"I'm sorry Dad. I would have gotten here faster if I could have. The planes even departed on time. But . . . I was too late."
Chad squeezed Philip's hand and held it for several long minutes as Philip said goodbye to the women, who'd fed him, changed him, helped him with his homework, played games with him, and did so much for him the list was too long to write. "She's beautiful, even now," he whispered and sat up, kissed her brow and then walked over to hug his father. The two men embraced and more tears fell.
In time Philip left his father's arms and hugged his brother. Matt was a couple years older then Janie, but Philip was close to him too, or so he had been until Matt married and got a family of his own. Now, they rarely saw each other, but their phone calls were constant. "How are the kids?" Philip asked, both Matt and Janie.
"Steven is at the hotel. We called Danny and Victoria. They are going to tell the kids sometime later today. Matt, spoke with Carol. She said she'd get in touch with the kids and let them know what was going on," Janie answered.
"Well that's kind of her," Philip sneered. Carol and Matt had divorced right after their youngest graduated school and she'd sucked every penny she could from Matt. Carol was not the Traverse family's favorite person, she was still the mother of Matt's three kids, so she was still kept informed when tragedies struck.
Philip sighed. "What do you need me to do?" he asked.
Janie smiled and took his hand. "Do you think you can hang with Daddy for a while?"
"Sure. I've got nothing going on. I'd be more than willing to help with the arrangements and such," Philip told them both.
Matt looked over to his father, who had returned to the seat next to his wife. "Well, Phil, we're thinking long term here. Dad's turning eighty-seven and you know he's prone to falling and, Mom was already having a hard time helping him up. His eyesight is failing . . . "
Dawning fell over Philip's features. "I think I understand. Let's discuss this back at the hotel."
"Philip. Daddy's not going to be able to stay at the Lake Cottage alone. It's that or we have to have him put in a home," Janie told him.
Philip sighed. "I understand. Let me think about it and I'll let you know later tonight."
"What is there to think about?" Matt demanded.
Janie touched her brother's arm. "Matt, this isn't the time or the place. He's considering it, just let him have some time."
"Whatever, but damn it Philip, if you don't do this. . ." Matt threw his hands up in the air and walked off. He made his way over to his father and squeezed his shoulder. "Pop, the Hospital is gonna need your signature on things."
Chad sighed and kissed his wife's lips one last time. He left the room and soon was swept up in the chaos of having his wife's body flown back to Tennessee. His sons and his daughter helped him through the mountain of paperwork and two days later, he was back on a plane heading toward a future he was unsure of.
After the funeral, Janie and Matt stayed with their father and Philip in the small lake cottage for several days before Matt approached Philip about the move he'd be making. "I think this will be good for you," he told his little brother.
Philip downed a swig of his beer and stared at Matt for some time. "Oh? Why, because I've no life, no kids, no woman waiting for me at home?"
Matt shook his head. "You know you've been spoiled all your life. Ever since you were four and. . ." he stopped talking.
"What? Ever since I was four . . . What? I haven't been spoiled."
"Look. Janie and I can't take care of Dad. We both have careers and Dad needs twenty-four hour care. It's amazing Mom was able to take care of him as well as she did."
Philip sighed. "I know you don't approve of my life, but I had all of that once."
"Sarah was a long time ago. Philip, you can't use that excuse anymore. I mean, ever since Mom and Dad brought you home, you've gotten off very easy in life. Maybe they felt sorry for you being. . ."
"Matthew," Janie shouted at her brother, stopping his words from leaving his throat.
He looked up and growled. "Jesus Christ Janie, I wasn't gonna say anything."
"What?" Philip asked. Suddenly feeling as if there were an elephant in the room and no one wanted to mention it. It'd been a long time since he felt that weight and he wondered why it had returned.
Janie shook her head, as did Matt.
"Nothing, Phil. I just wish you'd grow up. Sarah took you for a lot, and yes, you had all of that, a woman, a career, a life. But it's been fifteen years and you've been living the high life ever since. I think this will help you. Damn, Phil your over forty now and its way past time to be a man," Matt said, before taking a long draw from his beer.
