“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”Arthur Schopenhauer
Windenburg Isle Cameron Estate
It was only about a week from Christmas, an unseasonably mild winter without even the hint of snow, just grey skies, even though the forecasts still promised a winter wonderland for the holidays.
Despite of the current gloom outside, the home was decorated and everyone was in a festive spirit, especially since this would be the triplets’ first real Christmas, last year they were only newborns, few weeks old. Liam and Vivien’s little Nick would turn one on Christmas Day, the entire family would be here at the Cameron Estate to celebrate.
Even today the home was filled with adult laughter and toddlers’ giggles echoing through the living room, where Abby, her parents Jamie and Averie, and Jay had been entertaining the three toddlers Esmé, Ewan and Emmy. Never a dull moment with that bunch.
In the midst of the fun, someone had rung the door bell, so Abigail got up to answer it, still smiling about the fun afternoon as she opened the door, while in the living room another burst of laughter sounded.
The playful moments were roughly interrupted by Abby’s shrill scream, filled with terror.
Instantly, both men, Abby’s father Jamie and Jay jumped up and ran to check on Abigail, while Abby’s mom Averie corralled the toddlers to take them upstairs and away from whatever startled their mommy.
Less than thirty minutes later, the toddlers had been put down for their naps, luckily the playtime together had tuckered them all out, and now it was the adults assembled around the dining room table staring at the new arrival.
It was none other than the father of the toddlers, Elliott Evans. The one who had died in a fire about two years back. At least supposedly. Nobody here believed in ghosts, and Elliott was as real as they come, even though Abigail had pulled away scared when he had attempted a hug after her father had suggested they all assemble at the dining room table, where they sat now, Jamie at the head, Averie, Abigail and Jay on one side, staring at Elliott opposite them.
“I don’t understand … how … why … but … you’re dead. I buried you. I go to your grave twice a week …” Abby mumbled, her voice trailed off, while Elliott’s half-brother Jay took over.
“I’d like to know that too! I watched you burn! I saw your burned, lifeless body. I tried to save you! I was carted around in a wheelchair from the burn unit of the hospital to identify you at the coroner’s. It was YOU on their table. I looked right at your face. That was YOU. Barely recognizable and burned to a crisp, but unmistakably you. Yet, here you are looking like a fresh Spring morning, not a scratch on you, while I look like this from trying to save you! I am disfigured and you are looking better than ever. So what the fuck kinda bullshit military magic is this, Elliott!? And why are you back now, after two years? Why are you back at all?!” Jay growled with barely suppressed anger.
“I am sorry about all that. Abby, I need you to know it wasn’t my choice. None of this was. Last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you, but there were orders from way above, I had no choice than to go along with it. I had been called to a very – VERY – covert mission at the very last minute. It was dangerous, I was told there was a 50% chance that I wouldn’t walk away from it, and in the off-chance I did, I would be given a new identity and a new life elsewhere never to return here again, to cut all ties, practically dead as you knew me, so I wanted my last memory of you Abby to be a happy Thanksgiving meal with your family. Instead you told me you might be pregnant, that you cheated on me because you thought we had broken up, which was ironic, because for months I had kept trying to cut ties with you, but just couldn’t do it. In the covert mission special ops we’re not supposed to have relationships, let alone families, but somehow you had made your way into my heart before I could stop it, and I just couldn’t get myself to break up with you, still, hearing you cheated on me killed me. What made me angry was you sleeping with my brother of all people. I know he is to blame, but between that and you thinking you might be pregnant, I freaked. I had to get out and I had to think, but didn’t get the chance, as soon as I got home they were already waiting for me, the mission had already started, all out of my hands. Jay wasn’t supposed to be home at all, and the last thing I would have ever expected was him risking his life to save me. It just all went terribly wrong. Well, it’s over now, I insisted on them reinstating me as I was, they are working on changing my status back to living, but that isn’t a quick process. And then I was told I was a father. Abby … is it true? I am a daddy? Triplets? They are mine?” Elliott’s words sounded like a plea.
Abby didn’t get a chance to answer, Jay exploded into an angry rant next to her.
“OH HELL NO! No NO NO – wait. You can’t do this. They don’t know you! They are not YOUR children. You may have fathered them, but you can’t just disappear and then come back and claim them. You’re nothing but a sperm donor. No way, no how! I won’t let you! I mean …” Jay had burst out, literally worry and fear in his eyes.
“Some brother you are, Jay. You watch me die and your initial reaction is to take my girl and kids. Just the same old Jay. You’ll never change. Always out for your own benefit. I must say I am glad to see you haven’t weaseled your way into marrying her yet, I mean, it looks like a nice inheritance to sponsor your gambling and drug habits. Seeing you’re still around tells me you haven’t given up hope yet, you con artist. But I could have told you it wouldn’t be so easy, Abby is a smart girl, she wouldn’t easily fall for your smoke and mirrors, even though you already preyed on her when she was vulnerable, that was always your spiel, she had a weak moment, so you had nothing better to do then drag her into your bed, you scum! Something tells me you are still doing that.” Elliott hissed, finally fed up with his brother’s verbal attacks.
“Stop it Elliott! Leave Jay alone! He’s changed! Quit blaming him! I was just as guilty as he was, which is why I came clean with you! But the rest is all on you. You did this to us! YOU! YOU DID THIS! To me! You know how much I cried for you?! And because of you?! How could you do this? And why come back now? WHY?! I was finally starting to get over missing you, feeling guilty for how we parted, for my children not having their real daddy … and now you come waltzing back into my life just like that? That’s just not right … it hurts me looking at you.” Abby cried out, causing her father to shoot Elliott and Jay warning glares.
