Chapter 1: Her Life.
Monday, June 24th 2019.
Her day started easy enough, She woke up to a text message from her boyfriend.
Henry- Steph, the new water heater is paid for, if you have places to be, tell Abby that its is going to be there by noon. I also put money in your account, see you tonight!
Stephanie rolled out of her bed despite the warmth it offered. The curtains to her room are drawn from the night before to allow the sunlight to waken her. The light shines on her face as she crosses the room.
Stephanie put on her white cotton bathrobe, having hardwood floors throughout the home, she slips on her memory foam slippers onto her feet. Leaving the room Stephanie makes for the kitchen. The marble countertops gleam from her maid’s handiwork. Abby had been with Stephanie ever since Greg had been born.
Greg is Stephanie’s 7-year-old son, seven years seemed like lifetime ago.
“Miss Varon, I fixed you a plate.”
Stephanie doesn’t say anything as she takes a seat next to her eldest son. She waits patiently while a plate and a glass of fresh orange juice is placed in front of her.
“Mommy can I sleep over Pete’s tonight?”
This is the first Stephanie heard of this, he had just seen Pete at the park yesterday. Greg always waits until the last minute to inform her of his change in plans.
“When did he ask you to sleepover?”
“Yesterday, I was going to ask you, but I forgot…” He shrugs his little broad shoulders
“Well honey normally I would say yes, but it is daddy’s night to have us.”
“Can I call daddy and ask?”
“He is going to be busy today…”
“Please…” Stephanie laments and pulls her phone from the pocket of her robe.
Greg snatches the phone out of her hand.
“Hello” Says the voice of her boyfriend. She heard Henry on the other end faintly.
“Dad, can I sleep at Pete’s tonight?”
Stephanie heard the sound of a stern "no" on the behalf of her boyfriend.
“But why” Whines her son, he stomps his foot on her kitchen tile in frustration.
The boy listens to his father reasons, but he is not really listening, he is upset that his plans had been foiled.
Greg stands next to her extending the phone in his hand.
“Daddy wants to talk to you…”
“Stephanie, why is he still hanging around Pete Richards. That kid is two years older than him and no good. I had his father work for me, the guy is a total loser. I will not have the boy sleeping at that future felons house is that understood…”
Stephanie mumbles out a loudly audible…“Yes”
“I didn’t hear you is that understood?” Said the stern voice of her boyfriend.
“Yes sir” Stephanie finds herself saying. The rebuttal sounded like a church mouse sneezing rather than a voice from a 26-year-old woman.
“What time will you have dinner on the table, I will be getting back from Deland at 3.30, I would like to eat early…”
“I was hoping you were going to be home sooner; I have missed you… Um I am going to have the boys bathed around 3:45 after Greg’s piano lesson. I can have everything ready at four thirty?”
“Okay, if there is anything else just tell me tonight, I love you.”
And like that he hung up. Working two to three days per week took their toll on him.
Henry owned dozens of businesses, 35 to be exact. He owned at current, hotels, motels and his crown jewel had been his resort. The Monte Carlo in Melbourne Florida, had been his pride and joy these last two years, he always liked to be hands on with the businesses, in his early days he committed sometimes 20 hours per day and lived like that for years. Stephanie couldn’t argue the success of his methods they certainly paid off. His additional holdings consisted of several restaurants, a car dealership. And to her utter delight he is also a published author.
He had been writing since college which was before she knew him. He at current had two series and four singular novels. In addition, he had written five how to books on business. His most prized works were three textbooks, they were the most lucrative. They were brilliant tools. Nearly every single college in the country utilized them. And this man was all hers, well sometimes.
“Buddy go wash up and get on your uniform, we are going to leave for Karate soon…” Urges, Stephanie.
He son padded off to his room to get ready. Stephanie met him in the garage, she buckles her five-year-old Nathan into his car seat when Greg steps out with his white uniform.
“You are adorable…” she fawns over her son, as she strokes her fingers through his thick mop...
“Mom cut it out” Says Greg.
Her heart sinks, he used to be such affectionate little boy, now he seems resigned to give her grief anytime she showed love towards him. He hops in next to his brother. The family soon departs their two-story tudor home.
