The brilliance of the characters below is all a result of JE's creativity and my blatant thievery of them.
Jenn(perfectmanhattan) I can't believe we have come to the end of another story! Thank you so much for your tireless work as the Beta on this and equal time you spent just checking in and being a friend. I'm still looking for the right cape!
Chapter 27 – Epilogue – Five years down the Road
"You need to be still so that I can get this bow tie to look right," I warned in a stern voice.
"But it's itchy," He complained giving me his sad eyes and melting my heart.
I kept working until I was satisfied that his tie would stay straight and then sent him on with the instruction, "Stay clean, I don't have time to start all over again in getting you dressed."
"Yes, Mom!" Came the response from my four year old son. He was the spitting image of his father in virtually every way. He shared the dimple, the naturally tan skin tone, the straight hair that looked just as good disheveled as recently combed, and the desire to please. Woodrow, who we call Row, was born first exactly at noon on his due date of May 31st. It was considered a miracle that I finished that pregnancy to the fortieth week as multiples often come early, but once I learned to control my sugar intake half way through, the physical aches and pains diminished and I began to enjoy the experience. My doctor had threatened to induce me if they didn't come soon and so being the good little rule follower that he was, Row decided to be born at the perfect time.
As I was smiling at that thought, his twin entered the room. As much as Row was the image of Woody, then I had to claim our daughter Isabella, who we called Bell, as mine. She had a fiery spirit from the moment she entered the world and hasn't backed down from a challenge yet. Her unruly curls are a delight to everyone but me who has the job of trying to keep her still while taming them for public display.
As with many things in their life of opposites, since Row was born easily and promptly, Bell was born hours later and with the use of a vacuum extractor to assist in her delivery. Apparently she had no desire to be born and had to be forced out against her will. But the second her father saw her open her big round blue eyes his brown ones filled with tears. Instead of being concerned about the ordeal that his daughter had been through he smiled at me and said, "She's just like you. God, she's beautiful." And from that moment on, he's been wrapped around that little girl's finger. It's a wonder she has room for him on that finger as she seems to rule the roost downstairs at RangeMan too.
I went back to work when the babies were twelve weeks old and they never had to stay with a nanny. I suggested it just before I resumed my job and the guys were horrified about "their kids" being with a stranger all day. Instead, anyone who wanted to volunteer was put on a rotating schedule and they sat with the kids in four hour shifts while I worked. To be considered for the shift you had to complete a two hour baby care training with Bobby. Outwardly I laughed about it, but I attended twice to appease Bobby that I approved of his methods, and to learn from him because there was no doubt he had done his homework on the best way to care for an infant.
"Bell," I called for the third time. "If we're going to get there in time, you have to let me fix your hair."
My daughter came around the corner begrudgingly holding her hair brush. Apparently, she had taken it, probably in the hope that if I couldn't find her brush I wouldn't make her sit still while I fixed her hair. I decided to try and really fix it today so I began with a little of Mr. Alexander's special gel. The gesture wasn't missed by Bell and her eyes got big when she realized I was going to make it look like mine. Then she ruined the moment by asking, "Can I wear some mascara too?"
I couldn't help but laugh at her as I gently told her no, but offered her some light lip gloss as a compromise. I brushed her hair and used a large curling iron to slightly straighten her hair adding loose waves in place of tight curls. For once she watched mesmerized, as her hair seemed to change in the mirror. I smiled at her and thought how easily Woody and I fell into parenthood.
Neither one of them were particularly fussy so in that respect we had it easier than many parents. They cried if they were hungry, or needed a change, or wanted to be held. Fortunately, there were so many sets of arms around that they rarely experienced a time when they weren't being held. As they grew Bell was the first to walk. After cruising around holding on to desk tops, strong hands, and Ella's dining cart she saw Lester come off the elevator one day and let go of Bone's hand to walk across the hallway to her Tio Lester who picked her up, thrilled to have seen her first real steps.
Of course once she realized she could walk without being restricted by needing help she had little interest in being held and squirmed to get down and try out her independence once more. The similarity to my own headstrong nature wasn't lost on me.
