Archive | April 2011

Chapter Twenty-Three (Part One)

“You did remember to invite Michelle didn’t you?”

Marah didn’t look down from the streamers she was busy hanging. “Yes mother I remembered to invite the guest of honor.  It wouldn’t be much of a baby shower without the mother-to-be now would it?  Don’t worry Danny already called, they will be here in a few minutes.”  She glanced down and pointed to the buffet table, “You about done re-arranging the relish trays yet?”

Reva tried to look insulted but it was ineffective considering she was laughing, “Well you said I couldn’t bring brownies.” 

“Mom I love you but one deserves that.” 

Tony came into the room carrying a large box, “Babe where do you want the present Dahlia sent?” 

Marah pointed to the table already laden with gifts, “The dining room table should be good.”

“Um babe, could you turn me in the right direction? I can’t see a thing.”

Reva laughed, “I’ll do it hun.  Everything looks great.”

She climbed down the step-ladder and surveyed her work.  Not bad for being thrown last-minute.   Lost in her musings she was momentarily startled when strong arms embraced her from behind, “You did good babe.  Even if your parent’s living room looks like it was coated in Pepto-Bismol.”

Marah playfully slapped his arm, “She’s having a baby girl.  Pink is standard fare.  Do you think she’ll like it?”

“I think Michelle will love it baby.  So…do I really have to stay for the actual party?” 

“It’s not going to kill you.  You get to sit in the den and watch baseball with the guys.” She turned and put her arms around his neck,”If anyone should be bailing it would be me.  I am sure I am going to be regaled with childbirth horror stories.  I say you get the better end of the deal.”

“Okay you win. He grinned at her lasciviously,”But you owe me later.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Well I was thinking we could sneak away to the Beacon for the weekend where you could “pay me back” in private.  Then we can…” He leaned down to whisper his plans in her ear when they were interrupted by the doorbell.  Tony groaned, “Perfect timing as usual.”

“Hold that thought. The guest of honor has arrived.”

***

The party was going well.  Presents had been opened and Michelle had cried over each one.  Especially over the gifts sent by those who couldn’t be there. Dahlia was in the middle of her music tour but had sent enough clothes for five babies.  Even Michelle’s ex-sister-in-law Abby had sent something for the occasion.  Overall Marah considered the party a success.  They had just started in on desert when her cousin Bill’s wife approached her. “So Marah what are your plans now that you are staying in Springfield?” 

Marah finished chewing her cake before answering, “I haven’t decided yet.  I could try to continue my fashion career from here but truthfully I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to towards the end there.”

Lizzie looked around at the decorations, “You did an excellent job planning this shower last-minute.  You would be a great party planner.”

Marah thought about the prospect.  She had enjoyed putting the baby shower together, even if she had rushed around last-minute trying to attend to every detail.  “I’ll think about it.”

Michelle waddled up still drying her eyes over her last crying jag, “You outdid yourself Marah it was perfect.”

 She was glad.  Michelle deserved it.  “So you think of any baby names yet?”

Michelle rubbed her protruding belly with love, “Danielle Maureen.”

A blending of their names. “It’s perfect Michelle.”

As the other ladies gained Michelle’s attention Marah wandered into the kitchen and thought about the future.  Everything was so up in the air.  She didn’t have a career, she was living in her parent’s house, and hadn’t even been back to Paris to pack up her apartment.   

“Hey baby. What’s got you so upset?”  She hadn’t heard Tony enter.

“Hey you scared me.” She tried to put her musings out of her mind, “Nothing’s wrong.  Just thinking.”

“About what?”

“The future. ” Seeing the nervousness and the fear in Tony’s eyes Marah was quick to calm his unease, “Since I’m staying in Springfield I was thinking about possible careers I would be good at and also about packing up my apartment in Paris.  I was hoping we could go together.”

Tony let out the breath he didn’t know he had been holding.  That didn’t seem so bad, in fact it sounded terrific.  He’d fly to Paris any day as long as it meant she would be coming back home.  With him.  “When do you want to leave?  We can go tonight if we hurry.”

She laughed, “Did you seem Michelle?  That baby could come any day now, and I know you want to be here when she arrives.”

“Okay you have a point.  But I still think we should have a little R&R at the Beacon.  Too many kids at Danny and Michelle’s, your father still glares at me like I’m corrupting his princess, and Rafael has pretty much squeezed me out of the Lighthouse and made it his home away from home.”

“You can be very persuasive Mr. Santos.  Meet me after the party winds down and we’ll see who’s corruption who.”

Tony growled, “I love the way you think Babe. ”

***

Hours later Michelle sighed as she laid back on the sofa, “I could get used to being pampered like this.  You do it so well.”  She’d sprawled there the second they got home and had no intention of moving.

Danny chuckled as he finished with her left foot and began to massage the other one in the same loving manner, “You usually don’t stay in one place long enough for me to work my magic.”

Michelle just grinned, “You work your magic in other ways Danny Santos.”

