A girls guide to moving.., p.23
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.23

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  After we ate we gathered around and watched a football game. My immigrant friends had no understanding or appreciation of the sport, so I explained as best I could. My dad and brother had both been big fans, so I had a better grasp of the game.

  At the end of the day, I got my coat and purse and brought out my cell phone to text Jake. I didn’t know what his problem was but he needed to get over it.

  You need to check on your father.

  His response came back quickly.

  I’m with him now. Not cool what you did.

  What I did? I’d taken time out of my Thanksgiving celebration to pick up Sean and take him home because my ex-husband had been unable to reach our son. Before I could reply, another text from Jake flashed on my screen.

  No need to rub Dad’s face in the mud with your immigrant boyfriend. You’re as bad as Nichole. That was beneath you, Mom. Loosing respect for you and my EX.

  I suspected Jake had been drinking, so I ignored the texts. It wouldn’t do any good to argue with him, and in fact it might do more harm than good.

  —

  Sunday afternoon Nichole and Owen returned from her sister’s wedding. I’d cooked dinner for them and was eager to hear the details of the long weekend. We ate together in my apartment as Nichole inquired about my Thanksgiving.

  “I had a good day with Nikolai and friends from the class.” I didn’t mention the incident with Sean or the text from Jake. “The wedding went well?” I’d much rather hear about her time with her sisters and Rocco.

  A dreamy look came over Nichole. “Oh Leanne, the wedding was beautiful. I’ve never seen my sister look happier or more radiant. She told me she and Steve would like to start a family right away.” I knew my daughter-in-law didn’t want Owen to be an only child. I knew she would want more children if she did decide to remarry. If that was the case, I fully intended to be their grandmother.

  Nichole shifted in her seat and looked away. “Jake showed up drunk at the reception.”

  My heart sank. I didn’t know what was wrong with my son. He knew better than that. “Oh Nichole, I’m so sorry. Did he cause a scene?”

  She shrugged. “It wasn’t too bad. A few people noticed, but it didn’t stop the festivities. Rocco and Steve escorted Jake out of the ballroom and then security took over.”

  “I believe he was drunk when he sent me a text on Thanksgiving.” I was worried about my son. This wasn’t typical behavior from him. I would need to talk to Sean and see if he knew something I didn’t.

  “Speaking of Sean, how is he?” Nichole seemed eager to change the subject, and I didn’t blame her.

  “Sean’s good. I’ve only talked to him once since he’s been home from the hospital.”

  “Any word on the test results?”

  I shook my head. “The holiday messed up the timing with the labs. He won’t know until tomorrow.”

  “That’s awful.”

  I agreed with her. I knew he was anxious—who wouldn’t be?—but he hid it well. I wasn’t privy to all the information because of the HIPAA laws. I prayed my ex-husband would be spared having to deal with cancer.

  —

  Monday midafternoon Sean called, and when I saw his name on caller ID I knew he’d gotten word from the doctor.

  “Sean, you heard?” I asked, eager to hear his news.

  “Yes, I just finished talking to the doctor.” His voice was bleak, frightened, and in that moment I knew.

  “It’s cancer, isn’t it?”

  “Yes.”

  I expelled a sigh. “Oh Sean, I am so sorry.” I was no longer his wife. The only connection we had was Jake. We’d had a terrible marriage, but I didn’t wish this on Sean.

  “I know; I’m sorry, too.” He went silent, as if struggling within himself. “I had to make a choice and it was difficult. I hope you’ll support me in this.”

  Chills went up my spine. “What is it?”

  “I talked with the oncologist, who recommended radiation and chemotherapy, but I’ve decided against it.”

  I sucked in my breath. “Sean, why would you do that?”

  “At best I have six months to a year.” He went on to explain the cancer was an aggressive form and there was little hope.

  “No.” I was shocked.

  “If I only have that short amount of time left, I don’t want to waste it undergoing painful treatments.”

  “Oh Sean.” I had a hard time wrapping my mind around what he was telling me.