Row watched his sister walk for weeks, seemingly content to keep cruising safely without having to fall down as much as his daredevil twin. One day, the guys had been called out for a rough take down. Woody kissed me before leaving and I could see in his eyes the worry about what was about to happen. A couple of hours later most of the men returned a little beaten up and bruised. Zero had been shot and was in surgery, but Bobby told the guys he should make it. Morale was low and no one took it harder than Woody because he had told Zero to fall back when he realized something was not right, but Zero hadn't listened and now he was paying the price.
When Woody stepped off the elevator with the other guys he was a little dirty, and had a few scrapes visible, but his eyes held a great deal of hurt in them. I was just about to run to comfort him when Row beat me to it. He let go of the desk chair he had been holding and in steady steps walked right up to his father and held up his arms waiting to be held. Woody didn't hesitate to pick up his small son and hold him tight to his chest, closing his eyes and letting the love of this tiny person pour over him. When he next looked at me I could see the improvement in his expression and then I walked over to join the men in my life.
Time and time again the children showed their uncanny ability to sense when something was wrong and either retreat into their day nursery or step out onto the floor turning anger to joy in their wake.
Louis and Ella were a constant presence in our lives and the children referred to them as their Grandparents. Woody and I never had to worry about getting a sitter at night as Ella was there half the time to tell them good night before they went to bed anyway. It seemed the twins were destined to know a life of unconditional love and support. Never once have they questioned the secure life they live in Trenton during the week and the wild and free adventures we have at the ranch on most weekends.
Woody came in behind me with his own tie and stopped when he saw the little girl grinning at him in the mirror. I used my fingers to break apart the curls some and announced that Bell was finished. She sat perfectly still for her lip gloss and then I told her to go find her shoes and put them on.
I took Woody's tie and put it own just as I had Row's earlier. "Are we ready to go?" He asked hopeful that we might get there on time. I nodded with a smile feeling a great sense of accomplishment whenever the four of us went anywhere all dressed up and could get there without a meltdown of some sort.
When we pulled up to the Sacred Heart Church downtown both the kids said, "Wow," from their booster seats in the back. It was a huge cathedral, and from the outside it was imposing looking. I took Row's hand in mine and left Woody in charge of getting Bell from the car to the church without letting her get loose.
As soon as we stepped inside the kids were greeted by a swarm of men in black. I looked at the guys and charged them, "Don't let either one of them out of the door, and under no circumstances is either of them to be allowed to get dirty." The men replied with a quick, "Yes Ma'am," and a sea of smiles.
I went off to figure out what we needed to do realizing I was probably the only woman in America who would be completely at ease leaving my children alone with the group of men congregated at the back of the church.
I found the priest and he pointed me in the right direction to get the instructions for the service. Lester came around the corner looking stunning in his black suit causing me to let out a "Wow," myself at his appearance.
"Remember Beautiful," He teased spinning around to give me the full view. "All of this could have been yours, but you had to go hook up with a cowboy."
I hugged him and we chatted for a few minutes before we were interrupted when an usher told us it was time.
I went to the back of the church and got my children to remind them to do everything just like we had practiced. The fact that there were over two hundred people in the church didn't change their jobs at all. When the organ began playing Lester stepped out first and I put my hand on Row's shoulder and gave him the pillow with the rings attached to it. "Go walk to Tio Lester," I whispered and he nodded his understanding before lifting his chin to accept his challenge and stepping out to walk the long isle of the nave on his own.
The other attendants began to walk down the isle one by one until it was my turn so I turned around and smiled at my beautiful Bell and reminded her, "When Marina tells you to go then you walk down the isle, dropping the flowers like we practiced and then you can stand right next to me at the front, okay?"
She nodded, suddenly looking frightened. I knew she would do it and my heart beat stronger as I saw her fight against her fear to find the courage to do what she needed to. Marina put her hand on Bell's shoulder and got her attention so that I could walk down the isle to my place across from Woody and Row at the front.
