Three years later
Roy jumped up from his seat in the crowded gymnasium bleachers. “You’ve got to be kidding! Come on, Ref!”
Kellie tugged at the long sleeve of his shirt. “Sit down, boss, before you get tossed.”
He turned to face her as she sat next to him, her arm resting on her protruding belly.
“Did you see that! What kinda call was that?”
“A bad one. Just like the last one you protested. And the one before that. But you’re going to get tossed if you keep yelling at the refs. Besides that, you’re making Junior nervous. He’s squirming up a storm.”
She pressed her arm against her stomach.
Roy frowned. “Is that kid ’bout to pop out?”
“No, Sheriff, he’s not about to pop out.”
“He’s not due for another month. He’s not popping out in the middle of a big game like this. He wouldn’t do that to his dad.”
“He better not.”
Roy sat, turning his attention back to the game.
“Come on, Eagles, let’s get it done.” He glanced up at the scoreboard as the home team called for a timeout, the game tied with less than one minute left on the clock in the fourth quarter. He blew air from his cheeks as he ran his hand over his brow.
“You know, boss, you really shouldn’t let yourself get so worked up at these games. It can’t be good for your health,” Kellie continued.
“My health? There’s nothing wrong with my health. I’m as healthy as a horse.” Roy turned around in his seat. “Tell her, Charlie. Tell her how healthy I am.”
Sitting on the bleacher row just above them with Sally and Bobby, Charlene replied with a wide grin. “I assure you, Kellie, he’s quite healthy.”
“Told ya.” Roy settled back against the hard, concrete bleacher. When Charlene leaned over and kissed the top of his head while patting his cheeks, he took her hands in his and held them.
One of the two referees blew his whistle, and the two teams returned to the court. Roy stood, clapping his hands. “Come on, baby, you can do it. Take your time, run out the clock.”
Charlene, Kellie, and many of the other fans in the bleachers stood as well as Alexandra dribbled the basketball down the length of the court after taking the pass from her teammate under the other team’s basket.
Charlene held her breath as she watched her daughter take her time, directing her teammates where to take position once she crossed midcourt. Though never as vocal, she got just as nervous at these games as Roy.
“Come on, sweetheart. You can do it,” she whispered, holding her arms straight out at her sides, fingers crossed.
The Iraan Braves’ players had already taken their defensive positions under the basket, giving the Eagles plenty of space. Once within shooting range, Alex stopped dribbling. As two of the other team’s best guards closed in on her, she passed the ball to her teammate Inez.
Inez immediately faked a jump shot. When the Iraan guard left her feet to block the shot, the forward dribbled toward the basket. Instead of going all the way in for the layup shot, she stopped and passed the ball.
Waiting under the basket for that pass, Alex caught it, and immediately took the jump shot.
The final buzzer sounded just as the ball dropped through the net.
The fans filling the gymnasium went wild. The Lady Eagles had just won District 5 Varsity championship.
“Yes!” Roy pumped his fist in the air. “Yes!” he repeated as he turned to Kellie, who was also celebrating with whistles and cheers. They shared a high five.
When he turned to face Charlene, she saw tears in his eyes. He shook his head as he spoke.
“Unbelievable. She’s incredible, Charlie.”
“Of course she is, Roy. After all, she is your daughter.”
Roy sighed. “She’s fourteen years old. A freshman, for Christ sake. Leading the team. We gotta move from here, get her in a better, bigger school.”
“Roy, look at her. I think she’s pretty happy right where she is.”
They both glanced down at Alex on the gym floor. She was all smiles, celebrating the win with her fellow teammates, and accepting congratulations from them and fellow students.
Roy watched for a moment before turning back to Charlene. “How about you, Charlie? Are you happy here?”
He stepped up to her bleacher level. Taking her face in his hands, he planted his lips firms on hers. “God, I love you.”
“I love you, too. Now go! Celebrate with your daughter.”
