He stared into the mirror checking to see if the knot in his tie was straight. Belle used to do that for him. He’d had three and a half months to get used to doing things for himself again but he didn’t think that an eternity would be long enough. God he missed her so much he ached. He took one last look in the mirror. He was wearing his dark navy blue suit with a crisp, white shirt and the patterned tie Belle had picked out for him. This was her favourite suit out of all the suits he owned. He smiled as he remembered how she would warn him that she might not be able to control herself until after the event they were attending to get him out of that suit. She had been right to warn him. A couple of times he had walked into their bedroom to check if she was ready to leave and she would get that look in her eyes and on her face that always took his breath away. Either they wound up arriving late or not showing up at all. He chuckled as he recalled the one time J.T. had walked in on them in his old bedroom at his parent’s house. Hold dinner, Mom. Shawn and Belle are in the middle of procreating, he had yelled down the stairs. Belle had blushed for the rest of the evening.
He went down the stairs to the kitchen. His Mom and Dad were there as well as J.T. and his girlfriend, Eileen. “Shannen still sleeping?” he asked as he poured himself a coffee.
“I gave her a bottle while you were showering. I have her all dressed,” Hope replied with a smile on her face. “She is such a good baby.”
Shawn smiled. “She has her mother’s disposition that’s for sure.” After Mike had pronounced Belle dead he had insisted that Shawn go home and get some sleep. They were going to keep Shannen a couple of days. Mike told him they wanted to make sure that she hadn’t suffered any harm from the accident that had claimed her mother’s life. Shawn knew that Mike was looking out for him. He had slept very little since Belle ended up in the hospital. After the first couple of days he had returned to work. His days followed the same pattern. He’d stop at the hospital each morning to bathe Belle and change her gown. After work he’d stop at home, change, grab a bite to eat and then head back to the hospital. He rarely returned home before midnight and he would be up at five to start the cycle all over again. Even when he was home in bed he had trouble sleeping. He missed her. He missed having her body pressed close to his. He missed the sound of her breathing softly as she slept. He missed the feel of her touch as she would wake up and start exploring his body. As the time for Shannen’s birth grew nearer he slept less and less. Still he had wanted to take Shannen home the day she was born. Mike had dragged him into the lounge and forced him to look at himself in a mirror. He had been pale and drawn with black rings under his eyes. He looked gaunt and weak. Mike had ordered him to go home and sleep pointing out that Shawn would not be able to look after his daughter if he collapsed from exhaustion. Mike had been right. He thought that he wouldn’t be able to sleep but his body must have been craving it because he crawled into bed around one that afternoon and he had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep. He had slept around the clock not waking up until around two the next afternoon. He paid Shannen a visit and was back in bed by eight that evening, He had slept solidly through the night waking feeling more refreshed than he had in months. He had brought Shannen home yesterday. His mom had insisted on staying with him during the day but he had looked after his daughter during the night.
Today was Belle’s funeral. He looked around the kitchen. There was food everywhere. He had glanced into the living room and the amount of floral arrangements had been overwhelming. Someone from the funeral home would be arriving shortly to take some of the arrangements to the church. The rest Shawn was having delivered to the hospital to be shared with those who could appreciate their beauty. He glanced again at the assorted trays and containers piled on the counters and the table. Their neighbours, friends and family had made sure that anyone that stopped by would have plenty to eat. Because he had spent most of his time sleeping no one had been allowed inside the house. A couple of officers stationed themselves outside the house making sure he wasn’t disturbed. Shawn was touched because he knew the guys were doing this on their own time. Yesterday people had stayed away allowing him time to adjust to looking after a newborn baby. Julie, Jen or his mom had been at the house while he was sleeping to look after the deliveries. After speaking with his parents they had decided to invite everyone to the house after the service. They had enough food to feed a small third world country.
“Natalie and Eileen are going to skip the burial and come back to the house and start setting up for the lunch,” Hope informed Shawn. “A couple of the officer’s wives have also volunteered to help.”
“That’s nice of them. Won’t Natalie be busy with the baby?” Will’s and Natalie’s second child had been born shortly after they had returned to the U.S. about two months ago. Will was an investigative reporter for a NBC affiliate in Chicago. He had left CNN after they refused to find a spot for him in America. They had wanted him to remain in London so that they could send him to the hot spots when needed.
“When he’s not sleeping she’ll tend to him but Tanner basically sleeps and eats so Natalie will be able to help out,” Hope chuckled. “Typical male.”
Shawn smiled. “I’ll be sure and thank everyone.”
“Melissa called from the airport. She wanted to warn us that Alicia showed up and insisted on attending the funeral,” Bo said, watching his son’s reaction to this news closely.
“Keep her away from me,” Shawn said tersely. “Make sure she knows that she is not welcome in our home.”
Bo nodded and then glanced at the clock. “It’s almost time to head to St. Luke’s.” Just then the doorbell rang. J.T. took care of it and along with Bo and Shawn helped load the flower arrangements into a van that the funeral director had sent. After they left Shawn and Hope packed Shannen’s diaper bag and then Shawn placed her into the baby seat that Belle and he had picked out together. She woke up and started to cry but once the pacifier was placed in her mouth she fell right back to sleep.
The church was packed. Shawn carrying Shannen, Bo, Hope, J.T., Doug and Julie followed the casket inside. The Commissioner had sent a police honour guard and they led the way to the front of the church. Dallas, Brett and Murray walked on one side of the casket and Lucas, Clark and Phil on the other. They were the pallbearers.
Hope and Julie had picked out the hymns one of which the choir was singing now. Shawn had no idea what he was hearing. It was taking all his energy just to keep himself focused on not falling to pieces. He didn’t think today was going to be so difficult. He had thought the worst part would have been when her life support had been shut off. He had been wrong. In the vestibule of the church when the undertaker had sealed her casket he would have fallen if it hadn’t been for his father and brother holding him up. He had kissed her lips for the final time and shed more tears just before the lid of the coffin had been closed for the last time. The sound of the clasps locking into place had been his undoing. It was the sound of finality. She was truly gone. He had been grateful that he had handed Shannen to his mother before saying his final goodbye to his wife. Now he carried their daughter into the church where he and Belle had been married, where they had worshipped together and now where her funeral mass was to be held.
He was thankful for the extra tissues his mother had brought with her. Belle had been loved by many and listening to their friends and family talk about her had him in tears yet again. Clark lightened the mood and had everyone chuckling as he recounted the first meeting between his cousin-in-law and Belle. Bo, Hope and J.T. all spoke lovingly of how much they had loved Belle and what she had meant to their family. When J.T. was finished Father Jim looked to him. He didn’t know if he had the strength to get up and walk to the podium. He looked towards the large portrait of her that was sitting prominently on a stand next to her casket and drew strength from it. He stood and made his way to the podium with Shannen nestled in his arms, sound asleep.
“I may have been the one that knocked Belle flat on her behind the first time we met,” he started, “but she threw me for a loop and I was never the same from that moment on.” He paused and smiled. “Which most of you would say was a good thing.” Everyone laughed. “I agree. Belle was and still is the best thing that ever happened to me. I know I fought what my heart knew from the second our eyes first connected but since I admitted that I had fallen head over heels in love, I’ve been the happiest man on earth. Belle gave me the greatest gift any man could receive. She gave me her love. She gave me a daughter.” He rested his hand on her casket. “Thank you, my love. I’ll make sure and take good care of Shannen. She will grow up knowing how special her mother was and just how much you loved her.” He stepped down and caressed her face in the picture. “Goodbye, my Isabella.”
It was a solemn procession from the church to the cemetery. The only sound was of the two vocalists singing The Prayer. Belle was going to be laid to rest near the other Brady’s that had passed before her. Shawn had purchased a double plot. Both Father Jim and the funeral director had tried to talk him into holding off on purchasing a plot for himself telling him that he was in the prime of his life and bound to move on. He had listened politely but remained firm in his decision. Belle was it for him. She took his heart with her when she left earth. He knew that he wouldn’t marry again. Eventually those around him would understand that he was a one woman man and would remain that way until the day he died.
As they stood around the grave, silently weeping and looking morose, the entire lot of them, a thought crossed Shawn’s mind. Belle would hate this. She was so full of life and joy. Her life wasn’t easy but she made the best of it. He wiped his eyes and cleared his throat. “We have to stop this …”
Hope quickly grabbed his arm. “Shawn, I’m sorry but you have to accept that Belle is gone.”
“Let me finish, Mom. We have to stop the weeping and start celebrating Belle’s life. You all know how Belle loved to laugh. Let’s remember some of our happiest moments with Belle. I’ll start.”
“Remember son, we’re in a holy place and a priest is standing close by,” Bo joked. “Keep it family rated.”
Shawn smiled. “A lot of you will remember the first case Belle was sent to when she joined Salem’s Department of Children’s Services. Due to some miscommunication between DCS and the police I was sitting and waiting to provide her back up at the wrong address. By the time I got to the right location shots had been fired and the only sign of her presence was the empty standard issue four door sedan that all public servants are given to drive. I broke protocol and went in alone. I told my superior’s that I did it to protect the social worker but truth be told I didn’t have a clue where she was. I found her by accident when I saw the barrel of a rifle pointed at my … well; let’s just say if a shot had been fired, Shannen wouldn’t be with us today.”
His tongue in cheek remark brought laughter from everyone including Father Jim.
“All thoughts of finding Ms. Black left my head and my only thought was to protect my … uh … assets,” he chuckled. “I dove to the ground off of the step. In saving myself from grievous bodily harm I found the social worker I was supposed to be protecting. I flattened her like a pancake and she never let me forget it. She could take a strip off of me down one side and up the other and the whole time she’d have the sweetest smile on her face. She always teased me about that day in private but in public she never disputed my hero version of events.”
One by one others told of special moments that they had shared with Belle. Some of them were funny; some of them showcased her kind and loving nature. Father Jim said the final prayer symbolically dropping fresh dirt on her casket. When he was done the prayer Father Jim turned to Shawn. “Your wife was one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. As you know, Belle and I shared some long conversations over the years. One thing that always struck me was her unwavering faith in eternal life. She even told me about a song she heard on country radio that would bring her to tears each time she heard it. To her the song meant that even death could not part you from your soul mate, physically, yes but spiritually and emotionally that love would always live on. With your permission, Shawn I would like to play that song while her loved ones pay their final respects.”
“Belle would love that, Father Jim. She told me that she made you a fan of country music from that one song alone,” Shawn smiled.
Father Jim motioned for one of the choir members to hit the Play button on the CD player that rested on a chair. Father Jim had asked one of his parishioners to hook up exterior speakers to it so that everyone could hear the song as they dropped their flower on to the top of the casket.
Every now and then soft as breath upon my skin
I feel you come back again
And it’s like you haven’t been gone a moment from my side,
Like the tears were never cried,
Like the hands of time were pulling you and me.
Doug and Julie went first followed by John and Marlena. They bowed their heads and said their silent farewells.
And with all my heart I’m sure we’re closer than we ever were,
I don’t have to hear or see I’ve got all the proof I need.
There are more than angels watching over me
Oh I believe
One by one they approached the open grave. Some wept loudly, others wept silently. All of them bonded in their shared grief.
Now when you die and life goes on,
It doesn’t end here
When you’re gone every soul has found a flight
It never ends if I’m right.
Our love can even reach across eternity.
Oh I believe
The honour guard stood stoically as Shawn’s fellow officers paid their respects to Shawn and Bo and the rest of the Brady family.
Forever you’re a part of me,
Forever in the heart of me,
I will hold you even longer if I can.
Oh the people, who don’t see the most,
See that I believe in ghosts.
If that makes me crazy then I am
Cuz I believe
Oh I believe
Shawn held Shannen close as he stepped nearer to the grave. Bo, Hope, J.T. and Fr. Jim were the only ones that remained. Everyone wanted to give the family some privacy during this trying moment. He waited until his parents and J.T. had said their final prayers before dropping two perfect white roses on the casket that was now strewn with a variety of flowers of all different colours. His tears fell; one lone drop fell onto the rose that he had just dropped. “I miss you, Belle. Watch over us. Shannen and I are going to need you.” He felt his hair ruffle but there was no breeze. A whiff of her favourite perfume wafted past his nose and he smiled. Belle.
