*So here's the final chapter! What happens when Mary comes to dinner? Do our favorite Marshals kiss and make up? (hint: you'll still need a tissue for this chapter, more angst ahead!) Will Marshall still leave?*
I don't wanna talk
About the things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play
The gods may throw a dice
their minds as cold as ice
and someone way down here
loses someone dear
The Winner takes it all, by ABBA
Katie and I both jumped at Karen's sharp reprimand. My surprise was due no doubt to the fact that I was still staring in shock at the grainy image in my hand.
"Mommy, did I tell Uncle Mars something I wasn't supposed to?" Katie's nose scrunched up in confusion.
Karen crossed the room and whipped the sonogram picture out of my hands so fast I had to look for paper cuts. "Where did you get this picture, Katie Beth? And how did you know Aunt Mary is pregnant?"
"I heard you and Grandma Elizabeth and Aunt Mary talking in the kitchen about her baby. And then when you called me from the back yard and I came in to grab my stuff when it was time to go, I saw the picture under the table and I took it. I'm sorry I didn't tell you but I forgot! But it has Aunt Mary's name on it right there!" Katie tried to show her but Karen backed away, clutching the picture to her chest.
"How do you know what this is?" Karen demanded.
Katie rolled her eyes. "I know what it is, mommy, because you have ones just like it of me and Tommy and Jamie in our baby books. Aunt Mary must be really sad to have lost it. I want to give it back to her when she comes over tonight to cheer her up."
I was listening with half an ear to Katie's babbling. The date on that picture was stamped in my memory: August 7, 2009. Mary knew she was pregnant before I got shot. How far along was she? Was there a chance that the baby was mine? I shook my head. No, that was crazy. We had only slept together once and I knew that she had an active sex life with Raph. Once is all it takes, said a voice in my head that sounded suspiciously like my 9th grade health teacher. I giggled.
Karen's eyes darted to me in concern and she licked her lips. "Sweetheart, Jamie is going to be waking up from his nap soon. Would you be my big helper and go check on your brothers for me?"
"Okay." Katie bounced from my bed and skipped from the room.
Karen waited until she heard the back door open and close before asking, "Are you all right?"
I honestly didn't know what to say. Katie's bombshell had completely blindsided me. I had suspected for awhile now that something was going on with my partner and that my mother and Karen knew something about it. But I never would have guessed in my wildest imaginings that Mary was pregnant.
"Is it mine?"
She didn't flinch and in that moment I knew she knew. She knew Mary and I had slept together and that knowledge could have only have come from Mary. Karen sighed as she sat next to me on the bed.
"I'm not going to answer that, Marshall. I refuse to be caught in the middle of this. You both mean too much to me."
I clenched my jaw and tried not to grind my teeth. "Is it mine?" I repeated slowly.
"That's a question for Mary. You and she need to talk to each other and so help me if you don't do it soon, I'm going to lock you both in a room until you do."
I stared at the wall. "There's nothing to say."
"Good God, Marshall! You just found out your partner's pregnant and you're still going to sit there and tell me there's nothing to say? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Karen, I'm sure the baby is Raph's. Mary is just upset because she's nervous about being a mom; she never really wanted kids, you know. But I'm sure Ramirez will make a decent dad and she'll get used to the idea in time."
A wail sounded from the other room as Jamie woke up and Karen got to her feet. She looked down on me with a pained expression on her face. "I feel like I don't even know you anymore, Marshall. In the past few days you've broken Mary and Katie Beth's hearts, and you don't even see the similarities in their situations. And yes, Mary is scared out of her ever-loving mind about motherhood. But if you think she'll be fine and get used to the idea in time without you by her side, you're a fucking idiot. If you run away to Seattle now when she needs you more than she ever has in her life, then you're not the man I thought you were."
I stayed in my room for the rest of the afternoon. I'll be the first to admit that I was sulking but I didn't want anyone else to think that; I heard Karen tell Katie and Tommy to leave me alone, that I had things to think about. Katie stuck her head around the corner into my room and waved at me after that before trotting back to the kitchen to help her mom.
"Mommy, Uncle Mars is just sitting in there pouting on his bed."
"I'm not pouting!" I called out but the only response I got was Karen's laughter.
I sighed, realizing my angel was probably right and I needed to get over myself before Mary arrived. If I went out to join them for supper in my current frame of mind, Karen was liable to dump the food in my lap instead of letting me eat it. I was just getting to my feet when I heard the telltale gasping sounds of the Probe dying in the driveway.
"Aunt Mary's here!"
