2/28/2009

Chapter 148

A few revisions--man...DayQuil is no good for writing. LOL




Tessa eased back in the handmade rocker on the south side of the wraparound porch of the Bouchet house. Her laptop sat unused, open beside her with a sweating glass of Mary’s infamous lemonade—freshly squeezed with just the right sugar to tart ratio, thank you very much—and a half eaten ham salad sandwich.

She wasn’t quite sure how she’d ended up at Nic’s parents’ house, but Mary, in her infinite wisdom, just dragged her inside no questions asked. Of course that could have been because of the flood of tears that still had yet to totally stop. Cripes—she couldn’t even feel the tears anymore. Didn’t even know they were falling until they dripped down her chin sometimes.

She had no idea what was wrong with her, but if she didn’t get herself put back together soon, she was afraid she’d go insane. Curling her arms around her knees she rocked, letting the summer breeze lift her overlong hair. She’d gone from the sleek new business owner with only new experiences on the horizon to shaggy and lost in no time at all. Funny what a few months could do to a woman.

Funnier still, was what love could do. She’d gone from the highest highs to the lowest lows. Was it worth it? Could she go back to him again? Could she ever get past the disconnect that happened between them when it came to his family and how she fit into his life? Did she want to?

She stood up, heading down the stairs to the arbor that each Bouchet had gotten married under. The twisting vines and bougainvillea that Mary ruthlessly pruned into full blooms and snaking beauty enhanced the recycled wood. It was the last parts of her great grandmother’s house and Tom had fashioned it into an ages old testament to family.

Just what the Bouchets meant to each other. Family and forever—the ultimate line of devotion in each hand crafted piece. She didn’t have any of that. When her parents had died, they’d been the last of their line and her sister was now carrying it on with a child of her own. And so the disconnect continued—her sister hadn’t thought of including her in even an announcement.

From the minute she’d been born there’d been something missing between them. Books and movies that went on and on about the bonds of family that were stronger than blood had never been a part of her household. Her parents had loved her—in their way. They were scholars that had children because it was understood and traditional to do so. It wasn’t like they were cold people—but they didn’t always know what to do with her.

She’d loved books as her mother did. Understood the need for education and furthering her mind which was essential to her father, but she’d never wanted to be a teacher like they were. Elisabeth, her sister, took care of that. In fact, she’d gotten out of the house as soon as humanly possible with a scholarship to Oxford that was on par with being knighted as far as her parents were concerned.

The only thing they’d ever agreed on was Christmas. Steeped in tradition—that was her parents. Bonded with that one thing in mind, she’d always had one thing to share with them. And while they’d never understood her business degree, the minor in English and the career centralized around books had been enough to keep a piece of herself tied to her family.

She’d never truly known anything different until she’d met Nichole’s family. The overwhelming personalities included busybodies, drama queens, and the most charming fuzzy bear of a man that would protect family to the end. They’d welcomed her as one of their own and it had been her very first taste of unconditional love.

Sometimes she felt that with Jon. The connection was terrifying at times because it pulled her in twenty-seven different directions, but then he’d look at her in a certain way and it all seemed to fall together. Things between them had happened so fast and so out of order. How did you fall in love with someone that fast? She thought anything had been worth the price of the insanity of Jon’s life until—

Her hand slid across the scar that lay beneath Mary’s oversized t-shirt. Until a tiny little life had sparked something inside of her that made her think of family and connection. She’d never wanted children. Her life didn’t suit children. There was a level of selflessness that was necessary to bring a life into this world in her opinion.

She loved them—planned on being one of the best godmother/aunt’s to Nic’s children—but she’d never truly wanted one. The fact that her miscarriage seemed to rip her apart so completely was a mystery to her. Burying the pain hadn’t worked. It was leaking out of her like a boiler in the red.

She couldn’t ever remember a time she’d been so very out of control. Work had always been her solace, but here she was in the middle of upstate NY without an idea how to even think about moving on. Work had turned into some circus freak show of color coordinating binders that she’d railed against in the industry. Instead of finding solace in her store, she’d followed back in the footsteps of the corporate world she’d scrimped and saved to get out of.

Tracing the sweet scented peach blooms that dotted the lattice work, she drifted into the English style garden that Mary kept in the back. A pretty little ironwork bench sat amongst the oversized greens and starburst petals in blues, purples and pinks. Daisies danced in the light summer breeze. Snapping one of the sunny faced flowers off, she fluttered it against her chin as she headed back to the porch.

