10/23/2008

Chapter 138

She felt…foggy. The days had blended together until she didn’t know up from down and day from night. The misty grey had been soft and soothing, like water and a warm blanket at the same time. Too soothing. Too easy.

Tessa slid her fingers into his hair. He’d refused to leave. Even though she could see the exhaustion etched into every line of his face. He looked older. She’d done that to him. The worry for her and the—

She swallowed. His hair feathered around her fingers, soft as a child’s hair. Would their child have had his—

She glanced away from Jon, shutting that thought down as a nurse bustled in. The tuneless tune was as familiar as her cell phone ring. “Hello, Janet.”

She clucked her tongue. “Miss Tessa, you should be sleeping.”

Tessa felt her lips twist into a smile. “Don’t you think I did enough of that?”

“Ah, baby girl, your body needed to heal so it did what it does best. Shut down and force you to do the mending.” She checked the chart at the end of her bed and hung a new IV bag. “You seem like you don’t sit down much.”

The smile was less forced now. “You’re very intuitive.”

Janet nodded to Jon’s crooked lean on the bed, his head pillowed in his arms cradled around her hand. “He’s gonna be a hurtin’ boy in the morning.”

“I couldn’t get him to leave.” Tessa gently raked her fingers through his hair as she knew he liked. “He’s so worried about me.”

“He’s a good man. He’s been here the entire time.”

“I know,” she said softly, letting her head fall back on the uncomfortable pillow and stiff bed. He was a good man. He deserved a woman that was whole.

“Get some rest,” Janet said softly. “Don’t make me put something in that IV drip.”

Tessa smiled. “I will. I’m just going to think for awhile.”

“Turn off your brain. Us women think too much anyway.”

Tessa laughed. “True that.”

She turned to watch the dark window, closing her eyes when the nurse came back a few hours later. When the light of day crept in, she finally slept.

~

Jon woke with a start. Had the night before been a dream? He looked at her in the sterile bed, just like she’d been for so many days now. Had he just wanted her to be awake so very badly that he’d made it up?

He stood up, his body protesting at the thought of it let alone the actual action. “Fuck.”

“You have to sleep in your own bed, man.”

He turned around, Richie’s barrel chest filling the doorway. “Hey, Richie.” His best friend held out a large cup with the blessed green logo. “You’re a God among men.”

Richie smirked. “Don’t you forget it.” He nodded to the bed. “How’s she doing? Any change?”

“She woke up, she’s even walking around as of last night. At least I hope she is.” Jon tucked a lock of her hair around her ear.

“What do you mean you hope she is?”

Jon put down the cup and scraped his palm against his beard before picking it up again. “Let’s go outside, I need a smoke.”

They headed for the elevator as Jon sucked down half the coffee, hoping to God it would push aside some of the muzzy feeling. “I hope I wasn’t hallucinating last night.”

“Well that depends, was she dancing a jig?”

He snorted out a laugh. “No.”

“Was she in a cheerleader uniform?”

“That’s your fantasy, you sick fuck.”

Richie put a hand to his chest. “I think I’m offended.”

“I don’t think anything’s offended you since ’86,” Jon said and punched the down button for the elevator.

He waggled his eyebrows. “You’re probably right about that.”

Jon rolled his eyes and stepped in the car, thankful that it was empty. He leaned against the rail along the back, resting his cast along his waist. Every part of him throbbed, from neck to toes with the worst offender sitting behind his eyeballs. He tugged his shades out of his pocket and stuffed them on his face. “I talked to her last night. I’m pretty sure I did anyway. The days and nights are blending together.”

“Jonny, why don’t you let me sit with her tonight? You’re going to fall on your face and then you won’t be good to anybody.”

He tucked his cup into the crook of his arm and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll get some—“

“At least have the sense not to lie to me, bro.” Richie cut in. His voice held a rare edge of anger to it.

Fury flared hot and thick in his belly. “If I take my eyes off of her she’ll be gone!”

