HOT DOG – Chapter 1

Setting: A year and a half after the events in Sashimi….

"Where are the (god damned) car keys?" Dani complained loudly, but clinched her teeth and cursed under her breath for the benefit of her son who could not yet understand curses but for whom she did not want to be the person responsible if his first word was "fuck."

She was throwing things around the table in the foyer, seeking the errant keys with no luck. She found pacifiers, rings of plastic keys for Sam to chew on, a dog leash, a half a pack of chewing gum and a half dozen different fruits, only half of which she could identify, in a wicker bowl. Some things about Crews did not change, his fascination with all things fruit being one of them. Every thing, except the damned car keys, she thought.

Crews' long shadow appeared ahead of his tall form in a dark suit. He clasped the keys in his right hand and jingled them for her. "They are right here in my hands – where they are going to stay all day," he challenged.

They'd reach these points occasionally where Dani would insist on controlling things and at first he'd given in to her, but more and more now he was digging in his heels and not letting her have total command and control. He ceded ground on most fronts and they rarely disagreed fully, but Charlie Crews was every bit as stubborn as his wife and no one knew it better than her.

She scowled and wheeled to collect other things, baby things. There were a million things they had to get ready before they could leave the house for the christening of Samuel Ethan Crews and she was a wreck. Crews on the other hand had been dressed and ready to go for an hour. He patiently walked the dog and waited for her to ready herself and their son.

"Honey?" he called after her, using a term that she both loved and loathed for different reasons. She turned and gave him a dark look. "I love you, but the only thing you're driving today is that stroller," he pointed at a navy blue pram with all the bells and whistles. She growled and stormed off.

Crews' as always was implacable. He picked up his fussy son and talked to the baby, "Yes, Mommy seems very mad today, but she's not – she's just nervous. She's not mad at us." When Dani got in a temper, both Max and Sam got quiet and Max was stuck to Charlie like glue. "Hey," he spoke sharply to the dog, "don't get dog hair all over my suit."

Dani poked her head in and examined them, her family. The tall red haired man immaculately dressed, holding the younger version of himself who was dressed in a tiny blue seersucker suit and the black & white dog watching them both. Sam was born with dark hair and smoky blue eyes, but that hair quickly gave way to a pale blonde tending toward red. She had a feeling his hair would mirror his father's brassy color in time. The blue eyes though had stayed and just gotten brighter, more clear and piercing by the day.

He was a lovely boy of just under a year who at this point and could do little more than smile and jabber, but he did so very much look like his father. He dazzled everyone with his fair hair and blue eyes; none more than his mother. Dani loved everything about him, even the 2AM feedings.

Initially, a yawning, bleary-eyed Charlie had offered to help, to get up with her, to sit with the baby and rock him so she could go back to sleep, but she brushed him off and kissed him back to sleep. Eventually, he stopped asking and just accepted her answer would always be a firm, but gentle 'no'. He'd fall back to sleep in minutes with the faint hint of a smile on his fair features. Sam looked just like him even then – sleeping with a hint of a smile on his tiny face.

It became a thing with her, 2AM in the stillness of the night; it was her time alone with Sam. Some nights he would suckle hungrily and stare at her so intently she was certain he could see right into the darkest recesses of her mind and corners of her soul. She'd let Max come because he would lay at her feet, quiet and still, but that time alone was precious to her. Not because she didn't want Charlie there – but because she relished the silence and the connection with the life they'd made together. She could never quite put it into words, but she recognized the profundity of it nonetheless.

Charlie spent his own time alone with his son. Sometimes he'd vanish into the vastness of the big quiet house and when she looked for him, she'd find him reading, singing or talking to the baby. He was such a gentle, quiet man that sometimes she'd find it hard to imagine him in prison or the violence he could summon when properly motivated. Sam was also a very happy boy, smiling often and laughing riotously at some silliness or face Charlie made for him.

They were happy, Dani wondered if it would last or if it would all coming crashing down. Sometimes she wondered out loud, but Charlie abjectly refused to discuss it or the potential for it. That horror he'd already experienced once, having his life snatched away and while he feared it – he wouldn't let it intrude on their happiness – on their "now." His intransigence on the issue was absolute and he was a very stubborn man.

