ANOTHER YOU by chocolate470
Summary:

 

How do you cope when your world is turned upside down...

 

All publicly recognized characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way asociated with the owers, creators or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


Categories: Daytime Television Characters: Evangeline Williamson
Classification: Off Cannon
Genre: Family, Friendship, Romance
Story Status: Active
Pairings: None
Warnings: Un-betaed , Work in Progress
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 11 Completed: No Word count: 23658 Read: 7020 Published: March 29 2017 Updated: November 27 2017

1. Chapter 1 by chocolate470

2. Chapter 2 by chocolate470

3. Chapter 3 by chocolate470

4. Chapter 4 by chocolate470

5. Chapter 5 by chocolate470

6. Chapter 6 by chocolate470

7. Chapter 7 by chocolate470

8. Chapter 8 by chocolate470

9. Chapter 9 by chocolate470

10. Chapter 10 by chocolate470

11. Chapter 11 by chocolate470

Chapter 1 by chocolate470

Meeting up with Layla and Hugh for lunch at the Meridian turned out to be as expected for Evangeline. The two lovebirds were huddled together lost in the moment of gazing lovingly into each other's eyes and whispering sweet nothings. Married for two and half years, the couple was expecting their first born within three months, the child's gender unimportant. Evangeline never quite put her finger on when her sister and Deputy DA Hugh finally found that romantic spark between them given that her sister travelled in and out of the bad boys club. Hugh on the other hand, was unlucky in love. Even though he tried his best, he usually ended up being on the receiving end of those bad breakups.

"Baby," Layla giggled as Hugh's mouth nipped at the base of her neck.

Evangeline wanted to hurl at the affectionate display nevertheless she delighted in her sister's happiness. The burden of worrying about Layla's future disappeared the moment she found out about their relationship. Hugh doted on her, Layla never lack for anything, and in return, she gave him all the love and tender care that he needed.

"Would you two stop. Aren't we supposed to be enjoying lunch? Not having your sister being subjected to the two of you making googly eyes and carrying on like teenagers in heat," Evangeline playfully lamented even adding a dramatic eye roll.

They were midway through lunch with Evangeline dining on shrimp quesadillas while Layla and Hugh shared Meridian's classic gourmet pizza. The restaurant lay a couple of blocks away from downtown Llanview and mainly catered to its professional class on a daily basis. The food was exquisite and the restaurant's ambience added to its appeal. One could choose to dine in the open area downstairs or retreat to the private rooms upstairs. It was a great networking spot with many deals carved out over its artisan tables.

"Whatever," Layla chuckled. "You don't need to worry much longer; regretfully my man has to go back to work," she added with a sullen look on her face.

During the last couple of months, cases inundated the District Attorney's office. Hugh did his best to spend as much of his free time with his lovely, expectant wife. They often conversed about their new addition. The prospect of becoming parents proved both exhilarating and fearful.  

"Honey you know I'll make it up to you."

Layla smiled at him then said, "You'd better."

His knuckle massaged her cheek and afterwards their lips touched giving way to a long, sweet kiss. Hugh slowly rose from his seat.

"I hope you ladies will be fine without my company," he teased.

"You know how long I've been waiting for you to exit," Evangeline chuckled.

"I know you don't mean that. Come on Vange," he smiled.

"Only in the courtroom," she smirked.

Hugh leaned over kissing her cheek. "Bye ladies."

"Bye Hugh."

"Bye Babe love you."

"Love you too."

 

"Just look at you Layla...my little sis about to become a new mom. I'm so happy for the both of you."

"Thanks sis...I never thought I'll be this in love especially with this little one on the way," she replied gazing briefly at her growing abdomen.

"Have you guys talked about mom coming to stay for how many months?"

Layla knew exactly what she was hinting at. "Vange don't be that way. Hugh adores his mother-in-law. Besides, I need mom now more than ever. I have my man to give me the loving I need..."

"And a mother to give him a swift kick in the ribs with words to match if he doesn't."

"Vange don't be that way. You're making me really nervous about this arrangement," she said uneasily leaning back against her seat.

"I'm just teasing Lays. Mom has calmed down considerably and she definitely adores Hugh even if she can't get pass the name Hugh Hughes." They shared a laugh. "So how are you guys enjoying the new house?"

Layla leaned forward. "I adore everything about it...you've seen the architecture. The baby's room is coming along. Sometimes I just need to take a breath."

Evangeline looked at her thoughtfully. "My advice to you is to cherish these moments. Time flies by so quickly..."

"I know it hasn't been easy for you during the last year..."

Evangeline felt a range of emotions from Layla's statement. She couldn't help but stare off into the distance recalling those moments in her life when everything seemed picture-perfect. Her time at the DA's office ended and soon after, she went into private practice. Being a defence attorney remained her true calling. It wasn't long after that she caught the attention of Robert Parsons, an up and coming Creative Director at the AD Media Group. The attraction was instantaneous and after a year of dating marriage followed. Together they created an amazing son named Trey. It was not to last however. Not long into their marriage, the doctor diagnosed Robert with stage three prostate cancer. The news was devastating. Her once perfect world collapsed. Once the shock had worn off, they came up with a plan. If one method of treatment failed then they would move on to next. The Parsons were an unbeatable force once they put their minds to it. It wasn't meant to be however. Was it fate or by his own hand that he died suddenly in a car accident? She chose to believe it was indeed fate.

"It is better. Every day I wake up thanking God that I can be here for our son. Trey makes everything worthwhile."

 

Suddenly Layla's eyes shifted to the right. Victor Lord and his fiancée Nicki Shelton entered the restaurant and were about to climb the spiral staircase. Evangeline noticed them as well but she focused more on Victor who was wearing a loose fitting pea coat over a sweater and wool trousers.

"Every time I see him, I can't believe he's not Todd Manning anymore. It was all a cruel stunt perpetrated by his mother for her own gain."

The revelation not only brought upheaval into Victor's life but it also split apart their close friendship. These days they barely spoke and she missed that very much. She knew he was hurting and even though she asked, he never wanted to talk about it. Outwardly, he still carried that cool and innate way about him but deep down who knew the agony he was experiencing.

"For so long I didn't understand why you wanted to be friends with such a monster. I guess you were right all along Vange."

"I didn't know either," Evangeline corrected.

"Subconsciously you did."

As they disappeared out of view Evangeline softly said, "It doesn't matter anymore."

"Vange?" A concerned Layla questioned.

"Layla...please leave it alone," she pleaded softly. "Please..."

Layla decided to back off seeing the solemn look in her sister's eyes. Whatever was going on between those two wasn't her concern although she hated the fact that Victor's mere presence affected her sister a great deal. Perhaps losing Robert made her revert to her old habits, Layla surmised.

Layla decided to lighten the mood. "So are you still singing at the UpScale?"

Evangeline's mouth twisted into a smile. "Once a month....it's good to get away once in a while...," she reflected.

Sometimes she worried a great deal about Trey growing up without his father and of course, there was her practice that created another set of stressors. Yet after Robert died, she switched her career path by becoming a consultant. At first, the change tested her resolve. Being a defence attorney was both challenging and rewarding. She excelled in a courtroom setting. Some of the most satisfying moments came from winning difficult cases. Consultancy however gave her an opportunity to work fewer hours enabling her to spend more time with Trey.

"Maybe my Babe and I can witness the versatile Evangeline Parsons at work...just give me the date and time and we'll be there."

Evangeline giggled. "I'm not too sure about that." She shrugged her shoulders, "Seeing my pregnant sister and her husband may make me nervous."

"Not a chance," Layla countered giggling as well. "When you sing, it's something pretty special. You can see that it comes from the heart."

"Thanks for the compliment sis."

 

Upstairs...

Three picture windows gave the room a light and airy feeling providing great views of the surrounding scenery. Victor took off his jacket, placing it on the handy coat rack and the couple took their seats across from each other.

Nicki opened her mouth to speak but Victor said, "I know you wanted us to meet for a specific reason but I prefer we mostly get through eating before we begin."

"Ok," she acquiesced pushing her fingers through her long, blonde curls.

What else could she do but accept. Over the past few months, she desperately tried reaching out to him but found her efforts blocked at every turn. Vicki mainly ran interference offering different reasons why it was best to leave alone for the time being. It certainly affected her ego. Becoming a top-notch real estate agent took skill, perseverance and a positive attitude. Victor Lord proved to be her most difficult case. No matter what transpired in the past, she yearned for to have him completely back in her life. She needed to stay the course, unwilling to give up on a future with the man she adored.

Lunch soon arrived a fillet mignon burger with sweet potato fries and a coke for him while she received a turkey sandwich with sparkling water. Except for the background music playing throughout, they ate in relative silence. Occasionally Nicki gazed over at Victor whose attention appeared focused on everything else but her. She detested the chasm between them. Finding out the truth about his real identity not only fractured his life but their once close bond.

"It's a wonder that you wanted to see me," he said breaking through the quiet after taking a long sip of his coke.

"Why wouldn't I want to see my fiancé? I haven't given up hope. You believed it best for us to separate and I chose to go along with your idea for both our sakes."

"This meeting isn't about hope," he said coolly.

A fear crept inside her heart. She tried holding on to her optimism as she stared into those icy blue eyes. There was something about Victor that drew you in, making it hard to let go.

 "You don't love me anymore?" her grey eyes probed. She desperately wanted to know even if the answer proved too much to accept.

"Don't you get that the person who proposed to you doesn't exist. Todd Manning planned out that romantic evening and got down on one knee..."

"You were still there Victor." She stretched out a trembling hand across the table. "We had plans remember. I don't care if you're not Todd Manning. Why can't we just be? Move on with our lives; creating new memories."

"I don't want us!" His voice boomed against the walls.

The announcement so loud and final that tears instantly rolled down her cheeks. "So this is it. This is how you want things to be," she sniffled using the back of her hand to wipe them away. She rarely cried. "Why are you hurting me?"

"I don't mean to," he softly replied.

"Yet you are taking great pleasure in doing it to me now."

He let out a frustrated sigh. A while ago, he determined that his love for her fell more on a friendship level. He blamed himself for forcing things along without considering the future implications. After all, Evangeline had moved on and so should he. Todd Manning was capable of having a stable relationship of his own with a gorgeous, intelligent woman. In reality, he wasn't Todd Manning and neither did he love her.

"I can't allow us to continue like this. ...You are a very attractive woman who deserves love from a special man. I'm not that man and never will be. "

"Why are you saying these things? I love you Victor and you.love.me.," she stated through clenched teeth. Her eyes turned a dark grey and her cheeks flushed.

"Nicki its best that you move on..."

"I'm in too deep..."

"Nicki..."

"I can't believe you don't want to fight for us. All those times and moments we shared meant nothing to you? How can you be so cruel?"

He replied plainly, "I'm a Lord...and that's what we do. We place women in one of two categories - to bed or to wed...no real love in between. You wanted to know the truth Nicki. I have never loved you; not even a little. It's best that you find out now before it's too late."

"Bastard! I hate you!"

Nicki quickly stood up, twisted the engagement ringer off her finger, threw it at him and ran out of the room.

He just sat there not moving to retrieve the discarded ring. His ears attuned to the background music. Most of what he stated was a lie but he wanted to get his point across or she would have kept on it. Better for her to think of him this way than to live in that fantasy she created.

 

 Sitting there waiting his mind soon drifted.

"You want to be alone."

"Yes. It has to be this way for now. You and Vicki keep saying the same things."

"It's not like you don't give us reasons to worry."

"These last eight years has been one huge lie. How do you expect me to react? I don't know who I am anymore. I don't have any memory of who I was. ...I just need time to think things through. I can't think with the both of you hovering over me like I'm porcelain. Give me that space Evangeline.

Ok if that is what you want.

It is what I need.

Just remember there is never going to be a moment that I don't care for you...I will always care for you. We have been through too much for me not to care. I wish you the best Victor. Take care of yourself.

The memory lay fresh in his mind. He sensed her soft hand massaging his shoulder before she turned and walked away.  

Chapter 2 by chocolate470

Day turned into night and night transformed into day. Gone were those endless summer days and shorter evenings that affected sleep. Cooler temperatures permeated the air and with it, the trees' foliage were changing from greens into shades of vibrant yellow, red and gold. They had already started to fall and strewn along the ground creating a kaleidoscope of colors.

Lugging Trey in her arms, thoughts of family togetherness gave Evangeline a warm tingly feeling as she approached Layla's front door. The traditional styled house located in the exclusive Hightower Township featured four bedrooms and two and half baths. It made her ponder acquiring a new home even more. After Robert's death, she and Trey moved into a two-bedroom condominium taking along a few mementos. Much of their furniture remained in storage. For Evangeline, a home without Robert wasn't a home anymore. The ghosts of their life together clung to its walls. There were far too many nights spent rehashing the past about what should or shouldn't have been.

"Mommie ah wanna see Grammie," Trey insisted clutching his teddy bear tightly. Paddington bear was the last toy that his father brought for him and for the most part, he kept it with him.

"And we will baby," she replied kissing his forehead.

Trey enjoyed being around his Grandma Lisa most of all. Lisa doted on her first grand baby and Trey relished the attention. Evangeline not only appreciated her mother being around but it provided her access to a convenient babysitter when the need arose. A knock at the door and Lisa answered with a huge smile on her smile.

"There are my two babies," she said opening up her arms to them.

"Grammie!" He instantly went in her arms and embraced her tightly. Trey giggled as his grandmother showered him with kisses.

"Where is Lays?"

"On her laptop. It appears the online part of the business is pretty active."

Soon Evangeline's cellphone started chiming and she retrieved it from her bag.

 

"Hey....I'm fine and so is Trey...I've thought about it....No...No...not this time....I don't want him travelling around this time. I want to spend time with my family too. I'm still getting settled....It's not an excuse....Why don't you...hello...hello...helloo..." Evangeline let out a frustrated sigh, tossing the phone back into her bag.

