Better Days



Chapter 1




There are things about me you don't understand, things that I'm not going to explain to you because I can't even explain them myself.  I have demons, Mark.  Demons that eat away at me late at night when I'm sleeping, urging me.  The urges have called and I can't ignore them. 


I'm leaving Arielle in your care and you have full parental rights over her.  I can't be her mother, I would fail horribly.  I love her with all of my heart, but my demons are getting the best of me. 


Please don't hate me for this.  I have to do this, I have to runaway before I destroy you and her.  You both are the most important people in my life.  I will never forget you.  You're the love of my life and no matter what happens to me, just take care of our daughter...your daughter now.  I am no longer her mother, I don't have that right.


I'm sorry.




Mark stared down at the letter he had found on the pillow where his wife's head usually rested.  Sunlight streamed into his bedroom and he could hear infant Arielle beginning to rouse in her crib at the foot of the bed.  Tears escaped his eyes, not believing this.  What demons?  What had driven her away from her family?  The man who loved her more than life itself?  Setting the note aside, he went to tend his now crying daughter.  His daughter…




She stared straight ahead while Andy drove, not saying a word.  It'd been ten years.  Ten long years.  Jasina could feel the tears burn her eyes as she turned her head, remembering the town of Houston, Texas, so many memories and emotions flowing through her.  She felt Andy, her friend and counselor of the past two years, grab her hand and squeezed it in return.  Not a day went by that she hadn't thought about her daughter...and her husband.  Hell, he wasn't her husband, not anymore.  Jasina lost that right when she ran away from her family ten years ago because of something she couldn't control.


“Okay...Daddy, next word.”


“Together.” Mark said from underneath his truck, long legs stretched out on the grass.  He glanced at Arielle, who was laying on her stomach just a few feet away, her brows drawn together. “C'mon, lil darlin'.  It's easy.”


“Oh, I know...I was just thinkin'.”






He began laughing.


The ranch came into view and suddenly Jasina shook her head, shaking from head to toe. “No...Andy turn around, I can't do this.” She stated, her hand trembling as she covered her mouth with her hand. “Please.” She whispered painfully, her heart breaking. “I-I don't have the barge in their lives like this...”


“Jasina, you have the right to see your daughter.  You ran away for a reason.  Remember that.  You did what you thought was right, what a good mother should've done in those circumstances.”


“Doing coke and crack and running away from my family doesn't fall under that category, Andy!”


“Hey Daddy, someone's comin'.” Arielle said, getting to her feet.  She giggled when he scooped her up onto his shoulder, holding his head and hand to keep herself steady. “We know 'em?”


“Probably more salespeople or church folk.” Mark replied, using a bandana from his back pocket to wipe away sweat, grinning up at her.  Arielle was his life, his only concern, he'd devoted himself completely to her. “What do you think?”


“Lemme go get my BB gun.” She waited for him to put her down before scampering off.


“Take a deep breath, Jasina.  Just take a slow, deep breath.” Andy coached, knowing this was going to be hard, but everyone had a shady past, everyone made mistakes.  She wasn't turning around.  She seen how much pain her friend and client had been in during their sessions whenever she mentioned Arielle and Mark. “If you don't do this now, Jasina, you're going to go through life wondering what would've happened had you taken this chance.” She said, pulling up to the house on the side of the road. “Jasina, this is your chance at redemption.” She placed a hand on the woman's shoulder, seeing she was slowly breaking down.


“I can't do this...” She whispered and buried her face in her hands, shaking her head back and forth repeatedly. “Please, turn around.  Go back.  I can't.” Jasina began to sob, the pain rushing through her, knowing she threw away the best thing that ever happened to her due to her drug addiction. “Andy, please!”


Mark was sitting on the porch, waiting for the car that was creeping.  He heard Arielle coming, her pink cowgirl boots pounding on the floor.  He smirked when he seen the matching cowgirl hat on her head.  She even called his boots cowgirl just to annoy him though they were regular old steel toes. “Got it?”


She swung her BB gun off her shoulder, cocking it. “Yep, can I shoot if they turn in?”


“Wait till they get out.”


“I-I'm not ready Andy...” Jasina whispered through heart wrenching sobs, looking out the window and seen him for the first time in ten years.  His beautiful long auburn hair was pulled back in a braid and the little girl standing beside him...god she was beautiful.




“Turn around right now!” She ordered, pulling her gaze away from the window, wearing black shades.


Andy sighed gently and nodded before pulling a three point turn, heading in the opposite direction back toward town.  Jasina had gotten a job and an apartment, she was a writer for the local newspaper under the name Jade.  Sighing, Andy knew this wasn't going to be easy for her friend, but knew in the end, it would be worth it, should she bite the bullet.


“Chicken butts!”


Shaking his head, he stood up, patting the disappointed Arielle on her head. “Inside, time to make dinner.”


“Good, I'm starvin'.  Steak?”






Nodding, he followed her inside.




“Thanks for everything, Andy.” Jasina whispered, hugging her friend tightly around the neck, knowing they would be parting now.


“Anytime Jas, you know that.  Just...I hope you know what you're doing.  Are you sure you don't want to go back?”


“I gave up my rights a long time ago.  Maybe one day I'll go, but right now, I can't interfere.  They happy.” She sniffled, wiping another stray tear from her cheek.


Andy nodded, saying her final goodbye, telling Jasina to call her whenever she had to talk before getting in her car and leaving.


Taking a deep breath, Jasina waited until Andy's car was out of sight before walking into her apartment, closing the door and pressed her back against it before sliding down, letting the sobs overtake her.




“Onion.” Arielle handed over an onion, watching as her dad chopped it into slices, then began stuffing the insides of their burgers with peppers, accepting the slices he handed her. “What am I missin'?”


Mark placed the seasoning salt in front of her.


“Oh yeah.  Hey, don't forget to cut potatoes for French fries.”


“Get me a couple potatoes from the bin.”




Her first week in town, Jasina had stayed in her apartment, not even going out in public until nightfall.  She walked the streets of Houston, saw a few movies, mostly getting ideas on her columns she'd start writing for the local newspaper.  Jasina had a lot to say and decided this was the perfect job for her.  Her first piece was about drug addiction and how it could destroy a person's thinking and life in general.  She decided to write her life experiences, starting at the beginning, leaving out the birth of her daughter and her marriage to Mark. 


She knew Mark read the paper and that's why she went under the name of Jade.  She didn't want him to know she was back.  Jasina didn't know if she would ever be able to face Mark again or her, that wasn't right.  Arielle was not hers anymore.  She hadn't been in ten years, ever since she left, two days after Arielle was born.  Jasina thought about it and it ate her up inside night in and night out, when she was alone.  How could she move on with her life and be happy when everything around her was so screwed up?  Why had she come back to Houston?


Arielle walked the short distance from school to her dad's motorcycle shop, her best friend Toni, with her. “Nuh uh, can't come over today, I gotta work.” She said, pushing a lock of hair from her face.


“I wish MY dad would pay me to help at his work.”


“He oughta pay me anyways, I keep that place running.” Arielle said, nodding wisely.


Jasina sighed as she pulled up to the shop, wondering why she was even here.  Granted Mark wouldn't recognize her and she desperately needed an oil change for her hunk of shit car.  It got her from point A to point B though as she slowly stepped out, wearing a black tank top with black jeans, black shades over her eyes, hiding them effectively.  They were teal and her honey chestnut hair flowed down her back in loose curls, hugging her waist.  The last time Mark had saw her, it was black.  She had went back to her original hair color while in rehab, deciding the black didn't suit her.  Taking a deep breath and mentally telling herself she was just here for business and nothing more, Jasina walked inside the shop.


“Mark, customer!”


“Handle it, Steve!  Arie is gonna be here soon.” Mark shouted, busy washing his hands in the back.


“That gal has you wrapped around her little fingers.” Steve laughed, shaking his head. In truth, she had him wrapped as well. “Hello.” He greeted when the woman walked in, arching an eyebrow. “Can I help ya?”


Arielle walked in behind the woman. “Hiya Stevie, where's my daddy?” She squealed when he appeared in the doorway that connected office and garage. “Dad!” She laughed, running to him and let him pick her up. “You got grease on your nose.”


Closing her eyes at hearing her sweet daughter's laughter, Jasina suddenly felt the panic consume her. “N-No thank you.” She quietly said before walking out of the shop, raking a hand through her hair, and fumbled for her keys.  Tears were already streaming down her cheeks as she got in her car and pulled away, deciding she would find another shop to get her oil change.  What had she been THINKING coming here, knowing it was Mark's shop? “I'm such a coward.” She whispered as the tears kept falling while she drove, stopping a red light and pressed her forehead to the steering wheel.


“What the hell was that all about?” Steve demanded, scratching his bald head.


“Mind yer mouth, Stevie.”


“Sorry honey bunches.”


Mark just shrugged, looking like he'd already forgotten the woman, his attention back on his daughter.


After getting her oil change and doing some grocery shopping, Jasina went back to the apartment and just laid in bed, crying her heart and soul out.  She couldn't do this.  She had to run again.  She would start looking for apartments in L.A., where she'd run too after leaving Mark ten years ago, opening her laptop as she began the search.  Though instead of doing that, she ended up writing a column about family.  When she was finished, Jasina put it in her fax machine and shut her laptop down, sliding it under the bed before proceeding to cry herself to sleep.




