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Thread: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

  1. #33
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Continuation of Chapter 30

    Hi all.

    So sorry this is so late, but I've had some, er, difficulties with my internet connection in the last month. It's never been super-reliable, but it certainly hasn't been the best since a little incident with some lightning (eek!). Not to mention I've just returned from vacation so...yeah.

    I'm sorry for the taking an eternity to post the remainder of the chapter; I hope you guys can forgive me.
    Read on and (hopefully) enjoy.

    Arms crossed in front of him on the kitchen counter, MJ stared silently ahead, his young face unsmiling. His feet dangled freely from his barstool perch, and from time to time, the muted sounds of his bare feet thudding against the wall could be heard over the sizzle and pop of the bacon frying on the stove top.

    At the kitchen table, Harmony Herald opened in front of him while Grace finished with breakfast, Sam sat, a boy balanced on each leg, Kendall’s sandy head tucked sleepily beneath his chin with Joshua’s much darker head lolling against his opposite shoulder.

    Setting a steaming plate of bacon and eggs in front of her husband, Grace reached over the paper’s edge to gently pry Joshua’s thumb from his mouth. “MJ,” she called over her shoulder. “Breakfast is ready.”

    “I want to sit here,” MJ grumped, daring someone to protest. He scowled when no protest came and grunted in reply when the only reaction he received was a question about what kind of juice he wanted to drink with his breakfast. He knew neither Abby nor his mom would have let such behavior pass, neither would his grandma Grace if she didn’t feel so sorry for him and Joshua, and he couldn’t help it, even though he tried. In that second, he hated her just a little bit for not saying no. For not being Abby. For not being her. He glared at the plate set in front of him and picked up his fork to stab it into the eggs.

    Pain flickered and retreated in Grace’s blue eyes, and she tried to smile as she lifted Joshua from Sam’s lap to place him in his booster seat. She took the seat beside the small boy and looked away when Sam sent a look of concern in her direction. With forced cheerfulness, she filled Joshua’s own fork with eggs, encouraging him to eat by making silly airplane sounds and waving the utensil in the air. When Joshua only stared at her with big, solemn brown eyes, lips not budging, Grace lowered the fork in defeat and began to pick at her own food.

    Trying to lighten the overall somber mood, Sam made an announcement, “I almost forgot...Jessica called while you were out yesterday. She said if things work out, she, Reese, and the kids might sneak in a visit soon.” Unfortunately, his good intentions were overlooked in favor of his unintentional slight.

    Dropping her fork to the table, Grace pushed her chair back from the table and stood. “Our daughter calls and you don’t even mention it to me. Sam,” she shook her head disappointedly.

    Perplexed by her reaction, Sam merely frowned and sighed her name. “Grace.” When she started to pace restlessly through the kitchen, three pairs of young eyes watching her in worried confusion, he repeated her name in admonishment. “Grace.”

    Stalling in front of MJ, Grace ignored Sam’s pleas and stared into her defiant young grandson’s face for a moment before hugging her arms around herself and leaving the kitchen.

    Moving to follow her, Sam paused in indecision before electing to take Kendall with him. “Keep an eye on your brother.”

    The hastily spoken request sounded more like a warning to MJ, and he grumbled but complied nonetheless as he slid from his lofty perch and plopped down into the chair directly across from Joshua.

    Joshua merely stared back at him with sad eyes, plugging his small thumb back into his mouth while elsewhere in the house, the arguing voices escalated in volume and a door slammed with enough force to make MJ wince and cover his ears.

    On the table before them, breakfast grew cold, forgotten as the morning hour stretched on.


    Across town, Miguel lay on his back, Kay’s old pillow clutched to his chest in a desperate grip, and struggled to swallow over the golf ball-sized lump lodged in his throat at the realization that even the barest hints of her scent no longer clung stubbornly to the well-used item. Sunlight spilled in through the curtains he’d forgotten to pull closed the night before, lighting the path of the solitary tear he allowed to trek his stubble-lined cheek. Closing his eyes tightly against the unforgiving harshness of daylight, he rolled onto his side, forcing himself to take a deep if somewhat shaky breath. When he opened his eyes again, the rest of the bed, the side that she had always slept on, seemed to be an insurmountable expanse he couldn’t breach or even approach, and just for a moment he let himself wallow in the longing and loneliness that inevitably washed over him anew each morning in this moment, the moment he woke to find it wasn’t all a bad dream after all—the moment he realized this was his life now. Just for a moment, he promised himself. Then he would pull himself together again.

    Not for the first time, he entertained the notion of buying a new bed, a smaller one that didn’t seem as empty.

    Not for the first time, he quickly dismissed the idea and hauled himself out of bed to start the day.

    In the shower, he picked up her ridiculous green loofah, even opened up the bottle of shampoo she’d barely used just to breathe in the scent, before he put them both back and let his hand close over his own bar of thick, white (boorrinnng, Kay had always teased) soap and absently lathered up a washcloth. He moved automatically and efficiently through the mundane task of bathing, and when he was finished, he stood before the bathroom mirror, navy towel knotted around his waist as he wiped at its fogged up surface with his fist, her chastising Miguel echoing in his ears.

    Robotically, he shaved and brushed his teeth and soon enough, he was dressed and completing the chore he’d abandoned the night before with Katie’s unannounced visit. As he resumed picking up the toys the boys had left scattered all over the living room, he couldn’t help but remember the look on her face.

    For the briefest of moments, Miguel let his thoughts linger on the tears she hadn’t been able to hide, and he found himself wondering again what troubled her so greatly, what secrets she found she couldn’t reveal to Noah.

    Confused and alarmed by the extent of his own concern for Katie’s predicament, Miguel willfully abandoned that train of thought and walked into the kitchen, intent on accomplishing as much as he could with the boys still with Sam and Grace.

    It was past time to start work on Kay’s list.


    “Any luck locating our guy?” Luis stepped to the side, allowing an elderly woman to walk through the door he held open before making his own entrance.

    Emitting a soft sigh of frustration, Noah followed Luis into Book Café, matching Luis’s nod to Beth before joining his boss at a table tucked into the far back of the establishment, away from any ears that might be listening. “I got nothing.”

    Luis wore a disbelieving frown. “Nothing?”

    “Nothing,” Noah repeated. “Neither does Quinlan. It’s like our guy just disappeared into thin air.”

    Unconsciously, Luis nodded, accepting the coffee and muffin Beth delivered to him with a wordless smile.

    Noah’s silver eyes widened appreciatively when a similar treat was bestowed upon him. “Thanks, Beth.” He blew gently on his coffee before taking a hearty gulp then attacked his bagel with a gusto that made the smile on Luis’s face morph into a grin.

    Sharing a laugh with Beth, Luis teased Noah about Katie’s culinary skills, or apparent lack thereof.

    “Watch it,” Noah warned with a twinkle in his eyes. “That’s my fiancée you’re talking about. Besides, we didn’t have time for breakfast.”

    “Oh really? And why not?” Beth joined in on the good-natured teasing, disarming Noah enough to make him blush as Luis’s cell phone started to ring.

    “I’m sure Katie didn’t mind.” Luis got in one more parting shot before leaving to answer the call.

    Beth slipped into Luis’s vacated chair, elbows planted on the table in front of her as she shared a benign smile with Noah. “Wonder what that’s about?” she commented.

    Noah shrugged, swallowing another mouth full of coffee before properly explaining himself. “What Luis said…it was just another long night on the job. None of our witnesses actually saw anything, and I barely got home before I had to leave again. That’s all I meant.”

    Something in Beth’s smile changed, became more genuine, and she picked up the coffee pot to top off Noah’s mug as she stood up. “Relax, Noah. He was just teasing. So was I. That’s the thing about being happy. It makes you an easy target.”

    Noah ducked his head sheepishly then grinned charmingly at her. “So I’m wearing a big bulls-eye, right here?” He jerked a thumb toward his forehead.

    “Right there,” Beth agreed, glancing over her shoulder at Luis, beckoning his young rookie from the open doorway. To Noah, she commented, “Looks like duty calls. Have Julie pack that up for you before you go,” Beth indicated his unfinished breakfast. “It’ll take two seconds.”

    “Thanks, Beth,” Noah voiced his appreciation in lieu of goodbye.

    Beth watched them both go, her fingers tightened painfully around the coffee pot’s handle, hoping a reversal of their fortune was still a ways off.


    “Are you a bad man, Mr. Tony?”

    Her eyes, when she asked the question, were hidden behind a veil of tangled tawny hair, and her small fingers picked and pulled at the muffin that made up her breakfast. Only her voice sold the question for what it was, a question borne out of innocence, and he took his time answering her. Finally, he settled on an appropriate approximation of the truth. “Some people might say I am.”

    The chocolate eyes that stared back at him thankfully held no judgment.

    “What do you think, Alyssa?”

    Tucking her knees beneath her, she planted her elbows on the coffee table and seemed to study him for a moment as if considering him.

    He released a deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in, feeling like he’d passed a test of sorts, at her answer.

    “I think you’re a good man. Just misunderstood.”

    A rich laugh vibrated beneath his breastbone as he watched her cram the remainder of her muffin into her mouth and reach, wide-eyed, for the milk Beth had brought for her to drink. “Anybody ever tell you not to bite off more than you can chew?”

    Coughing and sputtering after taking a generous gulp, Lissy nodded, oblivious to the white milk mustache that lingered on her upper lip. “All the time.” Twirling a long strand of tawny hair around her index finger, she regarded him with a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes. “But I never listen,” she shrugged semi-apologetically. For several seconds, she regarded him across the coffee table that separated them before reminding him, “You never did answer my question.”

    She was sharp; he had to give her that. And not as easily distracted as he’d hoped. Still, he had to give it one last try. Wiping his thumb across his own lip, he said, “You’ve got something…yeah…right there.” A toothy grin stole traitorously across his face as he watched her first search futilely for a napkin, then wipe her lip off with the back of her hand.

    “Did I get it?” Nose scrunched and lips pushed out in a pout, she demanded a straight answer. “Maybe you’re not so misunderstood, after all,” she muttered under her breath, slumping back against the back of the sofa and crossing her arms over her now updrawn knees. She rolled her eyes at him. “If you think I’m going to forget just because I’m a kid…”

    “I don’t think that at all.”

    “You’re hoping though,” Lissy accused. “Why? Why does it matter?”

    “Let’s just say…those same people, the ones that think I’m a bad man, won’t be throwing me any welcome home parties.”

    So...not super long, but I hope it was somewhat entertaining nonetheless. I admit, I find it one of my more *gasp* boring chapters, but I'm building here, and unfortunately, I seem to be building brick by brick.

    That Bennett bunch + Miguelito are still taking Kay's death pretty hard, huh?

    How long do you think it'll take Luis and Noah to figure out Beth's just a little too interested in the *failure* of their investigation?

    What about Tony and Lissy? Like Ali, I thought it was time to start giving Lissy back her spunk.

    Thoughts, comments, questions?
    Thanks for reading!!!

  2. #34
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    *ducks and tries to hide then waves sheepishly*


    I'm back--after a lengthy absence that I cannot possibly defend, but the gist of it is this: work, work, work, vacation, more work, the Olympics that ate my brain in-between work, writer's block, lack of inspiration, work, computer problems, bad weather, and more work.

    So...didja miss me?

    I (selfishly) hope so.

    Well, this is a new chapter. It's a pretty long chapter, and I actually had ideas to make it longer, but now I can't make up my mind whether to pick up with 31 part B or just plow ahead to 32.

    We'll see what I decide.
    Until then, enjoy.

    Chapter 31


    Simone’s voice, so near, startled Miguel, and he grimaced as he pushed himself up on one elbow, craning his neck around the open cabinet door to track her progress and swiping a hand across his brow.

    “Sorry,” came Simone’s sheepish reply. Biting her lip, she held up a white bag in apology. “I brought you breakfast.” Fidgeting in place for a moment, she thrust the peace offering at him. “Last muffin,” she told him, her large, dark eyes shying away from his naked torso. “So,” she glanced around at the kitchen, as if noticing, for the first time, its utter and perfect stillness, “where are the boys?”

    Groaning as he pushed himself to a sitting position, Miguel let himself lean against the cabinet frame for a second to lament an opportunity lost; it seemed his brief stint as a plumber was over before it really began. He couldn’t rightly say he felt any real disappointment at the thought. “Over at the Bennett’s.” With a quiet sigh, he climbed to his feet, dusting off the seat of his pants before taking the bag from Simone’s hands. “Thanks,” he smiled, waving a hand at the kitchen table. “What about you? Get you anything?”

    Simone only shook her head, taking the seat Miguel offered her without a word and dropping down into it with a sigh. The smile she offered Miguel wavered when she met then looked quickly away from his eyes. “No. No, I’m interrupting. You were busy. I should go and let you…” she trailed off at the slightly awkward touch of his hand on her arm.

    It was in that moment Miguel realized, to his complete dismay, that her eyes had filled with tears. “Simone…it’s okay. You’re not interrupting. Not really. If I made you feel…”

    “No!” Simone grasped the hand that he tried to withdraw, squeezing it in hers. “No,” she repeated more softly, tears spilling silently from her eyes. “You didn’t do this. It’s not your fault. It’s just…I woke up this morning, and…” She looked down, seeming to lose her train of thought as she studied their interlocked hands. “I woke up this morning, Miguel, and I realized something I think I was ignoring before.”

    “What? What did you realize?” Miguel gently prodded when it seemed she would say no more, only to watch her slowly begin to crumble before his disbelieving eyes.

    “Just how much I still miss her.”


    “You’re gonna get me fired, you know.”

    “Me?” Nick’s lips quirked. “How am I going to get you fired?” Casually leaning a shoulder against the tree that cast shadows across this edge of the rippling pond, he smirked as he watched her toss the remainder of the bread crumbs at their overzealous little feathered friends.

    Hazel eyes rolled at him, and Abby lifted her tawny hair from her shoulders then dropped it back down again. Eyeing him with suspicion, she cocked her head to the side as if considering a puzzle, a Nick-shaped puzzle, and commented, “Forget about me for a moment. Don’t you need to be at work?”

    Praying she couldn’t read the truth in his eyes or notice the way his shoulders tensed before he forcibly relaxed them, Nick shrugged and answered as nonchalantly as he could manage. “I was due a day off.”

    One tawny brow lifted incredulously, and Abby scoffed. “And this is how you want to spend it? You’re no Ferris.” She started to walk away from him when one large hand settled low on her hip, and seconds later, she was reeled in by his fingers tugging on the belt loops of her shorts. Hands resting against the hard plane of his chest, her eyes snapped to his in surprise, and she huffed in annoyance at the stubborn strand of hair spilling into her eyes with his abrupt maneuver.

    Nick tenderly swept her hair behind her ear, letting his fingertips linger on her face, and his voice dropped to a low whisper, his other hand claiming the small of her back and hauling her even closer to him. “I think we both know where I’d prefer to be right now.”

    Abby’s blood sang in her veins as he captured her mouth with his own in a kiss of seductive possession that left her clinging to his neck with both arms and panting when it was over. “What are you trying to do?” she tunneled her hands through the dark hair at the nape of his neck, searching his gray eyes questioningly. “Get us arrested for public indecency?” Reluctantly, she peeled herself away from him and stepped back on wobbly legs, unaware that a million different emotions were broadcasting themselves on her face at that moment and in eyes flecked with gold. Finally trusting that her breathing was under control, she inwardly cursed the throaty quality of her voice when she called him out on his little stunt. “What was that? I thought we had a deal.”

    “That?” Nick couldn’t quite tamp down his smirk no matter how hard he tried. “Lady, last I checked that was just a harmless kiss.”


    “Pilar,” Sheridan chastised, gently prying one of Hope’s tiny sleepers from the older woman’s hands and placing it back on top of the laundry piled in the basket beside the coffee table, waiting to be folded. “You don’t have to do that.” Gesturing to the sunny day outside where Ali and Cristian were keeping Paloma entertained, Sheridan smiled. “It’s a beautiful day. I think we should join them.” Slipping her arm through Pilar’s own, she maneuvered them toward the door with a laugh. “They’ll still be here when we get back. Unfortunately.” The smile on Sheridan’s lips stretched ever wider when Pilar joined in her laughter and allowed herself to fall into step beside her.

    Outside, Ali and Cristian attempted to pass a soccer ball back and forth: attempted because Max wouldn’t be ignored and from the first moment the ball had appeared, had insinuated himself into the children’s game.

    From a blanket spread out beneath the looming shade of the tree house, Paloma kept one eye on the comedy of errors while tugging playfully at one of Hope’s wiggling toes. Bending to place noisy kisses on the soles of the tiny feet, Paloma delighted in her niece’s easy smile, straightening and glancing at Sheridan when she lowered herself to the blanket beside her. “That smile,” she marveled with a touch of humor in her voice, “is going to give my brother many gray hairs in his lifetime.”

    “It already is,” Sheridan declared.

    The pair soon found their eyes drawn back to the raucous game before them, and neither was surprised to find Pilar acting as referee.

    “All she needs is a whistle,” Sheridan quipped.

    Mi hermana,” Paloma laughed, as her mother sternly but affectionately scolded Max and delivered the ball back to her young grandson, “I do not think Mama needs a whistle.”

    “Okay,” Sheridan couldn’t help but laugh herself. “Maybe I’m the one that needs a whistle. Happy now?” she grinned, nudging her shoulder against Paloma’s own before being distracted from Paloma’s positive answer by her exuberant little son.

    “Mommy!” called Cristian. “Look at me!”

    Scooping her tiny daughter into her arms, Sheridan directed Hope’s bright blue gaze toward her big brother, proudly displaying his soccer skills, much to everyone’s amusement. “Wanna clap for Cristian?” Covering each tiny, chubby hand with her own, Sheridan brought them together, causing Hope to gurgle happily. “Let’s clap for Cristian. Yay, Cristian!” she cheered.

    Watching her young nephew flush with pleasure when she, Mama, and even Ali joined in the cheers and basking in the glow of Sheridan’s joy in the company of her children, Paloma was overcome with a sense of peace she’d been searching for since coming home. She was happy, and she wasn’t willing to give that feeling up anytime soon.


    “Sorry, Whit,” Theresa apologized breezily, reappearing at her side as if she had never left. “Monique wanted my input on a few things.”

    “Monique?” Removing her gaze from the impressive floor to ceiling windows that lined the studio and focusing it on her energetic best friend’s expressive face, Whitney furrowed her brow in concentration as she attempted to recall why the name was vaguely familiar to her.

    “From the Boston store,” Theresa supplied helpfully.

    “Right,” Whitney nodded, smiling as she remembered the brief meeting she had had with the likable young woman, one of Theresa’s most trusted employees—and fast-made friends—over the years that she’d made her home elsewhere. “Is everything okay?”

    Theresa warded off Whitney’s worry with a beaming smile. “Everything’s fine.” Grabbing Whitney’s hands in her own, she gave them an enthusiastic, grateful squeeze. “I’m so glad you came.”

    “Why wouldn’t I?” Whitney asked, letting herself be drawn into the center of the studio where Theresa seemed to root her feet upon the ground and scan her surroundings in consideration. Whitney followed Theresa’s example and glanced around the spacious area. “So,” she blew out a breath. “Theresa,” she prodded gently. “What are we looking at?”

    Theresa, for her part, seemed to be lost in a pleasant daydream, a soft smile flitting across her lips as her brown eyes positively danced. “Can you hear it, Whit?”

    Stifling a groan as she felt warning bells start to sound inside her brain, Whitney was outwardly a paragon of patience, waiting for the big reveal of whatever grand plans her best friend had for this place. Theresa didn’t disappoint, though her answer was somewhat cryptic.

    “The music.”

    “The music? Theresa, honey, I’m not following.” The furrow on Whitney’s brow deepened, and she cast another searching glance around the large room. “I thought we were going to make some alterations to my dress, not…” Changing tactics when she realized she had regained Theresa’s full attention, Whitney decided the direct approach was best, especially when that smile, the one that said you just don’t get it, do you, was on Theresa’s face. “Okay. Tell me about the music.”

    That’s exactly what Theresa did—for the better part of an hour.


    One look into his brother’s stormy blue eyes, and Hank was relinquishing his hammer. “Here,” he settled the heavy weight in Sam’s palm. “It’s therapeutic.” Glancing around at the assortment of tools that were the sum total of his home improvement experience, he spotted another, smaller hammer and wielded it as his replacement. “Looks like you need it more than me.”

    Sam’s smile looked more like a grimace as he replied. “Thanks.”

    “So,” Hank ventured sometime later, after the frustration level in the room had dialed down a notch and the noise of their labored breathing roared in their own ears. “Tough day?”

    “Tough year,” Sam grunted, placing another satisfying blow to the crumbling wall.

    “Tough year,” Hank echoed his brother’s sentiment in agreement, his keen eyes taking in the new lines around Sam’s blue eyes and the dour set of his jaw. Really tough year, he thought to himself, his own enthusiasm for the job at hand waning, much as Gwen’s then the kids’ had earlier that morning. The hole, once easily if not conspicuously disguised with Bec’s ugly pig picture, was not so easy to dismiss now, and the reality of diving directly into the deep end to drive the much-needed change forward was looking more daunting than it had the day before. Still, Hank wouldn’t back down from the challenge; after all, it was a trait he’d learned from his big brother. Squinting at the sunlight streaming in through the dismantled wall, he hoped Sam would get his deeper meaning when he spoke. “Might not seem like it now, but things are going to look better.” Placing a firm hand on Sam’s shoulder, Hank tossed a look over his shoulder. “Got a couple of cold ones in the fridge.”

    “Hank,” the corners of Sam’s mouth twitched into a real smile, “it’s not even lunch.”

    Shrugging, Hank merely grinned. “How’s that song go?”

    Sam rolled his eyes. “Which one?”

    “You know the one I’m talking about,” Hank gamely insisted.

    “Don’t you have T-ball practice?”

    “That’s tomorrow,” Hank rebutted. “What’s the matter, Sammy? Scared?”

    “Hank,” Sam leveled a stare at him, blue eyes unflinching with only the hint of a twinkle in them.


    “Shut up.”

    It’s five o’clock somewhere.”


    Letting herself into the Bennett home when her knock went unanswered, Eve held a hand to her chest in surprise when she noticed the small boy seated on the sofa, the controller to a video game clenched in his fists. “Hi, MJ,” Eve greeted with a kind smile that garnered little if any response. “I’m here to see Gra…your grandma,” she corrected herself hastily. “Is she around?”

    MJ shrugged in answer, his demeanor sullen, his fingers never stopping their flight over the controller.

    “Okay,” Eve answered herself. “I’m just going to go on up and see if she’s in her room.”

    MJ’s response was a non-response, his dark eyes were glued resolutely to the television screen in front of him, and he gave no indication of hearing or caring what Eve said.

    Eve resisted any further urges to engage the little boy and crossed the living room to the staircase, where she followed the racket she was surprised she hadn’t noticed earlier. “Grace?” she called out when she stood at the top of the stairs. Using the noise as her guide, she soon found herself outside of the girls’ old bedroom. Peering around the doorframe, she quickly discovered the source of the sounds.

    In the middle of the floor, on hands and knees, Joshua and Kendall had, it seemed, uncovered Noah’s boyhood stash of cars and fire trucks and trains, complete with bells and whistles and sirens.

    It was, Eve decided, the most animated and boisterous she had seen either boy to date, and it brought a smile to her face even as her ears protested the assault. Lowering herself quietly onto one of the twin beds, she watched them, unnoticed, for several minutes until she realized something wasn’t quite right with the picture. Something, or someone, rather, was missing. Glancing around the room, she frowned at the discovery of Grace’s absence. It wasn’t like her to leave a child unattended, especially of such a young age. Standing and carefully circumnavigating the boys’ area of play, Eve let her eyes do another, more thorough perusal of her surroundings, and it was only then that she noticed something she hadn’t before: the girls’ closet door was slightly ajar, a sliver of light spilling out. With a tentative hand, she reached out and grasped the handle, her voice soft. “Grace?”

    Knees updrawn and arms woven tightly around a pink and purple scrapbook, Grace stared back at her wordlessly, tears silently spilling down her cheeks.

    Moving into the small space to pull her friend into her comforting arms, Eve could barely force words out of her own, tear-tightened throat. “Oh, Grace.”


    Though the years of imposed exile (both self and not) had changed him, Martin had to concede the Crane Mansion itself hadn’t changed much, not in his estimation anyway.

    There still lurked the invisible specter of evil. The stain of Alistair Crane wouldn’t be washed out.

