Author’s Note: This chapter contains mature language and adult situations. Reader discretion is advised.
Charlotte drove Travis home from the hospital, and they barely spoke to each other on the way. He was so ashamed of his behavior he could barely face her, let alone speak, and Charlotte was just concentrating on getting them home safely. Her eyes were tired, and she had double vision. She also knew they had a frightened little girl at home waiting for her daddy, and Travis’ day was not looking better from here on out.
She pulled into the driveway and parked in the garage. Travis’ car was an expensive, flashy sports car, given to him by the team’s owner for signing a contract with the Llamas. She walked around to the passenger door, opened it for him, and walked away. Travis gathered himself and his thoughts, and prepared himself for what was sure to be an emotional encounter with Danae. He was very thankful she was allowing him back in, even though he was banished to the loft until they could work this whole mess out.
“Tracy, we’re home,” Charlotte called to the babysitter. Danae heard her mother, and came bounding down the stairs. Without saying a word, she wrapped herself around Charlotte’s waist, and cried. “Oh, my poor little girl,” Charlotte said, stroking her hair. “You don’t look like you have slept at all, honey.”
“I didn’t Mama. Where’s Daddy?”
“He’s coming.” She knelt down to Danae’s height and hugged her. “Look, sweetie. Daddy isn’t feeling good, so be gentle with him, okay? His tummy feels sick and he has a bad headache.”
“Okay, Mama,” she said as she yawned.
Travis opened the door, expecting a squeal or a scream, but neither came. Danae calmly walked to him and hugged him. “Mama says you have a headache, so Imma be quiet.”
“Oh, Danae, my sweet little punkin’,” he said, embracing her. “I missed you.” She took his hand and walked him upstairs to their bedroom.
“Here Daddy, you can sleep if you wanna.” She was ready to tuck him in. Tears filled his eyes. What a fool you are, Travis Jones, he thought to himself.
“Aww, thank you honey,” he said to her. “I think Daddy’s going to take a shower and spend some time upstairs.” He reached down to pick her up, despite his raging headache. She put her arms around his neck, her legs wrapped around his waist, and she cried on his shoulder. “Oh Danae,” he cried, “I love you so much, sweetheart. I would be lost without you and your sister and brother.”
“What about Mama?” she asked innocently. “Would you be lost without Mama?”
Tears of regret rolled down his face. “More than you know, honey.”
“I’m sleepy, Daddy. If you need me, I’m in my room.” She walked to her bedroom, smiling, happy he was home.
Charlotte was standing in the doorway of their bedroom. “I don’t want you in my bed, or in my room. I can’t even look at you with that hickey on your neck. Disgusting.”
Feeling beaten up, he didn’t even argue it. “I’ll be upstairs in the loft if you want to talk.”
“I don’t. I have our children to take care of, and explain to them why their daddy nearly drank himself to death last night.”
“How do they know that?”
“The news, Travis. You’re a big celebrity. You can’t do things like this without consequences. For all of us.”
Travis hung his head in shame. He knew he had a long road to recovery with her, but he was willing to make it better, if she was willing, too. He grabbed some clothes from the dresser and walked up to the loft.
Charlotte tucked Danae into bed, and kissed her goodnight, even though it was two o’clock in the afternoon. She didn’t expect to see her until morning, and she hoped, for Danae’s sake, that she didn’t. From the corner of her eye, she saw Travis ascending the steps to the loft, looking miserable, and for a moment, she felt sorry for him. No, Charlotte, she thought. He brought this on himself. And then she felt a twinge of guilt, knowing she wasn’t completely innocent in the events of the previous night.
The kids weren’t due home for an hour, and Tracy was already on her way home. For better or worse, she figured it was a good time for her to talk to Travis, whether she wanted to or not. She padded quietly up the steps, and saw him lying on the couch, his shoulders heaving in sorrow. She sat down next to him and rubbed his back, going against every instinct in her body. His cries got louder as she touched him.
