Jon swung his feet to the floor, hunching his shoulders against the soft, mewling moans that came from the other side of the bed. Digging his fingertips into the base of his skull he put his head between his knees, dragging in a deep breath.
He didn’t know what was worse, the fact that she never cried in the daytime or that all she did was cry in her sleep. It was a month to the day that she’d—they’d lost the baby. He’d broached the subject of a memorial—something, anything to get her to talk about the baby, but she just shut him down again.
‘I need to move on,’ she’d tell him over and over again. It wasn’t like she was cruel about it. She often said it with a sad kiss or a comforting hug. It was a double edged sword, really. The only times she did touch him willingly was when he asked about the baby. Part of him knew it was guilt, that she would feel the need to comfort him, but it killed him that she blocked out the thought of their little one at the same time.
Never a harsh word against him for bringing it up, of course, but always the same answer. He dug his thumb and his middle finger into his the corner of his eyes and pushed away the agony that sat there, night after night. He rolled in close, tugged her into his arms as she sobbed. She never remembered it the next morning, so he stopped mentioning it.
The first time it had happened, he’d wanted to talk about it the next morning, but she’d closed off so completely he’d wondered if he even knew the woman she was becoming. That night she’d called with some excuse to sleep at her own place.
He’d slept like shit, thinking about her alone—crying. Needing him. So, he kept these nightly rituals to himself. He was learning to be an accomplished liar in the last few weeks. Who knew that his game face for fans would come in so handily with the woman he loved?
Lying to her face when she asked if she’d cried in the night, lying to Richie that everything was okay—well, saying it. He knew his friend didn’t believe it.
Lying to himself that she was getting better. That she was coming back to him.
He buried his fingers into the silky strands at her nape, soothing her as he did every night. Finding that the hair thing was truly the only thing that would stop the tears. He found little comfort in the fact that what once made her shiver in anticipation was now what let her grieve—at least in sleep.
Stroking her until the nightmare eased, until the tears dried on his chest, until she sighed back into his arms and let herself finally sleep.
He just wished it wasn’t just in sleep that she curled into him so trustingly. When he woke again, the bed was cool and she was gone.
Tessa reached for the ledger for April’s mid-month tallies. Turning at the knock on the door, she smiled. “Hey, Nic.”
She stood inside the door, the binder that was never far from her, clutched to her chest, her thick dark hair curling around her face. “Hey babes. New shipment just came in and I need you to sign for it. It’s the first cardboard cutouts for the last Harry Potter.”
“Right,” Tessa jammed the binder back on the shelf and followed her out the door. “How’s the Mother’s Day table coming?”
Nic sighed. “All finished. We’re fine, Tessa. Nothing else needs to be rearranged, catalogued or dusted. We’re ahead of the curve.”
Tessa nodded. “Okay, good. I have a few more ideas for a late spring table to move some of the classics too.”
“Of course you do.”
Ignoring the sarcasm, she followed her into the warehouse area and smiled at her receiving staff. “Hi, Jason. I hear there’s a delivery I need to sign for?”
Jason hopped off his chair, a wide angle broom in hand as he cleared away the packing peanuts littering the floor. She frowned. She knew she’d been pushing her staff harder than usual, but the downtime in a bookstore was the perfect time to get things setup for the summer reading rush. Was she pushing them too hard?
He pointed to the Fed Ex delivery guy at the mouth of the receiving dock. She smiled and reached for the electronic clipboard. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
The deliveryman smiled back. “You know how they are about the Harry Potter stuff.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t get hijacked,” she teased.
“July 21st I think I might have to carry a weapon,” he laughed.
She laughed, and handed back the scribbled board with the dangling stylus. “I know you’re supposed to be kidding.”
He shook his head ruefully. “I wish I was. They’re nuts man.” He waved and climbed back in his truck.
She turned to Nic, watching the strain in her eyes as she pressed a hand to her midsection. “Hey, why don’t you go take a long lunch? It’s a slow day and Adam has called eight times checking on you. Go appease him.”
“The thought of food makes me wish I could hurl, but there’s nothing left right now.”
She laughed and rubbed Nic’s back. “I know. First trimester sucks for some,” she cleared her throat, “people. You just got the brunt of the morning sickness babes. Take your sleeve of Saltines and make him a happy camper.”
Nic looked up at her, brown eyes sad and teary as they so often were these days. Her hormones were way out of wack.
“C’mon Mama Bear, don’t start that action again. Cry in the car with that Baby Einstein CD you’re forcing that poor thing to listen to.”