  “Please don’t try to talk me out of this. I’ve already made my decision.”

  My throat was thick with unshed tears. “Okay.”

  “I know this new man in your life doesn’t want you seeing me. He made that clear on Thanksgiving. I only ask one thing of you and then I won’t trouble you again.”

  “Yes, of course. What is it?”

  Sean sounded as if he were close to breaking down. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but there’s no one else I would trust.”

  “Sean, what is it?”

  “Will you help me pick out my casket?”

  “I like your sister and her husband,” Rocco mentioned Friday night a week after Thanksgiving. I hadn’t seen him all week and I’d missed him. Really missed him. He was beginning to feel like an important part of my life. His work kept him busy and it was a treat when we were able to be together.

  I suggested we have dinner at the tavern where he’d taken me the one time, knowing Rocco enjoyed it there. It was important for him to know that I was comfortable in his world. His friends were my friends.

  We sat in a booth and ordered beer and chicken wings, Rocco’s favorite food. The music was loud and the crowd boisterous. It seemed to be a biker hangout or at least for wannabe club members. I did my best to dress accordingly. I had on tight jeans and a red v-neck sweater along with my knee-high boots. I had a holly pin on my sweater. It was the holiday season, after all. Despite that I seemed to be the only one not dressed completely in black. Johnny Cash would have fit right in. Me, not so much, although I tried.

  “Karen and Garth are a great couple,” I agreed, a little surprised because I didn’t see Rocco talking to them as much.

  “I was talking about Cassie and Steve.”

  “Of course.” I’d lived the majority of my adult life without Cassie. It was only natural to assume Rocco meant Karen and Garth. “I’m so glad you came to the wedding with me.”

  “I am, too.” Rocco reached for another chicken wing. He’d eaten three to my one, which I ate with a knife and fork, much to Rocco’s amusement. Truth was, they were a tad too spicy for me. I liked my wings hot, too, but not to the point that it required a fire hose to quell the burning in my mouth.

  Rocco licked his fingers and didn’t look at me. “Jake come for Owen?”

  I knew the two men basically hated each other. Their animosity shimmered off them at the wedding reception.

  “He picked up Owen at daycare, so I didn’t need to talk to him.” Or see him, either.

  Looking up, Rocco pinned me with his gaze. “Have you talked to him since the wedding?”

  “Talk to Jake?” I had, and it’d been less than comfortable. Jake had ranted on for several uncomfortable minutes about his objections to me dating Rocco. He’d had a lot to say about Rocco being a negative influence on our son.

  “You’re avoiding the question.” Rocco’s eyes hardened. “He giving you a bad time again?”

  I shrugged, not wanting to discuss my ex-husband. “It’s fine, Rocco.” I didn’t want to waste our evening discussing Jake.

  “You need me to have a man-to-man chat with him?”

  “No!” That was the last thing I wanted. I couldn’t see any good coming from it.

  “I’d be more than happy to set him straight.”

  I was sure he would, and I didn’t think there’d be a whole lot of talking involved. “Let me handle Jake,” I insisted. Even talking about my ex-husband upset me, and I ordered a second beer. Rocco eyed me suspiciously.

&nbs
p; “You sure you want that?”

  “Yup.” Jake was driving me to drink.

  Rocco grew silent. “I hate the thought of Jake upsetting you.”

  “It’s fine,” I promised, and it was. My ex would soon learn that he had no control over whom I dated.

  Rocco intently studied me and grew silent.

  “What?” I asked, laughing at how intense he’d gotten.

  He offered me a weak smile. “I want to do everything right by you, Nichole. You tell me to back off Jake and I will. I don’t like it, but if that’s what you want, that’s what I’ll do.” He glanced down for a moment and then up again. “I’ve never been in a relationship like this one. I don’t know what love is between a man and a woman…the emotional aspect. The physical I’ve got, but this gut-wrenching I would die for you feeling is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”

  All I could do was stare at Rocco. For a man who claimed he was poor with words, poor with expressing himself, he was doing a beautiful job.

