"To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power..." - Maya Angelou (b. 1928)
Earth rumbled underneath their feet, the walls appeared shaken as Hurricane Victoria wreaked havoc on the Hampton coast line and Grayson Manor bore the brunt of her force. Rain drizzled down the window panes, thunder growled in the distance and flashes of white momentarily brightened the dismal, grey skies.
"You look more miserable than the weather does," Emily Grayson humorously commented to Daniel, as they relaxed on the sofa, and her legs overlapped his.
"Yeah," Daniel murmured, as he sipped his coffee.
Neither had bothered to mention the irony in the name of the most recent hurricane. It was more than appropriate when they considered the date. Nineteen years, on this day, had been the downfall of the Grayson clan. His mother had been killed in a suspicious plane explosion, Charlotte had died from an overdose and his father prepared himself to finally face the consequences for his actions.
She noted her husband's spirits had been sombre all day, though she knew why, she decided not to confront it. "They say it should pass within 24 hours," Emily informed him. "I think it must be the worst storm we've had for decades."
Daniel's eyes wandered around the room. Memories were raw for him, reminders of his family were constant, and it was when these storms hit and forced him to take shelter in his childhood kingdom, that he found the hardest. "It'll pass soon." He raised himself off of the sofa, "I think I'll do some work in the office for a couple hours."
"Okay," Emily kindly took his still-full coffee from him and watched him wander into the office and close the doors.
She had learnt, from years of experience, that Daniel needed time to be alone on this anniversary. Sometimes, so did she. Her words of comfort to him – "I do know how you feel," – had often been dismissed, but she really did know. Charlotte had been her sister as much as his, and Emily had never been able to shrug off the guilt she had been plagued with since Charlotte's overdose. Sometimes, she even felt sorrow for the loss of Victoria. It was hard not to, especially when she had discovered Daniel's mother had almost been as much a pawn as her father had been. But, thanks to Nolan, the evidence had sent Conrad and his associates to prison for their crimes and Emily had been able to move on.
The phone distracted her attention and Emily set aside both cups before she answered it, "Emily Grayson?"
"Hey, Ems," Nolan's voice replied.
"Nolan," Emily rolled her eyes. It had become somewhat of a tradition for them to reminisce on the past on this very day, almost a throwback to the older days, which were far behind them.
"Hurricane Victoria, huh? Ironic, isn't it?" His smartass tone had never changed, even after nearly twenty years.
She could picture him in his fortress on a cliff, most likely terrified of the storm that brutally raged over them. Nolan never had been one for storms. Apparently, it was one of those childhood issues that countless therapy sessions couldn't cure. Emily wrapped the blanket over her lower body, "Paranoid much," she sipped her coffee.
"Just in reflection mode," Nolan snapped in retaliation.
"Seems to be contagious," Emily muttered, as she eyed the doors of the home office.
"Don't tell me there's trouble in paradise?" Nolan gleefully asked, almost in anticipation. Much to his disappointment, Daniel and Emily had married and their union had lasted much longer than anyone could predict it would have done. In fact, against his better judgement, he and Daniel had forged a friendship, if it could be called such, and Nolan regularly spent the holidays and annual events with his extended family, the Grayson's.
"Daniel's barely spoken two words to me all day," Emily confessed.
"Has he been to their graves?" Nolan checked.
Annually, Daniel had made sure to visit his mother and sister's graves. Authorities had claimed Victoria and Lydia's bodies had been far too damaged to identify, but Charlotte's body had been laid to rest next to her biological father and the headstone was in memory of both mother and daughter. "Not yet," Emily answered. "I don't think he will."
Nolan paused for a moment, before he asked, "Have you?"
A few tears threatened to fall and Emily heavily inhaled a deep breath. Nolan was the only one in the world to appreciate how great the loss of Charlotte was for her, and the only one to know that she regularly visited her sister's grave on her own. "No, I haven't." And she hadn't made plans to visit it. She sighed in disappointment, it would be the first year that she hadn't bothered, but her concern for Daniel seemed to overtake her routines.
His solemn voice replied, and it comforted her, "I'm sure she would understand." Of course, Charlotte would understand. Many underestimated Charlotte's capabilities, after her addiction came to public spotlight, but forgiveness and her ability to empathise was one of her greatest strengths. Emily knew Charlotte would have understood.
"Listen, Nolan, I want to check in on Daniel," she disrupted the conversation. "I'm worried about him." She tossed aside the blanket and stood from the sofa, "I'll call you later, okay?"
Emily wandered toward the home office and knocked, before she entered to find Daniel with his eyes focused on the bottle of Scotch, and the filled glass beside it. He acknowledged her presence with deadened eyes, before he returned them to the bottle once more. She silently closed the doors and wandered behind him, where she draped her arms around his neck and rested her chin on his shoulder for a second. It wasn't the first time she had found him in this state of undecided conflict, and it saddened her that, even after years of maturity, Daniel struggled with his addiction. Though his problem had never reached a life-threatening point, at least not since they had met, Emily found it fair to call him an alcoholic.
