July 20, 1996, 6:04 AM-Roger and Holly's House
Holly awoke when her arm encountered empty space and cold sheets beside her. She sat up, rubbing the sleep from her bleary eyes, then got out of bed and shuffled across the hall to Jack's nursery. Sure enough, there was Roger, standing at Jack's crib, watching the baby sleep. Holly stole up behind Roger, wrapped her arms around his waist, and rested her cheek against his shoulder. He rested one hand on her arm, and they stood there in silence for a long moment. Then Roger quietly said, "I'm sorry I woke you."
"It was you not being there that woke me, actually," Holly replied.
"Well, whatever the reason I woke you, I'm sorry," Roger said.
"It's okay," Holly assured him. "I know you're apprehensive about seeing Hart today."
"I'm more apprehensive about seeing Hart than I am about seeing my dad," Roger confessed. "At least Dad and I can talk to each other now without the conversation deteriorating into an argument filled with accusations and recriminations. I can't say the same about Hart. I don't know what his reaction to me is going to be, but I doubt it's going to be good." He paused, then turned to face Holly. "I told Chrissy last night that I could handle seeing Hart today, but I have no idea how he's going to react to me, just that it won't be happily. I don't want today to be ruined in any way." The corner of his mouth twisted in a half grimace as he pondered all of the worst-case scenarios when he and Hart saw one another.
"Whatever happens with Hart, this time you're not alone," Holly reminded him.
They were interrupted by Jack waking up then. Roger scooped him up out of his crib and held him close, and Jack yawned and rubbed at his eyes with his little fists, and then his head drooped onto Roger's shoulder. "Like mother, like son," Roger said fondly. "Jack's not a morning person either."
"Since the christening isn't until 11, and we don't have to be at the church until 10:30, and it's barely past sunrise, why don't we all go back to bed?" Holly suggested.
Jack had fallen asleep again, and Holly could use a bit more sleep herself. Roger nodded. "Yeah," he agreed.
Roger was unable to sleep, but the presence of Jack sleeping on his chest, and Holly sleeping against his side made him less anxious about the day ahead. And he wasn't the only one concerned about what the day would bring.
July 20, 1996, 6:42 AM-Vanessa Chamberlain's House
After finally returning to Vanessa's house the night before, Dinah and Hart had been prepared for more arguing with Vanessa, if not also Henry, over the fact that they wanted to share a room and a bed, but Vanessa merely said good night before heading to her own bedroom, where Matt was sleeping, so they faced no direct opposition.
Both early risers by habit, the addition of two hours because of the change in time zones had them awake and talking quietly in bed before 7 AM. "How are you doing?" Dinah asked.
"I was going to ask you that," Hart replied.
"I had my meltdown last night. It's your turn today," Dinah said.
"I could see walking out on Roger after he makes me mad," Hart admitted.
"Do you really think he'd start something at the christening?" she asked.
"Maybe not at the church, but at your dad's house, oh yeah," Hart said. "Honestly, I'm surprised he's left me alone this long. As soon as he found out I was in town, I figured he'd be following me around, getting up in my face, pleading for me to return to the family fold. I don't know how to get it through his head that we're never going to be the kind of father and son he wants us to be."
"Whatever happens today with Roger, I've got your back," Dinah assured Hart.
He pulled her on top of him, wrapping his arms around her back. "That's how I know I'll survive whatever he throws at me today," Hart replied. "And the day won't be a total loss. It'll be good to see Granddad again."
Dinah smiled then. She adored Adam Thorpe, and the feeling was mutual. "He's meeting us at the church, right?"
"Yeah," Hart said, caressing his way up Dinah's spine. Her hands were resting on his bare chest, and she began to caress him as well. "What time is the christening again?"
"Eleven," Dinah said, closing her eyes as Hart began kissing his way down her throat. "What...what time are we meeting Adam at the church?"
"Sometime before eleven," Hart murmured against her throat. She groaned in frustration when he stopped kissing her throat. "We'd better continue this in the shower."
"Afraid my mother is going to walk in on us?" Dinah asked, her hands still wandering Hart's torso.
"Afraid you'll get so loud she'll feel compelled to check on why you're screaming," he replied with a smirk.
"Oh, please, you couldn't be quiet if your life depended on it," Dinah scoffed, "especially when I do that thing that you really like..." She then proceeded to demonstrate that thing Hart really liked, and true to Dinah's statement, he had to fight not to be very vocal about just how much he really liked what she was doing.
"Race you to the shower," Dinah said, sitting up suddenly and tossing the covers aside.
Hart followed her into the bathroom, and grabbed her from behind as she was turning on the shower and adjusting the temperature. "I'm gonna get you for that back there," he said playfully.
She gave him a sexy smirk. "I'm counting on it," she replied as they stripped off their pajamas and stepped under the warm spray.
July 20, 1996, 9:40 AM-Ross and Blake's House
Michelle and Ross were in the nursery, changing the awake Jason. Maureen, holding the sleeping Kevin, sat beside Ed on the couch, and Blake had just finished telling the Bauers about the night before with Dinah and Hart, and that in addition to the two of them, Adam, Barbara, and Andy and his fiancée would all be at the christening as well.
"That's really-" Ed began.
"Monumentally stupid of us, I know," Blake replied.
"I was going to say 'brave,'" Ed said.
"Well, I'm going with 'monumentally stupid,'" Blake said.
Ed and Maureen exchanged a look. "If you need anyone to step in and defuse any...situations...that crop up," Maureen said, "we're happy to help."
"My grandmother has always liked you, Ed," Blake said. "Not that I think she'll start anything today. But she'll be glad to see you, and thrilled that you're Kevin and Jason's godfather."
"What about Hart?" Maureen asked.
"That's what I'm really worried about," Blake said. "He and Dad haven't even been in the same room with each other in three years. Hart has no idea how much things have changed. The last time Dad was trying to get close to Hart, everything was so different. I mean, Dad was running around with Jenna Bradshaw, for god's sake!"
"Because he was trying to get control of Spaulding," Ross said as he, now carrying Jason, re-entered the room with Michelle right behind him.
"My point is that Dad is almost entirely a different person than he was back then," Blake said. "But Hart is going to walk in there today thinking that Dad's exactly like he was the last time Hart was here."
"That could be a problem," Maureen agreed.
"That's an understatement," Blake replied.
"Hart isn't completely uncivilized," Ed pointed out. "He knows this is a christening. He's not going to go in there looking to pick a fight with Roger."
"But what if he does it anyway?" Blake fretted.
"We won't let that happen," Maureen promised. But Blake was still worried about what would happen when her father and Hart came face to face.
July 20, 1996, 12:09 PM-Ross and Blake's House
The christenings were uneventful. Kevin protested mightily with loud wails when the minister poured the water from the baptismal font on his forehead. Jason scrunched up his face in distaste, and Ross leaned in and whispered in Blake's ear, "He looks like you." Blake wasn't the least bit offended, because it happened to be true: the expression on Jason's face was the spitting image of her when she was unhappy about something. Jack was nonplussed, wondering why this man was pouring water on his head with his clothes on while Blake was holding him. He moved his head, looking at Roger and Holly as if to say, "Mommy, Daddy, what is this?" Ed and Maureen were Kevin and Jason's godparents, and Ross and Blake were Jack's godparents.
Almost everyone who attended the christening returned to Ross and Blake's house afterwards: Phillip and Faith Spaulding (Cutter was working); Ed, Maureen, and Michelle; Adam Thorpe; Barbara, Andy, and Paloma; Ryan, Colleen, and Sam Greenberg (the Thorpes and Marlers had attended Sam's bris, which Ryan described as "the Jewish equivalent of a christening," eight days after he had been born back in March); Roger, Holly, Jack, Blake, Ross, Kevin, Jason, and of course Dinah and Hart.
