“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”–Leo Buscaglia
Windenburg Isle Cameron Estate
The dinner conversation had mostly seized, everyone was busy with their plates or with watching over the three toddlers in their high chairs, who were too prone to start playing with their food and if one started, the dominoes would fall.
Except Elliott and Jay, seated across from each other, Jay next to Abby, Elliott across from her, both men had constantly tried to command her attention, until Abby’s father Jamie had put a stop to it. Ever since that, the brothers had resorted to shooting each other icy glares across the table that became impossible to ignore and began to negatively affect everyone’s mood and appetite. Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident, but rather the rule than the exception with them.
“Okay, that’s it! Mr. Evans, Mr. Randalls – both of you with me into the office – NOW!” Jamie said firmly, stood up and walked off in the direction of his home office, the brothers pushed back their chairs and followed, as did Jamie’s father Declan, probably to try and mediate.
Jamie was a gentle soul, had always been the quieter, sweeter one of Declan and Rory’s twin sons, but if needed, he could be very assertive and few dared to refuse him, especially since decades ago now he had started his own business and soon after was elected mayor of Windenburg, having him wear two important hats ever since. Neither position allowed him to be a pushover.
Once in the office, Jamie shut the door behind Elliott, Jay, Declan and himself, then faced the brothers.
“I have about had it with you both! I am all for second chances and family sticking together, but you two need to realize and seize the opportunity presenting itself to you, rather than constantly abuse my courtesy and continue to ruin every single family dinner you both are invited to attend – for yourselves but also others. There is so much tension between you both, almost palpable and makes the rest of us lose our appetites. I am done with lenience, and by that I mean either you both stick your heads together and work out your differences to the point where you can REALLY be civil around each other, or one of you cannot be around my daughter and grandchildren anymore.”
“Wait – what?! I didn’t say another word after you told us to shut up.” Jay instantly felt his position threatened, in the family but also in Jamie’s company, where he worked as the maintenance guy, which he actually immensely enjoyed and not only because it allowed him to see Abby throughout the workday. In Jay’s book Elliott had the clear advantage as the biological father of Abby’s triplets.
“That is correct, you didn’t, but you and your brother’s eye dagger exchange across the dinner table did nothing for anybody’s mood. I will say though, Jay has been to many dinners and festivities over the past two years and always managed to be on his best behavior, just like you used to be before your – let’s call it ‘time away’, Elliott, but ever since your dubious return you have been invited to every event and many dinners, and every time there have been issues. I am not happy with your entitled – and at times downright rude – conduct towards your brother, it is impolite and disrespectful towards your hosts when you cannot put aside your personal differences. I am not looking to place blame, but it is undeniable that most of the time it is you Elliott who doesn’t miss a beat to antagonize Jay. Make no mistake, I acknowledge the rough position you have been put into, and I respect your biological relationship to my grandkids, but this ends right here. I am tired of having family meals ruined by your inability to behave like adults, especially in front of little children! You are creating a toxic environment and I will not have that in my house, nor around my family.”
“Excuse me, what are you implying, Mr. Cameron?” Elliott challenged.
“I think you know full well what I am saying, but if you need me to lay it out for you, I can. You will clean up your act, understand that my daughter has moved on and your only remaining position in his family is the father of my grandkids. Beyond that, Abby has made her position abundantly clear. She is with your brother now, Jay is her boyfriend and therefore will always have a seat at my table. You, on the other hand may be reduced to visitation of the triplets unless you manage to get your head on straight.”
Jay’s head snapped around to Jamie, his heart beating fast about him being clearly picked over his brother, whom he had pegged as having the advantage, so his stance relaxed.
Elliott on the other hand glared at Jamie, then Declan, his brother and back at Jamie.
“You are threatening me?” Elliott’s question sounded like a warning to Jamie, clearly he felt like a cornered animal and the situation needed to be diffused quickly, so Declan stepped in.
“No no no no, Elliott, my boy, please calm down, you are misunderstanding this. My son did no such thing. He is asking you to accept the unchangeable truth. Look, kiddo, we all understand your position is rough and feels unfair, but what happened hurt Abby and even your brother deeply and if you are looking to place blame, it should not fall on anyone here in this house. The ones who caused this to happen are your employers, whom you are still loyal too, strangely. They carry 100% of the fault for everything you are sore about. Not Jay, not Abby, not my son and not any other Cameron. Your employers staged your death, and everything that followed is 100% on them. Yet, you still contract out to them, as hurt as you are by the consequences that had for you, while you are combative with your own brother, and make things uncomfortable for the rest of us, while we have been nothing but kind to you by inviting you back into the fold.”
Hearing Declan’s soft, warm voice delivering blatant truth froze Elliott, suddenly his hardened face softened, for a moment it seemed as if he was about to cry, he nervously rubbed his hands across his face, then said
“But I love her. I cannot just stop …” he muttered, very much unlike him.
