Copyright © 2020 by Ariana Rose
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This book is for all those who dare to dream.
If you have a dream, seek it.
You will only regret the road not taken.
Love IS infinite.
“Wedding Dress” – Matt Nathanson
“I Am Yours” – Andy Grammer
“Falling Like The Stars” – James Arthur cover by Samantha Harvey
“Give Me Love” – Ed Sheeran
“Daylight” – Taylor Swift
“One Touch; ” – Jess Glynne and Jax Jones
“I’ll Be OK” – Nothing More
“The Very Thought Of You” – Nat King Cole
“Now And Forever” – Richard Marx
“Whatever It Takes” – Imagine Dragons
“Let’s Hurt Tonight” – OneRepublic
“Only Everything” – Quinn Lewis
“In The Name Of Love” – Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha
“Missing You” – Blake McGrath
“Lost” – Dermot Kennedy
“You Are The Reason” – Calum Scott and Leona Lewis
I used to describe hope as a fantasy. It’s not. Hope is a belief that anything is possible. It can pull you from the lowest of lows to take you to the highest heights.
We promised to never give up. We have been nearly torn apart so many times, but we never give up on each other. We have hope. We believe anything is possible as long as we’re together. As long as I have her.
This love is everything I hoped it would be.
We have faith that we’re stronger together than apart.
I hope we will make all our dreams work. I hope we will have happiness in every aspect of our future. I hope we only grow stronger.
Hope began for me with begging for strength.
I’m back there again.
I close my eyes and see all I can have with him. I hope there will be more. Much more. My mother said anything can be accomplished with hope sprinkled with resilience and love.
That’s what I’ll need now.
Hope is everything.
Hope means never giving up.
I close my eyes and see all the things I hope for. Him. Our life. Our love.
I hope that will be enough to survive.
I love you…
I love you…
I love you…
I hope you know that. I hope I get to see your face and tell you again.
People have said there are those moments where your life goes from black and white to color. I’m living one of those moments.
I watch from just beyond their sight line as my mother rolls Alexandra off the elevator on the ground floor. They end up not too far from the entrance where we brought my mother the night, after things went way wrong with my father. Mother reaches forward and presses the automatic open button. The door swings wide and the gentle early summer breeze hits Alexandra’s cheeks. She slowly closes her beautiful eyes and turns a chin toward the sun.
I hear my mother say, “Pull your blanket back from the wheel, dear.” Her tone is so soft and full of joy.
“Thank you,” Alexandra replies, “I didn’t even see. I feel sort of overdressed for being in the hospital.”
“I think you look perfect.” My mother is right. She looks and is perfect.
“I’m going to have a few scars, I think.”
“We all have them, Alexandra. Some are just better hidden than others.” I couldn’t have captured it better myself.
I love seeing Alexandra instantly greeted with the sweet smells of the flowers she loves so much. The roses, magnolias, and then watch as she sees her favorite at the back of the garden. “Lilacs. Look at them.”
“Are they your favorite, dear?”
“Yes, they are, Mother.” I decide to finally step from the shadows of the side path to their right and crouch down at Alexandra’s feet. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you more beautiful.” The just barely ivory silk glides over her every curve. The lace around the front of the robe and on the ends of the sleeves lay delicately against her skin. The tiniest bit of makeup my mother put on her nearly hides the cuts and slight bruises on her face. Her locks are set in loose waves with a small braid on each side pulling back just enough hair so her eyes, which are finally so full of life again, are all I can see.
“What is all this?” Alexandra asks. “You look…wow.”
I can’t take my eyes off her. I might have forgotten my mother was here if she hadn’t spoken up. “I think you’re in very capable hands, Alexandra. I’ll leave you with Julian for a moment.”
She disappears down the same path I came from. “Did you have a meeting today I forgot about?” Last Alexandra saw me; I hadn’t showered or shaved in a couple days. Now I’ve found my tailored, light charcoal-colored suit. Troy paired it with a winter white shirt, and a charcoal silk tie, a shade or two deeper than the suit. I know this is my mother’s favorite and by the look on Alexandra’s face, hers too.
“No.” I give her a smile and from behind my back pull out a large ribbon-wrapped bouquet of lilacs. They match the color of her blanket perfectly.
“Oh my God. These are beautiful.” She buries her nose so deep in them she can’t see anything around her. “What did I do to deserve these?”
She lowers the flowers to her lap. “Julian…”
“You still haven’t answered why you’re all dressed up.”
“I needed to match how beautiful you were going to look.” I step behind her chair to give it a slow push.
“Going to look? How did you know? Did you send your mother to me?”
“She offered, but it was part of the plan, yes.”
“Plan? Julian, what are you talking about?” I don’t say a word as I wheel her silently down the long path toward the lilacs. “Are you going to answer me?”
“All will be revealed in three…two…one.”
We come to a clearing on her right. Behind the east wing of the hospital sits a beautiful white wooden gazebo with a fountain behind it. It’s just how I think we both see Piedmont Park and the Falls. In the middle of all the chaos is this beautiful stillness, you forget for a minute or an hour where you are.
Just in front of the gazebo are some of the most important people in our lives. Her father folds his hands in front of his black suit. My mother has taken off the long sweater she had on earlier to reveal a slim floral print dress. Her smile is so wide. It’s the happiest I think I’ve seen her in recent memory. Troy is in a suit that nearly matches mine; only his tie is a shade of purple.
Then, there is Carol. This is the first time I’ve seen her out of her scrubs. I might not have recognized her, but the take no prisoners stance with her soft eyes gave it all away.
“Wait, what is all this? Julian?” Alexandra asks.
Then she sees him. Him, being the chaplain of the hospital. He came to counsel my mom the night we brought her in. She looks down at the white ribbon that binds her lilacs together. I hear that beautiful hamster wheel until it clicks.
I stop her wheelchair just in front of our family and friends. After setting the brake, I crouch down in front of her again. “I hope you aren’t angry. All of us have been keeping this secret from you. Alexandra, I didn’t want to go one more day without making you my wife.”
“Place your bets on who will cry first, me or her?” Troy says. We all chuckle a little. “What do you say, Susie? Miss Carol? May I escort the mothers?”
“Escort Carol.” I request. “The four of us will be there in a minute.” Carol and Troy step away under cover as I turn back to Colin and my mother for one last reassurance. “No objections?”
“None at all.” My mother softly cups my cheek with her hand.
“Not from me,” Colin quickly follows. He looks down at his daughter with such wonder and love. “Do you want to roll in there, or do you want to try and walk?”
“I want to walk proudly. Let me take your arm, Daddy?”
“With pleasure, sweetheart.” Colin settles his hand over Alexandra’s.
“I’ll see you at the gazebo,” I tell her, as I bend to kiss her cheek.
“I’ll be the one in white,” she responds. The smile I love so much is there for me.
My mother and I turn to walk away when I hear eight words. Eight words I feel sum up the bond they’ve had their entire lives.
“Dad…just don’t let me fall, okay?”
Mom and I take our places inside the gazebo. She gently straightens the knot on my tie and makes sure it’s lying flat. She’s done this every time we’re together and I have a tie on. It’s a ritual I don’t tire of. I slide my hand through my hair one last time. Mom shakes her head at me as she takes my hand in hers, giving it a firm squeeze.
I know, Mom. I know.
My eyes focus on Alexandra. I watch as she slowly rises from her wheelchair with Colin’s help. Once he’s assured she’s stable, they take each step one at a time. I have so many things running through my mind in rapid fire.
Is this what she deserves? Am I what she needs? Is this too much for her? Am I going to remain upright? God it’s hot out here. Shit! Is my fly closed? God is she beautiful. That last thought stays there for a minute. There isn’t a bandage, stitch, bruise, or scratch that could take away from the glow around her.
The look in her eyes is one of joy and contentment. I can tell that she wishes she could run to me, but she looks like a baby giraffe trying to gain her footing. Still, I’m just glad she is still with me, no matter how long it takes before I can take her in my arms.
I can see her calculating each step. One foot in front of the other. The last is what I worry about. There is one giant step up to the platform. They get to the edge and she takes that final important step. I instantly see the pain in her face as Colin wraps his arm around her at her waist. “Alexandra?” he asks, as I want to dive in and save her.
“I’m okay. I promise.” Her bouquet is firmly in her right hand as she takes a deep breath and her father’s arm to continue her journey to me. Colin loosens his hold on Alexandra to literally and figuratively give her over to me. As her hand meets mine, Colin leans in to whisper in Alexandra’s ear, “Be happy, baby.”
“I am, Dad.”
Colin pats my shoulder as he takes his place at my mother’s side. “Hi,” Alexandra says quietly. “I told you I’d be the one in white.”
“That you did, beautiful.” I turn and nod to the chaplain, who begins.
“Family and friends, we gather today not only to celebrate the union of Julian and Alexandra, we also gather to rejoice in Alexandra’s recovery and to pray for guidance and healing for their loss. May Julian and Alexandra continue on this path together.”
“Amen.” Everyone around us collectively exhales, including myself. I wonder if she feels the same butterflies in her stomach. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m excited. There are so many new possibilities, adventures, and so many days and nights of watching her grow, laugh, and challenge me to no end. But more than that, the family I know we want together.
“Julian. Alexandra. Would you please join hands?”
Troy steps forward to take Alexandra’s bouquet. He looks at her with a wink and sees if she’s steady on her feet before he steps back. “Do you have rings?”
“I have one for her,” I add.
“What? I already have a ring.”
“I’d like my ring back to give you a new one.”
Troy gently lays a box in my hand. I open the box so she can really see what’s inside. Her gasp hopefully says it all. The ring is white gold with diamonds all around the wedding band and the engagement ring. In the center of the engagement ring is a beautiful princess cut diamond with two butterflies on either side. It’s almost as if their wings are holding it in place. In the upper wings of the butterflies are four emeralds. “May I?” I can’t wait to get this on her finger.
The chaplain nods and smiles. “Julian has indicated he has his own vows he’d like to share.”
I take a long deep breath as I slide the ring on her left hand. “Alexandra, the only thing making this less complete is that Diesel isn’t here.” There’s a collective chuckle from the group. “He’s the one who ran you down for me. He’s the one who I can thank for bringing you into my life. But the more I think about life and the rhyme or reason to it; I’m left with the words of someone who I respect a great deal. He told me that going from point to point means you are living. Seeking that next point is what honors those who have gone before. If love is one of those points, I need to take hold. That’s what I’m doing today, in front of these people.
“We’ve both loved and lost. That is where those butterflies on your ring come in. One of those butterflies is your mother. She and your father have created such a wonderful, caring, compassionate, brilliant, funny, and loving woman. I’m damn lucky to have had you land at my feet. The other butterfly is Lainey. You have never once made me feel like I had or have to forget her. She is another reason why we are here. She knew I had growing to do. She was a point on my journey to you. I wouldn’t have been able to love you without her.
