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Maude sat on the couch her son had recently vacated for several minutes after the door had shut behind the two boys. Beatrice waited, ready to let the other woman choose the course of action. Finally Maude looked over at her and asked, Will it be the pool or shopping first?
Beatrice could not help the giggle that escaped her lips. When she did manage to get control of herself she stated, I thought we were going to work on our title.
Maude waved her hand dismissively. We still have a month on our deadline and five more days here. I believe that the creative process will flow far more freely if we indulge in a little rest and relaxation first.
Well you´ve convinced me! Beatrice laughed as she moved toward her room. Just as she reached the threshold, the dark haired woman thought she heard a rather smug Maude state, Of course I did. But Beatrice shook her head and decided not to ask.
Eventually they decided to go shopping first. The Bal Harbour shops were simply far too tempting for them. Both women had shopped both on Rodeo Drive and on Madison Avenue and found these stores to be equally extravagant. For most of the early afternoon they simply window-shopped before stopping for lunch at Carpaccio. zzzz
As they sipped their drinks and waited on their salads, Beatrice considered their trip so far. She was getting a chance to see a side of Maude that she had not seen during all their time collaborating on the novel. This Maude was a bit more relaxed, a little more open. Deciding to take a chance, Beatrice dove right into a question that she had been dying to ask Maude since their conversation back at the airport lounge. So was Dylan Thomas Standish a poet? She added her crooked smile at the end of the question when Maude´s head snapped up to give her an appraising look.
She fidgeted a bit in her seat as the seconds ticked by with Maude not saying a word. The blonde woman´s gaze had at least shifted away from her, not looking at anything in particular but perhaps a memory. Finally Maude whispered wistfully almost to herself, He was to me.
Beatrice exhaled slowly, releasing an oh of wonder since she had not been expecting such a heartfelt admission from Maude. Really? she could not help but press since in all the time that she had known the other woman, she had never spoken of her dead husband.
Maude´s eyes focused back on Beatrice as she sat back in her chair, withdrawing slightly from the proximity of the conversation in order to pull her thoughts together. Again Beatrice felt the intensity of Maude´s calculating look and knew the other woman was deciding how much she wanted to reveal to her. The southern woman actually released a small, embarrassed laugh before responding, Unlike his namesake, Dylan Thomas did not have a way with words, but he did know how to express himself. Maude sighed softly, shaking off the memories.
It was Beatrice´s turn to smile a bit wistfully. I envy you, Maude, she stated honestly.
You envy me? Maude´s shock filled her honey sweet accent. Why on earth would you say that?
Because you loved Dylan Thomas Standish so very much. And while you´ve never spoken of him before now, I´ve written enough romance novels to know that those few words that you´ve just spoken prove that he cherished you as well. As much as I would like to be able to say that about Buck´s father, I can´t. I can´t say that about any man I´ve been with.
What about Gage? I thought the two of you were becoming closer and more serious? Even Maude was surprised to hear real concern touch her voice. She liked Beatrice a great deal. The woman was resilient and yet still so very vivacious. Maude admired that about her and found herself caring about what happened to her.
We´re trying. But that´s the thing that bothers me, Maude. It shouldn´t be a matter of us trying, should it? I mean did you have to try with Dylan? Or was it just there?
Maude smiled a very big sister talking to younger sister´ kind of smile. Oh, Dylan Thomas was very trying a great deal of the time. At Beatrice´s frown of disapproval, the older woman continued, It was just there´ between us. But that does not mean that we did not have to work at our relationship. We all want the romance novel, the happily ever after, but those just aren´t in the cards for us in the real world. We meet the man of our dreams only to learn that he has all these quirks that drive us to distraction, or we discover that that dream is a nightmare in disguise, or sometimes we wake too soon from the dream and no matter how hard we try the dream can not be revived.
I´m sorry, Maude. I didn´t mean to Beatrice started to apologize as she realized that the other woman was speaking about the death of her husband.
