Jon woke a few hours later, feeling more rested than he had in weeks. Maybe it was the soft bed that smelled of Tessa or maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t in his own home where people could find him by phone, fax or computer. Whatever the case he was glad to get the extra sleep. The next few days would be hectic to say the least.
Gathering his clothes off the chair in the corner he quickly dressed and made a pit stop in the bathroom. Grinning he found a new toothbrush on the vanity and took the time to brush the fuzz off his teeth. As he headed down the stairs he got a look at the brightly decorated tree in the center of her living room and just stopped. It looked right in her house, so oversized and almost overdone with all the old homemade ornaments mixed in with the bought. But somehow it all worked. Just like she did. So out of place in his world, yet so incredibly right.
He grabbed his jacket and found a post-it around his keys in his pocket.
I’m going to drive it for real sooner rather than later.
He looked out the door and saw his car neatly parked at the top of her driveway. “Moved my car, huh?” he said to himself. He locked her door and slid into his car, the soft scent of her lingered along the leather leaving him with a smile. He glanced at the dash and flicked open his phone. Hitting the speed dial he sighed. It was way past time to talk to his ex about Christmas.
“Hey, think I could stop by around eleven?”
“Sure, is there a problem?”
“No, I just think it’s high time we talk, Dorothea.”
She gave an exasperated sigh. “Why do you need to make things difficult this year of all years?”
Biting back the quick shot of temper he forced his voice to even. “I’m not making it difficult, I’m starting new traditions. Christmas is just as important to me as it is to our kids. I want them to know that.”
“But this year will be confusing enough.”
“And what will be the excuse next year?” His question was met with silence. “Our kids need to know that my home is just as much theirs. That everything isn’t going to change just because we’re not together anymore.”
“It’s not like we’ve been together for a long time, Jon.”
This time he didn’t have much to say. She was right. He would take the majority of the burden in that mess. He knew it was mostly his fault that they had drifted into friendship and then in a sort of strange limbo where happiness and unhappiness overlapped. To this day, he couldn’t even pinpoint when it had happened.
“We’ll talk. Is eleven okay?”
Another sigh, then, “Yes. I’ll see you then.”
He pulled into his driveway and quickly let himself in and up the stairs to shower. The definition of poor taste would be to show up to his ex-wife’s house with the lingering scent of sex and Tessa on his body. Twenty minutes later he was heading back out the door in jeans and a red sweatshirt for the short drive to Dot’s house.
His hip buzzed as he traded his sports car for the Beemer. He flipped the phone open and left it on speaker. “Hello.”
“Hey there stud,” came a familiar voice.
“I certainly don’t know any studs in this neck of the woods. Richie’s in the next county.”
“Ha-Ha, you jerk. Did you finally get your lazy butt out of my bed?”
He laughed and settled into the plush seats of the luxury car. “It’s far less tempting when it’s empty.” Pulling into gear he opened the gates and headed toward Dorothea’s.
“Yes, well you aren’t the one that had to sneak out from under a lovely warm, body. That just sucked.”
Laughing again he stopped at a red light. “Can you come by my house tonight?”
“Actually that’s why I’m calling. I’ve got an errand to run after I close up tonight. Why don’t you order a pizza and we can veg tonight if that sounds good to you.”
“That sounds perfect,” Jon bit back a sigh. He loved that she was just a regular woman who wanted to just be with him. Not a woman that expected him to be out every night at a party or dinner or jet setting off to crazy locales. She just wanted him.
“Okay, things are getting crazy so I gotta go. Do me a favor?”
“Anything,” he said with a grin.
It must have translated because even distracted her tone lowered. “I’ll hold you to that, darlin’, but for now dig out a few Christmas CD’s and stoke a fire. I’ll see you around eight.”
He smiled at her playful tone and said his goodbyes. A few minutes later he pulled up to the modest house that Dorothea asked for in the settlement. He offered her far more, but she wanted the simple instead of the grand she’d lived in for so long.
Making his way up the steps he was pleasantly surprised to see his youngest opening the door. “Hi, Daddy!”
Jon scooped him up and settled him on his hip. “Hey guy, where’s Christine?” he asked looking for one of the only two staff on the premises.
Romeo stuck his entire hand in his mouth and smiled, “Don’t know.”
Jon pressed a kiss to his forehead, fairly sure that was the only place that was safe on his face. Jelly and remnants of peanut butter lingered around his perfect bow of a mouth. “Mom told you not to go to the door without an adult.”
Romeo sighed, “It’s you, Daddy.”
Jon just shook his head and let himself in. Christine rushed to the door. “I’m sorry, Jon he got away from me.”
Jon handed over his son to the open arms of their nanny/housekeeper. “He’s quicker than even Jakey. Huh bud?” he brushed his fingers over Romeo’s wispy dark hair.
Rubbing his eyes he nodded and dropped his head on Christine’s shoulder. She stroked his back in a habitual gesture meant to soothe. “I’m going to bring him up to get cleaned up and ready for a nap. If you’re looking for Dorothea, she’s in the kitchen.”
“Thanks, Chris.” He found the bright, airy kitchen and Dot with her hands around her ever present mug of coffee. She was looking out at the wide back yard, her gaze unfocused. He helped himself to a mug and settled on the bench style seat of the oversized table. Her kitchen was a blend of country comfort and modern amenities. So much like her, he thought sadly. Realizing she just never fit in his world that easily.
“Hey,” he said and sipped.
She blinked through her heavy framed glasses and focused on him. “I’m not thrilled with this, Jon.”
Taking a deep breath he let himself have one more fortifying sip of coffee. “Are we ever thrilled with change?”
“I don’t want my kids to be confused all through what is supposed to be a fun and carefree holiday.”