When Roger, Holly, and Jack arrived at Ross and Blake's, Roger took Jack into the nursery to change him and found Ryan just finishing getting Sam dressed again after changing him. "Hey," Ryan greeted Roger. "I have to say, I've been to more than one bris in my life, and several Catholic baptisms, but the Presbyterian christening ceremony is nice...and compared to the Catholic ceremonies for everything, short. I've been to Catholic weddings that were four hours long. When my sister Maura got married, I was starting to wish I'd stuck some crackers in my cummerbund along about hour three." Ryan picked Sam up from the changing table and stood back. "You okay?" he asked.
"My son...my other son...he's going to be here," Roger replied as he laid Jack down to change him.
"I'm guessing he's not coming because you invited him?" Ryan said.
"He's dating Ross's daughter." Roger changed Jack.
"Sounds like Marlers have a thing for Thorpes," Ryan reflected. "Ross and Blake...Ross's daughter and your son..."
"Dinah and Hart," Roger informed him.
"Well, at least you and your dad are getting along better," Ryan said, trying to cheer up his best friend.
"He's coming too," Roger said as he finished re-dressing Jack after getting him into a fresh diaper. "And so is Holly's mother."
Ryan whistled low. "She still giving you a hard time?"
"Not much so far this visit," Roger said, clearly surprised.
"Well, if you need any help today, all you have to do is ask," Ryan said. He bounced Sam slightly in his arms. "You and Jack are gonna go easy on us old guys, aren'tcha, Sam I Am?" he asked the baby. Sam cooed at his father, and Ryan pressed a kiss to the baby's chubby cheek. "How 'bout next weekend, the four of us get together? You and Jack, me and Sam, our first official playdate."
"As long as I survive today, you're on," Roger replied.
"You will," Ryan said simply.
In the living room, Ross and Blake were holding court on their couch with Kevin and Jason. Faith was sitting next to Blake, and Phillip was sitting next to Ross. Phillip was holding Kevin, and although Faith would have liked to hold Jason, she still didn't trust herself not to drop such precious cargo, so she settled for cooing at him in his mother's arms.
"I'm your cousin Phillip," Phillip told Kevin. "I don't know what kinds of things your grandfather will be telling you about my family, but I promise, we don't have horns and tails and carry pitchforks."
"Really, Phillip," Faith said.
Phillip grinned unrepentantly. "You sound just like Hope," he said.
"Well, if she and Dad were here, you know she would have said the same thing," Faith replied. Alan and Hope had decided to go away for the summer just the two of them after Alan-Michael and Lucy's wedding in May, as all of the Spauldings continued to heal from the Brent Lawrence ordeal. They wouldn't be back in Springfield until September.
"Hey, I'm being good," Phillip said. "I haven't said one word about Jason's uncanny resemblance to Roger."
"I apologize for my big brother, Blake," Faith said.
"It's not the first time we've heard it, and I'm sure it won't be the last," Blake said. She looked at Phillip then. "You're lucky that you're related to Kevin and Jason. If you weren't, one or both of them might be romantically interested in Lizzie in a few years."
Phillip looked horrified at the prospect. "She's six!" he exclaimed.
"There's more of an age difference than that between me and Ross, and between my mother and my father," she said gaily. "What can I say? Choosing older, more experienced mates than ourselves runs in my family." Phillip nearly choked at this. "What? I was talking about life experience, Phillip," Blake concluded innocently.
"Yeah, right," Phillip said.
Faith couldn't help laughing, and when Phillip shot her a dirty look, all she said was, "You asked for it." Ross looked on, just as amused as Faith.
"So I guess this means I have no chance of edging Mindy out for the title of your favorite ex-wife?" Blake asked.
Faith decided to throw Phillip a bone. "Well, if Alan-Michael and Lucy ever have a daughter, maybe she'll end up with Kevin or Jason," she said.
"Oh yeah, Alan-Michael would be thrilled about that," Phillip replied.
"Hey, Eleni may be his favorite ex-wife, but it's not like he hates me," Blake said. At Phillip's look, she added, "Anymore. And for the record, I wouldn't mind at all if either of my boys ended up with Alan-Michael and Lucy's hypothetical future daughter."
Ross looked unsettled at the thought, though. "Isn't all of this a bit premature?"
"Yeah, it is," Faith said. She looked to Phillip. "But speaking of Mindy, what about Bill Lewis? Would you be opposed to Lizzie growing up to fall in love with and marry Bill Lewis?"
"She's six!" Phillip exclaimed again. "She still thinks all boys are icky and have cooties except for me and Dad and Alan-Michael, and I would love it if it stayed that way for the next 20 or 30 years."
"Please. You and Beth were in high school when you fell in love. It's in Lizzie's genes to fall early and hard," Faith pointed out.
"I thought you were helping me there for a second, but clearly I was mistaken," Phillip said. "You know, little sister, two can play this game. I would think the next wedding in the family will be yours and Detective Cutter's."
"We're nowhere near ready for that," Faith said. "Besides, between Nick and Susan in February, Alan-Michael and Lucy a couple of months ago, Bridget and Dylan last fall, and Vanessa and Matt in another couple of months, I think that more than fulfills the wedding quota for both the family and the town without Patrick and me being part of it. And who knows? Aunt Alex and Fletcher might make it to the altar one of these days, too, you know."
Everyone's attention was diverted by the ringing of the doorbell. Ross went to answer it, and it was Dinah and Hart, the last arrivals. He greeted Dinah happily and shook Hart's hand. Then Adam Thorpe approached and greeted them both happily, giving Dinah a big hug first as he told her how pretty she looked, and then engulfing Hart in a big bear hug which he returned with a genuine smile on his face.
Across the room, Roger, holding Jack, saw Adam and Hart hugging, and part of him ached to hug Hart the same way, but he didn't dare.
As he stood watching Hart, one arm wrapped around Dinah's shoulders, talking and laughing with Adam, with Dinah adding to the conversation as well, Roger felt a hand on his shoulder, and knew without looking that it was Holly. Hart and Adam were discussing Adam's plans to visit them in Washington in August when Dinah happened to look over and see Roger watching Hart and Adam. She had not yet been formally introduced to them, but she knew the middle-aged couple with the baby were Holly and Roger, and now she saw the longing and the regret and, unless she missed her guess, a spark of joy in Roger's eyes. Then her focus shifted to the woman behind him, her hand on his shoulder in a silent gesture of support and comfort. Dinah had no doubt that Roger had done everything Hart told her he had done, but she also knew regret when she saw it, and Roger's gaze clearly telegraphed his regret over the current state of affairs with Hart.
Before Dinah could think any further on it, Blake approached, carrying one of her sons. "Hi, Grandpa," she interrupted them to greet Adam.
Adam turned to Blake with a warm smile. "Hello, Blake," he said, carefully giving her a one-armed hug. Then he looked at the baby in her arms. "And which little fellow is this?"
"This is Jason," Blake replied. "Would you like to hold him?"
Adam rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "I would love to hold him," he said, carefully accepting the baby when Blake placed Jason in his arms. "Hello, Jason," Adam said, beaming down at the baby, "you may call me 'Papa.'" Jason cooed up at his Papa, making Adam's smile grow brighter. "He's just beautiful, Blake," he said. "And where is his brother?"
