Tag Archive | Michelle Bauer

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.”

One More Santos~ A Manny Short

No Marah and Tony for Monday.  Instead, after the revelation that Danny and Michelle were pregnant again last week I thought I’d give them some time to shine.  So here is a Manny short story….

Danny opened up the front door and was immediately bombarded by noise.  Placing his keys on the entry table he looked around and surveyed the room at large.  Television blaring though no one was watching.  Book bags strewn about on the floor, contents spilling out.  From upstairs the rapid pounding of feet and no doubt Robbie or Hope needled the other into some sibling squabble.

It was controlled chaos.  And he loved it.

He made his way to the kitchen and stood in the doorway and watched this other slice of heaven.  Danielle on the floor knocking plastic cups against each other, laughing excitedly at the noise they made.  And of course there was his Michelle.   After a hectic day at the women’s clinic she had shed her work clothes for her standard lounge wear, yoga pants and a t-shirt.  Her hair was disheveled and her feet bare.  And yet she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

The sound of a door slamming overhead had Michelle yelling out, “You two better cut it out!  I mean it!” She looked down at the baby and smiled, “Give it a few years honey bun.  You’ll be right in the middle of the madness.”

Danny barely contained his chuckle, because Michelle wasn’t wrong.  Some days their house did resemble madness, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Danielle was the first to spot him, her little face lighting up and she waved the cups around with glee.  Standing up of her pudgy baby legs she toddled towards him, “Dadda!”

Danny crouched down as she made her way across the kitchen and threw herself into his arms.  Standing he turned to his wife who was watching with a smile on her face. “We you lurking like a creeper again?”

Clearly through with the excitement of her father being home Danielle stretched her arms out to be put down.  And Danny watched as she once again toddled over to where she had been, creating more noise.  Danny moved towards his wife and pulled her into him gently, “Just appreciating the view.”

Michelle laughed, “Some view!  You just wait and see Danny, my body isn’t in its twenties anymore.”

“Neither is mine.” Danny had plans to live a long and happy life.  He wanted to see his kids grow and do great things with their lives.  And so he took care of himself, he worked out regularly and ate right.  Sure he was no glorified gym rat like his cousin Tony but he was no slouch either.  “And I think you are beautiful.  And I will think you are beautiful until they put me in the ground.”

Michelle smiled then tears started streaking down her cheeks. Pregnancy hormones, got to love them sometimes.  “You are so sweet Danny Santos.”

Danny slapped his hand gently on her backside, “Don’t let that get around.  I have a rep to protect and all that.”  Giving his wife another kiss he gently maneuvered her towards the table, “Now sit and let me finish this.”  He went back to the stove and checked on the status of dinner.  He took the spaghetti and let it drain in the sink.

“You ready to tell the kids?”

“Sounds good to me.” Then suddenly Danny whirled around and pointed the spoon towards her, “And if the question about where baby’s come from comes up it’s on you this time.  I butchered it so badly last time there are no words to describe the experience.”

Michelle laughed because the experience had been hilarious.  He had started talking about birds and bees to which Hope had cried that she “hated bees” so that turned into a fifteen minute speech about how bees were important for ‘pollination’ which had Hope crossing her arms and stubbornly declaring that she still hated bees.  Then Danny tried the stork approach which had Robbie snorting saying ‘birds couldn’t carry babies’.  The more the kids talked the more flustered Danny got, and the more Michelle had laughed.  Probably not the crown jewel of their parenting moments but it had been a moment to say the least.  But still she couldn’t put her husband, much less her kids, through that again.  “Deal.”

***

Dinner was the time that Danny liked the noise the most.  Growing up their mansion had been more like a museum than a home.  Dinners were silent and tense affairs, where one wrong word could spark World War Carmen.  So Danny, and later Tony and Ray, had learned to be silent and still.  Mick had been Mick, living like he fed off the discord.  So watching his kids joke and tell stories while stuffing their faces was a good thing.

“Your mom and I have something exciting to tell you.”

Robbie’s head perked up and he slurped up the spaghetti noodle into his mouth.  Not even bothering to wipe the sauce from his face he asked excitedly, “Are we getting a dog?”

Splattered with spaghetti sauce from the waist up Danielle waved her spoon around, “Dawgie!”

Hope excitedly clapped her hands, “Oh a dog would be super fun!  We could get one of those small ones that you can dress up.”

Danny just shook his head, “We’re not getting a dog.”

Robbie’s smile slipped but he kept on hoping, “A cat?  Not as cool as a dog but I can deal.”

Beaming Michelle jumped in, “Your father and I are having another baby.”

Silence.  There was no reaction for several moments before Robbie threw his head back and cried, “Aww come on!”

