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Friday, November 30, 2012

Diamond in the Rough: Chapter 1

Todd's well-planned renewal of vows had left very few dry eyes, an empty gazebo, and several hundred floating gold heart balloons.

"I feel like I owe you so much for this, and for everything, Todd, that you do for me and the children," Blair said, moving his hair behind his ear.

Todd looked at her, handsome in the ways she had come to lose her breath over, and said, "How?  You could never owe me anything.  And somewhere in that head of yours, you know it."

The adoption and remarriage ceremonies both turned out to be beautiful events.  Todd had several reporters there covering both for the society pages of The Sun.  The family was slowly coming back to a resting place.  Blair, overjoyed that he brought her aunt and cousins in to town, could not stop thanking him.

Cassie, Blair, Dorian and Kelly walked with linked arms toward Unforgettable.  Cassie said, "Blair, this place is magnificent."  Todd, who lingered behind, carrying Sam under one arm like a package, and Little Ray in his carrier, kept his ears pealed as they talked.

"Todd built it, the whole thing.  He designed it, he bought it, and he made it just for us.  Wait until you see the inside,"  Blair boasted.

Cassie turned her head toward him, "It's beautiful, Todd, really."

"What do you know, the convict can do something right," he said, looking to Dorian, who was just about to say something.  "You were saying, Auntie Dorian?"  he added.

"I was saying it's to die for," she said.

"Oh, please let her die," he said, under his breath. 

Sam said, "What, Dad?"

He said, "Nothing Sam, just keep quiet about that before I throw you in the pool, clothes and all."

"Yay!  Do it, Dad!"

"It's too cold, and stop being such a daredevil," Blair said, turning slightly back, and then, as an aside to Todd, "I heard that."

He said, "Auntie Dorian, would you and the cousins like a tour?"

She said, "Why certainly, Todd, we'd be glad to see what you've done this time."

When they walked into the house, through the kitchen, Dorian's face said it all.  In all her Todd-doubt, he was impressed.  The simple beauty of the home, complete with the children, Blair's happiness, almost explained Todd's current hold over her niece.  Almost.  She said, "Lovely."

"Thanks," he said, tossing Sam onto the couch, and putting the baby on the side table in his carrier.  As they all sat down, he unstrapped Little Ray, and Dorian watched him handle the baby with love and a strong connection she didn't expect.  He said, "Come here, Buddy, tell Dad about your day." 

Cassie moved her attention from Todd and the baby to Blair's face, and saw things in her cousin's eyes that she had not seen before.  She spotted total admiration, love and a twinge of pain.  She said, "So, Todd, how are things at The Sun?"

"Great.  We have a nursery there.  We bring the baby to work with us," he explained.

Kelly chimed in, "Oh my God, that's so romantic."

Blair said, "Well, it works for us.  Most everything he thinks of does."

Dorian rolled her eyes, "Blair, Little Ray is darling.  What an adorable baby."

"He's an angel, Dorian," Blair said, "He's been a saving grace for us."

"Especially me," Todd said.  "Been through a lot lately, and this little boy, he just, he makes everything all right."

Cassie could not take her eyes off how Todd was holding his son, and the emotional dance the two were doing.  She said, "Well, people can have that effect on each other."  She looked at her cousin, and watched her face.  There was no denying what Blair was feeling.  Cassie reached across and took her cousin's hand, and finished, "Like you two."

Cassie was surprised to see Blair falter a little, and then pick herself back up.  Standing, she went to her husband and stood by him, her hand resting on his bicep as he held their baby son.  She looked at all of them and said, "Cramer women, I want to say here and now that this man has saved my life . . in more ways than one."

". . . Not to mention she saved mine," he said, taking his eyes off Ray and moving them to her.  All three of the Cramers felt themselves fade into nothingness in the room with The Mannings standing there, eyes locked.  

Dorian spoke first.  "Well, I certainly hope he's through putting you in danger.  It's been more than enough."

Blair's anger flared and she went to talk, but Todd stepped in, "There's no more of that, Auntie Dorian.  No more.  She's safe with me, always.  You can count on that."  The whole time he talked, he stared into her emerald-colored eyes, that had now moistened with tears.  She rested her head on his shoulder, again, and looked at Ray, as he did.  

Kelly said, "Well, uh, we're here, remember, you two?"  She snapped her fingers, pretending to summon them.

Blair said, "Yes, and I'm so glad," she said, moving next to Cassie and Kelly on the couch, and sitting between them, the three of them started to chatter.  

Dorian, sitting back and listening, looked at Todd, "You love that little boy."

"I do, and his mother," he said, and then looking back to Blair, "more than my life."

Dorian swallowed, and said, "You'd better.  I've seen all of what you've brought to her life, Todd.  Good and bad, and I dare say, mostly bad."

"I won't argue with that," he was very serious.  "And I've done everything in my power to change it."  The chattering of the other three women lead to their laughter, which distracted him momentarily.  He went on, "Ask Blair how things have been.  She'll tell you the truth.  I've been through Hell and back, so has she, in her own way."  He knew it was up to Blair to reveal what she wanted Dorian to know about Carlo, Sommer, the recent events in Greece, and even though it seemed a lifetime ago, the near kidnapping by Leona.

Dorian said, "Well, I read about the death of your daughter, Todd.  So sad.  But again, wasn't that about Carlo Hesser?  The man whose wrath you brought down on your family?"

His eyes became steel.  Blair, who had been partially listening, turned her attention, "Dorian, stop it.  Please.  You have no idea what we've been through, and what he's done for me and the children."

Dorian did not respond.  Cassie said, "We know, honey, we can tell.  Mother knows that, don't you Mother?"

Dorian crossed her legs and shrugged, "It remains to be seen.  Earn those praises, Manning, and keep her safe and those children close to you."

The irony of her comments was powerful to Todd, but overwhelming for Blair, who stood up again, and pointed her finger, saying, "If you can't accept Todd as my husband after all this time, then don't bother being around me.  You don't know much of anything where he and I are concerned, and if you're basing what our life is like on some twenty-year old mistake, then you can just leave."  She folded her arms.  

Todd, trying not to show his reaction much, turned his face, and raised both eyebrows, tucking a smile beneath his hand.  In an effort to be the peacekeeper, he handed Ray to Dorian, and said, "Auntie Dorian, Ray really wants to meet you."  

The baby said, "Da-da," and Dorian smiled at him.  He smiled back.  Todd, who had walked to Blair's side, said, "That kid, always a charmer."

"Like his father," she said, but he could hear her anger still in her tone, and she purposefully grabbed the back of his neck, pulling him into an open-mouth kiss.  Dorian's jaw dropped and she was entirely speechless, as Todd and Blair's kiss extended for several minutes.

