"HELP!" she heard the scream at almost the instant that Don scooped up Grace. Somehow she had gotten tangled in the climbing rope.
Anne jumped up and ran towards them. It seemed like it took her forever to get across the yard and she couldn't figure out how Don could already be there. By the time she got to the play set, Don was comforting an obviously unhurt but frightened little girl. Grace was crying but it was somewhat muffled as she was engulfed in Dons arms and pulled tight against his chest. She could hear him whispering soothing words to her as she slowly started to relax in his arms.
Anne stood in wonder as she watched him holding Grace. She reasoned that he must have been keeping an eye on Grace the whole time they were talking and saw her start to get caught in the rope. But how had he gotten up and to her in what seemed like to Anne the proverbial blink of an eye. How could a man that big, move that quickly? She looked back and forth at the deck that they had been sitting on and the playset and shook her head as she realized that once again, he had her confused.
"Maybe I'll put her down for a short nap." Don said to her so quietly she could barely hear it. Grace was falling asleep in his massive arms and she could see the wet stains on his shirt from her tears.
"Ah, yes, that's probably a good idea; it's been an exciting day for her." Anne replied as she gazed at the sleeping child cradled against him.
Looking at them, father and daughter, Anne felt her emotions again start to surface and she turned away. "I'll leave you now but I'll be checking in." She said over her shoulder as she left the yard. Going around the house, she was back in her car and driving before the tears started.
"Damn it Anne!" She screamed out in frustration. "Get ahold of yourself."
Back at the house Don was stunned by her sudden departure but carried the sleeping child and put her to bed. He sat in a chair in her room, just watching her. As she slept, all he could see was a little angel laying there, an angel he was determined would never be taken away from him.
The rest of the week was a new experience for the pair; they both seemed to be infatuated with the other. At times the little girl made Don laugh like he was a kid himself, other times he wondered how he was ever going to manage. Through it all, Grace was always beaming, smiling as he burned the chicken nuggets and bleached the color from her clothes; laughing as he became embarrassed at helping her take a bath. She was the one holding his hand when he was nervous getting her enrolled in school, he had to be reminded by Bobby that it was set to start the next week. She had to make sure that he read her a story every night and she got the required hug and kiss goodnight.
Anne for her part, dropped in unannounced to check on the pair. But aside from poor cooking skills and an innate inability to pick clothes that matched, she was unable to find fault of any kind. This fact did not sit well with the partners.
She delivered her weekly report the first Friday but it was uneventful. "That's it, I have one incident where he may have drank but I have no proof of it." Anne recited her first report.
"That's it!" Roger blurted out. "Tell me how one of the most notorious bar brawlers in the county is a model parent!"
"I don't see the problem," Anne asked. "If I understand everything, if the guy is a good parent, then we are done here."
"Maybe you don't understand everything!" Roger exclaimed.
"Fine, then clue me in." Anne replied quickly.
"That's enough Anne, you just stay close, I want you there constantly, keep recording anything that happens." Mark said and then dismissed her.
Anne left thinking about the meeting with the partners. Fucking assholes she thought for the hundredth time as she left the office. She was glad to be away from them so she decided to do a 'drop in' on Grace and Don.
Up until now, she had always knocked but decided she was going to use the access the Judge had afforded her. It was Friday afternoon so she really didn't think anything would be wrong, but she needed something to report, so she came through the door unannounced.
"Miss Anne, Miss Anne!" Grace said excitedly as she saw her coming in.
Anne took one look at her and burst out laughing. She couldn't help herself as she took in Grace's outfit. The little girl was wearing a green striped shirt with blue and purple checked pants.
Grace picked up on Anne's laughter and started clowning around until they were both overcome. Stifling herself for a second, Anne kneeled down in front of the giggling little girl. "Honey, did you pick out those clothes to wear?"
"No, Daddy did!" Grace answered proudly, still laughing at the game they seemed to be playing.
Anne was shaking her head and smiling at Grace when Don came into the room.
"What are we all laughing at?" He asked quizzically.
Still kneeling down in front of Grace, Anne looked up at the sound of Don's voice and realized once again, how he towered over her. Quickly she stood up and composed herself as Grace started running upstairs.
"I'm going up to play in my room." She yelled over her shoulder as she took off.
Don cocked his head slightly still awaiting the answer to his question. Anne looked up the stairs and watched Grace disappear down the hall before answering. "I'm sorry Mister Duncan, I just . . . well it's just that . . . ah. "
"Miss Summers, if you have something to say, please say it!" Don said, exasperated at her apparent fear of him.
