Posts tagged “Meeting Dad

Chasing Truth: Chapter 26

Posted on 13/12/2019

Gage’s gaze flicked over Tyler’s head when Blake and Mari walked closer. Tyler spun around. His glare softened and he left the porch to join her, ignoring Blake and Gage both. He came straight to her, his hands cupping her cheeks as he pressed his forehead to hers.

“How are you holding up?” he asked gently.

Her eyes closed against her will. He had an agenda. His focus was Blake. Except right now it wasn’t. Right now, it was her and in that moment she found it hard to keep reminding herself he was using her.

“Not bad,” she answered just as softly. “It went better than I thought it would.”

“That’s good, sweetheart. Really good.”

She opened her eyes to look into his. 

“I didn’t know you were coming,” she murmured for his ears alone.

“I wasn’t sure how you’d feel after you spent some time with him. I wanted to be here in case you needed me,” he returned.

She wanted to believe that and a part of her did. The other part whispered he was only playing the role he’d chosen before he ever met her. He lifted his head to press a kiss to her forehead before his hands dropped from her face. A second later he caught one of her hands in his.

“You want to introduce me to your father?”

In all honesty, Mari’s answer to the question would have been no, but it wasn’t a true question. Squeezing Tyler’s hand, she turned to Blake. 

“Blake, this is my boyfriend, Tyler. Tyler…this is my father, Blake.”

The warm man she’d started getting to know over the course of the morning had disappeared. In his place was a cool distant one. Tyler offered his hand with a faint smile.

“It’s good we’re getting to meet you.”

Blake took the offered hand and shook it briefly before letting go. 

“Tyler,” he returned noncommittally.

Mari bit the inside of her cheek and looked at the ground as awkward silence fell.

“Gage? Let everyone in, why don’t you?” Allison suggested from inside the house. “We can be civilized and have lunch.”

Gage snorted, but he stepped out of the doorway and back into the house. Blake followed him inside, leaving Mari and Tyler alone for a moment.

“Well. That went great,” Mari muttered.

“Most dads don’t like their daughter’s boyfriend,” Tyler said without a hint of discomfort. “Hey, it’s going to be fine. Let’s have lunch and get to know him.”

“I’m not so sure about him and Raoul sitting down together either,” Mari admitted in a mumble while she shuffled obediently behind him. 

Tyler didn’t let go of her hand as they went in. Everyone had found a seat around the table, including the man from earlier that morning, Reese. Tyler pulled out her chair for her before claiming the one beside her. 

There was more silence as Allison and Raoul brought salad and fish to the table. 

“I don’t think we were introduced,” Tyler said to Reese as he reached over the table to offer his hand. “I’m Tyler, Mari’s boyfriend.”

“Reese,” he said simply with a short handshake before his attention returned to the food at the center of the table. 

“Are you her brother?”

Mari bobbledd the salad bowl, dropping it back down on the table. Her eyes shot to Reese and bounced to Blake. She hadn’t even considered that. 

“No, I’m not Mari’s brother.” 

The calm matter of fact way he said it left no doubt in Mari’s mind he was telling the truth. She relaxed and picked up the bowl to add salad to her plate. 

“Sorry, Sweetheart,” Tyler said with a smile at her. “I didn’t mean to catch anyone off guard, but can you blame a man for being curious?” He looked back at Reese. “You and Blake must be pretty close for you to come with him to meet his daughter for the first time.”

“We are,” was Reese’s simple answer.

Neither he or Blake elaborated.

“I didn’t mean any offense, just trying to understand everything that’s happening here,” Tyler assured as he prepared his own plate. “This is a lot for Mari and I might think of some things that she doesn’t.” He shrugged his shoulder and accepted the bowl from Mari. 

Reese’s focus slid to her then. “Somehow I think Mari has it under control.”

A smile tugged at her lips and she ducked her head to hide it.

“Mari manages to get a lot of things under control,” Gage echoed and there was enough of a smile in his voice that Mari’s head jerked back up.

She stabbed her fork in his direction. “Whatever it is you’re thinking of saying, don’t you dare.”

“What’s a reunion without some stories? You didn’t tell Blake about the time you and Jules staged your mutiny?”

“I was only eleven! And I never said I started it!”

Raoul was all too happy to pick up the tale. “Mari was grounded, you see,” he told Blake after he swallowed a bite of fish. “No playtime with the girls, no guide trips. School and home. Looking back, I’m not sure if her punishments were worse for me or for her,” he murmured with a smile. 

