G5 Chapter Thirty Five – The Worst Day, Part One

Three Years Later

Tessa and Teddy played together before Elyse and Eamon needed to be ready for the school bus. Danae was at her wits’ end with her oldest. 

“Lysie, do you have what you need for ballet after school? I can’t keep running your pointe shoes to the Academy every day!”

Elyse rolled her eyes and sighed. “Yes, Mama. Besides, Howie can come get them for me after school if I forget them—”

“That’s NOT the point, young lady!” Danae crossed her arms and stood behind the island while a fresh batch of pancakes cooked on the griddle. “You are almost thirteen years old! It’s time you started being more responsible!”

Her back turned to Danae, Elyse made a talking motion with her hand and muttered under her breath. “Blah, blah, blah…” She hated nothing more than being treated like a child, something her mother excelled at doing on the regular. “Eamon! Let’s go.” She grabbed her backpack, the ribbons of her pointe shoes dangling at the zipper. “We’re gonna be late!”

“Quit bossing me around, Elyse! You’re not my mother.” 

“Yeah, whatever! Come, don’t come. I don’t care!” She stomped toward the front door, but Danae ran and caught her arm.

“I don’t know what your problem is, but it’s stopping now!” 

“Oh yeah? Make me!”

Danae counted to ten before she laid a hand on her daughter. She loved that girl, but she wanted to beat the snot out of her. “Your father will hear about this, Elyse. You don’t want to be on his bad side today. Trust me.” 

Elyse huffed and jerked her arm away from Danae. “I’m gonna be late.” 

“Then go!” Danae screamed at the slammed front door. Tessa toddled to Danae, who flopped on the sofa in front of the large screen television. 

“Mama?” She held her arms up to Danae to be lifted.

The girl’s soft, curly black hair shined in the early morning sunlight. Danae picked her up and snuggled her close. “It’s okay, Tessy.” She kissed the girl’s sticky cheek about the same time she smelled something burning. “The pancakes!” She placed Tessa back onto the floor and dashed into the kitchen, where smoke was already billowing. A cup full of water went onto the griddle—a puff of steam swelled from the hot pan, along with the sizzle of flash-boiled water. “Aw, crap!”

“Aw, crap!” Teddy’s 3-year-old voice parroted. 

Danae laughed out loud. The little ones always reminded her of better times with Elyse and Eamon, times when they acted like they still loved her. “I guess you didn’t want pancakes for breakfast after all, did you, Teddy Bear?” He shook his head and giggled. 

Ah yes, the giggles of three-year-old twins were always the salve she needed for her aching heart. Her argument with Elyse almost forgotten, she finished preparing breakfast for the twins so she could get them bathed and ready for a nap. 

*****

Andy grumbled as he opened his office door. Commissioner Jones would be at the stadium with her miserable husband in an hour. It was a meeting he dreaded, and it was becoming more and more commonplace as her ridiculous investigation of the Sharks franchise continued. This time, Andy’s managing tactics were under scrutiny after Fiona failed to ban Aaron from the league. She intended to present evidence of unethical recruiting practices. Kirby had gone over every fine detail—he was confident the panel would exonerate Andy as well.

Andy wore a business suit, dressed to impress, for he would sit in front of a committee of league mediators. Every player they acquired since Kirby hired him, including Aaron Hall and Wyatt Searcy, was in question. Kirby knew the charges she would present were bogus. Now, he and Andy stood in solidarity against the shrew married to Andy’s estranged brother-in-law. 

“Are you ready, Kirby? I mean, do we have our defense solidified? I can’t afford to lose my shirt in a legal battle.”

“Relax, son.” Kirby rested his hand on Andy’s shoulder. “You and I both know the charges they’ve fabricated won’t stick to you. They have no case, and they know it.” Andy slouched in his seat, unsure of himself. “This smacks of desperation. We’ve got this.” 

“How are you so certain of everything? Ten years of contracts for them to dissect. Fiona will find just one thing wrong she can exploit. Danae and the kids? They’ll be fine, Kirby. Every action I’ve taken, every part of me, is on the line. Devin will try to destroy me. He’s made it clear I’m on his hit list.” His mind raced back to over ten years of threats and attacks from his estranged brother-in-law.

Kirby sat down across from Andy. “I have your back, no matter what happens. I won’t allow the league to penalize you and your family, especially when you have young children at home. Any monetary damages they levy, I’ll take care of it. Just another cost of doing business.” 

Andy wrung his hands. “You know, at some point, Kirby, I won’t be worth the money you’ve paid me over the years.”

“Nonsense.” Kirby smiled at his manager. “You’re still the best business decision I’ve ever made for this team, bar none.” 

At 10:00 AM on the nose, the two men entered mediation. Fiona and Devin Jones sat at the head of the table—a panel of four mediators hand-picked by the commissioner attended the meeting. 

“You’re late, Kemp,” Fiona snarled. 

Kirby ignored her. “Gentlemen, my team manager of ten years, Anduin Murphy. He has followed league rules and regulations to the letter. I have years’ worth of contracts that he has signed in my stead, everything in complete compliance.” He opened his briefcase and retrieved his laptop, and opened the folder that contained digital copies of every contract Andy had ever signed for every acquisition. “I can provide hard copies of these documents when necessary.” 

