Love Realized (The Real Love Series)
Author:Melanie Codina

chapter SEVEN

She felt like she was floating. The music was playing as she felt herself gently swaying to it. His arms were resting comfortably around her waist while she had one of hers on his shoulder, and the other was playing with the hair at the base of his head. She knew he loved it when she played with his hair. She, too, loved playing with it—it was so soft and thick, and she was so glad when she convinced him that he didn’t need to get it cut short just for the wedding. To her it was perfect. The day was fantastic, and their first dance was turning out to be perfect as they swayed to their song in the middle of the empty dance floor, while he softly sang it to her. He didn’t sing it loud enough for everyone to hear, it was just for her. Suddenly the music stopped, and he stopped singing, too. She looked into his eyes, and he smiled. Then someone nudged her shoulder. “Mom … Mom … Mommy.”

She turned her head to see who was interrupting her dance with her new husband and looked straight into the eyes of her youngest son, Dylan. “Your alarm was going off Mom, it’s time to get up, and I have to be at school early today so I got dressed already,” he said with a satisfied smile and way too much energy for this early in the day.

She looked him over and smiled back at him. “And what a fine job you did, buddy. Good thing you wear uniforms to school still, it kind of makes things easy, doesn’t it?”

He gave her a little laugh then asked, “Can I have cereal for breakfast today, please?”

“Of course, you go feed yourself, and I'm going to jump in the shower. Are your brother and sister up yet?”

“Yes, I heard Jonathan yelling at Maddie, and that’s why I woke up,” he said as he left her bedroom.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed to sit up and glared at her alarm clock. It was a damn dream … A wonderful memory. Stupid music playing alarm clock. She was going to have to pick another radio station, or better yet, take a hammer to it. Hearing that song playing definitely threw her into that dream. She sighed. It felt sooo damn real. She really felt like she was back on her wedding day, in her dress, dancing with Logan to their song. Their life was still new and fresh and nothing like it was now. Oh sure, things were complicated for them considering they were already the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy by the time that day rolled around. ‘Just Married’ wasn’t the only banner they flew. The judgmental attitudes of the adults around them were always fun and barely tolerated, but hey, they were kids and didn’t know anything. Sometimes it bothered her that the focus was always on her getting pregnant, instead of focusing on the way they handled it and they were doing just fine.

The most commonly offered title for her and Logan was ‘teenage parents.’ ‘Unwed parents was the one most often heard around the religious folks. And her personal favorite to hate was the ‘Got-Married-Because-They-Had-a-Child’ title, which was the one whispered behind their backs, so fortunately she didn’t have to hear it that often, but she knew it was there. They were all wonderful titles to be listed under, and she battled to make sure that she didn’t fall into any of those stupid stereotyped categories again. That was, until two months ago, when her world fell apart. Welcome to a new statistic, Gillian Baxter. Sometimes she felt like she should wear a silk sash across her chest like beauty pageant contestants wore, only hers would say something like, ‘Divorced Previous Teenage Mother … duh.’ Because, of course, that was what everyone expected from girls who got pregnant in high school.

She stood up, stretched, and tried to shake off the dream and her apparent bad mood. She was about to head to the shower when she heard her daughter and all her attitude yelling for her, “MOOOOM! Jonathan says if I'm not in the car in five minutes he’s leaving without me!”

Looking toward that damn traitorous alarm clock she saw that it was still plenty early enough and she wasn’t sure why he was placing that demand on her, but no big deal, she had to drive Dylan anyways. “I can drive you to school today if your brother needs to go. Just tell him I will.”

“Eww! No way, I can’t have my mom drop me off at school.” Madison was the epitome of female teenage drama and said that with complete and utter disgust in her voice. You love your daughter … You love her, it’s just a phase … You will be the best of friends someday. She chanted this to herself so not to snap at her daughter because that just brought on a whole other set of problems.