"Fine . . . a green striped shirt does not go with purple and blue checked pants." Anne said solemnly, wondering how he was going to react to her criticism.
Don looked at her for several seconds before a shy smile came to his face. "Actually," he paused. "I'm having some trouble with that."
Anne couldn't help herself as she broke out into a grin. On one hand she was relieved that he hadn't taken her criticism badly and on the other, she thought his shy confession was kind of cute. Before she could think it through, she exclaimed. "YA THINK?" And then started laughing again.
Don's face turned angry for only an instant before he realized she was only teasing him and joined in on the joke at his expense.
After they both started to regain their composure, Don looked at her for a moment before he decided to throw it back at her. "Well if you can do a better job, be here at ten tomorrow morning for school shopping."
Anne looked back at him and her eyes went wide. "Ah ... I ... I" She stuttered out.
"Well fine then, I guess Grace will just go to school in whatever I buy her." Don added with a smile.
Suddenly Anne though that this would be a great opportunity to keep an eye on them. "You win, I can't let that happen to her."
Now it was Don's turn to be shocked, he had simply wanted to put her back on her heels a bit, he never expected her to actually go along. But then he thought, why not. "All right, now that that's settled, I have lasagna to make for supper." He turned to go back into the kitchen but then turned back around. "You're welcome to stay." He added with a smile.
"Lasagna?" She asked with an obvious look of disbelief.
"Homemade." He added.
"Homemade?" The disbelief even more evident in her question.
Again he gave her the shy smile. "Okay you got me. I'm making it AT home," he started and then took an obvious pause. "But I bought it at the store; I just have to put it in the oven."
Again, Anne took in the shy grin and couldn't help herself, she slowly nodded her head. "How can I pass up homemade lasagna?"
Anne was surprised as they worked together to get dinner on. True to his word, she had to smile as she saw him take out the prepackaged frozen meal, read the directions over and over, follow them word for word and finally get it cooking. As it baked, they set the table and got out all of the needed items to complete the meal. There was little conversation as each seemed a bit off their game, being together and fixing dinner. Anne did note that Don never let more than a few minutes go by without running upstairs to check on Grace.
After getting the Lasagna out at exactly the appropriate time, Don went and got Grace for dinner.
"Are you eating with us Miss Anne?" Grace asked when she saw her in the dining room.
"Is that okay?" Anne asked playfully.
"Yeah, we need to have company sometimes. " Grace answered quickly.
"Hey, what does that mean?" Don asked.
Looking at the dining table set and everything just right, Grace gave Anne a serious look. "We always eat in the kitchen cause daddy doesn't cook so good."
Anne looked over at Don and she could see his face turn red. She tried to stop it, but a slight giggle came out as she took in Grace's statement.
"Well, let's eat." Don said quickly, before it got any worse for him.
After they sat down, Anne was once again shocked as Don nodded to Grace who bowed her head. "Thank you Lord for this dinner and that Miss Anne can be with me and daddy for dinner."
After dinner was done and cleaned up, Anne spent some time with Grace but any questioning was futile. The little girl was infatuated with her daddy and no amount of probing gave any sense that Grace wasn't thrilled to be with him.
After Don helped with a bath, he tucked her in with a story as Anne waited downstairs. She wanted to leave but didn't want to just walk out after dinner.
"You could have come up." Don said as he came down the stairs.
He saw a sadness flash across her face for an instant and then it was gone. "Thank you but no, I was okay right here." She answered rising from the couch and stepping to the middle of the room. "I should go but I wanted to thank you for dinner, it was actually very good."
Don seemed uncomfortable accepting the praise; he remained quiet as he really didn't know how to respond.
Anne sensed his discomfort and continued on. "I was just surprised that Grace said grace. "
They both smiled as they realized how funny it sounded, and then Don seemed to get a bit defensive as he pondered her question. "Didn't expect that from me, did you?" He asked tersely.
"Mister Duncan, I didn't mean it that way." Anne said trying to defuse the situation.
"How did you mean it?" Don growled out.
Anne was instantly afraid and moved back a step. This is what she feared all along, her eyes darted around the room, wondering if there was any escape. She felt very alone and vulnerable with this huge man so close to her.
Don saw her expression change and the trapped look on her face and silently cursed himself. "Miss Summers," Don began, keeping his voice as soothing as he could. "Please forgive me, I didn't mean to frighten you."