 

"What was that about?"

"Grammie where auntie uncle?"

"Auntie Layla is inside the living room but Uncle Hugh is at work."

Evangeline sighed stroking Trey's back. "Robert's sister insists that Trey and I go to Atlanta for thanksgiving. When I told her no, she hung up the phone."

"Weren't you in Atlanta for Christmas last year?"

"Yes but it doesn't seem to be enough."

Lisa placed Trey on the ground. "Mama...auntie," he said patting her thigh.

"Hey sis. Thought I heard voices."

"Be careful Trey," Evangeline said as he ran to hug Layla.

"Your belly big Laylay." He said it in such a dramatic fashion that everyone laughed.

"Well your little cousin is growing inside there. Soon there will be another baby and you can have someone to play with."

"Yes!"

"He is too cute."

"Layla can you take Trey with you into the living room. I need to talk with your sister." Lisa's mind concentrated on the phone conversation.

"Ok mom."

 

"It's fine mom..."

"No it's not...now tell me what's going on. That one phone call has really affected you. It's written all over your face."

Evangeline took a breath massaging her forehead, recognizing that her mom wouldn't let it go.

"Robert's family especially his sister is accusing me of forgetting about him...and them in the process. It's just so frustrating. I have Trey Skype and talk to them whenever possible but still it's not enough. I've mourned long enough..."

Lisa rubbed her chin. "They want you to move to Atlanta right."

"Yeah..."

"It's so wrong of them. Baby live your life. You have the toughest part of raising Trey without his father..."

Unshed tears filled her eyes. "Mom I think they blame me for what happened to Robert. If he hadn't..." Words failed her.

Evangeline was usually the pillar of strength. From the time she was child, it took a lot to make her this emotional. To see her now in such turmoil made her want to take away the burden however possible.

Lisa quickly embraced her. "No...baby girl...don't do this."

"I hate him for leaving me to do all of this alone...I hate him..."

"It's not your fault baby and you don't hate him. You miss him. Don't you dare blame yourself and allow others to do so. I've been there... especially after your father died. You girls were so young and I felt my world was crashing in. ..." She too struggled with his family's interference. "By the grace of God we made. You and Trey will too."

"I'm not sure what to say to him when he starts asking questions about his dad. Why isn't he here..."

"You'll say that he so wanted to be here for him and he did his best but it just wasn't possible. Physically he is not here but he is forever in his heart and will always be a part of him."

"Oh mom..." The tears really started to flow.

 

*****

 

He stood casually outside waiting for her not in the shadows per se given that it was early afternoon. Sometimes he stuck his hands inside his pockets and sometimes not. He leaned sideways against an oak tree, dressed appropriately in a dark jeans, jacket and boots. What Nicki did angered him just thinking about it but he didn't feel like barging into her office and causing a scene. However he eyed her black BMW intently, staring at the sleek ride which she kept pretty much looking showroom finish. A gift from him if anyone needed to know. For the many gifts he gave her the only one she returned was the engagement ring she threw back at him. So yeah he spoiled her, - clothes, jewelry, vacations. He believed he bought his way into her heart and that's why he was so easy to let her go.

 

His attention diverted when Nicki's office swung open.

"Hey Nicki..." Her face changed into stunned silence clutching her red tote. Victor's sudden appearance caught her a bit off guard. "You should have been expecting me given what you did."

"What exactly did I do Victor?" Now she appeared ready for a battle. She stood beside her car, arms folded with a "bring it on" glare in her countenance.

"I wanted that house."

"Correction - we looked at that house together. It was going to be our home after we were married. How easily you forget."

That's not the way he recalled the situation. Of course he needed to find a new place. It's just that when he found that perfect home, Nicki tagged along.

"I found that house. You just happened to be there," he replied with a slightly raised voice. "Now it's gone...sold...I know you had something to do with it."

"Prove it!"

He stepped inside her personal space. "I see that's not a denial either. ...Consider us even. If you were doing this to get my attention then baby I received the message loud and clear." He leaned in closer. "Next time you affect me in this way..."

She took a step back. "So now you're threatening me. Sweetheart to last time I checked, you're not Todd Manning..."

"I don't need to be. Pen is mightier Sweetheart."

"Oh that little magazine of yours is not the Sun newspaper," she commented brushing aside her waves.

"Oh but it reaches the right clientele -your kind. Impossible to believe right but just take my word for it. I just may request my staff to do a "special investigation". You know what I mean," he winked at her.

"What did I ever see in you?"

"Dollars never cents."

He knew she got the point when she hurriedly walked away, entered her vehicle and drove off with squealing tires.

 

A couple weeks later...


Llanview Hospital Charity Ball

One of the highlighted events of the fall season was the Charity Ball coordinated by Vicki and her team of organizers. The Bellevue Country Club was the chosen venue this year. The ball catered to Llanview society all dressed to the nines to be entertained, wined, and dined while bringing along their checkbooks for the sake of the new wing of the pediatric ward.

 

Vicki was indeed surprised that both of her brothers were in attendance given the chasm between them. Her thoughts ran deep about the woman who inflicted such a great deal of damage on her sons. In fact both parents were incapable of love. They strived on pure selfish, deviant behavior regardless of the consequences. Ultimately the children were left holding the bag; experiencing their fair share of heartaches and inflicting as much on others. She wouldn't have wish these set of circumstances on her worst enemy. Even with all the money in the world, you never knew what lay behind those polished, iron gates.

 

"I'm ok Vicki."

He sat down at one of the few available tables; the venue already filled by Llanview's prominent citizens

"Ok," she said quickly tapping his shoulders then dashing off.

Once again she was stressing over him especially when she learnt of his broken engagement. Thankfully Nicki hadn't made an appearance although he noted that some of her friends were giving him disgusted stares. He could hardly be bothered. His eyes returned to his cellphone screen checking his emails.

 

"Hello brother...an Arnold Palmer..."

Victor's body stiffened at the sight of Todd standing before him.

"Get to the point Todd and then move along."

Todd leaned down closer. "You know you should get out of Llanview. The sooner the better."

"Fat chance. We are the same, brother."

He straightened back up. "No we're not..."

"Think again. We leave on our own terms not anyone else's."

"Todd!" Blair called out to him

"I think you should go or perhaps I should pay Blair a visit," Victor said with a smirk. 

"Don't you dare talk to my wife."

"Oh...is that so..."

"Todd!"

Reluctantly Todd left more than a little ticked off.

Yeah Todd blamed him pretty much for everything believing he should have known. If he had truly known would he have wanted Todd's reality given all he endured because of it...no except for one thing - the relationship he created with Starr and Jack was indeed special.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen may I have your attention please.

The gathering quieted down and turned their attention to the announcer on stage. He went over a few things which included the purpose of the charity ball as well as what they should expect for the remainder of the evening.

 Now would you please give a round of applause for Mrs. Evangeline Parsons who has generously given of her time to perform for everyone tonight.

When she walked onto the stage, Todd briefly lost his train of thoughts. From the midnight blue, floor length gown, hair styled in a sleek updo, sparkling diamond earrings and flawless makeup - her presence mesmerized everyone including himself. The lights died down; music started to play and she briefly closed her eyes, fingers curled around the microphone.

 

Mmmmmm....

Mmmm...Mhmmm...

 

If you're lonely

And need a friend

And troubles seem like

They never end

Just remember

To keep the faith

Uh Huh

And love will be there

To light the way

 

Anytime you need a friend

I will be here

You'll never be alone again

So don't you fear

Even if you're miles away

I'm by your side

So don't you ever be lonely

Love will make it alright

 

Oh those memories of times spent together being there for each other flooded his brain. It didn't matter that he was Todd Manning at the time. She meant so much to him and the fact that he so callously took their bond for granted made him feel ashamed. Was it enough that he wanted to beg her forgiveness unsure of what her response may be. The last few times they saw each other felt awkward to say the least and it was his fault.

 

If you just believe in me

I will love you endlessly Oh...

Take my hand

Take me into your heart

I'll be there forever baby

I won't let go

I'll never let goooo....

 

Anytime you need a friend

I will be here

You'll never be alone again

No...No...

So don't you fear

Don't worry, don't fear

Even if you're miles away

Yes I'm with you

I'm by your side

Wherever you are

So don't you ever be lonely

It's alright

It's alright...It's alriiiight

 

Anytime you need a friend

I will be here

Yes, you know it's alright

You'll never be alone again

So don't you fear

Don't ever fear

Even if you're miles away

I'm by your side

I'm by your side

Don't you ever be lonely

It's alright

 

The crowd stood to its feet giving her a loud, thunderous applause and Evangeline gracefully bowed.

 

"Wow that was an amazing performance! That really stirred my heart..."

 

They were still applauding as she walked down the back staircase. The people who were backstage took time out to express their appreciation, coming up to embrace her, sharing heartfelt compliments. The last person she wanted to see though was Todd Manning, scotch in hand, back pressed up against the wall.

 

"Such an amazing performance..."

"What else," she snipped at him already aware that this wouldn't be a pleasant conversation. "I'm sure you're dying to say more."

"I'm just wondering if that performance was for the donors or for that brother of mine."

There was no way she was going to allow him to bring down her spirits. She did her part; gave it her all.

"None of your business but I do understand why you're jealous of my relationship with Victor...given your options." She snatched his drink away.

"Hey!"

"I believe you need a refresher."

She slowly poured out the remaining contents over his head, set the glass on a side table and strolled away. She heard the laughter and Todd yelling at them.

 

Victor stood by the exit watching the whole scene play out. At first he wanted to intervene but something told him that Evangeline could take care of herself around that menace.

She gave him a small smile when he saw him waiting.

"I saw Todd..."

"Nothing I couldn't handle. I'm certain he's going to write something not too flattering about me in his paper but I could care less."

"Can we talk?"

"Sure...lead the way."

Chapter 3 by chocolate470

Walking along with Victor, one thing became abundantly clear to Evangeline, they were at different stages in life. No longer were they simply Evangeline Williamson and Todd Manning, an odd, intense friendship carved out of a lawyer wanting to do her utmost to save her innocent client. To the outside world it was highly irregular to say the least yet for a long time it worked for them.

Periodically they found themselves starting at each other. They hadn't been around each other like this for quite a while now. Who knew what to expect.

"Hey Evangeline..."

Another admirer of her performance approached expressing complimentary words and of course, Evangeline obliged with that signature smile. This night turned out better than expected and she appreciated people coming up to her. Not only did it mean that she had opened people's hearts but also their checkbooks. Victor stood back taking it all in. Evangeline's personality and way about her always drew people in. He became leery however, of those men whose eyes lingered. From the time he knew her, Evangeline was oblivious of the attention she drew from the opposite sex.

 

Soon they stood outside waiting for the valet to bring around Victor's Black Range Rover. There was a chill in the air. Evangeline rubbed along her forearms and Victor quickly surrendered his jacket.

"Thanks...where are taking me?"

"I hope you don't mind...Country club cuisine is not my style. I'm thinking about Slim's drive thru..."

Evangeline smiled. "Yeah I can go for a burger and fries..."

She recalled those moments when the two of them would just go out and grab some fast food; eating and talking about every and anything for hours at a time.

"And then?"

"My place and I promise not to keep you too long."

His place. Humph it would be interesting to see how it compares to the penthouse. "I hope you have

hidden all your humph... unmentionables."

Victor couldn't help but chuckle, "Are you really accusing me of being a slacker?"

That question hung in the air as the valet arrived with his vehicle and soon they were off.

Half an hour later with burgers and fries, in hand they were on their way to the next destination.

"Hey you were totally amazing tonight."

"Why thank you Mr. Lord especially for joining the list of my adoring fans."

He thought Evangeline was being rather comical and decided to play along. "So when is the tour?"

"North America or Europe."

They both started laughing then Victor swiped one of her fries.

"Hey you've got your own."

"Yours taste much, much better."

This felt very familiar. Almost as if nothing had changed between them. The lighthearted banter a part of what he enjoyed about their friendship but he realized that as the night progressed their conversation would inevitably turn serious veering into the topic that couldn't be avoided.

Evangeline's cellphone went off and when she retrieved it, she saw that it was her mom calling.

"Hey mom...everything ok?"

"Hey baby, Trey insisted on saying goodnight to you."

"Ok..."

"Mommy you coming home?"

"Soon baby. In the meantime Grammie is there to tuck you in until I come."

"Ok," he replied yawning.

These days, Evangeline rarely stayed out this late and hearing her son plea for her to come home touched her heart.

"I promise baby that mommy will be home shortly..."

 

As Evangeline continued to talk, Victor continued the drive a little disappointed that he needed to take her home but he understood. Being a parent especially a single parent had its share of responsibilities. It made him remember that for eight years he carried those same set of responsibilities but Victor Lord wasn't a parent anymore. The one child, his son with Margaret was lost forever. A very sad thing to think about and he tried his best not to.

After a few minutes, the conversation ended.

"Sorry Victor..."

"There's no need for you to apologize. Trey is your first priority. He would be mine too."

She remembered as well and the earlier playful atmosphere had turned making the ride to her condo pretty quiet. They were both lost in their own thoughts until they reached the parking garage.

"Well we can reschedule..."

"Victor we can still talk...we need to. Come on up."

Her invitation surprised him but he dutifully followed carrying along their fare. The strong scent from the burgers permeated the air but their appetites had since waned. His emotions ran between a mixture of joy and apprehensiveness. He barely had time to survey her condominium when she commented,

"You can wait out on the terrace and I'll join you as soon as I've checked in on Trey and change ok."

"Ok," came his abrupt reply.

 

He regarded her until she disappeared around a corner. Thereafter, he stood frozen briefly taking in the features of her spacious living room. Multicolored walls; the standard furnishings included a sectional paired with an ottoman, rug, fireplace, wall-mounted tv yet his eyes fixated on the prominent family portrait. The framed photograph captured the image of a happy family Robert, Evangeline gazing lovingly at little Trey who was cradled in her arms. What he wouldn't give to have that. His blue eyes stayed on that image for a few moments before he decided to go out unto the terrace.

