Archives

Behind the Scenes

Marah and Tony

I changed many directions during the writing of “What Matters Most”, some I think were for the better and some were simply because the story would have gone on FOREVER if I hadn’t changed things up.   Here are some of the more notable changes I made midstream.

1. The character of John Anderson was originally a main villain.  In fact, he was the character who eventually became Carlos Riviera (AKA Carlos Quesada).  But during writing John became more of a sympathetic character while I was trying to craft an old-school villain, one who lived and breathed vengeance for years and came out swinging.  So John became a secondary character whose story slowly emerged in my head, and whose last act was one of redemption.

2.  I was originally going to have Eden and Carlos pair up romantically.  But Carlos had a one track mind and wouldn’t let me be deterred.  As a villain he was the dominant personality and crazy enough I began to like writing him.  He was an interesting character to dive into especially since he was crafted from a scene when Catalina first arrived with Reva and Noah when she mentioned having several brothers back in Cuba.

3.  After Eden got Tony in the hotel room I was going to have her lie about her own pregnancy in a very old-school soap story twist.  But that would have added even more chapters onto this story!  Instead I reverted back to Marony history.  Like the photos from Vinnie Salerno in 2003, I had Eden play the same game with Marah which caused them angst and left them vulnerable.

4.  And one of the biggest changes was that the “hero” can technically be considered Michelle Santos since she saved Marah and the baby.  The original hero was going to be Robbie Santos but I thought that might be a bit traumatizing for a little boy to see.  So I moved Michelle in as the new heroine who saves the day with her doctor skills.  In fact, any time I went to write a Michelle scene she just seemed to take over.  She was throwing Eden out of her house and certainly wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Advertisements

What Matters Most~ Epilogue

Three days later…

Danny entered the Springfield police station with some hesitation. When Frank had called him and informed him that Carlos wanted to speak with him before he was hauled off to a more secure facility Danny’s initial reaction was to pass on the message for him to “go to hell”. But then curiosity got the better of him. What could Carlos possibly have to talk to him about. So here he was, walking into the Springfield Police Department and meeting with the man who had nearly killed a member of his family. He showed his ID to the desk clerk and signed in.

Frank approached and raised his chin greeting. “Come to chat with Quesada?”

Danny nodded. “I hate to give him the satisfaction but when you called and said he wanted to talk I felt I had to come. I owed it to Tony, to Marah.”

“How is she doing?”

“She still hasn’t regained consciousness which has Tony on edge. Well, even more so.” Danny amended before he continued. “Between him and the Lewis’s they practically live at Cedars. But we have hope and that is important.”

Frank nodded in understanding. “Blake and I wish them the best. I’ll send Mr. Quesada into an interrogation room for you.” He paused was if considering the best way to approach his next request. “He hasn’t given us much. He knew going in that he was either going to lose his freedom or his life. So any information you can ascertain would be more than helpful.”

That sounded fair, everyone wanted the answers to why Marah. Why now? Danny slapped Frank’s shoulder as replied. “I’ll see what I can do.”

***

The orange jumpsuit made Carlos look even more lethal than Danny already knew him to be, but at least it . The man had already killed two people and tried to kill his cousin’s wife. But at least that jumpsuit indicated he was going to be locked away with others like him. He had no idea what Carlos could possibly have to say to him but he would hear him out, even if it was more bitter ramblings from a man headed to prison. “Love the outfit Carlos. The orange really brings out the color in your eyes.”

Carlos waited while the guard removed his handcuffs then took his seat across the table. “How I am going to miss that wit of yours Daniel Santos.”

“I am sure you’ll cope.” Danny wasn’t interested with pleasantries, he wanted to get straight to the point. “What could you possibly have to talk to me about Carlos? Want to explain why you decided to try to destroy someone who had done nothing to you? Why you wasted ten years of your life stewing in bitterness to take out revenge on people who had nothing to do with Catalina’s death.” Danny leaned across the table and dropped his voice to a frosty level. “Catalina was murdered because she tricked Tony into marriage. Because she threatened the family. That was your beloved sister.”

Carlos pointed a finger at Danny in accusation. “Your family corrupted her.”

“Perhaps. I wouldn’t put much past Carmen and Maria.” Danny nodded as if accepting Carlos’ claim. Lord knew Carmen and Maria were rotten to their core. “Doesn’t change the fact that Catalina saw what she wanted and did what she could to get it.” Danny stood and gathered his coat, “I think we’re done here.”

“You wanted to know why I asked to talk to you, it’s pretty simply really. I wanted to see how much I had marked your family. How much I had destroyed you.”

Danny shook his head and walked towards the door. “You don’t get it. You didn’t destroy us, you couldn’t.” At the door he paused and turned to face Carlos for hopefully the last time. “Tony and Marah will recover and live happily with their daughter. Hope that comforts you while you rot in prison.”

