tagNovels and NovellasSouthbound Ch. 17-18

Southbound Ch. 17-18


Originally edited by ErikThread and DaveT with my thanks. I've made some minor changes since, so any errors are mine alone.


Chapter 17 A New Arrangement

"Is Phil going to be all right?" Fiona asked quietly as we lay in bed.

"I think so. It'll take some time. He's hurting, but he's young and resilient and I believe he'll get over this in time."

"And what about you?"

"Good question. I've been wondering what would have happened if I'd still been married to Carla when this occurred. How would I have handled it? How would I have felt afterwards? It's pointless, really. While I was there, I spent a lot of time at night wishing I was here with you. I did not want to be in that house. It was my past and I don't want to go back there."

"Well, here you are, right where you want to be. It'll get better now, right?"

"It already has," I said as I rolled toward her and pulled her to me.

"I'm glad you don't have to go back to Langley," she murmured. "I hear the planning meeting is going to be held here."

"Yeah. Leo decided to reward the sales and management group with an 'away meeting' since we're having such a great year."

"You know I volunteered to be hostess, don't you?"

"I heard a rumour to that effect. Just what does that entail?"

"While you and your people are in meetings, I'll be in charge of entertaining the wives and others."

"So what are you going to do to entertain them?"

"Well, I will hire a small bus and we'll sightsee, shop, eat, shop, go to San Francisco and shop," she grinned.

"You've got three days to do all that, so I can expect some interesting charges on my Visa I suppose."

"Don't be frightened, dear. I'll use my own card. I've had several very good months lately."

"Yes, I know. I keep hearing about it from Leo. He likes to needle me that you're making more money than I am."

"Are you jealous?"

"Not for a minute. You've earned every dime. I'm so proud of you I could burst."

"And I'm proud of you, Andy. You made it all possible. Everything I have is thanks to you."

"You aren't giving yourself enough credit. You made it happen. I just gave you the tools to do the job."

"And," she said, wrapping her hand around my slowly growing erection, "it's a mighty fine tool too."

The house was sold, although for less than I expected. The market had softened, particularly in the price range that our house had been listed at. We netted $265,000 after retiring the mortgage. I split the money equally in three, with a little over $88,000 thousand going to Neal, Phil and Ruth. Ruth didn't want to accept it, but it was a provision in the will and I convinced her that it was Carla's wish.

Neal accepted the cheque and thanked me. I reminded him that it was from his mother and he looked somewhat embarrassed. Phil had no noticeable reaction to his check. He looked at it and I wondered what he was thinking. At length, he handed it back to me.

"Look after it for me, will you?" he said. "I'll just piss it away if you don't."

I nodded. His mother's car was sold and we would use that money for a down payment on a new car for him. He was going to be staying here in Livermore for the foreseeable future. He planned to start community college courses in the New Year and that would give him some time to recover from the loss of his mother. I noticed that Tina was being particularly attentive to him, trying to cheer him up I suppose.

"What are we going to do with four cars in this household?" Fiona asked one day.

"I don't know. I haven't even thought about it. Why four?"

"Well, there's you and me and Phil and Tina. Unless our children decided to share, there's going to be four cars on the property."

"Well I guess we'd better convince them to share then, hadn't we," I grinned.

Phil had his eyes on a Mustang until I went over the realities of car insurance for young people in California . We collectively, with Tina's inclusion, chose a Ford Escape. Phil chose the model and Tina chose the colour. They were both in full agreement with the choices.

I wasn't astonished when Phil told me that he was going to attend the same community college as Tina. Tina still had a year left in high school, but had already stated she was planning on attending Las Positas College. Phil would have to write an entrance exam to back up his school records from Langley. As long as he applied before December first, he could enroll for the second semester beginning in mid-January.

The college campus was in Livermore, less than five minutes from our favourite golf course. It seemed like an ideal solution for us and them. The college also offered high school courses and that's when Tina surprised us. She was going to finish her high school by the Christmas break and apply to the college for the spring semester, just as Phil would.

"Can you do that?" Fiona asked.

