Jon pulled his hair by the roots, the pain clearing the rage from his vision. His mother had ceased being a mother just about the time he’d made the cover of Rolling Stone. She liked the fame, craved the attention and sometimes forgot he was simply her son.
If he was honest, she’d always craved the attention, but this—to maliciously attack Tessa was beyond anything he could even fathom. He didn’t want to share this fucked up part of him with her. He didn’t want his mom to ruin it. And God, he didn’t want their first meet to be like this.
He leaned against the doorjamb of his family room, his arms crossed, digging his fingers into his bicep. Tessa lay, curled into an anguished ball, her face finally slackened into sleep. She’d started with the migraines soon after the hospital stay. Her doctor warned that her hormones would need time to realign themselves and that migraines could be a side effect, but he’d never seen it hit so hard or so fast before.
Just what were they doing to each other? He’d hoped that tonight could’ve been a step forward. A little time together to talk, maybe even a little too much wine and who knows what could have happened. He ached for her. His body did, of course, but he also felt so disconnected from her on every level. Like they were two strangers living under the same roof.
The only good thing that had come out of his misery was the writing. He and Richie were tighter than they’d ever been. The album was in the last phase where he needed to actually head out to L.A. for a few weeks. He wasn’t sure what to do about that. If he left, would she slip even further away from him?
What would happen when the tour started?
He pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t put his life on hold for her. It wasn’t fair to him and it certainly wasn’t fair to her.
“She’s upstairs,” Jon started at his father’s words. “I couldn’t convince her to leave.”
“It’s okay, Dad.” The anger still sizzled under his skin, but he couldn’t take it out on his dad. The man had to live with her and that was punishment enough.
“She’s been ranting for weeks. I just couldn’t keep her down in Florida any longer.”
Jon looked at his father, lines dug deeper into his cheeks every time he saw him. Was that what he would look like? The grooves of unhappiness and a rather resigned sort of half happiness. “Do you guys have a good marriage?”
His dad clapped a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go into the kitchen.”
He glanced into the family room where Tessa slept peacefully, resting his temple on the molding. With a sigh, he stood up and followed his father. His namesake lifted the chair, still upended, off the floor. He reached up into the small cabinet above the fridge.
Jon dumped himself into a chair and tucked his chin in his hand. The thunk of the heavy crystal tumbler on the wide oak table jerked his attention back to the here and now. Finding his father’s lopsided grin, he couldn’t fault the Jamison in his hand. “I never paid attention to what was going on when I was a kid—“
“Because you were always looking for a way to get out.”
“C’mon Pops, I only had one way out.”
“Good thing it worked out.” John Sr. said and sat next to him.
He took a sip of the whisky, sucking in a breath as it burned all the way down. “She’s not the same woman I remember.”
“Your mother, or Tessa?”
Jon laughed, leaning back in his chair. “I’m beginning to wonder if either of them are, but for conversational purposes let’s go with Mom.”
“You know your mom,” he said, twirling the glass. “She wants to be in the middle of everything. She gets to do that down in Florida. Playing with the other famous mothers, she usually gets her fill.” He met Jon’s eyes, blue to blue. “Ever since she got wind of Tessa, she’s been a train wreck.” His dad slugged back his shot, clicking his teeth once. “She’s got it in her head that you’re up here ruining your life. Then the baby.” He settled his thick fingered hand over his wrist. “We’re all sorry about the baby, Jonny.”
Jon closed his eyes for a second, pushing away his glass. “I know you are. Everyone’s sorry about the baby.”
“It’s hard to wrap your brain around it. Especially when the little person isn’t really around long enough to love, but you get tangled up anyway.”
Jon’s eyes snapped open. “Did you guys…” he trailed off, not wanting to even say the word miscarriage.
“Happened a lot back in the day,” he nodded. “We didn’t even have time to grieve because we had you and Tony to take care of. We healed because that’s just what you do when you have other people depending on you. But then there was Matt—he was a total surprise. We gave up trying after she lost Brian, that would have been his name.”
