Holiday Plans

‘Family drama’ wasn’t on the list of amenities when the Ericksons rented the Crandalls’ Florida home for the holidays.

A Christmas ornament reflecting an image of a coastal town.

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“Kay, I’ve done something.” In Larry’s wide grin Kay saw a flash of the boy she’d married 42 years before. “I hope you’ll like it.”

Kay and Larry Crandall were having cocktails on their patio, sitting together on their wicker couch. They’d lit the fire pit to ward off the chill of an early December evening in St. Pete.

“Tell me,” said Kay, pleasantly stirred. “Or will you make me wait until Christmas?”

“No, I’ve gone as far as I can on my own. We should do the rest together.” Larry was watching her closely. “It’s about our holiday plans.”

Kay’s enthusiasm faded. “Oh, honey. What’s the point? You know we’ll end up doing whatever S&P want, whenever they make up their minds. They won’t pay attention to anything we say.”

S&P was Kay and Larry’s abbreviation for their son Spencer and his wife Paula, a pun on Spencer’s annoying habit of checking index funds on his phone every two minutes. The term was reserved for times of great exasperation, meaning it was in daily use.

Like today. Paula had texted that morning to say would they please take Robert for a little bit, ending with a string of heart and smile emojis. As usual, Kay said yes, and their three-year-old grandson was dropped off half an hour later. And as usual it was a full eight hours before Paula texted more emojis and told them to bring Robert home ASAP.

These last-minute demands, flimsily packaged as requests, had increased steadily since Kay and Larry’s retirement from teaching the year before. S&P seemed to feel their careers were too demanding — his as an investment advisor, hers as a personal trainer — to care for Robert themselves, and that his grandparents should do it for them. Any resistance was met with icy displeasure. Kay and Larry didn’t want Robert to pick up on any family tensions, so they stifled their frustrations and focused instead on how much they loved their grandson, with his long lashes and big dark eyes, his sturdy little body and thoughtful gaze. Robert, they suspected, was more akin to his grandparents than his parents, a dreamer and a wonderer, a gentle soul.

But now Larry had a gleam in his eye. “I know they won’t listen. I’m counting on it.” He rattled the ice cubes in his Manhattan. “Honey, it’s time to set boundaries with Spencer and Paula.”

“Sweetheart!” said Kay, mildly alarmed. “Have you been reading self-help books again?”

“Not exactly.” He gave her a hopeful look. “I’ve been researching vacation rentals. The holidays are a perfect time to try it out.”

“You’ve booked us a vacation somewhere?”

“No, I’ve rented out our house. From Christmas Eve until the third of January.”

Kay stared at him. “You’ve rented out our home. To strangers? Without telling me?”

“Highly rated strangers. Five stars, great reviews.” Worry lines creased his forehead. “I’m sorry for not telling you sooner. I was afraid I’d weaken. And I really think it’s important for us to do this.”

“At Christmas.” She was aghast. “We’re just going to leave our house. Even though it’s the most important family time of the year. What were you thinking?”

Larry took her hand. “Tell me what you remember about last Christmas.”

“Last year? I’m sure it was very nice. Let’s see, I think Spencer and Paula and Robert came over on Christmas Eve to open gifts, and we had dinner together on Christmas Day.”

“That’s what we’d planned, but no,” Larry said gently. “They dropped Robert off on Christmas Eve so they could take Spencer’s clients out on the boat for a holiday lights tour. Robert stayed overnight, but we couldn’t give him our gifts because S&P wanted to be there when he opened them. They didn’t show up until four p.m. on Christmas Day. We had to keep telling Robert it wasn’t Christmas yet.”

Kay sagged against the cushion. “It’s coming back to me.”

“When they finally showed up, they didn’t even stay for the wonderful dinner you’d prepared.”

“That’s right,” she said. “Turkey for us and tofurkey for Paula.”

“Instead, they were here for barely half an hour, making Robert race through his presents so they wouldn’t be late for Christmas dinner at Paula’s sister’s house.”

“Which they hadn’t told us about.”

“Even though we’d asked. A dozen times,” said Larry.

“What was their gift to us?” asked Kay.

“A certificate to Paula’s boot camp class for beginners.”

She sighed. “Robert was lovely, though.”

“Robert is always lovely. But Christmas was crap.”

Kay startled at the vehemence in his voice. “Well, I don’t know if it was crap.”

“You’d gone to all the trouble of making that lovely meal, and they didn’t even have the decency to tell us they’d planned all along to go to her sister’s,” said Larry. “I’m done with that. Just done.”