Arielle was waiting patiently in her bed for her dad to come in and give her a goodnight kiss. “Tomorrow is bring your mom to school day.” She announced.


Mark blinked, sitting on the edge of her bed. “Yeah?”


“I want to take you.”


“Lil darlin', I'm not a mom.” He laughed, kissing the tip of her nose.


“You're both.  When I'm naughty, you’re the dad and you punish me.  When I'm sick, you're the mom and you make me feel better.” Arielle reasoned.


Chapter 2


Jasina was in the mood to make spaghetti as she walked down the aisle of the local market, tapping her chin in thought.  Her black shades were on top of her head and she was wearing a red tank top with blue jean shorts, her hair down.  Sauce was so hard to decide considering the ingredients she used.  She picked an Italian one up and kept going, rounding the corner and smashed right into another cart.  The glasses fell down from her head over her eyes as she looked at who was in front of her, feeling her heart stop for a brief second, and swallowed hard.


“Sorry.” She quietly whispered before backing up and going around him, fixing the glasses on her face.


“No, I'm sorry.” Mark apologized, watching her walk away and shook his head.


“Hey miss, ya dropped this!” Arielle bent down, picking up a can and ran to catch the woman, smiling broadly. “Here you go!” She held it out, her green eyes sparkling, her honey chestnut hair pinned back in a simple braid. “Ma'am?”


Taking a deep breath, Jasina turned around and bent down as she took the can from the little girl. “Thank you sweetheart.” She murmured gently, cracking a small smile before standing back up and placed the can back in her cart.  Arielle had Mark's eyes and her hair, she had to get out of there before she ended up taking the girl she birthed in her arms.  Jasina quickly rushed to the checkout line, blinking tears away.


Mark had watched the interaction with a grin, until the woman walked away like someone had lit her ass on fire.


“Daddy, I don't think she likes kids.”


“Why do ya say that, lil darlin'?”


“She took off kinda fast.”


Once inside her car, Jasina had to learn how to breathe again and let the tears fall, sliding her glasses off and threw them in the passenger seat.  This was ridiculous.  She came back here to tell Mark what happened all those years ago and to try and get back in his daughter's life, only to keep running every chance that came across her.  Jasina was a coward, she knew it, but she was scared to death and had every right to be.  Mark wasn't a normal man.  He was six foot ten and weighed over three hundred pounds.  Three hundred pounds that would probably crush her if she ever showed her face around him again.  Jasina trembled more as she shakily started her car and pulled out of there, her vision blurred, and tried clearing it.




“Hey Mark, listen to this.” Steve cleared his throat, feet on the desk as he ate his lunch, the newspaper spread out on his legs.  He began reading an article, pausing only to swallow.


Too used to Steve's disgusting eating habits, Mark just listened, busy eating leftover chicken from home, nodding in agreement. “Who wrote it?”


“Guy by the name of Jade.  Maybe a girl; writes like a girl.”




It's a powerful thing.  I should know better than anyone.  The reason why I'm writing this is because I went through a similar situation ten years ago.  I had the perfect life.  Happy marriage.  A beautiful child.  Everything was perfect.  Though not in the way some may think.  Addiction can warp a person's mind and make them do something so irrational and ridiculous that it seems to be the only way out.  Drugs is what my addiction was.  I'm writing not for pity, but to tell anyone who reads this that it's never too late.  Don't wait to correct your wrongs in life.  It's too short.  Believe me, I know.  If your addiction is overtaking every thought, every mindset, every love in your life, then I'm telling you right now to get out of it.  Find a way.  Because once you lose those people who mean most to you, you will never forgive yourself.


Until next time, my friends.




Mark had taken the paper and reread that, finally clipping out the short piece and tacking it to the already lined wall.  It was his office, granted, but the walls were covered in everything from prices to their services.  To Arielle's school work and clippings from local people offering their services for babysitting or other things.


“Wow, it went on the WALL, I'm impressed.”




“Jade, this is unbelievable, girl!  How much emotion you poured in this piece is by far anything we've experienced before.  You really have been put through hell haven't you?” Trish Stratus asked, her editor, staring back at the woman that refused to take her black shades off.


“Yes, I have.” She quietly said, wearing black dress pants with a lavender top, raking a hand through her chestnut locks. “I'm glad you enjoyed it.  I write to inspire people and give them hope that if they're in a bad situation, there are ways out.”


“Definitely.  Here's your check.  I look forward to your next piece.”


Nodding, Jasina walked out without another word, check in her purse.




“So does this mean I should give up chocolate?” Arielle asked after school, sitting in the garage on a tire, reading the article.  Well, she had read it with help, she needed help understanding some of it.


“Hmmm I don't know.” Mark seemed to be seriously considering it, selecting a wrench from his toolbox. “Do you think chocolate runs your life?”


“Only on Easter when Grandma and Grandpa gimme them big ol' Easter bunnies.”


“I think you're fine then, kiddo.”




“Sorry ma'am, you were double parked.” The man said, sounding bored, checking to make sure Jasina's car wasn't going anywhere, heading back to the cab of his tow truck. “Calaway's shop on the west side serves as a temporary impound, you can pick it up there.” He called over his shoulder.


“Oh my god...” Jasina whispered, not even realizing she'd been parked that way, and began to physically shake.  She couldn't go there!  She watched the man walk away, not a care in the world, and had to take a deep breath before she hyperventilated. ‘I can do this.’ She thought, coaching herself, breathing in through the nose and out of the mouth before calling a cab.  Ten minutes later, it pulled up to the shop and Jasina threw some money at the driver before sliding out, her black shades on, and waited for it to drive away before taking another deep breath. ‘Just walk in, get the car, and walk right back out.’ She thought before walking inside, the bell dinging over her head.


Steve was in the back changing a tire so Mark was the lucky one who got to go see who had just walked in, he needed to get around to hiring a secretary.  Pinching the bridge of his nose, he walked into the office, recognizing the woman from the grocery store. “Hello.” He said, leaning in the doorway, offering her a smile, she was so damn nervous looking. “Can I help you, darlin'?”


Hesitantly, Jasina walked over and slid the ticket on the desk that the man had handed her. “I'm here to get my car, sir.” She quietly said, inhaling the scent of the shop, and closed her eyes momentarily.  It was a good thing she had invested in the sunglasses, even though the sun was starting to set on the horizon.  She didn't care as she took a step away from the desk, trying like hell not to tremble.


Mark stared at the ticket, frowning. “Hold on.” He poked his head into the garage. “Steve, we get any impounds today?”


“No, but Mike called a few minutes ago to say he'd be bringing one in after his break.  Bout another thirty minutes, man.  Why?”


Snorting, Mark returned to the woman. “It'll be another half hour, have a seat.”


“Thank you.” She whispered and walked over, sitting in the chair and crossed one leg over the other, wearing a black skirt with a flame embroidered tank top that went up the sides, the rest of it being black.  Jasina raked a hand through her hair and looked around the shop, seeing all the pictures and felt the tears build in her eyes before finally just closing them.  She would stay this way until she left, then she could be out of here and back in the safety of her apartment.


“Dad, Dad!  I got an A on my spelling test!” Arielle screamed, running through the front door, waving around a paper with a bright A scrawled at the top.


Grinning, Mark took the paper, studying it. “You remembered together.”


“To-get-her.” She laughed, clapping her hands together, watching as he pinned the paper to the wall.  She spotted the strange woman and ran over to her. “I got an A!” She announced proudly.


“That's wonderful.” She softly replied, smiling at the little girl who had her hair and spirit. 


What used to be Jasina anyway.  Now she was just a mere hollow shell of the woman Mark met.  She watched as Mark beamed proudly, glad to see he was a terrific father, she had no doubt he would be.  He pinned it up on the wall, causing a big smile to cross Arielle's face, and it broke her heart even more as she lowered her head again.


“Dad, I'm hungry.”


“Your snack is in the drawer, mind your manners.” He said gently, slipping in the back when Steve called for him. “Stay inside, Arie!”


“I know!” Arielle dropped down behind the desk, pulling a brown sack from the drawer, pulling out a container of dried apple slices and cashews, grinning. “Want some, ma'am?” She offered.


She was so polite and sweet, Jasina needed her car so she could get out of here before she did something irrational. “No thank you, sweetheart.” She quietly declined, pulling her hair over her shoulder, and put her head in her hands. 


She couldn't believe this was happening.  Hell, she knew Mark's shop was who everyone relied on with their cars.  Jasina had been foolish enough to buy a hunk of junk when she first got in Houston again and was now paying for it.  Five hundred bucks down the drain.  Jasina took deep, calming breaths to slow her racing heart and kept her eyes closed, knowing nobody would notice since she had shades over them.


Arielle frowned, watching the woman and finally took her snack and walked over to sit beside her. “I'm Arielle.  Though everyone calls me Arie.” She said sweetly, holding out a slice of apple. “You sure?  It's good, my dad and I dehydarated- No.” She frowned, fumbling to pronounce the word right. “Dehyderated...How do you say it?”


