“Daddy, wake up. I need your help.” Tiny fingers belonging to his eight-year-old daughter pried Sean Jarvis’ eyelids open.
“What is it now, Riley?” he asked.
“The camera isn’t working. No one will be able to see my pretty dress if it doesn’t work.”
Riley sounded distressed. It was her preferred mode of communication. Everything was always an emergency or a tragedy waiting to happen. Her classmates not being able to see her dress would be a tragedy. She usually spent at least an hour choosing and changing her clothes every morning, even if there was no place to go. And there had not been any place for them to go for over a month since St. Michaels was in total lockdown.
Riley was her mother’s child. Dress up was her favorite pastime.
At the thought of his late wife, he sighed and sat up.
“Where is your sister?”
“She’s in the kitchen. Her camera is working fine. Can you fix mine, please?”
Riley looked like she was about to cry.
“Give me a few minutes to brush my teeth, please. Everyone will be able to see your pretty dress.”
“Do you like it, daddy?” She twirled and struck a pose.
His heart clenched. Why did she have to look so much like Helen? This is exactly what she did every time she got dressed. Whether she was dressing up to go out or wearing scrubs to head off to another all-nighter in the emergency room, his approval had meant so much to her. It didn’t matter that he told his wife daily that she was amazing and beautiful. Helen had required it in much the same way his daughter did now. It was never a burden to tell her but it sure was one now.
“You are beautiful, sweetheart. Nothing is going to change that because it starts in here.” He poked her chest near her heart.
“Thank you, daddy.” Tiny arms snaked around his neck and squeezed.
Sean squeezed right back. They were growing so quickly, and the feeling of inadequacy sat in his stomach like a bad meal. He couldn’t afford to fail them, but he wondered if he already had.
He released her and stood to head to his bathroom.
“Shoo,” he said. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Sean closed his bathroom door and sat on the toilet seat with his head in his hands. He needed coffee. He needed sleep. The sun had been rising by the time he had drifted off to sleep. He had only had two hours sleep before Riley had poked him awake.
After putting the girls to bed the night before, he had forced himself to sit at his computer to work on his book and produced what amounted to five lines of garbage. It had taken him until two in the morning to produce those five lines. He was going to claim them as a success. Most likely he would have to toss those words, but anything was better than staring at a blank computer screen like he had been doing for six months now.
His book deadline was three weeks out and he was no closer to producing the story or the images his agent was anxiously waiting on. Fans were waiting as well and that fired a stab of shame into Sean’s stomach. He was deathly afraid that they all would be disappointed.
Once he freshened up and headed for the kitchen, the smell of brewed coffee greeted him.
“Morning, daddy. Would you like sugar and cream with your coffee?”
Reagan beamed her thousand-watt smile at him. She shared the same face with her sister but that was where their similarities ended.
“Morning, princess. No sugar and a little cream, please.”
“Coming right up.” Reagan smiled and whipped the towel over her arm as if she were a waiter doing important work.
Sean sat at the bar and took a deep whiff of the coffee she brought to him.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” he sighed as the aroma did its job.
His daughter laughed. “Yes, daddy. Every morning as soon as you smell the coffee.”
He grinned and took a sip.
“The real question is whether you love me more than you love coffee?”
Reagan propped her chin on her clasped hands and looked up at him.
“No competition there. Coffee comes in first, then the dog, then you and Riley.”
She laughed. “At least I’m ahead of Riley.”
“Let me drink my coffee before you tell your sister I said that. I need to fix her computer.”
“I already did. She had the camera icon off. She’s good to go.”
Sean put out his hand for a fist bump. “Yes, my future tech billionaire.”
Reagan laughed. “I’m having a change of heart about starting a software company. I was thinking of becoming a supermodel.”
Sean paused with the cup at his lips. What could he say to that? The girls had been modeling since they were babies. There were still billboards plastered across much of Europe with their baby faces promoting some shampoo or another.
“Well, you can do both. Research how long supermodels remain supermodels. You more than Riley would get bored only doing one thing.”
“Dad your age is showing. I’m going to create a makeup and fashion line once I stop modelling. Maybe switch to acting and for sure I am launching a charity to help children in the Caribbean and Africa.”
Sean rested the cup on the bar. “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“You always told us if you fail to plan you plan to fail. I’ve got a plan and I don’t plan to fail.” With that she struck a pose then walked past him as if on a runway.
“You know we are in the middle of a pandemic,” he called as she strutted out of the kitchen.
“Nothing lasts forever dad. We got to be ready for the next good thing.”
Reagan’s words hit him in his chest with force. His late wife often said that. We got to be ready for the next good thing. She had been his good thing. Nothing had been the same since then.
He finished off his coffee and went to check on Riley.
Sean had turned the third bedroom in the new home he had purchased in Halcyon Cove into the girls’ classroom. Each had their own laptop and an ergonomically designed chair to help with posture. Since returning to the island three months earlier, they had been doing school online with their UK academy. Today was the first day of online school through the local education system.
Riley was jabbering away to someone when he walked in.
“Oh, here he is now, Miss Maxwell. Daddy, come meet our teacher.”
Sean had been communicating with the teacher via email for the past three weeks as he arranged to sign them up with the local school system. They had been unable to meet face-to-face as the lockdown made it illegal to do so. He pulled up a chair next to Riley and sat.
“Isn’t she pretty, daddy?” Riley beamed at him.
Sean was momentarily speechless. Riley was not exaggerating. The woman on the eighteen-inch screen was a stunner but she did not seem to know it. Brilliant eyes were encased behind thin white frames and her locs seemed to be pulled back into a messy bun. She wore a light green polo shirt with the name of the school on the pocket and shiny coconut shell earrings hung from her ear lobes.
“Good morning Miss Maxwell. Nice to finally put a face to the name.”
She blushed and nodded. “Pleased to meet you Mr. Jarvis. We will get started as soon as the other students arrive. I will be right back.”