Character is the moral strength to do the right thing even when it costs more than you want to pay.Michael Josephson
Windenburg Cameron Jr. residence
I am going to skip over my time away, I made it 12 whole hours, 8 of those spent sleeping in some no-tell motel room, 2 driving and the rest simmering in a hodgepodge of thoughts until I missed my retched husband and the rest of the family, including our dogs, just too dang much. The sappy reunion once I got back home and all the promises that rained down on me were cutesy, but let’s be honest, we all know none of that would last, but at least I could think clearly and breathe again.
Few days after my timeout our grandson Declan had his first birthday.
The birthday party was sweet, little Declan was such a happy little boy, a real ray of sunshine, spunky and outgoing as he babbled at everyone with what probably sounded liked words to him, thinking he was joining our conversations. He was so much like Brendan when he was little, it was serious deja vu for Blaine and me.
At some point after most guests had already left, Brendan stepped outside, where he found Riordan sitting quietly.
“Hey, mind if I join ya?” he asked.
“Of course not, it’s your home. Thank you for even inviting me.”
“Thank you for coming. Of course you’re invited, you’re part of the family. Crazy how fast those babies grow. One year old already. I remember him being born like it was yesterday.”
“Yeah, I get that. Cute kid though, and he is definitely well-loved. You gonna have more?”
“I am perfectly happy with the one we have, but if you ask my wife, yes. She wants one more, a girl, but you know there are no guarantees that’s what we’ll get, so I have been dragging my feet, afraid if I’d just say yes and we get pregnant with a boy, we’ll end up as one of those couples that keep trying till they get the gender they want. So far I have just deflected her hints, but they are getting more and more obvious, just a matter of time until I get the “Brendan, we have to talk”. That will be all it takes, as I have the hardest time saying no to that pretty blonde in there, Natty has me wrapped tightly around her little finger and wouldn’t want it any other way. She and I both make decent money, but not enough to support a football team worth of kids. So what’s new with you, bro?”
“Nothing. Not a damn thing. Just like all the years before and all the years to come. Nothing’s ever going to be new, unless it is bad news.”
“Good grief, you make me want to shove a handful of antidepressants down your throat. What gives? You should be thrilled that everything is going your way now. I mean, you are dating my sister now, right? Officially that is.”
“I guess, but not really. She is so depressed and our relationship’s stuck in quicksand. Plus, Blaine keeps telling me I fucked everything up, and I am starting to believe it. I can tell Ana’s not happy and probably never will be. I always suspected that, but thought I could change things if I tried hard enough. If I could only get my hands on some documents, so I could get a job and be just a regular guy … you wouldn’t want to help a brother out here and hook me up, would you?”
“Help you out? Me, a federal agent? How? By helping you get a fake identity, breaking the law I am literally trained and paid to enforce, while risking my job, my livelihood and freedom and potentially watch my son grow up from prison? All for what? You still won’t age, you still have no work experience, no money. Just so you have an ID card to flash while living off my sister? That would never work and you know it. Plus, she will age, you won’t, which will just be really weird once the gap gets too big. She is already freaking about about turning 30, I don’t want to know what it will be like when she hits 50 and you still look like you’re in your mid-twenties. Maybe there would have been some way for you to do this before she had kids, you know, move far away where nobody knows you and move every few years or something. But you know Ana will never move away from her kids. And just like Natalie doesn’t know your secret, her kids won’t ever know and as they get older, they’ll wonder about their mother’s never aging boyfriend or you’d force Ana to live a sort of double-life in a way. You’re gonna have to face the music, Ri, you’re too late, bro. Sad, but true. Sorry.”
“Okay, so then what? Her marriage is already hanging in the ropes, yet, this is not going the way I had hoped. She and I are stuck somehow, not moving forward at all. I honestly do not know what to do anymore, but if you have any grand ideas, by all means, lay it on me, Cameron.”
“OK, sure. What you should do is this: Go to Chase and talk to him calmly, man to man. Explain to him that you always loved Ana, but realized things have evolved too far between him and her, say that you realized she still loves him, that she belongs with her family, so you are stepping aside. If I know Chase at all, he’ll at least take that into consideration and he may be willing to give Ana one last chance. And you will have to let that happen. She’ll be torn, you know she’ll try to cling to you, you will have to nudge her towards him a couple times, tell her it’s the way it has to be, as you realized there is no future for you both beyond friendship. She’ll kick and scream, but eventually she will see the light. With any luck, her marriage can be saved. And we both know she loves him, still.”
“Wow. You just thought of all that, little Brenny?”
“No. I am a fixer of all things broke, and a problem solver. Been dwelling on it for a while, wondering how to talk to you about it. I tried bringing it up with my sister a couple times, but she is such an emotional booby trap right now, it went over like a lead balloon each time and I am literally afraid to try again. No clue how my parents manage to live with her currently. You know I am right, Ri. There is no other way. Your uncle was in love with my mother, yet he moved on. Ask him how he coped.”
“You know about that?”
“I am neither an idiot nor blind. Yes, I know. I have known that for years.”
“You know what Brendan? You are right. I have realized all you have said too, but I just couldn’t admit it to myself. I want to be with her so very much. When I am with Ana, for a little while, I am just like all of you. Just a guy with a beautiful woman he loves and who loves him back, without disclaimers, lies, hiding. A small part of me has dreams of having a child with her … seeing how much joy they bring. Watching you with your little boy, dude, I remember you being that little and your parents being just like that with you. That circle of life thing always gets me, man, for me, there is no such thing. This is my final destination. All of you mortals complain about getting older, when you do not even realize what it’s like if you don’t. I am trapped with no way out. If vampires had to be immortal, why did they give us feelings? Be much easier without.”