She waved her off. “Go, Nic. I’ll be fine. I’ve got to go rearrange things to find room for this ridiculous cardboard cutout, right?”
Defeated, she nodded and headed out of receiving. Tessa closed her eyes, her own hand finding her flat stomach. Would she have been show—she bit the inside of her cheek and pushed that thought away. She was very thankful that her best friend had gotten pregnant so easily. They’d decided to try and a little over a month later Nic had gotten the happy news.
She knew Nic was going to be an amazing mom. Adam was a nervous wreck, but he was supportive, even through the chattering teeth. She turned back to Jason. “You okay to put that cardboard cutout together?”
“Yeah, I’ll just make Mike do it,” he ribbed the guy next to him.
“Man, I’m not getting cardboard cuts this time, that’s all you.”
Tessa grinned and let them hash it out. She headed out to the bookfloor, intent on moving some things at the front of the store. Harry Potter took precedence when it came to sales. She planned on having a midnight sale like some of the major bookstores, hoping she could catch some of the overflow since she was smaller and lesser known in the region.
Crouching, she tugged one of the hidden boxes aside to relocate at the cashwrap, her fingers wrapping around the base filled with sand. The stand lifted easily and she turned around. “Hey you,” she grinned over her shoulder at Jon lifting her weighted Fountain of Youth display with ease. His arm flexed at the weight, but he held it still. She frowned for a moment. When had his arms gotten so big?
“Where do you want it?”
She stood, hands on her hips. “I can do it, you know. You’re supposed to be taking it easy with that hand still.”
“I know, but make me feel useful, huh?”
Startled, she swung her gaze to him, but there was only an amused smirk on his face. She rolled her eyes and pointed up front. “C’mon up near the registers, He-Man.”
His low chuckle was his only response. When he set the altered birdbath down she laughed as he twined his arms around her. Settling her hands awkwardly on his shoulders, she brushed his cheek with a quick kiss and slipped away.
His hands dropped away, stuffing into his battered jeans. “I thought I’d drop in and see if I can steal you away for lunch.”
She adjusted the sand weighted stone-like fountain and tsked. “Sorry, I just sent Nichole out for a long lunch with Adam.”
“Of course you did,” he muttered.
She looked up at him, her fingers tugging playfully at his thermal shirt bunched at his elbow. “Literally, just five minutes ago. I didn’t know you were coming.” She brushed a quick kiss on his stubbly jaw and ducked under the desk to the cashbox. Stepping inside she hit a few keys for the noontime report and stuck her head out. “Why don’t I cook you dinner?”
He leaned onto the desktop, his fingers gripping over the edge to her side of the counter. “Why don’t we let Lottie cook and I open a bottle of wine so we can just have time for us?”
She let the door close again, fighting down the nerves blossoming in her belly. She didn’t know how to be with him anymore. She wanted to be able to spend an evening with him, but alone with him? He wanted to touch, he wanted to be close.
She tucked the report into the folder for the day and came out. His eyes expectant and a little wary, but focused on her. She nodded, her fingers brushing the stubbly cheek. “Okay.”
He trapped her hand there against his face with one of his own, pulling it higher until her whole hand cupped his cheek. “We need this, Tessa.” His eyes were so clear and so very sad. She knew it was her that kept them sad.
She was trying to get back to basics. Trying to feel comfortable in his arms again. And he’d been so very patient with her. She lifted onto her toes and pressed her lips to his, bringing her other hand to cradle his face. The counter between them made her strain to get closer, but it was also a safety net.
His hard, warm body made her ache to curl into it, but it also reminded her just how little she had to offer him. He gave her so much, and what did she have in return? He pulled away, ducking under the counter and pushing her into the cashbox.
“Jon!” He closed the door behind him, dragging her into him. Her hands fell away as his scent swirled around her in the closet of a room. She felt the first tingle of awareness as his thumb traced her jaw.
“Please,” he said against her mouth. “Give me something,” his forehead pressed into hers.
She closed her eyes, the pinpricks of tears burned. “I’m sorry,” she said, clutching the nubby material of his shirt. “I’m trying,” she let her fingertips find the soft hair swirling under the opened buttons to the chain that lay there against his neck. The dogtags he never took off.
Her fingertip coasted over the names of his kids, flipping through the polished white gold. A new word was etched there and her breath stopped. Simply, ‘baby’ with no other accompaniments.
She pulled away, twisting when he tried to hold her.
She slammed the door back against the bookshelves that held customer orders, the door vibrating with the force of it. Uncaring, she ran to the front door.