The young man’s baby blue eyes seemed brighter than usual, affectionately affixed on the pretty young woman with the warm blonde curls as she hurried after the toddler, a little towheaded boy with the same bright blue eyes as his father, who squealed and giggled for joy when she scooped him up and blew raspberries on his chubby little cheek, before taking him to the bathroom for his bath.
After the bathroom door shut he heard some louder noises, but then laughter of both woman and child, shaking his head he smiled to himself.
His gaze wandered to the trees outside the window, softly swaying in the light breeze, he watched the sunshine paint moving patterns all over the large kitchen of the Beach House, mesmerizing him, making him reminisce. Memories of his youth, some of it happy, some sad, but all of it featuring the people most important in his life, then and now.
Blake had been melancholic of late, ever since his younger half-brother Elias’ high school graduation a few days ago. It had reminded him of his own high school graduation, many years ago. A turning point in his life, even though he didn’t know it then.
The occasion had been happy, a graduation, even with special honors, followed by the boys’ father Ethan’s and his twin sister’s Esmée’s fiftieth birthday. Blake and everyone was generally content. Still, the very obvious progression of time reminded Blake how much had changed.
He was 28 years old now, in that one decade since high school graduation Blake he had gone from convinced single to family man, from rambunctious, unruly teen over outlaw tween with rock star allure to solid husband, father and entrepreneur. Someone his younger half-brothers looked up to rather than avoided.
Both, Blake and Hailey worked from home now.
She ghost-wrote children’s books and took on occasional other administrative assignments, Blake wrote and produced music on commission. None of this would ever make them rich, but along with the inheritance from his grandparents it allowed them a worryfree life, most importantly it granted them the luxury to be with each other and their young son almost 24/7.
Elias, Blake’s younger half-brother with whom he shared the same father, was now 18 years old, next stop after graduating high school was going to be San Myshuno University after the summer break.
Eventually he would follow into their father Ethan’s footsteps and work at the family business EC Architects. For the past few years he had helped out many times, liked it and had good talent for it. Before going off to college Elias – like most recent graduates – wanted to spend time with his friends, particularily his new girlfriend of a few months, Natasha. Elias was very tall, smart, funny and handsome, dating had never been too complicated for him, but none of the girls before Natasha had really captivated his interest like she had. By now the rest of the family had met her and even her father, a single dad, which was probably why Ethan immediately liked him.
Blake’s other half-brother Parker, whom he shared the late mother with, was already done with college and worked for one of the largest financial instututions in San Myshuno.
Blake, Eli and Parker had become close. Eli and Parker were friends, since there was no blood relation between those two. Eli was 10, Parker 5 years younger than Blake. While Eli and Blake both tended to look at the lighter side of life, Parker always had a sense of deep melancholy about him. He was not bad looking by most standards, but Blake could not recall ever hearing about, let alone meeting any girlfriend of Parker’s. No matter what Blake told him, Parker was firmly convinced that he inherited their mother’s mental issues and that it was merely a matter of years for those to break out. For the very same reason, Parker never groomed friendships aside from Blake and Elias. A self-inflicted sad and lonely place, which he combated by working nearly every free moment unless Blake managed to pry him away. Blake had recruited Eli and even their cousin Ally to introduce Parker to any and all single ladies they knew. Parker was charming, and usually the girls were more than interested, but Parker never once followed through with any dates. Too prominent was his fear of an unwanted pregnancy and the perceived genetic mental disorder to be handed down by him.
At the same time, just a few hundred feet across the beach in the house by the cliffs of Brindleton Bay the older generation sat together in the large estate by the cliffs. The Gray’s house.
This afternoon old friends were meeting here for coffee, drinks and conversation.
Besides the home owners Esmée and her husband Nicholas, Esmée’s twin brother Ethan was present, Ethan’s current wife Grace, his ex-wife Blythe and her sister Blair. All were in their mid 40s to early 50s now and had been good friends since their early 20s. The former couple Ethan and Blythe had remained friends despite their divorce some years ago.
Currently Grace was telling Esmée, Nick and Blair a very animated story, causing the three of them to laugh heartily now and then, while Ethan had gone off to help Blythe in the kitchen, getting refills for the beverages and snacks. Most of these meets had been here and everybody was as familiar with Nick & Ezzy’s home as if it were their own.
“I like your new hairdo. Suits you well. Color too.” Ethan told Blythe as they waited for the coffee to finish running through the espresso machine.
