“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” — Victor Hugo
“Excuse me! Can I help you? This is very obviously private property, you should know better than to enter shut gates and no, we do not have anything to give you. Things are tight for us as well. I am sorry, but Brindleton Bay has a food bank and they often have dry, warm beds to help. Please do go there!”
Hailey was not usually someone to turn away anyone in need, but money really was tight for her and she had grown tired of the homeless who occasionally lingered around the beach, and sometimes came to harass the houses nearby for food, money, shelter when the days got colder. Not the best scenario for a single mother.
The bum turned around, he looked filthy, long hair, rugged beard, tattered clothing, beaten up, in really bad shape. Worse than most of the other beach bums that sometimes made their way to Hailey’s doorstep to beg.
The man said nothing, just approached, slowly, stopping an arm-length away from her, looking her over. The garden fence gate howled as if sobbing in great sadness, underlining the melancholy of the scene at hand.
Their eyes met, Hailey saw a deep sadness and resignation in the man’s eyes.
She inhaled sharply, when right before her eyes his expression changed to recognition and tentative excitement. Unable to move, as electricity rushed through her, hot and cold, her heart began to beat out of her chest.
They stood there, both motionless, staring at each other in disbelief.
“Oh my God! It IS you!” Hailey said and ran the back of her hand gently across his dirty, scruffy cheek, careful not to get any of his many injuries and bruises.
She nearly jumped into his embrace, he caught her, hugging her so tightly as to never let go again yet carefully enough not to hurt her.
The embrace lasted forever and not long enough, but was finally interrupted by a small voice.
“Mommy, why are you hugging the bum man?” a little boy came into view, wearing a backpack.
Hailey pulled away and both looked at the young boy staring at them.
“Honey, this is not a bum. This is your daddy. He came home to us. Finally.”
“Ewww. He smells bad. And looks like a bum.”
“Chase! Do not be so rude and say hello to your father!”
“Are you sure mommy? He looks nothing like daddy!” the little boy complained.
“Chase Cameron! Of course I am sure! Come over here and hug your dad this instant!”
“Do I have to?” The boy pulled a disgusted face.
Blake nudged Hailey, shook his head making hand gestures to let it go.
“Fine. Go inside. I will be in to talk you you in a minute.” Hailey told Chase.
The boy shrugged, as he walked inside he shot a few more investigative glances at Blake.
“Sorry about that. You have to understand, he barely recognizes you like …. this …it’s been such a long time for a little kid like him. He still always talks about you, asks for stories about you and wants to look at pictures of you and all of us all the time. But what are we doing standing here? Let’s get you inside. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you want to shower? I never put away any of your things. Everything is still where you left it. Let’s get you in a hot shower, I’ll make us food. You can change … and maybe shave and I can cut your hair…”
Blake just smiled. What he wanted to do was kiss her, hold her, make love to her, but he knew he was filthy and she smelled so fresh, and clean and floral as always. He was too embarrassed, and had an inner peace that he had all the time in the world to do all those things.
They had barely sat down when there was a knock on the front door. Blake wasn’t thrilled about the interruption, just wanted to be alone with Hailey, stare at her, enjoy her company. She had changed, looked different, but still every bit as beautiful as he remembered her. Hailey gestured Blake she’d answer the door.
“My boy!!” as soon as she returned he heard his name spoken in a tone of deepest relief, Ethan Cameron came into view, then Blake found himself face to face with his father and immediately in another embrace.
Hailey must have texted him.
He relaxed into the hug. A tight one. His father still cared about him. Loved him. Blake closed his eyes.
Home. Finally and truly home.
Then the memory came back. Eli! His father had to mourn the loss of one son, because of him.
Ethan was talking to him, excited, overjoyed, running through every emotion, while Blake could barely focus. He could practically see Elias right before his eyes. Was he going crazy now for guilt?
“Ethan, I think he cannot speak anymore.” he heard Hailey’s soft voice.
“Oh no, boy! Is that true, Blake? Just nod. I’ll have our doctor check you out a.s.a.p! Probably just the shock. You will be fine. And if not, who cares? At least you are back home!”
“Give him time. He just needs to adjust and relax. We don’t even know what he may have been through.” Blythe’s voice came from the background.
“Uh – you two done snuggling now? Am I chopped liver?” another voice asked from the hallway. A familiar one. The mirage even sounded like Eli …
Blake turned, not trusting his own mind, then he could only stare at the ghost before him, who now pulled him away from his father and into another embrace, tight and firm and … no, this was no ghost. This bone-breaking way to hug him was one hundred percent Elias. Alive and well.
Blake couldn’t stop smiling, when during the longest hug on record between two brothers Eli briefly told him not to look at him like he rose from the dead and that it had only been a tranquilizer gun. Cory had taken him and dumped him on their father’s doorstep afterwards.
Blake’s gaze fell on Blythe, in the background, smiling gently. He went to hug her too when he noticed a tiny toddler in her arms.
He smiled at the baby, then at Blythe, mouthing ‘Congratulations’.
She offered the baby to him, he took the little girl, when Blythe kissed his cheek and told him
“She’s not mine, sweet boy, she is yours. Your little daughter. Congratulations to you, daddy.”
Blake stiffened, staring at Blythe, then the others to detect if this was a joke. He could read in the expressions that it wasn’t. A daughter?! His daughter?!
“I named her Kiera, baby. After your grandpa.” Hailey told him softly.
