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Thread: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

  1. #9
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 9





    Monday morning dawned with Luis staring wondrously into his daughter’s blue eyes.

    Pausing at the doorway to Hope’s nursery, Sheridan admired the beautiful picture they made in the glowing sunlight spilling in through the windows.

    Hope’s tiny fists waved in the air, her mouth opened in a coo at Luis as he cradled her close. Little toes clenched and unclenched as tiny bare feet pushed against Luis’s stomach.

    Sheridan smiled at the enchanted pair, filing the precious moment away in her mind to remember always. She crossed the room on silent bare feet, slipping her arms around Luis’s waist from behind and dropping her head to place a loving kiss on his shoulder. “I love the smell of baby powder on a man,” she teased. “It has a certain sexy appeal.”

    Grinning, Luis turned around so that they were face to face, Hope nestled between them as they kissed good morning.

    “Time’s up,” Sheridan announced, taking her baby daughter from her husband’s reluctant arms. “My turn,” she smiled, nuzzling the sweet-smelling dark curls on Hope’s head before gently pressing a kiss to each chubby cheek. “Daddy has to share you. Isn’t that right, Sweetheart?” Her lilting laughter filled the room when Hope gurgled in seeming affirmation. “See? Hope agrees 100% with me, Luis.”

    Luis left the cheerful yellow nursery, shaking his head in amusement.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Bracing her hands on either side of the bathroom sink, Abby watched the swirling water chase the foamy white bubbles of toothpaste down the drain. When she raised her head to study her reflection, she found herself staring into Miguel’s concerned brown eyes.

    “I’m coming with you,” Miguel looked away almost uncomfortably. “You don’t need to be alone if he doesn’t show up.”


    Abby gave the hand towel hanging to her right one last straightening tug before turning around to face him. “You don’t have to do that, Miguel. I left him a message.” And basically made myself unavailable to the man since I ran away from him—again—less than 48 hours ago, not giving him time to have a reaction. “He knows about the appointment,” Abby sighed. “If he doesn’t show up, I guess I’ll know where he stands…” she trailed off, growing somber at the mere possibility. “Stay, Miguel. You have a lot of catching up to do with your sister.”

    Miguel brightened at the mention of Paloma.

    Knowing he only needed a little push to be convinced, Abby decided to try one of her more effective methods where Miguel was concerned: merciless teasing. “Come on. Do you really want to see me in my skivvies THAT bad? You know all you have to do is ask. Although…I have to warn you…I’m not the sexpot I used to be.” Ignoring the slight blush to his cheeks, she continued. “I’ve put on a few pounds. I had had high hopes for some cleavage, but so far, to no avail. They’re just sore as hell. Not any bigger,” she blew out an exaggerated breath of frustration. “Which totally sucks. The breast exam should be interesting”

    “O-O-Okay,” Miguel waved any further commentary off, stammering in embarrassment. “You know the number if you need me.”

    “Don’t worry, Miguel,” Abby laughed. “In the interest of preserving the wonderful relationship we have and you ever being able to look me in the eyes again, I’ll spare you.” Abby thought she heard a muttered thanks as Miguel made a beeline for the door.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~






    Cristian was assigned the painstaking task of removing shell bits from the bowl of scrambled eggs while Ali oversaw the frying of the bacon.

    Miss Priss swished her fluffy white tail back and forth under Max’s nose tauntingly from her kitchen chair perch while Gizmo burrowed under a Harmony Herald newspaper tent on the tiled floor.

    Bread, burnt almost black and unrecognizable, popped up from the toaster as Luis entered the kitchen after dressing for the day, and his eyes widened when he spied four glasses placed atop the set kitchen table, filled to the rim with orange juice. Clearing his throat, he made his presence known. “Mmm. Something smells good.”

    Ali’s blond peach fuzz-covered head whipped around, and her sunny smile lit up the room. “Good morning, Daddy.”

    Luis chuckled when Cristian promptly abandoned his task, propping his chin on his upraised hand with a frown.

    “There’s too many.” Eyeing Luis, he sighed. “Do you think Mommy will be able to tell?”

    “Mommy’s no stranger to crunchy eggs,” Luis reassured him as he grabbed the bowl from the bar and poured the contents, eggshells and all, into the second skillet on the stove, causing Ali to burst into giggles.

    Catching her breath, Ali admonished him, blue eyes twinkling. “Daddy!”

    “She’ll never know,” Luis winked. “The bacon’s done. Ali…get Mama’s big platter and put the toast and bacon on it while I finish up the eggs. And Cristian…get Mommy’s rose.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Stopping occasionally to chew on the end of the pen in her hand thoughtfully, Abby filled out the stack of forms in front of her while pondering the wisdom of telling Ellie to buy a one-way ticket to Hell in front of Katie and half of the oncology ward when she made some not-so-pretty insinuations. It was definitely not one of her shining moments—not by a long shot. News of her pregnancy must have reached half of the hospital by now, and she hadn’t even mustered up enough guts to tell Hank yet. So much for breaking the news gently to her overprotective friend. Unconsciously rubbing a hand over her abdomen, she muttered to the child inside of her, “We need to talk to Luis about getting your daddy into the Witness Protection program as soon as possible.” Not that she believed Hank was actually capable of…Hell! Who was it now? She frowned when the pair of white nurse’s clogs came to a dead stop in front of her, and a curse was on her lips when her hazel eyes took in Katie’s amused smirk. “What the hell’s so funny?”

    “Oh, nothing,” Katie continued to smirk. “Just…you wouldn’t want to protect him if you didn’t still love him.”

    “You’ve been watching that damned Learning Channel again, haven’t you,” Abby retorted, tossing a tawny braid over her shoulder and shifting in her seat. She tucked the clipboard underneath her purse and turned to face Katie. “I bet your favorite’s ‘A Dating Story’.”

    “Actually, I’m more into ‘A Wedding Story’ these days,” Katie replied.

    “Smartass,” Abby rolled her eyes at her.

    “Now I know why you’ve been being such a bitch lately,” Katie’s green eyes sparkled with humor at the look of incredulity Abby was currently giving her. “Hormones.”

    “Does Noah know what a potty mouth his dear, sweet, little fiancée has?” Abby let the question hang in the air. “Boy, do you have him fooled. You’re such a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she shook her head at Katie’s cutesy scrubs.

    “My kids like them,” Katie shrugged, the expression on her face suddenly turning serious as she focused all of her attention on her friend. “He knows about the baby and the appointment, right?”

    “And he still isn’t here,” Abby sighed, slipping her purse onto her shoulder and grabbing the clipboard when the nurse at the front desk announced her name.

    Katie stood with her, the picture of concern. “I’m on lunch break. If you want, I could go in there with you. I know the first time can be a little scary. Especially if you’re…all alone,” she trailed off, obviously regretting her choice of words.

    “I’m not alone,” Abby faked a cheerful smile, resting a hand over her still non-existent belly. “I’m okay, Katie. Really. I guess I just didn’t get the answer I wanted. Work on Hank for me, will you? Nick’s already on his crap-list. When he finds out his favorite person knocked me up…”

    “You put it so delicately,” Katie laughed. “I will. Call me later? Mama’s taking Kendall with her to visit her sister tomorrow, and I have to get him all packed up, but I’ll be home all night. Noah’s working late.”

    “I’m sure you don’t want to know EVERYTHING,” Abby teased, backing away as the nurse called her name a second time, “but I will. And Katie? You’re going to have to learn to live with the bitch so I’m going to apologize in advance, okay?”

    Katie laughed, even though she knew Abby was far from joking. Maybe she should say a little prayer for herself and all the men in Abby’s life at the next Mass.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “You’re a big brother now, Cristian,” Luis gripped his young son’s shoulder firmly. “Do you know what that means?”

    Cristian stopped mid-nod to shake his head, his dark brows furrowing as he looked to his father for answers.

    “It means that you’re Hope’s protector,” Luis told him, and he paused for a moment as Cristian’s solemn gaze traveled several feet away to land on his baby sister, nestled against Sheridan’s breast in slumber as a warm gentle breeze made the hammock sway to and fro. “She’s going to look to you for all the answers to her questions.”

    “But I don’t know all the answers,” Cristian frowned.

    “You’ll find them,” Luis reassured him. “And it won’t matter if you don’t because she’s still going to think you’re the best big brother in the world.”

    “What if she doesn’t?” Cristian worried.

    “She will,” Luis answered him. “You think Ali’s the best big sister no matter what, don’t you?”

    Cristian nodded his head vigorously. “She is.”

    “See? What did I tell you?” Luis smiled at his young son, giving his shoulder a fatherly pat before gathering him close to his side and nodding down at the shaded hammock where Ali stirred slightly before sighing and falling back to sleep tucked safely in Sheridan’s arms, one bare leg thrown over her mother’s. “Do we have the prettiest girls in Maine or what?”

    “In the whole wide world,” Cristian corrected him, letting his feet dangle from the tree house floor. “We must be the luckiest guys in the world.”

    Luis’s only answer was a grin. He didn’t have anything to add. Cristian had already said it all.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “All those home pregnancy tests weren’t lying, Abby,” Maggie re-entered the small examining room with a smile on her lips as she lay the charts in her hands aside. “You’re pregnant. Nearly three months pregnant, in fact. Why didn’t you come to see me sooner?”

    “Have you ever heard of a little thing called Denial?” Abby muttered. “I just couldn’t be pregnant. Not after…”

    “And now?” Maggie gently prodded. “You seem to have accepted this pregnancy. What changed?”

    “With my pitiful track record, this baby’s going to end up being the love of my life,” Abby answered her, picking self-consciously at the hospital-issue gown she’d recently put on in preparation for the physical exam.

    “The odds of that happening anyway are very good,” Maggie told her, giving her a light pat on the arm before donning a pair of gloves. “Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that you and the baby’s father will reunite? I don’t know him personally, but from all accounts, he seems to be a good man. A good person. I can’t promise this is going to be pleasant, but I’ll be a gentle as I can,” Maggie promised when Abby flinched at her touch, her hazel eyes clamping shut at the almost painful sensation.

    “I can handle swollen ankles and the near-constant urge to pee better than this,” Abby hissed as she willed herself to relax, dragging in deep, replenishing breaths. “This kid is going to be the death of me. The morning sickness is a hundred times worse…dammit, Maggie!” she swore.

    “I’m sorry,” Maggie murmured, lifting a guiding hand to Abby’s shoulder. “I want you to lie back. We’re almost finished with the uncomfortable stuff then we’ll have a listen at the heartbeat.” Noticing the suspicious wetness of Abby’s hazel eyes, Maggie looked away discreetly. She continued her exam, and after several minutes of silence, cleared her throat. “All finished,” she announced. “Everything seems to be in order. I’m going to step outside and have Dawn call in these prescriptions. I’ll be right back.”

    Abby simply nodded, hugging her arms around her waist as she looked at the opposite wall, blinking away the unwanted tears. Dammit! She didn’t know whether she was crying over the fact that Nick obviously wanted nothing more to do with her or his own child or the fact that, any minute now, the life she carried inside her would be more real to her than ever. It wouldn’t be THIS baby, THE baby, or THIS KID anymore. It’d be HER baby. “My baby,” she whispered, giving in to the tears tracking down her cheeks. She didn’t even try to hide them when she heard the sound of the door opening or footsteps approaching. Maggie had already seen them anyway.

    “OUR baby,” Nick corrected her, taking her hand in his own. Wiping her tears away with the pads of his fingers and not letting her look away, he pressed his lips against her forehead and pulled back to stare deeply into her eyes, his apology clearly visible in his own gray ones. “I’m here now.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Lifting the last two slices of pizza onto his plate, Luis tucked the box under his arm, tossing it into the trash as he followed the sound of laughter into the living room. The silly antics of Cristian’s favorite cartoon characters played out on the television screen, but Luis soon discovered it was just background noise for the real entertainment.

    In record time, Hope had taken her rightful position in the Lopez-Fitzgerald household: the undisputed center of attention.

    Shooing Miss Priss away, Luis reclaimed his place at Sheridan’s side, balancing the plate of pizza in his lap as he reached for his drink. He smiled at the way she automatically curled her body around his and gestured at the scene before them with his glass. “What did I miss?”

    “Roo’s ticklish, Daddy,” Ali giggled, lightly tracing a pink nail over the arch of Hope’s tiny foot. “She makes the same face Cristian does when you tickle his feet. Watch.”

    Hope jerked her foot away from Ali’s touch, and her little nose scrunched up. Her fists flailed out, one of them catching Cristian on the chin. Ali shrieked with giggles when Cristian pretended to be knocked out on the floor and Hope went completely still for a moment before cooing loudly and wiggling with pleasure. Her blue eyes lit up, and her little hands grabbed greedily at Cristian’s hair when his laughing face loomed in front of hers again. Luckily for Cristian, her uncoordinated attempt failed.

    “Bath time for you, Monsieur Clown,” Sheridan laughingly announced as she stood up, carefully scooping Hope up and transferring her to Luis’s waiting arms.

    “But Mommy,” Cristian protested.

    “You too, Ali,” Sheridan said, forcing herself to keep a straight face as Cristian left the living room with an air of total dejection. “Make sure he doesn’t just turn the water on and let it run,” she instructed Ali. “I’ll be back there in a few minutes.” When Ali left, Sheridan found herself smiling at her smirking husband. “What?”

    “Nothing,” Luis answered her, holding out his pinkie for Hope to grasp. “If you’d told him to wash behind his ears, I’d swear you were channeling my mother.”

    “Luis!” Sheridan exclaimed. “I guess I’ve earned that ‘Mom’ from Ali, huh?” she quizzed him, smiling down at their baby daughter over his shoulder. Touching her thumb to Hope’s chin, she murmured, “I think I see a little bit of your sister in her, Luis.”

    “I don’t know if I can raise another Theresa,” Luis chuckled, gazing down at Hope whose tiny mouth opened in a yawn.

    Sheridan shook her head. “Paloma, Luis. Let me ask you something. If Hope is a dreamer like Theresa, are you going to try to change her or let her stay true to herself?”

    Luis sighed after several moments of contemplation then gave his honest answer. “I won’t try to change her. But I’ll always feel the need to protect her. It’s something I can’t help. I just don’t want her to get hurt, and if her head is always in the clouds like Theresa’s always was…Dreamers get hurt, Sheridan, when their dreams don’t come true. I never wanted to take away any of Theresa’s dreams. I just wanted her to wake up and see reality sometimes so I wouldn’t have to worry about her as much. Was that really so bad? I wanted her to have a clearer, more level head on her shoulders. Like Paloma. She’s a realist. Like me.”

    “I never would have guessed you two weren’t raised together in the same house,” Sheridan agreed with a gentle smile. “I’m sorry, Luis. I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible for my father’s actions. Taking your father away the way he did…I can’t imagine Ali and Cristian growing up knowing each other only through letters, pictures, and phone calls. It must have been so hard…”

    “Paloma’s home now where she belongs thanks to you,” Luis cut her off. “Hopefully to stay.”

    “She’s got more than enough reasons,” Sheridan told him, snuggling close to him and delicately trailing her fingertips across Hope’s dark brow. Black lashes fluttered sleepily against her porcelain cheeks as Sheridan gently lifted her and cradled her against her breast. Standing up and pressing her cheek to Hope’s downy head, she smiled down at Luis as he lifted a hand to caress the back of her bare knee. “It looks like another one of Theresa’s dreams is on its way to becoming reality.”

    With a mock groan he asked, “Which dream is that? There’ve been so many.”

    “Her dream of having her whole family there for her and Chad’s wedding,” Sheridan stated simply and hopefully. “Theresa’s sure Antonio’s coming home.”

    “Mom!” Ali called out, preventing Luis’s response and making Hope fuss lightly, “Cristian’s snorkeling in the tub again!”

    “Luis?” Sheridan paused, stroking Hope’s back comfortingly as she handed her back to Luis. The hardness around his eyes at the mention of Antonio was gone thankfully, but she was still a little concerned.

    “Go remind our son that the Great Barrier Reef is not in our bathroom,” Luis told her with a slight smile on his lips. “I know it’s not as good as one of your lullabies, but I’ll read to her,” Luis murmured his plan against Hope’s temple as she squirmed in his embrace. “Or maybe I’ll tell her the story of how we met,” he grinned. “Ali always loved that one when she was little.”

    “Luis, you’re awful,” Sheridan couldn’t help but laugh at his gently teasing tone of voice. “Meet me later in our room?”

    “Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were propositioning me,” Luis deduced with much self-satisfaction. “Best offer I’ve had all night.”

    “Tsk, tsk, Luis,” Sheridan scolded playfully. “Not in front of the baby.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “If you weren’t the sole reason behind my spending more than half of the day in front of this damn thing, I’d thank you,” Abby muttered as she leaned heavily against Nick solid’s form, grudgingly allowing him to sweep her tawny braid from her shoulder and run a cool, damp cloth across her brow. Her slender shoulders slumped forward against his bracing arm, the fatigue that never left her far behind these days dictating her movements. She was so damned tired that she didn’t protest when Nick lifted her onto the porcelain edge of the tub, offering her a glass of water. She weakly shoved the glass away in favor of mouthwash. Gargling and spitting it out quickly, she tried to glare menacingly at him but failed miserably. “I thought I told you to take me home,” she grumbled, scowling as Lucky wound himself around her legs, ‘welcoming her home’ with a continuous purr.

    “You are home,” Nick responded, his gray eyes unblinking and resolute.

    “I am NOT,” Abby snapped, standing up and pushing past him and Lucky on shaky legs. She made it as far as the kitchen before she started feeling faint again, grabbing hold of the counter to keep her balance. She cursed silently when she felt Nick’s steadying hand at the small of her back. What? Did he think just because she’d let him hold her as they listened to their baby’s heartbeat together in Maggie’s office that everything was suddenly hunky-dory and he had free reign to touch her again? “I mean it, Nick. Take me home,” she growled, whirling around—and falling right into his arms. “SHIT!” As if that weren’t enough, she realized tears were threatening again halfway to the sofa.

    Nick sat down, Abby straddling his thighs, and his hand found its way to her face. In a soft whisper, he broke her heart all over again. “Tell me what’s wrong. Is this about what Maggie said…”

    “Don’t!” Abby clamped her hand over Nick’s mouth, her hazel eyes wide and brimming with tears that stubbornly refused to fall. When Nick pushed her hand away and attempted to speak again, she brought her mouth down over his in a frantic kiss. Her hands framed the sides of his face then ran roughly through his dark hair as she tried to force him into silence with her lips. The kiss was angry, scared, and filled with a sadness she’d carried with her since Maggie’s parting words.

    Caught up in his own need to touch her, Nick allowed the kiss to go on, sliding his hands up her thighs and resting them gently on her hips before clutching at the hem of the soft lavender tee shirt she’d worn home sans the uncomfortable scrap of satin and lace she’d tucked into her purse. His hands burned a path up and down the warm, smooth skin of her back, taking the shirt with them. His fingers tenderly unraveled Abby’s tawny braids and cupped her head as her mouth continued its ferocious assault on his and her denim-clad knees dug into his sides as she shifted more fully onto his lap. From her shoulders, his hands skimmed down her arms, taking her hands in his own and threading their fingers together. His hands anchored her to him as his mouth gradually gentled her, and he could taste the salt of her tears on his lips when she broke away from him on a sobbing breath. “Tell me. Tell me about the other baby.”

  2. #10
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 10




    “Why? Is your male pride offended because you’re not the first man to get me pregnant?” Abby asked tightly, trying without success to disengage their clasped hands. “Believe it or not, you’re not the only bastard I’ve known.”

    Fighting the urge to wince at the harsh words, Nick released Abby’s hands to cup her face, refusing to let her look away from him. His thumbs brushed away her tears as he spoke to her in soft whispers. “You don’t have to tell me more than you’re comfortable with. You don’t even have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, but I want to help you. Talk to me. I admit to being the world-class idiot who’s finally bought a clue and pulled his head out of his ass, but I’m not Vincent, Abby. Maybe I’m two seconds too late, but I realize you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

    Abby’s lips trembled and her chin quivered at the earnest expression in Nick’s gray eyes. Nails digging into her palms painfully, she shook her head, tawny waves spilling over Nick’s cradling hands. Speaking wasn’t an option. Her heart was firmly lodged in her throat, and she was suffocating, unable to breathe as Nick’s lips tried to kiss away her tears. Her arms wound around his neck and clung tightly as he pulled her against him, and only then did she realize she was shaking all over. She was physically and emotionally exhausted. “I’m too tired to hate you right now.” She tucked her face into his shoulder when he stood up, hooking her ankles around his waist.