She watched as he worked his way through the crowd to their daughter. When he reached her, Alex’s smile widened. She raised both hands high in the air. He touched his to both and leaned in, pressing his forehead against hers as he whispered something to her before pushing off to complete the high fives. The tender moment between father and daughter tugged at Charlene’s heart.
Three years before it had seemed impossible they would arrive at this moment. It had been a hellish journey at the beginning, but it had been worth every heart-breaking moment of it.
As she continued to watch, Charlene quickly relived the past three years in her mind, beginning the moment she returned to Dallas and confessed to Alexandra the truth she had kept from her for eleven years.
Alexandra had reacted just as she had predicted to Roy that Sunday afternoon in the mountains. At first, Alex refused to believe her. She insisted Andrew was her father and she would hear nothing to the contrary. She called Charlene every name she could think of—whore, tramp, slut to name a few.
"How could you do something like that to Daddy! He loved you!" Alex had cried.
“And I loved him. You don’t understand, Alexandra. You’re too young to understand.”
"I understand everything! You cheated on your husband with another man. You’re a horrible, horrible woman, and I hate you! And I will never forgive you! Never!"
She had screamed the words, tears streaming down her face, before storming out of the house.
She disappeared on her bike, ending up at her best friend Helen’s house nearby, where she stayed for several days, refusing to come home.
Fortunately, Helen’s mother, who Charlene had known for years, had been less judgmental when Charlene invited her over for a glass of wine and a chat. She gave the mother just enough background information for her to grasp the situation.
“Give her time, Charlene. She’ll come around. You’re a good mother, and you love her. And you were a good wife to Andrew. Alex knows that. And she’s welcome to stay here with us as long as she needs to sort it out.”
When Alex did finally come home, she refused to talk to Charlene and stayed locked in her room with her music playing full blast most of the time when she wasn’t at school or some other event.
Charlene had never felt more alone in her life. She didn’t see how anything would ever work out. Her daughter hated her. The man she loved hated her. And she deserved their hate, which she knew; she had betrayed them both. How could she expect them ever to forgive her?
Two weeks passed before she even heard from Roy.
“Did you tell her? How’d she take it?”
When she filled him in with everything, he was much more sympathetic than she expected.
“I’m sorry, Charlie. I know this isn’t easy for you.”
It wasn’t, but it wasn’t easy for Alexandra and Roy either. Charlene had turned her daughter’s world upside down. And she had cheated Roy out of the first eleven years of his daughter’s life. She didn’t deserve his pity, but she welcomed it nonetheless. It meant he did still care for her and that gave her hope he would someday forgive her.
She dreaded the moment she had to tell him there would be no visit Thanksgiving, that she had been too optimistic in her thinking that Alex would be ready to meet him that soon. His disappointment at the news had been heartbreaking.
“So, she doesn’t want even to meet me, have anything to do with me? You were right? She hates me, too?”
She had tried to ease his pain.
“Roy, she’s just hurt and confused. She feels betrayed. She hates everyone and everything right now. Everyone but Andrew. She just needs time to work through it all.”
They did make the trip to Valhorne for a few days during Christmas break, though it had taken much persuasion and bribery on Charlene’s part to get Alexandra to agree. It had been miserable. Alex made no effort to bond with Roy, no matter how hard he tried. She was rude to him the whole time, acting like the spoiled brat Charlene knew her not to be. She scoffed at the size and plainness of his home, bragging about the size of their own. She made fun of his small Christmas tree, though it was beautifully decorated. Though she didn’t ask, Charlene was sure he’d had help with it, and she suspected that help had come from Kellie.
Alex brought up Andrew as often as she could, always referring to him as my dad. My dad this, my dad that. She spent most of her time with her nose buried in her iPhone. When Charlene insisted she put it away, Alex complained.
“I want to go home. I don’t like it here. The town, like this stupid house, is too small, and it’s ugly. There is nothing to do here. I would die if I had to live here. And I don’t like him. He’s weird.”
