SPOILER ALERT: Please do not read if you have not read Books 1 & 2 of the Loon Lake Series. This takes place the October following SUMMER OF DRAGONFLY CHANGES. You have been warned. Enjoy!
“Man, it’s gorgeous out here.” Jake perched on the edge of Cassy’s upper-level beachfront balcony looking out over the Pacific.
Sammy smiled at him—admiring his carefree outlook. “It sure is,” she replied dreamily glancing back at the setting sun.
Movement below caught her eye. She watched Matty, her nephew, come out from the house onto the lower deck.
“I feel sad for the boys—especially Matty,” Sammy said quietly. “He looks so torn up.”
Jake’s eyes followed her gaze. He nodded. “Yeah, they don’t seem like very happy kids. But they’ll get better. Don’t you think? I’m sure it’s a terrible transition for them. I won’t even begin to pretend I know what it’s like to be a kid whose parents are divorcing. But Gabby definitely seems like a different person from a few months ago.”
“Yes, she does. She’s happier, lighter, and—dare I say—hopeful. I see this sparkle in her eye that’s been missing for years. I think she’s inspired by the idea of moving to Sonoma to work with Kathy and Dana on the retreat center—having a fresh start. The boys seemed excited too. Okay, Matty…not so much. He seemed sort of happy, but there was definitely something else weighing on the poor kid.”
“Maybe you should go talk to him.” Jake encouraged.
“Looks like someone beat me to it,” Sammy answered as she watched her Aunt Kathy approach Matty on the deck below.
“Hey kiddoe, mind if I join you?” Kathy asked as she sat in the chaise lounge next to Matty.
“Go ahead.” He was noncommittal.
“Oh Sweet Pea, I just can’t get over how much of a teenager you are now,” Kathy said resisting the urge to pinch his sad cheeks.
Matty stifled a smile, obviously proud of the compliment.
“You’re a pretty good big cousin to those two baby girls in there. I see the way you smile at them when you’re holdin’ them.”
“Yeah, they’re cool. I don’t remember my brothers when they were that little. The babies are fun.”
“So your mom told ya about what I asked her the other night, huh?” Kathy probed carefully.
“About moving to California? Yeah, she told me.” Matt kept his head down and cracked his knuckles.
Kathy shook her head as she thought of Alex at his age—a tough year. “You okay with it?” she asked tenderly.
“I guess so.”
“Because if you have a problem with it, you can tell me or your mom. We can change the plan.”
“No, I’m fine with it,” he said with a shrug.
“Well, Matt”—she caught herself from calling him Matty—“you just don’t really seem fine with it. You can tell me anything.”
He looked at her. “I am fine with it Aunt Kathy. It might even be fun. Sure I’m gonna miss my friends. But I can talk, text, and FaceTime them whenever I want. It’s just…something else is bugging me.”
“Is it a girl?” Kathy inquired hesitantly.
Matty laughed. “Yeah, I guess it’s about a girl, kind of.” He rolled his eyes. “But not how you’re thinking.”
“Okay, Sweetie, I really want to talk to ya, but this game is getting old. Please just tell me what’s on your mind.” Sheesh teenagers!
“It’s about my mom, okay? There’s something that happened, and I don’t know if I should tell her.”
Before Kathy had to cajole more out of him, he continued. “Last spring, I saw my dad with the other woman. He didn’t see me. I was spending the night at my friend’s house, and I went to the movies with him and his family. When the movie let out, I saw my dad and the other woman walking out of another theater. He had his arm around her, and they were laughing. I didn’t know what to do.” He looked longingly at his aunt for answers. Then chuckling uncomfortably, he added, “Actually, I wanted to throw up.”
She saw his eyes wet with tears, and her heart broke a little. “Oh, Matt.” She leaned over and hugged him. “I’m so sorry you had to witness that, and carry that secret with you for months now. You need to let it go. Don’t think about it any longer. Your dad did what he did, and you couldn’t have stopped it. Even if you had said anything to your mom at the time, or confronted your dad, they would still be having the same outcome today that they are havin’. It’s not your fault, Sweetie—it’s just not. There was nothing you could or couldn’t do to change anything.”