There are more than angels watching over me.
Oh I believe
Every now and then soft as breath upon my skin,
I feel you come back again
And I believe.
He scrubbed his face with his hand as he yawned and stretched. He took one last glance at Shannen who was sleeping peacefully in her crib. It had been a long day. His parents and grandparents had been the last to leave and that had been around ten thirty. It was now almost midnight. Shannen had been fussy and had taken a long time to settle down. He attributed it to being passed around from one person to another during the course of the afternoon and evening. Everybody had wanted their chance to hold her and fuss over her. Looking down at her sweet, peaceful face he understood why. She was so like her mother and yet she was her own little person. He already knew that she did not like a dirty, wet diaper and she would let him know in no uncertain terms that she needed to be changed. He also already knew that she loved to be rocked and sung to while she was being fed. He was amazed that she could make her likes and dislikes known and that he could understand. He was beginning to understand what his parents meant when they used to answer some of his questions with Just wait until you’re a parent. You’ll understand then. They had been right and he had a feeling that he would see more and more how right they had been as Shannen grew.
He grabbed the baby monitor and headed to the bedroom. He paused outside the door. He hated going in there. It seemed so empty without Belle. He hated crawling into the bed that they had shared. He tossed and turned trying to find a comfortable position. Truth be told, comfort had nothing to do with it. He just couldn’t adjust to not having her next to him. He didn’t know if he would ever stop missing her. He knew he had to go forward and lead a semblance of a normal life. He had a daughter to take care of. She was going to need her Daddy to be emotionally available to her. She was going to need to him laugh and have fun. He just hoped he could keep the deep sadness he harboured in his soul from colouring their life together.
He entered the room and stopped in disbelief. The room was lit by an array of burning pillar candles. The bed was turned down and the sheet set that had been on when he left the house had been replaced by a pair of satin sheets Belle had purchased just to try out. What the …
“It’s about time you got that brat to sleep. I hope she’ll be out for the rest of the night, lover,” a sultry voiced Alicia said as she stood framed in the doorway to the en-suite washroom.
Shawn whipped his head in her direction, his mouth falling open when he noticed that she had put on one of Belle’s sexiest lingerie sets. He snapped his jaw shut and glared at her as she advanced into the room.
“I didn’t think you were ever going to leave her,” she said petulantly as she started to undo the buttons of his dress shirt. He had tossed the tie aside hours ago.
He dropped the monitor and grabbed her wrists, clamping down hard still so furious that he couldn’t speak.
“Ohhh…you like to play rough. I like it that way, too. I bet your precious princess didn’t …”
“Shut the hell up,” he barked.
“That’s fine with me,” she said as she leaned in to kiss him.
He shoved her away from him and she stumbled backwards and fell onto the bed.
“I knew you would be eager, baby,” she purred as she pulled herself up and knelt on the bed. “Get undressed.”
“Are you insane?” he shouted. “How dare you touch anything that belonged to Belle? Get out of her lingerie this instant.”
She smiled. “No problem, sugar.” She pulled at the laces and her breasts tumbled free. She started caressing herself. “See how hot you make me?”
Shawn thought he was going to be sick to his stomach. He grabbed his robe that was on a chair and flung it at her. “Cover yourself. Now.”
She looked at the fury in his eyes and felt a stab of fear but she pushed it aside. She had waited years for him. She wasn’t waiting any longer. She tossed the robe to the floor and slithered off the bed once again approaching him. She was naked except for a miniscule lace thong. He could protest all he wanted. He was going to make love to her all night long. He wouldn’t be able to resist. She pressed her almost naked body against him seeking the evidence of his need for her.
He did the only thing he could do. He grabbed her arms and pulled them behind her back dragging her closer to the dresser. He reached inside and snapped a pair of handcuffs to her wrist.
“I really like the way you think, stud,” she panted. “Wha … what are you doing?” she asked in amazement as she felt the robe on her shoulders.
He gritted his teeth as he tied the belt of the robe tight so that he wouldn’t have to see her naked breasts. “Shut up,” he hissed as he dragged her with him. He reached for the phone and dialed his parent’s number.
“Hi, Dad. Sorry to call so late … no … Shannen is fine … I need to know where Melissa is staying … she’s at the house … great … can you wake them up and bring them here … Dad, you’ll understand once you get here.”
“Don’t you say another word or I swear to god I’ll find some masking tape and tape your mouth shut,” he growled.
Less than thirty minutes later, Melissa, Todd and his parents arrived. He had Alicia sitting in one of the armchairs in the living room. She was furious and humiliated. He could care less. He was so angry with her that he was literally seeing red.
Bo was the first to take in the scene in the living room and he immediately put two and two together and came up with four. “Alicia. What are you doing here?”
“Alicia …” Melissa said, sounding horrified, “you said you had an early flight to catch.”
Alicia just glared at her parents.
Shawn told them what had transpired in his bedroom.
“Do you want to press charges, son?” Bo asked.
That got Alicia’s attention and she jumped to her feet. “Press charges,” she screamed. “For what? He wants me. He has always wanted me but that blonde witch had him under a spell.”
Shawn turned on her. “You say one more word against my wife and I swear I’ll make sure you are locked away for a long, long time.”
“Your wife is dead, you moron. Have you forgotten that little fact?”
“Alicia,” her father roared. “I’m so sorry, Shawn. We should never have allowed her to come with us. We really thought she had gotten over her obsession with you.”
“Stop talking as if I’m not in the room. I’m not obsessed. I’m in love and so is Shawn. He loves me. He always has,” she screeched.
“Shawn, I know it’s a lot to ask,” Melissa pleaded, “but you can see she needs help. Please don’t press charges. Her father and I will see to it that she gets the help she needs and that you never have to see her again.
He sighed and looked to his parents. He could tell that her mother wanted him to agree to Melissa’s offer. His father would stand by any decision he made, that he could also see. He nodded and Melissa burst into tears.
“Thank you, Shawn.”
He hugged her. “Could you take her upstairs and make sure she gets dressed. I can’t stand seeing her in Belle’s things,” he said softly.
Fifteen minutes later Todd and Melissa brought Alicia down the stairs. Shawn had given them the key to unlock the cuffs. “We’re sorry, Shawn.”
“Don’t you dare apologise for me,” Alicia yelled. “I only did what he wanted but doesn’t have the balls to admit,” she said mutinously.
“Get her out of my home,” Shawn said wearily.
Alicia turned back and looked at him with venom in her eyes. You will pay for this, Shawn Brady and you will be mine.
Song Credit: I Believe Artist/Band Diamond Rio Songwriters Skip Ewing and Donny Kees
One year later
Shawn scooped up Shannen from her playpen in the living room when the back doorbell rang. She let out a cry of protest and tried to wiggle out of his arms as she reached for her favourite toy of the moment. She loved her Fisher Price Dance Baby Dance classical stacker. It had everything that fascinated little ones, dancing lights and music. He lifted her high over his head and within seconds she was squealing with delight. She loved playing airplane with Daddy. She was still laughing when Shawn got to the back door.
“Look, Shannen it’s Grandma and Grandpa,” he said as he turned Shannen around so she was facing his parents.
Hope immediately reached for her granddaughter. “How’s my baby?” she asked with a huge smile on her face. Shannen immediately leaned forward and held out her arms for Hope to take her from Shawn.
Shawn laughed as he relinquished his hold on his daughter. “I guess I know where her loyalty lies.”
Hope looked up from blowing raspberries against Shannen’s cheeks. “She spends all day with me while you’re at work, Shawn, so of course she’s comfortable with me. She does love her Daddy. You know that.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it, Mom. I know Shannen loves me. I just wish I could spend more of her waking hours with her,” he said sadly. “By the time I get her home from your place, I only have about an hour to play with her and then its bath and bed time.”
“That’s part and parcel of being a single parent,” his mother replied.
“Mom,” he said sternly.
Bo dropped his hands on his wife’s shoulders as he stood behind her. “Hope, not today,” he cautioned.
Hope frowned. “I was just teasing, guys. Lighten up. Today’s a day for celebration. Shannen is one year old today,” she smiled as she rubbed noses with her granddaughter. “Yes, my baby is one today,” she talked in a sing-song voice directly to the little girl who had her hands resting on her grandmother’s cheeks. Hope snapped her head up and looked apologetically towards her son. “I’m sorry, Shawn. I wasn’t thinking,” she said softly.
“Dad, could you take Shannen outside and put her in her swing? I want to talk to Mom.”
“Sure, son.” He reached for Shannen. “Do you have a hat for her? It’s pretty warm out there already.”
“There’s one right over there on the counter, Dad. I brought it down earlier.”
Hope tied the hat under Shannen’s chin as Bo held her. Shannen stopped squirming. She knew the hat meant she was going outside. It was no secret amongst the Brady family that Shannen loved to play outdoors.
As soon as the door closed behind Bo, Hope turned to Shawn. “I feel …”
“Mom, sit down. I’ll pour us each a coffee.”
Hope did as he asked. She knew it was serious when her son wanted a sit down discussion over coffee. Maybe he had found someone and he was going to tell her about the new woman in his life.
Shawn placed the mug in front of his mother and sat down across the table from her. They both took a few sips of their coffee as they stared at each other. He knew that she wouldn’t speak until he spoke first. It was always like this between them. Whoever asked for the sit down discussion would speak first.
“Mom, if Dad died how long would it be before you were ready to move on?” he asked bluntly. He saw that his question had surprised her.
“Oh,” her mind raced. I have to answer this in a way that doesn’t make it seem like I think it’s too soon for him to get into a serious relationship. “Son, there is no real timetable for these kinds of things. I think it depends on the circumstances and the people involved.”
“You’re not answering my question,” he replied as he took another sip of his coffee.
“I’m trying to answer the question you asked me in a round about way, Shawn.”
She watched as he copied her trademark arched eyebrow look. “Don’t give me that I don’t know what you’re talking about look,” she scolded gently. “Have you met someone, Shawn? I can’t tell you if it’s right or wrong because for one you wouldn’t listen to me and besides it’s not really my choice. I can’t even form an opinion about her until I’ve had a chance to meet her. You’re not the only one involved here. You need to think about Shannen. Is this woman going to be a good mother to another woman’s daughter?”
“Mom, just answer my question,” he stated firmly.
She looked at him in confusion. “I thought that’s what I just did.”
“No. You answered a question you thought I asked. My question was direct and I would appreciate an answer in kind.”
She stared at him and saw that he meant what he was saying. “That’s an easy question for me to answer, Shawn. I would never be ready to move on. Your father is my soul mate, the love of my life, my one true love … whatever type of name you put to the kind of love we share. I’m like your great-Gran was, son. She stayed faithful to your great-Grandfather after he passed away and it will be the same for me if your father dies before I do.”
“Thanks for being honest with me, Mom.”
She smiled. “So who is this woman you are interested in?”
Shawn reached across the table and took his mothers hands in his. “There is no woman. There will never be another woman for me.”
“You don’t mean that, Shawn,” Hope protested. “You just think you do. I understand.”
“No, Mom. You don’t understand. Belle took my heart with her. I won’t be whole again until we are reunited in heaven,” he said solemnly.
Hope couldn’t accept what he was saying. “You feel that way now because it’s only been a year since Belle died. As time passes you’ll begin to find yourself interested in other women. Eventually you’ll find yourself in love again.”
“Why are you discounting the depth of my love for Belle? I love her as deeply as it is humanly possible to love another person. I love her the way you love Dad, the way great-Gran loved great-Grandfather Tom.”
“I’m not belittling the love you had for Belle. I know how much you loved her, sweetie. But you’re in the prime of your life. You can’t compare your circumstances with your father’s and mine or your great grandparents. We’ve had decades together. You and Belle had less than eight years and you weren’t even dating for part of that time.”
“What does time have to with true and everlasting love? I know now that I fell in love with Belle the moment we met. I fought it and didn’t acknowledge it for the longest time but that doesn’t change the fact that it was love at first sight,” he said with a wry smile on his face.