    Pushing her bedroom door open with his shoulder, Nick carried her inside, sitting them both down on the bed’s edge. Softly stroking her hair with one hand, he used his free hand to shove the assortment of clothes strewn across the bed to the side and peel the comforter back. Shadows hid Abby’s face from his eyes as his hands fell to her waist, his fingers hooking in the belt loops of her jeans. His lips found her forehead in the darkness, and he told her, smiling ruefully as he did so, “Hate me in the morning. Rest now. You’ve had a long day. If you decide you DO want to talk to me, I’ll be the self-proclaimed jerk camped out on the living room sofa with a feline attached to his head.”

    “Nick?” Abby’s voice stopped him at the door. “The sofa?”

    “The TV helps me sleep,” Nick shrugged in answer to her implied question.

    “Goodnight,” Abby murmured. “Since I’m not hating you again ‘til tomorrow,” she explained awkwardly. “I hope,” she sighed, completely at a loss for sensical words. “Just…goodnight, Nick.”

    “Thanks,” Nick smiled appreciatively. “And Abby?” he paused for a long moment. “Sweet dreams.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Several aborted attempts at making love to his beautiful wife later, Luis leaned back the pillows stacked against their headboard with a quiet groan. He didn’t dare risk waking his sleeping daughter, not when she’d only just seemed to run out of steam. And tears. He reached across the short distance between them and brushed a strand of blond hair from Sheridan’s forehead, feeling slightly guilty when her tired blue eyes jerked open and her hands immediately checked over every inch of the boneless bundle that was their daughter curled against her chest.

    “Luis,” Sheridan leaned into the palm that curved around her cheek.

    Reading the unspoken apology in her eyes, Luis chuckled softly. “I’d forgotten how much fun this was.”

    A smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth, Sheridan agreed him with, adding her own comment. “How you ever ended up with four siblings, Luis…”

    “I love my mama and papa, Sheridan, but I’d rather not be having this conversation. The thought alone,” Luis practically shuddered.

    As beautiful as she found Martin and Pilar’s love to be, Sheridan agreed some things were better left unspoken or simply left to the imagination. Martin and Pilar were practically her parents too. The more the thought lingered in her mind, the more disturbed she became. She was blushing when she met his laughing eyes again. “Luis, stop it.”

    “You’re cute when you blush,” Luis grinned, scooting closer to her. “Your face and your cheeks and your neck turn pink,” he said softly, brushing his fingertips down the curve of her neck. His hand lingered on her shoulder before it continued its path past her collarbone and the little hollow of her throat. “You’re even pink here,” he murmured, placing his lips at the perfumed location and making her pulse thrum faster, her breath catch in her throat.

    “Luis, you’re not being fair,” Sheridan protested as she felt his breath tickle her neck just seconds before he placed a kiss below her ear.

    “I just want to kiss you,” Luis countered simply as his hand again traveled to her face, cupping her jaw in his palm as he kissed the corner of her mouth. “I promise I won’t wake up Sleeping Beauty,” he said, bestowing a sweet kiss on the tip of Hope’s tiny nose as he ran his pinkie over the back of her hand. Their lips had barely touched when a small, muffled voice beyond their closed bedroom door broke the silence.

    “Mommy, I hear thunder,” Cristian whined plaintively.

    No sooner had the words left his son’s mouth did Luis hear a distant, low rumble. Sighing, he gave his wife and daughter quick kisses on the forehead before throwing his legs over the side of the bed and standing up to cross the bedroom on bare feet. Unlocking and opening the door, Luis gently steered Cristian toward the bed, giving his dark hair an affectionate ruffle as he helped him climb into bed beside Sheridan. Raising his finger to his lips, he whispered, “Be careful not to wake your sister.”

    Nodding silently, Cristian regarded Hope reverently as he cuddled against his mother’s side.

    Luis hesitated before climbing back under the covers, glancing at their open bedroom door.

    Solving his dilemma, Sheridan reminded him, “It’s a big bed. We can make room.”

    Luis was gone before the words were completely out of her mouth, returning with Ali’s blond head tucked beneath his chin a few minutes later, her hands rubbing sleepily at her blinking blue eyes and a confused “Daddy?” leaving her lips as he gently lay her in bed beside Cristian. Shushing her with a murmured “AliCat,” he climbed into bed after her, tucking the covers beneath her chin as her blue eyes fluttered shut again the moment her blond head touched the pillow. With one touch of Luis’s hand to the bedside lamp, the only light in the room came from the intermittent flashes of lightening and the glow of the nightlight spilling in from the hallway. “Everybody settled?”

    From the silence, Cristian started the traditional recitation. “One Mississippi…Two Mississippi…Three Mississippi…Four Mississippi…Five Mississippi…”




    *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Abby could see the flashes of lightening behind her closed eyelids, hear the droning of the heavy rain outside her bedroom window, and feel the careful weight of Nick’s arm across her waist. She leaned her tawny head farther back into his chest, letting the slow solid beat of his heart calm her racing one.

    “You were crying in your sleep,” Nick murmured against her damp cheek. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

    “I was dreaming about her,” Abby whispered into her pillow, making a desperate grab for Nick’s hand when he started to remove his arm from her waist.

    Nick relaxed his arm, his fingers fanning protectively across her abdomen as he waited patiently for her to reveal more to him.

    “I can hear her crying, but I can’t see her face. It’s the same every time I dream about her,” Abby said shakily. “The doctors took her away. They wouldn’t let me see her, Nick. I was such a mess. Vincent had really done a number on me, and I hurt all over. I was so out of it, but I remember hearing her cry and wanting to see her,” Abby cried, her voice thick with the memory. “I never got to see her. I never got to hold her. When I woke up a couple of days later, and they told me she hadn’t made it…”

    “Shh,” Nick soothed with kisses to her tear-stained face, holding her to him in a tight hug as her tears began anew. “Abby, you don’t have to..”

    Clutching at the strong arms that held her, Abby used Nick as a lifeline as she admitted a painful truth. “Hearing her cry is the only memory I have of my daughter.”

    The storm, inside and out, was just beginning.











  3. #11
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    Oct 2000
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 11




    Jake watched Emily slurp noisily at her cereal, milk dribbling down her chin, while he waited impatiently by the toaster for his blueberry Pop-Tart, shoving his fists in and out of his jeans pockets.

    Sara fed Gus waffles beneath the kitchen table, and the pug happily licked maple syrup from her fingers, eliciting sly giggles from her mouth.

    Gwen swept through the kitchen like a tornado for a quick cup of coffee, brown eyes narrowing suspiciously at the guilty grin on Sara’s sticky face.

    “Mom,” Jake made a last ditch plea, “do I have to go? It’s only half a day. They can put my report card in the mail.”

    “I’m not falling for that one again, Jake,” Gwen warned with a raised brow.

    “You have to admit, Babe,” Hank grinned as he joined his family in the kitchen, “Siberia was a stroke of genius for an 8-year-old.” Spurred on by his wife’s dismissive eye roll, Hank gave his young son his full attention. “Too bad they don’t give out grades for recess, huh?”

    “Daddy,” Emily tucked a tangled strand of long brown hair behind her ear, “will you make my hair all pretty today? I want three ponytails,” she enthused, brown eyes bright with excitement. “With all different colored bows.”

    “A three pony-tailed rainbow,” Hank considered then nodded his head with a grin. “Gotcha!”

    “Hank,” Gwen chided, wincing slightly when the hot coffee scalded her tongue.

    “Careful,” Hank advised, taking her coffee mug from her and setting it on the kitchen counter. “Did you know some idiot sued McDonald’s because their coffee was hot? These things are common sense. Steam usually denotes there’s heat somewhere.” He slipped his arms around her waist and winked at her teasingly. “You look a little tired. Did somebody keep you up all night?”

    Jake didn’t have to fully understand the import behind the words to catch the tone of voice, and his young face twisted into a grimace.

    Emily, on the other hand, was focused on one thing and one thing only. “Can we go to McDonald’s for dinner?”

    “Aunt Grace is making us dinner,” Gwen answered distractedly.

    Beneath the kitchen table, Sara’s hand paused halfway to Gus’s open mouth, and maple syrup pooled on the tile floor as she repeated Emily’s request more plaintively, “Can we PLEASE go to McDonald’s for dinner?”

    “Would you listen to that?” Hank chuckled. “You threaten them, and suddenly, they’re polite.”

    “Sara, you’re going to make Gus sick,” Gwen scolded, and Sara reluctantly plopped down into her chair. “Emily,” she explained patiently but firmly, “Aunt Grace is cooking dinner for the whole family, and she expects us to be there.”

    “Okay,” Emily shrugged nonchalantly, picking up her spoon and slurping once again at her now soggy cereal.

    “Jake,” Gwen looked over Hank’s shoulder at her son, taking his silence as a sullen protest to being forced to go to school, “I’m leaving this house in five minutes. If you’re not ready…”

    “Yes, Ma’am,” Jake muttered at her stern tone of voice. Jeez, first his mom was being gross with Dad then she was just plain mean. Parents, he sighed, tossing his Pop Tart into the trash on the way out the front door. He wasn’t hungry anyway. He opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat, dutifully buckling his seatbelt and waiting for his mom.

    “Mom means business this morning, Girls,” Hank said in a stage whisper.

    “I’m helping Daddy clean out his office today,” Gwen admitted morosely.

    “Having second thoughts about working for Boy Wonder?” Hank cracked.

    “I’m not working for Ethan,” Gwen stifled a smile at the moniker. “I’m working WITH Ethan, and it’s going to take a bit of adjustment. I think I’ll manage though.”

    “No late nights,” Hank made an attempt to be serious but ruined it with the sly smile lurking in his brown eyes. “I don’t want you to be tempted.”

    Laughing, Gwen pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and hugged each of her daughters goodbye before heading toward the front door and the rest of her day. “Try to stay out of trouble. At least for today. Do you think you can manage that?”

    Three nearly identical faces gave her their most innocent looks.

    Needless to say, being the intelligent career woman, wife, and mother she was, she wasn’t convinced.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    MJ wasn’t talking, wasn’t eating his morning muffin, wasn’t giving his aunt Paloma a second glance. He didn’t even acknowledge Beth when she walked up to their table, a pleasant good morning on her lips and a steaming coffee pot in hand.

    Miguel had a feeling he knew why. Accepting his refill of coffee from Beth with a smile, he glanced at Joshua, also uncharacteristically quiet this morning in Paloma’s lap, and began to speak. “Boys, Abby…”

    “I wan’ Bee,” Joshua interrupted with a pout, crossing his little arms over his chest and looking at Miguel with accusing dark eyes.

    Paloma raised a brow in question, running a soothing hand over Joshua’s shoulders.

    “She didn’t come home last night,” MJ frowned, kicking his book bag with his feet. “What did you do?”

    “I didn’t DO anything,” Miguel answered him. “Abby has a home of her own, MJ. She doesn’t live with us. She’s just been staying with us while she…works out a few things,” he finished awkwardly. He wasn’t good at this. How did he make them understand? They were so young.

    “She likes us, Dad,” MJ insisted. “She wouldn’t leave. Did she call? Something happened.”

    Miguel looked to Paloma for help, but regretfully, she didn’t have anything to offer. “Abby’s a grownup, MJ. She doesn’t have to call. I’m sure she had some things to take care of.”

    Stubbornly ignoring his dad’s words, MJ pulled his backpack onto his shoulders, announcing, “I have to go to school.” He waited, expressionless, tableside.

    Miguel stood up and pushed his chair back. “Okay. Paloma, do you mind staying here with Joshua while I walk MJ to school?”

    Paloma opened her mouth to answer, but MJ didn’t give her the chance.

    “No, Dad. I want Aunt Paloma to take me.”

    “MJ,” Miguel started to protest.

    MJ was already halfway across the Book Café when Paloma placed Joshua safely in Miguel’s arms, kissing them both on the cheek. “It’s okay. I’ll take him.”

    “But you don’t even know where the school is,” Miguel shook his head.

    “It’ll be an adventure,” Paloma smiled down at him and her little nephew. “I’ve been meaning to walk around and explore this strange little town anyway. You’re not going to take away the first real chance I’ve had, are you?”

    “Do you have my numbers if you get lost? What about change?” Miguel asked, jamming his hand into his jeans pocket and coming up empty. “Take my cell. It’s outside in the car…” Positioning Joshua on his hip, he moved toward the door but stopped when he felt his sister’s hand on his arm and heard the soft sounds of her laughter.

    “You know I’ve always wondered,” Paloma said, “what having a protective older brother felt like. Now I know.”

    “Yeah, well,” Miguel responded with a rare grin, “Wait until Luis is the protective older brother. You don’t know the real meaning of the word. You laugh now, but…” he trailed off, his brown eyes drifting to the Book Café entrance when the tinkling of the bells captured his attention.

    And a pretty green-eyed blond, Paloma thought, wondering about the girl and her seemingly easy ability to wrangle a genuine smile out of her brother. Her curiosity was further piqued when the blond approached them with a question that seemed to be on everyone’s lips this morning.

    “Where’s Abby?”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*




    Curled in the oversized armchair beside her bed, Abby indulged Lucky’s wishes to be scratched while indulging herself and gazing at the beautiful male that still slept amongst her rumpled sheets, his dark lashes resting against his cheeks and her pillow clutched in his arms.

    Nick sighed, sweeping his arm out to gather Abby close to him once again and opening his gray eyes when he came up empty. Rolling over onto his back, he flung an arm behind his dark head, blinking against the sunlight that spilled in through the windows. Regret flickered in his gray eyes when they finally found and focused on her. “Last night didn’t change anything, did it?”

    Tucking a heavy strand of tawny hair behind her ear self=consciously, Abby tried to lighten the heavy mood that seemed to have descended on the room. “I promised not to hate you again ‘til tomorrow. It’s tomorrow.” Sensing she’d failed miserably and her words were really bordering on morbidly wrong, Abby tried to make amends, admitting on a weary sigh, “I don’t hate you, Nick. You know that. Better than anyone.” She looked away awkwardly when his legs shifted underneath the sheets, affording her a view that brought memories of the last night rushing back all too clearly. Dammit, insanity is what always happened whenever she let her heart overrule her head.

    Nick studied her silently, looking for signs of the woman he’d comforted last night, the woman he’d made love to last night, wrong or right. All signs of vulnerability were carefully hidden along with any indications of her feelings. He wanted to apologize for taking advantage of her the night before, but he stumbled over the words. “Abby, I’m…”

    “Don’t say you’re sorry to a hormonal pregnant woman.” Abby’s smile was forced, and she couldn’t meet Nick’s eyes as he clutched the sheets around his waist, throwing his legs over his side of the bed. She heard the floorboards creaking under Nick’s weight, but she didn’t look up, resolutely staring into Lucky’s eyes and tickling her nails under his chin as he purred appreciatively. “The sex, uh…it was good. Almost like you meant it.”

    Nick tamped down the anger he felt building inside of him, kneeling down in front of the armchair and plucking the purring, piteously protesting bundle of fur from Abby’s lap. Willing her to look at him and read the truth in his eyes, he rest one of his hands on her bare knee. “I’ve always meant it, Abby. It’s never been JUST sex between us, and you’re wrong if you keep believing that.”

    Closing her fingers over Nick’s hand as he moved to cup her jaw in his palm, Abby replied, “Am I?”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    MJ’s school wasn’t that hard to find, and after safely depositing her young nephew in his capable teacher’s hands, Paloma’s ‘adventure’ as she had called it officially began.

    Though not a booming metropolis, Harmony had its own quirky charm with its population of everyday folk and eccentrics sharing the same sidewalks.

    Paloma’s curiosity propelled her feet toward the Youth Center, and she regarded the front doors with a tiny smirk on her lips. Theresa’s letters had romanticized the place, boisterously exclaiming it was the birthplace of Luis and Sheridan’s fated love. Her sister had always had a certain dramatic flair, Paloma smiled, mounting the concrete steps. Pausing at the top step, she tried the door, and finding it unlocked, cautiously stepped inside.

    The bleachers were rolled back against the wall in the gymnasium, and all the lights were turned off save one, illuminating the basketball goal at the far end where a bare-chested man bounced the orange globe in his hands, lifting it and taking a shot. The ball circled the rim before falling to the floor, missing its mark and eliciting a slight grunt of annoyance from its handler.

    Paloma’s smile gave way to soft laughter when the man tried to kick the ball away, missing yet another mark.

    Broad shoulders tensed at the noise and silver eyes sought her out in the shadows. He seemed poised to speak, but the sudden illumination of the gymnasium changed his mind.

    “Boy’s never been much of a basketball player,” T.C. Russell chuckled, setting the stacks of boxes in his arms down in the floor and rubbing his hands together as he came to stand beside Paloma. “But Luis seems to think he’s on his way to becoming a damn fine police officer. Work your magic, Sugar Bear. It’s all yours. Noah,” T.C. nodded in Noah’s direction. “Make yourself useful. Help these pretty ladies help Sheridan out.”

    “Hi, Paloma,” Simone smiled as she breezed past en route to what Paloma assumed to be her sister-in-law’s office.

    “Paloma? Paloma Lopez-Fitzgerald?” T.C.’s reaction was borderline incredulous. “I haven’t seen you since…Wow. It’s been a long time. Martin and Pilar must be happy to have you back home.”

    “Actually,” Paloma began.

    “Paloma’s just visiting, Daddy,” Simone interjected.

    “Just visiting?” T.C. scoffed. “That’s what Whitney says. If you ask me…”

    “She’s not asking you, Daddy,” Simone interrupted her father with a gently reprimanding tone then looked to Paloma in apology. “We’re getting the Youth Center ready for the kids. It’s the last day of school, and a lot of them don’t have anywhere else to go while their parents are at work. And since Sheridan and Luis just brought Hope home, we thought we’d help them out. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

    “The help would be appreciated,” T.C. agreed, waving Noah over and dropping a set of car keys into his open palm. “I left some equipment outside. Do you think you could get it for me?”

    “Anything else, Coach Russell?” Noah asked, his silver eyes studying Paloma intently while he waited.

    “I think that’s it,” T.C. answered. “Can you think of anything, Sugar Bear?”

    “Daddy, I’m an adult,” Simone protested. In the same breath, she added, “Paloma, would you mind helping Noah? Thanks.”

    Noah chuckled at her dazed expression, offering his hand. “Welcome back to Harmony.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “I take it you haven’t heard from Abby either,” Katie commented as she joined Miguel and Joshua at their table.

    Beth appeared beside them, coffee in hand, but both of them politely declined her offer, and she made her way back to the front counter, stopping and chatting pleasantly with her customers on the way.

    “She didn’t come home last night,” Miguel responded, sobering when he realized how dangerously close his feelings were to MJ’s feelings where Abby was concerned. He hadn’t realized just how much he and the boys had grown to depend on her just being there in the few short months’ time she’d been staying with them.

    “She had her appointment yesterday,” Katie reminded him in a soft voice. ‘She was supposed to call.”

    Lifting Joshua from his lap and pointing out the newly arrived Sam and Grace, Miguel made sure his son reached their side safely before he turned back to Katie, resuming their conversation. “Something must have happened with Taylor,” Miguel broached the possibility. “What?”

    Katie struggled to wipe the smile off of her face. “You’re all so protective of her. I’m sure Abby doesn’t share my thoughts, but I think it’s sweet.”

    Miguel shrugged uncomfortably. It hadn’t always been this way, back when Kay first welcomed the self-proclaimed crazy lady into their lives. In fact, he was man enough to admit to the fact that Abby used to scare him senseless. Kay’s death and his and Abby’s shared devastation had woken him up in a sense. “She grows on you.”

    Smiling openly, Katie agreed. “Yes, she does.”

    “You’re not worried about her anymore,” Miguel guessed, aiding Joshua as he struggled to climb back into his lap.

    Katie waved at Sam and Grace as they approached the table before fixing clear green eyes on Miguel’s face. “No. Maybe the good doctor’s finally wised up and kidnapped her. They both need a good slap of reality.”

    As they shared conversation and coffee with their in-laws (in Katie’s case, future in-laws) Miguel watched her, a slight smile on his lips.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Calmly laying Nick’s hand down, Abby tugged the sweatshirt that engulfed her petite frame down lower in an effort to cover herself. She already felt like a raw, exposed nerve when she was in the man’s presence, no need to be practically physically naked as well. Unable to stop herself, she touched her thumb to the corner of his generous mouth, sighing resignedly when he pressed a soft kiss to her flesh. “Be honest with me,” she pleaded, hating the pathetic sound of her own voice.

    One of Nick’s hands idly caressed her thigh while the other lifted to her face, cupping her jaw. Encouraged when she didn’t again try to remove it, he spoke softly but earnestly, “Last night was me being honest with you the best way I know how.” Abby tried to look away from him, but he wouldn’t let her, grasping her chin tightly in his hand. “Saying the words won’t convince you now. Not when you’re dead-set against believing them.”

    Wrapping her hand around the hand that held onto her so tightly, Abby looked at Nick with unflinching hazel eyes. “Why did you kiss her?”