Surprised by his son’s reaction Danny lifted an eyebrow, “Something wrong Robbie?  I think another baby is a great thing.”

“First I have Hope breaking my stuff, now Danielle.  Girls suck dad.  When I get married I’m not living with anymore girls.”

Danny tried to hold in his smile.  His son’s logic was amusing, if not sound.  He turned towards his wife to see she was fighting the same reaction.  “You hear that Michelle?  Our son is getting married and not living with anymore girls.”

“Oh yes, I heard.” Michelle tilted her head and asked, “But what if it’s a boy?”

Robbie seemed to ponder this before nodding, “A boy would be okay I guess.  Though I’d still rather have a dog.”

Danielle laughed from her high chair, “Dawgie!”

Beside her brother Hope crossed her arms and pouted, “No little brothers.  Sarah has two and she says they are no fun.  They never want to do anything cool, they just make messes and break things!”

Jumping right on that Robbie exclaimed, “You break my stuff all the time!”

“I do not!”

“Do to.”

“Do not!”

Danny watched his children squabble for a few minutes before clearing his throat, “Okay guys this stuff doesn’t matter.  What matters is that this family is getting a new addition.  And either him, “he looked to Robbie then at Hope, “Or her is going to be just as loved no matter what.”

Hope huffed out a breath, “Yes Daddy.”

“I still hope it’s a boy,” Robbie muttered, “But I’d still rather have a dog.”

Michelle smiled at Danny, “At least we didn’t have the birds and the bees talk again.”

From her side of the table Hope twisted her face into a grimace, “I hate bees!”

***

Getting into bed that night Danny looked over at Michelle who was applying lotion to her arms, “Are we crazy?”

Without looking up Michelle answered, “Absolutely.”  She put the lotion bottle on her nightstand and turned towards her husband, “But you need to be more specific if you want me to describe just how crazy we are.”

“Having another baby.  Four kids.  One of whom is only two years old.” Danny sighed wearily and laid his head back on his pillows, “We must be crazy.”

Michelle curled into Danny’s side and rested her palm on his chest, “You know it won’t always be like this.  One of these days Robbie and Hope, and eventually Danielle and whatever this baby turns out to be, will look back and be glad they had each other.  I know I feel that way about Rick.”

“Yeah your older brother locked you in a psych ward and my older brother was Carmen’s little bundle of evil.”

“True but look at Rick and me now, we are closer than ever.  And you know Tony and Ray were closer to you than Mick.  You three are like brothers and you three stand beside each other through thick and thin.”

“How did I find someone like you in my life?”

Michelle smiled than leaned up and kissed her husband soundly, “Just lucky I guess.”  She twisted and turned off the bedside lamp before moving in to her husband’s arms again, “And come on, one more Santos in this world isn’t such a bad thing.”

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Twenty-Six (Part Two)

At Danny’s question Tony quickly debated with himself if he should tell Danny the whole story.  The man was riding high on soon-to-be-a-dad euphoria and didn’t need to come crashing back down to the real world.  But just as quickly as he stopped himself.  Not disclosing the truth, the whole truth, is what had led to last night’s debacle.  So instead he told Danny everything.  About Marah receiving Eden’s scrapbook, about how she remembered the day Eden drugged him (even if she forgot about the drugging him part), and how she remembered learning that Tony had Eden had slept together after they broke up.   As he kept going he noticed Danny’s face pinch tight and his hands tighten on the steeling wheel.  He knew he was in for one of Danny’s “told you so” speeches, and he admittedly deserved it.   Everyone had told him he needed to tell Marah the whole story, that nothing good could come out of half-truths and he didn’t listen.

“Damn it Tony!” Danny slapped the steeling wheel with the palm of his hand, “I told you to tell Marah the truth.  You are the most stubborn ass I’ve ever met.  Do you actually enjoy torturing yourself?” He continued to himself more than anything, “This must have been what Carlos meant when I saw him in the jail.  That he wasn’t done.  And sure as hell you played right into his trap.”

Tony listened to his cousin’s tirade in silence.  It wasn’t like he had an answer anyway, not for the stupid things he had done.  Maybe he did like torturing himself, though that would take a lot of self-reflection and he didn’t have time for that at the moment.  “Danny there is something else.”

“Oh I can’t wait to hear this.” He made a gesturing motion with his hand, “Hit me.”

“Last night I read the rest of Eden’s scrapbook.  She may have had a screw or two lose but she was certainly thorough”, Tony cleared his throat, “And in it she talks about Gus Aitoro.  How he was really a Santos.”

Danny sat silently as he processed this revelation. “That’s not possible, we had a DNA test run.  The test came back negative.”

