Author’s Note: This chapter contains mature language and adult situations. Reader discretion is advised.
“Mrs. St John, a package for you,” the postman said, handing Bella a box. It was small, and not very heavy. The postmark was from Appaloosa Plains. Her shaking, frail hands rattled the box, but there was no obvious sound emanating from it.
Hmm, she thought. “Rog? Could you bring a box knife for me?” She carried the box to their bedroom.
“What’s up, darling?” he asked. Spotting the box, he realized what she needed the knife for. “Here,” he said, taking the box from her. “I’ll get it.” He sliced the tape open, and inside sat one small jewelry box, with a note attached:
Bree wanted you to have this, for your granddaughter. It was the only valuable thing she had left when she died, and she wanted to make sure you got it. She loved you so much. I wish she and I could have been as close as she was to you. Give this to your daughter, it will match hers. Keep it in the family, Bella.
Charlotte shook her head, holding the handwritten note in her hand, remembering the day the package arrived like it was yesterday. She never knew her aunts from Appaloosa Plains, but she wished she had. Aunt Bree’s ring was identical to hers in every way, except hers was in slightly better shape. Aunt Bree and Aunt Bee never married, having lived together their whole lives. They were known unkindly as the “Spinster Sisters,” and her mama always hated that nickname for them.
She held both rings in her hand, and placed them into their velvet boxes. It was time to have them polished and made new. The twins’ thirteenth birthday was coming up quickly, and it was time for them to have purity rings, and for them to make the same promise she made to her own father. Travis and Amy were younger than them when they met, and by 15, they were expecting a child. She did not wish her daughters to be in those shoes at such a tender age. Charlotte slipped the rings into her purse and left for the jewelry store.
When she opened the door, a small bell rang on it, and the clerk greeted her. “How can I help you today?” she asked.
“I was hoping to get these rings cleaned up and polished a bit.” Charlotte held out the boxes, and the clerk took one.
“Oh my, what a beautiful antique setting,” she stated. “Is the other ring just like it?”
“Yes, it is. One was mine, and one was my Aunt Bree’s,” Charlotte said. “My twin girls are turning 13 in a few weeks, and I want to give them these rings as gifts.”
“What a lovely gesture!” the clerk remarked. “Quite an extravagant gift for a young teenager!”
“They are purity rings,” Charlotte told her. “My Daddy gave me my Mama’s ring when I was right around my daughters’ age. And when my aunt passed away years ago, my other aunt sent that ring to my Mama, to give to my daughter when the time was right.” So many memories were attached to her ring. “I am honored to pass them down, along with the tradition that goes with them.”
The clerk smiled. “Well, we can have these all prettied up and looking brand new in no time flat.” She began to write up a claim check for them and put them in a service tray.
“Do you happen to have men’s rings? I’m just curious,” Charlotte asked.
“We sure do! When I’m done here, I’ll show you a few of my favorites.” Charlotte was looking to replace Travis’ wedding ring. His was taken from his locker during a game, and it was never found. He was heartbroken when it went missing. She meandered around while the clerk finished the paperwork, and took the claim ticket from her when it was complete. “Here, honey,” the clerk said, “These are some of the most handsome rings I have in stock.” One, in particular, caught Charlotte’s eye. It was brushed gold with a row of diamonds set diagonally. Simple, but elegant. Remembering how she said Bella had sized Rog’s ring, she knew Travis’ ring was almost big enough for two of her fingers to fit inside, but she had a good feeling for how it should fit.
“May I?” she asked. The clerk handed her the ring, and she slipped it on her thumb and slid the tip of her pinky inside the loop. Nearly a perfect fit. “I think it might be close enough. It can be sized up if needed, right?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the clerk replied. “I’ve never seen anyone size a ring like that before.”
Charlotte laughed. “It’s my Mama’s trick. I think I’ll take it. My husband’s wedding band was stolen about a year ago. It was never recovered, so this will replace it.”
“You made a great choice. He will love it.”
“Yeah, he plays for the local sports team here in town.” Charlotte beamed, so proud of him.
“Oh really? Would I know his name?” The clerk apparently followed the sport and knew the players by name.
“You may. Travis…”
“Jones, right?” The clerk answered her before Charlotte could get the whole name out. “You are one lucky lady! He is a hunk! So dreamy!” She swooned over him, giggling like a schoolgirl.
“Thank you. We were college sweethearts.” Charlotte paid for his ring, and left the store, shaking her head at the clerk. I guess I should think of it as a compliment when women fawn over my husband, she thought.
She returned home before the girls got home from school, and placed Travis’ new ring in her purse. She still had some research to do before her next work shift, so she sat down to read, waiting for the girls to come home. Their bus pulled away from the gate 20 minutes later, and the front door opened.