“You have no other evidence than this?” An older gentleman on the panel, one who looked to be about Kirby’s age, spoke. “We have already seen the contracts, Mr. Kemp, and the league has reviewed them. This is the reason we’re here today. Commissioner Jones maintains that your acquisition of Avery Tillman violated league protocol. And from what we have seen of his contract, we agree.”

“With all due respect, sir, Mr. Tillman’s contract is flawless,” Kirby countered.

The mediator handed Kirby the copy of Avery’s initial contract. “This clause, Mr. Kemp, is not valid.” He referenced a highlighted area, one which Andy had added to the contract himself with Kirby’s approval. It was the hook that landed Avery for the Sharks—the security system that Andy paid for himself. “Mr. Kemp, you are aware, are you not, that the league permits only franchise owners to pay out benefits to contract beneficiaries? This clause states that Mr. Anduin Murphy tendered payment on the item in question. It nullifies Mr. Tillman’s contract. He’s been playing for your franchise for years without a valid contract, which is an egregious violation of league standards.”

“This is ridiculous! There is no problem with that contract! I approved it myself.” 

“But your name does not appear on it, Mr. Kemp. Anduin Murphy is the guarantor of this contract, not you. He alone is subject to penalty as determined by the Commissioner.”

Andy massaged his temples with his fingers. They expected a different outcome than this. Everything he had worked for was on the line. It didn’t look good. 

Fiona spoke. “We knew there was something fishy about Mr. Murphy’s practices as manager. From Mr. Tillman’s contract forward, we have scrutinized every one written since, and they all contain the same illegal clause. It’s well within my authority to ban you from the league, Mr. Murphy.” Andy noticed Devin’s arrogant smirk and anger swelled within him. “You could appeal the decision, but the final determination is mine. I would start cleaning up my resume if I were you, Mr. Murphy.” 

“I will fight you until the day I die, Jones!” Kirby shouted across the room. “Come on, this isn’t right, gentlemen.” He appealed to the four men who sat in judgment of his team manager, the one he couldn’t do without. 

“Is this your final decision, Commissioner?” a younger man asked Fiona. 

With a tone of finality, she uttered one word. “Yes.” She turned to Kirby. “Mr. Kemp, I am expelling your team manager, Anduin Murphy, from the league effective today, without pay or benefits. You have the right to appeal, and I will hear additional evidence. You have thirty days from today to submit your appeal in writing. You have the right to obtain legal counsel. Questions, gentlemen?”

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Andy, who Kirby had advised to not speak, felt ill. His career, his entire life, would change forever if he lost this appeal, and it seemed likely that he would. Kirby huffed his displeasure and shook his head. “No questions.”

The four men on the mediation team ended the discussions and adjourned the meeting. Andy was quiet on the way back to his office. Kirby was on his heels. 

“Andy, you don’t have to clean out your office. As far as I’m concerned, you’re not going anywhere.” 

“Didn’t you hear her, Kirby? She’s banished me from the league! What am I going to do now? I know nothing else.” Andy folded his arms and buried his face. He didn’t want to cry in front of his boss, though Kirby wouldn’t have blamed him. 

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“This won’t stick, Andy. She has no authority to do this—”

“Come on, Kirby. Stop kidding yourself. You need to face it. I’m finished. I’ll be gone in an hour.” 

“Andy, you don’t need to leave. I’m not firing you.” 

“You don’t have to. The Shrew already has.” He reached for the paper box that sat by his desk, flipped the lid from it, and started packing his desk into it—photos of Danae and the kids, one of him and Danae from their vacation to Sunlit Tides. A plaque that belonged to his father. Kirby stood and watched in disbelief as his star employee took the key to a brand new Bugatti Chiron off his keyring and handed it to him. “I’ll call a cab. The car is in the parking lot.” 

“Andy, wait—” Kirby called to him, but Andy walked out of his office and toward the parking lot, the box of his personal effects in his hands.

*****

“Elyse, why are you being so awful to Mom?” Eamon sat with his older sister at lunch. “You know she doesn’t need your tude. So why do it?” 

She shook her head. “She treats me like I’m Tessa’s age, Eam. Why did we have to have a younger sister and brother, anyway? I miss Emmitt.” 

Eamon patted his sister’s back and rubbed her shoulder. “That’s no reason to give her a hard time, Lysie. She misses him, too.” 

She peeled her orange and tossed the skin toward the garbage can. “Could have fooled me. It’s like Emmitt never even existed. Like they don’t miss him anymore.” 

“You don’t mean that—”

“Don’t I?” She peeled an orange segment off the fruit and handed one to Eamon. “What if Emmitt had never died? Would Tess and Teddy still be here?”

He shook his head. “I dunno.” 

“Hey gorgeous,” Elyse’s boyfriend and ballet partner, Howie, approached them. He grabbed a chair, turned it around, and sat, his elbows resting on the chair’s back. He held a can of cola, which he sat on the table. “How’s my best girl today?” 

She puffed a lock of hair from her eyes. “I’ve been better, Howie.”

“All ready for ballet after school? I have some new dance moves I want to teach you. They’ll be great for the end-of-the-year recital.”

