9/28/2008

100,000 HITS!!

YOU GUYS ROCK!!
I can't believe that we hit the 100,000 visits mark. You guys are SO amazing.

I just had to give you a special thank you. HOME's a labor of love of course, but without you guys it wouldn't be nearly as fun.

So...from the bottom of my heart. THANK YOU for making this blog such a success.



Your Adoring Fan,



Tara

9/24/2008

Chapter 135

Tessa winced as the IV pulled. Ugh. She could actually feel the needle moving around in her hand. She swallowed. God, she needed to get out of this place. She wanted her house and her bed. Her smells. Anything but the sterile nothing of her room.

“Tessa, I know you’re awake.”

She kept her eyes closed, hoping Nic would get the hint. She wasn’t awake. Waking up required effort and thought. If she stayed in this little half sleep, the room and the sounds were there, but she wasn’t...not really.

“You’re going to have to face this eventually. Since when were you such a coward?”

Since I lost a baby I didn’t know existed. Since the hole inside of me started growing. Since Jon…

“Honey, I know you’re hurting. I promise I’m here for you when you need to talk. If you need anything.”

She could hear the sincerity in her best friend’s voice. The pain and the worry there too. It was all so strangely separate from her. She knew what she was supposed to say. Even knew that she needed to talk, but she just couldn’t.

She heard Nic settle back into her chair again, the deep sigh of concern. Hell, she could see her crossing her arms and staring at the ceiling. It was what she did when she was trying to solve a problem.

She drifted again. The pain started. She knew that the nurse would be in within the next few minutes. They never let her stay in pain for very long. She’d learned that over the interminable hours. When the pain came, there was usually a bustling nurse…Ah, there she was.

The faint whistling as she worked. The tuneless tune that was always the same. She’d never opened her eyes to see the nurse, but knew she was a woman. The efficiency and the gentleness were a factor of course, but it was her scent that told the tale. White Diamonds. Her Mom’s perfume. One of her lasting memories was that smell. Her Mom had been a believer in the layering technique.

Probably why her scent never truly wore off. Bath scent, lotion scent and perfume…her daily ritual. The same ritual, she’d instilled in her daughters. “Always make sure you have a signature, ladies. It’s the one thing that will always be yours.” She and Callie had taken that much from their mom. Too bad it was the only thing she truly remembered.

She smelled of pears, Callie of roses. Callie’s scent matched her demeanor. Staid and stuffy…always just a little bit aloof. Always just a little bit above the rest of them. She’d dreamed of a close knit family. She’d dreamed of family once, but it wasn’t for her. She’d made her peace with that. Until Jon. Until…

Until she’d had a life growing inside her. The mist of the meds pushed away the pain again, pushed away the thoughts. It was better there, better in the misty sleep.

~~

“Do you want me to come in with you, man?”

Jon sighed. Just one more nail in the coward’s coffin if he did that. “Nah, I’ll be okay. I’ll call you to pick me up in a little bit.” He swung out of the seat, turning back. “You don’t mind being my bitch today, do you?”

“Fuck off.”

“I didn’t think so.” He stood and shut the door, knocking on the window. When the electric whir of the window sounded he gave Richie a grateful smile. “Thanks, Rich. I mean it.”

“You’d do the same for me.”

“True, that.” Jon stood, waving as he turned to Dot’s house. Standing in the portico, he rang the bell. A rather harried blonde answered the door. “Hey Jenny. How are ya?”

She smiled, hiking Romeo onto her hip. “Oh you know another day in the Bongiovi house.” She turned to his son, tickling his tummy. “Now if this guy would only…Oh!” She scrambled to catch him as Romeo leaned into Jon.

“It’s all right, I got him.” Jon transferred him from flight to hip. “How you doin’ buddy?”

“Daddy, boo-boo.”

“Oh my God! What happened to your hand?” Jenny asked, noticing the cast at his side.

“Eh, no big deal. Daddy just broke a few knuckles.” He raised the cast and wiggled the only finger he could. “I can still play thumb wrestling.”

Romeo leaned in and kissed his cast. “Boo-boo all gone!”

Jon hauled him in close. That Johnson’s and Johnson’s smell replaced the antiseptic hospital scent that just wouldn’t go away. “Ah, thanks buddy. That’s just what I needed.” He hugged him even closer, staggering back when Jake careened into his thighs.

“Daddy! Daddy! Where you been!” He hugged him tight. “It’s been forever!”

His throat closed up a little. He didn’t realize how hard it would be to see them. These kids that meant the world to him…to a little life that he hadn’t even known about. How on earth could the pain be this much? “Hey, let’s go sit on the couch, okay?”

“Jake, back up, honey. Daddy can’t pick you up yet.” Jenny clasped his hand and closed the door.

“Daddy always picks me up at the same time as Romeo…what happened to your hand, Dad?” Jake’s blue eyes were wide. “That is so cool! Can I have one?”

Jon laughed. “Seriously my man, you do not want one. Something’s got to be broken to get one of these bad boys.” And it’s itchy as fuck. “Where’s your mom?”

“Upstairs,” Jake said still interested in the cast. “Does it hurt?” With his smaller hand, he touched Jon’s bruised fingers. “How’d your fingers get that color?”

By busting it into a solid oak door. “Dad had an accident. I’m okay though. Just a few weeks in a cast and I’ll be good as new.” And it’s going to hurt like a bitch to play guitar for ages. He sighed and sat back on the plush couch in the living room. Toys were scattered from one corner to the other. “Hey Jake, why don’t you go get mom?”

