The Captain and Teal

Sawyer saw the ten year old minivan slow down as it drove past his house. He was on the side yard raking and because the house sat on a corner lot of a four way intersection he had an open view of a majority of the neighborhood traffic. The minivan sped up but then Sawyer saw the brake lights flash and this time the car came to a complete stop before doing a U'e in the middle of Crescent Avenue and the vehicle headed back toward him, turning right onto Damon Street and then quickly left into his driveway.

Sawyer had no idea who the minivan belonged to but he was curious enough to walk around the corner of the house to see. A tall woman in her early fifties hopped out of the vehicle and briskly trotted toward him.

"Sawyer!" She exclaimed, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him an unexpected hug when she reached him.

It was her perfume that activated his memory bank and transported him back more than thirty years in his mind. Could she possibly be wearing the same brand she wore in high school!?

"Teal?"

"Of course, Silly!" She laughed, breaking the embrace and looking him in the eyes. "I can't tell you how many times I've driven by here wanting to stop these last few years after my mother told me you were back." She looked embarrassed by her admission.

"I'm surprised you'd want anything to do with me," Sawyer replied, remembering how he hurt her so all those years ago.

"Water under the bridge, Sawyer," she insisted with a wave of her hand. "Life's too short."

Sawyer nodded with understanding agreement. "You look well," he said, trying to be polite.

She laughed again. "Gee, thanks! You mean for a fifty-three year old broad?"

He blushed. "That's not what I meant."

"Oh, relax, Sawyer! It's all good! I'm just so tickled to see you. Actually, I saw you before a few times but I didn't have the guts to stop."

"Until today," he said, realizing he still had the rake in his hand.

"I guess today is your lucky day!" Teal smirked. "I didn't think you'd ever come back," she admitted.

"Me either," Sawyer confessed, giving her a long glance as the memories and feelings came rushing back.

"My mom told me about your wife," Teal said softly. "I'm so sorry."

"Thanks," he said bravely, not quite able to take his eyes off of her.

Teal Hebert had always been tall and strikingly good looking and she still was. She wore her reddish brown hair shorter now, cut and curled around her shoulders and filling her head. Her freckles had disappeared and there were a few age lines around her eyes but she was still impressively thin, her eyes still danced, and that smile of hers could still melt his heart. She was wearing khaki shorts and a white sleeveless flower-printed blouse.

"Would you like some iced tea or lemonade or something?" Sawyer asked.

"Sounds lovely," Teal smiled.

Sawyer placed the rake against a nearby tree and he walked her to the front stoop of the green shingled two story house.

"Oh my God," Teal said as Sawyer led her into the house. "I feel like I'm about to walk into a time warp!"

"Excuse the mess," Sawyer said once they were inside. "My parents took some of the furniture and I've got my stuff piled around everywhere."

Sure enough, some of the rooms were sparse of furniture while – at the same time – cluttered with cardboard boxes and furniture pieces not arranged in any particular order.

"I've been debating whether I should go full throttle and do a complete makeover," Sawyer said as he led her into the small kitchen. "I should knock this wall out," he said, pointing to the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Gut and expand the kitchen, modernizing it. Take down the wall between the master bedroom and Ellen's old room upstairs and make for a larger bedroom. Get rid of the 1950s style wallpaper and go with contemporary paint colors. Maybe lower the ceilings. Get rid of the ugly green shingles outside. Get some new weatherized windows."

"Sounds ambitious," Teal smiled as she took a seat at the same kitchen table she recognized from her youth.

"But part of me thinks I should hold off while my parents are still alive," Sawyer said as he opened the door to the thirty-year old humming refrigerator.

"How are they doing?" Teal asked with sincerity.

"Hanging in there," Sawyer smiled as he took two tall glasses from one of the ancient cupboards and poured the ice tea. "Assisted living seems to agree with them. They have a nice apartment, they've made new friends, the place is attractive and comfortable, and they stay busy. This place got to be too much for them, that's all."

"You were gracious to come back."

"Lois is in Idaho and Ellen is in DC so it was me or sell the family homestead," he shrugged, placing one of the glasses in front of her on the table while taking a seat across from her with the second glass still in his hand. "I was between places anyway so it all worked out."

"My mom says you're at Green College?"

"Boy, is your mom the neighborhood informant?" Sawyer laughed. "I teach Military History and Ethics. Getting my Masters and Ph.D in the Navy definitely paid off."

"I teach too," Teal grinned. "High School English."

"At St. Anne's!?"

"No, Hillsboro High," she revealed. "I had to keep an eye on my own public school kids."

"You have kids?"

"Five," she beamed.

"Five! Wow!" Sawyer said with surprise.

Teal laughed that wonderful laugh of hers. "What about you?"

"Two," he said. "Jim's a Navy fighter pilot and Lizzie is a Naval Reserve nurse married to a Navy JAG Officer."

"Wow, talk about a complete Navy family!" Teal smiled. "That's great!"

"I feel kind of beached being back here though," Sawyer admitted.

"I'm sure it's been the adjustment," Teal said with understanding.

"How's your mom doing?" Sawyer asked, taking a sip of his iced tea while studying her. "I see her drive by occasionally and I run into her at Fontaine's once in a while."

"She's doing well," Teal smiled. "Can't get her to sell the house but she stays busy and active. It was tough losing Dad but she's hung in there."

"He was a great guy," Sawyer said with affection.

"Thanks," Teal smiled, her eyes glistening just a little. "Bonnie is a physician out in Oregon and Jerry runs his own home remodeling company."

"Maybe I should hire him to do this place," Sawyer said.

"He's on the cape," Teal clarified. "Go with Boone the Builder. He does good work."

"I've heard," Sawyer said, sitting back in his chair and smiling at his guest who smiled in return.

"Are you okay?" Teal asked with perception.

"Not really." Sawyer sighed heavily. "I thought I had the rest of my life all planned out. Even when I got passed over for Flag Officer, we were going to do one last tour before retiring then take a year driving around the country in a Winnebago. After that, we were going to get a boat and explore the Caribbean for a year or two."

"Sounds like fun," Teal smiled.

"But then Anna got some sort of weird rare mysterious virus and four days later she was dead," Sawyer revealed. "My entire future died with her."

"I'm so sorry, Sawyer," Teal said. "It seems so unfair."

"It is unfair," Sawyer stated with force. "Anna sacrificed so much for me and our family. She gave up a career to be a Navy wife, following me around the globe as I punched all the right holes for promotion and success. She raised two kids while I was at sea or overseas. She was the Captain's wife, ran the Wife's Club and fulfilled all the other responsibilities of being a Navy wife. She did it without complaint even though being a Navy wife is the toughest job in the world."

"Sounds like she was a great lady," Teal said warmly.

"My life fell apart after she died," Sawyer sighed sadly. "I barely got through that last tour. There was a noticeable absence at my retirement ceremony without her there. The kids are out on their own, living their own lives. The thought of driving around the country or sailing the ocean felt lonely and empty without Anna. Then my Dad had a couple of mini-strokes and I knew I needed to come back here."

"Maybe it was meant to be," Teal suggested.

"I've been gone way too long, Teal," he said. "I don't know anybody around here anymore."

"You know me," she grinned.

"I'm like a fish out of water at the college," Sawyer said. "Most of the professors are liberal weenies and I'm this career military man, tight-assed and disciplined, structured and rigid. I don't fit in."

"I'm sure the students appreciate your unique perspective," Teal offered.

"I'm shipwrecked," Sawyer admitted. "I barely leave the house when I'm not teaching or jogging. I'm working on this useless pointless book on Military Ethics and History that will probably never get published. I'm jealous of my kids who are enjoying terrific Navy careers."

"It's their turn now," Teal pointed out.

"I miss Anna like there's no tomorrow."

