Four years later.
Liam and Leonie, age 41
Everett, age 20
Natalie, age 17
Jake, age 14
Brianna, age 11
Everett made good on his word. While other teens his age were interested in music, video games and parties, he was doing internships, taking on small after school jobs with architects, taking evening classes on certain related topics while maintaining stellar grades.
By the time college applications were to be sent, he would have qualified for an academic scholarship, but after talking to his parents didn’t accept it, since they had more than enough money to send all their children through college and still live comfortably. He got accepted into several, but chose San Myshuno University.
Leonie had started a job in an office, to finally use the degree she had worked so hard for all those years ago but never got to use. Liam was still retired from acting and had not learned any other trade, so he opted to be a stay-at-home dad, even though their children were old and self-sufficient enough to not need them much anymore. Instead he often helped out his friends with their kids, home improvement projects and such. He spent much time with his parents, giving Blaine reason to tease him about kids that you just cannot get rid of. He was joking. He loved spending time with his son.
Even though Everett was away at college, the campus was close enough to allow him to come home frequently to visit his parents and grandparents, and his aunt Vivian and Vitto.
Natalie had a boyfriend, a nice boy named Rhys, whom Liam and Leonie both liked a lot. Everett said little about it, but did not seem too thrilled. Natty on the other hand told everybody that he was the one she wanted to marry one day – soon. Her original dream of being a master gardener, owning a flower shop one day selling her creations seemed to be on a back burner now.
She wanted that boy and to have his babies one day, and despite her parents’ and grandparents’ attempts, she wanted that sooner rather than later. All hoped this to be the romantic revels of a teen in love, but it left a bad aftertaste regardless. They had to trust that she would have good enough judgement.
Jake was very interested in science, like his big brother, but he preferred biology and claimed to want to be a doctor one day. Oncologist, per him, after one of his best friends suffered through cancer, which seemed in remission now. He had lots of dreams of making people better and healing the whole world.
Brianna was the youngest and still a dreamer. All she wanted was pretty dresses and to be a princess. Liam and Leonie often joked that their kids seemed to have a way to make their ambitions real, so highly likely that she would marry a prince one day.
Everett still did not have a girlfriend. He went on dates, but nothing seemed serious enough to even mention any of the girls’ names to his parents. And nothing stuck longer than a few dates until he decided not to further pursue.
Blaine had told Liam in secrecy once that Everett had grilled him about his relationship with Rett’s grandmother, and also wanted to hear the full story about how his parents conquered the odds. Blaine patiently told him what he wanted to know, sprinkled with his typical humor, but it was one thing Rett said that stuck with him
“So how did you know she was the one? And do you really think there is the one for everybody? Could it be some just don’t have that special someone?”
While Blaine would never admit to anything sappy affecting him, this did. He remembered that very feeling too well, when he could not be with his Vik, as she seemed happy with another man. Which is what he basically told his grandson. Told him that success and money, fame and fortune, creating something that lasts, were all great aspirations, but there was only one thing worth living and dying for and that was true love. Without it, all that was left were things that would fade, nothing that would see you through hard times and sickness. The art was to find real love, as not all that glittered was gold and that most people had to suffer and fail until they found the holy grail. Blaine was unusually serious when he told his grandson to never rush, but never give up. And never waste a chance due to feelings of inadequacy, like he had. If it is meant to be, it will be. The question is never if, but always when.
This in turn seemed to strike a chord with the young man, leaving him visibly relieved.
Rett went to his grandfather for most of the advice he needed, and had since he was a child. When asked, he would tell you that many people are smart and give good advice, but few knew from both sides of the coin, the right and the wrong way to live life, so the advice of someone who did was ultimately worth more to him.
Liam and Corbin were laughing hard, drinking beer on the porch of Corbin’s new home where he lived with his new family, which were really not that new anymore at this point. His twin boys, Tanner and Connor, were almost old enough to go to school.
He was still happy with Donna living a mostly quiet life.
He had recovered, for the most part. His face was and would remain scarred, and every so often he would have a significant limp, then other days it would be almost non-existent.
Liam watched him rub his leg now, absentmindedly, while looking out into the horizon.
“Hey, did they ever find out anything more about your ….. accident?” Liam asked carefully. They rarely talked about this. And if, with kid gloves.
“Nah, man, they closed that case years ago. No leads, no idea, no interest, especially since I am up and well.”
“It’s fine. I don’t care.”