"Yes, Mom. You know I'm ahead on some of my credits, so I talked to my counselor and she agreed I could take the exams in December. I can put a conditional application in for the spring and as long as I pass, Phil and I will be starting at the same time. It just makes sense, doesn't it?"

Fiona looked at me and I shrugged. "If you think you can do it, then ... okay," Fiona said hesitantly.

That brought a big smile from both Tina and Phil, along with a high five.

"Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad." In a flash, she and Phil were gone.

"What do you suppose that was about?" I asked innocently.

Fiona looked at me with mild distain. "Boy, are men ever dumb," she said, shaking her head.

Over the next two months, I saw Tina and Phil with their heads in their books, studying together. That was something new for Phil, who regularly crammed for any exam at the last minute. When I quizzed him about it, he explained that he was making sure he wouldn't have any problem with the entrance exam and was helping Tina as well. I wondered if it wasn't the other way around, but any sign that he was taking his education more seriously was welcome, so I left well enough alone.

As fall approached, the early morning golf on Thursdays came to a close, but we were invited to join some of our unofficial club on Sunday mornings to help them make up mixed foursomes. We immediately agreed. We soon found ourselves in with five other couples, playing regularly once more. We alternated partners and got to know a number of people, none of whom had anything to do with our business.

The golf led to our being invited to social gatherings including barbeques, card parties, and other occasions which allowed us to meet more people and make new friends. We reciprocated, of course, and by the end of the year, had acquired a group of new acquaintances and friends. I had both Fiona and Carla to thank for that. Fiona was a natural when it came to making new friends and Carla was the one who drew my insular social habits to my attention. In the space of a few months that had all changed for the better.

Christmas was approaching and I already knew there was one gift that I wanted to share with Fiona. It was a membership at Las Positas. It wouldn't be a surprise since I wanted to make sure I could qualify for one, but with three of our friends acting as sponsors, it wasn't a problem. This was one membership I was confident we would use regularly.

The week before Christmas, Fiona and I were out Saturday evening visiting one of our friends' homes and had been introduced to two new couples. One was the brother-in-law of our friends, the other his neighbour. We got along very well with them and on the way home late that night Fiona remarked that we seemed to be collecting new acquaintances at quite a rapid rate.

"I have to thank Carla for that," I said.

"Oh ... why?"

"She was the one who pointed out how narrow my interests were. You are the one who helped me change all that."

She reached out and squeezed my hand. Words weren't necessary.

When we walked into the kitchen, I could hear the TV in the living room and we looked in to see who was up. What we saw was Tina and Phil lying together on the sofa, both of them sound asleep. We also noticed that Tina's bra was on the floor and Phil's hand was tucked up under her sweater while Tina's hand had slipped inside Phil's fly.

I looked at Fiona and she looked at me. I think we were silently asking ourselves the same question. "What now?"

It was Fiona that reacted first, taking my hand and leading me back into the kitchen and opening and shutting a couple of cupboard doors, hopefully making enough noise to awake the sleeping teens.

"That should do it," she said in a normal voice.

"We'll soon know," I acknowledged as I began to set up the coffee maker for the morning.

It was a minute later than a sheepish Tina came into the kitchen, wiping sleep from her eyes.

"I guess we were tired from studying," she said, not looking either of us in the eyes.

"I guess," Fiona said with a smirk. "Why don't you head to bed?"

"Okay ... g'nite," she mumbled as she turned and left.

Phil crossed from the living room to the hallway, mumbling his "g'nite" as he went.

Fiona turned and looked at me, barely able to restrain herself from bursting out in laughter. She grabbed me and began to do just that, using my shoulder to suppress the noise. I didn't think it was quite so funny.

"What do you think they were up to?" I asked quietly.

"Oh really, Andy. Isn't it obvious? Your son and my daughter were having a rather intimate time of it on the sofa. It's called a hot make-out session."

She hadn't raised her voice and she clearly wasn't angry, which caught me by surprise.

"This doesn't bother you?" I asked in surprise.

"Andy, Tina and Phil have been like this since the first time they met," she said, crossing her fingers and displaying them to me. "Didn't you notice the hug she gave him when you brought him down here after his mother was taken into the hospital?"

"I saw them hug, but I didn't think it was more than her comforting him when he was in pain."

