Archive | July 2016

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Thirty-One (Part Three)

Tony coughed and sputtered as the beer he had been drinking went down the wrong pipe.  Tristan placed a surprised hand to her chest and fluttered her eyelashes, “I’m sorry Tony, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Madre di Dios!” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “No.” He tried to catch his breath to continue, “Make that a hell no!”  Tony shook his head at the absurdity of the very idea.  Not only was Tony married but he was her employer, which just added to the “Skeeze” factor of the situation.  Here he was trying to save his marriage not tear it to shreds and set it on fire.

Tristan just shrugged innocently, “I just didn’t want to bother Jonathan while he was eating.  I am taking over babysitting duties at the pool so that the adults can eat.” She smiled sweetly, “But I understand.  It probably wasn’t appropriate and I’m sorry.”

When she indicated the pool behind her,  Tony saw the area was swarming with kids of various ages.  Which made him feel even worse, here she was trying to be nice and he was thinking she was coming on to him.  “Yeah probably not a good idea.  I’ll just go over and see if Jonathan is done and send him over.”  Without waiting for a reply he headed off towards the tables.

***

Marah didn’t know how moms did this and make it look so effortless.  She balanced Lanie on her one leg while trying, and mostly failing, to feed herself.  She had managed to drop more food on herself than her infant daughter.

“Here. Let me hold her.” Tony sad beside her and held out his arms toward the baby.  He looked past Marah at Jonathan, “Tristan needs your assistance if you are done.”

Jonathan looked across the yard at his date and smiled at the sight of her in her bikini.  Standing up he grinned at the rest of his family members, “When duty calls.”

But Marah didn’t take her eyes off of her husband who was making goofy faces at their daughter which made her squeal with laughter.  Tony looked up when he sensed she was staring, “What?  Do I have something on my face?”

Marah smiled serenely, “I was just thinking you are a really great dad.”

Tony looked down at Lanie who was currently trying to see if she could move her foot into her mouth and then back at his wife, “Thanks.  But I think she might just be a really great baby.”

Marah opened her mouth to respond when she realized the general chatter at the table had stopped.  Looking over her shoulder she saw that her entire family sat at rapt attention, watching the exchange between Tony and herself.  At least most of them had the decency to look away guiltily after having been caught gawking.  But not her mother, Reva just rested her chin in her folded hands, “Don’t mind us.”

Josh elbowed his wife gently, “Come on, let’s leave these two in peace.”  Without waiting for his wife’s objections Josh gathered Reva’s hand in his and pulled her away towards where an enthusiastic game of washers was currently underway.

Tony looked down and Lanie and back at his wife, “I saw Dr. Feel Good talk to you earlier.”

Instantly Marah’s hackles rose. “He apologized for crossing the line the other night.” Marah paused to sip her ice water, she had been avoiding alcohol like the plague since that night, “I accepted since it was partially my fault.”

Tony nodded, “Okay.”

Not exactly the response Marah had expected from her husband. He had given the guy a black eye after all, “Good?”

“Yeah” Tony nodded then plucked a stray piece of cantaloupe off Marah’s plate.  He chewed and swallowed before continuing, “He should have apologized.  You were inebriated and he wasn’t.”

Marah crossed her arms across her chest, “That is downright reasonable of you Tony Santos.”

“This separation thing has given me a lot of time to think, ” He shrugged, “When it comes to you and Lanie I am not going to lie, I will probably always lash out first at anything I see as a threat.  That’s just who I am, who I’ve always been.  But I also know you can handle things yourself.  You were the one wronged by Richard Salas and it is your decision whether to forgive him or not.”

Marah was silent as she digested what Tony was saying.  She couldn’t stop herself from reaching over and rubbing her hand along his cheekbone.  “If we are being honest here, the separation idea was stupid.  I just wanted you to see that you can tell me things and I can handle it.  That we are better together, not when you keep secrets from me.”

Tony grabbed her soft hand in his and brought it to his lips. “When a man is given the life he had always dreamed of that man does whatever he can to hold that world with everything he has.”

“Tony you think it is any different for me?  You were always my dream and I would follow you into the gates of hell to fight for us.”

Tony smiled, “You been talking to Michelle?  That moment in Danny and Michelle history has become something of a legend.”

“Maybe a little,” Marah laughed, “It’s a good line for us Santos women.”

“Perhaps,” He leaned past their daughter and placed a chaste kiss on his wife’s lips.  It wasn’t nearly enough, not after the weeks they had spent apart, but he could hardly ravish her in the Bauer’s backyard, “And while w are on the subject of full disclosure Tristan asked me to help her with her suntan lotion.  She didn’t mean anything by it but it just struck me as odd.”

Marah was barely listening, something as small as a kiss had her brain going to mush.  But she lifted an eyebrow in question, “She came on to you?”

