After Newt left Ben’s house with a trailer loaded down with Ben’s plants and paraphernalia, Leroy and Ben went back to Leroy’s office to await his return with said truck and trailer, empty of the cannabis plants. Ben grabbed them a soft drink and they sat down together at the break table, each lost in their own thoughts.
The silence was deafening. Ben knew Leroy was not happy about what they were doing. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer. “Leroy? Or should I call you Daddy Roy? I always hated when Maddy called you that.”
Leroy obviously didn’t appreciate his remark and smirked at Ben. “She only did it because that’s what Dakota called me and it was easier for a three-year-old to say than Mr. Leroy. You know I didn’t tell her to say that. But it did make me happy. I love her like she’s mine.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Maddy adores you. It was my jealousy rearing it’s ugly head. It was a lame joke. Guess I’m still a pain in the ass. Listen, I promise to make up for any lost production over this. I will work weekends and evenings if I need to.”
“Ben we are ahead of schedule. It’s okay. And for the record, yes, you were a pain in the ass, but you have to understand what your mother was dealing with. We just missed the signs and wrote it off as growing pains.”
Ben didn’t want to talk about his childhood anymore. He was over it. “What I wanted to ask was, how do you do it? Work together with my dad? Sometimes I still want to beat the shit out of him. I didn’t know about his ‘underworld’ background and it pisses me off even more when I think about it. But, then, he’s helping me because of it. So I don’t know how I feel. Leroy, I think he’s enjoying this shit. The control he has over them to make them do what he wanted. He had this crazed look in his eye.”
Leroy leaned back in his chair. “Ben, it’s all about the control he has. Abuse is all about lack of control or perceived lack thereof and the need to assert control over someone. At the time he was with your mother, he was being totally controlled by his own father, so he needed to exert control over the only thing he could, his own family. I guess, being in control of these guys is giving him a bit of a buzz.
“You and I are not alone, I wanted to beat the hell out of him too when I found out the pain he had caused your mother. Give him a taste of his own medicine. But I didn’t. Janet actually turned me around. She is so good for him. Do you know they have a safe word in case he losses it?”
“No shit? Are Connor and Janet safe? I mean, when I lived with them, I never felt threatened.” Ben’s shoulders slumped. “Just ignored,” he said and rolled his eyes.
“Yes. I think so. She reminds me of you and Sofia. She calls him on his shit and holds him accountable. Connor and Janet were his second chance. And Ben, your mother loves him. Just remember that. Not romantic love, but like you love a sibling or Uncle. Maybe like how you care about Reid. She has forgiven him. She had to in order to move forward. Carrying all of the bitterness about what happened, especially when you have no control over it, is destructive.”
“So I have come to learn. Grace,” he said closing his eyes as the memories washed over him, “it still hurts sometimes to think of her. She helped me learn to love and let people in. You know what she told me? That if you share your pain, it only hurts half as much. Miss Lillie used to tell her that.” Ben’s voice got wistful. “I wish you could have met Grace. But, Sofia and I have talked a lot about her. She was afraid I would compare her to Grace and she could never fill her shoes. But what I realized is, even when I was with Grace, I was unconsciously comparing her to Sofia.”
Newt walked in interrupting them. His eyes sparkling with excitement. “Mission accomplished gentlemen. Trailer’s out back waiting to be cleaned out. Truck’s out front. Let’s go get a beer and celebrate.”
“No thanks,” said both Ben and Leroy in unison.
Newt looked like he wasn’t taking no for an answer so Leroy changed his mind. “Okay. Sure. But just one. I need to get home.”
“Ben?” asked Newt, “Make your old man happy. I just bailed you out. No cops were involved. You record is clean. Just don’t pull any shit like this again. I’m all out of favors for now.”
Leroy gave Ben a sad smile. “Come on Ben. If you go, I won’t get in trouble.”
