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( 2017 - somewhere in Texas )
The air was dry and dust caught in Caleb's throat as he hit the kickstand on his motorcycle and leaned back on the bike. The Texas heat was radiating off his helmet and he almost regretted wearing it, but a promise was a promise. Despite that he wouldn't mind driving down the highway with reckless abandon, he knew that Ava would have and sometimes he felt like his words to her were the last things that he was clinging onto. The wooden gate was intimidating. It stared him down with red lettering and warnings to trespassers. There was no way to ride any further.
Caleb frowned, pulling the wrinkled map from his pocket.
Outlined in red pen, a large circle decorated the words Adalie Falls Ranch.
Adalie was his mother's name.
His stomach twisted into a second knot.
This was the right place.
The young man parked the bike and with a last look at the trespassing sign, hopped the fence. In the distance, he could see a one story house with smoke parading from the chimney in a lazy cloud. There were cows walking freely around the yard, chomping on the grass. An effective lawn mower, he supposed.
As he approached the house, the door opened, and to his surprise it wasn't an older man that exited the door, but a young one with blonde hair and similar features to himself.
It had never occurred to him that in twenty years, his father could have remarried and had more children.
Just as Caleb was about to turn away, the stranger looked up and noticed his presence.
Oh mon dieu. There was no avoiding this now.
Caleb shoved his hands into his pockets and slowly walked forwards. Despite that the English greeting was fairly familiar to him after spending two months in the states, his natural language beat him to it. "Bonjour --"
"I mean, hello. My name is Caleb. Does a Spencer Segal live here?"
Caden was sitting and enjoying the smell of nature, sitting here, fishing with his old man while Jonah was napping in the house. He had the monitor on the left beside him incase she needed her dad to help. He loved every moment that the child needed or wanted him. Caden listened to the peacefulness, something about farm life always made him enjoy, spending a life here could be possible but if he had enough people, his need for takeout was much higher then his desire for country-side.
With the sound of someone speeding down the driveway and the combination of Jonah crying on the monitor, he stood up turning to his father. "I will take care of the baby and see who is out front." He said before standing to his feet and heading inside. Picking up Jonah he didn't hear the noise outside anymore.
He walked, with Jonah in tow and opened the door, there stood in his presence a young man that might be closer to his age. He moved his eyes up and down taking him fully in, when the gentleman started with the french hello then moving to English he was grateful for the language he did know.
"Who's asking?" He replied quickly before clearing his throat, to soothe his daughter who just calmed down from crying and to partially calm his own issues.
"I'm sorry that wasn't very kind, yes he does, he is out back! My name's Caden!" He stated extending his free hand to shake it with the man before him.
Caleb had never exactly been good with strangers or making new friends. He tended to be a chameleon inside his social groups and it took him time to open up and adjust to new people. First introductions always had potential to go wrong and Caleb was just thankful when he was able to get through this one without embarrassing himself. So far, he hadn't done too badly. Speaking the wrong language at first was something he'd done many a time since his thoughts were French and sometimes it just took a while to process them into English words. He wiped the sweat off his hands before taking the offer of a handshake. A firm handshake was one of the last things he remembered his mother teaching him. She'd always said that the way you carried yourself and the way you shook hands were two of the first initial ways that people examined you. Handshakes were universal, but much more common in America than the French gesture of kissing both cheeks, but over his years here, he was slowly becoming accustomed to new culture. Caleb cleared his throat, "My name is Caleb...Caleb Segal. I'm looking for my father. He...is American. From my mother's description a Texan rancher, but we've never met."
The Parisian looked around him. This was very different from home. So much of Europe was populated and the nature was more integrated into the cities; America still had so much community that was rural and far away from traffic. He liked it. He'd always liked nature. Perhaps, he got that from his father. People who lived on their own land forty miles from the everything must like their solitude. Caleb tilted his head, attempting to smile at the little blonde girl who sat comfortably on her father's hip, gazing at him with curious but sleepy eyes. "Caden. It's nice to meet you. I assume that you would not mind showing me around?"
The ranch house was low to the ground and had a wrap around porch with white rocking chairs that looked homey. Out back, he could see in the distance a middle-aged man working with a cluster of chickens. The short walk to the back yard gave Caleb long enough to collect his thoughts. What if Spencer didn't want to know him? What if twenty years was too late?
Caleb stopped walking, looking over the fence, with a furrow in his brow. As he did, the older man stopped his work and met his eyes. They were the same startling shade of blue as Caleb's were.
