The Replacement


Daniel Swan looked out across the bay from the bench he sat on. It was a cool early autumn evening, just before eight. He looked at the bunch of white roses in his hand, lifted them, and sniffed them. She was not coming, he knew. Rachel would stay away. He placed the roses on the bench.“See you next month, my darling.” It was his ritual, every month, at eight in the evening on the fourteenth he would place twelve white roses on the bench. Two and a half years ago, on valentine’s day, her hands accepted them, her finger accepted his ring. She had breezed into his life through a coffee shop door that hit his full cup of coffee as she lost control of the door, and he ended up wearing a latte. She had raven hair and blue eyes that slammed into his heart with no mercy. By the time they had found some stability in the chaos, her furiously wiping at his shirt, he was in love. He was twenty-one, and regarded one of the most eligible bachelors, with his light brown hair and bright green eyes, and of course his hundred million dollar trust fund.Daniel was a shrewd businessman at that age, his father had given up when Daniel was ten and just allowed his son to be in his office. Daniel learned a lot there, but he did not learn about the devastating effect of true love. That came to him just under two years ago. He had been inseparable from Rachel almost from the start, and he knew she was the one. It was as if she knew him intimately, knowing when to touch when to smile. Daniel had never felt as complete. It had been at a party, where she was in a bathroom, practicing her lines. She was trying to get into acting, so she used a voice recorder to record herself as she looked in the mirror. Daniel loved that she grabbed every moment she could to work at her passion. That evening her voice recorder was forgotten on the shelf, and it caught an ominous conversation. The moment she heard it she sent it to the authorities. She told Daniel, and he held her as she shook in fear. It is not every day your record a murder confession by a powerful man to an associate, both men stood to gain hundreds of millions.They had realized she knew, but not that the information was already in the hands of the FBI. Two days later, as Daniel had sent her on a private jet to Milan as a treat, to the fashion week, the plane crashed. The wreckage was found in the Atlantic, the recorders telling a tale of a mid-air explosion. The men were arrested, and charged with five murders. One admission on the voice recorder, and the other four were passengers and crew on the plane. Rachel had her best friend Leona with her, a vivacious blonde woman. Daniel loved her energy, and she brought laughter everywhere she went.  Now it was a long time ago, and Daniel looked out across the Atlantic. Somewhere there his Rachel’s spirit was living.Daniel looked at the flowers, then walked to the Maserati. He drove home, a thirtieth-floor penthouse with five bedrooms and a private pool. He smiled softly. Catherine was there, probably in sleepwear, being seventeen to the fullest. She was a good girl, choosing to skip the wild part of being a teenager, yet still making sure Daniel would be grey in a year or two. She was the only one he loved like Rachel. He opened the door and Cath squealed as she barrelled into him. She knew where he was, knew the deep pain he carried. She held him close, then kissed his cheek softly, before licking his face from chin to temple.“Gross, Cath. What if a bird shat on my face?” Daniel laughed at her face, then kissed her head. He held her for a while and she let him. Then she felt her shoulder get wet as he cried. He was her foster uncle and her guardian. Her foster mother was his sister, who was almost thirteen years older than Daniel, and Cath was fostered when she was six. The bond between her and Danny was instantaneous. Danny was as amazing a guardian as she could have dreamt, except for the evenings of the fourteenth every month.“Danny, I made you hot chocolate, and we have popcorn, watch a movie with me please?”“You just want to be touched.”“So?” Cath cocked an eyebrow. Her love language was touch, and the way Danny scratched her back was both soothing and lately also helped her as she missed her foster parents.“Okay, set it up, I want to quickly shower.” She got the treat almost three times a week, and he shook his head at her excitement. She never took it for granted, she never took anything for granted, he had realized. Not even his love for her. Cath was blonde, with mesmerizing blue eyes, five-six, and a slight curve to her hips. She was a swimmer, and put in three hours a day, the best in her school.Daniel showered and dressed in pajama pants and a t-shirt. He was barefoot, as was she. It was the time they shared their silence, as they mourned the death of her parents, his family. Daniel had no idea how he managed the death of three people he loved, but he knew Cath was a big part of his coping. After an evening like they planned now, his pants would often be wet as she also cried with her face on his thigh. They never judged each other’s grief, their arms were open to each other’s grief. The tabloids and social pages are forever hinting at Daniel needing to move on, but he did not care. Neither did Cath. They watched a spaghetti western tonight, laughing at the poor voice-overs. kaçak iddaa Daniel’s hand kept moving on her naked back, her t-shirt pulled up. Sometimes he used the flat of his hand, and sometimes his fingertips. Catherine always loved her back being rubbed as she chatted about her day. It was purely by accident that they discovered this, he was putting lotion on her back at his sister’s pool when Catherine asked him to not stop. It was their thing, the family knew. Cath would let others do it when Danny was not around, but he was her preferred back rubber.