Stepping Stone

Jeff Stone and Margaret Harrison met as partners in a Greenville Law Firm. Jeff lived with his son Isaac in Miller City while Margaret lived with her daughter Chantel in a nice house in the Hilltop section of Hillsboro. Chantel never knew her bio-Dad and her mom didn't talk about him much. Chantel was raised by her independent, self-sufficient feminist single mother who earned her law degree on her own and didn't need a man in her life to help raise her daughter.

But love finally caught up with Margaret when her long time working relationship with Jeff morphed into something more. Chantel wanted her mom to be happy and having Jeff and his son move into their large house on the hill wasn't that much of a big deal for her.

Chantel met Isaac several times in the few years leading up to their parents' wedding. She knew that Isaac was a pretty good athlete with the Miller City High School Mudhens. He seemed polite and cordial whenever they were together as a foursome with their parents – dinners and other social events as well as visits to each other's house, but neither teen put a whole lot of effort into getting to know each other - they each had their own lives.

Since Hillsboro was closer to Greenville and Margaret didn't want to upset her daughter's life, Jeff agreed to sell his house in Miller City and move with his son into the Harrison house on the Hilltop. Chantel knew that Isaac got the short end of the stick having to give up his home, adjust to a new school, and start a whole new life after his father and her mother got married – but better him than her!

Chantel liked Jeff who was very kind and considerate toward her and her mother. The wedding ceremony was held in the backyard of Margaret's house although Isaac didn't move in until after their parents returned from their honeymoon. Isaac spent most of his time in his room or away from the house, often returning to Miller City and his old haunts and friends although that frequency began to decrease as he settled into his new life at Hillsboro High and made new friends, mostly through sports. Chantel liked Isaac okay and neither teen wanted to create friction or stress for their parents.

It seemed a cruel joke when Jeff suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage during a work meeting eight months after the wedding and he was comatose by the time the paramedics got him to the hospital. The only saving grace was that Margaret was in the same meeting and she was able to provide love, support and comfort in Jeff's final hours. Isaac and Chantel both managed to get to the hospital in time – Isaac yanked off the baseball practice field, Chantel receiving a hysterical phone call from her Mom while lying half-naked on her bed with her boyfriend, Willie.

Margaret was a mess and Chantel was surprised at how upset she herself became too – she wasn't all that close to Jeff but she never imagined losing him so soon. Isaac was surprisingly stoic during the last goodbye and in the weeks and months in the aftermath of his Dad's death. Isaac was stuck in the Hillsboro House now, of course (at least until he graduated from high school) with two women he did not know very well. He asked Margaret if he could move back to Miller City and live with a friend but Margaret felt that Jeff would want Isaac to stay with her and Chantel so she said no.

Six months had passed since that awful day when Jeff was stricken. It was a new school year – Chantel and Isaac were both seniors now, Isaac a 6'1' wide receiver for the Hillsboro football Hurricanes, a good looking athlete with lengthy brown hair and a muscular build. Chantel was a miniature version of her mother – shapely, expressive, blond, lively, fun-going and cheerful.

Isaac got rid of his Honda after Jeff died and drove his father's sporty Mitsubishi Lancer while Chantel had received a VW Bug for her Sweet Sixteenth. Margaret was burying herself in her work to (not) deal with her grief so the two teens were largely independent with their lives, although Chantel was much more socially active than Isaac who was still considered "the new guy" even though he had been at Hillsboro for a couple of semesters.

Chantel had been dating Willie Tibbets for a year now. He was popular among the music and band geeks and a good catch although Chantel wasn't head over heels with the guy or anything – it just looked good for her image to be hanging out with a guy like him.

Isaac was mostly absorbed with his sports although Chantel sensed that he was mostly a loner. Chantel's best friend Yvonne thought that Isaac was good looking and she went out of her way to be friendly with him whenever she was around.

"I'd fuck him," Yvonne told Chantel not long after Isaac moved into the Harrison house.

Chantel didn't encourage any sort of budding romance between the two knowing it would only complicate matters down the road. Yvonne was a tom-boy type although she was pretty and well accepted at school. She was a sports enthusiast which only perked her interest even more when it came to Isaac.

Yvonne stopped by the Harrison house late one afternoon, let in by Chantel.

"Where's Mister Sexy?"

"In his room, as usual," Chantel replied.

"Why is such a good looking guy so weird?" Yvonne complained. "I practically throw myself at him and he's never interested," she pouted as the two friends sat on the couch watching a Gilmore Girls rerun.

"He's still adjusting to his new life," Chantel explained, although she wasn't sure if that was it.

Yvonne headed home and Chantel went up to her room, stopping at Isaac's door which was closed. They didn't spend a whole lot of time hanging out with each other when they were home other than sharing meals with Margaret when she made it home in time to eat with them. Chantel hadn't exactly felt warmly accepted by Isaac but she assumed most of that was his resistance to accepting all the change in his life. He probably would rather be back in Miller City.

Chantel wondered if she should make more of an effort to be friendly and engaged with him. He had been through hell, there was no denying that so maybe she could be more supportive and caring, offering her friendship as he dealt with all the crap he had been through.

Chantel lightly tapped on the door. "Isaac?" She called through the door but when there was no response she decided to do a safety check, opening the door and stepping into the room.

Isaac was lying on the bed on his back wearing only boxers and a brown Hillsboro Hurricanes practice football jersey, sound asleep. His room had the same amenities as Chantel's – portable half-frig, a large flat screen on the wall, a computer on the desk, and a nice stereo-system. He was much messier than her, though, with books, clothing, trash, and other junk scattered around the room.

Chantel stared at Isaac for a long moment before slowly and carefully crossing the room and stopping at the edge of bed. She found herself reaching out and gently brushing his hair out of his face. Her touch startled Isaac awake and he was clearly confused when he saw Chantel standing before him.

"What are you doing in here?" He asked with surprise.

Chantel shrugged for an answer.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" He asked.

"I don't know," Chantel admitted. "You just looked so…peaceful."

"Did you want something?" Isaac asked with a frown as he sat up on the bed and wiped the sleep from his eyes.

"No, just checking on you 'cause you didn't answer, that's all," Chantel said, watching as he climbed off the bed and pulled some sweats on over his boxers.

Isaac ran his hand through his hair while giving her a funny look. "Don't come in here like that again," he warned.

"Alright, I'm going," Chantel replied, not sure if she was offended or hurt as she headed for the door.

Chantel's mom had become an expert at throwing together a meal in a matter of minutes, or cooking dishes on the weekend and then freezing them for the week so it never took long to prepare a meal once she got home. There was a formal dining room and they ate most meals in there except for the usual-on-the-go breakfasts that took place at the table in the kitchen.

As exhausted and grieved as Margaret often appeared to be, she remained a good conversationalist at the dinner table and she was sure to ask both teens how their day went, interested in keeping up on all the details of their lives. Margaret was much more connected to Chantel, of course, but she made every effort to interact with the poor orphaned Isaac to make sure he wasn't going off the deep end in his father's absence. Isaac appreciated her concern and while he was polite and proper, he remained detached and stoic without a lot to say.

It occurred to Chantel that having Isaac here now was awkward and weird but she didn't say anything to her mother about it.