“You’re awfully quiet, Robert,” Anna said, her arm absentmindedly looped through his as they walked along the pier. “Anything you want to tell me?”
Robert said nothing, but his lips curled up in wistful half smile.
“Hmm? What?” he said, finally looking at her.
“What’s going on with you?”
“Ha. No sense trying to keep secrets, Scorpio.”
“Who says I’m keeping secrets?”
“Come on, now. You forget, I know you just as well as you know me.”
“Do you really?”
“I think I do,” she smiled.
God, how he loved that smile, he thought. He subconsciously patted the ring box in his pocket and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry Finn had to go back to the hospital.”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you seem to enjoy giving him a hard time.”
“I do not. Come on. We were having such a lovely time there, the three of us.”
They stood quietly for a few minutes listening to the harbor bells before Anna spoke again. “Where are you tonight, Robert?”
“What do you mean? I’m standing here with you.”
“You know what I mean. You’re lost tonight. Lost in thought or… I don’t know.”
He thought again of the box in his pocket. The tiny black box that seemed to weigh on him like a thousand-pound weight. “Maybe I’m just lost on memory lane,” he said hesitantly.
“Yeah, maybe. You’re not the only one who gets sentimental about our daughter, our…” The last word drifted away with the breeze over the harbor.
“You’re going soft in your old age, Robert,” Anna laughed.
He chuckled too, thankful she didn’t press him to complete the previous thought.
“It feels nice to laugh again,” Anna said, smiling at him again.
It was a real smile. Unlike the put-on smiles of the past year, this one reached her eyes. Those deep, brown pools of emotion sparkled at him now as he stared into them and it filled his heart with a complicated mix of joy and pain. He forced himself to speak, so as not to get lost again. “Finn must make you laugh,” he said.
Anna heard the question in his tone and answered with an energetic affirmation. “Yes, he does. Of course!” Then, she paused. “Being with Finn is lovely. I’m very thankful to have him in my life.”
“But after everything we’ve been through in the past year with Peter and Alex and… Well, it feels good to know that you and I can still laugh together, Robert.” She reached out to touch his cheek. “I’m thankful to have you in my life, too.”
He took her hand from his cheek and held it in his, but his cheek still tingled with the memory. “Anna…” He took a breath. “Look, I can’t lie. You threw me for a loop with the Faison nonsense. And it’s no secret that I’m no fan of Heinrich—”
“Peter,” she corrected him.
“Him either. I’m no fan of either of them. But I will always… always be in your corner, Anna.”
She squeezed his hand as she watched him swallow hard. “I know you will. Thank you,” she said, throwing her arms around his neck and pulling him to her.
He wrapped his arms around her waist and settled into the familiar embrace. He could stand there for an hour, he thought. But a moment later another evening breeze swept in and he felt Anna shiver against him. He pulled away. “It’s gettin’ a bit nippy out here,” he said. “I should get you home.”
“I guess so,” she said. She reached for his hand and let him lead her back to his car.
* * *
“Thank you for the walk. And the ride home,” Anna said as she fished her house key out of her handbag. “Do you want to come in for a nightcap?”
“I don’t know. The good doctor will home from his day of helping people any minute. This gun-toting spy might just be in the way,” Robert said, gesturing toward himself with a snicker.
“Is that what’s bothering you?”
She rolled her eyes playfully at him. “Robert, come in with me a have a drink, will you?”
“If you insist,” he said.
He followed her inside and waited as she fixed them each a scotch on the rocks.
She delivered his glass to him, noting the way he hovered on the edge of his chair wringing his hands. He took the glass but did not attempt to make eye contact. She sat on the edge of the chair opposite him and leaned in to get his attention. “Robert,” she whispered. “Look at me.”
He reluctantly looked up and took a cautious sip of his drink.
“What I said earlier, about Finn being a good man who’s dedicated his life to helping people—”
“And me being the guy that shoots them all up?”
“Yes… No! Robert, you said that. I didn’t.”
“Anna, we don’t have to do this.”
“Yes. I think maybe we do. Could you just… just let me talk for a minute, please?”
“Thank you.” She took a drink, then continued. “Finn is a good man. He’s a brilliant doctor. He can be awkward and sarcastic, but it’s all funny and endearing in its own way. A bit like you actually.”
Robert perked up at that, but he didn’t interrupt.
Anna went on. “Our relationship was unplanned and unexpected, but he makes me happy. Happier than I’ve been since… Well, happier than I’ve been in a long time.”
“What’s your point, Anna?”
“I’m getting there.”
“Well get on with it. We’re not gettin’ any younger here.
“Oh, Robert!” She swatted him on the arm. “My point is… Finn is a good man—”
“You said that already.”
“Then stop interrupting me!” She tilted her head at him and waited until he appeared to be listening again. “Just because he’s a good man, it doesn’t that you’re not.”
He smiled as her eyes began to glisten.
“You are a good man, Robert Scorpio. You have dedicated your life to protecting me and Robin. To protecting the world from the bad guys. To making it a better, safer place. You’ve made your mistakes. We both have. But you were always fighting to for what was right. And some days, knowing you were out there fighting the same as I was… it was the only thing that got me by all those years we were apart.”
Her tears were actually falling, now and he had to look down to keep from tearing up himself.
“I meant what I said earlier. I cherish what we had together. You and I have shared more excitement and adventure than most people have in a lifetime. We’ve both been hurt, but we’ve laughed harder and loved deeper than most people can even imagine.”
He stood and took a few steps away from her. “There were times when I thought it was all gonna last forever,” he said without turning to face her.
“Me, too,” she whispered. She abandoned her drink and walked toward him. “We will always share a past, Robert. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it—not one minute—for anything in the world.”
Instinctively, he turned and pulled her into his arms and held her again, wishing he could ignore the inaudible but that lingered in the air.
As they stood there, once again enjoying a tender moment, the front door opened and in walked Finn. Unlike this afternoon, Anna did not smile and wave. She didn’t look up. Didn’t open her eyes. Finn said nothing. He only stood silently with his hands in his pockets wondering how long it would take for either of them to notice him.
It was Robert who moved first. “Oh, hey, Doc,” he said. The look on his face didn’t exactly say guilty, but it didn’t scream innocence either.
Anna put on a quick grin, but Finn couldn’t help but notice that she was once again dabbing tears from her eyes. “How was your shift?” she asked.
“Fine. How are you? Is everything okay here?” he asked as he joined her.
“Yeah. Of course,” she said, putting her arms around him. “Just finishing up our stroll down memory lane.”
“I guess it was a longer trip than you thought, huh?”
“Well, you know,” Anna said, “there is a lot of history between Robert and me.”
“I thought you ah… thought you were gonna start looking toward the future,” Finn said.
“Yes!” she said.
When she moved to plaster a kiss on Finn’s lips, Robert decided that was his cue to exit. He cleared his throat. “Well, on that note, I’ll see you kids later,” he said. Without another word or look back, he was out the door, leaving Anna and Finn to exchange a dumbfounded glance.
