Coincidence, Fate, and Murder

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Chapter 4: The Mysteries Of Life

PART IV—THE MYSTERIES OF LIFE

He saw her again just as she was when she dropped in on his wedding.  It was bizarre and unsettling.  Why would she return after two years?  She stood before him, crying pathetically.  He had never known her to cry like this.  She was much, much stronger than that.  When he asked if he could do anything for her, she turned away and shook her head.  He tried to speak to her, but she wouldn't have it.  She had never had any trouble talking to him, so he was confused when she denied him.  His hands went to her shoulders in a comforting embrace, and she screamed at him.  Don't touch me, she shouted, I don't want you touching me again.  Honoring her request, he stood back and walked away.  Why wouldn't she talk to him?  Why wouldn't she look at him?  Surely she wasn't still hurting from their break-up.  It had been well over two years since he confessed he was in love with another woman.  When he saw her last, she had seemed sad, but not regretful.  He knew that she had moved on.  Her parents still lived in Florida, and on more than one occasion, he had run into them.  Although their meetings were awkward, they always treated him with respect.  They had proudly reported that their daughter had entered an accelerated law program and would graduate very shortly.  In fact, she was already orating in court.  Even though her parents had never exactly treated him like a shit, there was something about them, something about their demeanor that disturbed him.  Be that as it may, there should have been no reason for her to act in such a fashion.  He tried approaching her again, but she only screamed.  Giving up, he stepped back one final time.  The moment she realized he had given up, she turned to face him.  His mouth dropped open in horror as he saw a knife sticking out of her chest as if it were some grotesque piece of jewelry.  Blood poured from the wound and pooled at her feet.  You did this to me, she screamed.  You left me, left my son without his mother.  Son?  Did she just say she had a son?  What the hell?  Her parents had never mentioned that she had a child.  Understanding perhaps more than he should at this point, he immediately felt sickened. 

Rylie awoke to the sound of Kantor moaning beside her.  Just above a whisper, he was saying 'no' repeatedly, spitting the word out in near machine gun fashion.  It had been quite some time since her husband had had a nightmare.  After the children were retrieved from Trevor, he had had some terrible nightmares, and had also begun to suffer his blackout headaches again.  He couldn't work for two weeks.  She glanced at the bedside clock and noticed that it was almost five.  She wondered if she should try to wake him up or leave him be.  She sat up and peered down at his face.  Even in the dark, she could see the tension on his face.  No way.  She couldn't let it go on any longer. 

"Falk?  Baby?  Wake up," she whispered directly in his ear.

From the depths of his dream, he thought he heard Rylie's voice.  Oh, thank God, he thought.  I'm so glad this was a dream.  Thank God, thank God.  He opened his eyes and blinked them a couple of times to ensure that he had, in fact, been dreaming.  He fixed his eyes on his wife's beautiful face.  "What is it," he asked softly, his voice a little thick with sleep.

"You were moaning in your sleep.  Was it a nightmare," she asked, her concern evident on her face.

"I don't know," he said.  "I don't remember."

She slid her body back down on the bed and snuggled closely against him.  He put an arm around her and hugged her tightly.  Secure in his embrace, it didn't take Rylie long to go back to sleep, but Kantor didn't immediately fall asleep.  He hadn't lied when he said he couldn't remember the dream, but he was disturbed and uneasy for the rest of the night.

*  *  *

At around seven the next morning, Kantor was shuttling the kids around as quietly as possible.  Nasya was an incessant chatterbox, refusing to shush, and he had no idea where she had inherited that particular trait.  Of course, Levi, who had turned two a few months ago, was at that crowing phase of babyhood.  It seemed as if he had found his voice and never intended to lose it again.  Kantor was torn between utter seriousness and complete goofiness.  The more he laughed, the more both kids clowned.  He was desperately trying to get them downstairs to his mother before Rylie awoke.  It was hard surprising his wife with two highly vocal children.  He finally made it past the bedroom door without Rylie sticking her head out, demanding what was going on.

Adira Kantor waited in the living room.  She watched in amusement as he wrangled his two children down the stairs.  Both kids were giggling, Nasya behind her hand, Levi out loud, unabashed.  "I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to get them down here, son," Adira said with a smile.  Her youngest son was so very good with his kids.  When he was younger, she had never thought he would settle down and raise a family.  He had been completely too ambitious, but here he was, painfully happy, and lugging both kids around as if he had been made for fatherhood.

"I know.  Somebody was stubborn," he said smiling as he tweaked one of Nasya's dark curls.

Playfully, she stuck her tongue out at him.  "You're trying to get rid of us, Dad.  I wanted to tell Mom happy birthday, but you said we had to go to Grandma's.  I think you just wanna play kissy face."

He glanced down at her with an incredulous look, and then fixed his eyes on his mother's face.  She was trying hard not to laugh, but it was no use.  "Nas, where do you get this stuff?"

She rolled her eyes.  "Dad," she said impatiently, "I'm not a baby anymore."

"No, you're not," he said a little sadly.  Before he began lamenting on the instantaneous way children had of growing up, he transferred his squirming son over to Adira's arms, where he immediately began babbling at her.  "You sure you don't mind?"  Adira had gotten her own place on Kantor's insistence.  He didn't feel right having her working so hard in his home and not having her own life.  She had balked at first, but since she had gotten used to it, she loved it.  Of course, she visited the kids nearly every day and insisted on keeping them at least two nights a week.

"Falk, of course I don't mind.  You know I love having the kids.  Besides, you do need to play kissy face with your wife on her birthday," she said with a grin.

"See, Dad, even Grandma knows!"

"Mother," Kantor scolded, his dark cheeks pinking the slightest bit.  Shaking it off, he lifted Nas easily in his arms.  "Do you have a kiss for the old man, or are you too big for that," he asked with a lifted eyebrow.

She placed a loud, smacking kiss on his cheek.  "Dad, when you play kissy face with Mom today, give her one for me, 'kay?"

He laughed.  "Okay."  He set his daughter on her feet and approached his son.  He gave Levi a brief kiss on his forehead, which was met by a hard tug on Kantor's hair.  "Before you go," Kantor said as he pried Levi's fingers off his hair, "Arlene might be giving you a call some time this weekend.  She is in Florida for a week and will want to see Nas."

"Yay," Nasya squealed happily.

Adira nodded and grumbled under her breath.  Adira made it no secret that she didn't care for Nasya's other grandmother, but she would honor her son's wishes, and that of her granddaughter.  After all, Nas loved the woman, loved hearing her tell stories about her mother.  "Okay.  Say goodbye to your dad, kids."

*  *  *

"Happy Birthday, baby.  Wake up," a soft voice said.

Nope.  Not gonna wake up.  I don't care what you say or what you do.  I'm asleep, and there's nothing you can do to me to get me out of bed.  Just keep on keeping on, you sexy thang you.  The body under the covers groaned at the invasion. 

"Come on, wake up.  You must see this, because you probably won't believe your eyes."

No, uh uh.  Not gonna open these eyes not now.  Gimme until noon.  I don't care if it's my birthday.  Just go away.  She groaned again.  "Why didn't I marry a late riser?  God Falk, what are you trying to do to me?"  She opened her eyes and sat up.  Kantor was holding what appeared to be a very large sheet cake iced with her favorite fudge frosting.  "No wonder you were so insistent on me waking up.  That cake must weigh a ton," she said with a smile.

He grinned at her and winked.  "It does, and I think you should eat every bite."

She laughed.  Her husband hated fudge flavored anything.  "Sure, and then I'll weigh a ton."

"I just want you to know that our little wild child frosted this monster all by herself," he said with a smile.

"You're kidding," she spat, touched.  "Nas did this?"  He nodded.  "Oh my God.  Where is she?"

"My mother picked them up a little while ago."  Kantor set the platter on the bed.  He honestly intended for her to eat it all.  "I sent them over there so we could ah…in Nas' words…get all kissy face."  He sat on the bedside near her and leaned forward.  "So you wanna," he asked with a lifted eyebrow.

She drew her finger slowly down his bare chest.  "Sounds interesting."

He turned toward the gigantic cake on the other side of Rylie's body and drew a line in the frosting.  He held up his finger toward her mouth.  "Want to taste it?"

She smiled lazily.  "My pleasure."  She took his hand in hers and ran her tongue along his frosting covered finger, literally sucking it clean.  "Hmm.  Tastes nice."

He smiled a little.  "Feels nicer."

"Come here," Rylie said as she pulled him toward her. 

She laid a breathless kiss on his lips.  When he plunged his tongue into her mouth, he tasted fudge, and for the first time in years, didn't find it so dreadful.  Of course, the taste was inside his wife's mouth, and there was nothing about her that he found the slightest bit distasteful.  Her hands went into his hair and she began tugging it a little.  Ah, so that's where Levi gets it, he thought crazily.  Rylie thought his long black locks sexy; Levi found it fun, as if it were another baby toy.  She broke the kiss first and unceremoniously threw her nightgown over her head and off her body.  She sat back a little and gave him an expectant, but impatient look, her eyes seemingly saying 'your turn.'  He smiled a little and stood.  The only article of clothing on his body was a pair of boxer shorts that grew tighter as each minute passed.  With the same lack of modesty as his wife exhibited, Kantor shucked down his boxers and sat back down.  He drew her to him and kissed her hungrily, gently pushing her body down to the bed.  Rylie's arm flailed out and landed smack in the middle of her birthday cake.  She had totally forgotten it was there.  Her giggle forced Kantor to break the kiss and gaze down at her curiously.  He smiled a little when he noticed her fudge covered arm.  He grinned ever so wickedly as an idea popped into his head.  Rylie watched, incredulous, as Kantor literally scooped up a handful of cake and frosting.  He smeared it on her breasts, down her belly, and put a nice smattering between her thighs.

"Falk, what…"  Her voice was cut off abruptly as his mouth began eating away at the frosting smeared on her breasts.  Dear God, she thought, this man is nuts, but I like it.  "I…I didn't think you liked fudge," she asked shakily.  God.  What he could do to her was amazing.  Even after two years of marriage, he still had the ability to think of new ways to torture her.

He slurped at the fudgy mess he made down her flat abdomen.  "It tastes great on you," he said against her skin.

"Mmm," she moaned.  "Where did you learn these kinky things?"

He slipped his tongue inside her briefly, tasting the sweetness of the fudge and the musky overtones of her desire.  She shuddered against him, arching her back severely.  He smiled a little and moved to suck up a gob of frosting that had landed just inside her upper thighs.  "I read a lot," he said, smiling against her flesh.

"Can I borrow your books," she asked with a shaky laugh.

He slid his fudge-covered hands beneath her hips.  "Nope.  I wouldn't want you learning my tricks and using them against me.  Stop asking questions and let me enjoy my slice of birthday cake."

Without another word, he slipped his tongue inside her again and allowed his lips to skillfully rid her of every drop of cake and frosting.  She had about half a dozen orgasms before she begged him to stop.  If she had one more, she thought she might die, and there was no way she wanted the paramedics to come into their bedroom to see the mess they'd made.  He withdrew and kissed her deeply, smearing fudge all over her lips and chin.  God, if the kids could see them now! 

"I'm all…I'm all sticky," she said after he broke the kiss.

He kissed her again, briefly, and then laughed.  "Mmm, and so very sweet," he said softly.  Kantor watched as she grabbed her own dab of cake and icing.  What did she have in mind?

"You know, the birthday girl gets the biggest slice," she said with a lusty smile curling the corners of her mouth.

"What do you have in mind," he asked suspiciously.

She wanted to laugh at the frosting smeared on his face and his lips.  He kind of reminded her of their son when he was around anything chocolate.  "Get off me, and I'll show you."

Watching her curiously, he moved just enough to lean back on his elbows.  She took her 'slice' and smeared it onto the tip of his semi-hard member.  Incredulously, he gazed down at her.  This was definitely a first for them.  He knew what she intended to do, but he was a little thrown.  She hadn't done this to him ever before.  "Rylie?  Are you sure?"  During their entire relationship, married and otherwise, she wouldn't go down on him.  Of course, he never pushed or expected it.  He understood that this was one of many things that had been ruined for her by a slimy fuck named Kort Jeffries.                 

She looked up at him with a soft smile and nodded.  "I love you, Falk.  I love what you do to me, I love what you've brought into my life, and I want to return that love, return that favor."

Kantor wanted to tell her it wasn't necessary, but he didn't have time to say a word.  He took in a sharp, hissed breath at the sudden, unexpected feel of her lips encircling him, taking him inside her mouth.  Three or four strokes later, he was literally throbbing, almost aching.  Without taking his eyes off her, he leaned back on his elbow and caressed her hair [with the hand not so clotted with fudge icing], running his fingers through it.  All the while, he whispered that he loved her and couldn't live without her.

Much later, they [and the bed] were a lot cleaner.  Rylie threw out the remainder of the cake to keep them from getting into it again.  I am not cleaning the entire bed again, she had told Kantor.  He laughed and then took her into his embrace and ended up making love to her yet again.  This was turning into quite the exhausting birthday for her.  After they were totally spent [for the time being], he held her against him tightly. 

"Nas is one little lady full of surprises," she said suddenly.

He smiled a little.  "That she is.  She really loves you, Rylie."

"I do, too," she whispered against his chest.  "Are you disappointed that we can't have another baby?"

Kantor wondered when she would eventually ask that question.  She had knocked herself down so badly, had struggled tremendously against that particular issue.  No matter how much he told her he was perfectly happy with his son and daughter, she still felt as if she were cheating him in some way.  Last year, Rylie had become pregnant unexpectedly.  Of course, he was thrilled rather than shocked [as she had expected].  He loved his wife and children.  One more would only increase the happiness, increase the love.  The pregnancy had started badly and didn't improve.  She had had problems with Levi, but nothing like this.  She had cramped almost continuously throughout the pregnancy, but every doctor they saw [and he took her to dozens] had assured them the baby was perfectly healthy.  She had carried the child a little more than three months before she began to hemorrhage.  Of course, it resulted in a devastating miscarriage, and Kantor was thrown back to the first loss he had ever experienced.  After receiving treatment, they were informed by Rylie's doctor that she would probably never carry another child full-term.  She was discouraged from ever becoming pregnant again.  It was a stunning blow, of course, and Rylie had stayed home from work for a week.  The only thing that dragged her out of her deep depression was the finalized adoption papers.  Nas was finally deemed Rylie's daughter legally, not just in theory.

"No, baby, I'm not disappointed at all.  We have two beautiful children.  I can't speak for you, but I have everything in life I want.  I couldn't ask for more right now.  It's not been easy for us, even at the beginning, but I wouldn't trade my life for anything."

She sighed and leaned up to place a gentle kiss on his chest.  "Me too," she said.  "I just don't want you missing out."

He shifted his position a bit so he could look at her.  "Missing out," he said incredulously.  "Rylie, I'm not missing out on anything.  I love you.  If I didn't have you, I would then truly be missing out."

"It just hurts sometimes, you know?  I know that you don't blame me or anything, but I can't stop hurting.  The best thing that ever happened to me was having your son, and I wanted…"

Her words stopped as her tears began.  He took her into his embrace and held her against him.  "You gave me Levi, and I'll cherish him always, as I will you.  Don't be so hard on yourself, Rylie."

She laughed a little through her light tears.  "Jesus.  Just when I think my life is straightened out, I have to go into depression mode again."

He kissed her gently.  "I have a big shoulder, cry on it all you want."

*  *  *

She sat in the courtroom with a senior attorney.  The fellow they were defending went by the name of Jack Larson.  He had been accused of beating and raping three women.  She knew he was guilty as hell, but her mentor took his case on anyway.  He was overconfident and felt that he could win the case despite hell.  Of course, she had little say so.  She basically separated herself from him and only attended court whenever it was necessary.  She had another year or so in law school before she could take the bar exam.  She absolutely couldn't wait.  She was anxious to move out of Michigan and go home where the weather agreed with her a little better.  Basically, she missed the hell out of Florida.  She was hesitant in going back.  She still had a few issues here and there with her former lover.  It would be quite difficult to skate around him.  There were a few things he didn't know, and she had never gotten around to telling him.  It would be harder to hide if she were around him.  Her parents had itched to give him all the gory details, but she had sworn them to secrecy.  Thus far, they had held it back, but they treated him very coolly whenever they saw him, especially when they saw him with his children [which was often].  He genuinely loved his kids, and spent as much time with them as he could.  He worked at home, for God's sake.  She knew he had always been a very good and conscientious father.  He literally doted on his little girl.  Sighing, she broke out of her thick fog.  She had to concentrate on the case.  Whenever she glanced at the scummy defendant, he would leer at her.  As if you'd ever have a chance, you slime ball.