    Quickly recovering from the shock her question aroused within him, Nick said simply, “It was goodbye.” He watched her face, waiting for a reaction, but there was none. Looking at her almost sheepishly, he admitted, “You were right. You DO scare the hell out of me. One wrong turn, and we’re a train wreck waiting to happen.”

    “Thanks,” Abby muttered sarcastically. “Every girl should be so lucky to hear those exact words at least once in her lifetime.” She pushed his hand away from her face angrily. “I never took you for such a coward…”

    “I could say the same about you,” Nick didn’t back down. “Why are you so afraid to open your eyes to the truth?”

    “What makes saying three little words so terrifying?” Abby shot back heatedly. Her hazel eyes sparked at him hotly, and a small smile of twisted triumph caressed her lips as she watched the angry throb of the small vein at his temple.

    Nick shook his head at her, climbing to his feet and beginning to pace the room. This very moment the woman was about 95 % guts, 4 % hormones, and 1 % common sense, and her heart was even worse for the wear than his was. He admired her courage, but he couldn’t change who he was just because he wanted to. Already he’d made so many mistakes. He wanted to take his time so he wouldn’t make the biggest one: losing her. “We hadn’t known each other two, three months before we were sleeping together, having sex every night. What makes you so sure you love me? What makes you so sure this thing between us is real? Why are you so willing to risk it all?”

    Springing from the armchair in a rage, Abby marched up to him, hazel eyes flashing as she shoved him in the chest furiously, sending him tumbling to the bed below with her astride him. “Never just sex, huh? You, you bastard,” she screamed, balling her hands up into fists. “I’ve told you things I’ve never told anyone. You got to me by pretending you cared. I don’t know if this ‘thing’ we have,” she spat, “was ever really REAL, but you could have fooled me the night we conceived this baby. But then you’ve fooled me all along,” she swallowed past the lump in her throat, pushing her hands against his chest so she could get up. “Right now I wish I didn’t love you,” she cried as Nick rolled them over so that his face hovered over hers.

    “It was real, Abby,” Nick promised as his lips brushed against her forehead and placed her hand over her womb where their baby grew, covering it with his own. “It IS real, frighteningly real and so worth it we can’t let anything mess it up.”

    “Avoid the train wreck,” Abby whispered, biting her lip when his hand trembled over hers. “How are we going to do that?”

    Kissing the tip of her nose and standing up, Nick held out his hand to her. “Become friends.”




    ~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~




    “Which one do you think I should wear, Mom?” Ali quizzed Sheridan from the doorway of Hope’s nursery, holding up two dresses. “The pink one or the white one?”

    Sheridan secured the tape on Hope’s diaper before looking up. Biting her lip as she considered the two choices Ali’d given her, she glanced down at her cooing younger daughter before answering, “Neither. It’s a party, and you don’t want to worry about keeping your clothes clean. Pick something more comfortable.”

    Peering over the edge of Hope’s changing table, Cristian regarded Sheridan with solemn brown eyes. “Why can’t I go to Ms. Kinsay’s party? You and Hope are getting to go.”

    Cupping Cristian’s trembling chin in her hand, Sheridan gave him a gentle smile. “You weren’t in Ms. Kinsay’s class, Sweetie. And besides…you’ll have a party all your own next year that Ali won’t be able to come to.”

    “But I’d want Ali to come,” Cristian insisted.

    Hugging Cristian to her with one arm, Sheridan cradled Hope’s wiggling body close with the other. “I know,” she said, urging him to take a seat in the rocking chair beside Hope’s crib. “Hold her careful like I showed you,” Sheridan reminded him as she placed his little arms around Hope’s dimpled body and crossed the room to scour the closet for a suitable outfit.

    Hope’s face scrunched up fretfully, tiny fists reaching for Cristian’s hair. Her blue eyes welled with tears as her arms continued to flail in the air, and she pushed her feet against Cristian’s palm.

    Returning with Hope’s clothes, Sheridan crouched before the rocking chair, carefully slipping the dress of palest pink and lace over Hope’s dark-curled head and praying the act wouldn’t work her daughter into a crying rage. When only a few fat tears escaped and Sheridan realized she was getting better at dressing a baby that absolutely hated to be dressed, she and Cristian shared a smile over the avoided disaster. “Maybe you and I could so something special soon. Just the two of us. Would you like that?”

    Cristian’s grin made the cheerful yellow of the nursery even brighter, revealing his missing baby tooth. “Yeah.”

    “That’s it,” Sheridan ruffled his dark hair lovingly. “It’s a date.”



    ~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~



    True to his word, Hank delivered on his promise to Emily, and when the little girl scampered through the front door of the Book Café on the heels of her sister, rainbow ponytails bobbing in her excitement, Beth could only laugh.

    Hank sauntered up to the front counter and requested a copy of the Harmony Herald with a quirk of his dark brows, immediately turning to the classifieds and scanning their pages while keeping his other eye peeled out for his young daughters, seated at a table a couple of feet away.

    “You missed the family reunion. Grace and Sam just left out of here on their way to the Youth Center. They took Joshua, Miguel, and Katie with them,” Beth informed him.

    Hank crumpled the paper in his hands and tossed it toward the small waste basket hidden behind the counter. “We’re headed there. Just stopping by to let the girls fill up. Grace is making dinner tonight,” he said by way of explanation. “Sar, Emmy, give me your orders,” he called over his shoulder.

    “Gwen truly is an amazing woman,” Beth smirked as she removed a fudge brownie for Sara and dropped a handful of bubblegum into Hank’s palm for Emily. “Putting up with you…”

    “I’m not so bad,” Hank grinned. “You have to admit I’m easy on the eyes,” he winked.

    “I doubt that’ll save your butt when Gwen finds out you’ve been plying them with sugar all day,” Beth answered him, eyes twinkling merrily. “Can Divorce Court be that far off?”

    “I always knew you wanted me for yourself,” Hank grinned back at her.



    ~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~



    The halls of the school were bustling with exuberant children as Sheridan wheeled Hope’s stroller toward Ms. Kinsay’s classroom.

    Ali shadowed her mother, her blue eyes cast downward. She stumbled into Sheridan when they paused outside of the closed door, biting her lip when she heard the muted sounds of celebration within. Her small hands trembled with uncertainty when her mother took them in her own, and her eyes lifted reluctantly at the touch. “Mommy, I don’t know,” Ali shook her head worriedly, “what if…”

    Sheridan gave Ali’s hands a gentle, encouraging squeeze. “Did I tell you how pretty you look today?” She cupped her palm around Ali’s cheek with a smile. “Your daddy loves you in that color blue. Your daddy loves you in every color,” she laughed softly. “Just like I do.”

    Ali’s smile was tremulous at best, and her hands fidgeted nervously with the heart-shaped locket at her throat.

    “You know,” Sheridan offered, “we could go see Daddy at the police station. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. We could pick up Cristian and lunch and make it a day, but first you really should apologize to Ms. Kinsay and explain why you won’t be able to make it to her party. I’m sure she’d understand. Of course, she’ll be disappointed, but I’m sure you’ll see her around next year.”

    “It won’t be the same,” Ali muttered.

    “It won’t,” Sheridan agreed, unbuckling Hope and lifting her out of her stroller when she started to fuss. “I don’t think your sister likes all this noise. Maybe it’s not a good idea to stay for the party.”

    “But it’s different noise,” Ali insisted, smoothing the wrinkles out of the soft baby blue fabric recently clutched in her hands. “Roo would like Ms. Kinsay. And Lissy. And Ella and Tyler…Mommy,” Ali gathered in a deep breath and a bit of courage, “I think I want to stay.”

    “Your choice, Sweetie,” Sheridan held in her smile, smoothing a hand over Hope’s wispy dark curls. “I’m just the transportation.” Her comment earned a giggle from Ali, and Sheridan let her smile take free reign over her face, causing more than a couple of passers-by to pause in the hallway and admire the picture the trio made. “We can always have ice cream with Daddy after the party.”

    “Pinkie promise?” Ali grinned.

    “Pinkie promise,” Sheridan wrapped her pinkie around Ali’s.

    Hope gurgled happily when Ali’s fingers skated over her tummy.

    They entered the classroom together to an excited chorus of “Ali!”






    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    While Hank, Sam, and T.C. enjoyed the unenviable job of cleaning out the Youth Center’s locker rooms, Grace instructed Simone and Miguel where to hang each and every decoration.

    Theresa and Katie brainstormed for ways to safely and painlessly remove the purple bubblegum from Emily’s hair in Sheridan’s office.

    And in a quiet corner by themselves, Noah and Cristian took turns teaching Joshua how to dribble a basketball.

    Paloma watched them with a tiny smile on her lips, glancing back every few seconds at her unrepentant ‘prisoner.’ So far, Sara’d shown not one iota of guilt for putting several wads of bubblegum into her sister’s hair.

    “Why can’t I take my time-out under the bleachers?” Sara whined. “This is boring. YOU’RE boring,” she grumbled, sticking her tongue out at Paloma in disgust.

    “Time-outs aren’t supposed to be fun,” Whitney said, taking a seat at Sara’s side. “Apologize to Paloma.”

    “I’m sorry,” Sara muttered. “But you’re still boring.”

    Paloma looked to Whitney with laughing brown eyes. “Is she always this bad?”

    “Nope,” Sara cut Whitney off before she could answer. “I’m worse.”

    “Is it any wonder we stopped at three?” Hank groaned as he plopped down beside his young daughter. “Sar, play nice.”

    “Nice is boring, Dad,” Sara frowned. “Like her,” she pointed at Paloma.

    “Don’t take it personally,” Whitney leaned down to whisper to Paloma, a smile tugging at her lips. “She thought I was boring at first.”

    “I still do,” Sara stated with brutal honesty.

    “All right,” Hank grabbed his daughter by her shoulders, steering her down the bleachers. “Since a slap on the wrist isn’t good enough for you, it’s time for some community service. To the bathrooms, Kiddo.”

    Paloma and Whitney watched them leave, identical expressions of dismay on their faces. Finally, Whitney broke the silence. “Kids can be tough critics.”

    Paloma simply nodded in agreement.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    At the Seascape, Shane held Ivy’s seat out for her. As soon as she was seated, he took the seat across from her, his expression bordering on grim.

    Seemingly oblivious to Shane’s black mood, Ivy flashed a bright smile at the flustered young waiter, handing the menus back to him once she’d ordered appetizers for both her and Shane. “I think things went well, don’t you?”

    “Hotchkiss’s daughter is quite the businesswoman,” came Shane’s only comment.

    “Ethan and Gwen have always worked beautifully together,” Ivy said. “They nearly married you know,” she paused to take a sip from her wine. “I can’t help but wonder how different things would be. Don’t get me wrong. I like Beth, but…She and Ethan are more like friends than two people in love.”

    Shrugging noncommittally, Shane said, “Ethan seems pretty happy with the choice he made to me. Why can’t you leave it at that?”

    Shaking her head, Ivy replied, “Contentment and happiness are two very different things, Shane. Ethan’s content with Beth.”

    “Sometimes contentment is better than the alternative,” Shane answered her, tugging uncomfortably at the tie that felt like a noose around his neck. He was lying about his feelings on the matter, and Ivy knew it. He could tell by the expression on her face. “This isn’t working for you anymore, is it?”

    “I care for you, Shane,” Ivy answered haltingly. “We’ve had fun, but…”

    “We’re not going any farther,” Shane cut her off. “I get it, and I really can’t say I’m surprised. It’s been a long time coming.” He unknotted his tie and his fingers worked the top two buttons of his shirt free as he stood up slowly, pushing his seat back. “I’m still searching for forever, and forever’s already passed you by, hasn’t it Ivy?”

    “It doesn’t have to pass you by,” Ivy looked up at him with blue-green eyes that were full of regret. “Promise me you won’t let it. We can still be friends,” she suggested.

    “I won’t,” Shane promised. “And as for us being friends…that depends solely on you. If you continue to choose to hurt my sister to further your own agenda…Abby comes first with me, Ivy. Remember that,” he told her, taking his leave without a second glance.

    The waiter returned, arms laden with their orders, but Ivy sent him away, her appetite gone. Nursing the glass of wine in her hands, she made a vow of her own. “Ethan comes first with me.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Beth felt a chill travel up her spine as she gazed up at the stern likeness of Alistair Crane. She hugged her arms around her waist comfortingly. His eyes were so cold.

    “Kinda intimidating, ain’t he?” Chad commented, holding out an apologetic hand to steady Beth when she whirled around. “Still have a hard time believing the old bastard’s my grandfather sometimes.”

    Nodding unconsciously, Beth couldn’t take her eyes away from Alistair’s portrait. “You’re nothing like him,” she reassured him. “Neither are Ethan and Sheridan.”

    “You knew the old man?” Chad remarked with interest.

    “Knew of him,” Beth corrected him. “As ridiculous as it sounds, I resented him for the way things ended between Luis and me. And after hearing about the horrible things he did to his own children…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ramble.”

    “No harm,” Chad gave her a friendly smile. “Ethan’s helping Gwen move a few things into her new office. I can take you to him if you want.”

    Shaking her head, Beth turned down his offer. “He’s busy, and I need to get back to the Book Café. Luis promised to drop by and update me on the investigation into the break-in.”

    Falling into step beside her, Chad mused, “I still can’t believe they didn’t take anything.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Bent at the middle with his hands resting on his knees, T.C. panted from exertion, shaking his head at the knowing look on Sam’s face. Straightening, he wiped the sweat from his brow with the towel Sam offered him and said, “Two old men like us have no business out here on this basketball court. We’re just embarrassing ourselves.”

    “Speak for yourself. COACH Russell,” Sam grinned, sounding a little winded himself. He leaned heavily against the wall and looked to the front entrance where the first trickle of children had already begun to arrive. “Looks like we’ve been spotted,” he chuckled when a boisterous little trio sprang forward in a race to see which one made it to their side first.

    “Remind me to thank your wife,” T.C. retorted. Pushing himself forward, he greeted the kids. “Who wants to play some basketball?”

    Three little hands shot up eagerly, and Sam started to laugh in earnest at the look on T.C.’s face. “Show them what you got, Coach.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    With one last scribble of her red crayon, Emily held her newest masterpiece up for Cristian to admire.

    Ever the little gentleman, Cristian politely told her, “It’s pretty.” After a beat of silence, he looked at her with a befuddled expression and asked, “What is it?”

    “From the horns, I’d say it was Sar,” Hank quipped, pausing to kiss the top of Emily’s mussed brown head. Crouching down in front of the pair, he greeted Cristian. “How’s life as a big brother, Cristian? Hope’s sure something, isn’t she?”

    “She cries a lot,” Cristian admitted. “Daddy says she’s stubborn just like Mommy.”

    “What does Mommy say?” Hank grinned.

    “That Daddy has no idea how stubborn she really can be,” Cristian divulged, “and he’s only shooting himself in the foot.” His dark brows furrowed with confusion, Cristian posed a question that had Hank alternately choking with laughter and embarrassment. “What’s a libido?”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Leaving Beth at the front counter to discuss the break-in with Luis, Chad strolled over to the table in the back, currently occupied by three, make that four, giggling blondes and a cooing brunette. “Ladies, may I take your orders?”

    Sheridan smiled brightly at her nephew while the girls made their requests. “Shouldn’t you write that down or something?” she teased, blue eyes dancing as he squatted down to greet Hope in her stroller.

    Smirking as he stood back up, Chad replied, “I’m good.” Turning to Ali with a grin, he asked, “How was the party, Squirt?” The nickname sent Lissy and the little blond proudly sporting a pair of pink glasses into a fresh round of giggles, and Chad and Sheridan shared an amused smile.

    “It was the best,” Ali gushed happily.

    “Tyler asked Ali to go out with him,” the little blond with the pink glasses provided helpfully. “He’s the cutest boy in our class,” she told Chad excitedly.

    “But he’s not as cute as Jake,” Lissy interjected. “Everybody knows Jake and Ali are going out anyway,” she argued. “They’re practically married, Ella.”

    Chad looked over at Sheridan who was trying her hardest not to laugh then back at Ali who now wore a pretty pink blush on her cheeks. Chuckling, he teased her further and the pink blush seemed to travel all over her body, “Ali’s taken. I can vouch for that.”

    “Ali, Ali!” Ella stuck her hand up in the air, waving it in a near-frantic fashion. “Me and Lissy HAVE to be in your wedding.”

    “Wedding?!” Luis walked up to them. “Sheridan,” he entreated, “clue me in here.”

    “Hi, Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Ella squeaked, blushing furiously. Clutching Lissy’s hand, she looked over to Ali, and, rapidly fanning her other hand in front of her face, squealed, “Oh my gosh, Ali, your dad is so hot!”

    With visions of a mini-Hank taking his precious AliCat away from him and on a honeymoon no less, Luis was oblivious to the cause of his wife’s utter loss of composure and the three giggling little blondes joining her. “She’s only nine.”

    Leaving them to fill their orders, Chad mentally added a coffee for Luis. He sure as hell looked like he needed the jolt of caffeine to restart his heart.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Miguel sighed heavily as he stuffed the letter from MJ’s teacher back into its envelope and tapped the envelope against his knee.

    Taking a seat beside him on the bleachers, Katie stilled the nervous motion by placing her hand over his and gently taking the envelope from his fingers. Arching a golden brow at him, she waited patiently for him to respond.

    Rubbing his hands over his face tiredly, Miguel muttered, “MJ’s teacher thinks it might be better if I held him back a year.”

    “May I?” Katie indicated the envelope in her hands. At Miguel’s nod, she withdrew the sheets of paper and scanned through them. “His grades were already dropping before?” Katie looked up, searching Miguel’s face.

    “He has trouble paying attention in class,” Miguel admitted. “She wanted us to have him tested for ADHD, but then…the accident happened, and for a while there, I wasn’t much of a father.”

    “You were a little lost,” Katie took his hand in hers and gave it a compassionate squeeze. Her green eyes softened as she gazed into his sad dark eyes. “But you’re finding your way back now. And so are MJ and Joshua,” she spoke with quiet confidence. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

    “I’m not hard enough on myself,” Miguel declared. “What am I going to do about MJ?”

    “You’ll do what’s best for him,” came Katie’s simple answer.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “That has all the makings of a Lifetime Movie,” Abby commented dryly on Katie and Miguel’s apparent heart to heart.

    Hank turned around slowly, his dark eyes drawn to her chest.

    “Just like a man to look at a woman’s breasts first,” Abby scoffed goodnaturedly, standing tall under Hank’s quiet scrutiny.

    “It’s a little hard to notice anything else,” Hank answered her. “Did you know you had the word ‘BRAT’ stretched across the front of your chest?”

    “I have one at home that’s much more appropriate, but I didn’t want to corrupt the innocents of Harmony,” Abby told him, fishing for a smile. When it didn’t appear, she sighed, hazel eyes boring into brown apologetically. “Would it help if I promised to name you the godfather?” When she saw a hint of a twinkle in his eyes, she mock-groaned, “Spare me the Brando and Pacino impersonations, okay?”

    The corners of Hank’s mouth twitched, but he stayed mum.

    “I’m sorry you didn’t find out from me first,” Abby grew serious. “But that bitch had it coming. She’s lucky I didn’t go all kung fu on her Sumo ass.”

    Finally, Hank laughed, sliding his arms around her waist and tugging her into a bear hug. Giving her tawny ponytail an affectionate tug, he looked into her sparkling hazel eyes and grinned, deciding to make light of the situation instead of voicing his misgivings of Taylor for the millionth time. “Godfather has a nice ring to it, but I think we should go with the more traditional Uncle Hank. What do you think?”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Dragging her feet dejectedly and wearing a black scowl, Sara followed Grace into the kitchen.

    Stealing a covert glance at the petulant child, Grace smothered a smile. Contrary to popular Harmony belief, she wasn’t blind, and she’d picked up a few things along the way raising three children. While Hank hadn’t meant for Sara to view her early departure from the Youth Center with Grace as a punishment for her various misdeeds of the day, it was more than apparent the child did. Grace couldn’t help but find a little bit of humor in the situation. Kay had always felt the same way, and, much like Sara was now, more than made her feelings known without uttering a single word. Crossing the kitchen to the refrigerator, Grace opened the door and withdrew the casserole she’d prepared earlier that morning. Pulling out a couple more dishes and setting them on the counter, she tossed a question at her young niece. “Sara, what do you think we should have for dessert?”

    Sara’s small shoulders lifted in a shrug, and she walked over to the kitchen table where she plopped gracelessly into one of the chairs. She tugged at one corner of the red-and-white checkered tablecloth, resolute in her decision to ignore Grace.

    Smirking at the thought that the Cranes and Lopez-Fitzgeralds didn’t have a monopoly on the trait of stubbornness, Grace doggedly continued the one-sided conversation. “Noah says he and Katie want you and Emily to be in their wedding. Sounds exciting.”