As Robert climbed into his car, he felt the corner of the ring box dig into his thigh. “Aw, hell!” he said. He pulled it out and stared at it again. There was no way he could go back in there now. He checked his phone for messages and found one new text from Finn. A repeat of the last.
You still have something that belongs to me.
Robert eyed the words and exhaled forcefully, then grumbled, “So do you!”
Robert was nowhere to found after that night. He sent Anna a text the following morning telling her he had to leave on a rather urgent assignment. No questions asked. She knew better. Finn received a precious package from Robert, delivered by courier that afternoon. The little velvet box was accompanied by a note that read, “Don’t screw it up.”
It wasn’t until three weeks later that Robert surfaced in Port Charles again. He arrived at the Nurses’ Ball early, found his way through the backstage door, and sneaked up behind the dressing table. “Hey sweetheart,” he said with a smile in his voice.
Robin jumped about a foot, then whirled her chair around to face him. “Daddy! You’re here!” she squealed as she leaped out of the chair and threw her arms around him.
He chuckled, hearing her call him daddy. “Of course, I’m here. Would I miss a chance to see my baby girl on stage?”
“Well, I know this kind of event really isn’t your thing.”
“True, but this case is special. You and Patrick and my grandkids on stage… Where is Paddy-Cake anyway?”
“He’s out front with the kids. Emma wanted to walk the red carpet with Grandma.”
“Mum’s here?” he asked.
“She is,” Robin said, taking her seat in front of the mirror again.
Robert’s interest was piqued. “Where’s the good doctor?”
“Finn? He’s finishing up at the hospital. He’ll be here later.”
Robert eyed Robin’s reflection. “What’s that look for?”
“What?” Robin shrugged.
“Come on, Robin. You look like the cat that ate the canary.”
“I have no idea what you mean,” Robin said, but her smile widened despite her denial.
“Robin!” Robert cautioned.
“What? Nothing, Dad.” She hesitated, then added, “Just wait until you see Mom.”
“Yeah?” Robert moved a step closer, willing Robin to continue.
“Her dress is gorgeous.”
Robert raised an eyebrow. “Why do I have a feeling there’s something you’re not telling me, Robin?”
Robin sighed and rolled her eyes. “My father, the super spy.” She stood and took his arm. “Just relax and enjoy the evening like everyone else, for once, okay?”
“I make no promises,” Robert laughed. “You look gorgeous, too, by the way.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Now, come on. You can walk me down the red carpet!”
Prancing past the paparazzi was precisely what he’d hoped to avoid by sneaking in the back, but for Robin, he would endure just about anything. So, he grinned and said, “You got it, sweetheart,” as he let her lead him toward the action.
* * *
“Robert!” Anna called out when she spotted him.
He opened his mouth to respond, but the only thing that came out was an inaudible wow.
She crossed the ballroom, smiling brightly.
He looked her up and down as she stood in front of him and tried again. “Wow!” he finally managed. “You look…”
She turned seductively in a circle. “You like?”
Like was not the word he would have used. She wore a sleek, floor length, form-fitting number that was reminiscent of the delayed gratification dress he’d loved so long ago. This one, however was black and patterned with tiny embroidered red roses. They weren’t hearts, but he couldn’t help thinking about a certain pair of stockings. He took her hands in his and he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. He noted almost immediately the absence of one particular diamond and sapphire bauble. “You look amazing,” he said, hoping nothing on his face or in his touch would reveal the sudden hunger he was fighting to suppress.
“You clean up all right yourself, Scorpio,” she said as she ran her hand down the lapel of his tuxedo jacket. She jokingly looked around the room in search of someone. “No date?”
“Ah, well, it just so happens my date is going to be late. As is yours, I understand.”
“Finn? He’ll be here soon. You actually have a date, then?” Anna said.
“You sound surprised.”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head. “Any one I know?”
“You may have heard of her—a lovely women by the name of Laura.” He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Yeah, or Weber, or Collins. Whichever it is these days.”
“Really, Robert? The mayor? What’s your angle?”
“No angle. Come on. Laura and I are old friends. You know that.”
“Yes,” he insisted. “Besides, it’s my understanding that her husband is wrapped up in some kind of rouse with Ava Jerome, leaving her without an escort, so…” He spread his arms wide. “Voilá!”
Anna gave him an oddly suspicious smile.
“Be careful, love. If I didn’t know better, I might think you were jealous.”
“Ha! Please, Robert! Oh, look, there are Robin and Finn.” She brushed past him and rushed toward the others. “Hello,” she said, smiling at Finn.
“Hi,” he said as she kissed him softly on the corner of the mouth. “You look great,” he added in what Robert considered his usual tone of nervous confusion.
“Thanks! So do you,” Anna cooed.
Robert cleared his throat, averting his eyes as the lovebirds gazed at one another. He was thankful when Robin jumped in and suggested they find their table. He gave the women a head start, then leaned over and whispered to Finn. “I trust you received the package I sent you?”
“Yeah, I did.” Finn said.
“So, what gives? Why the delay?”
“I ah… I’m getting’ to it. Okay? I just… you know… the time… the time just hasn’t been right.”
Robert eyed him. “Listen, Doc, that woman there…” he said, gesturing toward Anna, “…is very important to me. Now, I can’t explain why, but you obviously make her happy. For that reason alone, I want to see you succeed.”
“Thanks for the ringing endorsement.”
“Take my advice. Don’t let her get away.”
Finn looked serious for a moment. “I have no intention of it,” he said, and he walked away to join Anna.
Robert watched them laugh and talk as they gathered around their table. He knew now what Robin had been hiding. He knew what was coming. Finn was going to propose tonight. He’d told Finn he supported him. He expected Anna to say yes. And yet…
* * *
Robin, Patrick and the kids finished their act to great applause. Robert congratulated them, then stood and headed out in search of Laura, who’d yet to surface. As he neared the door, he heard Lucy announcing Doctor Hamilton Finn. “Aw, here we go,” Robert said to himself. He snagged a flute of champagne from a passing server and propped himself against the door frame at the back of the ballroom to watch it unfold.
When Finn finished his inspirational request for donations, he asked Anna to join him on stage. Robert found himself critiquing every word of the proposal, while simultaneously analyzing Anna’s every expression. She paused a moment longer than he’d expected, leaving Finn hanging on bended knee. And for just a moment, he felt a flicker of hope swell within him. Then, he heard it. The “yes” followed by thunderous applause and joyous noise from the crowd. Robert watched as Finn slipped the ring on her finger. He watched him sweep Anna into his arms and kiss her. He watched Anna beam as she came off stage to hug the friends and family waiting for her. She looked happier than he’d seen her in a long time. Too long. For that he was glad. Her eyes scanned the room and locked on his. Suddenly her expression changed. From a hundred feet away, he could hear the unspoken questions. “I said yes, Robert. Am I doing the right thing? Are you happy for me?”
Though it suddenly felt heavy in his hand, he raised his glass in response and gave her a grin.
She smiled back, her eyes sparkling, then turned to greet more well-wishers.
