“A houseboat? You live on a houseboat?” I asked my sister incredulously. “Aren’t you worried about it floating away? Or flooding?”
“Not at all,” Anne laughed at me. “It’s securely moored at the dock and it’s got a floating foundation.”
“But a house…that’s a boat?”
“Just come to Isla and see it,” Anne insisted. She was wearing me down and I’d agreed to come visit with Harold and the kids.
“So what do you think of the house now?” Anne asked when we all arrived. “Isn’t it fabulous?”
“That’s one word for it,” I said. “And you’re sure it’s safe?”
“Absolutely,” Alton came up behind us with the girls. “And it’s fun to drive this thing around and visit all the other islands, too. You should let Travis take you on a tour.”
I shuddered at the thought. “No thanks. I like my houses firmly attached to land. I don’t need to go sight-seeing in one.”
Anne and Travis took me to their new resort, too. Thankfully we took a water taxi and not their hulking house. The whole time Anne told me of the renovations she and Travis had done and how the resort was making good profits.
“All we need is for you to come here and be our executive chef,” she said. I sighed at the familiar refrain.
The resort was very beach-y. That’s what I noticed when I first arrived. It wasn’t too pretentious.
“We have a gym, both an indoor and outdoor bar, and a fun bistro-style restaurant. There’s also a pool and a special part of the beach for surfing.” Anne and Travis extolled the many virtues of their place. “It’s the Fields Family Resort,” Anne said as we completed the tour. “All it needs is another Fields running the kitchen!”
“Anne! I told you already that I didn’t want to move until the kids were older. And I was just going to consider it. I haven’t made up my mind yet. And besides, Harold might not be able to transfer here.”
“Well, consider it harder. Ares is going to start school next year. It’s time to make a decision. And you know that Harold can get transferred anywhere. We’ve got military here. Make up your mind and move already!”
So I did. It was hard for me to stand up against Anne’s persuasion. Also, the resort kitchens did need me. Carols, the head chef I’d recommended, had quit and his replacement, Filipe, wasn’t as good.
The one thing I refused to do, however, was live on the water like my sister. Harold had loved the houseboat. “We could go anywhere in it,” he said, but I put my foot down.
“We buy a house, or we don’t go.”
The compromise was a house that was right by the sea. I didn’t mind. Although it was nothing like my cute little purple house in Aurora, I still liked the ability to go out my back door and walk down to the beach.
Moving to Isla Paradiso was the first of many new changes in our household. The second was the purchase of a little Maine Coon kitten. The girls had been begging for a cat since they were kids. I finally gave in because I thought having a kitten would help them adjust to our new neighborhood. I only agreed to getting the cat when both girls assured me that they would take care of it. They named him Moonie.
Of course I should have known that the one who’d take care of Moonie would be me. The girls loved him, but he seemed to bond mostly to me and I ended up being the one who played with him, brushed him, and cared for him the most.
Working at the resort was an interesting experience. It was very different from working at the Bistro Moderne in Aurora. Luckily Filipe and I got along and worked pretty well together. He wasn’t as temperamental as my old sous chef Carlos.
“It is good you have come,” Filipe greeted me when I first arrived. “I have ideas for a new menu and your sister she does not agree. You will tell her new is better.”
I laughed. “Clearly, you don’t know my sister if you think I can convince her.”
“You will. You will think these ideas brilliant and tell her so.”
In the end, Filipe’s ideas were brilliant, but I didn’t tell Anne anything. Anne had begged me to come here, so she’d just have to deal with the changes I wanted to make. Filipe’s new menu would elevate the cuisine.
As I knew it would, elevating the cuisine improved the overall atmosphere of the resort taking it from a beach-y family resort to a place that wealthy people would want to go. Customers loved eating at the resort. One of the biggest differences from working at the Bistro was having them request that I go out and talk to them.
“I just wanted to tell you how amazing the lobster thermidor was,” one gentleman enthused. “It melted in my mouth. It nearly transported me!”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” I told him. It embarrassed me to receive praise like this from people who had just eaten my food, but I suppose it was less embarrassing than having them get mad because their meal wasn’t perfect.
