“Stephan! Oh my watcher! I…what…you…you’re ALIVE! What the…?” I stammered. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. He was supposed to be dead so why was he standing in my yard right in front of me looking very much alive and well?
“I am. I’ve missed you so much.” He said so plainly as though he just returned from a trip instead of returning from the grave. He looked so different now and yet he was still the same. His warm brown eyes stared into mine making my heart skip a beat. But the confusion and rage I felt was overwhelming.
“Shut up! Shut up and talk right now! I want the truth this instant. Why did everyone believe you were dead?”
“Because I faked my death.”
“You faked your death?! Do you know what you put us through? Your daughters and I thought you were dead. Gemma was devastated! Why would you do that?”
He remained silent and just stared at me.
“Answer me Stephan!”
“Okay… relax. After I left, I went into hiding but someone ratted me out to the Feds and I was arrested. When they learned I had already made contact with Max Racket, you know who he is right?”
“Yes. He was convicted last week for the multiple crimes he committed as a mob boss.”
“You’re right and they only got him because of me. The Feds cut me a deal. In exchange for full immunity from my past crimes, I had to work as a mole so they could expose his evil doings. They faked my death because they learned Racket put out a hit on me. He was on to me but I already got enough evidence for the Feds to put him away. I was the prosecution’s main witness. They had to let everyone, including my family, think I was dead so that Racket wouldn’t try to get one of his guys on the outside to finish the job, or worse, try to harm one of you to intimidate me into not testifying.”
“Oh my… this is… This is too much to deal with right now.”
“I know it is. You can check out my story if you want…”
“I will.” I cut him short. I really did believe him but I would still check out his story at the office. Even though I was a cop, I disliked the Feds. For them, it was all about the bigger picture. They would gladly cut deals with killers if it brought them closer to catching a terrorist and in the meantime cops like me and Clay had to keep chasing after those scumbags all over again while the body count of the innocent increased. His story did explain why the Feds refused to release his remains to us. They claimed they still needed it as evidence. It wouldn’t be too hard for them to falsify dental reports either or get some career criminal to lie about what he saw when Stephan was supposedly murdered.
“I’m sorry I surprised you like this but… I guess I thought our reunion would be different. I thought you would be happy, you would hug me and tell me you were glad I wasn’t gone but… I guess things are different now… now that you’re with him.”
I knew he was referring to Clay and I started to cry. I was happy that he was alive. I wanted to hold him and tell him that but I couldn’t. Because things were different now.
“Is that why you are here? You want me back?” I asked.
“Of course I want you back. I still love you Danielle but that’s not why I’m here right now. I want to know the girls. I want to be in their lives. I’ve heard that Helena’s health is better. I think it’s a good time for her to get some good news after receiving such an awful prognosis.”
“You know about that…?”
“I know everything. I’ve kept tabs on their entire lives through the agents assigned to guard me at the safe house I was in during the trial. I know Gemma’s in the fashion and chess club at school – talk about being well-rounded! I know Helena is a gifted musician and I know she’s dating a boy Gemma used to like – a boy I don’t care for by the way and I know you don’t either. Even though I wasn’t around I still love them. You know, I read your books every day. They kept me going. I’m glad you finally got the courage to publish the ones you wrote when we started dating. I told you they were good.”
I was amazed that he knew so much about all of us and it was overwhelming hearing all of those things. Stephan always knew the right things to say to make me wonder if I was wrong about him. But in spite of his one good deed in taking down a notorious criminal, he was still one of them.
“Stephan… the reasons why I made you leave still exist. You may have full immunity from prosecution but it doesn’t clear your guilt. You lied, you stole and you killed people, so how can I allow you around my children?”
He paused for a while before giving me a cold glare. “Gemma and Helena are not children anymore. The choice is up to them. I’m coming by tomorrow afternoon. You and your boyfriend can try to stop me if you wish but I don’t think you would want the girls to see their presumed dead father being taken away from them again, would you?”
I had no time to answer because he walked off on me. In a few minutes he was gone and I stood there in utter disbelief. It was just like him to profess his love for me and then threaten me a few minutes later! But he left me with no choice. I couldn’t stop him from seeing them. If I stopped him from coming by tomorrow, he would try to meet them at school, or somewhere public. To ask the girls to stay away from him would mean telling them that he was alive and then their curiosity and interest would compel them to go to him against my wishes and then I wouldn’t have any kind of control over the situation.
I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Stephan would be a bad influence on the girls but he was still their father and I knew how important a father is in a girl’s life. They still didn’t know everything about him. All they knew was that he was a thief as I didn’t have the courage to tell them everything he had done. Gemma didn’t talk about him at all to me but sometimes I would overhear her discussing him with Leni, expressing remorse for not being able to say goodbye to him. One time she said she regretted going camping the day he left because she felt like she could have stopped him from leaving. Leni had embraced Clay as her dad but she only called him ‘Dad’ some of the time. Recently she’d been asking me questions about Stephan too and it made me realise that Clay could never replace Stephan in either of my girls’ lives.
So that morning I had to tell them that Stephan was alive and that he was coming over to see them. Gemma was excited as expected and Leni was unsurprisingly calm when she heard the news.
It was midday on the dot when I heard a knock at the door. I asked the girls to wait in the dinning room as I wanted to talk to him first.
“You’re right on time.” I said to him once he came inside.
