Rollie heard the curse coming from the bedroom. Putting down the box of junk he was carting out of the room that would be the nursery, he went to see what was wrong with his wife. He found her sitting on the bed in her underwear, a pile of blouses scattered over the bed and on the floor.
“Uh, is something wrong?” he asked tentatively.
“They don’t fit! Not a single one!” Angie exclaimed. “These,” she grabbed her breasts, “are too damn big now.”
Rollie grinned. “Yeah, I noticed the difference.”
Angie gave him a glare that would have made Antarctica look like a tropical paradise. “You would,” she snapped. “This is your fault, you know. All your fault.”
“Um . . . oookaay.” For the sake of his health, Rollie decided not to point out that it takes two to make a baby. Let no one say that he was a dummy. “So, uh, would you like to go shopping for some new blouses?”
“What’s the point? After I have the baby, these things are just going to get even bigger. I’d have to buy all new blouses again.”
“So, how come this is an issue now. I kind of started noticing the, uh, change a few weeks ago.”
“Because I was just wearing sweaters and pullovers before, Einstein. It wasn’t a problem, except for needing to get a couple of new bras.”
“Okay, so is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yeah, you can leave me alone!”
“All right. I’ll just go back to what I was doing,” Rollie told her gently. He returned to the nursery-to-be, trying not to take Angie’s attitude personally. He knew that it was her hormones and body changes that were causing the mood swings, but it was still a bit difficult to deal with sometimes. But not as difficult as it could have been, according to Frank. The cop had told him that, during Sarah’s first pregnancy, he’d alternated between fearing for his life and having her clinging to him like a limpet.
Angie had also been dealing with the frequent bathroom visits caused by her uterus pressing on her bladder. It had been a big problem at work since she would often have to leave in the middle of setting up a gag to relieve herself. Fortunately, that phase of the pregnancy was now ending--until the third trimester when it would get even worse.
One thing they hadn’t had to deal with very much was morning sickness, and Rollie thanked what he knew must be a benevolent god for that. She’d had some mild bouts of nausea since around her fifth or sixth week, but it wasn’t so bad that she spent a good part of her days in the bathroom losing whatever was in her stomach. The doctor had told them that it would also start to go away soon.
Now, he just had to survive his wife’s mood swings without letting them get to him.
But Angie wasn’t the only one whose moods had been shifting. Sometimes, he was so happy that he was sure heaven couldn’t be any better. Other times, he was terrified about the whole prospect of being a father. Would he be a good dad? He was determined to be a better one than his own father had been. He was also determined to follow through on what he’d told Angie. No more putting his life on the line for the cops. He had yet to tell Frank and Mira about his decision and had been considering asking them to come over Saturday. He wasn’t sure how they were going to take the news, though.
With a sigh, Rollie scooped up the box he’d been carrying before and carted it downstairs.
Angie sat staring at the clothing littering the bed and floor. Her anger was receding, and she now felt terrible about yelling at Rollie. He hadn’t done anything to warrant it, just the opposite, in fact. He’d been incredibly supportive and kind right from the start. Even though it would be months yet before her feet started to hurt, Rollie rubbed them just about every night, sometimes throwing in a back rub too. He was spoiling her shamelessly, making sure that they had on hand whatever foods she might get a sudden craving for. The day he brought home a huge jar of pickles and presented it to her with a boyish grin, she’d burst into tears and cried all over him. And, now, here she was, yelling and screaming at him for no good reason.
Angie got up, slipped on a pullover sweater and pants, and headed to the room being prepared for a nursery. Most of the junk that had been piled in it was gone, and Rollie had started cleaning up the dust and cobwebs. They had already picked out the crib they were going to get for it.
The whole thing was so amazing that it left Angie breathless at times. She was going to be a mother. She was going to bring a brand new life into the world. She could only hope that she’d be a good mom. She wished that she had her own mother to talk to about these things.
Seeing that Rollie was not in the room, Angie went downstairs. She found him in the garage area, stacking boxes. Seeing her out of the corner of his eye, he straightened and looked at her hesitantly. Not bothering with words, Angie threw her arms around him. With only the tiniest pause, he wrapped her in a tight embrace.
“I’m sorry for yelling,” Angie mumbled into his shirt.
“It’s okay, sweetie. I know you didn’t mean it.”
“I feel so out of control. One minute, I’m ecstatic, the next, I’m blubbering like an idiot. I hate it.”
“It isn’t that bad, Ange. Most of the time, you’re fine. You just have your bad moments, that’s all.”
Angie looked up into his eyes. “You are so great about this whole thing. You seem to take it all in stride.”
“No, I don’t, Ange. I just don’t talk about it.”
Angie drew back a little to get a better look at him. “What do you mean?”
Rollie shrugged. “It’s nothing. Forget about it.”
“No, I won’t forget about it. Tell me what’s wrong.”
The Aussie’s gaze dropped to a spot on Angie’s neck. “I’m just . . . scared. I’m worried about being able to take care of you and Benarin properly. I’m worried about knowing how to be a good father. And I’m . . . I’m terrified that. . . .”
“That something bad will happen,” he whispered.
Angie studied Rollie’s face for several seconds. “Come on, Rol. Let’s go sit in the lounge.” She led him to the sofa and settled beside him, clasping his right hand in both of hers. “Rollie, you don’t need to worry about being able to take care of us. You’re doing just fine, and you will keep on doing fine. And as for being a good father, I know that you are going to be the best one anybody could have. You are always so great with Frank and Sarah’s kids, as well as every other child we’ve dealt with, even the few brat child actors we’ve had to put up with.” Her grasp of his hand tightened. “But you have to tell me why you’re so afraid that something bad is going to happen.”
“Because, almost every time in my life when I found true happiness, it was taken away from me,” Rollie told her in a small voice. “When I was a kid and grew so close to the Aborigines, I finally felt like I’d found someplace where I belonged, where I fit in. I didn’t have my dad most of the time, but I had Mangela, and I had Mum. And then . . . then she died, and I lost everything.” Rollie stopped a moment, trying to gain control of his voice. “For years, I hated my life, hated traveling from flea market to flea market, conning people out of their money with Dad. When I became a stuntman, things got better, but I was still alone. But then, you and your dad came along and gave me a new, wonderful life. Things were great, but it only lasted for a few, precious years, and then. . . .”
“Then Dad died,” Angie said, her throat tightening.
Rollie nodded, now crying. “I lost a big part of what made my life so great. It took a long time to regain a good portion of the happiness I had back then, not until after you graduated college and started working with me full time. After that, things seemed to be going great again.” He fell silent.
“And then Rick died,” Angie said quietly.
“Yeah. I still miss him, Angie, even after more than three years. He was my oldest friend. And, less than a year later, I lost Leo. Two of my best friends in the world gone in the space of nine months. What’s next, Angie? I just have this terrible feeling that something horrible is going to happen. If something happened to you or Ben, I don’t think I could handle it.”
“Rollie, nothing is going to happen to us. We’re going to be fine. We are all going to be around for a long, long time to come.”
Rollie cupped her cheek in his hand. “I love you, Angie, more than my own life. And I love our baby. I hope, I pray that you’re right.” He sighed. “I just can’t stop feeling this way.”
Angie gave him a hug, wishing that she could ease Rollie’s fears somehow. She’d had no idea that he was living with this kind of fear. She had fears too. The fear of miscarriage was still quite strong, though she tried not to think about it, convincing herself that it wasn’t going to happen.
Rollie loosened his embrace and pulled away a little. “I’m sorry I dumped this on you like that. I really didn’t intend to say anything about it.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for, and I’m glad you told me. We need to talk about these things. I get scared too. I worry about whether or not Ben is going to be okay, if we’re going to be able to handle working and raising a baby, and lots of other things. But all we can really do is hope for the best and have faith that everything will be okay.” She got up and tugged on his hand. “Come on. Let’s go out for a little while. I have a sudden craving for double fudge ice cream with pineapple topping.”
Rollie laughed and got to his feet. “Well then, let’s go. Satisfying your cravings is my mission in life.”
“That’s what I like to hear. And, when we get back, maybe I’ll let you satisfy another craving of mine.” Angie ran her hand up and down his chest to illustrate her meaning.
Rollie’s smile broadened dramatically. “Now, that’s what I like to hear. Let’s hurry up and get that ice cream.”
Bluey’s bark alerted Rollie and Angie to the fact that company had arrived. Knowing who it was, the Aussie had the electronic door open the door.
“Hey, Rollie, Angie,” Frank greeted. “So, what’s up? What did you want to see us about?”
The Aussie looked at Angie, then back to Francis and Mira. “It’s, um, about my involvement with the police.”
“What about it?” Mira asked, frowning slightly.
“Let’s go into the lounge,” Rollie suggested. He grabbed the chair from his workstation and wheeled it over to the lounge. He sat in it beside Angie, who was in the chair to the right of the sofa. The cops had settled on the couch.
“Now that Angie and I are married and starting a family, I need to be more responsible,” he began.
“Responsible? In what way?” Mira asked.
“Well, I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve decided that I can’t put myself at risk anymore working with the police. I need to think about the welfare of my family first.”
“Are you saying that you won’t be helping us on cases anymore?” Frank asked quietly.
Rollie opened his mouth to reply but wasn’t given the chance.
“Rollie, every cop puts himself on the line every day on the job, regardless of whether or not he has a family. It doesn’t stop us,” Mira said, her earlier frown deepening.
“But I’m not a cop, Mira. You seem to forget that. I started helping Leo because he was my friend, and I knew I could help him in ways that others couldn’t. After he died, I continued to help the police because I wanted to. It isn’t my job to risk my life to put away bad guys, and it isn’t Angie’s job either. Neither one of us wear a badge or a gun, yet, countless times, we’ve been asked to go out there and do things that could get us killed. I just can’t do that anymore.”
“So, you’re just going to turn your back on us when we need you?” There was anger in Mira’s voice and on her face. “Turn your back on the people you could help?”
“Mira, stop it,” Frank commanded, now also angry, except that his anger was directed at his partner. “That was uncalled for.”
“I don’t think it is. He thinks that, now that he’s married and is going to have a baby, it gives him the excuse to hide in his make believe world of movies and pretend that there isn’t a real world out there with real criminals and death and suffering.”
“Now, you listen to me, Detective,” Rollie spat, his temper flaring. “I know all too well what the real world is like. I saw my friend and mentor die in an explosion on one of those ‘make believe world’ movie sets. I watched another friend burn to death before my eyes, also while working in that ‘make believe world’. And then I saw yet another friend die in yet another explosion, this time while helping the cops.” Tears began glistening in his eyes. “And, when I was a child, I watched them bring the body of my mother home after she’d been lying dead in the desert for three days. I’ve been shot, poisoned, beaten up repeatedly, kidnapped, almost blown up, nearly thrown out of a plane, and a dozen other things, all while doing stuff for the cops. How many of those things have happened to you, Detective Sanchez?!”
“So, now you want out? Now you want a cushy life where you can just let the rest of us do all the work that helps protect your family?!” Mira exclaimed.
“Mira, shut up!” Francis yelled, shocking everyone. They all gaped at him, none of them ever remembering such a display of anger from the gentle cop. Ignoring their expressions, he focused his gaze on the policewoman. “What is wrong with you? This is Rollie, the guy who’s put himself on the line for us so many times that I could never count them all. He deserves just about every medal and commendation the force gives out for all the things he’s done for us. And he’s done it all not expecting one thing in return, not even an official thank you! He’s right. It isn’t his job. It has never been his job. He never had to help us in the first place. He did it just because he wanted to. And I, for one, think that he deserves to have the best life possible, a safe, happy life with his family. He’s earned that, more than a lot of cops with twenty years on the force. If you can’t see that, then you aren’t a friend to him--or to me.”
Dead silence followed his proclamation. He stood up and turned to Rollie. “I’m sorry for this, Rollie. I want you to know that I respect your decision and understand it. I have a family too, and their welfare always comes first. Please don’t be a stranger to me, Sarah and the kids. We still want to see you. You’re our friend.” He looked down at his partner, steel in his gaze. “Let’s go, Mira. You’ve said enough for one day.”
“I’m not finished,” Mira told him.
“Yes, you are.” There was a warning in Frank’s voice.
She looked at Rollie and Angie, who were both staring at her, Angie with rage, Rollie with a mixture of anger and hurt. “Fine,” she said abruptly. She stood and stormed out of the loft. Francis turned back to the couple, his eyes now sad.
