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A girls guide to moving.., p.22
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.22

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  Me: ?

  Rocco: Will be there in the morning.

  Me: Hurry.

  Rocco: Damn. Wish I was there now. Hate to miss seeing you tipsy.

  Me: WiLL REpete 4 U.

  —

  Saturday morning, I woke slightly hungover but happy. By ten Karen, Cassie, Kaylene, Amiee, and I headed to the hair salon where Cassie worked as a stylist. The girls in the shop had basically closed it down for the day in order to get us ready for the wedding. Our hair was washed, dried, and whipped into shape. We got manicures and pedicures and facials. By the time we got out of the salon we’d been poked, plucked, and painted. I’d never laughed so hard in my life as I did with Cassie’s coworkers, who were thoroughly delightful. They would attend the wedding, too.

  I was anxious to get back to Steve’s house because I’d gotten a text that told me Rocco had arrived. Steve had entertained him while we were away. When we burst in the door, Steve and Rocco were sitting in front of the television, drinking beer and watching yet another football game. Steve appeared relaxed and at ease, and so did Rocco.

  As soon as the door opened, Rocco twisted around, and when he saw me, he set aside his beer bottle. He came out of the chair and walked toward me, wrapping his arm around my waist. Then he nearly bent me in half backward with his kiss. It was hungry, demanding, and told me exactly how much he’d missed me.

  When he lifted his head, I gasped for air. If he’d hadn’t kept his arm about me I was convinced I’d have dropped unceremoniously onto the carpet.

  “Damn,” Steve said, saluting Rocco with his beer bottle. “You could get a woman pregnant with a kiss like that.”

  Rocco chuckled. “Maybe so, but I prefer the old-fashioned way.”

  Steve laughed.

  With Rocco’s help I straightened and drew in a stabilizing breath. “I see you and Steve are bonding.”

  “Yeah. He found the dinner plate you’d put aside for me. Like you promised, best stuffing ever.”

  “I’ll make it for Christmas,” I said, and then frowned. “Please don’t tell me you have to work Christmas?”

  He shrugged. “It’s negotiable.”

  Other than that brief five minutes, I didn’t see Rocco again until I walked down the church aisle. Rocco stood at the end of a pew, dressed in his suit and tie. I have to say he looked hot enough to set the building on fire. I nearly stumbled when I saw him. His eyes were intense as his gaze met mine. I walked past him and stood at the altar with my sister, and Amiee served as the maid of honor.

  Cassie was a gorgeous bride. I’d never seen her look more beautiful. I had felt Mom and Dad’s presence on Thanksgiving Day, but I felt them even stronger here in the church as Cassie pledged her life to Steve. My sister wore the beautiful cameo that had once belonged to our grandmother.

  Dad had always intended for her to have it and it was understood she would wear it on her wedding day. When she’d run away and married Duke, we didn’t hear from her for years, never knowing where she was. We assumed she wanted nothing more to do with our family. Years later Dad gave me the cameo, but in my heart it had always belonged to Cassie.

  When we reconnected I saw how difficult her life had been with Duke. I realized what grit and courage it’d taken for Cassie to find her way home. I didn’t feel I could keep the cameo, and I returned it to her. I know Dad would have been proud to see her wear it on the day she married Steve.

  As Steve and Cassie exchanged their vows, I had the almost irrepressible urge to turn and look at Rocco. Steve’s voice rang strong and clear with no hesitation, full of love. Cassie answered with the same heartfelt conviction. These were two people, deeply in love, pledging to cherish and honor each other for the rest of their lives.

  The church held fewer than fifty people, as Cassie and Steve wanted only their closest friends and family for the actual ceremony.

  The dinner and reception that followed were a completely different story. The reception was held in a hotel ballroom. Steve had spared no expense. The men and women who worked for Steve were there, along with large numbers of close friends from Habitat for Humanity. It was through this organization that Cassie had met Steve.

  I knew Cassie had made a number of good friends through Habitat. I could see how deeply my sister was loved and admired. I admired her, too, and realized my middle sister had more gumption and courage than anyone I would ever know. Mom and Dad would have been so proud of her.