Danny wasn’t touching that one with a ten foot pole.  It took every ounce of willpower he had but after the difficult pregnancies she’d had with Robbie and Hope he didn’t want to take any chances.  Instead he continued his ministrations and tried to change the subject, “You two had a long day.  You have fun?”

“I did.  Marah did a fantastic job throwing it together.  Did you see all the clothes Dahlia sent?  And that adorable stroller Abby got us?  I am going to have to write thank you notes.” 

When Michelle went to get up Danny just pulled her foot towards him, “It can wait.  I love howe your organized brain works but right now you need to take it easy.”

This time Michelle’s sigh was one of frustration, “Ugh fine.  Can I at least get some water?  I don’t think that would be over exerting myself.”

“Okay but no throwing the baby clothes in the washer, no starting thank you cards till at least tomorrow, and no putting the stroller together.  I will do that later.”

She looked doubtful, “You ever put a stroller together before?”

“No, but it can’t be too difficult.” And if need be he could ask Tony or Rick for help.

Michelle shook her head.  It had taken Danny, Rick, AND her father Ed to get the crib assembled she couldn’t imagine how challenging a stroller would be.   But she wasn’t going to point that out.  Instead she shuffled to the kitchen for a drink. 

As she stood there drinking the cool liquid she thought back on the events of the day.  It had been a surprise that’s for sure.  But Marah had gone above and beyond.  She’d contacted her old friend Daliah, which was no small feat considering she was constantly traveling.  And Abby.  She was her ex sister-in-law but she’d still sent a present along with a note of congratulations.  She missed Abby.  Not that she disliked Mindy but her and Abby had been close during her marriage to Rick.  She’d supported Michelle’s marriage to Danny when no one else did.  And for that she would always be grateful.

As she went to put the empty glass in the sink she felt a flutter in her lower stomach.  “Um Danny you may want to come here for a minute.”  She was surprised by how calm she sounded when inside her heart-felt like it was going to beat right out of her chest.  She may have given birth twice before but each time was like the first time.

“Danny breezed into the kitchen with a smile, “You called?”

“It’s time.”

Chapter Twenty-Two (Part two)

Tony scanned the yard until he found who he was looking for.  In the past month they had reached a tentative truce in their relationship.  At least it beat all the animosity and mistrust six years ago. “Josh can I speak to you for a moment please?”

Marah’s father looked a bit stunned.  Maybe it was that he said please.  Or that he approached him at all.  They may have reached an understanding but they were far from buddies.  “Sure Tony.”

When they were away from the crowd Josh didn’t waste time.  “So what do you want to talk to me about?”

If Tony didn’t know better he would think Josh looked nervous.  “I wanted to know if you’d be willing to do some remodeling work for me.”

Josh definitely looked nervous now, “Remodeling what exactly?”

“I was thinking of buying the old Millennium building and re-opening Infierno. ”

Josh’s nervous look was replaced with skepticism.  Tony went on to explain, “My intentions are honorable I swear.  I want to re-open the business, one hundred percent legit this time.”

“Sounds interesting.  Why don’t you come by the office on Monday and we can draw up some plans.  I am working on another project that will have me tied up for most of the upcoming months but perhaps Jonathan would be able to fit it in this schedule.”

Tony shook the other man’s hand.  Things were definitely looking up. “Thanks Josh.  Now all I have to do is ask Danny and we can get started.”

“Ask Danny what?”  Neither man had noticed Danny and Michelle approach.

” Um I wanted to talk to you about buying the old Millennium building and re-opening Infierno.”

“Since when?”

Tony just shrugged, “Since I’ve been back.  It’s all I’ve ever known, all I’ve ever been good at.  You proved to everyone that you were more than just a Santos and now it’s my turn.”  He eyed Josh before continuing, “i want to set down roots.  And well I want to marry Marah someday.  And I want to be able to provide for our family when I do.”

Josh looked a little green around the gills at that piece of information, “Oh Jesus I need to sit down.”

Both men ignored the comment.  They were too busy trying to feel the other man out.  Then Danny smiled, “To tell the truth Michelle and I had discussed it for a while but it didn’t seem viable with the baby on the way.  This changes things. You want to do this solo or are you looking for a partner?”

Tony grinned, “We always did make a good team.”

Danny offered his hand while Michelle looked on with joy in her eyes, “Partners?”

Tony didn’t even have to think twice. “Partners.”

“Glad you two are in agreement but hope you both know that it will probably take a while before we can even start such an undertaking.  Especially with most of our men busy on Danny’s other project.”  Josh winced when he saw the desperate plea in Danny’s eyes to keep quiet, “Sorry Danny.  My brain is still reeling from Tony’s announcement.”

“What’s he talking about Danny?”  Michelle always knew when something was up. 

“It was supposed to be a surprise.” He glared at Josh before continuing, “I asked Josh to start building at Laurel Falls.  They broke ground a couple of weeks ago.”

“You’re building our dream house?”  Michelle’s eyes teared up, and not just because of pregnancy hormones.

“Your dreams are my dreams and I would do anything possible to make them come true.  I knew we both wouldn’t be comfortable living there after what happened before, with who we thought was Tony.  Now that we have our real Tony back there isn’t anything stopping us.  We can have our dream house and raise our amazing kids in peace.  Of course it won’t be done in time for the baby but the majority of it should be done around Christmas.”