“Dehydrated.  You say it with an r sound.  Not der.” Jasina explained correctly, smiling when Arielle offered her the apple and reluctantly took it. ‘God she looks so much like me.’ She thought sadly, blinking tears away, and took a bite out of the apple slice. “Thank you.” She kept her voice soft and quiet, wondering when her car was going to get here.  A half hour didn't take THAT long to arrive did it?


“Thank you.” Arielle said happily, saying the word over and over, finally nodding in satisfaction. “I can spell together.” She said, grinning. “T-o-g-e-t-h-e-r.”


Mark leaned in the doorway, clearing his throat, hating to break up his daughter's boasting, but there was business to attend too. “There was a delay with the tow truck; your car will be here in the morning.” He said softly. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”


“My dad has an awesome truck.” Arielle told her.


Jasina could feel her heart literally pounding in her ears as she quickly stood up. “N-No.  No thank you.  I-I'll be here in the morning.  T-Thank you.” She quickly walked out of the shop, tears in her eyes, her heart breaking.  Her daughter was so smart, she was a speller just like her mother. ‘I'm not her mother, I'm nothing to her.’ She thought sadly, wrapping her arms around herself, feeling how chilly it had become.  There was NO way she could get a ride from Mark, he would know where she lived then and that was unacceptable.


“Dad, go get her!  She could get mugged!  AND it's cold!”


Shaking his head, he stepped outside, jogging after the woman. “Hey wait up!” He sighed when she didn't stop, catching up quickly and gently took her arm. “Look, it'd make my lil girl feel a lot better if you'd take the ride, miss...?” Mark stared down at her, wondering why the hell the woman was wearing sunglasses at night. “Please?”


She was trembling now, physically, against him and felt him release her arm, taking a few steps back.  Jasina couldn't let him know where she lived, she just couldn't!  But she also didn't want to upset Arielle and ran a shaky hand through her chestnut locks.


“Jade.” She whispered, knowing she had to lie because not a lot of women had the name Jasina.  When his green eyes widened, Jasina swallowed hard and immediately began walking away from him again.


Once again, Mark stopped her, keeping a firm hold on her arm. “I'm sorry if I startled you or something.  Jade's not a usual name, are you the person who writes them articles in the newspaper?” He asked gently, beginning to tug her back towards his shop. “C'mon darlin', it's not like I'm going to mug ya or something.  I'm just offerin' a ride to wherever you need to get.”


“No really that's...” She sighed when he gently pushed her back inside the shop and wrapped her arms around herself, knowing she had no choice. “And yes I am.” She answered his other question, swallowing hard, her voice remaining barely above a whisper.  She felt Arielle come over and actually took her hand, guiding her to the back toward where the truck was waiting, biting her bottom lip. “I could've walked...” She began quietly only for Mark to wave her off dismissively. 


He was still stubborn as ever and the little girl wasn't taking no for an answer.  What was she going to do?  Maybe she could have them drop her off at a corner that was right by her apartment building.  Yeah, she'd do that as she slipped in after Arielle, closing the door, her eyes staring out the window.


Arielle gabbed away, finally taking a break long enough to ask the woman's name, grinning. “Jade?  That's real pretty, it's better than Arielle.  Everyone says I'm named after Ariel from the Little Mermaid, but my name is spelled different.  I still like that movie though, its my favorite.  What do you like?  You're really quiet.”


“Maybe if you piped down she could get a word in edgewise.”


“I-I don't really have much to say, sweetheart.” She smiled sadly down at her, knowing she had to get home before she broke down. 


She had named her daughter after her favorite Disney movie, though Arielle didn't know that.  She could feel the tears burning and did everything in her power to keep them in, closing her eyes, and felt one slip down her cheek that was facing the window away from them, wiping it away, acting like she had something in her eye.  It killed her, knowing this was the family she walked out on and it was all because of drugs.  Jasina wished she were dead and contemplated suicide when she got home.  Nobody would miss her.  Hell, why would they?  She'd left her husband high and dry to care for Arielle, the sweet little girl beside her, who looked like her except Mark's eyes.  She was scum of the earth.


“Are you sure you want dropped off here?” Mark asked hesitantly, looking out at the corner she had requested he pull over at. “I don't mind takin'-” He sighed when she shook his head. “I don't know what time your car will be in, you can call and ask.” He would have told her he'd call and let her know, but got the impression she wasn't keen on sharing any of that information, hence being dropped off here.


“Thank you for the ride.” She whispered and slid out of the truck, knowing her apartment building was a block away from here. 


That was good.  Jasina seen how dark it was and shut the door before sliding her shades off, tucking them in her pocket, and took off running at full speed down the street.  The tears flowed down her cheeks, not looking back, knowing if she did Mark would know who she was.  She could never let him know, she'd made the decision that she was better off without having that precious angel in her life.  Jasina deserved to be alone after all she'd done in life and nobody would change her mind of that.


They both watched her, the lights from the truck and the street lights giving them enough to see the building she slipped into.


“She don't seem very happy, does she, daddy?” Arielle mused.


Remembering the woman's newspaper articles, he idly wondered if she had beaten her addiction truly and shrugged.  It was none of his business. “No lil darlin', she don't, not everyone is happy all the time.”


“I am!”


Chapter 3


The following day, Jasina reluctantly sat down at her kitchen table, having a hell of a headache from crying herself to sleep, and knew she had to make the call.  She found the number in the phonebook and dialed, her heart thundering in her chest.  Just when he answered, she hung up and shook her head, scrubbing a hand down her face.  How the hell was she supposed to talk to him without him knowing who she was?  She couldn't very well whisper over the damn phone!


“I need my car.” She said aloud, sitting down and forced herself to dial the number again, drumming her fingernails on the table and closed her eyes when he answered. “Mr. Calaway?” She said in a disguised voice. “It's Jade...”


“Oh, hi.  Your car just arrived.” He said by way of greeting, busy signing a form for Mike before shooing the man away with an irritated scowl. “ can pick it an hour?” He really didn't feel like telling her that Mike had popped her back two tires when unhitching the car from his truck.


“Mark, her back bumper is FUCKED!” Steve shouted.


“I will be there.” She said in a low voice before hanging up, raking a hand through her hair, and stood up. 


Jasina decided to wear black shorts with a black Harley Davidson tank top, her black shades over her eyes, leaving her hair down.  She grabbed her keys and wallet, preferring not to carry a purse and slipped her black tennis shoes on before walking out the door, locking it behind her.  It took her twenty minutes before Jasina finally saw the shop, having decided to walk instead of run, and jogged across the street before entering the shop.


Mark was in the garage with Steve, cursing fluently. “Damn it, I told ya NOT to tear it apart!  Just to fix the goddamn tires!”


“Sorry, but this piece of shit ain't gonna last the week if it's not fixed.  The transmission is shot, the water pump is leaking and she needs a new serpentine belt.”


Pinching the bridge of his nose, Mark took a deep breath. “That all?”


“Nuh uh.  Her joint bearings are goin' too, this thing is a coffin on wheels.” Steve stood under the hoist, staring up at the underneath of Jade's car. “Yep, it's a goner.”


Jasina swallowed hard as she took a deep breath to calm down before walking over to sit down, her head lowered, her elbows resting on her knees.  Why was she here?  Oh that's right, she needed her car.  Damn impounders.  She was going to kill them for putting her in this predicament.  She was trying to stay away from this place, away from Mark, and it seemed as if the fates were doing everything in their power to make her life a living, miserable hell.  She didn't realize Mark had come out, rubbing her temples with her fingers, staring down at her keys.


Raking a hand through his hair, Mark stared down at her. “Um...there's a slight problem.” He said, wincing when Jade jumped in her seat. “Your back tires need replacin', they went flat.” They fucking popped like balloons actually, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. “And...” He hated saying that, it sounded so ominous. “You also need a new transmission, water pump, a belt and new joint bearings.” The bearings alone would run about two hundred a pop.


Through the black shades, Jasina's eyes widened to the size of saucers.  She couldn't possibly afford all of that!  Not even with how much her articles were running her.  Sighing resignedly, she slid the key on the counter, blinking tears away.


“I-I won't be needing it then.” She quietly said, clearing her throat because she was afraid her voice would crack.  That's what five hundred dollars got her and now she would have to find something else or simply walk. “Thank you.” She started for the door.


“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Mark stopped her, feeling bad because his mechanic had torn the damn thing apart when he shouldn't have.  Not to mention she looked like he had just announced he was shooting her dog. “Now just wait a second here woman.  All you need to do is pay the impound fee.  The tires will be paid for by Mike since he's the moron who blew them and the labor will be coming out of Steve's check.” Since the jackass had torn apart her car just to entertain himself.


The guilt was gnawing away at her and she couldn't possibly let him do that.  This was the man she ran out on!  How could she take such a generous offer?  She couldn't.


“I-I'm sorry, Mr. Calaway, but I can't accept that.” She softly said, trembling against him since his hand was sending fire shooting up her arm.  He could snap her in half if he knew who she was.  Jasina had to get out of there NOW. “T-Thank you anyway.” She slipped her arm out of his grasp and ran out of his shop, tears streaming down her face.


“Well what the hell?” Mark threw his hands up exasperatedly, not about to chase her AGAIN. 