    “I don’t want to wear a stupid dress,” Sara muttered under her breath, twirling the salt shaker between her fingers. She snatched it up when it toppled over, sneaking a peek at Grace before sweeping the tiny white crystals off of the table. “Weddings are dumb.”

    Arching an auburn brow at that comment, Grace decided the sentiment could ring true to a child such as Sara, who’d just as soon wear her T-ball uniform to church as a dress every Sunday. “Your cousin Kay always thought that too until she married Miguel. I think weddings are nice,” she commented, setting the timer on the oven. “Someday you’ll feel the same way.”

    “I won’t,” Sara vowed, shifting in her seat to get a better look at what Grace was doing when she took a package of Oreos out of one of the cupboards. Her brown eyes widened when Grace opened the package and took out a handful of cookies, crumbling them into a bowl. Without noticing she was doing it, Sara slid out of her chair and made her way across the kitchen to Grace. Clambering onto a barstool, she peered into the bowl of crumbled cookies and back at Grace’s face, frowning, “What’d you do that for?”

    “Because it’s fun,” Grace answered her with a straight face, picking up a spoon and mixing up something in a second larger bowl. “You want to do it? Go head,” she encouraged, nudging the package of cookies toward Sara along with the smaller bowl.

    Sara took the cookies from Grace suspiciously and experimentally crushed one, sending crumbs everywhere. When Grace didn’t immediately tell her to clean her mess up, she grabbed handful after handful of cookies and crumbled with gusto. She loved making a mess!

    When Sara was finished, Grace helped her pour the cookie bits into the larger bowl and instructed her to start mixing again while she retrieved the vital last ingredient to their little mishmash from the cupboard.

    Sara eyed the bag of rainbow colored gummy worms with undisguised interest. “What are you going to do with those?”

    Grace smiled. “You’ll see.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “God help us all when her hormones REALLY start going haywire,” Abby nodded in Ella’s direction. The giggly little blond vaguely reminded her of an overly excited toy poodle or Pomeranian. Actually, she reminded her of Theresa after too many drinks. “Jeez, she’s making me dizzy.”

    “You okay, Tink?” Hank immediately placed a protective, supporting hand at the small of Abby’s back.

    “Maybe you should lie down,” Miguel said, looking concerned as he gently took her arm and started leading her toward Sheridan’s office.

    Smirking, Abby looked back and forth between the two men and swore, “Damn. If only the thought of either of you naked in my bed didn’t make me want to crack up.”

    “As in ‘haha’ or ‘I’ll never teeeelllll’?” Hank grinned. “On second thought, forget I asked that question. Neither response helps the already bruised ego.”

    Miguel shook his head slightly at them, and Abby stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek with a tender smile. “You’re great guys,” she said. “Both of you.”

    “And that should make me feel better when you’ve already insulted me?” Hank continued the light teasing.

    “Don’t be insulted,” Abby replied, tongue in cheek. “You’re my very own Will.”

    “Grace’s Will?” Hank’s grin faltered. “Tink, you’re killing me here.”

    “BEE!” Joshua raced to Abby, latching himself firmly onto her legs. “Uh,” he held his arms up.

    Abby glared at Miguel when he stopped her from picking up Joshua, lifting the toddler himself. “Hand him over. I’ve missed the little monkey.”

    Miguel refused, ignoring the way Joshua whined and stretched his little arms out reaching for Abby. “MJ got too heavy for Kay to lift when she was pregnant with Joshua, and Joshua’s at least a year older than MJ was.”

    “He can’t weight twenty pounds dripping wet,” Abby protested with an exaggerated roll of her hazel eyes.

    Hank didn’t help her argument, commenting, “You’re a lightweight, Tink. I could easily toss you over my shoulder right now and carry you ten blocks.”

    “Will ya shut up, Bennett? I know the height on your driver’s license is wishful thinking,” Abby shot Hank a meaningful look.

    Realizing the pair could easily trade barbs for hours, Miguel solved the dilemma with a simple, logical suggestion. “Sit down and hold him.”

    “Thanks, Miguel. You’re a fledgling Einstein,” Abby beamed, taking Joshua from his arms before he could stop her and striding over to the kiddie-size table Simone and Paloma had set up a few feet away where she claimed one of the miniature chairs as her own. She bounced Joshua on her knees, making him giggle, before pulling him close in a tight hug and kissing his dark head.

    Beside Hank, Miguel sighed and wondered aloud, “What are we going to do with her?”

    Hank responded, “That’s a question I’ve been trying to figure out for years.”



    ~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~

    “It’s like an out of control family reunion out there,” Luis joked as he shut the door to Sheridan’s office softly, taking every precaution to avoid waking the little sleeping beauty in the corner.

    Slumped in her stroller with drool dribbling down her sweet chin, Hope was the picture of a tiny angel.

    Luis had a feeling though that the third time was the charm. He and Sheridan finally had the little hell raiser that destiny had dictated they’d be blessed with sooner or later. His gut told him Hope was going to give him far more gray hairs than Ali’s little romance with Jake. Or maybe not, he decided as the returned thought of his AliCat growing up sent another pang coursing through his belly.

    Sliding her arms around Luis’s waist and tucking her blond head against his strong shoulder, Sheridan sighed, the small sound signaling both her exhaustion and contentment just to be in his arms. Raising sparkling blue eyes to his beloved face, she said, “I know exactly what you’re thinking, Buster. It’s not a thought scarier than death.”

    “We’re never going to have another peaceful night’s sleep again,” Luis declared.

    Luis definitely had Pilar the worrywart’s genes, Sheridan decided with a small laugh. She knew he wasn’t just talking about the present; she even had a niggling sense he was right. She preferred a little optimism, though she couldn’t help teasing him. “I think I read somewhere that fathers of daughters live shorter lives. Higher incidence of stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, things like that…”

    Luis acknowledged her teasing with a helpless smile and pressed his lips against her temple as he backed them both toward the chair behind her desk. The chair squeaked beneath their combined weight as Luis pulled her into his lap and muttered against her golden brow. “It’ll be like raising you.”

    Laughing, Sheridan cupped her palm around his smooth jaw. “Is that really so bad?” When his only answer was a tiny smirk, she cried out, “Luis!”

    Kissing her, Luis grinned, “I haven’t tamed you yet.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    When Katie came back to Martin wearing an apologetic smile, Martin nodded knowingly. Being careful to avoid Emily’s blue paint-covered palms, he scooped her into his arms and carried her toward the locker rooms. “Come on, Lass. Let’s get you cleaned up before your mother gets here.”

    Katie followed Martin, gently pushing a similarly marked Cristian forward. “I didn’t have the heart to disturb them.”

    Martin set Emily on her feet in front of the row of sinks, leaning over her to turn on the faucet. Taking both of her small hands and a bar of hand soap into his own hands, he rubbed vigorously as the warm water poured over their skin.

    “I wanted to look like Smurfette, Mr. Fitz,” Emily told Martin.

    “The Smurfs still come on?” Katie asked, biting her lip as she concentrated on removing the red paint from Cristian’s palms. “Who’d you want to be, Cristian?” she inquired, meeting the little boy’s repentant brown eyes in the reflection of the mirror.

    “Cristian was supposed to be Clifford,” Emily piped up for Cristian. “Mr. Fitz, are we in trouble with Uncle Luis? He’s the police. If the paint doesn’t come off, will I be blue forever? I’m hungry. If I apologize real nice, can I have a cookie?”

    Chuckling at he dabbed a damp cloth at the blue spot on Emily’s button nose, Martin took a few seconds to process her line of questions before answering. “I’m sure Uncle Luis will let you off with a warning this time, the paint’s washing off, and Katie will get you both a cookie when we’re finished here if you promise not to sneak into the finger paints again.”

    “I promise, Grandpa Martin,” Cristian said solemnly as Katie dried his hands with a small hand towel.

    “Me too, Mr. Fitz,” Emily said, flinging her arms around Martin’s neck and noisily kissing his cheek.

    “Be on with you now,” Martin smiled, shooing the two little ones and Katie away as he stood up. Looking into the mirror once they were gone, he raised his hand to the small speck of blue paint adorning his cheek with a chuckle.



    ~+~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Jake’s confident swagger was suffering under the scrutiny of the giddy blond trio known as Ella, Lissy, and Ali.

    Ella whispered something to Lissy, and the two girls looked at Jake and giggled while Ali just continued to smile at him.

    Jake’s curiosity was killing him, and he kept sneaking glances at the girls, his focus straying from the game of basketball at hand. It wasn’t much of a surprise then when he looked up just in time to see the basketball flying toward his face. Stunned, he fell to a heap on the gym floor. When he blinked his eyes open a minute later, muttering ‘ouch’, all he could see were Ali’s big blue eyes welling with worried tears.

    “Jake,” Ali shook his shoulder gently. “Jake, wake up. Are you dead? You just can’t be dead.”

    Ella’s and Lissy’s faces loomed behind Ali’s, but Jake focused his eyes only on Ali’s sweet face. “Aww, Ali,” he complained when she threw her arms around his neck, causing Dylan and a bunch of the other guys to snicker. “If I was dead, do you think I’d be talking to you right now?”

    “Little Buddy’s got a point,” Hank agreed, parting the crowd that had gathered around his fallen son and striking out a hand. Jake took it, and Hank hauled him and Ali to their feet, grinning at the embarrassed blush on his son’s cheeks as he tried to disengage Ali’s arms from his neck.

    “Dad,” Jake gave Hank a pointed look.

    “Come on, Ali,” Hank took Ali’s hand gently. “Just because Jake’s not old enough yet to appreciate a pretty girl’s concern doesn’t mean I’m not.”

    Jake tamped down his guilt, puffed up his chest, and walked right up to Dylan, snatching the offending basketball from his hands and saying, “Game’s not over.” A guy had to save a little face.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Hank had put forth an admirable effort trying to lift Ali’s sagging spirits after Jake’s snub, but his attempts weren’t all that successful, and Ali joined Martin, Pilar, and Cristian on the bleachers, stretching out her parents’ stolen peaceful moments as long as she could.

    Then Ella’s harried mother had arrived to pick her up mere minutes after the incident, essentially leaving Lissy alone.

    Completely relaxed in Abby’s arms, Joshua snored lightly. The little table they were seated at was all but abandoned with the mass exodus of children following their parents’ arrivals at the Youth Center, and Lissy easily found a seat.

    “Boys are so stupid,” Lissy muttered, tossing her long tawny hair over her shoulders as she glanced over at Abby.

    Smiling inwardly at Lissy’s protectiveness toward Ali, Abby commented, “Especially when it comes to girls. He really hurt her feelings, huh?” She knew Jake had only added insult to injury when he’d left with Emily and his parents to go home and get ready for dinner at Grace’s without offering Ali an apology.

    “He did,” Lissy took the comment and run with it. “I was so sure Jake was different. Ali’s always been his best friend.”

    Abby carefully shifted Joshua to the arm that wasn’t asleep and looked into Lissy’z chocolate eyes before speaking, “Maybe now that he realizes she’s more than his best friend, he’s a little scared. Plus, he doesn’t want to look like a sissy in front of all his other friends. Maybe he doesn’t realize that’s making him look like a jerk.”

    Lissy considered Abby’s words for a moment then said, “I’m still mad at him for hurting Ali’s feelings.”

    “You’re a good friend, Lissy,” Abby smiled at the little girl, causing her to smile back.

    Lissy scooted her chair closer to Abby’s, stopping abruptly when Joshua stirred slightly, murmuring, “Bee.” Lowering her voice to a soft whisper as she watched Abby lovingly stroke Joshua’s baby smooth cheek in a calming gesture, Lissy asked Abby a surprising question, “When are you and my dad going to go out again?”

    Christopher echoed his daughter’s question. “I’d like to know the answer to that question myself.”

  4. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 12




    Thanks to a last minute call for Noah from the station, Katie found herself standing in front of the Bennett’s door alone, contemplating whether to ring the doorbell or just knock.

    Sara made her decision for her, bursting through the door and sweeping past her to grab MJ by the arm and drag him inside. “MJ, we’re having dirt for dessert!”

    Laughing softly, Katie waited for Miguel to come up the walkway, carrying a cranky Joshua in his arms. She reached for Joshua’s small hand, but he pulled it away, burying his tear-streaked face in Miguel’s neck. “What’s wrong, Sweetie?”

    “He wanted to stay with Abby,” Miguel sighed. “And MJ wouldn’t even acknowledge her. I don’t know how to handle either one of them,” he admitted, following Katie into Sam and Grace’s home. It was with much relief that he placed Joshua into Grace’s open arms.

    Grace soothed her grandson, keeping her comments about MJ and Joshua being too attached, almost unhealthily attached, to Abby to herself. Smiling at Katie, she asked, “Is Kendall still with his grandmother?”

    Nodding, Katie sighed. “I’m glad they’re coming home tomorrow because I don’t think I could stand to be away from him much longer. The apartment’s so lonely without him, and Noah’s been working late…” she trailed off, blushing as she realized the conclusions Grace could draw from that little statement. Regardless of their engaged state, Katie knew Grace wasn’t completely happy about the nights Noah spent over at her apartment.

    “It’s the life you lead as a police officer’s wife,” Grace commented, “they spend more time at the station than they do at home. That’s where Sam’s at now. I hope you don’t mind waiting a little while before dinner’s served.”

    “It’s not a problem,” Katie assured her, breathing in a sigh of relief when the moment passed with minimum discomfort. She followed Miguel to the sofa and sat down beside him, where they watched Grace try to coax a smile out of Joshua by offering him one of his favorite stuffed animals.

    “Hi, Katie,” Emily beamed happily, flapping the little pink brush in her hand at Katie in greeting when she emerged from the kitchen, Gwen following close behind her. With her dolly tucked safely under her arm, she climbed onto the sofa, situating herself between Katie and Miguel, and soon busied herself by brushing the tangles from her dolly’s long, curly hair. Glancing up at Katie between strokes, Emily divulged, “I’m getting her all pretty for my wedding to Mr. Fitz.”

    Off Miguel’s astonished, greatly amused expression, Gwen only smiled and said, “Hank’s just glad she’s not fantasizing about Luis. Apparently, she has a thing for older men. I think it’s fitting, considering Hank once admitted to harboring a secret crush on your mother.”

    “Guess that one’s not making it to the grave with you, Babe,” Hank pretended to be upset as he took up residence in the oversized armchair, pulling Gwen down onto his lap. Shrugging, he grinned, “Luis always had his suspicions.”

    “No kidding,” Katie responded playfully, causing all of the room’s occupants to laugh, including Grace.

    “See that, Miguel,” Hank said proudly, “I’m training her exceptionally well if I do say so myself.”

    “You’re an example in modesty, Bennett,” Gwen rolled her eyes, dodging his kiss with a small laugh. Sliding her arms around his neck, she gazed down at him with curious brown eyes, “While the fact that Sara’s being unusually well-behaved this evening has me suspicious, nothing has me more curious than Jake’s Houdini act. Care to enlighten me on our son’s disappearing act?”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Jake was, for this evening at least, an adopted Lopez-Fitzgerald, enjoying Pilar’s cooking if not the pleasure of being the recipient of one of Ali’s magical smiles. Cristian wasn’t even being nice to him, and Jake was a little worried because Cristian was always nice to everybody. He guessed you didn’t have to be a big brother to feel that embarrassing occasional pang of protectiveness for your sister. Jeez, had he messed up big time this time or what? He pushed his plate away, the knots in his stomach making it impossible to take another bite. He couldn’t eat anyway with Ali’s aunts Theresa and Paloma staring at him with those funny smiles on their faces. Scooting his chair closer to Martin’s, he whispered, “It isn’t working, Mr. Fitzgerald. She hates me.”

    “Nonsense, young Bennett,” Martin whispered back. “She doesn’t hate you. She’s only pretending to so you’ll feel even more guilty. It’s one of a woman’s most useful weapons against us.”

    “Well, it works,” Jake muttered, scowling blackly at Theresa’s smothered giggles and Pilar and Paloma’s irritating smiles. He looked to Cristian for solidarity, and finding none, turned back to Martin with a look of desperation in his brown eyes.

    Martin hid his own smile and offered Jake some sage advice. “Your best bet, young Bennett, is to bite the bullet and apologize. It doesn’t have to be fancy. ‘I’m sorry’ is more than enough.”

    “Okay,” Jake sighed, “but I can’t do it here. Not with them,” he nodded, indicating the trio of Lopez-Fitzgerald women, “watching. It’s too embarrassing.”

    “All right,” Martin agreed, pushing his chair back from the kitchen table purposefully. “Ali and Cristian…we’re going out for ice cream.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Maybe her guilt over the disastrous end to their first ‘date’ had led Abby to accept Christopher’s invitation to join him and Lissy at the Lobster Shack for dinner, but genuine enjoyment of the pair’s company kept her around for a hot fudge sundae and a walk along the pier.

    Lissy raced from one eye-catching window to another, peering into each pier-side shop with wonder and reporting her finds back to Abby and Christopher excitedly.

    Abby laughed as she commented on Lissy’s apparent fondness for shopping. “Something tells me she didn’t inherit her shopping gene from you.”

    “Maybe she got it from her mother,” Christopher stated with a smile, his attempt at pretending to be offended by Abby’s comment a complete failure. Lightly touching a hand to Abby’s arm as they slowed to a stop, he changed the subject, hoping he wouldn’t make her uncomfortable. “I like spending time with you, Abby. So does Lissy.”

    Backing up a little and putting some distance between the two of them, Abby laughed nervously, more than a little confused. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it wasn’t too long ago that you hated my guts.”

    “That’s not true,” Christopher protested. “I just didn’t know you very well, and things…they’ve changed. You’re growing on me, Abby Stone.”

    “Like a fungus,” Abby jumped in. She tapped her spoon against the sides of the empty paper cup in her hand, keeping her hazel eyes fixed on the motion as she searched for the right words. Finally, she decided honesty was indeed the best policy, and blurted, “I’m pregnant.” When Christopher remained silent, she searched his eyes for a reaction, then added, more quietly, “And, get this. I’m hopelessly in love with the father even if he can’t admit his feelings to me.”

    Christopher opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by Abby’s hurried chatter.

    “You really should go back to hating my guts for letting things even get to this point.” More nervous laughter spilled from Abby’s lips before she continued. “I wanted to make Nick jealous, but I didn’t want to hurt a nice guy in the process. You ARE a much nicer guy than I’d given you credit for earlier,” Abby said, realizing her blunder a little too late. She tried to apologize, but the words didn’t feel like they were enough.

    “Abby, I…” Christopher began, only to be cut off again.

    “I REALLY didn’t expect that to sound so bad once it left my mouth…Say something. Tell me you’ve rediscovered those old feelings of hate for me again. Call me a babbling idiot because I don’t have the sense God gave a knot on a log, and put me out of my misery. This wouldn’t be so bad if the idea of spending any more time with you and Lissy was abominable, but it isn’t. God help me, but, believe it or not, I genuinely like the idea of you and I being friends,” Abby said, shocking both herself and Christopher with her last admission. “See?” she threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Bonafide proof that I’m crazy. I mean, to even consider the possibility that you’d want to spend another minute of your time with a woman that’s a hopeless case, a pregnant hopeless case at that. It’s preposterous. It’s ridiculous to even hope you’d consider…” Her eyes widened when Christopher framed her face with his hands and pressed a kiss to her babbling mouth. Covering her mouth with her hand, she stared at him in astonishment before exclaiming, “What the hell was that?!”

    Nick, who’d witnessed the whole exchange several feet away, was left wondering the same thing.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Jake knew the true seriousness of the situation when ice cream—with colored sprinkles—failed to bring a smile to Ali’s pretty face. At ten, the love life he hated to admit to, was over. Kaput. He decided he may as well take up permanent residence in the doghouse.

    For his part, Martin did his best to let the little guy fix things on his own. He knew his granddaughter to possess the gentlest of hearts and that all it’d take were the beginnings of a heartfelt apology issued from young Jake’s reluctant lips to make her happy again.

    Cristian remained quiet by his grandfather’s side, his concern for Ali not permitting him to fully enjoy the banana split that melted before him on the picnic table. His brown eyes followed Jake and Ali’s every movement as they trekked across the shifting gravel to the playground. When their voices faded into the growing shadows of the day, Cristian looked up to Martin, and taking his reassuring nod to heart, decided to leave the rest up to Ali and Jake themselves.


    ~@~

    Wishing for the ground to open beneath his feet and swallow him up at any second, Jake cleared his throat, hoping to gain Ali’s full and undivided attention. When she didn’t lift her golden head and those blue eyes stubbornly refused to look at him, Jake crept closer to the swing Ali twirled lazily in, a tiny, drooping wildflower clutched behind his back. Presenting it to her somewhat shyly, Jake spoke with an embarrassing tremble in his voice, “I’m a jerk.”

