In this chapter, a talk with Mark, a talk with Abigail, and both Mary and Marshall try to find their own answers. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Mary was just leaving the hospital for lunch when she saw Marshall weaving through the parked cars in front of the hospital. She stopped and gave him a small wave.
Marshall approached her with a small, sad smile. "Hey, Mare."
"Marshall. What's going on?"
"I…" His Adam's apple bobbed nervously as he tried to sort through all of the thoughts in his head. "Abigail had an affair."
Mary's eyes widened at that. The cheerleader slept with another guy? Her confusion was quickly replaced with anger, even though Marshall had cheated on her six weeks ago. "Is she…?"
"I'm moving out as soon as I can."
"Where are you going to stay?"
"Most likely in a hotel, until I can find an apartment." He despised the thought of living alone again. He loved familiarity and routine, having someone to come home to every night and snuggle with when he laid down in his bed. He was the husband type, but it was painfully clear that maybe no woman wanted to be his wife. He shook his head, trying to clear away the negativity from his head. "How are Brandi and the baby?"
"They're just fine," Mary answered, slightly puzzled by the sudden change in conversation. "Brandi is still sleeping."
"Well, she's not Superwoman," he said with a smile.
"No, she's not. That's me."
They both shared a quiet laugh, and Marshall thrust his thumb over his shoulder. "I need to get back to the office. I just wanted to see how you were holding up."
Mary waved a hand. "I'm fine. You and Brandi did all of the work."
"Actually, I just played catcher." Then, taking them both by surprise, he leaned over and kissed her cheek gently. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
All she could do was nod in response.
Smiling sweetly, Marshall turned around and walked away from her, leaving Mary drowning in a sea of confusion and longing.
After leaving the hospital, Marshall drove straight to the house he shared with Abigail. The house was silent as he unlocked the door and stepped inside. He could see that she had already started packing, and he heaved a heavy sigh. He had never wanted it to end this way. He truly did love Abigail, and he wanted to make a life with her. He wanted her to be his wife, and to be her husband, for the rest of their lives. Now she was gone, leaving him no way to even try to fix things between them.
Moving slowly through the house, he looked at pictures on the wall. They were happy, at one time. But then she issued him that ultimatum… cut all ties with Mary outside of work, or she was gone. He had been so desperate to make things work with her that he had gone to Mary and begged her to release him. Like things would somehow just be that easy. The look on Mary's face had almost destroyed him, and that night, he went to his favorite bar and drank until the bartender cut him off and gently told him to get the hell out of the bar, before he did something stupid. So he had left, stumbling along and not knowing where he was going until he somehow wound up on Mary's doorstep. When she opened the door, he was almost crushed with guilt and self-loathing. He had missed her so damn much. How could he have tried to cut her out of his life like that, even if it was at the demand of the woman he had wanted to marry? Before he could stop himself, he was kissing her. His lips tingled at the memory. He loved kissing Abigail, holding her and making love to her. But holding Mary, kissing her and making love to her… it was indescribable. She made him feel needed and wanted.
He came to a stop just inside of his bedroom, and something inside of him snapped when he realized that Abigail's clothes were missing. With a quiet moan, he grabbed a suitcase and began shoving clothes and other items into it. Once it was full, he slammed it shut and carried it outside, to his truck. He tossed the suitcase into the passenger's seat, then climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out his phone. His fingers trembled as he found Stan's number and held the phone up to his ear.
"Stan? It's Marshall." He shoved the keys into the ignition. "I have a problem, and I need some time off."
Brandi awoke slowly her hospital, her mind foggy and her body in pain. Slowly everything came back to her, and she looked around. Beside her bed, her baby girl lay sleeping in a clear isolette. As carefully as she could manage, Brandi sat up and leaned over, scooping her daughter up in her arms.
Mary came back into Brandi's hospital room to find Brandi sitting up in her bed and holding her newborn daughter. She smiled at her younger sister. "Hey, Squish. How are you feeling?"
"A little sore," Brandi murmured, unable to tear her eyes away from her new daughter.
"That's normal." Mary sat down in the chair by her sister's bed. "Have you thought of a name for the little monkey?"
