte wiped tears away and hugged her one last time. 

“I love you guys,” Rosa said, as the shuttle driver came to retrieve them.

“We love you too, Rosa.” Travis hugged her and kissed her cheek one last time. “Take good care of yourself, honey.” 

No more words were said, as Charlotte and Travis waved, and left the lobby of the Grand Tower Resort.

Up Next: Chapter Twenty Four, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Twenty Two – The Roller Coaster Called Life

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.

“Hello?”

“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.

Screenshot-1076

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.

Screenshot-1095

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.”

“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.

Up Next: Chapter Twenty Three, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Twenty One – Dreams Come True

Charlotte dug deep into the bedroom closet, looking for a box. “Travis? Have you seen my dress in the closet, honey?”

“In that box from the dry cleaner, right?”

“Yeah. I can’t find it.” She tore through the clothing in the walk-in closet, when she finally spotted a white box hiding in the corner. “Wait, never mind. I have it!” She emerged from the closet, triumphant.

“What do you need that for, sweetie?”

“Darcey wanted to see it. Maybe we can skip one crucial, critical step in this wedding planning.” As fun as it was to go to Isla Paradiso to shop for the dress with Bella, it was tiring trekking from shop to shop, in search of that perfect gown.

“You know, we don’t have a budget for her wedding. Whatever it costs, I’ll do it.” Travis smiled sweetly at Charlotte.

“I wasn’t thinking that, baby. I was thinking more about saving time trudging everywhere looking. Besides, I really wish one of them would be married in it. It’s really unique.”

“That it is, my love.” He walked to her and planted a smooch on her lips. “It doesn’t seem possible, does it? We have an almost 20-year-old daughter, engaged to be married, almost ready to go start her own family. How did this happen?”

“They grew up, whether we wanted them to or not. That’s what kids do. They grow. The giggles stop. And when they move away, we have an empty nest. I’m not looking forward to it.” She felt tears stinging her eyes.

“But then, we look forward to grandchildren. We’re plenty young enough.” Travis held her. “Besides, I think we will have Danae at home for a while yet. She’s having a hard time finding a job. She might have to go outside her degree for one. She feels like she wasted two years of her life. I get that.”

“Poor girl. No boyfriend, no job. She really wants to just be a housewife. She needs to be a wife first.” Charlotte felt bad for Danae. Eligible young men seemed to be at a premium, and wearing a purity band cut the field in less than half. Charlotte realized what a catch Clint was, now that she’d had time to get to know him.

When Darcey arrived home from her emergency at the hospital, Charlotte summoned her to their bedroom. “Darce! Can I talk to you a minute?”

Seconds later, soft footsteps made their way up the steps and to the master bedroom. “Yes, Mama?”

“Here, sweetie. You wanted to see my wedding gown, so I dug it out today.” Charlotte took the dress, which had been hanging up for a few hours, and brought it to Darcey.

“Oh, Mama!” she cried. “It’s perfect! It’s just what I would have wanted if we’d gone shopping for a dress. Are you sure I can wear it?”

“Of course I’m sure, Punkin. I was hoping you’d want to wear it. It’s truly one of a kind. Your Nana Bella and I went to Isla Paradiso, to Jayna’s shop, to buy it.”

“So that’s how you knew Miss Jayna.” Darcey ran her fingers over the intricate beadwork on the gown. “This is so beautiful. Can I try it on?”

“I thought you’d never ask, honey.” Charlotte helped Darcey get the dress on, and zipped the back. She stood back and looked at her daughter, and lost her cool. Charlotte wept as she looked at Darcey in her dress. “I can’t believe my little girl is getting married.” She turned Darcey around so she could see herself in the full-length mirror, and she gasped.

“Oh Mama, this dress is exquisite. I don’t think it even needs to be altered. I could take it right off the hanger and marry him tomorrow in it.” Darcey smoothed out the fabric, loving how it fit her, showing off her curves and yes, even her bosom. Danae may have gotten the cuter face, but Darcey got the bod, and this dress would accentuate every good thing about her figure.

“I guess I can cross the dress off my to-do list, then,” Charlotte chuckled.

*****

Emmitt and his son, Anduin, moved to Starlight Shores shortly after the Snowflake holiday and bought a house in the western hills, just three doors down from the Jones house. Travis invited them for dinner one evening after work, and something happened that neither Emmitt nor Travis could have foreseen… Anduin was instantly smitten with Danae, and she with him. They had only been on three dates when they decided to be exclusive with one another. Travis and Charlotte both saw an incredible change within her. She was more confident, more outgoing, and so much happier than she was when she was yearning for a man she could never have.

Five months later…

Travis was getting ready for practice when Emmitt approached him in the locker room. “How’s my best friend today?”

“I’m feeling great! Where’s Andy? He wanted to see me before practice, I thought.”

“He is finishing a phone call with Lionel. He’s very pleased with the team’s progress this season. The post-season is coming quickly, and he believes we have a shot at the title.”

“He isn’t the only one. Aaron is thinking that, too. Shoot, even I believe it.” Travis stood to stretch. “Have Andy find me on the field when he’s done.”

Twenty minutes later, Travis saw Andy approach him, looking happy. “Travis! I’m so glad to see you.”

“What can I do for you?” Travis asked as Andy led him out of earshot of the team. “What’s on your mind?”

“This is personal. Travis, you know I love Danae, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. So, I would like to ask for your permission to marry her.”

He smiled at his best friend’s son. When Emmitt and Andy moved to the Shores months ago, he never could have seen this happening. “Andy, you have been so good for my daughter. She is a much different person than she was before Snowflake Day. So, it would be my honor to have you marry her. The only thing I ask is to let Darcey have her day. The wedding is so close, and she is so excited, it wouldn’t be fair for Nae to steal her thunder.”

“Fair enough,” Andy agreed. “Another few weeks won’t hurt.”


The morning of Darcey’s wedding came quickly, and suddenly it dawned on Charlotte her little girl was marrying the love of her life. She woke with tears in her eyes, and Travis felt the bed shake as he awakened. “Aww baby, what’s wrong? This is a happy day, honey!”

“My baby girl,” she cried. “Today, you give her away to her husband. I’m not ready to let go yet. I’m not done loving her, and teaching her.”

“Sweetie, it’s okay.” Travis held her as she cried. “We’ve known this was coming for six months. How are you still not ready?”

“Oh baby,” she sobbed. “I miss them being little. I miss their giggles. I miss the squeals of twin babies talking to one another in their own language. I miss belly bubbles…” her voice trailed off.

“Oh honey, you’ll have all those things again soon, but this time, they’ll be your granddaughters and grandsons.” Travis held her tightly. “Don’t you want grandbabies?”

“I’m not done raising my own son yet, Travis. How can I love grandbabies when my baby is still a  baby!” The thought made her cry harder.

“Trust me on this, honey. You will adore grandbabies. At night, they go home with mama and daddy, and you get to sleep through the night.” Travis kissed her forehead. “We’re going to make it through this day, I promise you.”

“I’m so glad you’re here with me. I don’t think I’d make it otherwise.” Charlotte sniffled, wiping tears from her eyes. “I need to pull myself together, baby. I don’t want Darcey to see me upset.”

“Hold on until tonight, and I promise I’ll make it better. We just don’t have time now.” Travis wanted to take her pain away, but he had his own. In less than six hours, he would give his oldest child away. The thought of it tore him to bits.

Charlotte got into the shower with Travis, wrapped up in his blue robe, and headed to the kitchen to make breakfast. She was feeling a little better cooking until Darcey came down the stairs, saying it was her last morning in the house. Charlotte choked back tears and continued cooking until she had enough to feed the whole family, not saying much.

Charlotte and the girls rode to the chapel early so Darcey could get dressed and primp. The party was only Darcey and Danae as her maid of honor, so there wasn’t much to do other than help them as they needed it. She left the girls alone in the bride’s room while she did the final preparations on the reception. Charlotte was just putting the cake topper on when Travis came looking for her, all dressed in his tux and looking so very handsome. “Honey, you look beautiful,” he said, stroking her cheek. “You’re going to make it through this, I promise. I’m right here.”

She couldn’t speak. The time was growing closer, and her emotions were getting the best of her. Gently, he took her arm and brought her back to the bride’s room. Clint was standing near the front of the chapel, talking to his family when the organ player took to the seat and began to play processional music. Andy was waiting in the back of the chapel to escort Danae, and Devin was already on his way down the aisle with Felicity, Clint’s mother. Once Charlotte was seated, the bridal procession could begin.

Once Devin was seated with his uncle and cousin, Travis knocked gently on the door, letting the girls know it was time. Danae emerged, and when Andy saw her, his face lit up. Together, they walked to the front of the chapel, and stood with Clint, waiting for the bride. Darcey finally opened the door to the bride’s room and stepped out. Travis choked on his emotions, but couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. “Aww, Daddy, don’t cry,” Darcey said sweetly, but it was much too late for that.

“You are stunning, so much like your mama.” He took her arm and walked slowly to the back of the chapel with her. The organ player noticed them and began to play. This was the moment Travis had dreaded since those baby girls were born. Slowly, almost painfully, Travis walked his Darcey Bug down the aisle. When they reached the flowered arch, Travis lifted her veil and kissed her cheek. “I love you, Bug,” he whispered in her ear, and sat down with Charlotte, both of them weeping.

The ceremony itself was short and sweet, and when it was over, Darcey was no longer a Jones, but a Scroggins. Travis laughed when he heard Emmitt tell Clint to take good care of her, and that her daddy was a big man. They enjoyed getting to meet their in-laws and Clint’s second family. But his favorite part of the night was his last dance with Darcey. He embraced her as they swayed to the music, and tears dripped from his eyes.

“Remember when I taught you to dance, Bug? You stood on my feet, and we danced together.” Darcey smiled warmly at the memory and wiped tears of her own away.

“I remember, Daddy. I loved our dates together. That was when you taught me everything I needed to know about Clint. You just didn’t know it yet.” Travis loved that girl so much, it actually hurt.

“I am so proud of you, Darcey. And I couldn’t love you and your sister any more if I tried. You girls are my world.” He kissed her forehead and held her close, not even trying to hold his emotions back any longer. It was useless anyway.

When the song was over, Travis broke their embrace and saw a similarly emotional Felicity dancing with her son. Charlotte was standing by and he walked to her, emotionally wrecked. “Baby, I know how you feel, honey. I’m a mess.”

“Let’s dance, honeybear. I need you close.” Charlotte whispered, and he led her to the dance floor.

The party started dying down just after dark, and Travis pulled Darcey aside, handing her an envelope. “Your mama and I have paid for the honeymoon suite at the bed and breakfast for a couple of nights. The reservation is under Jones because I wasn’t thinking. I’m so sorry, Punkin.”

“It’s okay, Daddy,” she said sweetly. “In my heart, I’ll always be a Jones. Thank you and Mama both. I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you more than you’ll ever understand, Darcey.” He hugged her close, and kissed her forehead. “Go be with your husband, sweet girl. We’ll see you in a few days.”

Travis and Charlotte both watched as the young couple got into the limousine and pulled away, waving. “There goes my baby,” Charlotte wept and hugged him close. “Take me home.” They were both emotionally worn out.

“I’ll meet you in the car. I’m just going to tell Danae we’re leaving. Andy can bring her home, and I’ll let the pastor know I’ll come back tomorrow and clean up.” Charlotte nodded and walked out to his car slowly.

“Nae, I’m taking Mama home. She is exhausted, sweetie. Can you bring her and Devin home, Andy?”

“You bet I can.” He shook Travis’ hand and winked at him. “I’ll take good care of them. I promise.” Travis thanked him, and let the pastor know he’d be by in the morning to clean up the reception area.

He walked back out to the car, almost feeling like he could collapse with exhaustion. But he had made a promise to Charlotte, and tired or not, he was not going to back away from it. “Let’s go home, love,” he said to her, caressing her cheek. She heaved a heavy sigh, and looked out of the window, not saying much. Travis drove them home and parked in the garage. He opened her door and helped her up. As soon as she was on her feet, she wrapped herself around him, sobbing.

Without a word, he picked her up and carried her into the house and up the stairs, her arms wrapped around his neck. Gently, he set her down on the bed, so she was sitting up, and took her shoes off her feet. He knelt before her as she sat on the bed, and placed his head in her lap. She ran her fingers through his hair, noticing the specks of grey in his usually jet black locks.

“I love you, Travis. Thank you for getting me through today. I could not have done this without you.”

“Aww honey,” he answered. “It was my pleasure. Let’s make it yours, now.”

Her smile brightened. “You are just what I need right now.”

“Then let it be,” he purred.


Two weeks after Darcey’s wedding, Travis was preparing for the last game in the regular season, and they had clinched their spot in the playoffs. According to sports analysts, the Shores Llamas were favored to win the championship, going in with the best win record in the league. They were nine wins to no losses, thanks in large part to the new team dynamic. Aaron’s coaching intuition and Travis’ talent for the game made a formidable combination, and most teams had a rough time beating their plays.

Smitty had just finished stretching, and stood to greet Travis. “Hey Jones,” he said. “Are you ready for the most important game of your life?”

“I am surprisingly ready,” he replied. “My head is clear, and I’m in the game a hundred percent. How about you, my friend?”

“Same. Next week at this time, and we’ll be in Riverview playing the first playoff game. It’s nuts, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is, Trey.”

Aaron blew his whistle and gathered the team for one last pep talk, and led them to the field for their last home game of the season. Charlotte, Danae, Devin, and Andy were in the stadium watching. Travis always believed Charlotte was his good luck charm, and he was thrilled to have his family there cheering them on.

On the last play of the first half, Travis was running downfield, about to score a goal that would bring them well ahead of the visiting team when it seemed he tripped over something. He went down hard, holding his knee as he writhed on the ground in pain.

“Travis!” Charlotte screamed from the stands, running toward the field. Security stopped her before she was able to jump the fence. “Please, I have to be with him! That’s my husband!”

“Ma’am, he’s in good hands.” The new head of security answered her. “Please take your seat.”

“No,” she cried, “That’s not good enough!” She watched in horror as Aaron called for paramedics to bring a stretcher for him. “TRAVIS!” She screamed loud enough for him to hear her, and the look on her face broke his heart. Danae was crying when Charlotte walked back to where the family sat, when Emmitt came and got her.

“Charlotte, they’re bringing him to your hospital. They think he’s broken something. The play is being reviewed. Something doesn’t smell right about this.” Emmitt hugged her.

“I have to go be with Daddy. Andy, could you take care of them for me?” Andy nodded his head, wearing a worried look. “I’ll call you when I know something, Nae,” she said as she walked with Emmitt back to the locker room.

Travis was still in the locker room, groaning in agony. “Let me through,” Charlotte demanded. “Why aren’t you giving him anything for pain!” she snapped.

“Once he’s transported to the hospital, we can assess that. You are his…”

“Wife. I’m also a trauma surgeon. Dr. Charlotte Jones.” She kissed Travis’ forehead, tasting the sweat on his skin. “This man needs something NOW!” she screamed. Charlotte took over his care on the spot, and taking a needle from the paramedic and strongest painkiller she knew he could handle, and gave him a dose of it. “This is short-acting, so it will only last an hour or so. But we need to get him to the hospital now.” She went with them as they wheeled him to the ambulance.

On the way out, he grabbed her arm and looked her in the eye with profound relief. “Thank you, baby,” he whispered.

“I’m so sorry, Travis. I’m going to fix this for you, I promise.”

They arrived at the hospital ten minutes later, and Charlotte clocked in. They got him to a room and brought an x-ray in to take images of his leg, and she made him as comfortable as she could. Dee, the hospital director, had already been made aware that Travis was coming in, and that Charlotte was going to oversee his care.

When the images came back, he had broken his leg in two places just below his knee. She knew this injury was a career-ender if it wasn’t treated properly, but she lacked the training in orthopedics to fix it. “Baby,” she told him, “I need to do surgery on this leg. I don’t know if a specialist will come and do it or not. If I can’t fix this, you might not play again. This is your call, honey.”

Travis was hanging on to the edge of sobriety from the pain injection, and he couldn’t answer her. “Do what you think is best, baby,” he slurred out. “I trust you.”

“Prep him for surgery. And call Dr. Webb from ortho, and see if he’ll come assist me.” She went to prep herself, and thought she should call Danae before she began.

“Mama?” Danae was near hysterical. Andy had to take them from the game, and he was worried.

“Nae, his leg is broken in two places. I need to do surgery on him. I’m going to do my best to fix this. He’s going to be okay, though. I won’t let anything happen to him.”

“May the angels be with you, Mama,” Danae said to her. Charlotte shook her head, amazed. Where did she hear that?

“I’ll call when he’s out of surgery, honey. Stay with Devin, okay?”

“Yes, Mama,” she cried. “I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetie. Call Darcey, please?”

“I will.”

Minutes later, she was prepared for surgery, and as she walked into the OR, Dr. Webb had joined the surgical team. “Oh thank goodness, Dr. Webb. I was afraid you were unavailable.”

“I wasn’t going to, but when I heard it was Travis, I knew I had to come.” He gave Charlotte a nod. “We’re going to save his career here tonight. Mark my words.”

“I’m counting on it, Doctor.” Travis was resting comfortably, and the surgical team was standing by. “Travis, honey… we’re going to fix this. Sweet dreams, my love.” She kissed his forehead as he drifted off to sleep.

A few hours later, Dr. Webb had placed the hardware into the bone necessary to stabilize it while it healed, and was very confident that the repair would hold. “The surgery was successful. If he behaves himself and goes to therapy on schedule, I think he’ll be back for the next season. Thank you for your help, Dr. Jones.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Dr. Webb. Without his career… I don’t even want to think of it.” Charlotte shuddered.

She got out of her surgical clothing and showered in the locker room, changing into a set of clothing she kept at work for just such an occasion. Not wanting to interfere with the nurses in recovery, she took the opportunity to make some phone calls.

“Emmitt, it’s Charlotte. What was the determination? How did he fall?”

“A player from the other team did it on purpose. He was given orders to take Travis out of the game. Needless to say, that team is subject to major penalties, their owner will have to pay hefty fines and the player and their head coach have been ejected from the league. There is no room in soccer for that kind of mess. Aaron is just beside himself.” Emmitt wasn’t doing too well either, but he stayed calm for her sake. “How is my buddy?”

“Well, an ortho specialist came and did the surgery. After watching him work his magic, there is no way I could have done what he did. I simply lack the training. But, the ortho said the repair should hold, and if he behaves himself and does PT, he could be back by the next season.”

“Well, we aren’t going to push him to come back if he’s not ready. We’ll take it a day at a time.”

“Did we at least win the game, Emmitt?”

“By default, yes. The other team was disqualified after that stunt. The game ended at the half.”

“Well, there’s the silver lining. I hope we go all the way to the title, even without Travis playing. He was really hoping to win a national championship before his retirement.”

“Technically, if they do, he will be credited with the win as the team captain. But I know he was hoping to be playing for it. How long will he be in the hospital?” Emmitt wanted to see him as soon as possible.

“Probably a day or two, depending on whether he can stand on it. They need to get him in therapy as soon as he can tolerate it. His age is not working with him.” He was nearly sixty and most people were surprised he was still playing at his level of performance.

“Well, when you see him, tell him we’re all pulling for him to come back. And hey, Charlotte,” he added, “tell him I love him.”

“I’ll do that, Emmitt. I have to call the girls, but I’ll be in touch soon.”

Her next phone call was to Danae.

“Mama!” she squealed. “How is Daddy?”

“I haven’t seen him since I got out of surgery, but the specialist says he should be okay. He might even still be able to play.”

She heard Danae breathe a sigh of relief, and then speak to Devin. “Daddy’s going to be okay, Dev. Andy is still here. He doesn’t want to leave me alone tonight.”

“Very well, Nae.” Charlotte wasn’t going to go into the ring thing. Either she was serious, or she wasn’t. Nagging her about it wasn’t going to help. “Did you call Darcey?”

“Yeah, she and Clint are watching television. I guess it’s all over the news.”

“I’m going to call her. Tell Andy thank you for staying with you.”

“I will, Mama. Tell Daddy I love him.”

The last call was to Darcey. “Mama?”

“Hey bug, I wanted to let you know that he’s okay, honey.”

“Mama, what happened? They’re saying on the news it was intentional. Why would someone do that?”

“Someone tripped or pushed him. I haven’t seen the official report yet, but the person was expelled from the league. I can go see him in a few minutes, so I’m going to let you go, sweetie. I’ll keep in touch.”

“Thanks, Mama. Tell him we love him.”

*****

Travis woke from a drugged sleep and looked at Charlotte. “Hey gorgeous,” he said, feeling no pain. “What’s the good word?”

“The doctor thinks you’ll be able to play again.” She took his hand and kissed it tenderly.

“Yeah, well. What did he say about sex?” Travis asked, wearing a naughty smile.

Charlotte had to laugh. “It figures you’d want to know about that. I think you’re on hiatus for a while, honey.”

“Oh damn,” he said, sounding disappointed.

“I doubt you’re going to remember asking me about that in the morning.” She chuckled at him. Even at his worst, he still loved her enough to think about it.

“You’re probably right,” he said, and yawned.

“Do you remember what happened to you, baby?”

“I know I fell. I thought someone pushed me, and the way I fell, I guess, I tore up my knee.”

“Oh, you tore it up real good, baby. It broke in two places. You have some hardware in there, but you should be able to play again in a season or so.”

“This is the worst I’ve been hurt. I’m thinking it could have been so much worse.” If someone had done this on purpose, his injuries could have been much harder to recover from. Career ending, life-altering stuff. But he was so high on pain meds, nothing bothered him. “So, when did you say we could have sex again?”

She laughed again. “I didn’t, silly. But expect it to be awhile.” That’s my husband, she thought.

“Come here,” he slurred, trying to flirt. “I wanna kiss you.”

“Just one kiss, and you’re done, mister.”

“Then I better make it a good one,” he replied. She bent over to kiss him, and he nearly brought her down on top of him.

As she stood, she laughed. “You’d better rest, honey. But I’ll be here with you all night.” She kissed his forehead and stroked his cheek softly. “Sweet, painless dreams, my love.”


Danae had come home from Verde Park with an extra spring in her step. “No dinner for me tonight,” she exclaimed. “Andy is taking me to The Tower to celebrate!”

“And what are we celebrating?” Charlotte asked.

“The Sing-A-Gram hired me today, sight unseen, based on hearsay. My resume didn’t hurt, either.”

“Oh, baby girl!” Charlotte exclaimed. “I’m so proud of you!” She stopped what she was doing and turned off the heat on the stove to help Danae pick out a dress to wear. She didn’t have much time, as Andy would pick her up in less than an hour. She ended up in one of Destiny’s gowns, and even Charlotte had to admit, it was perfection on her.

Shortly after Andy came to pick up Danae, Travis walked into the house using his cane. He was getting around much better after a month or so of physical therapy, and Dr. Webb was pleased with his progress. “Hey baby,” he said, hobbling in and collapsing in the chair by the television. “I’m getting too old for this mess,” he joked. “Do we still have pain meds for me, or am I cut off now?”

“Technically, you’re supposed to be cut off. But I can get you a shot that will help. I don’t know why they don’t give you what you need. Broken bones, even ones that are fixed, still hurt.”

“I’m ready when you are,” he said, breathing shallowly. His leg was really throbbing today. PT was rough on him, and he wasn’t feeling well.

“Give me a second, and I’ll get it for you from my bag.” She wiped her hands on her apron and turned the burner back on to low heat. She ran up the stairs and winded herself in the process, but she returned with an injection of a fast-acting, short-duration medication. “Leg or butt?” she asked him, biting her lip.

“You already know what I’m going to say. If you touch my leg, I might hurt you.” He was half kidding. He was in excruciating pain.

She leaned him forward and rubbed some alcohol onto his skin, and gave him the shot. “There. You’ll be feeling better in a few minutes, sweetie.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said, already feeling the relief wash over him. “Will this stuff make me loopy?”

“Not as bad as the stuff you got at the hospital. But I’ll help you up the stairs when you’re ready.”

Travis looked around and noticed it was unbearably quiet in the house. “Where is Danae? Devin?”

“Devin is studying at a friend’s house, and Danae is out with Andy at The Tower.”

“Oooh!” Travis exclaimed. “He’s going to ask her tonight!”

“Really? She has no idea, does she?”

“Not a clue.” Emmitt had mentioned something about Andy bringing Danae to The Tower to propose at the earliest convenient time. He had waited until after Darcey’s wedding, but Travis’ unexpected injury delayed his proposal, something for which Travis was very sorry.

“She’s going to come home a very happy girl. She is getting everything she wanted, finally. She has a good man, and her chosen career is getting ready to kick start. We are blessed, Travis. Our children are good kids.”

He took a deep breath, finally pain-free for the first time that day. “I am so beyond blessed, my love. And right now, I’m thankful you’re a doctor. You saved me again today. That shot…” He smiled a dopey smile.

She knew she shouldn’t do it, but she was going to anyway. “Honey, I’m going to write you a prescription for a short bout of pain meds. You shouldn’t be left to suffer like this. You’re only four weeks post-op. That was a painful break.”

“Don’t do anything that will get you in trouble, baby. It’s not that important.”

“The most that would happen is a reprimand. I can’t watch you suffer like this.  It’s not humane.” She scribbled the order on her pad and tore the top sheet off. “Are you okay for a few minutes, honey? I’ll be back soon.”

