The next day, the boys were going a little stir crazy, from being cooped up in the house.
“Can we go outside and play?” Jake pleaded.
“Yes...please do.” His father replied, relief evident in his voice. They were driving him nuts!
“It’s rained a lot lately and the river’s really full, so please don’t go too close, and be careful.” Veronica cautioned.
“We will.” Romeo promised.
“I’ll keep an eye on them.” Jesse assured her and followed his brothers towards the door.
“Thanks Jess.” Satisfied, Veronica stood. “Well, I’ve got some sales stats to analyze. I’ll be in the office if anyone needs me.”
When she’d gone, it left Jon and Stephanie sitting in the den. Stephanie stood up to leave, until her father stopped her.
“Steph, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure Daddy.” She sat back down again. “What’s up?”
“What’s going on with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you liked Ronnie.”
“Then what’s with the...lack of enthusiasm you’ve shown her since she got here? I thought you were okay with us getting together.”
Stephanie curled one leg underneath her and tried to find the words to describe her feelings. “But are you? Together I mean. I don’t see any sign of it. This is the first time she’s been here in months, you don’t sleep together, you don’t kiss or hug or touch. You don’t even sit together on the couch when we watch a movie. Even after all the years you and Mom were together, you still did that.”
“We do, it’s just after you guys are in bed. We’re trying to be considerate of you and your brothers’ feelings. Ronnie doesn’t want to push herself on you guys.” Jon explained as much of her comments as he felt comfortable with. He sure as hell wasn’t going to talk about their ‘sleeping together’ with his daughter! “Steph, what’s really bothering you about this?”
Stephanie played with the hem of one leg of her jeans. “I just....she’s nice and everything, but.....I get the feeling that she’s not very comfortable with us...especially Romeo. She just sits there and watches him a lot.”
Jon debated his response and desperately wished Veronica was there with him. Now would be the perfect time to tell the truth. “She hasn’t been around kids a lot. But she’s trying. That’s part of the reason why she’s here now. As for Romeo, well, you know about her baby that died. Romeo reminds her of him and that’s why she sometimes acts a little strange around him.”
“Oh. I wondered if the baby had something to do with it.”
“Does that answer all of your concerns?”
“Yep. I just didn’t want you to get hurt....or us not to get to spend time with you because she doesn’t like us.”
Jon locked his eyes with hers. “You know I would never let that happen, right? I love you guys and would never let someone come between us like that.”
Stephanie searched his eyes for a moment, then, satisfied that he was telling the truth, nodded. “Yeah, I know. We love you too.”
“Besides, I know she likes you.”
“You do? How can you tell?”
“She makes those cookies for you. She only does that for people she cares about.”
Down the hall in Jon’s office, Veronica was staring at her computer screen, but not seeing it. Despite the .....tension relief....she and Jon had indulged in the day before, she still wasn’t completely at ease. From a work perspective, things were going great. Jon had been very co-operative about interviews and being with him meant that she didn’t have to try to get through on the phone or e-mail...she just wandered the house and tracked him down!
The kids, on the other hand, were a challenge for her. Steph and Jesse weren’t too bad, although she had a feeling that something was bothering Steph. Jake she was finally starting to get more comfortable with. He had the most amazing sense of humour and perceptions of the world for a six year old. She was always looking forward to what he would say next. But she was still having a very hard time with Romeo. He was so much like Jon...like she imagined Drew would have been. She just couldn’t relax around him...and she couldn’t stop watching him.
A shriek pulled her from her thoughts and she glanced out the window. And froze, her eyes widening. “Oh my God! JON!” Jumping up, she ran from the room. “JON!” She found him and Stephanie in the den. “Jon! You’ve got to stop them before someone gets hurt!”
Jon watched her rush out of the room towards the back door, and turned to look out the window to see what she was so excited about. “Oh shit!”
Veronica exited the back door at a run, slowing when she neared the tree that overhung the swiftly flowing river, afraid to startle them. She came to a stop beside Jesse. “What are you guys doing? Jake, Romeo, please come down from there before you fall!”
“We’re racing our boats.” Jesse explained, lifting his remote control.
Following his gesture she noticed three plastic boats bobbing near the bank. “And why are Jake and Romeo up in the tree? Please come down boys.” Jake was out midway on the branch that draped out the furthest out over the river. Romeo was even further out.
“We’re not using the remotes except to bring them back to the shore. We’re just dropping them in and letting them go. Then we figured out that they go faster the further out you drop them. We wanted to see how fast we could get them going.”
“But the branch could have broken!” She couldn’t prevent her voice from rising.
“That’s why Romeo went out the furthest – he’s the lightest.”