Stephanie and her family lived in a luxury neighborhood, American flags flap in the wind, every other house has an old glory hanging from a flagpole. This Central Florida neighborhood is located in the hills of Mt Dora. Lush green lawns cover the landscape among the many spec houses.
When she leaves the hills of Mt. Dora and she follows the road around Lake Dora. On her right is a large shopping center, she flicks the blinker of her Porsche Cayenne and drives along the turning lane.
“Honey, I am going to drop you off out front, I will be back in an hour and half. Call mommies cell phone if anything comes up.”
“Okay” Says Greg excitably, Greg loved to use his watch to call her.
At the sight of his friends, Greg bounds from the car and makes for the store front. Stephanie drives away and pulls back onto the main road.
“Looks like it is just us for now…”
Stephanie looks into her rearview mirror and sees the rosy cheeks of her second son Nathan. The corners of his mouth have formed into a smile.
“Can we have a milkshake?” He asks sweetly.
“Mommy will have to share with you…” She could survive a few spoonfuls.
“Can I have the cherry?” he inquires sheepishly.
Nathan kicked his little legs in excitement.
Stephanie had to wait in traffic, the snow birds had gone back, but that had done nothing to help the traffic congestion. Her boyfriend often speculated that it is due to the poor people being driven from Orlando to look for jobs here. Well she called them poor people, he called them a shower of bastards.
Their area of Lake County is very different from the rest of the state. Most of the county population is concentrated in the five towns of Mt Dora, Eustis, Tavares, Umatilla and Leesburg. However many people lived in the rural countryside. Thousands of farms with hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland make up this county.
Henry owned two ranches, one a 3,000 cattle ranch on 1800 acres. The second is their 2,000-acre retreat. He is so business savvy that he had made the estates profitable within years of their purchase. There is one last jem they she benefits from several times a year that is their private fifteen acre island on Lake Harris. But Stephanie loved the family retreat is more or less a farm with many animals, that was her special place where nothing went wrong.
Stephanie sat in her backseat to share the milkshake with her son. She holds onto the cherries stem as the boy proudly takes it off in one pull. She chuckled, at least one of her sons still loved her. They watched one of his favorite shows, “Paw Patrol”. Henry hated so see the children watch TV, in the car he allowed it, since the boys were quieter. At home they had to play games, or with toys but they could never have the TV on for cartoons.Henry allowed one or two family movies per week, the were heavily screened for unapproved content.
After their snack, Stephanie stopped at Publix to pick up a London broil. Her arm strained slightly at the 4-pound slice of beef. She bought several other things for dinner. By the time she had finished shopping and had driven back to the Karate studio. Greg had pushed the shop door open.
She had never had made Greg wait for her. Rolling down the window she greets her son. A women ten years her senior walk towards her. She tries to roll up the window so she can avoid her, no the older women stands at the window glaring down… All the other mothers were usually much older than she is.
Stephanie never let the age bother her, it was the snide conversations at the PTA about her being unwed the cut her inside. That is a topic Stephanie hated to be reminded of. Two days before her wedding her father made the fateful discovery that Henry visited a massage parlor. It was later proven that he owned the shopping center and sold the property, the person who informed on Henry forgot to mention he was with his solicitor and property surveyor.
It was three weeks until she had been convinced but the damage had been done, at 19 years old Stephanie tossed the massive engagement ring at her lover and stormed out. Her father always had it out for Henry. Stephanie is snapped out of daze while rolling the window back down.
“Hello Mrs. Richards.”
“Stephanie you are looking well.”
Greg had gotten into the car and rolled down the window and spoke to Pete who stood on the curb.
“Thank you Mrs. Richards.”
“Greg told me that you said he is not allowed to come to Pete’s sleepover tonight?”
“Gene that’s not what was said.” Says Stephanie, it is worse than she suspected her son had set her up, that sandbagging little shit!
“Please call me Mrs. Richards, I understand what it is like to be overprotective.”
“Mrs. Richards, it has nothing to do with being overprotective, in any case it was my boyfriend who has the objection to it.”
“Your excuses may work in the PTA but they won't work on me. That hus-, boyfriend of yours can be so stuck up. I want Greg dropped off by 7pm.”