    Force of habit kept all of Martin’s senses on high alert as he followed the young maid through the winding, ornate corridors. His mind’s eye showed him the ghosts of their youthful pasts behind the numerous closed doors. When he was deposited at the Solarium, muscle memory carried him through the entryway. He kept his expression blank as he greeted her before she could acknowledge him. “Mrs. Crane.”

    Rising from her seat, Ivy addressed him with the more familiar, “Martin.” She clasped her hands together before extending them and offering him a seat, no matter how fruitless she knew the gesture to be. “Won’t you sit?”

    “I’m not planning on staying long,” Martin answered tensely.

    “Oh.” Ivy’s normal eloquence deserted her as the (admittedly) tight smile she had worn upon his arrival morphed into a deep frown. “Is there something I can do for you, Martin? Something you want?”

    “Not for me,” Martin leveled his gaze on her. “For my wife. My daughter. My granddaughter. You claim to care for them, as friends and family.”

    Ali’s innocent face sprung to mind, and Ivy’s reply rang with the truth of her genuine affection for the little girl. “I do. Martin,” she queried, “what is this about?”

    “Don’t stand in his way,” Martin’s plea was fervent.

    Turning from him, Ivy proclaimed, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s ridiculous to think…” She knew he remained unconvinced when next he spoke.

    “We both know what I’m talking about, Ivy.”

    Her given name crossing his lips compelled her to face him, to be honest and forthright. “I’m not the one that drove him away, Martin.”

    “Maybe not,” Martin conceded as he turned to leave. “But protecting your own interests hasn’t helped bring him home to his mother either. Think about the woman you call friend and wonder would she do the same if she were in your position.” He held up a staying hand when it appeared she would follow. “I’ll see myself out. Place hasn’t changed all that much.”

    His words still resonating within her, Ivy could only watch him go.


    It was nearing noon, and he was being subjected to a round of twenty questions by one helluva tenacious little girl. Currently, they were discussing the merits of being a spy versus a police officer, in part due to the question posed to him some fifteen minutes ago.

    “Are you a spy like in the movies, Mr. Tony?”

    “What movies you been watchin’, kid?” Before the question was fully out of his mouth, he decided he didn’t want to know. Deeply disturbed at the thought she had seen any of the James Bond flicks, he tried to change the subject, but only succeeded halfway because the next thing that came out of her pouty little motor mouth almost floored him. It didn’t exactly compute with the Hank Bennett he remembered.

    “Jake Bennett says his dad used to be a spy before he married his mom, but I don’t believe him.”

    Part of him wanted to ask her why not, but it had already been too long of a day. Instead, he looked directly into her enormous chocolate eyes and reminded her of her father. “Shouldn’t you go home?”

    Lissy, of course, had a perfectly reasonable answer ready for him. “He’s at work. Ms. Beth let me call him.”

    “And where does he think you are?”

    “With Ali at the Youth Center,” Lissy shrugged, flipping through the channels of the television boredly for a moment before fixing her unflinching gaze back on him.

    Groaning, he tried to get her on the defensive, but she proved to be unflappable, the previous night’s lapse seemingly just that. “You shouldn’t lie to your father.”

    Twirling a strand of her long tawny hair around her finger, Lissy bit her lip. “Well…I didn’t. Not exactly. I am going to the Youth Center with Ali. Just not yet.”

    He watched, fascinated, as she began to curl and contort her legs beneath her. The stray thought that she reminded him of a tiny human pretzel reminded him just how long this had gone on—long enough for him to grow hungry again. Her next question, though, caused a different kind of gnawing sensation in his gut.

    “How do you know Ali’s dad?”

    “We grew up together,” he answered. In the same house, in the same room, he silently added. Impatiently, he went on the offensive, this time asking her a question, although it wasn’t a very polite one. “Do you always talk this much?” The answer she gave him, glib in a way he wasn’t used to seeing in a child, still made guilt settle low in his belly.

    “Only to people I like.”

    Deciding to play her little game—hell, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do at the moment—he quizzed, “Got any brothers or sisters?”

    Shaking her head, Lissy replied in the negative and turned the question back onto him. “You?”


    “Yeah,” Lissy rolled her eyes. “Is that all you’re going to say?”

    He couldn’t help but grin. “Have some respect for your elders, Alyssa.”

    “At least tell me which one,” Lissy whined.

    He relented because okay, the kid was cute. That and he couldn’t wipe the memory of her frightened tears of the night before from his mind.“Both.” Rubbing a hand over his face tiredly, he grumbled, “Are we about finished here?”

    “Just one more, I promise,” Lissy said, uncurling her limbs and standing to stretch.

    “Okay,” he reluctantly assented. “Shoot.”

    “What about kids?”


    “Sometimes I can’t remember the sound of her voice,” Simone admitted. “I have this voicemail…saved on my cell phone…that she left me, and all she says is Call me back, but I play it, over and over again, just to hear her again.”

    Beside her on the sofa, knee brushing against hers, Miguel made an admission of his own. “I used to use my cell phone to call the house just so I could listen to her on the answering machine.” With a grimace of a smile, he reminded her that he no longer used that answering machine.

    “I catch myself wanting to call her all the time,” Simone sniffled. “Just to ask her opinion on stuff.” Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed Miguel was nodding, and she twisted in her seat, studying his profile. With a pang she realized the youthfulness he had always exuded so easily had all but disappeared. He looked older in a way that saddened her, so she made one last attempt to change the topic to something more positive. “Theresa offered me a job.”

    “At the store?”

    Simone nodded, discreetly brushing a tear from her cheek.

    “You should take it,” Miguel encouraged. “If it’s what you want.”

    “I’m thinking about it,” she murmured. “I want to stay. I need to stay, you know. I can’t explain it, but I do.”

    “Because it’s home?” Miguel suggested.

    That made sense, but Simone knew it wasn’t the primary reason, the reason that kept her here, that kept him tied to this house, and she told him so. “Because it’s where all our memories are.”


    “Finished playing with other people’s children?” Abby smirked, not bothering to hide the approval in her hazel eyes as she watched Nick’s approach.

    Grasping the chains to the swing she sat in, Nick gave them a playful tug and shot her a smirk of his own. “Hey, I offered to push you first.”

    “And deprive you of your fun?” Abby teased, digging her heels in the sand and grinning up at him. “We don’t have to play this game of Rent-a-Kid. There are people out there that actually pay you to play with their kids. You might have heard of it. It’s called babysitting. Get this…some even let you do it for free.”

    Nick’s gray eyes twinkled at her as he yanked the chains toward him, causing her to squeal in indignation and surprise. “Smartass.”

    Laughing, Abby let him pull her to her feet and wrap his arms around her waist.

    “No money exchanged hands,” Nick defended himself. Backing up, he lowered himself into the swing next to Abby’s vacated swing, his arms still holding her loosely. His large hands cupped her hips, his thumbs brushing against the hint of skin bared between her tank top and shorts. “I don’t know. Girls just seem to like me.”

    Rolling her eyes at him, Abby fought the uncontrollable shiver his touch aroused and braced her hands on his broad shoulders. “Sure they do.” That was exactly why they were in this mess.

    Gray eyes dancing, Nick tugged her closer, upsetting her equilibrium and making her wrap her arms around his neck. “Wanna swing, little girl?”

    Playing along, Abby settled awkwardly in his lap, holding on tight when he sent them into motion. She held on, even when it became obvious they were making a spectacle of themselves, and by the time they slowed to a stop, she had her face buried in the crook of his neck and she was shaking with laughter. “Don’t let go,” she warned between helpless bouts. “I’m slipping!”

    Hand in her hair, Nick made a promise he had no intention of breaking, no matter the tough road he knew lay ahead of them. “I won’t.”


    “You want to turn this place into a dance studio?” As she asked the question, Whitney smoothed her hands over the skirt of the dress she was currently modeling for Theresa, the dress that—in a few short months’ time—she would wear as Theresa’s maid of honor.

    Taking the pencil from between her teeth, Theresa nodded in the affirmative as she scribbled a note on the notepad in her left hand and nudged Whitney to do a half turn. “Whitney,” she scolded, the frown on her face easily imaginable given her tone, “have you been eating at all?” Walking around to face Whitney, she crossed her arms across her middle and dived right into a lecture that was becoming commonplace over the course of the last few weeks. “It needs taken in again, Ms. Work-a-holic. You should know better, Doctor Russell.”

    Whitney’s rebuttal was quick but half-hearted. “For your information, I do eat. When I have the time,” she added under Theresa’s intense glare. Steering the subject away from herself, she interrupted any retort Theresa might have by saying, “What does Sheridan have to say about all of this?” When Theresa ducked her head sheepishly, Whitney’s eyes widened. “Theresa! Sheridan doesn’t know, does she?”

    “Not yet,” Theresa hedged. “But she will. Whitney, she will. I know she’s busy right now…”

    “Don’t you think that’s an understatement?” Whitney questioned gently. “I think she needs time to catch her breath, don’t you?” Watching Theresa deflate before her very eyes, Whitney placed a friendly arm around her shoulders and spoke to her softly. “Maybe she’s not the only one.”

    Theresa’s smile fell completely away, and her large brown eyes avoided Whitney’s intent gaze, looking instead ahead, out of the towering windows and to the buildings and street below.

    “Theresa, honey…are you getting cold feet?”


    But for the hum of the refrigerator and the steady, nervous shuffling of Ali’s feet, the kitchen was quiet, lunch at the Lopez-Fitzgerald house well over and Cristian half-way across town by now en route to his grandmother’s home with said grandmother and Paloma. The baby monitor positioned on the kitchen counter assured Sheridan that Hope was sleeping soundly in her nursery, and the absence of Max’s excited barking meant Miss Priss was taking it easy on the pooch for the time being. All in all, all was well, and unnaturally quiet.

    At least until Ali’s exasperation got the better of her, and she blurted, “Mom!”

    Startled, Sheridan nonetheless faced Ali with a smile. “Congratulations, Sweetie. You passed.” Her smile grew at the way the tension seemed to drain out of her young daughter. “But it’s just the first test.” The gentle reminder didn’t do much to sober Ali’s good mood; she seemed to actually welcome it as a challenge, and Sheridan felt her heart swell with pride. “We’ll have Daddy check your math tonight. Why don’t you go take a break before we go to the Youth Center?” she suggested. “Hope won’t sleep much longer.”

    Ali was out of her seat, throwing her arms around Sheridan’s neck in a quick but fierce hug, and on her way to her room in just seconds. “Mom,” she poked her blond head back around the kitchen doorway before disappearing.

    “Yeah?” Sheridan swiveled around in her chair to face her.

    “Lissy wants me to spend the night with her tomorrow. Can I call her and tell her you said yes?” Ali bit her lip before smiling hopefully.

    “We’ll see,” Sheridan answered, stacking and organizing Ali’s schoolwork in front of her and closing the laptop that kept them in constant touch with Ms. Kinsay. “Peek in on your sister, ‘kay? I have some paperwork to look over before we leave.”

    “I will,” Ali promised. “Love you, Mom.”

    “Love you,” Sheridan echoed, standing up and rubbing the back of her neck where the muscles were knotted with tension. She chewed on her bottom lip in thought for a moment before crossing to the kitchen counter and placing the papers and the computer beside Hope’s monitor. With a glance over her shoulder—that made her feel silly and secretive and irrationally guilty—she checked to make sure she was alone, and when she was positive that she was, she retrieved the files Gwen had procured for her from Ali’s backpack, telling herself a little curiosity wasn’t a bad thing. Even if Luis thought otherwise, and his warnings seemed to taunt her as she skimmed through the files’ pages.

    It was curiosity that killed the cat.

    Thanks for reading!!!

    Feedback is much loved (and pretty much the only thing that keeps me plugging along with these stories no matter how much I love the characters still).

    Thoughts, comments, questions?

    Favorite parts or characters?
    I'm dying to know.

  3. #35
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 32

    Scrubbing his hands over his face, Sam groaned when the rough action seemed to further aggravate his too-sensitive nerve endings and peered critically at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. The dark circles and deep lines etched in his face made him look haggard, like the years had caught up with him and passed him by, and the smile he tried to force physically hurt to achieve. Sighing, he abandoned the effort, and began to dry his hands on the hand towel, internally berating himself for his behavior the previous day. If his skull felt like it were splitting apart slowly and agonizingly, he had only himself to blame, Hank’s involvement notwithstanding. He winced at the heavy scrape of glass across the counter and looked up to find Grace’s blue eyes on him.

    Taking one of Sam’s large hands between her own, Grace deposited a couple of aspirin in his palm. Without a word, she reached around him to straighten the crooked hand towel and tidy up the already immaculate space.

    If she felt his eyes upon her, she gave no indication, and Sam used the opportunity to study her, to really look at her

    The terry robe that had always been a bit big on her now practically swallowed her thin frame whole. Her pale skin seemed almost transparent. Her normally auburn hair was a limpid, dull strawberry. And her eyes…it appeared the sadness in her tear-swollen blue eyes had staked a permanent claim.

    Sam felt a well-spring of protectiveness wash over him and her name scraped past his lips hoarsely and full of emotion. “Grace,” he curled his fingers around her frail wrist. “Grace,” he repeated, feeling moisture sting his eyes as he remembered the night previous, when they’d lain in bed, beside each other but not touching, unable it seemed to offer comfort or be comforted. She stared at him silently, but Sam could feel her fluttering pulse quicken beneath his fingertips, and he sought the courage to find the right words as he enclosed her other wrist within his hand and pulled her close. He settled for an all-encompassing apology that felt trite falling from his lips. “I’m sorry.”

    Pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling, Grace twined her fingers through those of her husband and squeezed hard. Tears filling her eyes, she stepped into his waiting embrace and rest her cheek against his cotton-covered shoulder. She’d thought there were supposed to be good days and bad days, but lately, all she’d had were bad days and even worse days where she felt like an imposter in her own life, lying to her husband and children, pretending for her grandchildren’s sake that everything was fine when it wasn’t. That was before; this was the after. Feeling the fleeting pressure of his kiss against the top of her head, she voiced a scary admission. ““There’s this awful, growing emptiness inside of me, Sam. I’m not sure I can find my way out of it.”

    “Then take my hand,” Sam answered, kissing her knuckles then her tear-stained cheeks and mouth when she lifted her face. “We’ll find our way back together,” he promised, wrapping her up in a fierce hug.


    “How’d she do?” Sheridan asked when she noticed Luis place Ali’s math homework behind a magnet on the refrigerator. Turning her attention back to the eggs in the skillet in front of her, she caught Cristian sticking his finger into his mouth out of the corner of her eye. “I told you it’d burn if you didn’t wait for it to cool off.” Hiding a smirk at Cristian’s apparent surprise at being caught, she advised, “Let Daddy finish the toast. You can set the table.”

    “Just missed one,” Luis picked up their earlier thread of conversation after opening the kitchen cabinet and carefully handing Cristian a stack full of plates. Jokingly, he teased, “Sure you don’t want me to scramble the eggs instead?”

    "No shells,” Sheridan smirked. “Promise.”

    Presenting a platter for her to spoon the eggs into a minute later, Luis remarked, “Forgive me. It’s not everyday I’m treated to your famous scrambled eggs and toast. Something you want to tell me?”

    Remembering the files once again tucked safely within Ali’s backpack, Sheridan tensed momentarily before realizing Luis’s attention had already strayed elsewhere, to their newly awakened daughter crying in her nursery.

    Turning the baby monitor off, Luis called over his shoulder, “Hold that thought.”

    “Where’s Ali?” Sheridan quizzed Cristian, placing the food-laden platter in the middle of the kitchen table before crossing back to the cabinets to withdraw glasses from within.

    "I dunno,” Cristian shrugged, nudging Gizmo aside as he took a seat at the table and folded his small hands on its surface. His large brown eyes tracked his mother’s progress across the kitchen, and they lit up with the appearance of the aforementioned sister. “There she is!” he pointed.

    “Going somewhere, Alicat?” Luis commented on the bulging pink duffel bag hanging from her slender shoulder and the pillow she hugged to her chest.

    “Mom,” Ali’s blue eyes stared at her accusingly.

    "Ah,” Luis raised a brow at Sheridan as he transferred their wiggling daughter into her waiting arms. “It all makes perfect sense now. And here I thought you were making me breakfast because you loved me.”

    “To distraction,” Sheridan quipped with utmost sincerity before kissing him soundly.

    “Speaking of distraction,” Luis chuckled, looking from her to Ali and back.

    "Ali,” Sheridan busied herself with straightening Luis’s collar, one-handed, “is spending the night with Lissy. I’m dropping her off after T-ball practice.”

    "But Mom,” Ali protested.

    “After T-ball practice,” Sheridan reiterated, pausing to kiss Hope’s clumsily waved little hand as it batted at her chin. “Lissy’s dad won’t be home from work before then anyway. Now put your things away so we can eat breakfast with Daddy.”

    “You didn’t mention anything about this last night,” Luis said under his breath, frowning slightly.

    “You had a late night,” Sheridan answered easily. “Besides, she’s spent the night with Lissy before, and you didn’t have a problem with it,” she reminded him. “Do you have a problem with it now, Luis?” she whispered in a low voice as Ali disappeared from the kitchen only to return momentarily sans her pillow and duffel bag.

    Luis didn’t answer her. His sole attention was on their eldest daughter.

    "We still have school work to catch up on before we go to the Youth Center, then T-ball practice. I told you all this yesterday, Ali, before I said yes,” Sheridan handily recapped their conversation, seating herself and Hope at the table. “And you know your father has to say yes, too.”

    With a disappointed sigh, Ali slumped into the chair beside Cristian and crossed her arms over her middle. She only perked up when her father grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her loudly on both cheeks.

    “You’re so pretty when you pout, Alicat,” Luis teased, ruffling the soft, wispy blond curls atop her head.

    “Daddy,” Ali couldn’t help giggling, righting herself and patting her hair back in place. “I can go to Lissy’s then?”

    “You can go,” Luis consented. “But I want you to be on your best behavior, and I want you to take your mom’s cell phone so you can call us if you need anything.”

    “Daddy,” Ali rolled her eyes.

    “Luis,” Sheridan chastised.

    "Fine,” Luis shrugged, taking a seat himself. “She can take mine. I still want her to call us if…”

    “She’ll take my cell phone,” Sheridan said. “She won’t need it, but she’ll have it.” Pushing her glass of juice out of Hope’s reach just before the baby’s uncoordinated movements managed to topple it, she looked to Cristian, resting his chin on his clasped hands. “Cristian, it’s your turn to say grace.”

    Just like that, the disagreement was settled. For the time being anyway.


    "Would you have any objection if I ditched this damned thing for the duration of this pregnancy?” Abby grumbled as she entered the living room, topless except for the offending article of clothing she clasped against her chest.

    Nick bit back a smile when she came to a stop in front of him, presenting him with her naked back and sweeping her long tawny hair over her shoulder to give him an unobstructed view. “But I like this one,” he teased, deftly fastening the clasps that held the scrap of maroon silk and lace together and moving his palms up and over her shoulders. Sweeping her hair back over her shoulders so that it trailed down her back, he lowered his lips to her temple and murmured, “In fact, I think it might be one of my favorites.”

    Her legs threatening to turn into jello, Abby pushed herself away from his solid presence behind her and turned to face him, her fingers busily working with the drawstring of her scrub pants. “Then you wear it,” she challenged, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth in frustration at the realization that her pants were just a bit more snug than they were the week before. “It hurts,” she whined, unconsciously bringing her hands up to cup her breasts. “They didn’t feel this big and sore before,” she muttered, belatedly blushing when she felt the heat of his avid stare. “Stop ogling me,” she rolled her hazel eyes at the smirk he didn’t care to hide. “Jeez.”

    “I saw that smile,” Nick accused with a grin as she walked away from him, disappearing into the bedroom. “The lady doth protest too much.” When she returned just moments later, tawny hair pulled high in a messy ponytail and donning a form-fitting scrub top, he whistled at her and held out his hand.

    Abby placed her palm in his and allowed him to entangle their fingers. “Enough with the catcalls,” she said. “I know I’m one hot mama.”

    "A modest one at that.” Chuckling, Nick stole a kiss from her smiling, protesting mouth.

    “I thought I told you to stop doing that,” Abby scolded half-heartedly, snagging her purse from the coffee table with her free hand and pulling him toward the door with the one he still had ensnared in his firm grip. “C’mon, I gotta get a move on if Maggie’s going to be able to work me in at lunchtime. You’re coming, right?” Considering the possibility that he might not make it made her frown, and she sought out his eyes.

    “I’m coming,” Nick reaffirmed their plans.

    "Good,” Abby released a deep breath. “Good,” she repeated, and the furrow between her brows lessened somewhat as she told him, sincerely, “I’m glad you want to be a part of...things. It means…I’m just relieved, I guess.”

    “I’m glad you’re glad,” Nick spoke with a gentle smile, tucking a thick strand of tawny hair behind her ear and letting his hand linger on her face, “because I’m going to be there with you, every step of the way.”

    Tears pooled and threatened to spill from Abby’s hazel eyes, and she pulled her hand free to knuckle them away, smiling reassuringly at Nick as she did so, muttering, “Damn hormones. Get that fine ass of yours in gear, Gray Eyes. We’re going to be late. Lock the door,” she reminded him as the door swung shut behind them.

    “Door’s locked,” Nick grinned.

    Halfway down the hallway en route to the elevator, Abby stopped cold in her tracks, nearly causing Nick to collide with her, but fortunately for her, he was quick on his feet, deftly sidestepping her and placing one large hand low on her hip. “Dammit! I forgot to feed the cat.”

    “I fed Lucky while you were in the shower,” Nick reassured her, gently guiding her the few feet remaining to the elevator.

    “If I can’t even remember to feed the cat, how the hell am I going to manage with a baby? Oh God, Gray Eyes. We should really sue that birth control company. I think we could probably win,” Abby babbled, hazel eyes wide as Nick steered her through the open elevator doors.

    Nick was sure her babbling voice could be heard long after the doors shut.


    “I can’t believe you’re thinking of starting a family with Ethan Crane. Hell. I still can’t believe you’re married to Ethan Crane.”

    Beth frowned at his incredulous tone, shakng her head at him. “A lot of things have changed since you left.” Methodically, she cleared and rinsed the assortment of dishes that had accumulated in the apartment the previous day, stacking them on the tray she would later take back downstairs, opportunity knocking. “You wouldn’t even recognize Ethan.”

    “Damn straight I wouldn’t recognize him,” Tony retorted. “The snot-nosed kid spent his entire childhood in boarding school.”

    “I’m not that much older than him,” Beth huffed, slightly offended.

    “Now you’re just putting words into my mouth,” Tony accused. “Seriously, Ethan Crane? What happened with you and Luis? I always figured I’d come back to find you two married with a basketball team full of kids.” Immediately, he knew it was the wrong thing to say by the near-violent way she bristled at his words.

    “Life happened. Your father leaving, you leaving, happened,” Beth snapped.

    “Look, Beth,” Tony laid a tentative hand on Beth’s shoulder, finding it tense and frighteningly rigid, “Just ignore me. It was a stupid thing to say, okay? I’m sorry.”

    “You should be sorry,” Beth shrugged his hand away. “You should be. Do you have any idea what your leaving did to them? How much it hurt them? How much it still hurts them? What reason could you possibly have for putting the people you claim to love the most through that kind of hell?”

    Tony visibly flinched, retreating to the heavily curtained window across the small space to steal a glance outside. His answer was a low, pained growl of a defense, “I had my reasons.”

    “Fine, you had your reasons,” Beth said, acknowledging the fact that he wasn’t, at least not right now, ready to reveal them to her. “If you’re not going to tell me why you left, the least you could do is tell me why you decided to come back after all this time. Don’t you think you owe that much to me? I mean, I’m only lying to my husband, my friends, your entire family. You’ve been gone God knows where all this time, and you choose now to come back. Why, Antonio? Why now? And how does Sheridan fit into all of this?”

    “Beth, I…”

    “You know what? Never mind. You know where to find me when you’re ready to talk. I need to get back,” she breathed a sigh of disappointment. “It wasn’t fair of me, leaving Julie to deal with the morning crowd all by herself.”

    “Beth,” Tony called softly, before the door closed completely behind her. “I want to tell you. I want to tell you everything. But I can’t. Not yet.”

    Nodding, she disappeared, the door closing with a soft click.

    Turning back to the window, Tony held the slats of the blinds apart just in time to witness a familiar brunette scurry across the street, cell phone to her ear, and he wondered if she, in particular, would appreciate the tortured path fate had led him along to get here.


    “You look well, Ivy.”

    Stifling a startled gasp, Ivy instead took a deep breath and turned around slowly, a small but genuine smile touching her lips. “I could say the same for you, Shane.” Shane’s smile deepened, but Ivy was surprised to learn how disappointed she was to discover his eyes no longer seemed to regard her with any sort of affection. Just as well, she thought to herself, I can’t be sidetracked by maudlin feelings of guilt or misplaced loyalty.

