Monday, August 29, 2011

Part Two

"You what?" Jimmy was standing, leaning against his desks, arms crossed and eyes glaring at her. "Surely all three of you are smarter than this!"

She couldn't argue with him. She knew the rules as well as he did, and she should have passed the case on to someone else as soon as she realized it was her father. Bobby should have too, given his difficult relationship with Ryan.

"Anything? Anything at all to say? To defend this monstrosity of a potential lawsuit?"

She shook her head. "We got a suspect. Matthew--the little boy--he witnessed the attack."

"And who interviewed him? You? Does any of that speak to you? How is that going to play on the stand...that you interviewed your little brother for this crime? The defense is going to have a field day with this!"

She had never seen Jimmy so angry. "I know I made a mistake...but it's the right thing. I was able to get information from him that other cops wouldn't have gotten. We needed a name, Jimmy...and we got it. Goren and Eames are hunting him down as we speak."

He shook his head. "Maybe an hour with Carver would refresh your memory. If, and it's a big if, we're able to get this guy, every bit of that interview will be trashed by the defense. You're too close to this, Vanessa, and you know it!"

She stood back, close to the door, hearing his voice escalating. He had drawn one finger out, pointing at her and shaking it. Breathe, she reminded herself, breathe...he's only angry...

"We'll lose this case because of what you did," he was saying. "A judge will throw the boy's interview out because of conflict of interest." He shook his head again. "I can't believe you, of all people, would do this...and you know your father will sue as soon as he's able, saying you did it on purpose."

"We saved his life...we found the man who did this...and in case you've forgotten, we've saved multiple other men as well."

Deakins was fairly writhing with anger. He held his finger out at her one more time. "You're suspended. As of right now. Go home."

She laughed nervously. "You've got to be joking, Jimmy...okay, I made a mistake, but--"

"I mean it, Vanessa. You're good--you're one of my best--but I can't have you playing out your family drama in the squad room. And consider yourself fortunate it's a suspension...I'll have to kiss some serious ass for the brass to keep you on here." He sat at his desk, looking defeated. "We don't have the money or resources for this kind of mistake. This is training 101. It should never have been such a disaster."

She stood silently, thinking about everything he had said, knowing he was right. She knew as soon as she saw the address that she should have stayed away. But she couldn't. She needed to be there, needed to see what had happened. If she knew who did this, if she could solve the ultimate puzzle. And now it was a disaster, collapsing around her. And now...even if Goren and Eames could get this Luke, they still didn't know how the puzzle pieces all fit together. And now they might never know.

Deakins looked up from his desk. "Go. Go pick up your daughter. I'll let you know when you can come back."

She nodded and started to turn, then stopped. "Captain...I'm sorry. But they still need to figure out who Ford and Simon were. They're undercover, and this is big." She stopped speaking, seeing his head in his hands. "And one more thing," she said, straightening her back as much as she could, "I would appreciate it if you didn't approach me angrily and shaking your finger. It...wasn't necessary."

She opened the door and left the office, heading toward the elevator. Do not pass her own office, do not collect any files. She walked quickly to the elevator, trying to leave as soon as possible.

Deakins watched her go, secretly devastated at his actions, but knowing it was the only way to save her job. She would recover from a suspension. From a firing by the chief, not so much.


It was late again when he opened the bedroom door to undress. Even in the dark, she could read him; the stiffness in his spine, the sharp, short movements. He was angry. It poured off of him as surely as he was breathing. She just wasn't sure if he was angry with her or with Deakins.

Deciding to brave it, she asked, "You okay?"

She saw him stiffen briefly before responding, "Yeah, I'm fine." He sat on his side of the bed. "I didn't realize you were still awake....I guess I should be asking if you're okay."

She rolled over to face him, propping her head up on one hand. "I'm was a bad call on my part. Deakins will get over it in a few days and then I'll be back."

He wasn't moving, still looking at her, and it made her uncomfortable. "You know you almost got fired today," he finally said. "You really pushed the limit."

"Yeah...I know." She played with the comforter. "I needed to know about this. I needed to know why someone would do this to him."

He was still sitting stiffly on the edge of the bed. "You know why someone would do this with him. Anyone would do this to him. He's an asshole. He's lucky it hasn't happened before." He yanked the comforter back on his side before climbing in. "I would have given my eye teeth for my own chance to take him down. There's something inherently unfair in all of this."

She was quiet for a minute. "My little brother is really cute."

" know you can't see him again, right?"

"Yeah." She rolled over, looking at him again. "Are you angry with me?"

"No. I would have done the same thing...I can't blame you for anything." He paused. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but Carver thinks he's got it under control. I think Deakins wants you to sweat a little bit. We got Luke...Luke Ellison. He was present as part of this poker club. We're still trying to identify Ford and Simon, but I tend to think you're right...they were undercover trying to bust something bigger. Your dad's an accountant...O'Donnell worked for world bank. I'm sensing a pattern."

She hmm'd, then looked at him. "Yeah, it's a pattern." She looked down for a second, then said, "I'm thinking of going to visit Kate tomorrow. Not my dad...but I'm sure Kate and Matthew could use some company."

She could tell he was frustrated. "I thought we just agreed that you couldn't see Matthew."

"Well, I agree it's not a good idea to have a relationship...but right now Ryan's in the hospital and he'll be there for a few weeks. She's scared and doesn't have anyone else to lean on."

"Tell her to lean on Ava! Isn't Ava the favored child? Ryan made it very clear you're not welcome in that home, and I don't want you to go there!"

"You're not being rational," she told him, trying to run a hand up his arm. But he pulled away from her. He was having none of it.

"Look...I don't put my foot down very often...probably not nearly as much as I should...but you're not going over there. You cut ties with that man over two years ago. I will not have Marlene exposed to him or even his family."

"I'm not talking about Marlene...I'm talking about me..."

He shook his head forcefully. "No. And I mean it, Vanessa. You're already suspended from work. Carver's figured out a legal maneuver to protect the interview. It's not going to hold if you're going over there making nicey-nice on your own time."

"Is that what this is about? The trial?"

"No." He was sitting up, glaring at her. "This is about your inability to draw firm boundaries around your abusive father. If you won't do it, I will. Stay away. That means from Ryan, from Kate, from Matthew, and from his sister--whatever her name is. Stay away from that house and that family. You cannot be involved with them. This case deserves more, but even more importantly, you deserve more. And so does Marlene." He took a breath. "And so do I."

She disagreed with him, disagreed vehemently, but it was nearly one in the morning and she didn't want to fight it out in the middle of the night with him. She could tell he was determined.