Anne looked up into his face, trying desperately to get a read on what was behind his words. Was this just a ploy to get her to relax, then he would spring. She looked carefully into his eyes but there wasn't any hint of deceit, he seemed genuinely embarrassed by his outburst.
"Please, Miss Summers, please sit down." Don asked as he motioned to the couch behind her. "Please." He repeated gently.
Anne started to back up to return to the couch and Don was careful to take the chair farthest away from her.
After they were both seated, Don took in a deep breath and let it out. "Miss Summers," he began. "I want to apologize, I didn't mean to scare you, believe me, I have never harmed a woman in my life and I never will." Anne started to speak but Don continued. "You don't have to say anything. You have every right to be wary of me, I know that you have a thick file that says you should be scared to death of me. I am a drunk and out of control angry and violent psychopath, I'm sure that's what it says."
Anne stayed quiet this time as Don seemed to be unsure of what to say next. "Miss Summers, no one changes overnight and neither will I, but . . . I will NEVER hurt you."
Looking at him, she realized that he was staring directly in her eyes and for some reason she actually believed him. "Mister Duncan, I guess you are right, your past has made me feel a bit unnerved at times." Looking down for a minute she paused and then continued. "But I owe you an apology, when I asked about saying grace, I guess I did mean it the way it sounded. I'm sorry but in reading your file -," she stopped suddenly.
Don quickly picked up on it. "I understand Miss Summers, a man with my past saying grace, must have seemed odd?"
"I'm sorry" She said softly. "I shouldn't have assumed."
Don hesitated and then started carefully. "You actually assumed correctly, when Grace got here, she told me that they always said grace at meals. I wanted her to feel at home here, so we have continued it."
Anne simply nodded before she got to her feet. "I do thank you for dinner."
Don got up also and escorted her to the door. What had been a nice evening now seemed to be difficult. Before she left, Don felt he needed to find out about tomorrow. "Uh, Miss Summers, I hate to send Grace to school looking like a circus clown."
Anne turned back to him and saw the shy smile again. "I'll be here at ten; I don't want her to face that either." She replied with a small grin of her own.
After she left Don just sat alone in the living room, thinking about the evening. He still felt badly about frightening her but wondered why. Thinking about it, the answer was slow in coming but it finally seeped through to him. Because he liked her, that was why. She was fun to be around and he had enjoyed the back and forth teasing they did. She jumped right in helping with dinner and she was great around Grace. But that thought brought up the incident in the bedroom and the pain he saw when he mentioned certain things. Obviously there was something there but what he wondered.
Finally turning off the lights and locking up, he realized that he was looking forward to tomorrow.
"Okay, see the small animals on the skirt, they match the small animals on the top." Anne was pointing it out to Don.
"So all I have to do is get the animals to be the same and the clothes match?" Don asked.
"That's it!" Anne replied with a smile.
They had been shopping for most of the day and Don was finally figuring it out. He was learning the ways of kids clothing and they had filled his SUV with clothes and school supplies. Grace was having the time of her life trying on outfits and picking out backpacks and lunch boxes.
Anne was also having more fun then she could remember. She loved shopping for Grace and Don gave her free reign to buy whatever she wanted for the little girl. Anne was having Grace try on yet another cute set when she turned around and ended up right in the arms of Bill Meyers. She stepped back as she recognized him.
"Well Anne, nice to see you," He said with a leer. "No kiss for old times' sake?"
"Not hardly," Anne spat out as she turned away from him. She remembered all too well the one date with him, all hands and an inability to understand the word 'No'. It had taken a slap and her running for the door for him to get the message. She still hadn't forgiven her girlfriend for setting her up with this asshole!
"Don't you turn away from me you fucking bitch." He yelled out, as he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. "I ain't forgot you slapping me."
Startled by the suddenness of his attack, Anne let out a small gasp. As she closed her eyes and braced for the blow she thought was surely coming, the hand on her shoulder was suddenly gone.
Her eyes sprang open as she heard the sound of a large thump. Don had her assailant by the front of his jacket and had slammed him against a nearby wall. Bill had crumpled on impact and his face was distorted in surprise and pain, it was obvious he never expected to be face to face with any angry Donald Duncan.
Anne was stunned as she took in the scene, but then she let out a gasp as she realized that Don was pulling back his arm and clenching his fist. She leapt forward and grabbed his arm. "DON, NO!" was all she could get out as she tried to stop him.
Anne's voice cut through his furry and he stopped instantly. He looked back at her and she could see the look on his face go from rage to wonder as he saw her holding onto him. Once she saw him regain control, she slowly released the massive arm she had a death grip on.
