If you haven’t noticed, families are a big thing in this series. Really all my stories, but in the Flames series(and spin0ffs), they are particularly interwoven. There are all kind of different families, too. The Rileys are a large, Irish-Catholic, very close-knit family. The Brookes are a much smaller unit, but just as close. The Davis family is not very close at all. The Young family is mostly estranged from each other(other than Mark and Maura, though things look better with their father by the end of Flames of Restoration).
We meet the Takodas in Flames of Renewal(book 2). This family is a little different. When we meet them, it’s just Teresa, her teenage son Christopher, and her granddaughter, Avery. This is very much a case of me not being very nice to my characters in their back story.
Joseph Takoda was a high school teacher in Pittsburgh, Pa. He worked at an inner city school, volunteered at a youth center, tried to help kids in his neighborhood basically any way he could. He met Teresa Caridi at the local library where she worked. She was pretty impressed with what she saw:
“I met Joseph when I was twenty-four when I finally came back to Pennsylvania and had a job at a library in Pittsburgh. Worked on teaching some adults to read. And we had a special program for the kids in that neighborhood. Joseph came in one night while I worked with this group of kids.” Her hand shook slightly. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear our whole love story.”
“It’s okay, Teresa,” he said, reaching over and taking her hand. “You know mine and Sarah’s. I want to know everything about you I missed the last thirty years.”
“He knew those kids’ names. Each and every one of them. That’s the first thing I noticed about him. He got right down on their level and actually talked to them. I found out later he taught at one of the high schools and also volunteered at a youth center. He knew all these kids or older siblings.”
“He sounds like he was a good man.”
“He was. One of the best. We dated for two years. Then, he asked me to marry him.” She laughed and took another sip of her wine. “He didn’t really propose, I guess. He asked if I’d like to marry him. The next day we went and picked out a ring together. We married in front of a judge a month later. That may be the only thing I’ve ever done that really upset my parents. They got over it though. They really liked him too.”
James wasn’t sure what to say. “I think I might have liked to meet him.”
Teresa is from Crystal Glen. She lived there until her best friend, Sarah Brooke, died in a fire along with Sarah’s son. She did some traveling before settling in Pittsburgh. She had a nice life, for the most part, with Joseph and their two kids until her husband was killed on his way to the youth center to volunteer his time tutoring kids.
Their oldest child, Samantha, was born a few years into the marriage. She was always a handful for them, but it wasn’t until her early teen years that it became more than just some behavior issues. She took off after her father was killed and didn’t come home again.
She moved over to him to see what pictures he looked at. At least it was one of the few they had where Samantha actually smiled. “Our last family vacation before…before Joseph was killed. Chris was just eight. Sam was almost fifteen.”
“She was a beautiful girl,” he said, looking down at the other picture. “You can see the fire in her eyes.”
“She burned so hot. And then nothing. Then, those flames would leap up again. We woke almost every morning wondering what version of her we’d see that day. So smart, but it was like we lived on a rollercoaster.”
He set the pictures back down and turned to her, putting his arms around her. “I’m sorry, Teresa. It had to be hard to lose her.”
“Like I said, we’d already lost her. We tried to get her help. She saw a therapist. We got her into a program when we found drugs in her room. God.”
He ran a hand up and down her back. “I didn’t know things then,” she continued. “Didn’t realize she was self-medicating. Didn’t think there was anything wrong, she just had an intense personality. I should have done more. Then, Joseph was dead, and I-I couldn’t cope. Everything fell apart. And I couldn’t-”
Chris was born after Samantha had started school. Not close in age or really in personality, either. Christopher was the laidback child, and later, the one who always wanted to please.
Teresa nodded and turned to the teenage boy leaning against the wall. “Chris.”
He smiled, and she couldn’t believe how much he looked like his father. It sent a pang of grief through her heart even after more than six years.
“We’ll be fine, Mom. Go on to your class. If she has an attack, we’ll call you. I’m sure she’ll be fine. She’s been calming down better.”
“I know, Chris. I just worry. Okay, I’m going now. I’ll see you in a few hours. What do you want for dinner, pizza or burgers?”
He laughed. “Pizza’s fine, Mom, but we really should get groceries soon. We’ve been in the house a month. We can’t just subsist on take-out and drive throughs.”
It was her turn to laugh. “Chris, you’re a teenager. You’re supposed to want to live on that stuff.”
He shrugged a shoulder. “What can I say? I’m a weird one.”
She couldn’t help it, she threw her arms around him. “I’m thankful for you every day, you know that, right?”
“Go on, Mom.”
He acted like he didn’t care, but she could see the flush rise to his face. “All right, I’m going. I’ll see you later.”
Avery is Samantha’s daughter. Teresa didn’t know her, although Samantha had sent her a picture just after she was born. Not until she was almost six years old, and Teresa learned that her daughter was dead. Avery had a rough beginning to life, has a tendency to panic, especially when things don’t follow routine, and barely even talks when Teresa first gets her.
She shook her head. “If I would have paid more attention, she wouldn’t have run away barely a month after he died. I tried to find her, but I couldn’t. A year later, I got a letter from her with a picture of Avery. I hired a private investigator, but I couldn’t pay him for long. There were a couple calls over the years, but I never saw her again. I should have done more. That little girl shouldn’t have had to spend the first five years of her life living on the streets.”