“That’s okay, I’ll get her,” Jenny said. “I’ll let you guys hang out, okay?”

“Yeah!” Jake shouted and grabbed his new truck. “I gots a new Transformer, Dad. Mom got me Optimus Prime! She said I shoulda waited for my birthday, but she said I could have it now! How cool is that?”

“It’s very cool!” He listened to Jake babble on about the truck and the story of the Transformers. Content to listen to kid speak, he let it wash over him like a balm. Romeo tried to keep up, he had his own trucks and a smaller Transformer.

He knew in his heart that the heavy duty Optimus Prime was a bribe because of the topsy turvey world he’d brought on them with the news casters. It didn’t much matter for the boys, but the mood in the house reflected a subtle shift. That, they would notice.

He lowered himself to the floor, letting Romeo use his thigh for a road, then lifted his knee to make a bridge. He laughed with them. It felt like ages since he’d just sat and played with them. Hell, it probably had been ages. He leaned his elbows on the couch and just watched, his heart healing maybe just a little bit.

“Jon?” He turned at Dorothea’s voice. “Can we talk in the kitchen a moment?”

Nodding, he stood up. “I’ll be back in a bit, guys.” He followed her to the kitchen letting the swinging door close behind him.

“Broke it huh?”

He looked down at the cast. “Yeah.”

“Good.”

Jon closed his eyes. “Dot—“

“No, just don’t. I don’t care about you and Tessa I care about my kids. Whatever you do is your—“

“Would you stop? It’s obvious you do care or you wouldn’t have come to my house and said the things you did. I’m sorry the thought of me and Tessa bothers you, but you don’t know the whole story.”

She looked up, her dark eyes even more tired and wounded than at his house. Her nose was suspiciously red and he knew she’d been crying. He looked down at the floor. Hell. “Tessa and I are an item, Dot. It’s not going to change.”

“I know,” she said softly.

“I don’t know if you do. I know I’m to blame for some of this. I should’ve called sooner, but I was dealing with some things.”

“What, a love child?”

He clenched his teeth at her tone. He should thank God that it wasn’t all over the papers. That Tessa could worry about the miscarriage in her own way. Of course the speculation would probably produce a horrifying amount of paparazzi trying to get the scoop. He rubbed his temple with his good hand. “Did you watch the news the other night?”

“If I watched the news every night then I’d just have to see your face.”

“Oh for the love of shit, Dot.” He met her eyes. “I’m rarely in the news for fuck’s sake. Don’t give me that.”

“You’ve been on the local news a helluva lot more than not lately.”

“There was an accident at Tessa’s bookstore. Did you happen to see that?” He looked down at his cast, picked at a flake of gauze.

She sighed. “That sucks, but no. I didn’t…” she trailed off. “She was hurt?”

“She almost died, Dot.” He looked up, clearing his throat. “That’s why I haven’t been in touch. I had to break in to get her. She was on the floor…all twisted and—“ he broke off. Closing his eyes against the memory. At the touch of her hand, he swallowed down hard. “She lost the baby. We—neither of us knew. It was a complication. Just one of those things.”

“Oh Jon,” her voice was a whisper. “I didn’t know.”

He met her sad eyes, surprised to find tears swimming there. “It wasn’t planned. It just sort of happened. I never would’ve kept that sort of thing a secret. It was just a few weeks into the pregnancy. Something called an ectopic? Maybe?” He shrugged. “Whatever it was, it was bad. I almost lost her.”

“You do love her, don’t you?” Her voice was sad. “Not just a fling,” she said softly.

“I’m sorry, Dottie.”

She nodded, rubbing his arm. “I knew you’d find someone.” She laughed a little. “I should’ve known you would work fast. That’s what you do.” He leaned in, kissing her temple, sighing as she stepped into a hug. “I’m sorry, Jon. I wouldn’t have said those th—“

“I know,” he interrupted. Hugging her back, he finally stepped away. “Think I could talk to Stephanie and Jesse?”

“Of course. Would it be okay if I was here? Just in case they don’t understand.”

“Yeah, that’d be good.”

9/23/2008

Chapter 134

Jon gripped the side of the dresser. God, not now. Richie grasped his shoulder with a look that spoke of everything he was thinking without a single word. Nodding to his friend, he slowly unwrapped his hand from the edge of his highboy.

“Hey Lottie, let’s go down and find something to eat for Jonny, huh? He hasn’t eaten right in days.”

As it was intended, the idea of taking care of him did the trick and the indecision in her dark eyes was replaced with a game plan. “Yes, yes. All right, we’ll find something in the cupboard.”

Forcing himself not to sigh, he waved his ex-wife in. “Hey Dot, I was just going to call you.” And he was relieved to know that it wasn’t a lie. He was going to call and see if he could go over there and see his kids.

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for days now.”

Her tone was brittle. He wasn’t sure what to expect here, didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. Since she’d asked for a divorce that connection they’d always had seemed to have shriveled up and died. “I know, and I’m sorry. Things have been…hard.”

“Do you have any idea what they are saying about you out there?”

He pressed his lips together. “No, I can honestly say I don’t have a clue what they are saying about me.”

She lifted a finger to him. “Don’t you take that tone with me, Jon. This is effecting more than just you and your…whatever the hell she is.”