She looked at him and returned his smile gently shaking her head. “I won’t say another word about you moving on. You have my word.”
He chuckled. “Could you get the rest of the family and all our friends to agree to the same thing?
She laughed. “Now that’s something I can’t do.” She stayed quiet for a moment. “Eventually they’ll give up on trying to set you up with the perfect woman, especially if you remain steadfast and true to Belle.”
“Mom, I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve tuned out the hints and ignored the little nudges not only because I think it’s way too soon but because I’ve felt this way since Belle’s accident. It just wouldn’t be fair for me to marry someone else just to give Shannen a mother and to satisfy my needs. I could never love another woman the way I love Belle.”
“There’s all kinds of love, son. I’m sure any woman you decided was worthy to share both your and Shannen’s lives would understand that a part of you will always belong to Belle,” Hope said in a consoling tone.
“If she’s that special of a woman, Mom she would deserve to be loved by a man that could give her his heart and soul. I gave mine to Belle,” he said with reverence.
Hope’s eyes filled with tears. “I miss her, Shawn. I got so caught up in making today a special day for Shannen because her mother isn’t here to do it that I didn’t stop to think that today is also the anniversary of her death.”
Shawn’s eyes welled with tears. “Mom, do you think I’m a horrible father?”
Hope gasped, “Absolutely not. Why would you even ask such a question?” She felt so bad for him. In his eyes she glimpsed her little boy. He had the same look in his eyes he used to get when the thought he had done something wrong.
“For a couple of reasons. One of which we just discussed. The other is that today should be all about Shannen and celebrating this milestone in her life but all I can think about is going to Belle. I feel so guilty. Of course today will always be special because its Shannen’s birthday but I don’t think I can ever separate her birth from Belle’s death,” he said sadly.
“You should never have to separate the two events, son. They are and will forever be intertwined. You just have to find a way to compartmentalize the two. Celebrate the day with Shannen and then mourn the loss of your wife in private,” she suggested.
“I just don’t want Shannen to ever feel that something is missing in her life. I want to be everything to her. How would she feel if she knew that as I was smiling and laughing with her on her birthday while inside I was crying over the death of her mother, my wife?”
“When Shannen gets older, Shawn you can explain everything to her. She’ll understand. She’ll be secure in your love for her and the love you felt for her mother,” Hope said.
“The love I will always feel for her mother,” he sighed. He got up and took their cups to the sink and rinsed them out. “We better start decorating the yard before our guests start arriving. Do you think you and Dad can stay for a bit after everyone else leaves?” he asked.
“Planning a visit to Belle’s grave?”
He nodded. “I need to talk to her today.” He turned towards the door. “I put some boxes on the table out on the deck earlier this morning. Dad and I will set up the tables and then you can put the tablecloths on them if you don’t mind.”
“Do you have a cloth or something I can use to wipe them off? You have the tables stored in the garage, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Mom. The tables will probably be dusty. There’s a bucket and all the cleaning supplies you’ll need in the storage closet.”
Hope gathered the supplies and followed Shawn outside.
Six hours later he was on his way to St. Luke’s. Shannen’s first birthday party had been a rip-roaring success. All afternoon he had found himself turning around looking for Belle so that she wouldn’t miss the all the funny little things the kids were doing.
Will I ever stop missing you, Belle? Will I ever stop looking for you at big events like today’s party? Will I ever stop expecting to see you every time I turn around?
He knew she would have loved the party today. There was nothing Belle had enjoyed more than having a house full of people over for a celebration. The more the merrier. She especially loved the family type occasions. She enjoyed having friends and family over for a drink and dinner but nothing pleased her more than hosting events where the children were included. Clark and Stephanie had been there with Zoe and their new born son, Alexander. Will and Natalie had made their trip from Chicago bringing their son and daughter. Murray and Kay and their three kids had dropped by for a few hours before heading to Kay’s parents for a family barbeque. Brett and Jackie had decided that Christopher would be their only child. He couldn’t believe that Chris was going to be nine in a matter of weeks. Phil and Mimi had brought Emily and their six month old son, Kalan. Megan and Dallas had announced that they were expecting their first child. He had been brought to tears when Megan had sought him out to tell him that she had stopped to visit Belle before coming to the party. Next to telling their families, Belle was next on her list to hear the good news. They had shared a hug when Megan told him she missed her best friend terribly and still found herself going to her old office or picking up the phone to call her.
Most of their relatives that lived in Salem had also attended the party except for his grandparents. He was going to take Shannen to the hospital tomorrow to see her great-Grandmother Julie. Julie was in the final stages of cancer of the stomach and Doug wouldn’t leave her side. Shawn knew that her time on earth was limited. He hoped that they were keeping her as comfortable as possible but he also knew that was a tall order. Grandpa Doug had confessed to him that he couldn’t take much more of watching her suffer and waste away. She always had a smile for Shannen whenever Shawn popped in with her so he hoped that seeing her would raise her spirits.
He parked his vehicle in the parking lot next to the church. He passed the large wood doors that led inside and made his way to the graveyard behind the rectory. His eyes widened when he reached Belle’s grave. It was covered in fresh bouquets, a riot of glorious colours and greenery. An array of pleasurable scents assaulted his nostrils. Belle had obviously had a lot of visitors already today.
He bent down on his haunches and cleaned out the remnants of the last bouquet he had placed in the bronze vase that was on the base of her headstone. He stopped and visited her grave every Sunday after Mass. Unless the weather was terrible he always had Shannen with him.
“Hi, sweetheart. You missed a hell of a party today. Our daughter got enough gifts to cover the next five birthdays. Our family and friends are far too generous,” he chuckled as he placed the fresh flowers he had brought with him into the vase.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do with Grandpa John. I swear, Belle, if I didn’t put my foot down he would be naming Shannen as the future CEO of Basic Black. I found out that he had bought her an apartment building for her birthday. What is our little girl going to do with an apartment building? He claims that it is an investment in her future. Apparently no self-respecting magnate can do without a vast portfolio of real estate. I had a devil of a time getting him to take her name off the deed. I thank God that Marlena is able to reason with him. I still think the gift they brought her is entirely too extravagant but I guess next to an apartment building it must seem pretty small potatoes to John.”
He spent some time reading the cards attached to the bouquets to see who had stopped by to pay their respects. He sat down and pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around his legs and bowed his head. He said a silent prayer asking Belle to watch over Grandma Julie and to give her comfort on her heavenly journey.
He leaned over and traced her name etched in the marble. Isabella. His eyes filled with tears. “God, I miss you, Belle. I talk about you to Shannen everyday but it’s not the same. I wish you could be here with her. I’m never sure that I’m enough for her. I try, Belle. God knows, I try but I can never be both her father and her mother. I dread the day she looks at me she looks at me and asks me why she doesn’t have a mommy like all the other kids. I’m hoping I have a few years before I have to face her and answer that question.”
He sniffed and wiped away the tears. “She’s a real beauty, Belle. Her hair is naturally curly and is the most beautiful tawny colour. Not blonde like yours or dark like mine. Just the most wonderful blend of the light and the dark. She does have my dark brown eyes but she definitely looks like you. Lucky girl. Not so lucky for Dad. I’m going to have my hands full when the boys start noticing her.”
He spent a good hour telling her all about Shannen and all the new things their daughter had accomplished since his last long chat with her. When he stopped after church with Shannen each Sunday it was generally only for a few minutes because Shannen had to be fed. He tried to get to her grave alone for a longer period of time at least once a month but that wasn’t always possible. “I can’t tell you what it felt like the first time she called me Dada, Belle. I was overcome with an indescribable emotion.” He paused to pull himself together before continuing. “I love that’s she’s learning to talk but let me tell you she sure uses the word no a lot.” He chuckled. “It’s amazing how quickly they grasp the meaning of that one little word especially when they’re the ones using it. Now when it’s directed at her she tends to ignore it.”
“Our daughter is certainly her own little person with her own set of idiosyncrasies and a very distinctive personality. I see so many of your traits in her as well as some of mine but she puts her own unique little stamp on things. She’s a happy baby; at least I think she is. I hope that she will always be happy. With any luck I will learn how to fill the gaps and she can grow up knowing that her mother couldn’t be with us. I want her to miss your presence, sweetheart, I just don’t want her to resent that you aren’t here. It’s a fine line, one that I hope I can walk.”
He rose to his feet and brushed some loose blades of grass off of his pants. “I have to go, darling. It’s time for Shannen’s bath. She loved her cake today,” he chuckled. “I’m sure there’s still crumbs and frosting in her hair. She definitely shares her mother’s affinity for chocolate.” He ran the palm of his head over the top of her gravestone. “I love you, Belle,” he said softly as he blew a kiss to the heavens.
He settled into the rocking chair in Shannen’s room. This had to be his favourite time of the day. Shannen was a water baby and simply loved bath time. He had washed her hair this evening because as suspected he had found traces of chocolate icing amongst the abundance of curls. After she was taken out of the tub and dried off she would lie still on the changing table as daddy applied lotion and powder before putting a diaper on her. It was as if she was waiting for what she knew would come next. As he was putting on the diaper her little arms and legs would start twitching and she would make little happy, gurgling sounds. Once he had her diaper on he would always blow raspberries against her tummy and she would squeal with joy, her legs kicking with excitement and her arms flailing as she laughed out loud.
When his mother had first witnessed their nightly ritual she had been horrified, scolding him for getting the baby all excited just before bedtime. He had proved that it had no effect on Shannen’s sleeping habits. She had started sleeping through the night when she was three months old and the only time she awoke was if she wasn’t feeling well. As soon as he had her in her sleeper she would reach up with arms waiting for him to pick her up. He would carry her down the stairs and carry on a conversation with her as he warmed her bottle. He loved the little sounds she would make as her end of the conversation and he was thrilled that she was actually saying the odd word every now and then. Once the milk was heated to just the right temperature they headed back up the stairs. He always fed her in the rocker. Generally he would sing to her. Sometimes he would talk to her. She would stare up at him with her big brown eyes as she sucked greedily on the contents of the bottle. Now that she was older she could hold the bottle herself. He didn’t really need to hold her any longer until she fell asleep but he still did. He was reluctant to give up that part of their nightly ritual but he knew that soon it wouldn’t be necessary. He hoped to wean her from the bottle within the next couple of months. She was already drinking from sippy cups during the day. She only got a bottle at nap and bed time.
Tonight he picked up a framed photo of him and Belle. He held it up so that Shannen could see it. “Mommy wishes you a Happy Birthday, little one,” he said softly.
Shannen smiled, milk escaping from the sides of her mouth. She spit the nipple out of her mouth and reached for the picture. “Dada.”
Shawn laughed. “Yes, it’s your Dada,” he said as he pointed to his image. He slid his finger over. “This is your mama.”
Shannen started drinking from her bottle again but she never took her eyes off her daddy.
“Your mama loves you very much, Shannen. She was so excited when she found out she was pregnant. She was finally going to have a little baby of her own.” He chuckled as she made a face.
“Pregnant. That’s a big word for such a little girl. Daddy will explain it when you’re older. Much older,” he added as an afterthought. He watched as her attention switched from his face to the photo. “Your mama was a very special person. She had an amazing capacity to love and to care. She was a nurturer. She was a giver. She loved you, Shannen from the moment of your conception and she loved me with all her heart and soul. We both have been blessed because we were loved by her.
Shannen’s fingers clasped the frame. “Dada.”
Shawn smiled. “Dada and Mama.”
Shannen smiled her big two-tooth grin. “Ma – ma.”
His eyes welled with unshed tears. “Yes, baby. This is your mama.”
She raised the bottle to her lips, “Mama,” she repeated and promptly fell asleep.