Turning back to the frightened man pinned against the wall, she could hear Don speak slow and distinct to him. "If I ever see you again or hear of you approaching her, we will finish this, do you understand?"
Bill's eyes were open wide in terror as his head bobbed dramatically. Don released him and he fell to the floor, his legs unable to hold him up. Scrambling to his feet, a very frightened Bill Meyers took off at a brisk walk through the store.
Anne quickly grabbed Don by the arm and led him back over to where Grace was just coming out of the changing room.
"I'm sorry." Don said sheepishly as they left the store a few minutes later. They had finished up quickly, made their purchases and were headed across the parking lot.
Anne looked at him in wonderment for a couple seconds before she answered. "For what, saving me from getting slapped by some guy?"
"I . . . ah . . . well thank you also."
"Ah, well nothing, I guess it doesn't matter." He answered with a nod towards Grace, as he realized this is not a conversation they should be having in front of her.
Later when they returned home and Don had placed an exhausted Grace into her bed for a nap, they sat in the living room having a cup of coffee. "I do want to thank you." Don started quietly. "I'm trying hard to change but sometimes I still have trouble controlling my emotions."
Anne was conflicted as she looked over at him, he was embarrassed by his actions yet those same actions had saved her from harm. How she could blame him for protecting her she wondered. "Mister Duncan," she started.
"Miss Summers," he interrupted her, "I had hoped that your calling me Don at the store had changed things a bit."
"I guess it was just a reflex but you're right." She paused and then smiled. "Please call me Anne."
"Thank you and by the way, Don works for me."
"Don" she said with emphasis as she began again. "You did what you had to do to protect me, and I appreciate it, I just wanted to make sure that you didn't go farther than you had to."
Don was quiet for a while before he started speaking. "But you probably didn't help your cause though?"
"What do you mean?"
"Miss, I mean Anne, you probably stopped me from doing something that would have allowed you to take away Grace."
Anne sat back in her seat and then looked down, not wanting to meet his gaze. "My job is to do what's best for Grace." She answered his accusation, looking back at his face. He nodded but she could tell he wasn't convinced.
Anne realized that she was also tired and stood to leave. "I guess I could use a nap too, I'm not used to spending a day shopping either."
Don got up and walked her to the door. "I know you have free reign to come and go as you please but do you have plans to come back this weekend?"
"I don't know, why do you ask?"
Don hesitated but then decided to just go ahead and tell her. "Grace starts school Monday and she wanted a special dinner tomorrow night. I thought since you helped with her school shopping, you could come for dinner."
"Are you cooking?" Anne asked with a chuckle.
Again the shy smile broke on his face. "Hey I did good with the lasagna!"
"We'll probably eat at five, so come whenever you want to."
"It's a date," Anne blurted out and then her face turned red. "I mean -," she hesitated.
Don smiled. "I know what you mean, see you tomorrow."
After she left, Anne drove back to her apartment thinking of the day. He was right about one thing, she probably did stop him from doing something that would have caused the loss of his daughter. But she couldn't help being impressed with the day. Spending time with Grace was great, shopping with a little girl, picking out clothes, seeing her smile and her happiness over each purchase made it one of the most special days she ever had. However being with Don added to the day; he was friendly and outgoing with a great sense of humor. He was never impatient with them and always smiling.
But a chill ran through her when she thought of the encounter with Bill Meyers. How he had gotten there so quickly and his reaction to the threat she faced stunned her. One second he was away from her, the next he had her attacker against the wall, she was reminded of his rescue of Grace on the swing set. He moved like an accomplished athlete, not a barroom drunkard. She had been around pretty boys at the gym hundreds of times but she knew none of them could have shown the speed and agility that Don possessed. But still, there was the look on his face and the sight of that huge fist clenched that still frightened her. It was obvious that if she wouldn't have stopped him, Bill Meyers may well have been beaten severely. No, she told herself, no matter how many smiles he shows, there is still an angry and violent man inside of him and she needed to be on her guard.
Don was also having his thoughts of the day. He was ashamed of losing control with her attacker but confused on why he even reacted that way. Why should he care about her, she was trying to take Grace away, but as before he couldn't shake it, he liked her. It was fun being with her and he was looking forward to dinner tomorrow.
Sunday was a day of preparation for Don and Grace, packing her school bag, putting away all her new clothes and picking out the outfit for her first day. They were both worn out by mid-day and took a nap. Don kept Anne's acceptance of the diner invitation from Grace to keep her calm.
