What Matters Most~ Chapter Twenty-Nine

Marah tapped her pen on the notepad as she tried to hold in her frustration. It wasn’t working. “I have a contract in front of me that you signed. Just how are we supposed to open a community center without furniture? Tell me that? Are we supposed to have people sit on the floor?”

The phone was suddenly ripped from her hands and Marah gasped as her mother spoke into the receiver. “I am sorry Mrs. Santos was called away on another urgent matter but I assure you that your business is important to us. May I reschedule your delivery for later this week?” Reva listened patiently then nodded and motioned for Marah’s pen and paper, “This Thursday at one? That would perfect. Thank you so much.”

Marah huffed at Reva’s easy handling of the situation. Show off. Reva just turned patient eyes at her daughter. “Terrorizing strangers by phone?”

“He deserved it. And he isn’t a stranger. He is the guy who is contracted to deliver the office furniture for the Fifth Street Community Center.”

“I’m sure he did sweetheart.” Reva’s tone was slightly patronizing which grated on Marah’s already frayed nerves but since her mother fixed the furniture situation she tolerated it. Barely. “And though he is slightly delayed it will be there later this week. Anybody else we need to call?”

Marah sighed in aggravation before easing up off the couch. “No he was the last one. With any luck this damn community center might just pull together in time. Thanks for the help though.”

“That’s what mothers are for darling. And administrative assistants. I rock both with amazing efficiency.”

The laughter that broke free from Marah felt surprisingly good. “Thanks mom. I needed that laugh more than you know. And yes you are amazingly efficient.” She stretched before looking at herself in the hall mirror. Holy crap she looked like hell. It looked like she wore a wild case of perpetual bed head, though the raccoon eyes gave away the fact that she didn’t sleep well. She admonished herself silently, she was stronger than this. “I think it’s time for me to move back home.”

Reva nodded. She knew Marah was not handling the separation from Tony well but at least here she could watch over her. But that was Reva the mother talking. Reva the woman knew Marah needed to reclaim the ground beneath her feet, When she felt threatened or scared Marah always ran home and her and Josh always provided shelter. But Marah was a grown woman with a child on the way, she had long outgrown her comforting arms. “Whatever you think is best.”

Marah had avoided asking the question for weeks though it was on the tip of her tongue daily. But now that she was going home she couldn’t hold it back. “Have you seen Tony?”

Her mother slowly shook her head. “No. I know he is staying with Danny and Michelle but that is it.”

Unwanted disappointment bubbled up in Marah but she tamped it down. She wasn’t sure if it was from lack of information or because she wanted him to be as miserable as she was. And she was completely miserable. It had been two weeks and other than that one night at Michelle’s Lamaze class they had only communicated through text message. It was like her soul was hurting not just her heart. She pointed towards the guest bedroom. “I will go pack.”

Reva called after her, stopping her from going upstairs. “I know he’s hurting though. Just like you are. And that’s not just me saying that, that’s from your daddy.”

Marah’s jaw dropped dramatically. Though her dad had warmed to Tony considerably she never would have pictured them as allies. “Daddy? And Tony? Since when is daddy not on my side?”

“What are you twelve?” Reva rolled her eyes at her daughter before continuing, “You have always wanted your daddy to see the good in Tony and guess what? He does. He sees the man who would move heaven and earth to make you smile. Who would face down your entire family because you asked it of him. And who held on to life to come back to you when letting go would have been easier. Now you think about that while you pack.”

As if Marah would think about anything else.

***
Danny and Michelle had been conversing quietly in the kitchen when Tony joined them. By their sudden silence and Michelle’s saddened expression Tony deduced that the news wasn’t good. “Let me guess, the blood test turned up nothing?”

Michelle shook her head, “I’m sorry Tony. I had the lab run every test known to detect even the barest traces of substances but they couldn’t find a trace of anything.” She lowered her eyebrows seriously, “I still think she slipped you something. What you recall of that evening are textbook examples of someone who has been drugged.”

“It’s okay Michelle. It was a longshot but it was something at least.”

From the recesses of Tony’s mind came a brief flash, too short for him to call it a memory but something told him he couldn’t discard it completely.

A man’s voice. Not a stranger but someone he had met before. “Sorry man.”

Danny had been watching his cousin and noticed the look of confusion on his face. “Do you remember something?”

Shaken out of his thoughts Tony was slow to catch up. “What? No. Maybe. I remember someone, I think it was a man, apologizing. I do know it was someone I had met before but I’m not sure how I know that.”

Not for the first time since this all began did Danny wish they could handle things the old-fashioned way. The Santos way. Because things had only escalated and gotten worse instead of the other way around. Maybe it was time for him to pay another visit to their favorite ex-madam. See if she would overplay her hand and expose her weakness.

***

John hated walking into the Springfield Police Department to complete his internship. He felt like such a fraud. All his life he’d dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps and joining the police force. But college had cost money that his student loans didn’t cover and his low-paying menial jobs didn’t cut it. So he gambled. At first he had won more than he lost and things had begun to look up. Then his father had been killed in the line of duty and his family had needed every spare penny he made. And just like that bank robber’s bullet that robbed his family of their rock his luck had taken a nosedive that year. He had sunk deeper and deeper in debt and had resorted to visiting loan sharks.

When the internship at the Springfield PD became available he was sure it was a door opening in the right direction. So he moved from Oakdale and took the bartending job at Towers so he could slave away for free for his dream. Then came Carlos Riviera. Offering enough money to pay off his debts, John had broken more laws in six months than in his entire twenty-three years on this Earth.

Immediately upon entering he was greeted by Frank Cooper who slapped him on the back. “John. Just wanted to tell you that you did a great job scanning those old case files. It would have taken me a month at least to get that done. I am what you call technologically challenged.”

While John basked in the praise it was still like salt on an open wound. “Thank you sir.”

Detective Cooper went back to his desk while John continued back to retrieve another box of old case files to scan to digital. From his pocket his phone vibrated. Pulling it out he saw he had a text message from Riviera. “New task for you. Meet at Same place @ 9 P.M.”. He closed his eyes against the shame. His father had been a good cop and here his son was, doing jobs for a common criminal. He closed the message with a note of finality. It was time for him to recapture a part of his soul, even if it cost him his life.

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