Archive | May 2011

Chapter Thirty-Three

Tony had forgotten how much work went into opening a business.  The long hours, the haggling over prices with distributors, and fighting with the licensing bureau.  All in a day’s work.  But at least he didn’t have to tango with Doris Wolfe over permits, he’d dealt with her enough when she was the district attorney.  Now that she was the mayor?  You couldn’t pay Tony to go near her.  No he’d leave Doris Wolfe to Danny, if anyone could handle her it’d be him.

Next to him Rafael slammed down the phone and started cursing in Spanish. “Problems?”

Rafael actually growled, “Stupid idiots think I can’t tell that they are overcharging.  I may be new at Bar management but I am no greenhorn in business.  Why I ought to…”

As the man carried on with his rant Tony just smiled.  For someone who was afraid this job was offered out of charity he’d jumped in with both feet.  At first he had thought it was because Rafael may have thought that he had something to prove.  Tony quickly learned that wasn’t the case at all.  That was just who Rafael was.  He gave his all no matter what it was he was doing.  “Don’t sweat it Rafael.  There are distributors out there who won’t make the same mistake.”

Interrupted mid rant Rafael just blinked, then frowned,”Why are you here?”

“What do you mean why I am I here?  I am half owner where else should I be?”

Rafael just looked at Tony quizzically, like he was an idiot for not seeing it himself.  “How about home?  You’re here from dawn to dusk, even on weekends.  I am sure Marah misses you though I don’t know why.”

Tony tapped his ben against the table and looked away.  The place was as silent as a tomb, save for them. “Ha ha.  But you’re wrong Rafael, Marah understands.  Besides she’s been busy opening her own business.”

“Tony, go home.  Danny left hours ago…”

“Danny has three kids who need him at home.” Tony interrupted.

“You certainly will never be able to say the same if you don’t get out of here before eight every night!  Marah’s going to get fed up and dump your ass.”

Tony sat back in his chair and placed his hands behind his head.  Rafael had a point.  He had been working extra hours to try to lessen the load for Danny.  Not that Danny had asked in fact it actually led to one of their biggest fights since Tony had left Springfield.  But he meant what he said to Rafael, Danny had three kids who needed him.  But Marah needed him too.  “I think I may head home.”

“About time.  There may be some hope for you yet.”

***

“Honey I’m home!” Tony closed the door and threw his keys on the table.  When he didn’t hear any response from Marah he wondered if Rafael was right yet again. “Marah!”

The knot in his chest eased when he heard her footsteps pounding down the staircase.   Then there she was wrapped in a terry cloth towel while she rubbed another one over her hair.  She’d obviously just taken a shower. “What?  Is everything all right?”

“Why would you think something was wrong?”

Marah just lifted an eyebrow, “Gee I don’t know.  Maybe it was you yelling out my name.  Or it could be because you are home way before nine tonight, that’s such a rare occurrence these days.”

Tony winced when she turned and went back upstairs.  Marah was mad, and she every right to be.  Now he had to dig himself out of the mess he made and hope like hell she’d forgive him.

***

“Marah I’ve been neglecting you and I’m sorry.  I got caught up in trying to re-open Infierno that I lost sight of what truly matters.”

Marah came walking out of her closet holding a blue dress and the infamous “hooker boots”.  Why was she getting dressed up?  “Do you not think I don’t understand all the stress you’re under?  I opened up my own business as well.  Not on the same scale as yours but a business nonetheless.  But have I yelled?  Gotten angry at all?  Even when the one time you take a lunch break and spend it with me you fall asleep?” She ran a brush through her hair and looked at him in the mirror, “But I am tired.  Tired of being in a relationship with someone who is barely here.”

Tony hated that look of complete sadness in her eyes, it cut him to the quick.  He embraced her from behind, “I know Baby and I’m sorry.  I have been an idiot.”

She met his eyes in the mirror and laughed, “No arguments here.”

Before she knew what was happening Tony had her over his shoulder and was spinning her around, “Are you crazy?  Put me down!”

Tony just ignored her and kept walking towards the bedroom, “Crazy about you, you saucy wench.” He plopped her on the bed before following her down, “How about we stay home tonight and order in.   I can start to make up for my stupidity these past weeks.”

When he would have kissed her she put her palms on his chest to stop him.  If he kissed her that would lead to other pleasant activities.  Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but tonight she had made a promise that she fully intended to keep, “Tony as much as I’d love to, we can’t.”

He rolled to the side and sighed her name, his exasperation dragging it out to be six syllables.  To keep from giving in she quickly stood up and looked down at her dress, “Damn, now it’s all wrinkled.  I’m going to have to change.”

“What are you getting dressed up for anyways?”

Marah stuck her head out from the closet and frowned, “You’re joking right?  We’ve been planning on going for weeks now.”

Like Tony needed to give her another example of how stupid he had been.  “We’ve already established how single-minded I’ve been lately.  Let’s not torture me, even if I deserve it.”

She came out dressed and ready to go, “Oh you deserve it but I’ll take pity on you this time.  It’s Hope and Sarah’s Fall dance recital.  I’m sure Danny mentioned it to you, probably Jonathan as well.”

Tony winced.  Yeah they had both mentioned it today in passing, “Give me twenty minutes and I will be ready to go.”

Marah just shook her head as she watched him walk into the bathroom, “What am I ever going to do with you Tony Santos?”