It was like a contest of politeness and good manners as the three men stood in a triad, glancing at one another and saying nothing. Finally, the baby girl broke the silence with a giggle. "Hello! I Jo."
The tension eased a bit. "Hi, Jo, " Caleb chuckled, offering her two fingers to shake. "I'm Caleb."
Over the fence, Spencer's posture stiffened and his eyes widened. "Caleb...I knew a Caleb once. A long time ago."
Caleb swallowed. "My mama's name was Adalie. She always spoke very highly of you."
A pin could of dropped as he waited for someone, anyone to respond.
Caden didn't know what to make of this gentleman who stood at his father's doorstep. He must have had something important to say as the man was sweating and looked nervous, reminding Caden of the days when he told everyone that he got a woman pregnant and he was going to be nervous. Never did he regret it though, the moment he hold his little one, he knew it was love at first sight.
When the man shook his hand and introduced himself as Caleb Segal he wondered if this was somehow his father's son. He was never talked about but as he took a closer look at the man he could see some very slight similarities. Caden opened the door more so he could come inside. "Come back with me, he is out there, we were just fishing while this little one was napping." He said with a few slight tickles and kisses to her.
"This is my daughter, as she stated, she is Jo which is short for Jonah." He said with a smile before letting her down and she shook the fingers that Caleb extended. "Dad do you know this guy?" He asked his dad as he reached out and grabbed a pop out of the cooler and offered it to the gentleman.
Spencer had been waiting for the day that he'd get to meet Caleb face to face again for going on twenty years, but eventually so many had passed that he'd lost hope he'd ever be reunited with his son. In the meantime, he'd gone back to his farm. It wasn't his first love or his passion, but it made a living. He'd met Caden's mother about five years after he'd lost Adalie and while he never loved her the same way that he'd loved Adalie, he loved Caden and his being at the ranch in the summers helped fill the hole that his oldest son had left when Adalie returned to France. He couldn't quite believe that his tall young man with a good handshake was the tiny toddler that time had frozen Caleb as in his mind. The younger man was now over six feet tall with blue eyes like his own; but unlike Spencer's, they weren't piercing. They held the soft wisdom of Caleb's mother. He'd grown up with her, so that made sense. Spencer thought he noticed something else familiar as first looked over Caleb: tense shoulders and a weak smile that didn't make it past his eyes. He was grieving. Why, the old rancher didn't know.
The three of them settled on the outdoor furniture, where Spencer could tell that both his boys were waiting for an explanation that could only come from him. "Caden, this is Caleb. He's your brother. Your half-brother, technically, but your brother all the same. His mother is --"
"Was." Caleb interrupted quietly.
"Was," Spencer corrected himself. He hadn't known where Adalie was, let alone that she was dead. He might need more than one beer. "Was the first love of my life. I lost track of her and...and Caleb, many years ago."
Caleb settled into the deck chair, thankful for the fans that spread the air around. France did not have heat like Texas, especially not humidity. The air was thick with rain as much as it was with tension. However, these people were his family. If anyone could help him get through losing Ava, it was them, right? "Merci," Caleb nodded at the offer of a beer, but turned it down. "I'm five years away from alcohol and it just doesn't have the same appeal."
That was a lie. He would love to get drunk and forget about what was happening in his mind, right now. But, he couldn't. One of the last things he'd promised Ava was that he'd never let himself go that way again.
Spencer and Caleb eyed one another with polite curiosity. Thankfully, the tiny blonde toddler between them broke the tension by climbing up onto Caleb's chair and tugging at the leather jacket he wore. "Pink," She said.
It was red, technically, but the Parisian didn't have the heart to correct her.
Caden listened to his father as he handed him a beer and gave one to his father. Then when his brother said he didn't drink anymore he smiled. "That is totally understandable. One is my limit around my daughter so I have some cola if you would like?" he grabbed one out of the icebox and handed it to the man before him. He took in some notice of the similarities between him and this new brother that he had.
"It's very and admirable that you quit drinking. I don't have the strength I need at least one here and there." He said with a nervous chuckle before running a hand through his hair. The heat wasn't the only thing bothering them outside. It also felt thick with tension out here and he wished there was a magical wave to remove it.
Thankfully Jonah made it that they could enjoy little things. "How about I make us all some lunch? Sandwiches or order some pizza?" He offered thinking food might be the best idea right now.
Caleb nodded at the other young man and managed a smile, as he was offered another beverage. "Thank you. I appreciate that." Some people didn't seem to understand why he'd quit drinking, but he could already appreciate that his his brother saw how it had taken a lot of will power. "Pizza sounds great."