The terrace featured a small, sectional chair as well as an armchair with matching coffee table that displayed a simple candle arrangement. Retractable glass surrounded it keeping the elements at bay but it still provided great views of the Llanview skyline. Setting aside a cushion, he propped down in the armchair, placed the burgers and fries on the table and leaned back staring off into the night. He barely heard the sounds from the traffic down below. The view made him relax a little. That earlier confidence had left him. He repeatedly rehearsed what he was going to say but knew it had to come from the heart. 

He didn't want to come off as cocky or insincere. Evangeline would see right through him and call him on it.

 

"Victor..." She suddenly appeared dressed in a black loungewear tee and pants; hair gathered into a ponytail. She chose to take a seat in the sectional, closely hugging on of its cushions. No doubt about it, Evangeline's beauty always radiated even in the most casual setting.

Victor cleared his throat. "So how is Trey?"

"Thankfully fast asleep. My mother is with him. ...Look, before you go into your "speech"; it's obvious that we are different people now, at different places in our lives. Our priorities have changed. There was once a time when either of us would drop anything in order to be there for the other person but of course that's not possible now."

Her words struck him very deeply and he swallowed. Whatever he rehearsed went out the window. Evangeline laid down the terms of their conversation before he had a chance to speak.

"Are you saying that our friendship is irrevocably broken?" The words scared him but he needed to know.

"That's not what I'm saying...it just can't be what it was...that's all."

"Evangeline I recognize that I'm to blame for where we are now. I was spiraling out of control; drinking, pushing everyone who cared away. I didn't understand who I was anymore. The life that I knew and held unto with every fiber of my being was forever lost to me and I rejected you..." He paused thinking about that horrible day - hard to escape from the impact his choice created. "I'm really, truly sorry. It's hard to accept that your life was a total lie..."

"But our friendship wasn't a lie."

He put his head down. "No it wasn't."

"I hate thinking about that day because there was nothing good in it. All I wanted to do was to be there like we have always done for each other."

"I know that now."

"I thought this is how Blair must have felt." Evangeline scoffed at the thought. "Would you believe Blair of all people...I need actions Victor not just words." Victor finally looked up and gazed at her with a solemn stare. "You think I was going to make this easy on you. Just throw me an apology and all will be forgiven?"

"Believe it or not, I expected the battle."

"I don't want to fight you." She took in a deep breath. "From the time I've known you, you've made everything so difficult..."

"Do you want me gone?" He hoped the answer was no. She was still his only friend. What would he do if he lost her friendship forever?

"Everything so damn dramatic." She sighed heavily. "If I wanted you gone then I wouldn't have accepted your invitation to talk now would I? What I want is..."

"An appreciation of our friendship and how much it means to me. I'll show you," he said joining her. He took her left hand into his softly massaging its palm with his thumb. "Only if you'll let me..."

Her mouth curved into a small smile. "You know I will but don't...I'm all for second chances but don't you dare waste this opportunity."

He felt a weight being lifted. "I won't. I promise." He pulled her into his arms, kissing the top of her head. "I've missed being around you so much."

"I've missed you too."

They laughed when her stomach started to growl. She covered her face from embarrassment.

"The food is cold but I'll bet it still tastes good."

"I'm too hungry to care."

By the time they had finished eating, Evangeline's bare feet lay stretched out on his lap. His left hand lay on the arm of the chair with his cheek pressed hard against his right.

"I wouldn't know how I would have dealt with that news," she remarked with concern.

"At first I wanted to crawl into the ground and disappear."

"And now how is it being Victor Lord Jr.?"

"A new beginning. A work in progress. All of the above...I'm reshaping a whole new existence. It should be easy by now..."

"But it isn't?"

"No it's not. I can't shake off or be rid of those memories as Todd Manning. Heck I don't even remember my life before as Victor."

"You need to talk to someone."

"I'm talking to you."

"I can only do so much."

"Believe me sitting here right now with you, is doing a great deal." He gazed at her with so much emotion.

Evangeline reached out and caressed the side of his face. He held it there. "Then I'm glad..." She started yawning. "Sorry..."

"Don't be. I think it's time for me to leave...the superstar needs her beauty sleep."

Evangeline lightly smacked his arm. "I'll walk you out."

 

"In a couple of days I'm going house hunting. I would really appreciate if you would join me then we can have lunch afterwards."

"Sounds like a plan."

He leaned in, kissed her forehead and embraced her warmly. "Thanks for giving our friendship another chance."

She joked, "You're lucky I didn't have you on your knees groveling."

"Would have done that too. Whatever it takes to have you back in my life. I'll call you."

"And I'll be sure to answer."

Just the beginning he felt and was certain there would be more to come. Again he gazed at the portrait...More to come.

End Notes:

 

Chapter 4 by chocolate470

"Change of plans, it seems that I have to bring Trey along. I hope that's ok?"

"Certainly, why wouldn't it be? I would love getting to know little man."

He held him once when he was a couple months old and that memory has a special place in his heart. Then everything came apart in both their lives and the opportunity was lost to him until now.

"Yes he is my little man," Evangeline agreed pressing a firm kiss against his cheek. "Trey this is mommy's good friend Victor Lord Jr. Say hello."

With one hand securing Paddington Bear and the other wrapped around his mother's neck Trey said, "Hello," in an adorable little voice.

"Hi there Trey. It's nice meeting you." Victor leaned forward with a huge smile on his face allowing Trey to feel more at ease. He stuck out his tongue and Trey giggled. "I'm sure before this day is over you and me are going to be good friends also."

Trey shook his head in agreement and Victor winked at him.

 

What started out as a promising day; turned into one bothersome morning for Evangeline. Although she could say that the opposite applied to Victor and Trey who were having the time of their lives either running up and down the hallways or horsing around in the backyards. After the first house viewing, Paddington Bear remained seated in the vehicle.

Well at least she figured out Victor's preferences - four to five bedrooms, must have private study, home gym, swimming pool, deck and huge backyard. Yet for the three homes they visited so far, he had one complaint after another and afterwards he just seem to give up leaving Evangeline to deal with the real estate agent while he and Trey went on their adventure.

Walking out of the last home a pissed off Evangeline remarked, "This is turning out to be a waste of time."

Victor carrying Trey in his arms asked, "What are you talking about? You and I both know that it definitely takes time to find exactly what you want. That house has to have that wow appeal. After all you are planning on spending a lot of years enjoying that home."

"Alright..." Evangeline calmed down. "I do get what you're saying but having your face screwed up before we've even entered says a lot. Come on be honest with me. Is there really a home on our list that you have any interest in on first sight?"

"None on our list," he readily confessed. "But there is one that got away."

"Then show me and I'll create a newer and better list of homes to visit," she replied full of confidence.

 

"Wow" was the word that escaped Evangeline's lips upon arrival at the Ashby property. The view from the road only provided a glimpse of what she assumed was a spectacular house from top to bottom. The stucco and brick home stood prominent in the background while the meticulous kept landscape was like an open invitation to walk along its pathways.

She stepped outside of the Lincoln Navigator and Victor immediately joined her. "Now I see..."

"Glad you do." He folded his arms and leaned against the vehicle. "I was this close to acquiring this property but I know that Nicki had a hand in letting it slip through my fingers."

His exasperated tone said it all.

"How do you know for sure it was her?" she asked never shifting her eyes away from the property. It carried a definite air of luxury without being intensely so.

"I did break off our engagement and it's not like I did it tactfully.

"When did you or your brother ever do things tactfully?"

"I get your point. ...Anyways that's what I'm looking for. Think you can find another home just like it?"

"I can do a whole lot of things...well," she boasted. Victor shook his head with a smile. "Trust me Victor. I'll take care of this." She also planned to do a side investigation as well. "Oh Victor I might as well inform you that this work isn't going to be pro bono," she remarked as he held open the door for her.

"Hmmm..." He scratched his chin. "Now where did I put my checkbook?"

"And that's not the type of payment I was thinking about either."

"Oh..."

 

One highlight of her mundane morning routine was running down to the Main Street Starbucks to grab a breakfast sandwich along with a cup of their caffé misto before progressing with her day. After paying for her purchase, her phone suddenly sprung to life.

"Hey what's up?"

"Care to join me for breakfast?"

That unmistakable voice brought a smile to her face.

"Sure but I'm already getting started at Starbucks."

"Doesn't matter...please bring me a cup of their dark roast? I desperately need a jolt."

"That bad huh..."

"Sometimes deadlines can do that."

"Ok I'll order that cup and see you shortly."

"Such a lifesaver..."

"So glad you've come to realize what others have known all along." Victor chuckled.

The renewed friendship actually made her look forward to hanging out more with Victor. As the days passed by they spent many hours talking and settling back into the ease of their strong bond as friends.

"I realized that a long time ago. So glad you are back in my life."

"I'm happy too. Going to place that order right now before this place gets crowded."

 

While waiting to place her order, she caught sight of Todd sitting and talking with someone very familiar. She couldn't pass up this opportunity. Time to pay the fox a visit, Evangeline mumbled. The insightful look on his face when he saw her confirmed her suspicions and it related to the Ashby property. Evangeline made a lot of inroads into her investigation and what she discovered fitted all the puzzle pieces together.

"Todd we need to talk."

"Can't you see that we are in the middle of a discussion?"

She frowned at Nicki. "What we have to talk about is far more important. Ask him?"

"Todd?"

"Nicki we'll chat later."

Todd's apparent brush off upset Nicki greatly. "Suit yourself." She glowered at them both, roughly grabbed her purse and quickly made her exit.

"I suppose seeing your ex fiancé's new playmate does that to a woman."

"So sad for her but I'm here to deal with this other interesting matter."

"Have a seat..."

"No thanks I prefer to stand. This discussion won't take up too much time."

"So you know. Strange that my twin didn't have that perception..."

"Perhaps he doesn't want to play in the sandbox anymore."

A sly smile appeared on his countenance. "I suppose that means I'm the immature one."

"If the alligator shoes fit...It wasn't too nice of you to leave the Ashby's high and dry - backing out on the supposed deal...so unbecoming. You play these silly games with Victor's emotions but you will leave this alone. Soon the house will be his and you won't interfere again or I may have to play with your emotions. You get my meaning."

He knew she meant Starr. It's not that his relationship with his daughter was worst since his return but he did make her a promise. Todd showed her both palms in surrender. "Sometimes I wonder if I was here during those eight years; would we have this same type of friendship."

"Not in the slightest. Victor has more of a heart than you ever will."

"Ouch."

He couldn't help but regard her as she strolled away. How did that Rod Stewart song go again?

 

When Saturday came around Victor discovered exactly what payment meant. Assisting Hugh and Evangeline in putting together the baby room wasn't even on his list. As usual, Evangeline threw him for a loop sometimes. Didn't Hugh's departed father make his life a living nightmare when he was alive? Yet he knew one didn't have a choice when it came to paternity. He hoped that no judgments were cast in his direction because he wouldn't go down that road either.

From Evangeline's viewpoint, introducing Victor to the rest of the family went as well as expected. She already informed them of their rekindled friendship although they looked a little surprised when Victor actually showed up at the Hughes' front door. Awkward introductions aside, everyone was more than welcoming. The second time around not only gave them an opportunity but also allowed the family to view their friendship from a different perspective.

 

The men painted the room in the morning; broke for lunch and afterwards set up all the furniture. Their conversations mainly centered on finding and fitting the correct pieces together. When their part of the work was completed, Evangeline added the final additions and coordinated the furniture placements. All three stood together thoroughly inspecting and admiring the room.

"Think Layla is going to like it?" Hugh asked rather apprehensively.

Evangeline placed an arm around either side of their shoulders. "Of course she will; you guys did a pretty amazing job." Hugh and Victor shook their heads in agreement. "...I do believe it's time to show the mother-to-be the baby's room."

A few minutes later, an awe struck Layla surveyed the room and thanked everyone for the hard work they put in. "This is the best guys...so perfect. I can't believe how emotional I am right now..." She imagined her baby creating a few milestones in this same room and just the thought brought tears to her eyes.

A stoic Trey gazed up at Lisa and said, "Grammie why auntie cry?"

Lisa reassured him. "Baby auntie is not sad..."

"I'm very, very happy." She bent forward giving him a quick tickle and kissed his cheek.

"Ok I do believe we should leave these two alone to have a moment."

"And it's time for me to head on home," Victor remarked looking down on his paint splattered shirt. After a shower, he thought about heating up some leftovers and working on his editorial.

Hugh extended an appreciative hand. "Hey man thanks."

Victor accepting replied, "No prob."

He really enjoyed spending time with Evangeline's family. It made him feel whole. Being Victor Lord Jr. had its advantages. No longer did they view him as the monster that was Todd Manning.

"But you are coming back to have dinner with us right?" Lisa questioned.

A smile appeared on his face. "Sure. I definitely won't pass up a home cook meal. Truth be told...I never really tasted your daughter's cooking before."

Evangeline gave him an aghast stare. "Say what?"

Lisa brow furrowed in disbelief. "How long have you two been friends?" Lisa continued as they started to walk out.

"I can't believe you told my mother that. Mom it's not true."

"Mrs. Williamson we usually ate out but one time she did prepare me a PB&J sandwich."

"Victor! ...Unbelievable..."

Their voices faded as the back and forth continued down the hall.

 

 

"This all makes it real doesn't it? We are about to become parents for the first time." They embraced and shared a sweet kiss yet Layla sensed something was troubling him. She ran her fingers through his hair then asked, "Baby what's going on? You don't seem yourself."

"I guess Victor being here makes me think about Spencer. He was such a brilliant doctor and yet a monster lay beneath that conceited exterior."

 

"Honey Spencer Truman may be your biological father but John Hughes is your dad. The embodiment of what being an excellent father is all about. You've learnt much from him and are going to be an amazing father."

