Sometimes its about starting over and creating something better. Sometimes growing up means growing apart.
Eric quickly corrected the direction of his car, mumbling curse words to himself.
It happened, sometimes … still.
Not as much as it used to, but it did.
The exit to his old home was exactly one exit before the one he had to take to the Beach House.
He steered the car towards the exit, the correct one this time and there it was already in sight.
The Beach House.
His beloved childhood home, so many great memories had been made there for many generations of Camerons now, it seemed sacrilegious that he moved back there with a broken family and a broken heart.
He pulled the car into the small parking lot across the street from the Beach House, got out to stretch and inhale the crisp, cool, salty air, snorted a laugh as he approached his new/old home while thinking about the weirdly indescribable situation, still, after all those months, nobody was really used to it. Left one to wonder if that would ever change, for better or worse.
He remembered when he first moved out here with Jamie.
All those uncomfortable questions by family and friends, questions nobody had any answers to. Not then, and still not today. Charlee and he had been the last of all people anyone – including themselves – had ever expected to break apart, they had always seemed so much like the steady couple that would last through eternity and beyond. Well, wrong.
The questions were as understandable as they were relatable, seemingly one day they were happy in love, the next split up.
Now obviously the reality of it was that it had been a slow, creeping transition straight into the abyss.
Just how do you explain something you do not even understand yourself to your kids? And to others?
Eric struggled with it as much as Charlee did. Still.
There had been no fight. Few arguments here and there, some bickering maybe, as with any couple, but nothing severe. No, that had not been it.
The beginning of the end had been one of the worst things that could happen to any parent: they found out their little girl was gravely ill.
No warning, no sign, no prior indicators. Just out of left wing.
For the rest of his life Eric would never forget that day when he got Charlee’s frantic call at work, telling him their baby girl had suddenly collapsed in school and was unresponsive.
He wasted no second, rushed out the door of the precinct and met Charlee at the hospital, she had to be given medicine to calm her nerves, still she was beside herself and Eric only kept it together for her, crumbling for worry on the inside himself. They had not been given much hope for survival at that point and that was enough to bring any parent to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
A lot of tears and fearful hours later, Cait had been through emergency surgery to have a pacemaker put in. Evidently she had a heart defect by birth which had slipped through all the routine tests.
She had to stay at the hospital for weeks.
Jamie spent a lot of time with his grandparents at the Beach House during her recovery, aside from visits at the hospital of course, all of this in an attempt to protect him from seeing how devastating all this was to his parents.
It was a long rocky and windy road to recovery, but she pulled through and if you didn’t know any better, you would never know how close they had come to losing her.
By now, some months later, she was a happy, silly and active child, just like all the others. Just a tiny scar would remain, and somewhat frequent checkups at the hospital for the rest of her life.
But the experience had left a mark with her parents, both already damaged by horrible, traumatic events from their past and not at all well equipped to deal with such tragedy. For every recovery from trauma there is always the question of how much is too much when tragedy strikes again. While both were more than grateful that the worst had been averted in the end, it had left scars on their souls.
And somehow their relationship suddenly flat-lined because of it.
Eric had no words to describe how it was different, he still cared deeply about her and knew the feeling was mutual. Maybe it was even still love, but somehow, at some point the love had mutated into something that made both of them uncomfortable with sharing the bed. There had been no physical affection between them in so many months, Eric could barely recall what it felt like. The kisses between them had changed a long time ago, unnoticed by both. Maybe not the kisses themselves, but the intensity and their meaning. No longer preludes to potentially steamy outcomes, but more a routine, and like you would kiss your sibling, not a spouse.
By the time both realized they had drifted far apart, it had been too late. They had tried to patch it up, get back to where they once had been, but all it had ever been was fake, forced and awkward. So they decided it would be best to split up. Eric’s parents instantly offered him to move back in with them, which he gladly accepted.
There was no way he could see himself starting over in another town in some apartment, since they just didn’t have the money to buy another house for him. He thoroughly disliked being separated from his kids and their usual routine, Charlotte disliked that as well, she didn’t want either of them hurt and wanted everything as fair as possible, which is where the idea was born that Jamie would stay with his father, since he already spent so much time at his grandparents’ Beach House while Cait was in the hospital, and Caitlin would remain with her mom.
Eric and Jamie were close enough to visit whenever they wanted, and all still got along well, Charlee and Cait would come for dinners at the Beach House, or BBQ with their friends. The only thing that had changed was that they were no longer a couple. But they were also not really separated, as in neither of them even remotely considered a divorce as an option, let alone dating other people. Couldn’t be with each other, nor apart.
