Silently entering Cameron Memorial Park in Brindleton Bay, the younger woman studied the face of the other, her mother, the expression on her face tense.
Briar Rose could tell something was up. In all her 26 years of life had her mother never asked her to go on a walk, not one single time, especially not on a misty, gloomy, foggy and chilly day so typical for late Autumn in the Bay.
Nor would she ever.
Firstly, Sarah was a city girl born to an upperclass family and had always hated nature, the only reason a rural sleepy town like Brindleton Bay hade ever been somehow sufferable for her was the luxurious home her husband Eli, Briar Rose’s father, had built for her when Bri was still little.
Secondly, she had never been very close with Bri, no matter what either of them tried, but Sarah lacked any and all maternal instincts.
Briar Rose was in town without Stryker and their kids, and only for barely two days to attend her grandparents’ wedding anniversary, this time made special as they had chosen to renew their wedding vows to each other.
The ceremony and following dinner had been beautiful and as everyone was giving a noisy and cheerful send-off to the limousine taking her grandparents straight to the airport for a second honeymoon of sorts, Sarah had asked her daughter for a walk in the park, just the two of them.
Clearly, this was a walk to discuss something, that fact had been obvious to Bri right from the get go, and now judging by the quiet demeanor of Sarah, not anything good.
“Mom, just get to it already, this is torture.”
“Get to what? Can a mother not have some mother-daughter time with her daughter who lives so far away now? How is Del Sol Valley treating you? Bet the weather is a lot nicer there, judging by your tan. You look fabulous, Bri. How are your kids? And the husband? ” Sarah now chatted away, rubbing Briar Rose all wrong.
“Mom, please, just don’t. And to be honest, ‘a’ mother may do that, but you, no! So I already know something is up. Just say it. Get it out there, serve it to me straight. I can handle it.”
“Fine. You have always been such a smart girl, a little too blunt maybe, but ..”
“All right, if that’s how you prefer to do this, here goes: Your father and I are going to split up. Well, we will get a divorce eventually. Soon, I suspect.”
“WHAT!? NOT AGAIN! What happened?” Briar Rose was thoroughly shocked.
“I … I met someone. I wasn’t looking, it just happened and .. Truth be told, even before you and your family moved away things had not been that great between Eli and me. We both desperatly tried but …”
“Oh my God, this is going to kill daddy! Does he even know? He seemed way too chipper, he’s never been good at faking shit.”
“No, not yet. I wanted to tell you first, since you are flying back tomorrow morning and I just couldn’t bring myself to do this before Eli’s parents’ wedding vow renewal. So I will talk to him later today or more likely tomorrow morning, but you will be on your way back to Del Sol Valley by then and I did not want to have to tell you over the phone.”
“How kind! Mom, seriously? An affair after everything?! And you even want to leave daddy for some sidepiece? Who the fuck is that guy anyway? Does he know about your … issues?”
“Funny you should ask, he does. He knows everything, down to the deepest corners of my mind and all the smallest details. He is my therapist.”
“You have GOT to be kidding me! Why not the poolboy or gardener – or ooh, the UPS driver – or is that cliche too twothousand-late even for you?”
“Bri, quit the sarcasm. And no, I am not kidding, I wish I were, but the heart wants what it wants.”
“I knew you would take this pretty hard which is why I thought out here would be best, so Ewan won’t get …”
“Speaking of my brother, what about him? He is so little still … like my Gage. Just the thought of doing this to him … no.”
“Ewan-Leif will stay with your father.”
“Fucking hell, mom! You haven’t changed a bit! Abandoning another child?! I just can’t with you! Daddy’s going to be heartbroken and all alone with a little kid crying for his mother who won’t understand fuck all! I sure hope you weren’t dreaming about taking the house from him!”
“Your daddy won’t be alone, he has all his family around – well, except you now. And no, I am not a monster Bri, I am not taking anything from him. I care about your father, just love another now. I will be moving in with Frank.”
“Frank?I The new itch you are scratching now is called ‘Frank’?! Sounds like an English bulldog. Guess he’d be good at doggy style ..”
