As soon as the Haydenshires pulled away in the Suburban, Abigail’s face contorted into what would have been a wail had she not been mute. Dan’s heart ached, but Fionna scooped her up and surrounded her in soothing energy.
Rainer, Jeff, and Logan took the twins and Aida out to play on the swingset. Emily prepared the food while Dan heated Abigail’s bottle following Fionna’s instructions. Cradling the precious baby with all of her abundant abilities, despite her chromosomal anomalies, he sank down in one of the recliners and fed her the bottle trying to envision doing the same thing with Halia in a few month’s time.
It comforted him endlessly that Abigail seemed perfectly happy in his arms. Even as an infant, she could read people’s energies. The fact that she wasn’t wary of Dan despite the fact that he had in fact summoned the very life force out of Dominic Wretchkinsides proved to him that he wasn’t evil. If she sensed that black fragment held in his shield, it didn’t frighten her. She understood he’d been fighting evil instead of being consumed by it. He’d let the vengeance die with the man who’d taken so much away.
Fionna and Emily loaded the food Mrs. Haydenshire had prepared in the center of the expansive dining room table. Dan laid the sleeping Abigail in her crib upstairs and returned to help wash the twins and Aida’s hands.
In the middle of dinner, Governor Haydenshire texted Logan. “Dad says we should take them on to see the houses. Apparently, it’s taking a little while.”
“Daddy’s being stubborn and Mom’s just letting him, I’m sure,” Becca sighed.
“Do you know where the rentals are, Logan?” Dan saved everyone attempting to respond to Becca unsuccessfully.
“Yeah. They aren’t far from here. The duplex is couple of miles back towards town and the house is just a mile down the road the opposite direction. Patrick will have to write up the leases, though. He’s the Haydenshire property manager.”
When the plates were scraped clean, Dan guided Logan, Jeff, and Becca out to the car. Playing realtor and teacher in the same week, he wished he liked either job even half as much as he’d loved being a cop. Mrs. Harrickson, Jeff’s mother, arrived as they were leaving. Jeff asked her if she’d mind going to see some houses with them.
“This looks nice,” Dan urged as they entered the first house. It was in a quiet older neighborhood.
Logan smiled. “Will and Brooke lived here when they first got married, and Levi’s rented it a few times when he gets sick of the city. He likes all of the woods.” Logan pointed out.
Dan was impressed with Becca’s resolve. He knew the home was nothing like what she was accustomed. He ventured a guess that it was much closer to the size of Jeff’s mother’s apartment, but she drew a deep breath and held tightly to Jeff’s hand.
Logan unlocked the front door and flipped on the lights. “When Patrick and Lucy get back from the beach house, he can tell you the utilities and everything.”
They entered through the living room. Dan noted small built in bookshelves surrounding the fireplace.
“I know the fireplace works,” Logan offered.
The moved through the kitchen which had a decent amount of counter space, a small pantry, and a refrigerator. There was no dishwasher Dan noted but decided against commenting.
“This is nice Jeff,” Ms. Harrickson choked. Dan saw the sadness in every feature of her face. She was going to miss Jeff living at home.
“Yeah, if Bec likes it, I’m good with it.”
“And this is a nice, safe part of town,” she continued. Dan watched as Jeff’s burdens increase in that moment. His shoulders tensed more as he swallowed harshly. His mother didn’t live in a particularly safe part of town, and he’d been her security and quite literally her shield. There were two equal sized bedrooms with a bathroom between.
“It has a tub,” Becca pointed out hopefully.
“There’s a laundry closet off of the kitchen,” Logan lead everyone out of the single bathroom. “No garage in this one. The duplexes have a garage but they’re a lot smaller. They will run you a couple hundred less each month, though.”
This intrigued Jeff greatly but Becca’s face fell slightly at the word smaller.
“Let’s go out there and see them.” Dan rushed everyone along aware of the fact that he would suck at being a relator. “We need to get these two married.”
“Yeah, and I have an Energies of Early Childhood test tomorrow morning,” Becca tried for a joke but the realization of how hard merging married life with a baby and still being students was going to be had Dan and Logan offering forced chuckles.
Tossing Logan the keys to Fionna’s Mercedes SUV, Dan took the passenger seat. Everyone loaded in and Logan drove towards Oakton which would put Jeff and Becca further away from both the academy and the Senate.
“Uh the washer dryers in the garage,” Logan pointed out as they passed by. Garages were particularly cold in Virginia in the dead of winter and a new baby was certain to bring on vast amounts of laundry. Dan didn’t comment.
“This would be de casa pour de babe,” Logan drawled in a terrible Spanish impression. The tiny room did have a decent sized closet Dan pointed out. “Then you have your living room, dining room, kitchen combo thing in here,” Logan lead everyone into the largest part of the house.
Shutting out the plaguing buzz in his head that this was the kind of home where the walls could begin to feel like they were closing in all around you, Dan started to point out the two closets in the master bedroom. He thought better of it when he recalled the fact that neither Jeff or Becca currently had enough clothing to fill even half of one.