“Baby, you don’t have to do this.” As much as he enjoyed the relief from the agonizing pain, he needed her at home. “I need you here, not in jail.”

“Honey, it’s okay. Just stay put until I get home.” She walked to him and kissed him. “Would you like to lay down instead?”

“No, I’m okay here. But I wish you wouldn’t do this. I’ll manage.”

“Shush.” She kissed him again. “Stay put. I’ll finish dinner when I get home.”

She walked to her car and drove to the pharmacy. The pharmacist filled it with no incident, and she was on her way back home in less than ten minutes. She pulled into the driveway and parked her little car in the garage next to his, and walked to the house. When she opened the door, Travis was sound asleep in the chair, right where she had left him. She smiled sweetly at him. At least if he was sleeping, he wasn’t in pain. She had only gotten ten pills for him and hoped that would get him through physical therapy in the least amount of pain possible.

*****

Danae waltzed through the door after her dinner with Andy, flying on cloud nine. Charlotte was by the fireplace alone, reading her research journal. Travis was upstairs, sleeping. “Hey Danae,” she greeted her daughter. “You were out late.”

Nae said nothing but simply walked to where Charlotte sat and held out her left hand. On it sat a ring that rivaled the one Travis had bought her for their anniversary. “We’re engaged,” she said, giggling. “I said yes!”

Charlotte stood up and gave Danae a hug, and kissed her on the cheek. “Oh sweetie, congratulations! Andy loves you so much.”

“Mama, I knew when I met him. Remember the night we had them over for dinner? When we touched, I felt weak. My heart pounded out of my chest. I got instant butterflies in my stomach. Funny thing is, he did, too. And then we spent that whole night trying to deny it.” Danae smiled her biggest smile. “Mama, can I tell you something?”

“Of course, honey. Anything at all.”

“Just before graduation, I was seeing someone at school. We were never meant to be serious, I was lonely because Darce had Clint, and I hardly saw her anymore. His name was Dave. Anyway, we had been together a few times, but something always stopped me from messing around with him. And I’ll tell you, he was sexy. Slim, muscular, blonde, blue-eyed. He had confidence oozing from every pore. And for a while, if he would have asked, I would have said yes.” She lowered her eyes, ashamed.

“Why did you not mention him, Nae?”

“Well, the last day of finals, we were going to get together. He lived really close to the buildings where my exams were held, and since we were in the same classes, we knew how much time we had. And I was ready, or thought I was. But when I got there, I caught him with someone else, and they were really going to town.”

“Oh Danae,” Charlotte replied. “That must have been difficult.”

“It was, Mama. I ran from the dorm and back to class, knowing full well I’d see him for my next exam. I couldn’t even look at him, I was so disgusted.” Danae wiped a tear from her eyes. The memory was still painful. “I know we weren’t supposed to be exclusive with each other, but the fact is, it hurt. Right after that, I told Darcey I wasn’t going to even consider breaking my promise. Until I met Anduin. Mama, it’s so hard waiting for Andy. I don’t know why I never believed you.”

Charlotte hugged Danae, and kissed her forehead. “It was hard waiting for your Daddy, too. Believe me, sweetheart, it will be more than worth it.”

“He’s had sex before, Mama. He told me he had a girlfriend in Dragon Valley a long time ago. What if… what if I’m not enough for him?”

“He loves you, Danae. You said he respects your promise. If that’s his decision, honey, I don’t think you have to worry about that. But if it bothers you, talk to him about it. Be open and honest with him.”

“You’re right, as usual. I will talk to him. How’s Daddy feeling today?”

“In pain, not feeling well. I don’t know if he’s going to play soccer again, honey. He’s just not as young as he used to be.” Charlotte sighed. It wasn’t the news she hoped for.

“He will be so depressed if he can’t retire on his terms, Mama. The game is his life.”

“You’re telling me. I know therapy wears him out. He was miserable when he came home today.” Charlotte was still encouraging him to do PT, and encouraging him to strive toward playing. It had to be his decision to retire, and no one else’s.

“I’m sleepy, and I have to be at work in the morning. Goodnight, Mama. Tell Daddy I love him, and I love you, too.” Danae blew her mother a kiss.

“I love you, too. Goodnight sweetheart.”

http___pluspng.com_img-png_png-divider-lines-tiny-edge-line-decorative-divider-png-512

Up Next: Chapter Twenty Two, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Twenty – The Reunion

“Hey Jones,” Trey greeted Travis. “First day, new season. Are you stoked?”

“You know what, Smitty, I feel like I’ve never been in better shape. I’m on top of my game. I’m energized. Let’s see if I can translate that into a win for the season opener.” Travis felt good, and he was excited to play.

“I have confidence in you, Captain. Let’s go give ‘em hell, buddy.” Smitty clapped him on the shoulder as he finished lacing his shoes. “You know, these new uniforms are sharp.”

“Yeah, they are. So much nicer than the lime green and yellow. I love Armand, but his taste in color was pretty bad.” Travis chuckled. The new uniforms were royal blue, trimmed in white, and they were very handsome. “Is Emmitt around for the season opener? I haven’t seen him yet.”

“I think he’s in the press booth with the big man.” Smitty stretched and reached for his water bottle. “You know, I think I’m nervous!”

“No reason to be nervous, Trey. Just play off me like we always do. We know the plays. I feel better prepared for this game than I have for the past 10 years under Neil, and I’m 10 years older. We’ve got this.”

The team gathered together for one last pep talk, and Aaron led them onto the field for their season opener. Travis played like a man 20 years his junior, and easily led his team to their first victory with Aaron as coach. After the game, Travis sat by his locker, a towel wrapped around his waist, when Aaron walked to him.

“Great game today, Travis. I’m impressed. You have a natural talent for the game. I can see why Mr. O’Reilly wanted to keep you on the roster.”

“You know, Aaron,” Travis replied, “I have been so energized with this whole transition. Emmitt, the O’Reillys, you. I never realized how stale I had gotten with Neil as the head coach. Sometimes, change is the best move someone can make.”

“Wise words, Travis. But you know, the honor is all mine. I can’t believe I get to coach a legend. I have to admit, I’m a little starstruck.” Travis blushed a deep, hot red. “Keep up the good work. See you tomorrow!”

Travis got dressed in his PR outfit, and on his way out to the field for publicity photos and fan meet and greet, he heard Charlotte’s name. Looking toward the guys, he backed up, his temper flared up burning hot.

A team veteran, Craig Guzman, joked with a rookie. “…and Jones, dang, his wife is totally doable. Man, that Charlotte is hot stuff. I’d like to just —”

“Say that to my face, Guzman.” Travis walked and stood at the end of the lockers, his fists clenched and rage in his eyes. “Tell me how ‘doable’ you think my wife is, and we’ll see if you spend the night in the ER with her fixing your broken face.” Aaron immediately heard Travis yelling, and ran toward the voices.

“Travis, what’s going on here?” Aaron asked.

“It seems Guzman here thinks my wife is ‘hot stuff,’ and ‘totally doable.’ See, Neil, he encouraged this from the players. So, I was just asking Mr. Guzman here to tell me to my face how ‘doable’ my wife is.”

“Is this true, Craig? Did you say this to someone?” The rookie backed away, not wanting to catch a beat down for laughing at it.

“It’s a joke, man. Everyone jokes about her because it gets under his skin. We don’t mean nothin’ by it. Neil was right, Jones. You’re way too uptight.”

“You’re sitting the next game out, Guzman,” Aaron spat. “I am not Neil, and I don’t tolerate this nonsense, from any of you. Wives, kids, pets, whatever. Off-limits, effective now. I can’t believe I have to even address this with you. Grow up.” He turned to Travis and noticed his temples throbbing as he clenched his teeth. “Come on, man. He’s not worth it.” He took Travis by the elbow and coaxed him away.

“I’m sorry, Aaron, but there are two things I will not tolerate from anyone, here or anywhere. One is picking on my kids. Two is disrespecting my wife. That woman is my life, and I won’t have these chuckleheads talking about her like that. I told Armand I’d flatten the first one I caught. Guzman is lucky he doesn’t still own the Llamas, or he’d be on his way to the ER right now.”

“You shouldn’t have to put up with that. I will address it with the team in a meeting tomorrow before practice. Going forward, there is a zero-tolerance policy.”

“Thanks for having my back, Aaron. I like you already.” Travis smiled and picked up his duffel. “I think I’m going to skip the publicity tonight and head home. I miss my sweet Charlotte.”

“Anytime, Travis. I have to look out for my star, you know.” He smiled and walked Travis to his car.

*****

The twins were graduating from college just a week before Snowflake Day, and Charlotte was looking forward to their arrival back home. The Dean at the university invited Travis to be the commencement speaker, and he was thrilled to have the opportunity. And as long as Travis was going, Charlotte thought Devin might like to see the campus and decide if that was something he wanted. Because Chris and Greg were so fond of Darcey, they wanted to go, too. It was a family trip, and though it would be quick, Charlotte couldn’t wait.

The family of five took up most of the first-class section of the airplane. Chris sat by himself, already plugged into his music player, the two cousins sat together talking about games and sports, and Charlotte and Travis snuggled together in a back row seat. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been to campus, honey,” he said casually. “It will be weird going back.”

“It will.” She missed the twins, and she couldn’t wait to see them. “I hope there is enough room for everyone. Darcey made it sound like the house is pretty small.”

“I’m sure the kids won’t mind sleeping on the floor. One night won’t kill them. They’re young and flexible.” Travis laughed. “I remember spending most of my teenage years on the floor in my bedroom. Man, it was cold in that house. I was always sick.”

“That’s terrible, sweetie.” She touched his cheek, and he kissed her hand as it passed by his lips. “But look how far you’ve come from there. Your story has inspired hundreds of thousands of people.” She smiled at him, so very proud of all his accomplishments.

As expected, Travis and Charlotte met Clint and instantly loved him. She had to admit that Clint’s love looked very good on her daughter. Suddenly, she realized she was the mother of two college graduates, and she felt old. The kids all set up in the living room for the night, and Danae offered for them to take her bedroom. As guilty as she felt, Travis had a game the evening before and had gotten a slight injury and was sore, so Charlotte didn’t argue it with her. What they hadn’t planned on, however, was Clint living at the house and sleeping with Darcey in her bed. Travis expected a fight from her when he told her that was going to end that night, but she yielded with no argument, as long as Clint was able to keep the bedroom.

Travis joined Charlotte in Danae’s bedroom, where she was dressing for bed. “They’ve been sleeping together, baby. She says it’s been innocent, but I know better.” He shook his head. “That poor man. He must be miserable.”

“Did you stop it? Did she keep her promise? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“She says they did. Did you know he has a ring, too?” He was still in shock.

“She mentioned it when she first started dating him.” Charlotte shook her head. “I don’t like that, honeybear. I’m glad you put a stop to it for tonight, but what’s done is done.”

“I like Clint, but I’m disappointed in Darcey. She should have known better.” Travis pulled his pajama pants on and tied his robe around his waist. “Remember when we stayed in my dorm? I took a cold shower every morning.”

Charlotte snickered. “It looks like you could use one now, honeybear.”

“Do we dare? In a house full of kids?” Travis winked at her.

“Why not? We can be quiet,” she purred.

Travis laughed. “That’s not our MO. Remember, our daughter’s boyfriend is in the next room. The girls might be used to it, but he won’t be, I can guarantee it.”

“Ooh, you’re right,” Charlotte pouted in mock frustration. “I guess we can wait until we get home.” Nevertheless, she kissed him passionately, just to tease him.

“Woman, you’re killing me. That cold shower is looking better all the time.” Travis smiled impishly.

They climbed into bed together snuggled up, because it was chilly in the room.

*****

Travis was in the bedroom, trying to get dressed in his PR uniform. Although he was excited about the commencement address, he had to admit, he was nervous. But, the girls had no idea, and he couldn’t wait to surprise them. “Charlotte!” he called, summoning her. “I can’t tie this thing. I swear I have it, and I try to make it neater, and then I don’t have it.”

She giggled. “Someday, my love,” she sang, effortlessly tying it, completing the look. “The girls are going to be so surprised.” Charlotte was bursting, trying to hide it.

“I can’t wait,” he said calmly. “It’s a day they’ll never forget.”

The twins were shocked to see their father take the stage for the commencement address, and were so very proud to be his daughters. He sat on the stage and watched with pride as they received their degrees. When the last graduate was called, the stage disappeared in a flurry of caps. As they had arranged beforehand, the family met outside before Charlotte, Travis, Chris, Greg, and Devin left for home.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Travis said, looking at his watch. “We’re cutting this close. Our flight leaves in 90 minutes.” He and Charlotte hugged the twins one last time, and everyone piled into the car, waving at the three of them as they drove away.


The twins and Clint had been home from school for a couple of days, and the house was gearing up for the holiday. Travis was just finishing a workout in the spa room when Clint approached him. “Sir, can I talk to you right quick?”

“Clint, you can call me Travis, or dad, whatever you’d like. But please don’t call me ‘sir.’ It’s much too formal.” He smiled at the young man. “What’s on your mind?”

“Travis, I think you know I love your daughter. I want to marry her. I have my mother’s ring to give her. It’s a family heirloom that she gave to me before I left Bridgeport, figuring I’d never go back.” He opened the ring box to show Travis. “I don’t want to ask her, though, if you don’t approve of our relationship… if you don’t approve of me. I guess,” he stared at the floor, suddenly nervous, “I’m asking for your permission to marry Darcey. I love her so much, I can’t imagine being without her.”

Travis wasn’t surprised to hear Clint’s question or his confession. Based upon the week he had been sleeping in the loft, and being with the family, Travis knew this was coming. He and Charlotte had spoken about it at length since the graduation trip, and they both agreed he would be welcomed into the family. “Clint, we would be honored and pleased to have you as a son-in-law. You have my blessing, and I speak for Charlotte as well. Welcome to the family, son!” Travis gave him a quick hug. “When are you planning on asking her? She is going to flip out.”

“Snowflake Day,” he answered. “I have been planning what I’m going to say since we met. I think I have it memorized by now.” He pushed his glasses up onto his nose and brushed a lock of hair from his face. “I was going to have the stone set into a different setting, but there’s just no money for that now. Someday, though, I’ll take care of it.”

“Well, I understand that,” Travis said. “When I bought Charlotte’s ring, I paid less for it than I did my textbooks at a pawn shop. Darcey is just like her mother. She will love and cherish that ring as it is, because you gave it to her. Trust me on this one.”

“Thank you, Travis. Your approval means the world to me. The last thing I wanted to do was break her heart, and walking away from her would have hurt both of us beyond comprehension.”

“You’re a good man, Clint. I couldn’t ask for a better match for her.” Travis glanced at his watch. “I’d love to stick around and chat, but I have practice for a game on Snowflake Eve.” Clint thanked him again and went upstairs to find Darcey.

Rather than shower before practice, Travis decided to just get dressed and head to the stadium as he was. He discovered his new car wasn’t cut out for running in the snow, so he took Charlotte’s little old orange car and kept his in the garage. Grabbing his duffel from the trunk of the car, he sprinted toward the home team locker entrance and walked inside.

“There’s the star of the show,” Aaron greeted Travis. “You’re just in time for the team meeting.” The coach referenced some notes on his clipboard and brought the meeting to order. “Okay gentlemen, I know we talked about this two weeks ago, but I heard some of you talking about things that don’t concern you, so I’m going to repeat this one last time. Wives, husbands, children, pets, any family member who does NOT play on this team is off-limits for discussion in this locker room. I understand that my predecessor encouraged this type of talk, but in MY locker room, this is forbidden, and it will be punished. Mr. Guzman has already sat out one game, and a rookie has received a verbal warning to this effect. The second offense is a five-game penalty, and third offense, you’ll be looking for a new contract with a different team. This comes from Mr. O’Reilly himself. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. Any questions gentlemen?” Aaron looked around at the pale white faces and smiled to himself. “Since no one has questions, I’m expecting full compliance with this.”

Travis stood and spoke. “Today is the last practice for the final game this calendar year. Even though we don’t have another game until next year, I need you to be here at every practice between tomorrow’s game and the next game. As always, we have the holiday off, but I expect you all to be back the day after, with your mind clear and on the game, unless you have a pre-approved vacation planned. We’re doing a great job so far this season, and we’re on target to make the playoffs. Let’s make the most of today’s practice, and win our game tomorrow.” Travis yielded the floor, and Aaron dismissed the guys for practice.

*****

Charlotte was awakened by the sensation of kisses on her skin, and she opened her eyes sleepily, gazing into the eyes of the man she loved. “Happy Snowflake Day, baby,” he whispered, brushing a lock of hair from her face. “Our children are home, it’s snowing, and you’re here in my arms. What more could a man ask for?” He kissed her tenderly.

“Mmm, good morning, honeybear,” she purred. “Happy Snowflake Day.”

“Devin has been up for a couple of hours already, sitting on the step on the staircase. He will always be excited for this holiday.” Charlotte smiled at Travis and stroked his cheek. “I think the boys are downstairs playing games together and bonding.”

“I’m going to hop into the shower while the boys are playing, and then I’ll make breakfast for everyone before Chris and Greg get here. Could you start the coffee pot for me, baby?” Charlotte took the tie from her ponytail and brushed her long, brown hair, trying not to notice the increasing number of grey hairs peeking through.

“I’ll do one better, my love. I’ll bring a cup to you.” Travis kissed her neck and watched her react to his touch.

“Not necessary, but I would love that.” She kissed his nose. “Let Devin know I’ll be downstairs shortly to start breakfast. I’m going to make pancakes.”

“You got it, honey.” Travis pulled his pajamas on, tied the robe around his waist, and walked to the steps as Charlotte ran the water for her shower.

Travis appeared in the stairwell, smiling at his son and his future son-in-law bonding over a console game on the large screen television. “Good morning gentlemen,” he beamed. “Happy Snowflake Day.”

“Dad, when is Mama getting up? I’ve been waiting since five.” Devin was getting anxious.

“She’ll be down in a few minutes to make breakfast. She’s in the shower, son.”

“Can I wake the girls?” he pleaded. “It’s time for them to get up, too!”

“Okay, but be gentle. They were up late last night giggling.” Travis smiled. He sure missed his girls.

Devin ran up the stairs and nearly knocked Charlotte over in the hallway. “Careful, honey,” she warned him.

“Darcey! Danae!” Devin shouted. “GET UP!” He burst into laughter and continued to make noise, exactly the opposite of what Travis told him. “Come on! It’s Snowflake Day!”

Travis laughed at Devin’s noisy outburst. He knew the boy had no intention of being quiet and waking his sisters peacefully. Since the girls had come home, Devin was much happier and much more outgoing, more like himself, and both Travis and Charlotte were thrilled to see the change in him. Darcey was the first to walk down the steps, eager to see Clint. Travis smiled as she walked to him and kissed him tenderly, sharing a sweet exchange. Devin slid down the railing and jumped off the banister at the newel post. “Danae is coming!”

Charlotte made breakfast for everyone and waited for Christopher and Greg to come before they tore into gifts, as it was Chris’ birthday. Travis already had the tree lit up, and it was so pretty with multi-colored lights, garland, and tinsel. Charlotte and Devin had decorated it for the second year in a row, as that had been the twins’ job before they left for college. Holiday music was on the stereo, and the girls had already started making dinner for the family together in the kitchen. The mood was festive, and the family was together. Charlotte was a happy mama.

Chris and Greg arrived shortly after breakfast after he picked Greg up from Cade’s house. Even though they were divorced, she was still entitled to see their son on the holidays. But Greg chose to spend the bulk of it with his dad, Aunt Charlotte, and her family, instead of his mother and stepfather. Clint brought Darcey another cup of coffee and sat down with a fresh cup for himself, his mother’s heirloom ring in his robe pocket, and excitement clearly on his face.

Travis could tell Devin was chomping at the bit to tear into the gift pile, so he gathered the family around the tree, and they started handing out gifts to each other. Clint seemed to feel out of place as he looked around uncomfortably. Charlotte felt terrible that he really only had one gift under the tree, and it was something she had to talk Darcey into buying for him. Only three of them knew Clint’s plans for the morning, and they all sat with great anticipation, waiting for him to surprise Darcey. But as everyone finished with gifts, and the mess was mostly cleared, Clint still sat, looking as though he was in awe of the whole holiday experience.

“I almost forgot,” Clint said out of the blue, pretending to find a square ‘lump’ in his robe pocket. “I have something special for you, my love.” He took Darcey’s hand and spoke the words he had rehearsed hundreds of times in his head. “Darcey, from the moment we met at that party, I have loved you. Love at first sight was never my thing, but when I met you, all of that went out the window. Kitten, the past two years with you have been nothing short of amazing, and I hope we can spend the rest of our lives together.” He reached into his pocket and brought out a black silk box. “Darcey, honey, will you marry me?” He opened the box, revealing the diamond engagement ring.

Darcey couldn’t speak, her eyes welled with tears. All she could do was nod, and she did so emphatically. “Yes! Oh my goodness, yes!” she finally squeaked out, threw her arms around him, and kissed him.

Clint smiled as he brushed a lock of hair from his face, adjusting his glasses and trying to look casual. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He took the ring from its box and slipped it onto her finger. From the corner of his eye, he saw Charlotte as she wiped the tears from her own eyes, and hugged Travis.

Danae looked as though she was caught off guard, but beamed at her twin. “See, Clint? I told you you’d make a great brother-in-law.” She hopped up and hugged them both, and then went to sit beside Devin. Travis stood and shook his hand, and Charlotte hugged both of them.

“Who would have thought my sweet little niece would be engaged before my son,” Chris said, taking a dig at Greg lightheartedly. “Darcey, I’m so proud of you, sweetie.” He shook Clint’s hand, and said, “If you hurt this little girl, we’re going to have a problem,” and then winked. “But I know you won’t.” He remembered when he looked at Cade that way, and for a brief moment, he felt sad.

“Thanks, Chris,” Clint replied. “This woman is my life. I will never hurt her.” He hugged Darcey close, and they kissed tenderly.

After the festivities of the day were well over, and the kids were in bed for the night, Travis and Charlotte were left sitting by the hearth, watching the flames dance as they burned the log he had placed on the fire. She poured the last two glasses of wine from the bottle and snuggled up next to him. “Today was perfect,” she finally said as she twirled the wine inside the glass. “The twins outdid themselves on dinner. Darcey is now engaged to be married, and we have another son.” She took a sip of the wine, and savored the semi-sweet drink.

“My goodness, Charlotte,” Travis said, as he gazed at her. “You are so beautiful.” He had never seen her so happy and content. “And you’re right. Today was perfect.” He traced the lines of her face with his fingertips and caressed her cheek. “I love you so much, baby. Happy Snowflake Day, honey.”

He was right. Charlotte had never felt so at peace, so content and happy than she did that day. “Travis, I love you too.” She smiled as she kissed him. “Happy Snowflake Day, baby.”


Charlotte put on a fresh, clean lab coat, attached her hospital credentials, and with her stethoscope around her neck, she welcomed Darcey to her first day as a resident. The younger doctor had already been made aware of policy, procedure and county law, and had studied diligently through her weekend. While they did the rounds in the ER that morning, Charlotte constantly questioned and tested Darcey’s instincts and skills, and each time she rose to the occasion, correctly identifying the proper course of action. It seemed like just yesterday that Charlotte stood in her shoes, with Rog teaching her, guiding her, molding her to be the skilled doctor she was, at the top of her career and flourishing. Sometimes she wished that Rog could see her now, filling the role he once did, mentoring her own daughter as he had with her.

At lunch, the two women sat together, discussing patients, college and work. “Are you finding everything okay, honey?” Charlotte asked her. “You know where the lockers and break rooms are, right?”

“Yes, Dee was very helpful last week. I still feel like there is much to learn about technical stuff, policies, laws. I know I absolutely cannot treat anything major without express consent.” Darcey remembered all too well the day Charlotte was taken from the house in handcuffs.

“Well, you’re a long way from your surgical residency yet, honey. You shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while. I’m surprised you remembered that, Darce. That was so long ago.”

“Are you kidding, Mama? I will never forget it as long as I live. I was petrified.”

“You’re not the only one, kiddo.” Charlotte smiled at her daughter, so proud of the young woman she had become. “Are you done with lunch? Patients wait for no one.”

“Yep, I’m ready.” Darcey took both of their trays and disposed of their trash, and joined her mother back on the floor.

When the day was done, both women carpooled back home together. Darcey was tired, having been on her feet for most of the nine-hour shift. Clint was not home from his first day of work at the police station. Though he had an interview with the game developer, he hadn’t heard back yet, so he took the other job, as it was a sure thing, the money was good and had decent benefits.

Darcey flopped down on the sofa in the living room by the fireplace and opened her medical journal. Immediately, she began studying from it, taking notes and quizzing herself on the material within. Charlotte had a journal to research as well, but dinner wouldn’t make itself. Travis was at practice at the stadium, and Devin and Danae were playing on the console together, each one talking smack about the other. “Nae, can you come help with dinner please?” Charlotte asked her. “Please set the table and keep an eye on this sauce so it doesn’t burn? I need to get changed.” Charlotte walked upstairs, leaving Danae to tend to the kitchen.

“Sure Mama,” she said, half of her attention on the game, and the other half on her life, and its lack of direction. Danae knew she needed to work, but four days past the holiday, and there was still no prospects on the horizon for work or a boyfriend. Though she was happy for Darcey, she was insanely jealous that everything was working out in her sister’s favor while she had to struggle with her life. It isn’t fair, she thought. I deserve to be happy, too.