Shawn laid her gently in her crib letting his knuckles graze softly against the downy soft skin of her cheek. He covered her and bent down and kissed her forehead. He turned on the monitor and made his way to the doorway. He turned off the light plunging the room into darkness. What the hell? Something must be wrong with the nightlight. He was about to switch the light back on when a flicker of movement and light caught his eye. His heart hammered in his chest but then he immediately felt a sense of peace and serenity. He glanced towards the crib and saw an effervescent figure leaning over the crib pressing a soft kiss against his daughter’s cheek. “Belle,” he whispered. He blinked and she was gone. I really need a solid night’s sleep. I’m starting to see things. He shook his head and smiled ruefully. The nightlight was on. It must have flickered or something and that’s why I thought I was seeing Belle.
He entered his bedroom and pulled out his suitcase from the closet. He had noticed that his mom had Shannen’s stuff all packed. After he took Shannen to the hospital tomorrow they were heading to the airport to catch a flight to Boston to visit J.T. and Eileen. He was looking forward to spending a couple of weeks with his younger brother. He knew it was going to be a hassle travelling with Shannen because he needed to take so much with him. J.T. had taken care of renting the larger essentials like and a crib and high chair but there was still so many other things that you couldn’t leave home without when travelling with a little one.
J.T. had confided that he was about ready to propose to Eileen and he wanted his brother’s input on a few things. He was happy for his brother. He couldn’t help but notice that J.T. looked at Eileen the same way he used to look at Belle – with his heart in his eyes.
He changed into his night gear and crawled into bed. As he reached for the switch on the bedside lamp his eyes rested on Belle’s picture that sat prominently on the nightstand. “Goodnight, my love,” he whispered as he shut the light and sunk into the pillows.
Six and a half years later
Shawn hung up the phone concern etching his face. This was the third call he had received from Shannen’s second grade teacher since she had taken over from Mrs. Meldrum who had abruptly retired and disappeared. Shannen had been very upset that Mrs. Meldrum had decided to quit teaching without even telling her students. One day she was their teacher, the next day she was gone. Shannen and all the other students had simply adored her. Shawn had found out in one of his visits to Salem Elementary that Mrs. Meldrum had not given the Principal or school board any notice that was retiring. They received a letter that stated by the time they were reading it she would be on an extended tour of the continent. Luckily she had confided in a niece who happened to be a teacher and who had relocated to Salem to look after her aunt’s house while she was gone. She offered to fill in for her aunt while they looked for a replacement. The school board had liked her work and had hired her full time.
There was something about Shannen’s new teacher that raised the proverbial red flags in front of his eyes but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was about her that bothered him. He had run a background check on her and there was nothing in her past that should lead him to be concerned. Rhonda Taylor had graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee twelve years ago at the age of twenty-eight. Apparently she had done some travelling after graduating high school, joined the work force and then at the age of twenty-four had decided to go back to school. She had taught fourth grade in Milwaukee for three years after graduation and then had moved to West Virginia. She taught there for seven years. She had been in a serious car accident and due to injury had not been able to work for a couple of years. She was about to start searching for a job when she got a call from her aunt. She had decided to do her aunt a favour and come to Salem and house sit for her. According to court records she had received a very substantial settlement from the insurance company of the driver of the vehicle that had hit her.
He knocked on his father’s office door and then opened it. “Hey, Dad. Got a minute?”
Bo looked up from the stack of paper piled in front of him and threw his pen down. “You bet. Any excuse to stop working on next year’s budget is a welcome intrusion,” he said sardonically.
Shawn shut the door behind him and sat in the chair across the desk from his father. He smiled. “Just think of the upside, Dad. This is the last budget you’ll sweat over. In just six short weeks you’ll be retiring and you and Mom are going to be sailing away on the Fancy Face III.”
Bo returned his smile. “Just the thought of feeling the sea breeze on my face and ruffling my hair has my blood pumping. We’re really looking forward to the trip but you mother is worried about Shannen of course.”
Shawn chuckled. “Of course. Shannen is well aware that our next door neighbour, Mrs. Sampson will be looking after her each day after school until I get home from work. She’s happy for the both of you. She’ll miss you guys like crazy, as will I, but it’s not as if you’re going to be gone forever.”
“True, however we have no timetable for our travels. We’re going to be gone for a minimum of a year.”
“Shannen and I will visit you during summer break for a few weeks and we’ll stay in touch. You are going to have a satellite phone with you so it’s not like we won’t be able to communicate,” Shawn replied.
Bo studied his son’s face and saw the look in his eyes. “You didn’t come in here to talk budget or trips, son. What’s on your mind?”
“I got another call from the school. They want a meeting with me today after school. It doesn’t sound good. I just don’t know what has gotten into Shannen lately,” he said, his face etched with worry.
“Did she get into another fight?” Bo asked.
“Yeah. She pushed some girl off the monkey bars. Thank god she wasn’t seriously hurt. Just some minor scrapes but it could have been so much worse.”
“Has Shannen said anything to you? Don’t you find it strange that Shannen never exhibited this type of behaviour until the change in teachers? Is it possible that she is just acting out because she is upset Mrs. Meldrum left?”
“I haven’t said anything to you or mom before now but Shannen’s behaviour towards me has changed drastically during this time frame as well,” Shawn said quietly.
Bo frowned. “What do you mean, Shawn?”
“She challenges my love for her constantly. She has it in her head all of a sudden that I don’t love her because if I did I would want her to have a mother like the other kids do.”
“What the hell? Where is this coming from?” Bo asked incredulously.
“I wish the hell I knew, Dad. She says the other kids tease her that she’s not good enough to have a mommy because if she wasn’t such a bad girl her daddy would marry someone to be her mother.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Shawn. She’s going to school with the same kids that she started kindergarten with. They never teased her before, why would they start now? Is there a new kid in class that could be a ringleader?”
“No, the only difference is the teacher. I don’t know, Dad. You know that there is something about Ms. Taylor that makes me put my guard up so maybe I’m misjudging the situation. Perhaps the teasing was always there but the teacher was able to curb it because she knew the circumstances of why Shannen’s mother isn’t with us. Ms. Taylor doesn’t know the story so maybe she doesn’t handle the teasing tactfully enough.”
Bo leaned back in his chair. “How bad is it, Shawn?” he asked quietly.
“Shannen can barely stand to be in my presence sometimes, Dad and it is just eating me up inside.”
“You should have come to us sooner. Maybe if Hope talks to her she can get to the root of the problem.”
“I thought it was just a phase that would pass quickly. I was wrong. It’s only getting worse. I’ll bring Shannen by the house after the meeting and we’ll stay for supper. Do you think you can fill Mom in so she can make some excuse to get Shannen alone? Maybe Mom can find out what’s really troubling her,” he said hopefully feeling a little better than he had in weeks.
“Will do. And Shawn, don’t discount your feelings that the root of the problem could lie with the new teacher. You’ve always trusted your instincts and they’ve never led you astray.”
“I will admit, Dad that my feelings towards her could be biased because the first time we met I thought she was coming on to me. It was very, very subtle but my defences went up immediately. I must have been wrong because at our next meeting she was all business. Very professional. Maybe my suspicions about her arise from an incident that could only be a part of my imagination.”
Bo sighed. “I don’t want to pry son but you just turned forty five. You are in the prime of your life yet you haven’t gotten involved with another woman. Hell, you haven’t so much as looked at other women. What the hell do you do about your sex drive?”
Shawn laughed. “Aw, Dad. You don’t know all my secrets.”
“So you do hook up with a woman occasionally, obviously very discreetly because none of us have seen you with another woman outside the social confines of a party or just general get-togethers.”
It was Shawn’s turn to sigh. “Dad, I don’t broadcast what I do or don’t do because I just think no one would understand.”
“Try me, son,” Bo said softly.
Shawn smiled wryly. “Why do you think I’m in such good shape? I channel all my sexual energy into working out. I’m in the gym at least eight to ten hours a week. I jog a minimum of five miles every second day. When that doesn’t work, there’s always the tried and true method of self-gratification.”
“You haven’t been with another woman since Belle died?” Bo asked, slightly shocked and yet not really surprised.
“The one time I came close I ended up running out of her apartment and being physically sick. Then I was heartsick for days. I felt like I was betraying Belle. I just couldn’t do it. I doubt that I will ever get past feeling that finding relief with another woman would be a betrayal of my love for Belle. I bet you think I’m less of a man for feeling that way,” he said sadly.
“Absolutely not, Shawn. You loved Belle with every fibre of your being which is the way I love your mother. I don’t think less of you for still feeling committed to Belle. You told us that you would never love again and I for one don’t discount your feelings. I just want you to know, son that if you happen to find yourself feeling that you are ready to move on no one will think less of you for doing that either. It’s your life and you have to do what is right for you,” Bo stated emphatically.
“But what if what I’m doing or not doing in this case, is not right for Shannen? Is she right? Am I harming her by not moving on and settling down with someone else? At least then Shannen would have the mother she so desperately is wanting.”
“You can’t make a commitment to another woman solely to provide Shannen with a mother figure. In the end you would end up hurting yourself, Shannen and the woman you got involved with. Unless you love someone you shouldn’t be thinking of marriage again.”
“You’re right, Dad and I know that. It’s what I told Mom the day of Shannen’s first birthday party but it’s hard to stay true to those convictions. It’s especially difficult when you’re daughter looks up at you with her big brown eyes full of tears and says you don’t love me enough to get me a mommy.”
Bo shook his head. “None of this sounds like Shannen. I know she’s growing up and is more of aware of things and understands more but she was always so secure in your love for her. Yes, she talked about the other kids having both a mommy and daddy but she never sounded resentful because she didn’t.”
“That’s what I thought as well but obviously we were wrong. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be leaving early,” Shawn said as he stood.
“I’ll call Hope and fill her in. I’ll make sure I’m out of here early so that I’m at the house when you two arrive. The damn budget can wait until tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you in a couple of hours then. Maybe you should take the budget home to work on tonight,” he teased.
“Don’t laugh, son. It’s looking highly probable that you’ll be taking over as Commander when I retire. The announcement of my replacement is next week and the scuttlebutt is that you are a shoe-in for the job.”
“I won’t start pressing my dress uniform until I get official word,” he grinned. He checked his wristwatch. “I better head out so I can get to the school before the end of the final class.”
Shawn waited inside the small conference room that was located next to the principal’s office. The principal’s secretary had informed him that Mr. Boyle, Ms. Taylor and Shannen would be joining him momentarily. It wasn’t long before the door opened and his daughter entered the room slowly shuffling her feet. Her eyes were downcast and she looked close to tears. He felt like crying himself. His little girl was hurting and he was at a loss as to what he could do to take her pain away. Deep inside he knew the issue really wasn’t so much that he hadn’t remarried but that for some reason she felt that he was punishing her by not remarrying. He had no idea why she thought that way. He suspected that someone was planting that idea in her head but he couldn’t get her to open up and talk to him.
She stood inside the doorway, afraid to look at her Dad. He was going to be angry with her. Maybe he would be so angry that he would send her away for good just like Brianna had said he would. Then she wouldn’t have either a mommy or a daddy.
Shawn saw her trembling and he had to blink hard so he wouldn’t start crying. My little girl is afraid of me. What has happened in the past few months that so changed our relationship? He thought back over the years. Shannen and Shawn had become two familiar figures in the city of Salem. He never went anywhere without her if at all possible. It wasn’t uncommon to see the two of them sitting at the Java Café during the summer talking about things all fathers and daughters talk about. He was the one that took her shopping for school supplies and new clothes. They went to movies together. She loved going out on the Fancy Face III with him and his parents. She loved fishing and swimming and camping. He coached her soccer team. He took her to dance class and never missed a recital. He attended all the school functions. Hell, he had even learned the art of baking so Shannen could contribute to school fundraisers. He made sure that he always included her in the cooking, muffin or squares baking activities. They had hours of fun baking together.
“Come on and sit by me, princess,” he said gently, infusing his voice with all the love he felt for her. He made sure to use his pet name for her so she would know he wasn’t angry with her.
She looked up at him quickly with hopeful eyes. Maybe he won’t send me away. She sat down gingerly in the chair next to him but couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“What happened in the playground, poppet?”
“I pushed Brianna and she fell,” she said so softly that Shawn had to bend down to hear her.
“Why did you push her, Shannen?” he asked.
She was about to answer when the principal, Mr. Boyle and Ms. Taylor entered the room.
