With a week left until the intended surprise baby shower, Aracely wasn’t very happy with Jason as he hadn’t said anything to Steve about it yet. Sure he told his dad as they needed the time to build the pergola she wanted. In any case, with the quiet weekend, she made fresh sweet tea and brought it out to the yard.
“How’s it going?” she asked the older man who was busy bent over a large slab of wood measuring.
“Just fine kiddo. We’ll be done just as soon as Jason gets back with the last of the wood I’ll need. He’ll drop it off after his Academy classes,” Tom smiled gratefully as he accepted the tea. “Besides, you and I haven’t had a chance to talk since the window business. Not properly anyway. So how are things going with you?”
“Fine, especially since the ol’ Doc started helping out in the office while I can deal with the paperwork and house calls especially to the more rural residents of town,” she smiled as she sat down in one of the lawn chairs.
“I doubt that’s why you’ve been grinning like the cat that caught the canary,” Tom replied, “Doc’s a big help, yeah. But there’s something different about you.”
“Well I don’t know about that. I know I’m anxious about the party,” she shrugged.
“Uh-huh,” Tom smiled knowingly as he placed his cup down.
She narrowed her eyes on him. “It’s the first time I’ll be having anyone really out here, including my own parents. You and Jason are the only ones that really seen the property.”
“Oh yeah… you want everything to be special. Especially for Hayley and young Steve,” Tom nodded, “Is that why my son has been spending every free minute he can over here to fix up the place?”
“He thinks our dogs should be friends also. Since Roo’s surgery and recoup, he thinks that Skye helps him heal faster,” she shrugged. “You know how much Hannah hates it when he takes the dog away from your house longer than necessary for a walk.”
“I just find it funny that the two of you bought your dogs around the same time, found new people to be with and have become friends, all with in the space of a few days,” Tom explained with a grin as he got back to work.
Sighing, Aracely knew where he was going with that. “He talked me into going with him. You know how much I hated animals growing up. And what? We can’t just be friends? It was inevitable at the very least if we weren’t going to be romantically involved.”
“Will this new guy in your life be coming to the party?” he asked, “I only asked because we haven’t met this Candy, person that Jason is apparently dating. I’ve only seen a couple of pictures.”
“I’ve actually met her. She’s really nice,” she grinned at him, carefully avoiding the comment about her ‘man’.
“I’m sure she is kiddo,” he nodded, “She just doesn’t strike me as Jason’s type.”
“Maybe he’s not looking for a relationship like you want him to have. He’s young enough to have several girlfriends before he may want to settle down.”
“My girl, don’t confuse me with my wife or my eldest daughter. I couldn’t care less if my boy wanted a relationship or something casual with her, or anyone for that matter,” he said as he slapped a battery in his cordless drill. “But don’t take an old man for a fool. I’ve seen the way you two have been looking at each other. How you’re both smiling from ear to ear. I know something’s going on. Does that mean I’ll say anything? No… it’s your business. But however good intentioned the two of you are about whatever it is you’ve got going on. You’re still lying to people that you care about.”
“Not – lying,” she replied thoughtfully. “At least not really. It’s all in good fun.”
“I sure hope so… because you’re running the risk of pissing off a hormonal pregnant girl with keys to an almost new SUV,” Tom grinned.
“Bah! She’ll get over it after some ranting and laugh. Just don’t say anything to anyone. Everything was planned since the first day that Lisa and her wouldn’t leave either one of us alone to come to any decision about our own relationship on our own.”
“Like I said, your business is your business, baby girl,” Tom reaffirmed. “My lips are sealed. But to be honest, if the two of you keep making eyes at each other like you want to tear each others clothes off, people will notice eventually.”
“Been there, done that, but that’s neither here nor there. We have already talked it out and we aren’t intending on going there yet so a little faith in our own self restraint please,” Aracely replied. “I’ve got some burgers in my freezer. Do you want something to eat?”
“Remember who you’re talking to kiddo,” his smile softened. “I have complete faith in you and my boy and you haven’t let me down yet. Yes, the two of you took some time in figuring out who and what are important to you in the grand scheme of things. But things are getting better for you both. Jason tells me that his nightmares are few and far between these days. And your parents haven’t been this happy since the day they brought you home.”
“And burgers sound great, but I’ll have to leave by 5,” he said, quickly changing the subject to limit any discomfort on her part.
“Oh,” she frowned feeling sad. “Okay. I’ll um, go start on them then.” Standing, she smiled at him before heading back inside to start on lunch and let the man work.