“Do you have a swim meet this weekend?” he asked.“Yes, the last one. Can you come?”“Yes.” She always asked, even though he can count on one hand the meets he had missed since she arrived. Cath knew she had him wrapped around her little finger, and would use it for fun, but he never felt manipulated.“Thanks, Danny. I always swim better when you are there.”“And I love watching you swim better.” He kissed his fingers and touched her lips, and she kissed his fingers too. He carried on rubbing her back, the movie long over. Cath chose a music channel, classical. They both loved the soothing sounds. She pulled her shirt down and flipped on her back, and looked up at him. This time she kissed her fingers and touched his lips, and kissed her fingers.“I love you, Danny,” she said with her devastating smile.“I love you more, Cath, I am older.”“Pffft. Not buying it.” She fetched his hand from the backrest of the couch and interlaced her fingers with his on her stomach. They would sit like this, chatting about life, often about what the tabloids were up to. Neither cared much, except for the entertainment, because more often than not they knew the real story. They went to a limited amount of events, charity balls, and birthdays mostly.“Daniel?” He frowned. She never used his full name if it was not serious.“Yes?”“Can I come with you next month, please?”“Sure, I just sit on a bench and feel sad.”“So, I can also do that.”“Okay, Cath, yes.”“And tell me about her then.”“I will bring the Kleenex.”“I will.” She yawned and they got up, turning everything off. Daniel went to the kitchen, and broke off a block of dark chocolate from a slab in the fridge, and walked to Cath’s room. She was getting in bed, he waited for her to settle, then gave it to her. It was just one of their rituals to make each other know they mattered. She knew she could have some for herself, but Cath loved that he brought her a small piece every night. In the morning she gave him coffee in bed, and they would drink together, talking about the day coming up. Now he watched as she savored the taste. It had started six months ago when she was pining for chocolate as he tucked her in, and he fetched her a block because she was lazy. The next evening she pouted, so he did it again. Now it is their thing. He kissed the top of her head, then checked that her phone was on a charge, as well as her laptop. It was nothing new for him to get a frantic call from her that her devices have died at school. Maureen, his PA, was highly amused as he would put serious opportunities aside to rush around for Cath.“Night my sweet,” he said as he kissed her head again. She was seventeen, and way too old to be tucked in, but she asked him to do it once, and he complied. She just never stopped him after that. He hated when she slept over with friends, so she stopped. All her sleepovers happened at their house now, and her friends liked it. They also liked Daniel a lot. Daniel walked to his bedroom. He checked his emails, replied with short instructions to two of them. Some he forwarded to Maureen, but she knew if she dared open one this time of the night he would be irritable with her.“You have work hours. If I need anything outside work it is my fault, I planned poorly.” She nodded with a smile, and he shook his head. Maureen loved her boss, he was as old as her oldest son, and she mothered him sometimes, seeing his gentle smile after he scowls at her. Daniel closed his laptop and turned his light off. It is a fifty-fifty chance that he would wake with Cath behind his back. On bad days he sought her bed too. There is nothing remotely sexual, it was just intimate, and Cath knew Daniel felt everything deeply. She did not come to his bed, but she woke him with his coffee.“Can you drop me, please?”“Of course.”“Thanks, I just want to be around you a little longer.”“Sure, Cath.” It means she had a dream that upset her, she would never tell him, just want him near. He would walk her to her first classroom as well. That part Cath really loved, because all her friends wanted a piece of him, he was a beautiful man. She had often laughed at how obtuse he was to their very overt advances. Some were eighteen already, but Cath knew he was not like that. She smiled as she thinks of the sleepovers, where they would be practically naked, and Daniel’s absolute perfect behavior.