by MCJ

This story was written in response to the 2008 Tracy Island Writers Forum's 'Three Object Challenge.'

There were many times in his life when Jeff Tracy gave thanks for the quiet intuition of his mother. Her ability to read between the lines was a real gift, particularly when it came down to something she sensed was troubling one of his sons.

Her intuition was the reason he was zig-zagging down the road now; hands gripped tightly on the wheel of a rusty old truck and heading in the direction of the cabin.

He originally hadn't planned to come to Kentucky for at least another three weeks. The middle of August still seemed a long way off when he was trying to juggle a rescue organisation with a multi-billion dollar corporation. But then his mother changed all that by asking to have a word with him in private.

"I've a feeling you need to take Virgil to the cabin early this year, son," she told him quietly behind closed doors. "I know you're not due to go there for a few more weeks, but things just don't seem to be sitting right with Virgil lately. I think it's important for you to see if you can get to the bottom of whatever's bothering him and the sooner you do it the better."

His first reaction to the observation was one of surprised aggravation. What gave her the impression Virgil was unhappy about something? Virgil seemed all right to him. Even if he wasn't, all of the boys knew if there was a problem of some sort they were free to come and discuss it with him.

Nothing had been said so far.

"I know all that, Jeff. Of course I do. But trust me; Virgil's got something on his mind right now. I sense it. All I want is for the two of you to talk about it before it gets out of hand."

So here he was in the middle of nowhere; avoiding the jagged ruts and knee deep holes, on his way to spend the next three days alone with his son. Thank goodness Jeremiah had been more than understanding when he contacted him with the last minute change of plans. His old hillbilly friend from Kentucky didn't have any hesitation in making the old cabin by the Mississippi available to him at such short notice. He'd said they could come over tomorrow if they wanted to. The cabin was theirs to use at any time.

"It'll be real nice to see you again Mr. Tracy," he acknowledged during their short discussion over the vid phone. "And don't you worry. I'll make sure Ma's got plenty of food on the table for your arrival and enough gasoline to fill up the truck."

"Jeremiah's a good man, Virgil." Jeff suddenly said out loud, immediately grimacing as his statement coincided with another jolt that nearly catapulted the truck skywards. "How in the hell is a man supposed to drive along these roads?" he ended with a questioning grumble into his chest.

"Don't worry about it Dad. You're doing fine."

As always, Virgil was relaxed when he responded, calmly sitting in the passenger seat, taking in everything to do with his surroundings. It didn't seem to bother him that they'd already taken three wrong turns or that they'd had to stop several times to reload all their belongings after nearly becoming airborne. It was one of the things Jeff Tracy loved about the son who was the most like his precious Lucy. Nothing seemed to faze Virgil. He took everything in life as it came.

And for the next three days Jeff was pretty sure life "as it came" was going to revolve around what Virgil found the most relaxing ... his simple love of nature and how it saw it through the pages of his sketches.

Last year sketching was all he had done; hour after hour at the end of the landing stage, his bare feet dangling in the river. A far cry from what the other boys got up to when they came to the Kentucky cabin.

Jeff smiled as he remembered.

Scott couldn't help himself. He wasn't able to sit still for more than five minutes. The last time they came to the cabin together, Scott had talked him into exploring the whole of the surrounding area on foot. In three days they'd hiked so far and for so long, his legs felt like they'd canvassed half the state of Kentucky.

John was the complete opposite. He had no desire to leave the cabin. They slept all day and stayed up all night indulging in their joint love of star-gazing. It led to so many interesting discussions and not all of them focussed on astronomy. John was such an astute and knowledgeable young man.

Gordon just point blank wore him out. Not even the Mississippi river was off limits to him. They swam and they swam and then they swam and they swam. He didn't know how the boy kept doing it. His own muscles had ached for days.

And as for Alan ... Jeremiah's old black truck would never be the same again after three days of Alan souping up the motor.

Jeff breathed deeply and loosened his grip on the steering wheel. Life sure was good when he brought his sons to Kentucky. He enjoyed every single moment of it.

It all stemmed back to when he first approached Jeremiah Tuttle to act as one of International Rescue's agents. It seemed like common sense to have an agent he could trust centrally located in Kentucky and he and Jeremiah had been friends since his service days. Over a glass or two from the old barn still and an unforgettable supper of "Ma's beans", Jeremiah had told him about the existence of the cabin. Twenty miles to the south, right on the edge of the Mississippi river, the small four room shack was the ideal place to go when a man needed to get away from life for a while.