  Karen must have been thinking the same thing, because our eyes met and I noticed hers, like mine, were shining with unshed tears. I struggled to hold back the emotion.

  Rocco sat next to me at dinner, and Kaylene and Owen were on the other side of me. Rocco reached for my hand, gently wrapping his fingers around mine.

  “That was the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever been to,” he said.

  I leaned toward him and whispered back, “As I recall, this is the only wedding you’ve ever been to.”

  “I’m not going to another.”

  My face fell with disappointment. “You’re not?”

  “I don’t think he should, either,” Kaylene said from the other side of me.

  “Kaylene,” Rocco warned, glaring at his daughter.

  “He cried like a baby,” Kaylene told me, lowering her voice. “It was awful to see my dad sobbing through the wedding.”

  “I was not sobbing,” Rocco insisted righteously. “I teared up. Nothing more. Just a little emotional is all.”

  I squeezed Rocco’s hand. We intertwined our fingers and held on to each other through the entire meal. When the dancing started I looked over at him, hoping he’d take the hint.

  “You going to dance with Nichole?” Kaylene asked her dad.

  Rocco looked uncomfortable. “If I don’t have a choice.”

  “Dad. That was a terrible thing to say.”

  “If you recall,” I took delight in reminding him, “the first time we kissed was when we were dancing.”

  His eyes brightened and he scooted back his chair. “All right, let’s shake some booty.”

  I didn’t bother to hide my amusement. By the time we reached the dance floor the area was crowded and it was easy to blend in with the others. Rocco tucked his arms around me, knitting his hands at the small of my back, and I placed mine around his neck. I loved being this close to him.

  “Have I told you how beautiful you look?” he asked me softly, his eyes full of warmth.

  I smiled. “About a dozen times, but don’t worry, I won’t grow tired of you saying it.” He looked mighty fine himself. I saw a number of women looking at me with envy. What I loved, what made me want to kiss this man senseless, was that he didn’t notice a single one of them. He had eyes only for me. Every other woman at this party faded into the background. He didn’t even seem to notice. Just knowing that made me want to spend the rest of my life with him.

  I was about to tell him he looked dashing and debonair when I heard my name. I twisted my head around, and to my horror, I saw it was Jake. My ex-husband had shown up at my sister’s wedding. Jake had his hand on Rocco’s much larger shoulder.

  “That’s my wife you’re dancing with and I’m cutting in,” he said loudly, garnering the attention of those around us.

  “I am not your wife,” I insisted, mortified that Jake would make a scene.

  “Let me handle this,” Rocco answered softly. He removed Jake’s hand from his shoulder. “You’re drunk.”

  “So what? I don’t want a grease monkey dancing with my wife. You’re a lowlife and a…” Apparently, he couldn’t think of a suitable word.

  “Nichole,” Jake cried, pleading with me. “Don’t do this to us. You’re my wife.”

  Steve appeared. “Why don’t we take this outside?” he suggested.

  “Go back to your wife,” Rocco insisted. “I’ll escort Jake outside.”

  “I have an invitation,” Jake insisted. “You can’t throw me out.”

  “I believe we can,” Steve said calmly. He looked to R
occo. “Don’t deprive me of the pleasure. I was never keen on this jerk. I couldn’t understand what Nichole saw in him.”

  Steve and Rocco, standing on either side of Jake, each took an arm and lifted Jake three inches off the floor. By the time they got to the exit, hotel security was there to escort Jake off the premises.

  I was embarrassed and pressed my hands to my mouth until Steve and Rocco returned.

  “Steve, I am so sorry,” I whispered.

  “No problem, Nichole. Fact is, I rather enjoyed that.”

  Rocco wrapped his arm around me again and brought me close. “Now, what was it you were saying about the first time we danced? As I recall, you were overwhelmed by the sheer force of my masculinity and couldn’t keep your hands off me.”

  I smiled up at him. “Yes, it was something like that.”

  He brought his mouth down to mine. “That’s what I thought,” he said, before he stole a kiss.