“I do. I really wish I knew who did this to you. I’d mess them up bad, man. They’d be off worse than you ever were. Like they deserve.”
“No use. I am happy now. I got a chance at love and I have the boys. I see my older kids often enough and am on fairly good terms with Emily again. And I got your dumb ass to ruin my days. Life is good.” Corbin grinned, but his teasing was lost on Liam.
“Do you really not want to know who did this to you?” Liam could not get over it. Corbin looked at him, serious now, chewed on his lips, then after a big gulp of his beer said
“See, here’s the thing. I know who did this to me.”
“WHAT!? Why are you sitting on your ass out here? You should be at the police station! Have them reopen that shit case and get them!!!” Liam had jumped up, gesturing wildly.
“Sit your butt back down. I ain’t going nowhere. And neither are you.”
Liam sat down, staring at his friend, who was sipping his beer.
“Are you going to tell me?”
“Nope. You would go nuts. I do not want that. I want this to stay dead and move on. The end.”
“I am your best friend!” Liam protested.
“You are. You also have diarrhea of the mouth. If I told you, you’d run amok. So, no. Chill. Drink. Just be Liam.”
They sat in silence for a moment, while Corbin cracked open two new bottles. When he handed Liam one, he spoke again.
“Do I know him?” Liam asked.
“Know who? Oh, you’re still on with that? Yeah, you could say that.”
“It’s not Nathan, is it? Please tell me it’s not Nathan.”
“Is it really not him or are you…”
“Gawd, Cameron, chill. No, it was NOT Nathan.”
“Silas! It was Silas Blackbourne! Am I right?”
“No. Quit guessing. You never would figure it out.”
“Maybe I would. I sure as hell will try … unless you tell me…”
“Jeeze. Fine. It was Zoey.”
“Yup. And to answer your next 5 to 10 questions without the back and forth: Yes, I am sure. At some point I remembered that night. I had just gotten through screwing Mae, when Nathan was at the door. She climbed out the back window, hoping he would not see her, so I opened the door to distract him. He knew everything, had seen us through the window anyway and yelled at me until I was almost deaf. I was pretty drunk, and definitely said some things to him I should not have, so I deserved the beating I got. I own that. I would have punched him out too, had he done what I had done and said what I had said. He left the door open when he was done with me, and suddenly there was Zoey in my living room. I was too drunk and banged up, so when I tried to get up, she kicked me back to the floor, I hit my head and was half-way zoned out. She yelled at me too, about being unfaithful to her, and when I told her – in a very VERY ungentlemannered fashion – that she and I had been through before we even began, that I did not date trash, that she was not even fit to be a side-chick, and she lost it. I mean M. Night Shyamalan kind of cray cray. She beat the shit out of me with everything she could lift, then suddenly had a knife. I tried to get away and she got me good. I fell, hit my head pretty hard and after that it was lights out. Next thing I remembered was I was at the hospital. Then, a very long time after that, when I woke from the coma after the attempt on my life with a pillow, I remembered the color of the eyes of the person in the mask. And I found a long, blonde strand of hair the next morning. Unless you or Nathan had on a wig one time during your visits that I forgot about, it was hers. Then bitch kept stalking me after I got out, even after I married Donna and after the twins were born, the full register of ‘a woman scorned’, so one time I had enough of her and went by her house to talk sense into her. She was digging through moving boxes for some dress, so I offered to help. And I found the mask and the gloves. She looked at me with that ‘oh-shit’ expression, then fessed up, begging me not to tell. You noticed it had been radio silence after that. I told her I’d let it go, but put a few stipulations of my own in, and made her sign it. I’d wager you won’t hear from her much anymore.”
“You are shitting me! When did all that go down?”
“Ah – couple weeks ago.” Corbin seemed amused.
“That document. Can I see it?”
“Why? Don’t believe me?”
Liam just sat there, mouth agape, so Corbin put down his beer and went inside, only to return with an envelope, in it a folded letter-sized piece of paper and in Zoey’s handwriting a full confession. After reading it three times he handed it back, still staring at Corbin, who smiled.
“Tis all good man. I am good with this. Serves no purpose to send her to jail. She is already scary nuts as is, being with other criminals is not gonna improve that. I’d hate to see what she turns into after jail time. So now I told you everything, remember your promise and be a real best friend. Not a word to even Leo. And not to your parents. I can see those wheels turning. Not your sister either. NOBODY. Promise?”
