A girls guide to moving.., p.19
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.19

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “How’re you doing, little man?” Rocco asked my son.

  Owen laid his head on Rocco’s shoulder and yawned. “Amiee liked my twuck.”

  Rocco looked to me. “His cousin?”

  I nodded. “It took him a while to warm up to her, but they were best buds by the time we left.”

  Rocco led the way into the house, his hand at the small of my back. I followed him into the kitchen and he automatically brewed me a cup of coffee. Owen sat in my lap, asleep with his head against my shoulder. Kaylene was either in her bedroom or out with friends.

  “You want to tell me what your hang-up is about the wedding?” I’d been stewing about this ever since he first mentioned it.

  Rocco shrugged and looked uneasy. He expelled his breath and then said, “I’ve never been to a wedding before.” He made it sound as if this was a major flaw in his character.

  “Never?” I found that hard to believe.

  “Not one that took place in an actual church,” he elaborated. “A friend of mine knocked up a girl and they got married in a tavern. I sat at the bar, but that’s as close to a formal wedding as I’ve come.”

  I wasn’t sure what to say.

  He tucked his hands into his back pockets and then promptly removed them. “I told you, Nichole, I’m no prize.”

  “Attending a church wedding isn’t the criteria I consider necessary.” Frankly, I was relieved. I thought he didn’t want to go.

  “Will I have to do anything special?” Leaning against the counter, he crossed his thick arms.

  “Not a thing. I won’t be sitting with you during the actual ceremony. I’ll be standing next to my two sisters and Amiee at the altar. But as soon as the wedding is over I’ll be with you.”

  He studied me for a long moment. “You sure you still want me attending this shindig?”

  “More than ever,” I assured him.

  He shook his head. “Before I know it you’ll have me sipping tea with my pinkie in the air.”

  I laughed and Rocco grinned. He had the most beautiful smile. I could drown in it, just the way it made me feel.

  He momentarily looked away. “The thing is I’d be willing to do just about anything if it meant I could be with you.”

  Stunned, I leaned forward and stretched out my arm. “Come here so I can feel your forehead to see if you have a temperature. You okay?”

  His head came back. “Yes, why?”

  “That was the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me.”

  “Don’t get used to it,” he teased.

  The front door opened and Kaylene burst into the house, shouting, “Dad.”

  “In here.”

  “Where’s Nichole? I saw her car parked outside.”

  “In here with your dad,” I called back. By the time I finished, the teenager was in the kitchen.

  “We’re still going, aren’t we?” Kaylene asked, looking from her dad to me and then back again.

  “It seems we are,” Rocco said, grinning over at me.

  Kaylene gleamed with delight. “I’ve never been to a real wedding and Dad let me get a new dress and shoes and he even liked what Kelly and I picked out. Dad looks handsome in his suit, too.”

  I looked to Rocco. “I remember.”

  He shrugged and grinned. “Glad you think so.”

  “About Thanksgiving,” I said, looking to the two of them. “We’re all invited to Steve’s house.”

  “All of us?” Kaylene said, eyes widening.

  “Yes. Cassie and I are cooking all our family’s favorite recipes. Steve’s house is much bigger than Cassie’s. The wedding is Saturday, so it makes sense for us to spend the holiday together.”

  “What about your older sister?” Rocco asked.

  “Karen and her family are going to her in-laws’ place. She’ll arrive Friday.”

  “We’re going to have a real Thanksgiving at a home and everything.” Kaylene looked like she was going to clap her hands. “Dad and I usually have Thanksgiving at Denny’s. You’re going to cook a whole turkey and everything, like for real?”

  “With stuffing and mashed potatoes and giblets gravy.”

  “I’m hungry already,” Kaylene said.

  “You’ll like Amiee,” I told her. “She’s your age, maybe a few months older.”

  Rocco had been suspiciously quiet while the two of us chatted away, reviewing the menu Cassie and I had decided on. Kaylene hurried up to her bedroom to call her friends and tell them she’d been invited out for Thanksgiving dinner.