Nonsense, sugar, Maude quickly stopped her, not wanting her sympathy, I just want you to understand that no relationship is truly perfect. But it is the relationship that you look at, see the imperfections, and decide that it is still the relationship that you want more than anything else that is the one that will last, the one that is true.
Their discussion was interrupted as the waiter brought their entrees. After he had ensured that they had all that they needed for their meals and left them to their lunch, Beatrice and Maude both silently began eating. After a few minutes the younger woman broke the silence. So I guess it´s not a good sign that when I see Gage´s imperfections I want to fix them instead of live with them?
Maude laughed. Well all men need a little fixing. When Beatrice did not laugh with her, Maude sobered knowing that the younger woman was actually looking to her for advice. The only ones who can answer that are you and Gage.
The brunette sighed petulantly, suddenly looking much younger than what she was. I know, she whined, but I just wish it was easier. The last thing I want to do is ask Gage if he feels like he can live with my imperfections.
Well now, who said you had imperfections? Maude teased.
Just about every man I´ve ever met, Beatrice retorted.
Then you definitely haven´t met the right man. The good ones will at least tell us that we´re perfect in every way, bless their hearts. They are probably lying through their teeth, but it is the thought that counts there.
Beatrice actually smiled at that comment, amazed at all that she was learning about Maude. She had a feeling that this was the real Maude that she was seeing, the woman that she had been before the terrible and tragic loss of her husband. So are you saying that my problem is that I´ve only been dating honest men?
Maude laughed with her, Yes, that´s what I´m saying.
What about Robert? Is he a man that you can live with, imperfections and all? Beatrice decided to press since it had been that topic that had them all coming out to Miami in the first place.
Despite its size, Robert´s home is still not quite large enough to allow me to live with all his imperfections, Maude said jokingly but there was just the slightest tightness in her eyes to let the other woman know there was a measure of truth to them.
So why did you marry him? Beatrice asked, trying to convey in her sympathetic tone that she would understand whatever answer Maude gave her and not judge her.
And while Maude recognized that she was not quite ready to accept it. So instead of answering the question directly, she decided on a slight deflection. Despite what may be said of me, I am not greedy when it comes to love. I don´t expect to ever have again what I had with Dylan. And I am Robert´s third wife. He and I had our own reasons for marriage, but I don´t believe true love was a factor for either of us.
Beatrice nodded, knowing that Maude was giving her as close to an honest answer as she was likely to. But she still wanted the older woman to know that she did understand. Plus I know it must have been hard, suddenly having to raise Ezra on your own.
No, that has not been easy, Maude admitted. I had never had to fend for myself before Dylan´s death, let alone provide for a child as well. The southern woman´s thoughts turned to how her life had been turned completely upside down. Dylan´s insurance had covered only the costs of his funeral. Their meager savings was quickly run through as she tried to keep up with the debt that they had accumulated. By the end of the year she lost the house that she, Dylan, and Ezra had made a home. Homeless and husbandless, Maude had learned to improvise. She saw that the biggest mistake of her life had been to be dependent on others for her, and now Ezra´s, welfare. She had overreacted at first, trying to do everything on her own. But that had cost her because it required that she leave Ezra for occasional long periods of time.
Beatrice interrupted her thoughts, I can´t imagine what that was like. I was fortunate to have so much help with Buck. It had to be so much harder for you.
You were so very young though, so don´t belittle your difficulties. Not to mention not having the support of your family.
The younger woman nodded, but did a bit of deflection herself. She had spoken to Maude before about how her parents had disowned her at the news that she planned to keep her child. But it was not a subject that Beatrice felt easy talking about. What about your family? she asked Maude instead.