The hardest part about my new job at the resort was that I wasn’t just in charge of the kitchens. No. My sister had put me in charge of food services for the entire resort. This meant that I had to manage the bar staff and all of the wait staff.
I was no stranger to dealing with employees, but I had never dealt with a bar or with snack carts before.
Work was often grueling, but at least I had Harold to come home to. He made sure that I didn’t go insane or work myself to death.
Harold also made sure the kids did their homework, got to school on time, and enjoyed themselves around town while I was busy at work.
As I knew I would be, I was kept very busy working at the resort. It really wasn’t until after our first year in Isla Paradiso that I had things under control enough so I could spend time for myself.
That second year, we decided to throw a costume party at our house for Spooky Day. The kids had made a lot of friends here, so I wanted to have them all over. I thought the costume party would be fun.
Harold and Ares carved pumpkins that I had grown in my garden. Harold unimaginatively dressed in one of his old flight suits, but I have to say that Ares made an adorable super hero!
Juno dressed as a serial killer and Rhea and her friend Omar went as divers.
Divers were a popular costume. Travis also dressed up as a diver and he wasn’t the only one. As for Anne, she and I decided to coordinate our costumes. She went as the evil twin and I went as the good twin. She was dressed as an evil mastermind and I went as a cop.
“This was a great idea, Rache,” she said. “I never thought you’d throw a costume party!”
“It seemed like the right thing to do. This way the kids can have their friends over and then go trick-or-treating after.”
Isla Paradiso was a good place for us to be. I hated to admit that Anne was right. All of the kids really enjoyed living there and were growing up so well. It was also nice being closer to my sister and Travis.
As each of the children grew into teenagers, I knew that coming here had been a good decision.
And that’s when winter hit the islands. Who knew it could snow in Isla Paradiso? It happened when Ares was in high school. That year we got about six inches of snow-fall.
The kids loved the snow, but Anne and I knew that this adverse weather would affect the resort.
“What should we do?” asked Anne. She’d had to send our outdoor employees home for the second day in a row. “Customers have started canceling their registrations,” she told me.
“What can we do?” I shrugged. “We can keep the restaurant open. Maybe we can do a special on warm drinks in the bar. We can attract more customers to the indoor parts of the resort.”
While Anne and I were trying to figure out how to keep business going, Harold and the kids were making the most of the snow. When I got home, I found them all outside having a massive snowball fight with one of the girls’ friends, Philip Han.
I wasn’t surprised to find out later that Ares had started it.
“We were making snow angels, Mom,” Juno told me. “Then Ares grabbed a bunch of snow and tossed it at me. I couldn’t let him get away with that!”
“It was all in good fun,” Phillip Han said, laughing after he nailed Harold in the chest with a huge snowball. “Mr. Fields and me were inside when we heard Juno screaming. We came out and decided to come to her defense.”
“How did you get involved in this?” I asked Rhea.
“Well, Dad and Phillip were ganging up on Ares, so I joined his team. Then it sort of turned into a free-for-all!”
With the snow, Anne and I had more time off. That meant I got to spend it doing fun things with Harold. I hadn’t been ice-skating since leaving Twinbrook, so that was the one thing I asked to do.
“It will be a date,” Harold told me.
What we didn’t know was that the kids decided to throw a party while we were out. They were going a little stir-crazy with all of the snow keeping them mostly indoors.
Nothing was seriously going on at the party, but still when Harold and I got home, we weren’t pleased.
“Everyone home!” Harold shouted in his best military command voice when we got home and saw all of the teens.
Once they left, Harold yelled at each of the kids. “Rhea! You’re the oldest. You know better than this!”
“We weren’t doing anything!” Rhea said. “We just had some friends over. That’s all.”
“I don’t care, young lady. You didn’t ask and you didn’t have permission to invite people over.”
Harold turned to our son. “Ares! As the man of the house when I’m gone, you should have called us to let us know what was going on.”
“It was just a bunch of friends, Dad! I didn’t think we were doing anything wrong.”
“Anything could have happened and you had no adult supervision.”
“But nothing happened, Dad,” Ares responded.
“I don’t care,” Harold said, “You’re still grounded! All of you!”