“Some would be threatened by the ghost of another. You never have been. I can’t begin to tell you how much that means to me. Then, there’s you. You have seen me at my worst and are still here. It amazes me that you are. You’ve chosen to love me, which makes me the luckiest person in the world.
“I pledge today, I will be here in the bad times. I will honor your opinions. I will always talk things through. We will never go to bed angry. I will foster your dreams and cherish your being. I will be a faithful husband and, one day, a loving father to our children. I love you, Alexandra, now and forever.”
She looks down at her finger at the same time I do. It’s a perfect fit. Fuck. It’s perfect.
“I can’t…It’s stunning.” She’s right. But it’s more than just the ring. It’s because of what it symbolizes. She is mine and I am hers.
“I wanted to be a little nontraditional,” I tell her. “Emerald is the birthstone for May. The month you nearly left and the month you said yes. I want that to represent the best and worst, so we always remember what it feels like to be apart, but better yet, together.”
“I don’t have one for you.” I sense a bit of sadness to her voice.
I turn her hand over and set the ring she bought for me in Savannah in her hand. “Yes, you do.”
She gives me a little wicked smile. “For now.” With a tiny wink, she turns to the chaplain. “My turn?”
He answers, “Yes, of course, Alexandra. Please.”
She closes her eyes for a moment, seemingly to gather her thoughts. When her eyes open, she begins. “Julian, when I was a little girl, I always wanted a boy to look at me like my father did my mother. I wanted someone to care for me. Put me first, and I come second to no one or nothing. I realize now I was only half-right. I only need the first. The rest isn’t real. When you care for someone, you, in turn, care for yourself. I need to come second or third, or even last sometimes. That makes the times I come in first mean so much more. The only thing I need is to be looked at like Dad looked at Mom.
“That look had so much wrapped in it. It was one of, ‘you are beautiful.’ It was one of, ‘you are capable.’ It was, ‘I am proud of you.’ It was, ‘I’ll catch you if you fall and I will pull you up to your dreams.’ It was the look of true love. You look at me like that.
“I thought I was in love before. It wasn’t love at all. Love doesn’t mean you make someone conform to an idea of what you think they should be. Love truly is allowing someone the room to grow, expand, take on every new challenge, and share in it right along with them.
“You should be happy together, sad together…you can even be angry together, just as long as you do it as a team. I will be part of your team forever. I pledge to be your biggest champion and likely your biggest critic. I will always be the first to take your hand if you’re scared. I will soar with you. I will make sure you always have a soft place to fall. I will be your faithful wife and, one day, I will be a loving mother to our children. I love you, Julian, now and forever.”
She slides my ring back on my hand. This time, it’s my left. I don’t think I’ve felt so safe and sure. She catches a peek at her father and my mother. His arm is around her in a much different way than she’s used to. I can tell we wish the same thing. We wish she’d always had that.
The chaplain takes our joined hands inside of his. “There is a handfasting prayer called ‘The Hands of the Couple’ I’d like to now recite. It seems like it would fit the pair of you well.
“‘May these hands be blessed this day. May they always hold each other. May they have the strength to hang on during the storms of stress and the dark of disillusionment. May they remain tender and gentle as they nurture each other in their wondrous love. May they build a relationship founded in love, and rich in caring. May these hands be healer, protector, shelter, and guide for each other.’
“Your rings are a perfect circle: symbolizing eternity. There is no beginning and there is no end. May you be blessed. By the powers bestowed on me, I now pronounce that you are husband and wife. Julian, you may kiss your bride.”
I center my focus from our hands back to her face. Three words are all I need. “You’re mine now.”
“I’ve been yours since Diesel.”
I take her face softly in my hands and press my lips to her. Her small hands slide slowly up my arms until they rest on the sides of my neck.
“Get a room, Mr. and Mrs. Stone!” Troy blurts out.
“One day soon.” I devilishly smile against her lips then I slowly turn her to face our families. Her father is the first to step in and hug her.
“I’m so proud, sweetheart. May you always be happy.”
“I will, Dad. We will.”
My mother rests her hand on my chest and leans into my ear. “This is what I meant by ‘go get your forever.’ This is what love looks and feels like. Never let it fade, Julian. Never.” I fight tears, as I know what she was saying by all of that. It wasn’t just a wish for me but a confession of regret for herself.
“Alexandra?” Watching her respond to her name, shuffling her stance slowly, Carol is waiting for her. She regards me with a gentle pat to the forearm then asks Alexandra, “Is it all right if I give you a hug?”
She responds, “Carol, you’ve seen as much of me as anyone here. I think you deserve a hug.” She holds her close. I catch a quizzical look to her eye. It’s like when you’re struck by déjà vu. Alexandra asks, “Do you wear Perles de Lalique, by any chance?”
“I do. Why?”
“I never noticed it before. My mother wore it.”
Her mother. Like I felt, there are higher powers at work.
“I don’t wear perfume when I work, in case it would bother the patients.”
Alexandra holds tight a little longer. I can tell she’s having trouble letting go. She’s caught between what is and what she wishes it would be. Carol whispers in gently in her ear, “I want you to go back to your chair now. If we have a hope of sending you home in the next few days, so you can have a honeymoon, I don’t want you to overdo it.”
“You’re right.” Alexandra says my name, “Julian?”
It gives me a glorious opportunity. “Yes, Wife?”
“Ooooh, careful. I might ask you to call me that exclusively.” She rests her hand on my arm, gripping just a little. “Carol thinks I should go back up and rest in bed.”
“She’s right. I’m sorry, of course.” I take that same hand and bring it to my lips. “We have one more surprise for you upstairs.”
I align myself on one side of her body, Carol the other, as she lowers slowly back into the chair, and I cover her back with her blanket.
“I love you.”
I stand corrected. Those are the three best words in the world.
“I love you too, Alexandra.”
I hate the smell of fucking roses. They are so sickeningly sweet it gags me. They’re perfect for her. As I slide my credit card across the counter, I try to think of what to say on the card.
Get well soon? Too trite.
Best wishes? Ha! I don’t believe that shit, so no one else will.
I must have smirked when the idea struck, because the little redhead on the other side of the counter thought I was flirting with her and smiled back.
Nice try, honey. So not what I’m here for.
I toss her a bone and wink. Turning with this vase and all these flowers is proving to be a bit more difficult than the heel toe routine. I’m becoming good at hiding the constant spins Mr. John Daniels has been providing. If I need a little of the hair of the dog, the flask in my pocket will serve quite nicely.
Once behind the closed doors of the elevator, and with each floor that rises, so does the anger in my soul. This should be over. I shouldn’t be pushed to the back. This strumpet is the cause, yet here I am, looking like the jackass with flowers in hand.
Play the part. I’m the director, or once was. Now I have to play the part. Fuck this! Fuck all of it. The doors part on the fourth floor and I step off. Immediately a nosey nurse is in my face with a “May I help you?”
Quickly I bark back, “I don’t know. Can you?” When I meet eyes with her, I decide to change my tone. The dark curls piled on her head. The pale gloss on those plump lips. The sleek skirt and bow around her neck. I’d prefer it tying me up, actually. “You could. Forgive my temper. I’m a little lost. Do you work here? I’d say you should be a model.”
Her posture shows a more defensive tone. “I’m the lead nurse on this floor. I’m currently off duty for a special event. Generally, if visitors have had more than one adult beverage, we restrict access. I’d say you’re past that limit.”
“Darlin’, couldn’t we make a little exception? I have a young friend on the floor, and I need to see her condition. This excess you see is of worry.”
“Young friend? If she was a friend, you’d know where she is.”
“She is my right hand. My assistant. I’m not quite family but I’d like to surprise her.” I hear the dull noise of a gathering just down the hall. “I could just try doors until I find my mark.”
“You absolutely will not. I will take you where I think you’re heading.”
“I appreciate that, my darling. I’d like to spend more time with you.” I offer her my open hand. “Take it. You know you want to.”
She looks at my hand then places her own on her hips. “I will be joining them myself, so I will be able to keep an eye on you. I mean them.”
Ouch! “I love to be watched. Lead the way doll face.”
We get to the door and it sounds like a full-on party. Camryn’s voice and a few others litter the room. There are a couple of young beauties near the window I’ve never seen before, an older gent talking to the other dog-father, and dear sweet Alexandra nestled snug in her bed while Julian—the pussy-whipped wonder—is glued to the wall just on the other side of my glance. If the flowers in my other hand weren’t vomit inducing enough this little picture sure is.
There is a small cake and a bottle of sparkling cider. The room is lined with flowers, gifted no doubt, from the cast, crew, and other minions snowed by the princess routine.
I stand near the door and watch the room. Looks like they are celebrating something. I wonder what. I think it’s time the life got to this party. I push off the wall and open the door a crack. Julian turns toward the sound, and he’s met with my large vase full of white roses.
“Sounds like this is the place.” I give them my best throaty laugh.
“Jordan? What are you doing here?”
“Is this a private party or can anyone attend?”
Camryn’s voice grinds at my ears and she immediately thrusts herself to my side. “Jordan, Alexandra hasn’t been awake very long. I don’t want anything to upset her.”
“Still directing, even if we’re not on set or married.” I wink at her as the sets of eyes slowly center on me.
“J, we’re having a family celebration of sorts,” Julian states.
“You said just a few short days ago that everyone on set was family, so I should fit right in.” I venture to brush past Camryn and she takes hold of my elbow. I look down to where her hand is, then back into her eyes. I give her a warning she should know the true meaning of, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Let him in, Cam. It’s okay.”
“Good call, Jules.” I smirk at both of them before making my tone sound more presentable for the entire room. “Hello, Alexandra. It’s good to see you upright. These are for you. From me. Consider it a get-well wish and an apology all in one.”
Her look of astonishment says it all. “Thank you, Jordan, they’re lovely. Shana, would you make a spot for them next to my bed?”
The young dark beauty takes the vase and a step back. Who is this young thing? I like that deep-colored hair in a woman. Wonder if it’s real? Girl, I’d love to teach you a few things. “There’s a card but you can read it later. I wouldn’t want to be embarrassed.”
Camryn mutters under her breath, “Then, next time, stay home until you’re fully sober and showered.”
Just ignoring the bitch like I always do, I rub my hands together. “So, what do the doctors say? When will you be allowed out?”
Alexandra clears her throat. “Hopefully, in a few more days.”
I set my hand on Julian’s shoulder, settling in with a firm squeeze. “We’ve halted things on the set. When Julian is ready to return, we will resume. You will be honoring your commitment to us, right?” I finally turn and look at him. “I mean, no rush, of course.”