He sucked in his bottom lip, nearly cutting the tissue with his teeth. He would hear her out, stay calm. It had to be hard to hear about this from TV and friends. Instead of trying to speak he simply looked at her, waiting for her to go on.

“You’ve always been careful with how you’re seen in public. No matter the infidelities, the problems in our marriage and the problems within your goddamn band, no one knew the real truth.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and fixed her glasses as they slid down her slim nose. Her was voice low and vicious as she stepped forward. “Three seconds after this Tessa woman is in your life, she’s having your love child. Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea what this looks like to your kids? They don’t even know her. You don’t know this woman, it could all be a deliberate—“

“No!” The bellow startled even him. He didn’t have a comeback for a full minute.

She stood there, her breath ragged as she crossed her arms. “Did it even occur to you that she’d try to trap you into—“

“You’ve never been more wrong about a person in your entire life.” His voice was arctic. “You dare to come in this house and call Tessa a…what?” He stepped forward angrily, uncaring that she’d actually taken a step back. “Are you calling her a whore? An opportunist? Do you have any idea what she’s dealing with right now?” What I’ve lost. What I’m so afraid I’m going to lose.

The anger blinded him as he turned away from her and slammed his hand into the door. The power of the punch zinged through his hand followed by a pain that snapped him back even as it brought a sting of tears to his eyes. He flattened his hand against the door, the throb intense and clarifying. “Get out.”

“I’m sorry that she’s in the hospital, but—“

“Get out!” he raged, unable to look at her.

“Your kids are embarrassed and Stephanie doesn’t want to go to school because of the talk.” His head swiveled at her words, the stiff, formality taking the burn out of his anger. She dropped her hands to her sides.

He closed his eyes, pressing his forehead onto the pulse of pain in his knuckles. God, everything was shit. “I’ll be over in a little while to talk to Stephanie and Jesse.” He spoke to the door, knowing that she was uninformed by her words, but unable to care enough to set her straight. He’d thought the entire world knew by now. Were they under the assumption that Tessa was just in the hospital seeing a gynecologist?

He opened the door, looking away as she stopped in front of him. He was much too afraid that he’d snap if he looked at her. He knew there was friction between Dot and Tessa, but to go this far?

“I hope you can explain it better to your son and daughter than I could.” She strode out of the room, the hollow thud of her boots changing to a quick click as she headed down the stairs.

“Jon?”

He sucked in one calming breath after another. “How does she not know?”

“What?”

Jon’s head turned at Richie’s completely lost tone. “How does she not know?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

He mashed his teeth together. “Dot has no idea that Tessa lost the baby. She’s in here railing at me that I knocked up my girlfriend and what’s that going to say to our kids. Hell, she practically called Tessa a gold digger!”

“Are you fucking shitting me?” Richie’s mouth was literally hanging open. “I watched the reports, I—“

“Did you actually talk to her? All those times she called…did you actually say hey Jon’s out of commission, Tessa’s hurt?”

“I didn’t know what to say, so I just said she was at the hospital.”

“Son of a bitch!” Jon tried to curl his fingers but the pain was enough to start a frenzy of swear words.

“Jon, I didn’t think it was any of her business. It’s Tessa’s business to tell—“

He shook his head. “No, I get it. I know.” He patted Richie’s shoulder with his good hand. “Crap.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Go see my kids.” He sighed. “After you take me to the hospital.”

“I think you should go see the kids first, I mean no offense…”

Jon laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. He held up his hand. “I think I might have broken my hand.”

~

An hour and a half later, he walked out of Riverview with a bottle of Tylenol Three in his pocket and a very ugly, very annoying, green cast. He’d broken two of his knuckles and jammed another bone in the flat part of his hand on top. Just freakin’ phenomenal.

“Did you forget how to throw a punch?” Richie asked.

“Shut up.”

“No seriously. I mean I know you’re more the lover than a fighter type but…”

“I hate you.” Jon sat back in Richie car. “Just head to Dot’s.”

“I didn’t see a bruise on her when she left. Pity.”

Jon rolled his eyes and gave him a dry look. “Like you’d know anything about hitting a woman.”

He nodded, his lower lip jutting out. “Eh, you’re right. I did cold cock a shithead that could’ve been a woman. He certainly seemed like he had a vagina with the way he punched.”

He couldn’t stop the laugh. “Jesus, Rich.”

“What?” He smiled, his dimple deep with humor.

He hissed as he dug his finger under the palm, between the small board jammed into the cast. Christ, it itched already. He contemplated taking the T3 for the throb, but figured his lack of sleep would not mix well with codeine. “Only you could make me laugh after I broke my hand.”

“So how close was that to being a byproduct of Dot’s head being split open like a cantaloupe?”

“It was a close call.” Jon sighed. “I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that angry in my life. I’d never have hit her of course, but you know that phrase, ‘see red?’ Yeah, it’s fuckin’ true.” He thumped his head against the headrest. “How the hell did it come to this? I’ve tried to do everything right and still my ex-wife actually sees my girlfriend as a gold digging opportunist? I mean, seriously?”

“I think that’s half your problem, Jonny.”

Honestly surprised, he shook his head. “That I did everything right?”

Richie shrugged, downshifting for a light. He turned his head to look him square in the eyes. “You’re worrying about pleasing everyone instead of the one person that matters.”

“My kids?”

“Nah, man. Your kids love you to pieces already. You don’t have to please them. They just want time with you, end of story. If Tessa’s the be all, end all…If this is it! The chick you seriously want to marry or even just start a new life with, then you’ve got to be all in.”