He was beginning to think Jade hadn't beaten her addiction at all.  Someone that emotional and prone to running from people with damn tears on their face had to be jumped up on crack or something.  Sighing, he went out to the garage and explained to Steve what had happened.


“Maybe she's just scared of you.  You do look...kinda...evil.”


“Fuck you.”


“So what do I do with the clunker?”


“Fix the damn thing.”


Jasina ran the entire way back to her apartment and by the time she was inside, she was breathing so hard her chest hurt.  She wiped her tears away and threw her wallet on the table before going to her bedroom, not hungry in the slightest.  She had no car now; at least she wouldn't have to run into Mark again, for awhile anyway.  Sighing heavily, Jasina cried herself to sleep, not caring if the sun was still up.  She just wanted to be left alone to wallow in her self misery.  She deserved everything that was happening to her and refused to leave Houston.  At least she was close to Mark and Arielle, which was better than nothing.




It took Steve two days to put the car back together, two because he had gotten sidetracked with other projects. “Purrs like a kitten.” He said smugly, revving the engine while Mark listened, his head under the hood. “I gave this baby a tune up, that woman is lucky you're a kind man.”


“I'm not that kind.” Mark said, closing the hood, smirking as Steve cut the engine and slipped out of the car. “The cost of the parts are coming out of your paycheck.”


Steve considered that. “And the labor?”


“You just don't get paid.”


“Aww man.”




With no car, Jasina was forced to walk halfway across town to go see her editor.  She wore a pale blue tank dress with black two inch heels that she was comfortable with.  Her hair was down and the glasses were over her eyes as always.  She never went out in public without them.  She finally arrived and walked to Trish's office, walking in and handed her the next article that would go in the paper.


“I'm sorry I'm a day late.” She said quietly. “It's been a...stressful week.  My car died so now I'm resorted to walking.”


“I heard.” Trish said with a smile, skimming the article and nodded. “Mark Calaway was in here.” She said, gesturing for Jasina to have a seat, perching on the edge of her desk, her blonde hair hanging down her back today, catching the sunlight that came in through the window. “Your car is down in the lot, running good as new.  He explained the situation to me.” She held up a hand when Jasina opened her mouth. “I'm running an ad in the paper for him for a week, which cancels out the bill on the car.  Consider it a bonus for your work, just keep delivering these wonderful articles and we won't mention it again.”


Jasina opened and closed her mouth, but all she could think to say was, “Thank you.”


They shook hands and Jasina walked out after retrieving her car keys, which Mark left with Trish, and headed down to the parking garage.  Why would he do this?  Granted, if he knew who she was, he probably would've junked her car.  Jasina looked up and stopped dead in her tracks, seeing Mark standing there by the car, looking it over, and felt her heart begin to pound furiously.  She could run or she could just face this head-on, like she'd been doing.  Putting one foot in front of the other, Jasina walked over and seen his head pop up.


“You ran off without even lettin' me try to negotiate some kinda deal with you.” Mark said, watching her walk towards him, having been checking the tire pressure, just to make sure.  Steve had driven the damn car around like a kid, just to test it out, make sure it really was perfect. “Hope ya don't mind, I felt bad that you didn't have a car.”


He still had a heart of gold and it actually made Jasina crack a small smile, though the sadness was clear in it. “Thank you, Mr. Calaway.” She quietly said, letting him know how much she truly appreciated what he did for her.  Jasina felt so guilty as she stared at the car, which looked like brand new.  The body of it was completely redone, it looked like it could be sold at some car dealership for a good amount of money.  The midnight blue in it didn't have a dent and the tires were brand spanking new.  Tears welled in her eyes as she walked over and actually touched it, not believing it was hers, and had to take a deep breath before she broke down. ‘Just wait until you get home.’ She berated mentally before turning to face him. “You are too kind.” That was the truth.


“I've been told.” He shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Look, it's not a big deal, Jade.  Everyone needs help sometimes, even if they won't ask for it.” His green eyes pierced her through her sunglasses. “My daughter constantly reminds me of that.” He didn't explain WHY, it had to do with his now ex-wife -he'd gotten a divorce on grounds of abandonment- leaving him with a note and a two day old infant.  Jasina hadn't been able to ask for help, she'd ran.


“I agree with you.” She said, voice cracking from the intense emotion she was feeling at the moment.  Jasina knew what he meant by that daughter statement and it hit her worse than a Mack truck. “I-I'm sorry to have been a burden.  Thank you again.”


She fumbled with her keys, her hands shaking badly, and finally managed to slip it in before opening her car door.  She went to get in when his hand shot out, stopping her, forcing her to turn around to face him.  Oh dear god those green eyes.  Jasina closed her eyes, knowing he couldn't see through the sunglasses, or maybe he could.  His eyes penetrated her right down to the depths of her soul, always had, and probably always would.


“Look, it's not a burden, okay?  It's not charity either.” Mark said firmly. “I've done some work for Trish before so this isn't the first time she and I have cut a deal.  You need a car to get back and forth for work, she needs you because your articles help sell the paper.  I need advertising so it all pans out, understand what I'm saying, darlin'?”


“Of course, Mr. Calaway.” She whispered softly. “I fully understand.  Thank you again for what you did.” She wouldn't use her true voice, there was no way she could.  Not to mention she was trembling from head to toe and had to get in her car so she could get away from him.  He terrified her because of what she'd done. “H-Have a nice day.” She turned and stepped inside her car, shutting the door and slid the key in the ignition, shaking before backing up after he was out of harm's way.  She didn't take her glasses off until she was out of vision distance, crying the whole way home, the guilt eating her alive.


Shaking his head, Mark watched her go.  He did have to crack a smile at how damn well that car ran, it purred like a kitten now.  He briefly entertained the thought of cutting Steve some slack since he had worked things out to square up on the expenses. “Nah...” He murmured, ambling to his truck, smirking.  Steve needed to learn how to listen.  What better way to teach the guy then to dip into the paycheck?


Chapter 4


Jasina didn't leave her apartment for two weeks straight, hardly eating, writing articles to keep it running and her bills paid.  She had wrote a special thank you note to Mark for what he'd done, knowing Trish would appreciate that.  The article was called Kindness and it basically explained what lengths people would do to make another person's life easier and simpler.  Jasina sighed as she sat at her kitchen table, reading a book, and sipped some herbal tea.  She hadn't run into Mark and that was a good thing.  Though maybe it was also due to the fact that she wasn't leaving her apartment except to get food and go to the newspaper place.  She was a hermit and Jasina preferred it that way.  Nobody got hurt this way.


Arielle was knocking door to door in the apartment building she knew Jade lived in, her friend Toni with her.  Toni's mom was waiting at the end of the hallway, carrying the extra catalogues in her arms, smiling patiently.


“How many more things do we gotta sell?”


“Another hundred dollars worth.” They were raising money for the school for new playground equipment. “Then if everyone else makes the same, we get our new stuff!” She knocked on another door.


Jade looked up when she heard a knock sound at her door, raising a slow eyebrow and set her coffee cup down on the table before going to unlock the door, opening it.  Her teal eyes widened at the angelic sight of Arielle along with her friend.  This was awkward as hell.


“Hello Arielle, what can I do for you?” She asked nervously, looking to make sure Mark wasn't with her.  She couldn’t very well wear glasses in her apartment and silently cursed, chewing on her thumbnail, her heart thundering.


“You have really pretty eyes, Jade.” Arielle said, studying them thoughtfully. “Oh,” She giggled when Toni nudged her, holding up a magazine. “We're selling stuff to raise money for our school.”


“For new playground toys, our swings are-”


“Old.” Arielle said promptly, not about to make it sound like begging or guilt tripping people into buying things.  The swings were rusted through and snapping anytime someone went too high on them.  They were now banned.


Jasina smiled back at her and bent down, flipping through the catalog, deciding this was the least she could do. “Wait here.” She instructed softly before walking over and grabbing a pen, marking down one of everything on the order sheet.  She didn't care what it was, she would deal with it later.  Trish gave her another bonus after her Kindness article so she had some money to spare.  After tallying it up, which was over three hundred dollars, she walked back over to the door and bent down, handing Arielle the order sheet. “You bring that stuff to me when it comes in and good luck with getting your new swings.”


Toni and Arielle huddled together, reading over the sheet, both their eyes growing wider and wider.  They began screaming, jumping up and down, clinging together.  Arielle's chestnut hair flew all over the place, a startling contrast to Toni's black corn rows.


“Girls!” Toni's mom shushed, walking over to them.  She took the sheet when they held it out, covering her mouth with her hand when she seen the amount, her dark face lighting up. “We'll make sure you get your order as soon as it's in.”


“There's no rush.  Her father,” Jasina gestured to Arielle. “Really helped me out with my car and I figured this was the least I could do.  I want you to get your new playground for your school.  It shows tremendous dedication on your part to go door to door like that, Arielle.” She sighed almost sadly, wanting to pull her daughter in her arms, but knew she couldn't.  She grunted and blinked when Arielle suddenly hugged her, wrapping her arms tightly around her waist, and Jasina felt the tears sting her eyes as she closed them quickly before gently backing away. “Thank your father for me again, will you?” She asked quietly, her tears dried up, not wanting anyone getting suspicious.