Jon had arrived in time to hear the explanation. He stared at his oldest son in disbelief. “And what were you doing?”
“Timing them.” He held up his other hand which contained a stop watch.
Jon ran his tongue around his teeth, debating what to say and watched Veronica help his youngest two down to the ground safely. Before he could comment, she let them all know what she thought.
“What were you thinking? You could have fallen in and drowned! You would have floated away before anyone could reach you! I warned you about how full the river was! What happened to your promise not to go too close?”
“We weren’t close. We were in the tree.” Jake explained.
Veronica threw up her hands. “Boys!” Shaking her head, she turned to stomp back to the house. As she passed Jon she threw him a look. “You deal with them!” They could hear her muttering something about brainless boys and death wishes.
“What wrong wit Ronnie?” Romeo asked, a frown creasing his small forehead. “She mad at us?”
“No she’s not mad at you. She’s upset. What you boys did was very dangerous. You could have been hurt or even died. You scared her.” He made eye contact with all three of them. “Please don’t do that again.”
Jon started to turn away, stopped and looked at Jesse. “Who won?”
“Romeo. By five seconds. We were going to swap boats to see if that made any difference when Ronnie came out.”
“Mmm. Well, I think it would be best if you guys stayed away from the river for the rest of the day, okay?”
“Yeah.” Jesse glanced towards the house. “Is she really upset?”
“She’s not used to being around boys and their stunts. She’ll get over it. Just...try not to do anything that might get you killed for a little while.”
Stephanie, who had followed her father out and had just stood listening to the conversation, shook her head at her oldest brother. “You’re an idiot!” Turning on her heel, she headed back to the house.
“Nyah,nyah,nyah.” Jesse wrinkled his nose at her.
Stephanie found Veronica in the kitchen making more cookies – both because there never seemed to be enough, and because it was how she calmed down. “Sorry about that. My brothers are idiots.”
Veronica smiled. “No, they’re just boys. They tend to act without thinking.”
“Do they grow out of it?”
“Not in my experience.”
“So...Dad’s pulled some stupid stunts like that?”
“Well...not quite that stupid, at least not since I’ve known him, but yeah, he’s done stuff without thinking it through.”
“But it doesn’t stop you from lo...liking him.” It was more of a statement than a question.
Veronica paused her stirring and turned to look at the young girl leaning on the counter beside her. “Yes, I like him.”
“So...you’re really dating him again?”
“Yes. Are you okay with that?” Jon had assured Veronica that she was, but the way Steph had been acting since she’d gotten to Jersey, she wasn’t so sure.
“Yeah. I just want him to be happy. And you too.” Stephanie hesitated. “It’s okay for you to snuggle with him and kiss him in front of us you know.”
“I don’t want to make you or your brothers uncomfortable...seeing your Dad kissing a woman that isn’t your mother.”
Stephanie snorted. “Are you forgetting who we’re talking about? I’ve seen him kissing other women all my life.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, and it’s fine...really. It won’t bother me, and I doubt if the boys will even notice...well, Jesse might, but that’s because he’ll be a little jealous.”
Veronica groaned. “That’s another problem.”
“No it’s not. He’ll get over it. There’s a girl at school he’s trying to get up enough nerve to talk to.”
“Ah...I see.” Veronica smirked and dropped dough on to a cookie sheet.
“Are you and Dad going to get married?”
The spoon hovered in mid-air for a second before moving on. “Oh, I don’t know Steph. We haven’t talked about it. I haven’t even thought about it.”
“Well, you might want to. I know my Dad and I can see the signs. He’s in love with you. And that means he’ll want to marry you. He likes to keep the people he loves close.” She paused, her conversation with her father running through her head. “Unless being around Romeo is too hard for you.”
Veronica set down the spoon. “What makes you think being around Romeo is hard for me?”
“I see the way you watch him. You look...sad. Dad told me that he reminds you of your son. I’m sorry. That must be really hard for you.”
“It’s not easy, but I’m working on it.”
Stephanie nodded. “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.” Stealing a ball of dough from the tray she popped it into her mouth and left.
Veronica watched her disappear, sighed and turned her attention back to the cookies.
Jon stood in the doorway, where he had watched and listened. He wanted to kiss his daughter for her help in laying the ground work for him. Walking up behind Veronica he wrapped his arms around her waist, kissed her neck and squeezed. “You okay?”
She nodded and leaned back against him. “Yeah, but I could do without any more death defying stunts for awhile.”
He chuckled. “I think they’ll behave, at least for the rest of the day. I can’t guarantee tomorrow thought.” When she groaned he squeezed her again. “Welcome to dealing with boys.”
“Just what I need...a little more heart stopping excitement in my life.”
“At least you’ll never be bored.”