"And you an equally amazing mother. I love the both of you so much."

"We love you too."

"I'm sorry for dragging down this special moment."

"Yeah it should be all about me," she chuckled. She so wanted to get his mind off Spencer who always cast a dark cloud over her husband's mood.

"Always about you..." He began placing short kisses strategically on the nape of her neck.

"Hmmm you are such a tease. You've left me wanting more than a few times this week. Isn't there a law against doing that to the pregnant mother of your child?"

"I'll enact legislation and plead guilty as charged. I do plan on making immediate restitution," he whispered drawing her lips into an intense, sultry kiss. "Time to take this elsewhere..."

"Agreed," she giggled as Hugh pulled her towards their bedroom.

 

Only four sat down to an excellent dinner consisting of T-bone steak with baked potato and steamed vegetables. Victor was beyond satisfied. He rated it one of the best meals he ever had.

"Told you my baby can cook," Lisa remarked quite satisfied with Victor's reaction.

"Mom Victor knows that I can cook," she griped as she rose from her seat with a sleeping Trey in her arms. Tonight she and Trey would be staying over.

Victor shook his head no and chuckled when Evangeline gave him the "look". "I just need to get this little one to bed then I'll be back to help you mom..."

Victor immediately offered, "I can help. It's the least I can do after having such a fantastic meal."

"How chivalrous of you," Evangeline remarked sarcastically before exiting.

Lisa and Victor shared a laugh. "Is it always this way between you two?"

"Never a dull moment..."

Victor assisted her with clearing the table and loading the dishwasher.

"I think that will do. I'll prepare a plate for you to take home."

"You don't need to do that Mrs. Williamson."

"Yes I do. Let's not get to a disagreement about this," she chuckled.

"We definitely won't. Thanks Mrs. Williamson."

 

Afterwards Victor waited for Evangeline in the living room watching the tv but not fully engaged. Soon Evangeline joined him with a huge smile on her face.

"Why are you smiling that way?"

"I have a surprise for you."

"What sort of surprise?"

"The Ashby property is yours," she grinned.

Did he hear her correctly? "W-what?" The news stunned him and he stared at her in disbelief. "Say again."

"Yeah it's true. The house, everything is yours but we do need to set up a closing meeting..."  

"The Ashby place is mine!" He jumped up excitedly. "Evangeline you just don't know. This so awesome!" He put both hands on his hand, taking in a breath. "Evangeline thank you." He quickly pulled her into a tight embrace. "You are more than the best." He drew back gazing at her. "You are most intelligent, beautiful..." She sensed the change in his demeanor, their eyes locked in and then he slowly lowered his lips on hers.

Chapter 5 by chocolate470

Delicate, sensuous just a couple of words that came to mind in the midst of that unexpected kiss. Slowly their lips separated and both gazed with wonder into each other's eyes. For Victor it was all he anticipated it to be - that rush of excitement that course through his body and the sensation of wanting to hold on to her and never let go. Yeah those harp strings were resonating in his ears. He loved her and he would finally admit it to himself as well as anyone who asked. Recognizing that he was in love was most satisfying.

Reality however, set in for the usually composed Evangeline who immediately broke away from their embrace. What just happened? She stared warily at Victor. A whole string of emotions stirred within her which included fear and confusion. It's not that she didn't like the kiss in fact she hadn't been kissed like that in a long time. The relationship they shared as best friends however was beyond priceless and she didn't want anything to interfere and muddle that actuality. She took a deep breath briefly closing her eyes; lips still tingling. Was this really happening and could this easily be forgotten.

She was already mentally rationalizing the kiss he surmised. Certainly there wasn't an ounce of regret on his side but he did question his impulsive nature at this moment.

"Hey you two." Lisa's sudden appearance was a welcomed break from the tension in the room. "Am I intruding on a private conversation?" She sensed the strange vibe occurring between the two.

"Don't be silly mom," Evangeline replied quickly seeming to recover from her earlier mood change.

"Evangeline and I were discussing my new house..."

"Oh that's wonderful news Victor, congrats," she said genuinely happy for him. They shared a quick hug. "You need to invite us over for that house warming. By the way I brought you the leftovers that I promised." She offered him a small bag with two containers.

"Thanks so much."

"Well I'll allow you two get back to your discussion."

"Goodnight mom."

"Goodnight Mrs. Williamson."

 

"Evangeline..."

Evangeline immediately cut him off. "Victor I get it...I get it," she sighed. "We both got caught up in the excitement. We've had history. I recalled this happening during our trip to Llantano Mountain. Now that was a drama filled weekend," she chuckled.

"Yeah," he smiled weakly. He recalled that passionate kiss as well and it was real to him then as this kiss was now. She wasn't ready but he was determined to be completely honest with her fairly soon. It's no use getting into a heated discussion at this time. "Ok we'll see each other at the closing."

"Then you take me along for the final walk through?"

"Yes of course. It completely slipped my mind...sorry." He just wanted to leave. After such a wonderful day of experiencing the family and hearing the news about the Ashby property, it was ending anticlimactically. "Too much on my mind I guess," he shrugged.

"Leave those home worries to me ok. I'll look over the paperwork, confer with their lawyer and make sure that everything is in order for a smooth transfer," said Evangeline confidently adding, "Besides I've already signed up as your personal interior designer."

That brought back a smile to his face. "Looking forward to all your "ideas"." Still he needed to get out of there. "Hey I got to go. I loved spending time with you and your family. Thanks for the opportunity." They embraced. For the last time that evening, he took in her floral scent. Then he lightly kissed her forehead. "Call you," he said over his shoulder.

 

After he left, Evangeline pressed her back against the door looking skyward. How could such a wonderful day end so awkwardly? She hoped that the kiss wouldn't create a chasm between them.  

She was definitely looking forward to things returning to normal between them.

 

A week went by and Evangeline perceived the world on her shoulders. Dealing with Trey's two year old tantrums, Victor's closing and putting together ideas for his new home design as well as assisting with Layla made her appreciate her mom's presence even more. This morning was the closing meeting, set to happen within the next hour. In the meantime, she sat in the living room assisting a Trey with colors and shapes when Layla and Hugh made their appearance.

"Hey don't look so worried Hugh," Layla remarked stroking her belly.

"I don't want you to get too stressed especially with thanksgiving coming up." He placed both hands on her protruding belly wishing he could alleviate some of her burden.

"Between my mother and Evangeline, I'll barely be lifting a finger..."

"You got that right," Evangeline chimed in.

"See..."

Hugh smiled and gave her a sweet kiss. He leaned downward and said, "Hey little one, please don't give your mom too much trouble today. I love you...and I love you too Mrs. Hughes."

"Love you Mr. Hughes."

Layla gave her husband one last kiss and regarded him as he walked away.

 

"My aren't we looking very stylish today," Layla admired as she took a seat on the couch stretching out her feet.

"Why thank you," Evangeline smiled.

Evangeline wore a grey turtleneck sweater, black jeans and suede ankle boots; hair half-up and half-down. Soon Lisa came into the room.

"What shape is this?"

"Square!"

"And what color is this?"

"Blue!"

"You are such a smart little boy," remarked his proud mother.

Soon Lisa stepped into to room dressed to go out.

"Come Trey its time to leave." Trey instantly jumped off his mother's lap and ran over to his grandma.

"Bye mama. Bye Auntie Layla."

"Bye baby boy."

"Ladies take care."

 

"So please tell me how you are really feeling?"

"Very uncomfortable but if I share that with my devoted husband he'll go into panic mood. I have enough things to worry about - I'm not sleeping well, I feel like a beached whale and I just want this child to be born already but otherwise I'm wonderful," she chuckled.

"Hey I've been there and done that. When this baby is born, he/she will be all you think about and you won't dwell on anything else. I'm happy that your friends are stopping by for a visit."

"Me too..." Layla gazed at Evangeline while she neatly packed papers into her brown portfolio. "Evangeline why haven't you purchased a house of your own?"

"You're getting tired of us already," she giggled.

"I'm being serious."

"I guess I'm just not ready as yet or I really haven't thought about it lately." Layla gave her a perplexed look. "Look its going to happen..."

"I think you're stuck." Layla came right out and said it. "You placed so much importance on building that perfect home with Robert that when he died, your dreams died too."

Evangeline thought about it and Layla's observation ticked her off a bit. "Layla I'll excuse that comment because I know its coming from a place of love. I'm not stuck..."

Her cellphone began ringing and there was also a knock at the door.

"So are you ready?"

"As I'll ever be...I'll meet you there shortly."

"Are you alright?"

"Yes I'm fine. Thanks for asking."

 

The meeting at the Ashby's attorney's office went by quickly. With the paperwork in order, all they needed to do was sign the required documentation and copies were created. Evangeline was able to negotiate the purchase price down even further given the inconvenience caused to Victor and the fact that he was still willing to purchase the home and property. Handshakes all around and Victor was given the keys to his new home.

Victor exhaled. At least this part was over and now he was about to embark on a new journey but some matters needed to be taken care of first.

"So do you want to go over to the house now?"

"Not particularly..."

"Oh..."

"However I do want us to grab some brunch and return to my office."

"Ok but I need to check in with my mom and Trey first."

 

Victor's executive office design appeared sleek and stylish. It featured his desk, chairs, bookcase in one corner then a grey sectional and coffee table at the other. Colorful artwork placed strategically on the white walls and gloss pendant light fixtures finished the look.

"Love your office," remarked an impressed Evangeline as she removed her jacket and scarf.

"Well I aim to please myself," he smirked.

Evangeline gave him a "whatever" side-eye. "Some things never change," she muttered.

 

They sat down to strawberry scones, cinnamon rolls and coffee. While Victor enjoyed eating his fair share of cinnamon rolls, scones and downing his coffee, Evangeline barely touched the fare. It didn't take much for him to realize that something was bothering her.

"So tell me what's on your mind?"

"Uh just something Layla said to me this morning. At first I thought she was totally off-base but now I believe she's right..."

As she got more comfortable, he drew in closer. "About what?"

"That I'm not moving forward with my life. I promised myself that I would purchase a home but it looks like my sister and my bestie have moved ahead of me."

"If you had wanted to, you would have done so." Victor's index finger stroked along her face and a sudden calm came over her. "What are you afraid of?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm afraid that moving on means forgetting the life I once knew with Robert." The mention of Robert's name made Victor pause. "I understand how ridiculous that sounds."

"It's not ridiculous. Sometimes I look in the mirror and still believe I'm Todd Manning although I have the face of Walker Laurence." His face fashioned a smile at that tidbit. "It feels very weird for me to walk into this office especially after being the publisher of such a national newspaper like the Sun."

She added, "It's like you were on top of the world and then everything came crashing back to earth."

"I can't dwell on it. My life has to move forward or else the only person I'm hurting is me."

Now his finger traced along her lips. She noticed a certain look in those gorgeous blue eyes. They were sharing something very intimate with her own and she didn't shy away.

"It's funny how life can bring you to the exact place you need to be. " His words said in such a soft voice comforted her.

"Yes I see and believe that now. I can't keep lamenting on a life that doesn't exist anymore. Trey and I deserve exceedingly more."

Now he held her hands, interlacing their fingers. "There's something I need to say to you...not sure how you will react but I it has to be said."

"Then say it."

"I love you. I've love you for a long time now. Being around you makes my life worthwhile. Every kiss we've shared has been real to me as well as this one."

His lips were instantly upon hers and she fully leaned into it. There was no turning back now. The passion was real. The kiss was crushing, bruising, stealing their breaths away. Their lips soon retreated, foreheads pressed together, mouths breathing heavily, hearts racing. his palms planted on her cheeks while hers lay on his chest.

"Do you love me?"

It was like a light suddenly came on. "Yes, I do love you with all my heart." He laughed at her admission and embraced her tightly. "And yes I will." Victor gazed at her seriously. "You think I don't know what you will ask," she remarked biting her bottom lip.

"Are you sure?" She nodded with a huge grin on her face. He quickly ran over to his desk and retrieve the ring which surprised her. He clarified, "No this is not Nicki's engagement ring."

"I would have called you heartless and walked out that door if it was. Proceed..."

He got down on one knee and open the jeweled ring box. Tears came to her eyes, hands covered her face upon seeing the pink, heart-shaped, diamond engagement ring. Oh my...

"I can never love another woman the way I love you." His voice trembled and there were tears in his eyes. "Please do me the honor of becoming my wife."

She held out a shaky left hand and he slipped the ring on her finger. "Perfect fit."

"And its so beautiful, you certainly know how to make a woman...hey." He lifted her up in the air and spun them around. They shared another passionate kiss.

"You know how happy I am right now."

"I know because I feel the same way too.

Now all they needed to do was break the news to their respective families - easy enough right.

Chapter 6 by chocolate470

When Evangeline called over to the house saying she had some exciting news to share, Lisa was totally up for hearing what it was all about knowing her daughter well enough; well at least she thought so.

The manner in which Evangeline and Victor entered the living room gave her a slight pause. She wasn't quite sure why but something starting nagging at her brain about the two. They happily strolled towards her hand in hand talking and giggling. Immediately Trey rushed over to greet the pair hugging and kissing his mom then afterwards settling in Victor's arms. The way Victor and her grandson interacted displayed just how much the bond was growing between the two. No wonder Paddington bear was rarely visible these days, Lisa thought.

"Hey mom."

"Hey baby, Victor."

"Hi Mrs. Williamson."

"So what news are you so eager to tell me?"

"Well..." Evangeline lifted up her left hand to reveal the gorgeous engagement ring. Lisa's head instantly started to ache. Sometimes her daughters had a unique way of catching her off guard. "Victor and I are getting married." The joy on her face and the exhilaration in her voice said much.

Lisa's reaction was as expected. "What did I miss? How do you guys go from being best friends to wanting to get married?" a stunned Lisa enquired. Her eyes shifted between the pair.