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Chapter Thirty-Two

Marah waltzed into Company and quickly scanned the room’s occupants.  Not seeing Michelle she let out a grateful sigh.  They were supposed to meet for lunch but Marah’s meeting at the Beacon had run over and she hated the idea of Michelle waiting long for her to arrive.  Thankful that the lunch rush wasn’t yet in full force Marah quickly chose a table in the back.  She had just ordered an iced tea when she noticed Michelle enter.

“Hope you haven’t been waiting long.” Michelle placed baby Danielle’s carrier on the table before ordering her own drink from the passing waitress.

Marah noted the look of strain on the other woman’s face.  Clearly Michelle wasn’t having a good day. “No I just got here.  Is something wrong?”

Michelle laughed half-heartedly, “That obvious huh?  Today has been frustrating that’s all.  Hope’s old day care doesn’t accept infants and since my maternity leave from the clinic is almost over I need to find a suitable daycare for Danielle.”  She paused to sip her water, “I interviewed three people today and each one was worse than the other.”

As if she sensed she was the topic of discussion Danielle began to kick her feet.  Marah grinned and captured the tiny foot in her hand and jiggled it playfully.  “And she’s such a good baby too.  Have you tried that new place I think it’s called Tiny Steps or Baby Steps, something along those lines?  I think that’s where Lizzie took Jackson after he was born. ”

Michelle sat back and smiled, “What would I do without you?  I completely forgot all about First Steps!  Lizzie even mentioned it at the baby shower but I was too busy crying to pay any attention.  Marah Lewis you are a lifesaver I swear.  I will make an appointment tomorrow.”  She picked up the menu and opened it with a flourish, “Now let’s eat while Danielle isn’t screaming the walls down.”

***

Michelle dipped her french fries in ketchup and Marah nearly choked on her tea when the other woman moaned in pure delight.  Seeing the wide-eyed look on Marah’s face Michelle raised an eyebrow,”What?”

How Michelle could manage that innocent look was a mystery, “Oh I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because you just let out a bedroom moan right here in the middle of Company.”

“Did not.”

They were both laughing now, “You did so!”

“I can’t help it.  I got down to pre-baby weight in record time and can indulge myself.  And these fries are too good to pass up.”  Michelle picked up another fry, and after giving it the same treatment as the last one, let out an exaggerated moan that even caught the attention of the people at the next table. “Besides, how would you know my bedroom moans anyways?”

Marah was laughing so hard her side hurt, “I don’t know your bedroom moans specifically, but I know a bedroom moan when I hear one.”

Michelle’s grin was full of wicked delight, like she knew a dirty secret and couldn’t wait to tell someone. “I see.  So I assume things are going well at the carriage house.”

Marah couldn’t stop herself from blushing, “Yeah everything is great on that front.”

“But?”

“It’s just been an adjustment.  We haven’t been living together that long and are still learning how to mesh our lives together.”  She paused to take a drink of her tea, “I mean how hard is it to remember to throw your socks in the laundry hamper?  He gets them within two feet but can’t manage to open the lid and put them inside.”

Michelle threw her head back and laughed loudly, “Oh Marah if I had a dollar for every time I asked that question I’d be a millionaire.  Danny and I married the first time almost thirteen years ago and he still can’t manage to get his socks into the hamper.  Of course now I think he does it more to annoy me than simply forgetting.”

Noting the sappy grin on her friend’s face Marah had to ask, “Judging by the look on your face right now you like that he tries to annoy you.”

“Oh course I do.”  When Marah still looked confused Michelle went on to explain, “We’re not one of those disgustingly happy all the time couples.  We fight and we argue at times but the making up is so good.”

“Okay I have to hand it to you, you do have a point.”

Grabbing another fry Michelle just scoffed, “Of course I do.  Just wait till you’re married and you’ll see.”

With reminded Marah why she had invited Michelle to lunch in the first place, “About that.  I know the wedding isn’t until next year but I wanted to know if you could recommend a young gorgeous woman who could be my matron of honor?”

Hearing her own words from long ago come back at her Michelle laughed and jumped up to embrace her friend, “Yes! I would be honored.”

Michelle was so excited that she could barely sit still in her chair, “So have you two made any plans yet?”

“Not really.  It’s been one thing after another these past few months.  With the house and both of us opening businesses we’re lucky if we have a couple of hours together.  And trust me, wedding talk is the last thing that comes to mind.”

“Sounds like business is good, congratulations.”

Marah was proud, Marah on Main had only been opened a short while and so far she had a steady steam of clients, no doubt all due to her mother. “Well having my mom as my assistant doesn’t hurt.  She is about as subtle as dynamite.  Yesterday she walked into the Beacon told Olivia that it could use a little updating and lo and behold who calls me today?  Olivia Spencer.”

That sounded like Reva, “Well do you have any projects scheduled around December?”

Marah searched her mental calendar but didn’t think she had anything major planned, “Not that I know of.  Why do you ask?”

“Because Danny and I want to hire you to decorate the new house.”

While she was touched by the gesture Marah didn’t want Michelle thinking she had to hire her to decorate because they were almost family.  “I am flattered but you don’t have to do that Michelle.  I mean, if you do need help for some reason I would be happy to.  But I could never charge you for that.”

