Saturday, February 22, 2014

Chapter 59

Leaving Jon asleep, Brianna showered, dressed and headed downstairs. The others were already there and all heads turned when she entered the kitchen. In answer to their unspoken question, she shrugged. "I did my best, but I don't know if it worked. We'll have to wait and see."

"Oh honey." John Sr. stood to hug her. "You look worn out."

"It wasn't one of my prouder moments." She sighed. Despite knowing it was for the greater good, especially for the kids, the memory of what she'd done made her feel sick. "I just hope it worked."

"Here Beautiful." David handed her a cup of coffee.

"Thanks." She took a sip and looked at the group. "Anyone ready for breakfast?"

They were almost finished when the sound of footsteps on the stairs reached them. Hopeful glances were exchanged, but no one spoke.

A rumpled and slightly disgruntled looking Jon walked into the kitchen. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the people currently filling the room. Grimacing, he continued to the counter and poured himself a cup of coffee. As he lifted it to his mouth to take a sip he caught Brianna's gaze and pointed a finger in her direction. "You fight dirty."

"When I have to." She acknowledged. "When it's necessary to get the job done."

"Don't blame her." Carol began.

"I don't." He assured his mother. "I understand why she did it. Nothing else was getting through to me." He looked back at Brianna again. "Thank you." Turning back to the others, he grimaced. "I'm sorry I haven't been.....available.... the last little while."

John Sr. rose and squeezed his son's shoulder. "Sit down son, have some breakfast."

"Where are the kids?"

"Linda took them for the weekend." Carol answered.

"Okay." He was actually relieved. It would give him time to pull himself together before facing them

A couple hours later, after visiting with his family and David, Jon went in search of Brianna. He didn't know exactly what he was going to say to her, but his conscience was bothering him. His memories of the previous night were a little hazy, but he knew he'd lost control and he was afraid he'd hurt her. That was the last thing he wanted to do.  She'd been a godsend. He and the kids would never have made it through the last few weeks without her. She deserved his gratitude and appreciation, not his abuse.

He found her in his office, sorting through his mail and e-mail. "There you are."

Her head shot up. "Sorry. Did you need something? Do you need to use your desk?" She stood up.

"No." He waved at her to sit back down and took the chair on the other side of the desk. Not sure how to start, he cast about for inspiration.....and seized upon the letters on the desk as a way to chicken out. "Anything interesting or urgent?"

"Not really. Mostly sympathy cards. A couple invitations that I've already declined. Oh! Craig sent a status report on the teams readiness for next season you might be interested in." She held out a folder.

Taking it, he glanced through it before setting it down. "Thanks." He shifted in his chair. "Bri...." He hesitated, still at a loss for words.

"Is there a problem? Did I do someone wrong?" The knot in her stomach got bigger.

"No, no! You didn't do anything wrong." He assured her. "I did." He sighed. "Did I hurt you last night?"

Amber eyes widened. That wasn't what she was expecting. "No."

"Honest?" He met her gaze. "I know I kind of lost it and wasn't exactly gentle."

"No. You didn't hurt me. It's fine."

He stood and paced to the window, one hand raking through his hair. "No it's not fine. You've been.....incredibly generous to my family. I don't think we would have made it through everything without you. I know we wouldn't have. And that's how I repay you? With temper and violence?" He shook his head in self disgust. "You deserve better than that and I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

The knot in her stomach swirled around in a sea of acid on the verge of erupting. He couldn't have made his feelings any clearer. Of course he regrets what happened! You're just his employee, remember. And now that Dorothea was gone it was time that she remembered her place and respected the boundaries of her position. Straying beyond them only led to heartache.

"It's fine, Jon, really. No harm done."  She straightened the desk and stood. "Everything's done here. I'll head back to the city after lunch."

Jon turned and frowned. "Aren't you going to stay to see the kids?"

"No. I've done everything I came here to do. I need to get back."

The muscle in his jaw twitched, but he spoke calmly. "The kids will be disappointed if you don't stay to see them."