“Well done Tom,” he muttered and returned to his work. The last thing he wanted was to upset her. He was happy for them both after all, doubly so because they were taking things slow. But having to deal with that on top of his father wanting to leave the retirement village to come stay in the family home was too much to deal with.
About twenty minutes later, she finished the burgers having decided to cook them inside. Making her way over to the door, she smiled out at Tom. “Lunch is ready for whenever you want to come in out of the sun for a break to eat,” she said.
Heading into the house, Tom went over to the sink to wash his hands. “Smells great.”
“Um, thanks. It was nothing, really,” she said as she pulled out ketchup and mustard bottles from the fridge.
“Look, I uh… I’m sorry if I pissed you off earlier,” he said carefully as he dried his hands. “I didn’t mean to imply that I was upset with you or Jason. You’re both adults, if you want to have a relationship that’s your choice. You do however have my blessing.”
She stood there staring at him with the condiments in her hands. “Uh – thanks? You said that already when I was by your house. And you didn’t piss me off or anything.”
“Well you don’t have that smile on your face that you’ve had all morning,” he explained, “So I must have said something wrong.”
“I don’t know. I guess I hoped that you would have joined Jason and me for dinner tonight. It was my turn to cook,” she admitted. “Now that you know at least.”
“I’d love to, I really would. But I have to pick up my father from the train station. He wants to come and stay with us for a while,” he explained as he sat down. “He hasn’t been able to settle in the retirement village since my mother passed.”
Aracely nodded. “With Lisa’s house still unlivable, I doubt you can fit another person in your house. It’s big, but for as many people that are there now, it’s really not that much room.”
“Well, that’s something I’ve been hoping to talk to Jason about, but for some reason, I haven’t seen him much recently,” he smiled knowingly. “Lisa will be moving pretty soon, so I figured that until her room was freed up, Dad could sleep in the loft apartment and we can put Jason up at the Inn.”
She made a face at that. “And that would keep him away from his dog. He manages that thing like it’s his child,” she pointed out. “The inn doesn’t allow animals.”
“Becki and Hannah are willing to take care of the pup while he’s at the Inn, or here. In fact, they practically clawed at my arm to get me to suggest it to him,” the carpenter grinned.
“Ahh, I get it,” she sat back, a dawning look on her face. “You want me to suggest him to move in, at least temporarily, since he is already here so much.”
“No, I’ve already spoken to Hilary at the Inn, he’ll have a room waiting for him at a reduced rate unless he finds his own place to stay,” Tom replied seriously. “I told you, I’m not here to interfere with your relationship. It’s up to him whether he’d rather stay here or not and up to you to decide whether you want him to. The kids can and will look after the dog, there’s still the old guard dog enclosure if we need to use it.”
“It’s not interfering to point out the obvious solution,” she smiled. “Plus you all need that money and even with reduced rates, it’s still hurts the wallet more than it should if there are other alternatives available. I’ll talk to him about it.”
“We’re prepared to cover the expenses, my girl,” Tom smiled, “But thank you for your offer. Now… tell me where you got these burgers.”
“You have to ask Jason. I had him pick up extra when he got stuff for the party next week,” Aracely shrugged apologetically.
“Will do,” he nodded. “So tell me, how do you feel about his career plans?”
She worked on her burger slowly as she thought about it with a shrug. “In theory the job is really just as dangerous as what he’s been doing the last ten years. In one aspect he should be comfortable and therefore successful at the job but I don’t think he will find it as fulfilling.”
“What do you think he would find fulfilling?” Tom asked, nodding in agreement. Sure, Jason would make a good peacekeeper for the town, a worthy successor to Rickman who had kept the crime rate in Mullens the lowest they had been since the town was first founded.
Aracely continued to stare at her burger. “I don’t want to say because I think you know and don’t want it either.”
“He’s not going back to the Corps, Aracely. He’s seen too much… done too much to ever go back. I know…” Tom replied sincerely. “There may be times when he seems anxious, restless to the point where you’ll believe he resents you for keeping him tied here. But he wants to be home with you, his friends and his family. He needs us more than he realizes right now.”
“I’m not a psychologist but I haven’t seen anything that you’ve mentioned. The nightmares, resentment – unless you count him and Eric that day at your house.”
“Well maybe we’re lucky in that respect, maybe him coming home was different than it was for me. But he has had sleepless nights. When he’s been at home I’ve heard him pottering around the kitchen a few times,” he explained. “I came down one night and he told me some of the things that had happened to him over the last ten years.”
“Time is the only thing that would heal something like that, and never completely. Have you ever talked to anyone about your experiences? Professionally?” she asked carefully.