Tony shook his head, “She said she didn’t want to bother Jonathan while he was eating.  But it didn’t seem appropriate.”

“You’re right. And thank you for telling me.” Lanie chose that moment to lose interest in her foot and started screaming as if her small world was in ruins. Marah reached out and scooped up the baby, “Someone must need a diaper change.  I’ll be right back.”

Tony reached out and snagged her hand before she walked off, “Want to watch the fireworks with me Mrs. Santos?”

For the first time in weeks Marah’s heart felt light as air.  Leaning down she laid her own chaste kiss on her husband’s lips, “It’s a date.”

***

Reva held out her hand, “Pay up guys.”

With some good-natured grumbling Josh, Shayne, and Danny opened their wallets and each handed over a twenty. Reva pocked the money with glee and smiled at the others, “Never bet against a mama boys.”

Danny laughed but had to ask, “How did you know?  I mean we all thought the semi-separation wouldn’t work but how did you know those two would finally come to their senses?”

Reva smiled, “Marah is hard headed sometimes but eventually she comes around.”

Michelle came over and rested her hand on Danny’s shoulder, “And you Santos men know how to get your way.”

***

Richard Salas leaned against a tree trunk watching the festivities slowly unwind.  As the food clean up began and the kids exited the pool in anticipation of the firework show that rumor had it was ‘unbelievable’.  But his focus was on one brunette who was trying her best to ignore he was there.  “You know I am not going away.”

Tristan whirled around to face him, “Look I dangled the bait out but Tony wasn’t biting.”  She looked around her to make sure they were alone, “I will give it a few days and try again.”

Pushing off the tree Richard stalked towards his prey, “You are going to have to do better than parading around in a bikini Tris and you know it.”

“Look, I know what I’m doing,” She pinned him with a look, “It worked on you didn’t it?”

“True.  But I didn’t have quite as much to lose.”

***

From across the yard Rafael watched as the good Doctor chatted up Tony and Marah’s nanny.  Something was off with those two.  He was going to have to keep his eye on that one.  Finishing his beer he threw it in a nearby trashcan.  After all, that is what honorary grandfathers did.

***

From their spot in the yard Tony sat with Marah between his upturned knees.  And from her lap Lanie sat pointing at the colors exploding in the sky.  For the first time in weeks he felt like he could breathe.  Tony reflexively tightened his arms around his girls.  For the first time in weeks Tony felt peace.

History had shown him that peace usually came with a price.

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Thirty-One (Part Two)

Marah speared the hunk of watermelon with more force that necessary and nearly sent it skidding off the platter.  But if one more person asked her how her and Tony were doing she just might scream.  All day long she had gotten varying degrees of the same question and hours later she was done.  Done answering questions and done pretending like watching her husband laughing with his brother and cousin wasn’t killing her. a little inside.

“What did that watermelon ever do to you?” Jonathan reached over and picked up the object of her aggression and popped it in his mouth.  “Happy Fourth of July sis.” His mouth full of the sweet fruit Marah barely made out what he was saying.

Marah nudged him with her elbow, “Pig.” She grabbed some more watermelon, with less force this time, and moved down the food line.

“Oink.” Jonathan grinned, “Can’t believe you left me hanging on the egg toss.  You know that this was going to be our year. We were going to take out Shayne and Dinah in a blaze of egg toss glory.”

Rolling her eyes Marah replied, “Seems you did just fine without me.” She looked around the backyard, “Where is your girlfriend anyway?”

“She’s not my girlfriend.” Jonathan reached for the potato salad but paused, “Did Buzz make this?  Because a few years ago on Mother’s Day he gave the town food poisoning with this stuff.”

“I think you’re safe.  Michelle made it.”  Laughing she reached for some pasta salad, “I still can’t believe you are dating my nanny.”

“Why sister, I didn’t know you needed someone to watch you during the day and change your clothes when you make a mess.”

“Har har, you are so funny.”  Marah and Jonathan walked towards the picnic tables where the Lewis clan was currently converged, “So you and Tristan?”

Jonathan shrugged, “Nothing serious.  Just having a bit of fun.”  He paused thinking, “And we do, have fun together I mean.  But there is just something I can’t put my finger on, something off.”

Marah stopped and looked at her brother, “You know I could totally ‘go there’ with a statement like that.  But I won’t because I am a nice sister.”

“I appreciate your restraint.  Now let’s eat!” He nudged Shayne over, “I have to refuel after my stunning egg toss victory.”

Shayne grumbled but moved over to give his siblings space to sit, “Lucky toss brother.  Next year it’s on.”

***

Alan-Michael wasn’t giving up.  Not without a fight even if his wife redefined the word stubborn. “Would you please sit down?  I will get you a plate.”

“I am pregnant Alan-Michael, not an invalid,” Lucy placed her hands on her hips and stuck to her guns, “I am perfectly fine.  In fact, I have never felt better.  Even if I look like I swallowed a beach ball.”