Michelle looked at her like she was crazy, “Nonsense.  You’d be doing us a favor really.  Danny is going to be busy opening Infierno with Tony, I will be working at the clinic, and with the three kids and their various activities I don’t know when I’d have the time to plan color schemes and match fabric.  You love it and did such an amazing job on the carriage house it makes sense.  Don’t eve try to tell me no, I forbid it.”

Marah could see the determination in Michelle’s eyes and knew that any resistance would prove futile, “Well when you put it that way-”

“Good.” Michelle interrupted.  She reached into her purse and pulled out a small notebook, “Alright let’s plan a wedding!”

Chapter Thirty-One

The morning of moving day had started out rainy with no signs of stopping any time soon.  Marah had wanted to wait and see if the weather would be more cooperative the next day.  But Tony had been adamant that nothing, not even mother nature herself, was going to stop them from starting this next stage in their lives.  And standing in the living room and at that chaos that was going on around her Marah couldn’t stop smiling.  Tony had been right.  Nothing, not even the rain, could ruin the joy Marah felt at finally having her own home with the man she loved.

“Ma’am, where do you want this?”

Marah turned from rearranging the living room furniture and looked at the delivery men who had arrived moments earlier.   Seeing they carried their new bed she directed them upstairs to the master bedroom.

“Hope they assemble as well because Danny and Tony aren’t the most mechanical if you know what I mean.”

Marah looked over at Michelle, who was dusting off the new dining room furniture, and laughed.  “That was the first thing I asked when I bought it.” She moved the couch to the left and looked at it critically.  Perfect. “I want to thank you again for helping.  I know with three kids helping us move is probably the last thing you want to do this weekend Michelle.”

“Are you kidding?  The house would have been crazy with Robbie and Hope being stuck inside.  At least they get to burn off excess energy helping out.”  She finished polishing the table with a final swipe, “Besides all I really did was direct traffic.”

“Now you must be the one who is kidding!  Without you this place would be barely recognizable.”  That was putting it mildly.  Michelle was a born organizer.  Without her they would have all been going in circles and getting nothing accomplished.

Reva came from the kitchen drying her hands on a dish towel, “I fed the kids some lunch so they should be busy for a while,” She looked around the room in a mixture of surprise and awe, “This room is perfect Marah.”

Marah beamed with pride.  It did look pretty good if she were to say so herself.  She’d gone with dark brown leather couches to fit with the antique feel of the home but with contemporary lines to accommodate Tony and her’s more modern tastes.   To offset the furniture Marah chose bright throw pillows for a splash of color.  She was damn proud at how the room had turned out.

Tony came in from outside, “Okay I think this is the last of your clothes.  We may have to have your father build you a bigger closet at this rate.”

“Just you hush mister.  Why don’t you put them in the guest room until I can sort them out.”

Tony adjusted the cumbersome box in his hands, “Um sure.  But could you point me in the right direction?  I can’t see a damn thing over this box.”

***

Marah collapsed on the couch with a sigh.  Muscles that she didn’t know she had ached and she had never felt more tired in her life, but they had finally gotten everything put away and the house was officially a home.  That thought alone trumped any ache or pain she may have had.  She looked up when she felt something cold touch her shoulder.  There was Tony holding a champagne glass, “Have to celebrate a job well done.”

Celebrating was the last thing on Marah’s mind but she took the glass and faced the others.  “Thank you, all of you, for helping today.  We couldn’t have done it without you.”

“That’s what family is for.” Danny looked at Tony and laughed,” Besides, we’ll need you when we move into the new house.”

The doorbell rang and Reva set her glass down, “I took the liberty of ordering pizza for everyone.”

“Mom I swear you are a genius.”

Reva just winked, “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

***

Danny held a sleeping Hope against his shoulder, all the excitement of the day had her drained and she was out like a light.  Robbie stood against his father’s side rubbing his eyes tiredly.  Bedtime wasn’t going to be a battle at the Santos house tonight that was for sure.  Danny couldn’t wait to get horizontal himself, he just had to wait while Michelle said goodbye.  This could be awhile.

Michelle gave Marah another hug then gasped, “I almost forgot!”  She went out to the car and came back carrying a flat package wrapped up in brightly colored paper, “We got you this.”

“You didn’t have to give us something Michelle.  Your help today was enough,”

But Michelle just waved her off, “It’s nothing big just something I thought you’d enjoy.”

Marah tore into the paper and stared at what Michelle and Danny had gotten them.

“The guy at the print shop called it Lighthouse at Two Lights by Edward Hopper.” Michelle explained, “Blake and Ross had a similar one when they lived here and I always loved the symbolism of it.  The lighthouse is designed to guide the lost home and no one knows that better than the people of Springfield.”

“It’s perfect Michelle.”  Marah brushed the tear from her eye and thrust the painting at Tony so she could hug her friend, “I love it.  Thank you Michelle, for everything.”

***

Tony locked the front door and turned on the alarm Josh had installed earlier.  Alone at last.  Tony poured Marah and him a final glass of champagne and joined her on the couch, “The house looks amazing Baby.”  He looked down at her and grinned, “But do I really have to sleep in a canopy bed?”

Marah sighed and leaned her head against the back of the couch, “It’s not a true canopy bed, it just has the posts and frame.  Just you wait until I am done decorating the bedroom, you’ll love it.”

He leaned down and kissed her gently, “I love you.  I would sleep on an air mattress if I had to as long as you were with me.”