“Sure, hey!  Why don't you come to dinner with us tonight?” Arielle gestured to herself, Toni and Toni's mom. “We're going to Chuck-E-Cheeses!”


“I'm Lashonna by the way, everyone just calls me Onna though.” The woman greeted, extending a hand. “You know Mark?  He's such a great guy, bit of a sad-” She glanced down at Arielle who was chatting with Toni. “He had a hard time awhile ago, it's so hard to believe he's as kind as he is.  You'd have to know him better I suppose.  But it would great for you to join us, my husband will be there so you won't have to feel like a spare tire.” She laughed kindly.


One look in those pleading emerald green eyes and Jasina found herself agreeing to go with them against her better judgment.  The nagging guilt was eating away at her even more as Lashonna told her about Mark having a hard time, knowing that was because of her.  She told them good luck again and promised to meet them at Chuck-E-Cheeses before closing the door, finally letting the tears fall.  Even with giving her that three hundred dollars, Jasina felt terrible and couldn't believe she had agreed to go.  She couldn't wear her shades in the place, she'd definitely look suspicious.  Sighing, Jasina went to take a shower, knowing she only had a few hours to get ready.




Lashonna was waiting patiently for her outside of Chuck-E-Cheeses later that evening, smiling when Jade appeared.  Arielle and Toni were already inside with her husband, Harry, having the time of their lives. “I'm so glad you came.” She said when Jade reached her. “Arie seems to think you're lonely.” She confided, pushing open the doors. “The girl is a humanitarian, always thinking about others.”


Jasina decided to wear a simple denim skirt that went two inches above the knee along with a black halter top, leaving her hair down, but it was clipped on either side along with white Skechers on her feet. “She's a sweet girl.” Jasina said softly, knowing her heart of gold came from her father.  As soon as they walked in, Arielle immediately rushed over and took Jasina's hand, pulling her away from Lashonna.  She had no choice, but to go wherever the little girl wanted, a small smile on her face.


“Look, you're kinda big, but you can still fit in the tunnels.” Arielle said seriously, getting on all fours and crawling in, turning her head to make sure Jade was following her. “There's a ball pit up ahead, it's kinda deep, but it's a lotta fun!” She laughed, rounding a bend, disappearing from sight.


“Arielle, I'm not sure-” She sighed when the little girl shouted for her to come on, knowing she had no choice. 


The little girl already had her wrapped around her damn finger and reminded her so much of Mark.  It was actually kind of scary.  Jasina went through the tunnels with ease, following Arielle and slid down the slide when she was sure Arielle and the girls were out of the way.  Jasina plummeted into the balls and started laughing when she began getting pelted with them, trying to get out, only to slip and fall before beginning to throw them lightly in return.


Toni joined the fray, shrieking with laughter when Arielle ducked her under the balls, then both girls going after Jade.


“Mark!  I thought you weren't going to be able to make it?” Lashonna asked from their table, smiling as he dropped down by Harry.


“Steve covered for me so I could.” Mark replied with a grin, swiping a slice of pizza. “Where's the girls?”


“Playing.  Arielle got Jade to come.”


“How'd you guys run into her?”


“My wife took the girls around the neighborhood to sell the items for the new playground.” Harry smiled at the thought, looking over at how the girls meshed well with Jade. “Look at this order form, man.” He pulled it out of his pocket, still not believing it, handing it over to Mark. “She bought one of everything on that order from.  That's close to four hundred dollars.” Jasina had been off in her calculation.


“Arielle!” Jasina laughed when she was pelted with more balls, finally managing to escape by the skin of her teeth and stood up as she smoothed her skirt down. 


Jasina groaned, pulling a ball out of her hair and threw it back inside before shaking her head, a smile on her face.  She hadn't had this much fun in ten long years and it was so ironic that it was with Arielle, her very own daughter that she ran out on.  She sighed when Arielle took her by the hand, leading her to another game.


Mark grinned, leaning back in his chair, watching Arielle and Jade, laughing when Toni ran up to hug him. “Hey sweetie, you havin' fun?”


“Yeah, but I'm really, really hungry.” She replied with a grin, moving to sit down. “Arie, your dad it here!”


“One minute, Jade and I are playing- DADDY!”


Jasina froze in her tracks when Arielle left her to go run to her father, the breath leaving her body, swallowing hard.  Mark was here and she didn't have her glasses!!  What the hell?  Jasina had to make an escape fast, but how could she when Mark was sitting by Lashonna and Harry.  She groaned when Arielle pointed at her, raking a hand through her hair and waved nervously before trying to figure out a plan.


“Sorry honey.” She murmured when she bumped into a kid, knowing he was watching her every move.  She held her finger up when Arielle waved her over and rushed to the bathroom, hoping there was a window she could crawl out of.


There wasn't.


Mark grinned when Arielle launched herself at him, smothering her in kisses until she went 'Eww gross'. “Nuh uh, you plant one right here or I'm not stoppin'.” He teased, tapping his cheek.  When she gave him a quick peck, he reluctantly let her go, watching as she settled down by Toni. “So where'd Jade get off too?”


“She had to spring a leak.”


Lashonna snorted her Pepsi.


‘Oh my god what am I going to do?’ She thought frantically, tears welling up in her teal eyes, covering her mouth with her hand. 


Taking a deep breath, Jasina calmed herself down and thought rationally.  She decided she would sneak out, cutting through the next room to head to the exit.  Now that she had her game plan set, Jasina sucked in another breath before leaving the bathroom, hearing Arielle's laughter, and went along the wall.  Kids were running around everywhere and she managed to slip into the next room without being seen, quickly making her way through, and finally arrived at the other side.  Why did they have to get a table so damn close to the doors?  Jasina closed her eyes and seen a guy dressed as the Chuck-E-Cheese mascot mouse coming toward her, immediately standing right in front of him as he walked toward the exit.


“Thanks.” She whispered and slipped out the doors.


When Jade didn't come back, Mark had sent someone in to check on her, finally hearing from one of the staff that a woman who fit her description had been seen leaving.  He had to explain to Arielle that something must have come up for her to leave so abruptly, reassuring his precious angel that it wasn't anything she had done. “When her stuff comes in, I'll take you to drop it off and prove it.” He stated finally.


Jasina arrived at home and threw her keys and wallet down on the table, having to take several deep breaths to calm down.  She'd been THIS close to Mark finding out and now Arielle knew where she lived. “Damn it!” She hissed, raking a hand through her hair and paced in her living room, having kicked her shoes and socks off.  What the hell was she going to do?  The little girl obviously liked her, if she only knew who she really was.  Then she would hate her.  Jasina started crying as she dropped to her knees, covering her face with her hands, knowing this was one big mess. “I should've never accepted to go.  I probably hurt her feelings.”




“Daddy...I was thinkin'.” Arielle commented, sitting between his legs as he brushed her hair later that night, fresh out of the bath. “I think Jade's really lonely.”


“Why do you say that?”


“Because, she just seems that way.” She winced when he caught a snarl. “Ouch.”


“Lil darlin', sometimes, people just...” He sighed, deftly braiding her hair before turning her to face him, cupping her face in one large hand, staring down into those innocent eyes. “Sometimes people just need to be alone.”




“Because they need time to heal.”


Chapter 5


Jasina had refused, flat out REFUSED, to leave her apartment, ordering take-out and faxed her articles to Trish, knowing the woman didn't mind.  She was isolating herself from the world and, more importantly, from her daughter and Mark.  Before she knew it, two months had passed and Jasina had only gone out a few times in that time span for fear of running into them.  She hated herself for doing it, but she couldn't help it.  Mark terrified her and if he ever found out...he would maim her, plain and simple.  Jasina knew the type of temper the man had on him and it took A LOT to spark it.  Once sparked, no one was safe and that scared Jasina more than death itself. 


It was a Thursday afternoon and Jasina was enjoying a glass of lemonade while reading a book, wearing black cotton shorts with a matching dark blue and black tank top when a knock sounded at her door.  Frowning, Jasina got up to see who it was.


This time it was Mark escorting Arielle and Toni, his arms bogged down with everything Jade had ordered, covering his face. “I can't see.” He complained.


“You just stand there and look pretty, daddy.  Hiya Jade!  We brought your stuff.” Arielle said, grinning up at the woman she hadn't seen in two months. “Where have you been?  We ain't seen ya around.”


“My mom said to tell you she's havin' a potluck if you want to come.” Toni added happily.


It was a damn good thing Mark couldn't see her because if he had...Jasina swallowed hard and nodded before opening the door, letting the girls and Mark in.  She kept her back to him effectively, seeing everything she had bought. “Did you girls get your new playground?” She asked quietly, not answering Arielle's question, not wanting her to know she had been isolating herself, going into the kitchen to write a check. “Toni, tell your mother I said thank you for the offer, but I must decline.” She said it in the same voice, walking back over and handing Arielle the check, keeping her eyes from Mark's as she looked over everything again.




“Yeah?  We're gonna be there, Daddy's bringin' his pistachio pudding.  And did you hear me?  Our new stuff is gonna be put in as soon as we pay the company!”


Mark frowned, watching Jade. “The girls are talkin' to you.”


