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Show Me the Danger

Show Me the Danger

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A killer is on the loose. He murdered an innocent child once before, and he seems determined to do it again.

Meanwhile, George Hartmann is at a crossroads. He's working on a controversial new business aimed at tracking and eliminating the threat. He'll stop at nothing to keep his family safe. Yet, he's in denial about the urgency of the present danger.

Will he put the pieces together in time?

Show Me the Danger is the second book in the Ithaca Falls series and the continuation of an ongoing family saga.

Publication date: December 12, 2019.

About the Ithaca Falls Series:

The Ithaca Falls series chronicles the close-knit Hartmann and Davies family as they return to their cozy hometown of Ithaca Falls, New York after having lived in Washington, D.C. Little do they know what trouble awaits.

This suspense-filled story, anchored by the deep affection between George and Alessandra, reveals how the connections we share can ground us during even the most difficult times as we endeavor to learn what we're made of.

Join the family you'll feel like you already know as, together, they explore the meaning of life beyond what lies on the surface and fight against all odds to keep each other safe.

Look Inside

Chapter One


It’s been six months since the week that turned my life upside down. July is here and the days are warm and long. Sailboats ease by on the lake behind our house. They look positively enchanted, their silver and gold parts sparkling in the summer sun. Colorful flowers bloom cheerfully in the seemingly endless pots and planters my wife has placed around the property. My days are filled with summer delights like trips to the farmer’s market for fresh fruits and vegetables, the smell of sunscreen on my kiddos, and lazy afternoons relaxing with Ali on the back deck while our little ones nap. I still can’t get over how beautiful it all is. To have that wife. Those kids. This house. It’s more than I probably deserve, but I’m doing my best to take it all in. I wish I could say everything is perfect and we’re living happily ever after. We’re happy, for sure. But it isn’t that simple.

I’m on a path of sorts. On my way through a spiritual awakening. Or something like that. Do people in the middle of a spiritual awakening declare themselves as such? I called Cornell not long after I said I might and told them I was no longer interested in the position I had accepted in their Engineering Department. I felt terrible about it because it was a very good job with a fantastic group of people. In fact, it was what brought me back to Ithaca Falls in the first place. We’d still be in D.C. right now if Cornell hadn’t extended the offer. It seemed like the right thing at the time. And I still think it was the right thing. I was ready to retire from the Air Force and use my aerospace expertise in another setting to spend more time with Ali and the boys. I had to turn the job down though because something bigger is happening. I’d be a fool if I didn’t pay attention.

Liam’s coming back into town today and he’s planning to stay with us for six whole weeks. I’m really excited. Would you believe I haven’t seen him since John Wendell’s memorial service in early February? I think that’s the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my uncle. It just so happened he got orders to go TDY on a temporary duty assignment as soon as he returned from the winter leave he spent up here. He’s been in Egypt for months now. I suspect I know exactly what he’s been doing because we used to do it together.

I miss the Air Force. The sense of making a real difference is a gaping hole for me now. But I wouldn’t go back. I’m enjoying this time with my family. Little Will turns six-months-old next week. It’s been a privilege to watch him grow day by day. I’ve decided to take as much time off as I want and to enjoy every moment with my family. I’m even letting my hair grow a little longer than my usual short cut. Besides, Liam and I are working on plans for our own business which will potentially make a much larger impact than I ever could in the military.

Roddy and Marjorie are coming back into town today, too. We’ve seen my in-laws quite a bit since moving to Ithaca Falls. If my count is accurate, they’ve been here something like twelve weekends since little Will arrived, which is great as far as we’re concerned. We love those two. We’ll welcome them just as often as they want to come visit. We have plenty of room and the more, the merrier. They tell us they have a big announcement to make and they’ve asked us to get the gang together to hear it, so we’re hosting a party at the house tonight complete with live music and catering.

Ali’s brother, Nicky, his husband, Luis, and their daughter, Sara, are coming in from New York City as well. They were here for John Wendell’s memorial service, but they stayed in a hotel that visit. They said it was because we had a newborn in the house, but I’m pretty sure it was actually because Sara was scared to stay with us after the traumatic break-in she experienced at our place. Nicky tells me they’ll stay at our house this time, so hopefully, we can make new memories for Sara to help her get over her fear. I completely understand it. No question about that. Ali and I were scared to stay in our own house for at least the first few days after the break-in happened. I can only imagine what that feeling must have been like for a nine-year-old girl. A nine-year-old girl who lost her mother suddenly, no less. Sara is a sweet spirit. I want her to feel okay about it all. I want our house to be a place she associates with love and fun.