“Well then, it looks like you now only have four minutes ‘til you need to be in your brother’s car, or you will be walking to school.” Gillian’s reply to Madison’s complaint elicited a grunt and a foot stomp before she went back upstairs. Well, if she was here when she got out, then she would know what her wonderful, moody daughter’s decision was.

Stepping into the shower, she let the hot water pound down onto her strained muscles. She had just finished four twelve-hour shifts in a row, and her body was certainly feeling the effects of it. Thankful that today was her day off, she finished her shower and reluctantly got out so she could get the kids to school. She had just finished wrapping the towel around her body when she heard his voice calling her.

“Gillian?” Logan said in a questioning tone. “You in here?” Gillian looked up as he rounded the corner into what was their bedroom and saw her. His eyes widened momentarily in surprise before he spoke, “Oops, sorry, babe.” He didn’t make a move to leave or cover his eyes. She watched as a gentle smile graced his face, and his eyes showed emotion she didn’t want to have to handle today. So, since sarcasm was a good friend of hers, she would go with that instead.

“You know, this isn’t yours to look at anymore, so stop staring,” she said while gesturing to her towel-clad body, and then proceeded to bend forward and wrap her hair up in another towel.

He was still staring when she stood back up and shrugged one shoulder as he said, “Believe me when I say that I do know that, it’s just that old habits die hard, Gillian.” Didn’t she know it? Sometimes it was a constant battle in her head that she and Logan weren’t a couple anymore. They were still married, of course, but legalities were being worked on. It was exhausting sometimes, trying to remember things were different, but she knew that it would get easier. Just seeing him in their room felt so normal, as did her initial reaction to seeing him. She had to resist the urge to walk up to him, wrap her arms around him and just hold him. She really missed his hugs. They say it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, or get over an old one, but she was past that and still struggling. Maybe it was twenty-one days per year you were together? Who the hell knows.

She resisted the cloud of funk threatening to take over whenever she dwelled on the status of her marriage, and realized that there was no reason for him to be here at this time of day … in her room … while she was wearing only a towel. Making sure the towel was secure around her body, she cocked her head to the side as she asked him, “What are you doing here? It’s not your day to take them—I'm off today.”

“Maddie called me. She said you were making her walk to school, and she didn’t like walking to school in her cheer uniform,” he said and finished with another shrug like it made perfect sense to him.

Oh no, she did not! Gillian felt her anger hit like a punch to the gut as she sucked in a startled breath of air. “She told you that?” Her voice was high and full of disbelief. Logan, who has known her for at least half her life, picked up on her tone and realized that something was amiss.

“Uh-oh … I knew that didn’t sound like you, but hey, who am I to pass up a chance to see my girl?” Gillian wasn’t sure if he was talking about her or their daughter. The look on his face made it seem like it was Gillian, but she wasn’t going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole! Gillian grabbed her robe off the hook next to where she was standing and swung it over her shoulders, tying it tightly around her body, before she dropped the towel. Oh, she was fully aware of the fact that Logan most likely caught an eye full of something, or everything, but she couldn’t resist. Not only did it feel normal to do that in front of him, but also it was just too damn tempting to remind him of what he couldn’t have anymore. Plus, like he said, old habits die hard.

“Did you get a good look?” she asked as she strode past him and out of the bedroom to find their daughter.

“Oh, it was good. Definitely not long enough, though, so could you do that again, but in slow motion?” he asked as he followed after her.

“You wish,” she shot back at him over her shoulder.

“You’re right, I do.” She heard him say before she yelled up the stairs.

“Madison Marie Baxter!” she yelled in her best Mom-means-business-voice. “Do you want to tell me why you told your father that I was making you walk to school today?”

Her beautiful daughter came trotting down the stairs in her cheer uniform with a big smile on her face, eyes only for her father. “Hi Daddy!” she said as she kissed him on his cheek and walked past both of them, ignoring Gillian and her question entirely. As soon as the teenage drama queen had passed, Logan looked to Gillian and raised his eyebrows in question.

