Posts from the “Chasing Truth” Category

Chasing Truth: Chapter 32

Posted on 31/01/2020

“Are your friends usually on time?”

She glanced over her shoulder at Reese who stood in the doorway to the living room. Julia and Leilani were coming over to hear all about how her visit had gone with her father. The moment she’d texted them her father was gone, they’d arranged for the girls’ night. It was as much about seeing how she was doing as it was curiosity about the man they’d never met.

“They will be tonight. It’s been a few days.”

“Be careful about what you share tonight.”

She turned back to her laptop where she was reviewing the schedule for the next week of tours. “I don’t know enough to share anything threatening, so that should make it easy.”

“Mari.”

He didn’t say anything else, so she reluctantly turned her head again.

“That’s for your safety as much as it is his.”

She sighed. “I hear you.”

“Good. I’ll be with your uncle. Lock the door when I leave and after they get here.”

She nodded because they’d already covered how the night was supposed to go. Setting aside the laptop, she followed him to the door and locked it behind him. She hadn’t figured out exactly how much she was going to share with her best friends, but Reese agreeing to give them some time alone gave her some freedom.

Ten minutes before they were supposed to show, she heard banging on the door. Laughing, she closed the laptop and set it on the table before answering the door. Leilani drove her back through the doorway with the force of her hug.

“Stranger!”

Mari laughed harder as Julia followed them inside with bags from Joe’s in hand.

“It’s only been a few days.”

“A few days too long!” Leilani countered immediately.

“I missed you guys too. Man, that smells delicious.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Leilani agreed with a huge grin as they moved toward the table. “Let’s hurry up and load up on food goodness. Then we’ll be ready to hit you with all of the questions.”

It took longer than the girls wanted to get the food unpacked and pile their plates because it was Joe’s. Everyone’s eyes were too big for their stomachs when it came to Joe’s. They finally moved to the living room to get settled, though. Leilani folded her legs up on the couch, balancing her plate on her leg as she leaned forward.

“Okay. Now tell us everything.”

“I don’t even know where to start,” Mari admitted.

“Umm, I don’t know. Maybe the beginning?”

Julia grinned around the bite of her food. “I have to agree with her on this one.”

Mari took her time dipping her calamari in sauce. “So. He came. Obviously.”

“Janey said she saw you on the beach with a man she’d never seen before,” Julia noted. “I assumed then that was him.”

“It was. He showed up and honestly, I had no clue what to say when he did. He knows how I feel about the beach, the water. He suggested we head out there and, somehow, that made it easier. We talked.” Mari cupped the sides of her neck and let her head drop back. “What I share with you can’t leave us. You can’t talk to your parents about it, Keon, nobody. You can’t go trying to do any research on your own.” She looked pointedly at Julia. “I’m calling for sister silence on this one.”

Julia laid her fork on her plate and Leilani lost her playful expression. They looked at each other. Only twice before had they invoked the “sister silence” they’d created when they were children. Never had it been Mari to ask for it.

“He’s been gone your whole life,” Julia said slowly. “We talked and we figured that probably meant there was a pretty serious story, so I can’t say we’re surprised.”

“I talk. A lot,” Leilani told them what they both already knew and they laughed. “Sister silence.”

They each pressed two fingers to their lips, drew x’s over their hearts, laid a hand there, and then all linked pinkies before lifting their hands together to touch.

“He wouldn’t tell me the full story, but he’s connected to something that’s dangerous. That’s why he sent my mom away when I was a kid. He wanted us safe. When Mom died, the danger hadn’t gone away and he knew how close I was to Raoul, so he let Raoul raise me. He kept his distance all these years for the same reason.”

“You have no clue what he might be involved in?” Julia asked curiously. “I know you. You would’ve pressed for more.”

She hesitated. She wanted to tell them the truth about Tyler and his suspicions. This was the perfect opportunity and they could give her another perspective. They would second-guess her though, especially her continued involvement with Tyler. She was also afraid of what would happen if Tyler or whoever he worked for found out they knew. The fear made her settle for a modified version of the truth.

“I don’t know what to think. He didn’t give me a lot to go off of, other than when it first started they seemed to think it was going to be temporary. It turned into something permanent.”