***

After leaving the police department Danny knew exactly what he had to do. After stopping to make the necessary purchases he found himself once again standing outside the mammoth structure of the Santos mansion. Only this time he watches as orange flames engulfed the building he had once called home. It had never been a home, not really. All the cold silences during dinner, not knowing when your own family would turn on you, and now it was the scene of Marah’s tragedy. The place was a mausoleum of misery.

He heard the sirens in the distance and before long he was joined by two fire trucks and none other than detective Frank Cooper. Frank stepped from his car and joined Danny in watching the flames lick up the front wall. “This why you asked if we were done collecting evidence?”

“Yeah.” Danny should have winced as the roof finally gave to the fire and crumbled in on itself, but he didn’t. Instead he sighed with relief. “I didn’t want the place. Tony certainly could never live here. So I rid my family and this town of a reminder, a reminder of all that was bad about my family.”

***

Marah fought her way through the dark and the pain, pain that felt like it was everywhere. Light exploded behind her eyes when she tried to open them so she immediately closed them again. What in the hell happened to her? Did she drink too much last night? Phillipe always knew the best bars to go to. That incessant beeping had to go though. It was grating on her last nerve.

“Marah? Oh thank God you’re awake!” A strong hand gripped hers tight and held firm. “I pressed the button for a nurse but I’m not letting go. I’m never letting go baby.”

Well that sounded serious. She hadn’t had a serious relationship since…”Tony?” That couldn’t be right, Tony had broken her heart. Tony was supposed to be dead. Marah opened her eyes, ignoring the stab of pain to her already burning retinas. “What? How? How can you be here? You are supposed to be dead!” She wrenched her hand free from his suddenly slack grip and rubbed her aching head. “Where am I? This is like the Twilight Zone.”

Tony stood in horror as the truth hit him square in the face. His wife hadn’t just lost her memory of that night, she had lost her memory of them. He watched as she trembled in fear and he could do nothing, nothing, to stop it without causing her more hurt. Marah turned onto her side away from him and seemed to curl into herself. He moved silently and laid a hand gently on her hip, which he quickly removed when she flinched. “Marah, please?”

“Just…go!” Her harsh sob nearly broke his heart further but he didn’t think she could take any more at the moment. Especially not declarations of love from someone she thought was supposed to be dead. Outside in the hall Tony found his way to one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs and practically fell down into it. Resting his head in his hands he let his tears fall freely. In true Tony Santos fashion he was a day late a dollar short. He finally leaned what mattered most and now she was simply…lost. He wiped his tears away and raised his head. Marah may be lost right now but he’d help her find her way home. He’d help her find her way.

What Matters Most~ Chapter Forty

When Tony rounded the corner he saw a small group had formed outside the room where Marah had been operated on. It seemed half the town had come to offer their support. But at that moment in time he only had eyes for Michelle. “How is she? How is the baby? Can we see her?” The words rushed out of him as soon as he was within range.

Michelle didn’t give any answers she simply made a sweeping motion to the side indicating she wanted Tony to follow. “Can we talk in private for a moment?”

That didn’t sound good. He turned to see that Josh had the same grave look upon his face, the entire Lewis family did. Facing Michelle again he answered, “Yes of course.” Then he indicated to Josh that we wished for he and Reva to join him. Marah may be the love of his life but she was still the Lewis family princess. They deserved to hear the same news Tony did.

Suddenly a dark-haired man in a white lab coat joined them. “This the family?”

Tony saw Michelle’s body tighten. This guy obviously rubbed her the wrong way and he could see why. The slick hair and air of self-importance, the guy obviously had a god complex. Michelle made quick introductions. “Yes Dr. Salas this is the family. This is Marah’s husband Tony and her parents Josh and Reva Lewis. Guys this is Dr. Salas, Cedars’ resident neurosurgeon.”

Dr. Salas didn’t hold out his hand to shake he simply tipped his head in greeting. He moved towards the door, “I am ready for that consultation now Dr. Santos.”

Reva moved to follow. “If my daughter wasn’t lying in a hospital bed right now I’d kick that guy’s butt.”

***

As soon as everyone was settled Michelle stood on the other side of the desk from Tony and the Lewis’s and began quickly, “First off congratulations Tony. At two thirty this morning you and Marah became the proud parents of a six pound baby girl. She’s a little small but I have checked her over and everything is perfect. Lung function was our biggest concern considering her early delivery but she is completely healthy.” Michelle watched some of the tension in Tony’s body ease. She continued on. “As you know Marah came in here after losing a significant amount of blood. We set up a blood transfusion right away in order to prep her for emergency surgery. ” She paused as she remembered those moments during the surgery, when she hadn’t known if Marah was going to make it or not. “She lost a lot of blood during the C-section-”

Reva grasped blindly for Josh’s hand while muttering, “Oh God.”

Michelle pressed on, determined to get the words out. “Her blood pressure dropped and she went into v-fib.”

Tony had become more tense as Michelle spoke but at this he stood. “You mean she died? My wife is, dead?” He barely managed to get the words out before they became strangled in his throat. He didn’t know if he could breathe, how he stood because surely his heart had stopped beating.