"I figure it could also work out kind of strategic for you and your secret organisation, Mr Tracy," he'd said from across the table. "I can guarantee no-one will ever find you there. There's nothing around those parts for over fifty miles."

And so with an honest handshake, he'd taken up Jeremiah's offer for International Rescue to use the cabin. So far there'd been no need for it other than to spend some one on one time with his sons.

The boys all seemed to love it, despite the primitive accommodations. It was shelter from the rain, a bed in the evening and a place to prepare food for the table. It also provided them with the atmosphere to relax and open up about the things that bothered them.

There had been some difficult conversations at times, a few explosions and a number of admissions he'd rather not heard.

It didn't matter.

Everything that was said at the cabin stayed at the cabin and the boys were happy about that.

The happiness of his boys ...

Jeff nodded.

No matter what, it would always be his number one priority.

And the main reason he'd acted on the intuition of his Mother and brought Virgil out to the cabin early.

However, Jeff couldn't help but feel that his mother was way off base this time. He'd been making some discreet observations of his own since the discussion on Tracy Island and so far Virgil hadn't given him a single reason to be concerned.

Admittedly Virgil had been a little surprised when he was informed they were leaving for Kentucky ahead of schedule but he happily accepted the change of plan. He'd chatted as he always did during the flight from Tracy Island to the mainland. He'd joined in the conversation when they met up with Jeremiah Tuttle. He'd even laughed at the old souped up truck and enquired if Alan was to blame for the hole it had made in the henhouse.

No, he decided, glancing sideways at his son again. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced there was nothing wrong with Virgil.

There would be no need to say anything at the cabin.

The Mississippi river was magnificent and so was the view from the old broken down landing stage stretching out in front of Jeremiah's cabin. If only he hadn't taken another wrong turn laughing with Virgil over Lady Penelope's recent bizarre gift to Jeremiah, they'd have arrived early enough to take in the sunset.

Jeff found it hard not to start laughing all over again as he pictured the look on Jeremiah Tuttle's face when a personal note of thanks for his assistance during her recent mission in Kentucky was accompanied by a boomerang from Bonga Bonga.

Jeremiah was totally flabbergasted.

Jeff turned away from the water and still wondering what possible use a hillbilly might have for a boomerang. Knowing Jeremiah, he'd think of something. But with the sun almost gone and the sparkle on the water fading, there was no time to think about Jeremiah, Lady Penelope or the boomerang. Right now, the most important thing to do was to make sure the truck was fully unpacked before dark.

"Dad, the next time Ma Tuttle offers me an extra helping of her beans, can you remind me why it's in my best interests to say no?"

Jeff's face broadened again as a mortified Virgil gingerly appeared from the rear of the cabin and moved to join him on the landing stage.

"I thought that might have been what the hurry was." he chuckled with an affectionate pat to Virgil's back. "You must be the only one I forgot to warn about those beans, son. They're pure dynamite and I mean that in every possible interpretation."

A sarcastic "thanks a lot Dad" and a warning not to go anywhere near the cabin for the next half an hour accompanied the look he used to love so well. As they walked together towards the truck he suddenly felt the need to be close to Virgil. He joked and wrapped an arm around him; assuring him all was fine.

If a man could walk on the moon and raise five sons single-handedly, he was sure he could survive the aftermath of the experience of "Ma's beans."

It took them over an hour to finally get everything into the cabin.

Jeremiah had prepared things well for their arrival and it only took a couple of matches to make them feel at home. The fireplace in the corner burned brightly; the old stove was nearly warm enough to cook their supper and the freshly lit lanterns in each of the small rooms gave off the most wonderful welcoming glow.

"Grandma sure is determined not to let us go hungry." Virgil commented as he busily unpacked the four large boxes she'd insisted they bring along for the trip. "I swear there's enough food in here to last us for a whole week, Dad."

A neatly packaged tray with the words "Tuesday supper" now joined the four beers he'd already set out on the table.

"Your Grandmother's not the only one, by the look of it." Jeff pointed out, indicating the numerous rows of tinned beans stacked from one end of the cabin to the other. "Guess that's Ma Tuttle's way of saying she intends to take good care of us too."

Two raised eyebrows said everything as Virgil returned to his work.

"By the way Dad; I took the liberty of putting my things in the larger room this year." he said, this time without looking up. "I hope you don't mind. I needed the space to lay out the canvas for the painting I'm starting tomorrow."