"Call Boone The Builder," Teal advised. "Start making this house your own. Your parents won't mind. They're not coming back. Establish new roots, chart a new beginning."

"Maybe," Sawyer said, lost in thought.

"I've never seen you sad like this before," Teal realized.

Sawyer glanced at Teal and smiled. "I am rather pathetic, aren't I?" He said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

"Losing your life partner is hard to endure," Teal said with sympathy.

He sucked in his breath. "I never properly apologized for what I did to you," Sawyer realized.

"That was a long time ago, Sawyer," Teal said, standing. "You don't owe me an explanation. Thanks for the iced tea. I need to get going."

"It's great seeing you again," he said, standing too and leading her toward the front door. "I'm glad you finally stopped in."

"I was beginning to feel like a stalker," Teal laughed, blushing slightly. She gave him another embrace and Sawyer clung to her for an extra moment, the loneliness of his life suddenly overwhelming him.

Teal held on to him too and for a brief moment it was like they were sixteen again.

"Say," Teal said when she finally broke from the hug. "We usually get together as a family once a month for a Sunday afternoon dinner. Would you like to join us tomorrow?" She asked hopefully.

"Oh, I doubt your husband would want some old Navy guy coming around," Sawyer replied.

"I'm divorced, you goof!" Teal laughed. "There is no husband."

"You're divorced?" Sawyer asked with surprise.

"I know it's not very Catholic of me," Teal shrugged. "But it is what it is." She stared at Sawyer for a long moment. "I'd really love to have you join us, Sawyer."

"Well," he said, realizing how anti-social and hermit-like he had become since his return. "Okay."

Teal's face lit up. "That's wonderful! 273 Meadowbrook in the flats. The big purple house next to where Krista Malloy used to live. Four o'clock."

"See you then," Sawyer agreed.

She smiled before almost skipping off the stoop and across the front yard to her mini-van.

Sawyer hadn't looked at another woman since Anna died but seeing Teal again after so many years brought all the fond and nostalgic memories of his youth rushing back and he wondered if something Teal said had some merit – maybe he was supposed to be back in Hillsboro after all this time.

Sawyer stepped back into the house and he found himself drifting upstairs to the disarray that awaited him. He had set up shop in his old bedroom which was cluttered with computer equipment and various piles of paperwork- both from school and his writing project. The master bedroom was full of boxes from his move but empty of the furniture that had gone with his parents. Lois and Ellen's old rooms were relatively unscathed as the girls had used them during visits home over the years and they now resembled shrines to the past, the only rooms in the house that weren't cluttered and disorganized.

Sawyer stood in the window of his bedroom. He could see Teal's mother's house from that spot – just like he could when he was young, flashing signals to Teal with a flashlight and getting her responses in return as he could see her bedroom window even from that distance, at least when the trees weren't full of leaves.

Sawyer and Teal had been friends forever, it seemed. Their moms were friendly in the neighborhood and because Sawyer and Teal were less than a year apart it was natural for them to become friends. Teal was also friendly with Lois and Ellen but her kid brother Jerry was six years younger than Sawyer so it was Teal among the three Hebert children that Sawyer hung out with the most.

There were plenty of neighborhood kids to hang out with but Sawyer and Teal had their own special times together – riding bikes, playing Chess, goofing off, going swimming, and getting ice cream at Red's Tastee Freeze. There were several joint family adventures, including camping trips and beach excursions that allowed the two to further bond. They weren't boyfriend-girlfriend but they were 'special friends' who knew each other's hearts and souls pretty well. All six Hebert and Branson kids attended St. Anne's Catholic School through eighth grade which gave them added opportunities to bond in special ways but things began to change when they got to high school.

Lois had already opted for Hillsboro High instead of the Catholic High School and a year later Sawyer won an academic scholarship to The Sun Rise Lake School for Boys which took him away from his daily interaction with Teal. They still hung out on weekends and in the summer (when part time jobs and other commitments didn't interfere) but Sawyer was definitely going in a different direction than Teal. Sun Rise Lake was very progressive while Teal remained true to her Catholic School values and ethics during her high school career. There was little doubt that she and Sawyer were attracted to one another sexually and physically during their high school years when they become a bit more romantically inclined but Teal stayed true to her religious values and ethics and Sawyer respected her wishes even though he became frustrated with those restrictions by senior year. Still, Sawyer was happy to be so close to such a special and remarkable person as Teal.

Sawyer's life-long ambition was to be accepted by one of the service academies and he was ecstatic when the prestigious Naval Academy was willing to take him aboard. It would be difficult being so far away from Teal and home but the two idealistic teens agreed that it was best that Sawyer do what was right for him and his career. Teal could always join him later even though she enrolled at Green College close to home.

Teal remained true to her virtues. The Hebert family was strongly Catholic and Teal followed the tenets of her Faith with discipline and dedication. It was getting more difficult for Sawyer to honor her wishes with each visit home from the Academy but he loved Teal enough to stay strong.

Mutual friends introduced Sawyer to a George Washington co-ed named Anna Holland during a weekend gathering and Sawyer was instantaneously smitten by the worldly, intellectual, beautiful and enlightened young woman. They hit it off and when Anna made it known early on that she was more than willing to share her body with him Sawyer was happy to surrender his virginity to her and they became a couple.

A few months later, Teal was making a trip to DC for a college seminar on Politics and Sawyer agreed to meet up with her for a romantic dinner on the Potomac. But when the night came, he hung out with Anna instead and he forever felt guilty for standing up Teal so rudely and inconsiderately. He also stopped talking Teal's phone calls or responding to her letters and he left it to his sister Lois to give the poor girl the official word that he was with somebody else. It was the most despicably cowardly thing he had done in his life and Sawyer blocked it out of his mind, focusing instead on his budding relationship with Anna.

Sawyer and Anna married in Maryland soon after his graduation from the Naval Academy and the married couple rarely returned to Hillsboro. His parents took vacation trips to visit their son and his new family in their various exciting locations instead. Anna worked as a political consultant during the first few years of their marriage but once the kids came she was happy to be a military wife and mom as Sawyer's career took off and he quickly advanced through the ranks, landing the right assignments to enhance his promotions, furthering his education at the Navy Postgraduate School in Monetary California, serving in various sea duty commands and assignments including the Pentagon as well as plush overseas duty stations. Hillsboro faded from his mind as Sawyer focused on the challenges of command, leadership, world travels, and defending the country in service and his love for Anna and the strength of their marriage allowed Teal to fade from his memory.

But then Anna died and his career was over and his father got sick and Sawyer found himself back in the last place he ever expected to be. It was almost as if the four years he spent at the Naval Academy and the thirty years he spent in the Navy were erased from his life. Here he was standing in his bedroom of his childhood home staring out the window at the childhood home of the first girl he ever loved. Teal obviously moved on with her life – five kids and a teaching career - and while Sawyer was saddened to learn of her divorce it was obviously a good omen for him even if he knew he didn't deserve a second chance after the way he treated her so long ago.

How could Sawyer not think of their younger innocent times and their special friendship that meant so much to him during his formative years? Teal felt so good in his arms when they hugged goodbye and she had obviously forgiven him – otherwise she never would have stopped in the first place. Inviting him to dinner was clearly a signal that she didn't hold anything against him and that she was willing to spend time together. But did it make any sense to try to reconnect after so many years?

Standing among the clutter and disorganization of the house Sawyer realized that his glory times were gone and probably forgotten by most. He had little contact with the good friends he made in the Navy. Teaching at Green College wasn't a bad gig but it lacked the prestige of many of his shipmates who were working in defense department agencies or private defense corporations in Virginia, Maryland, and Florida. Sawyer had sacrificed a potential successful future to come home to Hillsboro and he had been spending a lot of time feeling sorry for himself. He was going through the motions at Green without a whole of passion in his teaching efforts but it was only after Teal pulled into his driveway that Sawyer realized how miserable he had been. Was she supposed to be his Salvation and second chance, a reason for him to finally get motivated, stop grieving Anna, stop missing the Navy, and stop resenting his parents for getting old and forcing him home?