She was startled when the jury decided to convict Larson.  She couldn't believe it, and neither could the defendant.  He took after his attorney and tried to take after her.  Fast and wiry, she managed to evade his grasping hand; her mentor wasn't quite that lucky.  As Larson was dragged away by several security guards, he vowed he would get her as well.  Shivering, she decided it was time to go home, and not just to her apartment.  She needed a vacation, and a long one.

*  *  *

"Don't go back there," he heard himself say.  She wouldn't listen to him.  She had her own mind and didn't like to be told what to do.  She crossed that threshold he had asked her not to cross.  He couldn't watch her, couldn't watch her get hurt, because he knew it was going to happen.  He had seen the knife plunged into her chest before, and he would see it again and again.  She wouldn't listen because he had hurt her so long ago.  He had thought she moved on, but she hadn't.  She had held back a little secret from him, and she had wanted to share it, but he didn't give her the opportunity to speak.  "You dumped me, you fucking dumped me."  Bizarre.  He hadn't seen her open her mouth at all.  She seemed to communicate with him telepathically.  "My son, you fucker, look at my son."  He didn't want to, couldn't.  He covered his eyes and cried out NO at the top of his lungs.  She shoved the photo in his face, forcing him to look at it.  The child in the picture had no face.  For a moment, he thought he might be looking at the baby he and Rylie had lost.  No, couldn't be.  Our baby was a girl.  As if from some strange instant camera, the image became sharper and sharper by the second.  What he saw there jarred him, shocked him. 

Kantor bolted upright.  A light sheen of sweat covered his body.  What the fuck?  He didn't understand why he had begun to dream of KT again.  Had something happened to her?  He was tempted to call her parents and ask, but he wasn't sure if they'd volunteer the information.  He climbed out of bed, out of his wife's arms, and went to the window.  A starless sky, he thought.  Of course, it would have to be.  He gazed out the window for hours, seemingly willing the stars to pop out and greet him.  If his mother hadn't had the kids, he would have gone to check on them.  Since getting them back from Trevor two years ago, he never failed to go in at least once a night and just look at them.  He glanced over at the bed.  Rylie was wrapped up in the bed covers sleeping so very deeply.  He had once told her that she was his soul mate, and he had meant every word.  When Selarah died, he had been lost and emotionally blocked, but her dying had eventually led his heart to Rylie.  He didn't like making comparisons of his emotional attachment between Selarah and Rylie.  They had each given him a precious child, but they had touched his heart in different ways.  Of course, KT had been the go-between, the catalyst that brought about his healing. 

He didn't remember much about the dream that awakened him, but the one thing that stuck out in his mind was KT's accusation that he had dumped her.  Basically, that was exactly what he did, but she had walked out on him first.  Yes, but after you shoved her out the door.  He hadn't wanted her to leave.  He wanted to marry her, but she chose to leave, and then turned around and suddenly decided she wanted to come back.  At the time, he was so in love with Rylie that he couldn't fathom the idea of leaving her.  He had loved KT, had wanted to marry her, but they wanted different things out of life.  If she had stayed, their marriage wouldn't have lasted.  Again, fate had pushed its way into his life, and directed him toward the woman who lay in his bed.  Tomorrow, he would call KT's parents.  Tomorrow, he would find out if anything had happened to her.

*  *  *

The next morning, Kantor left Rylie in bed as he entered his office.  After closing the door behind him, he went over to his desk and sat down.  He grabbed the Rolodex and flipped through it until he found what he was looking for:  Marianne and Paul Watts.  He dialed the number and waited patiently for someone to pick up the phone.

"Hello," Marianne Watts said.

The quickness of her answer startled him.  He had been daydreaming.  "Good morning, Mrs. Watts, this is Falk."

"Oh yes," she said, her voice chilling a couple of degrees, "Falk.  How are you?"

She sounded as if she didn't give a ripe fuck how he was at all.  "I'm fine, thank you.  I'm calling about Kalissa," he said, using her full name.  KT's folks detested her nickname.

"How long has it been since you've called about my daughter, Falk?  Since she's been in law school?  Before that?  After?  I don't think she's interested in seeing a married man."

Where was this ire coming from?  "Mrs. Watts, I'm sorry, I don't want to offend you or hurt anyone.  I wanted to know if Kalissa is all right."

"Of course, she's all right, why wouldn't she be?  I think this was a question you should have asked two and a half years ago, Falk.  Good day." 

Click.  What the hell?  Confused and startled by her vicious anger, he replaced the receiver back on its cradle.  He didn't notice Rylie until he looked up.  She was still dressed in the short nightie she wore only when they were alone.  It revealed more than it hid.   "Rylie?  I didn't know you were awake."

"I feel guilty sleeping in," she said with a smile, "Levi normally wakes me up at dawn.  Is something wrong?"

Why did he feel the sudden need to lie to her?  No, he wouldn't do that.  Never.  "I called Marianne Watts to ask about KT.  She was less than thrilled to hear from me."

"Why were you calling about KT?"

Rylie wasn't jealous of his former lover, but he hadn't made mention of her name in over two years.  Nas still missed her tremendously.  "I've been having dreams, strange ones.  I wanted to check and see if she's all right.  According to what little her mother told me, she is."

"It has to be awkward to receive a phone call from your daughter's ex-lover," she said.

He nodded.  "I understand that, I just don't understand the animosity.  They knew it was KT's decision to leave, not mine.  Her parents didn't start treating me like this until after KT told them that we married.  Every time they see me, especially when I have the kids, they act strange, but never have they been so openly hostile."

"Maybe they were hoping you would marry her.  Maybe they wanted her to marry you."

He shrugged.  "Maybe," he said with a sigh.  "It was never anything she wanted."  He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair.  "I'm sorry, Rylie.  This must be awkward for you, too."

She approached him and he turned in his chair to face her.  She slid easily atop the desk and crossed her legs.  "Awkward, yes.  Am I offended?  No.  Before we married, you told me all about KT because Nas loved her so.  We've both had pasts and other lovers and spouses.  I think I've made you suffer through a story or two about Ty before, during, and after our wedding.  We take all of our relationships with us when we meet and fall in love with other people.  It's what makes us grow.  You're a natural worrier, baby, you can't help it."

He smiled a little and placed a gentle kiss on her bare knee.  "I know.  It's from years of police work."  His hand slid along her leg in a gentle caress.  He noticed that she immediately uncrossed her legs and parted them a bit.  "So.  We have another day alone before our children return.  What would you like to do today?"

She grinned lustily.  "Eat cake?"

He laughed.  "I thought you threw it out?"

She shrugged.  "I did, but who says we can't bake another?"

"Why don't we actually get out of the house today?  It appears that every time we're devoid of the prying eyes of our kids, we spend most of our time in bed."

Rylie slid her body forward and positioned it where his head could slip easily between her thighs if he were so inclined.  Of course, he was.  He began placing tender kisses along her legs and inside her thighs.  "It's so very hard to screw around with your husband in the daylight hours when you have a screaming two-year-old wrapped around your neck."

"I know," he whispered against her flesh.  "I can wrap myself around you."

She sighed in contentment as her hand moved restlessly through his hair.  "And I'll handle the screaming."

*  *  *

Kantor sat at his desk shuffling through a dozen or more phone messages written on little scraps of paper.  He grumbled incoherently under his breath.  His damn answering machine had gone haywire on him last week, and he had had to con his wife into staying home for two days fielding phone calls for him.  He had been so busy lately that he hadn't had time to shop for a new machine.  Again, he relied on Rylie to do the deed for him.  He slapped one last phone message on the pile before sighing deeply.  Finally.  Over in the corner of the room, Levi let out a sudden, joyous crow of delight.  He had embraced the terrible twos and made them his.  Amused, Kantor glanced at his son and noticed that he was happily playing with his own pile of paper.  He had ripped several sheets to tiny bits.  No matter what the deed, he couldn't be annoyed with the boy.  As he watched the toddler amongst the small pile of confetti he had created around him, he noticed how much he looked like Rylie.  Of course, both he and his wife had black hair, but everything else was Rylie, including the shape of his face, his eyes, nose, and lips.  The only thing Levi would probably take directly from him was his height and build.  At two, he was already above average in height.  Perhaps noticing the silence for the first time, Levi looked up at Kantor and smiled adoringly at him.  He even had Rylie's smile.

"Your mother is going to kill us when she gets home," Kantor said as he propped his chin on his hand.

"No," he piped shrilly, never dropping his smile. 

'No' had become Levi's favorite word.  "I'd say yes, son."

"No," he replied smartly.

"Okay, we'll see." 

Levi shouted another 'no' as Kantor tore his eyes away from his son.  The phone message on top caught his attention.  He barely heard Levi singing 'nononono' in an unending litany.  He picked up the bright pink slip of paper [God, what was Rylie thinking when she bought these things] and bored his eyes into it.  Why hadn't he noticed this message before?  Even the distraction of his son shouldn't have forced him to overlook this.  Chris Caulfield.  Why would his former captain call him?  He hadn't heard from him since he resigned.  However, the captain hadn't failed to have Briscoe call him up almost twice a month to ask if he'd like to come back.  He set the message aside.  Whatever Caulfield wanted could wait.  He pushed back from his desk, retrieved his son, and left the pile of messages behind.  He had once put his life on hold for Caulfield.  He had no desire to do it now.

Much later that night, Kantor had gone upstairs to find Rylie, and he found her exactly where he thought he would.  She sat with Levi in her lap, rocking him in the antique chair that had been in the family as long as Nas had been alive.  She had started out reading to him, but when he fell asleep, she had taken to rocking him.  Her hand caressed his silky hair as she gazed down into his angelic face.  Of course, she longed to baby Nas in the same fashion, but she wouldn't have it.  She took her loving in moods.

"You finally got him down," Kantor asked with a grin.

She smiled a little.  "Yeah, finally."

Kantor was about to approach his wife and take his sleeping son into his arms when he heard the phone ring from his and Rylie's bedroom.  He glanced down at his wristwatch and noticed it was almost nine.  Once his consulting business had taken off, he had forbidden his clients to call after eight thirty.  The hours of nine at night through dawn were his strict designated family time.  He didn't like breaking from this routine at all.  He enjoyed helping Rylie put their kids to bed.  Annoyed, he turned away from Rylie and went toward the bedroom.  This had better be good, he thought grimly.

On the sixth ring, he swooped up the phone.  "Kantor," he said.  "I don't allow calls to come in this late, so please make it short."

"Hey Chief, calm down," Briscoe said.

Chief.  He still calls me Chief.  I haven't had that official title for almost three years.  I should be the one calling him that.  "Zach?  What are you doing calling so late?"

He sighed deeply.  "Got a bit of bad news for you, I'm afraid.  Chris tried to call you earlier, and when you didn't return his call, he asked me to follow-up."

Bad news?  He did an immediate head count.  Everyone was home, safe in bed.  The only one who wasn't was his mother.  Had something happened to her?  "What is it?"

Kantor didn't notice that Rylie had stepped up to the doorway of the bedroom.  She noticed the stressed expression on her husband's face and wondered what had happened to him now.

"The former CSI you used to date, KT Watts, was attacked a couple of days ago.  Some fellow she had helped convict in Michigan followed her to Florida, and stalked her for days.  He stabbed her repeatedly in the chest, but she survived.  I don't see how, but she did.  She's still in pretty bad shape, and it's kind of fifty fifty if she'll make it.  I remember how close your kid was to her, and I thought you might want to know."

Kantor recalled the vivid dreams he had been having and wondered if they were connected to this incident.  "Which hospital?"

"The Trauma Unit in Radner.  I'm not sure of the room number, but I suppose you can get that information from the hospital."

"Thank you."  He hung up before giving Briscoe another chance to speak.  He hit the 'talk' button and replaced the phone back on its charger. 

"Falk?  What's wrong?"

He turned to his wife, noticing her presence for the first time.  "It's KT.  She was stabbed and is now in the hospital fighting for her life.  I didn't even know she was here."

She approached him and took him into her embrace.  He returned the hug and wrapped his arms around her tightly.  "This is horrible," she whispered, "You've been worried about her, Falk."  She drew away from him.  "Why don't you go to the hospital tomorrow and see her?  I'll skip work again and take care of the kids."

He nodded.  "Okay, I'll do that.  I'm not sure if I want to say anything to Nas right away.  It would break her heart to hear this, but it would also hurt her to know KT had come, but wouldn't see her.  She won't understand."

"No," she said, "she wouldn't.  Leave before she gets up for school, I'll make up an excuse."

*  *  *

Kantor hadn't been to the city of Radner in years.  It had definitely grown and expanded tremendously.  The Trauma Center had been opened only a few years ago.  It was built to accommodate the growing crime rate in the city.  He pulled his car into the parking lot and killed the engine.  For five minutes or more, he sat behind the wheel in a daze.  He wasn't sure he wanted to go in there and confront KT's parents.  He wasn't sure if they would even allow him in to see her.  Sighing, he slid out of the car and made his way toward the front door. 

His hesitancy and trepidations didn't decrease when he was told that KT's visitors had a private waiting room due to the seriousness of her injuries.  She was on a respirator, and wasn't expected to live.  Kantor passed through several hallways and turned many corners before he finally found the private waiting room.  The only member of KT's family present was Marianne Watts.  Steeling himself and taking a deep breath, he opened the door and entered the room.  Almost immediately, she fixed a stony gaze on Kantor.  He was certain that if she had had a gun, she would have shot him dead without flinching.

Suddenly, he felt horridly awkward.  He had never felt this way in front of this woman.  When he and KT were still together, he had gotten along splendidly with her family.  For some unknown reason, their like had quickly turned to hate.  "Mrs. Watts, I just heard about Kalissa, and I'm very sorry.  If you'll permit me, I would like to see her."

"If you only knew," she said so softly that Kantor almost didn't catch it.  "I don't know if that's a good idea, Falk.  She was pretty shaken up when you ended the relationship."

"When I ended it?  Mrs. Watts, she left me.  Surely you know this, because she moved away.  I wanted her to stay, but she left.  Despite what happened, she holds a special place in my heart, and in my daughter's.  I would like to see her, and I would hope you would allow it."  He almost let her first comment slide, but his curiosity was killing him.  "What did you mean by 'if you only knew?'"

"It's not my place to tell you," she said coldly.  "You can see her, but if your presence upsets her in any way, I want you out.  Do you understand?"

He nodded.  "Yes, I do.  Thank you."

Grudgingly, Marianne Watts directed Kantor to KT's room.  When he entered, all the machines attached to her prone body took him aback.  The machines were basically doing everything for her.  Her wild mane of hair was devoid of its usual luster, and her skin was a sickly gray.  It was hard seeing such a strong person so vulnerable.  She had been injected with massive painkillers to keep her body still, and it appeared that she was either asleep or comatose.  He slowly approached the bed and reached out to place his hand onto hers.  Her skin was clammy to the touch. 

"I'm sorry, Kalissa, I'm sorry this happened to you," he said.

Kantor didn't stay long.  He felt awkward and sorely out of place.  He didn't bother passing through the private waiting area.  He didn't want to see the hatred radiating from Marianne's body. 

When Kantor returned home, Rylie and Levi were sprawled out on the living room carpet playing with what seemed like a hundred toy cars.  She glanced up at him as soon as he entered the room, and she noticed the disturbed look on his face.  "Falk, are you okay?"

He nodded.  "Yeah, I'm fine.  There was a lot of tension between KT's mother and I."

"How is KT?"

"Not good, it appears that the machines are keeping her alive.  I couldn't really get any information from her mother."  He sighed and caressed the bridge of his nose.  "I don't feel so hot, Rylie.  I'm going upstairs for a while."

Kantor went up to the bedroom and closed the door behind him.  He drew down the shades to darken the room as much as possible.  His head had begun to ache sickly.  It felt like a precursor to one of his blackouts.  As he lay quietly waiting for the blackness to overtake him, he thought back to his confrontations with Marianne Watts.  If you only knew, she had said.  What had she meant by that?  He was thoroughly disturbed by what happened at the hospital.  He would have to find out eventually, if he didn't, he would probably go insane.

*  *  *

He saw a little boy, no more than three.  His hair was jet black and slightly wavy.  Levi.  Yes.  He was finally dreaming about his child, not KT's, not the baby he and Rylie had lost.  He went to the boy to take him in his arms, but when he turned around, he realized that the child wasn't Levi at all.  This was a different child.  It was more than obvious that the little boy belonged to him, he looked just like him.  What is this?  As in all dreams, the scene changed suddenly, and Marianne stood with the child in her arms.  She was pointing an accusatory finger at him.  She appeared to be yelling at him, but he couldn't hear her words.  He didn't understand what she was saying; he couldn't read her lips.  The only words that came out loud and clear was:  you did this to her; you must take responsibility.