Michelle rounded the desk and took his hand in hers. “She did. But I got her back Tony. She fought her way back and she is going to make it.” She squeezed his hand reassuringly then looked behind her to indicate the neurologist. “Dr. Salas has some things he wants to go over with you.”

Up until that point Dr. Salas had looked bored. Now that he had the floor he smiled like a shark coming in for the kill. “Mr. Santos your wife came in with a severe concussion. Coupled with the blood loss and trauma of surgery there may be some changes in your wife’s brain patterns that we need to address. I will know more when she regains consciousness. She has yet to do so.”

Maybe it was all that happened the night before, or perhaps he was just slow on the uptake, but Tony was having a problem grasping what the doctor was trying to tell them. “Spell it out for us Doc!”

Dr. Salas sighed with aggravation, as if Tony’s inability to comprehend medical jargon was indicative of his intelligence. “I don’t want you to think this is an absolute certainty. I need Mrs. Santos to regain consciousness in order for me to accurately diagnose her condition.” Deciding to give the family a visual aide he moved to the x-ray viewer on the wall and lit it up by flipping the switch. He then slid the film of Marah’s brain scan image and pointed to the first image. “See this black spot here? That legion in Mrs. Santos’ hippocampal region is likely due to the head trauma she endured or it could be due to the lack of blood flow during surgery when she coded. Either way it is likely when your wife does become cognizant she may have some problems piecing together events of last night. Once again, we will only know the severity of her injury once she wakes up.”

Tony nodded in understanding but a secret part of him hoped she wouldn’t remember that night. As selfish at it might make him seem he didn’t want her to live with the reminders of the hellish hours being tormented by Carlos and Eden. Seeing Eden being killed before her eyes. He would never wish that upon her soul. “Can we see her?”

Michelle hesitated before answering. “She’s being moved to the surgical ICU. The visits will be limited to family only and only for limited amounts of time.” She handed Tony a pink bracelet. “However here is your ticket if you will to the nursery floor to see your daughter.”

He reluctantly took the tiny pink band in his large hand. He couldn’t imagine seeing their daughter without Marah by his side. They were supposed to do this together, that was how this was supposed to go. Just another thing Carlos had taken from them. “I can’t go up there, not without Marah.”

Reva reached over and laid a comforting hand on his forearm, “You need to do this Tony, you need to do this for Marah. Because when she wakes up she is going to want to know all about your little girl.”

Seeing the wisdom in her words Tony could only nod in response.

***

Tony stared through the nursery glass at all the tiny newborns. Blue and pink bundles filled the room and one of them was his daughter. His daughter. The idea still sent shock waves through his system. He clutched the bracelet tight in his palm and with his other hand pulled the door open. A tall mousey-haired nurse approached with a smile. “May I help you?”

Tony could just imagine what he looked like. His tuxedo was dirty and covered in blood. He looked like he stepped out of the movie Carrie. He looked tired and haggard, complete with bloodshot eyes. He was lucky she didn’t call security on the spot. “I’m Tony Santos. I would like to meet my daughter.”

The nurse, whose name badge stated was Ann, smiled and checked the bracelet. Apparently it was his ticket because she gestured him towards a wash room in the back. “Right this way Mr. Santos. We need you to get in a sterile gown and scrub up. Once you are done I will go get your daughter for you.”

***

Tony sat hesitantly in the chair decked out in cushions with cutesy teddy bears on them. He rubbed his nervous palms on the pants of the borrowed scrubs. Within minutes nurse Ann was wheeling one of the plastic bassinets towards him the name card reading Baby Girl Santos. Baby Girl Santos. If Tony wasn’t already shocked beyond words that would do it. Looking inside he saw the tiniest bit of humanity he had ever seen in his entire life swaddled in a white blanket with pink and blue stripes. His daughter, his and Marah’s. One tiny fist had escaped and lay against her cheek, and from beneath her pink hat Tony could see dark blonde hair. He had gotten his wish, he had a little girl who looked liked her mother. He felt the tears begin forming. “Hey princess.”

Dark lashes opened and he looked into her hazy blue eyes. And just like that, in that one brief moment, Tony fell in love for the second time in his life. He looked at the nurse with barely contained joy, “Can I hold her?”

The nurse smiled indulgently. New fathers always fell the hardest. “Of course.” She picked up the baby and placed her in Tony’s arms. “There you go. I will just leave you two alone to get to know each other.”

Tony could do nothing but stare for several moments. He knew all babies were born with blue eyes but he wondered what hers would end up being. Brown like his? A mix of both his and Marah’s? He hated that Marah was downstairs while he got to experience the first moments of their child’s life. “I bet you were expecting someone else. Like your mom perhaps. She is right downstairs getting better but rest assured little one she loves you a whole heck of a lot, we both do. See your mom always was the smart one, always knew what mattered most. She was born with an innate ability to love and a close-knit family. I have always been playing catch up.” His daughter blinked unfocused eyes as she listened to his voice and Tony gave the rocker a nudge. “All I know of love I learned from her. But it gets all twisted up in my need to protect. Fair warning little one, you won’t be allowed to date until you are at least thirty but you will always be loved. And that is what matters most.”