Sawyer had been jogging ten miles a day on average – his only escape and relief from the unhappiness of his life - but the problem with jogging was that he always found himself back where he had started – the driveway of his parent's former house.

Sawyer wasn't sure what to expect when he drove to Teal's house the next afternoon. He kept his hair in a Navy style cut (although he had grown a short beard). Jogging kept him fit and trim in his middle age and he wore a pair of casual khaki slacks and a polo shirt with a Naval Academy emblem on the chest. There were several cars parked in the driveway and in front of the house when Sawyer arrived at 273 Meadowbrook in his sporty little BMW Coupe he had bought on a whim upon his return to Hillsboro. Teal's house was a bright purple two story older home that stood out because of the paint job. There was already commotion going on when Sawyer stepped onto the large wrap-around front porch (painted white) and rang the doorbell. He could hear several voices inside – plenty of talking, some laughing, and even a little bit of yelling.

"Somebody answer the door!" Sawyer heard someone yell (it sounded like Teal).

A moment later, a young woman appeared in the screen door. "Yeah?"

"Um, I'm here….I was invited…I'm a friend of your….of Teal's."

"Oh yeah?" The woman said with surprise. "I didn't know she had friends!" She laughed and opened the door. "Come on in."

"Okay, food's on the table!" Sawyer heard the announcement from somewhere inside the house (again, it sounded like Teal).

"This way," the young woman instructed, and Sawyer followed her through a couple of rooms while several other people – including a couple of kids – stampeded toward the dining room.

"Oh, Sawyer!" Teal was coming through the swinging door from the kitchen with a bowl of food when she noticed him stepping into the dining room. She was wearing a simple summer flowered dress with a bandana in her hair. "Everybody, this is my friend, Captain Sawyer Branson, United States Navy, Retired."

Various hellos, Ahoy Theres, Fleet's In and other greetings were offered. Sawyer noticed Teal's mom (Mrs. Hebert) sitting at the head of the long table. She smiled with amusement and said hello to Sawyer.

"There's no assigned seating, Admiral," a kid in his late teens remarked as he pushed by Sawyer and grabbed a chair.

"It's Captain," Sawyer clarified as he searched for a chair.

"Sit next to me, Sawyer," Mrs. Hebert said warmly.

Teal was making sure everything needed was on the table. "Sawyer, allow me to make introductions," she said proudly. "This is my son Donny and his wife, Franny. That's their son Buster with the Moe Howard haircut and their other son Frankie over there eating the fat off the ham platter. Stop it, Frankie! This is my daughter Mary and her finance Vic, my daughter Ella and her two daughters Julie and Carol, my daughter Tina and my son Andy. You already know Mom, of course."

"Quite a crew," Sawyer grinned as he took his seat at the long and crowded table. "Hello everybody."

"Welcome aboard," Frankie grinned (he looked to be maybe eight).

The dinner was controlled chaos at best. It reminded Sawyer of any number of mess decks of ships he had served on (even though he usually ate in the mild mannered officer's messes). People were passing food back and forth, reaching over one another, talking over one another with several different conversations taking place at the same time. The four grandchildren basically ignored their elders and did their own thing, some eating with their hands.

Teal sat at the opposite end of the table from her mother with a huge smile on her face as she presided over her broad. Sawyer mostly observed although he answered questions put to him, mostly about the Navy. Mrs. Hebert provided background information about Sawyer and Teal growing up together in the old neighborhood and it was Donny who came up with 'The Captain and Teal' line even though most of those in the room had never heard of The Captain and Tennille.

"Muskrat Love?" Franny laughed. "We played it at our wedding just for laughs."

"Your grandmother wouldn't let me play The Way I Want to Touch You, You Never Done it Like That, or Do That To Me One More Time when I was growing up!" Teal pouted.

"Way to suggestive," Mrs. Hebert explained.

"But Love Will Keep us Together was okay," Teal smiled.

"Your father liked that song," Mrs. Hebert recalled.

"I guess Lonely Nights fits in pretty well right now," Sawyer observed and that got a smile from Teal.

It was hard for Sawyer to keep up with all the dialogue at the table and decipher everybody's story. Donny (31) was actually Donny Junior (which meant Teal's ex's was Donny Senior). Donny was muscular and fit and worked with his father (Sorel's Oil Company). Franny was a stay at home mom, a pleasant and friendly person with long blond hair. Mary (28) was engaged to Vic who was tall and scholarly looking (he was actually an accountant). Mary was an attractive brunette who worked at Donovan's Department Store in Greenville. The wedding was only weeks away now. Ella (25) was a free spirited young woman with short pink hair and tattoos up and down her arms (and elsewhere, Sawyer presumed). As far as Sawyer could deduce, Ella had never been married and judging from the vast noticeable differences in her two children they came from different fathers. Julie was pale and blond, Carol was dark skinned with fuzzy hair. Tina (who let Sawyer into the house) was 21 and had recently transferred to Green College after two years at Blue County Community College. She had recently dumped her longtime boyfriend and worked as a waitress at Johnny C's Diner.

"I'll have to keep an eye out for you around campus," Tina told Sawyer with a grin when she found out he was a faculty member there.

Andy (19) had shaggy long hair, unkempt and greasy. He had his fork in one hand and his phone in the other and he was a master at one hand texting. He had just finished his first year at Blue County Community College and had a summer job at the pickle factory in Greenville which he loathed.

One of the main topics of conversation after Sawyer's Navy career was Mary's rapidly approaching wedding which she was trying to keep "small and quaint". She still hadn't decided on a final dress which was driving her sisters and sister in law crazy because they needed to know what she was wearing so they could dress accordingly as bridesmaids.

"I can't believe you're not getting married in the Church," Mrs. Hebert frowned.

"Mom, we've been over this," Teal said delicately.

Sawyer got the impression that perhaps the Sorel family (that was Teal's married name) wasn't quite as Catholic anymore – certainly not as Catholic as the Heberts (or even the Bransons for that matter) had been. The fact that Donny Senior was long gone (they didn't seem to talk much about him at the table, probably out of respect for their mother and maternal grandmother) and Teal was a divorcee probably had a lot to do with the rest of the clan apparently being lapsed Catholics.

Sawyer was amused by the entire situation and he kept looking at Teal with a silly smirk on his face, almost as if he was delighted to see her presiding over such an interesting collection of offspring. They devoured the ham and when the apple pie for dessert was gone various people began to excuse themselves from the table. Donny Jr. and Fran collected their two boys and headed for the front door and Ella wasn't long to follow with her two girls, but Mary stayed to help clean up with her sister Tina and grandmother. Sawyer tried to help but the women shooed him out of the kitchen and he ended up watching some of the Red Sox game on the television with Vic and Andy who was still glued to his phone and not really paying attention to the game.

The house definitely had a lived in feel to it, crowded with too much furniture (unlike Sawyer's house that hardly had any furniture!). The carpets were worn, the wallpaper faded. When Sawyer went upstairs to use the bathroom, it was almost impossible to count the number of bedrooms off the hallway and he saw Andy heading up to the attic so he assumed there were more rooms up there.

Teal finally emerged from the kitchen with her mother and Mary. Sawyer and Vic joined them for the walk outside where they said goodbye to Mrs. Hebert and Mary and Vic who were on their way to their various abodes. It suddenly seemed strangely quiet and relaxed as Teal and Sawyer stood on the side of the cement driveway watching the two cars depart.

"Well," Teal finally said. "That's my crazy family!"

Sawyer laughed. "They're definitely interesting," he said.