Evangeline sensing her mother's mood change said, "I know this has come as a bit of a shock..."

"You think. I certainly understand that it's not my place to question your decision; but it does seem to me that the two of you are rushing into this."

"Far from it Mrs. Williamson. I've delayed something that should have occurred a while ago."

The explanation perplexed Lisa. "Excuse us," Lisa said pulling Evangeline into the kitchen. "What is he talking about?"

 

"His feelings for me go a while back and yes I chose to ignore them."

"Robert knew didn't he?"

"I believed he did but he never commented. I respected my husband and never threw my friendship with Victor in his face."

"He must have told his family though and that's why your relationship with his sister is so turbulent."

Evangeline understood that this conversation was going to be difficult at times but she hoped her mother wouldn't have taken it there.

"Mom please don't bring her into this discussion. Her opinion about me is irrelevant."

"Ok fine. I shouldn't have said that."

"I get that you're skeptical mom. You want the best for me and Trey."

"For you to make this decision so quickly says a lot Evangeline. I just hope that Victor isn't using you to replace the family he once enjoyed as Todd Manning."

"Definitely not," she stated emphatically. "Mom now you've got to trust me when I say that Victor loves me and he loves Trey. Yes, I knew how he felt but I chose to live a drama free life. Robert gave me that life and when he died, it was difficult for a while there but Trey and I survived.  Both of us deserve happiness..."

"You love him..."

"More than you know," she replied with a tinge of emotion. "I choose to willingly open up my heart and share my life with him. We've been through so much over the years. He knows me too well as I do him. It's not a great leap for us."

 

Meanwhile...

"Why Victor I didn't expect to see you here?" Victor gazed up to see a glowing Layla. He and Trey were playing with legos on the carpeted floor. The thought of Evangeline one day carrying their child brought a smile to his face.

"Well Evangeline and I have some unexpected but wonderful news to share. First I need to thank you for being the catalyst."

"Me? What did I do?"

"Victor, Auntie, look." Trey happily showed off the completed lego house.

"Wow that's impressive; an architect in the making," she replied massaging her belly

"Knew you were a smart kid," Victor said ruffling his hair.

There were more legos to put together and Trey went back to fashioning the other figurines.

"I really need to hear this wonderful news and the special part I played," she smiled.

 

 

"What about Trey? He is not Starr or Jack...That little boy has been through so much without even knowing it."

"Mom stop," Evangeline cautioned massaging her temples. "We are not a substitute for Blair and her kids. Victor adores Trey and I can say that Trey adores him too; he can and will be an amazing father to Trey and I need that. Hugh is part time while Victor will become a full time parent. As he grows there will be so many things Trey will want to learn, understand and it's great to have Victor assisting along the way."

"So is this about finding companionship or having a father figure for Trey."

"Why can't it be both? I don't get what you're trying to insinuate mom. The man I choose to be in my life must love both Trey and I. Victor meets all those requirements and then some."

 

Suddenly they heard an excited Layla coming towards the kitchen.

"Let me see! Let me see! Let me see!" Layla exclaimed grabbing Evangeline's left hand. "Wow...now that's one gorgeous ring. Never knew you had it in you sis. Congrats." She embraced her as much as she could. "I also heard that you two are getting married tonight..."

Lisa lifted her hands in the air. "I give up," she said and quickly exited the kitchen.

"Oops. Sorry Vange."

"What's done is done. It's ok. Mom always has a way of wanting her daughter's lives to be "perfect."

"I'm really happy to see that smile return to your face. You've sacrificed so much for others, glad to see you accepting happiness for yourself."

"It hasn't fully set in that in a matter of hours I'm going to be Mrs. Victor Lord...humph."

"Then there's the house to prepare. Things are coming along quickly but my big sis is prepared. Hey what about the dress, venue..."

"All taken care of. Victor is looking after the venue and everything else in between and that suits me fine."

"My sister giving control to someone else. Victor is definitely husband material in my book."

"Whatever Layla," Evangeline chuckled. "He has a great eye for detail and of course, money is no object. ...I have this great boutique in mind and hopefully you can join me."

"Of course and mom will too." Evangeline eyes sent the message that she wasn't too sure about her mom. "Don't worry about mom; she will come along even if I have to drag her." The thought made the sisters share a laugh.

"So is this the prelude to something bigger?"

"Maybe, maybe not but anything is possible."

"Oh Victor is going to make sure of that. Thanksgiving is going to be pretty special this year and I can't wait."

 

Soon Trey and Victor made their entrance. "Trey is asking for a snack." Evangeline nodded. She went to the cupboard to retrieve a glass and a package of fruit gummies and opened the drawer for a small spoon. Thereafter she opened the fridge to get some yogurt. Layla excused herself for a much needed bathroom visit.

Victor and Evangeline sat alongside the kitchen island with Trey seated on Victor's lap. This seemed to be the perfect time.

"Trey you like Victor right?"

"Hmm...humph," he said shaking his head.

"And I love you too buddy."

"Very soon you and I are going to be living with Victor. We are going to be a family like Uncle Hugh and Auntie Layla. How does that sound?"

Trey nodded his head. "Good." He appeared more interested in his yogurt than the gist of the conversation and they left him alone. Evangeline hoped that his relationship with Victor continued along a strong path.

"So how was the conversation with your mom?" Victor questioned touching her cheek. Evangeline's mind seemed elsewhere.

"As expected I guess but that's my mother. I believe I'm making the right choice and that's what matters."

"We've been down this road before and our friendship lasted through all the distractions and naysayers and I expect the same for our marriage. Sweetheart never doubt my love for you."

"I'm not and I never will."

"All done." Trey proudly announced.

"If it's alright with you, I would like to take Trey with me."

"Already earning some brownie points I see." She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Hey..." Clearly, he was expecting a full-blown kiss.

"Later is greater," she whispered in a sultry tone.

"Be prepared," he winked back at her.

She regarded Victor and Trey as they exited. For over two years taking care of her son became her primary focus and now she would be seceded some of that responsibility. Of course, she wholeheartedly welcome the change but it was still a process of letting go.

 

From the moment she entered the room, a wondrous medley of décor greeted her. Victor really pulled it together after such short notice. The decorating was perfect - tall bouquet centerpieces placed in strategic areas, lighted candles illuminated the small space, rose petals scattered along her pathway and who could forget the huge crystal chandelier in the center of the ornate ceiling. There was even a violin trio playing adjacent to the small gathering. Guests included her mom with a little Trey, Layla, Hugh, Vicki and Jessica who was recording the ceremony.

All eyes shifted towards her and their reactions expressed much. The violin trio started playing and she made her way down the aisle to a handsome Victor who anxiously waited for her to join him and the minister on the miniature stage.

"Mommy you pretty."

"Thanks baby and you look very handsome." Evangeline went over to give Trey a hug and a kiss before joining Victor.

"You are more beautiful than anything else in this room tonight."

"No you are."

"I do believe it's time to get our forever started."

"I wholeheartedly agree."

 

Vows

One look at you and anyone would be captivated by your beauty and grace but I see much more. What man wouldn't want to stand and remain in your presence; to be surrounded by your love? You bring calmness to my spirit; a joy to my heart. Whatever you say is true to my ears. Few have stood so steadfastly in support of me through some trying times and it made me realize how special you are to me. You have a unique hold on my heart and I would die if you ever chose to let it go. I love you beyond reason Evangeline and always will.

 

My love I've always seen the man beneath all that swagger; you are loving, caring and would move mountains to defend the person you love even if it means sacrificing yourself. Your constant love and support carried me through my own dark moments. When I'm with you there is no other place I want to be. Your eyes linger and I sense them staring into my soul. Your hands touch and they provide all the comfort I need. Being with you makes me be more of myself. I adore every part of you and I want to spend my remaining years being in love with you. You, Trey and I are one now and the joy in my heart has finally returned.


Victor's vow to Trey

Trey, I love you and your mother most in this world. I know that you have tragically lost your father and will never get to know the great man he was. I can never replace him but I hope and pray that as we grow together as a family, you will see me as that significant part of your life. No matter what, I promise to be there for you with love and support. I love you as if you were my own son...forever, always.

 

Ring Exchange

"With this ring, I thee wed and its symbol is a sign of my never-ending love and commitment to you and our family.

The violins played as Victor and Evangeline lit their unity candle. There were a few tears shed between themselves and those present. No one doubted the love they shared for one another.

 

By the power vested in me by God, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss!

 

"Finally!" Victor exclaimed as his lips captured hers.

 

 

Chapter 7 by chocolate470

There wasn't a much more perfect evening than the first night they spent together as man and wife. Victor jetted her off to a cozy luxury hotel in the mountains. Not exactly a honeymoon per se but rather a weekend getaway given that both were reluctant to spend too much time away from their precious little boy. Although exhausted, finally being together took precedence over anything else. Bags, clothes were haphazardly dispersed about and who had time to absorb the room's presentation. From the remainder of the evening through to the beginning illuminations of early dawn passion reigned until their bodies were completely spent.

Victor hardly slept though, choosing instead to gaze downward at his gorgeous bride who laid sprawled along his length snoring lightly. His thoughts reflected on just how much his life had transformed for the better. He never knew or understood true love until Evangeline. Much more than mere friendship, he craved her love, acceptance and longed for her presence in his life. In spite of himself, he desired to be a better human being turning aside from many of his outlandish behaviors. She saw qualities inside of him that he never knew existed.

 

"You are a unique individual."

"In a good way I hope."

"I think so."

 

Its funny how one person can affect the outlook of another's life that it totally alters the perspective forever.

His right hand stroke along her back enjoying the feel of her silky skin beneath its touch.

"Hmmm." Evangeline's eyes popped opened and she gazed adoringly at her silent alarm clock. "Good morning handsome," she announced drowsily stifling a yawn.

He smiled at her. "Good morning beautiful. I didn't mean to wake you."

She reached out and caressed his face. "I believe you too," she replied smiling up at him. Thereafter she tilted her head upwards and drew him into a sweet but passionate kiss.

"I love you."

"I love your lips more," she replied with a giggle.

"Oh so that's how it is."

He started to tickle her but as she rolled away, she groaned in pain. "Humph..." The lower half of her body felt sore.

Seeing her grimace Victor asked, "Sweetheart is everything alright."

"Everything is fine. Let's just say I've been out of practice for some time." She scratched her scalp then it occurred to her. "I must really look like a disaster right now." She was thinking about her hair being all over place; as for her makeup she assumed Victor must have kissed it away.

"Far from it." His eyes sparkled. "You.are.absolutely.radiant." He leaned in for another kiss.

"Baby you do make me feel beautiful."

He traced his fingers from her neck down to her arm. "I'm going to draw you a warm bath..."

"And where will you be?" She interrupted entwining their fingers.

"Right there with you."

"Better be." She lightly kissed his lips. "Afterwards we should order breakfast."

"My exact thought."

She ran her fingers through his hair then angled her arms around his neck. "Do I need to do anything to assist you," she whispered into his ear.

"Allow me to..." He moaned when he felt her mouth pressing on his neck.

 

 

"I didn't expect to see you this morning," Vicki remarked looking up from her paper.

"Really Vicki after what took place last night. I should be getting the exclusive but perhaps you have dibs on that."

Vicki sighed setting aside her cup of coffee. There was certainly no keeping things under wraps in  

Llanview for too long. Todd's early morning presence in her living room proved that fact. Ever since his return, he has been on a solo mission to disrupt Victor's life anyway possible but thankfully Starr put an end to that nonsense.

"Are you truly happy Todd?"

He didn't expect that question. "Of course," he replied nonchalant, shrugging his shoulders. "I've got my wife, kids, a decent home life, the paper is doing fantastic. What could be better?"

"Well that's good to hear because what our brother does or doesn't do with his life isn't your concern."

"Whose side are you on?"

"I refuse to choose sides. We are a family and should be looking out for one another instead of finding ways to hurt..."

"Oh is that so..." Todd gave her the "oh really" stare. "He got to enjoy my family for eight years..." 

"And all those years weren't a bed of roses either. You know that to be true. The blame rests squarely with your mother..."

"She's dead!" He turned and walked away.

And that's the problem isn't it?

 

Nicki was on her third glass of Chardonnay, well at least she thought so. Why she decided to come into the office after such earth shattering news was incomprehensible, yet there she sat brooding, waiting for her business partner Jay to make an appearance. How dare he? After giving her such grief about the "Lord way of doing things", this blindsided her. She practically tore her house apart with rage then bawled like a newborn baby. Their relationship really didn't count for much. Indeed she wasn't naive about the friendship between Victor and Evangeline. A couple of friends even warned her that all may not be as it seemed. There were certainly stories going around but she paid them little attention. She understood Todd/Victor to be faithful in his relationship and believed herself quite capable of fulfilling that role of becoming "his wife'. For crying out loud, he proposed. Men are such dogs! She gulped down the remainder of her drink and started to pour herself another.

"What are you doing Nicki?"

Jay's sudden appearance by her office door didn't reverse her intent.

"What do you think a woman should be doing once they find out that their recent and former fiancé just got married?" she asked disdainfully, taking a sip of her wine. "I don't expect much sympathy from a man who has been married..."

"Stop this!" he said angrily snatching the drink away from her. "Right now the continued success of our business comes first! We are supposed to be going over a couple of very important listings and putting together the client database...not having a pity party."

"Give me that!" Jay confiscated her Chardonnay as well. "How long have you been drinking this?" The bottle was almost empty.

"It's just wine..." She felt a sharp pain strike her head and settled back down in her seat massaging her temple.

"What's wrong with you?" He stared at the woman who hardly looked like Llanview's most successful real estate agent.

"Everything I suppose," Nicki lamented.

"You are better than this. This is so unlike you."

"I know," She softly admitted raking her fingers through her hair. "Sorry..."

