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Authors: Emerson Shaw

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BOOK: Acts of Desperation
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Chapter Twenty-One

 

“It’s probably a lot, but with everything that’s happened over the past few weeks, I’ve decided I want you with me—close,” he said, looking down at his hands. 

“Yeah, so what are you going to do? Attach me to your hip?” I laughed. “A couple crazy things have happened, but I think we both know they were isolated incidences. My dad will understand if you let me out of you sight.”

He grinned. “I know. But still, you know I love you.”

“Of course. I love you too…” I said then my heart began to race. “But wait—”

“No, let me finish.” He let out a slow breath. “What would you think about moving in with me?”

As soon as I heard the words, I was hit with a huge wave of relief—that wasn’t what I thought he was going to ask. And
, I should have been excited about the possibility of moving in with my dream man, but for some reason I wasn’t. “What? Are you sure? I don’t know…a lot’s happened. It seems kind of soon, don’t you think?”

“No.” He shook his head. “Honestly, it’s been on my mind for a while now, even before everything’s that happened. I think I’ve
pictured you living with me all the way back when I was getting my place ready for you to see it the first time. It wasn’t even a conscious decision then, but I can see now that I was getting it ready for you. I think that’s why I waited so long to let you see it, I wanted it to be perfect. And, these last two weeks, I almost lost you twice, and it just made everything completely clear. I want you—in my bed every night, to wake up with every morning, to talk over coffee. I want you there, next to me.” He put his hand up to his mouth then ran it through his hair. “What do you think?”

“Jax this is so sweet, but I just woke up from a
nightmare.” I tried to swallow my uneasiness. “I’m not saying no, but I need a little time to think about this. I feel a little mixed up,” I said.

“Of course, I understand,” he said, but his forced smile couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Take some time.”

“Thanks,” I said and tried to reassure him with a smile. Really, I was in no position to make a decision about my future yet, plain and simple. Plus, in thinking a little more about it, I’d lived with John for two years and look where that got me. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go down the road of living with someone for years again, waiting endlessly for a proposal that might never come. What I really wanted was the fairy tale ending, and maybe what I could take away from the situation with John was that I deserved one.

A few quiet awkward minutes passed, but when we started to talk about work and the day to day things
that I’d missed, we started to feel like us again. I couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital and to be in the comfort of my own home. I certainly wasn’t going to miss the people waking me up constantly and poking me every five minutes.

Over the next couple of days, the hospital staff continued to monitor my progress, and it looked like I was going to make a complete recovery with no lasting effects from the concussion
or the medley of drugs I’d been given. Then, I was finally released. My doctors recommended I take a week off work to fully recuperate, and I did so begrudgingly.

While I’d been away, Jax told me June had been handling my cases, and I hated the feeling that someone else—especially her—was doing my work. I was eager to get back to my normal life and to do the job that I loved, but I
had to trust that my doctors knew what they were talking about.

When I did get home, I discovered Liz had had the back door fixed and had a new security system installed, complete with panic buttons
and all the bells and whistles so our safety wasn’t going to be an issue. My mom and dad visited Liz and me almost every day and brought enough food to feed us for a month. Deep down, I think everyone was conspiring to not leave me alone for one minute but surprisingly, I felt fine. Even the home health nurse that came to remove the seven stitches from my forehead said she thought I was doing amazingly well. All my bad guys were either dead or locked away, so there wasn’t much for me to worry about.

Jax and I hadn’t seen each other since I
’d got home from the hospital, and we’d only had a couple very brief conversations over the phone throughout the week, but he did text me constantly to
check in
. He said he was extremely busy trying to catch up at work and working a lot of late nights—I could only imagine how much stuff he’d put off while I was missing.

When Sarah said she was going to stop by after school at the end of the week, I was really looking forward to
a nice normal conversation with my sister. We hadn’t had much of an opportunity to catch up since everything had happened, and I was eager to talk about how her case was going and not me.
I
was sick of me. 

She knocked and let herself in the front door
. She had on her teacher’s uniform of black pants and a sensible sweater set, but she looked cute. She’d flat ironed her hair that day and had it tucked simply behind her ear. When she wore it like that it made it look exceptionally long. She plopped down next to me on the couch, letting out a long exhale.

“So, how’s it going?
” I asked, but she only groaned. “Is it school, the kids, or Anders?”

“Anders, of course,” she said. “He’s given me a year-long headache.” She sighed and rubbed her temples. “But at least you
’re home now so I don’t have to worry about you as much. I’m so glad that whole mess is over. How are you doing?”