“There you are.”

“Hey, Mary.” She tried for a convincing smile but watched Mary’s face waver with disappointment.

“Aw, baby.” Mary gathered her in.

The immediate comfort was welcome if a little overwhelming. God, she was so sick of being stupid and weepy. She missed being in control of her life. “Mary, tell me what to do. I’ve never felt so out of touch. I swear your daughter is going to kill me either by annoyance or with her pregnancy hormones.”

“Well, they go hand in hand, but you need to remember your hormones are just as imbalanced.”

“I’m well past that and you know it. I’m just crazy and that’s all there is to it.”

Mary grasped her shoulders. “No, you’re not crazy. You’re just grieving.”

“I never wanted that baby!” Tessa swallowed down the bubble of hysteria that was always so close to the surface lately.

“Honey, just because you didn’t want children in the past, doesn’t mean that you grieve any less. It was part of you—even if just a little while. You need time to heal and even more important…let yourself heal. It’s not something you just get over.”

Tessa blinked away the fresh wave of tears. “I know that. But how do you grieve for something or even someone you never intended on bringing into this world? Do I even have the right?”

“Oh, Tessa,” Mary sighed. “Just because you never intended to have a baby—and who knows what would have happened if you actually stayed pregnant—it doesn’t make losing that baby any less. In fact, it can be even more devastating.”

She drifted away from Mary’s touch, looking out from the porch rail. “I never would have wished harm on her or him.”

“Of course you wouldn’t!” Mary rounded on her, peering around until she could meet her eyes. “Of course you wouldn’t,” she said more firmly.

“But if I’d known—“ she whispered brokenly. “Maybe I would have been more careful. Maybe—“

“From what Nichole told me you would have lost that baby regardless of what you had or hadn’t done and you need to understand that. She or he simply wasn’t meant to be.”

“If the baby wasn’t meant to be, then why me? And if you say God has a higher plan I’m just going to scream.”

“If it’s not God, then it’s just life—either way, you’re never given more than you can handle. I believe that.”

“A few months ago, I might have agreed with you, but now…” she trailed off, looking back out on the pretty yard that Mary was so proud of. She didn’t even know if she could possibly handle another hour.

“Tessa…I’ve been avoiding asking you this…”

She tensed. You didn’t need to be hammered over the head to know where Mary would be going now. The elephant in the room was cliché for a reason. It fit—all too well.

When she didn’t reply, Mary went on. “Have you talked to…”

“Jon? Yeah, you can say his name.”

“Is that his name? Nichole never said and the last time I’d seen you…it was kind of one of those things you didn’t really want to get into.”

Tessa turned to her. “You didn’t know who the father was? Who I was in love with?”

“Was or are?”

She flushed and looked back out at the lawn, the ivy blurring once more. Present or past tense—did she even know the answer? “It was Jon,” she said softly. “He’s famous, Mary. It makes it worse. I was just getting used to the famous thing. We were working through the split family dynamic and now we’re just…” She sighed, at a loss for words. “Well, we’re split everywhere.”

“Were there problems before the baby?”

She folded her arms across her chest. “Yeah.” Gnawing on her lower lip, she rubbed her thumb and middle finger over her pulsing eyelids. “I wish I could say it was perfect, but it never has been.”

“Perfect is overrated. The day you believe that perfect exits is the day you’ve bought stock in rose colored glasses and rainbows with pots of gold.”

“My rose coloreds cracked.”

“Good.” Mary patted her shoulder. “The quicker you throw them away the better you’ll be. Talk to him, Tessa. He might be feeling just the same.”

“I can’t.”

“No, you won’t. There’s a huge difference.” Mary brushed her hand over her hair. “Why don’t you take the family time share for a little while? No one’s using it until August, so you have tons of time to figure some things out and get back to your life.”

“Mary, that’s for family.”

“Just because you don’t have our blood, doesn’t make you any less a part of our family. That’s one thing you’ve never been able to grasp, Tessa. Family comes in many different forms.”





~





Jon dragged a hand over his face. Scruff had turned into a full fledged beard in a matter of days. Hell, he’d even tried out for a damn part while he’d been in London for fuck’s sake. Almost immediately, he’d known it wasn’t for him. That chapter of his life had been over for awhile, but the audition had nailed it home. Acting just wasn’t as important as the music and the...