"Are they going to scare you away?" Teal asked with worry.

"I've been to Afghanistan,' Sawyer joked. "This is nothing."

Teal led him around to the back of the house and they took a seat on a wooden bench carved part-way into the trunk of a large tree in the middle of the yard.

"Are you surprised?" Teal wondered once they were seated, taking a few moments to enjoy the late afternoon sun.

"About what?" Sawyer asked.

"How it turned out for me," she said

Sawyer was silent for a moment but then he looked at her with a focused expression on his face. "Do you ever wonder how it might have turned out if things had gone differently?"

"Can't think that way, Sawyer," Teal told him. "You had a wonderful marriage and you have two great kids. I have five dear children I'd never give up and even if my marriage didn't work out there were still some good years there, at least for a while."

"What happened?" He asked out of curiosity.

"Once I got over you, you mean?" She asked sharply but when she saw the painful remorse on his face she immediately regretted her catty comment and she patted his hand with hers where it rested on his thigh. "I'm sorry," she said. "That wasn't fair."

"It's okay," Sawyer replied, fully aware that he deserved any snarky remarks she wanted to make about their past and how uncivil he had treated her.

"I knew Donny from church," Teal explained. "He delivered the oil to the apartment house I was renting with Krista the last few years of college. We started dating and before I knew it we were engaged, then married. Big Catholic Wedding at St. Patrick's with the reception at the Greenville Country Club. Five kids in fourteen years. We bought this house after Donny Jr. was born. I taught and Donny took over the business from his father. We did pretty well all things considered."

"Until?"

She shrugged. "I guess Donny just got tired of the marred life," she said. "He stopped going to Church with us. He stayed out drinking with his friends more. We grew apart, partly because of all the chaos of kids and jobs and money and all the rest of it. You saw Ella. She was fifteen or sixteen when things really started getting tense around here and it affected her the most. Donny Jr. and Mary were old enough to deal with it and Tina and Andy seemed to weather the storm relatively okay but poor Ella went off the deep end, acting out and rebelling against her father and resenting me for not keeping him home. It was pretty rough for a while. He finally moved out. Turns out he had been sleeping with the ex-wife of one of his former employees for a while. I wasn't surprised but the betrayal definitely hurt to the core."

"Oh, Teal," Sawyer sighed. "I'm sorry."

"I sort of lost my Faith and my way for a while but I still had Tina and Andy in the house – still do even now! – so I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and get my act together. I let go of all the rigidity and Catholic expectations and just let my kids be themselves. If they wanted to go to Church, fine, but I wasn't going to force them. I put Tina on birth control and told Andy to use condoms if he was going to have sex. At least I was home when the kids were home being a teacher and I could keep an eye out for them around school too." She glanced at him. "Did you have any trouble with your kids?"

"Being a military brat is tough," Sawyer acknowledged. "We moved around a lot. I was gone a lot. Anna ran a tight ship on the home front but the thing about being part of a military family is that you're always around other military kids and families – base housing and living and all that. That's a pretty good support group."

"Some of my Church support group pretty critical of me when things got strained," Teal sighed.

"Jim ran off with some friends one time and Lizzie moved in with a guy we weren't happy about before she met the guy she married but all things considered they did okay – and they're doing pretty good now, of course," Sawyer reported.

"I know I let my parents down," Teal remarked. "Bonnie is the successful doctor on the west coast with two great kids and Jerry is a successful businessman with three great kids out on the Cape. They never seemed to have the ongoing drama I've endured these past many years and they're stilling enjoying strong first marriages."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Sawyer encouraged. "I saw how your kids adore you and how comfortable they are being with you. You're obviously a great mom who got them all through a difficult time. I bet you're a great teacher too."

"I enjoy it," she smiled. "I wish you would more."

"I'll get better," Sawyer promised.

"I was going to sleep with you," Teal told him.

"Pardon?" Sawyer said, not sure he had heard her right.

"That weekend I went to DC and was going to meet up with you," Teal said. "I had made up my mind that we were going to have sex."

"Oh," Sawyer sighed, feeling even more horrible than ever before. "I'm sorry I didn't wait for you."

"Me too," Teal said. "I guess it just wasn't the right time. And I'm sorry I made you wait. I should have known better. You the big Academy man and all that."

There was a long awkward moment of silence between them.

"Was Anna the one you left me for?" Teal asked delicately.

Sawyer nodded his head yes.

"Well, I'm glad things worked out so well between the two of you," Teal said with brave sincerity. "You obviously belonged together."

"We were married for twenty-eight years," Sawyer said.

"You beat me," Teal said with a sardonic smile.

"You were the closest thing I ever had to a real girlfriend," Sawyer assured her. "Right from the start."

"We spent a lot of time together," Teal agreed.

"You always made me feel special," Sawyer said.

"You were special," Teal smiled. "Still are."

"You were even more special," Sawyer insisted, giving her a long stare.

"You were my first kiss," Teal giggled. "Remember? Behind your garage?"

"Never forgot it," Sawyer smiled. "And I never forgave myself for giving up on all that."

"Everything happens for a reason, Sawyer," Teal said.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Sawyer staring at the back of the purple house. "Ever think about selling this place?" He asked.

"Not while Tina and Andy are still here," Teal answered.

"How 'bout your Mom?" Sawyer wondered. "Can't get her to move in with you?"

"This place is too crazy for her," Teal laughed. "Believe me, I'd much rather move in with her!"

Sawyer laughed. "Well, it would be nice having you back in the old neighborhood."

Teal blushed slightly as she threw him a glance. "Especially now," she said under her breath.

Sawyer noticed the dog house (painted pink) by the garage. "Where's the dog?"

"The ex took him," Teal revealed. "I think he was the sixth dog in the series around here. I knew I'd get stuck taking care of him so I told Donny if he was leaving he could take the dog with him and he was fine with that. Nobody noticed for a couple of weeks."

"Do you miss it?" Sawyer asked. "Being married?"

"Not to the ex!" She said humorously. "But I miss the concept of marriage and what it's supposed to mean."

Teal knew she didn't have to ask Sawyer the same question. It was obvious he had a strong, loving, wonderful marriage and that there was a huge difference between being a divorcee and being a widower.

A large roaring sound boomed from the garage and a moment later a motorcycle came rolling out with Andy riding it. His helmet was in his lap as he steered the bike toward the backyard bench.

"I'm going over to Marcia's," he shouted to his mother over the roar of the engine. "Don't wait up!"

He put on his helmet and then buzzed loudly out of the yard.

"I wish he never bought that stupid thing," Teal groaned as they listened to the reeving engine fade into the distance as Andy rode down the street. "I hate motorcycles. Too dangerous."

"Marcia the girlfriend?" Sawyer guessed.

"Met her at the pickle factory," Teal confirmed. "I can't keep up with my kids social lives."

"You never stop being a parent," Sawyer said. "Or stop worrying about your kids. Anna begged Jim not to become a Navy pilot but that didn't stop him. He's been in the middle east three times in the last four years."

"I'm grateful all of mine are within a ten mile radius of here," Teal said with relief. Donny Junior and Franny have a nice little house a few miles from here. Mary and Vic are in one of those new condos in those refurbished old mills down by the canal, Ella and her kids are in a subsidized apartment in the housing projects in Greenville, and Tina and Andy are still here." She glanced at Sawyer. "It must be hard being so far from your two."

"Neither of them are in the same place very long being Navy anyway," Sawyer shrugged. "Visits have to do."

"I had Donny Junior when I was twenty-two and Andy when I was thirty-four," Teal remarked. "I've been a mother for a long time. Sometimes I think it's all I know."

"You teach."

"Yeah, other people's kids!" Teal laughed. "Another version of a glorified mother."