Brandi let out a soft laugh at her sister's chosen nickname. "I have, in fact." She kissed her daughter's forehead, then looked at her big sister. Her blue eyes shined. "I named her Alexis Mary Manna."
"Where the hell did you get the name Manna?" Mary chose to go after the third name, instead of the obvious second.
"You and Marshall were there for me and Alexis. You saved our lives."
"Squish, women have been delivering babies for thousands of years. You would have been fine."
"No, we wouldn't have. You both saved us, and I wanted to name her after both of you. Your name was easy, but there isn't really a feminine version of Marshall, except Marsha." Brandi made a face. "But Manna is pretty, it's almost the same as Mann, and it means something unexpected but wanted." She smiled lovingly at her daughter. "She was the last thing in the world I expected, but I can't imagine my life without her now."
Her words touched Mary. When she least expected it, Brandi could be very deep and insightful. "Fine. Marshall will love the whole Manna thing. But you aren't naming her after me."
"That's the great thing about being an adult and having a baby. I can do whatever I want. And I want to name my baby after you," Brandi said smugly.
"You're not going to win this argument, Mare."
"Doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying, Squish."
"Fine." Brandi looked down at her newborn daughter. "She's so perfect, Mary. I love her so much."
"That's natural. She's your daughter." Mary leaned back in the chair.
Brandi couldn't help studying her older sister. "What's wrong, Mar?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Something's bothering you. Spill." Brandi shifted Alexis to her shoulder and gently patted her back. But she kept her eyes on her sister.
Mary shook her head. "Nothing's wrong."
Brandi sighed, shaking her head slightly. She knew her sister better than she would ever admit, and she could tell that something was troubling Mary. But what it was, she just couldn't put her finger on it.
Mary finally got up and leaned over, gently kissing her sister's cheek. "I'm going home for a while, Squish. Mom's been up here already, right?"
"Yeah. She said she'd be back tonight."
"Good." She pulled away from the bed. "Call me if you need anything, okay?"
"I will," Brandi promised.
"Both of you, behave yourselves." Mary wagged a finger at her sister and new niece. "I'll call you later."
Giving her sister another reassuring smile, Mary slipped out of the hospital room, her hand resting lightly on her stomach. Suddenly she desperately wanted to see her daughter, and she wasn't sure why.
Mark Stuber smiled as he walked around with his little daughter in his arms. He had never expected to have a baby with Mary, but the moment he first laid eyes on Norah, he knew that he was in love. She was so beautiful and tiny, so perfect, pure and innocent. He kissed her head and sighed softly. He would have liked to work things out with Mary and settle down with her, but he knew that he wasn't the right man for her. Anyone who watched her with her partner, Marshall Mann, could see that. It was just a matter of time before Mary and Marshall figured it out.
Norah squealed and flailed her arms, babbling happily. "Mmm… ba!"
He laughed, drawn from his thoughts. "That's what your mom tells me, kiddo." He couldn't resist kissing her sweet forehead. As much as he had enjoyed his life before Norah, now he couldn't imagine life without her. And to him, that was a very good thing.
A knock on the front door drew his attention away from his little daughter. "Looks like someone's here, munchkin. Let's see who it is." He walked over to the door and opened it.
Mary was standing on his doorstep, a strange expression on her face.
"Mary?" Mark couldn't hide his surprise at her unexpected presence. "Is everything okay?"
Reaching out, he gently grasped her shoulder and pulled her inside. Then he closed the door. "Are you okay, Mary?"
Mary leaned over and kissed Norah's forehead, and Mark recognized the deflective move.
"I just wanted to see Norah."
"Right." Mark met Mary's eyes. "I know you better than that."
She wanted to scowl, to yell at him that he didn't have the first clue about her. Only Marshall knew her so well. But Mark did know her, and that unnerved her. Getting close to other people only ended in disaster and heartache. Why risk it? "I slept with Marshall."
Mark's eyes widened noticeably, and it was several moments before he could finally form a coherent sentence. "You slept with Marshall? When?"
"Six weeks ago."
"Isn't he engaged to that detective?"