“Thank you Ethan. How sweet of you to say. So typical of you to notice. My appointment was 5 days ago and Colin still hasn’t said anything, meaning either he hasn’t realized it or doesn’t like it. How are things with Blake?” Blythe replied smiling.
“He’s fine. Really doing well. So is Eli, but I am sure you heard all about his plans for the summer.” Ethan shook his head, smiling the crooked Cameron signature smile.
“Oh yeah. But you haven’t heard the latest: I’ll let our lovely son give you the full horse and pony show, the Cliff Notes version is that he wants to spend an all-inclusive week of vacation in Sulani, then another hiking through some jungle in Selvadorada, his share of both natually paid for by us as a graduation gift, supposedly the parents of the other kids already agreed and handed over their credit cards to their kids. Just a bunch of 18 year old recent graduates spelunking through a rainforest and let loose at some beach, unsupervised. I must say, I love our son, I trust him and love making him happy, but the mere thought of all that makes me cringe.” Blythe shrugged.
“No wonder he hasn’t mentioned that to me yet. He and those ideas. He got a brandnew car from me for his graduation, which is what he asked for. You bought him all the stuff for his dorm and new clothing. Now he wants us to sponsor some teen drink and crazy fest far from rhyme or reason? He goes from brilliant to complete idiot with no grey zone.”
“I know, but he is a good kid. And he was talking about inviting Parker along. God knows that kid could use some fun and maybe he would keep a lid on it all for us since he is a little more mature. Eli had him over a few times through the years when he was staying with me, I like the boy, but a couple of times his father came to pick him up. I just don’t know about that Carson Sullivan guy. Gives me the creeps. Even basic small talk felt about as pleasant as a police interrogation with him.” Blythe rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, Carson is not exactly my cup of tea either. Ice-cold business man, even during a time when his wife and child needed him the most, he went travelling for business leaving them to figure it all out on their own. After Blake found Amy dead in their bathtub, he refused to come back from his trip right away, saying it won’t bring her back to life anyway. Amy’s father took care of Parker. Douchebag. But that teen trip, I don’t know. I have unsettling images of Eli and Natasha popping into my head doing disturbing adult-style things, not sure that I like any of it.”
“I don’t blame you, Sulani is perfect for young lovers. Remember our wedding and honeymoon? We were only a few years older than our son and his girlfriend then, and we had the best time there. So romantic and filled with passion, that came natural with all the exotic surroundings, those waterfalls, volcanoes and what not. Still makes me swoon.” there was now a farway look in Blythe’s eyes, but she caught herself and just smiled.
“I do remember, which is why it worries me. I am glad Blake is finally in calm waters. Not sure I am already prepared to deal with Eli and relationship problems or – knowing my luck – a suprise pregnancy at 18. I think I’d have a heart attack or something.”
“I wouldn’t mind being a young grandma.” Blythe winked at him, smiling.
“Don’t call forth ghosts we cannot lose again. I am sure Blake would let you babysit Chase. That baby is practically your grandson too, even if not by blood. Let’s give Eli some more time to learn how to be a man before he becomes a father. I can personally vouch for that being not as easy as it may sound. Especially if you have to do it alone.”
“He wouldn’t be alone, Eli always had you and me and always will. So hard to believe our little boy is 18. Ah, to be 18 again. Can you remember being that age? I can, it was about the time Blair and I ran away from the palace to be ‘regular’ girls leading ‘regular’ lives. Man, we thought we knew it all … now looking back, all the unripe, half-baked and downright ignorant stuff we did. So many bad choices.” Blythe’s smile change to a melancholic one.
“And our kids managed to do their own dumb stuff, pretty sure they will continue to get a few more in on us too. Especially my boy Blake. I still admire the patience you had for him and his dismal behavior.”
“Blake had been dealt such a rough time from when he was little, still such a sweet boy and handsome little heartthrob, nobody with half a heart could have been mad at him for long. He always had such a good heart tucked away beneath his unruliness. Look at us all now, we all get along fabulously, Blake frequently stops by for visits with Eli and even alone or with Chase. A few years ago he apologized to me. Such a sweet boy. And little Chase, man Ethan, that makes me wish Elias would get married young. I’d love a sweet grandbaby. A little one I can spoil, then send home with my son when they get cranky.” Blythe chuckled at the idea.
