G4 Chapter Fifteen – Back To Reality

Danae and Darcey were sitting at the kitchen table doing homework when they heard the gate open. Both of them stopped and listened, looked at each other and squealed. “They’re home!” Darcey yelled, getting up to run for the door. Devin stopped what he was doing and ran for the door, joining his sisters. Charlotte and Travis left their suitcases in the garage, because most of the clothing inside was dirty anyway. As they walked for the house, three faces were pressed up against the glass, waiting for them.

Charlotte walked through the door first and was totally overwhelmed with kisses and hugs as all three of her children swamped her. “Mama, we missed you SO much!” Darcey cried, so happy to see her. Travis walked in next, and knelt down, holding his arms open.

“Come see your Daddy!” he laughed. Danae ran to him and knocked him over. Giggling, she covered him in kisses, as Darcey and Devin joined her. “Oh, I missed you guys so much,” Travis said, smiling. Charlotte joined the fun, tickling whoever was closest, reveling in the sound of their happy giggles.

“Welcome home, Travis and Charlotte!” Tracy greeted them from the top of the stairs. She didn’t want to interfere in the homecoming for the children’s sake. They missed their parents so much, that many nights they cried at bedtime. No matter how much they loved Tracy, she would never be Mama or Daddy.

“Thank you for everything Tracy,” Charlotte quipped. “The kids look very happy and cared for, and I appreciate your hard work.”

“It was my pleasure. You two look positively radiant. Vacation agreed with you!” Tracy was relieved to see her friends refreshed and renewed. They had been through some rough times, and they deserved their time away.

Travis paid Tracy their agreed-upon rate for seven days of childcare, plus a generous tip on top of it. “You can take your time, Tracy. You can even stay for dinner if you’d like.”

“Oh, I’ll be out of your hair in an hour or so. I’m almost finished packing and cleaning up.” Tracy replied.

“Don’t worry about cleaning,” Charlotte said. “I will take care of it. The girls and Devin will help, right kids?”

Danae gave her a look, but Darcey readily volunteered. “Thank you, you’re too good to me,” Tracy replied.

Devin wrapped himself around Charlotte, weeping. “What’s the matter, sweetie pie?” she asked him.

“I missed you, Mama,” he answered.

She bent to wipe his tears and picked him up, kissing his cheek. “I missed you so much, little bear.” She hugged him tightly and covered his little face in kisses. “Let Mama and Daddy unpack, and we have some goodies for you. All of you!”

Charlotte went to the garage to unpack dirty clothing and threw it all right into the washer. The few things they had for the kids were together in one bag, so she left it in the suitcase to keep a secret until she had sorted through what she had bought for which child. Travis helped her bring the cases upstairs and put other things away. They hadn’t brought much home, except for the massage oils and the presents for the children.

Travis wrapped his arms around her and buried his face into her hair. “I feel like this is our last moment alone for a while,” he joked. She turned around, still in his embrace. “But it’s so good to be home.”

“Thank you for the trip of a lifetime, baby,” she cooed, kissing him. “I loved almost every moment of it.” She didn’t need to speak of their off day, he already understood what she meant.

“Me too. I can’t wait to go back someday, maybe for good.” He looked through the window and saw a fresh bunch of snow flurries in the sky. “I miss the sun and warm already.”

“Look at it this way,” she countered. “There’s a reason to sit by the fireplace here.”

“True.” He kissed her, hurrying to separate as they heard a thundering of footsteps on the stairs.

Three sets of feet, eyes, and bodies appeared in their doorway. “What did you bring us?” Devin asked expectantly.

“Okay, come here!” Charlotte said, holding her arms open for them. For the twins, Charlotte brought back some bath gels and perfume from the spa, which they absolutely loved. For Devin, Travis brought home some shells from their scuba trip and a stuffed bear, who Devin promptly named Daddybear.

Charlotte excused herself to the loft, to see how much cleaning needed to be done, and the only thing she saw was the linens that Tracy had used, so she gathered them up and brought them to the garage to be washed. Instead of cooking, Travis decided it was a good night for pizza and a movie, so all of them sat and watched a movie together, eating pizza and laughing.

“Time for bed, kiddos,” Travis finally said at 9 o’clock. He and Charlotte had been up since 4am local time, and they were tired. Devin fell asleep during the movie, so Travis carried him up the stairs and tucked him in, while Charlotte tucked the girls in for the night. They met back in their bedroom and collapsed on the bed.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m beat,” Charlotte finally said. “We’ve put in a long day.”

“Me too,” Travis agreed, yawning. “And I have to be to work tomorrow. I guess we have a presser about upcoming player trades. Since I’m the ‘star player’ I get to be on the Q&A panel.”

They both got undressed and crawled into bed together, wrapped around each other, and quickly fell asleep.


“So, how was your vacation?” Neil asked Travis on his first day back from Isla Paradiso. “Did people recognize you out of your element?”

Travis nodded. “Some of it was good, some I could have done without.” He thought fondly of Rosa. “The concierge was a huge Llamas fan. She really made our stay at the resort memorable.”

“How’s things with Charlotte? Better, I hope. How did she like her ring?”

“Oh man, Neil, you should have seen her eyes light up when she saw it. It was like watching a little girl on Snowflake Day morning. Our anniversary was pretty passionate, but we hit a rough patch that night. Charlotte started having nightmares about Kathleen. I guess that night she confronted Charlotte during the game really affected her.” He pulled Neil out of earshot of other players, and especially the press. “Is there any reason why I need to fear for my family’s safety with Kathleen? Is she crazy, or is she harmless?”

“I don’t think she’d do anything weird. It’s you she’s after, not Charlotte or the kids, and she only wants you for one thing.”

“Can you get her last name for me? I’d like to have an old friend run a background on her. Just to be safe. One of Charlotte’s dreams really freaked me out. I never told her that. She didn’t need any more stress that day.”

“Yeah, I’ll ask Lee about it. He’s done more than one round with her, I’d bet.” Neil walked away. “I’ll see you back here in 10 for that presser.”

Travis spotted Ed, the head of security at the Clips Center, and motioned him over. “Hey Ed, have you made any headway with getting Kathleen banned from the complex?”

“Yeah, no can do, Travis,” Ed said. “Turns out, her family is pretty big here in town, and she has free access to the stadium.”

Travis rolled his eyes. “Oh goody. Well, that won’t help the situation at home. Thanks anyway, Ed.” He began to walk away when it occurred to him that he should ask about the family. “Hey Ed, what’s her last name?”

“I’m not sure, but she is Mandy Best’s daughter,” Ed remarked.

“Thanks, Ed,” Travis replied, looking at his watch. “Oh shoot, I have no time before this press conference.” Travis sprinted toward the cameras and joined Neil and the owner of the team.

*****

The next morning, while Charlotte was at work, Travis called Steve McKinnon. “Hey Steve, I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Hey Travis, what can I do for you?” came the friendly reply.

“I would like, if I could, to get some information about a woman that is bothering my family. She hangs around the Clips Center, but we can’t get her banished. Apparently, she’s from a big family here in town.

“Sure, what’s her name?” Steve readied his notepad and a pencil.

“I don’t have her last name, but apparently she is Mandy Best’s daughter. Her first name is Kathleen.”

“Well, isn’t that a coincidence,” Steve remarked. “Dad would have loved this.”

“What’s that, Steve? What’s the coincidence?” Travis was legitimately confused.

“Your wife’s family has a history with the Best family. I’m surprised she never told you about Estevan Best.”

Travis felt the blood drain from his face and suddenly felt woozy. “Wait, Kathleen is related to who now?”

“Estevan Best. You know, the guy who stalked Charlotte’s mother Bella for many, many years.”

Travis’ head got foggy, and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears. “Would you please find out if this Kathleen person has a criminal background, or if she’s mentally unstable? This might need more than security if we’re dealing with this again.”

“I probably can’t look into medical records, unless something becomes public domain, like arrest records. But I’ll do the best I can, Travis.” Steve loved a good mystery, and his dad, Mike, would have loved to hear this new development. But he had passed away just a month ago.

“Thanks, Steve. I look forward to hearing from you.” He hung up the phone, feeling worse than he had before he called. There’s nothing to worry about until there’s something to worry about, he thought to himself.

*****

“I’m overthinking this, Neil. What do I do?” Travis told him what he knew about the Best family, but Neil, a lifelong resident of Starlight Shores, knew all the details from the news.

“If I were you, I’d pray Charlotte doesn’t find out that Kathleen is a Best, or that poor thing will never sleep again.”

“Well, that’s not practical, Neil. She’s going to find out. I just don’t want to be the one who tells her.” Travis wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and turned off the treadmill. “She will want to move somewhere else. I know player trades are done for the coming season, but keep me in mind if someone needs a mid-season trade.”

“Yeah, that isn’t going to happen, big guy. The owner will not break your contract so easily. You’re stuck.” Neil felt bad for him. He wouldn’t want to tell Charlotte about Kathleen, either. “On the field, Travis. You can’t hide in here for the rest of your career.”

Travis sighed. This was the last news he needed, and when he left the locker room, Kathleen was in the stands, waving furiously at him. Ignore her, Travis. Ignore. Her. He told himself. A half-hour into practice, she was so desperate to get his attention that she jumped the wall that cordoned off the field from the stadium.

“Where have you been, sexy?” she snarled at him. “I’ve missed seeing you out here. Everyone else is just so plain, but you…” Kathleen studied him for a moment. “Hmmm, you are darker,” she observed. “You must have gone somewhere exotic.”

“What do you want?” he asked, losing his patience.

“You, silly.”

“I already told you, you’re barking up the wrong tree.” Travis backed up, increasing the distance between them. Neil saw them talking and shook his head.

“Jones!” came the yell, followed by a sharp whistle. “In my office, NOW!”

Travis jogged to Neil, more than a little annoyed. “What?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to pull you away from her.  You don’t need your face in the tabloids anywhere near hers.” Neil tried to watch out for their star player, but he was stubborn.

“Thanks. I can handle myself, Neil.” He looked around, and at his watch. “Are we done here? I need to get a few more laps in before I shower.”

“Yeah, you’re good, Lothario.” Travis shot him a look and grumbled to himself.

Travis finished his workout and went to shower, and ran into Kathleen in the tunnel leading into the locker room. “I can’t catch a break,” Travis muttered to himself. “Leave me alone, woman.”

“You’re so cute, Travis, thinking you have a say in the matter. I always get what I want.”

“You’ve mentioned that. But not this time.” He turned to go into the locker room and disappeared from her sight.

“Man, what is up with Miss Tight Britches and you, Travis?” one of his teammates asked. “She has it bad for you.”

“If you figure it out, let me know, Smitty,” Travis answered, walking for the showers.

*****

“Baby, I’m home honey,” Travis announced upon his arrival from work. Charlotte was busy in the kitchen making dinner, and the kids were finishing up homework. He sauntered into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Charlotte’s waist.

“Hey, honeybear. You smell good,” she remarked. “You must have showered before you came home.”

“Of course!” he laughed. “It smells amazing in here. What are you cooking tonight?”

“Devin’s favorite. Spaghetti with veggie sauce.” It was actually a family favorite, but Devin especially loved it.

Devin, hearing his father downstairs, started giggling and came down the stairs as quickly as he could. “There’s my little bear!” Travis exclaimed, wrapping Devin in a hug. “How was your field trip today?”

“It was awesome, Daddy!” His second-grade class took a trip to the firehouse, and he got to tour the whole inside. “I wanted to ride down the pole, but I was too little,” he pouted.

“Maybe next time, little bear,” Travis said. Suddenly, he gripped the boy in one arm and tickled him with the other. A giggle explosion erupted in the foyer and was heard through the entire house. He got up off the floor and walked back toward Charlotte and whispered in her ear. “We need to talk, honey.”

She looked at him, alarmed. “What’s wrong?”

“Something at work. We’ll talk when the kids are in bed.”

Putting on her best smile, she finished dinner and served it. “Come on everyone.”

After dinner, Charlotte and the girls cleaned up, and Travis got Devin into the shower and tucked into bed after a story. The twins came upstairs, with Charlotte right behind them. “The house is closed up downstairs,” she whispered. “Let’s talk up here.” He nodded. “Lights out in 20 minutes, girls. You can read or do whatever, but please wrap it up, babies.” She blew them both a kiss. “I love you.”

“Love you, Mama,” they answered together.

She slipped through the door that went between their rooms and locked it behind her. Travis was sitting on the side of the bed, acting nervous. “Baby, you’re scaring me.”

“I’m sorry honey, I don’t mean to. I just have a lot on my mind.” He patted the bed next to him for her to sit down. “I called Steve McKinnon this morning to get some background on that Kathleen because I promised you when we were on vacation I’d look into it for us.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, Ed, the security guy from the stadium gave me a name, but I didn’t think anything of it until I mentioned it to Steve today.” He looked at her, and shook his head, not wanting to utter the words. “Baby, Kathleen is Estevan Best’s niece.”  There was no easy way to say it.

Charlotte began to tremble. Even from beyond the grave he continued to haunt her and the family. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I wish I was, honey.” He held her as she trembled, and just tried to comfort her. “What do I need to know about this? I get the feeling I don’t have the whole picture.”

Charlotte explained everything in excruciating detail. Everything Bella had told her about their high school relationship, and what it involved. Estevan and his sister Maria sabotaging Bella’s career. The prison sentence when they refused to pony up the money they owed Bella, and Estevan blaming her for being in prison. The situation with Alexis and the hired hit. The book, the rumors, every little thing. Anything that Travis hadn’t known before, he knew when Charlotte was done explaining and he was left shaking his head, and wondering what they should do next.

“Dang, baby, that is a mess, honey. What do we do? How do we protect our children from this?”

“How do we protect you? If she is a Best, then I know what they are capable of, and quite frankly, I’m terrified.” It made sense to Charlotte now. Kathleen’s confidence that she would get what she wanted came from past family history. Travis was targeted for a reason, and it was because she knew she could manipulate him by targeting a weakness. “This is never going to stop, as long as there is a Best in Starlight Shores.”

“We either need to face it head-on, or we need to run away from it. Which one is better for our kids?” Travis didn’t know the answer.

“There is so much to know, so much to unpack.” And then she thought about Christopher and Cade, and Greg. Charlotte knew she had to tell Chris, that the nightmare was beginning all over again, and she felt powerless to stop it.

“Well, what is the chance this is coincidental, honey?” Travis wondered if the meeting in the bar was by chance, or on purpose. “Is there a possibility she doesn’t realize you are an Atwood?”

“I suppose there is that possibility, however slim it might be. Maybe. I guess it depends on which of Estevan’s sisters was her mother, and how much she thought of her uncle.” Her eyes dampened with tears. “This can’t be starting again. It can’t.”

“Well, let’s wait to hear back from Steve. Maybe he’ll have some news for us tomorrow.”

“With all that I am, I hope so honeybear.”


He spotted her out of the corner of his eye, waving energetically. Travis sighed. Reluctantly, he jogged to where she stood and approached her. “Kathleen, can I ask you a question?”

“What is it, sugar?” she purred at him.

He rolled his eyes. “Do you know my wife?”

“No, should I?” She looked at him, perplexed.

“You’re not lying to me about this… you’d better not be lying about this.” Travis frowned.

“Travis, honey,” she said, “I am a lot of things, but I am no liar. I don’t know your wife. Should I know her?”

“Never mind,”  he said, not really trusting her. “If I find out you’re lying about this…”

“You’ll what, Travis?” she taunted.

“Never mind. Just please, leave her alone.” He turned and jogged away. Travis still hadn’t heard anything from Steve, and he was beginning to worry.

Neil walked to where Travis was signing autographs for a few fans in the closed section and pulled him aside. “What were you doing talking to Kathleen, Travis? I thought I warned you to stay away from her.”

“I had to ask her a question, praying she was honest with me about the answer.” He shook his head. “Something tells me she wasn’t.”

“You should know better than that. I have a last name for you, I don’t know if it will help you out, though.” He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. “Vasquez. Kathleen Vasquez.”

“Thanks, Neil. Is there any truth to the rumor that she is related to the Best family?” Travis had to know.

“I hadn’t heard that particular rumor before yesterday. But I don’t know everything, either, Travis. Considering the history there, you had better hope it’s not true.” Neil waved to the fans that stood waving for autographs from the star player. “Your adoring fans beckon. You should go finish what you started.”

“Thanks, Neil,” Travis replied, jogging back towards the stands.

*****

“May I speak with Travis please?” came the request from the caller on the other end of the phone.

“He isn’t at home,” Charlotte replied. “May I ask who is calling?”

“This is Steve McKinnon, he asked me to call him at this number.”

“Steve, hi, this is Charlotte.” She hoped he would discuss this issue with her, and she wouldn’t have to wait for Travis to come home.

“Hey Charlotte, could you have him give me a call when he gets home?”

“Is there any chance you could talk to me about this? I know all about it.”

“Well, I actually had a question. I’m not able to link up the name he gave me with the Best family. I was wondering if he’d found out Kathleen’s last name yet.”

“I haven’t heard that yet, sorry Steve. Does that mean we’re out of the woods on the connection with the Bests?” Charlotte remained guardedly hopeful.

“I can’t be sure yet, but if he has a last name for me, it would be helpful. Have him give me a call?”

She was just about to speak when she heard the gate open outside. “Steve, I think he’s home. If you’ll just give me a minute, I’ll call him inside.”

“Sure thing, I’ll wait, Charlotte.”

She ran for the garage, where Travis was parking the car. “Baby!” She called to him. “Steve is on the phone for you inside.”

A look of urgency showed on his face as he ran for the house. “Steve!” he said, out of breath. “I have some information for you.”

“Ah, Travis, I was hoping you’d say that. I’m coming up empty without a last name.”

“Vasquez. Kathleen Vasquez.” Travis put his hand over the receiver of the phone, struggling to catch his breath. “I spoke with her briefly today, but didn’t let on who Charlotte is, and just asked her if she knew my wife. She claims she doesn’t. We’ll see if she’s telling me the truth.”

“This will help big time,” Steve replied. “I’ll be in touch shortly, Travis. Thanks again.”

“Honey?” Travis called to her. “Charlotte?”

She was coming through the back door, carrying a load of washed clothing to fold and put away. “Sorry, baby, I remembered the laundry when I got outside, and thought I’d grab it.” She put the basket down and hugged him.

“I might have some better news today. The connection between the Bests and Kathleen seems to be not as obvious as we first thought.” He took her hands in his, massaging her fingers. “Neil really wasn’t sure, and Steve was coming up empty on the connection.” He thought carefully, and then decided to tell her. “Against my better judgment, I asked Kathleen today if she knew you.”

He saw Charlotte tense up and saw her temples throbbing as she gritted her teeth. “You still see that woman at work?”

“Baby, they can’t banish her. I have to learn to cope with it. But that wasn’t my point. She didn’t seem to know you, past the times you’ve spoken with her.”

“But what does that tell us, exactly? We already know she’s not above lying to get her way.”

“That’s what my gut tells me. But, it’s still a glimmer of hope, and with the other information we have from Steve, maybe it seems more plausible.” He caressed her cheek. “Remember, I love you, and no one else. I will never betray you.”

“I know, honeybear. It’s just that, thinking of her there, watching you, preying on you. It makes me crazy.” She nuzzled into his hand, kissing his fingers. “I am so afraid someone will take you from me.”

He opened his arms and wrapped her in them. “Not on my watch, baby.” He suddenly noticed there was nothing cooking in the kitchen. “What did you say we were having for dinner tonight?”

“I didn’t. I was thinking of leftovers. Tracy had a lot of prepared food in the fridge, we should probably eat it before it goes bad.”

“Not a bad thing.” He hugged her tightly. “We’re going to be okay, honey.”

*****

A few days passed before Travis heard from Steve McKinnon, but the phone call arrived just as Charlotte was leaving for work. “Steve, I hope you have some good news for me, man.”

“I do, Travis. Whoever it was that told you that Kathleen was related to the Best family was only partially right. Her blood family comes from out of town, Bridgeport, but her ex-husband was Mandy Best-Vasquez’s son, Blake Vasquez. She wouldn’t know anything about Charlotte or Bella, and she has no blood relation to Estevan Best. She does, however, have a history of criminal mischief and solicitation.”

“I can’t wait to tell Charlotte. This will be a huge burden lifted off her shoulders. However,” Travis said, “just for fun, prepare an estimate for a bodyguard for me.” He could almost hear Steve’s surprised expression on the other end of the phone. “Charlotte is worried, because she’s had some really frightening dreams, and Kathleen has threatened me on a few occasions. Her peace of mind is important to me.”

“Absolutely, I understand,” Steve said, laughing. “Happy wife, happy life.”

“See? I knew you’d understand.” Travis thanked him and they hung up the phone. He immediately dialed Charlotte’s pager and left a message. She returned his call within minutes.

“Baby? Is everything okay?” she asked, trying not to sound scared out of her mind.

“It’s better than okay, honey. Steve just called. Kathleen is no blood relation to Estevan. It was by marriage, and it was only briefly. She was being truthful when she said she didn’t know you. Her family is from Bridgeport.”

“Oh honeybear, this was so worth the phone call!” She squealed, obviously ready to put the whole nightmare behind them. “So everything is alright?”

“Steve did mention she has a criminal history, but it’s criminal mischief and,” he laughed as he said it, “solicitation.”

Charlotte chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me in the least, knowing what I know.”

“Steve is going to get an estimate for me to have a guard when I leave the house. I know it will put your mind at ease.”

“You always know just the right things to say, baby,” she beamed, as she heard her name being paged on the address system. “I have to run, but I’ll see you after work tonight. I love you!”

“I love you too. Have a good day, sweetie.”

Travis heaved a sigh of relief.

*****

“Why are you so chipper today?” Neil teased Travis, noticing the obvious spring in his step.

“I got some good news this morning.” Travis unzipped his duffel bag and pulled his uniform out, getting ready for practice.

“Well, are you going to tell me your good news, or are you going to make me guess?”

Travis scratched his chin, acting as though he was thinking. “Oh, okay. The Best connection with Kathleen was by marriage and apparently, they’re divorced.”

“So the hag was telling the truth about not knowing Charlotte. Go figure.”

“That might have been the only time she’s ever told the truth. Apparently, she has a history of solicitation and criminal mischief.” Travis chuckled. “This also means her ‘family’ influence isn’t as great as she makes it sound. Maybe there’s hope to get her kicked out of here after all.”

“Ask Ed about it. He knows the proper channels.” Neil checked his watch. “Hop on it, sports star. Practice in 10 minutes, and you have a throng of waiting fans out there already.”

Travis laced his shoes, and grabbed his water bottle from the duffel, walking through the tunnel to the field. Looking around the stands, Kathleen was conspicuously missing. Finally, he thought. He signed a few autographs and posed for a few photo ops before Neil brought the rest of the team out for a full-scale practice.

After practice, the team headed for the showers. In the tunnel that led to the locker room, he saw the familiar outline of a female in a fur coat. “Travis,” she called to him. He ignored her, which made her angry. “Travis!” her sharper cry came, which fell on deaf ears.

“He’s done playing with you, Kath,” Neil said. “Your time here is limited.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s done,” she seethed, and turned to stomp away. Neil chuckled at her.

“That woman is nuttier than a Snickers bar,” he joked, walking toward where Travis was drying off. “You’ve ticked her off now, Travis.”

Travis rolled his eyes. It’s a good thing he requested the estimate from Steve, if for no other reason than for Charlotte’s peace. “I’m really afraid of her,” he joked, laughing.

“Miss Tight Britches again, Travis?” his buddy, Smitty asked, joining Travis in a chuckle. “Shoot, she is crazy.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s nothing.” He looked at his watch. “I have to get going. I’m taking Charlotte for dinner tonight. It’s date night.”

“You literally just came back from vacation, man,” Neil said, incredulous. “Give it a rest.”

“Hey, don’t hate me just because I have a smokin’ hot wife…” Travis laughed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Presser tomorrow, Travis. Come prepared.” Neil yelled.

*****

Charlotte was ready when Travis got home from work. From his car out front, he dialed her cell. “Baby, are you coming? Is Tracy here?”

“Yes, I’m just giving Devin goodnight kisses, and I’ll be out.”

She met him by the front gate, and he opened the door for her. Taking her hand, he kissed it, and helped her into the car. The girls, who were watching from the front door, waved at Travis, and he blew kisses to them as he got into the car. He drove them to their favorite off-strip restaurant, and valet parked the car. They walked in, arm in arm, and were seated right away. Taking her sweater off, she set it on an empty chair, and Travis helped her with her chair. He noticed how beautiful her ring was in the light of the dining room, and he smiled at her. “You look gorgeous tonight, honey,” he said.

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“I love your work uniform,” she said, admiring him. “Whoever designed it did a great job. Plus, you fill it out rather well to boot!”

Travis chuckled at her. He noticed her wearing the vanilla scent she had purchased at the spa, and he grinned. “You even smell good tonight.”

“I’m glad you noticed,” she purred. “What looks good tonight?” she asked, checking out the daily specials.

“You,” he said, very matter-of-factly.

“That isn’t what I meant,” she grinned. “What do you want?”

“You,” he repeated.

She rolled her eyes. “You’re incorrigible. For dinner,” she clarified.

“You,” he laughed. “No matter the question, you’re the answer.” Her heart melted.

Travis ordered a steak, and Charlotte got grilled salmon, with a Caprese salad to share, and a bottle of French nectar. They talked about their day, the kids, work, and even the end of the whole nightmare that had begun six months prior. “I’m glad you’re considering a guard, honeybear. Especially after what you told me she did tonight. She still freaks me out a little.”

“I’m sure I will never need him, but I will hire him anyway, so you can sleep peacefully at night, my love.” He held her hand, the diamond sparkling brightly even in the dim light. Their dinner arrived shortly after, and they spent more time talking, especially about Devin’s upcoming birthday. Travis thought it would be a good idea to get him a bicycle, and Charlotte agreed.

“Someday, I’d like to take the kids on a weekend trip to Isla Paradiso, honeybear,” Charlotte said, as they pondered some tiramisu. She really loved it, and she was hoping to test the waters, to see if the kids would like it, too. “Maybe, if they like it there, we don’t have to wait until we retire to go.”

“You know, that would depend on me getting on that team. I’ve been informed my contract is very binding, and it’s not up for years.”

“True, and I would never ask you to give up your passion.” He still had many good years to play, and he truly thrived on the field and in the spotlight. She would have never guessed that the shy boy she knew in college would have such an affinity for the public eye. “You’ve made yourself valuable to the team. They’d be wise to keep you for the remainder of your career.”

“Well, moving would be no small feat for you, too. Exams, recerts, licensing. Isn’t it a nightmare to move as a doctor?”

“It depends on what you call a nightmare. I have to do yearly recerts anyway, and licensing exams are standard. What I’d really need to study is regional laws pertaining to the job, like that ridiculous one they still have here.”

“That reminds me,” Travis remarked. “We have to fund that scholarship and redo it for this coming school year. I’ll call Sarah in the morning.”

“Sounds good,” Charlotte said, sipping the last of her nectar. “I think I’m going to pass on tiramisu, baby. I’m full.”

“Okay, love,” he said, calling the waiter for the check.

“Mr. Jones, the manager of the restaurant would like to comp you for dinner tonight, and wants to thank you for being a loyal customer.” The waiter brought a check that was marked ‘Paid.’