Suddenly, Danae smelled something burning and looked at the stove. The sauce had been boiling and spattered all over the stove, making a huge, burned-on mess. She rolled her eyes, and walked toward the kitchen, holding her nose. Taking the spoon from its rest, she stirred the sauce, hitting a solid black layer of burned sauce on the bottom. “Aww man!” came the distressed cry from the kitchen, just in time for Charlotte to hit the bottom step.

“Nae, were you watching that sauce like I asked you?” Charlotte rolled her eyes. She already knew the answer. “You know, young lady, you have been home all day. Your bed is still not made, and you couldn’t get off your butt long enough to do me a quick favor. I want you in a job by the end of this week, or we will have to discuss other arrangements for you.”

Danae got angry. “Why do I even bother? Nothing I ever do is good enough for you!” She yelled at Charlotte. “You know what? Maybe I WILL move out! Maybe you love Darcey better anyway, and you wouldn’t miss me!” Danae stomped up the steps, pounded her way across the floor, and slammed the door.

“Give me patience with that one,” Charlotte said out loud, to no one in particular. She sighed deeply, throwing away the pasta sauce she had been cooking. It was nearly dinnertime, and Travis would be home soon. But thanks to Danae, she had nothing ready. “Darcey, honey, your daddy and I are going to go out for dinner. Will you and Clint be okay fending for yourselves?”

“Of course, Mama. I’ll make something for the four of us.”

“You’re such a good kid, Darce,” Charlotte said, setting the burnt pan in the sink to soak. “I know I need to talk to her, but I might kill her first.” She sat down in the dining room chair and slumped in defeat.

“Are you okay, Mama?” came Darcey’s concerned question.

“I will be, sweetie. I’m just frustrated with your sister.”

Travis came through the door thirty-five minutes later and smelled the remains of dinner hanging in the air. “Well, that doesn’t smell like your cooking, love. What happened?”

“Ask Nae,” came the simple, two-worded answer. “I’m done with her, Travis. I don’t know what I’ve done to her, but she is not liking me today.”

“I’ll go talk to her. I’m guessing you made reservations?”

“Yes, love.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Travis climbed the steps to the second floor and knocked softly on Danae’s bedroom door. “Nae?”

“Hold on, Daddy,” came the sniffly reply. He heard the lock open, and he turned the doorknob to see Danae walking back toward her bed, tears in her eyes.

“Danae, sweetie, what is wrong? I don’t like hearing that you’re fighting with your mama. What’s going on?”

“Mama says she will kick me out if I don’t have a job by the end of the week, Daddy.” She sniffled and blew her nose.

“Now, why did she say that, Nae? She doesn’t ask much of you.” He sat and patiently waited for her to explain herself. But all she did was look at him as her eyes welled with tears.

Danae started bawling as though her heart was simply broken into a million shards. “Why does Darcey get everything, and I have to fight for everything? Why? It’s not fair, Daddy!” He held her as she sobbed.

“What do you mean she gets everything? She studied hard for that job, and she deserves it.”

“But everything comes so easily for her. She has the perfect fiancé, the perfect job, the perfect life. And what do I have? A worthless degree, no job, no man…” her voice trailed off.

“Honey, you’re still so young to be this troubled. The job market will pick up, and as soon as people hear your voice, sweetheart, you’re going to be as big as your great-grandma.” Travis didn’t know much about stuff that wasn’t sports, but he did know Danae like the back of his hand. He had already sensed she was jealous of Darcey, though he wasn’t sure why.

“But I have to be working by the end of the week, or Mama says I’m out.” Danae cried all over again, clinging to Travis as she cried.

“Oh honey, I’m sure she didn’t say that. But I do know she was frustrated because you didn’t do something she asked you to do. How about I talk to her at dinner, and we can talk again later, okay?” He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her shoulders. “Just stop crying, and lay down for a while honey.” He got up from her bed to leave and turned around. “Are you okay, Punkin?”

“I will be, Daddy. I just … I want to find someone like Clint for my own.”

“I know, sweetie. Your time will come, I promise you.” Travis walked back to her and hugged her. “When you least expect it, you will find your prince.”

Danae smiled.

Travis made his way back down the stairs, deciding to wear his PR outfit to dinner. Charlotte had on a pair of old faded blue jeans and a tee-shirt, so he figured she wasn’t planning on The Tower that night, not that they could have gotten in anyway. His uniform would be perfect, without the forsaken tie.

He drove them to the restaurant off the strip and had the valet park his fancy car. They walked in together, and Travis seated her first, and then sat down beside her. She looked tired and worn, at her wits end. Danae had always been a handful, but he had never seen her this distraught.

“So, what happened tonight, baby?” He asked her, taking her hand. “Danae says you want to kick her out if she doesn’t have a job by Friday. I know you have a good reason for it.”

“I asked her to do one thing, and she couldn’t even do that for me. She was so wrapped up in that stupid video game to pay attention to what I had asked her. Then her bed was unmade, again. What does she do around the house all day that she can’t at least make her bed, Travis? Am I being so unreasonable by asking that?” Her frustration was apparent.

“No, I get it, baby,” Travis said, agreeing with her. “She should be doing stuff to help you, especially since she isn’t working right now. But she is incredibly jealous of Darcey, and I think that is where this stems from.”

“Because of Clint?”

“I think it’s the whole package. Danae feels like Darcey had everything she’s worked for just handed to her. The job, the man, the life. I tried to tell her how hard Darce worked for what she has, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.”

“But she has no right to be jealous, baby. Darcey worked so hard to get where she is.”

“I know that. You know that. But in her little Danae head, it’s killing her. She and Darcey have never been competitive, but one of them has never pulled ahead of the other, either. Darcey held back in school for Danae, and I know she doesn’t realize that. And poor Darcey, she had given up so much to stay with her in school. She could have been graduated from college four years ago had we given her the go-ahead to, and if she had wanted to. She is exceptionally bright, so much like her mama.”

“You flatter me, Mr. Jones,” she flirted.

“I’m serious, honey. Danae never had to experience what we knew would happen eventually. They are not equally yoked when it comes to smarts. Danae is more creative and spontaneous, while Darcey is analytical and regimented. But Danae has never been in a position where that difference is so blatantly obvious.” Travis kissed Charlotte’s fingers. “She doesn’t like it.”

“Okay, I’ll give her that. But why the attitude? Why is she taking it out on me?”

“She doesn’t feel like you understand. Darcey is a genius, like you, so you gravitate more towards her. You always have, honey. It’s not your fault any more than it’s my fault Danae is attached to me.” Travis gazed into her beautiful blue eyes. “I suspect that Danae has feelings for Clint. She hasn’t said so, but watching her, I get the feeling she does. She has to know how bad it will end for her if she tries to make a move on him.”

“Oh honey, that would not be good. Do you think she would?” Charlotte hadn’t noticed anything with Danae and Clint, but she would definitely pay more attention.

“I hope not if she still wants any kind of good relationship with her sister. Darcey will not walk away from him, even for Danae. And she shouldn’t.” Travis sighed. “I’ll talk to her when we get home.”

*****

Travis paced the floor nervously, trying to think of a delicate way to speak with Danae about her sister and Clint. There’s no easy way to do it, he thought. Taking a deep breath and exhaling loudly, he knocked gently on the twins’ door. “Nae?”

“Come in, Daddy,” she answered. She was still sniffling, and her sadness broke Travis’ heart.

“Sweetheart, we need to talk.” He still had no idea how to approach her with his question.

“What about?”

“Clint.” There was just no way around it.

“What about Clint, Daddy?”

“Honey, do you have feelings for him? I get the impression you would like more from him than you can have.”

“Well, I used to feel that way about him. And then I talked to Darcey about it. She was angry at first, but then she wasn’t. I don’t know, Daddy. Sometimes, I wish he had seen me first, instead of Darcey. Maybe… maybe I’d have the perfect life, and she would be jealous of me.” She choked back a sob. “I know that’s awful for me to think that about my own sister.” Danae looked at Travis, desperate for him to understand. “I guess I never really got over my crush on him after all.”

“Nae, you know you can’t have him. First, he wouldn’t leave your sister for you, and second, if you want to stay close with Darcey, you can’t approach him inappropriately. I know you love Darcey more than that.”

“I do, which is why I can’t deal with him being here. I want more than he can give me.” Danae looked extraordinarily sad. “I’m a terrible person.”

Travis hugged his daughter. “You’re not a terrible person, Danae. You’re just lonely. I understand, Punkin.” He looked her in the eye. “I mean it, Nae. You will find your prince when you least expect it. Maybe he will be someone in your career. Maybe an old classmate? Just remember to keep yourself for your husband, whenever he comes.”

“Thanks, Daddy. I guess I owe Mama an apology, huh?” Danae wiped tears from her eyes. “I’ll upload my resume to the city job board tonight. Maybe I’ll have something soon.”

“That’s the spirit,” he encouraged her. “You’re going to be okay, Nae. I promise you.”

Charlotte was cleaning up the dishes from dinner that never got made, when Danae came down, looking remorseful. “Mama, I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier. You were right. I’ve been so distracted, and so sad. But I’m going to have a job by the end of the week, whether it’s in my field of study or not.”

Charlotte walked to her daughter and embraced her. “Sweetie, it’s okay. Things will look up soon. You’re too talented for someone not to notice. And when you finally find your niche, you’ll blossom.”

“Thanks, Mama. I love you and Daddy. Please give me a little longer before I have to move out. I have nowhere to go.”

“You don’t have to worry about leaving, Danae. But please, if I ask you for a favor, help me out a bit?”

“Of course I will. I’m so sorry I ruined dinner. Darcey is a good cook, but nothing like you.”

Charlotte smiled at her younger daughter. “You’re a good kid, Danae. You have a kind, generous heart, and you think of others before yourself. Never change, okay?”

“I’ll try not to.” Danae hugged Charlotte, and turned to go. “I’m tired.”

“Sweet dreams, Nae,” Charlotte said to her, as she climbed the stairs to her room.

Travis was relaxing in bed, watching the late-night news when Charlotte finally came up the stairs. “There you are,” he said, smiling. “I was wondering if you had fallen asleep downstairs.”

“No, I was just talking with Danae. She apologized to me, but she never really went into what’s bothering her. I wish that girl would open up to me.”

“Well, I got her to admit that she has feelings for Clint. She’s not dealing with it well, either, but I reminded her how much Darcey means to her, too. I hope she doesn’t throw that away for something that will never materialize.” Travis untied the belt on his robe and sat up, taking his robe off and throwing it on the chair.”

“I hope not, honeybear.” Charlotte brushed her hair and put it back in a messy bun. “I’m worried about her.”

“I think she’ll be okay, baby. Once she lands a job or signs with the talent agency, things will look up for her.” Travis cuddled next to Charlotte, and nuzzled her neck.

“You’re insatiable,” she giggled.

“Well, you made me this way,” he flirted.

She smiled and wrapped herself around him, and let him love her.

Up Next: Chapter Twenty One, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Nineteen – The Good, The Bad, and The Miracle

Charlotte hung up the phone, looking troubled. Travis walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “That was news I never expected,” she said. Darcey surprised her with news of a new boyfriend, and she wasn’t sure she approved.

“I didn’t send that girl to Sim State to go on dates,” Travis agreed. “She’s too young to get serious about a guy who is four years older than her.” He shook his head. “He’s twenty-two years old, and she is just eighteen. What is she thinking? She said she thinks he’s ‘the one.’ How could she possibly know that after two days and one date, baby?”

“I don’t know. I think she’s just testing the waters. Maybe she’s rebelling a little bit. Do you think she’ll be careful?” Charlotte shrugged her shoulders, hoping there wouldn’t be a grandchild in nine months.

“She’d better be careful. I liked your idea, though, of making them tell Devin about babies. Brilliant piece of parenting genius!” He laughed, swaying with her, still wrapped around her. Travis thought for a moment and laughed harder. “Danae, in an odd twist of fate, is now the ‘good daughter.’ Imagine that.”

“Woo boy.” Charlotte pondered that a moment. “At least Nae asked questions when she wanted to know stuff. I have no clue what Darcey really thinks.”

“Well, whatever we didn’t get right with the twins, we can fix with Devin,” he teased. “He’s been a lot easier.”

“Mama told me Christopher was easier than me. Now I understand. My poor grandfather had three girls. He probably ate antacids like candy for 30 years straight.”

Travis laughed harder than he should have, picturing it. “Yeah, I guess your mama was a handful.”

Charlotte laughed. “You have no idea.”

Devin came in from the cold, shivering. He had been raking leaves, as Travis had asked him, so they didn’t blow into the pool. “It’s cold out there,” he said plainly.

“You just missed the girls, sweetie,” Charlotte said. “They miss you.”

‘It’s okay. I’ll catch them next weekend,” he replied. “I’m going to sit by the fire.” Devin rubbed his hands together and blew into them, trying to get some warmth back.

“Honeybear, don’t you have a game today?” Charlotte asked, suddenly aware of the time.

“Oh goodness, yes! I have to run!” he answered hurriedly. “I’ll see you afterward. I love you!” Travis ran for his car and sped off to work, late for practice.

“Thank you for raking, Dev,” Charlotte patted him on the shoulder. “You did a great job out there.”

“It beats laundry,” he quipped. Devin never had much to say, and when he did, it was short, sweet and to the point.

Charlotte giggled. “Dinner will be ready when your dad gets home. Is your homework done?”

“Yep.”

She never knew what else to say to him. His personality changed drastically when the girls left home. He seemed more sullen and introverted. “Why don’t you call Greg and see if he wants to play an online game with you?”

“He doesn’t want to play games with me. I’m almost 8 years younger than him, Mama.”

“You two got along so well when he and Uncle Chris stayed here,” she countered.

Devin grunted and rolled his eyes, as he picked up the controller for the console game.

“I’ve got nothing then.” Charlotte grabbed the book Bella wrote about Rog and started it over.

*****

“Are the girls coming home for Snowflake Day this year, Dad?” Devin asked, as he patiently tied Travis’ tie. He was meeting Armand for contract negotiations, and though he was fairly certain he would be renewed, nothing was guaranteed any more. The Llamas had their worst season since Travis was signed years ago, and he was having fewer and fewer good games.

“I don’t think so, son.” Devin finished the tie and rolled his eyes. “There isn’t enough time to make the trip worth it.” Besides, Travis and Charlotte didn’t want to deal with an uncomfortable situation should Darcey want to bring Clint home with her. He still wasn’t that thrilled with the idea of her dating.

“That sucks,” Devin stated.

Travis laughed. “Thanks for the tie, Dev. By the time I learn this, I’ll be retired.” The statement stopped him in his tracks. It seemed with his poor performance these days, that might be coming sooner than he’d like. “I’ll see you after work, kiddo. Homework first, then you can play on the console until your Mama gets home from work.”

He got into his car, which was starting to show its age, and drove himself to Armand’s downtown office. The valet took his keys and gave Travis a claim check, and he walked through the front doors of the tallest building in the city center. It was an office he had been to numerous times. “Penthouse,” he told the elevator operator.

“Yes, Mr. Jones,” came the polite reply.

Travis stepped off the elevator, and Armand’s receptionist greeted him immediately. Pressing her intercom button on the phone, she happily said, “Mr. Jones is here, Mr. Halsey.”

“Please send him in, Mona.”

“He’s ready for you, Travis.”

Travis walked slowly to the office, inexplicably nervous. Gently, he knocked on the door, to Armand’s friendly, “Come on in, son!” A smile crossed his face as he approached the desk, and he stood to greet him. “As always Travis, a real pleasure!” Armand extended a hand for him to shake, which he did.

“It’s good to see you,” Travis replied. “How is your family?”

“They’re good, thank you.” Armand had some paperwork on his desk, which Travis assumed was a contract for the coming year or two. “Please, have a seat.” As he sat, a feeling of discomfort washed over him. Armand shuffled the paperwork, and set it aside, cleaning his desk off. “Do you know why you are here, Travis?”

A bead of perspiration formed suddenly on Travis’ forehead. “I thought so, until you just asked me. Instead of playing guessing games, why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind, Armand?”

“Well, we were supposed to be negotiating a new contract for you to stay with the Llamas for another five years. And believe me, Travis, that is exactly what I want as the owner of the team.” Armand paused and looked hard at his star player. “But, that is not going to be what takes place here today, I’m afraid. I wanted you to know before word of this gets out, that I am announcing my retirement, Travis. I am selling the team.”

Travis nodded his head. “You know, I’m extremely sorry to hear this, Armand. But I understand, none of us are getting younger —”

“Travis, you are the first and only person to know this outside my family,” Armand interrupted him. “I am dying. This is not a sale because I want to. I don’t have much time, and I want to spend what I have left with my family.”

The shock of the awful news hit Travis hard. “I… I don’t know what to say,” he finally said. “I’m so sorry.”

“I am going to try to negotiate the terms of the sale so that you are guaranteed at least another five years, but I need to offload this quickly.” Armand sighed deeply. “The odds are not on your side, my friend.”

Travis nodded his head. “I understand.” He tried to swallow a lump of emotion that rose in his throat. “Hey, I always knew this job had pitfalls. I’m lucky I’ve avoided this as long as I have, right?”

“Thanks for being in good spirits about this,” Armand said sadly. “Believe me, if it was up to me, I’d keep you until you needed a walker on the field. And with your kids in school, I know this comes at a bad time.”

“It’s not your fault, buddy.” The reality of Armand’s words still had not sunk in. “Thanks for keeping me up to date on this. And check in from time to time. I care about you.”

“Thanks, Travis. I will have my wife call you…” Armand couldn’t speak the words. He had only months to live. “It was good to see you.” He walked Travis to the door of his office and hugged him. “Take good care of your Charlotte. Goodbye, son.”

Travis left the building and handed the valet his ticket, choking back emotions, praying desperately for his car to arrive quickly. Paparazzi were gathering around the building entrance as news of the pending sale broke. Immediately, three of them went to Travis to get his opinion, but he had no official comment. The valet pulled up in his car, and he got in and made his way home.

Charlotte was there when Travis pulled into the driveway. She was concerned that he was home so soon, when he wasn’t due for another two or so hours. Outside the gate, more Paparazzi gathered, and soon at least two dozen of them were outside the Jones home, waiting for Travis to give an official statement on the sale of the team, and the quick spreading rumors that his contract would not transfer to the new owner.

“What is going on out there?” she asked innocently, noticing the growing crowd.

“You’re not going to believe this, Charlotte,” Travis said, unable to hold his emotions in check. The devastation on his face scared her.

“What happened, honeybear?”

“Armand is selling the team. He is dying… not much time… I don’t know what is next.” Travis buried his face in his hands.

“Oh honey,” she cried, “Oh no.” She sat with him at the dining room table and hugged him. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. I know what Armand means to you.”

“That’s not all of it, baby. Chances are, my contract will not transfer to the new owner.” His shoulders heaved in sorrow. “I might be done.”

“Oh Travis,” she cried harder. “No, no no no!” The career he loved, his livelihood, it couldn’t be gone. Not yet. It would be difficult to move now. Devin had just started high school, and she didn’t want to move while the girls were away from home. The timing was all wrong. “What if you don’t get offered a contract with the new owner? What next?”

He sniffled, trying to collect himself. “Well, I could possibly pick up a contract for another team, but unless it’s with the Twinbrook Tigers, we will either have to move, or I’ll have to commute and demand two days off every few weeks, so I can come home once in a while.” He sighed. “This is the worst-case scenario that could have happened today. Absolute worst. I’m not only in danger of losing a career I love, and I’m not ready to retire from, I’m losing a friend, too.” He removed his vest and hung it on the back of the dining room chair. “I’m not hungry tonight, honey. I’m sorry.” He walked up the stairs, feeling defeated and terribly depressed.


A week passed, and there was no news on the pending sale of the Starlight Shores Llamas, other than the rumor circulating that Travis would likely be a free agent. And with his string of recent losses, the possibility of being scooped up by another team seemed less likely. Headlines across the cities gleefully predicted the end of his career. The house phone rang off the hook, as newspapers and news outlets demanded an interview.

The phone rang for the umpteenth time that afternoon, and Travis’ patience was growing thin. Charlotte was at work, and Devin was in school, so he was alone to field the barrage of incoming calls. “What?” he answered the ringing phone, annoyed.

“Is that any way to greet your old friend?” a long-familiar voice greeted him. A voice of an age gone well past. A voice seemingly from beyond the grave.

“Who is this?” Travis demanded.

“Travis!” The voice sounded surprised, “It’s Emmitt!”

“No, Talia told me Emmitt was dead.”

“Well, she was wrong. How the hell have you been man? Dang, I’ve missed you!”

“Whoever this is, please don’t play with my emotions like this. I can’t take it.” Travis felt more emotions welling up within him. Talia had told him herself. Emmitt died 5 years ago in Dragon Valley.

“Travis, I swear, this is Emmitt. Here, I’ll prove it. Ask me something only I would know.”

Travis thought for a moment. “What color shirt was Amy wearing the day she told you she was pregnant?”

“Oh come on! That’s too easy! She was wearing that cute little blue gingham shirt, and she tied it so it showed her belly. She was also wearing a pair of cut off shorts, and her mother’s boots, her blonde hair was in pigtails.”

Travis smiled, but he couldn’t believe it. “It really is you! You old dog! Where are you?”

“I’m actually in town on business. I have been following your career, but I figured you were just too busy to call me.”

“I’ve wanted to call you for years now, and when Talia said you had died, I was bitterly sorry I had never done it.” Travis still felt like he was talking to a ghost.

“When did you see Talia? She hasn’t lived in Dragon Valley in 10 years, since your mother passed away, that old crone.”

“I didn’t even know mother was dead.” Travis smiled, in spite of himself. “My beautiful wife and I saw Talia in Isla Paradiso a couple of years ago. We brought the kids for a weekend. She ruined my whole trip, too.” He shouldn’t have been surprised to know that Talia was still up to her old, crazy tricks. She had never been much for the truth, only inflicting the most pain with the fewest number of words, just like their mother.

“Well listen, I haven’t got much time in town, but I want… No, I need to see you before I head back.”

“Emmitt.” Travis was going to ask him the most selfish favor ever. “Please, buddy. Don’t go back to Dragon Valley. Stay here.”

“You know I can’t do that, Travis. I run my old man’s shop. My own boy is going to take it over someday.”

“Move your family here. There is so much opportunity in the city. You and your family can make a good life here.”

“It’s just me and my boy. My wife died about 7 years ago. Things haven’t been the same without her.”

“All the more reason to pack up and come here, man. Come on, Emmitt. Now that I know you’re alive, I need my best friend.” Travis meant it.

“We’ll discuss it when I meet you. Bring your wife. I can’t wait to meet her. You better watch out, though. I’m still sexier than you.” Emmitt laughed. “She’s going to fall in love with me. I’m still trying to figure out why Amy went with you. Stud boy.”

Travis belly laughed. “Charlotte is off work around 4 today. How’s that?”

“That works great. Where’s a good place to get a drink here?” Emmitt looked at his watch. It was 2pm.

“Well, there’s the Los Sueños Private Club. I think I could get you in there. How about we meet there, say four-thirty?” Travis suggested.

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll see you two there.”

Jubilant, Travis texted a message to Charlotte.

I just got the most amazing news. Meet me at Los Sueños Club at four-thirty. I love you!

Figuring his time at the stadium was limited anyway, he called in sick to work. “Neil, I’m not coming in today.”

“Why the hell not? We have a practice, and you’re still part of this team, like it or not.”

“Because I’m meeting an old friend. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Before Neil had a chance to protest, Travis ended the phone call and placed the phone into his pocket. Not two minutes later, it chimed Charlotte’s text tone.

Oh? I can’t wait to hear it! I’ll meet you. I love you more.

Devin walked into the house shortly after Travis hung up the phone with Emmitt. “Hey Dev,” he greeted his son. “Your mama and I are going to go meet someone in about 2 hours. Will you be okay alone for a little while?”

“Of course, Dad. I’m not a baby anymore.” He seemed a little annoyed at the suggestion.

“You’re right, Devin. You’re a mature young man. We should be home for dinner, but if we’re not I will call you. You’re to do your homework, don’t let anyone in that gate, and if we’re not home by eight o’clock, then lock everything. Understand?”

“Yes Dad,” he replied, rolling his eyes. He sat at the table, opened his backpack and started his homework.

The clock moved excruciatingly slowly as Travis waited for four o’clock to come, but when it did, he reminded Devin of his instructions and left the house in his sports car. Pulling his car into the back lot of the club, he waited outside for Charlotte and Emmitt to arrive. Casually, he checked the license plates of the cars nearby, but saw only local ones. Charlotte arrived less than five minutes later, and they walked into the club together.

Seated at a table near the stage was a dark-haired, darker-skinned, short and stocky man, wearing a full beard and mustache. Travis recognized him immediately. In this town of light-skinned people, Emmitt stuck out like a sore thumb, just like he did.

“It really IS you!” Travis bellowed, catching Emmitt’s attention. “Emmitt, you old dog!” He looked at Charlotte, grinning.

“Emmitt?” she repeated, confused. “But honeybear —”

“Talia lied, for whatever reason, baby. This is my best friend, Emmitt.” Travis wrapped his friend in a hug. “Emmitt, this is my beautiful bride, Charlotte. Now, shake her hand, but keep your mitts off her!” he teased.