"Can we discuss this in the morning? It's awfully late to be having a cohesive discussion."

"No," he said flatly, flopping down on his back. "There's nothing left to discuss. I told you, I'm putting my foot down. It's done."

She watched him for a minute as he yanked the covers around him, knowing he was angry and not having an idea of what to do about it. "Bobby, this is my family. And I'm your wife. You don't have the right to 'put your foot down' and tell me what I'm going to do. I won't involve Marlene...but if my conscience tells me to visit Kate, I'm going to do that. You can't stop me and you'd be wise to remember you're my husband and not my father. The last father I had, things didn't end up so well."

"Great. Then go. Sink your job. Do it all by yourself. But don't say I didn't try to warn you." He punched at his pillow as though to get it comfortable. "Don't say I didn't warn you. And you'd do a lot better if you weren't so damn stubborn. Not everyone is against you, you know. That kid, Matthew, has two parents. You're not anyone to him. Before today he never met you. Before you get all into genetics and relationships, you need to remember that. You're nothing to him. Just some lady he talked to at the hospital about how his dad was hurt." He knew it was cruel, but he was angry. She never listened. She was so damn hard-headed.

She didn't answer him, and he listened out of guilt, convinced he'd hear her crying, but she didn't. She was incredibly quiet. He didn't know what that meant, if she was planning to follow his direction or if she would follow her original plan. As long as she didn't take Marly along, he would count this as a partial win. He rolled over and closed his eyes. Hopefully the morning would go better than this afternoon.

She was up making eggs and toast and five a.m.

She briefly considered adding bacon, knowing how he liked it, but considering the health effects, decided not to.  He was on early today, she knew, and figured he'd appreciate a good breakfast before he left.  But after several minutes, when he still hadn't made his way into the kitchen, she started to wonder.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and doctored it up before sipping on it.  Maybe he was still angry.  She knew instinctively he probably was, but she couldn't be concerned about that too much.  She knew him, knew he loved her more than life, and that as long as she didn't do anything reckless he would forgive her. Eventually.

She heard his heavy footsteps enter the kitchen and turned around to face him.  He was cleanly shaven and smelled lightly of soap and cologne, but the dark circles under his eyes gave away what a difficult night it had been for him.  And for the first time, she felt sorry--truly sorry that he was worried.

"I-um," she took a breath.  "I made you eggs and toast."

His smile was grim and forced, but it was there.  "Thanks...I'm just going to have toast and coffee..."

"Bobby," she blurted out, "I would never do anything to purposely worry or hurt you.  Or Marlene."

She watched him still, his back stiffen again, before he turned to face her.  His eyes were clouded with the intensity she had seen from many cases, but his words were gentle.  "I know...and it will be okay."

He leaned over and kissed her cheek, then grabbed his coffee mug.  "I'll see you tonight."  She watched him as he left the kitchen, and listened to the footsteps walk through the apartment and the front door open and shut.

Picking at an egg, she felt less secure than yesterday.  She tossed the eggs in the trash, then headed back to the bedroom for a shower.

He woke with a raging hard on, his first thought being about his wife. When he realized she wasn't there, his second thought merged into, "figures". He had been having a fantastic dream about incredible sex on his desk at work. He lay there silently, recalling their argument from the night before and listening to the shower running. Somebody, somewhere, should have warned him how hard it could be, married to your best friend and the most incredible lover you'd ever known. Especially if you had to work with her. And really especially if she was stubborn.

He debated, briefly, about taking matters into his own hands, because it didn't seem to be going away, and the images of her spread across his desk and urging him on were not disappearing from his stream of consciousness. Then he heard the water turn off and he closed his eyes. He wondered what his chances were in scoring this morning, if he were really, really understanding and nice. Then he wondered how manipulative that was. On a scale of one to ten, probably about a nine and a half.

She came into the bedroom wrapped in a towel and using another one to rub her head. When she turned around, she noticed he was awake. "Well, surprise, surprise," she said. "I figured you'd be sleeping in today after such a long night."

He shook his head. "Not in the cards. How about you--what are you doing today?"

She reached into her lingerie drawer, pulling out a pair of functional panties and a bra. "Taking Marly to the park," she replied. "Maybe cleaning the house a bit...I'm sure I'll be working on some puzzles at some point during the day. Cooking up soup for lunch and chicken for dinner. Washing some dishes, cleaning out the fridge. Does that all meet with your specifications?"

The tone wasn't as ugly as the implications were. She was pulling on her panties, then slipping into the bra, and he felt the frustration take over his body. Despite his freaking hard-on, he still felt irritated at her. Why couldn't she just let it go?

"Fine," he replied irritably. "That sounds like a great schedule. I hope you and Marly have a terrific day."

She turned around as he was getting out of the bed, heading toward the shower. "Bobby--wait--don't I need to take care of that for you? I mean, it's part of my duties, right?"

He was livid, so livid he wanted to hit her. Instead, he walked into the bathroom without a word and locked the door. He turned on the water in the shower, then leaned against the wall, taking a breath. Why couldn't she understand that he was just worried about her? About Marlene? That she came within a hair's breadth of losing her job yesterday? Jesus, somebody had to care. Why couldn't she? This--this act, like he expected sex from her, was over the top. He'd never, ever, not once, expected anything like that. He had vowed he never would after Forrester assaulted her. How dare she.

The water was warm and comfortable, and despite his anger his erection hadn't subsided. Damn the human body, he thought. He leaned against the wall in the shower, closing his eyes and thinking back to his dream, when there was no anger, only arousal, only excitement. His hand settled on himself, pushing the last bit of frustration out of his mind and focusing on his own pleasure.


They didn't make it to the park until that afternoon, after Marly's nap. The sandbox was empty and Marly settled down in it, digging and playing while Vanessa sat nearby. Shortly after she received a text from him, wanting to know where she was. She debated about responding, but finally texted him back that she was at the sandbox. Twenty minutes later he appeared, still in his suit, looking focused but hardly repentant.

He took a seat next to her on the edge of the sandbox. "Deakins got a call from your father today. He wants to see you."

"So what? Did you tell him my caveman of a husband has already decided I can't go? Apparently I'm unable to make those decisions for myself."

He was quiet for a minute, watching Marly digging in the sand. "If you want to go, then go. You're right. You're a grown up and entirely entitled to fuck up your life however you want. If you want to go invite trouble back in, be my guest. But don't expect me to sit around and let you bring that poison into our daughter's life. I won't do it."