"When you got out of your mini-van in my driveway yesterday, I didn't see mother, housewife or teacher walking toward me," Sawyer told her.

"What did you see?" She asked with interest.

"A beautiful and sexy woman."

Teal blushed, not quite expecting to hear that from him – so soon, anyway. "Well," she said awkwardly, standing. "It was nice of you to join us for dinner."

"Why did you stop by my house, Teal?" Sawyer asked with interest, standing as well.

"I just wanted to say hi," she shrugged.

"To a guy who unceremoniously dumped you thirty-whatever years ago?"

"To a friend I grew up with," She clarified.

The late afternoon breeze momentarily lifted her hair off of her shoulders and the way the sun was shining on her face she almost looked angelic. Sawyer leaned in and kissed her on her lips without warning, momentarily surprising her but then she wrapped her arms around his neck and willingly and warmly kissed him back.

"How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said." Teal smiled at him. "That's a Victor Hugo poem," she explained.

"I like it," Sawyer grinned against her mouth.

"We're both nuts, aren't we?" Teal asked.

"Probably," Sawyer agreed. "But I don't care."

"Me either," she said as they stood under the tree hugging one another. "But we're both kind of screwed up, aren't we?"

"We've had our issues, challenges and disappointments," Sawyer said. "Maybe we can help each other get through them."

"What about Anna?" Teal asked seriously, breaking the embrace and looking into his eyes. "Can you move on?"

"She would want me to live my life," Sawyer replied, his voice cracking. He put his hand under Teal' chin and lifted it slightly. "What about Anna for you?" He wanted to know.

"I didn't know who she was until you told me about her yesterday," Teal said, taking a seat on the bench. "I'll admit I hated whoever it was that drove you away all those years ago but now I know it doesn't matter. She loved you and you loved her and you had a happy life together."

"I loved you too," Sawyer said, sitting and taking her hands into his.

"I was taught by my family and my faith that I was supposed to save myself for marriage," Teal sighed. "I realize now that I was among the last of a dying breed and it cost me you. I saved myself for Donny and what good did that do me? We're still divorced."

"This is where we're at now," Sawyer determined. "The past doesn't matter except for what we shared together growing up."

"I know we've had other partners but you're still my first love," Teal said. "That's why I stopped by your house yesterday." The tears were freely running down her cheeks now.

"I'm glad you did," Sawyer smiled, wiping the tears away with his fingers before kissing her once again. "Let's start anew."

"I'd like that," Teal smiled. "I've been so lonely for so long."

"Me too," Sawyer said.

"I have a lot of baggage, Sawyer," she warned. "You met a lot of it today."

"You know what I'm dealing with too," Sawyer said. "I'm not going to be a smooth sail either."

"So, let's batten down the hatches and steam full speed ahead!" Teal laughed, giving him a kiss.

They made out for a few moments before Teal finally broke the kiss. "I usually go to a movie with my friend Sue on Sunday nights," she said. "I could cancel if you want me too."

"No, we'll have plenty of time to spend together," Sawyer said, standing. "I'll shove off now."

"My Navy man!" Teal giggled, standing too. "Thanks for everything, Sawyer."

"You're the one who invited me to dinner," he reminded her with a kiss, squeezing her hand before leaving.

Everything old new again? Or was that everything new old again? Sawyer wasn't sure but he didn't care either. For the first time since his double loss – Anna and the Navy – Sawyer felt hopeful again, energized by the presence (the return, really) of Teal Hebert Sorel. Yes, of course things were different now – it had been then thirty something years since they last saw each other - but they had the familiarity and the bond of their youth to build on and cling too and that was an okay way to start, Sawyer figured.

Teal was busy most days – she was teaching a summer school English class at the High school in the mornings – and she was still a mother and grandmother with all sorts of demands, responsibilities, commitments and obligations, not to mention her elderly mom to check up on (although Sawyer started taking on part of that role – walking the four houses to Mrs. Hebert's place most days to say hello and make sure everything was okay). Sawyer also became much more motivated about the house, finally getting serious about all the clutter and actually calling Boone Reynolds of Boone The Builder for some ideas, suggestions and quotes about modernizing the kitchen and other parts of the house. Sawyer also kept his nearly obsessive jogging regiment the same too.

It seemed as though Sawyer and Teal kind of picked up where they left off when they were sixteen or seventeen. Because it was summer and they were both out of school (except for Teal's morning summer school class), they had time most afternoons to do something together – a ride for a creamie (sometimes with one of the grandkids), a quick trip to Sun Rise Lake and a dip at the public beach, a walk around the neighborhood, a ball game at Beano Field, sitting outside with Mrs. Hebert, a dinner out at Serguci's Family Italian Restaurant or Duffy's Tavern (Johnny C waitress Tina didn't want them 'checking up' on her at the diner!), and the occasional movie.

As it was in the old days, Teal (and Sawyer for that matter) were in no hurry to jump into the sack together (as ironic as that may have been). They were content on spending quality time together getting to re-know one another again first. Teal was always dealing with some family drama, Mary's wedding day was getting closer, finances were tight since the divorce and she was helping Ella financially (as well as with babysitting time), Sawyer was in a position to help out with money, of course, but it was too soon in their re-budding relationship to be throwing a wad of money around. Sawyer was extremely respectful of Teal's situation and of her role as family matriarch. He didn't get involved in her ongoing battles with the kids except to offer his opinion when she asked for it. He tried to be friendly with Andy and Tina whom he saw the most of the five kids. They seemed mostly detached unless Sawyer had something to offer that interested them. Ella was much more guarded and suspicious, opinionated and resentful so Sawyer tended to keep a low profile when she was around. Donny Junior was clearly loyal to his father (and boss) and while he and his wife Franny were pleasant enough around Sawyer there was clearly boundary issues that Sawyer wasn't going to test. Of all the kids, Mary seemed the most receptive of Sawyer's presence in her mother's lice (and by extension theirs too). Vic (a fellow outsider) was friendly and personable with Sawyer too (he had the added connection of having a brother who served in the Navy).

Teal often seemed overwhelmed with the family drama and she liked stopping by Sawyer's place for some relaxing escape time away from the madness that was her life. She didn't get involved in his projects very much – she certainly wasn't going to start jogging at her age and she had her own messy house to deal with so she had little interest in helping Sawyer clean up his abode, but it was nice to spend time with him without having to deal with (or even think about) her own challenges. In their many conversations about the family,\ it was clear to Sawyer that Teal worried about Ella the most but she also wanted to be sure she did Mary right as far as the upcoming wedding plans were concerned.

"You've been a Godsend," Teal told Sawyer one afternoon as they sat on his screened in side porch drinking iced tea. She was wearing a summer skirt and sleeveless blouse having just come from her summer school class. "You've really been there for me these past several weeks."

"I haven't done anything," Sawyer replied.

"You've been supportive, understanding, patient, kind, and helpful," Teal countered. "You listen to me and respect what I have to say. You've let me rant and rave and unload. I can't tell you how wonderful it's been to be able to talk to you and tell you things."

"Just like the old days," Sawyer smiled.

"Will you be my date at Mary's wedding?" Teal asked hopefully. "My ex is going to be there with his girlfriend and I don't want to have to face all that alone. Having you around will help me stay at ease."

"I'd be happy to," Sawyer replied knowing he was going to have to meet Donald Sorel Senior eventually anyway.

The wedding was done on the cheap. The ceremony and reception were in Teal's back yard with a rented canopy and borrowed folding chairs from the local Methodist church. Much of the food was pot luck and donated. Donny Jr. had driven to New Hampshire to get cases of beer and champagne at a cheaper price. The minister was a woman Justice of the Peace who had gone to school with Vic. There were no fancy dresses although Mary looked lovely in a simple white dress she got off the rack from Donovan's Department Store. Most of the guests dressed informally. Tina and Ella stood with their sister while Vic had a few of his friends by his side. Teal was understandably stressed before the ceremony got underway but she seemed to settle down and enjoy the moment once the bride made her grand entrance (from the back door of the house!).