Jay folded his arms, disappointed by her uncharacteristic behavior. One of their biggest clients was coming into the office for a meeting Monday morning and here Nicki was having a breakdown. Business 101; never mix business with your personal stuff or you're asking for a whole lot of trouble. Hopefully a couple of aspirins, some water and a call from her friend Pamela would return her back to normal.

 

 

Floating rose petals, scented candles and romantic music although cliché, are the right combination for the perfect bath.

"Feeling better?" Victor asked from behind Evangeline. He gently kissed the side of her face.

"Much better," came her relaxed reply. The warm bath did indeed soothe her aching muscles and this was sure to please her husband she surmised. "I called Trey and he's doing well but he's anxious for us to return home. He's already quite attached to you."

"Same here. Do you believe he'll wholly accept the transition? After all it happened quite suddenly."

"Honey he loves you and the way he embraced your presence in my life made my decision pretty easy."

Victor started reminiscing. "You know when you first came into my life, I didn't care where it would lead or what it took to make it sane again. As time went by it all made perfect sense, you make me whole. Life is greatest with you. Hearing you say you love me with all your heart blew me away. Some...ow! Honey why did you pinch me?" he asked in an incredulous tone.

"Wasn't your next words going to be - someone pinch me because this must be a dream?"

"No...you didn't give me a chance. Evangeline Lord - I think you pinched me on purpose," he chuckled.

"Victor Lord now I know you are definitely dreaming. There are many things I can do purposefully," she said breathily while rising. Victor instantly became quiet. Did his heart just stop at seeing his beautiful wife standing in front of him? Water cascading off her skin. She loosened her bun, hair fell around her shoulders. His eyes drank in all of her and he swallowed. He reached out but she eluded his intentionally touch. She winked at him and stepped out of the bath. "I'm really starving for some breakfast and I hope you are too. Coming?"

Victor cleared his throat. "Y-yes."

 

 

A competitive game of squash with her friend Bitsy at the Town's Country Club seemed to clear up some of that deep seeded anger and sadness. The meeting with Jay went forward as planned with her business partner taking on most of the responsibility. You owe me.

"We were really working up a sweat," Bitsy commented while dabbing off the perspiration on her arms and brow.

Nicki did so as well and faintly replied, "Yeah we were."

Bitsy took a hold of her arm. "Hey you don't need him. He's a major scumbag. There are plenty of guys out there waiting for a chance to date you..."

"It's far too soon to even think about dating," she countered. Unlike Victor who dove headlong into an instant marriage.

Wow Nicki had really turned over a new leaf. The Nicki she knew would have already called up a couple of friends and jetted off to Aspen for the weekend. "I get your point. Next week we should go out for a ladies' weekend..."

"Nah...I've got too much on my plate at the moment plus I have this huge listing to take care of with Jay. I owe him big time for having my back. "

"Oh ok. If you need to talk, I'm just a call away."

"Thanks...," she replied flipping the towel across her shoulders.

"Hey I'm going to hit the showers. Are you coming?"

"Not yet." She spied one Todd Manning walking in her direction with a bottle of water in his hand and a racket beneath his arm. There was barely any visible sweat on him.

 

"What are you doing here Nicki?" he asked a little annoyed.

"I'm a member of this club. I'm not stalking you if that' what you believe. I'm just here to relieve some stress just like you."

"Ah wanting to push past the pain of my brother's betrayal."

"So you know." She was a little surprised then again Todd had his ear to the ground on most everything.

"Who doesn't at this point? I suggest you find a girlfriend or two to work through your heartbreak. You don't want your personal affairs affecting your career."

Nicki flicked her tongue. "Huh...people who live in glass houses. I know Victor gets under your skin - pretty deep..."

"Nicki what my brother does on his personal time is his own damn business and I could care less."

"Then why did you need my help derailing his closing?"

Todd sighed. "At the time Victor was ticking me off and you were the perfect fly to put in his ointment so to speak."

"What is it with you and your family?" she questioned in disgust. "You guys are sick. Is this how you get off, going around mistreating women for your fancy."

"Only those we don't care for much. Take my advice Nicki forget you ever met, interacted or bedded my brother. It would do your heart well." Nicki gave him a hard slap against his cheek which made a few club members stop and notice.

"First Step," she remarked then hurried away in a huff.

Todd massaged his reddened cheek and chuckled. Fiery women, can't live without them.

Chapter 8 by chocolate470

"What are you two doing?" A surprised Evangeline came upon her husband and little boy frolicking among the fall leaves.

"Uh oh." Trey's mouth hung open and his dark brown eyes were wide with expression. Trey appeared adorable in his navy jeans, plaid shirt, denim jacket and beanie.

"Babe I thought our plan was to rake up the leaves on the lawn. You remember instead of hiring someone, doing it ourselves as a family - get some exercise..."

"And we did that,,,right Trey." Trey agreed shaking his head vigorously in agreement.

It looked like they indeed had gathered a considerable pile.

"And then what happened?" Evangeline crossed her arms with a smug expression on her face.

"Daddy Victor fault mommy," Trey blurted out pointing his finer at Victor.

A stunned Victor turned to Trey in mock disbelief. "Why would you tell on me like that?"

"Cause mommy mad," he replied without hesitation.

"Come here." Soon they began rolling around in the leaves scattering them even more. There was enough squeals and laughter between the two. Evangeline shrugged and joined in on the fun.

Suddenly Victor saw someone come into view then disappear. He couldn't tell but the person seemed familiar. He quickly rose up to investigate feeling drawn to follow. "Evangeline I'll be right back."

She heard the nervousness in his tone; concerned eyes tracking his movements. "Victor what's wrong?...Victor!"

He hurried away praying that his eyes were deceiving him. Then he caught up to the woman walking ahead. "Wait!" The figure dressed in a black pantsuit stood still. "Who are you? I sense that I know you."

The woman slowly turned and a shudder went through him. His eyes hadn't betrayed him after all; Irene Manning stood glaring at him.

"Hello Victor... "

"You are not real. You can't be here," Victor whispered harshly.

Irene chuckled. "Darling I will forever be a part of you. After all I am your mother..."

"Stop saying that! You're dead! Dead!"

His mind must be playing tricks on him. He couldn't imagine the other alternative.

Irene smirked. "Death can't keep me away from my precious..."

She reached out to touch him but he instinctively drew back.

"Stop!"

"Victor..." He could hear Evangeline calling out to him but her voice seemed faraway. In fact the whole scene of the house and trees began fading away.

"You cannot stop the darkness from overtaking you."

Victor squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating as hard as he could on Evangeline and Trey.

"Open your eyes Victor," Irene said sharply. He didn't know why but slowly his eyes opened. "Good boy. You have such a wonderful new family - lovely wife and a little boy too."

"Stay away from my family!"

"Or else what!" She gritted her discolored teeth. "Besides they are my family too." Victor felt utterly powerless. His mother always held a certain kind of control over him. Irene's face displayed complete satisfaction. "Darling there is someone else who is anxious to say hello."

"Long time..."

"Nooooo..."

 

 

"Uh...uh...uh.."

"Baby shh...shh..I'm here my love...shh...shh." It was all she thought of doing, rocking him in her arms, kissing his face and whispering words of love. Sweat poured down his face and covered his bare chest. His heart was pounding, breathing shallow. She prayed he would hear her.

Victor told her a while ago about these crippling nightmares that plagued him but hadn't grasped its full effects until now. It was indeed a jarring experience. She began thinking about all those times she comforted Trey and now she had to do the same for her husband. Soon his heart rate and breathing returned back to normal. She was thankful and breathe a sigh of relief when she heard him lightly snoring. For him to go through this alone broke her heart but she was happy that at least this night she was able to chase his monsters away. She snuggled in closer and drifted off to sleep.   

 

 

Thanksgiving Morning...

 

"Go on wake up Victor. He needs to get up."

"Ok mommy."

Since his nightmare, Victor had fallen into a blissful sleep of which he hadn't fully awaken.

Trey dutifully obeyed his mother; jumping on the bed. "Wake up...Wake up!" He shook him as much as he could then started to smack his arms. "Wake...Up!"

Victor groggily responded, "I don't want to," pulling up the covers.

"You have to."

He spun around asking, "Why?"

"Because mommy says so."

"Mommy says a lot of things. I bet you don't remember them all."

Trey was unsure how to respond. "I don't know."

"Come closer let me tell you a few." Evangeline began smiling. When Trey leaned in closer, Victor grabbed him, threw him up in the air then caught him.

Trey delightfully yelled, "Again!" At which Victor did it again. Thereafter Trey jumped and tumbled around on the bed.

Evangeline quickly approached the bed, "Alright you two...ohh." Victor pulled her into their play and all three were having a fun time laughing and messing around.

"Guys we need to get ready...it's Thanksgiving and we've got to go over to Uncle Hugh and Auntie Layla's house."

Uncle Clay and mom were doing the cooking. It has been a month and half since her marriage and Lisa still was a little wary. Hopefully with Uncle Clay being in town, things would go back to normal.

Victor stared loving at his wife and baby boy. "What?" Evangeline inquired suddenly self conscious. She tucked a stray strand behind her ear. It became hard to think sometimes with those eyes gazing intently at her.

"There is just so much I'm thankful for. For the first time I'm living life and it's pretty incredible."

"Trey and I feel the same way about you too." Evangeline said stroking his hair then his cheek. "Glad that you're doing well this morning,"

Her last comment perplexed him. "Why do you say that? I feel fine."

"Don't you remember? You had one of your nightmares..."

"A nightmare...Oh..." His eyes shifted away; embarrassed." Sorry you had to go through that..."

She continued caressing his face. "Victor I'm your wife and I love you so don't do this to yourself...ok."

"Ok...thank you." They hugged and shared a sweet kiss at which Trey covered his eyes.

"Done?" He asked sneaking a peak.

 

 

"I can't believe it."

"That mom threw you out of the kitchen?" Layla questioned.

"Yeah and Uncle Clay didn't say anything to stop her." Evangeline had to chuckle. Uncle Clay's presence seem to lighten her mother's mood and it also give her a confidant. Evangeline believed that even though her mother was around her daughters and grandson, she missed home and being around the rest of the family and friends. Being far away from home can wear on a person mentality then add to it the shock of an unexpected marriage.

"Mom must have told him all her troubles especially with one particular daughter."

"Yet it seems that Uncle Clay has managed to successfully broker a truce between mom and I."

"Thanksgiving dinner is going to be drama free after all - too bad."

"Layla..."

Layla giggled. "Just teasing...Come sit."

Layla was relaxing in the baby's room, dressed in a black maxi dress and grey cardigan. As the weeks went by, she found herself spending a lot of time in there sitting in her now favorite glider and putting her feet up on the ottoman. Victor, Hugh and Trey were in the family room playing with the Xbox. The sisters considered that a major victory. Sure they weren't going to be best buds but at least they were able to tolerate each other's presence for a length of time. Evangeline believed Trey played an important role in making this possible.

"I guess I shouldn't be asking how you are feeling." Evangeline had been there and done that - the pain, discomfort, swelling, irritation. The last stages of pregnancy can be difficult.

"You know when you're in one of those sustained relationships and desperately wanting to take it to the next level. It's the same way I'm feeling about this baby - I want him/her to be born. It's not right when you want the comfort of your mother more than your husband - that's not correct."

Evangeline laughed. "Don't say this going to be your first and last baby."

"Perhaps not but its going to be a long while Mr. Hughes." Layla sighed rubbing her belly. "Come on little one, don't you want to see your mommy and daddy."

"Be careful what you wish for."

"Humph I don't even want to think about labor right now. I just need to go to my happy place when it starts."

"There is no happy place until that baby pops out."

"Thanks a lot Evangeline for your two cents." Layla said rolling her eyes.

"Happy to assist," Evangeline teased with laughter.

Layla had a thought. "So are you and Victor considering..."

"Not right now," Evangeline was quick to respond. "We've only just begun," Evangeline sang, "Besides Trey is loving the attention - he deserves that. It's funny Victor wants four and I want two so we settled on three. I've got two more to go."

"Gee Evangeline did you two sign a contract as well," Layla mocked.

"Layla I do not sound that technical...do I?" The sisters laughed.

 

The food, atmosphere and lively conversations reminded Evangeline of what life once was when her father was alive and a lot of family came over to their Maryland home on holidays. A southern-sty;e thanksgiving meal with Uncle Clay given the honor of sitting at the head of the table and leading the family in saying grace. There was much to be thankful for which was expressed by all present. This included Trey whom when prodded by his mother said one word, thanks before shyly burying his face into her sweater.

Eventually the men went off to watch the game, Layla retired to her room while Evangeline and Lisa cleaned up the dining room and kitchen.

"Next time we should insist that the men clean up," Lisa grumbled scrapping some leftover food off a plate then placing it in the dishwasher

Evangeline giggled. "Uncle Clay would say he assisted you in the kitchen and he needs to do some male-bonding with the guys."

Lisa became quiet then turned to Evangeline and said, "Evangeline I know I haven't made it easy on you and Victor but I do see the happiness that he brings you and Trey."

Evangeline quickly hugged her mother. "Thanks mom." She had been waiting for this and she felt a burden lifted.

 

 

Later on...

 

After so many hours being around family, it felt nice to be finally sharing some alone time. While Trey slept, Victor and Evangeline retreated to the condo's enclosed terrace snuggling on a plush, round accent chair staring out at the night sky before going to bed.

"Babe what's on your mind?" She entwined her right fingers through his left then stared into those mesmerizing blue eyes. "You've been pretty quiet and that's so unlike you."

"The nightmare reminded me that I don't want anything from my past intruding on this future we're building but sadly it will," he said resigned to that fact. The nightmares and ghosts from his past were starting to make themselves known.

"Honey everything is not going to be perfect. Life is not a romance novel. Hey you've seen me less glamorous and survived the shock," she chuckled wanting to lighten the mood. Sometimes they ventured into these deep conversations and Victor had a bad habit of being too hard on himself.