“I really am sorry, Rollie. You didn’t deserve the things she said. I think she’ll be okay once she cools down. I hope she will.”
“Thanks, Francis. I, um, was going to tell you guys some other things, but I think it had better wait now. I should have said them in the first place. Maybe then, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Frank nodded. “Just give me a call when you want to talk again.”
As the door quietly shut behind the detective, Rollie slumped in his chair, his eyes closing. “Well, that could have gone better,” he muttered.
“She had no right to say those things, Rol. None of it was true,” Angie said, anger in her voice.
Rollie lifted his gaze to her, his eyes filled with sorrow. “I know. But, now, I’ve lost a friend.”
Angie took his hand in hers. “No. I don’t believe that. She’s mad now and can’t understand why you’re doing this, but she’ll understand in time.”
“Yeah. Though, to be honest, if I see her again any time soon, I’m liable to smack her in the face, even if it does land me in jail.”
Rollie tried to smile, failing miserably. He got up. “I’m going to go take a walk. I’ll be back in a while.” He slipped on his coat and scarf and silently left the loft.
“Damn her!” Angie cursed vehemently. It was followed by a long string of other curses referring to the state of the policewoman’s emotional capacity and intelligence, with a few remarks about her parentage thrown in for good measure.
Feeling slightly better after the venting of her anger, Angie strode up to the cleanroom to await her husband’s return.
The remainder of Saturday was dreadful. The whole time, Rollie walked around like he'd lost a dear friend, which he believed he had. Angie tried to cheer him up, but nothing worked. Frank even tried inviting the Tylers over for dinner Saturday night, but Rollie politely refused.
It was now Sunday afternoon, and, so far, the day was proving to be no better. Looking over at him where he stood at the window, his shoulders hunched forward, hands buried in his pockets, Angie seriously considered going over to Mira Sanchez’s house and doing something violent. Or maybe she’d just post the policewoman’s cell phone number on an online bulletin board for phone sex operators.
Rollie moved away from the window and wandered aimlessly around for a minute or so, finally stopping at his workstation. He sat down to stare unseeingly at a piece of equipment.
“Hey, Rol. I was thinking that we could go to a movie. There are a couple playing that I’d like to see.”
The Aussie shrugged. “Yeah, I guess,” he mumbled.
Angie walked over to him and pulled him gently into her embrace. He laid his head on her breast and held her. They’d been like that for a while when Bluey started barking.
“What’s up, Blue?” Angie asked. A moment later, there was a knock on the door.
“Front door camera, Blue,” Rollie ordered. The image came up, and both of them stiffened. With an almost inaudible sigh, the Aussie told the robot to open the door. Mira Sanchez walked in. She saw them and slowly came forward. To Angie’s eyes, she looked nervous.
“Rollie, Angie,” the policewoman said.
“Detective Sanchez,” Angie said back, her voice cold and reserved. Rollie said nothing, only staring at the woman.
Mira sighed. “Look. I, um, came to apologize for yesterday.”
“I should hope to hell you have,” Angie snapped. She felt Rollie’s arm tighten around her, a silent request to cool it.
“You have every right to be angry with me,” Mira admitted. “What I said was . . . was wrong. I had no right to say them. I had no right to be angry at you. What you and Frank said was right. You have never been obligated to work with the police. It isn’t your job, and,” she took a deep breath, “and I shouldn’t demand or even expect you to keep doing it just because I want you to. Rollie, you once accused me of taking you for granted. Well, I’m ashamed to admit that you were right. I got so used to coming to you to pull those rabbits out of your hat that I stopped thinking about how wonderful and selfless it was that you were performing your magic for us just for the sake of helping. I guess that’s why, when you told me you weren’t going to do it anymore, I got so angry. I was acting like a child that was having her favorite toy taken away. I was being stupid, and inconsiderate, and ungrateful. And I am grateful, Rollie. You’ve done a lot for us, gone through a lot. There are so many people out there who owe you their lives and a whole lot of criminals who are now behind bars because of you.” She cleared her throat. “I’m not going to say that I don’t wish you’d change your mind, but I do respect why you’ve made this decision.”
Her words were followed by a long, uncomfortable silence.
“So, how long did you practice that speech?” Rollie finally asked.
Mira gave him a weak smile. “Pretty much all morning. I spent all last night beating myself up for what I said, ditching my pride, and gathering my courage to come here.” Sadness filled her face. “I’d understand if you couldn’t forgive me, Rollie. I’m not really sure I would if I was in your place.”
“I never wanted to lose you as a friend, Mira,” the Aussie said, his voice trembling. “All I want is to be here for my family, to live to watch my children grow up. Can you understand that?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I can. I didn’t before, but I do now. Frank was right when he said that you deserve that. You deserve a hell of a lot more.”
Rollie glanced at Angie. “I didn’t get a chance to finish what I was going to tell you yesterday. I wanted you to know that, though I won’t involve myself in any way that would put my life at risk, I’ll still help you. I can still help come up with ways to get the bad guys. I can still use my knowledge and skills to set up traps to catch them, and you are welcome to come to me for whatever equipment or ‘forensic’ work you need.”
“Thank you, Rollie. I truly appreciate that,” Mira told him sincerely. “I know that you wouldn’t have to do that for us.”
“Um, and there’s something else,” the Aussie said hesitantly.
“This . . . this ability of mine. I’d like to put it to use helping as well.”
Mira stared at him in shock. Then an expression of hope spread across her features. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I am. I’m not going to get rid of it, so I might as well use it to do some good. But, Mira, you need to respect that I can’t devote my life or all my time to that. I will help in that way, but only when you have no other recourse, when you have a case that you can’t solve, or when it’s a matter of urgency. Can you accept that stipulation?”
Mira nodded. “Yes.”
“All right, then.” Rollie stood up and approached her. He laid his hand on her shoulder. “I still think of you as a friend, Mira. That never changed.”
Mira smiled up at him, laying her hand over his. “Thank you, Rollie. I didn’t really deserve your friendship yesterday, but I’m glad that you’ve forgiven me.” She looked over at Angie.
“It’s going to take me a lot longer to completely forgive you for what you said to Rollie,” Angie told her, “but I guess I won’t post your phone number on the phone sex operator bulletin board after all.”
Rollie spun around. “Angela!” he cried, shocked and appalled.
A muffled snort of laughter broke out of the policewoman. “I don’t think I want to know what else you were planning on doing. It would probably make me paranoid.” A wide grin grew on her face, and she began to laugh in earnest. Angie joined her after a moment, followed a few seconds later by Rollie.
As the laughter slowly faded away, Rollie put an arm around Mira’s shoulders and hugged her to him. The weight on his heart had lifted, and he felt great.
“Well, I need to get going,” Mira said. “I have to go tell Frank that I came to my senses. He hasn’t spoken a word to me since yesterday morning, except to tell me that I was an idiot.”
Rollie chuckled. “Maybe we can all go out to eat one of these days.”
“That would be great.”
After the detective had left, Rollie turned to Angie with a happy smile. “Didn’t you say something about a movie earlier? I think that sounds like a great idea. And how about dinner out too?”
Angie grinned delightedly. “I’d love that, Rol.”
Grabbing their coats, the couple walked arm in arm out the door and into the cold night air.
Rollie hung up the phone and gave Angie a huge smile. “It’s finished, Ange. They completed construction on Friday.”
Angie let out a laugh and threw her arms around her husband. “I can’t believe it. We have a house.”
“With a picket fence. Don’t forget that. It’s one of the most important parts.”
“This is so great, Angie. When we’re filming, we can stay in the house instead of a motel or a trailer. That’s going to be so much better for you and this little guy.” Rollie laid his hand on Angie’s stomach.
“Yeah, it is. I really don’t know if I’d have been able to take sleeping in a motel room or a trailer when I’m seven months pregnant.”
Her husband smiled. “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to look like then,” he said. He got down on his knees and placed a kiss on her belly.
Angie looked down at him and smiled happily, running her hands through his hair. She was in her fifth month now and was definitely showing, enough that she’d had quite a few strangers ask when she was due. The outfit she was wearing now made the swell of her belly even more pronounced, which delighted Rollie to no end. When Angie had started showing, she tried to cover it up by wearing baggier clothes because she didn’t want to look fat, thinking that Rollie would find her less attractive. He had set her straight immediately, telling her in no uncertain terms that he loved the way she looked, loved seeing the evidence of their child inside her. Since then, she had displayed her pregnancy with pride, her heart swelling every time she saw the way Rollie looked at her and her expanding midsection.
And, now, they had a beautiful house where they could take their son and get away from the frantic life of the movie industry. Construction on the house had started in mid-January. Though not the best time of year to build a house, Rollie had wanted to make sure it was done well before filming started in May so that they’d have plenty of time to furnish and decorate it.
Rollie got to his feet. “Hey, we’ll be all wrapped up on this project by Thursday. How about if we head on over to Heartwell Friday and get a jump on furniture shopping?”
“That sounds like a great idea to me. The sooner we get the place furnished and decorated the better. The bigger I get the harder it’s going to be for me to do stuff like that. I can just see myself wattling around hanging chintz curtains.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me you’re actually going to get chintz curtains,” Rollie said, looking positively horrified.
Keeping a straight face, Angie said, “Well, why not, Rol? I saw an absolutely gorgeous curtain set with pink flowers that I think would be perfect for the master bedroom.”
Catching on that she was teasing him, Rollie smiled. “Sounds great, Ange. It should go marvelously with the brown and red checkered quilt with the little footballs on it that I’ve picked out for our bed.”
There was a moment of silence, then“yech!” came from both of them at the same time. Once they’d stopped laughing, they got back to work, eager now to get everything wrapped up so that they could go see their new home.
Two hours later, Angie was at Rollie’s workstation, working on a difficult CGI animation with Rollie looking over her shoulder, suggesting possible changes. They were both startled when Bluey started barking.
“Looks like we must have company,” the Aussie said when a knock sounded on the door a moment later.
“I hope it isn’t Frank and Mira. If we get interrupted with another case of theirs, we’ll never get this done by Thursday.”
“They’ve been leaving us pretty much alone lately.” Rollie told Bluey to activate the camera covering the front door. When the picture came up, he stared at it in disbelief. “Bloody hell. Look who the cat dragged in.” The Aussie walked over to the door and opened it.
“Rollie, my boy!” Dingo Tyler cried exuberantly, embracing his son.
“Dad. What a surprise,” Rollie said, his tone reserved.
“So, you going to let me in? It’s bloody cold and wet out here.”
Rollie stood aside and allowed his father to pass.
“G’Day, Angie,” Dingo greeted, noticing her at the workstation.
“What are you doing here, Dad?” Rollie asked. “You hate it here this time of year because of the weather.”
“Am I going to let a little thing like the weather keep me from seeing my son?”
Rollie frowned. “All right, what are you into this time?”
“Into? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dingo declared innocently.
“Yeah, right, like you weren’t into anything the last time you were here.”
Rollie turned his back on his father and walked over to Angie. Dingo had shown up last June, neck-deep in trouble, like always, wanting Rollie to bail him out of it. Rollie had helped him and gotten three cracked ribs and two broken fingers for his trouble. Dingo left two days later for a “pressing appointment” in Texas, and Rollie hadn’t heard one word from him since.
Clearly seeing that Rollie was upset, Dingo approached him. “Hey, Rollie. I’m sorry about last time. I never thought you’d get hurt.”
Rollie turned around and looked at his father. “That’s not the point, Dad. The point is that the only reason you came is because you needed my help, and, once you got it, you were gone again.”
“That’s not true, Rollie. I came to visit with you too. I missed you, Son.” Dingo looked genuinely upset.
“And what about now? You here for my help again?”
“No, Rollie. I swear on your mum’s grave that I came here just to see you.”
Rollie gazed into his father’s eyes. He knew that Dingo would not swear a false oath on his wife’s grave. He let a smile come to his face. “I’m glad, Dad.”
Dingo beamed happily. “So, what’s been going on around here lately.”
Rollie let out a short laugh. “Oh, a few things,” he said mildly.
Just then, Angie stood up. It took Dingo about three seconds to notice the size of her midriff. When the realization of what he was seeing hit him, his eyes just about popped out and hit the floor, followed by his jaw.
“Angie! You’re . . . you’re . . . you’re. . . .” he stammered, staring at her stomach.
“I think ‘pregnant’ is the word you’re searching for, Dingo,” Angie said in amusement.
“Yeah! Pregnant!” His eyes finally lifted to hers. “You got married?”