“Yes, of course I will. I’m a man of my word.”
My eyes narrow a bit. “Yes, I’m sure you are.” I release him and slowly turn back to Alexandra. “I won’t keep you. It looks like you have plenty of attention. Keep me posted, will you?”
Alexandra looks at Julian then back at me. God, I love the confusion. Keeps people guessing. “Yes, of course. Again, thank you for coming down to see me.”
“Certainly. I needed to see you for myself.” I reach down and take her left hand. Fuck! A ring. A large ring. Did he? There’s no way. I can feel my anger build even more than having to look like the wind-up monkey in this scenario. “I’m sure I’ll see you real soon. Take care now.”
I’ve stunned the room quiet with my best care and compassion display. I weave through the stiffs to make my exit. Once I’m out the door, Madame Damage Control Camryn does her best to dial them all back to their happy place before I broke up their little party. “Who wants more cake?”
There is a collective “I do” from the lot of them. Vomit! I watch through the small pane of glass in the door as they all congregate by the makeshift, what I now realize to be, bridal table near the window. Even when I’m a third of a fifth in, my ears still hear everything.
“What the hell was that?” Alexandra asks.
“Could you smell the alcohol on him?” Julian questions.
“Could I? I think I’m drunk off it. Julian, hand me his card.”
He reaches into the two dozen roses and lifts the note from deep inside the blooms. “Do you want me to read it?”
Go ahead. I want you to. Do it!
The look is priceless as she flips the card over and reads, “May you have a speedy recovery. Light will shine on you again. J.”
I watch her process for a short time before I shove my hand in my pocket and turn for that elevator ride. Each ding of a floor is another second of a long drag of that acutely placed flask I knew I’d need.
As I stumble off the elevator into the lobby, the bright lights in that fucking elevator nearly send me into orbit. If that didn’t make me sick, the sweet “Kumbaya” feeling up in that hospital room sure did.
The doors to the outside slide open and a stray shower decides to piss down on me. Fucking great!
I jog slowly to my dark sedan in the front row of the parking lot. Each pound of my feet hitting the ground is like a shock wave straight to my brain.
Those two children and all their little minions gathered try to make me look like the court jester, even when I’m not around. I slide into the front seat and grip the wheel so tight it could bend.
How did this happen?
How did everything start to slip away?
We had it. We had everything the way we needed it until the brown-haired lass with her obvious cock control showed up. She’s the catalyst. She’s the reason things are falling apart.
I pound the dash so hard; I hear it crack. My cell phone falls to the floor of the passenger seat. I pick it up and instantly know what I need. I hit my shortcut four on the phone and wait for the person on the other end to answer.
“It’s Nash. Got a lane for me today? I need to let off some steam.” I open my glove box and my pistol tumbles to the opening. “Good. I’ll be there in ten.” I kill the call.
Things will get back in order. I will leave no stone unturned to get there, no matter the cost.
We’re home. Two weeks in that hospital were most painful and slow, but as my mother keeps reminding me, everything is the blink of an eye. Blink and it will change. First, she was ready to leave. Then her blood work would be off. Then she’d be dizzy. It was two steps forward and one back.
Yes, Mom, blink and it will change.
My blink this time, altering reality, is the ding of the elevator doors as they open. The dark carpet of the hallway is like a beacon.
It’s finally going to be a home again. She’s back in it. I asked Troy to keep Diesel until I called. I wanted to make sure I could get Lex settled without four-pawed excitement taking over. After setting her bag down on the ground, I reach in my pocket for the keys. They rattle about in my hand. Her gentle touch makes them, and my hand, relax.
“I’m fine, Julian. You know Carol and my father would have strapped me there until fall if I needed it. They didn’t. You heard Dr. Paul. The best thing for me is a slow roll back to normal. This will be normal.”
My eyelids fall as I take a deep breath. “Normal. One thing we’ve never been, but I hope we can be now.”
She smiles all the way to her eyes. “Normal can be boring too.”
“I will take that in spades, Alexandra. Believe me.” I slide the key into the lock, and we turn it to the left together. She pushes the door open, but I stop her from entering. “Let me carry you.”
Her patented giggle echoes in the hallway. “I can walk.”
“I know you can, but I want one piece of tradition. The groom carries his bride over the threshold the first time they return to their home together.” I scoop her up into my arms carefully. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Her arms lay lazily around my neck as her petite fingers make their way into my hair. “It’s your birthday after all. No. I don’t mind.”
“My birthday?” Shit! My birthday.
“Did you forget?”
“I did and I didn’t. You’re alive and home that’s all that matters.”
“Julian…” she sighs.
“Don’t worry about that now. Just enjoy this.”
I hope she notices what I mean right away. My wedding gift for her. We cross the entry and her head cocks a bit to the left.
There it is.
“What is it?” I ask, as if I didn’t already know.
“Lilacs. I smell them.”
“Let’s just say when I went missing for a few hours yesterday, I made a couple of trips.”
“How many flower shops did you have to empty to create an indoor garden?”
“Just two.” I laugh. “But that’s not all.”
I set her down carefully. “Julian, what did you do?”
“Go around the corner, Alexandra.” I rest in place. I want to see her every reaction. Watching as she rounds the corner into the living room, her gasp says it all. I walk up behind her and rest my hands over her shoulders. “Do you like it?”
She stares silently at her bookcases, now flanking mine, on either side of the fireplace. The large print she had in her apartment of Paris is now hanging on the wall outside my office. The pillows from her sofa are now mixed with mine.
Thank you, Troy!
“When Julian? How?”
“The when and the how aren’t important.” I move around to face her. “You are what’s important.” Taking her hands softly in mine, I walk backward until we are in the middle of the living room. “It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to find a place where I can use the word us. I know I’ve used it with you, but us scares the shit out of me. I’m thinking it does for you too.”
“It does and it doesn’t.”
“Sit down, Lex.” Her eyes seem to be still processing her things and mine mingled together. “I want to make this very clear to you. That ring on your finger, your things surrounding you now in a place that used to be just mine does not mean I own you in any way. I sense fear of that because that’s what you’re accustomed to. You haven’t fully seen me yet. You haven’t…we haven’t had the time to know. I thought by pulling you in, making your things as front and center as mine, would make you see that. I don’t know. When I say it out loud it sounds like bullshit.”
“It’s not bullshit, Julian. It’s anything but.”
We both stare at each other for a long time. I think each is waiting for the other to begin.
Begin. It feels strange that we might be able to do that now.
I blink first. “You shouldn’t be on your feet too long. You look tired still.”
“Are you saying I look like shit?”
Her eyes light up just a bit. Her fire. It’s still intact. “Not at all. You’re as beautiful as you’ve ever been. I want to keep my promise to Dr. Paul, and it’s required I keep them to your father and Carol. She scares me. Would you like our bed or the couch?”
She giggles a bit before answering. “I’d like the couch then bed. I’ve been in a bed for so long. Besides, it would give me more time to take your interior design flare in.”
“Ha ha.” I bring both her hands to my lips before I help lower her to the couch and get her feet up. “What do you need? Blanket? Water?”
“What I really need is for you to take a breath and sit down. I’m fine. I’m going to say that until you choose to believe it.”
“My head knows you just need a little more time to physically heal. But my heart and soul are still back there, counting the minutes and hours that went by looking at your nearly lifeless body.”
I look down at our hands, our fingers still intertwined. “I sat there for all that time, just watching and waiting for some sign. Some movement to let me know I would have you back. My mind raced through all the things we really didn’t know about each other. Would we ever have the time to ask? Would we ever know?”
“We have time now, Julian. We can talk about any and all of it.” She begins to slowly twist the ring on my finger. The emerald slowly slides toward my pinky then back to center.
“I know we’ve spoken some about…Mackenzie. You shared a home with him. You walked in here so full of wonder at our things mixed together. It seemed like that was the first time it had happened.”
“Honestly? It really was. I had my essentials at Hunter’s place, but that was really it.”
“His place? You didn’t really live there?”
“Oh, my name was on the lease, but it wasn’t mine. It wasn’t a home.”
“I don’t understand, Alexandra. You agreed to marry him but…this woman I know wouldn’t stand for being less than an equal. I know it’s something I shouldn’t ask, but I need to know. Why?”
She ponders her response. It’s almost as if she’s asking herself. This concept isn’t foreign to me. It’s amazing the way you bend for others who don’t deserve it, but I don’t want to assume that’s the answer. We sit in silence for what feels like a long time before she gives me the answer. Do I even want to know now what she’s going to say?
“I am not making excuses for him. I want to start off by saying that, Hunter wasn’t always this ugly person who preys on people for sport. I would have never been with him had that been the case. He was once a kind and funny person, who liked to have fun, and I think loved me.”
My stomach turns at the thought of her talking like this about a man I silently wish nothing but the worst things for. Speaking those things out loud would make me no better than he is and worse than the man I turn into at his provocation. “Then what happened, Lex?” I pull her feet into my lap and gently stroke up and down her calves. The motion gives a place for the anxious vibration in my chest to go.
“I can answer that with one word. Power. He got a taste of it as he climbed the ladder at my dad’s firm, and once he did, it was a drug to him. It was and is an addiction he has no intention of casting away. He wanted to get the win, have the pats on the back, and his name attached to high-profile anything. Anyone or anything that got in his way, or showed any possibility of doing that, was contained or eliminated.”
I can feel the anxiety turn to anger inside me. It’s just below the surface, simmering to a near boil. She doesn’t need that right now and honestly neither do I. Another distraction. That’s what I need. I pull at the knot in her shoelace and as it releases, I count back from ten to one. “He thought he could contain you by marrying you?”
“No. That was to align his power. It was by fear and intimidation that he contained me. After my mother died, the practice was what kept my father steady. I knew it. His friends and colleagues knew it. Hunter knew and used it. He’d go to my father with problems he was more than capable of solving. Feeding my father praise, not that it wasn’t earned. I knew my dad lived for me, but his work gave him purpose. Does that make sense?”
“Perfect sense.” I know where this is going. I know this game all too well. The fear was of striking a match that would set the rage and the intimidation was what laid the foundation for the fear. The cycle never stops.
“I wanted my father to be as happy as possible. Hunter did help in that. So, I overlooked a lot. At first it was just a look. Then it was subtle reminders. Then it was private threats. It just kept escalating until…” Her voice trails off as her fingers slide over the scar above her eye.
“Was the glass the first time he really came at you physically?” Yet another question I don’t want to know the answer to. Hunter should thank the universe he’s on the other side of the United States right now.
“Before that he’d held me against walls and screamed in my face. He used his body weight, so I’d stumble back over things then act like he was concerned if I was okay. There was never a bruise or physical mark until then. He made sure of it. His gravy train depended on it.”
