It was the day before Christmas and Steve was able to coerce Rudy and Oscar to join his family at his Ojai ranch for a holiday away from work, Washington and the OSI. So there they sat laughing, chatting and enjoying the delicious meal loving prepared by Kayce and Helen. All of them, Steve and Kayce, their three-year-old son Kyle, Helen and Jim, Oscar and Rudy, and Jaime filled the large dining room sharing warm memories. Everyone had arrived by noon and spent half the day together enjoying each other’s company.
Oscar and Rudy were looking forward to seeing Jaime and her husband Tom. The two didn’t get to see her that often since she left the OSI. The two out of town guests were not the only one’s surprised when she arrived without Tom, Steve and Kayce hid their shocked expressions also. Jaime explained the Air Force officer needed to be at the air base that day to personally oversee some personnel changes. Steve was the only one familiar enough with her to see the half-truth in her eyes. He deliberately kept a closer eye on her than usual throughout the afternoon to see if something really was amiss.
Steve noticed his old friend stayed relatively quiet at the dinner table, not her usual teasing self. Before dinner she seemed to enjoy spending time with Kyle as he played on the floor with his toys. At the time he smiled to himself knowing how good she was with children and how someday, hopefully soon, she would have some children of her own. He wanted so much for Jaime to be as happy as he and Kayce were.
Before dinner was finished Steve reminded Kyle of his nightly chores in the barn. He recently got his first pony and as promised he took his responsibilities as ‘owner’ and ‘caretaker’ very seriously. Usually Steve was the one to help his young son but Kyle enjoyed Jaime’s company and politely asked if she would help him. Surprised by his request she eagerly agreed and followed the miniature Steve out to the barn.
Kayce and Steve were clearing the table, putting on the coffee and washing dishes but paused to watch the two as they walked through the corral holding hands.
Seeing the couple glance at each other with smiles on their faces as he entered the kitchen Rudy inquired as to their origins. Kayce chuckled, “I think our son is in the midst of his first crush.”
Rudy grinned seeing the sight through the glass. “I wonder if Jaime noticed.”
“I’ll have to tease her about it later.” Steve smiled devilishly and returned to drying the plate in his hands.
Amongst the smell of fresh hay Kyle explained to his aunt each task as he carried it out with a seriousness not commonly seen in children his age. Jaime fought to keep an equally serious expression her face as she watched him. Her heart melted seeing his father in his physical characteristics as well as his personality. His darkening blonde hair was cropped short and parted on the same side as his dad’s, his blue eyes were expressive and would melt many a woman’s heart in the future, and the grin that was frequently displayed, that adorable lopsided grin she had known for many, many years. He was such a sweet child and very easy to love. She felt a tug at her heart at the thought of what she had missed out on. This could have been her child, hers and Steve’s, but she had resisted too long and now it was too late.
The young woman assisted Kyle with lifting the feed into the bucket and carrying the heavy water pail after he filled it with the hose. As they finished the tow-headed boy looked up and asked, “Aunt Jaime would you please lift me up so I can say goodnight?”
“Sure Kyle.” She replied with a warm smile after being pulled from her memories. She reached down and grabbed him under his arms to lift him above the stall front. She stood with her arms securely around his waist, holding him tight to her stomach. The boy faced his horse and said his goodbye while gently petting the pony’s head.
The ache in her chest suddenly became hard to hide, even from a little boy. “You can put me down now Aunt Jaime. Thanks for helping me tonight.” He said as he gazed up at her with a look of gratitude.
“You’re very welcome Kyle anytime. Say, why don’t you head into the house, it’s getting a little chilly and I know your Mom doesn’t want you to catch a cold.” She walked him to the barn door.
“Aren’t you coming? Grandma made apple pie for dessert.” He offered hoping she would join him.
“Ah…no Kyle I want to visit with the horses awhile. I’ll be in soon.”
“Okay…I’ll save you a piece of pie.” He exclaimed as he trotted off towards the house.
Coffee was being served when Kyle returned and went to his father’s side. Steve pulled him onto his lap at the dinning room table. “All done Buddy?”