Angie smiled happily and held up her left hand so that Dingo could see the ring. “Sure did, to the most wonderful man in the world.”
Dingo grinned and came forward to give her a hug. “Well, congratulations, Angie. I’m looking forward to meeting the lucky man.”
Rollie started laughing. Dingo turned to him in puzzlement.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
Rollie held up his own left hand. “You happen to be looking at the lucky man, Dad.”
For a second, Rollie thought that his father was going to faint. He hadn’t thought it was possible for anybody’s eyes to get that big.
“Y-you and Angie are . . . are married?” he squeaked.
Dingo turned back to Angie and resumed staring at her stomach. “Then that means. . . .”
“That the little guy in there is your grandson,” Rollie finished, having a ball seeing his father so flabbergasted.
“Grandson? I’m going to be a grandfather?” A bright smile lit Dingo’s face. “Well, what do you know.” He engulfed Rollie in a bear hug. “My boy’s going to be a father!” He pulled back and patted Rollie on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Son.”
“When did all this happen? When I was here before, you two weren’t . . . uh, were you?”
“No, we weren’t involved with each other back then,” Rollie confirmed.
“So, when did things change?”
“Last October. Angie and I finally stopped hiding from our feelings for each other.”
“And when did that happen?” Dingo asked, pointing at Angie’s belly.
Rollie grinned. “Last October.”
Dingo crowed. “Boy, you sure don’t waste time, do you, Son.”
“No, only about nine years,” Rollie replied.
Dingo shook his head. “A grandson. Damn, Rollie. I wish your mum was here to see this.”
Rollie’s expression grew sad. “So do I, Dad.” He fought off the sadness and put on a smile. “Angie’s going in for her first ultrasound tomorrow. Would you like to come along, see your grandchild?”
A look of excitement filled Dingo’s face. “That would be great, Rollie.” Then his face knit in puzzlement. “Wait a minute. If this is Angie’s first ultrasound, how do you already know the baby’s a boy?”
Rollie and Angie glanced at each other a bit uncomfortably.
“Um, it’s a very long story,” Rollie replied. “We don’t really need to go into it now.” ‘Preferably not ever,’ he added silently. He really didn’t want his father to know about his paranormal ability. Such an ability would be far too tempting a thing for Dingo, and Rollie didn’t want to deal with that.
“So, how long can you stay?” he asked, wanting a change of subject.
“I wish I could stay for a week or two but I have to be out of here by Saturday.” Seeing the look of disappointment on his son’s face, Dingo added, “But I could come back in a couple of months, maybe in May.”
“We’ll be in Oklahoma in May on a shoot,” Rollie told him.
“Oh. Well, I could probably make it later in the year.”
Rollie looked at his wife, asking a silent question. Understanding what that question was, she nodded. Giving her a smile of thanks, he turned back to his father.
“Actually, we have a house in the town we will be filming in.”
“A house? Why would you buy a house in Oklahoma?” Dingo asked in surprise.
“Several reasons. We fell in love with the place when we were there to take a look at the house we were going to be using for the movie.”
“So, you just up and decided to buy a house? Are you planning on moving there?”
“No, we’ll only be spending some of our off time there, as a place to unwind and relax. And we didn’t buy the house, we had it built. The, um, land was willed to me by a . . . friend.”
“Really? Hmm. Is the property valuable?”
“Dad, don’t even start with that,” Rollie warned.
Dingo held up his hand. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Good. Anyway, I was going to invite you to come stay with us while we’re filming. I won’t be able to spend a lot of time with you during the day, but most of our evenings should be free, as well as the weekends.”
Dingo nodded. “I might take you up on that.”
Rollie’s expression grew stern. “If you do, Dad, you have to make a promise to me that you will not try any of your schemes on the people in that town. You are not to take advantage of them in any way, shape or form. If you can’t swear that to me, then don’t come.”
Dingo opened his mouth to deny even the thought of doing anything like that, but seeing the look on his son’s face, he changed his mind. “All right, Rollie. I promise.”
Rollie gave a sharp nod. “So, is the Caddy and trailer parked outside?”
“Sure are. You don’t mind if I park them out there, do you?”
“No, just as long as they aren’t blocking the street or the garage.”
“No, they’re fine.”
Rollie looked over at the computer. “Um, I’d really love to catch up on things with you now, but Angie and I are trying to get this project finished this week.”
“You go ahead, Rol,” Angie told him. “I can handle this. Besides, you were up quite late last night working. You should take a break.”
“You sure? I’m not the one who’s pregnant here.”
“Rollie, I’m fine. Remember what I said. No coddling.”
The Aussie grinned. “Yes, ma’am, I remember.”
Rollie went with his father to the lounge.
“I can’t get over this,” Dingo said. “You and Angie married and a baby on the way. I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to get married.”
“I was waiting for her, Dad. There wasn’t anyone else I’d have wanted to marry.”
“So, you’ve been in love with her all along?”
“Since she was eighteen.”
“I never knew. I thought you two were just friends. You treated her like a little sister when she was a kid.”
“She was like a little sister back then. I loved her then too, just in a different way.”
“Well, I’m happy for you, Son.”
The two spent an hour chatting about what had been going on in their lives since they saw each other last. Rollie was very careful not to mention anything about what happened in Oklahoma or the ability he left there with. He then went back to work while Dingo went off to visit with some old friends, swearing to Rollie that he would not place a bet or get into any trouble.
The couple was just finishing for the day when Dingo returned. They got take-out pizza and ate it at the loft. Throughout the dinner, Dingo watched his son and the woman who was now his wife. The love between them was so obvious that he wondered how he’d missed it before. He couldn’t be happier for his boy. Dingo knew that Rollie had lost a lot of people he loved, beginning with his mother so long ago, and he deserved the happiness that a family of his own would give him.
“So, when is that grandson of mine going to be born?” Dingo asked.
“In July, the 20th,” Angie replied.
“July, huh? Well, I’ll have to be sure to come back over here then.”
“That would be great, Dad. I want our son to get to know his grandfather,” Rollie said. He fervently hoped that Dingo would be in his grandson’s life more than he’d been in his son’s, though the realist in Rollie knew that wasn’t likely. Not wanting to think about that, he got up. “So, anyone want dessert? I think we have some ice cream in the fridge.”
The rest of the evening passed quickly, and, soon, Dingo was retiring to his trailer. After getting ready for bed, Rollie gave Angie a long foot massage. Her feet and ankles had been swelling up lately, especially toward the end of the day, and the massage felt heavenly.
“If you ever decide to leave F/X, Rol. You can do this for a living,” Angie murmured, her eyes closed in pleasure.
“Well, I wouldn’t do this for just anyone, Love. These feet are privileged.”
“Mmm. Lucky feet.”
Rollie kissed her toes, then scooted up the bed a little ways to rest his head on Angie’s stomach.
“Hey, Ben,” he said softly. “Tomorrow, we’re going to get to see you for the first time. Now, don’t be camera shy.” He placed a kiss on the flesh covering his son. “I love you, Ben.” With a happy sigh, he laid his cheek back on Angie’s belly and closed his eyes. A second later, they flew open. Both he and Angie gasped at the same time.
“Did you feel that?” Angie asked excitedly.
“Yeah,” Rollie replied, a look of wonder on his face. He rested his hand over the spot where he’d felt his baby move for the first time. “Was that a kick?”
“I think so. I’ve been feeling him moving around in there for the last couple of weeks, but that’s the strongest one yet.”
Beneath his hand, Rollie felt another movement, and, all at once, the whole thing hit him like a ton of bricks. “My God. This is really happening,” he whispered. “We’re having a baby.”
All at once, tears were coursing down his cheeks as his emotions welled up and overflowed. Angie pulled him up into her arms and held him tightly.
“I don’t think I ever really believed that I would get to have this in my life,” he said huskily. “I always wanted children, but, when I realized how I felt for you, I only wanted them with you, and I thought that I would never have you. Until just this moment, a part of me couldn’t believe that it was actually happening, like this was all just a wonderful dream that I’d soon awaken from. But it’s real. I’m really going to be a daddy.”
“Yeah, you are, Rollie. We’re going to be parents. We’ll be like those couples you see in the park, pushing the stroller down the pathway.”
Rollie smiled. “And in the playground, swinging their kids on the swings. Can you believe that’s really going to be us?”
Angie thought about it for a moment. “Yeah, I think I can. But then, I can also picture you teaching Ben how to build a robot or concocting just the right mixture for green alien goo.”
“And I can see you teaching him how to be a genius on the computer, just like you.” Rollie laughed. “Do you realize that, by the time he grows up, Benarin will be able to do both our jobs himself?”
Angie grinned. “Good. Maybe then we can take vacations more often.”
Rollie looked down at Angie. “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to hiring someone to help us. Once Ben comes, we’re probably going to have to make some changes to the way we do things. All of the CGI and composting can be done here, but we’d still be spending long hours at the studio during filming.” He paused. “Do, um, you want me to find someone to take over for you with the studio work?”
Angie didn’t reply right away, thinking about the question carefully. “I think that, for the first few months, that might be a good idea. I’m going to have my hands full just taking care of Ben, and there’s no way that I’m going to leave him with a sitter or in the studio’s daycare facility for hours on end. When he’s a little older, I can go back to doing the studio work part time.”
Rollie nodded in agreement. “I think that’s the best way,” he touched Angie’s cheek, “though I am going to miss you like crazy at the studio. What about when we have to go on location out of town?”
“Now, that’s tougher.” Angie pulled Rollie closer. “I don’t like the idea of you going off without me for weeks on end.”
“I wouldn’t like it either.” A thought suddenly came to the Aussie. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. What if we got one of those huge motor homes? We could convert part of it into a mobile F/X studio. That way, we’d have everything right there, both a workshop and a home on wheels. In fact, we could even take it with us to the studio. Then, during the day, we could have one of the studio daycare girls come over and watch Ben in the motor home when we need your expertise on the set.”
A big smile lit Angie’s face. “That’s a great idea, Rol. It would be perfect.” She chewed on her lip. “But those things cost a fortune, not to mention what it would cost for the conversion. Between the house and all the furniture we have to buy, we’re already dipping pretty deeply into the bank accounts.”
“Yeah, but remember that, as producers, we get a cut of the profits from the movies we do. If we can get some good projects, we should do pretty well. Besides, I’ve been putting money away in my savings account for quite a while now. And what we made on ‘50 Trillion Miles from Home’ wasn’t anything to sneeze at either.”
“Yeah, especially considering that everyone made sure you got a fair portion of the net profit for your unofficial job as producer.” Angie’s lips twitched upward. “You know, thinking about it, we’re as close to being filthy rich as we’ve ever been.”
Rollie leaned over Angie’s stomach, placing his hand on it. “Hey, you hear that, Ben? You may be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.” His remark was rewarded with a strong kick from his son. He and Angie laughed in delight. “Hmm. Was that a sign of approval or disdain?”
“We’ll ask him when he gets older,” Angie replied.
Rollie returned to his place in Angie’s arms. With a contented sigh, husband and wife drifted slowly into sleep.
First thing in the morning, Rollie, Angie, and Dingo headed over to the hospital. A while later, they were in the room where the ultrasound would be done. A young technician came in.
“Hello, Mister and Mrs. Tyler. I’m Scott. I’ll be performing the ultrasound for you today,” he said. He looked over at Dingo, who was standing off to the side.
“This is my father,” Rollie told him. “Is it all right for him to be here?”
“Sure. No problem. So, is this your first ultrasound?”
The couple nodded.
The man smiled. “Well, it’s going to be an exciting experience.” He consulted the chart. “I see that the gestational age is going on twenty-one weeks.”
Rollie almost corrected him, then remembered that gestational age was not the same as length of time since conception. Pregnancy was calculated from the beginning of the last menstrual period, even though the woman would not really have gotten pregnant until around two weeks later, after ovulation. So, although Angie was, technically, less than nineteen weeks pregnant, she was considered to be in her twentieth week.
“Well, let’s get this show on the road,” Scott said.
The technician had Angie dress in a gown and lay on the table. He raised the back so that she would have a view of the ultrasound screen. As he began to perform the scan, Rollie, Angie, and Dingo kept their eyes glued to the screen that showed the image of Angie’s womb.
“Ah, there it is,” Scott murmured, smiling.
“Where?” Angie asked eagerly, her eyes scanning the image intently.
Scott shifted the device on her stomach slightly to get a view at a slightly different angle, and, all at once, they all saw it, a shape that was undeniably human.