"In my eyes you are always beautiful."

"Good answer...and you are adorably handsome."

Victor sneaked a kiss then looked at her. "What would I do without you? Even at my worst, you've found ways to bring out the best part of me."

"It was always there. You chose not to see it."

"Now may I provide my lovely wife with some advise of my own about the house?"

She readily responded, "Of course."

"Speaking of perfection, Sweetheart you want things to be too perfect before we move in..."

He got her there. Evangeline bit her bottom lip. "It's just that its going to be our forever home and I want every detail to be just right. I do see now that I'm making it my vision instead of ours."

Humph that wasn't exactly what he was referring to. "You know I will agree with every decision you make but I just don't want it overtaking you. You're taking care of me, Trey, worrying about your mom, sister, career and now this home...I'm concerned about my wife." He played with her hair ends curling it around and between his fingers.

Part of her wanted to rebut his statement knowing herself to be someone who multi-tasked quite easily but she refrained. She understood his meaning. "Alright Victor but hiring someone is not on the agenda and I know my husband has an excellent eye for design." Victor immediatelyscrunched his face. "Come on babe..."

"Either we won't get anything done..." He liked that idea. "Or we will be at each other's throats." He hated the thought. Having a lawyer for a wife has its drawbacks but the making up hmm - that made him smile.

"Earth to Victor." Evangeline said snapping her fingers.

"What?" Victor blinked.

"Where did your mind go?"

Victor instantly arose scooping her up into his arms. "Time for me to take you there."

"Excellent idea," she replied wrapping her arms around his neck then passionately kissing him.

Chapter 9 by chocolate470

A week later Victor and Evangeline were conversing on the phone about the design upgrades to a couple of the remaining rooms. The house was coming along pretty nicely given that Victor finally gave into Evangeline's wishes of putting forth his own design concepts. A new home meant a new beginning. All the furnishings were brand new. Evangeline's storage items and furniture were going to be donated while Victor would be relinquishing that posh penthouse suite.

"So what do you think?"

Victor scratched his chin, eyes intently scanning between pics from the living room and office. "Hmm...just add a vase on the mantle and the living room is good to go."

"Are you sure? I don't want you coming home and deciding something different."

Home... for a long time he yearned to hear those words - to have that feeling and having someone to share it with. Hearing it now from the love of his life brought a smile to his face. "I wouldn't change a thing."

"And how about our new office?"

"Our? - isn't it suppose to be my office/man-cave - no visitors allowed especially my gorgeous wife," he teased propping his feet unto the desk and leaning back in his chair.

"Well too bad because I know I'll be visiting anytime I choose to do so."

"Dang I forgot you have a key to everything."

"Who says I need a key..."

"Hold on Babe." The incessant blinking of his office line stirred him into action. "This better be an emergency Tina," he muttered underneath his breath. Sometimes his schedule interfered with these daytime flirtations. "What is it?"

"Sorry Mr. Lord but Starr Manning is here to visit you and she says it pretty urgent."

What could that be about? "Okay give me a minute. Sorry Sweetheart but I need to cut our conversation short. Starr is here to see me."

"Oh..." Sure there wasn't any love lost between the two women. Evangeline never forgot their tense confrontations but she wouldn't interfere understanding that Victor wouldn't allow Starr in no way to disrespect her or their relationship. "Well I'll chat with you later and don't skip out on lunch."

"Yes dear," he said sarcastically. Evangeline had made sure to pack him a healthy turkey sandwich along with some fruit. "I love you," he quickly added.

"Nice comeback...love you too."

 

 

When Starr stepped into his office, the solemn look on her face said so much. She was comfortably dressed in a maxi skirt, black blouse, jacket, scarf hanging loosely around her neck. She promptly hugged Victor. "Looks like married life is agreeing with you."

"Evangeline and Trey make it so."

She gave him a small smile then proceeded to pull him along to the sofa where they sat.

"What's wrong? Is it Hope?"

"No...no..."

"Jack?"

"No..."

"Starr come on. Why is it so hard for you to tell me? You shouldn't show up here just to play twenty questions."

Starr sighed heavily. "Okay let me start from the beginning. I was over at dad's office and he picked up this mail and started reading. At first it seemed that something in that letter bothered him then he quickly put it aside. I asked him about it and he said it was junk mail and that he would throw it out. Later on I saw it again and something told me to take a look...it's then I realized that the letter was for you."

"Me?"

"Yeah..." She carefully retrieved the letter from her bag. "...Spencer sent you this letter."

The sound of his name jolted him back. "W-What?!" He quickly stood up and began pacing. All those sobering memories came flooding back - the tears and heartbreak. "This is not real! Even from the grave he is torturing me!" He went over to his desk and with one sweep of the hand cleared it of its contents. Then he started pounding it with his fists, face discolored by rage. "Why can't that bastard leave me alone?!"

"Uncle Victor," Starr rushed over to his side. "I didn't mean...I shouldn't have come.." Victor buried his face on his hands. Starr's heart broke for him knowing this letter was ripping open an old wound. "But I had to...listen to me Uncle Victor...the letter is saying that your son is alive."

Immediately his eyes shifted her way with an intriguing stare. He wasn't sure how to react. His emotions were all over the place. "Did it say where?"

"At a foster care agency named New Beginnings in Houston."

"Do you believe this to be true?" he asked almost in a whisper.

"There is more information in the letter that makes it seem credible," she replied truthfully. "I understand this is difficult for you to deal with right now especially with your life moving forward but if there is a chance your son is alive, I say go for it. I promise dad won't interfere." She gave him a much needed hug.

They leaned against the edge of his desk in a quiet embrace. Victor thought his life was a synopsis of secrets, lies along with enough twists and turns to make any book a best seller. When he learnt that he wasn't Todd Manning it brought about such devastation to his soul. Jack and Starr weren't his and the son he never knew was already dead.

"I hate the way this came about but if I don't do this then it will forever haunt me." Victor started to accept and realize. "My son could me out there waiting for his father to find him. I can't and won't let him down again."

 

Evangeline didn't know what to expect once she busted through the door at Victor's office. It brought such a fear in her heart when he called and said that he had something very important to share with her. It didn't help her much when she saw some of things that were usually on his desk scattered about on the ground. Victor sat quietly on the sofa. Where his thoughts lay, she did not know.

"Babe..." The only word she had a chance to say before he got up, pulled her towards him, kissing her deeply. "What's going on?"

He held her hands and remarked excitedly, "I believe my son is alive."

"Wow.." Evangeline gasped placing her right hand over her heart. There were tears in her eyes. She recalled the emotional breakdown when Victor found out his son was dead and now this. She wrapped her arms around his neck. "I can't believe this. This is such great news! Where is he? How did you find out?"

"Spencer sent me a letter... Its seems my son is in a foster care facility in Houston."

"As in that Spencer?"

"Yeah..." He knew eventually Evangeline's lawyer brain would kick in.

Evangeline backed away, her brain churning with various thoughts. "Babe how do you know this is real and he isn't manipulating you again?" she asked emphatically. "He lied to you before remember that? - convincing you that he killed your son!"

"Of course, but I need to find out if its real."

"You've already made plans haven't you?"

"I thought you would understand. This is my son and you would have done the same."

If they were both single but Trey's well being was always a factor before anything else.

"Perhaps but because it is Spencer I would do my investigation first before going off on a mission. You can't just leave and not have a plan. Besides if he is in foster care as you say then there are legal considerations. Let Paul go ahead and check into it then follow."

"I won't be able to take it - sitting here and waiting for some news. We've already been forced apart for too many years..."

"You talk as if you already know. ...You know what Victor just go but don't you dare leave without saying goodbye to Trey first." Evangeline turned, opened the door and slammed it against Victor who was trailing behind her.

"Evangeline...Evangeline..."

She didn't turn around until she reached the elevator. "What am I to you? Am I your wife or just your best friend?"

He paused when he saw the hurt and sadness in her eyes. He watched as the door closed and instantly felt the separation between them. A part of him thought the worst but he knew differently. He wouldn't lose her and he would find his son and bring him home to their family.

Chapter 10 by chocolate470

"What am I to you? Am I your wife or just your best friend?"

Evangeline's last statement stung and it kept replaying like a broken record through his thoughts. How could she say that? He questioned out loud. Of course she meant everything to him especially now. Wife? Best friend? He understood the difference as well as her implication. In his heart their home, family, future was most important. Evangeline wasn't just a support system when he ran into trouble or a shoulder to lean on when times got rough. For far too many years and seemingly endless obstacles, she remained by his side, becoming a light to the darkness surrounding him. Her presence alone brighten his day. Well maybe she has grown tired of always having to stand on the sidelines while he worked his way through another unpredictable complication. She was probably thinking she made a colossal mistake in marrying him - he prayed not. The negative thoughts kept coming as he sat by the window, hands clasped together.

"Victor," he admonished himself. It was no use putting his mind through the ringer when things needed to get done. He quickly rose from his seat and picked up his phone.

An hour went by during which he met with this staff plotting out a schedule unsure of his return. In the meantime Elliot, his managing editor, would be left in charge. Soon after he placed a call to Paul.

"Is the jet ready?"

"Almost Mr. Lord. I've also contacted Davis to get the ball rolling."

"Are you sure he'll be able to get access to New Beginnings. I don't want us wasting time and spinning our wheels. Time is not a luxury for me Paul. I've got my wife, son and a new home besides Christmas is just around the corner. There's no way I'm going to be spending a significant time away like what happened in Chicago."

"I understand Mr. Lord. Davis knows his way around and you'll be getting an update in a day or two."

"Good. And what about the lawyer?"

"As soon as we land, a meeting has already been scheduled."

"Okay. I'll see you in a little while."

 

He had already gone to the penthouse and packed a few things. Again he attempted to reach Evangeline but her phone kept going to voicemail. He finally got the message - his wife wanted to be left alone. If he wanted to, he would go look for her but he knew she needed space. In her mind he was choosing a son he has never seen or met over her and Trey which was far from the truth. It made him worry that if it were all in vain, their marriage would forever be changed and not for the better.

Walking up the driveway to the Hughes suddenly created an uneasy feeling. He definitely expected a showdown with Lisa especially for abandoning his family at such a critical moment to chase a ghost. He would try his best to explain his side even if it didn't go over well. Her mother already had a keen eye on him and this bit of news was sure to send their shaky truce over the edge.

He rang the door bell and after a minute or so was surprised to see Uncle Clay answer. It was sort of a relief to see him standing there with a perplexed look on his face.

"Hey Victor. Strange seeing you here. Evangeline told us you had to go on an emergency trip."

"That's true but I couldn't leave without saying goodbye to Trey and giving him a gift." Uncle Clay looked down at the gift bag dangling in his hand. "By the way where is he?"

"In the back...I'll go get him."

He removed his scarf and stood wondering just how much Evangeline had told her family about his trip. The house appeared eerily quiet. He had expected Lisa to be up in his face.

"By the way the ladies left for some impromptu shopping or spa trip - not sure which one. A day without men type of deal," Uncle Clay said chuckling as he left but Victor wasn't laughing. A sense of foreboding came over him.

 

"Daddy Victor." Trey came rushing out and leaped into his arms. Victor dropped the bag giving him the longest embrace. "Mommy say you go away."

"Yes but I needed to see you first before I go. I can't leave my little boy without saying goodbye. I'm going to miss you a whole lot."

"Me too," he remarked sadly. "Why you go?"

Trey's words melted his heart. Why didn't this happen before he was married. "Daddy needs to do something very important but I promise to talk to you and mommy everyday. I'll never be too far away."

"Okay." Trey kept his head down, tiny hands tapping his shirt.

This was going to be more difficult than he thought. He kissed his forehead. "I brought you a present."

Trey eyes brightened. "What is it?"

Victor lowered him to the ground then opened the bag. "Plane!" Trey yelled before Victor could speak.

"Uncle Clay will help you put it together. I also have a book for us to read."

As soon as Trey saw the picture on the cover he yelled, "Paddy!" The title of the book was a Bear called Paddington. Trey rushed out of the room.

"Where is he going?"

"Probably to get Paddington."

Uncle Clay's observation proved correct because shortly thereafter Trey came back with Paddington in his arms. "We're ready..." Looks like it was time to read to his little guys.

 

 

After leaving the house, the ladies went on a brief shopping trip before deciding to go to Trends an upscale eatery just a couple of blocks away from downtown Llanview. Trends featured private dining rooms apart from the main restaurant seating of which they were able to secure their own. The room was cozy enough with scenic view and modern decor. The ladies mood however didn't quite match the surroundings.

Lisa remarked, "I can't believe my two daughters are experiencing husband troubles at the same time." The way she said it came off sarcastic.

Evangeline immediately defended. "Mom its not like that. Marriages go through these things every now and then."

"Oh it isn't Evangeline?" Lisa cocked an eyebrow. "Your new husband goes off on a mysterious trip. You however are unwilling to share the details although anyone can clearly see that its upsetting - not answering your phone, hanging out with us instead of working on your new home says a lot."

"Okay this emergency trip isn't making me particularly happy but I just need to cool off."

"Strange that Victor would leave his family at such an important time but a man's gotta do what he must." Evangeline rolled her eyes not wanting to say anything further. "As for my heavily pregnant baby girl..."

Layla cut her off. "Mom Hugh was out of line. Just because Paige wants to have a greater presence in his life doesn't mean that she gets to have ringside seats during my labor and delivery. How would his mom feel about that and me the person in excruciating pain..."

Lisa and Evangeline shared a look. It wasn't exactly the way Layla recalled. Hugh was explaining that Paige requested if she could visit the baby after its birth. It seemed like a reasonable request in his opinion. Well things went from there. Eventually it turned out to be a one-sided argument because Hugh chose to walk away before things got out of hand and his wife went into premature labor. Lisa was able to calm her down.

"Alright I get the point. I don't want you getting stressed again," said Lisa while rising from her seat.