"That's your problem, Bobby," she said, poking at the sand herself. "You never even gave me the chance to decide for myself. I had no intention of seeing him. I had an intention of seeing his wife, his son, to see how they were doing. The same way I see most victims, to see how they're doing. You're the one who started making demands about doing and not doing things. About needing to put your foot down about all sorts of shit. You're the one who needed to make the stand. So make it. I hope it makes you feel more...I don't know...manly, if that's what you're after." She shuffled her feet in the sand. "It's kind of disappointing that five years in you think so little of me that you're convinced I'm going to chase after Ryan for some sort of relationship. Not to mention hypocritical."

Now he was glaring out her. "What does that mean, hypocritical?"

She shook her head. "You can't make up your mind if you love or hate your mother, and in the meantime, you want to hold the whole family hostage while you figure it out. Go this week but not the next. Don't have a picnic but buy food from the cafeteria. You can hold the baby but for only so long. What the hell, Bobby? And since when did you stop trusting me and my own decisions? Since when did you decide I'm not balanced?"

He felt his cheeks flush. "I never said that," he argued. "I never said you weren't balanced...I've always thought you were amazing and I know you make decisions based on what you think is best for our family."


"But you make no sense when it comes to Ryan. You know that."

She stood up, dusting off the back of her pants. "Marly and I are going to go home. I'm done discussing this with you right now. You're not being fair and I refuse to listen to any more of this."

Before she could speak, he had grabbed her hand. "Stop." Seeing her expression, he added quickly, "Please."

She hesitated for a minute, then sat next to him again. "What?" she finally asked, unsure of where this was going.

"I do trust's your family I don't trust...and I know how easy it is to get sucked in to family issues...and I don't want to see you lose your love what you do."

She sat quietly, watching Marly's hole getting deeper. "I don't trust my family either. But I know that Matthew and Kate need help. I've lived in that house before...I know what their lives are like. Even if they can't admit it, I know." She shook her head. "I don't want to lose my job either. But some things are more important than a job. I know you know that. You just don't want to face the idea of me not coming back to work with you."

He exhaled a deep breath. "Maybe." He looked ahead of him. "So what do we do? Report this somehow?"

"There's nothing to report," she said, and he knew she was right. "That's why I was going to go back. I have a three week window to find out how to help them, before he comes home."

"You can't save the world, you know. Sometimes you have to let it go."

"Could you? If it was your four-year old half-brother? Your half-sister? Could you walk away?"

After a quiet moment, he shook his head. "No."

"If they fire me, then they fire me, Bobby...I can live with that, but I can't live with turning my back on that little boy." Her eyes focused on her own daughter, saw the delight on Marly's face. "I can't do that."

"Okay," he said finally. "But let me know before you go...and only when Marly is in preschool or with me. I have to know you're safe. The thought of losing you..." he shook his head. "You have to understand my side too."

For the first time she looked at him, saw the pain in his face and the fear. "I think I get it," she replied softly. They sat in silence for another twenty minutes before gathering Marly up and heading home.


The door opened and she smiled. "Hi, are you?"

"Vanessa." Kate's voice was relieved, she thought. "I'm fine. Please, come in."

Vanessa stepped into the house and followed Kate into the front room. "Have a seat." Kate motioned to the couch, and so Vanessa took a seat there and waited while Kate disappeared briefly from the room. When she appeared, Matthew and his sister were with her.

"I wanted you to meet my oldest, Hannah." She stroked the girl's hair,which was straight and dark. The child's eyes were empty, much as her brother's. "Hannah, this is your sister, Vanessa. She's one of your daddy's other children....she helped find the man who hurt daddy. She's a doctor."

"Hi," Hannah said quietly.  Her face was devoid of emotion, nearly robotic.  Vanessa knew what it was like to operate on that plane of existence.  "Thank you for helping my daddy."

She nodded. "I was glad to help, Hannah. It's very nice to meet you." Peeking around Kate, Vanessa smiled at Matthew. "Hi Matthew. It's good to see you again." The little boy smiled at her and hung closely to his mother.

"Ryan should be home in a couple of weeks," Kate said, easing herself down into one of the chairs. "I know he would like to see you."

Vanessa gave a quick nod and glanced at the children. "Would it be possible for us to talk privately?"

Kate looked surprised, but said, "Of course...Hannah, why don't you and Matthew go to the playroom?" Hannah's face lit up and she nodded quickly, taking Matthew by the hand and leading him into another room. Kate turned back to Vanessa. "What can I help you with?"

"Actually," Vanessa began, "I'm wondering if there's a way I can help you."

There was a silence between the two women as fear, then anxiety, crossed Kate's fine features. "I'm not sure what you're talking about," she finally responded.

"Has my father ever talked about my mom?"

"A bit." Kate was crossing and uncrossing her legs, clearly nervous.  It was clear to Vanessa that Kate knew exactly where she was going, and she could only imagine the poison her father had spewed about her mom.

Vanessa took a deep breath. "Kate, I'm here because I'm concerned about you and your children. I know my father and I know his propensities. I know what it was like to be a child in his house. He never laid a finger on me but he abused me as viciously as if he had beaten me every day of my life. Nobody is allowed a dissenting opinion in Ryan's house. Everything has to be perfect, doesn't it? Down to your remote controls? How many hours has he made Matthew stay in his room remaking his bed to get it perfect? How about Hannah? Does he praise her pretty hair, her self-control at the dinner table? Does he make her practice washing the dishes until they're perfect? And many times does he make you change before he takes you out to dinner?"

Kate's eyes were frozen, filled with tears, and Vanessa wasn't sure if it was from shame or anger. "He loves us," she murmured.

Vanessa nodded. "He loved my mother into suicide, me into drug addiction, and my sister into anorexia. He's poison, Kate. If what I'm saying doesn't sound familiar, then I'm really, really happy for you. But if it does, please don't make the same mistake my mother did...please don't wait until you can't take it any more. It's not worth it. He's not worth it."

Kate shook her head. "Vanessa...he told me...he told me how out of control you were...I'm glad you have your life back under control now, but..."

"Do you know what he did after I 'got my life back under control'?" She motioned the quotations in the air. "He got angry with me over something I said to him about my sister. So he sent photographs of me from ten years ago--photos of me with other men, dressed inappropriately, stoned--to my husband. To show him who he married. Actually, I believe what he said was my husband deserved to know the blood that was running through our daughter's veins."

Kate's face dropped, a nearly imperceptible break in her facade, but she didn't acknowledge what Vanessa had said.

"The day I came to your house...that's why. To return his filthy photos."