“Good,” I said, and then she tilted her head and glared at me.

“I’m fine…
really
. I’m seriously so tired of talking about myself. Between Mom and Dad and Liz hovering all the time, and Jax constantly texting me, I’m going to go insane talking about my feelings. I swear, hand on The Bible, I’m doing well. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Ok,” she said, reluctantly letting the topic drop.

“Now…tell me what’s up?” I asked, tucking my legs under my blanket.

She exhaled a big breath. “Ugh, where do I start?”

“Is it that bad?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Then start at the beginning, we’ve got nothing but time. Anders is getting the kids tonight, right?” She nodded her head. “Then lay it on me.”

“Ok, so you remember when I told you about Anders coming into the house in the middle of the night?”

“Yeah, and you were going to maybe file charges against him?”

“Right. Only it turns out
I can’t. Chuck never filed the temporary restraining order against Anders so I can’t legally keep him out of the house.”

My jaw hit the floor. “You’re kidding me? It’s a standard thing. How did that not happen?” I said.

“I don’t know, but Jax was surprised too. He said I could pursue one, but I’d have to jump through all kinds of hoops. So, in my eyes, it’s too late to do anything about it now without slowing the divorce down. It’s dragged on long enough. For my sanity, I need this to be over as soon as possible.” She sighed again.

“I know you do, but that really sucks.” I rested my face in my hand. “But I assume there’s more?”

“Yep. A real doozy.” She rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m being taken back to court.”

“Again! For what
now
?” I asked.

“Anders is saying that his business is failing because he’s had to cancel business trips because I’m not flexible with the visitation schedule with the kids.
He constantly wants me to rearrange my schedule to accommodate him. Once in a while would be fine, but it’s every week he’s trying to flip things around. I can’t function like that and it’s not good for the kids. So.” She sighed. “He’s not making enough money to pay me the child support and alimony he’s been ordered to pay.”

“Wonderful,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Exactly. He’s broke Sember,” she said, faking a sympathetic smile.

“That’s a bunch of bull,” I said.

“Oh it totally is, but you haven’t heard the clincher.”

“It gets worse?”

“Yep.” She slumped back on the couch and stared at the ceiling. “Chuck made a mistake on the first financial forms he submitted to the court, the one used to determine my support. He wrote the wrong amount in from my tax records and deflated my income, so now Anders is contesting everything, and we have to resubmit all my paperwork.”

All I could do was blink
my eyes while my stomach twisted in knots. It seemed everything that could possibly go wrong with her case was going wrong. I racked my brain to come up with something inspirational to say, but there just wasn’t anything. She wasn’t in the worst position she could be in, but it was pretty bad. I sighed. “I’m so sorry this is happening. I wish there was something I could do.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “There’s nothing anyone can do, unfortunately. I know Jax is doing everything he can, but he can’t undo someone else’s mistakes. We can only move forward and not make anymore.”

“True.” I nodded my head. “Is Anders still trying to fight the custody thing?”

“Of course he is. He still wants to split them fifty-fifty, but it’s not because he wants to spend more time with them—he doesn’t now—it’s only because he’d have to pay me less money. Jax
has suggested I meet with Anders separately though. He thinks if I wiggle on custody then Anders might give a little more financially. I know that Anders will flake out and probably fade away anyway as far as caring for them, but right now I can’t agree to a fifty-fifty custody deal if I’m solely caring for them. I need to make sure I have enough support to care for them on my own if I have to. I don’t know…” She rubbed her eyes. “I still have to think about it some more. I’m just not there in my head yet. As it stands, the financial trial is a month away so I have to go dig through all my records. First things first.”


Yeah, I think I’d see how the financial trial works out first then make a decision from there,” I said.

“That’s what I’m going to do,” she said. “So how are things between you and Jax? He was a mess when you were missing. I bet he’s loving having you back.”

“I actually haven’t seen him since I got home, but we’re supposed to go out tonight. You know, he asked me to move in with him.”

She turned and looked at me. “Wow, already? That seems quick.”

“I know, I think so too.” I grimaced. “There’s been so much chaos lately, and I don’t think I want to live with someone again, at least not after everything I just went through with John. I love Jax, but it just doesn’t feel right.”

“So
you haven’t told him yet?”

“No, but I will tonight. I’m not really looking forward to it. I just want my life to go back to normal, ya know? There’s been
too much crazy going on.”