*  *  *

Rylie came into the bedroom to check on Kantor.  She noticed that he had placed a compress over his eyes, and she wondered if he had had a blackout headache.  She started to back out of the room until she heard him moan.  This was no blackout.  She approached the bed and sat down.  Leaning over him, she gently removed the compress from his eyes and saw tears shining on his cheeks.  He didn't cry often, and when he did, it was usually a big deal.  She leaned up on her elbow and watched him for a few moments to see if he would awaken on his own.  He moaned again and softly whispered a name.  Grayson.  Who is Grayson?  She had never heard the name before.

"I'm sorry," he said suddenly, as if he were far away.  "I didn't know.  You never told me."

She couldn't take hearing the pain in his voice.  It was too much.  She reached out to him, to try and wake him up.  Before she could touch him, he sat up suddenly, as if he had had a nightmare.  He settled back onto his pillow and glanced around the room.  He glanced over at Rylie and saw that she wore a concerned expression on her face.

"You were moaning in your sleep again," she said.

"I hate when I do this," he said sleepily, "I never remember anything."

"Do you know someone named Grayson?"

He shook his head.  "No.  Never heard the name before.  Why do you ask?"

"You said the name Grayson before you apologized for not knowing about something."

Kantor recalled the night he had had a blackout headache and had dreamt about Caroline Holmes.  He had screamed out her name, but didn't remember.  However, Selarah did.  Now, it happened again and he had spoken another name he couldn't remember.  "I don't know," he said.  She curled up next to him and he drew her into his arms.  "It's something, I'm sure, but I just don't know."

*  *  *

Two days later, Kantor dropped off the kids at his mother's place, and he made his way back to the hospital.  He hadn't seen KT or heard anything about her condition since his last visit, and he wanted to see if she had improved.  He was again faced by the cold stare of Marianne Watts, but he didn't bother speaking to her.  She was far from what he was really concerned about.  He made his way to KT's room and immediately noticed slight improvement.  She had been taken off the respirator and could breathe on her own.  Her skin still appeared ashen and clammy, but she actually looked better.  If she improved enough to speak, he intended to ask her permission to bring Nas to see her.  His daughter loved Rylie and considered her her mother, but she was still very attached to KT and asked about her constantly.  Before Rylie, KT was the only 'mother' Nas had had.

Back in the waiting room, Marianne sat in a hard plastic waiting room chair thumbing absently through a magazine.  She didn't like the idea of Falk Kantor visiting her daughter.  She had gotten along with him fine up until Kalissa came to her in tears.  Any man who made her baby cry was heading toward a world of hurt.  Nervously, she checked her wristwatch and hoped that Paul wouldn't return for a few more minutes.  After this visit today, she intended to tell Kantor not to return.  He had once been a good man and was always reasonable.  She didn't doubt he would honor her request.  She looked up, panicked, as her husband entered the waiting room with a small child in tow.  He was a quiet boy, very introspective and calm.  He was nothing like KT was as a child.  She had literally bounced off the wall, but her son was the exact opposite.  He was more like his father.

"Paul, what are you doing back so early?  Take the boy back to the cafeteria.  Falk is here, he's in with Kalissa," she said.

He glanced down at his grandson.  The little boy was quite distressed, but hadn't shed a single tear since the whole ordeal had begun.  At such a tender age, Grayson Watts had already learned to control his emotions.  He was scared, but he bravely fought it.  He was such a serious little boy.  "Marianne, I think it's time to tell him about the boy.  The son-of-a-bitch needs to take some responsibility, especially now."

She shook her head.  "No, Paul.  He doesn't deserve to know.  You know how Kalissa feels about his.  Do you want to go against her wishes?  What if…if she dies," she spat shakily.  "Take the boy back to the cafeteria, Paul, please."

Sighing, Paul hoisted up the boy and started out the door.  At about the same time, Kantor came out of KT's room.  He stopped when he saw Paul and Marianne.  He noticed that Paul was holding a toddler who appeared to be close to Levi's age.  He couldn't quite see the boy's face, but clearly made out the thick head of black hair.  Curious now, he headed toward the waiting room to intercept Paul Watts.  Some urge, some inherent push, sent him straight to the child.  Perhaps deep down inside, he knew who the child was, knew that there was some type of connection.  Paul saw him approaching; he ducked Kantor, and began walking toward the cafeteria.  Not one to give up easily, Kantor followed closely behind, and just on his heels, Marianne followed.  There would be a showdown, and she had wanted to prevent this very thing from happening. 

When Kantor saw Paul duck into the cafeteria, he picked up the pace.  "Mr. Watts," he called, "Stop.  I need to speak to you."

Marianne came up the rear and took Kantor by the forearm.  "I want you to leave," she said.  "Your presence is neither required nor desired."  If he sees the boy, he will know, she thought.

Kantor shrugged her hand off his arm.  He glanced toward Paul who had taken the boy over to a table in the very back of the cafeteria.  What was the big deal?  He wanted to see the child, nothing more.  "Mrs. Watts, please," he said, annoyed.  "The boy," he said, "is he Kalissa's?"  He hadn't known KT had had a child.  She had vowed to never have children.  Her opinion was solid and vehement.

"It's none of your business, Falk.  Your tie to Kalissa ended with your relationship."

"Damn it, Marianne," Paul said suddenly. 

Neither Kantor nor Marianne had heard Paul approach.  Kantor turned toward Paul Watts as he heard a little cry escaping the child in his arms.  The moment he laid eyes on the boy in Paul's arms, he became dizzy and thought he might pass out.  This child, KT's child, was the spitting image of him.  Part of him was in denial.  No.  The boy couldn't be his.  KT had been hyper paranoid about becoming pregnant.  She had insisted on using the pill and condoms.  She had been fond of saying 'no glove, no love.'  He thought back to the last time he had made love to KT.  Had they been careful?  Had they?  They hadn't.  There was never a time when they did not make love spontaneously.  No.  It can't be.  She would have told me.  For every part of him that was in denial, there was also a part that couldn't deny the child if he tried.  The boy looked like him, looked like Nas when she was that age.  When KT had come to him after he had fallen in love with Rylie, she had been almost desperate to come back.  He closed his eyes tightly for a moment as a groan escaped him.  She was pregnant and had tried to tell him, but before she could say a word, he had cut her off.  At the wedding, he had gotten the impression that KT wanted to tell him something then, but she didn't.  Dear God, he thought.  I…I wouldn't listen.  Finally, it made sense, it all made sense.  Until he laid his eyes on the child, he hadn't known why KT's parents hated him.  It was crystal clear now.  They despised him because he'd made their daughter pregnant and abandoned her.  But I didn't know!  If he had known, he would have been hell-bent to care for his child. 

Kantor tore his eyes off the little boy's face and focused them on Paul before glancing at Marianne.  Both of them were staring at him with little sympathy.  He didn't want their sympathy, he was mad as hell.  "This child…he's mine," he asked in shock.

"Actually, he's Kalissa's son," Marianne said coldly, "but yes, it was your sperm that had a sense of direction."

They were angry with him, but he didn't understand.  If anyone should have been angry, it was he.  He shook his head.  "I didn't know," he spat.  "She…she never told me."

Before he had the opportunity to say another word, Marianne piped up again, "Yeah, right.  As if I'd believe that.  You had a banner year back then, didn't you?  You knocked up two women at once.  That's a fairly good record, wouldn't you think?  It's funny how you married one, but left the other."

Any other day, at any other time, Kantor would have torn into her.  Not today.  Shock had entered him and possessed his body.  He couldn't think.  "I didn't know."  It was the only thing he could say, the only words that would leave his mouth.  He couldn't process any thought more complicated than that.  His only thought, his only concern was the child, his son, so horridly caught in the middle.  He focused his eyes on the boy again [not just a boy, he's your son].  He was goggling at Kantor curiously, wonderingly.  "Can I-" 

Kantor tried to reach for the boy, but Marianne inserted her body between him and her husband.  "No, you cannot.  You can't just waltz into his life after two years.  He doesn't even know you, and if I have my way, he'll never know you," Marianne spat.

Vulnerable and defeated, he said, "But he's my son."

"No.  He's Kalissa's son.  Get out or I'll call security and have you thrown out," Marianne threatened.

*  *  *

Between appointments, Rylie sat at her desk making notes, readying for her next.  There was a sharp rap on the door.  She glanced at her wall clock.  Her mid-morning appointment was early.  Sighing, she put away her notebook, pushed back from the desk, and approached the door.  When she swung it open, she was surprised to see her husband, and even more surprised to see that he was extremely distraught. 

"Falk," she asked concerned, "what is it, baby?"  He shook his head and entered her office.  She had never seen him like this.  Rylie closed the door behind him and went over to her desk.  She watched as Kantor sat down and buried his face into his hands.  She went to her phone and punched a button.  "Leah, cancel and reschedule all my appointments."  She went over to the couch and sat beside him.  "Falk, are you going to talk to me," she asked gently as she laid her hand on his shoulder.

"I…I didn't know.  I couldn't know.  She…she never told me.  I didn't know."  He uncovered his face and went into her embrace.  He leaned his head against her shoulder and cried. 

Rylie hadn't seen him like this since Trevor Steeler took the children.  "You didn't know what?  Baby, I don't understand.  Please tell me and I'll help you."

He drew away from her suddenly.  She watched in silence as he made his way toward the small private bathroom behind her desk.  She listened as he splashed his face several times with cold water.  He came out a few moments later, blotting his face with a paper towel.  He had slowly regained his composure.  He hadn't even thought about how Rylie would react to this news.

"We need to talk, but I don't want to do it here.  Come home with me right now.  My mother has already agreed to keep the kids for a few more hours."

"What is it," she demanded.

He shook his head.  "We can't talk here, Rylie.  Please, come home with me."

They rode home together in silence.  Once inside, Rylie calmly sat on the couch and watched her husband pace back and forth in front of her.  He was not only devastated, but was also angry as well.  She wasn't sure when he would settle down and speak to her. 

"Goddamn it, Falk," she spat, finally fed up with his lunatic pacing.  "Sit down and talk to me."

Her voice brought him around a little, and he finally stopped.  He sat down beside her and grasped one of her hands.  How would he tell her?  How would he begin?  "KT has a child, a boy, he's a little older than Levi."

Rylie sat back and pulled her hand out of his grasp.  Suddenly, she knew more than she wanted to know.  "What are you saying, Falk?"

"The last time KT and I were together, she must have become pregnant.  I didn't know, I had no idea.  She was so adamant about not wanting to have children, that I never gave it a second thought.  When she came back, I think she intended to tell me then.  By that time, you and I were together, but I didn't love her anymore.  I loved you.  I thought she wanted me back due to some type of fear, but that wasn't it.  She wanted me back because she was carrying my child, but I didn't know.  I never suspected it.  She must have been at least four months along, but I didn't notice.  I didn't know.  I saw him today at the hospital, and there's no question in my mind.  He is my son, but her parents wouldn't…wouldn't let me hold or touch him."

Rylie stood up and crossed her arms across her chest.  Normally her husband's defense mechanism, she had claimed it today and made it her own.  She had to reconcile the negative feelings inside her before she went mad.  She didn't face him when she said, "How could you not know?  When you held me the day you proposed, you knew I was pregnant immediately, and I wasn't any further along than you said she was.  If you knew with me, why didn't you know with her?"

"I touched you, Rylie.  I felt you against me, that's the only way I knew.  I couldn't see it, even with you.  I had no reason to suspect it of her.  She never wanted to have children; she didn't want to get married.  She wanted none of that."

Angered for a moment, she had been tempted to hurl an accusation against him, but held her tongue.  She had wanted to ask why he didn't bother using protection.  Of course, it was the most hypocritical thought swirling through her mind.  After all, she had become pregnant with Kantor's child while still married to Ty Lanigan.  She and Kantor hadn't married until Levi was two months old.  Had they even bothered?  She didn't think so.  In fact, she had ended her course of birth control pills while still married to Ty.  Oh yes.  They had played a nice game of Russian roulette.  It was bound to happen, and it did.  She didn't think either of them had been consciously aware of what they were doing, but had it really mattered?  They were in love and hadn't given it a second thought. 

She turned back around.  "You're sure this child is yours," she asked softly.

He nodded.  "Positive.  He looks just like me.  Looks just like Nas when she was that age.  I have no doubts whatsoever."

She sighed.  "I have to go, I have to get out and think about this.  I don't know what to say, think, or do."

"Rylie, I need you.  I need your support."

"I understand that, but I have to go.  I have to get out.  I know you said you didn't know, and I know things can happen between people that we don't expect, but I…I have to go."

Without giving him time to speak another word, Rylie left him.  When the door slammed behind her, it might as well have been the sound his heart made as it broke into a billion pieces.

*  *  *

She had no idea where she was driving, but she knew she had to get away.  After a few moments, she passed a sign that read Radner 35.  Was she going to Radner?  Had that been her destination all along?  She knew KT was in the trauma center there, and her parents should also be there with the boy.  As much as her husband, Rylie was torn.  She wanted to believe that this was some kind of horrible mistake; Kantor hadn't really seen what he thought he saw in the boy.  His emotions were shot to hell, and perhaps, just perhaps, he had been mistaken.  Of course, she was fooling herself.  In all likelihood, he was probably right.  If he thought the boy looked like him, he probably did.  However, that didn't stop her from wanting to see, wanting her own confirmation.  After that, she had no idea what would happen.  She tried to tell herself she wanted to see to confirm once and for all that this child was not her husband's.  It was the only thought she could live with right now.

After the excitement from this morning had died down, Marianne laid Grayson down for a nap on a small couch in the middle of the waiting room.  Kantor's presence had upset the boy, and for the first time in days, he had cried for his mother.  Marianne looked up when she saw the door opening.  She had honestly expected Kantor to return, but instead, his wife had come.  Had he told his wife about the child already?  How utterly interesting this would become. 

Rylie hadn't ever seen KT's parents before, but this woman had to be her mother.  There was a slight family resemblance.  She didn't see the child right away, and she wondered if her husband had taken him home.  "I'm sorry to intrude," she began.  "I'm Falk's wife, Rylie."

"I know who you are," Marianne deadpanned.  "I take it that your husband mentioned the baby?"

She nodded.  "He did.  I wanted to come here and see for myself.  Falk insists that this child is his, and I'd like to see him."

Although Marianne's problem was with Kantor, she didn't necessarily want to like this woman.  Of course, it wasn't her fault that her husband had dumped her daughter after getting her pregnant.  "He's right there," she said, pointing to the couch.

Rylie turned and moved toward the small couch.  The child was lying flat on his stomach with his head turned away from the adults in the room.  She noted the black hair.  Of course, that doesn't mean anything, she thought.  KT could have easily slept with another dark-haired man.  It didn't necessarily point a finger at Kantor.  Rylie kneeled down beside the couch and ran her hand gently over the back of the child's head.  His hair was soft and silky, like Levi's.  Her slight touch awakened the boy, and he turned his head toward her, probably expecting to see his grandmother's face.  Instead, he peered owlishly into the face of a person he had never seen.  His eyes were a deep chocolate brown.  The moment Rylie laid eyes on his face, she gasped aloud.  The noise startled him, and he called for his 'neenee.'  Rylie stood suddenly and backed away as Marianne approached to take the boy into her arms.  As Kantor had said, the boy nearly mirrored him.  There was no denying it.  This child was Kantor's son.

"He's beautiful," Rylie said.  There was little else she could say.  She wondered how the Watts family intended on keeping Kantor away from a child who was so obviously his.

"That he is," Marianne said sedately.

The little boy continued to stare at Rylie.  Today had been a big day for him.  Lots of new people.  Rylie couldn't look at him.  Looking at him was like looking at a very small version of her husband.  Even Nas wasn't this much like Kantor.  What now?  She had come to the hospital, had seen the boy, and was now convinced that what Kantor had said was true.  She felt an overwhelming need to run again.

"I'm sorry about your daughter, and I hope she makes a speedy recovery," Rylie said softly.  "I should go."