“I am—“

Richie shifted, merging into traffic. “Hell no, you’re not.”

Jon stared at him. Of course he was. He’d done everything to show Tessa that she meant the world to him.

“She hasn’t met your folks, she hasn’t really met your kids beyond the, ‘Oh holy fuck, Dot dropped by unannounced’ thing. You’re so worried about Dorothea and the kids getting hurt you’ve been doing everything but putting Tessa first.”

“I—“

“Just shut up, Jon. Sit there and think about it. I’m not one of those assholes you can feed your bullshit to. I know you.”

He knew his mouth was hanging open, but he couldn’t help it. He hadn’t done that, had he? It was all to protect his kids. To—

“It’s not like you did it on purpose, man. If you were protecting anyone it was yourself. Hell, I can tell by the look on your face that you didn’t even know you were doing it. You love her man, now you gotta show it.”

“I tell her all the time.” Dammit, he said it all the time to her. She had to know it.

“You can tell a woman you love her until you’re blue in the face. She’s never going to believe it unless you show it. You hide her like—“

“I don’t though,” he interrupted. “We’ve gone out together a lot.”

Richie’s eyebrow rose. “How do you introduce her?”

“I just…” He thought back to all the functions that he’d gone to, all the people they’d met. They were both careful not to use labels for each other, but who’d really started that?

“Yeah…something to think about, huh?”

9/20/2008

Chapter 133






Jon smoothed his hand over her hair. The silence was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. The cries and the shouts would have been understandable, but the nothing…the way she folded in on herself—again.

“Tess,” he said softly. When she didn’t move, he dragged the chair over sitting beside her. When he said he wasn’t going to leave her again, he meant it. Even if she didn’t really want him there, he was staying.

She was facing away from him. The lovely line of her neck and curve of her cheek just a shadow with the waning sun. A storm was rolling through. Fitting, considering the day. It wouldn’t be March in the northeast without at least one more snow storm.

He stood, the way her breathing had eased into a long, slow rise and fall told him she was asleep. Minutes or hours could have passed. He alternated from the window, to her bedside always watching her. He knew she needed the sleep still. It was by far the most healing of properties.

Doctors and nurses came and went as the sky went from a murky grey to the iridescent light of filtered snow. The roads accumulated and the cars turned to mounds in the parking lot. Richie tried to feed him before he left. The roads were a mess and his family was worried. Dorothea had called another half dozen times.

But still he stayed.

Mindless TV droned in the background. He sat, unseeing. The steady rhythm of her breathing was all he heard, all he cared about. Hesitantly he finally touched her wrist, the tip of his finger following a blue tinged vein down to the curve of her hand. Curling around the bend of her thumb he tucked his two fingers underneath, the touch eased the tightness in his chest.

When she squeezed him back and held he released the breath he been unaware of holding. Tempted to clutch her with both hands, instead he left it to the effortless and freely given pressure. The connection was all he had.

~

He woke to the gentle shake of his shoulder. With a start, he looked around the room, momentarily lost. The loss and the pain sacked him in the head like a sock full of quarters. Why couldn’t it be a dream? He looked down to their still joined hands, fingers interwoven now as she slept.

“Jon.”

Closing his eyes, he took a slow breath. “Hi, Nic.” He looked over his shoulder. She was wearing new clothes and a dripping parka, her eyes bloodshot, with the suspicious dryness of one who’d cried herself finished. He tried a smile, but from the look in her eyes, he was fairly certain he’d failed at even that.

“The roads are finally plowed. I tried to come back last night, but Adam wouldn’t let me drive in the storm.”

“Adam’s a smart man. We already almost lost one of you two. No need to chance another.” He couldn’t quite make himself let her hand go, so he reached for Nichole’s hand with his other. “It’s okay though, she slept last night.”

“Why don’t you head to the house, Jon? Get a shower, some real food. I know Lottie is anxious to take care of you a little. I stopped by and filled her in, so that she could field a few calls. I ran into Richie.” She looked down at Tessa then back at him. “Your family isn’t going to go away on this. You need to talk to them. I promise, I won’t leave her alone.”

He looked back at Tessa’s small form, curled away from him save their hands. Loathe to lose the little bit of her that he’d gotten back, he leaned in pressing his cheek to hers. “I’ll be back,” he whispered. He knew he needed to do this. To go and face the world outside this room, the people that relied him. Everyone that he continued to let down.

He stood, keeping their fingers locked, he looked down at Nic. “Call me for any reason. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Take your time, us girls will visit.” She wrapped her hands around the both of theirs. “Go.”

He released her, jamming his cramped and aching hand into his jeans. Without saying another word, he strode out of the room and into the hallway. Without stopping, he headed to the men’s room and lost every drop of coffee, acid and powerbar he’d managed to shove down his throat last night. He retched until all he felt was the heaving lining of his stomach.

He choked out a breath as his guts tried to find more to empty into one of the bowls of the two toilets that lined the back wall. He winced as his thighs shook and his knee buckled, crashing into the uneven tiles of the bathroom. He gripped the hard seat, leaning back on his boot as the automatic flusher spun. “Christ,” he said in disgust, flipping the door open with a bang.

