“Surprises are everywhere in life.
And they usually come from misjudging people for being less than they appear.”
Brindleton Bay Cliff House
The door was opened and Liam instantly grinned as he greeted the redheaded man answering it now.
“Eric, you old sack, how goes it?”
“Old? My dear senile cousin, you are 9 years older than me. Besides, I could cite you for insulting an officer, you know? Come on inside, dude. Long time no see!”
“You’re not an officer, you are a chair warmer now, making other officers’ lives a living hell, so cite away, Captain Cameron, I’ll sue you for leaving my ass out here in this heat while you took your sweet time to march your lame self to answer the door, and still haven’t even offered me a beverage to lap up in front of your fan. I feel like a raisin.”
“Jeeze, crybaby, maybe I still have one of Rhys’ old binkies for you to suck on. I got some coffee for your whiny ass though, when you called, I made a fresh pot. Why are you in a suit on a hot day like today, did you forget we have a heat wave? You look like you are on your way to your own wedding. Did I miss an invite?” Eric smirked, while Liam followed him into the kitchen.
“I told ya, I need to have some professional photos for my law portfolio and resumé. The firm I am with right now isn’t it for me, in other words, my new boss is a major dick, so I am gonna be looking again for bigger and better things. I can hardly instill professional confidence as a lawyer in hot pants and a crop top.”
“I don’t know, pretty boy, that sexy look may work for ya, if you don’t mind a purely female client base, knowing how you used to get around … you’d be a professional, all right. I may have to arrest you for solicitation. Ha ha ha!” redheaded Eric laughed.
“How professional of you, Mr. Side-Hustle Photographer. How about we’ll just make it a calendar of me, without any clothes, just haybales and pillows and little kittens, like those firemen? My early mid-life crisis.” Liam laughed.
“Without me though, cousin. I don’t want to have to look at so much of you, man, plus I got a cat allergy. But seriously now, isn’t that your wedding suit you got on? I mean, I am happy to see you too, but not THAT desperately lonely to wanna marry my male first cousin, but thanks anyway.”
“Ha ha, Freckles. Did you have clown for breakfast? And yes, it is my fancy occasion suit. My other ones are at the dry cleaners. Half of them I wore to work and they need cleaning, the other half was still packed from me moving out. That damn cat must have not liked me packing my bags and peed all over them, I didn’t notice until now and the situation is ripe and nasty!”
The men laughed, some more teasing, when Eric told Liam he’d go get the equipment set up and pull some sample photos out for him to choose a style for his own photos.
Before he could leave, a woman entered, creating a WTF?! moment, leaving her and Liam both frozen in place.
“Oh, Liam, this is Lana. Lana, my cousin Liam. Doesn’t look like it, but our dads are actually identical twins. Sadly, this asshole here got all the good genes. Well, you two get to know each other, while I get cracking. Liam’s here to get some glamour shots done to get his career on the right track. He’s a lawyer, too. That’s right Liam, this girl right there is beautiful and smart, so I am sure you two have plenty to talk about. Be right back.”
As soon as Eric was out of earshot, Liam exploded.
“What the fuck are you doing here Lana?!” he whisper-yelled.
“I could ask YOU the same thing. Are you everywhere now when I am doing all I can to avoid you?”
“Eric is my COUSIN! Of course I visit. You KNOW I am a family man! Eric is also almost 10 years younger than you! So, what’s the big idea here, aside from robbing cradles now? Plow your way through all Cameron men, breaking hearts left and right?”
“Get a hold of yourself, Liam, you sound ridiculous! I did NOT know he was your cousin any more than I broke your heart, how could I have known anyway, you never mentioned Brindleton Bay, I assumed all your family was in Windenburg. Eric and I met by chance, when I wanted to have some professional pictures of Meaghan and me. He and I just hit it off and before either of us knew it, we were in deep. I mean, look at him, he’s so handsome, has a boyish charm, intelligent, articulate, a single parent, in a career to uphold the law which he takes very seriously. It’s perfect. Well, as they say, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is, because I would not have expected you in this mix.”
“Oh, that’s a pile of steaming manure! The last name Cameron didn’t clue you in?! A woman as smart as you would make that easy connection!”