Kay felt a sexual thrill. Her mild-mannered husband suddenly had a Mission Impossible aura around him. “Tell me again what you’re planning, my love?” She ran her fingers along his arm.

“So far I’ve only rented out the house. I wanted to figure out the rest with you, once I knew someone booked it.”

Kay looked out at the yard. Robert’s swing set glimmered in the last light. At the edge of the lawn were dark clusters of saw palmettos and bamboo palms, punctuated with big pots of coleus, petunias, and snapdragons. The hot tub pump gurgled softly. It was hard to believe that in a few weeks, some stranger would be looking at this view instead of her.

“I see. I wish you’d told me before.” Kay sipped her vodka and tonic, her thoughts whirling. “How much will we make?”

“About fifteen hundred dollars. It’s a nice boost for our vacation fund. You know, the one we haven’t touched because we can never make firm plans.”

“I guess we’d better make some now,” said Kay. It was all so unsettling.

“Exactly.” Larry leaned toward her. “How about Aruba?”

“Aruba?” Where they’d honeymooned, back when they’d been impossibly young and radiant. She remembered lazy days of sunshine, turquoise waters, the murmur of the sea as they lay together in a big soft bed.

It suddenly mattered less that strangers would be sitting in her hot tub. “Oh, honey, that sounds wonderful.” She rested her head on Larry’s shoulder. “Although I hate to be away from Robert at Christmas.”

“So do I. But we need time together, just the two of us.” He put his arm around her. “And we’ll be doing a major reset with Spencer and Paula.”

“I guess it’s not a tragedy for Robert to spend the holidays with his own parents,” said Kay. Then she frowned. “When do we tell them? They’ll go ballistic.”

“As late as possible,” said Larry.

“On our way to the airport.”

“On the plane. Right before we have to turn off our electronic devices.”

“No, when we land!” said Kay. “So they can’t talk the pilot into turning around.”

Over the next few weeks, Kay and Larry prepped their home for the Minnesota family who had rented it: storing clothes and valuables in locked closets, buying new towels and linens, organizing a basic selection of kitchen supplies. To avoid awkward questions from S&P, they decorated as they always did, though with second-tier ornaments in case their guests turned out to be clumsy or sticky-fingered. They found a last-minute deal for a resort condo in Aruba.

On December 23, Kay and Larry gave Robert an early Christmas present, getting a little misty-eyed as he hugged his new stuffed lamb. The next morning, they left for the airport at seven, right before a crew arrived to deep-clean their house.

They really were planning to text Spencer the moment they landed in Aruba, but Larry accidentally left his phone plugged into the kitchen charger, and Kay’s battery was dead. Then they meant to send a message as soon her phone was charged, but a lunchtime pitcher of margaritas led to a long afternoon nap with benefits.

* * *

At 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the Ericksons pulled up in the driveway of their holiday rental in St. Petersburg. It was a tidy ranch home with icicle lights dangling from the eaves, a Snoopy in a Santa hat on the front step, and a pink wreath on the door.

“Looks like the picture,” said Jake, double-checking the house number to be sure. “I like the bonus Christmas decorations.”

“Thank you, Santa,” said Amanda.

“Is Santa here?” shrieked Maeve, their four-year-old daughter, who was running on fumes after the long flight from Minneapolis.

“Not until tomorrow, honey,” said Amanda. She stepped out of the car and breathed in deeply. “Oh, the air smells wonderful. No snow in this forecast.”

“No ice, no slush,” said Jake. “Merry Christmas to us!”

He helped Maeve out of her car seat. Then they all grabbed bags — even Maeve claimed her wheeled princess suitcase — and went to the front door. Amanda entered the security code, and when the lock released, they walked into a living room with cozy furnishings and a pink Christmas tree loaded with ornaments.

“A pink tree!” said Maeve. She knelt to examine the crèche underneath it. “Uh-oh, no Baby Jesus.”

“It’s because he’s not born yet,” said Amanda, wondering where their hosts might have hidden the Jesus figurine. It would be hard to explain an empty crib in the morning.

“Nothing generic about this place,” said Jake, eyeing the crowded bookshelves and framed watercolors. “I like it.”

Maeve was fascinated by a large ottoman in a bright flamingo print. “This my bed,” she announced, and clambered on top of it. “I sleep now.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Amanda. “Daddy and I will unpack.”