Kate stood, then turned away from her. After several minutes, she said, "Thank you for coming. I'll think about what you said." She turned around quickly. "Can I see you out?"

Vanessa shook her head. "I can do it, thank you. But please, if you don't believe me, you can talk to Ava...I just want you to know you're not alone."

Kate nodded. "I appreciate your concern." She swallowed hard, then smiled. "It was good to see you. I'll let the children know you said goodbye."

Vanessa forced a smile, then nodded and saw herself out the door. Closing it behind her, she pulled her sunglasses down and headed out into the April afternoon.

He closed the door behind him. "She's asleep. Early, I know, but I thought it would be nice to spend the time together."

She was changing into her pajamas. "Does this mean dinner and bad tv in bed?"

"Yep. And maybe sex too...but hopefully not bad sex."

She laughed at that and reached for her tank top.

"Eh, don't bother," he told her. "Just the panties are fine."

"Oh," she said, surprised. "Do I get to make the rules for you too?"

"Why not?" He shrugged and tossed his clothes in the hamper, only leaving his boxers on. She nodded in agreement. "Give me ten or fifteen minutes and I'll have you a dinner you'll never forget." She grinned and climbed into the bed, flipping through the channels.

She had settled it on a crime drama when he reappeared with their dinner--plates of whatever he could find or make quickly, as well as a bottle of wine. "What do you want first?" he asked.

"I'm not picky...any of it is fine with me. But I do want a glass of that wine." He nodded and after setting down the food, poured them each a healthy glass.

They nibbled as they watched, both making occasional comments about what was wrong with the procedural, laughing at some of the dialogue, until he finally said, "Are you still mad at me?"

She shook her head. "No. I was just...well, frustrated. You know. It was hard...sometimes doing what you think is right makes you really unpopular."

"Yeah," he nodded. "I get that."

She chucked a baby carrot at him. "You should have been nicer to me."

He caught it and tossed it back. "I'll consider what you said." Then, "I do love you, you know."

"I know, Bobby...I know."

He moved the plates out of the way but left the tv on, then pulled her closer to him, circling her nipples with his thumb and forefinger. She sighed.

"This is starting to become a habit of yours...some sort of weird nipple play." She smiled at him and stroked his hair. "What is it that makes this so enjoyable for you?"

He pulled the nipple up with his fingers, then relaxed it. "I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "I just think it's rather lovely. And it reminds me when you were nursing...and how beautiful I thought you were when you did that." He gently kissed the hardened tip, then said, "Come to think of it, I thought they were rather beautiful from the first time I saw were so soft and lovely and I just wanted to stroke them in my hands."

She couldn't help but smile. "Really? That's what you thought? You thought they were lovely?"

His mouth suckled the point gently, grasping it in between his teeth and pulling upward until she gasped. "Yes," he murmured. "That's what I thought. It's what I still think. I think your breasts are more beautiful now than they've ever been."  He laved the skin softly.   "But then, that's generally what I think about you anyway."

She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feelings seeping through her. She felt incredibly beautiful, knowing that she aroused him. His lips released one hard point and moved to the next. As his lips began to suck avidly at her nipple, she felt his fingers move up to her recently released breast and pleasure surrounding her as he twisted and tugged and pulled with his fingers.

She didn't want to rush him. It was sheer heaven, the way he was loving her, the knowledge that even after they had fought so fiercely the day before he could be so hot for her, so wanting. And so she lay, peacefully, enjoying his fingers and mouth performing such beautiful acts on her.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, his hand worked its way slowly down her belly, inch by inch, stroking the skin while his mouth continued to suckle on her as if he couldn't get enough. His fingers gently probed her; finding her pleasantly wet, his mouth began to follow his fingers in a predictable path.

"Bobby...we could mix this up..."

He stopped, clearly confused. "You want to? I thought you liked it this way..."

"I do," she affirmed quickly. "I just thought, maybe, we could play a little bit."

He slid his body back up to her mouth and kissed her. "What do you want to play? I'm really good at anything involving my tongue or my fingers."

She was laughing when his tongue twisted with hers and they began laughing together. "I don't know," she said. "Tell me your fantasies."

"I had one with a desk the other desk at really wanted to do it there..."

She snorted. 'I just don't think that will work, Bobby...we might get into trouble breaking into the office at this hour."

He nipped her neck and grinned. "Well, you're not thinking of something that would require me to wear a cape or anything, are you?"

She laughed. "Now that's an idea...a cape, huh? Would you prefer Batman or Superman?"

He snorted. "I thought you prefered Aquaman."

"He doesn't wear a cape. Besides, I'm not sure you can communicate psychically with the dolphins...and even if you could, I'm not sure it would affect our sex life."

"Maybe I could send psychic messages to know, like, 'spread your legs, I'm working my way down'?"

She punched his arm. "That's not psychic...that's just typical!"

"Fine...we'll do something a little different, then!" He picked up a couple pillows and moved them down the bed.

"Like what?"

"Trust'll like it. Come here." He pulled her closer to him, arranging her on the pillows. "Lay on your belly...I promise, you'll like it."

She did as he asked, and he propped her bottom up on the pillows. "Comfy?" he asked, grinning at her.

"Curious is more like it," she said, looking at him. "What are you going to do to me?"

His smile was naughty and he leaned over and sucked her shoulder. "I promise you'll like it...just a little different...relax and enjoy, okay?"

She glanced over her shoulder at him. "You're really pushing this, aren't you?"

He was sliding his tongue down her spine. "Yep. Probably." His mouth hit one of her ass cheeks, nipping gently, and she yelped, trying not to giggle at the sensation.

"Bobby!" she gasped, pushing down the giggles. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Trying something new!" he said with complete sincerity, nipping her again as he moved down to her upper thigh. Once there, he began to lick and suck at her intensely until she began to moan his name. "Bobby...why..."

He stopped. "Does it feel different? Do you like it?"

She buried her head in her pillow. "Mmm." She felt his hands stroking her thighs and her bottom again. One finger traced over her cheek to her thigh before she felt his mouth kissing her legs. After a few minutes, he propped her up higher, and she suddenly understood his purpose as he slipped two fingers into her from behind, then let his tongue follow.

Her breath caught immediately. He was right, they'd never tried anything like this before. Completely different position, completely different feeling, and she realized his tongue was deeply inside her vagina, swirling and tasting and pleasuring her as his fingers slid over her clit, and the feeling was incredible. She moaned into the pillow, enjoying the change of pace tremendously. She arched herself up for him and she heard him chuckle quietly, knowing she was feeling insanely good. "Bobby," she moaned softly, "I want to come...please...we could do it like this...feels good."