She grumbled under her breath at her husband, “This is how she has been toward me for the past few months, and it’s worse than she used to be with me.”

“Madison!” Logan’s stern use of her actual first name, and not her nickname, had her halting her stride and turning around to face them. “Your mother asked you a question; do you want tell me why you completely ignored her?”

“I didn’t hear Mom say anything, Daddy,” Madison said in a sickly sweet voice. Damn, that kid was a piece of work all right. She was actually trying to play her father right in front of her. If it wasn’t her own daughter doing it, she might actually be impressed, or even amused by it.

“Now I find that hard to believe. I was standing right next to her when she called you, and there is no way you didn’t hear her.” Madison must not have had a response to that, so she remained silent and tried to look all sweet and delicate.

Undeterred, he continued, “Do you also want to tell me why you told me that your mother was making you walk to school today, because I get the feeling, based on your mother’s response, that this information is incorrect?” Gillian could see her daughter’s body stiffen when she realized that she had been caught trying to pull a fast one on her father.

She had obviously intended to leave before Gillian got out of shower, or figured that her father wouldn’t come in the house to seek her mother out. Madison apparently assumed that because her parents were divorcing, they didn’t speak to each other. It was clear that this was a play from the my-parents-are-getting-divorced-let’s-pit-them-against-one-other playbook; thankfully, Logan wasn’t an idiot and didn’t fall for it.

Madison was clearly mad at Gillian because of the separation and took Logan’s side in the matter—especially since they had decided that the information about Logan’s infidelity was not something they needed to share with the kids. All that the kids knew was Mom and Dad were not going to live together anymore, and that they were going to share custody of the kids.

Even though it was slightly refreshing to see her daughter squirm under the glare of her father, Gillian said, “Are you going to tell him the whole story, or should I? If you want to play games, you should remember that you are no match for me.”

Her daughter was once again silent. Gillian didn’t like to tattle on the kids to Logan. She was not one of those moms that used the ‘wait ‘til your father gets home’ line unless the situation seriously warranted it. To hell with that, they better be just as worried about what Mom thought as they were about what Dad would think. No way was she a weak person, and her children better fear her wrath. But the fact remained that her daughter was trying to make her look bad in front of Logan, and it needed to be handled. Separations and divorces are hard enough without the kids causing unnecessary drama and pitting parents against each other was not something she was going to sit back and watch, especially when everything seemed to be going smoothly between the grown-ups.

“Got nothing to say about that, huh? Okay.” Gillian turned to Logan and continued, “As I was getting into the shower, without so much as a ‘Good morning, Mom,’ Madison yelled to me that Jonathan told her she had to be in his truck within five minutes, or he was leaving without her. So I told her that was fine, to tell Jonathan that I would drive her to school. Madison’s response was something to the effect of ‘Eww, I can’t be seen at school being dropped off by my mom.’ My response to that wonderful remark was, ‘Well then, I guess you better be in your brother’s car in four minutes, or you would have to walk.” Gillian looked over to her daughter, smiled, barely restraining her desire to stick out her tongue, and said, “Your move, little girl.”

Madison had the smarts to realize that she had been out-maneuvered, and that her father would be mad at her. Logan had a slightly amused expression on his face as he looked at Gillian and asked, “She actually said eww? What the hell is that all about?”

Gillian shrugged her shoulders at him and said, “I'm guessing it’s because I either dress in an embarrassing manner,” she continued, counting the options on her hands, “my car is not something a teenager wants to be seen in, my big hairy mole on the tip of my nose is showing again, or she just plain doesn’t like me.” Gillian watched Logan stifle a laugh at her smartass ways before addressing their daughter.