“Well, please tell your manager thank you, and if he needs anything from me, promos, ads, to let me know.” Travis took a business card from his vest pocket and handed it to the waiter. “Come, my sweet Charlotte,” he smiled, taking her hand. They retrieved the car from valet and drove home.

The kids were already tucked into bed, and Tracy was reading Bella’s romance novel by the fireplace when Charlotte and Travis returned home. She tiptoed into the living room while Travis parked, and paid Tracy for watching the kids. “You know it’s always my pleasure to watch them,” she told Charlotte. “I adore your sweet little family, as though they were my own.”

“That’s really kind of you to say, Tracy. I know they adore you, too.” She saw Tracy safely to her car and waved as she pulled away.

“Thank you, for a beautiful evening,” Travis said as he stood behind her, his face buried into Charlotte’s hair, breathing in her vanilla scent.

“The pleasure was mine,” she said. “I love date nights with you.”

“I just love you so much, my sweet Charlotte.”

“Shall we?” she asked, leading him to their bedroom.

“I’d have it no other way,” he purred, both of them laughing softly.

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Up Next: Chapter Sixteen, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Fourteen – Part Three, The Vacation of a Lifetime

Charlotte woke the next morning somewhat dopey and had a headache. She had slept a full 16 hours and couldn’t remember a single dream. Travis was still sleeping beside her on his own side of the bed. She could barely remember the previous day except that they had been arguing. She stumbled from the bed and into the bathroom to pee and washed her hands. She felt groggy but at least she was aware of her surroundings and could walk on her own power.

Charlotte grabbed a key card from the dresser and headed for the front desk. Rosa greeted her warmly. “Hi, Mrs. Jones! How are you feeling today?”

“A little wobbly but otherwise I feel good. I’ve come for a cup of coffee for both of us. Travis is still sleeping and I’d like to surprise him.”

“Do you need a carrier? I can get one from the restaurant for you.” Rosa was always so willing to help out.

“That would be great,” Charlotte thanked her and prepared a coffee for each of them.

“Here you are, sweetheart,” Rosa said and handed her a cardboard carrier. “Can I make any reservations for you today?”

“Not yet. I don’t know what he wants to do today since yesterday was a lost day. Hopefully something fun.”

“Let me know!” Rosa chirped, happy as could be. It was obvious she loved her job.

Charlotte made her way back to the suite and opened the door. Travis was still sleeping peacefully. She set the coffee down on the table and got back into bed with him for a few minutes and curled herself around him.

“Good morning honeybear,” she cooed and kissed him. “Travis, baby, it’s morning time.”

Travis moved slightly and opened his eyes. “Hey beautiful,” he said and smiled.

“I have coffee for us, love,” she announced.

“Oh yes, going to need that today,” he laughed. “I feel like I could sleep another whole day and not be caught up.”

“I’m just a little groggy and maybe have the start of a migraine, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She handed him his cup of morning brew and took a sip from hers.

“I’m happy you woke me with kisses this morning and not screams,” he said. “It’s a much better way to wake up.”

“I agree. I know we still have some things to talk about, but I think we should make plans for something fun today. It was my fault we lost a whole day yesterday. Time we made it up, don’t you think?”

“I do think, yes.” He thought for a moment before he decided to bring up yesterday’s events. “Baby,” he said, “I’m sorry about yesterday. I never meant it to sound like I was blaming you for your dreams. I was as frustrated as you were. I don’t like to see you tortured by it.”

“You’re forgiven, honeybear,” she said. “I know I have much to be sorry for, too. I’m sorry I left here in a huff, that I got myself into a situation where it actually could have been dangerous, and most importantly, I’m so sorry I took my ring off and gave it back to you. I don’t want us to be done, baby. I love you way too much for that.”

“You are forgiven, honey. You know that guy actually saved my hide last night when I brought you back from the doctor. I carried you over my shoulder because you were passed out cold, and I couldn’t open the door with one hand.” Travis took a sip of coffee. “I don’t think he wanted to help me but he did anyway.”

“That was nice of him. I’m surprised he helped after you offered to beat the tar out of him.”

“Yeah, I shouldn’t have done that, either. I need to remember to keep my cool, but it’s difficult when I sense you’re in danger.” Travis shrugged his shoulders. “If I see him today, I’ll apologize to him for that.”

“Don’t be surprised if you don’t. He will probably stay away from you like you’re stricken with the plague.” Charlotte laughed a little, her headache still pounded.

“Okay, so what do we want to do today?” Travis asked.

“Why don’t we go diving?” Charlotte suggested. “I know you want to go and the window of opportunity is closing where it’s safe before we fly home. I’m going to sit on the balcony and enjoy my coffee. Join me when you’re done?”

“That sounds like a plan,” Travis replied. “I’ll call Rosa and have her book a charter boat to take us to that wreck.” There was a sunken ship off the coast, and the wreckage was a popular diving site.

“Concierge Desk, this is Rosa!” came the friendly, now familiar voice on the other end of the phone.

“Hi Rosa, Travis Jones. Would you kindly make a reservation for a scuba trip for early afternoon?”

“Absolutely!” He heard her fingers tap on a computer keyboard and then shuffled some papers. “You’re all set, Mr. Jones. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“I’d like to schedule a couple’s massage for tomorrow morning if I could. I would like to surprise my wife. Do you have a service that would send her a message?”

“I can arrange a gift basket with goodies. It will be a little extra, but many couples choose this option for gifting, especially when it’s a surprise. Would you like this option?”

“That sounds amazing, Rosa, thank you!” He scheduled the gift basket to be delivered while they were away that afternoon and made the appointment. He thanked Rosa again and joined Charlotte on the balcony.

“What a beautiful morning,” she said. “It should be a good day for diving.”

“I have good news, by the way. That picture above the table in the bedroom is a safe. We can set the combination to any number we want.”

“Good! We can leave all of our jewelry behind. I don’t want to wear any of it in the seawater.”

He nodded. “Me neither, and I don’t want to lose it.” He spun his wedding ring on his finger. “It’s bad enough my first wedding ring disappeared.”

“That had some help, I think,” she posed. “Otherwise, it would have made an appearance in your locker at some point.”

“You’re probably right, honey,” he replied. “All the more reason to leave it here.”

When they had removed their jewelry and placed it into the safe, Travis set the combination as the girls’ birthday. Charlotte packed some clothing into a backpack and dressed to dive. They would need to rent their equipment. They caught the shuttle to the same beach they had visited on their second day and caught the private charter boat to bring them to the popular diving site.

“You have four hours of air before you have to worry about coming up,” the captain of the boat told Travis. “I’ll meet you back here then”

“Thank you,” Travis replied. “Are you ready, my sweet Charlotte?”

“I am,” she said. They took each other’s hand and jumped into the water from the boat. Travis waved to the captain. They both descended to the floor of the ocean, which wasn’t terribly deep, and just looked around in awe. A cave sat straight ahead of them, and Travis knew he wanted to explore it. The old shipwreck was scattered in pieces on the floor, and Charlotte took her time to inspect it. She picked up some pretty old shells and found a chest that hadn’t been opened. She took a rock and broke the seal on the chest and opened it. There were quite a few cut and uncut gems, some old gold doubloons, and bars of refined precious metals that she slipped into a bag she wore around her weight belt. Then she swam to the opening of the cave where Travis had gone exploring, and waited for him to emerge.

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About 20 minutes later, Travis came from the cave with a shell he had found on a ledge inside. The colors were brilliant for an empty shell but he knew he had to bring it for Charlotte because it was perfect. They swam around for what seemed only minutes when Travis noticed he only had about thirty minutes of air left in his tanks. They held hands and made one last stop where Travis found a chest tucked into a small alcove. He grabbed and rock and bashed the corroding metal lock and opened it. Inside were a few more gold doubloons, a larger stash of gems and a few bars of refined metal. He slipped his haul into the bag he wore around his weight belt and they began to surface slowly.

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When they were just feet from the surface, they noticed the boat was back to pick them up a bit early. Even though they were close, Travis knew that going up quickly could cause problems, so he blew some bubbles near the side of the boat to let the captain know they were there. And when they were safe to surface completely they did. Travis climbed into the small boat, removed his mask, and helped Charlotte into the boat.

“That was amazing,” he said, as he helped Charlotte with removing her tank and other equipment. “That cave was incredible.”

“You went into the cave, sir?” the captain questioned. “You are a very brave man. We lost a diver there just a month ago. He never came back out. His wife was devastated.”

“I have some training in cave diving, so I knew what to do,” Travis answered confidently. Charlotte, however, was less impressed.

“What if, Travis?” she said as she removed her wet suit. “What if you had gotten lost in there?” The possibility never crossed her mind that the cave would be unsafe and she felt sick.

“But I didn’t, sweetheart. I’m fine.” He stopped for a moment to admire the one-piece bathing suit she wore.

“You’re right, but no more danger on this trip. I don’t want to go home alone.” The thought terrified her, especially after her dreams the day before.

“That is my fault, Ma’am,” the captain said. “I should have said something about that cave when I dropped you off here. I never imagined he’d go in.”

She took Travis’ hand. “It’s okay.”

The boat took them back to the beach where they did a little more sunbathing. Travis wanted to wait to give Rosa’s gift basket a chance to be delivered before they returned to the resort. The surprise would hopefully be welcomed since they’d had such a rough time the previous day.

“I’m hungry,” Charlotte announced and looked at her watch. “I guess that would be the reason why,” she chuckled. “It’s almost six.”

“Wow, where did this day go?” Travis wondered. “I guess we should catch a shuttle back.” They gathered their belongings and rang the resort for the shuttle. “It will be here in about 10 minutes,” he said.

“I had a wonderful time today, honeybear. Thank you.” She snuggled up to him as they stood at the bus stop.

“The pleasure was all mine,” he replied. “I hope it will be your pleasure later.”

She smiled at him. “For both of us.”

The bus came and brought them back to the resort. Hand in hand they walked back to the suite and they happened to run into Ron.

“Hey, fella, can I talk to you for a minute?” Travis called to him.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Ron answered.

“Look, I only wanted to apologize. I shouldn’t have gotten in your face yesterday and I certainly shouldn’t have threatened you. I’m sorry.” Travis held his hand out for Ron to shake.

Cautiously, Ron approached him. “Well, I shouldn’t have hit on your wife, especially after I saw that big ol’ rock sitting on her finger. I was out of line. I’m sorry, Travis.” He took Travis’ hand to shake. Charlotte watched from the window and saw the guys chatting cordially and she smiled. “I’m Ron, by the way, in case your lovely wife didn’t mention it. Hang onto her. She is special.”

“Thanks, I will. Nice to meet you, Ron.” They exchanged a few more pleasantries and Travis walked toward the room. Charlotte still watched through the window, her smile bright.

“Why are you so smiley?” he asked, spotting the gift basket.

“You know why, Mr. Jones.” She walked to him and kissed him. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure. I knew you’d love it. We both go in the morning.” He wrapped her in a hug. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. So, what did you say to Ron?” she curiously asked.

“I apologized for my behavior yesterday, from the threats to just getting in his face. And, oddly enough, he apologized for hitting on you. He mentioned your ring. It must have impressed him.”

“It did. He remarked about it and said that you must really love me.” She smiled and flirted with him. “So, Mr. Jones, how much do you love me?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he purred.


The alarm on Travis’ phone woke them earlier than usual for a vacation day. He groaned, turned it off and kissed Charlotte’s shoulder. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear.

She stirred just a little and smiled in her sleep. He kissed her again and moved her hair to kiss her neck. “Mmmm, good morning honeybear,” she cooed at him.

“Good morning, baby,” he replied. “Time to get up for a shower. Do you want to grab a bite before our spa appointment, honey?”

“What time is it, love?”

“Seven. Our appointment is at nine-thirty.”

“If we stay close by then yes. Otherwise, we can go for brunch afterward.”

Travis sat up and pulled the brochure from the gift basket. “It says the package includes champagne, strawberries and an hour in a romantic room. It sounds like a great way to relax before our flight home tomorrow.”

“Then we’d better have something light before we go. Champagne will not agree with me on an empty stomach.”

“I’ll take the shower first,” he said, grabbing his towel. “I won’t take as long as you.”

“We could save time and shower together,” she suggested.

“I love how you think, baby,” he purred.

After the shower, they dressed and walked to the on-property restaurant, which was more casual for breakfast than the other two meals they offered. They ate a quick, light breakfast and left the restaurant in plenty of time for their appointment. Hand in hand, they walked into the spa.

The storefront was attractively decorated, painted in neutral, pastel colors with floral arrangements that looked so real, Charlotte couldn’t tell if they were. There were shelves stocked with products for guests to purchase in addition to the robes that had been provided in the rooms. She seriously considered a robe. She had never worn one so plush and comfortable.

Travis approached the receptionist who recognized him right away. “Mr. Jones, what a pleasure!” she greeted them. “And you must be the lovely Mrs. Jones. I’ve heard so much about you! Rosa speaks highly of you both.” She typed a few things into her computer and announced, “You’re all checked in. I hope you enjoy your experience here.”

They sat side by side, fingers intertwined. “I’ve never done this before,” he admitted. “I don’t know what to expect.”

“Me neither. But I’m hoping we will be nice and relaxed for the trip home. I’m not ready to leave yet but then again, I miss the children.”

A young woman called their names and invited them back to their room. Two tables were set up side by side covered in a sheet, an assortment of massage oils sat on a small table nearby. The room itself had a fireplace, a plush rug by the hearth, and places to lounge. The windows were one way; no one could see inside, but the spa backed almost right up to the beach and provided a scenic view of the ocean. By the window was a spa tub, large enough for two, filled with heated water, ready for occupancy. Charlotte looked around in awe, as she put her bag down by the sofa. “This is lovely!” she exclaimed.

“You’re welcome to get comfortable. No one else will have access to this room except for you and your massage therapists. You may use the robes until your massage. You will be nude under the sheet, but your modesty is always first and foremost. After your 30 minute massage, you will have access to the room for a full hour. You may extend if you’d like, just ring the front desk and time will be added accordingly.” She handed them fluffy, white robes. “Any questions I can answer for you?”

“I think we’re good, thank you,” Travis stated. When she left, they both undressed and put the robes on.

Charlotte snickered. “Are you going to be okay with a naked massage, honey?”

“I sure hope so. I’m already almost not okay.” He blushed a little.

“We can extend the time now if you think we’ll need longer than an hour,” she winked at him.

“We’ll see,” he said nervously.

The door opened and two young women entered. They introduced themselves as the therapists

“I’m Cheri and my colleague is Julia. If you have any questions or if you need something specific, please don’t be afraid to ask.” Cheri turned to Charlotte and asked, “Do you have a favorite fragrance you’d prefer?”

“I love vanilla,” Charlotte stated. Cheri nodded and put a bottle of oil into a warmer.

“How about you, Mr. Jones?” Julia asked. “What is your favorite fragrance?”

“I’m not sure I have one,” he said sheepishly. “Whatever Charlotte is doing is okay with me.”

“Well, our vanilla tends to run a bit feminine with floral notes but I have a lovely musk that is very popular with the gentlemen.”

“He’ll do that,” Charlotte piped up. “I love how musk smells on him.”

Travis laughed. “What the lady said, please!”

The therapists left the room so Charlotte and Travis could situate themselves on the tables and cover what needed to be covered for the sake of modesty. A few moments later, a light knock on the door sounded and the therapists reentered the room.

The tables were close enough so they could hold hands as long as they weren’t interfering with the therapists. The massages lasted just a speck longer than the half-hour they expected and when they were done, Travis called the front desk to extend their room time by an hour. He led her to the fireplace and popped open the bottle of champagne that was left on ice and poured each of them a glass.

“To the vacation of a lifetime,” he toasted. She smiled and softly clinked their glasses together and they kissed.

*****

“I wish we could have stayed by the fireplace all day,” Charlotte said with Travis wrapped around her. “I really liked that musk, honeybear. I should get some in the morning before we leave.”

“Mmm, you smell delicious,” he remarked as he breathed in the scented oils that still remained on her skin. “I think you should get a bottle of vanilla, too.”

“Maybe I will. You know, honeybear, I feel guilty I haven’t talked to the kids once since we left the Shores.”

“They miss us. When I called the house the other morning Danae said they did. I miss them, too. It’s been too long since I’ve heard their giggles.”

“It has. I’m looking forward to going home. Just not the trip.” She snuggled into Travis’ arms and he kissed her. “Do you want to order dinner in tonight or get dressed up one last time and go to the restaurant?”

“If you’re wearing that red dress again, I’m all over it.” Travis buried his face in her hair.

“It’s settled then. Ordering in. You just feel too good to leave this bedroom.”

 

They ordered a light meal with sweet tea and had it delivered. The only clothes they had on since the massage was a robe to answer the door and to walk back from the spa. Travis greatly underestimated how romantic the couple’s massage would be, and he could not keep his hands off her all day. There are worse ways to spend a day, he thought. Wearing just a robe all day also helped Charlotte to pack most of their clothing and items into their suitcases, and she laid out a clean outfit for each of them before closing the cases.

“We should think about sleep soon,” Charlotte said at 11pm. “Our flight leaves early afternoon, but we’ll need to be up early.”

“I know, but you… you’ve been amazing all day, my sweet Charlotte. I can’t stop loving you.”

She smiled sweetly. “Then let’s go one more round.”

*****

The phone rang at 6:00am, and Travis answered it. “Good morning! This is Rosa with your wake up call.”

“Thank you, Rosa,” he replied. He did not remember ordering a wake up the night before.

“Who was that?” Charlotte asked, sleepy.

“Wake up call,” he grumbled. “I was going to sleep for another hour, too.”

“It’s okay, love. We’ll just have extra time for breakfast.” She stretched and felt the pull of tired, sore muscles. The massage had left her uncomfortable, not to mention the activities that followed.

“Ooh, I’m sore,” Travis mentioned as he got up.

“I was just thinking that myself,” she agreed. “We either needed a much less rigorous massage or we’re getting too old to spend all day in bed.” She giggled.

“Yes on both counts maybe.” He suddenly felt like an old man even though they were barely pushing forty.

“Here, let’s shower together and maybe that will help,” she suggested.

After their shower, they finished packing their suitcases and set them outside their room for the bellhop to retrieve. Travis called Rosa to let the front desk know they were ready and then they walked to the restaurant for breakfast.

“I want to get some of those oils,” Charlotte said as they passed the spa. “I’ll be right back.”

Travis walked to the concierge desk. “Rosa, I want to thank you for everything that made our stay here so memorable. Long after we’re back home we will never forget how you made us feel so welcomed. Like family.”

“Oh, Mr. Jones, the pleasure has been all mine!” She motioned for him to lean toward her as she whispered into his ear, “I am a closet Llamas fan! Jayna and I watch all your games together.”

“Would you like a photo together?  Jayna has one, too.”

“I didn’t want to ask but since you offered, I would love one!” Rosa smiled as the front desk clerk snapped several photos for Rosa. “I will send one to your email address, Mr. Jones. For your scrapbook.”

“I would love that, thank you!” He reached for her hand to kiss it and tears formed in her eyes.

“I will never forget you, Mr. Jones. Thank you so much.”

Charlotte returned to where Rosa and Travis were talking. “Oh, Mrs. Jones! I’m going to miss you, too!” Travis snapped a photo of the two of them together and then posed for one of the three of them.

Amidst all of the hubbub, Ron was at the front desk to check out, dressed in a business suit. Travis waved politely and Ron walked to them. “I’m on my way home. Even though the circumstances weren’t the best I’m glad I met you two. It has been a pleasure, Travis.” The two men shook hands.

“Likewise, Ron,” Travis replied. “Thank you again for your help that night. I would have been stuck without your assistance.”

“Hey, it was no problem. Take care of that special lady,” he said and winked at Charlotte. “It was a pleasure, Mrs. Jones.” He handed Travis his card. “If you’re ever in Twinbrook, look me up!”

“We will,” Travis said. “Take care.”

Rosa approached Travis. “Mr. Jones, your shuttle has arrived to bring you to the airport.” She wiped tears from her eyes. She hugged both of them and watched as they left the resort.

Travis and Charlotte were quiet on the way to the airport. They were leaving summer weather and returning to snow and freezing temperatures. “I wonder what it would be like to live here year-round, Charlotte?” Travis finally broke the silence as they approached the terminal.

“I wondered that myself. Maybe we should think about moving here when we retire.” The shuttle driver opened the door for them, retrieved their luggage from the hold, and checked it for them.

“It’s something to think about,” he said pensively. They joined hands and walked into the airport, ready to go home.

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Up Next: Chapter Fifteen, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Fourteen – Part Two, Trouble In Paradise

“Honey, I’m home,” she called out, but no one answered. “Honey?” She searched the bottom floor of the house and found Travis’ work vest hanging on the newel post. His shirt was at the top of the steps, along with shoes and a white fur coat. Charlotte recognized the floral scent, but couldn’t believe it was true. “Travis?” she said, fear in her voice. In the hallway that led to their bedroom, she found his work slacks and a skimpy pair of cut off shorts. No, she thought. He wouldn’t.

She tried the bedroom door, but it was locked. Inside, there were sounds of two people joined in ecstasy. “NO!” she screamed and then heard a man’s panicked voice. “Kathleen, you need to hide,” he said, “she is home!”

“No,” said the woman’s voice. “You are mine now. Forget her.” Charlotte screamed in emotional agony and sobbed outside the locked door.

“Nooo!!! Nooo! Baby, no!” she cried, as Kathleen laughed maniacally…

*****

Charlotte woke up screaming, and startled Travis awake. “Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked and pulled her close to calm her.

“Oh, thank goodness it was only a dream,” she said but continued to cry. “Hold me, baby.” She trembled fiercely. “Never let me go.”

“That must have been quite a nightmare,” he remarked. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She nodded and with great trepidation, she spoke. “I was just home from work and found your clothes in a trail up to our bedroom, along with a very familiar perfume and another woman’s clothes. Our bedroom door was locked but I could hear the voices and noises inside.” She started to tremble again, tortured by the memory of the nightmares. Every time she closed her eyes that night the same dream played in her head, but this was the first time she had seen the dream progress that far and it horrified her.

Travis held her tightly. “It was just a dream, honey.”

She continued describing the nightmare. “You told her she had to hide, that I was home, and she told you not to worry about me,” emotion gripped her as she sobbed in his arms. “She said you were hers now. And then I heard her laugh in the most evil manner.”

“Oh, honey, no wonder you screamed, baby.” He kissed her sweaty face and held her as she cried. “That dream would have scared me, too.”

“Promise me, Travis. Promise me that will never come true.”

His heart broke into pieces. It was the first time on their trip any painful memory had even surfaced and it hurt him deeply that it still tortured her. “Baby, it will never happen, honey. Never ever. I promise you, I would rather die than betray you like that.” He clung to her as she cried and he glanced at his watch. It was only 3 AM and they hadn’t been asleep for more than an hour.

She sniffled and tried to calm down but each time she closed her eyes, she saw herself sobbing outside their bedroom door and it worked her up all over again. Travis reached for the room phone and dialed the concierge desk, even though he knew the restaurant was closed at this late hour. He hoped for some chamomile tea with honey, for both of them.

“Concierge desk, Emma speaking.”

“Hi, Emma, this is Travis Jones in suite one in the tower,” he began.

“Oh yes, Mr. Jones! Such a pleasure to have you and your beautiful wife staying with us. What can I help you with tonight?”

“My Charlotte has had a nightmare. I suspect it has been more than one of them by how she is acting. I was hoping you might have some chamomile tea in front.”

“I absolutely do, and I will personally bring up a pot of hot water, some fresh local honey and an assortment of tea!”

“Thank you, Emma,” Travis replied and hung up the phone. Charlotte had dozed off in his arms but as she did, she began to tremble and startled herself awake again. “Oh, honey, why is this tormenting you like this?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’d give anything to make it stop.”

“Concierge is coming up with some chamomile tea for us, baby,” he said. “Maybe that will help.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” she agreed. The words were barely out of her mouth when a gentle knock sounded at the door. Travis slipped into a robe and answered it.

“Wow, Mr. Jones, what an honor to meet you!” Emma held a tray of water, two teacups and an assortment of bags as she had promised. She peeked around him and waved to Charlotte, who sat on the bed and wept. “Hi sweetheart, I’m sorry you’re not sleeping well. I hope this helps!” she chirped, and then turned to Travis. “Let me know if I can help further. We do have a doctor on call should she need it.”

“Thank you, Emma, I will keep that in mind.” She politely excused herself and left him to tend to Charlotte. He set the tray down on the table and poured her a cup of hot water. “Chamomile okay, honey?” he asked.

She nodded her head. Frustrated, she got up and went into the bathroom to wash her face and grabbed a wet cloth on her way out. She felt awful, and having no sleep compounded the problem. “I don’t understand this,” she said. “After such a wonderful evening together tonight, you would think…” she began to weep again and stirred some honey into her tea.

He took her hand as they sat at the small table on their patio. “Shh, it’s okay, and I’m here.”

“Honeybear, I don’t want you to get the idea that I don’t trust you, because I absolutely do.” She sipped her tea. “I don’t know why I’m dreaming this tonight.”

“I know you trust me, honey.” He kissed her forehead. Travis felt guilty again over something that had been long resolved and forgiven. “I know you trust me, even when I gave you every reason not to.”

“Aww, honeybear, this nightmare is not your fault. It’s that woman,” she seethed. “She got under my skin and I shouldn’t let her.” She sipped the last of her tea and poured another cup of hot water. “This feels like a two cup night.” She smiled slightly and sighed.

“Baby, it’s good to see you smiling, honey.” He took her hand and kissed it. “I can never tell you enough how sorry I am about—”

“Shh, don’t speak it, honeybear. This isn’t your fault.” She drizzled honey into the tea and stirred it gently. “I just hope the tea does the trick. I want to dream of good things. I want to dream of our night together.”

Travis smiled, the memory fresh. “I want that for you, too, honey.” They both finished a second cup of tea, and Charlotte felt ready to lay down again to sleep.

“Hold me, Travis, while I sleep. I need you close.” She settled into bed, and he curled up behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist.

“Sleep sweetly, my precious Charlotte. But if you don’t, I’m right here when you wake.” He nuzzled her neck and kissed her.

“I love you, honeybear. Thank you for taking such good care of me.”

“Always my pleasure,” he said and drifted off to sleep.

*****

The sun peeked through the window at 6:30 am and hit Charlotte’s eyes as the rays poked through the sheer curtain. She sighed as she woke. “I can’t catch a break,” she muttered and got up to close the blinds. As she walked back to the bed Travis was gone. She walked to the bathroom but he wasn’t there. “Travis?” she called out, but there was no answer. Charlotte put a robe on, tied the belt and opened the door of the resort to look around outside. “Travis?” she called, but still there was no answer. She went back in and grabbed the key card and slipped it into the robe pocket. “Travis!” she called out, but her cries went unanswered.

She traced their steps from the night before and walked by the closest pool “Travis?” she continued to call but there was still no answer. Something caught her peripheral vision and she spotted him floating face down in the pool. A message scrawled in red lipstick appeared on the back of his shirt: If I can’t have him, you can’t either. “No!” she screamed, as she dove into the pool, her heart raced. As she swam to him, she noticed a grievous injury on his head and blood had trickled from it into the water. She tried to scream but couldn’t…

Charlotte gasped for breath as she woke up. Another nightmare had frightened her senseless. Travis woke and felt her shaking violently. “Baby, are you okay?” he held her close, but he sensed she was not. “Not again,” he sighed. She was almost unresponsive as he talked to her and tried to rouse her. “Charlotte?” he said as he touched her, and his gentle nudge startled her fully awake as she screamed. She looked at him, wide-eyed, as though she was looking at a ghost.