Leaning over the sink, he scrubbed his hands and then his face, rinsing his mouth of the bile. Looking into the mirror, he winced. He looked like dog shit in the rain for God’s sake. He scraped his palm over the well beyond scruff-headed into beard level of hair on his face. Lines were drawn deep into the grooves of his cheeks and his eyes…shit.

It was okay to leave her. Just for a little while. Nic was right and so was Richie. He needed to go home and face his family. After a shower. If they saw him right now they’d think he was on the edge of insane. He glanced at the mirror. Perhaps they’d be right.

He left the hospital. The majority of the snow was already melted, the sun blazing as it always did the day after a spring storm. The drive to his house happened in a blur. He didn’t remember the streets or even seeing a light. He punched his codes into the door security and stuffed his keys into his pocket.

“Mr. Jon?”

He smiled tiredly. “Hey, Lott—“ he broke off as she bustled into his arms.

“Oh, Mr. Jon. Is she okay?”

He hugged her back. The calming scent of bread and cinnamon swamped him. “Yeah, Lottie. It’s going to take some time, but she’s okay.”

“You bring her back here to me and I’ll make sure she’s all right.” She lifted a hand to his cheek. “And I’ll take care of you, too.”

He patted her hand and stepped back. “I’m all right.”

“No, you’re not. Mr. Richie told me what happened.” She placed her hands over her heart. “I would’ve liked another baby around this house.”

Jon looked down at the marble floor of the entryway. “You know…I think I might have liked that too.” He took a steadying breath and gave her a half smile. “I’m going to go up and take a quick shower. Is Richie around?”

“He’s upstairs.”

He leaned in and hugged her one more time. “Thanks, Lottie.” She just nodded and patted his arm. He took the stairs like an old man. Exhaustion dragging down on him now that he was away from the hospital.

He dropped the clothes where they landed, stepping into the shower he blasted the water as hot as he could stand it. He put his face under the spray and let it pound him. Tipping his forehead to the tile he let the warmth arrow down his back, the pulsing of the jets around him cleaned him on the outside but his guts still churned.

Finally letting himself think of the little person that could have been a part of his life. He loved his kids. Couldn’t live without them, really. And to have that with Tessa? He’d never even allowed himself the fantasy. He’d trained himself to take them day by day. Letting the future stay in that misty softness that belonged to the what ifs.

The baby would’ve been a solid.

He didn’t realize just how much he wanted that solid future with her until then.

Finally turning the taps off he scraped off the worst of his beard and tugged on a pair of jeans. The worn kind that she loved on him. He leaned into her side of the bed, breathing in her scent that lingered there. The pears and the bit of spice she’d started to add since the New Year.

Four hours later, he woke to the knock of his door. He popped off the bed, swearing. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep, dammit. He opened the door. “Hey Rich, c’mon in.”

“Well you only look like baked shit instead of mangled shit. There’s an improvement.”

Jon let out a half laugh. “Thanks.”

“I talked to Nic, Tessa’s still sleeping. She hasn’t really woken at all. She’s not sure if it’s the drugs or just her hiding.”

“She’s hiding.” Jon pulled a shirt out of his drawer.

“Not what I would’ve expected of her.”

Jon looked at his friend. The concern there in his eyes. No censure there, for Richie had his own demons, just honest surprise. “I’m not sure any of this is going to be what we expect. I know I don’t know how to feel, what to think. With all that I’ve been through in my life nothing can prepare you for something like this. Planned or not.”

“Did you want more kids with her, man?”

“I can’t say I planned it.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I’m old, Rich. I mean…not old—“

“No, I get it. The kid thing is over. Just watch ‘em grow and fly now.”

Jon nodded. “Yeah.” As usual, Richie had nailed it in a few words. His overthinking couldn’t combat a clear eyed Richie. “But if it had happened? I would’ve loved him or her. I can’t say I’d want the late night feedings again or to leave her alone when I go off to do my job, but I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

“Would you marry her?”

“I’d already planned on it. Hell, I was just telling Shanks that I was already thinking on it before this had even happened. It’s a future thing, but I was working toward it. I can’t imagine life without her at this point.”

“Then don’t let her walk away.”

“Believe me, I won’t.”

A hesitant knock broke the intense emotions swirling. The door was open already, a nervous Lottie stood wringing her hands. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I can’t—“

“Jon we need to talk.” Dorothea stepped up behind his housekeeper.

9/07/2008

Chapter 132

Tessa tried to draw her knees up but the pull to the stitches in her side vetoed that idea fairly quickly. She slid her hands across her abdomen gingerly. Padding and medical tape testified to the unlikelihood that the last few hours had been a horrible dream.

A baby? Just gone…she hadn’t even known there was a little life growing inside, so why should she feel like this? It was like a whole knot of cold was sitting just under her sternum. Was that where a baby would be? Where something had been growing inside of her? She pressed her fist against the spot of cold, black spots floating into her vision as pain unlike she’d ever felt burned through her.

At least her body felt something. The cold was so numbing. She was tempted to press again when she heard the knock.

“Tessa?”

She closed her eyes and focused on the window where the slate grey sky was just melting into twilight. There’d been another night where twilight had been a foreshadowing of something amazing. The night that had changed her, or had it just been the harbinger of this? Had it just been a way for the universe to showcase the pain that followed her, the loneliness that was never far from her life?

She’d never even wanted kids. Her career and her life just weren’t really built for them. Hell, she had trouble taking care of herself, let alone another person. For God’s sake, she lived on Lean Cuisine and Stouffers for dinner. She’d learned to deal with the nights and the fact that no one had ever quite fit with her.

