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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Shadows Fall: Chapter 44

"You're a fine looking piece of man, Mr. Manning."  Sister Rebecca greeted him as he came out of the changing room.  "If I were a bit younger and not married to the church..."  She fixed his scrubs cap on his head, and handed him a rubber band.  "Tie your hair back, lad.  I love it, many of the young men in Ireland wear their hair this way."


He couldn't say anything but something gracious to the wonderful older woman.  "Thank you, Sister."


"Now, ya had better get yourself going, before that babe makes an appearance without you."


He took the woman's hand, and in its softness, he felt a great deal of strength.  He squeezed it gently, and turned to the room, entering with a nervous twinge in his stomach.


Blair was on the gurney, her hair matted with sweat.  Doctors and nurses were all around her, and she was crying out, so much, he could barely stand it.  He took her hand, and he told her, in a whisper, "Let's bring Moonbeam home.  You can do this babe.  Squeeze my hand."


"Todd, I can't.  It's too much.  Something's wrong, Todd.  I can't."  He petted her hair, and smoothed it back.


"Shhh," he said, "None of that, you can, you will."


The doctors spoke in urgent, short bursts that were ridden with medical terminology.  Almost afraid to say something, he turned to one of the nurses who was wiping Blair's brow.  "What's happening?"


She looked at him and through her mask, he could see that she was smiling, it was in her eyes.  "It's all right, Mr. Manning.  The baby was breech; the doctor turned the baby, though, and things seem to be evening out.  She will be all right.  Just hang with her, she needs you."


He turned back to Blair, "Everything is going to be okay.  The baby's okay.  You're okay."


"I'm tired.  I can't."


"You can."  He took her hand and kissed it.  "You can.  You're a born mother, Blair.  You can do this.  I know you can.  I'm here."


"Todd," she said, tears flowing, "finally.  You're with me, you're with us."


"I know, babe."


The doctor at the foot of the gurney said loudly, "All right, Blair, when I tell you, it's going to be time to push.  All right?"


"Yes," she said.


"All right, push now.  Push."


Todd could neither make the moments go faster, nor hold onto them.  Time seemed to flash by and also drone on.  In a strange science fiction way, he felt detached.  Amazed at the proceedings: her crying, then screaming, him coaching her the way he never thought he could, the noises of the medical team, the instruments around them, the lights and the beeps, his own heart racing in his chest, her hand squeezing his in a vice-like grip, the doctor's voice with instructions.  All of it was surreal for him, because inside, he still could not let go of the ominous sense of doom that he knew had to be around the corner.  Fighting it, he cooed to her, and told he loved her as many times as he could get it out.


"There we go."  The doctor said.  It was silent.  His heart leaped into his chest.


"You did it, babe, it's over, you did it."  He kissed her forehead and waited.  Nothing.


"Todd, what is it?  It's too quiet.  No!  No!"  She cried, and broke into sobs.  The team was rushing around, and no one was telling them a thing.


He said, "Is the baby all right?"


One nurse suctioned the baby's airways and another gently lifted him and placed him on Blair's chest.  He wasn't crying.


"Todd, look at him."


Todd, beside himself with fear, looked into the baby's face.  "He's so beautiful,"  he said, tearing up.  "Why isn't he crying?"


"Not all babies cry, it's all right, some of them are into the world and just accept it.  As long as he is breathing, he's fine."  The nurse said, quietly.


Blair's voice was so weak.  "Todd, he's here.  Moonbeam."


"He's here, babe,"  he kissed her forehead again, and her eyes closed, at the same time that a monitor went off.


"She's hypovolemic, stat.  She'll need blood.  We've got to stop this bleeding."


"What?  What is it?"  A nurse took the baby off Blair's chest and moved him to the clean up area, and Todd, frantic, said, "Blair?  Blair can you hear me?"


"Mr. Manning, come with me, we'll wash up the baby and you can hold him."


"I can't leave my wife, please," he said, but he was directed with more push than pleading into the next room.  The medical team, waiting for the surgeon, had sprung into action the moment she had faded.  He walked into the clean up room, and the nurse said, "Let them take care of her, Mr. Manning."  The baby was tiny and perfect, and was looking at him.  He looked into the baby's face and said,  "Hi.  Don't worry, I'm not going to really name you Moonbeam.  But you do have a beautiful Moonpie face.  You look just like Jack.  Oh, God."  He walked to the corner, and sat in a chair, gripping his head with both hands.


The nurse walked to him, the baby dressed and clean.  "Would you like to hold your son?"


He took him, and cradled him with all of the care and caution he had in his heart.  "He's beautiful,"  he looked at the nurse.  "Please," tears came, "please let me go to my wife now.  I have to be with her."


The nurses took the baby from him, and putting him in a little cart with clear plastic sides, they named him, "Baby Manning," and wheeled him away.  Another orderly accompanied him to the waiting area by Blair's surgical room.  He sat, and realized he was going to be sick.  Putting his head between his knees, the orderly quickly fetched a basin and he emptied his stomach into it.  "Find out if she is okay, please."


The orderly left him, and before he had a chance to take in his surroundings, Sister Rebecca, Jessica, Viki and Addie were standing ten feet from him.  Viki was talking to the doctor.  Todd could not get up.  He just looked at them, and Jessica spotted him.  She said, "There's Todd."


The group proceeded to him, Viki in the lead.  He looked at her, "Sis, she did it.  She made our little boy."  He was between shock and sobbing.  Viki sat by him and put her arm around his shoulders.  "They won't tell me anything.  They took her, I don't...I don't know."  Sister Rebecca sat on the other side of Todd.  Her headpiece had been discarded hours before, and she was looking so different, he hardly recognized her.  "I can't...I can't do it Viki.  I won't do it without her."


"Now, dear, that's too much for you to even think about, eh?  Then you mustn't think about it."  The nun said.  "Did ya see ya'r baby?"


"Yeah.  I held him.  He's so perfect.  He's perfect because of her, only because of her."


"He's perfect because of both of you, Todd."  Viki said, petting his head.  She got up and walked off and Jessica took her spot on the bench.  Addie was wringing her hands and walking back and forth.


Jessica said, "Uncle Todd, she's strong."


"She was so weak, Jessica.  She was so tired.  She looked so small."  He broke.


"Now listen here, I've met the woman, she's not a quitter.  And ya best not be either.  Ya have to have faith in her,"  the nun said.


"I do.  It's me.  It's me I don't have faith in.  I don't...I can't."


Jessica went after her mother.  "Mom, he's totally shattered.  What's going on?  Someone has to know something."


"He's shattered because of himself.  He can't believe this will be all right.  Nothing in his life has ever been all right.  He's already decided it will end in the worst way possible."


"What if it does?"


"Oh, Jessy, let's not go there right now, please."


Suddenly, a door opened and a doctor stepped out.  "Mr. Manning?"


Todd could not get up, until he felt the strong hand of the nun under his arm, and she said, "It's all right, Lad, The Lord is with you."


"Yes?" he heard himself answer.


"You can see her now.  She's resting, out of the woods for the time being.  We transfused her, and stopped her bleeding.  Not too long, all right?  She needs her rest."


He pushed through the two doors, and there she was, even tinier in the bed.  He went to her side and pulled up a rolling stool to sit on.  "Blair?  It's me."