“Mama, we’re home,” Danae yelled.
“I’m in here, sweetie,” Charlotte replied, calling from the living room. “Do you girls have homework?”
“We always have homework,” Darcey lamented. “But we’ll get right on it.”
Charlotte smiled. “I saw two unmade beds this morning, girls. I hope I don’t see them tonight before bed.”
“Sorry, Mama,” Danae confessed. “It was my turn to make them, and I forgot.”
“It’s okay, sweetie pie, just make sure they’re done after homework.”
Charlotte finished up her research journal just about the time Devin came through the front door. “Hi Mama,” he said, dropping his book bag on the floor.
“Hi, Devin. You know that doesn’t go there, son,” she said.
“I know, but I’m tired,” he replied. “I’ll take it up in a few minutes.”
“Come here and give your Mama loves!” she invited, holding her arms open for him. He ran to her, toppling her over, giggling madly. He tried to tickle her, but she was too fast and caught his hands. “What are you going to do now, smartypants?” she teased him, making him giggle harder. Darcey and Danae rolled their eyes, but secretly both of them wished she would roughhouse with them like she used to. Devin would be 7 years old in a few months’ time. She kissed his cheek and said, “Okay little man. I bet you have homework.”
“Yep, I do!” he beamed. “Would you help me?”
“You bet,” she said, and pulled up a chair beside him at the table.
“Darce, would you and Danae watch your brother tonight? It’s date night with your Daddy.”
“Sure,” Darcey said. “Do I have to feed him?”
“No, honey, I’m going to make dinner for you guys before we go out. I’m meeting him after work.” Danae clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. She was developing quite an attitude lately, and Charlotte didn’t have much patience for it. “Danae, did you make those beds yet?”
“Does it look like I’ve gone upstairs yet?”
“No, but you’re going, Nae. NOW!” She pointed toward the stairs. “I won’t tolerate disrespect from you, young lady.” Darcey sat quietly and finished her homework, slightly afraid to speak. “Devin, honey, are you done with your homework?”
“Yes Mama, can I go play?”
“Of course. I’ll call you for dinner.” Charlotte’s temper was flared up, but she didn’t want to take it out on the kids. “Darce, what would you like for dinner tonight, sweetie?”
“How about crepes?” It was her favorite.
“Breakfast for dinner. That sounds like a winner,” she said, laughing. “Hey, I rhymed!” Devin giggled, and Darcey smiled.
Before she started dinner, she went up to the girls’ room and knocked softly. “Nae?”
“What?” she answered, sounding annoyed.
“May I come in, honey?”
“Knock yourself out,” came the sarcastic answer.
“Danae, honey, is something bothering you?”
The young girl sighed and contemplated. “I miss you, Mama.” Charlotte cocked her head and looked at her funny. “I mean, I miss you roughhousing with us, like when we were little. Devin gets all the good stuff, and Darce and I just sit on the sidelines and watch.”
“Sweetie, is that it?” Danae’s eyes watered, and Charlotte hugged her. “Aww, honey, all that stuff doesn’t have to end, you know. I thought you were getting too old to play like that with me and your Daddy.”
“Really?” she sniffled. “I thought I was, but I see how much fun you have with Devin, and I miss it.”
“I miss it too. You girls are my babies. My firstborn.” Oh, how she missed the sound of little giggles that filled the house to the ceiling and reverberated off every wall.
Danae hugged Charlotte tightly. “I want to stay little forever, Mama,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
“No one wants that more than I do, punkin’,” she said, “Believe me. Are we good now, sweetie pie?”
Danae smiled. “Yeah, we’re good. I love you, Mama.”
“Ooh, I love you so very much!” Charlotte said, rocking Nae in her arms. Her sweet, little Danae. “Do you want to help make dinner tonight?”
Nae’s eyes widened with excitement. “Really?!”
“Yes, come on and I’ll teach you Nana’s recipe.” Charlotte gave her one last hug and kissed her cheek.
“I miss Nana,” she said.
“Me too, Punkin. Me too,” Charlotte said pensively.
Danae and Charlotte worked on dinner together, and Nae even served it, sitting Devin down in the chair, and placing his plate in front of him. Darcey grabbed her own, and Danae served herself. Like they had done so many times before, they held hands and gave thanks before they ate. Charlotte was so proud of them.
“I’m going upstairs to get ready for my date with Daddy. I’ll be back down shortly. Darce, it’s your turn to do dishes, honey. Devin can help you clear the table.”