A twinge of uneasiness momentarily stabbed in the pit of Jeff Tracy's stomach. Virgil never painted when he came to the cabin. He always preferred to sketch and engage in thought-provoking conversations. When Virgil painted it was the family joke that he'd been kidnapped and put into a trance by aliens. He switched off from everything and everybody.

"No sir, I'm fine." was the casual reply to the equally casual question. "Grandma just asked me to paint something for her a while back and I thought it was about time I made some sort of effort."

Relief washed over him. Yes she had. Of course she had. He remembered now. It was the day after he returned from Australia after his short vacation with Lady Penelope. His mother had turned to Virgil over breakfast and asked him if he minded painting her something new for her bedroom wall. Something "restful" that would remind her of the old days.

Virgil had begun to tease her by pointing out she already had something restful. What was wrong with the beautiful view she had from her beachside balcony, he'd enquired.

A touch to his hand and a gentle smile was the only answer she gave.

"The Mississippi will be wonderful on canvas. Grandma will love it. Don't you think so Dad?"

Jeff Tracy nodded and smiled fondly at the son who looked so much like his mother.

"I think Grandma will like it very much, Virgil." he replied, moving forward to grab the beer. "Now how about you forget about unpacking those boxes for a while and come and join me by the river?"

Then he winked and held up the bottles.

"Between the truck, those beans and watching Jeremiah trying to figure out that boomerang, we men sure could use a beer."

The overnight rain left behind a sweetness which reminded him of life on the farm in Kansas. In the small but comfortable bed, Jeff yawned and stretched his arms and legs under the warmth of the hand knitted blanket. He couldn't think of a more perfect way to begin the day than to wake up to the freshness of saturated pine trees coupled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

Jeff rolled over onto his side and breathed a sigh of contentment. The coffee meant that Virgil was up and probably had been for several hours. Even on the island Virgil made the most of every day, especially a day where he knew he was free to do nothing but immerse himself in creativity.

The smell of the coffee continued to beckon to him until it was no longer tempting to stay in bed. He rose and padded his way through the cabin dressed in only his shorts. Normally he didn't feel comfortable until he was suitably washed and dressed. Out here, it didn't bother him.

Out here, a man didn't even have to shave.

Another sigh escaped, this time a sigh of happiness, as he filled his coffee cup to the brim. Last night had meant a lot to him as a father. It wasn't often he got to sit by the river under a full moon and talk about life with Virgil. He was such a kind, sensitive and gentle man. Lucy would be proud their second son had grown into everything she wanted him to be.

He looked around the cabin.

Force of habit already had him in search of the day's financial pages. After a few moments he felt himself redden when he remembered there was none to be had. Then his eyes came to rest on a package carefully wrapped in bright blue paper. Virgil must have unpacked it earlier and left it in the centre of the table.

Recollection dawned.

His Mother had told him about some package she'd put in the bottom of one of the boxes. Virgil was to open it the night before they returned home, she'd said. He'd assumed it must have been an early birthday present. Virgil's birthday was in two weeks.

He took a moment to pick up the package, turning it over and over in his hands. Whatever it was, it sounded fragile. He was amazed it had survived the journey to the cabin. Lord only knew what sort of surprise Virgil was in for in the next two days time.

"Good morning, Dad."

Clad in faded jeans and an old university t-shirt, Virgil hurried up the landing stage towards the cabin.

"Are you still having trouble with those beans?" Jeff frowned when he wasted no time rushing past him.

"No time to explain, I'm afraid." Virgil replied snatching up his pencils and sketch-pad. "Sorry sir. I just don't want to miss this. It's a once in a life-time opportunity."

Jeff shook his head. Now Virgil was scurrying back towards the river. What in the blazes was he doing? One minute he was determined to paint a canvas of the Mississippi for his Grandmother; the next he was tearing down the landing stage with a sketch-pad in his hand.

"A cat, Virgil?" he queried later on; peering at the image in front of him.

"Not a cat Dad. I actually think it was still a kitten ..." Virgil explained over another forkful of his eggs. "It looked like it couldn't have been more than a couple of months old. By the way these are good." he trailed off, looking towards the stove for seconds.

Jeff declined the offer to refill his own plate; electing to just have another cup of coffee. Instead, he continued to dwell on the sketch ...a small, fluffy kitten pawing at a wilted reed in the safety of the grass near the river. Where had it come from? How long had it been there? He hoped it was wild and hadn't been dumped. It might be a good idea for them to take a walk later on and keep an eye out for the animal. If it wasn't wild maybe Jeremiah would consider giving it a home.