“Apparently she changed the results.” Tony shrugged his shoulder, “Stranger things have happened.”

Danny pondered this information further then answered with a shrug of his own, “Not much I can do about it, he went to his grave being a Spaulding and I am not going to take that away from them.  It would change anything anyway.  I am sure I have more siblings out there, my father had his own way of dealing with life with Carmen.” He sighed then pointed to Tony, “Now get out and go save your marriage.  And for God’s sake stop being an idiot!”

Tony got out of the car but before he slammed the door he stopped and turned towards his cousin, “You made your share of mistakes primo.  It’s kind of what we do.”

Danny leaned over to look Tony in the eye, “Yeah I did.  But I learned from them and you will too.  That is if you stop  your typical hard-headed BS.”

Tony grinned, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“You do that.” Danny made a shooing gesture, “Now go away and go talk to Marah.”

***

Marah took a sip of the steaming coffee Michelle handed her and nearly moaned in ecstasy.  It was like liquid heaven at that moment.  “So where is Danny and the kids.”

“The kids are having a play date with grandpa today and Danny is visiting Carmen and then going to Infierno.”

Marah nearly choked on the sip of coffee she had just taken.  She coughed noisily and then asked, “Carmen as in Carmen Santos? I thought she was in a coma.”

“She is.” Michelle took her own sip of coffee and just shrugged, “The woman was a menace but she is still his mother.  And it helps him.”

“Helps him what?  The woman tried to kill you.  Repeatedly.”

Michelle put down her mug and thought about how to answer.  Finally she just went with the truth, “Helps him come to terms with the fact that she may have been a crap mother but the good in him trumps all the negative stuff she brought into his life.”

Marah looked at her friend like she was crazy.  She didn’t know if she would be as accepting or as forgiving as Michelle.  Hell, she had heard some of the stories from Tony’s youth and nearly wished his father were alive so she could punch him in the face, “And you are okay with that?”

“It is what it is.  I accept Danny visits his mother once a month and he accepts every time Claire decides to drop in on our lives and try to play mother for a while.”  She shrugged her shoulders, “Like I said, it is what it is.” Michelle took another sip from her coffee then asked, “So you said you needed some advice.”

Marah thought back to yesterday, to receiving that package to her memory returning.  She felt like her mind was moving a mile a minute while she stood still.  “All these months I thought when my memory came back everything would return to normal.  I’d be Marah again and Tony, Lanie, and I would finally get our chance to be a family.”

Michelle nodded in understanding, “I remember when my memory came back and how desperate I wanted things to go back to how they were.  Only by the time I remembered my life with Danny he had moved on with someone else.”  Michelle reached across the table and took Marah’s hand in hers, “At least Tony is still there, he’s been fighting for you since the beginning.”

“I love Tony.  I always have and I always will.” Marah sighed deeply, “Loving Tony has never been the problem.  It’s all the stuff that comes with it.  And the lies and half-truths have me questioning just how strong that love truly is.”

“I know I’ve told you this but when I was pregnant with Robbie my dear husband stupidly tried to push me away.  For my own good he said.  And I took my pregnant ass to New York in hot pursuit and when he still tried to push me away I remember it clear as day.  Even now, when he are going through typical marriage strife I think back to that day.  I looked at him and I told him that I would follow him into hell and bring him right back out.”  Michelle squeezed her friend’s hand gently and released it to grab her rapidly cooling coffee, “Hell being married to a Santos that should be our damn motto.”

“We could have t-shirts made.”

Michelle laughed, “And jackets!”

***

Richard capped the syringe and patted Carmen on the shoulder, “Thanks again for your contribution to science Carmen.”  As usual there was no response, not that he expected one.  This drug trial would either bring Carmen into the light of day or send her into the other one.  Either way he was satisfied.  As he moved towards the door it suddenly opened to reveal a very distracted looking Danny Santos.

Danny stopped in his tracks when he saw the doctor in his mother’s room.  He gestured to the man’s face, “Nice shiner you got there doc.  Guess you pissed off the wrong husband.”

Inside Richard seethed.  The Santos family had always thought they were the toughest in town. “Or maybe your thug cousin should keep a better leash on his wife.”

Danny stepped forward menacingly, “Watch your mouth or I’ll give you a matching set.”

Richard rolled his eyes, “What can I do for you Mr. Santos?  I have patients waiting.”

“Patients who haven’t seen sunlight in over a decade?”

“Some.  I take the care of all my patients seriously.”  Richard moved towards the door, ready to make an exit and stop answering questions.  But before he could exit Danny called out his name.  Turning he faced him with a questioning look on his face, “What now Danny?”