Finally, the organist switched to the Bridal march and Bell began walking toward me dropping handfuls of rose petals on the red carpet. When Marina stepped out every eye went to her. She was a vision in white and the look on Lester's face as his bride walked toward him was priceless. He loved that woman with all that was in him. Just like I promised him, once their relationship moved to a physical one, they took the flirting and innuendo to a whole new level and the tension that bounced off of them when they were together was electric.
It took him a couple of years of dating before he could envision himself marrying her. He refused to use the phrase settling down, but on more than one occasion he said he hoped they could have a daughter just like Bell. The bond between my little girl and her Tio Lester was as strong as my own relationship with him. Marina agreed to marry Lester, but wanted them to have a long engagement and try out living together for a while, so their road to marriage took four years. But looking at Lester now, it was more than worth the wait.
I was surprised at how emotional I found the service. I never wanted a big wedding and loved the memory of my own marriage service in Virginia. But the vows were the same as the ones we said and as they repeated after the priest I caught Woody's eye and smiled when he winked at me. We continued to look at each other, oblivious to the happenings around us and it only took seconds before I felt the familiar spark between us ignite. I wondered how rude it would be to leave the kids at the reception for a while to find a place to celebrate privately with my husband. I took a deep breath willing my stubborn hormones to calm down. We had hours before we could slip away, but I made up my mind to call Ella as soon as we were home to see if the kids could have a sleep over with her and Louis tonight. Looking at Woody in his suit made me aware of the fact that I was going to need hours of uninterrupted time with my husband.
When the priest announced Lester could kiss his bride he slowly made his way to her mouth and gave her the perfect wedding kiss, just long enough to show the real emotion behind it, but not involved enough to make the ushers feel like passing around a pay per view basket. We processed out with the twins right in front of us and when we made it to the back I took a deep breath realizing both of our children had risen to the occasion and done a wonderful job. Woody grabbed my arm to get my attention and pulled me to him to whisper, "Talk to Ella before we leave the church to see if they can go home with her for a sleep over. That service was just long enough for me to come up with all kinds of ideas of things that I want to do to you tonight. We're going to need hours without them at home, and I think you should arrange for a late morning too so that you can rest in to recover."
I would have made a witty come back about him thinking pretty highly of his skills, but I knew Woody never over exaggerated in this area and if he set his mind to it, he could darn well make it impossible for me to walk the next morning so I held on to him while waiting for my balance to return and then I dumbly nodded my head that I understood and would take care of it.
At the reception the kids had a wonderful time, walking around greeting people and dancing. Bell must have danced with nearly every Merry Man there. Some she stood on their toes, some she swayed on her own feet, and with Tank, she held on as he hoisted her up and held her to move around the dance floor with her in his arms. Row stood back a little taking the room in, but when Marina asked if he wanted to dance with her his eyes got big and he gave her a quiet yes before walking out on the wooden floor and holding her hands to sway in little circles. I choked back a few tears at the sight knowing that all too quickly he would probably be doing this for real with his own bride.
I managed to find Ella and asked how she would feel about a sleep over tonight. Her face lit up as it did every time the kids went to her apartment and she quickly agreed, volunteering to take them home from the reception when they left in a few minutes. Then she pushed it a little further for me and said, "Can we keep them until lunch tomorrow too? Louis wants to add to the jungle gym out back and we can take them to the showroom to test out the new elements the guys suggested."
I smiled at how perfectly it worked out as I agreed. There was a piece of me that wondered if Ella understood what was going on and just made up the errand for to save me the embarrassment of having to ask her to keep them later, but I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth so I thanked her and moved over to Woody to tell him every thing was set.
The table where the twins were sitting surrounded by their "Uncles" audibly complained when Ella and Louis tried to remove their little guests from the party. Woody went over and encouraged the kids to go nicely and quietly and they obeyed their father beautifully. I smiled because I knew if I had gone over they would have begged for just five more minutes, but they listened to their Dad dutifully.