"I believe Phillip has Kevin," Blake said, scanning the room. "Oh, wait, no, Ross has him, right over there." She gestured to where Ross was holding Kevin up over his shoulder as he stood talking to Ed and Maureen and Michelle.
"Would you mind if Jason and I went over there to say hello?" Adam asked.
"Of course not," Blake replied. "You can meet Kevin as well."
"Excuse us, then," Adam said before he carried Jason across the room to greet Ross, Ed and Maureen, and Michelle, and meet Kevin.
Once Adam and Jason had headed over to join Ross, Kevin and the Bauers, Blake focused her attention on Dinah and Hart. "Hello, Hart," she said.
"Blake," he replied tersely.
"Dinah, I'd like to talk to you for a moment. Alone," she said.
"Yeah, I don't think so," Hart said.
Blake rolled her eyes. "What do you think I'm going to do, Hart?"
"You're Daddy's little girl, Blake, so you tell me," Hart replied.
"I didn't grow up with him either," Blake reminded Hart.
"You're still Daddy's little girl," Hart said.
"Yes, I am," Blake said. "But it hasn't always been easy for us."
"Yeah, sure," Hart said in a clearly disbelieving tone.
Blake took a deep breath before turning her attention fully to Dinah, who now glanced over and saw another middle-aged couple, whom she would later learn were Holly's brother Andy and his fiancée, talking to Holly and Roger. "Dinah, I really would like to talk to you privately."
"Okay," Dinah agreed. She grabbed Hart's hand and squeezed it. "It'll be all right," she assured him before following Blake into the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Blake said, "I was a bit out of line last night, and I wanted to apologize for it."
Dinah didn't try to conceal her surprise. "That's generous of you," she said.
"You're very important to your father," Blake continued. "I'm not saying you and I have to become best friends, but I would like for us to at least be able to be civil to each other."
"He really loves you," Dinah said. "It's been a long time, but I remember seeing him with a few other women, including my mother, and he never looked at any of them the way he looks at you."
In that instant, Blake realized that at least part of Dinah's problem was that she, Blake, was not Vanessa. Blake remembered all the times she had seen her parents together when they weren't together-Costa Verde immediately sprang to mind, since that was the first time Blake was truly aware that the feelings between her parents were not limited to hate and regret-and had wished they would find their way back to being a couple. She had eventually gotten her wish. But Dinah would never get her wish. Ross and Vanessa would never be together, and Blake remembered the kind of pain that came when your parents weren't together and you wanted them to be, even when you were in your twenties yourself.
"He does really love me," Blake agreed, "and I really love him, Dinah." She met Dinah's gaze squarely, and looked at her as earnestly as possible. "I love Ross more than I knew I was capable of loving anybody. He's the best thing that ever happened to me, and I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to make him as happy as he makes me."
Dinah knew that Blake was being sincere. She didn't completely understand what her father and Blake saw in each other, but she was beginning to realize that it wasn't a matter of Blake going after Ross for his money. There had to be some kind of substance there.
"If you don't," Dinah said, "then you and I are really going to have a problem. If you ever hurt him..."
"I won't," Blake vowed. "Ross... He's it for me. He's the one I'm supposed to be with. I'm not going to do anything to screw that up."
Dinah could relate to that, because that was exactly how she felt about Hart.
Ross had been watching for Dinah and Blake to return from the kitchen. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he took that as a good sign, since it meant they weren't yelling at or arguing with each other, at least not so everyone could hear them. He collected Jason from Adam, leaving Adam with the Bauers, and excused himself, entering the kitchen with both his sons in his arms to find Dinah and Blake just standing there, facing each other. "Everything all right in here?" he asked as he joined them.
"Everything's fine," Blake assured him. "We were just clarifying a few things."
Ross looked at Dinah then. "Would you like to hold one of your brothers?" he asked her.
Dinah looked panicky. "I'll drop him or break him or something."
"No, you won't," Blake said. She took Jason from Ross and stepped back.
Ross, Kevin cradled in his arms, looked at Dinah hopefully. "You won't break him or drop him, honey," he assured her.
Dinah swallowed hard and wiped her suddenly sweaty palms on her dress. "Okay," she said faintly.
"Hold your arms out," Ross directed Dinah. She did so. "That's the way." He gently placed Kevin in Dinah's arms. "Support his head," he said.
"He's really tiny," Dinah said, looking down at the baby's tiny face.
"Jason was the bigger twin," Blake said, "by four ounces."
"So this is Kevin," Dinah said.
"Yes," Ross replied.
"I think he looks like you, Daddy," Dinah said.
"So do we," Blake replied. She looked from Kevin to Ross and smiled. "Lucky boy."
Dinah smiled as Kevin looked up at her trustingly. "I think he likes me," she said, awed.
"Of course he likes you," Ross said. "You're his big sister."
Dinah kept her eyes firmly fastened on Kevin. "So then you'll tell them who I am." It was a statement, not a question.
"Of course we will," Ross said. "Dinah, you are Kevin and Jason's sister. It doesn't matter how far away you live, or how often or how little we see you. You're my daughter, you're part of our family, and you always will be. I want you to be a significant part of your brothers' lives."
Dinah nodded. "I think I'd like that," she said, finally looking up to meet Ross's gaze with a tremulous smile. Ross stepped behind Dinah and put his arms around her, and lightly rested his chin on the crown of her head. Dinah leaned back against her father, careful to keep a secure hold on Kevin in her arms. And Blake breathed an inward sigh of relief. It would take a bit more work with Dinah, and Hart would undoubtedly, unsurprisingly remain a wild card, but Blake had a starting point to understand and relate to Dinah, and standing there with Jason in her arms, looking at Ross, Kevin, and Dinah, she felt for the first time since the airport that they could all navigate this path somehow without catastrophic results.
While Dinah was occupied with her father and Blake and their babies, Hart was catching up with Faith Spaulding. He was surprised to learn from her exactly how long Bridget and Dylan had been together before getting married-a grand total of almost three years, though apparently Faith and their other friends retroactively decided that New Year's Eve 1993 was their first official date, and they had been engaged for several months before marrying in September 1995-and that Faith's brother Alan-Michael had married Lucy Cooper, who was Harley and Frank's younger half-sister whom no one had even known existed until she showed up in town in the fall of 1993. Faith herself was dating a fellow police detective named Patrick Cutter, David Grant was in law school, AJ Chamberlain was working at WSPR as a sports reporter while his older sister Stacey worked with their grandfather Henry Chamberlain, Harley had married Julie's brother Mallet and they were living in Florida now, and Julie had left town after trying to come between Frank and Eleni and no one knew, or frankly, really cared where she was now.
Hart told Faith a little bit about his life in Washington, his job as a contractor, that he and Dinah were together. "It looks like Washington agrees with you," Faith said.
"Yeah, we like it there a lot," Hart replied.
"I notice you haven't talked to Roger yet," Faith continued.
Hart smiled wryly. "I forgot how observant you really are," he said.
"I'm a cop. It's an occupational hazard." She paused. "It was pretty much all over the place how horrible your relationship with him was before you moved away from here, but he really has settled down a lot since marrying Holly."
"I guess that was inevitable," Hart mused, glancing at Roger and Holly, who were standing together with Holly holding their baby son, talking to an older woman and middle-aged couple that Hart didn't know. "He was just trying to get into Spaulding Enterprises when he was with Jenna."
"He's not even doing that anymore," Faith said.
"Oh, come on," Hart said. "Roger has three obsessions in life: control of Spaulding, bringing me into the family fold, and Holly."