    Hesitantly, Ali’s fingers fluttered over the delicate green stalk, and gradually, she stopped twirling, instead moving her feet back and forth through the earth deliberately, still refusing to meet Jake’s eyes. Her fingers wrapped around the stalk gingerly when Jake released it, and she listened to the crunch of his sneakers on the gravel then the creak of the chain of the swing next to her as he pushed it into motion. Out of the corner of her blue eyes, she saw him with his tousled brown head down, watching his feet as if they were the most interesting thing in the world at that moment. And she murmured a single word. “Yeah.” The restless movement beside her stopped, and she felt the weight of Jake’s hand slowing her own motion then heard him clear his throat again.

    The lowering sun glinted off of Ali’s golden hair, and Jake realized in the moment she finally looked at him, that he’d spend the rest of his life mesmerized by her big blue eyes. They made him do funny things, like blurt out crazy ideas. And none were crazier than what happened next. “I’ll do anything you want. Anything. If you’ll only believe how sorry I am.” When she looked at him, all angelic and glowy-like following that embarrassing moment of weakness, he knew he was going down without a lifesaver, and he could only brace himself for the worst.

    Raising the drooping token of apology to her nose and breathing in its scent, Ali raised a golden brow. “Anything?”

    Mr. Fitzgerald, Jake silently telepathed across the stretch of dusky acres. Help. Hhhhhhheeeeeeelllllllllppppppp.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Ali and Cristian were safe with his parents, Hope was finally asleep in her crib in the nursery, Noah and Sam were handling things at the station, and Luis was a happy man.

    Entering their room in her most comfortable, tattered-looking fuzzy white robe, Sheridan stopped at the foot of their bed, groaning when she saw her husband sprawled seductively across the freshly laundered sheets wearing nothing but a come hither smile and a pair of revealing black boxers. Moving closer and setting the baby monitor on the nightstand, Sheridan raised a hand to her waist, tugging the belt of her robe tighter, lamenting as Luis leaned up on his elbows and snagged her by the arm to pull her closer to him, “Luis, I feel anything BUT sexy right now. Look at me.” Pouting as she fended off his attempts to wrap her in his arms, she sighed, “I desperately need a long, hot bath and about a week’s worth of sleep crammed into one night.”

    Sitting up and throwing his legs over the side of the bed, Luis took her hands in his and brought them to his lips, pressing a kiss to each palm. He stood up slowly, giving her hand a gentle tug as he padded toward the bathroom on bare feet. “I’m not going to be much help on the sleep-front,” he told her with a grin that had her shaking her head, “but I know you’ve been missing your bubblebaths lately so…” He stepped aside, letting Sheridan walk into the bathroom and see for herself what he had done.

    Laughter bubbled forth from Sheridan’s lips when she saw the bubbles shimmering in the candlelight, and she turned to Luis, blue eyes dancing as she tried to shield her smile from him with her hand. “You’re not going to let me get any sleep tonight, are you?”

    “Only if that’s what you really want,” Luis said, giving her a smoldering look as his hands went to the belt at her waist, loosening it and slipping a hand inside. Dragging the knuckles of one hand across her naked curves, he lifted his other hand to guide her mouth to his waiting lips.

    His kiss was warm and lazy, and his hands swept the heavy robe from her shoulders, pooling it at her feet. Before she even knew it, Sheridan found herself lulled into such a pleasurable state sleep was the last thing on her mind.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “Dr. Nick!” Lissy exclaimed. “Daddy, it’s Ali’s Dr. Nick.”

    Abby’s eyes slammed shut, and still covering her mouth with her now shaking hand, she swore softly. “Dammit.” She held up a distancing hand to Christopher and turned to face Nick, who now stood just a couple of feet away with Lissy. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”

    His mouth a grim line, his gray eyes unreadable, Nick replied, “Obviously.” He fumbled with the paper shopping bags in his hands, thrusting them at her. Mustering a brief smile for Lissy, he hastily said his goodbyes and left.

    “Oh, Abby. It’s so cute,” Lissy squealed, tugging a small, white teddy bear from one of the bags and hugging it.

    “Lissy, that doesn’t belong to you,” Christopher scolded his young daughter. “Apologize to Abby,” he ordered, taking the teddy bear from her and gently placing it in Abby’s hands, hands that already held a beautifully patterned baby blanket.

    “I’m sorry, Abby,” Lissy said contritely. Tucking her small body beneath her father’s protective arm, she whispered as tears of frustration collected in Abby’s hazel eyes, “She’s not going to cry, is she Daddy?”

    “I’m sorry,” Christopher was full of remorse. “If you hurry, I’m sure you can still catch him. Explain that I was the one that…I’m sorry. Just go. Tell him it’s my fault,” he called after Abby as she hurried after Nick.


    ~@~



    When Abby caught up with Nick, she was out of breath and mad as hell. Grabbing his arm roughly, she spat, “What the hell happened to you doing all the chasing this time?” She dropped the shopping bags at her feet, bending at the waist and gasping softly for air.

    Clenching his fists at his sides, Nick fought with himself not to reach out and touch her before he had his say and some answers. “It looked like someone else had already caught you back there, and he didn’t have to chase all that damn hard, did he? I’m sorry I interrupted your date. You don’t waste any time, do you?” he cringed at the words, looking away in disgust. His gaze snapped back to Abby’s face when she started laughing incredulously.

    Sobering in an instant, Abby let her anger resume control. “Grow the hell up. Do I like Christopher? Yes, I like him. I enjoy spending time with him and his daughter. I’m not inviting him into the same f---ing bed we supposedly made love in last night. Give me some credit,” she growled. “I wait more than 24 hours before I move on to my next partner. Hell, I waited more than ten years before I let someone else in to do some more damage. I hate this shit. It’s so damned complicated. You’re so damned complicated. Loving someone, wait I mean caring deeply for someone,” she threw his words back at him, wiping at the tears that’d started to trickle down her cheeks, “shouldn’t twist you up into so many knots. I went through this with Vincent, I went through this with Tony, I don’t have to go through it again with you.”








    Following a surprisingly subdued dinner and Noah excusing himself to take Katie home, Grace and Gwen cleared the table of dishes in companionable silence.

    In the living room, Hank and Sam whooped and hollered, excited and eager as two little boys on Christmas morning as they ‘tested’ out the new PlayStation game Sam had so generously purchased MJ earlier that week. Sara and MJ rolled their eyes at the two grownups as they waited impatiently for their turn, and Emily slumped against the arm of the sofa, mouth lax in sleep as she snored softly. Beside her, teddy bear clutched in his small hands, Joshua pouted silently, wiping at his runny nose with the back of his hand.

    Sighing, Miguel re-entered the kitchen, intent on saying his goodbyes so that he could take his boys home. Clearing his throat, he approached Grace, praising her for their meal in the same breath he took his leave. “It’s getting late. I should get the boys home,” he explained as he let Grace hug him and offered Gwen a small smile. “Get them to bed.”

    “MJ hasn’t played his game,” Grace protested as she stepped back, fussing with the plastic containers of leftovers she’d yet to place in the refrigerator. “Noah didn’t get to tell the boys goodnight. Don’t go, Miguel. Stay just a while longer,” she pleaded.

    “I forgot to mention that,” Gwen interrupted quietly. “Noah called earlier and said not to wait up. There was a change in plans, and they’re expecting Kendall and Katie’s mother back tonight.”

    “Oh,” Grace uttered, unable to hide her disappointment. Pushing the leftovers at Miguel, she told him, “For the boys. If they get hungry. There’s some more ‘dirt’ in there. MJ really seemed to like it.” Unsure of what to do with her hands once they were empty, she dropped them to her sides then clasped them together tightly to keep from reaching out to Miguel and preventing him from leaving when he turned to go.

    “Thanks,” Miguel mumbled awkwardly. Grace’s voice stopped him not two steps later.

    “Call me if Joshua doesn’t start feeling any better. He felt a little warm at dinnertime.”

    Gwen itched to tell Grace not to worry so much but knew it really wasn’t her place to say anything. Instead she smiled understandingly at Miguel when he promised Grace he’d call, barely disguising his frustration. “We’ll see you at T-ball practice. Hank will anyway. Bye, Miguel,” she said.

    “Thanks, Gwen,” Miguel murmured gratefully then took one of Grace’s hands in his own, squeezing it reassuringly as he repeated, “I promise to call. If Joshua’s sniffles aren’t gone by morning, I’ll call his pediatrician.”

    Throwing her arms around Miguel’s neck and hugging him tightly once more, Grace apologized tearfully, “I worry about you and boys. I know you have Pilar and Martin looking out for you, and you’re doing a wonderful job yourself, but…”

    With Miguel’s nod of approval, Gwen took the containers from his hands and placed them in the refrigerator before leaving the pair alone and rejoining her husband and children in the living room.

    Miguel embraced his sobbing mother-in-law, and their roles were reversed as he became something he hadn’t been in many long months: the comforter.





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Chuckling at the expression of abject horror Jake made no effort to conceal, Martin pulled up a chair beside the young Bennett, reminding him, “You DID promise her you’d do ANYTHING.”

    “But ballet? The stinking ballet?” Jake grumbled as Theresa and Ali excitedly chattered to Pilar about the trip, still in the planning stage.

    “Don’t forget Broadway,” Paloma interjected with a smile. “Theresa won’t be able to pass up Broadway when you guys take your trip. It’s simply too irresistible an opportunity.”

    “I hadn’t thought of that,” Theresa bubbled. “Ali, how would like to see ‘Beauty and the Beast’?”

    “No, no,” Jake whined. “Not some loser love story. At least make it something cool.” His lamentations fell on deaf ears, and he gave Martin a look that bordered on frantic.

    Martin simply smiled, enjoying his daughter and young granddaughter’s growing excitement.

    “What about tickets, Mija?” Pilar asked, ever practical.

    “Aunt Ivy can get them for us,” Ali beamed.

    “She’d do anything for Ali,” Theresa agreed.

    “Your meetings, Theresita,” Pilar said, reminding Theresa of the original reason for the trip to New York.

    “They won’t take long, Mama. I’m sure Chad won’t mind watching Jake and Ali for a few hours,” Theresa answered her.

    “What about Chad’s auditions?” Paloma remembered. “Theresa, neither one of you can be two places at once,” she said logically.

    “You’re right,” Theresa admitted, crestfallen as reality began to sink in. Her brown eyes lit up a moment later as a solution occurred to her, and she jumped out of her seat, nearly bursting with excitement as she advanced on her sister. “Paloma…my favorite sister…”

    “Your only sister,” Paloma replied warily, knowing exactly what was coming.

    “Still my favorite,” Theresa grinned, wrapping her arms around Paloma’s shoulders with a giggle. “Think of it as a chance to bond, make up for lost time. You can help me look for a wedding dress,” Theresa singsonged, putting the suggestion out there and dangling it like the proverbial carrot in front of Paloma’s nose.

    “Wedding dresses, too?” Jake groaned, pushing his chair back and trudging off to join Cristian in the living room. “Oh, man.”

    Giggling, Ali scampered after him, trusting her aunt Theresa’s considerable skills of persuasion.

    “I thought you were designing your own wedding dress,” Paloma retorted.

    “Come on,” Theresa poured on the charm as her amused parents looked on. “You know you’ll have fun. Say yes. Please, pretty please.”

    “Not the puppy dog eyes,” Paloma groaned, looking to Martin for help.

    “The puppy dog eyes are hard to say no to,” Martin told his youngest daughter as he stood up and took the cup of coffee Pilar offered him, trying without luck to hide his smile behind it.

    “You’re no help,” Paloma sighed. “Mama?”

    “I’m sure Ali would love to get to know you better, Mija, and any excursion with Jake is never boring,” Pilar responded with just a hint of a twinkle in her eyes.

    Paloma smiled because she was just beginning to realize the truth of her mother’s last statement. The smile on her lips stayed when she thought of how welcome the chance to get to know her little niece better was too. The trip had definite possibilities. “It could be fun…” she said, before Theresa cut off her oxygen supply with the fierceness of her hug.

    “It is going to be SO much fun, Paloma. Wait and see. You won’t regret this,” Theresa squealed happily.

    Picturing Jake flop face-first onto the couch after hearing his muffled groans of defeat, Paloma laughed, thinking she’d definitely wait and see.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Facing the bathroom mirror, Sheridan hummed under her breath while she briskly rubbed her short blond hair dry.

    Behind her, Luis perched on the closed toilet seat, Hope’s tiny feet dangling freely over his arms, and her small dark curled head, still damp from her shared bath with her mother and father, resting against his chiseled chest. Luis murmured sweet words in her listening ear as her blue eyes watched the rhythmic movement of the shiny silver handled brush through Sheridan’s hair with rapt fascination.

    Sheridan lay the brush down, tightened the jade sash of the silk robe Luis had draped over her shoulders after helping her towel dry, and turned to the pair with a loving smile on her lips. She lifted her baby daughter into her arms, bringing her chubby cheeks to her lips for a kiss before cuddling her naked body close and breathing in her sweet baby scent.

    Luis rose in front of them, white towel knotted at his waist, and cupped Hope’s tiny bare foot in his palm as he leaned forward to steal a kiss from Sheridan’s lips. Hope cried softly when he pulled back, nuzzling her face against Sheridan’s silk-covered chest, and Luis smirked to himself.

    Knowing her husband, Sheridan’s suspicions were immediately raised. “What?”

    Luis wisely said nothing, gently guiding Sheridan out of the bathroom and into their dimly lit bedroom. “Nothing,” he said with a shake of his head. He crossed the room to their dresser and removed a fresh pair of boxers from a drawer, putting them on. Then he crawled into his side of the bed, reclining against the headboard and opening his arms to his wife and daughter.

    Settling comfortably into the vee of Luis’s open legs, Sheridan gently rocked Hope in the cradle of her arms. Hope continued to fuss and rub her face against Sheridan’s robe, only quieting when the barrier was removed and she’d latched onto her mother’s breast.

    “I knew it,” Luis remarked, stroking a finger across Hope’s silky cheek before holding out his pinkie for her to grasp onto as she greedily nursed, “I’m not the only one who’d recognize those goodies anywhere.”

    Dropping her head onto Luis’s shoulder, Sheridan laughed softly. “She won’t be fooled, especially when she’s hungry. Isn’t that right, Roo?” Sheridan’s fingers skated across Hope’s stomach, making her squirm. “Not when that little tummy’s growling.”

    “It can’t be growling,” Luis chuckled in disbelief. Releasing Hope’s hand, he reached down to rub his thumb over the sole of one little foot and each tiny toe, smiling as his big hand traveled up the chubby leg, stopping at the knee. “How can something so little be so…”

    “Don’t say the f-word,” Sheridan warned him with a sly whisper, blue eyes twinkling as she pressed noisy kisses to Hope’s open palm. “Tell Daddy, Hope. A gentleman NEVER discusses a lady’s weight. It’s not proper. Besides, we have a goal to reach before we go back to the D-O-C-T-O-R.”

    “It looks like we have another overachiever in the house,” Luis stated teasingly as Sheridan lifted the drowsy infant to her shoulder, tucked everything back into place, and began to gently burp her.

    “Just for that,” Sheridan turned around in his arms, giving him a wicked smile as she carefully transferred Hope to his waiting shoulder after a kiss to each cheek, “you can dress her in her diaper and pjs.”

    “That’s okay ‘cause Daddy’s got the magic touch,” Luis flashed her a confident grin as he swung his legs over the bed’s edge and started walking for the door. Pausing in the doorway, one large hand patting their daughter’s back, Luis murmured against Hope’s temple while casting sparkling dark eyes in Sheridan’s direction, “Tell Mommy not to fall asleep before Daddy has a chance to kiss her goodnight.”

    Falling back against the mound of pillows at the head of the bed with an exhausted sigh, Sheridan played along with eyes closed and a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Tell Daddy he better hurry.” Fumbling for the baby monitor on the nightstand, she turned the volume up and couldn’t hold in her laughter.

    “Mommy told you to do that, didn’t she?” Luis groaned softly then whispered, “Daddy hates spit-up.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    With the key Abby had had made for him, Shane let himself into her apartment. Letting his eyes adjust to the darkness in the room, he moved forward slowly, swearing when he stumbled over Lucky and sent the cat away screeching. Feeling his way around in the dark, he found the lamp beside the sofa and fumbled with its switch. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he turned the lamp on, casting a pale glow across the living room and the lone figure seated in the floor, head hung low.

    Nick looked up to Shane with bleary gray eyes, circling his fingers around the half empty beer bottle that joined its empty twin on the coffee table. Gesturing with the bottle in his hands, Nick made what appeared to be a painful admission. “She’s not here.”

    “I already knew that,” Shane said, crouching beside Nick and eyeing the shapeless pile of parts in front of him suspiciously, “but Runt’s got a better selection of alcohol in her cabinets than half the bars in Maine. There’s no sense letting it go to waste just because she’s pregnant and has to find other ways to drown her sorrows.” Picking up one of the parts and inspecting it at eye level, Shane finally looked to Nick and blurted, “What the hell is this?”

    Nick finished off the bottle of beer in his hand before answering. “It’s supposed to be a baby bed. I threw away the directions. Thought I didn’t need them.”

    Chuckling, Shane said, “I don’t have to be a woman to appreciate the humor in that.” Gripping one of Nick’s shoulders firmly, he asked, nodding at the empty beer bottles on the coffee table, “Any more where those came from?”

    “You know where to find them,” Nick groused. When Shane returned from the kitchen a few moments later, he gratefully accepted the replenishments he offered.

    “I think between the two of us, we can figure this thing out before the baby’s born,” Shane declared. “Think of it as a challenging puzzle.”

    “Kind of like your sister,” Nick muttered under his breath. Changing the subject, he asked, “Did Ivy call it quits?”

    “Mutual decision,” Shane mumbled, shooing away Lucky, who’d already forgiven him for their earlier run-in and was back to his old tricks, demanding affection. “Abby’s not all that complicated. She’s…she’s reacting out of hurt. Being pregnant again…” Shane trailed off, unsure whether he should continue.

    “It’s okay. She told me about the other baby, and how she,” Nick paused, the words sticking difficultly in his throat, “how she died. I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to know your niece.”

    Shane turned pain-filled hazel eyes on Nick. “My niece didn’t just die. She was murdered.”












  5. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 13






    A week had passed since Nick and Abby’s angry confrontation on the pier, a week Abby spent lying low in the comforts of Miguel’s and the boys’ company, a week where she tried to make sense of the mess her life had become yet again. It hadn’t worked—the making sense part. But Abby was grateful she’d been able to mend the broken fences between MJ and herself, grateful to again have his love and acceptance, even if it meant sweltering on this unusually warm Maine day. She’d be damned if she skulked around Miguel’s house and moped the rest of her life. Baseball had never been her sport, but T-ball had its own special appeal. Especially when Hank and Luis wore their coach’s uniforms so well. Laughing as she watched Cristian, Emily, and the rest of the outfield scramble after a fast-rolling ball as one, she shielded her eyes with her hand and looked back over her shoulder at Gwen, capturing it all on video. “The Bad News Bears have nothing on us.”

    “Dad’s team sucks,” Jake muttered, just loud enough for his mother to hear, and Gwen turned the camera off long enough to scold him, resuming her taping just a few seconds later when the team raced toward the dugout, the other team having mercifully scored the maximum allowed points per inning with Sara’s failure to tag the runner out at home plate.

    “Excellent effort, Sara,” Jonathan shouted his encouragement. “Better luck next time.”

    From her husband’s side, Rebecca hollered, “Kill the ball, Sara! Touchdown! Touchdown!”

    Connecting eyes with Gwen, who simply raised her eyes to the heavens and shook her head, Abby refrained from making a comment regarding Rebecca’s faux pas, though the effort was extremely difficult. She held her hand out to grab Katie’s nachos, setting them on the bleachers beside her and extending a steadying hand to help Katie when she wobbled slightly on the bleacher below her, her own hands otherwise engaged in holding the disgruntled little treasure she’d procured from Grace just a few short moments ago.

    Beneath the wide brim of her pink Pooh Bear hat, Hope’s dark brows furrowed as her little face scrunched up in preparation of releasing an ear-splitting wail. She looked utterly miserable in the unrelenting heat and completely ready to let the entire world know it.

    Abby braced herself for the inevitable, watching the baby’s big blue eyes well up with indignant tears as Katie jostled her around trying to seat herself more comfortably on the hard bleachers. “You might as well give it up,” Abby stilled Katie with an outstretched hand, “Your skinny ass is going to be numb just like the rest of ours before this is over.”

    Above them, Jake snickered at the comment, quickly hiding his grin from his mother when she cut her eyes over to him. He was in enough trouble as it was for reasons he’d rather not visit again. No use making it worse.