Jeff Tracy suddenly smiled again.

He wondered if he'd found a use for his boomerang.

A long walk along the Mississippi on dusk failed to locate any trace of the kitten. There were no rustles in the grass, no frightened miaows; only the distant outline of Jeremiah's cabin and the peaceful silence of the wilderness.

And for the last three quarters of an hour that silence had included Virgil.

Jeff Tracy glanced worriedly at his son as he walked along the river beside him. He didn't know what was wrong.

At first Virgil seemed to be enjoying the story of how he and Lady Penelope stumbled on the boomerang during his vacation at Bonga BongaThat Lady Penelope had been so determined to locate the missing sheep from her "little family" she'd insisted they travel together on horseback. That he'd needed to carry her to the shade of a gum tree when the midday heat overtook her and she fainted. That they'd stayed out there for hours and come home with a battered old boomerang.

As the story went on, though, the conversation became more and more one-sided.

Now that it was over, Virgil had nothing to say to him at all.

"No sir, I'm fine."

Once again it was the casual answer to a question which was starting to become increasingly a lot less casual.

Jeff stopped walking.

"Are you sure about that, Virgil?" he asked a little more firmly.

Virgil shrugged and said the walk had made him tired... that the kitten had completely derailed his plans to start the canvas and the thought of letting Grandma down had started to bother him like heck. It was all right, he said. He still had two days to get it done. He'd make sure he had an early night so he could get started on the canvas first thing in the morning.

Once again Jeff Tracy let the relief wash over him. He didn't know why he grabbed every opportunity to worry about his sons. He had already made up his mind his mother was wrong about Virgil and there was still no reason for him to think otherwise.

They'd joked together about the beans. They'd shared a beer and talked about family. They'd searched the banks of the Mississippi trying to find a fluffy kitten.

They'd shared the story of the boomerang.

So why did he still feel so apprehensive when Virgil went to bed before he'd eaten his supper?

His apprehension faded with the morning dew as the sun once again rose over the tranquillity of Jeremiah's cabin.

There was still the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Breakfast was ready and waiting for him on the stove. Out on the landing stage, Virgil was already working intently on his grandmother's canvas.

Things looked like they were back to normal.

"Hey there, Father."

Lucy's smile flashed sideways as Jeff reached the end of the landing stage.

"Good morning, son. Thanks for the coffee." He indicated the cup and took the opportunity to take a grateful sip of the contents.

"You're welcome, sir."

He was so like her. The same profile ... the same manner ... even the same beautiful chestnut hair which glimmered in the Kentucky sunlight. He could stand and look at Virgil for hours. It always made him feel happy.

Once again, Jeff felt the need to get as close as he could to his son. Instinctively he wrapped an affectionate arm around Virgil's shoulders and ran his eyes over the canvas.

"So how is it all coming, then?" he enquired brightly. "It looks like you've been busy."

Another smile ... this time slightly distant as Virgil continued to absorb the view of the river; his long hand moving deftly across the canvas.

"It's doing OK, I guess." he eventually responded. "At the moment I'm trying to get the background right before the sun gets too much higher."

Jeff Tracy had always been a man who could take a hint and Virgil was terrible at being subtle. His brothers were right. When Virgil painted he did turn into an alien.

"Well, if that's the case I'd best leave you to it then." he replied. "I'll be out taking a walk if you need me."

An "OK Dad; see you later." told Jeff there would be no need for him to hurry back to the cabin.

He felt like he'd been out here for hours watching the kitten tumble and flip. It pounced on an unsuspecting spider. It darted in and out of the long grass. It crouched and imprisoned a leaf and didn't give up until it was shredded. The antics of animals had always enthralled him. It had been a long time since he'd taken the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasure.

The kitten was wild. There was no doubt in his mind about that. It was a shame. At the moment it was every bit as cute as any other domestic cat. Too bad the fluffiness would soon turn into an unsightly brownish grey coat and the playfulness would be replaced with the need for neighbouring birds to watch out for themselves in the evenings.

Jeff's eyes widened as the kitten tried to scamper up a nearby tree, as if it had read his mind. Forget that. The birds around here had better start watching out for themselves now.

He had only ever had one cat in his life and that was the one he'd grown up with on the farm in Kansas. It didn't do much to earn its keep as he recalled. His Father used to complain to his mother that she was missing the point by feeding it three times a day. It was supposed to keep the farm free of mice, not money, he'd told her.