He tried not to picture her face as he unclicked his lapbelt. Not that beautiful Tessa that had shared his world and his bed, the other Tessa. The one that couldn’t seem to get past the pain and the loss and let him inside. The one that didn’t see him anymore. The one that didn’t even want to try anymore.

Gathering his bag, he stood as the jet taxied to a stop. The Japan show had gone smoothly. People seemed to be reacting well to the Lost Highway material. A few bumps from critics, but that was to be expected. Anytime they did something even a little different they were slotted as a pariah from the fans and a darling for the critics. This Left Feels Right had certainly filled that definition. But now there were a few new fans mingling in from the adult country charts and adult contemporary that crossed over.

New fans were what it was about. Loyalty was amazing, but he didn’t want Bon Jovi to be that band that was touring well beyond their expiration date. He’d rather leave it all behind and focus on using his name to do some good, rather than sing Bad Medicine until he was sixty. But God, he did need that music and he thanked every day that a new song brewed in his overtaxed brain.

Richie stood at the narrow doorway, his wide shoulders blocking the slashing rain that pissed down on Jersey. A perfect welcome home. “Are you sure it’s okay to stay at your place tonight?”

Jon grunted and walked by him. “Why do you ask such stupid questions?”

“Well, if you’re going to be a needy bitch all night, I’ll go find a hotel.”

He stopped on the stairs, a thick, cold drop of rain slid down his scalp and into his eye. “Christ,” he muttered hotly. “I’m dealing, what more do you want?”

“I’d like you to return your balls to your fuckin’ body, Jon. Since when didn’t you go after what you wanted?”

He whirled on the slick stairs, his fingers clutching the railing for balance. “Since what I want is mind fucking Tessa into a basketcase.”

“That’s the problem between the both of you. You’re too busy pussy footing around each other’s feelings that you’re both just shoveling a lot of shit. Go fucking talk to her. And don’t leave until you do.”

“I can’t hurt her again!”

“What, so this slow, strangling death is so much better? You’re turning into a fucking fruit loop for fuck’s sake. Your interviews sound like you’ve been taking a page from Axel Rose’s book of asshole interviews. We’re selling records, not giving the press fodder for your Google alerts because you’re an A-1 prick.”

“Fuck you, Rich.”

“You know I’m right.”

He clomped down the stairs without a word. Of course he was fucking right. He knew the nature of the beast—knew that he had to answer the same goddamn question over and over again for interviews. Knew he had to sing the same damn songs, and smile pretty for the fucking cameras. He’d lived through Slippery and New Jersey for fuck’s sake. He knew how to do this. It was more than old hat, it was fucking auto-pilot.

Without a word, he jumped in the car waiting for them. Henry looked over the partition. “Where to, boss?”

“The house,” he said as Richie got in the other side. His gut burned, acid clawing up his throat until he met his best friend’s eyes. “ Lottie’s there, she’ll let you in. I’m going to take the car and head out to the store.”

“About fucking time!”

Instead of replying, he tapped his heel through the interminable ride to the mansion and got out of the car without another word. He didn’t have any idea what he was doing anymore, but even if he could just see for himself that she was doing okay, he could maybe start functioning again. Heading for the garage, he tossed his duffel in the backseat and backed his Chevelle out of the drive. Gunning the engine, he turned onto the main drag where Chapters was located. His dash read that it was well into a summer evening, but lights blazed at the little neighborhood shop as he pulled into a spot.

The parking lot was nearly empty, giving him a little hope. He’d just talk to her for a minute. Without disguise or hesitation, he stalked down the main aisle to the registers. Nichole stood behind the registers, a smile on her pretty face until recognition hit.

“Jon?”

Cracking a knuckle, he tried for a smile. “Hey Nic, where’s Tessa?”

“Uh, she’s not—“ she rushed from the register, signaling to one of the other employees as she ducked under the partition. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “She’s not here, Jon.”

He frowned. “What? Why not?”

“She took some time off. Look, why don’t we go back to her office?” She held out her arm and herded him toward the back of the store. It pulled her shirt tight across her midsection and he sucked back a quick breath. She darted a quick glance at his eyes then covered her belly protectively. “Yeah, I’m pregnant.”

On instinct, he curled his arm around her shoulders and kissed her forehead. “That’s great, Nic.”

