"Hey Vangie, mom and I were just talking about the need to finalize our travel plans for Christmas—you know, where the Williamson women holiday in exotic locales and leave our humdrum lives behind forever. Mom swears she’s cool with any place we want to go as long as we’re off the east coast. Whaddya’ think?"
"And you believe her?" Evangeline sits back in her office chair and refrains from glancing at her mounting pile of files, "Sure she likes the IDEA of Christmas with someone else dealing with the cooking, decorating and stress, but the reality of a Rocky Mountain Christmas, or swimming in blue, blue Caribbean waters is just not truly mom’s idea of happy holidays."
"She said she needs a change; a break. So lets see if she’s really for real, we’ll tell her to leave the plans to us and we’ll pick a destination or three, buy her ticket, set-up everything. It’ll be great and we all need a new world view and definitely time away from Llanview’s endless drama can only be a good thing."
"The drama queen wants a drama break? How did that happen?"
"The holidays should reenergize, refresh, get us revved for 2006; come on, mom wants something new the question is, Van, do you? I told her you’d call her back before day’s end."
"Because you’ve been ducking and avoiding her since her last visit; she knows McBain’s moved on, she’s not going to point fingers or anything. Come on, you’re much better at turning plans into reality with confirmation numbers and all that than I am." Layla paused to see how the mild guilt trip was working out, "You know you’ve been avoiding having any sort of long talk with Lisa, the holidays are here she’s your mother and you can’t dodge her forever."
"My mother only, huh?" laughing Evangeline knows it’s time to give in "Alright I’ll call her and get things set for our vacation but only because she’s MY mother and don’t you forget it when her only daughter gets all the great gifts!"
Early December and Lisa Williamson is pushing for a start to early packing for the trip, leaving extensive and detailed phone and e-mail messages to her daughters’ dismay.
"You see, she couldn’t bug us like this when she goes into her ‘on top of everything mode’ if YOU hadn’t insisted she fully join-up with us in cyberspace." Layla’s tone was both wailing and exasperated as she picked at her meal, "Mom has IM down."
Rubbing her temples Evangeline glared across the table at her little sister, "I made it an issue because YOU weren’t keeping in touch by phone or snail mail." She pushed back from the table, "so I was fielding endless questions and calls from mom; it’s easier if you do your own dodging and leave me out of it."
Layla’s sullen silence gave Evangeline yet another moment to consider if there was any escaping this family holiday trip—it had seemed like a fun idea in September when Lisa and Layla first suggested it, by October a little less fun and now that it was looming in her face Van felt in her bones this was a rotten idea. She just wasn’t in the holly jolly mood. Her Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukah shopping list was untouched because she knew she couldn’t enter a store without snarling at the first person that bumped into her or wished her holiday cheer.
The fallout from the faux John Doe/Cristian reveal and debacle was far from over, the town was still roiling and reeling from the revelations that Cris was alive and Carlo Hesser’s hand was behind it all teamed with Tico Santi. By the time all the dots were connected Hesser had bought a get outta jail free card—and promptly skipped town. Of course, John was on suspension and Internal Affairs was building quite a case; and the Vega/Lord/Buchanan families were not pleased with John McBain at all. The only reason he wasn’t already road kill by one of them was because they were too focused on the shamble of Jess and her alter Tess. Still his law enforcement career could be over by the time the calendar flipped to 2006, Van knew that for John losing his life’s work would be worse then death.
To be away from all things Llanview had propelled Van’s agreement for a faraway trip. Now she had to admit she didn’t even want to see, much less deal with, any of her relatives either. Bad enough nine days on land, sea and in the air with her mom and sister trying to distract her and cheer her up, worse, now that the rest of the family would make their way to meet up with them when their ship docked in LA to ring in 2006 together. Evangeline felt her control melting away at the thought of all that togetherness and feared screaming out how much she just wanted to be alone. They would all say she’d been alone too much lately, had already spent far too much time thinking and obsessing about what went wrong with a man they’d all warned her was less than worthy of her. They were wrong though, she’d stopped replaying and rethinking all the moves in their relationship when Layla handed her the truth about "John Doe". Now she was angrily puzzling over how a smart, aware woman such as herself could misread someone so completely. You believe you know someone, make love with him, trust him, fall in love and not realize he’s in serious need of sustained, long-term professional help from someone well-versed in handling complex emotional issues. Well, one thing was true—John’s problems were no longer her concern, she couldn’t fix him, hell, she didn’t even remotely understand him and she never, ever knew him.