After their nap, he let her know; she was so happy she started running around and yelling in delight, he had to get her settled down when she found out Anne would be arriving soon.
Don though was facing another difficulty as his spaghetti preparation was not going as planned. When Anne came through the door, she was shocked as the smell of burning sauce was permeating the house.
"What happened?" She asked Don as she came into the kitchen.
"Daddy's cooking, but he's not very good!" Grace threw in as she was busy coloring at the counter.
"Hey now, I got it under control." Don replied but with very little confidence.
Anne could only shake her head as she took in the sight; the kitchen looked like a storm hit it. There was a pan full of burnt sauce on the stove and another with mushy spaghetti. "Do you need some help?" She asked with a grin.
"No, I . . . oh damn!" He exclaimed as he grabbed a pot holder and pulled out a sheet of something black and smoldering from the oven.
"What's that, it smells funny?" Grace asked.
"Uh . . . french bread." Don answered looking at the mess.
Don seemed overwhelmed as he put down the blackened bread and surveyed the kitchen. Finally he realized the futility of it all. "Who wants to go get pizza?" he yelled out.
"ME! ME! ME!" Grace yelled back. "Miss Anne, Miss Anne, will you go too?"
Anne took a look around before she started laughing. "I guess if I want to eat dinner, I have to!"
Don gave her that grin again that was starting to become familiar. "Let's go, I'll clean up later."
Grace was having the time of her life, she was playing in the balls as Don and Anne finished off the pizza. "This is pretty bad, I thought Grace only ate a couple pieces because she wanted to play." Don said as he took another bite.
"Says the man who burned bread!" Anne replied with a laugh.
"You do have a point." Don admitted with a shrug of his shoulders, and then he glanced quickly around the room.
Anne saw the look and knew what he was doing, she had been watching him closely and noticed how he never really took his eyes completely away from Grace. Even when they were talking, he always seemed to keep an eye on her. Had he been keeping an eye out for her yesterday, she wondered, is that why he seemed to be there the instant that the guy grabbed her. For some reason, that made her feel very safe and protected.
"You played every game in here with her. Now that you have spent fifty dollars, you might have enough tickets for her to pick out a two dollar prize." Anne said with a smile.
"I think you're right, between the bad pizza and the cheap prizes, I think they have a nice setup here!"
"Excuse me," Don and Anne both looked up at the older woman standing by their table. "I don't mean to bother you but I just wanted to tell you how nice it is to see a young family out together. You have a beautiful little girl."
"Thank you," Don replied after he considered his options, unsure how to explain. Then the lady patted his hand and walked away.
Don turned back to Anne just in time to see her look down. He just caught a glimpse of her face and he saw the hurt cloud her features.
"I'm sorry, I just didn't know what to say." Don said gently as he realized that as a pretty young woman and an attorney, she was probably ashamed to be caught out with someone like him.
Looking up, Don could see her try to smile but it was plain to him she was stung by the woman's comment. "It's okay, I think I'm ready to go." She said quietly.
Don nodded and then gathered up Grace before picking out some prizes and then they went to meet Anne at the car.
Grace talked constantly on the drive as the adults kept quiet except to answer her questions. When they got home, Anne gave Grace a quick hug and then left without saying anything to Don. He understood and so he got Grace bathed and in bed before he spent a couple hours putting his kitchen back together.
For Anne, the drive back to her empty apartment seemed long, when she finally got inside, she simply collapsed on the couch. The woman's comment had cut her so deep. Somehow in her mind she had had a little family for a weekend, but the reality slapped her in the face when the woman spoke to them. The tears flowed freely as she thought about the wonderful weekend she had and the knowledge that it was all just play acting. She vowed she would put some distance between them, do her job, that was what she needed to stick to, she told herself.
The first week of school was a busy one for Don and Grace. Lots of pictures as he took her to school, then to work as he struggled to get control of the separate crews working in the huge development, then back to pick her up in the afternoon. Then dinner, homework, bath and to bed, by Wednesday, Don was feeling that he had it down already.
"MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY!" Don heard through his sleep. "MOMMY!" Leaping to his feet, Don flew down the hall to Grace's bedroom. "MOMMY!" She was sitting up screaming as he quickly went to comfort her.
Grace quickly folded herself into Don as she kept repeating over and over. "I want my mommy!"
Don felt his heart lurch each time she said it. He realized that she had been putting on a happy face and the memory of the loss of her mom was still there. All he could do was cuddle her as she lay sniffling in his arms, knowing he couldn't bring her mother back, though he would give anything if he could.