"Katie, you come back here and finish setting the table! Mary has a key and can let herself in. Tommy, have you finished picking up your toys yet?"
"All done, mommy!"
I came and stood in the front of the hallway where I could observe the chaos going on around me. Karen was buckling Jamie into his high chair and Katie was focused on setting forks by the plates on the table. Tommy noticed me standing in the room and came over to hug my leg as the front door swung open and there stood my partner holding two big paper bags with the emblem of Maggie's Pie shop on the sides. My God, she's glowing. How is it possible that she's already glowing? Her eyes met mine and we held one of our conversations without words. Her shoulders tensed slightly and in that moment I knew that she knew I knew.
"Here," I said as I moved towards her, "Let me take those bags."
"Marshall, I can manage. And you're not supposed to be lifting anything heavy," her eyes dropped.
"Neither should you," I whispered, reaching for them.
She pulled back from me as if my words burned her. "I've got it!"
"I'll help you, Aunt Mary!" Katie came running from the kitchen.
"Me too!" Tommy piped up.
She looked down at them and laughed. "Hi, rug rats. All right you two both carry this one and then I think I can handle this bag by myself, ok?" she winked as she carefully handed one of the bags to Katie. Between the two of them, Katie and Tommy slowly moved off to the kitchen carrying their precious cargo. Mary took a deep breath and looked up at me.
"We are not discussing this with the kids in the house."
"I think you're a little late, Mer. Katie is the one that found your picture and let the cat out of the bag, so to speak."
She nodded. "I know. Karen called me. But we're not going to get into any details until after they've left, understand?"
Now I was completely lost. Was she trying to say there was a possibility the baby was mine? "Mary, are you saying-"
She gritted her teeth. "Do you understand?"
I nodded woodenly. "I understand."
That meal was one of the most uncomfortable affairs in my recent memory. The children chattered on like nothing was wrong, filling their Aunt Mary in on the events of the day and their expectations of the first day of school. I forced myself to eat but the food tasted like sawdust and sat in my stomach like a stone. I also noticed that Mary didn't seem to have much of an appetite. She pushed the food around on her plate, giving the appearance that she was eating, but I was watching her closely and noticed she only took a few bites. Katie also noticed because towards the end of the meal, she made a comment.
"Aunt Mary, you're not eating very much. If you don't clean your plate, you won't get any pie!"
Karen smiled. "Honey, the clean plate rule only applies to you and Tommy."
"That's not fair, mommy!" Katie cried. "She should at least finish her green beans."
"Yeah, no fair!" Tommy echoed.
"You're right, Katie." Mary sighed. "I will finish my green beans. I'm just not very hungry tonight. I had a big lunch today."
I frowned, wondering if the pregnancy was making her nauseous. While it was called morning sickness, I knew from helping Karen through her pregnancies that the nausea could last all day. As the women cleared the table, I heard Karen ask Mary if she was feeling ok tonight. Mary sighed and said that evenings were still the hardest but her appetite was good earlier in the day. I sipped my water, pretending not to hear but I logged the information away for later. If Mary was going to be staying with me in the evenings, I needed to stock up on food items that would be gentle to her stomach, easy to digest. She would need to eat something and stay hydrated even if she didn't feel like eating very much.
The kids cheered when Mary placed the banana cream pie on the table. It was Katie's favorite and it was her surprise for not telling me who was picking me up from the hospital. I tried not to laugh out loud. Katie had managed to keep that secret – but she had let slip a much more crucial piece of information. Right on cue, Katie piped up.
"Mommy, where is Aunt Mary's picture of her baby? I want to give it back to her before I forget again."
I grinned widely and looked at Mary who was clutching her pie fork so tightly I thought it might actually snap. In fact, she was looking downright green. With a muttered apology, she pushed back from the table and bolted from the room. In a few moments, there came the sound of retching from the hall bathroom.
Tommy made a face. "Ew, Aunt Mary is barfing!"
"Thomas Michael! We don't say words like 'barfing' at the supper table. Please finish your pie," Karen sternly told her middle child as she fixed a steely gaze on me.
I pushed my chair back from the table, snagging Mary's water glass as I left. Knocking softly, I didn't wait for an answer as I gently nudged the door open and walked into the bathroom. Mary was still kneeling before the toilet, her hair surrounding her face like a curtain. Setting the glass down by the sink, I reached down for the wrist that was resting on the seat, the one that had a black hair tie on it. She peered up at me through her hair but said nothing as I removed the tie and gathered her hair into a loose ponytail, securing it in place with the tie. I sat on the edge of the tub and waited. A few minutes later, Mary flushed the toilet, wiped her mouth and sat on the floor. She stretched her long legs straight out in front of her and stared at the closed door.