That evening Evangeline started composing an e-mail to Lisa: "Mom, I hate to pull out of the trip on such short notice but Nora’s still gravely ill, her daughter Rachel is coming back into town again and I’m thinking I should spell her at the hospital. Isn’t Christmas about giving of yourself to others’ especially in a time of need? That’s what I’ll be doing and you can use one of my gifts to you to e-mail me photos of you and Lay having a wonderful time." That wasn’t a complete lie she really would help out Rachel in any way, even sitting for hours with Nora as painful as it is to see her so unresponsive. Maybe she’d volunteer to serve meals at the Love Center on Christmas and New Year’s evening and day. ‘Tis the season, after all. The arrow sat steadily over ‘send’, moved to ‘cancel’ and came alive as Van clicked on ‘save draft’, sighed and shut down her computer. "Am I a coward or what? A grown woman who can’t just say THIS is how I want to spend my holidays to her family. Private cruise ship and ports of call, here we come."
The remaining weeks went into fast forward then it was December 21st and they were dockside in Sausalito, California greeted by the Captain and her crew and boarding a four-masted ship with twenty-five strangers. They were led to their adjoining cabin suites and started settling in. "Now, if you don’t have a yacht to call you very own this is the next best thing; there aren’t many hotels with accommodations to match this. Cookie, thank you this is so wonderful." Lisa beamed and gushed.
"Yes, Cookie, thank you—I’ll ante up my share as soon as I get that final call back while we’re in Cali, I know this part is mine and the timing! Us on the west coast just as they’re making the final decisions?" tossing her hair and plopping down on Lisa’s sofa Layla was confident, "I’m telling you, you’re laughing but you’ll see this part is for Layla Williamson, I told the producers accept no substitutes!"
"Okay, sweetheart, I hope you’re right but can we put our professional lives on pause and enjoy the holidays as a family?" asked Lisa as she swatted Layla’s feet off the couch.
"Sure, but mom…"
"Or should we discuss how a child of mine became a professional girlfriend and nanny to someone named Antonio Vega?"
"We should tour the ship and get our bearings." Layla says standing quickly.
"Hmmm, yes I suppose we should. Evangeline?"
"I want to finish unpacking, maybe a nap. You two explore and tell me all about it. Later."
Stretching out across the bed of her floating vacation home Van resolves to fully embrace time away and spent with her family, placing 2005 firmly in her past, "I have a pretty terrific life and a wonderful future" she mused aloud, "If I just open myself to it and accept what comes to me." Sitting up she glances in the full length mirror across the bedroom and is greeted by a fully happy smile reflecting back at her and she relaxes to the lull of waves slapping against the hull.
"Vange? You awake?"
"I am now." She replied leaving the bedroom and heading for the spacious sitting room and the door.
"Oh, you weren’t sleeping or unpacking. What have you been doing? Mom and I have seen and been seen. This is some great way to bring in the holidays and welcome the New Year. How did you hook us up?"
"You know what squirt? I think you’re right we’re going to have a fabulous Christmas and New Year with family, new folks, food and fun." Hearing a sound they swiveled toward the doorway, smiled and beckoned for their mother to join them as Van continued. "A former client of mine mentioned his private charters would be available to me whenever I wanted to take a little journey by sea. This Tall Ship holiday cruise is one of his most exclusive trips—invitation only—this time stopping in Maui, several smaller, private Hawaiian Islands, the big island and an L.A. journey before heading back to the Frisco Bay. Maybe next year we’ll charter something from him just for the family and have the yacht to ourselves."
"You know, your Uncle Henry gets seasick." Lisa said from her adjoining doorway, "that’s one way to keep him quiet, very quiet…and out of sight!" Mother and daughters shared a wicked laugh.