The southern woman returned her attention to her lunch for a few minutes. She knew that in all fairness, since Beatrice had revealed so much about her past, she owed her the same courtesy. But it had been so incredibly long ago, or at least seemed that way, that Maude had sat down with someone that she would truly consider a friend, someone that she was not trying to con or plot against or who she did not fear was trying to con her. So it was very difficult for Maude to just open up the past that she had tried so hard to shut out. She also had to be honest with herself, however, and admit that the main reason she had wanted this Spring Break trip was for the opportunity to have a bit of a girls' week away. She did like Beatrice and saw some similarities between the two of them, in the way that they had both had huge setbacks in their lives that they had to overcome. Maude had heard Beatrice's story about how she had managed that and she had to applaud the other woman's resourcefulness. And now she had to admit to some curiosity about how her own tale would be received by Beatrice. She already knew that, despite her best intentions, Ezra seemed to vilify her methods and perhaps she just needed a little reassurance from another woman who had struggled so much.
"My parents would have been more than happy to take Ezra and me under their wings after Dylan's death. But I did not want to be dependent on anyone else again. They...my father especially, had never cared much for Dylan. My father used to say that he had sent me to college to find a richer husband not one who would struggle all his life in middle-class misery. Daddy spoke that way because it was what he had done all his life and he wanted better for his children, especially his little girl. Maybe I simply wasn't thinking particularly straight at the time, but I did not want Ezra growing up hearing how his father had failed to provide for his family. Dylan had always seen to everything that Ezra and I needed and it just seemed wrong to let anyone disparage him after he was gone."
"I think I would have done the same thing if I had been in your place. Ezra's memory of his father would be the only thing he had and you didn't want it to be tainted," Beatrice said quietly. She wished Maude would look up at her, to see her reassuring look, instead of continuing her narrative as she delicately pushed the food around on her plate.
"But while I wasn't ready to turn to my parents, I did turn to my brother, Frederick."
"I didn't know you had a brother!" Beatrice could not help but exclaim.
Maude laughed. "Oh yes, an older brother, and maybe not someone that I would be too quick to claim these days, but a brother nonetheless."
"Why wouldn't you claim him?" Beatrice asked though she knew from experience that she was jumping ahead of the narrative. Maude had a very deliberate way of telling a story, of revealing what she wanted when she wanted. It had frustrated Beatrice no end during their collaboration.
As always Maude smiled and said, "I will get to that in time. First you have to know something about Frederick. He was always a rebellious child. He would cut school any old time he pleased to do whatever he wanted. But he was one of those people who could get away with just about anything. He could talk himself out of any situation, if he happened to get caught which was a very rare thing. Daddy sent him off to college when Frederick graduated high school by the skin of his teeth. And he actually did pretty well there, but I think that was only because he knew that Daddy would only continue to pay for his tuition if he had passing grades. And Frederick loved it at the university. There was simply so much for him to learn and do that was not on the curriculum."
Beatrice smiled as she could see that while Maude's tone sounded a bit condemning toward her sibling's actions, the older woman could not hide her pride in her older brother.
"Well after he milked college for all that it was worth, or rather all that Daddy was willing to pay, Freddie just could never seem to find a job that suited him. And yet he lived quite comfortably. He would borrow money from time to time from one relative or another but he always managed to pay it back. I suppose we should have questioned him a bit more, but like I said he could get away with just about anything or talk you around in circles until you had completely forgotten what you had asked him about in the first place. And he was family. So we simply didn't ask. He wasn't skulking about in the shadows or hiding out from the law or anything that we knew off."
"But when Dylan died, Frederick offered Ezra and me a place to stay until I could get us back on our own feet. But I did not want to be dependent on him, so I tried to find work. I learned that my English degree was simply not conducive to finding a job outside of something administrative or educational. And I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life. So I decided that the only thing I could do was go back to college. Frederick offered to support Ezra and me while I did, but my determination to make it through on my own would not let me. So I found an administrative job and worked and went to school at the same time. There were stretches of time where it felt that I didn't see Ezra for weeks. And I know if I felt that way, that it must have seemed an eternity for him. But he seemed to enjoy his time with his uncle. He had never really gotten to know Frederick before. He and Dylan just did not see eye to eye on many things, so Frederick rarely came to visit. But he and Ezra got along famously. Sometimes I think too much. "
Though Beatrice had an inkling about what Maude was talking about, she still had to ask, "What do you mean? And why wouldn't you claim Frederick as your brother?" The dark-haired woman queried as she laid aside her knife and fork. During the course of Maude's tale, both women had managed to finish their meals.