There had been anger and recriminations when her father learned of her decision of exclude him from Sam's life. It was lessened by a heart wrenching afternoon when Dani shared her desire to have Jack Reese as far from her son as possible and her demand that if her mother could not abide by Dani's wishes then she too would not be a part of Sam's life. Dani's mother tearfully admitted Jack's judgment of and treatment toward his daughter always hurt her and she begged to be part of young Sam's life. Charlie and Dani accepted that Roya would be there and she had been almost every day since he was born.

Jack Reese and Charles Crews Sr. robustly and roundly refused to accept that their past conduct made them unsuitable for admission into Sam's life - in the Dani and Charlie's assessment; until Charlie made it abundantly clear to both of them that they were not welcome in his house. She never asked how he got this point across, but she was certain there was a fair amount of threatening involved. Dani didn't speak with her father anymore and while it was accepted he knew about Sam through Roya – Jack stayed away. Charlie saw to that; warning the old man with a gleam in his eye that signaled he'd enjoy sharing some of the lessons he'd learned inside Pelican Bay with the white haired old man. And whatever Charlie had said to his own father, stayed between the two of them, but Charles Crews Sr. stopped writing and calling, he simply vanished – as if he had never been. Charlie never spoke of it and she'd never inquired.

They finally did make it to the christening, which was a small and private event. Charlie drove the car, but ended up carrying an assortment of bags to the church, while Dani pushed the stroller. Traditionally, children wore dresses for christenings, but there was nothing traditional about the Crews family. When the priest anointed Sam with holy water, while announcing his name to the world, the boy giggled at the rustling of his small suit. Both his parents grinned. Roya snapped several photos and they left as quickly as they'd come. Neither Charlie nor Dani were particularly religious, but it was something Charlie said his mother would have liked so they did it to honor her.

Later that evening, Roya showed the pictures of their grandson to Jack on the computer, while he nursed his fifth scotch. "He doesn't look anything like her," he groused. "If anything he looks like Crews," he commented darkly.

"Just as he should. A boy should take after his father Jack," Roya pointedly argued. "Despite your misgivings, he is a fine young man and a good father."

Jack just grumbled in the background before stalking off. Being written out of his daughter's live hurt him more than he'd let on, but not enough so that he'd apologize or change his ways.

Roya alone had the opportunity to observe the Crews family as it developed. For all their earlier troubles separately; together they were an average, normal couple with ups and downs. Charlie was patient, but there was a limit to that patience, which Dani was quick to reach, beyond that he stiffened when pushed too far and she backed off instinctively. They'd learned each other's habits, natures and pitfalls, first as partners and then as mates. Their marriage was a logical continuation of their partnering and it did not change one single thing about the way they interacted. One day, she was Dani Reese and the next she was Dani Crews in a small ceremony officiated by a Justice of the Peace and two random witnesses.

Charlie swore one day they'd do it over, big and ostentatious and he'd whisk her away to a honeymoon somewhere exotic on a beach, but she'd simply rolled her eyes and asked him to please take her home – no stops. He happily complied, but reserved the right to carry her away someday when there wasn't a baby boy to see about.

Dani's mercurial nature had been tempered by both maturity and her choice in mates. With the addition of a child, the lessons she'd learned in hard fought battles over the past five years came together for her and she became who she was capable of being. She was a brilliant young woman, resilient and determined, but no longer driven by anger and resentment. The change in her showed; Dani had finally reached a point where she was content and her mother could see the child she'd once been in her again. Crews had kept his promise.

Roya even dared to hope there would be more grandchildren on the horizon, but for now it was just them; an attractive tight knit couple, an energetic, young dog and a happy, chubby baby boy. She proudly changed the computer's desktop background and picture of a smiling, drooling Sam with a chubby fist in his mouth and emailed photos to their extended family. In all them, even Dani was smiling broadly.

Jack retreated to the garage and into his head – to the day when all this became a freight train out of control. He poured two fingers of his hidden whisky, stared into the darkness and travelled into the past. Stay away from my family, Crews had glowered. He could still feel the heat of the younger man's body near him and feel the hot breath tickle his face. Crews was so confident, so brash, so ebullient.