* * *

Paula Crandall put Robert’s jacket and an extra outfit into his Spiderman backpack. She and Spencer were hosting a grown-ups-only Christmas Eve gathering for clients and neighbors, so Robert was going to spend the night at his grandparents. Paula was quite sure she had mentioned this to her mother-in-law because it was on her list to do that. There was a lot on her list.

In fact, she should have left Robert with her in-laws last night instead of picking him up after her salon appointment. Then she’d have had the whole day to get ready.

Paula zipped up the backpack. Now she had to check the appetizers and make sure the bartender was set up. “Spencer? Can you take Robert to your parents’ house?”

“What the hell?” Spencer was staring at his phone. “Stay-Cor just filed for Chapter 11. No warning.”

“Spencer,” Paula said sharply. “Guests will be here in half an hour.”

“Yeah, one sec,” said Spencer. “I gotta talk to Phil.”

“Call him later. Seriously. You need to drop Robert off and get back here.”

“Fine. Do my parents know he’s coming?”

“Of course,” snapped Paula, heading into the kitchen.

Spencer glanced at his son, who was marching his new toy lamb across their marble coffee table. Robert was wearing his Christmas onesie, soft brown PJs with a hood that had antlers. “Come on, champ,” said Spencer. “Let’s go see your grandparents.”

At every stoplight on the way over, Spencer checked for more news. He’d been adding Stay-Cor shares to his clients’ portfolios all fall. This was bad.

His phone rang as he pulled into his parents’ driveway. “Phil!” he barked. “Yeah, Stay-Cor. You saw it?” Distracted, he paid no attention to the bright blue RAV4 parked next to his Mercedes. “Are we overexposed?”

Still talking, he got out of the car, opened Robert’s door, and unbuckled his son from the car seat. Robert trotted to the door, clutching the lamb.

“Get Harry on the line, will you? I’ll wait.” Spencer grabbed the Spiderman backpack and followed Robert. The front door was locked, which was strange. He set the backpack down so he could punch in the code.

“Harry? Yeah. Phil, you still there? One second.” Spencer muted his phone and opened the front door. “Hello!” he called out, as Robert slipped in past him. “Just dropping off Robert!”

No answer, but he had to get back to his call. “Okay, I’m leaving!” Silence. Maybe his parents were out on the patio. In case they could hear him, he added loudly, “Hey, don’t open any more gifts with Robert till we come over tomorrow!” He knew Paula was pissed about the lamb.

Spencer let himself out the front door without bothering to lock it. He stopped short when he noticed the blue RAV4 in the driveway. His parents bought a new car? They must have really splurged on themselves this Christmas. Shaking his head, Spencer unmuted his phone. “Okay, guys. We’re gonna have to spin this.” He kept talking as he got in his car and drove away.

* * *

Robert looked around the living room. Something was different. There was the big pink tree, and all the books, and the rocking chair, and the couch … oh. A little girl was sleeping on the birdie bed. Robert liked to sleep there too. He climbed up and snuggled in next to her.

Jake and Amanda were putting their clothes away in the master bedroom. One closet was locked, but the other had plenty of shelves and hanging space. The room was comfortable, with a teal quilt on the queen-size bed, nightstands with palm tree lamps, and a sliding glass door to the patio. They’d already checked out the room where Maeve would sleep. It was perfect for a child, with matching dolphin bedspreads on twin beds.

“We found a winner, honey.” Jake put his arms around Amanda.

“Mmm,” said Amanda. She leaned against him for a moment before pulling away. “Later, surfer dude. I’m going to check on Maeve.”

She stopped short when she entered the living room. Maeve was sitting up on the ottoman. Next to her was a little dark-haired boy in soft brown pajamas.

Maeve giggled. “Look, Mommy!”

“Sweetie, who is that? How did he get in here?” Amanda raised her voice but kept her tone light. “Daddy, we need you!”

“I like this boy,” said Maeve, patting him tenderly on the cheeks. “He Baby Jesus.”

Jake arrived. “What the — who’s the kid?”

“Baby Jesus!” said Maeve.

Amanda, dazed, was thinking the boy’s brown PJs would be right at home in a manger scene. So would his stuffed lamb.

“How did he get in here?” asked Jake.

“We must have left the front door unlocked,” said Amanda.

Jake went to check it. “You’re right. So what, he just wandered in?”

“I guess.” Amanda crouched down beside the little boy. “Honey, what’s your name?”

“I Wobut,” he said.

“I Robot?” snickered Jake.

Amanda nudged him. “Shut up. I think he said ‘Robert.’”

The boy nodded.

“He Baby Jesus,” Maeve insisted.