“Stay away from my cousin and his wife.’

“Or what?  You going to make me swim with the fishes?  Give me cement shoes?”

Danny gave the other man his most wicked smirk, “Guess you’ll find out if you do.”

***

Tony let himself in the front door and gently placed the baby carrier on the floor in order to not wake Lanie.  He gingerly unstrapped the baby and lifted her against his chest before carrying her over to the bassinet.  Looking down at her sweet face all lax in sleep he smiled.

He moved through the house looking for Marah before he located her on the back patio sitting in the sun.  “We need to talk.”

Marah moved the sunglasses off her face and turned her head toward her husband, “You’re right.  We do.”

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

Groaning in agony Marah opened her eyes and then shut them as the light streaming in the window threatened to blind her.  In her drunken state last night she had forgotten to make sure the curtains were closed.  Marah chalked it up to yet another case of alcohol and poor decisions.  Marah let out another groan as the memories from last night came back in full force.  Talk about bad decisions. She didn’t drink to excess much but when she did she certainly did it in style.

Marah tentatively opened her eyes and as they slowly acclimated themselves to the brightness in the room the tequila fog lifted and she…remembered.  Like the door that had housed her memories was finally thrown opened she remembered everything.  Her life in Paris, her move back home, the stunning realization that Tony was alive…it was all there.

Ignoring the pain in her head she sat up and turned to wake Tony with the news and then it hit her.  She had basically exiled him to the couch last night.  Though she did have some vague notion of him coming in and holding her last night his side of the bed was void of any indication that he had been there.

There was nothing Marah wanted more than to nurse this hangover like a champion but even more she wanted her baby.  After months of holding Lanie at arm’s length she remembered.  The joy she felt at listening to her heartbeat, the wonder of the first flutters of Lanie kicking inside her womb, the absolute love she felt from the moment she learned she was pregnant.  She wanted her baby.

It was then that she saw the glass on the nightstand.  A glass of water, two aspirin, and a note.  She quickly downed the aspirin as she read the note from Tony.

Marah,

Went with Danny to get your car then to pick up Lanie.  Don’t go anywhere.  We need to talk.

Love,

Tony

Marah contemplated this for a few minutes before she balled up the note and threw it towards the waste can.  If her relationship with Tony had taught her anything it was when to be just as stubborn as her husband.  And this was one of those times.  She picked up her phone and called the one person she knew that would understand.

***

Danny looked at Tony out of the corner of his eye as he drove.  His cousin looked…rough.  And that was being kind.  Truthfully he looked like hell, with those bloodshot eyes and the five o’clock shadow threatening to turn into a full-grown beard.  With their Cuban heritage the beards they tended to be able to grow often resembled some character off a cigar box.

But dealing with Tony had always been a balancing act.  Balancing when to push for information and when to just let Tony stew for a while.  Danny cleared his throat and decided pushing was needed this morning, “You look like hell primo.”  Okay maybe he could have worded that better but it wasn’t like they had hours to chat.  Without traffic they had maybe ten minutes.

Tony laughed humorlessly, “Thanks Danny.  You sure know how to make me feel special.”

Danny shrugged, “I got a text at the crack of dawn saying you weren’t coming into work today.  I get another text asking for me to taking you pick up Marah’s car at, of all places, the damn Roadhouse.  So I am guessing this is a story that make take time and time is one thing we don’t have this morning.  I have to go visit Carmen then go into the office.”

Tony turned surprised eyes to his cousin, “Visiting Carmen?  What for man?  She’s in a coma and hasn’t made any improvement in years.  Not to mention she tried to kill you.  She tried to kill your wife, a couple of times actually.  So I think she doesn’t need to remain of the Christmas card list if you get what I’m saying.”

Danny sighed.  It wasn’t the first time someone had asked that question, and it wouldn’t be the last.  “I don’t do it for her benefit I do it for my own.  So that when I have to meet my maker I can say that even though my mother was a vile creature who made my life hell I got something beautiful out of it.  I am married to the love of my life, we have four kids who are healthy…”

Tony quickly held out a hand, “Four kids?”

Danny smiled but didn’t take his eyes off the road, “Michelle is pregnant again.”

“Wow man that’s great!” Tony lightly slapped Danny’s shoulder so he didn’t cause an accident, “Congratulations man!  But could you please have a boy?  Between Hope, Danielle, and Lanie we are going to have our hands full keeping them away from the dreaded male sex, I don’t know if we could handle another girl.”

Danny chuckled as he pulled into the Roadhouse parking lot, “We are Santos’s, we can take anything life throws at us.”  He pulled alongside Marah’s car and put the car in park.  Turning towards Tony he lifted his eyebrows in question, “So are you going to tell me what happened with Marah or are you going to stall some more?”