"Morning sickness is a bitch. And why do they call it morning sickness when it happens in the evening?"
I shrugged. "Probably because for the average woman it does happen in the morning; you just don't happen to be the average woman, Mer."
She smiled weakly. "There's the understatement of the century."
I cleared my throat nervously. "Look, I know you don't want to get into this with the kids in the house but Katie brought the subject up and since we're behind closed doors, I was wondering -how far along you are?"
Mary bit her lip. "Eleven weeks."
My heart dropped to my toes. She was almost three months pregnant? The date we had slept together was burned into my memory for all time and I knew that the timing was about right. Good God, was it possible?
"Mer, is it mine?" My heart was pounding in my ears so loud I didn't know if I would be able to hear her response.
She licked her lips and refused to meet my eyes. "I don't know."
Of course she didn't know. She had no doubt slept with Raph around the same time. Hell, she probably went home and slept with him that same night. The very thought made my gut clench.
"Uncle Mars!" Tommy pounded on the bathroom door, causing both of us to jump. "Open up! I gotta go potty and Katie is in your bathroom! I gotta go real bad!"
I reached down to help Mary up. She hesitated before placing her hands in mine, accepting my assistance. I grimaced as the extra weight and bending motion caused my stomach muscles to constrict briefly in pain. But even so, I didn't release her from my grasp as I whispered,
"But it's possible? The baby could be mine?"
Tommy's pounding came again and I moved to open the door. He danced into the room and we moved out into the hallway. As I closed the door, Mary's hand covered mine on the doorknob and I looked up at her.
"Yes, it's possible."
An hour later we had the house to ourselves. Katie didn't want to leave me; Karen had to come back into the house after she had loaded the boys into the mini-van and physically extricate her from my arms. Amid her sniffles I tried to reassure her that I would see her tomorrow when she got home from school and that she could tell me all about it. That was enough to at least put a smile on her face and she waved to us over her mother's shoulder on the way out the door.
"You told her you were leaving."
Mary was curled up on the sofa under my mother's afghan, looking very much like a small child herself. Her eyes flashed angrily at me as her words pierced the air between us.
"I had to tell her sometime."
"I suppose, but the day you came home from the hospital? Geez, Marshall, I thought you had more tact than that. Still, might as well let her know now that her second father is abandoning her. She better get used to disappointment – life is full of them."
I thought I was the one who was going to be sick now. Karen's words from earlier in the day rung in my ears: Katie and Mary were so similar, why did I just now understand this? Both of them thought I was abandoning them. I had spent time with Katie this afternoon convincing her of my love and that I wasn't abandoning her, that I would always be involved in her life. Could I convince Mary of this as well? But then, wasn't I leaving Albuquerque to severe my ties with her? To start over, break free? As I looked at her sitting curled up on my couch, looking small and vulnerable, I realized that I could never cut Mary out of my life entirely. Not when I had promised to stay. Not when she was now carrying a child that might be mine.
I sat on the other end of the couch and waited for her eyes to meet mine. "Mary, I'm not abandoning Katie or you. I'm just moving to a new city. You know where I'm going and how to reach me. You can come visit me and I'll come visit you. It's not like I'm dropping off the face of the earth. I'm not your father."
"Don't you dare play that card with me, Marshall! You promised to stay, and you're leaving. You promised you were different and you're not. So far you're 0 for 2."
I took a deep breath and decided to try a different approach. "Mer, you're building a new life with Raph as your lifelong partner. He's the one you need to share your fears, hopes, joys, and sorrows with; he needs to be first in your life now. You know as well as I do that he's always been a bit jealous of our relationship. We've got too much of a history together for me to stay on as your partner after your marriage."
"But now there's a baby in the picture, string bean! And Peanut could be yours," Mary sniffed as a few tears escaped her eyes.
"Peanut?" I asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"That's what I call the baby. That's what I thought the baby looked like the first time I saw it on the sonogram," she shrugged.
"Well, it's a better nickname than Squish," I laughed and she glared at me. She brought a hand from under the afghan and clasped my knee.