The yacht moved quickly once it left port and cleared the Bay heading for open sea where the Captain cut the engines, ordered all sails unfurled and turned into the warmth of the late afternoon sun. The women changed and laid out on deck soaking up the rays and greeting the other passengers all of whom felt just as privileged and special to be on board for the holiday cruise. As the sun crossed the sky and its light started to dim they rose and dressed for dinner.
"I can’t wait to hear the trio booked for this trip—I saw them on a tv special a few months back and friends of mine who took a cruise earlier this year heard them and said they were fabulous." Lisa exclaimed to their dinner companions "I was so excited when I saw the name when we boarded. Have you heard them?" Several of their tablemates had and agreed with enthusiasm, "Now that they’ve brought on a vocalist they’re even more versatile with a big band or small orchestra sound but they haven’t lost that intimate feel. I’ve heard this singer before and she’s terrific and has quite a following, her name’s Eve McBain."
Everyone went on blithely talking; mercifully neither her mom nor Layla looked at Evangeline for a reaction. Involuntarily Van put her hands over her face as a soft "oh, no" escaped her glistening, painted mouth, "Are you alright young lady?" the distinguished elder seated next to Van asked with concern. "This sea air and constant motion can sneak up on you after a day of sun and heat."
"I’m fine, really. Have you heard this quartet?"
"Yes, and the singer truly is superb—I’ve never heard all of them play together but I’m very familiar with each of the musicians, everyone’s in for quite a treat."
Later, walking along the deck heading to their suite of rooms Lay notices Van’s tight grip on the rail, "Are you ok, you got awfully quiet during dinner."
"Just tired, it’s been a long day: east coast to west coast and now out to sea. It’s just catching up to me."
"Cookie, I know something’s wrong, what? You know you can’t flinch every time you meet a McBain—it’s a common enough Irish name isn’t it?"
"I suppose, but Eve McBain is John’s mother—it’s her, she’s a singer, a good one and she works the cruise ships and special charters. WHY didn’t I think to ask who the entertainment was for this trip?"
"Ohhh Cookie." Lisa and Layla said in unison and the concern in their eyes was too much when Van wasn’t sure how she felt knowing she was going to run into John’s mother sooner or later. "Look, she doesn’t know me from Adam so it’ll be fine. Really it’s all good."
"I’m sorry, what? You've never met the man’s mother? You were with John for a year!" Lisa’s eyes sparked with indignation for her daughter.
"We’ve met; I was still with RJ at the time. I’m sure she won’t remember and I won’t remind her. Please, just leave Mrs. McBain alone—she’s not responsible for her son’s actions anymore than you’re to blame for ours. I’m going to my room, I want to think or rather not think for awhile. Goodnight." Feeling chilled Evangeline pulls her turquoise wrap tight across her shoulders as she heads back to her suite.
"Damn that John McBain! Oh, sorry mom."
"You should be Layla. This requires more of damn, damn, triple-damn!! I didn’t think John and Evangeline would last but I never anticipated her heart being broken, that she would fall so deeply for him. I need a McBain’s perspective and I think John’s mother being on this trip is a sign."
"Mom no, Vange said no."
"I’m doing this for her; and I would do the same for you. Now where’s that good-looking steward you were eyeing earlier? I’m sure he knows what time the band will perform each night and what cabin Mrs. McBain is in, we’re just going to talk mother-to-mother."
Meanwhile, Evangeline had just finished cursing under her breath, calling herself every kind of twit for getting completely turned around, confused and unable to figure out how to get where she wanted to be. The yacht was large but she thought she had been paying attention to the location of their suite of cabins. Actually, she knew she’d been attentive and now had to admit thoughts of John had her walking around blindly missing the correct stairs and turns. Stopping she leaned back and drew a ragged breath that was more sob then inhaling, Van tried to breath deeply and release her misery and find her way back home.
Leaning against the cool metal wall Evangeline relaxed for a moment and just watched the ocean move, tried to recapture her affirmation to have a wonderful time with her mom and sister while looking forward to seeing the rest of the family. Good things were coming her way and soon she would look back fondly on most of her relationship with John McBain and feel glad that she had known him—after all, the time they spent together had opened the path for her to want more than a great career. Before him she hadn’t realized she really wanted a family life, Van was putting John behind her and after him she felt sure someday she would have it—with compromises along the way, sure, but still it would be a happy, happy life. She wished him the same.
