“Veronica......Veronica.....VERONICA!” Lori raised her voice in exasperation.
“What? Oh, sorry.” Veronica shook her head to clear it and focussed on her friend. They were sitting in Veronica’s living room watching a movie. It was a cold, damp gloomy Sunday afternoon.
“Where were you?”
“Oh, just thinking.”
“About?” Lori had a pretty good idea, but she wanted to see if Veronica would admit it and talk about it.
Veronica sighed. “Jon.”
This was the opportunity Lori had been waiting for. “Why did he come looking for you after all these years?”
“He wanted to know the details around the baby’s death.”
Lori snorted. “Better late than never I guess.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“How’s he taking it? That was some pretty heavy shit.”
Veronica grimaced slightly. “He seems to be struggling a little.”
“Grief? Or guilt riding him hard?”
“Maybe a little grief, but I think it’s mostly guilt.”
“So what are you doing to help him?”
Veronica stared at her friend. “You too? Why does everyone think that I have some magic wand to make him all better...or that I’d even want to try?”
“Because you’re a caretaker. If someone’s in pain, you need to help.” Lori searched Veronica’s face. “And you’ve been there, you know what he’s feeling – better than anyone, and you know what helped you. This is something that happened to BOTH of you – whether he was there at the time or not. It wasn’t until you finally talked to him about all of it that you started to heal completely – no don’t try to deny it. Ever since I’ve known you, I’ve always sensed that there was something that you were holding back. I never pushed because I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. But now....I can see that you’re...lighter...more...at peace. And I know you well enough to know that you can’t – and won’t - stand by and watch him suffer. Whether you want to admit it or not you still have feelings for him. Personally I think that Gretchen has the right idea.”
Veronica snorted. “Seriously?”
Lori shrugged. “Why not? What’s the downside? You both get some pleasure out of the deal, and if you get to exorcise him out of your system or you find that there’s enough there for a real relationship, so much the better.”
Veronica just shook her head, but before she could answer her blackberry rang. She answered without looking at the display...it had to be someone from BJM. “Hello?” She could hear voices in the back ground. “Hello?”
“You make me cookies today? Prease?”
She pulled the phone away and looked at the number. “Romeo?”
“Were you trying to call me?”
“Molly don’t know how to make your cookies.”
She bit her lip against a grin. “I’ll send her the recipe.”
She heard a thunk as the phone was dropped.
“Hello?” Veronica answered and hazarded a guess. “Stephanie?”
“Yeah. Who’s this?”
“It’s Ronnie. Apparently Romeo called me.”
“Sorry about that he was playing with Daddy’s phone.”
Veronica laughed. “That’s okay...but how did he find my number?”
“I think it was an accident. What did he say to you?”
“He asked me if I would him some cookies.”
Stephanie was stunned. “Wow. That’s....spooky. We were talking about the cookies you sent us at Christmas and how good they were, and he said he’d call and ask for some. I thought he was just playing. I can’t believe he actually hit the right button!” They both knew that he couldn’t read, so there was no way he could connect the name.
“Yeah.” Veronica shivered.
Stephanie hesitated, unsure how to word what she wanted to say. “Do you know what’s wrong with Daddy?”
“Is something wrong with him?”
“Yeah. He says that he’s fine, but I know he’s lying. He doesn’t talk much and he’s....sad.” Her voice suddenly change, telling Veronica that she’d turned away from the phone. “It’s true Dad.”
Obviously the phone had changed hands again. “Hi Jon, it’s me.”
“Hey. How are you?” He sounded surprised to hear her voice on the other end of the line.
“I’m fine. Romeo called me.”
“Really? How did he do that?”
“I have no idea. Just a fluke I guess. Apparently he was on a hunt for cookies. Hiding them from him?”
He laughed. “No, the ones you sent are long gone and he’s looking for more.”
“I told him I would send Molly the recipe....who is she?
“My housekeeper. And she’s always on the lookout for new recipes, especially ones the kids like.” He hesitated. “So, are you enjoying the break?
“Yeah. Lori and I are just sitting here watching a movie. It’s cold and damp here today. How are you? Stephanie seems to be concerned.”
“I’m .....okay. Trying to focus on the happy thoughts, like you told me. The kids help.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet they do.”
His breath caught. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that as a slap in your face.”
“I know. Jon, it’s okay. I accepted that I’ll never have children a long time ago.” But it didn’t mean that she wanted to hear about his kids.
“I’m sorry about that too.” He cleared his throat. “Nica..”
“Everything’s set for the next leg.” She interrupted him. “You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve backed off of the photo ops. There’s still lots of print media though.”
Jon hesitated, wanting to fight the change of subject, but finally gave in. He’d pushed her enough lately – and every time he did it came back to bite him in the ass. “There always is. They’re like locusts.” He sighed. “Are you coming to Jersey or are you going to meet us in Omaha?”
“I’ll meet you in Omaha. I’ll have everything ready and waiting when you get there.”
“Okay, I’ll make sure....oh hang on a minute.” She could hear voices and crying in the background. “Ronnie, I’ve got to go settle an argument before World War 3 erupts here. I’ll make sure the people in Omaha know you’re coming ahead. Just a minute Jake! Jesse quit torturing him!”
Veronica closed her eyes and bit her lip. “Go deal with them Jon. I’ll see you in Omaha.”
“Okay. Romeo, come here buddy. Bye Ronnie.”
Lori watched her friends face as she set down the phone. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I think his kids are fighting.”
“And they called you?”
She smiled. “No, that was a freaky fluke. They were talking about the cookies I sent them at Christmas and his three year old wanted more and said he’d call me...and happened to hit the right button on Jon’s phone.”
“Really? Wow!” Lori was stunned. “So.....you’ve met his kids then.”
Veronica nodded. “Yeah. They came to Newark and then came to see him off when we left for Japan.”
“How...” Lori didn’t know how to ask the question. “How was that?”
“You mean what was it like meeting his kids when mine didn’t survive?” Her lips twisted wryly. “It’s okay Lori, you can say it.” She shrugged. “I won’t lie, it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my life.” She looked down at her hand rubbing her thigh. “It was...painful. Especially the youngest. He looks like Jon,.....just like Drew.” Her breath caught and a few tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks. She impatiently brushed them away.
“Oh honey. I’m so sorry.” Lori reached out to grab her hand.
Veronica nodded. “I’ll be alright. It just hits me sometimes, and with telling Jon and everything, it’s all near the surface right now. It’ll get better. It just takes a little time.” She cleared her throat. “How about some popcorn?”