Richie slammed the stop button on the elevator and turned to him. “You can’t control everything!” His voice resonated through the car. “She’s going to come out of this, but you’d best be ready for some changes, man. She’s not going to be the same woman you knew ten days ago. This woman is going to be different from the soul on out.”

“I—“

“Shut up, Jonny. You can’t force this one to into a schedule, no matter how many sleepless nights you have. This is going to be a clusterfuck of emotional baggage for both you and her.” He clamped his hand down on his shoulder. “Go home and get some rest today.” Richie held his hand up when he opened his mouth to argue. “Wait until Nic relieves you if it makes you feel better, but go home and take a fucking pill.” Richie jammed his finger into his chest. “Literally. Take one of those sleeping pills you keep a script for and never use. Sleep or you’re going to do something stupid or even worse…get sick and then you won’t be able to see her at all.”

Jon hung his head, anger sliding out of him as if it was the only thing keeping him upright. “You’re right. I know you’re right.”

Richie folded his arms over his chest. “Goddamn right, I am.”

He wiped his hand down his jeans. “Get this fucking thing moving before I freak out, man. You know I hate elevators.”

Richie just laughed and yanked on the stopper. “Sissy.”

“Fuck you.” But there wasn’t any heat in his words. Richie’d dragged him off the ledge…again. He stopped, one step beyond the doors. “Thanks, man.”

~

They returned to the room to find Tessa propped up on some pillows, even her IV bag was gone. Jon’s heart stopped. He’d been so afraid the night before had been a dream. He dropped his cup in the trash and rushed to her side. “Hey,” he said softly.

Her eyes were wary, but they were the same clear spring green he remembered. The pinch of pain had eased from her face leaving a fragility he’d never associated with Tessa. Her lithe form was now just a touch too skinny. Instead of bowing to the loss as she’d done the night before, her head was held high…her chin lifted. He could see the resolve glittering there as she faced him.

“I was afraid I’d imagined last night.”

She pressed her lips together, looking away from him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall apart like that last night.”

He frowned. “That’s what I’m here for, Tessa.” He wanted her to know she could lean on him. He needed her to lean on him.

She smiled over his shoulder at Richie. “Hey there big guy.”

“Hey, darlin’.” Richie leaned down and kissed her forehead, curling around her in a gentle hug. “You gave us all a scare.”

“Believe me, I didn’t mean to.” She held her hand out to Jon. “Thank God he found me,” her hand was cool to the touch, “or my storefront would be on the market by now.”

His eyes widened. “Tessa—“

“Oh c’mon now Jon, if I can’t joke about it then I’m obviously not living. We just need to put it behind us.” She patted his hand and slipped away from his touch. “I’ve been bugging them to get out of here, but they want to run a few more tests. I should be able to go home tomorrow if all goes well.”

He curled his fingers into his palm. “Are you sure you should be rushing to get out of here you were just…” he trailed off. She’d almost been dead a little over a week ago for God’s sake.

She smiled, bright and almost manic. “You know what they say about the human body, it heals fast. Not to mention all that great sleep I got.”

Jon frowned up at Richie, who’s only response was a raised brow. “Honey, we’ve got plenty of time—“

“No, there’s no time. I have so much to do and to get ready for.” Her voice was steady, holding the steely tone she used for the Christmas season. “This is the slowest time of the year for the store, so I need to be there to gear up for the summer reading program. The new floor plans need to be set up and—“

Confusion rolled through him. She wanted to go back to work? “I’m sure Nichole’s been taking care of all of that, Tessa. You just need to worry about getting better.”

“I need work, Jon.” She finally looked at him, the resolve in her eyes was unmistakable. “Work is all I have.”

He shook his head. No, she had him. He pulled a chair over to her side. “I think we just need to take this day to day.”

“I have a business to run and people who depend on me. I’ve let them down long enough.”