“Well, which is it, Madison?” Again, no response, but she clearly understood that it wasn’t going in her favor. But seriously, what could she say? “So, you have nothing to say for yourself, and you lied to me.” When Madison predictably tried to speak up, most likely to defend herself about being accused of lying to him, he stopped her and continued, “You omitted information about why your mother said that. I'm not sure what your deal is, young lady, but treating your mother like that is not going to be tolerated anymore. So since your brother is already gone, and you don’t want your mother to drive you, I guess you better get to walking because you have twenty-five minutes ‘til the bell rings.”

Logan looked to Gillian and smiled like he was so proud of how he handled Madison. Gillian had to laugh at that just a little bit.

“Coffee?” she asked him.

“Would love some,” he said, and they both walked away from a stunned teenager.

They made their way into the kitchen and found Dylan sitting at the table, eating his cereal, and deep in video game mode, complete with headphones. He looked up and saw his dad and smiled. “Hey Dad!” Logan hugged him when he leaned over and kissed him on top of the head.

“Hey yourself, little man.” Gillian’s heart ached a little at the smile on her son’s face when he saw his dad, like it was a surprise to see him. She had never wanted to raise their kids this way, but she could only sacrifice so much of herself.

“What are you doing here, Dad?”

“Your sister tricked me into thinking your mother was making her walk to school.”

Her son gave him a horrified look and said, “Mom would never do that.”

“I knew that, but I couldn’t turn down a chance to say good morning to you,” Logan said to him, and again her heart ached. She had to remember that he did this to them. He was a great father—that had never been an issue, so she would do everything in her power to make sure it stayed that way. Regardless of what was going on between them, she would make sure that her children had their father in their lives completely. There’d be none of that every other weekend and three evenings during the week crap. They would figure something out so that the kids were not as affected by it, but until then, it would hurt.

“Hey Dad! Could you drive me to school today? I have to be there early for safety patrol duty!” Dylan spoke with such excitement about it that she couldn’t help but smile at him.

Logan smiled back at their son and said with as much enthusiasm, “Sure, I can. I'm here already, that would make my morning perfect. Go get your stuff, and we will get going in just a few minutes, okay?”

With that, Dylan got up and ran from the room in search of his school bag. She gave Logan a pointed look and said, “You do know that Madison is only going to be mad at me for having to walk to school today, don’t you?”

He looked confused by her statement and responded with, “Why? I'm the one who told her she had to walk.”

Gillian just shook her head, wondering if he would ever understand the teenage girl psyche. In her best high-pitched, teenage girl voice she declared, “Because, not only did I tattle on her, I told you that she was mean to me, and then she got in trouble.” Then she rolled her eyes at him, doing an exaggerated version of Madison’s eye roll and turned toward the coffee maker. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t talk to me for a couple of days,” she said as she got Logan a portable coffee cup ready to go. She was slightly excited about the fact that she would have the whole house to herself, and she didn’t have to go anywhere.

Looking ever so stumped at what she told him he said, “I don’t think I will ever understand her. You said she has been terrible to you lately … like what?” She didn’t think it necessary to point out specifics to him because she knew it would pass. Jonathan had been acting strange, too, lately, so clearly it was because of the separation. Dylan seemed to be the only one unaffected, which was odd since he was the youngest.

Gillian shook her head as she sipped her coffee and handed him his. “It’s not worth going into specifics about it, but she and Jonathan are clearly having issues with everything. We need to come up with a permanent arrangement so we can work on their structure.” He nodded in agreement as he took his coffee from her. “Madison gives me attitude. Jonathan is quiet, but seems angry and Dylan is well … Dylan.”

Logan thought about that for a moment, and then said, “Jonathan won’t speak to me except to answer a direct question—with a one word answer. He is clearly mad at me, and Madison is clearly mad at you.” He paused and then continued, “We could tell her, you know. Maybe that’s why she’s mad at you; she doesn’t know why you are mad at me.”

“No, there is no reason for us to burden our children with that kind of information. As far as they are concerned, their parents don’t have sex—never have and never will. Why would we tell them that not only do their parents have sex, but that Dad has had it with someone else, too.” Logan visibly flinched. “Sorry, but that’s the truth of it. I will not be pitied by my children, and your sins against me will not affect how they feel about their father.”