His brother’s unusual vulnerability did something to Jay, he shifted uncomfortably, then looked at Declan for advice, who tilted his head towards Elliott, then nodded.
Jay inhaled deeply, then stepped towards Elliott and hugged him, like Declan and Rory had done with him when he first came to live with them, still a resentful, withdrawn, distrustful – and very broken – young man then. After the initial awkwardness of the physical affection he wasn’t used to, Declan’s and Rory’s hugs had begun to feel like medicine, and now it was on him to try and administer such to his own brother. He swallowed hard. It felt unnatural, but also somehow like something that had to happen.
“I am sorry, brother. I know this must hurt like hell and it sucks.” Jay said.
Reluctantly at first, then Elliott returned the gesture, hugging his brother back, stiffly, but it seemed genuine, while Jay thought that he could not remember one single time before that day they ever hugged before.
“It does hurt. It all hurts. So much. I am sorry, man. For everything. I should have been there …” Elliott said, his voice cracking with old and new guilt, as the brothers released and faced each other.
“I am sorry too. Really. All the shit I pulled when I was younger, and the shit I said to you …” Jay replied.
“You were right, Jay … I am a coward. I got out and I left you, knowing how bad it was there. I have felt so guilty about that ever since … knowing I could never fix that. And I am a moron for having chosen to be obedient to the job and leaving my girl behind. When I realized how I felt about Abby, and she about me, I should have resigned – and if they had court-martialed me, so be it. I know I hurt her and if roles were reversed, I would have moved on too. I would not have been so nice about me coming back as she has been though … man I messed up. Crap.”
“We both messed up. It’s not all our fault though, I blame our parents. We never were taught how to handle problems, we both screwed up at some point long ago and it became an avalanche. I had very patient and kind people show me the right way, maybe we all can help you too and maybe you can get out of that military BS. You have kids now, you need to be there for them, so you don’t become your father or mine, let alone our mother. But, Elliott, I mean it when I say you can’t have Abby. I am sorry man, but I love her and I will make her my wife one fine day … I really don’t want to fight you over her. It doesn’t work like that, I had to learn that, too. Love has to be a two way street, if you love someone, but they don’t love you back, you have to accept it.”
Elliott said nothing, but his shoulders were trembling, he was apparently crying, while Jay looked overwhelmed with the situation.
Declan nudged a surprised and confused Jamie, gesturing to the door, then father and son slipped out.
Quietly closing the door behind them, Jamie asked softly.
“You think we should stick around nearby, just in case that takes a turn again?”
“No. Let’s go for some of your wife’s fine peach cobbler, I have been looking forward to that all day long. They’ll be fine. They are brothers after all, Jamie, and the only family either of them has left, save the triplets. You and your brother, and you guys’ children have bickered, but always had that security of parents and siblings there to rely on, not to mention grandparents. Elliott and Jay never had that, which is a very scary place. They are both currently learning that security. Even if they were to fight now, it would be a step in the right direction. Hidden, suppressed feelings poison the soul. They are both detoxing. This will take a while, it took some time for Jay and he was a willing scholar, with Elliott I am not so sure he can be so open, after all that military training, but I am willing to give it a shot, pretty sure your mother will too. Hoping to count on you and Averie too.”
“Oh dad, of course we’ll help if you feel so strongly about it. When did you become the saint of the lost souls?”
“Probably somewhere around the time a beautiful curly haired 15 year old girl named Rory saved my lost soul when she decided to not give up on me, the nerdy basket case. Or maybe even long before that, when I first laid eyes on that fire-engine red haired little brother of mine named Everett, who turned out to become my protector, best friend and confidante later on and still is to this day. Both of them taught me everything I ever needed to know in life, not by words, but their kind actions. I handed this down to you boys, to your children and now even to two young men in need of a chance. That, my son, is a true legacy. One of kindness and love. Always pay forward, if you can. It doesn’t take much, but can change another person’s life for the better in an instant sometimes, at the very least by giving them lost hope back.”
“I admire you, dad. You are a true role model, you lead by example, rather than empty words like so many others. And you really are the best father any child could wish for, and the best grandfather, and even great-grandfather. Even cousin Blaine still often talks about the time you and mom took him in when he was having all those problems and his parents had to go on tour. If you hadn’t, he would have probably never have met Scarlett and he would probably have failed in school and never made it to college. I can still only hope to one day be like you. Love you, dad.”
“Love you too, James, and you already are just like me. What you admire comes in many forms. I am older, have a headstart on you and more experience in the broken category, even though I always had wonderful family to help me through it all. These two young men weren’t so lucky. Rory and I helped one brother feel more grounded, maybe we can all pitch in and do that for Elliott too. We can’t save them all, but every single one makes a difference.”