“Oh my God. Look at him,” Angie whispered, her eyes filling with tears.
Rollie laughed with pure joy, his throat feeling tight.
“I’ll be damned,” Dingo murmured in awed. “Would you look at that.”
Rollie stared at the image more closely. “Is he . . . is he sucking his thumb?”
Scott grinned. “He sure is.”
Everyone let out a laugh.
“Would you like to know what the sex is?” Scott asked.
“It’s a boy,” Rollie replied softly.
Scott smiled faintly. “Well, let’s see if you’re right.” He adjusted the view several times, focusing in on the lower body. His smile grew wider. “Well, you were right, Mister Tyler. We’ve got a little baby boy here.”
Scott moved to another view, and they got a closeup of the baby’s upper body and face. He now seemed to be waving at them, his tiny hand up beside his head.
“Hey, Ben. It’s great to finally see you,” Rollie said. “Smile for the camera.” He reached out and took Angie’s hand. “Look at him, Ange. That’s our son.”
“He’s beautiful, Rol, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Sometime later, Rollie, Angie, and Dingo left the hospital with a handful of ultrasound images. Knowing that Frank and Sarah were dying to see the pictures from the ultrasound, Rollie called them and made arrangements to meet them for lunch.
More time was spent at lunch oohing and ahing over the ultrasound pictures than actually eating. Dingo, having some other things to take care of, didn’t join them, so it was just the two couples.
“So, you got a boy right off the bat,” Francis remarked. He smiled at his wife. “I remember that, with our first one, we didn’t really care if it was a boy or girl. We just wanted a healthy baby. After Natalie was born, we were both kind of hoping the next one would be a boy.” He laid his hand on Sarah’s distended stomach. “Well, it took us three more times, but we finally got our boy.”
“How do the girls feel about having a baby brother?” Angie asked.
“They’re ecstatic, especially Natalie,” Sarah replied. “She’s been wanting a baby brother since Bethany was born. So, how many kids do you two want?”
“We haven’t really talked about it,” Rollie said. He grinned and looked at his wife. “I’d love half a dozen, but I think Angie might have a thing or two to say about that.”
“Not at all, Rollie--if you agree to go through the pregnancy and birth, get up for the two o’clock feedings, change the diapers, and stay home with the kids while I go off to work.”
Francis and Sarah laughed.
“Well, Love, I will be happy to do my fair share of the feedings and diaper changing, and I’ll even take turns staying home with them, but I draw the line at the pregnancy and birth,” Rollie responded, straight-faced.
“Chicken,” Angie said.
Frank and Sarah laughed again, along with Rollie and Angie.
“Have you come up with a name for him?” Frank asked. “Sarah and I haggled for hours on the names for all three girls.”
“Benarin Leigh Tyler,” Rollie told them.
“Benarin? I like that,” Sarah said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name before. How did you pick it?”
“A friend asked that we name him that. We owed her a lot, and it was the least we could do.”
Sarah nodded. “And what about Leigh?”
The Aussie chuckled. “That was the only short name Angie and I could both agree on that sounded good with Benarin. I think we were at it for around three hours.”
Everyone finished their lunch, then, after Sarah had thrown a few hints Angie’s way, the two women went off to the ladies room. Rollie watched them go, a small smile on his face.
“So, has it hit you yet?” Francis asked.
“That you’re really going to be a father.”
Rollie’s smile grew. “Yeah, last night, with both barrels.” His expression turned tender. “I felt the baby move for the first time.”
Frank nodded knowingly. “That’ll do it. It hit me when Sarah had her first ultrasound. I almost passed out right there on the hospital floor. I was scared out of my mind. It’s always scariest the first time.”
“Did you . . . ever wonder if you were going to be a good father?”
“Of course. I think every guy who gives a damn wonders that. But I can tell you right now that you will. The girls adore you. You are just great with them.”
“Francis, I know that you said you understood my decision to limit my involvement with the police, but. . . .”
“I do understand, Rollie. You are making the right decision. Don’t ever doubt that. If Leo was here, he’d tell you the same thing.”
“You think so?” the Aussie asked doubtfully.
“I know so. Leo loved you, Rollie. You were like a brother to him. If he was here now, he’d be so glad that you’ve found this happiness and would want you to do what’s best for you and your family.”
“I wish he was here, Frank. I miss him a lot.”
“I do too, every day.”
The corners of Rollie’s mouth turned up. “I can see the look that would have been on his face when we made the announcement that Angie and I were going to get married and that she was pregnant. I can see it as clear as day.”
Frank gave a laugh. “Yeah, so can I. I think you would have rendered him speechless for the first time in his life. Unlike Sarah and me, Leo didn’t see what was between you and Angie. I think it’s because he knew both of you back when Angie was a teenager.” He patted the Aussie on the shoulder. “You’re going to do fine, Rollie. Angie and that little one of yours couldn’t be in better hands.”
Angie and Sarah entered the ladies room, which was empty at the moment. Angie knew that Sarah had not pulled her in there because she needed to go to the bathroom.
“So, how are you doing, Angie?” Frank’s wife asked the moment the door was closed.
“The truth? I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed. Six months ago, my life was going along pretty much like it has for years, and now look at me. I’m married to Rollie and will be having a baby in four months. It’s happened so fast.”
“Do you regret that, not being able to take it slow?”
“Well, life with Rollie has always been on the fast track. I really wouldn’t expect it to be any other way. Would I want to change things so that Rollie and I had more time to deal with the changes in our relationship before we started a family? In some ways, yes. I would like to have had more time for just the two of us, where we could learn all about being lovers before we became parents.” Angie touched her stomach. “But then I think about this life growing inside me, how incredibly happy it makes me feel to know that Rollie and I made him together. When I do, it doesn’t matter that it happened so quickly. All that matters is that I’m finally getting what I have wanted for so long. I’m with Rollie, and we’re going to be a family.”
Sarah gave her a smile. “You know, taking it slow isn’t always the best thing. Sometimes, it works best to jump right in with both feet. You and Rollie have known each other how long? Fifteen, sixteen years? I think you’ve waited long enough. Now, I’m not saying that it might not have been better to wait a few months before starting a family, but life has a way of throwing all kinds of surprises our way, and, as surprises go, this is a pretty nice one.”
Angie smiled. “Yeah, it is.”
Sarah took Angie’s hand. “Any time you need to talk to someone who’s been through what you’re going through now, all you have to do is call me.”
“Now, let’s go back out there to those husbands of ours before they begin thinking we’ve been abducted.”
Giving each other’s hand a squeeze, the two women left the restroom.
Rollie, Angie, and Dingo were just finishing breakfast when Mira showed up.
“Hello, Dingo,” she said to Rollie’s father. “Francis told me that you were visiting.” She turned to the man’s son. “Rollie, I need your help on a case.”
“Mira, Angie and I are really busy trying to get some post production work done.”
“I know, but we really need you on this. It’s a bad one.” She glanced at Dingo. “I, um, need your . . . special kind of help.”
Rollie grew still. In the months since their agreement to reduce his involvement in cases, Mira and Frank had not yet come to him for the kind of help his paranormal ability could give them. Now that the moment had finally arrived, he was surprised to find that he was nervous.
“Special kind of help? What does that mean?” Dingo asked curiously.
Rollie and Angie exchanged a look.
“It’s nothing, Dad, just a particular way I can help on a case,” Rollie replied. He turned back to Mira. “Let’s go upstairs and talk about it.”
Dingo watched his son and the detective ascend the staircase. Once they were out of sight, he turned to Angie. “What’s going on?”
Angie got up and started removing the dirty dishes from the table. “Nothing. You know that Rollie sometimes helps the cops out on cases.”
“Yes, I know that. He’s been doing that since he hooked up with Leo. But there’s something else going on here. What’s this ‘special help’ Mira mentioned?”
“Just a way that Rollie can help them with his unique talents. He has a lot of skills that are valuable to them.”
Dingo turned his eyes back to where his son and the detective had gone. There was something going on here, and he was determined to find out what it was.
Rollie led Mira into the almost completed nursery then turned to face her. “All right, what is it?”
“We’ve got a serial rapist loose in the city. He’s raped and beaten five teenaged girls between the ages of sixteen and eighteen in the last week and a half.”
“The Cheerleader Rapist?” Rollie asked. He’d heard about the case in the news.
“Yeah. All the girls were high school cheerleaders.”
“I didn’t know you were on that case.”
“The captain forbade us to discuss the case with anyone outside the department. There’s a media frenzy going on. Things are getting ugly.”
“Yeah, I read the police-bashing articles wondering why you hadn’t caught the guy yet.”
Mira nodded. “They want to know why we don’t have enough evidence to arrest someone. This guy’s smart. He uses a condom and washes the girls’ bodies afterwards to remove all trace evidence. He removes their clothing and what he used to bind them as well. He also transports his victims to a different location after he rapes them. We found all five of them in alleyways. All the girls can tell us is that he’s a white male around six feet tall, one hundred seventy pounds, with brown eyes and that he takes them to a house somewhere. He wears a ski mask and gloves and blindfolds them. The feds worked up a profile on him, but we still don’t have any suspects. He struck again last night, only, this time, he beat the girl so badly that she’s in a coma. I’m afraid that, next time, he’s going to kill his victim. We need your help, Rollie. I don’t know where else to turn.”
Rollie thought about what he was getting into, what it would be like to use his ability on a case like this. Then he thought about the victims and the possible future victims if he didn’t help. There really was only one answer he could give.
“All right. What do you have for me?”
Mira pulled out an evidence bag from her coat pocket. “This is a ring the last girl was wearing. Forensics have already been over it and didn’t find anything.”
Rollie took the bag and looked at its contents, trying to prepare himself for what he was going to see. His hands shaking slightly, he removed the ring from the bag. Closing his eyes, he opened his senses to it and was instantly plunged into the nightmare of the girl who’d worn it.
Angie glanced up at the living quarters. She was worried about Rollie. Even though he’d gained control of his ability, he could still be deeply affected by what he saw. She remembered the incident with the knife and how the images of the murder had stayed with him for days afterwards.
Sighing, she decided to get some work done while waiting for Rollie and Mira to come back out. “I’m going to take care of some things up in the cleanroom, Dingo. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Rollie’s father watched her leave, then returned his attention to the second floor, still burning with curiosity over what was going on. He suddenly made the decision to find out and snuck up the stairs. As soon as he’d opened the door, he heard his son’s voice coming from the new nursery. He crept toward the doorway and looked in. Rollie was standing near the center of the room, his eyes tightly shut, his hand clenched around something.
“He wants to hurt her. He wants to make her suffer for rejecting him,” he whispered in a tight, strained voice. “He doesn’t even realize that she’s not the girl he really wants to hurt. All he can see is the other girl’s face, hear her mocking laughter.” Rollie’s breathing grew to harsh pants. “He’s ripping her clothes off. He’s tying her hands and feet to the bed. Now he’s . . . oh, God, he’s hurting her. He’s--”
Rollie’s voice choked to a halt. The object in his hand fell to the floor, and he turned away, stumbling to the wall, which he leaned heavily against, his hands covering his face.
“Rollie?” Mira came forward in concern. “Are you all right?”
“All right? No. No, I’m not. How could anyone be all right after seeing something like that, feeling something like that? I was in both of their heads, Mira, that poor girl and that . . . that monster who raped and nearly killed her.” A convulsive shudder passed through him. He then straightened with an effort. “The guy’s name is Melvin Ward. He was the school geek, a nerd. He had a crush on one of the cheerleaders in school, but she rejected his advances, teased and taunted him about it. All these years, the anger has been building inside him until he just snapped. Every one of those girls he raped was her in his mind.”
“Is there anything else you can give us, Rollie? Somewhere we can find hard evidence against him?”
The Aussie nodded. “He raped them all in his old house, in the room that used to be his bedroom. That’s where he had fantasied about making love to the girl he had a crush on. I can’t tell you the address.”
“That won’t be necessary. We can find that out ourselves. What. . . .” She broke off upon seeing the look that had filled Rollie’s face. He was staring at something over her shoulder. She turned to see Dingo just outside the doorway, an expression of shock on his features.
“You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you, Dad. You just had to stick your nose in where it didn’t belong,” Rollie said, a note of hurt and anger in his voice. He then left the room, shoving past his father. Just then, Angie appeared. She took one look at the scene before her and knew what happened.
Not stopping, Rollie strode past her and nearly ran down the stairs. He grabbed his coat and went out the front door.
