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