“Travis,” she began, “what made you go looking for someone else?”
“I didn’t go out looking. I went out to get drunk. She just appeared, seemingly from nowhere.” He sat up and grabbed a tissue. “By the time she sat next to me, I was already feeling no pain. I was seven shots in when she showed up, and I hadn’t been there longer than twenty or twenty five minutes when she came in and bought me another round. My judgement was very impaired, and I was vulnerable, being so angry with you. But now, I’m just angry with myself.”
“Wow, Travis. No wonder you were so sick. That’s an incredible amount of whiskey in less than thirty minutes.” She shook her head sadly. “So, if you weren’t drunk, you think you wouldn’t have gone with her?”
“Of course not, honey.” He shook his head. “I leave home every day, go to a stadium filled with beautiful women chanting my name, some of them give me their phone numbers, even their addresses. And then there is fan mail. Some of it is explicit. Women describing what they would do to me, and with me.” He blushed and shrugged his shoulders. “But never once have I ever wanted to go home with any of them.”
“This happens at work?” Charlotte asked.
“That wasn’t the takeaway I was going for, honey. I meant, I have ample opportunity if I truly wanted it. But I don’t, because I have you at home, waiting for me. Coming home to you is the best part of my day.”
Her heart melted. “Why did the idea of those rings drive you so crazy? They’re just metal bands with a stone in them.”
“I don’t know, baby. I was shocked, I admit. It’s not the rings, it is what goes with them. We’d never talked about that before, and you took me by surprise. And bringing Amy into this whole thing was uncalled for. That’s what ticked me off the most. But remember, I didn’t have the same loving upbringing you had, Charlotte. I had no close-knit family. My mother didn’t care if I lived or died and spent every waking minute telling me what a huge mistake Talia and I were, and a father who was more interested in his work than his family. Purity and chastity were foreign ideas to me, they still are to a point. Nobody cared enough to instill any kind of values in me, until I met Amy… she was the only one who really ever loved me. And then, that wretched woman took her from me…” he began to sob. “I miss her, honey, but not how you think. She was the only good memory from my childhood. If it hadn’t been for her, I’d have been dead long ago.”
“Tell me about her, Travis. I want to understand.” She took his hand.
“Baby, are you sure? I mean, there’s plenty enough healing to do without opening more wounds.”
“How are we going to get past her, Travis, if we don’t talk about her? Tell me why you loved her. Tell me what she was like. Tell me about your sex life with her.”
He blushed. “You don’t want to know about our sex life, baby. I’m not comfortable with that.”
“Travis, please.” Charlotte really wanted to know everything, so she could finally grasp it.
“Well, we met in middle school. I can’t believe I’m talking about my late fiancée with my wife.” She squeezed his hand. “Amy was the new girl in school, outspoken, not shy at all. She was mesmerizing. She was the first person I’d ever seen with light skin and blonde hair. Dragon Valley has a strong native population, and most of us, well, they look a lot like me. Dark hair, dark skin, mostly short and stocky. I was a bit of an anomaly, being tall and slender. Truthfully, I was underweight, almost emaciated. Not many people move there from other towns, and hardly anyone leaves, like the town has a stranglehold on it. And, I was infatuated with Amy at first. Then she started hanging around with Emmitt and me, as friends. And then one evening after I’d walked her home, she kissed me. I was so embarrassed and awkward, but then I discovered I liked it. I kissed her back. It was like fireworks and electricity in my body at the same time. She took my breath away. So many new emotions, so many new feelings. It was the first real affection anyone had ever shown me. I had no idea what to make of any of it. After that, we were inseparable.”
“She was a breath of fresh air in an old, almost medieval town. Her dad left the family when she was a little girl, and I guess her sister Becky was just an infant. It was only her and her mom, and Becky. I mean, they were dirt poor. They came to Dragon Valley with just the clothes on their backs and a few things. They were starving wherever they were before the Valley. I never asked where she was from. We dated for a year and a half before we got intimate and almost four total, and they were the best years of my life there. We did everything together. But, she knew when we met where we would end up, even before I had any idea what it all meant. I was incredibly naive, and she was so vivacious, so full of life, very sure of herself. She knew what she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid to ask for anything.” He shook his head, smiling. “I don’t know what she saw in me. I was a skinny, socially awkward, painfully shy boy of twelve.”