Philip leaned back. He didn't believe for a minute that was what Matt was going to say, but he let it die. Matt had a point; he'd been living the "high" life for too long, but the idea of spending his free time with his dad wasn't exciting either. He knew he was being greedy, but he couldn't help but feel cheated. He made one last ditch effort to regain his freedom. "Matt, I'm gonna stay, but I am curious as to why you aren't willing to take Dad back with you? I mean, you're single and we all know we can afford a live-in nurse."
Matt's eyes grew hot, but he took a calming breath. "Philip, first Dad is not going to agree to a live-in nurse. So there is no way I'm going to make him have one, when we have someone capable of caring for him. He's not well Philip. I don't know how much longer we'll have him. He and Mom have lived here for the past fifty-five years. Are you going to tell him he can't spend his last years on earth in this house? I don't think so. Finally, I've met someone. I'm planning on asking her to spend the rest of her life with me. By this time next year, if God's willing, shit doesn't shine, and pigs don't fly, I'll be married to a hot little number and introducing her to my Father."
"Damn, I'm such an ass," Phil muttered.
"No Phil," Janie whispered and touched his knee. "You just need something to keep you grounded. This will be good for you. You'll see."
Phil rose up and finished off his beer. "I'll make a few phone calls. I guess you both are right. I don't have a life. When Sarah took my business, I pretty much just lived off my trust fund and my gambling. A new chapter in my life starts today."
Matt stood up, followed by Janie. "We're gonna say goodbye to Pop and then take off. You haven't been here in a while, but there have been a few changes here on the lake. Families come and go, but there's one thing that never changes. This place brings people together. It heals them in ways we never knew we needed it. It helped you with Sarah, me with Carol, and even Janie after the loss of baby Sam. You'll do well here Phil."
The siblings embraced. Janie pulled on Matt's arm and watched Phil leave. When he was gone, she shut the door to the living room and turned to stare at her brother. "What were you thinking?" she asked him.
"Huh?" Matt asked.
"You almost told him, didn't you?"
Matt sighed. "Janie, I wanted to. I've wanted to since he turned eighteen, but I haven't. I kept the dirty little secret."
"It's what Mom and Dad wanted."
"Well, Mom's gone and maybe we should let him know now."
"No. He's our brother and he's their son, no one else's."
Matt took a deep breath. "Janie, we've been lucky. He's been a great brother, a healthy brother, but maybe knowing he's adopted will give him a reason to do something with his life."
"Like what, get pissed off and hate us? We're all guilty. You and I were fourteen and sixteen when he came to us. We kept our mouths shut back then and damn it, we're doing it now too."
"You're being selfish Janie."
"I'll keep the secret, until after Pop passes and then I'm telling him everything."
Janie groaned. "Why Matt; why do that to him? He's ours."
Matt pulled her close. "Janie, Mom put that fear in you. Phil loves us. He's not going to leave us."
"You don't know. You don't know how he'll react." She buried her face in Matt's chest. "You can't tell him, Matt. Please, promise me."
"I can't promise that. But I won't tell him while Pop's still with us. I will promise to keep Dad and Mom's secret. . .for now."
Janie wiped away the tears and sniffed. "Then I'll take that. . .for now."
They said their goodbyes to their father and their brother, before getting into Matt's car and driving back toward their lives, leaving father and son alone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
July 4, 2007
Tiara sipped her champagne and smiled at the man across from her. She was enjoying herself, much like she had been since her divorce over a year ago. Her Fourth of July Date was a handsome business associate and though she wasn't attracted to him, she was glad not to be stuck at home with her cat and her goldfish.
The first three months after her parents' death had been hard. The fact she didn't have to deal with Roger however, made it easier. He'd taken his million dollar check and disappeared. She'd felt the weight of the world lift from her shoulders and when she was finally able to morn her parents, she started healing. The stramgers that had been in the Lawyer's office that fateful day, had all become good friends. They helped her learn the ways of the stock market as well as eased her into taking over the workings of several of her father's business ventures.
By the time she was ending her sixth month as a new, wealthy divorcee, Tiara felt as if she were suddenly alive. A part of her that Roger had forced to hide, emerged. She became the woman she was before she met the striking man that she thought loved her. In fact he loved all the wealth that would have come to her after her parents passed, but when her parents' ultimatum had been heard, Roger had been quick to run.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Dominic asked.