She felt his mouth move up and lave her ass cheek before slipping his fingers inside of her again, pumping in and out. "Bobby..."

He nipped her again, before whispering, "Don't worry...I want to get there with you." She felt his body moving against hers, pressing against her thighs, then gently slipping inside of her. "Beautiful," he murmured, thrusting gently inside of her fully, sheathed in her wetness. She moaned deeply. "So incredibly beautiful." He thrust again, this time a tiny bit harder and quicker, and she arched back against him.

He didn't speak again, just entangled one hand in the hair near her neck, pulling her back against him every time he pushed forward. God, she was beautiful. She glanced at him over her shoulder and caught a glimpse, enough to tell he was enjoying this at least as much as she was. His mouth was open, eyes closed, body tight and hips ready to spring forward repeatedly. Those hips. She loved his hips, his cock, his testicles, his ass. all of it. All of it that brought her so much pleasure in moments like this. She loved him, his essence. The eyes that were closed, the jaw that was slack, the face leaning back in sheer pleasure. "I love you, Bobby," she moaned softly, and he thrust again, guiding a deep and quick rhythm into her that was incredibly thrilling.

Her orgasm was deep and intense and took her breath away. She was still gasping when she heard him come, clutching her hips and kissing her shoulder and moaning her name. She had collapsed on the pillows and he was on top of her, gasping. "God, that was good," she groaned after several minutes.

"I'm squishing you," he gasped, still trying to catch his breath. "Sorry...I'll move...

'No!" She said it louder than she meant to. "You feel so good...God, baby, don't move...please don't move."

They lay there for several more minutes, catching their breath, until he finally said, "I have to move--" and pulled off her body, rolling onto the mattress next to her.

Shortly after, she yanked the pillows out from under her, still resting her head on the mattress. "You didn't have to move...I liked you there."

"I had slipped wouldn't have been comfortable." He reached over and stroked her back. 'it was wet."

She laughed. "Don't tell me after all this time you're a baby about the wet spot...there's one every time, Goren!"

He snorted. "Well, then, you should be very happy we used those nobody has to sleep in the wet spot!"

She was grinning when she rolled onto her back, stretching her breasts toward the ceiling. He took advantage of her stretch and cupped her nearest breast in his hand, enjoying the feel of the soft flesh. "These are perfect...I could just spend the rest of my life looking at your tits."

"That," she responded, "would be quite a waste of a life."

He laughed. "I don't think so...I think it would be a perfect life." His thumb ran over her nipple again and he leaned forward to kiss it, then closed his eyes and rested his head on her ribs. "You're so beautiful," he murmured. "I love you more than and your breasts."

She snorted at him, but ran her fingers through his hair. It was a beautiful salt and pepper gray these days. She knew it bothered him and he felt the difference in their ages when he looked at himself in the mirror. But she thought he was amazingly attractive, moreso now than ever, and she told him so. "I love your hair," she murmured to him. "You're so refined...distinguished."

He chuckled. "Those are words people use for old men."

'Interesting...I never thought an old man could fuck me quite like that," she teased him, running her hand down to his back. He burrowed his face into her belly, nipping and kissing her skin.

"You know what the worst part about this getting old business is?" he asked her, rubbing his stubble against her belly. "Not being able to get it up more than once in a night....maybe I should invest in some little blue pills."

"Are you kidding?" Her hand was still stroking his back, but she was fighting off the giggles with all her might. "Has it occurred to you that I'm perfectly happy with our sex life just how it is?"

He pulled his head up to look at her in the eyes. "So you're telling me one round is enough?"


"You are lying!" he exclaimed. "Don't lie to me! I know you!"

"One is enough...and any time I'm in the mood for more you take care of it. So no, I'm not lying."

"So you're saying that if I could get another hard on you'd turn it down in favor of, say, a little finger action?"

She made a face. "You're being incredibly crude know those pills are insane. I don't want you taking those. You're perfect exactly how you are. If you couldn't do it at all, then we could look at that, but jesus, Bobby...I think we get enough action together as it is...don't you?"

He grinned at her. "It's never enough action," he quipped, then kissed her navel.

She was shaking her head. "Yes. Sometimes it is enough. And you think so too."

His fingers were stroking her nipple again. "I love you, Beth. My beautiful Beth."

She smiled, then tangled her hands back in his hair again. "I love you too."

She could hear the rain against the window, and snuggled closer to him. His naked body was warm and he instinctively wrapped an arm around her.

She thought about the events of the last week, how angry and upset he had been, how worried. She wondered sometimes if the gray hairs were due to her, his worry about her behavior and the way that she insisted on doing things the way that made sense to her. He had been really angry this time, and she had been ugly. She hadn't meant to be, but she never did well with being told what to do. He of all people should know that.

She thought, with a bit of shame, how she had mocked him that morning, telling him it was her wifely duty to rid him of his erection. To his credit, he had briefly stared at her before locking himself in the bathroom. Any other man she had known would have lost it, right away. She didn't know why she did that. Rather, she knew why, but she didn't know why she felt it necessary to take it that far with him. The look on his face had been more than anger and betrayal. Underneath, there had been a fleeting sense of confusion. What had he done to make her so angry at him? Why could she not understand he only loved her? The thought broke her heart. Nobody had ever loved her as much as he had. His loyalty had been uncompromised; he had been absolutely devoted since the first day he had inserted himself into her life. He had always been honest and loving to her. She was ashamed of the way she had chosen to handle herself this week. Indeed, her actions had been a choice, and they had hurt him.

She was stroking his chest absently. She loved him more than she could express and only hoped he knew that. She couldn't blame him if he wondered about her dedication or commitment. Gently, she kissed his chest, thinking of how vulnerable he often felt with her; how painful everything was with his mother right now; how he had tried to turn to her but she had rationalized his feelings. She suddenly recalled the night a couple years before when she had taped so many photos of herself around the studio, and he had engaged in tearing every one from the walls with her. No rationalization, nothing but understanding and partnership and love. Deep, deep love.

She hugged his chest, the same chest she spent so much time memorizing and kissing and stroking. He was such an amazing man and she was at a loss in trying to figure out how God had brought them together; how she, a recovering drug addict and massive loser, had managed to land him, a sophisticated, brilliant man. She knew other people didn't see him that way. But she did. He was her hero.

She felt his hand stroke down her back, and at the realization he was awake, she suddenly felt self-conscious. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to wake you," she whispered, but his hand continued to move up and down her back. She felt the need to say something, anything, to explain herself, and she finally said, "I was just thinking...about how much I love you."