Sawyer had run a few last minute errands that morning for forgotten supplies and to pick up one of Mary's friends who needed a ride and he was by Teal's side when Donald B. Sorel Senior made his grand entrance with Melody, the woman he had left Teal for – a woman nearly fifteen years his junior (which made her just as close to Donny Junior's age than she was to Donny Senior!). She was a looker – no doubt about it – but she was much more flighty and silly than Teal could ever hope (or want) to be and conversations had to be kept simple around Melody for her to keep up with what was being discussed. She wore her blond hair long – almost to the top of her buns in the back and she wore a dress that upstaged the bride's - short on the thighs and low cut on her (amble) chest, bright pink that made her standout no matter where she was.

Donny Senior appeared to be amused that Teal was with somebody and she fumbled her words making the introductions. Donny said he remembered Sawyer from a few church activities as teenagers but Sawyer had no memory of meeting the guy before. Donny wasn't much interested in Sawyer (or Teal for that matter) and he quickly ended the interaction to go find his seat for the ceremony.

Teal was much more understated than Melody in her attire and appearance for Mary's wedding, wearing an attractive yellow dress of modest length on the legs and a high neck line above but it still highlighted her attractive figure just fine. As much as Teal's mother complained about the non-Church non-Catholic no-priest wedding, it was a lovely ceremony. The Justice of the Peace (Millie) did a good job of mixing secular with spiritual, Mary and Vic exchanged their own vows, Millie pronounced them husband and wife, and the newlywed couple bounced off the make shift stage to the tune of Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song". A friend of Ella's was the volunteer DJ and he actually did a pretty good job with the music selections.

Teal was teary eyed giving her daughter bride a meaningful hug of congratulations but Mary was soon swept away by other family and friends and Teal focused on making sure there was enough food out and the sixty or so guests were taken care of. Sawyer helped when and where he could but he also made sure that Teal found some time to relax and enjoy herself too, even getting her to dance with him on the make shift dance floor a few times. The rest of the day worked out well – there weren't any dramatic scenes or soap operas, the kids were on their best behavior (Even Ella seemed to be having a good time) and the reception lasted well into the night, even after Mary and Vic left to begin their three day honeymoon on Martha's Vineyard.

There were only a dozen or so people left by 10:00 that evening of a long day. Donny and Fran left with the kids long ago as had Ella with her two. Donny Senior was one of the first to leave which struck Sawyer as somewhat strange but the kids didn't seem to have an issue with it so who was he to argue? Sawyer was seated in one of the church folding chairs with Teal seated next to him, turned sideways in the seat so she could lean against him with her back against his side. He had his arms drooped over her shoulders.

"You did good for Mary," he told Teal.

"I hope so," she sighed. I just...I just hope she's happy."

"She looked happy to me."

Teal glanced up at the night sky above. There was no moon but the stars were bright. "I hope so, Sawyer."

"We can't make our kids be happy, Teal," Sawyer reminded her. "They have to discover their own happiness and live it for themselves."

"I guess," Teal said with a sigh. "Maybe it's a good thing my Dad isn't around to see how badly I screwed things up."

"You didn't screw things up," Sawyer insisted.

"I'm divorced, aren't I?"

"You think that's your fault?"

"It's half my fault," Teal decided.

Sawyer leaned over and kissed her on the ear, pulling away her hair to get a clear shot.

"That tickles," she giggled, but then she turned serious again. "I screwed things up with us too."

"I'm the one who left, Teal," he reminded her.

"Do you think we would have made it?" She wondered. "If I had slept with you before you met Anna?"

"Yes," Sawyer answered knowingly. "We would have made it."

"I can't imagine how different my life would have been," Teal said. "Leaving Hillsboro. Being a Navy wife. Having your babies. Seeing so much of the world."

"It would have been unique," Sawyer told her as he blew into her ear again.

He felt her press her back into him and he enjoyed their moment of intimacy. He breathed into her ear seductively and he sensed Teal shiver in response. He had been feeling all the more guilty about what he had done to her all those years ago since she told him that she was on her way to DC to sleep with him. Was his impatience, horniness, and selfishness the only reason they weren't together now or would he have stayed with Anna even if he and Teal been intimate that weekend? Maybe he would have turned Teal down and told her he had met someone else. Maybe he would have taken advantage of her and cruelly slept with her and left her anyway? Now it was his turn to shudder at such evil and unforgivable thoughts. It was bad enough things happened the way they had – there was no reason to make things even worse in his mind.

Sawyer thought about what Teal had just said: "Having your babies" and suddenly he felt even sadder and more guilt-ridden then he ever had.

"I'm such a terrible person," he said aloud.

"Of course you're not," Teal said, glancing over her shoulder at him. "Why would you say that?"

"I treated you like shit once I headed for the Academy," he confessed. "So caught up in being a midshipman and focusing on my future and the mentality of being a real man and a sex hound while on liberty and all that bullshit. Why couldn't I have just honored what we had and stayed true to you?"

"What's done is done, Sawyer," Teal replied philosophically.

"I'm sorry I did that to us," he said wearily.

"No regrets, Sawyer," Teal said. "If we have any chance of making it we can't have any regrets. About whom we married or didn't marry. About whose kids we had. About how our lives turned out. We're together now and that's what's important. Promise me you'll stop beating yourself up over the past."

"I'll try," he said quietly.

"I wouldn't have stopped to see you if I didn't think we could make peace with the past," she said. "If I didn't think we could make things right again. If I didn't want to be with you."

"Okay," he agreed, knowing he'd never be able to move beyond the guilt – of both Teal and Anna – if he didn't start the clock over right now.

"Can I go home with you?" Teal asked. "Spend the night at your place?"

"Really?" He asked with hopefulness.

"Don't you think it's time?" She asked, standing and straightening out her dress.

"Only if you're ready," he said with understanding as he stood too.

"I was ready the day I heard you moved back," Teal revealed as she took his hand and led him toward his car parked out front.

He smiles confidently. "I like that".

Teal liked Sawyer's little black BMW coupe convertible. It made her feel young whenever she was in it. It was warm enough to have the roof down on this night and the wind blew through Teal's hair as they rode. Sawyer had made his bedroom presentable in anticipation for this long awaited night. He moved his computers into Lois' old bedroom which he converted into his working home office, leaving his bedroom to serve as just that – now with a new queen sized bed he had bought although his childhood dresser and desk was still in the room, along with a large flat screen television and a soft arm chair.

He parked the coupe in the garage and led Teal into the house through the kitchen which was presently in shambles as Boone the Builder's crew had begun the expansion and remodeling of the room, the wall to the dining room already knocked out, the cupboards gone and a huge plastic sheet covering the wall-less back of the kitchen facing the back yard. They maneuvered through the wreckage and went upstairs to his childhood bedroom although Sawyer had plans to move into the master bedroom once Boone's crew took out the wall to Ellen's old room and enlarged the master bedroom, complete with its own bathroom.

"How many games of Chess did we play in here?" Teal asked as they stood in the doorway of Sawyer's childhood bedroom.

"I'd say you hold the overall winning record," Sawyer smiled as they both stepped into the room.

Teal went to the window and stared out toward her house. "Should I signal my mother?" She joked.

Sawyer went to her, pressing himself against her back and she could feel him rubbing against her backside. She turned expectedly and gladly kissed him, having waited some forty-years for this opportunity and moment. Sawyer wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back with passion and soon her dress was on the floor, her bra was draped over the lamp on his desk and her panties had somehow been removed although neither was quite sure how it had happened. Teal helped Sawyer remove his clothes and she finally was able to see what she had waited a life time to see as they collapsed together onto the bed, still kissing and touching and holding, glad to finally being able to fulfil their fantasy, dream and destiny after several delays, detours and alternate lives.