In all honesty, Caleb hadn't had pizza in a while. He wouldn't mind indulging in that today. It was a strange thing to meet your new family and some good food to break the ice would be more than welcome. "What kind is your favorite?"
He'd always had to work hard to be good at casual socialising, but sometimes it was easier to ask questions than to answer them. These were two people that he was very interested in getting to know, despite that the reality he had missed many years was difficult. "In France, they make desert pizza with chocolate and marshmallows. I am very much a fan of that."
His eyes crinkled as he remembered the city cafes that had been the home to the delightful treat. "Have you ever traveled before?"
Spencer chuckled as his son mentioned the pizza turned dessert. "I remember the dessert pizza. Your mother was very fond of it, wasn't she?"
"Yeah," Caleb smiled. "She always said she had to..."
"Burn off the deliciousness by taking extra laps around the lake?" His father answered.
The Parisian nodded. It was interesting to hear from someone else who'd known his mother. It almost made her feel close by again. "How long have you been coming to the ranch, Caden?"
He didn't want to ask too much, too fast, but how could he find the right balance?
There was so much that was new.
Caden smiled at the guy as he agreed to another beverage. Handing him a coke he pulled out his phone and began his search for the pizza place's number. "Dude as long as there is pepperoni, I don't care. I love pizza." Caden said with a smile and looked at Jonah. "What are you thinking, Jo? You want some pizza?" She asked looking at the little girl who was playing carefully.
When they began talking about Caleb's mother he did feel a little out of it but it didn't matter he was okay with that. Obviously, Caleb needed some catching up with their father and that didn't matter to him. He didn't know about this brother of his but that was life throwing you unexpected curveballs.
"No, haven't travelled been busy you know." He said rubbing the head of his daughter and looked at him carefully. "As for the ranch, I come here when I can. I wanted Jonah to experience a little country life but since we live in the city and I work a lot then I need to find the right balance you know? What about you, do you travel often?" The conversation seemed to flow easily between the two of them.
Caleb found it easy to talk to this new, young man, who he honestly believed resembled their father more than he did. He had the same strong nose and jawline and flaxen hair. Caleb had always looked a lot like his mother, but he could see a slight resemblance in his own face to Caden's. It amused him, also, that their names were similar. It made them sound like brothers, despite the fact that they had never met and grown up on opposite sides of the world. Caleb watched how gentle his brother was with the tiny tot and for a moment it made his heart ache. He'd almost had a chance at fatherhood, after all. His son would be about Jo's age. It made him just want to reach out and hug the little stranger; but she was only two and the truth was that it would more likely make her cry than laugh.
He wasn't yet an uncle, barely an acquaintance. "I grew up in the country too," Caleb nodded. "The French country, but still the country. I loved it there for a long time, but recently...I just wanted to get away, you know? See something else."
He couldn't quite bring the words as to why. It wasn't something he felt comfortable sharing, yet. Hopefully, that was okay. Sometimes even family had to take baby steps.
The little girl climbed up onto her daddy's knee, a bit clumsily, and nodded her assent to pepperonis. "Ponies! Want."
"Very yum." Her toothy grin only had the front six teeth, two of which had a gap in the middle.
Caleb tried to hide his smile as the toddler confused her words, combining pizza and pepperoni.
He could imagine there must be a lot of laughter with small people around. For the split second that Caden look away on the phone, Caleb turned to the little girl and made a very silly face. He always got along well with children and before long peals of giggles were pouring out of little Jo Fowler.
Caden wanted to be friendly with Caleb. They only ever had control over their own lives from a certain point on. Caden never knew that his father had been with someone else. But that didn't matter the fact that this man stated he was his brother and that his father confirmed it only meant one thing to Caden. He had a brother and Jonah had an uncle.
"French country? Your family into winemaking?" He said thinking about the french and their wine even though he worried now that he said something it would upset him especially if he is a recovering alcoholic. "Sorry, that might be a bit insensitive. My apologies." He said as he grabbed his phone and made a call to the pizza shop.
"Okay, yes. three pizzas. Pepperoni, Hawaiian and do meat lovers. Oh, wait a sec. " He covered the phone and looked to his brother. "Are you vegetarian or have any allergies?" He asked wanting to be considerate of his brother and how he ate in different situations.
When he noticed how his little girl was already keen to her uncle put a smile on his face. It made things calmer with children. It relaxed tense situations such as this and allowed the younger person to take charge of a situation.
