The next morning he jolted out of his sleep and looked around for Laura. Much to his relief she’d already left his room. Running a hand over his face and through his disheveled hair, he tried to focus his blurry eyes of his wall clock. Eight in the morning on a Saturday meant he could sleep a few more hours, but it was not to be. A firm knock came at his door and heard it open.
“Wake up. Breakfast is on the table.” Stanley coaxed. All he got was a grunt and watched Tobias pull the covers tightly over his head. Stanley walked over and yanked Tobias by his ankles.
“Alright, alright. Geez.”
Stanley’s lips tugged a slight smile. “Clean yourself up. We’ll be waiting at the table for you.”
“Okay. Oh by the way, where’s Laura?”
He stopped in his tracks as apprehension formed in his gut.
“Why are you asking?”
“I got home late last night from work. We stayed up a little too long.”
“Stayed up doing what?”
Before he could answer, Laura interrupted.
“We’re starving downstairs.”
“Yeah. I almost had to drag Tobias out of bed.”
Laura stared at Tobias from the door as her eyes began to twinkle. Stanley looked back and forth between his daughter and Tobias and got an uneasy feeling. “We better let him get himself together,” He pushed his daughter out into the hallway and closed the door behind them. When they weren’t in earshot of Tobias’s room. Stanley placed his hands on Laura’s shoulder to spin her around. “I don’t like the way you’re looking at Tobias.”
“Oh come on dad.”
“I meant what I said. I don’t want him to lay one finger on you.”
“Tobias is a nice guy.”
“Yes he is, but he’s still male. If he tries anything-”
“Dad, You trusted him enough to let him live here. He’ll be graduating in a year and he has a steady job, He’s doing everything he’s supposed to. You should trust him. He’s dependable, honest, and responsible.” She’d trampled down most of his uneasiness, but still, he’d watch those two very closely. “Come on, I’m starved.”
“We have to wait for Tobias.”
“Snooze you lose.” she offered a cheeky grin. By the time Tobias made it to the table, Laura pushed up from her chair, whipped up her purse and keys and headed out the door.
“I thought you all were going to wait for me?”
“We did. Laura is in a rush to go some place, probably to the mall.”
“Ah.” he shrugged his shoulders, “Let’s eat.”
For the next four years, much to Tobias’s disdain, Laura and he kept sneaking around and somehow he managed not to get her pregnant. At twenty-one he’d lone decided to come clean with Stanley. It wasn’t a crime that he was in love with his daughter. So, he’d waited until one afternoon he knew Stanley would be home. He caught Stanley exiting the foyer.
“Do you have a minute? There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Ah, sure. What’s on your mind?”
Tobias shifted from one foot to the other and willed his heart to stop racing.
“Well, it’s about Laura.”
“Go on.” he added cautiously.
“Here’s the thing, I love her. Before you go ballistic, hear me out.”
“I really do love Laura. I told her that we should’ve told you about this a long time ago.”
“Exactly how long ago?”
“So you’ve been sleeping with my daughter for four years? This is what you’re telling me?”
“It’s not what it seems.”
“Then explain it to me.”
“For the last year Laura and I have been married.”
“What?! There’s no way possible, not when I’m well know in this town!”
“It’s true. Remember when we took that trip to Mexico?” Stanley slapped a hand to his forehead and began to pace back and forth. “I never wanted to deceive you. When we were in Mexico Laura and I saw this couple getting married in the street. She got so wrapped up in the moment she asked if I wanted to marry her. I tried to talk her out of it, but she said that this could be our only change to be happy, to do something spontaneous. Everything happened so fast. I swear I wanted to talk things over with you and Greta.”
Stanley stood staring back at Tobias, whom he saw as a son.
“Have a seat.”
He marched over to the front room all the while keeping wary eyes on Stanley.
“I know I have to leave here after what I’ve done.”
“Listen, just listen to me.” Tobias nodded. “This is my fault.” He began to protest but Stanley held up a hand to silence him. “This is my fault, this was bound to happen. I knew something was going on but I couldn’t prove it. All this time I was so focused on you taking advantage of my daughter that I was blind to her actions. Well, blind is a bit of a stretch. I just didn’t want to believe that my daughter had taken advantage of you.”
“No, she hasn’t”
“Son, believe me, she got you to go against your own moral code. Granted, I didn’t know about your marriage and am taken aback. Over the past two years I started piecing things together. I feel miserable about what she’s done to you.”
