The weather was a torrential downpour, grey and somber, matching the mood of the four men in the office of the law firm. It was after hours, everyone else who worked there had already gone home.
Sitting in Nick’s office at the Gray’s Law Firm, Blake looked at Nick who was sitting across the desk from him, then at his father, who stood next to Nick’s desk, his face serious, the expression matching Blake’s grandpa’s face in the visitor chair next to him.
“Do you understand what that I just told you, Blake? The repercussions of either option?” Nick asked him.
“Not really sure.” Blake admitted.
“Means they wanna publicly gut you in court with all their lawyers like a fish in the market.” KC translated in his typical casual way.
“Yes, that basically describes one of the two options and obviously the one I, as your legal counsel, would strongly advice against. The other option we have is to pay some hefty fines, sign some muzzling documents but then you’d be done with it all for good. You could never be that ‘Drake’ persona ever again, you would never be able to work for PBP Studios or any of their affiliates again, you could not publicly talk about any of it. But from what you told me, none of that is really too much of a loss to you and on the bright side, they would not be able to harass you about any of this ever again.” Nick said, unusually business-like for him.
“How much are the fines?” Blake asked.
“Yeah, I’d like to know that too.” Ethan agreed.
“I’d have to really calculate that all out in more detail for the exact figure, most of it is listed in their paperwork as percetages of hypothetical earnings and proceeds maxing out the legal limits, but all inclusive we’re definitely in the low 700K range. They want this to sting, can’t say I blame them, I’d do the same.” Nick said, all attorney, and none of his usual joking ways.
“Nick, I don’t have that kind of cash. When I made my rush exit, I only took the bare minimum of stuff, and only managed to get out the door with about 300K that was all I could get from my accounts before they froze them. I wanted to buy a house with that money and live off it until I can figure out what to do. And I don’t even have to bother trying to get a loan. No bank would even entertain that for one second, since I have no collateral or way to ever pay it back.” Blake said, his tone defeated.
“We’ll help you, Blake. You are not alone.” Ethan said.
“How? You guys don’t have 400K laying around … and if I paid the 300K it would wipe me out completely. I’d be poor like a church mouse again … I cannot get one cent more.”
“We sold that big house, prime real estate. I can foot 250K. Maybe even a little more, I’d have to talk to Everleigh first.” KC said plainly.
“I can get 100K quickly, possibly the rest.” Ethan chimed in.
“Don’t worry about the rest. If you pay the 300K, you the 250K and you 100K, I’ll top it off, whatever ends up missing. And of course this is pro bono for you, Blake. So we got you kid. You just gotta put your John Hancock on the dotted line and I’ll get that case buttoned up before they can back out. As for getting back on your feet, pretty sure you can stay at KC and Evey’s until you figure out how to get an income. Hell, I’d even clear out my home office and stick you in there if all else fails, if you think you can deal with the circus that makes the Gray household.” Nick added.
“You can move in with me, too.” Ethan offered.
Blake closed his eyes, feeling overwhelmed by all the kindness shown to him.
“Thanks guys, for everything, really. But I really cannot accept that. It would take me hundreds of years to pay you all back. I cannot just get a job. I barely graduated high school and have no skills.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. None of us are expecting it back. We want you to find some peace and rest. Want you to get your ducks in a row and be happy, finally. And stick around.” KC told him, the other two nodded in affirmation, leaving Blake fighting his feelings.
“Well, you go ahead and sign this. I may not be some high profile attorney from Del Sol Valley, but I am not half-bad at this, so I made it real waterproof, even had that cousin of yours look it over, since Miss Almost-Law-School-Summa-Cum-Laude graduate knows everything better than her father now.” Nick grinned with apparent pride in his words about his oldest daughter Ally, who – before long – would join him in his law practice.
Blake inhaled deeply, overwhelmed by all the support, then leaned forward to sign the documents Nick had prepared.
Another signature that would change the course his entire life again.
Blake whistled through his teeth as he parked his grandmother’s compact car.
While it was cool and sunny now, the weather had been moody and he didn’t want to risk getting an unwilling shower by some sudden downpour while driving his open top Jeep Wrangler dubbed ‘Betsy’ by his grandfather.
As soon as he opened the gate, his father appeared.
“You made it. You really are here! Come on in, son.” Ethan looked beyond happy as he pulled Blake into a hug.
“Wow, this house is amazing, dad.” Blake told him as they embraced. He meant it.
“Want the tour?”
He followed his father inside. Right away it was clear that this house was not only stunning from the outside, but build for form and function. How had he never realized how brilliant his father was until now?
Blake followed Ethan through the various rooms, all tastefully furnished and meticulously designed by someone who knew what they were doing.
Entering the dining room, there was a Christmas tree, Blake’s heart began to race. This year he would not sit alone getting drunk to numb the loneliness, while others celebrated family and warmth.
He’d be with his family.