“I had no choice! You KNEW I was on missions all the time. I told you I shouldn’t be dating. Abby, not one single day went by without me thinking about you, missing you, longing for you … you did something to me, making me want to change my life. And I did. It took time, my job is not one you can just hand in a two week notice. I know too much, they invested too much time and money in my training, I can’t just leave. But I made a deal with them to be reassigned if I completed that last mission. And they are good for it. I cannot ever talk about anything I have seen or done, but I am basically on a desk sort of job permanently, just have to train new recruits for the special ops teams and find suitable candidates. No more sudden disappearances, no more missions. Just a regular job. Totally safe. I would like to see my kids, please.”
This time Abigail’s mother prevented her from replying.
“Absolutely not! I am not sure what is really going on here, let alone what the proper reaction to all this mess is, but so much is certain, you will NOT go scare the little ones. Not right now. No way!” Averie’s tone was firm.
“My wife is right. You have done enough damage for one night, Elliott. You will have to admit, this is far from normal, and the children don’t know you at all. Luckily they are young enough and didn’t understand why their daddy wasn’t around, and while I agree they should know their real father, we have been managing quite well without you. You may see them, of course, but we have to go about this slowly and carefully. Most certainly not tonight. My brother’s son Ethan is an educator, I will call him for advice on how to do this the right way. And I will call my son Liam, who you may recall is a lawyer, to make sure we are doing this properly from a legal point of view. This needs to be done sensibly and fair, for your sake and ours.” Jamie sounded more like the diplomat he often had to be as the mayor of Windenburg, rather than the concerned father. A coping mechanism, to hide his own shock and worries.
“You can’t have them. I won’t let you!” Jay exclaimed, unclear if he meant just the kids or Abby as well.
“Jay, please … he is their father. He has rights.” Averie told him, while seemingly also telling herself the realization of that fact.
“Rights?! He’s got no rights, Mrs. Cameron, he’s dead! He wanted to be dead! So go and be dead, Elliott, dead people don’t steal children from others! He’s dead to me! You are dead to me! You fucked up everyone’s lives and just when we were all finding our way, you are back to fuck us over again. Look at me, Elliott! LOOK AT ME! I am disfigured because of you and your games! YOU did THIS to me! So quit the high and mighty act and rubbing my nose in my past mistakes. You were gone, you don’t know what is really going on now. You don’t know me. I am not the Jay you think you once knew, even though, let’s be honest, you never knew me at all anyway, you judgmental prick.” Jay roared at his older half-brother.
“Enough, Jay! I apologized, what more can I do? You weren’t supposed to be home! You said you had enough of boring Windenburg! Normally that meant five minutes later there is nothing but a dust cloud settling in your wake and you won’t be seen or heard from for years until you need something again, usually via a call from prison. There is always a risk of collateral damage. You got caught up in it. I didn’t KNOW!”
“I was about to leave, but you punched me out, remember?! I didn’t come to until the fire was already everywhere! Ha, a little longer of me being unconscious and I wouldn’t be a problem ever again. Was that your little side-plan, huh?! A quick and easy way to finally get rid of the annoying little half-brother you always hated, as you never missed an opportunity in letting me feel, even back when we were little? Our parents should never have had kids, I know we agree there, I never asked to be born, but instead of us sticking together you abandoned me when I needed you, and then you blame me for finding ways to get out of there and get by, and blamed me for being messed up. Presumptuous asswipe, point your finger at me all you want, but there are several fingers pointing straight back at yourself, Elliott. Our situation wasn’t your fault or mine, but you did NOTHING to help either. Only ever blamed me for the misery.”
“Don’t be an idiot! I never hated you! And of course I did not want you to get hurt! You’re my brother. Back then I did what I could to help you, but I was a kid myself, I am barely three years older than you. I was in no position to make anything better for either of us. I got out when I could because your father, my step-father hated me, and things were much worse for me than for you because I wasn’t his and he let me feel it every way and chance he could. As for the fire, the special ops team pulled me before I could do something about it! I thought they got you out too! You don’t get to ask questions when special ops goes in to prep a stage! They put a body there made to look like me. I don’t know how and I will never be allowed to know how or why they did what they did. I had an assignment and that was all I was privy to! And you deserved the punch, Jay! You slept with MY girlfriend!!! AGAIN! Just like you used to when we were teens! But stealing Abby from me? How could you?! You KNEW Abby was special to me! I know you KNEW!”
The brothers had jumped up, Jay made it around the table in record time, now the brother’s faces were inches from each other.
Jamie separated them and warned them about both being on the verge of being kicked out to settle their issues outside, they were grown men, that was their business.
Instead the afternoon ended with a compromise. While the government was working on getting him back a life like he had before, and to change his official status everywhere, Elliott would slowly be introduced to the children, after a paternity test would confirm him as the father, a formality really, since nobody had reason to doubt it. Abby’s older brother and lawyer by profession, Liam had been called in to look into the legal side of it all, he soon arrived with hastily drawn up documents and to make sure to protect the Camerons and the triplets from any rash ideas.
Everyone was upset.
Most of all Jay, who seemed to feel like he was about to be send out to the pasture for good. After the confrontation, he refused to speak another word to his brother.
Abby’s parents were worried, at a loss on how to protect their daughter and grandchildren from whatever may lay ahead.
Abigail was just completely confused. For almost two years she had been mourning Elliott, filled with regrets and sadness about losing him without at least being able to talk everything over, about her children never knowing their father, wishing him back into her life. Now that he was back, she wasn’t sure that’s what she wanted.
She wanted Jay now, but that had been low-brow before. It would be downright awful now, with Elliott back. And what if Elliott was right about him? What if Jay crumbled under the pressure and adversity and would just take off? No, Abigail was too confused to know which way to turn, and whom to trust.