"I can guess how he feels about you," Faith said. "I'm not sure if he's obsessed with Holly, but he's definitely in love with her. But Spaulding is out of his system. He has his own company now, and Blake works with him-"
"Of course she does," Hart muttered.
"-and he honestly does not care about Spaulding Enterprises anymore."
Hart fought not to snort and draw attention to himself. "Roger Thorpe has never done one honest thing in his life," he insisted.
"When it comes to you, no," Faith agreed. "But if you'd give him a chance-"
"Oh no, I'm not making that mistake again," Hart said firmly. "I'm here as Dinah's boyfriend. That's all."
Faith held up her hands in the universal gesture of surrender. "Hey, I get plenty of drama from my own family. I don't want or need to get involved in yours. But Roger... He's not the same man he was when you left town three years ago, Hart."
"What, your family likes him now that he's supposedly not trying to steal the company out from under you?" Hart asked skeptically.
Faith laughed at that. "My family is never going to like Roger," she said. "But..." She trailed off, thinking over her words carefully before saying, "We can see the difference in him since he married Holly, and since they've had Jack, and since they're both getting along so well with Blake."
"Well, it sounds like Roger has his Christmas card family with Holly at last, so it's not like he needs me," Hart said before taking a sip of his drink.
"You're still his son," Faith said.
"If there's such a thing as an accident of biology, I definitely qualify," Hart replied.
"Look, I'm not saying don't be careful, but Roger's not out there screwing over half of Springfield, or trying to, on a daily basis anymore," Faith said.
"If that really is the case, good for him," Hart said, but Faith heard the bitterness in his tone. "But it doesn't affect me. He's not a part of my life, and he's not going to be a part of my life." He frowned then. "Although it's really not like him not to be up in my face about reconciling with him."
"I would say there's your concrete proof he's changed, but you wouldn't believe that," Faith said.
"You're right, I wouldn't," Hart replied. He sighed. "I may as well get it over with. I'm going to have to say something to him, and I'd rather be the one to start the conversation, and the one to walk away. Excuse me."
"Good luck," Faith called after him.
Hart went over to talk to Roger, who was standing beside Holly holding the baby, still in conversation with the older woman and other middle-aged couple, who, it turned out, were Holly's mother, and her brother and his fiancée.
"We're thinking September," Andy was saying, "at the beach in Santa Monica, and we'd really like it if you could be there, especially since I was kind of hoping you'd be my best person."
"You want me to stand up with you at your wedding?" Holly asked, surprised and touched.
"Yeah," Andy said. "I can't think of anybody else I'd rather have up there with me...except Paloma, of course."
Holly handed Jack to Roger and then hugged her brother. "We'll be there," she promised. "And I would be honored to be your best person."
Roger noticed Hart hovering on the periphery of the group. "Hart," he said, fighting to keep his nerves under control.
"Roger," Hart said without inflection. Holly released the man she was hugging, and the knot of people looked at Hart. Even the baby in Roger's arms was looking at Hart curiously, since he'd never seen him before.
"I'm glad you're here," Roger said honestly.
"I didn't come here for you, I came here to be with Dinah and to meet her family," Hart replied just as honestly.
"Hart, I don't believe you've met my family," Holly said then. "This is my mother, Barbara Norris, my brother Andy Norris, and his fiancée Paloma Ramirez."
"Nice to meet you," Hart said to the trio. They murmured their agreement.
"And this is Jack," Holly said, taking the baby out of Roger's arms.
"Cute kid," Hart said.
"We got the rocking horse you sent after he was born," Roger said. "Thank you."
"Yeah, I got the thank you note," Hart said. "Granddad suggested I send something, so I did. Not that I hold it against the kid that he has you for a father. Since that's the case, I figure he has enough problems waiting for him."
"Hart," Holly began.
"It's all right, Holly," Roger said. "Let him speak."
Hart frowned. "What's your game, Roger? You haven't been up in my face, badgering me for forgiveness, pleading with me for another chance for us to be father and son. That's not like you."
"It is now," Roger said simply.
"Yeah, right," Hart scoffed.
"It is," Roger said firmly, but not forcefully, and not as if he were trying to sell Hart a bill of goods, convince him that a lie was the truth. He was merely stating a fact, though Hart didn't take it as such. "This is the first time I've even seen you in three years, Hart. I know you didn't come here for me. I knew that before you said it. And yes, I want you to be a part of my life, and a part of our family." He glanced at Holly now before looking Hart in the eye once more. "But I can't force you to want the same thing. I understand that now. So there's no game here, no angle, no ulterior motive. I'll always be your father, and I'll always want to make it up to you for all the things I did that hurt you so much. But if you never deem me worthy of that chance, then I'll accept that. It'll hurt like hell, but I will honor your wishes."
"That is the biggest load of crap I've heard from you yet," Hart sneered before turning and storming off and out Ross and Blake's front door.
Barbara looked after Hart thoughtfully. "And Mom was afraid my prison record would come up and make things awkward," Andy cracked. Holly gave him a look, and Paloma elbowed him in the ribs, but Barbara had no response, much to Andy's surprise. "Earth to Mom," he said.
"What?" Barbara asked. Holly and Paloma both fastened Andy with identical looks, and he was smart enough to realize that his sister and his fiancée were both warning him without words not to make the same crack about his prison record when Barbara was paying attention, since she had been preoccupied enough to let it slide without comment the first time.
Dinah was now holding Jason, and she looked torn as to whether or not she should go after Hart. Adam was standing nearby and patted her on the shoulder before heading over to talk to Roger himself. "I'll talk to Hart for you," Adam offered.
"Thank you for the offer," Roger told Adam, "but I don't want you to get into an argument with Hart on my account, Dad."
"But I feel partly responsible for his attitude toward you," Adam admitted. "I haven't exactly encouraged him to give you the benefit of the doubt."
"That's all on me, Dad, not on you," Roger replied. "I messed things up with Hart. All you did was agree with his feelings about me, and I certainly gave you plenty of reasons to do that, just like I gave Hart plenty of reasons to not want anything to do with me."
Adam couldn't mask his surprise at hearing Roger talk like this. "I remember when you always insisted that you were the wronged party, and that other people drove you to do the things you did," he said.
"And I was wrong to do that," Roger said. "I did horrible things to people who didn't deserve them. I accept full responsibility for my actions, for all of my actions." He looked at Holly and Jack, at Blake, standing worriedly with Ross, Dinah, Kevin and Jason, and finally at Adam again. "I never again want to be the man I was when I was young. My goal when I wake up every day is to be the best man I can be, to be a man that my wife and family love and trust and maybe even be proud of every so often."
"You really mean that," Adam marveled.
"I really do," Roger replied with a firm nod.
Adam studied Roger for a long moment. Roger didn't fidget under his father's perusal. "I'm still going to talk to him," Adam said in a tone that brooked no argument. "Excuse me, everyone."
Dinah had been trying to hand Jason off to their father so that she could go after Hart, but she relaxed considerably when she saw that Adam was headed out the front door after him. It would be better for Adam to talk to him in this situation. Dinah only knew what Hart and Adam had told her about Roger, and though she hadn't spoken to him herself today, he wasn't what she expected. She also knew, as did Hart, that Adam's feelings about Roger were changing, that he didn't feel the need to shut himself off completely from his only son anymore. Dinah could understand that. Hart understood it too, but didn't like it. She just hoped that Hart and Adam weren't about to have a massive falling-out over Roger.
