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.
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.
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 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.