“You’re alive!” she cried and hugged him. “Oh baby, you’re alive… you’re alive…” She kissed his face to see if he was truly among the living.

“What happened, baby?”

“It was so real. I woke up and the sun was in my face, and I could feel its warmth on my skin, so I got up to close the blind…”

“At home?” he asked, trying to understand.

“No, we were here. When I came back to bed, you weren’t here, so I went to look for you.” She began to feel nauseated as she remembered. “I called for you, but you didn’t answer, so I retraced our steps from last night, and I caught a glimpse of you in my peripheral vision.” She began to sob. “Travis, you were dead in the pool with a head injury.” Her anguish showed on her face as she spoke. “She left me a message, baby, in red lipstick on your shirt.” She shook intensely, as though she had really seen him dead.

The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “Oh honey,” he held her close as she cried. He gently rocked her, her tears soaked his skin. “Shh, I’m okay, my love.” He kissed her forehead as she continued to cry. His watch read 5:15 am. “I guess I’m awake,” he said as he rocked her in his arms.

“Honeybear, would you call Tracy? Please make sure our babies are okay.”

He didn’t want to alarm Tracy, but he knew how important it was to Charlotte that she know something was normal. He dialed the house number, and a sleepy Danae answered it.

“Daddy?” she answered.

“Hey Punkin,” Travis said. “How are you guys doing?”

“We’re fine, Daddy. How’s your vacation?” Danae was happy to hear his voice. She and her siblings missed them.

“Going well, but your mama wanted me to call and check on you. I’m sorry I woke you up, honey,” he apologized.

“It’s okay Daddy. I miss you.”

“We miss you too, sweetheart. We’ll see you in a few days.”

“I just talked to Danae, honey, and they’re fine.” He kissed her forehead as she cried.

“I’m so tired, but I don’t want to sleep.” He didn’t blame her. “I want to go home.”

“We still have a few days left to stay,” he said.

“What if my dreams come true? What if she finds you and hurts you? I-I couldn’t survive something like that, baby.” He could tell she was truly tortured.

“I will ask Neil if he thinks you need protection from her. He knows the freaks that hang around at the stadium. Maybe I’ll ask Steve McKinnon to do a background on her. See if she has a past.”

“What about you?” her voice quivered. “How will I know you’ll be okay?”

“I’m a big guy, honey. No one is going to mess with me.”

“It doesn’t matter how big you are if someone comes at you from behind, baby.”

He nodded and acknowledged her point. “I’ll make sure we have our bases covered when we get home, sweetie. In the meanwhile, let’s enjoy the rest of our vacation.”

“I need coffee,” she yawned.

“You’re not the only one, honey.” He picked up the phone and called the concierge desk.

“Concierge desk, Emma speaking.”

“Hi Emma, it’s Travis Jones in suite one again,” he began.

“Mr. Jones! As always, it’s a pleasure to hear from you. How can I help you this morning?”

“I’m wondering what time the restaurant takes orders for breakfast. Poor Charlotte hasn’t slept very well, and we could use some coffee.”

“If you give me ten minutes, Mr. Jones, I can have some coffee with all of the fixings at your door personally!” It astonished him how anyone could be so perky at almost 6am.

“Thank you, Emma. We appreciate it.”

“Concierge will take care of our coffee problem, love,” he whispered and sat back down with her. “I’m here, honey. No more fear, okay?”

She nodded. “I just want the dreams to stop. If I was home, I’d have access to stuff to help me sleep, but I didn’t bring any of my doctor stuff with me.”

“Do you want to see the resort doctor, honey? Maybe they could help you.”

“I’m not sure, baby. Most of the stuff I could take would knock me out for a whole day.” She shrugged. “I’ll just make sure I have coffee on hand. It isn’t like I’m not used to sleep deprivation.”

A few minutes later, a knock came at the door, and Travis answered it. Emma appeared with a cart containing coffee, sugar, cream and a fresh assortment of muffins, bagels, and croissants with locally sourced preserves. “I couldn’t just come bearing coffee for our hungry guests!” Emma beamed. She walked toward Charlotte and noticed the dark circles under her eyes. “I’m sorry you’re not sleeping, sweetie. Maybe a nice massage at the spa would be helpful? I can schedule that any time you’d like.”

“Thank you, Emma, I might take you up on that later on,” she said and yawned.

“Thanks again, Emma. You’ve been very helpful tonight.” Travis handed her a tip, and she went on her way.

She poured them both a cup of coffee and she stirred some cream into her cup. “At least we get to see the sunrise this morning, baby,” she said while she stood at the sliding door that led to the balcony. She stepped down and reached for a chair while Travis brought some of the baked goods Emma had wheeled in. As she bit into a blueberry muffin her brain started analyzing her dreams. “I’ve been fine. Months have passed since the incident,” she said out loud. “Never had bad dreams about her before but yet I am now.” Travis watched her think, totally amazed at how she could figure things out. She’d always been good at problem-solving. Maybe she would crack this open, too. “What is different?”

“Well, for one, we’re on this trip to recommit ourselves to each other. Maybe there is insecurity there somewhere?” As much as he didn’t want to admit it, it was obvious she was having a hard time forgetting, even if her heart had forgiven.

“You might have something there,” she said, deep in thought. And then it occurred to her that the common factor in the dreams was fear. “I might have it figured out, Travis,” she pondered. “I think I’m afraid of losing you.”

“Never going to happen,” he said. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, little miss.”

“Good, I don’t want to lose you. And I think that is really the basis of my dreams. Now that we are for certain together, stronger than ever, I’m afraid something will come and mess it up.” And the more she thought about it the more she realized it had less to do with Travis’ incident and more with the Estevan debacle and her mother. “Travis, I’m not sure how much I told you about Mama’s problems with that man, Estevan. I remember telling you a little at the campus but I don’t think I’ve gone into it much. That man was a thorn in Mama’s side for most of her life and every time she had something good, he did something to her to screw it all up. This thing with Kathleen reminds me so much of him, it’s uncanny.”

“Mama and Dad nearly separated once, believe it or not, over him. He nearly threw everything away because she took a job that would expose her and endanger everything she held dear. He was spitting mad with her for months. Christopher and I were convinced he was going to leave her any day.” She shook her head sadly. “I thought if they ever divorced it would shatter all of us. If there was one thing I knew I could count on in my life it was Mama and Dad being together.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “During those six or seven months, I am not going to lie, Travis, it was hard and it made me question everything I knew to be true. It also instilled in me a fear that something bad is always lurking around every corner, especially when things are going well. That’s when it spooks me the most, you know? When I have the most to lose.”

“You are making total sense, honey,” he stated. “But I’ve never seen you have this kind of reaction before. You’ve never told me about nightmares you’ve had about things like this.”

“This is the first time since Mama and Dad separated that I thought about it. It’s also a time when I feel like I have everything to lose. Travis, if I lost you now I know I couldn’t survive it.” She understood how Bella felt about losing Rog. Charlotte had forgotten how to live without Travis and she didn’t want to learn.

“What did you want to do today, my love,” Charlotte asked him and changed the subject.

“Why don’t we stay close to the resort today, honey,” he answered. “You can nap if you need to.”

“I’m still a little shy about sleeping. I don’t want to dream that again,” she shrugged.

“I will be right here, honey. I will take care of you.” He kissed her. “Besides, I could use some sleep, too. I’m not used to sleep deprivation like you are, baby.” Charlotte reluctantly agreed to stay in and they curled up together to sleep.

*****

“Honey, I’m home,” Charlotte yelled into the house. “Kids?” She walked through the house and found no one. The furniture had plastic covers on it and the house looked unoccupied. Carefully she climbed the stairs to the second floor and both bedrooms were empty, The furniture was gone, there was no clothing in closets and the carpets were torn up.

This is weird, she thought and walked up the stairs to the loft. She stepped out the door that led to the roof and the whole floor was cleared, as though the house was abandoned. Stumped, she turned to go back inside and tried to figure out what was going on. A knock came downstairs at the front door, so she quickly descended the steps to answer it.

“Ma’am, this house is condemned, what are you doing here?” A Shores county deputy was following up on a trespassing call made by a neighbor.

“I live here, officer. But something is very wrong.” Charlotte was extremely confused.

“That’s impossible, Ma’am. The family that lived here was murdered six months ago. A father and his three children. One of the most gruesome crime scenes we’ve ever had in town.”

The blood drained from her face. “What happened to his wife?”

“We don’t know what happened to his wife but the suspect was a blonde woman.”

“I’m his wife, and he can’t be dead. I saw him yesterday. We… we were together last night.” She began to cry…

Charlotte was startled awake. Travis, who had been dozing on and off heard her soft weeping. “Not again, sweetie.”

“This was bad, honeybear. Awful. But it wasn’t as vivid as the other ones. Not as real.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “I got home from work and no one was home. I looked around and the furniture was covered. I went upstairs and the floor was empty. No furniture, no carpets in the bedrooms. The loft was cleaned out and so was the balcony. Then a police officer came knocking on the door to ask me what I was doing, that the house was condemned.” She took a breath. “He told me the family that lived there was murdered six months ago… a father and his three children.” It pained her to say it, that her children were dragged into the nightmare. “They didn’t know what happened to me, but they knew who the suspect was.”

He didn’t have to guess. “Kathleen.”

“Baby, I’m tired of this. I won’t have any peace until I know she is gone.”

“I want to know why this bothers you so suddenly. It really hurts me.” He wasn’t trying to make her feel guilty but he failed miserably.

“I can’t help it, Travis. I can’t control what I dream.” She got up and walked to the window. “I don’t enjoy this.” She glanced at her watch. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. “I have to get out of here,” she spat and grabbed a key card.

“Where are you going, honey?” he asked.

“Away from you.” She walked out and slammed the door behind her.

She walked from the room upset and hoped he wouldn’t follow her. Charlotte walked the path behind the pool they had walked just 15 hours earlier, happy and in love. There was a bench behind a wall near a path that branched off toward the other pool, and she sat on it and wept. A few minutes later, a man appeared. He heard her cries and followed the sound to find her.

“Can I help you with something, Miss?” he asked quietly.

“No, thank you. I’ll be okay.” She sniffled and wiped tears from her eyes.

“May I?” the man asked, motioning toward the empty space next to her.

“Please,” she said and moved over a bit.

“My name is Ron. I’m here on business from Twinbrook.” He held his hand for her to shake.

“Charlotte. I’m here on a trip with my husband from Starlight Shores.”

“I’m guessing things aren’t going so well, Charlotte. I’m sorry to hear it.”

“He can be a bit dense sometimes,” she lamented. “This was supposed to be our honeymoon.”

Ron noticed the huge rock on her hand, the ring Travis had given her the evening before. “That is a mighty pretty ring you have. He must love you.”

She nodded her head. “He does.”

“I’m sensing a ‘but’ in there?” Ron was asking leading questions, and Charlotte was not picking up on any of it.

“Well,” she weighed the risks of divulging secrets to a man she’d only just met. “We have a rocky past. He doesn’t seem to remember sometimes that he caused my insecurities.”

“That’s too bad, I’m sorry to hear that,” Ron comforted her.

“It’s just, I’ve been having these dreams and they’ve made me wonder if I really ever forgave him after all. They have reminded me of how angry I was.”

“It must be tough, you know, to live with someone you can’t trust. Now, if I had a woman like you, I’d never hurt her.”

Her heart fluttered at his statement. “That’s sweet of you,” she said innocently.

He moved a little closer to her. She noticed he was the polar opposite of Travis. Light skin, blonde, blue-eyed, short, a bit heavy. His cologne smelled musky, and it smelled good to her. “You’re sweet. No man should be treating you like you’re garbage.”

She heard her name on the wind. “Charlotte?”

“Look, Charlotte, I’m not going to mince words. I find you attractive and I’m looking for something more. It seems you are, too.” Ron was being forward and for a moment, he believed she might be receptive.

“Charlotte!” Travis’ voice called for her as he got closer.

“Look, Ron, I might be angry with him but I don’t want—”

Ron pulled her to him and kissed her passionately. She pulled away from him and backed away. “Come on, Charlotte. You know you want to.”

“No, that didn’t happen. Ron, it can’t happen. I’m sorry.” She stood to leave and he caught her arm.

“Don’t deny it, Charlotte. You know you want me.” A shadow suddenly loomed over Ron’s face. It was the silhouette of a tall, dark, formidable man.

“Charlotte, what is this man talking about?” Travis towered over Ron by at least a foot.

“Wait, you’re Travis Jones,” Ron said. “You should treat your woman better, Travis. She wouldn’t be out here crying and looking for comfort if you did.”

“I’m going to give you one chance to walk away from her. This will not end well for you if you don’t.” Travis was not kidding around.

Screenshot-767

Ron looked at Charlotte. “I’m sorry, darling, but you’re not worth a beat down.” He turned to Travis. “Good luck with her.”

“Travis, I’m sorry,” she wept, bitter tears rolled down her cheeks.

He walked away from her, his silence was deafening.

“Travis!” she yelled and ran behind him. “Please, wait.” She chased him to their suite door when he stopped.

“I’m not going to have this conversation with you out here in the open.” He was angry, rightfully so. “If you want to talk, I’ll be in the room.” He opened the door and walked in, slamming it behind him.

Meekly, she slid the key card into the door and opened it. She walked in and saw Travis on the bed, his shoulders heaving. “Travis?” she said and softly touched his shoulder.

“Would you have gone with him if I hadn’t shown up when I did, Charlotte?” His words dripped with pain.

“No, I wouldn’t have. I was getting up to leave.”

“What was he talking about, then?” He sniffled, not turning to face her. “What did he mean when he said you wanted him?”

“He wanted me to go back to his room with him. But I told him I wasn’t interested.” It wasn’t that much of a fib.

“Don’t lie to me Charlotte.”

“Alright,” she sighed. “He kissed me and I told him it wouldn’t happen and I was fixing to leave. That is the truth.”

“He kissed you.” He sighed deeply. “Woman, you know how to cut my heart to ribbons in seconds.”

“Now you know how I feel, Travis.” She regretted saying it as the words escaped her lips. But the wounds were inflicted and there was no taking any of it back.

He opened his mouth to speak and yet no words formed. “You’re right, Charlotte.”

“What?” she asked, not sure she had heard him correctly.

“You are right. I have no right to be angry. But you’ve had your revenge so can we move forward from this now, please?”

“Is that what you think I did, Travis? Revenge?”

“What would you call it?”

“I took a walk. I sat down and I cried because I’m upset. I’m tired. You made me angry when you blamed me for having these awful, terrible dreams.”

“I didn’t blame you. It didn’t come out the way I wanted it to.”

“You said I hurt you.” Charlotte wept. “The last thing I ever want to do is hurt you.”

“Well, how did that work out today, Charlotte? I’ve never been this wounded.”

She wanted to throw his indiscretion back at him but she knew trading barbs with him would only make things worse for both of them. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I only wanted to go for a walk. I didn’t plan it.”

“What makes this worse is that you were stone-cold sober. You knew what you were doing and you let him kiss you anyway. You knew I was calling your name. How could you?”

“I didn’t let him, he just did it before I could stop him.” Charlotte took her new ring off and put it on the nightstand. “I’m sorry you wasted all that money on me.” She wiped the tears from her eyes and walked toward the balcony. “When you get home, you can get your money back.”

“Are we done, Charlotte? Is it over?” Travis choked back a sob.

“I hope not, baby. I love you.”

“Then why give me that ring back? Do you not want it? Do you not want me anymore?”

“I’m giving you the option,” Charlotte offered. “I thought maybe you might regret giving it to me now.”

“You still didn’t answer my question. Do you not want me anymore?”

“Travis, I will always want you. Even if we are done, I will always want you. There will never be anyone else. Ever.” Charlotte broke down crying and desperately wished it was still their anniversary and they were getting ready for dinner, not talking about splitting up.

“Charlotte, I love you with all my heart. But it’s clear we have some issues to work through. I think we’re worth it.” Travis wiped tears from his own eyes. “I just need to know you think we’re worth it, too.” He picked up the ring and walked to where she sat. “Baby, I want you to wear this. Please don’t give up on us, honey.” He took her hand and placed the ring on her finger again where it belonged. “Please…”

“I will ache for you until I die, Travis. I will never love anyone else and I’m not going to let you walk away without a fight.”

“Baby, I’m sorry you’re having these awful dreams and I’m sorry it’s my fault. We’re both tired, neither of us has slept more than two hours at a time. When we get home I will take care of this problem once and for all, and she will not haunt you any longer.”

Charlotte looked at him. Dark circles sat under his eyes, a sign of sleep deprivation that she also wore. “I need to sleep, honey,” she said. “I’m going to call the concierge and see if the doctor will see me. I can’t do this one more night.” She picked up her key card and put her shoes on her feet. “Get some rest and I’ll be back when I’m done.” She kissed him. “Let’s wait to finish this talk until we’re rested and more rational.” He nodded and curled up on the bed to rest.

She walked toward the front desk and Rosa was at the concierge station. “Mrs. Jones, how are you feeling, sweetie?” she asked before Charlotte could even say hi.

“I’ve been better. I’m wondering if your on-call doctor can see me? I need something to help me sleep.”

“I’ll call her right now.” Rosa dialed a phone number and spoke with the answering service and had the doctor paged. “She will be here within the half-hour, Mrs. Jones.”

“Thank you, Rosa. Travis is sleeping and I don’t want to disturb him. May I wait in the lobby?”

“Absolutely! Can I get you anything, honey?”

“A sledgehammer might knock me out,” Charlotte joked. “I’m fine, thank you, Rosa.”

Twenty minutes later, a professional-looking woman appeared at the concierge station wearing a white coat and carrying a bag similar to Charlotte’s medical bag. Rosa and the woman conversed briefly and Rosa pointed at Charlotte. The woman put her glasses on and walked to her.

“Mrs. Jones, I’m Dr. Harding. I understand you’ve had trouble sleeping,” She held her hand out for Charlotte to shake.

“I have, yes. I could use something to knock me out for a good night’s rest.” Dr. Harding gestured to Charlotte and together they walked into a makeshift exam room, obviously set aside at the resort as an infirmary.

“Without knowing much of your medical history I can’t give you anything strong. But I can give you a shot of a shorter-acting medication that will get you through the night.”

Charlotte nodded. “I can handle that. We still have some plans for the next two days and we’d like to do something fun.”

“Is your husband available to help you back to your room, Mrs. Jones? I can’t let you walk back alone. It wouldn’t be safe for you.” The doctor prepared the injection and awaited her answer.

“I left him in the room so he could sleep. I could call him.” As much as Charlotte hated to wake him she knew she had to.

“I’ll wait until he is here to administer this.” The doctor excused herself from the room briefly while Charlotte phoned Travis.

“Charlotte?” Travis answered the phone.

“Yeah, it’s me. Look, the doctor won’t give me medicine unless you come here and walk me back. I guess it’s pretty fast-acting and she says it’s not safe for me to navigate back to the room alone. I hated to wake you.”

“I wasn’t sleeping yet. I’ll be down as soon as I get my shoes on, baby.” They hung up their phones.

“Over here, honey,” Charlotte called to Travis as he walked into the lobby. She led him back to the infirmary and they sat together and waited on the doctor.

Five minutes later the doctor reappeared with the injection ready to administer. “I see your husband is here. Sir, can you carry her if she needs it?”

“I can, yes,” he replied.

“Mrs. Jones, please pull your pants down just a little and I’ll get this done for you.” Charlotte exposed some skin just under her waistline and felt a pinch.

“Please do not leave her alone for the next eight to twelve hours. She will not be coherent.” The doctor gave some extra verbal instruction to Travis and excused herself.

“Oooh, Travis, I don’t feel good,” Charlotte said, unsteady on her feet.

“Maybe you’ll sleep tonight, honey,” he replied. “I’m not letting you walk.” He picked her up and carried her over his shoulder back to their room. By the time they left the front lobby she was knocked clear out and she was dead weight. When they got back Travis was tired and he had a problem. He couldn’t put her down because he was afraid he’d never pick her back up from the ground, but he needed both hands to open the door. Ron happened to be walking by on his way to the front lobby, and Travis petitioned him for help.

“Hey, could you lend me a hand?” Travis called to him.

“You’re not going to beat me up are you?” Ron answered cautiously.

“I just need some help with this key card. Could you open this door for me? I’d appreciate it.” Travis’ muscles were starting to tremor from fatigue. “Please, I’m not going to hurt you. Charlotte is out of it and I need help.”

“I don’t know why I should help either of you but I will.” Ron took the card from Travis and opened the door. “Here you go,” he said.

“The card, please?” Travis held his hand out and foot in the door.

“Oh, right,” Ron said as he handed it back to Travis. “Like I said earlier, good luck with her.”

“Thanks, on both accounts.” Travis carried Charlotte to the bed and laid her down. The door had already closed but he made sure to lock it and set Do Not Disturb sign on the knob. Carefully he undressed her and got her into a pair of pajamas, and somehow got her into bed. He nearly collapsed on the floor, his muscles weak and weary from overexertion. “I’m getting too old for this, honey,” he said to Charlotte, even though she couldn’t hear him. It was 5:13 pm and he climbed into bed beside her and fell asleep.

Up Next: Chapter Fourteen, Part Three, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Fourteen – Part One, Isla Paradiso

It wasn’t a very long walk from the resort to Jayna’s dress shop, so Travis and Charlotte decided to go on foot to enjoy the cool, crisp morning. Much to her delight, the coffee shop next to the dress store was still in business and they stopped in for a coffee and a scone with fresh preserves before their appointment.

“I’m excited to see Jayna,” Charlotte said and sipped her coffee.

“I’m happy to make you happy, honey,” Travis answered. “Whatever you want to do, we’ll do.”

“We have to do stuff you want to do, too, you know. It’s not just my vacation.”

“I know, but I want to make sure you have the best time ever.” He took her hand and smiled.

Charlotte’s watch chimed and it was time to walk next door to Jayna’s shop. Hand in hand, they walked and Travis opened the door for her to allow Charlotte to walk in first.

Jayna recognized her immediately. “Charlotte!” she squealed. “Welcome back, sweetheart!” Immediately, Jayna enveloped her in a hug, and then she noticed Travis. “Oh my, what is the star of the Shores Llamas doing in my humble little shop?”

“Jayna, this is my husband, Travis.” Charlotte introduced them but Travis really needed no introduction.

“Your mother never mentioned her son-in-law was a big sport legend!” She sheepishly held her hand out to Travis and he wrapped her in a hug.

“Pleasure to meet you, Jayna,” he said.

“How is your mother, Charlotte? Is she still living?”

“We lost her and dad a few years ago. They died within a week of each other.” Charlotte smiled. “At least they weren’t separated for very long.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” Jayna said. “Your mother kept in touch and emailed me pictures of your wedding. I didn’t know when I saw them who the handsome young man was, but I surely recognize him now!”

Travis blushed. Though he was used to the recognition he wasn’t accustomed to being gushed over by a stranger, though Jayna felt more and more like an old friend. “You’re too kind, Jayna,” he said.

“So, can I show you anything? Do you need a dress for a daughter?”

“Goodness, not yet,” Travis joked. He opened his phone and showed Jayna photos of Danae and Darcey. “Their weddings will probably break our bank.”

“Such lovely young ladies you have there, Charlotte! They look just like you.”

“Thank you! Hey, while we’re here, do you happen to carry cocktail dresses? I think I forgot to bring one, and I’m sure that the restaurant has a dress code.”

“Are you kidding? Of course, I do!” Jayna looked at Charlotte and decided to bring out a few little dresses she thought would look stunning on her. “Here, I think you’ll look fabulous in this one,” Jayna said as she held out a fitted red dress.

“Try it on, honey,” Travis encouraged. “Let me see how gorgeous you are.”

Charlotte took the dress and wiggled into it. When she had it on, she called for Jayna to zip the back for her. She smoothed out the fabric and admired herself in the mirror. “He is going to love this,” Jayna whispered in her ear. “Let’s go out and show him.”

Jayna opened the door to the dressing room and Charlotte walked out and stepped on the mirrored platform. Travis’ mouth dropped open. “Holy wow, baby, you are breathtaking in that dress, honey.” He watched as she modeled it, and nodded. “Oh yeah, we’re buying that.”

“You think so, honeybear?” she asked and checked the fit all the way around. Even she had to admit it was perfect.

“Oh, I haven’t been this sure of anything in a while.” He didn’t care what it cost. Travis knew the dress was perfect and he knew she had to have it.

“I guess we’re taking it,” Charlotte chuckled. She stepped down off the platform and headed back to the dressing room to change.

When she was done, Travis had already paid for the dress and had it all packed up for her. “I’m so glad you came to see me, sweetheart,” Jayna said to Charlotte and hugged her. She turned to Travis. “Do you mind if I get a photo with you? I’m a big fan, but don’t tell anyone here! I don’t want to be disloyal to the home team!”

“Absolutely!” Travis posed with Jayna for several shots and hugged her. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” Jayna answered. Charlotte laughed as she walked to him and took his hand.

“Thank you again, Jayna. I hope we get to see you again before we go even if I just poke my head in and wave.”

“Stop in anytime!” Jayna waved to them as they left the store.

“So, I’m guessing you liked the dress?” she teased on the way back to the resort.

“I can’t wait for you to wear it, and I have the perfect occasion. Our anniversary dinner.”

“Oh right!” she exclaimed. “That is when I’ll wear it for sure.” She reached to kiss him. “Thank you, honeybear.”

“Oh, my pleasure,” he said, taking her hand.

*****

“Where would you like to go for dinner tonight,” Travis asked her while he perused a map of the village. “There’s a Spanish restaurant just a few doors down.”

“That sounds good. Is there a sushi place around?”

“It looks like that’s across town, but the shuttle could probably bring us there and back if you really want raw fish tonight.” He made a face.

“That’s a no on the sushi,” she laughed. “I won’t make you eat somewhere you don’t like.”

“It’s not that, it’s just… raw fish?”

“That’s what sushi is, love,” she laughed. “The place a few doors down sounds good, and it’s casual.”

He nodded. “Settled, then!”

Hand in hand, they strolled to the Spanish restaurant and were seated at a little booth in an alcove. The decor was quaint and rustic and the staff was friendly. Travis ordered sweet tea, and Charlotte had a glass of sangria.

“No sangria, love?” Charlotte asked.

“Nope, I’m not touching that stuff anymore,” he replied. “I never want to be out of control again.”

“One glass of sangria won’t hurt you, but I appreciate what your sentiment,” she cooed.

He took her hand and looked into her eyes. “My goodness, Charlotte. You are just so beautiful.”

She blushed. “I’m not even dressed up.”

“You don’t have to be. Your beauty shines from within.” He reached and caressed her cheek.

“Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Jones,” she said while she flirted madly with him.

“I hope so,” he replied and winked at her.

They both ordered and sipped their drinks while waiting. Travis noticed a little dance floor, and there was a live band in the lounge. He stood and held his hand for her. “Would you care to dance, beautiful?”

She blushed. “With you, honeybear, anytime.” He held her close and they swayed to the music, her head on his shoulder. “Could this get any more perfect?” she asked casually.

“It can, and it will,” Travis flirted. “Just wait until our anniversary, honey.”

“Oh?” she looked at him quizzically.