“His business is EC Photography. Am I to assume all Cs in the world now mean Cameron? And even if, your family doesn’t have a monopoly on that name. When we met, he introduced himself simply as Eric with the most adorable smile I have ever seen. I didn’t find out his last name until much later and I just didn’t want to think about it then – or most specifically, I didn’t want to have to think about if and how that could be connected to you. You two are not exactly twins, you know?”
“No, but our fathers are! There are photos of my family and me in this house, so don’t give me the you didn’t know. I can’t believe Aunt Jenna allows you into her home for her and Uncle Jordan to constantly be confronted with you and whatever rouse this is.”
“Jenna and Jordan moved out, to the Beach House, when Meaghan and I moved in and there are no photos of you around here anywhere, not even Eric’s studio, so maybe his parents took them with them. Jenna was a bit guarded initially, but we had a long heart-to-heart and now she is just happy her son is no longer alone.”
“Keep your voice down!”
“Oh, gimme a million breaks! Why, Lana?! I know your ex took you for a ride financially, but I also know you are not THAT poor that you need someone to bunk with! Just get your own damn house! WHY HERE, WHY ERIC?! Were you just looking for a nest to move into with me too? Did you have him knock you up too, so you can stay?”
Lana tried to slap Liam in the face, but he caught her hand in time, felt her tremble, her eyes glowing for anger and withheld tears, which made Liam pull back his offense.
“I am sorry, Lana. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Look Liam, I really do not care what you think about this, or about me, Lord knows I do not have only fond thoughts about you at this point, but I deserve happiness too. What happened between us was one big mess, you seem to be canoodling with your ex-wife again, after you what I have to assume was used me as a rebound chick, while – once more – I was left with nobody after you were done with me. How do you think that made me feel? And how is that fair, I ask you? I wasn’t looking for a relationship, that was the very last thing I wanted, but it just happened. It felt so right and so good, I just couldn’t bring myself to deny me this. I need you to let me have this.”
“Relationship? How serious are you two?”
“I am living with him, Liam. And I love him. My life was turned upside down or else this would have never happened. Not this fast. Eric is incredibly sweet, kind, he seems like the perfect man. I didn’t think I could love anymore, but I just couldn’t help falling for him. Genuinely and sincerely, with all I have.”
Lana was interrupted by two kids running into the room, huffing a greeting at both adults. One was Rhys, Eric’s son with bright red hair like his father, the other the little girl Liam remembered from the playground, Lana’s daughter Meaghan.
“Mommy, can we go to the park? PLEASE.” Meaghan begged.
“I’ll protect her. And my dad said yes! I go to the park all the time, by myself, I know every corner!” offered Rhys, making Liam smile.
“Okay, fine, but be careful you two and be back when it starts getting dark.”
Excitedly, the kids already ran out.
“So, you met his parents, he met your daughter and now you live with him? You refused to meet my family … let alone talk about yours … and this marks now the second time I met your child. Wow.”
“Maybe because I felt deep inside that you weren’t free? Was I wrong, Liam? The heart wants what it wants, sadly for me my heart wanted you, but yours wants Vivien. I am glad my mind wasn’t too clouded to keep Meaghan out of all this.”
Liam shook his head.
“No, you weren’t wrong. You saw things more clearly than I did. Look, before you find out like I found out about this, Vivien and I are going to try again. Not back together yet, but working on it, slowly, inch by inch. Well, maybe not too slowly, since she’s also pregnant. Don’t say it … I know how this looks, but it is not what you think. There is a very long story attached to all this.”
“I think it is EXACTLY what I thought all along, ever since she kept popping up around you like mushrooms in Autumn. I had no doubt in my mind that you and Vivien would get back together. Yet you come at me guns blazing for living with Eric? Was I to pine after you in my lonely chamber for the rest of my life, while you jump right back in with both feet?”
“No, of course not. But Eric’s my cousin. He lost his wife when his son was little and after that he was never the same again. I don’t think he can take getting hurt again. And you are my ex. You and I have serious history now. Don’t you see how this is … iffy?”