When it died, it came as no surprise that another cat was suddenly considered unnecessary.

Jeff glanced down at his watch. It was almost lunch time. He had been out here for hours. He wondered how the painting was progressing. Hopefully it was now ahead of schedule. The last thing he needed was a repeat of the previous evening with Virgil so unhappy. He knew the canvas meant a lot to him and that he wanted to please his grandmother, but he didn't want Virgil to put himself under pressure when he had brought him here deliberately to relax.

Plus, he wanted Virgil to talk to him.

Jeff had been doing more than just watch a wild kitten play in the hours he'd been giving Virgil his space. He'd been mulling over Virgil's reaction to the boomerang story as well as thinking about the number of times he'd been "tired" recently when conversation started on Tracy Island. They both had a common denominator.

It wasn't tiredness.

It was the words "Bonga Bonga."

He appeared to be rather pleased with himself as he carried the partially completed canvas inside and laid it out on his bed. A cold beer and some decent food were sounding like a good idea. After a day of painting the Mississippi River there was no other word for him but drained.

It didn't take long for the hiss of opening bottles to fill the air in the cabin.

"Sunburnt is more like it." Jeff berated him from the stove. "I hope you've got a good excuse to get you out of trouble with your grandmother."

"All in the interests of family bliss," Virgil grinned sarcastically. "Here you go, Dad."

He handed over a beer and looked into the frypan with interest. "How long is it until supper, then?" he enquired, pleased at the prospect of his favourite.

"Not long so I'd appreciate it if you would see to setting the table for me."

"You got it, Dad."

Jeff had decided over an hour ago that the best thing to do was to get supper over with as soon as it was dark. Neither of them had eaten since breakfast and Virgil would be hungry. However, the last thing Jeff felt like was food. He'd thought about the situation of Virgil and Bonga Bonga all afternoon and the more he thought, the more he worried. He wasn't sure how he was going to raise the subject or if was a good idea for him to raise the subject at all.

After a long deliberation he elected to stay silent, at least for the time being. Further observation was required; he decided and made his plans. If he still had reservations this time tomorrow he would know he needed to bring things to a head with Virgil.

"Dad, is it all right with you if I open this thing early? I'm sick of it being in the middle of the table every time we eat."

Jeff Tracy grinned and momentarily forgot all about observation.

It seemed to him that Virgil had been pretending to be aggravated about his Grandmother's package from the moment he found out it was his. Virgil was a bad actor when it came to conveying aggravation. What he simply was; was curious. He wanted to know what was inside and he didn't want to wait another twenty four hours to find out. That was one trait Virgil hadn't inherited from his mother. Jeff had to admit he was more than curious himself.

"Now Virgil..." he warned. "Your grandmother gave me very clear instructions on the time-line I'm supposed to follow with that package."

Sounding gruff was one of his specialities.

Unfortunately for both of them, he'd forgotten that persistence was one of Virgil's.

He hadn't slept. How could he? He was worried sick about his son.

Jeff Tracy sat alone at the end of the old landing stage and rubbed his tired eyes. He never watched the sun rise over Kentucky unless he spent his night star-gazing with John. If he hadn't agreed so readily to let Virgil open the package he wouldn't be about to witness the sunrise now.

He didn't understand why Virgil had gone to bed without supper again when he saw what the package contained. It was only a glass bottle containing some sort of shrivelled up message. His mother had probably written it herself to say that neither of them could be trusted.

Knocking on the door had made no difference. Offering to reheat his supper didn't get any sort of response either.

Jeff was tired. He was anxious. And he was officially done with relying on observation. Something was wrong with Virgil; he pretty well suspected what it was and it was time for him to do something about it.

When the sun came up it would be time for the two of them to talk... in the four walls of Jeremiah's cabin.

He protested that he had to finish the painting. He said to stop over-reacting. He didn't need to talk to anyone about the message in the bottle. He would find his own way to deal with it, thank you very much.

"Excuse me please, Father. I need to set up my canvas. I don't want to disappoint my grandmother by not finishing something I start."

Virgil turned and snatched up the canvas and stalked his way out of the cabin. He wasn't happy being confronted.

He'd declined the offer of breakfast. He'd said he didn't feel like coffee. He'd avoided all eye contact since he'd opened up the door to his room. The whole thing was getting out of hand.

Jeff took the punt and strode after his son as he marched down the landing stage in an irritated silence.

"This is all the result of me going toBonga Bonga with Penny isn't it

Virgil stopped dead and reddened immediately.

