“Where’s the rug rat today?” asked Sunglasses. He had a stupid grin on his face that Ben would love to slap off.
Disgusted, Ben handed him the drugs. “It’s all there,” he growled out.
He handed Ben an envelope in exchange. “I’m sure it is. See you in two weeks,” he said. Then he and his muscle turned to leave.
“Wait,” called out Ben, “We need to talk. I’m moving.”
“So,” said Sunglasses.
“I’m moving out of town. I won’t be able to make anymore drops.”
“No. You aren’t. Not if the boss doesn’t agree,” said Sunglasses, as if that were the end of the conversation.
That pissed Ben off. “You sons-of-bitches know my wife died!” Ben shouted, “I need help with my son. I’m moving back home. I will gladly give you the damn plants. Someone else can grow this shit for you.”
Sunglasses glared at him over the top of his glasses. “Don’t. Go. Anywhere. Asshole. We’ll be in touch.”
“When?” asked Ben desperate for answers.
Beanie must have decided it was time to make himself useful and pushed Ben up against the wall. He put his finger in Ben’s face and held him with his other hand. “When we do – that’s when – Pretty Boy. Now, go back to your rat-hole apartment and wait. That is if you want to keep that pretty face. Like the man said. ‘Don’t. Go. Anywhere. Asshole.’ We will be in touch.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ben had managed to calm himself down on the walk back from the Karaoke bar. When he got to Emma’s, he knocked, then let himself in without waiting for a reply. He didn’t want to frighten her again by appearing nervous.
After he called his mother and made plans to move back to Willow Creek, he had apologized to Emma and Nick. They forgave him and by extension Casey and Rachael were tolerating him again. He had missed their interaction more than he thought. And he could tell Emma had missed Cole. She was going to make a really good mother to Casey’s kids someday. Lucky bastard.
“Hey Ben. That was fast. So, when are you and my favorite little boy leavin’?” she asked, saying the words to Cole instead of Ben and earned a squeal from the baby.
“I’m not sure. As soon as I work out a few details,” he said, trying to be vague.
Cole was drifting off to sleep so she put him back in the carrier. She turned to Ben lowering her voice so she wouldn’t wake up the sleeping baby. “Oh. I thought it was done and you were leavin’ sometime next week,” said Emma.
“Maybe. Where’s Rachael?”
“She and Nick went out to get groceries.”
“Comin’ over after class.”
“Is he staying the night?”
“None of your business.”
“Look, I just don’t want you to be alone until I’ve worked some things out. I’ll stay until Casey or Nick gets back.”
“Ben, is everything okay? You’re scarin’ me again.”
Shit. That was what he was trying not to do. “Everything is fine. We just have to work out the details of my move. How was Cole?”
“He gave me a raspberry – over and over and over. Did you teach him that?” she asked.
That’s my boy, thought Ben and grinned at her, guilt written all over his face.
“Figures as much. Bless his heart, the next thing you know he’ll be fartin’ to Achy Breaky Heart. Now, Ben Murdock, stop changin’ the subject. I know you’re lyin’ to me. What happened? What details are left to work out?”
Ben’s phone buzzed before he could answer. “One sec Em, I need to deal with this.” He looked at the message.
Shit, Ben didn’t want to tell him but decided it would be better than lying to them. He got up and walked away from Emma.
Willow Creek he texted back and it actually went this time.
When he didn’t get an immediate response he started to get nervous. Finally another text came through.
Ben let out a sigh of relief. He wanted out. Hopefully the deal was where to deliver the plants. He couldn’t wait to get it over with and leave this place.
He and Cole would actually have their own home in Willow Creek. Leroy had a couple of small two bedrooms available for the workers and he said he would hold one for Ben. He had even offered him a job – when he was ready. That sounded so much better than being here with all the memories of what could have been. This time it really would be a new beginning for him and Cole.
He would miss Nick and even Rachael. But most of all Emma. She had been a good friend through all of his shit. He had already told Lillie May, and as much as it hurt, she had encouraged him. They agreed he would make the trip to see her every two weeks.
Ben texted back. “Okay” and the reply came back undeliverable. Of course. Burner phones.
He looked up when he felt Emma watching him. She was holding Cole again. A strange feeling washed over him as he noticed how natural it was to see her mothering his child. His heart ached at the same time. It should be Grace.
He got emotional and quickly looked away pretending to look at his phone. By the time he had regained control, she had put Cole back in the carrier, so he walked over and sat back down next to her.
Emma took Ben’s hand. “All worked out now sweetie?” she asked as she rubbed the top of his much larger hands with hers.
He would always remember her warm hands. No matter what else he remembered, that would always stay with him every time he touched Emma’s hands. Ben nodded in answer to her question. “I have another meeting tomorrow. Same time, can you…”
“Of course,” she said before he could finish. She leaned into him and put her head on his shoulder. “Are you okay Ben?”
Ben put his arm around her and pulled her closer. “I’ll be better once we are gone. My ‘big ass family’ – as Nick so eloquently put it – will be there to help me. But Emma, I’m going to miss you terribly. I’m sorry for every rotten thing I ever said or did to you. I don’t know how you put up with me.”
Emma sniffed back tears, “Ben, you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. I saw how much you loved Grace. I see the obvious love you have for that baby. Yet, you have already started lockin’ that big ‘ol heart right back up tight again.”
Ben let out a soft sigh. “Love hurts when it’s taken away, or abused. It’s easier not to love. Be very sure before you say yes to Casey.”
“Stop deflectin’ me,” she said and pulled away, “I already said yes anyway.”
“I’m over it Emma.” Not really, he thought, but Emma doesn’t need to share that pain. “But love, not so much. I can’t do this ever again. I won’t survive it and Cole needs me.”
“Ben, don’t close yourself off again. Don’t go back to one night stands. There is someone out there for you. Grace would want that. For you and for Cole too. She loved you so much and would want you to be happy.”
Ben turned to Emma and tipped her chin so he could look into her eyes and smiled. “She’s taken. Emma…if Casey ever….well…you know where to find me. Aaaand speak of the devil. Hi Casey.”
Casey looked at Emma and Ben on the couch snuggled together. “Hey, what’s this shit? Murdock, you making a move on my fiancée?”
Ben stood up. “Nope,” he said and glared at Casey.
Casey quickly took Ben’s place on the couch next to Emma.
“Casey, there aren’t very many angels in this world and Emma is one of them,” said Ben, very calm and controlled, “If you ever hurt her in any way, shape or form, I will hunt your ass down and make you pay. And you better damn well not forget it.”
Casey held up his hands looking confused. He looking back and forth between Ben and Emma. “Hey man. What hell did I do, or didn’t I do? Emma?”
Emma pulled him close and kissed his cheek. “Nothin’ Babe. Ben’s just goin’ all big brother on me. He was waitin’ for you to get here before he would leave. We were just talkin’.”
Ben picked up Cole and turned to leave so he wouldn’t have to watch them together. It was hard to see happy couples, even though he was glad Emma was happy. “See you tomorrow Emma. Casey, you should stay the night.” He really needed to get the hell out of San Myshuno.