Ben huffed out a laugh. “No, we both will. Whatever. Let’s go,” said Ben, and smiled for the first time since Sofia confronted him four days ago.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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An hour later, Ben and Leroy walked into his parent’s house. Kaitlin ran to greet them followed by Sofia. “Is it done?” asked Kaitlin.
“Yes. All done,” said Leroy, “We dropped Newt off at the hotel and came here. He’s leaving in the morning.”
Kaitlin hugged Ben. “Oh, thank God! I’m so glad you came to us Ben. Don’t ever be afraid to ask us for help.”
“I won’t Mom,” he said. Then he looked over at the smiling bear of a man standing next to them.
He released his mother and walked over to Leroy and hugged him. “Thanks for everything. The job, helping me now and being here for Mom. I love you man.” He released Leroy and clapped him on the back and added, “Daddy Roy.” Both men laughed.
The next person Ben looked at was sweet Sofia. Hi stomach flipped because he couldn’t read her expression. “Pia…?” he said hesitantly and opened his arms to her.
“Oh Ben…” she said and launched herself into his open arms. He lifted her as she planted her lips on his. It was the sweetest kiss he had ever had.
Kaitlin tugged on Leroy’s arm. “I think that’s our queue to leave,” she whispered. Leroy nodded and they quietly slipped out of the room leaving Ben and Sofia alone.
“Does this mean we are okay?” asked Ben.
“More than okay,” she purred. She touched his face gently. “You risked everything for Cole. Your family stood by you, even came together to help you. They love you so much. I do too Ben.”
Ben was overwhelmed by her tender words. He pulled back to look at her. “No Pia, you did it,” he said and then pointed at himself. “I’m his father, I should have figured out how to get out of that mess a long time ago. But it was you that forced my hand. I need you in my life. Always. You obviously love Cole like your own. He’s still young. If we get married now, he will grow to think of you as his mother.”
“Ben…did you just ask me to marry you?”
He did, didn’t he? He laughed and hugged her to him. “I guess I did. I’ve been thinking about it for so long that I just….said it. I’m sorry Sofia, that was the most unromantic proposal ever. You deserve better. You don’t have to answer now.”
She looked up at him. “No, it wasn’t perfect Ben, but it was from the heart,” she said, her voice quiet and serious, “But that’s us, we aren’t perfect. But together, I think we make a really good team. Whether it’s creating a park or helping fix each other’s boneheaded decisions, we work together and for each other.” She stopped and the corners of her mouth raised slightly before she continued. “But there is one thing that you do that is perfect.”
“Oh yeah? What?” he asked.
“You make love to me perfectly. So, if I say yes, will you make love to me again?”
She was killing him. He lifted his hand and ran his thumb lightly over her beautiful face. “Sofia, I will make love to you even if you say no. No conditions whatsoever. Yes. No. Or – I don’t know. And if you say no, I ….”
“Shhh! Yes, Ben,” she said. She jumped up and threw her arms around his neck. “Yes, I will marry you even if you make me wait until our wedding night to make love to me again! But it would have to be a quickie wedding! Oh damn…”
“What?” said Ben panicked, “You already changed your mind?”
Sofia giggled. “No silly. I just thought about my brother. He’s going to kill me for sure this time. Not only am I dating his best friend with baggage, I’m going to marry him.”
“Oh shit is right,” said Ben, “So, sweetheart, do you have any deep dark secrets that Nick is going to spring on me? Because I get the honors this time.”
“No. I’m a nerd, remember.”
Ben grinned. “Good because I don’t think I can go through this again.”
“Kiss me you fool!” replied Sofia with a soft giggle.
Ben laughed and shook his head. “That’s sooo lame, nerd,” he replied, and proceeded to do exactly that. He kissed her until her giggles became moans. Then he led her towards his old bedroom, praying that Cole wasn’t sleeping in there. He badly wanted to make love to the woman that had just given him his life back. His future looked bright with her in it. He knew he now could look forward to every single new day.