"That's exactly what it was, but it was also more. Don't you remember how quickly you and I connected? I'm guessing that happened with them too."

"Oh." I wasn't exactly full of brilliant comment at that point.

"Are you upset about it?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "They're so young, Fiona. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with them getting serious about each other."

"Let's sleep on it and talk about it in the morning."

"Okay," I agreed, happy to let it go until I had some time to think about it.

Fiona and I were up first on Sunday morning, getting ready for our regular golf game. It was several minutes later that Phil made an appearance. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt but barefoot. He looked sheepishly at Fiona and me.

"Are we in trouble?" he asked, unsure who he was asking.

I was about to play dumb when Fiona took the matter out of my hands.

"No ... not trouble," she said, about to add something when Phil spoke again.

"We didn't do anything ... wrong," he stumbled.

"Okay," Fiona nodded. "You're eighteen, Phil, and Tina will be in a few weeks as well. That's means you'll both be adults. So ... you have to think about that and what you both want in your future. Unless your Dad feels differently, I won't interfere, but I will ask you to act responsibly. I won't say anything different to Tina."

Phil still looked a little uncertain, but nodded acceptance, probably relieved that he wasn't getting an earful from me or Fiona about their behaviour last night. He went about his normal breakfast routine wordlessly.

I didn't have anything to add to what Fiona said. It took me a while to accept that Phil was now an adult in the eyes of the law. The death of his mother and his moving here to Livermore with us had changed him. He was more mature. His studying with Tina and preparation for college told me his change was for the better. He had grown up in a very short period of time. When I reflected upon it, Fiona had said the right thing at the right time.

Tina made her appearance just before we got ready to leave for the golf course.

"'Mornin' Mom, g'mornin' Dad," she offered, looking at Phil uncertainly. She was dressed in a dressing gown, her hair uncombed.

"Good morning, Tina," I said with a smile, hoping to allay her apparent worries.

She gave her wordless mother a kiss on the cheek, then the same for me, then, surprisingly, the same for Phil. I saw Phil's eyes widen in shock and it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. Fiona had her back turned and didn't see the cheeky little move.

They say mothers have eyes in the back of their heads. I know mine did. How Fiona knew what Tina had just done I don't know, but she did.

"You're kind of pushing the envelope, aren't you girl?"

Tina giggled, having been caught, but unrepentant. "Just saying good morning to my boyfriend, Mom."

Phil had turned beet red by this time and didn't know what to do or say.

Fiona had turned back from the sink to face the three of us. "So, when did Phil officially become your boyfriend?" she asked with a knowing smirk.

"About five minutes after I met him," she shot back quickly. "Something like you and Dad, right?"

I saw Phil cringe when she said that and I thought he was about to say something, but couldn't manage it.

Fiona was shaking her head in that time-worn method parents do when they know the situation is hopeless. She gave her daughter the "mother stare" before saying, "I expect you to behave like an adult, young lady. You are still young and I am still your mother. Understood?"

"Yes, Mom," she replied, chastened. She looked at me and I was expressionless I thought, so she wouldn't pick up any hints about what I was thinking. She went about making her breakfast.

"That was interesting ... the way you handled it, I mean," I told Fiona as we drove to the club.

"What was I going to do? Yell and scream at her? She knows what happened to me. I don't have to beat her over the head about it. She's heard the story enough times. All I can do, Andy, is remind her."

"Smart," I nodded. "I wasn't quite as sure about Phil, but he's changed. Tina's still the more mature one, and I think she has a positive influence on him. I hope you agree, but I don't want to throw cold water on them just yet. I trust them."

"I do too, but we both know the effect of raging hormones. It can be like a drug and one or the other of them can lose control. I guess we're like most parents. At their age, we just have to hope they remember what we've told them and hope for the best. We can't be watching all the time."

"That's the way it works," I agreed. "I remember Carla and I going through this with Neal. You have to give them enough freedom and yet hope they have a sense of responsibility that will keep them from making a big mistake."

Fiona was nodding. "As I've told you many times before, my love, I like the way you think."