Speaking of the house, it looks amazing now. Although not formally trained in interior decorating or design, Ali has quite an eye for it. Her sense of style is impressive. Magazine worthy, I’d go as far as to say. She’s been working on furnishings and decor for our place with the help of a local designer, although I think the designer is primarily sourcing the items Ali decides she wants. I’m sure it’s my wife setting the design direction and coming up with specific plans. She could probably have a new career if she ever wanted to leave immigration law. Who knows? She’s taking time off to be with the boys now, too. She plans to open her own law practice when she’s ready, but I could just as easily see her opening an interior decorating firm. She’s very talented. It’s interesting that one person can be so good at two very different kinds of work. I doubt there’s much creativity involved in immigration law. Maybe the creativity piece is connected to her cello playing. My wife is a fabulous cello player, same as her mom is a fabulous viola player. Marjorie made a career out of it and enjoys playing professionally with the New York Philharmonic. Ali double majored in college at University of Virginia-- pre-law and music performance-- but ultimately decided to pursue law school and let music be a hobby. I like trying to understand people’s motivations. Human psychology fascinates me.

Ali and I are happy to be putting down roots in a city where we have history. There’s something significant about walking around on the same ground I did in high school. The same ground Mom did growing up and then again since she moved back after Dad died. The same ground my grandparents walked around on for their entire lives. It makes me feel like a part of the physical place. I look at the hills and Cayuga Lake and I feel like I’m a part of them. Or maybe they’re a part of me. It feels like I belong here, in a know-it-in-my-bones kind of way.

I remember the first time I brought Ali home to Ithaca Falls to meet Mom, John Wendell, and Grandma. We stayed in the spare bedroom at Mom’s little stone cottage downtown, the same room that was mine during high school and the one John Wendell spent the last years of his life in. Ali and I had met just a couple of weeks prior in the food court of a D.C. area mall, but already, we knew we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. I had plans in place to take leave from the Air Force and make a trip home to Ithaca Falls for the holidays. Ali was on winter break from law school and also had plans to head home to New York to spend the holiday with her parents and brother in New York City. Not wanting to be away from Ali for a single day I didn’t have to, I asked her to join me for a joint Empire State road trip where we’d visit both Ithaca Falls and New York City to meet each other’s families. It was presumptuous to ask, probably, but Ali immediately said yes without hesitation. I can feel the elation now just thinking about it. We were young and so in love. It was as if we’d known each other forever and had reunited after a long time apart. Now that I remember having been with Ali in Ancient Greece, I realize we sort of had known each other forever. With that hindsight, our immediate knowing when we met in this life makes complete and total sense.

We took Ali’s black Jeep Grand Cherokee on the trip. The vehicle was new and loaded, provided the year prior as a gift from her parents at college graduation. I wasn’t using any of the money Dad left me back then, so I was driving a base-model, beaten up Pontiac Sunfire manufactured in the mid-nineties. Even though the headroom in the Cherokee left much to be desired for someone my height, it was the obvious choice for the journey. Besides, it was a four-by-four, and we knew we’d be driving through a significant amount of snow. I’ll never forget the day we packed up that SUV together and pulled out of D.C. on what we intuitively knew would be the first of countless road trips as a couple. I could almost see our future babies in the back seats if I looked hard enough. The feeling of rightness was overwhelming and all-encompassing. It didn’t matter that I was a young guy still in my twenties or that many other young guys my age would bolt at the thought of marriage and babies. Hell, many would bolt at the thought of a road trip out of state to meet a girl’s family. Not me. I was smitten. I was falling hard and didn’t want to stop. I’m still falling hard for Alessandra Davies. Every single day.

We left on a Friday evening around supper time. I remember how the D.C. traffic turned into a snarl when we were less than five miles away from Ali’s apartment. We couldn’t have cared less. We sat in that traffic jam smiling, holding hands, and singing along to the radio. We were as happy as two people could be, simply spending time together. I know now that we weren’t allowed to be together in Greece, which surely made our young love feelings in this life that much more intense.