She didn't bother saying another word.  Laying eyes on the boy had done something to Rylie.  It had implanted a feeling she had a lot of trouble identifying.  In a dazed type of shock, similar to what Kantor had displayed when he came to her, Rylie left the hospital and went out to her car.  She was fine on her way out, fantastic on her way to the car, and wonderful as she unlocked the door.  As she slipped behind the wheel, she literally fell apart.  She buried her face into her hands and let out long, braying sobs.  Rylie felt as if her husband had been having an affair and had gotten his lover pregnant.  When she settled down a bit, she sat back and wondered what she could do next.  She wasn't ready to go home or ready to face her husband.  She was eaten alive by an emotion so terrible, and she had a hard time reconciling it.  The feeling that had overtaken her, the one she couldn't deal with, was jealousy.  She couldn't begin to explain why she felt such sudden, vicious envy.  What?  What was it?  An unexpected twittering sound beside her nearly made her jump out of her skin.  It had startled her to the point of actually crying out.  It was her cell phone.  She hadn't remembered turning on the thing when she had gotten into the car.  Sighing, she picked it up and glanced at the screen.  It was Kantor.  She couldn't talk to him, not yet.  Without hesitating, she turned off the phone.  Where to go?  What to do?

*  *  *

Kantor sighed heavily when he heard Rylie's voice mail kicking on.  It was enough proof to him that she actually had the phone on, but didn't want to answer it.  She didn't want to talk to him, and that thought alone set his heart to aching yet again.  He was torn so many different ways at once.  He was devastated because KT had never told him about the child, and now that he knew, her parents wouldn't let him see him.  He was also terrified that this bit of unexpected news would detrimentally affect his marriage, his settled life with Rylie.  He needed her so very badly right now, but she was unreachable, and he wasn't sure when she would reach out to him, if ever.  He couldn't understand, didn't understand the hatred and ire of Marianne and Paul Watts.  Of course, he wasn't an idiot; he did understand why they felt somehow cheated.  However, how could they blame him for something of which he had no knowledge?  If KT had told him about the baby when she came back to him, he would have done everything in his power to take care of her, to take care of his child.  She hadn't told him, but she should have.  To him, it didn't matter that he had professed his love for another woman, she still should have told him.  For God's sake, she had been carrying his child.  Anything he had had to say was inconsequential.  Yes, it would have hurt, it would have complicated everything, but at least it wouldn't have been the shock it was today.  Yet, could he really be angry?  Self-righteous?  Could he?  When KT left, their relationship had officially been on hold.  He had said so himself.  He had left it open, left it hanging.  He had made it more than clear that he would wait for her.  Realistically, neither of them should have expected the other to wait.  They had left the relationship open, but had also left it open for other people.  Kantor couldn't vouch for KT, but he hadn't gone out of his way looking for someone else.  In fact, he had actually waited for her to return.  He hadn't wanted to have feelings for Rylie, hadn't even tried.  It just happened.  It was something that he couldn't control or even stop.  He hadn't wanted to stop it.  Dear God, what am I going to do?

*  *  *

The only other place Rylie could go was the crisis center.  Her schedule had been cleared for the day as a result of her husband's dilemma [which is now mine as well], but it was her last resort before returning home.  She loved her husband deeply, would die for him without a second thought, but she simply couldn't face him.  When Rylie entered the building, both Simone and Leah noticed her.  Simone had said something flip about Rylie's return, but she didn't acknowledge.  She couldn't.  There was too much on her mind.  She entered her office and closed the door behind her.  The first thing her eyes focused on [of course] was a small portrait she had taken of Kantor with the kids just a few months ago.  A sound escaped her [ugh] as she grabbed it and put it face down on the desk.  She couldn't even look at him yet.

"Rylie," Simone said as she cracked open the door.  "Are you okay?"  She immediately noticed the picture laying face down on Rylie's desk, which was very unusual.  Her husband and children were everything to her. 

Rylie didn't immediately acknowledge Simone.  For a moment, she couldn't breathe, blink, or think.  All she could see was the face of KT's child, Kantor's child.  He had been right on the money.  Her husband couldn't deny the boy even if he tried.  In fact, the child looked more like Kantor than Nas, and she wouldn't have ever thought another child could resemble him that much.  The proof was right before, in the form of who was probably a sweet little boy. 

"Rylie?"

She cried out a little as she felt Simone's hand falling upon her shoulder.  She looked up into the face of her business partner.  Suddenly feeling weak and defeated, she burst into tears again.  Simone kneeled beside her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders.  What the hell?  After a few moments, Rylie's tears dried up and she grabbed a tissue from the box on her desk.  She wiped her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths as she tried to calm herself.  Simone leaned against her desk and watched her carefully.

"So, kiddo, are you going to tell me what's going on," Simone asked suddenly.

She wiped her eyes again and felt the first tinges of nausea.  Her stomach was tied in knots.  She hated vomiting more than crying, and she struggled against her sick stomach desperately.  "I'm not sure I want to talk about it," she said shakily.

"Come on, Rylie.  How long have we known each other?  Whatever it is, I'm sure it isn't as horrifying or as terrible as some of the things that have happened to you in the past.  If you don't talk it out, it's only going to get worse."  Simone picked up the picture that had been lying face down.  She glanced it at briefly, musing that since Rylie had met and married this man, this Kantor fellow, that she had never been happier or more grounded.  She replaced the photo where it normally rested, only to watch Rylie as she laid it face down again.  "Come on, kiddo," she said, "talk to me."

Rylie sighed deeply and laughed a trifle bitterly.  "You're not my therapist anymore, you know."

"I know, but I'm still your friend.  Did something happen between you and the hunk?  I saw him come in earlier, and he didn't appear that happy, either."

She exhaled a deep breath, fighting away her impending tears and nausea.  "I should say so," she said quietly.  "Falk's former lover is in the hospital, and when he visited her earlier today, he discovered that she has a child a little older than Levi.  He said the child was his; he was so like Falk that he couldn't deny him.  She had apparently been pregnant when they ended their relationship.  I…I had to go and see for myself.  The minute I saw him, the instant I laid eyes on him, I saw my husband's face on this child.  Falk has sworn he didn't know, but God help me, I don't know if I believe that.  I don't know what to think or what to do right now.  I…I can't even…even face him."  She stopped speaking for a moment to choke back a sob.  She didn't want to cry again, not right now.  "What's worse is that I feel so incredibly bitter, jealous almost."

"Wow," Simone sighed sympathetically.  "Incredible.  I can understand the bitterness; I can even understand your shock and anger.  I don't get the jealously thing.  What is it, Rylie?  Is it because of the miscarriage last year?  Is that what it is?"

She shook her head and allowed her sob to escape the depths of her throat.  "I don't know," she cried out in tears.  "I just don't know."  She couldn't control the nausea any longer.  She bolted to the tiny bathroom and barely made it in time.

While Rylie was in the bathroom praying to the sewer god, Leah's voice broke in from the intercom, "Simone?  Is Rylie still here?  Her husband is on eight."

"Thanks, Leah, I'll take it.  Rylie is a bit indisposed at the moment."  She punched line eight and picked up the receiver.  "It's Simone, Falk," she said into the phone, "your wife can't come to the phone right this second."

Kantor sighed audibly over the line.  "I know she won't talk to me, but will you at least tell me if she's okay?"

"Besides being utterly upset, shocked, pissed off, and nauseous, she's fine.  Give her some time, okay?  She filled me in on what happened, and I realize that this is as much of a shock to you as it is her, but for now, let her be."

"You're her friend, and I'm glad you're there for her, but this isn't something that concerns you.  No offense, Simone, but I would appreciate it if you would spare me the lecture," Kantor said stiffly.  "Would you please tell her I called?"

"Sure."  She hung up on him and listened to Rylie moaning sickly.  "Are you okay in there?"

Rylie flushed the toilet and stood on shaky legs.  She washed her face and blotted it dry.  "I'm fine.  Was that Falk on the phone?"

"Yup," she said.  "Persistent man you have there, Rylie.  I think I pissed him off a little, but he called to make sure that you were all right."

Sighing, she came out of the bathroom and collapsed in her chair.  She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest.  "Yes, that he is.  I know I can't hide out here all day, but I can't face him.  When I do, I don't even know if I can speak to him about this."

"Don't push it, okay?  Go when you feel like you can handle seeing him."

Another bitter laugh escaped her.  "That might not happen for several days, and I can't stay away from the kids that long."

*  *  *

Kantor opened the door to his mother.  She knew about KT, but he hadn't yet told her about KT's son [my son].  She could see the distress on his face.  "Thanks, Mom," he said as he tried to take his squirming son from her arms.

Adira drew back.  "Son?"

Like Adira, Nas was pretty sharp.  She shrewdly assessed her father's features and knew something was out of kilter.  "Dad?"

He focused his eyes on his daughter's face.  He noticed that she had picked up on his feelings.  She was very good at that, had inherited it from him, and he had gotten it from his mother.  "It's okay, baby," he said to her. 

Nas cocked her head curiously and stubbornly planted her hands on her hips.  "I don't think so," she spat indignantly. 

Kantor shook his head a little.  She had now become a miniature version of Selarah.  "It's okay, Nas.  Go upstairs for me, okay?"

Normally, she would have argued until her face turned blue, but not today.  When Dad was upset, she didn't push him too far.  "Okay," she said.  "Where's Mom?"

Her question was met with a pained expression that he quickly tried to hide.  "She's still at work, Nas.  Go to your room."

Looking back over her shoulder, Nasya slowly climbed the stairs.  Adira had yet to take her eyes off her son's face.  Levi wanted his daddy, but Adira wouldn't give him over just yet.  Without asking, Adira followed Nas' lead upstairs to put Levi down for a much needed nap.  The boy was cranky and kept demanding to be given to his daddy.  Kantor was so out of it, he hardly noticed Levi's tantrum.  Both children were basically good kids, neither spoiled nor neglected.  However, when something was out of whack at home, they tended to take in the discord and act accordingly.  He went over to the couch and sat down.  He had thwarted Simone's attempt to lecture him, but his mother wasn't so easily detracted.

Silently, Adira came downstairs and joined her son.  "What's going on?  Don't tell me 'it's nothing,' because I can see it, dear boy."

"It has to do with KT," he began.

Adira nodded.  "Yes.  She's in the hospital still?  Is she okay?"

"She's getting better," he said, distracted, "but this really doesn't have to do with her condition, Mom, it's something else…something bigger.  Remember when you took Nas to see the family and KT came to visit?"

"Of course, I remember.  What is it?"

Sighing heavily, he ran his hand through his hair.  "You know she stayed with me.  She became pregnant before she left, but I…I didn't know.  When my relationship with Rylie began, KT came back.  She had confessed that she made a mistake by leaving, and she wanted to come back to me.  By then, I was very much in love with Rylie, and I basically told KT I was off the market, that we would have to stop seeing each other.  Now I know that she wanted to come back because she was pregnant, and she wanted to tell me, but I…I didn't let her.  I broke it off and left her.  I saw the child this morning at the hospital, and I know he's mine.  He looks like me, looks like Nas when she was that age.  I have another child that I knew nothing about.  I didn't know KT was pregnant, I didn't even suspect it.  Her mother wouldn't let me see the child or even touch him.  I went to Rylie and we came home.  I told her, but she left, and I don't honestly know if she's coming back."

He had spoken slowly, as if he was in immense pain, and Adira didn't doubt that he was.  She couldn't imagine how he felt when he was denied access to a child he never knew existed.  Her son was so protective and loving with his children.  The thought he had another whom he couldn't touch would be the emotional death of him.  She had never interfered with any of his relationships, never blinked an eye when he had asked KT first, and then Rylie later, to move in with him.  "Wasn't KT extra careful," she asked gently.  Discussing sex with her son was something she had never thought she'd do in a million years.

"She was," he said, too distressed to be shocked at her probing question.  "I don't think she expected to see me then.  She came by on a surprise visit and ended up staying with me for almost a month.  Unfortunately, the thought never crossed my mind, I suppose I stupidly relied on KT."

"What do you plan to do now," she asked.

He hadn't even thought of that, hadn't even made any type of plan.  It was so unlike him.  For every flaw he had, he was never unprepared for anything.  However, he was slightly lacking in the protected sex category.  "I'm not sure.  I want KT to explain to me why she wouldn't tell me.  She knows how I feel about my children, how deeply I love them, but she held back, and I don't know what to do.  It kills me inside to think that I have a son whom I can't touch, can't love.  I want him, I want him to know me, and I want the chance to give him the love he was denied his entire life.  I want my wife to return to me, and help me through this."

"Did you think she would accept this news with open arms?  Did you think she would shrug it off?  I'm sure she's devastated, rightfully so.  You must remember what she has gone through in the past year.  Think about it, son, think about it hard."

Kantor gazed at his mother with an incredible look of disbelief in his eyes.  "Mother, I think about it every day.  How could I forget?  She has never let go of the guilt, or her feelings of inadequacy, no matter how often I tell her it doesn't matter.  I didn't think she would be okay with this immediately, but she failed to understand that I didn't know.  I'm not sure if she even believes I didn't know."

"Falk, she loves you, you know that.  I don't think she'll leave you because of this, but it's going to be hard for her.  She will leave if you don't understand her.  You're reaching for her, but she isn't reaching back.  You're not trying to help her, you expect her to support you without question, but that's not what she needs.  Right now, you see your pain, your confusion, but you're not considering her at all.  This child may be yours, but you're acting as if this is your problem and yours alone.  Do you understand?"

He said nothing, only nodded his head.  He wasn't sure that all the understanding in the world would bring Rylie back.

*  *  *

Rylie hated missing her children's bedtime, but it took an immense amount of courage for her to go home.  She wasn't sure that she could sleep in the same bed as her husband.  She didn't know what to expect when she walked through the front door.  When she pulled into the driveway, she glanced down at the clock on the dashboard.  It was after midnight, the kids had been in bed for four hours or more.  She noticed that Kantor had left the porch light on for her.  She hoped he wasn't waiting up for her, but she knew he would be.  He had been trying to call her for hours, but she couldn't listen to his voice, not right away.  When she let herself into the house, she could see light snaking into the living room from Kantor's office.  As she expected, he had yet to go to bed.  The stairs leading up to the bedrooms and the empty guest room were nowhere near his office.  She could slip quietly upstairs without him noticing [or so she thought].  Her foot had barely touched the first riser before Kantor opened the door and stepped out of his office.  Gifted with super sonar instead of normal hearing, he immediately knew when Rylie had returned home.

"Rylie, we must talk," he said softly.

"I can't, Falk, not tonight," she said without meeting his gaze.  "I'm not ready." 

Exasperated, he sighed.  "Will you be ready tomorrow?  The next day or next month?  Eventually, we have to deal with this."

"I know, Falk, just not now.  I want to look in on the kids and then I want to go to sleep.  I'll probably sleep in the guest room tonight."

He couldn't stand back any longer.  He stepped up to the end of the staircase and watched her climb up a few steps away from him.  "Rylie, stop."  She honored his request and turned to face him.  The pain he saw in her eyes killed him, killed him almost as much as Marianne denying him his son.

"I'm not sleeping in the guest room because I'm hurt."  She shook her head.  "That's not exactly right.  I'm not doing it only because I'm hurt.  I don't want to sleep next to you with all the tension between us.  You're right.  We have to deal with it, but you have to give me time.  You have to back off and stop bulldozing me.  Okay?"

He didn't like it, didn't understand.  She wanted him to back off, and he would do it, only because he loved her so damn much that he would have cheerfully given over his beating heart if she requested it.  "I will.  I'll back away.  I'll give you want you want."

Yet one more bitter laugh left her.  "I wish you could, Falk.  I really wish you could.  I wish this day had never happened."

Without another word, she climbed upstairs and slipped into Nasya's room.  She was sleeping deeply.  Rylie was tempted to wake her just to hold her, but she wouldn't.  Nas was a bright child and would immediately start asking questions she wasn't prepared to answer.  She settled on placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.  She went to Levi next.  Amazingly, the two-year-old was asleep.  He was a light sleeper like his father, and any little noise could rouse him.  She was surprised that her intrusion didn't wake him.  Tonight, she would have welcomed his garbled babbling.  She kissed two fingers and placed them on Levi's cheek.  The boy didn't move a muscle.  Quietly, she left Levi's bedroom and crept into the hall, closing the door behind her as softly as possible.  The door to their bedroom was open, and she could see Kantor's silhouette moving around.  When he noticed that she was standing in the hallway, he came up to the opened doorway.

"Rylie, my wish is the same as yours," he said as he gazed intensely into her eyes.  "I love you."  He said nothing else.  He turned away from her and closed the door behind him.

She went into the guest bedroom.  There hadn't been many nights in her married life when she slept alone due to her own choosing.  She stripped down to her tee shirt and slipped under the covers.  It took a few hours for her to shut down.  She awoke some time in the night, unsure of the time.  There wasn't a clock in the room.  A warm body was laying against hers, and at first, she thought she was dreaming.  When she turned over, she realized that she hadn't been dreaming at all.  Some time in the night or the early morning hours, Nas had left her bed and climbed in with her.  The sight of the little girl, her daughter, lying beside her nearly choked her up again.  The child was smarter than her, smarter than her father.  Rylie brushed Nas' dark curls out of her face and the little girl mumbled in her sleep and snuggled against her body.  Nas would demand an explanation in the morning, but she was positive that neither she nor Kantor would honestly be able to tell her anything.