“I’ve already said too much,” he replied and smiled at her.

They went back to sit down just as their meal was being served. They ate together, they laughed and reminisced about college, their first years together, the kids and work. None of the painful memories made an appearance. Tonight and the whole trip was about reconnecting and falling in love all over again. They were well on their way by the end of dinner. They strolled back to the resort, hand in hand and stopped to admire the local flora. Travis picked a hibiscus flower and placed it into Charlotte’s hair so that it wouldn’t fall out of her ponytail.

It was early, so they decided to sit by the pool and watch the sunset. The pool bar was open and Charlotte ordered a glass of wine while Travis just got a sweet tea.

“I’m so impressed, Travis. You promised me no more alcohol and you’re sticking with it.”

“It’s easy to keep. You are my whole world. I never want to disappoint you again.” Travis looked at her and took her hand. “I just love you with everything I have.”

“I love you more than I can say, Travis. I know now, I always have. I always will.” She took a sip of her wine. “Maybe I should do the same. This is my last glass of wine. It doesn’t seem fair I get to have it and you won’t.”

“But you enjoy it so much,” he countered. “A glass of wine isn’t that terrible.”

“Well, there’s always nectar,” she answered.

He smiled at her. “That is true. We can both enjoy that.”

The stars became more brilliant in the sky as the sun set into the horizon. They sat together and stargazed for the longest time until the evening got chilly. Charlotte started to shiver, and Travis looked at her.

“Time to warm you up, honey,”  he said, a twinkle in his eye.

“I can’t wait,” she replied, as they walked together to their room.

*****

A cool breeze blew through their open window and made the sheer curtains billow. The sounds of birds outside woke Charlotte as the sun barely peeked over the horizon. Travis was curled around her as he had been since they fell asleep. She snuggled into his arms and kissed the fingers that touched her face. Gently, he stirred and noticed that Charlotte was awake.

“Mmm, good morning gorgeous,” he purred and kissed her shoulder.

“Good morning, honeybear,” she cooed back at him. She snuggled close and relished his tender affection.

“What’s on our agenda for today?” he asked.

“What would you like to do, besides what you’re fixing to do now?” she chuckled, fully aware they were going to get a late start regardless of what they chose to do.

“I think we should go to the beach today,” he suggested. “Maybe do some windsurfing, or hire a scuba charter and go diving.” He kissed her neck and she melted into the bed.

“Diving sounds good,” she said and turned to face him. “When we get to it.”

A couple of hours later they were dressed for the beach. Travis decided to windsurf and Charlotte was okay with that. They grabbed towels, lotion, and water and took the shuttle to one of the more popular beaches where they could rent a sailboard for the day. The beach looked extremely tropical with palm trees that swayed in the breeze, the scent of coconut and pineapple hung in the air, and the warm sand felt good on their feet. Charlotte set their belongings down in the sand and took an umbrella to provide some shade and relief from the heat. Travis rented a sailboard but brought it up on the beach where Charlotte lounged and rubbed lotion on her skin.

“Aren’t you going to windsurf, sweetie?” she asked.

“I had to come and admire the local scenery,” he flirted and kissed her. “That bikini is insane.”

“I need to work on my tan, and this will leave hardly any tan lines.” The bottom was close to being a g-string but covered her enough to be more modest, and the top was just as sexy.

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“I might change my mind about surfing. You just look too good up here on the beach.”

“Go have fun while I work on my tan,” she suggested. “I will still be here when you’re done.”

“Sure you don’t want to come?” Travis tried to tempt her away from the beach to go with him, but she wouldn’t budge.

“Think of how awesome I’m going to look with golden tan skin,” she teased.

“Okay, you win,” he said and kissed her. “I’ll be back in a bit.” He took the sailboard and walked toward the ocean.

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The warm tropical sun slowly baked Charlotte to a golden brown, and she felt overheated. She placed her sunglasses on her face, walked toward the water where Travis had been windsurfing and waded in. The water was refreshingly cool and crystal clear. About 40 feet away stood a man who noticed Charlotte as she splashed around and he walked toward her.

“Hi there, pretty young thing,” he said. He tried his best to impress her.

Charlotte didn’t wish to be rude so she waved. “Hi.”

“What’s a beautiful lady doing here by herself?” He walked closer and held out his hand to shake. “My name is Bruce, what’s yours?”

“I’m married, I’m sorry.” She searched the water for Travis, but he wasn’t around.

“That’s a funny name,” Bruce quipped. “I’m sure that’s not it. You look like a Sophia.”

“No, that’s not it.” She turned to face him, when suddenly Travis appeared from nowhere.

“Hey honey,” he purred, stepped in front of her and placed himself between her and Bruce. “Who is your friend?”

“Bruce, and you must be the husband.”

“I am indeed. Is there a problem, sweetheart?” He looked at Charlotte, who was thankful he came to her rescue.

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“I was just going back to lay down in the sand. Are you done windsurfing?”

“I am now,” Travis replied and took her by the arm. “Let’s go sunbathe for a while, my love.”

“Wait, I know you. You’re Travis Jones,” Bruce said.

“Yes, yes I am,” Travis answered. “And this is my lovely wife. I’m very protective of her so I suggest you leave her alone. Do we have an understanding, Bruce?”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” he replied and turned to leave. “Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Jones.” He tipped his hat and walked away.

“Thanks, baby,” Charlotte said and wiped the salt water from her skin. “Great timing, as always.”

“I was watching you. I’ve been done surfing for a while, and I was having a sweet tea at the pavilion. I was on my way back to see if you wanted anything when I noticed you were in the water.”

“I was okay, he was just trying to pick me up. I told him I was married.” She looked at her wedding band. “I don’t know how he didn’t see this.”

“He might not have cared,” Travis suggested. “Some people like the challenge.” He noticed her bronzed skin. “You know, you’re right. You look amazing all tanned up.”

“I bet you would look amazing tanned, too,” she said, and then she snickered.

“You mean, darker than I already am?” Travis laughed. “I’m good, thanks.” But he did get a little darker being on the water and she noticed.

“Did you have fun, baby?” she asked. “You looked like you were having a ball.”

“It would have been more fun with you, but I had a really great time.”

“I think I’m all sunned out. Wanna catch the next shuttle out?” Charlotte felt warm, as though she had a sunburn.

“Yeah, I’m ready to go back. I need a shower,” he replied.

When they returned to the resort, Charlotte noticed how red she was, and the shower was uncomfortably warm to her skin. Travis, on the other hand, just got darker with no burn.

“It figures,” she said. “I get a sunburn, and you get a rich, dark tan.”

“The sun is hotter here, I guess,” he shrugged. “You’re so delicate, like a little porcelain doll.” He walked up behind her and kissed her neck. “Wow, you really are warm. My poor little honey.”

“It isn’t that bad,” she countered. “By morning it will be tanned. Now, where were we?”

“I believe,” he said as he kissed her neck and ears, “we were right… here.”


The next morning was their anniversary. Fifteen years and Charlotte could hardly believe the time had gone so quickly. She knew this man so well, even better than she knew herself at times, and yet she remained stymied at what to get him for such a momentous occasion. He was not a jewelry wearer; in fact, the only piece he owned was the wedding ring she had gotten for him a few months back. He had a fancy car, nice clothing and everything he really needed. And even on this day, when her time had run completely out she still had no idea what to do for him. He had alluded to having something planned for her which made her feel guiltier. She suddenly remembered how her own mother forgot their twentieth anniversary and appreciated Bella’s guilt.

She hadn’t slept well the night before. Her sunburn, which was worse than she had originally thought, interrupted her sleep with intermittent pain and warmth. Having Travis snuggled up with her made the pain worse, but she wouldn’t tell him that. Being awake amplified her discomfort, so she tried to wiggle away from his loving grasp without waking him. She did not succeed.

“Good morning honey,” he whispered. “How are you feeling today?”

She couldn’t fib about it because he knew her better than he knew himself and he would see through any attempt to hide something. “I’ve been better,” she admitted. “I slept terribly.”

“We were at the beach way too long yesterday, I think. Even I’m a little warm, not to mention every muscle in my body aches from windsurfing. I don’t use those muscles for soccer.”

“We should do something subdued today. The museum has some beautiful artifacts and local art,” she suggested, though she knew that wasn’t his thing.

“Well, we have reservations for the on-property restaurant tonight so I’d like to stick close by.” He had planned this for months when he knew he’d get the time off for their anniversary. Her new red dress was perfect and his surprise would wait no longer.

“Then let’s hang out by the pool today,” she offered. “We can sit under the cabana and relax, maybe swim a little. But I need to stay out of the sun. I was miserable all night.”

“Why didn’t you say anything, honey?”

“Because I wanted you close. I’ve loved to have you so close at night. We don’t get to do that with Devin underfoot.” The little boy had been prone to nightmares and many times they woke with him between them with no idea how he got there in the first place.

“Are you going to wear that bikini again?” His eyebrow raised, hoping her answer was yes.

“No, I have a one-piece for the pool. I can’t swim in that thing. It will come right off.” She could see him making mental notes for the pool at home, and she laughed.

“Oh, alright,” he relented. “I’m sure your one piece will be just as sexy.”

“I think you’ll like it,” she flirted.

They ordered breakfast in and sat on the balcony that overlooked the resort’s larger pool, the one they would be lounging at after their meal. The pool was landscaped beautifully, with large hibiscus bushes, azaleas and date palms.  Royal palms dotted the walkways between the buildings and honeysuckle and jasmine were planted by their room. The aroma was intoxicating. Charlotte sipped her coffee and watched families gather by the pool to let their kids swim. The resort was busy with activity but the surroundings were serene and peaceful.

After breakfast, they dressed for the pool, a few towels and some sunscreen packed in Charlotte’s bag. They picked out adjoining lounge chairs under the shade of a thatched umbrella and set their items down between the chairs. “I’m going for a dip,” Charlotte announced. “I need to cool this fire.”

Travis smiled at her. “I’ll be here, honey.” As he settled down a waitress appeared to take orders for a drink or whatever they desired. “We’ll have two sweet teas, please,” he requested. The waitress nodded and walked away.

Charlotte returned shortly after the tea was delivered. “Ooh, thank you, baby,” she said and sipped on the cool, sweet beverage.

They sat and talked about the kids, work, and they even discussed their real estate holding back at the Shores. They still owned a majority stake in The Grind dance club, thanks to Bella’s early investment, and the bungalow near Verde Park. Travis suggested that they sell the bungalow at some point. It had no renters and sat unoccupied. Charlotte didn’t disagree either, but at the same time, she knew the house was special to her mother and held sentimental value.

“I have never even been to that house,” she said. “I don’t know what, if anything, is still there.”

“We can make it our project when we get home. Fix it up, sell it or keep it for one of the girls.” He kissed her hand.

“Hmm, I like the idea of keeping it for one of the kids.” She thought for a moment. “It probably does need some work. It has been empty for years.”

“Sounds great, honey.” He took the last sip of his tea, which emptied the glass.

They both took a swim for about an hour, and when the sun got very warm, they packed up and went back to their room.

“Do you mind if I take a nap, baby?” Charlotte asked.

“Only if I can curl up next to you.” They had five hours before their dinner reservation, so he set the alarm on his phone to wake them.

“Good deal,” she replied. Charlotte laid down on the bed, her eyes closed and sleep overtook her before her head hit the pillow. Travis watched her sleep for a few minutes and then snuggled up beside her.

*****

The alarm on Travis’ phone woke them several hours later. “My sweet Charlotte,” he cooed and kissed her neck. “Time to wake up, my love.” She stirred slightly and opened her eyes.

“Already?” she asked. “I’m still sleepy.”

“We have reservations in 2 hours, and you have a dress to wiggle into for me.” In his mind’s eye, he could see her in it and the thought got him flustered. He kissed her shoulders and neck. “Come on, sweetie, we can shower together.”

She pulled herself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom with Travis right behind her. As much as he wanted to get romantic with her he would wait until after dinner. Charlotte wrapped her hair in a towel, and retrieved the dress from the closet where it hung. Travis emerged from the bathroom wrapped in his own towel and rifled through his dress clothing. He pulled out his favorite comfortable dress slacks, a shirt, and a vest with a tie. It was similar to his PR outfit for work but much classier.

Charlotte fixed her hair and makeup before she got dressed and then stepped into the form-fitting red dress that Travis loved. “Baby, could you zip this for me?” she asked and walked to where he stood.

“As you wish,” he replied, as he watched her smooth the dress over her shapely figure. He felt like he needed to pinch himself to know the moment was real.

She noticed his gaze. “What’s wrong, love?”

“Nothing.” He couldn’t think of one other thing to say.

“You’re creeping me out,” she teased. “Is something wrong with this? Does it look okay?” She double-checked her reflection in the full-length mirror while she looked for some imperceivable flaw.

“Baby, you are simply magnificent, honey.”

She smiled sweetly at him. “You always know the right things to say.”

He held his arm to her and whispered, “Are you ready, my sweet Charlotte?”

“I am,” she said and took his arm as they walked together to the restaurant.

“Jones, party of two,” the Maitre D’ announced, “Your table is ready.” He looked at Travis with recognition but kept his professional decorum. The dining room was simply elegant. Rich, dark cherry wood paneling adorned the walls with crystal chandeliers suspended in four distinct areas of the room.

Each table had a small vase of flowers and the room was illuminated by the sconces that were affixed to the walls. The tables were dressed in crisp, white linens and the chairs were heavy, dark wood. Travis held her chair as she was seated and then seated himself in the chair directly to her left. A pianist played on a grand piano in the center of the room, his artistry audible from anywhere in the dining room. Charlotte gazed around as though she had never seen such a beautiful scene.

“Wow, honeybear,” she remarked. “I do not feel overdressed here!”

“This is even better than I pictured when I made the reservation months ago.” He gazed into her blue eyes and smiled. His surprise was killing him and he couldn’t wait.

The waiter introduced himself and handed a menu to Travis. “What can I get for our esteemed guests this evening?”

“I think we will have a bottle of your finest champagne for the table,” he said and winked at Charlotte. “I’ll need just a few more moments to peruse the menu, if you don’t mind?”

“Take your time, Mr. Jones.”

“Champagne?” she asked.

“It’s our anniversary. Besides, we don’t have to drive, and it’s only a glass or two each in the bottle.” Travis kissed her hand.

“I don’t mind at all. In fact, I hoped we would.”

The waiter returned with the bottle of champagne, popped it open and poured a glass for each of them. He set the ice bucket on a small table by Travis, and gently placed the bottle on ice.

“A toast,” Travis offered. “To the woman I love and cherish more today than I did fifteen years ago. Here is to a lifetime of love and adventure.”

“Here here!” Charlotte toasted, as they clinked their glasses together. “Baby, this is amazing. I will never forget this night, ever.”

“Oh, I haven’t even gotten started yet,” he countered. “We’ll see what you say tomorrow.” His smile was huge, and though she already suspected he had something planned, she still had nothing to give him.

“Well, I have a confession to make, honeybear,” she said. “I do not have a gift for you.” Guilt overwhelmed her.

“Yes, you do. You just don’t realize it yet,” Travis replied. She blushed. “And I don’t mean that, either, though that will be more than enough.” He winked.

They discussed the menu briefly and decided on two different dishes they could share. Everything looked so good. The waiter returned and took their order, and left. Travis stood and held his hand for her to take. “Shall we dance?” he asked sweetly.

“It would be my honor,” she answered. Charlotte stood and took his hand. Neither of them knew the song the pianist played, but it was romantic anyway. He wrapped his arms around her waist and held her close as they swayed to the music.

“I love you so much, Charlotte,” he whispered and stroked her cheek as they danced.

 

“I love you more than you know,” she whispered back. The song ended a few minutes later, and they returned to their table.

Travis was ready to spring his huge surprise on her. For months he had this planned, and the wait was more than he could endure, but now it was over. He took her hands in his.

“My sweet Charlotte, I never imagined when we met all those years ago that our lives would be this amazing together. I couldn’t see past next week, never mind almost nineteen years into the future. I know when I asked you to marry me, I couldn’t give you what you deserved. That ring,” he paused and chuckled at the memory, “I think I paid less than I paid for my science textbook, but it was all I could do on a starving student’s income. And I love how you still wear it like it is your most prized possession.”

“That’s because you gave it to me, Travis. I love my engagement ring.” She gazed lovingly at the ring that took the place of her purity band, the one that she gave Danae. “This was all I ever needed.”

“Sweetheart, I always felt guilty that the ring was all I could ever afford. But now, now we have a life of abundance and privilege. Honey, I want to make this right, once and for all.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a white velvet box with a red satin bow around it. “Charlotte, I would marry you all over again no doubt in my mind.” He opened the box to reveal the almost two-carat diamond he had purchased nearly six months prior.

Charlotte couldn’t believe her eyes. “Oh Travis, is that…”

“Yours, baby. It’s all yours, honey.” He took the ring from the box and slid it onto her finger. “Would you marry me again, my sweet Charlotte?”

Tears filled her eyes and she looked at him as he kneeled before her. She never even saw him get out of his chair to kneel, but there he was. “I will!” she exclaimed, as he kissed her hands. “This ring, Travis, it’s amazing. How can we afford this?”

“Don’t you worry about that. I got a nice raise and a bonus for the season. My first thought was to spoil you with it.” He pulled his chair back to him and sat down. “Baby, I wanted you to have the engagement ring I know you have always deserved, honey. Do you like it?”

“Like it? Oh my goodness, Travis, I love it, and I love you so very much.” She stood to hug him and he pulled her in a warm, tender embrace. Onlookers cheered for them as they had witnessed the whole proposal. “I am so overwhelmed,” she exclaimed as she wiped tears of joy from her eyes.

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“Happy anniversary, my love,” he whispered.

“So, tell me what gift did I give you, honeybear?” She was curious.

“Baby, your reaction, your love, your affection. It’s all I ever need from you, honey.” Travis kissed her hands, and she melted. He couldn’t be any sweeter if he tried, and she was falling in love with him all over again.

“Travis, you are amazing in every way. I will never deserve you.” Her emotions were getting the best of her.

“Now see, that’s where you are wrong, love. It is I who will never deserve you, but I will spend every hour, every minute of my life trying.”

Their romantic exchange was interrupted by the waitstaff, who brought their meals to them. They had planned on sharing and fed each other bites of food while they laughed and talked. Travis poured the last two glasses of champagne and they toasted one last time.

They both declined dessert, charged their bill to their room and left the restaurant. “Let’s walk around for a little bit,” she suggested. She slipped out of her stiletto heels and carried them in one hand, and Travis untied his tie and got a little more comfortable.

Hand in hand, they strolled around the property. They enjoyed the evening, the scenery, and each other’s company. They had gotten to a particularly shaded area of the walkway where there wasn’t much ambient light and she pulled Travis to her.

She looked into his eyes. “Baby, I’m so in love with you. Just when I think I couldn’t possibly love you more you do something like what you did tonight. And then you let me off the hook big time when I had nothing for you for such a huge anniversary.”

“But you did have something for me,” he countered. “This right here, this confession of your love. This is all I need for as long as I live. There isn’t a piece of jewelry or an article of clothing that I could wear that would look as good on me as your love does.”

“Honeybear, you really do say the sweetest things,” she cooed. They started back toward their room when a chilly wind picked up and a flash of lightning lit the sky. Travis looked up and saw no stars and he knew they didn’t have much time before they got soaked.

“We need to hurry, baby, or we’re going to get drenched.” They ran together past the pool and made it to their door just as the heavens opened up. Hurriedly, he unlocked the door to their room and stopped. “As long as we’re dry, I’m doing this right,” he said, as he picked her up effortlessly and carried her inside the room. He set her down on the bed, and went back to the door, set the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob, and locked it behind him.

Up Next: Chapter Fourteen, Part Two, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Thirteen – Life Returns To Normal

A thunderstorm scared Danae awake at 4 am, and she woke Darcey.

“Darcey, are you awake?”

“I am now,” she replied, drowsy with sleep. “What’s wrong? “

“Don’t you hear that?” Danae asked. “It’s thundering outside.” She got up and walked to the bedroom door.

“Go back to sleep, Nae. You were dreaming.”

Unconvinced, she crept out of their room and into Charlotte and Travis’ room. “Daddy,” she whispered and tapped him on the shoulder. “I’m scared.”

Travis stirred, his leg outside the covers and only a sheet covered his nakedness. “Danae?” he whispered.

“Daddy, I want to sleep in here. It’s thundering outside.” She was about to uncover him when he grabbed the sheet.

“Sweetie, I’m tired. It’s not thundering.”

She walked to the window and gazed outside at the moonlit yard, the stars reflected off the still, serene pool. “Sorry, Daddy.”

Charlotte heard them and realized she too was only covered by a sheet. “Danae honey, go back to your room and I’ll come tuck you in, okay?”

“Okay,” she said reluctantly and crept quietly back to the twins’ bedroom.

Travis laughed. “That was a close call.”

“Hold that thought,” she replied and tied his robe around her. “I’ll be right back.”

Charlotte walked sleepily to the girls’ room. Danae was in bed, her eyes wide open. “Here you go,” Charlotte spoke softly as she tucked Danae back into her bed. “Try to get a little more sleep, honey.”

“Is Daddy okay, Mama?” Danae asked, fear still in her voice.

“Yes, sweetheart, he’s fine. He’s just tired.” She realized Danae hadn’t seen Travis since she was tucked into bed over 12 hours ago. “He’ll be here in the morning when you wake up, honey. Don’t worry.”  She kissed Danae goodnight, slipped from the room and closed the door behind her.

“We either have to get dressed or lock our door at night if we are going to fall asleep after having some fun.” He suggested. “I don’t want to have ‘that talk’ at 4 am.”

Charlotte chuckled and slipped out of Travis’ robe, and he admired her as she stood before him. “Why let this moment go to waste?” she purred. She snuggled back under the covers with him, and let him love her.

*****

Travis knew that Darcey found out about what really happened, and he knew he had to sit with both of the girls and come clean. Luckily, it was Saturday morning, and he had some time before he had to be at practice. So Travis went into the girls’ room when he heard them awake, and he sat on the floor with them on either side.

“Darcey, Danae, I want to talk to you about what happened on Thursday night.” He knew that the tabloids had reported that he had been spotted at the bed and breakfast blackout drunk with a woman who was not Charlotte and hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. None of the tabloids were spreading false information, but explaining to his daughters what had happened was the most difficult thing he ever had to do. “Tell me what you have heard, Darcey, and I’ll answer questions, clarify details, anything you need from me, I’m here.”

“The news on my phone said you almost died, Daddy,” Darcey started, tearful.

“The news was right. I almost did die. If it wasn’t for your Mama, I probably wouldn’t be here right now with you girls.” His heart broke as the words left his lips and he watched the tears his sweet daughters cried. “Aww, come here girls, don’t cry. I’m okay.” He pulled Danae onto his lap, and Darcey snuggled up next to him. “I did some really stupid things the other night, and I’m not proud of any of it.”

“What happened? Mama said you had a disagreement,” Danae asked innocently.

“The truth is, I got angry over something that I was wrong about. I was so positive I was right, but in the end, I wasn’t. I overreacted and made some very bad decisions.” She sniffled as he spoke, and he kissed her forehead. “One of those bad decisions was to get drunk on whiskey. Danae, my Punkin, nothing good ever comes from strong drink.”

Danae continued to question him. “The news said you were with some strange lady. I saw her picture on television. Who was she, Daddy? Do you love her? What were you doing with her?”

His heart sank and he took a deep breath. “Danae, when a grown-up is drunk, their sense of right and wrong goes away. I was not thinking straight, and I made another bad choice.” He stopped short of saying that he had intended to cheat on their mother and he wasn’t even sure they would understand the concept. They were pretty sheltered children up until this incident happened. “We went to the inn to talk and have some fun, but when I got there I realized I had done the wrong thing and I came right home. That was when you saw me, Danae. Mama called an ambulance when she saw how sick I was. And no, honey, I love your mama and no one else.” Her violet eyes held a sadness that shook him to his core.

“Why did you get drunk, Daddy? Don’t you love us?” Darcey asked. She sat up with Danae the night she saw Travis nearly dead on the lawn. They talked until Darcey couldn’t stay awake anymore but Danae cried all night without stopping more than ten minutes. She couldn’t get the image of her father lying in the grass in her mother’s arms out of her head.

“Oh my goodness, I hope you really don’t believe that, Darcey. Of course, I love you, all of you!” Her innocent question and dreadfully sad expression shattered him.

Danae cried hard and Darcey wept. “What happened, Daddy? Why do you want to leave us?” Danae spoke in between sobs.

“Oh, honey,” he replied, tears in his own eyes. “I don’t want to leave you. Never! I messed up, sweetie. It’s a mistake I will never make again. You, and Darcey, and Devin, and your Mama. You all are what I live for. Every day I want to see your smiling faces, and hear your giggles in the house.”

“But why did you do it if you still love us?” Ouch, he thought. These kids are going for the jugular.

“When your mama and I had our disagreement, I was so convinced I was right, I was only thinking about myself. Getting drunk and hurting everyone I love was very selfish, but your Mama reminded me that I have you girls and Devin and her to love me, and how wonderful our lives are as a family. I am still trying to figure it all out, honey. But I will promise you right now that this will never happen again. Ever.” He hugged his daughters close, their sniffles tugged at his heart.

“I love you, Daddy. Please, please stay with us.” Danae’s hot tears soaked his shirt.

“I love you too, Daddy. I don’t want you to go anywhere.” Darcey crawled up on his lap, and suddenly his lap and his heart were full.

“I love you girls more than I can tell you in words. And guess what? Mama and I are going to take you someplace really special for your birthday in a couple of weeks. How would you like that?”

Darcey’s eyes widened and Danae’s tears turned to an instant smile. “Really, Daddy?” asked Danae.

“Yes, really! I want to make your birthday special this year. You girls have been so good and I love you so much.” He was going to take Charlotte’s idea with the rings and do it up like she had described Rog had done with her. But because he knew little about the rings, the promise or the whole family tradition, Charlotte would go with them. Over the past two days, she had some very compelling reasons why she wanted to do this for the girls and he couldn’t think of a reason why they shouldn’t.

“I can’t wait, Daddy,” Danae said and chirped happily.

“Me too!” Darcey jumped around the room, excited.

“Are we good, girls? Do you have anything else to ask me?” Travis covered them in kisses and hugs, and poured all of his love over them.

“I’m good, Daddy,” Danae said, a smile on her face and a kiss on her lips for him as she planted it squarely on his cheek.

“Me too,” Darcey concurred. She ran to him and flung herself toward him. She giggled madly as she tackled him.

Travis knew he had to go shower for work so he excused himself from the girls’ room and went back to his bedroom. Charlotte was there lying in bed, curled up and napping. He walked to her and kissed her cheek lightly. He didn’t want to wake her but he was unable to resist her. She stirred slightly but did not wake. He took his towel from the hanger, went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

Rather than dress for practice, he knew he would be fielding questions from the press and Paparazzi so he dressed in his vest and dress pants. He failed to tie his tie several times when Charlotte finally woke up from her nap. “You still can’t tie that thing, can you?” She laughed and walked to him. “Here, like this.”

“You make it look easy,” Travis replied, flustered. “I never had to worry about dress clothes before I moved here. My father never taught me to tie one.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“Mmm, you smell good.” Charlotte moved closer for a hug and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Yeah, I do, huh?” he teased, and she stuck her tongue out at him.