  Nikolai wasn’t happy with me. During our classes on Monday and Wednesday, he sat silent. Before, he’d been an enthusiastic contributor to our discussions. He didn’t seem to understand that while I was no longer married to Sean, I felt a certain obligation to help him through this medical crisis.

  Sean ended up needing to stay in the hospital an extra day and was released Thanksgiving morning. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

  “I can’t get ahold of Jake,” Sean called to tell me. “There’s no one who can drive me to the house. I hate to ask you, Leanne, but I don’t have any choice.”

  Nikolai and I had plans to share dinner with friends from class. One of my students, Jakob Cirafesi, had invited us to join him and his wife for Thanksgiving. Those attending were to bring a dish from their native country. Sun Young had promised to cook a pot of the same wonderful soup he’d made for me during my shingles episode, and three others were eager to bring food as well. Nikolai and I had planned to attend, and naturally he promised to bring his bread.

  “I’ll see what I can do.” I’d assumed Jake would be there for his father. I hadn’t spoken to my son since our last conversation, when I refused to discuss Nichole’s relationship with Rocco. Jake had been short-tempered with me, just short of belligerent.

  “I need to know soon,” Sean said. He sounded more like a child than the confident businessman I knew him to be.

  “I’ll contact Nikolai now.” I dreaded making the call. Nikolai and I weren’t back on solid ground yet, and this latest request from Sean was sure to complicate matters even more.

  Being put in this position wasn’t convenient. I knew what Sean was saying, though. It was Thanksgiving and our friends, or those who had once been our friends, were involved with their own families or were out of town. Our son had disappointed us both. I disconnected with Sean and called Nikolai.

  He answered right away, his voice cheerful and happy. “Yes, my Leanne.”

  “Happy Thanksgiving, Nikolai.”

  He paused and I swore he knew.

  “I got a call from Sean this morning,” I said, striving to sound as upbeat and positive as possible. “He’s being released today. Unfortunately, he can’t reach Jake and he needs someone to drive him home from the hospital. He didn’t want to ask me, but he didn’t have any choice.”

  “Today?”

  “Yes, today.”

  “And he ask you?”

  “Like I said, there’s no one else.” I silently pleaded for understanding.

  Nikolai said nothing.

  “It shouldn’t take long. I’ll collect Sean, get him to the house, and get him settled. Then I’ll meet you at the Cirafesis’ house.” It seemed the perfect solution. I’d be as quick as possible.

  “No,” Nikolai said.

  “No?” I repeated, hardly able to believe what I was hearing.

  “I come with you. You no meet me later, because I know this man. I know he keep you. He no want you with me. I burst his basketballs,” he said.

  I held back a laugh. “You mean you want to burst his bubble.”

  “Yes, that is what I mean.”

  And that was how Nikolai came to join me when we went to collect Sean following his release.

  As soon as Sean saw Nikolai I could see he wasn’t happy. Nikolai could very well have been right. Sean would use any excuse he could think up to delay me and keep me away from this dinner party. “You remember Nikolai, don’t you?” I said, coming into Sean’s hospital room.

  The two men glared at each other like boxers before a match. One looking to intimidate the other.

  “I remember,” Sean said, his voice low and tight.

  Nikolai nodded sternly, his eyes as hard as I had ever seen them. “I remember, too.”

  The aide came to collect Sean with the wheelchair. I stayed with him while Nikolai left to get the car and drive it around to the front of the hospital, where patients were released. The nurse followed with a list of instructions and his medications. I listened intently, although everything had been written down. Sean was the one who needed to remember, not me.

  My ex-husband looked nothing like himself with his shaved and bandaged head. He was thinner than I could remember him being. I could tell he was weak. He hadn’t mentioned the test results and I was afraid to ask. My guess was if he had information he’d let me know. At least I hoped he would.

  Finally I couldn’t stand not knowing. “Any word?” I asked, when the aide was out of the room, picking up his discharge papers.

  “None,” he said, frustrated and irritated both at once. “Doc said it was because of the holiday. I’ll know first thing Monday morning.”

  “That long. Oh Sean, it must be tearing you apart not knowing.” I gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. He reached up and grabbed hold of my hand and held on to it on the ride down the elevator. As soon as we were on the main floor, I pulled my hand free, not wanting Nikolai to see.