She patted his chest. “I wasn’t really advertising the fact until it was too big to deny.”

“Is that why?” He looked down at his battered boots, then back up into the dark eyes of Tessa’s best friend. He swallowed thickly, rubbing his hand over his jaw. “Is that why she’s gone?” She seemed to pause. A lifetime of watching body language had him pouncing on her for more info. “Where is she, Nichole?”

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” she said on a sigh. “You both are so stupid that part of me wants to just tell you so you can go get your crap together. Not to mention letting me just worry about crazy pregnant lady things instead of playing mediator to you two idiots.”

“Yeah, let’s do that.”

Nic gave a harsh, half laugh. “You didn’t see her before she left.”

His fingers wrapped around her wrist. “Is she all right?” A memory flash of the blood soaked floor and her twisted body tore through him.

“No, nothing like that.” She patted his hand. “Okay, circulation?”

Jon immediately released her with a muttered apology. “I—“ he swallowed. “I don’t work without her, Nic. I tried to stay away because I thought that was what she needed, but…” he cleared his throat. He wasn’t used to sharing anything personal and it galled him to do it now.

“She’s not the same Tessa, Jon.” She peered up at him. “I don’t know if you get that. She’s broken in a way I’ve never seen. Part of me wants to keep her as far away from you as possible, but the other half…” She sighed heavily. “I know you love each other, but I don’t know if you’re good for each other.”

Frustration simmered as he clenched his fists. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Are you sure? You guys profess to love each other, but you’re always holding something back. You don’t want to share her with your real life.”

“I—“ he lowered his eyes to the floor. “I have to share everything in my life. I didn’t want to share her too.”

She touched his hand, cupping around the tightly fisted hand. “Does she know that?”

“Yes, she—“

She smiled sadly at him. “All she sees is that you don’t want to share her with your family. The singularly most important part of your life.”

“I was just being careful. For the kids, for every—“

She cut in. “No, you were being careful for you.” He jerked back, shaking his head. “You want this to work, you have to go all in, Jon. She’s all or nothing at this point. Even if you go there willing to give her everything, she might still turn you away. Are you prepared for that?”

His chin lifted. “Anything’s better than this.”

She handed him a piece of paper. “She’s at my Mom’s house.”

He looked down at the address, folding it into his pocket. Finally, something to work with. He looked down at Nic. “I do love her.”

“Well then act like it.”

2/12/2009

Chapter 147



“So, Jon—what was it like to work with Nashville producer, Dan Huff?”

Exactly the same as the last two fuckheads that came in here and asked the same question. Christ, did any of them have an original thought in their fucking head? “It was amazing. He’s worked with all the greats of course, and the fact that he’s a musician first, really helps the process. Not so different than rock and roll at all.” He sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “If you did your research, you could even pedal back to the eighties and Giant. The man’s a legend.”

Richie shot him a tight smile with a warning beacon in his tired, dark eyes. “Between Dan and John Shanks we were in great hands for the album.”

Richie babbled on about production and writing in Nashville and the rest of the nicey nice shit that he just couldn’t even attempt to spew out for the fifth interview in a row. He stared at the carpeting until the boring pattern blended into a smudge.

“Coffee, Mr. Bon Jovi?”

He blinked, giving a forced smile to the harried girl that had been working the press room. “Yeah, black.” He glanced down at her tiny gold tag. “Thanks, Melissa.” She blushed, handing over a heavy mug, which he wrapped his hands around gratefully. Summer was making itself known, but he still felt like an ice block most of the time.

Another tray came by and he waved away the array of danish. His stomach was already a mess, no need to help the process with sugar shock. Sipping his coffee he tried to tune back in, but that scent—her scent—blindsided him. He sat up straighter, twisting to look around the room.

“Jon?”

“Huh?” He turned back to Richie. “What?” He looked at the interviewer. He couldn’t even pretend to know or care what the guy’s name was.

“He was asking about the recording of Cowboy.”

“B-side,” Jon said absently. “Wrote it when we were doing that Round in—“ he cut off. “What the hell is with the pear smell?”

A girl with a deer in headlights look halted. “I’m sorry. It’s just a fruit salad plate. The pears are Asian.”

He looked down at the little blonde with her perky blonde ponytail and earnest blue eyes. The tray was heavy with fruit, but the wide circular swag of sliced pears hand him stand and hit the exit in three long strides. He heard Richie making excuses for him again and asking for a ten minute break. “Jesus. Fuck.”