“Do you think we’d be able to hear the baby you know at night?” She pointed to what would become the nursery on one side of the house and the master on the other. “Oh, sweetheart, you’ll hear your baby. It’s just part of being a mother,” Ms. Harrickson assured Becca sweetly.
Dan cell buzzed in his pocket he extracted it quickly. “Governor Haydenshire says they’ll be heading back in a few minutes. He sent over the rental prices.”
“What are they?” Becca asked.
Stephen Haydenshire was a saint. Dan had never really doubted that fact, but he’d just proved himself yet again. He handed his phone with the rent prices for both places on the screen to Jeff.
The Crown Governor had taken what would be twenty percent of Jeff’s salary as an intern at Iodex and set that as his rental price for the duplex.
“Could we have just a second?” Jeff choked.
“Sure.” Logan joined Dan and Jeff’s mother heading to the other side of the house. There wasn’t really anywhere they could escape so they tried not to listen.
“We should take this one, right?” Weary confusion weighted Becca’s question.
“But you like the other one more,” Jeff insisted.
“No, this is fine,” Becca lied outright. “I mean it’s all we need really.”
“We can get something bigger and nicer as soon as I get hired on at Iodex,” Jeff pledged. “I just,” he choked. “I’m not sure with everything that we’re going to have to buy for the baby that we can afford the other one.”
“Jeff this is great. It’s so nice of Governor Haydenshire to let us stay here. I know that’s not the rent he gives other people. He cut the price for us because they’re such great people.”
“Yeah, they really are.”
“So let’s make this home, and get married, and have a baby, cause,” she paused thoughtfully. “I’m gonna have a baby.”
This elicited a slight chuckle from Jeff. “We’re gonna have a baby,” he corrected her making Dan smile and his mother cry.
“Portwood says you’ll be paid for your training time tomorrow and you can start full-time Monday. Dad’s gonna let you have the first month free so you can move in anytime,” Logan read another text from his father.
“Can we go back now. I really need to thank your dad,” Becca urged.
The sun was giving off its last vestiges of light as the Haydenshire’s suburban crested the slight hill on the gravel drive of Haydenshire Farm.
“Dan,” Fionna whispered as she kept little Abigail cradled in her arms and pointed to another car following the Suburban. Dan recognized the Lexus belonging to Governor Sapman.
All of the blood in Jeff’s face slithered quickly away as he swallowed down his fear.
“A wedding at sunset is perfect. Come on, everyone,” Mrs. Haydenshire tried to soothe over the tension that hung thickly in the air as she exited the Suburban.
Governor Sapman shot Dan a cold glare, customary of their relationship. Dan returned the gesture.
“Thank you for coming, Daddy,” Becca wrapped her arms around her father. His chilling disposition melted in the light of his daughter’s embrace.
“You do not have to do this,” he choked as he held her tenderly.
“I love him.”
“Yes, I’m certain. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted, and I know he’ll take care of me just like you did.”
“Actions make the man, George, not the last name and certainly not the bank account,” Governor Haydenshire quipped.
Governor Sapman appeared to choke down his indignation and his prejudices. Turning to Jeff he narrowed his eyes. “You understand that no one will ever be good enough for her in my eyes, and that I do not appreciate what you were doing with my daughter in my home.”
“Yes sir,” Jeff’s voice bore no hesitation. “But I swear to you, Governor Sapman, I will always take care of her. I’m not running away from this. want to be with her for every thing. I love her sir, so much, just please give me a chance.”
“In this life you earn what you keep. I give nothing.”
In a moment of spite driven determination, Jeff wrapped Becca up in his arms, kissing her forehead, and cradling her head in his neck. He leveled a challenging gaze on her father and never waivered. Dan fought the urge to shake Jeff’s hand. He needed that fire in his gut if he was going to get through Iodex and school and a new baby all in the same year.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Governor Haydenshire directed everyone towards the lake, summoning and lighting the outdoor lights on the back deck and on the dock.
Dan wrapped his arm around Fionna as she laid her head to the side on Dan’s shoulder still holding Abigail. Aida stood with them watching intently.
Mrs. Sapman broke down and offered Ms. Harrickson a slightly begrudged hug as they stood with Mrs. Haydenshire and Logan. Rainer stepped in as best man and Emily served as the maid of honor. The twins ran around the swing set. Governor Haydenshire stood under the vast oak tree and smiled wryly at Jeff and Becca. “All right, George, who gives this woman to be married?”
“Woman?” Governor Sapman huffed angrily. She’s barely 20.”
“Woman,” Governor Haydenshire restated though he did offer Governor Sapman a sympathetic smile.
With a defeated nod, he rubbed the tears from his eyes. “Her mother and I.”
