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?”
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.