When would this stupid shit end? Wasn’t it enough that he dreamed about her every night? The freakin’ scent of pears haunted him when morning ripped through the room at 6am for the last fifteen days of interviews and acoustic spots. Now he had to have it follow him here? He was working dammit. Ignoring the no smoking sign he braced his forearm on the wall and sucked in a calming, lungful of smoke.

“Jonny…” Richie said quietly, pointing to the rather obvious sign.

“What? Are they going to make me go home?” He held the smoke inside of him until it burned. “ I wish.”

“I wish too.”

Jon sneered at him, blowing what was left of the stream into Richie’s face. “Don’t worry, you’ll be rid of me soon.”

“Not soon enough, ass face. Suck it up and start paying attention. This shit is boring, but it’s necessary. You, of all people, know that.”

Jon pinched the bridge of his nose, the smoldering cigarette leaked blue smoke around the little corner he’d taken up residence in. Staring at the Styrofoam cup littered with his butts and stagnant, nicotine fermented water, he dropped his half smoked cigarette in. It hissed and poppped before sinking to the bottom. God, he needed a drink.

He turned his attention to the window and the frenetic pace of Chicago that lay beneath him, clogged in noontime traffic. At least he was pretty sure it was Chi-town. He just got in the plane when his cell beeped at him and told him what time to show up. He traced a fingertip over the vertical blinds, watching the shadowed patterns dance on the floor.

“Do you need meds or somethin’? Get laid. A fuckin’ lobotomy?”

Jon shot Richie a sideways glance. Tessa is what I need. Then looked back outside. “Tell them I’ll be right in.”

“I’m not your fucking assistant. Jesus, Jon. They don’t want to fucking talk to me. This is your deal. I chime in with the charm and make you look good, remember?”

“You mean I make you look good.” He cracked a half-smile. He knew his friend meant well, but he was hanging on by his fingernails here. The night she’d left him was almost as bad as the night he’d found her broken in the middle of her store. Not knowing what else to do, he’d packed and left his father a note. He couldn’t stand to look at his mother—he’d yet to talk to her—and called in his pilot. He’d been at Richie’s house until the promos started.

“No, you’re the straightman—remember that, ass face.” Richie clamped a hand on his shoulder. “I know you miss her, but either go get her or come back to the land of the living. David’s going to string you up by your balls if you tank one more joke and Tico’s going to replant your head in his kick drum if you don’t cut it out.”

Jon’s brow raised. “T?”

“Yeah, T. Jesus. You weren’t this bad after Dorothea asked for a divorce.”

He pushed his hands through his newly shorn hair. “I knew that one was coming.”

“You knew this one was coming too.”

His brows beetled down as he swung around. The heavy fall of silver and diamonds that hung at his neck twirled forward. Stuffing the skull back into place he smoothed down the brown vest he was wearing. Richie’s face was impassive. “Fuck you.”

Richie folded his arms over his chest. “You kept hiding her. What’d you think would happen? Then the baby happened and neither one of you did right by each other.”

The swift slice of pain in his chest warned him that he was right, but what the fuck was he supposed to do now? He’d drag her up on stage and tell a room full of reporters that he loved her if that’s what it took. “What the hell would you know? You only date women looking for the cameras.”

“Watch it, Jonny.” Richie’s voice went low and soft with warning. “I’ve made allowances for your behavior for weeks now. Hell, you’ve been staying in my house so you can hide.”

“I won’t be back after the junket,” Jon said jamming his hands into his pockets.

“Oh shut up. That’s not what I meant and you know it. Either you start to get over this woman or man up and go get her back. Either way, grow a pair and deal. We’ve got two acoustic radio shows to do this afternoon and I’m sick of carrying your ass.”

“Rich—“ But he just held up a hand and stalked off. “Son of a—“ Jon slapped at the blinds until they snapped and swayed against each other and the window. Digging out his phone, he flicked through the menu until he found the picture he hadn’t quite been able to delete.

His white dress shirt, her naughty grin, and shadows that played havoc with his imagination. Her creamy skin and fiery hair was enough to put a normal man down, but the look in her eyes was there, even in the grainy picture. He’d happily trade a million dollars to see that look in her eyes again. Spur of the moment and playful—she’d snapped that picture to torment him. She didn’t even know how unbelievably sexy she was. After all he’d seen in the twenty-five years of the underbelly of the music scene, it had nothing on Tessa when she was in a playful mood.