“Briar Rose! I understand you are upset, but enough is enough. I love that man with all my heart … just like I will always love you …”
“Oh God – spare me, mother! Love? LOVE? What love? You have no heart, you ice-cold, calculating BITCH! You are dead to me, and to my kids! I will just tell them their Brindleton Bay grandma died, at least they have their daddy’s mother, who is actually really nice and a very involved grandmother!”
Briar Rose had stopped short, turned after one more disdained glance at her mother and was already rushing back the way they had come, leaving a very sad looking Sarah behind.
Sarah officially moved out that same day, taking only the necessities.
Obviously that meant she would come back, soon.
That day was today.
On a gloomy Friday afternoon in late November, matching the moods of all involved.
Eli had left work early for just that reason, since he had made her surrender her keys and access to the gate by the driveway when she moved out.
While his brother Blake or sister-in-law Hailey would have been happy to be at his home to let Sarah in, he made it a point to be there himself. Why exactly he wasn’t even sure, maybe he really liked torturing himself. Maybe he didn’t trust her not to take things she wasn’t supposed to. Or maybe he wanted her to see what she had done to him.
The doorbell of the gate by the road at the bottom of the driveway of the large fenced property sounded at exactly the agreed time, 4 o’clock, but it sounded more like a cattle call to him for his final trip to the slaughterhouse.
The mood was tense. Sarah was visibly uncomfortable.
“Yah – Hi.”
“How are you?”
“No, we are not doing small talk, Sarah. Just pack your shit and get.”
“Is Ewan here?”
“Of course not!”
“You won’t let me see my son?”
“Not today. You will see him if and when the court gives you visitation rights.”
“Did you bring boxes? If not, I’d be happy to give you trash bags.”
“I have boxes.”
“Okay. I moved everything that was 100% mine and family heirlooms. Since you clearly do not care about family, you won’t need those.”
“What about the wedding pictures?”
“Unless you want to take them for you and your new boy-toy to gaze upon while you are doing each other, laughing about me, they will probably make a great bonfire come summer.”
“Eli … really, it doesn’t have to end on this kind of note between us. Look at us in that picture, both so young, foolish, but so happy …”
“Seriously Sarah? We only look happy because the photographer told us to smile. We were never that happy. I am just an idiot who didn’t want to let go and a fucking pushover too, who was convenient when you needed me. Now that you are better you traded me in for a newer model. One without pesky kids. I bet you hated me every single day for accidentally knocking you up not once, but twice.” Eli’s voice reflected the deep pain and betrayal he felt.
“It wasn’t a choice I made. I just fell in love, I couldn’t help it. And I love our kids. I am just not the mother hen type, but that does not mean I do not care. I never once hated you in all the time we have known each other. Please believe me, this wasn’t what I wanted, break everything again, but deep inside you must know I am right when I say that you and I are too different to truly work as a couple. You KNOW I am not lying. Things have not been right between us for a long time.”
“Not been right?! Fell in love?! Puh-leease! That would have never happened had you not been receptive for something new. After all I have done for you. I was there for you when you were at rock bottom, bent over backwards for you.”
“And I am more than grateful and will always be. Eli, I still care so much about you. But Frank and I connect on a different level …”
“Oh, for all that is sacred – spare me the fangirling of the man I have been paying to make you healthy, who thanks me by destroying my marriage! After all the grief you gave me for cheating on you one single measely time, ONE slip up, I do not even want to imagine what your therapy appointments must have looked like since … well, how long has this been going on anyway?”
“Since not long after I had Ewan. That post partum depression was so rough and Frank helped me though it.”
“Frank did? Laughable! Funny, cos I recall myself getting into trouble with dad all the time for missing so much work to take care of you and our newborn son!”
“Elias, this is not helpful.”
“I wasn’t aiming for helpful!”
“I better pack now. I moved into Frank’s penthouse, so I will not be taking any of the furniture. Just my clothing and other personal things.”
“Lucky me! I get to keep what I paid for anyway!”
“All right, I see you are just as stubborn as Bri. How is she anyway?”