Shawn rose and shook hands with them both.
“Mr. Brady, your daughter is out of control. She could have seriously injured her classmate today. I hope to ward off a lawsuit but you can rest assured if the parents file a lawsuit against the school we will seek redress from you personally,” Mr. Boyle stated in a stentorian voice.
“The onus is on the school to supervise the playground. I have checked and there was no one in the playground with the students,” Shawn answered calmly. The last thing he wanted to do was get into a loud argument with Shannen’s overly pompous principal in front of his daughter.
“We had a staff meeting,” the principal huffed.
“If the purpose of this meeting is to discuss lawsuits I will be leaving and I will have my attorney call your attorney to set up a meeting,” Shawn stated firmly as he started to rise.
“No, not at all, Mr. Brady,” Ms. Taylor said sharply. “Our main concern is your daughter’s behaviour, isn’t that right, Mr. Boyle?”
“Yes, that’s true.” His tone softened. He was genuinely fond of Shannen Brady and was troubled by the changes in her usual sunny disposition. “This is the third incident in a matter of four weeks, Mr. Brady. Your daughter is becoming increasingly belligerent and hostile. Brianna could have been seriously injured from the fall from the top of the monkey bars. Thankfully she wasn’t but we can’t let behaviour like this go unchecked. The school district is sending in a child psychologist to speak to your daughter to try and determine the root cause of all this hostility exhibited by Shannen. Do you have idea what is troubling your daughter, Mr. Brady?”
“She’s sitting right next to me, Mr. Boyle. Why don’t we ask her?” Shawn challenged. He took Shannen’s small hand in his. “Shannen, why did you push Brianna?”
She just hung her head and started to cry.
“That’s what she did when we asked her the same question shortly after the incident,” Ms. Taylor offered.
Shawn turned his daughter’s chair and turned his so that they were facing each other. He tucked his finger under her chin and brought her head up. “Sweetheart, Daddy’s not angry with you. You know what you did was wrong, don’t you?”
She nodded her head yes.
“Did you tell, Brianna you were sorry,” he asked gently.
He saw the mutinous set of her lips and knew she hadn’t. “You have to tell her you’re sorry. We’ll stop at her house on the way to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s.”
Her eyes flashed. “I’m not sorry. Brianna is mean,” she said petulantly.
“What did Brianna do to you, Shannen? Did she hurt you?”
She lowered her eyes but didn’t answer.
“You need to tell us why you pushed Brianna,” Shawn repeated.
“Because she said bad things to me. She’s mean,” Shannen replied stubbornly.
“What did she say to you?”
She looked at her father with fearful eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it, Daddy. Can I just go home?”
“No, you can’t, Shannen,” Ms. Taylor said. “You need to be punished for what you did.”
Shawn saw his daughter pale and visibly cower right before his eyes. He shot a vehement glance in the teacher’s direction. “Ms. Taylor didn’t mean we were going to hurt you, Shannen.”
Ms. Taylor gasped. “I’m sorry, Shannen, Mr. Brady. I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that. What I meant is that we have to set an example so that the other children know that this type of behaviour is not acceptable. Tomorrow morning Shannen will have to apologise to Brianna in front of the entire class.”
Shawn nodded. That seemed fair to him. “She’ll do that, won’t you, sweetheart.”
She stared at her father. She was so afraid so say anything. She didn’t want him to send her away. Brianna was her best friend and she kept telling her that her Daddy didn’t want her around. But if he wanted her to say she was sorry she would. She would do anything not to be sent far away to some school where they locked you in a room after classes and only let you out to eat and go to the bathroom. At least that’s what Brianna said the place would be like.
“Yes, Daddy,” she said in a tiny voice.
“That’s settled then. Do you want to be present when the child psychologist interviews Shannen,” Mr. Boyle asked.
“She might want to speak to Shannen alone,” Ms. Taylor interjected. “Children tend to speak freely if their parents aren’t present.”
Shawn gave the teacher a sharp glance. Was she implying that he was the cause of Shannen’s behaviour? “I wouldn’t expect to be in the room with her unless I was asked to be, Ms. Taylor. I just want to here for her when the doctor is finished talking to Shannen.”
The teacher nodded.
Mr. Boyle stood up. “Thanks for coming in to speak with us, Mr. Brady. I sincerely hope that this is the final time.” He stood up and left the room with a small smile for Shannen.
“Could I speak to you privately, Mr. Brady,” the teacher asked as she placed a hand on his arm preventing him from leaving.
He tensed and then relaxed. He had to hear her out. Perhaps she could shed some light on what was going in Shannen’s mind lately. “Shannen, sweetheart, could you sit here and wait for daddy. I promise it will only be a couple of minutes,” he looked at the school secretary as he pointed to one of the chairs in the outer office.
“She’ll be fine with me, Mr. Brady.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Shannen answered as she sat on the chair.
“Thanks,” Shawn said to the secretary before going back into the conference room.
“I wanted to let you know that I’ve only just become acquainted with the fact that you wife died giving birth to your daughter. You have my deepest sympathy,” Rhonda started smoothly.
“I would appreciate your sympathies more, Ms. Taylor if you would have taken the time to get your facts straight. My wife died as a result of massive head trauma sustained in a motor vehicle accident not in childbirth,” he responded coldly. “Now what did you want to tell me about Shannen.”
Damn it. I better regroup quickly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Brady. I assumed that because your daughter’s birth date is the same day your wife died…”
“Could you please get to the point, Ms. Taylor. I don’t like to keep my daughter waiting.”
She was flustered by his coldness. I have to find a way to get to him. It’s obvious it’s through his daughter. “I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Shannen a little better and I think I know what her problem is.”
He pinned her with a keen gaze. “What do you mean?”
“This isn’t a subject that we can be addressed in a couple of minutes. Why don’t we get together for dinner tomorrow night and I’ll go into detail.”
“I prefer that we meet at the school.”
“The other kids will just think Shannen is in trouble again and tease and ridicule her more than they already do,” she answered.
“Why do you allow the teasing and the ridicule?” he challenged.
“Mr. Brady, you have to know that we can’t be all places at all times. I usually hear about it after the fact when your daughter comes to me in tears.” That should get his attention.
“Why haven’t I heard about this before now? You should be calling me when Shannen is that upset.”
“I’d be calling you fairly often then,” she remarked watching him closely. She could tell that she was getting to him.
“It’s that bad?” he asked, his dark eyes filled with concern.
“Kids can be cruel. As a police officer and a parent, that should come as no surprise to you, Captain Brady,” she said.
He nodded. “I’ll meet you at Hudson’s Diner tomorrow around five thirty tomorrow.”
“That place is too noisy. How about Tuscany at eight? I’ll make the reservation,” she countered.
“That’s too late. It’s a school night and I need to be home to make sure Shannen gets to bed by eight thirty.”
“Let the babysitter take care of that,” she remarked trying to contain her anger. How obtuse is this man?
“I don’t hire babysitters,” he answered coldly. “Perhaps we should discuss this over the phone. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She began to panic. “No, it would be better face to face. Why don’t you come to my place? I’ll write out…”
“Don’t bother. As I said, I’ll discuss this with your over the phone or at the school. Thank you for your time,” he said politely and left the room.
Damn it all to hell. I guess I’ll have to change my tactics. I’ll have to find another way to worm myself into his life and into his bed. She smiled. I think I have the perfect plan.
Shawn sighed heavily as he got into his vehicle. He wasn’t looking forward to this evening. He had a feeling it was going to end badly. It had been almost four weeks since his meeting at the school with Mr. Boyle and Rhonda. The teasing had grown worse and Shannen’s teacher had started calling him a minimum of three times a day. He had finally given in and met her for dinner to discuss the problem.
According to Rhonda, the kids ragged on Shannen not because she didn’t have a mommy so much as the fact that her daddy didn’t want to get her a mommy because she was so bad. They told her she dressed funny and that she was stupid and her daddy wouldn’t even try to find her a step-mother because no mommy could love her. When he had asked Rhonda why she didn’t put a stop to this as soon as it started she claimed that she didn’t know about it until Shannen would come running to her in tears. Shannen and her had become close according to Rhonda and she now confided in her. He wished to hell that Shannen would confide in him. He was growing more and more concerned as Shannen seemed to be withdrawing further into herself each and every day.
He tried to talk to her but her answers were given grudgingly and in monosyllables. It had gotten so bad that Hope and Bo were insisting that they were going to put their trip off until Shannen had worked through whatever was troubling her. She was seeing the child psychologist that the school provided but the woman had told Shawn she was making no progress at all. She couldn’t get Shannen to open up to her.
Yet according to Rhonda, Shannen confides freely in her. Why her and not me or her grandparents? He had asked Dr. Gray that very question and she said it was not unusual for a child to confide in a figure of authority. When he asked her why Shannen wouldn’t confide in her the doctor had been troubled. She didn’t want to discuss it but he had finally gotten her to admit that she felt that Shannen would like to but was holding back. It was her professional opinion that Shannen was conflicted, wanting to talk to her but not doing so out of a sense of loyalty to someone else. Dr. Gray had come out and asked him directly if he was instructing Shannen not to talk to him. It had taken a face to face meeting between the two of them for him to convince Dr. Gray that he wanted Shannen to talk to her more than anything. He wanted his happy-go-lucky daughter back. The doctor had admitted that she could be wrong about why Shannen wasn’t really answering the questions she wanted answered. It was just her intuition based on years of experience.
He still couldn’t shake his feeling of uneasiness when it came to Rhonda Taylor. Somehow he had allowed her to convince him that if they started to appear to be dating, the other kids would let up on Shannen and Shannen would be happier. He had resisted at first saying it wasn’t fair first of all to Shannen to let her get her hopes up and secondly it wasn’t fair to Rhonda herself. Dating him would be a waste of her time if she was looking for a long term relationship. He had no intention of remarrying. She had told him she was well aware that he wasn’t in the market for a new wife. She was not interested in marriage. As for Shannen, the simple fact that he was making an effort would help their relationship. She wouldn’t feel that her daddy thought she didn’t deserve a new mother and her self-esteem would be re-established.
Shannen had seemed to be happier the first couple weeks after he decided to go along with the charade and began to date Ms. Taylor. She had been a little more like the Shannen of old. She had a smile on her face and she would sit and chatter away with him about her day. He couldn’t help but notice that her eyes would shift and she wouldn’t quite look at him when he would mention her teacher. When he asked her if she liked Ms. Taylor she had said that she was a great teacher but he noticed that the look in her eyes didn’t match the enthusiasm in her voice. He knew his daughter almost as well as he knew himself. Something was off. She would shoot him little furtive glances as she was extolling her teacher’s virtues. It was as if she was trying to judge if he was buying what she was selling. And she was selling her teacher to him and he couldn’t figure out why. Was she that desperate to have a mother like all the kids in her class? He had tried explaining to her that some kids only lived with one parent because of divorce but her response was those kids had two mommies and two daddies.
As he drove the now familiar route to Rhonda’s place his mind was in turmoil. How had it come to this? Why did Shannen look at him with such fear and mistrust? How could he make things the way they used to be between them? He stopped at a red light. He had to refocus on the evening ahead. He had made it more than abundantly clear to Rhonda that their relationship was for show only and temporary at best. She had agreed to his terms stating emphatically that she was not in the market for a committed relationship. He had thought it prudent to also mention that he was not going to take this any further than an occasional evening that would include dinner and a movie every now and then. He had no intention of escorting her to any family events or evenings out with his friends. He could have sworn that he saw rage in her eyes when he mentioned this but she had laughed and teased him, reminding him that she was just doing him a favour. She added that if he kept protesting so much she might have to rethink her offer because it was beginning to sound like he wanted more from their arrangement then she was prepared to give.