"Whoo!  That's what I call 'cat got your tongue.'"  Kelly said, looking at Dorian, matter-of-factly.

"Mother, really.  Can't you just stop for one damn day?"

Dorian shrugged again, "Stop what, Cassie Dear?"

Todd and Blair, pulling free of the kiss, looked at Dorian, their cheeks pressed side-to-side.  She said, "Thank you, Cassie.  Now, do you all have a place to stay?"  Blair asked.

Todd's head whipped around toward her, and he widened his eyes.  Dorian said, "We're going to La Boulaie with Addie.  Don't worry Todd, we're not going to infringe on your hospitality," she added a hint of sarcasm.  

"Mother!"  Cassie said, "He's been gracious enough, considering how you've acted."

"Cassie, don't worry.  Auntie Dorian and I have an understanding."  Todd said.

Kelly stood, "Let's just get going, we'll have plenty of time for conflicts another day.  Besides, I'm tired, we'd been traveling all day."

Jack came into the room, and said, "Hi Aunt Dorian, Cassie, Kelly."

"Hello, Jack," Dorian began, "Nice to see you dressed so maturely.  You're growing up."

"I guess."

"How's school been?"  Dorian asked.

"Fine.  Doing well.  I'm a Junior now."

"That's wonderful."

"I heard what you all were talking about, and Aunt Dorian, you don't get them," Jack started.  "Dad and Mom, they're totally like one person.  You just don't get them."

"And you do," she said.

"Yeah, I do.  The man that almost took Mom, he was . . . like crazy or something. Could have killed her.  Dad came in and stopped it all.  Saved her and baby Ray and gave himself up for it."

"Took Mom?  Blair, what is this about?"  Dorian said.

"Nothing, Dorian.  At least nothing you need to be worried about now.  It's done.  Over with."  Her words were certain.  It seemed so long ago, and so much more had happened.

Dorian closed her eyes, as Cassie and Kelly both took each other's hand and sighed.  Cassie said to Jack, "Your father is very special.  You love him very much."

"Yeah, so?  That doesn't mean I can't tell whether or not he's good for her.  And trust me, he is.  The two of them are like a single person.  I never saw it before ever, and I've been around Mom all my life.  But they are."  Jack said.

Dorian said, "Thank you, Jack, but I won't be going anywhere.  I plan to stay here, with your mother.  She needs me."

Cassie said, "Mother . . ." cautioning her.

"You two can go to La Boulaie, and once things even out here, I'll be there."  Dorian said, decidedly.

"Mother, I can't stop you," Cassie said, "but it's clear to me what Jack said is true.  No matter what we can say about Todd, he's always loved Blair so much.  Maybe he's learned what it takes to forge a life with her, after being kept from her for so long.  He's always adored her.  He just . . . didn't always know how to show it."

"Then that was a different Dad.  He knows," Jack assured them.

"Maybe.  We'll see about that," the matriarch said. 


Todd turned over in his sleep, and his limbs jerked with tension as short, unidentifiable flashes went through his mind:  Low ceiling and dark-paneled walls.  Something, horrible, in the corner, an animal?  No light, chains with shackles.  Clanging noises.  A pull chain on a bulb . . .

He sat upright.  Careful not to wake Blair, he let his breath out slowly.  He didn't want her to wake or to know.  Even though he had promised her to share everything, he wasn't sure about this.  Now, with Dorian around, there'd be more scrutiny of him.  At least, he'd keep it from her until he understood what the flashes were.  He'd seen them befor but just couldn't recount them before.

He hadn't told her, but since they had returned from Ireland, and slightly before, his dreams had taken on new life.  They weren't as often, as detailed and as gripping, but now, he was victimized by short, little bursts of strange things he could not place.  Sometimes, they were accompanied by sounds, and other times, even by smells.

Right then, he was afraid of what the flashes meant.  More than anything, he feared that they were real, memories from the past, and inside he felt the dank hollow fear that he didn't want to acknowledge.  Were these memories of his past, and if so, what did they mean and what had he done?

He lay back down and turned toward her.  So much of him wished she would wake and hold him, but a larger part of him did not want her alerted to his pain.  She'd seen enough.  And she still had her own, the visit to the courtroom had opened that wound.  He was becoming a nuisance, some kind of burden, and it seemed it would never end.  At this point, she was convinced his hard time was behind them and that they were moving on.  Let her believe that, Manning.  Suck it up.  Handle it.

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Announcing: Book 6, Diamond in the Rough

Dear Readers,

Thanks from deep in my heart for your investment in my stories, and of course, Todd and Blair.

This next book delves into the final revelations about Todd's past and unveils some important pieces in this.  It's also the longest of the books thus far, and I hope you'll continue to read and support me and the authors here.  I've enjoyed every moment, and every comment.

I wish I could explain how much the comments mean, and if you have the time to write them, please do.

Without further ado, I will be publishing Diamond in the Rough very soon, beginning with chapter one.

Hope you'll continue the journey with me.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Devil You Know: Chapter 20

When Clint opened the door to the mansion, he saw Renee Buchanan chatting with Madame Delphina.  Rolling his eyes, he asked politely, “This is who you stood us up for?”

Renee chuckled.  “I wanted to have a talk with Asa before the big day, so I arranged a session with her.”

“Yes, Mr. Buchanan and your father said ‘It’s about damn time.  Fool boy wasted too much of it already, gettin’ back with that filly of his,’” the psychic said.  As she made her way to the door, Cord and Blair stepped inside.  Madame Delphina looked at Blair then around the room, as if hearing voices.  “Yeah, that’s her.  You want to what?”  Her face softened and she looked back at Blair.  “She says, ‘Thank you for loving my precious boy.’  Also, something about telling Harry she loves him still and June third, nineteen seventy seven.”  With that, Delphina left.

Blair watched her go, giving off an odd look.  It was Renee who noticed.  “Blair?  Blair!”  When the younger woman turned back to her, she asked, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, I mean, I think she’s full of it,” Blair said.  Then she shook her head wondering if Delphina was talking about who Blair believed she was talking about.  “Sorry, she just got me distracted.”

As she entered the living room, Tea came through the door and followed her.  Clint looked up to see the ladies join them.  “Ah, we are almost all here,” he said.

Cord looked around the room.  “We’re missing someone?”  But his question went unanswered.

Blair went over to fix herself a drink.  “So, we’re here to swap war stories?  Who wants to start?”