“I had a tour late one afternoon so she stayed after school until I could come pick her up. There was a little clubhouse some of us had built for the kids. By the time I got to the school to get Mari, the three musketeers had about six of their classmates and they were all barricaded inside.”

“What?” Blake asked laughing and forking more salad. 

“We called for them to come out. They had something pushed up against the door. What was it?” Raoul asked looking at Mari.

“It may or may not have been an old log,” Mari muttered to her plate. “We all sat on it and leaned on the door.”

Reese choked on his food, unable to hold in his laugh.

“Oh, it gets better,” Gage promised.

 “They’d all brought snacks and water bottles. They were prepared to wait us out, you understand. Because they weren’t coming out until I agreed to take Mari off punishment and let her go to the dance that Friday.”

Blake threw his head back as laughter shook his body. 

“It was the last dance of the year!” Mari exclaimed in her defense.

Her words only drew more laughter from the table. 

“What happened?” Reese prompted Raoul.

“Oh, they were serious. Other parents started arriving to pick up their kids and they were still inside.”

“I can still hear Yuri now. ‘Raoul, that girl of yours is a bad influence. Get her under control’,” Mari mimicked with a laugh.

“Eventually I had to give in. I told them if they came out I’d see about letting Mari go to the dance. Of course that wasn’t good enough. The little rascal yelled through the door I had to promise I’d let her go before anybody came out.”

“So did you get to go to the dance?” Tyler asked her.

“Yes,” Mari grinned. “But guess who was a chaperone?”

The entire table burst into laughter. Even Reese chuckled. Tyler rested his arm on the back of her chair and leaned in.

“Wow, I always knew you were a tough one, but you’re a little manipulator too?” He teased.

“Hey! You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“Ellie could sell a shell to a crab,” Gage said fondly. 

“Did she tell you about the festival?” Allison asked as she poured a glass of water.

Blake glanced at Mari. “No, she didn’t.”

“We had other things to talk about,” Mari mumbled.

Allison launched right in over Mari’s words. “We have a festival here each year that’s a celebration of all the unique talents here on the island.”

“I heard of it,” Tyler said. “It’s a pretty big deal around here. Different arts, food, music, you name it.” 

“She started it when she was 16,” Allison said proudly.

Tyler’s head whipped around. “What? You?”

“We were bored.” She shrugged and took a drink. “I said something to one of our teachers about how there was never much for us to do and she told me if I was that bored I should plan something myself. She definitely didn’t think I would or that it would turn into what it did. It was mostly meant to shut me up.”

“Though why she thought she’d ever accomplish that, the world will never know,” Allison teased.

Mari smiled back at her. “Clearly it was a lost cause. Keon and his friends had a decent band back then. Joe could be talked into providing food in exchange for our labor on a busy night. A lot of people around here have talent they like to show when they have a chance. The first year it was really nothing more than a high school hangout night. Janey let us use her patio seating and we set some stuff up on the beach too.”

She cut up her fish with a smile. “We started doing it every few months or so, but then Mateo asked if his son could come play. Then Cheyenne insisted she wasn’t too old to come out and sing. More people started saying they wanted to come do something. So we just picked a day and said that’s when everyone could come. That next year somebody reminded us we’d done it and asked if we were going to do it again. So we did. Every year it just kept getting bigger.”

“She still plans it,” Raoul added. “Even when she was away in school, she got the logistics down for it.”

“It’s always a good time and these days pretty much the whole island comes out so it’s a good opportunity to spend time with everyone.”

“Modest,” Reese noted with a smile. “If that’s what you could do as a bored teen, I’m worried about what you can manage as a grown woman.”

“Ahh, see what you started Gage? You’re going to scare them off.”

“Come on now, there were plenty of other stories we could have told. I could have told Keon’s favorite story.”

“Okay! Okay!” Mari laughed and shook her head as she stuffed her mouth with her last bit of food.

“Well now I have to know who Keon is and his favorite story,” Blake said as if it were law.

“Gage, you are a menace,” Mari groaned.

“Keon Greco,” Raoul filled him in. “Mari’s honorary older brother. Mari was always convinced there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. One of the island boys was teasing the girls, saying none of them could swim to the sandbar.”

“Oh boy,” Blake murmured with a knowing smile. 