"Why don't you pour me one?" She offered.
His eyes flickered between her and the bottle before he slid the glass across the desk, "Why don't you have that one?"
Relief seared in her veins and she tenderly kissed his cheek, "I love you." She climbed into his lap and rested her cheek on his shoulder as he buried his face in hers, and the storm continued to roar just outside the trembling walls.
After the silence became unbearable, Daniel reached for the family photograph on his desk, "Look at us." The six faces beamed back at him; himself, Emily and their four children.
Only one year into their marriage and Charlotte had made an appearance into their lives. Named after her deceased aunt, Charlotte even looked like her namesake. At eighteen, she had left home to study law at Yale but kept in regular contact and always spent her summer in the Hampton's. Then came Sophia, a black-haired, green-eyed daddy's princess, who was, without a doubt, the reincarnation of Victoria. She had the smarts and business-sense to run Grayson Global, if she chose such a path. Several years later on, twelve to be exact, Emily produced two healthy unisex twins, Jacob and Hannah.
"Quite the family," Emily chuckled.
"Hey, I'm home." The voice of their second eldest child echoed from the hall.
Daniel and Emily rushed out to the hall, where Sophia Grayson appeared, drenched and ice cold. "Baby, you're soaked." Emily ran a hand over her daughter's raincoat and became overwhelmed with maternal concern, "I'll find you a towel. I think there's still some coffee in the pot, if you feel like you need a warm drink."
As her mother raced upstairs, Sophia slithered out of the raincoat and smoothed a hand through her jet black strands, which had knotted in the rain. "You'll be lucky if you don't fall ill," her father remarked. "Where have you been anyway?"
"With Chris," she answered.
He couldn't prevent the eye roll that followed her response. Chris, the only son of Jack and Amanda Porter, had managed to sweep his seventeen year old daughter off her feet, much to Daniel's disapproval. Ironically, he had always promised himself he would never interfere in his children's relationships, after the damage his parents had caused him, but he couldn't accept Chris, no matter how much it meant to Sophia. "And you were with him yesterday?"
"Yeah," she confirmed. "I planned to wait the storm out but the weather station said it could be like this for the next 24 hours so I decided to just come home. I'm sorry if I worried you," Sophia kissed her father's cheek.
"Sophia," Jacob and Hannah raced downstairs to their older sister.
"Hey, guys," she ruffled their heads. "I'll be able to cuddle lots soon, just let me dry off first, okay?"
"They missed you for movie night last night," her mother returned with the towel. "We watched Lion King and someone," Emily aimed her statement at Daniel, "Snored all the way through it." She watched Sophia dry off her hair and folded her arms across her chest, "How was your date with Chris? Six month anniversary, right?"
"It was lovely," Sophia reported, "He cooked dinner for me. His parents were out of town for the weekend."
"Mommy, can we watch a movie?" Jacob nervously asked.
"Movie night was yesterday, sweetie," Emily reminded him, with a gentle smile back.
"But daddy fell asleep," Hannah frowned, as she pulled on her father's arm. "And Sophia wasn't home so it didn't count."
Emily exhaled in defeat, "Well…"
Her youngest children rushed towards the television and started to pick their favourite movies as Sophia ran upstairs to change into some dry clothes. "Mommy, can we watch Lion King number two?" Hannah raised two fingers to show she could count on her own. Her mother nodded and Jacob helped her push the DVD into its slot.
As the DVD registered, Sophia reappeared with her hair scrunched back and dressed in her comfort clothes. "Hey, dad, did you and mom make it to aunt Charlotte's grave today?" She checked, as she cuddled on the sofa with Jacob on her lap and Hannah on her fathers. Emily poured herself another cup of coffee as she listened in, "Because Chris and I did plan to make it there but the road was closed off by the time we decided to brave the storm."
"Not today," her father replied.
"Oh," Sophia pursed her lips, uncertain how to reply.
"Have you shown your father the picture Chris drew?" Emily probed, as she sat down next to Daniel.
"Oh, yeah," she reached for her purse. "He compiled this for me as an early anniversary present last week." She passed her father the sketch drawing of their family, which included the six of them and also his parents and Charlotte beside them. Her father found himself speechless, "He drew me from memory, but I showed him pictures of grandpa, grandma and aunt Charlotte for it," she confessed.
"Who's that?" Jacob pointed to the older woman in the sketch.
"Grandma," Daniel calmly explained to his son. His children had met his father, in prison. They had all been regularly told stories of their aunt Charlotte but his mother had rarely come into conversation. "You haven't met her because she's up in heaven with aunt Charlotte," he informed.
"What was grandma like?" Hannah looked intrigued.
"She was…" Daniel deeply exhaled, "Well…" His eyes darted to Emily for some kind of life raft, but knew only he should answer such a question. "Grandma," Daniel looked out the window, "Was a hurricane of sorts." And that much was solid truth. Anyone who had ever encountered Victoria Grayson knew for themselves, the woman was a force to be reckoned with, not only that. She was a force of nature.