Marah laughed, “Your devotion is spellbinding honey.  But ironic enough I told my mom I had to start thinking about decorating ideas or we’d end up on air mattresses.  Guess great minds think alike.”

They basked together silently, content in just being together.  Then Marah yawned loudly, “I am so tired but I need a long soak in the tub or I won’t be able to even move tomorrow.”

Tony’s eyes darkened with desire, the naughty thought that had sprung to mind when he’d first seen the bathtub came roaring back to life.  “Why don’t I go start the water.  We can finish our champagne in there.”

***

Tony looked down at Marah.  In the few minutes he was gone to run the bath water she had curled up and fallen sound asleep.  Christening the bathtub would have to wait till tomorrow.  He placed his arms underneath her and picked her up as gingerly as possible.  “You wore yourself out today Baby.”  He carried her up to their bedroom.  Their bedroom.  He really liked the sound of that.

He laid her down gently on top of the made bed and covered her with a light blanket she’d placed at the foot of the bed.  And when Tony joined her moments later and she curled into him lovingly he knew his life was just about perfect.

Chapter Thirty

Trash may lay on the ground but there were still hints of what the Millennium building used to be.  What it would be again.  Tony sidestepped the debris of time and neglect to make his way to the where Jonathan and Danny stood going over renovation plans.

“So you want to make this the main bar area?” Jonathan surveyed the room with a critical eye, “Wouldn’t require too much alteration of the floor plan although we’ll probably have to gut the whole thing just to bring it up to code.”  He wrote some ideas on the pad of paper sitting on the bar, “Now what do you want to do about downstairs?  Do you still want the offices down there?”

“No.”

Danny looked over in surprise, “You don’t want the offices downstairs?”

No he didn’t.  Every time Tony thought about that office downstairs he was haunted by what had happened years ago.  What had happened to Marah at the hands of Romeo, at the hands of Tony himself.  He didn’t want any remnants of the past tainting the future they were building.  “I think they would be better suited upstairs.   There’s more room up there and since we are going to be running the upstairs this time it makes more sense.”

“Can’t argue with that.” More scribbling from Jonathan on the notepad, “Do you still want the gambling parlor?”

Danny pondered the pros and cons for a while, “I think so.  It was pretty profitable.  But can we have a separate entrance so they don’t have to walk through the bar to get to the gambling area downstairs?”

“Probably a good idea”, Jonathan studied the blueprints again,” It looks like we could put an entrance here along the side wall.  How does that sound?”

“Sounds good.” Danny glanced at his watch and winced, “Damn I’m late.  I’m supposed to meet with Josh to finalize some changed to the new house.”  As he walked out he glanced back at Tony, “You got this covered?”

Tony waved him off, “Of course.  Now hurry up, don’t leave my future father-in-law waiting.  He doesn’t need another reason to put me back on his hate list.”

After Danny left Jonathan just looked at him with a slight grin.  Tony didn’t say a word, he knew Jonathan was building up to something.  “So you’re going to be my brother-in-law huh?”

Tony nearly groaned, first Josh and now Jonathan.  “Yeah.  Are you going to give me the lecture too?”

Jonathan just laughed, “Hardly!  Like I am in any position to judge others.  And believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of Josh’s lectures myself.  No I was just going to say welcome to the family.”

Well that was new, he figured the only person on his side was Reva.  “Well thanks Jonathan.  And just so you know I do love her and will do everything I possibly can to make her happy.”

He nodded, “Good deal.  She deserves it.”  He pointed behind him, “So you want to take a look at some of the ideas I’ve come up with?”

Tony grinned, “You know, I think you and I are going to get along just fine.”

***

When Danny stepped into Company Josh was already seated at the counter.  “Sorry I’m late.  I was over at Infierno going over plans with Jonathan and Tony.”  He sat and ordered a coffee from the passing waitress, “Do you have those updated plans for me to look at?”

Josh just looked at the other man.  Danny sure had changed since he first came to Springfield.  He’d left the mob life behind in favor of being a husband and father.  He knew it had taken years and a few mistakes but Danny just looked…content.  “Yeah I have them but may I ask you a question first?”

“Let me guess, this is about Tony?”

Josh felt like he was stuck in a game of tug of war.  On one hand he knew logically that Tony was not the same man as he used to be.  But there was still that small part of him that worried about the mob life coming back and endangering his daughter.  Once word got out that the Santos family were opening Infierno again it was bound to bring people hoping to capitalize on the venture.  And what kind of father would be he be if he didn’t worry? “Not really….okay maybe a little.  I’m just worried that he’ll be sucked back into that lifestyle again.  And with him marrying my daughter she would be caught in the middle.  Again.”

Danny could understand that worry.  Rick had worried for years and he was Michelle’s brother.  Before he could answer Rick came rushing in, “Whew!  Three surgeries one right after another.  I finally get a chance to sit and eat.  What’s up guys?”

As Rick ordered his lunch Danny looked at him with a grin.  “Why don’t you ask Rick about that Josh?”

The man in question turned around, “Ask Rick what?”

“As you already might have heard Tony asked my daughter to marry him and she said yes.  He says the mob lifestyle is behind him but with them opening up the business again I am worried it will draw that criminal element back into his life. ”

“It’s natural to be worried.  Hell when Michelle first married Danny I had her committed to the psychiatric ward at Cedars to keep her safe.  Remember that Danny?  Not exactly one of my brightest moments.”