“Mrs. Richards... Henry said no, that is the end of the discussion.”
“If he has a problem than he can tell me what it is… It is birthday season I would hate for Greg to miss out on Taylor Hand’s party, if he misses one sleepover people might suspect he is a troublemaker and someone might be uninvited. Drop him off at 7. Bye Greg see you tonight…”
“Bye” Says her son.
Stephanie is livid, who did that women think she was, she ordered Stephanie around like she is some derelict with no direction. ‘Fuck her’ Thought Stephanie. She could kill Greg for setting her up for an ambush like that, what was she to do ground him?
Henry would put the Richards women and Greg in their place soon enough.
Stephanie soon pulls into the town of Tavares. She entered from the east side of the town, she had to cross a set of train tracks but there she saw it one of her favorite places. The sleepy lakeside town gleams in the 90-degree heat. Easy on her gas pedal she drives through the town. On her right, she passes the train station, one of her boyfriend’s taverns is the first building that greets newcomers. It is called Henry’s Ruby Street Grill, she continues on main street, after the bar are Henry’s candy and ice cream shops. The two store fronts as usual have children lined up out the door.
Everywhere she looked in the town she could see Henry’s mark and family crest. After the restaurants she passes the record labels, again seeing his mark. Tavares in ten years had become dubbed as little Nashville. With 12 record labels setting up shop in town, the live music scene in Tavares give the city it’s life. The influx of musicians spurred the local housing market.
Nearing her destination, Stephanie encroaches upon a four-building resort by the lakeside. Pulling in behind one of the buildings she sees the owners parking spots are open. One of the bellmen is smoking a cigarette at the back of the building near the spots, he jumps at the sight of her exiting the car.
“Mrs. Stent do you need help with your groceries?” He inquires putting out his cigarette.
Stephanie didn’t correct him, Henry had over five thousand employees who worked for him, how were they to know that she was only their bosses baby mama.
“Yes, thank you.”
He put the items on a nearby cart, she carried Nathan as Greg followed behind the bellcart. She opened the door to the second-floor hotel room. There is a utility closet with a washer and dryer, there is also a spare refrigerator.
“I have to get the boys inside please put the stuff on top of the washer and dryer.” She slipped him a twenty-dollar bill, she didn’t want Henry’s staff calling her cheap.
“Thank you, Mrs. Stent. “
The kitchen is on her left as she enters the main room, there is a doorway on the right before the piano, leading to the boy’s bedroom and the playroom. The main room doubles as the dining room and living room. The doorway on her left leads to Henry’s bedroom and the last room is Henry’s study. The double pocket doors are firmly in place keeping the study closed to all but Henry. She places Nathan on the kitchen table when the phone on the wall rings.
“Hello this is the front desk, I have a piano teacher here at the desk?” The girl calling from the front desk sounds very unsure with her line of questioning.”
“He said his elevator key isn’t working. I will need you to come down to the desk with your id. I don’t see any name listed for room 209. Are you sure that you are supposed to be in the room? In any case the instruments in certain rooms are for show and are not to be played after dusk.”
“209 is the owners suite, I am his girlfriend, the piano teacher is coming to teach his son. Give the teacher a disposable key.”
“I will still need you to come down or I can’t issue the key.”
“How long have you been working here?”
“There is no reason to be taking a tone with me miss, I am only trying to do my job.”
“How long?” Demands Stephanie.
“Then this is your first week alone, they should have told you that for the most part the owner’s family can do whatever they want! Put your manager on the phone.”
Stephanie waits, she anxiously taps her foot on the floor while she looks at the time. Henry would be returning home soon. She should have started dinner.
“Stephanie! It is Cindi the front desk manager. I am so sorry for Jessica, it is her first day on the desk without someone over her shoulder. I have reactivated the teacher’s key he should be there in a moment. I am so sorry again.”
Stephanie hangs up the phone without saying goodbye.
A little while later there is a knock at the front door. Preparing the steak with pepper and salt Stephanie wipes her hands on her pink apron as she approaches the door. A grey-haired man smiles at her when he sees her.
“Hello, Mrs., I mean Miss Stephanie.”
“Mr. Fargus come on inside.”