She studied his face. "You all need time a family. Without outsiders in the way."

His frown darkened. "You're not an outsider. And you've never been in the way."

But he might as well have saved his breath. She was determined to leave and nothing he said would change her mind.

"Daddy!" Jake exclaimed when he entered the living room and saw his father sitting on the couch.

"Hi buddy." Jon hugged him.

"Feeling better?" Linda asked from the doorway, Stephanie and Jesse beside her, Romeo in her arms.

"Yes. Much."

She studied his face. "Good." Passing Romeo to his father, Linda hugged the others. "I'll see you guys later. Call if you need anything."

"Thanks Linda." Jon eyed his oldest two. "Guys, sit down for a minute. I need to talk to you."

"What's up?" Jesse asked as he dropped into the chair beside the couch.

"I owe you guys an apology. I haven't been there for you the last little while and I should have been. I'm sorry."

"It's okay Daddy." Stephanie, sitting beside him, reached out and squeezed his hand. "We miss her too." At his surprised look, she smiled. "Bri explained what was wrong."

Yet another thing I have to thank her for. "Well...I still shouldn't have locked myself away. Not from you guys. You needed me and I wasn't there."

"We're doing okay Daddy. We help each other. That's what family does...right?"

Jon stared at his daughter and smiled wryly. "Right." Lifting his hand, he smoothed it over her hair. "My wise girl. You remind me so much of your mother sometimes. God I miss her!" His eyes filled.

So did Stephanie's. She threw her arms around her father's neck and hugged him.

Jake hugged him from the other side. "It okay Daddy. We hep you."

"Thanks buddy."

"So how are your boss and his family doing?" Lisa asked as she passed the bowl of stuffing. The family was gathered at the Wilson home for Thanksgiving.

"As well can be expected." Brianna answered her sister-in-law. "Jon had a really hard time at first, but he seems to be recovering."

"What about your job?"

Trust her father to focus on work. "Well, things are a little slow, obviously, but there's enough to keep me occupied. It's mostly the charities and the football team for now."

"How much time are you spending at his house?" Sara wanted to know.

Brianna fought not to roll her eyes. "Just a few hours once a week or so."

"Smart girl." Edward nodded approvingly. "Just enough so he doesn't forget you but not enough so he takes you for granted."

Rachel shot Brianna a sympathetic glance. "How are the kids doing?"

"They have their good days and bad days, but they're getting through it." She tried not to think about Jake looking so sad every time she left.

"Have you decided what position you want in their lives? Assistant or wife and mother?" Sara eyed her daughter carefully.

"Sara!" Lisa was shocked. "They're grieving! I don't think they're ready to start looking to replace the poor woman."

Edward grunted. "She needs to decide what she wants before they do. Then she can position herself appropriately. You've got to strike while the iron is hot if you're going to succeed."

Brianna sighed and ground her teeth in frustration. "These are people we're talking about here! With feelings! This is not a business deal!"

"Don't kid yourself." Edward admonished her. "The rules for success apply to everything worth having in life."

Brianna didn't know whether to feel angry or sad about her father's view of life, but she was determined not to share it.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chapter 58

Brianna hung up and sighed. Part of the reason she'd left the mansion on the Navesink was to force Jon to re-engage with his children - with life! The hope had been that this situation could be avoided.

But it hadn't worked.

The beauty of the fall colours nature was displaying on the drive to New Jersey went largely unnoticed. Brianna's mind was consumed by what she was going to have to do when she got there. Despite the instructions from Dot, she wasn't sure she had the knowledge - or intestinal fortitude - to pull him out of the dark place he'd sunk into.

Parking in her usual spot, Brianna sighed and trudged towards the house.

"Hi." Carol stood in the doorway.

"Hi." Brianna tried to smile. "How bad is it?"

"Come sit down and have a cup of coffee....or maybe you'd prefer a glass of wine....and we'll fill you in."

"That bad huh?"


David, Matt, Tony and John Sr. were in the kitchen when they entered.

Brianna took one look at their faces and opted for wine. "So, what happened?"