Except when you were with Jon.

She closed her eyes against that thought. Except with Jon was becoming a little too much a part of her vocabulary.

“Tessa?” he asked again. She heard the door open and shut gently. She couldn’t even look at him. God, what he must think of her. They’d barely been together a half year.

She didn’t even know his family and she’d nearly added to it. Maybe that was the price she had to pay. She’d been happy for way too long, really. She’d been ignoring the signs when Jon kept his life separate from hers.

They’d never even discussed a future beyond a day at a time.

She closed her eyes. Maybe this was the wake-up call she needed. The push to show that she was deluding herself. She’d never be anything more than a handy bit of fun to a man like Jon. He already had a family.

She heard him pull a chair to her side, her throat tight when it came to the side she faced. She could smell him, the mix of cigarettes and leather, the lack of cologne in deference to hours spent in the studio. She flinched as he traced the line of her face from temple to cheek.

“I know you can hear me in there,” he said quietly. “I’d prefer to talk to those pretty green eyes of yours, but if this is what I get, this is what I get.”

She didn’t say a word. Had nothing to say, really. Jon’s strength had always been words. He knew what to say, knew when to say it. He tripped over his feet sometimes, but he’d always been careful to say what was within his limits. No promises that he couldn’t keep. He was so careful with her, perhaps too careful.

“I love you, Tessa. We’re going to get through this, I promise you. I’m sorry that this happened. I’m sorry you were alone.”

She tightened her jaw, swallowing back the quick words that wanted to tumble out. She was always alone, really. Why should that make a difference now?

“I won’t let that happen again.”

She could hear the resolve in his tone. The strength in his voice and the sureness there was such a part of him. She just wished that sureness embodied the whole of their relationship instead of just the piece she was allowed to be a part of.

She kept her eyes shut, but finally spoke. “So what’s the plan? What’s the excuse that you’ll use for your family?” Finally, she opened her eyes when he didn’t answer. “What’s the spin, Jon?”

The look of horror in his eyes was almost enough to have her snatch the words back. Maybe she was wrong, but the way he looked down and away from her told her the truth. He’d already been thinking about it. He was a smart man, of course. He was a man that looked at almost every angle. Almost.

“It doesn’t matter,” she closed her eyes again, rolling away from him. “Just try not to make me look like a mistress trying to trap you with a baby. I’d appreciate it.”

He stood up, she could feel the temper and the outrage vibrating off of him as he leaned over her. “I know you’re hurting, so I’ll let that pass.”

She shrugged. “I’m tired, Jon.” She turned her cheek into the pillow. “I want to sleep for awhile.” She forced herself to let her breath even out.

“Don’t lock me out, Tessa. I’m hurting as much as you are,” he said softly. “Just because we never talked about kids didn’t mean I never wanted them. That part of you and part of me would’ve made something beautiful that I’d love just as much as I love you.”

Would the baby have been on the outside looking in, too? The little voice that was always whispering to her was getting louder. Had she been ignoring it in hope or in desperation?

The door to her room opened again and Dr. Esser stood in the threshold. Her shrewd eyes looked from Jon to Tessa and stepped back. “Should I come back?”

Tessa shook her head, thankful when Jon pulled back and stopped looming over her. She eased herself onto her back, flashing a quick look at Jon when her bed rose slightly. A quick brush of his fingers in her hair had her stuffing down the urge to bat his hands away. “No, that’s fine, doctor.”

Dr. Esser closed the door behind her and took her usual place at the end of the bed. Instead of staying there she stepped forward and looked over the fluids that hung at her head then to the monitors that still blipped and beeped. Content with her findings she unclipped the heart monitor on Tessa’s finger and turned off the machine.

“I’m very happy with the results from the hypovolemic shock. I was worried that your kidneys may have been damaged. I’m happy to report that the last few tests have come back satisfactorily.”

Tessa tried to cross her arms, but the quick flash of pain had her put her hands at her sides. Jon’s fingers found hers, tangling like they always did. Her first reaction was to tighten and link, but instead she left them lax on the bed. She just couldn’t.

The doctor’s eyes were sympathetic as she glanced down at Tessa’s stomach. “The incision will be painful for a few days, and there may be scarring that you’ll want to look into getting corrected down the road.”

Tessa nodded, but knew the scar would stay. Seemed fitting that she had a few on the outside as well. “I appreciate how well I’ve been treated at Riverview, Dr. Esser, but we both know a nurse could have told me those things.”

She sighed. “No, there are a few more things we need to discuss before we make plans for follow-up visits and your discharge.”

Tessa sat up straighter, her stitches driving her back with a gasp.

“Tessa, please,” she heard Jon say just before a gentle hand landed on her shoulder. She beat down the impulse to shove him away from her and took a deep breath.

Dr. Esser came forward, flipped the sheet away and tugged at the loosely tucked gown until the wide length of gauze gleamed across her belly. She stared up at the ceiling as Jon gasped and took a step back, out of the way. Not wanting to, but knowing she had to get it over with, she looked down at her flat stomach, bulging slightly with the filmy, rust colored material. “You pulled at your stitches a bit too much. I’ll have a nurse come in and redress you after we’re done.” She let the flap of cotton fall back into place, pressing lightly on the tape edges. “You can cover up,” Dr. Esser said and stepped back.