Nurse Ann returned and smiled at the bonding father and daughter. “Did you and your wife pick out a name?”

Tony gazed at his daughter lovingly before he looked back at Ann and smiled. “Lanie Luz Santos.”

What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Nine

Note: I did as much research as I could to make this chapter as realistic as possible, however I am not a doctor. Any and all mistakes are my own.

Michelle took a deep breath and began scrubbing the harsh soap along her hands and arms. Normally the thought of surgery didn’t fluster her focus but this was no ordinary surgery, she held the lives on two people in her hands today. One person she loved like the sister she never had and the other she was going to help bring into the world today.

The door behind her flew open with a crash. “Let me guess, you must be Dr. Santos. Ordering CT scans without my council and now here you are about to perform major surgery on our patient without thinking of the risks involved.”

Michelle stood with her mouth agape at the harsh tone, not to mention the implication that she didn’t have Marah’s best interests at heart. Her voice was frosty cold when she replied, “You were paged. You didn’t show up. I have a patient with significant blood loss, a partial placental abruption who could go into shock at any moment. I didn’t exactly have time to twiddle my thumbs Dr. Salas.” She had never worked with Richard Salas before, he had just recently been hired on to the Cedars surgical staff, but Michelle could already tell she didn’t like him. At all. He had a haughtiness about him that made it hard to resist the urge to punch him in the face. She would just love to see the paperwork on that one as she sat in front of the review board.

Dr. Richard Salas crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at her as if he was trying to prove his superiority. Asshole. “You are lucky that the CT scan came back negative for inter-cranial bleeding. Our patient has had one nasty bump to the head which caused a severe concussion. Coupled with blood loss it’s no wonder she is still unconscious but her brain functions appear normal.” He moved to exit the way he came, satisfied he made his point. But before he left the room he made one last parting shot, “I will assess her later. Pending a successful surgery of course.”

Michelle gritted her teeth and turned back to the sink. This time when she scrubbed her arms she did it with enough force she was surprised her skin wasn’t rubbed raw. One of the nurse assisting that night, Ann, opened the door for her. “You ready Doctor?”

Michelle once again took a deep breath, clearing her mind. “As I’ll ever be.”

***

Like a well choreographed dance Michelle quickly handed off a tiny miracle to Mary, the neonatal nurse on duty, who immediately began checking the baby over. The baby was a little small but from Michelle’s well-trained eye she appeared to be completely healthy. With a great set of lungs on her judging by the shrill cry coming from her unhappy little face.

But while the neonatal nurse whisked the baby out of the room towards the neonatal intensive care unit Michelle was already at work on Marah finishing the procedure when she noticed the surgical incision wasn’t clotting normally and Marah was losing blood rapidly. Michelle cursed under her breath. They had started giving Marah blood since she arrived but it seems it hadn’t been enough to starve off the trauma . Normally c-sections were relatively safe, even with the amount of blood lost, but most people hadn’t just endured what Marah just lived through.

The alarm on the monitors sounded through the room. Above her face mask Ann’s eyes were large with adrenaline. Her muffled voice called out, “Her BP is falling!”

Michelle’s critical eyes took in Marah’s vital signs on the monitor. This was not looking good. “Damn it she’s lost too much blood! We need to set up two more units and I’m going to need 1mg of epinephrine to boost this blood pressure fast!” Her worst fear was realized when moments later another alarm sounded. The shrill sound alerting them to the fact that Marah had gone into V-fib. With no time to waste Michelle called for a crash cart. “Come on, we’re not losing her. Let’s move!”

As one nurse pumped the Ambu mask over Marah’s face Michelle was racing against time. “Charging to 200! Clear!” No change. “Give me 300. Clear!” She leaned over Marah’s body and shouted even though she knew the other woman couldn’t hear her. “Don’t you dare leave us now Marah Santos! You have too much to live for, you hear me!” She faced the nurse, “Give me 350! I am not going to lose her! Not today.”

***

“I thought I might find you in here.”

Tony didn’t turn or acknowledge Ray’s entrance into the room he simply stared at the chapel’s unadorned altar. And he continued staring even as Ray sat behind him, silently waiting for Tony to say something so he could gauge his state of mind. As if Ray needed him to say that he was barely holding on by a thread. Tired of pacing the hallways and growling at anyone who asked for the millionth time if he was alright he came here, to the hospital chapel, to find…something. Perhaps some peace. Perhaps some answers. Anything but pity.

“You know the surgery should be over soon. Somewhere in this hospital your daughter is sleeping peacefully.” The wonder and awe in Ray’s voice was clear. “I never thought I would see Tony Santos, family man.” He paused before amending, “Actually I guess we all never thought we’d see it considering we all thought you were dead a few years ago. Glad to say we were mistaken.”