“Enchanté!” Emmitt bowed before Charlotte as though she was a queen, took her hand and kissed it. “Travis said you were beautiful, but I know his taste, so I almost didn’t believe him.” She blushed a deep red.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Charlotte said quietly. Together, the three of them sat a table.

“I can’t even tell you how much I’ve missed you, Emmitt,” Travis said, looking at his friend, still not truly able to believe he was really there, and very much alive. “Tell me, what brings you here?”

“Well, I wasn’t exactly truthful with you when I said I still have my dad’s old shop, Travis. I am here on business, though. I thought you might be particularly interested in the reason for my visit to the Shores.”

“Okay, I can forgive the slight deception,” Travis joked, then paused. “Wait, what do you mean, I might be particularly interested?”

“Travis, I work for one of the richest families in Dragon Valley. You probably remember the O’Reilly family?”

“Very well, yes.” The patriarch of the family worked with Travis’ father, Randy, at the science facility, in pharmaceutical research. It was well known the O’Reilly family owned most of the facility and the pharma company in Sunset Valley. The O’Reillys resided in Dragon Valley, but invested in Sunset Valley, because the taxes were much lower in the southwestern part of the county.

“They heard about the Shores Llamas being placed for sale, and they showed an interest in buying the team. Their son, Lionel, is running the whole gig now and has followed your career. He remembers you, though he was about two years younger than us, so you might not recall him.” Travis shook his head and shrugged. “Anyway, when they heard the soccer team was for sale, they arranged for me to negotiate with Mr. Armand Halsey, not only for the sale of the team but for your five year, 30% higher contract with it. They are very motivated to make sure this sale is finalized within the next three weeks. You have no idea how brightly your star shines in Dragon Valley, Travis. They’ve renamed Mithrilen Manor to Jones Street. The signs leading into the village state that Dragon Valley is your hometown.”

Travis sat across from his buddy, his mouth agape. “I truly don’t know what to say.” He knew Armand would agree to the sale with the provision for his new contract in it. “A week ago, I was devastated, and now… now I have all this hope.” Charlotte took his hand and squeezed it.

“Yeah, you’re a huge deal back home. It’s quite sickening, really.” Emmitt couldn’t resist a dig, as he chuckled. “Hey, how about I buy the first round? You get the next one.”

Travis looked at Charlotte, and she nodded her approval. “I’ll just have nectar, thank you,” she said politely.

“Make that two,” Travis added. The only alcohol he consumed anymore was an occasional glass of wine at home, with Charlotte.

“You guys are making me look like the town lush!” Emmitt laughed. He called the waitress and placed the drink order with her. “So Charlotte, tell me about your beautiful self. You’ve caught yourself an awesome guy.” He looked at Travis with respect, and yes, maybe even love. He wasn’t ashamed to admit it, either.

“Well, my family is from here, I was born and raised in Starlight Shores. My grandmother came from Appaloosa Plains, so I guess we really come from there. We have three children, identical twin eighteen-year-old daughters and a 13-year-old son, who is ahead of his classmates and on target to graduate early from high school. But, he wants to be a soccer player, like his Daddy.” She beamed with pride talking about her family.

“What made you fall in love with this one?” Emmitt was back to teasing, pointing toward Travis. “He was a hot mess when I sent him to Sim State.”

“Everything, Emmitt. We were best friends first. I didn’t actually realize I loved him until I graduated and left him on campus. My brother and I cleared the curriculum in two years. When I came back here, I realized I was smitten with him.”

“Enough about us, Emmitt. How did you land such a prestigious position with the O’Reilly family?” Travis asked his old friend.

“It’s my gift of gab, Travis. I did some transmission work on Lionel’s car one day, and we got to talking. He realized I’d be a great salesman, so they took me on, trained me. I’ve worked my way up. Even though we still live in Dragon Valley, I work in Sunset Valley, so I commute two hours to work each way every day. We’ve been trying to get a private investor to build a municipal airport to make commuting easier. I’m surprised the O’Reillys don’t do it.”

“It’s amazing, how you got that job. Amazing that you are the one negotiating for my job.” Travis was thunderstruck by it all. “I don’t anticipate that Armand will give you much trouble, especially since they’re planning a contract provision for me. He was heartbroken when he told me he had to sell the team.”

“We are hoping to snag and keep Trey Smith as well. Lionel likes how well you work together on the field. But that insufferable coach, Neil Whats-His-Face, he has to go.” Emmitt made a sour expression. Neil was a toad during pressers, but worse on the sidelines, and Lionel O’Reilly noticed. “We’re waiting on word from Mr. Halsey, and when I have confirmation, I’m signing the paperwork.”

“This is astounding,” Charlotte remarked. “Emmitt, we never expected this kind of news. Travis had resigned himself to being away from home for weeks at a time. I would have been lost without him.”

“Don’t you worry, beautiful Charlotte,” Emmitt smiled at her. He looked at his friend as he admired his wife, and smiled. “You’ve done so much better away from the Valley, Travis. Her love looks awesome on you, better than it ever did with Amy…” He suddenly cringed. “I’m sorry, Charlotte. I wasn’t thinking.”

“You’re fine, Emmitt. I’m okay with Amy. It’s taken me a long time to get there, but I think we could have been friends in different circumstances, as long as we weren’t fighting over my man.” Charlotte smiled sweetly at Travis. “I’ll tell you, this man is my life. I don’t remember how to be without him, and I certainly never want to relearn it.”

“And this woman, she has the sweetest, most generous heart, a kind, gentle soul. I’d die for her,” Travis added, looking at Charlotte starry-eyed.

“Okay, you guys are just too cute.” Emmitt laughed and ordered another round.

“So how long are you in town?” Charlotte asked.

“Until we hear from Mr. Halsey on the sale. Either I sign the papers and head home, or I head back with no deal, which I really don’t want to do. My boss will not be happy with me if I come home empty-handed.” Emmitt sipped his drink, twirling the ice with his finger. “I’m expecting he will sign, and I’ll be on my way home tomorrow morning.”

“I hate to ask this, but I need to know,” Travis said, though he wasn’t sure why. “Is that old barn still standing on the east side?”

“Nah, it collapsed years ago. It still sits in ruins, still abandoned. In fact, that is where the airport will be built if it’s approved by the village government.” Emmitt understood why Travis asked about it. It was the site of his and Amy’s love nest. The old barn was his last link to her, and now that it was gone, so was every trace of her from his life. Travis nodded, and Emmitt thought he saw a flicker of sadness in his eyes.

Emmitt’s phone rang, and he noticed the caller ID. “I’m sorry, I have to take this,” he said, excusing himself.

“I’m sorry I asked about the barn, sweetheart,” Travis said to Charlotte. “I don’t know why I even care.”

“It’s okay, and I understand.” She took his hand, and he kissed hers.

Emmitt returned to the table a few minutes later, his smile bright. “It’s a go, Travis. I’m headed to Armand Halsey’s office to sign the paperwork.” He picked up his briefcase and tucked his phone into it.

“Do you need a ride? I’d be happy to take you.” Travis offered.

“Oh, no thanks, buddy. I have a limo to carry me around town.” He hugged Charlotte, and then turned to Travis. “We’ll be talking a lot more, now that I’ll be actively managing the team. Welcome aboard!” He hugged Travis. “I’ll be in touch with your contract within the week.”

“Thanks, Emmitt. Best of luck, and safe travels back home.” Charlotte waved as he left the club.

Travis pulled Charlotte to him, and hugged her, smiling ear to ear. Whispering, he said, “I’ll see you at home, and I promise you, tonight will be a night you will never forget.” He caressed her cheek, and she bit her lip, smiling.


“Charlotte, could you please tie this for me, baby?” Travis came from the bathroom, trying, as usual, and in vain, to tie his complicated dress tie. “I think I almost have it, but not quite.”

She laughed and walked to him. “You have it right, honey. Just make it neater.” She fussed with the tie he wore around his neck. “See? Like this.”

“Well, I’ll be. I did it.” He smiled, pleased with himself.

“It only took you twenty years, honey,” Charlotte laughed. She swatted him on the butt, and he turned around, an impish smile on his face.

“You’re playing a dangerous game, little missy,” he teased playfully. “You still make a man want to skip work.”

“But you have to go,” she pouted, pretending to be sad. In actuality, it was a good day. Today, a press conference would be held with Emmitt, Travis, Trey Smith and Aaron Hall, the new coach of the Shores Llamas, announcing the finalized sale of the team and the new team roster, and Travis was looking forward to it. Since Emmitt’s visit, he had a renewed joy, a renewed zeal for life and his craft. Charlotte loved to see him so happy, so merry. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him. “I can’t wait for you to come home.”

“Woman, you are killing me,” he purred at her. “I have to get going. Are you going to watch?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she smiled. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

Travis walked down the stairs, a spring in his step. Devin, who was sitting at the counter doing his homework, noticed. “What’s gotten into you, Dad?”

“I finally tied my tie, son. It’s a good day.” Travis smiled, walked to him, and hugged his shoulders. “You’re a good kid, Devin, and I love you.”

He looked at his father, confused. “What’s going on? Are you dying?”

Travis laughed. “No, son. I’m just happy.” He grabbed the keys to his brand new sports car and walked for the door. “I’ll see you later!” he called.

Charlotte skipped down the steps, heading for the television. “Do you want to watch Daddy on television with me, Devin? Today is a good day for him. I know he’d appreciate it if you watched.”

“Yeah, I’m just gonna finish this, and I’ll be there.”

*****

“Travis! My man!” Emmitt yelled to him from across the field. Travis jogged to his best friend and gave him a hug. “I see you’re all set for the presser. Are you enjoying your new car?”

“Oh, man, Emmitt. That car is sweet, but it wasn’t necessary.” The car had been a part of his generous benefits package and replaced the car that Armand had given him some ten years earlier. “Smitty is on his way out of the locker room.”

“Good deal, bud. Have you met the new coach?” Neil had been fired with great ceremony, with Travis standing by, enjoying Neil’s comeuppance just a little too much. The new coach, a competent young man from Sunlit Tides, was hired to take the head coach position after Neil’s termination. Aaron Hall showed a lot of promise, and Emmitt was pleased with his choice.

“I have,” Travis answered. Noticing the throng of fans, he excused himself, walking to shake hands and sign autographs while the press set up their cameras and mics. Trey joined Travis, and together they signed autographs and posed for pictures with their fans.

About ten minutes passed, and Emmitt addressed the crowd that was present for the media event, effectively calling Travis and Trey to the assembled stage. The teammates walked to the event and took their seats among the others. The cameras were live, and the press conference was underway.

“My name is Emmitt Murphy, and I am representing the O’Reilly family from Dragon Valley, the new owners of the Starlight Shores Llamas. We are pleased to introduce the new coach, who will replace coach Neil Oberly. Aaron Hall comes to us from Sunlit Tides, the former coach of the Tides Lady Starfish, and brings with him an impressive 90% win ratio. We are also announcing the promotion of Travis Jones to team captain, and Trey Smith to assistant captain. Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith will return to the Llamas with a renewed five-year contract, so their fans can rest easy.”

“And now, without further ado, I would like to introduce the new owner of the Starlight Shores Llamas, Mr. Lionel O’Reilly. Lionel is the owner of Sunset Valley Pharmaceuticals, a name that most of you know. SVP the largest pharmaceutical company in all of Simville, and employs thousands of people nationwide.”

Lionel stepped up to the microphone, which was located offstage. The cameras panned to him as he spoke. “Thank you, Emmitt, for that kind introduction. I was excited to learn that the Llamas team was for sale about a month ago, and Emmitt here became my emissary to negotiate and seal the deal with the former owner, Mr. Armand Halsey when he announced his retirement. We were pleased to officially close the deal last night during a business dinner with Mr. Halsey’s oldest son. One of the provisions that Mr. Halsey and I wanted was the retention of the two star players on the team, two names everyone in Simville knows well, Mr. Travis Jones, and Mr. Trey Smith. Travis hails from Dragon Valley, my hometown, and naturally, I followed his career closely. Trey is from Barnacle Bay, and has been with the Llamas for about 8 years, is a hard worker, and works well with Travis both on and off the field.”

“Our other big announcement was the acquisition of Mr. Aaron Hall, from Sunlit Tides, as head coach. We are confident his skill set will greatly enhance the Llamas’ current bunch of talented players. His record is impressive, and we look forward to great things, and national championships under him. Emmitt Murphy will be my spokesman when it comes to the team, so look for that face in all future press conferences and team functions. I look forward to a prosperous and victorious relationship with the Starlight Shores Llamas. Emmitt, back to you, and thank you.” Lionel stepped down from the podium, and walked away, escorted by security.

Emmitt continued on, announcing the roster for the upcoming season, and ended the meeting shortly afterward. The press had questions, but most of them concerned the rumored health problems plaguing Armand, and he had no comments. That was not his place to confirm or deny anything, and he ended the Q&A quickly. Travis rose, and shook hands with the new coach, Emmitt, and Trey, and stepped off the stage, heading back to the crowd of fans chanting his name. Trey joined him, and they both signed autographs until every one of their fans had what they came for.

“I guess you figured out, Travis, that I’m relocating here to the Shores,” Emmitt told him after the presser. “I’m technically your boss.” He smiled at the irony.

“Well, isn’t that just a riot,” Travis teased, nudging him. “Welcome home, buddy.”

Travis left the stadium feeling good, energized by the press conference, hopeful that the new coach was everything he claimed to be. He climbed into his new car and drove home, truly happy, to Charlotte’s waiting, loving arms.

Up Next: Generation Four, Chapter Twenty

G4 Chapter Seventeen – The Nightmare Ends

“Charlotte?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked. “It’s Christopher.”

“Chris!” she squealed, maybe a little too loudly. “What’s going on, little bro?”

“I need to talk to you,” he said solemnly. “I need some advice. Can we meet somewhere?”

“Sure, honey. Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.

“No, not really,” he said, sadness in his voice. “Where do you want to meet?”

“How about the coffeehouse on the strip by the park?” she suggested.

“Sounds good. I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.” Chris hung up the phone.

“Travis, I need to go meet Christopher. He said he needs my advice.” She grabbed her car keys and headed for the door.

“Do you need me to come along?” he offered.

“Not this time, sweetie,” she said. “I don’t know what he’s needing to talk about. But thank you!” She blew a kiss to him, and closed the door behind her.

Anxiously, she drove to the Flying V, and waited for Chris outside by the stage, sipping on a vanilla latte. When he finally arrived, she noticed how old he seemed, and he was younger than she was. She stood to hug him, and noticed he was close to tears. “What’s wrong, Chris?” she asked, very troubled.

“Charli, it’s Cade. We’ve grown apart. We never see each other anymore. She’s always at work. We fight constantly when she is home. I think she has someone on the side.” His heart shattered to pieces right there at the table. “She is my whole world. I can’t stand the thought of her, with someone else.”

“Honey, are you sure? Maybe she really is at work?” Charlotte really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it had been a long time since she had seen Cade herself.

“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I can’t remember the last time we …” he couldn’t say it. “What else would make her not want me, Charli?”

She hugged him. “Christopher, I don’t know honey. Do you want to come and stay with Travis and me for a while? You and Greg can stay in the loft.”

“I don’t know what I want, Charlotte. It’s been a lot longer than just recently. After Nicky’s death, she got weird. We were okay for a while, and then when Mama and Dad died, she got weird again.” He looked so incredibly sad, that her heart ached for him. “Greg has even noticed it and asks me where she is all the time. I don’t know what to tell him anymore. It’s almost like she’s been absent his whole childhood.”

“I know Darcey would love to have Greg come and stay with us, and you too. I’ll check with Travis and see what he says, but I don’t see a problem with you staying with us while you two get things worked out, or you figure it out.” She took out her phone and texted Travis.

Honey, Christopher is having problems with Cade and needs a place to crash with Greg for a few days. Do you mind if he stays in the loft for about a week or so, until they get things figured out?

“I mean, I could track her phone, but I don’t want her to think I don’t trust her.” Chris wiped tears from his eyes.

“Well, do you trust her?” Charlotte asked.

“Not really.” He looked at his cell, and opened his family plan app. “This app shows me everywhere she’s been in the past week. I’m afraid to look.”

She took the phone from his hand and gazed at the app. “Then I’ll look.” She studied the map, noted where her salon was located, and their home. “Was she home on Friday night?”

“No, she said she was working.”

“The app showed her at the Brotherhood of Fine Fellows Hall until 1am. Is it possible someone had her phone?”

“I suppose it’s possible she lost it, but she wasn’t home, either.”

“Oh wait, she was at an address by the beach. The bed and breakfast.” Charlotte knew that address intimately.

“I knew it.” He buried his head in his hands and sobbed. “I’m a fool to trust that woman, Charli.”

“Maybe it’s not what it seems, Chris.”

“You really seem to be giving her a break. You see the evidence with your own eyes.” Charlotte’s phone beeped Travis’ text tone.

Baby, I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll send the girls up with some linens and blankets, and Danae can make the bed for him for tonight.

“You are coming home with me tonight. Is Greg home?” she asked.

“He’s at work. He has a little part-time job after school. He’ll be home soon, though.”

“Text him to come to our house. If he needs a ride, I’ll go get him.” She reached for his hand. “Chris, we’re going to get this figured out. And if she walks away from you, then she is a bigger fool than I thought, because you’re a pretty awesome guy.” She stood and took his hand. “Come on, Chris.” Reluctantly, he followed her. “Do you need clothes? I don’t think Travis’ stuff will fit you. He’s got you by about 6 inches and about 40 pounds.”

“I’m good for tonight. I don’t even want to go home right now.” They walked to Charlotte’s car, and she drove them home. Chris called Greg. “Greg, when you leave work, have your friend drop you at Aunt Charlotte’s house. We’re staying with her and Uncle Travis for a few days.” He hung up the phone. “I hope he gets that message before he clocks out.”

“If he needs a ride from the house, I’ll go get him.” Charlotte offered. “It’s not a problem.” They pulled into the driveway, and Chris looked at the backyard as nostalgia washed over him.

“I haven’t been back in this house since Mama died.” He walked into the living room, and tears filled his eyes. “This is surreal. How do you do it, Charli?”

“This is where we live. I have to cope with it.” She said, very matter-of-factly. “If you check the attic, there might be some of your old clothes in a dresser. They might still fit you,” she laughed. “Travis is at work until almost 7pm, so make yourself comfortable.”

Darcey heard her uncle’s voice downstairs and raced down to hug him. “Uncle Chris!” she squealed, jumping into his arms.

“Darcey bug!” he hugged her. “Oooh, I’ve missed you! Look how big you’ve gotten!”

“Is Greg coming, too?” she asked excitedly.

“He is, after work,” Chris told her. He looked around, and everything still looked the same from his childhood. The decor. Destiny’s and Bella’s SimFest Awards, and even the furniture was the same. “I don’t know how you can live here, surrounded by everything that was Mama’s, Charli.”

“It keeps her nearby when I need her the most.” She smiled. “Every time I miss her, I look around me. She’s still here.”

“I guess that’s one way to look at it.” Chris smiled and felt at home for the first time in years.

*****

“Travis,” a familiar, but unwanted feminine voice called out to him. “Travis!” He spun around and saw her, waving frantically to him from the stands. He rolled his eyes and walked away from her. Undeterred, she jumped the wall and ran onto the field, catching him by the arm. “What is wrong with you? Didn’t you hear me?” she scolded him playfully.

“Oh, I heard you,” Travis spat. “How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?”

“You know what you have to do to get me to go away, cutie pie.” She kissed her finger and tried to touch him with it, but he ducked away from her.

“You’re going to be awfully disappointed when I retire, and you’re still pining for me, unrequited.” Travis laughed.

“I’m not going to have to wait that much longer, sugar,” she said. “It’s coming up soon, our romantic date. You will want to wear something… sexy.”

“You’re delusional,” he said.

“And you’re mine,” she countered.

The hair on the back of his neck stood up on end. “What did you just say?”

“And tell that pretty little wife of yours that if I can’t have you, she can’t either. And when I’m done with you, you’ll be damaged goods, no good to anyone, especially her.” She spat the word ‘her’ in total contempt.

He shook his head and jogged towards the locker room, his heart beating out of his chest. He hated to make the phone call this late in the afternoon, but he had to.

“Steve? It’s Travis Jones.”

“Travis, what can I do for you?”

“I need that bodyguard, and I need it soon.” He hated to admit to himself that it was even necessary, but Kathleen frightened him.

“Starting when?” Steve got his calendar out, looking to see who was open and how quickly.

“Now. Starting immediately.”

“Now? Where are you?”

“The Clips Center. I’m not leaving this stadium until I have an armed guard on my six.”

“Wow, she must have said something that rattled you,” Steve commented casually.

“You have no idea, Steve. I’m in the home team locker room. I can meet him at the team entrance.” He was trying to control his breathing, so he wouldn’t hyperventilate.

“Expect Pete Kelly. He did Charlotte’s security back in the day. He’s definitely packing heat.”

“I remember Pete. Thanks, Steve. I owe you.”

“No problem, Travis. Stay safe.”

Travis hung up the phone and called Charlotte. “Baby?”

“Hey honeybear,” she began, “Chris is here and Greg…” he cut her off

“I don’t mean to interrupt. I’m going to be late. Remember Pete Kelly? Your security guard from years ago?” There was clear panic in his voice, and it alarmed her.

“Yes. Travis? What’s going on?”

“I hired him. I need help getting out of this stadium. Kathleen freaked me right the hell out tonight.”

“What did she say?”

“Remember the pool dream?”

“Yes…” How could I forget, she thought.

“She almost said what was in that dream, verbatim.”

Charlotte began to tremble, breaking out in a cold sweat. Chris saw her face go pale and thought she would faint. “Charli?”

“She didn’t…” Chris got up and moved toward his sister, ready to catch her should she collapse.

“She did, honey. That’s why I’m going to be late.” Travis could not stop shaking.

“Be safe, and call me when you’re on your way home.” Charlotte felt sick to her stomach.

“I will, my love. I’ll see you soon.”

She hung up the phone. “Charli? What’s wrong?” Feeling her trembling, Chris took her by the arm and helped her sit down.

“My worst nightmare, Chris.”

“What do you mean, your worst nightmare?” Chris was worried. “What’s going on?”

“You remember the night Travis almost died from alcohol poisoning?”

“I can’t forget that night. What does that have to do with that phone call?”

“The woman from that night, she’s been stalking him at the stadium for over a year. Apparently, she thinks she is going to get her way with him, despite him telling her otherwise. So, when we were on vacation last year, I had these dreams, nightmares actually. Each one was worse than the last one, ranging from them being here, and me finding their clothes strewn everywhere, to finding him dead in a pool with an ominous message emblazoned on his shirt in red lipstick, to coming home to find she had killed him and the kids. I mean, these were some serious, psychopathic nightmares.”

Chris shook his head. “I had no idea, Charli. I am so sorry.”

“Well, tonight, she must have confronted him because he told me she just said, almost word for word, what she told me in my dream.” She swallowed a lump that rose in her throat. “It freaked him out.”

“Yeah, there’s no doubt why. Holy wow, Charlotte.” Her phone rang, and his number came up on the caller ID.

“Baby, I’m with Pete, and we’re on the way home in an armored car. You and Chris can go get my car in the morning, with Pete. You’re not leaving without someone, either, nor are the kids.”

“We’re waiting for you at home, sweetie. I love you.” She turned to Chris. “This might not be a great time for you to be staying here with us. I don’t want to put you and Greg in harm’s way.”

“Don’t worry about us, honey,” he said to Charlotte, hugging her. “I’m worried about you. Can’t you get a restraining order for him?”

“A judge won’t look at one until something happens. Until then, it’s only a threat. We’ve tried, and we haven’t been successful, at all.” She sighed, frustrated.

“Our taxpayer dollars hard at work,” Chris grumbled.

Ten minutes later, Travis safely walked through the front door, and into Charlotte’s waiting arms. “Thank you, Pete,” she said, grateful he was home.

“We’re going to establish a perimeter around the house, Mr. Jones. Steve wants to do this for you tonight, as a courtesy. You have my number in case you need me. I’ll be on shift until 6am, and then Larry will be taking the kids to school in an armored car, unless you decide to keep them home. Just let us know.”

“Thank you, Pete,” Travis said, kissing Charlotte over and over. “I’ve never been so happy to see you in my whole life, baby. I need to make one phone call, honey, I’ll be right back.” He walked to the spa room and closed the door.

“Travis? What can I do for you?” Armand Halsey was on the other end of the phone.

“Armand, I hate to bother you, since I know you cherish your family time. But we have a situation with a woman who has been stalking me at the stadium. She has been making general, harmless threats for a little over a year, but now she is starting to get more specific, more alarming. I’ve had to hire a private security company. I’ll be honest, sir, she scared me tonight.”

“Who is this woman, and why are we allowing her into the stadium during open practices?”

“Her name is Kathleen Vasquez—” Travis started, and Armand stopped him.

“I know exactly who you’re talking about. She’s somehow related to the Best family, but ironically none of the Best family even remains in town anymore, so she has no clout. Abigail Best was the last living one in the Shores, and she’s been gone for almost 10 years.”

“Is there something we can do to stop her? I don’t want to get into this on the phone, but she has my wife and me pretty spooked.”

“I’ll call the owner of the Clips Center, and see if I can’t pull some strings. In the meantime, the team will pay for your security detail. Just have whoever it is you’ve hired send the bill to my attention. I’ll include it in your benefits package.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Armand. Neil has been less than useless, especially since the fight we had a few months ago. He won’t stop the guys from talking about my wife, but he encourages her to harass me constantly. I’m telling you, if I catch them, hear them, I’m going to level one of them. That will stop it.”