"The answer to both questions is the same. I'm afraid that my brother is currently incarcerated in a Federal Correctional Institution in Jessup, Georgia."
"What did he do? And just what do you think Ezra learned from him?"
"I believe he was convicted of fraud," Maude answered, though Beatrice was fairly certain that the blonde knew exactly what her brother had been convicted of, but just did not want to say. "As to what all Ezra learned from him, I am not sure. All I know is that suddenly my son can play poker with men twice his age, can slip out of handcuffs while in the back of a police cruiser, and can glibly talk his way out of most situations." Again Beatrice caught the hint of pride in Maude's voice despite the distaste she was attempting to portray.
Yes, Ezra does seem to possess some rather unique abilities, Beatrice responded trying not to sound disapproving. After all, with some of Buck´s antics, she was in no position to be critical of anyone´s child.
Maude nodded and then added as if reading Beatrice´s mind, He is a handful. But then I suppose the same could be said of Buck.
Sighing, Beatrice had to agree, Yes, which is why I´m beginning to think that maybe we shouldn´t let the two of them wander around on their own.
I´m sure they´ll be fine, Maude retorted as she motioned to the waiter to bring the check. Right now I´m feeling the desire to spend a great deal of Robert´s money.
Across from her, Beatrice laughed and wished that she could spend some one else´s money. But then she balanced it out with her freedom and decided that she did have the better end of the bargain. That thought made her wonder though, that if Maude had been so determined to be independent after Dylan´s death what had then driven her to marry Robert. Shaking her head, Beatrice realized that Maude was so very much like her son; the moment they answered one question they revealed ten more that needed to be asked.
Chris shifted his gaze from the early morning news on the television to his father who was drinking coffee and watching the news more intently than Chris had been. Since Vin was out on his morning run, the younger Larabee decided that it was the opportunity he needed to show his appreciation for Clint´s taking Vin to take his driver´s test later that day. Thanks, Dad, for doing this for Vin.
Clint nodded his acceptance of Chris´ gratitude and took a long drink of coffee. The cop smiled a bit wryly into his mug as he thought about how he was at least getting liquid courage in the form of caffeine and not alcohol. Finally once he swallowed down the hot beverage in a hard gulp he faced his son and quietly said, I´m just sorry that I never did it for you.
And just like that a topic that father and son had avoided for so many years was laid out in front of them. Both Larabees tried not to look at the other but their eyes were drawn to the other´s trying to gauge exactly how the other felt and thought at this moment. Chris broke the silence first, searching for any way to respond to the guilt and even shame he heard in his father´s voice. I understood why you couldn´t.
Clint put down his coffee mug and gave his son his undivided attention. Do you? he asked, purposefully phrasing his question in the present tense. Clint knew that there were still so many unresolved issues between him and Chris. He was not sure if either of them were truly ready to face them now, but he also knew that time was running short on their resolving them before his son left to start his life on his own.
Chris was truly surprised by his father´s question. He had thought that Clint would merely accept his rather vague response and leave it at that. He needed a minute to think about how he actually did feel and what he did understand so Chris picked up his breakfast plate and walked over to the kitchen sink, scraping the remains of his breakfast into the garbage disposal and leaving the plate to be washed later. Now with some distance between himself and his father, he leaned back against the sink and shrugged. I think I do.
It didn´t have anything to do with you and everything to do with me, Clint stated but the words sounded futile even to his own ears. I just couldn´t, he added wincing as he wished he knew the words that he needed to speak. Sarah would have known them and would have provided them to Clint. When he and Chris would have serious arguments, Sarah would point out that Chris was no longer a boy and was asserting his independence. The two parents would lie in bed and she would help Clint find a way to give in to Chris but still retain his authority and respect. And even before that, when Chris was a little boy who idolized his father who was human and prone to impatient outbursts that could wound a sensitive young soul, Sarah would remind Clint that Chris was not trying to test him, but was trying to be like him. She had balanced the two strong willed men in her lives with an iron will hidden beneath the gentlest spirit.