  I looked to Rocco. “Something wrong?” I asked.

  He frowned. “I hate to say anything, but Thanksgiving is a busy time for me. I need every truck and driver I can get. I can’t be taking time off when I’ve got a business to run. It’s going to be hard enough for me to take off for this wedding, let alone Thanksgiving Day.”

  Reality hit with a hard punch to the gut. “Rocco, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything to Kaylene without talking to you first.”

  “I’ll see what I can do, but no promises.”

  I understood. It’d been thoughtless of me. “If you can’t get away, would it be all right if I brought Kaylene with me? I’d hate to disappoint her.”

  “Yeah, that’d work.”

  But that would leave Rocco to spend the holiday alone and I didn’t want that.

  “I have a better idea,” I said, brightening. “I’ll stay in Portland for Thanksgiving. I’ll cook and all of us can be together.”

  Rocco immediately dismissed the idea. “I appreciate the thought, but no. You need to be with your family.”

  It was then that a realization hit me. I was already thinking of Rocco and Kaylene as part of my family.

  I’d put off meeting Sean as long as I could. He’d insisted we have lunch together at the club. I refused. I couldn’t imagine why Sean would think I’d willingly show my face there. I had no intention of dining with Sean at the club after he’d paraded a long line of other women in the same restaurant where everyone knew me.

  The only reason I agreed to this meeting at all was because of Jake. I got a call from my son and he sounded worried. “Mom, you really need to talk to Dad. It’s important.”

  “He can’t tell me over the phone?”

  “No,” Jake insisted. “He needs to do this face-to-face, Mom. You need to do this.”

  I didn’t like it, but I finally agreed. Immediately, Nikolai was suspicious. “I no trust that man.”

  “Nothing he has to say is going to change what’s between us,” I assured my Ukrainian sweetheart.

  Still, Nikolai worried. As a compromise, I suggested Sean and I meet at Koreski’s. Sean didn’t know Nikolai worked at the deli. Nikolai still wasn’t comfortable, but he agreed that was the best solution.

  Sean and I met in the small restaurant inside the deli on a Thursday afternoon a week before Thanksgiving. Sean had a table before I arrived, and I noticed right away that he’d lost weight. He stood as I approached and pulled out my chair for me. He’d always been the epitome of a gentleman. He thought nothing of lying and cheating on his wife, but he never missed opening a door or sliding out a chair. I made sure I sat where my chair faced the kitchen. I smiled to myself when I saw Nikolai looking out the small window. He was my protector.

  “Thank you for meeting me,” Sean said.

  “Yes, well, you were persistent enough.”

  I took the paper napkin and unfolded it on my lap. The waitress came with waters and asked for our order.

  “I’ll have the soup of the day.” It was a hearty white-bean-and-ham soup that came with a slice of Nikolai’s bread. It was a way of keeping him close while I spoke to my ex.

  “That’s all?” Sean looked surprised.

  My stomach was unsettled over this meeting and I didn’t have much of an appetite. I suspected the day he’d come to the apartment that there’d been something on his mind. Whatever it was could be linked to our meeting today.

  Sean ordered a salad and th
e waitress left.

  As soon as she was out of earshot I asked, “Can you tell me what this is about?”

  Sean looked down and I noticed that his hands were shaking. “I’ve been experiencing some headaches lately and went to see Liam—Dr. Belcher.”

  “And?”

  “At first we assumed it was stress. My blood pressure was slightly elevated and there’d been the emotional trauma of the divorce.”

  Liam was a friend. The two played golf together nearly every week. As for the emotional trauma he mentioned, it seemed he’d recovered quickly enough. I’d barely removed my clothes from the house when Sean had another woman move in. From what Kacey told me, his live-in friend hadn’t lasted more than a few weeks. Apparently, she wasn’t nearly as good at pressing his shirts and cooking his meals as she was in the bedroom.

  “I did my best to put off going back to see Liam,” Sean continued. “It’s a hassle and I guess maybe I was afraid to learn the truth.”