A flash of light purple lace and a hotel room in Nashville attested to that. Her soft voice saying, “I love you.” He closed his eyes, shifting his jeans. Each morning he hoped it would be a little bit better than the last. Christ, he just couldn’t get her out of his head. He didn’t want her out of his head.

She made it abundantly clear he wasn’t wanted. The healing had to start somewhere. And obviously she couldn’t do it with him there—in her space. Even if everything in his core was dragging him back to Jersey, he knew he had to stay away. The apartment in the city would be ready for him soon, but even that could be too close.

He could get to her with a few hours.

Could he really stay away from her?

The thought of relocating to California was nauseating. He didn’t mind a visit, but he had no idea what called to Richie about the area. Not to mention his family was on the east coast and they loved it just as much as he did.

He flicked through the email waiting for him on his iPhone and sighed. After the interviews and radio spots he’d bury himself in the Soul Foundation. At least they needed him—anything to keep him from focusing on what he couldn’t have.

2/09/2009

Chapter 146








Two Months Later





Tessa gathered the totals for the day’s sales and filed them away. The new system she’d put together was a little time consuming, but saved her at the end of the quarter. She tucked the file folder above her head in the cashbox, straightening it until it was in line with the others.

“It’s okay if they don’t sit side by side like you’re on an episode of Monk, you know?”

Tessa stilled, dropping her hand to her lap. “Ha, ha. You’re a very funny girl.”

“No, I’m a fat girl with morning sickness and you’re in my space. Get the hell out.”

Tessa stood, her eyes drifting down to the little bump that was starting to show on her best friend. She and Adam were flashing their first ultrasound to whoever would sit still long enough to look at it. Well, between crying episodes, tirades and the new incarnation of Hitler that Nichole had become once the pregnancy hormones had taken control of her. She cleared her throat, standing so Nic could have her seat back. “I was just doing the numbers for the day.”

“I’m pregnant, not addle brained,” Nic huffed. “I can do it. Even with your stupid new system that gives OCD a whole new definition in Webster’s.”

Biting her tongue, Tessa backed out of the tiny room with her report in hand. She and Nic had come to a bit of an understanding. They stayed out of each other’s way. The baby crazies were making her a little…short. It was just as well. If she stayed in the room too long, she started flinging poison darts her way. Ie—What the hell were you thinking, moron? Have you lost your mind, moron? And her personal favorite…Is self-sabotage part of your DNA, moron?

She was pretty sure she preferred her BFF when she wasn’t prego. The woman’s mood swings were Jekyll and Hyde to say the least. She hadn’t made a mistake. She was better off without him. Things were easier and certainly smoother. All she had to worry about was the store.

She didn’t have to worry about dresses and juggling time. She didn’t have to worry that his ex-wife would come over out of the blue. She didn’t have to worry about making a good impression on his kids or his mother.

She didn’t have to worry about anyone but herself. Just her.

It was better that way.

She closed herself into her office, the neat row of color binders stared at her as she walked in. She was ahead for all of her new projects and plans for the window were organized until well through September. Reaching for the daily log, she rose onto her toes.

It was better to remember his smile when it was all crinkly instead of the sad she’d seen far too much of at the end. It was better to remember the good stuff between them. She’d had a moment in time that would probably never be duplicated. She’d never been able to get that close to anyone. Even the admittedly odd relationship with her family couldn’t come close to half of what had happened between them.

Her shirt lifted and her scar rubbed along her calendar blotter. Startled, her binder tumbled to the floor. Papers scattered, tallied columns in neat black, block numbers mixed with the pages from last year with her scripted scrawl.

Yanking open the binder rings she quickly organized them, tugging down her sweater as she stood. The silence of the room was stifling. She’d been so busy she’d forgotten what it was like to listen to her music in her little safe haven. She’d worked hard to have that little bit of extra building budget to have this place to herself and she’d barely spent a moment in it to decompress in ages.

Snapping her iPod into the dock she cranked the music. She had to organize all the ARC’s that had come in the last few weeks, anyway. She used them for giveaways to her employees if they were well known authors. New ones, she previewed first, and then shared. One of the perks of owning a store.

