The Road I'm On
I felt the gentle heat from the sun peaking through the old cabin window, and a few seconds later I saw red from the light falling onto my closed eyes. Gently opening them I stretched looking at the old cabin's ceiling. I smiled when I felt a warm presence next to me. Looking towards the other side of the bed I saw a beautiful brunette with blonde bangs. I watched as the sunlight crept across the bed and eventually settled onto her eyes. She stirred, but instead of waking up she groaned and buried her face in her pillow.
"Baby it's already close to 9 AM."
She buried her face further into the pillow trying to avoid my voice.
I leaned down near her and she felt my breath on her neck. "One more hour." More commanding than pleading.
I nibbled on her jaw bone right under her ear she groaned again but this time it wasn't in annoyance. "Don't start something you can't finish."
We spent the extra hour she wanted to sleep doing something else not caring about the time.
After our morning fun and a long shower we were both in the kitchen. I sat at the table waiting for Karen's breakfast. She had learned to cook a few basic meals from her time in the city and was eager to show off her skills.
I watched her dance around the kitchen happily making breakfast. Then suddenly she stopped. She reached down on the counter for a piece of paper. Taking a moment to read it she placed it back and went about her business again, but with noticeably less enthusiasm.
"Something wrong Karen?"
She removed the omelets from the frying pan onto two separate plates and brought them to the table with some utensils. I had already placed a couple glasses of orange juice out for the both of us.
"The note; Cliff said he left early this morning to take care of some business. Jack he's just so…I don't even know how to put it I've never seen him like this."
I was surprised. I knew he was torn up but Karen was making it sound like the guy was ready to kill himself. "He talked to me a little last night, but we didn't get into a lot of detail. Is there something I should know?"
She stared out the window and sighed. "He thinks a lot of you, you know that Jack?"
"I guess, what's your point though?"
"He didn't want you to know everything that had happened…or that is happening. He's hit a pretty low point in his life."
I knew what she was getting at. "I won't tell him you told me anything, and I promise not to get upset."
She nodded. "When Cliff found out about Ann's abortion there was an argument, but they managed to patch things together. Or at least they had thought."
I nodded and motioned for her to continue.
"Cliff's really started drinking a lot. He got into a pretty bad fight with Ann one night a couple of weeks before we got back."
"Did he hurt her?"
"No, no it wasn't anything physical. But he said some things that were pretty hurtful that even he realizes were horrible to say. Then she said some things to really upset him, and well, now there're where they are now."
"He didn't mention any of this to me last night."
"It gets worse. Ann was really torn up about everything happening to her. She had trouble dealing with the villagers and it affected her work at the inn. She still got along with her father but getting money to pay for stuff she needed to survive was getting hard, and to top it all off Cliff was hardly any help while he was trying to cope with his own problems with depression and alcohol."
She sighed and put her face in her hands. I gently picked up her plate and mine and took it to the sink and started washing them off. "What happened after that?"
"A couple weeks ago Ann came by here. She just threw a box at Cliff's feet with all his stuff in it and said it was over."
I gently placed the dishes on the drying rack and joined Karen on the living room couch where she had moved too. Placing my arm around her neck she nuzzled her face against my shoulder. "So she left him to try and deal with things on her own?"
"That and with Cliff's attitude and drinking he was never around to help her at all. I just…I just don't know how this got so out of hand."
I gently played with her hair. Something I had learned she loved and helped her relax. Truthfully it was just as relaxing and enjoyable for me as well. "You want to help?"
I felt her nod against my chest. "She won't talk to him Jack. They tried patching things up right after it happened but with the things that were said she just gets so angry around him. He can't even get an apology in."
"How is she handling it?"
"She told him she'd meet up with him and try and talk things over a couple of weeks ago."
"How'd that go?"
"It didn't, she never came."
I sighed there was nothing worse than dealing with relationships gone wrong. "So what do you think we should do to help?"
"I'll go talk to Ann. Cliff mentioned in his letter he was going to help my dad and some of the islanders clean up after yesterday's celebration. Why don't you head down to the beach and help out and lend him an ear."
I smiled and placed a quick kiss on her lips. "It's been awhile since I've done any manual labor anyways need some time outside." I stopped for a second. "But before I do that I guess I should give you a tour of the island."
She looked at me blankly for a second and then realized what I was saying. "I almost forgot about the expansion, I'd never find Ann on my own."
I laughed. "It's not that big, but I may as well give you the quick tour."