Clint went to fix drinks for himself, Cord and Tea.  “Before we do that, I’d like to propose a toast for the man responsible for all of us being here tonight.  Because, if it wasn’t for him, I certainly never would have come to Llanview, which means you, Cord, wouldn’t have come looking for me here and the chances are neither of you two would have been here either.”

“What, one man is responsible for all that?” Tea asked, skeptical.

Blair smiled, having an idea who Clint was talking about.  Then he went on.  “Yes, one man.  He asked me to come take over as managing editor of The Banner because he was dying and leaving behind a young son and pregnant wife.  I think his intention all along was to set Viki and I up.”

“And it worked, eventually, right Pa?” Cord asked.

“Yes, it did,  Viki didn’t like me at first but we did fall in love.”  Clint raised his glass.  “To Joe Riley.”  Cord, Blair and Tea all clinked theirs, repeating his sentiment.

The doorbell rang and Clint smiled.  “That must be our last guest.  The first Lord in-law that’s still around.”

“Dr. Wolek, sir,” Nigel said as he showed the doctor in.

“Hi, Larry.  Welcome.”

“Thank you for the invitation, Clint,” Larry responded, taking a drink from the other man’s left hand while shaking the right.

“That’s right, I’d forgotten you were married to…what was her name?” Tea asked.

“Meredith,” Blair answered quickly.  “Viki’s full sister.”  A small smile formed on her face as she remembered Todd talking about the dream like state where he met his other sister. 

Larry nodded, a note of sadness on his face.

“And the only one of us who ever had to deal with the old man,” Clint went on to say.

At that, Larry smiled.  “And I can assure you, all of us would have been in the same boat with Victor that I was and that Joe was.”

“How so?” Tea asked.

“He wouldn’t have approved of any of you.  He didn’t like Joe or I involved with either of his daughters, being we were Irish and Polish.  Victor was strictly Main Line Philadelphia society-minded,” Larry explained.

“This from the model of fatherhood,” Blair snarked.  “I still can’t decided who was worse, Victor or Peter.”

“When everything came out, about what he did to Viki, Pa confided in me that it was a good thing he was already dead, because he would’ve gone after him wit his shotgun,” Clint confided. 

“I can only imagine,” Larry commented.  Then he turned to the rest of the group.  “Cord and Tea wouldn’t have been up to his standards because you’re Latino.  He would have hated that--”

“He was that prejudiced?” Tea shocked voice came out.

“Oh, he was even worse,” Larry began.  “I remember a dinner party once where someone mention Grace Kelly’s father.  Now, here was a wealthy man who’s daughter was married into one of the oldest royal families in Europe, and Victor had nothing but disgust for him.  Merrie so appalled by her father’s comments, she insisted we leave early.”

“Wow, never realized that about him,” Cord said, refilling his glass.

“And yet, look at the image he projected,” Blair mused.

“You, Blair, he would have pegged you for gold digging, social climber from the get-go,” Larry pointed out.

“Well, luckily, I have a thick skin.  Besides, that’s what his daughter thought of me originally,” she replied, a rueful smile on her lips. 

Cord returned it, adding, “Well, you did have a track record.”  Then he pointed to Clint.  “What would old Victor have thought of him?”

Larry thought for a minute.  “Actually, of all the people who have been involved with his kids, you’d have been one of the few he actually approved of.  The only mark I could find in his thinking is, you weren’t old money.”

“Okay, as fascinating as I find this talk about out father-in-law, I think its time we talk about his kids,” Blair said.  “More to the point, how alike they really are.”

“They are that,” Cord reasoned.  “And you and I are stuck with the two who are most alike, even more so than the ‘twins’.”

“”Oh, definitely!” Blair exclaimed.  “Coming back from the dead, baby switches, what else can I think of that Todd and Tina have both pulled?”

“How about every scheme ever imagined to get back together with us.  I still laugh at Tina’s idea for a Halloween costume last year…bride and groom, for Natalie’s engagement party,” Cord laughed. 

“Try getting me and my daughter on a plane for the Dominican Republic for a quickie divorce and quicker wedding,” Blair replied.

“Well, if we’re talking weddings, I was the one with the coffin entrance.  At least Victor was a little better at planning a wedding,” Tea said. 

“Oh, I never said he was bad at planning a wedding.  Hell, he planned all of ours,” Blair shot back defensively. 

“Expect the one in, Key West was it?” Clint asked.

“Yes, if I remember correctly, that was when you told him you were pregnant to get him to marry you,” Tea remarked snidely.

“For your information, I did have to convince him, he felt honor bound.  And as for the pregnancy, I may have jumped the gun a little,” Blair admitted, giving Tea a sidelong glance.  “At least I didn’t carry my briefcase down the aisle.”

“Okay, ladies, I can see where this may be heading, so why don’t we drop it,”
Clint advised.  “In the end, you both got the brother you wanted…and who wanted you.”

“That is true, Clint.  And as much as Victor was supposed to be like Todd, in the end he really wasn’t.  I still remember the look on his face when he found out what Victor did to Marty,” Blair said. 

They all grew silent for a minute.  Then, Blair asked, “When did you first meet Viki?”

Clint laughed at the memory and described the day at the carriage house with him and Joe getting drunk and returning to a perturb wife.  That led to asking the same question of Larry.  Blair told of the summer night in Rodi’s and Tea described her lunch with Viki and Kevin at the country club. 

After the got through with that round of reminiscing, Cord just shook his head.  “Why do we keep going back to them?  They all have issues, they’ve all pulled things that most normal people would have walked away from permanently.  And yet…”

“And yet, there is something about them.  The heart of it, I think, goes back to the father.  They are all wounded children,” Tea said.  “Viki of course, for what Victor did to her.  But also Todd, Victor and Tina.  None of them had what we would deem as stable households.  Tina was abandoned when she was a teenager.”

“And Irene screwed up both her sons real good,” Blair completed.  “At least for a time there, Todd thought he had a loving mother, one who didn’t want to give him up.  As much as I am thankful to have Todd back, I wish to God that Irene Manning had stayed dead.”

“At least Tina had Viki to care for her.  Who raised Victor?  We still haven’t answered that question.  And then there’s Todd’s adoptive father,” Cord said.

“And yet, between the five of us we have fifteen, soon to be sixteen marriages with them,” Tea responded.  She picked up the decanter and poured more into everyone’s glasses.  “I think we deserve a toast, to us.  For putting up with their antics and protecting them from the fallout.”

“For caring for and about them, especially when they can drive us crazy,” Cord said.

“For remembering them, even after all these years,” Larry added.

“For understanding them, faults and all,” Blair put in.

“For loving them, now and forever,” Clint finished as they all clinked their glasses one last time.