As he moved with the flow of the traffic he tried to come up with the right words to use tonight to end this farce with Rhonda without upsetting her too much. Despite all her protestations to the contrary he knew she wanted more from him. Much more. The signals had been coming across loud and clear. He was getting tired of ignoring them or trying to come up with tactful ways to disengage himself from her clutching embraces. Hell, saying she is sending signals is more than a bit of an understatement after the way their last date had ended. He had let her convince him to come in for a nightcap even though all he had wanted to do was head home. She had excused herself for a moment. He thought she was just using the washroom but the moment had stretched into almost fifteen minutes. He was just about to get off the couch and yell out that he was leaving when the lights had dimmed and music had filled the room. He turned around and she was standing on the bottom step wearing next to nothing at all.
Bring your drink upstairs, Shawn. We’ll be much more comfortable in bed.
She had been angry and embarrassed when he had made a hurried, mumbled excuse and high-tailed out of her house as fast as he could. He had driven around for a good hour so he could calm down before he got home. The last thing he wanted was to face an inquisition from his mother once again. She didn’t think he was doing the right thing and she wanted to be sure that he wasn’t using Shannen as an excuse to save face. She told him if he wanted to date again no one would think less of him. No one really expected him to stay faithful to Belle’s memory for the rest of his life. He could just imagine what she would have to say if he told her that Rhonda had made a blatant overture of a sexual nature and that he had turned her down. He could hear the I told you so ringing in his ears already. His mother never bought that Rhonda would be happy in a make believe relationship and as usual, she had been proved right.
It hadn’t been his mother he had to face when he did finally return home. It was Rhonda. She had given his mother the line that they had taken separate vehicles and Shawn had to stop at the precinct and pick up a file that he wanted to go through later. She had apologised and told him that she had obviously misread the signals he was giving off. He hadn’t wanted to get in to it with her in his own home. Not with Shannen sleeping upstairs. He knew damn well he hadn’t given her any signal that even remotely suggested that he was looking to move their relationship to a sexual level. As far as he was concerned they weren’t in a relationship. He was just a father trying his hardest to meet his daughter’s needs. He just wished he could understand where this sudden need for a mother had come from. He had spent long hours with Shannen telling her all about her mommy. He had thought that she understood that her mother had died tragically as the result of an accident.
He pulled into the driveway of Mrs. Meldrum’s house. He knew that Rhonda believed that he had accepted her apology at face value. He hoped that she would accept what he had to say and leave it at that but he had this sinking feeling it wasn’t going to be that easy. He rang the doorbell and waited. He didn’t have to wait long. She opened the door with a huge smile on her face.
“Do you want a drink before we leave?” she asked politely.
“Actually we have less than twenty minutes to make our reservation,” he replied, equally as polite.
“Come inside, Shawn. I’ll just get my wrap.”
“You look very nice,” he stated flatly. She did. He could tell that she had taken extra care with her appearance tonight. This is going to be a nightmare. She wore a strapless form-fitting cocktail dress. The peach colour suited her skin tones. Her long, dark hair was done up in a carefully arranged state of disarray. He often wondered why women went to so much trouble to make their hair style look like something that was just an after thought and done hastily as opposed to the hours they spent cultivating that look. She passed him her coat and he held it as she slipped her arms into the sleeves. He remembered when he would help Belle with her coat. His hands would linger on her shoulders and then he would sweep her hair away from her neck to reveal her delicately scented skin. He would nuzzle her neck covering her with soft kisses and tiny love bites followed by a quick swirl of his tongue to soothe the sting. There were many times where they had been carried away by their mutual passion and ended up disrobing. He couldn’t resist her when she would press her rear against his burgeoning erection and start moaning his name. He was shaken out of his reverie by Rhonda’s voice.
“Thanks, Shawn, I’m all set.”
He opened the passenger door for her and waited until she was settled inside before closing it behind her. He was placing the key in the ignition when he felt her hand on his arm. He turned in her direction.
“I just want to apologise again for my behaviour the other night. It won’t happen again,” she said softly. At least not until I carry out the next phase of my plan.
You can say that again, he thought to himself. “Actually I wanted to talk to you about that. I’m glad you brought it up,” he replied.
Maybe I won’t have to activate part two of my plan. It sounds like he has had some time to think about this and he’s ready to become my lover. “What did you want to say?” she asked eagerly. Maybe we can skip dinner and get straight to the dessert. And he is definitely dessert.
“The roads are a bit slick so I need to concentrate on driving. We’ll talk over dinner,” he said evenly, hoping that she wouldn’t push the issue. He heaved a sigh of relief when she reached over and turned the radio on and settled back in her seat.
The meal progressed pleasantly enough. He didn’t want to bring up any unpleasant topics until they were done and she seemed to sense he was putting off their discussion. When they were served their after dinner drinks he knew it was time. He didn’t want to skirt the issue. He didn’t want any misunderstandings. He wanted this farce to be over and done with.
“It’s been a lovely evening, Shawn. Thank you,” she said softly, her eyes gleaming in the candlelight.
“I owe you this much for all you’ve done to try and help Shannen and me through this troublesome period in her life,” he said sincerely. He did appreciate her attempts at making things better for Shannen but he didn’t think it was the answer to the underlying problem. He just wished he knew what the underlying problem was.
“You don’t owe me anything, Shawn. I love Shannen as if she were my own dau…” she stopped. Shit, that went too far. She grew flustered. “I mean…I…uh…I just meant that I feel sorry for her because the other kids give her such a hard time. I didn’t really mean to imply…that…that…”
His eyes narrowed. I’m definitely doing the right thing. No matter what she says or has said in the past she does expect that I will change my mind and actually pursue a real relationship with her. I bet she thinks that I will marry her eventually. “You’re her teacher, Rhonda. It’s natural that you care for her the same way you care for all your students.” He watched as she latched onto the out he had given her.
I have to choose my words carefully. That last slip of the tongue could cost me dearly. “To be honest, Shawn I care more for Shannen than I do the others but only because she seems to be the most vulnerable of all my students. The children’s taunts are so cruel.”
“I’m at a loss as to why the kids are ragging on her this way. I’ve been able to piece together some of the stuff Shannen has actually told me about and it appears that Brianna is the ringleader.”
“I’ve gathered that myself,” Rhonda sympathised. “I’ve talked to her. I’ve told Brianna that what she says is very hurtful and upsetting to Shannen but it hasn’t made an impact as yet.”
“Can’t you do something to stop her?” he asked.
“What do you expect me to do, Shawn? Short of taping her mouth shut I can’t prevent her from speaking. And that is all Brianna does. She teases your daughter but she never physically attacks her. Shannen is the one that responds by using physical force,” Rhonda replied smoothly, making sure that Shawn couldn’t and wouldn’t attach blame to her.
“I just don’t understand why Brianna has turned on Shannen. They became fast friends the first day of kindergarten. Brianna was the closest thing to a sister that Shannen will experience. I’m going to have a talk with Brianna and her parents to see if I can find out what is going on,” he said pensively. I should have done that before I started this charade with Rhonda.
“You can’t do that,” she said sharply, her voice several octaves higher than normal.
Shawn’s internal radar system sounded an alarm that could not be ignored. “What do you mean I can’t do that? I can and I will. I would do anything for Shannen.”
“Of course you would, Shawn. You’re a wonderful father. In my opinion you would just make matters worse by talking to Brianna,” Rhonda hastily explained her harsh reaction to his statement.
“How can getting to the heart of the issue do more harm? I think it would repave the way to making things the way they were between the two girls. Did you know Brianna dropped out of soccer because she didn’t want to play on the same team as Shannen? Shannen refuses to attend dance class any longer simply because Brianna is there. This is ridiculous and has to stop.”
She reached across the table to cover his hand with hers. “Shawn, I’m going to give you some advice and I hope you take it seriously for both your sake and the sake of your daughter,” she said softly.
He withdrew his hand from under hers and placed it on his thigh. “What advice?”
“Don’t go and talk to Brianna and her parents. Her parents will put all the blame on Shannen because their daughter will tell you that Shannen is always the instigator.”
“I’ll remind them that Shannen is only reacting to Brianna’s cruel words and teasing,” he said angrily.
“And after you put the blame on Brianna how do you think she will act the next time she sees Shannen? You will just be giving Brianna more ammunition, more to tease Shannen about.”
“Jesus, these are seven year olds we’re talking about. When did seven year olds become so mean and vicious?”
“Kids are like wolves, Shawn. They circle and attack when they sense vulnerability. They view the fact that Shannen is motherless as a weakness and they exploit that. Her reaction to them feeds their frenzy.”
He shook his head. “For god’s sake, I can’t believe sweet, little innocent kids can be so cruel.”
“I’m sorry, Shawn. I’ve been a teacher for many years. This type of behaviour is the norm not the exception.”
“Maybe where you used to teach, but not here,” he said stubbornly.
“Don’t be naïve, Shawn. You’ve just been named Commander of the Salem P.D. You must have seen far worse things in your career than a bunch of seven years olds picking on a classmate.”
“If I’m to understand what you’re saying, the only way this will stop is if I remarry and Shannen has a mother, is that right?”
“Yes,” she answered empathically and then held her breath.
“I suppose you would be willing to marry me knowing that I don’t love you just to help me out,” he said sarcastically. He finally saw what she had been after all along.
“Not just to help you, Shawn. It would also help your daughter,” she said lovingly. I’m finally going to get what I’ve always wanted. “You did say you would do anything to help your daughter.”
“I did,” he said evenly waiting for her to hang herself with her own words.
She smiled her heart pounding. She was so close to Nirvana she could taste it. “Maybe we could give her a sister or brother of her own. Why don’t we get started on that tonight?”
Her smile faltered when she saw the rage in his eyes.
“I told you on more than one occasion that there would never be anything real between us,” he said, practically hissing because his jaw was clenched so tightly.
She laughed uneasily. “Come on, Shawn. We both know you didn’t mean it. You were just saying that to save face. You’ve said that you would never love any other woman so many times that you’re ashamed to admit even to yourself that you’re crazy about me. I’ve seen the desire and the love in your eyes. I don’t know how you’ve been able to keep your hands off me. It’s not necessary. I want you too.”
He stood and threw his napkin on the table. When she made an effort to rise he pushed her back down by clamping a hand on her shoulder. “Just stay there until I leave. I’ll have the bartender call you a cab. This date is over. I don’t want to see you again unless I have to come to the school.”
“You don’t mean that,” she stated angrily. She took a deep breath and changed her tactics. I have to keep my end goal in mind.” Wait, Shawn. I’m … sorry. I truly believed you had fallen in love with me … I … don’t … I,” she let her voice trail off, appearing confused.
“I don’t love you. I never will,” he stated emphatically.
She looked up at him willing the tears to flow. “I see that you mean that, Shawn. You have my word that I won’t make the mistake of thinking differently again.”
“You’re not suggesting that we continue this farce?” he asked, incredulity filling his voice.
“You know it’s the only plan you have right now that has any chance of helping Shannen,” she answered.
“It’s not working. It hasn’t been working for the past few weeks.”
“I disagree but it’s your opinion that counts. I really do want to see Shannen happy whether you believe that or not. Perhaps there is another way to help her but you would have to broach the subject with her carefully,” she said.
Despite his desire to walk away from this woman and this situation he knew we would ask what it was that she thought he could do. She’s playing me. She knows that I will hear her out. “What is this other way you’re alluding to and why haven’t you mentioned it before now?”
“It’s fairly drastic and I didn’t think you would be receptive to the idea,” she replied calmly.
“For god’s sake just spit it out already. I want this evening to be over with,” he barked. He just wanted to get away from her cloying presence.
“You can send her away to boarding school …”
“No god damn way,” he answered barely keeping his rage in check.
“I’m not saying to send her away for good. Maybe a year or two and then she can come back. I doubt a new group of classmates will treat her the way her current classmates do. It could be a good thing,” she said soothingly.
“I’m not shipping my daughter off to a boarding school where she won’t know anyone and won’t have any family to support her.”
“That’s your decision, Shawn. I’m just trying to look out for Shannen. It was just a suggestion,” she said defensively. Things will definitely be different between us once you realise how much you need me.
“Thanks for everything you’ve tried to do to help,” he said grudgingly. “Do me a favour. From now on have someone else from the school call me when Shannen is in trouble and needs me.”
“I’ll do that,” she replied.