"Finally, finally, finally," Teal kept whispering over and over again as they enjoyed their foreplay and then lovemaking.

Teal knew her body wasn't the same as it would have been if they had ended up together three decades earlier as was their failed fate but she didn't care. She wanted him to finally see her naked and to be with her in the biblical way she had been taught growing up. Her eyes filled with tears of joyful happiness when they finally began to make love in his childhood bedroom, the place she had always wanted to be.

"I love you, Sawyer Branson," Teal whispered into his ear as they made love.

"I love you, Teal Hebert Sorel," he replied breathlessly.

Sawyer was peacefully asleep later as the nude Teal cuddled against him under the sheet thinking about everything that had happened on this day – Mary's marriage and her own consummation of her long delayed sexual relationship with Sawyer. It was as wonderful as Teal could have hoped or imagined. She was old enough now to appreciate good sex on an emotional level more than a physical one. Sawyer had been caring, sensitive, gentle, emotional and in-tuned to her needs and desires to satisfy her beyond all expectations. Afterwards, he held her close and talked to her to make her feel like it was about their emotional bond just as much as their physical companionship. She had only been with one man before Sawyer and she was pretty sure Anna was the only woman Sawyer had been with so she felt special at this stage of her life to be back with the one person she loved first and most in her life. She smiled as she drifted off to sleep in a comfortable cloud of peaceful tranquility.

Teal found that she was still wrapped close to Sawyer when she awoke in the morning. She purposefully stirred so she'd get Sawyer to wake up as well because she needed to start her day although she would have been more than content to stay like this for the rest of her life. Sawyer mumbled and rolled onto his back, opening his eyes and smiling when he saw that Teal was partially sitting up and glancing down at him, holding the sheet over her breasts in fake modesty.

"I have to go to Mass," Teal announced. "Why don't you come over for lunch later? You can help Donny Junior and Andy clean up the back yard from yesterday."

"Sounds great," he smiled reaching his hand out to playfully tug on the sheet, hoping for a Sunday morning revelation. "Last night was wonderful, Teal," he said.

"It was," she agreed. "The first of many," she smiled.

He smiled too.

Ordinarily, Teal might have been more modest. Perhaps she would have wrapped the sheet around her body and delicately picked up her clothes, privately dressing in the bathroom down the hall but she didn't care about any of that right now. She wanted Sawyer to see her for who she was and as she was so she tossed the sheet aside and sprang from the bed nude without a second thought. She could feel Sawyer's eyes on her as she kept her back to him in search of her dress and undergarments.

"My God, you're beautiful," Sawyer told her.

She turned to face him, smiling shyly as she stood naked before him. She was surprised when Sawyer leapt nude from the bed and stepped close to her. "It was worth the wait, Teal," he said with meaningful affection and emotion.

"I know," she smiled, falling into him and letting him wrap his warm and comforting arms around her.

They stood naked in the room with the morning sun from the window warming them for the longest time until Teal finally broke from him. "I'm going to need a ride home," she realized.

"My pleasure," Sawyer replied as they both found their clothes and watched each other dress like two little kids playing sexual show and tell for the first time.

Once dressed, Sawyer escorted Teal downstairs and into the garage, driving her home with neither saying much but feeling much more.

"I'll see you later," Teal told him, leading across the shifter to give him a warm kiss goodbye before hoping from the car and floating toward her front door like some teenager coming home from her first date.

Sawyer was surprised at how calm and peaceful he felt as he drove home. He didn't feel guilt or remorse about making love to Teal and he was pleasantly relieved that Anna had not haunted him as he feared she might. He still missed his wife with all his heart but he had lost enough shipmates in war, accidents, and illness to know that his dear Anna– like the rest of them – wasn't coming back to him. He had spent the last three years lost at sea in a fog of grief and disinterest but life and love had been returned to him in the form of his childhood friend turned mid-life lover.

Sawyer returned to Teal's house for lunch a few hours later. She made him a cold meatloaf sandwich with some of the leftovers from the previous night and then he helped Donny Junior and Andy and a couple of their friends load up Donny's pickup truck with the church chairs and tables and the rest of the borrowed equipment. It gave 'the new guy' (as Donny jokingly referred to Sawyer in recent times) a chance to bond a little bit more with Teal's two sons who enjoyed the Navy Captain's occasional sea story about some adventure, liberty call, Navy battle, military personality, or even a childhood tale about their mother.

The backyard eventually was returned to normal with no evidence that a wedding had been held there the day before. Donny Junior and Andy thanked "The Admiral" (as they jokingly referred to him) for his assistance before taking off and Sawyer joined Teal on the front porch for some well-deserved R and R after the long day (and wonderful night).

"Who in the family still goes to Mass?" Sawyer asked sitting next to Teal on the double swing chair sipping cold lemonade.

"Nobody but me - and my mother of course," Teal answered sadly. "It used to bother me but I gave up the fight once the kids got old enough to decide for themselves. You can't force Faith and religion on people. We are all in charge of our own eternal future and the choices we make. I worry about the grandchildren and I hope Donny Junior and Ella make the right decisions for them. I used to take them to Church myself but it started causing division and resentment so I stopped. I pray every night that God will protect all of my kids and grandkids and lead them back to The Church."

"I'll go to Mass with you," Sawyer told her.

"You will!?" Teal asked with excitement. "Oh, Sawyer, that will be great!"

"Anna wasn't Catholic," he explained. "So I lapsed. Plenty of Chapel services and interaction with Navy Chaplains but rarely did I serve with a priest or go to Mass. Then when Anna died I wondered what became of her soul. Was her goodness enough to get her to heaven?"

"You can still pray for her," Teal replied. "And you'll like Father Fitzgerald at St. Patrick's. He's good."

"Even after everything you never lost your Faith," an impressed Sawyer observed.

"I'm a Catholic School girl with a mother who would have been a Nun if she had it to do over again," Teal laughed. "Do I have a choice? My father died believing he was headed for heaven for being a good Catholic, honoring the Sacraments and Commandments and living a good life. I owe it to him not to give up."

Sawyer offered her an understanding smile. "Always know that you never have to do all this alone," he said. "Your mom. The kids. Your grand kids. Dealing with the ex. Teaching. I'm here for you."

"Thanks Sawyer". Teal rested her head on his shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her.

"I'm glad I've been given the chance to make amends with you," he said happily.

"I think you did more than make amends with me," Teal joked.

"Are people going to be okay with this?" Sawyer asked with concern.

"My kids moved on a long time ago, Sawyer," Teal answered. "My friend Sue just wants to see me happy and I haven't been happy for a while until I finally broke the ice in your driveway that day. And my mother likes you again, ready to give you a second chance. You get the sympathy vote being a widower in her view."

"Lucky me," he said sardonically.

"My mother knew I always had you wrapped around my finger," Teal said lightly. "She saw the way you looked at me and how you'd get jealous when other guys were around me."

"Really?" Sawyer asked with surprise.

"She was pretty upset when I came back from DC and announced it was over between us," Teal revealed. "She was very disappointed in you."

"I was too," Sawyer sighed.

"She always thought we were right for each other," Teal said.

"My mother never said much about it but I know she was surprised when I told her about Anna."

"She was always nice to me when she saw me around, even after I married Donny Senior," Teal told him. "It always made me feel kind of sad."

"How did Donny Senior's family treat you?"

"Fine for a while," Teal said. "But they always sided with Donny Senior whenever an issue came up. I think they blamed me for not being a good enough wife or mother or whatever whenever things went wrong."

Sawyer gave her a sympathetic squeeze. "I'm sorry."