“No girls, huh?”
He laughed. “Nope, but that’s okay. Your mom liked ruling the house of men, she used to say.”
“Did mom ever talk about it?”
“Not really.” His dad crossed his arms and stared out the window. “It wasn’t like she didn’t not talk about it. With Tony still in diapers and me working crazy hours, it just never seemed to come up. We were too busy to feel the loss.”
Jon frowned. How could he not feel the loss? “Never?”
“It took a year actually. It must have been around the time of the miscarriage. I couldn’t do anything right. You boys were always getting into scrapes and she just flipped. It wasn’t pretty,” he laughed. “But just like all things Carol, she had the fire and the passion about the grief and she was over it.”
“Tessa’s not like that.”
“No fire? I’m disappointed, boy.”
Jon laughed. “We are so not going there.”
He sat back and clapped, his delighted laugh boomed through the kitchen. “I thought so. Apple and tree, son. Apple and tree.”
Jon rolled his eyes. “Yeah well, that apple has recently rolled down the hill and is stuck in the river, floating downstream.”
“I think it’s the metaphor that got stuck somewhere in there, Jonny, but I get you. Every woman reacts differently. And didn’t you say she doesn’t really have any other family either? Did she even want kids?”
“I don’t know, Pop. She totally shuts down whenever I even want to talk about it. We were just starting to get serious. I mean I did the kid thing already. I love them, God do I love them. But I’m forty-five years old. I don’t know that I have that in me again.”
“If you guys don’t talk, what do you have? Sex, you can get anywhere.”
Jon laughed. Leave it to his dad to tell it like it was. “I love her.” At his dad’s skeptical eyebrow raise, he leaned forward on his elbows. “Seriously. I love her.”
“Then why don’t we know her, Jonny? Why haven’t you jumped on that fancy death trap you call a plane and come out to introduce her to us?”
“I—“ He pressed his fingers into his forehead. Why hadn’t he? He kept meaning to, but his mom’s reaction to anyone in his life, including Dot, always made it difficult. And he didn’t want to share her dammit. He had to share everything in his life. “I kept thinking I should wait for a better time, then the baby and now…” he shrugged.
“And now you don’t know where you stand.”
“I don’t know where I stand,” Jon agreed.
Tessa woke with the hounds of hell stomping their way across her forehead. Bracing herself for the streaming sun, she opened one eye. The room was dim with just the lowest tick of a three way bulb lit in the far corner of Jon’s living room. Memories flooded her brain. Harsh eyes, harsher words and the all too familiar sadness that stretched between her and Jon.
Had his mother really thought those things about her? It wasn’t like she could really discount those ideas. Carol didn’t know shit about her. She sat up slowly, the worst of the nausea was gone and only a dark, thumping pain remained from the migraine. It was manageable and that was all that mattered.
She could drive. She could see without the creepy tunnel vision and black dots that overwhelmed her during the worst of the migraines. They should have been leveling off based on her gynecologist’s claims; instead she was halfway through her prescription.
Flipping back the blanket someone—Jon—had laid over her, she stood up. The house was mostly dark, save for a few lights he left on for the midnight munchies. She headed to the closet, finding her purse and coat. She needed to get out of the house. She needed to go home, to find her way through the morass of confusion that was only getting worse with each day.
She quietly closed the closet door, her hand going for the keys that she habitually latched to her purse handle. “Damn,” she muttered and dug into the bottomless pit that was her bag. There was a reason for hooking the damn things off her strap, but she hadn’t been thinking clearly when she’d walked in his door.
“What kind of woman is she?”
She tried to block out the voice of his mother. It was ridiculous to let a woman she didn’t even know affect her like this.
“My heart is broken because my boy can’t come to me and tell me about a woman he’s supposed to be in love with. Well then he can’t really be in love with her, can he?”