    “I’m doing all right for myself,” Shane replied. “Putting in a lot of hours,” he glanced around at their surroundings. “I figure the more time I put in now, the better I can spoil that little niece or nephew when it gets here.”

    “How is Abby?” The twinge of guilt Shane’s excitement had caused to arise made it somewhat easier to feign genuine interest. Ivy silently hoped Ethan would arrive soon though, because she was a damn good actress, but Shane, unfortunately, had her number where his sister was concerned. It was especially evident in the skeptical fashion he answered her inquiry.

    “She’s…Abby’s Abby. She’s proud and brave and so damned independent she makes me want to shake her sometimes. Frankly, I’m amazed at the amount of involvement she’s allowing Nick to have with this pregnancy.”

    Without meaning to, Ivy found herself reaching for Shane’s hand. “Shane, I…” she began, only to be interrupted by Ethan’s timely arrival.


    Ivy’s blue-green eyes connected briefly with Shane’s eyes as she withdrew her hand, finding herself swept up in Ethan’s enthusiastic embrace. By the time Ethan had released her and she’d exchanged hello’s with Gwen and a couple of other members of the Crane Industries staff, Shane, not surprisingly, was gone. “I know I’m late, Ethan, but your sister called…”

    “Say no more,” Ethan quickly dismissed the apology, a twinkle in his blue eyes as he turned to Gwen. “Who is he?” he grinned. Turning to Gwen, he asked, “Remember good ole Daniel?”

    Twelfth in line to ascend to the throne Daniel,” Gwen smirked in recognition.

    Ivy fought back a smile. “Wrong sister, Darling. I spoke to Miranda.”

    “I haven’t seen Miranda in ages. Ivy, how is she doing?”

    Taking Gwen’s arm in her own, Ivy launched into a full disclosure of the morning’s conversation, hoping, with each step, to put some much-needed distance between herself and the man that served as the embodiment of her conscience.


    “Mind if I join you? I was walking by and I saw you out here.” Bottle of water in hand, Sam lowered himself to the stone bench beside Katie without waiting for an answer and followed her gaze straight ahead, to a tree that was barely more than a branch with leaves reaching valiantly for the sun. At the tiny tree’s base a piece of granite rest, a name etched in its stone of a loved one lost too soon. Closing his eyes briefly, Sam recited a silent prayer for those left behind.

    “That’s Rory’s tree,” Katie told him, green eyes shining. “I took care of her last year. Sweet little girl.”

    Sam cleared his throat, but his voice still sounded gruff to his own ears. “What happened?”

    “Inoperable brain tumor,” Katie murmured. “Over the months her personality changed, but just before…she was herself again.” She clasped her hands over her knees, and, studying her chipped nail polish, said, “It was good for her parents. To say goodbye to the little girl they’d raised and loved. To have that one last chance.” A weighted silence followed her comment, until Sam cleared his throat again and spoke.

    “She never woke up after the accident.”

    The pain in that quiet comment drew Katie’s gaze to Sam’s face, and she read heartbreak in every line and shadow she saw there. “I remember,” she whispered softly, taking his hand.

    “Do you know,” Sam’s bloodshot blue eyes drifted to the small hand that covered his, “I don’t remember what her last words to me were? Something about the boys--take care of the boys. I don’t even remember if I told her I loved her.”

    “She knew,” Katie assured him, tears stinging her eyes. She didn’t know the man she’d someday call her family all that well yet, but she’d learned enough about him to know he didn’t often speak of his feelings, instead letting his actions speak for him. The trust he was showing in her touched her heart, and compelled to lighten the heaviness of his own, she told him, “She knew you and Grace and Miguel and those beautiful little boys loved her. How could she not know?” She squeezed his hand softly.

    “Grace was in the kitchen when she left that night. She didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye,” Sam revealed. “She thinks if she could go back to that night, say goodbye this time, make Kay wait just those few seconds longer, somehow things would change, things would be different. Right now, she’s inside spilling her heart out to some therapist neither one of us knows, because she can’t talk to me about it. Because I got to say goodbye. Funny thing is, I don’t remember what I said. Shouldn’t a father remember what his words were to his daughter the last time he saw her alive? Shouldn’t he remember her last words to him?”

    Desperately wanting to offer him absolution, Katie found she couldn’t find the words he needed to hear. So she held fast to his hand and let him talk while a gentle breeze fluttered the tiny green leaves of Rory’s tree.


    Gently grasping Theresa by the elbow, Chad nudged her inside Sheridan’s office and closed the door behind them. “Okay, T-girl,” he declared, steering her to the chair behind the desk and coaxing her to sit. “I’m waitin’.”

    Opening and closing her mouth, Theresa stared up at her fiancé with large, confusion-filled eyes.

    Crouching down before her chair, Chad balanced his hands on its arms and leveled the playing field just a little bit. “Something’s eating at you, girl. I can tell.”

    Ducking her head, Theresa mumbled, “It’s that obvious, huh?” Tracing the corded muscles of his forearm with her fingertips, she kept her eyes downcast until Chad lifted one hand from the armrest to cup her chin.

    “Talk to me,” Chad encouraged. “That’s what I’m here for.” Releasing her chin, he replaced his hand on the armrest and said, “We can talk about anything you want. I’ll go first.” Standing up, he stretched his legs before perching himself on the edge of Sheridan’s desk and grinned down at her. “I think Smoky’s got himself a girlfriend.”

    Stifling a giggle, Theresa couldn’t help but match his grin with one of her own.

    “Thought that one would make you smile,” Chad remarked.

    “Who?” Theresa wondered.

    “Snooty little Persian next door,” Chad said. “I tried to warn him.”

    “Oh?” Theresa raised her brows.

    “There’s a slight family resemblance,” Chad divulged. “Distant relation to Miss Priss maybe.”

    Shaking her head, Theresa bemoaned Smoky’s bad luck in love. “Poor Smoky.”

    “Poor Smoky,” Chad echoed, watching her as she reached past him to pick up the framed picture of Sheridan and Luis’s smiling brood. He didn’t speak, instead waited for her to sort through her thoughts.

    “This last year has really been…” she trailed off awkwardly, every descriptive word she could think of completely inadequate for the year they had experienced thus far.

    Taking the picture from her, Chad admired Hope’s toothless smile before setting the picture aside. “A lot has happened.”

    “We’re not just having a wedding, Chad,” Theresa said earnestly. “We’re getting married. You’ll be my husband. I’ll be your wife.”

    “Just now realizing that?” Chad teased, gathering her hands in his own and soothing away the tightly clenched fists she wasn’t aware of making. On a more serious note, he continued, “And someday, when the time is right, we’ll be somebody’s parents.” Lifting a hand to her face, he tucked her hair behind her ear and told her, “T-girl, cold feet are normal. Been a little chilly myself lately.”

    “Really?” Theresa’s expression was one of immense relief.

    “We’re getting married,” Chad smiled, his answer matter-of-fact. “I’m stuck with you for the rest of my life.”

    Theresa’s dark eyes sparkled as she smiled back at him, letting him pull her to her feet. Not to be outdone, she replied, “Well, I’m stuck with you.” She slid her arms around his waist, her heart warmed by the affection in his gaze.

    Chad mirrored her posture and pressed a short, sweet kiss to her lips. “Feel better?”

    “Much,” Theresa whispered.


    Her nose buried in Abby’s medical file, Maggie entered the small examining room, a pleased smile on her lips. “Looks like you’re gaining weight nicely.”

    “Nice to see you too,” Abby muttered sarcastically, giving the watch on her wrist a discreet glance. “Thank goodness I skipped lunch.”

    Closing the file in her hands, Maggie put it on the small counter that lined one side of the room and removed a pair of gloves from a cardboard box that rested there, dropping them into the pocket of her lab coat. “Skipping lunch is not good for the baby.”

    Taking the gentle reprimand on the chin, Abby promised, “I’m eating lunch with a handsome man as soon as I leave here. Happy?”

    “Ecstatic,” Maggie replied dryly, placing the earpieces to her stethoscope in her ears and giving Abby’s heart a listen. For good measure, she also instructed Abby to take several deep breaths in and out, making sure her lungs were clear, before she lifted her gaze to Abby’s lively hazel eyes and asked, “And just where is said handsome man?”

    Abby was saved from replying by Nick’s timely arrival.

    “Sorry, I’m late,” Nick apologized, shrugging off his white lab coat and laying it across the counter. Taking a seat on the rolling stool Maggie indicated, he sought out Abby’s hand with his own, oblivious to the smiles the action elicited, and asked, “Did I miss anything?”

    “Didn’t miss a thing,” Maggie reassured him. “We were just about to do the ultrasound,” she told him, her focus shifting to the machine that resided on the opposite side of the examining table. Donning her gloves, she advised, “Abby, if you’d make yourself comfortable and lift up your shirt.”

    Temporarily letting go of Nick’s hand, Abby lay back, shivering lightly as she bared her abdomen to the chill of the room. Her fingers entwined with Nick’s again when Maggie lowered the lights in the room and she flinched when the doctor picked up a tube of gel, squirting a generous portion onto her skin.

    “Sorry,” Maggie murmured, “damned stuff’s cold I know.” Gently she tugged the waistband of Abby’s scrub pants lower over her hips and pressed the wand in her hand firmly against Abby’s skin, rolling it across her belly to determine the baby’s location. A smile curled the corners of her mouth upward upon hearing Abby’s sharp intake of breath when she hit pay dirt and the grainy image materialized onscreen. “Say hello to your baby.”

    “It’s tiny,” Nick said, so completely mesmerized by the image of his child he failed to notice that Abby’s eyes were now solely concentrated on him and not the screen.

    “It’s about the size of an avocado,” Maggie told him with a grin. “Would you like a few pictures?” Without waiting for an answer, she captured a few images to print off. “Everything looks great. It’s too early to tell the sex, but it shouldn’t be long before you’ll know if you’re having a son or a daughter. That is, if you want to know,” she amended as she lay the wand aside to wipe the gel from Abby’s abdomen with a small towel. Taking her gloves off, she brightened the lights with the touch of a switch and bent to retrieve the pictures. Depositing the pictures in Nick’s waiting grasp, she crossed the room to the sink to wash her hands. “Your new doctor should be able to find out by your next appointment.”

    Pushing herself into a sitting position, Abby was so intent on straightening her clothes, she almost didn’t catch Maggie’s comment, but the way Nick stiffened before her inexplicably made her heartbeat quicken, and she couldn’t write the statement off as a mere slip of the tongue. With a sickening feeling of dread, she looked into Nick’s gray eyes and felt butterflies begin to bombard her ribcage at the guilt he failed to disguise quick enough. “I’m sorry,” she said, her head unconsciously shaking in denial. “Maggie?” The name clawed its way past her parched throat, both as a prayer and a curse. “What do you mean my new doctor?”


    “Are those work papers, Mommy?” Cristian innocently queried, seemingly materializing out of thin air to stand beside her chair and rest his rumpled dark head against her arm.

    Kissing his forehead, Sheridan lifted her arm without thinking, allowing him to wedge his small body across her lap and tuck his head beneath her chin. “No, Sweetie,” she began, only to think better of the answer poised on her tongue. “Sort of,” she corrected herself, reaching out with the hand that wasn’t supporting Cristian’s back to flip to the next page. She smiled when her son’s small fingers sought out the necklace around her neck and pressed another kiss to his forehead. “No good cartoons on?”

    “No,” Cristian answered, cuddling almost impossibly closer.

    “Ali still doing her homework?”

    Nodding against her shoulder, Cristian pouted, “And Max and Hope are snoring.”

    With just the barest traces of humor lacing her voice, Sheridan offered a suggestion. “How about cleaning your room?”

    “It’s not dirty,” Cristian retorted.

    “That’s right,” Sheridan agreed, recalling the previous night when Ali had gone above and beyond in seeking her final approval to the sleepover with Lissy, even going so far as to venture into the war-zone that was her little brother’s room. “It isn’t,” she said. Looking down into her son’s shining dark eyes, she teased him as her fingers tickled his sides, “Are you sure I don’t need to go check under your bed?”

    “Yes,” Cristian giggled, squirming to elude her hands.

    Mercilessly, Sheridan continued her shenanigans, forgetting all about the manila folder that had captured her attention and preoccupied her for the last hour. “Are you extra sure? Extra, extra?” she asked, her fingers chasing Cristian’s most ticklish spots as he attempted and failed to wiggle away from her, sending the papers on the table and the pencil she’d been using to make notes in the margins flying to the floor.

    “Yes,” Cristian shrieked with laughter. “Mommy, stop,” he begged breathlessly, helpless tears running down his flushed cheeks. “Mommy, stop. Please,” he giggled. “Ali, help me,” he pleaded, spying his big sister in the kitchen doorway.

    Blue eyes bright, Sheridan beckoned her daughter, “Help him, Ali.”

    “No,” Cristian cried, recognizing instantaneously the mischievous twinkle in Ali’s blue eyes as she advanced on them. “Stop, stop, stop,” Cristian beseeched them both as an all-out tickle war against him was launched. “Nana, Grandpa Martin,” he entreated when his grandparents arrived, looking just a little bit bewildered and a lot amused. “Help!”

    Over Cristian’s frantic giggles, Hope could be heard crying, frightened awake by the ruckus, and Pilar left Martin’s side to retrieve her, shaking her head with a small but unmistakable smile on her face.

    “Looks to me,” Martin couldn’t help but chuckle, “like you ladies have an unfair advantage on the wee lad. I’ll take care of Ali if you get your mama,” he told Cristian with a wink.

    “Grandpa Martin,” Ali held up her hands. “Grandpa Martin,” she cried out in protest again, erupting into helpless giggles when his fingers found their target. “Cristian, I’m sorry. Make him stop,” she begged, just as breathlessly as her brother before her.

    From the kitchen doorway, Hope cuddled to her chest, tiny fist sucked into her mouth, Pilar watched it all, muttering a fond if exasperated “Dios mio” en route to the refrigerator. Withdrawing a bottle and tending to warming it up, she looked into Hope’s glistening blue eyes and shrugged her shoulders as, behind them, the tickle war continued. “Mi hija, what are we going to do about them?”


    Hearing a key fit into the lock and the doorknob turn slowly, Tony replaced the picture he held in his hands in his wallet and stood up from the sofa, an apology on his lips as he turned to face the door. “Listen, Beth, I didn’t mean to be so…”

    “Hi,” Lissy waved brightly.

    Pointing an accusing finger, Tony cursed under his breath before sighing loudly. “Back so soon, Chatty Cathy?” Crossing the room to her, he pushed the door shut and locked it, but not before checking to make sure she was alone. “Let me guess. Your dad’s at work again.”

    Strolling past him, Lissy quickly made herself at home on the sofa Tony had recently vacated, clasping a pillow to her chest and tucking her knees underneath her. “He took Grandpa to the doctor.”

    Still shaking his head, Tony muttered, “Tell me you didn’t pickpocket that key.” At the hurt expression on her pretty face, he swore and turned his back on her, pacing the length of the room. “Of course you didn’t. I’m sorry. Beth gave you the key.” Raking a hand through his dark hair, he cast a glance in her direction only to find her large chocolate eyes tracking his every move. “Didn’t I tell you that you shouldn’t come back here?”

    “She said you needed the company,” Lissy replied, lifting the end of one long tawny braid and inspecting it. “And the Youth Center’s boring without Ms. Sheridan or Ali. Chad was too busy kissing Ali’s aunt Theresa to even notice I was gone.”

    Tony narrowed his eyes. “Who was kissing Ali’s aunt?”

    Frowning at him in confusion, Lissy nonetheless answered his question, matter-of-factly, “Her boyfriend. They’re getting married, and I’m invited. What do you want to know about him for?”

    Instead of giving her the response she was looking for, Tony seized the television remote from her small hand before she could channel-surf her way back to the Disney Channel in a replay of the previous day. “Give me that.”

    “Maybe you are a bad man,” Lissy grumbled, unfurling her legs and standing up to snoop around the small apartment. Before Tony had a chance to think about stopping her, she had her small hands on the wallet he’d forgotten on the coffee table.

    “Alyssa, don’t,” Tony warned, even as she opened the wallet and a photo with well-worn edges fluttered to the floor. “I’ll get it,” he told her, to no avail.

    Lissy’s fingers had already grasped the picture, and her enormous chocolate eyes stared at him in accusation.

    “Lissy,” he held out his hand.

    “Why do you have a picture of Ms. Abby in your wallet?”


  4. #36
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Don't know how many are still following this story, but here is a new chapter.

    Hope you enjoy!

    P.S. Thanks to those who replied to the last chapters.

    Chapter 33

    “I don’t want to go to practice today, Dad.”

    MJ’s announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise, but the quiet, adamant delivery had Miguel looking up sharply. “Why not? You know your uncles will be disappointed.”

    MJ merely shrugged, reiterating his wish with a fervent, “I just don’t want to.”

    “MJ.” He frowned when his persistent prodding yielded no results and gratefully welcomed the distraction his youngest son offered from the sense of helpless disappointment that threatened to wash over him in waves when MJ only seemed to retreat further into himself. Smoothing a fond hand over Joshua’s sleep rumpled hair, he found his disappointment quickly replaced with guilt when he realized the little boy was still in his pajamas, and it was well past noon. “We’ll talk about this later,” he assured MJ, handily scooping Joshua up into his arms and pressing a quick kiss to the head that tucked itself trustingly beneath his chin. His lips close to Joshua’s ear, he murmured, “Let’s get you out of these pjs and into the tub.”

    “Baff,” Joshua nodded in response, tightening his arms around Miguel’s neck as they traveled down the hallway. When Miguel set him on his feet in front of the bathtub and reached out a hand to start the water, Joshua’s solemn dark eyes followed his movements.

    Satisfied with the water temperature, Miguel felt his heart twist when he laid eyes on his serious little son. With a pang, he realized he couldn’t remember a time when either of his boys had looked at him with real, unmitigated joy in their eyes; the last semblance of happiness they’d managed to hold on to after Kay’s death had seemingly evaporated in the face of Abby’s departure. Hoarsely, his throat tight with emotion, he said, “Up.”

    Joshua obediently complied by raising his arms, and soon the pjs and his Spiderman underwear lay in a tidy little pile beside him. He patiently waited for his father to remove the small device behind his ear and place it in a safe place to avoid getting it wet.

    Miguel deposited the little boy into the tub with a splash and patted his soft cheek reassuringly. “Close your eyes real tight,” he instructed, demonstrating his wishes and smiling at the child’s exaggerated efforts and the wrinkling of his nose as he felt the first trickles of warm water down his neck and bare shoulders. Carefully, he applied a small handful of the gentle baby shampoo to the fine dark strands and soothingly massaged it into Joshua’s scalp.

    “No soap.” One dark eye squinted at him, the other still tightly clenched shut while small fingers signed emphatically.

    “No soap,” Miguel promised, cupping his hand around the base of Joshua’s neck and easing him back slightly as he poured warm water from a cup to rinse the last of the shampoo out. “All done,” he said when he was finished, squeezing one small shoulder to gain the toddler’s undivided attention. “Wash,” he signed to his son.

    “Play,” came Joshua’s quick answer, his little fingers greedily reaching for the assortment of bath toys lined up along the tub’s opposite edge.

    Miguel shook his head, insisting, “Wash.” Softening with Joshua’s pout, he compromised, “Then play.”

    Seemingly satisfied with his answer, Joshua allowed Miguel to help bathe him, even going so far as tolerating him washing behind his ears, a truly unfortunate though necessary evil. His reward of a long interlude of playing with his father finally came to an end when his fingers were pruned and his small frame trembled with shivers from the cooled water. He went willingly into Miguel’s arms when he held out a big, fluffy towel in invitation, curling against his side and clinging to his neck.

    Miguel suppressed the weary sigh that wanted to escape his lips when he saw MJ lingering in the bathroom doorway, blocking his exit, his face dour, the expression in his dark eyes reflecting a bleakness a child shouldn’t know. Feeling his grip on Joshua start to slip, he hugged him closer and expelled a frustrated, “MJ.”

    MJ simply stepped aside, following his father to the room he shared with his kid brother like a moody little black cloud, and he kept his fingers clenched in fists on either side of his legs as he sat on his bed’s edge and watched his father awkwardly dress his brother as if he were a still, silent doll. The end result wasn’t pretty, and MJ being MJ couldn’t resist comment. “That shirt’s stained.”

    Miguel regarded the faded but prominent ketchup stain smeared across the front of the cotton tee and promptly swept it over Joshua’s head, making his dark hair stick up in wet, fragrant spikes and replaced it with the nearest shirt he could get his hands on. “Better?”

    MJ, arms now crossed across his chest and dangling feet restlessly kicking back and forth, shook his head. “Nope,” he declared. “That one has a hole in it. Under the arm. See?” he pointed.

    Miguel did see, and he whipped the shirt over Joshua’s head, on a mission that, long minutes and several shirts later, with a squirming, unhappy toddler and scowling, disapproving MJ, proved to be fruitless, his options clearly exhausted. Massaging the back of his neck with a rough hand, he willed himself to calm down; his inability to dress his son for the day wasn’t exactly the end of the world—though, in that moment, it felt like it was—and there wasn’t any reason why he should feel such a suffocating sense of failure—still, he did. He was at a complete loss for what to do. He knew it, and MJ knew it. Hell, he was sure even Joshua, as young as he was, was aware that he was treading water with his head barely above the surface, and he felt something inside of him snap when MJ looked at him with something akin to disdain and spoke the words that sent Miguel sinking into the deep waters he’d tried so valiantly to conquer.

    “Mom wouldn’t have let this happen.”

    Before he could censure himself (because MJ, for all his grown-up ways, was really not that much older than Joshua, not really), Miguel bit back, harshly and with brutal honesty, momentarily forgetting he was speaking to a child, a grieving child. “No. Maybe she wouldn’t. But she’s not here, MJ. She’s never coming back. I’m it. All you’ve got, and you’re stuck with me. And if I decide your brother is going to wear a stained shirt, then he’s going to wear a stained shirt. Understood? Your mom is gone, and it’s time you faced that.” He felt his heart squeeze painfully at the tears filling his young son’s eyes but found he couldn’t stop himself from continuing, from voicing the agonizing truth. “It’s time we all faced that.”

    Tears spilling down his flushed face, MJ’s young voice held just as much anger, just as much hopeless heartache as he screamed a shamefully guarded secret that he couldn’t help but feel, “I wish it was you! I wish you were gone, and Mom was still here with us! I wish it was you instead of her!”

    Stricken, Miguel clenched his eyes shut in anguish and slumped onto the bed Joshua cowered on, wincing as he heard the echo of slamming doors in MJ’s wake. Me too, he thought silently, willing the knot of emotion strangling his throat to ease and the tears burning at the corners of his eyes to disappear.

    His efforts turned out to be for naught though, because a tiny hand crept across the mattress and small fingers pushed and signed against his palm—I love you, Daddy.

    One tear turned into many tears then sobs that couldn’t be controlled, and the mere minutes spent without Kay overwhelmed Miguel all over again, exposing him for the broken man that he was.

    That’s exactly how Simone found them.


    Setting her tray down on the table in front of her, Whitney settled herself primly in the seat across from her mother and aired her suspicions, “Theresa told you I wasn’t eating, didn’t she?”

    “Theresa?” Eve feigned ignorance. “What does Theresa have to do with me asking you to lunch? Maybe I just wanted to enjoy the company of my daughter for the afternoon.”

    Whitney’s lips twitched then blossomed into a fully realized smile when her mother quickly folded under her skeptical stare.

    “Okay,” Eve admitted as she unwrapped her sandwich and brought it to her mouth to take a small bite, “she told me.” Sipping from her bottle of water, she regarded Whitney with warm but evaluating eyes. “She’s right. You are too skinny.”

    “Mom!” Whitney protested.

    “Not that I don’t enjoy your company,” Eve gentled her criticism with a smile. “Honey, you really are working too hard.”

    Sighing, Whitney refrained from comment and picked at her salad. “If this turns into a lecture about how I need to get out more…”

    “No lectures,” Eve promised. “Just advice.”

    Whitney groaned. “Mom.”

    “A girl as beautiful and talented as you,” Eve began, only to leave the rest unsaid under her daughter’s warning glare. “Okay,” she relented. “Change of subject. Tell me about the wedding. I’ve tried asking Chad, but he said a wedding’s a wedding.”

    Whitney couldn’t help but smile. “Mom, it’s Theresa. It is not just a wedding.”

    Eve smiled knowingly. “So it is the big production your sister keeps insisting it is.”