Rubbing his hand along her swollen belly Alan-Michael smiled, “You look beautiful.  But you are also ready to pop any day now.  So my lovely wife, ” With a gentle hand on her shoulder he steered her towards the tables, “Sit down and let me wait on you.”

Looking up Lucy smiled, “You know, I’m glad we found our way back here.”

Alan-Michael knew she wasn’t just talking about them finding their way back to Springfield.  She also meant them finding their way back to each other.  And he knew he would be eternally grateful for that as well.  If he hadn’t groveled for her heart they wouldn’t have Michael or the baby that would be arriving any day now.  Placing a soft kiss on her lips he whispered, “Me to beauty.  Me too.”

***

Danny swung his arm to clear the smoke.  “I think it is time to hang up the spatula guys.”

Tony just grinned, “Might be wise.  One of these days you are going to make the town sick as a dog.  Not a great move for someone who next year will be wanting their votes.”

Rafael indicated the misshapen and charred-beyond-recognition burgers on the plate, “At this rate the only thing they’d vote for is to revoke your grilling privileges away.”

Ray clapped his cousin on the back, “But at least they will be talking about you for years to come.  They still talk about Matt and Vanessa’s wedding reception.”

“Thanks for the support guys,” He turned towards Tony, “How about instead of insulting my culinary brilliance while moping like some Disney Princess you go talk to your wife.”

Rafael and Ray both laughed at Tony’s furious expression and slapped Tony on the back.  Rafael whispered, “Touché.  And on that note I am going to eat some non-charcoal tasting food.”

Tony watched his family walk away and scowled.  He was sitting over here moping like a Disney Princess.  But he couldn’t see any other options.  If he mixed and mingled like usual he got the third degree about Marah and his relationship.  Springfield was a great place but in some ways it was like living in a small town.  Everyone knew your business whether you wanted them to or not.

He may have kept his distance today but like a moth to a flame Tony’s gaze always seemed to seek out Marah.  Right now she was sitting and laughing with her family.  She had a lightness in her posture that he hadn’t seen for a while.  And while he was sure most people were fooled by her acting he knew she wasn’t happy.  The light that seemed to radiate from her was not there.  He sighed and was about to follow the others when a hand touched his arm, “Excuse me Tony.”

Turning he faced Tristan wearing nothing but a bikini and a smile.  He swallowed, “Hey Tristan.  Having a good time?”

Tristan looked around at all the people in the yard, “Yeah this is a great party.  They do this every year?”

“Like clockwork.” Tony indicated the food line, “You may want to eat while you can.”

“Oh I already ate.” Tristan smiled and moved closer which had every red alert Tony had flashing.  “So I was wondering if you could do me a little favor.”

“Um, Sure.”

Tony took a sip of his beer as Tristan held up her other hand and turned away from him,.  Flashing a smile over her shoulder she asked, “Could you put some of this suntan lotion on my back?  I can’t quite reach.”

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Thirty-One (Part One)

“Looks like you have a great turn out this year.”  Marah bounced Lanie on her hip as she surveyed the Bauer’s backyard.  And to say it was a good turn out was an understatement.  Once again it seemed as if the entire town showed up en masse for the annual event.

Michelle finished hanging the last of the lanterns and stood back to survey her handiwork.  With a nod of satisfaction she turned towards her friend and smiled, “Yeah I think we get bigger every year, and I love it.”  Marah and Michelle walked back towards the house, dodging screaming kids along the way.  “You know, out of all the events in Springfield this is the one I missed the most when Danny and I lived in California.  Even if every year my dad grumbles about cancelling, Rick and I know it’s all bluster.”

Marah laughed, “I was thinking the same thing.  Every year my mom would send pictures and I would get jealous.”

Michelle reached over and rubbed a finger along Lanie’s foot which caused the baby to kick and giggle, “At least we’re all together and can pass this tradition down to another generation.”  She looked up and saw Tony over Marah’s shoulder.  The man’s face was one of pure longing and Michelle’s heart went out to him.  To both of them.  “How are things between you and Tony?  Still separated but not?”

“Yes if you must know.” Marah shifted the baby to a more comfortable position, “I know everyone thinks it is ridiculous but I need Tony to see me as an equal in this marriage.  Not keeping things from me because he thinks I can’t handle it.”

Nodding in understanding Michelle put a reassuring hand on her friend’s shoulder, “I understand.  Do I ever.  But hon, This is part of being married to a Santos.  Even being married for years and I am still telling Danny that I can handle the world and all it has to dish out.  But sooner or later you have to ask yourself, are you punishing him for who he is or yourself for loving him anyways?” And with those words to ponder Michelle gestured towards the house, “Now we better get the rest of the food ready or this party may just turn to anarchy.”