“I will make breakfast, you make sure all your stuff is packed,” Daniel said as he got out of the bed. Cath stayed until he took his shirt off, she liked to see the results of his two hours a day in the gym, including Taekwondo. He seemed skinny, but there was some serious muscle under his shirt. She bounded off and Daniel undressed. She would not come in now. He dressed in his black slacks and black polo sweater. kaçak bahis He would put on a jacket, almost always a three quarter leather jacket. He wore combat boots. Maureen had tried her best to get him to dress like an executive, but he flat refused. He would wear the same to events unless Cath dressed up, then he would honor her. She had very much the same taste as him though.He made them toast and eggs, cutting her crusts off. He would eat them for her. He smiled, amazed at how much they covered each other in a very natural way. He always wanted an extra piece of toast, so one day he munched on her crusts, and that became a thing. The toaster only made four pieces at a time. The schoolgirl came in and they sat to eat. He gave her orange juice, knowing how absent-minded she could be. He went to her room and smiled. Her laptop was on her desk. He picked it up, and then grinned. There was a note under it.‘I love you, Danny’ he took it and put it in his pocket, then he put her laptop in her bag on the table next to her.“Love you too, Cath.” She smiled at him. They left for school, and she was chatting a hundred miles an hour, often interrupting herself to yell at another driver. Daniel had realized she had serious road rage. She also did not want a car, using either a car service or Danny, the latter her preferred method. He walked her to her classroom, and pulled out a piece of paper, which he unfolded, and placed the piece of chocolate in her mouth.“Have a nice day, Cath. I will miss you.”“You too, Danny,” she said as she chewed, her eyes sparkling. Other people in their status group would go all out with gifts worth millions, but the mere fact that he surprised her with a piece of chocolate was something Cath loved. Danny could buy her whatever she wanted if she wanted it. She liked her plain jewelry, her very plain Cartier watch, her small Tiffany necklace. He shook his head when he bought it for her, it cost just under five thousand dollars, sharing a display case with necklaces upwards of one hundred thousand dollars.“I don’t need trinkets to be pretty,” she stated haughtily, and they burst out laughing. Danny agreed though. Now she was chewing chocolate as she watched him leave.“Please tell me you have had a piece of that ass, Cath,” Angela Manning, one of her friends, said as she joined Cath in looking at Danny leave.“Wouldn’t tell you if I did,” Cath teased.“Asshole.” Angela laughed. She also knew Danny is the one guy she could be stark naked in front of and he would not even ogle her. But she has caught him looking, in a nice way, when they sleep over.Danny immersed himself in work, calling the two manufacturing plants he owned to discuss backlogs and solutions. He manufactured parts for military drones.“Mitch, would you like me to step in?” His production manager at one of the plants was having raw material supply issues. He did not usually step in, but sometimes the suppliers disrespect his staff, and that is one thing Daniel never tolerates.“No Danny, I’ve got it. Give me twenty-four hours.”“Okay, say hi to Gwen. Cath asks about Simone.”“Oh, that kid, she is so smart.” Simone was his ten-year-old daughter, and Cath loved the kid.“Yes, she is something. I hope she is to you what Cath is to me now.”“Still doting on her?”“No way not too, she forgot her laptop, and I pick it up to find an ‘I love You’ note under it.””Simone does that with Gwen and me, we do the same with her. Cath told her about it.”“Give her a kiss from me.” Danny hung up. It was lunch already so he walked across to a coffee shop. He had at least four men on his security detail. He ate lightly, knowing in an hour he would regret a heavy meal as he hit the gym. He rarely worked in the office in the afternoons. He did a little more work after lunch, then drove to the gym, where he worked hard. After a shower, he drove to Cath’s school and walked to the pool where he sat with his laptop as she swam laps with the team. She knew he was there; he always was this time of the day. She smiled as she swam, it was amazing to see how their routines just fitted without effort. She also knew he was in for a rough night, Angela and Denise were sleeping over. They had adopted some of the mannerisms she and Danny had, like their hand-kissing, and Denise also loved a backrub. He waited patiently as they vanished into the locker room.“Oh hell,” he muttered as he saw the three girls approach. Cath had not bothered tying up her hair again, and it was all over the place, and she saw Danny appreciate it. He loved her naturally, as he did with Rachel.“Danny, sleepover,” she said as she kissed his cheek. He pulled a piece of chocolate out for her, and he saw her eyes soften, this was twice the surprise for her.“Thanks, Danny, you are the best.” She chewed slowly as they walked to the car, Angela and Denise pumping him about his day. Cath snuck her hand into his as they walked. At home, he turned on the water heater for the pool and closed the roof over it. It would warm up nicely, and the girls will definitely want to swim. He made them pasta, at their begging. They floated in the pool, and Danny laughed a lot as they mimicked teachers, and told of their escapades. These were good girls, none of them were the typical hot mean girls. They washed the chlorine off and then Danny sat on the floor so he could illegal bahis get to Denise and Cath’s backs. He sat back against the couch between Angela’s knees, and she rubbed his shoulders and played with his shoulder-length hair.