Tony never thought it was possible considering the events of that night but he was suddenly overcome with laughter. Then as quickly as it appeared it was gone and Tony looked back at Ray with a serious expression. “I am a father.” He paused as he let that sink in. He turned back towards the altar and sighed. “I hope I can protect her better than I protected her mother.”

“Oh come off of it Tony!” Both men turned around to see Danny joined them and apparently had been listening at the door. “Like you could have anticipated the actions of Carlos Quesada. That man had been plotting revenge for close to ten years. Even team Santos couldn’t have stopped that. But we were all there Tony, we watched you run into a crazy situation to save Marah with no one at your back. Your daughter is lucky to have you as a father.”

Overcome by Danny’s words Tony didn’t know what to say so instead he chose the part of Danny’s speech that didn’t threaten to bring emotion to the forefront. “Team Santos?”

Danny smiled, “Well if Faith can be on a team about some fictional vampire I figure our family isn’t too far off.”

Ray laughed loudly, the sound echoing in the nearly empty room. “Faith still Team Edward huh? I was always for the dog. Jared? Jason?”

“Jacob.” Tony shook his head at the ridiculousness of the conversation. Here they were talking about Twilight clearly straying from the original point. “So Danny what is Team Santos?”

“Team Santos is who we are. It’s who we’ve always been. We want something bad enough we work to get it. We face challenge head on and work to beat it. We may stumble and we may lose our way from time to time but we’ll find a way to bring each other back to the light. When we triumph we celebrate those victories because we are Team Santos and we have pulled ourselves up from Carmen and Maria’s filth. We are Team Santos and we are pretty damn great.”

After Danny was finished with his emotional speech Danny and Ray sat silently as they took it all in. Then Ray smiled. “I like it.”

Tony nodded in agreement. “Me too. We may have to get shirts. Team Santos.” Tony looked at his watch and was alarmed that so much time had passed. Though talking with Danny and Ray had helped take his mind off of the hellish night and the reminder that Marah was still in surgery it all came flooding back. He was on his feet quickly and headed for the door. “I need to go see what is taking so long. Marah should be out of surgery by now.”

Suddenly Shayne was at the chapel door and it looked as if he had run through the hospital corridors to get to them. “Tony, Michelle wants to see you right away!”

Without a second to lose Tony was out the door, the rest of Team Santos following in his wake.

What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Eight

Bursting through the doors of the emergency room Tony hadn’t realized how relieved he would be to see Michelle’s face, but he was, immensely relieved.  Especially since her normally soft facial features had been replaced by a look of intense determination and focus.  Marah need all the help she could get and he knew, he just knew, Michelle would fight for her and their child.  She hurried along the stretcher listening to the paramedics listed the injuries Marah had sustained.  As she directed them to trauma room one she placed a restraining hand on Tony’s arm. “I’m sorry Tony but you can’t go in there.”

Tony opened his mouth to protest but Michelle briefly tightened her grip on his arm, “I don’t know what I am going to see when I get in there.  But I do know that I do not need frustrated and scared Santos vibes hindering my concentration.  Now I need to get in that room and focus on saving Marah and the baby.”

Tony understood.  He didn’t like it, didn’t want to be separated from Marah for a single second more than he had to, but he understood.  So he nodded reluctantly and stepped to the side.   From his left he sensed others approaching before he actually saw them.  His brother’s arm on his shoulder a comforting weight, his words simple yet encouraging. “She’s tough.  She’s going to pull through this brother.”

Josh and Reva stood nearby leaning on each other for comfort yet they still extended that hopeful optimism his way. “He’s right Tony.  Marah has more strength than people realize.”  Josh hugged Reva tighter to his side. “Just another thing she gets from her mother.”

Tony hoped they were right.  Because life wouldn’t worth living without her light to guide his way.

***

Michelle ordered a CT scan right away.  The head injury and the fact that Marah hadn’t regained consciousness troubled her.  She was not a neurologist by any means but she made the call anyway.  Better to do something than nothing while waiting for the specialist to get his ass down here.

It was the fetal monitor that Michelle watched with eagle eyes.  The baby’s heart rate was low and not climbing the way Michelle would have liked, even with the blood transfusion.  Considering the amount of blood Marah lost it was a minor miracle they were both alive, but she schooled her features when she pushed past the trauma room door and faced Tony and Lewis family.  Right now Marah and the baby were alive, and she would fight like hell to keep them that way.

***

The double doors separating him from Marah swung open and Tony was instantly on his feet along with everyone else in the waiting room.

Michelle smiled though it was strained and didn’t even remotely reach her eyes. “Well I am not going to sugarcoat it for you, it’s serious.  Marah has suffered partial placental abruption my guess is due to a fall due to the bruising I already found forming on the abdomen.  I managed to stop the bleeding but she has lost so much blood that she is at an increased risk of shock.  I have also paged the hospital’s neurosurgeon.  She hasn’t regained consciousness and I want to make sure everything is checked out on that front.”  She paused while the weight of her words penetrated the group at large.  Marah was out of the clutches of a madman but she was far from out of the woods.  She looked at Tony sympathetically, “And then there is the baby.”