The realization made him smile and Ethan caught his glance, then told him
“Now your aunt and I are fighting about where the family will celebrate, here or at their place. I think I’ll lose, she has more kids and more votes.” Ethan chuckled. He and his twin sister always had a great relationship and there was no real sibling rivalry, plus she was married to his best friend. The only thing anyone cared about was that they’d all be together.
Blake followed his father upstairs, to his younger brother’s room. Very tidy, clean and masculine. Exactly what he had imagined Elias’ room to look like. That realization made him happy. He finally knew his little brother well enough to be able to guess such things.
Stepping back into the hallway, there was a bathroom, then they entered another bedroom, tastefully furnished, but lacking the personality of the other rooms, like an empty canvas.
“This one is your room, Blake. I didn’t know what you liked nowadays so I kept it pretty simple and neutral, but we can paint and decorate however you like. You took most of your things with you when you moved in with your grandpa, but I have a few boxes with old toys and teen stuff of yours if you want to look through them.”
“My room? You build me a room in your new house?” Blake was shocked.
“You will always have a room in any house I will ever own. You are my son and always welcome, whether you take me up on it or not. I always kept your old room the same at the old house, hoping maybe one day you’d come back home.”
Blake fell apart. He wanted to be a man about it, but this had him emotional, realizing how wrong he had been about his father all this time.
“I am so sorry, dad. About everything. About how I treated you, all the trouble I caused you, the things I said to you, to Eli … even to Blythe. So sorry.”
Ethan embraced his son holding him, fighting his emotions too.
“No need, Blake. You are my son, always will be part of me and I love you. That love doesn’t wax and wane like the tides. You had a lot to deal with since you were little. I always understood that.”
Once the men got over the emotional moments, Ethan watched Blake look around.
“That door leads to a short sky bridge directly to my room. I designed it that way in case you still had those nightmares.”
Blake closed his eyes. His father was amazing. How could have have missed that as a teen?
“Are you … would you consider moving in here?” Ethan asked carefully.
“Maybe for a little while, if I can move out of grandma and grandpa’s guestroom without offending them. Hailey has offered me to move in with her too. I want to. All of the above, really, but I know I have to live on my own for a while. I used to, I know, but that was different, none of it was ever my own. Either it was a room in someone else’s house, a cheap furnished apartment or a penthouse someone else found and furnished for me. I need my own place for a while, but close enough that I can come see all of you and you me. But I need to be on my own for a while, for me.”
Ethan nodded, then said
“I get it. I really do. I’ll move some funds around and will cover another 50K of your debts, that should give you some breathing room to find and furnish a place.” Ethan offered.
“Dad, thank you, but no. I need to do this on my own. I have some memorabilia I will sell, and I have some money left, thanks to all you guys. I need to do this the hard way. What I need from all of you is to not give up on me, be there, and I think we got that covered.”
“Listen to you, kid, sounding so grown up. The boy became a man when I wasn’t looking.”
Now Ethan was the one fighting tears, and yet another hug between father and son took place. It felt right. Needed. Like making up for lost time.
“I wish. I am still the same old idiot, dad, just some years older, but at least I am trying now. Hey, by the way, I need to figure out how to apologize to Eli too. Been hanging out with him a lot recently and he really is a pretty cool dude. Great kid. You did a good job with that one, dad.”
“You don’t have to. He is thrilled to have his big brother. You are good with him. Let’s go downstairs, I’ll show you my bedroom on the way down. I have something else I wanted to discuss with you. Best you hear it from me early on.”
Blake raised an eyebrow but followed wordlessly. Once they had wine, they sat down in the cozy living room.
“What I wanted to talk to you about is … ugh, how am I best going to say it?” Ethan asked a rhetorical question.
“Just shoot straight, dad. I can take it.”
“Grace and I are seeing each other again. I mean, outside the office. Romantically.”
“What? How long …wait, isn’t she married?”
“Divorced as well, with a young son. That kid is the reason why she is not living here yet. His father is being a douche and I wasn’t sure how you would feel about all that anyway.”
“Me? Well, do you love her?”
“Does she make you happy?”
“Then go for it, dad. You deserve to be happy and I always thought you two should be together, but you chose Blythe instead. Why did you and Blythe break up anyway? Because of Grace?”
“Oh no. I never touched another woman when I am with someone. No, it was …. I honestly do not even really know. And what I know is very hard to put into words.”
“She must have said something.”
“She did. But it was what she didn’t say that spoke more than words. Blake, please understand that I really do not want to talk about this. And I really honestly do not think there is a point. It just happened.”
“Sure dad. And – go for it with Grace. She’s always been good for you. I’ll be there at the wedding, may have to borrow a suit from ya though.”
“I don’t think there will be another wedding for me, kid. Two failed marriages are plenty.”
The two young man were throwing hoops at a local basketball court when one, the younger but taller of them, looked at his wrist watch.
“Shit! I was supposed to be at mom’s like thirty minutes ago! It’s my mom-weekend starting this afternoon. Crapcakes!” Eli looked panicked.
“Hey, don’t curse. Dad is going to think I taught you that!” Blake protested.