"Mom where are going?"

"I need to go to the ladies room. I'll be back soon enough. I wonder if I'll be able to find it through all this fanciness."

 

"Second marriage and I haven't experienced that six month honeymoon phase." She grabbed her glass of water and took a sip.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"I can't share it with you. Number one - I don't want you to worry since you have your own issues and most importantly I don't want mom bugging you for answers. Just know that whatever happens its going to be life-changing for my family."

"Oh..." Layla looked down and massaged her belly.

"You know you need to make up with Hugh right?"

"Why? It's his fault." Layla said perturbed.

"Sis he didn't mean to upset you. Besides there is no way in the world he would allow Paige inside that delivery room."

Layla sat quietly thinking about everything.

"Well..."

"Yeah...sitting here and thinking about it does make me realize just how awful I behaved. He probably doesn't want to talk to me right now."

"I believe he does," Evangeline smiled rising from her seat.

"Now where are you going?"

"Just hold tight."

Layla wasn't quite sure what her mom and sister were doing. She figured they were up to something though.

"Hey Babe."

"Hugh?" Layla asked pleasantly surprised.

Hugh stood by the doorway smiling sheepishly with a bunch of red roses within his grasp. "Honey I'm sorry. I shouldn't have walked out on you and the baby like that...lesson learned."

With tears in her eyes Layla said, "I'm the one who's sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you..."

"You're pregnant...it happens."

Layla giggled while wiping away her tears. "I'll remember that statement."

Hugh went over to her side and gave her the flowers which she happily accepted. "He leaned in for a sweet kiss. "I love you."

"I love you too," Layla said then kissed him again. "I guess we have the room to ourselves. My family did good. This is wonderful." She set the roses aside then held his hands and stared into his eyes. "Let's not never ever fight again."

"Well at least until after the baby is born." The two shared a laugh which turned into another kiss.

 

Lisa and Evangeline peaked at them by the doorway.

"I believe these lovebirds need some alone time."

"Yeah they deserve it. We did good."

Seeing her sister happy took away some of the sadness at least for the moment.

 

 

Well hello Mr. Manning,

The fact that you are reading this letter means that I've been deceased for quite a while. Still I want you to know that I enjoyed your misery greatly - believing your son dead and having such a special memorial service...I imagined the sad faces, the sweet sentiments and especially your heart wrenching grief of losing a son you never knew. Don't get too upset am I not sadistic - taking great pleasure in causing you pain.

By now I had expected you to have torn up this letter but it seems you have some brain cells after all. Life is full of surprises so let's make things clear for you. That son you buried at St. James has been neatly tucked away in a foster care in Houston for quite a while now. A son does need his father even if its you. I think its time for a family reunion - don't you. Consider it a gift from the bottom of my black heart. Here is to New Beginnings - by the way that's the name of the foster home if you couldn't figure it out.

Happy Hunting

 

Victor had given Paul the letter to read and analyse.

"So what do you think of my nemesis?"

"He's a piece of work. I would have torn this letter to pieces. Clearly this guy has it out for you from the beginning."

"Oh he's gotten me good even from the grave. Here I am flying thousands of miles away from my wife and our son..." Victor closed his eyes letting out a frustrating sigh.

Sitting across from Victor, Paul witnessed the internal struggle weighing heavily on him. For so many months he was completely lost; going through the motions of day to day living. Then Evangeline and Trey came along and brought back that spark.

"She still hasn't answered?"

"Time after time it's always me...me...me. My life, my demons..."

"This is different though. You can't keep knocking yourself..."

"What if its all in vain huh? How can I go back to Evangeline with my tail between my legs. She'll never trust me again because it is different this time around - I'm her husband not just her best friend."

Paul contemplated his words. It seemed weird that Victor would go into such detail about his troubles. The struggle was real and Victor was hurting. His ringing phone broke the awkward silence. It was Davis checking in.

"It's Davis..."

"You go ahead. I'll get the specifics once you're finished."

Chapter 11 by chocolate470

It seemed like such a whirlwind running down the plane's air stair unto the tarmac then into the waiting vehicle. Travelling along Houston's busy streets, the skyscrapers and people going about their business appeared like a fast moving movie scene in a myriad of colors. At times, the passing images were more like a blur or he did not see them at all. He may have been staring out the window but his mind lay elsewhere. Oh Evangeline...what are you doing now? Perhaps the real question is what was he doing? It bombarded his thoughts every now and then. Here he was so far away from home, so far away from his family. He began struggling with the decision to leave them behind and not being able to have a conversation with his wife before his departure. In the end he would bear the consequences if it were all for nothing. Soon the SUV came to a measured stop signaling that they had arrived.

 

Alistair Newman Esq., one of Houston's prominent family law attorneys, had been practicing law for the past twenty years. His perfectly coiffed salt and pepper hair, neatly trimmed beard, manicured nails, gold-rimmed eyeglasses and tailored grey suit, made an impression. He articulated his words eloquently and his hazel eyes captured your attention. The Law Office of Alistair J. Newman, located on the famous Louisiana Street proved his equal. As you entered, contemporary art pieces dotted the cream-colored walls. A few bronze statuettes, exquisite furniture and wood pieces featured noticeably throughout the office layout. A collection of law books and legal literature stood impeccably aligned in a built-in bookcase behind his desk. Paul speculated about the last time the lawyer's fingers ever graced one of those editions. Absolutely the best family attorney that one could afford.

 

After handshakes, a brief introduction and Mr. Newman's assistant bringing in coffee, Victor sat down and immediately began giving a synopsis of his very intriguing background. For the most part, Alistair barely reacted except for a raised eyebrow here and there as well as scribbling on a notepad whenever required.

"So this Dr. Spencer became involved with the person you believed to be your wife at the time?"

"Yes and he was very obsessed with her as well. He hated that Blair and I had any type of relationship. So much so that he framed me for crime I didn't commit..."

"The murder of your son's mother?"

"Yes..."

Victor massaged his forehead; not really wanting to recall those emotional draining memories or his execution. Alistair had him on a virtual witness stand with an audience of one. Still he recognized the importance of these probing questions.

"How long have you been searching for your son?"

"From the first day I knew he existed up until the time someone convinced me that he was dead. Of course I now believe that stupid bastard was behind it all."

Victor provided him the letter and Alistair read it carefully concentrating on each line. "Humph."

Todd leaned forward and asked, "So what can you do for me Mr. Newman? There have been too many lows because of this. Time is of the essence. My son has been without his father for far too long...I need my son and he needs me."

"I can definitely wrangle my way into getting that DNA testing. Your son is about seven years old?"

"Right..."

"Then I'll put in a written request first thing in the morning and get working on your case file as well."

"Wouldn't New Beginnings decline your request given the unique circumstances involved?" Paul questioned. Victor was interested to know as well.

"I've been in this practice for far too long to know my way around. When one door closes, I usually manage to push another open." Victor liked what he heard. "Mr. Lord there is one thing you must take into consideration. If indeed your son is alive, you won't automatically be granted custody of him; there is a process that you must undergo..."

"Why must I go through this? It is not as if I was given that choice to raise him. No one else can take care of him better I can because I want to!"

Paul placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him. Victor sat back and thought about it. Yet another hurdle to cross.

"Mr. Lord it's called a transitioning period. Everything must be in order. It will be his first time meeting you as well. A trust needs to build up. He needs to get comfortable being around you and your family."

"How long is it going to take? I have heard that these cases can go on for a year or more. I don't think I can accept that from you especially."

"And you don't need to Mr. Lord," Alistair responded in a calm manner. "As your associate has stated, your case presents a unique set of circumstances which any court would find hard to ignore."

"Good..."

"I'm also certain that you will be granted visitations especially during the upcoming holidays."

His heart leapt for joy and it came through with a huge smile on his face. He believed his son was alive and fairly soon they would get the chance to see each other for the first time. That day he will experience so many emotions but he would gladly welcome it.

"The sooner we find him, the better it will be for you and your family."

 

Something stirred Victor awake and he was temporarily unsure of exactly where he was. He gazed down at himself realizing that he had actually fallen asleep fully clothed on top of the covers. He yawned, stretched a little and scratched his scalp.

"What time is it?" he asked himself reaching over to flick on the bedside lamp on the nightstand. "9:30...oh man..."

He barely recalled what he did after leaving Newman's office apart from grabbing a bite to eat and taking two pain relievers to ease his throbbing headache. He proceeded to hop off the bed, jogged down to the kitchen where he came across Paul talking on the phone.

"Hey Paul."

"Everything alright Mr. Lord? You need anything."

"I'm good. Just going to grab something to drink then hit the showers. Tomorrow we'll get back at it."

"Ok goodnight Mr. Lord."

"Goodnight Paul."

 

Victor stepped out of the bathroom clad in his pajama pants, gripping a towel around his neck when he stopped dead in his tracks.

"Evangeline...," was all Victor uttered before the two reunited in a tight embrace and a long, passionate kiss. "You're an amazing sight."

"And so are you - looking and smelling good."

He adored her blue jeans and navy pullover sweater; hair styled in a loose ponytail. That floral fragrance smelled amazing. "And so are you Babe." He smiled giving her an Eskimo kiss. "Oh it's so good to see you. Why didn't you call me? I could have made arrangements."

"Honestly I decided to do this at the last minute..."

"Ok. Where's little man?"

"Asleep on the bed. This is way pass his bedtime." He gazed over her shoulder and saw Trey sleeping in the middle of the bed with Paddington. He had to go over and give him a kiss on the forehead.

A smiled etched on her face, admiring Victor and the loving father he had become to Trey.

"How long will you and Trey stay?"

The question seemed to awaken a sinking feeling. She had to speak with him and he needed to listen.

When he looked up at Evangeline again, he knew something was not right. He saw a sadness in her brown eyes that was not there before. "What's wrong?"

"We need to talk Victor. On the terrace...please." Victor nodded.

When Evangeline unlocked the sliding door he remarked, "I'll join you shortly."

"Ok..."

Victor was a little confused not being able to connect his wife's earlier loving reception to her current mood. Well those dots were about to be connected. He let out huge breath and prepared himself for what was to come.

He found her sitting quietly on the sofa staring down at her palms. He decided to remain standing leaning against the terrace rail.

Where to start?

"Do you remember the question I asked you before I stepped onto the elevator?"

In Evangeline's mind, this conversation was long overdue. She had to get a few things straightened out with Victor before their relationship went awry.

"Yes I have thought about it. I guessed that I needed to prove that I wasn't chasing the ghost of my son to the detriment of my relationship with you and Trey. Evangeline I'm not choosing him over you and our son..."

"Don't you think I know what your son being alive means to you?" She solemnly shook her head. "I certainly have good reasons to question the source of this wonderful news but when you first told me that he may be alive; I was extremely happy until I realized what you had done."

"What did I do?"

"Once again you pushed me aside." Victor started thinking. "It happens time and time again. ...I recalled wanting to go with you to Chicago but you insisted I stay behind because you feared for my safety. You almost died on that trip with Blair along for the ride. What could I say? I was merely the best friend. Many times I offered you advice but you usually tossed those aside and went your own way."

"Making the situation worst," he admitted.

"Starr brought you this information and you asked for her advice didn't you?" Victor nodded. He chose not to look at her. It was slowly sinking in. "Did you reach out to me as well? Of course not. I was never included. I was brought in at the end when decisions were already made..."

"Evangeline..."

"No let me finish. My opinions should count because I am your wife. We have a family together. A bright future waiting for us but at that moment you made me feel less than. Did Blair take away so much of you that there's only this much left for me?"

 

 

Her words were cutting. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He reflected. Looking back at it now, he always valued Starr's counsel above all others. This bond grew out of his toxic relationship with Blair. After losing Starr as a daughter, subconsciously he held on to this part of their relationship without realizing the foreseeable consequences. He did choose something over his wife - his connection with Starr.

"I know you love me. I love you too. Nothing can change how much I love you. I accept many things about you but this is one thing I can't and won't accept. I must have a say because whatever you do affects not only you but our family as well. I am your other half. We are one. You come to me. Of course, at times we will disagree but there is always compromise."

Evangeline stood up and slowly walked towards the rail. She refused to look at him instead staring into the vast night sky.

"It's funny when you finally divorced Blair I was beyond ecstatic. I thought you were free to move on with your life..."

"I wasn't free..." Victor softly interjected. "All my memories were tied to her and the family I believed to be ours. When it all came out that I wasn't Todd Manning...I just lost it. I lost my purpose, my kids..."

"The one thing in life that kept you sane," she finished.

"The Manning clan against the world."

"...It feels like you're still holding on to that concept without realizing it. You're pushing me back to my rightful place," she sadly remarked turning her back to him. "Victor I can't and won't live like this..."

 

He moved in closer, touching her shoulders. "Please Evangeline forgive me. I get it now. I promise I do. I should have first had a discussion with you before making any decisions. That was so wrong of me - a cruel thing to do to the person I love most. Say you will forgive me. Say you won't leave me," his voice pleaded. "I did the one thing I promised never to do intentionally and that is hurt you."

He spun her around to face him. It broke him to see the immense sadness on her face because he made it so. He pressed their foreheads together and said, "Because of you, my whole world changed for the better and I wanted to change. I never knew how messed up I was and what to do about it until you stepped into my life and eventually my heart. Sweetheart you have the best part of me. From now on, my actions will prove that you come first."

Did she believe him? She took a step back and gazed at him. Victor anxiously awaited her next move - blue eyes gazed back at her intensely.  

She took a hold of his hands and he pressed them to his lips. "You've never lied to me before and I'm putting my faith and trust in you now."

"Baby you won't regret it."

They leaned forward together, lips slowly meeting and it went on; growing in intensity each twist and turn of the tongue, moaning, stealing their breaths away. When they broke apart, they embraced not only each other but also their minds and hearts. It felt like a renewal, life and love together as it should be.

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