Oh God, she had lost the baby.  Tony didn’t think his heart could hurt anymore than it already did but was wrong.  He dropped his head down and cursed under his breath.  He could hear Reva’s harsh sobs but he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.

“Like I said, she’s lost a lot of blood.  The baby doesn’t seem to be in any serious distress but her vital signs aren’t evening out like I would have wanted.  I think the best course of action would be to perform an emergency C-section.  She may be a little small but she has an excellent chance of survival.”

“You mean-” Tony had to swallow back the emotion threatening to choke him, “You mean she didn’t lose the baby?”

For the first time that night Michelle’s smile was genuine. “No,  And I am going to fight like hell for both of them.  Once again, not going to sugarcoat it for you.  Both Marah and the baby are still in danger, but if we act fast we can hopefully get both out of the woods.”

“I’ll sign anything you need me to just hand me a pen.”  Tony signed the forms with a flourish and handed them back.  “Can I see her first?  Just for a minute.”

“Two minutes Tony,  we don’t have time to lose.”

***

Tony walked into the white room and looked down at the love of his life.  So motionless and still, her face unnaturally pale due to blood loss.  The beeping of the monitors showing how much of a fighter his wife was, how much their child was.  He reached down and brushed the hair back off her cheek.  “I’m so sorry baby.  If I could trade places with you I could.”  He let his harsh sobs rack his body freely as he rested his hand over the hard swell of Marah’s belly, over where their child lay.  “I know you are probably tired but you need to keep fighting baby.  I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have you and your light in my life.”  He thought about all that had happened to them over the past couple of months.  From Eden and Carlos’ coming into their lives and his misguided attempt to protect Marah from his past mistakes.  “I love you and I promise that we will get this right, I will make things right.  Because this is what matters most.  Our family that we are building.  Our future.”

All too soon the door opened and Michelle returned to inform him that his two minutes were up.  Tony leaned over Marah’s prone body and kissed her forehead gently.  “Keep fighting baby.  I love you.”  Forcing himself to walk away from her at that moment was the hardest thing Tony had ever done.

What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Seven

Tony quickly scanned the ruins of the place he had called home so many years ago. It barely looked recognizable. He doubted reasoning with Carlos would work but he had to try something. “I did what you wanted me to, not let Marah go. It’s me you want to hurt anyway.”

Carlos made a sharp tsking sound as he shook his head. “You think I just woke up one day and decided to get vengeance for Catalina’s death?” He leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his thighs, pinning Tony with a harsh look. “Losing Catalina was like a dagger through my mother’s heart. My brothers and I watched her wither away into a shell of the woman she used to be until she finally died from a broken heart. No this has been a long time coming, years in fact.”

“I didn’t kill her.” Tony pointed to Marah who still lay motionless on the ground, “And she sure as hell didn’t kill her!”

“You might as well have! It was her association with your family that got her killed. So this is what we call payback. Just like your family took someone who mattered to us, you are going to stand there and watch as I take what matters most away from you.”

Anger, fear, and panic rushed through Tony like waves upon a sandy beach. He knew Carlos had most likely wanted him to watch Marah suffer but he had hoped, lord had he hoped, that Carlos would turn his anger on him instead. He hoped like hell Frank had worked out a plan to get them out of here, because time was quickly running out.

***

“Santos!” Danny quickly moved when Frank beckoned him over. When he drew near the trunk of the police car they were gathered around he noticed that they had all been huddled around blueprints. Blueprints that looked suspiciously like Casa de Santos. Frank pointed to a spot on the drawing, “Is this the only exit other than the front?”

Danny silently admonished himself. Of course! He stepped forward and flipped the page which caused quite a few raised eyebrows among Springfield’s finest. “There is a secret escape tunnel. It’s not on the blue print but it is right about here. Your guys with the night vision still say they are in the main living room?” At Frank’s affirmative nod Danny pointed to an area off to the library. “Then this is probably the way to go if you want to do a sneak attack. Though how accessible it is after so many years is anybody’s guess.” Secret tunnels in case the house had been raided. Like he needed another example to show him that his parents hadn’t been Ozzie and Harriet.

The logistics over with Danny looked Frank in the eye and got real, he wanted answers. “You said they were in the living room. Are they alive?” When Frank hesitated Danny moved closer and pitched his voice low and dangerous. “I asked if they were alive.”

Frank sighed in frustration. “They are right now. It looks as if one of them has been injured, their life signs have grown steadily weaker which is why we need to act now. Now do you have any other questions or can I go do my job?”

Danny nodded and stepped back. He returned to holding vigil along side Rafael and the Lewis family as they overheard Frank talk about breaking into two teams, seemed they were about to make a move. About damn time. Josh turned and looked at him with a haunted expression on his face. “For once in my life I am actually thankful your family wasn’t traditional nine to fivers.”

“You and me both.”

