That was eight years ago and it still brought tears to his eyes. The whole town had pronounced him an official widower and had honored his ‘late’ wife a hero for saving three native children from death’s grip.

They were already trying to get him remarried and get rid of the status of being a single father of three. They all knew that all three children were not his biological children and that his wife had been missing after that horrid hurricane that had hit the island of Martinique. After his wife’s disappearance, her family pleaded and convinced him to move back home to Houston, Texas.

Adopting all three children in honor of his wife and those who perished in the hurricane, and maybe because his wife’s pleading eyes still haunted him every night, he bought a two-story house from his realtor mother-in-law, Meghan, to raise his children in. He also went back to his old job as accountant after leaving full-time ministry as a missionary.

Although he loved the Lord with his whole heart, he grew skeptical of God’s plan and mercy to those who trust him.

Completely caught in a world of his own, he didn’t noticed three mischievous tanned children creeping up behind him with a long hose in their hands. The youngest one smiled, revealing two missing front teeth as he folded the hose in half, lessening the flow of water. The middle child, a girl, held back a giggle with one hand as she held unto the hose.

The first one, a boy about the age of twelve, held onto the hose by the nook and used his other hand to count off the numbers. “One, two… three… Go!”

Their poor father sputtered as a huge spray of water collapsed upon him, waking him up from his nostalgia. He could hear their wild laughter as they aimed the cold water at their father who sat on the outside porch swing, his back facing them.

“Kids!” he gritted against his teeth, already trembling from the cold. He turned around and bared his fingers at them, growling like a craggy bear. As they gasped in surprise, he snatched the hose from them and then began to chase them up and down the front yard of the house, spraying them full blast with the refreshing coolness of the tap water.

The children had been complaining throughout the whole summer that the weather was dreadfully hot and they would like to go to the beach, and ever since the trauma of eight years ago he and the family thought it best to stay closer to land and away from the water. In his attempt to please them, he promised to take them to Astroworld and seeing that their father wouldn’t budge on his decision, they agreed to the resolution.

As they played with their father, they all seemed to have forgotten the suffocating heat. They squealed in laughter as he continued to spray them, the cool water speckled against their hazelnut-colored skin. They played heedlessly without noticing a black Sedan pull noiselessly into the driveway.

Finally pausing their game at the sound of the car horn, their father smiled as he put the hose to the side and made his way to the car. To his surprise, three pairs of hands latched onto his legs, restricting his movement. A petite woman emerged from the driver’s seat and waved at him. At that same moment, a toddler squealed in glee as she leapt out of the car and ran towards her cousins. Free from the grip of his children, he greeted his sister-in-law, Tampa. “What brings you around these parts?” he teased in a mocking Southern accent.

She chuckled as she watched her only daughter frolicking in the grass with her cousins. “Thought I’d stop by on my way to Mama’s house.” She winced, “Gayle dear… Don’t hit him so hard.”

He nodded in mirth and when he reached the car, he ran his index finger against its polished surface. “Hmm…” he said thoughtfully.

There was a moment of silence and Tampa glanced back at the children before she looked up at him and said quietly, “Can we talk privately, in the house, perhaps?” her brow raised inquisitively and her posture indicated immediate urgency.

He frowned at her momentarily and then nodded, leaving the kids to play in the grass, the two adults headed for the house. Inside, where it was incredibly cooler, Tampa helped herself to a comfortable position on a nearby couch by the window and smiled graciously as her brother-in-law handed her a cold glass of water with ice shavings.

After getting a drink for himself and lounging back in his Lazy-boy chair, he studied his sister-in-law’s straight face. “So… What’s up?”

She took her time gulping down her cold drink and after a few moments, she leaned in her chair and smiled sympathetically at him. “First, how are you?” she sounded so sincere that it almost brought him to tears.

He swallowed, not quite meeting her intense gaze that so resembled that of her sister’s.