“What kind of moves?” She handed him an orange segment, and he kissed her hand before he ate it right from her fingers.

“You’ll have to wait. I can’t describe them.” 

“They aren’t naughty, are they Howie?”

He frowned at her. “Give me some credit, Elyse. I’m not a typical fifteen-year-old boy, you know.” 

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” She sipped from the can Howie set down next to her. 

“That was mine, you know.”

“Yeah? So what?” 

“It has my cooties on it.” 

She rolled her eyes. “Cooties? How old are you again?” She took another sip. “We make out under the bleachers during gym class. I’m used to your ‘cooties.’”

“Do you have your pointe shoes?” 

Elyse nodded her head and noticed her brother looking at her with an odd expression. “What?”

“Does Dad know you two are dating? You know you can’t date until—”

“I swear, Eamon, if you say anything to Daddy, I’ll beat you myself!”

“What is it worth to you?” 

Anger flared her nostrils. “Don’t. You. Freaking. Dare!”

Howie stepped in between them. “Eamon, just chill, okay? It’s nothing.” 

“It doesn’t look like nothing.” Eamon knew he had valuable information, and he planned to take full advantage of the situation. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Give me your dessert tonight, and I’ll keep my mouth shut.” 

“You little weasel—” Elyse clenched her fist and started toward him, but Howie held her back. 

“Lysie, it’s okay. I’ll take care of it.” He kissed her forehead. 

“You don’t understand, Howie. If my Dad even suspects we’re dating, that’s the end of ballet!” 

“I’ve got this, pussycat. Don’t worry.” 

Eamon cracked up, laughing. “Pussycat? Oh, this is too good!” Elyse glared at Howie.

“See what you did?” She stomped her foot in frustration.

Howie leaned forward to whisper in her ear. “It’s part of my plan. I don’t even call you that, so it’s not believable.” She smiled and nodded. 

The bell rang to signal the end of the period, and Eamon stood. “I’ll meet you at the bus after school, ‘Pussycat.’”

Elyse glared at him, but Howie winked at her. “I have ballet, so no, you won’t. But nice try, weasel.” Howie picked up their trays and cleaned up, took Elyse’s hand, and walked her to her next class. 

*****

Danae had just gotten the twins to sleep when Andy walked through the front door five hours early from work. She got a sinking feeling in the pit of her gut as he walked into his office and shut the door. She tiptoed toward Andy’s office and listened just outside for a clue. 

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Was he angry? Upset? Sad? She couldn’t discern it, so she knocked on the door.

Danae expected to hear a greeting, but none came. She peeked in to find Andy behind his desk, a blank stare on his face and a glass of straight whiskey in his hand. It was only 11:30 AM. 

“Babe?” 

Minutes passed before he even acknowledged she was there. He swirled the liquor in his glass, lifted it to his nose, and inhaled the fumes before he drank the contents in one gulp. He set the glass back down on his desk. The day’s events replayed in his head. He wanted to throw up.

“How did your meeting go?” she asked him. 

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His gaze shifted to her, and when he saw her, his eyes welled with tears. “Not good.” 

She sat in the chair in front of his desk and took his hand. “What do you mean, not good? What happened?”

Andy poured another shot of whiskey and downed it. He took a deep breath and held it in. Maybe if I pass out, I won’t have to tell her, he reasoned with himself. But he released the air in his lungs in a slow, steady stream. “Remember how we talked about worst-case scenarios, Nae?”

She nodded and swallowed hard. “Yes, babe.” 

“Welcome to my nightmare. Fiona banned me from the league. I can appeal, but the final decision is hers. I’m unemployable in my chosen field of work.” A huge teardrop fell from his eyes and splattered onto his desk. “I can’t support you or the kids anymore, and I can’t seek work from another team.” He reached for the whiskey again, poured another shot, and drank it. Danae grabbed the bottle from him and set it down out of his reach. “Kirby is beside himself,” he muttered. 

“Banned? Are you serious?!” 

He nodded. “I’m dead serious. Danae, what am I going to do? I’ve lost everything I’ve worked for all these years. I’m useless to you and the kids…” His hands trembled—the emotion, the awful reality of the day, sank in. Heavy sobs reverberated through his office. “I have failed you in every way. I don’t know what to do…”

Danae had never seen him so distraught, and it frightened her. The confident, unflappable, poised man she loved was in anguish over something out of his control. Her instinct was to comfort him, but she wasn’t sure how or what he needed. It was uncharted territory for her. Nothing ever rattled him. 

“Andy, you’re not useless—”

“Aren’t I? You don’t understand, Danae!” He stood and raised his voice. The alcohol made him feel lightheaded, so he flopped down in his chair. “I can’t work for the football league anymore. Period! Not for Kirby, not for anyone! Devin finally ruined my life, that bastard…” He let his head fall to his desk with a loud ‘thunk.’ 

“I-I don’t know what to say…”

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“I’m leaving soon.” It took all of his strength to lift his head to look at his beloved wife. “If I can’t support you, then I don’t need to tie you down. You need a real man—”

Danae stood up, angry but terrified. “Don’t you dare leave me!” she growled. “I still need you! We have four kids to raise, and I can’t do it alone…” Her anger turned to grief, and then frustration. “You’re better than this, Andy. The man I married would face this—”

“The man you married is dead, Danae. I’m just an empty shell, a shade of my former self.”