Turning from the stars reflected on the gently moving waves Evangeline focused, looked around and discovered the way back home. She figured if she hurried she could still be back in her cabin before Lay and her mom got there and questioned her for taking so long. But she didn’t rush off instead taking off her shoes Van delighted at the contrast of coolness on her feet from the deck, the wind's breath on her shoulders from a night breeze while the humid air made the rest of her body feel cosseted in warmth. Pushing strands and tendrils from her face and grasping her shoes straps Van turned once more and sent acknowledgment to Mother Nature and the heavens for a glorious view.
Her hand on the railing she picked up her pace without looking until she bumped into someone hard enough to rock her back on her heels and begin to lose her footing. Instantly she was saved and her shawl reeled back in as it launched itself for the open sea—she knew those hands as well as she knew her own, didn’t have to turn around to know the voice was low, soft and inviting. "I know you want to avoid me but throwing yourself overboard is, well, extreme."
"No, John, no how did you get here? You can’t be here, I’m hallucinating."
But she wasn’t of course, and if she had any doubts the fact that his hand was still splayed across the small of her back where it belonged as the other held onto her billowing wrap was proof enough. Looking up into his eyes Evangeline felt more than saw the anguish hidden in their depths. Those same eyes confirmed that this was indeed John in the flesh.
"Lost or taking the night air?"
"How long have you been on board? How did you get on this ship? Don't tell me after years of neglect you've decided to visit your mother?"
"Well, I can't go into work; you won’t deal with me so there's no thing left for me in Llanview. It's the holidays and mom suggested we catch up on each other's lives."
"Michael's here too?"
"No, he had to work so he'll meet us, with Shannon, when the ship docks in Maui. We decided to have a brief family vacation and holiday. You too? I saw your mom and I figure Layla and your uncles are nearby."
"Not my uncles, no. I’ve been meaning to call or visit and see how you’re holding up under everything."
"But you haven’t."
"It never really felt like a good idea with so much hurt between us. I finally decided not to keep picking at the scab."
"I would rip it right open and leave a scar if I thought it would make a difference for you—a good difference. If it would help to reexamine and discuss it all, I would give a lot for you not to hate me."
"Yeah, I know you don’t hate me. It’s much worse you’re deeply disappointed in me; I’ve lost your trust and respect right along with your love. Well, if you ever do decide to visit I’m not at the Angel Square Hotel anymore. Michael and I have rented a town house not too far from the hospital." His chuckle lacked real mirth, "Clearly, he feels the need to watch me and make sure I don’t do anything drastic and stupid, or should I say do anything else. And he makes sure I keep my therapy appointments. It’s amazing how important clean laundry and vacuuming become when you don’t want to sit for 52 minutes baring your soul to a stranger."
Nodding tentatively she forges ahead and asks what she’s been curious about for so long, "So are you hoping the department will reinstate you if you show you’re in counseling; like Antonio did with his anger management issues and seeing Rae Cummings?"
"No, I’m hoping that you’ll give us another chance if I prove myself to you, demonstrate that I can and will change for you and for a chance at us. I WANT to be better. Of course, knowing I have a way to support us…would help."
He loved leaving her speechless, she so rarely was. John watched as her tongue worked the inside of her mouth absorbing all he had said, all he had just shown was already done by him as he walked a path of redemption with her.
"Now I’m a priority?"
"Always were, always will be."
"And the yucky love stuff including the ‘L’ word?"
"I’m working the issues in my sessions with the doctor. But keep in mind except for the Cris/John Doe crap most everything else that blew up in my life recently including what happened between us, was all because you left me. You said if I gave you a just a little reason, some encouragement, you’d stick with me forever. You broke your word, hell; you flat out lied to me."
For a moment Evangeline considered not putting her hands on her hips, rotating her neck and tapping her foot then she decided ‘the hell with the stereotype this way he’ll know just how pissed off he’s made me.’ "John, clearly you need to double your sessions, they’re not working and you’re delusional to the point of insanity. Yes, I left you but what choice did you leave me? You wanted me out and you made damn sure I walked," throwing up her hands she continues "You know we’ve gone around this before and I REFUSE to do this again. It’s a big ship, more so with few passengers, we can and will avoid each other!"