“Robert, what’s your last name?” Amanda asked kindly.

The boy gave Maeve a sly smile. “Jesus.” He put his thumb in his mouth.

“Jesus,” said Jake. “Hey, little guy, do you know your address?”

Robert spoke around his thumb. “I live my house.”

Amanda looked at Jake in consternation. “This is why Maeve has to memorize our address.”

“You mean for when she breaks into vacation rentals? I hope we’re raising her better than that,” said Jake.

Amanda swatted his arm. “Come on. We have to figure out where this kid belongs.”

Robert took his thumb out of his mouth and looked around. “Wheah Gamma? Wheah Boppa?”

“Bingo!” said Jake. “Our hosts must be his grandparents.”

“My God, they wouldn’t just leave him behind, would they?” asked Amanda.

“He wasn’t mentioned on the list of amenities. There’s a contact number — let me call.”

A moment later they heard the opening riff of “Margaritaville.” They followed the sound to the kitchen, where an iPhone was plugged into a charger. Jake’s number was on the screen.

“Yeah, this is kind of bad now,” said Jake. “The booking only gives their first names, Larry and Kay.”

“I think I saw something,” said Amanda. She stepped out the front door and looked at the address. Above it was a plaque shaped like an alligator, with a name burnt into the wood. “The Crandalls!” she called back.

“Wobut Jesus Cwandall,” said Robert.

“There’s a bag out here.” Amanda carried the Spiderman backpack over to the couch. “Someone must have dropped this off along with Robert.” She rummaged through it, looking for any identifying information. There was none.

Robert and Maeve slid off the ottoman. Hand in hand they explored the room, with Robert offering helpful details. “Gamma twee. Boppa books. Gamma couch.”

Jake was on his phone. “Googling Larry Crandall, Kay Crandall, Robert Crandall right now.”

“Throw in Jesus for good luck,” said Amanda.

“Here we go.” Jake handed her the phone. An obituary for George Crandall, 1929–2018, confirmed that their surprise visitor was likely Robert Crandall, son of Spencer (Paula) Crandall, grandson of Larry (Kay) Crandall, great-grandson of George and his late wife Irma. Another search turned up an address for Spencer and Paula Crandall on Bay Point Drive, about 15 minutes away.

“Thank God they live around here,” said Jake. “Let’s hope they’re home.” He put his hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Come on, little guy; let’s go find your family.”

Robert’s face crumpled. “Want her,” he said, pointing at Maeve, who, sensing a looming tragedy, opened her mouth to wail.

“Let’s all go,” Amanda said hastily. “Anyway, Jake, it would look weird if you turned up alone with their kid.” She took Maeve’s hand. “Come on, honey, you want to see Robert’s house?”

“Yeah!” said Maeve, joyfully spinning around.

“So do I,” said Jake.

It was a little after four. The sky was overcast and it was chilly enough for even Minnesota people to wear coats. Amanda found a red jacket in Robert’s backpack and put it on him. She pulled up the hood of his PJs and the antlers popped out.

“Now you Rudolph!” Maeve said with admiration.

When they went out to the car, Amanda saw a problem. “Only one car seat.”

“Shoot,” said Jake. “I’ll check the garage.” He went back into the house to enter the attached garage. A moment later he emerged. “Found one!”

Robert looked at it and shook his head. “Foah babies,” he said with disdain. It was true, the style was one Maeve had already grown out of. But it looked like he would still fit into it.

“It’s okay, tonight you’re Baby Jesus!” said Jake.

Robert nodded reluctantly.

“Good one, surfer dude,” said Amanda.

They loaded in the kids and set off for what Amanda fervently hoped would be Robert’s house. At first the houses they passed were modest bungalows and ranches, like the one where they were staying. But as they crossed a bridge over Coffeepot Bayou, they could see lavish homes along the water with emerald lawns, palm trees glittering with holiday lights, and boats moored at private docks.

“Imagine living in a place like that,” said Amanda.

Jake tapped the navigation screen. “Looks like Robert does.”

“Really? Wow. This is so … over the top. Jake, we’re not in Minnesota anymore.”


“No. I’m fascinated. It’s like a different species of humans lives around here. Wish I could see them in action.”

“You’re about to, if we’re lucky. You can take field notes.”

“Right. And creep them out even more.”

They were approaching a Mediterranean-style mansion with elaborate holiday lights and a driveway packed with late-model cars. More cars were parked along the street.

“This should be it,” said Jake.