Shawn couldn’t help but notice the venom in her voice and in her eyes. What is it about this woman that gets me so nervous? He blinked and her features were calm and her eyes soft. Jesus. I think I’m projecting my dislike for her personally on to my feelings of unease.
“Goodbye, Ms. Taylor,” he said politely.
“Goodbye, Mr. Brady,” she answered in kind as she watched him walk away.
I have to warn him. Please help me.
You can not interfere, my dear. You know that.
I can’t let this happen. It will lead to years of pain and unhappiness. I can’t let it happen…I just can’t. Please…
Belle, my dear. All you can do is watch over Shawn and Shannen.
But Great-Gran you know what’s coming next.
Both Alice and Caroline nodded.
It’s not going to be easy to watch dear but that’s all we can do. Just think how much worse it’s going to for Shawn and Shannen. Shawn is going to need you more than ever.
Oh Grandma Caroline, he is going to be devastated and my poor sweet girl…oh my. She is going to be terrified and so confused. How can someone be so cruel? Why can’t we prevent it? I have so much trouble understanding His will. Why won’t He let us stop this?
Belle, I can’t answer the questions pertaining to God’s will. As for the how can someone be so cruel all I can say is that everyone has to answer to God eventually for their actions.
That’s a small comfort in the face of what is about to happen. Shawn’s life is about to come undone and my baby is going to suffer untold horrors. Horrors that will haunt her for years and send her on a path of self-destruction.
You just need to be ready to comfort Shawn and your daughter when they need it the most.
Belle looked at the two older angels that were her spiritual guides and looked back down to earth and waved her hands. It wasn’t much but she felt a little better as she watched the storm clouds roll over Salem.
Shawn glanced at the heavenward when the skies suddenly darkened. Christ, I’m sure there was no rain in the forecast for tonight. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel when the thunderstorm hit. The thunder roared and the lightening danced across the skies. It’s like the gates of hell are being opened.
He didn’t know how right he was.
Ten Days Later
Shawn walked in to his parent’s kitchen through the back door. Their house was in a state of organised confusion. Boxes were stacked everywhere. Some labelled Storage; some labelled Fancy Face.
He could hear voices coming from the living room so he pushed the door open between the two rooms. “How’s my favourite girl?” he called out in a cheery voice.
Shannen looked up from the box she was helping Hope pack but quickly dropped her head and continued with her task.
Hope frowned. “Aren’t you going to answer your father, Shannen?
“Good,” she mumbled.
Shawn crouched down beside her and reached for her hand. “How was school today?” he asked softly.
She shrugged. “Okay,” she answered but she wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Any problems at school today?” he persisted. “Were the kids teasing you?”
He glanced at his mother who was nodding her head and mouthing the words It was bad.
“Yeah they teased me again, Daddy.” That’s all she would say.
“Come sit with me for a minute sweetie,” he said as he held out his hand.
She gave him a tentative look and then slipped her hand into his and followed him to the couch.
“I’ll go make us some lemonade. I think I still have a jug and some glasses in the cupboard,” Hope said and left the two of them alone. She knew what Shawn wanted to talk to Shannen about. She prayed that it would be the answer to Shannen’s problems. She hated leaving on an extended trip when things were so rough for her son and granddaughter.
“Shannen, I wish I could figure out why the kids are picking on you and make it all stop. I wish I could do a lot of things but do you know what I wish for the most?” he asked quietly.
“No, Daddy. I don’t know. What do you wish for the most?”
“I wish that I could make everything better and that I would have my happy little girl back. I want the girl who would laugh easily, who couldn’t wait to tell me about the fun she had at school and with her friends. I want the little girl who loved her daddy and loved spending time with me. You used to wait eagerly every night for me to tell you a story, Shannen, now you won’t even let me tuck you in.”
“I’m growing up,” she said defensively. “I don’t need you to tuck me in or tell me stories.”
“Baby, you’re only seven …”
“Seven and a half,” she interrupted.
“Okay, seven and a half. Not too old to still want to spend time with your daddy. Talk to me, Shannen. Tell me what’s troubling you. I can’t fix it if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
She wanted him to make it all better. Her daddy was the best dad in the whole world but she was told that he would be angry at her if she said anything. Her daddy was too busy to be bothered by her little troubles at least that is what she kept telling her. She was supposed to be a big girl and work things out on her own. She was so scared that she would say the wrong thing. She had been warned that her daddy would get tired of her whining and complaining and would end up wanting to send her away so he wouldn’t have to deal with her any longer. She had told her that her daddy would never do that. He loved her. She had laughed at her. She said her dad put up with her because he had to. He didn’t really lover or he would find her a new mother and make sure she had brothers and sisters of her own. He didn’t do it because he didn’t think Shannen deserved a family of her own.
Shawn waited and watched his daughter fighting some kind of inner battle. How can a child of her age have inner demons? Why won’t she open up and talk to me?
“Nothing’s wrong, Daddy,” she finally answered.
He sighed. God he didn’t want to do this but he would move heaven and earth to try and help his little girl and he was running out of options. “Shannen, how would you like to go to a different school?”
Her eyes lit up. Maybe she could get away from her and all the teasing. “Is the new school close to our house?” she asked eagerly.
“Actually the school is not in Salem. It’s in Chicago. You would have to live at the school. It’s called a boarding school…” he started to explain.
“She was right. You do hate me. You don’t love me. You don’t want me around. She said you were going to send me away,” Shannen shouted and then began to cry.
“No, Shannen. No, I don’t hate you…” he said as he tried to gather her into his arms.
“Let me go,” she screamed which brought Hope running into the living room. “Grandma, please take me with you. Daddy doesn’t want me anymore,” she sobbed as she pressed herself close into her grandmother’s outstretched arms.
Hope wrapped her arms around the little girl. “Ssh, little one. Why would you say that your Dad doesn’t want you? He loves you more than anyone or anything in the world.”
“No, he hates me. She told me he would want to send me away.” Her chin quivered as she tried to control her crying. She had to be good so Grandma and Grandpa would take her with them.
“No, darling. That’s not true. Brianna is wrong…” Hope said comfortingly.
“It’s not…” she stopped. She couldn’t say anymore. She remembered the warning. “She was right. He wants to send me away. Ask him,” she said mutinously.
“I know about the new school, Shannen. Your Dad talked to Grandpa and me about it. We just want you to be happy. We thought maybe a new school, new teachers and new classmates might make thing easier for you,” Hope explained carefully.
“I’ll be happy with you and Grandpa,” she said and broke down into tears again.
Shawn’s heart shattered. His daughter didn’t want to be with him. He had to mend this rift between them but he didn’t know where or how to start. I’ll talk to Marlena. I know she’s retired but maybe she can recommend a counsellor that both Shannen and I can go and talk to. Things can’t continue like this.
Hope sat down on the couch getting Shannen to sit between her and Shawn.
“Your Dad and you are going to come and join Grandpa and I later on during your summer holidays, sweetie. You can’t come with us because you need to go to school.”
Shawn reached for Shannen’s hand but she moved away from him into his mother’s embrace. “I was just trying to do something to make you happy, Shannen. If you don’t want to go away to school, you don’t have to. I won’t mention it again,” he said softly.
She peeked up at him, her brown eyes so like his own full of tears. “You promise?”
“I promise,” he answered solemnly holding out his arms.
After a moment’s hesitation she launched herself into her daddy’s arms. The one place in the world she always felt safe.
“I love you, Shannen. Nothing will ever change that. Do you understand?” he said his voice gruff with emotion.
“Yes, Daddy. I love you too,” she said as she clasped her arms tightly around his neck.
It was two days later and Shawn was having a hard time consoling his daughter. “I’m going to miss Grandma and Grandpa too, Shannen. I know it’s going to be hard to say goodbye but it’s not like we’re never going to see or talk to them again.”
“I don’t want them to go. I like staying with Grandma after school,” Shannen sniffled.
“I know you do, sweetheart. Mrs. Sampson is really looking forward to having you come and stay with her. She always tells me that we’re her favourite neighbours.”
That got a bit of a smile from his daughter. “She makes good cookies,” Shannen conceded.
“Yes she does. Grandma is going to miss you terribly and so is Gramps. We have to try and be happy for them when we go say goodbye. You know how excited they are about going on this trip.
“We don’t want to make them feel bad by going to their Bon Voyage party at the Brady pub all teary-eyed, now do we?” he cajoled.
“Do we have to go?” she asked.
He stared at her, taken aback by her question.
“Don’t you want to say goodbye?”
“What if I cry?” she asked earnestly.
“It’s okay to cry, sweetie. I’m sure there will be lots of tears. Heck, Grandma Hope cried even when we would go on overnight camping trips.”
Shannen giggled. “Grandma cried on my first day of school.”
Shawn looked around the room even though it was the two of them in the house and lowered his voice. “Don’t tell anyone else,” he whispered conspiratorially. “This has to be our secret.”
Her eyes widened and she nodded agreement.
“Now remember, you can’t tell anyone, but on your first day of school Daddy cried too.”
It felt so good to hear her soft giggle that was so much like her mother’s that it made his heart ache and to have her place her hand in his without hesitation. He couldn’t help but think that the change in teachers had a lot to do with Shannen’s sudden onset of problems. He grabbed his jacket and helped Shannen with hers. “Let’s get to the party. You’ll have lots of fun seeing all your cousins and little friends again. Tomorrow night you and I are going to have dinner with Gram and Gramps on the boat. We get one more chance to say goodbye.”
“I bet Grandma will cry again,” Shannen smiled.
“I bet you’re right,” he chuckled as they went out the door.
“Come in,” Shawn called out from behind his desk. He looked up to see who had knocked on his office door.
“Do you have some time to see me, Commander Brady?” his father asked with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
“I always have time for you, Dad. Miss the place already?”
“Miss the people but not the job,” Bo quipped as he sat down.
“Are you and Mom all ready to set sail tomorrow morning?”
“Your mom is busy going through the house right now making sure that everything perishable has been given away. She’s also checking with the utility companies to make sure the bills for power and natural gas will be sent to your address. We’ve had the phone disconnected, cancelled the contracts for the water softener and drinking water. I think we’re about as ready to ship out as we’ll ever be.”
“Any idea of where your first stop will be?” Shawn asked.
“We’re stopping in Miami for a few days. We’ll chart a course to our next stop when we’re there. We’re just going to go where the wind takes us. We don’t have any hard and firm plans. It’s better this way.”
“A pair of free-spirits,” Shawn sighed. “I envy you, Dad. I wish Shannen and I could just board the Fancy Face and sail away with you leaving all our troubles behind.”
“I take it things aren’t improving at school for Shannen.”
“No. They seem to be getting worse. I really should pull her out of the school and send her to that private school in Chicago but I can’t do that. She became almost hysterical when I brought up the possibility of sending her away to a boarding school,” he said sadly.
“Hope told me that she got really upset when you mentioned it.”
“Yeah, she did. It’s almost as if Brianna knew I was going to suggest it. The things that Shannen said that day lead me to believe that Brianna was ragging on her about it for awhile now. Shannen kept saying she said you were going to send me away.”
“I think you need to talk to Brianna’s parents no matter what Rhonda Taylor recommended. This can’t go on.”
“I know, Dad. I’m still trying to figure out how Brianna knew I was even thinking about sending Shannen to a boarding school.”
“Who else did you talk to about the possibility besides your mother and me? Maybe that person repeated it to someone else. You know the drill. Gossip spreads fast and Salem is not all that big of a city.”
“Don’t I know that! The only other viable option for schools in Salem to send Shannen to is right in the middle of the one area of our city that has been infested by drug dealers and gangs. As for speaking to anyone else about the boarding school actually, Dad the suggestion to send Shannen to one came from Rhonda …”
Bo raised his eyebrow when he noticed the stunned expression on his son’s face.
“Shit, Dad. How could I have been so stupid? The she Shannen was referring to must have been Rhonda. That vindictive little bitch…”
“Hold on, Shawn. You don’t know that for sure. You need to talk to Shannen first. You’ll be the first to admit that you’ve never fully trusted Ms. Taylor’s motives. You could be jumping to conclusions and making something out of nothing.”
