“Tessa, wake up.”
“Hmm?” she mumbled, Nic’s voice sounded far away. For the first time, her sleep had been a nice, blessed black. No dreams and no…
Nic reached back and nudged her knee, “Wakey, wakey. We’re here.”
She lifted her head off the stack of suitcases that were shoved next to her in the car and blinked at Nic. Her face was a blurry halo from the map light. Closing her eyes against reality she moaned into her pillow. “Just go inside, leave me here,” she said irritably. She’d had a pillow and a blanket somewhere…she’d be fine.
“If you think I’m leaving you here in a cold car you are on some really good drugs. Get up.”
“No,” she said and firmly kept her eyes shut.
“Seriously, don’t make me come back there.”
Tessa opened one eye. Unable to stay irritated but trying not to smile she said, “Practicing for when you have kids?”
“I already have kids; the cashiers at the store.”
She couldn’t stop the snort. “Alright, alright…your annoying voice ruined my nap anyway.” She climbed out of the backseat and smiled when Adam held her by the arm.
“You look a little shaky on your pins there sweetheart.”
“Too much work,” she said and gratefully leaned on him to climb the rest of the way out. “I hope Mary isn’t expecting too much.”
Nic leaned in and grabbed the overnighters and slung two over one shoulder and handed the rest to Adam. “Oh you know Mom, she just wants to see you and give you a big hug. Then she’ll fuss until you want to belt her one.”
Tessa gave her a tired smile and tried to take her bag from Nic.
“Shoo, go inside. I wanna smooch with my husband anyway.”
“But the presents-“
“My husband has a nice strong back, don’t you honey?”
Catching his wife’s look he nodded quickly. “We’ve got it taken care of. Don’t worry about a thing.”
Knowing her best friend was going to talk about her, she slogged her way to the steps of the old Colonial. She didn’t care that she looked like crap, she didn’t care that Nic was worried about her right now. All she cared about was a bed and some of Mary’s home cooking.
The door opened before she could hit the bell. “Oh Tessa, it’s been so long since you’ve come to see me!”
She was enveloped into the comforting arms of her surrogate mother. The scent of Estee Lauder’s, Beautiful and Dove soap floated around her in a perfect haze and she felt the tears well. Sniffing them back she gave her a watery smile, “I’ve missed you, Mary.”
“Oh what’s this?” Mary brushed away a tear with her thumb and kissed both of her cheeks and dragged her back in for another hug. “I think that kind of greeting calls for the high octane eggnog.”
Laughing she slung her arm around Mary’s ample middle and let her pull her inside. She was a rounder, softer version of Nic with the same soft brown eyes and bossy ways. Her happy chatter and no-nonsense personality had Tessa whisked away into the kitchen with leftover turkey piled high on homemade bread and a mug of eggnog set before her.
“Mary, I can’t eat all this.”
“You can and you will. You’ve lost five pounds at least since the last time you were here.”
“She lost what? She’s already a bird!”
Tessa stood and was caught in another bear hug with the scent of Old Spice and spearmint. Nic’s father was a big man both in stature and voice. He lifted her off the tiled floor and swung her in a circle.
“Tom! If you break any of my Christmas dishes, I’ll brain you!”
“Aww Mary, my baby is home. Give it a rest huh?” He squeezed her tighter until Tessa couldn’t help but laugh and cry uncle.
“Hey Tom, how’s it goin’?”
“Good now that all my kids are home,” he set her on her feet. “Moni just got in and Mike and Jackie came in last night.”
“Well, don’t you have a houseful!” She dropped back into the chair and picked up the sandwich. “How’s little Sophie doing?”
Tom sat and couldn’t contain his grin. “Can you believe she’s six months old now? My grandbabies are all getting so big.”
“Jackie must be glowing. How old is Tyler now?”
“Seven. He’s a toughie too. Mike’s got him signed up for pop-warner football already. Jackie's having a fit of course.”
Without realizing it she scarfed down everything on her plate as Mary and Tom filled her in on all the happenings in the Bouchet family. Nic and Adam finally came inside and the greetings went on again.
“It’s about time you guys stopped the smooching out there,” Tom said gruffly.
Off balance, Nic hung onto her dad until her feet dangled. “Yes, well with the bedlam in here I won’t be doing any other smooching for awhile.”
“Well if that gets me another grandbaby, then smooch all you like.”
“Pop! I am not quite ready to breed yet, thank you very much.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Waiting until Adam finishes school.” Tom stuck out his bottom lip. “I want more grandbabies.”
“Don’t you have enough gray hair?” Nic reached up for the silver sideburns and got her hands batted away for her trouble and herself unceremoniously dropped back on her feet. “I earned every one of those from you and your sisters. I swear Monique is going to put me into an early grave.”
“Did I hear my name?” Moni came in the room with yards of black draping her perfect body. Skin tight silk pants and a cowl necked sweater clung to every perfect curve of her five feet eleven inch body.
But even with the glamour she still took the time to enjoy her family and kick back as much as she could manage. She was a style editor for one of the various magazines in New York and lived for the city life. She bussed Tessa’s cheek and some classy scent came off of her in waves as she spoke with the glass of wine in her hand like an extension of herself.
Her polar opposite swung into the kitchen with her dark hair piled up in a ponytail and an oversized jersey hanging around generous denim clad hips. “Hey Tess, glad you could come out for Christmas again,” Jackie said and folded her into an easy hug. “Wait until you see Sophie, she doesn’t even look like the little baby I had six months ago. She’s a beast!”
The loud and boisterous family swept her into the living room and told her stories from family updates, to the ridiculous tales of the New York fashion world, to small town gossip. She sat by the fat Christmas tree that was always in the same corner, with the same old ornaments, give or take a few new ones from the various grandchildren, and soaked it all in.
This was exactly what she needed. She’d let work become her life then Jon had thrown her into a whole new tailspin. This time with Nic’s family, well her family for all intents and purposes, would put her head back on straight.
At least she hoped so.
A few hours later she finally managed to detangle herself from the family and climb the stairs. Watching Mike and Jackie cuddle on the couch and Adam and Nic pretzel up on the oversized chair had been a little too much to bear after awhile.
She’d spent the last five years coming to the Bouchet house for Christmas and it had never bothered her before. But this year, but the end of those few hours she couldn’t wait to get to her tiny little room in the converted attic.
She missed Jon. She knew that was the reason it was different, but it didn’t make it any easier. She closed the door and dropped her suitcase on the old rocker in the corner and flipped it open. Her cell phone stared at her from the middle of her suitcase. She’d dropped it in there in her haste to pack and get out of her house.
Lifting it she tapped her jagged fingernails on the flip face. Twelve-thirty. It was way too late to call him. Way too late. She put the phone on the dresser and got out her toiletries for a shower and put them aside. Her fingers stilled when she found the soft grey shirt folded neatly between her jeans. She’d just grabbed clothes and packed whatever she could manage in ten minutes. Why did it have to be one of his shirts in the mess?
She lifted the superfine fabric and let it slide through her fingers. The silk was almost suede in texture. She’d had pictures of him in the damn shirt. Hell, she’d worn the shirt. Her nipples hardened immediately when she remembered just when and where she’d worn it.
The first night with him.
She sagged against the bed. They’d gotten a second wind and headed into his on-site bar. Sweet hell. She reached over and snagged her phone. Damn the stupid consequences. Even if she just got his voice mail.