Let them down? Jon snagged her hand. “Baby, you didn’t let anyone down. What happened was—“

“Unfortunate, but it’s not like I can do anything about that. The best medicine is to get back to work where I can be do the most good. Sitting around here isn’t helping anyone, least of all me. Not to mention I’m holding up a bed for someone who really needs it.” She patted his hand again and tucked her hand under the blanket. “Now, you and Richie need to go.”

“But you just woke up. I want to spend some time with you.” She was shoving him out the door?

“Yes, I’m awake. So you don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’m sure you put a great spin on this for the newspapers and you talked to the kids, right?” She smiled brightly. “Just make sure you get some rest. You can come and pick me up tomorrow.”

“I’ll come back tonight—“

“No, you get some rest tonight. That’s an order.” She shifted on the bed, wincing a little. “You need to sleep in your own bed tonight. I was reading the newspaper; I didn’t even realize the date. You have a home game coming up this weekend don’t you? I’m sure you want to go see Coach and catch up since I’ve kept you—“

“Tessa!” he said in a near shout.

She smoothed out the blanket over her thighs. “What?”

“Just stop it. I don’t fucking care about the game. All I care about is you.”

“Well of course you do,” she smiled at him as if she was talking to him over breakfast and not a hospital bed where she’d been fighting for her life just days before. “But it’s time to get back to our schedules. You’re a busy man and I’ve completely turned your life upside down for almost two weeks. I know you have things you need to take care of. I’m simply telling you to go ahead and take care of it.”

Take care of it? Just like that? Just go…go to the game? He stared up at Richie, then back down at her, shock paralyzing him. “Tessa, I want to be here for you. I want to stay with you tonight. We should talk.”

Her voice was completely reasonable, even though the things she was spewing out were so insane he couldn’t even begin to assimilate them. She tugged the rolling cart in front of her where a notebook lay. Crossing her ankles under the blanket, she linked her fingers on the make-shift desk. “We have tons of time to talk. Now go on. I can’t wait to get out of here tomorrow.” She looked down at the notebook and flipped the page, her smile still bright on her face. Perhaps a little too bright.

He stumbled back, not even able to look at Richie. He took a quick left collapsing against the wall outside her door, his heart tripping around his chest like a Mexican jumping bean on meth. She didn’t even want him in the room with her. Had he failed her that completely? Did she hate him so much that she couldn’t even look at him?

“There’s my sweet boy! Jon, how’s my neighbor doing?” Mrs. Haden walked steadily down the hallway her cane thumping dully on the gleaming floor.

“Evidently she’s doing just fine.” He brushed her shoulder gently. “I have to go, Mrs. Haden.” He headed down the stairs, just a breath away from a run.

10/14/2008

Chapter 137

“Are you sure you want me to leave you here, Jon?” Richie turned to him. “You’ve been here on a constant basis since she was hurt. She might need some time to think.”

Jon eased his aching hand onto his belly and leaned back on the headrest. “Part of me wants to give her space, but I’m scared Rich.” He closed his eyes but again that image of her twisted on the floor flashed. Fuck. He stared straight out into the waning grey light of the afternoon instead.

Richie sat in his usual Richie silence. Letting him work out the words before he spoke. When the hell was he going to get some of his patience? “She’s shutting down on me.”

“You know this is going to be hard, man. I know patience isn’t your thing, but for once you’re going to have to sit on your hands and let things play out.”

Jon didn’t need to turn and look at Richie. He knew he’d see understanding and a little sadness in his eyes. Loss was something they were all getting used to this year. It fucking sucked. Finally he turned, held up his good hand and Richie’s spidery fingers wrapped around it. “Thanks, man.”

Richie leaned back in his car and shifted his foot to the clutch. “Call me when you’re ready.”

Jon nodded and climbed out. He stood there as Richie pulled away. Watched the surrounding bustle of hospital staff, visitors and maintenance buzz in and out of the doors. He needed to see her. Needed to hold her more than he could even explain. He hated the weakness, but could admit to himself that her scent and the weight of her in his arms was what he needed more than anything.