In the split second it took Jack to form his pithy retort, the young red haired man's flushed face and chagrinned expression told Jack Reese that he'd just learned something he wasn't supposed to know. Since it was common knowledge that Dani was sleeping with Crews there could only be one other thing the younger man meant; that was a child. Jack's query was superfluous, but he asked it anyway. Crews' averted eyes told him the truth. It wasn't that long since he'd talked to a guilty man.

Crews' crime was now a desktop background on Jack's home computer. Later, he'd examine the photos carefully and notice each detail of his grandson. Every single time he looked at that little boy, a carbon copy of his father, Jack knew Crews was right. This was never about him – just like Crews said. Dani loved the man. Evidence of their love grinned at him from a 22" computer screen drooling. Their son was happy, healthy and would never know his grandfather.

Jack lashed out at a random object on his workbench and slung it onto the floor. It didn't matter what it was. It broke with a crash, a good sound but it did not fill the hollowness he felt. Dani was gone from his life now, as was his grandson. It was his fault, Dani had done what he knew she would eventually, she'd fled - him and his hatefulness. First she rebelled, but her love held her. She was locked in a deadly spiral of love for her father and self-loathing. It was slowly destroying the young woman.

Then her deliverer arrived; in the most unlikely of forms - a broken, fruit addled, Zen spouting ex-convict that some people, most people considered crazy. Crews delivered her from her personal torture in a very simple manner. He hadn't done anything remotely heroic. No dragons were slain, not even his money did the trick. No, what Crews offered was trust, confidence, respect and the love her father denied her. She'd fallen hard for the tall, lanky red head and he for her – his damaged dark angel.

Jack replayed that day in his mind a hundred times. He stormed off before Crews looked up, disappearing into a throng of people in the open-air market. He drove in circles fuming and waiting for Roya's call. When she called, she was happy, it was in her voice after her meeting with Dani – she knew. Dani told her, but not him; Dani wouldn't share her happiness with him. He knew why. He'd belittle it, poke fun at it; he'd revel in his meanness and watch the hurt bloom behind his daughter's eyes. The question was… would Roya keep this secret from him?

He waited and amazingly Roya climbed into the car, smiled, kissed him and said absolutely nothing. They drove home in silence for twenty minutes, before they got stuck in traffic and he just couldn't stand it anymore. "I followed him," he spat. "I followed Crews."

"Why?" she asked testily.

"I wanted to know what he was up to with Dani?" he growled.

"He loves her," Roya replied clearly annoyed.

"Did you know?" he challenged.

"Anyone who looks at them knows," she shot back, "they are in love." She answered him, but didn't answer the question he didn't ask. Their repartee was every bit as fiery as one between Charlie and Dani would have been. She had accepted his treatment of her because she was raised to accept it, but that didn't mean she liked it, it didn't mean she enjoyed it. Knowing this, his spitefulness and manner nearly cost her – her relationship with Dani - made her angry beyond reason. She contained her ire, but barely.

"She's pregnant! Dani's pregnant. Did you know that?" he snapped.

"Oh?" she deflected trying to sound surprised. The lie worked as he launched into a recitation of his exchange with Crews and his revelation. She waited patiently until he wound down and glared at her for a response, "So, Charlie did not actually say that Dani is with child. You assume this because he wishes to protect Dani from you?" she pointed out the flaw in his assumption.

"So you're telling me she said nothing to you?" he turned in his seat to confront her.

"She said a great many things to me," his wife deflected.

"Roya," he growled.

"Jack," she countered with just as much grit and gravitas. They stared at each other for a long moment, then her gaze shifted and she chose to address him. "You have done this to our family. You who wanted a son and were not happy with the child God saw fit to give you. You, Jack – your criticism and meanness have done this. I have been a good wife to you, but you ask me to choose between those I love. I will not!"

Traffic picked that moment to clear and a car horn sounded the end of their argument. He put the car in gear and the rest of the ride occurred in a silence more appropriate for a graveyard. She barely waited for the car to stop rolling before she leapt out and slammed the door to their bedroom.

He fumed and raged and drank. Hours flew by and his rage did not diminish. Finally, with confidence fueled by whiskey and hate, he called his daughter's cell phone. She did not answer. He called four more times. Finally, the line connected but the voice that came to him was not hers.

"Leave her alone, Jack," Crews stated flatly. "Leave us alone," he said coolly. The line clicked dead and Jack Reese knew that he'd never again speak to his daughter, but never is a very long time.