“No! I refuse to believe that. Andy please, don’t do anything hasty, not while your emotions are this raw.”

“I’ve already decided, Danae. I’m going back to Dragon Valley tonight.”

Her fury returned with a vengeance. “So, that’s it? You’re not giving me a say in the outcome of OUR marriage?”

“What marriage, Danae? I’m doing you a favor!”

“This? This is no favor! Andy, I love you! Does that mean nothing to you?”

He shook his head and walked toward his office door. “I’m sorry, Danae. You deserve better than a failure.” He walked toward their bedroom while Danae fell to the floor, sobbing.

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*****

Back at his office, Kirby was muddled. He never expected the morning’s outcome, and it shook him to his core. He picked up his phone and dialed the first number that came to mind. Rae’s brother, Tony, was a prominent attorney in town. If anyone could give him much-needed advice, it was Tony.

“Antonio Cardona, attorney at law.”

“Tony, it’s Kirby. I sure could use your advice, brother.”

“Hey Kirbs!” Tony greeted him. “How can I help you out?” 

“How much do you know about laws pertaining to the football league?” 

“A bit, actually. Why? What’s going on?” 

Kirby sighed. “Commissioner Jones just banned Andy from the league without pay or benefits. I want to know what recourse I have.” 

“On what grounds? That sounds fishy, Kirby.” 

“Oh, something about it being illegal for anyone but the franchise owner to pay out contract benefits. Andy, as a hook to catch Tillman years ago, paid for the security upgrade on their home. Fiona claims it’s illegal, and the clause in the contract rendered it null. So he’s been playing without a valid contract since we signed him.”

Kirby heard papers being shuffled, and then Tony’s reassuring voice. “I have original copies of football regulations dating back thirty years. If it was legal when you signed Tillman ten years ago, she has no case.”

Kirby laughed. “You’re such a nerd, Tony. But I’m so thankful that you’re a nerd.”

Tony, who had been called everything but a nerd, chuckled. “Don’t worry. I have your back. Let Andy know I’m taking his case, and I’ll work pro bono. If there’s anything we can present as additional evidence, now’s the time. Any grievance he has with the commish or her husband, anything we can use to show a personal vendetta, I’ll take it. I know Andy has bad blood with that Jones punk. Now’s the time to nail him.”

“I’ll let Andy know right away. Thank you, brother. You don’t have to work pro bono. Send me the bill. If we win this, I’ll owe you more than just money.”

Tony laughed. “Yes, yes, you will. I’ll get back to you, Kirby. Get me everything you can on Jones. That will be a brilliant start.”

“Will do. Thanks again, brother.” 

“That’s what family is for. We’ve got this.” When he ended the call, Kirby felt better. His next call would be to his manager. But Andy’s phone went right to voicemail, so Kirby left a message:

Andy, it’s Kirby. Rae’s brother is an attorney, and he’s taking your case. We’re going to fight that bitch until we win. I’m not giving up. Don’t you give up, either. I’ll be in touch.

For the first time since the whole sham investigation began, Kirby felt good.

*****

Andy’s only bag sat next to him as he rode in the taxi that would take him to the airport. Despite her pleas, he decided on his own that his family was better off without him. With just casual clothing in a suitcase, he left his devastated wife crying on the front porch, bound for his hometown. He hated to leave her, and watching her weep tore him to shreds, but he knew in his heart that giving her freedom to move on with her life was the right play to make. For her sake. Because he loved her that much.

At the house, Andy’s phone chimed with a voice message. Danae still sat in a heap on the front porch of their home, clutching his smartphone in her hand when she felt it vibrate. His last words still echoed in her head. “Don’t look for me. I’ll call you. This is for your own good, Danae. I’m sorry.” She glanced at the message and couldn’t make out the sender. 

She couldn’t unlock his phone without his fingerprint, so she set it on the hallway table when she walked back inside. This isn’t happening! She cried. It was only 1:15 PM—Eamon would be home soon, and Elyse after ballet. Danae hoped Lysie’s attitude had improved, because it was the very last thing she needed. 

Danae woke the twins before Eamon arrived home on the bus and settled them down to watch television with a snack. She tried to hold it together, but telling Eamon that his father left would open a can of worms she’d rather keep shut. 

Ten minutes later, the house phone rang. Kirby’s name came up on the Caller ID. Danae answered it, trying to hide her obvious upset. 

“Hi Kirby.” 

“Danae? Where’s Andy? I need to talk to him.” 

Danae broke down crying, despite her best efforts not to. “He’s… gone.” 

“What do you mean, ‘gone’, Danae? Where is he?” 

“He’s on his way back to Dragon Valley. He said not to look for him…” 

Kirby almost dropped his phone. “Oh my goodness. I guess that leaves me with no alternative. I have to find him. Dragon Valley can’t be so big that he would be hard to find.” 

“If you’re serious about going to find him, Kirby, please bring him home to me? I can’t survive without him…” 

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. He’ll be coming home with me. Trust me.” 