“I don’t know, Ri. All I can tell you is that if you really love my sister as much as you say, you’ll find a way to do the right thing. You know a child would never work out between you two, and you know very well why. But you also know she already has young children and should be with them and their father. There is a middle ground, Ri, you don’t have give up spending time with Ana, you are part of the family anyway, just set boundaries, for yourself and for her and never cross them without exception. True love means sacrifice. My parents sacrificed, I have sacrificed, your uncle even has sacrificed. The window of opportunity to right this wrong is closing, if you wait too long and Chase really files for divorce it’s gonna be a lot harder to save this, if at all possible. Right now, I am certain there is some hope, the way Chase still talks about it all. The ball is in your court, Riordan. If you truly love Ana and want to make her happy, if you really care about the Camerons as you say you do, you know what to do. There are still no guarantees at this point that Chase will give her another chance, but you have to at least try. If it won’t work out for them, you at least have a clean conscience and she won’t end up hating you one day, deserved or not.”
“I know, man. And I am sorry. I think you’d be a seriously cool brother-in-law, but none of us can change what we are. But you’d still have her in your life and all the rest of us, too. Always. That must be worth at least something. We Camerons may be flawed, but we have a real good track record of loyalty. Think about it, dude. Both options come at a steep price, but one way is the right way and definitely worth it.”
Brindleton Bay Cunningham Estates
Chase looked out the window when he noticed movement out front, his face darkened as he recognized the figure, immediately he rushed out the front door.
“You! You have some nerve! Get the heck off my property!” he yelled at the visitor.
“Relax, I come in peace. Won’t take much of your time, but I need to speak to you. Please.”
“I have nothing to say to you!”
“You don’t have to say anything, just listen, hear me out. It’s about Ana. I realized a few rough truths that involve you and her. She is miserable right now and I know she regrets everything, even though she may not say it. There is a lot about me you don’t know, Chase, and you never will, but I owe everything to the Camerons, especially Ana. Maybe I was too clingy with her when I shouldn’t have been, maybe I misread my gratitude for love, but if you tell me now you can forgive her one last time, I will make sure you will never regret it. You have my word.”
“Why the sudden change of heart? I remember our conversation very well, sitting at my dining room table, where you arrogantly spewed your views about whom Ana really belongs with, even though I am the one wearing the wedding band tying her and me together forever – supposedly.” Chase was suspicious.
“I know. I disrespected you in your own home with my contorted views, a serious offense. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that, when I did the same thing to Blaine at his home.”
“Ha, bet he cleaned your clock.”
“Well, it was actually Viktoria who did in her very own way. Long story. I just had a talk with Brendan and realized that maybe some years ago there would have been a chance for Ana and me, before you, before the twins. I don’t know, nobody does, the only thing I can say for sure now is that I am too late. She belongs with you and your kids. I lost her years ago and never realized it. She most definitely loves you, I am just an old friend and a sort of brother to her at this point. Or at least I should be, anything beyond that is nothing but a mirage, wishful thinking and a lie.”
“Ana doesn’t know you are here, does she?”
“No. I neither need nor want her approval for this. It’s what’s right, what has to happen and I am stepping back regardless, if she hates me for it, then that’s the way it will have to be. I came to you so you know the truth of what is really going on, what is about to happen and maybe, just maybe, you can put it all behind you and be a family again, if I am not too late. Just know this, what I have or had with Ana has never been as physical as you may think. I am not going to insult you by lying, there have been moments of intimacy, but that was never what this was about. It was rooted much deeper than carnal pleasures.”
“That’s all good and well, Riordan, but if you were in my shoes, if our roles were reversed, and she had cheated on you as much with me as she has on me with you, regardless the exact amount and what you two really have or haven’t done with each other, would you take her back?”
“If I were any other man, some regular dude she met somewhere at a bar or something, no freaking way. I wouldn’t even have forgiven her after the first time, so you already are a bigger man than I am. But I am not like everyone else, never will be, because of unfortunate factors I won’t disclose as – with all due respect, Chase – they are none of your business. Take it or leave it, but it’s the truth. She probably feels bound to me because of some form of pity, not love, if I am honest, and to me, she is the only one I could ever fully be myself around. So, to answer your question, yes, knowing all those special circumstances I would give her one last chance.”
“And what guarantee do I have that you won’t change your mind and we’ll be right back where we are now?”
“There are no guarantees. My word is all you’re gonna get. Take it or leave it.”
“My son could have drowned that night because of her being distracted by you trespassing on my property.”
“True, but he didn’t. He didn’t even get wet. I got him before he hit water. I would never let an innocent child drown if I can help it.”
“I saw that. I was there. I just still do not know what exactly I saw though. Definitely nothing that would make any logical sense. One minute you were by the gazebo with Ana … then suddenly you are holding Collin in your arms by the pool hundreds of yards away.”
“There are some things about me best left unspoken. You have all the facts you need, all the facts you will get, you have my word, what you do with all that is up to you. I have to go now, so I can hurt the person I love most in the world, break her heart and my own, so she can be happy. Better do that now before I lose my courage. Bye.”
“Hey, where did you even park? Want me to drive you somewhere?”
“Nah, thanks. Just be the man everyone thinks you are and make my sacrifice worthwhile, Chase.”
“Hey, Riordan. Thanks again for saving my boy. And … thanks for this. Maybe you are not the dickhead I thought you were after all.”
“Oh, I am that dickhead. The only thing good about me has only ever been Ana, which is why this is so hard. And don’t hate her for any of this, hate me. I can take it and I deserve every bit of it.”
Chase watched Riordan walked past the gate and the darkness seemed to have swallowed him.