Tiara blushed. "I'm sorry, just thinking of the past."
"Oh, that's a bad habit."
She laughed and sipped her drink. "Yes it is. But enough of that. The fireworks are starting."
Dominic placed his arm on his date's back and let it slide down to her hip. Her dress was open in the back; it shimmered in the light and he could smell the scent she'd chosen for the evening. He felt her stiffen and sighed to himself, but kept his hand resting on her figure. They watched the fireworks. The entire time he thought of how to get the older women into his bed. She was the President of the company he worked for, a title she held for only a short time, but one she wore with honor and prestige. He liked her, and wondered if maybe he couldn't convince her that though he was young, he wasn't the playboy that men his age were thought to be.
He leaned down and whispered in her ear, "Tiara, I don't live too far from here, if you'd like to . . ." He let his breath finish his words, as he ran his lips over her neck.
Tiara shivered, the touch was one she'd not allowed another to do in several months. Her dates, she'd kept strictly professional or at least nice, never romantic. Now with champagne flowing, the music playing, the fireworks fading away, she knew she'd let this evening move farther than she'd expected. She turned in the young man's arms and stared up at him. It was there, a want to go back to his place and have sex, but in the back of her mind, he was there, Roger. She could hear him tell her she was worthless, ugly, a horrible bed partner. She saw the scars on her skin, felt the stinging slaps and blows of his hands or fists.
Dominic knew when her mind turned from "yes" to "no"; He'd seen it. He smiled and kissed her forehead. "You have a lot of demons don't you Misses Able."
She heard her name fall from his lips and sighed. "Yes, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. Let me take you home. I'm sorry I brought out bad memories for you."
"It wasn't you. I was married and well . . . I'm just not ready yet."
Dominic nodded his head. "I had heard you changed your name from Collins to Able. Have you taken any time to yourself since your parents' death and the end of your marriage?"
She chuckled and asked, "When would I have had the time?"
He smirked and wove her back to the coat room, to retrieve her light jacket. "Agreed. But you should, you know."
"What? Take some time for me?"
"Yes," he helped her into her coat, "You seem to have come a long way since inheriting everything. I know I'm impressed, sure I'm a low man on the totem pole, but I still know you've made a name for yourself and the speed at which you've rebounded has impressed many. Taking some time for you would be a good thing."
She looped her arm through his and they walked toward the car that had been retrieved by the valet. "You know Tiara . . . I have a place in Tennessee. My parents go there during late Summer and early Winter. They haven't used it in several years though, because both are getting on in age. They are thinking of selling it. Now, I'm their only son and I could buy it, but I really don't enjoy nature."
They got in the car and Dominic continued his conversation. "Why don't you take a vacation and go down there? You may like it and find yourself again. I think there is a special woman inside you that is trying to come out, but she isn't sure how. I'll call down and have the place aired out and get you some groceries. There are several families that live down there that Mom and Dad are close with, so I'm sure you'll be easily taken care of."
Tiara thought about how nice it would be to just relax. She'd been in a whirlwind, learning things and never really got a chance to just be Tiara. After she dealt with her loss, there wasn't time. Dominic had a point. Who was Tiara Able?
A few weeks passed and during that time Tiara had returning thoughts that drew her back to Dominic's idea. She'd not gone out with him again, but she knew the offer was still standing. She picked up her phone and buzzed his office, in ten minutes he was sitting at her desk, describing to her what the house looked like.
"It's a small cottage, three bedrooms, though we turned one into a Rec. Room. There's a pool table and wet bar in there. It has a boat dock and if memory serves me right, the canoe is still behind the house. The neighbors are nice. The lake is privately owned by my parents, the Traverse family, the O'Neils and I believe Myers' sold their lots to some young couple with a new baby."
Tiara toyed with her pen and then took a deep breath. "It's livable?"
"Yes," he laughed, "livable and one call away from being aired out and fully stocked with food."
"Dominic, I'm thinking of buying it."
"Well, I want a long vacation. You mentioned they were willing to sell, or thinking about it. I'd like to buy it and then use it as my place to relax."