“If you want to know that, you better call her yourself.” Eli was done, turned his back to her and walked into the living room, leaving her standing there, much like their daughter Briar Rose had at the park.
Sarah said nothing anymore, her head low she walked upstairs.
Elias had gone out the the deck, poured himself a drink when his phone rang. It was Blake, his older brother.
“Is she there yet?”
“Yup.” Eli confirmed.
“I’ll be right over.”
“No, Blake … Blake?”
Blake had already hung up and within minutes Eli could see his brother hurry from his home across the beach towards Elias’ home. He smiled a little smile. His brother knew him too well and Elias would never admit it, but he was more than glad he wasn’t going to be alone after Sarah ripped the last bit of his heart from his chest.
Once he let Blake inside they both sat on the patio with a glass of bourbon, speaking very little, if at all. Usually only one asking the other if they wanted another refill on the whiskey.
No talk was needed, nothing was to be said.
Blake was there when Eli needed him without Eli having to ask.
As children the half-brothers had a rough time with each other, but as adults life and mutual experiences had fused them together tightly, a bond that needed few words.
Suddenly Sarah appeared in the patio door.
“Oh, hello Blake. Eli, I am done now. I am not taking a lot, just my clothes and a few personal things. Whatever I didn’t take feel free to keep, give to Bri or Hope or donate.”
“Goes on the bonfire with the fucking wedding pictures!”
“Okay, well …. Our court date has been set, did you get the letter?”
“Yep. It’s being framed and will go where the fucking wedding picture is now!”
“Eli …. I wish it didn’t have to end this way. Well, give my love to Hailey, please, Blake. I will see you all when I see you.”
“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!” Eli growled.
As soon as the driveway alarm sounded that her car was leaving, the facade crumbled and Eli was just a mess, as Blake had anticipated.
The divorce court date came and it felt cold and abrupt.
They had met weeks ago to work out the details, both present with their attorneys, at the Gray lawfirm. Sarah wanted nothing from Eli, only hefty alimony payments, which they argued about, then agreed to a one time lump sum, deducting whatever Sarah would have to pay in child support.
The day in court was purely for formality sake. There would be a separate hearing to determine visitation rights for their young son Ewan-Leif, but Sarah did not even try for shared custody.
After all documents were finalized they left the courthouse. Blake and Hailey had accompanied Eli, who cringed watching Sarah leaning up against her new man, Frank. Naturally Eli had met him before, as her therapist.
Frank obviously knew Elias too, when he noticed him staring he and Sarah came over, he smiled and offered his hand to Elias, all the therapist trying to settle things peacefully.
That was too much for Elias, who was not in a peaceful mindset and gave ‘Frank’ a piece of his mind right away.
“You filthy homewrecker! To think I paid you a pretty penny to fuck my whore of a wife!”
“Elias, please calm down.” Frank said quietly, visibly distraught by the situation.
“That’s Mr. Cameron to you, you slimeball!” Eli roared.
“Apologies, Mr. Cameron, please do not make this a scene. You are upset …” Frank tried to calmly diffuse the unpleasant moment.
“Upset!? WRONG! I am fucking raging with anger, you quack!” Elias yelled.
“Eli! Please .. stop. Blake take your brother to the car, please.” Hailey had gone between Elias and Frank, pushing Eli out of reach of the opponent.
Immediately Blake showed that he may not have Eli’s height, but still possessed strength, as he took over pulled then pushed Eli backwards toward the courthouse stairs, while firmly speaking to him
“Come on bro, you heard my girl, we’re leaving now! We got any licquor of your choosing at home with your name on it. You can drink till the mind’s empty and then sleep it off. Free headache pills and breakfast the next morning too at my place. Let’s get.”
Blake dragged a now limp and very disillusioned Eli with him, followed by Hailey, leaving the new couple in their wake.
Weeks later, the new O’Connor mansion in the hills of Del Sol Valley, where Briar Rose and Stryker had moved to with their two children almost a year ago now.
“Mommy? Is grandma coming to my birthday party this weekend? We haven’t seen her in thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis long.” Hope asked, as her mother had her arm around her, gently stroking her face with the other.