“Jeeze, Blythe, mercy on me. Why don’t you get to work yourself and have another baby instead? You could pull it off, you’re still young enough. Or is that in the works and the reason Colin didn’t make it tonight? Did you wear him out, left him cooling his business at home, recovering from the last round of the production process? A man his age and a firecracker in her prime like you … ” Ethan chuckled, nudging Blythe. He liked teasing her sometimes about marrying a man more than 20 years her senior. Usually she would counter in kind, but today she didn’t even smile.
“Colin is in the hospital, Ethan. The ICU, to be exact. I came here straight from there and will go back after. Just needed to see some friendly faces for a moment. A change of scenery. I have been spending almost every moment of the past week in the hospital. That’s why Blair’s husband isn’t here. Jonathan is sitting with Colin while I am here, he promised to call me at the slightest change.”
“Oh my goodness, Blythe! Why didn’t you say something? Are you all right? Do you need my help with anything?” Ethan instantly felt bad, guilty and worried.
“No, it’s fine. He’s been in and out of the hospital a bunch of times over the past few months. Problems with his heart and several other things. He’s not even 70 yet, but on more medications and restrictions than your average 80 year old. Has been for about a year now. But lately … I don’t know, it just went downhill fast. Not exactly what I had in mind when I said yes. I know at the wedding you agree to ‘for better or worse’ but I didn’t think that meant I was going to have less than half a year of something resembling a marriage, followed by many years of what is practically invalid care and I am barely even 45 now. I don’t recall the last time he and I were like lovers instead of nurse and patient. He barely manages to return a simple kiss. Listen to me, what awful things to say. Maybe just the tiredness speaking. Don’t mind me.” Blythe looked sad and Ethan now noticed the dark circles and resignation reflected in her face.
“Is there anything I can help with? I am pretty tied up at work, but maybe I can relieve you at the hospital at night after work or something. Pretty sure Ezzy would help too.”
“You really are the sweetest man, Ethan. But thanks, I need to face this. He is my husband, a good man, I owe him this. And no need to ruin the evening for the others. So far only Blair and you know. Well, and Jonathan, obviously.”
“You need to take care of yourself too, Blythe. If not for anything else, then for Eli’s sake. No use having you end up at the hospital too, and that boy would worry himself sick. So would I. Please call if you need anything. Anytime, I mean it.”
She looked at him, smiled then gently ran the back of her hand against Ethan’s cheek. He smiled at her, she leaned up against him like someone tired looking for affirmation, then the tears came, in a reflex Ethan folded his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. Blythe let out a sigh of relief as she relaxed into the safety of a familiar embrace.
“Sorry to interrupt this cozy reunion, but we are parched …” they heard a female voice with a testy pitch.
Ethan and Blythe split apart to see Grace by the kitchen door, unamused.
“Right, the drinks. I’ll get them. So sorry, Grace. This was my fault. I just talk too much.” Blythe immediately offered, visibly embarrassed.
“No, I will. You go sit. Relax and rest, you need it.” Ethan told her.
“You can both go sit and visit with our hosts, since you already spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen away from all of us. I told the others I’d handle this, so we don’t all sit here till tomorrow waiting for a refill of coffee and snacks.”
Blythe left the room, Grace began to work on the task with near professionalism.
“Grace, it’s not what it looked like. Blythe has got it rough right now …” Ethan tried to explain, when he gently attempted to place his hand on her shoulder she quickly turned away, facing him, her eyes glowing for anger when she addressed him, then turned her back to him starting to make more coffee.
“Ethan, anything that starts with the words ‘it’s not what it looked like’ usually was exactly what it looked like, or worse. But don’t explain. We are here to have a fun night with friends.”
“Grace … her husband is in the hospital.” Ethan kept trying to explain.
“And that makes it all right for her to snuggle up to mine?!” Grace glared at him.
“She didn’t snuggle up to me. I just comforted her. A hug among friends. Grace you know we all have known each other for decades now. I am not a cold fish. You would have done the same.”
“You can comfort someone without pressing up against them like velcro-ed. You looked like a cover of one of those sappy romance novels. And Blythe is a bit more than just some friend from the olden days, being your ex wife, wouldn’t you agree?! Do me a favor quit trying to talk yourself out of some hole and and bring the cookies into the living room.” Grace turned out of his attempted embrace and left with a tray of coffee cups. No doubt in Ethan’s mind, she was upset.
-to be continued-