"Evangeline wait, it came out wrong as usual. I’m not accusing you, well, yes I am but…oh hell, you’re right it’s over and we both need to let go!" They glared at each other until he coughed in annoyance then looked at her hair in the moon’s light and shifted gears, "Let me walk you back to your room, things can happen on a ship wandering around lost and alone."
"I was never more lost and alone then when I was with you!"
"I tried, forget it." John snapped back angrily then strode away.
Mid-morning on Christmas Eve Day and Layla’s fidgeting in Van’s cabin as they wait for Lisa to join them to go exploring on Maui. She was very late and Evangeline had gone into lawyer mode and started cross-examining Layla. "Mom said there was someone she needed to see to finish up an interrupted conversation, that’s all I know."
"Well, there aren’t that many people on board so if you describe the woman, it’s a woman right?" Layla nodded and remained silent, "Well then we can narrow it down and go look for them, they probably started gabbing and forgot the time. What does she look like?"
"I have no idea."
"Did mom give a name? Come on Lay, what are you hiding? Tell me or I tell about that little ski trip you took senior year of high school with Whitney, whom mom assumed was a girl."
"That’s in the rearview, I’m a grown woman and past it."
"I can assure you Lisa Williamson won’t be amused and won’t let it go easily. You went with a boy; you lied by omission and misdirected…need I go on? Who is mom with?"
"Eve McBain, they’re having a mom-to-mom moment."
"Dear Lord, no! Why? Why didn’t you stop her, why didn’t you tell me?!"
"Lisa’s fierce you know that; she wanted face time with John’s mother, more so when you told us he’s on board. She’s probably cornered John as well."
"Cornered is such a harsh word, dear. I had an eye-opening talk with Eve, it was mutually beneficial, and we arrived at an understanding. Layla the last launch is about to leave shall we go?"
"What about me? Am I under punishment?"
"I have a few final Christmas gifts to get for you which I put off until we docked here. You can’t be with me while I shop, sorry it’s non-negotiable."
"I’m banned from Maui until the afternoon? Okay, what did you do that you don’t want me to know about?"
"You need to speak with the person that knows John best and I’ve arranged for that to happen. If you finish early and feel up to it join us, the Captain said a launch will head back here in two hours so you can meet us for lunch at that rotating restaurant we talked about then we can go sightseeing."
"I really don’t want to speak to Eve or any other McBain."
"Then don’t, just listen. I raised you to be polite, so you will listen politely until all that needs to be said has been said. We’ll see you later today."
Giving up the idea of ignoring the persistent knock on her door Evangeline squared her shoulders and opened the door for Eve…and John. "Lisa and I came to the discovery that we’ve raised stubborn, ornery children. That can be good and bad. In a lasting relationship that quality will take its toll after awhile, we recommend learning the art of compromise NOW. There will always be times when you wonder why on earth you put up with this person but if you remain still for more than a moment the memories will swamp you and all the reasons will be very, very clear. Do what you want you’re grown, but to throw away what you still share even after all this agony, to not make it come out so it was worth all the pain seem so reckless to me." Releasing her vise grip on John’s arm she pushes him into the cabin "Ultimately, it is between the two of you but if your mothers can now agree that you two have something worth nurturing and working on that alone should be a signal." Quietly closing the door behind her Eve leaves them alone.
"You know it’s the season of forgiveness, not to take advantage but if only you would think about working through some of the pain of betrayal together." John looked into her eyes and stated softly, "We can start just as friends; we never really got to that point before. We went from passion to a passionate love, whatever you’re comfortable with that’s where we would start."
The silence stretched out between them as they turned as one and went to the port hole and watched the water retreat then return to shore, felt it rock the ship under their feet gently but with strong undercurrents that spoke of turbulent times until the hull found calm seas again. The shadow of the ship’s masts showed dropping sails loosely lashed down waiting to be unfurled into a strong wind and float through the ocean’s tumultuous mysteries. Their fingers find each other’s hand but they didn’t turn from the window, "Merry Christmas, John." "Merry Christmas, Evangeline."