The brush of a jacket and a muttered, “sorry,” drew him out of his stupor. Jon nodded to the stranger that bumped him and winced when he heard the shriek and furious whispers. Rushing for the door now, he waved politely at the trio of nurses who recognized him. He saw one step forward, then her friends haul her back. Thankful that the taller blonde of the women recognized him from Tessa’s floor he booked it to the stairs. He really couldn’t deal with people right now. Not when the only person he needed was up those stairs and yet farther away than a few sets of stairs could travel.

Her room was close to the exit, private…shaded. He frowned as he stood at her door. Was she alone? The machines had been hauled away, and now only a few tubes were attached to her hand. She slept, her fingers still clutching her belly.

“Jon?”

Thank God. Jon turned to the voice. “Hey, Nic. I’m sorry it took so—“

“What happened?” she said softly, her fingertips brushing the cast. He looked down at her tired eyes. She was hurting just as much as he was. Was Tessa shutting everyone out?

“Nothing, I just…” he shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does,” she said quietly. “I know you’re hurting too, Jon. Tessa knows that. She just can’t seem to get out of her own way yet, that’s all.” She gently wrapped her fingers around his arm above the cast. “Everyone deals with loss differently.”

Jon nodded. He knew that in his head, but in his heart he just wanted a little something from her. A little reaction. Something that said she was with him in the pain. She was with him.

He brushed a kiss over her cheek. “Thanks for being there for her. She’s going to need you. If she keeps shutting me out like this, she’ll need something and I would rather it be you.”

“Jon—“

He waved it away. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise. I know it’s going to be a long road.” He moved away from Nic into the cool shade of Tessa’s room and pulled up a chair. “Hey beautiful,” he said quietly. He leaned in, the sterile overlay of the hospital had the tiniest wisp of her left. He drew in the pears, easing his thumb over her silky brow. “I’m here.”

~

The next few days were a repeat of the same. Jon spent the day with her, Nic the afternoon. He used those hours to sleep and see his kids. Recording had been officially been put on hold indefinitely. Richie stayed at the house, cheering him up when he could. Sitting to watch a movie when he couldn’t get a word out of him. Jon didn’t remember any of the movies, but he welcomed the few hours that would pass until he could go back.

She still hadn’t talked to him. It was killing him by degrees. He knew it. Hell, Richie knew it. Even his kids could see it. His temper was starting to boil over. Frustration from learning how to do everything one handed had bled into the constant silence he dealt with. She still hadn’t spoken to him. Anyone really. Her wounds were knitting together on the outside and the hospital had whispered of a different sort of clinic to deal with her emotional healing.

Determined to get something out of her today, he hit the stairs to her room for the fourth day in row. He nodded to the nurses he recognized, smiled at the older lady that was her neighbor, up on her feet…walking the halls to get stronger. “Hi, Mrs. Haden.”

Her frail hands slid around his good hand. “Jon, sweet boy, how is my neighbor today?”

Jon smiled, unable to growl at such a kind soul. She asked every day about Tessa and every day he answered, “She’s healing.”

“You kiss her with those pretty lips of yours.” She lifted a veined hand to his cheeks. “Girls like scruff.”

He laughed. “Good thing, since I can’t seem to shave my face left handed. Even with the electric.”

She motioned him down and pressed a soft kiss on his bearded chin. She was well under five feet with osteoporosis shrinking in on her. “It worked for me.”

He cupped her face with his left hand and kissed her square on the mouth. “That’s better.”

Her faded blue eyes sparkled. “I’ll say! Wait until I tell my granddaughter! She’ll be so jealous.”

Jon laughed and waved goodbye. He rounded the corner to Tessa’s room and stopped dead in the doorway, the smile slipping away in panic. Her bed was empty. A half eaten tray discarded and the room still dark. He rushed in, looking to the floor to make sure she hadn’t fallen. “Tessa?”

He turned around, his heart stopped as the blood roared in his head. She stood at the far window, the slats open as she stared out at the spring buds clinging to the trees. Her arms crossed tight to her body. Even in the muted light of nightfall, her copper hair shone. One of the nurses must have helped her clean up.