“Yah, sure. It’s your life, your choice. I am just glad you are still alive … and that you remember me again. So if that is what you want, it’s the way it will be. You have my word.”
“Fantastic. Drink your beer like a good boy and then I’ll show you my latest hobby. Woodworking.”
“Woodwor… YOU? The spoiled rich brat with two left hands?! Ha ha ha, damn right I need to see that! Surprised you haven’t somehow managed to impale yourself with a hammer …”
Everett sat at the bar, drinking coke when he caught a young woman’s eyes, who briefly smiled at him.
He smiled back and yelled “Hi!” over the music.
She just nodded and looked at her drink, also just soda, meaning she was probably underage too, just like him, when Rett leaned over to her.
“Cool pants. Very …. seventies.” he said in an attempt to start conversation. She wore bell bottom style jeans, very reminiscent of the style of that era.
“Who are you? The fashion police?” her tone did not sound pleased.
“No, no… I was just … trying to find a topic we can talk about.” Rett tried to backpedal.
“Who says I want to talk to you?” she asked, still seemingly appalled.
“You were smiling at me!” he shrugged.
“So? Me smiling does not mean that I want to propose marriage to you, numbnuts!” she finished her drink, slid off the bar stool and left.
Rett sat there, exhaled, then did the same. That was awkward.
As he stepped outside he saw her, few feet away, so he went over.
“Look I am very sorry, about that, did not mean to offend you or something I just thought …”
She turned slightly and he now noticed she had a cell phone up at her ear.
Now she was telling the caller
“Hey, I gotta let you go. There is some idiot here who keeps talking into our convo. We’ll catch up tomorrow, okay? Bye.” she hung up and gave Rett one of those ‘what’s wrong with you?!’ looks.
“Sorry. Again. For everything. Just not my day today. Really, sorry.” he felt embarrassed.
“Are you following me now?”
“No. I am leaving. To go home. Not after you.”
“Yeah, THAT sounds believable.” she crossed her arms.
“Hey, I want no trouble. I’ll leave first… have a nice evening.” Rett was more than eager to get away. That was worse than awkward.
The next morning wasn’t much better. His alarm did not go off or he had missed it, so scrambling to get to his classes he did not have time for breakfast, but decided to stop by the small coffee shop outside campus instead as his stomach was complaining. The place was always crowded, no matter the time of day.
“I’d like a big latte and a blueberry muffin, please.” he said, digging around his pockets for cash when he looked up. No way.
“You really are stalking me, aren’t you?” the barista laughed. Rett just stood there staring.
“Relax, I was kidding. So, what’s your name?”
“My name? Why?”
“For the coffee, numbnuts. Never mind, I got it. NEXT!” she had checked him out, handed him his muffin and was done with him already taking the next order as Rett was pushed aside by the following crowd.
He waited for his order to be filled, busy with his phone to avoid looking at anyone, until the girl making the orders called out
“GOT ONE LATTE TO GO READY FOR … ummm … NUMBNUTS?!”
The following weekend he forgot the time at the library studying until his stomach demanded food loudly and viciously. He wrapped up and went to a small diner nearby.
He was seated, looking over the menu, still indecisive, when the waitress came by.
“Give me a MILLION breaks. You again! You are tougher to get rid of than herpes! That should be your name.”
He looked up and exhaled, throwing his head back.
“No way. And I thought I already had a name: Numbnuts. At least that’s what half the people at the cafe thought after your little stunt. And how many jobs do you have?! I am starting to think you are stalking me, by hiring on everywhere I could possibly go near campus.”
“Yah, you wish. Dream on, Herpy. Well, anyway, I am Katie and I will be your server tonight. Our special today is the BLT, which is – well, big fat surprise – bacon, lettuce, tomato and a big slab of mayo to cover up that the bacon tastes like shit, the tomatoes have seen better days and the lettuce is more winkled that your grandmother. What would you like to drink?”
Everett had to laugh “Damn, girl. OK, fine. I’ll have a coke and what DO you recommend to me?”
“Coke, got it. And I recommend you get a better haircut that does not look like mommy stuck a pot on your head and cut around it, and also a different restaurant. Everything is shit here, including the coke. 80% water, 10 % coke solution and a bucket of sugar to cover up that it tastes like nothing.”
“You don’t like my hair?”
“I worry about your health. Does that get me a brownie point to make up for it?”
“So … where can one get something decent and non-hazardous to eat here at this hour?”