Finally, she seemed to settle down a little. "Daddy, why did mommy have to go to heaven?" Grace asked so quietly, he could barely hear her.
Don held her as tight as he could against him, how do you answer that, he wondered. "Do you know how your mommy kept watch over you when you were together?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said.
"Well now that she is in heaven, she can watch over you all the time." Don said, trying hard to make the loss of her mother make some kind of sense to the crying little girl.
"Did mommy send you to take care of me now?"
Don thought about her question as he struggled to keep his emotions under control. "I hope so honey, I hope that your mommy made sure that if she wasn't here, you would have daddy nearby."
"You won't go, will you?" She asked plaintively.
"No Grace, daddy will never go." Don said forcefully. "I love you too much to ever let you go."
Grace seemed to snuggle in even closer and after a little while he could tell she had dropped off to sleep. Laying her back down in her bed, he realized that he was going to have to keep a little closer watch on her. She wasn't as over her mom's death as he thought she was.
Anne for her part stopped in a few times during the week but seemed distant to both Don and Grace. He understood but Grace seemed unhappy about not seeing her as much.
Friday afternoon found her in with the partners again. "Nothing, that's what I have, no drinking, no cursing, no fighting, no nothing. He treats Grace better than any father I have ever seen."
"All right, thank you." Mark Winters told her without fanfare.
She looked at the three men in the room and without another word she left them there. As she did though, it occurred to her that they were very passive about her report.
In the conference room though, there were three nervous men. Mark Winters turned to the hatchet man and nodded. "Do it!"
Anne decided she had to stop in unannounced again, for no other reason than she knew she should. She refused to admit it to herself, but she was missing them.
Coming through the door she was shocked at what she saw. Grace was sitting in Don's lap and peering closely at his tattooed arms.
At the sound of the door opening, they both looked up and saw Anne. "Mister Duncan, what in the world are you thinking!" Anne spat out at him. "I don't think your tattoos are appropriate for her, do you?"
Don took in her outburst with apparent mild amusement. "Please Miss Summers, you need to control your outbursts."
"Miss Anne, Miss Anne, Daddy has pretty pictures on him, come look!" Grace yelled out excitedly.
Anne was stunned as she approached them as they sat on the couch together. She couldn't believe what she was seeing but as she drew closer, she realized something looked different.
"What . . . your arms . . . what did you do?" She asked, cocking her head to try to get a good view. "They look different."
"If you look closely Anne, I had them re-inked." Don said quietly.
Anne peered at his arms for several minutes before she sat down in the chair across from them. It took her a few more seconds before the dots connected. "That's why I've only seen you in long sleeves the past couple of weeks?" She asked.
Grace was still taking in the colors and pictures as he gently nodded. "I had them done before Grace came. I asked a favor of a great artist and he was able to make some subtle changes so they became a bit more, should we say . . . appropriate for the father of a small child.
'Hey, I'm not small, I'm getting bigger every day." Grace piped up, interrupting them and causing Don and Anne to smile at her antics.
"I'll put on another shirt if they bother you Anne." Don asked, surprising her that he would offer to do it for her.
"No, that's not necessary, I'm not exactly a fan, but they certainly don't bother me." She replied. In fact, she had to admit to herself that the artwork was incredible and combined with the size and shape of his muscular shoulders and huge arms, it was certainly impressive.
Don had returned his attention back to Grace and she was still fascinated by the artwork. But as Anne looked closer at his arms, something caught her eye. It was hard to see and it seemed to be contained within the scrolling patterns of colors and shapes, but it was there if you looked close. One word, Libby!
Libby, Anne thought, Libby, could that be Elizabeth Warren, Anne did know she went by Libby, even though they were never close enough to be friends. Strange she thought, that he would have her name on his arm, it was just a one night stand, which was what she was told. Thinking it through, she decided it must have been an addition because of Grace.
"Well how about some dinner?" Don asked, as it was obvious Grace was getting bored. "Are you staying Anne?"
Anne couldn't resist. "Spaghetti?"
Don glared at her for a second before he saw her face crack into a smile. "Nope, I will be preparing a fine dish of baked dough, along with a special sauce and smothered with various intricately cut pieces of meats and vegetables." He said with that shy smile Anne had come to recognize.
'Really!" Anne blurted out, surprised.
"Yes, around here, we call it frozen pizza!" Don added and broke out a huge smile.
Anne started laughing as Grace started jumping up and down at the mention of her favorite dish.