He downed his glass of champagne and walked out. He leaned over the bar as he passed and grabbed a near-full bottle of tequila while the bar tender wasn’t looking. He dropped a fifty-dollar bill on the bar and grumbled, “Keep the change,” as he walked away.
Laura arrived just in time to see the elevator doors close behind him.
“Anna, I understand congratulations are in order,” Laura said as she greeted her.
“Thank you, so much!” Anna smiled. She gave the mayor a quick hug.
Laura turned to Finn. “I’m just so happy for you. And I’m so sorry I missed all the excitement.” Laura gushed.
Finn’s hand went through his hair. He started a thought, “Yeah, well, that’s ok. You know…” but lost it when Laura pulled him into a hearty embrace. He smiled awkwardly over her shoulder at Anna.
“Duty calls, I supposed?” Anna said.
“Exactly,” Laura said, releasing Finn. “I got stuck at the office and by the time I arrived, my date had given up on me.”
“Robert left?” Anna said, now scanning the room.
“Yes. I saw him getting on the elevator. I assumed he was going up to his room. I texted him to let him know that I’d made it. I told him I’d wait if he wanted to come back down, but I haven’t heard anything, so…”
“Robin,” Anna called out. She reached out her hand as her daughter approached.
“Hello Mayor Weber,” Robin said as she took her mom’s hand.
Laura laughed. “Please, Robin, call me Laura. How are you? How are things in Berkley?”
“Great!” Robin said with a smile. She felt her mother squeeze her hand. “Mom. What’s up?”
“Have you seen your dad?”
“He didn’t say goodnight, then?”
“No. He left?”
“He has. But no matter. Let’s just call him for breakfast tomorrow, shall we?” Anna suggested.
“Sounds good. Meanwhile, I think the Scorpio-Drakes have had enough fun for one evening.”
As Robin, Patrick, and the kids said their goodnights, Anna quickly sent a text to Robert.
Laura offered to walk Robin’s family out, leaving Anna and Finn standing in the ballroom.
Finn watched them go, then turned to Anna. “What do you say? Should we get out of here, too? Maybe… have a little… celebration of our own?”
When she didn’t answer, her reached out to touch her on the shoulder. “Anna?”
She looked up from her phone. “Hmm? Oh, sorry. Should we go?”
“I’m ready if you are.”
Anna hesitated, glancing down at her phone again.
“You’re ah… you’re not ready to go, are you?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. It’s just not like Robert to disappear without saying goodnight. To Robin, anyway. And he hasn’t answered Laura’s or my texts.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Go. Check on Robert. But when you get home, you’re all mine. Deal?”
She gave him a quick but meaningful kiss. “I’m all yours,” she said with a salacious smile. “Apparently for the rest our lives.”
“Wow,” he whispered as she walked away.
* * *
“All right already,” Robert grumbled as he hauled himself off the bed. “Who is it?”
“Anna, what the hell are doing here?” he asked as he opened the door.
“It’s nice to see you, too, Robert.”
“That’s not what I meant.” As he shook his head, he took a stutter step to the side and it was just enough to allow her space to pass into the room. “Come in,” he said sarcastically.
“Thank you.” Anna strode into the room, then stopped to assess the situation. “You look like hell,” she lied. He was still in his tuxedo pants and shirt with the top two buttons open and his undone bow tie dangling around his neck. She noted the open bottle of tequila and watched as Robert took a few steps toward her, then veered toward the bottle.
“Drink?” He poured himself another shot and gulped it down.
For a moment, she was distracted by the memory of a similar situation— him in a tuxedo with a bottle of tequila in another hotel room, several years ago after Robin’s wedding reception. Only he hadn’t been drinking alone that night. She shook the thought off and moved on. “How much of that have you had?”
He put the bottle down and turned to face her. “Anna, what are you doing here?” he asked again.
“Robert?” she said sternly.
“You disappeared without saying goodnight to your daughter, your date was looking for you, and you weren’t returning messages. I was… concerned.”
“It’s not your job to worry about me.”
“But I do.”
“Yeah, well, look… I’m fine, aren’t I?”
“Of course, I am,” he said with a grin.
“This isn’t like you, Robert. Disappearing, ignoring texts, shooting tequila alone in your room. What’s going on with you?”
He took hold of her shoulders. “I’m fine, Anna. Besides, you have bigger things to worry about right now.”
“Like where is your fiancé?”
A goofy smile spread across her face. “Fiancé,” she said, laughing as she flopped down onto the bed. “Oh, my God! Robert, am I crazy?”
“What are you talking about? No. You’re not crazy.” He grabbed a second glass from the bar, poured again—two shots this time—and handed one to Anna as he sank down next to her on the bed. “You’re a woman in love. For once in your life, don’t question it. Just enjoy it.”
She smiled and her cheeks colored.
“After everything we’ve… everything you’ve been through, you deserve to be happy.”
He was quiet then, his eyes avoiding hers, and she recognized the look on his face. There was a wistfulness about him, something she’d experienced many times over the years. “Robert?” she said with a hand on his knee.
His face sprang back to attention. “Yeah, love?”
“Are you okay with this?”
“Is that what’s got you out of sorts? Finn and me?”
“Ha!” Robert laughed a little too loudly. “Come on, Anna. It’s not like I’m still carrying a torch for you.”
“Of course not. Not that you aren’t beautiful and charming and all that, but…”
“You are, you know?”
“You are beautiful, charming, brilliant.”
“I thought you said you weren’t carrying a torch.”
“I’m not. But if I were being totally honest…” He took a breath and reached for her hand, caressing the back of it with his thumb. “You are still the love of my life.”
Her mouth fell open for a second, then she closed it and swallowed.
“Don’t look so serious, now. That doesn’t mean I’m looking to come between you and the good doctor.”
“We both know you and I just… don’t work, right?” His eyes searched hers for confirmation.
“Right,” Anna agreed. Though there was still a hint of skepticism in her tone.
Robert went on. “But we will always love each other. Always have each other’s backs, and always want the best for each other.”
Anna nodded and smiled.
“Finn is what’s best for you, Anna. He makes you happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“All right. Enough with the hearts and flowers, Robert. I don’t know if I can take much more.” She wiped a tear from her cheek.
“Sorry. It’s the tequila,” he teased. “Cheers,” he said as he raised his glass. “To you and Finn. May you both have found your happily ever after.”
Their glasses clinked and each downed the contents, then let leaned forward to let their foreheads rest together.
“You should go,” he reminded her after a moment, realizing that her leaving as soon as possible was as much for his own self-preservation as for her and Finn’s benefit.
“Yes, I should,” she said. She stood and moved toward the door.
“How did you find my room, anyway?” he asked.
“Your aliases and undercover procedures don’t fool me, Robert Scorpio,” she laughed. “We work for the same agency, remember?”
“Not anymore,” he said under his breath.
“Nothing. We’ll talk soon.”
“Sure. Now, go on home to that man of yours,” he said as he opened the door.
“Okay.” She threw her arms around his neck. “Goodnight, Robert.”
“Goodnight,” he said, returning the hug.