We left the cabin and walked towards the old town square. From there the wooden walkway took us down into the valley. Karen was amazed at how the island had grown. The inn was in full swing with visitors coming and going as they went to the local shops, the vineyard, and other attractions the island had to offer. I pointed out some of the buildings of interest. There was a new school now with its own teaching staff, the hospital had been expanded to accommodate for the growing tourism population, a traveling scientist had set up a lab on the stream that ran through the valley, and of course lastly I brought her to the inn.
"This is where Ann works, she manages the place. You ready?"
"Yeah, it'll be fine. Good luck with Cliff." She gave me a quick kiss and disappeared into the inn. I turned around and followed the path past the city square and down past the farm till I finally got to the beach. A handful of villagers were down there along with Karen's father and Cliff picking up stuff off the beach.
I picked up a spare trash bag and walked over towards Cliff. He was stationed a little ways off from everyone. As I made his way over to him he noticed me and looked up. "How's it going chief?"
I started to pick up things alongside him and place them into my trash bag. "Not a whole lot just getting used to being back on the island. How you doing?"
He sighed. "I've been better man, but I guess I've been a lot worse too."
After about a good couple hours worth of work the beach was cleared and we all went on our way. I suggested to Cliff we stop in at Duke's bar for some lunch which he quickly agreed to. As we sat down with some hot food in front of us I decided it was time to get the conversation going. "Tell me if I'm wrong Cliff but with the way you're acting I'd say Ann split on you."
He sighed and swirled his water around some. "You hit the nail on the head man. She came by the cabin a few weeks ago, didn't even come inside. She just told me she couldn't do it anymore, threw a box of the stuff I kept at her place at my feet."
"And what made her do that?"
He looked down at his food and took a long gulp from his drink. I could tell he was trying to give himself some extra time to think. "After her abortion I kind of fell into a slump. I was just looking forward to being a father man, and just when I had really warmed up to the idea she took it away from me. I started getting depressed and drinking, and one night I just went over to her place and gave her a good talking too, she said some things too and…well you see how it went."
"And you believe they were just a small part?"
"I don't know man it's just so much to take in you know? We had everything going great I honestly thought we had worked through everything after the abortion, but I guess we both found out we had a lot of pent up feelings about it."
"Well I finally told her I was actually looking forward to being a father and couldn't understand how she could kill our innocent child just to make her life easier. Then she said that I was a selfish bastard and that she realized I could never understand what she was going through."
"That sounds like a pretty big sign."
"I know it man but it's just so much to go through you know? At first I was just as scared as she was, but I really put a lot of time into thinking how nice it'd be to be a father. Ann's been really stressing lately though not just about the baby, but about the inn too."
"The inn was going through its monthly audit. Ann was really edgy about it she even left the cabin around two Sunday afternoon to go over the paperwork. When the local auditor came to the island and checked over everything they found out the inn still owed $56,000 in revenue taxes. She was devastated because the last big tourism push is this coming Christmas. She's been going through a really tough time with her dad too. If her mom was still around I'm sure she'd be able to calm them both down but he was livid when he heard she got the abortion and cut her off financially. They still talk though, but she's on her own."
"Sounds like she's going through a crisis."
"I know man I just don't understand why she did this to me and cut me off when she needs someone there with her."
I pretended to think for awhile. Truthfully I already knew what I was going to say but I had to get him to talk to me about these 'habits' first. "These habits of yours she didn't like. You want to talk about them?"
I noticed him tense up. I hadn't figured getting this information out of him would be easy. "I'm not going to tell anyone Cliff, and short of you having a hobby of killing people I'm not going to fire you over any vices you've had."
He relented and checked behind himself to make sure Duke was busy. Satisfied he turned back to me. "I've been drinking, a lot lately. Ever since she got the abortion I've been going down to the bar and just drinking myself shitfaced. We went through a really tough time dealing with the fallout from her abortion. She'd come back home after fighting with her dad, a tough day at the inn, or even fights with her friends and take it out on me. I always tried to just let her vent but it really worked on me chief."
"That stuff is really bad for you know? I used to binge drink a lot back in college."
"Now there's something I didn't expect. What caused that?"
"Just stress and tough times working on me. I nearly dropped out of school because of it. But I managed to stop myself and get my life back on track. What about the other habits."
"Well I know she didn't like me going out drinking but I don't think that was it. Of course there was Amanda."
"New girl moved down here shortly after you left. She's the lab assistant to the professor. Really nice girl and we're good friends, but Ann never saw it that way."
"What do you mean?"