“Tessa?” he asked again as he stepped toward her. She didn’t seem to hear him, or she was ignoring him. He tucked a lock of hair around her ear. “Baby, please.”

She blinked, the blank sheen of her eyes faded. “Hi,” she whispered. A frown knit her brows as her hand lifted to cup his cheek. He lifted his right hand automatically and stopped when she caught a look at the cast. Her fingertips lowered to the bits of fading bruises that peeked over the board jammed into the cast. His fingers burned where she touched him. “What happened?”

He waved the reasons away. “It doesn’t matter.”

Her green eyes met his. The first flicker of life there as her frown deepened. “It does matter.”

“I…” he trailed off. God, it sounded so stupid and petty now. The anger that had been so very overwhelming, the anger that was still bubbling in his gut…none of that mattered. Not now. “I went a little crazy when you got hurt. When I found—“ he swallowed hard. “When I found you at the store.”

“This happened at the store?” Confusion swirled. “I don’t remember anything.” Her fingertips traced the white line of the edges of his cast then along the green shell. “I remember the pain,” her breath hitched and evened out. “I remember waking up here. Then just the doctors.”

Her face closed off and he reached out to her. He cupped her jaw, his thumb tracing her cheek, forcing her to look at him. “All that matters is you right now.”

“I want to go home, Jon.” Her hand came up to fiddle with the zipper on his leather jacket. “I need to go home.”

He gathered her in, thankful when she came right to him. She hissed as he pulled her in closer. “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. “No. It was just my shoulder. I-“ She swallowed and pressed her cheek to his shoulder. “I guess I dislocated it. It’s just a bruise now. Hold me, Jon. Just hold me.”

Pears and Tessa wound around him. He nosed into her neck and held her there against him. Her silky hair tickled his nose, and tears jammed into his throat. When her hands slid into his jacket and around his waist he sighed. “Just try and stop me.”

10/06/2008

Chapter 136

“Daddy.”

Jon turned away from the French doors in the kitchen. “Hey, Steph.” He nodded to his son. “Jess.”

Jesse looked away from him, sitting down sullenly.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to get over—“

“Dad! What happened to your hand?” Steph rounded the table, her long fingers cupping the garish green cast.

“Hey, I’m okay.” Embarrassed, but not willing to lie about it he sighed. “Some stuff has been happening and I did a lot of stupid things these past few days.” He rubbed his thumb and forefinger over his eyelids. God, he was so tired of lying.

Stephanie took his cast and gently guided him to the table. “Just talk to us Dad, we’re not kids.”

He met Dorothea’s eyes, looking away when she stared at the table. Guess there wasn’t going to be much help in that corner. “Well, you guys are still kids. Ah,” he held up his good hand when his daughter opened her mouth to argue. “You are, but at the same time you are old enough to know what’s going on.”

“Too late for that,” Jesse muttered.

“What have you heard?” Jon asked.

“That you knocked up your girlfriend.”

“Jesse!” Dot reprimanded.

“No.” He glanced at Dot then back to his son. “It’s all right. What else?”

“There’s been stuff on TV, but they keep changing their story.” Jesse scraped his thumbnail over the glossy polish of the pine table. He was quiet for a moment, then looked up through overgrown bangs. “Are you replacing us, Dad?”

“God, no.” Jon stood up and rounded the table, crouching next to his oldest son, clasping his good hand on his shoulder. “I could never replace you guys.”

Jesse turned toward him. “Then why don’t we know about this girl? Why is she a secret?”

Jon’s head tipped down. He’d made so many mistakes in the last few months. He’d wanted to protect his family so badly that he’d only made things worse. He lifted his eyes, meeting his son’s identical blue. “I wanted to make sure it was something worth sharing before I—“

“It was me, Jesse. I wanted him to wait.”