“I love you,” she said as she let go.
“I love you, too,” he whispered as he watched her walk down the hall. He watched until she’d got on the elevator. He watched until the doors closed. Then, he sighed and stepped back into the room.
He took one more shot of tequila and grimaced as it went down. On his way in to shower the day away, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He pulled on one end of the bow tie and shook his head at his reflection as the tie slipped off. “Get it together, Scorpio, you old fool.”
“Frisco, what the hell are you talking about? Are you sure? Robert? My… I mean our Robert? Just like that? After all his years of service? Oh, shut up! I don’t care about page three thousand of the rule book. To hell with the rule book. This is Robert Freaking Scorpio we’re talking about.” She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly as Frisco blathered on. “All right. Fine, Frisco.” she said when he’d finally finished. “I get it. There was nothing you could do. If you say so. Just… If you hear from him, can you please ask him to call me? Please?” She ended with a forced thank you and hung up.
She let out an exasperated groan and turned to find a rather skittish-looking Finn hovering in the doorway with his hands in his pockets. “Oh, hi,” she said, reaching for the coffee pot. “How are you?”
“Me? I’m fine. Better than you are by the sound of it.” He sauntered up behind, placed his hands on her shoulders, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Everything okay?”
“Are you sure? I mean a second ago you looked like you were about to… to throw your phone across the room. I was prepared to duck, you know? Or… go for cover.”
Anna laughed. “No,” she sighed. “I’m just frustrated.”
“What did Robert do now?”
“It’s not Robert. Not this time.”
“Well, I mean it is Robert, but—”
“I feel shocked,” Finn said with a smirk.
“Finn!” Anna gave him a cautionary look. “I can’t find him.”
“Robert!” she shouted, her frustration increasing by the second.
“Okay. Calm down,” Finn said.
That did nothing to help.
“What do you mean you can’t find him?”
“I mean I don’t know where he is.”
“He’s probably just off on some secret assignment, right?”
“That’s what I’d assumed when he hadn’t been in touch. But, no. He isn’t. I just got off the phone with Frisco.”
“And…” She shook her head, still disgusted with the thought. “Robert isn’t on assignment. He’s been let go.”
“Forced to retire.”
“How dare they?”
“Finn!” she shouted. The sarcastic lilt in his voice had not eluded her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“After all the years he gave them, all experience he has, everything he brings to the table…” She stopped talking as the lump in the back of her throat grew thicker.
“Is that standard procedure or something?”
“Yeah. Frisco reminded me of that.”
“Well, what can you do?”
“Nothing. I can’t do anything about it. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying about him.” She dabbed a tear from her eye before Finn could catch sight of it.
“Robert’s a big boy. I’m sure, like you said, with all his experience, he can take care of himself.”
“I know he can. It’s just…” She looked at him standing in front of her, brilliant, handsome, younger man, and she realized any further attempt to explain was futile. “Never mind. You have work to get to, don’t you?”
“I do,” he said. He leaned down and kissed her. “I’ll see you after my shift?”
“Sure,” she smiled.
“Okay. Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Anna stood at the counter watching the empty doorway until she heard the front door close behind Finn. She sighed again, then picked up her cup of coffee and took it to the table where her planner lay open. She flipped through the pages, verifying that everything they needed for their simple summer wedding in the park had been taken care of. It was, after all, only weeks away.
Wildflowers for the bouquets. Check.
Cake for the reception. Check.
Dresses for her and Robin. Check.
Well, most of the invitations. She stared at the guest list. Each name had been checked and check again as the invitations were sent and RSVPs received. She had followed up with those she hadn’t heard from in order to get a final count, so all of the names had some kind of mark next to them. Every name, that is, except for one. The first name on the list. Robert’s name. There, stuffed between the pages of the planner was his returned invitation with a glaring red stamp that read, “No forwarding address”.
She hadn’t bothered to elaborate with Finn. He couldn’t possibly understand. Not that it was his fault, but he couldn’t. He was too young. And his line of work was different. He would be renown and needed as an infectious disease specialist for years to come. Robert, on the other hand, had just been cast aside for a younger agent. And while that agent might bring new skills to the table, he or she certainly wouldn’t bring the level of street smarts and on the job training that Robert had. Those things should be worth something, she thought. And if they could get rid of him so easily, what did that mean for her? Robert had a few years on her. But not that many. How long did she have before she too was asked to move on? Especially with her recent health concerns. They’d both spent too many years in the spy game to start something new, hadn’t they? What would they do? What could they do? If the idea caused her this much angst, what must Robert be feeling? Was he disgruntled? Was he worried about his future? She would feel useless, she thought. Did he feel useless? She couldn’t imagine what that would do to him. Wondering frightened her none the less, and she wished she could be there to support him, just as she would want him to be there for her. Over the years she’d come to realize that there were just some things they shared, things only they two could understand. This was one of those things.
Anna willed herself to snap out her mental rant and glanced down at the returned invitation once more, then slammed the planner shut and flopped back in her chair. She couldn’t quite explain why it was so important. Not to Finn or anyone else. All she knew was she needed to hear from him.
“Ugh. Robert. Where are you? Why won’t you call me back?” she whispered. But one question—the question she hadn’t allowed herself to utter out loud—still danced around in her head. “How can I possibly go through with this wedding without you there?”
Anna watched Finn pace about the living room, anxiously running his hand through his hair as he tried to digest her request.
“So, what? You’re saying you want to cancel the wedding?” he said, stopping in front of her.
“No! Finn…” she reached out to run her hand along his arm. Her tone softened. “That’s not what I’m saying. Not at all. I don’t want to cancel the wedding. Just… postpone it.”
“Just postpone it?” He nodded vigorously, his lips forming a thin line.
“Yes,” Anna said with a smile. She tried to remain cautiously optimistic.
“For how long?”
She pursed her lips in thought. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” he bellowed.
“I mean I don’t know. Finn…” Her optimism was fading fast.
“Why don’t I know? Or why do I want to postpone it?”
Finn sat and took a few cleansing breaths to calm himself, then looked up at Anna. “You’re not having cold feet, are you?”
She dashed to his side and again stroked his arm as if doing so would also stroke his ego. “No! of course not. I love you!”
“I love you too.” He paused once more, searching her face. “So, what’s the problem? The flowers, the cake, the dress? What?”
“No. All of the arrangements are lovely.”
“It’s…” She bit her lip. There was no way to say it that wouldn’t sound strange to him. Even if it was the most natural thing in the world to her. “…Something is missing,” she said. “Or, someone.”
She gave a small nod.
His hand flew to his head as he shot up off the sofa and turned away. “Are you serious, Anna.”
“Look, I know you two are close. Really. Unusually. Close. For exes. But…” He shook his head. “…Do we really have to put our lives on hold for Robert?”
“Oh, come on. You don’t have to be so dramatic. Is it really that big of a deal?”
“You tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“Is it really that big a deal that he be there?”
“To me it is. Yes.”
“I don’t know. It just is.”