I couldn´t either, Chris admitted. I don´t think I would have if Beatrice hadn´t pushed so hard.
Clint nodded, I know. But that wasn´t right. It should have been me, pushing you to get your license. Chris came and sat down at the table across from his father. The two men regarded each other for several long moments, neither knowing what to say.
Clint saw a young man emerging from a trial of fire. He was scarred and harder for it but the underlying strength of his spirit remained unbowed. Clint looked into the face of his son and saw his equal for the first time. Chris would be his own man, a good and loyal man, but his own, independent of what his father wanted. And though it was still very hard for Clint to accept he could not deny the fierce pride that burned within him as he looked at his son.
Chris looked at his father and saw a man who had never broken despite all that life had thrown at him. Clint had always been strict and tough, sometimes unreasonably so to a teenage Chris. But now as he truly stood at the cusp of his own manhood, Chris was beginning to see that his father had only done what he believed to be best for his son. And right now Clint seemed to need Chris forgive him for not being stronger. It humanized his father in a way that Chris would never have believed. And somehow that made Chris feel closer to him than he had in a truly long time.
Both father and son could recognize that each of them had reached an epiphany regarding the other but neither knew how to express it. Both wanted to assuage the guilt that the other carried, but as always neither knew how to broach the subject properly. The silence grew between them, now alive with awkwardness. And it was into this that Vin returned from his morning jog.
The Texan stopped cold as two pairs of green eyes turned to look at him. Even someone not as astute as Vin could have seen that he was interrupting something. But what Vin also recognized was that both of the Larabees were grateful for his distraction. So he continued into the kitchen and pretended not to have noticed the discomfort that had first been in the room.
Have a good run? Clint asked as he stood up from the table and finished off the last of his coffee.
Not too bad, Vin answered. Nice to have a bit of a change of scenery.
Want something to eat?
Gonna take a shower first, the Texan responded. But I can cook it. He did not want Clint to feel obliged to wait for him.
Just tell me what you want and I can have it waiting for you when you get out, Clint offered.
Dad makes a mean omelet, Chris added.
Vin grinned and nodded. Alright, sounds good to me. He started to turn back out of the room then stopped and asked, You got any Tabasco sauce or some Picante sauce?
Clint rolled his eyes and made a shooing motion at Vin, You Texans have to ruin the taste of everything with your hot sauce.
Don´t ruin it, Vin protested. Spices it up. Ain´t my fault you Yankees can´t handle the heat. His blue eyes were lit up with his mischievous teasing.
I´ll give you some heat! Clint mockingly threatened. Vin laughed as he walked out of the kitchen and headed for the shower.
As he turned back to the stove, the cop shook his head. You know, Chris, you´ve got some of the strangest friends I´ve ever met.
You know, Dad, I´m inclined to agree with you, Chris admitted. But I also think they´re the best friends anyone could ever ask for.
Well I sure hope the others are behaving themselves. The cop smirked. Well maybe not Buck and Ezra. Beatrice deserves to have her hands full with those two.
Chris laughed. She took Buck to Florida in the middle of Spring Break. I reckon she´s guaranteed to have her hands full.
Clint joined his son in laughter. Yep, I can´t wait to hear the stories.
Hidden just outside the kitchen doorway, Vin felt a little remorse for eavesdropping but he had wanted to be sure that everything was alright between father and son. He knew that both of them still had a lot of unresolved guilt that hung between them, sometimes making their relationship difficult. He wished that he could find a way to help them settle that between them, but also worried that his interfering would only worsen things. He just had to have faith that they would eventually work it all out before Chris left for the military. Their current teasing and laughter was reassuring so he slipped away to take his shower.
So you ready for this, Junior? Clint asked a touch teasingly as he and Vin drove to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He had heard Chris and the older boys call Vin Junior before and somehow it fit the sophomore.
Like I told Chris, I´ve been driving for some time now, Vin responded a bit defensively.