Dinah spotted Faith and Phillip then, and now she did give Jason back to Ross so that she could go and catch up with them. Phillip, after exchanging pleasantries and briefly catching up, excused himself to talk to Ed and Maureen, leaving Dinah and Faith to talk alone. "So, you and Hart," Faith had said after filling Dinah in on Alan-Michael and Lucy, Harley and Mallet, Dylan and Bridget, and the rest of their old crowd.
"We didn't know that my father and his half-sister were married when we met. It took us a little while to find that out," Dinah said. Faith then followed Dinah's gaze to Roger, who was over in a corner with Holly and the Greenbergs. "He's not what I expected," Dinah admitted. "I don't doubt that everything Hart told me about him is true, but I wasn't expecting him to be so...what's the word I'm looking for?"
"Domestic?" Faith suggested.
"Okay, yeah," Dinah said. "I was expecting bombast and cunning and some kind of noticeable ruthlessness. That wife of his must be a miracle worker, if she settled him down that much."
"That's the consensus all over town," Faith agreed. "For a long time, most of us didn't even think Holly would be capable of taming Roger. I guess it isn't so much that she tamed him as he finally got what he always wanted and he's completely determined not to screw it up."
"And what he always wanted was her," Dinah guessed.
"Well, I wasn't even born yet when everything that happened between them when they were a lot younger happened, but at least since they both ended up back here after a decade-and-a-half, Roger always said that what he wanted most was to be married to Holly and have a life with her," Faith replied. "He finally got it, and they haven't imploded."
"But you were expecting them to by now," Dinah said.
"If by 'you' you mean almost all of Springfield, yes," Faith admitted.
"How long have they been married?" Dinah wanted to know.
Faith thought for a minute. "I don't know exactly when they got married," she said, "just that it was sometime during the week between Christmas and New Year's a couple of years ago, so it'll be two years in December."
"Two years longer than anyone would have given them to last, huh?" Dinah mused.
"The more time that goes by without any major incidents, the more people just accept that they're in it for the long haul," Faith replied. "It's not something that you can explain or that makes sense, but it's working for them."
"I don't know all the details of Roger's whole sordid history, but I thought he hated your whole family?" Dinah asked.
"Both sides," Faith replied dryly. "Well, that's not entirely true. He likes my Aunt Maureen, and Michelle, and he and I have come to an understanding since he saved my life and my grandfather's life, and I guess he always did respect my great-grandfather. But that's all on the Bauer side. I'm sure he doesn't completely hate me because I'm Bill Bauer's great-granddaughter. He's never going to like anyone with the last name 'Spaulding,' but at least he's not waging a one-man war on us anymore."
Meanwhile, Ryan and Colleen and Holly were in a corner of Ross and Blake's living room with Roger. "As far as scenes go, that could have been much, much worse," Ryan said. "I've seen worse. I've been involved in worse."
"We both have," Colleen added.
Holly saw the hurt in Roger's eyes and hated the sight of it. Part of her wanted to stalk outside, grab Hart by the scruff of the neck, and make him listen while she explained all of the ways Roger had changed in the past couple of years, but she wouldn't do that, because she knew it wouldn't really help, and because Roger had already said she shouldn't bother because it wouldn't make any difference to Hart. She rubbed his back soothingly; Jack, Sam, Kevin, and Jason were all sleeping, Jack and Sam in the nursery, Kevin in Ross's arms, and Jason in Blake's arms.
"Hart's reaction was not unexpected," Roger replied. "It's my fault. At least he didn't try to run me down with a car this time."
Ryan's eyebrows shot up high enough to part his hair. "He did that?"
"Once," Roger said. He waved a hand dismissively, as if it wasn't important. "Long time ago. He didn't actually run me down."
"He tried," Holly said, not caring if she came off sounding angry at Hart. She was angry at Hart for hurting Roger.
"You were there?" Ryan asked, surprised.
"Yes," Holly replied.
"That night wasn't all bad," Roger said. He looked at Holly then, and she knew he was remembering the same thing about that night that she was: the tuna sandwich, Roger's admission that he couldn't give all of himself to Jenna, who he was seeing at the time, because he held back the part of himself that would always belong to Holly, the sizzling kiss that had followed that admission, and how after the kiss, he had wanted to stay that night, but Holly had told him to go.
"I'm sorry," Holly said softly, and she was; she was sorry that Hart had tried to run Roger down that night, sorry that Hart had told him off and walked out on him today, and even though they hadn't been ready for that yet, a part of her was even sorry that she hadn't let him stay that night.
"I know," Roger replied just as softly, and he did; he knew that she was sorry about the way Hart had spoken to and treated him today, and that Hart had tried to run him down with a car, and as for Holly asking Roger to leave her house that night years ago when all he had wanted was to stay, he knew that she had been right to ask him to leave then. "You were right that night. As for Hart, it's okay."
"No, it's not," Holly said. She left unspoken that she could see the depth of the pain in his eyes, and she hated seeing him so hurt.
"Okay, it's not, but it will be, eventually, somehow," Roger said. He squeezed Holly's hand then, and she squeezed his in reply
Outside, Hart was sitting under the oak tree in Ross and Blake's front yard, silently seething. He was surprised when he heard Adam say, "It's not easy having Roger as part of your family."
He looked up at his grandfather and stated, "Roger Thorpe is not part of my family. He's proof that you can't pick your relatives, because if you could, I never would have chosen him."
Adam nodded. "I haven't always been particularly happy about being related to him, either," he said.
"That's changing, though," Hart said. He clasped his hands together over one bent knee. "It's been changing for a while now."
"Hart-" Adam started.
But Hart interrupted him. "I don't want to mess things up for you. If you and Roger can talk to each other without arguing now, if you can forgive him, then that's great...for you. But I don't want any part of him."
"Some things are unforgivable," Adam reflected.
"Not as far as Holly and Blake are concerned," Hart remarked.
Adam frowned slightly, then schooled his features into a more even look. "And some things just take time to forgive," he continued.
"Ah, yes, time," Hart said stoically. "Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels. Well, I have a long memory. Give Roger an inch, and he'll take a thousand miles. I'm not making that mistake again, Granddad. No way. I have a good life now, and I'm not giving him a personal invitation to come in and blow it up again."
"I'm not suggesting you do that," Adam replied evenly. "No one is."
"I swear, he's just trying to throw me off now anyway," Hart muttered.
But Adam's hearing was still sharp. "In what way?" he asked.
"Before, when I was living here, he was all over me, wanting me to be his son, wanting to be my father. He was like Ward Cleaver on speed, if Ward Cleaver was also violent and amoral by nature." Adam nodded his understanding. "Then I found out he basically stole my grandfather Jessup's farm from him, and there were other things too, and I just, I didn't want to bother anymore, you know? My mom's been gone a long time, and my grandfather Jessup had died, I never knew who my father was and then I found out it was Roger, and I came here because I wanted family, but it really blew up in my face. But I got family anyway. I've got Dinah, and I've got you, and I've got Peter to get to know and build a relationship with now. And for me, that's enough." He raked a hand through his hair. "I came here figuring he'd be the same old Roger. And then he gives me this song and dance about how he has no ulterior motives and he's not playing any games with me now, and if I don't want anything to do with him, he'll respect my wishes, and that just doesn't jibe with what I know about him."
"You don't think it's possible for Roger to have changed since you saw him last?" Adam asked.
"I can see that you do," Hart countered. "You had a front-row seat for everything that went down decades ago. You think Roger has changed enough that he's not that guy anymore, don't you?"
"I'm still somewhat tentative with him," Adam admitted, "but Roger..." He trailed off, considering his words carefully before continuing. "I've known him longer than anyone, longer even that Holly."