“Do you think maybe he was involved in something bad, for like quick cash or something? And then he maybe got trapped?” Leilani asked breathlessly.

Mari shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. That could fit for sure. He seems like a good guy, but isn’t that what everyone says about bad people when they find out they’re bad? ‘He was such a nice guy. He volunteered on the weekends, mowed the neighbor’s grass’? Besides, I had only had two days with him. They were good, but that’s nowhere near long enough to judge a person’s character.”

Julia’s brow wrinkled. “What are the other possibilities? He’s said whatever this is isn’t going to end, right?”

“Basically. Nothing I’ve managed to come up with has been the kind of story you want to put together about your father. That he was fun, sweet, and really seems to care for me didn’t make those thoughts any easier.”

“But the time with him was good?” Leilani asked hopefully.

“It was. I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were definitely some awkward moments, but most of the time was good. He was really interested in getting to know me. He and Raoul got along with no issues. We got to do a few things together.”

Mari’s food grew cold as she shared story after story about the times she had with Blake. Julia and Leilani clutched their stomachs in laughter and more than once Leilani tried to wipe discreetly at her eye. By the time Mari shared the stories Blake told her of her mom, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. All three of them had loved Miranda. Sharing the stories with her best friends about her was like sharing them with sisters.

      “Outside of the worry about what he’s involved in, I…I liked him. So even though it’s not likely, I’m really hoping he’s not some horrible criminal and the story is just more complicated than I can put together on my own.”

“That’s good at least. I mean obviously, it’s complicated and it would suck if he turns out to not be a great guy, but at least he’s a good dad.”

Leilani made sense in a complicated way, so Mari nodded.

“So, what happens now?” Julia asked.

“We’re going to stay in touch. Talk on the phone, plan another visit sometime in the future. I guess we’re kinda taking it day by day and slowly getting to know each other.”

“That’s a good plan.”

“Yeah, well I’m going to need help keeping a hold on one day at a time because sometimes I really want to get ahead of myself and freak myself out thinking too hard.”

“That’s what we’re here for.”

Mari stretched her legs out in front of her before she grabbed her plate and pushed out of the chair. “I let my food get cold running my mouth,” she complained.

Julia and Leilani looked down at their plates. Julia blinked in disbelief.

“You always tell a good story, no matter what it’s about. Nobody can distract me from conch fritters. Nobody.”

Mari fist pumped in triumph, making Julia shove her playfully as they returned to the kitchen to warm their food. It felt so good to kick back with her friends and get everything off of her chest over amazing food. She hadn’t realized how much she needed it until that moment.

“Hey, how did Blake like Tyler?” Leilani asked.

Mari chuckled softly. “He had the typical dad response. He put up with him because he had to, but didn’t make much or any effort to get to know him. Granted, I think getting to know me took priority. Still, I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t a big fan but I don’t think he’d be a fan of anyone.”

“Man, Tyler is really striking out,” Leilani said ruefully. “Keon is still not a fan. I kind of thought maybe he would warm to him after a while.”

“At least he’s not as openly rude anymore. He manages not to insult him when Tyler picks me up from the shop.”

 “What wonderful progress. Do you like him anymore than you used to?” Leilani asked Julia.

“I don’t dislike him.”

Leilani snorted. Julia ignored her.

“Well, I like seeing you happy,” Leilani told Mari with a smile. “I think we can all admit he helps with that.  He watches you, you know? When you guys are together and you’re talking to other people or doing something. He watches you with this little smile on his face that says he likes seeing you be you. I like it.”

A knock on the door drew their attention. Before Mari could even start for the door Leilani was striding from the kitchen.

“We finally get our first girls’ night in forever and somebody has the nerve to knock on the door? It’s probably Tyler. Don’t let my food burn!”

 “You can’t just-” She stopped midsentence after yanking the door open. “Umm…hi. Can I help you?”

“It’s not safe to open the door without knowing who’s on the other side. You should be careful. My name is Reese. I’m a friend of Mari’s.”

Mari groaned at the sound of that voice, drawing Julia’s attention.

“A friend of Mari’s?” Leilani echoed in a voice meant to carry. “Why don’t you come inside?”