Visibly taking in a deep breath, he sighed before talking. “Thank you, Gillian. Any other woman would have been yelling from a rooftop how they were wronged … but not you.” He shook his head as he looked down at his coffee cup then back up at her. “We should talk about what we are going to do soon so you aren’t tortured by our daughter for much longer.”

Gillian nodded at him in agreement. “I’ll text you with my schedule, and we can find time to sit and talk about it, okay?” He nodded, and then Dylan came bounding into the room, ready to go to school. She kissed her son goodbye and allowed Logan to kiss her on the cheek when he left. And then she stood in her kitchen—her house—alone. Suddenly, she wasn’t as excited to have the time and space that she used to welcome. Being alone with her thoughts wasn’t healthy these days.

Maybe she would go see Morgan and the baby. She and the baby had come home from the hospital just under two weeks ago, and both were doing great. But Gillian knew that the routine of newborn babies could be overwhelming, especially with two other little ones at home. She decided that would be just the therapy she needed for today. Shooting a text in her sister-in-law’s direction, she made her way to the bedroom to make herself presentable to the world. And so it wouldn’t be obvious that she was still broken on the inside. She was obviously doing much better than she had been those first days—well, those first weeks was more like it.

Allie and Jake had rallied and basically supported her through some serious ugliness in those first days. The hardcore sobbing and overwhelming sadness, coupled with the overdosing on Rocky Road ice cream, would’ve scared away lesser friends, but not hers. Nope, even Jake handled the crying jags and ice cream bingeing well. He just made sure he not only had her favorite, but had his too, that way he would sit and eat it with her. Of course he would make jokes about it and say stuff like, “I'm sure I'm going to grow a uterus any day now. What with all the crying and chick flicks I’ve endured. Then there’s all the ice cream I'm taking in—my dick already fell off. I figure the spontaneous growth of a vagina and uterus has to be next.”

This of course would make her laugh, and then Allie would chime in with her take on that with, “Cool! So if you grow a snatch, do you think you’d want chicks or dicks?” And then the whole conversation would spiral out of control from that point, the crying would’ve stopped, and we all would weigh in as to whether that made Jake gay or not. It was the perfect therapy, they were the best, and she didn’t know what she would have done without them.

Allie had stayed with Gillian for the first two weeks after everything happened and basically kicked Gillian’s ass back in gear. She let her wallow and grieve the death of her marriage and helped snap her out of her funk, but then had to get back up to her clients. She handed the reigns over to Jake, with everyone else as back up, but Jake made it his personal mission to look after her. At that point, she was able to go about her daily routines without appearing like a zombie. Fortunately, she loved her job, and it gave her some direction and allowed her to forget about what was going on at home. That, of course, was after taking four sick days to get to that point. She was embarrassed about appearing so weak that she needed to call into work sick, but her supervisor had reassured her that there was nothing wrong with it at all. Especially since that was not something she frequently did.

When she did go back to work, Jake always came by to check on her. He always said it was because he had a call and just brought a patient into the ER, but Gillian knew better than that. Jake would’ve found any reason to come see her. He had seen her at her worst, and she was sure that all that sobbing would haunt him for the rest of his life. She was so thankful to have him around. Especially after that scene she caused two weeks back when he had come by, and she was alone, feeling sorry for herself.

She had been standing in the game room, drinking a glass of wine, listening to music, just staring at the pool table, dwelling on the whys of her failed marriage, when Jake walked in. She looked up, and he gave her a great smile.

“Hey sexy, I knocked, but you didn’t answer so I just followed the music,” he said with a smile that must have been contagious because she smiled back. Which was funny because a minute before he came in, there was no smile to find anywhere in her. Jake seemed to have that power, though. It was never hard to smile around him.