The steady stream of music calmed her. At least that was one thing she could always count on. An hour passed and because it was a weekday afternoon she didn’t worry about the fact that no one had called her out to the floor. It was a slow time of day. Instead she lost herself in the words around her. She flipped through a few fresh faces she’d read about in the industry journals, filing others away for future reference.

The music was a melted blend of artists that she didn’t have to focus on. The words, as much as the music, healed the day’s stresses. It worked more like background noise sometimes, and sing along relief at other times. Without paying attention at first, a live track swam into her little reality. The crowd cries caused a tremble in her fingers.

Losing Jon had been enough to kill her, but eradicating Jovi from her life had been a hard thing to bear as well. They’d gotten her through some of the worst times in her life. But this…now? She crawled toward the dock to fast forward the song. She’d taken all of their songs off of her iPod months ago, but she must have missed one or two that were mislabeled.

Her hand slipped on a glossy stack of books, jamming her elbow into the carpeting as the piles toppled around her. “Son of a—“ Every stack she’d alphabetized seemed to slide into one another in slow motion.


I drove all night down streets that wouldn’t bend

But somehow they drove me back here once again

To the place I lost at love

The place I lost my soul

I wish I could just burn down this place that we called home


Jon’s haunting These Days era voice hummed through the room with Richie’s soul sucking guitar in an aching blend of sad that burned in her chest. She jammed the side of her hand into her mouth to calm herself. With her cheek pressed to an ugly, if colorful, ARC she couldn’t stop the tears that started.

She sobbed as his face flashed before her eyes. She winged a book against her door to stop the flow. The bullet sharpness of the corner of the book hitting her door made her feel better. She couldn’t see, but she threw another. The precarious glue used in the quickie printings of ARC’s couldn’t take the abuse and split wide.

Again, she threw another. Pages scattered and covers bent as the soundproofed room turned into a scene from Twister. She flipped her hair back as the strands stuck to her tear strained cheeks.

“I hate you,” she screamed.

Her stupid iPod, as it was want to do, had a mind of its own…leading into another song. The acoustic strains crashed over her like she’d only hit the eye of the storm. Matt Nathanson’s words with a female artist ripped her open the rest of the way.

Why did she have to fall in love with a man like Jon? The promise of him was so out of reach. She knew better than to even think it would work. But those words... They felt so good. He’d said them. The conviction in his eyes had promised her that they were true. She was stupid enough to believe she was finally in the center of something—instead of on the outside.

But they were only words, and she was on the outside. Always on the outside, looking in.

She was so tired of being on the outside. She was tired of missing his arms. She was tired of being tired. Tired of being strong.

Her fingers gripped the back of her hair as she tucked her face into the hollow of her knees that were tucked tight to her chest until she was a ball. “I hate you.” She rocked as the haze of her very own storm fell to a pounding rain of endless tears. “Why?”

She flinched as a hand touched her arm.

“Oh baby.” Nic knelt before her. “I’ve been knocking forever and finally I just came in.”

“I’m going crazy, Nic.” She laughed, scraping the back of her hand across her face. “I finally just—“

“Cried.” Nichole pushed Tessa’s hair out of her eyes, her big brown eyes were teary and…grateful? Nic sighed, flicking off the Bose docking station. “Honey, you’ve needed to cry more than eight pregnant women combined. You lock everything up in that stupid brain of yours.” She tsked. “Thinking all the time, instead of just feeling. You needed to do this.” She looked around the room. “Okay, so maybe we could have done it a little less forcefully,” she laughed. “You’ve been all button up. Instead of dealing with stuff, you just ignored it. I knew you were on your way to blowing, I just didn’t think it would be 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.”

“I can’t stop.” She dabbed at her leaking eyes. The room glistened from the waterworks that just wouldn’t stop coming. Seeing the scattered books made another fresh pool drip down her cheeks. She never abused books. “Oh God, I can’t do this.”

Nic wrapped an arm around her shoulders and hauled her in. “You have a few months of tears stored up darlin’. Way too many actually.”

She shook her head, dislodging another surge. “Jesus. I can’t.” She sniffed and got onto her knees, hugging her best friend back. “I’ll never say anything about you being pregnant again. I swear it.” She hiccupped a little as her chest tried to settle, but just couldn’t seem to stop shuddering. “How can you deal with this?”

Nic laughed and hugged her tighter until they were nearly standing. “C’mon. I’m not even far along yet and I can’t get off the floor. Help me up.”

