Finally!

Finals are over. I have less than 2 weeks off from academic torture, and I'm going to try to make the most of it, lol.

Here's the new chapter.

Hope you enjoy.





Chapter 8




Stepping into the darkened house with a heavy sigh, Pilar let the strained smile fall from her face as she pushed the door closed on the outside world with a soft click.

Miguel and Charity meant well but their hovering only served as another reminder to the purpose of this day: saying goodbye to Ethan and her Theresita.

Filtering through the curtains, the beauty of the fading day mocked her, and the injustice of knowing her daughter would never again look upon such a sunset pulled a hoarse sob from Pilar’s throat. Lowering her head in her hands, she sank into a chair at the table and allowed herself to cry the tears she’d kept pent in the entire day.

As the long minutes ticked away on the clock, the shadows shifted and the moon crept into the dusky sky.

Wiping her tears with the lace handkerchief clenched between her hands, Pilar moved to stand and felt something hard crunch beneath the toe of her shoe. Crouching down, she gingerly trailed a fingertip over a jagged shard of glass.

“Dios mio.”

She winced as a droplet of blood appeared on her finger and straightened, crossing the room to the sink and discarding the offending piece of glass along the way. Her eyes drifted to the window sill as the cold water washed over her hand, and she felt her heart go still inside her chest at what she saw there.

Two unlit candles remained, their weak flames doused; the third was conspicuously absent, a white envelope propped against the window pane in its place.

With a shaky hand, Pilar shut the water off and reached for the envelope, her throat tight as she recognized the handwriting. Closing her eyes, she broke the envelope’s seal and withdrew the lined pages. She smiled through her tears as she read the first line.

“I love you, Mama.”


~*~flashback~*~


“Look at her, Ethan,” Theresa whispered, leaning back into her husband’s embrace. “Isn’t she the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

Pressing a kiss to Theresa’s temple, Ethan’s breath stirred the dark hair there as he murmured his agreement. He tightened his arms around her slender frame, holding his breath as Theresa trailed her fingers across their sleeping newborn daughter’s cheek and only releasing it when the action failed to disturb her.

“I wish Mama could be here,” Theresa sighed sadly. “See her. Hold her.” She tested the weight of one of the stars that hung from the mobile in her palm and let her brown eyes travel the room they’d spent hours decorating as her pregnancy had neared its end. Stars, clouds, the Man in the Moon…it was a place where dreams came true; dreams had played such a large part in bringing them together, after all.

Pressing another kiss to her hair, Ethan settled his hands on her hips. He guided her to the rocking chair that occupied the place of honor, in front of a tall window that overlooked a sea reminiscent of home. Sitting in the chair, he pulled her into his lap, tucking a hand beneath her knees and set the chair into creaking motion. “One day,” he promised her. “She’ll hold her and fall in love with her just like we did that very first moment. But until then we’ll send her pictures. You can even send her the one of me changing my first diaper if you like.”

Theresa giggled and pressed a kiss to his grinning mouth. “At first I thought you were completely hopeless. You’re only partly hopeless now,” she teased, combing her fingers through his dark blond hair.

“Hey,” Ethan pretended to be offended. “Changing diapers wasn’t included in the Crane family handbook. We had nannies.”

“You miss being one of them,” Theresa said quietly. It wasn’t a question. It was a revelation she’d gradually come to accept in the years since their leaving.

“I was never *really* one of them,” Ethan answered. His eyes fluttered shut at the gentle touch of her hand on his face, and he covered her smaller hand with his own.

Remembering the look in Julian’s eyes that night that seemed so long ago now, Theresa begged to differ. “They loved you, Ethan—each of them in their own ways. You *were* one of them.” She placed a finger to his lips when he tried to speak, if only to convince himself. “You’re always telling me it’s okay to miss my family.” Winding her arms around his neck, she pressed a kiss to his cheek and made no mention of the curious dampness she found there. “It’s okay to miss yours, too.”

“I have my family right here,” Ethan whispered, tightening his arms around her.

They stayed in that rocking chair until the moon climbed high in the midnight sky. Then—kissing their sleeping baby girl—they retired to their own small bedroom down the hall.

They dreamed of home.


~*~end of flashback~*~



“Hey, Ladybug,” Sam bent to kiss the top of Hope’s red head.

