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?”

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