Becca beamed as she kissed her father’s cheek
Governor Sapman stepped back in what appeared to be the most difficult walk he’d ever taken to join his wife. Governor Haydenshire led Jeff and Becca in the customary vows with Rainer and Emily providing the pawn shop rings at the appropriate time.
“All right, Mr. Strenton, you’ve gotten yourself a beautiful wife and a baby on the way, so what you make of this is entirely up to you, son,” Governor Haydenshire vowed.
“Yes, sir, I know. I’ll take care of them. I’ll make them both proud.”
“Then you may kiss your bride.”
Jeff turned and wiped away the tears flowing steadily down Becca’s face. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too.”
He leaned and kissed her sweetly. Logan and Rainer huffed. “Do it right, man.”
Like any excellent officer, Jeff complied. When they finally broke apart, Rainer and Logan were both wolf whistling and clapping.
“Let’s go in. I made a little cake,” Mrs. Haydenshire guided everyone in the kitchen.
“I packed some of your things for you, Becca. Lillian said you wanted them. Maybe this weekend we could help you move into your new home,” Mrs. Sapman eased. “Thanks, Mom.”
“I know you both need to be at school in the morning, but your mother thinks I put you up in a suite at the Ritz for the night,” Governor Sapman begrudged.
“Wow, Dad. Thank you.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Jeff added. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t. This might not be the way other people see it but in my book, you and Becca have gotten life out of order. Digging your way out isn’t going to be easy.”
“I know sir but we’ll do it. We’ll make this work. I’ll do anything for her I swear to you.”
“See, Daddy, I told you.”
Everyone entered the soothing Haydenshire kitchen. Emily and Rainer volunteered to put the twins to bed as Fionna settled in the rocking chair with Abigail. Mrs. Haydenshire revealed a chocolate sheet cake that smelled heavenly.
“Dad, I think they’re gonna take the duplex out near Oakton,” Logan explained.
“I had a feeling.” the Governor smiled.
“It’s bigger than the apartment your father had when we got married,” Mrs. Haydenshire grinned knowingly.
“That wasn’t even a legal apartment, Lill. It was more of a rent controlled closet.” The governor agreed. “Will’s crib took up most of the living room.” He offered Jeff and Becca a wry grin.
“We never had hot water in the showers,” Mrs. Haydenshire recalled with an oddly wistful sigh.
Governor Haydenshire laughed. “You didn’t seem to mind me heating the water for you, dear.”
“Okay, stop now.” Logan pretended to gag.
“Is that how we got Garrett?” Fionna giggled.
“Only one eye on the stove worked unless she casted them,” Governor Haydenshire lamented, but the wistful look in his eyes spoke volumes. Dan could almost see the memories form before them.
“Well, honey, we only needed the one burner to make Top Ramen,” Mrs. Haydenshire teased.
“Fi was still eating that occasionally when we started dating. You know my Arlington Angel,” Dan pointed out wryly.
Fionna feigned offense. “Everyone in Hawaii eats Ramen Noodles and Spam, and the creamy chicken kind is really good. Just only use half a packet of the seasoning because it’s a little salty.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll get it down to an art.” Becca didn’t seem to mind.
“No one could ever say you didn’t work it all out,” Dan gestured around the expansive eight-bedroom, six-bath farmhouse.
Mrs. Sapman smiled suddenly. “George, do you remember that little place in Ellicot that we rented right after we got married?”
Dan and Governor Haydenshire shared a wry grin.
“That place was horrible,” Governor Sapman shuddered as Mrs. Haydenshire supplied him with a large piece of cake.
“It wasn’t horrible. It was sweet and it was ours,” she explained as everyone in the kitchen watched her mind travel the well worn passages of time to a place where she wasn’t the Governor’s wife and life wasn’t quite so charmed.
“The walls were painted Day-Glo orange when we moved in and they were so thin we could hear the neighbors arguing constantly,” Governor Sapman huffed. “Lillian this cake is outstanding.”
“Thank you, George,” Mrs. Haydenshire smirked.
“You went on to become a Realm Governor so I’d say the orange paint and the shouting must’ve done you all right,” Governor Haydenshire chided.
Drawing a deep breath Governor Sapman couldn’t argue. “Yes, well, I didn’t bring my children home from the hospital to that.”
Mrs. Haydenshire shook her head. “Well, Will seems to have made a go of life even though he survived on my homemade mushed carrot baby food and applesauce. I remember one of the things I was so overjoyed about when Joseph, Regis, and Stephen took office. Oh, and your dad as well, Dan, was that I could buy baby food from the grocery store. If I hadn’t have been eight months pregnant with Garrett, I would have done cartwheels in the Safeway food store.”
“Joe went out and bought Maggie a brand new cherry-red Camaro. All Lillian wanted was liquified squash and disposable diapers for Will,” the crown governor recalled.
Dan wondered if Rainer had heard these stories about his parent’s early days as a married couple. He also wondered if Jeff and Becca understood the fount of knowledge they had at their fingertips.