It was on the tip of her tongue to joke that she promised to only leave if she got bored or hungry, or if a hot male nurse wanted to sneak into a supply closet, but now was not the time. “I won’t leave her.” Quietly, she added, “Superannuated.”
Letting out a quiet “Dammit, I should have known that one,” he walked back over and scribbled the word into the puzzle.
POPS RETURNED AROUND three, looking significantly cleaner and marginally better rested. He arrived only a handful of minutes before the physical therapist came to get Nana up and out of bed for the first time, and Jess was glad because it took all three of them to talk the normally fearless woman through the panic of putting weight on her leg.
Jess didn’t have time to reel in the emotional hit of seeing Nana so frail and scared; it took an hour to get her up and taking the ten assisted steps to the door, where a wheelchair took her to the PT room, and another hour there, working on strength and balance.
By the time Nana Jo was back in bed for the night it was just after five, and although Jess had been sitting for most of the day, she was so mentally drained that she just wanted to curl up in her bed—hell, she’d happily find a spot on the linoleum floor. But more than that, she wanted some time with Juno while her daughter was awake. And food. She hadn’t eaten since she’d picked at a dry bran muffin around ten that morning, and her stomach gnarled in annoyance.
Texting Fizzy that she’d have some dinner delivered, Jess climbed into her car, called an order in to Rama, and turned on the mellow rumble of the National. Music filled the car, and it was an intoxicating hit of calm.
You said love fills you up …
I got it worse than anyone else
Her shoulders tensed, and she turned the music off.
In the silence, her thoughts immediately flooded with River. The paradoxical brew of hospital tedium and chaos had held everything back, but in the dark solitude of her own car, emotion poured over her.
I thought it was obvious.
I want to hear you recite the odds that we would have met.
“‘I want you in my bed,’” she repeated aloud.
Jess pulled into her parking spot in the alley, listened to the engine tick in the silence. She could smell duck curry all the way down the path and sent a silent thanks to Rama.
Inside, Juno and Fizzy were at the table, feasting and playing cards. They were wearing handmade paper hats and Fizzy had put … a lot of makeup on Juno.
“We’re filming makeup tutorials for my mom,” Fizzy said, standing to walk over and give Jess a hug.
Jess stifled a laugh at her daughter’s exaggerated lips. “I see.”
With an irrepressible urge to deflate in fatigue, Jess considered simply lowering her body to the floor. But she wanted her arms around her kid so bad they ached. At the table, Jess lifted Juno up and set her on her lap while her daughter finished eating, pressing her face to the small stretch between the delicate shoulder blades. “I missed you, Bug.”
“I haven’t been gone, silly!” Juno bent in her grip, maneuvering a bite into her mouth.
Once they’d stuffed themselves to the point of discomfort, Juno settled on the couch to watch The Lion King, and Fizzy and Jess lingered in the kitchen with glasses of wine.
“I don’t like when you’re out of town,” Jess said through a yawn. “I blame you for yesterday.”
“Seems reasonable.” Fizzy swallowed a sip and bit her lip, studying Jess with narrowed eyes. “Juno says River Nicolas picked her up and took her to ballet?”
Jess waved a hand, unprepared to talk about it yet. “How are things with you and Banker Rob?”
“Hot and fantastic.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Will he be coming to your place later?”
Fizzy shook her head, waving her glass with a delicately bent wrist. “He’s out of town, remember? Which means you won’t get to avoid the River conversation.” Her best friend sat at the table and patted the seat next to her.
“Oh. Right.” Jess sat, but immediately crumpled, resting her head on her arms. “I’m too tired, Fizz.”
“Tell me what’s going on. You look …” She leaned in, lifting Jess’s hair to peek at her face. “This looks like more than just worry about Jo.”
Straightening, Jess quietly unloaded it all, parcel by parcel. She admitted she was starting to feel for River—feelings too big to ponder when it seemed like everything else in her life was pounding at the door to be dealt with. She admitted she didn’t know whether River’s intentions were completely trustworthy, even though he swore they were. She told Fizzy about the cocktail party, about honest-to-God one of the most intense make-outs the parking lot of Scripps Mercy had ever seen. She told Fizzy about how she couldn’t stop thinking about him. She told Fizzy every detail she could think to tell, like she was purging her sins.
“He said that?” Fizzy whispered, wary of the small but excellent ears in the other room. “He actually said the words ‘I want you in my bed’? Just like that?”
“With eye contact?”
“Steady, ardent, I’m-going-to-fuck-you-until-you-find-religion eye contact,” Jess confirmed.
Fizzy groaned, reaching for her purse, pulling her notebook out, and writing it down.
Jess bent over her arms again, exhaling an enormous sigh. “I just need some time to figure this all out. It’s happening so fast.”
Fizzy dropped her pen, scoffing at this. “Come on. No, you don’t.”
Surprised, Jess looked up at her. “What do you mean I don’t?”
“You’ve known him for weeks now. You’re telling me he told you he wanted to take you to dinner and hear you be nerdy. He wants to be there for you without you feeling guilty. He admitted he wants you in his bed—this poor boy is sprung, Jess, and you’re going to—what? Shove it aside?”
Jess stared at her, uncomprehending.
“You’re looking for a way out of feeling anything,” Fizzy said, “but you’re clearly bonkers for this guy.”
“I’m not sure ‘bonkers’—”
“You’re scared, and it’s cliché.”
She exhaled a shocked laugh. “Wow, give it to me straight, Felicity.”
“You think having feelings for River is selfish.”
“I mean, this situation does actually take me away from both work and Juno,” she said. “I’ve barely seen her the past two days.”
“So?” Fizzy challenged.
“What … ? I—” Jess grew flustered. “She’s my kid. I want to see her.”
“Of course you do,” Fizzy said, “but she’s Jo’s and Pops’s and mine, too. She and I had a blast tonight, and I wish I could see her more. But you act like asking for help is selfish, you see wanting something just for yourself as selfish, you see taking any time away from your kid as selfish, and if you’re selfish, then you must be turning into your mother.”
Hearing it aloud was like being punched.
“But you’re not your mom, Jess.” Fizzy took her hand, lifting it to her mouth to kiss it. “There isn’t even a drop of Jamie Davis in you.”