The piano teacher makes his way into the main room. Inside the living room is a stunning and shiny Yamaha, two pedal saloon style piano.
“Mr. Stent, are you ready to get started?”
From the kitchen Stephanie can keep a bird’s eye view on her son’s progress. Nathan pulls on her apron as she sets the steak aside and places the casserole inside the oven.
“What Is it sweetie?”
“Mommy can I play in daddy’s study?”
“No honey you know he doesn’t like anyone in there when he isn’t here.”
She leads the little boy by his hand through the doorway on the right. Henry had used this unit since he started out as a lowly hotel manager. When he eventually came to own the hotel, he had kept the unit, in addition he gutted and reconfigured the unit next door. Now the apartment had two extra bedrooms and a playroom. One rooms the boys shared, the other featured a full-sized bed for visiting family.
The playroom is the first room that is entered from connecting door. Stephanie looks around the spotless room, the playroom at her house isn’t tidy like this. She sees a row video games on the shelf, Henry had allowed the children to play certain video games provided they were educational. On the entertainment center is a locked box with the Xbox controllers.
Knowing the combination, Stephanie places the game in the Xbox and hands him the controller.
“Okay honey you can only play until Greg is done with his lesson.”
With Nathan tended to she gets back to cooking. While cooking she listened to her son play the piano, he is very gifted. All mothers think their sons are special, but Greg is truly gifted, he had been counting since the age of two, solving math problems by 4. When he had been accepted to Mensa, Henry had been elated, as a result he pushed the boys mentally, sometimes it is a bit intense…
Stephanie felt slightly off about how hard Henry bares down on the boys, but seeing how the boys were kind and obedient she couldn’t complain. He controlled every aspect of their lives and by extension hers, but she lived a wonderful life.
Henry had even owned the private school that the boys attended. The teachers gave the boys a customized curriculum, these classes were cleverly disguised so that they would have other kids. But were solely catered to their benefit, but the other children had gained superior education by extension. Still for her boys to be raised with such privilege sometimes frightened her. Then again what is she a second-year grad student going to say to Henry, stop caring for our children?
The steak had just finished and had been placed on the table with the sides by 4:15 sharp, at 4:31 the front door opened. A black Labrador pads into the room first. Jet is four years old, she had a roundish mid-section. The dog goes to her water bowl. After the dog walks in the man she loved.
He is just about five feet, seven inches. His shoulders are broad, his face comely and his torso flat. His black hair is slightly shaggy for his standards, but by modern standards he is well put together, not a hair is out of place. He sets down the keys to his Italian sports car and loosens the tie around his neck.
Stephanie meets him in the doorway, he wore an obnoxious frown, seeing her in the apron the anger leaves his face. His hands grip her while he pushes her into the molding, they stood at kitchen entrance. Henry begins to softly kiss her neck tenderly. Her face becomes red, the noise from the piano lesson is playing in the background, the smell of the fresh food it was tender moments like this that had her put up with this life.
“Your feisty today…” She mutters.
“Been a long day I have been looking forward to this since Thursday.”
Stephanie allows him to nuzzle on her neck from a moment, the children were occupied and the scent of cooking filled the air. When their embraced ended Stephanie found her way to the fridge. She places a cold beer in his hand. He only ever drank directly after work when he is stressed out. He leans against the countertop and takes a small sip of the beer before he pours it into a glass.
Slipping on an oven mit Stephanie pulls the casserole out, the steam billows out of the corners of the Pyrex dish. The lines on Henry’s forehead began to relax when he sees dinner is close at hand, he had his eyes closed and listens to their son on the piano.
“He is really getting better” Remarks Henry.
“There is something I have to tell you, but first can you get Nathan to wash up, dinner will be ready soon.”
The noise from the piano dies away as Henry walks into the main room. He nods to the piano teacher. Stephanie sees Henry pass through the connecting door towards the playroom. She placed everything on the table as Greg and his teacher walk towards him.
Stephanie has a stack of folded cash for the teacher.
“How did he do?”
“As usual he shows great promise, he will be a music man yet.”
Stephanie beams down at her son with pride. She shows the teacher to the door and then retrieves a bottle of red wine from the storage room. Once the bottle is opened, she pours two glasses. By the time the food is laid and the wine and milk poured, Henry had returned with Nathan in his arms. He places the boy in a booster seat.