  Nikolai had the car parked and the passenger door open by the time we made it outside. The aide helped Sean into the car and handed me the bag of medications.

  “Your wife has the medications,” she told Sean.

  Nikolai bristled and said with gritted teeth, “She not his wife.”

  The aide looked at the paperwork. “I’m sorry, but that’s what it says here. You are Leanne Patterson, aren’t you?”

  “Yes,” I answered, not looking at Nikolai. “I’m Leanne, but I’m Sean’s ex-wife.”

  “I’m sorry.” The aide sent me an apologetic look.

  “It’s a simple misunderstanding,” I said, eager to leave the hospital.

  The tension in the car was thicker than the Great Wall of China as Nikolai drove to the house. The only words spoken were by me as I gave Nikolai directions. I could see when we pulled into the driveway that Nikolai was taken aback by the splendor of our custom-built country-club home.

  We helped Sean out of the car and into the house. I set him up in his favorite chair in the family room.

  “We go now,” Nikolai said as soon as Sean was settled.

  “Just a minute.” I didn’t want to rush away until I was sure Sean had what he needed. I checked the refrigerator and realized the shelves were mostly bare. Nikolai saw it, too. “Sean could use a few groceries,” I said, leaving the decision in Nikolai’s hands.

  His frustration was clear. He waited an uncomfortable moment and then nodded. We left Sean and drove in silence to the first open grocery store we could find. I grabbed a few essentials: bread, milk, orange juice, and bananas, along with several cans of soup and a jar of peanut butter. Because it was Thanksgiving, I also tucked a package of sliced turkey breast in the stack. All in all, it took less than fifteen minutes to gather the supplies for Sean.

  Nikolai insisted I remain in the car while he took in the groceries to Sean. I don’t know what the two said, but it took far longer than necessary.

  When he returned his face was red and he didn’t look happy.

  “Thank you for doing this,” I said as soon as he climbed into the car. I knew Nikolai
was right. If I’d gone alone, Sean would have found an excuse for me to stay. I would have completely missed our Thanksgiving celebration.

  Nikolai’s hands clenched the steering wheel. “I do not like this man. I pray for him, but he need more than prayer. His heart is dark.”

  I didn’t exactly need a reminder.

  “Please don’t be upset,” I said, my voice low and trembling.

  At my words Nikolai pulled over to the side of the road and parked the car. Turning, he cupped my face with his hands and looked deep into my eyes. “Upset with you, my Leanne? Never. You too much in my heart. If I upset, it is with that man who not love you. He is fool and I not like fools. He use you and make you feel bad for him. You are too kind. Too caring.”

  I smiled up at him and he kissed me ever-so-sweetly.

  “I do not like you be maid to him. You promise me you not do that again.”

  “I promise.”

  “If he need soup, I cook. I take to him. He not use you. I tell him so. I tell him you in my heart now. He is fool to lose you.”

  So that was what took Nikolai so long. “You told Sean that?”

  “Yes and more. I say he have son to help. I say he have girlfriend. I say he leave my Leanne with me. My job is care for you. My job now to love you. Not his job,” he said, struggling with his English. “It my joy to care for you.” His hands continued to hold my face. I watched as his eyes grew troubled.

  “Nikolai?”

  “I never buy you house like that one. I never give you many pretty things. I not rich man like Sean. I poor, but I am rich with love.”

  I’ll never know what I did to have found a man as wonderful as Nikolai. “Don’t you know I had all that before and willingly gave it up? None of what I once shared with Sean was worth what it cost my soul. I would rather spend five minutes with you than a hundred years with Sean.”

  For the first time that day, I saw Nikolai relax his shoulders and smile. “I am luckiest man in America,” he said, and then chuckled. “Luckiest man in world to love you.”

  Funny, I was thinking I was the lucky one.

  —

  Our Thanksgiving feast was truly wonderful. We shared traditional Thai dishes and Sun Young’s delicious soup with Nikolai’s bread. I brought candied yams and fruit salad and the Cirafesis’ brought out a pork roast and some kind of stuffed dumplings that were delicious.

 
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