Charlene pleaded with her, but to no avail.
“He is not weird. And he is your father. Can’t you at least try to get to know him? He very much wants to get to know you.”
“No” was the only response she received.
Christmas morning Roy surprised them both with a three-month-old puppy, an incredibly cute golden retriever.
Alex rejected it.
“I don’t like dogs.”
“That’s ridiculous, Alexandra. Of course you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“It’s okay,” Roy told her, his face and his voice full of disappointment. “So, you never had a dog, Alex?”
“How about a cat?”
“No, no pets. Daddy was allergic to them.”
“Oh, I see. That’s too bad.”
Alex had merely shrugged her shoulders. “Didn’t matter. I never wanted one anyway. They’re too much trouble, too messy.”
Later that same morning while Charlie helped Roy prepare Christmas dinner for the three of them, they caught Alex playing with the puppy in the living room. It was the first sign of any acceptance of anything to do with Roy. During the meal in Roy’s small dining room, Alex asked if she could name the puppy.
“Sure,” Roy had said. “Got something in mind?”
Charlene nearly choked on her sip of wine. Roy, however, calmly replied, “I think that’s a great name. I like it. Andy it is.”
“I like it, too,” Alex said as she reached down and petted the puppy sitting beside her chair.
The next visit during Spring break was better. Alex was eager to return to see Andy. They had all agreed Christmas it was best to leave the puppy with Roy. Alex insisted on bringing her friend Helen along this time, and Charlene approved the idea.
While there, they visited Roy’s office where they met Kellie, who was a big hit with both girls.
By summer, Alex and Roy were slowly starting to bond. She spent less time on her phone, and more time with him, showing more and more interest in him and his work.
He took her to the school gym a few times to shoot hoops. There she met and made friends with a few of the local kids, including a boy named James she quickly developed a crush on.
As the father and daughter relationship slowly improved, so did the relationship between Roy and Charlene, much to her relief. She had missed him terribly, had longed to be close once more.
When he slid his arm around her waist that summer as they stood in his kitchen watching Alex and Andy play outside, her heart skipped a beat.
“I miss you, Charlie,” he whispered in her ear as he buried his face in the curve of her neck.
She closed her eyes as she leaned back against him, taking great pleasure in his touch as he eased his hand under her blouse, his breath warm on her neck. When he brushed her hair out of the way and touched his moist lips on the back of her neck, a delicate shudder rolled throughout her body.
“I miss you, Roy. I miss you so much!”
That night she left the bed she shared with Alexandra in Roy’s guest room and joined him in his. She returned to the guest room in the wee hours of the morning, relieved to find Alex still sound asleep, and happier than she thought she would ever be again.
Though they slowly worked toward becoming the family she and Roy both wanted so badly not everything went smoothly.
Roy’s parents refused to accept his "bastard child by that woman." Raylene was more accepting than the parents—for Roy’s sake, Charlene knew, and not her own. Sadly, by the next Christmas Raylene had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She moved to El Paso where she could get treatment, including chemotherapy. Roy’s parents moved in with her to take care of her.
By the next summer, Raylene had lost the battle. Roy was heartbroken to lose his big sister, and even more so when his parents had her body cremated against his wishes. He had wanted her buried in the cemetery in Valhorne. His parents also chose not to return to Valhorne, but to remain in El Paso. Though she felt sorry for Roy, Charlene was relieved by that news.
Because of Raylene’s illness, Alexandra never had a chance to spend much time with her aunt and get to know her. For that, Charlene was thankful. The last thing her daughter needed was to lose someone else she cared deeply for.
That same summer Roy began construction on his dream house in the mountains. He did much of the work himself with the help of friends and co-workers on weekends. Even some of the local football players chipped in to help. What they all couldn’t do, Roy contracted out. Alex showed almost as much excitement about the house as Roy and enjoyed spending time there with him as he worked. When she wasn’t with him, she was at the gym shooting hoops with her new friends or going on day shopping trips to either El Paso or Lubbock with Kellie, who had taken Alexandra under her wing.