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Cloud's next book, A Diamond in the Rough will begin to be published within the next few days!  Keep an eye out for it!!!

Thanks for reading all of the authors here at the hub.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The End of Blame: Chapter 53

The adoption celebration was a bash that weekend at Unforgettable.  Todd pulled out all the stops, from renting three bouncy houses to hiring a band.  Everyone was invited who knew The Mannings, and the majority of invited guests responded with a 'yes.'  Food was going to be plentiful, and Todd made certain the little boy, and the rest of his family, would not forget the day.

"Are you making an appearance as Spiderman?"  Blair said, brushing her hair in the mirror.  He watched her, taking note of her slender body, and the scar where the bullet had taken their child's life.

"I guess I could, I've been through quite a few costumes in my day.  I could always go as The Beast, you seem to like that one."

She smiled, "I do."  She puttered around the bathroom, and catching a glimpse of him, in his boxers and tank, behind her.  Her heart skipped a beat.

"I have lots of costumes up my sleeve.  There's the nun, of course, but that might be in bad taste at this point.  The count, the one from Halloween at The Bayberry Inn."

"That's really reaching back."

He said, "Get dressed now, we're late for the guests."

The copter, driven by Perzno, landed on the heliport, and out came a disheveled and windblown passenger, followed by two others.  Viki, sitting by Timothy in Unforgettable yard, and being entertained by his stories of Irish folklore, changed from a sweet smile to a look of shock.  "It can't be," she said, pointing to the heliport, which was difficult to see from the angle at which they sat.

He said, "What is it?"

Viki said aloud, "I don't want to speak too soon, but, could that be that Dorian?"

Back inside Unforgettable, Blair finished primping herself, and Todd stepped out of the bathroom into view.  

She said, "Hi,"

"Hi, Blair." He kissed the top of her head.

"I feel better now.  I want to know the surprise, though."

"Who said you're getting surprises today?"  he asked.

She said, "I think I am.  You hinted at court.  Are they good surprises?"

"Yes.  They are good surprises."

"An 'Am-I-going-to-cry-surprise?'"

"Maybe," he said, "but not the bad kind of crying," he said.

"You were sad, too.  I can see it, right here."  she pointed to his face.

"I was.  Something hurt my lifeline.  I'm not now, though.  My head is figuring if the surprise is a go or not."

She smiled again, less weakly this time.  "It's a go, why not?  What have we got to lose?  If it's not each other or our kids, then . . . we go, full steam ahead."

He kissed her forehead.  "All right.  I think you'll like it.  In fact, I'm sure you'll like it."

Taking her hand, he lead her outside, and she noticed that over the top of the gazebo, there was a huge mass of floating gold heart balloons.  All of them were tied to the gazebo with gold ribbon, all floated at the same height, making a mass of them like a huge gold cloud above it.  She sucked in her breath. "Oh my God!  Todd!"

He smiled, and she hugged him around the neck, tightly.  She heard the band playing "My One and Only Love," and said, "The vows.  The renewal ceremony.  That's the surprise."

He said, "It's part of it."

"There's more?"

"There's always more, Blair."  he said.

The Mannings made their entrance a short time later, and Sam ran to the band and yelled, "Ya gotta play now, Mom and Dad are here!"  The band began to play, and Sam ran around them in circles, "I'm dock-ded!  YAY!"

Todd and Blair, almost sewn together at the hip, walked arm in arm through the crowd, greeting guests.  He had insisted on her wearing white; not that she minded, but she realized that since the Vickerman Premier when he had first revealed himself to Llanview again, he had been partial to it.  After all, it was the color she was wearing when he first touched her again after all the time apart.  She had agreed, even though it was almost Winter, and donned a white pants-suit with a lace camisole top.  She wanted to please him, mostly because he was working every day to keep his family close.

The morning lead to a warm November midday, which fit perfectly with Todd's plan of having the festivities start outdoors and lead to the indoors later if needed.  While they walked among the slowly increasing crowd, Blair said, "What's going on by the gazebo, Todd?"

She saw rows of white chairs being set up, curving around the gazebo in a half-moon.  He said, "That's later for the surprise."

She asked, folding her arms, "What surprise?"

"Blair, I don't know about you, but if I tell you what the surprise is, then there is no surprise, is there?"

"I guess, but . . ."

"No buts.  Just leave it to me, all right?"

"Okay," she said, and he kissed her cheek, which lead to her leaning toward him with her lips slightly parted, and he kissed her mouth, bringing his hand around her waist to pull her in, softly.

They were interrupted.  "At it again, I see?"

It was Timothy.  He said, "Where's that sister of yours, Lad, I want to make a play for her."

They both laughed.  Todd said, "Viki?  I didn't know you had a thing for her."

"Well, I think she's spectacular.  And it's been too long.  I need a woman in my life, Son."

"Viki's over there, we saw her come in to the yard from the window."  Todd said, "But she's basically spoken for, Old Man."


"No, just spoken for."

"Well then, I have a slight chance, or at least can make a friend of her,"  He was walking without his cane, and seemingly much better.  "We both have had someone else's body parts put in, possibly I have a kindred connection to the woman."

Todd looked at Blair, and smirked, "I didn't realize you liked her that much."

Blair said, taking his arm, "Come on, I'll get you started," and off she went.  As he watched her go, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of anger.  She'd lost her baby.  It was one thing for him to have someone torment him, but for her, it was another story.  He still seethed about it, if he thought of it too long.  He hoped that this day was a new starting place for them, and went off to check the arrangements at the gazebo.

Blair approached Viki with Timothy on her arm.  "Hi, Viki!"  She said, and Viki leaned to embrace her.

"Oh, Blair, how are you doing?  So good to see you."

"I'm fine, doing quite well.  Sam's ours."

"Yes.  Spectacular news."  Viki hugged her again.

Blair closed her eyes and gave in to her emotions as she hugged her sister-in-law.  "Yes, and I'm happy.  We're all family."

"You are," Viki said.

Blair said, "Thank you."  Her voice, husky with feeling, trailed off, as she searched the area again for her husband.

Timothy spoke up, "Viki, nice to see you again," he said, putting out his hand.

She took it, "Mr. Broderick, thank you, for being there for my brother.  He's told me how important your input has been."

"Ah, it was nothing.  The boy is like my son, and I honor that he feels so strongly about it.  He's been through very bad times of late.  Sometimes, it was so dark, I feared for him."

"I know, I felt the same."  Viki said.

Timothy put out his elbow to her, and she took his arm.  He said, "Care to introduce me around a bit?  In case anyone's forgotten who I am, Lass?"

