A look at life a few years in the future for the Campbell-Hayes family. Hayley is leaving for College.

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PART 1

“Colorado isn’t that far,” Jack said for the fifth time this week. Riley didn’t know who he was trying to convince; Riley or himself. “Not much more than an hour by plane,” he added.

“Uh huh,” Riley said because he’d lost the ability to talk about Hayley and college at the very moment she made her final decision on what college she was attending. He and Jack couldn’t be prouder of their daughter, didn’t stop either of them fretting and worrying and generally losing the plot.

“Can I ask something?”

Both Riley and Jack turned to see Hayley in the doorway to their bedroom. In jeans and a plain T-shirt, with her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, Riley could see the little girl who had landed on their doorsteps all those years ago.

“What’s up?”

“Will you make sure that Max is there when we Facetime?”

Riley nodded, although getting Max to interact with some nebulous talking picture of his big sister was always going to be hard. Last time they’d tried it, Max had run screaming from the room, flailing past Connor who ended up on his butt on the floor. “We can try,” he said.

“I think if we do it every time then he’d get used to it.”

“We promise to try,” Jack interjected.

“And Connor?”

“And Connor,” Riley said.

Although Connor was all over the place at the moment. It seemed like his seven-year-old brain was firmly fixed on the concept of Hayley leaving and never coming back. His twin, Lexie, was much more pragmatic, explaining with all her vast superiority that Connor was stupid. That was an interesting fight that Riley had happened upon; ending up with both twins crying in his arms and him trying not to lose it himself.

“Keep telling them I’ll be back for Christmas,” Hayley said, the almost permanent worry on her face making Riley’s heart hurt. She should be going to college thinking that her parents had everything in order and that her siblings understood what was happening.

“We’re failing as parents,” Riley half-whispered after Hayley had gone.

Jack finished buttoning his shirt and frowned at Riley. “How so?”

“I remember when I went to college I didn’t have anything to worry about except maybe leaving Eden, but even then she was balls to the wall and didn’t take crap from the family.”

Jack cradled Riley’s face, and for the longest time, Riley stared into his husband’s blue eyes. He could get lost in those eyes, lose himself forever in the promises they held.

“Riley, you weren’t leaving a loving home, you were leaving hate and violence and age-old family secrets that made the environment toxic. Of course you didn’t care about leaving because you were running away.” He pressed a kiss to Riley’s lips, and Riley gripped hard to Jack’s dark shirt. “On the other hand, Hayley is leaving a family that loves her, that has no secrets, that lives together with laughter and all the sweet stuff in life. She’ll be sad to leave because between all of us we’ve made a life here that is kinda impossible to leave even for a day.”

“We haven’t failed then,” Riley murmured. The explanation made sense, but he was still worried. “We want her to be strong and confident, don’t we?”

Jack chuckled, and this time the kiss was deeper and way more thorough. Enough, so Riley was hard in an instant and contemplating exactly how to get Jack horizontal. Or vertical. Or whatever. Only they couldn’t. The guests would be here in a minute for Hayley’s going-to-college barbecue.

Not guests, he amended in his thoughts. Family.

“She is strong,” Jack said and eased away. “She’s half of you and all of her own woman.”

Jack glanced at his watch, “we need to get out there, Josh said he’d be here early to set up the barbecue.”

One more kiss and Jack left the room, and Riley stood still where he was, staring right at the wall of photos that charted the years he and Jack had been together. He felt a tug on his pants and looked down into the earnest gaze of Max.

“Hey, Max,” he said, and sat next to him when Max scrambled up on his bed. They sat next to each other, Max rambling about something to do with the color red and inspiration hit Riley. Without spooking his son, he reached over to his iPad and laid it on his lap.

“There’s red in here,” he said.

Max tilted his head and stopped talking, looking curiously at Riley.

Slowly Riley opened the iPad and searched for strawberries.

“Look,” he said. “Red strawberries.”

Max traced the image with his fingers, not quite touching the screen, hovering above. “Red,” he said.

“Hey little man,” Hayley said from the door, “I was looking for you. Want to go see the horses?”

Max scrambled back down; Hayley and Max were so close; he wouldn’t understand where she’d gone.

Or maybe he would. Riley never knew what he was thinking. No one did, not really.

“You coming as well?” Hayley asked Riley.

“I’ll be with you in five,” he replied, watching her walking away, Max’s hand in hers.

How was he going to do this? How was he going to handle their beautiful, confident, brilliant, daughter, leaving for college?

When he walked out into the kitchen he could see Hayley and Max at the fence looking at the horses, Lexi swinging on a gate, and focused, studious Connor reading a book at the table.
Riley had to be the strong one here.

"Must be really hard to watch her go," Eli said at his side.

And being strong went right out of the window.



15 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, I can't wait. I guess a reread of the series is in order.

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  2. Oh! It's so good to visit with the Campbell-Hayes clan. Thank you.

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  3. Oh dear Mum! Feeling everything with them!
    So good- so heart-searching x��X

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  4. Love this family so much. Coming on here and finding this was such a blessing and a beautiful spring gift :)

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  5. i think a LOT of parents have issues w/ their kids growing up and leaving lol. thanks for the short..loved reading it

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  6. I just live the Campbell-Hayes family.
    Love it.

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  7. Omg I love this series and family to the moon and back thank you so much for this.

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  8. Omg I love this series and family to the moon and back thank you so much for this.

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  9. So looking forward to all these catch ups over the month!

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  10. I adore this! I'm so excited for more!

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  11. Oh wow, it's so good to be back in Texas.

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  12. I love this story line poor Riley sounds like he's going to cry

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  13. Always will be one of my favorite series! Look forward to reading the next part :-)
    Evelise

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  14. Oh RJ! What a lovely surprise!
    Now I'm hooked...will have to come back for my weekly Texas fix ��!!

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  15. Thank you I love the Texas family.

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