Authors: Barbara Kaylor
“This is so nice of Geneva,” Jewel said, fluffing her curls. Elliot smiled at his mother. She was an attractive woman in a perky, youthful way. He recalled her worried face when he woke up in the hospital. At that time, she seemed so lost and aching. Now, she was bubbly and up for anything. Even though he didn’t have any memories of her, he was glad she was his mother.
He took her by the hand. “I’m sure Geneva has created a treat for us.” He couldn’t wait to see what she’d cooked up.
Russell met the group as they stepped on the property. Haley and Adam were enthralled at once by his playfulness. Missy, the cat, crawled from her sleeping place and ran for cover. She wasn’t the friendliest animal, and she made no bones about it. Solitude was her cup of tea.
“Welcome everybody!” Geneva threw open the door and stepped aside so the clan could cross the threshold. She glowed from head to toe, dressed in a white sundress and sandals, her hair in a long braid with a ribbon running through it.
Elliot beamed with pride at her wholesome beauty and easy-going manner. Everyone was captivated by her radiant smile and grace. As soon as they entered the house, the women oohed and ahhed over the country-chic décor, calling it warm and charming while Rick picked up on the smells wafting from the kitchen.
As Elliot expected, Geneva had gone out of her way. The dining room was decorated for an indoor picnic. Appetizers of fruit, cubes of three different cheeses, and raw vegetables lined the buffet with mason jars of iced tea and lemonade at the far end. Everyone fixed themselves a plate then settled in the living room to visit.
Perry arrived soon after and offered to take the children to the screened sun room off the back porch to play with Russell.
“I’ll come with you,” Jewel said, popping out of her seat.
Rick and Elliot both chuckled at their mother’s eagerness to assist, but Peggy and Geneva thought it was cute.
Talk among the two couples turned to the lake project. Rick and Peggy exchanged knowing glances throughout the conversation as Elliot described his new plans to Geneva.
Her eyes widened. “Your undertaking gets bigger and bigger.” She reminded him that the Palmers were going to sell the place. Doubt needled her tone. “I’m not sure the next buyer will be able to afford all these improvements in addition to the land and cabins.”
Elliot disagreed. He felt the improvements would attract a buyer.
It was hard to think otherwise with Elliot at the helm. Geneva shivered as she listened to his reasoning and observed his energy and enthusiasm. The old Elliot Starling was surfacing. A dark shadow of dread passed over Geneva’s heart. Would his return to Olivia be close behind?
“Let’s eat!” Her sudden suggestion drew a questioning look from Elliot who was in the middle of a point. Rick and Peggy seemed just as mystified by her timing, but Geneva smoothed it over with a simple explanation.
“I don’t want the food to sit too long.”
Geneva was relieved when the table conversation centered on her fried-chicken dinner until Perry, inadvertently, asked Elliot about the lake project. Elliot and Rick talked circles around each other with Peggy egging them on. Geneva feigned excitement as details of a little store and dining lodge emerged, but panic consumed her. More and more of the old Elliot shined through the rugged exterior of the new Elliot as he spoke. Geneva could hardly listen to the list of improvements Elliot planned.
After a strawberry-cake and ice-cream dessert, everyone retreated to the living room except Perry and Jewel who offered to clear the table. With the kids turning their attention back to Russell, the two couples resumed their discussion about the lake. Geneva felt uncomfortable. Apparently, it showed.
“You don’t seem too happy about my plans for the lake,” Elliot mentioned when the evening was over and they stood alone on the porch. The others had already returned to the campground and Perry had retired to his room.
“Of course, I’m happy.” Geneva forced a smile. Something was different about Elliot tonight. No one else seemed to notice so she decided it was only her imagination. Despite her vow not to, she kissed him gently and softly on the lips.
“What was that for?” Elliot reared back with shock. “I thought we weren’t going to act on our feelings until the time was right.”
Geneva fiddled with the buttons on his polo shirt. “I know.” Her voice was tiptoe soft. “I just felt like it.”
Elliot lifted her chin so her eyes met his. “What’s wrong? The evening was a huge success. Everything was wonderful, and everyone had a great time, especially Mom who seems to admire your grandfather.”