Sucking back the embarrassment and the need to hide the angry looking proof of her loss, she tugged at the covers. Jon’s hand was there, smoothing it down gently. She let herself look up and saw the pain there in his eyes. For the first time, she reached out for him and the relief gave her a small measure of hope.

Dr. Esser sat at the bottom most corner of her bed and laid her chart down on the swing tray stationed there out of the way. “When I was checking for damage during your surgery I noted the status of your remaining ovary. I had no choice but to take the one on your right side and I was able to save the left,” she began.

There was a but. There was always a but.

“But your left ovary wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. Most women don’t have to worry about that since they can almost always rely on the other.”

“But not me,” Tessa said quietly.

“I’m not ruling out a future that includes children, I just wanted to let you know that the chances are far slimmer than that of a—“

“Normal woman,” Tessa finished. The cold knot spread and dug into her chest.

“No, not normal, Tessa. Than that of a woman with two working ovaries. Even women with perfectly healthy ovaries can have a problem conceiving, I just want you to be aware that if you choose to try again—“

“This was a mistake,” Tessa said bluntly. “I got pregnant by accident.”

“Oh,” the doctor said softly. “Just because you didn’t plan this pregnancy, doesn’t mean you will feel the loss any less. In fact, I strongly suggest seeing one of our councilors to discuss any—“

“I’ll be fine,” Tessa interrupted.

“Be that as it may, if your future includes wanting to start a family I don’t want you to discount your chances. I just want you to be prepared for any difficulties that may arise. Your remaining ovary works, but it’s not as strong as the one you lost. And the age factor may also come up with you being in your late thirties.” Dr. Esser patted her calf. “I believe in arming a woman with all of her options before I let you out of my sight. You’ll need to do a follow-up visit with your own gynecologist within the next week and again in three months. We’ve forwarded the info onto Dr. Paulson with the help of your friend.”

She nodded, her head spinning. Not just this baby. Not just this one moment. The cold drilled deeper until she could almost imagine each of her bones shattering with it. She heard Jon trying to talk to her, the worry and the pain evident even as the words muffled into nothingness.

She nodded as the doctor told her she would be back, too lost to reply. She was always going to be alone. She closed her eyes and let the soft grey curl around the edges of pain that remained.

9/03/2008

Chapter 131

Jon turned around, the grooves cutting deeper into his friend’s cheeks and eyes warned it wasn’t going to be good. God, they all looked like they’d aged a dozen years in as many hours. He turned back to Nic and kissed her cheek. “Why don’t you go check on the store and see what’s what. I had to break the door’s front window to get to her.”

“You did that?” Nic’s eyes widened. “I thought it was the paramedics and firemen.”

A quick flash of Tessa’s lifeless body twisted inside of him. “I’ll cover—“

“Don’t you even say it, Jon Bon Jovi!” Nic stepped into his arms and hugged him hard. “I’m just so glad you were there. God knows how long it would have been before someone found her.”

He pressed his nose into Nic’s comforting shoulder for a second longer then stepped away. “I should have been earlier. Then maybe…” he trailed off and gave her a smile. “Maybe a lot of things.”

Nic cupped his cheek. “She’s going to be fine. She’s the strongest woman I know, Jon. She has to be fine.”

Plastering a positive smile on his face he nodded. “You’re absolutely right. She just needs a little bit of time. Come back in a few hours and maybe she’ll be awake.” He watched her uncertain eyes and squeezed her hand. “Seriously, rest is the only thing that’s going to help her right now.”

She nodded. “All right, we’ll be back after we get something to eat.”

“Okay, good.” Breathing a sigh of relief he glanced at Richie, frowning when he didn’t even try to give him a fake smile. Man, what the fuck now?

“Do you want me to bring you something back?”

He shook his head, “Don’t worry about me, I’ll grab something down in the cafeteria.”

She wrinkled her nose. “We’ll bring you something.”

Sighing because agreeing was easier he nodded. “Thanks.”

“Richie talk some sense into him,” Nic said and melted back into Adam. “We’ll be back.”

Waving, Jon turned to Richie. “Am I going to need to punch something?”

“Might get arrested for assaulting a woman, Bro. Doesn’t exactly go with the image we’ve cultivated for 25 years.” He motioned for the relative privacy of the empty waiting room.

“Sweet fuck,” Jon muttered and followed Richie into the room and shut the door.

“I don’t know what kind of sources this chick has, but your favorite reporter’s got it all over the news that you busted into Chapters and Tessa’s in the hospital.”

Jon sank into the nearest chair, scrubbing his face with his hands. “Who’s my—“ he cut himself off and groaned. Charlotte. That was just great. “What’s the spin?” Dammit! For the first time in his life he didn’t even think about the press.

“Local press went with the hero angle.”

Jon rolled his eyes. “That’s just great,” he blew out a breath. “Christ, I need a cigarette, let’s head outside.” He opened the door heading for the stairs instead of the elevator. He needed to move. All the sitting and waiting, and now the shattered image of Tessa burned into his eyes he couldn’t sit still any longer.

Not even waiting to see if Richie was behind him, he punched the bar to open the door, flying down the stairs. Running away, fuckhead? He gritted his teeth heading for the exit instead of the lobby.

“Jon! Wait!” Richie’s long-legged stride caught up quickly. “You knew it was going to get out, man. They have their ways. For fuck’s sake you bashed in the window, people are going to talk.”