After Row and Bell left, I noticed a distinct change in the atmosphere. The controlled fun that had been the rule left the building and the music got louder, the dancing got dirtier, and the drinks flowed twice as fast. I held to my single glass of wine rule, refusing to ever have a night that I couldn't remember again. But I will admit that when the music slowed I grabbed Woody's hand and melted into him as his left arm wrapped around my back and his right hand went to my neck.
This was my heaven. These arms wrapped around me in this way could drive away the worst thought, the biggest fear and the deepest seated insecurity. We didn't speak at all, but managed to get closer with nearly every word the singer belted out. When the song ended Woody pushed me over to a dark corner beside a column to obstruct anyone's view of us.
Woody's lips found mine and we kissed like teenagers through the next two songs. It wasn't until the sound of voices clearing caught us unaware that we came up for air.
"The bride and groom want to leave, but they wanted to see you guys first. If you can let the woman have a little air, then she might be able to walk over to the door on her own," Bobby teased.
I laughed and looked at Gina standing beside him when I replied, "From the look of things, you don't have much room to talk about letting your woman have some air." Gina was just beginning to show, and even though they hadn't made an official announcement I could tell from her glow that she was pregnant. She blushed beautifully at my words and the guys began to ask what was going on. I left Bobby to deal with that mess, while Woody and I made our way over to Les and Marina to tell them goodbye.
Marina hugged me tightly to her. We had become very close ever since she took hours going through her store pulling out all the clothes that would work for my rapidly expanding belly. I was so grateful for her extra care to make me one of the most fashionable pregnant women ever. She said, "Thank you so much for everything you did to bring us together. I can't believe how close I came to shooting him down until I saw him with you. I'll always count you as the reason I gave him another chance and got to know him for the man he is behind the persona."
"I don't think I did anything all that special," I told her, but then added, "If you insist on thanking me, you can do it by taking care of my friend. He's a good man, and I think you'll be very happy." She pulled back wiping away the tears that were falling down her face and smiled at me showing her joy at being Mrs. Lester Santos.
Lester took the space between us as his opportunity to jump in and hug me himself. "Beautiful, I can't believe I'm married." He admitted softly in my ear holding me every bit as close to him as Woody had initially on the dance floor. I told him to be happy and enjoy his honeymoon which made Lester laugh and reply, "Beautiful, that is one thing I can guarantee."
When we pulled apart I placed a soft kiss on his cheek and rubbed my hand over the spot my lips had just touched. We smiled at each other both reveling in that fact that he was right years ago on his sofa when he told me that kids would change my life, but it wouldn't change who I was at heart. I still held him as close to me as ever and nothing would ever change that.
The bride and groom left to cheers and birdseed on their way to the Caribbean for two weeks. Woody pulled me to his side after Les left and said, "Amazing."
"What is?" I asked wondering if he meant the fact that Lester the playboy finally settled down.
"The fact that all these years later, and even after watching him get married with my own eyes, I still want to beat him to a pulp every time he touches you. Shit, that man gets under my skin and I feel this need to remind him who you belong to."
I decided to let his caveman comment go and instead I grabbed him by the back of his neck and pulled his face to mine to kiss him. "How about you take me home and I'll put something else under your skin that will make it so you don't have a single thought about Lester Santos."
"Grab your bag," He commanded reaching in his pocket for his car keys.
Woody wove in and out of traffic driving like his life depended upon us getting to Haywood in record time. When the doors to the elevator closed he pulled me to him for a deep kiss full of need. I knew in the back of my mind that the guys on monitors were getting quite a show, but my hormones were in the front of my mind and they didn't care one bit.
We made our way to the apartment as quietly as possible so the kids wouldn't hear us and come out to say goodnight. Once the door shut I thanked God that Louis was thoughtful enough to put special soundproofing material in our apartment walls. The path from the door to our bedroom was littered with clothes as we couldn't wait to have our skin touching.
I had on a special set of lingerie I had picked up just in case we had a child free night tonight. The lace wasn't missed by Woody. When my dress and shoes came off revealing me in nothing by the matching bra and panties he stopping kissing me long enough to say, "Damn Darlin', you're killing me here."