She jumped into the shower quickly and rinsed off. Wrapped in a towel, she went through Bella’s closet of dresses and picked one out she thought would knock Travis over. A little slinky strapless black dress and matching stiletto heels. Luckily, most of Bella’s old clothes fit her, and most of them were nearly new. She knew her Daddy loved this dress in particular, and Charlotte had never worn it before. She slipped into the dress, pulled her nylon hose on, and slid into the shoes. Charlotte retouched her makeup and fixed her hair, and grabbed her evening bag.
“Wow, Mama,” Danae said, staring at Charlotte. “You look so pretty.”
“What, this old thing?” she teased, and ironically, it was an old thing. The girls both giggled at her. “I don’t know when we’ll be home, but we shouldn’t be later than eleven. I have to work in the morning. If you need me, you have my cell number.” She blew them kisses. “I love you all!”
She drove to the little restaurant off-strip where they had spent their tenth anniversary. This night, however, promised to be much more romantic. She parked her car and checked in for her reservation. To her great surprise, Travis was already awaiting her arrival. He watched her walking toward him, and was in awe of her. Standing as she neared the table, he took her hand and kissed it. “Mr. Jones, your lovely wife is here,” the Maître d’ announced.
“Holy wow, you look amazing, my sweet Charlotte.” His gaze never left her. “I’ve never seen you wear that before. Is it new?”
Since the joke worked so well on the kids, she thought she would try it on Travis. “What, this old thing?” Her eyes sparkled in the dim candlelight. He smiled at her, holding her hand.
“Old thing or not, you look stunning.”
“Well,” she said, “the girls are past the impressionable stage. I thought I’d take tonight and show off a little.”
“I’m glad you did,” he said, swallowing hard.
“While I have you here, love, I want to talk about a few things, if that’s okay?”
“Sure, my sweet Charlotte, my undivided attention is all yours.”
“First, I want to give you something,” she said, as she reached into her evening bag. She pulled out the ring box. “Close your eyes,” she teased, and he did. Taking the ring from the box, she slipped it onto his finger, and it was a perfect fit.
A smile crossed his lips when he felt her put the ring on his finger, and he couldn’t wait to open his eyes to behold it. Her fingers played with the ring, and she squeezed his hand, signaling him to open them. What he saw took his breath away.
“Oh, Charlotte, baby!” he exclaimed. “This is amazing. Where? When did you do this? How did I not know about this? We go everywhere together!”
“Not everywhere,” she purred. “I sneak out on occasion, you know. Run some errands, see my boyfriend on the side.”
He smiled coyly at her. “Yeah, how’s he doing, by the way?” She laughed, nearly spitting water out at him. “Seriously, though, when did you pull this off? It must have taken forever to get the right size.”
“Actually, I was running another errand when I saw it. I thought it was a fairly decent replacement for your wedding ring.” She smiled happily. “Do you like it?”
“No, I don’t like it. I love it!” He stood up and pulled her to him, nearly lifting her up off the floor, and kissed her. “Thank you, honey,” he whispered.
“You can really thank me later,” she teased, winking at him.
He shifted uncomfortably, loosening his tie. “You mentioned another errand. What were you doing at the jewelry store anyway?”
“Well, that’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about.” She wiped her hands on her napkin, nervous about approaching him with this. “The girls will be thirteen in a few weeks, and I was thinking, now is probably a good time to give them purity rings.”
Travis looked a little stunned. He hadn’t considered that they would give the girls rings like the one she had. “Rings, huh?”
“Yeah, I’ll give Darcey my old one, and Danae can have my Aunt Bree’s ring. They’re identical, and chances are I won’t even know which one is which when they’re cleaned up.” She looked at him, trying to read him. “Are you okay with doing this?”
“I’m not sure.” He wasn’t familiar with the concept even a little bit, and the thought of it made him uneasy.
“Well, the way I see it, sweetie, a woman’s innocence is the best gift she can give her new husband. I remember you telling me you wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but you know kids these days…” his voice trailed off. The girls weren’t that much younger than Amy was when they first made love.
“The girls will have a better chance to succeed if we set goals for them to attain. Give them standards to reach for.” She took his hand. “Baby, I don’t want grandbabies while Devin is under 10 years old.”
Suddenly, he felt very uncomfortable with the conversation. “Are you saying you weren’t appreciative of my experience on our wedding night? Because it sure seemed like you were.”
“Baby, I’m not saying that. I’m saying, I don’t want to raise grandchildren while we’re still raising our own babies.”
“You know, this isn’t fair.” He felt judged and dirty. “How could you?”
Charlotte sighed. “Do you want your daughters to end up like Amy?” she said, and immediately regretted it. “Oh baby, I’m sorry.” But it was too late.
“This date is over,” he said angrily. “You should have NEVER brought her into this.” He went to the host station and paid whatever was owed for their table and left her standing there.