Barefoot and pajama clad, Hope knelt in front of the coffee table, happily scribbling away with a yellow crayon. “Like my picture, Daddy?”

Ruffling Hope’s hair with his big hand, Sam pressed another kiss to her temple, peering over her small shoulder and narrowing his blue eyes before pasting an appreciative smile on his face. “Mmm hmm.” Dropping onto the sofa beside Kay with a tired sigh, he scrubbed a hand over his face before meeting the concerned eyes of his eldest daughter.

“That’s Sadie,” Kay told him, hugging the pillow in her arms more firmly to her chest and curling her legs beneath her.

“Sadie? I don’t think I’ve met this Sadie,” Sam mused. “Tell me about him,” he deliberately misspoke.

“Her, Daddy,” Hope dropped the yellow crayon in disbelief. “Sadie’s a girl.” She tucked a stubborn lock of red hair behind her ear and turned back around, but not before Sam caught a glimpse of her rolling her blue eyes at him. Choosing a red crayon that was but a nub from the pile she had gathered before her, she painstakingly set out to recreate the letters Kay had drawn out for her earlier on her own sheet of paper.

Sam’s smile this time was more genuine as he teased her. “Looks good, but what are we going to do about Shrek? I thought he had the place of honor on the fridge.”

Kay bit back a smile at the reference to the hapless amphibian Hope had previously been infatuated with and labeled hers. She still remembered the evening she’d taken the trash out only to discover the neighbor’s cat enjoying quite a feast. Though there had never been any definitive proof that it had been Hope’s beloved Shrek, they’d felt the need to protect the little girl anyway. As far as Hope was concerned, their Shrek had met his very own Fiona.

“Dogs are cooler than frogs,” Hope shrugged. “Shrek wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t,” Sam chuckled.

“Daddy?” Abandoning her artwork, Hope turned to him, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth and scrunching her nose up as she placed her small hands on his knees and scrambled into his lap.

“Hope,” Sam dropped his voice an octave as she looped her short arms around his neck and nestled her head on his shoulder. He knew exactly what was coming.

Tracing her fingertips around the open collar of Sam’s shirt, Hope continued to chew on her bottom lip for several seconds then looked up at her father with large luminous eyes. “Can I have a puppy, Daddy?”

“We’ve had this conversation before,” Sam sighed, sliding an arm beneath her knees and cradling her to his chest much the way he had when she was a baby, not much smaller than he imagined Anna to be now.

“Many times before,” Kay said, tugging playfully at one of Hope’s toes as she scooted closer, her shoulder brushing against her father’s shoulder.

“And many, many times before that,” Sam shared a meaningful look with his eldest daughter.

“And did I ever get a puppy?” Kay retorted, dark brow arched in challenge. “Face it, Hope-less,” she tickled the soles of her kid sister’s feet, making her squeal and squirm in their father’s arms. “A puppy in the Bennett house? No way.”

“But she could sleep in my bed,” Hope pouted.

“YOU sleep in *my* bed,” Kay scoffed.

“Not tonight,” Hope stuck her tongue out. “I’m sleeping with Jessica.”

“Boo hoo.” Kay pretended to wipe away a tear.

“Girls,” Sam spoke warningly. The corners of his mouth twitched.

“Please, Daddy,” Hope poured on the melodrama, clasping her hands in a prayerful pose and batting her blue eyes at him.

The significance of the day and the memory of another pair of less familiar blue eyes stalled the tried and true answer in Sam’s throat, and his stalwart resistance to the idea melted, just a little bit. “Maybe,” he said. “Maybe when you’re older.”

“One day older?” Hope’s smile was buoyant and blindingly bright.

“Older than that,” Sam chuckled, sliding her from his lap when Jessica appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, Grace’s slender form visible behind her putting away the multitude of dishes they’d collected throughout the day as somber well-wishers had dropped in to voice their condolences. Giving Hope a gentle push in Kay’s direction, he stood up. Winking at Kay, he told Hope, “Keep your sister out of trouble. I’m going to help your mother.”

“Yes, sir,” Hope saluted him with a giggle, clambering onto the sofa beside Kay and practically gluing herself to her side.

Shaking her head, Kay crossed her arms, marveling at her already considerable skill in the art of parental manipulation. “You little con artist.”