Playing innocent I asked what he meant and heard him say, "I love this," as his hand ran over the white lace, "But I need it gone now." And with that confession I heard the unmistakable sound of material being ripped.
Two hours later I was a puddle of goo lying on top of Woody who was working to get his own breathing under control. I'm not sure where the question came from, but I couldn't help but ask, "Do you have any regrets with how we came together?"
His eyes snapped open at the unexpected question. "Only one," He replied. I waited for a minute instead of struggling to find the energy to ask what it was. He satisfied my curiosity by telling me, "I regret not telling you sooner how I felt. To think we could have been doing this for seven years instead of five is mind blowing."
I laughed at his reply and found I wasn't the only one who noticed what the movement of our chests' shaking in laugher did between us. As I felt him begin to rise to attention once more he rolled me over to position himself above me. "Why?" He turned the question on me, "Do you have any regrets?"
"Only one," I mimicked his reply. "I regret that I can't remember our first night. I got a few pieces of it in dreams, but I could never reconstruct the whole thing in my memory and I wish I could."
"How about I show you what happened?" He offered. I nodded that I would like that and he stood up making me complain loudly. Somehow I thought we were moving more towards getting closer than getting further apart.
Woody laughed and then said, "We didn't start naked in your bed."
With that he offered me his hand to help me stand up and we walked to the front door. He spun me around and put a hand on either side of my head, effectively pinning me to the cool wall with his body. "I started by asking if you were sure," He said kissing down my neck as he had in my dreams after that night.
"And I said yes I was," I tried to keep the story moving.
Woody shook his head no, "You said, 'Hell yes.' There was no hesitation, no doubt, and no reservation."
Then he lifted me so that I could wrap my legs around his waist and he moved me to the bedroom laying me on the bed and covering my body with his. Then he painstakingly recreated that night by telling me every word, and recreating every kiss and every touch as though that night were permanently burned into his memory.
When I came the first time I could not control the scream that escaped my lips. I was never known for being quiet, but even by my standards I knew that was loud. Woody moved his mouth to my ear and said, "That is exactly what you did the first night."
He continued to tell me about the second and third time, and the fourth as dawn began to break. Each telling involved his gentle recreation and by the last time I broke down and cried. It wasn't the first time sex with Woody had brought tears to my eyes, but this time there was the overwhelming feeling of love that not only did he move me physically, but he was trying to give me the one thing I had wanted for a long time –a memory of the night our children were conceived.
I was positive I couldn't move again for at least a few hours and from the slow movements Woody made I believed he felt the same way. We drifted off to sleep and as I dreamed my mind wove the images I had in my subconscious with the experience we just shared and I felt as though for the first time ever I could remember what we shared in my old apartment five years ago.
Woody kept me tucked against him through the night and when the sun rose in the morning I smiled at our position and the warm feel of our skin touching. I was a very lucky woman. I had a wonderful son and daughter who were happy and healthy. I had a job that I excelled at and a group of co-workers that I loved like family. But mostly, I had a husband who never gave up on his love for me before I realized he was the man I most needed to be happy.
While I was lost in my thoughts Woody got up and returned a few minutes later with a slice of cheesecake from the fridge and a single fork. I rolled over and smiled at the sight of my gloriously naked husband standing in front of me holding what I already knew was something delicious that he was going to share.
We had long ago stopped justifying our love of dessert for breakfast when it was just the two of us. And guilt free he began to feed me the cheesecake kissing me between bites and removing any crumbs from the crust around my mouth with his tongue.
I considered it the perfect way to begin the day and counted it a great blessing the number of times my days had begun just like this. With us in bed like this a blind man could easily read this clue; Woody loved me as freely and deeply as I did him. Once the plate was empty, he sat it aside and pulled me to him as he once more showed me just how strongly he felt.
A quick glance at the clock showed we had five hours before Ella would bring the kids home. I smiled as I wondered if that would give us enough time. Yes, I was a very lucky woman indeed.