"He completely shut down." John Sr. began.

"He hasn't come out of his room in almost a week." Tony added.

"He won't talk to anyone. Not even the kids. Every time I go in he's sleeping." Carol concluded.

"Okay." Brianna sighed and nodded.

"Can you help?" Matt asked.

"I don't know." Brianna replied honestly. "Dorothea warned me this could happen and explained what I should do,'s not pleasant." She grimaced. "Where are the kids?"

"Linda took them for the weekend." Carol answered.

"Good. This could get loud and.....ugly."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Tony offered.

Brianna shook her head. "No. Just.....don't judge me by what you may hear me say to him."

"Tough love." David understood her meaning.

Everyone around the table exchanged glances and nodded.

"Do what you need to do honey." Jon's Sr. encouraged her. "We'll back you up."

"Thanks." Brianna drained her glass and stood. "Wish me luck."

Upstairs, she put her bag in her room and changed into comfortable clothing. This could take awhile.

She stood outside Jon's door trying to gather her courage. Please God let this work! She knocked and opened the door. "Okay Jon, enough wallowing in grief and self pity. It's time get up and rejoin the living."

He didn't even open his eyes. "Leave me alone."

"Can't do that. You've indulged long enough." She walked to the windows and opened the drapes, letting in the waning daylight and the setting sun.

Jon just rolled over and buried his head in his pillow.

She stepped closer. "Jon, come on. Get up."

"Go. Away."

"No. Not until you get up."

He remained silent.

"Come on Jon. You've got four kids that need you."

She went on for over ten minutes, but he didn't even respond.

Brianna took a deep breath. "They just lost their mother Jon, are you going to deprive them of a father too? Is that what you want? For your children to be orphans?"

Still nothing.

"Dorothea died Jon. Should we be digging a grave beside her for you?"

When he still didn't respond, she looked up at the ceiling. Dot help me! Swallowing, heavily, she took a deep breath. "She left your children, Jon. Are you going to do the same? Will Tony or Matt get to walk Stephanie down the aisle when she gets married? Cheer Jesse on when he plays college football, maybe even the NFL? And what about the little ones? Jake will probably barely remember Dot, and Romeo won't remember her at all. Is that what you want too? To just be a picture in an album to your children? Dot...."

"Brianna! Leave Dot out of this! She was a wonderful mother!"

The use of her full name told her she was getting to him. Anger was better than nothing. Dot you'd better be right about him forgiving me when he calms down. "Yes, she was, but she left, Jon. She left her children......and she left you. She didn't care enough to stick around."

"Stop it!" He sat up and glared at her.

"She talked about how much she loved all of you, but not enough to put up with a little discomfort and fight to stay with you." 

"You're fired!" Fists clenching in his pillow, he threw it at her.....and missed.

Tears streamed down her cheeks at the pain she was inflicting. "She gave up. Devastated your children and left you to pick up the pieces."


"It's no wonder you're so depressed. The love of your life decided you weren't worth the effort and left you."

Flying off the bed, he grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her against the wall. "SHUT. THE FUCK. UP!"

"Everyone understands why you're upset. She basically dumped you."

"ARRRGH!" He pushed away and stomped around the bedroom.

"After everything you gave her.....she was living every woman's dream.....but it wasn't enough. Nothing you did was enough for her to make the effort. What a selfish bitch."

She saw it in his face the split second before he snapped. His hand closed around the bottle of Dorothea's perfume sitting on a dresser. Pivoting, he pitched it against the wall where it shattered. "The bitch left me!"

He toured around the room in search of more missiles. Anything that he could lift got thrown as hard as he could. "She just....left me!" Smash. "She promised she'd fight, but she gave up!" Crash. "She fucking gave up! On all of us!"

Downstairs, the sound of glass breaking and objects hitting the wall had the group still sitting in the kitchen looking towards the stairs.

"Should we go make sure they're okay?" Carol suggested.

David shook his head. "Let's wait. Brianna will let us know if they need help."