“You never said anything to anyone?”
“I talked a bit to Shana and Rebecca. That’s why Becs is how she is with any man who comes near me. Connor just wanted me to be happy, however that looked, and David, well; he never wanted to be in a room alone with him. He pegged him from minute one, but I didn’t listen.” She whispers softly, but I can still hear her, “Why didn’t I listen?”
I know the answer.
“Because there was part of you that hoped he would go back to be the man you loved in the first place. You didn’t want to be wrong about him. You hoped he loved you more than power and money.”
“Are we still talking about Hunter?”
There it is. Alexandra and I knew each other before we truly did. We recognized in each other the kindred, broken parts of our collective spirits. “We are and we aren’t. I think you know that though.”
“I broke free much like you did, Julian. You finally reached a point where you couldn’t take it any more. The love of your mother wasn’t enough to make up for what you never got from your father, and Hunter was never coming back. Even though it meant giving up everything we knew, it was our chance to say enough.”
“You’d never run before that day, had you? I’ve never seen you run since.”
She cocks her head to the side again, just like Diesel often does when he’s trying to understand what I’m telling him. “That’s a topic switch if I’ve ever heard one.”
I huff just a bit with a small smile. “It is and it isn’t. Will you answer the question?”
“Of course, I will. No. I never had before. The park called to me. Remember how you commented on the Falls being like Piedmont?” I nod my head a bit as I settle my elbow on the back of the couch, resting my cheek on my closed fist. “It was the same for me, Julian. I just didn’t know it yet. I heard the children playing, the rustle of the leaves, the breeze. I had all this energy and it seemed to just call to me.”
My fingers begin the mindless dance across her legs again. “I’d had another sleepless night. I was trying to learn my lines for the next day. I slammed my script to the floor when nothing was sticking. I’d left the balcony door open for the white noise the city brings. Sometimes that helps.
“Diesel had been sleeping quietly in the corner on his bed, but there was a point where his head popped up, he got off the pillow and sat down by his leash, and started whining. He’d only done this a handful of times, so I decided what the hell. I’m not getting shit done in here anyway. Within ten minutes he’d run you down.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I believe in fate, Lex. I didn’t used to, but I do now. We both did things we wouldn’t do normally, so that we would entangle.” She giggles at my word choice. “I know. Even as I was saying it, I was rolling my own eyes.”
“Fate seems to have fallen on you more than once. Lainey was first. We’ve talked about this.”
“We have and we haven’t. We’ve talked about how she left. We’ve talked about if you are simply a replacement for her. We haven’t discussed her.”
“What do you want me to know about her?” I watch as Alexandra rests her head slowly to the back of the sofa. Her eyes are soft and warm. Her gentle hand reaches toward me.
My fingers stop the pursuit of her legs and return to her open palm. “Her words were always soft and kind. Even in anger there was a tenderness to her. She read and remembered everything her eyes touched. It was honestly irritating at times. She was so unaware of her beauty. She also never gave a shit about money. She grew up with it, made her own, and she would gladly give it all away. That pissed her father and mine off quite often.”
“What is their deal? I’m sorry. I don’t understand all of it. I know we talked about this back in Savannah, when you tried to explain to me about Quinn. I just need to hear it again.” She sighs and closes her eyes for just a moment. “I’m so grateful my father stayed out of politics. He was asked so many times and his answers were always no.”
“Be grateful for that. Very grateful.”
When Alexandra opens her eyes again, there was a determination there. She wants so badly for this to make sense. I’ve resigned myself long ago that it never will. “So your father and Mr. Davis were in business together.”
“More like in bed together. Father needed money to fund his campaign. The Davises were fat with it, as I said. Old money. The kicker or catch, depending on your view, was that they needed my father to lobby on the Hill to make them more. That was the influence in Washington.”
“Deal with the devil?”
“Yeah. You’ve heard of Laquin Companies, haven’t you?”
“I think so. Wait…agriculture, right?”
“You got it. Biggest on the East Coast. That is the Davis’ parent company. I couldn’t have cared less about it. I just wanted Lainey; you know? I’ve never been one to set out with an agenda for things. But, my father on the other hand, it was like blood to a vampire. They could scratch each other’s itch in some way. That, along with my marriage to a Davis daughter, would have sealed the whole deal. Endgame and a nearly can’t lose situation for either of them.”
“Is that why you agreed to Quinn?”
I sigh, “Not standing up for my boundaries where she was concerned is one of the worst decisions in my life and for hers. I wasn’t in any place to be making choices, but I did. I hate it. I hate myself for it.”
“I’m trying to rationalize how it could have even happened; how those choices could have been made.” She’s asking the questions I’ve asked myself a thousand times. There’s never a good answer. It’s back to closing my eyes and counting to ten. “Julian.” She rests her hand on mine and gives it a gentle squeeze. “I’m not judging you.”
I rest for a beat before I respond to her. Once I make sure my tone is in check, I open my eyes. “Just like you make no excuses for Hunter, I make none for Quinn. However, she was not always this version of herself. Lainey loved her unconditionally. Quinn liked the spotlight. I think even then she wanted that attention. So, often times, she was at our side in pictures or even at events. Quinn loved riding her sister’s coattails. I mean that in several ways. Some were with good intent and others just so she could be seen.
“She does love her sister. I’ve never questioned that. When Lainey was ripped away, their father immersed himself in his work, their mother had to go to an inpatient facility for a brief time, so Quinn was essentially alone. My mother and Troy were at my side, but Quinn lost just as much as I did. After I was released from the hospital, Quinn would show up at my parents’ home. At first, I think it was because she wanted to be as close as she could to the last thing Lainey touched.
“We didn’t talk much in those first few days. I couldn’t. She just didn’t. For me, it was about not being alone. I think it was the same for her. I was beating myself up. What I could or should have done different. I couldn’t go back. I would have done anything if I could. All I could do is take care of Quinn for her. I knew Lainey would want that.
“Mom was very good to her too. She held her when she cried. My father obviously hung back and just watched, at least until it served a purpose.” I begin to feel this ache in my chest. It’s only growing from sitting still. I pull Alexandra’s hand to my lips before I get up and start moving. First, it’s straightening a pillow that doesn’t need it or simply a slow and steady pace across the rug. “I wish I didn’t think these things about him or Quinn. It makes me feel gross.”
“Julian, it took me a long time to get to a point where I could say it is not about me, it’s about them. Just let yourself feel right now.”
My head starts to hang a little as I open the balcony door for some fresh air. “I’d been at my parents’ house about a month. My father was working late in his office; Mom had gone to bed…Quinn just wouldn’t leave. The television was on some channel that had a marathon of sitcoms from the seventies and eighties. My head was pounding for another countless day in a row. I closed my eyes for what felt like an instant. I woke up and my head was in Quinn’s lap as she was stroking my hair. I didn’t realize who it was or what was happening at first. You know, that moment when you are coming out of a dream and you’re not quite sure if you’re in the dream or if it’s real?”
I turn back to catch Alexandra in my periphery. Can I keep going? I know I have to, but can I? She nods. Her eyes are soft. She’s doing what she does best…listen. “I don’t know if I’d fallen to her lap or if she pulled me there. I’d never gotten the I want my sister’s boyfriend vibe from her. Quinn leaned in and kissed me. I didn’t think. I allowed it to continue. All I’d felt to that point was pain. Fuck!”
“How far did it go, Julian?”
“Lex…” Please don’t make me answer this.
“Julian, you promised me you’d always talk things through, and I promised to take your hand if you’re scared. Come here.”
She extends her petite hand to me. Even as small as it is, it’s going to have to hold a large weight. I stand frozen for a moment, rubbing my hand across the back of my neck. Once I move the world starts to tilt slightly but I make it to her hand. I don’t deserve to sit at her side, be her equal in this moment. I opt to kneel in front of her. This just might take every ounce of forgiveness she has.
“This is the part I left out in Savannah. It was easier than to have you look at me differently. I won’t go into detail. Neither of us needs or wants that. Quinn and I had sex that night.” Those words have been bottled up inside me for so long. I don’t know if it is freeing to say them or like a nuclear bomb vaporizing my universe.
“Was that the only time?”
Her tone didn’t change from the first question to the second. Is she in shock? Is she repulsed by me?
“Yes. I swear to you, that was the one and only time. Remember when I said she considered herself my partner? That was why. She thought it was a beginning. I never ever wanted that. I was done. I couldn’t look at her or myself in a mirror. Who was I then?”
“You made a mistake. It was a fucking huge one, but it was a mistake.”
“I feel responsible for her switch. She continued to pursue what she saw as a relationship and me. I did many things to avoid coming in contact with her. I spent a lot of time with Troy. I’d get in a Rideshare and just tell them to drive. I never cared where. I’d never felt so weightless in my life. I couldn’t come here. I couldn’t go to Savannah. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t be at my parents’ place.”
“Where did you end up, Julian?”
“I found a small recording studio west of Midtown. They were open twenty-four hours a day. They never questioned how long I was there or what I was doing if I paid for the time. Some days I would play. Some days I would write. Sometimes I would scream or cry until I fell asleep. No one heard me or bothered me.”
“Is that where the song came from that you played for me?” She begins to quote my lyrics back to me. ‘“Can anyone hear me? Because I’m screaming inside. All I do is feel. When I’m trapped inside my mind.’”
“You remember that from one time?”
“Julian, believe it or not, you make an impression on people.”
“Not always in the way I intend.”
I open my mouth to say more but a click in the lock and the creak of the door stop me. It’s followed by the click click click of some large paws on the tile in the entry. Diesel rounds the corner, nose to the floor, and then takes to a run when he sees we are home. I create a barrier between Lex and him. “Easy there, boy. Easy.”
“Hey, kids!” Troy’s happy-go-lucky voice echoes through the room.
“We’re in here,” Lex calls to him. She lifts her head from the sofa back.
Troy has his same routine. He hangs the leash on the hooks behind the door. The keys hit the quartz countertop and the refrigerator door opens. You can count on it every time. “Did I give y’all enough time to settle in before I brought the freight train home?”
The refrigerator door closes, and I hear the distinct snap of a soda can.
She answers, “Yes, we’re getting there.”
He rounds the corner just as I rise from Alexandra’s feet. I don’t know if he can sense it from the feel of the air, or if it’s the look on my face. I know it’s too much to hope that he will say nothing. “Did I interrupt something?”
“I wouldn’t say interrupt is the right word.” I awkwardly pass him. “Come on, boy. Treat time.” The pup follows me at the magic word. Once I’m in the kitchen out of sight and Diesel is happy, I lean back against the fridge and bang my head against the freezer door as quietly as I can.
“I can exit stage right. You can forget I was here.”
Lex responds, “No. It’s okay. We needed a minute anyway. We’re just sorting a few newlywed things out.”
