- IV -

"I can't believe you made me wait all day for a kiss! What are you trying to pull?" Tristan demanded as he flung the car door open, threw his backpack in the back, and practically tackled Beatrix at the driver's side.

She laughed as her vehicle groaned and tilted slightly to one side beneath his weight. The space barely accommodated his size, and he wrapped his large arms around her to draw her closer to him. Staying true to her promise, she raised her lips for him to capture.

Once he was satisfied with collecting what she owed him that morning, he grinned and allowed her to sit back up. "You know, I don't see the difference in waiting till after school to risk PDA. I mean, there are just as many people walking around as in the morning."

Beatrix took a few seconds to straighten her hair before turning the key in the ignition. "There are fewer faculty members outside in the afternoon. I'm not too worried about students seeing us, just teachers."

"Oh. Well, how about we take it a little bit further, then?" He wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.

"…In your school parking lot?"

"I'm kidding." He reached out a hand to stroke her cheek, an impish smile spreading on his face. "We can wait till we get home."

She rolled her eyes at that but laughed nevertheless.

They reached Tristan's house soon after, and she followed him in after grabbing her backpack for their study session later on. As soon as she stepped inside, she met the familiar smells of the abode she long considered her second home… including the unmistakable scent of burnt bread wafting from the kitchen.

Tristan sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. "I think Dad was attempting to bake again."

Beatrix placed her backpack on the floor next to the sofa as he disappeared into the dining room. She heard the clatter of pans and utensils from the direction of the kitchen, followed by the sound of running water. He returned a minute later, brushing off charred crumbs from his hands and shaking his head.

"Yep. And once again, he managed to screw up a simple loaf and leave a mess," he declared, shrugging off his own backpack and flopping onto the sofa. He opened his arms out to Beatrix, gesturing for her to come to him.

She sat on his lap, and he wasted no time pulling her against his chest. "So where is he?" she inquired, struggling to sit up in case Harold happened to walk into the room.

"He left a note saying he'll be fishing with one of his business buddies for the rest of the afternoon," Tristan replied as he trapped her more tightly in his arms. He then began to nuzzle her cheek. "So it's just you and me..."

"And a couple of textbooks just begging for you to open them," she reminded him, bringing up her hands to hold his face in her palms. "You have that geometry test tomorrow, remember?"

He ruined her attempt at strictness by crossing his eyes and making fish lips between her hands. She began giggling in spite of herself as he started to make kissing sounds to accompany the ridiculous look on his face. They engaged in a few more minutes of playfulness, Beatrix swatting at him when he attempted to plant a big wet kiss on her with his over-exaggerated pucker up.

"Tristan!" she cried once his fingers dug into her sides to tickle her. "Stop. We really have to start studying if you want to do well tomorrow."

He ceased his attack on her ribs and sighed as the reminder of the dreadful upcoming test returned to his memory. He touched his forehead to hers, staring straight into her eyes. "Do you really think I'll be able to learn all this crap by tonight? Everything in that class just goes over my head," he grumbled.

She kissed his nose and hopped off his lap. "Geometry was the only math I ever liked. I'll be able to explain it to you in no time," she assured him, grabbing the necessary books and materials and spreading them out on the coffee table.

Tristan sighed dramatically again but leaned forward to endure the next three hours of cramming on angles, polygons, and space figures. Beatrix could understand his detestation for the subject and remained tolerant as he whined and complained throughout the entire study session. She patiently soothed his recurring frustration whenever he failed to register a certain term or equation, and she helped him through solving each problem on his study guide.

They were almost finished completing his last problem when the sound of an approaching vehicle reached their ears from outside. Beatrix glanced out the window and saw the late afternoon giving way to evening, the sky having faded to a pale red-orange. She turned back to check on Tristan's progress, feeling a swell of pride when he completed the equation correctly.

A few seconds later, the door swung open to reveal the weathered form of Harold Norgaard. He was surrounded by fishing gear, balancing three fishing poles against his rotund belly as he waved good bye to his fishing companion, who had dropped him off. As the owner and executive editor of Norgaard Publishing—a very cushy position—he had grown physically lazy and let himself go over the years.

"Hey, Dad," Tristan greeted, his voice and face weary from the excessive mathematical information that had lodged itself into his brain.

"Hi, Harold," Beatrix said as she stood up to relieve him of the fishing tackle and small cooler he toted. "Here, I'll take those for you."

"Hello, you two. Thanks, Beatrix," he told her gratefully, the corners of his eyes wrinkling as he smiled at her.

She lifted the cooler and tilted it left and right, feeling the swishing of the water inside. "Did you catch anything?"

"Three Spanish mackerels," Harold replied. "If you could just leave them in the sink, I'll get to scaling and cleaning them right away…" The hopeful note in his voice was undeniably obvious.

Beatrix grinned at the unspoken favor request. She knew him too well not to pick up on it. "All right, Harold. But if I'm going to cook here tonight, I'll have to call my dad and tell him to come over so he doesn't go hungry."

"Of course," he said at once, stepping inside and shutting the door behind him. "That's what I was thinking, actually. The four of us haven't sat down for dinner in the longest time…"

"It's only been a week, Dad," Tristan retorted crossly from the sofa. "You're just exploiting Beatrix's culinary skills because you can't cook worth a hoot. I saw that sad lump of charcoal you mistakenly thought would turn out to be bread sitting on the kitchen counter today."