“And so modest! You’re such a catch,” she flirted. Suddenly, she pulled him to her and kissed him. “That will remind you what you have waiting for you at home tonight, my love.”

“I’m going to need another shower if you don’t stop, honey,” he laughed.

Her smile was pure mischief. “Good.”

Travis approached her and kissed her passionately. “I’ll leave you with that.” He knew his ride would be there any minute. She pulled away and bit her lip.

“I love you, honeybear.”

“I love you more,” he answered.

Charlotte got dressed and went to the girls’ room, where they excitedly swarmed her.

“Mama!” Danae chirped, “Daddy said you and him are taking us out somewhere fancy on our birthday!”

“We are?” she teased. This is the first I’ve heard of this, she thought, but she decided to play along. “Oh, we are!” Darcey giggled, and even though they were almost teenagers, she hugged both of them to her and covered them in kisses, just like she did when they were little. Devin heard the girls’ giggles, ran to their room and jumped into the pile of giggles and squeals.

*****

“Travis, you have to be the world’s biggest idiot,” his boss Neil greeted him on his first day back to work. “What were you thinking, man?”

“Not you too, Neil,” Travis grumbled. “I wasn’t thinking, that’s the problem.”

“Oh, that’s a nice ring,” Neil remarked. Travis wore the brand new golden band on his finger and Neil noticed it. “Did Charlotte give that to you?”

“Of course she did. That was a stupid question.”

“Before or after?” Neil had to know.

“None of your business.” Travis was annoyed with the attention, and he knew it wasn’t over yet.

“So tell me, stud, did you have sex with Kathleen?” Neil continued to pry.

“Who?” Travis had no idea who he was talking about.

“Kathleen. That woman that comes to practice almost every open session and gawks at you. The one you picked up in the bar.”

There were lots of women who fit that description but it was uncanny that Neil knew exactly who she was. “Wait, is that the one who wears those shorty shorts and really revealing shirts?”

“That’s her.”

“She looked so different out of this element. Apparently, I did, too. She didn’t recognize me at first.” He looked around for her but fortunately, she was not in the stadium. “I can’t believe that was her. But no, I didn’t have sex with her.”

“She’s had the hots for you since you joined the team. But she’s done a round with almost every player on the team. Don’t take her attraction personally. She just wants one thing from you. She’s not here today so I figured she got what she wanted.”

“Yeah well, she’s never going to get it from me.” Travis shook his head. “Ugh. I’m not ready for this presser.”

“Too bad, man. It’s in ten minutes. Figure out what you will say, and be prepared to defend it.” Neil put his hands on his shoulders and looked Travis straight in the eyes. “The truth is the best policy, man. Don’t try to fudge it.”

“Indeed. I just have to hope my children don’t see it.”

*****

Charlotte snuggled up to Travis and ran her fingers through his chest hair. She could feel his heartbeat and she kissed him. “So, what is this I hear about taking the girls somewhere fancy for their birthday?”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” He reached to brush the hair away from her face, her skin damp with perspiration. “I was thinking it would be a good idea to give them the rings and do it up fancy. They only turn thirteen once.”

“Wait, you want to give them the purity rings?” She couldn’t believe her ears.

“You had a lot of valid, compelling arguments for why we should. But since I don’t know very much about your family’s tradition, I thought maybe you could come and do that part with me.”

Charlotte beamed a happy smile. “Thank you, honeybear. You have no idea how much this means to me.” On the other hand, now she had to sit them down and have “the talk” with them so when the rings came out, they would understand what was expected of them. The sex talk with young teenagers was never fun but she knew her girls were intelligent and were old enough to grasp the concepts.

“I can’t think of a single reason why we shouldn’t do it. When you asked me yesterday if I could imagine our daughters in a hayloft with a boy at 13 years old, I couldn’t. They’re so sweet and innocent. I know what you meant with Amy, by the way, and no, I don’t want them to turn out like that. She and I were going to have a rough road. Young parents, no schooling, no jobs. When I look back, I know everything worked out for the best.” He hugged her close and kissed her.

“That’s all I meant by it. I never meant to imply that Amy was a mistake. I know now she wasn’t.” Charlotte laid her head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat.

“Oh, how I love you, my sweet Charlotte.” He stroked her cheek.

“I love you, honeybear.”


Travis pulled a box from his pocket. “Hey Neil, I need your opinion on this.” The coached walked to him, his hands on his hips.

“Yeah?” He knew this had nothing to do with the ongoing practice. Season was almost done but Travis’ head was in the clouds lately.

“What do you think of this?” He removed an almost 2-carat diamond solitaire ring from the box and slipped it onto his pinky finger.

“If you’re asking me to marry you, the answer is no,” Neil joked.

Travis rolled his eyes. “Very funny.”

“Seriously though, that rock is amazing.”

“I bought it for Charlotte. When we got engaged, I couldn’t afford a nice ring for her. I think I paid a hundred for it at a pawn shop and had it cleaned and polished. She still wears that ring like it’s her most prized possession but I think she deserves something better.”

“Aww, how sweet of you to get her a new husband,” Neil was full of zingers today, all at Travis’ expense.

“Don’t quit your day job, wise guy. Seriously, what do you think?”

“I think you’re going to knock her socks off with that thing.”

“Our anniversary is coming up. Fifteen years. I can’t believe she’s put up with me this long.” He smiled.

“Me neither because you’ve put her through hell. Maybe you haven’t quite hit her limit on tolerance yet. Keep trying, though.” Neil jabbed one last zinger at Travis and started to jog away. “Work out, big guy. We have a game tomorrow. I need your head in the game, not in the clouds!”

“By the way, I need that week off after season is over. I’m taking her on a special trip,” he yelled. Travis put the ring back into its box and tucked it into his pocket, pleased with himself. He joined the rest of the team in the run around the stadium when he caught a glimpse of a blonde-haired woman in short shorts cheering for him. No, he thought. It couldn’t be. When he rounded the home stretch, he looked again and he saw her blow him a kiss. Every fiber in his body told him to stay away but he couldn’t help himself.

“Well well, if it isn’t Mr. Travis ‘I’m-a-horrible-drunk’ Jones,” she sneered as he jogged to where she stood.

“Kathleen, right? That’s your name?” Travis retorted, keeping a good distance from her.

“Yeah, that’s right. You can still call me Amy, or Charlotte. It’s up to you.”

“Well, Kathleen, I want you to know that you will never get what you want from me so stay away from me, stay away from my wife, and my if I catch you near my kids, I will get a restraining order so fast it will make your head swim.”

“Oh Travis, you’re so cute when you’re angry. And you act like you have a choice in this. Silly celebrity athlete,” she taunted him. “I always get what I want.”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree. I suggest you find another one,” he said, jogging away.

Neil blew his whistle and summoned Travis over. “Jones! Front and center!”

“Yeah, Neil,” Travis answered as he jogged in place.

“Why did you do that? You’re supposed to ignore her. She’ll get bored with you and move on if you leave her alone. Now, she sees you as a challenge.”

“I can handle myself, Neil. I’m a grown man.”

“Yeah, we’ve seen how that worked out before.”

“Bite me,” Travis growled and jogged away.

*****

Charlotte and the girls were in the stadium for the last game of the season to watch the home team play their rivals, the Barnacle Bay Dolphins. Danae liked the name of the visiting team better. “Dolphins don’t spit, Daddy,” she told Travis and he laughed. She wasn’t wrong.

During halftime, Charlotte and the girls went to the concession stand to grab a drink when Kathleen approached the family. Charlotte recognized her immediately. “What do you want?”

“Just wanted to say hi, Charlotte,” she said, the smell of beer on her breath. “Are these your daughters?”

“They are. They came to watch their daddy play tonight.” Charlotte gathered them close and held their hands.

“Keep an eye on that handsome man of yours. The next time I won’t let him go,” she said as she turned to go. “Pretty daughters. They look like him.”

Danae saw Charlotte turn red. “Girls, if you see that woman around your school,  you let me know immediately. I don’t have a good feeling about her.”

“Is that her, Mama?” Darcey asked.

“Yes, baby girl.” She took their hands. “Forget the drinks. Let’s go back and sit. The game will be starting soon anyway.” She walked past a security guard and pulled him aside. “Excuse me, do you see that woman, blonde hair, fur coat, short dress near Section C?”

“Yes, Dr. Jones, I do.”

“Would you kindly keep her from this section? She is making my girls and me uncomfortable.” Charlotte pulled the twins toward her in protective mama mode.

“Absolutely.” Everyone knew who she was and why she hung around. “I’ll alert others to keep an eye out for her.”

“Thanks, Ed.” Charlotte took the girls and sat back in their seats. Travis was on the field, looking toward them and couldn’t see them until she waved.  He spotted her and waved back. “Wave to Daddy, girls!”

After a blistering loss to the Dolphins, their season was over for a few months. Travis had some flexibility in his schedule though he did have to show up for pressers and public relations when it was required of him to do so. He showered up in the locker room and got dressed in his dress uniform, including the tie he could never seem to tie on his own. His duffel bag over his shoulder, he walked to the concession area, where he had planned to meet Charlotte and the twins. The three of them were talking to security, and he got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Everything okay here?” he asked and slipped his arm around his wife. “Hey girls, did you like the game?”

“I wish you guys would have won, Daddy, but it was fun!” Danae chirped.

“What’s going on with security, Nae?” Travis asked her.

“That woman was here earlier,” she whispered.

“Are you kidding me?” Travis clenched his teeth.

“Nope. She was very rude.”

“She’s more than rude, baby girl,” he told her. “If you see her around school, you tell me, okay? You too, Darcey. If you see that woman near your school, tell me.”

“Mama already told us, Daddy,” Darcey replied.

“Travis, we’re going to work to see if we can’t get Kathleen blacklisted from the Clips Center. Personal safety reasons,” Ed said.

“Thanks, Ed,” he replied. “I owe you one. And thank you for taking care of my ladies!” He kissed Charlotte and hugged the twins to him. “Are we ready to go home?”

Charlotte looked at him with worry in her eyes. “Absolutely.”

They got home and tucked two very worn out little girls into bed. Charlotte hadn’t said much since they met up at the stadium, but he could see the concern in her eyes. “Hey, baby, don’t worry about her honey,” Travis finally said and wrapped his arms around her. “She’s harmless.”

“I don’t know, Travis. She told me the next time she wasn’t going to let you go. I don’t know what to make of that.”

Still locked in their embrace, he kissed her. “She’d better not try. I am not above self-defense, even if the perp is a woman.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and it dripped onto his dress shirt. He lifted her eyes to meet his and wiped her tears away. “Hey, we’re okay honey.”

“I hope you’re right.”


Tracy was finished unpacking her things in the upstairs loft, and returned to the second floor. “Everything is going to be fine, guys. Enjoy your trip!”

“You have our numbers, just in case. The hospital knows you have the girls and Devin so you wouldn’t have a problem getting them treated, just in case.” Charlotte’s mind raced with a million things she wanted to tell Tracy, but she couldn’t form a coherent sentence.

“Relax, Charlotte, the kids love me, I love them.  You have all your bases covered, and we have contingency plans. Go, have fun!” Tracy smiled. She walked with the Jones family through some pretty hard times over the past five years. She was finally getting to care for the children under happy circumstances. “You guys deserve this.”

Travis picked up Charlotte’s bag and carried it downstairs. “Did you pack a dead body in this suitcase, honey?” he panted as he reached the bottom step.

“No, you’re just getting older,” she teased. He gave her the stink-eye and laughed. The girls and Devin raced down the steps and stood at the front door and waited for hugs and kisses goodbye.

“Be good for Tracy, girls, and Devin. I don’t want to hear you were naughty while Mama and I were gone,” Travis warned them.

Danae and Darcey both hugged Travis first, and then Charlotte. Devin wept, sad to see them go. “And take care of Devin for us. Make sure you tickle him daily.” Charlotte said and winked. They walked to the car, and Charlotte turned to wave and blow kisses, and Travis waved before he got into the driver’s seat.

“I can’t believe we’re getting away!” Charlotte said, excited. “This is our first vacation together, ever.” The heavy snow prevented their trip to Isla Paradiso on their honeymoon and they never made it.

“We need this time away so badly. Let’s make the most of it.” Travis said and reached for her hand as they drove away from the house toward the airport on the outskirts of Starlight Shores. They were headed to Isla Paradiso at long last for their well overdue honeymoon and had reservations at the most exclusive resort on the Isle.

Travis and Charlotte boarded the airplane first as first-class ticket holders. Their section of the plane had a concierge service, a pilot program on select flights over 3 hours long. Anything they wanted that the airplane had on board was theirs for the asking. Travis ordered two glasses of champagne to be served in flight. Their bench was two seats wide so they had the whole row to themselves. Once the flight was in the air they snuggled together and talked about everything. A few people recognized Travis and asked for autographs but for the most part, people left them alone which they appreciated immensely. He hoped his star didn’t shine as brightly in Isla Paradiso.

*****

“Mr. and Mrs. Jones, welcome to the Grand Tower resort,” the concierge greeted them. “We hope you enjoy your stay! Anything you need, just call my desk and someone will help you within 10 minutes. My name is Rosa,” she said and handed the key cards to Travis. “We have a full-service restaurant on-site for five-star dining and a luxury spa just off the lobby, an 18 hole golf course, two heated pools, and shuttles to almost anywhere you’d like to go.”

“Does Jayna still run that little dress shop downtown?” Charlotte asked, curious.

“She does! You must be a return customer!” Rosa quipped.

“My Mama and I came here fifteen years ago to buy my one of a kind dress. I thought she might like to meet the man I married in it.” Charlotte definitely had that on her list of things to do now.

“Jayna is a close friend, and she would love that! She never gets to meet the grooms, especially when the brides are not local.”

Charlotte looked at Travis excitedly. “Could you make an appointment for us? It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but I know she does appointment only.”

“Who should I put on the reservation?”

“Charlotte and Travis Jones. She won’t know my married name, but I know she will recognize me.”

“Well, she will know that handsome husband of yours. Football is big on the island and Jayna follows the sport avidly.” Rosa made a thirty-minute appointment for the following day with Jayna.

Hand in hand, they walked toward their room. “I brought a brand new bikini with me. Why don’t we go for a swim?” Charlotte suggested.

“Sounds delightful,” he replied. They made their way to the room and found their bags waiting for them. Charlotte took a few minutes to unpack and organize everything and when she turned around, Travis had his best ‘come hither’ look on his face.

“What do you say we begin our vacation on the right foot?” he said and wrapped his arms around her. Tenderly, he kissed her neck.

“You had me at neck kisses,” she said, as nearly melted into the floor, and led him to the bed.

Up next: Chapter Fourteen, Part One, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Twelve – Mistakes Were Made

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.”

“Sure Mama.”

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

G4 Chapter Eleven – Date Night Disaster

Author’s Note: This chapter contains mature language and adult situations. Reader discretion is advised.


“Mrs. St John, a package for you,” the postman said, handing Bella a box. It was small, and not very heavy. The postmark was from Appaloosa Plains. Her shaking, frail hands rattled the box, but there was no obvious sound emanating from it.

Hmm, she thought. “Rog? Could you bring a box knife for me?” She carried the box to their bedroom.

“What’s up, darling?” he asked. Spotting the box, he realized what she needed the knife for. “Here,” he said, taking the box from her. “I’ll get it.” He sliced the tape open, and inside sat one small jewelry box, with a note attached:

Bella,

Bree wanted you to have this, for your granddaughter. It was the only valuable thing she had left when she died, and she wanted to make sure you got it. She loved you so much. I wish she and I could have been as close as she was to you. Give this to your daughter, it will match hers. Keep it in the family, Bella.

With Love,

Bianca.

*****

Charlotte shook her head, holding the handwritten note in her hand, remembering the day the package arrived like it was yesterday. She never knew her aunts from Appaloosa Plains, but she wished she had. Aunt Bree’s ring was identical to hers in every way, except hers was in slightly better shape. Aunt Bree and Aunt Bee never married, having lived together their whole lives. They were known unkindly as the “Spinster Sisters,” and her mama always hated that nickname for them.

She held both rings in her hand, and placed them into their velvet boxes. It was time to have them polished and made new. The twins’ thirteenth birthday was coming up quickly, and it was time for them to have purity rings, and for them to make the same promise she made to her own father. Travis and Amy were younger than them when they met, and by 15, they were expecting a child. She did not wish her daughters to be in those shoes at such a tender age. Charlotte slipped the rings into her purse and left for the jewelry store.

When she opened the door, a small bell rang on it, and the clerk greeted her. “How can I help you today?” she asked.

“I was hoping to get these rings cleaned up and polished a bit.” Charlotte held out the boxes, and the clerk took one.

“Oh my, what a beautiful antique setting,” she stated. “Is the other ring just like it?”

“Yes, it is. One was mine, and one was my Aunt Bree’s,” Charlotte said. “My twin girls are turning 13 in a few weeks, and I want to give them these rings as gifts.”

“What a lovely gesture!” the clerk remarked. “Quite an extravagant gift for a young teenager!”

“They are purity rings,” Charlotte told her. “My Daddy gave me my Mama’s ring when I was right around my daughters’ age. And when my aunt passed away years ago, my other aunt sent that ring to my Mama, to give to my daughter when the time was right.” So many memories were attached to her ring. “I am honored to pass them down, along with the tradition that goes with them.”

The clerk smiled. “Well, we can have these all prettied up and looking brand new in no time flat.” She began to write up a claim check for them and put them in a service tray.

“Do you happen to have men’s rings? I’m just curious,” Charlotte asked.

“We sure do! When I’m done here, I’ll show you a few of my favorites.” Charlotte was looking to replace Travis’ wedding ring. His was taken from his locker during a game, and it was never found. He was heartbroken when it went missing. She meandered around while the clerk finished the paperwork, and took the claim ticket from her when it was complete. “Here, honey,” the clerk said, “These are some of the most handsome rings I have in stock.” One, in particular, caught Charlotte’s eye. It was brushed gold with a row of diamonds set diagonally. Simple, but elegant. Remembering how she said Bella had sized Rog’s ring, she knew Travis’ ring was almost big enough for two of her fingers to fit inside, but she had a good feeling for how it should fit.

“May I?” she asked. The clerk handed her the ring, and she slipped it on her thumb and slid the tip of her pinky inside the loop. Nearly a perfect fit. “I think it might be close enough. It can be sized up if needed, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the clerk replied. “I’ve never seen anyone size a ring like that before.”

Charlotte laughed. “It’s my Mama’s trick. I think I’ll take it. My husband’s wedding band was stolen about a year ago. It was never recovered, so this will replace it.”

“You made a great choice. He will love it.”

“Yeah, he plays for the local sports team here in town.” Charlotte beamed, so proud of him.

“Oh really? Would I know his name?” The clerk apparently followed the sport and knew the players by name.

“You may. Travis…”

“Jones, right?” The clerk answered her before Charlotte could get the whole name out. “You are one lucky lady! He is a hunk! So dreamy!” She swooned over him, giggling like a schoolgirl.

“Thank you. We were college sweethearts.” Charlotte paid for his ring, and left the store, shaking her head at the clerk. I guess I should think of it as a compliment when women fawn over my husband, she thought.

She returned home before the girls got home from school, and placed Travis’ new ring in her purse. She still had some research to do before her next work shift, so she sat down to read, waiting for the girls to come home. Their bus pulled away from the gate 20 minutes later, and the front door opened.

“Mama, we’re home,” Danae yelled.

“I’m in here, sweetie,” Charlotte replied, calling from the living room. “Do you girls have homework?”

“We always have homework,” Darcey lamented. “But we’ll get right on it.”

Charlotte smiled. “I saw two unmade beds this morning, girls. I hope I don’t see them tonight before bed.”

“Sorry, Mama,” Danae confessed. “It was my turn to make them, and I forgot.”

“It’s okay, sweetie pie, just make sure they’re done after homework.”

Charlotte finished up her research journal just about the time Devin came through the front door. “Hi Mama,” he said, dropping his book bag on the floor.

“Hi, Devin. You know that doesn’t go there, son,” she said.

“I know, but I’m tired,” he replied. “I’ll take it up in a few minutes.”

“Come here and give your Mama loves!” she invited, holding her arms open for him. He ran to her, toppling her over, giggling madly. He tried to tickle her, but she was too fast and caught his hands. “What are you going to do now, smartypants?” she teased him, making him giggle harder. Darcey and Danae rolled their eyes, but secretly both of them wished she would roughhouse with them like she used to. Devin would be 7 years old in a few months’ time. She kissed his cheek and said, “Okay little man. I bet you have homework.”

“Yep, I do!” he beamed. “Would you help me?”

“You bet,” she said, and pulled up a chair beside him at the table.

“Darce, would you and Danae watch your brother tonight? It’s date night with your Daddy.”

“Sure,” Darcey said. “Do I have to feed him?”

“No, honey, I’m going to make dinner for you guys before we go out. I’m meeting him after work.” Danae clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. She was developing quite an attitude lately, and Charlotte didn’t have much patience for it. “Danae, did you make those beds yet?”

“Does it look like I’ve gone upstairs yet?”

“No, but you’re going, Nae. NOW!” She pointed toward the stairs. “I won’t tolerate disrespect from you, young lady.” Darcey sat quietly and finished her homework, slightly afraid to speak. “Devin, honey, are you done with your homework?”

“Yes Mama, can I go play?”

“Of course. I’ll call you for dinner.” Charlotte’s temper was flared up, but she didn’t want to take it out on the kids. “Darce, what would you like for dinner tonight, sweetie?”

“How about crepes?” It was her favorite.

“Breakfast for dinner. That sounds like a winner,” she said, laughing. “Hey, I rhymed!” Devin giggled, and Darcey smiled.

Before she started dinner, she went up to the girls’ room and knocked softly. “Nae?”

“What?” she answered, sounding annoyed.

“May I come in, honey?”

“Knock yourself out,” came the sarcastic answer.

“Danae, honey, is something bothering you?”

The young girl sighed and contemplated. “I miss you, Mama.” Charlotte cocked her head and looked at her funny. “I mean, I miss you roughhousing with us, like when we were little. Devin gets all the good stuff, and Darce and I just sit on the sidelines and watch.”

“Sweetie, is that it?” Danae’s eyes watered, and Charlotte hugged her. “Aww, honey, all that stuff doesn’t have to end, you know. I thought you were getting too old to play like that with me and your Daddy.”

“Really?” she sniffled. “I thought I was, but I see how much fun you have with Devin, and I miss it.”

“I miss it too. You girls are my babies. My firstborn.” Oh, how she missed the sound of little giggles that filled the house to the ceiling and reverberated off every wall.

Danae hugged Charlotte tightly. “I want to stay little forever, Mama,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“No one wants that more than I do, punkin’,” she said, “Believe me. Are we good now, sweetie pie?”

Danae smiled. “Yeah, we’re good. I love you, Mama.”

“Ooh, I love you so very much!” Charlotte said, rocking Nae in her arms. Her sweet, little Danae. “Do you want to help make dinner tonight?”

Nae’s eyes widened with excitement. “Really?!”

“Yes, come on and I’ll teach you Nana’s recipe.” Charlotte gave her one last hug and kissed her cheek.

“I miss Nana,” she said.

“Me too, Punkin. Me too,” Charlotte said pensively.

Danae and Charlotte worked on dinner together, and Nae even served it, sitting Devin down in the chair, and placing his plate in front of him. Darcey grabbed her own, and Danae served herself. Like they had done so many times before, they held hands and gave thanks before they ate. Charlotte was so proud of them.

“I’m going upstairs to get ready for my date with Daddy. I’ll be back down shortly. Darce, it’s your turn to do dishes, honey. Devin can help you clear the table.”

She jumped into the shower quickly and rinsed off. Wrapped in a towel, she went through Bella’s closet of dresses and picked one out she thought would knock Travis over. A little slinky strapless black dress and matching stiletto heels. Luckily, most of Bella’s old clothes fit her, and most of them were nearly new. She knew her Daddy loved this dress in particular, and Charlotte had never worn it before. She slipped into the dress, pulled her nylon hose on, and slid into the shoes. Charlotte retouched her makeup and fixed her hair, and grabbed her evening bag.

“Wow, Mama,” Danae said, staring at Charlotte. “You look so pretty.”

“What, this old thing?” she teased, and ironically, it was an old thing. The girls both giggled at her. “I don’t know when we’ll be home, but we shouldn’t be later than eleven. I have to work in the morning. If you need me, you have my cell number.” She blew them kisses. “I love you all!”

She drove to the little restaurant off-strip where they had spent their tenth anniversary. This night, however, promised to be much more romantic. She parked her car and checked in for her reservation. To her great surprise, Travis was already awaiting her arrival. He watched her walking toward him, and was in awe of her. Standing as she neared the table,  he took her hand and kissed it. “Mr. Jones, your lovely wife is here,” the Maître d’ announced.

“Holy wow, you look amazing, my sweet Charlotte.” His gaze never left her. “I’ve never seen you wear that before. Is it new?”

Since the joke worked so well on the kids, she thought she would try it on Travis. “What, this old thing?” Her eyes sparkled in the dim candlelight. He smiled at her, holding her hand.

“Old thing or not, you look stunning.”

“Well,” she said, “the girls are past the impressionable stage. I thought I’d take tonight and show off a little.”

“I’m glad you did,” he said, swallowing hard.

“While I have you here, love, I want to talk about a few things, if that’s okay?”

“Sure, my sweet Charlotte, my undivided attention is all yours.”

“First, I want to give you something,” she said, as she reached into her evening bag. She pulled out the ring box. “Close your eyes,” she teased, and he did. Taking the ring from the box, she slipped it onto his finger, and it was a perfect fit.

A smile crossed his lips when he felt her put the ring on his finger, and he couldn’t wait to open his eyes to behold it. Her fingers played with the ring, and she squeezed his hand, signaling him to open them. What he saw took his breath away.

“Oh, Charlotte, baby!” he exclaimed. “This is amazing. Where? When did you do this? How did I not know about this? We go everywhere together!”

“Not everywhere,” she purred. “I sneak out on occasion, you know. Run some errands, see my boyfriend on the side.”

He smiled coyly at her. “Yeah, how’s he doing, by the way?” She laughed, nearly spitting water out at him. “Seriously, though, when did you pull this off? It must have taken forever to get the right size.”

“Actually, I was running another errand when I saw it. I thought it was a fairly decent replacement for your wedding ring.” She smiled happily. “Do you like it?”

“No, I don’t like it. I love it!” He stood up and pulled her to him, nearly lifting her up off the floor, and kissed her. “Thank you, honey,” he whispered.

“You can really thank me later,” she teased, winking at him.

He shifted uncomfortably, loosening his tie. “You mentioned another errand. What were you doing at the jewelry store anyway?”

“Well, that’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about.” She wiped her hands on her napkin, nervous about approaching him with this. “The girls will be thirteen in a few weeks, and I was thinking, now is probably a good time to give them purity rings.”

Travis looked a little stunned. He hadn’t considered that they would give the girls rings like the one she had. “Rings, huh?”

“Yeah, I’ll give Darcey my old one, and Danae can have my Aunt Bree’s ring. They’re identical, and chances are I won’t even know which one is which when they’re cleaned up.” She looked at him, trying to read him. “Are you okay with doing this?”

“I’m not sure.” He wasn’t familiar with the concept even a little bit, and the thought of it made him uneasy.

“Well, the way I see it, sweetie, a woman’s innocence is the best gift she can give her new husband. I remember you telling me you wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but you know kids these days…” his voice trailed off. The girls weren’t that much younger than Amy was when they first made love.