    “Bigger,” Whitney claimed, eyes dancing with humor as she lifted her fork to her mouth. “The only thing that would make it bigger…”

    “What?” Eve prodded.

    “Let’s just say I’m glad Theresa’s grown out of that double wedding business.”

    “I’m sure Noah and Katie appreciate that too,” Eve laughed softly. Screwing the lid back on her bottle of water, she mused, “Speaking of Katie, Sam and Grace seem awfully fond of her. I’m glad they have something to be happy about, with the engagement and helping plan the wedding.”

    "She seems nice,” Whitney agreed absently, her attention straying and focusing on a point somewhere beyond her mother.

    “Whitney, honey,” Eve protested, turning slowly in her seat to see what fascinated her daughter so, “what are you looking at?” No sooner had she asked the question did she realize it needed amended. It wasn’t what, rather who, had captured her daughter’s interest, and she found that the expression on her daughter’s face puzzled her just as much as the scene they, and a growing crowd of visitors and hospital employees, were witnessing. Several feet away, Abby and her Dr. Taylor appeared to be in the middle of a very heated, very public argument, and it seemed her daughter wasn’t as clueless as the rest of the onlookers about the argument’s cause. “Whitney,” she queried, “do you know what that’s about?”

    Nodding hastily, Whitney stood up, her mother following suit, two simple words escaping.

    “She knows.”


    “Let go of me!” Abby hissed, flinching away from Nick’s attempts to touch her, to soothe her somehow. She was fully aware that she was making a scene, they both were, but she just didn’t give a damn right now. Right now, in this moment, she was so angry she couldn’t see straight. In fact, she was so livid they might as well have been the only two people that existed.

    “Abby, please,” came Nick’s useless plea. “This wasn’t how I wanted you to find out.”

    When he had the audacity to look like he was the injured party in the unholy mess that was their relationship, Abby saw red. Biting the inside of her cheek so hard that she tasted the metallic tang of her own blood, she whirled around, the look on her face murderous. Her head was shaking in disbelief and her hands were clenched unconsciously in fists at her sides as she seethed, “Oh really. Exactly how did you plan on telling me you were moving halfway across the country? By postcard? Wish you were here, Abby. Maybe you were going to have me drop you off at the airport and drop the bomb then. Unless, unless you never planned to tell me at all.”

    “I planned to tell you,” Nick insisted, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her out of the way of a trio of nurses staring at them with big eyes and straining to listen with open ears as they made their way to the cafeteria lines that seemed to be doubly long today; it seemed everyone populating the hospital had gathered to witness his miserable comeuppance for not being honest with her. “I just didn’t know how.”

    “Try this on for size,” Abby said, wrenching her arm free. “Abby, I got another job. That’s not all. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to make it to the delivery of our child because you know what? The job’s in Colorado.”

    “I had no idea you were pregnant when I took the job,” Nick retorted before he could think better of the revelation. He watched in horror as her hazel eyes brightened with pain before they turned glassy and unreadable, and he felt a sickening tightness in his chest at the realization that she was jumping to all the wrong conclusions.

    “That’s the only reason you’re still here, isn’t it? The baby? You’d already be gone if it weren’t for…”

    “No!” Nick cut her off, grabbing her forcefully by the shoulders and refusing to let go of her no matter how much she struggled. “No,” he repeated more calmly. “You weren’t talking to me. You wouldn’t see me,” he reminded her. “I…I couldn’t stay here knowing that I had messed things up so badly between us that you couldn’t even look at me. I couldn’t bear it, Abby. Life wasn’t much good to me here if I didn’t have you in it. I needed…I had to leave. I had to, and I was. But that was before you told me you were pregnant. Once I knew you were carrying our baby,” his hands slid up to cup her face, “once I knew, yes, it changed things.”

    "You’re a responsible man,” Abby answered him in a thick voice. “You felt obligated to the baby. And me.”

    “Yes,” Nick agreed. “I mean no.” Caressing her cheekbones with his thumbs, he laid it on the line for her, as best he could, but he could tell the bare bones truth wasn’t enough for her, not when he knew she yearned to hear those three little words. “I’m not with you out of obligation, Abby. I’m with you because I want to be. You have to believe me.”

    “No,” Abby shook her head, a deep yearning in her eyes before she closed herself off to him completely and pushed against his chest with her small hands, causing his own hands to fall to his sides, “no, I don’t. And you know why?”

    Distantly, Nick noted the presence of a few familiar faces—Katie, Sam Bennett, Dr. Russell, and Whitney, that damned Christopher, and he read pity, confusion, sadness in their eyes when he couldn’t begin to identify what the woman standing before him was feeling. He found his voice no longer worked, and it was just as well, for he had no words to deny what she pointed out to him and no right to purport her words as lies. He would be a fool to claim otherwise.

    "Because you kept your options open,” Abby told him sadly. “You were still going to leave. Just like everyone else.”

    “Abby,” he called out softly as she turned to go, shrugging off the hand that gripped his shoulder, ignoring the soft warning Whitney gave him as he grasped at Abby’s small hand, only to have her fingers slip through his. “I wanted to stay. I still want to.”

    “Do you really?” Abby gave him a tremulous smile. Not waiting for his answer, she told him, “I think it’s better if you don’t come home tonight. Okay, Gray Eyes?”

    “Abby, don’t do this,” Nick pleaded, not caring about their audience or how weak and close to begging he was. “Just…don’t,” he beseeched as he watched her walk away, her tawny head down, and be approached by and led off by that damned man, who probably thought he had a chance with her now. Hell, maybe he did, and it was all his fault. “Abby, please,” he called, feeling the ache of regret settle like a stone in the pit of his belly as a familiar voice put a stop to any move he might make to go after her.

    “No, Nick,” Katie warned. “Let her go.”


    Chocolate eyes still staring up at him expectantly, Lissy warned, “I’ll know if you’re lying to me.”

    Intrigued, and more than a little disbelieving that someone so small could make him feel like he was under the microscope, Tony carefully schooled his expression then made a grab for the picture. “Oh really? How’s that?” He cursed under his breath when Lissy snatched the picture just out of his reach, putting the coffee table between them.

    “Grown-ups always change the subject when they don’t want to talk about things, and when they want kids to forget what they asked in the first place,” Lissy replied, matter-of-factly, dancing around the corner of the sofa when he made a counter-move that brought him inches away from her. She giggled at his frustrated expulsion of air, her tawny braids whipping behind her as she easily eluded his efforts to capture her. “Kids aren’t stupid, you know.”

    “I never said they were stupid,” Tony responded, mentally calculating his best recourse. Not only was the kid a virtual motor/smart-mouth, she was damned quick on her feet. As he gave chase to her in a ridiculous game of indoor tag, he inwardly chastised himself for his weakness for damsels in distress, even the littlest ones (especially the littlest ones). Deciding a change of tactics was called for—and that he wasn’t as young as he once was, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and sized her up, noting with a helpless sense of pride (where had *that* come from?) the suspicion in those wondrous eyes. “Who says I have to tell you? Maybe it’s a secret.”

    Caught completely off-guard, Lissy slowed to a stop herself and stared at him with earnestness replacing her doubt. Softly and seriously, she told him, “You can tell me. I’m real good at keeping secrets.”

    Tony didn’t doubt her claim. Still, he hesitated. A kid was still a kid. Sighing, he lowered himself to the sofa and grabbed the television remote. Seconds later, the muted images of the local news flashed across the screen. Contemplating his choices, he decided to turn her question around on her, a different tactic if you will than a change of subject. “How do you know Ms. Abby?”

    “She’s my grandpa’s doctor.”

    Tony’s head whirled around at her answer, effectively ruining his attempt at nonchalance. “Doctor?”

    “Yeah, silly,” Lissy rolled her eyes. “My grandpa had a stroke last year, and Ms. Abby has been helping him with his exercises.”

    “Oh,” Tony said simply. “She’s your grandpa’s therapist.”

    “She’s what?”

    Tony bit back a smile at the way the kid’s brows furrowed, and the cute way her nose scrunched up when she was confused. She’d moved closer, hands gripping the arm of the sofa, and if he was quick and managed to surprise her, he’d have his picture back. Something kept him from making the move, though, and he shocked himself with the realization that he was enjoying the back and forth with her. “Never mind. It’s not important.” Relaxing into the sofa’s cushions, he casually slung an arm across the back, careful not to scare her off; she was already acting like a skittish animal, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger. “That still doesn’t answer my question. How do you know her?” The fingers of his other hand snagged the water bottle he’d abandoned earlier, and he twisted the cap, taking a generous swallow of the lukewarm liquid. That turned out to be a bad decision, because mere seconds later it was coming back up, and he found he couldn’t speak for choking.

    "She’s going to be my new mom.” In an instant, Lissy was by his side, concern written all over her young face. “Are you okay? Ali’s dad showed us how to do the Heim…Heim…whatever it’s called at the Youth Center one time. Just say something so I know if you’re okay or not.”

    Finally finding his voice, Tony hoarsely croaked, “No need for heroics, Sweetheart.” As an addendum, when she still didn’t look convinced, he patted her arm comfortingly. In the process, he also managed to lift the picture from her possession. “I’ll live.”

    “Hey!” Lissy cried. “You tricked me!”

    “No, I didn’t,” Tony replied, tucking the picture safely back in his wallet. Eyebrow arched at her, he inquired, “You say Ms. Abby is going to be your new mom?” Watching her pretty face fall, he almost felt guilty for asking the question, but he had to know. “Alyssa?” he prodded.

    “She’s not,” Lissy admitted. “It’s just…my dad likes her. And I do, too. And it’d be really nice to have a mom,” she finished wistfully. “I barely remember what it feels like.”

    Hell, Tony thought. Now he did feel guilty for asking the question. Without realizing he was doing it, he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. The next thing he knew, the kid was cuddled against his side, sniffling into his shirt and making his heart ache for her. “Don’t cry,” he implored her. “Come on,” he sighed, twisting one tawny braid around his index finger. Biting the bullet, he found himself blurting, “Ask me a question. Any question. I promise I’ll tell you the truth.” Tony could practically see the wheels turning in that clever little brain of hers, and he held his breath to hear what she would ask, regret beginning to churn in his belly.

    “If so many people think you’re a bad man…and no one’s gonna be happy about it…why did you come back?”

    “Any question but that,” came the automatic answer.

    “Mr. Tony,” Lissy prompted in an impatient whine. “You promised.”

    Exhaling, Tony rationalized that, in this case, a partial truth would have to do; the kid was too tenacious to let this whole thing go, not to mention the fact she had the uncanny ability to hone in on when he was snowing her. His motivations were far too complicated for someone so young to comprehend, his reasons plenty, but he owed her an answer, even if wasn’t the whole answer. “Because,” he met her chocolate eyes, “all roads lead home.”


    “Aunt Theresa!” Ali followed Cristian’s example, throwing her arms excitedly around her petite aunt’s waist and squeezing tightly. “I didn’t know you were here!"

    “Why so surprised, Squirt?” Chad teased, grinning when he’d successfully coaxed a high-five from Cristian. “She’s just visitin’ me.” Reaching over, he ruffled an affectionate hand over Ali’s wispy blond curls and soon ended up with two slender arms looped around his waist. “You wouldn’t miss me so much if youvisited me more.”

    “She visits you all the time,” Sheridan laughed, pressing a kiss to her nephew’s cheek while his arms were otherwise occupied and thanking him with her next breath.

    “Anytime, Auntie.”

    “Sheridan,” Theresa smiled as the two women exchanged hugs, the kids and Chad looking on. “Where’s Hope?”

    “With Nana,” Cristian piped up. Tugging at Sheridan’s shirt, he looked up at her with large, pleading eyes, “Is it okay if I go play with Caleb, Mommy?”

    “Go ahead,” Sheridan consented. Turning to Ali, she said, “You too. I know you want to find Lissy.”

    “Thanks, Mom,” Ali grinned, scooting after her brother, in a dignified manner, of course.

    Unconsciously gripping Sheridan’s hand and squeezing it, Theresa commented, “She sounds so grown-up.”

    “That,” Sheridan rewarded the pair with her full attention, “is exactly why you two need to hurry up and get married—before she graduates from flower girl to maid of honor.”

    “You better not let my brother hear you talking that way or he’ll…” Theresa trailed off when said brother materialized behind Sheridan, holding a finger up to his lips before he slipped his arms around Sheridan’s waist from behind.

    “Hmm,” Relaxing into the arms that held her, Sheridan winked at the pair in front of her, making Theresa suppress a giggle and Chad smirk. “My husband would be so jealous if he saw us now.” When she felt Luis go still behind her and start to pull away, she wrapped her arms more firmly around his, refusing to let him go, her silvery laughter alerting him to the fact that he had most definitely been had.

    “How?” Luis grumpily queried.

    “No one else fits as well as you do,” Sheridan soothed his ruffled feathers. “Besides,” she continued, turning in his arms and smoothing a fingertip over the mouth that still held a hint of jealousy, “your sister’s face is an open book.”

    “Sorry, Luis,” Theresa apologized with a sheepish smile.

    “She had you, Man,” Chad grinned. “Go look in the mirror,” he chuckled, “because you still have the same look on your face.” When Luis failed to look amused, he took Theresa by the arm and gently maneuvered her in the direction of the door. “C’mon, T-girl. Lunch is on me. See you, Auntie. Luis,” Chad more saluted than waved.

    Bowing her head and giving in to her laughter, Sheridan only realized Luis still didn’t see the humor in the situation when his arms fell to his sides, and he cleared his throat. Fitting her hands in his and placing his hands low on her hips, she searched his serious gaze with twinkling blue eyes, finally sighing and pressing a kiss to his stubbornly set lips. “Luis, it was a joke,” she murmured against his mouth. Leaning back to study him, she finally asked, “Who did you think I thought it was? You have to know there’s no one else but you, Luis.”

    Relenting the tiniest little bit, Luis lifted a hand to her face, tucking a blond curl behind her ear. “Go easy on me. Every husband with a beautiful wife knows the feeling.”

    “What feeling?” Sheridan whispered teasingly. “Jealousy?” When Luis sheepishly ducked his head, she followed him, forcing him to meet her eyes and making him laugh at himself.

    “I know. I’m being…” Luis paused as he searched for the right word, ducking his head again when Sheridan easily supplied him with a plethora of options.

    “Silly. Ridiculous. Absurd. A total teenager.” She squealed with laughter when he hauled her against him, kissing her breathless and effectively ending his torture at her hands.

    “You had to go there,” Luis growled discontentedly. But his eyes were twinkling back at her. “Speaking of teenagers…” he told her.

    "They see everything,” Sheridan finished the thought for him, disentangling herself from his arms, but not before bestowing one last, quick kiss to his mouth. “Must not be a busy day at the Harmony PD,” she said, snagging him by the hand and leading him to her office.

    “Don’t close the door,” Luis warned, brown eyes now positively dancing at her.

    “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Sheridan grinned back at him, leaning casually back against her desk. “Couldn’t wait to see me at practice, could you?”

    Her question elicited a grin from Luis. “The station’s in good hands.”

    “Quinlan is past due for a promotion.”

    “Yes, he is,” Luis agreed, “but we can’t have two chiefs, and I can’t afford to lose him.”

    “Because Harmony’s a hotbed for activity,” Sheridan smirked.

    Lips twitching, Luis wisely refrained from commenting.

    “A fact for which I’m very thankful,” Sheridan responded more seriously seconds later. “So…” she said in an effort to fish for information.

    “So…” Luis echoed.

    “Luis,” Sheridan groaned. “Just spit it out.”

    “I was thinking…”

    “Think faster,” came Sheridan’s rapid-fire response.

    Luis smiled inwardly because he knew the suspense was killing her, and the fire in her blue eyes reminded him of times long ago in this same setting, though their current circumstances were much changed. “Ali’s staying the night with Lissy. Mama and Papa already have Hope. I’m sure Hank and Gwen wouldn’t mind taking Cristian home with them after practice.”

    “Luis, what do you have in mind?”

    Luis touched his fingertips to hers briefly before grasping her wrist and tugging her close. “Me. You. Those sexy heels of yours and a promise I made.”

    Sheridan melted into his arms, her blue eyes soft and loving as they gazed upon his dear face. “Luis, you don’t have to.”

    Luis cut her off with a slow, languid kiss. “I know,” his lips found the corner of her mouth, then her cheek. “I want to,” he said, kissing her again until she broke away, offering a token protest, weak though it was.

    “The kids.”

    “The kids,” he agreed, pressing a chaste kiss on her forehead and squeezing her hand in goodbye. When he looked to her open door, all the young faces save two were studiously ignoring them, or at least pretending to, and Luis had to laugh at how obvious they were. “After practice, you’re all mine.”

    Sheridan rolled her eyes, but she made no attempt to deny him. “All yours.” She lifted a hand to her mouth and smiled as she watched him kiss Ali and tousle Cristian’s hair on his way out. “All yours,” she repeated into the empty room.


    So...thoughts, comments, questions?

    Poor Miguel and the boys. They're so lost. Maybe Simone can help, huh?

    Uh oh! Abby finally knows. Looks like Nick is in some deep poo. What do you think? Does he deserve it?

    Sorry for the Sugar-Sweet Shuis at the end. Hope it doesn't reach tooth-rotting proportions, but I was (personally) in need of a fix.


    Feedback is much loved and adored!

    Thanks, as always, for reading!!!

    Until next time.

  5. #37
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    I last posted a chapter of this fic in July?!


    Sorry guys. Real life has totally cut into my writing time. It hasn't made me forget my stories, though, so I'll keep posting (slowly but surely new chapters will appear, lol).

    Here's the new one.

    Things are moving along.


    Chapter 34

    “Is everything okay?” Sheridan asked Gwen when she returned, reclaiming the seat beside her on the metal bleachers and stowing her cell phone in her purse.

    “Yes,” Gwen answered then thought better of it. “No.” Letting her brown eyes drift toward the small baseball field where Hank and Luis were lining up the children and going through their usual routine of warm-ups, she explained herself. “Simone answered. Miguel…the boys…they’re having a pretty rough day. They’re just going to skip practice today.”

    Was it this way when Luis and Ali thought they lost me, Sheridan wondered, not for the first time, and a dull ache seemed to slowly spread from her heart throughout the rest of her body. She squeezed Gwen’s hand gratefully when she offered it and exhaled shakily. Her words felt inadequate when she spoke. “One practice won’t hurt.”

    “I told her Luis and Hank understand,” Gwen chimed in. “So,” she said a second later, instantly lightening both of their moods with some friendly (who else but a good friend could get away with it?) teasing, “I hope you plan on practicing safe sex tonight.”

    “Gwen!” Sheridan exclaimed, her outcry loud enough to capture her husband’s attention from several feet away and her cheeks more than a little red. She gave Luis an embarrassed little wave to let him know she was okay then elbowed the laughing blonde beside her. “I can’t believe you said that.”

    Gwen was merciless, but she did lower her voice, just enough so the scattering of busybody mothers at the other end of the bleachers couldn’t hear their highly personal conversation. “Everybody knows dancing is foreplay for you two. And I’m sure Luis wouldn’t object to another little Crane-Lopez-Fitzgerald or two. That man was put on this earth to make beautiful babies.”

    Her cheeks flaming, Sheridan couldn’t help but laugh, “Does Hank know you lust after my husband?”

    Grinning, Gwen defended herself. “I’m not blind to the obvious. That doesn’t mean I lust after Luis. Besides, Abby’s not here to say it. I felt like somebody had to.”

    “Thanks,” Sheridan responded dryly, her smile growing wider by the minute. “Dancing is more than foreplay for us, you know.”

    “If you say so,” Gwen remained unconvinced. “Luis already put Cristian’s bag in the car. You’re not the only one looking forward to tonight.” She wiggled her brows suggestively at Sheridan, making her friend giggle, and found she couldn’t keep a straight face herself.

    “Your mother’s right,” Sheridan wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes when she finally calmed down. “Being married to Hank has corrupted you.”

    “At least you don’t make it seem like a bad thing,” Gwen smiled with fond exasperation at the thought of her mother and her mother’s feelings toward her man-child husband.

    “How is Rebecca, by the way?”

    “Up in arms over Hank’s latest home improvement endeavor,” Gwen told Sheridan. “Mind you, she hasn’t seen it yet. Daddy promised to keep her away until we at least figure out a way to keep the chipmunks out.”

    “I think Cristian’s a little nervous about the chipmunks,” Sheridan admitted.

    “He can’t be more nervous than Gus,” Gwen said. “We had to start him on Valium.”

    “You’re giving your dog Valium?” Sheridan was a little disbelieving.

    “Are you forgetting Mother picked him out?” Her point made, Gwen went on. “It’s just until the renovations are done.”

    “Any idea when that’ll be?”

    “With Hank, who knows,” Gwen shrugged.

    Hank seemed to sense he was the current topic of the two friends’ conversation, looking up and shooting a leering but (somehow) endearing grin in Gwen’s direction.

    “My husband,” Gwen quipped. “Don’t you just love him?”

    In response, Sheridan blew Hank a kiss, and Luis, who just happened to catch the gesture, nearly gave himself whiplash jerking his head around to glare at his good buddy. The seconds-long sequence of events renewed the women’s laughter and earned them even more curious looks. Sobering, Sheridan urged Gwen to do the same. “Half of Harmony already thinks I’m not fit to be the Police Chief’s wife.”

    Gwen rolled her eyes, letting Sheridan know right away what she thought about that. She did as asked, though, filling Sheridan in on her conversation with Ivy earlier that day. “She said she had spoken with Miranda.”

    Sheridan grew thoughtful at the mention of her niece. “Do you know…it must have been years since I last saw her. I can’t even remember the last time she stepped foot in Harmony.”

    “Yours and Julian’s funeral,” Gwen answered her quietly. “That was it. You can’t remember the last time she was in Harmony because you weren’t here. She came home for the funeral.”

    Sheridan raised stricken blue eyes to Gwen’s face and found that all earlier traces of humor had vanished from her countenance. “When I think of what I put you guys through…”

    Gwen cut her off with a gentle shake of her head. “You didn’t do anything. You know that. We all know you would have found a way home if you could, and you did, the first chance you got.”

    “Actually,” Sheridan laughed softly to herself, “Ali found me.”

    “Yeah,” Gwen smiled. “She did. Speaking of that little angel of yours,” Gwen looked over her shoulder, toward the playground that all but teemed with children, in search of one little blond in particular. “Where is she?”

    “Lissy’s dad picked her and Lissy up early from the Youth Center,” Sheridan explained. “It’s a good thing too, since Jake’s not here.”

    Gwen answered her unspoken question. “He’s off bonding with Daddy.” She smiled as she remembered her father’s excitement over spending time with his only grandson and fondly recalled how close the pair had been in Jake’s earliest years, before she’d owned up to the fact that she loved Hank and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her days with him. Casting a glance at Sheridan, she further explained, “Daddy actually surprised Mother with a trip to the spa, so it’s just the two of them, Daddy and Jake. It’ll be good for them. And us. School’s not Jake’s favorite thing in the world, but at least it keeps him occupied. The novelty of playing demolition derby with his dad is starting to wear off, and he’s been going a little stir-crazy lately. A bored Jake is not a good thing for anybody.”

    “No,” Sheridan agreed with a tiny smirk. Though her experience on the matter was not quite as extensive as Gwen’s, she knew her friend wasn’t exaggerating. “Definitely not.”

    The pair lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching the goings-on on the baseball diamond (small children and organized sports was something of an oxymoron, for organization was difficult if not impossible to achieve and the effort proved many times to be a comedy of errors), and the older kids and their coaches were arriving, baseball bags on their shoulders and hats tucked on their heads, when Gwen remembered something, a question she’d wanted to ask since Sheridan had called her at her office, asking her for a special favor and promising her she wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important. “Those files you wanted, the ones on Lissy’s dad…just what is it that you’re looking for?”

    “That’s a good question,” Sheridan told Gwen, “because I still haven’t figured it out myself.”


    Abby could tell, from the looks on Ali’s and Lissy’s young faces, that she wasn’t pulling it off, was failing rather spectacularly at pretending everything was okay (when everything was falling apart…again) actually, and she let loose a sigh of relief when Christopher rose from the sofa, grabbed the pizza box from the coffee table, and instructed both girls to follow him.

    “But Dad,” Lissy’s brows knit in confusion, “you never let me eat in my bedroom.”

    “Tonight’s a special occasion,” Christopher ushered the girls down the hall. “Right, Ali? It’s been a long time since we’ve had the pleasure of your company.”

    Christopher’s charm worked its trick on Ali, and she smiled, uttering a shy thanks.

    “Why don’t you guys pull out the old karaoke machine, dust it off, maybe put on a show for us later?”