She took a big gulp of her wine and said, “Yeah, I was just out here sulking and ignoring the world, trying to drown my sorrows just a little bit.” It had been a rough day after speaking with an attorney about divorce advice. The whole thing seemed so nasty and clinical, and she felt the need to escape from it all. She drove her point home as she tilted her head back and polished off the rest of the wine in her glass. When her head came back down, she saw Jake glaring at her, so she just glared right back.

He shook his head at her and said, “The Gillian I know doesn’t sulk.” He continued to press her with his stare as he rounded the pool table toward her. Looks like he wanted to challenge her. Well, she could prove him wrong; this Gillian wanted to sulk. Bring it on, Michaels!

“Well, the Gillian you know is a pathetic chump!” she declared with a pouty huff as she made her way over to the counter to pour some more wine before turning around and continuing, not even bothering to offer him any, “The Gillian you know couldn’t even keep her husband from seeking out another woman. That sounds pretty damn pathetic to me.” Putting her wine glass to her lips, she downed a big gulp before coming back up to continue, “And that same Gillian is so tired of trying to be strong and protecting everyone else, when apparently she was the one that needed the protecting!” Then she polished off the rest of wine in the glass in an attempt to stop the tears she was holding at bay. Further proof of how pathetic I am. God, cry much, Gillian?

Those wretched tears that she thought had been all cried out started to gather and spill over. Jake was good, though, because he just stood there and let her rant and get it all out. He didn’t hide from girls’ tears like most men did. “The Gillian you know is spineless and weak. She is just a useless housewife, completely devoid of anything remotely attractive or sexy.” Ouch, that hurt to say out loud. But it was how she felt lately—ugly and blah. She wanted her sexy back.

When she completed her little tirade, the emotions she was feeling, combined with the half bottle of wine she managed to consume in less than ten minutes started to overtake her. She dropped her head into her hands and let those damn sobs take over as she once again felt shame and embarrassment over her failed marriage. Once they fully took over, she dropped herself to her knees and sobbed some more. Jake bent down to the ground, too. He placed himself in front of her, with his knees spread open, surrounding hers as he pulled her to him, engulfing her in his embrace and just holding her against his body. He was so warm, and it was so comforting.

“Get it out, Gilly. Just get it out, so you can let it all go,” he whispered to her in a soothing tone as he rubbed her back in a soft, circular motion. Sigh …

When the sobbing ceased a bit, she whispered against his chest, “How could I be such a fool, Jake? How could I let him do that to me?” She pulled her head back to look him in the eye and asked, “How come I wasn’t enough for him?”

Jake then shook his head at her. He looked as if he was searching for the words to say as he lifted one of his hands and brushed the hair out of her face—the hair that just so happened to be stuck to her tear streaked cheekbones. Or at least she hoped it was only tears. There is no way I have snot up by eye.

Once he seemed to figure out what he wanted to say, he placed both of his hands on either side of her face, again reminding her of his warmth and comfort. He used the pads of his thumbs to swipe the tear streaks that ran down her face as she stared into his eyes and he softly said, “I’ve told you this before, and I will tell you again, Gillian. You are so wrong.” Still shaking his head at her, he repeated himself putting emphasis on each word, “You. Are. So. Wrong.” He mesmerized her, and when he swiped his thumbs across her cheeks again, she realized that the tears had slowed down as she just stared into his beautiful face.

“There is only one Gillian in my world. There is no person who fits the description you just gave me. There is only one Gillian and she is one of the strongest women I know, and I admire everything about her. She is vibrant, determined, and full of love. She is in no way pathetic, and she is definitely not a chump,” he said that as if the words alone put a sour taste in his mouth just repeating them. He then leaned in and pressed his lips to her forehead. She just closed her eyes and absorbed his touch, his warmth; it was so consoling and felt so good. So right. It felt so right, in fact, that when he pulled back, she immediately felt the loss and almost leaned toward him, seeking the warmth again. Maybe I’m addicted to Jake? Nah, just missing a man’s touch, probably.