***

Marah knocked on the door and waited.  She hadn’t visited since the accident but just looking at the house before her brought a smile to her face.  It was a home that managed to be beautiful but also had lots character and charm.  It was a family home and anyone who saw it would know that even with its large expanse the family was what made the home special.  It didn’t take long before Michelle opened it with a smile, “Marah!  How are you?”

Truthfully Marah wasn’t sure how she felt, other than the residual alcohol funk that is.  She just shrugged, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Michelle’s face became serious as she ushered Marah inside, “Sure.  It’s a rare day without husband, kids, or work.  I was just about to make some coffee, do you want some?”

Marah nearly fell at Michelle’s feet in worship.  In her brilliant decision to talk to Michelle she neglected to make herself some, and if she was going to resemble a somewhat live version of herself she needed some ASAP, “You are a savior.”

As Marah and Michelle made their way towards the kitchen she noticed that Danny and Michelle had painted recently.  “I really like this shade of green.  Sage green is very pleasing with the soft wood tones.”

Michelle stopped in her tracks and whirled around, “That is exactly what you said when I asked you what color I should paint the kitchen!”

Marah smiled, “I remember.”

Michelle let out an unlike-Michelle squeal of delight and gathered her friend in a crushing hug, “You remember?  Everything?  When did this happen?”

“Last night actually, it’s a long story.  And well, I could use some advice.”

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Nineteen

Tony moved in to Marah’s personal space and rubbed her arm soothingly, “Marah maybe we should talk about this at home.”

Marah narrowed her eyes and Tony knew by the stubborn set of her jaw that his suggestion wasn’t happening any time soon.  She wrenched her arm free. “No.  I want to know now.”

He raised his hands and raked them through his hair.  This was the worst case scenario for Tony, but the cat was out of the bag so to speak.  Might as well come clean. “Fine! ” He gestured to the table Marah and Sam had been sitting at, “But let’s at least sit down.  Maybe not try to have the entire town in on our business.”

Marah pulled out her chair and sat with a huff, “I don’t care what this town thinks.  I never did.”

Yeah Tony knew that.  But she was one of Springfield’s native daughters from one of the upstanding families in town.  When they had begun dating the first time she had been the princess of Springfield, and he had been the bad-boy outsider.  It had taken years, and a lot of sacrifice from Danny, to remove the taint from the Santos name.  Tony tamped down the bitterness that threatened to surface.  He couldn’t fathom that Marah would have forgotten all of their history.  “Maybe not Marah.  But I do.”

***

“Knock knock.”

Danny looked up from going over paperwork to see Michelle standing in his doorway.  He threw the pen down and moved around the desk towards his wife, “Best sight I’ve seen all day.”

Michelle laughed as she handed over the white bag she carried, “Arroz con pollo as requested dear husband.”

Danny gave Michelle a smacking kiss, “You are too good to me you know that.”

“And don’t you forget it!”  Michelle closed the door and moved further into the office, “So where is Tony?  I peaked in to see if he wanted to join us but the light was off in his office.”

“He actually has a lunch date with Marah.” Danny sat behind his desk and opened the white paper bag.  The aromas alone wafting up from the takeout box made his mouth water. He looked up from the delicious delicacy his wife had brought him and noticed she hadn’t sat down with him.  “Aren’t you going to join me?  I just might have enough here for me to share.”

Michelle shook her head and smiled, “I already ate.”

“You should have told me that before I asked if you wanted to join me for lunch.”

Placing her hand on the shiny desk top Michelle leaned forward suggestively, “Maybe I just wanted to see your handsome face.”

Food be damned. Danny had another hunger that was much more pressing.  Moving the food to the floor he stood and bracketed Michelle hips in his hands, “Did you lock the door?”

Michelle reached up and began undoing the buttons on Danny’s shirt, “But of course.  Though Tony being called to his own lunch date worked perfectly into my wicked plans for you.”

Danny smiled lecherously as he pulled her in for a kiss, “So devious wife.”

“I learn from the best.”

***

Tony reached across the table and covered Marah’s hands in his. “Okay I don’t know what Sam told you.”

Marah moved her hands back and tucked them into her lap.  She wasn’t getting pulled into Tony’s vortex of smooth explanations before she got just that. An explanation. “Tell me about Carlos Riviera.”

Tony sighed deeply before leaning forward as to not be overheard by the still curious crowd at Company, “Carlos Riviera was a man Danny and I hired to supply wine for Infierno.  He came heavily vetted so we thought we were doing what was best for the club.” He leaned back as the waited brought their food then continued, “Turns out that he came to Springfield with a mission.”