She opened her eyes and looked at him.  "The baby."


"The baby's fine.  I held him.  He's beautiful, Blair, just like you."


"He's got your eyes, I saw them."


"He's ours.  I love you."


"I love you, Todd.  I've always loved you."


"I've always loved you, Blair. "


"Can I see him?"


"I'll ask."


Leaving her side a moment, he returned, and told her, "I have to go get him.  I'll be right back."
 
Within a few minutes, Todd was wheeling his son to Blair's side, so that she could see him, along with the head nurse.  The nurse said, "Don't let her hold him, right now, she's too weak.  Hold him for her."


He picked him up and showed him to her, and she touched his little hands and face and began to cry.  "Oh, Todd, he's so perfect."


"I know, babe."


"Hi, my little Moonbeam,"  she said, "I'm your mommy.  This is your daddy."  She closed her eyes.


He gently placed the baby back into the cart, and readied, along with the nurse, to return him to the nursery, when Blair stirred again.  "Raymond Thomas Manning."


"Ray will love this."  Todd said.


"He's a ray of moonlight." 


"He is."  Todd said, choking up.  "I'm going to bring him back now, so the family can see him."


"All right."


"I love you, Blair."


"I love you, Todd." Blair said before drifting off.


*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Shadows Fall: Chapter 43

In the church, Devon could feel himself sweating, under the covering of the wig and the pressure of knowing that Mac was in the building.  Clearly there to attack, hurt, or take Jessica, Devon could barely hear anything except his own heart.  His eyes, fixed on Jessica, almost burned from his staring.  Nevertheless, during the rosary, things were basically quiet and he could keep tabs on her, simply by sitting and watching.

Todd was mocking every one of Blair's motions, as the rosary continued.  He whispered, "How long is this prayer?"

Blair said, "Shhh, it's long.  Just do what I do."

He looked to his left, and Sister Rebecca Katherine had her eyes closed, almost as if drifting off to sleep, with the beads fixed in her hands.  Looking back to Blair, he continued to do what he was supposed to, and at the same time, kept his eyes peeled for trouble with Jessica, Devon and the tall man.  Without warning, Blair said, "Oh!"

Todd said, "Oh!"

Blair stood.  Todd stood.  Blair said, "Oh my God!"

Todd said, "Oh my God!"

The church was filled with heads that whipped around at them.  Sister Rebecca Katherine woke up and stared at the two of them.  "My goodness, lasses, that's no way to carry on!"

Blair, hand on her belly, cried out, "My water broke!"

Sister Rebecca Katherine stood up also, scrambling to put her rosary away and pushed her glasses up her nose.  "Saints be praised, Lord have mercy, it's a virgin birth!"

Todd lost his nun voice, "The Hell it is!"

Devon, seeing the commotion begin, grabbed Jessica's hand and ran toward the exit.  Todd, standing next to Blair, said, "Good diversion."

Blair said, "What diversion?"

He looked down and saw a trickle of liquid on the floor.  He whispered, "Jesus, Blair, why now?"

"Like I can help it!  It's all the hot tub sex you've been after," she whispered angrily.

Sister Rebecca Katherine said, "Sister Elizabeth Arden!"

Mac was making his way through the aisle and the mobs of people to follow Devon and Jessica, when Blair cried out, "Stop him, he's a killer!"

"I'm getting you out of here, Blair," Todd, back to his own persona, pulled his headpiece off, and grabbed her hand.  "Can you walk?"

Before she answered, Sister Rebecca Katherine backed herself into Mac's path, and pulled back with her fist throwing a right hook directly upward below his jaw.  The man went sprawling onto the floor, in the center aisle, and a crowd formed around him.

"That a girl, Sis!"  Todd yelled.

"Hurry," she said, "And I'm coming with ya!  I have to be there for this miracle!"

The three of them pushed through the crowd, and burst through the front doors.  Devon, wigless, had the SUV started and in place.  Jessica, shaking, was in passenger seat.  The scene was memorable; Todd, his long hair flying behind him, Blair moaning and complaining in his arms, and Sister Rebecca Katherine, following behind, with Todd's headpiece, holding her skirts so she could run down the stairs.

Jessica simply said, "Oh.. my... God.  Is that my uncle?"

Sister Rebecca Katherine pushed in front of Todd, opened the SUV door, and helped get Blair inside.  Looking back, she noticed no sign of Mac.

After all three were inside the vehicle, Todd said, "You got a mean right hook."

"And you're a man!  At first I wasn't sure, what with that hair and all."

Jessica turned to them.  Blair, doing her Lamaze breathing; Todd, tearing the nun clothing off; the Sister, crossing herself, "Blessed be, blessed be, blessed be."

Jessica said, "Sister, this is my Uncle Todd and his wife, Blair."

"We've met dear, in a manner of speaking.  Devon, ya gave ya'r girl here quite a scare disappearing like that."

"I had to get help.  It's a long story, sister."  Devon said.

"I'm not his girl,"  Jessica said.

Todd said to Blair, "Does she take lessons from you?"

Blair said, "Shut up and get me to the hospital!  The contractions....the baby's coming."

"Not this again,"  Todd said.  "I'm not delivering this one."

Blair said, "I know, you don't know nothin' about....birthing babies!"  She groaned through the words.

"That's all right, I've delivered plenty of them,"  The nun said.

"Bless you,"  Todd said.

"Floor it!"  Sister Rebecca said.  On the rest of the ride, Devon filled in Jessica and Sister Rebecca, as well as Todd and Blair, on all of the details he could muster regarding the plot to kidnap her.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Todd carried Blair through the light crowd that had formed by the entrance.  Reporters, police and security personnel were gathered outside the doors.  Pushing through, Todd, in the remainder of the habit; Blair, in full nunnery garb; and Sister Rebecca Katherine pushed through the group, the latter yelling, "Make way!  There's a baby coming, move out!"

Todd set Blair down carefully, and Sister Rebecca came to her side to steady her.  Bringing her a wheelchair, Todd made it back to them in time to see Blair double over in pain and lose her footing.  Grabbing her by the arm, he sat her in the chair, a few reporters coming around them to see about another story.  She looked up at him, "Todd, there's something wrong."

Sister Rebecca turned to the press and said, "I have a story for ya!  Ya'r Mayor, she's corrupt as they come.  She's not what you think she is!  She's connected to The Break Bar murder!"  As the reporters swarmed around The Sister, Todd crouched in front of Blair, as the nurse came to see to her.  "What's wrong, Babe?"

"I don't know, I'm scared, Todd, I can't lose Moonbeam.  Something just feels, something's not right."

He petted the hair on the side of her head, and shushed her.  "It's going to be okay."

"Sir," the nurse said to him, "Sir?  Please complete these papers."

"We don't have time for papers, something's wrong with my wife, please, I have all the money this hospital needs, I can buy this place, please just help her!"

Sister Rebecca Katherine, embroiled with the reporters, was shouting details about the story involving Devon and Jessica, as they pushed through the doors after parking the car.  Jessica went to Todd and Blair, immediately.  Blair cried out in pain and said, "Oh my God, Todd, please."  She began crying, "No, please, don't let us lose this baby."  Her tears fell.  She looked up the nurse, "Something's wrong. I can tell."