“You are the luckiest guy ever. Surrounded and pampered by three hot girls,” Denise teased.“Yep, spoiled brat,” Angela said and he heard her kiss her fingers, then her hand appeared and he kissed her fingers. They eventually retired and Danny took three pieces of chocolate to the bedroom for the girls. He saw a shadow in Cath’s eyes so he leaned down.“Come to me if you have to,” he whispered, then kissed the three heads. They giggled as he checked their devices to make sure they are charging. Then he left.“Cath, that is the dad of the year there. He misses nothing.”“He values people, so he sees what they might need.”“I need him to scratch my itch,” Angela teased. She would not mind a night or hundred with Danny, and Denise agreed, but neither would want to lose his respect for them. Cath did crawl in behind Danny at three, and soon the other two also joined. He turned to Cath and pulled her into his arms and felt his shoulder get wet. This would be a typical day for them. Two weekends later Danny flew them to Monaco for the weekend, Denise and Angela over the moon. They tanned in skimpy bikinis on the deck of the yacht he rented. They only flew back on Monday evening. Danny’s approval rating was high, but he kept seeing a shadow behind Cath’s eyes.“What is eating you, Cath,” he eventually asked.“Just my future, I think. I want to be with you for a very long time.”“Then you stay.”“But if you get a girlfriend?”“Well, that is something we look at then, but I will not allow you to be pushed aside, Cath, I love you too much.”“Thanks, that is just something, especially knowing how my friends fawn over you.”“Are you jealous?” Cath looked at him and saw no mischief.“A little, maybe. We have our thing, and they are also taking it.”“So, we need to do a thing they cannot copy. Think about it.”“Okay.” Cath smiled brightly. That was a plan. She was a lot jealous actually, but she also knew Danny loved easily. The fourteenth came around, and she had her plan for their own ritual. She studied the photographs of the night and bought a similar outfit.“Wow, that is nice,” Danny commented as he saw her. On the way to the bench, he saw that Catherine had something on her mind.“I was reading about role-playing to help with grief. Can we try, just a little?” Cath asked.“Uhm, let’s see, Cath. We can try.” Daniel felt unsure.“Okay, thanks. Danny, trust me. I will not make you hurt for nothing.”“I know, so I will stop you.” He bought the flowers and they drove to the bench. Cath watched him start the grieving process.“When did you give her the flowers?” she asked.“She came from there, and I was right here,” he said. He watched as Cath walked away, then approach him, smiling happily. His heart clenched, but he stayed the course. He kissed her cheek and gave her the flowers.“You look beautiful, Rachel.”“No, call me Catherine, Daniel. I am not her, we are role-playing just a little.” She smiled gently, “I am not replacing her.”Daniel nodded once, understanding.“You look beautiful, Catherine.”“Thank you, Daniel, and you don’t look half bad.” Cath smiled as she kissed his cheek again. He smiled.“Where did you sit?” she asked.Danny arranged them and they chatted for a while.“What happened next?”“I asked her to marry me.”“So, ask me.”“Catherine?”“Ask me, Danny, here.” She handed him her mom’s engagement ring.“This is too much.”“Please, Danny, trust me,” Catherine pleaded.Danny thought about it, then knelt in front of her.“Catherine, god. I love you. I need to spend the rest of my life with you. Please marry me?”“Of course I will, Daniel.” She held her hand out and he slipped the ring on. She leaned down and kissed his lips softly. His eyes widened, and he looked around.“I assume you kissed?” Cath asked.“Y…yes.” She came in again and he froze as she kissed him again, her lips slightly parted. He kissed back a little, then he dropped his head in her lap as he started to sob bitterly. Cath stroked his hair as her tears fell for him, for his grief. She hoped she eased some of the pain. He stopped and she wiped his face with her sleeve.“What then?”“We walked to that restaurant and ate.” He pointed to a nearby Indian restaurant.“Then let’s go, Daniel.” She pulled him up and they walked, not before he watched her kiss the flowers and place them on the bench. That night Rachel took them with, but Danny understood why Catherine left them. They walked to the restaurant and found a booth. They chatted and laughed a little, both raw. Cath did not even bother with her bed that night. She spooned Daniel. He woke with her tangled in his arms. It was far more intimate than they had ever been, but it felt fine to him. She woke up and got up, returning with their coffee.“There you go, fiancé,” she chuckled.“Really?”“That is our thing now, they cannot be your fiancé.”“So still playing?”“Yes.” She kissed his lips again, just a peck. “Sleep well?”“Very, you?”“Very well too.”“Last night did help Cath, thanks.”“And we will never forget her, just change how we remember her, Daniel”“Why?”“If you meet someone who is intimidated by the immensity of your love for Rachel, then she needs to move on. I find it incredible that in this day and age someone chose to love so completely. That is precious, and Rachel is part of that. Next month I will go with again, and the next, and the next.”

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