Though it was apparent he loved Kellie’s interest in his daughter, Roy also took great pleasure in giving his deputy a hard time about it.
“Don’t think buddying up to my daughter is going to score you any brownie points at work,” he would tease.
Kellie’s relationship with Coach Miller continued to blossom, and they married over a year ago. Kellie continued to work, though Roy assigned her to desk duty only for the last few months of her pregnancy.
Charlene watched her now as Kellie stood on the sidelines of the court with her arms resting on her stomach, watching Coach Miller celebrate the victory with his team. She smiled as it brought back memories of herself watching Roy celebrate his wins from the sidelines of the football field so many years ago.
She raised her left hand, focusing on her wedding ring. The princess cut diamond was smaller than the huge marquise diamond. Roy had tried to apologize at the time of his proposal, but she had quickly silenced him, touching her finger to his lips.
“I love it, Roy, it’s beautiful. And I love you.”
The beautiful June day five months ago when Roy put it on her finger as they said their I do’s in front of the local pastor with Alexandra standing next to them, and later that day carried her across the threshold of his completed dream home overlooking the city where they first met over twenty years ago was one of the happiest days of her life.
She left the ring she had worn as Andrew’s wife for so many years in a safe deposit box in Dallas along with her other expensive jewelry that had fit so perfectly with that life but would not with her new one. Someday in the future when the time was right, she would pass it all on to her daughter. But the memories of that life would remain with her always. She had loved Andrew, and would forever treasure the life she had with him.
She and Alexandra had cried the day they left Dallas. Leaving their home and friends of so many years had been difficult for them both, especially Alex. Saying goodbye to Andrew at the cemetery had been the hardest. Alexandra still missed him terribly, and Charlene could tell at times that she struggled with guilt at having accepted Roy as her father and forming a bond with him.
But they were both looking forward to their new life with Roy, though Charlene had reservations about moving back to the town she had once so hated. She assured herself it would be different this time. She was a different person. The meek, timid Charlene was gone and had been for many years. She could handle whatever diversity the town might throw her way. And she would be with Roy, the one true love of her life, and their daughter. Nothing else would matter.
Alex had looked forward to starting high school with her new friends. Of course, Coach Miller’s promise to her the first of the summer that she would have a starting position on the girls’ varsity basketball squad helped. That, and Sam, star of the boys’ basketball team—her latest crush—who had just now given her a quick kiss on the court, right in front of her dad, the County Sheriff.
What a brave soul the young man was, Charlene thought to herself, smiling. She could already hear Roy complaining later that evening.
“She’s just fourteen!”
That she was. A very mature, very beautiful, fourteen-year-old.
"Get ready, Roy, it’s just starting. Welcome to fatherhood!"
She watched as Roy, Sam, and Alexandra worked their way through the still-celebrating crowd toward her. As they neared, Alex waved and called out to her.
“Come on, Mom! Dad’s taking us all to Chuy’s for ice cream sundaes!”
“All?” Charlene asked as she worked her way down the bleacher steps to join them.
“Yes, the whole team!”
“Yum! Ice cream!” Kellie said as she and Coach Miller joined them. “We’re in!” She patted her stomach as she spoke.
Coach Miller laughed. “I’m not sure Chuy’s has enough ice cream for you two.” He touched Kellie’s belly as he leaned in and kissed her. “Whoa! The little guy has some kick!”
“Tell me about it!” Kellie replied.
“I’m telling you, kid’s gonna be a football player,” Roy said.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Coach Miller replied.
“Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance with you two guys,” Charlene teased. “He’ll play sports, no doubt.”
“Basketball,” Coach Miller said as they all started toward the exit doors.
“Football,” Roy said, taking Charlene’s hand in his as they followed behind Sam and Alexandra out the door.
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