“Yes, I just...I have a lot of work to do, girls.  I'm sorry.” She quietly replied, biting her bottom lip, her body tensed and sighed when she felt Arielle's hand on her arm, looking down at her.  Those deep green eyes were pleading with her again, but Jasina knew she couldn't do it.  She could not risk Mark finding out who she was. “Arielle, you don't know me sweetheart,” She began, blinking tears away, clearing her throat. “Look I'm not a very sociable person.  That's why I left that night.  I'm not comfortable being around a lot of people.  It's just who I am.  I'm sorry.” She took her arm out of Arielle's grasp gently.


Arielle frowned, trying to understand, remembering what her dad had told her two months ago about people needing time alone to heal and smiled, nodding. “Okay, when you're finished healin', can we hang out then?” She asked, brightening right up.


Mark coughed, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand.


“I can't, I'm sorry.” She whispered, tensed beyond belief. “Thank you for bringing this stuff to me.  I hope you girls enjoy your new playground.”


Her voice was quiet again, her back still turned to Mark and she was gripping the chair so hard, her knuckles were turning ghostly white.  She didn't care.  This was her way of dealing with things and she had to push Arielle away before Mark found out.  She wiped a tear away from her eye before walking into her kitchen again and began doing dishes, also letting her silent tears fall.


“Girls, outside.” Mark ordered, not too pleased with this woman who was being almost intentionally rude to his daughter.  The minute Arielle and Toni were in the hallway, he walked into the kitchen, staring at Jade. “Woman, what the hell is yer damage?  She's just a little kid tryin' to be friendly and you keep pushin' her away.  If you really don't like her, just say so.”


“Mark, you really don't want to know what my damage is and you don't want me hanging out with your daughter.  Trust me, I adore her. I…”


She dropped the fork in the sink, her heart pounding in her chest, her shoulders slumped in defeat.  What was she supposed to do?  Lie?  Jasina couldn't do that and slowly turned around to face him, her teal eyes meeting green as the tears fell down her cheeks.  Ten years, ten years without this man in her life, and Jasina had done everything in her power to stay away from him.  This was her judgment day, it was her time, and she could only pray Mark either didn't recognize her or didn't kill her.


Mark stared down at her.  His face going from puzzled, to sad, then to pure rage in a matter of seconds. “You're right, I don't want you around MY daughter.” He said his tone ice as he spun and walked out of the apartment. 


Her eyes!  He had thought something was familiar about her, but hadn't been able to place it.  But there was only one woman he knew who had teal eyes.  He took Arielle and Toni by their hands, guiding them down the hall.  She had changed her hair, it wasn't black.  She also looked...different, physically different.  Like something had- It clicked.  Her articles.


Jasina dropped to her knees in the kitchen, her heart plummeting to the pits of her stomach, and cried.  She cried so hard that her chest and body physically hurt.  For hours, she stayed there, not able to get the look of his green eyes out of her mind.  She had tried.  She had tried so hard and had failed. 


Finally pulling herself up, Jasina managed to make it to her bedroom before collapsing on the bed, the sobs tearing every fraction of her body apart.  When she could no longer function, Jasina let the darkness sweep her away, all the pain and hurt in that tiny room and nowhere else to go.




Mark sat up long after Arielle was in bed in the living room with a beer before him.  Empty beer bottles lined the coffee table.  He could go through a case and still walk a straight line.  He knew because he had just tested it.  His anger was keeping him from a buzz.  How DARE she come back!  How DARE she knowingly come around HIS daughter after WALKING out on THEM!  Gritting his teeth, Mark crushed the bottle in his fist, not even feeling the glass piercing his skin.




Jasina didn't leave her apartment, the blinds drawn, refusing to go out in the world.  She spent her time writing, something she had found to escape her misery and life for a few hours out of the day.  She couldn't believe Mark had found out, but what did she honestly expect?  He had backed her into a corner and she had no choice.  None.  She couldn't hurt him again by telling him Arielle needed to stay away from her.  It was time the truth came out anyway.  He was angry, he had every right to be, and Jasina wasn't going to go near him or Arielle.  She wasn't going near the shop, nowhere in fact.  She was running out of groceries, but Jasina couldn't bring herself to face the day.




“Wait, you mean Jasina is Jade...” Steve whistled, shaking his head. “Man that is fucked up.  Does Arie know?”


“Hell no, and she's not going too either!” Mark snapped, breaking a bolt he had been tightening, throwing aside the wrench angrily. “All she knows is that her momma left when she was a baby, she sure as hell don't need a junkie mother in her life now!”


Steve could only shake his head, again.




Midnight rolled around and Jasina knew she needed groceries.  Badly.  Sighing, she reluctantly walked out, wearing black sweat pants with a black hoodie, getting in her car and driving to the twenty four hour market.  She parked and stepped out, walking inside and grabbed a cart.  She felt so isolated and couldn't stop the tears from welling in her eyes.  No.  She wouldn't cry, not in front of people.  She would wait until she was back at her apartment as she began throwing things in the cart.  When she was finished, Jasina went to checkout and paid for her things, walking out of the market an hour later, and put the bags in her trunk.  She slammed it shut and slid in her car before going back to her apartment.  At least now she wouldn't starve.


Trish had left countless messages for Jasina to come into the office, getting more than a little irked when Jasina kept making excuses.  She had finally given up and went there, granted the hour was late, but she didn't care.  Looking a bit out of place in this part of town in her dress pants and dove grey silk blouse, she hurried up to Jasina's apartment and knocked, pressing her ear to the door when she didn't get an answer.  Fine, she'd wait.


Jasina walked up the stairs with ten grocery bags in each arm, stopping when she seen Trish, her editor, staring back at her. “Trish, what are you doing here?” She asked, having gotten her messages, but figured faxing would've sufficed.  She sighed when Trish helped her with the groceries and walked inside her apartment, flipping the light on and brought them into the kitchen, Trish closing the door behind her.  It was after one in the morning, what the hell was so damn important?


“I am here to make sure you're alive and it's not some zombie faxing me those articles.” Trish said bluntly, knowing it was late, but she was the editor of a major city newspaper, she was often working late. “What's going on Jasina?  When I hired you, you were...more alive, now you look like that zombie I mentioned earlier.” She folded her arms over her chest, arching an eyebrow.


Jasina sighed heavily as she dropped in a kitchen chair and buried her face in her hands.  She proceeded to explain about Mark Calaway and everything that happened, including her drug addiction, and why she had left her little girl after only knowing her two days.  She explained why she came back to Houston, only to change her mind, but not having the money to move again, thanking her repeatedly for the opportunity. 


When Jasina was finished, she was just one big ball of tears and they wouldn't stop as she wiped them away.  “I ran away from my life, Trish, and I don't know what I am anymore.  All I know is that I've been looking to relocate to somewhere outside of Houston so Mark doesn't have to see me.  I'm sorry...I just wanted to keep this to myself and that didn't happen.”


That was a LOT to digest.  Trish had to sit down as well, just staring at Jasina, combing her fingers through her hair as she thought about everything she had just been told. “So he didn't know about your addiction, you just left him a note and an infant...” She murmured. “Does he know now why you left?” She was assuming he did, just needed things clarified.


“No, only what he's read of my articles.” She replied softly, standing up, needing a tissue as she shook her head. “Trish, I seen how happy they were.  I don't want to mess that up.  He can think whatever he wants.  I'm not getting back in his daughter's life because I don't have that right.  I walked out on her, on him, on our marriage.  I am scum of the earth and the only thing that makes me even the slightest bit happy these days is knowing she's growing into a beautiful girl.  That's all I care about.  She doesn't need me, Mark has been there for her and he'll continue to be.  They don't need me.” She started crying again and sat down, putting her head in her hands. “So I'm sorry if I've been closed up, but I've been trying to avoid running into them.”


“Well Jasina, the way I see it is you can either run away or pull your head out of the sand and live your life.  You made a horrible, horrible mistake and you've paid for it.” Trish said bluntly, she wasn't one to sugarcoat things, ever.  She expected people to own up to their faults and then atone for them. “You can hide in this apartment or you can come out and live.  Either way...if I don’t see you in the office Monday morning, nine AM sharp, you're fired.  I'm promoting you, don't blow it.”


Her head snapped up, tears flowing down her cheeks, her teal eyes widened. “What?” She slowly stood up as Trish grinned at her, wondering what that meant.  She was being promoted?  That would mean she would have to go to the Houston Journal and actually WORK there? “Trish, what exactly am I going to be doing now?” She asked softly, having really enjoyed writing her columns, and wiped more of her tears away.


“I'm making you our new ‘ask’ girl.” Trish said with a grin. “You can still do your articles.  But you'll also be in charge of picking out a couple of questions from our readers and answering them, all to be printed of course.  You know, a Dear Abby thing.  Our last 'ask it' girl was fired, bad advice.  I think you'd be perfect for the job.”


Jasina could only nod, still blinking as she ushered Trish to the door, chewing on her thumbnail. “Thank you for the opportunity, I'll be there.” She promised, managing to get out and closed the door before pressing her back to it. 


Closing her eyes, Jasina wondered if maybe this was the moment that would turn her life around.  She got to work putting her groceries away before taking a hot shower and then went to bed.  Jasina had hope for the future and decided that she couldn't hide anymore.  She would face her problems head-on...and avoid Mark Calaway at all costs.