“Uh – have you met our grandpa?! Dad barely even hears that anymore. And not like I said ‘fuck’ or ..”
“Dude! Come on now! I’ll drive you to your mom’s, so chill.” Blake offered.
“Gonna need directions though, please.”
About 20 minutes later Blake parked the car and walked his younger half-brother to the front door.
“Come inside and say hi! I know she’d like to see you.”
“Hardly. Nah, you just go … I’ll see you soon.”
Elias begged enough until Blake agreed to come in for a minute.
While Eli was still fumbling for the key, the door was opened from the inside, Blythe appeared, smiling surprised, beckoning both inside, where she hugged Blake, leaving him confused as she looked excited to see him.
They made small talk in the hallway for a while, until Blythe sent Eli to shower and change, offering coffee and a seat to Blake. Not wanting to be unnecessarily rude, he accepted.
Alone with his former step-mother, Blake felt brave.
“Blythe, can I ask you something very personal?”
“Sure. I bet I can guess. You want to know why, right? Ethan isn’t talking, is he?” she smiled. There was no resentment in her eyes, puzzling Blake.
“You read minds now?”
“Don’t have to. I know him and if I were you I’d want to know the same. It’s complicated and probably very painful for him. And me. Probably not something you should hear, after all you have been through. Wish I could help with the money by the way, but as you know, I made a choice too, many years ago and since have been cut off from my parents’ wealth.”
“You know about that?”
“Ethan and I still talk. We have a son together, whom we both love. We don’t hate each other, we’re still friends. We even still hang out. As friends. Hope you weren’t expecting some drama here. There isn’t any. The divorce was just more a natural progression of a love that changed from romantic back to friendly. As for the whys … in a roundabout way the precursors for Ethan and me were wrong. I tried to ignore it, but eventually we both knew our union had run its course. Ethan and I shed tears only once, together, the rest of it all was pretty neutral. Your father is still very much in love with two other women, whom I cannot compete with. Amy and Grace.”
“Amy? Seriously Blythe, but my mom’s been dead for years now.”
“I know that. Her body may have perished, but her spirit still lives on in you and your father’s heart. I am not upset about it, but it is an impossible fight. She was still his one true love, the one who got away. When she … died … you weren’t the only one going through very rough times. I felt so helpless, just couldn’t do anything to ease his pain, he shut me out, didn’t mean to, but he just could not let me in anymore. Your grandfather and Grace were the ones able to get through to him, especially after you left. That was the beginning of the end for our marriage, it perished along with Amy and Ethan’s dream of the four of us being a real family. At some point I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to be part of Ethan’s life without turning bitter myself, it had to be as friends. I had to let him go. It was rough, for both of us, and for Eli, but Ethan knew I was right. And it all worked out, somehow, in the end. Even you came back home. It is really good to see you again, Blake. Ethan is so happy now. And I am happy for him.”
“Moooom, have you seen my green tee with the white writing on it? I can’t find that damn thing anywhere …” Eli appeared in just shorts, bursting right into their conversation.
“I am going to put up that swear jar, Eli. That question would have been perfectly fine without sentence enhancers. Your shirt is either in the drawer, in the hamper or at your dad’s. If you need it right now, you can call him to go hunt down a shirt for you or if it is in your hamper, which I suspect, I can show you again how to do your own laundry, young man. But you need to go back upstairs right now and put something else on. Lord knows you have plenty of clothes to choose from, but you cannot disrespect our guest by sitting here shirtless. And where are your socks and slippers?! You could have put all that on, even without the green shirt. It is late fall and not the time anymore to romp around half-dressed!” Blythe shook her head at the teen boy logic eluding her.
“Moooooom, seriously? Is Blake staying for dinner?” Eli asked, his mother’s rant seemed to have pearled off him like water off a raincoat.
“Your brother is sitting right there, why are you asking me, Eli? That is rude. But really Blake, why don’t you stay for dinner? I can make chicken tacos, your favorite. Or used to be.” Blythe offered.
Watching the interaction made Blake smile. Nothing was lost, things just changed and people got older. This was a family, if he had ever seen one, just like his father was when he was with Eli.
Surprisingly, Blythe who had always been something like the ‘evil step-mother’ in Blake’s mind, seemed to genuinely like him, despite of all. Blake realized he liked her too. Now. Not back then. For whatever reasons.
“Sorry, I can’t stay. Promised to take Hailey to see a movie. Raincheck, okay? But … I am sorry Blythe. For everything I ever said or did to you. You didn’t deserve any of it. I was an asshole.”
“Mom, he said asshole!” Elias chimed up triumphantly.
“Oh boy! He is a grown man, Eli. And Blake, you being here, talking to me in such a civil manner and spending time with your brother made up for it all.”
Driving to Windenburg it all replayed in Blake’s head.
He had been such an angry teen that he really did not see the forest for the trees back then. Now he did and it was an entirely different forest than he had thought.
At least it wasn’t too late. He got out of the rat race and back here just in the nick of time.
Things were looking up for him now.
He was home. In more than one way.
-to be continued-