“The girls will have a better chance to succeed if we set goals for them to attain. Give them standards to reach for.” She took his hand. “Baby, I don’t want grandbabies while Devin is under 10 years old.”

Suddenly, he felt very uncomfortable with the conversation. “Are you saying you weren’t appreciative of my experience on our wedding night? Because it sure seemed like you were.”

“Baby, I’m not saying that. I’m saying, I don’t want to raise grandchildren while we’re still raising our own babies.”

“You know, this isn’t fair.” He felt judged and dirty. “How could you?”

Charlotte sighed. “Do you want your daughters to end up like Amy?” she said, and immediately regretted it. “Oh baby, I’m sorry.” But it was too late.

“This date is over,” he said angrily. “You should have NEVER brought her into this.” He went to the host station and paid whatever was owed for their table and left her standing there.

She walked out to the parking lot, and he was still sitting in his car. She couldn’t hear him, but she could see him screaming. She knew better than to approach him when he was this hot. She unlocked her car and got in, locked the door, and started the ignition. Putting the car into first gear, she pulled out of the lot and headed for home, leaving him there.

Darcey was surprised to see her home so quickly and without Travis. “What’s the matter, Mama?”

“Your dad and I had a disagreement, and I left the restaurant.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “Would you still put Devin to bed for me, sweetheart? I’m not feeling well.”

“Sure Mama,” she said. “Come on Dev, time for bed.”

*****

Travis sat in his car, fuming mad. How dare she! he sputtered. Where did she get off judging his life choices? She didn’t know him in Dragon Valley. He took the ring from his finger and threw it at the dashboard of his car, and then buried his face in his hands, sobbing. Even though she had been gone for close to 20 years, he never missed Amy more than he did right at that moment.

He drove to the karaoke bar down the street and pulled in. Though he seldom drank spirits, he was going to this night. He walked in, sat down and threw down a §100 bill. “Whiskey, line ‘em up,” he said to the bartender.

The bartender took the bill and laid down seven shots of whiskey in front of Travis. One by one, he drank them until there were no more of them to drink. He thought about buying another round of seven, but a pretty young blonde came and sat right next to him. She threw down a §20, and the bartender poured her a glass of wine. “How about I buy you a shot, handsome?” she said to Travis. He nodded his head, and she paid for a round for him. “You come here often, honey?”

“No, I never do,” he said, trying to keep his head. “You look so much like someone I used to know.”

The woman chuckled. “Is that good or bad?”

“Good. Tonight, it’s a good thing.”

She looked at his hands and didn’t notice a wedding band. “So, are you attached?” He looked at her funny and shrugged his shoulders. “Married.  Are you married?”

He thought for a minute. “No,” he said. “Not tonight.”

She looked at him again, and suddenly she recognized him. “You’re that sports star! Travis, right?”

He nodded his head, fuzzy from the drink. “Yeah, that’s me. What’s your name? And if you say Amy, I’m gonna take you to that bed and breakfast on the beach and have my way with you.”

She had a choice to make. She already knew he was drunk, and she knew he was willing to sleep with her. So, did she lie and say her name was Amy, and have a one night stand with the hottest soccer player in Starlight Shores, or did she send him home to the wife she knew he had?

“You’re in luck, Travis,” she said. “My name just happens to be Amy.” She finished her glass of wine and called a cab.

They rode to the bed and breakfast together, and she rented a room under the name “Amy.” He opened the door and let her enter the room first. Something about the room seemed very familiar to him. He pushed the memory from his mind, and kissed “Amy” passionately, hungry for the affection he believed he wanted and missed from his first fiancée. “Aww Amy,” he slurred. “I’m gonna make love to you. I’ve missed you so much honey, it hurts.”

She kissed him, trying to undress him. “Are you sure about this, Travis? The last I heard, you have a beautiful wife. Most guys would kill to have a woman like her.” She continued to undress him.

“Charlotte,” he muttered. “My wife.” He looked at himself in the mirror and saw a blonde woman with him, not his beautiful Charlotte, who he loved more than life itself. “Who are you?”

“My name is Amy, or whatever you want it to be, darling,” she purred. “I can be Charlotte if you prefer.”

“No, no no no…” he stammered. “You’re not Amy, and you’re not my sweet Charlotte. Oh my goodness, what the hell am I doing?” he cried, tormented. “I’ve gotta go home.” He fumbled with his phone and called a cab. “Leave me alone,” he sobbed as she tried to kiss him. “My sweet Charlotte.” Feeling sick, he ran for the bathroom and threw up. It was then he saw Charlotte standing in the doorway of the room, in her white and purple nightie on their wedding night, smiling demurely. He observed the bed, and saw her, laying there in innocent anticipation. He looked at the plush rug where they had slept naked, and saw her, spooned with him. “What have I done?” he screamed in agony.

“Nothing yet,” the woman said, deeply disappointed. “I didn’t even get any bang for my buck.” She kissed him again, and he tried to push her away, but he couldn’t. She grabbed for him, and he slapped her hands away, trying to run from the room. But he was so drunk he could barely walk. The cab was there less than 10 minutes later. He stumbled from the room, throwing up on the way to the car.

“Are you sure you’re okay, dude? You’ll pay to clean my car if you puke in it.”

He opened his phone and brought up Charlotte’s photo. “Take me here.”

The woman followed Travis from the room, half-dressed and extremely disappointed. You and your big mouth, she thought. He was good as yours, and you let him get away. “He lives in that big house in the hills, on the west side. Jones. Travis Jones.” The driver nodded.

Charlotte was pacing the floor, worried sick about him. He wasn’t answering his phone, and he wasn’t home. She called the restaurant, to see if his car was still in the lot, but it wasn’t. Thirty minutes later, a strange number came up on the call box.

“Ma’am?” a male voice asked, “Is this where Travis Jones lives?”

“Yes! Oh my goodness, he’s missing! Do you know where he is?” Charlotte was frantic.

“I have him here, Ma’am. I rescued him from the bed and breakfast down by the beach.”

“What did you say?” she asked the man. “Would you repeat that? It sounded like you said he was at the bed and breakfast on the beach.”

“That’s what I said, Ma’am. Look, I don’t get paid to babysit rich celebrities, so could you come get him, please?”

“I’m on my way out.” Charlotte grabbed her coat and slipped into her sneakers, and walked to the front gate. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw him, falling over drunk, possibly on the verge of alcohol poisoning. “What happened to him?” she demanded.

“I brought him an’ a pretty young blonde to the inn on the beach. He was already drunk, Ma’am.”

“Sweetie,” she said to him, “Travis!” He was largely unresponsive. “Do you know how many he had?” He wasn’t gone long enough to be this hammered unless he’d had most of a bottle in less than an hour’s time.

“I don’t get paid enough for this crap,” the cab driver said. “Take him or leave him, but I am trying to earn a living here.”

She tried to lift him from the car, the smell of whiskey on his breath, along with a sweet, floral perfume that she had never smelled before. His face was covered in lipstick stains, and his pants were unbuttoned, nearly off his hips. “Come on, baby,” she said, trying to hold herself together. “Help me out here.” He easily outweighed her by double, maybe two and a half times. The cab driver took pity on her, and helped Travis onto the grass, behind the gate.

“I’m sorry I can’t do more. I drive a cab because I’m not supposed to lift.” She paid his fare and a good tip, and sent him on his way.

She called emergency immediately and had an ambulance come to bring him to the hospital. She needed him to live, and if he wasn’t treated soon, he might not. Darcey and Danae saw the ambulance arrive outside the house and ran down the steps. Charlotte was on the ground, holding Travis’ head in her lap, trying to keep him sitting up and alert, sobbing.

“Mama!” The girls yelled.

“Babies! Call Tracy, please honey. Have her come and sit with you. Daddy is very sick. I need to go to the hospital with him. Don’t open the gate for anyone but Tracy, okay?”

Danae was hysterical. “Don’t let him die, Mama!” she screamed.

“I’m going to do everything I can, honey,” Charlotte sobbed. “Go inside and call Tracy, please girls!”

The paramedics stabilized him and packed him into the ambulance, and she rode with him, worried sick. This was all her fault, and she would never forgive herself if something happened to him. They arrived at the hospital and they whisked him away from her, as she gave information to triage. She had no idea how many drinks he’d had, but she was willing to bet it was more than 5 shots in an hour. Most of the bars on the strip were still open, but she didn’t want to leave him, just in case.

Hours passed, and she still heard nothing from the doctors. She was frantic, trying to find out any piece of information she could. Finally, the attending physician came out to speak with her.

“Dr. Jones, your husband is very sick. If you hadn’t gotten him here when you did, he might not be alive right now. We have him intubated and on an IV drip, and we’ve pumped the contents of his stomach. Judging by his blood alcohol, we think he did no less than 7 shots of whiskey or hard spirits in less than an hour.”

“When can I see him?”

“You can see him now, but I want you to be prepared. He doesn’t look good. We’re expecting him to pull through, and we’ll assess damage in the morning, once his BAC has gone down some.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Charlotte said, feeling nauseated. He led her to Travis’ room, and she gasped when she saw him. A respirator, oxygen, IV fluids, tubes coming from everywhere. His skin was ashen and pale, unconscious and breathing shallowly. He looked nothing like the handsome husband she met for dinner just hours ago. She held his hand and sobbed. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She noticed the ring she had given him was off his hand and felt even worse. A nurse entered the room to check his monitors and take down readings. “Nurse, was he wearing a wedding ring when they brought him in?”

“If he doesn’t have it on now, then no. We didn’t remove any jewelry.”

Charlotte held his hand, still noticing the bright red lipstick in lip-shaped prints all over his face and neck. She wasn’t sure if she was angry or hurt, but she knew all of this was her fault. If she hadn’t pushed him. If she hadn’t suggested the purity rings… they would have been home together, and he would have been making love to her, and not having sex with some blonde he met in a bar.

Halfway through the night, when he had improved marginally and they had removed his respirator, he opened his eyes and tried to focus on his surroundings. “Where am I?” he said weakly.

“Travis, baby, I’m here with you.” She squeezed his hand. “You’re in the hospital, honeybear.”

“What happened?” he asked, not remembering much of anything.

“You tell me,” she spat, and then felt guilty. “That’s not fair. I’m sorry.”

“I remember driving to Mick’s. I remember taking a §100 from my wallet.” He struggled to recall. “I remember drinking shots, but I don’t know how many. And A …” he stopped short.

“A what, baby?”

“Amy.”

“Amy is dead, baby,” she said, choking on a sob.

“No, she was there. I saw her,” he insisted.

“You went to the inn with her,” Charlotte stated.

“No,” he said. “I don’t remember that.”

“The cab driver picked you up from that bed and breakfast.”

“No, that can’t be,” he persisted.

She touched his face and smeared the red lipstick onto her finger. “Explain this, Travis.” She showed him her finger, covered in lipstick.

“I can’t,” he said, studying the color. Nothing was clicking.

“And her perfume,” she added, getting angrier.

“Is that what I smell?” he asked innocently.

“Travis, how could you?” She wanted to slap him, but she couldn’t.

“I don’t remember sleeping with her, baby.” His words cut her to the heart. Words she never thought she would hear. Words she never imagined he would utter.

“Think! Did you, or did you not have sex with this woman, Travis?” She wasn’t sure she really wanted to know.

He tried to remember, but he was still very drunk. “I don’t know.” His heart rate elevated and set off an alarm, and the nurse came in to check on him.

“Mrs. Jones, you need to keep him calm, or you’ll need to leave the room.”

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “Baby, I’m sorry. For everything.”

“I want to sleep, Charl….” his voice drifted off as he passed out. She kept vigil by his bedside all night long, not sleeping, always watching him. Every movement he made, every breath, every groan, she was there.

She must have fallen asleep because his doctor woke her the next morning. “Dr. Jones, his BAC is just slightly elevated, but he is going to be very sick for a few days. He’ll be nauseated, he’ll have a headache that will make him wish he had died, and you’ll want to keep fluids going in steadily, whether he feels he can drink them or not. I don’t know how much he will remember, but the more we find out, the better off he’ll be in the long run.”

“Thank you, doctor. When can he go home?”

“Probably this afternoon. We’re going to run one more set of blood work around 10am, to make sure his organs are functioning properly. If those come back normal, then we’ll release him to your care.”

“Thank you, doc,” she said. She got up, and went to the bathroom, and washed her face. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and her face was puffy from crying. The bad part was, she felt worse than she looked. But she had to find answers.

“I need to go check some facts from last night, for the doctor,” Charlotte told the new nurse on the day shift. “My cell or pager is on file. If he wakes up, call me.” The nurse nodded and Charlotte left.

She took a cab to Mick’s. His car was in the parking lot, and she unlocked the door with her key. Inside, on the floorboard of the car was the new wedding ring she had bought for him. Tearfully, she picked it up and placed it in her purse, and locked the door. The bar wasn’t open, but the proprietor was inside, and she knocked on the door.

“Can I help you?”

“I hope so,” Charlotte began. “Were you here last night around 8pm?”

“Yes, I was. Is there a problem?”

“My husband was here. Tall, big, muscular. Dark hair, dark skin. Athletic build. Do you remember someone like that?”

“Yeah, he was here. A pretty blonde was hitting on him, and he was eating it up. Oh, I’m sorry, did you say he was your husband?”

“I did.” Charlotte had somewhat accepted the fact that he had cheated on her. “It’s okay, I already know about it.” Before she turned to go, she asked one more question. “Do you know how much he had to drink last night?”

“I don’t normally pay attention, but he was all over this blonde chick. He was putting down whiskey like it was water. I bet he had eight shots if he had one… and he wasn’t here that long before they left together.” His eyes lowered. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”

“Thank you, you’ve been a huge help.” She left Mick’s and drove in Travis’ car to the inn, hoping to catch the woman there, even though she didn’t think it was likely.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for a pretty blonde woman, might have been here with a tall man, dark hair, dark skin, big.”

“Yeah, she checked into the honeymoon suite last night. She said her name was Amy, but I don’t think it really was.”

“Has she checked out yet?”

“No, she hasn’t.”

“Thank you.” She was familiar with the honeymoon suite. It was where they began their marriage. Ironically, it might be where it all ended, too. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she knocked on the door to the suite. A woman in her underwear answered the door.

“Oh, you must be Charlotte.” The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.

“How… how do you know my name?” she asked.

“Travis kept calling your name.” That wasn’t helping. Did he call Charlotte’s name while he was having sex with her?

“Listen, I’m not here to cause problems, but I have to know. Did you…”

“Have sex? Nah, it wasn’t for my lack of trying, though. I’ve been drooling over that man for years, and I thought I finally had him last night.” Charlotte was furious.

“It takes a lot of nerve to say that to a man’s wife,” she said through gritted teeth. “You had better not be lying to me about this.”

“I am a lot of things, lady, but I am no liar. Listen, honey, for what it’s worth, he went into the bathroom to hurl, and when he came out, something was changed. Whatever made him do what he did went away, and all he could say was your name.” She smiled at Charlotte. “If I had kept my mouth closed though, he would have screwed me. I don’t know what you did to push him into my arms…”

“Oh shut up,” Charlotte snapped at her. “You had the good fortune to resemble his late fiancée, otherwise he wouldn’t have looked twice at you. So, don’t patronize me, and do NOT call me honey.” She turned to leave and then turned back. “And stay away from MY husband!” She slammed the door to the room and stomped out, seething.

*****

She drove back to the hospital and walked back to his room. He was awake, but feeling terrible. She sat by his side and took his hand. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“There aren’t words to describe it,” he said, wanting to throw up, his head pounding like twenty sledgehammers were beating on it.

“So, what happened last night after I left the restaurant… Or I should say, after you left me standing in the restaurant.”

“I remember being angry with you, but now I don’t remember the reason why I was. I was irrationally angry.” Suddenly, a look of horror showed on his face. “My ring!”

“You mean this one?” she held it out on her finger, but snatched it back as he reached for it.

“Yes,” he said sheepishly, “that one. Can I have it back?” he asked.

“No.” Her answer had no qualification to it. It was just a flat, plain ‘no.’ “Please, by all means, continue your story.”

“I remember driving to Mick’s, and I remember the bartender putting down a hundred worth of spirits, so 7 shots. I remember drinking the first five, the first one was terrible, but the more I drank, the more I wanted. I wanted to numb myself.”

“Mission accomplished, I’d say.” Charlotte crossed her arms. “You nearly left a widow and three children fatherless last night, Travis. Was it worth it?”

“Baby, I’m sorry.”

“Oh, there’s more for you to be sorry about. I want to see if you remember it.”

“I remember seeing a blonde woman, who, in my stupor, looked like Amy. Whether she did or not I really couldn’t tell you. She bought me a drink, asked me if went there often. I said no. She asked me if I was married.” This part he remembered vividly, and it grieved him to say it.

“What did you say, Travis?”

“I said no, not tonight.” Charlotte gasped, his words taking her breath away. Hot tears streamed down her face.

“Oh it gets worse,” he said, feeling queasy. “I asked her what her name was, and I told her if it was Amy, I would take her down to the bed and breakfast and…” he couldn’t say it.

“And what, Travis?” More tears rolled down her cheeks. She didn’t think she had any tears left to cry, but he was proving her wrong.

“I would have my way with her.” Travis choked back his emotion. He remembered all of it, every sordid detail, but he could not remember having sex with her.

“I talked to your ‘Amy’ this morning, Travis. She told me you were never intimate, and I’ll consider that when I decide if I should forgive you. But your pants were halfway off, you had her perfume on your skin, and her lipstick on your face. And, oh my goodness, you even have a hickey on your neck, Travis!” She couldn’t look at him. “You know, I love you, but I really don’t like you right now.”

“You’re not alone. I hate myself right now. I wish I would have died.” He was so ashamed of himself.

“That’s a cowardly thing to say, Travis. Do you not care about me? The wounds you have inflicted on me? On our children? Danae saw you last night, almost lifeless, and she was hysterical. She screamed for me to not let you die. Is that how you wanted your 12-year-old daughter to remember you, Travis Richard? That little girl tore my heart out.”

“Oh, I’ve really screwed up,” he said, despondent. “If you can forgive this, it will be a miracle, and I will forever be not worthy of you.”

“Right now, you’re totally not worthy of me. I know I have to bring you home, but I don’t want you in my bed. I don’t even want you in the same room with me.” She stood up and pushed the chair against the wall forcefully. “I have to call your daughter.”

She walked out of his room and dialed the house number. Tracy answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“Tracy, it’s Charlotte. Thank you for saving us again last night. I hated to have the girls call you in the middle of the night like that.”

“How is Travis? I figured no news was good news, but Danae has been a crying, hysterical mess all night.”

“I know she has. Did you call them out of school today?”

“Just Danae. Darcey and Devin wanted to get out of the house. They needed to keep their minds off everything. School seemed like a good option for them.”

“Is she awake? I want to talk to her.” She’d rather do it in person, but she didn’t want to leave Travis, either.

“Yes, let me get her.” She heard Tracy calling for Danae in the background, and she came to the phone, crying hysterically. Charlotte walked back into Travis’ room, so he could hear what he did to their daughter.

“Nae, honey, it’s Mama.”

“Mama Mama,” she cried. “Is Daddy okay? I’ve been so scared! You didn’t let him die, did you?” Her sobs on the other end of the line were coming through loud and clear, even with the call not on speaker, and he felt like the worst father ever.

“Daddy’s going to be okay, honey. Do you want to talk to him?” He shook his head, openly crying, but she handed him the phone anyway.

“Nae Nae,” he said, weeping bitterly. “Hey, honey. I’m okay sweetheart. Your mama, she saved my life last night. She did.”

“Oh daddy, I was so scared. You looked like you were dead, and I …” she broke down crying, breaking his heart all over again. “I didn’t want you to die.”

“I’m okay, I promise,” he said. “Take care of Darce and Devin for me, I’ll be home later today, sweetie.”

“Okay, daddy. I love you so much!” Charlotte heard her sobs, and started to cry, again. Tracy came back onto to line.

“How much longer before you are home? I don’t have anywhere to go, but Danae really needs you.”

“It should be this afternoon if the blood tests are normal-ish. I’ll let you know soon.”

Travis was sobbing uncontrollably. “Was it worth it, Travis?”

“No. I am such a fool. I had the world by the horns, and I threw it away for nothing.” He shook his head. “I don’t expect or deserve your forgiveness. In fact, I can be on the first flight to Dragon Valley in the morning if that is what you want.”

“That isn’t what I want. I want us to be a family, for us to be a couple. I want, more than anything, for us to be lovers again. But I need time to process this and figure out what I did to make you do this. Don’t think for a minute I don’t hold myself responsible for everything that’s happened.”

“Why? Why is it your fault?” He shook his head. “You didn’t make me drink until I almost died.  You didn’t make me almost cheat on you.”

“Actually, I think I might have. Do you remember our fight at the restaurant?”

“Not all of it. I mean, I remember being angry, but I don’t know why.”

“I wanted you to give Darcey and Danae my purity rings, and you… I don’t know why. You lost it.”

A light of recollection shone in his eyes. He remembered. “I felt like you were judging me. Like you were holding your innocence over my head, like a sword, ready to drop it on me. And then when you invoked Amy’s name…” He was getting angry again, but he knew it wasn’t an appropriate response. “I have made so many mistakes, but Amy was not one of them.”

“I thought Amy and your son were well behind us. I thought they were a couple of years ago. But I see now, they’re still in your memory, and you still miss her. Maybe even a part of you still loves her.” She sniffled, wiping tears away. “But baby, all I meant was, I didn’t want to be raising our children with theirs. And honeybear, I loved that you knew your way around the bedroom when I was so inexperienced. It saved my sanity that night. I was frightened, but you… you were so loving and so patient.”

She continued. “Honeybear, purity is different for a young lady than it is for a young man. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but the truth is, it is.” She wrung her hands. “Christopher was held to a totally different standard than I was. I know for a fact he and Cade were physical long before they were married, but Mama and Daddy didn’t care, as long as they didn’t have a baby out of wedlock. I was a different story. Remember when I went to campus for your graduation, and I was afraid you wouldn’t honor my promise?”

He nodded. “I can’t forget that. It was a very difficult few days.” They had shared a bed without so much as a kiss. He wanted her, but he respected her.

“She almost didn’t want me to go because of that promise. Mama didn’t trust me enough to stick to it. And to be honest, I might not have. She told Christopher that if he made mistakes, they would still love him. But baby, I got no such promise. I was expected to be chaste, and if I wasn’t, I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”

“I’m sure they would have still loved you, Charlotte.”

“I don’t know. Their disappointment in me would have been crushing. In a way, I don’t want my daughters to have these expectations placed on them, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have done it any other way if I had to do it over again. Giving myself to you on our wedding night… it was the greatest gift I could have given you. I want that for our girls. Hey, if you don’t want Devin to have a purity ring, I’m not going to push it. Christopher never thought much of his. But I really want to do this for them. Because it should be a gift for their future husbands. My mama… she told me once she made poor choices when she was in high school. I guess she kept the ‘spirit’ of the promise alive, but she did other things that she wasn’t proud of. It haunted her for most of her life. She didn’t want me to do the same thing.” She sighed. “I guess I’m just talking to hear myself talk.”

“No, baby, you have some excellent points, honey.”

Their discussion was interrupted by the doctor’s visit. “Travis, all your blood work looks very good and normal, so we’re going to discharge you early. I’m sure your lovely wife here will care for you just like she always does.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Travis said.

“You’re a lucky man, Travis. This little lady saved your life.”

Again, he thought. Another debt I’ll never repay, but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying. “I am the luckiest man alive, doc. I just hope I’m not too late realizing it.”


Up Next: Chapter Twelve, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Ten – The Precious Gift

Charlotte woke the next morning with a pounding headache. Travis was still wrapped around her tightly, and though she loved him being that close, she really needed to get up and pee. She looked at her watch. Five thirty. Carefully, she wiggled away from Travis and went into the bathroom.

“Ouchies!” she yelped. Gingerly, she finished up and washed her hands. She had no idea what was in the refrigerator for the kids for breakfast, so she walked down the stairs to the kitchen. Peering inside, she found some old, smelly stir fry and some basic ingredients. She threw the stir fry away and wiped down the counter.

“Butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs,” she started gathering the ingredients for pancakes. “I’m forgetting something,” she said out loud. It was a recipe she had made hundreds of times, and yet she couldn’t remember it. “Milk!” she exclaimed. That was it. She measured everything out and mixed the batter, and set it aside to rest.

She padded back upstairs and woke the kids for school. She opened Devin’s door and watched him sleep for just another moment before she gently woke him. “Devin, sweetie, time for school.” She gently touched his shoulder, and he opened his eyes, giving her the biggest smile.

“Hi Mama,” he said, reaching for her. She wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled him.

“Hi baby boy,” she whispered. “Breakfast time, honey.” He jumped out of bed and grabbed his toy, dragging it downstairs by the leg. Charlotte laughed, remembering when Chris did the same thing to his doll, Buster.

Next, she went into the girls’ room. Darcey was awake, reading, and when the door opened, her face lit up. “Mama!” she squealed, and ran for her, giving her the biggest hug.

“Good morning, my big girl! I’m so proud of you.” Charlotte held her close and kissed her cheek.

“I don’t mind if you want to cover me in kisses this morning, Mama,” she said, dead serious. The look on her face made Charlotte laugh.

“Well, if you insist!” she laughed and proceeded to kiss her daughter’s face. The happy sounds woke Danae, who wanted to join in on the fun. She loved Devin, but the bond she had with her girls was unbreakable.

Charlotte caught her breath and collected herself. “It’s breakfast time, my lovelies. I still need to cook, but it’s almost ready.”  Both of them bounded down the steps, happy and loved. Charlotte followed behind them. What a stark difference a day made. She had a whole new appreciation for her sweet family, and she couldn’t love each of them more.

Travis stumbled down the stairs, and straight for the coffee pot. “Good morning, my sweet Charlotte,” he said as he kissed her cheek. “And good morning ladies and little boy!” He caught all three of them in a hug, their giggles warming his heart.

“Pancakes, my love?” Charlotte asked as he sipped his coffee slowly.

“Oh sure,” he answered. “How are you feeling?”

“Miserable,” she groaned, “but I’ll get over it.” She finished making breakfast and they all sat down together to eat. None of them mentioned or talked about the events of the previous day. They were just happy to be together. Travis collected the dishes after they were finished eating, and Charlotte brought Devin upstairs to get dressed. The girls, already dressed in matching outfits, were getting their backpacks ready for school.

“What do you want to wear today?” Charlotte asked Devin.

“I don’t want to go to school, Mama. I want to stay home with you.” The little boy started to cry.

“Aww, Punkin,” she soothed him, “but you love school!”

“No, I love you more,” he cried. Her heart broke, realizing he had been traumatized.

“I’ll tell you what, Devin,” she said. “If you go to school with Darcey and Nae today, you can stay home with me tomorrow. I have to work today.”

His eyes widened, and he cried harder. “No Mama! No work.”

She hugged him tightly. “I have to go to work today, baby boy.” She dried his tears. “Please, for me Devin.”

“Can I stay with Nae?” he sniffled. They weren’t in the same class, but maybe something could be worked out.

“I’ll talk to your teacher, okay?” She hugged him and kissed his little cheek. “Nothing is going to happen to me, I promise.”

“You promise?”

“You bet I do.” She sure did love that little boy.