“You know, sometimes I don’t get you. I mean, one minute you can’t stand the man and the next you can’t live without him.”
She rose, tilted her head, and gave him a pouty half-smile. “You’re right.”
“I am? Right. I know I am.”
“Robert and me… it’s complicated. He’s exasperating and stubborn and he’s always putting his nose in where it doesn’t belong. But he’s always been there for me when the chips were down. And I need him to be there now, too. I can’t explain it any better than that.”
Finn was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke again. “I’ll be there. From now on. You know. When the chips are down.”
She gave him a broader smile to compensate for any damage she may have just done to his pride. “I know you will. You’d better be.” She took his face in her hands and kissed him.
When they finally broke apart, he was wearing a very satisfied grin. “Are you sure we have to wait?” he asked, pulling her close. He was about to go in for another kiss when the doorbell rang.
She gave him a playful eye roll, then pried herself from his grip to go for the door. “We are only waiting long enough to find Robert,” she said as she turned the knob.
“Wait no longer,” said the tanned, snickering face on the other side of the threshold.
“Robert!” Anna squealed. She threw herself into his open arms with such force that she almost knocked him over.
“Easy, Anna,” he said with a chuckle, taking a stutter step to regain his balance.
Anna let go and took a step back. Her relief now replaced with irritation, she swatted him on the shoulder. “Where the hell have you been?”
“That’s a long story, love. One that might just require a drink. May I?” He gestured toward the living room.
Anna stepped aside to let him pass and followed him into the room.
“Finn, always a pleasure,” Robert said as he headed for the bar cart. He held a decanter aloft. “Drink?”
“No, thanks. I don’t drink, Robert,” Finn reminded him.
“Right. Of course, you don’t. Anna?”
“Ah…” She looked at Robert, then Finn.
He made a sour face. “Right. On that note, if you’ll excuse me, duty calls.” He grabbed his suit jacket off the arm of the sofa and left the room.
Anna caught up with him at the door. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the hospital.”
“But you just came home a few hours ago.”
“Yeah, well… I’ve got a patient I want to check up on and you and Robert obviously have a lot to talk about, so…”
“Okay. I’ll see you later, then?”
“Yeah. See ya.” He gave her a peck on the cheek and left.
By the time Anna rejoined Robert in the living room a moment later, he had already made himself at home on the sofa. Two glasses sat on the table in front of him.
“I hope one of those is mine,” Anna said with a sigh.
He handed her a glass as she took her seat next to him and kicked her feet up on the table. “Everything okay with you and the good doctor?” he asked.
“It’ll be fine,” she said, then added under her breath, “I hope.”
“Uh oh. Trouble in paradise?”
“Never mind. Let me worry about it. Let’s get back to you. Where the hell have you been? I was worried!”
“You needn’t have worried, love. I was on a bit of a walkabout is all. Working on this rugged outdoorsman look,” he gestured to his tanned face with a grin.
“Without telling anyone, Robert?”
“What’s the big deal here, Anna?”
“You didn’t tell me or—”
He cut her off. “You, know, the last I checked, we weren’t married anymore.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “I am aware of that, Robert. But you didn’t tell Robin or anyone. What if something happened? Not even Frisco knew where you were.”
“Ah,” Robert sighed. He threw back the remainder of his drink and shifted, turning his gaze toward the floor. “Well then, I trust you’ve heard about my unfortunate dismissal?”
Anna placed a hand on his knee. “I’m so sorry, Robert.”
He covered her hand with his and gave it a squeeze. “It’s not your fault.”
“I know, but… I still can’t believe Frisco would do that to you.”
“Come on, now, Anna. It’s not Frisco’s fault either. It’s in the book. You know that.”
“To hell with the book, Robert!”
“Hey, listen, there’s no sense getting’ yourself all riled up about it, now. What’s done is done.”
“But what about you?”
“What do you mean what about me?”
“What are you going to do, Robert? The WSB, the police force, fighting crime, it’s all you’ve ever known.”
He could hear the emotion building in her voice. She was as frustrated and fearful as he had been when he first got the news, and he appreciated the show of solidarity more than he would admit. But while was still a touch embarrassed by having to succumb to the consequences of his advancing age, he certainly didn’t intend to worry her, or accept any pity, from her or anyone else. “Anna,” he said, putting on am ornery smile. “Just because I got sacked by the Bureau, it doesn’t mean I’m gonna pull out my porch rocker and take up whittling.”
She laughed then, glad to see that his spirit had not been broken. “You’re not?”
“Hardly. As a matter of fact, I’ve already gone and got myself a new gig.”
“Yep. Right here in Port Chuck.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, awaiting the details.
He smiled again, knowing he had piqued her curiosity, and he paused, enjoying the way the corners of her mouth curved ever so gently with the flutter of intrigue.
“Well?’ she finally said when she’d run out of patience.
“I’m gettin’ to it,” he chuckled. “I’m sure you know that Laura has been reaching out in search of a new District Attorney.”
“Jordan mentioned it to me, yes.” She gave a small shrug.
“Well, you’re looking at him.”
“What! You? The D.A.? Are you serious, Robert?”
“As a heart attack.”
“But you haven’t even practiced law since before we met?”
“Just like riding a bike,” he teased. “Besides, I wasn’t just on walk-about this whole time. I also took some time to catch up with the courtroom scene.”
“Why didn’t tell me?”
“Look, I just wanted to make sure everything was a done deal before getting anyone’s hopes up.”
She heard the subtext. He didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, including his own. She nodded. “So, what you’re saying is now I’m going to be stuck with you full-time?”
“I’m afraid so, love.”
“Good,” she said as she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him.
“What was that?”
“I could have sworn you said good.”
“You’ll never prove it,” she said, smiling over his shoulder.
“Ha ha!” he said. And he held her just a little tighter.
She pulled away a moment later and sat back, her face once again serious. “Since you are going to be around for a while, there is one thing I’d like to ask you.”
“It’s just a formality, really. I mean, it’s not necessary at this stage in my life, but Finn wants it to be a formal affair. Surprisingly. It’s rather unlike him. And… it just feels like the right thing to do somehow. So…”
“Anna, out with it,” he said.
“Okay.” She took a quick breath. “Robert, will you give me away at my wedding? Again?”
Robert was taken aback for a moment. He gave Anna a quizzical look. “You want me to give you away?”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Anna, I’m flattered. But ah, it seems to me I did that once before and, as I recall, the marriage wasn’t exactly the happily-ever-after sort.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t already asked your so-called son to walk you down the aisle.”
Anna’s brown furrowed. “Why do you do that?”
“Look for reasons to criticize Peter even when he doesn’t deserve it? When he isn’t even around!” She shook her head at him. “Why do you dislike him so much?”
“Ha! The better question is why are you so gung-ho over him?”
“He’s my son, Robert!”
“No, Anna! You see, that’s where you’re wrong. He’s not your son. I don’t care how many times you say it. Henrik Faison will never be your son. I know that. And deep down inside you know it too. I just don’t understand why you refuse to acknowledge it.”