Clearing his throat and his mind, he put on a wide smile, “Fine. The kids are doing great. Tyler is about to go to sixth grade, Alison is excelling in fifth grade and,” he smiled affectionately as he remember his youngest son who was missing his two front teeth, “Ethan lost another tooth at the age of nine. The teachers at his third grade say he’s the brightest kid ever.”

She smiled back at him, crying inside at the pain that flickered in those hazel-brown eyes of his, “I was asking about you, John.”

His eyes turned towards her and he shrugged, “Holding on, I guess.” He took another gulp of his water, the cold liquid soothing his parched throat.

“Hmm…” she assessed and leaned back in her chair, an epitome of a capable psychiatrist. After another moment of silence, she got up to her feet and moved towards the fireplace mantle where the pictures of the family sat.

There was a wedding photo of her and her husband, Marcus; the three Martinique children Tyler, Alison and Ethan playing in the local swimming pool, playing baseball, softball and tennis. Tampa frowned when she did not spot a single photo of her sister, John’s wife, on the mantle. He must’ve removed all million of them when he became convinced that she was gone forever. Her heartbeats accelerated as she struggled to tell her news to the man whose life might be altered by it. “John?”

He remained in his chair, thinking she would scold him for not displaying a picture of his dead wife. “Hmm?”

She sighed, “I have some news for you…”

“Is it good or bad?” he drawled nonchalantly. No news could possibly deter him after all the trauma he’d been through already.

She shrugged, “It’s up to your interpretation.” She cleared her throat, “Um, I got a call from 1-800-THE-LOST yesterday night and I thought to myself—”

John sighed in aggravation and stood to his feet, “Oh c’mon, Tampa… We’ve been through this before.”

She turned to look at him, “No John… L-listen.” She sighed as he turned around to face her. “We’ve prayed about this ever since it happened. She’s not dead, John… She’s out there and she’s—”

“STOP IT!” he yelled and cringed inwardly as she flinched. He took a deep breath to steady himself and then said quietly, “She’s gone, Tampa…” He picked up their glasses and walked to the kitchen, disposing it in the sink and walking towards the refrigerator.

Tampa’s heart ached for him and she followed him into the kitchen. “Just listen to me for one, okay? I know you don’t want to hear this, but listen for my sake… Indulge me.”

She touched his shoulder, her eyes pleading as he looked down at her.

He stared down at her heart-shaped face and chuckled sardonically at her odd expression. “You remind me so much of her…” He shook his head, smiling wistfully. “Go ahead, Tampa… Tell me of this news.”

She grinned back at him. “Well… When Marcus knows one of the detectives that works for the unit there.  He told him about Hannah, asked him to check out some files concerning the relocated residents in Martinique and its neighboring islands from eight years prior–”

“Neighboring islands?”

“You know St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Grenada, The Bahamas, Haiti, Dominican Republic and many others.”

He nodded, “And this friend of Marcus thinks they might have found my—Hannah?” his voice wobbled at the mention of her name.

Tampa nodded uncertainly, “It’s a little too early, Marcus says, but his friend—Charlie Hapta is his name,” she said quickly as John shifted in his chair, a sign of sudden doubt. “He used to be involved with the Special Victims Unit, you know the one that deals with missing persons and hidden criminals.”

John raised a speculative brow at his sister-in-law, “Criminals, Tampa?”

She raised a hand, “Hey… It doesn’t matter what course of action it takes, as long as they find my sister,” she said with such inspiring determination.

John nodded, his mind drifting. “You’re right… As long as they find Hannah.” Inside, as a picture of the threatening waves and the unwilling trees entered his mind, his hope diminished as questions invaded his mind. What if she was dead after all? Why would he start to hope now after so many years of believing she was gone forever?

Tampa’s hand touched his arm and he looked into her cloudy brown eyes, “They’ll find her, John… God is in control. Trust in Him.”

“Trust in God, Nat…” his wife’s last words had urged him and as it came from Tampa’s lips, he sat straighter and his heart leapt again with the prospect of hearing his wife’s voice again.

<<Part 1 || Part 3>>

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