Kind of hard to forget something like that.  “Yeah don’t remind me,” He looked at Josh, “And what I told him then is even more true today.  Michelle and I can’t live without each other.  And that is the same feeling that Tony feels for Marah, what you feel for Reva.  That completeness that happens when you found the person who makes you feel whole.”

Josh pondered that for a while, “I have no worries about him loving my daughter.  On that fact I am solid.  I am more worried about him being sucked back into the mob lifestyle, it’s happened before”

Rick swallowed the bite of hamburger he’d been chewing, “I don’t think that’ll be a problem.  Did you see them at the bar-b-que?  Rejoining the mob was the last thing on that guy’s mind.”

Danny laughed at Josh’s expression.  No matter what age no father wanted to even think about that aspect of his daughter’s personal life. “I can’t tell you what to think Josh because my loyalty is to Michelle and our kids first and to Ray and Tony second.  So I am a bit biased.  But I have seen how Tony is around Marah, and there is no denying he’s always loved her. so I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” When it looked like Josh still wasn’t convinced Danny tried another tactic, “Look at it this way, Tony saved Marah from the lighthouse when she was kidnapped, rescued her from San Cristobel in the middle of an earthquake, saved you when photos implicated you for bribery, he protected Reva when she was being stalked, and saved Marah from Romeo…twice.”

“He also helped get you out of the house that night you were shot,” Rick chimed him.

“Tony has screwed up but I am sure you have made your share of mistakes too.  But Tony’s biggest mistake was letting Marah go because without her he is lost.  He won’t be tempted back into the lifestyle, he has too much to lose this time.  Just give him a chance and will prove that he is worth the risk.”

Josh grudgingly admitted to himself that Danny had a valid point.  There was no guarantee that Tony wouldn’t revert back to his old ways…but there wasn’t any proof that he would either.  Marah had given him another chance and so far Tony had shown that he was worth it.  The least he could do is benefit of the doubt.  “Okay you have a point.  I will give him another chance.”

“Sounds good, he deserves it.”  Danny pointed to the plans they had yet to discuss, “So you wanted to show me some ideas you had?”

***

Marah stood in the empty room and after seeing that her mom and the real estate agent were occupied did a little happy dance.  She had found it, the perfect place for her design studio.  It was a little place right on Main Street with large front windows and skylights to create a warm inviting atmosphere.  It was perfect for her and she had barely contained her excitement as she signed the lease.

“Little Miss Twinkle Toes if you’re done celebrating can we head over to the Company kiosk because I am starving?”

Busted.  “Should have known you’d see that.”

Reva rolled her eyes, “I’m a mother, I have eyes in the back of my head.”

“Sure you do mom.” She looked around the room, “It’s scary to do something new but exciting at the same time.”

“Always is that’s what makes it so much fun,”  She placed an arm around her daughter’s shoulders, “All that matters is that you are happy.  Are you happy?”

Happy didn’t even begin to describe how Marah was feeling.  More like she was bubbling over in euphoria. “You have no idea how much mom.” She grabbed her purse and kissed her mother’s cheek, “But I’m going to have to take a rain check on lunch, I am supposed to meet Tony at Infierno so we can go meet with the real estate agent to sign the final papers.”

“Well it’s safe to say what your first decorating job is going to be.”

Marah just grinned, “Are you kidding?  I am already buying things and looking at furniture.  Good thing my rent was cheap and I had no life in Paris.  If not we’d be sleeping on air mattresses and dining on boxes.”

“A little over dramatic aren’t you there Marah?  Why you know you could always live with us.”

Tony and her father may have had a truce but living under the same roof? Talk about World War Three.  Good thing her mom was joking or Marah may have had to get her checked out at Cedars for possible brain trauma, “Funny. ”  She checked her watch again, “Damn now I’m really late.  Love you mom and I will call you later.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine (Part Two)

They’d had dozens of family dinners since Tony had returned to Springfield, but this one was different.  This was those he loved most celebrating his return to the living.  Ray stood up, “These past months have been blessed with additions.  Our Tony returned to us, the newest Santos entered the world, Marah has agreed to join this at times crazy family, and we have our new friend Rafael who helped bring our Tony home.  For all these we are truly blessed.”  As Ray led the prayer Tony allowed himself to feel the absolute joy surrounding him.  He no longer cared if he was going soft.  This was home and this is where he belonged.

Food was being passed around and conversation flowed freely.  Michelle looked up from feeding Danielle, “Tony could you help Hope cut her chicken?  If not she’ll have it all over her shirt.”

But Hope wasn’t looking at the chicken on her plate, she was busy staring at the floor.  Or more appropriately Marah’s feet.  She looked at him with innocent eyes, “Those kind of look like Barbie’s.  Are those hooker boots too?”

Tony risked a glance to the others.  They all looked as if frozen in time with their forks hovering in mid-air.  “Whoops.”

Marah just stuck out her foot so Hope could look at her boots more closely and laughed, “No sweetie, these are Jimmy Choos.  I wish I had a pair like Barbie’s, these pinch my toes.”

Hope seemed satisfied with the answer and started eating her dinner with gusto.  Danny wasn’t so quick to move on from what just happened.  He leaned towards him, “Hooker boots?  Since when does my daughter know about hooker boots?”