"Certainly," she said, and they walked off.

"You never stop surprising me, Todd."  Blair said, kissing him.

He said, "Well, it's not quite over yet."  A horn sounded, from the band, and an announcement was made.

"Everyone, please move to the gold balloon area, and take your seats."

Blair looked at Todd, "Us too?"

"No," he said, "Not us, too.  Not yet."  He stared into her eyes, "God, I love you."

"And I love you."

Sam pulled at Todd's trouser leg.  "Dad, isn't this enough mushy stuff?"

"Hey Bud, how did you like your special day?"

"It was the best!  Spiderman came and he gave me his autograph, and he picked me up and then he gave me this web gun, it shoots farther than the other one I had!"

"That's great."

"Thanks, Dad, for docking me, and for the party.  Can I get down now and go to the gold balloon thing?"

"Yes, you can.  Remember what I said, about where you have to be."

"Okay!  Bye Mom!"

They watched him run off, and she turned to her husband.  "Does this mean we have it all?  Because it feels like it."

"I guess that's what it means," he said.

"I'm so happy.  Can you stand that you make me happy?"

"Now I can, then I couldn't."

"Thank God for now."

He nodded.  "You okay?"

"I'm more than okay," she said, "I mean, look at this place, what you've done.  All the people, and I can say they are our friends.  Look at the balloons.  You're . . ."

She was interrupted by the band, playing "Unforgettable" and teared up, looking at him.  Accompanying them was a recording of her voice, singing it, from Sam's tape recorder.  She said, "I won't ask how you did that."

"I have my ways," he said, putting out his elbow.  She took it and they walked together, finally finding a path of white flower petals and gold confetti, and continued to follow it to the gazebo.

She said, "Oh my God, Todd?  Is that Dorian?  And Kelly and Cassie?"


She ran from him to them, and embraced them all, her happiness and smiles giving way to a few tears.  He walked up after her, and slowly approached.  Dorian said, "Todd."

"Auntie Dorian," he said, standing with a smirk on his face.

"Mother," Cassie began, and Todd interrupted her.

"Let her say what she wants to, Cassie.  We know my Auntie Dorian doesn't quite understand me.  It never mattered before, it won't matter now."

Blair turned and said, "Todd," with that ut-oh sound in her voice.  

Another interruption occurred when Timothy came to Todd's side, and said, "Now, who is this lovely lady, Lad?"

Todd said, "Oh, no.  Not this, again, please." 

She extended her hand, "I'm Dorian Lord, I'm Blair's aunt.  And you are?"

"Timothy Broderick, Attorney at Law."

"I see, well nice to meet you," she shook his hand.  

Todd, with an eyebrow raised, put a hand out to Blair, who returned to his side.  "Not this," he muttered, under his breath.  "What happened to Viki?"

Blair said, leaning toward him, "It does look as if he's smitten with Dorian already.  Viki must have told him about Clint."

"If they hit it off, and get married, does that mean that she might be my . . . evil stepmother?"

She elbowed him, "Cut it out.  Todd, thank you," she misted over, looking at his handsome face.

He said, "After this, no more secrets.  Just like the first time.  We're going into our lives ready for anything, Mrs. Manning."

She leaned her head on his shoulder, "Whatever you say, Mr. Manning."

Cassie, watching them from a short distance, said to Kelly, "My God, can you believe they are still like this with each other?"

"Heart-stoppin' romance."  Kelly said.

"You said that the last time."

"I know, but that's what it is.  Look at them.  And Blair.  She's so lost in him.  I guess she always was."

Cassie responded, "I know.  They're fortunate to have found each other.  Even though it has taken so long to get it to this point today.  They probably think it was worth it."  She noticed Dorian had taken Timothy's arm, and was being lead to a seat.  Cassie continued in Kelly's ear, "Something is wrong, though.  Something happened.  Blair was strange when she first saw us.  I thought she was going to break down.  Did you feel her shaking?"

"I did.  I just thought she was nervous, though."  Kelly said.

"I think it was more than that.  I'll find out later.  First, we have a renewal ceremony to attend.  Where did Todd want us to stand?"

"Over there," Kelly said, and the two of them proceeded.

Todd looked at Blair, who's arm was tucked in his.  "You ready?"

"To be with you?  For the rest of my life?  Again?" she put her chin on his shoulder, "Yes, I'm ready."

"I just ask one thing,"  he said,

"You brought her here, and I'm not asking her to leave."  She quipped.

He smiled, and touching her face, he said, "No, not that.  Another thing."


"Give me a chance to make all of those missing years up to you."

"You already have," and her face crinkled with bittersweet sadness.

"Give me a chance to take everything bad away and give you everything beautiful."

She couldn't answer.  She just hugged him and gathered herself together.  "Thank you," she said, "for loving me, always."

"Same here, Babe."  They pulled out of the hug, and she took his arm again.  "Let's go Mrs. Manning, let's finish this," and they walked through the rows of guests and took their place in front to proclaim, once again, their love.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Port Charles Chronicles: Chapter 36

        Blair and Starr took one look at each other and raced into the room.  Todd was sitting up in the bed, clearly upset.

        “Mr. Manning, please you need to calm down?  I understand your fears.  But you need to understand what it could mean if you don’t have this operation?”  Dr. Drake was trying to bring his patient’s level of tension down.  He didn’t like the sudden spike in pressure he was seeing.  The man had been clinically dead only hours earlier.  He had hoped after some rest, Manning would be able to cope with the latest news, but now he wasn’t so sure.  Dr. Collins was right.  Todd Manning was on the edge.

        “Calm down?” he was clearly agitated, “You just told me you want to go in and root around in my head and remove lesions found there.  You’re telling me they could be causing my headaches, but you don’t know for sure.  You can’t even guarantee that if they’re removed my headaches will go away.  That doesn’t exactly give me warm fuzzy feelings.”  Todd looked around wildly and spotted Blair.  “Blair, can you believe these guys?  They want to open up my head on a chance they could stop my friggin’ headaches.  They’re just tension headaches, I think you guys are getting a bit extreme.”

        Blair was trying to think of a response when a small hand tugged on hers.

        “Mom, why do those men want to cut into Uncle Todd’s head?  That will hurt him.  I don’t want them to hurt him.” Sam looked into his mom’s eyes and back at Todd.

        Everyone in the room was speechless for a moment.  Dr. Drake recovered first.  “Mr. Manning, I can see you need time to think about all this and you have family here.  Talk to your fiance and we’ll try and figure out the best means to help you.  I’ll leave you for now.”

        Blair crouched down next to Sam. “Sam, these men don’t want to hurt your uncle.  They’re doctors.  All they want to do is make him better.”