She walked out to the parking lot, and he was still sitting in his car. She couldn’t hear him, but she could see him screaming. She knew better than to approach him when he was this hot. She unlocked her car and got in, locked the door, and started the ignition. Putting the car into first gear, she pulled out of the lot and headed for home, leaving him there.
Darcey was surprised to see her home so quickly and without Travis. “What’s the matter, Mama?”
“Your dad and I had a disagreement, and I left the restaurant.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “Would you still put Devin to bed for me, sweetheart? I’m not feeling well.”
“Sure Mama,” she said. “Come on Dev, time for bed.”
Travis sat in his car, fuming mad. How dare she! he sputtered. Where did she get off judging his life choices? She didn’t know him in Dragon Valley. He took the ring from his finger and threw it at the dashboard of his car, and then buried his face in his hands, sobbing. Even though she had been gone for close to 20 years, he never missed Amy more than he did right at that moment.
He drove to the karaoke bar down the street and pulled in. Though he seldom drank spirits, he was going to this night. He walked in, sat down and threw down a §100 bill. “Whiskey, line ‘em up,” he said to the bartender.
The bartender took the bill and laid down seven shots of whiskey in front of Travis. One by one, he drank them until there were no more of them to drink. He thought about buying another round of seven, but a pretty young blonde came and sat right next to him. She threw down a §20, and the bartender poured her a glass of wine. “How about I buy you a shot, handsome?” she said to Travis. He nodded his head, and she paid for a round for him. “You come here often, honey?”
“No, I never do,” he said, trying to keep his head. “You look so much like someone I used to know.”
The woman chuckled. “Is that good or bad?”
“Good. Tonight, it’s a good thing.”
She looked at his hands and didn’t notice a wedding band. “So, are you attached?” He looked at her funny and shrugged his shoulders. “Married. Are you married?”
He thought for a minute. “No,” he said. “Not tonight.”
She looked at him again, and suddenly she recognized him. “You’re that sports star! Travis, right?”
He nodded his head, fuzzy from the drink. “Yeah, that’s me. What’s your name? And if you say Amy, I’m gonna take you to that bed and breakfast on the beach and have my way with you.”
She had a choice to make. She already knew he was drunk, and she knew he was willing to sleep with her. So, did she lie and say her name was Amy, and have a one night stand with the hottest soccer player in Starlight Shores, or did she send him home to the wife she knew he had?
“You’re in luck, Travis,” she said. “My name just happens to be Amy.” She finished her glass of wine and called a cab.
They rode to the bed and breakfast together, and she rented a room under the name “Amy.” He opened the door and let her enter the room first. Something about the room seemed very familiar to him. He pushed the memory from his mind, and kissed “Amy” passionately, hungry for the affection he believed he wanted and missed from his first fiancée. “Aww Amy,” he slurred. “I’m gonna make love to you. I’ve missed you so much honey, it hurts.”
She kissed him, trying to undress him. “Are you sure about this, Travis? The last I heard, you have a beautiful wife. Most guys would kill to have a woman like her.” She continued to undress him.
“Charlotte,” he muttered. “My wife.” He looked at himself in the mirror and saw a blonde woman with him, not his beautiful Charlotte, who he loved more than life itself. “Who are you?”
“My name is Amy, or whatever you want it to be, darling,” she purred. “I can be Charlotte if you prefer.”
“No, no no no…” he stammered. “You’re not Amy, and you’re not my sweet Charlotte. Oh my goodness, what the hell am I doing?” he cried, tormented. “I’ve gotta go home.” He fumbled with his phone and called a cab. “Leave me alone,” he sobbed as she tried to kiss him. “My sweet Charlotte.” Feeling sick, he ran for the bathroom and threw up. It was then he saw Charlotte standing in the doorway of the room, in her white and purple nightie on their wedding night, smiling demurely. He observed the bed, and saw her, laying there in innocent anticipation. He looked at the plush rug where they had slept naked, and saw her, spooned with him. “What have I done?” he screamed in agony.
“Nothing yet,” the woman said, deeply disappointed. “I didn’t even get any bang for my buck.” She kissed him again, and he tried to push her away, but he couldn’t. She grabbed for him, and he slapped her hands away, trying to run from the room. But he was so drunk he could barely walk. The cab was there less than 10 minutes later. He stumbled from the room, throwing up on the way to the car.
“Are you sure you’re okay, dude? You’ll pay to clean my car if you puke in it.”
He opened his phone and brought up Charlotte’s photo. “Take me here.”
The woman followed Travis from the room, half-dressed and extremely disappointed. You and your big mouth, she thought. He was good as yours, and you let him get away. “He lives in that big house in the hills, on the west side. Jones. Travis Jones.” The driver nodded.