The nurse said, "Ma'am, you have to quiet down, it's not going to help you or the baby."

She sobbed and Todd was a bundle of shaking limbs.  Trying to quiet her, he himself was terrified and unsure of what to say.  Jessica walked along side the wheelchair that the nurse was pushing, with Todd racing along the other side, and Devon trailing behind.  Jessica said, "Blair, you've done this before, it's going to be all right.  Do your breathing, you have to stop getting upset, your blood pressure will go up, and you don't want that do you?"

Blair said, "No. Owww."  She panted.

Todd was literally grayish green, as the wheelchair turned the corner, and they moved Blair into an emergency delivery room.  Jessica and Devon had stopped in the hallway to call Addie and Viki.  The doctor, coming up along side her, watched as her habit was cut from her.  Looking Todd up and down, he said, "I guess anything goes these days.  All right, Mr. Manning, is it?"

"Yes?"

"Go put these on."  Right now, we have to attend to your wife.  Let us do our jobs.  You can come back in for the delivery after we check her out."

Todd took the package that was thrust at him, and backed toward the door, shaking.  He was losing control and not sure what to do about it.  The door shut and he was standing, alone, in the silence of the hall.  He stared at himself in the reflection off the metallic door.  This is it, Manning.  You didn't really think everything would be all right, did you?  You didn't really fool yourself into thinking that this baby would be all right and that you and Blair would be happy.  Get ready.  Get ready, again.  He backed away to the other side of the hall, and found a bench there.  Sitting, he put his head into his hands and cried.

"You musn't," a voice said.

He looked up.  A kindly, older face, now surrounded by graying curls, was looking into his.  It was Sister Rebecca Katherine, and her hand was on his shoulder.  "You musn't do this."  He sniffed, wiping his tears on his sleeve, and fondled the package.  "What's that you have there?"

"The scrubs."  He leaned over, and sobbed again, between his knees.  Her hand moved to his back and she patted him, gently.

"You must get them on, and be there for the birth of your child.  Todd, is it?"

"Yeah."

"Ya can't decide already what God has planned for ya.  You musn't do that.  You must go and be with them, whatever comes."

"I don't deserve it, Sister.  He's going to take it from me, because I don't deserve it."

"Is that the way ya think God is?  Well, you're wrong.  He's not out to punish ya, my lad.  Ya do that yourself, enough, I can see.  All of us deserve love, Todd, and all of us have bad and good in us.  Clearly, ya have enough good to be making this child.  Now, go and be there for this moment in that child's life, and never look back."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Shadows Fall: Chapter 42

Jessica walked through the garden and back, around the familiar places, the game room, the solarium, under the trees where they had just made love the night before.  He was nowhere to be found.  Crushed, she went to Sister Rebecca Katherine, who was in the solarium praying, and quietly tapped her.  "Sister, I am sorry to interrupt you."

"Oh, that's all right dear.  It's getting on in the day, and we have big doings here today!  What can I do for ya?"

"Have you seen Devon?"

The nun thought carefully, and said, "Can't say that I have, not since he made his way back into the building late last night.  Ya might say he was covered in grass a bit."  She reached to the side of Jessica's hair and extracted a small twig.  Handing it to the younger woman, she said, "Haven't seen him since."

Jessica slumped to the chair, and put her ear onto her palm, resting her elbow on the table to prop her head up.  "Told you."

"What did you tell me, lass?  My memory seems to be failing me these days."

"I told you that I was afraid of ... falling for someone again.  He didn't say good-bye, nothing."

"Ah, that.  Well, let's not jump over the rainbow yet.  I'll go and check his room, will that be all right with you?"

"Yes, thank you."  Jessica stayed as the sister went to see if Devon was there.  She gazed back in her memory to the moments the night before, their time alone in the grove, him moving over her, and she trembled a little at the memory of his touch.  Sister Rebecca Katherine reappeared, not her jovial self.  

"He's gone.  There's not a trace of him.  Do you want to tell me what happened?"

Jessica began to cry, "I can't believe he left me.  He told me he loved me last night, and now..."

"There, there, dear.  Stop crying now.  You can't cry over spilled milk, they say, and you definitely can't cry over spilled whiskey."

Jessica looked at her quizzically.  "Huh?"

"Don't get yourself all upset over this.  Maybe he had to go, for some reason, and he'll contact you and let you know?"

Jessica sighed, "Maybe.  I feel foolish."

The nun said, "Love makes fools of people, it's just the way it is.  Now, let's get you some breakfast, because our guests are arriving soon and we all have to be ready for the celebratory rosary and mass."

***

Todd looked at Blair and she back at him.  "You always did make a great nun,"  he said.

"So did you, and it's not worn off either.  Glad you shaved, that never would have worked.  I like this outfit, you can't see my huge belly as much."

"Are you ready for this?"  he asked.

"Yep!  We get in, we get her, and we get out."

"Review the plan."

"Okay, we go in, we participate in the ceremony stuff, watching the Jessica carefully to make sure she's not approached by any guests.  Then, when the mass is over, we get her and just take her off with us to safety.  Does that sound right?"

"When the mass has ended, we go in peace,"  he said.

"Do you think this is going to work?"

"The very least it will do is get us in there to warn her and keep her safe."

"Devon's going to be with us, right?"

"Yeah, he said he'd meet us here.  Where the heck is he?"

At that moment, there was a knock on the penthouse door.  Todd opened it.  In his long hair and the skirts and scapular, Todd made Devon do a double take.  "Hi, I guess.  I really feel stupid in this."  Devon also had the traditional black habit of priests, with white accents and collar, which he carried in his hand.  "People must think I'm crazy.  Not sure I can do it."

"They don't think you're crazy, they think you're a priest.  Now put on the collar, and let's get out of here."  Todd said.  "I think it's better if you drive my SUV, in the limo, we'd be a spectacle."

"In the limo we'd be a spectacle?  How does it look for two nuns, one of which is pregnant, and a priest, to drive up on St. Anne's?  I mean, nothing against you two, but how can you really think you can get into there this way."

"Uh, trust me kid, we know.  Let's go.  Blair?"

"Right here, I was just getting a snack," she said, eating a chicken leg.  She threw away the remnants and wiped her hands and mouth.  "All right, let's go."

In the car, they solidified the details of the plan.  Devon would stick close to Jessica, and Todd and Blair would observe her from a bit of a distance.  All of them would keep her in their sights, careful not to draw attention to themselves as strangers.

When Devon pulled the car up in front of St. Anne's, the parking lot was overflowing with guests.  Nuns, priests, visitors, relatives, and friends roamed the area.  It was a sunny, cool spring day, just in time for The May Crowning.

"I can't believe we're doing this.  You said it worked before?"  Devon asked them, turning his head to them in the back seat.

"Yeah, and take those earphones out, before you give everything away,"  Todd said.

Devon looked in the mirror, "You're a man, dressed as a nun, and you're worried about my earphones?  Maybe, you should have just left your goatee and mustache and gone as Jesus."

Todd sneered at him, and said, "Look, we're old hats at this, what's your excuse?  Follow our lead.  Look how many nuns and fathers there are!  You'll fit right in.  Come up with a name, and act the part."