Angie spun around and stared daggers at Dingo. “Why couldn’t you leave it alone? You had no business coming up here like that! If Rollie wanted you to know what was going on, he’d have told you.”
“I-I’m sorry. I just wanted to know what this was all about,” Dingo stammered, realizing that he’d made a terrible mistake. “Angie, what is this? What’s going on with Rollie? What he did in there, it was like he was one of those psychics you see on TV.”
Angie turned her back on him, not answering. She and Mira went downstairs, Dingo following them a few seconds later.
“Angie, I’m sorry about this,” the detective said. “Is Rollie going to be all right?”
“He will be. He’ll be back after he cools off.”
“I’ve got to go. I need to get a warrant for the man Rollie identified and a search warrant for that house. Tell Rollie thank you for me. He probably saved some lives and definitely saved a lot of suffering.”
An hour passed in chilly silence in the loft. Angie spoke not one word to Dingo. The only notice she took of his presence was the enraged glares she shot at him every now and then. For his part, Dingo felt ashamed and angry at himself. Even as he was climbing the stairs, he had known that he shouldn’t go up there. But he’d let his curiosity get the better of him and hurt his son in the process. He needed to repair the damage he’d done to his relationship with Rollie, but he didn’t know how. Would Rollie even let him?
A sound behind him alerted Dingo to his son’s return. Rollie paused upon entering, their eyes meeting for an instant. Then Rollie turned his face away and went straight upstairs. Angie, who had been in the cleanroom, watched him disappear through the door. She then went down to the first floor. Dingo got up from the couch.
“Just stay away from him, Dingo,” she snapped. “I really don’t think he wants to see you now.” She turned away and followed her husband upstairs. She found him in the bedroom, sitting slumped on the bed. She sat beside him.
“I’m sorry, Rol. I was in the cleanroom when he snuck upstairs. I should have known that he’d try something like this.”
The Aussie sighed. “It’s not your fault, Ange.”
“What are you going to do?”
Rollie rubbed his face with his hands. “I don’t know. I am so mad at him for what he did, but it seems like it’s his nature not to leave things alone that he’s curious about.”
“You mean like you?” Angie said, smiling gently.
Rollie tried to smile back at her but only managed a half-hearted one. “Yeah. I guess I can’t fault him for something that’s in his genes.”
Angie shook her head. “He had no right to invade your privacy like that. That’s not something you would do, not to someone who was family or a friend.”
“But the fact remains that he did, and he now knows about this . . . talent of mine. What am I going to do about that? You know how he’s going to react. Just think of all the ways this could be used in his schemes. That’s why I didn’t want him to know. If he started asking me to do things like that, I really don’t think I could ever forgive him.”
“I don’t know what you should do, Rollie, except that I know you need to talk to him sooner or later.” She hugged him around the waist. “Do you want me to ask him to leave? Maybe in a few months it will be easier to talk to him.”
Rollie shook his head. “No, I can’t hide from this until the next time he decides to show up.” He rose to his feet. “I might as well get it over with now.”
Rollie left the bedroom with Angie. As they stepped out on the staircase landing, Dingo got up from the couch, his face lined with worry and shame.
“I’m going to leave you two to talk, Rol,” Angie murmured as they reached the first floor. “I’ll be in the cleanroom.” But, before leaving, she walked right up to Dingo and stared him in the eyes. “If you hurt him again, Dingo, I’ll make you regret it,” she whispered fiercely. She then turned on her heel and went up the spiral staircase to the cleanroom, closing the sliding glass door behind her.
Father and son looked at each other, neither one quite meeting the other’s eyes.
“Rollie, I’m sorry,” Dingo abruptly blurted out after a few second. “I shouldn’t have eavesdropped like that.”
“No, you shouldn’t have, Dad. You should have let it just drop. I have a right to my privacy. There are things in my life that you don’t need to know about.”
“I know, Son. God knows that I have my secrets from you too. I don’t know what got into me. I just had to know what the mystery was all about.”
“Well, now you know. Now you know this great big secret of mine. So, what are you going to do about it? You going to try to devise some scheme to make money with it? You going to see how profitable I can make it for you?” Rollie asked bitterly. In spite of himself, he felt tears burn his eyes. He walked away from his father to stare unseeingly at the shelves in his office.
A single tear slid down Dingo’s face. Is that what his son thought of him? ‘Well, what the bloody hell did you think he’d believe?’ he asked himself. ‘Didn’t you use his beautiful, innocent face when he was a child to get what you wanted? Haven’t you used his intelligence and skills with electronics and machinery when it suited you? It’s time you stop thinking about yourself and think of him first.’
Dingo walked up to within a few feet of his son. “I’m so sorry, Rollie. I never meant to hurt you. I don’t understand what this . . . this thing is that you can do or how you got it, but I swear that I won’t try to use it for my own means.” He took another step forward. “Please trust me, Rollie.”
Rollie spun around. “Trust? You’re a fine one to talk about trust. Your whole adult life has been spent tricking or talking people into giving you what you want. And as for me, those were the exact same words you spoke to me the last time you were here. ‘Trust me, Rollie. It’s just a little trouble. We can take care of it. No problem.’ Yeah, right. No problem, Dad. I almost end up in the hospital because of your stupidity and greed, but, hey, you got what you wanted in the end, so no big deal.” His voice broke. “The least you could have done was hung around a few days and visited with the man who’d just saved your butt.” Rollie turned away again, losing his battle with his tears.
Dingo stared at his son’s stiff back, feeling a burning pain in the region of his heart. How could he have hurt his son like this? Rollie had every right to hate him. He didn’t deserve forgiveness.
“I am so, so sorry, Rollie. Please believe me. I love you, Son. You’re the most important thing in the world to me. Without you--” His voice choked off. “I’m sorry,” he whispered one final time, then turned and walked out the door.
Rollie stood unmoving for a long time, starting to feel guilty for his spiteful words. The more he thought about what Dingo said, the pain in the man’s voice, the worse he felt. He needed to apologize and try to mend things between them.
Rollie had a feeling that Dingo would be gone for quite a while, probably hitting a bar or two. Deciding to leave a note for his father in the trailer to come see him when he got back, the Aussie went to the door. He froze on the doorstep when he looked outside. The trailer was gone. Dingo had left and wasn’t coming back.
Guilt and pain washed through Rollie. His father had tried to apologize to him, and he’d thrown that apology back in Dingo’s face. And, now, he was gone. All at once, Rollie got a terrible, heartrending feeling that, if he didn’t do something, he’d never see his father again.
“Angie!” he cried. Instantly, his wife was out of the cleanroom and running down the stairs.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“He’s gone. He left. I wouldn’t listen to him, and he left. We have to find him!”
“Okay, Rollie, we will. Do you know where he might have gone?”
“He’s leaving town. I’m sure of it.”
“All right, you go out in the Acura and see if you can track him down. I’ll call Mira and ask if she can put an APB out on him. We’ll find him, Rollie.”
Rollie was out the door in seconds. Angie quickly called Mira, explaining what happened. Though she knew it would probably get her into trouble, the detective agreed to put out an APB.
For forty-five minutes, Angie sat by the phone, waiting for word from someone. Finally, the phone rang and she snatched it up.
“This is Mira. We’ve got Dingo. A couple uniforms spotted him and pulled him over.”
“Where is he now?”
“At the station, sitting in one of the interrogation rooms. I can’t keep him there for long.”
“I’ll call Rollie right now.”
Angie called Rollie and told him the news. His voice told her how grateful he was that his father had been found.
“Do you want me to meet you at the station?”
“No. I need to deal with this alone. I’ll be home after a while.”
Rollie headed over to Midtown South. Mira spotted him as he entered the squad room and took him to the interrogation room. Rollie looked in the window at his father, who was sitting with his back to the door.
“Take as much time as you need, Rollie,” the detective told him. She then left to give them privacy.
Taking a deep breath, Rollie pushed the door open.
“Well, it’s about time you got back,” Dingo said, starting to turn around. “I’d like to know what--” His voice halted abruptly when he saw who had come in the room. He met Rollie’s eyes for a long moment, then turned back in his seat.
Rollie stared at his father for a few seconds, then went to one of the other chairs in the room. “Dad, I . . . I’m sorry about what I said,” he murmured, looking at the expanse of table between his hands. “I was hurt and angry, and it just . . . just came out. I didn’t mean what I said. I know I can trust you. I know you wouldn’t hurt me intentionally.”
“No, you were right,” Dingo said in a small voice. “I have used you. When you were traveling the circuits with me as a child, I used you. Whenever I came here and I was in trouble, I used you. And, if you hadn’t said what you did, I would have tried to use you and this ability of yours. I would have seen it as a goldmine. I deserved what you said.” He swallowed. “But I meant what I said too. The last thing in the world that I’d ever want to do is hurt you. I was just too blind and stupid to realize that what I was doing was hurting you. I can’t say I’m sorry enough, Rollie, not if I said it every day for the rest of my life. Please, can we . . . can we start over?”
Rollie looked up at his father, hearing the desperate plea in Dingo’s voce. He gave him a weak smile. “Yeah,” he whispered. “I’d like that.”
Dingo pulled him into a tight hug, which lasted a long time. By the time they pulled apart, there were tears on both of their faces.
“Come on, Dad. Let’s get out of here,” Rollie said, wiping his cheeks dry. They left the interrogation room and headed over to where the Caddy and trailer had been left. Rollie followed him as Dingo drove it back to the loft.
Angie studied the faces of the two men as they walked in, then relaxed in relief. Neither of them said anything, but she could tell that things were healing between them.
The rest of the day passed in a subdued mood. Not one word was spoken about what happened, though Rollie had a feeling that Dingo was still curious about what he’d witnessed in the nursery. It was around five o’clock when Mira called.
“We got Melvin Ward,” the detective told everyone over the speakerphone. “There was enough evidence in that house and his van to nail him to the wall. He’s going down for six counts of rape, three of those against minors, six counts of assault, and one count of attempted murder. He’ll probably end up in a mental ward, though. The guy’s clearly insane.”
“Thanks for letting us know, Mira,” Rollie said. “I’m glad you got him.”
“We wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for you, Rollie. You saved who knows how many other girls from the same fate, or worse. Thank you.”
As the call disconnected, Rollie saw his father looking at him. “I guess you want to know what this whole thing is,” he said with a sigh.
“Only if you want to tell me,” Dingo responded.
Rollie got up and walked away a few paces, then turned around, leaning on the staircase railing. “It started a few months ago. Something happened that . . . woke something up in me. I started seeing things when I touched objects, sometimes even when I was just near them. I saw the people who handled them before, things that happened around the objects. I experienced what the people were feeling and thinking. It happened with everything I touched, everything. It was driving me insane.”
“What did you do?” Dingo asked, a part of him in awe of what Rollie was telling him.
“Mangela came. He taught me how to control it, how to block out the images and sensations. I can pretty much choose when to let myself see things now, and I can filter out a lot of the physical sensations when I do allow myself to pick up on the ‘impressions’, as I call them, in an object. But, in a situation like today, when I had to watch Melvin Ward rape that girl, all the time hearing his thoughts and hers, it . . . it’s not easy. I’ll never forget what I saw, not ever.”
Dingo saw the haunted look in Rollie’s eyes. “Then why do you do it? Why don’t you just tell the cops to bugger off?”
“Because I can help stop people like Ward. If I hadn’t helped, he would have kept on raping teenaged girls, maybe even started killing them. I could not turn my back on that.”
“No, I guess you couldn’t. You are so like your mother in that way. She was always lending a helping hand to people in need, God bless her. She was a fine woman, and . . . and I know that she’d have been proud of you, Son. I’m proud of you.”
Rollie swallowed the lump in his throat. “Thanks, Dad. You don’t know how much that means to me.”
“I won’t tell anyone about this, Rollie,” Dingo said earnestly. “I swear I won’t breathe a word.”
“Thank you. I don’t want people to know about this. It would cause nothing but trouble.”
“Well, since we both already get into too much trouble as it is, we wouldn’t want to make more,” Dingo said with a chuckle.
Rollie laughed, feeling the last of the ache in his heart go away. After thirty six years, he and his father were finally finding each other, and the last of his heartfelt wishes for himself was being granted.
Rollie watched his father hook the Cadillac up to the trailer. “I wish you could stay longer,” he said.
“Me too, but this deal was set up weeks ago. Bobby Trent is expecting delivery of that rare bottle of scotch. He’ll give me his autographed Elvis collection for it, which I’ll trade to Otis Morgan--”
“Who will give you what you want,” Rollie finished, laughing. “Some things never change.”