“I want our kids to know that Christmas is important at my house. That I’m not just a visitor coming over to see them and leaving after the presents are opened.”
“Oh stop,” she said dismissively.
“What? Isn’t that the truth?” He set his mug down with a snick of crockery on wood. “I’m not going to be that kind of Dad. I want them to be at my house for Christmas Eve with just us then I’ll bring them here bright and early on Christmas Day and we’ll do the family thing that we always do.”
“So you can be the special Christmas guy?”
“Hey if you want me to come here and leave before dinner, I’ll do that.”
“No, of course not. They’re you’re family too,” she said flatly. “What brought all this on?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s important in my life. I lost sight of that for a long time, but I’m not going to keep making the same mistakes over again.”
She stared at him, her brown eyes missing nothing. Finally her eyebrows rose. “Well fuck, you met someone.”
Jon blinked and snapped his mouth shut with a click of molars. “That’s not what this is about.”
Crossing her arms firmly over the simple brown sweater she wore she leaned back and blasted him with that disappointed air she could give off. “That’s all this is about. I won’t have my kids confused on Christmas day with one of your revolving girlfriends.”
Jon stood and took his mug to the sink. Suddenly the strong brew burned like acid in his stomach. “Christmas isn’t about Tessa,” he started and wanted to snatch back her name. Shit, he hadn’t intended on starting this conversation. He wanted to wait until after the holidays to talk to her about Tessa.
“Oh, is that her name? What is she twenty and blonde?” Dot stood and opened the back French doors digging into her pocket for her cigarettes. The snick of a lighter and a wisp of smoke swirled around her eyes and out the door.
Jon crossed his arms over his chest. “Give me a little fucking credit,” he said with an underlying growl. “She’s a nice woman and way too good for me, but that’s not what this is about. Christmas isn’t for her, it’s for my kids.”
“Good, because I don’t want her anywhere near our kids.”
Jon’s hands slid away and out of frustration he jammed them into his pockets. “Do I look stupid? It’s not the right time to introduce her to the kids, I know that. She won’t even be there. It’s just going to be Richie and Ava.”
She gave a derisive laugh. “The bachelor Christmas, just great,” she said and took a deep drag.
“Christ, what is the problem? I want to do something special for the kids. I’m not talking about taking them to
“And why do you want to do this now? You barely fit them in before.”
Jon choked down the lump in his throat and forced himself to meet her eyes. He’d made a lot of mistakes when it came to his family, but Christmas had always been set aside for them as family. That had never changed in the last few years. “The divorce opened my eyes to a lot of things. It sucks that it took losing you to realize that.”
“We lost each other a long time ago,” she said and looked out the window her cigarette burning to ash.
Jon moved closer to her. “I know I’m to blame for that.”
She bent down and stabbed her butt out in a small, tin pail of sand. “We’re both to blame so don’t be stupid. I could have tried harder, been more available to the travel that comes with your life. I knew all about it when we got together. But the fact that you’re making changes now makes me wary.” She sat on the bench her shoulders slumped.
Jon crouched in front of her and took her hands in his. “Things are bound to change, doesn’t mean what we had was any less.”
She searched his eyes, but didn’t elaborate. Instead she headed back to the topic at hand. “As long as you promise this Tessa isn’t going to be part of this, I’ll let you take them for Christmas Eve,” she said and tugged her hands away.
Sighing Jon stood up. He didn’t like where that line of talk was going at all. Letting him do anything with his own kids wasn’t going to fly. It was a matter of discussing what was best for them. Had he let her make the decisions for so long that she looked at herself as the sole word on everything that happened with their kids? And if that had happened how could he change that now?
He needed to do some heavy thinking about that. And his gut clenched at the thought of how she’d reacted to Tessa. He’d been more worried about how to bring Tessa into their lives. Not getting push back by his ex-wife on a new lover. Especially when Tessa was so much more than that word could encompass.
Backing away he tucked his hands back into his pockets. “I’ll be by on Sunday, early afternoon to pick the kids up.”
“I’ll have them ready.”
Jon looked down at the woman that had been the center of his world for so long. Even at the worst parts of their marriage he’d never thought they would have come to this. She met his gaze with eyes that had only become harder with each passing year. Had he really done this much damage?
He left the kitchen and acting on instinct he climbed the stairs and found Romeo’s room. His sleeping form bundled into the corner of the crib that he was just about to outgrow. Brushing his knuckle over the dark downy hair he sighed.
He may have lost his wife, but he’d be damned if he saw the same look in his kids eyes. They would always know just how important they were to him.
Backing away from the crib he stood by the doorway for another minute and watched his son breathe then made his way back downstairs. On his way out the door he was pleased to find Steph. The fact that she had three friends surrounding her didn’t surprise him.
She broke away from them and came up to him for a hug. “Hey Dad, I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
Enjoying the unexpected hug he held on for a moment longer and smiled away her confused look. “Just talking to your mom.”
“You guys aren’t fighting again, are you?” She said and crossed her arms over her chest.
He flicked his finger down her nose. “No. Just making plans for Christmas. You guys are going to come to my house for Christmas Even then we’ll come back here for the big festivities in the morning. Sound okay?”
“Really?” She laughed and threw her arms around him again. “That sounds great. I miss my old bed.”
“Well, it’s waiting for you as it always is.”
“The brats will be excited.”
“Good, so I’ll pick you guys up on Sunday.”
She backed up into the group of girls and waved. “Okay Dad,” and just like that she was gone.
The pack of them moved inside with the chatter that only fourteen year old girls can understand. Ducking into his car he headed into town. He needed to see a familiar face and couldn’t wait for eight o’clock.