Rosewood Short – Part 11
“Your sister listens to what I tell her.”
“Jo’s the baby; she’s required to listen,” Jess said as she moved down the gallery. She knew the moment it left her mouth she shouldn’t have said it. “I listen,” she added, “and take what you say into consideration.”
Behind her, the strike of her flats like gunshots on the refinished hardwood, Jess’s mother made an incensed, maternal sound. “I’m only suggesting – ”
“You aren’t suggesting,” Jess said, rounding the corner at the end of the staircase and moving toward the kitchen. “You’re beating me over the head.”
“I’m only saying,” Beth persisted, “that it would be beneficial.”
There was a tangle of female voices echoing on the other side of the swinging kitchen door and Jess spun around when she reached it, putting her back to it, and squared off from her mom. Beth pulled up short to avoid colliding with her. Her face was set at a Jo-like angle, stubborn.
Jess fought for patience. “How would it be beneficial for me to go away and leave my business for a week? And what would I need with a hotel? I live in a hotel, Mom.”
“Yes, you live here, you work here, you spend every waking second here. You’re burnt out, Jessica. You’re pregnant, you’re exhausted, and you’re killing yourself. You need a break.”
“I don’t have time for one.” She started to turn, and Beth caught her sleeve.
“Sweetie, trust me, I’m not saying any of this to hurt you, but you’re…moody. After all that’s happened with Chris, I just think it would be good if the two of you could get away for a little while. You know, rekindle.”
Hormonal-fueled anger swelled before she could put a cap on it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Chris is a good one. You don’t want to lose him too – ” Beth cut herself off with a start, green eyes going wide. She realized her mistake, but it had already been said.
Jess was fuming. “Oh, I get it. I need some sort of romantic getaway before I run off husband number two, right? Because I’m such a horrible, overworked, obsessive bitch – ”
“Do not put words in my mouth!”
“I don’t have to! I heard you the first time, Mom. I listen, after all.”
“I never – ”
“I better book a room now, huh? Before my marriage implodes?”
The door opened behind her, bumping into her. “What – why are you standing here?” Jo asked. Her tousled, dark blonde mane of waves came whipping around the doorframe as she glanced out at them. “It’s five till and…” She trailed off, glancing between them. “What?”
“Nothing,” Jess said, sweetly. “Mom’s just handing out marriage advice.”
Jo’s eyes widened; she could read the tension. “Okaaaay…”
“Come on.” Jess squeezed past her sister to get into the kitchen. “Help me carry food out.”
Jade was one-hundred percent surprised by her shower. She’d expected lunch with Jess, and instead got a houseful of guests, presents, and the obligatory crepe streamers. She opened gifts in the great room; the younger kids tumbled in the discarded wrapping paper. Halfway through the proceedings, the guys slipped out of the room; Jess heard the murmur of the TV down the hall in the game room and guessed she couldn’t blame them. Men should be banned from baby showers.
She found herself slipping away; she wasn’t pulled into Jade’s happy smiles and the collective “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd. She backed out into the gallery, her soft-soled ballet flats silent on the hardwood, and eased down to the game room. Mike and Jordan were playing pool; Walt was offering Jordan pointers he didn’t want. Randy, similarly, told Mike he wasn’t holding his cue stick right – a comment that devolved into bad innuendos. There were three armchairs facing the TV. Tam and Chris, the respective Rosewood heads of household and biggest money contributors, had the good ones with the footstools. Ben was in the third, one ankle braced on the opposite knee. They were all absorbed in a football game. Tam had his girls on either side of him, tucked between his sides and the plush chair arms. Avery was sucking her thumb and twirling a lock of hair. “Now that was a fumble,” he explained, gesturing with the remote. “That’s not good.” Will and Avery nodded.
Jess went to her husband’s chair and folded her arms over the back of it. His head tipped up until she could see the dark centers of his eyes.
“Aren’t you supposed to be hostessing?”
His tone was light. Things had been better, lighter, easier. But her mother’s words from earlier were still echoing in her mind, making her wonder. Was he happy? Was he burnt out?
She raked her fingers through his hair, thick spikes standing up in their wake. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked in a low voice.
His brows lifted; his eyes moved over her face and she knew he was trying to get a read on her mood. “Now?”
“Yeah. Well…yeah,” she finished with a sigh.
Jess stepped back and watched him stand, pleased to note how much weight he put on his bad leg. His limp was a subtle thing these days; he was back to work, as nervous as that made her, and she’d been assured by the rest of his crew – with a wink – that they wouldn’t let him hurt himself.
None of the other guys seemed to know or care that one of their ranks left the room. In the gallery, they sidestepped Tyler and Walt’s youngest, Logan, who were trying to set up a game of Nerf bowling. Tyler asked Chris a question that started with “Hey, Dad” and Jess kept walking, her heart squeezing, giving them, and herself, a moment of privacy as she rounded the corner into the kitchen. Chris was “Dad” now; what would she do if this marriage went the way of her first one? How did she even begin to handle that?
Paige had left a pink-frosting speckled cupcake platter on the table and she carried it to the sink, wanting to give her twitching hands something to do. She hated that she’d let her mother’s warnings get to her…hated even more that she was giving them credit. But the fact was, restored sex life or not, there was still a certain air of tension in the house. Jess had no idea how Chris handled the force that was her family. He had from the first; he’d jumped in with both feet, right off the bat, and maybe that was why, she thought, she was worried now. Now that they were well beyond the star struck phase, now that there were two kids and lots of in-laws, bills and injuries and arguments and daily ridiculousness involved…was he regretting what he’d gotten himself into?
By the time he joined her, she was scrubbing the cupcake plate so hard her elbow was starting to throb.
He noticed. “You wanna just take it outside and I’ll hit it with the pressure washer?” he asked, a laugh threaded through his voice.
She dropped the platter and turned to him, eyes suddenly stinging. She’d wanted to have this rational, adult conversation, seated quietly at the table. Instead, her eyes moved over him – the worn seams of his favorite green flannel shirt, the hole in the knee of his jeans, the heavy laugh lines streaking back from his eyes that got deeper all the time, the ever-expanding gray patches at his temples – and she choked on the notion that she might not be holding onto him tightly enough.
“Are you happy?” she blurted, tearfully. “Are you happy here…with me?”