I agreed with Harold about the grounding, but I felt sort of bad for Rhea who wasn’t able to have a birthday party because of it. Harold wouldn’t relent, no matter how much she begged.
Rhea was so mad at us that she spent her birthday in her room. “When I’m an adult, I’m leaving!” she threatened.
I knew Rhea wouldn’t leave, though. She planned on going to college and then becoming a political lobbyist. Omar Collins, her boyfriend, was also going into that field.
Omar’s twin sister, Chandelle Collins, had been Rhea’s best friend since we moved to Isla Paradiso. Chandelle was also planning to attend University with Rhea and Omar. The three of them were planning to leave soon after graduation. I just knew I would be a wreck seeing my oldest go off to college! She’s be facing so many temptations and potential threats and I wouldn’t be there to protect her.
About the same time that Rhea graduated, I decided to take another step in my career. I invited my sister and Harold to meet me downtown Isla.
“I want you to see something,” I told Anne, who wondered what I was up to.
The location was an old bakery that hadn’t been opened in over a year. Harold and I had talked about it a lot, and I was planning on purchasing the property.
“What is this place?” Anne asked when I used the key the realtor had given me to open the door.
“It’s the new home of Rachel’s Treat Shop,” I said. I waved my hand around and indicated the baking stoves and empty shelves. “I think I’m going to buy this place.”
“You want to open a bakery?” Anne asked. She was incredulous. I could see the wheels in her head spinning. She was calculating the repercussions of my announcement and how it would impact the resort.
“I do,” I told her. “But don’t worry. I’m not quitting my job at the resort. I just think I need to start thinking about the future. I want to retire soon, but I don’t want to quit work all together.”
“Retirement is a ways off,” Anne said, still skeptical. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“Yeah. I can even supply the resort with fresh treats. It would be good business for the bakery because word would get out.”
“And you’re ok with this?” Anne asked Harold.
“It’s something Rachel really wants to do,” Harold said, nodding. “The place needs some work, but I can do a lot of it myself.”
“You know how handy he is,” I said to my sister. “Harold is going to fix things up. By the time I open, everything will be perfect!”
Of course the bakery wasn’t opened right away. Harold was right. There was a lot of work to be done. I didn’t open the place until after Juno graduated. She was going to join Rhea at the university and study education.
“I’m so excited Mom!” she gave me a big hug after the ceremony. “I can’t believe I’ve graduated.”
“We’re proud of you, honey,” Harold said. Of the three of our children, Juno had the best grades. It was no wonder that she wanted to be a teacher.
That left just Ares still at home with Harold and me. He reminded me of my dad. He was very charismatic, but he was also a little oblivious to what was going on around him.
“Ares, this room is a mess!” I often had to get the boy to pick up after himself. “You’re such a slob!”
“I am not! I just forgot to clean up. I promise mom, I’ll take care of it.”
Ares really wasn’t a slob. He just got so absorbed in whatever it was he was doing and spaced everything else. He could focus on chatting with friends or his guitar or even just laying on his bed and thinking to the exclusion of all else.
Once when I hadn’t seen Ares all day, I went to his room to see him just laying on his bed staring into space.
“Ares, what are you doing?”
“Thinking,” he said dreamily.
“About what?” I asked.
“Girls,” Harold said coming up behind me. “Get out of that bed and come out and do some PT,” Harold ordered. “You’re getting lazy just laying about up here. Think of girls while you sweat!”
Harold was probably right about Ares thinking about girls all the time. He had no end of girls buzzing around him. Martina Collins, Omar and Chandelle’s little sister, was always calling and coming over to see him. I knew the girl thought of herself as Ares’ girlfriend, though he never said that the two of them were dating.
Me, I wasn’t too fond of Martina. I hoped that Ares would actually see that his best friend Emilee was the perfect girl for him. Emilee was nicer than Martina, in my opinion. She was a sweet girl, always polite and kind. I knew she had a huge crush on my son, but he regarded her as his best friend.
Still, a mother can hope. I liked Omar and Chandelle Collins well enough, but I really didn’t want to see two of my children get involved with Collinses.
Martina Collins wasn’t good enough for my baby boy. Something about her was just off.