*  *  *

In room 243 at the Radner Trauma Center, Kalissa Taylor Watts, known to all as KT, opened her eyes and glanced around the sterile white walls surrounding her.  Her first thought centered around her son.  Where was he?  Why wasn't he where she could see him?  At first, she didn't remember what had happened, but the moment she tried to raise her arm, she understood.  Weakly, she spat, "Mother?  Father?  Grayson?  Where is everybody?"

*  *  *

When Rylie awoke the next morning, she was certain she had overslept.  Nasya was no longer beside her, and she could hear the distinct crowing scream of her son.  She wasn't sure she wanted to leave the room yet, wasn't sure she could leave the room.  She hadn't garnered enough courage to face her husband.  Rylie couldn't lie to him.  She was hurt, confused, and scared, but if she told him that, he would basically pooh pooh her fears, or piss her off to a degree where she would only scream at him.  She and Kantor hadn't gotten into many knock down drag out bitch fests since they became lovers, but today, she thought she might do just that.  The sad part was that she didn't understand why she felt so threatened all of a sudden.  Sighing miserably, Rylie rose up from the cold, cold bed and stretched.  She didn't have the energy to go into work, but she didn't have the heart to stay home.  Kantor would be completely underfoot.  However, what he said last night was very true.  Eventually, they would have to talk about it, to face it.  If KT's child were Kantor's son [and he most surely was], he would not go away.  Kantor would make sure of that.  He would do whatever he could to have this child in his life, in their lives.

Rylie slipped out of the guest room and walked down to hers and Kantor's bedroom.  Downstairs, Levi continued to babble incoherently, refusing to eat whatever his father was trying to feed him.  What struck her oddly was the fact that she couldn't hear Nas at all.  She knew the little girl was up, but couldn't detect her voice.  Usually, she and Levi tried to compete for their father's affection, even if it meant having a screaming contest.  She had been intent on taking a shower until Nas entered her mind.  She crept downstairs and stood in the small alcove that separated the living room from the kitchen.  The door was wide open, so her husband and children hadn't heard her enter.  As she expected, Levi was refusing to eat his oatmeal.  It was a constant struggle for them both to get him to eat something besides Coca Puffs.  She didn't spend much time watching the breakfast battle; she settled her eyes on Nas.  She sat quietly at the kitchen table, listlessly swirling her spoon around in her own cereal.  It didn't take a psychoanalyst to figure out she was upset and preoccupied.  Kantor had noticed, of course, but he was distracted by the situation at hand.  Not only that, but Nas wasn't foregoing with her feelings.  If she didn't want to talk about it, she damn well wouldn't.

Kantor tore his eyes away from Levi long enough to watch Rylie as she approached the coffee pot to pour herself a steaming mug.  He noticed that she was still dressed in yesterday's clothes.  It hurt his heart a little when he felt the room chilling a dozen or more degrees.  He understood her hurt and anger, but he didn't understand her lack of seeing what he saw.  What did she expect him to do?  Did she want him to forget his son, to let him go?  She knew how he loved his children, knew that he would die for them, and it would be no different with this child.  He couldn't live his day-to-day life knowing he had another child that he couldn't see or touch.  Of course, she wouldn't discuss anything with him in front of the kids.  They had been successful at hiding discord.  Neither he nor Rylie ever wanted their children to feel as if they were to blame for an argument.  Regardless of the issue, most kids did.  Then again, he wasn't aware that Nas had spent the night sleeping with Rylie.  She turned, with mug in hand, kissed Levi atop his head and gave Nas a brief kiss on her cheek.  She exchanged only the briefest look with her husband before exiting the kitchen altogether.  This crisis wouldn't be easy to resolve.  He went back to arguing with his son over his oatmeal.

Nas dropped her spoon and sighed.  "Dad?  I don't feel much like eating.  Can you take me to school now?"

He glanced up at her and noticed the worried expression on her face.  He itched to ask what was wrong with her, but he needn't bother.  She wouldn't offer anything other than a shrug and a stubborn 'nothing.'  "Are you sure?  It's a long time before lunch."

She nodded.  "I'm sure."

When Kantor came home after dropping off Nas, he noticed that Rylie had Levi with her in the living room.  While he was gone, she had showered and changed.  She looked ten times better, but she wasn't, not really.  Levi was completely focused on his gigantic toy bulldozer.  His grandmother bought it for him, and it was nearly as big as he.  However, he enjoyed hauling everything in the back of it, including their shoes, books, and magazines.  Silently, he joined his wife on the couch and was a bit stunned that she had actually permitted him to sit beside her.  All night long, she had refused to sleep with him, but this morning, she didn't blink twice about his sitting near her.  He ached to know what was going through her mind, ached to have her share it.  He wanted to speak, but couldn't open his mouth.

"What are you going to do about this," she asked suddenly, startling him.  It was the first words she had spoken all morning.  Before he had the chance to respond, she shook her head.  "You don't have to answer that, I think I already know.  You want this child, don't you?"

He glanced down at his hands briefly, cleared his throat, and looked at her.  She was staring straight ahead, not making eye contact at all.  "What do you think, Rylie?  How could I not want him?  This boy is my child, the same as Levi, the same as Nas.  I can no more deny him than I can them.  I want to confront KT with this as soon as she is strong enough to deal with it.  I want to know this child, to love him, to be given the time we were both denied."

She nodded solemnly as if knowing exactly what he would say.  She probably did.  She wanted to express her fears, her worries, and her doubts, but she couldn't force the words out of her mouth.  Regardless of how she felt, he would be hell bent to proceed with whatever plan he formulated.  It was not like him to procrastinate.  She hated herself for feeling so unreasonable and jealous.  She also thought of Nas and Levi.  What would this new sibling bring in for them?  Would he love KT's son more than hers?  Would he love him more because he was the spitting image of him?  Would he?  Would he?  She loved this man beside her so very much, but she had never been so scared in her life.

Kantor sat back and ran his hands over his face.  She had become distant again.  He then recalled his mother's words.  He couldn't expect her to immediately accept it, to just give over the security she had known in the years they had been together.  He needed her, needed the support she had given without question throughout their entire relationship.  She had seen him at his best and worst.  He had dragged her though many horrors she should never have faced in her lifetime.  Yet, she stood beside him solid and firm, even when he tried to push her away.  He began to wonder if he had lost that in her forever. 

"Rylie," he began, "I-"

She interrupted him by raising her hand.  "Falk?  How am I supposed to feel about this?  How am I supposed to react to this?  It feels as if you've fathered a child outside our marriage.  I understand that you didn't know, but I don't know how to feel.  I just don't…don't know."

He nodded.  "I understand," he said.  Did he?  Did he truly mean that?  "However, I have to be totally honest with you.  I'm going forward whether you support me or not."       

She expected as much from him.  He wasn't one to sit back and wait when he wanted something.  He was not a man who faltered.  Ironically enough, he had gone after her in much the same fashion.  She had come to him first, but when she became frightened by her intense feelings for him so soon, he had barreled in and took control of the situation, not thinking about anything but getting what he wanted.

"You do what you must," she said, her voice queerly flat and emotionless.

"Rylie-"

She raised her hand again to silence him.  "It's done.  You've made your decision, and I've made mine."  Without another word, she stood up to chase after their son.

*  *  *

It took all of two days for KT to begin acting somewhat like her normal self.  She immediately noticed that her parents had begun acting strangely around her, but they wouldn't elaborate when she asked what was wrong.  She left it to their nervousness over her injuries.  After all, their kid almost died.

"Mother," KT asked, "how's Gray?  Do you think you can sneak him in?"  At the mention of Grayson's name, Marianne's face whitened just a bit.  What was this?  Her parents adored their grandson, and couldn't shut their traps about him.  Her folks thought the sun rose and set on her little boy.  Somehow, this behavior was way beyond the realm of normalcy.  "Mother?  Did you hear my question?"

She cleared her throat and laughed a little, as if embarrassed.  "Yes, Kalissa, I heard it.  The baby is fine, but he misses you a lot.  I can try to sneak him in to see you as soon as they move you out of ICU.  The nurses and doctors monitor this area fairly thoroughly.  I'm surprised they even allowed us to bring him to the waiting room."

KT grew uncharacteristically quiet.  Another thought entered her mind.  She had thought Falk Kantor came to her.  Actually, it seemed as if he drifted in from a dream.  He looked so different.  He was dressed neatly but casually, and it appeared as if his hair was even longer than before, touching his shoulders.  The goatee had been replaced by a neatly trimmed beard and mustache.  She had never seen him like that before.  It was odd.  It had to be a dream, of course.  She hadn't laid eyes on him in two years.  She remembered that day as if it were yesterday.  He had given up his way of life, his career, and married the woman who had stolen his heart as if it were a precious jewel.  How many nights had she lain awake thinking of him, hoping, wishing, and praying that he would see the error of his ways and come back to her?  Once, she had never thought she would regret her decision to leave him.  Today, in her hospital bed, and with the knowledge she had bore his son, she regretted it terribly.  When she discovered she was pregnant, she had been utterly horrified.  She wondered how it had happened to her.  How would she deal with it?  She hadn't wanted a child, hadn't wanted to be tied down.  However, her love for Kantor had been so deep, that she was more than willing to give up her selfish thoughts and return to the man she loved, to the man who loved her [or so she thought].  She came to him, nervous and anxious, anticipating that he would be more than thrilled to see her, to have her back.  Yet, he wasn't.  He had chosen another, had thrown her to the curb.  At that point, she couldn't tell him about the baby.  Her anger had pushed her, forced her to basically declare 'fuck him.'  She immediately wanted to get rid of the child to spite him.  However, she couldn't do it, couldn't rid herself of the child made by the man she wanted so very badly.  Of course, when Grayson was born, he was the spitting image of his father.  She had gotten to keep a piece of Falk Kantor after all.

Uninvited, she had shown up at Kantor's wedding.  Much had changed for her, for him.  He had a son with the woman he married, the one he loved more than her, the one he sacrificed everything to have.  She had been quite tempted to tell him about Grayson then, but again, she was ruled by that 'fuck him' attitude.  He wasn't concerned about her or her son.  He was completely focused on Rylie, and nothing could sway him, not even knowledge of his son.  She hoped she hadn't made a mistake in wanting to return to Florida in such close proximity to Kantor.  Perhaps, she had wanted to make the move on a subconscious level.  Lexicon wasn't that large.  After all, her parents ran into Kantor and his children on a regular basis.  How long would it have taken for her to run into him?  He would have seen Grayson eventually, because she never went anywhere without him.  All along, she wanted him to know, but at the same time, she didn't want him to know.  He didn't deserve to know, didn't need to know about a son he had basically thrown away.  That's not quite right, though, is it?  No, it wasn't.  He had thrown her away, not Grayson.

"Mother, I had a strange dream," she began.  "I dreamt that Falk came in to see me twice.  I could see his face, hear his voice so plainly."

Marianne sighed heavily.  When would she let go of this man?  He didn't deserve her or his son.  "You were dreaming, dear."

There was a condescending tone to her voice that KT didn't appreciate.  "I was?"

"Yes, dear, you were."

"I don't believe you, Mother," she said stubbornly.  "Falk was here, wasn't he?"

"Kalissa, you must forget this man and move on.  Don't you realize that is what he has done?  He left you and married another.  There are hundreds of men out there who are willing to love you and your son.  You don't need this man in your life."

Later, her mother and father switched shifts.  KT silently watched her father as he thumbed through a magazine.  Her father wouldn't bullshit her as her mother had done.  If Kantor had come to see her, he would tell her.  "Dad?  If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?"

"Of course, sweetheart," he said as he licked his thumb and turned a page.

"Did Falk come here to see me," she asked.

The mention of Kantor's name brought his rapt attention back to his daughter.  He closed the magazine and crossed his legs.  He came close to lying to her, but he couldn't.  "Yes, Kalissa, he was here."

She shook her head.  "I knew it.  I knew he came.  It wasn't a dream."  She didn't give her son a second thought, didn't even think that he might know about him.  "I asked Mother, but she denied it."

"Kalissa, there's something else I should tell you.  I wanted to wait until you're feeling better, but you need to know, to prepare yourself."

"Oh my God," she moaned.  "He saw Gray, didn't he?"

He nodded.  "He did, and he knows that he is his son."

"Jesus Christ," she spat.  "Do you realize that he's going to make me pay for this?  Damn it, Dad, what am I going to do?"

"Your mother would die if she heard me say this, but I'm glad the bastard knows, Kalissa.  He has to take some responsibility for this boy."

KT lay back on her hospital bed and gazed up at the ceiling.  What had she done?  She hadn't quite told her parents the truth, because she had never expected Kantor to see her son.  The simple truth was that she had discovered she was pregnant, but didn't bother telling Kantor, even after he told her he was in love with another woman.  She had told her parents that Kantor had known about the baby, but didn't care, didn't want her or his child.  She had basically made it sound as if Kantor had dumped her right on her ass [he had in a way], and didn't give a shit that he had gotten her pregnant.  What a horrid tale she told.  Now, her parents literally hated the man, hated him based on a lie she told.  Now, her son was thrust into the middle of this mess. 

"Falk will come back," KT said.  "He won't stay away, not with the way he feels about his children."

"We can keep him away, Kalissa.  Just say the word, and he won't set foot in this hospital."

She shook her head and managed a weakened, bitter laugh.  "No, Dad.  Don't do that.  Gray is his son.  I have a lot of explaining to do."

"Actually, Kalissa, you don't.  After what he did to you and Gray, he doesn't deserve an explanation.  He needs to take responsibility for Gray.  You have never pushed him to support this child, and you should have.  Whether he sees the boy or not is entirely up to you."

She shook her head again.  "You don't get it, Dad.  He will want Grayson at least on a part-time basis.  I can deny him access to Gray, true, but he will find a way to see this boy." 

KT bit her tongue.  She almost told him that she had lied, but she held back.  She inherently knew that Falk Kantor was simply biding his time, waiting for her to be well enough for a visit.  How this must be eating him alive.  The thought comforted her just a little.  She didn't realize that she had found a way to hurt him back.

*  *  *

"So, what you're telling me," Kantor said into the phone, "is that legally, I can do nothing until paternity is established?"  A pause.  "I see.  Thank you.  I'll be back in touch."  He hung up and noticed Rylie standing in the open doorway.  He longed for things to be right between them again, but he simply could not deny his child.  "I'm going to the hospital tomorrow, and I want you to come along."

"I can't, Falk," she said.  "I have to return to work.  Simone needs me."

Goddamn it, I need you.  He nodded.  "All right," he said.  She started to turn away, but his voice called her back.  She stood waiting expectantly.  "Rylie, you're my wife, and I love you.  When I see this child, get to know him, I want you there.  You're one of the most important people in my life, and I don't want to do this without you."

But you will, she thought, completing what he really wanted to say within her own mind.  "I understand," she said. 

"Will you be there," he pressed.  He needed to know, needed to have an answer. 

He pushed her to respond to a question she wasn't prepared to answer.  She loved him deeply, had stood beside him through all kinds of hell, but she wasn't sure why she was having such difficulty now.  Of course, Kantor had never fathered a child with another woman during their relationship.  "Falk, I love you, you know that, but I don't know.  Stop pushing me so fucking hard, and let me have time to adjust to this.  I can't just accept this and go on with life as if nothing is awry."

"I'm sorry," he said.  "I don't mean to push."

"The hell you don't," she spat.  "You've always pushed, Falk, from the day I met you until now.  You've never not pushed."

*  *  *

KT was alone in her room for a change.  She needed to solitary time to think, to decide how she would handle Kantor's wrath.  She had seen him angry, and it wasn't a pretty picture.  She also felt indignant and self-righteous.  After all, he had dumped her, hadn't he?  Of course, she hadn't bothered telling him she was pregnant, and she should have.  However, her news wouldn't have made him instantly fall out of love with Rylie, but she would have had some role in his and Nas' life.  Ironically enough, it had been Dylan Evans who told her about Kantor's new life.  She had actually gone to the PD to see Kantor, but some idiot named Briscoe had his old office.  What the hell?  As she was leaving, Evans stopped her, and broke the news about Kantor's departure.  He also told her about Rylie.  In fact, this woman had just given birth to his son a few months before that.  KT couldn't help but note that her son had been born a few months before his with Rylie.  Not only had he dumped her for this woman, but she had also given him a child.  She couldn't compete with that.  She had hoped that the relationship had fizzled out, but to her chagrin, it had gotten stronger.  Why didn't I marry him when I had the chance?  Why didn't I stay when he asked?  Her back had begun to ache and she adjusted her bed to an upright position.  She kept wondering when Kantor would make his appearance.  She couldn't deny that she wanted to see him again, but not like this.