Separating felt like betrayal, it was hard, but it felt like the right thing to do. Maybe not the right thing, as much as the only feasible option. If they continued going on like they had, they’d end up miserable for sure, possibly despising each other. Neither of them wanted to risk losing what little they had left.
He could see that Charlee was hurting just like him, but neither of them possessed a magic wand which seemed the only tool that could fix anything at this point. Jamie had always been more of an introvert and loner, just like his father and grandfather, spending most of his time with his dog. Caitlin seemed nearly unfazed, and happy overall, just like before.
Maybe they were just that good at giving the kids the security they needed to deal with this inexplicable oddness.
Eric inhaled and exhaled deeply a few times until he felt like he had the strength to walk up to the door of the Beach House to face what his life was now.
It wasn’t as if it were truly bad. His parents were warm and comforting to him, the house had always been his home, and Jamie seemed all right overall. His grades were good, as were his sister’s.
Eric took a deep breath before unlocking the door. Inside he was met by the delicious smell of dinner, the sound of playing dogs and the giggling of his son, then some almost breathless words in his father Chase’s voice coming from somewhere out back. It all made Eric smile. Yeah, they would be all right. Eventually.
His dad had bonded with Jamie ever since he held him for the very first time as a newborn. Whenever Chase and Jamie were together, the grandpa shed his years and became a little boy again himself. Eric remembered the close bond he himself used to have with his own grandpa, the late Blake Cameron, and it gave him a warm feeling and a sting at the same time. Naturally the grandparents loved Cait equally, but the bond Jamie had with his grandpa was special.
He walked into the kitchen, his mom came into view, evidently finishing up dinner.
“Evening mom. Smells great in here. As usual.”
“Oh honey, there you are, go wash your hands and set the table, would you? I asked Jamie and also your father, but as you can probably hear, I’d have had better luck asking the kitchen cabinets. Those boys.”
“Sure mom. Be right back. I wanna change into something more casual too. And yes, I will wash my hands like a good boy as well.” he snickered, a rare occurrence these days.
“You do that, I am gonna change as well. I already stained my good dress like a fool. You’d think after being a homemaker for almost 40 years I’d know better. We’re all fools in some ways.” Shea told him.
He ran upstairs to change into his home wear and his gaze fell on a picture from happier times.
“Oh Charlee, what happened to us?”
Eric shook his head to himself as if to shake out the bad thoughts and feelings they evoked, then made his way downstairs, where Jamie and his father were, in front of a now set table. Apparently they had remembered their assigned task just in the nick of time after all. Both greeted Eric and a waterfall of tales from Jamie’s day poured over Eric as they got seated for dinner. Eric’s mind started drifting to a place where dinner time meant his old home and Charlee, Cait, Jamie and himself around a dinner table trading things of how their days had been and weekend plans.
“Eric! Hello?!” he heard his mother’s voice.
“Sorry mom, what was that?”
“Your dad suggested taking the kids camping this weekend. What do you think?”
“Cool.” was Eric’s neutral response.
“You’re coming with us, right son?” Chase’s tone and look only left Eric one answer.
“Uh – sure. Sounds good dad.”
“A little more enthusiasm wouldn’t hurt.” Chase complained.
“Chase, honey, our son just got home from work and is hungry and exhausted.” Shea came to Eric’s defense.
“It’s okay mom. Dad, wheeee – so excited I am going to start packing for camping right now!”
“There you go, wasn’t so hard. Fresh air and nature aplenty will do everyone a world of good. Always does.” Chase nodded at his own words.
“Nobody is leaving this table until they are done eating – or start in your case, Eric. Honey, I know you are an adult, but if you keep this up you will keel over, starved, in front of a full plate. But – I am going to seize the opportunity of all the men, children and pets being away and have already invited Charlee to a spa weekend. If either of you tries to reach us, you know we won’t be able to answer, probably have our faces buried in some pillows while someone rubs muscles we didn’t know we had or we’re contorted like pretzels at yoga.”
“That sounds lovely, honey.” Chase looked up from his dinner and at his wife of so many decades, he smiled, she replied in kind, and the look they exchanged reminded Eric of what he had lost. He used to look like that at Charlee. Correction: he still caught himself looking at her like that and she at him. So what the hell was wrong with them? How could this be? Why the hell were they separated again?
“Eric, would you mind helping me clear the table and clean up, honey?” Shea asked after rising up when it was clear everyone had their fill of dinner. As so often, Eric had barely touched his. His appetite had gone to wherever their happiness had went.
“I’ll help.” Chase offered before Eric could reply.