We held a company Christmas party at the Microtel in Tracy two weeks before the big day. I had met Rita, Bobby Lee's wife, and his three sons when they first arrived in early July. She wasn't quite as little as Bobby Lee had made out. I'd guess she was five-foot-five, but beside the big guy, she was dwarfed. His boys all looked like they were going to be younger versions of their father. The food bill in that household must be astronomical.

Wick's wife, Eileen, was darn near the same size as Wick, and while no raving beauty, you could see they were are life-long couple. She couldn't thank me enough for getting her and Wick out of the "frozen tundra" of Appleton. She was also surprised to find that I was Canadian and wanted to know about Vancouver and the west coast. Apparently they were regularly bombarded with Alaska cruise and B.C. Tourism commercials on their cable channels.

We had held a backyard barbeque for both families during the summer to welcome them and get to know them better. The Christmas party would be only the third time we had been together socially. We did have a "get to know you" reception for all the new people on a Saturday night in September. We had made all the new hires we expected to make and invited them and our staff to meet and mingle. It turned out to be a good idea and we would consider a summer picnic as a regular mid-year event.

Once the attraction between Tina and Phil had been revealed, they stopped being coy about it around the house. It wasn't as if there were a lot of overt displays of affection, but they certainly didn't act like brother and sister in my view. I worried about it for a while, but as Fiona was quick to point out, worrying wouldn't do any good. She convinced me to let them be and expect them to act appropriately. Easier said than done.

Chapter 18 The Anniversary Honeymoon

"I just remembered that I didn't keep my promise," I said to Fiona.

We were lying beside each other on a pair of lounges, looking out over the beautiful blue Pacific from the shores of Napili Bay, on Maui.

"What promise?"

"That we'd have a proper honeymoon in the same calendar year as we got married. I missed by two weeks."

"I forgive you. This really is paradise. Golf in the morning, swimming or sailing in the afternoon, dinner in Lahaina in the evenings. It's perfect, Andy."

"It's too bad we can't play the local course until next week. That tournament has blocked it off."

"Why don't we go and watch the pros," Fiona said brightly. "We might learn a thing or two."

"The only thing I'll get out of it is an inferiority complex when I see how far they hit the ball."

Fiona rolled toward me and took my hand. "You've got nothing to feel inferior about, trust me," she said, stroking my crotch lightly. You're a big hit with me."

"Thank you. That's what counts."

"Do you know what tomorrow is?" she asked.

"No ... aside from Friday ... I don't."

"It's our anniversary. It will be exactly one year from the first time we made love."

"How do you know that?" I asked, surprised. "I remember it very well, but not the date."

"A woman never forgets the first time with the man she loves."

"Then we should do something special to mark the occasion," I said.

"Oh, don't worry, we will," she snickered.

I had a pretty good idea of what she had in mind.

I was ready for a vacation. Fiona was as well. When I looked back on the past year it seemed to have gone by in lightning fashion. The dozens of events that had made up those 365 days had all merged together into a blur. We had rebuilt a manufacturing plant, installed new equipment, hired new people, produced new products, found new customers and made many new friends.

But more importantly, we had found each other and we had formed a new family, while sadly, I had lost part of my old one.

"I'm going to hate it when we have to go home," Fiona said.

"Don't you want to show off your all-over tan?" I kidded.

"It isn't all-over and don't you go telling anyone it is."

"It does look good on you, babe. It makes you even sexier than you already are."

"You look pretty studly yourself," she grinned with a raised eyebrow.

"Thank you. All compliments gratefully received."

Fiona rose and put on a light wrap over her bikini. She had bought it when we arrived. It would protect her from the sun and still be comfortable. I pulled on an oversized t-shirt and we both slipped on flip-flops before heading down the beach and back toward our condo. Actually, it was Leo and Bernice's condo, on loan to us at no charge as part of his generous thank you for the performance of the new Tracy plant.

We were carrying some debt, but the sales results and profits were solidly above expectations. It was going to make it much easier to decide when to order the second press and laminator. The coffee pod business had started slowly, but was gaining momentum. The number of machines being sold to the public had continued to increase, especially around Christmas time. It would appear we had another winner. Leo was generous with both his praise and the bonuses handed out to the staff.

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