Armand laughed. “Yes, I think it would. Look, Travis, don’t worry about the expense of this. Just be safe, and take care of your family. Allow me to worry about it for you.”

Travis sighed. “That’s not why I called you, to get that bill paid, but I won’t argue with you over it. I just wanted to find out if you could have her banished somehow, though I doubt that would stop her if she has some grandiose plans.”

“I’ll work on it, son. Just take care of your family, and let me take care of you. It’s the least I can do for my star player.” Travis thanked him and hung up the phone.

“Well, that was the team owner, sweetie. He’s going to try to get some strings pulled and get her ejected from the Clips Center. That will help while I’m at work. Oh, and he’s picking up the tab for Steve and his security detail, which is nice of him. Wasn’t why I called, but I’ll take it.” Travis hugged her, kissing her repeatedly. Charlotte laughed, and Chris blushed. “Oh, hey Chris,” he said, suddenly embarrassed of his displays of affection with Charlotte.

“Good to see you, man,” Chris held out a hand, and Travis hugged him.

“Your dad would say, ‘We’re family.’” Travis laughed, remembering his first few encounters with Rog. “I really miss your folks sometimes.”

“Yeah, me too. It’s been a little surreal being here tonight. It’s almost like I expect Mama and Dad to come down the steps at any moment.” Chris laughed. Travis’ phone rang, and it was the call box.

“It’s Greg,” the call came in. “Would you buzz me in?” Travis checked the camera, and confirmed it, and entered the code.

“Come on in, kiddo,” Travis called to him. “We’ll see you inside.”

Greg ran to the front door, where Chris was waiting for him. “Hey son, how was work today?” he asked.

“Good. Why are we here, Dad? What’s going on with Mom?” Greg had a feeling something like this was coming, but was surprised to see armed security around the house.

“Your mom and I need to work things out, but I don’t want to be around her, if she’s even home right now. We need to be around family.” Chris said, smiling at his big sister and her loving family.

“What’s with the goon squad outside?”

“That’s for Uncle Travis. His celebrity status sometimes requires extra security,” Chris explained without getting into fine details. Greg wasn’t nearly as sheltered as his younger cousins, but he didn’t need to know everything, either. He nodded his head and sat in front of the television with Devin. Chris picked up his telephone and opened his wallet. “Dinner is on me tonight. What do you want on your pizza?”

“Chris, you don’t have to do that,” Charlotte said. “I already have something planned.”

“Please,” Chris insisted. “It’s the least I can do for the night.”

*****

Travis and Steve spent the majority of the evening on the phone, detailing plans for security for Charlotte, the girls, and Devin over the next week. Travis would have two guards outside at a time around the home for twenty-four-hour coverage, and someone who would escort him to and from work, and stand guard nearby while he was on the field, except during games, when Clips Center security would take over. He had the entire schedule emailed to him and sat down with the family to explain everything.

“Larry will cover the kids, taking Danae, Darcey, and Devin to school. The high school already has armed security, but Devin’s grade school does not, so Larry will stand guard around him during the day, and Nathan will pick up Danae and Darcey from high school and bring them home. Pete Kelly is assigned to me, and Evan Lamont is assigned to Charlotte and will escort her to and from work. Hospital security should be sufficient to protect her during the day,” he said. “I know this is a mess right now, but when the threat passes, this will stop. My main priority right now is keeping all of you safe.” Travis swallowed a lump in his throat. “If anything ever happened to any of you, I’d…” he had to stop talking.

“Okay, kids, that’s the plan for the week,” Charlotte finished the meeting. “We have to be up extra early in the morning so you guys can be ready for Larry.”

“Why is this happening, Mama?” Darcey asked. “Why does this person want to hurt Daddy?”

“When I find out, punkin, I’ll let you know. Right now, nobody knows why.” Charlotte tried not to let her fear show to the girls, but they saw right through her.

“Mama, I’m scared,” Danae whispered. “I don’t want to leave the house.”

“You’ll be safe with Larry, and the school will protect you during the day, unless we find out otherwise.” Travis added. “I’m who she wants, baby girl. We’re just protecting you and your brother and sister, to be cautious.”

“Devin, sweetie, don’t leave with anyone who claims to be family, unless it is someone you know, like Uncle Chris. Don’t even leave with Aunt Cade right now, because she doesn’t know about our arrangement. Okay, honey?” Charlotte wanted to make sure he knew what to do if someone approached him.

“Yes Mama,” he said.

Charlotte and Travis tucked the kids into bed and kissed them goodnight. And then Travis did something he hadn’t done in over a year… open a bottle of wine and pour himself a glass. Charlotte joined him, and Chris had the third glass as they sat in the living room, talking.

*****

“Travis, it’s Pete. Time to go, bud,” he called upstairs to Travis as he struggled to fix his tie. Flustered, he just gave up and made his way to the door.

“On my way, Pete,” he yelled, grabbing his duffel bag. There would be a press conference that afternoon about player trades, and he was on the question and answer team. “Man, I wish Charlotte was here right now,” he muttered under his breath as he hit the bottom step. “Let’s roll,” he said to Pete, taking his house keys from the peg.

At the stadium, he dropped his duffel at the locker room and walked to Smitty, who was now confirmed to be his closest friend on the team. “Hey Trey, could you do me a favor and fix this dang tie? Charlotte wasn’t home yet, and I can’t figure it out.”

Smitty laughed. “You should have asked your son.”

“He was at school, or I would have,” Travis chuckled. “One of these days, I’m going to figure it out.”

“Yeah, after you’ve retired, old man,” Smitty teased.

Travis joined Neil, Armand and the assistant coach at the press conference, with Pete standing by, armed to the teeth. “Holy crap, Travis,” Neil remarked. “What’s with the guard? Can’t take care of yourself anymore?”

Travis ignored the comment. “Let’s just get through this presser.”

During the press shoot, Kathleen showed up, pacing back and forth, trying to wave to Travis. Pete knew who to look for and kept a close and watchful eye on her. When the last question was answered, and Armand ended the conference, Kathleen tried to make her way onto the field, but Pete stopped her.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’re not allowed on the field when Mr. Jones is on.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a Best, and I can do what I want,” she insisted, trying to push past him.

“Ma’am, you will not go near Mr. Jones.” He showed her his sidearm, but she was not impressed.

“You’re going to need more firepower than that, darlin’,” she huffed, and he caught her arm.

“Ed,” Pete yelled to the head of Clips Center security. “Please escort Ms. Vasquez out of the stadium.”

“Come on, Kathleen, the rules have changed. You’re not allowed near the field during practice anymore.”

“You can’t keep him from me!” she yelled, as Ed escorted her away.

“Watch me,” Pete yelled. He pulled out his smartphone, and recorded the incident, as Steve required him to do.

Travis walked toward Pete, unaware of what had taken place. “I just need my bag, and we’re good to go,” he said.

“Papa Bear leaving the stadium,” Pete spoke into his radio.

Travis laughed. “Papa Bear?”

“Yeah, when we heard you call Devin ‘little bear,’ we came up with code names for you and Charlotte. She’s Mama Bear.” He turned to Travis, his hand on his firearm. “Let’s go.”

Pete got Travis safely home and delivered him to Charlotte’s waiting arms. “Hello, honeybear,” she said, hugging him. “Thank you, Pete,” she yelled, as he waved and left the house.

“Hey baby,” he said, kissing her. “Did you see the presser today? I’m signed for another three years. All I have to do is actually sign the contract. I wanted to discuss it with you first, though.”

“I didn’t see it, no. Is Smitty sticking around?”

“Yes, he’s good for another year. After that, he’s a free agent.”

“What do you want to do, honey?” She was curious.

“I’m going to sign unless we talk the kids into moving before tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath. The girls have a dance coming up, and they’re going to want to go.”

“That settles it, then. I wish Neil would go away, but it is what it is.” Travis shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just happy to be home safely.” He hugged her close. “I love you, my sweet Charlotte.”

“Me too, honeybear.” She kissed him. “I love you so much.”


Chris came in with a handful of mail on his way in from his night shift, and let himself into the gate, as he did every morning for the week since they had been staying with Charlotte and Travis. An obscure envelope was addressed to Travis, with no address on it, and no return. Chris set the mail on the counter, grabbed his rubber work gloves, and analyzed the letter. Charlotte was up, cooking breakfast for the kids as they got ready for school upstairs. “What is that, Chris?”

“It looks like someone left a letter in the mailbox for Travis. I’m checking it for chemical residue.”

“Leave it. Let me call the police,” Charlotte said. “It shouldn’t be tampered with.”

“It seems to be clean,” he said, putting away his equipment, and pulling his goggles from his eyes. “I don’t see anything on it.”

“I’m still going to call the police. They need to see it if it’s from who I think it is.” Charlotte dialed the non-emergency number for the police department. She had the day off from work and had no other plans.

Greg came downstairs, dressed for school. “Good morning, Aunt Charlotte,” he said politely. “May I?” he asked, motioning toward a plate of fresh banana pancakes.

“Help yourself, honey,” she answered, smiling at her only nephew. “You don’t have to ask.”

The police showed up about twenty minutes after Charlotte called them. The lead detective entered the override code for the gate and came to the front door, knocking. Charlotte answered, and let them in.

“The letter is here, officers. My brother is a scientist at the facility and did a preliminary analysis of the envelope. He didn’t detect any chemical residue.”

They took the letter and opened it. There was no powder or chemical inside, but just a lone piece of paper with scribbled handwriting on it.

Tonight’s the night. Wear something sexy.

“Dr. Jones, may we keep this? We might be able to pull something from this, and come up with a suspect based on evidence.”

“I can give you a name, detective,” she said. “Kathleen Vasquez. She has been stalking my husband for the past 13 months, and lately, her threats have been more specific and sinister, which is why you see armed guards outside the house.”

“There were no guards outside, Dr. Jones. The front of the house was clear.”

“Travis!” she shrieked, running for the bedroom.

She ran up the stairs as fast as she could go, and flung their bedroom door open. He was sleeping peacefully in their bed, and she collapsed on the floor, crying. The two detectives were right behind her and helped her up from the floor. “I can’t do this anymore,” she wept. “Please,  officers, do something about this wretched woman, before she hurts my husband.” She walked to where he slept, and noticed he was dressed in his pajamas. When they fell asleep the evening before, neither of them had been wearing anything. “Something is wrong,” she said, touching him. Ordinarily, her touch would wake him, but he laid in bed, unresponsive. “Call emergency!” she screamed, “he’s not moving.” Grabbing her bag, she brought out her stethoscope and listened for his heartbeat. It was strong and steady, but his breathing was shallow.

“Honey,” she cried, trying to rouse him. “I think there’s someone in the house. The kids!” she screamed, nearly hysterical. “Where are my children?” She opened the door to their room, and all three of them were huddled together, shaking. “What happened?”

“Mama, a strange man was in the house. I don’t know where he went.” Danae cried, trembling visibly. The police, hearing the update from the kids, called for backup.

“Chris!” Charlotte yelled. “I need you!” Chris came running from the living room, taking the stairs two at a time.

“What’s wrong, Charli?” he asked as he saw the twins and Devin huddled together.

“Please protect them. I think someone is in the house.” She went back to their bedroom and sat with Travis, trying to wake him. “Honeybear, please…” she held him and rocked him. She heard the police radio stating that two guards were found outside the gate, knocked out cold, but alive, and a part of the fence had a ladder leaning against it around in the backyard by the pool. Within minutes, what seemed like the entire police force and emergency were surrounding the house. Paramedics ran up the steps to the bedroom and began to assess Travis. Upon first inspection, a slight bump on the back of his head was noted, but no obvious weapon was found. Police scrambled to secure the house, going room by room, until they found a man that fit the description the girls had given the detectives, hiding in a closet by the spa room on the first floor.

“Dr. Jones, it appears he might have a concussion from a minor blunt force trauma, which explains why he is unresponsive. We are going to take him in for assessment and treatment. You are welcome to ride with us.” The paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher and brought him downstairs.

“Chris, I need you to take care of the kids. I wouldn’t ordinarily ask, but Tracy has a day job, and she won’t be able to come.”

“Don’t worry about it, Charli. I’ve already been to work, and I can stay up with them. Go, be with Travis.”

Charlotte climbed into the ambulance and rode with Travis. He woke up during the ride, with a bad headache and not much memory of what had taken place. “What happened?” he asked Charlotte. “Where am I?”

“We don’t know, honey, but you’re on the way to the hospital.” Charlotte grabbed and squeezed his hand. “We don’t think you’re hurt badly, but they want to check you out.”

*****

At the house, the detectives questioned the suspect they found in the spa room closet. “What were you doing inside this house?”

“I was contracted to abduct the man upstairs, Travis Jones, and call my contact when I had him.”

“Who is your contact?” the detective asked.

“I only know her by ‘Mrs. B.’” the suspect said. “I’ve never seen her, and I don’t know who she is.”

“When is she supposed to contact you again?” the detective asked.

“I’m supposed to call her when I have the target in my possession,” the man replied. “She’s expecting me to call her any minute. This was supposed to be a smash and grab of sorts.”

Another detective came down the stairs carrying a black bag with duct tape, rope and a heavy, dense rock inside. The rock had a blood spatter on it and hair that matched Travis’ hair color. “Is this what you used to incapacitate the victim?”

“Yes, officer. I wasn’t supposed to hurt him, just knock him out long enough to abduct him. I might have hit him a little too hard, though.”

“How did you get into the house, and how were you going to get him out of the house unnoticed?” The detective was taking notes, trying to piece together a case.

“I had orders to take out other family members if they got in the way. I wasn’t expecting to find a second adult male in the house.”

“Where did you encounter the second adult male?” the detective questioned.

“There was a younger red-headed adult male on the third floor, where I came into the house. The upper deck was always my point of entry, but I didn’t anticipate encountering anyone upon entry.”

“How did you gain access to the upper deck?”

“Grapple. The hook should still be hanging off the back of the house. I forgot to take it with me when I cleared the wall.” The detectives were shocked at how willing the suspect was to cooperate with them, and how spectacularly incompetent he was.

“So you grappled to the upper deck, entered through what the family calls the loft, and snuck into the victim’s bedroom? What happened after you struck him in the head?”

“He was not clothed, and I didn’t want to bring him out that way. I found a pair of pajama pants on the chair by the bed, and covered him the best I could. That was when I heard the woman scream his name. I escaped through a closed door and found the kids there.” He described the door between the master bedroom and the twins’ room. “I wasted a lot of time covering him, time I didn’t have.”

“Were the orders to kill the other family members if you needed to?”

“No sir, only to incapacitate them. I didn’t want to hurt the children, so I just threatened them with harm, and they obeyed. I escaped down the stairs after I left the children’s room, and encountered the second male. I knew I had botched it because I realized I had left the bag with my equipment in it upstairs, so I hid in the first closet I could find.”

“So you would have attacked a defenseless, unarmed woman had the opportunity presented itself?” The detective looked at him in disgust.

“That was my order, if she got in my way, but I was to leave her alive specifically.  Like I said before, I wasn’t counting on the second adult male to be in the house.”

“I’ve heard enough. Take him in.” The lead detective said. “Book him on breaking and entering, attempted kidnapping, and assault and battery, for now.”

*****

At the hospital, Travis had a CT scan to check for a head injury and was found to have a mild concussion. Since the injury was mild, they had no reason to admit him, and since Charlotte was willing to monitor at home, he would be released to her care after the attending physician signed off on his discharge.

“What happened, honey?” he asked, truly confused.

“I don’t know, sweetheart, but Chris found a letter in the mailbox this morning, addressed to you, like someone put it in the box by hand, not through the mail. It had no postmark and no address on it. When the police opened it, the letter inside was written in messy handwriting, and said, ‘tonight’s the night.’”

“Kathleen,” he muttered. “How did you know to come check on me?”

“I told the police the reason there were guards posted outside, and he said there weren’t any. That’s when I ran upstairs.” She held his hand tightly. “The kids were huddled together in the girls’ bedroom, scared to death. Chris is home with them now.”

“I don’t remember anyone hitting me. I must have been asleep.” Travis reached up and touched the lump on his head. “Ouch!” The injury was behind his left ear, about 2 inches above his neck, and had a slight abrasion which drew some blood.

“Imagine if you hadn’t hired security, baby. You would have been gone, and I might have been dead.”

“As it is, it sounds like they were terribly unprepared for what hit them.” He thought of calling Steve. “Are they alive?”

“I think they’re going to be okay. They just knocked them out, like they did to you.” Charlotte was trembling.

“I need to call Armand,” he said, reaching for his cell.

“When you get home, baby,” she replied. “Your phone is home, and the police might have even taken it for evidence. I’m just not sure.”

Charlotte’s phone rang. “Chris? How are the kids?”

“They’re fine. The guy only threatened them, he didn’t hurt them.”

“Thank goodness!” she cried, relieved. “Are the detectives still there?”

“Yes, they’re still looking for evidence. Every detail the suspect gave has been true. The detectives say he was very cooperative, probably to work out a plea deal. The guards outside are fine, but they’re being checked out.” He hesitated to tell her that the only reason the man hadn’t succeeded was that he and Greg were there. She was already spooked out enough.

“Have them call me, Chris. We’ll be home soon. He has only a slight concussion, and they’re letting me bring him home.”

“Will do. Charlotte,” he added. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Christopher.”

Just as she hung up with Chris, her cell rang again. “Charlotte!” came the panicked voice on the other end. “This is Armand. I just saw the news. My goodness, is Travis okay?”

“Yes, Armand, he just has a slight concussion. We’ll be going home soon.”

“Do you mind if I speak with him? Is he alert?”

“Yes, in fact, he wanted to call you, just a minute.” She handed the phone to Travis.

“Hey buddy,” Armand greeted him. “How are you feeling?”

“I’ve been better, to be perfectly honest,” he laughed. “My wife saved my life, I think.” Again, he thought. “I got a letter in the mailbox this morning, my brother-in-law found it, from our little friend.”

“I hope you press charges when they link her to this, Travis. There should be no room for forgiveness for her.” Armand said adamantly.

“Oh, I would have pressed charges, filed a restraining order, and done anything in my power to stop her if I could have, BEFORE we got to this point. I’m a lucky man, Armand.”

“You’re not kidding. Keep me updated. I’m pleased to hear you’re okay.”

“Thanks, Armand. Me too.”

The nurse came in with Travis’ discharge papers, and Charlotte signed him out, agreeing to keep an eye on him through the day. He was not allowed to return to work for three days, and was ordered to rest at home quietly. They brought him to the main hospital entrance in a wheelchair, and Pete picked them up in his armored, protective car.

“Pete, are your guards okay?” Travis asked.

“Yeah, they have concussions and are being released later this afternoon. Travis, I’m sorry we failed you. There is no excuse. Steve is not happy with us, to say the least. Some heads are going to roll over this incident.”

“I don’t think it was their fault. This woman was motivated, and apparently a lot craftier than we thought.” Travis shook his head, ignoring the pain. “Maybe this will be the end of everything. She made mistakes, and she apparently wasn’t counting on her hitman failing to grab me.”

“Do you think she would have killed you, Travis?” Pete asked candidly.

“I can’t say, but I think it would have ended badly for me, if anyone ever found me, that is. She told me I would be ‘damaged goods’ when she was finished with me. That woman is crazy.” He shuddered.

Charlotte sniffled. “Damaged goods?” she said meekly, holding back a sob. “You never told me she said that, honeybear.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I thought I had.” He hugged her shoulders and rubbed her back.

The car pulled into the driveway, and police cars were still outside the house. Charlotte hung onto Travis, and when they walked into the house, Danae and Darcey ran to them, crying. “My babies, my babies,” Travis fell to his knees and hugged them, crying. “Are you okay?”

“We’re okay Daddy,” Darcey cried, hugging him tightly. “I was so scared, that man threatened to hurt us if we moved.”

“I love you kids so much,” he wept.  “I am so sorry that happened to you even though I tried to protect you. I am so sorry I failed you.” He hugged the twins to him.

“Dr. Jones, we need to speak with your husband,” the detective requested. “He might have some information that would be helpful to this investigation.”

“Sure, just a moment. He’s with our children. They got the daylights scared out of them this morning, and they need him.” Charlotte said adamantly.

“The sooner we’re done here, the sooner you can get back to normal, Dr. Jones.” The detective tapped his pen on the table.

Charlotte sighed. “I’ll be right back.”

Travis had all three of the kids wrapped around him, crying. “Baby, the detectives need to see you.” She turned to the kids. “Please, go with Uncle Chris for a little while, babies. Daddy will be here.”

“Come on kids,” Chris called to them. “Let’s go play a game.”

Travis stood, walked to the bathroom, and splashed his face with cold water. Charlotte was right beside him and held onto him for dear life. They walked together to the dining room, where the detectives had been since they got there that morning.

“Travis, what can you tell us about Kathleen Vasquez?” the lead detective asked.

“I should start at the beginning. Last year, I met her in a bar, and brought her to an inn, the bed and breakfast by the beach. Nothing happened there, but she has been harassing me at work ever since. Taunting me, telling me she doesn’t take no for an answer. I’ve been brushing her off as crazy, until my wife had some pretty disturbing dreams about her. Then about a week ago, she told me almost to the word what my wife said she dreamed. That’s when I hired McKinnon Security to watch the house and accompany me around town.”

“Travis, the suspect we have in custody claims that he got spooked when he realized there was a second adult male in the house. Why are your brother-in-law and nephew here? There’s a good chance their presence here is what saved your life.”

“Christopher is having marital problems, so my wife invited him to stay with us about a week ago. He and his teenage son Greg have been staying in the loft upstairs. He works night shift at the science facility and was coming home this morning as he has every morning since he’s been with us. Greg would have been getting ready for school, either in the shower or on his way downstairs around that time.” Travis didn’t know much else about the events of the morning. He had been sleeping when he was attacked.

Charlotte nodded. “Greg came downstairs right around the same time Christopher came home. I made pancakes, and he had breakfast.”

“We almost have a full confession from the hired kidnapper, but his contact is only known to him as ‘Mrs. B.’ Does that mean anything to you?” the detected asked.

“Kathleen Vasquez claims to be related to the Best family that used to live here in town before the last ones died out a few years ago. But according to Steve McKinnon, her relation is by marriage, and her ex-husband, who was Mandy Best’s son, no longer lives in Starlight Shores.”

“That makes sense. She isn’t the brightest light in the harbor, if you know what I mean. She’s been on our radar for solicitation, so this latest incident plays right into this. But, we don’t have evidence right now that links her to this directly. We will keep you posted.” The detective closed his notebook and stood, holding his hand out for Travis to shake.

“Thank you, officer,” Travis said. He stumbled as he walked the detectives to the front door, and Charlotte ran to him, steadying him.

“Sweetie, you need to rest. How’s your headache?” she asked him, as the doctor in her took over.

“I’m okay, love,” he replied. “I just need to sit.”

*****

At the police station, the suspect was being processed into the jail when his cell phone rang. He looked at the number. “It’s ‘Mrs B.’,” he said. “I should get that.”

“Remember what we told you to do,” the detective reminded him.

He nodded and put the phone on speaker, and answered the call. “Hello?”

“What have you been doing? The news is buzzing with your dismal failure at the Jones house this morning.”

“I’m at the jailhouse, Mrs B,” he said, “They’re booking me on a ton of charges. Come bail me out.”

“That’s not part of our deal! You weren’t supposed to get caught. You were supposed to deliver Travis Jones to me!” the voice on the other end squawked. “I’ve been planning this too long for you to screw it up on me! Twelve long months I’ve waited for this man!”

“I’m sorry, Kathleen,” he said, testing the waters.

“Yeah well, don’t … wait, how did you know my name?” She demanded, incriminating herself.

“You told me, Ms. Vasquez.”

“No, I didn’t tell you purposely because I knew they’d tie me to this if you knew my real name.” She paused as the realization hit her. “Goodness, you know my last name too?”

A detective took the phone from the suspect. “This is Detective Sherman at the Shores Police Department. Thank you, Mrs. Vasquez. Now that we have your confession on record, we’ll be charging you with a whole assortment of crimes. Expect us within the hour.”

The suspect was incredulous. “Wow, she really isn’t all that smart, is she?”

“No, she’s not, but you have no room to talk. Even though you helped us to identify her, you’re still in a whole heap of trouble.” Detective Sherman walked away to call the Jones family.

“This is Detective Sherman from the Shores PD, is this Dr. Jones?” he asked.

“Yes, this is Charlotte. Do you have something new, detective?”

“Our suspect got a phone call from our mysterious ‘Mrs B’ and baited her into self-incrimination and a confession, much to his credit. We have confirmation it was Kathleen Vasquez, and we know where she is. She will be in custody within the hour.”

“Oh! This is fantastic news! Please call me when you have her. I want to know when this nightmare is over.” Charlotte excitedly hung up the phone. “They have evidence that Kathleen was behind this. When they have her in custody, it’s over,” she announced, and breathed a sigh of relief.

*****

The family sat around the television as they watched coverage of the Vasquez arrest. She was exactly where she had told the kidnapper she would be, and never moved from it. “That woman is about as dumb as they come,” Travis said, shaking his head. The news reported that she was being charged with no less than five felony charges, which, if she was convicted, would be enough to imprison her for much of the rest of her life in Strangetown.