“No, you take your grandson to the living room. Your show just started. Eric doesn’t mind, do you, sweetie?” Shea’s mind was made up.
“Of course not, mom.”
Chase and Jamie hurried to the living room, Montana and Nymeria hot on their heels, immediately after you heard the sounds of a popular children’s show, then grandfather and grandson chuckles and giggles.
“So what did you want to talk to me about, mom?”
“Oh, nobody fools my little boy, huh?”
“Hope not. Big part of my job is to filter BS from the truth. And I am not that little anymore, mom, and certainly no longer a boy. Feel more like an old fool staring down at the shambles of his life.”
“And that is exactly what I wanted to speak to you about. Have you considered marriage counseling?”
“Charlee won’t hear of it. After she jumped off that palace roof to avoid that arranged marriage to the crown prince, her parents had her locked in some psyche ward for so long, now she hates anything to do with therapy.”
“Okay, would you mind if I brought that up to her during our girls’ weekend? I do not want you to feel like I am meddling, but maybe coming from another woman it may resound differently with her. Woman to woman.”
“Weekend? How long are you guys planning to be at that spa for? Are you moving in there permanently?” Eric quipped.
“Oh, don’t you worry about us, my sweet boy. But if she were to agree, would you go?”
“The truth? Mom, I would cut off body parts if that meant we could go back to the way we once were. If you think there is a chance counseling would help, I’d go. Can’t believe I missed us growing apart … And honestly, I have no clue how to get us back the way we once were, if that is even still possible. Right now, I cannot see how, and it scares me more than death itself. Charlee and I could be standing in front of each other, close enough to touch, yet she feels so far away now. I can’t reach her, and she cannot reach me. Listen to me, I sound like I lost my damn mind now.”
“Baby boy, no. Don’t even start like that. Perfectly normal to feel this way, and nobody’s fault. You guys have been through a lot and that takes a toll. It just happened. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it is irreversible, but sometimes there is hope. I am not convinced that you two are a lost cause. You two may just need time away to lick your wounds and then a nudge when you are ready. Or not. It really may be over for good, only time will tell.”
“Are we hurting our children, mom? I am so worried that we are. I rather send Jamie to live with his mother and sister than hurt him.”
“Honey, no. Your kids are strong, both are absolutely fine and good grief, they live – what? – 5 minutes away from each other and see each other and both parents daily. Given, this situation isn’t ideal, but you are not hurting those children. They are two of the most loved and doted on kids known to mankind and both of them know it. They may be young, but they have eyes and brains. They know their parents are hurting and it makes them feel helpless but there is nothing for you or Charlee to do. Pretense and lies would truly hurt those kids more than what you are doing. As for the pain and numbness you feel, I am speaking from experience here, almost losing a child does a trick on you, you won’t ever be the same as you were before. You two are like the driftwood, some of it washes ashore and remains, some drifts far away and seems gone far apart forever. Why some remains and some drifts away, only the forces of nature can say for sure. Just keep that in mind, Eric. However this may play out, you and Charlee are changed people, regardless the outcome.”
A sting shot into Eric’s heart when he saw a brief flash of pain across his mother’s face. She and his father had almost lost him to a car accident when he was only 15, his recovery had been very long and extremely hard, for everyone involved and his mom was right, none of them had been the same coming out as they had been going in.
He embraced his mom.
“Thank you, mom.”
“That’s what I am here for. You never stop being a parent, sweetie. Not even when you die. Your dad and I both swear we can hear Blake’s chuckle in the breeze sometimes, and Hailey soft and sweet voice. I really do believe that both of them are still around, watching over all of us, proud of you and their legacy. And they have every reason to be. Whatever happened – and will happen – between you and Charlee, neither of you did anything wrong. You both are wonderful parents and people, she is every bit our daughter as if she were blood, not an in-law and always will be, no matter what. Now, let’s go and watch that silly cartoon with your father and son to get our mind off all this for a while. I have to admit I didn’t like it at all, but it sucked me in now and I want to know how it continues.”
Eric followed her, sitting there staring at the screen, his mind jumped fences while he smiled mindlessly.
No, he didn’t know if they would get back together, or if it was even still possible. But his mother’s words had given him something he had lost. Something precious. Something invaluable.
Just a tiny spark of it, and the knowledge that this meant nothing more than that at least not all was lost yet. Or maybe it was. Maybe they really were the driftwood that had drifted out to sea to different shores, too far to find their ways back to each other.
But he would not go down without a fight, one last attempt, however feeble it may be, to rekindle the spark. And if it didn’t work, at least they knew for sure and maybe could go on as friends.