Seconds later, Leilani appeared with Reese behind her. Her eyes were wide in a silent demand for answers and Julia’s grew just as big when she spotted him. They stared accusingly at Mari. She nibbled at her bottom lip.

“Oh. Yeah. I forgot to mention. Umm, a family friend is in town for a little while. Reese, this is Leilani and Julia. Call her Jules or she’ll abuse me. Lani, Jules, this is Reese.”

They stared at her a moment longer to make sure she knew she would pay for leaving Reese out of her storytelling. They turned back to face him.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Reese,” Leilani said genuinely. “Welcome to Sakina.”

“Thank you,” Reese said with a gracious smile before he focused on Mari. “I take it this isn’t quite winding down yet. Raoul warned me you three could talk all night and never run out of things to say.”

“He wasn’t wrong.”

“You’re welcome to stay,” Leilani offered and jerked to the side when Julia elbowed her.

Reese pretended not to see it although Mari was certain he hadn’t missed it.

“I wouldn’t want to intrude on girl time. I’m sure I’ll have the chance to talk with you before I leave the island.”

Mari checked the time, surprised and yet not that so much of it had passed. It was always like that when they got together.

“Another hour or so?”

“That works. Have a good night, ladies.”

“You too.”

He smiled and let himself back out.

Leilani held her silence for all of three seconds after the door closed. “Who is Mr. Delicious?” she asked in a stage whisper.

“He’s a friend of Blake’s.”

“A same age friend? Because he looks closer to our age. And in case you somehow missed it, he is one fine man. Really fine. Super fine.”

“I’m dating someone, remember?”

She deflated. “Oh. Yeah.” She perked back up immediately. “Wait. You asked for more time. Is he staying here? Mari, Tyler is going to lose his mind!”

“He already did. He got over it.”

“He might have let you think he got over it. It needs repeating. The man is fine. No way is Tyler okay with him staying here.”

“Tell us about him.”

Julia’s prompting shifted the focus away from Tyler.

“He and Blake are really close. He pays attention. To everything and I mean everything. You could probably tell looking at him, but he’s in great shape. He’s got a good sense of humor.”

Mari shrugged and met Julia’s focused stare. She didn’t disappoint, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

“Your dad is worried. That’s why he’s here.”

“He’s…being cautious. I don’t think he’s truly worried.”

Leilani’s mouth twisted up as she let go of Reese’s looks and the implications of his presence hit her.

“I’ll be telling everyone the same thing I told you guys. He’s a friend of the family visiting for a while. It’s not a lie. There’s just a reason for the visit.”

Leilani sank back into the couch and rubbed at her temple. “Your life has literally turned into a movie. This is crazy.”

“You’ll be careful,” Julia said pointedly. “We all will.”

Mari nodded. It was important for her to tell her friends as much of the truth as she felt was safe, but she didn’t want them to worry either.

“Reese will be around, sticking close. Just try not to embarrass me, please.”

“Hey, I’m never an embarrassment,” Leilani protested.

Julia burst into laughter and dodged Leilani’s swat. The night quickly devolved into amusing stories and endless teases. It was perfect.

<< Chapter 31     Chapter 33 >>

Chasing Truth: Chapter 31

Posted on 24/01/2020

Image result for newspaper wrapping

      Mari stood looking out at the water and breathing in the clean scent of the ocean. To her, there was nowhere closer to heaven than this spot. It was odd, but she felt safe here. The peace that filled her in being here was created before she could even form words. She could stand here all day.

“You picked the perfect spot.”

She looked over her shoulder where Blake stood beside Miranda’s grave with one hand on the headstone. Seeing him there, having him there with her felt…right. She flashed him a quick smile.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said she loved it. I feel like I lived years of my life right here. And sometimes it feels like she’s still here.”

“She would make sure pictures got to me. There were quite a few of the two of you up here. The grins on your faces were a mile wide. I’m sure in one of them those grins were covered with slushy coloring from the ones Gage says you’re so fond of.” His smile was soft with remembrance.

“I absolutely believe that.” Her laughter tapered off in a sigh. “She was a great mom. The best. Sometimes it just hurts that I never got to know the woman.”

“She was born to be a mother.  Your mother. I’m convinced of that. The bond between you two was something special to see.” He seemed to get lost in the past for a moment.