***

From across the patio Tony watched Marah and Michelle talk, his beer clutched in his hand.  Marah had her back to him which gave him unrestricted access to stare at his wife and just…wish everything was back to normal.   They had reached a stalemate and neither side was willing to budge.

“Gripping that beer kind of tight there brother.” Ray joined Tony and smacked him on the back lightly.  Following his brother’s gaze he saw the reason for his brother’s coiled demeanor.  “I see.”

Tony looked at his brother out of the corner of his eye, “You see what?  Because I’d really like to know.”

“You’ll figure it out.  I watched Danny and Michelle fight and claw their way to where they are now, And I have no doubt Marah and you will do the same.”

Tony wished he felt as confident as his brother.  For the first week or so Tony had looked on the so-called ‘separation’ with amusement.  Thinking Marah would see that as long as they loved each other nothing else mattered.  But then came the realization that she had no intention of caving and no amount of flashing his abs would work.  Then came the real battle of wills.  Like Marah sashaying around the house in her babydoll nighties.  And so began the cold showers that did nothing to tame the heat that Tony felt towards his wife.  And she knew it too, the minx.  But what Tony couldn’t figure out is what it would take to mend the rift between them.

***

Ed Bauer clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention, “Welcome to the 47th annual Hunger Games!” As everyone in the yard laughed and cheered he looked down at his granddaughter Hope and asked, “Did I say that right?”  The little girl covered her mouth to stifle a giggle but nodded at her grandfather’s joke.  Turning back tot he crowd gathered Ed smiled, “No there will be no fighting to the death for food.  Who would want to fight for my son in law’s version of barbecue anyway?”

“Hey!”  Danny acted affronted but it was all in jest, everyone knew Danny couldn’t grill to save his life.  But still Michelle rubbed his arm reassuringly.

“Today my daughter and son-in-law told me some great news.  Seems there is going to be yet another addition to the Bauer-Santos household!  And fro that I will gladly choke down one of Danny’s burnt burgers.” The news set off another round of clapping and cheers from the crowd of Springfield residents.  “And I thought to myself, this is why we do this every year.  Because honestly, every year I grumble about cancelling it.  The hassle and fuss, who needs it right?  But every year my children look at me like I am crazy and begin planning anyway.  They know I’m not serious because this tradition is one that I hold dear to my heart.  It is one that I passed down to my children who I know will continue it even after I am gone.  It is one that their children will continue after them.  And that’s the way it is supposed to be.”  The last part caused Ed to pause as he got choked up with emotion.  “So enough talk from me and welcome friends, family, and fellow residents of the great city of Springfield to the annual Bauer Bar-B-Que!”

***

Richard waited until the crowd had dispersed to their various pre-speech activities before he made his approach.  He found the targets he was looking for over at the picnic tables that had been set up on the lawn.  He pasted on a smile, “Hello Michelle you are looking well.  Marah, you look as lovely as ever.”

Michelle crossed her arms and regarded him coolly, “Hello.”  She turned on her heel and marched back to the house without saying another word.

Richard chuckled, “Must be something I said.”

Marah stood and picked up Lanie who was contentedly chewing on a cookie in her hand, “Must be.  Excuse me.”

Before she could walk away Richard held out a hand to stall her.  “I never got a chance to apologize for the other night.  I stepped over the line and I am sorry.”

Marah searched his face for signs of insincerity but found nothing to indicate deception.  “Apology accepted.  I should probably apologize as well, I wasn’t in a very good place that night and I probably was sending all kinds of mixed signals.”

Richard waved her off, “The fault was mine alone.  I knew you were married and I stepped over the line anyway.  I hope we can still be friends.”

Still be Friends?  Marah didn’t think they had ever been friends to begin with.  But social niceties told her to nod and accept, “That would be fine.  Now excuse me,” She indicated the baby in her arms, “I think someone needs to be changed.”

***

From the patio Tony had watched the man approach the Santos women.  He had watched Michelle’s non-to-subtle snub and her march away.  And as it left his wife and daughter alone with the bastard it took everything in him to not go over and finish the job he had started at the Roadhouse.  But Danny had laid a restraining hand on his shoulder, “Stand down Primo.  Let Marah handle it.”

So he had stood back and let Marah hopefully set the jerk straight.

Michelle handed Danny a beer and they all watched Marah walk back toward the house, the diaper bag hanging from her arm a clear indicator at where she was going. “Who invited the asshat anyway?”

“I did.”

They all turned to face Ed who just shrugged at the looks of mutiny he got, “That is what this event is all about.  Joining together.  And Richard Salas has no family in the area.”

They all watched Ed walk over to begin the egg toss.  They were all silent until Danny looked at them and grinned while holding up his spatula proudly, “I am going to give him the burnest burger I’ve ever done.”

Tony grinned and tipped up his beer towards his cousin, “Way to have our backs man.”