KT looked up when she heard a knock on the door.  She assumed it was a relative, because if it were Kantor, he would probably just break down the door.  She didn't have time to call out 'come in' before the door came open.  Her hunch had been sorely wrong.  Her former lover, the father of her son, entered her room slowly, seemingly steeling himself against an impending shouting match.  Neither of them knew what to expect of the other.  They knew why he had come, so why bother with niceties?  She found herself thanking the gods that her parents had taken Grayson home with them.  How confusing this would be for him.

"How could you do this to me, KT?  How could you not tell me about my son," he asked carefully, stiffly.  If the truth were known, he was trying his damn best to hold back his rage.  He wanted to fly into her, but he hesitated.  She was still healing, and he didn't want to interfere with her recovery.

She sighed, totally unsure of what she would say until she opened her mouth.  "You were too busy playing footsy with your damsel in distress, Falk.  You had no room in your life for me or my baby."

"You and your parents seemed to have forgotten it was your choice to leave the first time, not mine.  It was your choice to leave the second time.  I asked you to stay, KT, I wanted you to stay, but you didn't.  I realize that the way you found out about Rylie wasn't an ideal scenario, and for that, I apologize.  It doesn't excuse your failure to tell me you were pregnant."

"What was I to do, Falk," she spat.  "You made it clear that we weren't over when I left the second time."

He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair.  "You're not listening to a word I'm saying.  Did you want me to wait for you the rest of my life?  Would you have waited for me the rest of yours?  We made an agreement, KT, and I can't fucking help it if I fell in love with someone else.  You don't choose the time when you love, it bites you on the ass."

Using her mother's words, her hateful, dreaded thoughts, she asked, "Did you really love her, Falk?  Or did you marry her because you knocked her up?  That happened to you a lot in life, didn't it?  Your first wife was pregnant when you married her, wasn't she?  And then Rylie was pregnant when you proposed.  I see a pattern, but I was conveniently not in line."

"You weren't here," he spat through clenched teeth.  "I wanted to marry you, to have children with you, but you didn't want that.  I'm not here to rehash our past relationship.  Both of us know who was responsible for it ending.  I'm here to talk about my son.  I want him to know me.  I think you owe me that, KT.  I know you cannot do anything about allowing me to see him now, but I want you to talk to your parents.  I want you to tell them to let me see him.  I tried to ask them before, but they refused.  If you won't volunteer, I don't have any problem seeking other alternatives."

She wasn't sure if her injuries were exhausting her, or if it was due to Kantor's harsh words.  He had the ability to cut her so deeply with words.  He didn't have a right to be so damn self-righteous, no right at all.  She laughed a trifle bitterly, the sound escaping weakly out of her mouth.  "Oh, you would resort to a messy custody thing?  I can't believe the self-righteousness flowing from you, Falk.  You claim to have known me so well, yet you didn't hesitate to fuck me without a condom."

"Stop trying to blame me for this," he said, trying desperately to maintain control over his temper.  He was fairly close to shouting at her, and he didn't want to do that, at least not until she was completely healed.  "Yes I was careless, and yes I didn't care that I was.  That's hardly the point, KT, unless you planned to do this.  If that's the case, I'm even more stunned.  Tell your parents to grant me a visit.  I want to see my son.  I will not continue to argue about our doomed relationship.  Speak to your parents."  Without a word, he turned away and stalked out of the room.

KT covered her face with her hands and cried.  Part of her knew everything he said was the truth.  She should have told him, should have given him some kind of clue.  Another part of her hated him a little.  Why hadn't she stayed away from him?  Why hadn't she steered clear?  If she hadn't gone to that restaurant so long ago, she probably wouldn't have ever crossed his path.  On top of everything else, she loved him still, and he seemingly felt nothing for her at the present, nothing but contempt and hurt.  She couldn't face Kantor near his wife, couldn't watch him loving another woman.  It would tear her apart.

*  *  *

When Rylie came home from work that evening, no one was home.  Kantor had left a note telling her that the kids were with Adira, and that they would probably spend the night with her.  She was worried about Nas.  The little girl had been so down earlier this morning and hadn't spoken.  She had no idea where Kantor was, but she bypassed the kitchen and walked over to the liquor cabinet.  She selected a bottle of her favorite wine and carried it back to the kitchen.  She had every intention of icing it down for dinner; however, she realized she wasn't in the mood.  Leaving the bottle in the kitchen, she went upstairs to change.  She noticed an oddly colored piece of construction paper resting against her pillow.  It appeared to be some type of homemade card.  Nas.  She picked up the card and smiled a little.  Her daughter was quite creative.  So unlike Nas, she had drawn little flowers, rainbows, and hearts.  Not into 'mushy' stuff, she had written a simple, but beautiful greeting:  Don't be sad, Mom.  I love you.  Bless her little heart.  She was so smart, so intuitive.  She carried the card over to her dresser where she dug out a scrapbook.  Any little thing Nas made for her, she kept it inside.  There were dozens of pages left to fill, and Levi would more than likely supply even more art.

She put away the scrapbook and went downstairs.  She had barely sat down with a book before Kantor's keys rattled in the lock.  She pretended to read as he entered the room.  He noticed her right away, of course, and he was concerned about her.  He wanted so badly to take her into his arms and kiss her until she couldn't breathe.  They had always been a very affectionate couple, barely able to keep their hands off each other.  Since he had broken the news to her, that love and affection had seemed to cool significantly.  He missed her, missed her so terribly that his heart ached.

"Did you see her today," Rylie asked suddenly, stunning him with her interest.

He approached the couch and sat beside her.  He noted with a pang of sharp hurt that she didn't reach for his hand.  It wasn't like her at all.  "I did," he said.  He was afraid to go into it with her, because he didn't want to have another awkward, painful conversation that left too many questions dangling without answers. 

She turned a page in her book, still continuing to pretend to read.  Not once did she glance at him.  "How did it go?"

He bore his eyes into her, psychically commanding her to look at him, but she wouldn't.  He thought he might regret what he was about to say, but he couldn't help it.  "Do you want to know, or are you setting me up?"

She snapped the book closed and tossed it aside.  She fixed him with a stony gaze.  "How could you say that, Falk?  This has you fucked up, baby, fucked up and thrown.  Do I deserve this?  Do you?"

She started to rise, but he grabbed her arm and forced her to settle back.  "Rylie, I'm sorry.  This has been difficult for me, and I-"

She cut him off.  "Difficult for you?  What the hell are you saying, Falk?  Do you think this isn't difficult for me as well?  I'm your wife, for God's sake, and I've been at your side when any other woman would run away screaming.  Goddamn you, Falk Kantor, goddamn you."

Rylie again tempted to leave, but he held fast.  Her hand itched to slap him.  After a moment of staring through him, he jerked her up against him and mashed his mouth onto hers.  At first, she struggled against him, fighting desperately to get away.  How dare he think kissing her would erase his hurtful words, how fucking dare he.  Despite her fighting, he held onto her tightly.  Eventually, the fight ended and she gave in to him and his kiss.  She plunged her hands into his hair as his roamed her body.  He pushed her down to the couch and went to work unbuttoning her blouse, his lips never leaving hers.  He broke the kiss only after he had exposed her left breast.  He captured the nipple between his lips and suckled it gently, raking his teeth along the hardened peak.  Unable to get enough of her full, sweet lips, his mouth captured hers again.  After a long moment, Rylie planted her hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him back.  Startled, he drew away and gazed down at her in confusion.

"Get off me," she spat through clenched teeth.  "For God's sake, get off me." 

He moved away and sat back.  He watched as she sat up and held her blouse closed with her hands.  His confusion grew as she stood and moved away from the couch.  What the hell?

"Rylie, what are you doing?"

She shook her head.  "No, Falk.  What are you doing?  Do you think kissing or making love to me is going to make this go away?  You can't keep bulldozing me like this.  It's not going to help, it's only going to make it worse."

He sighed.  "Rylie, I love you, that hasn't changed, it won't ever change."

"I know this child is your son, and I'm aware that you will do whatever it takes to bring him into your life, but must I accept this?  Must I accept this as I have everything else?  I know I will have to eventually accept it, because you are my husband, and I love you, but I…"  She couldn't finish the thought, couldn't think of the right words.

He fixed an intense gaze on her face.  "What?  What is it?  You must tell me."

She sighed deeply.  Should she spit it out?  Should she voice her fears right here and now?  "Falk?  Where do I fit in this?  How do I fit in this?"

"Do you think I want to shove you aside?  Is that what you think, Rylie?  Never, never, would I shove you aside.  You fit in this as my wife, as the woman I love so very deeply.  If I wanted to shove you aside, I wouldn't have asked for your support."

She turned away from him and began readjusting her clothing.  "You asked for it, but I didn't give it to you, and you went on your own way.  I don't expect you to forget your son, because I know how you love our children."

He left the couch and approached her.  His hands fell on her shoulders.  "Rylie, nothing has really changed, it's only a bit more complicated."

She jerked away from his comforting grasp.  "You're dreaming if you think nothing has changed, Falk.  Everything has changed, and you can't even see it."

He sighed and realized that what he was about to ask would probably hurt her immensely, but he had to get this out, get it out in the open.  "Rylie, does this have anything to do with the miscarriage?"  What he heard in her voice had been the same feelings of inadequacy he had heard when she first lost the baby.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," she said.

He took her by the shoulders again and turned her to face him.  "But we are, Rylie.  We will talk about this, because it is not going away.  This boy is my son, he's Nas and Levi's brother.  He has an entire family he has never seen before.  It won't go away if we don't talk about it, Rylie.  One way or another, we will have to deal with this, and I want to deal with it together.  Do you understand?"

She jerked free of his grasp, spun around, and ran upstairs.  For the first time in years, Kantor was at a loss as to what to do.

*  *  *

The next morning, Kantor sat at his desk trying to concentrate on his logbook.  There were so many things he had to do this week, but he couldn't get anything done.  He worked steadily for a good thirty minutes before his mind began to drift again.  Last night, Rylie had slept in their bed, but it was a long, lonely night.  There seemed to be three feet of space between them.  Neither of them had gotten much sleep the night before.  They had spent most of the night turned away from each other, staring at the wall.  Any time he tried to speak to her, she would feign sleep.  He hated that they were doing this to each other, but there was little he could do.  When they finally gave up the façade of normalcy after the sun rose, Rylie took off to the bathroom before Kantor could spit out two words to her.  With the kids at Adira's, neither of them bothered eating breakfast.  It was no fun without the morning battle over Levi's oatmeal.  In fact, Rylie didn't bother sitting down at the kitchen table at all.  She stood close to the coffee maker and drank as much coffee as her body could take.  If she wanted to stay awake today, she would need all the caffeine she could get.  Kantor had taken enough of the silent treatment.  He could take no more.  He approached her, took the coffee cup out of her hand, and set it on the counter with a hollow bang.  He needed to touch her, to reassure her, to make her feel his love for her coursing through his veins.  He took her into his embrace and held her against him.  He said nothing, didn't push, didn't bulldoze.  He held her for as long as she allowed.  Without a word, she pulled away from him and made her way toward the door.  He held onto her hand, refusing to let go, until he was forced to release it by sheer distance.

Kantor was brought out of his daze by the shrill ring of the desk phone.  He nearly screamed, it stunned him so.  He picked up the receiver.  "Yes?  This is Kantor."

"Falk, this is Marianne."  Her voice was stiff and formal.  "Kalissa and I had a very long talk, and she is convinced that you intend to take her son away from her."

He sighed angrily and caressed the bridge of her nose.  "I hardly call what we spoke about a threat to take our son away from her.  I want to see him, Mrs. Watts.  I have no intention of kidnapping him.  It was your daughter who took him away from me."

"I don't think it's a good idea for you to see Grayson, especially not after what you did to them."

"Why must you insist that I did this?  For the hundredth time, Kalissa left.  I didn't want her to leave."

"And I don't see why you insist you were innocent in this deal.  Kalissa told her father and me what you did to her when she told you about the baby."

Stunned for a moment, he held the phone away from his head and stared at it incredulously as if he were gazing upon her face.  He put the phone back up to his ear.  "Mrs. Watts, your daughter has lied to you.  I didn't know about the baby.  She never told me.  If she had, I would have given everything I have to take care of him."  He stopped right there.  She would not believe a word he said about her precious daughter.  "Did Kalissa tell you that I want to see my son?  Did she tell you that?  Or was that another thing she has conveniently forgotten?"

"She told me, Falk.  That's another reason why I'm calling.  I have advised Kalissa not to allow you to see her son, but I won't go against her wishes.  I want to meet you with the baby in a public place for no more than an hour."

Kantor was disgusted at her authoritarian tone, at the way she was commanding him about as if he were one of her minions.  However, an hour sounded wonderful…for now.  As soon as KT was released from the hospital, there would be more, much longer visits.  He would see to it.  "Very well," he said stiffly.  "Name the time and the place, and I'll be there."

He shook his head incredulously as he took a table in the hospital's cafeteria.  Kantor couldn't believe that Marianne Watts wanted to meet him here.  Every five minutes, he checked his watch.  She was running several minutes late, and for a horrid moment, he thought that she might have been toying with him.  Right as he was about to get up and call her, she came strolling into the room with the baby propped against her hip.  For a moment, his dark eyes held Kantor captive.  He couldn't move, breathe, think, or speak.  The little boy goggled at him curiously.  He remembered seeing this strange man with the hair on his face before, and what do you know?  He came back.  Marianne sat down at the table across from Kantor as the two of them continued to stare at each other. 

Grayson turned his little head up toward his grandmother's face and asked, "Neenee, who dat?"

She smiled down at her grandson.  She could almost hear Kantor's heart pounding in anticipation at what she would say.  "He's a friend of your mommy's."

A friend?  A fucking friend?  He wanted to shout that he was his father, but he hesitated.  Grayson had never seen him before, and he wouldn't quite understand.  He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat.  "My name is Falk," he said as he leaned toward the boy.

He cocked his head to the side and stared at the man curiously.  "Flak," he questioned.

The moment was very painful, bittersweet almost.  He laughed a little, and felt the unwelcome sting of tears in his eyes.  "No, but it's okay.  What's your name?"

He huffed up his little chest proudly.  "Gwayson Lebi Watts," he piped.

Only a person accustomed to the speech of a two-year-old would understand him.  Levi.  It was his son's first name, his middle name, and KT had given it to Grayson as well.  Kantor had failed to notice before, but he saw a distinct birthmark nearly hidden by the baby's thick black hair.  It was in the shape of a small crescent moon.  If Kantor's hair had been shorter, his own identical birthmark would have been visible.  If he had had doubts before [which he didn't], he had none now.  The birthmark was some type of recessive heredity thing that showed up very rarely in the family.  Kantor was the first male with the birthmark in over a hundred years.  Of course, he couldn't say that now.

Emotionally overwhelmed a little, Kantor cleared his throat before he choked on his tears.  "I have a little boy about your age.  His name is Levi, too."

"You do," he asked surprised.  "You bing him?"

He shook his head.  "No.  He's with his grandma and sister."

"He play wif me?"

He had to wrench the words out of his mouth with a crowbar.  This was the most difficult thing he had ever done.  He was tempted to reach for the boy, but he wanted to play on Marianne's field…for now.  "He would.  Maybe you can play with him and his sister."

He smiled.  "Ooooh, can I Neenee?"

Marianne was growing uncomfortable by the moment.  Grayson didn't normally warm up to people so fast.  "Sure, Gray, but later.  Okay?"

He nodded, none too pleased at her denial.  "Okay."

Throughout the painfully bittersweet visit, Grayson remained calm and controlled.  Kantor learned that he was a serious little boy, as much as he had been when he was this young.  Nas had been the very same.  When Marianne declared that they had to go, Kantor nearly cried again when Grayson asked for a hug.  He could not resist honoring the request.

*  *  *

Rylie came home from work a bit early.  However, she was surprised to discover that both children were still at Adira's.  Kantor had prepared dinner for them, and he was in the process of setting the table when she entered the kitchen.  They had a large dining table just off the kitchen, but they rarely used it.  They preferred taking their meals at the small table. 

"Why are the kids still at Mom's," she asked.

"We need some time, Rylie.  We need to work on some things, and I thought tonight would be a good start."