“A little warning about how your daughter has a memory about an elephant would have been nice.  How was I to know the inner workings of a six-year old’s mind?”

Danny laughed, “Fair enough.  So here you go.  That little girl is just like her mother.  She’s smart as a whip and I swear thinks three steps ahead of everyone else.”

“A little late but thanks.”

***

The kids had devoured their dessert and had promptly run off to play leaving the adults free to converse without little ears who picked up everything.  Tony was just thankful the subject of hooker boots hadn’t come up yet.  He was sure Michelle was going to get him back for that one, she was just biding her time.

“So Rafael what did you do while living in California?”

“I started out on my father’s ranch, worked part-time in the orchards for spare cash, then as you know I was a Marine.” Rafael took a sip of his coffee before continuing, “Went to college where I met my Maria and to prove my intentions were pure I worked on her father’s ranch.  Finally made it to foreman and was allowed to marry her.  And after her father died we took over operations for several years.”

Michelle swallowed her apple pie, “Do you still own the ranch?”

Rafael’s eyes took on a sad, far away look.  “Sadly no.  When my Maria got sick the medical bills started adding up.  We had to sell the ranch and move to a smaller house closer to town.”

Marah’s heart ached for the man,”I’m sorry for your loss.”

Rafael looked down at his coffee as if it held the secrets of the universe, “She is in a better place now.”

Tony looked at the man who saved his life and at his cousin.  Danny caught his eye and shrugged, well it never hurt to ask.  “So I guess running a full-scale operation like a ranch you are pretty proficient in business huh?”

The haunted look in Rafael’s eyes was gone, replaced by his trademark grin, “That and a business degree from Stanford.  Why do you ask?”

“Danny and I were talking.  This Infierno is going to be significantly bigger than the old one.  And we need a manager with business experience.”

Rafael put his fork down, “Oh I see where this is going.  I don’t need your charity Tony Santos.”

Everyone remained silent, this was between Tony and Rafael.  Neither man may have realized it yet but it was clear to everyone else in the room that the two had bonded over this “adventure”.  Rafael was more than just a friend to Tony, he challenged him to be more.  He was like the father that Tony had never had.

“This isn’t charity this is a business opportunity.”

They were both standing now, facing off like two prize fighters.  “You are full of it.  You are just trying to repay a debt that you don’t owe.  If I saved your life then I was meant to save it, end of story.”

“No it’s not end of story.  You still don’t get it.” Tony shook his head ruefully, “This really does help us out, I wasn’t lying about that.  You have a degree, you have experience ordering supplies and whatnot.  But more importantly it gives you a reason to stay in Springfield.  Sure I owe you for saving my life, but even more than that I want you to stick around.”

Rafael was dumbstruck, “What?”

“You heard me.  I want you to stick around.”

Rafael sat down like with a huff, “And you talk about me ruining a good mad.”  He seemed to think it over a bit before looking back at Tony, “I’ll think about it okay?”

Tony could live with that, “Fair enough.”

Rafael picked up his discarded fork and stabbed his pie, “And if I do take you up on this offer I expect to work.  Really work.”

Danny finally tried to ease the tension, “Trust me that won’t be a problem, this Infierno promises to be bigger and better than before.  We’re all going to have more work than we know what to do with.”

***

“You’re not fooling anyone Tony Santos.  You know you see Rafael as the father you never had and that’s the real reason you offered him a job.”

They sat cuddled together on Danny and Michelle’s back porch enjoying the night air.  Her head lay nestled against his chest so he couldn’t see her eyes but he knew she was smiling, “You know me too well.”

“I do, and you better not forget it.”  She sat up, “I better get going.  My mom and I are going to look at shop locations tomorrow.  And you know how she is, no rest for the weary.”

Tony tried his best pout, “You sure you have to go?  We could go…”

“Don’t even think about it mister.  Besides, Michelle has you on cleanup duty for teaching Hope about hooker boots.”

Tony growled, “I didn’t ‘teach her’ I just said the word and she stuck it in her memory bank.  Who knew it was like a steel trap!”

Marah laughed.  He was never going to live that one down. “Doesn’t matter stud because it’s in Michelle’s memory bank as well.  And on that note I’m going to take my hooker boots and go on home.”

“Honey you know those boots put any and all hooker boots to shame. ”

She kissed him, “You sweet talker you.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine (Part One)

One Week Later…

Tony and Marah stood in the middle of the empty living room and looked around what could possibly be their new home.  He noted Marah’s far off expression, certain she was already decorating the room in her mind, “What do you think Baby?”

Marah turned to him and smiled, “I think it’s perfect.”  She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the back of the house, “Come on let’s go look at the rest of it.”

Just like Josh had told them, the entire house had been redone and updated.  The hardwood floors had been sanded and stained, the marble countertops in the kitchen gleamed, and the bathroom updated with all the modern luxuries-including a whirlpool bathtub.  Tony coughed to cover up the naughty thoughts he’d gotten when he’d seem that bathtub.  Maybe Marah was right, he was a letch, at least where she was concerned.

Marah had so many plans circling in her head she was itching to get started.  But she didn’t want to get too far ahead of herself.  She looked into the guest room,”Do you think we need all these bedrooms?”

He didn’t even bother to cover the naughty grin that comment brought forth, “Oh I’m sure we’ll find something to put in them.  Maybe an office or home studio to start with.”  He caught her around her waist and pulled her body into his.  “And in time it’d be the perfect spot for the nursery.”