Danae was still sobbing when Eamon walked through the front door. Teddy and Tessa were playing together. “Mom? What’s going on? Why are you crying so hard?” 

She sniffled and tried to gather her thoughts. She didn’t want to sound over-dramatic. “Daddy went on a trip.” 

Eamon looked at her and tried to understand. “Then why cry? He’s coming home, right?” 

Danae cried harder, almost not able to breathe. “I don’t know about that, Eamon. He sounded like he’d left for good.” 

“What did you do?!” Eamon yelled. “Why did Dad leave?”

“Please, son. Don’t…” 

Both Eamon and Elyse preferred their dad, and Eamon assumed she was the reason he’d left. “I hate you!” he screamed at Danae and slammed his bedroom door. 

Danae couldn’t stand any more heartache. On her hands and knees, she crawled to the house phone, picked up the receiver, and dialed it. Her sister answered the phone. 

“Nae?” 

“Darce,” Danae squeaked out. “I need you…” 

“I’m on my way, sweetie.”

*****

Kirby arrived at the airport at 3:00 PM, an overnight case in his hands, and Rae at his side. She kissed him before he boarded their private jet.

“When will you be home, Kirby?” she asked. She sensed his desperation to find Andy—she knew the stakes were high.

“When I find Andy, however long that takes.” He handed his case to Victor, who took it to place on board. “I’m sorry I have to leave you, but it’s of utmost importance that I find him. Danae is counting on me. The team is counting on me, too. Rae, I can’t manage the team without him.”

“I know, mi amor. Find him. Bring him home to his family. Kirby, I have a bad feeling about this. Find him alive.” 

Kirby nodded. “I wish this plane flew a little faster. I need to get there yesterday.” He kissed Rae one last time. “When I have updates, I’ll call you. I love you.” 

“I love you more,” she said. “Hurry. The pilot waits for you.” 

Kirby waved one last time as he walked up the steps into the airplane. Rae watched as the jet taxied to the runway and took off, headed north.

*****

Darcey pulled up and parked outside the Murphy home. Her code opened the gate, and she ran toward the house, her key at the ready. She walked into utter chaos—Teddy and Tessa were screaming, Eamon locked himself in his bedroom, and Elyse was fighting with her mother over their father’s sudden disappearance. “Nae!” Darcey shouted into the pandemonium and then whistled to catch everyone’s attention. The silence that followed was stark, however short.

“Aunt Darcey!” Elyse exclaimed. “What’s going on?” Seconds later, Eamon peeked out from his bedroom with a smile on his face. 

“I don’t know, Lysie. Give me a minute to figure this out.” She sat on the floor with her sister, who laid in a fetal position, sobbing. She brushed a wet lock of hair from Danae’s eyes. “What happened, Nae?” 

“Andy…” was all she could say between sobs. 

“What did he do this time?” 

Danae shook her head. “Devin’s wife banned him from the league, Darce…” She took a labored breath and exhaled. “He left all of us…”

“Oh no,” Darcey said. “What?! Why?” 

“I’m not sure. He didn’t go into details. He went home to Dragon Valley. Kirby is on his way there to bring him back.” 

Eamon charged out of his room. “It’s her fault, Lysie. She chased Dad away!” He pointed at Danae, pure anger in his eyes. 

Darcey stood. Without warning, she grabbed both Eamon and Elyse by the shoulders and pulled them outside. “Eamon, I don’t know where you got your ideas from, but it is nowhere near the truth! Your father is a child sometimes, and he runs away from trouble rather than face it. I don’t want to hear either of you talk to your mother like this again. Do you understand me?” She had his face between her very strong fingers, and she put Eamon on his knees in one swift motion. 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Aunt Darcey—” Elyse said, but a slap across the face interrupted her. 

“Don’t you make me do that again, young lady. I know you’ve developed an attitude, but your crap doesn’t fly with me. Are we clear?” Elyse and Eamon both nodded. “You both get back into the house and apologize to your mother!” 

Elyse bit her tongue. She didn’t want worse than what Darcey had already doled out, but she was angry. Instead, she walked into the house, grabbed her backpack and cell phone, and walked out of the front door. “I hate you, and I hate her,” she growled to Darcey on the way out, and pointed at her mother. “I’m outta here.” Darcey tried to run after her, but Elyse, being younger and faster, slipped away from her. 

“What about you, wise guy?” Darcey spat at Eamon. She was out of breath from chasing Elyse, and not in a good mood. “Are you leaving too?” Eamon didn’t know what to say, so he shrugged his shoulders. “If you’re staying, then get some water for the twins. Make yourself useful!” She sat cross-legged on the floor with her sister and rubbed her shoulders while she cried. Eamon, wishing for no more of Darcey’s wrath, did as she asked. 

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Danae cried in Darcey’s arms until she fell asleep on the floor. She covered her sister with a blanket and left her while she bathed the twins, fed and read to them, and put them to bed. She had just finished tucking Teddy into bed when Eamon crept into the bedroom. “Is your homework done?” she asked him, and he nodded. “Can I talk to you? Heart to heart.” 

“Yes,” he whispered. They both left the bedroom and walked onto the patio.