“Huh?” Hope’s face crinkled in confusion, making it appear as if it had even more freckles. “Hey!” she cried when Kay tousled her hair, and Jessica made her approach from the kitchen. “Jessica, guess what?” she practically bounced in place, raking her red hair back from her face impatiently.

Jessica smiled, unable to hazard a guess before Hope plowed on.

“Daddy’s getting us a puppy!”



~*~


Luis lifted his hand to knock at the cottage door, the white gauze and tape stark against his tanned skin. He bit back a wince as his tender knuckles rapped against the wood, peering through the window and pulling back abruptly when he saw Hank emerge from the depths of Sheridan’s home. A black scowl was firmly in place on his countenance when Hank answered the door, having the gall to sound annoyed.

“If you’re here to take another shot at her…”

“Where is she, Hank?” Luis shouldered his way inside, ignoring the implications of Hank’s trailing words.

Hank’s brown eyes skirted the periphery of the cottage, and a smart-assed smirk was on his lips as he ambled by Luis on his way to the sofa. “Not here.”

“I can see that,” Luis bit out impatiently. “Listen, Hank, I need to talk to her.”

“You mean yell at her some more?” Hank’s look turned dark and just as dangerous as the look Luis currently wore. “Not going to happen.” He settled himself on the sofa, throwing his arms possessively across its back. “Look, Man. If you want to be miserable, fine. Be miserable. Don’t go taking it out on everyone else.”

Luis glowered at Hank, stalking around the cottage’s living room like a caged tiger.

“And another thing,” Hank leaned forward, his pose a little more casual but still tension-filled, “Sheridan didn’t come up with those guidelines. If you ask me, those guidelines have your sister written all over them.”

Luis bristled at Hank’s defense of Sheridan and all-too-true estimation of the situation, staying silent. Theresa’s part in this whole mess simultaneously filled him with reluctant affection and unrelenting exasperation. Life wasn’t a damn fairy tale; in the end, the pre-maturity of her death had spoken to that. If she were here, he’d shake some sense into her. But Hank knew that, and she wasn’t.

“I know you, Man.” Hank’s voice was closer this time. “I know you came here thinking you’d make her see the light.” When Luis didn’t so much as flinch at the accusation, he continued, “You’re stubborn that way. It’s the way you work. But you’re forgetting something. Sheridan is just as damn stubborn, if not more so, and she’s not going to give up that baby without a fight.”

Rounding on Hank, Luis snapped, “She’s not hers to give up.”

Hank forged ahead, ears deaf to his friend’s claims. “She’ll fight tooth and nail. You know why? Look around, Luis,” Hank swept his arm out in an arching motion. “She loved Ethan and that baby. Just as deeply as if they were her blood.”

For the first time, Luis noticed the pictures. Everywhere his eyes landed were pictures. The pictures he memorized in private, Sheridan displayed for all the world to see. She loved Anna freely, openly, wide open; he kept his love a tightly held, cherished secret in his heart. Guilt made the line of his shoulders soften.

Loving Anna shouldn’t be that way; she deserved more.

Reaching around Luis, Hank plucked a silver frame from the mantelpiece and offered it to Luis.

Luis’s big hands closed around the frame instinctively, and he felt a lump begin to grow in his throat as he studied the picture.

“This is one of her favorites,” Hank told him in an emotion-filled whisper.

Anna, just a few months old, with her tuft of dark curls and blue eyes two sizes too large for her face, rest against Theresa, her head beneath her mother’s chin. Theresa, dark hair disheveled and tousled by an unseen breeze, had her mouth open in joyful laughter while Ethan bent his head over Anna’s pink feet and made her smile toothlessly, pressing kisses on every inch of skin he could reach.

“They’re happy she said. They’re in love. They’re a family,” Hank leveled his dark eyes on Luis’s unreadable face. “They’re *her* family, Luis.” He placed a firm hand on Luis’s shoulder. “They’re her family just like they’re yours, and Anna’s all that’s left. Think about that, Luis.” He squeezed Luis’s shoulder in emphasis and left him alone, his footsteps fading in the distance to be replaced by those of another. His heart cried as she hesitantly called out his name.

“Luis?”




















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P.P.S. Let me know if there are any outlandish typos. I can deal with the itty bitty ones (well...sorta).