Michelle  dissolved into a fit of tears and embraced her husband, “I love you Danny Santos!”

***

Tony stood off to the side waiting for Marah.  People were starting to gather around for the annual fireworks and he was anxious to get her alone and tell her his plans for the future.  A future that most definitely included her. 

“Well son it looks like everything worked out.”

He grinned at Rafael, “It’s getting there.  What about you?”

Rafael was confused, “What about me?”

“You going to go back to California or stick around.  Have to say, things get pretty interesting around here.”  Tony cleared his throat and looked the older man in the eye, “The only people who have ever truly had my back were Danny and Ray.  Until you.  You save my life, twice.  And yeah, I’d like to see you stick around. ”

If Tony didn’t know better he would swear Rafael had tears in his eyes, which was totally out of character for the tough man he’d started seeing as a sort of father figure. “You’re a good man Tony Santos.  I might stick around, at least for a while.  Someone has to keep you out of trouble.”

***

Tony and Marah sat nestled together on a blanket waiting for the fireworks to start. 

“So what did you and my dad talk about?”

Tony looked down at her and raised an eyebrow, “Nervous baby?”

She laughed.  “Nope.  Just curious.”

“I wanted to talk to him about remodeling the old Millennium building and re-opening Infierno.”

Marah turned around and looked at him in astonishment, “Really?”

“Seems like a good idea and Danny’s going to be my business partner.  What do you think?”

 She kissed his soundly, “I think you should do whatever makes you happy.  And since I know how much you loved running Infierno I think it’s great!”

He waited until she had settled back into the comfort of his arms before he told her the rest, “I know we are taking this slow but I also told your dad that I intend to marry you.”

Once more she whipped around and faced him, “You what?!  How did he take that declaration?”

At least she didn’t look angry.  “He was…shocked.  We agreed to take it slow but I still want to prove to him that I will be a good husband to you one day and a father to any kids we may have.”

She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair, “Honey you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.  I always knew you’d be a good husband I just never thought we’d have another chance.  When the time’s right we’ll know.”

Tony pulled her close.  He intended the kiss to be brief but  they were so wrapped up in each other they didn’t even notice when the fireworks started exploding overhead in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Chapter Twenty-Two (Part one)

One month later….

“You ready to do this?” 

Tony looked over at Marah., “As long as I have you by my side I can do anything.  But I’m sure the entire town will be there to gawk at the prodigal son who returned to corrupt one of Springfield’s princesses.”

Marah laughed, “Honey you corrupted me years ago and you know it.”

Tony grinned mischievously, “I did didn’t I. ” He wrapped his arms around her mindful of the bowl of potato salad she held protectively, “And I’d like nothing better than to corrupt you some more right now.”

She playfully smacked his arm and headed toward the back yard.  It was the annual Bauer bar-b-que and from the sounds of things the festivities were in full force.  “Stop that Tony Santos.  We’re late enough as it is.” 

Tony groaned half-heartedly but accepted the hand she held out to him.  In truth he was glad to be back where simple things like the Bauer bar-b-que was the highlight of the year.  And having Marah by his side was an extra bonus that he was thankful for every single day.   For six years he had dreamed of her but the reality didn’t even compare.  This past month had been the best of his life. 

“About time you two got here!”  Danny leaned down and kissed Marah’s cheek then slapped him on the back in greeting.  That was another thing that had made this past month so special.  Things had been awkward for a while, especially with Michelle, but gradually the ghosts of the past faded and they were back to where they once were.  A family. 

“What can I say Danny?  She can’t keep her hands off me.” He laughed at Marah’s huffy reply then smiled at the figure approaching them, “And look at you!  Looking gorgeous as ever Michelle.”

Michelle rolled her eyes, “Anyone tell you not to lie to a pregnant woman Tony?” She winked at Marah then gestured towards the food table, “Let’s go set that down and get something to drink.  Rick’s about ready to fire up the grill and I could use some lemonade.”

When Marah moved to follow Michelle Tony pulled her into him and kissed her tenderly.

“What was that for?”

Tony grinned, “Just because I love you.”

From nearby Josh Lewis groaned, “Would you two cut it out?  That’s my daughter you’re sucking face with.  Not to mention that all this lovey-dovey stuff is making all of us men look bad!”

***

Everyone stood reverently while Ed Bauer raised the American flag, surrounded by his grandkids as was tradition.   Tony actually got a bit teary eyed.  It was such a small thing but it was something he never thought he’d get to experience again.  And yet here he was, back amongst the living surrounded by those he loved most.  He had a lot to be thankful for.

Rick clapped his hands, “All right gang it’s time to get the party started.  Danny you sure you don’t want to try to man the grill again?  Some people might even like their burgers well-done.”

Danny shook his head emphatically, “No way Rick.  I think I’ll pay homage to my bartending days and use my skills mixing drinks.  Besides, no one can pull off that hat and apron like you.”

Rick beamed proudly, “So true.”