Dingo looked at his son. “But other things do. I’m going to try hard to be in Oklahoma in May, Rollie, and I’m definitely coming back here in July for the birth of my grandson.”
Rollie smiled. “We’ll look forward to seeing you. Here. I got something for you.” He handed his father a small box. Dingo opened it and found a cell phone inside. “We can keep in touch with that.”
“Thanks, Rollie. I will call you. I promise.”
His son grinned. “And a few hundred other people, I’ll bet. It’s on a plan with two thousand free minutes a month that’s good all across the country. Try not to go over that, okay? And no international calls, please. I don’t want the cell phone bill to look like the national debt.”
“I’ll pay you back for this, Rollie, as soon as I get some money.”
Rollie shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Dad. It will be worth it if I hear from you regularly.”
“Count on it.”
Father and son embraced.
“I love you, Dad,” Rollie murmured.
“I love you too, Son. Take care of that wife and son of yours.”
Rollie watched Dingo get into the car and drive away. He remained standing out there for several more minutes, then went back inside to the most important part of a life that was looking brighter than ever.
“Oh, Rollie, it’s beautiful,” Angie said, a sunny smile on her face as she looked at their new house.
“Yeah, it is. It’s perfect,” Rollie agreed.
The two-story house, which had been built where the old Powell house had stood, was white with royal blue trim. Its design was a cross between contemporary and something you’d see from the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. Two huge floor-to-ceiling bay windows, one on either side of the door, was the first thing that drew the eye. Then there was the big, covered veranda, which stretched all the way from the left end of the house to the attached garage on the right. The second floor was graced with a row of gabled windows, most of which were actually French doors, each one opening onto its own tiny balcony. The two windows in the center opened onto a single larger balcony. That was the master bedroom. Finishing off the lovely picture, was a three-foot-high picket fence all around the front yard. The yard itself had been cleaned up, all the weeds and dead foliage removed, the shrubs trimmed, and new grass planted.
Rollie grabbed Angie’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go inside,” he said, a childlike smile on his face.
They ran up the steps. Rollie unlocked the door and stepped aside for Angie to go in first. Right before them was the staircase that led up to the second floor. They turned to the right into the living room. Both the foyer and the living room had parquet floors made of a lightly polished golden wood, which glowed with a soft luster. The fine plaster walls were painted white. A white stone fireplace adorned the far wall.
The couple turned to the windows and looked out onto the view of the valley, the town of Heartwell visible below, snow-covered mountains in the background.
“Wow,” Angie breathed. “A view like that would add thousands of dollars to the price of a house anywhere in the country.”
“Yeah, and we get it for free.”
Dragging their eyes from the spectacular sight, they continued exploring.
In the far right corner of the living room was a hallway that led to a one-quarter bathroom, a coat closet, and another door, which went out into the garage.
Rollie and Angie turned back and headed in the opposite direction. Through a wide archway was the dining room, which also had a parquet floor. It opened on the left into a kitchen that would be the dream of any woman.
Angie went to a narrow door and opened it to find a large pantry. “I have no idea what I’m going to do with all this storage room,” she said.
“Oh, believe me, Ange. Once Ben starts getting older and eating us out of house and home, you’ll be getting plenty of groceries to put in there.”
Tucked behind the dining room was the laundry room. A door there led to the backyard.
The couple went upstairs, heading to the master bedroom first. Like the rest of the house, the walls were painted white. The floor was plain wood, waiting for carpeting to be laid. To the left was the master bath. As Angie headed for it, Rollie suddenly grabbed hold of her and covered her eyes.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“It’s a Christmas surprise,” her husband murmured in her ear.
“Rol, in case you haven’t noticed, Christmas has been over for more than two months.”
“Yeah, I know, but this present was too big to wrap.”
“Rollie, you already gave me a gorgeous ring that probably cost way more than you should have spent.”
“Angie, no amount of money is too much to spend on you. Besides, this is something I really think you . . . we will enjoy using.”
He led her into the bathroom and uncovered her eyes, which promptly widened when she saw what was before her. A huge red ribbon adorned the biggest bathtub Angie had ever seen. It was so big that it would almost qualify as a Jacuzzi. Then she saw the water jets in the walls of the tub and decided that it did qualify as one.
Angie spun around and hugged Rollie. “Thank you. I love it.”
Rollie grinned down at her. “I knew you would. I like it too. I can see us having all kinds of fun in it.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
“Yeah, I bet you can. I can see me using it to massage my aching back when I’m seven months pregnant.”
“Hey! That’s my job!” Rollie protested, pouting.
Angie gave him a kiss. “Don’t worry, Rol. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to use those magic fingers on me.”
Rollie pulled her into his arms. “Magic fingers, eh? How about if I make use of them a little later, and we can christen this house?” He illustrated the meaning of his words by cupping her bottom and pressing her into his hips.
“Mmm, I’d love to, but how about if we wait until we have a bed? I don’t think my body could take doing it on a hard floor, not in my present condition.”
Rollie gave an exaggerated sigh. “Such hardships I have to put up with.”
“Aw, poor baby.”
Angie and Rollie examined the rest of the large bathroom. A separate shower stall was to the right of the tub. Rollie eyed it critically.
“Hmm, you think that’s big enough for both of us?”
“Oh, I think we’ll manage to fit.”
The toilet, medicine cabinet, and another cabinet for towels were the only other things in the bathroom itself. The double sinks were outside the bathroom in a separate little area that also held a linen closet.
Rollie and Angie next explored the huge walk-in closet that was to the left of the bathroom, and then the small sitting room that was on the other side of the bedroom.
The newlyweds left the master bedroom and checked out the other three bedrooms, deciding to make the one next to the master bedroom on the right into the nursery. They then went to the room that was going to be their home office A full bath completed the upstairs.
The couple went back downstairs and out into the garage. Shelves and built-in cabinets lined the walls on the right half of the garage. This was going to be their F/X workshop.
Rollie looked up and saw another special addition that he’d requested, an accordion door made of metal grating, much like the kind in some shops in malls, that would close off the workshop from the garage when necessary, like to prevent curious little fingers from getting into things they shouldn’t.
Rollie and Angie went back into the house. They went to the door underneath the staircase. It led to the basement.
Angie watched Rollie closely. “You okay to go down there?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he replied quietly.
Angie got the flashlight from the car, and the two of them went down the stairs. Unlike the old storm cellar, the basement ran the entire length and width of the house, with the exception of the garage. The portion of the basement that was beneath the living room had been designed so that a rec room or family room could be set up there. Another one-quarter bath was there as well. Beyond a wall was the rest of the basement, where the furnace, hot water heater, and a big storage area were.
“How are you doing? Is there anything left of the impressions in the old house?” Angie asked, a little worried.
“No. The builders completely removed the wood planks that had been on the walls of the cellar, as well as the old concrete. Nothing is left of the Powell house.”
Rollie and Angie made their way to the backyard. The door for the original storm cellar was gone and the cellar filled in with dirt. Like in the front, someone had trimmed back the overgrown foliage, removed the weeds, and planted new grass.
Rollie’s gaze fell upon something sitting off to the side of the yard. He walked up to it. It was the rock he’d found in the wall of the old storm cellar, the rock with the pictographs painted on it warning of the curse the Native Americans had believed the land to be under.
“Did you ask the builders to put that here?” Angie asked.
“Yeah. I knew that they’d be digging it up when they put in the basement. I didn’t want it to be destroyed. It’s a historical piece of Native American art. There’s a Native American cultural center in Tulsa that I think would be interested in having it.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? What if they start poking around? We wouldn’t want someone to get too curious.”
“Angie, who would even come close to guessing what went on here, what lived beneath that house? If they want to take a look around here, they’re welcome to do so. That rock was the only visible evidence of what this place used to be, and, except for the Parkers, we’re the only ones who know the truth about what it was really a marker for.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“I think it’s time that I go see Belilac,” Rollie said. “She’ll want to see you too, and Benarin.”
Rollie and Angie went into the garden, the Aussie almost immediately feeling Belilac’s presence. Angie gave a little gasp and held her stomach.
“What is it, Ange?” her husband asked.
“It’s Ben. He’s really moving around in there all of a sudden.”
Rollie put his hand on Angie’s stomach and felt the movements of the baby.
“Do you think it has something to do with Belilac?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It could be.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t be in here. It might not be good for him.”
‘Do not be afraid, Angela. No harm will come to your child by being here,’ said a voice inside Rollie and Angie’s mind.
Angie’s eyes grew enormous. “I . . . I heard her. I never heard her before, except that one time when she came to help you against the other one.”
‘You are able to hear me now because of the child you carry in your womb,’ Belilac explained.
“Why does it make a difference that Angie’s pregnant?” Rollie asked.
‘It is not because she is pregnant. It is because of the child himself.’
“What do you mean?” An uneasy feeling was coiling in Rollie’s gut.
‘As I told you before, Benarin will be like you, Rollie. He can hear my voice and sense my presence, just as you can.’
“But he’s not even born yet. How can he hear you and feel you now?” Angie asked, also feeling uneasy.
‘It matters not that he is yet unborn. His mind is aware.’
“How . . . how aware?” Rollie’s gut had tightened even more.
‘More so than you could guess, Rollie. He is . . . very special.’
“What are you saying?”
‘I am saying that, just as you were unlike other children from the day you were born, so too is Benarin. I cannot tell you more than this, except that I am able to communicate with Angela through the physical link she has with the child.’
“I . . . I think I’m going to go back in the house, Rollie,” Angie said nervously. She turned around and left the garden, walking rather quickly to the house.
‘I am sorry that I frightened her,’ Belilac said.
‘Well, I have to admit that I’m a little scared too,’ Rollie told her in his mind, dispensing with verbal communication now that Angie wasn’t there.
‘There is no need to be, no more than there is need to be frightened of your own abilities.’
‘Well, I am all the same, about both things. I’ve learned to control this second sight of mine, the ability to see things when I touch objects, but it still terrifies me that I could see into the future if I let myself. And to know that Benarin is going to have these same abilities. . . . I just don’t want him to suffer like I have.’
‘You will teach him, Rollie, teach him to be master to his abilities, and I will help as well, when I am able.’
‘I think that we may both need your help when that time comes.’ The Aussie shoved aside his concerns. ‘I should imagine that you’ve been wondering about what’s going on here.’
‘Yes. I have been watching the construction of the new house where the old one stood. I did wonder who it was that would be living there until I realized that it belongs to you.’
‘Yes. Nicholas Powell willed the land to me after I told him the truth about his father and what happened here.’
‘This is a good thing, that you will be the one to have this land. Will you be living here all of the time?’
‘No. We’ll mostly just be coming here for vacations.’
‘Ah, I see.’
Though the tone of her voice had not changed, Rollie got the feeling that she was a little disappointed that they were not going to live there year-round. Could it be that she was lonely for someone to talk to?
‘Um, I wanted to let you know that my previous offer still stands,’ the Aussie told her. ‘If and when you decided that you want to be freed, all you have to do is tell me.’
‘Thank you, Rollie. I am deeply grateful for your offer. My answer remains no, but it still means a great deal to me that you would do this for me if I chose to accept.’
Rollie nodded. ‘We will be here for a couple of weeks, decorating the house, so I will be back to talk to you again.’
‘I will be here.’
Rollie returned to the house. He found Angie sitting on the hearth of the fireplace, stroking the curve of her belly.
“You okay?” he asked as he sat beside her.
“Yeah, I guess so. It just scared me. What’s it going to be like for him, Rol?”
Rollie laid his hand over the one she had on her stomach. “I don’t know. I know that, when I was a kid, I could sometimes sense things that other people couldn’t, and it bothered me. It made me feel more alone. But, after Mangela took me under his wing and showed me that there was nothing wrong with being different, I was okay with it,” he paused, “until after Mum died and Luther Cale tried to kill me. Then, I just wanted to forget everything. I won’t let Ben go through what I did. I won’t ever let him feel like he’s alone or not normal.” He smiled. “Besides, he’s got your genes in him. That alone is going to make him one hell of a kid.”
Angie gave him a smile, feeling better. “Well, I think that, between your genes and mine, the world had better watch out. He’s gonna take it by storm.”
“Damn straight.” Rollie kissed her softly. “I guess we should go down and say hi to Fred and Cecilia.”