“So eventually, she found this old abandoned farm way off to the east, on her side of the river, almost bordering the mountains. And I mean, this thing was way out in the boondocks, with a broken down barn way back off the dirt road. She had this place staked out for months.” He paused, almost as if he could still smell the rotting wood and hay in the barn. “Amy lured me there one autumn Saturday afternoon, and it was still kinda warm, I’ll never forget it. And she made this love nest for us, a blanket, pillows. It was perfect. We took each other’s innocence that day. We were about 13, almost 14 years old. I was very awkward, you wouldn’t recognize me,” he joked, blushing.
He saw Charlotte wipe a tear from her eyes. “That is almost how old our babies are now, Travis. Could you imagine them doing this?”
He shook his head. “No. You’re right, baby.”
“I’m sorry I interrupted you, honeybear. She must have loved you very much.” Charlotte smiled.
He nodded. “She did. And I loved her more than anything else. Every weekend, sometimes on both days during the weekend, we would meet in that old barn, and we would make love together. We never really worried about using protection, because she figured she would never get pregnant.” He chuckled. “Man, we were so stupid, but she was my world, and we were in love. Then about a year and a half, two years later, she comes to me at school, crying. She’d never been that upset before, so I couldn’t figure it out. Tells me she’s late. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Shoot, I had no idea how a woman’s body worked. But we stopped and she got a pregnancy test on the way home from school, she squatted right there in the bushes along side the road and peed on this thing, hands it to me.” His eyes watered, and he dabbed them with a tissue, lost in the memory. “We were terrified to see those two pink lines. We were both fifteen years old, too young to deal with the consequences of our very adult act. But there we were, in love, newly engaged and expecting our first child together. Her mother was really good about it. But my mother, she was awful.”
“Tell me about your mother, Travis. I know very little about her.”
“There’s a reason for that. I hated her. She would beat our emotions out of us, until we had none left. Happy? Nope, can’t have that, so she would beat us until we cried, and then she would continue until we either passed out from pain or played dead. If Talia or I had an accident, wet the bed, whatever… she would stick our faces in it and hold us there, screaming that we would never amount to anything. If we had a problem, we were supposed to figure it out ourselves, and when she didn’t like how we solved it, she beat the hell out of us with green switches we had to get ourselves from the willow tree in the park next door, or she’d use my father’s belt, or a spoon from the kitchen. And the switches had to be just right, or she would go get one herself, and that was many, many times worse. Many days I went to school bruised, or with cuts on my face from where she would whip me. And I always got it worse than Talia, because she thought I needed more “character.” I was too weak, too strong, too cowardly, too brave, too masculine, not masculine enough. She didn’t need a reason to do it, she just did it. Our birthdays were just not celebrated. We never got anything for Snowflake Day. She always told us we were never good enough for Father Winter to come. It was emotional and physical torture to live there. One time, my bed wasn’t made to her ridiculous standards, so when I came home from school, it was in the front yard in the trash, covered in dirt and animal dung she found at the neighboring farm. I slept on the floor for years with just a blanket and a pillow Amy gave me.” He choked up with raw emotion. Reliving it was sheer misery.
Charlotte was openly crying, repulsed by what she heard. She could never imagine someone being treated so cruelly, yet being as well-adjusted and awesome as Travis turned out to be. “Honeybear, I’m so sorry you had to endure that. What a vile person she was.”