Clint grinned, again glad that Chris had decided to stay at home. He did not doubt that Vin was quietly confident about his ability to pass the test, Clint could remember feeling the same way back when he had to take his first driving test. Still a test was a test and could bring out apprehension in anyone, especially if they had to deal with the teasing of their friends. I know it, the cop stated. And I know you´ll do just fine.
I was more worried about the written test, the Texan actually admitted.
Don´t care much for them myself. Questions can be too tricky. I mean if all of the above´ is the right answer, then how come it´s wrong to just pick one of em?
Vin laughed, Yeah, that´s what I´m saying. You oughta at least get partial credit or something.
Now when you´re driving there´s none of that trickiness, you either do it or you don´t, Clint added.
The sophomore nodded as he gazed out the passenger window. Clint had offered to let him drive to the BMV, but Vin had not wanted to look like he needed the last minute practice and had refused. He would just be glad to get this behind him. There was just something about having a driver´s license even if he would not have a car to drive. As a thought came to him, Vin looked over at the cop and grinned.
Clint sensed the teenager´s gaze and glanced quickly over to him before returning his eyes to the road. What?
Vin shrugged. I was just thinking that it´s been mighty nice of you to do all this for me. You know, taking me out to practice, signing that financial responsibility deal, and now letting me use your car for the test. It means a lot.
The cop nodded. I know how important it is to get your driver´s license so I didn´t see any reason to make you wait until you get home to Texas this summer. Who knows maybe Buck will even let you take a spin behind the wheel of his Mustang, he laughed.
A roll of blue eyes was his response. He´d take all the fun out of it. Probably wouldn´t even let me take it up over 30mph. But yeah it is important to get your driver´s license. So does that mean that you´re gonna do the same thing for Ezra when he turns sixteen? Vin kept his keen eyes on Clint´s face, waiting for his words to sink in. He did not have to wait long.
Clint blinked at first then shook his head vehemently. His mother and stepfather can put him in a driving school. I ain´t taking him out driving!
Yeah I reckon Ezra wouldn´t want to go out driving with you neither, Vin chuckled.
That boy probably doesn´t have a clue about how to drive, what with the way he´s always being chauffeured around in that limo, Clint shuddered at the thought of taking a completely clueless, yet know-it-all, teenager out driving.
So you mean he wasn´t telling the truth when he said he stole a car once?
Clint looked over at Vin again, but could not be certain if the Texan was teasing or not. He thought the teenager might be fishing for some information, but the cop did not have it and would not have given it out if he did. Instead he answered what he thought was a bluff on Vin´s part with a bluff of his own. Do you know how thick Ezra´s file is? I haven´t had the time or inclination to look at all of it. And you know, I wouldn´t put it past the little delinquent to have done it. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Vin digest that information and felt a little smug as he could see that the sophomore had not been expecting an answer like that. It was hard and getting harder every day to stay a step ahead of these teenagers so Clint felt he could be a bit smug in his victories.
They drove the rest of the way in silence, but shortly before they arrived, Clint offered up one last piece of advice, Don´t let the examiner intimidate you.
I don´t intimidate easy, the Texan reminded him. Clint looked over and met the piercing blue eyes and had to agree. There were times when the cop actually forgot what all Vin, Chris and their other five friends had all been through. And none of them were intimidated easily. If anything they knew how to intimidate men much older than them.
Alright then, you get out here and make sure everything is set up for your appointment. I´ll pull the car around and let the examiner start checking out the car, Clint said as he pulled up in front of the BMV.
As he watched Vin walk into the building Clint hoped that the young man did as well as they were all expecting. The cop knew that even though Vin was indeed a good driver, strange things had been known to happen during road tests. Clint cursed silently as he realized that he was now going to have to sit and wait, and there was nothing more that he hated than just sitting around and waiting.