Charlotte was pacing the floor, worried sick about him. He wasn’t answering his phone, and he wasn’t home. She called the restaurant, to see if his car was still in the lot, but it wasn’t. Thirty minutes later, a strange number came up on the call box.
“Ma’am?” a male voice asked, “Is this where Travis Jones lives?”
“Yes! Oh my goodness, he’s missing! Do you know where he is?” Charlotte was frantic.
“I have him here, Ma’am. I rescued him from the bed and breakfast down by the beach.”
“What did you say?” she asked the man. “Would you repeat that? It sounded like you said he was at the bed and breakfast on the beach.”
“That’s what I said, Ma’am. Look, I don’t get paid to babysit rich celebrities, so could you come get him, please?”
“I’m on my way out.” Charlotte grabbed her coat and slipped into her sneakers, and walked to the front gate. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw him, falling over drunk, possibly on the verge of alcohol poisoning. “What happened to him?” she demanded.
“I brought him an’ a pretty young blonde to the inn on the beach. He was already drunk, Ma’am.”
“Sweetie,” she said to him, “Travis!” He was largely unresponsive. “Do you know how many he had?” He wasn’t gone long enough to be this hammered unless he’d had most of a bottle in less than an hour’s time.
“I don’t get paid enough for this crap,” the cab driver said. “Take him or leave him, but I am trying to earn a living here.”
She tried to lift him from the car, the smell of whiskey on his breath, along with a sweet, floral perfume that she had never smelled before. His face was covered in lipstick stains, and his pants were unbuttoned, nearly off his hips. “Come on, baby,” she said, trying to hold herself together. “Help me out here.” He easily outweighed her by double, maybe two and a half times. The cab driver took pity on her, and helped Travis onto the grass, behind the gate.
“I’m sorry I can’t do more. I drive a cab because I’m not supposed to lift.” She paid his fare and a good tip, and sent him on his way.
She called emergency immediately and had an ambulance come to bring him to the hospital. She needed him to live, and if he wasn’t treated soon, he might not. Darcey and Danae saw the ambulance arrive outside the house and ran down the steps. Charlotte was on the ground, holding Travis’ head in her lap, trying to keep him sitting up and alert, sobbing.
“Mama!” The girls yelled.
“Babies! Call Tracy, please honey. Have her come and sit with you. Daddy is very sick. I need to go to the hospital with him. Don’t open the gate for anyone but Tracy, okay?”
Danae was hysterical. “Don’t let him die, Mama!” she screamed.
“I’m going to do everything I can, honey,” Charlotte sobbed. “Go inside and call Tracy, please girls!”
The paramedics stabilized him and packed him into the ambulance, and she rode with him, worried sick. This was all her fault, and she would never forgive herself if something happened to him. They arrived at the hospital and they whisked him away from her, as she gave information to triage. She had no idea how many drinks he’d had, but she was willing to bet it was more than 5 shots in an hour. Most of the bars on the strip were still open, but she didn’t want to leave him, just in case.
Hours passed, and she still heard nothing from the doctors. She was frantic, trying to find out any piece of information she could. Finally, the attending physician came out to speak with her.
“Dr. Jones, your husband is very sick. If you hadn’t gotten him here when you did, he might not be alive right now. We have him intubated and on an IV drip, and we’ve pumped the contents of his stomach. Judging by his blood alcohol, we think he did no less than 7 shots of whiskey or hard spirits in less than an hour.”
“When can I see him?”
“You can see him now, but I want you to be prepared. He doesn’t look good. We’re expecting him to pull through, and we’ll assess damage in the morning, once his BAC has gone down some.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Charlotte said, feeling nauseated. He led her to Travis’ room, and she gasped when she saw him. A respirator, oxygen, IV fluids, tubes coming from everywhere. His skin was ashen and pale, unconscious and breathing shallowly. He looked nothing like the handsome husband she met for dinner just hours ago. She held his hand and sobbed. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She noticed the ring she had given him was off his hand and felt even worse. A nurse entered the room to check his monitors and take down readings. “Nurse, was he wearing a wedding ring when they brought him in?”
“If he doesn’t have it on now, then no. We didn’t remove any jewelry.”
Charlotte held his hand, still noticing the bright red lipstick in lip-shaped prints all over his face and neck. She wasn’t sure if she was angry or hurt, but she knew all of this was her fault. If she hadn’t pushed him. If she hadn’t suggested the purity rings… they would have been home together, and he would have been making love to her, and not having sex with some blonde he met in a bar.
Halfway through the night, when he had improved marginally and they had removed his respirator, he opened his eyes and tried to focus on his surroundings. “Where am I?” he said weakly.
“Travis, baby, I’m here with you.” She squeezed his hand. “You’re in the hospital, honeybear.”