    With a beckoning hand, Abby told Katie, “Give me the kid before all hell breaks loose.” Being passed around like everyone’s favorite new toy could do it. She was sure. She traded Katie’s nachos for Hope’s pacifier, rubbing it across the baby’s lips and trying to coax her to take it without much success. Hope continued to fuss irritably as Sara marched up to the batter’s box, giving her bat a few vicious test swings along the way.

    “Make ‘em eat dirt, Sar!” Jake yelled when Sara shoved her helmet up out of her brown eyes to look up into the stands.

    “You can do it, Sara,” Gwen zoomed in on her young daughter’s fiercely determined ‘game face.’

    Katie sprang forward when Miguel appeared at the bottom of the bleachers with Joshua on his heels and Kendall in his arms, stretching his arms out for Katie and whining, “Mama, I potty.”

    Abby swore softly under her breath when Sara smacked a ball into left field, causing everyone to stand up and loudly cheer her on, and Hope started to cry in earnest. “No need to permanently damage Aunt Abby’s eardrums,” she muttered as she descended the bleachers carefully and went in search of Sheridan. Sara was rounding third base to wild cheers when Abby, having deemed Sheridan and all potential caregivers unavailable, started walking toward the relatively quieter playground area after making sure Martin at least would know where she was going. By her own self-admission she was crazy, but she was far from stupid. She didn’t want Luis to have a heart attack when he scanned the stands and found Hope nowhere in sight.

    The team enthusiastically welcomed Sara at home plate, with MJ finally pushing through the excited bunch to take his crack at evening up the score a little bit.

    Abby smiled fondly at the display of bravado and continued on to the playground. Bypassing a trio of playing children at the sandbox, she chose an unoccupied swing at the far, largely deserted corner of the playground, gently lowering herself and Hope into it. With the sounds of the ongoing game muted, Hope gradually calmed in Abby’s arms, and her big blue eyes blinked against the bright sunlight peeking in through the blanket of the surrounding trees’ leaves. Grabbing the small fist Hope waved in the air, Abby pressed a kiss to the tiny fingers, her hazel eyes merry as she dodged the baby’s attempt to grab onto her long tawny hair and tug. “Aunt Abby’s got a better idea than honing your considerable hair-pulling skills—those will come in handy in the future, by the way. High school can be brutal. If you let it. Don’t let me scare you. Let’s just forget I mentioned it okay?” Abby murmured, tired of her own rambling. “Back to my original point,” she dragged in a deep breath, pushing the swing forward slightly with her feet. “Let’s swing.” Hope enjoyed the rocking motion, waving her fists in the air and opening her rosebud mouth to coo at Abby when her smiling face loomed near. “You like that, don’t you? Uh oh,” Abby reached out to catch the little Pooh hat as it tumbled from Hope’s dark head, but it was too late. Giving Hope an apologetic smile as she paused the gentle movements of the swing, she murmured, “It’ll just take me a minute to…” The words stuck in her throat when she noticed a familiar-looking pair of hands pluck the Pooh hat from the ground, brush it free of debris, and hold it out to her in offering. Hazel eyes met gray, and Abby felt her heart skip a beat when their fingertips met. “Nick?”

    “I believe this is yours.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Ignoring the curious glances Beth stole in her direction, Ivy led her guest to an empty table at the back of the Book Café. Taking her seat, she waited for the man to seat himself and made sure no one was in earshot before addressing him, “You said you had something new for me.”


    With a mysterious smile, the man pushed a manila file across the table to Ivy and relaxed in his seat, waiting.

    Scanning the first page in the file impatiently, Ivy’s elegant brow furrowed and a frown maligned her aristocratic features when her gaze lifted. “We already established the ex was little more than pond scum with violent tendencies. What am I looking at here?”

    “Keep reading,” the man encouraged, knowing the exact moment she found it by the horrified expression in her blue green eyes when she looked back up at him.

    “He murdered his own child,” Ivy’s own heart felt bruised with the revelation, and she pushed the file away, not really wanting to read anymore.

    “That was a matter of great contention,” the man replied. “At any rate, he made a deal with the D.A. and reduced the charges. He couldn’t worm his way out of attempted murder though, no matter how hard he tried. He definitely had murder in mind when he was beating the hell out of his wife. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald…”

    “Antonio,” Ivy’s blond head snapped up. “What part does he play in this, this horrific mess?”

    “It was Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald’s heroics that saved Ms. Stone’s life,” the man revealed smugly. “He placed the call to 9-1-1.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Abby took the little hat and placed it back on Hope’s dark head, but the baby’s impatient wriggling dislodged it again and it landed at Nick’s feet.

    Chuckling as he crouched to retrieve the hat a second time, Nick’s gray eyes were laughing as well when he said, “I’m thinking she’s tired of the hat.” His big hand reached out to cup Hope’s tiny skull, and his fingers played with her wispy dark curls. He trailed his knuckles across the silky soft chubby cheeks and rubbed the stubbornly set Sheridan-like chin with the pad of his thumb. Hope’s eyes stared intently at him, big and round and blue, and Nick returned her stare, finding himself strangely mesmerized, his mind’s eye conjuring up a similar picture, only Abby held their child lovingly and securely in her arms. Still staring into Hope’s fathomless eyes, he murmured, “You look good holding her.”

    His comment broke Abby out of the trance she’d seemed to be in, watching him interact with Hope, and, nuzzling Hope’s fuzzy curls with her cheek, she tried to make light of what he’d said. “Anybody’d look good holding her. Luis and Sheridan make disgustingly beautiful babies together.”

    “They do,” Nick conceded, “but that’s not what I meant.” His fingers traced Tigger’s image on the tiny white sandals Hope wore.

    “Nick,” Abby warned, the tension coiling up in her own body setting Hope on edge and making her whimper.

    “I don’t have any expectations,” Nick forced the painful words past the tightness in his throat. “I don’t want our relationship to twist you up in knots anymore. I want to be a part of your life and our baby’s life, even if I can’t play the role I want to play. Come home,” his voice took on a pleading edge.

    “Nick…from where I stand, nobody’s holding you back but yourself,” she sighed tiredly, resigned to the tears she felt building behind her closed eyes. Her hazel eyes shimmered when she opened them and stood up on unsteady feet, allowing Nick to take Hope into the cradle of his arms and try to soothe her renewed tears. Wrapping her arms protectively around her own waist, she started to walk away.

    Nick watched her leave, frozen in place, the painful truth of her words resonating within him.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Feeling the fleeting flutter of fingertips tickle his elbow, Jake turned around slowly from watching his sisters once again gracefully—in Emily’s case at least—concede defeat, a grin stealing over his face before he could stop it.

    “Hi,” Ali smiled at him.

    “Hi,” Jake answered her, stuffing his hands in his pockets before he could do something really embarrassing, like reach out and grab her hand in his. Nodding toward the field where his dad and Uncle Luis shook hands with the coaches of the other team, Jake said, “We lost. Again.”

    Ali giggled. “Yeah.”

    Jake’s grin stretched impossibly wider at her infectious laughter. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, to keep her laughing, but before a sound could emerge, his mom swooped in, totally diverting Ali’s attention from him and erasing his good mood. Annoyed at the intrusion, he trudged off, deciding to go help his dad and Uncle Luis load up the equipment and carry it to their cars.

    “How’d the appointment go?” Gwen ventured nervously, not wanting to read too much into Sheridan’s and Ali’s matching bright smiles.

    Squeezing Ali’s shoulders encouragingly, Sheridan bent to whisper in her daughter’s ear. “Should I tell her or do you want to?”

    “Dr. Nick says I’m his best patient,” Ali beamed.

    “So far so good,” Sheridan told Gwen, blue eyes shining happily. “We were thinking we’d celebrate the news with some pizza and invite you, Hank, and the kids over. Say you’ll come.”

    “Please,” Ali stuck her bottom lip out in her patented pout.

    Her cheeks already beginning to hurt from the huge smile she sported, Gwen looked to Sheridan and shook her head. “Not the pout. She knows I can’t resist the pout.”

    Ali giggled, readily accepting Gwen’s congratulatory hug and kiss on the forehead.

    “Count us in,” Gwen replied, including Sheridan in the hug. “Do you want us to pick up anything for dessert? Ice cream? I won’t forget the sprinkles,” she rushed to assure Ali.

    “Colored sprinkles?” Ali’s blue eyes sparkled hopefully.

    “Colored sprinkles,” Gwen conceded with a laugh. “Hank’s ego needs the comfort food anyway. We’ll see you in an hour. I can hardly recognize Sara underneath all that dirt.”

    “See you then,” Sheridan waved. To Ali, she instructed, “You go tell Daddy and Cristian. I’ll get Hope.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    They’d made a picnic of it.

    Still wired from the game, Sara chased Cristian and Max around the perimeter of the yard, breathless and barefoot.

    Emily played dolls beneath the picnic table, absently licking at her vanilla ice cream cone. Miss Priss rubbed against her bare legs under the pretense of seeking affection, her blue eyes taking on a predatory gleam as she eyed the dripping ice cream and licked her lips.

    Hank and Luis strategized for the next game while Ali and Jake perched on the edge of the tree house overhead, legs dangling and smiles abundant.

    Ethan, who’d arrived unannounced with Beth just as the ice cream was being served, stroked Gizmo’s soft fur, wearing his usual expression of befuddlement over something he wouldn’t disclose.

    The familiarity of the expression was endearing to Sheridan, and leaning more heavily against Gwen’s shoulder, she smiled fondly at him.

    Wiggling her painted toes in the lush green grass, Gwen braced her—and part of Sheridan’s—weight with her arms behind her back and laughed. “You know that expression? I wouldn’t be surprised if he came out of the womb wearing that expression.”

    Giggling girlishly, Sheridan mused, “Pilar used to warn him his face would freeze that way. Did he listen?” After a beat, her voice blended with Gwen’s voice. “No!”

    Gwen nudged Sheridan with her elbow, tossing a look in Beth’s direction. “I think someone’s biological clock is ticking.”

    Watching Beth with her baby daughter, Sheridan agreed. “Can you imagine Ethan as a father?”

    Gwen laughed. “Oh yeah.”

    Crouching down in front of them to snag the last two pieces of pizza for Luis and himself, Hank grinned lopsidedly. “I thought I told you girls to lay off the bubbly.”

    “I thought you liked me better when I was tipsy, Bennett,” Gwen answered him flirtatiously.

    “I plead the fifth on the grounds that whatever might leave these loose lips could prove incriminating,” Hank backed away slowly, pretending to be fear-stricken.

    “Wimp,” Sheridan teased.

    “Luis, Man,” Hank enticed Luis with the piece of pizza. “Tell your wife to lay off. You know how sensitive I am.”

    “Sheridan,” Luis scolded playfully. He grabbed the pizza from Hank, taking a generous bite.

    Beth smiled at their easy comraderie, scooping Hope up into her arms and making her way over to the blanket Gwen and Sheridan reclined on.

    Hope fretted against Beth’s shoulder, exhaustion weighing heavily on her, but stubbornness keeping her from closing her heavy lidded eyes.

    Dropping to her knees in front of the two friends, Beth presented Sheridan with her baby daughter. “I think it’s someone’s bedtime.”

    Leaning forward and cradling Hope in the crook of her arm, Sheridan’s blue eyes were soft with love and her voice brimming with tender, motherly affection as she stroked the tiny palm comfortingly. “You’ve had a long day, haven’t you, Sweetheart?”

    Looking on, Gwen smiled to herself as she, Beth, and the rest of Sheridan’s surroundings seemed to fade away from her as she sang her daughter to sleep with a heartfelt rendition of “Baby Mine.”

    Letting her own eyes drift closed as a feeling of contentment enveloped her, Gwen observed Beth’s wistful demeanor and figured she hadn’t been too far off the mark with her earlier assumption.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Balancing Joshua’s dead weight on one arm, Miguel gave MJ a gentle push through the front door into a living room lit only by the flashing images of the television, arriving home late after an impromptu dinner date with his sisters, Whitney, and Simone.


    Rising from the sofa when she’d heard them come in, Abby took Joshua from Miguel’s arms, ignoring his whispered protestations.

    Joshua wrapped his arms loosely around Abby’s neck, sleepily murmuring, “Bee.” Abby’s kiss to his check elicited a soft, contented sigh, and his limbs were boneless, fluid as Miguel crowded close to Abby, slipping the toddler’s shoes off of his feet.

    Miguel felt worry seize his heart when he looked into hazel eyes that were red and puffy from another bout of crying, and he touched his hand to Abby’s cheek, feeling the warmth of her tears against his thumb.


    Shaking her head lightly at him, Abby let her eyes travel to MJ’s dark head, resting against her side, and small brown hands, clasped around her waist. “Let’s go change into our pjs,” she suggested.


    For once, MJ dutifully followed her suggestion without complaint, trudging into the bedroom he and Joshua shared on heavy feet. Clumsy fingers fumbled with the buttons and belt of his uniform until Miguel took over, divesting him of the cumbersome clothes and laying them at the foot of the bed. MJ grumbled halfheartedly when Miguel instructed him to hold his arms up, slipping the plain blue cotton pajama top over his head. The bottoms were next, and the child allowed Miguel to usher him under the covers. “Dad?” his sleepy voice halted Miguel’s departure after kissing his forehead in goodnight.

    “Yeah,” Miguel tucked the small arm that dangled from the bed’s edge underneath the light blankets.

    “Don’t let Abby forget me,” he mumbled into his pillow.

    “Like that would ever happen,” Abby commented across the room, gently disentangling herself from Joshua’s near-desperate embrace and tugging the ketchup stained tee-shirt over his head.

    Miguel found himself smiling at the smile that curled the corners of MJ’s lips up, and he bent to kiss his son’s forehead a second time before straightening up and joining Abby in her awkward efforts to clothe Joshua without waking him up.

    “What did you do after the game?” Abby grunted softly as she pulled Joshua’s limp little body to her breast. “Swing by Boston and run in the marathon?”

    “Abby, I don’t…Something like that,” Miguel grinned at Abby when he realized she was only teasing, sliding Joshua’s legs beneath the covers once his pajamas were on while Abby gently laid him back against the pillows and tucked his teddy bear in beside him.

    “Uh oh. I think you’re on to me,” Abby winked, brushing past him en route to MJ’s bed. She perched on the bed’s edge, feathering her fingers through MJ’s tousled dark hair.

    The tender gesture made Miguel’s throat constrict unexpectedly, and he retreated to the safety of the shadows that lurked in the corner of the boys’ bedroom. He willed the consuming ache he suddenly felt for Kay to go away and leave him mercifully in peace, but he knew Abby’s misery would have company tonight.





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    With the girls snugly tucked into their beds and Jake’s newest reign of terror most likely just beginning to get underway several miles away at Luis and Sheridan’s home, Gwen and Hank curled up comfortably on the couch, enjoying each other’s company more than the late night television show that flickered mutely on the screen.


    Gwen stretched her long limbs out on the couch, resting her rumpled blond head against the arm tiredly, her folded arms acting as her pillow. Quiet, appreciative moans slipped past her lips as Hank gently but firmly massaged her aching feet. She cracked one golden brown eye open to discover Hank smirking at her, looking a little too pleased at the reaction his simple actions was extracting, and she smirked back at him knowingly. “You’re not just doing this out of the kindness of your heart, are you?”

    “Babe,” Hank grabbed his heart as if an arrow had pierced its flesh, “I’m hurt.” Ignoring her quizzical stare, he returned to soothingly kneading her tensed muscles and trying to keep his face blank.

    “Other men can talk to me, you know,” Gwen smothered a smile as she said this, guessing accurately that the source of Hank’s discomfort and his efforts to essentially butter her up was none other than Ethan and the whispered conversation they’d shared earlier in Hope’s nursery. “You never have this problem when Luis says hi to me, Bennett.” Her brown eyes danced as she teased him. She removed her feet from his lap and curled them beneath her as she scooted closer.

    “You and Luis haven’t seen each other naked, Babe,” Hank grumbled. “It’s different.”

    “Actually, there was this one time,” Gwen reminisced somewhat fondly, biting her lip to contain her laughter at the stunned expression on her husband’s face and the way his mouth opened and closed like a fish. Before his brain caught up enough to actually make a comment on that revelation, she hit him where it hurt. “You flirt shamelessly with Abby. All the time.”

    “Babe,” Hank began to protest.

    “Don’t give me that tired old line about her being the little sister you’ve never had, Bennett,” Gwen warned. “There’s an attraction there, but does it bother me? No,” she answered her own question, finally giving in to the urge to laugh when he sputtered beside her like a dying car. “Abby’s your friend. Ethan’s mine. And, I might add, we don’t flirt.”

    “I just don’t want Boy Wonder to have an epiphany,” Hank grumped as Gwen wrapped her arms around his shoulders in a brief hug then rest her head against his chest, “about how big an ass he was back in the day.”

    “You’re forgetting I knew he was an idiot all along,” Gwen reminded him as she slipped one hand beneath the cool cotton of his tee-shirt and traced distracting circles around his belly button with her nails. She smiled when she felt Hank shudder under her ministrations. She’d always loved to make him squirm. “Anyway,” she continued. “Ethan changed a long time ago. We made our peace and moved on. Me to you. Ethan to Beth.”

    Shifting restlessly as his wife’s fingers toyed with the waistband of his jeans, Hank squeaked when he felt her pop the button open, his gripe about Ethan rapidly losing its importance, “This conversation’s not over.”

    Climbing into his lap, Gwen smiled indulgently against his mouth, “I know it’s not. Help me get this damn shirt off, Bennett.”

    Raising his arms eagerly, Hank and Gwen worked together to rid him of the annoying barrier, and it landed somewhere beyond the couch. “I know what you’re doing,” Hank told her, settling his hands on her jean-clad hips, “and it’s working amazingly well. Ethan who.”

    “Exactly.” Gwen kissed away his trademark grin before pulling back to look at him and breathlessly making a suggestion. “Bedroom?”

    “Dead bolts,” Hank nodded, taking the hand she offered him when she stood up.

    “No Gus,” Gwen smirked over her shoulder as she led him down the hall.

    “I just can’t…it’s a private performance, Babe,” Hank muttered, backing her gently through their open bedroom door as he made short work of her own tee-shirt. He fumbled awkwardly with the doorknob pressing into his back as they shared a lingering kiss.

    Reaching around his back to lock the door for him, Gwen’s brown eyes sparkled. “Why do you think I locked him in the girls’ room and let Jake stay over at Ali’s? Hmm?” She looped her arms around his neck with a grin.

    “I have a brilliant wife,” Hank returned her grin with a goofy one all his own when his legs bumped against the mattress, their positions having somehow reversed in the short distance from the door to the bed. “A brilliant, sexy wife,” he amended as his back met the mattress and said wife straddled his thighs, her fingers working at the bra clasp behind her back. “A brilliant, sexy wife who my best friend saw naked,” Hank raised up on his elbows as panic started to seize him with that jarring remembrance.

    Shoving him none-too-gently back to the bed below, Gwen lowered her bare chest to his and ruffled his mop of unruly brown hair affectionately, laughing softly as she issued her order. “Shut up, Bennett. In case you haven’t noticed, your brilliant, sexy wife is trying to make love to YOU.”

    Mollified by the statement for only a second, Hank broke off their passionate clinch, whining, “I can’t believe Luis never said anything to me.”

    Shaking her head at her oblivious husband as she struggled to divest him of his jeans without his cooperation, Gwen blew a renegade strand of blond hair out of her face with a frustrated breath, giving the pants a savage yank until they were tangled around his ankles. Hank’s shoes dropped to the floor with a thud, and she tossed her jeans on top of them after shimmying out of them. “Luis didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to embarrass me,” Gwen mumbled against his skin as she planted kisses along his chest. “I’m the one that saw him naked, not the other way around.”

    “WHAT?!” Hank practically roared, springing up in the bed and nearly knocking Gwen onto her ass on the floor below. “What the hell! When? How? Why?” he demanded, ignoring the way Gwen shook with laughter as she clung fiercely to his shoulders, trying desperately not to fall.

    “When he nearly threw everything away by petitioning Sheridan for divorce and stayed here with us for awhile,” Gwen reminded him. “I accidentally walked in on him in the shower. It was completely innocent, and I didn’t really see anything. I swear,” she reassured, gently pushing Hank back down to the mattress with her body.

    “His ---hole phase,” Hank recalled, melting into her welcomed touch again. “Am I glad those days are over.”

    “You and me both,” Gwen murmured as she kissed the hollow of his throat, her hands at work elsewhere, slipping underneath Hank’s boxers to give his buttocks a playful squeeze.

    “You and Tink just can’t keep your hands off my ass, can you?” Hank grinned with self-satisfaction, returning the gesture.