"I don't know, Father John?"

"Fine.  Pretend you can't speak English, it goes further."

After disembarking the vehicle, they went their separate ways.  Todd and Blair casually drifted among the swarms of nuns and guests, and without warning were approached by a jolly-looking sister in glasses, habit and headpiece.  "Ah, nice to see some more new faces, my dears, I'm Sister Rebecca Katherine.  Welcome to St. Anne's."

Todd changed his voice, and said, "I"m Sister Elizabeth Arden, and this is..."

"Sister Clinique," Blair responded, without thinking.  He elbowed her, and she smiled.

Todd said, "She doesn't speak much English, she's from the Holy Order of the French Quarter."

"I see, well, welcome, both of you, we'll be starting the rosary soon, just take your places in the pews."

Todd looked at Blair, "Sister Clinique?"  he whispered.

"How is that any worse than Sister Elizabeth Arden?"  she whispered back.

"At least I have two names!"

"We're going in to do the rosary now, Todd, you have to follow my lead."  She took rosary beads from her pocket and handed him a strand, which he started to put on as a necklace.

"No, you use them for praying!"  She whispered, frantic.  "God!"

"What?  I'm not doing anything."

"Just follow exactly what I do.  I know this church stuff more than you do.  One of my foster families was Catholic."

"All right.  Fine.  There's Jessica."  He spotted her across the church.  They took their seats in the final pew.  Todd noticed Devon, close behind Jessica, wearing the mustache and wig they had gotten for him.  "There's that lying..."

Blair said, "Shhhhh.  We're in a church, now remember, do what I do."

He quieted down.  As the group began to assemble for the rosary to begin, he noticed a very tall, very strong and very black man approaching Jessica also from behind.  Devon was between the two of them, and Todd recognized him immediately, and whispered to Blair, "Finn's assistant.  Right there."

Devon, who was feigning reading the Bible, turned to look on all sides, spotting Todd and Blair, both gave him a nod to the right, at which he turned, scanning all of the people, before resting on the man behind him, and turning back to his book.  

Todd said, "He recognized him."

Blair said, "Quiet."

Without warning, Sister Rebecca Katherine moved into the same pew and pushed Todd and Blair over with a bump of her ample hips.  "Goodness, I can't see a thing.  I've totally lost my glasses, or misplaced them!  I have to be cordial to my fellow Europeans, you know.  I'm from Ireland."

Todd, not in a whisper, said, "Oh great."  Blair elbowed him in the ribs, and he said, "So glad to have your company," in his nun-voice.

When the ceremony started, Blair and the nun took the beads and began to follow, all three were on their knees, and Todd was doing what Blair was doing.  She took her beads into her hand, he did the same.  She touched a specific bead, he did the same.  She knelt, he did.  She stood, he did.  All the while, he had his eyes on the new visitor near Jessica and Devon, as well.

***

John was on the walkie talkie with Bo, who had been called in for extra assistance.  "It's bad, Bo, they can't account for all of the prisoners.  At last count, about ten were missing."

"What about Hesser?"

"He's here.  So far, nothing.  I think we can safely say that this riot has developed into a break."

Bo said, "I'll get right on this, have the local papers report it with accuracy, so the citizens know what's happening.  I think we ought to ask for assistance from the FBI, John."

"I'm on it.  Already called my contacts."  They ended their talk.  John turned to several other policemen.  "Keep strong tabs on the entrances and exits.  We have to try not to let any more prisoners get past us.  Llanview won't know what hit them."

"Another three dead,"  Natalie approached John, "guards, not prisoners.  LPD just called, possible hostage situation back in Llanview.  One of the prisoners escaped and perpetrated a home invasion."

John's ire was up.  "It's getting out of hand, here, people.  Until the FBI gets here, let's try and keep it status quo."  He feared the break was going to spiral further out of control.  At this point, Hesser was where he should be; that was one relief.  He had not seen the list of missing prisoners, but would check on it as soon as the tension let up.  Right now, he needed to prevent more from getting past them and down into Llanview.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Shadows Fall: Chapter 41

"Oh, thank you!"  Blair said, opening the baby gift that Natalie brought over.  Natalie sipped her tea and had a bite of muffin.   Blair had just had some breakfast pastries delivered after getting the call from Nat about a pending visit that morning.

"You're welcome.  After all you two have been through, I certainly hope that this baby is a sign of positive things to come."

"I know it is."  Blair choked up a bit, "I feel....so lucky, you know?  It's like all the dark shadows have fallen away.  Something like that."

Natalie took her hand.  "Don't cry, you'll make me."

"I can't help it.  Natalie, if you only knew how close to Hell your uncle has been.  It's...I can't believe sometimes he is here, with us, and not dead somewhere or put away."

Natalie grimaced, and then squeezed Blair's hand.  "He had you.  That's what kept him going.  At least, that's what John told me.  I haven't gotten many details, but, it was bad, wasn't it?"

"Yes.  Very bad."  She tried to pull herself together and used a napkin to dab at her eyes.  "I can't believe he made it without snapping.  I was in their clutches for less than two days, and I couldn't have done what he did.  Ever.  I never would have survived it."

"Does he talk about it often?"

"It's fading, or at least it seems to be.  He's mentioned it a few times.  He still had nightmares sometimes.  He's doing well with it, now."

"That's all that counts.  He's trying to recover, and he's making it.  That's more than a lot of people can say."

"How's Jessica doing?" Blair asked, pushing her teacup onto the saucer and placing it down on the table.

"Better.  They say she'll be coming home soon.  Excuse me."  Natalie had to address a phone call coming in on her police-issue phone.  "What?  Oh my God, John, all right.  I'll be right there," she ended the call.  "Blair, I'm sorry for the short visit, but you heard, I'm sure.  I have to go."

"Is John in danger?  Is everything all right?"  Immediately, her thoughts went to Todd.  She was still in fear of losing him again.

"There is a riot at Statesville, it's going on right now.  Really bad.  So bad they need to call in support from the LPD to help contain it," she called to Blair as she went to the door.  Pulling on her jacket, she said, "I'll let you know more later.  I have to go!"

Blair went to the sofa, and before fighting herself to sit down, she went to the desk instead.  Dialing, she put the phone to her ear.  "Todd?"

"Hey, wife, how are you doing?"

"Todd, where are you?"  She was panicked.

"You just called me at my office, and I answered, Blair.  What's the matter?"  After her meltdowns all week, he was cautious.

"Nothing, I was...there's been a prison riot at Statesville."

"Yeah, I know.  I just was covering that.  I sent a few reporters out to sniff around about it."  Then, realizing what she was going through, he said, "It's all right, babe.  I'm okay.  I have an idea!"

"What?"

"I'll send the car back to get you.  Come to work with me today."

She brightened, "I'd love it!  Let me go get presentable."

Blair ascended the stairs, and went to her closet, searching deep enough in the walk-in, she found her old red maternity suit.  It was in pretty decent shape, considering it was over 15 years old.  She put it on, and to her happiness, it actually fit.  "I guess I'm not that fat..."

The car rolled around in front of the penthouse building and Blair made her way out to it.  She looked and felt better than she had in weeks.  Confident in herself and her abilities to help her husband with any story, she eased into the limousine without too much difficulty.  On the ride, she texted her man, "I love you.  On my way," to which he replied, "Love you more, hurry the hell up."