Feeling pretty pleased with herself, Trish walked out of the building and to her car, frowning when she seen the slashed tires.  So much for her new Benz.  She was about to whip out her cell phone when a truck drove by, stopped and backed up.


“Honey, it ain't safe out here, especially for a woman.”


Trish just smiled.


Chapter 6


Monday rolled around before Jasina knew what hit her and to say she was nervous was an understatement.  She ended up calling Andy three times during the weekend, explaining to her everything that happened.  Andy told her this was apart of the healing process and that she had to stick this out, she couldn't run away.  Jasina knew she was right and now she was back in the real world.  Wearing a pinstriped midnight blue and white skirt suit, Jasina walked in with her black shades on top of her head, hair down, and she was wearing matching pumps.  She walked straight to Trish's office and knocked before entering, taking a deep breath and knew she had made it by the skin of her teeth as far as time went.


Trish's brown eyes narrowed, glancing at the clock pointedly, the table filled with the newspaper staff. “Have a seat, Jasina.  Everyone who hasn't met her, this is our Jade.”


“The article Jade?”


“How many Jade's do I have writing for my paper?” Trish laughed, shaking back her hair. “She'll be stepping into the role of Ask Me, but we need a new name for it.”


“Ask Jade?”


Smiling gently at everyone and shaking a few hands, Jasina sat down at the table, pulling her shades off of her head and tucked them at her side before focusing on the meeting.  She still couldn't believe Trish had promoted her and had to take another deep breath to slow her racing heart.  Ask Jade.  Who was she to be giving advice?  Andy had simply told her Trish saw something in her that nobody else had and that she had to do this, to take this next step.


“I...I don't know.” She finally answered when Trish asked her what the section should be called. “I kind of like the Ask Jade title that was mentioned earlier.”


Lisa nodded, a pencil tucked behind her ear, glancing at Trish then back to Jasina. “It fits in with the whole 'Dear Abby', 'Ask Margo' theme from national papers.  Our readers will know what to expect with the new section.”


“Basically people will ask your advice.  Expect questions regarding what to do at weddings, family problems, just general things.  Jesse has some clippings of those Dear Abby letters to give you an idea what you'll be doing.  For your first time writing for it, we'll be giving you a few questions ourselves, then you'll be answering ones sent in by readers.”


“I understand.” Jasina said as the article clippings were handed to her, putting them in the folder Trish had handed her when she first arrived, deciding she would read over them later.  The rest of the meeting was about deadlines, including hers, since her column would still be published along with the Ask Jade section.  She would definitely be a lot busier and appreciated all Trish had done for her.  The woman was a saint, in her own way, and had a big heart for someone who used to be into drugs. “Thank you for the opportunity, Ms. Stratus.” She said once everyone left. “I will try not to let you down.”


“You had better not, Jasina.” Trish said seriously, staring at the other woman intently. “I know you have problems, everyone does, but yours are a lot different from most.  But...even with your history there is no reason why you shouldn't lead a normal, healthy life.  Consider this my way of pushing you out of your hole.” She patted Jasina's shoulder. “You'll also be seeing an increase in your checks, buy yourself some tinted sunglasses.  Those black ones get depressing.”


For the first time in a long while, Jasina genuinely smiled and hugged the woman tightly. “Thank you for believing in me.” She whispered, pulling back. “I will get new glasses.” Jasina promised before walking out of Trish's office and toward her new office. 


It even had her name, her real name, Jasina Jameson, engraved on a gold plate that was hung on the door.  Jameson was her maiden name, she had changed it legally after her divorce with Mark had been finalized.  Jasina walked into her office and sat down in the chair before pulling her folder out and began reading the articles.  Family life, advice on what to do, relationship advice...was Trish out of her mind?


Trish was not out of her mind, she was actually one hell of a cunning, devious woman.  Given that Jasina had given up her family, she would be more sympathetic for the young people who frequently wrote asking for help when it came to the issues that plagued them: drugs, drinking, addictions.  Not to mention Jasina would have an unbiased view on things.  Hopefully.  If this didn't start getting that woman's head out of the ostrich hole, Trish was going to kick her ass.


After getting her office the way she wanted it, which wasn't hard considering Jasina had no pictures or anything, she got to work on her next article.  Forgiveness.  She didn't deserve it and she knew it, but it was the topic that had been branded into her mind.  Halfway through the day, she looked up when her office door opened and in walked Trish, finishing up a line before saving and closed her laptop.  Nobody read her work until it was finished, that was one of Jasina's general rules.


“I take it you're here for the questions?” She asked with a hesitant smile, hoping she could pull this off and not give 'bad' advice.


“Of course I am.” Trish said brightly, sitting down across from Jasina, crossing one leg over the other. “Normally I'd have one of the junior editors look it over, but I'm curious so…” She teased, flashing one of her brilliant smiles. “Before I see it, tell me, how do you think you handled the questions?  Are you satisfied with the answers you gave?”


“I feel I answered them to the best of my ability.” That was the honest truth as she pulled the printed paper from the printer and handed it over, her answers to the questions on it. “Hopefully they're satisfactory.” Jasina would be lying if she said she wasn't nervous.  She was on pins and needles and chewed her thumbnail while Trish looked them over, waiting with bated breath.


Trish read the answers, beginning to smile. “This is perfect.” She announced finally. “You don't read like any of the other advice columns out there, so that's something new, something fresh.  You think you can keep this up?  I'm sure you'll have an assortment of questions to pick from so you shouldn't get too bored.” She joked.


Jasina sighed a huge breath of relief and nodded with a smile of her own. “Yes I can.” She wasn't going to question it anymore.  Jasina knew she was meant to do this, to write her column and do this Ask Jade section for the newspaper.  With her life experiences, she could potentially help a lot of people with their problems.  Jasina had seen a lot in her life thus far and wanted to do everything in her power to help those who were in the same or similar situation as she had been in ten years ago. “I'm almost done with my column for Sunday's paper.”


“Already?  You are quick.  Keep working this way and I'll take advantage and overwhelm you.” Trish joked, standing up from her chair, smoothing down the front of her blazer. “Now the questions will be a daily thing, so we're going to use these for the first week, then when they start coming in, you'll need to be in the office everyday.  No more faxing unless it's an emergency.”


“I'll be here everyday.” She promised, knowing she wouldn't be able to stay in her apartment holed up anymore.  Somehow, that didn't bother Jasina and Trish was a blessing in disguise. “Just let me know when the next batch of questions come in.” She said before flipping her laptop back up as Trish walked out, beginning to type.  She had to get this article done before it vanished out of her mind.


“ the way...” Trish poked her head back in. “We're having a barbecue Friday morning, just something we do when the weather is nice.  Casual dress and bring something, just not jello.  See you later, honey.” This time she really did walk out and not pop back in.


Jasina shook her head with a smile, knowing Trish was trying to get her to interact with other people.  There was no way out of it and Jasina wasn't even going to attempt trying.  She'd been blessed with a great job and, with the salary she was making now, she could potentially get her own house.  Or maybe even a condo.  Yeah a condo, she didn't need a house.  Hell, it was only herself she had to take care of.  That thought saddened her, but then again, who knew what the future held?  With that thought in mind, Jasina finished up her article and put it in her outbox before getting started on ideas for her next one.




“Hey Jas, look.” Trish grinned, knocking once and entering Jasina's office a few days later, waving a handful of envelopes. “You're getting questions already.” She dropped them on the desk, pointing at the names in the return addresses. “Notice how people don't use their real names?  Or no return address?  They want to remain anonymous so any names you do come across, change them.”


“Wow, all of these already?” Jasina blinked, wondering where to begin as the stack of envelopes were set on her desk.  At this rate, she would never see her apartment again and grinned at the thought. “I'll change their names to anonymous.” She said with a nod before taking the first envelope and opened it, unfolding the paper, and began to read.  She had a lot to get done and there was no time like the present to start.


Dear Jade,


Sometimes I think my daddy is lonely. How do I make him smile again? He hasn't smiled for almost a month.


~Little Mermaid


PS: My teacher helped me write this!


Running a hand through her hair, Jasina set the letter to the side and opened her laptop, beginning to type the question, ignoring the PS part, and then proceeded to type her answer.


Little Mermaid


The only thing I can advise you to do is give him a lot of hugs and kisses.  Maybe even make him something that's from your heart.  As far as your father being lonely, the best advice I can give you is time heals all wounds.  Everything will be fine, give it time.




Trish stood there and watched, wondering Jasina had forgotten about her. “You look sad.” She commented, reaching for the letter and skimmed it. “Aww...poor thing.” She glanced at the return address, a PO box number. “These kind of letters are just heartbreaking.” She sniffled, reaching up to pat her eyes with a handkerchief.


“I know.” Jasina whispered, grabbing a tissue as well as she let a few tears fall. “It breaks my heart because how do you tell a little girl how to make her father happy again?  That's the best I could come up with Trish, I'm sorry.” She lowered her head, sniffling, and felt Trish pat her on the shoulder as Jasina let a few more tears fall before quickly drying them up. “I'm alright, I'll have to get used to this.”