But wait he did for the eternity that consisted of Vin´s road test. When he finally saw his car pull back up to the BMV he wished that the Texan had a much more expressive face as he searched for any clue to how the teen did. He did not waste any time trying to learn anything from the examiner´s expression. The only way those guys would show anything is if the examinee had endangered their lives. Clint shuddered at the thought of dealing with teenagers desperate to get their driver´s license on a daily basis. Cold hearted detachment was probably the only way those guys made it through the day.
Vin caught Clint´s eyes and grinned, tossing the cop a thumb´s up. Relief flooded Officer Larabee as he returned the gesture. The seven boys now had five drivers in their mix and two cars, three if they counted Chris´ ability to use his car whenever necessary. And as Vin had reminded him, there would be a sixth coming along shortly. That reminded Clint that he had always intended to look a little more into Ezra´s record, not only to see what all the kid had been up to, but to see what he could learn about his father´s murder. But that was for another time. Right now he would take Vin and Chris out to dinner at the restaurant of their choice to celebrate Vin´s newly acquired status as a licensed driver in the state of Indiana.
Jessica settled back into the driver´s seat as she reached the speed limit on the I-95 in the Mercury Cougar rental car paid for by Jonathan Dunne. In fact this whole trip was funded by him. No doubt to ease his guilty conscience for taking his second family on a Caribbean cruise and not including J.D. she had decided. Jessica took a deep breath and let any feelings of animosity and continual bitterness about J.D.´s father evaporate. She had already cajoled and argued enough with the man long distance setting up this vacation.
She had taken the position, coupled with further study, in England hoping that Jonathan would step up to the plate and interact more with J.D. To be a real father or at least become closer. Whilst he had some communication with J.D., it was no where near what she wanted or expected for her nephew. Although J.D. often assured her he and his father had regular contact through email and phone, he still never made the enough effort to spend time with him. When she had learned he was going away for Spring Break and not intending to include his eldest son, she had decided to spend the week with J.D. Jonathan had offered to pay for it all and Jessica accepted. Without his financial help, she could not have afforded it and she wanted J.D. to be able to spend some time with family.
She glanced sideways at him and smiled affectionately as he intently went through the small CD collection she had brought with her, making a choice of which music to play. Finally making a selection, he put the disc into the player and grinned at her. She returned her eyes to the road and was thankful she found him so happy and settled at Regents. Despite the dean´s concerns, she found his friends to be a great bunch of guys. All very different and definitely an odd group of diverse personalities but the genuine friendship and loyalty they all had for each other was evident. She had developed a real sense for that from her conversations with J.D. even before she had heard about their various exploits together or spent an afternoon with Beatrice Wilmington and heard her evident pride and affection she had for all of them.
I know where we´re going! J.D. announced beside her.
Oh you do, do you? she smiled.
Yep, he replied. We´re heading for Wilmington right?
Maybe, she hedged, enjoying the game of keeping their destination secret for as long as possible.
Why would anyone name a city Wilmington, he sniggered aloud.
Probably after someone important? she suggested.
Believe me I´ve heard all theories, J.D. replied with a shake of his head.
From Buck, she laughed.
Yeah he often likes to remind me that his name is so impressive they named a city after it, he laughed.
She grinned well believing the boasts from the over-confident teenager.
I wonder how he and Ez are getting on? J.D. grinned mischievously.
Does Ezra always talk like that? she enquired.
You mean those long sentences with the big words? J.D. laughed.
Yes, Jessica replied with an amused grin. I have to admit I think he used one or two words I only pretended I understood.
Yeah, that´s Ezra, J.D. replied fondly. Lots of talk and attitude but he´s ok underneath. That is if he likes you enough to cut you a break now and then.
Jessica reached out and shoved her nephew playfully. Oh and when did you get all insightful?
I see things, he laughed back at her. I´m not a kid anymore you know, he added more seriously.
Ah huh, she scoffed.
That´s how I know we´re heading up north to see Aaron, he replied smugly.
She gasped and shot him a sideways look of surprise.
We are, aren´t we? he boasted.
I just thought you´d like to head up to the Poconos like we used to, she defended too quickly.
And that choice had nothing to do with the fact that Aaron is working up there now? the teen pushed.