He was trying so hard to make things right again, but Rylie didn't think it was possible to do it right now.  He didn't know, of course, but she had spent most of her workday in tears, crying on Simone's shoulder.  "What did you cook," she asked, feigning interest.  She didn't feel like eating, had no appetite whatsoever.

"Chicken Alfredo."

Chicken Alfredo was her favorite, of course.  He was trying so hard, and she loved him so much, but nothing would make her feel better other than plain old time.  "You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble, Falk."

He nodded.  "No trouble, not for you."

Rylie bypassed him for a moment and moved toward the refrigerator.  She chunked open the door and searched around for something to drink.  She suddenly wanted a beer more than anything, but there weren't any chilled.  She couldn't drink a warm beer, not unless she wanted to puke.  She settled for a soda instead.  "I tried calling earlier today.  Were you out," she asked as she turned toward him.

"Yes," he said, "I was."  He wouldn't elaborate until he knew for certain that she wanted to hear it.  "I had to pick up some things for dinner."

"Oh," she said, "Okay."  She took her soda over to the counter and leaned against it.  "I'm tired of pussyfooting around, Falk.  I'm going to ask what I really want to know.  Did you see him today?"

He stopped fussing with the table and turned toward his wife.  "I did," he said with a little nod.  He wanted to tell her everything he saw, what he heard, how he felt, and on and on.  Yet, he bit it back because she was so insecure, and he had no idea why. 

She turned her can up and took a tentative sip.  "How did it go?"

"It was painful, but wonderful at the same time.  He's a beautiful little boy."

She nodded thoughtfully and took another sip of soda.  "I'm sure you mean inside, but he is beautiful on the outside as well.  From what little I saw, he looks just like you."

"I had few doubts before, but I have fewer still right now.  He has a small crescent moon shaped birthmark.  It's the same mark I have, in the same spot.  It's some kind of rare thing in my family.  It's a direct link to the Kantor bloodline."  He watched her facial expression.  It hadn't changed one bit since she had come home.  "I'm seeing him again in two days.  Would you come with me?  He has to see you, to see all of us.  Will you, Rylie, please?"

She didn't want to do it, didn't think she had the strength.  Yet, she couldn't continue to hide from it.  "Okay, I'll come along."

"Thank you, Rylie.  I know this is hard for you, and I love you for your patience and steadfastness.  I promise you, baby, that this will be resolved.  It will become easier for you, for us all."

She wasn't sure if she believed that.  "I love you, too.  I'm trying so hard to understand, to not feel this way.  All I ask is that you don't push too hard."

He approached her and ran his hand over her cheek.  "Without you, Rylie, I'm nothing."

*  *  *

Rylie and Kantor met Marianne at the hospital cafeteria again.  Since it had only been a couple of days between visits, Grayson recognized 'Flak' right away, but he didn't know the sad lady with him.  Rylie sat back and watched the interaction between her husband and his son.  It was obvious that the boy was fascinated with this stranger.  He wasn't aware that he was his father, but he seemed to have some kind of unexplainable bond with him.  Halfway through the visit, the boy tentatively asked Kantor if he could sit on his knee, and of course, he willingly obliged.  Rylie couldn't tear her eyes away as Marianne handed the boy to Kantor.  When he touched his son, she saw the same look that had come into his eyes when he held Levi for the first time.  He was already in love with this child.  They looked so much alike it was amazing. 

Later, after Grayson received another hug from his father, and Kantor secured another visitation, he and Rylie went home.  She had grown quiet on the ride back.  The visit hadn't allayed any of her fears, but her husband was so very happy that she couldn't ruin it for him by picking another fight.  Rylie stayed behind while Kantor went to retrieve Nas and Levi.  Once home, both children literally climbed all over her.  They hadn't seen her in a couple of days.  Of course, Levi grew bored very quickly and went on to drag his toy truck around the living room.  Nas lingered with Rylie the longest.  Typically standoffish, she was affectionate and loving.  She couldn't seem to hug Rylie enough.

"Mom, is everything okay now," Nas finally asked.  "You've been so sad."

It wasn't okay, but she couldn't explain her complicated feelings to an eight-year-old.  She caressed her daughter's soft hair.  "It's getting better, kiddo."

"I don't like it when you and Dad are sad, and he's usually sad when you are."

"You're right, baby, he usually is, but it's because we love each other so much.  We feel the same sometimes."

Nasya drew away for a second and peered up at Rylie.  "I thought you and Dad were gonna get a divorce."  She was a worldly kid, she knew about divorce.  Her best friend's parents had gotten divorced, and she spent half the year with her mom, and half with her dad.  She didn't want to be put into such a situation, because she couldn't choose between her parents. 

She smiled a little and placed a kiss on her forehead.  "Baby, your dad and me may get mad at each other, and we might even argue, but we're not going to get a divorce.  You don't have to worry about that."

Nasya wasn't satisfied with that answer, wasn't satisfied at all.  "But you left, and when you came back, you weren't with Dad.  You've always been with Dad, and I didn't know what to think."

Rylie sighed.  Nas could really amaze her sometimes with her intelligence.  "I needed to be alone, Nas.  You like to be alone sometimes, too, right?"  She nodded and Rylie continued, "I'm the same way, baby.  Every now and then, I like to be by myself, but it doesn't mean I don't love your dad, nor does it mean we're getting a divorce.  Okay?"

She nodded.  "Okay."

That night, Kantor exited the bedroom/bathroom fresh from a shower.  He noticed that Rylie sat on the side of the bed running a brush through her hair.  He stood gazing at her for a long time.  She wasn't looking at him, and for a moment, he wondered if she might be doing it on purpose.

"Rylie, are you all right?"

She fixed her eyes on him for a moment.  He was completely devoid of clothing, and a few droplets of water were rolling off his body.  "I'm okay, I was just thinking about Nas.  She was scared, Falk.  She thought we were getting a divorce."

He shook his head.  "She got that overreaction gene from Selarah."

She shrugged.  "I don't think she overreacted, Falk, she was just a little scared, that's all.  She hasn't really seen us like that.  We had a long talk, and I think she's okay."

He approached her and sat down.  He took her brush and put it to her hair.  This had become something of a welcome, nightly routine.  "I think it happened to one of her school friends, and she's probably paranoid."

"Yeah," she said, luxuriating at the feel of the brush and his hand in her hair.  "She's so smart, and she knows more than we give her credit."

He ran the brush through her hair once more before setting it aside.  He placed his hand beneath her chin and directed her face toward his.  "You're not all right, I can see it in your eyes.  What more can I do?  What more can I say?"

"You can't do or say anything, Falk.  We will have to work through this."

He kissed her gently, wanting more, but was afraid to press forward.  He remembered her shoving him away, and he didn't want that to happen again.  Before he drew away, her lips parted against his and her tongue slipped between them.  She wanted things to go back to normal, wanted it so badly, she could nearly taste it.  Kantor pressed forward hungrily, almost brutally.  She plunged one hand into his thick hair while the other drifted down between his legs.  He moaned against her lips as her hand moved up and down the length of him.  She broke the kiss and stopped caressing him just long enough for him to slide back onto the bed.  With little hesitancy, she kneeled before him and took him into her mouth.  He closed his eyes and clenched his jaws together.  It was the second time she had done this to him, and of course, he became hard and throbbing within moments.  He wanted her to stop so he could make love to her like he wanted, but he couldn't quite vocalize.  Instead, he tangled his hand into her hair as she continued to devour him.  Kantor took in a sharp, hissed breath.  God help him, but he was already feeling an intense climax building.  Once again, he wanted to speak, but no words could come to the surface at all.  Rylie's mouth began to move up and down even faster, as if she could sense his impending orgasm.

"Rylie," Kantor spat, nearly gasping.  He tried to utter a simple 'no,' but it was no use.  He tensed and groaned as he came strongly, explosively. 

His breaths came in sharp and heavy as her tongue trailed from his lower abdomen upward toward his chest where her lips encircled his nipples.  After a moment, her tongue slid up his neck, then to his chin.  She saw the expression on his face and nearly fell over.  He seemed…disappointed almost, as if he hadn't expected her to take him so far over the edge.  She had never done that to him before, and he was…well…flustered.  She smiled a little.  Normal is good, she thought.

"You pull no punches, do you," he asked, completely deadpanning.

"Nope," she answered flicking her tongue along his lips. 

He gazed her, still breathing heavily, and wanted so badly to ask if the worst was over, or if she was simply playing at it.  "I love you, Rylie, even when you test me," he said, smiling a little.  "I so wanted to make love to you, but you took matters into your own hands."

"Wasn't it more like taking matters into my own…mouth?"

He chuckled.  "You wicked woman."  Is it okay, Rylie?  Is it? 

Rylie could see that Kantor wanted to talk about Grayson and KT, but she wanted to put it away for a few hours.  They had been dealing with it since he found out about the boy, and she needed a break.  For a change, she wanted to spend one night talking about nothing but them.  She placed two fingers over his lips before he uttered a word.  "Don't ruin it, please?  Let tonight be just for us.  Okay?"  Her request was totally selfish, she knew, but she couldn't help it.

He had laid so much in her lap, and this was one request he could oblige.  She had taken so much grief for him, had felt massive amounts of pain, but refused to leave him.  He owed it to her.  "Okay, it will be us tonight.  Only us."  His lips found the hollow of her throat.

She wrapped her arms around him and allowed him to lower her to the bed.  They didn't make love again.  Instead, he held her through the night, not losing contact with her body at all.  It made her think of the night they confessed their love for each other.  That night so long ago had begun so tragically, but ended with just the slightest hint of promise.  Rylie wasn't sure the worst was over; she thought that it was ahead of them, and she was right.

*  *  *

A few weeks later, Kantor had frequent and regular visits with Grayson.  Occasionally, Rylie went along.  They continued to meet at the hospital cafeteria.  The Watts' had made the hospital their second home, even though KT was no longer in any danger.  To the horror and dismay of Marianne and Paul Watts, Grayson had begun to 'warm up' to "Flak."  Kantor ached for the day to arrive when he could take Grayson home to meet his brother and sister. 

Rylie and Kantor sat together during one particular visit while Grayson entertained "Flak" with his toy police cruiser.  Kantor hadn't actually bought it for the boy.  It was something his mother had given him and he had taken to it immediately [according to Marianne].  Kantor was so engrossed by his son, that he didn't notice an additional guest.  However, Rylie did.  It was KT.  She was two days away from being released from the hospital, but she looked like hell.  She had lost fifteen pounds or more and had a gaunt sickly look about her that most long-term patients exhibit.  She had twisted up her wild mane of hair and it was held at the back of her head by a large clip.  She fixed Rylie with an odd gaze.  It wasn't quite decipherable.  Smugness?  Pissiness?  Anger?  Envy?  She couldn't tell.  KT glanced at her mother and excused her.

Grayson looked up and smiled at his mother.  "Mama," he cried, pointing to Kantor, "Flak.  Flak friend."

KT nodded and returned his smile.  She didn't look at either Kantor or his wife.  She couldn't.  "Yes, Gray, I know.  Flak used to be mommy's friend."

Her words grated all over Rylie's nerves.  She wondered how she held onto her temper.  What am I doing?  She has never affected me like this before.  Of course, before KT had only been Kantor's ex-lover, not the mother of his child.

Grayson shinnied up Kantor's long legs as if they were particularly skinny tree trunks.  The move sent a few waves of jealously through KT.  Once perched upon Kantor's lap, Grayson held up the police cruiser.  "Play caa, Mama.  Flak play caa."

"Yes, baby," KT said.  "He used to drive one."

Rylie stiffened a little.  There was a hidden message behind her words.  He used to drive one before Rylie came along.  KT had done the deed, and Rylie wondered why she decided to fix such ire toward her husband and herself.  Was she jealous? 

"Flak dive po po caa," Grayson asked, fixing his dark eyes on Kantor's face.

Kantor nodded.  "Sure did, a long time ago."

"Flak no dive po po caa now?"

Before Kantor could open his mouth, KT took the initiative.  "No, Gray.  Flak gave it up to get married."

Kantor fixed his dark eyes on KT's face.  "KT," he spat under his breath.  "Don't go there," he mouthed, shaking his head.  Why was she doing this in Grayson's presence?  He was too young to understand.  He glanced at Rylie for a moment and noticed that her green eyes were flashing wildly.

She pulled out a seat at the table and sat down carefully.  Her injuries were still sore and painful.  "Baby, Flak gave up a lot of things he loved."

"Do you think this is an appropriate conversation around your son," Rylie suddenly asked.  She could remain silent no longer. 

She shrugged.  "He'll learn it anyway, won't he?"

Grayson grew silent from Kantor's lap.  He internalized the tension in the room and grew almost…stoic.  "Stop it.  Both of you," Kantor said.

Admonished by her husband, Rylie pushed back from the table and removed herself from the scene.  She didn't want to start screaming at either of them in the quiet of the hospital cafeteria.  At home, she intended to tear into him for scolding her as if she were a child.  For now, she would let it go.

With Rylie gone, KT turned toward Kantor.  "I'm getting sprung in a couple of days, and I'm finishing my training here.  I won't go back to Michigan."

He nodded toward her.  "Good, KT, because I think after three weeks, it's time that Grayson meets Nas and Levi."

"Lebi," Grayson asked after the tension had passed.  "Gway's name Lebi."

Kantor smiled down at his son.  "It's a good name."  His smile faltered as he fixed his eyes on KT's.  "I want the children to meet, KT.  I want them to meet soon."

She nodded solemnly.  Actually, she was fairly excited to see Nas again.  It had been two years.  "Fine, Falk.  Gray doesn't come without me, not yet."

Grayson had lost interest in the adults, and his 'po po caa.'  He leaned against Kantor, trying to nod off to sleep.  "Whatever it takes, KT," he said.  "I have the paternity test set up.  Although I have all the physical proof I need, this will give us definite proof."

"Your hour is up," she said stiffly.  "Give me my son."

"If you haven't noticed, KT, he is asleep.  I will carry him back to the waiting room with your parents."

Rylie stayed behind as Kantor and KT left the cafeteria and moved down the hall.  She couldn't lie, she was still livid.  She couldn't sit here any longer.  Kantor found his wife in the car.  Her arms were crossed over her chest and she was chewing on her bottom lip.  She was pissed, it was all over her, and he was at a loss as to why.  He slid easily into the drivers' side and closed the door.  At first, he didn't say anything.  If she wanted to fly into a temper tantrum, she jolly well would in her own sweet time.  Nothing he said or did would stop it.  He had barely gotten the key into the ignition before she fixed him with a stony gaze.

"How dare you scold me as if I were a child while that woman provoked me," she spat angrily.

Kantor sighed.  "Rylie, you're better than that.  How could you let her provoke you?  She never has before."

She shook her head.  "She never had a part of you before, Falk.  She was nothing more than someone from your past.  But now she has everything that I do, except your heart.  I won't come again, Falk.  Don't ever ask me.  I won't have you…have you…fuck this," she spat viciously.  "Don't ever do that again."

"Rylie, I'm sorry," he said calmly.  He hadn't realized how badly he had messed up. 

"Too late for that," she said quietly.  "You never should have said it in the first place.  I'm not coming with you again.  Do you understand?"  He reached for her, but she smacked his hand.  "Don't, not while I'm this angry." 

"Rylie, I-"

"She sat there and said some horrible, intentionally hurtful bullshit.  You sat there, and said nothing.  You…you said nothing," she cried. 

"Can I help it if I don't want to make a huge scene?  I don't want Grayson to be hurt by any of this," he began.

"But it's okay if I'm hurt?  If you're hurt?  What about Nas and Levi, Falk?  Have you thought about what seeing this child will do to them?  Have you?  Nas has already had one shock when she found out about Arlene.  Suddenly, she is going to have another brother thrust upon her.  Have you thought once about your other children since you found out about this boy?"

It was Kantor's turn to feel perplexed and angry.  "Where is this coming from," he asked.  "Of course I've thought of them.  I think about them every day of my life.  You're angry right now, but that does not excuse what you've said.  I did not deserve that."

Rylie sighed.  "No, you didn't," she whispered, "but I didn't deserve it, either."

He turned and reached for her again.  Her body was stiff and unyielding.  He didn't care; he persisted until he had dragged the solid wall of human flesh toward him.  "Rylie, we have to stop hurting each other," he said.  "We can't let this tear us apart, and that's what is happening before my very eyes."

"You did, you know," she said through tears.

"What?  I did what?"

"You gave up everything when you married me.  You…you did."

He shook his head and pulled her closer toward him.  This time, she went willingly into his arms.  "No, I didn't," he whispered.  "I've never been so happy in my life, Rylie.  Leaving it all behind was the best thing I've ever done.  The biggest mistake I could have made would have been not walking out of the PD.  I've not regretted it, I've gotten down on my knees and praised it."