***

“Uncle Tony! Uncle Tony!”  

Tony looked up from trying to coax Marah to ditch the last half of the bar-b-que to see Robbie running towards him.  Technically he wasn’t the kids’ uncle but it sounded better than Cousin Tony.  And since Danny, Ray, and him had grown up like brothers it just seemed to fit.  “What’s up Robbie?”

“Will you do the three-legged race with me? Pleaseeee?”  Robbie pleaded.  Tony had to admit he was good.  Not many people could say no to those Santos eyes.  Except maybe Marah who had put the kibosh on leaving early for more private celebrating.

 “What about your dad?”

“He’s racing with Hope since Mom can’t this year.”

Tony looked around, “What about Sarah?”

Robbie looked horrified at the suggestion, “She’s racing with her dad.  Besides she’s a girl.”

“Hm I don’t know.  Have to ask Marah.  She might not want to be without my company that long, you know how girls are.”

Marah rolled her eyes and stood up smoothing her sundress, “Dream on lover boy.” She looked down at Robbie and smiled, ” By all means take him Robbie.  I’m going to go grab my dad and show you Santos boys not to mess with a Lewis.”

When they were alone Tony looked down at his nephew.  It was like looking at a miniature Danny. “You think we’re in trouble?”

 The little boy grinned, “I’m not but you might want to get her some flowers.  That’s what dad does when mom looks at him like that.”

***

Tony sat down in the grass with a groan.  Marah just shook her head in amusement, “Aw how does it feel to loose to a girl Mr. Santos?”

“I may need you to console me later, my manly pride and all.”

Michelle came out of the house carrying her famous Bert’s apple pie, “Time for desert!”

Marah reached down her hand, “Come on.  All this winning has made me hungry.”

They made their way to join the others already standing around the desert table. 

Rick subtly nudged Danny with his elbow and nodded.  He cleared his throat, “As most of you know my family got quite a shock a month ago.  We thought he was lost to us forever but then one day he was there with a tale so outrageous it had to be true!  So I’d just like to say welcome home Tony.  It’s good to have you back.  Even if the town will never be the same.” 

Everyone laughed as Rafael, Jonathan, Ray, and Josh set something on the large table.   There decorated in red, white, and blue on the biggest cake Tony had ever seen were the words, “Welcome Home Tony”.

Tony felt Marah’s hand rub his back in support and didn’t know what to say.  But he was going to try to put it into words anyway. “For six years I dreamed of coming back but never imagined the welcome I have gotten today.  Thank you, all of you.”  Before he got all choked up he picked up the serving knife, “So who wants to break into this bad boy?”

Chapter Twenty-One

“Are you sure this is what you want? You just got out of the hospital you shouldn’t be flying to Paris this soon.” 

Marah tried to block out her mother’s desperate eyes while packing her suitcase.   She needed to keep busy.  As long as she concentrated on something else she didn’t wallow in ‘what could have been’ fantasies that would never happen.  “Yes I have to go back.  My life is there now.  I have an apartment, a career, I can’t just stay here forever mom.”

“Your father and I took years to get things right Marah.  We blew all kinds of second and third chances.  Your second chance is staring you in the face and you are leaving it behind.”

The tears Marah had been holding back threatened to overtake her, “He doesn’t want me mom!  And even if he did how would it even work?  I live in another country.  He never was happy about my choice of careers so why would it be different now?”

“That’s just geography.  And that was six years ago.  I am sure being locked away put a lot of things in perspective.  Besides when there is a will there is a way.”

She had to get out of here.  She closed her suitcase with a note of finality.   “It’s not like I’ll be gone forever.  I’ll be back to visit.  And this time I won’t wait six years, I promise.  And you can come visit me.” She bent down and picked up a sullen Collin, “We can take Little Man here to see the Eiffel Tower and get Gelato.  Make Dad take us shopping.  It’ll be fun.”

Reva wasn’t fooled by Marah’s attempt to change the subject.  But before she could continue her lecture they were interrupted by Josh’s soft knock on the bedroom door, “You packed and ready to go honey?”

Collin began to cry in earnest.  “I’ll miss you Collin.  You can call me whenever you want.  Be good for mom and dad, okay?”

He practically leaped into his mother’s comforting arms, “Okay.”

Marah hugged her mother one more time, “I love you.  And tell Jonathan goodbye for me.  I haven’t seen him since yesterday and he didn’t return my calls.”  She picked up her purse and headed for the door where Josh was waiting to take her to the airport.

As they drove away Marah felt like her heart was breaking all over again.

***

“Can’t you go any faster?” 

Danny just looked over and scowled.  “I am going as fast as I can.  Not my fault it took forever to get you discharged but we’ll get you there on time.  Jonathan said her plane doesn’t leave for another hour.  Now you want to tell me what in the hell you were thinking?”

Like Tony needed anyone else to tell him what an idiot he had been.  “I messed up.”

Danny kept his eyes on the road but Tony could tell he wanted nothing more than to reach over and smack him senseless. “We’ve established that.  Now answer why you decided to push Marah away.  Again.”