"How were things with you and Anna's family?" Teal wanted to know.

"They liked me but it took them a while to get accustomed to the Navy way of life," Sawyer answered. "They didn't like having their only daughter whisked all over the country and globe. It was hard for them to keep up. Nobody saw her death coming so that was very difficult for them. I try to keep in contact but it's very sad and I get the sense they blame me somehow for what happened."

"It's your fault she got sick?" Teal asked with surprise.

"Maybe she wouldn't' have gotten sick if she wasn't with me," Sawyer shrugged.

"That's ridiculous."

They cuddled together on the swing chair, Teal nestling her head against Sawyer's chest as they both thought about their lives. It was easy to forget about everything and everybody when they were together like this.

Teal and Sawyer tried to set up a routine for their new normal. It was agreed that Sawyer wouldn't spend the night at Teal's since Teal had a rule that Tina and Andy couldn't have overnight guests of the opposite sex. Teal generally spent the night at Sawyer's on Fridays and Saturdays if her schedule allowed, although she thought it strange to be going to Mass with Sawyer (and her mother) on Sunday mornings after committing "adultery" the night before.

Boone the Builder had Sawyer's house in shambles so when Teal was done with her summer school class she and Sawyer tried to do some sort of afternoon activity when she wasn't being a grandmother to the grandkids or a daughter to her elderly mother or a mother to one of her kids in need of something. Occasionally, they'd have what they called "Afternoon Delight" (sex) if the opportunity (and desire) presented itself. Teal and Sawyer didn't keep their relationship secret but they didn't go out of their way to flaunt it either. The kids got used to seeing "The Admiral" around and they didn't seem to have a problem with it.'

Sawyer was at Teal's house one afternoon when the newlywed Mary stopped by.

"How's married life treating you?" Sawyer asked with interest.

"It feels like we're still on our honeymoon," Mary gushed. "Married sex is better than I expected."

Teal almost choked on her iced tea at that remark but Sawyer laughed and Mary threw him a knowing look.

"Should we compare our sex lives, Mother?" Mary teased good naturedly.

Teal looked embarrassed and she quickly changed the subject but Sawyer was glad that Mary felt comfortable enough with him around to goad her mom about such things. Teal was still (and probably always would be) a Catholic School girl and she was not one to promote (or even discuss) her sex life in front of others although Sawyer was glad that she had no qualms about sleeping with him knowing she lost him once because of it and that she wasn't about to lose him again. Also, one's sex life at 53 was quite different from that at 20 and an attractive and sexy middle aged woman like Teal wasn't going to deny herself such opportunities.

Boone the Builder's crew completed the renovations on the house – a modernized expanded kitchen with an open dining room as well as a larger master bedroom with its own bath. The outside of the house was sided and all the interior rooms were given new (and bright) paint jobs. Sawyer moved his bedroom into the new master room and he finally felt like he was in his own place (instead of his parent's house). He made his old bedroom his Navy Shrine with all his photos, awards, mementos and other recognitions on display for all to see. Teal called it 'The Captain's Stateroom'.

There was still drama to deal with. Donny Senior got nabbed on a DWI which was a public humiliation for the business. Donny Jr's son Frankie broke his arm jumping off a jungle gym. Ella faced eviction for letting a known drug dealer stay at her place for a few days. Andy dumped his motorcycle avoiding an old lady backing out of her driveway without looking and he ended up in the emergency room. Sawyer was with Teal when she got the call and he had to keep her from getting hysterical as he drove her to the hospital – Teal convinced that her "baby" had broken his neck or splattered his scull when all he had was some bumps, bruises and cuts along with a bruised tail bone. In the latest drama, Tina was thinking about dropping out of Green College and taking off with her boyfriend for Nevada.

"I have to admit there's never a boring moment being with you," Sawyer said lightheartedly after Tina stormed out of Teal's house when her mother was less than enthusiastic about her daughter's plans.

"Sometimes I wonder what you're doing with me," Teal confessed.

"Destiny," Sawyer replied happily. "It became destiny when we kissed behind the garage that time."

Teal smiled sheepishly in reply. "I love you, Captain," she said.

"I love you, Teal."

Sawyer took Teal to see his folks at the assisted living place in Springdale a few times. They were naturally thrilled to see her again and to see her with Sawyer was like a dream come true. Meanwhile, Teal's mother was finally starting to talk seriously about selling her house. Teal briefly toyed with the idea of her mom moving into the same assisted living place as Sawyer's folks but Springdale was a forty-five minute ride and Teal didn't like the idea of her mom being so far away. Teal also thought about perhaps selling her house and moving into her mom's house (whether she was still living there or not) but Teal felt that would still be too difficult a change for Tina and Andy (although maybe not so much if Tina ended up in Nevada).

"Things are moving pretty fast," Teal told Sawyer.

"I'm along for the full ride," he assured her.

September came and it was back to school for Teal and college for Sawyer who suddenly felt much more motivated, empowered, enthusiastic and interested in his class presentations and he approached the material with an entirely new energy and delivery which seemed to excite the students.

"I think I finally found my voice," he told Teal two weeks into the semester. "I even let them call me Captain instead of Mr. Branson."

"Once Navy always Navy," Teal smiled.

Teal still hosted her once a month Sunday family gatherings and Sawyer never missed them. There was an obvious urgency as the family gathered for the latest group meal as it appeared Tina had her bags packed for Nevada. There was added stress and tension as a result of this extreme development – most of her siblings thought Tina was making a mistake to drop out of college, Teal telling her "you'll never go back" if she pursued another lifestyle first.

"You'll get married, or get a job, or have kids and college will slip away," Teal warned.

Ella was also on housing probation but instead of being grateful for still having a place to live she was berating the "big brother" system that wouldn't let her have 'guests' stay with her.

"She's going to get herself evicted and she'll end up living here with the two kids," Teal told Sawyer. "I'll never get to move in with you."

This particular gathering was even more chaotic than usual with the political debates, sibling rivalry, petty arguments, dredging up of past problems and wrongs, and even the unruly behavior of the grandkids all seeming to be even more intense which seemed to be taking a toil on Teal who sat at the head of the table looking like she wanted to scream. Sawyer made a motion with his head at Teal indicating that she should follow him from the room as he left the table.

"What's wrong?" Teal asked when she joined Sawyer in the hall.

He grabbed her arm and pulled her up the stairs and into Mary's old bedroom (he didn't like going into Teal's room where Donny Senior once slept). He closed the door behind her and pushed her against it.

"What are you doing?" Teal asked with surprise.

"Kiss me."

"What?" She asked with confusion.

"Kiss me, Teal,"

"My family's downstairs," she protested. "My mother's downstairs!"

Sawyer ignored her, leaning in and pressing his lips against hers. Teal relented and kissed him back, both deepening the kisses while Sawyer run his fingers along her neck. He tried to tug down her slacks and she broke the kiss.

"Are you crazy?" She demanded. "We can't now!"

"Why not? He grinned playfully.

She let out a deep breath. "Somebody could come up here!" She protested.

"I locked the door."

"They'll know!"

Sawyer managed to get her slacks down to her knees and he was tugging on her panties as Teal tried to wiggle her way away from him but she was giggling at the absurdity of it all. She tripped over her slacks and fell bare-assed to the floor as the force tugged her panties down her thighs too and Sawyer laughed as he lay down on the floor next to her and gave her bare fanny a love tap.

"You make me feel young again, Captain," Teal purred as she gave him a happy kiss.

"We are young again, Teal," he assured her, kissing her in return.

"Anchor's Away, Navy Man!" Teal laughed as she picked herself up off the floor, pulled her slacks up and bolted from the room before Sawyer could get himself off the floor too.

Teal was laughing hysterically as Sawyer pursued her down the stairs where the rest of the family was still arguing about who the hell knew or cared!