“A nursery huh?”  She looked at the room again and smiled, “I think you may be right Mr. Santos.”

“Oh I know I’m right soon-to-be Mrs. Santos.”

He lowered his face to hers to give her a kiss but before they made contact they were interrupted by the real estate agent. “So what do you think?  I can still show you some other listings if you would prefer.”

Tony looked at Marah and at her slight nod they both responded with a smile, “We’ll take it.”

***

Tony had been avoiding this place since he’d returned to Springfield.  But with Mel’s call that he was now officially among the living again he couldn’t avoid it any longer.

He couldn’t even bring himself to grieve for Maria, any affection he’d felt for the woman he’d once considered his grandmother died long ago.   She’d passed away while he was locked in Romeo’s cage, the cruel irony was not lost on Tony.  She’d freed Romeo from his cage and in return Romeo had taken everything Tony loved.  He briefly wondered if she had any clue what her actions caused but dismissed it.  Maria was cold, calculating, and devoid of conscience.  He’d never been able to prove she’d been behind Catalina’s murder but he’d felt it, and that was enough.

And there, resting beside the graves of his ancestors, had been an imposter-a damn fraud.  The body was gone and currently resting in the city morgue, but the plaque bearing his name still remained.  Tony couldn’t even begin to describe the surreal feeling he’d gotten seeing his name etched in the cool granite.

“It makes it all the more real doesn’t it?”

Rafael stood beside him and offered his silent comfort.

“That it does.  I don’t know what I should feel.  Anger, pain, sadness?  Those emotions are all there along with a dozen more emotions.”  Emotions he was afraid to face, afraid they would cause him to unleash the tenuous grip on the fury he fought to keep at bay.  He may have made progress in managing his anger but he was hardly cured.

Rafael placed a comforting hand on Tony’s shoulder, “Did the police tell you anything?”

Tony laughed bitterly, “Yeah.  After their CSI imitation they called to tell me that he was identified as Stephen Martinez.  Just your garden variety mob lackey, nothing special.  Shame they didn’t run their tests sooner.  Then they would have known something wasn’t right years ago.”

“They had no reason to suspect that he wasn’t you.  Romeo seemed to be pretty thorough, he even had those who knew you best convinced that he was you.”

“You just won’t let me get a good mad going will you?”

Rafael looked at the stone and back at Tony, “Don’t waste your time with what could have been.  You are officially alive, you have your life back, your family back, and the love of a woman who is way too good for your sorry ass.  If you lose yourself to the anger then you deny yourself all the joy in your life.”

Tony looked at Rafael and laughed, “You should write this shit down.  You can turn it into a book and make a killing.”

“You are still a smartass Tony Santos.”  He slapped Tony’s arm, “Come on let’s go.  Your girl’s sitting at Danny’s house worried about you.”

***

As soon as he entered the house his stomach started growling.  Michelle was cooking a Cuban feast to celebrate his official return to the living.  If his mouth wasn’t already watering it would be simply because that meant that Danny had been banned from cooking duty.  “Michelle you are a treasure you know that?”

Michelle laughed as she checked what was cooking on the stove, “You Santos men and your charm.  But I’m going to tell you what I told Danny, no you may not have some before dinner.”  She put the lid back on and opened the oven, “Now go on, Marah’s outside with Hope and Danny.  Ray should be here any minute.”

He made his way to the back yard.  However they were both too engrossed with what Hope was saying to realize he was there….

“I let him get first pick at all the good clothes.  But he still said that he’s going to get me a Ken doll if I’m a really, really good girl.”

Marah and Danny both laughed.  Well now that the secret was out he might as well have some fun with it.  He rested his fists on his hips, “You little tattle tale.”

Hope looked shocked that she was caught but she recovered well and laughed, “Whoops.  I forgot.  But I’ve been a good girl all week! So can we still go to the toy store?”

She was just too cute to stay mad at, even if it was in jest. “I guess I’ll forgive you this time squirt.”

Danny looked at him and grinned, “Barbie Tony?”

Beside him Rafael was laughing so hard tears came to the older man’s eyes, “I can only imagine and let me tell you, it’s hilarious.”

Marah just rested her chin on her on closed fist and grinned in that teasing way of hers, silently waiting for him to tell the whole story.

He wasn’t taking all the heat on this one.  “Don’t let Danny fool you Marah, Hope told me that she offers him first choice of the good clothes too.”

All teasing ceased when Michelle stuck her head out announcing Ray had arrived and it was time for dinner.  As they walked hand in hand towards the door she leaned into him, “I think it’s rather cute.  And Hope was so excited to tell me about it, I think you have a fan for life.”

Suddenly playing Barbie’s didn’t seem so bad, even for a guy like Tony.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Tony had to yell to be heard above the noise from the television, “I understand she’s busy but this is urgent.” He and Mel Boudreau had been playing phone tag for days now and her secretary was getting on his last nerve, “Could you just have her call me back at the Santos residence?  Yes, she knows the number.  Thank you.”