Kyle nodded enthusiastically, “Chestnut was hungry.”
Steve smiled and agreed, “I’m sure he was.”
“Did you say goodnight to him?” Kayce asked knowing her son loved that horse as much as he loved everyone else.
Kyle turned toward the others at the table and nodded again, “Aunt Jaime lifted me up so I could reach him. She’s as strong as mommy is.” He stated with admiration that had everyone chuckling.
“I’m sure she is.” Steve responded with a knowing smile before glancing around for Jaime. He didn’t think she would leave without saying goodbye. “Where is Aunt Jaime?”
“She’s outside. She said she wanted to visit the horses.” He explained then leaned to Steve’s ear and whispered, “She looked kinda sad.” Steve placed his insightful son back on his feet requesting he go wash his hands and placed his napkin on the table. “Excuse me a minute.” He said as he stood and left the table feeling confident that things were not as she tried to make them appear.
The table conversation quieted as everyone watched Steve quickly exit the room. Helen was the first to speak of Jaime’s mood “Is it me or does Jaime seem a little quiet today?” Oscar and Rudy just shrugged not noticing anything different about her.
Kayce responded as she placed the returning Kyle on her lap, “Maybe it’s just the holidays, I’m sure she’s just tired or something.”
Helen shared her thoughts in a loving maternal voice, “I just hope she and Tom are okay.” She let out a heavy sigh, “I hate to see her unhappy.” Everyone understood Helen’s concern and protectiveness for her ‘daughter’ and tried to reassure her.
Kayce curiosity was tweaked by Helen’s comment. After taking a small sip of her coffee she casually asked, “Why do you think it has to do with her marriage?”
“Oh I don’t know maybe just a mother’s intuition. I’m sure whatever it is she’ll work it out.” She sat her cup down and realized they had forgotten dessert. “Oh would you look at that I forgot about dessert.” She stated with a chuckle.
Kayce suddenly felt tense and quickly stood, “Don’t worry about it Helen I’ll get it.” She placed Kyle on her seat and gracefully stepped towards the kitchen as Jim’s voice took over the conversation.
Steve stood quietly, unnoticed at the open barn door. He could see her familiar feminine form leaning against one of the far stalls petting the black horse that she loved to ride so many years ago when they had plans of marriage. He wondered what was going through her mind since he was too far away to hear her quiet one-sided conversation with the animal. Whatever was troubling her had her very distracted; her bionic hearing had yet to pick up the sounds of his footsteps on the scattered hay at his feet. He heard the sniffle before he reached her side and suddenly wondered if he should leave her alone. She swiftly turned after sensing she wasn’t alone.
“Steve, I ah…” She stammered as she quickly wiped her face of the errant tears. “I was just reminiscing with Gem here.” She had turned back to the horse as soon as she realized she had been crying.
“I see.” He said softly unsure if he was butting in where he had no business being. “Jaime is there something going on? Something you want to talk about with someone...beside Gem?”
“It’s not important. Besides, you should be in the house entertaining your guests. I’ll be in soon.” She said with her voice barely controlled.
Steve let a small smile play on his face hoping to lighten the mood enough for her to confide in him, “Well, you ARE one of my guests.” Still looking away from him she let out a sharp chuckle and sighed. He was at her side and placed a brotherly hand on her forearm that was resting on the wooden slat. His soft whisper in her ear caused her even more discomfort. “You know you can talk to me about anything. Please let me help.”
Her heart and mind were at odds at the proposition. She needed to talk to a friend and he had been her best friend for most of her life. He was always honest with her and she knew he always had her best interest at heart.
She allowed him to lead her over to a bale of hay and the two sat side-by-side. She took a few minutes to decide how much to share with him. The whole situation was weighing heavy on her mind.
After a deep cleansing breath she stated plainly, “Tom left me.” Her eyes remained on the ground while Steve’s arm found its way around her shoulders.