Jon shot a startled glance at Dorothea. “Dot—“

“No, I can take some blame here too, Jon. We made the decision together. But I wanted to hold out longer. I’m sorry Jesse. Your Dad wanted to introduce his new,” Dorothea cleared her throat, “girlfriend to you guys a few weeks ago.”

Surprised that she was willing to take any sort of blame, Jon sat back on his heels. “I didn’t want you to be like the rest of your friends that you talk about sometimes,” Jon said softly.

“Like Rebecca’s mom with her crazy list of uncles?” Steph said with air quotes around the word uncle.

Jon stood, with a wince. “Man, that’s one way to put it.” He laughed, his kid was as blunt as he was sometimes. He sat down. “Okay, regardless of what you’ve heard about us I’m going to tell you the real deal.”

“No secrets, Dad.”

He nodded at Steph. “No secrets.” He took a deep breath. “It’s Tessa. The woman I’m seeing is Tessa from the bookstore.”

Jesse rolled his eyes. “No duh, Dad.”

Jon couldn’t help the smirk. “Can’t get anything past you, huh?”

“At least she’s hot,” Jesse’s eyes widened. “Uh, sorry, Mom.”

Dorothea shot her son a look but said nothing.

“Well, I’ve been seeing Tessa for a few months. And when the time was right I was going to introduce all of you to her.”

“When was that going to be?” Steph asked.

Jon looked at her, there was no censure in her face right then, just honest curiosity. “Your mom and I…to be honest,” he glanced at Dot’s stony face, “couldn’t quite agree on when it should be.” He folded his hand over Steph’s. “But Tessa’s important to me. I want you guys to know that.”

Steph nodded. “I get it. She’s not just some chick. I just don’t get why it took so long to tell us.”

“Life started getting crazy and I…” he trailed off. Richie’s words screaming in his head. He’d been afraid. As much as he wanted to share Tessa with his other world, he got used to keeping them separate. Maybe he even liked it. “I was selfish. It’s not right, but it’s the truth. I liked keeping her to myself. I liked keeping things simple.”

Jesse frowned, but Steph shrugged. “I get it.”

Jesse turned his frown onto his sister. “Good thing you do, I don’t.”

Steph gave him a disgusted sigh. “You know when you and Becky Scarpetti started hanging out last summer?”

Jesse blushed deep red, “Yeah.”

Jon’s eyebrow quirked as he looked at Dot who’s only answer was a wrinkled nose. Fat lot of help that was. Who the hell was Becky Scarpetti?

“Well, you didn’t bring her to the house, did you?”

“No, I knew Mom and Dad would freak out and ask a zillion—Oh.”

“Bingo!” Steph thwacked him on the back of the head. “I knew you were only half stupid.”

“Hey!” Dot and Jon said in unison.

“What? I can call my brother stupid, just no one else can.” Steph said and folded her arms over her chest. “So that’s why,” she said to Jesse.

“Okay, so I get that part. What’s up with the baby drama in the news, Dad? We totally look like the Osbornes with that.”

Jon winced. “My business is not the papparazzi’s business, you know that.”

“Good luck with that,” Steph shot back.

Sighing, Jon sat back in his chair. “It’s not like I’m going to be making a press conference about this, but you guys will know the truth.”

“Hallelujah.”

“Watch it, Steph.”

Instantly contrite, she folded her hands on the table. “Sorry, Dad.”

“Tessa had an accident at her store, she…“ he swallowed, slamming his eyes shut as the scene that haunted him flashed yet again. If only he’d been a little quicker, a little less—Enough. “She did end up being pregnant. We didn’t know. It was a—“

“Didn’t you use a condom, Dad?”

Man, outta the mouths of babes. Jon looked up at his son. “Yes, Jesse, I did. We were careful, but just like they tell you in school and I’ve told you...Nothing’s one hundred percent.” Especially when you’re stupid in lust. “During the accident, something happened to the, uh…” his voice went rough. He knew this was going to be hard, but to tell your kids when you weren’t even used to saying it out loud? He cleared his throat. “We lost the baby. There is no baby. Not anymore.” The last few words came out in a whisper. He cleared his throat again, staring as the table shimmered then turned solid again.