I thought we could catch up with him, yes, she replied cautiously.
You still love him, huh? J.D. asked candidly.
Now don´t you go getting your hopes up about any getting back together ok? It´s just a vacation! she insisted.
I bet he still loves you too, J.D. replied, ignoring her protests.
J.D, she warned.
What? he replied giving her a look of total innocence. She sighed.
I was going to tell you what special activity I had planned too, she teased.
J.D. frowned briefly then his face erupted with awe as he realized.
No way! he exclaimed.
Yes way! she laughed.
Jessica felt nervous butterflies as they arrived in the town of Stroudsburg and parked out the front of the North East Search and Rescue unit. She assured herself this was all normal considering she was seeing her ex-boyfriend after a six month separation. The split was at her instigation after she felt overwhelmed the previous year with so many decisions to make after her sister´s death and the grief she felt at her passing. However, she couldn´t help wondering if J.D. saw through her reasoning for being here that Aaron would too. The simple fact was she didn´t know what she wanted but she hoped this week would put things in perspective for her.
Her heart beat a little faster when Aaron had seen their arrival and came outside to greet them. After an enthusiastic greeting with J.D, he had turned and pulled her into a long hug. With J.D looking on happily she gave into the weakness and clung to him briefly. As she drew away she smiled up at the tall, good-looking, blond.
I´m so happy you´re here, he told her warmly. Both of you, he added, looking over at J.D. It will just be like old times hey, J.D.?
The teen nodded and the three made a little small talk until Aaron suggested they head down the street to lunch.
Once lunch had been ordered and consumed with lots of catching up and laughter, Aaron eyed J.D. admiringly.
I saw and read about you on the news, he told him. What you did was amazing, J.D.
The teen went coy but couldn´t help being pleased. I had a lot of help from friends, he replied bashfully.
Hey I read everything I could lay my hands on last year. You got a message out to the Feds, then you snuck back to protect your friends. That took real guts, he replied.
Aaron, you´re embarrassing him, Jessica chided softly.
What? the tall blond replied. I was proud of him. I went around telling everyone that I knew you, he added looking back fondly at J.D.
A soft blush tinged J.D.´s cheeks and he dropped his gaze.
J.D., can you get me a coffee? Jessica asked trying to alleviate her nephew´s coyness. He nodded and got up eagerly.
He seems really happy and settled, Aaron commented once he was out of earshot.
I´m pretty sure he is... considering she replied, leaving any further thoughts alone.
And you? he asked leveling a steady gaze at her.
I´m fine, she rushed out. Good!
What´s it like in England?
Different, she admitted.
So when are you coming back?
I don´t know, she replied softly and she broke into a warm smile as J.D. returned with her coffee.
Buck took a huge breath and breathed out again in satisfaction. He looked around at the long beach and its throng of busy vacationers, including dozens and dozens of bikini clad girls. The sky was cloudless, the sun was hot and the water very inviting.
This is great, he exclaimed aloud as he impulsively slapped the back of the younger boy beside him.
Ezra scowled and moved himself out of the junior´s reach. Are you going to be unbearably happy the entire week? the southerner drawled.
Trust me Ezra, I am going to show you a good time this week and you´re going to thank me, Buck boasted.
Ezra rolled his eyes before he read one of the signs. I believe our activity is this way, he announced as he took the path to the right.
Grinning Buck followed. It had taken considerable time earlier that morning for them to agree on an activity or outing to partake in. That he and Ezra had diverse interests or could not agree on what constituted a good time, was an understatement. Buck had almost given up on Ezra agreeing to anything when to his surprise Ezra agreed to jetskiing. Buck almost fell over himself in his eagerness to book the activity and get Ezra out here before he changed his mind.
Now as they donned flotation vests and selected a jetski, Buck couldn´t resist issuing a challenge. A race to the nearest bouy and back. After several hours, Buck learned a number of things. One, Ezra was very competitive, two he definitely knew how to ride a jetski and three, Ezra did know how to be exuberant and cheerful.
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