After taking a bite of her burger Marah made a gesture for Tony to continue.

“Carlos Riviera is Catalina’s brother.”

Marah stopped mid-chew.  The burger in her mouth suddenly as appetizing as sawdust.  She took a sip of water to help her swallow. “Catalina?  As in Catalina Quesada?”  Marah’s stomach tightened in apprehension at what Tony was going to say.  Though she already knew it was going to be bad, hell she bore the scars to prove it.

“Yes Catalina.  Seems Carlos came to Springfield to enact his vengeance.”  Tony took a deep breath and continued, “He came to Springfield to take away everything I love because he thinks I was the reason his sister was dead.”  Tony hated saying the words aloud.  Because a part of him still felt guilty.  No he hadn’t killed Catalina but she never would have been at the mercy of Maria had he not been a stupid, reckless, idiot all those years ago.

Marah must have read the distress on his face because this time it was she who reached across the table and covered his hand in support, “You didn’t kill her Tony.”

Tony turned his hand over and laced their fingers together, “I might have.  She almost took your life that night, and a world without you Marah is no world at all.”

“You make my world a bit more interesting too.  Just so you know.”  Marah tightened her hand before releasing Tony’s, “So he tried to hurt you.”

“No Marah.  He wanted to destroy me.”  Tony pushed his plate aside.  Any appetite that he had when he arrived was completely gone, “And he almost succeeded.  That night still gives me nightmares.”

Marah wrapped her arms around herself, “Tell me.”

Tony shook his head, “Marah you don’t want to hear that.  It was a bad night, that’s all you need to know.”

Marah slapped her hand against the table making him jump, “You don’t get to tell me what I need to know Tony!  The man tried to kill me.  So just tell me!”

“Fine!” Tony leaned toward Marah, his teeth clenched tight, “Do you want to hear how I watched my wife lying limp on the floor with blood seeping out of her like a river?  I didn’t know if you were alive or dead.  It was a nightmare Marah.  A complete and utter nightmare.  The one thing that I am actually happy you can’t remember.”

Marah covered her mouth with her hand before again reaching across the table and holding Tony’s hand in hers. “Tony I had a dream about that night when I first got out of the hospital.  I had no idea who I was running from but I know I was scared.  Guess it wasn’t a dream but part of a memory.”

“Yeah well, I relieve that moment almost every night.  And every time you laugh.  Or when you scrunch up your face when you are watching a movie.”

Marah couldn’t believe she could laugh, not after listening to Tony recount that night in vivid detail. “I do not scrunch up my face!”

“Yes you do.” Tony chuckled, “When you are trying to figure out the plot your mouth does this scrunchy thing.  It’s kind of cute.”

“Yeah it sounds real adorable.” Marah was quiet as she thought about what Tony had told her.  About the co-called ‘accident’ that had changed their lives in ways they still weren’t sure of, “I guess he did take me from you though, didn’t he?  I’m not the same Marah.  I can feel it, like the wires are just not connected right.”

Tony smiled and wrapped both of her hands in his, “Marah you might have forgotten what we had together but as long as we both are alive there is nothing that can keep me from fighting for us.  So no he didn’t take you from me.  Nothing short of death could do that.”  He look at her quizzically before continuing, “As for you so-called’ wiring that you speak of, you are still Marah.  You could suddenly dress like a hippie and decide to grow our own food and you would still just be Marah to me.”

Marah smiled.  The fact that Tony wasn’t fazed by any of the changes her memory loss had caused was reassuring.  She knew he loved her, but his complete acceptance of her was…beautiful. “They threw the book at him right?”

“They sure did.”  He was lucky Tony wasn’t the same reckless ass he used to be.  Or he’d be six feet under now instead of breathing tax-payer provided air.

“Good.”  Marah took one more sip from her water, “How about we skip lunch and go over to Len’s? I could use some chocolate right now.”

Tony stood up and kissed the top of Marah’s head. “I aim to please.”

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Twelve

Doctor Salas removed the syringe before capping it and putting it in his lab pocket.  Moving around the bed he checked the vitals displayed on the monitor.  No changes.  But he wasn’t discouraged, he had anticipated this trial to take time.  And he had nothing but time to see this through.  He had been waiting years for this opportunity.

And he had the perfect person to experiment on.

Looking around the stark room Dr. Salas felt a perverse sense of pleasure.  He liked having Carmen Santos at his mercy, he literally held her life in his hands.  If this trial worked he would be a legend among his peers.  And if it failed?  At least the world would have one less Santos in it.

He patted Carmen on her lifeless shoulder as he walked towards the door, “Sleep tight Carmen.”