“Fighting for your family and the man you love does not make you spineless. It is the exact opposite. You are an amazing person and a phenomenal mom. The only person who is to blame for what happened is Logan. He is the pathetic one.” He smiled at her and then continued, “I have no idea why any man would do to you what Logan did. He has been my friend for a long time, too, but all I see now is a selfish, undeserving man who took something so perfect and threw it away.” He truly was mesmerizing—she felt like she was in a trance, and the more he talked, the more she felt her anxiety lessen.

Jake was always so good to her, and she couldn’t help but wonder why Logan couldn’t be more like Jake at times. She felt so lucky to have him in her life. Then a thought occurred to her, and a slight bit of concern and worry rose to the surface as a fist of panic gripped her. People who got divorced usually didn’t get to keep the same friends, and that was one of the worst things she could think of. Before she could realize she was being irrational, she blurted out, “Who gets you, Jake?”

His confusion was apparent, so she repeated the question, “Who gets to keep you in the divorce? Logan and I aren’t a couple anymore, so that must mean that our friends have to pick a side, doesn’t it? I'm sure Jason will have to pick Logan since they are business partners. But what about you?”

Jake pondered her question, but then clearly decided to tease her a little. “If you get me, does that mean Logan will have to pay support for me, too?” She giggled at the absurdity of the whole thing, but it was a real worry for her, and she poked him in the gut for his stupid joke. He let go of her face and bent forward in an attempt to prevent her from doing it again.

Jake grabbed her hands in his, effectively stopping her from poking him again, then continued, “Logan, Jason, and I have been friends since high school, but you have been there just as long, Gilly-bean. There is absolutely no reason for any of us to have to make a choice of sides. I will say that I don’t like Logan very much at the moment, but that is between him and me. That being said, you have to know you are one of my best friends, and if I had to choose, I would definitely pick you.” The tears that came to her eyes this time were from the sweetness of Jake’s words instead of the pain she had been feeling. Jake smiled at her and continued, “Besides, you cook better and are far better to look at. That husband of yours is really rough on the eyes,” he said with a disgusted look on his face.

That certainly earned a laugh from her. She tugged at her hands to get them free, and he let them go, allowing her to cup his face and look directly into his eyes. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you, too.” She leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, just to the side of his mouth, but somehow she missed and landed on his lips. It was a shock to her senses when she realized what had happened. She let herself linger there for a moment longer, to enjoy the feel of his soft lips surrounded by his stubble, before pulling back to look at him. The warmth and tingling of her lips where they’d met his was unsettling, as were the butterflies that suddenly appeared in her stomach.

After letting her hands linger a little too long on his face, she slowly let them slide down his face to his chest. They just stared at each other quietly for a few moments before Jake broke the silence, “Gillian …”

“I'm sorry, Jake, I didn’t mean to kiss you on the lips. I'm not sure what happened,” she said quickly.

He lifted his finger to her lips and said, “Shh, it’s okay. You have nothing to say you’re sorry for.” Of course she did. Here she was on the floor, marriage freshly in ruins, accidentally kissing her best friend, and trying to destroy something else. She was about to speak up when she heard her oldest son come in the house looking for her.

“Mom, Uncle Jake, are you here?” Jonathan called. Gillian quickly disengaged from Jake and got to her feet, feeling like a teenager who had almost been caught by her parents. She gave Jake one more apologetic look before responding to her son, “We’re out here, sweetheart.” She didn’t understand the look on Jake’s face. He almost looked disappointed, but he could easily be irritated. Damn, she sure hoped she hadn’t screwed things up between them. When did my aim get so bad?

Gillian had worried for a day or two that she had made him uncomfortable. She should have known better than to think her friend would be affected by something like that. He was sitting in her chair at the nurses’ station a day later, flirting with her coworkers while he was waiting for her. It was as if it never happened. Strangely, she wasn’t sure if she was happy he felt that way or not.

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