“Robert, is that your house?” asked Amanda. The little boy nodded emphatically.

They watched a couple walk up to the open front door and disappear inside. “Either they’re rounding up a search party or having an actual party,” said Jake. He opened his door and a rock version of “Jingle Bells” reached their ears.

“My money’s on the party,” said Amanda. She helped Robert out of the car seat. “Okay, buddy, let’s go see your family.”

“I come too!” wailed Maeve.

“Sure, sweetie,” said Jake. “We’ll all go. Then Robert’s mommy and daddy won’t think we’re kidnappers.”

They walked up to the house and cautiously stepped inside. Beyond a marble foyer was a sprawling great room with white walls, white couches, and white carpeting. Amanda wondered how they made that work with a toddler around. There were four silver Christmas trees, one in each corner, decorated with huge red bells. Mistletoe dangled from a massive chandelier.

Partygoers filled the room, dressed in everything from suits and cocktail dresses to snowman sweatshirts. The din of conversation competed with Britney Spears asking if Santa could hear her.

“Every minute this gets more awkward, doesn’t it?” murmured Jake.

“Like we crashed a Real Housewives party,” said Amanda.

Their arrival caught the attention of a blonde woman in a tight green dress and a Santa hat. She approached them with a smile, but her expression shifted to alarm when she saw Robert.

“What in the world?” Her voice was on the verge of a screech.

“Are you Paula Crandall?” asked Amanda.

“Hi, Mommy,” said Robert.

“Let’s take that as a yes,” said Jake.

Paula looked at them in confusion. “What is Robert doing here?”

“Someone dropped him off at the place where we’re staying,” said Amanda. “We’ve rented Larry and Kay Crandall’s house for the next ten days. They’re Robert’s grandparents, right?”

“Yeah,” said Paula, pulling Robert to her side. “Who the hell are you?”

“Jake and Amanda Erickson,” said Jake, extending a hand, which Paula ignored. He moved the hand to his daughter’s shoulder. “And this is Maeve.”

Paula scowled at them. “What do you mean, you rented Larry and Kay’s house? That’s ridiculous!”

“Here’s the deal,” Jake said calmly. “Your in-laws rented their house to us for the holidays and went somewhere else. We don’t know where. But someone dropped Robert off there about an hour ago. Was it you?”

Paula gestured at the scene around them. “This is really not a good time. You’ll have to contact my mother-in-law.”

“Paula, your in-laws aren’t home,” Amanda said firmly. “You need to take your son.”

Paula turned and yelled at a tall man who was standing apart from everyone, texting on his phone. “Spencer!” He looked up. “Will you get over here for God’s sake?”

The tall texting man joined them. He was wearing a green dress shirt and black slacks. “What’s going on?”

Paula spoke bitterly. “Spencer, these people did something to your parents and now they’ve brought Robert back.”

Maeve pushed forward. “You not the real mommy of Baby Jesus,” she said, glaring at Paula. “You don’t love Baby Jesus.” She wrapped her arms around Robert and looked up at Amanda. “Mommy, we keep him?”

“No, sweetie, of course not,” said Amanda, mortified. “Robert’s parents love him very much.” She gave Paula a sympathetic mom-to-mom look as she patted Maeve’s head.

Paula’s eyes widened and she looked uncertain for a moment. Then, breaking from Amanda’s gaze, she put a hand to her forehead. “I just can’t. Spencer, deal with this. I haven’t said hello to the Wongs yet, and the Kramers want to see the poolhouse.” She walked away.

Spencer stood there with a wrinkled brow, managing to look annoyed and worried at the same time. “Let’s start over. Who are you again?”

Jake sighed. “We are the Ericksons. I’m Jake, she’s Amanda, and this is our daughter Maeve. Your parents rented their house to us for the holidays. We got there today and Robert showed up a little later. Did you drop him off?”

Spencer blinked. “I did, yeah. But I was sure they were home.” His mouth went slack. “Was that your RAV4 in the driveway?”

“It’s our rental car,” said Jake. “So did your parents know you were dropping Robert off today?”

“Of course! We do it all the time. I’m sure Paula set it up with them. I mean, she probably did. They’re always home so it doesn’t really matter.”

“Well, they’re not home now. Didn’t they tell you they’d rented out the house?”

Spencer flushed. “I, ah, I don’t think so. I’ll call my father right now.”

“Call your mother,” said Jake. “Your dad forgot his phone.”