“I’m not worried about that.” He yanked the crushed pack of Marb’s out of his pocket and shook a cigarette free. With a quick snick of his lighter he sucked in a lungful of smoke. Holding it deep in his chest he slowly let it out. Leaning against the back of the building he let his head drop back against the stone wall. “I know that’s not all of it. You wouldn’t even mention it if it was just stupid hero shit.”

“No, you’re right.” Richie lit his own cigarette and settled beside him. “TMZ started spinning the hospital stay and who her doctor was.”

“What the fuck do we have confidentiality laws for if they can get the fucking info!” He shouted. He’d had to run through hoops to get info and all he had to do was what? Turn on the fucking TV? Flicking his butt away he blew out a stream of smoke. “Goddamn it!”

“They didn’t have any reliable info, but they had a doctor’s name and her specialty. It didn’t take a big leap, Jon. Not where the press is concerned. Put two and two together and you’re going to come up with a baby.”

He swore viciously and started pacing. With a grim frown at his cell he flipped it open and turned it on. As the phone buzzed and rang out its messages his anger blossomed. “Fucking fourteen messages and twelve text messages,” he muttered and closed it back up. “When was the first report?” he asked tiredly.

“You made the 8 o’clock news this morning on a local end, and it went from bad to worse by the noon-time broadcast.” Richie stubbed out his cigarette and pocketed his butt. “Look, you’re right, I didn’t bother you with the hero angle, but once TMZ and the tabloids started getting involved I figured it was time for a head’s up.” He sighed. “Dot’s called me four times.”

“I can’t worry about her feelings right now, Tessa is far more important than rumors.” He tipped his head back, blowing out a slow breath. “I fucked up so bad, Rich. I don’t know how she’s ever going to forgive me.”

Richie frowned. “Whattya mean?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You’ve been there for her every inch of the way.”

“But I wasn’t.” He met Richie’s puzzled brown eyes. “I wasn’t there. I forgot that she was sick and look what happened? I got one of the best songs of my life recorded while the woman I love was literally bleeding out.” He snorted derisively. “No trite words there, she was literally fading away and I couldn’t pull back long enough to realize I hadn’t heard from her.”

Richie’s mouth opened to reply but Jon held up his hand. “There’s nothing you can say.”

“You couldn’t know that was going to happen?”

Jon turned to him. “You didn’t see her face when she was in that studio. She was almost ghost white with the pain, but all I could think about was getting back to work. She told me she was fine and I believed her.”

“Of course you did—“

He could see it again in his head, her brave face and the pain pinching her mouth. He shouldn’t have let her go. “No, I just wanted to believe her. I knew something was off. I just didn’t—“

“Fuck you, Jon.”

“What?” His eyes met Richie’s furious ones, shock freezing him.

“You aren’t fucking God, no matter how many control hang-ups you have.”

“I—“

“No, shut up. Now it’s my turn to talk. Good Christ, Jon! No one knew this was going to happen. Even Tessa herself didn’t think it was that serious. It was fate, bad timing and a whole slew of other natural things that happened. You didn’t do this, you can’t control this and you need to get your head out of your ass before you go back up there to that hospital room.”

He cracked the knuckles in his fingers one by one as he listened to him. It was his fault, everything was his fault. It had to be, the way she looked at him…he closed his eyes. He’d never seen her look so lifeless.

Richie’s hand gripped his shoulder hard, “Listen to me, Jonny.”

Jon opened his eyes, “I can’t.”

“Yes you can. She needs you right now, you the man not the guilt-ridden asshole. She needs you more than ever right this second. Didn’t you tell me once that she has no family, just Nic?”

Forcing deep oxygen rich breaths he fought back the panic. “Yes.”

“Fuckin’ man up!” Richie shouted at him.

Anger bubbled and foamed in his gut. “Fuck you,” he growled.

Richie shook him, gripping harder until Jon clenched his teeth in response. “That’s right, get mad. Maybe you’ll think again. You’re the only person I know that thinks better with anger and a challenge. Start fucking thinking. She’s all alone now and she needs you to stop acting like a child. The blame game is only going to hurt you and drive her away.”

He twisted away, slapping the wall with each hand as he stared at the grey face of the hospital.

“It sucks, Jon. Nothing about it is going to be easy for either of you. I’ll be here when you need to punch something, hell I’ll even be here when you need to be that selfish bastard on the blame game.”

Jon’s shoulders tightened as he leaned into the stone, the scratchy surface dug into his palms and his forehead as he fought to breathe.

Richie crowded in on him, his long fingers at the back of Jon’s neck as he spoke softly. “It’s what friends do. It’s what we do for one of our own. Tessa’s one of our own, now. If she wasn’t before…she sure is now.”

Jon nodded as the tears choked him. He growled through the pain. The look in her eyes when the doctor broke the news right there in front of him, haunting him.

“Make sure she knows that she has family. That’s all you can do, man.” Richie headbutted him lightly, his voice just as rough with the emotion. “I’m here for you. If you let your family in on this thing with Tessa they will be too.” Then he stepped back and sniffed hard. “I’m going to go make some calls.”

Jon couldn’t say anything, he just nodded and waited for Richie to walk away and when his footsteps faded he crashed. God, he couldn’t lose her. His fingertips dug harder into the stone as the pain blocked the madness that wanted to crawl out of his belly.

Richie was right. God help him, he had to set aside his guilt for now and focus on getting her better. Scrubbing the backs of his hands over the tears that had leaked free he opened the door and headed back upstairs.

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