We made it a few hours up the road to Hershey, Pennsylvania on day one. We stayed at the first hotel we found, which turned out to be a charming bed-and-breakfast inn. It was snowing when we arrived and the twinkling holiday lights at the front entrance made us even more excited about our trip. Not only were we traveling together, but it was a holiday excursion. Ali has always liked Christmas time, and she was over the moon about the decorations at the little inn. I loved seeing her happy. I remember walking into the lobby where a wood fire was burning in a stone fireplace surrounded by inviting leather furniture. There were chocolates on the end tables and glasses of wine. Christmas music was playing, just like at the mall the day we met. I remember walking up to the front desk of the inn with Ali by my side and asking for one room, together. We had already made love to each other in her apartment more than once, but the thought of spending the night together like a real couple while traveling at Christmas time carried an entirely different appeal.

Our room was all we could have wished for. It had a wood-burning fireplace of its own, complete with a settee sofa positioned nearby and a big jacuzzi soaker tub across from the king-size bed. Two large windows allowed us to watch the snow falling outside while we stayed warm and cozy indoors. Suffice to say, we made good use of the space. Our lovemaking was beyond anything I could have imagined. We had a connection that defied all logical reason. We still do. That night will forever hold a place amongst my most cherished memories. I’m sure Ali would say the same.

Come to think of it, our current bedroom in our new house bears a lot of similarity to the one we enjoyed that winter night in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It’s much bigger, but I wonder if we somehow subliminally recalled that room at the inn as we were choosing our current home. I wouldn’t be surprised if we did.

After a delicious from-scratch breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, and cherry pastry at the inn, we made a stop at the Hershey’s Chocolate World museum before getting back on the road to Ithaca Falls. The museum was decorated for Christmas, too, and Ali was bubbling with excitement. We toured the factory where they made the chocolates and sampled warm candy in between warm kisses. The sun seemed brighter that day. The world seemed more alive.

Hershey, Pennsylvania is a couple of hours away from Bannersville, Pennsylvania where Dad and Liam grew up. It felt good to be that close. I proudly told Ali about my Pennsylvania roots as we followed a tour guide and learned the history of chocolate making in the region. She smiled as

I explained how Dad had come to Hershey on school field trips when he was a kid. I’m sure my face was lit up like a Christmas tree that day. And I’m sure my goofy grin was on display. Ali teases me about it, but she knows my goofy grin exists because she makes me so deliriously happy.
I continued to report on family history as we drove the four hours to Ithaca Falls, stopping for a late lunch along the way in a little town called Mountain Top, Pennsylvania at the edge of Mount Penobscot. I told Ali all about Mom, Dad, Grandma, and John Wendell. I told her stories about my childhood and some of the good times my family and I have enjoyed together. She listened intently and seemed to be cataloging the information. I’ve always been impressed by her intelligence. More than a display of brain power though, she was learning about my family because she cared about me. I got that and appreciate it immensely. I felt seen by Ali in a way I’d never experienced before. I’d dated a couple of nice girls while in high school and I’d had flings here and there as an adult, but I’d never experienced a connection like I felt with Ali. It was sudden and extraordinary. I didn’t know I needed it until it was right in front of me. Luckily, she felt the same way.

We arrived in town and pulled into Mom’s driveway just as the sun was beginning to set and pink light from the horizon glistened on the snow-covered ground. I’ll never forget watching Ali’s face as she fell in love with my hometown and my family. That’s the day I knew without a doubt that I was completely and totally in love with Alessandra Davies and that there was no thought of being with anyone else ever again. I was hers and she was mine. Our fate was sealed. I fell in love with her hometown and her family, too, when we traveled to Manhattan to visit them a few days later. But neither of us ever envisioned living in Manhattan together. Ithaca Falls is so very different from the City. We enjoy the slower pace and the gorgeous natural scenery the Finger Lakes region has to offer. From the very beginning, we knew we’d make our home in Ithaca Falls one day. We waited fourteen years for me to retire from the military so we could move here. I’ve always thought it was kind of neat how Ali and I were both New Yorkers living in Washington, D.C. when we met. Our New York ties seemed serendipitous. Or maybe they were part of a larger connection and purpose.

