Veronica was in the kitchen late the next afternoon checking the spaghetti sauce when she heard the alarm system buzz, indicating that the gate was opening. Here comes reality.
They’d both gotten back to work that morning, after a leisurely shower together – just a shower, no playing since they were still recovering from the excess of the Blue Pill Adventure. They’d shared Jon’s office, exchanging frequent glances and soft looks during long phone calls. Several times she’d looked up from her keyboard to find him watching her. When she’d raised a questioning brow at him, he merely smiled, winked at her and picked up his phone.
By lunchtime they’d caught up on what they’d missed the day before, and since it was Sunday, Jon declared work finished for the day. The Soul were playing an away game and he wanted to watch it on T.V. He’d been pleasantly surprised when Veronica agreed to join him.
Veronica had hoped the game would distract her from thinking about the kids’ arrival. It worked – or rather watching Jon’s reactions as he lived and died with each play worked – to a point. As the afternoon wore on and the time of their expected arrival drew nearer, her nerves started to get the best of her. So she did what she always did when she needed to think, or calm herself...she headed for the kitchen.
And she was still there when the gate buzzed.
Closing her eyes she took a deep breath.
The scent of oregano and chocolate had lured Jon into the kitchen to see what she was up to, grinning when he saw the tray of cookies still warm from the oven. The sight of her tense body sent a pang through his chest.
Walking up behind her, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck. “It’ll be okay sugar. Trust me.”
She sighed, leaned back against him and nodded.
He sniffed and looked into the pot. “Smells great. What else are we having?”
“Garlic bread and Cesar salad.”
“And cookies.” She agreed.
He reached to snag one, taking a big bite. “Mmmmm. You’re a great cook honey.”
The sound of the door opening prodded him to give her another squeeze, then leave to go meet his kids.
“DADDY! We’re back!” Jake yelled.
“So I see. Did you have a good time?” Jon asked as he sauntered into the foyer.
“Yep! Aunt Linda gave us hot dogs and chocolate cake and ice cream.”
“And we payed lots of games!” Romeo added as he held out a foot for his father to help him take off his shoes.
Jesse sniffed. “Is Molly back already?”
Jon shook his head. “No. Not until tomorrow.”
“But it smells like spaghetti sauce. Is Grandma here?”
“It is spaghetti sauce but no Grandma’s not here.” Jon debated about how to tell them.
Stephanie studied her father, noting his relaxed demeanour, the sparkle in his eyes and the soft smile curving his lips. It didn’t take her long to put two and two together. She’d only seen him like that once since the divorce. “Ronnie’s here!”
“What?!” Her brother’s exclaimed in unison.
“Really?” Jesse looked at his father.
Jon nodded and grinned. “Yeah. She’s in the kitchen.”
“YAY! COOKIES!” The youngest two took off running.
Jesse followed at a slower pace.
Stephanie smiled at her father.
His brow crooked. “What?”
“So have you finally figured out whether you’re dating or not?”
Jon laughed. “Yes, we are.” He watched her carefully. “Are you okay with that?”
She thought for a moment, then nodded. “If it will make you happy.”
“Thanks sweetie.” He hugged her, frowning slightly at the lack of enthusiasm in her response.
“Ronnie, Ronnie, you’re here!”
Veronica almost ended up on the floor as two small bodies hurtled into her. She caught herself on the counter. “Hi guys. How are you?”
“We good.” Romeo assured her.
“Did you make cookies?” Jake asked, his blue eyes wide and hopeful.
“Yes, Cookie Monster, I did.” She tweaked his nose. “But dinner’s just about ready and I think maybe we should keep the cookies until after. Okay?”
Two identical pouts appeared, but both little boys reluctantly agreed. She figured it was the sight and smell of the garlic bread she was taking out of the oven that persuaded them.
“Okay gang! Let’s eat!”
Very quickly they settled around the dining room table and dug in.
“Hey Ronnie? How about a game of Guitar Hero after dinner? We can kick Dad’s butt again.”
Veronica glanced at Jon who was scowling at his oldest son and smirked. “Sure Jesse.”
“How long are you staying?” Stephanie asked.
“Until we leave for Dubai.” Veronica answered. “I’ll have to go into the New York office a couple times, but the interviews I need to set up for your dad and stuff, I can do from here.“
“Oh. That’s nice.”
Jon watched his daughter and wondered what was going on in her head.
After dinner they all carried their dishes into the kitchen.
“Can we have cookies now? Please?” Jake spoke for the group.
“Yes, it’s cookie time.” Veronica took the lid off the cookie jar and held it out. “Here you go.” She moved it around so that Romeo was the last and set it aside without letting him get one. With her hand behind her back she crouched down to his level. “I have a special cookie for the big boy who learned to do up his own shoes.”
Romeo’s eyes grew huge and round as her hand came out to reveal a cookie as big as her hand with Smarties arranged on the top to form the letter R. He looked back and forth between the cookie and the lady who’d made it for him. Reaching out, he slowly took the cookie and just stared at it for a long minute. Suddenly, he threw his arms around her neck. “Tank you!”
Veronica froze for a second then carefully hugged him back. “You’re welcome.”
“Okay guys, go get the game set up while I help Ronnie clean up.” Jon could see that she was trying to hold it together.”
“I’ll help her.” Stephanie offered.
“It’s okay Steph, I’ve got it thanks. Why don’t you and Jesse take some drinks in for everyone?” Jon handed over some cans of pop and urged the kids out of the kitchen.
Stephanie was the last to go, her gaze resting on Veronica where she stood by the sink, her back to them.
Once they were alone, Jon stepped up behind Veronica and wrapped his arms around her. “Nice job with the cookie.” He paused. “Are you okay?”
With a tiny cry, she turned in his arms, her own sliding up over his shoulders. She buried her face in his neck and clung.
He could feel the trembling of her body and hugged her tighter, one hand rising to stroke her hair. “Hey sweetheart...it’s okay. Sshh.”
“God it hurts!”
“I know...I know sugar. Hang in there, it’ll get easier.”
She raised her head to look into his eyes. “I hope you’re right.” She sniffed and tried to smile. “At least it can’t get any worse.”
Jon gave her a squeeze. “You’re doing great. And I’m right. You’ll see.” He kissed her gently. “I’m very proud of you. Lean on me when you need to. I’ll help you anyway I can.”
Veronica blew out a shaky breath and nodded before stepping back and turning to the sink and the waiting dishes. “Come on, you said you’d help me clean up. The sooner we get it done the sooner Jesse and I can kick your ass.”
“Pretty big words there sugar, sure you can back them up?”
“No problem. I’ve already done it once if you remember.” She eyed him where he stood leaning against the island, showing no signs of picking up a dish. “Delaying it won’t change the outcome, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll see. If we were alone I’d suggest a little wager to make it interesting.” He started putting food away in the fridge.
“If we were alone I somehow doubt we’d be playing Guitar Hero.”
“True. There’s more fun games to play.” Puckering his lips, he waggled his eyebrows at her.
Shaking her head she tossed the bag of lettuce at him.