  I sat up straighter. Of all the things I expected Sean to bring up, I didn’t think it had to do with a medical issue. “But you did go back to see Liam?”

  “I did, and after a short examination, he ordered a brain scan.”

  “And?” I held my breath.

  Sean looked up and the worry and pain in his eyes cut straight through me. I’d assumed I had no feelings left for my ex-husband, but I did. “Sean, what is it?” I asked.

  “I have a brain tumor.”

  I gasped and my hand automatically flew to my heart.

  Sean lowered his head and exhaled slowly. “Liam sent me to a surgeon specializing in this type of tumor.”

  “Will they do surgery?”

  “Next week on Monday.”

  “Sean.” I swallowed hard. “Is it cancer?”

  He looked up and I could see the fear in his eyes. “We won’t know until after the surgery. I’m prepared for the worst…I need to be.”

  “Jake knows about all this?”

  Sean shook his head. “Not the full extent. The surgery is tricky and there are risks involved.”

  Our meals were delivered at what seemed to be the worst possible moment. What little appetite I had completely disappeared. I reached for the slice of bread as if reaching out to Nikolai. I was sure all the blood must have drained from my face, and when I looked up I saw that Nikolai was watching me closely. Once he saw me, he started out the door, but I gently shook my head and he paused.

  “I wanted to tell you earlier, but you—”

  “I thought you wanted to talk about Nichole and Rocco,” I whispered, humbled now. I’d suspected something, but I didn’t know what. He’d been acting strange for some time, seeking me out, which frankly wasn’t like Sean, and hadn’t been in a very long while.

  “I understand why you want to avoid me, Leanne. I don’t blame you. I was a rotten husband; you deserved better. I wish I’d been a different person for you.”

  I looked up and tears clouded my eyes. I never expected to hear those words from Sean.

  “I don’t have any right to ask you this, but…would you mind coming to the hospital on Monday for the surgery? I…I don’t have anyone else.”

  “What about Jake? Won’t he be able to be there for the surgery?”

  Sean shook his head. “He started a new job and he can’t take time off work. He feels bad about it, but I assured him I’d be fine.” His eyes held mine. “I…I don’t want to be alone.”

  The lump in my throat had grown to the point it was nearly impossible to swallow.

  His eyes didn’t leave mine. “You’ll come?”

  I nodded.

  His relief was obvious. “Thank you.”

  I reached across the table and took hold of his hand. Sean had always been an arrogant, proud man. I barely recognized the man sitting across from me now. He was humble and apologetic. And, more than anything, he was afraid of what the future might hold.

  “How long will you need to stay in the hospital?”

  “Depending on the outcome, I’ll only be there two nights.”

  “Only two nights?”

  He gave a half-laugh. “Shocking how quickly they shift people out, isn’t it?”

  He didn’t need to say it, but if Sean wasn’t in the hospital that meant he’d be going back to an empty house. I think that unnerved him as much as the surgery itself.

  Sean tightened the grip on my hand, as if I was the only solid thing in a world that had gotten kicked off its axis.

  “Thank you, Leanne,” he said. “You don’t have any legal obligation to be at the hospital, but I want you to know how very grateful I am.”

  “Of course I’ll be there.”

  Neither one of us touched our lunches. Sean gave me the necessary details of the hospital, the surgeon’s name, and the time slotted for the surgery before he paid the tab and left.

  I needed a few extra minutes to absorb what he’d told me and remained sitting at the table. As soon as Sean was out of sight, Nikolai came out of the kitchen and joined me.

  “What this no-man want?” he asked, sitting in the chair closest to me. He reached for my hand, holding it between his own two.

  “Sean has a brain tumor,” I whispered. Even as I spoke the words I had a hard time believing this was happening to my ex.

  Nikolai responded, speaking in Ukrainian. He didn’t seem to realize he’d switched languages until I looked up at him blankly. Then he sighed and patted my hand. “I sorry for him.”

  “He’s having surgery Monday morning. The surgeon is going to do his best to remove it if possible. It might be cancer.”

  “That would be bad.”