        Todd spoke up. “That’s right buddy.  I’m in a bit of trouble and they’re just trying to help, but don’t worry, they won’t hurt me.  I’m really glad you came to see me, Sam.”

        Sam dropped his mom’s hand and ran to the bed.  “I missed you.  Mom said you got real sick, but you’re better.  She thought I could cheer you up.  I flew here in your jet.  It’s really cool.  It doesn’t look anything like those big airplanes.  Vince, let me and Jack take the wheel and fly part of the way here.”

        “I see.  Did Jack come with you?” Todd looked at the doorway hoping Jack would walk through. After a minute he realized his son hadn’t come to the hospital. His jaw tightened and then he shook himself. It’s going to take time, you have to let him get past his grief.

        “Nah, he’s still being a jerk.  He got Mom all upset earlier.  She called him by his full name and they had a long talk.  Mom said someone tried to kill you.  I’m glad they didn’t.” Sam leaned forward and hugged what he could reach of Todd on the bed. “I don’t want you to go away, like Dad.”

        Todd laid his arm across Sam’s shoulders. “Hey, I’m not going anywhere.”  His eyes met Blair’s and he realized she was fearful of the same thing as Sam.  “Don’t you worry.  I’m getting some help.  I’ll be as good as new before you know it.”  He looked over at Kevin and Starr.  They also looked worried. “Hey, everybody needs to stop being so down.  Things are looking up already, my buddy came to visit.”  He flashed a smile at all of them and glanced down at Sam. “Come on up here and talk to me, Sam.”

         That was all the invitation Sam needed.  He climbed up on the bed and sat down next to his uncle.  “When are you coming home?  I want to show you all my new Spiderman toys.”

        “Sam, I don’t think I’m going to be going home to Llanview.”

        “No!  You have to come home.  You said you would be around, you promised.” Sam looked at his uncle. “Dad is gone, you just can’t go, too.” Sam’s voice caught  and his lower lip quivered.

          Todd’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t let Sam down, but he couldn’t go home.  “Listen, Buddy.  I’ll still be around.  I’m just not going to live in Llanview.  I decided to live here.  I bought several properties located here and they’re going to require me to be around Port Charles for a while.  I can still come visit you anytime.  All I have to do is hop on my jet.  You said Vince let you fly the plane.  It was fun, wasn’t it?  You probably won’t believe this, but I can fly that jet, too.”

         Sam’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Really!”

         Starr expressed her own surprise at her father’s statement that he could fly. “Dad, are you kidding?  Sam, I think he meant he can fly the plane like you did.”

        He turned his eyes on his daughter,  “That hurts Shorty, I’m not kidding.  I have a license and everything.”  His face fell.  The last time he had seen that license was before Mitch stuck him in the tomb.  “Well, I did.  I carried it in my wallet.  Mitch took it.  He wanted it to look like I disappeared, after Sam’s death.”

        Starr felt dreadful, she watched her father’s face shadow over.  He had gone from thinking about something enjoyable, to being reminded of his last moments in Llanview. “Dad, I’m sorry, I never meant to question you?  I just didn’t understand.   You never told me you could fly.”

         Todd raised his eyes again. “I guess I was too caught up in getting you and your mom away from Max, then everything else went wrong.”

         Sam saw his uncle’s face and knew Starr had made him sad.  He immediately piped up.  “Starr, Uncle Todd wouldn’t lie.  He’s a good guy.  Uncle Todd when did you learn to fly?  Was it hard?  There were an awful lot of funny things in front of Vince on the plane.  It was like in a spacecraft.  Do you really know how to read all of them?”

        Todd’s mood brightened as his nephew defended him, he looked at his daughter.  He recalled when she used to look at him with awe, but now it was different.  She had gotten disenchanted over the years.   He had let her down too many times.  “It’s alright, Sam.  I never got a chance to show Starr.  I got my license when I was away from Starr and your Mom.  But you’re right, Buddy, the front of the airplane does look like a spacecraft.  Vince told me I had to take a class, to learn all the instruments and I almost changed my mind.   My last stint in school didn’t turn out so well.”

       “You went to school?” Sam’s eyes widened.

       “Yeah, surprisingly taking that class also made me take another class in computers.  My skills were helped immensely by that class.”  Todd caught Blair’s eyes and he smiled.

        Blair blushed as she remembered one very special night.  Todd blacked out all of Llanview for her.  He always managed to surprise her.

        Todd continued his story for Sam.  “Once I aced the instruments class, Vince and I started the actual flying classes.  I’ll never forget the first time I soloed.  Taking that plane up all by myself, flying above the clouds, it was like a little slice of Heaven up there.”  He recalled the peace he had found in flight.  He couldn’t explain it to anyone, but he was sure his dead son and Bitsy were staying close as he felt something or someone lightly touch his shoulders.  He had felt them before, during his captivity.  He knew now, that his son and mom had been with him a lot in the past years.

       Her dad surprised her.  Starr could tell by his voice that he was telling the absolute truth to Sam.  She heard happiness.  The last time she remembered her father happy had been on New Years Eve when Jack had joined the family and they were all together.

        Kevin stood quietly watching Todd’s exchanges with his nephew and noticed  the tension leaving Todd’s body as he interacted with the little boy.  He was surprised at how swiftly Todd had managed to distract the little boy away from the topic of his plan to stay in Port Charles.  It was clear Todd didn’t want to hurt the boy.  Kevin walked quietly over to Blair.  “Ms. Cramer, I’ll leave him in your care.  I don’t want to disturb him; your son’s visit is just what Todd needs right now and I have to talk further with Dr. Webber and Dr. Drake.”  As he began to leave, she grabbed his arm.  He knew she was still worried about their earlier talk.  “He’ll be alright, just stay close.  He needs you.” He patted her hand and left.

        Todd didn’t realize he had gone somewhere else until he felt a small hand touch his face.

       “Uncle Todd, wake up.  How did you get back down to the ground?  The plane was awfully high up when I looked out the window.  Wasn’t it scary bringing the plane back down?”

       “Well, sure it was, but it was also exciting.  It’s like when I used to play football.  You have a plan, all you have to do is stick to it and trust your teammates will follow it too.  In a plane, all those instruments, that I had to learn, are like my team.  If they do their job, I know where I am in relation to the ground.  You follow them to the letter and everything plays out smooth as silk.  You have a touchdown.  You have to fly a certain number of times before you can take any passengers up and I’m afraid I still have a few more flights since I was out of commission  for a while, but I promise to take you up one of these days and you can be my co-pilot.”

        “Wow! You mean it?”