He smiled to himself. "I love you too, Beth. I love you."

She lay her head back on his chest. "I'm sorry for the last week. I've been kind of a bitch...I just ...I don't know why, I don't know how to explain it."

His fingers were stroking her hair. "You're not a love your family...we just see things differently sometimes."

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about the other morning...when I made that crack about wifely duties and stuff...that was completely uncalled for and wrong."

His hand stilled, just for a second, then began moving again. Back and forth. As though she hadn't spoken, she thought. She didn't speak any further, and finally he said, "It's okay, Beth. I know you didn't mean it."

His response just devastated her more. She tried to will back the tears, knowing his feelings went far deeper than he was alluding to. Then, finally, "I know you meant it at the time. I know you were was I...but I'm not any more. I know you love me as much as I love you...we'll be okay. I really think so."

She lay still, unmoving, thinking of all the things in her life she wished she could take back. Usually it was the painful subject of her past, her ex-boyfriend and his requests, her wishes of listening to her gut and Bruce when Forrester had been over. But, she wished she could take back the words and the actions. The pain that she knew she caused him, the one person who understood and loved her more than anyone else in the world.

"Beth." His voice was quiet, peaceful, matching the hand moving back and forth across her. "Don't torture yourself like this...we both did and said things we shouldn't have that morning."

She nodded against him, not ready to move from his warm form. He wasn't ready either, and continued to stroke her skin. The silence was comforting, and they listened to the raindrops pelting the window until the doorknob turned.

"Mama?" The tiny voice emanated from the door, but neither of them moved, other than Vanessa's head tilting up just so to see her little girl.

"Hey, sweetie...bring your blankie and you can lay with us."

A minute later Marlene was climbing on the large bed, curling against both her parents, snuggling with her blanket. Marly's head rested on her father's ribs, and Vanessa gently stroked her cheek. "I love you, Marly Beth," she told her, and Marly began to suck her thumb sleepily.

Bobby stroked Vanessa's hair. "Look at us," he said mildly, "three loving people in love with one another." He smiled before he said, "This is the most love I've ever had in my life."

"Me too," Vanessa sighed, resting her head just above Marlene's, on his chest.

"Me too," came the little voice right beneath her, and they both laughed. "I wuv my mama and I wuv my daddy. An I miss my Bwucie..."

"Me too," Vanessa said softly, her hand lying on her daughter's curly hair. "Me too, Marly."


She was scrubbing the toilet vigorously, hair in a messy ponytail, and Marly next to her, wiping the floor. Marly loved to help, and Vanessa had found life went much easier when she gave her a reasonable, safe task to accomplish. Wiping the bathroom floor with a wet rag seemed innocuous enough while she scrubbed. She made a point not to let her near the toilet, on the off chance Bobby's aim wasn't as good as he thought it was. She happened to know it wasn't, but didn't see much point in trying to convince him to aim better. "I got it cwean, Mama!" Marly announced, holding up the rag.

"Good job, baby!" Vanessa grinned at her, taking the rag from Marlene and then flushing the toilet. One toilet down, two more to go. Who said you couldn't clean with a two-year old around?

The doorbell buzzed and Marly hopped up, yelling, "I get it!" before Vanessa could reach her.

"No!" she called after her. "Only Mommy and Daddy get to do that...hold on." She waited until she reached the door and rang down. "Yes?"

"Dr. Rayden, there's someone here for you who's not on your list...a Kate Rayden..."

Vanessa glanced at Marlene. "Okay," she said slowly. "Is she alone?"

"'s just her."

"Okay," she said suddenly. "Send her up."

She bent down to Marly. "Sweetie, Mommy has a friend who's going to come over for a little bit. Do you want to watch Dora while we talk?"

Marly nodded. "Otay...I wike Dora!"

Vanessa smiled. "Good...I'll get it all set up for you." She quickly set up the DVD player and slipped in Marly's favorite disc, turning it on. A moment later the doorbell rang.

"Go watch Dora," Vanessa instructed her daughter, and Marly climbed onto the couch for a more comfortable view. Vanessa opened the door to see Kate standing in front of her, in a pair of jeans and a blouse. She guessed this was probably as dressed down as Kate ever got.

"Hi," Vanessa said, "I was surprised to hear you had come over. Come on in." She led Kate into the house, through the living area where Marly was, and into the kitchen. They had almost made it when Marly burst over the back of the couch.

"Hi!" she bubbled, "I Marwy!"

Kate smiled. "I've heard about you. You're as pretty as your mama said."

Marlene sat up straight. "My daddy says I smart too."

Kate looked surprised, but nodded. "I'm sure he's right. It's good to be smart."

"Marly," Vanessa interrupted, "remember...Dora..."

"Wight, Mama!" And she disappeared onto the other side of the couch. Vanessa pointed Kate to the kitchen table, and the two women sat down.

"'ve thought a lot about what you said the other day," Kate began, twisting her wedding ring around her finger. "And I think you've got some of it wrong. Ryan isn't abusive to me or the children. Yes, he has high standards, but there's nothing wrong with that. The children are loved and cared for well....surely you saw that when you met them."

Vanessa nodded. "Kate, you do realize there are a lot of different ways to be abusive..."

"And there's a difference between abuse and high standards." She shook her head. "At any rate, I wanted to thank you for coming by...for speaking with me. I'm sorry things are the way they are between you and your father, but that doesn't mean he's still the same man. He loves our children...and so do I."

"Okay...I wasn't trying to criticize you as a parent or anything else. I'm sorry if I overstepped."

Kate smiled, then reached into her purse, pulling out a letter. "Here. This is for you, from Ryan. He wanted you to have it, to know how much he appreciates what you did."

She reached over slowly and took the letter. "Well, thank you for bringing it."

"You'll read it, won't you? At least see what he has to say?"

"Yes. I'll read it." She stood up, indicating their conversation was over, and Kate followed her. "Thank you for coming by. And please, give my regards to Hannah and Matthew."

Kate smiled. "You can't forgive him, can you? He said you wouldn't."

She hesitated, glancing at Marly watching Dora avidly on the television. "Every time I try, he gets me. There's no stopping, no release from the, it's best for us to stay apart."

Kate nodded. "Well, if you ever change your mind..."

Vanessa opened the front door. "I appreciate that, Kate. I really do."

With one last smile, Kate left the condo, and Vanessa shut the door behind her. She held the letter in her hand for a moment, staring at it and wondering what it said, before she heard her daughter.

"Mommy? Was I good?" Marly's face was anxious.

Vanessa grinned at her, then picked her up, wrapping her in her arms. "You were terrific, baby...I love you so much. Absolutely perfect."