Upstairs, Brianna let him rant and rave while she focused on staying out of the line of fire.....and ignoring his nakedness.

Finally, Jon ran out of steam and sank down on the side of the bed. Resting his elbows on his knees, he buried his face in his hands.

Brianna saw his shoulders shaking and her heart ached for him. Judging it was safe to approach him, she sat beside him, hugging him with one arm and rubbing his back with the other. There were no words to make everything better, so she stayed silent.

He blew out a ragged breath. "She's gone."


Jon shifted, lying back on the bed, taking Brianna with him. He rolled until he was resting his head on her chest. Her arms cradled him. "What am I going to do without her?"

She stroked his hair. "You'll figure it out. You and the kids. You're strong. You'll all find your way. The family will help if you need it."

He was quiet so long, Brianna thought he'd fallen asleep, until his hand came up to grip her side, thumb rubbing the side of her breast. He rose up on an elbow to capture her mouth with his.

Brianna stiffened momentarily, uncomfortable with what was happening, but the look in his eye and the desperation she could taste in his kiss told her that he needed the physical release as much as he'd needed the emotional one. Relaxing, she let him do as he wished.

Distracted by his kiss, she barely noticed her clothes disappearing beneath his touch. The feel of his calluses lightly scraping her breasts brought her awareness to her nakedness and she shivered.

Jon let his hands roam, not really aware of what he was doing. His whole being was focused on finding pleasure induced oblivion. Even so, some part of his brain noted that her body reacted quickly to his touch. While his tongue stroked her hers, his hands stroked her body, lingering in her sensitive spots, until a fine sheen of sweat coated her skin. 

Two fingers slid between the swollen folds at the apex of her thighs to test her readiness. Feeling her wetness, he wasted no time plunging into her welcoming body. His eyes closed at the blissful pleasure of her humid sheath grasping his already throbbing erection.

Brianna inhaled sharply at his sudden entry, then moaned at the bolts of pleasure spotting through her as he began to move. Her hips lifted to match his rhythm. While her body felt the pleasure - in fact, was quickly overwhelmed by it - her mind sensed a lack of connection that had up until now accompanied their lovemaking.

She was right. Jon's entire being was focused on finding physical release. When she tore her mouth from his to gasp for breath, he didn't look at her, he just buried his face in her neck. Her orgasmic cries went largely unnoticed.

But release wasn't coming easily for him tonight. Sliding his hands under her hips, he angled them towards him so that he could reach deeper, and increased his speed.

It still wasn't enough.

Drenched in sweat and almost desperate, Jon lifted her legs onto his shoulders and fully extended his arms. All gentleness deserted him as he pounded into her, panting and straining.

"JON!" Brianna screamed as another orgasm crashed over herald her whole body went rigid.

Her channel clamping around his embedded erection like a vice finally pulled him over the edge. With a grunt, he collapsed onto her as his body emptied deep inside her. When he could gather enough strength, he withdrew from her body and rolled to the side.

Within minutes, his deep, even breathing told Brianna he was asleep. But she wasn't so lucky. She was still awake when pink rays of dawn lit up the sky. She prayed that her efforts worked, otherwise she'd just prostituted herself for nothing.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chapter 57

 "How are things going?" Sara called to ask her daughter.

"About as well as can be expected I guess." Brianna replied. "The older kids are back in school. Jon's not doing any work yet." He wasn't doing much of anything, actually. He got up and took the kids to school and then she often wouldn't see him again until dinner. Busy with the house and Romeo, she didn't disturb him. She let him grieve in private. "They're trying to figure out a new routine."

"So, what are you doing?"

Brianna could hear the frown in her mother's voice. "Looking after the house, helping the kids.....whatever they need."

"Be careful there honey."

"What do you mean?"

"She means think about what you want and act accordingly." Her father's voice came down the line. She hadn't realized he was listening on the extension.

"Now you've really lost me. What are you talking about?"

"Are you sleeping with him?"

"For God's sake Father! He just lost his wife!"

He grunted. "That means he's available."