“What happened?” he asked, not remembering much of anything.
“You tell me,” she spat, and then felt guilty. “That’s not fair. I’m sorry.”
“I remember driving to Mick’s. I remember taking a §100 from my wallet.” He struggled to recall. “I remember drinking shots, but I don’t know how many. And A …” he stopped short.
“A what, baby?”
“Amy is dead, baby,” she said, choking on a sob.
“No, she was there. I saw her,” he insisted.
“You went to the inn with her,” Charlotte stated.
“No,” he said. “I don’t remember that.”
“The cab driver picked you up from that bed and breakfast.”
“No, that can’t be,” he persisted.
She touched his face and smeared the red lipstick onto her finger. “Explain this, Travis.” She showed him her finger, covered in lipstick.
“I can’t,” he said, studying the color. Nothing was clicking.
“And her perfume,” she added, getting angrier.
“Is that what I smell?” he asked innocently.
“Travis, how could you?” She wanted to slap him, but she couldn’t.
“I don’t remember sleeping with her, baby.” His words cut her to the heart. Words she never thought she would hear. Words she never imagined he would utter.
“Think! Did you, or did you not have sex with this woman, Travis?” She wasn’t sure she really wanted to know.
He tried to remember, but he was still very drunk. “I don’t know.” His heart rate elevated and set off an alarm, and the nurse came in to check on him.
“Mrs. Jones, you need to keep him calm, or you’ll need to leave the room.”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “Baby, I’m sorry. For everything.”
“I want to sleep, Charl….” his voice drifted off as he passed out. She kept vigil by his bedside all night long, not sleeping, always watching him. Every movement he made, every breath, every groan, she was there.
She must have fallen asleep because his doctor woke her the next morning. “Dr. Jones, his BAC is just slightly elevated, but he is going to be very sick for a few days. He’ll be nauseated, he’ll have a headache that will make him wish he had died, and you’ll want to keep fluids going in steadily, whether he feels he can drink them or not. I don’t know how much he will remember, but the more we find out, the better off he’ll be in the long run.”
“Thank you, doctor. When can he go home?”
“Probably this afternoon. We’re going to run one more set of blood work around 10am, to make sure his organs are functioning properly. If those come back normal, then we’ll release him to your care.”
“Thank you, doc,” she said. She got up, and went to the bathroom, and washed her face. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and her face was puffy from crying. The bad part was, she felt worse than she looked. But she had to find answers.
“I need to go check some facts from last night, for the doctor,” Charlotte told the new nurse on the day shift. “My cell or pager is on file. If he wakes up, call me.” The nurse nodded and Charlotte left.
She took a cab to Mick’s. His car was in the parking lot, and she unlocked the door with her key. Inside, on the floorboard of the car was the new wedding ring she had bought for him. Tearfully, she picked it up and placed it in her purse, and locked the door. The bar wasn’t open, but the proprietor was inside, and she knocked on the door.
“Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” Charlotte began. “Were you here last night around 8pm?”
“Yes, I was. Is there a problem?”
“My husband was here. Tall, big, muscular. Dark hair, dark skin. Athletic build. Do you remember someone like that?”
“Yeah, he was here. A pretty blonde was hitting on him, and he was eating it up. Oh, I’m sorry, did you say he was your husband?”
“I did.” Charlotte had somewhat accepted the fact that he had cheated on her. “It’s okay, I already know about it.” Before she turned to go, she asked one more question. “Do you know how much he had to drink last night?”
“I don’t normally pay attention, but he was all over this blonde chick. He was putting down whiskey like it was water. I bet he had eight shots if he had one… and he wasn’t here that long before they left together.” His eyes lowered. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”
“Thank you, you’ve been a huge help.” She left Mick’s and drove in Travis’ car to the inn, hoping to catch the woman there, even though she didn’t think it was likely.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for a pretty blonde woman, might have been here with a tall man, dark hair, dark skin, big.”
“Yeah, she checked into the honeymoon suite last night. She said her name was Amy, but I don’t think it really was.”
“Has she checked out yet?”
“No, she hasn’t.”
“Thank you.” She was familiar with the honeymoon suite. It was where they began their marriage. Ironically, it might be where it all ended, too. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she knocked on the door to the suite. A woman in her underwear answered the door.
“Oh, you must be Charlotte.” The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.
“How… how do you know my name?” she asked.
“Travis kept calling your name.” That wasn’t helping. Did he call Charlotte’s name while he was having sex with her?
“Listen, I’m not here to cause problems, but I have to know. Did you…”
“Have sex? Nah, it wasn’t for my lack of trying, though. I’ve been drooling over that man for years, and I thought I finally had him last night.” Charlotte was furious.