Marly curled up in her mother's arms, allowing herself to be loved and snuggled more than usual, and Vanessa carried her back to the couch, where they both collapsed to watch more Dora.

He listened silently, trying to be patient with what she was telling him.

She was right--it wasn't her fault that Kate had come by, and she had done the best she could to keep Kate and Marly separated. She had done everything. And he could hear in her tone how horribly guilty she felt about it all.

He flicked his pen back and forth on his notepad as she was talking, waiting for her to finish, thinking about visiting Ryan in the hospital, just to make him piss himself in his bedpan. That would be amusing, at least to him. Probably to Ava too. Ava had that same kind of sick sense of humor.

"Bobby? Are you still there?" Her voice was nervous.

"Yeah, I'm here...look, there was nothing else you could do, Vanessa. It's okay. Don't worry, honey. So she saw Marly...lots of people will all be okay."

"Thank God," he heard the relief in her voice. "I was so worried you would be upset."

He chewed on the pencap, suddenly realizing how she had been sweating bullets because of him. Not because of Ryan or Kate or other people being stupid, but because of him. That hit him like a ball to the gut. He leaned forward, trying to make the conversation more private. "Ness," he said softly, "I'm not upset with you. You're a wonderful mother and I know you would never do anything to endanger our baby. I'm sorry you worried. Please, don't. I'll be home as soon as I can. You say he left you a letter?"

"Yes...she pulled it out of her bag and gave it to me. I didn't expect it and I haven't opened it."

"Well, I should be home around seven. Whatever you decide about the letter, I"m sure it will be fine."

Eames returned from the vending machine and tore into her skittles, looking at him peculiarly.

"You okay?" he asked a final time, the guilt weighing on him like a huge anchor.

"Sure. I'm fine, baby. I just wanted you to know."

"Okay...I love you and don't worry about it...I'll see you tonight. Bye." He hung up the phone, glancing at Eames, who was still staring at him.

"You have a skittle on your sweater," he told her, then pulled out the new file.

"Master of deflection," she commented, flicking the skittle off of her sweater and into her hand. "I'd ask, but then you'd tell me I have a skittle down my shirt."

It was late, far later than seven, when he opened the front door.

He hadn't intended for it to be going on ten. He had called her a couple hours before to tell her he was running super late. She had sounded slightly disappointed, but told him she'd see him when he got home.

The house was quiet, and he snuck into Marlene's room first. She was asleep, freshly bathed, her dark curls still wet from the water. He kissed her cheek gently and adjusted her blanket before leaving the bedroom and heading down the hall.

The bedroom was dark, and he figured she was sleeping, or trying to. He opened the door quietly and stepped immediately into the closet to hang his suit. He heard shifting on the bed, and wondered if she was still awake. He stripped down to his boxers, thinking of the conversation earlier. He hated the idea that she was so nervous about his reactions. He intended to correct that tonight, or at the latest, in the morning.

He stepped out into the bedroom and made his way to his side of the bed. He was about to pull his side of the sheets back when he glanced at her and froze. Surely he was imagining things. But no, she was completely naked, one arm bent and the hand gently teasing her nipples, the other lost in the crux of her thighs, moving steadily as she flexed her legs. She was masturbating.

He froze, fascinated in watching her. For all their sexual escapades, this was something she had never shared with him. He had only imagined this, her movements, her desires. What felt good. If left to her own devices, would she touch her breasts? Would she finger herself or just stroke her clit? Would she stroke her body? He felt himself immediately growing hard in his boxers, watching her. She had to know he was there. She had to know.

Her legs spread a little farther, and she pulled her knees up, resting her feet on the bed, fondling herself with one hand as the other twisted and pulled at a nipple. She was wet, he knew; he could smell her arousal as usual and had no desire to look away. Her body was stiffening and starting to writhe, and he knew she was getting close. He watched her in awe, as she manipulated her body to an intense, satisfying orgasm.

Her hips raised off the bed to meet her hand. He heard a soft, muffled moan escape her mouth and watched her carefully as both hands now moved down to her vagina, pleasuring herself completely. She moved in a beautiful motion, arching and moaning and stroking all in rhythm, and he watched intently, resisting the urge to stroke himself. She was beautiful, sexy, wanton. Everything he saw in her, he saw now. He wanted to watch her please herself intensely and knew she was incredibly close.

He was about to sit on his own hands to keep himself from engaging in the same sort of activity; suddenly, her heavy-lidded eyes opened to focus on him. He froze, unsure of what to do, when she whispered, "Are you going to help me or do you want to watch?'"

He didn't knwo what to say. "Both," he whispered initially, watching her staring at him as her hips moved rhythically, then the truth made its way from his mouth. "Watch," he whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I want to watch you."

She smiled at him, then turned her head away and focused on the pleasure coursing through her body. Arching her hips one last time, she stroked her fingers quickly around her clit, leading her to climax, and she cried out softly, continuing to fondle herself. "Good," she murmured softly, "feels so good."

"God, you're beautiful," he whispered, leaning over to kiss her, and slowly moved his own hand down to take the place of hers. "Wanna touch you, Beth...please..." Her flesh was soft and warm, and incredibly wet, and he sank his fingers gently into her until he heard her moan against him.

"Too much?" he asked, kissing her neck, then her ear. She smelled of wine and sex and a touch of baby wash.

"Nooo," she moaned, shifting against him. "Not too much...perfect, Bobby, so perfect..."

His fingers fondled her gently, repeatedly, stroking her inside and outside, listening to her moans of pleasure. He knew he was erect. In fact, he wasn't sure how he had managed to keep the thing in his boxers up until now. She was arching erratically against him, and he knew she felt good, pleasantly good, turned on good, and he wanted more.

"Wanna be inside you," he whispered in her ear, and she turned her face to nip his lips. He let her, and they sucked on each other's lips repeatedly until the were soft and swollen and her fingers were pulling at the waistband of his boxers. "Is it okay?"

"Yes, yes..."his boxers slid down off his waist. "You feel so good...I want you inside me too...Bobby, make me come. Please, please make me come. I want you inside me."

He kicked the boxers down, letting them land on the floor, then covered her body with his. "You're so beautiful," he told her again. "You smell sex...God, I want to be inside you, baby..." She hadn't touched him and he didn't care. He began to align himself with her. Suddenly she reached between them.

"I want to touch you. I want to feel you,'re so soft, so hard, so amazing...." She caught his face with one hand. "I want to kiss you." When he leaned over her, she said, "No, not there...I want to kiss your cock. Please."