***

“You know I have to hand it to you Tony, you sure know how to pick ’em.” Carlos was once again sifting his fingers through Marah’s blonde hair causing Tony to hold back his growl of protest. He wanted the other man to keep his filthy hands off of her but he had Tony at a slight disadvantage. “Marah is quite a woman. Classy and elegant with a bit of sass. I can see why she appeals to you. Can also see why Eden hated her.” Carlos stopped the stroking of Marah’s hair and looked at the body of Eden before raising an eyebrow at Tony critically, “Though it seems the ladies just can’t help but fall in love with you Tony Santos.”

“It wasn’t like that, with Eden or Catalina.” Tony bit out harshly. Again Carlos motioned for Tony to continue. Seemed he was in no rush, which was accurate. The longer they stayed here the likelihood of Marah dying increased. Tony made a show of being tired of standing and settled on the floor, still in Carlos’ line of sight but at least this gave him the means to search for something to perhaps use for a weapon. He started talking while taking brief scans of the surrounding room, “I dated Catalina after I broke up with Marah. There was no love involved, at least not for me. The same with Eden. She was a one day rebound, clearly she thought we were more. But my heart has always belonged to Marah Lewis and your sister knew that.”

Carlos looked Eden’s lifeless body and shook his head. “Like I said, I hated to kill her. She had her uses. But she was a bit insane.”

“Yeah you are the poster child for mental health.” Tony looked down and spied something white in this sea of black. Looking a bit closer he realized it was the marble angel statue that Romeo used to kill Catalina. Within arms reach, he mentally calculated if he could grab it and get to Carlos without him getting a shot off. He still clutched that gun tight in his right hand.

A sound from somewhere in the back of the mansion caught Carlos’ attention and when he turned his head Tony made his move. Springing to his feet he grabbed the statue in his hand and quickly closed the five feet separating him from his target. Lifting the statue back he swung it hard enough to make even a cleanup hitter from the Chicago Cubs envious. Carlos didn’t know what hit him, or if he did he certainly didn’t see it coming. Tony lifted the statue up again and brought it down just as Frank and the Calvary entered the room. “Tony! That’s enough! Let us bring him and do this by the book.”

Lost in a fog of anger Tony shook his head at Frank’s words. Looking down he saw the statue in his hands, the wings permanently stained pink with Catalina’s blood. He dropped it to the marble floor and watched it shatter on impact. He ignored it and rushed to Marah’s side feeling for a pulse. It was weak but it was there. Just hang on baby. Just hang on,” He shouted to whoever would listen, “I need an ambulance!”

Frank had Carlos up and in handcuffs and was marching him non too gently towards the door. Seeing the carnage that filled the room shocked even him, a seasoned police detective. “They are right behind us Tony. Coming up the stairs now.”

And Tony heard it, the pounding of feet and shouting of orders and suddenly there they were, two men crouched at Marah’s side.

“Good Lord, “The medic swore under his breath as he assessed the situation. He didn’t even spare Tony a second glance before ordering, “I need you out-of-the-way. Now!”

Tony listened as the two men discussed Marah’s injuries while they simultaneously cut away her clothing. “Head trauma. Possible concussion.” The man looked up at Tony, “Has she been unconscious long?”

Tony fought to think. He fought to breathe. “Since I have been here. Maybe longer.” The two men exchanged a look and got to work loading Marah on a stretcher.

Carlos has been standing near the chaos he had caused with a satisfied smirk. Even handcuffed and heading to prison he had won, he had robbed Tony of his happiness. He couldn’t resist a parting shot, “Hey Tony! Checkmate.’

Rage unlike anything he had felt before burst inside of Tony’s soul. Moving to his feet he launched himself at the other man with the intent of killing him, he was going to rip him apart with his bare hands! But his own plans of vengeance were thwarted by Josh Lewis. His father in law caught him around his middle and held him tight and whispered harshly, “That isn’t going to help her. That isn’t going to help you. Now it is taking everything in me to hold you back when everything in me wants to rip that guy apart. But it’s not about what we want, it’s about what she needs.”

Tony knew Josh was right and so he nodded and without sparing Carlos Riviera Quesada another glance he waited as they loaded Marah into the ambulance. Then he was once again by her side, holding her hand as if he never wanted to let it go.

What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Six

Crouched over Eden’s body checking to see if his bullet was lethal Carlos effectively ignored Marah, but that didn’t stop the shudders from going through her body. He had shot her not five feet in front of her face! Then, as if in slow motion, Marah had watched helplessly as Eden’s body fell to the floor in a lifeless heap. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh GOD!”

As her hysterical crying gained momentum Carlos turned those cold, dark eyes on her. Gesturing with the hand still holding the gun he said, “If I were you I would worry less about Eden August and more about your current situation.”

Marah opened her mouth to tell him off when she caught sight of what he had been gesturing at. Her dress was not only tattered and dirty but she suddenly felt moisture on the front of her dress. Had she gone into labor? Looking down she was horrified to discover that she hadn’t gone into labor but instead that moisture was blood! A sob tumbled from her lips ash she held her belly protectively. The baby was in trouble and she was in the clutches of a madman. Feebly she begged, “Please, just let me go. You can still get away, just let me go.”