That elicited a giggle from Geneva. “They were cute together, wearing those aprons and washing the dishes. I don’t know if I thanked your mother enough.”
“Only a bazillion times.” Elliot pulled her into a warm embrace. “Now, will you tell me what’s bothering you? It has something to do with the campground. You didn’t act too thrilled about my plans.”
“I am thrilled, Elliot,” she said with noticeable reluctance.
“Then what is it?”
“It’s nothing, Elliot.” She pushed out of his arms before his spicy cologne enticed her to kiss him again. Her willpower was slipping away as thoughts of losing him overwhelmed her. “It can wait another day. I’m really tired all of a sudden.”
Elliot nodded, but knew Geneva was covering up something. He said goodnight and left. When he turned back around, she’d already gone inside and closed the door. His spirits fell. He’d hoped to have one last look at her before going to bed.
“Have you considered buying this campground, Elliot?” Rick pitched Peggy’s idea to his brother the first chance the next morning. They were clearing the grass around the edge of the lake near the beach. Both wore shorts and t-shirts. The sun was hot and the air was steamy after yesterday’s rain. Sweat poured down their faces.
Elliot looked up from his work, flabbergasted. The idea of staying in Holly Park had entered his mind, but not this.
“You sound as if you’d approve the move,” Elliot noted with a hint of surprise. He took a long swig from his water bottle then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Rick shrugged. “You’re investing a lot of time and money in the place. Might as well own it.”
Elliot rolled the idea over in his head. Living right across the street from Geneva was enough incentive to jump on it, but–“I’m not sure I could run an outfit this big.”
“You ran a company with over a hundred employees,” Rick reminded him. “Just think what it would do for the economy in this town.”
Elliot recalled the desperate families he’d visited the other day with Geneva. Rick made sense. A vibrant, working campground could provide jobs in the rural area.
“Think about it,” Rick called out as he hacked away at the tall grass bordering the lake. Adam pushed over the wheel barrel. Elliot helped his nephew load the cuttings to dump on the pile they’d made to haul off later.
In the middle of the afternoon, Jewel and Peggy with Haley in tow came out with bottles of Gatorade for the guys. The women praised the work done on the property. It was shaping up nicely. The powdery, white sand was clean all the way around the swimming area. Only a few more feet of grass needed to be cut, but the men decided a break was due. Everyone gathered at a picnic table.
Elliot asked Jewel what she thought about him buying the campground.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea!” She listed several reasons. Peggy added her two cents. It became clear to Elliot that the idea had originated with his sister-in-law.
Suddenly Russell started barking frantically from across the road. Every head turned toward the dog, bounding off Geneva’s porch. Her dog’s howl had sent Geneva running from the house.
“Oh no!” Peggy screamed. Haley had wandered away from the group and was heading for the road. Rick and Elliot jumped up. Elliot was swifter than his brother and reached the roadside just as Geneva did on the opposite side. Haley’s attention was on Russell who stayed obediently by Geneva’s side. Behind Elliot were Rick, Peggy, an out-of-breath Jewel, and a tearful Adam.
Haley had already made it half way across the road when a truck rumbled into view. Without thinking Elliot darted out and scooped Haley up in his arms then ran toward Geneva. The driver swerved to a stop, but hit Elliot just as he flung Haley to safety. Geneva was standing in the right spot to catch her. Elliot careened onto the grassy shoulder, rolled over a few times then stopped faced down, unconscious.
Rick reached Elliot first after seeing that Haley was safe. He called 911 while Peggy ran to Haley, still clutched in Geneva’s arms. As soon as mother and daughter reunited, Geneva rushed to Elliot’s side. She and Rick checked him over, carefully. A gash on his head was bleeding, but his breathing and pulse seemed normal.
Perry had heard the ruckus and came barreling out of his church office. He assisted a fretting Jewel to a shady spot out of harm’s way. The dash across the campground and road had taken her breath away, but seeing her son sprawled on the ground, hurt and bleeding, tore through her rapidly beating heart like a dagger. Perry put a consoling arm around her and gave her a gentle squeeze. When she calmed, Perry turned his attention to the driver. He recognized him from church. Josh Templeton had been unemployed for over eight months and had a sick wife and five children. This would only compound his troubles.
“I’m sorry! I couldn’t stop in time!” Josh wailed to the group.