She sat on a lounge chair and patted the spot next to her. “Come sit. I won’t bite you, I promise.” When he settled down next to her, she turned to him and put her arm around his shoulder. “Eam, your dad… Well, I don’t know if he’s coming back. If he doesn’t, that makes you the man of the house. Your mama will need you and Lysie to help her out.”

“Why did he leave? I don’t understand, Aunt Darcey.” 

“Well, I don’t know the complete story, but you know of your uncle Devin, right?” Eamon nodded his head and Darcey continued. “His wife is the football commissioner, and I know you don’t remember living in Starlight Shores, but your dad used to manage the Llamas before we all moved here. Your aunt, Fiona, owns the Llamas, and by extension, so does your uncle Devin. They both have it out for your dad. Uncle Devin has been trying to ruin him for years. It looks like he accomplished that today, Eam. Your dad left, I’m guessing, because he feels worthless. He could have handled everything better, but it is what it is.”

“That’s why Mama is so sad?” 

Darcey nodded. “That’s a big part of the reason, yes. She loves your dad so much, Eamon. Without him, it will be difficult for her to maintain the house and care for Tess and Ted. That’s why she’s going to need your help. Would you do that for her? Do you still love her, Eamon?” 

He wiped tears of regret from his eyes and nodded. “Yes, I love her. I need to tell her I’m sorry.” 

“Good boy,” she said in praise, and patted her nephew on the back. “I need to deal with Elyse and figure out where she’s gone. Are you okay to watch the twins until I come back?” 

“Mmhmm,” he said. “I’ll just read until you come home.” He leaned closer to whisper. “By the way, the first place I’d check is her boyfriend’s house. Howie Collins. They live on the northern island in that brick house on the cul-de-sac.” 

Darcey hugged him to her. “You’re a good kid. Thank you. You’ve saved me hours of hunting for her.” She stood up and stretched. “Don’t let anyone into the gate unless it’s Rae, Aaron, Trix or Wyatt. Kirby went to find your dad. You have my cell number, or if you can’t reach me, call Uncle Clint, okay?” 

Eamon nodded and stood. Together, they walked back into the house.

*****

Elyse called Howie’s cell phone as soon as she cleared the property line. He answered it in two rings. “Hey gorgeous!”

“Not now, Howie. I need a place to crash tonight. My dad left, my mom is a quivering mess, and my aunt is the tyrant of the isle. I need something normal.” She sniffled. “Come get me?” 

“Where are you?” 

“I’m walking down the street toward the city center. I’m almost in front of Trixie’s house now.” 

“Stay on that street, and when it changes, stay there. I’ll get you.” Howie took the keys for his father’s Tesla and snuck out of the house. He was only fifteen years old and not legally allowed to drive. Christopher Collins parked in a lot on the main island, so he wouldn’t even notice Howie borrowed it. The water taxi shuttled him to the main island, a block away from the commuter lot where Chris parked. Howie climbed into the driver’s seat, started the car, and pulled out of the lot, headed toward the Murphy home. 

Howie found Elyse standing at the corner of the dead-end street and the one that led into town, waiting for him. It was obvious she’d been crying, and when he got out of his car, she ran to him.

“Hey, what’s the matter?” he said, rocking her in his arms.

“My life is so beyond screwed up, Howie. My dad left, my mom is a mess…” She sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Aunt Darcey is a first-class bitch. She slapped me across the face, Howie. I did nothing wrong!”

“Yeah, what happened to your family? Wasn’t everything good this morning?” 

Elyse nodded. “Other than the fight I had with my mom, everything was normal. I knew my dad had a stressful day, but I don’t know why. They don’t tell me anything! My mom treats me like a child.”

“It’s okay now, Lysie. Come on, and I’ll take you to my house.” He kissed her and helped her into the car. 

When they got to Howie’s house, it was almost dark, and she left two hours prior. “Are you going to call your mom, Lysie? She must be worried sick.” 

She shook her head. “Nope. She’s a basket case, and she’s only worried about herself. My aunt is taking care of everything, but I doubt she’ll care enough to worry. I feel like an outcast in my family.” 

He took her hand and led her to his bedroom. “You can sleep in my bed tonight. I’ll take the sofa in the den.” 

“I can’t take your bed, Howie. You need to rest—”

“You do, too. Baby, you’ve had a tough day. Please? It would make me happy.” 

She felt emotions overwhelm her, and she sniffled. “Would you stay with me until I fall asleep?”

I thought you’d never ask, Howie thought to himself. “Of course I will.” He turned her face to him and kissed her. “I love you, Lysie. I hope you know that.” 

“I do. I love you, too.” She yawned and slid her backpack off her shoulder. “I don’t have any clothes with me.” 

Howie laughed. Oh, this is perfect, he thought. “I’ll just give you a shirt to sleep in. It smells like me, so I’ll be with you all night long.” He opened the door to his bedroom and let her in first. “Are you tired, Lysie?” 

“Mmhmm,” she answered. He handed her a shirt he knew would be snug on her, for his own benefit. “Thank you.” 

“You’re welcome, beautiful. Do you want me to hide my eyes while you change?” 

She giggled. “You’ve seen it all before, Howie. It doesn’t matter.” She slipped her shirt off, put Howie’s shirt on over her head, and slipped her blue jeans off. Dressed in only his shirt and her underwear, she climbed into his bed. “Come cuddle with me, Howie. I need you close.” 