Henry sat across from Nathan as Stephanie and her boyfriend took up the heads of the table.
“So, Greg how was Karate?” Asks Henry.
“It was fun I broke two boards with my feet, Pete broke four boards!”
“That’s really cool. Nathan what did you and mommy do?”
“We had a milkshake and went shopping.”
“Mommy what time are we leaving for Pete’s?” Asks Greg.
Henry had taken a sip of his wine, he glares at Stephanie. She sets her utensils down and clears her throat.
“Henry that was the thing a told you I had to speak to you about…”
“Actually, Stephanie I think I left something in the study would you help me look for it.”
Stephanie followed behind Henry, his study is a square room that overlooks the blue water of Lake Dora. The walls are red, and there is a map of Lake County Florida, on the wall leading towards the bathroom. In the pop out window on the other side of the room is a plush high-back leather armchair. Any available wall space is covered with bookshelves.
In front of his chair he has a coffee table that is made with elephant feet as the tables base. There are mounts on the wall of different bucks he had shot over the years. One wall features a massive white board used to draft his stories.
“I thought this was taken care of?” Inquires Henry with a tone of annoyance.
“That Richards women wouldn’t take no for an answer… You have seen her in the PTA meetings. I didn’t say yes, but she wanted him there by 7:00. She even had a vague threat that if he didn’t go tonight it might stop him from being invited to Taylor Hands birthday.”
The Hands were a wealthy family like they were. Every year their son Taylor had an amazing party. This year they had rented out Volcano Bay, Volcano Bay is a massive waterpark. 100 invitations were to be sent out. Henry had been talking about this party for a few weeks.
“I hate this woman, she muscles the board of governors of my school into allowing a PTA. She has been holding onto power like an African dictator. I will say that she has more balls than that gutless husband of hers.” Snipes Henry
“Henry, Greg is expecting to go, what are we going to do?”
“He sets his mother up for an ambush and he still thinks that he is going to this sleepover. I will take care of it…”
Henry pulls out his Android mobile phone.
“Give me her number” Demands Henry.
He holds Stephanie’s iPhone while he dials Gene Richards number.
“Ha, you used that picture from her when she was fifty pounds heavier. I’ll have to send this to Mike.” Jokes Henry as he waits for the line to connect. He clicks the speaker button for Stephaine to hear.
“Mrs. Richards, it is Henry Stent.”
“Mr. Stent, I assume you are calling in regard to Greg coming to my house at 7:00 for a sleepover, please have him bring a sleeping bag.”
“Yes, I heard about this sleepover. Henry will not be attending this sleepover. He has a Spanish lesson at 11 and we are going to the market as a family before-.”
Henry is cut off, he does not like to be cut off during conversation.
“Mr. Stent it is the summer, I told that woman of yours that Pete wants his friend at his party.”
“First when you speak about Stephanie you will use a more civil tone” He pauses letting her shriek into the phone.
But he doesn’t hold out for long, Henry is known to have a uncontrollable temper.
“Who the fuck, do you think you are talking to? You know what he is uninvited, don’t be surprised if the other mothers don’t want their children around a basket case?”
“I know exactly who I am talking too. A keeping up with the jones, mortgaged to the hilt woman with a no-good loser for a husband. But with thighs as large as your ego, who could blame your husband for dipping his wick in anything that rolls her R’s.”
“You’re a racist pig!”
“And fuck you too cunt, I wouldn’t want my son being with your loser kid one moment longer. Another thing you threaten my son’s social life again, consider all four of your children expelled! Keep in mind that the nearest decent school is going to be in Orlando. I am sure the two-hour commute, five days a week will be enough to allow trash like you and your family to learn their place...”
“You can’t do that?”
“Why because you hold onto the PTA president position like Stalin? I am the Chancellor of the school I can expel any person I don’t think fits my schools’ values. And your adulterous family of lechers are prime candidates for expulsion, I dare you too fucking test me. If my little boy becomes uninvited from any birthday party prepare to resign your children to a life as blue-collar workers.”
Henry hung up the phone and Stephanie looks at him dumbfounded. Her hand covers her mouth in disbelief.