She stood with an exasperated sigh. “Because I remember it, Robert! In my head, I know that it’s Alex’s memory, not mine. But I remember giving birth to him and watching the midwife carry him away. I remember the guilt and the shame, and I can’t just turn it off and pretend it never happened.” She turned away from him as her tears started to fall and wrapped her arms around herself. “I know you can’t understand that.”
He approached her, placing his hands gently on her shoulders. “Can’t I?” He turned her around so that he could look into her eyes. “There was I time when I remembered my wife, the woman I loved beyond reason… when I remembered walking in on her in bed with another man. A man that had tormented her, tormented us both for years. I felt the betrayal and the fury—”
“But it wasn’t real, Anna. It wasn’t real. Remember, you swore that to me. And to save us, to save myself, I had to fight to relinquish those memories so that we could move on with the rest of our lives. You could let it go, but you won’t.”
“That was Faison’s mental trick. It’s not the same thing!” she shouted.
“How do you know it isn’t?” he shot back.
“Because it isn’t!”
He scoffed at her response. “You don’t think Faison could have had any part in any of this memory matching business? He and Helena and all their cronies… they were thick as thieves. And Henrik—”
“—Is Faison’s son! I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he were in on it!”
“Oh, Robert! Don’t be ridiculous!”
“You’re the one who’s being ridiculous. I’m telling you, Anna, this guy is not who he claims to be. He’s trouble. Sooner or later, you’re gonna realize that.”
“And I suppose you’re going be the one to prove it? Hmm? Mr. District Attorney?”
“If I have to.”
She stared at him.
He couldn’t discern whether it was a look of angry disbelief or if her eyes were begging for him to help her. He wanted to believe it was the latter. That in her heart of hearts, she knew he was right, and she just needed him to guide her out of the darkness.
He took hold of her shoulders again and gave her a squeeze. “It’s time you stopped beating yourself up over the past. Once and for all. Faison is gone. But as long as you continue with this illusion, he still has a hold on you, Anna.”
“So that’s what this is really about? Your continued vendetta against Faison?”
“You say that like you never had any part of it. Like you didn’t stand next to me in a stable on a winter’s night with a gun aimed at his head while we put him in a hole to rot along with the rest of the maggots.”
“Yes. I did that Robert. The difference is, I have let it go. I’ve moved on. I’m not holding a grudge against Peter for the mistakes of his father. And I’m choosing to be the mother that my sister never was.”
“At what cost, Anna? You shouldn’t have to pay for your sister’s sins. You’re only inviting heartache.”
“Enough, Robert. Finn and I, Peter and I, we’re ready to move forward. I want you with me on that journey. But maybe it’s not meant to be.” She turned and headed toward the door.
He followed. “Anna, what are you saying?”
Anna stopped with her hand on the doorknob. “I’m saying I think you’re the one who’s still dwelling in the past, Robert. I love you, but if you can’t support my choices, if you can’t accept that Peter is a part of my life, then maybe it’s best if we give each other a little space.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Yes, Robert. I do mean it.” She gave him a sad smile and opened the door.
He stood on the threshold, hands in his pockets. “What about the wedding, then?”
She shrugged. “I hope you’ll be there. I hope you’ll stand up for me. Stand with me. But the choice is yours at this point.”
He searched her face for a moment, looking for what, he wasn’t sure anymore. Then he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I guess I’ll see you around,” he said.
She gave him a nod as he walked away.
He paused on the stoop as he heard the door close behind him. “Ah, hell!” he grumbled.
Anna leaned against the other side of the closed door, one hand still on the knob, the other wiping tears from her cheeks.
“She’s just being stubborn and defensive,” Robert told himself as he sat on the edge of his bed at the Metro Court wringing his hands. She wouldn’t admit it, but he could see it in her eyes. He saw the spark of doubt ignite when he’d suggested Faison and Henrik’s involvement in the memory matching. She knew as well as he did that what they were capable of. But it was obviously going to be up to him to prove it. She might not like it now. But eventually she’d thank him for it. He hoped.
“Argh! Robert!” Anna sighed as she poured her cup of tea. “Why does every conversation end up being about Peter and your disdain for him?” She asked as if it were a real question. But she knew why. She would never admit it to him, but there were grains of truth in everything he said. She’d forced herself to ignore the signs she’d seen. She was determined to find the good in Peter. To believe he was reformed. To believe she could give him the unconditional love he’d been denied, as if that would somehow fix whatever might be broken within him. But those seeds of doubt that she’d forced herself to swallow so many months ago now gnawed at the pit of her stomach.
She took a swallow of steaming tea and felt the burn as it slid down her throat. She visualized those seeds of doubt washed away by the hot liquid.
Why was it, she wondered, that she and Finn never argued about these things? Why was it always Robert? Why did he always have to be right? She didn’t want him to be right. She didn’t want to be wrong. She didn’t want to be saved. And least of all, she didn’t want Robert to be the one to save her. She wanted to move on. She had to move on. With Peter. With Finn. With her life.
Robert pushed himself off the bed. “Stuck in the past!” he mumbled as he poured from the bottle of scotch on the desk. He took a drink but said nothing more. There was nothing more to say. He was, in part, stuck in the past. He’d always been there for Anna as her friend, her confidant, and often, as her knight in shining armor. And if he was honest with himself, he didn’t want that to change. Not now. Not ever.
The coming weeks were difficult for Anna. Things between her and Robert remained strained. She could tell that Robert hated being at odds as much as she did. He’d come by repeatedly, seemingly seeking a truce, with love and concern in his eyes. Still, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t convince him he had no cause for alarm. Every conversation ended the same way – her defending Peter and her relationship with him, and Robert swearing up and down that he was building a case against Peter and promising to protect her, whether she liked it or not. She’d told him off more times recently than in all the years she’d known him. And the worst moment was when Peter showed up unannounced and overheard her and Robert arguing about him.
Troubled as she was, Anna was determined to push forward. She continued with preparations for the wedding. She hoped Robert would manage to come to terms with things and at least attend the ceremony. But she had to prepare herself for the fact that he might not. Given the situation, she asked Peter to give her away as Robert had suggested. Of course, she realized that suggestion had been laced with sarcasm. She decided not to dwell on bit.
Peter happily accepted his new appointment and seemed excited about being included as one of the family. He talked endlessly about Robin, Patrick, and the kids and said he was thrilled that they would all be together for the first time ever. What a celebration it would be, Anna thought. Robin’s family, Peter, Maxie and James, Mac and Felicia, and Griffin. Her family would all be there to support her and Finn as they began this new chapter of their lives. It would be perfect, she told herself. She resisted adding the almost that seemed to linger after she’d finished the thought.
When the big day finally arrived, Maxie took over. She insisted on seeing to every detail so that Anna could concentrate on enjoying the day. Anna saw no choice but to let Maxie fuss. She busied herself with hair and makeup until finally it was time to put on the dress.
“Okay, ladies, let’s do this!” Maxie said in her boisterous, take-charge fashion. She ushered Robin, Emma, and Felicia into the room, then cautioned Patrick to keep an eye on the groom as she shut the door in his face. “Don’t sit down, Mom,” Maxie bellowed, practically pushing Felicia off the chair in the corner of the church dressing room.