He looked up in time to catch his daughter in a fierce hug. “Oh, baby.” He swallowed back his own tears as his daughter sniffled into his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Daddy. We didn’t know. Is Tessa okay?” she asked, her cheek pressed into his chest.

“I don’t know, honey. She’s physically getting better, but It’s hard news to take. We’re just going to have to take it a day at a time.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. I’d like to meet her though. Can we?” Jesse smiled a little. “You know, when she’s better?”

Jon smoothed his hand through his daughter’s hair and nodded at his son. “I’d like that.”

Steph leaned back. “Me too, Dad.”

Jon smiled. “I think it’s way past time,” He said to Dorothea.

She didn’t say anything, just looked away from him and stood. “Why don’t you guys go upstairs? I need to talk to your Dad.”

Steph stood up, rubbed his shoulder and left without a word.

Jesse stood up. “I’m glad you told us, Dad. Tell Tessa we’re thinking about her, okay?”

Jon swallowed down the next lump of emotion. “You’re a good kid, Jess.”

“Yeah, remember that when I ask you for a new controller for Time Crisis,” he said and grinned.

“Get outta here!” Jon said with a welcome laugh. He pulled his phone out and shot a quick text to Richie for a pickup.

“Bye, Dad.” Jesse avoided his mom’s eyes and headed back upstairs with less than quiet feet.

“Still sounds like a herd of elephants,” Jon said with a half grin.

“Yeah well, I’m kinda glad he hasn’t learned to walk softly yet. Means he doesn’t know how to be sneaky yet.”

“Operative word being, yet.”

Dorothea’s face was serious as she ignored his little joke. “Jon, I understand you want your kids to meet Tessa, but—“

“God, not this again!” Jon stood up and swung open the back door, digging for his smokes.

She followed him outside, unearthing her own pack of dented cigarettes. “Jon, this isn’t about us or the kids right now. This is about Tessa. As a woman, I think it might be hard to see your kids right now…when she lost one. I know it would be for me.”

Jon frowned, sucking back a lungful of smoke. He tucked the cigarette into his still numb fingers in his cast and scrubbed his face with his good hand. He hadn’t thought about that. Transferring the cigarette back to his good hand, he took another drag. “I hadn’t thought…” he blew out a stream of smoke. “You’re right. I’ll wait until she’s feeling better before I broach the subject again.”

“I know you aren’t really good at the whole patience thing, Jon.” She lifted her cigarette, tucking a hand under her elbow as it smoldered. “But this is the kind of thing that’s going to be hard for her to deal with beyond the hospital stuff. Pregnancy hormones are going to be flying all over the place with the sad. Just remember that.”

Jon glanced down at his ex-wife. “Why are you telling me all this?”

She laughed, but there was no warmth in the sound. “I still love you, old man. Even if we aren’t meant to be anymore.” She didn’t look at him, just out at her wide expanse of yard.

Jon wrapped his good arm around her shoulders. “I still love you too, Dots.”

She dropped her head lightly on his shoulder. “Go on, now. I know you want to see her. You can’t stop fidgeting.”

He laughed and bussed her cheek. “I’ll call when I can.” He slid away, tucking his cigarette butt into the pail of sand outside the door, opening the door.

“Jon!”

He stopped, turning back to face her. “Yeah?”

Her arms were tightly folded against her chest. “I’m sorry it happened. I wouldn’t wish that on any woman.”

“I know, Dot.” He turned to go but she called his name again. He held onto the doorjamb but didn’t turn around.

“It’s not your fault.”

His heart stopped as his vision blurred.

“I know you Jon. You take all the world’s problems on your shoulders. Especially when you love someone. This wasn’t anyone’s fault. The quicker you realize it, the quicker you can get through it.”

He couldn’t say anything, just nodded and headed through the house and back through the front door to wait outside. Too bad it was all his fault, no matter what she said.

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