“I do, Liam, but think about this. Do you want me to – once again – step away from a chance to finally be happy, with a man YOU KNOW will treat me right for once in my life, who has already shown to be a good father figure to my daughter, something she never had, just because you think it’s ‘iffy’? You want your cousin to be alone for another 7 years because me with him would be ‘iffy’? Why would you think I would hurt Eric, when I was ALWAYS the one sticking out rough times with you until YOU hurt ME and cast me aside? All the while you are having another baby with your ex-wife, created while you were already no longer together? A bit lop-sided take on morals, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Fine Lana, you win. You’re right, I am wrong. If you like Eric that much – and he definitely looks more chipper than I have seen him in years – more power to you guys. I won’t interfere. I’ll even come to your wedding, if that’s where this ultimately leads.”
“I am happy to hear you say that, but I don’t think I will be ready for another marriage anytime soon, Liam. Not after the two horrible ones I had. I just want the man, Liam. Eric is wonderful. To you, he is just your cousin, but to me he is like a dream incarnate, something I no longer believed existed. You came close, but then ended up hurting me, broke my heart like all the other men before you. I don’t think Eric would do that. After 7 years he still loves his dead wife so much, it melts my heart. You know what his mother told me? She said that he needs someone like me. That’s why they allowed me to move in with Meaghan and why they moved out when his brother Ethan and his family moved to campus. To give us space. His parents see something here, potential. As do I. I am too guarded after what happened between us to scream ‘together forever’ from the rooftops, but I do love Eric and do think he might be the one.”
“Jenna said that? Did she hit her head last time they went skiing? That doesn’t sound like my aunt.”
“Why? Am I so unlikable and unlovable, just because we couldn’t make it work?”
“That’s not what I meant. You are amazing, Lana. Just you don’t know my aunt Jenna as well as I do. Heart of gold, would do anything for her family, but she hated every single partner any of her kids ever had. Always has. Since high school. I swear she breathed fire sometimes.”
“Maybe she felt 7 years was long enough for her son to be alone. Give me this, Liam. Last time you came to talk to me, you said you wanted to make things right between us. I think Eric and I could really have a chance.”
“Oh, I didn’t think you heard me say that, considering you never opened your damn door. After I had to track you down to even figure out where you lived in the first place.”
“Liam, did you notice I wasn’t really surprised when you told me you were getting back together with Vivien? There is a reason for that. Initially I thought you really were free, and we’d have a chance, a future, but in retrospect, I knew all along. You two are night and day but cannot exist without each other. I never had a real chance with you, and I realized it’s not even your fault. In a way, fate did us a favor when tragedy struck. I wanted to hate you so badly, but I can’t. And now fate lead me to Eric. Maybe this was all supposed to happen all along. We all needed to know the pain of loss, so we can properly appreciate love.”
Eric’s return prevented Liam from replying, instead he followed his cousin upstairs for the photos. Liam couldn’t relax, couldn’t stop thinking about Lana and his own situation, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Eric.
“Can you please try to look a little less constipated?! Did you forget to put in your teeth this morning? You look like the before of a laxative ad!” Eric lamented.
“Sorry. Better?” Liam attempted a forced and fake smile.
“Sure, if you want to look clinically insane on your legal propaganda. Come on Liam, what’s up with you? I hardly recognize you without that usual male model toothpaste ad smile.”
Liam sighed, slumping, then frowned.
“Vivien?” Eric asked.
Liam nodded, then told Eric everything that happened since just before the divorce between him and Vivien, but also that he briefly dated Lana, then broke up, sparing his cousin any details, including anything about the miscarriage, leaving it up to Lana to tell Eric if she wanted him to know. Eric’s eyes got huge.
“Lana?! MY Lana?! WHAT!? You want Vivien again, right? I am not stepping into your territory here, am I? But how the hell would you let a woman like Lana get away? I am so confused.” mumbled Eric.
“No no, Lana is dear to me, but not like that. Not anymore. She and I go way back and both were going through rough times, we both needed someone, and mistook that for something it wasn’t. She and I are not in love. She really cares about you, even used the L-word with me, so if you feel that way about her, please don’t hold back because of what I told you, I just didn’t want this to come out later on like these things tend to do and cause bad blood or something. I’ll be the first to tell you that Lana really is a great woman, so classy, smart and genuine. Do you … I mean … are you serious about her?”