“Wow,” Charlotte remarked. “She’s younger than me. She must have been a trophy wife for the Best kid.”

“What kind of prize did he have to win to get her as a trophy?” Travis joked, and looked at Charlotte. She busted out laughing, and he did, too.

The arraignment was the next day, and though Charlotte had to work, she wanted to be in the courtroom, so she asked for the morning off. Travis went with her, and they watched as Kathleen Vasquez pled no contest. The judge set her sentencing hearing for a week later, though Charlotte and Travis had no desire to be there for sentencing. As the bailiff took Kathleen away in handcuffs, she caught a glimpse of Charlotte, and spat at her, mumbling something unintelligible under her breath.

“I can’t believe this nightmare is finally over,” Charlotte said, taking Travis’ hand in hers.

“I’ll take you to work, my love, and I’ll see you tonight.” He kissed her before opening the car door for her.

Travis drove home, hopeful that he would catch Christopher still awake when he got home. He opened the door, and Chris was just turning the television off, and preparing to go to bed. “Hey, how’d court go?” he asked.

“She plead no contest. Her sentencing is next week. She’s going away for a long time,” Travis replied. “I don’t want to forget to tell you, Chris, thank you.”

“For what?”

“For being here. Your being here probably saved me. I can’t repay that. Charlotte and I are forever grateful to you.”

“Thank Charlotte. She is the one who invited us to stay. I heard from Cade, by the way. She is filing for divorce. She has another man.”

“I’m sorry, Chris. You didn’t deserve that.”

“No, it’s okay. It will be rough on Greg, but I’ve known it was coming for a while. I’ve made peace with it.” Chris looked sad but tranquil.

“You and Greg are welcome to stay as long as you’d like.” Travis hugged him.

“Thanks, Travis. You’re my favorite brother-in-law.” Chris smiled, and they both laughed.

“You’re my favorite brother-in-law, too.” Travis chuckled. “Sweet dreams, Chris.”

“Thanks, man,” Chris said, as he climbed the steps to the loft, thankful for his sister and her family.

 

Next: Chapter Eighteen, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Sixteen – A Weekend In Paradise

“Neil, I need a weekend off,” Travis announced, holding airline tickets for five to Isla Paradiso. “I’m taking the kids to the Isle for the weekend before they grow up completely and move away from us.”

“I guess I can’t say no, since you already have the tickets in your grubby paws,” Neil grumbled under his breath. “At least the season is over. I don’t know how you didn’t get us into the playoffs this year. I shouldn’t let you have any more vacation time until we win a championship, you know that.”

“Yeah, I know.” The team missed the playoffs by a goal during the final game of the season, and it was Travis’ fault. It was a bad kick, and Neil wasn’t done busting his chops about it. “There’s always next season.”

“You don’t have many more good seasons left, my friend,” Neil countered. “You’re not getting any younger.”

“Bite me, Neil.” He fanned the plane tickets out and waved them at his coach. “Make this happen.”

Travis walked to the locker room to get changed into his uniform and was lacing his shoes when Smitty approached him. “Miss Tight Britches is looking for you, Jones. She is nuttier than a peanut butter factory.”

“Oh goody. Thanks for the heads up, Smitty.” Grabbing his water bottle, he jogged down the tunnel into the stadium, and sure enough, Kathleen was in the bleachers waving frantically at him. Totally ignoring her pleas for attention, he joined his team for warm-ups on the field. Neil walked onto the field, a clipboard in his hand, and his phone ringing in his pocket.

“Just a second guys,” he said, reaching for his cell. “What do you want?” he answered it, annoyed. Plugging his open ear, he listened intently to the person on the other end. Neil rolled his eyes and finally said, “Forget it. I’m hanging up.” He walked back toward the team, shaking his head. “That was your girlfriend, Travis.” The guys began laughing. “She wants to see you after practice.”

“I hope you told her no.” Travis was done with Kathleen and her ridiculous antics.

“You have to break up with her. I’m not touching this one.” Neil blew his whistle. “Now, I know Mr. Big Shot over here couldn’t wrap up our season with a spot in the playoffs, but we’ll have to forgive him. His wife has been keeping him busy and very distracted.”

Travis’ face turned red, not from embarrassment but from irritation. His personal life was no one else’s business, and he was suddenly sorry he had confided anything in Neil. “Enough, Neil,” Travis growled. “Charlotte is off-limits for locker room talk.”

“Oh come on, Travis,” Paolo, a veteran player, snickered. “Everyone loves to talk about Charlotte in the locker room. You might as well join the fun.”

Travis could put up with a fair amount of joking, but when it came to Charlotte, he was fiercely protective, and his tolerance was non-existent. “Talk about me all you want, Paolo, but if I ever catch one of you disrespecting her like that, I will beat you senseless.”

“Lighten up, Jones,” Paolo continued. “You have to know everyone on this team dreams of nailing her.” Neil shook his head at him and motioned for him to stop.

“I’m done here today.” Travis was hot, and he turned and walked away from the team before he did or said something he would regret. Neil chased him down the tunnel and into the locker room.

“Man, I’m sorry,” Neil apologized. “That was my fault.”

Travis was furious, and it took every bit of restraint he could muster to keep his cool. “You should know better, Neil. After all the problems she and I have had together, we finally get our heads on straight, and you pull this… My personal life should NEVER come up in team discussions. I thought we were better friends than this. You disappoint me, Neil.” Travis shook his head. “But I swear, if I ever, and I mean ever, hear someone talking that way about my Charlotte, I’m out of here, contract or no contract.”

“That’s not up to you, to just leave.”

“Try me.” Travis grabbed his duffel bag. “Goodnight, Neil.”

Travis got into his car and started it. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a white, fluffy blob running toward him. Great, he thought, this is just what I don’t need right now. Locking the door, he rolled the window down halfway. “What do you want, Kathleen? And make it good, I’m in no mood for your baggage tonight.”

“Well, I was going to ask, since you’re leaving early if you wanted to go get a drink somewhere.” She twirled her keys on one finger while she waited for his answer. “I know you like to drink, and I know you love that bed and breakfast.”

“Are you kidding me?” Travis growled. “I am going to tell you this one time, and I can’t stress it enough. When Hell freezes over. Do you understand me? I will never have a drink with you. I will never get into your bed.”

“Touchy!” she exclaimed. “So, I’m hearing not tonight.”

“Never, Kathleen. Never!” He rolled his window up and drove away, laying rubber down on the pavement as he spun his tires. He drove to a nearby parking lot and just sat there, waiting for his rage to subside. The last thing he wanted to do was wreck his car, and he feared he might if he continued to drive. Instead, he dialed Charlotte’s cell phone.

“Hello?”

“Baby, thank goodness,” he said, his voice quivering. “It’s so good to hear your sweet voice, honey.”

“What’s wrong, Travis?” The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. “Where are you?”

“I’m at MN8, in the parking lot. I walked out of the stadium, and I need to calm down.”

“I’m coming to get you,” she said. “Don’t do anything until I get there.”

“No, honey, it’s not like that. I’m just really angry, and I need to settle down before I drive home. I thought hearing your voice would help.”

“What happened, baby?” She could tell he was very upset.

“I don’t want to say on the phone. Just… talk to me, honey.”

“I love you, Travis. Are you sure you don’t want me to come get you? I could call Chris to come get your car for you.”

“Please… just tell me how much you love me. I need you to say it.”

“You’re scaring me, Travis. Please let me come get you.” Charlotte started to cry.

“Okay, but please come quickly. I need you.” Travis began to shake.

“Don’t hang up, sweetie. I’m going to call Chris. We’ll be there soon.” He heard her place her cell on the counter as she dialed Chris on the house phone.

“Baby, please,” he begged. “Hurry.”

Charlotte drove to pick up Chris, and together they drove to MN8 on the strip near the Clips Center. The windows in his car were steamed, and she knocked on the window. “Baby?” she called to him.

Travis opened the door, and got out, wrapping himself around her. “Honey,” he cried. “Oh, honey.” She felt him trembling.

“What happened, sweetie?” She held him tightly.

“Let’s go home. I’ll tell you there.” Charlotte gave Chris the keys to his car and told him to bring it to his house.

“I’ll come get the car tomorrow, Christopher. Just drive it home for tonight.” He nodded and drove it away. “Come, baby, let’s go home.”

Charlotte drove home, with Travis in the passenger seat, crying, shaking. Whatever happened at work couldn’t have been good. She called Darcey on the way home.

“Darcey, please get Danae and Devin upstairs for me? I’m bringing Daddy home from work, and he’s not well.”

“Oh no, Mama!” Darcey cried. “He isn’t drunk again, is he?”

“No, no sweetie pie, he’s just not feeling well.” Charlotte turned the last corner before reaching the house. “Please, just for now. I need to get him home and upstairs to our bedroom. Something happened at work, and I need to make sure he’s okay.”

“Okay, Mama,” Darcey agreed. She rounded up Danae and Devin and brought them upstairs.

Charlotte opened the gate and drove the car into the driveway, parking outside the garage. “Baby, what happened?” She rubbed his back as he sobbed.

“I feel so betrayed, honey. Here, let’s go upstairs. I need to think a minute.” He collected himself and opened the car door. She took his hand, and they walked into the house and up the steps to their room.

Charlotte closed their bedroom door, knocking softly on the door between the two bedrooms as a signal to Darcey they could leave the room. Travis sat on the bed, still in his team uniform, his cleats still on his feet. “I can’t go back there, honey.”

“What happened that was so awful?” Charlotte couldn’t imagine what would make him say he couldn’t go back to work.

“We were getting ready for practice, and Neil made some snide comment about me not being able to lead the team to the playoffs this season, because you were keeping me distracted, or something idiotic like that. And I told him to knock it off, that you were off-limits for locker room talk. The guys get really, really vulgar in the locker room talking about their conquests.” He took a deep breath. “So, one of the older guys on the team told me to lighten up, that you’re a frequent topic of discussion in the locker room, and that everyone on the team dreams of having sex with you.” He began to shake, becoming enraged all over again.

“Oh baby,” she said, feeling nauseated. “They didn’t. They don’t… Oh my goodness.” Charlotte held her stomach. “They really said that? About me?”

“Neil chased me back into the locker room after I walked off the field and tried to apologize. But I was so hot, I threatened to quit if I heard them disrespecting you like that, contract or not.” He took another deep breath. “Neil is the closest thing I’ve had to a friend since I left Emmitt in Dragon Valley, and he betrayed me like it was nothing.”

Charlotte didn’t know what to say. Every person on the team was like family, and to know they talked about her that way made her feel sick. What would their wives say, to know they talked about her like that? “No wonder you were furious, baby. And hurt, and disgusted.” She swallowed back bile that rose in her throat.

He reached into his duffel bag and pulled out the envelope containing the tickets to Isla Paradiso. “I wanted to surprise you tonight with this, but the wind got taken out of my sails.” He handed the envelope to Charlotte.

“Isla Paradiso? We’re taking the kids?”

“Yes, honey. I asked Neil to schedule the weekend off for me, but I’m not going to worry about it. If I don’t have a job when I come back, then so be it.”

“Then maybe this is our ticket out of Starlight Shores. For good.” She looked at the tickets again. “Did you reserve the resort yet? I’d like to stay in the same place.”

“I was going to do that tonight. It’s offseason for them, so I didn’t figure we’d have a problem getting reservations.” Travis looked unbearably sad. “Three hours ago, I had the world by the horns. Now, I don’t even know if I want my job.” She hugged him.

A gentle knock came on their bedroom door. “Mama?”

“Come on in, Darcey,” she called to her. “He’s okay.”

Darcey and Danae walked into the bedroom and saw the sad expression on their father’s face. “Whatever happened, Daddy, I’m sorry,” Danae said, hugging him.

“I’m better now, Punkin.” He looked at Charlotte. “How do you feel about going on vacation for a weekend?”

The girls looked at each other and squealed. “Awesome!” Darcey hugged him. “Where are we going?”

“Isla Paradiso, girls. Where we went to last year.”

“Ooh! I can’t wait!” Danae said.

“You won’t have to wait long,” Travis replied. “We’re going next weekend.”

He took Charlotte’s laptop and looked at the resort online, and was about to make a reservation when his cell phone rang. It was the team owner, and he had to take it.

“Yeah,” Travis answered.

“Travis, this is Armand Halsey. Neil tells me you’re threatening to break your contract?”

“Hi, Mr. Halsey. As usual, Neil gave you half the story, but I shouldn’t be surprised about that. It’s a long story. Can I meet you for coffee tonight? I’d rather explain this in person.”

“Yes, I’d like that, Travis. How about in twenty minutes at the Flying V?”

“Sure thing. My wife will be joining us since this involves her,” Travis stated firmly.

“Not a problem. I’ll see you in twenty.” Armand hung up the phone.

“Girls, can you watch Devin for awhile? I have to meet my boss at the coffeehouse, and I don’t have time to wait for Tracy. I know you can handle him for a while, right?”

“No problem, Daddy. He’s just watching television anyway.” Danae hugged him. “I’ll make sure he’s in bed by eight.”

“Thank you Punkin. We shouldn’t be that long, baby girl. Charlotte, we need to go, honey.” Travis got his car keys and started toward the garage.

She followed him outside and took the keys from his hands. “I’m driving, big guy. Your car is with Chris, remember?” She hugged him. “Thank you for including me in this meeting.”

They sat at the outdoor cafe with lattes and waited for Armand to show up. He spotted Travis and walked briskly to where he and Charlotte sat, and introduced himself to her.

“A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Jones. I’ve heard wonderful things about you.” Mr. Halsey stated, then turned to Travis. “So, what happened during practice tonight?”

“Well, sir, you know Neil and I have had a decent working relationship. And when our last season ended, I brought Charlotte on vacation for a week in Isla Paradiso on a much-needed honeymoon. We re-committed ourselves to each other on that vacation, and apparently, that has become a topic of discussion and great amusement among my teammates since our return a few months ago. I mention this because it has everything to do with what happened this evening.”

“I figured you had a reason for mentioning this, Travis. Please, continue.”

“So, in discussing our, well, my failure to bring the team to the playoffs this season, Neil hinted that I missed the kick on that last goal because Charlotte has kept me, ahem, distracted. His words.” Travis clenched his teeth together. “Then when I asked him to refrain from speaking about Charlotte in this way, and said that she was off-limits in locker room talk, old Paolo decided it was a good time to tell me that not only is Charlotte a topic of frequent discussion in the locker room among my teammates, but that everyone on the team dreams of, if I may quote him, ‘nailing’ her.”

Armand shook his head in disgust. “Dr. Jones, I’m sorry you had to hear that.” He noticed her wiping tears from her eyes. “Travis, what can I do to make you want to stay on this team? You are still my most valued player, the hardest worker I have, and your name recognition is second to none. Frankly, I don’t want to lose you to another team.”

“I’m not sure, Mr. Halsey…”

“Please, call me Armand. I think we’re beyond the formalities.”

“Armand. I’m not sure. The betrayal is something I, quite honestly, I’m unnerved by it. Every single player on that team wants to have sex with my sweet Charlotte. My heart and soul. The love of my life. The mother of my three children. The woman I would die for. How would you feel, Armand, if they said that about your wife?”

“I wouldn’t feel any differently than you do right now, and I’m not sure I could have kept my composure. But I can’t realistically fire the whole team. It doesn’t work that way, I’m sorry to say. What I can do, however, is end Paolo’s contract, and replace Neil with a different coach.”

Travis sighed. “No, I don’t want anyone to lose their jobs. That might have been the old me. But Charlotte has taught me many things.” He took her hand in his. “One of them is how to forgive. This woman has an enormous heart, and she inspires me every day.”

“That is awfully big of you, Travis. But that is still unacceptable for them to be talking like that about your lovely wife. I’ll have a talk with Neil, and tell him to control his players. Then I can force them to apologize to you…”

“No, that’s not necessary, Armand. If they aren’t truly sorry, it will just come off as fake, and it’s worse than no apology at all. I can forgive it, but I won’t forget it. And I can’t promise I won’t slug the first person who makes an off-color remark about my precious Charlotte.”

Armand laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t blame you, son. I won’t punish you if that happens. I can just as easily look the other way.”

“I appreciate that. The other things will come back in time, I hope, but I will never trust Neil again. I guess I can’t have friends on the job.” He shook his head. “What a shame.”

“Yes, it is. Well, if we’re good here, I am missing my own dinner. My wife is keeping mine warm. She’s a treasure, much like your Charlotte. I couldn’t imagine anyone telling me what Paolo told you. You’re a man of great restraint, Travis. I respect that. And, for your trouble and your wife’s sake, I’ll bump your contract salary up by 25%.”

“Thank you, Armand, that’s very generous of you, and much appreciated. I hope to hear from you again, under better circumstances.” The men rose and shook hands.

“Take care of that beautiful young lady. She is precious.” Travis nodded and took her hand.

“Let’s go home, baby,” he said. “I’ll drive.”

*****

“Jones, my office please.” Neil summoned him to his official office. Travis walked in and closed the door behind him. “Do you mind telling me exactly what you told Mr. Halsey last night?”

“The truth, Neil. I told him the truth, not half-truths spun to make me look like the bad guy.” He sat across from Neil, his arms folded defiantly. “I’m not taking your garbage, so spare me.”

“So, you told him you threatened your teammates?”

“I told him what my teammates said about my wife, and he said he didn’t blame me for feeling how I do. You were my friend, the closest thing I’ve had since I left my hometown. Why did you betray me like that?  For what? A laugh? To make yourself feel better at my expense? I don’t understand, Neil. Explain that to me.”

“I thought I was being funny. I didn’t expect Paolo to bring that up.”

“So you knew the guys talk about Charlotte like that and you didn’t bother to tell me? Do you think of her that way, too?” Travis was getting angry again.

“You’re taking everything out of context, Travis.” Neil shook his head. “You’re way too uptight. Maybe you should go on your little vacation.”

“Out of context? I heard him clearly say that everyone on the team dreams of nailing my wife. How is that out of context?”

“Lucky for you, I don’t have the authority to fire you. You’re ticking me off, Travis.” Neil paced back and forth behind his desk.

“Oh, that’s rich, Neil. I’m ticking you off. Let’s see how you would like it if the guys all said they want to bang Glenda.”

“Half of them actually have, Travis. You need to lighten up.”

“Hey, it’s not my problem if you can’t keep your wife satisfied that she needs to resort to half the team. But I’m not going to let any of these scumballs touch mine. Armand is in agreement with me.”

“Oh, so you’re on a first-name basis with the owner now?” Neil taunted.

“In fact, I am. You know, I actually saved your pathetic job here last night. Now I’m sorry I did.” Travis got up and walked toward the door. “I might still be on this team, and you might still be my coach, but personally, you’re dead to me.” Travis slammed the door behind him.

“What’s up, Jones?” Smitty approached Travis.

“Go away.” Travis snarled at him.

“Hey, for the record, I never said anything remotely like that about Charlotte. She is a beautiful woman, but I respect you, Travis. You’ve never been anything but kind and respectful to all of us. I mean, sometimes I wonder what she sees in you,” Smitty joked, nudging him, hoping Travis would laugh.

“Yeah, me too sometimes.” Travis chuckled. “Thanks. You might be my only friend left here.”

“Just remember Travis,” Smitty said, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

Travis nodded his head. “Profound, Smitty. Very profound.” Travis clapped him on the shoulder and grabbed his duffel bag. “See you on the field.”


The family of five sat in the first-class section of the aircraft as it taxied off the runway and into the terminal of the Isla Paradiso municipal airport. Charlotte’s excitement was nearly uncontainable as the familiar surroundings came into view. “I didn’t think we’d be back here so soon, honey,” she bubbled. “I feel like a kid!”

Travis smiled sweetly at her. The airplane arrived at the terminal and they deplaned through the Jetway. They walked together to baggage claim, where a driver was waiting for them, holding a sign. Travis introduced himself as Charlotte helped the kids pull their one suitcase from the conveyor. The driver escorted them to a waiting stretch limousine that would take them to the resort.

Travis, Charlotte, and the kids entered the lobby, and Rosa spotted them immediately, running to hug them. “I was hoping when I saw your name on the reservation list that it would be you!”

“Rosa, these are my twin daughters, Danae and Darcey, and my son, Devin. Kids, this is Rosa, probably one of the nicest people you’ll meet here on the island.”

“Oh, Mr. Jones, you flatter me!” Rosa blushed. She checked them into their luxury suite and handed each of them a key card. “Remember, if you need anything, I’m almost always here! Welcome back, and enjoy your stay!”

After the flight, Charlotte wanted to splash some water on her face and fix her hair, and she wanted to walk to Jayna’s shop downtown to say hi. She regretted they never made it back to see her before they left months ago. Together, they strolled down the main thoroughfare and took in the sights and smells of the island as they walked. Twenty minutes later, they arrived at Jayna’s dress shop. Charlotte smiled as she opened the door and saw Jayna’s friendly face looking at her with great surprise.

“Charlotte! What an honor!” Jayna beamed as she and Travis entered, with the girls and Devin in tow. “Oh, and you brought your children this time!” She ran to Charlotte and hugged her, and then each of the children as well. She saved her strongest hug for Travis and kissed him on the cheek. “I was sorry to see your team missed the playoffs by a goal, honey,” she lamented. “But, you wouldn’t be right here if you had made it, so it all worked out!”

“You made my day, Jayna,” Travis said, kissing her hand. “The girls are Darcey and Danae, and my son is Devin.” Jayna fussed over the girls and gave Devin a hearty pinch on the cheek.

“We’re just in town for the weekend,” Charlotte announced. “We haven’t been in for more than an hour, and you were the first person I wanted to come visit.”

“I’m glad you did, honey.” Jayna’s countenance suddenly changed. “Next month, I start my going out of business sale. I have no one to pass the store to when I retire. I’m afraid, I’m losing my grandmother’s passion.”

“Oh, Jayna, no!” Charlotte said, saddened. “Who will I get my daughter’s wedding dresses from now?”

“There are other dress shops around, and I’ll recommend a few.” Jayna’s shoulders heaved.  “I just never had a chance to get married and have my own family. I was always married to my job. I loved it so.”

“Well, this town will be losing a legacy when the shop closes its doors. I know I will miss you.” Charlotte wiped tears from her eyes. “But, I suppose we can still chat on email. There is no reason we can’t!”

“That is very true,” Jayna replied. “I kept in touch with your mother for years. She was such a beautiful soul.”

Travis agreed. “I know where my lovely wife gets hers from, for certain.” Charlotte blushed.

“I’m so glad we stopped in, Jayna, but the kids want to go to the beach, and I don’t blame them.” She jotted her email address down on the back of Travis’ business card and handed it to her. “Here’s my email. I do hope we keep in touch.”

Jayna handed her a business card. “You bet I will! Oh, honey, I’m so glad you stopped in. And it was a pleasure to meet your gorgeous children!” She hugged everyone one last time and wept as Charlotte and her family left the store.

A horse-drawn carriage was stopped outside the shop, and Travis paid the handler to bring them back to the resort. He’d never ridden in a carriage, and the kids certainly hadn’t either. A twenty-minute walk took five minutes in the carriage, and Travis tipped the handler well for his trouble. Everyone got changed for swimming and headed to the private beach outside the resort.

Devin and the girls made sandcastles, while Charlotte and Travis sat under an umbrella, sipping nectar and holding hands. “This is so peaceful,” Charlotte finally said, her face relaxed and her soul calm. “I could stay on the beach forever.”

“Why don’t we?” Travis suggested. “We can take the kids to dinner tonight, and run it past them. See if they would miss Starlight Shores. We could make a beautiful life here.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to ask them.” She kissed his fingers. “Maybe, if they want to come and live here, I could take over Jayna’s shop. She could teach me everything she knows.”

“Now there’s an idea, love.” Travis thought the idea was wonderful. He knew how much she adored Jayna. He whistled and called the kids over to where they sat. “We need to get cleaned up soon guys. We’re going to dinner in a few hours, and we need to get dressed up for it. This restaurant is the real deal. Remember The Tower, girls? Very similar.”

The kids finished their sandcastles and took a quick swim in the ocean before they walked back to the room to shower. Charlotte and Travis showered together, and the kids took turns in the other bathroom until they were all cleaned up. She helped the girls into their dresses, and Travis helped Devin into a dress outfit similar to his own, a vest with a shirt and tie, and dress slacks. He laughed as they both went to Charlotte with untied ties. “Help!” he said, and she giggled.

“Someday, honey, you’ll learn how to tie this,” she laughed. Patiently, she showed Devin how to tie his necktie. “There you go, sweetie pie! You’ve got it. Now, show your Daddy!” she teased. The girls emerged from the bedroom, dressed in their velvety dresses they had worn to The Tower, and Charlotte had put on a sapphire blue dress she had found in Bella’s closet before they left.

“Everyone looks so grown up,” Travis said, admiring his family. Pulling Charlotte close, he whispered, “That dress looks amazing on you. I can’t wait for later!” He winked at her, and she blushed. “Come on, kids. Time to go.” They left the room, and Travis pulled the door closed behind him.

They walked through the courtyard, past the second large pool, and to the lobby. Rosa’s shift was just ending when the Jones family walked by, and she stopped to admire them. “What a fine-looking family you have there, Mr. Jones!”

“Thank you, Rosa! Are you on your way home for the day?” Travis asked.

“I am, but I can’t wait to be back here tomorrow morning! Have a pleasant dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Jones.”