***

Michelle nervously wiped her hands on her jeans before knocking on the door.  There was no reason for her to be nervous, not really.  She had done everything she could to save Marah and Lanie that night.  She was damn proud of herself considering the cards were stacked against them.  But she wasn’t there as a doctor.  She was there as a friend.  A friend who couldn’t help having déjà vu every time she even thought about what Marah was going through.

The door opened and Marah stood there looking every bit the fashionista she always was.  Even her chic new haircut to cover the incisions on her head didn’t diminish her beauty.  “Hi Marah.”

“Hi Michelle!”  She smiled before looking at Michelle quizzically, “Did I miss an appointment?

“Not that I know of.  I came here as a friend not a doctor.”  She held up a white paper bag with Company’s logo on the front, “And seeing that it is lunchtime I brought us something to munch on.”

Marah held the door open for Michelle to enter, “Is that a Buzz Burger I smell?  I haven’t had one of those in-” Marah paused before adding, “Well I don’t actually know when.”

***

Marah held her side she had been laughing so hard.  After Michelle and her had scarfed down Buzz’s famous burgers and fries Michelle had shared some tales from the “Santos Zoo” as she called it.  From the sounds of things Michelle and Danny had three precocious children that kept them on their toes.  It was also clear that Michelle loved every minute of her chaotic life.  Her smile was megawatt as she told a story about Robbie’s continuous courting of Sarah Randall, who Marah also learned was her niece.

“That boy has done it all to woo that girl.  Last year he let the air out of her bike tires just so he could walk her home.”  Michelle smiled as she thought about her son’s ingenuity.  He had to have gotten it from his father that’s for sure. “And when he came home that afternoon he had this scared look on his face.  Guess your brother Jonathan gave him the evil eye and told him that Sarah wasn’t dating until she was at least thirty.”

“Guess Robbie didn’t like that answer.”

“No.  But he won’t give up.  I swear he plots out new ways to woo her on a daily basis.”

“Got to love his persistence”, Marah went to the fridge to grab the iced tea pitcher to fill their glasses, “Aren’t you worried about him getting so serious so young?”

Michelle waved off Marah’s concerns, “Robbie was born serious.  Once he sets his sights on something he won’t stop until he gets it.  He’s like his father that way.” She smiled coyly at Marah, “I think all the Santos men are born that way.”

Marah sat back down and sighed, “I try Michelle.  I try so hard.  I look through the photo albums, I listen to the stories, but I still can’t remember.  Even worse is that every morning Tony looks at me with hope, hope that some spark of a memory has surfaced and every day I have to watch as that hope is snuffed out.

Michelle reached across the table and held her friend’s hand in comfort, “I know the feeling.  The pressure to remember when you just can’t.  And all I can tell you is that it will happen when it’s supposed to happen.  What about Lanie?  I know you said you were having some trouble connecting.”

Marah removed her hand from Michelle’s and brushed her hair behind her ear, “Are you asking as a friend or as my doctor?”

Michelle smiled wryly, “Maybe a little of both.  As your doctor I am going to tell you that postpartum baby blues is normal for a lot of women.”

“I don’t know what it is Michelle.” Marah sighed in frustration, “I look at her and I see she is perfect.  Ten tiny fingers and toes,.  She’s perfect and I want to rush up to her and hold her.  To love her like I am supposed to love her.  But a part of me is just….afraid.  Afraid to fall for her baby charms when so much in my life is so uncertain.”

“It’s understandable considering what you went through Marah.  You need to stop beating yourself up over it.” Michelle was thoughtful a moment before she continued, “Now I am no psychiatrist but have you wondered if your guilt over this is impeding your recovery?”

“Could be.  I don’t know.  I am going back to work next week, to try to see if I can fit back even more in my life.  Today we even hired a nanny like Dr. Salas suggested.”

Michelle humphed in indignation, “Dr. Salas is an ass.  He may be a great doctor but he’s still an ass.”

Marah laughed at the look on her friend’s face, “He’s been really helpful with being realistic about my memory recovery.”

“Like I said, he’s a brilliant doctor but he’s still and ass”, Michelle wagged her finger in Marah’s direction, “You be careful around him.  I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.”

A Soft Place to Land: Chapter Nine

Sweat practically poured off of Tony’s face but he didn’t stop.  Instead he kept his eyes closed tightly and threw a punch.  Then another one.  He continued to pummel the punching bag like his life depended on it.  And maybe it did.  Lord knew his sanity did.  So even though his lungs burned with exertion he continues to take out his frustration on the helpless bag.

“Jab’s looking good little brother.  Though your uppercut is still weak.”