Rick and Geneva attempted to calm him down, but were too distraught over Elliot and Haley. Perry rushed over. He guided the man to a safe spot not far from Jewel. Josh collapsed on the ground and wept. Jewel reached out to him.
“This isn’t your fault, sir.” Her compassion won Perry’s heart. Jewel explained to the man how they had taken their eyes off Haley, and she had wandered off. It was bad judgment on their part which led to an accident. “You just happened to come along at the same time,” she told Josh. Perry consoled both of them while Peggy hugged Haley and Adam a few spaces away.
Rick ran to Peggy’s aid. She assured Rick they were okay. Tears ran down Rick’s face as he returned to his brother. Some were from relief that his daughter had been saved, and some were from fear his brother may be dying.
Geneva clutched Elliot’s hand. She leaned down and whispered. “Elliot, Elliot.”
Elliot stirred and moaned. Everyone raced over and circled him. Ignoring the others, Geneva sobbed. “Elliot can you hear me? I love you, Elliot. Do you hear me, darling? I love you.” At this point, she didn’t care who heard. It may be the last time she’d utter those words.
Elliot’s eyes flickered open at the sound of Geneva’s voice. He tried to focus, but the pain in his head was too excruciating. All he could do was groan. Everything from his mid-section up throbbed. His ragged thoughts flew to Haley.
“H—Haley,” he gasped as a fireball of pain exploded inside his skull.
“She’s fine, Elliot.” Rick put a hand on Elliot’s back to keep him still. “Don’t move.”
Elliot heard his brother, but couldn’t respond. Darkness was folding over him. There was no fear or dread in him. Instead, a warm peace filled Elliot. He heard his mother’s sweet voice, praying over him as he slowly slipped into a deep, black chasm.
He woke much later that night in a Gainesville hospital. A doctor and nurse hovered over him, calling to him. His family surrounded the bed while Geneva stood back. She realized they needed to be the first ones Elliot saw when he opened his eyes. Perry had remained in the waiting room with the two children.
The doctor had already told them Elliot’s injuries weren’t life threatening. The cut on his head didn’t even require stitches, and there were no broken bones. They’d keep him overnight for observation, though, because of his recent head injury from a previous accident.
Jewel spoke first. “We’ve been praying for you, Elliot. You did a very brave thing. I’m so proud of you, son.”
“You gave us a scare, brother.” Rick wiped away the tear sliding down his broad nose. “I’ll never be able to repay you for what you did.”
“Thank you for saving our baby girl, Elliot.” Peggy leaned over and kissed Elliot on the forehead, below the bandage.
“Wh-what happened?” Elliot’s smile was crooked and his voice was scratchy, but his head didn’t hurt like it had before.
“You were hit by a truck trying to save Haley,” Peggy told him. “Perry is watching her and Adam in the waiting room. I’ll bring them in later to visit.”
“Perry?” Ridges of bafflement formed on Elliot’s forehead. “Perry who?”
Silence fell across the room. Everyone turned to Geneva who had heard Elliot. Her expression went from worry to sorrow in a flash. She rushed out the door in tears, but not before she heard Elliot ask for Olivia. Her time with Elliot had come to an end.
Geneva watched from her front window as Rick’s SUV pulled into the campground, bringing Elliot home from the hospital. Her eyes were dried. Every single tear had been shed during the night. Peggy had called her after Geneva had left the hospital with Perry the evening before. She had good and bad news. Elliot’s memories had returned. The doctor said the traumatic episode triggered them. Then came the bad news.
“Does he remember me?” Geneva had asked in a shaky voice.
“Not the recent you,” Peggy had answered, honestly. “I think you should visit him, Geneva. I’m sure your presence will bring things back to him.”
But, Geneva wasn’t so sure. Peggy had gone on to say Elliot had no recollection of the campground or his project. All he could talk about was the company in Orlando and Olivia. That part broke Geneva’s heart.
At least he’s alive,
Geneva kept telling herself. It could have been worse. If Josh had been going faster or Elliot had been moving slower, the injuries would have certainly been worse. Haley would have been injured, too. Elliot had risked his life to save his niece. He was a hero in Geneva’s book. At least she’d told him she loved him. That consoled her some.