"And grieving!" Sara interjected. "It may be a long time before he's ready for a relationship."

"But he'll take what's handy and available."


"I'm just being honest. Brianna, you need to decide whether you want to be his assistant or his wife. Because you can't be both and do an acceptable job. And if you want either to be long term you need to get out of his house. If he sees you as his plaything, ready and available to satisfy his physical needs, he won't respect you as an assistant or visualize you as a permanent life partner."

Brianna could feel her face burning. And he wasn't finished.

"And you living in his house makes you too handy. I didn't raise my daughter to be any man's..."


"....toy." He finished.

"Father really!" Brianna couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Your father has a point about you living in his house Brianna. While it gives you the inside track, it may also make him take you for granted, or see you as a housekeeper and a nanny. You want him to choose you because he wants and loves you, not because it's the easy solution and he doesn't have to work for it. That's just two people sharing space, not sharing a life."

"Mom....." She didn't know how to respond. "I don't even know why we're talking about this."

"You can act as horrified and indignant as you want, but I noticed that not once have you said you didn't have feelings for him."

"Of course I have feelings for him! He's my boss, a good man and he just lost his wife."

"Romantic feelings." Her mother clarified.

"Arrrg!" Brianna growled in frustration. She couldn't identify her feelings for Jon to herself, she certainly wasn't prepared to explain them to her parents. "I've got to go."

"Remember what I said Brianna." Her father instructed. "Decide what you want your future to be, and behave appropriately. Don't let me down."

"Yes sir, I'll remember." Hanging up, Brianna clenched her fists in her hair. "Arrrrgh!"

"What wong Bianna?" Jake asked from the open doorway to her room.

"Oh nothing. My dad's just being..." She debated what to say to a four year old, then remembered what he'd called Jesse the day before. "...a doodie head."

"Oh, yeah." He glanced down the hallway towards his father's bedroom. "Dat not fun."

She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Getting up, she hugged him. "You ready for your bath?"

"Uh huh." He nodded. "I can have cookie after?"

"Yes, my little Cookie Monster."

Jake giggled as he followed her down the hallway.

Jon leaned back his head and turned his chair to look out the window at the Navesink flowing by and disappearing out of sight in the twilight, wishing he could go with it.

Lethargy dragged at him. Every movement was an effort. He knew he should be going over the correspondence Brianna had prepared for his signature and the Soul Foundation projects that needed his input and approval, but he couldn't summon the interest. What did he need to do it for anyway? He had more than enough money for him and the kids to live on for the rest of their lives. What was the point?

The echo of Romeo's giggles coming from the living room made him smile sadly. He should be spending more time interacting with his children, but he didn't have the energy. Thankfully, Brianna was there to take care of their needs. They needed her more than they needed him.

All he really wanted to do was sleep. It was like all his years on the road, running all over the world had caught up with him. He'd never felt so exhausted.

Dragging himself out of the chair with a sigh, he walked slowly towards the living room. He stopped in the doorway to take in the sight. Brianna was sitting on the floor playing with trains and blocks with Jake and Romeo, while at the same time helping Steph and Jesse with their homework.

Just like Dorothea used to do.

God I miss her! The stab of pain was sharp and as fresh as the day she died.

"Daddy! You come pay wif us?" Jake pleaded, catching sight of him in the doorway.

"Not tonight buddy. Daddy's going to bed." He felt guilty, but they didn't really need him. Brianna would take care of them.

They watched him pass through the room, varying degrees of concern on their faces.

"What wong wif Daddy?" Jake asked Brianna.

"He's just tired and sad. He misses your Mommy, just like you guys." Brianna answered reassuringly, hiding her own concern.

"I'm a little worried." She confided to Carol the next day. "He's not doing any work, he barely eats and other than taking the kids to school, he doesn't interact with them much. He doesn't do much of anything other than sleep. I know he's grieving, but...."

Carol frowned. "Maybe we're doing too much for him. Maybe we need to make him feel more useful....needed."