***

At the LPD, things were chaotic.  The noise, bustle and confusion let Natalie know, the moment she got inside, that things were in a bad place.  She went to John's office and saw him just getting up and putting his coat on.  "John, no, you're not going there?"

"Yeah, I am.  You are not going with me, don't ask.  We have a son, he needs you."

"John, please?  Don't do this."

"I don't have a choice.  You know that.  They need help, Natalie.  Considering a SWAT team if they cannot get it under control."

"There are a lot of dangerous men and women there."

"I know.  I'll be all right, I'll keep in touch.  Stay here and man the phones and help out, can you?"

"I will.  I'm just not happy that you're doing this."

He put his arms around her waist and pulled her into a kiss.  "Love you.  It will be all right."

He left, and she sat at his desk, with her head in her hands for a moment.  Then, thinking better of it, she went to her phone to check the internet for news, and he came back through the door.  "Sorry, you are going to end up going with me after all.  There's been a death.  They need a forensics kit."

She threw her jacket on, got her materials and met him at the car.  Inside it, she said, "John, aren't the men who..."

"I know.  I know what you're thinking.  We're not going to let this turn into a break, if that's what you're figuring.  Yeah, the men are in there.  The tormentors that brutalized your uncle for the last eight years are there.  They have the women's area under control for the moment.  It's the men's half we're dealing with."

"I was just with Blair.  She was crying, John.  They must have done terrible things to him.  You've never talked about it much."

"Not something I want to rehash or rethink, if you know what I mean."

Natalie swallowed.  "Oh my God, look out!"

A child on a bike scooted in front of the car, causing John to swerve from the path.  "That's it," he said, "time to pull all the stops out."  Grabbing the siren light from under the seat, he put it on the roof and started it blaring as he raced to Statesville.

***

Todd was waiting for her in his office.  She was just as he imagined her to look, standing there.  Her hair had grown again, past her shoulders as it was all those years back.  So had his, and his goatee was trimmed and neat, just as she liked it.  He waited, at his desk, for her entrance.  When she came through the doors in her red suit, his heart jumped in his chest.  Over the past few months, he had worked diligently with handymen, carpenters, and designers to get his office at The Sun back the way it was in the days when they had worked together.  And seeing her that way, he was ushered back, at high speed, to seeing her before.  He held back emotion as he stood up to greet her.  "You look beautiful."

She said, "You look beautiful too, and this place," she looked around her, "it looks like it used to, Todd.  I mean," she turned all around in a slow circle, "it looked exactly like it used to."

"You know a thing or two about this, having recreated that penthouse."

"Well, yeah, but this, I mean, actual reconstruction had to take place."

"I know.  I just have to have things my way.  You know the deal."

She hugged him around the neck, and kissed him.  Things were intact, down to the easel in the corner with the mock ups.  Even though the advances in technology were moving at a rapid rate, and he, with his sharp mind, had embraced them, the paper version was standing behind his desk, blaring.  "Statesville, What a Riot,"  she read aloud.  "Todd," she admonished.

"Hey, what can I say?  Those inept government people want to understaff these places, they deserve it."

"You always had a fondness for Statesville, Todd."

He smirked, "Well, not as much as for you, Mrs. Manning."  He kissed her again, putting his hand behind her ear, under her hair, and pulling her closer.  His intercom buzzed.  He ended the kiss and went to the desk.  "Yes?  Huh.  Send him in."

"Who is it?"  Blair asked, looking through the photo selections for the cover that were on his desktop.

"Some guy says he knows something about Mayor Finn."

In through the door walked a young, handsome African-American, who seemed anxious.  Todd extended a hand, "I'm Todd Manning, this is my wife, Blair."

He took the hand, and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Manning, I'm going to get right to the point.  Your niece Jessica is in trouble, maybe fatal trouble, and I need your help."

Todd and Blair looked at each other.  "Sure, sit down, Mr. uh..."  Blair said.

"Devon's fine.  Before you start interrogating me, please let me talk.  Once I've said it all...let's just say I am taking a chance coming here, but she talked so highly of you, and I didn't know where else to go.  I want a chance to say everything."

Todd said, "Go ahead, we're not stopping you."

Devon began to explain to them how he came to meet Jessica at St. Anne's.  Blair could see Todd's ire getting into his eyes, and shot him a look, and said, "Go on, Devon, tell us the rest."

He further explained the threats against Jessica and himself, and his need to get out of there and get help before it was too late.  "I just felt, they might try and hurt her, and I knew you two could be trusted, by what she told me."

Todd said, standing, "So suddenly, you've grown a conscience.  Isn't it a bit late for that."

Devon said, "I deserve that.  It was an acting gig at first, nothing major, then it just became so much more than I thought.  Mayor Finn started getting more and more demanding, out of control.  She gave me 48 hours longer, and they're almost up."

"Why come here,"  Todd said, "if you could have run off and saved yourself?"

"I...I'm in love with your niece."  Devon said, "I wasn't counting on that happening.  I fell in love with her."

Blair looked at Todd, and back to the young man.  "Well, what is it that Mayor Finn was so hell-bent on?"  Blair said.

"She was trying to get me to get information.  She wanted to know what Jessica knew.  Of course, Tess was the one who knew, and then Tess, well, she went away.  Someone's on the Mayor to have the info by then."

Todd said, "Jessica's integrated?  That's good."  He sat back down, "What else did Mayor Finn say?  Do you know who she's working for?"

"She said if I didn't find out information, they would have to make Jessica disappear, or 'take care of it.'  I was scared, I didn't know what else to do.  She talked about you two so much, about how strong your love is, and about how badass, you are, sir, if you don't mind me saying.  As for who Finn works for, no idea, but I can tell you, she's scared."

Todd crossed his arms, "Yeah, well this badass is not too happy with you trying to get at my niece."

"Todd, come on, Devon's fallen for her.  Whatever it was, it was.  The important thing is, it's not anymore."  Blair said.

"I really love her.  Please, you have to help me.  It's getting later, please.  I have a feeling that at today's mass, with all the visitors, someone might try and get in there and get her.  They're expecting guests from all over.  Anyone can get in there and disguise himself as a relative or a clergyman.  I had to say something, I couldn't let her...I had to save her."  He looked down at his hands, "I know, it's probably all over for us now, but it didn't matter anymore, as long as she is safe."

Todd, still angry-faced, with his arms crossed, looked to Blair, and she caught the look.  She crossed her arms as well, and he said, "We can't ask John for help, the police are in a total uproar. Looks like there's only one way to solve this!"

Blair said, "Yes, there's only one way I can think of."

Devon looked from one to the other in confusion.  "There is?"

Todd said, "It's a Manning thing, you wouldn't understand.  Blair, it's back to our old habits."
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Shadows Fall: Chapter 40 (adult)


Kathleen was in her office, working on a speech for the Local Women's Rotary Luncheon.  Pen in hand, she reread and edited the speech, waiting to give it to her secretary for final touches and typing.   Mac was late; he had not shown up yet.  She realized they had a very long and physical night the evening before, when he had taken her back to his apartment and she'd spent the night.  At times, she wanted to be away from her large, expensive house and her neighbors, and find a place where she did not have to be Kathleen Finn.  His apartment, in Angel Square, was that very place.