I sometimes think about the first time Mom brought Dad home to Ithaca Falls to meet John Wendell and Grandma. I wonder if he was nervous as they made the trip west from Brooklyn. And I wonder if they stopped overnight like Ali and me. Grandma and John Wendell were two of the nicest people ever, so I imagine that if Dad had been nervous, his mind was eased once he arrived in Ithaca Falls and saw their smiling faces. Maybe that was the day Mom fell completely and totally in love with him. I also think about the first time John Wendell and Grandma met each other’s families. Or maybe they already knew each other’s families since they both grew up in the area. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that story, but I’d like to. Maybe Mom knows it and can tell it to me some time. I enjoy contemplating our roots here. I hope that one day, the boys will bring their loves home to meet Ali and me. We’ll still be here, older and gray and eager to share our beloved Ithaca Falls with the newest members of our tribe.

It may sound strange, but now that I remember having lived in Ancient Greece, I’m aware of new layers of subtleties surrounding the human condition and our relationships with each other. Having lived before means we have exponentially more history, which both makes us who we are and binds us tightly to one another. We have hurts and grudges that need to be healed. There’s much for me to learn, sort out, and solve related to the intruders who tried to kidnap Ethan in January because I suspect what happened to my boy in Greece is directly related to what happened right here at home in New York. But the more I ponder the whole thing, I think it’s evident that the successes and happy endings in life are more triumphant than most of us realize, given everything we’ve been through. After all, we’re here now, safe and happy and together. I wonder who else belongs in our group that hasn’t yet arrived.

I haven’t told anyone about my Greece memories yet. Not Ethan, who remembered us having been there even before I did. Not Marjorie, who remembers past lives of her own and knows of resources which can help me figure it all out. Not even Ali. I expected to tell them. I planned to tell them. The days just sort of went by, though. I guess I needed a break from the heaviness of it all. There was so much to absorb after that life-altering week. I needed time to process. Then, each day that passed without me mentioning Greece seemed to make it harder to bring up. There would, no doubt, be the inevitable questions about why I waited so long to tell them. I figure they’d believe me, but I suppose I don’t know that for sure. They might want to see some kind of proof. Really though, I’m not trying to hide it from my family. I just don’t want to let them down. Maybe

I want to figure out more on my own before I tell them so I don’t sound like a floundering mess. I want Ali and the boys to know, without a doubt, they can count on me. I want to protect them. I want to do a better job of protecting them than I did in Greece, that’s for damn sure.
I haven’t gone back to see Dr. Epstein either. Not since the day before Will was born and John Wendell died. The doc called a few times to follow up, but I never called him back to schedule another appointment. Judging by where we left off, I’m guessing he thinks I’m mentally ill. He and I were developing a good rapport before I told him I remembered having lived in Ancient Greece after the hypnosis session he facilitated. He was talking about unresolved grief from Dad dying and then guiding me to remember events from childhood when I spontaneously went further back. I knew at the time I should probably keep my mouth shut about the extent of what I remembered, but I was overwhelmed and let it out while reporting on what I saw.

The way he responded made me angry. I’m not sure exactly which disorder he thinks I have, but I don’t appreciate being talked down to like that. There’s nothing wrong with my mind. At least I don’t think so. I mean, where do we even draw those lines? I realize the mental health community relies heavily on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to diagnose mental disorders, but I remember hearing somewhere how homosexuality used to be considered a mental disorder, complete with its own spot in the DSM. We now know that’s absurd. I’ve also heard how psychology is a young science. It seems likely that at least some of the human experiences we place in the realm of mental disorders today will eventually end up classified as normal.

Marjorie mentioned something about new developments in quantum physics lending support to the idea that our consciousness creates physical reality rather than the other way around. I’ve been intending to do some research and really dig into that material. I haven’t done it yet though. I should make a to-do list.

I spend a decent amount of time thinking about our lives together in Ancient Greece. My hypnosis session left me with quite a bit of information, yet not nearly enough. Some of what I know is specific, while other parts are more general. Like how I knew where I was and approximately what period of history I was in when I landed in the memory. That washed over me in a wave of general knowing. Other parts were revealed slowly and with more detail. It was kind of like opening a package and taking things out layer by layer in an effort to understand what’s inside. How can an entire lifetime be remembered in a matter of minutes though? I suspect there’s so much more.

I wonder why I wasn’t supposed to be with Ali back then. I understand the social class thing, but when it comes to our personal situations, I’m not so sure the explanation is that simple. Couldn’t someone have approved our union? I wonder who else from this life was involved in ancient times. And I’m very curious about who made the decision to send Ali and baby Ethan out of the city. If Ali and our son had been able to stay inside the boundaries of the city, no harm would have come to them. At least I don’t think it would have. What motivation did the pillagers have to take and kill my son anyway? That’s hardcore, gut-wrenching history of the worst kind. There must have been more to the story. Especially if they came at us again in this lifetime with the break-in and abduction attempt. I’m compelled to know more.