"Abigail. She broke up with him today." Mary still didn't know how she felt about that. She wanted Marshall to be happy. If he tried to reconcile with Abigail, then she would support his decision. But what if he didn't want to reconcile with Abigail? She didn't dare hope.
Mark ushered Mary over to the couch and sat down with her. "You don't seem that broken up about it."
Mary sat down with Mark. "I don't know how I feel about it," she admitted.
He smirked. "Mary, when have you ever been uncertain about anything?"
She snorted, but he had a point. She always had an opinion on everything. "Okay, I guess I'm not heartbroken about it. I want to be with Marshall."
She exhaled deeply. "I want Marshall to be happy. And if he's happiest with Abigail…"
"…you'll spend the rest of your life miserable, because you won't tell him how you really feel," Mark continued for her. "You want what's best for him, and that's noble. But is it really worth spending the rest of your life wondering 'what if'?"
His words were brutally honest, and they struck a deep chord within her. Could she spend her entire life wondering what could have happened with Marshall, what kind of life they could have had together? Could she put herself through that heartache every day, only to settle for some guy whom she would forever compare to Marshall, to the standards he had unknowingly set for her?
Suddenly she stood up again, bending down to briefly kiss her daughter's cheek. "Are you two okay for a while?"
Mark gave her a confused look. "She's my daughter. Of course we're okay."
"Great. I have something I need to do."
A knowing smile touched his lips. "Go, Mary."
They shared a brief look before Mary spun around and all but run to the door. She cast one last look over her shoulder before she ran outside.
The door slammed, and Mark settled back into the couch with his baby girl. He gave her a smile, and she grinned toothlessly at him in return.
"Your mom can be pretty smart, when she wants to be."
On the way to Marshall's home, Mary's phone started to vibrate. Out of habit, she grabbed it and looked at the screen.
Shaking her head, she tossed the phone aside and gripped the steering wheel tightly. The job could wait. Right now, her mind was focused on a much more pressing issue, and trying to figure out how to resolve it.
In record time, she managed to reach Marshall's house. She was so caught up in figuring out what to say that she missed Abigail's car sitting in the driveway. She parked and jumped out of the driver's seat, her feet landing firmly on the ground. Her heart started beating faster as she made her way to his front door.
He had once told her that she never needed to knock; she was his partner and best friend, and she was always welcome in his home. That was before Abigail, of course. She had always tried to be civil around Abigail, at least for Marshall's sake. She truly wanted him to be happy. But she wanted to be happy as well. She pushed the door open without bothering to knock.
Abigail as standing in the middle of the living room, and she spun around when the door opened without warning.
Both women stared at each other, suddenly uncomfortable. Marshall meant so much to both of them, in such different ways. He was Mary's best friend, the other part of her soul. To Abigail, he was the man she loved, the other part of her heart, and she had broken what they had. She had told him that she wasn't so sad about ending their engagement, but it was a lie. She loved him, and having that affair had been the worst mistake of her life. It had just taken the look on Marshall's face for her to realize what she had done.
Abigail was the first to speak. "What are you doing here?" Her tone was hard, catching Mary by surprise.
Mary quickly recovered and shot back, "I think the question is, what are you doing here? You dumped my partner. Shouldn't you be shacked up with your little boy toy?"
"Don't give me that holier-than-thou routine, Mary. I know he's in love with you. You won. And you know what? You could have made things a hell of a lot easier on everyone if you had just said something two years ago."
Once again, Mary was caught off-guard by Abigail's bold declaration. "What?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Mary. Marshall has loved you since he met you, but he never said anything because there was never a good time. You were engaged, or you were with that detective, or you just weren't available. Or at least, he thought you weren't. He's a good man, and he would never stand in the way of your happiness. But you couldn't do the same for him."