He grinned. "I'll give Mom and Dad a call. I'm sure they'll be thrilled."
She smiled back and watched him leave. In less than a month she owned some lake front property in the countryside of Pulaski, Tennessee. Tiara made several phone calls before she headed out to her new place of refuge. One was to Dominic, who assured her that he'd called Chad Traverse and he had assured him that a weeks worth of groceries would be at the house by the time Tiara arrived. She thanked him and began to tie up ends that were needed before she left for her trip. She was taking three months and during that time she'd be within easy reach by phone or email, but she stressed to her business partners as well as her Lawyer that only an emergency would rouse her from her self-induced vacation.
When August third appeared, she was picking up a rental car from Avis and heading out to see her new property for the first time.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
August 10, 2007
Chad Traverse sat on his porch. The old rocker blew in the wind, easing him in his motions of moving it back and forth. He watched the figure across the lake, nothing but a small blur to his aged eyes. Philip had told him that he'd gone and filled the cottage with more then enough food and whoever had bought the place should be fine for quite a while.
"Philip," he called and heard his son come out onto the porch.
"Yeah?" Philip asked his father, walking over and taking a seat in the camp chair he'd purchased earlier in the week.
"Have you met the new owner?" He nodded his head toward the lake cottage.
Philip followed his gaze and watched the figure move. He couldn't make out the details of the person walking along the pier. "No, Pop. I opened up the place, aired it out, set out fresh linens, you know the ones. Mom kept them in the guest room."
"Aye, I know. Go on over and invite them to lunch. Just one I think, from what the young Henderson boy said."
"Yeah, Dominic said only one, a woman, some boss of his or something, looking for some alone time. I don't think that means us interfering in her vacation."
"Go on, you do as I tell ya. She doesn't have to say yes, but we'll not be inhospitable. It's been a week and I would like to know my new neighbor. Even if you don't wish too."
Philip sighed and got up. "You'll be all right?"
"Yes, think I'll go lay down and take a nap. You're a good lad Philip. Thanks for staying here with me."
Philip looked back at his father. He'd been staying with him for just over five months. The first two he admitted to himself were full of him taking pity on himself and then his father had fallen. It was then that he realized though his father was weak, he was anything but light. He grew to admire his mother for the time she took in caring for Chad Traverse. He had helped his father up, helped him strip and even helped take care of some of life's more personal needs for almost a week, before the pain had subsided and Chad was back to walking with his cane.
As weeks went by, he had watched his father have good days and bad. He gradually came to realize how much he'd taken for granted. Each day brought him something new. His father, on a good day, would share with him stories of his youth as well as stories of Phil's childhood escapades. Once Chad pulled out an old checker board and the two of them played checkers for most of the evenings. They'd gone fishing a number of times. Chad's eyes were too weak to tie the flies, so he did that for him. At those times he found himself lost in memories of how much he'd missed doing these things.
He took a deep breath and shook off his memories. "Dad," he said, "thanks for letting me."
He watched his father make his way slowly to his bedroom, and then Philip headed down to the pier and untied the small motorboat that he and his father had been on earlier that morning. He maneuvered the craft toward their new neighbor and as he did his eyes began to focus on the figure slowly removing their clothes. His lips lifting in an admiring smile as he watched his view improve. "Well, I'll be damn." He whistled low, more to himself than anyone or anything as he slowly eased off on the engine and began a slow and quiet approach to the vision before him.
Tiara slipped her shorts off and pushed them to the side. She sat down on the pier and dipped her feet in the water. She kicked them, wondering if she should slide in or jump. She was debating that subject when she heard the approaching boat. Quickly she jumped up and spun around. No one really knows how it happened, whether it was her wet feet or her shock of seeing someone approaching, either way though Tiara was soon splaying her hands in the air and falling backwards into the Lake. She went under after a quick squeal. She thought she heard a "fuck" but she wasn't sure.
Water rushed over her. She came back up and sputtered, spitting a mouthful of lake water out of her throat. She pushed her hair back and tread water for a few seconds, as she took in her surroundings. Finding the pier she grabbed the post and stared in irritation at the man, who seemed to be her age, staring down at her from his lofty position in the boat.