She chewed the end of the pen as she remembered her meeting Mac for the first time at the premier of Vickerman that past summer.  He was working security, and she was an honored guest.  She walked past him, accidentally dropped her handbag, and he'd bent to get it, and their eyes met.  Not long after, she hired him privately to be her body guard, and he had guarded, fondled and used her body every day since, in ways she was totally accepting of.

Her daydream about him was interrupted by the office phone.  She attempted, at first, to ignore it.  Finally, she lifted the receiver.  "Iris, I've told you..."

"Katherine, my dear."  It was Carlo.

Her expression changed immediately.  Putting the pen down, she gripped the phone tightly, but attempted to sound calm and unaffected.  "Yes, Carlo?"

"You are behind schedule, aren't you?"

"No, not really."

"Sleeping with that underling.  Tsk, tsk, tsk, takes up a great deal of time and energy."  He knew everything.  She had nowhere to be safe.  Not even with Mac.   He continued, "Have you gotten anything out of the Buchanan girl?"

"No, nothing yet.  Almost.  The actor I hired is working on developing trust with her.  He says any day now.  I've given him another 36 hours or so."

"Do you have a plan for what will be done when the 36 hours are up?"

She closed her eyes.  "Yes.  We have that under control." 

"By we, you are referring to him."

She swallowed.  "Yes, my body guard, Mac.  He is very cooperative."

"I am sure he is."  His voice was gravelly, and full of 's' sounds, like a snake.  "Just remember, you will belong to me."

She shook, and could not contain it.  "That was long ago, Carlo.  I belong to no one."

"You will belong to me."  He repeated.  "Just as you should have, just as you did.  You dared to leave me once.  It will not happen again."

"The agreement was that we work together to get me into the Governor's Mansion.  When I get there, I pardon you, after a few philanthropic donations on your part.  You're freed, I am the Governor, we both have what we want.  That was the agreement.  That was the plan."

He broke into what she could tell was sneering laughter.  "Whatever you believe, to make yourself feel better.  But I know, as you do, that you will belong to me.  First in mind, and in deed, and then in body.  I cannot wait for that day.  Your other betrayal will be forgotten.  But yes, now that you mention it, that is our plan."

She sighed.  "That was almost 40 years ago, Carlo.  It's behind us now.  I was a kid, a young girl.  None of that matters at this point.  We've both lived lifetimes since."

"Still.  You and I were meant to be together, from the very first time I made love to you.  Do you recall it?"

She closed her eyes again, trying to squeeze the memory away.  It was so long ago.  She had loved him.  She had loved him completely.  She and Carlo had spent days making love and holding each other.  When she found out she was pregnant with his child, everything turned a dark corner.  She felt the bile rise in her throat.  "I recall.  It's behind me.  I am far from that point.  I am far removed from that girl that you lied to."

He paused.  "I'll stop with this for the moment.  I can see you'll need time to ponder it.  Perhaps I'll convince you in person some day soon.  Remember, I know everything about you that the world does not want to know."  He hung up.

Her hands were shaking.  She attempted to steady them, and they would not obey.  She took her pen, trying to return to the speech, and with her jittering nerves, the pen landed on the carpet.  She bent to retrieve it, and when she came up, she flashed on Carlo Hesser, the man she once loved.  Them, making love in a small flat in town, them on a beach when he'd whisked her away to St. Thomas, her delight at finding out she was pregnant, her shattering when she found out he was a killer for the mob and a member.  His lies.  And the baby.  The baby she carried and loved inside her, and kept secret from him.  To this day, she wondered how he had found out.  But it didn't matter, he did.  Though she refused to have anything to do with him, he found out.  There were fights between him and the police; times when he tried to get in to see her everywhere she went; moments when she screamed her hatred at him as he was carted off by police or even fellow students at University.

Again, the baby came to her mind.  The pain and the hard work of bringing it into the world.  How she ran off and hid them him.  She squeezed her eyes shut again.  The moment she learned her baby had died shortly after birth was the single most horrific moment in her life, even now.  When it died, Carlo disappeared, shattered.  And she was left to go it completely alone.  She held her hands in front of her.  The tremors were visible, as if her fingers had a mind of their own.  She stared at them, tears streaming. 

Suddenly, she was interrupted.  "Kath?"

It was Mac.  She threw herself into his arms, and noticing her cowering and humming with fear, he held her in one arm, while pouring her gin into a glass over ice.  Instead of handing it to her, he put it to her lips, and still holding her in one arm, he made her drink.  She coughed a bit, and cried.  He put the glass down and held her again.  "Shhhh.  Easy."

***

Time was passing.  Blair, barely able to make it up and down the stairs in less than 10 minutes, was walking around with her hand in the crook of her back.  She had that look in her eye.  "I can't bear it!  I've never been this pregnant!"

He looked at her, from over The Sun.  "How's that possible?"

"Well, think about it.  I had Starr when I was seven months along.  I lost Brendan.  Jack was early.  Gosh, this is the furthest along I've ever gotten."

"I'll say."  He hid behind the newspaper.  

"Tawd!" He stayed quiet.  She sat next to him, lowering herself to the couch.  "My back hurts, my feet are huge.  Ugh.  I'm sort of fed up with myself."

He put the paper down.  "Don't be, babe.  It won't be long now.  You're beautiful."  He went to kiss her cheek.  She turned away and reached to massage her foot, and couldn't  He held the pucker in the air, for a moment, before patting his legs.  "Come on, swing them up here." She tried, and couldn't.  He got up, took her ankles, and moved them over his lap as he sat back down.  He massaged her feet carefully.  She had started crying.  "Am I hurting you?"

"No!" she shouted, I'm ugly and I'm too fat to bring my own feet up.  I don't have any purpose but to be home here and be huge,"  she sobbed.

He put his arms around her.  "Don't cry, Blair.  Come on.  There's lots of things you're involved in.  You're doing great editing on the stories.  You're a great mother.  You're my beautiful wife."

She sniffled.  "I'm bored here.  I don't want to be in the house fat and puffy."

He tried not to laugh.  "You're not."

"I want do something important."

"You are, you're bringing our baby into the world, Blair, what can be better than that?"

"I don't know!"  She cried more.  He had no recourse but to hold her and let her cry.  He rubbed her shoulders and hugged her close.

***

Sitting under a very large tree in its shade was Devon.  The book was over his lap, and his head was tipped back, against the tree.  He was lost in thought, or asleep, as Jessica made her way toward him.  

"Hey, am I bothering you?"  she said.

 "No, how could you?  No way."

"Can I?"  she motioned to the ground.

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

She looked down to the grass, and plucked some.  "I may be leaving here soon."

He panicked.  She would be at their disposal if she left.  He had to act soon.  "That's great."  He couldn't protect her outside of St. Anne's.  It was too risky.  

"You don't look that happy about it."

"I'd miss you."

He had chosen a beautiful spot, one they had eaten lunch in before, out of eye shot of the convent, in a grove that was surrounded by trees.  She looked at him, "I would, too.  I mean I would miss you.  Do you think we'll ever see each other again?"