“I won’t say no to that!” He changed into a muscle shirt, removed his pants, and climbed into his bed with her, wrapped around her. He kissed her shoulders and played with her hair, whispering words of love into her ears. They settled down together and dozed off.

*****

Darcey hailed a water taxi that would bring her to the northern island. The trip itself was only ten minutes, but finding a ride to the cul-de-sac would prove trickier. Few cars were on the smaller islands, and taxis were non-existent. So she navigated on foot to the street where Eamon had told her, in search of the white home where Howie Collins lived. 

An hour later, she found the white house, right where Eamon had said. Before the showdown with Elyse, she called Clint. The phone only rang once before he answered it. 

“Kitten, where are you? The boys have been asking for you,” Clint asked. 

“Oh, Clint, what a mess. Devin’s wife banned Andy from the league today, and he left Danae and the kids. Right now, I’m tracking down Elyse after she ran out on me. Eamon is home monitoring the twins and Danae. You can’t believe what’s been going on.”

“Shoot, sweetheart, it sounds like you have your hands full. The boys will understand. Everything is calm here. I thought you should know that.” 

“Thanks, Boo. It helps to know something is normal. I will be home tonight, I just don’t know when.” 

“I’ll miss you, Darce. But your sister needs you more right now. I love you. Call me if you need help, okay?” 

“I will, but we should be fine. Elyse is going to wish she’d never left home today when I’m finished with her. Danae might be loosey-goosey with her, but I won’t be.” 

Clint chuckled. “She won’t know what hit her.” 

“Damn straight! I love you, Boo. Thanks for holding down the fort.” 

“Any time, my sweet love.” 

One more call, Darcey thought. She dialed her sister’s phone. Eamon answered the call. “Hello?”

“Hey kiddo, it’s Aunt Darce. How’s your mama?” 

“She’s still asleep right on the floor where you left her. The twins are asleep, and Rae called once to see how she’s doing. I think she’s coming over.” 

“That’s good. I just got to Howie’s house, and I wanted to check in before I start World War Three with your sister. Remember, just Rae, Aaron, Trix or Wyatt can come in, okay?” 

“Mmhmm, I got it, Aunt Darcey. Good luck!”

Darcey laughed out loud. “Thanks. I’m going to need a miracle.”

She slipped her phone into her back pocket, wiped her sweaty forehead with her hoodie sleeve, and walked up the sidewalk to the Collins home. The coffee shop must be doing well, she figured. The house was in an upscale neighborhood, landscaped with native flowers and plants, with fancy lighting on the outside. A security badge sat on the front lawn as a crime deterrent. She stepped onto the stoop and rang the doorbell.

A moment later, Christopher Collins stood before her at the door. He was a man Darcey had only seen at the coffee shop when she’d gone with Danae. She didn’t know him, and he didn’t know her. But he wore an odd expression when he saw her at the door. 

“Danae?” he asked.

Darcey chuckled. “No, I’m her twin sister, Darcey. But I’ve seen you at the coffee shop.”

“Ah, okay. Danae never mentioned she had a twin, but that’s okay. What can I do for you tonight?” 

Darcey fiddled with the car keys in her pocket. “I am looking for Elyse. Eamon thought she might be here. Have you seen her?” 

Chris shook his head. “Howie’s been home all night, but come inside. I’ll ask him if he has any idea where she could be.” He opened the door and let Darcey inside. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I’ll get Howie.” 

“Thank you,” Darcey said. With wide eyes, she gawked at the interior of their home. Expensive furniture, luxury linens, and lavish throw rugs decorated the house. Either Chris’ wife was a designer, or a professional did the decor. It was exquisite. 

A few minutes later, Darcey heard a commotion coming from a hallway, a shriek that sounded like Elyse, and Chris’ angry footsteps pounding toward where Darcey sat. “Well, I found your niece, but she needs to get decent before I send her home with you.” Howie appeared right behind his father, his pleas falling on deaf ears. 

Screenshot-229

“But Dad, we weren’t doing anything but sleeping!”

“Howard, she is twelve! You don’t sleep with a girl in your bed at your age, and especially NOT when she’s only wearing a shirt and her panties!” 

Darcey stood and clenched her fists. “She is WHAT?” 

Chris was livid. “These two knuckleheads decided it would be a good idea to sleep together in the same bed, wearing next to nothing!” He paced around the formal living room, infuriated. “What were you THINKING, son?!”

Screenshot-230

“Where is she?” Darcey demanded. Chris pointed the way toward the bedroom, and she stomped in to find Elyse with her shirt off, sobbing and trying to fasten her bra. Her hands were shaking, and it was obvious she was upset. “ELYSE CHARLOTTE!” Darcey screamed at her. “What do you think you’re doing?!”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Darcey. We just fell asleep—”

“What will I tell your mother? Get dressed. I’m taking you home, right now!” 

Elyse never stopped to ponder what they had done might be wrong. She never considered anyone would catch them sleeping half naked together in Howie’s bed. It seemed so innocent to her, but seeing their reaction, she realized she was in deep trouble. 

