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.”

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