    “Little sister you’ve never had,” Gwen stated pointedly, arching a brow at him and trying not to laugh as the perfect payback occurred to her.

    “Lister sister I’ve never had,” Hank agreed, skating his fingertips over her collarbone. “Now. Where were we before I so dumbly opened my mouth?”

    “You know, you have a cute ass and all, Bennett. But Luis’s ass?” Gwen struggled to keep a straight face. “Like a Greek god’s, and hard as a rock.”



    “BABE!” Hank exclaimed, horrified. “Hard? How do you…Hard!? Innocent, my ass!” “Cute ass,” Gwen chimed in before dropping onto his chest like a blanket and bursting into uncontrollable laughter.

  6. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 14



    It was morning when Miguel woke to a sensation both strange and hauntingly familiar. A woman slept in his arms, soft and feminine. Not just any woman but Abby. Her warm pliant body blanketed his, and Miguel found he couldn’t move, couldn’t remove her from his arms had he wanted to, and oddly, he didn’t want to. The night before had been a difficult one for the both of them, and he wanted to prolong the peaceful sleep she seemed to be enjoying as long as he could. So he willed his body to relax, each soft breath he took stirring strands of tawny silk beneath his nose, and gradually, his arms didn’t feel so awkward in their embrace. A cool breeze circulated through the sleeping house, fluttering the curtains and raising gooseflesh on Miguel’s skin. Unconsciously, he tightened the arm around Abby’s waist and let his rambling thoughts take over.

    The faucet in the kitchen needed repaired, had for a while, but its steady drip-drip symphony was strangely comforting in its familiarity, and familiarity was scarce in the new world Miguel and the boys lived in.

    MJ needed to go to the dentist. He had a new tooth coming in, prematurely and awkwardly, behind one of his baby teeth; the problem wasn’t a new one, just an overlooked one since MJ’s smiles were harder-won these days—even in Abby’s presence—and there was an unsettling knowledge in his dark eyes that shouldn’t be there yet, an oldness.

    Miguel wished to restore his son’s innocence and little boyhood. Unfortunately, he didn’t possess the ability to travel back in time and change the fate that had befallen them. And the old-new problem of the floundering grades…Miguel wasn’t sure holding MJ back another year was the answer. He didn’t share Katie’s confidence in his own ability to make the right decision; he reached out with his heart and mind for Kay’s answer—she would know what to do, have the perfect answer—but her voice was silent, and he felt lost again, always adrift. He was desperately reaching for the nearest saving grace. And right now, for himself and especially for his boys, that saving grace went by the name of Abby. Miguel entertained the notion that maybe they were hers as well.

    As if she knew his thoughts were of her, Abby stirred, stiffening momentarily and relaxing in slow increments until she was nearly returned to her earlier boneless state.

    Miguel felt the fluttering of her eyelashes and her soft puffs of breath against his unclothed chest and wondered about her uncharacteristic silence. The earlier feeling of awkwardness was revisited, and he hoped she didn’t notice the erratic thump of his heart beneath her ear as he racked his brain for something to say.

    Abby cut through the tension as only she knew how, with a muttered curse under her breath and an exaggerated groan. “S***! Your mother’s going to crawl my ass when she sees this mess.”

    Evidence of their mutual session of wallowing in self-pity and depression was strewn everywhere throughout the living room: a half-eaten, puddling bowl of Rocky Road, a bowl of buttered popcorn undoubtedly overturned during Abby’s initial restless quest to mold his upper body into an appropriate body pillow, the beer he hadn’t been able to finish, and DVD’s scattered everywhere, mini-documentaries of his and Kay’s life together that had made Abby cry again and rendered the beer useless as a numbing tool. In short, the place was a disaster area, and his mother wasn’t going to be pleased.

    Pissy Pilar really wasn’t Abby’s favorite person to deal with, and that wasn’t due to any outward rudeness on the Lopez-Fitzgerald matriarch’s part. On the contrary, Pilar could speak a thousand scathing words with one silent, disapproving glance. Sometimes, Abby thought a cane whipping would be more desirable punishment. “I’ll clean it up before she gets here. How many minutes do I have?”

    No longer flustered, Miguel laughed as she snuggled into his side and yawned sleepily.

    Lifting herself up on her elbows, Abby arched a tawny, challenging brow at him. “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice,” she grumbled. “And don’t laugh at me either. Can I help it that the kid’s hijacking all of my energy for itself? Just arguing with you is wearing me out.”

    “Who’s arguing?” Miguel shrugged, causing Abby to huff out an indignant breath. “I haven’t said a word,” he smirked.

    “Don’t give me that crap,” Abby sighed as she dropped her head back onto his chest wearily and closed her eyes. “Those brown eyes say it all. All you Lo-Fitz men are the same.” Flinging an arm across his waist, Abby muttered, “How the hell am I supposed to sleep with you squirming like a worm? Be still.”

    “That shouldn’t be a problem,” Miguel retorted dryly. “I can’t seem to feel my entire left side anymore.” He smirked as he said this, hearing Abby’s annoyed little huff.

    “All right, funny guy,” Abby grumped as she elbowed him soundly in the aforementioned left side and threw a bare leg across his upper thighs in her efforts to get up, “I’m going. Up and at ‘em. You make a much better pillow when you’re comatose.” She bit her lip in consternation when it occurred to her how insensitive her comment might sound to him given the rehashing of memories the night before and looked down at him with apologetic hazel eyes, her fingers unconsciously tracing idle circles on his forearms, his hands having ended up resting clumsily above her knees when she’d straddled his lower body. “I always know just what to say.” she sighed, feathering her fingers through Miguel’s disheveled dark hair in a gesture identical in its tenderness and easy affection to the one the night before with MJ.
    Miguel captured her hand before she could completely remove it and engulfed it in both of his larger hands. She was the only one that didn’t speak to him carefully, like she were walking through a minefield, and he appreciated that more than he could say so he gave her a smile of simple gratitude, letting her know everything was okay because he was afraid words might cheapen the sentiment.

    Lowering her face to his with hazel eyes that were suspiciously bright, Abby searched Miguel’s brown orbs for several long seconds before she reflected his trembling smile with an understanding one of her own. “You’re sweet. You know that?” She pressed her lips to his forehead in a lingering kiss then climbed to her feet, taking with her much of the mess of the night before.


    Miguel joined her, and Pilar, arriving with Paloma and breakfast nearly a half hour later, was none the wiser.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Strolling into the Book Café a little past eight, Hank dropped into the seat opposite Luis and proclaimed, a little too loudly for Luis’s liking, “You’re killing my sex life, Man.”


    Taking a moment to catch his breath and regain his sense of humor after choking on his morning coffee, Luis nevertheless set his mug down with a little too much force, still a little shocked by Hank’s morning greeting. Wiping up the hot brown liquid carefully with a napkin, Luis raised his brows in questioning surprise. “Really? That’s interesting. Jake’s not doing anything to help my love life either. The kid’s a regular peeping tom.”

    “Must’ve got it from his mother,” Hank grunted, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms across his chest before looking Luis squarely in the eye and finding recognition there.

    A little uncomfortable with the memory himself but enjoying watching his old friend squirm, Luis couldn’t help but smile at the comparison. Taking a healthy gulp of his cooling coffee, he set the mug back down and regarded Hank in silence for a few seconds.
    Before he knew it, Hank was grinning back at him, and Luis could easily guess why. As usual, it had been an interesting night to say the least with Jake sleeping just down the hall from his and Sheridan’s bedroom. The boy seemed to have an unerring special sixth sense when it came to interrupting intimate moments. “So we’re even?”

    “Sheridan might beg to differ,” Hank smirked. “I’m sure she’d like equal opportunity to see me in the buff.”

    “Now I know you’re just pulling stuff out of your ass,” Luis laughed. “You kissed her first, Buddy,” he reminded Hank, “and she wasn’t exactly bowled over by that Bennett charm you swear by.”

    “Stop it,” Beth begged teasingly as she set a steaming mug of coffee down in front of Hank and served Luis a blueberry muffin. “I’m having flashbacks of junior high.”

    “Beth,” Luis greeted with twinkling dark eyes.

    Hank nudged the empty chair beside him with his foot, raising his eyebrows up and down in a weird little dance that had Beth giggling helplessly in a manner reminiscent with her schoolgirl days as he made a smirking suggestion. “We’re due for another walk down memory lane. Wanna revisit the Prom Queen Era?”

    They did just that, making the Chief of Police more than a little late for work.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    The Bennett charm wasn’t working any favors for Jake either. He was rapidly losing points with Ali over his behavior to Lissy’s intrusion on their morning. Not to mention he was already in the negative numbers with Lissy. Man, could she keep a grudge or what? That ugly little incident at the Youth Center was ages ago! Slumping his shoulders, he decided to go outside and see what Cristian was up to.

    The morning was warm, the sun already high and bright in the clear blue sky.

    Miss Priss was sunning herself on the picnic table, playfully swishing her fluffy white tail back and forth for Gizmo to chase.

    Max barked somewhere on the outskirts of the yard, probably at some squirrel.

    Jake wandered to the front of the house, following the sound of voices. He stopped short when he saw Cristian’s dark head peeking at him over the top of Sheridan and Luis’s SUV. A moment later he disappeared, and Jake walked around the car to see what was going on, his dark brows furrowed slightly in confusion.

    Clad in a pair of cutoff jean shorts and a pink spaghetti-strapped top, Sheridan looked like an older version of Ali, her blue eyes sparkling with happiness and a dazzling smile lighting up her face as she crouched beside Cristian and a bucket of sudsy water.

    Cristian had more bubbles in his hair and on his water-soaked clothes than he did on his rag, but he didn’t seem to care. He giggled as Sheridan once again lifted him into her arms and set to work scrubbing the rag over the top of the SUV. Until he saw Jake anyway. Then he flapped the rag in greeting sending droplets of water and bubbles spraying in his mother’s face. “Jake, I’m washing the car.”

    Laughing, Sheridan set him back on his feet, sounding a little out of breath as she teased him. “You didn’t miss a spot, did you? Cause Hope would tell me if you did.”

    For the first time, Jake noticed Hope, happily ensconsed in her bouncy seat under the shade of a nearby tree. He grinned when she seemed to recognize her name, flailing her chubby arms out and letting loose a joyful prolonged coo.

    “Mommy,” Cristian failed to look perturbed at that little nugget, “that’s imposs-bul.” Then, explaining things as if he were the adult and Sheridan the child, he said matter-of-factly, “Babies can’t fly.”

    “Oh,” Sheridan seemed to accept his answer with a nod. “I see. Does that mean little boys can?” She didn’t just rely on Cristian’s word; she looked to Jake for confirmation, her blue eyes twinkling wildly.

    “Some of them can,” Cristian insisted before Jake could issue his own denial. “But only at night.”

    “I get it now,” Sheridan smiled. “Like Peter Pan.”

    “But Tinker Bell could fly too,” Jake pointed out, feeling strangely generous and willing to play along with Cristian’s little fantasy, even if meant making the almost embarrassing revelation that yes, he HAD seen the movie. Being a big brother to two sisters sure was a pain sometimes. He let Cristian digest that information while he walked a few feet away and retrieved the water hose.

    Cristian, however, drew a whole other set of conclusions Jake wasn’t counting on, his brown eyes going comically wide a second later and preceding an outburst that had Jake snickering and Sheridan struggling not to laugh, lest she hurt his tender feelings. “Abby can fly! Do you think Dr. Nick knows?”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    At that moment across town at the Harmony Hospital, just finishing his morning rounds, Nick was coming to the painful realization that maybe he didn’t know anything about Abby at all. At least he didn’t understand her, and if knowing and understanding were one in the same, he was simply clueless because he sure as hell didn’t understand her these days.

    As to Katie, listening to him as he droned off orders in a seeming daze…well, to her, Nick’s eye-opening revelation was already old news. Taking into account the fact that men rarely ever truly understood women, she was willing to give him a little more credit, choosing to believe instead that the communications system between his head and his overprotected heart was a little rusty, and that he knew Abby about as well as he knew himself. Katie figured his head just didn’t want to acknowledge what his heart already knew. He was being too damn cautious, and she wanted to knock some sense into him, but the way he looked right now…well, it made it a little hard to handle the situation with the harshness she was beginning to think it deserved, if only to open his eyes before it was too late. Not that she was an expert on tough love, she just…dammit, the man was being such a hardhead. And Abby…Abby was giving him a neck and neck run for his money. Unable to stop herself, Katie blurted, “You look awful.”

    Katie’s candor made a hint of a smile grace Nick’s lips, and he took the charts from her hands and started walking without any particular destination in mind, Katie following behind him. His reply was honest, to the point, and revealing. “I’ve never been more miserable in my life.”

    Nodding knowingly, Katie matched her stride to his effortlessly longer one, and they walked in silence for a while, past elevators and down winding hallways. Their journey finally ended at the nursery where a symphony of newborn cries hailed them, and Katie felt an almost painful tug at her heart at the unbearable softness in Nick’s gray eyes as he gazed upon them through the viewing glass. Smiling, she murmured in a voice just as gentle as the look in his eyes an age-old question, hoping not to startle him. “Boy or girl?”

    His gaze still trained ahead, Nick answered, barely above a whisper as he gave a slight shake of his head. “Ours. Hers and mine. Healthy. That’s all that matters.”

    Simultaneously touched and baffled by his answer, Katie pondered how one man could seemingly be so blind to his own feelings.

    “With her eyes.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Milk did a body good, and dammit if Pilar Lopez-Fitzgerald didn’t hold VERY strongly to that belief, Abby thought silently, her hazel eyes wide as Pilar pushed what had to be the sixth glass of milk of the day into her hands. Beside her on the sofa, Theresa giggled, and Abby frowned when she glanced around her and noticed the laughter lurking in both Paloma’s and Miguel’s dark eyes. “Really, Pilar,” she tried ineffectually to return the glass of milk to the older woman’s hands, “I have more milk in me than Betsy the Dairy Cow. I couldn’t possibly drink another drop.” Her child was going to exit the womb mooing, a true tabloid headline-grabber.

    “It’s good for the baby,” Pilar insisted sternly, with a look in her dark eyes that dared Abby to voice any more complaints. Without another word, she crossed the living room to look outside the window at the boys, playing a game of catch with Martin and Chad, who, along with Theresa, had arrived shortly after breakfast.

    Did these people not work, Abby wondered idly as she sipped compliantly at her glass of milk. For that matter, did SHE work anymore? The avoidance tactic she was taking with Nick was eating up all of her personal time. Hell. Would she have any time left to take for maternity leave? Would she even have a job to take maternity leave from when she finally decided to quit evading the man and whatever the hell kind of future that awaited them as parents? Oh God, ohhh s***. And that was the least of her concerns, the tip of the iceberg if she could still trust her instincts. When Miguel looked at her in concern, Abby flashed him a reassuring smile and forced herself to think of other things, like the trip to New York that Theresa had been chattering excitedly about ALL morning and was STILL practically bubbling over. It was a futile effort—Theresa was talking dizzyingly fast—and Abby quietly excused herself, heaving a giant sigh of relief when she made it to the relative solitude of her bedroom. She knew it was childish, but she kept her fingers crossed, praying no one would follow her, not even Miguel. Millions of questions and thoughts were swirling around inside her jumbled head, half of them without any obvious answers. She was so damn confused.

    The curtains flapped in the breeze admitted through the partially raised window, and Abby could hear that MJ and Joshua were laughing, little boys again, and the sound brought a smile to her lips that quickly faded when her crazy thoughts caught back up with her.

    They weren’t her little boys, no matter if she’d attended Miguel’s meeting with MJ’s teacher and sat at his side in what should have been Kay’s chair. No matter if she’d become a frequent visitor at Joshua’s therapy sessions.

    Abby wanted desperately to help Miguel, but the responsibility for mending his broken heart wasn’t hers; they’d been moving past the point of awkwardness to a comfort zone that she much preferred to the disconcerting awareness that lurked in the depths of Miguel’s serious dark eyes with each passing day during which their co-dependency grew out of control like an untended garden.

    That, and she’d already established that she was dangerously close to overstepping her own good sense when it came to MJ and Joshua.

    Biting her lip, Abby closed her eyes against the truth she knew would break her heart and theirs. She was wading in too deep, and the water would soon be over her head if she weren’t careful.
    It was time to go back home where she belonged.

    Just as soon as she figured out a way to let them ALL down gently.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Jake may have only had ten years to his dad’s too many to count, but he was wise beyond his years. Way wise beyond his years. Wise enough to appreciate true beauty when he saw it. Even man enough to admit it when it took his breath away. And he was most definitely breathless, thanks to Ali.


    But, Jake was a card-carrying He-Man Woman Hater, and letting Ali catch him giving her moon eyes would be like the kiss of death to his tough guy reputation, so he did the smart thing. He did the manly thing.

    He let her take his breath away from the safety of the tree house, hidden and unnoticed, all the while keeping up the pretense of playing fort with Cristian.

    Barefoot and lightly tanned, Ali had a restored healthy glow to her cheeks as she crowded close to Sheridan’s side, her pretty mouth open wide in a smile as she tickled her little sister’s tummy, making her squirm in Sheridan’s lap and cackle with delight. Lissy was snuggled close to Sheridan’s opposite side, her tawny hair spilling loosely over her shoulders, her fingers tickling Hope’s chubby little tummy, too, and Jake couldn’t help but feel sorry for the kid, all helpless and defenseless at the onslaught. But his good sense and reason was quickly restored. After all, gleeful and willful torture of one’s little brother, or in this case, little sister, fell under the older brother or sister’s unspoken bill of rights. Besides, a little tickling was harmless in the grand scheme of things. Unless you didn’t want to get peed on. Jake shuddered at the unsavory memory that thought brought rushing back and turned around to face Cristian. He couldn’t very well let Cristian tattle on him for staring at his sister, could he? Not that Cristian would actually be so spiteful. He just couldn’t keep a secret is all.

    Playing fort alone wasn’t much fun, and Cristian released a noisy sigh when he realized he finally had Jake’s attention. “I’m bored.”

    So was he, Jake thought grumpily, casting a longing glance down at the tight-knit group below them. It just wasn’t fair, he thought with a frown. Ali never paid any attention to him when Lissy was around. “Me, too,” Jake said, letting loose an equally loud sigh as he flopped down beside Cristian and matched his dejected pose, legs crossed Indian style, elbows propped on his thighs, and chin supported by his palms.

    “We could play catch with Max,” Cristian suggested hopefully.

    “Too hot,” Jake muttered, the idea not holding much appeal to him, as they’d already played twenty rounds of fetch with the eager golden retriever earlier.

    “Yeah,” Cristian agreed. “What about fishing? We could go fishing.”

    Jake’s brows rose at the suggestion as he wondered where exactly Cristian thought they could go fishing, especially when they were surrounded by girlie girls that would be horrified at the suggestion, but then a slow grin blossomed on his face as the perfect idea occurred to him, and he gave Cristian’s dark head an appreciative if not teasing tousle. “You know what Cristian? You’re a genius. That’s a perfect idea.”

    Cristian’s tanned face nearly split in two with the proud wide grin he gave Jake in answer, and he followed Jake carefully down the rungs of the tree house ladder, jumping before he reached the last one, mimicking Jake’s own bravery as he leapt to the soft green grass below. Only Cristian tumbled to his hands and knees, the breath momentarily knocked out of him as he rolled to a sitting position in a complete daze. Not wanting to look like a baby in front of Jake, he climbed to his feet seconds later, brushing the blades of grass and smudges of dirt from his knees.

    “Jeez,” Jake groaned, as he imagined the likely methods of punishment Uncle Luis would dole out to him if Cristian cried or even mentioned he were hurt because he had to copycat everything Jake did. “You alright?” Jake snuck a look over his shoulder, grateful that Sheridan hadn’t witnessed Cristian’s fall or his quickly formulating plan would be over before it was started.

    “Yeah,” Cristian replied without so much as a pout.

    Jake felt the faint stirrings of pride for the kid. So Cristian wasn’t a completely hopeless Mama’s baby case; there was still hope for him to toughen it up. But until then, Jake decided to take on the job of his protector, cause he was young and all. Cristian’s status as Ali’s little brother didn’t have anything to do with it. Nothing at all. With a jaunty step forward, Jake started whistling a nameless little tune, something he’d heard on television somewhere. Where, he had no idea. Probably one of his sisters’ stupid videos.

    “Where we going?” Cristian wondered as he jogged to catch up with Jake, who was headed toward the house.

    “We need something to dig with. A shovel. And a bucket,” Jake said decisively, slowing down so Cristian’s much shorter legs didn’t have to work so hard to keep up.

    “What for?” Cristian asked, just the slightest bit puzzled. Fishing with his daddy and Jake’s uncle Sam never involved a shovel and a bucket, but what did he know. Jake was ten. Cristian was starting kindergarten in the fall. Jake was older and smarter, and he was just…Jake. His sand pail and shovel were somewhere in his room, probably under his bed. “I know where I can find them. What are we digging for?”