She helped him get dressed in the outfit he picked out, and she walked him downstairs to get his shoes. It was just a little after 8 am, and the bus was waiting outside.

“Ooh, we have to hurry!” she told Devin and the twins. She held her hand out for Devin, and the girls walked with them.

The front gate was piled five deep with Paparazzi and reporters, and she was trying not to be rude, but she was more concerned with her children’s safety than being polite. She put them on the bus, and waved as it drove away. She was immediately swarmed by the reporters and overwhelmed. She pressed the call box and dialed the distress code.

Travis answered the box and saw the code. He grabbed his shoes and started running toward the gate, calling her name. “Charlotte!”

She was on the ground trembling, with at least 10 reporters around her, their cameras and mics in her face. Travis was furious.

“You all have some nerve, coming around here and harassing my wife at her own home,” he screamed at the reporters. He picked her up and held her, feeling her trembling just infuriated him more. “If any of you touch her again, you will hear from our lawyer.” He opened the gate and slammed it behind them. Together, they walked back toward the house.

“Travis, how am I going to live like this?” she cried as she sat at the table. “I still have to go to work this morning. How am I going to get out of the driveway?”

“Eventually it will die down, but we may have to hire security for a while until it does,” he said, still shaking with anger. “I’m not worried about me. It’s you and the children I am afraid for.”

“I told Devin he had to go to school today, but look at me. I’m a mess. How am I going to go to work?”

“I will drive you there, baby. We’ll figure out how to get you home safely, even if I have to leave work to come get you.”

“That will be good for all of one day, until your coach puts his foot down. That isn’t sustainable, Travis.”

“Well, it will give me some time to figure it out. Until then, that’s how it is.” He hugged her close. “I’m not letting anything happen to you anymore. I will protect you with my life.”

“I love you, honeybear,” she whispered.

“I love you with all my heart,” he whispered back.

Charlotte called in sick at the hospital that morning. Her head was pounding, and the incident outside the house didn’t help a bit, so that solved the problem for that day. Travis ran a warm bath for her, and let her soak in it until she was pruned up.

“Did you take your medication this morning after breakfast, honey?” he asked.

“No, I forgot, thank you for reminding me.” She reached for her bag and pulled out the bottle. The pills were huge, and she doubted she could swallow them in one piece, but she also knew they shouldn’t be broken, either. “Down the hatch,” she joked, and swallowed it with a large gulp of water. She made a face. The pill was bitter.

Travis laughed. “That was a yuck face if I’ve ever seen one.”

“I’m going to lay down for a while, sweetie,” she said. “My head is killing me, and I need to rest.”

“Okay, my sweet Charlotte,” he replied. “If you need me, just call my cell.”

With her being sick, he decided to call into work again. The coach was not pleased with him, but understood. Charlotte’s name and face were all over the news again that morning, so he knew that Travis wasn’t just taking unnecessary time off. Besides, he needed to be around to retrieve the children from the bus, and he would have needed to leave before they came home.

While Charlotte was sleeping, Travis looked for a private security company, but he felt odd about hiring one, sight unseen. So, he called the only person he knew he could trust.

“Sarah Laken, attorney at law, how can I help you?”

“Hey Sarah, it’s Travis Jones….”

She cut him off. “How’s Charlotte today?” she asked, concerned. She didn’t look well when they left the courthouse the previous day.

“She’s okay, nasty bladder infection and migraine headache today, but she’s otherwise okay. She’s happy as anything to be home, I can tell you that!. Hey look, we need to hire someone to protect our home from the reporters and Paparazzi and watch over her and the kids while they’re out away from home. The press swamped her this morning, and they really overwhelmed her.” He took a deep breath. “We can’t have this happening with the kids around.”

She nodded her head, taking notes. “Well, I can recommend one place I know that specializes in celebrity protection. They do homes, personal bodyguards, things like that. Would you like their number?”

“Yes, I would, thank you,” he said, readying a pen and paper.

“His name is Steve McKinnon,” she said, and read off his phone number.

“Hey, is he related to Mike McKinnon?” Travis asked.

“Yeah, Mike is his father. He kinda took over the PI and added security to it when his dad retired.”

“That is great,” Travis replied. “I know my father in law did business with Mike years ago.” He finished gathering the information and thanked her again.

Travis dialed the number Sarah had given him. “McKinnon Security and Investigation, this is Steven,” the voice on the other end answered.

“Steven, my name is Travis Jones,” he began, when Steve stopped him.

“Oh wow,” he said, stammering. “Mr. Jones! I know who you are. How can I help you out?”

“Steven, my wife and children need some personal protection. I hate that we have come to this, but the reporters outside our home mobbed Charlotte this morning.” Travis explained the situation, even though Steve McKinnon was well aware of the circumstances. The news featured little else over the past 36 hours.

“I’ve been watching the drama unfold, Mr. Jones. Our agency can undoubtedly protect your family.”

“Thank you, and please, call me Travis.”

“Absolutely, Travis. How much monitoring are we talking here?” Steve had his notebook ready, so he could give Travis an estimate.

“The children would need it during school hours, from home to school, during their school hours, and then safely home. Charlotte would need protection while she is away from home. She is the most vulnerable right now, so from early morning to evening when she comes home from work.” Travis knew this wasn’t going to be cheap, but it was worth his money to protect them when he couldn’t be there.

“And how about you, Travis? Are you needing a guard as well?”

Travis laughed. “No one is going to mess with me.” He was a big, muscular and extremely strong man. Anyone would be a fool to try.

Steve laughed on the other end. “Okay, so it looks like we’re talking about 16 hours a day total, since we’ll just lump the children in together. They are at the same school, is that correct?”

“Yes, until next year, then the girls go to middle school.” The statement hit him hard. The twins couldn’t possibly be old enough for middle school yet.

“Our usual rate is §50 an hour, but for you, I’ll cut that in half,” Steve stated.

“Wow, that’s a very generous offer,” Travis replied. “When can you start?”

“As soon as tomorrow. I have just the guards in mind for your family. I think you’ll be pleased.” Steve offered.

“Sounds good. I’ll let her know when she awakens. She’s under the weather today,” Travis stated.

“Alright!” Steve verified the address and then stopped. “Wait, is that Rog St John’s old house?”

“Yes, in fact, Charlotte is his daughter.”

“Well, that is amazing!” Steve marveled. “My dad knew Rog for years, still talks about the Estevan thing to this day.”

I’ll have to ask Charlotte about that. She’s never mentioned it, he thought. “Tell your dad hi from us, please. Charlotte will love to know we’ve hired Mike’s boy to protect them.”

“Will do. Please, send Charlotte my sincerest sympathies about her folks. I know they’ve been gone a few years, but somehow I missed it.”

“Thanks, Steve, I will.” Travis finished the call and hung up.

Travis sat by the fire until 2:45, when he would normally be leaving for work, and went to the gate to wait for the kids’ school bus. This time, he carried a baseball bat, and if anyone got near his children, they would feel its wrath. He hoped just brandishing it would be enough of a deterrent.

The bus arrived at 3:10, and all three happy children piled off the bus and into his safe, loving arms. With the bat over his shoulder, he opened the gate and let the kids in, before he closed it behind him. He walked away from the fence and waved jovially. Amazing how well that worked, he thought.

Travis got the children a small snack, and Devin wanted to see Charlotte as soon as he got home.

“She’s sleeping, punkin’,” he said. “But you can go wake her if you want to. She won’t want to miss you.”

Darcey smiled, comforted knowing their mama was upstairs safe and sound.

Devin raced up the steps and bounded into the master bedroom where Charlotte lay sleeping. He walked to her quietly and crawled up next to her, and curled up with her in bed, and fell asleep. She felt the little body near her and opened her eyes to see her son, curled up and contented. She wrapped her arms around him and snuggled him close.

“Hi baby boy,” she whispered to him, her head still pounding. He awakened from his micro nap, giggling.

“Hi Mama,” he chirped. “Tickle me!”

Charlotte could never resist an invitation for an outright tickle, so she reached over and tickled his tummy, his giggles filling the bedroom. He is such a good boy, she thought. He rolled over and wrapped his little arms around her neck, and smooched her cheek. “I love you, Mama,” he cooed at her, and she melted right into the bed.

“Oh, I love you more, little Punkin puss,” she said, hugging him tightly. “How was school?”

“It was okay,” he said. It was his usual answer, even though he secretly loved it.

“Just okay?” she said, pretending to pout. “You love school!”

“I know, Mama,” he said, wearing an impish grin. “I’s just teasing you!” And he giggled loudly. She kissed his nose.

“I think it’s time for Mama to get up, what do you think, little man?” she offered, sitting up. The altitude was not doing her headache any good, but laying down didn’t help it, either.

“I’ll race you,” he said, getting a good head start.

“Be careful on the stairs,” she warned him.

She heard him giggle at the bottom of the stairs, shouting “I won! I won!” Did she ever love that little boy.

The brightness of the remaining snow on the ground and the sun shining on it intensified her headache fourfold. “Ugh,” she groaned as the glare hit her eyes.

Darcey ran to her and wrapped herself around Charlotte’s waist. “Hi punkin’,” she said, rubbing her back. Danae, who had been doing homework, dropped her pencil and ran to Charlotte, wrapping herself around her other side. “Hi other punkin’,” she giggled, talking to Danae. “How was school today?”

“It was good, Mama,” Darcey said. “But some kids were being mean to me and ‘Nae today.” Charlotte feared that would happen.

“What did they say?” Charlotte asked, not sure she wanted to know.

“They said I was a lowlife’s daughter,” she sniffled. “But, I didn’t listen to them, Mama.”

Charlotte was horrified, and so was Travis. Neither of them ever expected this type of fallout for their kids.

“I’m happy you brought this up, actually,” Travis finally said, and Charlotte shot him a look. “I want to let you know, that someone is going to pick you up from home and take you to school, and bring you home again.”

“Who is this someone, Travis?” Charlotte asked.

“I hired a private security company to escort the children, and you, back and forth from home, and to secure our home.” Travis was happy with himself. “And, you’ll never guess who I hired!”

She thought to herself for a moment. “I have no idea.”

“Mike McKinnon’s son, Steve.”

“You’re kidding!” Charlotte smiled. She knew Mike and her dad went way back, and she was even more surprised to hear that Mike was still alive.

Charlotte suddenly felt peaceful about having armed security accompanying the kids to and from school. She trusted the McKinnons to do it right, and with class. “So, you mentioned I’ll have a guard, too?”

“Yes, my sweet Charlotte,” Travis answered. “You will need it, too, after what happened this morning.” He said that just a little too loudly because Darcey’s face froze in fear.

“What happened this morning?” she cried.

“Mama’s okay, honey,” Charlotte comforted her. “The reporters just got a little too close and knocked me over. It won’t happen again now.”

“Are you sure?” Darcey asked, suddenly feeling vulnerable.

“Yes, sweet girl, I’m sure.” It was very apparent to her the kids were more affected than she originally thought. All of their protection couldn’t shield them from the hurt they endured the previous day. And the idea of that tortured Charlotte down to her soul.


The next morning, Charlotte called Devin out from school. A promise was a promise, and since she had the day off from work, she made plans to play with him in their backyard in the snow. She made breakfast for the girls before school. It was Friday, and everyone had off from school the next day, and Charlotte was not scheduled to return to work until Monday. The guard for the girls came early and called the box in front. Travis opened the gate for him, so he could load the twins into the car safely. Charlotte and Travis both walked them out together and felt secure sending them to school with their new friend. Neither of them changed classrooms all day, so it was an easy job for the guard to keep a watchful eye on them.

Charlotte dressed Devin up in his snowsuit, and they went outside to play. Travis, who joined in the fun for a little while, had to return to work that day. He had missed a game and two days of practice, which wasn’t setting a good tone for his new position on the team.

“Snowman, Mama,” Devin requested. “I want to build a snowman.”

“Okay, let’s see what we have here,” Charlotte said, inspecting the snow. “Do you know how to start one?”

“No, Mama,” he replied. “Show me!”

She took a little sticky snow into her hands and made a snowball, and showed it to Devin. Then, she rolled it through the other snow, until it got big enough to make a base. “See, sweetie? Like this.”

“Oooh, cool!” Devin was so impressed. Charlotte moved the huge snowball on the ground where they could continue building it. “Can we do another one?” he asked.

“Yes, go ahead, just like I showed you,” she encouraged him. She watched him make a snowball, but it fell apart. He got frustrated and handed her the broken snowball.

Giggling, she took the mound of snow from him, and fashioned it into a ball, and gave it back to him. “Now, roll it like I showed you, sweetie,” she said. He set the small snowball into the snow and began to roll it,  his eyes widened with excitement as it got bigger.

“I’m doing it, Mama!” he blurted out excitedly, though it was more oval-shaped than round. She showed him how to roll it the other way, to make it rounder. He was simply amazed at her. “You really know your way around a snowman!” he said very seriously.

Charlotte burst out laughing. “I’ve made a few in my time, son,” she said, helping him lift his big snowball onto the bottom one. She noticed him shivering, so they went inside to warm up. She made tomato soup and half a grilled cheese for lunch for him, and they both warmed up by the fire. Travis came down the steps dressed to impress for work.

“Babe,” he said, “I can’t get this tie just right. Help!” He walked to her, his tie untied, and he really needed her to straighten it out.

“Here, like this, honeybear,” she said, as she tied it perfectly. “You look amazing,” she cooed, flirting with him.

“It’s too bad you’re sick, baby,” he said, winking at her.

She pouted. “I know.” She kissed him and hugged him tightly. “Go get ‘em, tiger,” she purred at him.

“You mean llama,” he laughed. She stuck her tongue out at him and blew him a kiss. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too.”

*****

“Would you do anything differently with that boy, baby? Would you still have tried to save his life, knowing what you know now?” Travis asked as he sipped his morning coffee. The kids were still asleep, and they had a rare quiet morning together. They snuggled together in front of the fireplace.

“I would still try. It goes against everything I am as a medical professional to not at least try.” She thought for a moment. “It’s not my job that needs to change, it’s the law that needs to be revamped. Doctors should never be punished for doing their jobs.”

He sighed. “I agree, honey.” It seemed that lawmakers were intent on making life difficult for Shores residents and taxpayers lately. It was sickening.

Charlotte picked up the newspaper, and she was not on the front page. “Well, here’s some good news. I’m no longer the headline!” On the second page was the obituary for Logan Riggins. “Did Mary ever call you, honey?”

“No, she never did. I offered to pay their funeral costs, but no, she never contacted me.”

“Why don’t we do something special for her family?” Charlotte suggested.

“Like what?”

“It says here that Logan was interested in sports, and was a Llamas fan. Why don’t we start a sports scholarship in his name? Or sponsor a section of the Clips center and name it for the family?”

“I love your sweet heart, baby,” he said, smiling.

She ignored his compliment. “What do you think? Scholarship?”

“I think that would do the most good, honey.”

“I’ll call Sarah and find out the legal details about getting that started, and I’ll be on it right away.”

Rather than calling her, she decided to pay Sarah a visit at her law office. It would be good to talk about fees and get her representation paid for, and take care of two things at once. She took the elevator to the third floor of The Tower building and checked in with the receptionist. Her bodyguard waited in the downstairs lobby for her.

“Sarah, you have a Dr. Jones to see you,” the receptionist called.

Two minutes later, Sarah appeared from her office. “Charlotte! It’s so good to see you out and about.”

“Thank you, Sarah. It’s because of you, you know.” She smiled. “I owe you my life.”

“Oh, you’re exaggerating. It was nothing. Come on back, let’s catch up.”

Charlotte followed Sarah back to her office, and they sat down together on the sofa in the office. “Can I get you a drink?” she offered.

“Oh, no thank you. I have two reasons to be here, actually,” she said. “First, we need to settle up your fees for my defense, and two… I want to see about starting a memorial scholarship fund.”

“Oh, well that’s sweet. Your Mom and Dad would be honored by that, Charlotte.” Sarah replied. “And don’t worry about the fees right away. We can settle that later.”

“Well, the scholarship fund won’t be in my parents’ name, though that idea has merit.” Charlotte paused. “No, we’d like to do a sports scholarship in memory of Logan Riggins.”

“Wait, isn’t that the young man who died after that accident?” Sarah looked genuinely confused.

“It is, Sarah,” Charlotte confirmed.

“Why? Why would you do this, after all of the pain you’ve suffered from this whole thing?”

“Because I want to. And, Travis and I do not want to be known as the benefactors. We’d like to keep it a secret.” She folded her hands and placed them in her lap.

Sarah couldn’t believe her ears. Never had she seen such a display of selflessness and forgiveness than what Charlotte had proposed, and it touched her. “You are a true treasure, Charlotte. I don’t know many people who would do such a thing. In fact, you are the only one.”

Charlotte blushed. “I just feel in my heart this is the right thing to do. Travis said Logan’s mother was very remorseful, but she wouldn’t let us help her with expenses. So, we would love to do this instead.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Sarah posed. “Give me a few days to get this paperwork together, and you can decide how much you want to fund, and whether it’s a one-time scholarship or an ongoing thing, and once the paperwork is finished, you and Travis can come and make it official.” She was truly honored to be a part of this proposal. Sarah stood to shake Charlotte’s hand.

Charlotte stood and shook it, and gave her a hug. “Thank you again, for everything.”

“It was my absolute pleasure,” Sarah answered. And she truly meant it.

*****

A few days later, Charlotte’s phone rang. It was Sarah.

“Hi Charlotte, Sarah Laken. All of your paperwork is finished, and once you fund it, it’s ready for this school year.”

“Oh Sarah, that is fantastic!” she beamed. “Travis and I will be there in the morning to sign the contracts and write you a check for the escrow account.” She thanked Sarah and hung up the phone.

“Travis, the scholarship paperwork is ready. We can go tomorrow to sign the papers and bring the funding. We’re in time for this school year.” She was smiling ear to ear.

‘Oh baby, that’s fantastic honey!” He held out his arms for her, and she went to him for a hug. “I am so very proud of you.”

“Oh, why is that?” She gave him a sly smile.

“You know why.”

“I know, I just want to hear you say it,” she teased.

“I love your generous, kind heart, baby. And I love you with all of mine.” He kissed her.

The morning the scholarship was announced, the news station was at the Riggins home to catch their reaction. The boy’s mother, Mary Riggins, cried tears of joy as it was announced a §10,000 sports scholarship was established in memory of her son, Logan. Charlotte and Travis wept watching the news coverage, knowing they had done the right thing. And as they had been promised, their names were not mentioned, only that the money had been given by an anonymous donor. The gift was an on-going scholarship for the next ten years, and would be given based on need and merit. Instructions for application were posted on the news channel, and no doubt Sarah’s office would have more applications than they knew how to handle to pour over. Charlotte and Travis would have the final approval of the recipient.

Soon after the broadcast, Travis’ phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Is this Mr. Travis Jones?” the shaky voice on the other end of the phone asked.

“You found me,” he said, a smile in his voice.

“Mr. Jones, this is Mary Riggins. The news didn’t say so, and the plaque and paperwork we received never said it, but I know you and your lovely wife did this.”

“Don’t be so sure, Mrs. Riggins. Your son’s story touched many people.” Travis countered, not wanting to give up their secret so quickly.

“Ordinarily, I’d agree with you. But with your generous offer to pay Logan’s burial costs, this could have only come from you.”

“Okay, I’ll admit it, Mrs. Riggins. Charlotte wanted to do this in honor of your son. Her life has been so profoundly impacted by his, she wanted to do something special for him.” Travis hoped Charlotte wouldn’t be angry with him for spilling the beans.

“I knew it,” she said, crying. “Mr. Jones, your wife is precious. Hang onto her tightly.”

“Thank you. I think so, too, and believe me, I will.” Travis’ heart swelled with love for his beautiful wife. “Please, all we ask is that you keep our secret between us. We don’t want this to be seen as anything other than what it was meant to be.”

“I understand, Mr. Jones,” Mary replied. “I can’t thank you enough. It’s such a lovely tribute to him. You know, you were his favorite player on the team.”

Travis blushed. “I am honored to hear that. People like Logan are why I do what I do. Without my fans, I’m nothing.”

“Well, I wanted you to know that. And I wanted to thank you. Don’t worry, your secret will go to my grave with me.” Mary Riggins thanked him again and they hung up the phone.

Travis cringed when he noticed Charlotte standing nearby. “How much of that did you hear?”

“I heard the whole thing, honeybear.” She ran to him and hugged him. “You did good, baby. You did real good.”

Up Next: Chapter Eleven, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Nine – Charlotte Faces Judgment

Charlotte was brought into the courtroom in the same clothing she threw on that morning before she met with the police before this nightmare started. Her hair was messy, her pretty face red and blotchy and she looked like she had been through hell and back. The bailiff removed her handcuffs as Sarah Laken hugged her.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with the boy’s mother, Charlotte. She doesn’t really want to see you go to jail, so we might have a resolution very soon.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Charlotte cried, trying hard not to be emotional. Travis walked into the courtroom and spotted her.

“Baby!” he cried out, running to her. He embraced her tightly, kissing her. “I am so sorry, baby,” he apologized. “I would have never let them in if I had known they were going to arrest you.”

“The kids… did any of them see?” That was what she was truly the most worried about.

He couldn’t lie to her. “Darcey did, honey. She’s been a mess all day.”

“My poor baby,” she said, looking forlorn.

The bailiff put a halt to Travis and Charlotte’s conversation and asked him to be seated. The hospital’s attorney and Guy Sander arrived and were seated next to where Sarah and Charlotte sat. Sarah stood immediately.

“I am going to pursue the best possible outcome for my client, whether or not that coincides with the hospital’s best interest. I will not tolerate any characterization of Dr. Jones that paints her in a bad light, am I making myself clear?”

“Look, Ms…?”

“Laken. Sarah Laken.”

“Ms. Laken, we don’t want to see Dr. Jones punished wrongly, so we are also here to represent her best interest as well. But I look forward to working together with you on this case.”

“Oh really?” Sarah said snidely. “How are you going to suggest she plea?”

“No contest, that way she can go right to sentencing and make a deal with the prosecution.”

“Wrong answer, counsel,” Sarah said firmly. “She did nothing wrong. She will be entering a Not Guilty plea.”

“You are condemning her to a court trial and more jail time.”

“You are assuming that she is guilty, or that she did something wrong.”

“Well, didn’t she, counsel?”

“If attempting to save a life is now criminal, why do we even have hospitals anymore?”

“That’s not the point of this case, and you know that, Ms. Laken.” The attorney looked down his nose at her. “She acted without consent from the patient’s next of kin. She knew the consequences and she did it anyway.”

“What seems to be the problem here, ladies and gentlemen?” Kurt Black, Sarah’s friend, interrupted the altercation.

“Oh Kurt, it’s so good to see you. I was just telling this counsel that Dr. Jones will be entering a Not Guilty plea.”

“Why is this objectionable, Mr.?”

“Hicks. Earl Hicks. The hospital believes she should enter a plea of No Contest.”

“You are assuming guilt,” Kurt countered. “The prosecution will have a difficult time establishing that.”

“Trust me, Mr. Black, she will want to plead No Contest.”

Kurt and Earl went back and forth for several minutes, when Kurt approached Sarah, shaking his head.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

“Charlotte’s supervisor claims to have a full confession given by Charlotte last night. If they admit this in court, I can’t defend a Not Guilty.  The evidence will kill her.”

“What exactly did she supposedly say?”

“He claims she said she wasn’t sorry she did it, and she would do it again.”

‘Have you spoken with the boy’s mother? When I talked with her this morning, she seemed like she was having second thoughts.”

“I haven’t yet, no. She’s expected to be here, however. I’ll see if I can speak with her before her testimony.”

Mary Riggins, Logan’s mother, entered the courtroom. She immediately recognized Charlotte and walked to Sarah. “I’m Mary Riggins, we spoke this morning?”

“Yes, hi Mrs. Riggins. Do you mind if we speak with you in private?” Kurt pulled her aside.

“Not at all.” She looked at Charlotte, who appeared completely broken, and was sorry she had begun this whole process. In the grief of losing her only son, she wanted retribution, but she wasn’t sure anymore.

“Mrs. Riggins, you told Sarah this morning you weren’t sure you want to continue with the charges against Dr. Jones, is that correct?”

“It is,” she said, weeping. “I shouldn’t be taking my sorrow out on someone else. She did what any good doctor would have done. Does she have children?”

“She has three young children, Ma’am,” Sarah affirmed.

“I can’t take their mother from them. I can’t fault her for doing what she felt was right. She was just doing her job.” Mary Riggins wept openly.

Sarah was pleased to hear this new information, but she wished desperately the charges had never been brought in the first place. This would set a horrible new precedent if Charlotte was found guilty and incarcerated.

Kurt counseled the boy’s mother and advised her what to tell the judge at the beginning of the arraignment. He hoped her testimony would be enough to stop the process, but he feared it wouldn’t be.

A tall, lanky red-headed man entered the courtroom, and Travis stood. “Chris!” he called to him. “Over here!” Charlotte’s head spun to see her brother, and she began to cry again.

“Christopher!” she cried. “How? How did you know?”

“Oh, it’s all over the news, Charlotte. This is a big deal, you should see the Paparazzi around your house.”

Travis was not pleased to know about that. They were persistent as it was, without a scandal. Now they would be relentless.

The prosecutor and the judge both entered at the same time, and the court was in session. The prosecutor stood and presented the charges against Charlotte. Manslaughter in the first degree, criminal negligence. The first charge had the possibility of a death sentence, and the county would not rule it out. Criminal negligence carried a much smaller penalty, but if convicted would still be prison time or a hefty fine.

Mary Riggins stood and addressed the court. “Your Honor, I do not wish to pursue legal action against Dr. Jones further. She was doing her job, and she shouldn’t be punished for trying to save my Logan.”

“Counsel, is this acceptable to the prosecution?” The judge asked the District Attorney. They talked among themselves for a moment.

“Mrs. Riggins, you are sure you wish to drop all charges against Dr. Jones?” The DA asked her.

“Yes, I am, and I do,” came her unwavering answer.

“The prosecution acknowledges and accepts. There will be no further prosecution of Dr. Jones.”

The judge banged his gavel, and the court was adjourned. Charlotte didn’t even realize what had taken place. Sarah jumped up and hugged her. “You’re free, Charlotte. The boy’s mother dropped the charges, and the DA agreed.” Still, she looked dazed, not processing what had happened.

“Baby! Come on, let’s get you out of here, honey,” Travis said, hugging her close.

“What happened?” she asked. “I didn’t get to say anything.”

“You don’t need to, baby. The boy’s mother doesn’t want to press charges, honey. We can go home.” Travis was anxious to get her away from the courtroom, just in case someone had a change of heart.

Leaving the courtroom, they were barraged by the press, countless mics stuck in Charlotte’s face, and Travis was nearly carrying her out because she was unable to walk under her own power. What had happened to her while she was in custody wasn’t clear, but obviously something wasn’t right.

Travis put her into his car and buckled her in. Walking to the other side, he was approached by Mary Riggins.

“Sir, you must be Mr. Jones? I am so sorry for the sorrow I’ve caused your family.” She didn’t look to be much older than Charlotte.

“I’m so sorry about your son, Mrs. Riggins,” Travis offered. “I know she did everything she could to save him.”

“Thank you. I never meant to cause your family harm. It was shocking, to find out your only son was knocking on death’s door.” She wiped tears from her face. “But I shouldn’t have inflicted pain on someone else, because I was suffering. I’m happy the DA agreed to drop charges.”