"But I doubt you know him better than Holly," Hart said. He leaned his head back against the trunk of the tree. "It always was fascinating to see those two together, or just to see Roger when someone said Holly's name. If you're around them for more than 10 seconds, it's impossible not to see it."
"That's true," Adam said. "And I'm sure Holly does know Roger better than I do now. But I know what he used to be like. Even as a little boy, he would always grandstand. He always wanted to be the center of attention. He always wanted the glory. And he would just take what he wanted when he couldn't get it any other way. And all of that became so much worse when he was a grown man."
"That sounds more like the Roger Thorpe I know," Hart said.
"We have had limited contact since last November," Adam said. "But even with limited contact, I can see that things, at least some things, are different. Roger isn't so self-involved anymore. For most of his life, he was. It was all about him, what he wanted, what he was going to accomplish, how he was going to make people see him and think of him."
"Well, bravo, Holly," Hart said sarcastically. "A little forgiveness and a wedding ring from the object of his obsession for thirty years and boom, he stops being a menace to society."
"I'm sure Holly has a lot to do with it," Adam agreed, "but I don't think it's solely because of her."
"I'm sure you're right. After all, there's Blake...or rather, Chrissy, the golden child, and baby Jack, and precious Chrissy's precious sons. Really, what does he even need me for? He's got a whole family right here. He's even getting you back in a way." Hart picked up a small rock from the dirt around the tree and flipped it to the curb.
For the first time, Adam realized that part of Hart's issue with Roger was that Hart didn't feel like he belonged to the family the way Blake and Jack did, because Holly was their mother, and because Roger had known and loved both of them from the time they were very little. Feeling his way through the emotional landmines this revelation had produced, Adam quietly said, "You're still his son."
"That kind of love, I can do without," Hart said. He stood up then, brushing off his pants. "I meant what I said, Granddad. I don't want to mess things up for you and Roger. And I don't want this" he waved a hand at Ross and Blake's house "to mess things up between you and me."
"We won't let it," Adam said.
Hart looked toward the house contemplatively. "You know, Roger said something earlier..." He trailed off. "I may be walking into another trap, but I think I can live with the fallout from this one."
"What do you mean?" Adam asked.
"Roger said that if I won't give him another chance to make it up to me for the past, he'll honor my wishes and leave me alone. I think it's time to see if he's willing to put his money where his mouth is, so to speak."
He would be loath to admit it, but one thing Hart had definitely inherited from Roger was the ability to hold a grudge. He didn't know, and frankly wouldn't believe, that Roger had, over the past few years, been in therapy and worked every day to consciously keep from holding grudges. There were plenty of people he would never really like or have much, if any, use for, but he didn't actively pursue the ruination of their lives and fortunes any longer. He tolerated Faith the best of all the Spauldings, which was more because of his enduring respect for Bill Bauer than anything else; and he tolerated Ed because Holly and Blake thought so highly of him, and because he thought so highly of Maureen and Michelle. But Hart was not of a mind to give Roger the benefit of the doubt on anything, and at this point, he was not unlike Roger used to be, before therapy and renouncing everything Spaulding and marrying Holly and welcoming Jack: unforgiving of wrongs done and slights, real or perceived, perpetrated against him, his mother, and her father, by Roger. He failed to recognize that the fact that he held this grudge, that he could not, would not, forgive Roger meant that on some level, he did care about his father, because if he truly did not care about Roger, then nothing Roger had said or done would have hurt and/or angered Hart.
Even if he had recognized that fact, though, he wouldn't have admitted it was the truth, because his official stance against Roger was "fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you." Roger had hurt him plenty in the past, and he would not get even the slightest opportunity to do so now or in the future. With a determined glint in his eye, Hart headed back across the lawn toward the front door, Adam trailing in his wake, wondering exactly what Hart was about to do.
While Adam and Hart were talking outside, Holly and Roger had retreated to a quiet corner of the living room, away from everyone else. "Is there anything I can do?" Holly asked, one hand resting on Roger's arm.
"You're doing it," Roger replied. "Really, Holly, I'm okay. I knew this wasn't going to be a happy reunion with Hart. It's more important to me that he's happy and healthy than that he ever forgives me. If Hart hating me is the price for knowing that he's doing well, then I can live with that. Focus on what I do have instead of what I don't have, right?"
"Right," she replied. She squeezed his arm gently. "I'm going to get a bottle of water. Can I get you anything?" Roger shook his head. "I'll be right back," she said as she rose to head for the refrigerator.
When Dinah saw Holly head for the kitchen, she excused herself from Faith (Hart was still outside with Adam; Dinah knew that Hart wouldn't have left her there by herself, even if it was her father's house) and headed into the kitchen. She wanted to talk to Holly.
Holly closed the refrigerator door and turned around, a bottle of water in her hand, and was surprised to see Dinah looking at her curiously, but not in an unfriendly manner. "Hello," she said.
"Hello," Dinah replied. "We haven't been formally introduced. I'm Dinah Marler. Ross's daughter, and Vanessa Chamberlain's, and Hart's girlfriend."
"Holly Thorpe, but I'm guessing you already knew that."
"Yeah, I figured," Dinah confessed. "I've heard a lot about your husband."
"I can imagine," Holly said.
"He's not what I was expecting," Dinah said next.
"Atilla the Hun, but with John F. Kennedy's charisma?" Holly asked knowingly.
"Something like that," Dinah said.
"He still has the charisma," Holly replied.
"But he's not the evil conqueror anymore?" Dinah asked.
"No," Holly said succinctly, truthfully.
Dinah shifted slightly. "Look, I don't want there to be an even bigger hassle than there is already," she said, "but you have to know that Hart isn't going to go to Roger with open arms and start calling him 'Dad' and coming to him for advice and stuff."
"Yes, I do," Holly agreed.
"Hart is of the opinion that Roger is going to be heavy-handed and hard charging in trying to get Hart back into his life, and for now anyway, Hart doesn't want that. He doesn't trust Roger not to hurt him again. He hurt him very badly years ago. It's not something that Hart likes to talk about or even think about, but I know it's there," Dinah said. "I'm just trying to look out for Hart. I can't say for sure if he will ever be ready to give Roger another chance. Even as well as I know him, I don't know the answer to that one. But I'm not going to stand idly by and let anyone do or say anything that is going to bring Hart the kind of pain that Roger has already inflicted on him. The best thing Roger can do for Hart is to give him his space. Any move that is made has to be Hart's. He's expecting Roger to get up in his face and start badgering him to make nice, and if he does that, the results will be very ugly, and since you're his wife, it would be really helpful if you made that clear to him, because if Roger listens to anybody, it'll be you."
Dinah was puzzled when Holly's initial response to her words was a smile and a look of approval. "I just basically warned you that your husband needs to watch his step with Hart and stay out of his face, and you're smiling at me and looking at me like you approve," Dinah said after a moment of silence. "Why?"
"Because you remind me of someone," Holly replied. "As for Roger, he said earlier that he will honor Hart's wishes, whatever they are. If Hart wants Roger to stay out of his life, then Roger will stay out of his life."
"He would really put Hart's feelings and what Hart wants above what he himself feels and what he himself wants?" Dinah asked.
"Absolutely," Holly said. And she knew he would, because he put her above himself all the time.
"As long as you and I understand each other," Dinah said.
"We do," Holly said confidently. She regarded Dinah for a moment, struck by how much she resembled Vanessa, only more guarded, and with a more obvious don't-mess-with-me-or-you'll-regret-it air about her. "Could I ask you one question?"