Harold grew ruffled. "In my defense, my eyesight is deteriorating at my age, and I simply read the temperature wrong on the recipe," he huffed.

Beatrix carried the tackle and cooler into the kitchen as the father and son pair began to bicker. She placed the tackle on the counter and drained the cooler in the sink, watching as three large mackerels slipped out and hit the stainless steel. She rinsed off the interior of the cooler and washed her hands, trying to decide how she should prepare the fish.

"Oh, you're so full of it, old man," came Tristan's voice from the living room. "Don't you even try that single parent pity thing on me!"

The arguments and constant nagging between Harold and Tristan were usually done in good humor, so Beatrix ignored them as she reached for the phone on the wall to call her father.

An hour later, she had two of the fish baking in the oven. Tristan had announced his retirement from geometry for the night, assuring Beatrix she'd explained it well enough that he was confident he would pass the test. He started setting the table obediently after she had recruited his assistance when a knock sounded on the door.

Harold went to open it and greeted Roger, who had driven straight to Gulf Breeze after work. He invited him inside as the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

"Something smells good," Beatrix's father remarked as he loosened his tie and stared expectantly toward the kitchen.

"Well, it certainly has nothing to do with my dad," Tristan said from the dining room, sending the older Norgaard a wry smile.

"What do you mean it has nothing to do with me? I caught the fish!" Harold protested.

"But without Beatrix, you wouldn't be able to do anything with it."

"That's beside the point!"

"Give it a rest, you two," Beatrix said, appearing in the kitchen doorway. She shook her head at her father in feigned exhaustion. "Honestly, Dad, they've been at this for over an hour now."

Roger laughed, patting his friend on the back as Harold began to complain about his ungrateful son.

The two of them settled in the living room to watch TV while Beatrix returned to the oven to check on the fish. Noting the time left, she went to the refrigerator and retrieved the items to make a salad. Tristan offered to help and immediately found himself bombarded with an armful of lettuce, tomatoes, and salad dressing as Beatrix spotted a bag of rice sitting on the counter and proceeded to cook a few cups.

She had just finished pouring the rice and water into the rice cooker when she caught Tristan grinning at her from the corner of her eye.

"What?" she asked, staring back at him as he chopped up the lettuce precariously close to his left thumb.

"Nothing," he replied, glancing down at his task but maintaining his grin. "I was just thinking that this is probably what it's gonna be like. You know, when we get married and have our own place."

Beatrix's eyebrows rose. "Yeah? You mean we're going to have both our dads living with us, and you will argue with yours every day until mine comes home to distract him with the TV?" she asked with a snort.

His face shifted to a grimace. "Aw, come on, Bea… don't ruin the image for me."

She peered sideways at him before reaching for an oven mitt. "Anyway, what the hell is a teenage boy even doing daydreaming about a family life?"

Tristan only chuckled as he dropped the salad into a large bowl and took it to the dining room.

Once all the food had been laid out on the table, Beatrix called for the rest of them to sit for dinner. The warm atmosphere relaxed them as they discussed current events, news, and weekend plans. All three men complimented Beatrix on her cooking, and she beamed with delight at their unanimous opinion. After they finished the meal, they cleaned up and then gathered back into the living room, Tristan and Beatrix claiming the loveseat while Roger and Harold sank into the sofa chairs. As the TV continued to emit noise in the background, the conversation turned to the arrival of the new family in Pace.

"So we finally got a new president at the university," Roger said, looking more excited than necessary.

At that announcement, Beatrix's thoughts wandered back to her day at school. Drake Sinclair's intense gaze flashed across the forefront of her mind, but Tristan's quick peck on her cheek dismissed it. She turned to him and smiled as he laced his fingers with hers.

"Oh really? That's good," Harold replied as he sipped on a glass of herbal tea.

"Yeah," Roger continued. "He and his family just came in from Massachusetts, and he recently won a prestigious award for his research on disorders of the central nervous system. His name is Dr. Arthur Sinclair."

The coffee table and part of Tristan's leg was suddenly sprayed with warm tea. Harold coughed and hacked as he set the glass down and covered his mouth with one hand to stifle the sound.

"What the heck, Dad?" Tristan scowled, wiping off the liquid on his shin with his hand.

"Harold?" Roger asked in concern, thumping him on the back. "What happened? Are you all right?"

"Did you say 'Sinclair'?" Harold wheezed, his eyes bugging out as he struggled to breathe correctly.

Roger's brows drew together in puzzlement. "Yes. Why?"

Beatrix watched the horror invade Harold's aging features. His strong reaction had startled them all, and he attempted to pull himself together as her shocked eyes roam over him. He waved Roger off and cleared his throat several times before he settled back in his chair. The alarm in his face, however, did not fade. An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of Beatrix's stomach. If anything, she had never seen him look so… frightened.


A/N: I literally hacked this chapter down to half its original size since most of it was awkward dialogue, useless introspection, and nauseating lovey-dovey scenes between Beatrix and Tristan. This is where I left off in the story before I abandoned it (back in 2008), so unless anyone—for some reason—wants to read more, this is it. Thanks for enduring!