“Then why do I feel so guilty?”
She released him from her hug and looked in his sad eyes. “Because you witnessed your father being unfaithful to your mother. That’s a terrible thing for anyone to see. I’m sure I couldn’t have handled seeing that if I were you. But that is his guilt not yours. And you probably feel guilty because you kept a painful secret from your mother. But you did it to spare her feelings. You probably didn’t even really know what you were seeing at the time. Your dad with another woman—that’s heavy stuff for any kid to handle. Your mind probably was trying to make sense of it—telling you different scenarios.”
She hugged him again. “You can let it go now. Let it be my burden to carry. I won’t tell your mom either. She doesn’t need to know a thing. She knows about your father’s indiscretions. It’s over. Do you think you can let it go?” She tilted his chin up so he would look her in the eye.
He gave her a half-smile. “I’ll try. It feels good to at least tell someone. It was a hard secret to carry on my own.”
“Matt, you can tell me anything, any time you want. Okay?”
“Are you sure you’re okay with the idea of moving to California? Doing this whole adventure with us?” She looked for hints in his body language.
“Yeah, I think it’ll be fun.” She couldn’t read anything otherwise.
“Great news! I’m so looking forward to working with your mama on this project. I can’t wait to have y’all so close.”
“I sure wish I could hear what those two are talking about,” Sammy said without taking her eyes off Kathy and Matty.
“It does look pretty intense down there,” Jake said quietly.
As the two watched Kathy talk to her grandnephew, the sun sank further into the ocean.
“Hey, before it gets too dark, I needed to show you something,” Jake said attempting to drawn Sammy’s attention away from the two.
“Yeah, what’s that?” she asked absently, still looking at the pair below.
He gently took hold of her chin and steered her gaze toward his. When their eyes met, she was mesmerized by how handsome he looked in the orange glow of the setting sun. His tanned face looked younger than ever. She wanted to remember this moment. She was happy to be celebrating her nieces’ baptisms with her whole family. Things were going well for her sister and for Dana. But most of all, she loved this man next to her.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked as if he tried to read her mind.
“Oh, I was just thinking how happy I am—how happy you make me. And how darn handsome you look in the sunlight.” She added that last part with an embarrassed giggle.
He leaned into her shoulder lowering his head. “Yeah, you look pretty darn gorgeous yourself. I will remember this moment forever,” he said as he gazed at her with a wide grin.
“Me too,” she said dreamily.
“Good. That’ll make it easier to tell everyone about it.”
“About what?” she asked scrunching her nose in confusion.
“How we got engaged, officially” he said casually as he pulled a diamond ring out of his pocket. Before she could react, he took her hand and asked, “Samantha McGreggor, will you marry me?”
As tears welled in her eyes, she leaned toward his bent head. With their foreheads touching, the sun setting, and her heart bursting, she whispered, “Yes, Jake Hunter, I will marry you.” They sealed it with a kiss—one of their “first-kiss” kind of kisses.
When they parted, she was able to get a better look at the ring.
“Wow, what a rock!” She teased with delight as she examined it in the fading sunlight. “It’s so sparkly.”
He laughed. “Glad you approve.” He kissed her again.
“I guess it’s official now, huh?” she asked shyly. “This is gonna happen?”
“Oh yeah, this is gonna happen,” he reassured her. “Do you want to go tell your family?”
She hesitated, smiling at him and then looking off at the ocean’s horizon. “No, not yet. Let’s enjoy our secret a little longer.” She leaned into his shoulder. “It has taken me a lifetime to get to this kind of happy. I want to savor it.”
“Such a way with words…” he said happily as he wrapped his arms around her.
The two stood entwined, grinning in silence as the orange sky faded to purple. They watched out in the distant water as the surfers came in, one by one, from their day on the water.