Mary's feathers were instantly ruffled. "Don't you dare blame me for the mess you created…"
"No. He was a mess before I came along. I just made the mistake of trying to fix him." Abigail shoved another book into her duffle bag, then zipped it up and slung it over her shoulder. "But make no mistake about this, Mary. I love him, more than anything. I screwed up one time, and it cost me dearly. I've always had to fight for him, and right now is no different. If he'll have me back, I will go to him." She absently twisted the engagement ring on her left ring finger. He had given it to her with such high hopes, and she had been overjoyed when he had. But that joy was quickly overshadowed by the jealousy and resentment she felt toward the woman standing in front of her now. She had tried so hard for so long to work past that resentment. She understood partners and the unique relationship that they often had. Partners had to trust each other with their lives, and quite often they laid their lives on the line for each other. It was an intense relationship that evolved from practically nothing, and often ended only at the cruel hands of death.
So why couldn't she get over it?
Mary moved past the petite brunette. "Is Marshall here?" she demanded impatiently. She refused to take Abigail's bait. She came to see Marshall, not to beat the living hell out of the woman she wrongly blamed for so many of her problems.
"He's not here. I assumed he went to you."
Before Mary could blink, Abigail was out the door and gone. The slam of the front door raised goosebumps on Mary's arms.
When she could finally move, Mary went into Marshall's bedroom, on the off chance that Abigail was lying and Marshall really was there. But the house was empty, and as she walked outside, she pulled out her phone and punched in a number that was all too familiar to her.
The phone rang three times before his voicemail finally answered. She listened to the familiar message, and when the tone sounded in her ear, she was almost deafened.
"Marshall, it's me. I need to talk to you." She waited a few moments. "Please call me back." Ending the call, she climbed behind the wheel and sighed.
It was then that she realized she had used the word please.
Marshall heard his phone ring, and he retrieved it from the passenger's seat. He looked at the screen.
With a heavy sigh, he set the phone back down. He wasn't ready to talk with her just yet. He wasn't strong enough to have that conversation, and he wasn't sure if he would ever be.
So he just drove.
After a couple of hours of aimless driving and several more unanswered calls to Marshall's cell phone, Mary wound up back at the hospital where her sister and new niece were. As she climbed out of the vehicle, her steps were unsteady. Marshall wasn't answering his phone, leaving her to wonder where he was, and if he was okay.
Of course he wasn't okay! He and Abigail had just broken up. The woman he was going to marry had cheated on him, but she had to remind herself that they had also had an affair long before Abigail betrayed him. Mary was at a loss, an extremely rare occurrence for her. Marshall was out there alone and hurting, and for possibly the first time in their relationship, she desperately wanted to console him. She tried to think of somewhere, anywhere he might go, but she came up empty.
Finally she stepped away from her vehicle, her feet unsteady. Losing herself in a visit with Brandi and little Alexis might not be the healthiest thing; she really needed to see Marshall and try to sort all of this out. But until he answered his phone, that wasn't going to happen.
"What did we do, Marshal?"
Marshall drove his truck until the sun had long since disappeared, and his eyes were blurry from lack of decent sleep. It was only when he started to swerve that he finally pulled over. By now, he was sure that Stan had told Mary he was gone, and knowing Mary, she was tracking him. He hadn't told Stan where he was going, but Stan had told him to take all of the time he needed. He was grateful to him for that, because he had no idea how long it would take for him to sort through the mess in his head.
Before he left, he withdrew some money from the bank, then ditched his credit cards. Mary would be searching for him, and she would most likely find him. But he wasn't going to make it easy for her.
He found a little motel a few miles down the road. It was nondescript and took cash, so he parked his truck out of the way before finding his room and unlocking the door.
The room was dark and musty, but the bed was surprisingly clean. He managed to pull his boots off before collapsing into the bed, and he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
After another visit with Brandi and the baby, Mary wearily made her way home, only stopping by Mark's to collect Norah. She knew that Mark could handle their daughter on his own for the night, but she had an inexplicable need to have her daughter close, and she indulged it.
She made it home just after midnight, and after tucking Norah into her crib, she took a brief shower. Then she called Marshall once more before climbing between her sheets. He still wasn't answering, as she suspected. She was exhausted and nauseous, but her thoughts of Marshall and where he might be kept her awake long after her head found her pillow.
Where was he?
To Be Continued...
A/N: I know, Brandi's baby's name is way too cutesy. But it's so something I can see Brandi naming her child. Hope everyone enjoyed this. Please review!