  “Yes, very bad. We won’t know if it’s cancerous until the test results come back.”

  Nikolai nodded.

  He noticed the wetness that coated my face and leaned forward to brush the tears from my cheeks. “You cry for him?”

  I looked away, a little surprised at myself.

  “Why you cry? You love him still?”

  That was a difficult question to answer. “I didn’t expect to feel anything for Sean. I assumed whatever love I had for him had died a long time ago.”

  Nikolai looked stricken and tried to pull his hand away. I wouldn’t let him and held on tightly.

  “Do you love Magdalena?” I asked.

  “Of course, she my wife.”

  “Do you love her any less since we met?”

  His eyes widened and he slowly shook his head.

  “I was married to Sean for thirty-five years. I spent the majority of my life with him, and while I’m surprised, I realize I still do have feelings for him. He was my husband. He was my first love.”

  Nikolai’s shoulders relaxed as the anger left him. “I go with you to hospital. I sit with you.”

  “No.” I immediately rejected his offer. “The deli depends on you, and it wouldn’t be right for you to be there.”

  “I no mind missing work. I do anything for you, my Leanne.”

  “I know and I’m grateful, but it isn’t necessary.”

  “You come see me after the surgery? You tell me what doctor say?”

  “Of course. First thing.”

  He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against mine. “I worry all morning. I not like you eat lunch with your ex-husband. I afraid I lose you. I am Mr. Jealousy.”

  I pressed my hand to the back of his head. “You have no need to be jealous. Not now, not ever.”

  He straightened and his face brightened with a smile. “Your words are song to my ears.”

  My hands cupped his beautiful face.

  “You wait here? I almost finish work.”

  “Of course I’ll wait.” In many ways I felt like I’d been waiting my entire adult life for Nikolai.

  “I not be long,” he promised.

  Nikolai was back in less than fifteen minutes. He’d changed out of his white uniform and was dressed as I knew him best, in slacks and a sweater. He had his coat over his arm as he reached for my han
d and raised it to his lips. He set his coat over the back of the chair and helped me put mine on. I collected my purse and gloves while he slipped into his own coat.

  Once we were ready to go, he took hold of my hand.

  “Where are we going?” I asked.

  “You see. Not far. You okay to walk?”

  “Sure.”

  Once outside, he tucked my hand into the curve of his elbow and matched his pace to mine. We’d gone about four blocks when I asked, “Nikolai, where are you taking me?”

  “You see soon.”

  We rounded the next street and I knew. I saw the dome of the church and recognized it as Russian Orthodox.

  “You’re taking me to church?” I asked.

  Nikolai nodded. “We light candle for Sean. We knee together and say prayer to God to make him well again.”

  I stopped; my feet refused to move as overwhelming emotion took hold, clenching at my throat and tightening my chest.

  “I pray each day ask God to heal Magdalena. Now we pray for Sean. You pray. I pray. God hear two prayers. God listen.”

  At his words, I bit into my lip.

  Nikolai turned to me, his face worried and sad. “You no want to pray?”

  Tears rained down my cheeks. I could no more control the emotion than I could the weather.

  “My Leanne, what I say? What I do? Why you cry like this?”

  He hauled me into his arms and held me so tightly that I found it even harder to breathe than it already was.

  “Tell me, please,” he begged. “Whatever it is, I make right. I no bear to see you cry. You better stick knife in my heart. Tell me please why I make you sad like this.”

  I snorted a series of undignified sniffles in an effort to hold back the tsunami of tears.

  “It Sean and his sickness?” Nikolai asked.

  I shook my head and wrapped my arms around Nikolai’s neck, hiding my face in the collar of his thick coat. His fingers tangled in my hair as he spread small kisses down the side of my face.

  “Nikolai,” I sobbed.

  “Yes, my Leanne.”

  “I. Am. So. In. Love. With. You.”

  His fingers stilled. His whole body froze and it seemed he stopped breathing as well. “What you say?”

  “I said”—I paused to sob again—“I’m so in love with you…You are a wonderful man and I love you.”

 
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