“When I met Amy, I was planning my escape from not only Dragon Valley, but my own miserable life. She was my whole reason to live. I mean it when I say that I would not be alive today if it wasn’t for her.” His temples throbbed as he clenched his teeth. “And then, I got that phone call from her mother, saying there had been an accident. I drove in the snow in my mother’s old beat up sedan to the accident scene. It was horrific. Her car looked like it had exploded, pieces of it were scattered everywhere. The actual car, or what was left of it, was upside down in the river. If she hadn’t been killed instantly, she would have drowned. The police wouldn’t even let me go to her. Said she was a mess, and she probably was, but that was my sweetheart, my whole existence, my life, in that freezing river.”
She hugged him. “I can’t imagine, baby, how heartbreaking it must have been for you.”
“Without her, I had no reason to live. I skipped school for weeks. I sat and cried in my room for days on end, while I heard my mother muttering about what a waste of flesh and blood I was. That I was too weak to be worth the space I took up. But, Amy taught me that life is worth living, and that there had to be something else out there besides the living nightmare I was enduring, something much better. I saw Sim State as my ticket out, so I started studying again, with one goal in mind. Emmitt helped put me back on the right track so I could get away. I knew when I left I’d probably never see him again, but not even a best friend could make me go back now, if he’s even still alive. If I did, it would be a death sentence for me… nothing but bad memories and pain. Dragon Valley has a way of sucking the life out of a person.”
“Tell me more about Amy, sweetheart.”
“What more do you want to know? I’ve told you everything.”
“How did she make you feel? You said she knew what she wanted. What did you mean?”
“How did she make me feel? She was the most incredible soul, a good, kind heart. Loved animals, she said she wanted horses someday. She wanted a bunch of kids, she said, that all looked like me. Amy made me feel alive, she taught me how to love, both literally and figuratively. I know I joked about my awkwardness before, but I meant it. I didn’t have a clue what to do with her, other than the actual act itself. Nobody told me about sex, and certainly no one told me how to please a girl. But she did. She knew her own body so well, it was amazing. She taught me everything I know, and she always claimed she learned it from her mother’s magazines, and she probably did. She wanted to do everything and anything. If she read about it, she wanted to try it, even if I didn’t want to. We always tried her crazy ideas, and we always ended up having a blast. Amy and I were going to go to Sim State together, and start our life there and never go back, move somewhere else, anywhere but back to Dragon Valley. But, my mother was right about one thing. She was the best part of me. She made me want to be a better man.”
“How do I make you feel?”
“Please, Charlotte. I’m not going to let you trick me into comparing you to Amy, honey.”
“It’s not a trick, I’m just wondering.”
“Mama, I’m home!” Darcey yelled up the stairs, saving Travis from answering an uncomfortable question. “Mama?”
“We’re in the loft,” Charlotte yelled back. “Daddy is home.” They heard quick footfalls ascending the stairs, and a teary-eyed Darcey looked at him.
“Daddy!” she squealed, running to him. He wrapped her in a hug and cried, kissing her forehead. “Daddy, I’m so glad you’re feeling better.”
“Me too Darcey bug.” He rocked her in his arms. “I love you so much, punkin’.”
“I love you too, Daddy! This much!” she said, holding her arms wide open.
Charlotte winked at Darcey, and asked her, “Sweetie, could you let Mama and Daddy talk for a little while, please? Get Devin from the bus when he comes home, like a good girl? And Danae is sleeping, so please try not to wake her honey.”
They listened for Darcey to hit the bottom landing on the stairs, and Charlotte looked at Travis again. She put her hand on his shoulder, and rubbed his back. “I’m so sorry Amy was killed, honey. But, I wonder how things would have gone, for us, if she had moved to Sim State with you.”
“There probably wouldn’t have been an ‘us,’ Charlotte.” He couldn’t know for sure, but he was nothing if not faithful. When he loved, he loved deeply and permanently. “I wouldn’t have been looking for someone else. It would have been Amy and me, and Joel.” The previous night’s events were repugnant to him. The memory of it made him ill.
“The baby had a name? You’ve never said that before.” She liked the name Joel.