“Have you tried your own kitchen?”
“Can you say anything without sarcasm? And if you want non-lethal, the kitchen at my dorm would clearly be out. Only the most suicidal roaches and rats go in there out of free will.”
“So, do you want to order or not? If not, I have to ask you to get out.” she sounded annoyed.
“KATIE! I have told you many times to be nicer to our patrons!” a grimy-looking man in a ‘wife-beater’ shirt that was too tight two sizes ago now appeared, obviously the proprietor or manager.
“Why? If they do eat your food they’ll die anyway…”
“That’s it. Get out! You can pick up your last check tomorrow afternoon!”
She took off the apron and dropped it on the floor at the man’s feet along with the ordering pad and left. Everett slid out of the booth and followed.
“Katie! Wait up.”
“Still say you are not following me?” she said when he caught up with her.
“This time I am. You just got fired ..”
“Oh really? Well, thank you Einstein for translating my life for me.”
“Do you have to be snarky all the time?”
“What do you want?” she suddenly stopped and he nearly ran into her.
“Have dinner with me?”
“Cos we both have to eat … and you may know where there is food to be had … I am starving.”
“How do you not know? Are you new on campus?”
“No, I just don’t go out. Like … ever.”
“Oh, great, a nerd-import from mommy’s basement. Lucky me. Get stalked by a creep. Well, at least you are semi-decent looking. Except that haircut. Let’s go, Herpy, I actually am famished too.”
Soon it was semester break and Everett had come home. His parents and younger siblings were in Del Sol Valley for the weekend, Rett wanted peace and quiet after the loud dorm and campus, so he stayed with his grandparents for a few days.
Now they were sitting outside the beachhouse, it was a balmy and scenic evening, when Bandit, his grandparents’ dog got excited then ran towards the pathway where another dog appeared, followed eventually by a person.
“You!?” Everett’s mouth fell open.
“Straight back at ya.”
“Good evening.” I offered.
“Hi. I am Katie, I know him from college.” she offered her hand to Blaine and me.
“Nice to meet you.” Blaine smirked, elbowing me, as he and I shook the girl’s hands.
“Umm, Katie, these are my grandparents.” Everett introduced us.
“Grandparents? Get the heck out! I thought they were your parents! Damn, did your mom have you in kindergarten?!”
Everybody laughed, until the dogs started barking.
“Oh yeah, that creep over there is Nugget, my grandparents’ dog. Needed to get away from them and he was a great excuse.”
“Another creep? Do you call everybody that?” Everett asked annoyed.
“Maybe you would be more of a weirdo than a creep. At least you have not tried humping my leg, Herpy.”
“Give him time.” Blaine joked, earning him a nudge by me, after which I pulled him along into the house against his protests.
“They seem fun.” Katie told Rett, meaning us.
“Yeah, they’re the best.”
“Rett, your grandmother wanted me to tell you to ask Katie to stay for dinner.” Blaine called around the corner.
“They are cute. And your name is Rhett? As in Rhett Butler?”
“As in Everett. It’s a place, I was named after.” Rett blushed, he had almost said too much.
“I get it. Like that label on some products “Made in China”, huh? So where exactly is ‘Everett’, the conception location?”
Everett blushed deeply. Why did every single encounter with this girl have to be awkward?
“A park.” he said.
“Oh shit, we just had a family BBQ there. Who knew! That’s hilarious.” she laughed hard.
“Yeah, a real thigh buster. At least you don’t have to call me Herpy anymore now.”
“Have to, no. Will, most definitely.” she laughed.
She had to get home. When Rett came into the house, carrying Bandit, but without Katie, I asked him about the dinner offer.
“Nah, just didn’t come up. She was to busy insulting me. Doubt she would have stayed anyway. I am kinda glad. She is not really easy to talk to.” he grumbled as he went to the guest room.
Blaine looked at me, winked and said
“Those two have chemistry.”
“Oh, I don’t know Blaine. Looks more like he struck out with her to me.”
“My Blaine-dar never fails, just you wait…” he predicted.
Unfortunately, Blaine would be wrong. Everett never mentioned her again, unless asked about her, and the answer was always the same. He had not seen her again since that day at the beach house, nor did he have any contact info for her, or clue where she lived.
Didn’t even know if she was a student at San Myshuno and if so, what her major would be. The few people he asked about her claimed they didn’t know her. Eventually he quit asking. People came and went. A fact of life.