Though, deep down, I’m afraid to know more. A part of me feels like maybe avoiding it will make it all go away. So, for the time being, I mostly try to focus on more positive things over which I have some measure of control. That’s a key step for alcoholics, mentioned in the serenity prayer. A buddy of mine in Officer Candidate School was a recovering alcoholic. He kept it quiet, but we became close enough that he eventually told me some stories about his own learning and growth. I figure it’s good life advice for us all to accept the things we cannot change, have the courage to change the things we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. I’m moving through things the best I can. I’m grateful to have a lot of positive in my life to focus on.

In fact, now that Will is old enough to travel reasonably well, we’re going away for a little while. We’ll enjoy the party tonight, then will allow a rest day at home tomorrow to recover and finish packing. On the day after tomorrow, my little family plus Liam, Roddy, and Marjorie will all head to Lake Tahoe for a two-week long vacation. We’ll fly into Reno and enjoy a nice lunch before renting two vehicles and making the drive over the mountain. None of us have been to Tahoe before, so it will be a brand new adventure. I realize it will be hot this time of year, but we can dip into the crystal-clear waters of the lake to cool off. Besides, after living in D.C. for so many years and experiencing the hot, muggy summers there, I don’t expect the dry heat out West to bother me.

We’re renting a huge waterfront mansion in South Lake Tahoe that boasts a private pool, dock, and beach right on the property. It’s going to be amazing. The house isn’t all that far from California’s wine country. And San Francisco isn’t much beyond that. Even Vegas is relatively close. We figure Tahoe will be a good place to home-base while we explore. Maybe we’ll go somewhere else for a few days. I can see us making a long weekend trip to another popular spot in the region. Ali might really enjoy a romantic evening in Napa. Or a festive night out on the Vegas strip. We have a list of attractions we want to check out and things we want to do. This will be the first vacation for the group of us together, but I’m sure my uncle or my in-laws would watch the kiddos so Ali and I could get out for an evening to ourselves if we ask them nicely. There are a myriad of options.

I invited Mom to go with us, too, but she declined. She’ll be at the party tonight, as far as I know, but she’s not a fan of heat or for that matter, vacationing. Staying at home while we travel is probably the best thing for her to do because she would most likely drag the rest of us down. I love Mom, truly, but our relationship has been somewhat strained lately. I’m getting more and more comfortable using my money and as I do, Mom seems more and more uncomfortable with me doing so. She’s convinced the break-in and abduction attempt was because flaunting our wealth made us a target. Her words, not mine. Maybe she’s right, but Ali and I don’t want to be afraid of enjoying our money. It’s not easy for me to relax about being wealthy given the messages I received growing up, but I’m sincerely trying.

I haven’t mentioned my business plans to Mom. The business venture with my uncle is the primary thing I want to spend my money on anyway, and Liam and I will no doubt discuss next steps while we’re in Tahoe. It’s probably better to leave Mom out of that planning process entirely. I intend to fill her in once things are a done deal rather than sharing details of my plans as I’m working to bring them to fruition. It’s much easier that way. When she says something negative or critical, it has an impact on me even though I do my best to maintain perspective and not let her comments get me down. Doing so successfully is harder than it sounds.

Mom hasn’t been herself since John Wendell died. I’m having a difficult time figuring out what’s going on with her. She took an extended leave from her nursing job at the hospital to grieve the loss of her father and contemplate retirement. I thought we’d see more of her now that we live here in town and she has ample free time on her hands, but we really haven’t. Best I can tell, she’s sleeping a lot and staying on the couch watching cable news during her waking hours. She didn’t plant a garden this spring for the first time I can remember. And she hasn’t packed up John Wendell’s room. The house only has two bedrooms. The spare room would serve her better if she removed his bed and donated some of his belongings to put her desk back where it used to be and free up more space for her exercise equipment. I’ve offered to help several times, but each time she’s told me she isn’t ready. I don’t want to push her. I’m beginning to wonder if she’s depressed though. I’m going to talk to Liam about it when he gets here. Maybe the two of us can go over and check on her if she doesn’t show up for the party.