She crouched down, her hair swinging forward as she started dragging things out of her purse. The animosity had been unreal. She’d never had anyone openly cut her down in her life. The woman didn’t even have the idea of a censor button, let alone the ability to use one. Cripes. Even if she didn’t like her—Where the fuck were her goddamn keys?
“Looking for these?”
She fell back on her butt, her hand to her chest as the voice melted out of the darkness. “Jesus, you scared the life right out of me.” The burnished gold of his hair fell into his eyes when he stepped into the muted light of the hall. An old Asbury Jukes shirt pulled tight across his chest, sweats that had seen better days over ten years ago bagged around his hips and her keys clicked against each other in the palm of his hand.
He crouched in front of her, the hand that wasn’t holding her keys, pushed her hair back around her ear. “Were you going to leave without talking to me?” His eyes were so earnest, so sad.
She looked away, tossing her wallet, planner, mini accordion file of receipts, and her birth control pack into the bag. “I figured you were sleeping.”
“You figured you could sneak out and avoid me. Again.”
Her eyes snapped back to his face, then skittered away at the defeated look in his eyes. “We can talk about it tomorrow.”
“We can talk about it now.”
She heard the stubbornness in his voice. God, not now. She didn’t want to get into this now. “I don’t think so.”
“When?” He reached to touch her face and she flinched. His eyes flashed hot, then went that wintery flat blue before he stood up. “How many times are you going to walk away from me and this shit between us?”
“How many times are you going avoid telling your family about me?” When his jaw clenched, she stood as well and held out her hand. “I thought so.”
“That’s not what this is about.” He wrapped his fingers around her keyring, the cobalt climber hook curving over his knuckles.
“The hell it isn’t.” She took a step forward. “You keep telling me you love me, keep telling me that we’ll do the family thing soon, keep telling me that everything’s going to be all right!” Her voice rose with each offence.
“Tessa,” he reached for her, but she twisted away.
“No! Don’t touch me.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
He held up his hands. “All right,” he said soothingly.
“No! Don’t you get that patronizing tone like you’re talking to one of your kids in the middle of a tantrum. Oh wait—I don’t really know what that sounds like because I don’t know your kids.”
His eyes were wide, his jaw slack for a moment. “Tessa—“
She walked over to the door, slamming her hand against the hall light. Wincing as her eyes adjusted, she faced him again. His hand up, as if to block the sudden change in light. “I’m sick of this. Sick of walking on eggshells to make sure I don’t hurt you. I’m sick of being separate in every way. I’m sick of not belonging to any part of you except the bedroom.”
“No! That’s not true!” He stepped forward but she backed up again.
“I’m sick of feeling bad about the baby. I’m sick of watching you stare at me like I’m going to break. I’m sick of you making me feel like I’m a mental patient because I can’t grieve about the baby like you do. I’m sick of everything!”
“Baby, please. I just want us back.” The anguish was there in his eyes and the wobbling cadence of his voice. “I miss you.”
“No. You miss this little precious Tessa that agreed to do everything your way. You miss the new girlfriend that wanted to make everything work. You don’t want me.” Her voice broke as the realization slammed into her. “You don’t want me. Not the real me.”
He stepped forward, her keys clattering to the floor as his fingers grasped her upper arms. “No! I do. I swear to you, that I do.”
She could see his brain whirling even as the panic sat there in his eyes, in the slackened mouth, in the grip of his fingers digging into her flesh. “You want the idea of me, not the reality.”
“No,” he dragged her into his arms. “Why would you say that?” His fingers tunneled through her hair until he could grip the back of her head, pressing her cheek into his chest. “I just wanted to protect you. Protect my family.”
“Yourself,” she whispered against his warmth. “Not me.” She pulled back, struggling out of his fierce hold. “Let go.”
“No,” he whispered furiously.
“Let go,” she felt her own sadness finally creep in against the infinite nothing she’d been feeling for weeks. “Let me go.”