“You can see her right now. She is right over there.” Bri smirked as she pointed to her mother-in-law who was playing with their youngest child in the kiddie pool, while Stryker joined them now.
“No mommy, you are being silly. The other grandma I mean.”
“Oh, that one. Never. That’s when.”
“How come?” Hope asked.
“Because you remember what happens to the witch in your book?”
“She was mean and little Tammy pushed her into the fire.”
“Exactly.” Bri confirmed.
“Bri come on now! Hope, what your mother meant to say, princess, is that your other grandma is not feeling well. She has the sniffles and cannot go on an airplane right now, so she will have to miss your birthday. She is very sad about that.” Stryker interjected.
“Yeah, so sad she needed 24/7 therapy sessions. And for good measure without her clothes on.”
“Bri! This is a little girl and you need to be a mother and not a spoiled brat who got her feelings hurt! That is a child and she misses her grandmother. Rise above your anger! Ok?!” Stryker hissed near Bri’s ear in a volume only she could hear.
“Okay …” Bri rolled her eyes.
“Daddy, is grandma gonna die?” Hope asked.
“Of course not! She is just a little ill, that’s all. Once she is better she will come see you, or we will see her.” Stryker said softly.
“Oh, that is okay. I was just asking so I know if she is going to be here and make everybody miserable before she goes and hides away cos she hates kids and all my friends are kids too, so that would be a lot of kids because I have a lot of friends and they all said they will come and she probably have a cow because of it and then I have to send everybody home and my birthday would be boring.”
Briar Rose burst into laughter.
“Hope! Go to your room now and get cracking on that homework! That was not nice for you to say, so pooltime is over until after dinner!” Stryker spoke gently, yet firmly as he lifted his daughter up and gave her a small slap on her rear.
Hope stalled, snuggling her daddy from behind, which melted him, much to Bri’s amusment.
“But daddy … !” Hope’s lower lip was pushed out like a duck bill.
Looking at his pouting daughter Stryker tried to hide a grin as he got up too to signal that snuggle time was really over.
“Up to your room – now! I am not playin’, Hope.” Stryker warned.
“I know. I am sorry, didn’t mean it. I mean I kinda did, but probably shouldn’t have said it out loud.”
“Wanna try that again, Hope? Your grandma loves you, period. I need you to understand and believe that. One cannot help but love you, my angel. Every person is different, some show love different than others. We embrace diversity in this household. Do you remember what that big word means?”
“Yeah, means grandma can be a witch and I am supposed to embrace her.”
Briar Rose laughed out loud, earning a warning glance by her husband.
“No. Diversity means that we accept that every person is different. What you just said means you will get to do the dishes and we will not watch your show together tonight. Last time: both of your grandmothers love you, just both show it differently. And you are lucky that I love you so much, cos my hand is itching to spank that butt of yours.”
“Ha – as if. But I’ll go sit in my room now and dream about one day being a star and not ever having to do homework or dishes – ever ever ever again!”
“Upstairs with you NOW. I will be up to check in on you in a while and that homework had better be done in your prettiest handwriting or you will be doing it again. Capisce?!”
Once Hope was out of sight, Bri grinned at her husband.
“Hey, don’t give me that look. I am not a fan of Sarah either, never have been, but she is family and my daughter will learn respect and grow up loved, goddammit! Once Hope is old enough, she can make up her own opinion and I will support it.”
“Okay you outlaw rebel version of Emily Post, you.”
“You are going in the pool for that, Missy!”
Within seconds he had her shouldered and made true on his promise, then followed her in the temperate water.
They played in the pool like teenagers in love until Stryker went to check on Hope and Bri started on dinner.
After both children were tucked in later that day Stryker and Briar Rose decided to have some quiet time by the pool in the last, still warm rays of the sun for that day as they curled up together to watch the sunset over the bustling city at the foot of the hills, where dreams were born and sometimes died a painful death before ever taking flight, both grateful for the twists of fate that lead them exactly where they were now.
-to be continued-