"What brought on the tattoo show this evening, if I may ask?" Anne said as they were cleaning up after dinner.
Don frowned and seemed to hesitate.
"Don, I'm sorry for my reaction, I didn't mean the question to come out that way." Anne quickly added.
He looked at her strangely for a moment. "No, that's not it." He paused, wondering if he should talk about it. "It is just that Grace had a nightmare last night and was crying for her mom. When I went in there, I was wearing a t-shirt. She didn't notice it then, but it was the first thing on her mind when we got home from school."
"Oh, I see." Anne added, deep in thought.
"It does bring up something, could we talk after we get Grace to bed?"
"Ah . . . sure." Anne answered carefully.
Later, after Grace had finished some homework and played a bit, Don announced it was time for bed. "Anne, I'm going to get her ready, you are welcome to come up or I can just meet you in the office."
Anne hesitated as always, she so wanted to be a part of tucking Grace in, but she was also so afraid of what that would bring to her. "I'll just wait in the office." She finally replied.
Anne went into the office and sat down in a chair behind the desk to wait on Don. She sat thinking of Don and the tattoos, she still couldn't believe that he would have gone through all of that, just for Grace. She shuddered as she thought of the pain he must have felt to have all that work done at one time, not to mention the expense. She still felt bad about her reaction, it seemed like she was still fearing the worst from him.
She sat there for quite some time before boredom caused her to look around, her own curiosity made her go through the drawers. She found lots of brochures and information on houses in the development, which reminded her that this was a model home. In the bottom drawer she found some envelopes of pictures, assuming they were of houses, she took them out and opened up an envelope.
Anne was stunned at the first picture on the stack. It was of a smiling Elizabeth Warren and Donald Duncan. Flipping through the pile, she saw they were all pictures of them, either separate or together. She opened up a couple other envelopes and found some more. How could this be, if this was a one-night stand as her boss had said, how were there pictures of the two of them together. The pictures also appeared to span months, maybe even a year or two.
"What did you find?" Came Don's voice startling Anne from her thoughts.
"Ah . . . ah, I'm sorry, I was bored and . . . I," Anne sputtered out, flustered at being caught snooping.
"Anne, it's okay, the Judge gave you freedom to search the house if you wanted, and I'm not upset."
"But . . . I found these pictures . . . and well, how long did you know Elizabeth Warren?" She finally got out.
Don gave her an odd look before he answered. "A bit over two years."
"Were you dating?" Anne asked tentatively.
"Most of that time," Don answered puzzled by her question. "Why do you ask, I would have thought you knew that?"
Anne was taken back, two years, this wasn't a one night stand, why did they tell her that. 'I guess I . . . I'm sorry"
"Anne, what are you sorry for, what did you think?"
Anne took a deep breath, trying to understand this. "Don, I'm sorry, please forgive me, but I understood that you and Elizabeth had a brief encounter and then . . . well . . . then, I don't know what I thought, I'm sorry."
Don pulled up a chair and dropped into it, thinking about her question. On one hand he was mad that someone would believe that they just had a fling, on the other, if she didn't know, how was it her fault? "Anne, there is nothing to be sorry for, if you got the wrong impression or information, all you have to do is ask."
Anne looked relieved that she had not offended him, but she still couldn't figure out why she was so wrong. "The tattoo." She suddenly blurted out. "Libby, on your arm."
Don nodded. "I've had it for years, the artist simply added some work around it so it blended in with something I wanted changed."
Anne seemed deep in thought, so Don continued. "Anne, I wanted to talk to you about Libby, that's why I asked you to stay, but maybe instead of innuendo and speculation, I should just tell you our story."
"If you don't mind, maybe it would help with my case if I knew more about you." Anne said, wondering to herself if that was truly the real reason she wanted to know about him."
For the next little while, Don told his story from being abandoned by his parents to meeting and falling in love with Libby. He glossed over his childhood quickly, but Anne was intrigued by the way this huge brawler spoke so eloquently of the love that he shared with Elizabeth Warren. She could also see the intense pain as he described the night of the fight.
"There were witnesses that came forward and they had to let me out of jail but it was too late, she was gone." He said as he concluded his story, his head drooping.
Anne had been silent throughout but she could see the regret in his eyes. "Did you look for her?" she finally asked quietly.
"Everywhere I could, none of our friends knew where she went and the college refused to give me any information." Don answered shaking his head, not looking up.
"No idea," he said. "She was really funny about that, I never met them, in fact, she never even talked about them. I never even knew where she was from, so I didn't even know where to look when she left."