“I don’t know, I just panicked.  I saw Jonathan and those kids in the hospital and thought that she had the family she always wanted, that I always wanted.  After all we’ve been through I couldn’t take that away from her.”

Danny could see Tony meant well, even if it was the wrong move.  “Tony it took me years to realize that Michelle didn’t need or want a martyr.  Marah and Michelle are a lot alike in that regard.” Danny finally made the turn into the airport.  As Danny pulled up to the curb Tony didn’t even wait for him to stop, he was running for the entrance.

Once inside he frantically scanned the crowd.  Just his luck that half the town seemed to be there.  Then it was like the seas parted and there she was.  He wasted no time, he took off after her.

***

Marah concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.  If not she was liable to turn around and head back to the safety of her family.  “You can do this.  You did it once you can do it again.”  If she kept repeated it she just might believe it, even if she was doing that talking to herself thing again.

“Marah!”

Marah stopped and glanced around to see who was calling her name.  She wasn’t expecting to see Tony running towards her. “What are you doing here Tony? ”

“Marah you can’t get on that plane.”  Tony watched her expression flash between surprise and anger.  But he wasn’t deterred.  This was the fight of his life and he would never give up.  Even if he had to follow her to Paris himself. “You leave and you take my heart with you.”

Mindful of those milling around them she kept her voice low but the anger come through crystal clear,  “Your heart!  What about mine?  You talked about love one minute then shut me out cold.  I refuse to go down this road again Tony.  I’m sorry I just can’t.” 

She moved to go around him but  just as quickly he maneuvered himself in front of her. “I love you Marah Lewis.  I always have and I always will.  For all his crazy Romeo was right about one thing.  You were the reason I held on for six years.  You.  You were my light in the darkness.”

“Tony don’t do this now.  I have a life to get back to.  A career.” She took a deep breath and continued on, “Words cannot express how glad I am that you are alive and how grateful I am that you saved my life.  You have a second chance,  be happy Tony.”

Without her that wasn’t an option.  Tony decided it was time to lay all the cards on the table.  “I panicked.”  At her look of confusion he continued on, “That night at the hospital I panicked.  I saw who I know now is Jonathan and the kids and I jumped to the wrong conclusion.  I thought you had a family waiting for you and I couldn’t come into your life and destroy that.  And I am ashamed to say I was angry.”  He stepped up to her and cupped her head in her hands, “Angry that some man gave you the babies that should have been mine.”

Marah opened her mouth to reply but before she could utter a sound his mouth with on hers, kissing her with all the passion and longing he’d been harboring for six years.    The people who were no doubt staring at them faded into the background, it was just her and Tony swept up in the heat of their kiss.  Until reality stepped in.

“Boarding call for Flight 125 departing for Paris, France please proceed to gate 7.”

Marah reluctantly removed herself from his embrace. “I’ve got to go.”

Tony’s eyes searched hers imploringly, “Don’t tell me you didn’t feel anything.  It’s still there Marah.  You want to go to Paris?  If you give me a few days to get my affairs in order I would move there in a heartbeat to be with you.”

“I can’t ask you to do that Tony.  You just got your life back.  Your family back.  To ask you to give all that up again just for me would be selfish.  I love you but I could never ask you to give that up.”

“Damn it I wouldn’t be giving anything up!  I told you once that there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.  That hasn’t changed.  For six years the only thing that kept me going was the fantasy of coming home to you.”

Final boarding call for Flight 125 to Paris, France.  Please proceed to gate 7.”

“I’ve got to go.  I’ll call you when I land and we can…talk. ”  She turned towards her waiting flight.  She didn’t dare stop.  If she looked back she would crumble into dust.

***

Tony sat on the bench in front of the airport.  The sun was shining but he didn’t feel it.  He doubted he’d feel anything ever again.  He felt someone sit beside him but he didn’t even look over.  He simply didn’t care.

“You just going to let her go?”

Tony raised his head in shock.  He had expected Danny but there was Marah’s father staring back at him.  Josh Lewis had never liked him, which he could admit now was for pretty good reasons.  And here he was actually encouraging him to fight for Marah.  Miracles never ceased.

“Last night Reva and I had a little talk.  Well I should say she talked and I listened.  She made me see that I wasn’t really fair to you.  Afterall I’ve loved Reva for what seems like my entire life and it took us years and multiple marriages to get it right.  It’s years too late but I wanted to say that I’m sorry.  I know you love Marah and I know she loves you..”  He stopped and looked at something over Tony’s shoulder and grinned, ” And with that I’ll leave you alone.  But a piece of advice. Don’t make the same mistake I did and take decades to get it right.  Fight for her and never let go.  But if you hurt her again I won’t hesitate to hurt you right back.”

Tony was still lost in Josh’s words when a shadow blocked out the sunlight.  “We are going to take it slow this time and do it right.”

Tony stood up so fast his head was spinning.  Or it could be the vision in front of him.  He felt his heart stop and restart with a jolt.  “Slow is good.  We have all the time in the world.”  He opened his arms and she eagerly stepped into them.