    “Daddy,” Lissy barely refrained from rolling her eyes.

    Christopher shrugged his shoulders in silent apology and held up his hands. “Go,” he entreated. “Do girl things.”

    Abby’s small smile when he returned was genuine if fleeting. “Karaoke machine?”

    “Christmas present a couple of years ago,” Christopher told her. “Lissy can’t really carry a tune, but she loves to sing so I figured why not.”

    “Me too,” Abby answered. Clarifying when he looked confused, she said, “I love to sing, but as Nick would say, it’s not exactly a talent of mine.” She took a deep, shaky breath when she realized she’d just spoken his name, aloud, for the first time since Christopher had taken her arm in the hospital, and she’d asked him, no, begged him, to take her anywhere Nick wasn’t. She couldn’t go home because she knew Nick (today’s episode notwithstanding); he’d be there, asking for forgiveness she wasn’t ready to give (didn’t know if she could) with those damned gray eyes that had done her in from hello.

    “I’m sure you sing just fine,” Christopher told her.

    Abby bit her tongue, telling herself he was just trying to be nice, and he really was, although the truth of the matter was, she wished he’d quit trying quite so hard. She mentally scolded herself for her thoughts. Maybe if Nick had put forth half as much effort…she was sure it said something about their relationship that she had been the one doing all the heavy lifting, and tried to shake her head clear of the troublesome thought. “I should go, stop intruding on your evening.” She barely recognized the words coming out of her mouth (they weren’t her ), and neither did Christopher, apparently, because he frowned and grabbed her hand between both of his own. When she tried to stand up and ended up sinking back against the couch cushions, a wave of dizziness making her legs as unsteady as a newborn colt’s, he lifted a concerned hand to her face and tucked her hair behind her ear.

    “You should eat,” Christopher said earnestly. “You barely touched your pizza.”

    Abby didn’t tell him that the first whiff of the pizza had made her feel slightly green around the gills, or that she had no appetite to speak of. Instead, she nodded, and whispered, “Okay.” Breathing in and letting out the breath slowly, she told him, “I have some crackers in my purse. I think I left it in your car.” She felt a curious sense of relief when Christopher dropped his hand from her face and stood up, and she sagged back into the pillows, letting her eyes drift tiredly shut. They snapped open again when Mr. Homan’s salty voice filled the room, and she straightened in her seat to regard the wheelchair-bound old man.

    “Kathy, you’re as pale as a ghost. Gotta take care of yourself, girlie. You know what the doctor said…stress isn’t good for you or the baby. Need I remind you what happened last time?”

    “Mr. Homan,” Abby kept her voice soft and gentle, “it’s me. Abby. Dr. Stone.”

    Mr. Homan’s confusion-clouded eyes narrowed at her but showed no recognition of the name. “You’ll be wise to remember gifts like our Lissy don’t come along very often. You lose this one you might not get another second chance.”

    Inexplicably, Abby felt as if a fist were squeezing around her heart. The old man’s words may have been directed to the dearly deceased daughter he’d wrongfully mistaken her for, but they just as easily could have been meant for her. “Mr. Homan, what are you…”

    “Mr. Homan,” Janie burst into the room, apologies spilling from her lips as Christopher rejoined them, Abby’s purse in hand, “Dr. Stone, I’m sorry. I was on the phone, and I didn’t realize…”

    Christopher silenced her with a shake of his head. “You don’t have to apologize, Janie. We all know how Dad is.” Handing Abby her purse, he nodded his head toward the old man’s room and took the handles to the wheelchair in hand. “You’ve had a long day. Shouldn’t you be getting some rest?”

    Abby couldn’t make out Mr. Homan’s response as they disappeared from her sight, but she could distinctly hear his indignation ringing clear, and a tiny smile flirted with her lips. She was nibbling on a cracker, that hint of a smile still on her lips, when Christopher returned, lowering himself to the couch beside her.

    “Sorry about that,” Christopher apologized. “He gets pretty confused sometimes. He’s convinced you look like my wife.” He looked away from her awkwardly and elaborated, “His daughter.”

    Abby could tell she surprised him with her next question. “Do I? Do I look like Kathy?”

    Clearing his throat, Christopher responded, without meeting her eyes. “Kathy’s hair was shorter, darker than yours, and her eyes were different. But she was about your height, maybe a little taller, and she had pretty much the same build. So yeah…yeah, you do look like Kathy, enough that I can understand why he gets you two confused sometimes.”

    “So Lissy got her eyes?” Abby deduced, catching his eyes, eyes she’d never paid much attention to before now. They were a murky-looking green, so different from the melted warmth of Lissy’s chocolate eyes that Abby was convinced the girl’s mother’s genes had to have been the dominant ones. Not waiting for him to answer, she offered an apology of her own, for her prying questions. “I’m sorry. None of this is really my business.”

    “It’s okay,” Christopher assured her. “After the way I treated you so rudely when we first met, I think you deserve a few answers. Not to mention my sincerest apologies. It isn’t your fault you look like her, and it isn’t your fault that that fact stings, just a little. What is your fault, though, is somehow, someway, you’ve made me like you.” He stopped to grin at her. “Really, really like you. So much so I don’t particularly give a damn if you’re carrying another man’s baby. I just want to spend time with you and maybe convince you to give me a chance.”

    “Christopher,” Abby began gently, but he wouldn’t let her finish.

    “I know you’re in love with him,” Christopher interjected. “But I also know he’s a first-class jerk, and he’s not worthy of you. Not like I am.”

    Unable to look at him (the synapses in her brain had quit firing and her emotions were nothing more than a tangled wreck by this point), Abby stared at her hands and softly murmured, “I don’t know what to say.”

    Christopher cleared his throat and reached a hesitant hand out to pat the knee that nervously bounced in place. “You don’t have to say anything. You don’t even have to think about it right now. Right now, all I think you should do is lie down, close your eyes, and try to get some rest.”

    “That bad, huh?” Abby wryly questioned.

    “No,” Christopher answered, standing up and offering her his hand. “I just remember how tired Kathy stayed when she was pregnant with the baby, and I figured it was probably the same with you.”

    Abby took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. With her free hand, she unconsciously rubbed her gently rounded belly, and the affection in the gesture was evident. “I shouldn’t be taking advantage of your generosity like this,” she sighed a protest.

    “If anyone’s taking advantage, it’s me,” Christopher admitted honestly. “My motives aren’t completely unselfish.”

    Neither, Abby realized, were hers. She could have sought comfort from any of her other friends, yet she chose to let Christopher invite her into his home, already knowing (on some level) how he felt about her. She knew no one else could get under Nick’s skin quite like this man, this man she found herself following into his darkened bedroom. She hesitated at the door, feeling silly when Christopher seemed to read her thoughts.

    “I spend most of my nights on the couch anyway,” he shrugged. “It’s quiet back here, the girls and Dad won’t bother you, you can even lock the door if it makes you feel better.”

    Feeling the toll of the emotional day weighing down on her, Abby found herself nodding and murmuring a soft thank you as she eased herself down onto the mattress. She toed her shoes off, curling into herself and gratefully accepting the blanket Christopher tucked around her slender shoulders. “Maybe I will take a nap,” she told him, her heavy hazel eyes following him across the room, watching him close the blinds that covered the windows and darken the room even more. “Just a little one,” she yawned, tucking her hands beneath her head.

    Christopher pulled the door shut with a knowing smile.

    Abby was fast asleep already.


    “Abby!” Nick called as he let himself into the darkened apartment, hoping against hope he’d find her inside, praying for the chance to start making things right. “Abby,” he called again, turning the lights on and ignoring Lucky when the cat appeared at the front door to greet him with a pitiful meow. Scooping the cat up absently in one hand, Nick carried him through the living room into the kitchen, dropping his keys and the meager contents of his pockets onto the coffee table as he passed through. Finding the cat’s bowl empty, he withdrew some canned cat food from the cupboards to feed the hungry little monster. Sighing as he watched Lucky attack his dinner, Nick admitted the truth he’d so desperately wanted to deny. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Pal.”

    “Actually,” a timid, faraway voice answered.

    Nick turned around slowly, to find Whitney lingering at the door he’d so carelessly left open.

    “I hope you don’t mind,” Whitney apologized. “It was open,” she explained. “And I wanted to make sure you were okay.” Clutching her purse nervously in front of her, she accepted his unspoken invitation, stepping inside and softly shutting the door behind her. Guilt made her cheeks burn slightly, for she wasn’t being completely honest with him. She was worried, and she did want to make sure he was okay, but she wasn’t here completely on her own reconnaissance. Her loyalties divided between her two friends, Katie had implored her to come in her stead. “Are you?” Whitney found herself standing just a few feet away from Nick now. “Okay, I mean?”

    Nick’s gray eyes were bright, and he shook his head, tired of the lies and mis-directions. “No. I’m not.”

    “Do you want to talk about it?” Whitney murmured.

    The only person Nick wanted (needed) to talk about it to wasn’t here. “No. Not really,” he answered, crossing to the fridge and pulling it open. Finding what he was looking for, he pulled out a beer for himself and looked to Whitney. “Want one?” When she declined that offer, Nick shut the fridge and started opening cupboards. “I think there’s still some wine around here somewhere.” Finally procuring a bottle, he ignored Whitney’s half-hearted protests and poured her a glass. Soon, they found themselves settled on the sofa, or rather, Nick slouched back against the cushions while Whitney primly perched on its edge, casting worried glances in his direction as he took a long drag from the chilled bottle in his hand. Before he realized what he was doing, Nick started talking. “She makes me crazy, you know.”

    Whitney didn’t have to ask who he was referring to, there was no doubt whatsoever judging from the affection that lit up his gray eyes.

    Appreciating Whitney’s silence (and letting it put him at ease), Nick continued, “She’s the last person on earth I ever imagined falling for. And having a baby with? If you would have told me, years ago when I first set foot in this town, that Abby Stone was the only blond I wanted, no, needed, in my future, I would have said you were nuts.” Meeting Whitney’s dark eyes, Nick was surprised to find himself laughing. “I thought she was an outrageous, flirtatious flake when I first met her. And when she nearly blinded me with pepper spray and attacked me with a wine bottle like the one over there,” he indicated the wine bottle they’d abandoned in the kitchen, “I should have run in the opposite direction.”

    “But you didn’t,” Whitney reminded him.

    “I didn’t,” Nick mused. “Something about her drew me in. She has this quality, I can’t describe it, it’s just her, really, Abby, and she bleeds into your senses, ingrains herself into your body and heart, and the next thing you know, you can’t imagine your life without her.”

    “You love her.”

    Nick neither confirmed nor denied the truth of Whitney’s simple statement. He just took another generous drink from the bottle cradled in his hands and swallowed, leaning forward to snag a piece of paper off of the coffee table and hand it to Whitney.

    “Is this…” Whitney left the rest of her question unspoken.

    Nodding unconsciously, Nick replied, “Our baby.”

    “It’s tiny,” Whitney breathed. Love transformed Nick before her very eyes, and she wondered at the ease with which he let himself love the child he and Abby had created when he was so hesitant to lay voice to his obvious feelings for her. “How far along is Abby?”

    Nick found himself transported back to that night in Boston when he’d first realized that what he shared with Abby transcended the mere physical, that his heart was most definitely involved, and he found himself saying, “Almost sixteen weeks.”

    Mentally doing the math, Whitney smiled when she reached a realization. “A Christmas baby.”

    Nick found himself smiling back at her. “Maybe.” Gradually, he sobered, and, setting his unfinished beer on the coffee table, he placed his elbows on his knees, cradling his head between his hands. “I’ve really f---d everything up, haven’t I?” Looking up when he felt the gentle, hesitant touch of Whitney’s hand on his back, he tried for a smile to let her know how much he appreciated the gesture, but it came out looking more like a grimace.

    “It’s not too late,” Whitney tried to be encouraging.

    If it’s not too late, Nick suppressed the terrible urge to yell, why do I feel so damn hopeless? Instead, he took her words in, tried to convince himself they were true. Sighing, he straightened, causing Whitney’s hand to fall away, and looked around the apartment, shrouded in shadows and silence, and it felt a thousand times worse than it had those weeks, months after he’d made his first blunder (kissing Jenny/Sheridan goodbye). It didn’t feel like a foregone conclusion yet, but it was pretty damn close. He couldn’t stand back and let Abby’s absence be permanent this time. But he knew he couldn’t do anything about it tonight either. She needed time, and, much as he hated to do it, he had to give it to her. Standing up, he looked down at Whitney, his face the picture of grim determination, and said, “Tell Katie I’m fine, or at least I will be. I won’t do anything stupid, like chase Abby down and make her listen to me. Not tonight anyway. I can’t make any promises about tomorrow, though. I need that lady in my life, any way that she’ll have me, and I’ll make her see that. I’m not going to let anyone or anything else come between us.”


    “Who’s in the picture?”

    Tony slid the worn photograph back into his wallet, tucking it into his jeans before turning from the window and facing Beth. With a small shrug of his shoulders, he forced an air of nonchalance. “Just someone I used to know.”

    Beth crept closer, her arms wrapped protectively about her middle. “She must be someone pretty special.” When his dark eyes narrowed at her in confusion, she admitted, “That’s not the first time I’ve caught you staring at that picture.” Taking a seat before him, she relaxed her defensive posture, placing her palms upon her knees. “Tell me about her,” she entreated.

    Cautiously, Tony moved closer to her, and when she scooted over on the sofa to give him room to join her, he lowered himself with a sigh, thankful she was speaking to him again after the angry words they had exchanged that morning. Without really thinking about it, he started talking. He felt he owed her some small measure of honesty for putting her through this whole mess, even if he couldn’t tell her the whole truth, not yet. “Her husband’s band used to play the bar I tended.”

    Beth’s eyes widened slightly but she didn’t say anything.

    “Guy was a real piece of work—selfish, arrogant, a boozer, a junkie,” Tony told her, “chased anything in a skirt. At first, he was real sneaky about it. Before it was over with though, he didn’t give a damn, cheated on her right in front of her. I don’t know why she put up with it.”

    “Because she loved him,” Beth supplied.

    Shaking his head in disbelief, Tony had to admit she was right. “I guess she did, love him, I mean. I never could figure out why though. That bastard had a mean streak a mile wide.”

    Beth’s brows pinched with worry. “You mean…”

    Nodding, Tony continued, “I never had any hard proof.” Not until it was too late, he thought to himself. “She kept coming to see him play. We’d talk. A lot of times I found myself trying to distract her with small talk. I wasn’t trying to save his sorry ass; I was just trying to spare her from a world of hurt. It didn’t work, but something else happened. She and I became friends. When the band went on tour, she kept coming to the bar. Next thing I knew we started spending time together outside of the bar.”

    “And you became more than friends,” Beth surmised.

    Tony didn’t outright answer her. “She was lonely. I missed my family, my friends.” He stopped to look at Beth, surprised but heartened when she fit her hand in his own.

    “We missed you too, Antonio,” Beth squeezed his hand. “We’ve always missed you.”

    Tony knew she hadn’t forgotten their argument, hadn’t changed her mind or the way she felt about his leaving so many years ago, and he didn’t expect her to. But her being here, holding his hand as he spilled his guts…he couldn’t find the words to tell her how grateful he was for her willingness to put that all behind her, if only for the moment, and be the friend he’d missed so much. “I’ve tried to tell myself I was the better man, but in the end, I hurt her even more than he did, Beth. Maybe not physically. But emotionally? She would have been better off if she’d never met me.”

    Beth spoke to the contrary, though the identity of the woman in question was still a mystery to her. “I hardly think that’s true. It’s obvious you still care about her.”

    “Vincent left because he didn’t love her,” Tony rubbed his hands roughly over his face.

    “And what about you?” Beth waited, not really expecting an answer but asking the question anyway. Her eyes followed Antonio as he stood up, making his way back to the window.

    “I left because I did.”

    Beth looked at him for a long moment before saying the only thing that seemed fitting. “Wow.” Standing up, she joined him at the window, reaching for his hand. “This woman…is she the reason you came back?”

    What had he told Lissy? All roads lead home? Tony’d had no idea how true that old adage would prove to be once he’d started on this journey—one that had felt a thousand years long. Beth really had no idea. He’d never expected to see Abby again, at least not until after, when he’d reclaimed everything that was rightly his. Somehow he knew her being here was just another one of the cruel coincidences the old man had engineered. The puzzle pieces were falling into place, piece by frustrating piece. “A big part of the reason,” Tony replied. Though not quite in the way you’re thinking, he silently added.

    “And Sheridan?”

    Sighing, Tony turned to face her. “You’re not going to let that go, are you?” Beth didn’t answer him; the stubborn expression on her face said it all. With a wry smile, Tony told her, “Maybe I just want to get to know my family better.”

    Rolling her eyes at him, Beth dropped his hand. “You’d get to know them a lot better if you weren’t sneaking around. Your sister-in-law and all the kids.”

    All the kids?”

    “All the kids,” Beth repeated, absently picking up around the small apartment as she talked. Holding up a purple ribbon, she smirked. “Yours?”

    Snagging the ribbon between his fingers, Tony shook his head, his voice a low grumble. “She left this so she’d have a reason to come back.”

    “Be nice,” Beth warned. “Lissy’s a sweet kid.”

    “Are we talking about the same kid?” Tony retorted. “About this high,” he demonstrated with his hands, “blond, with heartbreaker eyes, and a mouth that won’t quit?”

    “You’re not fooling anybody,” Beth shook her head at the grin he didn’t realize he was sporting. “You always were a sucker for blondes.”

    In an effort to change the subject, Tony ignored her teasing. “Tell me about these kids.”

    Beth smiled at him knowingly but let him get away with his diversionary tactics nevertheless. “You already know about Ali, Cristian, and Hope?”

    Tony nodded.

    “Miguel’s got two boys,” Beth revealed. “MJ’s the oldest.”


    His knees pressing into the soft earth, blades of velvety green grass clenched between his fingers, MJ stared straight ahead silently, at the large, smooth stone that bore his mother’s name. He didn’t cry, but the corners of his eyes itched and burned and his throat felt like somebody big (like his dad or his uncle Luis) had both hands wrapped around it, making it hard for him to swallow. Behind him Simone waited patiently, and she didn’t try to tell him it would be alright or say that it was okay that he’d been so mean to his dad, and MJ appreciated that. Because he knew the truth; you didn’t have to be a grown-up to see that. Maybe you did have to be a grown-up to understand how God picked who went to Heaven and who didn’t, because he couldn’t wrap his young brain around one thing. Just a few feet away was a stone that read a familiar name, one of someone very much alive. “It’s not fair,” he decried.

    Softly, Simone murmured, “What’s not fair, Honey?” She knelt by MJ’s side, wanting to open her arms to the grief-stricken little boy, but not wanting to lose the tenuous strand of trust MJ had gifted her with when she’d ushered him out of the house and brought him here, to the one place where he still felt a connection to his mom. “MJ,” she encouraged.

    Chin stubbornly refusing to quiver, MJ turned to her with tears in his dark eyes. “It’s not fair how Ali’s mom got to come back and mine didn’t.”

    This time Simone did sweep the little boy into her arms, and the tears came, slowly at first, then faster, until they were lung-crushing sobs. “I know you miss her. I miss her too.” Rubbing his back comfortingly, she pressed a kiss against the head tucked beneath her chin. “So does your dad.”

    “I know,” MJ sniffled into her neck.

    “And Joshua,” Simone reminded him.

    Pulling back, MJ looked at her, his dark lashes spiked with tears. “But he’s so little.”

    “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss her,” Simone gently knuckled away MJ’s crystal tears. “You’ve got a pretty important job, you know.”

    “I know,” MJ sighed, withdrawing slightly from her to mutter, “take care of Joshua.”

    “That is a very important job,” Simone assented, “but it’s not the job I was talking about.”

    MJ’s dark eyes regarded her curiously.

    “I’m talking about your dad,” Simone told him. “He needs someone to take care of him.” When MJ didn’t look convinced, she tried to explain. “Do you remember how long it took your dad to go ahead and let the doctors do your brother’s surgery?”

    MJ nodded.

    “Your dad was scared, MJ. He and your mom were always a team, best friends, for as long as I can remember.”

    “Like Jake and Ali?” MJ queried.

    “Yeah,” Simone smiled. “Like Jake and Ali.” Knowing she had MJ’s avid attention, she continued, “They never made a decision without talking to each other first. They took care of you guys like a team, and when your mom…when she went to Heaven, your dad was missing part of his team, and he felt a little lost.”

    “But mom wanted Joshua to have the surgery.”

    “I know that,” Simone stated. “And your dad knew that too.”

    Tears still glistening on his cheeks, MJ frowned, “If he knew that, why was he so scared?”

    Biting her lip, Simone searched within herself, trying to find the right words to make MJ understand the scary place Miguel had found himself thrust into when Kay had been abruptly taken from them all. “Remember when you first learned to ride your bike without the training wheels?”

    Confusion furrowing his brows, MJ nonetheless nodded.
    “You were brave, but you were still scared.”

    “No, I wasn’t,” MJ refuted, though his dark eyes told another story. Relenting when Simone looked skeptical, he said, “Okay. But only a little bit.”

    “Just a little bit,” Simone agreed with a small smile. “You felt better knowing your dad was there to catch you in case you fell, didn’t you?” She saw the beginnings of understanding light in the little boy’s expressive eyes. “Your dad doesn’t have anyone to catch him anymore. It’s just him, and he’s gonna fall a few times.”

    MJ grew quiet, ducking his head guiltily.

    Cupping his chin in her palm and making him look at her, Simone said, “You know you can talk to me, right MJ? I know I’m not your mom, and I know talking to me isn’t the same as talking to Abby, but your mom and me were friends for just as long as she and your dad were. I loved her very much, and I love you and your brother and your dad too.”

    MJ took his time before answering her, and when he did, the words came in a torrent of renewed tears. “I don’t really wish he were gone. I just want my mom back.”

    Gathering him close again, Simone squeezed him back just as tightly as his arms were clutching her. “I know, Honey. I know.”


    Capturing Sheridan’s hand in his own before she could knock on Miguel’s door, Luis looked at her with apology in his deep brown eyes. “Sheridan,” he began, only to have her silence him with her fingers upon his lips.

    “It’s okay,” Sheridan told him, squeezing his hand reassuringly. “Your brother needs you.” Replacing her fingers with her lips, she kissed him softly before gently removing her hand from his grasp and rapping on Miguel’s heavy wooden door. She felt her heart throb painfully within her ribcage when the broken man posing as her brother-in-law answered the door several minutes and bouts of knocking later. Joshua lingered in Miguel’s shadow, his tiny thumb firmly rooted in his mouth, clad in rumpled, mismatched pajamas.

    Stepping aside to let them enter, Miguel, much like his brother, offered an apology, rubbing a weary hand over his own head. “Look, Luis, I’m sorry MJ missed practice.”

    Scooping Joshua up in her arms, Sheridan hugged him close and shared a brief look with her husband before wandering toward the kitchen.

    “Don’t worry about practice, Bro,” Luis told his kid brother, taking in his blood-shot eyes and the tight lines of sadness around his mouth. “MJ didn’t miss much. You know how the kids are,” he said, following Miguel into the living room, amidst scattered toys and other odds and ends. He unearthed MJ’s worn baseball glove when he pushed a pillow aside to take a seat beside Miguel on the sofa, and before he could stop it, the ball nestled inside it rolled out and into the floor.

    “Leave it,” Miguel told him. “I’ll get it later.”

    Luis did as he asked and silence fell between the two brothers.

    The only sounds came from the kitchen, pots and pans clanging, glasses sliding across the kitchen counter, water filling up the sink.

    Sheridan reappeared around the corner, Joshua perched on her hip, his head lolling against her shoulder. “Miguel, have you eaten?”

    It spoke to Miguel’s state of mind that he didn’t rush to assure Sheridan his belly was full (like days gone past), and Luis couldn’t help a little teasing, hoping to lighten the somber mood that seemed to permeate the entire house. “I hope you still like pasta.”

    “I heard that, Luis!” Sheridan called from the other room.

    Luis caught a fleeting glimpse of a smile on his brother’s lips (that was as far as it went) before it disappeared again, and he was stricken anew by the changes Kay’s death had wrought on him. He’d aged seemingly overnight, and his eyes didn’t hold the quiet happiness that’d been ever-present since he and Kay had become inseparable friends on a baseball field so long ago. A familiar, long-buried ache seized Luis’s own heart, and he wanted to tell Miguel breathing would get easier again, smiles wouldn’t feel so much like betrayals, and love wasn’t just pain. But he knew, from experience, his kid brother wasn’t ready to hear him, and so he offered only his silent support. Digging the television remote out from between the sofa’s cushions, he filled the house with another sound, and lured by the sounds of the game, Joshua soon crept out of the kitchen to sit at his father’s feet.