“Yeah, we should. Boy, are they in for a surprise. We never told them we got married, and they sure don’t know about me being pregnant.”
“Well, then let’s go give them something to talk about.”
Rollie and Angie locked up the house and headed down the hill. The Parkers were delighted to see them, ushering them into the house.
“That house you had built up there is a beaut, Rollie, one of the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen,” Fred said as they moved into the living room. “You chose good picking Nick Carson as the contractor. He does good work.”
“Come. Take your jackets off and sit on down,” Cecilia said. “We want to hear all the news.”
Rollie and Angie looked at each other, knowing what would happen the moment Angie shed her jacket.
Noticing the look, Cecilia frowned in puzzlement. “Is there something wrong?”
“No, there isn’t anything wrong,” Angie replied. “It’s just that we, um, have a little bit of news for you.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
Angie answered her by removing the jacket. Cecilia’s eyes grew huge.
“Angie, you’re pregnant!” she exclaimed.
“But-but then that means that. . . .” She looked back and forth between Rollie and Angie. The smiles on their faces gave her the answer she was seeking. An expression of joy lit her face. “Oh, I am just so pleased!” Cecilia rushed forward and engulfed the newlyweds in a big hug. Fred shook Rollie’s hand enthusiastically.
Cecilia looked at Angie’s middle again. “But, dear, you look quite a ways along. What month are you in?”
“Your fifth? But it was just last October that you were here, and you weren’t, um, together then. Why, you must have gone off and got married right after leaving here. Did you get pregnant on your wedding night?”
“Well, it didn’t quite, uh, happen in that order,” Rollie said, embarrassed.
“Ohhh, I see,” Cecilia said, a tiny smirk on her face. “Well, the important thing is that you are together. So, do you know if the baby’s a boy or girl?”
“It’s a boy,” Rollie told her.
“How lovely. My firstborn was a boy too, my little Andrew. We have eight grandchildren now. We don’t get to see them as often as we’d like to. After that little one is born, I would love to babysit for you when you’re here.”
“Thanks, Cecilia. I might take you up on that,” Angie said.
The two couples chatted about what had been going on since they’d last seen each other and about the new house.
“It’s going to be very nice having you two here, even if it is just for vacations. Everyone in town is happy about it too,” Cecilia told them. “Everybody took a real shine to you back in October.”
Fred chuckled. “They were all surprised that you both seemed so normal and down-to-earth. They hear about some of those Hollywood types and figure everyone in the movie business is like that.”
The newlyweds laughed.
“Well, down-to-earth is not really a term I ever applied to myself,” Rollie said, “but our heads aren’t floating in the stratosphere like some in the business. That’s one of the reasons why this place is going to be so great. It will give us a place to escape to from all that crap.”
“And a wonderful place to raise your children,” Cecilia said.
“Rollie, what about, um, you know who?” Fred asked, looking slightly nervous.
“Belilac? She’s still there in the garden. I’m not sure yet how her being there is going to affect things.” Rollie paused. “Though I know that it is going to have some influence on Benarin.”
“Benarin? Oh, you mean the baby Angie’s carrying now?” Cecilia asked.
“Yes.” Knowing what question was going to be asked next, Rollie said, “Belilac asked that we name him that.”
“She did? Why?”
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me.”
“How strange. Rollie, I know that Belilac saved you from that other creature, but do you really think it’s safe to raise children around her?” Cecilia asked in concern.
“Yes, I do. In fact, there probably isn’t a safer place on this planet,” Rollie replied with conviction. “Belilac wouldn’t let any harm come to them, of that I’m certain.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
They all switched to another topic. Half an hour later, Rollie and Angie went to the motel and unpacked. They then found a map and telephone book of Tulsa and started planning which furniture stores they’d go to on Monday. Heartwell was too small to have its own furniture store, and Fred and Cecilia had told them that most of the residents went to either Tulsa or Oklahoma City to do their big furniture shopping since that’s where the best deals could be found. They’d even offered to let Rollie borrow their truck for hauling the stuff back, but he told them that, as much furniture as they were going to get, it would be best to have the furniture stores deliver it.
Rollie and Angie arose early the next morning. The better part of the day was spent taking measurement in the house. Angie then created a floor plan on her laptop, and they discussed where would be the best place to put each item of furniture. By then, it was well into the afternoon, and the couple decided to spend the rest of the daylight hours in the park.
Sitting in the sunlight on the warm grass, Rollie and Angie watched the people go by. Every time they saw someone pushing a baby stroller, they shared a smile, thinking of the day they’d be doing the same.
“Why, hello,” greeted a friendly voice. The newlyweds looked up to see the mayor’s wife beaming down at them. They had met her back in October.
“Hi, Mrs. Holt,” Rollie said to the plump, middle-aged woman.
“Oh, please do call me, Diana, Rollie. After all, you’re going to be neighbors soon.”
“Neighbors? I didn’t know your house was near ours,” Angie said.
“Oh, it isn’t, but we think of everyone in Heartwell as neighbors.” She clasped her hands together, smiling even more brightly. “We were just so delighted to hear that you’ll be coming to live here part of the year. I’ve simply got to throw you a big welcome party.”
“That’s not necessary, Diana. We wouldn’t want you to go through the bother,” Rollie told her.
“Bother? What bother. I adore giving parties. It’s going to be so much fun. Besides, it will give you a chance to meet more of the residents.”
Rollie and Angie smiled up at the woman, who was fairly bouncing up and down with excitement. How could they deny the woman that much pleasure?
“Well, all right, then. That would be very nice,” the Aussie told her.
“Wonderful!” Diana looked down at Angie’s stomach. “And we were all so happy to hear about your marriage and the pregnancy. A boy, isn’t it?”
Rollie chuckled at how fast word had gotten around town about the baby. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Well, don’t be surprised if some people bring little gifts for the baby to the party. Most of the ladies here go gaga over new arrivals.” She clasped her hands together again. “So, what day and time would be good for you?”
“Well, we’re leaving on the twenty-sixth, and we’re going to be pretty busy during the day decorating the house, so, um, what about next Friday evening?” Rollie suggested.
“Perfect! I’ll start making the arrangements right away. We can have the party in the meeting hall. That should be big enough. We can have a potluck. Everyone loves those.”
“Uh, would you like us to bring something?” Angie asked.
“Well, of course not. Don’t be silly. You’re the guests of honor, after all. Just bring yourselves. Six o’clock. If you don’t know where the meeting hall is, just ask anyone.”
The woman said goodbye and walked away down the path, talking to herself about all the things she needed to get done for the upcoming party. Rollie and Angie burst into laughter after she’d disappeared from view.
“Wow. This sure isn’t New York, is it,” Angie said.
“No, it’s not. It might as well be another planet, as different as it is.” He smiled. “But I like it. I feel at home here.”
“Me too. It isn’t until you come to a little town like this that you realize how impersonal the big cities can be. Everyone here knows everyone else, nine hundred and eighty-one neighbors.”
“Nine hundred and eighty-three, Ange, soon to be nine hundred and eighty-four.”
“Yeah.” Angie turned around in Rollie’s arms and kissed him. “Come on, neighbor. Ben is getting hungry, and so am I.”
Grinning, Rollie helped his wife to her feet, and they strolled back down the path, enjoying the feeling of being part of a real community.
Rollie and Angie headed for Tulsa early Monday morning. Since they wanted to be able to stay in the house while they were decorating, they decided that getting furniture for the master bedroom and living room should be on the top of the list of furniture purchases.
Before starting in on the furniture shopping, though, they went looking for paint and carpeting. They had already agreed on what color each room would be decorated in, so picking the exact paint shades and carpeting was made easier.
Sometime later, their car full of paint cans, brushes, rollers and such, the couple went to the first furniture store on their list. There, they found a sofa, coffee table, and end tables. At their second stop, they found a recliner and a set of two chairs. The third store yielded table lamps and a small round table to set between the chairs they’d found earlier. They also saw a beautiful dining room set that they decided to go ahead and get since it was on sale.
None of the three stores had a bedroom set that both of them liked. They were beginning to wonder if they were going to find one that day when they stepped into the fourth store, and their eyes laid upon an exquisite set made of highly polished red cedar. The bed had an ornately engraved headboard and footboard. The set included a vanity with a large mirror, which Angie fell in love with.
“That’s the one, Rollie,” she said.
“Yeah. It’s going to look great.”
The set wasn’t cheap, but the newlyweds decided that it was worth the price. While they were there, they saw another bedroom set that they liked and decided to go ahead and get it for the guestroom, just in case Dingo showed up in May.
By the time they were done with the furniture shopping, Angie’s feet were swollen and aching, so they decided to call it a day and head home. Rollie gave her an extra long foot massage once they got back to the motel.
The next day saw them back in Tulsa, this time getting bedding for the master bedroom and guestroom and curtains for all of the rooms. Not one chintz curtain was among the purchases, which made Rollie very happy.
Along with the bedding and curtains, they got some necessities for the bathrooms and kitchen, such as towels, bathroom accessories, cooking utensils, plates, and silverware, as well as several small kitchen appliances, like a microwave oven, mixer, and can opener.
The newlyweds were on their way to lunch when they saw a store for baby accessories. A big smile lit their faces as they looked at each other, and, without a word, they both turned and went in.
At the same time, Rollie’s and Angie’s eyes fell upon the most beautiful crib they’d ever seen. It had been crafted from cherry mahogany and was polished to a high sheen. The wood was engraved with a pattern of leaves and tiny flowers. Angie ran her hand over the cool, smooth surface, a picture coming into her mind of their son laying asleep upon the crib’s mattress.
Rollie looked at the expression on his wife’s face. Feeling no need to ask her if she wanted the crib, he got a salesperson and told her that they’d take it. The smile Angie gave him confirmed that he’d made the right decision. There was a matching dresser and changing table, which they decided to get as well.
Unable to help themselves, the couple then went through the rest of the store, getting clothing and toys, as well as bedding for the crib. They left the store with happy smiles on their faces.
After lunch, Rollie and Angie went searching for a refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer, all of which they found at the first place they went to.
Deciding that they’d done enough for the day, they headed home and relaxed for the rest of the day. That evening, Rollie called Fred to take him up on the offer of borrowing his truck.
“Sure, Rollie. When do you need it?” Fred asked.
“Early Thursday would be best. We need to finish the painting tomorrow since the carpeting is going to be laid Thursday, and the furniture and appliance stores are going to start delivering Friday morning.”
“That’s fine with me. So, what are you picking up?”
“A crib, changing table, and dresser.”
The older man chuckled. “I was wondering how long it would take you to get a crib. We got ours just a few weeks after Cissy found out she was pregnant with our first. She couldn’t wait. Do you need some help getting them?”
“If you wouldn’t mind. I don’t want Angie doing any heavy lifting.”
“Don’t mind at all. How about if I pick you up at 7:30?”
“That would be perfect.”
All of Wednesday was spent on painting and getting some other things done. By the time they left the house, it was ready for the carpeting to be laid.
It was 7:30 on the dot Thursday morning when Fred stopped at the motel to pick Rollie up. Before leaving, the Aussie made Angie promise that she wouldn’t work too hard while he was gone. Angie had rolled her eyes and reminded him that the men who were going to be laying the carpeting would be doing all the hard work.
“You seem to be handling the whole idea of fatherhood pretty well,” Fred commented after they’d been on the road for several minutes.
“It’s an illusion,” Rollie told him. “I’m actually shaking on the inside.”
The older man laughed. “Ah, yes, I remember that feeling. It’s a daunting thought, to know that you’re going to have the welfare of a new little life in your hands. It’s even worse in this day and age, with all the terrible stuff that’s going on. But I suspect that you’re going to be a good father.”
“I hope so.”
“Are either yours or Angie’s parents still living?”
“Only my father. My mum died when I was eleven. Angie lost her mum when she was nine and her father when she was eighteen.”
“That’s a real shame. All children should have grandparents. Well, if my Cissy has her way, your children will have a grandma, that’s for sure.”
The rest of the trip passed with Fred recounting his adventures as a father and grandfather. Rollie was surprised to find out that the Parkers had six children, four boys and two girls.
“Cissy’s rather put out with our two youngest, though, since they’ve both decided to pursue their careers rather than settle down and start a family,” the man said with a chuckle.
Listening to Fred talk, Rollie tried to picture himself years from now, a grandfather with hundreds of tales to tell about his kids and grandkids, but he couldn’t quite do it. It seemed so far away. He only hoped that he had as happy an experience as Fred had.