“After these last few days, I can tell you if you want to know who Miranda was as a woman, all you have to do is look in the mirror.”

She made a soft sound in the back of her throat as she tried to fight off the emotion. “Do not make me cry,” she complained.

He chuckled. “I just wanted to give you some of the answers you were looking for.”

He’d known her mother better than probably anyone else on the planet. Many people had told her she looked just like Miranda. For him, of all people, to say she was like Miranda in personality meant the world. She absorbed his words, cherished them.

“Thank you.” She inhaled deeply and busied herself opening the bag strapped across her body. “I got you something.”

His brow raised and warmth filled his face. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but it felt right.”

She pulled out the woodcarving she’d asked Leo to do for her. It was wrapped in paper to keep it from chipping. She offered it to Blake.

      “It’s just something to mark this…us…”

“I understand. It’s a beautiful thought.”

      He took it from her hands and gently unwrapped the paper from it. A young girl stood with her hand stretched up toward a male figure looking down with his hand reaching toward hers. The fingertips just touched, symbolizing a beginning.

      She’d shown it to Tyler first, wanting to make sure it was something Blake would appreciate. He’d been silent at first, making her worry, but then he’d assured her she’d chosen well. She wasn’t convinced until she caught him toying with it a few times. She could still see his embarrassed grin when she promised to have Leo make something for him.

      She watched as Blake drew a finger over the etched details. Finally he lifted his head. The tears filling his eyes immediately made her eyes water.

      “Thank you,” he whispered.

She nodded, not trusting her own voice. Then, before she could second-guess it, she stepped into him for a tight hug. His arms closed around her, holding her close.

“This is only goodbye for now,” he promised after long moments.

“I know.”

Mari didn’t lift her head from his chest, cherishing the opportunity to hug her father. There was so much more to learn about him, but there would be time. He was no longer a blank in her life she had no hope of filling in. Whatever came of this, she was grateful for the days they’d had.

He didn’t speak again or break the hug. Only when she finally pulled away did he release her. He cleared his throat and wiped at his eye.

“I have something for you too, although it’s not nearly as nice.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone. “This is a more discreet way for us to stay in touch until we’re able to see each other again.”

Mari grinned and took the phone. “It’s not as pretty, no, but I think your gift beats mine. Thank you.”

“My number is in there. Reese’s is as well, although I don’t expect you to need it.”

She nodded her understanding and tucked the phone in her back pocket. Rocking back on her heels, she looked up at him. Words dried up in her throat. He was leaving and while it wasn’t a permanent goodbye, she still felt emotional about it.

“Goodbyes are hard,” she admitted with a sheepish laugh.

“They are. And they never get easier, but we’ll fill the times between them with enough goodness to make them worth it.”

She liked the sound of that. They turned together to start back down the hill in companionable silence, their shoulders brushing.

They’d agreed to say their goodbyes at the house rather than the airport and she knew that would be better. The stop at Miranda’s grave had been for Blake who wanted to go one last time before he left. It was the perfect end to his visit.

Reese and Gage were waiting for them inside the house when they returned. Gage wrapped her up in a huge playful hug and she pressed a big messy kiss to his cheek. “Take care, Old Man. And watch out for the other old man too.”

“Yes ma’am. You take it easy on Reese. Don’t you be givin’ him a hard time.”

Mari batted her eyes. “Me? Would I ever do that?”

Gage snorted, making her laugh. She was always sad to see Gage go. It was even harder this time.

Even though they’d already hugged, Blake pulled her in for another while Gage spoke quietly to Reese. She knew there was a touch of desperation in her hug, but she didn’t loosen her hold.

“I’ll see you soon,” he promised in her ear as he stroked a hand over her hair.

“I’ll look forward to it.”

He pulled back first and lifted his bag from the couch. Gage did the same with his and she followed them to the door. Reese held it open and she stood in the doorway while Blake and Gage got in the car. She waved with a smile that faded as they backed out and headed for the road. She stood there until the car was out of sight.

“They’ll be fine.”

Reese’s voice made her jump and she looked back at him. His smile was faint.

“He has added motivation to take care of himself now.”

The idea warmed her. She would hold onto that and trust Reese’s words.

<< Chapter 30 Chapter 32 >>

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