  “Every time we’re together you show me what it means to care about someone in a way that’s rich and deep and powerful. I want that for us. I know you’re not ready for that yet…”

  Rocco paused when Sam, his friend, wandered over to our booth. I could tell Sam had been drinking for a while.

  Sam set his hands against the edge of the table, leaning toward me, grinning, as if he knew something I didn’t. “See you’re still hanging with this motherf—”

  “Sam!” Rocco snapped, cutting him off. “Nichole isn’t used to that language, so watch your mouth.”

  “Rocco,” I whispered. “Don’t worry about it.”

  “No,” he countered swiftly. “I’m not having anyone use that kind of language in front of you.”

  Sam’s head came back as if Rocco had assaulted him. “You gotta be kidding me, Rocco. What’s the matter? You turning into a pussy?”

  “I want you to respect my woman,” Rocco said. “You’re a friend, Sam, a good one, and I’d like to keep it that way. Nichole’s special and I won’t have you disrespecting her. Got it?”

  Sam’s eyes bulged. “So says the man who had a one-night policy.”

  “A what?” I asked, confused.

  Sam looked to me. “Bet she don’t know about that.”

  Rocco ignored him and looked at me. “I don’t think coming here was such a good idea.”

  “I’d say you’re right,” Sam said, laughing. “She don’t fit in here, and from the sounds of it you don’t, either. Not anymore.” He made a huffing sound and left.

  Rocco looked decidedly uncomfortable.

  “What did he mean by a one-night policy?” I asked, curious now.

  “It was a long time ago,” he said, and shook his head. “I haven’t been that person since I got custody of Kaylene.”

  “Rocco, tell me.” I figured I had a right to know.

  He exhaled and looked past me. “All right,” he said forcefully. “I told you before I had a past and that I’d been pretty wild back in the day. You might as well hear the worst of it. My one-night policy meant that I only slept with a woman once and when I finished getting what I wanted I shoved her out of my life. No repeats.”

  My eyes widened and a chill went down my spine. Rocco had always been open and honest with me. To the best of my knowledge, he’d never lied to me.

  “I’m not that person any longer, Nichole,” he reiterated. “I haven’t been that man in a lot of years.”

  “I know.”

  “It was a mistake to bring you here.” He reached for the check and set some bills on the table. “Let’s go.”

  “Okay.” The evening that had started out so beautifully had taken a sharp turn south.

  Rocco helped me put my coat on and then reached for my hand. Once outside, he released me and stuffed his hands in his back jean pockets. “I apologize for Sam. He’s had a little too much to drink. He’s usually not like that. He knows how I feel about you.”

  “It’s all right,” I assured him. Rocco seemed to forget that I taught at a high school and heard kids swear on a regular basis. I didn’t like it and certainly hadn’t been raised in that environment. My father used to say that someone who used foul language was someone who needed to study vocabulary because there were more civilized ways to get one’s point across.

  I wrapped my arm around Rocco’s elbow. “Where would you like to go now?” I asked.

  Rocco was deep in thought and I wasn’t sure he’d heard me.

  “How about my apartment?” I suggested. “We’ll cuddle on the sofa and watch a movie. I’ve got popcorn.”

  He looked at me as if I’d suggested he jump over Multnomah Falls.

  “What?” I asked. Personally, I thought it was a great idea.

  Rocco simply shook his head. “No way.”

  “Why not?”

  “Get a grip, Nichole. I have a hard enough time keeping my hands off you as it is. Besides, you’ve had two beers.”

  “So what? And who said I wanted you to keep your hands off me?” I demanded.

  He glared at me. “Don’t say things you don’t mean.”

  “Do I look like I’m kidding?” I planted my hand on my hip. As for the beers, all they’d done was loosen me up a little.

  His eyes didn’t leave mine. “You need to understand something. We start this and there’s no going back.”

  I wasn’t sure what that entailed. “What do you mean?”

  He exhaled and grabbed hold of my hand. “That’s what I thought.”