"Marshall, I know you're in love with me." She paused and I squirmed. "And I know you already love Peanut, simply because the baby is a part of me. Won't you reconsider staying in Albuquerque? I don't know how to do this without you. I don't think I can"
I broke away from her touch and slowly began to pace. "Mer, you don't know what you're asking of me. If you truly understand the depth of my feelings for you, how can you ask this of me? You're still engaged and that baby you're carrying might be his! You're asking me to stay and what? Watch you get married? Watch you grow heavy with child? Help you through the cravings and the heartburn and the gas and the childbirth classes knowing all the time that this baby might not be mine? Be with you in the delivery room and fall in love with a child that I desperately want but in the end look down into her chocolate eyes and see Raphael instead? You and Karen and mom are asking a hell of a lot from me! I'm tired of giving and giving and giving to you, Mer, and getting nothing but friendship in return. Don't I deserve some happiness? Someone who looks at me in adoration and love? Someone who will share my life and bear my children? Maybe that someone is waiting for me in Seattle." I took a deep breath, pausing to wipe the tears that were coursing down my cheeks. "I'm sorry; Mary, but you're asking for more than I can give this time. If this child turns out to be mine then of course I will support and love him or her and be actively involved in their life. And I'll be here to help you for the next two months until it's time for me to leave."
The sound of her quiet sobs followed me until I shut my bedroom door.
I was just getting back into bed from the bathroom when I heard her. She was screaming my name, louder than the time she had nightmares after I got shot on the case with Horst. My gut clenched and I had to fight the urge to run to her side. Karen had made up the bed in my office and I had seen her retreat in there after our earlier discussion that left her in tears before I went to bed. I grimaced knowing that if she had called Karen tonight, I was going to get an earful in the morning.
I had just swung my feet back up into bed when I saw the hall light come on and heard her shuffle down the hall past my door. I lay there in the dark and listened as she rummaged about in my kitchen for a few minutes. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I got up to see what she was doing. I heard her voice before I came around the corner. Oh God, is she talking to Karen right now? I am so screwed! But as I peered around the corner, staying out of sight, I saw that she wasn't on her cell phone. Who was she talking to – herself? Suddenly, I smiled as I realized she was talking to her unborn child.
"Are you happy, Peanut? I fucking hate bananas! And I don't like cream pies – they're too sickly sweet. But what am I hungry for in the middle of the night? That's right, banana cream pie – and I don't think I'm the one ordering it. Oh no, this is your order, Peanut. Pie seems to be on the very short list of foods that don't come right back up." She finished cutting an enormous wedge of pie and slid the pan back in the fridge. She turned towards the table with her midnight snack and I got the first glimpse of her face: the tear tracks still evident and eyes that were red rimmed.
"You should really start watching your language around the baby, Mer," I admonished softly as I entered the kitchen.
She jumped and the pie nearly slipped off her plate. I closed my hands over hers before her sweet confection ended up on the floor. "Geez, Marshall, don't sneak up on me like that!"
"Hey, it's my house, remember?"
She rolled her eyes and sat down at the table as I moved to get myself a glass of water. I turned as I heard her moan. "Good pie?"
"This pie is un-fucking-believable! And I can't believe I'm eating it - I hate bananas!'
"Language, Mer. And what's wrong with bananas? I love bananas."
She raised her eyes to mine as I joined her at the table. "I know you do. So does Peanut."
I nodded and sipped my water. It doesn't mean anything, it's just a craving. Her body is probably low on potassium, is all. "Have you started taking your prenatal vitamins?"
"When I remember," she mumbled around a mouthful of pie.
"How often is that?"
"They're really hard to swallow – have you seen the size of those horse pills?"
"Mary, you need to take them every day. Peanut needs them."
"Yes, Doctor Mann," she groused.
"Wrong brother, and that's not his specialty."
She smirked as she scooped up a stray piece of banana with some whipped cream.
I ran a finger over the rim of my glass. "Um, Mary? Is there a way to establish paternity before the baby is born?"
Mary kept her eyes on her pie as she answered me. "My doctor said that she can insert a needle into my uterus and draw out some tissue cells for testing. Or I can wait another couple of months and she can draw some amniotic fluid and test that. Of course I would need DNA samples from you and Raph."
I paled at the thought of needles going into her stomach, invading her womb, invading my – her baby's protected habitat. "What's the risk to you and Peanut?"
"I would be fine – there's a slight chance of cramping, leaking of amniotic fluid, and the possibility of – miscarriage."
I shook my head. "Then we wait. I assume there's no risk to the baby if the test is performed after birth?"
"No, it's a simple matter of drawing blood then." She paused and looked up at me, smiling faintly. "I had already decided to wait, Marshall. I wasn't going to risk Peanut's health. But I'm glad you agree with my decision." She resumed eating her pie and soon nothing was left on her plate but crumbs.
"So, was I the last to know?"