“I have tried to intentionally leave out painful parts. The box that had Amy’s picture in it at the dorm room had baby clothes in it that I never gave to her, a lock of her hair from her last haircut, photos of her, of us together, a little stuffed bear she won for me at the Medieval Festival one year. The pregnancy test. Did you notice that box never made it here?”
“I never paid attention to what you packed and what you didn’t.”
“I threw it in the dumpster the night before we left. I wanted to send it to her mother, but I found out she killed herself shortly after my high school graduation. I guess she couldn’t cope with having to bury her oldest daughter. I never told anyone that, ever. My mother took her little sister in, and carried on like Amy and her mother were still alive for years after they were gone. That was why she never accepted you, honey. I don’t even know if that harridan is still alive, and I don’t care. Talia is, and she is more crazy than I can handle. I don’t know what happened to Amy’s sister, Becky. The fact is, baby, I don’t have any pictures, any keepsakes, no mementos of Amy. Everything is gone, and I wanted it that way when I fell in love with you.”
“I’m going to ask you again. How do I make you feel?” He had to hand it to her. She was persistent.
“You.” He took her hands in his, and looked right into her eyes. “My sweet Charlotte, you make me feel whole. Complete. Loved. Needed. Desired. Sexy. You make me feel like I have a purpose, like my mother was wrong all those years she told me I would never amount to anything, or that I was worthless. You make me feel like I can do anything I want to do, to be whoever and whatever I want to be. You make me feel like the man I was born to be. You have to believe me, Charlotte, how much I love you. I would give my life happily if it meant saving yours. And if we don’t make it out of this crisis with our marriage, our love, intact… well, I might as well not even exist, because my life would be absolutely forfeit without you and my children in it.” He hung his head in deep sorrow and regret.
She still had intense love for him in her heart, and even with all that had taken place over the past 20 hours, she still ached for him. But, she had to remind herself that he almost cheated on her, and that he was willing, if maybe not able at such an intoxicated state. That he nearly killed himself and almost left a family who needed him behind. But, she also realized that she had culpability in this mess, too. She crossed a line which should have never been crossed.
“I would hope you feel like those things, Travis, because that is how I see you. Now that I know more about your miserable childhood and a lot more about Amy, I understand you much better. And I owe you a big apology. I am so sorry I dragged Amy into our discussion about the rings. I had no right to do that, knowing how hurtful it would be to you, and I was sorry before I even finished getting it out of my mouth. I just wasn’t thinking about your feelings, because I wanted my way. I have been so jealous of Amy, but that was no excuse for what I did to you. You had every right to be livid, and I don’t blame you for it. I just wanted you to know how sorry I am about our fight last night.”
“Why have you been jealous of Amy, honey?”
“Because I know how much she meant to you. Because I know I could never measure up to her. I saw her picture. She was beautiful. And now, now that I know more about her… My Mama always told me I’m the one who saved you. Now I know I was kidding myself. She was the mother of your first baby. The love of your life. And who am I in comparison? I’m just a skinny brunette from Starlight Shores with an ugly scar under my left eye, someone who happens to have killed an innocent man with her car as a careless, rebellious teenager. How could I possibly compete with her?”
“This should have never been a competition between you and Amy. She was never a threat to you. It hurts me deeply to know you feel this way, especially about yourself.” He put his arm around her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, honeybear. Sometimes even today, though, I wonder what you saw in me. And seeing Amy’s picture made me even more insecure.”
“Baby, when I met you, I knew I had been given a second chance at life. At love. And even with all your perceived imperfections, you looked like a china doll to me. Porcelain skin, pretty blue eyes, gorgeous thick, brown hair. And after I got to know you, I discovered your beauty runs more than skin deep. You have an amazing soul, a kind and generous heart. You’re a phenomenal mother to our three children, all of whom are your spitting image. I knew you would be a fantastic mother by how you were with Christopher. You made it so easy to love you that I couldn’t help myself. This might sound callous, but I’m not sorry Amy died anymore, because I would have never known you if she had lived. You are the love of my life, not Amy. Look at all you have given me, Charlotte. And I’m such a fool. I am so sorry I was unfaithful to you, that I disappointed you, that I violated your trust, and so easily threw away everything we have built together. Our love. Our family. Our lives. That is something I will never forgive myself for. Ever.” He sighed deeply, wiping tears from his eyes.