“There definitely has been,” she said. “Well maybe tonight you can—” She cut herself off and grabbed her phone from her pocket. “Oh my gosh!” she said, rolling her eyes at the screen.

“What?”

“Anders is cancelling his visit tonight because he’s saying he’s sick.” She shoved her phone back in her pocket. “Fantastic. I’m sure he has a date or something more interesting going on and doesn’t want to be bothered with his own kids.” She snatched her purse up off the ground. “Sorry, but now I have to hurry home so my sitter can leave. You can call me
, and we can talk on my way home if you want.”

“No, you go ahead. I’m fine. Listen to some feel-good music in the car and sing. It always makes me feel better,” I said.

“You know, I think I will,” she said and rushed out.

Chapter
Twenty-Two

 

“Hey handsome,” I said, opening the door. Most of the bruising around Jax’s eyes was almost gone, and he was only left with a tiny red slash across the bridge of his nose. But he was right; it did add character to his handsome face.

“Hey pretty,” he said then hugged me. “I’ve missed you,” he muffled into the soft spot behind my ear.

“I missed you too,” I said and shivered. As soon as my feet were on the ground, I began pulling back, but he only squeezed me tighter, not letting me go.

“Cold?” he asked.

“No, not even a little,” I hummed. He brushed his lips across my cheek until he found my mouth then the world around us stopped. The birds singing in the trees and the cars driving by on the street all ceased to exist, and it was only the two of us standing on that porch. He held me there, keeping me grounded, gripping the back of my shirt. I knew I’d missed him, but until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much.

“Don’t forget to come up for air.” I looked over Jax’s shoulder and saw Liz standing behind him.

“Oh hey,” I said then cleared my throat. “Why are you coming in this way?”


Someone
blocked the driveway,” Liz said looking at Jax.

“Sorry Liz, thought you’d be home already,” he said, turning to face her.

“Ah, it’s cool. I’ll let it slide this time. Haven’t seen you around this week. How ya doin’ stranger?” Liz leaned and gave him a hug.

“Good. Been busy as hell trying to catch up.”

“I bet.” She nodded. “So what are you two up to tonight?”

I looked at Jax, but he only
grinned. “I’m not sure yet. He’s being tight-lipped. Care to join us for a drink? We were just headed into the kitchen,” I said and Jax stepped next to me, lacing his fingers with mine.

“Yeah, it looked like you were headed to the kitchen.” She smirked. “I’d love to, but I’m scouting out new locations for my shop later, I officially need more space.” She clapped her hands together.

“What! That’s great. Since when? You haven’t mentioned
anything
,” I said.

“I know, I didn’t want to jinx it, but it looks like it’s actually going to happen. I’m really excited, and I couldn’t ask for my business to be doing any better right now. I need to expand my staff too. It’s too much to handle on my own anymore.” Liz smiled. “So, even though I’d love to have a drink, I need to look some things over before I meet with the realtor in about an hour.” She stepped in front of us and moved inside the door. “I hope you’re taking her out somewhere fun tonight, Jax. She’s been going insane being cooped up in the house all week.”

“It’s true, nuttier than a fruit cake. Daytime TV blows,” I said, tapping my head.

He chuckled. “Oh we’ve got big plans.”

“Well then I’ll get out of your way so you two can have your fun.” She walked upstairs and waved to us over her shoulder.

In the kitchen, I poured two glasses of wine as Jax took a seat at the island. “Big plans, huh? So what are we doing?” I asked.

“Well, I know a guy. I got us tickets to the Reds game tonight, right behind home plate.”

“Really!” I smiled. “That sounds like fun. I can’t remember the last time I went to a game. I love people watching at the stadium.”

“Figures you’d mention watching people rather than the game. You’re such a girl.” He laughed, shaking his head.

“Of course I am! Seriously, the mix of people you see at a game is just as entertaining as the game itself, sometimes even more so. I can’t wait.”
From the mullets, to the tattoos, to the sleeveless shirts that invite us all to the gun shows—observing individuals at the stadium was people watching at its finest. “Cheers,” I said, lifting my glass to his.

He barely sipped his wine before putting his glass down. “But before we go, I was hoping you had an answer to the question I asked you.”

By the way he smiled up at me from his stool, I knew the answer he was expecting to hear. My heart sank a little, but I had to do what was right for me. “I have.” I exhaled. “I think I’d rather stay here…for now.”

His face fell. “Oh. W
hy?”