He looked at her, and for a moment, he had the urge to grab her hand and run, with her trailing behind, until he got them far enough away that he could stop and explain.  Instead, he put his hand behind her head and pulled her in for a kiss.  She met his mouth with hers, and he held her bottom lip with both of his.  Pulling back, he continued to go in for more, and their tongues moved in and around each others,' exploring.

He was surprised when she stopped for a moment and said, "I've thought of you, like this."

Hearing that, he moved toward her, removing his shirt, and putting her between him and the ground.  She pulled him close, grabbing at his back with her hands, all the while kissing his mouth and using her tongue to show him how much she wanted him.

He didn't hold back with her, he knew it was the only opportunity, possibly, to ever tell her...he wanted to tell her what he felt.  As much as it had begun as a job for him, everything had changed.  He interrupted the kisses, and moved his mouth to her neck, slowing the pace.  He sighed and said, "Jessica, I have to tell you...I'm in love with you."  A few tears came from her eyes as he moved his mouth to her chest, and kissed her cleavage, running his tongue inside it.  "You don't have to say anything.  I know you're afraid.  I am, too."  He was not lying, about anything now.  He'd never lie to her again, if he got the chance.

She didn't respond with words, but put her hands between them, opening his jeans.  She could feel the warmth from his body, and the rigidness of him.  He loves me.  He moved up her long skirt and slipped her panties off.  Her breathing was hastened, and both of them, nervous to be caught, stopped and looked into each others' eyes for a brief moment.  This brought a deep kiss, and a moan escaped him as he pushed himself inside her, and they rocked against each other in the coolness of the canopy's shade.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Shadows Fall: Chapter 39

Todd was reading some mockups when the phone rang.  Ray said, "Todd, I'm wondering if Jack's free, either this afternoon or tomorrow?  Zeus' therapy has come to a point in which I think it would be advantageous to have them meet."

Todd wouldn't admit it aloud, but the thought of his son sitting across from the man who burned him as a child was difficult.  "I'll ask him.  Can we call you back?"

"Sure.  How are things going?  Pretty soon, you'll be a father again."

"Yeah.  We're okay, Blair is uncomfortable now, she's struggling through.  Everything seems to be suspiciously calm."

Ray laughed shortly.  "That's you Todd, always looking for the next bad thing."

"I guess it's in my nature.  I've been there a lot.  Nothing's ever turned out right for us without something in the way."

"That may be over, Todd.  You have to be open to that."

"I'm trying.  Well, let us call you back on the other thing."

Hanging up, he went to Blair, who was folding baby things in the nursery.  The room was almost completed.  It was done in primary colors, bright and cheery, and small animals were all over the room, either painted on or stuffed.  "Are you happy with this place?" He said, rounding the corner of the doorway.

"I think so, you?"

"Of course.  Whatever you think works, works for me.  Blair, Ray called."  He watched her stop short, pausing.  "He says it's time for Jack to meet with him and Zeus.  He wants him later today or tomorrow."

She put the baby item down, and looked at him.  "I'm going to trust you with this.  What do you think?  Do you think it's the thing to do?"

He looked at her, distracted somewhat by how beautiful she looked, nesting.  "I don't know it anyone can be sure about it.  But, it might help him move on."

"You mean Jack?"

"I mean both."

She walked to him, "Todd, when you were his age, you had just been raped by your own father.  You built up so much rage about it, and never let it out.  A few years later, where did you end up?"

He realized then it was not Blair who was really apprehensive, it was he himself.  "I took that same anger and I hurt someone else.  I know.  If I had someone to talk to..."

"It's more than that.  You had Sam to talk to.  But if someone had gotten you the help you needed, you might not have made the same mistakes.  How much do you trust Ray?"

"I guess I'd say I trust him with my life."

"Then, you know he'd never do anything to hurt Jack."

"Right."

"Then, what do you think?"

"I think he should go.  But I think I should be there, at least outside the door.  If for any reason he's in danger, I'll be there to help."  He started out the nursery door.

"All right.  The I trust you with this.  And, Todd?" He turned back, looking at her.  "You are a good father, Todd.  You have been a good father to Starr and Sam, you are a good father to Jack.  I trust you with my children.  You have to know that."

He swallowed, walking back to her and taking her in his arms.  He looked directly into her eyes and said, "Thank you," before kissing her.

Making his way back to Jack's room, he knocked.  "Hey, are you in there?"

Jack opened the door, "Yeah, what's up?"

"Jack, Ray called.  It seems, if you're up to it, the meeting with Zeus is going to take place."

Jack seemed nonchalant.  "When?"

"Today or tomorrow."

"Today's fine."  He looked up.  "Will you take me?  I mean will you be there and stuff?"

Todd's chest swelled a little with emotion and pride.  "I planned on it, I wouldn't let you do it alone, unless you wanted to."

"I don't know if I could.  I'm trying to grow up.  I mean, I'll face it on my own, but I'd rather have you with me, Dad."

That afternoon, there they were again, in the limo, headed to Mountainview.  Unlike the last time, there were no awkward silences between them.  The conversation went from the cute girl in chemistry class to the possibility of getting a car, to the new baby, and around the bend to whatever struck them.  Instead of being at opposite ends of the seat, by each window, they were toward the center, both of them, so Jack could show him pictures on his phone.  When the ride ended and Jack disembarked first, Todd marveled at how far they had come, and how natural it was seeming.  There was something to be said for Blair's thoughts; perhaps he was a good father after all, or at least, heading for that designation.  That was what he always wanted, the love and respect of his wife and children.

He let Jack forge ahead and took his time getting out.  It was an overcast day, and he made his way to the building, keeping distance from Jack until he could see his son wanted him near.  Within a few minutes, when entering the building, Jack stood in the lobby, and turned, looking for Todd.  Todd walked toward him, saying, "Hey, I'm right here.  Sorry, it took me little bit of time to get out of the car.  Guess I'm getting old."

Jack stood, tentative, waiting for Ray to make his appearance.  His feet shuffled nervously, his hands stuffed into his front pants pockets.  Both Jack and his father looked up when Ray made his appearance.  "Hey guys, good to see you Mannings."

All shook hands.  The trio walked together toward Ray's office, now a natural progression, muscle memorized.  Inside the office, all three got comfortable, and after a short period of teasing about girls from Todd, Ray said, "All right.  We know why we're here.  Who has reservations about doing this today?"

Jack was very still.  Todd raised his hand as if in school.  Ray's eyes widened.  "All right, Todd, what's your concern?"

"Just worried for my son.  I mean, I just don't know what he should expect or what I should."

"That's a fair concern.  Zeus has progressed a lot; things are not perfect with him, but he's getting there.  There's been a great deal of damage done."

Jack spoke, "My Dad has been through way worse things.  How do you explain that?  He's sitting here, pretty much okay."

"Different people, different experiences, Jack.  Everyone deals with what life hands them differently."

"I guess."  The look on Jack's face told Todd what his son was thinking.  He sees me as strong.  

"Ray's right.  Everyone's different. You've seen me at my lows, too, but not my lowest.  You might see me differently if you'd seen that."

"Nah.  I pretty much understand you, Dad.  More than thought I could."

Ray interjected, "Then here's your chance to understand Zeus."