“I’m going to have a heart to heart with Shannen tonight. I’ll get her to talk to me. I have to get to the bottom of this. If Shannen confirms my suspicions in regard to Rhonda I’m going to go straight to the school board,” he said, determination stamped on his face.
“I hope you can get Shannen to open up to you for both of your sakes. Shannen is just a shadow of the girl she was a few short months ago. I can’t believe the change in her personality. She’s like a stranger to us. I don’t have to tell you how worried your mother is about her.”
“I know, Dad. Thankfully between the two of us we were able to talk Mom into going on this trip that the two of you have been planning for the last couple of years.”
“I’m sure our phone bills will be astronomical until Shannen comes out of the funk she is in,” Bo stated sardonically.
“She started to change almost from the moment Rhonda Taylor became her teacher. What I can’t figure out is why Rhonda would want to isolate Shannen from the other children and make her a target for their cruel taunts. That just makes absolutely no sense to me,” Shawn said, a hint of bewilderment in his voice.
“If Rhonda had her sights on becoming a part of your life she might have thought that causing trouble for Shannen would be the perfect way to ingratiate herself into your life. Obviously it worked. You started dating her.”
“True, Dad but there’s where logic flies out the window. Rhonda didn’t meet me until the trouble got so bad that I had to be called to the school. We didn’t meet before then so why would she hatch a plan so insidious in nature on the chance that I might be the man she’s been looking for to share her life?”
Bo sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. So that brings us back to square one. Shannen did start to change when Rhonda came into the picture. Is it possible that Shannen just isn’t adjusting to this change in her life? She could be hypersensitive because she is different than the other kids in the sense that she doesn’t have a mother. She could have been more attached to Mrs. Meldrum than any of us knew. Maybe she even viewed her as a mother figure.”
“That’s possible. Either way I have all weekend to get through to Shannen. I’ve been afraid to push the issue with her because of the marked change in her. I hardly know my own daughter any longer. No matter how she reacts I am going to push on until I find a way to break through the walls she has erected around her heart and she lets me back in. She always told me everything. I’m hoping we can get back to that.”
“Good luck, Shawn. You know we’re going to be praying that everything works out for the best.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “It’s time for me to meet your mother. We’ll see you and Shannen in a few hours.”
“I’m leaving work early so I can pick up Shannen from school. We should be at the boat around four.”
“Sounds good, son.”
As soon as he turned the corner on to the street that the front of the school faced he knew something was wrong. The schoolyard was empty. There were no vehicles parked on the street. No kids. No parents. “What the hell,” he said under his breath. He ran up to the front doors of the school and pulled on the handle. Locked. He peered through the panes of the glass panels in the doors and couldn’t see anyone. He skirted the outside of the building trying each of the entrances without success. He finally saw a janitor inside one of the classrooms as he peeked through the windows. He pulled out his badge and held it against the glass as he rapped loudly trying to get the man’s attention. When the guy saw his badge and started towards the window Shawn pointed in the direction of the nearest entrance. The guy nodded.
Shawn shuffled his feet nervously as he waited for the doors to be unlocked. His heart was beating double time, his brow covered in sweat as he tried to convince himself that Shannen would be inside waiting for him. The door opened and he burst inside. “I’m Commander Brady. I’m here to pick up my daughter.”
“You’re daughter’s not here, sir,” the janitor replied looking at the frantic man standing in front of him. “The kids were dismissed early today.”
“Why?” Shawn barked. “What happened?”
“The teachers had a meeting with the school board members this afternoon. A letter was sent home with the students this past Monday,” the man answered.
“Are you sure about that?” Shawn snapped.
“Yes, sir. I am. I have three children that attend this school. They all brought letters home. Maybe your daughter forgot to give it to you.”
“Maybe,” he answered as his mind raced. He checked his daughter’s backpack every day. There had been no letter. “I’ll just go to her classroom and get her.”
“There’s no one in the building but me and you, Commander Brady,” the man called out to Shawn’s back.
Shawn stopped and turned around. “Where’s Shannen then?”
The guy shrugged. “I don’t know, sir. The school was empty when I got here about half an hour ago.”
“You wouldn’t mind then if I double check. She has to here,” Shawn forced the words out. He had this horrible feeling that something was seriously wrong.
“No, I don’t mind. I’ll start at this end, sir,” the man offered.
“Thanks,” Shawn said hastily already on the move. “Shannen, it’s Dad. Where are you?”
Fifteen minutes later he had to concede that Shannen wasn’t there. His feelings of alarm grew.
“Do you want me to call the police?” the man offered.
“I am the police,” Shawn answered abruptly. “Sorry, Mr. …”
“Hank Archer,” the man said sticking out his hand. “Maybe your daughter went home with a friend when she saw you weren’t here,” he suggested.
Shawn let out a sigh of relief. “I bet my mother picked her up. Shannen stays with her after school. It’s a long story but things are really hectic around my parents place at the moment so Mom probably forgot to mention the early dismissal. Thanks, Mr. Archer.”
“Sorry I couldn’t be of any more help. I sure hope your little girl is safe and sound with her grandmother.”
Me too Shawn thought to himself as he made his way back to his vehicle.
Thirty five minutes later hew was jumping from the pier on to the deck of the Fancy Face III. “Hello,” he called out as he opened the door to go below deck. “Anyone here?”
There was no response but he immediately saw the note addressed to him that was stuck to a cupboard door.
We’ve gone to pick up a few things for supper. Beer’s in the fridge. Help yourself.
He noticed the note was just addressed to him. They must have Shannen with them. He looked around and didn’t see her backpack. She must have left it their car or else they picked Shannen up from school and haven’t been back here as yet. He pulled his cell phone out and dialed his mother’s cell phone number. He cursed under his breath when he reached an out of service recording. Damn. I forgot they disconnected all their phones. They’re going to be using the satellite phone while they’re gone.
He tried to calm down by taking some deep breaths. Shannen has to be with them. Where else would she be? She knows that she is never to leave the school grounds with anyone other than her grandparents or I unless we tell her someone different will be picking her up. We’ve drilled that into her since kindergarten. I wonder why Dad didn’t mention the fact that they would be picking her up when I said that I was leaving early to do just that.
He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. He was too worked up to stomach a beer right now.
He went up on the deck. Perhaps Mom forgot to tell Dad about Shannen getting out of class early today just like she forgot to tell me. He began pacing and couldn’t bring himself to stop. As each minute passed his anxiety grew and the knot inside his stomach tightened.
About fifteen minutes later he saw his parents approaching.
“Hey, honey,” Hope called out cheerily.
Shawn jumped off the boat and ran towards them, the bottle of water dropping to the pier spilling its contents on to the wooden planks. “Where’s Shannen?” he asked breathlessly.
Hope’s smile faded. “What do you mean, where’s Shannen? You were supposed to pick her up after school and bring her here. Don’t tell me you forgot?” she asked in a high-pitched voice.
“Jesus. Where is she?” he asked, desperation colouring his voice.
“Did you go to the school, son?” Bo asked. He could tell from Shawn’s voice and body language that his son was scared, more scared than he had seen him since Belle’s accident.
“I did. There was only a janitor in the building. He told me the kids were dismissed early today because of a teachers meeting.”
“Why didn’t they let you know or call you today when you didn’t show up?” Hope asked.
“The guy said a note was sent home on Monday. Did Shannen give it to you, Mom?”
“No she didn’t. If she had I would have made sure you knew about it. I still don’t understand why someone from the school didn’t call you,” Hope stated anxiously.
“It could have been because there was no need to call me. Shannen could have went with someone else willingly or she could have been forced…oh God no…I better issue an Amber alert…oh my god…oh my god…Shannen is missing!” he said frantically.
Hope began to cry.
Bo wrapped one arm around his wife and grabbed his son’s arm with the other. “Look, let’s not panic just yet. Shawn, have you checked for messages at home?”
“Shit, no I haven’t. Thanks, Dad. I could be worried sick for no reason at all. Shannen probably called to tell me where she is.” He whipped his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the number to access his home voicemail. His heart fell to his stomach when heard the recorded voice saying you have no new messages.
The light died from both Bo and Hope’s eyes when he shook his head.
“Give me your phone, son,” Bo ordered gently. He could see that his son was almost paralyzed with fear.
Shawn handed the phone over to his father. He felt shell-shocked. This can’t be happening. Shannen is with a friend having such a good time she forgot to call and let me know where she is. Then the other side of the argument played out in his head. Yeah and you might just buy that if Shannen had any friends. Lately she’s alienated herself from everyone in her class.
“Shawn, come with us. I’ve called the squad leader and they’re going to send several black and whites to your house. You have a list of names and addresses of all of Shannen’s classmates, don’t you?”
“We’ll dispatch them to those locations and we’ll start calling the family. Maybe Shannen called one of them to pick her up.”
“Let’s call John and Marlena first,” he said dully. He didn’t believe that Shannen would call someone other then him but anything was possible. He had told his father earlier to day that she was becoming a stranger to him.
“We will,” Bo said with all the confidence he could infuse into his voice. “Let’s go and bring Shannen home to us.”
As the hours passed with no success in locating his daughter Shawn withdrew farther and farther into himself. It took all of Bo’s strength to keep him in the house. He wanted to rush out and look for Shannen himself but Bo knew he was in no condition emotionally to be anything more than a hindrance to the investigation at this point in time. Investigation. The word struck terror in Bo’s heart. Shannen Hope Brady was officially declared as missing. An Amber Alert had been issued but Bo wasn’t holding out much hope that the alert would lead them to Shannen. As of now they had no suspects, no descriptions of any type of suspicious vehicle seen in the neighbourhood of the school. They had nothing because there had been no witnesses that they had found as yet. So far all the kids said that they saw Shannen waiting for her ride home but apparently they were all gone by the time she had disappeared. A search team was out pouring over the area around the school. There was a park near by and a wooded area behind the school. Bo had made sure the PD’s search dogs were being used.
Bo stayed on the phone with Brett. He had been promoted to Captain after Shawn had accepted the position as Commander. “Any luck with the interviews of the teachers?”
“We still have about four we haven’t been able to talk to yet, Bo including Shannen’s teacher, Ms. Rhonda Taylor.”
“Keep me informed, Brett.”
“Will do. How’s Shawn holding out?”
“He’s a basket case at the moment as you can well imagine. I don’t even want to consider the possibility of Shannen being found ... God, I can’t even say it. I don’t think Shawn would be able to handle losing Shannen.”
We’re doing everything we can, Mr. Brady. Every cop in the precinct and many others from different precincts have come in to volunteer their time to search. Shannen is one of our own. We won’t rest until she is found. That’s a promise, sir.”
Bo choked up. “Thanks, Brett. Thank all the officers for us.”
“No thanks are necessary. I’ll keep in touch.”
Hope walked over to Bo. She knew by the shake of his head that there was no news to report. “I left Shawn with John and Marlena. Marlena is trying to comfort him but he’s inconsolable. I’m scared, Bo. I’m scared for Shannen. God, what if she decided to walk home and got lost in the woods or worse, what if some predator got a hold of her?” she cried.
“We have to pray that she’ll be found safe and sound,” Bo said as he held his wife close.
“I’m scared for Shawn as well. I haven’t seen him in such rough shape since Belle’s accident. In fact, he’s worse. He held himself together after Belle’s death because he had Shannen to look after. God, Bo, if anything happened to Shannen, I don’t think our son could survive another tragedy.”
“We can’t think the worse, Hope. We have to pray for a positive outcome,” Bo said firmly. “Our son needs us to stay strong.”
She took a deep breath, “You’re right. I think I’ll get the others to join me in the living room and we’ll form a prayer circle.”
Shawn slipped away from all the people gathered in his house to help him keep vigil. He went quietly up the stairs and entered Shannen’s bedroom closing the door behind him. He picked up the photo of Belle from the bookcase and knelt down by his daughter’s bed.
He caressed his wife’s image. “Belle, please. Our daughter needs you. I need you,” he prayed. He bent his head and wept.
High above three angels stood guard watching over Shawn and Shannen holding hands as they bent their heads and wept.