Ray’s sudden appearance had Tony opening his eyes, and quickly shutting them against the deluge of sweat. “If you came here to bust my chops you are need to take a rain check.  I don’t have it in me to deal with your saintly advice today.” Tony turned away from his brother and continued his assault on the punching bag.

“Now I would call you out on that bold faced lie but I am too good of a brother for that.”  Ray moved forward in order to hold the bag for Tony, “Because you could have been working out at the community center you helped build.  Or you could have worked out at the overpriced fitness center that went up on the east side of town.  But you came here.  To the Church’s basement gym.  So talk Tony, tell me what has you so frustrated you are trying to kill my punching bag.”

Tony let out a deep frustrated breath and continued to punch the bag solidly, “Take your pick Ray.  I have a newborn at home that is perfect in every way.  Ten fingers.  Ten toes.  And every single thing about her scares the shit out me.” Tony bent over with his hand on his knees breathing heavily, “It is like a constant commentary in my head.  What if I don’t feed her enough.  What if I do all the wrong things and the next thing you know she’s falling in with the wrong crowd.  She’s skipping school, doing drugs, probably getting a piercing somewhere no dad wants to even think about.  Then Marah and I are the sobbing parents on the ten o’clock news that are begging for their daughter to return unharmed.”

Ray looked down at his brother and smiled, “The very fact that you have thought out all these scenarios, no matter how outlandish, show that you will be fine Tony.  Do you thin k Danny has these same worries?”

“I know he does.” Raising to his full height Tony wiped the remaining sweat from his face then looked at his brother solemnly, “How can he not?  We all know it lives within us.  The same toxic blood that flowed through our fathers lives within us every day.  We have just learned how to cope without it taking over our lives.”

Ray just shook his head at his little brother, “I have that same blood in my veins Tony.  We are not our father.  Danny is not his parents.  We are who we decide we are.  And my niece is a true treasure.  And I know with you and Marah, and the countless other members of her family, by her side she will do great things.”

Tony sat on one of the changing benches and gulped down half of his bottle of water in seconds, “Marah and me?  We’re barely treading water.  She hasn’t regained any of her memories.  Not even a glimmer of the life we had together.  And Lanie?  She can barely look at her much less act like her mother.  What am I supposed to do Ray?  My wife doesn’t remember me and she can’t even stand t be alone with our daughter.”

“Are you asking as a priest or as your older more handsome brother?”

“Funny.” Tony finished his water and tossed the bottle in the trashcan, “Besides we always knew I was the better looking brother.”

“You wish, “Ray joined Tony on the bench and thought long and hard before answering, “The priest in me says that the Lord works in mysterious ways.  That in time, the answers will make themselves known.  The brother in me says to give you and Marah some time.  Time to heal, time to rediscover all the good you two shared.”  Ray paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully before shooting his brother a grin, “And if that doesn’t work you and Marah have had worse odds stacked against you before and still had her fall in love with your dumb self.  Make her fall Tony, but make sure you give her a soft place to land.”

***

Danny let himself in the back door and stopped dead in his tracks at the sight before him.  Michelle was bent over taking something for dinner out of the oven and although he knew his stomach was in need of food he liked this sight better.

Hard to believe that after all these years, and three kids, that his wife still had the ability to take his breath away.  Not to mention she had some great, um, assets he enjoyed immensely.  Danny leaned against the door jamb and just watched her.

Her hands encased in oven mitts Michelle turned with the casserole to greet her husband and seeing the expression on her face she smiled saucily, “Why Mr. Santos what has that look on your face?  See something you like?”

Danny placed his briefcase beside the door and went to wife, gathering her close after she put the casserole on the kitchen island, “Well Mrs. Santos ‘like’ is just too tame a word for what I see.  I love every single inch of what I see.”  He moved his hands towards the object of his earlier fascination, “But what I was just thinking is that you look fantastic in these jeans.”

Michelle playfully slapped his chest, “You are such a sweet talker husband.  And I will show my undying appreciation later tonight, but for now grab some plates before the horde swoops in ready for their dinner.”  Michelle moved around the kitchen and gathered the silverware, “So how was work?  Did you talk to Tony?”

Danny sighed and went to grab the plates like she asked, “I did.  I could tell I threw him through a loop.  And I know he and Marah are going through a lot right now, but I held off as long as I could to tell him.”

Michelle nodded as she helped set the table alongside her husband, “You did the right thing honey.  Besides it was better that you tell him yourself instead of Tony finding out in tomorrow’s Journal.”

“At least this time I won’t have Jeffery ruining all the good that can be accomplished.”

Michelle walked up and gathered her husband in her arms, “Mayor Danny Santos has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Danny tightened his own arms around his wife and smiled, “It certainly does.”