“Shit! Don’t I know about that. When you first live with someone that’s all you seem to do for a while. Who controls the remote, what show to watch, how to load the damn dishwasher, everything!”
“I can deal with anything as long as it’s honest. The rest will simply work itself out.”
Will it Alexandra? I’ve just laid a huge thing at your feet. Will it?
Troy stayed for quite a while. I’m glad he did. It gave me a bit of time to really think about everything I had swimming in my head. One thing I know for sure, I’m not angry. I don’t hate him. Do I think it wasn’t a great choice? Absolutely, but who am I to say that? I think he believes I think I made a mistake being with him.
He’s been very quiet. He didn’t argue when I said I wanted to make a special birthday meal. I was glad for that. It was a simple breakfast for dinner, but it felt good to be doing something normal for him in the middle of all this chaos we still have. After I cleared the dishes, I made my polite excuses to lie down and collect myself.
Now I’m sitting quietly in the dark of our bedroom on the plush bench at the foot of the bed. The moonlight is making it easy enough to see the outline and shape of things around me. Julian’s shape fills the doorway before me. I can’t see his expression, but I can feel how tentative he is.
“Did Troy leave?”
“Yes. He wanted me to tell you thank you for dinner and next time Tanner will cook.”
“Asleep on his bed. We wore him out with his tennis ball.”
I wrap my hands over the velvet softness underneath me and look up toward his shadow. We speak each other’s name in unison.
“Will you let me go first?” I ask.
“Can you see my face?”
“As if it was lit in sunlight, yes.”
I smile just a bit before I let it fade. “Good. I want you to see me clearly as I get this out.”
He sighs heavily, “Fuck….”
“I know this conversation was not one you expected to have today of all days. As I said before, you made a mistake. It was a huge mistake. But that’s what it was. You’re not perfect. No one is. You regret it. That’s how I know it won’t happen again and that you’re telling me the truth about all of it. You don’t need me to forgive you. You didn’t do anything to me. I’m going to reassure you because I know that’s what you need. I just want you to know I’m not angry.”
“How can you not be? Who are you?”
“How? First, pain does horrible things to people. It makes you act in ways you likely wouldn’t. It makes you stay too long at the party. It makes you withdraw. It makes you move across country to start all over. I can’t tell you how to process the pain of losing Lainey, Julian. We have our collective pain now. You have to promise you will process all of it with me. You can have your time obviously, but you need to come back to us. That’s the deal breaker for me, Julian. And the second is, I love you. I can only think of two things that could ever change that. I think you know those two things.”
“Yes, Lex. I do. I will never cheat on you, and I will never ever raise a hand to you.”
“Then please, don’t stand way over there.”
My breath catches in my chest as he makes his way out of the darkness and into the light with me. We sit on this bench we made love on not that long ago and I feel more connected than ever.
“Julian, I wish we could…”
“I know.” His fingers slide slowly through the hair just above my ear. “I do too. Soon. Just not yet.”
“I think you need to be close to me like that. I know I do with you.”
“You’re right. I can hold you, touch you, take care of you.”
“I’d like a shower.”
He takes my cheek in his palm. “I’ll start the water.”
A picnic in the park was a good idea. Birthday meal part deux. There are these small towers that resemble the lifeguard stands in a couple spots near the track. They are on stilts with a short ladder to climb. They are covered with to give us a break from the heat of the sun and a few windows to give us the breeze we need. Today is going to be a hot one, but Alexandra insists on going. The hut is a good compromise. She carries a couple of big pillows while I tackle the rest. It feels like we are going to be gone a couple of days versus a couple of hours max, but I need to make sure she’s comfortable.
I steady her at her waist as she slowly climbs. She wobbles a bit. I try not to worry and let her do what she says she can. It’s taking all I have inside me to do that. Once she’s inside, she pops her beautiful face out and asks me to hand things up to her. First the blankets then the pillows. They are followed by the battery powered fans and our food.
“You’d think we were camping,” she laughs.
“I just want you comfortable, cool, and happy. That’s all.”
“You’re mother henning me, Julian.”
“The heat feels good.”
“If you say so.” I change the direction of the fans and turn them up.
“Can we set the fan down? I want to watch up the hill to the playground.”
“Sure.” I settle the fan on the floor instead in the far corner. As I turn it up, the breeze meets her face and blows the baby hairs at the base of her neck.
I hand over her water bottle. “Are you sure you’re comfortable?”
“Yes. I’ll tell you if I’m not. Come sit by me and just relax.”
“Relax? I don’t know if I know what that looks like.”
“Oh, I know you don’t. Just try though. Look at the kids up near the swings. Children are blissfully unaware of the heat. I mean, I know there’s shade up there but look at how they still run.”
“Look at the blonde pigtails fly behind the one on the swings. It’s like they’re in their own zip code.”
“I loved to swing as a child. I would cry until my dad would push me higher and higher until I thought I could touch the clouds.”
“I bet he was all too happy to do as you wanted.”
“He was because I laughed in the end. Daddy always said that was his greatest reward. What was your favorite thing to play as a child? Your mother had stories for me, but I want to hear it in your voice.”
“Baseball. It was always baseball if I wasn’t auditioning. I love the game. The smell of the leather. The sound of the contact with the bat. Have you ever seen the movie Field of Dreams?”
“Yeah. Costner, right? Set in Iowa?”
“That’s the one. How he felt about it is how I feel about it.”
“Why is this the first I’m hearing of it?”
I shrug. “When I turned sixteen, I had to choose. I couldn’t travel for ball and also travel for work. As much as my father hated my choice in careers, he hated baseball more.”
“I want you to share your love of the game with me.”
I nod slowly. I can feel a bit of pressure in my chest. “Let’s have something to eat.” My eyes drift up to the hill, watching a little boy playing a game of catch with his father.
“You don’t have to hide it, you know,” she says.
“Ten weeks, Julian. I would be in my tenth week. The fingers and toes would begin moving. The baby would be about two inches long, and we could do a blood test to see what the sex was.”
I instinctively pull my knees up and rest my elbows on them. My fingers flex and contract. My knuckles pop with each movement. “You’d be starting to round out, likely sick. He or she would be the size of a strawberry.”
“Every once in a while.” Which is a lie. I’ve looked every week since the accident. “I needed to know what we were missing.”
“I put an app on my phone.”
“Why would you do that? Babe…” I reach for her hand and cup it between mine.
“I don’t know how my heart is going to heal from this one. How can I miss something I never really had?”
“You did have it. We both did. The motherfucker in that car took it, and nearly you, from me.”
I crawl slowly away from her and to my feet. I feel this instant fire. I went from content to fury in the snap of a finger. I don’t want to be too close to her right now. I have this sea of hatred ready to crash on the shore and take out everything and anything in its wake.
I can sense her trying to rise and come to comfort me. It’s the last thing I want right now. The scene of the father playing ball with his son has now been erased by an all too vivid memory. The headlights screaming past me. Watching up in my rearview mirror in horror as her car flips. One. Two. Three times. The blood on her face. The child we didn’t know who died inside her.
The volcano erupts and I hold the frame of the window opening and I begin punching over and over again to its right. I feel the sting in my hand at first but then it just goes numb. I let out a primal scream with the last punch. My forehead, now beaded with sweat, rests over my hand gripped to the frame.
I look to my right hand as I peel it back. It’s covered in blood. Fuck. I screwed up again.
“Jules? Let me look at it.” She’s risen but is keeping her distance.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I’ll pack us up. Pour some of your water over it, wrap it in this napkin and hold your ice bottle to it. You should have it looked at.”
Her voice is soft and tender, but her actions are cautious and guarded. I don’t want her to feel like that with me. I do exactly as she asks in silence. It’s better that way.
He lets me lead the pace walking back to our condo. I’m feeling a little dizzy but it’s not the physical kind. It’s the emotional. It’s the re-realization of what we lost in the accident. We had all these gains. We looked at what could have been but never have really addressed the real losses. It was selfish of me to not realize the full impact of what my miscarriage did to him.
I’ve never had something like this happen to me, or anyone I know. I don’t know if it’s normal to just think about the impact it has on you. By you, I mean you as the carrier. The one who lost a part of you that was growing inside.
I sent Julian in a car to have his hand looked at. He refused on many levels at first. He argued and said he was fine. I asked him if I said that crap if he would just take it as the final answer. That and my promise to lie down in the air-conditioning was the only way he’d go.
I lay on the bed for a couple hours. He’d send me texts giving me updates. Checked in. Sent for X-ray. Not broken. I’m sorry.
I need to do something before he gets back. I sit up slowly and assess how I am. I’m tired but functional. I’m not dizzy or lightheaded. Good. Then I can get where I need to go. Alone.
It took a bit of time, but I did it. I got behind the wheel of his car. I sat down in the parking garage for a long time. I started the car and then cut it off again. I did that about three times before I left it running. I adjusted and readjusted the seat and the steering wheel a few times before I settled my hand over the shifter and pulled it into reverse.
My stomach was in knots nearly the whole time heading to the store. Even the side streets felt like rush hour. Julian’s car handled like I remembered though. Smooth and even. I didn’t want to let my fear take control and win. This errand was too important.
I got exactly what I’d envisioned. One thing was the last one in stock and another was an impulse. I hope Julian understands.
There and back, I was gone about forty minutes. While in the store I got two final texts. Glue on the cuts and I’m being discharged. As I put my key in the lock, the door pushes open. Didn’t I lock it? I could swear I did.
Diesel comes around the corner to greet me. “Hi, buddy. Are you okay? Is Daddy Troy here?”
“No. He’s not.” Julian’s voice echoes hard from around the corner.
Julian reads back to me the note I’d left. “Troy, I had to run out quick. I’m fine. BRB Lex.” He pauses a bit then growls, “Where the fuck were you?”
“What? Why are you talking to me like that?”
“It’s very simple. You were supposed to be resting. You’re supposed to be safe here. I come home and find you gone? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I lay there for a couple hours, then yes, I needed to do something, so I took your car.”
“You drove!” he bellows.
I holler back. “Yes, I drove! I had to do it sometime. Today was just the day.”
“How could today be the day? Jesus Christ! You could have…” He doesn’t finish the sentence.
“Could is the word. Should I act like I’m dead forever?” The minute the words leave my lips I regret it.
“I can’t believe you just said that.” He storms off into the bedroom.
I chase after him with a gift bag still in my hand. “Julian.” I call his name again. “Julian.” He continues to stalk away. “Julian Joseph, stop!” I yell so loud my voice cracks.
His head whips around at the change of tone. My head is instantly pounding and my vision blurs. I reach out for the doorframe. “Lex?” He rushes to my side. “Sit down, right now.”