“Exactly. So ten-year-old Mari gets it in her head that she’s the girl that’s going to make him eat his words. She gets, oh I don’t know, about maybe halfway out by the time somebody comes to get me. By the time I get down to the beach, Keon’s got an arm around her and is bringing her back to shore.”

It was amusing now, but at the time Raoul had been filled with fear. 

“I just got a little tired,” she said defensively. “I was catching my breath. Nobody told Keon to come play lifeguard.”

Blake’s laugh shook his body. “Just a little tired?”

“That’s what I said.” She couldn’t fight her smile though. “And if you meet Keon he will tell you that story at least five times. It’s his claim to fame around here.”

“I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear I had to go down to the school a couple of days later because she and the same boy got into it,” Raoul finished off.

“Not surprised at all.” Blake’s gaze was warm on her. “Fierce about your pride?”

“No,” she denied at the same time Raoul, Gage, and Allison all agreed.

More laughter spread around the table. 

“She kept an old man young. I never knew what each day would bring, but I knew she’d manage to make me laugh somehow.”

“We certainly had our hands full with her,” Allison agreed affectionately. “Even by the time I came around, she was still a little firecracker. Never a dull moment.”

“I appreciate the two of you gave her an environment where she felt safe to be that way,” Blake said. There were still traces of amusement on his face, but his eyes were serious as he spoke to Raoul and Allison. 

Mari’s breath caught. She couldn’t deny she’d been worried about how Blake and Raoul would get along. To hear Blake thank him…something in her melted. The silence that fell around the table this time was a comfortable one. 

“I heard you do a lot of the tours here on the island,” Reese said to Mari a few moments later.

Her face lit up. “Yeah, it keeps me active and busy. I’ve been doing it since I was young. This place is gorgeous and there’s nothing like getting paid to show it off. The boss isn’t too bad either,” she said with a grin at Raoul.

“Maybe you could take Blake and I out tomorrow and show us around?”

“I’d like that,” Blake chimed in. “A chance to see you doing what you enjoy.”

She beamed at them. “That would be fun. Let’s do it.”

Blake’s expression softened as he watched her. “Good. Now let’s hear some more stories.”

<< Chapter 25 Chapter 27>>

Chasing Truth: Chapter 25

Posted on 12/12/2014

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“If I wanted you to walk away and never come back, you’d do that?” Mari asked Blake, ignoring the tightening of her stomach.

She couldn’t believe it. If what he was saying was true, he wanted her with him all along and yet he was willing to walk away? Both of their eyes were fixed on the water rather than each other. She could see Blake’s shoulders tense at the question and he inhaled before he forced the air back out through his lips.

“If that’s what you want, I’ll respect it.”

She clenched a handful of sand before she let the grains slip through her fingers. “But it’s not what you want?”

Blake cursed under his breath. “No, Marielle. It’s not what I want, but this is your choice. You were too young to make it then. I’ll let you make it now.”

Mari drew her knees up into her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I don’t know you and up until a few days ago, I didn’t think I would ever even have the opportunity to get to know you. Can we give it a little bit of time before I make that kind of decision?”

“We can do that.”

Neither spoke again. Only the sound of rushing waves and seagulls overhead broke the silence. Mari rested her chin on her knees. She hesitated, turning his words over in her head. It was her choice. She couldn’t even begin to make one without learning more about the man beside her.

“She didn’t talk about you much. Of course I was little when she died, but when I asked questions she would always say that you were a good man. That you loved me.”

His eyes went unfocused and there was a tinge of sadness to his smile. “I didn’t deserve her, but the time I had with her were the best times of my life. You couldn’t be with her and not enjoy life. She made things fun. There were times I thought I would die laughing from her jokes and antics. She brought happiness into a room just by walking into it. Not having you two with me was hard.”

Tears welled up in Mari’s eyes. This was what she’d missed not having him. “You must have a million stories about her.”

He seemed to come back to himself as he shifted in the sand to cross his ankles. His smile didn’t fade. “A million, maybe more.” He looked to her. “And I’m sure you have just as many.”

She nodded. Over the years she’d fought hard to hold onto every memory of her mother she could. She had a journal filled with them.

“Was she ever Miranda Mason?”

The question earned her a genuine smile. “She was my wife when she died but only four, now five, people know that. I protected her just as I protected you.”

“I bet she was gorgeous.”

“The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. I kept pictures. I’ll make sure they get to you.”

“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

“Is her grave close?”