“I asked her to move in with me and my son, that already should tell you everything you need to know. She and her girl have been through really rough times, her kid and mine are peas in a pod, and yeah, I am very serious about Lana. I love her, man. I never thought I could ever feel that way again, nor did I think I wanted to. But the first moment I saw her, I just knew. I could tell she liked me too but was guarded like me. We both are scared, but so ready for love. Even mom and dad saw it, and you know my mom. But she adores Lana. Actually, moving her and Meaghan in was my mom’s idea. I am sorry that you two have baggage. I don’t know what to tell you, Liam. I respect you, man, but I can’t let Lana slip away. Now even for you.”
“Oh no, Eric, don’t. If you are happy, man, that’s all that matters. And honestly, you are right about that, Lana deserves a man like you. And I don’t have any feelings like that for her anymore. That’s not what what’s keeping me up at night.”
“Then what is?”
“What do you think? Vivien is pregnant. She lives in Del Sol Valley with my son, I live in Windenburg … can you imagine living so far away from Rhys? And now there will be another child.”
“Hell no! I would NEVER move an inch away from my son! Okay Liam, I know mine is gonna be the unpopular opinion here, but you know what I would have given to have Emily back? I wouldn’t have cared if she screwed ten other men. If it would have brought her back to life, I wouldn’t care! But she is gone, she will never come back to me, took me 7 long and lonely years to finally move on, but you can have Vivien back. You know how hard it is to raise Rhys without his mother? I may have my son full time, but don’t think that’s the sunny side of life. It’s hard. Sure, my entire family helps, but none of them are his MOM. I can try to be the best dad I know how to be, but I still can’t be his mom. You CAN give your son a real family back. I get hurt pride about cheating and all that, but if you want my advice, I say screw it. Get over it, man, and get your girl back. She obviously feels bad, realized she wants you; she has swallowed her pride to run after you, she loves you, and you clearly still love her so much. If you didn’t, that would be another story, but you do. Be a family! Besides, it’s not like you met Vivien in some bar at some point. You two have known each other since you were little, since you were always Blaine’s little favorite out of all the cousins.”
“You know Eric, I am with you on that, and I want to, but I am so afraid too much too soon would break us up again. So far Nick’s fine with all that, but one false move, man, and I fucked up my kid for life.”
“Too soon? Bruh, you have known Vivien since you were toddlers. Well over 30 years! How much longer do you need?”
“It’s not that. But something made us break up. We need to figure out what that was and fix it first before even thinking about getting back together.”
“Liam. Do you STILL not get it, what broke you up has NOTHING to do with you not knowing each other or taking something slow, but EVERYTHING with you both being stubborn and egoistic. Especially her, but sounds like she realized that. No offense, but Vivien is pretty self-absorbed, always has been. And you were always so googoo gaga over her, you just bend and bend until you broke and lashed out. What you both need now is not distance but be together, so you can patch things up, like adults. You can’t do that remotely. And don’t miss your baby growing. I loved Emily being pregnant with Rhys. Never thought that would be the last time she and I both experience that.”
“You are making a lot of sense. Just how am I supposed to squeeze her, Nick and a baby into the Lake House? I put a lot of my savings into renovating it and all. And if not there, where would we live? I have very little desire to live in Del Sol Valley again. She threw me out because SHE owns that house, not us. And that other man was there, he nailed my wife there. Ugh.”
“Are you kidding me? I would give 20 years of my life to have my dead wife back here in this humble abode and you won’t go back to a fucking luxury MANSION in the FUCKING hills of Del Sol Valley because of another dude’s cooties?! You need a psychiatrist, man.”
“So what would you have me do then, Eric, in your infinite wisdom? I mean, since it sounds like it all so clear to you, enlighten me, cos I am driving myself insane with what I want and what I think I should be doing. Those options don’t line up at all, and I don’t even know how to straddle them both for a golden middle.”
“I tell you what. You said your new job sucked. You said you are lonely, want to be with Vivien and your son. So, if I were you, I’d tell my boss to take the job and shove it, pack my bags, fly to Del Sol Valley, knock on my ex-wife’s door, tell her how I feel about her and then hug my son until he can’t take it no more! Then go from there.”
“Dafuq Eric! Who needs the shrink now? Have you been watching sappy rom-coms with your mom? Nobody does BS like that in real life, because it just doesn’t ever work! I am sorry for wasting your time, man, but those photos won’t be happening today, I am just not in the mood for grinning. I’ll get you the money via Pay App, but I need to get outta here now.”
Liam left the room in long strides, angry, feeling not taken seriously, but Eric’s words resounded with him …