Blake looked at Hailey, at the others, then the toddler girl in his arms when it all made sense to him. Before he was abducted Hailey had gained weight and didn’t want him to touch her because she was pregnant. Duh! Idiot. Again. Somehow, the news weren’t as shocking to him as you’d think. It was … calming.
As if she could read his mind Hailey now said gently.
“I was gonna tell you … once I knew it was safe that I wouldn’t lose her and when you were in a good enough mood to not fall apart about how small the house is and our limited funds … our little Cameron blessing, as we call her, since I do not like to think of our surprise baby as a ‘Cameron curse’. She’s such an angel.”
“Limited funds and no room is nonsense! She is my granddaughter and of course I will help. I am the owner of EC Architects, for crying out loud. If I can do one thing, it’s to make ANY house fit ANY needs! And I I ever could not come up with something suitable, I have an enormous staff whom I pay exorbitant salaries who could, plus another brilliant son who is about to graduate and will follow in my footsteps. Needless to add that I already have plans drawn to fix up this house REALLY nicely, but Hailey has been wanting to wait till you come home. Well, you are home, I’ll give you a few days and you two will approve the plans, then all of you move in with us until it is finished. I won’t have my grandchildren, my son or daughter inhale dust and fumes! It is seasonally slow at work right now, I have more than enough construction resources begging for assignments, so we can get started as soon as the plans are approved.” Ethan determined.
“Dad can remodel like a pro and he has never been afraid to use that talent! I cannot remember how many times our home got remodeled to date. We just remodeled again … I mean, total reconstruct … yeah …” Elias moaned, earning a warning glance by his father.
“Ethan … honey … do you not want to wait with something so drastic until Blake can communicate better again?” Blythe said smiling.
“No! Even better when he cannot constantly babble into my explanations. I love you son, but this is going to happen. I am putting my foot down.”
Blake couldn’t help but laugh, which tears streaming down his face at the same time.
What a mess all this was.
What a glorious, hilarious, lovable mess.
All of them. He had noticed Chase inch his way closer and closer to all of them, and even caught his eye a few times and Chase smiled at him.
Blake looked down at his daughter, who had started giggling as well, then yawned. It made him yawn too, which the others took as a hint to say their goodbyes, promising to be back early the next day.
“Before I walk out that door I am gonna make sure you go and clean your ass up! I cannot have my brother looking like trash. Get yourself into the bathroom, we need to get you looking and smelling like a human being again. You reek like the South end of a North bound mule with diarrhea!” Elias told Blake, dragging him with into the bathroom.
Once in there, he pulled him close, crying at his shoulder, very un-Elias-like.
Blake let him.
“I love you Blake. You are the best brother anyone could ask for. Thank you for all you have done for me and I am so very glad you are okay and finally back. I was in pieces when they told me they couldn’t find you, only found blood, lots of blood on the road, YOURS. I thought the worst … but dad, mom and Hailey kept telling me you were somewhere, you were okay and you’d be back. I just had to believe it. And you are back. I’ll help you with everything, man. I’ll wipe your ass if you need me to. I’ll take a frigging year off college to help, but we’ll get you back to normal. I swear it!”
Blake didn’t know what to do, lacking words, so he pointed at the shower, then the door.
Eli nodded and left. Blake felt guilty, but he was fighting a lot of emotions himself, was exhausted from all the excitement and news. Away from home for almost two years, mourning his brother all that time, then coming home to find him again, along with a new daughter he knew nothing about.
As soon as Blake turned off the water to the shower the bathroom door opened again. He barely had time to wrap a towel around himself.
Blake cursed that fact that he couldn’t give anyone a hard time for this. He definitely needed to manage words again. Soon! Especially with his overbearing family. If only to scream for privacy on and off.
But he relaxed when he noticed it was Hailey. She looked him over, undoubtedly noticing the scars on him.
“The kids are in bed now. Chase wanted me to tell you ‘sorry’ and that he loves you. Told you he’d come around. Expect him as your new shadow starting at breakfast tomorrow morning.” she smiled.
She came closer, gently running her fingers over his bare chest, which instantly gave Blake fiery jolts that shot throughout his entire body. After all his suffering, her caressing felt like medicine to an unbearable pain.
They kissed, when the kiss ended, Hailey rubbed her lips and frowned.
His scruffy mess of a beard! She wasn’t used to it. Blake reached behind her and quickly cut most of the length with a trimmer, her looking on, which he secretly enjoyed tremendously.
She came closer, he could feel her presence sending goosebumps all over his body, as their eyes met in the mirror, she smiled at him.
She took the trimmer from him, then began shaving him ever so slowly and gently with a manual razor. There was something incredibly intimate about this.
Blake felt awkward for a moment, he never had anyone shave him before, except some nurses at the hospital once or twice but he was barely conscious enough to register much of it then. Now he fully immersed himself in the experience. Hailey, so sweet, gentle and loyal. She loved him so much, always had, she never gave up on him, not back then and not now. Mother of his children. Plural. She went through the entire pregnancy and birth alone. Well, probably not alone, knowing his family, but without him. He felt guilty, even though he couldn’t change it. All he could do to get back home, he had done.
While Blake had been reminiscing and counting his blessings, Hailey had gently pushed him onto a stool and proceeded to cut his hair.
When he looked at himself in the mirror, he recognized himself. A little piece of normality again. Almost like all of it had only been a bad dream.
Neither of them spoke a word for the rest of the evening or night.
Blake because he couldn’t, Hailey because words were completely unnecessary for them to renew their deep love and trust for each other.
-to be continued-