Spencer looked at him with suspicion, but made a call. “Mom? Where are you?” He paused. “No, I didn’t see your text. Aruba? Are you kidding me?” His voice was petulant. He listened for a moment and broke in again. “But Robert needs you!” His face darkened with anger.

Amanda felt sorry for Larry and Kay Crandall. If their grown son was still throwing tantrums, no wonder they’d escaped to Aruba.

Spencer listened some more, brows knitted together, darting glances at his son. “Fine,” he said at last, and stabbed his screen to end the call. He closed his eyes as if summoning all his strength.

Robert tugged at Maeve’s hand. “You see my toys.”

Amanda held her back. “No, honey, we’re not staying.”

Spencer opened his eyes and smiled broadly. The transformation was a little scary. “Man, isn’t this crazy?”

Amanda and Jake exchanged glances. It certainly was.

“You never know what two retirees will dream up.” Spencer’s tone was jovial. “Listen, thank you both so much for bringing Robert home. We, uh, really dropped the ball there.” A look of chagrin crossed his face. Amanda hoped it was real.

“You’re welcome,” said Jake.

“He’s a sweet kid,” said Amanda.

Spencer cocked his head. “Robert and your little girl seem to be getting along. Why don’t you stay for the party? Then he’ll have a friend with him.”

Jake whispered in Amanda’s ear. “Field notes?”

“When in Rome …” she murmured, her eyes alight.

“Sure, we’ll stay for a little while,” said Jake.

Maeve screamed and scampered off with Robert.

“Let’s get you two a drink.” Spencer led them into an adjoining room. “Right over there,” he said, pointing to a bar along the wall, where a man in a white jacket was serving up cocktails. “And hey, if anyone asks, would you mind not mentioning our little mix-up? You could say you’re … housesitting for my parents.”

“Okaaay,” said Amanda, raising an eyebrow. Spencer was already back on his phone.

Jake and Amanda paused to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows. A dark lawn ran down to gleaming water. Strands of green and red lights twinkled from a large boat docked at a pier.

“Merry Christmas, my love,” said Jake, kissing her on the cheek.

“We won’t forget this one,” said Amanda.

* * *

“You did very well on the call,” said Larry. He and Kay were sharing a bottle of wine on their balcony, gazing out at pink skies and luminous water. On the wide beach below them, other tourists lounged in deck chairs or splashed in the shallows. Reggae music floated out from one of the tiki bars.

“Did I? I was shaking,” said Kay. “I could feel his rage coming through the line.”

“You didn’t hold back, though,” said Larry, raising his chin as he quoted her. “‘Spencer, your son needs a father and you’d better start acting like one.’”

“I’m glad I didn’t have to see his face when I said it.” She watched a white gull skim over low, foamy waves. “I don’t know why we let them bully us.”

Larry sighed. “Spencer and Paula are two people with strong personalities who haven’t grown up yet,” he said. “We, on the other hand, are mature yet wishy-washy.”

Kay chuckled, but then grew pensive. “When you think about it, disappearing on them was kind of passive aggressive.”

“You’re right,” said Larry. “But it’s a good start. We’ll work our way up to actively aggressive.”

“That’s not what I meant!” said Kay. “I just feel bad for Robert.”

“I know,” said Larry. “If only he had parents.”

Kay let that sink in. “I suppose.” She shook her head. “They treat Robert like he’s a pet they can’t be bothered with and we’re the kennel. It’s not right, for Robert or for us.”

“Exactly. And this” — Larry gestured at their surroundings — “is what we call ‘setting boundaries.’ It’s that simple.”

Kay smiled. She didn’t think it would be simple. Robert needed love. If his parents couldn’t provide enough of it, she was determined to fill in the gaps. But still. This trip had set something in motion.

A sailboat glimmered on the horizon. Kay felt her body release some burden she’d been carrying for a while. “My love,” she said, holding up her glass, “pour me some more of those boundaries.”

Featured image: Shutterstock

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  1. This is quite a story, Ms. Hawley! Three very different couples intertwined through the son’s parents to teach him and their equally thoughtless daughter-in-law a much needed lesson they will no longer be taken advantage of through assumptions.

    Meanwhile there’s a 3 year old boy who could have been in jeopardy due to more assumptions. Fortunately the 3rd couple renting out the parents home calmly figured out what to do, but it was a bit of a nail biter. I enjoyed the descriptive conversation between the adults with each other, the 2 children, and of the locales. I’m glad the little boy does have his grandparents for stability, because he’s going to need them with such self-centered, selfish parents that really shouldn’t BE parents to anything more than a cat or dog, and even that’s pushing it.


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