“Come on, what’s with that face my darling? Everything will be alright from now on.”
“You seem to think so and I hope for their sake that you won’t disappoint them like you did me. Before you meet them, I need to set some ground rules.”
“Of course you do.” He said with a smirk. “Go on. Let’s hear your ground rules.”
“You’re straight for now but you and I know that you won’t remain that way for too long. The moment I get the slightest inkling that you’re back in crime I’m cutting you off and will personally arrest you myself. I won’t let you endanger my daughters’ lives by being in that world again.”
“Is that all?”
“No. You can’t drop by here whenever you feel like it. This is my house and if you want to see the girls you have to call me first before you come over. I won’t tolerate you coming over unannounced or you informing me that you’re coming over. And you can’t take them out anywhere unless you run it by me first. School nights are out of the question and if I give my consent to you taking them somewhere they must be home by 8pm and no later.”
“Oh wow! That’s a lot of rules!” He whined as he put his hands to his mouth to feign shock and disappointment. “But now it’s my turn to talk.”
“I’m not done Stephan…”
“Dani, I may love you but don’t get it twisted. I’m not gonna play by your silly rules. You’re right about this being your house so I won’t come over unannounced but don’t you dare try to tell me where and when I can spend time with my daughters. Is that clear?”
I stood there in shock. Stephan never spoke to me like that before and I didn’t know how to react. Before I could respond he turned his back and walked into the dinning room where Gemma and Leni were waiting for him.
“Daddy!” I heard Gemma squeal in excitement. “You’re back! I knew you would come back! I missed you so much!”
“Oh my precious Gem, just look at how beautiful you are! I’m sorry I wasn’t around but I’m here now and I’m not going away again.” He said to her but then Leni came into his view. He released Gemma and both him and Leni stood in front of each other staring.
“Hey…” Leni muttered. “Um… I’m Leni, uh, Helena.”
“I know sweetheart. I know who you are.” He pulled her into a hug. “You’ve grown up into a beautiful young woman. I love you so much. Both of you.”
“You son of a llama!” Felix yelled as he stomped into the room. “What the plum are you doing here huh? After what you put my sister through I should beat you to the ground!”
I had to pull Felix aside before their confrontation got out of hand. I told Felix about Stephan and he seemed indifferent about his return. I didn’t think he was so upset about it until he started screaming at him. I couldn’t have them fight in front of Leni and Gemma. This was a happy day for them so no matter how the rest of us felt about Stephan we had to keep our emotions in check for the girls’ sake.
Just as we all sat down for lunch Clay returned home from work. I told him about Stephan’s visit the night before and he advised me against letting him come over. He said we should get a restraining order and set up a patrol car in front of the house to prevent him from getting close to the girls but I knew that would be the wrong approach. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased to see Stephan sitting in the dinning room.
They barely spoke to each other since there was no need for introductions having met before when Stephan and I were married. Gemma rattled on about school and all of her hobbies while Stephan listened attentively, occasionally noticing how quiet Leni was over at the other side of the table. Finally Clay directed a question at Stephan.
“So Stephan, what’s your plan for work? I mean, the feds gave you immunity but they surely confiscated any money you would have made off of your crimes which means you need a job. We all know you’re not an 9 to 5 kind of guy so I’m curious as to what your plans are going forward since you need to pay rent for that cozy bungalow for which you just signed a 3 month lease.”
“You don’t need to know what my plans are. I don’t have to answer to you.”
“But you do have to answer to Danielle, Gemma and Leni. What are your intentions for this visit? What do you want? Money? That’s it, isn’t it!”
“For your information I got a job as a bartender. I don’t want Danielle’s money, I only want a relationship with my daughters and frankly I don’t appreciate the interrogation. I suggest you stay out of our family business since you’re not a part of this family!”
“I’m more a part of this family than you are. Danielle is my fiancee while you’re just her criminal ex-husband!”
“I’m the father of her children! That bond we have can never be broken whereas engagements can be called off and where will that leave you?”
“Guys stop it please.” I finally stepped in. Everyone sat at the table in silence for the rest of the meal. Leni was the first to excuse herself followed by Clay who went to check on her and then Felix, who was fuming the entire time, went upstairs to check on Jackson who was sick with the flu. I left Gemma attentively listening to Stephan’s stories. She was not bothered at all by anyone else’s reaction to Stephan’s return. She was just glad to finally have him home. I went into my bedroom and was met by Clay who was visibly fuming.
“I don’t understand what’s wrong with you? Why are you so calm Danielle? Why are you letting him have his way after all he’s done?!”
“I’m not letting him have his way. It’s just… I don’t know what to do Clay. It’s a tricky situation.”
“You knew what to do all those years ago when you kicked him to the curb. That’s what you should do now!”
“I can’t do that Clay! The girls…”
“Yeah, right, the girls. You keep saying they’re the reason but is that even true?”
My throat went dry. What was he trying to ask me? “Clay, of course I’m thinking of the girls…”
“I’m going to take a shower. I’m tired, it’s been a long day.”
He disappeared into the bathroom leaving me standing there with a headache. Of course he was hurt by Stephan’s presence. For years, Clay had been a father figure to them and now that Stephan was back it made sense that he would feel a little insecure about his place in their lives. Perhaps I should have been more sensitive to Clay’s feelings in all of this. I kept thinking about what was best for my daughters that I forgot about how it would affect my fiance and our relationship.