One year later.
Steph stood on the balcony of her home at Point Pleasant and looked out over the beach and towards the sea before settling on the activity just off the decking area. A large canopy had been erected and several people were filling it with flowers and furniture. She felt Ranger's presence behind her and then his arms snaked their way round her back and around her waist. She leant her head slightly to the side and he kissed her neck gently and pulling her further into him. She let out a soft sigh of contentment as she leant back and she felt him smile against her shoulder.
365 days after Tank and Lula tied the knot, they were finally getting married. Tank and Lula would be renewing their vows so that they got their joint celebration after all. Same time, same date, just a different venue.
A small snuffling sound made them both turn to look at a crib that stood in the corner of the light and airy bedroom behind them.
Hector Scott Manoso wriggled in his sleep then let out a slight mewing noise.
"Sounds like someone will be waking up for a feed soon" Ranger said, nuzzling Steph's neck again. She smiled as she turned in his arms.
"I do hope so, otherwise I'll not fit into my dress." She looked down pointedly at her full breasts.
She kissed him tenderly then shooed him out to join the other men who would be getting ready for the afternoon's nuptials, before bending over the cot to pick up her now waking son.
"Hey Spud, time for Mummy to get some relief" she whispered as she sat in her nursing chair and rearranged her top to accommodate him.
As she watched him drink from her, she thought about all that had happened in the last year.
Soon after hearing the news that Carlos was OK, Steph calmed down enough to start getting ready for the afternoon's ceremony. The Powers That Be even bent a little as in theory it should have been their wedding day so Carlos was allowed to call her. They'd talked for over an hour about something and nothing, both just relieved that they would soon be reunited. She wanted to tell him in person about Spud so kept that piece of news to herself. When he did finally get home he told her how they'd had to physically restrain him to prevent him from leaving. She'd chuckled as she thought about what they'd had to do to stop him.
Tank and Lula's 6 0'clock wedding had been magical and filled with love and hope. Lula had looked radiant and Tank dazed. The delicate lights dripping from the gazebo had given an almost ethereal feel to the occasion as the guests all stood to watch the intimate ceremony.
Steph hadn't worn her wedding dress. She didn't think it appropriate, so instead she wore a floor length gown in the same colour as the bridesmaids. Julie held her hand all the way through the ceremony and they'd cried together when Lula and Tank exchanged their vows. They weren't the only ones either.
Afterwards the speeches had been fun – Lester had taken Ranger's place as Best Man and had spilled the beans on a couple of embarrassing moments from Tank's past, much to his horror and the guests' amusement.
Steph stood up and made a few comments about Lula, her eccentric friendship and how she'd kept Steph sane in the last few weeks.
Frank told everyone of how proud he was to be one of the people sharing the rooftop celebrations. Family didn't always just consist of blood relatives, he'd explained. Rangeman had proved that and he felt honoured to be a part of the select club in which he found himself – its members being those who surrounded him . He hugged Ellen and Steph to him as he toasted his audience with tears in his eyes.
Ranger had dictated a short message to Steph which she'd read out, apologising for his appalling timing and that he would be back soon to kick them all into shape. That raised a chuckle from all quarters.
Then they held a minute's silence for their fallen comrade.
Two weeks later Ranger was allowed home. It had taken that long to debrief him and tend his mental and physical wounds to the point that he was he declared fit enough to be let loose. Bobby was to look after his burns and a trained psychologist would look after the rest.
Steph was in the bath so didn't hear the locks tumble. She felt his presence and smiled as she lazed in the hot soapy water, grinning in anticipation. She smelt his unique aroma next and finally she saw him as he casually sauntered into the bathroom before leaning up against the wall and studying her naked silhouette beneath the bubbles. His eyes turned deepest black and his face showed her just how much he missed her.
"See something you like?" she asked, looking up at him through her lashes and playfully batting the bubbles around.
Ranger growled as he pushed himself up off the wall "move over and let me show you" he said.
Within seconds he was naked and sliding in behind her in the tub.
"Be careful, my love" she whispered as he started to kiss and caress her shoulders "we wouldn't want to hurt the baby." She felt his lips turn up into a smile and then she knew everything would work out just fine.
They'd spent the next week offline so that they could celebrate his return in private. They shared their deepest feelings, hopes and desires and made some fundamental decisions. He didn't want her to ever get hurt in her line of work so she agreed to get fitter and learn to use her gun. She didn't like that he internalised his emotions so he agreed to open up and share more with her. They even agreed how much more time they would spend with their respective families and how best to incorporate Julie into their lives.
Hector was buried by his friends in Trenton and the funeral was a calm, loving and gentle affair. His will stated that he wanted everything to go to Ranger which came as a surprise to everyone except Ranger and Steph as he'd told her what Hector had said in his final minutes. They decided to use his money to create a drop in centre in his memory for young people wanting to escape the ghettos. So far several of the kids who'd attended had just signed up to join the army or gone back to school and a few of the other kids were now drug free.
Six months ago Angela Morelli had departed this world from a heart attack. Seems like years of cream, butter, cakes and pastries were not the best diet after all. On the back of that Steph decided her own eating habits needed to change once the baby was born, not a difficult thing to do as Spud didn't like coffee, chocolate, rich food, gravy...
Rex also died mid year from old age, nothing more.
Joe and Bethany were happily settled in a house they'd bought together in New York. Neither regretted their quickie wedding. Kids were in their five year plan, but still a way off in the future. Go figure that Joe had always wanted them whereas Steph hadn't and look what had happened.
Connie and Zero were still together and had moved into their own place a couple of months ago.
Steph shifted Hector to her other breast and closed her eyes. Content in the knowledge that her world was complete. After tonight she would be Mrs Ricardo Carlos Manoso and then everything would be just right. They'd planned an extended honeymoon and for five months they discovered the world that Carlos had been shaped by.
Steph looked over at the dress hanging on the door waiting for her. It had been perfect a year ago and was even more so now that her life had so much more in it than it had back then.
Hope you enjoyed this story. In JE's world Hector was gay, for those who queried why I made him so here.
Please give me your thoughts – it makes my day. :0)