    Jake rolled his brown eyes as he gently pushed Cristian inside the air-conditioned kitchen ahead of him. “Bait, you doofus. Worms. Creepy, crawly, slimy ones that the fish’ll just LOVE. Now hurry up and don’t mention anything about our trip to your mom or Ali and especially not Lissy.”

    Cristian’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But why?”

    “Because it’s a surprise,” Jake told him, grinning as his plan started to crystallize inside his devious Bennett mind. “And,” he added in a stroke of brilliance that made Cristian virtual putty in his capable hands, “your mom won’t say no if we already have the bait and everything, can she? Hurry up. I’ll wait for you out here.” He helped himself to a tall glass of lemonade while he waited on Cristian and his grin stretched even wider as his brown eyes took on a mischievous glint. You didn’t ignore Jake Bennett. You just didn’t. In fact, his dad always said it was dangerous to do so.

    This was going to be fun.

  7. #15
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 15





    “At this rate, Little Buddy,” Hank smirked as he steered his scowling young son down Sheridan and Luis’s front walkway toward the waiting car, “you’ll be grounded until you’re thirty.”

    Shrugging, Jake had only one thing to say in his defense. “They were just worms.”

    “And girls are such sissies,” Hank played along. After all, he’d heard it all before, said most of it before actually. “But I think dropping one of them down the back of Lissy’s shirt was a little too much, don’t you?”

    Rubbing at the shoulder that still smarted and probably would for a good while, Jake muttered under his breath, “She doesn’t hit like a girl.” He frowned as he cinched his seat belt over his hips.

    Chuckling quietly, Hank mirrored his son’s actions then inserted the key in the ignition and cranked the car, pulling out of the driveway and steering the vehicle homeward. Silence reigned over the twosome for several minutes with Hank sneaking peeks at his disgruntled son while Jake steadfastly ignored him, searching the radio for a good station. Hank just smiled when, frustrated by the overabundance of drippy love songs and moldy oldies, Jake turned the radio back off and slumped further in his seat with an exaggerated sigh, the scowl on his face further deepening. “You know…I hate to break it to you, Little Buddy, but I think Lissy’s in it for the long haul.”

    “I was here first,” Jake reminded his father.

    “You and Ali go way back,” Hank agreed. “Ah, the Diaper Days,” he teased, reaching over to ruffle his son’s mop of brown hair. “I remember those days like they were only yesterday. All it took was one look at Ali’s Pampers and you were a goner.”

    “Dad,” Jake warned.

    “All right,” Hank backed down, biting back a knowing smirk. He’d quit giving the kid grief on his love life. For now. He continued to steer the car through the streets of Harmony, bustling with all the usual activity of summer and the warm day. Passing the Youth Center, he honked his horn at Theresa and Chad, walking arm in arm to Theresa’s sporty little car, and waved back when they raised their arms in salute. “Lobster Shack?” he questioned Jake, slowing the car as they neared the much-visited establishment.

    “Pizza?” Jake suggested hopefully.

    “What were you and Ali up to in that tree house, Little Buddy? We had pizza yesterday,” Hank raised his brows at his young son.

    “Nothing,” Jake grumbled. “I’m just tired of burgers. And I don’t want any more of Aunt Grace’s meatloaf. Is that such a crime?”

    “You’ve got a point,” Hank admitted. “I’ll hold off on having Noah read you your rights.”

    “Thanks,” Jake muttered with enough sarcasm to make Kay proud.

    Smiling at the idea of his niece smiling down at them from Heaven,
    Hank again reached out to ruffle Jake’s hair, but this time his son artfully and skillfully dodged his efforts, squirming in his seat with a mischievous gleam in his brown eyes. Thwarted, Hank turned his attention back to the road, a smile still playing on his lips as he trotted out his last suggestion. “Hotdogs?”

    “Dad,” Jake groaned. “Do you know what hotdogs are made of?”

    “Since when do you listen to your grandmother?” Hank inquired.

    “I don’t,” Jake protested. “But it’s kind of hard not to when she goes on and on.”

    “And on,” Hank continued the thought, scratching his chin over their dinner-time dilemma. “Well, I’m all out of suggestions. Better think quick, Little Buddy, because right about now, Aunt Grace’s meatloaf is looking pretty good.” He glanced over at his son, certain he could see the wheels frantically turning in Jake’s brain. Finally, it seemed, a light bulb went off, and his quick-thinking son saved the day.

    “Chinese,” Jake blurted. “Sara likes to play with the chopsticks.”

    “And Emmy loves those egg rolls,” Hank grinned, flipping his blinker on and making a quick turn back toward the sole Chinese restaurant in Harmony. “I’ll tell Sally to throw in some extra fortune cookies for you. Maybe they’ll help you solve your GIRL problems,” he said with a wink as he stopped the car and killed the engine.

    “Girl problems?” Jake rolled his eyes at his dad’s back as he climbed out of the car. “I don’t have no girl problems.” His left hand shot toward the key in the ignition, ready to turn the radio back on while he waited. His intentions really were innocent, but it seemed the stigma of crashing his mom’s car through grandma and grandpa’s garage way, way back would never be forgotten; his dad didn’t take any chances with his keys. “One day I’m going to have my own car, Dad,” he grumbled, “and then you won’t be able to take the keys away from me.”

    Hank leaned in through the opened window, snatched the car keys from the ignition, and tossed them up in the air, catching them easily when they came back down. “You might want to get Mom to check your temperature when we get home, Little Buddy,” Hank spoke seriously before the features of his face drew up in a knowing smirk. “That’s a nasty case of denial you seem to be coming down with.”

    Jake put an end to the conversation the same way he had started it: with a scowl.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    At the Lopez-Fitzgerald house, Jake’s reign of terror had already been forgotten. The entire family, with the notable addition of Lissy, were gathered in the kitchen where Ali’s favorite dinner of spaghetti was being prepared.

    Luis, home from a long day at work, wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist from behind and pulled her back against his chest, noisily kissing her cheek then her neck, making the girls giggle and Cristian blush.

    “Luis,” Sheridan relaxed into his arms for only a moment, a contented smile playing upon her lips, “you want this spaghetti to be edible, don’t you?” She laughed at the answering twinkle in his eyes and the way his arms dropped back down to his sides.

    “That’s right. No distractions,” Luis stepped back, putting some distance between the two of them. “No touching,” he said with a sly grin. “We don’t want Mommy to burn dinner, do we?” he winked at the kids.

    Lissy’s chocolate eyes narrowed. “You can’t burn spaghetti.”

    “My mommy can,” Cristian piped up almost proudly, causing his parents and the rest of the room to laugh.

    “Cristian,” Sheridan chided, wrapping her fingers around his thin wrist and tugging him close. “I’m hurt.”

    Cristian worried for all of two seconds. That’s how long it took before his mommy had him spinning in her arms, a glorious smile on her face, dancing to music only she could hear, making him laugh breathlessly while everyone else looked on.

    Then they were all dancing, as music filled the room (courtesy of a certain angel, perhaps?), and dinner was forgotten.

    Until, of course, the smoke alarm started going off.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    MJ was dutifully loading the dishwasher when Miguel found him. That alone was enough to raise his suspicions. “Hey,” he said, taking a plate from the kitchen counter and rinsing it underneath the tap before he placed it in MJ’s waiting hands, “where’s Abby?”

    “Tucking Joshua in,” MJ responded as he worked side by side with his father in a comfortable silence. Soon, the dishwasher was loaded, and its smooth rumble, along with the familiar drip of the faucet, filled the kitchen. “Dad,” MJ ventured as he followed his dad into the living room, turning off lights along the way.

    Miguel glanced at his young son and contemplated his downcast eyes and his fidgety hands and knew whatever was bugging MJ had to be serious, at least to him. “If something’s bothering you, MJ, you know you can talk to me about it. Is it…is it about your mom?”
    Miguel finished in a strangled whisper, praying it wasn’t. With the memories of the night before still fresh and smarting, he wasn’t sure he was up to playing the role of the comforting father that MJ deserved.

    “No,” MJ replied in just as quiet and just as strangled a whisper.

    Miguel could hear in his son’s voice every bit of his own pain, his own longing, and he reached out a hand to lay it on top of MJ’s restless hands, giving them an encouraging squeeze and waited. It was all, he was beginning to realize as the days continued to pass by without Kay in them, that he could do. But he wasn’t waiting on normal anymore, only something closely resembling it.

    Finally, when Miguel was about to give up, MJ spoke, “Dad…I want Abby to stay.”

    “MJ,” Miguel countered, “we’ve been over this. Abby’s only staying with us temporarily. Someday…MJ, she won’t always be here.” He hoped they were finished, he hoped he was preparing MJ for the reality of Abby leaving them one day when everything between her and Nick was settled, he hoped they wouldn’t revisit this conversation again, but MJ’s next words proved him wrong.

    “You can’t let her leave us, Dad. You have to make her stay.”

    “MJ,” Miguel shook his head, trying to talk some sense into his son, “I can’t make Abby do anything she doesn’t…”

    MJ would have none of it, cutting him off. “You have to make her marry you.”

  8. #16
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 16



    “Marry ME?” Miguel sputtered after several seconds of stunned silence.

    “You have to make her marry you so she won’t leave us,” MJ reasoned as if it made all the sense in the world.

    “MJ,” Miguel sighed as he struggled to find the words to respond.

    “Abby wouldn’t leave, Dad. I know she wouldn’t. Not if you married her. She’d stay forever because…because she just wouldn’t leave us if you married her and me and Joshua were her little boys,” MJ insisted.

    Taking MJ by the shoulders, Miguel gently pushed him down onto the sofa, following him a moment later. “Your mom didn’t leave because she wanted to. You know that. Don’t you, MJ? She wanted to stay with us very, very much, but she had an accident, and…”

    “I know,” MJ interjected, his voice small and wobbly as tears threatened at the back of his dark eyes. “I know. But Dad,” he entreated.

    “What about the baby?” Miguel reminded MJ.

    “Me and Joshua can be its big brothers,” MJ replied, doubt creeping into his voice as he offered further proof, “I’m a good big brother.”

    “You ARE a good big brother. One of the best,” Miguel agreed, cupping his hand around MJ’s small chin as it trembled slightly. “Abby’s baby is going to be so lucky to have you and Joshua in its life, but not as its big brothers.”

    “Why?” MJ cried, the first tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. “Why not? Abby loves us, Dad. I know she does.”

    “She does,” Miguel answered his son with conviction. “She loves you and Joshua very much.”

    “She loves you too,” MJ retorted.

    “And I love her,” Miguel shocked himself with his own reply. Still, there was a difference between loving someone and being IN love with someone. Somehow, he hoped to make MJ understand, had to make him understand. “But MJ…”

    MJ took his father’s revelation and run with it. “We love Abby, and she loves us. If you marry her, we’ll be a family. The baby will be ours.”

    Miguel breathed a deep sigh, feeling his resolve to set his young son straight weaken the more excited he got.

    “We’ll take care of it and feed it,” MJ picked up steam. “It can sleep in Abby’s room and Abby can stay in your room with you. It can have all my old clothes and toys.”

    “You got it all figured out, don’t you?” Miguel pulled MJ into a half-hug, unwilling to dash his son’s hopes and break his heart tonight, even if it wasn’t the most responsible action to take.

    “I don’t need them anymore,” MJ shrugged, letting his dad hold him close for only a little while before pulling away and standing up. “I’m not a baby anymore.”

    Miguel felt a painful little tug at his heart even as he admired the fiercely independent streak that reminded him so very much of Kay and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his folded hands. “You’re not,” he agreed, “but that doesn’t mean you can go to bed just any old time you want.” He glanced at the watch on his wrist and gave MJ a pointed look.

    MJ just smiled and started walking in the direction of his bedroom.

    “It can’t be that easy,” Miguel shook his head, narrowing his eyes at his son suspiciously. “It’s never that easy. Something’s up. MJ,” he spoke warningly. “You’ve never…not before…what’s going on?”

    “Nothing,” MJ shrugged with a little grin playing at the corners of his mouth. “It’s just…”

    “Just what?” Miguel encouraged, more than a little intrigued.

    “Abby said she had to talk to you, and you have to talk to her…” MJ trailed off.

    “MJ,” Miguel shook his head, “has anyone ever told you how impossible you are?”

    “Yep,” MJ responded with a full-fledged grin. “Abby does. Every day. She says it’s part of my Lopez-Fitzgerald charm, but I have a special kind ‘cause I’m half Bennett AND half Lopez-Fitzgerald. So I’m even MORE impossible.”

    “Goodnight, MJ,” Miguel laughed, thinking truer words had never been spoken.

    “Night, Dad,” MJ yawned and took his leave with one last parting shot, “Don’t forget…”

    More impossible indeed, Miguel thought as he sank back against the sofa’s cushions and waited.

    Abby wanted to talk to him.

    Why did that news fill him with so much dread? Was he afraid her words would disappoint MJ? Or worse…was he afraid she would disappoint him?





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    Christopher had picked Lissy up shortly after their delightfully disastrous dinner, and the last stubborn little Lopez-Fitzgerald holdout was fast asleep in her nursery.


    Luis turned the baby monitor on and set it on the nightstand then lifted the covers back from the bed and crawled in beside his wife, who seemed to be completely absorbed by the stack of documents resting in her lap. Leaning over her shoulder, Luis scanned the top page for a few seconds then sighed when he realized what Sheridan was reading.

    Sheridan heard his sigh and looked up, guilt in her blue eyes. They’d agreed, even though it went against every investigative instinct Luis had ever had, to leave Alistair Crane in the past. Her father—and his dirty deeds—were dead and buried. No need to dredge him or them back up. But Ethan and Beth’s visit the other day hadn’t been purely for pleasure. Ethan had found the documents in one of her father’s safes and felt they might be of interest to her. She’d just spent the last half hour going over them, and two names kept appearing throughout, familiar names. “Lissy’s parents used to work at Crane Industries.”

    Luis frowned, reaching for the documents so he could see them with his own eyes. “I wonder why he never mentioned it before.”
    “Luis,” Sheridan said pointedly. “Your ill feelings toward my family aren’t exactly a secret.”

    “Alistair was the only Crane I had a beef with,” Luis defended himself. When Sheridan arched a golden brow at him in disbelief, he hastened to remind her, “I married you, didn’t I? We have three beautiful children together. Obviously, my feelings have changed.”

    “Obviously,” Sheridan smirked, dropping a kiss on his bare shoulder and watching his dark eyes, knowing his mind was hard at work, his suspicions raised. “So Christopher and his wife USED to work at Crane Industries while my father was still at the helm. That doesn’t automatically make them evil or morally corrupt.”

    “No,” Luis conceded, handing the documents back to Sheridan, who slid them back into their manila envelope and leaned over him to place them on the nightstand beside the baby monitor. “It doesn’t.”

    “Lissy’s a wonderful little girl,” Sheridan told him, sitting astride his thighs and encircling her arms around his neck. “I think that speaks to what kind of people her parents are. Were,” she added sadly, thinking of the way Lissy still longed for her mother, years after her death. In that aspect, she reminded Sheridan very much of herself.

    “Okay,” Luis relented, allowing her to talk him down from the theories and reservations that had entered his mind as soon as he had learned of Christopher’s past connection to Alistair Crane. He did still believe in the innocent until proven guilty concept; he just had a harder time keeping a clearer head when his family was involved, Ali in particular because for so long it had been just the two of them.

    “Luis,” Sheridan sighed, a note of recognition in her soft whisper, “I know you just want to protect Ali. I do too. Ali and Lissy have been friends for a while now; they’re a big part of each other’s lives. We’ve known Christopher through Lissy just as long. He’s a decent man that loves his daughter.”

    “That used to work for your father,” Luis reminded her.

    “Luis,” Sheridan sighed again, “haven’t you ever heard of the six degrees of separation?” She cupped his face in her hands as she smiled into the dark eyes that she loved so much. “If you look hard enough, there are connections between all of us, big or small. Don’t worry so much.”

    Luis allowed her to soothe the furrow in his brow with her lips and her gentle hands, and he felt his worries receding to the background if not dissolving completely. His palms slid over the supple smoothness of her skin, inching the material of her cotton nightgown up her thighs with each sweep as she kissed his mouth, long and sweet. Leaning his forehead against hers when the kiss ended finally, he muttered, “I can’t help it. It’s who I am.”

    “I know,” Sheridan rubbed her thumb over his lower lip with a small smile. “And I love you for it,” she said, taking his hand and bringing it to her lips, “but let’s not make a big deal out of this. Okay?”

    “Okay,” Luis ended the conversation, letting his hand drift from her lips to her jawline, the fingers of his other hand shushing her when she started to protest in suspicion. “It’s really that easy,” he spoke her thoughts aloud with a teasing grin. “We’ve wasted too much time on this topic anyway. She isn’t going to sleep all night,” he added when Sheridan still didn’t seem to get the picture. “And Cristian is due for his glass of water in,” he mentally calculated the time that had elapsed since they had tucked their son in, “about an hour. We don’t have much time.”

    Sheridan’s eyes twinkled as she helped him divest her of her nightgown and wrapped her arms around his neck as he placed his hands on her hips. “What happened to romance?”



    *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Abby shut the door to the boys’ bedroom with a heavy sigh and hugged her arms around her waist as she walked down the hall to the living room on reluctant feet.

    The local news was playing on the television; the five-day forecast didn’t look good.

    “Look’s like it’s time to break out my string bikini,” Abby whistled softly as she settled on the sofa beside Miguel, tucking her legs beneath her.

    One dark eye popped open, and a small smile played at the corners of Miguel’s mouth, but he didn’t say anything.

    He never did speak much around her, Abby mused wryly. Why should he, she reasoned to herself. She flapped her mouth enough for the both of them. “Of course, I wouldn’t want to scare the boys. I know Dr. Russell’s SUPERDOC around here, but she hasn’t ever dealt with hysterical blindness before, has she?”

    “I don’t think so,” Miguel agreed, no longer bothering to control the smile on his face.

    “Give me that,” Abby grinned, leaning over and snatching the remote from its resting spot on Miguel’s thigh. The smile on her face froze when Miguel grabbed her hand and took the remote from it, turning the television off, shaking his head.

    For one long, awkward moment, Miguel looked at her hand in his own then he cleared his throat, releasing her hand and taking the initiative before he lost his nerve, his earlier conversation with MJ still lingering in his mind. “MJ said you wanted to talk.”

    “I did. I do,” Abby answered slowly. Now that the moment was here, she didn’t know what to say. Her goodnights to the boys tonight had been no more than a coward’s goodbyes because she couldn’t face them in the morning. Not that breaking their hearts then was any better. God, how could she have let this happen? All these months, Grace was right. She’d been so blind to the selfish path she’d been traveling. She couldn’t play mommy to two such vulnerable, fragile little boys when her heart dictated she belonged with someone else. Grace had obviously seen that and had wanted to save them all the pain of the inevitable. Abby found herself wishing again things with Nick weren’t so complicated, that she weren’t such a mess, and she hadn’t dragged the boys into her screwed up life. “The boys are too attached to me,” she blurted.

    Stunned into silence, Miguel took a few seconds to respond. “You’re special to them. A friend—a connection to their mother.” Sighing, he looked up from his hands where they lay clasped in his lap and at her. “Grace means well, but she doesn’t understand that. She doesn’t understand…” he trailed off.

    “She doesn’t understand what?” Abby gently prodded.

    “That they…WE need you,” Miguel admitted softly.

    Abby shook her head. “You don’t need me, Miguel. Not you or the boys. You only think you do. You’d do just fine without me.”

    Miguel frowned. “What do you mean without you? Abby, what’s going on? You’re not…”

    Abby recognized the exact instant realization dawned in Miguel’s dark eyes, and the potent flash of pain she saw in them stabbed at her heart like a knife.

    “You can’t, you can’t. Not like this,” Miguel stammered, panic making his voice rise and his hands tremble as they grabbed at hers. He couldn’t deal with this right now, lose another person he cared for, another person that helped keep Kay real and alive for him. Kay was fading from his life in degrees, much the way her scent had ceased to linger on her pillow and the clothes he still kept at the back of their closet. If Abby left…

    “I have to,” Abby’s answer was a mere whisper as she freed one of her hands from Miguel’s stronghold and cupped his jaw, the pad of her thumb brushing his skin in an attempt to soothe the worry lines around his mouth and eyes. “Before I can’t.”

    “You don’t have to go,” Miguel protested.

    He looked so much like MJ in that moment, so much like a lost little boy himself, Abby’s only thought was to comfort him as she brought her other hand up to his face and leaned her forehead against his. She didn’t see it coming until it was too late, and Miguel did the unthinkable...

    He kissed her.

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