“Thank you, we are too.” Travis gave her his business card. “If you need anything, even help with funeral costs, please, it’s the least we can do.” He hugged the boy’s mother, and she marveled at him.

“With everything I’ve put your wife through, I can’t believe your generous offer.” She was genuinely touched.

“Charlotte would want it no other way, believe me.” He embraced the woman and offered his condolences, then took Charlotte home. On the way, he called Darcey’s phone.

“Darce? It’s Daddy. I’m bringing Mama home.” He heard squeals of delight in the background.

“We can’t wait to see her,” Darcey sang. “I’ll tell Nae and Devin.”

“Good girl,” Travis told her. “I’m so proud of you.”

When they got home, Travis carried her into the house and set her on the sofa. He couldn’t tell if she was just tired or if something more was going on. “Baby, are you okay, honey?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “I hurt.”

“Where? Where do you hurt?”

“Inside,” she said.

“What do you mean, baby?” he asked her.

She began to cry. “Don’t leave me. I’m afraid.”

He hugged her. “What happened to you?”

“I can’t…” she cried.

Tracy came down the stairs, checking to see if everything was okay before she let the children come to see her. “Is the coast clear, Mr Jones?” she asked.

“I don’t think so, Tracy. I’m going to take her to the hospital.” Something was wrong, and he was going to find out.

“Darcey will be disappointed,” she said. “Are you sure?”

“Yes! They shouldn’t see her like this. I’ll go up and explain before I take her.” He hugged Charlotte. “Baby, I’m going to go talk to the kids. I’ll be right back, and I’m taking you to the hospital.” She nodded her head weakly.

Travis ran up the stairs as quickly as he could, not wanting to leave Charlotte alone for very long. “Kids, here. Listen up. Your mama is sick, and I’m going to take her to the doctor, okay? We should be home later, but I’ll call Darcey and let her know.” He gathered them all for a hug and kissed them. “This will all be over soon, my punkins. I love you.”

“Tell Mama we love her, Daddy,” Darcey said.

“I will, babies.” He went back downstairs and Charlotte was calling for him. Tracy was standing by. “Thank you, Tracy. I don’t think we’ll be very long at the hospital. I just want them to check her out.”

“I’ll stay as long as you need me. Oh, and I cleaned up a pretty big mess down here this morning.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” Travis apologized. “It won’t go unnoticed in your pay.” Tracy smiled.

Picking Charlotte up, he carried her to the car and buckled her in. The crowd in front of the gate was huge and still growing, as he tried to get out of the driveway. Blowing his horn, he shouted at the crowd to disperse, and they eventually did. On the way over to the hospital, he called Dr. Myles.

“This is Travis Jones, please have Dr. Myles meet us at the hospital. Something is wrong with Charlotte, and I want to make sure what I suspect isn’t true.”

“She will be there momentarily, Mr. Jones.” The receptionist told him.

“Thank you,” he said, and hung up.  “Hold on, baby,” he urged. “Help is on the way.”

They arrived at the emergency department, and a wheelchair was waiting for her at the door. Dr. Myles was already there, waiting for her. “What’s going on, Mr. Jones?” she asked Travis.

“She told me she hurts, inside.” He was visibly shaking. “I haven’t gotten her to say, but I suspect she might have been assaulted at the jail.”

Dr. Myles nodded. “Set up a rape kit, please,” she asked the nurse, as Travis helped her get onto the exam table.

Dr. Myles examined her and found no evidence of rape. She ordered blood and urine tests, just to be on the safe side, and the urine test showed a very bad infection, probably unrelated to current events. “She will need to be on antibiotics for a while, but I’ll give her a shot to move things along. It’s no wonder she hurts, these things can be miserable.”

“Charlotte, baby, I’ll be taking you home soon.  You have a UTI, a bad one.” She felt warm to him. “Doc, what can I give her to help her feel better? She feels feverish.”

“Just over the counter pain reliever should be sufficient,” she told Travis. “Does she urinate when you are done with.. relations?” the doctor asked him.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think so, but I can’t say for certain.”

“This might just be a case of what we call ‘honeymoon cystitis.’ It’s common, but completely preventable. But she should know this.” She washed up and shook Travis’ hand. “If you have any other questions, you have my number. She’ll be feeling better in a few days.”

Travis waited for the meds to be filled at the hospital pharmacy, and she was discharged. It was now well past the kids’ bedtime, and he knew they would want to see her. “Come on, baby,” he said. “Let’s get you home.”

“I don’t feel good,” she muttered. “I hurt.”

“I know, baby. You’re going to be sick for a few days.” He had his arm around her, steadying her as she walked.

“Ugh,” she groaned.

The drive home was miserable for her. “I have to pee, Travis,” she cried.

“I know, baby. We’re almost home.” At the gate, he had the same problem he did getting out, but the crowd cleared, and he closed the gate safely behind the car. He carried her into the house, to the downstairs bathroom, and helped her.

“Ow ow ow!” she cried. “Why does this hurt so bad?”

“You have a bad bladder infection, baby.”

“Oh my goodness, I hope I never go through this again. It’s worse than childbirth.” He couldn’t help himself and chuckled.

Tracy heard them home and padded down the stairs quietly. “The kids are in bed, but Darcey says she can’t sleep until she sees her mother.”

“Tracy, I can’t thank you enough for stepping up today and taking care of these babies for us.” He took his wallet out and peeled off ten large bills, and slipped them into her hands. “Please go do something nice for yourself. On us.”

“No, no,” she said, blushing. “This is too much, Travis.” She protested, trying to give half of it back.

“Please, take it, Tracy. You saved us today.” He hugged her quickly. “You’re free to go home.”

“Thank you!” she said, smiling. He heard Charlotte calling for him, and he ran to her side.

“Could you help me upstairs? I feel so weak,” she asked him.

“Of course,” he replied, picking her up. He didn’t realize how tired and sore his muscles were from carrying her. He almost couldn’t lift her, and she didn’t weigh much to start. But, he knew she couldn’t navigate the stairs, so he did it anyway. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he trudged upstairs with her.

“I want to see my baby boy first,” she said, as she limped toward the nursery door. He was sleeping, but she had to hold him. “Devin, sweetie, it’s Mama.”

Sleepily, he rolled over and when he saw her, his eyes widened. “Mama!” he cried, weeping on her shoulder. “I missed you.”

“Oh, baby boy, I missed you so much!” She snuggled him ferociously, covering him in kisses, shedding tears of her own. “I love you so much, little man.”

“I love you too, Mama,” he said. He gave her a sloppy kiss on her cheek, and she melted.

“I have to go see sissy now, but you go back to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up in the morning.” She tucked him in, and he blew her a kiss as she closed his door.

Travis had been watching the whole scene and was crying, painfully aware of how close she came to spending the night at the county jail. They walked together to the girls’ room, and both of them were wide awake, waiting to see her.

“Mama!” they both squealed and ran to her. Charlotte knelt down and allowed herself to be overtaken, and sobbed.

“Oh, my baby girls,” she cried. “I missed you two so much!” The twins were crying openly, and Darcey paid special attention to her, holding on tightly and not letting go.

“Mama, I was so scared,” she said. “I saw them taking you away, and I thought I’d never see you again.” Darcey was sobbing, trying to speak.

“I’m home, and we’re all safe,” she cried. “I love you both more than words can say.” She held them close and covered them in kisses, and even though they were outgrowing it, neither of them complained.

“Mama, I missed you so much,” Danae wept. “I’m glad you’re home.” Charlotte gave her another tight squeeze.

“I love you Nae,” she said. “I love you both. I have to go rest, though. I’m not feeling well, but I’ll be here when you wake up in the morning.” Travis got her up off the floor, and they tucked the girls into bed together.

Travis helped into the shower and got her cleaned up. They snuggled into bed together, and he wrapped around her. “I’m never going to let you go,”  he whispered, as they both cried, the day’s events finally catching them.

“I don’t want you to let me go. Hold me forever,” she cried. And they fell asleep, intertwined together.

Up Next: Chapter Ten, Generation Four

G4 Chapter Eight – Charlotte Finds Trouble

“I”m going to be late tonight,” she said, hoping Darcey wouldn’t mind watching her brother for a little while. “We have an emergency in, and it looks messy.”

“We’ll be okay, Mama,” Darcey replied. “‘Nae and I are doing homework, and Devin is needing some help with his, so after we’re done, I’ll help him.”

“If you need me, you have my phone number. Or call Tracy, and see if she can come by.” Charlotte hadn’t left her kids alone together before, even though the girls were almost 11 years old, she felt funny about leaving them in charge.

“Mama, we’ll be okay. I promise.” Darcey smiled at Devin, who was playing with his special toy that Uncle Chris bought for him.

“I should be home no later than six. I think Daddy will be home first. I love you!” she said.

“We love you too, Mama. Don’t worry. I’ve got this.” Darcey said confidently. They hung up the phone.

Charlotte’s emergency was a car accident, a bad one, similar to her own that took the life of another person. The victim in front of her was the one who had hit the other car broadside, and he was pretty beaten up. It wasn’t until that moment that Charlotte realized how badly she could have been hurt, and how blessed she truly was.

“I need blood, 3 units,” she ordered. “He is bleeding, and I don’t know where from. Is there a next of kin available?” she asked.

“Not nearby, no. His mother is en route,” the nurse assistant stated.

“This can’t wait. I have to take him into surgery now, or he might bleed out.” It was a call she didn’t like to make, but she couldn’t have him die on her, either, when she had the means to help him. “Prep him, please.”

Charlotte went to wash up. This was the unglamorous part of being a trauma doctor. And making a decision like this, she knew, had the chance to come back and bite her. But it was a risk she was willing to take.

Surgery took 5 hours from start to finish, and she was tired when she was done. It was much later than the time she told Darcey she would be home, and she hoped that Travis didn’t get tied up at work late, too. She managed to stop the bleeding, and repaired much of the damage that the accident had caused. The next couple of hours would be the most crucial, and she hoped that the young man’s mother was amenable when she went to speak with her.

“I’m Dr. Jones, and I operated on your son. He’s in bad shape, but I was able to repair most of what the accident damaged…”

“Who gave you permission to cut him open?” the angry woman demanded.

“That was my call, ma’am,” she replied. “I was the surgeon on duty, and he was my responsibility. I am sorry if treatment was not what you wanted for him, but I couldn’t let him die.”

“That wasn’t your call to make, Doctor.”

“Actually, ma’am, it was my call. We had no way to contact you, and I made a decision based on the information we had at the time.” Charlotte stood firm, knowing she made the correct decision.

“Is he going to live?” she asked, a little calmer.

“We aren’t sure yet. He is pretty banged up, but he had no head injury other than a slight concussion. The next few hours should be the most crucial.”

“What happened?” The young man’s mother was off the offensive and seemed suddenly emotional.

“The official report said that he collided with another vehicle on the strip.” Charlotte shuddered at the memory of her own accident. “He was not found at fault, I don’t believe, but you would need to check with the police on the specifics.”

“When can I see him?”

“He’ll be out of recovery in about an hour, and once he’s in a room, you’re welcome to see him.” Charlotte was going to tell her of her own accident, but thought the better of it. “Are you okay?” she asked instead.

“I will be when I see him. He’s my only son. Thank you, doctor, for saving his life.”

“Well, don’t thank me yet,” Charlotte replied, then bit her tongue. “He isn’t entirely out of the woods, but I have a good feeling about it.”

She went into her office and slumped into her chair. I don’t think this is over with that woman, she thought. Exhausted, physically and emotionally, she dialed the house phone.

“Hello?” Travis answered.

“Hey baby,” she said. “I’ll be leaving here shortly. Did Darcey do okay this afternoon?”

“Yeah, she is a good little nurturer.” He laughed. “She had him fed, changed for bed and read to by the time I got home. She has a good teacher.”

Charlotte smiled. “Thank you, honeybear,” she said. “I am certainly trying to be one.”

She threw her soiled coat into the laundry as she left the hospital. “I’m off tomorrow, but I have my beeper if you need me. I highly suggest you don’t need me tonight,” she joked.

She pulled into the driveway and took her keys from the ignition. Every muscle in her body ached, and she needed a massage. She walked across the lawn, covered in ankle-deep snow, and shook off her boots before going inside. The house was absolutely peaceful. The children were tucked into bed, there was a fire in the hearth, and Travis had dinner ready for her.

“Welcome home, baby,” he said as he wrapped her into his arms. “I’m sorry you had a rough day, honey.”

“Thank you, honey bear,” she replied, smiling. “Are the kids still awake?”

“Darcey might be, but the other two are definitely not.” He kissed her tenderly. “They really tried to stay awake for you.”

“Let me go up and see, and I’ll tuck them in either way,” she said, as she made her way towards the steps. “I’ll be right back down.”

This job is getting to be too much, she thought, if it takes me away from my family. She had much to ponder over the next few days, especially the problems with the patient’s family if he didn’t survive the night. Legal red tape was not what she needed, and she could be criminally held liable if the family pressed charges.

She tiptoed into Devin’s room and saw him sleeping peacefully. She tucked him in gently and kissed his forehead, and went to the girls’ room. Darcey, as Travis had thought, was still awake.

“I hear you did a great job with your brother today, Darce,” Charlotte said, as she sat on Darcey’s bed. “I’m proud of you.”

Darcey smiled. “Thank you, Mama.” She reached up to hug Charlotte and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Get some sleep now, honey,” she said, tucking her in. “Snug as a bug in a rug!” she whispered.

“Night night, Mama,” Darcey said, her eyes heavy with sleep.

Travis was waiting downstairs for her when she was through, with dinner and some wine. “Here, baby,” he said, ushering her to the couch in the living room. “Let me rub your feet while you have dinner. We can watch the fire together.”

Not complaining, she picked up her wine glass and dinner plate, and allowed herself to be led to the sofa. She sat down, and Travis plopped her feet in his lap, rubbing the tension from them skillfully.

“What’s the occasion for all of this?” she asked, hoping there wasn’t a bad news bomb about to drop on her.

“I have good news!” he gushed. “I got a huge promotion and a raise today!”

“Oh honeybear!” she beamed. “I’m so proud of you!” She leaned forward to kiss him.

“It’s even better,” he said. “On the nights I don’t have a game, I’ll be home right after 6pm.”

“Oh wow, much better hours!” She was a little jealous. He brought home almost as much as she did for three hours of work compared to her almost ten-hour day. “Maybe I should be a sports star, too!” she joked.

“Nah, they could never handle that much sexy on one team,” he said, winking at her. She blushed.

“So, I might have a problem at the hospital…” she didn’t want to bring it up, but she knew she had to.

“What happened?” he asked, concerned.

“My emergency,” she began. “There was no one to give consent for his surgery, so I did it without. It was totally my call, and I’ll take responsibility for it, but his mother was not happy.”

“I don’t get it,” he shook his head. “You saved his life, and yet she is mad because you didn’t get her consent.”

“Well, it’s a big deal, especially here in this town.” She shook her head, not wanting to think the worst. “If that young man dies, and the family presses charges, I could be on the hook for that.” She took a sip of wine. “There is legal precedent for that in the Shores. I could see jail time.”

“Well, don’t get ahead of yourself, baby,” he tried to comfort her. “The young man was alive when you left, right?” She nodded, taking a bite of dinner. “Whatever happens, you know I have your back. We’ll hire the best lawyer if we need to, and we’ll fight it.”

“Hopefully, we won’t need to.” She finished the last bite of dinner, and Travis hopped up to take her plate. “Wow, I’m really getting the treatment tonight, aren’t I?” She smiled.

“You deserve it, baby,” he replied. “Look, don’t worry about work. It will all work itself out.”

“I hope you’re right.”


Charlotte’s pager rang at 4:30am. She rolled over and looked at the number, and she didn’t recognize it. “Travis, honey, wake up,” she gently nudged him. “Baby, I have a call at the hospital.” He stirred, and opened his eyes. “Travis, honey, I need to go.”

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“Call at the hospital. I have a feeling it involves that accident victim.” She had a really uneasy feeling about it.

“Drive safe, and call me, baby.” He blew her a kiss. “I love you. I have your back.”

“I love you too, honeybear.”

Her nerves were shot by the time she got to the hospital, and her worst fears were confirmed. The young man had passed away and his mother was fighting mad. The hospital director was called in from his sleep to calm her, and he was not happy with Charlotte for putting him in the situation.

“Charlotte, what were you thinking?” he yelled, his face beet red.

“I did what I thought needed to be done, Guy.” She paced the floor, remembering the events of the afternoon. “He would have died without intervention.”

“He died with it, and now the hospital has a huge problem, Dr. Jones.”

“I’m not sorry I made the decision I made, Guy. I wouldn’t do it any differently.” She couldn’t understand the mother’s thinking. She would die for her own children.

“See, you can’t tell that to authorities, or you will have bigger issues than just what you’re facing now, Charlotte.” Guy Sander was trying to give his doctor the benefit of the doubt, but with her confessing to everything, she was going to make things harder for herself.

“Respectfully, it’s in my oath as a doctor. To put saving a life ahead of my own interest. We will fight this, Guy. I have legal rights.”

“That may be true, but not as many as that grieving mother does, I’m afraid.” His expression softened. “Charlotte, you can’t tell the police you would do it again. It’s almost as bad as confessing to a murder.”

Murder. The word rang in her ears and made her feel lightheaded. “Guy, I didn’t murder that boy. I tried to save his life, for goodness sake!” She started to tremble. “I need to go home.”

“You shouldn’t drive when you’re like this, Charlotte.”

“Well, I’m going to anyway,” she spat back. “I need Travis.”

She walked with security to her car, and he made sure she got in and locked her door safely. She was extra careful on the drive home and breathed a sigh of relief when she pulled through the gate into her driveway. By the time she got upstairs, she was crying.

Travis was waiting up for her. “Baby, what’s wrong?”

“He didn’t make it, Travis.” Her bottom lip quivered as she fell to the floor. “I’m in big trouble.”

“We will get through this, baby,” he promised. “I’ll make some phone calls in the morning. We’re going to lawyer up, and we’ll beat this.” He sounded much more confident than she felt, especially after her confrontation with her boss.

“I was hoping the hospital would back me up, but Guy was really ticked off, honeybear.” He reached to lift her from the floor and set her on the bed.

“Shhh, baby, it’s okay. I’m here, honey.” He held her tightly, not wanting to let her go, and afraid he might not get to hold her again for a long time.

*****

The police were at the call box bright and early, looking for Charlotte to ask her some questions. Travis was up with the children getting them ready for school.

“Sir, we need to speak with a Charlotte Jones. Is she available?”

“Officer, if you please, my children are getting ready for school. Can this wait at all?”

“It really can’t. Are you her husband, sir?” The voice on the other end was adamant.

“I am, and I really need to get my kids ready for school.” He put his hand over the phone and stepped away from the earshot of the twins. “I’d really like to keep this from my kids. They’re going to be traumatized by this, and we haven’t had a chance to explain anything yet.”

“Mr. Jones, that isn’t our problem. Look, we just need to speak with her. No one is going anywhere unless you impede our investigation.”

“Let me buzz you in,” Travis relented. “Give me a moment to wake her.” He pressed the code for the gate and allowed the officers entry.

“Darcey, Danae, please take your brother to your room?” he asked the girls urgently.

“What’s going…”

“Please, girls, just do it for your daddy.” He was trying not to frighten them, but he was terrified himself. Darcey grabbed Devin’s hand and led them all upstairs, locking the bedroom door behind her.

Travis opened the front door for the police. “Let me get my wife,” he told the police, and offered them coffee, which they refused.

“Baby,” he shook Charlotte’s shoulder firmly. “Baby, the police are here, honey. They want to talk to you.”

“Oh no,” she said, turning sheet white. “We don’t have a lawyer yet!”

“You don’t have to say anything until you have a lawyer. But I think they just want to ask some questions.”

She started to cry. “I don’t know what to say that won’t get me into a heap of trouble.”

“Just tell them the truth, baby.” He wrapped his arms around her. “Hey, look at me,” he said, looking into her eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. We’re in this together, love.”

She wiped tears from her eyes and put some decent clothes on. And then her face went white again. “The kids!”

“Don’t worry, Darcey brought them up here. They’re in the girls’ room right next door.” He kissed her gently. “They’re safe, baby.”

Travis held his arm for her to take, and he helped her downstairs. “Baby, I’m gonna throw up,” she said as they hit the bottom step, and ran for the bathroom.

“She’ll be here in a moment, officers,” Travis explained, and went to check on her. “Honey, are you okay?”

“No, but I have to do this,” she said, trying to be brave. In truth, she felt like she wanted to run away.

He led her back to the dining room table, where the officers sat patiently waiting. When she approached the table, both of them stood and asked her to take a seat. Travis sat beside her, holding her hand.

“Dr. Jones, I just have a few questions, and we’ll be on our way,” the detective said. “Doctor, who gave you permission to perform surgery on the deceased?”

“I didn’t have consent from the boy’s mother, officer. She was not present. But he would have died without my intervention.”

“With all due respect, doctor, he died anyway, which is why we are here.” The detective was calculating and asked questions that tried to lead her into a confession.

“Did you check with the hospital to see if there was anything on file that would have prevented you from performing the surgery, Doctor?”

“I didn’t have that kind of time,” she said, hanging her head. “His life was hanging in the balance, and I had to make a decision.”

“So, you’re admitting that you broke hospital procedure, then?”

Travis shook his head and whispered to her. “I don’t want to answer any more questions until I speak to an attorney.”

The lead detective looked at the other and they nodded their heads. “Ma’am, please put your hands behind your head, you are under arrest for the death of Logan Riggins. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.”

“Baby,” she said, “I’m going to throw up again.” Her heart was pounding so loudly she could hear it in her ears. As the police were cuffing her, she vomited on the floor, crying. Darcey, who was coming down the stairs, saw them take her mother from the house in handcuffs, and she screamed.

“Darcey!” Travis yelled. “Call Tracy, and have her call you guys in sick from school today. I need to go with Mama.” The fear on her face broke his heart, and he hoped that Charlotte hadn’t seen her. “Please Punkin, call Tracy.” She nodded and ran back to the room, her sobs filling the loft.

They were putting Charlotte into the squad car, and the neighbors were out watching the scene, along with about four Paparazzi that usually hung around at the call box. Travis got into his car and followed Charlotte down to the station, where they treated her like a common criminal. Fingerprinted, mugshot taken and handcuffed to a bench while she waited for Travis to call a lawyer. Searching his phone, he found the name of a lawyer he hoped could help and dialed the number.

“Sarah Laken, attorney at law, how can I help you?” came the friendly greeting on the other end of the line.

“Sarah, my name is Travis Jones,” he began, trying to decide if he should name drop Bella and Jen. “My wife, Charlotte St John Jones, has been arrested and needs help desperately.”

“Are you the Travis Jones? The star of the Llamas here in the Shores?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” he blushed. “My wife was Bella St John’s daughter. You might know her by her maiden name, Bella Atwood.”

Suddenly, it clicked, and Sarah knew exactly who he was. “Of course!” she said. “What can I do for you, Mr. Jones?”

“My wife is a trauma surgeon at the hospital, and she did an emergency surgery yesterday without the family’s consent. It was a matter of life and death at the time, and the boy’s mother was en route.” Travis paused to make sure he had the details correct. “The boy passed away early this morning, and I guess the mother is pressing charges against my wife.” He paused again to take a breath because he felt like he was hyperventilating. “The police just took my wife out of our home, in front of our children, in handcuffs.” His emotions got the best of him, and he started to choke back tears. “She is being processed right now. Please, Ms. Laken, we really could use some help.”

“Wow, that’s quite the predicament you have there. I’m not a criminal attorney, but I do know of someone who could take your case.” She was searching in her Rolodex when Travis spoke up.

“With all due respect, my mother in law trusted you and you alone, and that counts for something. Please, I’m begging you, please help my wife.” His sobs shook him. “We have three kids that need their mama.”

“Okay, I can be there in twenty minutes. Tell her not to say anything more until I get there.”

Travis sniffled and nodded his head. “I’ll tell her. And thank you.”

Charlotte was formally booked into Starlight Shores county jail, and charged with first-degree manslaughter. Her arraignment was set for later that afternoon, but until then she was locked in a cell. Sarah arrived shortly after she was locked up, and was shown into the cell to speak with her.

“Hi Charlotte, my name is Sarah Laken, and I’m going to help you.” Charlotte started to cry.

“Sarah, you were my mom’s attorney, weren’t you?”

“Yes, I was. I understand you have some trouble at work, honey. Don’t you worry, we’re going to take care of this for you.”

Travis was in the lobby, pacing back and forth feeling helpless when Charlotte’s phone rang. He answered it, and it was her boss.

“Dr. Jones?” the voice on the other end questioned.

“No, this is her husband, Travis. Who is this?”

“Hi Travis, I’m the executive director of the hospital, Guy Sander. Is she available?”

“No, she’s being booked into the county jail on manslaughter charges!” Travis yelled. “Why don’t you have her back on this? She did nothing wrong!” He was furious.

“Mr. Jones, we’re going to do everything we can to help Dr. Jones. Her father was an esteemed surgeon here for many years, and we don’t want to see her prosecuted.”

“Well, you’d better hurry with that help, because she is going to need it!” All he could think of was how scared she was, and the only thing he could see was the fear on Darcey’s face. He wished he could be two places at once.

“We will be sending the attorney for the hospital to the court for her arraignment, Travis.”

“Well, that’s great,” he sputtered. “You’re protecting your own interests. What about my wife?”

“I told you we would help her.” Guy was losing his patience with Travis and his attitude. “Please tell her to look out for our lawyer at the courthouse.”

Travis hung up the phone, spitting mad. He dialed one more number. “Coach, this is Travis. Yeah, I won’t be at practice today. Something has come up at home, and I need to be here with Charlotte. You know my number. Call me if there’s a problem.”  He hung up after he left his message and sat down in a chair hard enough to hurt his tailbone. Feeling defeated, he buried his face into his hands and wept.

Ten minutes later, Sarah came from the jail cell and sat with Travis. “I think the mother has a shaky case at best against your wife, Travis. There was no written directive from any family member, so that might be her saving grace. Without that, the mother really has no legal footing. The most she could do is a civil wrongful death suit, but even that is iffy. I’m going to consult with my criminal defense friend and run this past him, see what he thinks. I’ll see you at her arraignment.”

“Sarah, I want to let you know the hospital will have their attorney there, but I suspect they’re only protecting their interests in this.” His shoulders heaved with grief.

“Thank you for letting me know, Travis. Those types are seldom for the little guy. I’ll make sure to counter them at every turn when I need to.” He shook his head and thanked her. He had one more phone call to make.

“Daddy?” Darcey answered her cell phone.

“Hi Punkin,” he said, trying not to cry. “Are you guys okay?”

“What is going on? Why were they taking Mama away?” She was so very obviously upset, but she hadn’t told her sister or brother anything yet.

“I’ll tell you all about it when I come home later on, sweetie pie.”

“What about Mama? Is she coming home?” Darcey was holding back tears and trying to be grown-up, but she wasn’t doing very well.

“I don’t know yet, munchkin. But I sure hope so.” He cleared his throat. “Thank you for being such a good girl, Darce. I love you and your sister and brother. I’ll be home soon.”

The arraignment was scheduled for 2pm. The day had already been so very long, and it wasn’t over yet.

Up Next: Chapter Nine, Generation Four