“It takes a lot of nerve to say that to a man’s wife,” she said through gritted teeth. “You had better not be lying to me about this.”
“I am a lot of things, lady, but I am no liar. Listen, honey, for what it’s worth, he went into the bathroom to hurl, and when he came out, something was changed. Whatever made him do what he did went away, and all he could say was your name.” She smiled at Charlotte. “If I had kept my mouth closed though, he would have screwed me. I don’t know what you did to push him into my arms…”
“Oh shut up,” Charlotte snapped at her. “You had the good fortune to resemble his late fiancée, otherwise he wouldn’t have looked twice at you. So, don’t patronize me, and do NOT call me honey.” She turned to leave and then turned back. “And stay away from MY husband!” She slammed the door to the room and stomped out, seething.
She drove back to the hospital and walked back to his room. He was awake, but feeling terrible. She sat by his side and took his hand. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“There aren’t words to describe it,” he said, wanting to throw up, his head pounding like twenty sledgehammers were beating on it.
“So, what happened last night after I left the restaurant… Or I should say, after you left me standing in the restaurant.”
“I remember being angry with you, but now I don’t remember the reason why I was. I was irrationally angry.” Suddenly, a look of horror showed on his face. “My ring!”
“You mean this one?” she held it out on her finger, but snatched it back as he reached for it.
“Yes,” he said sheepishly, “that one. Can I have it back?” he asked.
“No.” Her answer had no qualification to it. It was just a flat, plain ‘no.’ “Please, by all means, continue your story.”
“I remember driving to Mick’s, and I remember the bartender putting down a hundred worth of spirits, so 7 shots. I remember drinking the first five, the first one was terrible, but the more I drank, the more I wanted. I wanted to numb myself.”
“Mission accomplished, I’d say.” Charlotte crossed her arms. “You nearly left a widow and three children fatherless last night, Travis. Was it worth it?”
“Baby, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, there’s more for you to be sorry about. I want to see if you remember it.”
“I remember seeing a blonde woman, who, in my stupor, looked like Amy. Whether she did or not I really couldn’t tell you. She bought me a drink, asked me if went there often. I said no. She asked me if I was married.” This part he remembered vividly, and it grieved him to say it.
“What did you say, Travis?”
“I said no, not tonight.” Charlotte gasped, his words taking her breath away. Hot tears streamed down her face.
“Oh it gets worse,” he said, feeling queasy. “I asked her what her name was, and I told her if it was Amy, I would take her down to the bed and breakfast and…” he couldn’t say it.
“And what, Travis?” More tears rolled down her cheeks. She didn’t think she had any tears left to cry, but he was proving her wrong.
“I would have my way with her.” Travis choked back his emotion. He remembered all of it, every sordid detail, but he could not remember having sex with her.
“I talked to your ‘Amy’ this morning, Travis. She told me you were never intimate, and I’ll consider that when I decide if I should forgive you. But your pants were halfway off, you had her perfume on your skin, and her lipstick on your face. And, oh my goodness, you even have a hickey on your neck, Travis!” She couldn’t look at him. “You know, I love you, but I really don’t like you right now.”
“You’re not alone. I hate myself right now. I wish I would have died.” He was so ashamed of himself.
“That’s a cowardly thing to say, Travis. Do you not care about me? The wounds you have inflicted on me? On our children? Danae saw you last night, almost lifeless, and she was hysterical. She screamed for me to not let you die. Is that how you wanted your 12-year-old daughter to remember you, Travis Richard? That little girl tore my heart out.”
“Oh, I’ve really screwed up,” he said, despondent. “If you can forgive this, it will be a miracle, and I will forever be not worthy of you.”
“Right now, you’re totally not worthy of me. I know I have to bring you home, but I don’t want you in my bed. I don’t even want you in the same room with me.” She stood up and pushed the chair against the wall forcefully. “I have to call your daughter.”
She walked out of his room and dialed the house number. Tracy answered the phone.
“Tracy, it’s Charlotte. Thank you for saving us again last night. I hated to have the girls call you in the middle of the night like that.”
“How is Travis? I figured no news was good news, but Danae has been a crying, hysterical mess all night.”
“I know she has. Did you call them out of school today?”
“Just Danae. Darcey and Devin wanted to get out of the house. They needed to keep their minds off everything. School seemed like a good option for them.”
“Is she awake? I want to talk to her.” She’d rather do it in person, but she didn’t want to leave Travis, either.
“Yes, let me get her.” She heard Tracy calling for Danae in the background, and she came to the phone, crying hysterically. Charlotte walked back into Travis’ room, so he could hear what he did to their daughter.
“Nae, honey, it’s Mama.”