He’s right. I need to. I don’t know if it’s my blood pressure, the argument, or the adrenaline from the drive wearing off, but it’s all coming to a head.
“Alexandra, tell me what’s wrong, right now.”
His arm is wrapped tight at my waist. He nearly lifts me from the ground to the bench at the foot of our bed. “What’s wrong is that we’re fighting. What’s wrong is I did something I was scared to do, and I’m coming down from it. What’s wrong is we’re both so sad and scared it’s breaking our hearts.”
My fingers won’t let go of the bag.
“I don’t want to fight, Lex. That was never my intent.”
“It sure didn’t seem like it the way you came at me.” I rest my head on his chest. He tenses at first then he eases back and starts to massage my head through my hair.
“Just breathe,” he whispers. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to help you. I hope what I did will.”
“You still haven’t told me where you went.”
“While laying here counting the tiles I can see in the bathroom from the bed, I realized a few things. I really screwed up by not considering the impact losing our baby would have on you. I didn’t think about it. I should be the one apologizing.”
“Jesus…Lex. I nearly break my hand because I can’t control my emotions. I curse at you, which I should never do, and you’re apologizing?”
“We talked about me. What losing me would have meant. We obviously never talked about children. Did we want them or not want them? If we did have them, when did we want to try? We’ve barely been together long enough to know each other’s favorite color.”
“Do you regret getting married?” he asks.
I lift my head from his chest. “Did you really just ask me that question?”
“It’s really an honest one.”
“No. I’ve never once regretted saying yes. Don’t ask me that again. Ever.”
“Shhh. Calm down. Tell me where you went.”
“The gift is for you. I just went to the store. I guess I shouldn’t say just. Open the bag.”
I rock back on my heels as she places the bag in my hands. It’s a pale blue gift bag with white tissue billowing out of it. I pull the tissue away and as I do, I find I need to sit flat.
“This is why you left? This is why you got behind the wheel alone?” I pull out each item. On top is a copy of the book Goodnight Moon. “This was one of my favorites as a child.”
“My mom read it to me every night for two years. I can look away from the pages and know the book by heart,” she says.
Next is Field of Dreams on Blu-ray. “Lex….”
“We can watch it together.”
Underneath that is a Braves ball cap, the tiniest of baseball gloves, and a soft cover baseball. I try and open my mouth to speak. I can’t. There are no words for this. I bury my face in the leather and inhale. As I do, the tears come in waves. I can feel my shoulders shake and it’s hard to breathe.
“We will have this someday, Julian. If you doubt it or get sad, look at these things we will have ready. I’m going to also remind you of what I’ve said before, but with one addition. We can mourn together. We can cry, scream, break things. We can do what we need to do, Julian. We just need to promise to be here for each other—before, during, and after.”
She sinks to the floor beside me and holds me as tight as she did that day on the beach. Once again, she risked herself to be there for me. John asked Ray, “Is this heaven?” Ray said, “No, it’s Iowa.” I’d disagree. This is heaven and Alexandra is my angel.
We sat quietly for the majority of the rest of the evening. I don’t know if we were just too tired or said all that needed saying right then. We ordered in some Thai food. She said she wanted something a little spicy. I wasn’t that hungry, and she deserved what she craved. I know I didn’t deserve what I got today. That was absolution, kindness, empathy, and validation.
The absolution was for my fist-cracking episode. The kindness came after I yelled at her and in her gift to me. The empathy came in the form of understanding this was our pain, and the validation was I could feel it how I needed to, as long as we walked through it together.
I bribed her to lie down early, offering to lay with her. Truth be told, I needed the body break as much as she did. Even with the AC flowing, it seemed hot. We had the ceiling fan clicked to high and I spooned behind her in nothing but a sheet.
We curled on our right sides. I had my right arm wrapped underneath her and my left draped at her waist. Her left side still bothered her from time to time. The bruising had faded on the surface, but we were warned that some ran deep, including her ribs. I worried that even my arm was too much weight.
Alexandra’s hair was still damp from her shower. Her shampoo smelled of jasmine and mint, while her bodywash was a combination of eucalyptus and lavender. Those scents, coupled with the heat and the curves of her delicate body were sending me signals I could not act upon.
I bury my nose in her hair and inhale deep. My fingers mindlessly dance around her hip. Her skin is so soft. Her shape rounds into a beautiful hourglass. I can’t stop thinking of all the things I wish I could do.
I’d love to take her breasts in my hands while I bury more than my nose in her. I can feel myself growing between us. I don’t want to move but I can’t stay.
“I thought you were sleeping,” she mumbles.
“No, that was you. I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“You didn’t. I was dreaming.”
“You were?” I ask.
“I was. Then I woke up and it felt like reality.”
“What do you mean?”
“We were just about to make love.”
I try to roll away from her, but she takes hold of my wrist. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. You feel so good. You smell so good. Every inch of me is craving you.”
“So you’re apologizing for that?”
She rolls over in my arms and lays her head on my chest. My cock is pulsing between us. “Alexandra, I should get up.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“Don’t look at me when I try to explain. Please?”
“Don’t look? All right, I don’t get it, but I won’t look.”
“First, I don’t deserve to have you today. Not after what I said and how I acted. But more importantly, your body isn’t ready.”
“My heart is. Jules, I need you.”
Those words split me wide open. They’re like a hammer to a watermelon. I’m crushed by her words because I know I have to say no to her. “I need you too.” I pull her tight to me. Our bodies are pressed so close it’s like we are one. Her breasts surround my heart. I can feel it beating against her skin. I bring her knee slowly up and over my hip so I can hang free without her feeling me.
“There are…other things I can do. Other things I can do for you.”
“I don’t want to be with you and not be with you.”
“What if that’s what I want?”
Her hand slides up the top of my thigh and stops at my hip. She kisses my chest softly once, twice, three times. My erection that I willed to subside is now solid. It’s nearly painful. All my focus has become about control. I can’t give in.
“Julian.” My name rolls off her tongue like a song as she shifts her body to allow her hand the little space it needs to venture between us. I can feel my cock rise and meet her apex. Her little gasp tells me I should move. As I try and move away, her fingers wrap around me. Her thumb does a lazy glide over my tip. The shock wave is so great I roll to my back.
I flop my arm over my eyes. I know if I watch, my last strand will snap. Alexandra settles her hand on my torso as she straddles my thighs. Her hand gently glides down my shaft mimicking her movement. It’s slow, graceful, and wholly erotic. I feel like the biggest asshole for being this selfish.
“You don’t have to say anything. Just feel. Feel good. Feel loved. Just relax.”
Her hand winds carefully up and down my length. She pumps me to my peak and back again. My body begins to shake and shiver. I can feel her hips draw forward and back slightly. The gentle pressure of her hand increases more and more the longer we go. She’s responding too.
I want to see her. I need to see her. I lift my arm from my eyes, and she is a vision any man would be grateful to have. Her chestnut hair is a mess around her shoulders. The strands tickle across her breasts. Her lips are parted, and her breath is as ragged as mine. “God!” I’m like a teen struggling with self-control.
I don’t want it. I don’t want to have any. My hands wrap around her knees like a vise. My legs shake beneath her. She begins pumping me harder and harder. She’s got me. She’s always had me. Our chests arch at the same time as I give her everything I have. I erupt with the simplest and amazing pleasure. My wife.
I felt powerful and powerless at the same time. I would have given all I had to him. I feel like I could, but he won’t let me. I’m not sure if he’s afraid for me, or himself. I was glad I could be there for him in that way, but I’m not sure it was enough for the both of us.
Julian was up and gone with Diesel before I woke. The bed was cool, and the note read, “I won’t be gone long” with a simple heart beside it. I hope it was the truth.
The shower was the best thing for me. It’s been the best thing for a few weeks. When I can’t seem to get my body moving in the morning, especially now, the steam and warm water do the trick. I hope it won’t be that way forever. I’m towel drying my hair when I hear a knock at the door.
“Did you forget your key?” I ask before I look through the peephole. When I get a look, I screech and fling the door open. “Daddy!”
“I would have used it, but you didn’t give me one. Hi there, sweetheart.”
I leap into his arms and hold on. “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Can’t your old man surprise you?”
“Of course, you can. Come in. Come in.” I step back so he can enter. He places a hand at the small of my back. “You first. How are you?”
I close the door behind him. “I’m pretty good, Dad. I’m not quite back to work yet, but soon.”
“You shouldn’t try to do too much.”
“It’s been weeks. I swear. I’m a lot stronger.”
“I’ll worry no matter how long it’s been.”
“I know. You always will. Can I get you anything? Water? Coffee?”
“You don’t have to wait on me, but water will be fine.”
“Wait on you? Geez, Dad. Let me.”
“Where is Julian?”
“He took the dog out before I woke up. He should be back soon though. I wish you had told me you were coming, so I could’ve had the guest space ready. If you give me like thirty, you can bring your bags in.”
“Thank you, sweetheart, but I’m taken care of. You’re the main reason I’m here. I needed to see with my own eyes that you were still mending, but there is something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What’s wrong?” I take a seat on the couch beside him. “Is it work? Tell me it’s not Toby. Where is he?”
“No. No. Calm down. Toby is perfectly fine. He’s with me actually.”
“He’s with you? Where is he now? You didn’t leave him in the hotel, did you?”
“I’m not staying in a hotel. I’m staying with a friend.”
“With a friend? That’s great. Someone from college? A former colleague?”
“No, Alexandra. There’s no real easy way for me to approach this, so I’m just going to say it. I’m staying with a lady friend.”
I sit there silent for a moment. I’ve never seen my dad go on a date since Mom, let alone stay with someone. Not that he can’t, it’s going to just take me a minute to process.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m just caught off guard. Is she from Minnesota?”
“No, sweetheart. She lives here. She works here. Her kids are here.”
“Kids? Who is she, Dad?” I shift my body back against the pillows.
“It’s Carol. We spent a lot of time together while you were in the hospital. Before I left last time, I gave her my card so she could contact me directly in case it was urgent. I decided I wanted to speak with her on a private level, so I contacted her one evening at the end of her shift. We’ve been talking regularly ever since.”
“Weeks? You’ve spoken to her for weeks and this is the first I’m hearing about it?”
“Are you upset? If you are, I need to understand why.” He reaches for my hand.
“Upset isn’t the right word; I like Carol a lot. Neither is surprised because I’ve never wanted you to be alone. It’s just not what I expected you to say to me today. So, you’re staying with her, at her house?”
“We wanted to try it. Her girls are with their father this week. She told them who I was, how she met me and why I was coming. She’s told them all about you and Julian. They wanted to meet me as well. I think we might have dinner one night this week.”
My mind hears every word, but I’m having a hard time still processing it all. “Do you love her?”