"One night I tried to get them to meet, Amanda went outta her way to be friendly to her too but Ann was pretty jealous. I should have taken that as a huge warning, but I was stupid about it. Ann would have to work early in the morning so she'd go to bed early and since Amanda worked till late helping out with the professor we'd meet up later at night and go drinking at Duke's."
Everything was starting to fit pretty perfectly into place in my mind. Cliff still had more to get off his chest though.
"Looking back on it now that was really stupid of me. I know Amanda and me aren't like that at all, but it must have drove Ann nuts. I really should have waited and just had lunch with the both of them together or hung out with Amanda some other time when Ann could be around."
"Is there anything you said close to the breakup that might have made her doubt your relationship?"
He thought for a second and then I saw his eyes go misty as he must have hit on a tough memory. "It was about a month ago. Some of the visitors to the island came into the bar while I was pretty trashed. We just struck up a spare of the moment friendship and I invited them back to the cabin. Ann was there, she had taken off work for the next couple of days to spend time with me. When she saw I was about to drink myself to hell with them she got really pissed. She told me if I did it she was going to go back to the inn and sleep there."
He finished off his water and Duke came and refilled it. When he was gone Cliff continued. "I took her threat seriously and didn't do it. When I came back in we worked it out but I told her something I really shouldn't have."
"Well first off I told her she couldn't control me like that. That when and who I drank with was my choice, not hers."
"And what else?"
He sighed. "I also told her there were some things about her I didn't like. I pointed out in particular that I didn't like how she went behind my back with the abortion."
I thought about his last statement and realized what he had meant to say. "It might have gone a little better if you had just been more direct and said I don't like it when you hide things from me."
"Yeah hindsight being what it is I really should have said that. I'm still wrapping my head around it all though. You got any ideas?"
"For one you need to stop feeling like the victim here. You're going to have to face the real reason she broke up with you was your fault not hers."
"What are you talking about?"
"Try and look at this from her point of view Cliff. The inns in huge financial trouble and she's the one responsible for it. Her dad's cut her off money wise so she has to make the inn profitable just to feed herself. That's a crisis right?"
"Yea obviously I already pointed that out."
"Well think about this if you were dealing with the same thing and Ann was running around drunk all the time and then running off with another guy you were really jealous of wouldn't that just add to your stress?"
Cliff was silent so I pushed on. "She broke up with you Cliff because she was going through a crisis and you were just making it worse. Sure she might not have the time to see you each and every hour but that alone wouldn't have made her break up with you. She couldn't address both the crisis at the inn and she were going through and then worrying about all the stuff you were doing. I think you're a great guy Cliff, and I know you love her more than anything, but maybe you were just feeling so sorry for yourself you didn't realize what you were doing to her."
There was a long silence. Then after several seconds Cliff spoke up."You're right."
He looked around like he was trying to find an answer to something then he scratched the back of his head. "I wonder if it's too late. She told me she was going to come by last week but I still haven't seen her. Every time I've tried talking to her she's always so cold, I wonder if she hates me now."
"I'm sure that's not the case Cliff."
"I've gotta go Chief, I'll see you back at the house tonight."
"I wouldn't go talk to her Cliff."
"Naw wouldn't think of it, I'm going to go straighten out a few things. Don't worry I'll see you and Karen after dinner."
He ran out of the tavern and I quickly finished up my meal and went back to the farm. With winter in town there wasn't much farm work to do. Cliff had taken care of the animals before he left in the morning so I just checked on the livestock and then went back inside to watch some TV.
I went into the inn. The place was huge compared to the other buildings on the island. The front desk was abandoned and I was about to ring the bell when I noticed the door to the back office was open. Sneaking behind the desk I saw Ann glued to a computer screen typing away and looking over some data she had nearby. She didn't even notice me.
She jumped. She gave me an annoyed looked and then took a deep breath. "You scared the life out of me Karen."
"Sorry Ann you didn't notice me come in."
She sighed and set aside the data she was working on. "Sorry things have been pretty tough around here lately."
I looked around. The office had paper all over the place. A white board near the door had numbers written all over it and Ann looked like she had been huddled over the computer for hours. "Ann what's got you working so hard?"
"The inn's in trouble Karen. I'm not sure how, but I got a large bill from the IRS for a ton of money. My dad's cut me off and every dollar I have comes from the inn. If I don't save this business I don't know what I'm going to do Karen."
I tried to think of the best way to start the conversation about her and Cliff but looking around the gloomy office I knew this wasn't the best place to start. "How about a break?"
"I was just finishing up anyways. Where to?"
"I haven't been up to Mother's Hill since I got back how about we head up there?"