    Simone called to let Miguel know she and MJ were on their way, and by the time the seventh inning rolled around, she was there, depositing MJ in the living room with the rest of the boys and joining Sheridan in the kitchen just in time to help her put the finishing touches on their spaghetti dinner.

    “Just this once,” Sheridan said, installing MJ and Joshua in front of the television and placing their plates on the coffee table while Simone delivered Luis’s and Miguel’s food. “Promise not to tell on me to Cristian and Ali?” She tickled Joshua’s tummy, and his pearly white teeth made a rare appearance with his smile.

    MJ accepted her affectionate tousle of his hair and grudgingly gave his word.

    The game went into extra innings and spaghetti was topped off with ice cream courtesy of Simone (she gave all the credit to MJ). For a little while, it almost seemed like any other day, any other family enjoying each other’s company.


    It was well past the boys’ bedtime when Simone saw herself out, promising she was only a phone call away should Miguel need anything, and it was only then Luis noticed his wife’s curious absence. He found her in the kitchen, Joshua drifting off to never-never-land in her arms, a lullaby on her lips as she gently swayed in place. Wearing a tender smile as he approached her, Luis carefully circled his arms around her waist, and his nephew’s heavy-lidded eyes blinked sleepily at him before fluttering shut once more. “Not quite the kind of dancing you had in mind, huh?”

    “I’m dancing with two handsome men,” Sheridan murmured against Joshua’s temple with a smile. “I can’t complain.” She moved deeper into Luis’s loving embrace until the two of them were doing nothing more than shuffling from foot to foot, the sleeping toddler between them. “Help me put this one to bed?”

    “I can do even better than that,” Luis replied. “Give me a few minutes, and it’ll be two for the price of one.” Kissing her softly, he promised he wouldn’t be long, returning to the living room with MJ’s name on his lips. The scene he inadvertently walked in on changed his plans though.

    In the darkness of the living room, Miguel and MJ sat, side by side (they might as well have been worlds apart) on the sofa.

    Only the flickering pictures playing on the television screen offered any illumination, but they provided enough of a glow to allow Luis to see the tears on both faces, and the sight made him hang back, change his course, and he held his breath, waiting for something he couldn’t name, waiting for one of them to bridge the gap on their own. He watched with pride as his brother did just that.

    Without uttering a word, Miguel placed a loving hand on MJ’s dark head, sliding it down to the boy’s neck, and pulled him to his side, pressing a hard kiss to his forehead and wrapping his arms around him tight. The action turned MJ’s silent tears until gasping sobs, and he wound his arms around his father even tighter in return, what sounded like apologies tumbling from his lips.

    Luis crept into the boys’ bedroom mere minutes later with a lump firmly lodged in his throat, and when Sheridan softly called his name, her back to him as she tucked the covers around Joshua’s slender shoulders, he found himself incapable of answering her. When she repeated his name, her beautiful blue eyes full of concern and looking right at him, he caught the hand she offered and pulled her to her feet and into his arms. He hugged her, so tight he was sure he was squeezing the breath right out of her, but she didn’t complain, and so, he didn’t loosen his grip.

    They were still holding each other like that when Miguel finally darkened the bedroom’s door, MJ’s shoulders beneath his hands. “Say goodnight,” Miguel gently prodded MJ, steering him in the direction of his own bed, the covers already turned down and waiting for him.

    “Night, Aunt Sheridan. Night, Uncle Luis,” MJ obeyed, his jaw stretching with a sleepy yawn as he climbed into his bed and allowed Miguel to pull the covers over him.

    “Night, Sweetie,” Sheridan smiled down at him then kissed Miguel on the cheek. “You should bring the boys over sometime, let them play with Ali and Cristian. Bring yourself too. I know I’m not much of a cook, but I love having you.”

    Another brief smile appeared on Miguel’s lips. “You cook just fine. Better than me.”

    “No offense, Baby,” Luis teased her with a twinkle in his eyes, “but it doesn’t take much.”

    From his bed, where he had almost drifted off, MJ giggled, and in an unguarded moment, he let Sheridan kiss him goodnight, as an apology of sorts, of course.

    “You liked my spaghetti, didn’t you?”

    MJ merely nodded and burrowed deeper into his covers.

    “Your spaghetti’s Ali’s favorite.” Luis tried to make amends as they left the boys’ bedroom and its occupants behind, in a much better spirits than they had discovered them in. He was soon back to teasing her, though. “That could be because her taste buds don’t know any better.”

    “Luis!” Sheridan cried, though she couldn’t help laughing herself. “Gwen was so far off the mark.”

    “Gwen? What about Gwen?”

    Thanks so much for reading!!!

    Mistakes are mine.

    Until next time.

  6. #38
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Can you believe it?

    I'm finally posting a new chapter.

    This is for you, Lynne (and Pam and divinelyfine and Bree and everyone else out there still reading).

    In this chapter: Abby/Lissy, Sheridan/Antonio, Beth/Gwen, fun at the ballpark with Bennett families and Shuis (lol), Abby/Beth/Lissy/Ivy/Ethan, Miguel/Chad, and some Jake/Ali cuteness.

    Hope you enjoy!

    Chapter 35

    Time, in Abby’s experience, didn’t always heal all wounds. Sometimes, it only enabled them to fester. In this particular case, with each passing day, Abby’s hurt and anger at Nick grew. So much so, that when Christopher extended an offer for her to stay with him and Lissy and Mr. Homan (as long as you need), she grabbed hold of it with both hands. After all, running away was what she did best (she learned from the master). And it wasn’t like she could show up on Miguel’s doorstep again—that wouldn’t do any of them any good. Neither could she bunk with Shane. No, her brother seemed too willing to give Nick (not Vincent, not even Tony) the benefit of the doubt. That left Christopher. Thankfully, he’d given her some much needed space. So much space, in fact (and trust), that he’d left her in charge of his young daughter (Janie and another sitter were alternating shifts with Mr. Homan) for the weekend while he was away on business. Nick, on the other hand…Abby sighed as she turned her cell phone off without answering it. Then she pasted a smile on her face and looked up at little girl who’d just entered the room. “Yes, Lissy?”

    “Ms. Abby, I was just wondering…”

    The little girl ducked her chocolate eyes shyly, and the smile on Abby’s face grew more genuine. Gratitude aside, her feelings for the little girl’s father were still largely undefined, and Mr. Homan’s continued bouts of confusion around her were making her more and more uneasy. But was different with Lissy. In the course of her two weeks here, she’d felt more and more drawn to the child. Like MJ and Joshua before her, Abby recognized something of herself in the motherless little girl, something more even. She couldn’t explain it, nor did she care to. Trying to assign neat, pretty little labels to the people in her life had always gotten her into trouble before. Holding a patient hand out to the child, she softly murmured, “You’re hiding something behind your back. What is it?”

    Bashfully, Lissy let Abby coax her into showing her a bottle of cotton candy pink nail polish.

    Abby’s lips twitched, and she scooted back further into the cushions of the sofa to make herself more comfortable, patting the empty space beside her before making the little girl an offer that had her beaming. “I’ll do yours if you do mine. You first.”

    Bouncing onto the sofa beside Abby, Lissy toed off her sandals and presented her right foot first. “I wanted something cool like blue or green or purple,” she revealed, watching Abby unscrew the top from the polish, “but Daddy wouldn’t buy it for me unless I got pink.”

    “Well,” Abby huffed, arranging herself sideways on the sofa to better face Lissy, “that’s not fair.”

    “I know,” Lissy cried, sensing a kindred spirit in Abby. “That’s what I told him.”

    “Purple is so much cooler,” Abby replied seriously, barely keeping her smile in check. “Remember,” she reminded Lissy when she voiced her animated agreement, “don’t wiggle them too much.” Carefully, she stroked the tiny brush over the small toes, acutely aware that the little girl’s gaze had never left her face. Finally, she told Lissy with a quirk of her lips, “Whatever it is, just spit it out. I promise not to bite.” She leaned back, grinning at Lissy’s sheepish look. “Lissy?” she prodded. The smile on her face faltered at what came out of the little girl’s mouth next.

    “If I tell you a secret, will you promise not to tell anyone?”

    “What kind of a secret, Lissy?” Abby asked softly, with trepidation.

    “It’s not a bad secret, Ms. Abby,” Lissy rushed to reassure her. “I swear.”

    Abby felt herself relax somewhat, though, in her opinion, even secrets of the seemingly harmless variety had the power to hurt. She told Lissy that, then she forced herself to take a deep, steadying breath and focus her attention back on the job at hand. A quick glance at Lissy’s indecisive face had her releasing a sigh. “Lissy,” Abby began, “I can’t promise I won’t tell, not without knowing what the secret is and whether you’re in trouble or not. If you still want to tell me…”

    “I have a new friend!” Lissy blurted.

    Abby jerked slightly in surprise, smudging the pale pink polish across Lissy’s toes. Dabbing at the polish with a crumpled tissue, she cast a teasing glance in Lissy’s direction. “Is this new friend a boy?” Once again, the little girl’s answer set off her internal alarm bells, and she discarded the tissue and recapped the polish, leaning over to set it on the coffee table.

    “Not a boy,” Lissy told her. “He’s a man.”

    “Lissy,” Abby chastised shakily, “You know you shouldn’t talk to strangers, especially strange men. This is definitely not a good secret,” she said, pushing herself up from the sofa and pulling out her cell phone. Her hazel eyes searched their immediate vicinity for the short list of phone numbers Christopher had left for her just that morning, and coming up empty, she scrolled through her own address book until she saw Luis’s name.

    “But Ms. Abby,” Lissy protested, standing up as well. “He’s not a bad man. He’s not,” she insisted. “He knows Lissy’s daddy, and he knows you.”

    In disbelief, Abby disconnected her phone, Luis’s tinny voice on the other side, and stared at the indignant little blond, holding out something, something that looked a whole lot like a photograph. “What did you say?”

    Lissy repeated herself, pushing the photograph into Abby’s hands. “He knows you, Ms. Abby. I took this picture from his wallet.”

    “Lissy?” Abby faltered for words. The person in the picture was her, the her from before, the girl-woman that had no clue that in a few short months’ time her whole world was going to go to Hell in a hand basket.

    Misreading Abby’s expression, Lissy rushed to defend herself, the shame of the stolen magazine still burning a hole in the pit of her belly. “I didn’t steal it. Honest. I just borrowed it.”

    It couldn’t be. Could it? Only one of the two people that could possibly have that particular picture in their possession knew Luis, and it sure as hell wasn’t Vincent in his tiny windowless, barred dwelling. “You borrowed the picture. I got it, Lissy,” Abby cut the little girl off before she could defend her innocence once more. “His name, Lissy. Tell me his name,” she demanded, past lips that were having trouble forming coherent words in that precise moment.

    “I can’t,” Lissy shook her head, reclaiming the picture and backing away warily from Abby, whose bright hazel eyes were staring at her from an unnaturally pale face. “I’m sorry, Ms. Abby. I promised.”

    “Lissy,” Abby reached out for the child, but she evaded her grasp, hurriedly sliding her feet back into her sandals and racing for the door.

    "I promised!” Yanking it open, Lissy barely spared Abby a backward glance before escaping outside.

    Grabbing her purse and scribbling a note to Janie, Abby did the only thing she could do. She took off after her.


    High above the Harmony coastline, a radiant smile on her face and blue eyes shining with appreciation for her new pupil’s aptitude, Sheridan praised, “You’re a natural, Brian.”

    Tony’s eyes fluttered closed briefly at the false name that flowed so readily from her lips, and he deftly deflected her accolades with a compliment as sweet as honey but nevertheless true. “You’re a good teacher.”

    “I don’t know about that,” Sheridan laughed modestly, thinking over her last lesson with her little son, and his awestruck inability to do much more than hang on and enjoy the ride. “At least Cristian’s having fun.”

    “He’s learning,” Tony reassured her. “Trust me. He’s taking it all in. Me, on the other hand…I think I’m going to leave it to the Master to land this bird.”

    “Brown-noser,” Sheridan cried, blue eyes twinkling as she did just that. Back on solid ground, she took the hand he offered, hopping down from the small craft and lifting a hand to her wild blond hair. She laughed at the smile he gave her. “Don’t even pretend I look okay,” she warned, laughing. Her laughter gradually died away when he lifted his hands to her hair with a smile, in a futile attempt to tame her locks.

    “Sorry,” Tony apologized, dropping his hands awkwardly when he realized she’d stopped laughing, stopped breathing altogether it seemed. Clearing his throat, he attempted to tease a smile back on to her beautiful face. “It seems there’s nothing I can do. You’re a hopeless case.” He breathed a sigh of relief when the light returned to her crystal eyes, and the uncomfortable moment passed.

    “Luis has been telling me that for years,” Sheridan told him, deftly stepping around him and walking toward the hangar to collect her things. Glancing at the watch on her wrist, she exclaimed over the advancing hour. “I’m going to have to hurry if I’m going to make it the game. Thank goodness, there’s only a few left,” she babbled on her way to her car. “My son didn’t inherit the Lopez-Fitzgerald fondness for the sport. He’d rather be at home, playing chase with Max in the yard.”

    “Or flying toward the heavens with his mama,” Tony supplied with a grin. He had no doubt that was what it felt like to his shy little nephew. It wasn’t much different for him.

    The smile was back. “Or that,” Sheridan said. “You should come. Luis will be there, Miguel and Hank too. It’ll give you a chance to catch up.”

    “Maybe,” Tony answered, opening her car door for her when they reached it. He waited for her to slide inside before he gently eased it closed. “I’ve got…”

    “People to see, other places to be,” Sheridan cut him off knowingly. “If I didn’t know better,” she remarked, “I’d think you were avoiding Luis.” At his stricken expression, she felt the need to apologize. “I’m just kidding, Brian. I didn’t mean…”

    Tony didn’t allow her to finish the thought. “No harm done,” he assured her.

    “I really didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” Sheridan bit her lip in embarrassment.

    “Sure you didn’t,” Tony teased her lightly, enjoying the gentle flush that suffused her cheeks. Tapping the face of her watch with his index finger, he reminded her of the hour, “You don’t want to be late.” Removing his hand, he stepped back from the car and offered her a smile. “Same time next week?”

    Nodding as she turned the key in the ignition and started the car, Sheridan returned his smile with one of her own as she put the car into reverse. “Same place.”

    Tony waited until he was sure her car was safely out of sight before he let the smile drop guiltily from his face.


    An automatic smile came to Beth’s face when Gwen swept into the Book Café, Jake hot on her heels. “Let me guess,” she asked the harried-looking blond, “the meeting ran over and you’re late for the game.”

    “Oh, the meeting’s still going,” Gwen answered her, directing Jake to make it snappy instead of dawdling in front of the treats on display. “Try to pick something out that won’t rot yours or your sisters’ teeth out completely.” Her gaze landing back on Beth, she gave her an apologetic smile, “I just pulled the guilt card, convinced Ethan to cover for me and let me leave early.”

    “Ah,” Beth nodded knowingly, “the guilt card. There’s still a lot of mileage left on that one.”

    Gwen defended herself. “I use it sparingly.”

    “Are you kidding?” Beth’s lips curled as she asked the question. “Take advantage of it while you still can.” Sobering somewhat, she told Gwen, “I know Ethan regrets his past treatment of you and Theresa. He feels he’s gotten off too lightly.” She lowered her voice on the last statement, though it was really an open secret amongst all involved. The tentative renewal of friendship between her husband and the woman standing in front of her, filing through her purse to locate her wallet, inspired gratitude in her everyday.

    Withdrawing a slim piece of plastic and handing it to Beth, Gwen instructed Jake to run ahead to the car in one breath, then distractedly told Beth in the next, “Debit.” Punching in her pin number, she admitted her feelings toward Ethan had softened. “I can’t be mad at him anymore. Not when things turned out the way they did.” Sliding her debit card back into her wallet and zipping the wallet up in her purse, she started laughing when they both heard the racket outside, courtesy of her young son. “I’m where I’m supposed to be.” Warmly, she said her goodbyes. “Take care, Beth. If the meeting doesn’t go too long, maybe we’ll see you at the game.”

    Beth remembered the inconspicuous little bag tucked beneath the counter and the fact that Julie was already closing the Book Café up tonight. Asking her to come in even earlier would feel like she was taking advantage of her kindness, and if things went the way she hoped they would tonight, she’d rather save and stockpile her favors. “Maybe some other time,” she offered. “Ethan and I kind of have plans.”

    “And I ditched him in the middle of an important meeting,” Gwen frowned. “Why didn’t he say something?”

    Beth quickly alleviated her guilt. “He didn’t say anything because they’re a little spur of the moment.”

    Her inside knowledge made Gwen a little suspicious. As she backed out of the Book Café, Jake having renewed his efforts to capture her attention and remind her just how late they were, she couldn’t help but ask, a curiously Hank-like twinkle in her brown eyes, “Beth, are you…"

    Beth couldn’t tamp down her hopeful smile. “Maybe? I don’t know yet. I wanted to wait for Ethan.”

    Gwen found herself grinning at the other woman. “I’ll be sending good thoughts your way.” She groaned when Jake renewed his efforts to speed her along by laying on the car’s horn. “Although…” she let the unspoken thought stay that way as she tucked her purse beneath her arm, waved, and hurried outside with a stern expression on her face that practically dared Jake to try any additional funny business.

    Beth was still laughing several minutes later when the door to the Book Café practically slammed open and Lissy scampered through, her chocolate eyes looking more than a little frantic. “Lissy, is everything okay?”

    Darting a glance furtively over her shoulder and scanning the Book Café quickly to make sure they were alone, Lissy blurted out, “Where’s Mr. Tony?”

    Momentarily struck dumb by the little girl’s question and the panic and guilt etched into her young face, Beth found she couldn’t answer her immediately. In fact, it wasn’t until the child started for the back stairs that Beth recovered the power of speech. “Lissy, Mr. Tony isn’t here.” She knew, because she’d found the apartment empty herself not even two hours earlier. It’d taken the better part of an hour before she’d reconciled herself to the fact that she could in no way control Antonio’s behavior, even more than that before she’d accepted that he’d once again blatantly refused to follow her advice and struck out on his own, in broad daylight, risking alerting everyone to his whereabouts. It’d taken that hour and then some for her to decide she wasn’t going to allow him to ruin what had the potential to be one of the best days of her life. And with Lissy’s arrival, it’d taken only seconds to undo all of that hard work and plunge her back into worry for the man they both considered a friend. “Lissy, what is it? What’s wrong?” she cried, grabbing the little girl by the arm before she could go any further.

    Biting her lip, Lissy hesitated only slightly before pushing her hand into the pocket of her shorts and withdrawing what looked to be a photograph.

    “Lissy,” Beth let the child’s arm go and held out her hand. “It’s all right. Let me see,” she insisted, releasing a relieved breath when the child reluctantly complied. Her eyes widened in recognition, and she looked back up to the nervously babbling girl.

    “I showed it to her. I took it from Mr. Tony’s wallet, and I showed it to her, and now I’m going to be in so much trouble.”

    Beth’s first thought—she wasn’t the only one—was followed closely by another, incredulous one: Abby?! Abby was the woman in the picture? Glancing up and seeing tears welling in those big chocolate eyes, Beth lay a comforting hand on Lissy’s arm and attempted to pull her closer. “Who,” she gently asked Lissy, “who did you show the picture to?”

    Lissy drew in a shaky breath and started to answer her, only to lose all of her courage with the opening of the Book Café door and the tinkling of the welcoming bells. A tear spilled from her enormous eyes to trickle down her cheek when she followed Beth’s gaze to the new arrival.

    Abby’s hazel eyes were bright with questions and accusation, and even before she spoke, Beth had her answer.

    “Me. She showed the picture to me.”


    With a smile on his face, Luis crouched down before the stroller where his youngest daughter was currently cooing and gurgling happily, blowing the occasional drooling raspberry while she kicked her feet out restlessly. Covering her wispy dark curls with one of his large hands, Luis leaned forward to press a kiss to the baby’s pillow soft cheek before straightening back up and directing his smile toward his mother. “Thanks for watching her, Mama. Sheridan should be here soon.”

    Pilar returned her son’s smile and squeezed the hand of her eldest granddaughter, curled into her side and giggling at her father when he repeated his actions from a moment earlier, ruffling her own blonde curls and kissing her noisily on the cheek. “We had a good day, didn’t we, Mi hija?”

    “We did,” Ali agreed with a nod, flapping her hand in an enthusiastic wave when she saw her aunt Theresa and Chad approach from the crowded parking lot. Activity buzzed around them at the other two baseball fields and the adjoining playground, but Ali was content to stay by her nana’s side. She beamed at her grandfather when he appeared before them and handed her a sweating cup filled with soda.

    “Martin,” Pilar scolded.

    “So,” Luis winked at his AliCat. “Our suspicions were right all along. You and Papa do spoil them.”

    “Thanks, Grandpa Martin,” Ali murmured, her blue eyes twinkling as she watched her daddy’s good-natured teasing of her nana. She nibbled lightly on the end of her straw before taking a sip.

    “Yo, Luis!” Hank called, steering a squirming Emmy toward the dugout and nodding at Cristian and a few of the other kids spilling from the field. “Potty time.”

    Ali giggled again. Before every game, her daddy and uncle Hank and sometimes some of the moms, lined up all the kids and made sure they didn’t have to go to the bathroom. The way uncle Hank always announced it, though, made it sound like he was calling it “Party time.” Much less embarrassing if you asked her. This time, since her mom and Gwen weren’t here yet, Mrs. Hotchkiss got roped into helping out. When Sara and another little girl promptly dug in their heels and refused to follow her to the restroom, Ali set down her soda and volunteered to help. Thankfully, her aunt Theresa decided to go with her, making the worried expression on her daddy’s face disappear.

    Emmy appeared in front of them, pulling at the front of her pants and shifting from one pink cleat to another. “I gotta go real bad,” she whined.

    “You better listen to her,” Sara warned, brown eyes big and serious, “or she’ll pee her pants.”

    Ali exchanged a wide-eyed look with her aunt Theresa, and before she knew it, her aunt Theresa had snatched Emmy up in her arms and made her way to the front of the bathroom line, apologizing and declaring the situation an emergency. By the time Ali and company had made it inside the small, three-stalled bathroom, Emmy was at the sink, singing to herself as she washed her hands and Aunt Theresa tugged her belt tight around her skinny waist.

    Sara merely rolled her eyes and pushed into an empty stall to take care of business.

    When Theresa, Ali, and the trio of little girls emerged from the bathroom, Gwen and Ali’s own mother had arrived.

    Emmy broke from the pack, scampering to her mother and gleefully exclaiming, “Mommy!”

    Gwen hugged Emmy and reached out to smooth Sara’s wayward brown hair down, but it was a hopeless effort. Like her brother, she had inherited Hank’s hair, and too often, it seemed to have a mind and will of its own. Glancing over at Sheridan, she remarked with a shrug that made everyone but Sara smile, “She’s going to be wearing a helmet anyway.”

    Ali patiently waited her turn before asking Gwen, “Did Jake come with you?”

    Gwen gave her daughters a gentle push toward Luis, who was passing by with Cristian firmly in hand. She rolled her eyes at the look that came over Luis when he spotted his wife and shared a quiet laugh with Theresa. “Pathetic much?”

    “Jealous much?” Sheridan threw back, leaving them to catch up with her husband, but not before reminding Ali, “Don’t forget to check in, Sweetie.”

    Finally, Gwen gave Ali her undivided attention and told her, “He’s waiting by the swings.” For good measure, she repeated Sheridan’s reminder before sending Ali on her way. She quirked a brow at Theresa’s grin, “What?” She rightfully took Theresa’s ensuing comment for the compliment it was.

    “You are such a mom.”

    “Can’t be too careful with my future daughter-in-law.”


    From his vantage point on the bleachers beside Miguel, Chad marveled at the friendly interaction between his fiancée and her former nemesis, “Never thought I’d see the day.”

    With a half-smile curling his lip, Miguel agreed, “Me either.”

    On the bleachers, in front of the two men, Joshua played with a tiny black and white police car, clanging it loudly on the metal and scooting it roughly back and forth.

    He’d drawn the curious stares of several of the neighboring parents and fans, but so far, no one had complained, and Miguel had let him be, content to let him entertain himself.

    “Let me guess,” Chad chuckled. “Present from Chief Bennett?”

    “Actually,” Miguel corrected him, “Chief Lopez-Fitzgerald.”

    Luis, hearing his name mentioned, reluctantly broke his kiss with his wife to tease, “What’s that? My ears are burning.”