The soft-spoken question was the last she expected. She chewed the corner of her bottom lip, nodding. “It’s not too far.”

“Will you take me?”

“Yeah,” she whispered.

He got back to his feet and extended his hand. She wiped her hands on her jeans, brushing off the sand before she tentatively placed her hand in his. He pulled her to her feet. With a squeeze so quick she couldn’t be sure she didn’t imagine it, he let her hand go and gestured before him.

“Lead the way.”

They climbed up the slope of the shore back toward the road. Mari waved to Janey who was jogging after her daughter running full out for the water. She didn’t miss the curious look Janey shot Blake’s way either. It wouldn’t be long before people were speculating on his identity.

“That’s Janey,” she murmured. “She owns one of the cafés in town. Don’t stop or we won’t leave the beach.”

“She talks a lot?”

“She owns a café everybody loves because she’s friendly and she cares. So yeah, she’s chatty.”

He laughed, but listened to her advice and kept going until they left the sand to cross the road.

“Miranda loved this place, the people. She was happy to get the chance to raise you here.”

“I know. She taught me all about what makes this place so special. I left for school, but this is home. It always will be.”

“Sometimes you’re like her clone when you talk.”

She smiled,  but focused on the trail ahead of her. There were very few times in the last several years Mari had walked the path to the hill with someone else. Raoul went with her several times as a child and Julia and Leilani accompanied her a time or two but as she grew older, she made the trip alone. She couldn’t pinpoint why, but walking up the familiar path with Blake a step behind her sent nerves dancing in her stomach.

She hesitated when they topped the hill and searched for the right thing to say. Blake didn’t need words. He was already crossing the grass between them and the grave. He didn’t speak, just stared at the headstone.

“I can give you a few minutes,” she offered quietly.

“No. Stay.”

That was it. He said nothing else. Mari locked her fingers together and twisted them as she watched him. Several minutes passed and he did nothing but rest his hand on the headstone.

“She liked the view,” Mari finally said. “We used to come up here a lot. Sometimes she’d let me help pack lunch and we’d eat. Other times we just came up here and played. No matter what though, she’d always just sit here for a while and look out at the water. She always said it was like being on top of the world. I didn’t realize when she died how out of the norm it was for her to be buried here, but no one argued so I got what I wanted. What I thought she would’ve wanted.”

“You were close.”

“She was my best friend besides Jules and Leilani. We did everything together.”

“Knowing you had that helps. Knowing she had that. She was so excited when she got pregnant and when you were born you were everything to her. It’s good she never lost that.”

Mari found herself giving voice to something she hadn’t in years. “I miss her,” she whispered. “Raoul was great and Allie when she came. They weren’t her though. It’s just this hole nobody can fill I learned to act like didn’t exist.”

He took a step toward her before he caught himself. He cleared his throat. “Do you talk about her?”

She shook her head. “At first, but it seemed like it only made Raoul sad so it got to  the pointwhere I only talked about her with Jules and Leilani occasionally.”

His jaw ticked.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Mari said quickly. “He never asked me to stop. I just didn’t want to make him sad. I came out here and talked to her instead. He gave me everything they could salvage and just about everything he had of her at his place became mine. Coming out here is what kept her close for me though. Maybe because we had so many memories here.”

His expression cleared as he rested a hand on the headstone again. “I can’t go back and fix that for you but if you ever want to talk about her, I’m listening.”

She nodded and looked back over the hill.

“How long are you staying?”

“Two or three days at the most. At least this first time.”

Mari squeezed the nape of her neck. If today was any indication, two or three days spent with Blake were bound to be filled with awkward moments, but they had to start somewhere. It was more time than she’d expected anyway. She wanted to get to know him and not just because she had questions.

“Okay. I think that’s good. It’s somewhere to start.”

“I want to come out here again while I’m here.”

“Okay.”

“Want to head back so we can show Raoul I didn’t run away with you?”

That earned him a small smile. “That might be a good idea.”

When they wound back down the path and up to the house together the front door was open and Gage stood on the porch. His arms were folded across his chest as he stared Tyler down. Mari inhaled deeply.

“That’s the Tyler boy I’ve been hearing about?” Blake asked.

“Yeah, that’d be him.”

She’d expected to have the entire day with Blake first. Still Tyler had been true to his word. He’d given her the first meeting alone. Now it was time to introduce Blake to her boyfriend.

<< Chapter 24 || Chapter 26 >>

  

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