“Jaime, I’m sorry to hear that.” He wanted, needed, to know how that man could leave such a wonderful woman. He hurt for her and wanted to make it all better. He had many questions but held back not wanting to meddle in a marriage that wasn’t his. He waited patiently hoping she would offer more information.
“We had a fight last week. He packed a bag and said he would be staying at the base.”
“For how long?”
She shook her head, “I don’t know. I tried to talk to him to try and fix it but he’s always too busy.” Steve let his thoughts travel back to the times the two couples enjoyed time together. They always had great time with each other no matter what they were doing. He thought their friendship was strong between him and Tom as well as Tom and Kayce. Then he remembered the last camping trip they went on. Tom was in great spirits the first afternoon and evening. When the morning came there was a noticeable difference. Steve had wondered what had transpired overnight. The last two days of the trip Tom was short with him and avoided Jaime as much as he could. Kayce also noticed and relayed her concerns to Steve. Neither one could come up with the cause of his bitter mood. Steve and Kayce hadn’t seen Jaime and Tom since that trip. Obviously things had gotten worse.
“May I ask what the fight was about? I mean I may be able to give you the male’s perspective on this.” He offered.
Jaime hesitated, “He thinks I have feelings for someone else.” She shot him a glance and weak smile before returning her gaze to the ground. Steve thought for a moment before carefully inquiring about the possibility, “Do you?”
She couldn’t answer him it hurt too much, so she just didn’t answer. “Jaime please… I can’t help you if I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle.” Jaime folded her arms around her slim waist, sat back against the wall and quietly explained, “He thinks I’m in love with you.”
Steve initially thought he heard her wrong. He had to have heard her wrong. Things had been over between them for years. “Jaime, Tom knows we go a long way back. Sure we love each other but we aren’t in love with each other….at least not anymore. Right?”
She chose to explain the disagreement instead of answering his question, “Remember the three days we camped in the mountains?” Steve nodded. “Well the first afternoon and evening remember how you and I were giddy and constantly teasing each other about old times?”
Steve nodded again remembering their constant giggling and laughing. “That night he told me I should have married you instead. He said it was obvious that we were in love with each other and should have married a long time ago.”
Steve took advantage of the sudden silence, “Tom does remember attending my wedding right? I mean he’s well aware that I am married to Kayce.”
Jaime smiled and nodded. “I tried to explain things to him. I told him a long time ago of our relationship and my memory loss. I brought it up again during our recent fight but he wouldn’t listen to me and left.” The two longtime friends sat in silence, Steve’s arm still around Jaime’s shoulder. “Steve I’m so sorry for ruining this wonderful evening. Maybe it’s the holiday or whatever. I should have just stayed home.” She said as she stood up. Steve was immediately on his feet.
“Oh no. You belong here with your family not home going through this alone.” She smiled without saying a word and began walking back towards the house. She already decided to skip tomorrow’s Christmas dinner knowing it would be too depressing for her.
Steve quickly fell in step with her, “And don’t think you are getting out of dinner tomorrow because I will come over there and drag you here myself.” The tall lanky blonde stopped and turned to look Steve directly in the eye shocked that he had anticipated her plans. “Don’t give me that look. I’ll tell Mom if I have too. She’ll make sure you show up.”
Jaime smiled but her eyes still held a sadness Steve had never seen before. Not having words to sooth her he suddenly found himself wrapping his strong arms around her hoping to diminish her pain. She placed her arms tightly around his neck and savored the feeling of his love and security. God she wished it was something she could have all the time.
While still clinging together she assured him she would be at his home the next morning, not wanting Helen to worry about her. Steve smiled and continued to hold her and comfort her until she reluctantly broke away. She placed a loving hand on his cheek and looked deeply into his eyes for several seconds.
She so wanted to tell him everything but knew she couldn’t, not now, maybe not ever. She wasn’t sure how the information would be received. She knew Steve very well but was too embarrassed to confess that in a moment of heated passion with her husband she mistakenly called out Steve’s name. She still couldn’t believe it had happened. Yes, her husband was right she not only loved Steve but was in love with him as well. She finally admitted it to herself and she was angry with herself for not accepting Steve’s affection after she regained part of her memories thanks to Dr. Wells and Marchetti. And now what she desperately wanted would forever belong to another woman.