“Forgive me!” Felicia laughed while her daughter chased her across the room, smoothing out the layers of chiffon.
“Oh, let me look at you! You all look great!” Anna beamed.
Emma twirled to display her French lavender, draped halter gown with keyhole back and crystal buttons.
“All grown up!” Anna said as she wrapped her into her arms.
“Don’t wrinkle her!” Maxie called out.
“Maxie,” Robin said, “It’s fine. Relax.” Though, she knew as well as any of them that there would be now calming Maxie until Anna was safely down the aisle.
“Your turn, Anna,” Maxie said, approaching with Anna’s dress draped across her arms.
“Why don’t we help with that while you go check on the boys?” Felicia said.
“Fine,” Maxie said. “Just don’t let her wrinkle herself.”
“We won’t!” the three bridesmaids said in unison.
* * *
A few minutes later, Anna stood admiring the floor-length, ivory sheath gown in the mirror as Robin draped the one-shouldered cape down her back.
“You look beautiful!” Felicia said with a bright smile.”
“I think you’re the prettiest bride and grandma ever!”
“Thank you!” Anna said. She smiled at herself in the mirror and adjusted one of the bejeweled pins in her up-do. She wasn’t used to having her hair up these days, and she’d found herself playing with the pins more than she would have liked. But it was too late to change her mind about the style now.
“Do you two mind if we have a minute?” Robin asked.
“Of course not,” Felicia said. She nudged Emma toward the door with a hand on her back. “Let’s give them some mother-daughter time.”
“Good idea,” Emma said with a little chuckle.
“How are you really?” Robin asked as the door closed behind them.
“Oh, me? I’m fine. I’m great!” Anna said. “I’m marrying the man I love today. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You’re not nervous?”
“No. I’m not. Finn and I have waiting a long time for this.”
“I know. Finn is a great match for you and Patrick and I are very happy for both of you.”
“Me too,” Anna said. “And it’s just lovely having everyone here. And Chase is standing up for Finn!” she added with excitement.
“I’m glad Peter was willing to be a part of the ceremony.”
“Yes!” Anna affirmed with just a touch too much vigor.
“It was good of him to step in for Dad.”
Anna forced a smile.
“I know,” Robin said. She didn’t need her to say the words. “I have something for you.”
“I do,” Robin said, producing a small velvet bag in the palm of her hand.
“That’s so sweet. What did I ever do to deserve a daughter like you?” Anna said.
“Careful!” Robin said as she leaned in for the gentlest of hugs. “Maxie will have both our heads if she catches us making creases. “Besides, I wish I could take the credit, but I can’t.”
Anna shook the contents into her hand and found herself staring at a silver bracelet with alternating diamond cut sapphires and round cut diamonds in a delicate floral pattern. “Robin…” she was almost speechless. She swallowed. “It’s beautiful. But if you didn’t…”
Robin gave her a look. “Do you really have to ask?”
“Not you father?”
Robin nodded. “He wanted to be here today, Mom.”
“But he’s too bloody proud to admit when he’s wrong.”
“And you still love him and much as he loves you.”
“I do, damn it!” Anna said, catching a tear with her ring finger before it fell. “As much as he infuriates me, I do!”
“Should I help you put it on?”
“Of course,” Anna said with a small sigh. “Here.” She held out her right wrist and Robin fastened the clasp.
“There. Now you have something new and blue.”
“And these earrings are borrowed. Maxie loaned them to me from a magazine shoot.” She shook her head, making dangling gems sparkle.”
“What about something old.”
“Well, I’m not getting any younger, that’s for damn sure! We should get this show on the road!”
They were both laughing when the door flung open. “Is Peter in here?” Maxie called.
“No,” Anna said. “I haven’t seen him since we arrived this morning.
“I saw him about an hour ago,” Robin said.
“Well, it’s time to get this wedding started, so we’d better find him quick,” Maxie said.
Anna and Robin both made a move for the door. “Mom, you stay,” Robin said. “We’ll find him.”
“Find who?” said the figure in the doorway.
Maxie turned around. “Oh, Peter, thank God!” she said. “Where have you been? Never mind! Just get in here. We have a wedding to go to!”
“Of course,” Peter said. “You look amazing,” he said to Anna, all the while glancing about the room rather than focusing on her.
“Thank you,” Anna said, eyeing him. “I’m so glad you could be here.” She gave him a smile and took a step toward him with open arms, but he suddenly dodged right to escape the impending hug and darted for the powder room.
The ladies looked at each other, brows raised and waited, listening to the sound of water rushing in the sink.
After what seemed like several minutes, Maxie began calling to him through the closed door. “Peter, are you all right?”
“Fine,” he called back. Just a touch of nerves, I guess,” he said as the toilet flushed. “Though I don’t know why. It’s not like it’s my wedding.” He emerged a minute later, drying his hands and tossing the paper towel into the trash can near the door. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” Anna said softly. “I didn’t really think… I mean, is this too much pressure for you? Meeting all of the family at once and—”
“No, really. It’s fine. I’m glad to be here,” Peter said with a grin.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Maxie asked, straightening his tie.
“Absolutely.” he said. “Ready, Anna?” He held an arm out to Anna and she looped hers through it and took her bouquet from Robin with the opposite hand.
“Let’s do this,” Anna said.
* * *
Anna took in every detail as she and Peter stood at the back of the church. Emma went down the aisle first, head held high, poised and mature. Anna couldn’t have been more proud. Felicia followed, then Robin. Anna watched as they took their places across from Patrick, Mac, and Chase. And then she let her gaze fall on Finn.
There he was. Waiting for her. He was so handsome in his light gray tuxedo with the matching vest and bow tie, his hair characteristically flopping to one side. He shifted his weight from side to side. He was nervous, she knew. He hated being in the spotlight. But she could tell the moment he caught sight of her. His shoulders visibly relaxed. His face lit up with a smile so bright. The only thing brighter was the sparkle in his eyes. She instinctively began to smile back.
As she and Peter started down the aisle to the traditional wedding march, which Finn had for some reason requested, Anna’s smile only grew bigger. There would be no more doubt or uncertainty. She was right where she was supposed to be. Her heart fluttered as she allowed the happiness to swell in her chest. She and Finn had made it. They were finally getting married.
She wasn’t even worried when the officiant asked if anyone saw just cause why they should not be joined together. But then, in a manner only befitting the best of TV dramas, one of the side doors near the altar flung open. Heads turned and a voice called out.
To her dismay, Robert came stumbling toward her, one arm across his chest, holding his jacket closed.
“Robert, what the hell are you doing?” she said.
Finn mumbled something then, but her attention was fixed on Robert.
“I’m sorry,” Robert murmured, the words barely audible. He stopped at the corner of the first pew, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the edge of it with his free hand.
“Robert, what’s going on?” Anna asked. Without a second thought, she let go of Finn’s hand and moved in Robert’s direction.