Liam stayed in town several days after John Wendell died and helped Mom move through the difficult tasks that must be undertaken when a loved one passes away. I offered to bear some of the burden myself, but Liam insisted I focus on my newborn baby instead. He said he owed it to his brother to take care of his widow in her time of need. I’m sure grateful. I know Dad would be, too. Liam stayed with Mom at the hospice house until the folks from the crematory showed up to remove John Wendell’s body so that Ali, the boys, and I could get home and into bed. We were exhausted after being up all night for Will’s delivery at the birth center. And Ali was, of course, completely drained after giving birth. Liam took Mom home and stayed with her for the rest of the day. He cooked meals and stocked the freezer, then gave the house a good cleaning so Mom didn’t have to do any mundane chores for at least a little while. When it was time to pick up John Wendell’s ashes, Liam went along and comforted Mom as she held her father’s remains, contained within a small box, in her hands. He helped her plan a memorial service, and he stood by her as she, along with an impressive showing of family and friends, said farewell to a man who was beloved by countless people. We all knew John Wendell was ready to leave this world in favor of the next one and that he had lived a full, meaningful life. But it still hurt to lose him. I’ll never forget what Liam did for my mom at that juncture. For all of us. My uncle is a good and kind man.

I’m sitting on a chair in the living room and holding little Will in my arms when I see my uncle’s big blue truck pull up against the curb out front. I wasn’t sure exactly what time he would arrive, but boy, am I glad to see his smiling face through the window. I quickly shift Will over onto one hip as I stand up so I can greet Uncle Liam and give him a big hug. Will must feel my excitement because he perks up and looks around expectantly to find out what’s happening.

“Liam!” I exclaim as I open the front door and see my uncle standing in the courtyard in front of me. He’s wearing a salmon color boat shirt with khaki shorts, and he’s looking every bit the part of a man ready for vacation. His short, salt-and-pepper hair sparkles in the sun as dark sunglasses frame his face.

“George, buddy!” he replies as he leans in for that hug. “It’s good to see you.”

I hold on to him an extra minute and lean the side of my head hard against his as tears fill my eyes.

“I sure missed you,” I say.

“Same here, buddy,” Uncle Liam replies as he takes one of little Will’s hands in his and smiles down at his great-nephew. “It’s been too long.”

“It sure has,” I reply. “How about we don’t let that happen again?”

“I’m with you on that,” he says. “But be careful what you wish for because soon you won’t be able to get rid of me. We’re ready to hash out those business plans while I’m on leave, right?”

“Absolutely,” I confirm.

I’m glad to hear him say he’s ready. I’m ready, too.

“Look at the red hair on this little guy,” Liam says as he studies Will more closely. “His hair is even brighter in person than it looks it pictures. I dig it.”

“Yep, just like Mom’s and Marjorie’s,” I reply. “He gets it from both sides.”

“Blue eyes, too,” Liam notes.

“I know,” I say. “Red hair and blue eyes are supposed to be the rarest combination in the world. Pretty neat.”

“Let me at this kid,” Liam says as he takes off his sunglasses, then scoops Will up into his arms then lifts him above his head playfully.

Will smiles and babbles in return. He hasn’t seen Liam since he was a few days old, but he apparently knows that Liam is one of his people. Good. He had better.

“Will is a sweetheart,” I add. “Just like his big brothers.”

“I can see that. And where are those big brothers?” Liam asks Will as if he can answer.

We talk to our babies as if they can answer because we believe they are wise spirits who happen to be temporarily stuck inside little bodies with developing brains. Just because their physical capabilities don’t allow for verbal conversation yet doesn’t mean their deeper spiritual selves can’t understand. At a minimum, they seem to feel respected and seen when we acknowledge them in this way. I’m glad Liam understands. He tends to be even more skeptical than I am about things which can’t be seen or touched, but he’s stretching with me. I give him credit for being willing to remain open.

“Come on in,” I say as Liam steps inside and closes the door behind him. The air conditioning in the house seals it tight with a whoosh. “Ethan and Leo and Ali are around here somewhere.”

I call out to my family to let them know Uncle Liam has arrived just as Ali walks downstairs with both little guys and our German Shepherd trailing behind her excitedly.

“We’re here!” Ali says cheerfully.

“Uncle Liam!” Ethan yells as he runs towards us, barely beating Lady to Liam’s side.