  “What?” I asked, nearly stumbling along in order to keep up with him. The boots looked great, but they weren’t the best for walking fast. I slid once and would have taken a tumble if Rocco hadn’t caught me.

  “Where are you taking me?” I asked.

  “Not to your apartment.”

  “You aren’t?” I didn’t bother to hide my disappointment. “We going to your house?” I asked.

  “Kaylene’s there.”

  “Oh.”

  “I’m taking you to the movies.”

  “The movies?” I cried, disappointed. “You’re joking.”

  “No.” He tilted his head back and looked up at the sky. “I wish I was. God knows I wish I was.”

  “All right, if going to the movies is what you want.” I was disappointed and hurt.

  “I’ll buy you popcorn,” he said, in an effort to lighten my mood.

  “With butter?”

  “With butter.”

  He let me choose and I opted for a chick flick. Halfway through, Rocco fell asleep. I had to wake him and he yawned and then drove me home. He kissed me outside the elevator and didn’t take me to my apartment the way he’d always done.

  “Will I see you soon?” I asked.

  “Of course, baby,” he assured me.

  My thoughts were muddled as I walked into the apartment. It was still early and I couldn’t help but wonder about Rocco’s mood. I wasn’t sure what to think. Everything had been good between us, I thought.

  My sister’s wedding had been a week ago and we’d danced almost every dance. Rocco had been wonderful and my family had really liked him, especially Steve. The two had connected on several levels. Both were men who owned their own businesses. They each enjoyed talking sports and drinking beer. Although no one had mentioned it, I instinctively knew these were men who loved deeply and devotedly.

  By the time I was inside my apartment I could feel my spirits sinking. Impulsively, I decided to pay Leanne a visit. I hadn’t talked to her since she’d gotten the bad news about Sean. I knew learning he had cancer had deeply distressed her.

  Leanne felt terrible for her ex-husband. I understood. After spending most of her life with Sean, she continued to have feelings for him. It would be impossible not to. It might not be the love she’d once felt, but she still cared. She was that kind of person.

  I tentatively knocked on her door. Nikolai might be visiting. She hadn’t mentioned if they were doing anything when we’d la
st talked that morning.

  Leanne answered the door and I felt her welcome. “I thought you and Rocco were going out tonight?” she said, bringing me inside. I followed her into the kitchen and saw that she had a salad on the kitchen countertop. It looked like she hadn’t eaten. It was late for her to be having dinner.

  “I interrupted your meal,” I said, feeling guilty. “Were you out for the evening?”

  Leanne shook her head. “No, I didn’t have much of an appetite and thought I might feel hungry a bit later, but I don’t.”

  It didn’t look like she’d taken more than a bite or two. “You feeling okay?” I asked.

  “I’m fine. This whole thing with Sean has depressed me. I can’t stop thinking that he has as little as six months to live.”

  “Did you tell Nikolai?”

  “Not yet. I promised him that I wouldn’t be what he calls ‘Sean’s maid,’ but he’s going to need help.”

  “Hire someone,” I suggested. It made sense. No doubt Sean was going to need someone to look after and care for him, especially as he grew progressively weaker, but that didn’t mean Leanne should be the one to shoulder the burden. I sided with Nikolai in that instance.

  “That’s a good idea.”

  “Let Jake take on that task. He needs to show some responsibility for helping his father.” It irritated me that he hadn’t taken time off work to be with his family when Sean had gone in for surgery.

  At my suggestion, Leanne rolled her eyes and I nearly laughed. Her look said it all. Jake wasn’t a responsible son anymore than he’d been a responsible husband.

  “Point taken.” I sat down at the counter and pressed my elbows against the bar top. Knowing me, Leanne automatically brewed me a cup of coffee.

  “So what’s the deal with Rocco?” she asked as she set the cup in front of me.

  “I don’t know. We went to one of his favorite places. It’s a tavern where his friends hang. Sam and Rocco have been friends for years. I’d met him before and we’d played pool together. He’s an okay guy, but pretty rough around the edges. He tosses out four-letter words like Mardi Gras beads.”

 
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