Marah sighed as he held her close.  “Yes we do”

Chapter Twenty

“You know I don’t need a babysitter Jonathan.  Besides, don’t you have work to do?” Marah knew her family meant well but she was tired of the constant hovering.  It was like they expected her to fall apart the second she was alone.  That wasn’t going to happen.  Tony and her had been done for six years.  Despite the hope that had sprung up after that showdown with Romeo he had shut her out at the hospital.  He spoke of love one minute then was ice-cold the next.  She didn’t want to go down that road again.

Jonathan didn’t even look up from the magazine he was reading, “Nope.  Josh gave me the day off.”

Marah couldn’t take it anymore, she took her pillow and launched it at Jonathan’s head, “Just leave me alone Jonathan!  I’m not going to break down because he doesn’t want me.”

Jonathan looked amused, which just infuriated Marah further.  “About time you got angry.  So you want to talk about it?”

“What’s to talk about?  We were over long before he left town.  I’m grateful that he saved my life and that Romeo Jones will forever be another bad memory but that’s it.  No use going back when it doesn’t change anything.”

Jonathan put down the magazine and looked her in the eye, “You thinking about going back to Paris?”

Marah didn’t want to.  According to Romeo even her best friend there was no friend at all.  But the alternative was worse.  There was no way she could live in the same town as Tony.  She had tried it before and it broke her heart.  She couldn’t do it again. “Might as well.  I have a line that I haven’t even started working on.  Even though I need a vacation to recuperate from this one!”

“You don’t want to give him a chance to maybe explain?  You’ve been waiting six years to get some closure.  Him being back changed all that.  Maybe he has a reason for acting so strange.”

Marah huffed, “One minute he was talking about love and the next he was shutting me out.  No, me and Tony Santos are officially done.  And I refuse to put my life on hold for him.  Not anymore.”

Jonathan just looked at her before getting up, “Alright I’m going to get out of your hair.  I have to take Sarah to dance since Bill and Lizzie are still out-of-town.  I’ll see you later tonight.”

She had gotten her wish, she was alone.  She called the airline and booked a ticket on the next plane to Paris.  In less than twelve hours she would be an ocean away from it all.  Despite all the promises she made to herself the tears that came to her eyes could not be contained.  She sat back against her pillow and let them fall. “Damn you Tony Santos”.

***

“What the hell is your problem?”

Of all the damn people Tony expected Marah’s boyfriend, husband, or whatever in the hell he was would have been dead last on the list.  And Tony really didn’t want to have this conversation.  “Look I don’t even know who you are or what you want so why don’t you just go.”

The stranger just moved further into the room. “Not until you get your head out of your ass.  Did you know that she is planning on going back to Paris?  Probably calling the airline as we speak.”

Tony felt like throwing something.  To come so close only to loose in the end was the story of his life.  “Why should I care?”

The man actually looked like he was going to punch him.  “You are an idiot you know that?  Right now Marah is miserable.  She tries to hide it but she wears her heart on her sleeve.  That and she threw a pillow at me earlier.  And for all your bravado I know you hate being without her too.  So what gives?”

“Why do you care?  You have her!  I would fight you for her and trust me I would win.  I am only half alive without her in my life.  But there are kids involved.  I know what it’s like growing up without a father.  I couldn’t do that to your kids.”

The man looked like he’s been pole-axed, “What in the hell are you talking about?  I have Marah?  Kids?  I think you got some things confused man.”

“Just go.  I’m not going to give you any trouble.  Just. Go.”  When the man just laughed Tony felt like getting out of the bed and knocking him senseless, hurt shoulder or not.

“I’m going to give you a break considering what you’ve gone through, and because you’re injured.  Because trust me, I am sorely tempted to beat the shit out of you and be done with it.  But instead maybe I should introduce myself.”  The man stepped closer to the bed and stared at him angrily,  “Name’s Jonathan Randall so no I don’t ‘have Marah’ she’s my sister.  And those kids you saw?  One is her brother and the other is her niece.  Last time I checked Marah came back because even after six years she couldn’t get over you.  Though I have no clue why.  You were ready to give her up like some kind of martyr.  Like I said, you’re an idiot.”

Tony felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room.  He had gotten it so wrong…and probably kissed his last chance goodbye.  He laughed bitterly, isn’t this what Danny had told him for years?  What Rafael had told him?  That he never stops to think before reacting.  Seems six years hadn’t changed anything.  “I got everything wrong.”

“Yeah you did.  Question is what you are going to do about it.”

Chapter Nineteen

Tony’s hospital room was like Grand Central Station.  It was currently filled with family, police officials, hospital staff, and the occasional “well-wisher” who was looking for some juicy gossip.   He could understand the curiosity, after all how many people come back from the dead?  But at the same time he was quickly becoming frustrated with the constant interruptions.  And to make matters worse Marah had been whisked away by her parents the minute they arrived and he hadn’t seen her since.  He was getting desperate here.  They had a lot of air to clear and Tony was tempted to go track her down himself…

“So one more time, how did you come into contact with Romeo Jones?”