Carlos watched as a small puddle of blood began to form under Marah’s body. He was no medical expert but he knew this did not bode well for Marah Santos. He had to work fast or all his hard work and planning would go out the window. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and made the call.

***

Josh pulled Frank aside and growled, “You better have a good explanation for not getting your ass in there Frank.”

Frank removed Josh’s fists from his shirt but kept his voice low and steady. He had to keep the situation under control not make it worse. “Like I told Tony, if this is personal Carlos has clearly planned it out for a while. Too long to simply end it now without getting to the final act.”

Tony raked frustrated hands through his hair. Nearby Josh paced angrily along with the rest of the Lewis family. Tension ran high like a thick cable that was fraying the longer time passed but yet no plan seemed to be in place to get Marah out of there. From his pocket his cell phone rang its sound piercing the night air even among all the other sounds going on around them. Frank heard it too. Knowing that it was likely Carlos this seemed to be what they were waiting for because Frank moved closer and indicated he should answer it. Answer it he did with a harsh, “Marah better be safe or I will rip you apart with my bare hands.”

Despite the threat of Tony’s words Carlos chuckled. “Tony you should be thanking me.”

Thanking you?” Tony shook his head, sure he had heard Carlos wrong. “Thanking you for what exactly? Putting my wife and child in danger? It will be a cold day in Hell before I ever thank you.”

“For taking out the trash so to speak. The lovely Eden August was easy on the eyes but she simply lost sight of the prize. It was such a shame.” Carlos paused as if he actually was remorseful than continued. “But all good things must come to an end. And now it’s time for you and I to settle old scores. You have five minutes to make your appearance. You come solo, no cops, no weapons, and none of that entourage that is always with you. Marah’s fate is in your hands, don’t be late.”

The minute Carlos disconnected Tony threw his phone as far as he could with an angry, “Son of a bitch!”

***

Marah lay on the hard ground and listened while Carlos taunted Tony. She tried to muster up the energy to do…something. Anything. Try to warn him that he was walking into the path of a psychopath. But Marah could barely manage the energy to keep her eyes open. Her whole body ached, from her head to her toes. If only she could close her eyes, just for a little while. Maybe she would just rest her eyes. Just for a little while….

***

Frank tried once again to talk Tony out of the suicide mission he was bound and determined to carry out. He understood his frustration, he would be just as anxious to get in there if that was Marina in Marah’s shoes, but there had to be a better way. But when all his protests fell on deaf ears he raised his hands in surrender. “Fine! I give up. But just for the record, I am completely against this.”

Tony nodded in acknowledgement, “Duly noted. But it’s not like the Springfield PD has come up with any other viable solutions so now I am playing by Carlos’ rules. Once I am in there you better come up with something quick, I don’t know how much time we have.”

Danny reached out and grabbed Tony’s arm as he rushed by. Pulling his cousin in for a tight hug he whispered in his ear, “Try not to get yourself killed.”

Standing alongside Danny was Rafael who nodded solemnly, “I would really miss your smartass self.”

Tony grinned though it was forced. “And deprive the world of Tony Santos? Wouldn’t dream of it.” The faked humor faded from Tony’s face and he was once again serious with determination when he told them, “I will get her back.” Then he took off sprinting towards the darkened mansion.

Rafael turned to Danny with a grim look upon his face. “You better call Ray. Not only because that’s his brother walking into the line of fire but Tony could use all the prayers he could get.”

***

The interior of the house was almost as dark as the outside. The only illumination seemed to be created by candles, their flickering glow casting eerie shadows along the walls. He had lived in this house for years but had avoided it on principle since coming back to Springfield. It was tainted by the evil that had resided in the hearts of Maria and Carmen. Catalina had been murdered within these walls. She may have lied to and manipulated him but she didn’t deserve that. And who knows what Marah had experienced tonight. Yes, this house was practically saturated by evil.

But he had one thing going for him, he knew these halls like the back of his hand. Even time could not erase the memory of growing up here. It was imprinted on him like a brand. Even the darkness couldn’t stop his forward movement.

Not seeing anyone just trash and decay he yelled, “Carlos! You got me here just like you wanted. Now let Marah go!”

“That is far enough Tony Santos.”

Tony stopped immediate and looked ahead and what he saw made his heart feel like it stopped beating in his chest and his hands got clammy. Oh mi Vida. Marah lay on the ground, eyes closed, and her dress covered in what had to be blood. There was no mistaking it, he could smell the metallic scent from here. And if that wasn’t enough it looked as if there was a small pool of the stuff forming below her. If they lived through this he would never forget this image, of Marah lying helpless in a pool of her own blood. Tony fell to his knees in pure agony.

Carlos chuckled in sick amusement from his seat next to her prone body. He leaned over and sifted his fingers through her soft blonde hair while keeping his eyes locked on Tony. “She’s not dead. At least not for now.”