    “That’s not the only thing burning,” Chad muttered under his breath. “What about his lungs?” His dark eyes twinkling wickedly at his aunt, Chad couldn’t resist a little teasing of his own. “I thought this was tee-ball, Coach. Not tonsil hockey.”

    “Chad,” Sheridan spoke warningly.

    The bright pink blush that crept toward the neckline of her low-cut shirt made it hard to take her admonition seriously, and Chad merely grinned at her. He started laughing again when she left Luis’s side in an exaggerated huff and sought Pilar out. “She makes it so easy.”

    Miguel couldn’t help but smile himself.

    “It’s good to see you smile, Man.”

    Miguel’s eyes were drawn back to Chad’s steady gaze.

    “I know times have been tough, but it’s okay to let a little sunshine peek in from time to time. Kay herself would tell you that,” Chad said. “Maybe not in such nice words,” he allowed after a few seconds’ reflection.

    “You steal that off of a Hallmark card?” Miguel deadpanned.

    Chad choked out a laugh, and Joshua looked up from his solitary game of cops and robbers to stare at him curiously. “Hear that, kid? I think your daddy just attempted a funny.” To Miguel, he said, “The execution was damn-near perfect. Your content could use a little work though.” Growing more serious, he reminded him that his family and friends weren’t putting a rush on his grief for Kay. “You take all the time you need, Man. We’ll all still be here when you’re ready.”

    Turning his gaze toward his son taking the field with his cousins, Miguel could only nod.

    The Santa-like umpire squatted behind Emmy, strategically placed in her latest position of catcher by her uncle Luis, yelled, “Play ball,” and the game began.

    When his sister joined them and Joshua grinned at them with nacho cheese covering the majority of his face and MJ hit a triple in the top of the second inning, Miguel’s half-smile returned and even crept into his dark eyes. He’d missed the feel of the sun on his face.


    Abby cleared her throat. “Does anybody want to tell me what is going on? Lissy?” she entreated. “Beth?”

    Beth’s throat worked but nothing would come out, no words, nothing, until the bells tinkled again, and Ethan and Ivy entered the Book Café, Julie just behind them. Beth’d never been happier to see either of them before. And Julie…at this particularly awkward moment, Julie was an absolute godsend. Still, she couldn’t help herself. “Julie, your shift doesn’t start for another hour.”

    “I called her.” Ethan waved Julie off when she would have answered Beth and moved toward his wife wearing a boyish smile. If he’d noticed Abby, he’d given no indication.

    Ivy, on the other hand, studied the petite blonde with cool, suspicious, blue-green eyes. “Darling,” she kept her eyes on Abby as she addressed Beth, “are we interrupting something?”

    Abby’s attention wavered from Lissy and Beth and focused on Ivy. She narrowed her eyes at the older woman’s calculating expression. “And if you were?”

    Ivy merely arched a slim brow in challenge.

    The temperature in the small establishment had dropped sharply, but Ethan and Julie appeared to be completely ignorant of the change, and Beth felt completely helpless, caught in the crossfire. She cast furtive glances between the two women having an icy, silent standoff in the middle of her store then turned to look at Lissy, only to discover the little girl had seized the opportunity to disappear. She didn’t have time to contemplate Lissy’s whereabouts before her eyes were drawn back to Ethan’s eager face. He’d begun to speak again.

    “…the meeting went well. So well, in fact, I wanted to celebrate. Mother suggested the Seascape, but I told her we’d let you decide.”

    Tearing her eyes away from Ivy and Abby with difficulty, Beth bit her lip fretfully and looked at her husband in protest. “I’m not dressed for the Seascape.” Not to mention, the Seascape was on the opposite end of Harmony, making it much more difficult for her to head off any potential trouble with Antonio and Abby. She still couldn’t wrap her brain around the fact that Abby was the woman in Antonio’s picture, the woman he’d loved and left. God, this didn’t just have the potential to be a mess anymore. It was virtually ensured to be a disaster of nuclear proportions. “Besides, I can’t dump the store on Julie again. She does so much for me already.”

    "I don’t mind,” Julie insisted, tying her apron around her waist. “The place doesn’t look all that busy anyway,” she said, making her way toward Abby. She smiled when she recognized her. “Can I get you anything Ms. Stone? We have plenty of non-caffeinated drinks to choose from that won’t bother the baby at all. Oh! Look at you. You’re really starting to show. You’ve got the cutest little belly. How far along are you? Dr. Taylor must be beside himself.”

    Beth and Ethan wore expressions of sympathy. Even Ivy had the grace to look embarrassed at Julie’s faux-pas.

    Abby smiled wanly at the young girl’s effusive words and guileless face. Just her luck. She would run into the only person in Harmony who didn’t know about her and Nick’s latest estrangement on a day that was already on a rapid decline. Still, she forced herself to be polite. “Eighteen weeks.” She looked back to Beth and Ethan, Ivy, the empty space where Lissy had stood, and felt a sudden weariness settle heavily over her shoulders. She wasn’t getting the answers she sought tonight, at least not from any of them, and she really didn’t want to have to interrogate a little girl, provided she found her (oh God, she had to find her…it wouldn’t do to lose somebody else’s kid). Maybe a drink wasn’t a bad idea. Too bad it wasn’t of the alcoholic variety. “You know what Julie,” she tried for a brighter smile, “I think I will have that drink. What do you got?”

    As Julie recited the Book Café’s entire non-caffeinated menu, Beth felt the walls closing in on her, inch by inch, and decided maybe it was time to let Antonio fight his own battles. “Maybe we can go to the Lobster Shack?” she suggested. “That way we won’t be too far if Julie needs me.”

    “The Lobster Shack is fine,” Ivy answered for her son. “Isn’t it, Darling?”

    “The Lobster Shack it is,” Ethan easily agreed.

    “Just let me get my purse,” Beth said. Walking around the counter and grabbing her purse, she stuffed the bag she’d safeguarded for the majority of the day inside and zipped it closed. When she looked up, she found herself staring into an unnerving pair of hazel eyes.

    “If you see Lissy,” Abby began.

    “I’ll send her your way,” Beth replied. “Abby…”

    Abby shook her head, cutting Beth off before she could say anything more in front of Ivy, who watched the entire awkward encounter with extreme interest. “Now, Julie,” she turned her attention back to the young waitress, happily chatting her employer’s husband up as he waited for his wife. “I’ve heard all of my choices, but what do you recommend?”

    "Do you like strawberries? I’d definitely suggest the Strawberries and Cream.”


    Having reached the swings, Ali was disappointed to discover they were occupied, with Jake nowhere in sight, and the sunny smile she’d been wearing in anticipation of seeing him fell. “Jake?” she turned around slowly, scanning the bustling playground for him. “Jake, where are you?”

    “Looking for me?” Jake grinned at the startled little squeal she gave in response to his surprise approach, and he knew she wasn’t too mad (even though she pretended to be) when she frowned at him and shook her pretty blonde head.

    “Jake Bennett, what a mean thing to do,” Ali crossed her arms over her middle and tried to look unforgiving, which ended up being a total waste of time. She knew it and Jake knew it; Uncle Hank called her a true bleeding heart.

    Still, Jake felt bad. Ali had that effect on him. It sure was a good thing he’d come prepared—even though this wasn’t quite the situation he’d expected to be in (despite the fact he was always apologizing to Ali for something).

    For the first time, Ali noticed Jake’s hands weren’t empty, and her blue eyes lit up with pleasure when he presented her with a peace offering. “Is that for me?”

    Jake handed the cupcake over with a nod. “I know it’s not your favorite, but it’s good.”

    He was grinning at her again, and Ali ducked her head to hide her smile when she noticed a tiny dot of white frosting in the corner of his mouth. “Thank you,” she murmured softly. Jake groaned, and Ali looked up at him with questioning blue eyes.

    “You going to smile at it all day? Eat it.” He rolled his eyes at her when she took a dainty, girly bite and turned to go. “C’mon.”

    They left the swings behind, walked past the monkey bars, briefly considered the slides, and found themselves at the merry-go-round where Ali promptly sat, drawing her knees up to her chest and bringing the cupcake to her lips again with a blissful sigh.

    Jake watched her in awed silence—until she managed to get a small swipe of frosting on her nose. A slow grin crawled across his face, and he laughed when Ali looked at him questioningly.

    “Oh,” Ali giggled when Jake touched a finger to her nose, coming away with white frosting. “Eww,” she cried out when he stuck his finger in his mouth and sucked the icing off. “Jake, that’s just gross.”

    If she thought that was gross…she was such a girl. Besides, icing was icing. Jake shook his head at her, standing up and giving a mighty push. When Ali squealed again and clutched the bar closest to her, Jake started moving faster, pushing harder, and before long, he started getting dizzy himself, from Ali’s breathless giggles, the playground and entire world spinning round and round, and he threw himself onto the merry-go-round beside her and held on tight. For a little while, there was nothing but blue skies, big white, fluffy clouds that reminded Jake of marshmallows, Ali laughing beside him, and the funny little tumble in his stomach (he told himself it was the merry-go-round, but then he remembered the beaming smile Ali had given him at church the other day, and he felt a little sunk). Gradually, the merry-go-round began to slow, and the world around them felt less like a shifting kaleidoscope and more like one of those fuzzy around the edges paintings his mom was always trying to convince his dad was real art. Jake lay back against the sun-warmed metal, his rumpled dark head close to Ali’s crown of wispy curls and her hand in his own, and decided maybe his mom was right. Wait a minute! Ali’s hand? In his own? He was holding Ali’s hand? He couldn’t be seen holding a girl’s hand, even if that girl was Ali, especially not in front of Dylan and his gang. Jake was a chivalrous guy, but the fact remained that he was still a guy, and guys didn’t do hand-holding stuff, unless they were well and totally whipped (like his dad and Uncle Luis). He had to find someway to safely extract himself from this situation, without hurting Ali’s feelings of course. “Um, Ali?”

    Ali looked over at Jake expectantly.

    Jake cleared his throat awkwardly, helpless under the magic of those sparkling blue eyes, and he held in a sigh of great relief when Ali seemed to read his mind with a gentle smile, releasing his hand and laying her own low over her stomach. From the direction of the baseball fields they heard wild cheering and his grandma’s distinctive voice yelling one of his sister’s names, and Jake said, “They must be winning.”

    “Must be,” Ali agreed, pulling herself upright.

    Her blonde hair was a mess, but Jake liked it, so he didn’t say anything, just pulled himself upright beside her and pretended not to watch her out of the corner of his eyes. “Mom says you might get to be in my class in the fall.”

    “That’s what Ms. Kinsay says,” Ali shrugged, conflicted between happiness at the thought of spending more time with Jake and disappointment at the possibility of being separated from Lissy.

    “You must be real smart to be able to skip a grade.”

    Ali smiled at his roundabout praise.

    “I bet you get it from Uncle Luis,” Jake said, completely oblivious to the mine-field he was venturing into with his innocent statement. Besides his parents, of course, his uncle Luis was one of the smartest people he knew. He knew he’d stepped into it big time with her next question.

    “Who says I didn’t get it from my mom?” Ali challenged. “She can speak Spanish and French, fly airplanes, and she never loses an argument with my daddy.”

    Now Jake was still a kid, but he was a smart kid, and he could guess at why Sheridan never lost an argument with his uncle Luis. They were two of the mushiest married grown-ups he’d ever known. And Uncle Luis was always making googly-eyes at her. It didn’t take a genius to figure this one out. After all, his mom and dad had already had the talk with him. Yeah, Jake was a smart kid, a real wise(ass) kid, but he was beginning to pick up a few things from watching his parents in action; one of the most important being—never tell a lady she’s wrong. “Well, then, you’re double smart. That explains it.” He didn’t like how Ali’s blue eyes twinkled at him like she knew some sort of secret, but he figured he was safe for the time being (disasters avoided and all that) and let it go, falling into comfortable silence with her again. He let one of his feet trail along the ground, pushing every once in a while and setting the merry-go-round into lazy motion.

    Ali held onto the bar closest to her, resting her cheek against it and closing her eyes in contentment. With the warm sunshine and the knowledge that Jake was only an arm’s reach away, she started to drift, only stirring when Jake’s voice interrupted her sleepy daydreams with a question.

    “Who’s that man?”

    Ali blinked her eyes open, and just along the periphery of the playground, in the protective shadow of the trees that lined the outer edge of the park, stood a man, tall and dark and…he was staring straight at them, her and Jake, and it wasn’t until Ali felt Jake grab her by the arm that she was able to tear her own eyes away. “Jake,” she protested.

    Jake didn’t like how the man was staring at Ali, not at all, and he pulled her away from the playground, back toward the safety promised by Uncle Luis and his dad and the whole crowd of people watching the game without a care in the world who caught him holding Ali’s hand. “Ali, c’mon.”

    Ali turned back to the trees and the man and felt her heart jump within her chest and her palms grow sweaty at what she saw, or rather, what she didn’t see.

    The man was gone.

    Feedback is much loved (much, much loved) and appreciated!

    Sorry for ending the chapter there, but I had to.

    Shouldn't Sher be hearing little internal alarm bells? What do you think?

    Luis/Ali/Hope--aww moment. Man loves his girls. Course he loves his boy too, but there's just something about his girls.

    Jake the protector. Little Cassanova in the making.

    What in Beth's bag, huh Lynne? LOL!

    Still haven't decided whether I'll pick the next chapter up right where this one ends or not.

    Any suggestions?

  7. #39
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)


    Has it really been over a year?

    I'm so sorry, guys.

    And slightly embarrassed.

    I hope this is worth the wait.

    Posting this in a bit of a hurry because I have a really early start tomorrow so there might be some typos, etc.

    Just remember all mistakes are mine.

    And feedback is love, love, love (thanks so much, Tracey! And Lynne, wherever you are. ).


    Chapter 35

    Noah shook his head as he approached Luis, telling his boss without words that he and Quinlan had found nothing out of the ordinary along the edges of the park.

    “Marty,” Luis acknowledged Noah’s more experienced counterpart.

    “You know how popular those walking trails are,” Quinlan responded. “There are footprints all over the place.”

    “What are you thinking, Noah?” Luis met Noah’s silver blue eyes, waiting for the younger man to add his opinion to the mix.

    “I’m thinking,” Noah paused to expel a sigh, “I’m thinking Jake just got a little spooked is all. You know how protective he is of Ali.”

    Noah left it unsaid, the history that made Jake and pretty much everyone else that loved Ali that way, but Luis read it loud and clear nevertheless. They were all, to varying degrees, guilty of it, with he himself being, perhaps, one of the worst offenders. Still, that knowledge did nothing to thwart the small twinge Luis felt in his gut telling him maybe Jake had a right to be spooked. He drew in a deep breath, though, and reasoned with himself that he needed more than a gut feeling to go on here; he needed evidence, and right now, he just didn’t have it. He nodded and thanked Noah for his time. “Get out of here, Noah. You’ve more than paid your dues this week. Say hi to Katie and Kendall for me.”

    “Will do,” Noah nodded. He glanced at Quinlan and set off for the parking lot and the police cruiser he and his colleague had left there when they’d responded to Luis’s call.

    “Kid’s probably right, Boss,” Quinlan made an attempt to allay Luis’s unspoken anxiety about the situation. “Tell the little princess she’s got nothing to worry about; we’re all looking out for her.”

    Luis took in Quinlan’s statement with some small measure of relief and much gratitude and told the other man so. “Thanks, Quinlan.” A smile coming to his lips as he noticed Noah waiting impatiently by the locked cruiser, he continued, “Don’t keep the kid waiting. He’s got a fiancée to get home to.”

    Quinlan grinned back at Luis and shook his head. “To be that young and in love again,” he remarked.

    "I don’t know about the young part, but I’m still just as in love with my wife as the day I met her,” Luis revealed with a twinkle in his dark eyes.

    “Really?” Quinlan kidded. “You could have fooled me that day with all the ranting and raving you did.” He chuckled. “I’ll never forget your first encounter with the lovely Miss Crane.”

    Luis’s smile stretched into a grin. “Neither will I. Beat it, Marty.”

    “Will do, Boss.”

    Luis watched Quinlan jog over to join his young (sometimes) partner then returned his gaze to the line of trees at the edge of the park. His brown eyes searched their mysterious shadowy depths for clues, and finding none, met back up with Hank, standing a few feet away, the remainder of the team’s equipment at his feet.

    “They find anything?” Hank questioned as Luis approached, shouldered a couple of the heavier bags, and led the way to the parking lot and the lone vehicle remaining, Luis and Sheridan’s SUV.

    “Nothing overly suspicious,” Luis answered him as he worked with Hank to load the equipment in the back. “Noah thinks Jake just got spooked.”

    “He’s probably right,” Hank agreed, cinching his seat belt across his hips after climbing into the SUV opposite Luis. “You know how the little buddy is about Ali.”

    “Noah said that too,” Luis responded, putting the SUV into reverse and backing it up.

    “But you think there’s something more to it,” Hank correctly surmised as Luis signaled and turned onto the highway that would take them to their families and the ice cream joint across town where the rest of the team were celebrating (courtesy of Theresa and a surprisingly charitable Becs) their latest win.

    “I didn’t say that,” Luis hedged, his eyes focused solely on the road.

    “C’mon, Man. You didn’t have to,” Hank told him. “I know you and those gut instincts of yours. They’re telling you something’s fishy, aren’t they?”

    “They’re telling me to be careful,” Luis reluctantly admitted. “To keep the ones I love close and not take any chances.”

    Hank whistled beneath his breath. “You gonna put a detail on Sheridan and the kids?”

    “I’m not going to go that far yet.”

    “Good,” Hank smiled somewhat. “Because you know how much she likes those.”

    Luis let himself relax enough to smile at Hank’s all-too-true statement. “I do.”

    “If your gut’s telling you to be careful, I trust it,” Hank turned to glance outside the window at the scenery they were passing then looked back at Luis, an uncharacteristically serious expression on his face. “It’s never been wrong before.”

    “No,” Luis said more to himself than Hank. “It hasn’t.”



    Beth nearly toppled her glass of water when Ethan lightly touched her on the arm, pulling her attention away from the unlikely pair that had just entered the Lobster Shack.

    Ethan righted the glass for her, using his napkin to mop up the small mess she’d made, and smiled at her apologetically. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

    “Darling,” Ivy leveled Beth with a suspicious blue-green stare, and a smile that set Beth even further on edge. “You were a million miles away.”

    “Mother’s right,” Ethan agreed, gently teasing, “What’s gotten in to you?”

    “Nothing, nothing, I…” Beth’s eyes were helplessly drawn back to the couple (no, that couldn’t be right) that the young hostess had just seated a couple of tables down from them, and she unconsciously shook her head in disbelief, causing Ivy to glance over her shoulder and see for herself what had transfixed her daughter-in-law so.

    “It would seem that the young Dr. Russell is every bit as opportunistic as her mother,” Ivy remarked upon spying Whitney with (Abby’s) Dr. Taylor. She raised a brow as she sipped at her sparkling wine, the slight smile on her lips morphing into a Cheshire grin with the new nugget of knowledge. “They make a striking couple, don’t they?”

    “Mother,” Ethan chastised with a frown. “I’m sure it’s a completely innocent dinner between friends.”

    “Ethan’s right,” Beth jumped in, finally rediscovering her voice. “Whitney and Nick work together. They’re friends. That’s all. Anyway, it’s none of our business.”

    “Absolutely none of our business,” Ethan echoed her. “Hear that, Mother?”

    “None of our business,” Ivy simpered in agreement, taking another sip of her wine and regarding Beth curiously. “Still, one can’t help but wonder with his pregnant lover moving into another man’s home. And that strange little scene back at the Book Café,” Ivy mused.

    “Abby was behaving a little…odd,” Ethan allowed.

    “Odder than usual, you mean, Darling?” Ivy smiled at the waiter when he set her food in front of her, unfolding her napkin over her lap.

    Fueled by an unexpected compulsion to defend Abby, Beth spoke up. “You said it yourself, Ivy. She’s pregnant. Her emotions are all over the place.”

    “And with Dr. Taylor accepting the job in Colorado,” Ethan let the thought hang heavily in the air.

    Without telling her,” Beth added, meeting Ethan’s steady blue gaze.

    “I think it’s understandable that anyone in her situation might behave similarly,” Ethan finished, his thoughts bringing him full circle. Capturing Beth’s hand in his own, he squeezed it in emphasis. “I don’t know what I’d do if I found out you or Mother either one were being so deliberately untruthful to me. There’s really no excuse for such secrets in a family, and that’s what Abby and Dr. Taylor became the moment an innocent child entered the picture.”

    Beth thought of Antonio and Abby and the paper bag she’d unceremoniously stuffed behind her checkbook and swallowed past a thick tongue that wouldn’t allow her to speak, offer Ethan false reassurances. She settled for squeezing the hand in her own and offering him a wan smile, hoping he would understand when she found the courage to make her admissions to him, not here, not now with the audience they had, but soon. Soon, she vowed to herself silently as she leaned into the kiss he pressed against her forehead and soaked up the quiet acceptance he’d always offered her. “You’re right,” Beth finally managed, her response whisper soft. “You’re absolutely right,” she repeated, her gaze drifting over to Ivy and finding the other woman wearing a mirror of what she supposed her own expression looked like, thinly veiled guilt. Beth knew the moment Ivy recognized her guilt for what it was, and she felt dread coil up inside her belly as her mother-in-law seemed to consider her anew, taking her precious time before she voiced her own thoughts on the matter.

    "Of course he’s right, Darling. Secrets have no place in a family.”

    “I’m glad you both feel the same way,” Ethan decreed, nodding at the waiter in acknowledgment when he arrived with his and Beth’s food. “Things have a way of working out as they should, with or without us, so I say we quit worrying over things we have no control over. This evening is supposed to be a celebration. The meeting went even better than expected. We should have a brand-new deal by tomorrow morning. How about a little toast?”

    Ivy lifted her glass of wine up in salute, waiting for Beth to do the same.

    Beth did, lifting her own untouched glass of wine up to clink against Ivy’s and Ethan’s glasses.

    “To a job well done,” Ivy praised her son.

    “To a job well done,” Beth reaffirmed, sharing a smile with her husband. She brought her wine glass to her lips but didn’t drink, a fact that didn’t, she was disappointed to discover, escape Ivy’s notice.

    "Beth, Darling. Is there something you need to tell us?”

    Beth’s smile melted away at her mother-in-law’s next words, and she sought out Ethan’s blue eyes, clouded over with confusion. This wasn’t at all how she’d hoped to tell him, but Ivy was forcing her hand. Beth opened her mouth to say something, blurt out the truth threatening at the tip of her tongue, but divine intervention prevented her from doing so, and it arrived in the unlikeliest of forms—that of a sandy-haired toddler.


    “Would you relax?” Gwen sighed as she seated herself across from her best friend. “I’m sure you’re worrying yourself about nothing.”

    “Gwen’s probably right, Sheridan,” Theresa joined the two women, easily picking up the thread of the conversation and running with it after sharing a knowing look with Gwen (that day that her memory never left far behind felt so close today, so real, so now, and just as frightening as it had been all those years ago). “Ali’s right over there, safe and sound, and none of us are going to let anything happen to her.”

    “They’ll have to go through Jake first.” Placing his hands upon Sheridan’s shoulders, Chad leaned down to press a reassuring kiss against her temple before easing himself into the chair beside her.

    “And there’s a long line after that,” Gwen reminded her with serious brown eyes.

    “A very long line,” Theresa agreed softly, giving her sister-in-law her biggest, brightest, most encouraging smile.

    Directly in front of Sheridan, Ali and Jake sat, Cristian close by, quietly enjoying their ice cream while the rest of the team laughed and chattered around them. It didn’t escape Sheridan’s attention that Jake’s hand held fast to Ali’s, unconcerned, for once, with who might see. The faint remnants of fear in Jake’s brown eyes were too adult of an emotion to be held in such a young body, and Sheridan forced herself to smile reassuringly at Jake when she caught his watchful gaze. She looked to Gwen, Theresa, glanced over at Chad, and straightened in her seat, pushed back at the uncertainty tugging maliciously at her insides, and acknowledged that Gwen did, in fact, have a point. “I know she’s safe, here with us, I just…”

    Gwen covered Sheridan’s unsteady hand with her own, looked deep into her shining eyes, and softly let her off the hook. “I know.” Reclaiming her hand, she nodded at the colored sprinkles floating in the melting pool of Sheridan’s vanilla ice cream. “Now,” she chastised with a slight smirk. “Look at you, letting perfectly good ice cream go to waste.”

    “Yeah, Auntie,” Chad teased gently. “I’ve never known you to pass up dessert.”

    "I guess I’m not very hungry,” Sheridan sheepishly admitted, not resisting when Chad made a move to claim her ice cream as his own with her comment, offering Theresa a spoon.