Lady seems especially fond of my uncle ever since he helped get her home from the animal hospital after she was shot. I think she’s grateful for the help Liam provided during her time of need. The same goes for Marjorie and Roddy, and, to a lesser extent, our friends Duke and Jen. Recovering from a gunshot wound is a big deal. Our people were there for our Ladygirl in a significant way and she knows it. Animals seem to know more than we typically give them credit for.

Leo follows behind, parroting his big brother, as usual. “Uncle Liam! Uncle Liam!” he exclaims.

Liam squats down with Will on one hip and hugs Ethan and Leo tightly with the other arm as Lady leans against his leg. The boys are already used to packing in as a set of three inside of an adult’s embrace. They don’t seem to mind the snug fit.

“Look at these big guys,” Liam says with a chuckle, continuing to direct his comments to little Will. “Will, baby boy, your brothers are growing up fast on me. What are your parents feeding them?”

“That’s what Papa Roddy always says,” Ethan interjects with a grin. “It’s just regular food. We grow big and strong because we’re healthy boys.”

“Good enough,” Liam says. “It’s always a surprise for your old Uncle Liam to see how fast you’re growing bigger. Papa Roddy probably feels the same way.”

“Yep,” Leo adds, smiling.

“Well,” Liam begins. “I’m going to stay with you for six whole weeks. And before much longer I’ll be living right here in Ithaca Falls near you, so you won’t have time to do any sneaky growing that I don’t know about.”

“Really?” I ask enthusiastically as Ethan and Leo clap and cheer. “Are your plans firm?”

“They are,” Liam says. “I’ll tell everyone all about it tonight at dinner.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you have a big announcement to make?” Ali asks as she takes her turn giving Liam a hug.

“Indeed, I do,” Liam replies with a sly smile.

“My parents say they have a big announcement to make tonight, too,” Ali says. “It should be an evening to remember.”

“I like the sound of that,” I say. “Good things are ahead for this family. I know it.”

“I think you’re right, Georgie,” Ali says as she stands on her toes and gives me a slow kiss on the cheek near my ear. Feeling her soft lips and warm breath on my skin is tantalizing. I can’t get enough of that woman.

Liam stands with Will still on his hip as Ethan and Leo prance off to work on some coloring Ali set out for them on the big wooden farm table in the dining room. I’m surprised they didn’t want to talk with Liam longer, but I suppose it’s good they’re comfortable enough to go about their usual routines while he’s here. They see him as a family member who belongs with us rather than as a guest. Little Will appears to be really enjoying himself with Uncle Liam, too. He’s babbling up a storm and watching Liam’s face like a hawk, eating up every bit of attention directed his way. It’s a happy scene.

Times like this make me wonder if Liam is ever sad about not having little ones of his own. I remember what he said recently about his career and not wanting to leave a wife and kids at home while he was gone traveling with the Air Force, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have regrets. He would have been a fantastic dad.

“So, who’s coming to party with us tonight?” Liam asks.

“Mom and Dad,” Ali replies, “and Nicky and Luis and Sara.”

“Nice,” Liam says. “I always enjoy spending time with the Davies crew. I didn’t get much time to hang out with your brother and his family when we were all here for John Wendell’s service, so I’ll be happy to make up for it now.”

“I know and the feeling is mutual,” Ali agrees. “Nicky, Luis, and Sara are staying here at the house overnight, so there will be some time for all of us to spend together.”

“Duke and Jen will be here as well,” I add. “Their wedding is coming up in September. I know they’re excited. They’re holding the big event outdoors with a reception to follow at a historic inn. The whole place has a view of Cayuga Lake and Taughannock Falls. I’m sure it’ll be really nice. And I’m sure they’ll have lots of fun things to talk about tonight related to wedding planning.”

“Yeah,” Liam says, “I received an invite in the mail. Their special day is right before I’m scheduled to report back to D.C., so I can, in fact, attend. I’ll hand-deliver my RSVP tonight.”

“Beautiful,” I say.

“Ali,” Liam inquires. “I’ll count on you to tell me what I should get for Jen and Duke as a gift. I know you know exactly what Jen likes. You’ve been best friends for what, like, ever?”

“That’s right,” I say with a chuckle. “And it’s all about pleasing Jen. Duke is just along for the ride.”

“Boys, boys,” Ali teases. “You mean to tell me you aren’t clamoring to compare china patterns?”

“I’m all about cooking and serving up a nice dinner,” Liam says, “but I have zero opinion about the design of the plate my food lands on. I’ll leave it to the ladies who do care about that sort of thing. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
“I hear you,” Ali says, smiling. “I could see that about you back in our first cooking class together. You know, the one where you told me I should meet your nephew, that big George Hartmann?”