"I don't know what you mean, Father." he eventually murmured into his chest.

"I think you do, Virgil."

Virgil paused for a while and then turned around to look him squarely in the face. Anger and embarrassment soon filled the air.

"Grandma showed you what I put in that bottle, didn't she Father?"

"If she did, is that a problem for you, Virgil?"

"Yes, it is a problem for me."

"Well, then, it's now a problem for both of us."

Virgil's face contorted. He swallowed hard.

"I think you'd agree that what's in there makes things between us rather awkward."

"You let me be the judge of that."

It wasn't easy to bring things out into the open. It was unsettling for both of them to confront the fact that they both had the same desires as a man. Virgil said at first he'd been all for the visit to Bonga Bonga.Like the other guys, he meant it when he said his father needed a vacation. He was glad Jeff enjoyed being with Lady Penelope. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman.

He paused for a long time before continuing. He needed to be reassured ten times over that nothing had changed. That what was said at the cabin stayed at the cabin.

"Can you guarantee me that, Father?"

Jeff squared his jaw. What choice did he have? He was the one who encouraged the boys to get things off their chest. He nodded and steeled himself for the worst.

"All right." he said grimly. "You have my word."

Virgil put down the canvas. Anger and embarrassment had turned to resignation.

There was no easy way to say this but he and Penelope had been "together" for over seven months. He originally hadn't meant for it to happen but it did. It was a casual thing. No commitment. She could still see anyone she liked. What he didn't expect and couldn't deal with was Penelope extending her casualness to include his own Father. He thought her invitation for Jeff to visit Bonga Bongahad been made in friendship.

"And it wasn't. Was it Dad?"

Jeff felt the brown eyes bore through him; two brown eyes that demanded an answer when he didn't know what to say.

But he had to say it. Virgil expected it. There were never any secrets kept when they came out here to the cabin.

OK. There was no use denying it. Yes; he had to admit there was an attraction. Twenty two years was a long time to be without the touch of a woman. At Bonga Bonga he'd decided he wanted to feel that touch again. It had all started out so innocently, just the two of them sitting under a gum tree. Then it began to escalate. A kiss or two... a gentle touch ... he was very fond of Lady Penelope. What he didn't bank on was things continuing to the point of intimacy. He was just lucky a half-buried boomerang stabbed him in the butt and made him come to his senses.

"Lady Penelope and I will remain as colleagues, Virgil, "he said. "Let me assure you there will never be anything more between us than that. She's almost thirty years younger than me. It took a boomerang to remind me of that. That ..."

Jeff's eyes filled.

"... and the fact I've finally accepted that even though I try, I'm never going to be able stop loving your mother."

The stillness of the Mississippi magnified the silence. The rustle of the kitten playing in the nearby grass went completely unobserved.

"Dad, I know that." Virgil's voice, when it came, was now barely more than a whisper. "But believe me; no one wants you to be happy more than I do. That's why I couldn't tell you about my involvement with Penelope. There's no easy way to say to your Father you'd prefer he wasn't screwing your lover. So I wrote how I felt on a piece of paper, put it in a stupid bottle and threw it into the ocean over Tahiti. The last thing I expected was the bottle to wash back up on Tracy Island. I didn't even know it had until I opened Grandma's package last night."

Virgil lowered his head.

"I burned the message in the bottle Dad. What I wrote about you and Lady Penelope was inexcusable. I hope you can forgive me and understand I only wrote it because I had to."

Jeff looked into the identical eyes of the only woman he had ever loved. Eyes that had shone with love for him; eyes life had taken away before he was ready to say goodbye.

"You have done nothing that needs forgiving Virgil." he murmured, turning away sadly from his son. "You go on back to your canvas now. We'll talk more about this later. "

He'd never seen a woman as happy as his mother when Virgil proudly unveiled the canvas in the lounge of the Tracy villa and dedicated it all to her.

The Mississippi River...an old landing stage...

And Jeremiah's cabin.

She made no mention of the kitten that played in the long grass. She made no mention of the boomerang. The empty bottle floating in the Mississippi seemingly went unnoticed, too.

She simply smiled and nodded her head at him; pleased.

But later on, she couldn't resist knowing all about the empty can labelled "Ma's Beans" which proudly stood in the foreground of the canvas.

"I'm not in a position to explain art or its interpretation to you Mother." Jeff Tracy said with a wink in Virgil's direction. "I think its best that you direct any questions in that regard squarely in the direction of your grandson."

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