Mary shook her head. "Raph doesn't know yet. He's still out of the country, visiting his mom."
I frowned. "I thought you two had some big argument on Labor Day. I just assumed he was back in town."
"We did but that was over the phone. No, he's not due back until next week. I – uh, didn't want to tell him over the phone."
"And he doesn't know we slept together."
"Are you going to tell him?"
"He deserves to know that he may not be the father of this baby."
"Should be a fun conversation." She glared at me as I tried to hide my grin. "So, does Stan know?"
Mary sighed. "No, but I'm going to have to tell him soon. Eleanor suspects something and I can't button half of my work pants anymore. Karen lent me a couple pairs of her old ones and is taking me shopping this weekend."
"What, you don't want to go shopping with Jinx and Brandi?"
She ran a hand through her hair. "God, Marshall, you should see them. Those two are driving me nuts! Of course Jinx figured it out first, which wasn't hard considering I'd been puking my guts out for three nights in a row. She didn't buy the food poisoning excuse. She claimed that she was exactly the same way with me and Brandi. She's so excited to be a Grandma! And Brandi can't stop laughing that I got 'knocked up' when I was using protection and have always been so anti-children. She thinks it's hilarious." Mary hiccupped. "Meanwhile my breasts are sore and my emotions are so out of control that I don't know whether I'm going to laugh hysterically or dissolve in tears. That's great for the witnesses."
I reached across the table and grasped her hand. "Hey, I'm on the mend and I'll be back soon to pull my own weight in the office."
She pulled away from me and got up to put her plate in the sink. "Not for long, remember? Only until November. God, I'll be really showing by then."
I swallowed. "Well, I'll train my replacement so well you'll never miss me. I'll give him or her full courses in Star Wars and New Mexico trivia and it will be like I'm still there."
"God help us all," she smiled but I noticed it didn't reach her eyes.
"It's late and you have to work in the morning. You and Peanut need more sleep."
She nodded and we parted ways at my bedroom door.
I had just settled back into bed when I heard the floorboard creak and I felt her presence in the doorway. I cracked open one eye and there she stood, swathed shoulder to foot in my mom's afghan.
"You're not getting into bed with me, Mer." I grunted and shut my eye again.
I felt her approach the bed. "I need to feel you breathing tonight."
Her nightmare. I had no doubt that she had dreamt I had died in her arms and she once again needed the comfort of my arms around her, to feel my heartbeat next to hers, my breath in her ear. Was it any wonder I needed to escape to Seattle – because I was powerless to deny Mary Shannon anything.
"Well, since you already have your own blanket," I teased as I rolled to my side and lifted up my arm. She lay down in front of me, pressing her back to my front. I draped my arm around her waist and rested my chin above her head. "You know, I don't think you can feel me breathing through the thickness of that afghan."
She giggled. "But once you fall asleep, I'll be able to hear you snore."
I grunted. "I've never thought of snores as comforting before."
"Well, they are." She sighed and tucked her head deeper into my pillow.
"Interesting – but I don't snore," I murmured sleepily.
I felt more than heard her laughter. "Oh yes, you do, partner."
Our combined warmth had me dozing in no time. I was slipping in and out of consciousness but I found I could still hear Mary's voice, much as I could when I was coming to in the hospital.
"Marshall, I don't know if you're still awake or not, but I'm going to say this now anyway. I made you a promise too that night when you promised not to leave me. You haven't brought it up but I just wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten it. I promised to treat you with more respect. I know that I've broken that promise time and time again. I've been nothing short of horrible to you – downright bitchy in fact. If it's time for true confessions, then I'll admit I don't know why you've stayed with me as long as you have except that you must love me. Deep down I knew that and I've taken advantage of you over and over again. What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry – for everything. And I want you to know that I'm not going to let you go to Seattle without a fight. Peanut and I need you. I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep you here in Albuquerque with us." Mary lifted my hand from her waist and placed a kiss upon the back of it. She returned my hand to her waist, covering it with her own.
I tightened my arm around her waist and murmured sleepily. "Those are fighting words, Mer. But that's all they are – words. Your actions over the past six years of our partnership speak louder than a bunch of pretty words."
"I meant every word I just said, Marshall. Actions do speak louder than words - and I have two months to convince you to stay. And I'll do it, no matter what it takes."
*And so ends Marshall's journey - he's still determined to leave. But Mary's journey is just beginning. Will she convince Marshall to stay? What happens when Raph finds out about the baby and the fact that she slept with Marshall? What happens when Stan finds out?
All these questions and MORE will be answered in the sequel coming soon called: "Whatever it takes"