“Sweetheart, we are nowhere near that kind of declaration. I’m very fond of her and want to see if we could make a go of it long term. This was going to be a way to see you, share it with you, and test that with her.”
“What does your gut tell you, Dad?” I ask.
“She is the first woman I’ve even considered romantically in since your mother. I think that makes her quite special.”
“Carol is special. She’s special to me too. I know she is to Julian as well. It’s just….” I stop.
“Just what, Alexandra?”
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“That’s not for you to worry about. I love you for it but that’s the risk we all take, isn’t it? Didn’t you?”
He’s right. He’s always right.
“I see her and Dr. Paul tomorrow for a follow-up. If all goes well, they might release me for work early enough for the shoot midweek. Is it awkward if I bring it up to her?”
“I think she’s expecting it. She knew I was coming here. I have one more question. Are you all right?”
“Daddy, like I said, I never ever wanted for you to be alone. If I could choose someone for you other than Mom; it would be someone like Carol.” I pause before asking my last question. I curl my legs under me and start twirling my hair with my finger. “Did you notice her perfume?”
“Right away. It was a nudge like the lilacs always are for you.”
“I miss Mom a lot. Like a lot.”
“I know, sweetheart. No one understands that more than I do.” He pulls me toward him and wraps his arms around me.
My head nests in the space between his chin and his shoulder blade. “I’m glad you surprised me. I mean that in every way actually. I hope it works the way you want it to.”
“Either way, sweetheart, it doesn’t diminish the place your mother still holds in my heart. And remember, you are my best girl.”
Troy sets my second cup of coffee down in front of me before he plops in the chair across from where I’ve taken up residence. I’ve got Diesel’s leash in my hand, and he’s passed out at my feet after wearing him out with a run. I haven’t said a word yet since I’ve been here. It’s been a while since I’ve just shown up and sat in silence.
I would do this all the time after Lainey died. There were days when he and I just wanted to not be alone, but we didn’t want conversation either. It was about just the closeness to someone who understood the need for the silence.
“Are you ready to talk about it yet?” he asks.
My baseball cap is pulled down so far his voice is in the shadows. I reach for the cup and let the brew burn its way down into my belly before I set the cup back. I don’t really answer except for the shrug of my shoulders.
“I don’t want to push you, Jules.”
“You’re not. I just don’t know how to say what I’m thinking.”
“Well, first of all, you don’t sensor shit with me. Second, what is said here—stays here. So, spill. You don’t regret getting married, do you?”
My head whips up and our eyes finally meet. “What? No! Fuck no!”
Troy puts his hands up. “All right, Jesus! I had to start somewhere. That was the only place I could think of unless it’s a work thing, but I know better.”
“It concerns Alexandra but it’s not about her.”
“You’re talking in circles, babe. Just say it.”
I fold my hands in front of me, the leash chain is rattling between them as my elbows ride the waves of my knees bouncing up and down. “I did something I shouldn’t have. It was selfish. I don’t regret it in some ways, but I majorly do in others.” My eyes focus back down on Troy’s feet. “Alexandra hasn’t been cleared to…I mean we can’t…you know.”
“Just say it. You can’t be with her like you want to. She’s beautiful. She’s your wife. I mean you’ll get there soon, right? She looks great. The docs aren’t worried about anything, are they?”
“She has an appointment tomorrow. We will see how back to normal she can be. I don’t want to push the question because I’m already asshole enough.”
Troy rolls his eyes and settles back. “You’ve said that twice. Wanting to have sex with your wife doesn’t make you an asshole.”
“It does when I allowed her to jack me off and didn’t touch her in return.”
“Okay, wait. Whoa. Back the truck up. How did all this play out?”
“Are you fucking asking if I asked her to?”
“Geez, defensive much? No, jerk. I was simply asking what the context was.”
“We both want things. We both need each other in that way. She hasn’t been given the all clear yet. My fucking cock betrayed me and would not stop its pursuit of her. I want to take her back. I want to take us back.”
“Jules, I’m literally not seeing the problem.”
“She wanted to watch me, even if she couldn’t participate fully. She took hold and we went there. Like went there. She even…This is way more than you needed to know.”
“You obviously needed to talk so I’m going to listen. Here’s truth, Jules. Did you enjoy yourself while it was happening?”
“How could I not? She’s everything and more for me. I love her. Every damn thing.”
“Did she enjoy herself? She initiated this, right?”
“Yes, to both. I watched her. It’s burned into my memory.”
“Then pull your head out of your ass and thank the woman! Jesus, it’s not complicated. She loves you.”
I hang the leash up quietly behind the door. Diesel isn’t so quiet. He’s bounding around and winding like a cat through my legs. “Jesus, D., Calm down. You’d think you weren’t just out running a dog-sized marathon.”
“How is it that he looks like he has more energy and you have next to none?”
I push the brim of my hat up a bit. “I look that bad?”
“I didn’t say bad.” She comes out of the doorway to rest back on the wall across from me. “You just seem…heavy.”
“Yeah.” I didn’t know what else to say besides that.
Alexandra steps across to me, takes my hat off, and holds it in her hand. “I want to talk about it when you’re ready.” My heart skips a beat as she pauses the conversation long enough to kiss my cheek. She continues, “My father was here.”
“You didn’t mention he was coming.”
“I didn’t know. He wanted to check on me. He needs to see I’m okay instead of just believing. I think you’re the reverse.”
“Lex…” God! My brain can’t seem to formulate a coherent sentence around her today.
“He told me something else. He wasn’t here to just check on me…us.”
“Not exactly. He’s found…a girlfriend.”
Alexandra walks away, still holding my hat. She settles in front of the door to the balcony. “It’s Carol.”
I’m a little glad she can’t see my face as it cracks a small smile. “Your father and Carol. How do you feel about that?”
“Like I said to him, I don’t want him to be alone.”
“I hear a but in there.”
“It’s not a but so much as an I miss my mom. I love Carol. I do. I can tell by the way Dad talks about her, she’s special to him. There are just so many things I wish Mom was here for and that I could talk to her about.”
“I know you do.” I kiss her shoulder. “I wish I could make that happen for you.”
She reaches back and tangles her fingers in my hair at the nape of my neck. “You were gone a long time.”
“I stopped to talk to Troy.”
“Did it help?”
“He basically told me to pull my head out of my ass. In fact, those exact words were used.” Her shoulders shake a little. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No. I’m laughing at Troy. He’s nothing if not blunt. I really love him.”
“You don’t mind I take things to him?”
“Julian, I can’t tell you how to work things out. I just wish you didn’t think last night was so awful.”
“That’s what you think? That I didn’t enjoy myself?” I turn her around carefully and take her face gently in my hands. “I feel like an asshole because I loved it too much.”
“Why? I love you. I was just showing you in a way that I could. I’m glad Troy told you to pull your head out of your ass. Did you listen?”
“I’m having a bit of trouble dislodging it, but I’ll get there eventually.”
I finally decided to get up at sunrise. It was one of those nights of sleep where you wonder if you even did. I looked at the clock every hour or hour and a half. I don’t know why I’m so anxious. I don’t have any reason to feel like Dr. Paul will tell me I’m not ready to take my life back.
My morning shower is usually where I wake up, my body evens out, and my mind starts churning for the day. It starts the same. It’s like that first morning cup for others. The first few minutes is allowing the warmth to spread over you and awake the senses. By the time you’re ready to wash your hair the brain is actually functioning. Your to-do lists are filling up and your plan for the day is forming, so by the time the shower is done, you’re ready to kick ass.
Today’s shower was filled with more questions than answers. Will I be cleared to return to work? Is that what I even want? Will Jordan comply if I have restrictions? How will I balance being the best I can be for him while I have to do the same with chasing my dream…our dream? Will I finally be able to share being husband and wife with Julian? Will he believe what they tell us? How can I help us not be so afraid? What will it be like seeing Carol? Too many questions.
I shut off the water and step from the shower. The smell of bacon and sweet rolls fills my nose as soon as the steam fades from the bathroom. My favorite meal of the day, even though I wasn’t sure I could eat it, Julian made sure it was laid out before me.
I put on a long floral maxi dress and brushed out my wet hair before I joined Julian and the smells at the breakfast bar.
“Sorry I took so long. I could have made breakfast.”
“I wanted to. I thought you could use the fuel. You didn’t sleep well.”
“How did you know?” I ask.
Julian reaches across the counter and drags a slow finger down my cheek. “You never came to rest against me. That, and I didn’t sleep well either. I think we both rolled around at nearly the same times. I was just quieter about it.”
“I’m sorry if I kept you awake. There’s a lot riding on today for me. For us.”
“No, you had it right the first time. Today is about you.”
“Will you believe what Dr. Paul or even Carol say? Will it sink in?”
“I’m going to be afraid you’ll be hurt until I can see you aren’t. That’s a part of my love for you. Just try to accept it. Okay?”
He’s not going to give me a choice.
We sit, I sit while Julian paces in Dr. Paul’s outer office for a long time, after all my testing is done. I play with the self-adhesive medical bandage around my elbow joint. It’s covering the pokes of the needle my lab vampire took. I’m sure it’s going to bruise. The neurological tests were familiar and less invasive. Dr. Paul was stoic as usual through the whole thing. I’m more nervous about my X-rays and my ultrasounds.
I know my ribs healed. I can tell by my freedom of movement. The ultrasounds were to determine something more permanent. They wanted to see what my reproductive future would look like. They may not know the full impact, but it would tell us if there was anything in the way today.
His steps have a rhythm. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Turn. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Turn.
I break the beat. “Julian? Please sit down. You’re making me nervous.”
“This is what I do here, Lex. By here, I mean inside these walls waiting for information on you. This is what I do.”
I reach out my hand for his. “You don’t have to. I’m right here.”
Reluctantly, Julian stops and opts for my hand. As our fingers meet, the door opens, and Carol’s face greets us. “All right, Alexandra, Julian. We’re ready for you.
Julian takes my elbow as I stand, and we walk the hall behind Carol to Dr. Paul’s office. I take this opportunity to break the ice with her. “Will you and my father join us for dinner before he goes back?”
As we reach the doctor’s office, Carol turns and smiles. “I’d like that. A lot. I know it would mean a great deal to your father if you asked him. We can talk about that after we make sure you’re mending well.”
I nod as she opens the door for me. I see, out of the corner of my eye, her pat Julian’s arm as he passes by. She’s never forgotten to reassure him in all this, ever.
“Good afternoon, Alexandra. Julian.” Dr. Paul’s booming voice radiates from behind his desk. “Thank you for meeting me in hospital today. I wanted to get you your results right away and marry that with being on call.”
“I appreciate that,” I tell him, as Julian holds a chair for me to sit. He remains standing behind me with his hands firmly on my shoulders. Even though his feet are standing still, his fingers are now doing the pacing.
