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.”
“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.
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?”
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.”