Tessa eased her hand under Nic’s arm until they were both vertical. Tessa dropped into her chair at her desk. She dragged a box of tissues over and tried to mop most of the flow, but she shredded through three before she gave up. “Why can’t I stop?”

“Because you still didn’t deal with all your crap. Your body just can’t hold it in anymore.”

“You’re full of shit.” Tessa dabbed at her overheated cheeks. “I can’t go out there like this!”

“No,” Nic said with another sigh. “What you need to do, is go. Get out of here.” She held up a hand when Tessa tried to speak. “You need to go take some time and figure stuff out, Tess. You can’t go on like this. Pretending you’re Polly Positive is good in theory, but what you really are is a maniac with color coding stickers and organizational skills that make a mental patient cheer. That’s not what got us started in this business, remember?”

Tessa’s mouth dropped open. No, it was just good business. It wasn’t—

“We hated the corporate crap. We loved the hominess of our own place. Remember the laid back approach to a business that was a family? You’re turning it into a mini-Barnes and Noble.”

She gasped, looking up at Nic, her eyes overflowing again. “Oh, God. Don’t tell me that. I wouldn’t—no, couldn’t.”

Nic leaned on her desk. “Yes, you are. You’ve been doing it since you lost—Tessa, you need to say it.” She said as Tessa turned away. She turned her chair back to face front. “Since you lost the baby.”

Tessa shook her head. “I’m okay about that.”

“Really? Then why are the tears just flowing? You’re not even crying anymore, but your eyes are.” Nic’s eyelashes dotted with her own tears. “Honey, you need to just find a way to deal with it. Take some time.” She clasped their hands together. “It’s slow here right now. We can afford to let you figure stuff out.”

She shook her head, tugging her hands free. Panic jittered through her belly. She gripped her shaking fingers in her lap. “No, I need to—“

“If you say organize something, I’m going to slap the ever lovin’ crap out of you! You need to go and deal. You need to figure out if it’s just the baby that’s holding you back, or if you’re letting it be a reason to hold onto this alone cape you like to cover up in.” She gripped her shoulders. “That alone cape needs to be burned. You love that stupid Rockstar and need to figure out if it’s that real love stuff—like I think it is—or if it’s just the kind you need to get over.”

“I need to work. I’ll get over him if I just work through it.”

“He’s not dead, Tessa. He’s not gone like your parents and like the baby. Not MIA like your sister has been since the day she was born. You may feel like you don’t have any control when it comes to love. Jon makes you feel so much, maybe too much sometimes, but you know what? That’s okay.” Nichole tucked a lock of hair behind Tessa’s ear. “The Tessa I used to know was brave enough to try to love that stupid muscle bound, gorgeous, talented—wait. Sorry. Maybe I miss him a little too.” Nic laughed and wiped at her own eyes. “But I miss my best friend, more. She’s been gone for what feels like forever.” She sniffed. “I need her, Tessa. I can’t do this baby thing alone.”

“Oh honey, you don’t have to.” The stupid tears went crazy again. She swung Nic around and put her in her seat and kneeled in front of her.

Nic gripped the chair arms. “Jesus! Do you want me to hurl on you right here and screw up these ARC’s even more?”

“Sorry!”

Nic pulled her hand forward and settled it across her slight bulge, covering it with her own. “I’ve been trying to do this without you. I didn’t want you to feel bad because of your own baby that you lost, but honey…I’m not good at it. I need you.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just figured you and Adam were…” She bit her lower lip, trying to suck out the jealousy from her voice. She’d been watching Nichole and Adam grow closer every day. Every moment they weren’t snotting at each other, they were smiling and whispering about the baby. “I just figured you didn’t need me anymore with Adam to share all those moments with.”

“Oh he’s a saint,” Nic spat out. “I can’t even be mad at him because he’s always so helpful. I just want to slug him. Everytime I say I’m scared, he’s right there with a reason why I shouldn’t be. I just need my best friend to rip on him about!”

She nodded, completely lost, but knowing that it was the right thing to do. “I’m sorry you thought you couldn’t talk to me about…” she squeezed, lacing their fingers. “I’m going to be an amazing Aunt Tessa. I swear it.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Nic threw her arms around her neck. “You’re killin’ me here!”

Tessa laughed and hugged her tight. “I’ll go. I don’t know where, but I’ll go.” She pressed her cheek to Nic’s shoulder, the stupid tears still streaming.

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