We just made general chit-chat on the way up to Mother's Hill. I talked about my time in the city and Ann talked about things going on at the island. We got to the hill and took a seat on some of the larger rocks there. The view was beautiful especially with the populated valley below.
"I missed it here."
Ann smiled. "It is a really nice view."
I thought really hard about how to get this conversation moving. Then it hit me I had a pretty romantic memory here myself with Jack the night of the festival. "You know this is where me and Jack started our relationship."
"Really?" I could hear the sadness in her voice, but I pushed on.
"He followed me out here and we talked. Then with all the fireflies around and the moon on us he brought out his iPod and put an ear bud in each our ears and played a really romantic song we danced to it then we kissed."
"Sounds like a dream…" I noticed she rubbed her ring finger. So I decided to bring out the heavy ammo.
"He did it again in the city the other night in fact. Then he gave me this." I showed her the large engagement ring Jack had given me.
"Congratulations…" It pained me to hear her like this but she gave me the perfect opening to get the conversation going.
"Ann what's wrong?"
She started crying spilling her guts out. I heard everything from the night she got back from the abortion, the huge argument her and Cliff had afterwards, then the makeup, things getting right, then her falling into her work, her dad cutting her money off, Cliff getting drunk every night, a girl named Amanda, and then finally the breakup. We sat there for a minute as she composed herself now emotionally spent.
"I couldn't deal with him at all. He'd always go out and get drunk and act like his world was falling apart after the abortion. Then he started hanging out with all these different people and whenever I'd see him he'd be completely drunk off his face. Then that big argument we had was the last straw."
"Did you tell him before all the things that were bothering you that he was doing?"
"No, but I don't want to have to tell him you know? If he can't see it for himself I don't think we're going to work out anyways. Then when I asked him if we could talk I just couldn't do it. I was so angry at him for the stuff he said during our argument I just couldn't see him without getting pissed off."
"Did you see him?"
She looked down. "No, oh I don't know Karen I've been able to get more work done without him and I can already tell I'm getting better. Maybe I don't need him."
I sighed. "Ann your swamped with work don't you think your just trying to work yourself to death to forget about him?"
"Maybe, maybe not how am I supposed to know all I know is its getting better."
"How did you feel when you both tried to talk and you couldn't?"
She thought about it for a second. "Bad, I didn't to think I hated him."
"How did it feel when he tried to get back in contact?"
She smiled. "I don't know. I mean I had so much going on with inn that I think I might have taken a lot of it out on him."
I nodded. "But now you've broken your word to him. It's been nearly two weeks since you said you'd talk with him. How do you think he feels?"
She lost her smile. "I guess bad, but I don't want him to get his hopes I'm I really don't think this is going to work out."
"Now why would you say something like that?"
"We're just two different people. He told me himself he isn't going to stop drinking, even if he did say he would how could I believe him?"
"Don't you think you should at least make good on your word and talk with him? You've got no idea what he's thinking or doing and I'm sure he's feeling the same way. I mean you two talked and were with each other every moment of the day. Now you've barely spoke in over two weeks don't you think it's at least time you tried to work on something?"
"No Ann you know. You know you want this you're just scared. Anyone would be. But don't turn your relationship into two people that hate each other. Stop playing games with each other and at least sit and talk with each other."
I reached over and hugged her. "That's my girl."
Walking into the cabin I was pretty drained myself and it was just before dinner. I saw Jack sitting on the couch watching TV. I sat down next to him and snuggled close. I felt myself relax as he started playing with my hair.
"How'd it go?"
"She agreed to talk with him, but we never set a day or time. How's Cliff?"
"I think he's starting to see why this all happened. He talked to me about the alcohol, and some girl named Amanda?"
"Yea Ann mentioned her."
"I wonder if they'll be able to work this out…"
I smiled. "As much as those two love each other I'm sure a nice long talk is going to help them figure a lot out."
Jack made a great dinner of broiled fish. Since he cooked I was busy cleaning up the dishes when Cliff came in the door. "Guys I've got great news!"
"What's up?" I dried my hands off in a hand towel
"I did a lot of work today and I'm trying to get a few things figured out but I did find out something that can help with me and Ann." Cliff took a seat next to Jack on the couch and I sat in the easy chair across from them.
"So what's the good news then?" I smiled at him praying he actually came up with a good plan. He was going to need one to sway Ann.
"When we were together she brought up the drinking before and I told her I quit, but I started back up. She wouldn't believe me if I told her I was stopping again, in fact I bet if I did tell her she'd instantly remember that fact and angrily shove it in my face. I am and have quit though."