    “Sheridan,” Gwen scolded.

    Sheridan gave Gwen an apologetic look and pushed her chair back, delving inside her purse to find her cell phone. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to call Pilar and Martin, check up on Hope.”

    Theresa lowered the spoon from her mouth, resting it on the napkin to her right, and watched Sheridan go, step outside into the lengthening evening shadows, away from the growing chaos created by several small celebratory children currently cresting a sugar high. Her brown eyes were welling with concern as she looked at Gwen and her fiancé in turn. “Guess she’s more rattled than she first let on.”

    “Can you really blame her?” Gwen commented, pushing her own chair back and leaving their company to check up on her own children, in the face of Sheridan’s own (warranted, she figured, if Luis’s own immediate action had anything to do with it) worry.

    “No,” Theresa admitted, softly, miserably, for she shared some of Sheridan’s unrelenting unease. “Can you?” she looked up to Chad, grabbing on to the comforting hand he offered and holding it tightly.

    “The past’s the past, T-girl,” Chad soothed, rubbing his thumb over her lifeline and squeezing her hand emphatically. “Ain’t nothing happened yet for you or Auntie or Gwen to worry so much over, and we ain’t gonna let it. You hear me?”

    Theresa nodded, her brown hair falling in waves about her face as she slid her other hand across the table, folded it within Chad’s, and repeated after him. “The past’s the past.” She closed her eyes and willed herself to forget something she’d come to suspect a long time ago.

    Like it or not, their pasts set them on the winding paths to their future; only their presents were (briefly) their own.


    "Mi hija, Hope is fine,” Pilar reiterated. “She is with Martin and Joshua and Paloma in the living room. They are looking at old picture books, and Martin and Paloma are doing all of the voices.” Paloma appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, and Pilar mouthed Sheridan to her youngest daughter before responding to something Sheridan had said on the phone. “I promise, mi hija, I will call if something comes up. Do not worry so. We’ll see you and Luis and the children later.”

    Paloma watched as her mother hung the phone up with a sigh and moved deeper into the kitchen without a word, until she blurted out a thought she had long held inside, for fear of dredging up her mother’s own feelings on a situation so similar yet so different to the situation with the brother she barely remembered from her childhood, Antonio. ”It must have been so scary, losing a child like Luis and Sheridan thought they had lost Ali.” As she spoke, she withdrew a package of cookies (kept in the house solely for her nieces’ and nephews’ visits—and her father’s occasional sweet tooth) from the cupboard, along with a small plate, and piled the cookies high on it, skillfully ignoring her mother’s solemn dark eyes and raised brow. When Paloma had gathered enough courage to face her mother, she found her waiting expectantly.

    “It was,” Pilar told her. “It is.”

    The pained admission was so soft, full of such open vulnerability that Paloma felt the need to wrap her mother up in her comforting arms. All she managed was a gentle squeeze of her mother’s work callused hand. “Oh, Mama. I shouldn’t have said anything. I didn’t mean to upset you.” Paloma’s dark eyes were drawn to the lone candle still flickering in the window sill, and she was hit anew with the power of a mother’s unrelenting love for her child, in this case, her mother’s love for her own long-lost brother. “I don’t know how you do it, keep hoping. I really don’t.”

    “You never give up on your children, mi hija,” Pilar looked deep into her daughter’s searching eyes. “Never. Someday, when you have babies of your own, you will understand that.”

    “Yeah, sure,” Paloma said, feeling the age-old loneliness she kept at bay, hid from her friends and family, pricking at her skin, sinking its claws into her and holding on even as she fought to shake it, turned to shield her mother from its ugliness. “Someday.”

    “Paloma,” Pilar reached out in concern.

    “It’s nothing, Mama,” Paloma painted a bright smile on her face before she turned back to face her mother. “Really.” When her mother didn’t look convinced, she relented enough to admit, “Someday just feels so far off right now.”

    Lifting a hand to Paloma’s face, Pilar combed her dark hair back behind her ear and murmured, “You never know, mi hija. Someday might be closer than you think.”

    "Now you sound like Theresa,” Paloma groaned, all but sagging into her mother’s affectionate touch.

    Pilar’s lips quirked at her daughter’s comment, and she admitted, “Maybe so.” She lowered her hand from Paloma’s face and turned, opening the refrigerator and withdrawing the milk. Silently, she filled the glasses Paloma presented to her, and even snatched a cookie for herself. “Your sister’s always been right about one thing.”

    “Yeah?” Paloma questioned, balancing the tray of cookies in one hand and a glass of milk in the other as she followed her mother out of the kitchen. “What is that?”

    “There’s nothing wrong with having a little hope.”


    Hope was something Abby was in short supply of at the moment, hope of finding Lissy before darkness fell in Harmony, that is. Sheridan had sounded so distracted on the phone when she’d tried gauging her knowledge of the little girl’s whereabouts without alerting her to the fact that the child was, indeed, missing, that Abby had quickly given up the ruse, saying her goodbyes and disconnecting the phone. Now, as she wandered along the little town’s paved sidewalks, she grew increasingly lost in thought.

    Tony—Antonio, was here, in Harmony.

    Abby didn’t know why she was so surprised, not truly. She’d always known, deep down, that he would return someday to the town he grew up in. A part of her would even go so far as to admit how much of a role that knowledge had played in influencing her decision to settle in the small New England hamlet when she’d left New York and the ghosts of its memories behind. The more she thought about it, the more it made sense.

    Nothing, no one, stood in his way anymore.

    Tony was free to reclaim the family he’d yearned for so, and the apparent secrecy of what should have been a triumphant act, his homecoming, mystified Abby.

    The old man was long dead, his evil deeds providing endless fuel for Hell’s eternal fire. His threats, his manipulations were empty of their power now, had been for years. Still, Tony hid himself, protected himself.

    Why? Surely not from her.

    Abby rest a hand upon the life safely guarded within her womb, overwhelmed with the feelings aroused by such a thought. Like New York, she’d left the bleakness behind, the reality forever altered by Vincent and the loss of her baby at his destructive hands. Tony had arrived too late to save her daughter, but he’d saved her, and even in her unbearable despair, that had counted for something. She’d clung to it desperately, until she’d woken up, and he’d been gone. In some small way, Tony had led her back to her alienated brother, paved her path first to Luis and Sheridan, then Kay and her brave little boys, the family that had welcomed her as one of their own, and finally to Nick, this baby she carried.

    No. Tony had nothing to fear, at least not from her.

    That’s what Abby willed herself to believe when she rounded a corner and collided, head-on, with her past, and felt the world as she had come to know it start to crumble beneath her unsteady feet. Staring back at her were a pair of chocolate brown eyes—Tony’s eyes.


    A startled shriek tore Katie’s eyes from Nick’s unreadable gray gaze, and she hurried across the Lobster Shack, to the scene of commotion, only to find Kendall staring up at Ivy Crane with eyes rounded with tearful fear. “Mrs. Crane, I am so sorry,” Katie rushed to apologize, finally noticing the growing wet patch on Ivy’s fine clothes. “I took my eyes off him for one second.”

    Ivy dabbed at the dampness with her napkin, waving off the waiter that hovered nearby in an attempt to assist her, not answering Katie right away or accepting her apology. When Beth left her seat to reassure Kendall, she finally looked up, granted the girl and her son a reprieve when she noticed the fat, frightened tears rolling down the child’s cheeks. “Don’t be silly, Darling. At least it’s not red wine.”

    “Still,” Katie persisted. “I’ll pay to have it cleaned. It’s my fault. If I had been watching him like I should…”

    “Katie, it’s okay,” Ethan stepped in, urging his mother with his eyes to echo his reassurances. “Really. It was an accident.”

    Ivy regained her composure and smiled at the young mother. “Ethan’s right. It was an accident.” She searched her memory for the little boy’s name, finally grasping onto the right one as she reached out a reassuring hand to the child Beth now held in her arms. “Right, Kendall?” Kendall turned his teary face away from her, pressing it against Beth’s shoulder, but not before Ivy was struck with the strangest feeling, a fleeting sense of familiarity.

    “I’m still sorry,” Katie continued to apologize. “He knows better. I know better. I should call Noah and tell him I’ll pick up some takeout instead,” she said, resting a consoling hand upon her son’s small back as he soaked Beth’s shirt with his tears. “I’m sure he’s just as tired as this little man.”

    Beth combed the little boy’s soft, sandy hair back from his fevered face and met Katie’s green eyes. “Have you had a long day, Kendall?” she murmured into the child’s ear, breathing in the scent of baby shampoo that made her heart clench in the most painful, delicious sort of way. “I think I have some Kleenex in my purse,” she told Katie.

    Katie turned her attention from them, but before she had a chance to look inside Beth’s purse for the tissues, Ethan had helpfully decided to assist in the search and had already stumbled across a rather surprising discovery, judging by the befuddled expression on his handsome face.

    “Find them?” Beth asked softly, speaking to him with her eyes, willing him to give her the chance to explain, later, when they didn’t have an audience.

    “I’ll take him, Beth,” Katie offered, holding out her arms to receive her son as Beth went to Ethan, quickly retrieved her purse and the Kleenex from her husband.

    “Hey, hey, Kiddo,” Noah slid an arm around Katie’s waist, cradled the back of Kendall’s blond head with his big hand. “What’s with the waterworks?”

    Katie leaned into the comfort of Noah’s unexpected embrace and pressed her lips against her son’s forehead as Ivy Crane watched them with a disconcerting amount of intrigue in her blue-green eyes. “Noah, I didn’t realize you were here.”

    “I’m not surprised,” Noah quipped as he took Kendall from Katie’s arms and tucked him close. “I just got here. Anyone care to explain what’s going on?” he asked, taking in Ivy’s avid stare, Ethan and Beth’s apparent wordless conversation, and the general atmosphere of unease surrounding them. “Anyone?”

    Katie dragged in a deep breath and said, “I’m not sure where to start.”


    “That was weird,” Whitney murmured softly as Nick held the door to the Lobster Shack open for her, and she stepped out into the warm, evening air.

    “It was,” Nick agreed, falling into step beside her as they reached the sidewalk and left the little outburst of chaos inside the Lobster Shack behind. “Are you sure you really want to leave? We can go back. I know I promised you dinner.” He released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when Whitney declined his offer with a definitive shake of her head.

    Whitney glanced at the man beside her out of the corner of her dark eyes. It was obvious, to her at least, that Nick had seized the opportunity afforded to him by Katie’s distraction and removed himself from the questions he knew were forthcoming and the censure in her green eyes. He’d been uncomfortable, being discovered in her presence by his and Abby’s mutual friend, however innocent the situation, and Whitney didn’t wish to further complicate the situation so she told him so, letting him off the hook. “It’s okay. I’ve already told you. You don’t owe me anything.”

    Nick didn’t agree. “You’ve been there, these last couple of weeks, been a friend to me when I’ve needed one, let me spill my guts and not once judged me. A nice, quiet, uncomplicated dinner between friends is the least I owe you.”

    Whitney smiled at him. “Uncomplicated? Everything about you is complicated.”

    Nick conceded her point and clarified himself. “It’s my turn to return the favor, let you pour your heart out for once. You already know all my secrets. What about yours?”

    “I don’t have any secrets,” Whitney told him. “Everybody in this town knows my sordid history.”

    “Sordid?” Nick questioned, a dark brow arching in disbelieving interest. “Really?”

    "I guess you wouldn’t know,” Whitney realized.

    “Wouldn’t know what?” Nick pressed.

    “Before Theresa loved Chad, I…”

    “Loved Theresa?” Nick teased, making Whitney blush.

    It took Whitney a moment to regroup herself, and she blurted out her shameful secret. “I loved Chad. Or at least I thought I did. I had no idea he was my brother, that Julian Crane and my mother had...,” she struggled to finish the thought aloud. Weakly, she defended herself, waiting for the familiar horror to fill Nick’s gray eyes. “I didn’t know.” She looked at him wonderingly when it didn’t come, and all she saw was his compassion.

    “You didn’t know. You couldn’t have,” Nick said simply. “How was I to know that Jenny, who I had taken care of for years, fallen in love with, was really Sheridan? Ali’s mother? Luis’s wife? I couldn’t have known, not without all the facts. You didn’t have all the facts, Whitney. That’s no reason to punish yourself.”

    “Is that what you think I’m doing?” Whitney asked. “Punishing myself?”

    “Yes,” Nick answered her honestly. “You’re a beautiful woman, a woman that deserves a full life, love.”

    “I have love,” Whitney insisted. “I have my friends. It’s taken a while, but I have my family back too.”

    Nick slowed to a stop, taking her by the hand. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”

    “What do you mean then?” Whitney pretended not to understand, didn’t want to, if she were being completely truthful with herself.

    “You know exactly what I mean,” Nick said, raising a hand to tuck a wayward curl behind her ear.

    The caring gesture coupled with the intense gray hue of Nick’s eyes made Whitney shiver. “No. I can’t. How can I trust myself again when I didn’t even know, didn’t even realize…”

    “You can’t,” Nick told her with a gentle smile. “Love’s a leap of faith. That’s why they call it falling. Let yourself fall in love again, Whitney.”

    “What about you?” Whitney challenged.

    “It’s too late for that,” Nick’s gray eyes took on a pained sheen when he realized he couldn’t make the admission to Whitney. She was the wrong person, the wrong woman. “We both know why.”

    “You’ve already fallen.”

    “Flat on my ass.” It was as much as Nick would allow himself to give her.

    It was still more than enough.


    “That’s it, Hope. Come to Mommy,” Sheridan encouraged, snuggling her daughter close when she waved her chubby little arms out for her.

    Luis took Hope’s diaper bag from his mother, nodded at his father. “Thanks, Mama. Papa.”

    “Luis, Mi hijo,” Pilar questioned softly, once Sheridan had moved away from them, just out of ear shot, “did you find him? Did you find the man?”

    Luis sighed, glanced back over his shoulder where his wife and children were gathered with his sister and Joshua, before answering her. “We’re not even completely sure there was a man. All we found were footprints, dozens of them. That trail is pretty popular. If Jake was right, and there really was a man watching him and Ali, it could have been anybody.”

    Martin rest a supporting hand upon his wife’s shoulder at her quiet cry of dismay. “You keep an eye on them, Lad.”

    “You don’t have to tell me that, Papa,” Luis said. “I will,” he promised, accepting the hug his mother offered him and the hand his father held out. “We better get going. It’s been a long day, and Hope’s up way past her bedtime as it is.”

    Everyone was buckled in, and all was quiet on the way home, Cristian and Hope dozing in their booster seat and car seat respectively, when Ali set Sheridan’s nerves even further on edge with a soft revelation. “He was staring at me like he knew me.”

    Sheridan’s blue eyes sought out Luis’s startled gaze, and she took comfort in the hand he rest upon her knee.

    “What do you mean, AliCat?” Luis asked, casting his young daughter a glance in the SUV’s rear view mirror.

    Ali shrugged, continuing to stare outside the window to her right at the glowing lights of Harmony at night as they traveled the path home. “I don’t know, Daddy. It just felt like he knew me.”

    Luis watched the shadows and lights play across her pretty face, her short, wispy blond curls pale and glowing in contrast, and he repeated his question from earlier, at the park. “Describe him to me, Ali. What did he look like?”

    Ali sighed. “I already told you, Daddy. He was there; then he wasn’t. I don’t really remember much besides that.”

    “Try, Sweetheart,” Sheridan quietly urged.

    Ali knotted her fingers together, her brows pulled tight in thought.

    Luis decided to help her. “What color was his hair?”

    “It was dark,” Ali answered. “Almost as dark as yours, Daddy.”

    “Good. That’s good,” Luis responded. “What else? Was he wearing an uniform, anything else that made him stand out to you?” Luis watched Ali’s blue eyes grow round with excitement; he could tell she had remembered something, and he could barely quell his own desire to further pressure her for answers. Still, his patience had its limits, and he couldn’t resist asking, “What is it, Ali? Did you remember something else?”

    “I did,” Ali announced triumphantly.

    Sheridan twisted in her seat against the constraints of her safety belt, searched her young daughter’s mirroring blue gaze as Luis turned the SUV down their street. “What else did you remember, Ali? What was the man wearing?” Her heart beat skipped a beat in anticipation of her daughter’s answer.

    “Answer your mother, Ali,” Luis said, killing the SUV’s engine once they’d reached their driveway and joining his wife in facing their daughter. “What was the man wearing?”

    Ali qualified Sheridan’s trepidation with a simple, condemning statement, and Sheridan’s heart started pounding in her ears as she remembered all the little clues that should have set off red flags and hadn’t, until now.

    “A jacket, Daddy. He was wearing a leather jacket.”


    They’d parted ways with his mother at the Lobster Shack, and Ethan had had little if anything to say in the short ride from the restaurant to the Book Café. He’d remained silent while Julie helped Beth close up for the night, and it wasn’t until the door was locked behind Julie, leaving them finally, blessedly, alone that he ventured to speak. His simple question twisted Beth’s heart with guilt, and her eyes fluttered shut as she felt him creep closer, hover behind her, so close but not touching.

    “Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

    Beth took a deep breath and answered him, with the truth this time. “I didn’t know. I still don’t. Ethan,” she breathed his name out on a sigh as she turned around to face him, look into his confused, hurt blue eyes, “I haven’t taken the test.” She watched some of the hurt visibly leach out of him and braved stepping closer to him, reaching out for his hand.

    “So,” Ethan expelled a quick breath. “You’re not pregnant.”

    It was a statement, but it sounded more like a question to Beth’s ears, and she smiled a little at the disappointment she glimpsed in his expression before he schooled it into what amounted to a blank page. “I didn’t say that,” she told him, placing a hand against his chest and smoothing out the wrinkles of his rumpled shirt. His day had been just as long as hers, she could tell by the tired crinkles at the corners of his eyes, and she decided, for both their sakes, not to beat around the bush any longer. “Weren’t you listening?” she teased lightly. “I haven’t taken the test. Yet,” she added, waiting for him to catch up to her.

    “You’ve been waiting for me,” Ethan realized with a slow-blooming smile.

    "I’ve been waiting for you,” Beth returned his smile with a hopeful one of her own. “I didn’t want this to be a big deal.”

    “Only it is,” Ethan interrupted her.

    “It is,” Beth agreed. “I wanted you to be there, either way, whether we get a plus sign or not.” She looked away from him then, over to the counter and her purse, with the unopened test still inside.

    “How late are you?” Ethan questioned as he took her by the hand, tugged her with him, toward the inevitable.

    Beth bit her lip when they reached the counter, and Ethan’s free hand reached inside her purse, closed around the ordinary looking little bag that was going to change their lives together, in one form or another. “Late enough,” she answered, her feet stubbornly refusing to budge and her heart hammering erratically inside her chest. “What if I’m not pregnant?” she finally voiced her unspoken fears as Ethan withdrew the small box from the bag and furrowed his brow as he started to read the instructions on the back.

    “We keep trying,” Ethan absently answered her.

    “Ethan,” she tugged on his hand, brought his gaze back to hers, stared into his dear blue eyes. “What if I am?”

    "Then that’s a little easier, or harder, depending on how you look at it,” Ethan told her with a twinkling smile.

    Beth waited (im)patiently for him to continue.

    “We become parents.”


    The first thing Abby registered when she opened her eyes was that it was dark, much darker than it had been only moments (hours?) ago. The second and third things she noticed were the strong arms that held her close and the achingly familiar scents she’d carried with her in her memory for more than ten years, of his cologne, of the butter-soft leather jacket that was as much a part of him as the stubble that dangerously darkened his jaw. The fourth thing that came to Abby’s attention was that they were sitting on the ground, backed up against a brick wall and hidden in the safety of the shadows, and her ass was starting to go numb. She moaned at the pin-prickle sensation of reawakening nerve endings as she stretched and shifted within the circle of Tony’s arms, then she caught him off-guard with a long-deserved, long-planned punch to his muscle-tautened gut.

    Antonio caught her small fist in his own, cast sparkling chocolate eyes down into her own, and stifled a smile at the expected reaction, no matter how warranted.

    “If you don’t let me go right now, I’ll,” Abby’s threat stalled between gritted teeth when she realized she didn’t know what she’d do now that she’d taken out some (a tiny bit) of her decade-old frustrations on him through her fists.

    “You’ll do what?” Antonio murmured, sliding his free hand down her back to the tiny hollow he’d claimed and memorized an eternity ago, and he teased her, his voice gruff with memory and long-buried affection as she glared up at him, rising up on her knees. “Pummel me to death? I’m bigger and stronger than you. I think I can take you. In fact,” his eyes glowed at her in the darkness. “I know I can.”

    Abby’s nerves hummed at the unwitting sensual undertones to his threat, and her damned (unfulfilled) pregnancy hormones swelled insistently, heating her blood, drugging her senses until all her anger, her disappointment in his abandonment of her, just fell away, and she relaxed her fist, wormed her fingers between his, held on tightly to his hand as she brought her face closer to his, looked into those eyes that had saved (broken) her so many years ago. She felt herself freefalling into their depths and unwilling to stop the maddening descent into their shared past as he used her own hand to pull her ever closer. “What took you so damned long, Antonio?” she finally asked, breathed out against his full, parted mouth. “What took you so damned long to come home?” she whispered the question against his lips as he fisted her tawny hair in his free hand, cradled her skull.

    Antonio kissed her then, a greedy, passionate feast of lips, teeth, and tongues, before the reality of passed years gentled it into a soft pressing of tender, swollen lips against lips, and he pulled her into a tight, desperate embrace.

    Abby allowed the hug, breathed deeply of him until she felt her lungs fill back to capacity, her heart calm. She twined her fingers with his fingers and pressed her forehead against the juncture of his neck and strong shoulder, wetting the supple skin with the tears of her regret, their shared regrets, while Antonio lifted a shaking hand to her hair to comfort her.

    She sobbed against him, and Antonio felt his heart twist in two when her grief further pushed the gently rounded swell of her belly against him. What was it he had told Lissy? All roads lead home? He just hadn’t expected them to lead him to her, like this. He lay a hand against the baby that had just started to visibly strain against her flesh and feathered a soothing kiss against her forehead. “I hope this one’s father’s more deserving,” he murmured softly.

    Abby shifted in his arms, stared into his dark eyes, cupped a tender hand around his unsteadily working jaw, and smiled sadly as she thought about Nick, his gray eyes, and the slow to crumble walls he kept trying to fortify around his bruised, vulnerable heart. “That’s debatable.”

    Her laugh was a painful sound, and Antonio was quick to realize real hurt lay down that road so he wisely chose not to travel down it. Instead, he combed his fingers through her tangled tawny hair, drank in the welcome sight of her, and he marveled at how much and how little she had changed. “Worse than me?”

    Abby lay her head back against his shoulder, slid her arms around him beneath his jacket, and held on, whispered her answer into the soft material of his black tee-shirt. “I don’t know if I’d go that far. He’s still here. For now, anyway.”

    “Abby,” Antonio protested. “I…”

    “Don’t,” Abby cut him off, lifted her head. “I’m glad to see you. You can’t know just how much. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still angry at you, I’m not still hurt. You left me, Tony, in that hospital all alone. I woke up and you were gone and I had nothing. I woke up and you were gone and she was dead, Tony. She was dead,” she pounded a punishing fist against his back before clutching, clawing at the cotton stretched across his skin, in an effort to stifle the building sob she felt threatening again.

    The stalwart effort was futile. Her hazel eyes glittered with the light of a thousand unshed tears, and Antonio didn’t think before he spoke, he merely acted in an effort to comfort her, free her of the sadness he knew she’d carried for well over a decade. The words were out before he could recapture him, the truth he’d worked for the better part of ten years to disprove. “You’re wrong, Abby. She wasn’t.”

    Abby quit breathing then.

    Antonio felt her go completely still in his embrace, and he feared he’d made her heart go still inside her chest, much as his had when he’d first made the discovery, when he’d first realized the old man had played them and played them good. He felt her nails bite into his skin through the thin fabric of his shirt, but he ignored the pain because he knew his next words were going to turn her world upside down, even more than it had been when he’d fallen in love with her in the first place.

    “Tony, you better be careful what you say to me, because I can’t promise you I won’t…”

    Antonio cut her off, curled his hands around her shoulders, forced her to look him in the eyes so that she might recognize the truth he was telling her. “You’re wrong,” he repeated, his voice low and strained to the breaking point.

    “Tony, don’t,” Abby pleaded with him.

    “Our daughter didn’t die, Abby. She lived.”

    Feedback is love!

    Thanks so much for reading!!!

  8. #40
    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Sorry guys.

    That last chapter obviously should be chapter 36.


    I told you I was posting it in a hurry.



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