“I know the one,” Liam says playfully. “And I know what you’re going to say next.”

“You certainly do,” Ali adds. “The part where you never introduced us and we had to meet in the food court of a mall on our own two years later.”

“Are you ever going to let me live that down?” Liam asks with a laugh. “Shouldn’t there be some sort of statute of limitations? Or something?”

“Never,” Ali and I say simultaneously, laughing together.

“Ah, well,” Liam continues. “It all worked out in the end.”

“It did,” I say. “For the very best.”

We’re still standing in the front room when the caterer and his team arrive to set up for dinner. Ali waves them around to the side entrance closest to the kitchen. They were here for a consult once before we booked them, so they already know exactly where to go. The door is unlocked. It makes me a little nervous to leave it unlocked. But it is unlocked. I realize that’s a necessary step when we’re hosting a party with a caterer and musicians. We checked everyone out as best we could before hiring them. Fingers crossed, we won’t have any problems. I take a deep breath and tell myself it will be alright.

“Oh, I forgot to mention that our friend Isabel Madera will be here for dinner as well,” Ali adds. “She’s actually our family physician, which is a little weird, but we think it’s okay.”

“Small town,” I add. “What are you going to do? She took care of Mom and John Wendell for several years before we moved home. And Ali and I both feel like we’ve known her longer for some reason.”

“Okay,” Liam replies. “Sounds good. I’ll be glad to meet her. Anybody else?”

“I invited Mom, of course,” I say. “She’s been out of sorts for a while now though. I’m not sure she’ll show up for dinner. Hopefully, she will.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Liam says. “I could run over and pick her up if you think it would help.”

“It might,” I say. “Let’s play it by ear.”

Liam nods his agreement.

“And last but not least,” Ali says, “my college friend Taye is coming in for the night with his son.”

“Nice,” Liam replies. “I didn’t get to see Taye for long in January either. It will be great to spend some more time with him and to meet his kiddo. Malcolm, right?”

“Good memory,” I say to my uncle.

“He’s twelve,” Ali adds.

“Alright,” Liam says. “Definitely too old to think Sara is a peer. She’s eight, right?”

“Turned nine in May,” Ali says. “Would you believe I haven’t even seen Malcolm since he was a baby? I think he was something like seven months old when I met him.”

“Time goes by fast these days, that’s for sure,” Liam says.

“No worries though. I’ll find something to chat with Malcolm about and will make sure he feels comfortable.”

“My man, Liam,” I say. “How is it that you’re always in the right place at the right time?”

“What can I say?” my uncle asks, faking a sheepish grin. “It’s a gift.”

We laugh together a while longer, then split up to get ready for the evening festivities. I help Liam unload his luggage from his truck and escort him to his same old room in the basement. Lady follows us. It’s cool in the basement despite the summer heat thanks to being partially underground, so Liam will again be able to sleep deeply and peacefully. He probably needs it after his time in Egypt.

I prep the room down the hall for Nicky and Luis and the one beside them for Sara, just like I did the night of the break-in back in January. Marjorie and Roddy will take their usual spot upstairs. It’s eerie to be going through the same motions and putting everyone in the same rooms. The break-in and attempted abduction of Ethan rattled us to the core. The only difference in the overnight guest count tonight will be the addition of Taye and Malcolm, who are sharing a room upstairs on the other side of my in-laws. Having Taye here gives me a little extra peace of mind since he’s the former FBI, high-end security guy who assessed our setup and assured us we’re safe in our home. If for some strange reason there were to be a repeat event, I like the idea of him being here to help out.

Lady seems to know what I’m thinking because she leans on my leg from the side and looks up at me intensely. Her wounds may be patched up, but emotionally, we’re both still healing.

As I finish the ground-floor bedroom prep and walk up from the basement, Ali and Liam are waiting for me in the living room.

“George, buddy,” Liam says, looking perplexed. “I talked to your mom.”

“Okay,” I say, wondering what’s up with the strange look on his face.

“I spoke with her, too,” Ali adds. “She sounded a little odd. Said she’s coming to the dinner party tonight and asked if she could bring a guest.”

“What?” I ask. “One of her coworkers from the hospital maybe? Or one of the ladies from her book club?”

“I don’t know,” Liam answers, “but she says she has an announcement to make.”

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