“Thank you, Rosa,” Charlotte said, smiling. They walked to the restaurant and checked in. Even though they had no reservations, they were seated immediately.

The Maître D’ handed them menus and Travis seated Charlotte and the girls, while Devin waited for Travis to sit. “Thank you,” he said politely, motioning for Devin to sit with him. “Devin, girls, please be on your best behavior tonight. This place is top-notch, and they don’t tolerate goofing around,” Travis cautioned them. “I will take you to the room if you can’t behave, and believe me, you won’t want that, so this is your only warning.” The children nodded and sat quietly. He trusted the girls to behave, but this was the first time Devin would be expected to act like a young man and not a boy of eight.

Charlotte and Travis ordered two entrees to share, the girls did something similar, and Devin wanted a hamburger. “Are you sure, Devin? There are so many yummy things on the menu?”

“Yeah, Mama,” he answered. “I’m not that hungry.”

After the waiter took their order, Travis got the kids’ attention. “Guys, your Mama and I want to talk to you about something, and see what you think about the idea.” Their curiosity was piqued, and they listened attentively. “Do you like it here so far?” he asked them to begin.

“I love it here,” Darcey said. “The beach is so white and beautiful. And the water is so warm!”

“It’s okay,” Danae quipped. “It’s too hot for me.”

“I had fun at the beach,” Devin added. “But I don’t like this place. It’s too fancy.”

Travis thought for a moment. “What would you think if I told you that Mama and I would like to move our family here?”

Charlotte watched Darcey’s face go from happy to slightly upset. “Why?” she asked, looking ready to cry.

“Don’t worry, sweetie,” Charlotte said. “We’re only thinking about it. Nothing is going to happen without your input. So I’m guessing that’s one vote no.”

“I don’t wanna move, Mama,” Danae agreed with Darcey. “I don’t want to leave my friends.”

“Okay, that’s two votes no.” Charlotte and Travis could see their dream slipping through their fingers. “Devin, honey? What do you think?”

“Our house is our home, Mama. Not here.” He colored on the placemat the waiter had brought for him.

“Well, I think that’s been summarily shot down,” Travis concluded. “We stay in Starlight Shores. At least until we retire, anyway.”

Danae looked at Travis in horror. “You would leave us and move here?”

“Not until you’re married and we retire from our jobs, honey.” Charlotte sipped her glass of water. “That’s a long time from now.”

“Why do you love it here so much, Mama?” Darcey struggled to understand it. Sure, it was beautiful, but so was Starlight Shores.

“I don’t know, Punkin. I guess the beach speaks to me. The sound of the waves soothes my soul.” She looked at Travis and smiled, trying to hide her disappointment.

“So, what do you want to do tomorrow, kids? It’s our only day to do something together before we fly home on Monday. Another day at the beach? The town fair? Museums? Snorkeling?”

“Can we scuba dive?” Danae wanted to see the fish, the underwater sights and go into a cave with her father.

“I would love to, but it’s not safe. We wouldn’t be able to fly home so close to a scuba trip. I hate to be the one to rain on your parade, Nae.” Charlotte was prepared to offer a compromise. “How about we go snorkeling tomorrow? You’ll still be able to pick up shells and see the fish.”

“That sounds like fun, Mama,” Darcey agreed. “I vote for snorkeling.”

“We can do that at home,” Danae countered. “We can’t go scuba diving at home.”

“Nae, your mama said no, honey,” Travis said. “It’s not safe.”

“I really don’t like it here,” Danae pouted. “We can’t do anything I want to do.”

“Danae, you do not want me to take you out of this restaurant. It will not be pleasant for you if I have to.” Travis warned her sternly. “Please act like a young lady.”

She sat and crossed her arms in front of her, pouting. Charlotte ignored her, hoping that she would stop misbehaving if she wasn’t getting any attention. “What about you, little bear? What do you want to do tomorrow?”

Devin stopped coloring long enough to rub his eyes. “I wanna swim at the beach.” He yawned and went back to coloring. Charlotte hoped he would stay awake long enough to eat dinner.

“How about you, Mama? What do you want to do?” Darcey was thoughtful enough to ask.

“Well, I was hoping to look at some houses, but since everyone shot me down on moving here, a day at the beach will be just as good.” She smiled warmly at Darcey. “Let’s see if we can find some pretty shells tomorrow.”

The waiter came with dinner and extra plates for sharing. With four different things on the table, they all shared family-style, and got the chance to sample a little of everything. Devin only picked at his dinner, and fought to stay awake through the whole meal. “Come here, little bear,” Charlotte pulled him into her lap, where he promptly fell asleep. “Baby, could you have his burger wrapped up, and bring it back to the room? We’ll stick it in the fridge for him, maybe he’ll be hungry later. I’m going to bring him back to the suite.” Charlotte picked up her purse, and stood, holding Devin in her arms.

“Can you carry him back, honey?”

“Yeah, I’ve got him. Thank you for dinner, sweetie. Be good for Daddy, girls. I’ll see you back at the room.” Charlotte put Devin on her hip and left the restaurant, leaving Travis and his two daughters to talk.

“Daddy, why can’t we scuba tomorrow?” Danae started up almost as soon as Charlotte left the table. “We never get to do what I want.”

“Nae, your mother is a doctor, and she knows when it’s safe to do things, and when it’s not. If she says it’s not safe to dive and fly, then you’d better believe it’s the truth. I don’t want to hear this come up again. Do you understand?”

“But Daddy…” she tried to get in one last word.

“No Danae Elizabeth. One more peep, and you’ll be sorry.” Travis had enough of her insistence. “Darcey, are you done with dinner, honey?”

“Yeah, I’m full.” There was almost enough left to make two more meals, so Travis had them pack it up to bring back to the suite. It was nice they had a kitchenette with a microwave, and now they had lunch for tomorrow.

Travis let the waiter know they were finished, and he signed the bill to be charged to the room. “Come, girls, time to go back to the room.” They followed him like ducklings follow their mother, not speaking a word. Danae was angry, and Darcey felt guilty that she was keeping Charlotte from her dream of moving here. “Why the long faces? Are you not having a good time here, girls?”

“No,” came Danae’s one-word answer. But he expected that from her.

“I feel guilty, Daddy,” Darcey admitted. “I didn’t know Mama wanted to move here so bad. I want to change my mind.”

“It’s okay, Darce. Nothing was ever certain. I still have my job at the stadium. There’s a lot involved with moving. It’s not just as easy as selling our home and packing up.”  He stopped and brought both girls in front of him, and knelt down. “What do you say we go swimming at the pool until it gets dark?”

“I’m tired, Daddy,” Danae said.

“Darce?” Travis looked at her.

“Not tonight. You and Mama can have the night together.”

“This is a family vacation. We’re supposed to have fun together. But I know a plane trip is tiring, and we’ve been on the go since we got here. Let’s all go to bed early, and we’ll be fresh and rested in the morning.” He hugged the twins and stood up. “Come, girls.” He took each twin by the hand, and they walked back to the room together.

Charlotte shushed them when they walked into the room, chattering. “Devin is asleep on the couch. I can’t move him another inch.” She was sitting on the floor, where she collapsed after she laid the boy on the sofa.

Travis walked to Devin and picked him up, carrying him to the kids’ bedroom, putting him into one of the beds. “Girls, go wash up and get ready for bed. We’ll tuck you in in a few minutes.” Travis kissed Danae’s head and patted Darcey on the back. “I love you girls,” he said.

“Are you okay, honey?” Travis walked to where Charlotte sat on the floor. “Are you stuck?”

“You could say that. My legs gave out when I got to the door, but somehow I managed to not drop our son between the door and here.” He bent down to pick her up, as she put her arms around his neck, trying to give him some leverage. “Careful, baby,” she said as he struggled to lift her.

“Wow, either you’ve gained 100 pounds, or I’m getting old,” Travis joked. “I know it’s not the first option.” She shoved him gently.

“I’m okay down here,” she said, pulling him down to her, and they laughed. Breathing heavily from exertion, he struggled to catch his breath and laid his head in her lap. She sat for a moment and stroked his face, his eyes full of love for her.

“We have the night to ourselves,” he said. “The kids are exhausted.”

“Let’s go tuck them in. Then we’ll pop open that bottle of complimentary champagne and get silly,” she flirted.

“I love how you think,” he flirted back.

*****

A cool, tropical morning breeze blew gently through the curtains in Charlotte and Travis’ bedroom. Covered only by a sheet, they slept tangled up in one another. Travis was partially asleep, smelling the wild jasmine that grew outside the room, when he felt someone staring at him. Opening one eye, he spotted Danae and Darcey standing by his bedside.

“Daddy, we’re hungry,” Danae greeted him without so much as a ‘good morning’.

“What time is it?” he mumbled, checking his watch and pulling the sheet completely over himself. Six o’clock in the morning. “Girls, it’s too early. Go watch television or something.”

“I don’t understand the language,” Darcey countered. Travis huffed and rubbed his eyes.

“Give me a minute to get dressed, girls. I’ll be right out.” He shooed them from the bedroom and pulled on a pair of pajama pants, making sure Charlotte was covered as he left the room. “Okay, what would you like for breakfast?” He removed the room service menu from the table in the living room of the suite, and let the girls pick out what they wanted. For Charlotte and himself, he ordered a pot of coffee and some croissants and muffins, figuring that would be good for Devin as well. For the girls, he got some fresh orange-pineapple juice and an omelet for each of them, with some homemade toast and butter. Room service was prompt, delivering everything piping hot in less than twenty minutes. Travis poured Charlotte a cup of coffee, prepared how she liked it and brought it to her in bed.

He set the coffee on the nightstand and climbed back into bed with her, kissing her awake. “Good morning, my sweet Charlotte,” he cooed. “I brought coffee for you, my love.” She opened her eyes and smiled, giggling as he kissed her nose.

“Coffee sounds good,” she said, noticing the bedroom door opened a little. “Travis, I’m naked! The door is open!” she laughed.

“At least you didn’t have two little girls looking at you with half of your butt hanging out of the sheets.” He knew they saw him and was thankful they didn’t say a word.

“Oh, they didn’t!” she snickered. He nodded, laughing. “I suppose there are worse things they could see.”

“Breakfast is waiting for us, my love.” She pulled a robe on and grabbed the mug of coffee Travis had prepared.

“Good morning girls!” Charlotte was cheerful and well-rested. “How did you sleep?”

“Good morning Mama,” Darcey said. “I slept really good! The air smells so clean outside.”

“Good morning Nae,” Charlotte looked at her. “Are you still mad at me?”

“No,” Danae said, still pouting.

Charlotte giggled. “Glad to hear it.” She grabbed a croissant and some blackberry preserves and sat down at the table on their balcony, with Travis joining her.

“Do you still want to look at houses, sweetheart?” Travis asked her.

“No, I don’t want to get my hopes up. I knew it was a long shot before we brought them here.” She sipped her coffee. “Besides, Dev wants to go to the beach, and I want to show Danae how much fun snorkeling is here.”

Devin walked out onto the balcony, rubbing his eyes, and crawled up into Charlotte’s lap. “Good morning Mama,” he said sleepily.

“Good morning, little bear. Do you want some orange-pineapple juice?” she asked him.

“Yeah,” he answered simply. Travis got up and brought back a small glass for him, and watched his face as he sipped it. “Ooh!” he squealed. “This is good!” Charlotte kissed his cheek as he squirmed out of her grasp. “Can I have a muffin?”

“That’s what they’re here for, sweetie,” she said. “We’re going to the beach this morning, so get into your swim trunks, okay?”

“Yes mama,” he said happily, eating his blueberry muffin.

“Did you bring that bikini?” Travis asked Charlotte, hoping.

“Nope, but I do have that one piece you like so much.” She winked at him.

“That’ll do.”

The kids finished breakfast, and everyone got into their swimsuits. Charlotte and the girls put shorts on over theirs, while Travis and Devin just put shirts on for the walk to the shuttle. Charlotte had a bag full of fruits, water, sunblock and gum over her shoulder. Anything else they needed, they could buy at the vendor by the beach.

The kids stayed up on the sand for the first part of the morning, close to Charlotte, while Travis went to get some snorkeling supplies for the girls. But when the sun really started getting warm, the family retreated to the cool relief of the ocean. Travis helped the girls put their masks and fins on, and showed them how to snorkel in shallow water. Charlotte and Devin sat in the surf, playing with the wet sand, and looking for seashells. Compared to how the beach was so crowded the last time they were there, no one was really around them, either in the water or on the sand. But Charlotte did notice a woman with dark hair and darker skin eyeing Travis, as though she might have recognized him, not that it would have been unusual with his celebrity status. And unbelievably, the woman approached him, with Charlotte standing right there with him, as though she was invisible.

“Travis?” came the question, as she looked him in the eye.

“Talia?” He looked at her, not believing his own eyes. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here with my husband, Rick,” she said. “You might remember him from school.”

“Rick…” Travis searched his memory, but could not remember someone named Rick. “Nope, the name doesn’t ring a bell. Is Emmitt still in town?”

“No, he passed away two summers ago. I’m sorry no one called you, Travis.” Talia looked around for her husband. “I need to go. I thought that was you. I wanted to say hi.”

“Yeah…” he said, his voice trailing off. Charlotte walked to him, noticing the stunned look on his face.

“Who was that, sweetie?” Charlotte asked him.

“My sister.” He fell to his knees, more upset to hear about Emmitt than he was to see her.

“Your sister? Talia?” She was incredulous.

“Yeah. Emmitt… I guess he died a couple of years ago.” Travis’ sadness was not hideable. “I never got to say goodbye.”

She only knew of Emmitt by name, but she knew who he was. “Oh honey, I’m sorry.” She hugged him.

“It’s that place. It’s a death trap. Dragon Valley should change its name to Death Valley.” He shook his head. “He should have gone to college with me. He might still be alive.” Since Neil’s betrayal, he hadn’t missed Emmitt more than he had in the past week. Hearing the news devastated him in ways he couldn’t have guessed.

“You can’t do that to yourself, honeybear.  He did what he had to do, and so did you.”

“Daddy, who was that lady?” Danae watched the dark-haired woman, noticing that she resembled her father.

“That was my sister, your aunt Talia, Danae. My twin sister.” He shook his head, trying to lift the funk. “Who wants to go snorkeling?” he chirped. Both girls excitedly cheered, and he took their hands, wading into the water with them.

Charlotte sat back down in the surf with Devin, filled with more questions than answers.

*****

Since the encounter with Talia at the beach, Travis was different, almost withdrawn, and she hadn’t been able to pull him out of it. He stayed at the resort and skipped dinner, while Charlotte walked next door to the Spanish restaurant with the kids. When they returned back to the resort, Charlotte tried to engage him in conversation, but he acted as though he didn’t hear her. The kids missed him at bedtime when she tucked them in by herself, and she didn’t know what to say to them when they asked what was wrong with their father.

He was standing on the balcony, watching the stars, engulfed in sorrow when he heard Charlotte pad quietly behind him. “A penny for your thoughts?” she asked, hugging him tenderly. He said nothing, but reached for her hand, massaging her fingers. “How can I help you if you won’t open up to me, honeybear?” she asked him. She felt him sigh deeply and watched his shoulders heave. She turned him around to see tears in his eyes, obviously tortured by the death of his best friend. “I’m sorry about Emmitt, baby.” She snuggled into his embrace, feeling his hot tears dripping onto her head.

“Why didn’t she call me? I would have gone.” He finally broke his silence, sobbing. “I would have gone…”

“I don’t know, honey,” she said, holding him.

“I was always going to call him. But I never did. He never even knew about you.” He sniffled, holding back sadness.

“Shhh, it’s okay, love,” she tried to comfort him.

“It’s not okay. I failed him in so many ways. I should have called him. Maybe he would have come to our wedding. If only I could have gotten him away from that place…” He hugged her tightly, so tightly she couldn’t breathe.

“Travis, you’re… holding me too tightly…” she tried to squirm away from him, but she couldn’t break his grasp. “Travis… let me… go.” she struggled to breathe. She pushed his arms, tried to break him out of his sorrow, but he held her tightly. “Travis…” she whispered.

He suddenly realized where he was and what he was doing… “Honey!” he gently shook her, and she gasped for breath. “Baby, I’m so sorry.” He held her face in his hands and kissed her. “Charlotte. I’m sorry.”

“Oh Travis, you don’t know your own strength, baby.” She heaved, trying to catch her breath. He picked her up and carried her into the suite, and laid her on the bed.

“Did I hurt you?” He looked her over and saw that she didn’t appear injured. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’ll be okay in a minute.” He realized at that moment how fragile she was, and how easily he could overpower her. As her breathing normalized and she felt better, he sat on the bed with her.

“I’m so sorry Charlotte,” he apologized. “It never occurred to me that I could actually hurt you like that.” He caressed her cheek. “I’m sorry I’ve been so away from myself, honey. Seeing Talia was a shock, and then she dropped that news on me like a bomb. I wasn’t prepared.”

She nodded her head. “It’s okay, baby. I understand.”

“It was almost like the last part of my childhood died today. The only good parts of it are gone. Talia was different, almost like I didn’t know her. And then, Emmitt. Amy. They’re gone.”

“But I’m still here. Your three children are here. Your family. I love you so much, Travis. Come back to me.”

“He was my best friend. I have no one left.”

“Aren’t I your best friend, baby?”

“Of course. It’s not the same, though. You have your friends you grew up with at home. I have absolutely no one left. Emmitt is gone. Neil betrayed me in the worst possible way. After what Paolo said, I can’t trust anyone else on the team or at work…”

“What about Trey Smith?” Charlotte remembered the only other guy on the team who Travis seemed to have any fondness for.

“Yeah, Smitty is a good guy. He likes you, and he seems to respect me enough that he didn’t talk about you like that.” She kissed him and hugged him close. “I just don’t know which way is up anymore.”

“It sounds like a good old fashioned mid-life crisis, Travis.” Psychology was not her forte, but she recognized the signs of it from her male co-workers, triggered by the death of his friend. Except she was secure knowing he would not step out on her.

“You think so?” He chuckled a little. “You know, that means I get to trade you in for two 20s and upgrade that fancy sports car.”

She shoved him and laughed. “You can have a sports car, but you’re stuck with just one of me.”

“I’m never stuck when it comes to you, my love.” He kissed her. “I’m sorry I was in a funk all day.”

“It’s all good, sweetie. The only bad thing is, we are leaving tomorrow afternoon. The time with the kids is lost on this trip. I know things happen. We never expected to see your sister.”

“I’ll make it up to them somehow.” He pulled her close. “But now, I’ll make it up to you,” he said, kissing her.


The phone in the master bedroom rang at six o’clock in the morning, and Rosa’s cheerful voice sounded on the other end. “Good morning, Mr. Jones! This is Rosa with your wake up call.”

“Thank you, Rosa,” Travis said, fumbling to place the receiver back on the hook. “I forgot to tell her not to call me this morning.” He wrapped himself around Charlotte and accidentally tickled her.

“Hey now!” she giggled. “No tickling until noon!” She sighed, realizing there was much to do and not much time to do it. “I guess we should wake the kids.”

Travis yawned. He and Charlotte stayed up most of the night talking, and he was sleepy. Without thinking twice, he dialed the number for the concierge desk, and Rosa answered.

“Hey Rosa, Travis Jones. Could you kindly send up some coffee for Charlotte and me, while we get these ornery kids out of bed?” He giggled, knowing she would laugh.

“Of course, Mr. Jones!” she beamed. “I’ll wheel a cart out there personally. It would be my pleasure.”

“Thanks, love,” he told her, and hung up the phone.

Charlotte gave him the look. “And who are you calling love, besides me, hmm?”

“My other girlfriend, Rosa,” he laughed. She picked up the closest pillow and socked him with it, and then threw it on the bed. He wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her. “Have I told you lately how much I love you, Charlotte?”

“No, do tell,” she said, flirting with him. He was about to kiss her neck when Rosa knocked on the door. “Saved by the door,” she teased.

“Good morning Rosa,” Travis said happily. “Thank you for your personal service and attention. You’ve outdone yourself on this trip.”

“Oh, Mr. Jones,” she blushed. “I’m just doing my job.”

“Please, call me Travis.”

“I would feel funny, Mr. Jones. How about I call you Mr. Travis?”

“Fair enough!” he laughed. “We’ll see you in a bit to check out.”

“Okay, Mr. Travis!” She beamed, almost skipping from their door.

“I’ll go get the kids up, you pour the coffee, love.” Charlotte sang as she walked to the kids’ room.

They all ate breakfast together, everything that had been leftover from the previous morning, with fresh juice that Rosa had brought for the kids, with the coffee. Charlotte set out clean outfits for everyone and as they got into the shower, she packed what they had been wearing into the suitcase, until everything was packed away and ready for the bellhop to retrieve. Anything that was left got stashed into their one carry on bag, and after Charlotte had done one last look around to make sure everything was packed and taken, they walked to the front to check out and catch their shuttle to the airport.

Rosa saw the family coming and was already teary-eyed by the time they all got to her desk. “Oh, Mr. Travis, thank you for coming back and bringing your lovely family with you this time. I will still never forget you.” She hugged him, and then Charlotte.

“Thank you for having us back, Rosa. Hopefully, this won’t be our last time here. We plan on making it back at least once a year,” Charlotte told her. “That will make it seem like our second home is here.”

“You are welcome any time! Your shuttle will be here momentarily.”  Travis gathered the kids in front of Rosa’s desk, and took pictures of Charlotte, Rosa, and the kids together, and then Rosa took pictures with him in them instead of her. “Such a beautiful family,” she fawned over them. Two minutes later, the shuttle driver came in to gather the Jones family, and Rosa gave them all one last hug.

“Please tell Jayna we said good luck!” Charlotte said. “And that I’ll be in touch.”

“I will do that Mrs. Charlotte!” Rosa waved as they left the lobby, wiping her tears.

Once they were on the shuttle, Travis spoke up. “Kids, I’m sorry about yesterday. I wasn’t expecting to see your aunt, and she had some bad news for me. I’ll make this up to you the next time we come here. Maybe you’ll appreciate it a little more, and I promise, we’ll come long enough to scuba dive, okay, Danae?”

“It’s okay Daddy,” she said. “And I can’t wait to come back.” The other two kids nodded in agreement, and they all held hands on the way to the airport, talking excitedly about the next trip.

 

Next: Chapter Seventeen, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Fifteen – Back To Reality

Danae and Darcey were sitting at the kitchen table doing homework when they heard the gate open. Both of them stopped and listened, looked at each other and squealed. “They’re home!” Darcey yelled, getting up to run for the door. Devin stopped what he was doing and ran for the door, joining his sisters. Charlotte and Travis left their suitcases in the garage, because most of the clothing inside was dirty anyway. As they walked for the house, three faces were pressed up against the glass, waiting for them.

Charlotte walked through the door first and was totally overwhelmed with kisses and hugs as all three of her children swamped her. “Mama, we missed you SO much!” Darcey cried, so happy to see her. Travis walked in next, and knelt down, holding his arms open.

“Come see your Daddy!” he laughed. Danae ran to him and knocked him over. Giggling, she covered him in kisses, as Darcey and Devin joined her. “Oh, I missed you guys so much,” Travis said, smiling. Charlotte joined the fun, tickling whoever was closest, reveling in the sound of their happy giggles.

“Welcome home, Travis and Charlotte!” Tracy greeted them from the top of the stairs. She didn’t want to interfere in the homecoming for the children’s sake. They missed their parents so much, that many nights they cried at bedtime. No matter how much they loved Tracy, she would never be Mama or Daddy.

“Thank you for everything Tracy,” Charlotte quipped. “The kids look very happy and cared for, and I appreciate your hard work.”

“It was my pleasure. You two look positively radiant. Vacation agreed with you!” Tracy was relieved to see her friends refreshed and renewed. They had been through some rough times, and they deserved their time away.

Travis paid Tracy their agreed-upon rate for seven days of childcare, plus a generous tip on top of it. “You can take your time, Tracy. You can even stay for dinner if you’d like.”

“Oh, I’ll be out of your hair in an hour or so. I’m almost finished packing and cleaning up.” Tracy replied.

“Don’t worry about cleaning,” Charlotte said. “I will take care of it. The girls and Devin will help, right kids?”

Danae gave her a look, but Darcey readily volunteered. “Thank you, you’re too good to me,” Tracy replied.

Devin wrapped himself around Charlotte, weeping. “What’s the matter, sweetie pie?” she asked him.

“I missed you, Mama,” he answered.

She bent to wipe his tears and picked him up, kissing his cheek. “I missed you so much, little bear.” She hugged him tightly and covered his little face in kisses. “Let Mama and Daddy unpack, and we have some goodies for you. All of you!”

Charlotte went to the garage to unpack dirty clothing and threw it all right into the washer. The few things they had for the kids were together in one bag, so she left it in the suitcase to keep a secret until she had sorted through what she had bought for which child. Travis helped her bring the cases upstairs and put other things away. They hadn’t brought much home, except for the massage oils and the presents for the children.

Travis wrapped his arms around her and buried his face into her hair. “I feel like this is our last moment alone for a while,” he joked. She turned around, still in his embrace. “But it’s so good to be home.”

“Thank you for the trip of a lifetime, baby,” she cooed, kissing him. “I loved almost every moment of it.” She didn’t need to speak of their off day, he already understood what she meant.

“Me too. I can’t wait to go back someday, maybe for good.” He looked through the window and saw a fresh bunch of snow flurries in the sky. “I miss the sun and warm already.”