“I’m trying. I can’t fix this stupid bra!” Her hands quaked in fear; Darcey scared her, and she was even more afraid of her father. She didn’t want to see her ballet career end before it even started. 

Darcey helped her to get dressed, and then took her wrist with an iron grip, dragged her to the foyer of the fancy house, and thanked Chris for his help. She didn’t speak to Elyse the whole way to the water taxi, not until they waited for the next shuttle to the mainland. Elyse wept the entire walk, ashamed of herself. 

“Elyse, what were you thinking? I’m so disappointed in you.” 

“I’m sorry, Aunt Darcey. We didn’t think it was bad. Howie and I are best friends.” 

“You’re not even thirteen yet, Lysie. You’re in way over your head with that boy. What if he took advantage of you?” 

Elyse blushed a deep red. “He isn’t that kind of boy—”

Darcey stopped walking and looked into her niece’s eyes. “Honey, every boy is that kind of boy at that age. Especially the ones who say they aren’t.” 

“What about Shan and Noel? Are they that kind of boy, too?” 

Darcey got flustered. “This isn’t about them, Elyse. This is about you and Howie.” The taxi arrived, and they climbed aboard. “I need to tell your mother about this, but she’ll decide if she tells your dad. Be ready to make amends if you want to dance with Howie again, Lysie. Think about that.” 

They didn’t speak another word until they docked on the main island. The only noise heard was Elyse’s quiet weeping, and the wake of the waves lapping upon the shoreline. Darcey paid the fare for both of them and they walked in silence to her car. 

“Please don’t tell Mama,” Elyse begged. “With Daddy gone, she doesn’t need the extra stress.” 

Darcey chuckled. “Oh, you’re not getting out of this. Maybe not tonight, Elyse, but I need to tell her.” 

She crossed her arms and pouted. “Thanks.” 

“You did this to yourself, young lady. Remember that.” 

*****

Andy’s plane touched down in the small municipal airport on the east side of the river in Dragon Valley. He rented a car and drove to the only inn in the village—the one where they stayed when Danae brought him to the Valley. It was no longer a bed-and-breakfast, but an inn with detached buildings. Andy gave his name and checked in, exhausted from the day’s events. 

He’d never felt so empty inside, so defeated. He’d planned to settle in town, to start anew, away from the memories. For a moment, he considered calling Danae, but decided against it. If she is starting over, she’ll be better off, he thought. 

He slid the key card into the door’s lock and he swung it open. The room was basic; there was a queen sized bed and a dresser, a small fireplace with a single prefab log, an attached bathroom with a tub/shower combination, and a tiny dining table with one chair. He walked to the window and pulled the drapes closed. Andy yawned and tugged the blankets back on the bed, stripped naked, climbed between the sheets, and cried until he fell asleep. 

Four hours later, a loud rap at the door awakened him. He rolled over and peeked at the time on his phone. 2:41 AM. What the hell? he thought, grabbed the slacks he’d traveled in, and walked toward the door. The person outside the door rapped on it again, and Andy grumbled as he opened it. 

“Kirby? What the hell are you doing here?” It stunned Andy to see his former boss standing there. Kirby didn’t give him time to close it. Instead, he pushed his way in, past Andy, and sat in the chair by the table. 

“Andy, you need to come back home with me, where you belong.” Kirby looked around for a light. Andy flipped the light switch at the door before he closed and locked it. 

“I told that woman not to contact me, but she sent you on a fool’s errand, I’m afraid. Kirby, I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing, but I’m not—”

“Oh, yes you are, son.” Kirby stood and placed his hands on Andy’s shoulders. “I have something big to tell you. Believe me, you’ll want to come back with me.” 

“Fiona’s word is final, Kirby. You heard her with your own two ears.” 

“Andy, I’ve hired an attorney to fight this. Rae’s brother, Tony, is a prominent lawyer back on the Isle. He’s taking your case because he thinks you have a shot to get this ruling overturned.” 

Andy sighed. “What can he do? I mean, we’re fighting against someone who changes the rules as she goes.” 

Kirby’s face lit up. “That’s how we’re going to nail her! He owns originals of the rules and regulations from the football league for the past thirty years. If that clause was legal when you wrote it, Andy, she has no case. I know for a fact you did nothing illegal.” 

“See, that’s what I thought. But their case today seemed so rock solid, I figured it was over.”

“That isn’t quite all, Andy.” A huge grin pulled Kirby’s face. “This is your chance to stop Devin Jones in his tracks. Tony asked me for evidence against him, and buddy, I know you have a ton. All we have to do is show the personal vendetta against you from Devin alone and demand an impartial mediation team. We’re golden!” 

For the first time since he kissed Danae before work that morning, Andy smiled. “We’re going to beat this, aren’t we?” 

“You bet your sweet bippy we will!” Kirby clapped him on the shoulder. “My private jet is waiting to take us back to the isle. What do you say, champ?” 

Andy nodded. “Let’s do this.”

To be continued…

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Up Next: Chapter Thirty Five, Part Two, Generation Five. 


Pose Credits:

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Custom Content:

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As always, a heartfelt “Thank You” to my partner in greatness, Chris, for “polishing my diamonds.” Without your edits, these chapters would not be as wonderful. 

Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs

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