His lips parted, but before he could utter another word, he collapsed at her feet, his jacket falling open to reveal the wet, crimson stain overtaking his crisp white shirt.
“Oh my God! Robert!” Anna cried as she fell to her knees beside him. “He’s been shot!”
“He’s been shot!” Anna cried again. She looked up at the wedding party with tears already glistening in her eyes and every one of them sprang into action.
Robin and Patrick moved first, each dropping down on either side of Robert. Robin removed his tie while Patrick started on his shirt buttons and they peeled the clothing out of the way to better assess the situation.
Anna instinctively moved out of their way and settled again at Robert’s head where she could look into his eyes instead of at the foaming hole in his chest. “Don’t do this to me, Robert,” she said. “Don’t you leave me, do you hear me?”
Robert slowly moved his arm toward Anna and she reached out to take his open hand in hers. “Sorry,” he gasped.
“How bad is it?” Anna asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” Patrick said. “Mac, call 911!”
“On it,” Mac said, his phone already pressed to his ear.
“Felicia,” Robin shouted, “Take Emma and the kids out of here, please.”
“Absolutely,” Felicia said, and she was on the move with one hand on Emma’s shoulder and the other arm hoisting little Noah in his miniature suit up out of the front pew onto her hip.
“Papa!” Noah called with a wave of his tiny hand.
“Is Grandpa gonna be okay?” Emma said.
“I hope so,” Felicia said. “I know your mom and dad are going to do everything they can to see to that.”
Detective Chase worked his way past the group on the floor to find Commissioner Ashford, who was already on the line with PCPD. “Have a seat. Stay back and let them work,” he said to some of the guests who were trying to get a better look at what was happening.
“Robert, who did this to you?” Anna begged.
“… know… too… much…” Robert breathed. The words came with great difficulty.
Robert’s lips moved as if he were trying to form another thought, but Robin stopped him. “Shhh. Dad, enough for now. Save your strength,” she said in a calming voice. Then she locked eyes with Anna.
Anna nodded. She looked down at Robert with a tight-lipped smile. “You’re gonna be all right,” she whispered as she placed the softest kiss on his forehead. “You just rest and let our doctors do their jobs.”
Robert gave an almost imperceptible nod and his eyes drifted closed.
“What have you got?” Finn asked Patrick who was leaning an ear toward Robert’s chest.
“We’ve got a sucking chest wound.”
“Exit wound?” Robin asked.
“Let’s find out,” Patrick said. “Ready?”
“Go,” Robin nodded.
Robert moaned as they tipped him onto his side. His breathing became even more labored.
“No exit wound,” Patrick said.
“Let’s lay him back down,” Robin said. “Can you breathe out for me, Daddy?” Robin said as she placed her hands over the coin-sized hole.
“Okay,” Finn said. “We need something to block the air flow. Father, do you have a first aid kit?”
“Ah, yes. Of course. In the church office down the hall,” the priest stammered. “In the cabinet over the sink.”
“Peter, go get the kit.”
“Right,” Peter said. He’d ambled only a few steps when Finn spoke again.
“Come on, man. Move!” Finn barked.
“What else can I do?” the minister asked.
“A prayer wouldn’t hurt,” Finn said. Then he addressed the guests. “If anyone has a blanket in their car, go get it please. Any supplies, medical grade plastic… or non-medical grade. We’ll take what we can get.”
Anna looked up at Finn. Her eyes were both pleading and proud.
He smiled at her. “We’ll do everything we can,” he said.
She nodded and turned back to Robert. Minutes passed like hours as they waited. It pained her to watch him gasping for breath, but she forced herself to keep smiling at him, even though his eyes were closed. Even as he began to cough up blood, as the fear tore through her, and the tears ran down her cheeks.
“Where is Peter? What’s taking him so long?” Robin said, her hands now red with her father’s blood as she tried to maintain pressure on the wound.
“I’ll find him,” Mac said. He broke into a run as he headed up the aisle.
“His breathing is weakening,” Patrick said.
“I know,” Robin said.
“Robert, can you hear me?” Patrick said. “We need you to hold on now. Help is on the way, but you have to hold on.”
“Finally,” Finn said when he spotted Mac striding back in with a small red tote labeled Emergency Response. “Where’s Peter?”
“Don’t ask me right now!” Mac spat. He tossed Finn the tote.
Maxie looked confused and ran out in search of her man.
“What do we have?” Patrick asked as Finn squatted next to him and rummaged through the supplies.
“Besides a screwdriver, some pliers and a flashlight?” Finn shook his head. “Some sterilizing wipes, antibiotic ointment, some tape and gauze…”
“No plastic of any kind?” Patrick said.
“Nothin’” Finn said. He thought for a second. “Do you have your wallet on you?”
“No,” Patrick said.
“Me neither.” Finn stood again to survey his surroundings. “Hey, Curtis, you have a credit card we can use?”
“Sure, man. Here you go,” Curtis said, stepping up with his American Express.
“Thanks,” Finn said with his usual half smile. He chose to ignore the skepticism on Curtis’s face and focus on the task at hand. He knelt next to Patrick and looked at Anna. “We’ll tape the credit card in place to form a plastic seal over the area until the paramedics get here with better equipment,” he said.
Anna nodded and watched intently as Finn and Patrick sterilized the card and created the makeshift shield.
“Okay, Daddy, we’re going patch you up now. When I move my hands away, I want you to breath out again for me. Can you do that? Daddy? Daddy?” Robin repeated as Finn taped the plastic in place.
But Robert didn’t respond. Anna felt his hand go limp in hers and she let out a stifled sob.
Robin placed her hands back on his chest once the barrier was in place. “It’s okay, Mom,” she assured Anna. His breath was faint beneath her palms, but he was still breathing.
“Robert?” Patrick took hold of his father-in-law’s wrist and looked at his watch. Then, he grabbed the small flashlight out of the box of emergency supplies and lifted Robert’s eye lids one at a time. “We still have a pulse, albeit a weak one. Pupils are still reactive. He’s unconscious, but he’s still with us.”
“Hang in there, Daddy,” Robin said.
Patrick took the blanket that Elizabeth Baldwin had brought in and draped it over Robert. “All we can do now is try to slow the loss of blood and wait.”
“And watch for signs of tension pneumothorax,” Finn added.
Robin tipped her head at him.
Finn shrugged at her. “What?”
“What is that?” Anna asked.
“Mom, just let us worry about that,” Robin said.
Anna continued to question Finn with her eyes.
“It’s a buildup of air in the chest when the lung leaks that can—”
“Finn!” Robin said.
“Oh, God,” Anna choked on the words while swabbing tears from her face with her palms.
“Sorry. Your daughter’s right. Just let us worry about that for now,” Finn said. He made a move to put an arm around Anna, but let his arm fall away as she bent over Robert once more.
“Stay with me! Please, Robert! Please, honey,” she said with gentle urgency. She held his face in her hands, her forehead nearly touching his as she said a silent prayer. When she’d finished her petition, she looked up again. “Where the hell is the damn ambulance?”