The crib, changing table, and dresser were loaded into the back of the truck without incident, and the two men headed back. The people from the carpet store were there when Rollie and Fred arrived back at the house.
“I had them do the nursery first so that we could go ahead and put the furniture in there,” Angie told them.
Absolutely refusing to let her help, Rollie and Fred carried the three pieces of furniture up the stairs, getting some help from one of the carpet layers. They set the furniture in the nursery, placing the crib in the center of the room.
“Thanks for your help, Fred,” Rollie said to the older man.
“Glad I could be of assistance. Just give me a call if you need any more help.”
“Will do.” The Aussie fished into his pocket and pulled out some money. “Here’s something for the gas and car expense,” he said as he held out the bills.
Fred shook his head and held up his hands. “No, no, Rollie. Just consider it a small housewarming gift. Of course, there will be others. Once you’re moved in, you’ll probably have people from all over town stopping by to give you this or that.”
Rollie hesitated a moment, then put the money away. “Thanks, Fred, though it really isn’t necessary.”
“Actually, it is. Cissy would skin me alive if she found out I let you give me money. It may be old and wrinkled, but I like my skin where it is.”
Rollie and Angie laughed.
“Sounds like Cecilia’s a lot like Angie in some ways,” the Aussie said. “She’s threatened to remove my skin on several occasions.”
Angie glared at him and shoved her elbow in his ribs. “And you deserved it every time, Rollie Tyler.”
This time, it was Fred who laughed. “We men usually do, Angie.”
Saying goodbye to Fred, husband and wife went back upstairs to the nursery. They gazed at the room, their arms going around each other’s waists.
“Just think, Rollie. In another few months, we’ll be putting our baby in this room.”
“Yeah.” Rollie smiled and hugged Angie close. “Ange, I’ve been wondering. Do we want to be here when the baby’s born or in New York?”
“Well, I like the idea of having the baby here. In fact, the town doctor stopped by while you were gone to see how I was doing. I swear, Rollie, he looked just like Marcus Welby and acted like him too, gave me a lecture about not overdoing it and eating right.”
Rollie laughed. “I wish I’d been there to see that.”
Angie shot him another glare. “Yeah, I bet you do. Anyway, he asked if we were planning on having the baby here.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That I needed to talk to you about it. My doctor’s in New York, and, up until now, we’ve planned on having Ben there. But . . .” she looked around at the nursery, then went to the window and looked out, “but it’s so terrific here, and I love this house. I love the idea of bringing our baby home for the first time to it.”
Rollie joined her at the window. “So do I.”
“I guess it will really depend on work.”
“I’m not going to take any more jobs until well after the baby’s born, Ange. Once we get finished with ‘A Haunting We Will Go’, that will be it for at least three months. I’m going to use that time to find and train someone to help us and to get that motor home we talked about.” He pulled her close and gave her a kiss. “Besides, I want to spend time with my wife and baby. I’m not going to see nearly enough of them once I start working again and they’re at home without me. I’m going to be lonely at the studio and on location without you, you know.”
Angie gave him another kiss. “And I’m going to be lonely without you in the loft.”
“Oh, you’ll probably be so busy taking care of Ben that you’ll hardly notice I’m gone.”
“Not a chance, Rol.”
Husband and wife came together in another kiss, this one slow and deep. The sound of someone clearing their throat made them separate. They turned to see one of the carpet layers.
“We’ve got the master bedroom finished,” he told them. “We’re going to break off for lunch now.”
“Okay. We’re going to get our lunch too,” Rollie said. “We’ll leave the door unlocked for you in case you beat us back.”
Everyone left for lunch, the newlyweds heading for a little café in town that they liked.
“Why, hello, you two,” greeted the rosy-cheeked waitress, whose name was Margaret but made everyone call her Meg.
“Hi, Meg,” Angie said with a smile. Both she and Rollie liked the cheerful woman.
“I understand that you’re coming right along with that house of yours.”
“That’s right,” Rollie confirmed. “We got the painting done yesterday, and the carpets are being laid today. The furniture we got will be arriving tomorrow and Saturday morning.”
Meg shook her head. “Boy, you city people sure don’t waste time, do you.”
“Well, we still have a lot to do. We’ll be taking things more slowly with the rest of it, though we want to get it done before we leave on the twenty-sixth.”
“Well, I have to tell you that you building and moving into that house has got the town buzzing. We’ve never had someone from a big city like New York come here to live, let alone somebody from the movie business.” Meg chuckled. “Gene over at the general store told me that everyone’s been asking him for videos of movies that you two did. He’s at a loss because none of the sleeves say who did the special effects.”
“We’ll have to give him a list of our movies,” Rollie said with a laugh.
“Gene will be eternally grateful,” Meg told him. She took their order and went off to give it to the cook.
“Sounds like we’re the number one celebrities in Heartwell, Oklahoma, Ange,” Rollie commented with a grin.
“Gee, I wonder if people will start asking for our autographs,” Angie responded.
“Oh, no doubt. Better start exercising those finger muscles.”
The couple enjoyed their lunch, deciding as they ate that they’d hold off on the decision of where they were going to have the baby until after they got back to New York and Angie could talk to her doctor.
The carpet layers were there when they got back to the house. The men left a few hours later, their job done. Rollie and Angie went from room to room, amazed at how different things looked with carpeting.
“It’s really looking great, isn’t it,” Angie said.
“Yeah, it is, and, tomorrow, it’s really going to start looking like a home, once the furniture’s here.” Rollie turned around and pulled Angie close. “Do you realize that it’s been almost five days since we made love?”
“Hmm, you’re right. So, what do you want to do about that?”
The Aussie tightened his hold on her, his hand caressing her back and hips. “Well, I propose that we get some sandwiches for dinner, then go back to the motel and spend the rest of the day playing catch up.”
“That is a brilliant idea, Rol, one of your best.” Just then Benarin gave a little kick, which both of them felt. “And I believe that Ben agrees.”
Hand in hand, husband and wife left the house that was quickly becoming a home.
The furniture started arriving at ten o’clock Friday morning. From that moment on, the day was a flurry of activity as one truck after another arrived. Rollie flat out refused to let Angie help with moving the furniture, so she was put in charge of making sure everything was placed in the spots they had agreed upon in their floor plan.
By the time everything was done, Rollie was pretty tired. He stretched out on their new bed and closed his eyes.
“Do we really have to go to that party tonight?” he asked.
“Yes, we really have to go. We are the guests of honors, you know.” Angie sat on the edge of the bed beside him. “Why don’t you take a nap while I go back to the motel and pack our things?”
Rollie opened his eyes. “No, that’s all right. I can help with the packing.”
“Rollie, you’ve just helped move a few thousand pounds of furniture and appliances. I think I can manage to pack a couple of suitcases and put them in the trunk by myself. Get some sleep. I’ll be back in a little while.”
Knowing it was fruitless to argue, the Aussie nodded and close his eyes again. He was asleep before Angie got out of the house.
Rollie and Angie walked into the door of the meeting hall and were immediately surrounded by people.
“Rollie, Angie! How good to see you again,” Diana Holt said as she came up to them. “Everybody’s just dying to meet you. But, first, do help yourself to the food. There’s plenty of it. Oh, but a word of warning to you, Angie. The punch is no doubt spiked, if Jake Cromby got his hands on it, which he always does. The ‘safe’ punch is over there on the children’s table.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Angie said. She and Rollie made their way over to the buffet table, awed by the amount of food that it was bearing.
As they ate, a cloud of people hung around them, which grew dramatically in number once their meal was finished. Rollie and Angie lost count of how many people they met. It seemed to both of them that the entire population of Heartwell had come to the party. Most of the people there were ones that they’d never met before, and all of them wanted to know everything about the couple.
Just as Diana had predicted, several women gave Angie gifts for the baby. All of the women were delighted about the baby and went on and on about their own children.
During a brief lull in the conversation, Angie headed over to the children’s table to get some punch.
“You’re not a kid,” said a small voice behind her. Angie turned to see a little boy with blue eyes and curly brown hair gazing innocently up at her. Angie looked at the child and wondered if her son would look like him.
“No, I’m not, but I have a baby right here inside me,” she told him, pointing at her stomach. “Does that count?”
The boy appeared to ponder on this for a while. “Well, I suppose so,” he finally said.
“Thank you.” Angie served herself some punch. “What’s your name?”
“Elijah. What’s yours?”
“I’ve never seen you before. Are you the lady that’s living up on the haunted hill now?”
Angie smiled. “Uh huh, me and my husband, Rollie. But it’s not haunted anymore.”
Elijah nodded. “I know. That’s what Cece said. I went up there after that spooky old house burned down, and she told me that everything was fine now.”
“Yeah, Mrs. Parker. All us kids call her Cece. She likes that.”
Angie smiled again. “I bet she does.”
“Are you going to live up there all the time?”
“No, only sometimes. We live most of the time in New York.”
“That’s far away, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, pretty far.”
“My daddy said that you and your husband make movies. Is that true?”
“It sure is.”
“Wow. That’s cool. Have you made lots and lots of movies?”
“Well, we’ve made quite a few. We’ve been doing it for a long time.”
“I want to be a famous director when I grow up,” Elijah stated seriously.
“Really? Why not an actor?”
“Uh uh. Directors get to say how the movie gets made. That’s really important. That’s what I want to do.”
Angie grinned. “Well, I bet you’ll be a very good director.”
Rollie came up to them. “I was wondering where you disappeared to for so long.” He looked down at Elijah. “Now I see that you’re keeping company with another man.” He grinned at the little boy. “Hi there. My name’s Rollie.”
“You talk funny. How come you sound like that?” Elijah asked bluntly.
The Aussie burst into laughter. “Because I’m from another country, one that’s very far away.”
“Farther than New York?”
“Oh, much, much farther than that, way across the ocean. It’s a place called Australia.”
“Where kangaroos live?” the boy asked, getting excited.
“Wow. I like kangaroos.”
“Well, there are lots and lots of them where I grew up.”
“Did you get to play with them?”
“Well, not really, but I did pet a joey or two,” Rollie told the child.
“What’s a joey?”
“A baby kangaroo.”
Just then, a harried-looking woman came over, a baby in her arms and another child clinging to her skirt. “Elijah, are you bothering Mister and Mrs. Tyler?”
“No, he wasn’t bothering us at all,” Angie quickly assured her. “We’ve been having a nice conversation.”
The woman looked down at her son. “He loves to talk. I swear he’ll grow up to be a D.J. for some talk radio station.”
Elijah shook his head emphatically. “No. I’m going to be a famous director.”
Rollie grinned. “A director, huh? Well, when you make your first movie, give Angie and me a call.”
“Come on, Elijah. It’s time to get you and your sisters to bed,” the boy’s mother said. “Say goodbye to Mister and Mrs. Tyler.”
“Bye bye,” the boy said, waving at them.
The newlyweds watched mother and children leave.
“Cute kid,” Rollie commented with a smile.
“Yeah. I wonder if Ben will look anything like that.”
“With your genes in him, Ange, he’ll be even cuter.” He turned to her fully. A frown creased his forehead. “Are you feeling okay? You look a little pale.”
“I’m just tired, and my feet are killing me.”
“Let’s go home then. I don’t want you overdoing it.”
“But the party’s still going on.”
“I don’t care. It can keep going on without us.”
Rollie and Angie found Diana and let her know that they were leaving. Sorry to see them go, she nonetheless understood about Angie being tired.
On their way to the door, the couple saw Fred and Cecilia. Instantly able to tell that Angie was tired and hurting, Cecilia insisted that they both head straight home and to bed.
“And don’t you spend all day tomorrow working on that house,” she said firmly. “You have both been working way too hard on it these last few days. You need to take a day off and relax.”
“We’ll do that,” Rollie assured her. “Tell everyone goodbye for us.”
The couple headed for home. As soon as they were in the bedroom, Angie kicked her shoes off, releasing a deep sigh of relief. She and Rollie made the bed with the new bedding they’d purchased, got ready for bed, and slipped underneath the covers. Rollie flicked off the light, and the two of them listened to the sounds of night insects for several seconds.
“Our first night in our new house,” Angie murmured.
“Yeah. It really feels like home, doesn’t it.”
“Yeah, it does.” Angie snuggled against him and closed her eyes. Seconds later, she was asleep.
Rollie looked down at his wife, the light from the moon lighting her face. “Almost anyplace with you feels like home, Ange,” he whispered. He then placed a kiss on the top of her head, closed his eyes, and followed her into sleep.