Brianna thought about that for a long minute, a few of her parents’ words echoing in her head. "I think maybe I should go home to New York. If I'm not here, Jon will have to put out more of an effort with the kids. I don't want the kids to feel like I'm abandoning them, but some time without me around may be the best for them in the long run. Give them and Jon a chance to settle into their new routine without me around interfering."

"You've been a godsend, not an interference, but I know what you're saying." Carol considered for several minutes, then sighed. "You may be right. It might give him the kick in the pants he needs to pull himself out of the pit of grief and self pity he's wallowing in and be a father to his children."

"I'll plan to leave by the end of the week."

Easier said than done.

Brianna sat down with Stephanie and Jesse and explained what she was doing, assuring them she wasn't abandoning them and they could call her anytime, for any reason. 

When she told Jon she was going to the office in the city to catch up on some work, he just nodded, never taking his gaze from the view outside his office window.

Jake was a different story. The bottom lip came out and quivered. Two fat tears overflowed his eyes and ran down his cheeks."You weavin? But.....why? You pwomised you wouldn't weave!"

"It's not forever." Brianna assured him. "It's just for a little while. I'll be back."

But Jake wasn't buying it. Stomping up the stairs, he threw her a hurt scowl. The slamming of his bedroom door echoed down to the foyer.

Brianna sighed.

"He'll be okay. You're doing for him...and his brothers and sister." Carol assured her.

Mentally, she knew that, but emotionally, driving away from that house - and it occupants - was the hardest thing she'd ever done.

Two weeks later, Carol was at the end of her rope. Instead of stepping up and becoming more involved with his family, Jon had shut down completely. At this point, he wasn't even getting out of bed. She'd tried everything she could think of, but nothing worked. She had no idea what to do next.

When David stopped by to see how things were going, Carol was only too happy to fill him in. "I'm at a loss David. I don't know what to do. Do you have any ideas on how to help him?"

David sighed, a conversation he'd had with Dorothea as her health had declined came back to him.

"Jon will react one of two ways. He may lock his grief away and basically act like nothing happened. The upside to that is that he'll function okay and be there for the kids. The downside is that he'll take a long time to heal and move on. But you won't have to do anything, he'll come around eventually."

"And what's the other possibility?" David had a feeling he wasn't going to like the answer.

"He'll allow his grief to consume him and shut down completely."

"And what do we do if that happens?"

"If that happens, it's time for tough love."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Brianna knows. She'll take care of it."

"Can I help her?"

Dorothea shook her head. "No. She has to do it alone. But the rest of you need to back off and let her. It will sound loud, mean and nasty, but stay out of it and let her do what needs to be done. For Jon. For my family."

David patted Carol's hand. "Yes, I do." Pulling out his phone, he scrolled through his contacts until he found the one he was looking for. She answered on the third ring. "Hi Beautiful. I'm afraid it's time to put Operation Tough Love into motion.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chapter 56

The day of Dorothea's funeral dawned sunny and unusually warm. The chateau on the Navesink was eerily quiet for a house filled with people.

Brianna checked that the food was ready for the luncheon that would follow the service while Carol and Dorothea's sisters helped the kids get bathed and dressed. Standing at the window, she took a deep breath and prayed for strength - for all of them - to get through the day. She heard a noise behind her and turned to watch Jon enter the kitchen and sit on a stool at the island. Without a word, she pulled a mug out of the cupboard, filled it with coffee and set it in front of him.

"Thanks." He sighed and gazed out the window.

Just then, Jesse walked in, went to the fridge and pulled out the orange juice. Brianna handed him a glass. He wandered to the window and sipped in silence.

The adults watched him for a moment, then Jon crooked a brow at Brianna, who considered, then walked up behind him to wrap her arms around his shoulders. Jesse stiffened at first, but quickly relaxed and leaned back against her.

The sound of the front door opening heralded the arrival of Matt and Desiree from the guest house. Footsteps could be heard on the stairs, followed by murmured voices in the foyer.

Jon glanced in the direction of the noise, but made no move to join his family. When the intercom at the gate buzzed, he sighed again, but got up to answer it and let the limos in.