Jack said, "What if I don't want to understand him?"

"What would make you not want to?"  Ray said.

"Isn't it obvious?  The guy lied about being my father, he abused us, he took over our Dad's life, he hurt my mom, he killed Tea's brother.  He's not someone I want to know."

Todd knew it was his turn, and in order to really be the father he wanted to be, he had to be truthful.  "You see me as this badass superhero.  I'm not.  I was a coward.  I was afraid of a lot of things.  I did terrible stuff.  I lied, I abused people, I hurt your mom.  I killed someone.  It was an accident, but it happened."

"You're not a coward.  I'm smart enough to see that you're brave even just saying those things about yourself, Dad.  Like Mom said, "You've paid for your mistakes.  More than once over."

"Maybe Zeus has."  Todd said.  

Ray was engrossed in watching Todd and Jack talk, and the masterful way that Todd managed the conversation, as difficult as it was.  He waited for pause, and then said, "Can I bring him in now?"

Jack said, "Yeah, I guess so.  But don't expect hearts and flowers."

Todd got up to go.  "I'll be right outside, Jack."

Jack looked to Ray, "Can't he stay?"

Ray said, "All right.  But I am hoping that at some point during this, you are able to speak with him one on one."  He looked to Todd, "I would appreciate you taking a backseat a bit, Todd, not sure how Zeus will fare with both of you."

"All right.  Done.  If you need me to leave, and it's okay with Jack, just say so."

Within a few moments, Zeus knocked at the door.  Ray went to it, instead of calling 'come in,' to let him know Todd and Jack were both there.  He said, "Zeus, glad to see you made it.  Jack has asked that Todd stay.  I'm hoping you're okay with that."

Zeus, looking better than the last time Todd had seen him, entered the room, nodding affirmatively.  He put his hand out, "Todd?"

Todd took his hand, rising off the chair.  "Zeus.  How you holding up?"

"All right."  

He turned to look at the boy who he had raised as his son.  "Jack."

"Yeah."

"Thanks for doing this."

"Whatever."

Todd went to say something, but Ray gave him a hand signal to stay out of it.  He obliged, wanting to be there for his son.

Ray said, "All right, Zeus, take a chair." Todd, when rising, had left the other chair across from his son, and moved off to the side.  Zeus sat in the chair facing Jack.  "Jack, Zeus has something he wants to say to you."

"Okay."

Zeus rubbed his palms on his legs.  In lifting a hand to brush his hair away, Todd saw three things:  terrible tremors, scars and fresh cuts.  But, his face and eyes seemed more healed, emotionally, than he remembered.

"Jack, I really wanted this opportunity to say how sorry I am for everything.  I know I did wrong by you at times, but you have to know that I didn't mean it, I wasn't in control of myself."

"You mean you were brainwashed to hurt me?  You were mind-controlled into burning my hand on that stove?  And what about all the other things?"

The man faltered.  Todd knew he was not well.  He brought in a deep breath, and Zeus continued.  "I can't really say that.  But I can say I had no identity.  I was beaten and neglected as a kid.  I grew up in an orphanage in Greece, I had no parents or family.  The place and its workers were not very nice.  Then, I was tortured and brainwashed into taking your father's life.  I've already apologized to him for what I did, and he was gracious enough to hear it."

"Yeah, so?"

Zeus stopped, and caught his breath.  Closing his eyes for a moment, he breathed out.  Todd knew what he was doing.  PTSD.  He's doing the deep breathing.  Then Zeus spoke again, "I am not saying these are excuses, I am just asking you to allow me to apologize me for the mistakes I made."

"You did," Jack said, softening a little.

Zeus broke.  His head in his palm, his shoulders shook.  After a while, he finally said, "Don't you think I hate what I turned out to be?  Don't you think I wish it would all go away?  I can't find who I am, Jack, but I keep looking.  I know I was a bastard,"  he looked into the boy's face, "but we also had good times, too.  Not just bad."

Todd looked at his son, who was breaking as well; his face was reddish, and his eyes were brimming.  The emotion seemed to overtake him, but Ray stood his ground, and despite Todd's pleading expression, he asked him to hold out a bit longer with his mute gestures.

Tears spilled over for Jack, and he said, "Yeah, there were."

Zeus broke down again, supporting his head with his hands.  After a few moments, he said, "I was like a monster, sometimes, I know this.  I'm asking you to forgive me.  I don't have much of a right to, but I am asking, I guess," he said through tears.

Todd swallowed.  The man's desperation was almost too much.  He wished for a moment that his son would have the capacity to show compassion because the rawness of the man's pain was impossibly bleak.  He waited.  

Jack said, "Yeah, I forgive you," and sniffed.

Zeus, tears streaming, was shaking uncontrollably.  Ray began to get up and go to him, but stopped himself when he saw Jack rise out of the chair, and go to the man, squatting in front of him.  The boy slowly put one hand on Zeus' shoulder as the man cried and lowered his head.  When Jack's hand touched, Zeus rested his head on Jack's shoulder for a moment.  Then, he gathered himself together and looked up, saying, "Thank you."  Then he looked to Todd, "You've got a good guy, here."

Todd found his voice, "You had a part in it.  A big one.  Thank you for the good things you did give him."

Once again, as before, Ray walked to Zeus, with Jack still crouching in front of him, and lifted him gently by the arm, and guiding him to the door, he gave him a small injection, and walked him back to his room.  

Jack turned immediately to his father as Zeus' shuffling footsteps became inaudible.  Todd had never seen his son's face quite that way.  There was a combination of relief, pain, sorrow and even some pride.  Todd said, "You okay?"

Jack stood up.  "Dad..." and before he fell into sobs, Todd had him in his arms, quieting him in soft tones.  

It wasn't long before Jack pulled himself away from Todd, and said, "Dad?  He's....he's ruined."

Todd said, "I know.  But he's not destroyed.  Ruin can be repaired.  The love from you and Starr, and probably Tea, made sure this wasn't destruction.  There had to be some good in him, because you loved him."

Jack nodded, wiping his tears on his sleeve.  Todd smiled to himself, and said, "Don't let your mother see you do that.  She'll blame me."

Ray walked in, and saw them laughing for a moment.  "I take it things are all right, gentlemen?"

Todd put an arm on his son's shoulders.  "Yeah, I'd say they're all right."

Jack said, "Any barbecue going on here today?"

"No, not today.  They can't pay the bill from the last time you two were here."  Ray answered.  

Todd and his son walked to the limo, arm in arm, at one point, wrestling a bit.  Todd tossed Jack a stray ball that was on the lawn, and Jack tossed it back as they went to the car.  Boarding the limo, Todd said, "I'm proud of you, son.  You did a great thing today."

"It was hard.  But, you did it, didn't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You accepted his apology.  He did worse to you, with you locked up all that time.  And you still forgave him."

Todd pursed his lips and sighed, "He's sick.  No need blaming him.  He's not...he's sick, Jack."

"I know.  Your father was sick, too.  Sicker, probably."

Todd watched his son take out his earphones and put them on again.  Before he said anything, Jack said, "Wait, Dad, I know the rule, I just wanted to show you this awesome song."

Giving one earphone to his father, and moving closer with the other in his ear, they both listened to the music all the way home.

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