“You weren’t unfaithful to me, Travis. You didn’t have sex with her and I doubt you could have in the condition you were in, even if she didn’t stop you. But it hurts me to think that you wanted to, that you were so willing. You told her you weren’t married, for goodness’ sake. You took off your brand new wedding ring. Those things tear me up inside.”
“I threw the ring because I was frustrated with you. No,” he shook his head, “I wasn’t frustrated, I was furious. Being that angry, it scared me. I thought I might be turning into my mother, and the idea of that made me want to forget her. And like I said, by the time that woman showed up, I was already very drunk. My lack of sobriety is no excuse, I know. I get it.” Just talking about it, remembering it, made him feel nauseated. “I know I hurt you deeply and I’m so sorry. I remembered something this morning I want to tell you, so please bear with me, because some of it might be painful to hear.”
Charlotte nodded, and braced herself. “I’m listening.”
“She and I were kissing at the inn when I started feeling sick, so I stumbled into the bathroom to throw up. I don’t know if I was hallucinating, or if it was something else, but when I looked up, I saw you in that sexy little nightie you wore on our wedding night, standing in the doorway to the bathroom, smiling shyly at me. Then I staggered out into the bedroom and I saw you waiting for me on the bed just before we made love for the first time, naked, half excited and half scared to death. I had to rub my eyes to see if you were really there. Then I looked over to where she was waiting for me by the fireplace, and I saw you and me, snuggled up together on that rug in front of the fire, satisfied and spent.” He swallowed hard. “And I knew I was making the biggest mistake of my life.” He was weeping at the memory. “I cried your name in anguish, and I tried so hard to get away from her. I yelled at her to stay away from me. I knew I had to get home, and I called the cab. That’s how I got home, honey, and I’m so glad you were there, because I don’t remember anything after I showed the cabbie your picture. I remember pulling your photo up on my phone, and telling him to bring me to you. I don’t even know how he knew where to bring me. I must have passed out, because I woke up in the hospital, very drunk and very confused.”
She was weeping, and she hugged him close. “Baby, I… I forgive you.” Hearing her declaration, he cried out in utter relief. “Oh honeybear,” she said, bawling, “I love you so much, and I want us to go back to the way we were, before all of this.”
“Charlotte, I promise you I will never do this to you again.” He could hardly believe this incredible blessing, one he never anticipated. What he did know, was that he wasn’t going to take Charlotte, or their love for one another, for granted anymore. “I will never do anything that will jeopardize what I have been blessed with here. You. The twins. Our son. Our home. Our marriage. You are my world, baby, and you are the love of my life. Without you and those precious babies downstairs, I’d be a dead man.”
Charlotte stood, and Travis stood with her. They embraced, and he kissed her like it was their first kiss ever; warm, loving, passionate, longing. He pulled away from her, needing to catch his breath, but held her close, not wanting to let her go. “Baby, I love you so much, honey.”
“I love you, Travis. And I’m so sorry about causing all of this. I’m not going to be jealous of Amy anymore, honeybear. Because I know… I know you love me, and no one else.”
He took her face in his hands and gazed into her beautiful blue eyes. “You are forgiven, my sweet Charlotte. Please, never doubt how much I love you. I will spend the rest of my life showing you that I am totally, one hundred million percent in love with you, and only you. You are my everything.”
Charlotte looked at him, love in her eyes and forgiveness in her heart. “Baby, you can move back into our bedroom anytime you want to.”
“How about now?” Travis suggested.
“How about after we put the kids to bed?” Charlotte countered.
“Agreed,” Travis said. “I can’t wait to make this up to you.”
Up Next: Chapter Thirteen, Generation Four