He was reticent, ready to enter her, but at the same time, her excitement at oral sex was so rare he almost didn't want to stop her. " Are you sure?" She nodded, and he rolled over onto his back.

As her mouth caught him, he gasped loudly. She lowered her lips on him, sucking longer and harder, and his hands began to stroke her hair. "Beautiful," he murmured softly, "so fucking beautiful." She sucked him, hard, until he was gasping and beginning to thrust softly forward, then she pulled back.

"Now,"she told him, "now you can fuck me...I want to feel you. So good."

He rolled her over, easily settling on top of her body and guiding her beautiful legs to his sides. Kissing her, he raised himself on his elbows and guided himself in, pushing slightly, into her body. She threw her head back and moaned, arching toward him again, and he pushed in farther, continuing to thrust until he was fully sheathed. Then he heard her moan. "God, Bobby...oh God." Her legs wrapped around his lower back and she ground her pubic bone against his.

He leaned down, kissed her fiercely, and began to thrust fully, immediately. There was no desire to work up to a pleasurable speed. This was pleasure. She was grinding into him, groaning in his ear, and with her body wrapped around his, the words were coming rapidly. "God, Bobby...fuck feels so feel so good so deep inside me...please, God, please...Bobby, please don't stop...just bring me...I want to come...I need to come with you..."

His chest brushed quickly over her own, his hips moving in a purposeful rhythm as she bucked and ground against him. He pressed his lips against her temple. groaning softly against her ear. "I love you good....feels so good..."

She arched hard against him, grinding upward as though she couldn't get enough of him inside her. "God, Bobby, God..." She was wrapped completely around him and felt her body give in to the pleasure, moving quickly and deeply against him. "Oh...." she cried out, and his mouth pressed against her neck, suckling firmly. "Yes...oh, yes..." Her orgasm washed over her with intensity and she felt him drive harder, faster into her. He felt incredible, and she rode the feeling out for as long as she could, until he finally clutched her hips himself, deeply impaled, and groaning fully into her ear and he came hard inside of her.

He groaned deeply, enjoying the pleasure of his wife's body, of the sexual relationship between them. Of how he had never in a million years imagined such an amazing sexual relationship with any woman. He was resting his head against her shoulder, feeling her kissing his ear sweetly. He was madly in love with her. There was no denying that. But he had been madly in love with her before they had ever made love. was just confirmation.

She was shifting against him, and he wondered if she was uncomfortable. She didn't try to untangle herself; instead she wrapped one leg around his and tangled a hand in his hair. "Sex God," she mumbled, snickering. "Fucking beautiful sex god." The she pulled his mouth against hers and they kissed deeply.

"I should move," he whispered, starting to pull off of her when one of her hand rested on his lower back firmly.

"The quicker you pull out, the less likely I get pregnant," she said, then slid her hand up his back gently.

He stopped moving, but said, "I didn't know we were still aiming for that."

"I thought it was what you wanted." Her hand ran slowly over his back, then down to his ass, finally stroking his testicles.

"Jesus!" He jumped and pulled out of her instinctively.

"Sorry," she blushed. "I was just...curious..."

He had landed on his back next to her. "Fine, but next time you're curious, give me a heads up, first, okay? Not only is it sensitive, but your hands are cold..not exactly what I was expecting right then, you know?" Hearing the criticism in his voice, he winced at himself, then said, " was just cold...caught me by surprise."

She smiled shyly. "Sorry...I really didn't mean to."

He kissed her again, then kissed her hands, warming them in his own. "Okay," he told her. "Now touch them."

She giggled. "Now I don't want to."

He laughed. "It's your big chance...testi-mania..."

She bit him on the nipple. "Dork."

"Mama!" Marly crawled into the bed with both of her parents. "You gotted some mail!"

Another rainy April morning. At least it was Saturday, she thought, glancing over at Bobby, who was drowsily trying to open his eyes and pay attention to his daughter.

"Mama--I see your boobies."

"Terrific," she responded, pulling the comforter up higher around herself. That had gotten Bobby's attention, and he had burrowed deeply under the covers.

"Wha's wrong wif boobies? Are you gonna read your letter?" And she handed the letter from Ryan to Vanessa.

"Uh, I'm not going to read it right now," she explained tiredly. "Wanna take a nap with me and daddy?"

"Why you cover up your boobies?"

"Because they're private, "Bobby said to her. "It's Mommy's private body parts."

"Then why she show then to you?"

Vanessa raised an eyebrow, as if to say, care to tackle that one?

Bobby sighed. "Because Mommy and I share everything. Anyway, do you want to take a nap? It's Saturday, and Daddy's day to sleep late...and it would be incredibly lovely to sleep past seven."

"Otay. I get my bwankie." She climbed out of the bed and headed back to her room.

Vanessa looked at him and winked. "You better get those boxers on, and yesterday, mister...before you end up explaining a lot more than boobies." He groaned but grabbed his boxers and pulled them back on. He no sooner swung his legs back on the bed than Marly had joined them once more.

"You putted your gown on," Marly noted to Vanessa. "Is pretty on you, Mama."

She smiled. "Thanks. You ready for that nap?"

"Yep. Daddy, you gotted your pajamas on?"

"Yes. I think we're all decent now...can we sleep?"

"Tay...I sweep in de middle." Marly curled between her parents and lay quietly for a few minutes. Suddenly she wrapped her arms around Bobby's neck. "Daddy."

His eyes opened slowly. "What, bean?"

She smiled at this new nickname. "We need a new doggy. Tan we go get a doggy today?"

Bobby stared into his daughter's chocolate eyes and kissed her head, meeting Vanessa's face over Marly's head. She was looking away.

"Maybe not yet, Marly. But maybe one day...when we don't miss Bruce so much still."

"Tay." Bobby began to snuggle her, but she turned away from him, snuggling up to her mother instead. "Iss otay, Mama. Bwucie loves you still. He loves us God."

Vanessa felt her daughter's tiny arms wrap around her body in comfort. "You're right, baby. Bruce still loves us."

Marly lay sandwiched between them, playing with the envelope in her hand for a minute.  "Here Mama," she finally said, "now you wead your letter."

Bobby's eyes opened slowly, gauging Vanessa's reaction.  She slowly took the envelope from Marly and tore it open.  He watched her reading, eyes scanning the page back and forth slowly.  After a few minutes, she folded it back up and lay it on the nightstand.

"Okay?" he asked, unsure of her response.

"Yeah, it's fine."  She turned back toward him and Marly, smiling at both of them, then closed her own eyes to rest.