"You can ask. Doesn't mean I'll answer," Dinah replied.
Holly admired Dinah for that. "Is Hart happy?" she asked. "Roger will leave Hart alone if that's what Hart asks him to do, but if he could at least know that Hart is happy..."
"He's happy," Dinah said honestly. "On the whole, he's very happy. We have a good life. He's a good man, and he makes me happier than I ever thought I could be, and I try to do the same for him. We accept each other unconditionally, even with all our faults and all our baggage, and we love each other very much. We don't have to be anything other than exactly who we are."
"Dinah, I have no doubts about that whatsoever," Holly said. The smile that so puzzled Dinah returned to Holly's face once more.
Then they heard Hart from the living room. "Where is Dinah?" he asked. "And where are you, Roger?"
Roger stood up and walked over to meet Hart. Dinah and Holly returned from the kitchen, and Dinah went to stand by Hart. She looked to Adam, who gave her a look that she knew meant that Hart was going to have his say now.
"You okay?" Hart asked Dinah.
"I'm fine," she assured him, putting her arm through his.
Holly was standing behind Roger and off to the side. Blake and Ross were absent, tending to the twins in their own bedroom since Jack and Sam were still asleep in the nursery. Adam stood behind Hart and Dinah. The Bauers, the Norrises, the Greenbergs, and the Spauldings were scattered throughout the room, standing silently as Hart and Roger stared at each other.
Hart looked Roger right in the eye. "You said earlier that you would honor my wishes. Did you mean that?"
"Of course I meant it," Roger replied.
"Even if that means I never want to see or hear from you again," Hart said.
Roger swallowed hard. "Even then," he said.
"Yeah, well, we'll see," Hart said. "I don't want to see you. Blake, I can handle if I have to, but when Dinah and I are here visiting her and Ross, and Vanessa and Matt, there's no reason for you to come around. You have no ties to Dinah, and you can see Blake as much as you want, because you live in the same town."
"Agreed," Roger said.
Blake and Ross returned then without Kevin and Jason, who were sleeping in their bassinets in their parents' bedroom. Blake had the baby monitor in one hand. She stopped so suddenly when she saw her father and Hart facing off that Ross nearly collided with her from behind.
"I've never known you to give up this much power before, Roger," Hart said. "It's so unlike you to leave me, to leave anyone, holding all the cards."
"I don't consider it giving up power," Roger replied. "I just want you to be happy, Hart, whatever that means."
Hart jerked his chin in some semblance of a nod. "So, when I'm in town visiting Dinah's family, you'll steer clear."
"You'll leave me to live my own life, you won't stick Granddad in the middle by asking him about me, and you won't badger me to forgive you or let you back into my life." The way Hart stated this was not a request, or a question.
"Yes," Roger said.
"Those are my wishes. The wishes you said you would honor, no matter how much it hurts you." A mocking quality pervaded these words of Hart's.
"If that's what you want, then that's what I'll do," Roger vowed, not breaking eye contact with Hart.
"That's what I want," Hart replied.
"Then that's what I'll do," Roger promised.
The twin cries of Jack Thorpe and Sam Greenberg reached everyone's ears then, breaking the spell that the Roger-Hart faceoff had held everyone under for the past few minutes. Roger looked at Holly. "You'd better go, he probably wants to eat," he said softly. Holly glanced at Blake, who moved swiftly across the room to Roger's side, before she and Colleen Greenberg headed back to take care of their sons. Hart turned and walked away, Dinah following after him.
"I'm sorry, Dad," Blake said, resting her hand on his shoulder.
"He didn't say he'd never give me a chance, just that he doesn't want to see or hear from me for the time being," Roger said. "And a promise is a promise. I told him I would honor his wishes, whatever they were. I have to stick to that."
Barbara, meanwhile, made her way over to Adam. "I never thought I would say this," she said, "but Roger has changed."
"He has," Adam agreed.
"I've seen with my own eyes that he puts Holly above himself. Her feelings, what she wants, her happiness...those mean more to him than his own happiness, his own feelings, what he wants. And I know it was never like that before," she continued.
"No, it wasn't," Adam agreed again.
"And now he's doing it again with Hart, when clearly he would rather do the exact opposite," Barbara mused. "You must be pleased."
Adam looked at Barbara now. "I would be, if I wasn't so torn," he admitted. "This entire situation is eating at Hart. He thinks the easiest way to handle things is to cut Roger off, to not give him the slightest opportunity to do to him the kinds of things he did to him before. That'll work for now, but eventually, Hart is going to have to face this head on and once and for all. And Roger wants Hart in his life, but he's so determined not to hurt him again that he'll leave him alone because that's what Hart is saying he wants."
"You doubt Hart's sincerity?" Barbara asked.
"No," Adam replied, "I don't. But Hart thinks this is the answer, and ultimately, it's not."
"So what are you going to do?" Barbara asked.
"What can I do?" Adam retorted. "It's between Roger and Hart. The one thing they agree on is that neither of them wants my relationship with them to suffer. The only thing I can do is abide by both Roger's wishes and Hart's wishes."
"It never stops, does it," Barbara said.
"Not until they plant us in the ground," Adam replied.
Phillip was amazed. "I saw it, and I still don't believe it," he said for the sixth time. "I didn't think I would ever see the day that Roger Thorpe would roll over like that for anyone, not even his own son!"
"It wasn't 'rolling over,' Phillip, it was just Roger giving Hart what he wanted," Faith said.
"Still," Phillip said. "I think we all underestimated Holly."
"I don't think he did it just because of Holly," Faith said.
"No," Maureen agreed. "He wants a real relationship with Hart, he wants a chance to do things over again and do them better than he did before. He's leaving Hart alone because that's what Hart asked him to do."
"But in the past, when he would get hurt by somebody, he would always lash out," Ed pointed out then. "Look at what happened at the party at the country club after the incident at Cliff House a few years ago. Roger showed up drunk, came after me, announced to the entire group that he and Holly had slept together, and then had to be physically thrown out."
"Now, see, that's the Roger I know and remember," Phillip said, nodding.
"Okay, that was different. He had proposed to Holly and she had turned him down," Maureen said. "That's why he was hurting that day."
"How do you know that?" Phillip asked.
"He told me," Maureen replied. "This thing with Hart... Roger staying out of Hart's life is status quo by now. Does it hurt? I'm sure it does. But not the same way he was hurting that day at the country club years ago. And he's not alone this time either. He has Holly, and he has most of his family around him. He'll get through this without lashing out at anyone or making a drunken scene at the country club or anywhere else precisely because he's not alone anymore."
"I still never thought I'd see anything like that from Roger Thorpe," Phillip said.
Holly was standing with her mother, Andy and Paloma now. "There must be some kind of history there for Roger's son to not want anything to do with him," Andy said.
"They have their problems," Holly replied. She looked at Roger, who was sitting on the couch with Blake, who had the wide-awake Jack on her lap. Jack patted Roger's cheek, and Roger caught Jack's tiny hand and kissed it, looking from Jack to Blake with a genuine smile.
"And how do you think Roger is handling it? Really?" Barbara asked.
Holly managed not to show her vast surprise that her mother was asking after Roger.
"He'll be all right," Holly said.
"Whatever he needs, you're there for him," Barbara said matter-of-factly.
"Yes," Holly replied, "and he knows that."
"I hope that Roger and his son can work things out someday," Paloma said.
"Are you ready to get out of here?" Dinah asked Hart. She figured the fact that he was lingering by the front door was a strong hint that his answer would be yes.
"More than ready," Hart said.