"That seems odd." Anne speculated.
Don finally looked up at her. "I always assumed it was because they were poor or she was ashamed of them in some way. It was just a taboo subject with her, I know at times she went to see them but I was never invited. At the time, I was happy I never had to do the 'meet the parents' thing, but of course looking back, I wish I had. I guess with my own background, I never made an issue of it as it seemed to bother her so much. "
Again Anne was questioning what she had been told, it was obvious that Don knew nothing about the family, how could he want money? Could he be lying, an elaborate ruse, she wondered. Anne looked at his face and especially his eyes, unfortunately she knew all too well that look, he was in pain, deep emotional pain. For all his size and strength, he looked like he was about to crumble before her, if he was acting, he should be doing Shakespeare.
Suddenly a thought came to her. "So you never knew about Grace?"
She watched him closely and saw his head drop down again as he looked at the floor. "No," she heard so softly that she barely caught it. "If I had," he started and then stopped and she saw his head shake back and forth.
"So you joined the Army?" She asked.
Don looked up and she could see his eyes were glistening. "I was kicked out of school, I was lost, and it seemed a good idea at the time to get away from it all."
Anne thought about something that had been bothering her. "I'm sorry for the comment I made in the Judges office about the Army. It was in the heat of the moment and I've regretted it since." She paused and then added. "Thank you for your service."
Don nodded to her and then stayed silent as he realized that he too was sorry for some things that he had said. He was about to come clean when she started taking again. "Do you want to tell me about it, the Judge said you were awarded a Silver Star?"
Don shook his head. "No, I don't think so, some things are still hard."
The sat there for several minutes each in their own thoughts before Don started again. "Something that I've been wondering about, but I guess I didn't really want to face." He paused and then took a deep breath before he continued. "How did she?" He asked, not able to finish his question.
Anne saw the hurt and wanted to ease his pain as best she could. "It was a car accident, she was with her parents."
"All of them gone?"
"Yes, her parents instantly. Elizabeth was in a coma for a while but then . . . well, she never woke up, it was painless for all of them, there was no suffering."
"Thank you" He whispered out. "I loved her so much."
"I know" Anne replied gently and she could feel the tears running down her cheeks as she saw this huge man deal with his loss.
Later as she drove home, she replayed the evening in her mind. She could not get over the sight of him still sitting in the chair, head down. She had simply slipped out the door, leaving him to his misery, now she wished she had done what she truly wanted to do. Comfort him, take him in her arms and hug him to her. That though astounded her, comfort and hug Donald Duncan, was she going mad, losing her mind, no she wasn't she decided, as she thought of him holding her as she broke down in Graces bedroom. He had caught her as she fainted and held her in his arms as she lay sobbing against him. Here she was trying to take his child from him and he was comforting her.
But there were other things that were still running around in her mind. Why had the partners told her it was a one night stand? He obviously dated Elizabeth as he said, the pictures proved that. His story about the parents seemed odd but put in the context of his explanation, it made sense. It certainly made more sense than the story she was being told. She also wondered why she had omitted a fact, a small one, but the key fact that made all of this happen.
It was the fact that Elizabeth Warren had actually died forty two days after the accident and more importantly after her parents had died. As their only child, even comatose, at their death, she had inherited the estate, now with her gone, her last will and testament became an issue. It is that will that caused the uproar. Thinking it through, it all became suddenly clear; Elizabeth Warren had never forgotten Don. She had loved him as he had loved her, and while she was not strong enough to defy her parents in life, she had in death.
The ringing of the phone awakened Anne the next morning and she was shocked to hear it was Don.
"I have a little girl who has to learn about animals and wants to go to the zoo." Don said.
"Okay?" Anne answered still half asleep.
"She refuses to get up and dressed to go unless you come along." Don said with a laugh.
Anne snickered. "All right, I'll be there in an hour."
As she hung up, she realized that Don was back to himself but some of the questions that the night brought were still there.
As they walked through the zoo, Anne couldn't help but be thrilled with the day. It was wonderful, Grace was in fine form, chattering a mile a minute and amazed by every animal there. Don was the consummate doting dad, carrying her when she was tired, buying her souvenirs and treats, and answering her long list of questions. He was also the perfect companion for her, never letting her feel left out and always with a smile and a laugh as they spared and teased each other.
"Hey asshole!" they both heard directly behind them. They kept walking assuming it was just one of those things you hear out in public.
"I'm talking to you Duncan!"
Jul 24, 2018 in romance