She leaned forward and gave him a sisterly kiss on the lips before she lightened the mood by commenting that she had to get home and wrap the last gift she had for Kyle. Steve followed her lead and stated, “As long as it’s not the one thing he’s not getting from Santa Claus.” He gave her a crooked grin and a raised eyebrow waiting for her response.
“And what would that be?” She asked.
“A little brother.” He let his grin grow into a smile as she laughed.
“I think you can be sure I won’t be bringing him that.” She began walking to the house and Steve observed, “You know you spoil him.”
“Spoil him?! How can I NOT spoil him? He’s my nephew and I adore that little boy.”
“I know. I think that’s why he has a crush on you.” Steve watched for her reaction to his teasing and she retorted, “Well it’s good to know some men can still appreciate a good woman.” The two friends laughed as they opened the back door and entered the kitchen, neither one noticed Kayce’s tense posture at the sink. She had witnessed both the long embrace and kiss from the kitchen window.
As promised Kyle had his grandmother put a piece of apple pie aside for Jaime. Steve thought she seemed a little more relaxed after their talk. He smiled at Kyle’s ability to take anyone’s mind off his or her troubles with his charm. The evening quickly wound down and soon Steve was walking his parents and Jaime to their cars. Kayce was finishing getting the guestrooms ready for use. As expected her overly tired son fell quickly to sleep on the couch as Oscar and Rudy waited in the family room for Steve’s return.
After clicking off the bedroom light the young woman hesitated at the darkened window that faced the driveway. She watched as Jim and Helen left the property. Then her eyes found Steve holding Jaime tight for more than a few minutes before opening the car door for her.
The distracted wife returned to her guests in the family room and didn’t hear the question directed at her. “Kayce?”
“Huh? I’m sorry Rudy. Did you say something?” She asked softly as not to wake her son.
“I was just asking if you needed any help.”
She glanced at her watch wondering why Steve was still outside. She looked back at Rudy, “Ah, no, Rudy thanks. I think everything’s ready for tomorrow.” Seeing concern on her friend’s face she added with a smile, “I just hope Kyle doesn’t wake you two up at the crack of dawn to see what Santa brought him.”
Oscar and Rudy assured her they wouldn’t mind if he did wake them with his excitement. “Is Santa getting him everything on his Christmas list?” Oscar inquired.
Kayce smiled, “Almost everything. The only thing Santa won’t be delivering is the baby brother he’s been asking for.”
The two men stifled a laugh as Steve entered the room and inquired, “What’s so funny?” Kayce looked at him and replied, “I was just telling Oscar and Rudy what Kyle wouldn’t be getting tomorrow.”
Steve got a devilish grin on his face, winked at Kayce and stated matter-of-factly, “Oh, I don’t know, we still have 10 hours to work on it.”
She chuckled, “Oh, I don’t think so. One of your carbon copies is quite enough right now.”
Steve’s laughing eyes fell upon the sleeping child his wife was referring to and went to the couch, “Well little man it’s time you went to bed.” He commented in a quiet tone of voice. The adults could hear the mumbled retort as the child kept his eyes closed, “But Daddy I want to see Santa.” Steve rolled his eyes as he gently lifted his son so his head rested on his shoulder. “Not tonight Buddy, not tonight.” Steve winked at the smiling faces of his friends as he headed to Kyle’s bedroom.
After an hour of talking amongst themselves the tired adults decided to call it a night already anticipating a wakeup call at dawn. After saying their good nights they retired to their respective bedrooms.
As the couple got ready for bed Steve casually mentioned Jaime’s present situation but didn’t mention the details of the separation. Kayce in turn didn’t mention what she observed from the windows. She only hoped things would workout soon while she reminded her self over and over that Steve was trustworthy. It wasn’t until Steve was trying to fall asleep, the conversation with Jaime still flowing through his mind, that he realized she never answered his question pertaining to still being in love with him.