"Just let me say a few quick goodbyes, and we can go," she said.
"You're sure?" Hart asked.
"What, I'm going to make you wait outside while I hang out with Daddy and Blake for the rest of the afternoon?" Dinah asked. "Yes, I'm sure. The babies are sleeping anyway." She kissed Hart quickly, chastely, before finding Ross. "Daddy, Hart and I are going to take off."
Ross nodded. "Will we see you again before you go home?" he asked.
"Yes," Dinah promised. "It might just be me, but we'll see each other again before Hart and I go home." She hugged him, and he hugged her back. "I'll call you later. Is there a certain time I shouldn't call after, so as not to wake the boys?" she asked.
"Not really," Ross said. "Anytime you want to call is fine." Dinah then said quick goodbyes to Faith and Phillip, the Bauers, and Blake before returning to the front door, where Hart was talking to Adam.
"We'll see if he keeps his word. I'm sure he's managed to hear from someone where I'm living now, and if he hasn't, he will," Hart was saying when Dinah returned.
"I understand why you don't want to give him the benefit of the doubt," Adam said, "but this time, he just might surprise you."
"That would be a first," Hart replied. "Oh, you mean a good surprise. Time will tell."
Dinah hugged Adam then. "We'll see you at our place next month," she said.
"I'm looking forward to it," Adam replied, hugging her back.
"So are we," Hart said. He hugged Adam when Dinah was finished hugging him. "I'm all right, Granddad, really."
Privately, Adam wasn't so sure of that, but he took Hart at his word and silently vowed that he would be there for Hart when he was finally ready to deal with Roger once and for all, no matter how long it might take for him to reach that point.
After Dinah and Hart had left, Adam approached Roger, Blake and Jack. Seeing Adam head toward her immediate family, Holly excused herself from her mother, brother, and future sister-in-law and joined them. "I didn't really get anywhere with Hart, Roger," Adam said.
"It's not your fight, Dad," Roger said. "It's not a fight at all. He wants me to stay out of his life. I'm as used to doing that as I'm ever going to get, and I'm going to do what he wants me to and leave him alone."
"He's just not ready to forgive you, or to see that you've changed," Adam said.
"He can have as much time and space as he needs," Roger said. "I'm just glad he has you."
"He does," Adam assured Roger. Jack babbled then and reached his arms up toward Adam. Adam looked at Roger, who wordlessly handed Jack to his father, and then Roger sat back and happily watched Adam with Jack.
The party broke up a short time later, everyone heading back to their own homes. Blake sank down on the couch with a weary sigh, Kevin in her arms. Ross had Jason. "You and Dinah seemed to be getting along better," Ross said.
"I found something to relate to her about, something to understand about her and how she feels," Blake said. "And I apologized for last night. I don't think we'll ever be best friends, but I know how important she is to you. And she's Kevin and Jason's big sister. I want them to have good relationships with her, and I would never come between you and your daughter."
"Did she apologize to you for her remarks last night?" Ross wanted to know.
"No, but I get why she said it," Blake replied. "I don't hold it against her. We have a start, Ross. We'll find our way. All of us will."
"Including Hart," Ross said.
"He could cut Dad some slack," Blake said. "But since he won't, and since Dad is willing to stay out of his life, I have to go along with that."
"He's got a lot to work through regarding Roger," Ross said. "But it wouldn't surprise me to see Hart forgive him someday."
"You really think so?" Blake asked.
"You did," Ross replied. "Holly did."
"Yeah, but Mom and I love him. I'm not so sure Hart does," Blake replied.
"If Hart truly didn't care about Roger at all, he wouldn't have been so hurt by his past actions, and he wouldn't be so determined to keep it from happening again," Ross pointed out.
"I never thought of it that way, but I think you're onto something," Blake said. "Dad seems to be okay with it, so-" Whatever she was about to say was lost when Kevin started wailing his displeasure. "Whoa!" Blake exclaimed when the scent reached her nostrils. "How can something so small produce something that smells so awful?" As Blake tended to Kevin, Ross decided to check Jason's diaper while he was thinking of it, and Jason was wet, so Ross carried Jason back to the nursery to change him while Blake changed Kevin, and then it was time for both boys to be fed. Hart and his issues with Roger were forgotten as Blake and Ross tended to their sons' needs before falling into bed, exhausted themselves, at 9:00 PM for a few cherished hours of sleep before one or both boys awoke needing something in the wee small hours of the morning.
June 20, 1996, 9:54 PM-Roger and Holly's House
"Quite a day," Roger said, setting the nursery monitor on his nightstand before he got into bed. Holly marked her place in her book and set it on her nightstand before turning off the lamp on her nightstand. The lamp on Roger's nightstand was still on.
"It certainly was," Holly said. "My mother actually asked how you really were. And she said that whatever you need, I'm there for you, and she didn't sound disgusted or angry when she said it. She was just stating a fact."
He reached for Holly's hand, lacing his fingers through hers. "Your mother loves you," he said. "I know she'd rather you weren't married to me, but she's trying to accept it. What really blew my mind was my father." She could see the awe in his eyes. "He didn't actually say it, and I probably shouldn't get my hopes up, but I couldn't help thinking that he might have possibly been sort of..." He trailed off, wondering whether he should say it out loud, and then he just said it. "...proud of me. At least, he wasn't disappointed in me. And he offered to talk to Hart. He did talk to Hart, and he didn't have to do that. I didn't expect him to do that. And then he said that Hart wasn't ready to see that I've changed. That was almost like saying that he sees that I've changed."
"I think he does," Holly said. "You may not have gotten anywhere with Hart today, but you and Adam have really made progress."
"Maybe we won't have to entirely depend on Western Union to facilitate our conversations anymore," Roger reflected.
"I talked to Dinah today," Holly said then.
"I saw her follow you into the kitchen," Roger replied.
"We didn't get to talk long, but I saw and heard enough," Holly said.
"Enough to what?" Roger asked.
"Enough to know that Hart is happy," Holly said. One hand still laced through Roger's, she touched his cheek with her other hand. "The way she talked about Hart, the way she defended him and let me know in no uncertain terms that she was looking out for him, protecting him the best way she knew how, reminded me of myself. She loves him the way that I love you."
"Really?" Roger asked hopefully. Holly nodded. Roger looked relieved. "Then I couldn't ask for anything more for him than that." He moved closer. "And even if Hart never comes around, I'm getting along with my father better than I ever have, and best of all, I have Jack, Chrissy, Kevin, Jason, and most importantly, I have you."
"And Andy's happy and doing well, and I like Paloma, they're good for each other, I can tell, and my mother, the most hypercritical person I've ever known in my life, is wasn't the least bit critical of either one of us today."
"We had our entire family together," Roger said, "and no one made a scene, at least not a major one, no one got into any arguments-"
"No one tried to run anyone over with their car," Holly added.
"So all in all, it was a good day," Roger concluded.
"Even with what happened with Hart?" Holly asked.
"He's happy with Dinah," Roger replied. "As long as he's happy, that's all I really want."
"That's all you want, huh?" Holly asked, leaning across him to turn out the lamp on his nightstand.
"For Hart," Roger clarified as she rested her head on his shoulder and her arm across his bare chest. "That's all I want for Hart."
"So what do you want for you?" Holly asked.
He smiled the smile that never failed to take her breath away as he looked into her eyes and said, "I already have it."
Then they kissed good night before settling down to sleep in each other's arms while Jack slept peacefully across the hall.
There's more to come in this universe, but before I get to that, I'll be writing a standalone story that has absolutely nothing to do with this universe. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!