“Look at it this way,” she countered. “There’s a reason to sit by the fireplace here.”

“True.” He kissed her, hurrying to separate as they heard a thundering of footsteps on the stairs.

Three sets of feet, eyes, and bodies appeared in their doorway. “What did you bring us?” Devin asked expectantly.

“Okay, come here!” Charlotte said, holding her arms open for them. For the twins, Charlotte brought back some bath gels and perfume from the spa, which they absolutely loved. For Devin, Travis brought home some shells from their scuba trip and a stuffed bear, who Devin promptly named Daddybear.

Charlotte excused herself to the loft, to see how much cleaning needed to be done, and the only thing she saw was the linens that Tracy had used, so she gathered them up and brought them to the garage to be washed. Instead of cooking, Travis decided it was a good night for pizza and a movie, so all of them sat and watched a movie together, eating pizza and laughing.

“Time for bed, kiddos,” Travis finally said at 9 o’clock. He and Charlotte had been up since 4am local time, and they were tired. Devin fell asleep during the movie, so Travis carried him up the stairs and tucked him in, while Charlotte tucked the girls in for the night. They met back in their bedroom and collapsed on the bed.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m beat,” Charlotte finally said. “We’ve put in a long day.”

“Me too,” Travis agreed, yawning. “And I have to be to work tomorrow. I guess we have a presser about upcoming player trades. Since I’m the ‘star player’ I get to be on the Q&A panel.”

They both got undressed and crawled into bed together, wrapped around each other, and quickly fell asleep.


“So, how was your vacation?” Neil asked Travis on his first day back from Isla Paradiso. “Did people recognize you out of your element?”

Travis nodded. “Some of it was good, some I could have done without.” He thought fondly of Rosa. “The concierge was a huge Llamas fan. She really made our stay at the resort memorable.”

“How’s things with Charlotte? Better, I hope. How did she like her ring?”

“Oh man, Neil, you should have seen her eyes light up when she saw it. It was like watching a little girl on Snowflake Day morning. Our anniversary was pretty passionate, but we hit a rough patch that night. Charlotte started having nightmares about Kathleen. I guess that night she confronted Charlotte during the game really affected her.” He pulled Neil out of earshot of other players, and especially the press. “Is there any reason why I need to fear for my family’s safety with Kathleen? Is she crazy, or is she harmless?”

“I don’t think she’d do anything weird. It’s you she’s after, not Charlotte or the kids, and she only wants you for one thing.”

“Can you get her last name for me? I’d like to have an old friend run a background on her. Just to be safe. One of Charlotte’s dreams really freaked me out. I never told her that. She didn’t need any more stress that day.”

“Yeah, I’ll ask Lee about it. He’s done more than one round with her, I’d bet.” Neil walked away. “I’ll see you back here in 10 for that presser.”

Travis spotted Ed, the head of security at the Clips Center, and motioned him over. “Hey Ed, have you made any headway with getting Kathleen banned from the complex?”

“Yeah, no can do, Travis,” Ed said. “Turns out, her family is pretty big here in town, and she has free access to the stadium.”

Travis rolled his eyes. “Oh goody. Well, that won’t help the situation at home. Thanks anyway, Ed.” He began to walk away when it occurred to him that he should ask about the family. “Hey Ed, what’s her last name?”

“I’m not sure, but she is Mandy Best’s daughter,” Ed remarked.

“Thanks, Ed,” Travis replied, looking at his watch. “Oh shoot, I have no time before this press conference.” Travis sprinted toward the cameras and joined Neil and the owner of the team.

*****

The next morning, while Charlotte was at work, Travis called Steve McKinnon. “Hey Steve, I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Hey Travis, what can I do for you?” came the friendly reply.

“I would like, if I could, to get some information about a woman that is bothering my family. She hangs around the Clips Center, but we can’t get her banished. Apparently, she’s from a big family here in town.

“Sure, what’s her name?” Steve readied his notepad and a pencil.

“I don’t have her last name, but apparently she is Mandy Best’s daughter. Her first name is Kathleen.”

“Well, isn’t that a coincidence,” Steve remarked. “Dad would have loved this.”

“What’s that, Steve? What’s the coincidence?” Travis was legitimately confused.

“Your wife’s family has a history with the Best family. I’m surprised she never told you about Estevan Best.”

Travis felt the blood drain from his face and suddenly felt woozy. “Wait, Kathleen is related to who now?”

“Estevan Best. You know, the guy who stalked Charlotte’s mother Bella for many, many years.”

Travis’ head got foggy, and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears. “Would you please find out if this Kathleen person has a criminal background, or if she’s mentally unstable? This might need more than security if we’re dealing with this again.”

“I probably can’t look into medical records, unless something becomes public domain, like arrest records. But I’ll do the best I can, Travis.” Steve loved a good mystery, and his dad, Mike, would have loved to hear this new development. But he had passed away just a month ago.

“Thanks, Steve. I look forward to hearing from you.” He hung up the phone, feeling worse than he had before he called. There’s nothing to worry about until there’s something to worry about, he thought to himself.

*****

“I’m overthinking this, Neil. What do I do?” Travis told him what he knew about the Best family, but Neil, a lifelong resident of Starlight Shores, knew all the details from the news.

“If I were you, I’d pray Charlotte doesn’t find out that Kathleen is a Best, or that poor thing will never sleep again.”

“Well, that’s not practical, Neil. She’s going to find out. I just don’t want to be the one who tells her.” Travis wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and turned off the treadmill. “She will want to move somewhere else. I know player trades are done for the coming season, but keep me in mind if someone needs a mid-season trade.”

“Yeah, that isn’t going to happen, big guy. The owner will not break your contract so easily. You’re stuck.” Neil felt bad for him. He wouldn’t want to tell Charlotte about Kathleen, either. “On the field, Travis. You can’t hide in here for the rest of your career.”

Travis sighed. This was the last news he needed, and when he left the locker room, Kathleen was in the stands, waving furiously at him. Ignore her, Travis. Ignore. Her. He told himself. A half-hour into practice, she was so desperate to get his attention that she jumped the wall that cordoned off the field from the stadium.

“Where have you been, sexy?” she snarled at him. “I’ve missed seeing you out here. Everyone else is just so plain, but you…” Kathleen studied him for a moment. “Hmmm, you are darker,” she observed. “You must have gone somewhere exotic.”

“What do you want?” he asked, losing his patience.

“You, silly.”

“I already told you, you’re barking up the wrong tree.” Travis backed up, increasing the distance between them. Neil saw them talking and shook his head.

“Jones!” came the yell, followed by a sharp whistle. “In my office, NOW!”

Travis jogged to Neil, more than a little annoyed. “What?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to pull you away from her.  You don’t need your face in the tabloids anywhere near hers.” Neil tried to watch out for their star player, but he was stubborn.

“Thanks. I can handle myself, Neil.” He looked around, and at his watch. “Are we done here? I need to get a few more laps in before I shower.”

“Yeah, you’re good, Lothario.” Travis shot him a look and grumbled to himself.

Travis finished his workout and went to shower, and ran into Kathleen in the tunnel leading into the locker room. “I can’t catch a break,” Travis muttered to himself. “Leave me alone, woman.”

“You’re so cute, Travis, thinking you have a say in the matter. I always get what I want.”

“You’ve mentioned that. But not this time.” He turned to go into the locker room and disappeared from her sight.

“Man, what is up with Miss Tight Britches and you, Travis?” one of his teammates asked. “She has it bad for you.”

“If you figure it out, let me know, Smitty,” Travis answered, walking for the showers.

*****

“Baby, I’m home honey,” Travis announced upon his arrival from work. Charlotte was busy in the kitchen making dinner, and the kids were finishing up homework. He sauntered into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Charlotte’s waist.

“Hey, honeybear. You smell good,” she remarked. “You must have showered before you came home.”

“Of course!” he laughed. “It smells amazing in here. What are you cooking tonight?”

“Devin’s favorite. Spaghetti with veggie sauce.” It was actually a family favorite, but Devin especially loved it.

Devin, hearing his father downstairs, started giggling and came down the stairs as quickly as he could. “There’s my little bear!” Travis exclaimed, wrapping Devin in a hug. “How was your field trip today?”

“It was awesome, Daddy!” His second-grade class took a trip to the firehouse, and he got to tour the whole inside. “I wanted to ride down the pole, but I was too little,” he pouted.

“Maybe next time, little bear,” Travis said. Suddenly, he gripped the boy in one arm and tickled him with the other. A giggle explosion erupted in the foyer and was heard through the entire house. He got up off the floor and walked back toward Charlotte and whispered in her ear. “We need to talk, honey.”

She looked at him, alarmed. “What’s wrong?”

“Something at work. We’ll talk when the kids are in bed.”

Putting on her best smile, she finished dinner and served it. “Come on everyone.”

After dinner, Charlotte and the girls cleaned up, and Travis got Devin into the shower and tucked into bed after a story. The twins came upstairs, with Charlotte right behind them. “The house is closed up downstairs,” she whispered. “Let’s talk up here.” He nodded. “Lights out in 20 minutes, girls. You can read or do whatever, but please wrap it up, babies.” She blew them both a kiss. “I love you.”

“Love you, Mama,” they answered together.

She slipped through the door that went between their rooms and locked it behind her. Travis was sitting on the side of the bed, acting nervous. “Baby, you’re scaring me.”

“I’m sorry honey, I don’t mean to. I just have a lot on my mind.” He patted the bed next to him for her to sit down. “I called Steve McKinnon this morning to get some background on that Kathleen because I promised you when we were on vacation I’d look into it for us.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, Ed, the security guy from the stadium gave me a name, but I didn’t think anything of it until I mentioned it to Steve today.” He looked at her, and shook his head, not wanting to utter the words. “Baby, Kathleen is Estevan Best’s niece.”  There was no easy way to say it.

Charlotte began to tremble. Even from beyond the grave he continued to haunt her and the family. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I wish I was, honey.” He held her as she trembled, and just tried to comfort her. “What do I need to know about this? I get the feeling I don’t have the whole picture.”

Charlotte explained everything in excruciating detail. Everything Bella had told her about their high school relationship, and what it involved. Estevan and his sister Maria sabotaging Bella’s career. The prison sentence when they refused to pony up the money they owed Bella, and Estevan blaming her for being in prison. The situation with Alexis and the hired hit. The book, the rumors, every little thing. Anything that Travis hadn’t known before, he knew when Charlotte was done explaining and he was left shaking his head, and wondering what they should do next.

“Dang, baby, that is a mess, honey. What do we do? How do we protect our children from this?”

“How do we protect you? If she is a Best, then I know what they are capable of, and quite frankly, I’m terrified.” It made sense to Charlotte now. Kathleen’s confidence that she would get what she wanted came from past family history. Travis was targeted for a reason, and it was because she knew she could manipulate him by targeting a weakness. “This is never going to stop, as long as there is a Best in Starlight Shores.”

“We either need to face it head-on, or we need to run away from it. Which one is better for our kids?” Travis didn’t know the answer.

“There is so much to know, so much to unpack.” And then she thought about Christopher and Cade, and Greg. Charlotte knew she had to tell Chris, that the nightmare was beginning all over again, and she felt powerless to stop it.

“Well, what is the chance this is coincidental, honey?” Travis wondered if the meeting in the bar was by chance, or on purpose. “Is there a possibility she doesn’t realize you are an Atwood?”

“I suppose there is that possibility, however slim it might be. Maybe. I guess it depends on which of Estevan’s sisters was her mother, and how much she thought of her uncle.” Her eyes dampened with tears. “This can’t be starting again. It can’t.”

“Well, let’s wait to hear back from Steve. Maybe he’ll have some news for us tomorrow.”

“With all that I am, I hope so honeybear.”


He spotted her out of the corner of his eye, waving energetically. Travis sighed. Reluctantly, he jogged to where she stood and approached her. “Kathleen, can I ask you a question?”

“What is it, sugar?” she purred at him.

He rolled his eyes. “Do you know my wife?”

“No, should I?” She looked at him, perplexed.

“You’re not lying to me about this… you’d better not be lying about this.” Travis frowned.

“Travis, honey,” she said, “I am a lot of things, but I am no liar. I don’t know your wife. Should I know her?”

“Never mind,”  he said, not really trusting her. “If I find out you’re lying about this…”

“You’ll what, Travis?” she taunted.

“Never mind. Just please, leave her alone.” He turned and jogged away. Travis still hadn’t heard anything from Steve, and he was beginning to worry.

Neil walked to where Travis was signing autographs for a few fans in the closed section and pulled him aside. “What were you doing talking to Kathleen, Travis? I thought I warned you to stay away from her.”

“I had to ask her a question, praying she was honest with me about the answer.” He shook his head. “Something tells me she wasn’t.”

“You should know better than that. I have a last name for you, I don’t know if it will help you out, though.” He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. “Vasquez. Kathleen Vasquez.”

“Thanks, Neil. Is there any truth to the rumor that she is related to the Best family?” Travis had to know.

“I hadn’t heard that particular rumor before yesterday. But I don’t know everything, either, Travis. Considering the history there, you had better hope it’s not true.” Neil waved to the fans that stood waving for autographs from the star player. “Your adoring fans beckon. You should go finish what you started.”

“Thanks, Neil,” Travis replied, jogging back towards the stands.

*****

“May I speak with Travis please?” came the request from the caller on the other end of the phone.

“He isn’t at home,” Charlotte replied. “May I ask who is calling?”

“This is Steve McKinnon, he asked me to call him at this number.”

“Steve, hi, this is Charlotte.” She hoped he would discuss this issue with her, and she wouldn’t have to wait for Travis to come home.

“Hey Charlotte, could you have him give me a call when he gets home?”

“Is there any chance you could talk to me about this? I know all about it.”

“Well, I actually had a question. I’m not able to link up the name he gave me with the Best family. I was wondering if he’d found out Kathleen’s last name yet.”

“I haven’t heard that yet, sorry Steve. Does that mean we’re out of the woods on the connection with the Bests?” Charlotte remained guardedly hopeful.

“I can’t be sure yet, but if he has a last name for me, it would be helpful. Have him give me a call?”

She was just about to speak when she heard the gate open outside. “Steve, I think he’s home. If you’ll just give me a minute, I’ll call him inside.”

“Sure thing, I’ll wait, Charlotte.”

She ran for the garage, where Travis was parking the car. “Baby!” She called to him. “Steve is on the phone for you inside.”

A look of urgency showed on his face as he ran for the house. “Steve!” he said, out of breath. “I have some information for you.”

“Ah, Travis, I was hoping you’d say that. I’m coming up empty without a last name.”

“Vasquez. Kathleen Vasquez.” Travis put his hand over the receiver of the phone, struggling to catch his breath. “I spoke with her briefly today, but didn’t let on who Charlotte is, and just asked her if she knew my wife. She claims she doesn’t. We’ll see if she’s telling me the truth.”

“This will help big time,” Steve replied. “I’ll be in touch shortly, Travis. Thanks again.”

“Honey?” Travis called to her. “Charlotte?”

She was coming through the back door, carrying a load of washed clothing to fold and put away. “Sorry, baby, I remembered the laundry when I got outside, and thought I’d grab it.” She put the basket down and hugged him.

“I might have some better news today. The connection between the Bests and Kathleen seems to be not as obvious as we first thought.” He took her hands in his, massaging her fingers. “Neil really wasn’t sure, and Steve was coming up empty on the connection.” He thought carefully, and then decided to tell her. “Despite my better judgment, I asked Kathleen today if she knew you.”

He saw Charlotte tense up and saw her temples throbbing as she gritted her teeth. “You still see that woman at work?”

“Baby, they can’t banish her. I have to learn to cope with it. But that wasn’t my point. She didn’t seem to know you, past the times you’ve spoken with her.”

“But what does that tell us, exactly? We already know she’s not above lying to get her way.”

“That’s what my gut tells me. But, it’s still a glimmer of hope, and with the other information we have from Steve, maybe it seems more plausible.” He caressed her cheek. “Remember, I love you, and no one else. I will never betray you.”

“I know, honeybear. It’s just that, thinking of her there, watching you, preying on you. It makes me crazy.” She nuzzled into his hand, kissing his fingers. “I am so afraid someone will take you from me.”

He opened his arms and wrapped her in them. “Not on my watch, baby.” He suddenly noticed there was nothing cooking in the kitchen. “What did you say we were having for dinner tonight?”

“I didn’t. I was thinking of leftovers. Tracy had a lot of prepared food in the fridge, we should probably eat it before it goes bad.”

“Not a bad thing.” He hugged her tightly. “We’re going to be okay, honey.”

*****

A few days passed before Travis heard from Steve McKinnon, but the phone call arrived just as Charlotte was leaving for work. “Steve, I hope you have some good news for me, man.”

“I do, Travis. Whoever it was that told you that Kathleen was related to the Best family was only partially right. Her blood family comes from out of town, Bridgeport, but her ex-husband was Mandy Best-Vasquez’s son, Blake Vasquez. She wouldn’t know anything about Charlotte or Bella, and she has no blood relation to Estevan Best. She does, however, have a history of criminal mischief and solicitation.”

“I can’t wait to tell Charlotte. This will be a huge burden lifted off her shoulders. However,” Travis said, “just for fun, prepare an estimate for a bodyguard for me.” He could almost hear Steve’s surprised expression on the other end of the phone. “Charlotte is worried, because she’s had some really frightening dreams, and Kathleen has threatened me on a few occasions. Her peace of mind is important to me.”

“Absolutely, I understand,” Steve said, laughing. “Happy wife, happy life.”

“See? I knew you’d understand.” Travis thanked him and they hung up the phone. He immediately dialed Charlotte’s pager and left a message. She returned his call within minutes.

“Baby? Is everything okay?” she asked, trying not to sound scared out of her mind.

“It’s better than okay, honey. Steve just called. Kathleen is no blood relation to Estevan. It was by marriage, and it was only briefly. She was being truthful when she said she didn’t know you. Her family is from Bridgeport.”

“Oh honeybear, this was so worth the phone call!” She squealed, obviously ready to put the whole nightmare behind them. “So everything is alright?”

“Steve did mention she has a criminal history, but it’s criminal mischief and,” he laughed as he said it, “solicitation.”

Charlotte chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me in the least, knowing what I know.”

“Steve is going to get an estimate for me to have a guard when I leave the house. I know it will put your mind at ease.”

“You always know just the right things to say, baby,” she beamed, as she heard her name being paged on the address system. “I have to run, but I’ll see you after work tonight. I love you!”

“I love you too. Have a good day, sweetie.”

Travis heaved a sigh of relief.

*****

“Why are you so chipper today?” Neil teased Travis, noticing the obvious spring in his step.

“I got some good news this morning.” Travis unzipped his duffel bag and pulled his uniform out, getting ready for practice.

“Well, are you going to tell me your good news, or are you going to make me guess?”

Travis scratched his chin, acting as though he was thinking. “Oh, okay. The Best connection with Kathleen was by marriage and apparently, they’re divorced.”

“So the hag was telling the truth about not knowing Charlotte. Go figure.”

“That might have been the only time she’s ever told the truth. Apparently, she has a history of solicitation and criminal mischief.” Travis chuckled. “This also means her ‘family’ influence isn’t as great as she makes it sound. Maybe there’s hope to get her kicked out of here after all.”

“Ask Ed about it. He knows the proper channels.” Neil checked his watch. “Hop on it, sports star. Practice in 10 minutes, and you have a throng of waiting fans out there already.”

Travis laced his shoes, and grabbed his water bottle from the duffel, walking through the tunnel to the field. Looking around the stands, Kathleen was conspicuously missing. Finally, he thought. He signed a few autographs and posed for a few photo ops before Neil brought the rest of the team out for a full-scale practice.

After practice, the team headed for the showers. In the tunnel that led to the locker room, he saw the familiar outline of a female in a fur coat. “Travis,” she called to him. He ignored her, which made her angry. “Travis!” her sharper cry came, which fell on deaf ears.

“He’s done playing with you, Kath,” Neil said. “Your time here is limited.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s done,” she seethed, and turned to stomp away. Neil chuckled at her.

“That woman is nuttier than a Snickers bar,” he joked, walking toward where Travis was drying off. “You’ve ticked her off now, Travis.”

Travis rolled his eyes. It’s a good thing he requested the estimate from Steve, if for no other reason than for Charlotte’s peace. “I’m really afraid of her,” he joked, laughing.

“Miss Tight Britches again, Travis?” his buddy, Smitty asked, joining Travis in a chuckle. “Shoot, she is crazy.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s nothing.” He looked at his watch. “I have to get going. I’m taking Charlotte for dinner tonight. It’s date night.”

“You literally just came back from vacation, man,” Neil said, incredulous. “Give it a rest.”

“Hey, don’t hate me just because I have a smokin’ hot wife…” Travis laughed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Presser tomorrow, Travis. Come prepared.” Neil yelled.

*****

Charlotte was ready when Travis got home from work. From his car out front, he dialed her cell. “Baby, are you coming? Is Tracy here?”

“Yes, I’m just giving Devin goodnight kisses, and I’ll be out.”

She met him by the front gate, and he opened the door for her. Taking her hand, he kissed it, and helped her into the car. The girls, who were watching from the front door, waved at Travis, and he blew kisses to them as he got into the car. He drove them to their favorite off-strip restaurant, and valet parked the car. They walked in, arm in arm, and were seated right away. Taking her sweater off, she set it on an empty chair, and Travis helped her with her chair. He noticed how beautiful her ring was in the light of the dining room, and he smiled at her. “You look gorgeous tonight, honey,” he said.

Screenshot-831

“I love your work uniform,” she said, admiring him. “Whoever designed it did a great job. Plus, you fill it out rather well to boot!”

Travis chuckled at her. He noticed her wearing the vanilla scent she had purchased at the spa, and he grinned. “You even smell good tonight.”

“I’m glad you noticed,” she purred. “What looks good tonight?” she asked, checking out the daily specials.

“You,” he said, very matter-of-factly.

“That isn’t what I meant,” she grinned. “What do you want?”

“You,” he repeated.

She rolled her eyes. “You’re incorrigible. For dinner,” she clarified.

“You,” he laughed. “No matter the question, you’re the answer.” Her heart melted.

Travis ordered a steak, and Charlotte got grilled salmon, with a Caprese salad to share, and a bottle of French nectar. They talked about their day, the kids, work, and even the end of the whole nightmare that had begun six months prior. “I’m glad you’re considering a guard, honeybear. Especially after what you told me she did tonight. She still freaks me out a little.”

“I’m sure I will never need him, but I will hire him anyway, so you can sleep peacefully at night, my love.” He held her hand, the diamond sparkling brightly even in the dim light. Their dinner arrived shortly after, and they spent more time talking, especially about Devin’s upcoming birthday. Travis thought it would be a good idea to get him a bicycle, and Charlotte agreed.

“Someday, I’d like to take the kids on a weekend trip to Isla Paradiso, honeybear,” Charlotte said, as they pondered some tiramisu. She really loved it, and she was hoping to test the waters, to see if the kids would like it, too. “Maybe, if they like it there, we don’t have to wait until we retire to go.”

“You know, that would depend on me getting on that team. I’ve been informed my contract is very binding, and it’s not up for years.”

“True, and I would never ask you to give up your passion.” He still had many good years to play, and he truly thrived on the field and in the spotlight. She would have never guessed that the shy boy she knew in college would have such an affinity for the public eye. “You’ve made yourself valuable to the team. They’d be wise to keep you for the remainder of your career.”

“Well, moving would be no small feat for you, too. Exams, recerts, licensing. Isn’t it a nightmare to move as a doctor?”

“It depends on what you call a nightmare. I have to do yearly recerts anyway, and licensing exams are standard. What I’d really need to study is regional laws pertaining to the job, like that ridiculous one they still have here.”

“That reminds me,” Travis remarked. “We have to fund that scholarship and redo it for this coming school year. I’ll call Sarah in the morning.”

“Sounds good,” Charlotte said, sipping the last of her nectar. “I think I’m going to pass on tiramisu, baby. I’m full.”

“Okay, love,” he said, calling the waiter for the check.

“Mr. Jones, the manager of the restaurant would like to comp you for dinner tonight, and wants to thank you for being a loyal customer.” The waiter brought a check that was marked ‘Paid.’

“Well, please tell your manager thank you, and if he needs anything from me, promos, ads, to let me know.” Travis took a business card from his vest pocket and handed it to the waiter. “Come, my sweet Charlotte,” he smiled, taking her hand. They retrieved the car from valet and drove home.

The kids were already tucked into bed, and Tracy was reading Bella’s romance novel by the fireplace when Charlotte and Travis returned home. She tiptoed into the living room while Travis parked, and paid Tracy for watching the kids. “You know it’s always my pleasure to watch them,” she told Charlotte. “I adore your sweet little family, as though they were my own.”

“That’s really kind of you to say, Tracy. I know they adore you, too.” She saw Tracy safely to her car and waved as she pulled away.

“Thank you, for a beautiful evening,” Travis said as he stood behind her, his face buried into Charlotte’s hair, breathing in her vanilla scent.

“The pleasure was mine,” she said. “I love date nights with you.”

“I just love you so much, my sweet Charlotte.”

“Shall we?” she asked, leading him to their bedroom.

“I’d have it no other way,” he purred, both of them laughing softly.

http___pluspng.com_img-png_png-divider-lines-tiny-edge-line-decorative-divider-png-512

Up Next: Chapter Sixteen, Generation Four