But first he had to answer Frank’s endless barrage of questions. “For the fifth time I don’t know.  I left Springfield to get some perspective.” He thought back to why he had left.  He and Marah were over and he had tried pushing her away.  Danny and Ray had been angry with him for that very reason.   It was such a stupid move and it ended up damaging so many lives.  “I decided to go to Chicago.  See some friends from the old neighborhood.  That’s the last thing I remember before waking up locked in my cell.”

He hated recounting what happened to him but also hated seeing the pain, and even worse the pity in everyone’s eyes.  He didn’t want it, they had suffered just as much as he did. 

“Do you know the identity of the man we thought was you?” 

“No.  I was just told he was my “replacement”.  It was all part of Romeo’s plan.  To destroy everything good in my life.”  He glanced over at Danny and Michelle.  This was another area that needed some major spring cleaning. “He knew how much you both meant to me, and how much you love each other.  Having me come between that love would ruin your relationship as well as my relationship with Danny.  I’d take a bullet for you Michelle and I do love you, but only as a sister and as the woman who makes my cousin complete.”  Tony hated the tears in Michelle’s eyes but if they were ever going to be able to be a family again it had to be said. 

Frank looked over at Rafael, who up until now had remained silent and stoic. “And just where do you come in to this story?”

Rafael just shrugged,”I took a chance picking up some poor beaten man by the side of the road and ended up in the story of the century.”

“You’re either incredibly trusting or terribly naive.” 

“I am neither.  I knew he was telling the truth the day after I picked him up.”  He looked over at Tony and grinned, “I told you that you weren’t the only one ‘connected’.  Sent over a glass you used at my house to some friends who are still with the Bureau which confirmed your identity.  Ever wonder how you were able to withdraw money without an ID?”

Tony couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of a Fed helping out a Santos.  But still he owed the man his life, “Thank you Rambo.  I owe you more than I can ever repay.”

Rafael just shook his head, “Damn smartass.  Technically he was Special Forces.  Son I am a Marine.  Plus I had help from some old friends.  Those men with me last night?  They owed me one.  We hoped he would be more concerned with payback than doing his homework and it paid off.  He even hired one to eliminate Danny and Michelle.  Suffice to say we were more than willing to take down that monster.”

Frank finally seemed satisfied with his answers.  He took the videotape that Danny had taken of Romeo at the Falls and left to go fill out the police report.  Which left the remaining group in tense silence.  Finally Danny spoke up, “Why didn’t you come to us when you first got into town?  We would have helped you damn it!”

“I couldn’t bring danger to your door.  Especially when Ray told me that Michelle was pregnant.  I couldn’t risk it.  What if whoever had me had found you?  What if they hurt you to get to me?  We both grew up without fathers Danny, I couldn’t do that to your kids.”

Danny could understand that, but he held onto the mad.   He turned towards Ray, “And you!  You didn’t think to inform me that our Tony was alive?”

Ray look chagrined but held up his hands helplessly, “It was under the seal of Confession.  I wanted to, desperately.  But I couldn’t.”

***

Marah stood in the doorway, reluctant to interrupt.  She knew the family had a lot to discuss and frankly she was nervous.  She was thinking of making her escape when Ray spotted her and came over to greet her. “Marah!  It’s been a long time.  Glad to see you’re alright.”

She returned the other man’s hug. “Hello Ray.  Good to see you.  But I see you’re busy I’ll just come back later.” 

“No it’s okay Marah.  You stay, we have to get home to the kids anyways.”  Danny helped Michelle rise from her chair next to the bed, ” And I promised Michelle I’d take her by Len’s on the way.  She’s got a major jones for some fudge ripple.”  He looked over at his cousin, “I’ll see you tomorrow.  And even though I could beat you senseless for not coming to us for help I am glad you’re alive and that you’re back.”

Rafael and Ray made their exits as well and finally they were alone.

***

They were finally alone and Marah didn’t know what to say.  She wanted to thank him for saving her life but it seemed so trite.  But she gave it a shot anyways, “Thank you Tony, for saving my life. ”

Tony attempted to sit up straight cursing his sore shoulder.  This was his chance, he was going to finally get to say what he’d been feeling for six long years, “Marah I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Don’t you know….”

Just as he started to lay his heart on the line a man entered with a boy and girl on each arm, “Marah you ready to go?  Collin is down for the count and Sarah is convinced she is starving.”  The man looked at him and nodded, “Hey man, thanks for saving her.  I’d shake your hand but I’m a bit short-handed at the moment.”  Indicating the children he was holding.

Those should be our children, his and Marah’s.  He had told himself that this was a possibility.  That in the six intervening years she had probably moved on. That was just logic.  He had even hoped she had, he hadn’t wanted her to let life pass her by.   But confronted with the proof made his heart hurt.  He had to get them out of there before he lost it.  “No problem.  I’ll see you around Marah.”

Marah frowned, what was going on here?  “Tony, I…”

“My shoulder is really hurting and they said I needed my rest.”

Marah was lost but when he closed his eyes she knew he was shutting her out.  She may not have known what she was going to say to him but she expected…more.  “Okay I’ll go.  Thank you again Tony.”  When he made no attempt to reply she finally joined Jonathan and headed home.