Dr. Paul motions to him. “Julian, we have a chair for you if you’d like one.”
“No thank you, sir. I think I’ll stand.”
“Very well. Let’s get through the easy to read things. Lex, your labs are great. All your levels are in the normal range. I would say let’s cut back on your iron in about two weeks and repeat your labs two weeks after that. That should give us a good indication how your body is responding to a more active schedule.”
“More active?” I ask. “Does that mean I can go back to work?”
“I would like you on hours and weight restrictions. You may work eight hours, but I want that broken into at least two pieces with a two-hour break in between. I won’t sign off on it, if this can’t be agreed to. If you tolerate the schedule well for the first two weeks, I will reduce the rest period and I will elevate you to ten hours. I know that is what your industry requires. The weight restrictions will be nonnegotiable for another month. Nothing over fifteen pounds. Understood?”
“It will happen just as you ask,” Julian softly replies for me.
I put my hand over his in a moment of I’ve got this. “Will you put this in writing for me? I’m not worried about the network and the staff making the allowances.”
That’s only partially true. I’m sure this will be a problem for Jordan and that will be my cross to bear with him.
“Of course. I had it drawn up just in case. Now, for your X-rays. The hairlines we’d been observing in the lower two ribs are coming along. How is your pain with them?”
“It’s not bad.”
Julian chimes in, “She doesn’t sleep on them some nights.”
“He should know the truth.” There is a bite to his tone.
“Julian is correct. I do need to know the truth. However, the tenderness you’re describing is normal. If it changes, call me right away, especially with your increased activity. All your neurological tests were on point.” I watch Dr. Paul analyze everything as we go. “Now lastly, your ultrasound scans. Carol, you indicated you’d like to address this portion.”
“I would, yes. Thank you, Doctor.” Carol turns to Julian and me. She settles her hand over mine, which have been folding and refolding in my lap the entire conversation. “I know you likely have many questions concerning your ability to have a child again, and all the steps to get there.”
“Yes. That was a very subtle way of putting it.” Julian finally opts for the chair to my right. His hand, however, never leaves my shoulder.
“In our conversations during testing, you said your cycle hadn’t returned since you left the hospital after your miscarriage. That is normal. Your body will heal that part of you in its own time. There is nothing in the scans or the hormonal blood work we did that would indicate any long-term damage or reason to think you and Julian can’t have children again, when you’re ready.”
I don’t know who sighed louder, Julian or myself. I can feel tears just on the threshold. I don’t know if they’re ones of relief or sadness that Julian was so scared. Him being hurt, scared, or in pain is something I will never be able to process. I’ll always want to fix it.
It feels like forever before I can ask my next question. I know in reality it’s only been a few seconds. “Can we be intimate now, if we want?”
Carol’s hand squeezes over mine and Dr. Paul clears his throat. “Work restrictions will ebb with showing how you tolerate it. I’d say it would be the same with your sexual activity. Take it slow. If you’re in pain, stop and figure out why. If it continues, call and we can determine the cause. You’re newlyweds, newlyweds who have been through a great deal. I’m glad I can be the one who can give you a yellow light, so to speak. Proceed with caution, but you may proceed.”
This is the first time I’ve seen Dr. Paul with even a hint of a smile on his face. Julian still doesn’t believe. “Are you sure? Beyond a doubt?”
His smile stays. “Mr. Stone, I don’t say what I don’t mean. You and your wife deserve a break, don’t you think? Take it.”
I want to rip the rest of the Band-Aid off today by meeting with Jordan. It’s going to be awkward. Lately he makes everything awkward. I hope he doesn’t make this hard for me. I know legally he can’t, but he seems to always find a way.
He wanted to meet me in his studio office. I may have been brave enough to drive the other day, but I don’t quite have the courage to go that far yet. Julian wasn’t going to leave my side for this meeting anyway. It was his return to work as well. We needed to set limits.
The security guards at the gate were happy to see us. Charlie, who usually doesn’t work this shift, was covering. His smile was so big when he saw me on the other side of the car. In an uncharacteristic move for him, he left the stand and came to my door. He opened it and ordered me out for a once over and a hug.
He’s been a savior for us since nearly my first day. He’s the one Camryn trusts to travel with us. He was with us on Jekyll Island and I’m glad he’s the first face I’m seeing today. He makes what waits inside the gates easier to take.
Wandering through the set when it’s quiet is eerie. You can hear a pin drop anywhere. We pass the front office first. I open the door and peek in. It’s in order. Everything is how I either left it or would have arranged it. It’s nice to know my fellow staff mates have my back whether I’m here or not.
“I guess your office will have to do.” I startle at the boom of Jordan’s voice breaking the silence. “Did I scare you? That would be unfortunate.”
“I thought we were meeting in your office. We were on our way there. I was just getting reacquainted.”
“Hello, Julian, my boy. You could use a haircut and a shave, but you’re nearly camera ready. Is that why you wanted to meet, Alexandra, dear? Are you shifting back into gear?”
Those words leave a really ugly taste in my mouth. “I saw my doctor today, yes. I have a copy of his note to the network for you. I have restrictions. I’m sure we can work something out.”
He grabs the paper from my hand. “Eight-hour days? Two-hour lunch break? How are we supposed to accommodate that when trying to put an episode a week out?”
“I will do my best to be as efficient as possible and plan ahead. I can have one of the interns shadow me. It could be a great learning opportunity for them. It’s temporary and better than being shut down. Isn’t it?”
Julian chimes in, “If you want me back, this is the schedule she needs. You can always say no, but then you know what that means.”
I can see Jordan’s jaw clench and I think I even hear his teeth grind. “You have me between a rock and a hard place. That seems to be the entirety of our relationship, doesn’t it, Alexandra?”
“This is not what I wanted for myself. I didn’t ask to be run off the road. I didn’t ask to be nearly killed. I didn’t ask for…I didn’t ask for any of it. I’m just doing the best I can with what that asshole dealt me. If you find him, we can ask him why together.”
Jordan raises a brow. “That would be the hope, wouldn’t it?”
“It would be a start, yes,” I offer.
“And an end,” Julian finishes.
“Well, that sounded like an open threat. Best be careful with those. The wrong ears could make things messy for you. Just a piece of advice from a friend.” Jordan holds his hand tight on Julian’s shoulder. Jordan then turns his attention back to me. “I’ll give this a look over, make a schedule tonight, and get the phone tree up and running to call the rest of the cast and crew back for day after tomorrow. Get some rest. You’ll need it.” He begins to walk away, my notes wrinkling in his fist. “Oh, best be careful going home now.”
His figure evaporates into the darkness. “That was…”
Julian finishes my statement, “Fucking weird.”
“I want to go home. But I’d like to make sure you’re all set before we do.” I take Julian’s hand to guide him to his trailer. “Don’t you want to go make sure you have everything you’ll need?” I ask.
“Suppose I should.” He shrugs.
“It will settle me to know you will.”
He nods and takes his position behind me. I climb the three stairs and open the door. The trailer is immaculate. I’m sure Becs had a hand in this.
The first thing I do is check his coffee and tea in the galley kitchen. He’s got plenty of both along with a small bit of fresh honey. I open the mini fridge. “I’ll make sure you have your electrolyte drinks and the fresh lemon for your hot tea. I’ll stock your watermelon and protein bars too.”
“You don’t have to wait on me, Lex.”
“I’m just making sure my husband has his needs met.” He smiles that smile which instantly melts me into a pool of goo and adds a wink for extra. I’d give him the world if he asked. “There’s one thing missing.”
“What’s that?” he asks.
“Your guitar. Don’t forget that when we come back day after tomorrow.”
If I could have prevented the alarm from ringing this morning I would have. This time with Alexandra alone, just the two of us, has been more precious than anything I could conceive of. We spent so many lazy mornings in bed. We took several slow walks around Piedmont to make sure she was getting her full strength back. I’m sure I’ve gained five pounds with every dinner she made for us. We laughed, sometimes cried, but spent every moment just appreciating the fact we had them.
The first ride back to set today was not what I had hoped. I wish I could have ridden in with Lex for her first day back. I’m certain that it was intentional on Jordan’s part, especially after our meeting the other night. My call time was the earliest it could possibly be. The only solace I have is that my mother will bring Alexandra to me. I’ll wait for Lex to finish her day and we will leave together.
I worry Quinn will make trouble. Likely. I worry Alexandra will overdo it. Definitely. I worry Jordan will make trouble. Absolutely. I worry it’s all too soon.
I hear the scissors hit the counter as Rebecca sighs, “Julian? Can you stop fidgeting and hold your head up?”
“I’m sorry.” I shake out my arms and fingers and watch in the mirror as she stands back with her makeup brushes in each hand.
“Jesus! That is like the opposite of holding still.”
“I don’t want to be here.”
“Well, I’m sorry but I still have a job to do, and you need a little, or I should say, a lot of work.”
“I didn’t mean in your chair specifically.”
“I know what you meant. Look, she will be all right. I promise. Everyone will be looking out for her.”
“I won’t be able to. That is what I’m supposed to do. Jordan will be the wild card. You know that.”
“Think like him for a second, Jules. He has everything to lose if he goes off the rails. I don’t think he’s that stupid.”
“You give him more credit than I do. I used to know him so well. I used to think he was a model for me to follow, and someone I could learn more about the industry from. That he’d protect me like….”
“Like a brother? Father?”
I clear my throat and settle back in the seat. “Sitting still. Do your worst so he won’t bitch.”
I smack the set of branches in front of me. “I’ll get it. I’ll get it.”
Jordan barks from in the dark, “That’s what you said the last two times. Everyone, we’re going take fifteen. We will resume at the beginning of this scene. Don’t go far. Julian, if you please.” He motions for me.
I offer words of apology to my scene partner, as they reset the lights and the camera angles. He’s not who I need to concern myself with right now. After shaking his hand, Jordan is waiting just out of the light with his arms crossed. With not quite a smile but not quite a scowl, he settles his arm across my shoulders and spins me away. “You’re acting like a fucking amateur. Setting us behind is not going to assure you keep your pet project. Don’t make me say this again.”
“Everyone can have a bad day. I’m having one. I’ll get it.”
“You’d better. We can’t afford to be here all night. Your princess only has eight hours before she turns back into a pumpkin.”
He gives me a pat on the back. To anyone who was watching, it would seem like nothing. There was a sting. It was a clear way of him showing his edge.
Ignore him. Ignore it.
“We won’t. I have ten left. I’m going to use it.”
“Good. That’s really good. This is your role and you created the terms.”
“What did you say?” Those words. They’re so familiar. I rewind to the day my father told me about wanting me to entertain a relationship with Quinn. He used a very similar phrase