“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.
“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.
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.”
Up Next: Chapter Twenty Five, Generation Four