          Todd nodded and was rewarded with a big hug. “Say, Buddy, would you do me a favor? Could you and your sister go get me copies of The Port Charles Press and The Sun?  Your mom and I will talk while you’re gone.”

         Sam hopped off the bed. “You bet, we’ll be back soon. Okay?”

          “Okay.  Thanks, Buddy.”  He gave a little wave as they left the room and then turned his attention to Blair.


          It was nearing dinner time and Walker slammed the phone down.  He had just spent the last couple of hours trying to track down where Blair had taken off too.  His last contact had finally managed to find out that Blair had left Llanview on the Manning jet.  His contact was still trying to find out the flight plan but had assured Walker he would have the destination by nightfall.

         Alison walked into the study and could see her host was upset. “Miles, is it something you would like to talk about?”

         Walker looked across the room at Alison. The programming that made Alison see him as a scarred man was holding.  She had no idea she was in the presence of the man Blair believed to be Victor Lord Jr.  Although a little too mousy for his taste, she still managed to present a decent picture once she had some fancier clothes to wear.  He had asked that she dress for dinner and she now wore a shimmering floor-length gown that looked like it was made of liquid copper.  It clung to her figure accentuating her diminutive curves and with her hair upswept she looked every part the elegant lady.  She didn’t have the fire of Tea, but he wasn’t keeping her around for sex.  He admired her kidnapping skills.

          He had had a good two years with Tea.  But when Todd Manning had surfaced, it had become apparent the ride was over.  He had let Tea go when he realized that by killing himself, he could get out from under the albatross, Irene Manning.  With the loss of their son, all ties with Tea were now cut.

         Alison, on the other hand, was essential to his plans for acquiring Sam back. He looked her up and down.  As a dinner companion, she wasn’t half bad, but he needed to do something to loosen her morals up a bit.  He knew Mitch’s influence was still in effect.  Maybe he would tweak her programming. It might be fun to see how wild he could turn sweet little Alison.  He walked to her and let her in on his call.  “It’s the woman who has my nephew.  It seems she took him and her family out of Llanview.  It galls me no end.  Sam should be with family now that his father is dead.  She has no legal right to him.  My sister was his mother.  I should be the one raising him.”

      “Miles, I’ve told you before.  I can help you.  I know Blair Cramer.  She’s a crazy bitch.  You’ll never get Sam by legal means.  Especially now that the real Todd Manning is back.  He’ll back her with his money and she’ll find a way to keep your nephew far away from you.  I believe you have a right to get to know him and he should be with family.  You say she left town.  Where did she go?”

      “That’s the problem, I lost track of her.  She flew out of Llanview with him yesterday, but I don’t know where.  That was an associate of mine, he says we’ll hear something tonight.”  Walker was pleased.  Alison fully believed he was Miles Cochrane,  Margaret’s brother.  He could almost see the wheels turning in her mind trying to think of ways to help him get Sam.  He had to hand it to Irene.  With the exception of Todd Manning, her mind control methods were proving to be quite effective with Alison Perkins and Johnny Zacchara.

       “Well, then we wait.  As soon as we find out where she’s taken him, we can make some plans.  I’ve had some experience with helping people get their lost children.  You’ve generously let me stay here, the least I can do is help you get Sam.”


        Sam wandered around the gift shop looking for something to get his uncle.  Starr was waiting patiently holding the newspapers her father had asked for.

       “Why don’t you get him some cards, Sam?  You and he could play ‘Go Fish’.”

         Sam looked around and found a deck of cards and brought them to his sister.  “Starr, is Uncle Todd bad sick?  I don’t want him to go away.  Dad left and now you.  Everybody is leaving.  Did I do something wrong?”

       “Oh Sam, you didn’t do anything wrong.  Things just happen.  Your Uncle Todd isn’t going anywhere too far, he’s just decided to live here.  I’m sorry if you feel we’re all leaving.”

         “You left with Hope and now she’s gone, just like Dad.  Those doctors said Uncle Todd needed to have something cut out of his head.  How did he get something in his head?  Did it happen when he was gone all those years?”

          Starr set the papers down and pulled her younger brother into a hug.  “I don’t know, Sam.  The doctors did a test and the test said there is a problem.  The doctors want to operate on him.  That’s what Uncle Todd meant when he said they wanted to cut into his head.  You remember when the doctors operated on your dad.”

         Sam nodded  “I remember, but dad wouldn’t wake up for a long time.  You told me Uncle Todd already slept for a real long time when he was gone.  That’s probably why he doesn’t want them to cut into his head.  He doesn’t want to go back to sleep like that.  I don’t think I want him to go to sleep like Dad.  What if this time he didn’t wake up?”

         Starr shivered inwardly.  She didn’t want to think of that possibility.  She had seen her father lying on the dock not breathing.  If Michael hadn’t gotten him back, she would have been devastated.  “I don’t want you to think that way.  You’ve seen him, he got rid of the man who wanted to hurt you.  If he decides to have that operation, he’ll make it through it.  I know, because he survived out on an ocean, all by himself on a raft, just to get home to me and Mom and Jack.  So, we’re not going to think bad thoughts, like him leaving, are we?”

         “Okay.  But I still wish he would come back home,” he said sadly.

          Starr laughed “Well if he won’t, then maybe you should talk Mom into moving here.”

          Looking up at his sister, Sam replied. “Maybe I will.”

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The End of Blame: Chapter 52

Early the next day, the family was up getting ready for the big day.  Sam's day of adoption hearing had arrived, and everyone scrambled to be ready.  Jack had his best suit, as did Todd, and Little Sam got his first suit for the occasion.  They all stood, in a row, for Blair's inspection.  They looked like three matching dolls.  She said, "I am not sure which one is the most handsome!"

Sam said, "Me!" and slapped Jack's thigh, causing him to try and grab him.

Jack said, "You little rugrat, I'll make mincemeat out of ya!"

Todd lifted an eyebrow and said, "They still say that?"

Sam, running away from Jack, said, "No, he got it off a cartoon."

Blair said, "No running in your good clothes."  The two boys settled down, and sat for breakfast.

"Since you got dressed first, take your suitcoats off, and put a bib on."  She looked at Todd, "All three of you."

Little Ray was in his carrier.  Blair had purchased a teeny suit-like onesie for him to wear.  It had an artificial tie.  All four of the Manning men were in matching colors: a dark suit, with a patterned tie, and a white shirt.

When all of their bibs were on, Blair served their breakfast.  She was not dressed, but had everything ready to just slip her navy and white dress on.

"We're going to look so cool at my dock-shun."  Sam said.  "Everyone will know we're a family, right Mom?"