“She hasn’t done anything. We love each other.”
“You only think you do. Laura is a user and you know it Tobias.”
“Yes. It’s my fault, I gave her too much and she’s gained this sense of entitlement. It kills me to say that about my daughter, my only daughter.”
“Just give her a chance. Laura is really good deep down.”
“Oh Tobias…Tobias. I’m really sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but believe me, it’s better you find out from me.”
“What? What’s going on?”
Each time he started to speak, he couldn’t find gentle words enough to break the news to him.
“I know you think you love my daughter, but the truth is-”
Before he could finish, the front door opened and Tobias leaned forward to see Laura smiling at someone else on the other side of the door.
“Excuse me.” he pushed himself up from his chair and made his way over to Laura and rested his arm around her waist. The man on the other side of the door smirked at Tobias.
“Is this a friend of yours?”
“This is Todd.”
“Laura aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“This isn’t her house, she can’t just let you in.”
“Is that right? The way I see it, you’re the one who doesn’t have the right to be here.” he grinned matter-of-fact. Todd brushed pass Laura and Tobias to let himself in. “Hello Mr. Royale, it’s good to see you again.”
“It’s best you go Todd.” Stanley instructed.
“Why? Things are just getting good.”
“Why’d you bring him here Laura?” Tobias quipped.
“Todd, leave, now!”
“No dad. Todd can stay.”
Tobias and Stanley’s eyes fixed on her face in shock.
“What do you mean he can stay?”
“What Laura means is, you both are history. How long did you think she would stay with you? You can’t meet her needs.”
“What is this jerk talking about Laura?!”
“Look, things just aren’t working out between us.”
“What do you…we’re married for Christ’s sake!”
“I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
He was stunned into a state of silence. The eyes staring back at him were cold, dismissive, empty. How could she decide all of a sudden she didn’t want to be with him anymore?
“Better luck next time.” Todd patted him on the back. “We’ll leave you to get your things. I expect a speedy divorce.” Todd took a hold of Laura’s hand and led them out the front door. There he stood dazed and confused. Stanley was in disbelief himself over his daughter’s actions. She had no remorse over the life she’d just ruined.
Since that day, he vowed to never trust another woman again. He’d lived just fine for fourteen years without being tangled up with another femme fatale. Now Winter was in his way. There was something about the way she challenged him that made him want to fight back. This was something than even surprised him, revealed far more than he cared to analyze. All he knew was that she had to go.
Finally pulling up to Pine Ridge, he turned the ignition off and sat for a moment thinking until he spotted fresh boot prints leading up to the porch steps up to the front door. Immediately he climbed out his truck, traveled up the path, up the stairs and to his front to and slid the key in it’s hole then let himself inside. Slamming the door hoping to startle her was an epic fail, in return she turned and smiled.
“Stop showing up here.”
“So, I hear you’ve been making friends.”
“You’re spying on me?”
“No. People talk. Seems as if you put Clive Mason in his place.”
Before he could stop himself, he let out his wave of resentment over Clive.
“He’s a snake. He had the gall to think he was in line to become the new CEO!” he plopped himself down on the couch and she joined him, knees pulled to her chest.
“Looks like he got what was coming to him.”
“I’m far from finished with him. But I have to say, today wasn’t all bad, the woman over at the bakery put me to work right away.”
“That’s good, you’re making progress. So you had a good time then?”
“Suppose so. To early to tell if everything will go well.”
“We all go through our set of bumps and bruises. You’ll do fine.”
Seconds passed by until he found himself staring at her. He had no idea why she was smiling but it slowly began chipping away at the ice around his heart. Upon recognizing this unwanted feeling, he pushed himself up from the couch, scratched his head, and jetted to his room and secured the door after him. Winter giggled to herself and shook her head. Men. Heading back into the kitchen, she checked on the pot of Gumbo to see if it had thickened up. Soon he reemerged from his foxhole and scanned the front of the house; Winter was nowhere in sight. The kitchen was still dimly lit and found a post-it note adhered to the counter, and it read:
Good job today! Keep up the good work! 🙂 -Winter Rose-
He crunched up the note and shot it in the waste basket then turned his attention to the Tupperware container. Rocking back and forth on his heels, he debated if he should eat the meal Winter prepared. He didn’t need anyone to cater to him, but the food sure smelled good. It wouldn’t hurt to take a bite, it isn’t as if she won the battle. If she thought a hot meal was all it took to derail him from his mission, she was dead wrong.