It was a somber group that exited the house to climb into the limos lining the driveway. After making sure that Jon and the kids were safely in the lead car, Brianna started walking towards her own vehicle. As she passed the last limo, a hand on her arm stopped her.

"Where are you going Sunshine?"

"To get my car."

"What for?"

" drive to the church." Her tone indicated he should have known that.

Tony shook his head. "That's what the limos are for. Get in." He waved towards the open car door.

"But.....they're for the family. I'm not family. I can drive myself."

He sighed. "Get in the damn limo, Sunshine. I'm not having that argument with you again." He shook his head and followed her in. "Do you give Jon this much trouble?"

Matt, who was already in the limo and had heard their conversation, snorted. "He'd say yes."

"She has to be stubborn to deal with him." Desiree argued.

Brianna couldn't decide if that was a compliment or a criticism, but decided it was best to ignore it either way.

At the church, while the family formed a reception line, Brianna took the two little ones to a quiet corner and kept them occupied with story books, colouring books and crayons. When Carol and Jon started down the aisle to take their seats, she gathered up the books and urged the boys forward to join their father.

When they were settled, she started down the aisle to sit with Paul and Evelyn. A tug on her hand stopped her. She looked down to see Tico slide over and pat the seat beside him. "Sit here nina."

She slid into the pew and leaned over to hug him before easing back and nodding at Alejandra and the rest of the band seated beside him.

It was a beautiful service with passages and hymns chosen by Dorothea herself. She said it would be the only time she'd be in control of the musical program with Jon around. Towards the end, Romeo started to get restless. Jon, Carol and Linda all tried to distract and contain him, but each time they restrained him, he screamed. "No! No!"

With a sigh, Jon released him and watched him wander down the aisle, his head swiveling, obviously looking for someone. "Bi! Bi!"

"Sshh..Romeo!" Brianna whispered. "I'm right here."

"Bi!" Romeo grinned when he found her and ran to climb into her lap.

Looks and nudges were exchanged amongst the congregation as people strained to see who Romeo had been looking for. Those who didn't know her speculated on her connection to the family. Those who did know her merely smiled, unsurprised at Romeo's attachment.

At the cemetery, Brianna stood with the band members, several feet behind the family. As the priest finished the final prayer and people started to disperse, Romeo broke away from his father and walked up to the open grave. Sitting near the edge, he started nattering in typical two year old speak - a lot of gibberish with the odd understandable word.

Jon could make out "Da-da", "Bi", "Essy", "goggie" and "owie" as he pointed to his arm where Copper had scratched him the day before. Then he tilted his head and laughed.

"Is he talking to someone?" Tony asked.

"Not sure." Jon replied. "Sure looks like it." He stepped forward and held out a hand. "Come on little man, time to go."


"Here we go again." Carol sighed. "Romeo? Let's go home."

Romeo shook his head vehemently. "NO!"

Stephanie watched him and listened to his nattering for a couple minutes, then crouched down beside him. "Hey little man, who are you talking to?"

"Mum Mum."

Sniffles and soft sobs could be heard from several women who were close enough to hear their conversation, including Dorothea's sisters. Even Jon's eyes were damp.

Stephanie had to swallow and blink back her tears before she could speak. "Do you see her?"

He nodded.

Stephanie glanced around. "Where is she?"

"Der." He pointed towards the air above the open grave. He tilted his head again, like he was listening to something, then laughed.

Stephanie looked helplessly at her father, who looked at Brianna.

"Hey little man." She crouched down on the other side of him. "It's time to say goodbye to Mommy and go home now."

Romeo frowned and his bottom lip jutted out in a pout. He started to argue, but stopped, listening, sighed and nodded. Standing up, he took Brianna's hand. As they started to walk away, he stopped and turned back to face the grave. He brought one hand to his mouth and blew kisses. "Mum Mum."

Jon spun on his heel and stalked deeper into the cemetery.

The others moved towards the cars. Carol stopped Brianna. "Let me take Romeo. You go after Jon."