I was puzzled. "So how are you going to earn her trust?"
"I don't deserve her trust Karen, she gave it to me once and I betrayed it. I went and talked with Dr. Tim and explained everything to him. Instead I'm going submit myself to wearing an alcohol anklet and have the results delivered to her."
I was amazed. "You're going to go around with that thing around your ankle everywhere? People are going to think you're really strange."
"I love her Karen. I love her and I'm willing to do anything to make this work. She won't believe I'm the man that can stand by her side through this crisis. She can't trust me so instead I'm going to give her proof."
"Cliff I don't think if you go to her with an alcohol anklet she's going to take you back."
He was quiet. "I know, with things the way they are Karen I'm not sure if I even am going to get her back. That's not what I'm going for."
"Then what are you going for?"
"When she broke up with me I could tell she was really hurt. I was just so wrapped up in my own feelings about the kid and being drunk I said a lot of hurtful things to her. I never really thought she might need someone to help her through what she was going through."
A beep resounded through the room and Cliff dug in his pocket. I couldn't help but laugh when he retrieved a cell phone. He looked down at the device checking the text message. "Since when does the island get cell phone service?"
My silent fiancé finally spoke. "They installed a cell phone tower on the island just before I left. I'll be sure to order you a phone tomorrow."
When I turned back to Cliff he had a happy expression on his face. "Guys I got to go she wants to meet on the dock in ten minutes."
He quickly ran into the bed room and grabbed a coat and took out the door. A smile crept up on my lips and Jack instantly picked up on it.
"Oh no you don't Karen you're not going out there and spying on them."
I looked at him as I felt the smile grow larger. "Not me silly, us."
A few minutes later Jack and I were sneaking down to the beach. When we got close I saw Ann standing on the end of the dock Cliff had his attention on her and Jack and I snuck over to the boat house. Close enough to hear Cliff at least. They looked awkward looking at each other; it was easy to tell this was the first time the two had been face to face and alone in a long time.
Ann stood at a distance. Cliff was closer to us. He made a step towards her but she took a step back and motioned with her hand for him to stay where he was.
Cliff took a deep breath. "I deserve that. Can you listen to me for a couple minutes and then I swear the rest of the time you're willing to stay out here with me I'll just listen."
She nodded and Cliff composed himself.
"Ann I know I haven't been the guy you've needed. I know you had everyone on the island berating you about the abortion and when you turned to me to be the person to lift you up and make you feel better I just turned into them and said a bunch of hateful things to you."
He shuffled a bit but continued. "I was hitting a really low point in my life Ann. I shouldn't have fallen into beige drinking. I know there were days when you wanted to talk or needed me to be there for you and I was just so drunk and messed up I was worthless. But you gave me a wakeup call I've lost so much to drinking that I didn't realize and I'll be damned if I'm going to lose having you in my life because of it. I'm not talking about a relationship maybe we'll get there eventually, maybe not. I need you in my life though Ann I want to be there for you to talk through when things are good and when there bad. I want you to be able to talk to me not hate me and avoid me."
He reached inside his jacket and handed her a piece of paper. "I know I told you I was going to quit drinking before and then I betrayed your trust and started back up on it. I don't deserve your trust right now so instead I talked with Tim and the hospital and I've signed myself up for an alcohol monitoring anklet. I promise I'll keep doing it as long as you want me too. I won't see anyone else and if you ever feel jealous or think I'm doing something wrong just let me know Ann and I promise I'll stop it. I'm willing to do anything to make this work, and I want to be here for whatever you want me here for. Just don't shut me out Ann, please let me be there for you…for us."
It took a few seconds but she slowly walked up to him and brought him into an embrace. No matter how romantic the moment was Cliff didn't make a move to kiss her. I smiled my cousin had matured a lot in the past few weeks since the break up. Maybe he had a chance to make something good out of all this after all.
I nudged Jack and whispered in his ear. "Come on let's leave them alone I think he's got this."
We got back into the cabin and warmed up with a fire. About an hour later Cliff walked through the door.
"How'd it go?"
He smiled. "I don't know, I'm just going to wait on her and see."
End Chapter 21
So yea there isn't any excuse for my delay on this chapter. I went through a really hard time back in November and just recently started writing again. I had this chapter ready to go and edited months ago but a virus wiped out my computer. If you're the person who edited this chapter please get back in touch with me I'm sorry but I lost all my e-mails too so I don't know who you are. To you loyal readers keep coming back I promise this story will continue to be updated.