“Mama Mama,” she cried. “Is Daddy okay? I’ve been so scared! You didn’t let him die, did you?” Her sobs on the other end of the line were coming through loud and clear, even with the call not on speaker, and he felt like the worst father ever.
“Daddy’s going to be okay, honey. Do you want to talk to him?” He shook his head, openly crying, but she handed him the phone anyway.
“Nae Nae,” he said, weeping bitterly. “Hey, honey. I’m okay sweetheart. Your mama, she saved my life last night. She did.”
“Oh daddy, I was so scared. You looked like you were dead, and I …” she broke down crying, breaking his heart all over again. “I didn’t want you to die.”
“I’m okay, I promise,” he said. “Take care of Darce and Devin for me, I’ll be home later today, sweetie.”
“Okay, daddy. I love you so much!” Charlotte heard her sobs, and started to cry, again. Tracy came back onto to line.
“How much longer before you are home? I don’t have anywhere to go, but Danae really needs you.”
“It should be this afternoon if the blood tests are normal-ish. I’ll let you know soon.”
Travis was sobbing uncontrollably. “Was it worth it, Travis?”
“No. I am such a fool. I had the world by the horns, and I threw it away for nothing.” He shook his head. “I don’t expect or deserve your forgiveness. In fact, I can be on the first flight to Dragon Valley in the morning if that is what you want.”
“That isn’t what I want. I want us to be a family, for us to be a couple. I want, more than anything, for us to be lovers again. But I need time to process this and figure out what I did to make you do this. Don’t think for a minute I don’t hold myself responsible for everything that’s happened.”
“Why? Why is it your fault?” He shook his head. “You didn’t make me drink until I almost died. You didn’t make me almost cheat on you.”
“Actually, I think I might have. Do you remember our fight at the restaurant?”
“Not all of it. I mean, I remember being angry, but I don’t know why.”
“I wanted you to give Darcey and Danae my purity rings, and you… I don’t know why. You lost it.”
A light of recollection shone in his eyes. He remembered. “I felt like you were judging me. Like you were holding your innocence over my head, like a sword, ready to drop it on me. And then when you invoked Amy’s name…” He was getting angry again, but he knew it wasn’t an appropriate response. “I have made so many mistakes, but Amy was not one of them.”
“I thought Amy and your son were well behind us. I thought they were a couple of years ago. But I see now, they’re still in your memory, and you still miss her. Maybe even a part of you still loves her.” She sniffled, wiping tears away. “But baby, all I meant was, I didn’t want to be raising our children with theirs. And honeybear, I loved that you knew your way around the bedroom when I was so inexperienced. It saved my sanity that night. I was frightened, but you… you were so loving and so patient.”
She continued. “Honeybear, purity is different for a young lady than it is for a young man. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but the truth is, it is.” She wrung her hands. “Christopher was held to a totally different standard than I was. I know for a fact he and Cade were physical long before they were married, but Mama and Daddy didn’t care, as long as they didn’t have a baby out of wedlock. I was a different story. Remember when I went to campus for your graduation, and I was afraid you wouldn’t honor my promise?”
He nodded. “I can’t forget that. It was a very difficult few days.” They had shared a bed without so much as a kiss. He wanted her, but he respected her.
“She almost didn’t want me to go because of that promise. Mama didn’t trust me enough to stick to it. And to be honest, I might not have. She told Christopher that if he made mistakes, they would still love him. But baby, I got no such promise. I was expected to be chaste, and if I wasn’t, I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”
“I’m sure they would have still loved you, Charlotte.”
“I don’t know. Their disappointment in me would have been crushing. In a way, I don’t want my daughters to have these expectations placed on them, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have done it any other way if I had to do it over again. Giving myself to you on our wedding night… it was the greatest gift I could have given you. I want that for our girls. Hey, if you don’t want Devin to have a purity ring, I’m not going to push it. Christopher never thought much of his. But I really want to do this for them. Because it should be a gift for their future husbands. My mama… she told me once she made poor choices when she was in high school. I guess she kept the ‘spirit’ of the promise alive, but she did other things that she wasn’t proud of. It haunted her for most of her life. She didn’t want me to do the same thing.” She sighed. “I guess I’m just talking to hear myself talk.”
“No, baby, you have some excellent points, honey.”
Their discussion was interrupted by the doctor’s visit. “Travis, all your blood work looks very good and normal, so we’re going to discharge you early. I’m sure your lovely wife here will care for you just like she always does.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Travis said.
“You’re a lucky man, Travis. This little lady saved your life.”
Again, he thought. Another debt I’ll never repay, but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying. “I am the luckiest man alive, doc. I just hope I’m not too late realizing it.”
Up Next: Chapter Twelve, Generation Four