“When I left the Marines and came home, I was offered help from psychologists looking to publish papers on soldiers who leave that life behind,” Tom explained. “Unless you live through it, I don’t think you could ever really understand what goes on in a soldiers mind. That may seem arrogant, but Jason, my father, my grandfather, my great grandfather… we all believe that because there hasn’t been any evidence to the contrary. Our families and friends wanted and still want to help… but you try explaining to a loved one how you intended to kill another human. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do.”
Aracely slowly took a sip from her glass of tea as she thought about it and kept her eyes down. “You would be surprised just how many more people can relate. How you want to kill another human, but for a different reason. To end one’s suffering and pain, for example. Life here in Mullens is much more easy than in LA. There is a war in the streets of our country as well, just a different one.”
“Oh I get it, gang violence, drugs, prostitution. It’s all there. I’m not saying that what a soldier goes through is the be all and end all of life and death. Decisions are made every day that result in death. But when you’re the one holding the gun, with your finger on the trigger, you see things differently,” he explained. “You’re a doctor my girl, your job is to prolong life and you’re pretty damn good at it too… but a soldier has to prolong life and end life at the same time. It’s not about ending ones suffering, it’s about survival, it’s about the bigger picture. As horrific as things are in LA and places like it, they don’t have to fight. They can choose to lay down their arms and walk away any time they want. For a soldier, fighting for his country, that choice is a lot harder to make.”
She looked up at him and was about to reply when she heard the garage door opening. “Jason’s here,” she said softly.
“Go tell him… I know you’re dieing to,” Tom grinned as he continued to eat his lunch.
Aracely grinned and shook her head. “I’ll talk to him later. Don’t worry. I’m not going to make your family put out money for something you don’t need to when there are alternatives available.”
“Just so long as you’re okay with him staying with you, after everything that happened with Doctor Saunders, you shouldn’t force yourself to do something you haven’t entirely thought through,” Tom replied with a nod.
“I have three other bedrooms upstairs and one is being used for storage. It’s not like he has to share a room with me. There is more than enough space around if I need to go hide somewhere,” she pointed out.
“Hide somewhere? You planning on having my father build a panic room now?” Jason asked as he entered the kitchen. “Hey Ace, Pop.”
Aracely looked at him, thoughtful. “That’s not a bad idea. Especially if Eric decides to come back in a psychotic rage.”
“Well if you want to, I’m sure we can help,” Jason gave her a sideways glance. “Right pop?”
“A panic room? I suppose it could work…” Tom replied, “Sit down son, tell me about what you learned in school today.”
“Not much left to learn to tell you the truth,” Jason smiled and sat down. “Now that my marksmanship rating’s been logged, we’re just going over everything we’ve learned to keep it fresh. They’ve started talking about the end of the course. Rickman will have to take me on a few ride alongs before he leaves, but my instructors think I’m capable of doing the job, and the sheriff’s eager to leave to be with his family. I guess I could be taking his place next month.”
“That’s – fast,” Aracely said as she looked up at him in surprise.
“There’s not a lot to being a small-town cop, Ace,” he explained, “Especially one with such a low crime rate. And my background with the Marines sped things up. I did spend a year policing several villages after all. And the deputies working for Rickman don’t want the top job, but they’re willing to help me adjust.”
She nodded slowly. “Oh, okay,” she said simply. “Your dad wants to know where you got the burgers. Ah, you can have the rest of mine. I um, need to go do something – that’s, not here…” With a smile, she waved and quickly made an escape out of the room and up the stairs.
Jason frowned before looking at his father who was simply staring at him. “Aww crap… you know, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh,” Tom nodded, “doesn’t take a genius son.”
“You mad?” Jason asked.
“Not at all, I’m happy for the both of you, and I’m glad that you’re taking things slow,” Tom replied, “The little prank that you’re pulling on everyone however…”
“Dad, you know what mom and Lisa are like. The whole town put pressure on Ace and Saunders while I wasn’t here. They could still be together if everyone just laid off and let them get on with things,” Jason explained, unhappy at the thought of them still being together.
“People only started getting involved when they saw how unhappy Aracely was becoming,” Tom replied, “But I get it… even the best intentions can make things worse.”
“I’m sorry Pop… I wanted to tell you, especially after our talk a few weeks back,” Jason nodded.
“Don’t apologise. You know how I feel about Aracely, son. With you or not, she’s a part of the family,” Tom smiled, slapping a hand down on his sons shoulder. “I’m happy for you both. It’s about god damn time.”
Jason smiled. “Thanks Pop.”
“Now uh, there’s something else I need to talk to you about,” Tom said.