Chapter Eighteen

Tony was stunned.  He knew Abuela had pulled some nasty stunts but this went above and beyond her usual brand of evil.  “Why would she help you?”

“Because I went to prison for carrying out her orders.  I was the only one of the Familia to show any sort of loyalty.  Danny made the family legit, you were obsessed with Marah, and Maria played you all.  She arranged for my supposed death in prison and set me up in California.  All I had to do is bide my time.”  He laughed mockingly at Tony, “You made it so damn easy.  I barely had to wait a year for you to screw it all up.  You played right into my hands.”

“You already succeeded.  Now why don’t you let Marah go and you can finish this.”

Romeo just shook his head, “You still don’t get it.  I could have killed you years ago.  You weren’t needed anymore.  But what would be the fun in that?  You had to watch me systematically destroy your life.  I had to break you.” Romeo raised the gun towards Marah, “But you wouldn’t break.  I listened to your pathetic pleas at night, your mindless ramblings for Marah.  I knew as long as this bitch was walking the Earth you would hold on.  Your escape actually worked in my favor.  Coming back to Springfield provided the perfect opportunity to rid the world of every Santos once and for all.  And Marah, I have to thank you for returning home at just the right moment.  I have had you watched for years.  Your dear friend Phillipe was so accommodating in informing me of your trip.   It must have been fate.  Now I can deal with both of you at one time before Danny and Michelle.”

Romeo was in his element.  He had all the power and they knew it.  “I am going to enjoy watching the light go out of your eyes.  It’s a shame I won’t get to enjoy it longer.  But you are correct Tony, it is time to finish this once and for all. “.  He took aim at Marah and fired.

***

It all happened so fast.  Marah’s screams, pure terror making his heart pound in his ears, the sounds of gunfire in the air…and when it was all over Tony found himself sprawled on top Marah.

She was so still, so silent.  He began to panic.  “Marah? Oh God Marah are you alright?”

***

Marah opened her eyes to Tony’s face, pulled taught with worry.   Reminded of her long ago dream she looked down and saw the blood, “Oh god!”  She didn’t feel like she’d been shot but still in shock she tentatively searched for a wound.  With a groan Tony rolled off of her and sat against the base of a tree.  That’s when she saw the source of the blood, “Oh God, you’ve been shot!”

Tony raised a hand briefly to the oozing wound in his shoulder. “Oh this?  It’s just a scratch”.  He tried to grin but it came out more as a grimace, “Are you okay?”

Marah tore off the sleeve to her t-shirt and pressed it to his shoulder with trembling fingers.  He saved her life.  Jumped in front of a bullet meant for her, “Better now that I’m not dead, and that I know I wasn’t going crazy and hallucinating.  I need to go get help.”

When Marah moved to get up he put his hand over hers and squeezed gently, “I’ll be fine, Danny’s already gone for help.  Stay with me.  Please?”

She looked into his eyes, eyes that were not only filled with pain but also longing and something even deeper.  Hope.  Her heart responded in kind.  Hope sounded pretty good about now.   She raised her free hand and brushed his hair away from his face, “Of course I’ll stay.  You saved my life Tony.  Again.  I can’t believe you took a bullet for me, not after everything that had happened between us.”

Tony cupped her chin in his hand, “Marah, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. ”

***

Rafael stomped into the clearing and went over to the person lying on the ground.   Judging from the quarter sized hole in his forehead Mr. Romeo Jones was now deader than a doornail.   He turned towards the couple and cleared his throat, “Sorry to break up this warm and fuzzy moment but thought I’d let you know that the enemy has been…neutralized.  And judging by the sound of sirens I hear, that the Calvary is on its way.”

Tony looked over and smiled, “Look at you Rambo.”

Indeed Rafael and the two people with him were decked out in full camouflage.  But judging by Rafael’s stern expression he was less than amused, “This is exactly what I was talking about.  You rushed in here blind and could have gotten yourself killed, could have gotten both of you killed!  Madre de Dios!  I swear if you weren’t a grown man I would…”

“You’re right.  It was stupid.”  He glanced at Marah then back to the older man, “Santos men aren’t exactly rational when those we love are in danger.”

Rafael’s frown got even bigger, “Way to ruin a good rant Tony Santos.”  He glanced at Marah all signs of anger gone from his weathered face, “Glad to see you safe and sound Miss Lewis.  Now if you excuse me here comes Chief Cooper.  Should be the highlight of my evening.”

***

Marah stood nearby while Tony grudgingly had his shoulder looked at by the paramedics.   She was still in shock over tonight.  Not only the shock of having her life once again touched by the evil of Romeo Jones but by also by the fact that Tony was alive.  Her brain wasn’t processing what to do with that information yet.  She meant what she had told him, she had always hoped they would get another chance.  She knew he loved her just as much as she loved him.  But love had never been their problem.   And now there was a whole new set of issues between them.  Her life was in Paris and he had just gotten his back.  How would that even work? 

Nothing had to be solved tonight.