“What did you do? She is going to lose her shit!”
“Who fucking cares, I meant what I said.”
Henry sticks his head out of the pocket doors to the study and calls to the table where the boys eat their steak.
“Come here boy we have to talk about something…”
“oooo” Says Nathan mocking Greg.
“Shut up” Replies Greg.
“Don’t get testy with him boy, your in trouble not him! Your mother and I say no to you. So, you have your friends mother corner your mother for Pete’s sleepover... Listen closely! You best tell him your no longer friends because you will never, I repeat you will never be allowed to go to Pete’s house! Finish your dinner, I don’t want to see a single piece of meat missing off that plate or you won’t be allowed over for a month!”
Henry had taken his love away from the boys as punishment before. When he did this the entire family suffered. Stephanie was not spared from this punishment. One year ago, Greg had broken Henry’s computer, he lost an entire book. A story he worked five months on.
He nearly made the boy pick a switch, but thanks to Stephanie’s urging he moved on to a harsher, but less physical draconian tactic. It was cruel, he would tell the boys to their faces that he did love them and did not want to see them. He would ignore their calls and use Stephanie to communicate with them. This trick always worked. But that last time the punishment lasted four months.
Greg walks back to the table holding his head low as he takes his seat. He quickly begins lifting pieces of steak into his mouth. Soon the only things left on the plate were his sides.
“I finished my food may I be excused?”
“Yes, go get your pajamas on, I will read you a book before bed.”
While Stephanie picks up the plates after they finish their meal, Henry carries Nathan already in pajamas into the study. Stephanie sees Greg exit the annex and walk towards the study. He wore one of her favorite kids’ pajamas.
Greg’s onesie is green, it has a tail with cotton dinosaur scales. His feet looked like little dinosaurs feet. He had the hoodie part down or he would have looked like the world's most adorable T-Rex. Stephanie closes the dishwasher and places her apron onto the hook in the kitchen. To join the family’s story time, she walks towards Henry’s Study.
Sitting cross legged on the floor are the two boys they look up at their father as he pulled out a story. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Henry cleared his voice as his boys eagerly look on. They both been begging to have Harry Potter read to them. For years Henry had held off as he didn’t feel they had the cognitive ability to understand the complexity of the story.
Since Greg could spell better than most adults Henry finally caved last Thursday. The dusty copy that Henry held was the exact copy his adolescent eyes had scanned many years previous.
Using a very authentic non-cockney British accent he begins to read out loud. Stephanie takes a seat behind Nathan. She pulls him into her lap. Her son snuggles into her lap as the three of them hang on every word Henry says.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say they were normal, thank you very much.”
Nathan and Greg listen to every word, Henry read three chapters. When he placed a blue bookmark between the end of chapter three and the start of chapter four. Greg began to protest.
“Dad can you read one more?”
“No, we have to all be up early tomorrow you two need to get to bed, besides I think Nathan has had enough.”
Stephanie cradled her fast-asleep little boy. He had struggled to keep his brown eyes open, he had managed this task last until the final four pages of chapter three. After that it was lights out. Henry placed the book on his leather seat and holds his arms out for his youngest son.
Stephanie passes Nathan to his father.
Henry's powerful arms lift and carry the boy effortlessly as he walks him to their bedroom. He gently places Nathan into his bed while Stephanie tucks in Greg.
“Mommy?” Asks Greg.
“Yes, baby do you need some water?”
“No, I am fine, do you think they are having fun at Pete’s.”
His voice had some hurt in its tone, and his eyes show disappointment. Stephanie glanced over to Henry who just pulled the covers over Nathan. Henry’s eyes showed empathy. Stephanie sits down on the edge of the bed and strokes Greg’s thick black hair. He looks more like his father every day.
“I am sure they are but we had fun tonight, tomorrow we will do something as a family, go to sleep and we will have fun in the morning. I love you.”
Stephanie kisses him on his forehead and the two parents leave their children to dream endlessly until the morning.
Greg closes the door to the annex and walks to the kitchen, he still had his dress shirt and slacks on. He had picked up his key ring.
“Let’s go and get a drink.” He tells her.
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Preston TuckerWrite a Review