“I’m sure living with you would great, but—”

“So do it. Stay with me,” he said.

“I can’t. I lived with John for two year
s, and I thought he was the one, and I was so wrong. I don’t want to repeat a past mistake. I want to be sure about us before we do anything big like this. Plus we’ve only been together a few months anyway. With everything that’s happened in the last few weeks, I think it has probably fueled some emotions and maybe skewed some things out of proportion.”

“A mistake?” he said, acting as if I’d slapped him. “And, you think that I don’t actually love you as much as I do?” he asked.

“No, of course not. And how would I measure love anyway? I know you love me, but love doesn’t have anything to do with this. I just don’t think
now
is the right time to move in together.” If ever, I said in my head. “Let’s just wait a little bit until things have settled down,” I said.

He huffed. “I can’t protect you when you’re here and I’m there. I need you to be with me. What else do I have to say?”

I was taken aback by his reaction. “You don’t have to
say
anything else—it’s me, and how I feel, and what I want. I don’t want to
just
live with someone again. And I appreciate the offer, but I’m neither helpless nor do I need someone constantly hovering over me to protect me like some caveman. You’re being a little irrational.”

“What’s so wrong with me wanting to protect you? That’s not irrational.”

“Nothing’s wrong with it, but I don’t want to move in with you because you’re scared something’s going to happen to me, that’s not the right reason.”

“That’s not the only reason, I said that.” He paused and seemed to rack his brain for his next words. “So do you want us to get married?” he asked, looking confused.

“No,” I shook my head. “Of course not. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Why can’t we just keep seeing each other like we were and see how things go? I thought we had—
have
a great thing going.”

“Because I can’t do that. Things have changed and we can’t go back to how things were. It’s all different now.” He stood up and turned his back to me, looking out the kitchen window.

“It’s not different. Everything can go back to how it was, you’re just not seeing it. Give it a little time, and I’m sure you’ll feel differently.” I swirled my wine nervously in my glass. “But, I don’t want to move in with you. It’s not the right time to do something like this.”

He looked down and shook his head. “This really isn’t what I expected to happen when I came over today.”

“What?” I asked, trying to see his face. “What are you talking about?”

He turned back to me. “Sember if you can’t live with me, then I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I stood in complete shock. “You’re breaking up with me because I won’t move in with you? It’s all or nothing?” I shook my head. “That’s not fair.”

“It’s not wha
t I want to do, but I can’t handle going to bed at night and not knowing that you’re safe.”

“I will be safe. There’s no reason for you to worry. We have the security system now. We have panic buttons. John’s in jail. Dylan’s dead. My dad even installed a peep hole in the front door. I
am
safe here.”

“Sember, I’ve loved two women in my life and one is gone because I made a stupid decision. When Dylan had you…the
pictures…you can’t…” He seemed to shake the images from his mind. “It was a real possibility that I was going to lose you too because of that same stupid decision. But then miraculously I got you back. The worry is paralyzing—I can’t concentrate on anything else. It can only be this way. I’m sorry.”

“So I sacrifice my wants for you and you sacrifice nothing for me? And, I’m sorry…I can’t imagine? You seem to be overlooking that everything that happened physically happened to
me, not you. So, yes, I can imagine it—I can picture it quite clearly actually. I should have a say in this. All I’m asking for is time. Why can’t we try to go back to the way things were? I’ll come over and spend the night a lot just like before. It worked, didn’t it? Me not living with you will feel like a little…technicality.”

“It did work,
but that’s not going to be enough anymore.”  He looked up with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Sember. I just can’t.” He took a step toward the door.

“Jax…don’t,” I said, reaching for him.

He walked over to me. He reached up and stroked the scar on my forehead with his thumb. “I love you, baby,” he said then kissed me. “I’m so sorry.”

I was
stunned speechless and watched my heart walk out the door. I could still feel him on my lips and smell him in the room. This wasn’t happening—it couldn’t be. But as I looked around the empty kitchen, the reality struck me—he was gone.

“Ok, so I’m heading out,” Liz said, breaking the silence and walking through the living room. She was digging through her purse for her keys. “You guys have fu
n…” She turned and saw me alone in the kitchen. “Where’s Jax? I thought you guys would be getting ready to leave by now.”

“He broke up with me Liz.” Just hearing the words coming out of my mouth made my heart feel like it was going to explode inside my chest.

“What!” she said. Then, I burst into tears.

BOOK: Acts of Desperation
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