"Oh damn, Falk," she cried against his chest.  "What are we going to do?"

He couldn't answer her, because he didn't know.  He tightened his hold on her body and held her until the storm passed. 

*  *  *

Nasya sat in her father's office and stared at her parents.  She had been in here with them before, dozens of times.  They usually brought her in here when something big and/or bad had happened.  Nasya remembered sitting in here not so long ago when Dad announced that Mom was having a baby.  She had been in here when Dad gently told her that the baby was gone.  She had no idea why they had dragged her in here today, but she could see that her mother was not happy.  She seemed upset and looked as if she had been crying. 

"Nas, we need to talk to you about your new brother," Kantor began.  He knew of no other way to bring this to her.  She was so very young and impressionable.

"New brother," she asked before her eyes brightened.  "Oh!  Is Mom going to have a baby?"

Although she said nothing, Kantor felt Rylie tensing beside him.  He reached out to her and she took his hand into hers.  How many times had they had her in here to discuss difficult shit?  Would she grow up associating his office with bad news?  Of course, he didn't consider what he had to tell her as bad news.  Yet, it would hurt and confuse her.  "No, Nas.  Rylie isn't having a baby.  You have another brother a little bit older than Levi.  His name is Grayson."

"Is he someone else I haven't met yet?  Like Grandma Arlene was?"

He focused his dark eyes on her confused, hurt face.  If he weren't hurting his wife, he was hurting his daughter.  Would it ever end?  "Yes, baby," he said.  "I didn't meet him either, not until a few weeks ago."

She crossed her arms over her chest and fixed her dark eyes [his eyes, looking right back at him, through him].  "Who is his mom?  It's not my other mom?"

Kantor realized that Nasya was talking about Selarah.  "No.  You were her only child, Nas.  His mother is KT."

Her brow furrowed, and for a moment she looked so much like her father, Rylie nearly gasped.  "KT," she asked doubtfully.  She hadn't seen KT in a long time, and she had her brother?  She didn't understand.  "Dad?"

She didn't have to say a word; Kantor knew exactly what she was getting at.  She didn't understand.  She didn't understand at all.  "Yes, baby, KT.  She had a baby, and I'm his dad.  He's my child just like you and Levi.  I'm telling you this because KT is bringing him over so you and Levi can get to know him.  He will become a part of the family just like your Grandma Arlene."

"Dad?  Is KT here?"  When he nodded, she didn't give him a chance to say anything, she plunged ahead, "Why didn't she come to see me?"

"She was hurt, my love, and in the hospital.  She couldn't see you, but she wanted to," he said slowly, carefully.  He was treading on very thin ice.  Regardless of what he said, KT's failure to come visit her would hurt.  "She's coming with your brother and you will see her then."

"I don't know if I want to see her or not," she said quietly.  "I don't know if I want to see this brother, either, Dad." 

Although the thought was too complex for her eight-year-old brain, she didn't want her solid foundation shaken again.  Kantor could read this easily in her eyes and stubborn body language.  Her foundation had been rocked from the start with Selarah's death.  She had grown attached to KT, but she left her as well.  The only steady women in her life were her two grandmothers and Rylie.  She saw all that slipping away.  What she had known all her life was not what was at all.  He hated hurting her, hated seeing this wonderful extension of himself in pain.  It killed him thoroughly.  For a moment [a very brief moment], he almost wished he had never laid eyes on Grayson Watts.  However, he had, and now he was completely in love with the boy.  The paternity tests had conclusively proven that Grayson was his son, and he was hell-bent to make him part of the family.  However, it had completely destroyed the stability of his marriage and that of his other children.  Dear God.  He never understood why he was tested so strenuously.

"Nas," Rylie said, "I know you don't understand, but that's okay.  Would you give this a chance?  Could you at least try?"

Kantor gripped Rylie's hand even tighter and exchanged a brief, knowing look with her.  This had probably hurt her most of all, and she still sat beside him, offering support, even when she didn't feel it.  He loved her so very much.

Nasya shrugged.  "I could, and I will, but I don't have to like it, do I?" 

She had spat out her words with her little chin held up arrogantly.  Kantor recognized that as well.  Selarah, you are coursing through her veins, aren't you, he thought.  You are working inside her now.  "No, Nas, you don't," he said, "but just because you don't like it doesn't mean you can be rude or ugly with either KT or Grayson.  Do you understand?"

She had yet to unfold her arms.  Her jaw was set as stubbornly as her body.  "Yes, Dad, I understand."  She swung her legs back and forth impatiently.  She didn't want to be in here anymore.  "May I leave," she finally asked after several long moments.

He nodded.  "Yes, Nas.  I think you should go to your room and think about this."  She almost protested, but he held up his hand to stop an argument before it started.  "Before you begin arguing with me, I'm not punishing you.  I just want you to think about this."

"Okay," she said quietly.  It didn't matter what he said, it still felt like punishment to her. 

Kantor sighed heavily as he watched Nasya exit the office.  Telling Nas about Grayson had been twenty times harder than telling her about Arlene.  He fixed his eyes on Rylie.  "This won't be an easy visit, not with Nas feeling as she does."

"Maybe you shouldn't push this on her, Falk.  Give her time to adjust.  You sprung it on her the same way you did with me.  Here it is.  Take it or leave it.  I can't think that way, and neither can she."

Without another word, Rylie released his hand and left him sitting in his office.  Despite Nas' standoffishness, she needed to check on her.  Kantor would come later, of course, but she didn't think Nas wanted to see her father just yet.  She'd want to sit and simmer for a while [just like her father].  She climbed the stairs slowly, immediately noticing that Nas' door was open.  It was a good sign.  At least she was receptive.  Rylie walked up to the open doorway and noticed that Nas was laying flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling. 

"Can I come in," Rylie asked.

Nas didn't take her eyes off the ceiling for one second.  "You can if you want."

Rylie entered the room and sat down on the side of the bed closest to her.  She hated feeling so hypocritical.  She was intent on telling Nas to give it a chance when she wasn't willing to do it, either.  Did she and Kantor always have to show a united front?  "I know it hurts, baby."

She said nothing at first.  She simply kept her eyes focused on the ceiling.  After a long moment, she propped up on her elbow and studied Rylie curiously.  "I loved KT, Mom, I really did, but she hurt me when she went away.  She came back, but she didn't see me.  What did I do?"

Rylie sighed and reached out to brush back her hair.  "Baby, you didn't do anything.  I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt you, but I don't want you thinking you drove her away.  I'm sure she loved you very much, but sometimes we hurt those we love.  It's not your fault, Nas."

Nasya huffed a little, exhaled a deep breath, and then burst into tears.  Rylie took her unyielding body into her arms.  Eventually, she relaxed and wrapped her arms around Rylie.  She drew the crying child into her lap and cradled her close to her body.  Kantor walked up to the door at about that time.  He had expected a storm, and it had come in hard and fast.  When Rylie sensed his presence, she looked up at him and he could see tears shining in her eyes.  Without hesitating, he entered the room and walked up behind Rylie.  He moved to the side and sat down almost behind his daughter.  His hand came up to caress her hair as he tried to help console her.  She cried only rarely, and when she did, it shook her.

*  *  *

Rylie heard the doorbell ring before Kantor.  Stubbornly, she decided that she wouldn't go to the door.  If Kantor wanted to let KT in, fine, but she wouldn't.  She purposely removed herself from the living room and went upstairs.  It was spiteful and petty, but she couldn't help it.  Kantor came out of his office.  He knew Rylie had taken off upstairs, and for a very brief moment, he was a bit annoyed with her.  Sighing, he realized that he couldn't be angry, not really.  He went to the door and took a deep breath before gripping the doorknob and swinging it open.  Of course, the visitors were KT and Grayson.

"Flak," Grayson called as he recognized his new friend. 

The little boy reached out to Kantor and he took him into his arms.  He fixed a cold gaze on KT's face.  "Thank you for bringing him," he said.  Kantor turned and entered the house, leaving KT at the door.

KT entered the house and closed the door behind her.  It had been a couple of years since she had been inside the house, and the interior hadn't changed much.  There were new photos scattered about, of course.  Most of them featured images of Nas and Levi.  There was a couple with the entire family, including a woman KT had never seen before.  The photo that caught her attention above all others was one of Rylie and Kantor on their wedding day.  She looked up suddenly when Rylie came downstairs with Levi in her arms.  Of course, the little boy looked at his father curiously, as if wondering who the hell his daddy was holding.  The moment was awkward, but it soon smoothed out the instant Kantor and Rylie set down the two boys.  KT waited patiently for Nasya to come down.  She genuinely cared for the little girl and was anxious to see her after two years. 

"Where's Abby," KT asked.

"She's upstairs," Kantor answered.

Rylie sat back and watched as Levi gave Grayson his most prized possession, his gigantic dump truck.  She sat and gazed at Grayson.  He was Kantor all over, every inch of him, and Rylie felt jealous again, and she fought against it desperately.  She tore her eyes away from the boys and focused them upstairs for a moment.  Nas' door was closed, and she didn't think the girl intended to come out at all.  However, Nasya Abigail Kantor proved her wrong.  She watched as the door creaked open bit by bit before opening all the way.  Nas stood at the door and looked downstairs.  She wasn't quite looking at KT yet; she was gazing down at the child, at her new brother.  She was a smart kid and saw that he looked like her and Dad.  Her eyes shifted to KT standing in the middle of the room.  She was staring up at Nasya, seemingly waiting for her to come down.  She wasn't sure she wanted to look at KT, much less come down to see her. 

"Abby?"

Nas crossed her arms over her chest and stubbornly refused to acknowledge KT's special name for her.  She was mad at KT, mad at her for making her cry.  She took a tentative step down one riser, but paused when she saw KT approaching the bottom of the staircase. 

"Abby?  Don't you want to come down and say hi," KT asked with a smile.

Rylie watched as the scene between her daughter and KT unfolded.  She desperately wanted to tell KT to back off, especially since Nas had been so shattered.  At the moment, Kantor was focused solely on Grayson and Levi, and he wasn't paying attention to his daughter.  However, soon enough, he did turn and glance at the staircase. 

Slowly, Nas descended the staircase, still not completely focusing on KT.  When her foot touched the bottom riser, instead of moving toward KT, she went over to where Grayson and Levi were destroying the dump truck.  She stared down at her brother curiously.  He looked like Dad.  He looked like Dad a lot.  She quietly turned away from Grayson and approached the couch where Rylie sat.  She sat down and focused her dark eyes on KT's face.

"I don't like to be called Abby anymore," Nas said suddenly.

KT nodded as she approached a chair near the couch and seated herself.  "Okay.  You are such a pretty girl.  I really missed you."

Rylie noticed that Nas gave KT a 'did you really' look.  Again, it was one created and patented by her father.  Nas wasn't easily swayed by the compliment.  She was still hurt, still mad at KT.  Nas kept her dark eyes focused on KT, but hadn't said one word in acknowledgment.

"If you missed me, KT, why didn't you come see me sooner," Nas finally asked after a long, painful silence. 

Kantor glanced up at his daughter.  He wanted to say something, but couldn't.  She needed to air her hurt, and Nas wouldn't be easily silenced.

"It's hard getting away, baby, I'm sorry," KT said.  "Remember how you always used to pretend I was your mother?"  Rylie visibly cringed at this.  "Well, I'm not your mom, but I am your brother's mom.  Come on, baby, let's be friends."

She huffed and puffed.  She was not pleased.  Nas looked over at Rylie, and then she focused her eyes on her father.  After a moment, she glanced at KT without an ounce of acceptance in her body.  She moved closer to Rylie.  "Rylie is my mom, KT.  She's the only mom I ever had.  Before her, Dad and Grandma were all I had.  You left and never came back.  Mom's don't leave, KT, not on purpose."  She sighed and then glanced at her two brothers.  There was still so much she didn't understand, and probably never would.  Her heart wouldn't be won back so easily. 

KT sighed, feeling hurt and completely destroyed.  She thought she might have loved Abby more than Kantor.  "Okay, baby, I won't push.  If you ever want to talk to me, I'll be around.  Gray may be spending more and more time here, especially if your father has anything to do with it."

Kantor shot a look at KT and shook his head.  The motion said, 'cut it out.'  "Nas?  Would you like to see your brother?"

She glanced at her father and shook her head.  "Not yet, Dad."  She gave Grayson a cursory look before scrambling off the couch and flying upstairs. 

Rylie fixed both Kantor and KT with cold glances before she went after the little girl.  Torn, Kantor didn't know if he should stay or go.  He glanced up at KT.  "Why did you have to approach her like this, KT?  You of all people should know Nasya's heart."

"How am I supposed to approach her, Falk?"

He shook his head.  "I won't argue with you about this, not now, not in front of the kids.  Please take it easy on her, KT.  She has been through hell her entire life, and I've already hurt her enough."

Neither Rylie nor Nasya came back downstairs during the entire visit.  When they left, Kantor took his exhausted son to his room.  He and Grayson had nearly torn the living room apart.  He passed by Nas' room and noticed that she was taking her own nap.  Kantor carried Levi into his room and laid him down in his bed.  He turned away and went to his and Rylie's room.  As expected, he found her inside.  She was propped up in bed, pretending to read a book, but he could see that she was preoccupied.

"Is Nas okay?"

She fixed her green eyes on his face.  "Yes, she's okay, but she's hurting.  Falk, she blames herself for KT leaving, and she has cried a river of tears because of it.  That's what she was crying about in her room the night you came to us.  For her, like me, it's just going to take some time."

He nodded.  "I can give you time.  I can give you all you need, but he's my son, Rylie.  He's their brother and he will be a part of this family.  I won't bend on that."

She nodded.  "I know you won't, Falk, and I don't expect you to.  Just don't push her, baby, she's just like you."

"I know," he said, "and I won't.  I've hurt her far too much as it is."

"Would you come here," she asked.  He didn't hesitate.  He approached her and climbed onto the bed beside her.  She laid her book aside.  "I know you've had a lot on your mind, but there's something we need to talk about."

Concerned, Kantor drew closer to his wife.  His fear, his worst fear, was that she had decided to leave him because of this.  She wasn't looking at him.  Instead, she had focused her eyes on her hands.  "Rylie?  I don't like the sound of this."

She immediately understood what he thought she was about to say.  She could read him so well.  "Falk, I'm not leaving you.  I couldn't.  I love you too much.  There's something else.  I've only known a couple of days, but I couldn't say anything right away."

Kantor knew, knew the instant she had spat out the words.  He swallowed a huge lump that had formed in his throat.  His heart was beating madly.  "Rylie," he spat when he could finally vocalize.  "You're pregnant?"  She said nothing, only nodded.  He placed his hand under her chin and turned her face toward his.  Her eyes were closed.  "Rylie-"

She jerked her chin out of his hand and buried her face into hers.  "I know.  Don't you think I know, Falk?  I will wind up losing the baby, I know, but I want to hold onto it as long as I can."

He wrapped his arms around her.  "You're torturing yourself, and I can't stand to see it.  You can't carry this baby, Rylie."

"I know," she moaned in tears.  "I know.  Let me try, let me…try."

*  *  *

Rylie sat out on the sun porch watching the kids.  They were no more than a foot away, and Nasya was acting her role as the consummate big sister.  As she sat back and watched Levi, Grayson, and Nasya, she saw her husband so prevalently in all three.  There were differences, of course, but it was subtle.  Levi was the most outgoing and loving of the three; Grayson was loving, but also brooding and thoughtful; Nasya was bossy, but not totally inflexible.  Kantor loomed somewhere out there, but she couldn't see him from her vantage point.  Since KT relented to allowing Kantor extended visitation with his son, Rylie had spent more time with the boy, and had grown to love him very much.  On his own, Grayson had begun to call Kantor 'Dad,' picking it up after hearing the other kids call him that.  Of course, it thrilled Kantor to no end.  After several moments, Rylie tore herself away and went upstairs.

Later, Rylie heard the herd of children burst into the house followed by their father.  Nasya, the little dictator, had ordered the younger children to be quiet or else.  Rylie laughed softly and shook her head.  A moment later, she heard Kantor thumping up the stairs.  He approached his wife and wrapped his arms tightly around her waist.  He kissed the side of her throat and inhaled the soft hint of her perfume.  He glanced over her shoulder, focusing his eyes on what had drawn Rylie's attention.  Their daughter, born just three weeks previously, lay snugly in her crib.  It was the same crib that had once held both Nasya and Levi.  Neither of them could stop looking at yet one more little miracle, another gift that been so graciously bestowed upon them. 

 

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