"Right, Little Man."

"I thought I was big now, because we have Little Ray.  Besides, Mom, where did he come from again?"

"Sam, you know, he was inside my tummy, remember?"

"Yeah, but, how did he get there?"

"Okay!"  Todd interrupted, "We're playing the quiet game.  Ready?"

Jack burst out laughing and almost sprayed orange juice at his father.  Todd responded by taking a napkin, balling it up, and throwing it at Jack's head.  When he ducked, the napkin landed in Little Ray's carrier, on his lap, as if he caught it and he immediately picked it up and threw it onto the floor.

"Are you determined, all of you, to make a mess?"  She said, picking it up.

"Come on, you love your four boys."  Todd chided her.

"Yeah, but not cleaning up after them."

"Mom's right.  Let's all clean up our mess and let her go get ready.  Let's go, boys."  Todd said.

Sam said, "Mom, I love you."  he hugged her legs.  "Thanks for docking me."

"You're welcome, Sam."


"Yeah, Sam."

"Same thing, thanks for my dock-shun."

"Look Sam, a-dop-shun," Jack tried.

Sam put his hands on his hips and said, "I said that already!"

Blair felt her heart swell, as she watched them bantering about the kitchen, Todd stopping to smile at Little Ray, and them all cleaning up, before going to their suit jackets and putting them back on.  With a wistful feeling that she could not quite identify as love, bittersweetness, or gratefulness, or a combination of all three, she ascended the stairs to get her court clothes on.


When Todd and Blair and their boys arrived at the courthouse, they were met by Starr in the lobby, who was holding Hope's hand, and Addie, who was smiling.  "Good morning, Todd," Addie said, kissing his cheek.

"Addie," he said, hugging her, "Big day."

"I know, for you and my beautiful girl and my Sam."

Blair had an uneasy feeling when she saw the courtroom door.  It happened to be the same courtroom where the shooting took place, and claimed the life of Sommer.  Todd also noticed, and he said, "Are you going to be all right?"

"Yes," she cleared her throat, "yes.  This is for Sam."

He nodded, and the family proceeded into the court.  When entering, Sister Rebecca Katherine was there, and Timothy was already present and accounted for at the front table.  Todd, Sam and Blair went to the table, while Addie, the nun, Starr, Jack, Hope and Little Ray sat in the spectator's area.  Sister Rebecca Katherine whispered, "Jack, ya look like a pretty boy in that suit, I'll kick your tail later, eh?"

When they sat at the table in the court, Sam looked up and said, "Grandpa, look, there's a pretty window up there.  The sun is coming in.  It looks like God."

Blair looked at Todd and her eyes misted over.  He took her hand and mouthed, "I love you."  He could feel her hand trembling.  She's never gotten over it.  Sommer.  She's never gotten past it.

Sam said, "Dad!  Can I change my name to Sam Spiderman Manning?  Please?"

"No, Sam, Spiderman keeps his identity secret, remember?"  Todd answered.

"Oh, yeah."

The judge took his place at the bench, and said his usual formal opening, then turned to The Mannings.  "Sam Manning?"

He stood up, "Yes judge."

The judge smirked, "Hello, Mr. Manning."

"Hi.  I want to get dock-ded.  Today, and no funny stuff."

The court erupted into laughter.  Todd leaned over, "You tell him!" he whispered.  Blair elbowed her husband.

"Why should you be, uh, dock-ded?"  the judge said.

"Because I love my Mommy and my Daddy.  They take good care of me.  Dad's a superhero and Mom's singing is the best, it makes my heart beat slower so I can sleep.  I never want to leave them.  Even though Dad says, when I grow up, I'll get my own house, I don't want to ever do anything like that."

Blair put her hand to her lips, and her eyes moistened with tears.  Todd put a strong hand on Sam's head, and the boy looked up to him and smiled.

The judge went through some papers, and then said, "Well, everything appears to be in order.  I see here the child's biological father is out of the country and has signed over parental rights to both of The Mannings, is that correct, counselor?"

Timothy stood, responding, "Yes, your honor."

"Sam, can I ask you another question?"  The judge asked.

"Yeah, okay.  Just as long as I get dock-ded by lunch."

Again laughter.  The judge said, "Do you know the difference between a truth and a lie?"

"Yes.  A truth is a good, and a lie is a bad."

"All right.  Which one is real?"

"Both, but the lie is a real trick, and a truth is a real thing."

The judge chuckled, and said, "Fine.  Sam, why are Todd and Blair going to adopt you?"

"Because they love me.  They want me.  My real Dad, he didn't want me."  Blair looked at Todd with tears in her eyes.  He kept his hand on his son's head.  Sam continued, "He was mean to me sometimes.  He didn't like me all that much.  But my Dad, he's a hero, he saved my mom.  He takes me places.  He plays with me, all the time, even when he's tired.  He's my best friend, but so is Grandpa."


"Him."  he said, pointing to Timothy.

"Mr. Broderick, can you explain?"

"The boy calls me Grandpa, your honor, because, well, I feel like The Mannings are my family.  There's no crime in that."

"I've made my decision.  Sam Manning, you are now the child of Todd and Blair Manning.  You must listen to them, and love them, until you're big.  Do you understand?"

"Yay!  Yes Mr. Judge I do!"  he jumped on Todd, who picked him up and hugged him.  Sam squeezed his neck and then put his arms out to Blair, who let Todd continue to hold him, but hugged him just the same.

"I'm dock-ded, Jack!"  Sam yelled, and jumping down from Todd, ran to his brother.

Timothy lead the way from the table, and Todd and Blair lingered behind, her arm linked in his.  "Today's a big day for him." she said.

"And us.  Another kid.  Ours.  I like that." he said.

"It's amazing, really, how far we've come in so short a time."  she put her head on his shoulder as they walked.  They watched as their eldest children took the youngers by the hands and carrier and brought them to the limo.  

Blair turned back, looking into the courtroom, which was all but empty.

He said, "You okay?"

"As good as I can be, I think.  You've been nothing but perfect to me, Todd.  You've really helped.  But sometimes," her voice wavered, "I just . . . I miss my baby girl, Todd.  We never got to know her."

"I know," he said, watching her scan the room with her eyes. 

"I don't think I realized how . . . much it still hurts me."  She closed her eyes.  "This place, it . . . just makes me see it over again."  Her hand went to her belly without conscious thought.  "It's behind us, right?"

"Yeah, it's behind us.  That's why you're going to understand what I am going to do next.  All right?"

She was surprised.  "Okay.  But what do you mean?"

"Trust me, it's going to be fine."

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