Brianna shook her head. "I don't think I should be the one..."

"Trust me Brianna. I know my son. You're the one he needs right now." She reached for Romeo's hand. "Come with Grandma little man. We'll go get something to eat."

Sighing, Brianna watched them leave. She turned to study Jon. Ignoring Carol's advice, she stayed where she was and let him have a few minutes to pull himself together. She knew he'd come back to Dorothea. He always did.

Jon wandered aimlessly amongst the tombstones. He just needed a few minutes on his own to get his emotions under control. Seeing Romeo blow his mother kisses did him in. He remembered all the time Dot had spent teaching him to do that.

When he came to a stop he found himself back at the open grave and stood staring at the casket. Oh baby, I miss you so much already. How are we going to go on without you? He sucked in a ragged breath.

Sensing Brianna standing near him, he sighed. "Do you think he really saw her?"

"I don't know, but children are more open to picking up on those kinds of signals and spirits."

He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "We'd better get home."

Back at the house, it was wall to wall people and Brianna was kept busy making sure there was always plenty of food available. Eventually, the non-family members left and things settled down. When Romeo started rubbing his ear, she scooped him up and held a hand out for Jake. Together they made the rounds to say goodnight.

She read them their bedtime story and tucked Romeo in. "Night little man."

He smiled sleepily.

Turning as she closed the door, Brianna saw him blowing kisses towards the corner of his room.

In Jake's room, she held up the blankets while he crawled in and tucked them in around him.



"Did you see Mommy today?"

"No, did you?"

"No." He paused, frowning. "How come baby Romey got to see her?"

"Well, he's little and needs to see her to understand and be comforted. You're a big boy so she can reach you other ways."

"Like what?"

"Like......when you want to do something that might get you hurt and there's a little voice inside you telling you not to do it, that's your Mom. Or when you do really well at something and you get a warm, bubbly feeling inside, that's your Mom hugging you and letting you know she's proud of you."


She nodded. "Yes. She'll always be watching over you and looking out for you."

He thought about that for a moment. "Okay."

She left his room to find Linda standing in the hallway.

"You're really good with them. I can see why Dot entrusted them to you."

Brianna shrugged. "I'm just doing what I think is best and praying I'm doing it right."

"You are, and the Hurley family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts." Linda hugged Brianna and returned downstairs.

Stunned, Brianna started down the hall. When she passed Stephanie's room, she heard somebody moving around and stuck her head inside the open door. "You going to bed too Steph?"

"Yeah. I'm tired. I might read for awhile though."

"Okay. Sleep well." She turned away.


She turned back. "Yes?"

"Do you think Romeo really saw Mom?"

"I don't know Steph. Maybe. Young children are more open to picking up signals and spirits. As we get older we get cynical and don't believe as easily.  But he's sure he saw her, so I say we go with that. Maybe she was trying to show him that she was watching over him.....just like she is the rest of you."

"Hmmmm. Maybe." She looked around her room and raised her voice. "I wouldn't mind seeing you too Mom!"

Brianna smiled. "Sleep well Steph."

"Thanks. You too."

Returning downstairs, Brianna made another run through the house looking for dishes, only to find that Carol and Dorothea's sisters had already cleared the rooms before they went home. She was in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher when Jon came in and sat down.

"Are the kids asleep?"

She nodded. "Or in their rooms at least." She paused. "It was a nice service."

He nodded. "Mmmmm."

"You must be exhausted. Why don't you go to bed?"

He rubbed a hand over his face. "Yeah, I think I will. Thanks for all your help today." He stood. "You coming?"

"As soon as I finish this."

"Okay. I've turned off the lights and checked the alarm."

"Okay. Night."


Brianna slid into her bed with a grateful sigh. It had been a long day, and she wasn't sure the worst was over yet. In fact, she was pretty sure it wasn't. She glanced around the room then fixed her gaze on the ceiling. "Help me find the right way to help them through this Dot. Help me deserve the faith you put in me to take care of them."

Rolling over, she drifted off to sleep.