After finishing the call Tony surveyed the living room and grimaced.  Michelle was going to ring his neck when she got home.  The room was a mess, with toys and books strewed all over the place.   He thought he’d gotten a handle on this babysitting thing but once Danny and Michelle stepped out the door to take Danielle to her first check-up and to visit with the Bauer’s chaos had ensued.  Hope had gotten lunch in her hair, Robbie had been bursting with energy, and Tony wondered how Danny and Michelle did it without loosing their minds.  Hoping to escape Michelle’s wrath Tony began trying to clean up the mess.

He started gathering the toys and placing them in the clearly marked boxes courtesy of Michelle and her organization skills.  He felt a tug on his pants leg and looked down.

“Uncle Tony I’m bored.”

Tony had known Robbie as a baby and they had become buddies since he’d been back in Springfield.  Hope was another story all together,  Tony had no experience with little girls other than his cousin Pilar growing up, and that wasn’t saying much since they had all teased Pilar constantly.   He looked down at what he was holding, “Um, don’t suppose you want to play baseball do you?”

The little girl just shook her head emphatically, “Nu-uh.” She seemed to think it over and looked up to him with a smile, “Will you play Barbie’s with me?”

Him?  Barbie?  “Maybe we can watch a movie?”

Hope just shook her head again, “Please?”

He should have known that wouldn’t have worked.  Once Hope got it in her head that she wanted to do something there wasn’t any amount of pleasing, cajoling, or diversion that could steer her in another direction.  She was just like her mother in that regard.   He glanced at Robbie.  The little boy’s attention hadn’t wavered from whatever he was playing on the game counsel.  Tony might just get away with this.  “Okay.”

Hope grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the playroom.  This was going to be interesting.

***

Tony looked at the naked plastic doll in his hand.  “Don’t you have a Ken? Or maybe a G.I. Joe?”

Hope picked up a plastic container and dumped the contents on the floor where they were sitting. “Nope.  His head popped off.  But you can have first pick of the good clothes.”

As Tony found out minutes later that deal wasn’t as sweet as it sounded.  He found pulling clothes up Barbie’s rubbery legs was harder than it looked.  “What am I doing wrong here?”

Hope looked at the mess he had gotten tangled up in and giggled.  Tony found the sweet, innocent sound adorable.  Adorable?  He was really turning into a softie.  “You have it on backwards silly.”

After getting the dress turned the right way Hope handed him some shoes.  “Since when does Barbie come with hooker boots?”

Hope looked confused, “What are hooker boots?”

Well damn.  Michelle might ring his neck after all. “Nevermind.”  As Tony pushed the pointed feet into the boots he had another thought, “Um Hope you’re not going to tell your dad about this are you?”

Hope reached for her own pair of “hooker boots” for the doll she was currently dressing, “Tell him what Uncle Tony?”

He moved his arm to indicate the sea of pink he was currently swimming in.  He may be going soft but if Danny caught wind of it he’d never hear the end of it. “You know, playing Barbie.”

She did that giggle thing again which made him smile, “You sound just like Daddy!  He said the same thing yesterday.”

Tony was speechless.  He’d already knew Danny was an excellent father.   Michelle and their children were the center of Danny’s world, and you could tell he wouldn’t have it any other way.  But never in a million years would Tony imagine his cousin sitting and playing dolls.  Which made him wonder what kind of father he would be.  He’d never had a father and the only real male role models he’d had growing up had been his Uncle and later on Danny and Ray.  But he’d always wanted to be the kind of father he’d never had.  Hell he’d even married Catalina just to prove it to himself, and to others, that he took care of his responsibilities like a man.

But things were different now.  The thought of children with Marah made his heart race with joy instead of the panic and feeling of being trapped like he’d felt with Catalina.  He looked at Hope who was moving furniture around in the gigantic pink dream house.  He’d love if they had a little girl who looked just like Marah…

The shrill ringing of the telephone interrupted his musings. He put the doll on the floor, “I’ll be right back sweetheart.”

Walking through the living room he noted that Robbie was still engrossed with his game.  At least that was one less witness to Tony’s Barbie party in the other room.  He checked the caller-id before answering, “Hello Mel.  Thanks for calling me back.”

***

Hours later the adults were seated around the table listening while Mel spelled out what they had to do to have Tony legally declared undead.  Mel had gotten him an emergency passport so that he could travel with Marah to Paris but that was just the beginning.

“Okay first off you should go down to Cedars and get some blood taken.  A simple DNA test would go a long way to proving your identity.  You said your fingerprints were already on file correct?”

Tony nodded, “Rafael ran my prints after he found me.  When they came back saying I was deceased he knew I was telling the truth.”

Mel made a note on her legal pad and pulled out some forms, “Fill this out and I will file them as soon as the DNA results come in.  I assume you want this expedited as much as possible?”

He looked up from the forms she’d handed him, “Definitely.  I can’t do much of anything when I am still considered a ghost.”  He signed the last page and handed them too her.

She looked over them to make sure all the necessary information was included and signed her name as well.  “Okay that should be it.  Just get that DNA test done and in a couple of weeks you will officially be undead.”

They both stood and Tony shook her hand, “Thank you for all you’ve done.”

Mel laughed, “Just wait until you get my bill.  But in all seriousness I’m glad you’re alive and well.”  She finished packing up her papers and turned to Michelle, “Now that business is done I want to see that beautiful daughter of yours.  Leah says she’s as cute as can be.”

After the women left the room Danny looked at Tony, “We can make an appointment with Rick in the morning and get it all taken care of.”

Sounded good to Tony.  The sooner this mess was over the better.