"Much more the floral aspect of gardening than the fruit," Caleb chuckled. "My Aunt has a flower shop in central Paris and all of the flowers and bouquets that she sells are cultivated on our own land in Annecy. It was her dream. She purchased the chalet when she was in her thirties, completely run down and the land almost unusable, but over the last forty years, it's become the home of some of the best French roses, lillies, and daffodils, as well as an apple orchard. We rent the home whenever there are not people there, because I travel and am an only child. I know my Aunt wishes that I would find a place to stay, preferably in France, but she has never left the country. The appeal of other places has always been there for me. I am an artist, like my mama, although she also preferred France." Caleb could not deny that France was a beautiful country, but he'd also planned a life there with his fiancee and now that was an impossibility. There were questions he had which needed answering. While travel didn't answer them, it did seem to calm the restlessness that he often felt. He "And do no worry, I do not mind discussing the art of wine. It truly is a passion project, but I prefer to keep away from it to drink."
Caleb could tell how welcoming Caden was right away. Being presented with a brother from another mother was not something that happened everyday and most people would ostracize themselves, before reaching out, but clearly his younger sibling was not like that. Even his father had retreated into the house by now and Caleb could tell that the way he'd breached his Mama's death had perhaps been a bit too sudden. He'd held a grudge against Spencer for many years, but seeing him struggle over Adalie's death made him reconsider. Perhaps, he'd been too harsh. Perhaps, like every relationship, it had been a journey and Caleb had only heard one side of the story. "I can eat what I like," He nodded. "But, I do appreciate the sentiment, merci."
It had been since yesterday that he'd eaten and the idea of pepperoni pizza was sounding very delicious right about now. He was already excited by the prospect of having a niece. Jonah seemed advanced for her age and as bright as a sunrise. "What is your favorite pizza, Jo?"
"Puppyponi." Jonah giggled. "And cheeese."
Caleb nodded. "Very sound choices."
"What about a favorite color?"
Jo pursed her lips, before confidently nodding. "All."
"You, Daddy?" She looked up at Caden, attempting to include him in the conversation. "Color?"
"Ah, I am sorry. I didn't think, I apologize."
He apologized as his memory came back to him recovering from alchoal. He couldn't blame this on the alchoal he had drank today as he never drank enough to get a buzz since he was always on dad duty. When he spoke about his aunt and the flowers he smiled.
"Seems like you had it busy." When he was finishing his call and he asked about allergies his brother spoke about everything being alright. He nodded and finished placing his call. "They will send someone out soon with the pizza. Sorry about dad, he always seems a little bit more closed off and secluded i.e. probably his reasoning for living in the middle of nowhere." He said with a smile and laugh.
When he saw how much of an attempt Caleb had on his little girl he couldn't help but smile. "You know your dad loves Red and Blue." He stated before rubbing her hair a little with a smile.
"Have any kids of your own, Caleb? You seem to be great with Jo and she sure loves the attention." He nodded with a smile knowing how sweet it was to have all his family around. Some parents could disown their kids for being teen parents. He always counted his blessings that his family was fine with it all.
"I know what it's like to be an introvert." Caleb smiled wryly. It wasn't surprising that his father was, too. His mother had been. It appeared their whole family was of the quiet sort. Even though Caden and Jo were very friendly. Perhaps his brother and the tiny tot could be the family mascots and the ones who cheered everyone on. Despite that Caleb would have loved to have kids, he currently didn't; but the topic seemed a bit much to broach over pizza. Instead of opening up, he took the soft drink that was offered and nodded. "Someday, I hope. Not currently. My fiance and I wanted them, but that didn't work out as intended."
It was nice to share a moment with these strangers, especially little Jo, who was like a little ray of sunshine. Caleb hadn't really smiled in a few weeks. It still may not have hit him that Ava was gone, but subconsciously, it felt like he almost was too. The smiles and polite nature that his mother had instilled in him from childhood managed to hide it pretty well, but inside he was falling to pieces. One of Ava's last wishes was that he would be able to reunite with his father and his family. Perhaps, this was Caleb's way of making her stay alive.
The longer he could indulge her memory, the easier it was to forget that she was gone. "I like to keep busy." It was a good distraction." "But I am certain that the ranch stays busy, too. Especially during the summer. There must be a lot of country fairs and new cattle. "
He didn't know much about American culture, let alone the deep south, but he would be interested in learning. It appeared that, if anything, his family knew how to relax. Caleb could use a day off more right now than he could ever have before. "What do you and...uh, our father enjoy doing together?"