Trish read the response quickly, smiling and patted Jasina's shoulder. “That is the best answer you could have given her.  Let's just hope she's old enough to understand more then just the hugs and kisses, though the letter was rather mature.  Hmmm...”


“Well, there was a PS part in there regarding her teacher helping her write it.” Jasina pointed out, causing Trish's eyebrow to raise slightly. “I really don't know what else to say though, you know?  She's a little girl and you can't really explain it from an adult's point of view.” This was both confusing and frustrating, though Jasina didn't show either.  She was simply pointing out the obvious and knew Trish agreed with her. “Hopefully, she'll understand where I'm coming from.”


“Well if she doesn't, I'm sure she'll ask her teacher to explain, especially since she asked her teacher for help in the first place with the letter.” Trish said reasonably, glancing at her watch. “I've got to run, Jas.  I have to go meet with the layout crew and make sure next weeks ads aren’t jumbled like this weeks were.  You're going to be at the barbecue tomorrow, right?”


“Of course.  I'm bringing potato salad, homemade.” She smiled and waved to Trish before going back to reading the letters, typing what she thought the best answer would be. 


Some were easy; others were heartbreaking, like Little Mermaid's had been.  For some reason, that letter hit Jasina the hardest and she didn't understand why.  Pushing it out of her mind, Jasina focused on the rest of her work, getting through half the stack by the time she left.  She bid Trish good night, wondering if the woman ever went home, and headed out to the parking garage toward her car.  This week had probably been the busiest, yet greatest time in her life, not to mention she was a success.




“What the hell are you so damn happy about?”


“Uh Mark, I need a favor.”


“Steve...this had better be good, you still owe me for parts.”


“I need tomorrow off, I DID cover for you that one time.” Steve pointed out.


Mark sighed, knowing he was right, and asked, “Okay, what for?”


“A blonde with a beautiful smile and the firmest ass...”


Chapter 7


The following day, Jasina stepped out of her car, wearing a denim blue jean skirt that went two inches above the knee along with a plain dark blue tank top, white Skechers on her feet, and blue sunglasses over her eyes.  Trish had stated, emphatically, that she was not allowed to wear black to the barbeque so Jasina decided all blue would suffice.  She reached in the backseat and grabbed her bowl of potato salad that was homemade, her late mother's recipe.  Locking her car, Jasina headed inside, hoping she would survive this.


Lisa was walking down the hallway, carrying what looked like a pie in her hands. “Everyone is outback in the patch.” The patch was a decent sized space of grass that the employees usually took their smoke breaks on, lunches, things like that.  A grill was already going, a few picnic tables scattered about.


Trish was there in a summer tank dress, laughing and flirting with her date.


Steve was just happy to be there, in the presence of his new golden goddess.


“Thanks.” Jasina walked out as the sunlight beamed down on her, glad she had remembered to bring her sunscreen. 


Jasina looked around, seeing all of her employees, and walked over to set the potato salad down with the rest of the food.  Everyone was talking and reminiscencing, having a great time, and Jasina was finding herself smiling for the most part.  She said hello when she was greeted and turned around when Trish called her name, walking in her direction since she was being summoned.


“Jas, I'm so thrilled you made it!” Trish hugged her when she was close enough, grinning from ear to ear and gestured to the man at her side. “This sexy cue ball is Steve.  Steve, this is my newest writer, Jas.  She does the Ask Jade column I was telling you about.”


“Pleasure to meet ya honey.” Steve extended his hand to her, smiling.  She looked a little familiar, but he shrugged it off.  He'd probably just seen her before in the store or something.


Jasina slid her hand into his and shook it gently before releasing it, wondering if he recognized her.  Apparently not, which was a good thing. “Nice to meet you as well.” She replied softly, smiling at Trish, who was the light of the party.  Jasina suddenly wondered if Mark was here and had to take a deep breath to calm down, looking around casually, sighing with relief when he wasn't.  It was a Friday so he was probably covering the shop.  Another good thing. “I'm going to go sit down.” She smiled before walking off.


“She's an odd one.”


“She's had a rough time lately, be nice.” Trish swatted his chest playfully, trying not to giggle when he smacked her ass. “Behave yourself, I'm the boss here, I've got to look at least halfway professional.”


Steve winked down at her, a smirk on his face. “Honey, you can be my boss any day of the week.”


The rest of the barbeque went well.  Jasina didn't really talk to anyone much, except Lisa, who was telling her about her pending divorce.  She felt sorry for the woman and told her everything would be fine, that she understood what she was going through.  Lisa was in higher spirits after talking to her as Jasina picked at her food, running a hand through her hair, keeping a smile on her face though for Trish's sake.  She owed the woman a lot and this was the least she could do.


“Hey, we're going out for a few drinks, you are so coming with.” Trish said as the festivities winded down, having given everyone the rest of the day off just because she was in such a good mood.  Besides a few stray pieces, everything was done and ready for printing anyway. “So keep that smile in place for a little while longer, okay?”


“Trish, I'm not sure-” Jasina sighed when she was pulled up by the hand by the blonde bombshell who had managed to become her only friend, besides Lisa, and knew she had no choice. 


Trish was very pushy when she wanted to be, but Jasina knew she was doing this because she wanted to help.  Andy had even said she couldn't stay cooped up in her apartment, it wasn't healthy.  Besides, a few drinks sounded nice, even though she wasn't the social type.


“You can ride with us.” Steve offered, being nice and helpful because Trish had already warned him she'd plant her tiny foot right up his ass if he even so much as made Jas frown. “This way nobody is driving drunk.” He had also been told he was the designated driver, which he had agreed on the stipulation that he got to take advantage if Trish got toasted.  Trish had informed him he wouldn't be the one taking advantage.


“Oh.  Um...” When Trish gave her those pleading brown eyes, Jasina sighed resignedly and nodded, shaking her head as she followed by Steve and Trish to his truck. ‘God please don't remember me.’ She silently prayed as she slid in after Trish, buckling up, and stared out the window.  She sighed when Trish shoved her glasses up on top of her head and playfully glared, causing her friend to giggle before leaning against Steve.  They made an adorable couple.  Taking a deep breath, Jasina felt the truck started and pull away. ‘Just a few drinks.  Then I can go home.’ She thought.


“So...any bar of my choosing?”


“Nothing too...redneck.  It IS in public and I AM a well known editor.” Trish joked, nudging Jasina lightly in the ribs. “Lighten up honey, it'll be fun.  Maybe we can find you a date!”


“In a redneck bar huh?”


“I DID find you and you’re a redneck, maybe the same thing will happen again for Jas.”


“I don't date.” Jasina stated, her voice a little stronger than before, though that smile never left her face. “Sorry hon.  That's just who I am.”


She stared out the window again and closed her eyes.  She didn't want to screw someone else's life up, which was one of the reasons why Jasina preferred being alone.  They arrived at a bar that was ten minutes away from the Houston Journal and Jasina stepped out, seeing Steve was helping Trish, and smiled before shutting the door.  Emerald City.  Jasina seen Trish was waving her inside and sighed before following.  Honestly, why didn't she just respectfully decline?  Oh that's right, she didn't have a choice in coming.


“Hold on, Steve.  Go find us a seat.  Girl chat.” Trish kissed him on the cheek, patting his ass as she shooed him away before linking her arm through Jasina's. “It's all about the training.” She joked, grinning when he shot her a lust ridden look. “Oh man...” She shook her head, snapping herself out of it. “Just...try to have fun, alright?  I know you're not sociable and I know you're having a bad time, can be fun, you just have to give it a chance.”


“I'm trying, really I am.” Jasina smiled at her sadly, patting her hand in reassurance. “I'm okay, Trish.  Thank you for inviting me out.  Maybe this is what I need.”


Smiling was contagious when it came to Trish and Jasina found herself not able to stop as she was lead to the table.  She was right, again.  Jasina had to stop hiding from the world.  Granted, she made a huge mistake, quite a few, but that was her past and if there was one thing Andy had drilled into Jasina throughout the past two years, it was the past cannot be changed.  No matter what, Jasina knew she had to get back on the horse and ride.  She had a feeling Trish was going to help her do that.


Steve was polite enough to let Trish sit in the middle at the square table, just so she could be by Jas, having a feeling Jas wouldn't be here if not for her bubbly friend. “I don't know what you gals drink so...”


“Beer.” Trish said promptly.


He arched an eyebrow.


“Light, of course.”


She nodded at Steve, silently telling him beer was fine, and while he went to go get drinks, Jasina talked with Trish about whatever came to mind.  She thanked her once again for the opportunity and smiled when Trish said don't mention it again.  Steve brought the beers back and Jasina sipped hers, not really much of a drinker.  She'd been heavily into drinking during her addiction stage, but Trish didn't need to know that.  Jasina let them talk while her mind wandered, wondering how Arielle was doing and quickly pushed that thought away.  Arielle wasn't apart of her life anymore and she had no right thinking about her.


“Well... who is this?” Trish asked, smiling as Steve got to his feet, watching him embrace a man with auburn hair, long auburn hair.


“Mark, meet Trish.”


Mark grinned, reaching down to pull her to her feet, shaking her hand. “I've heard a lot about you.” His grin broadened when Steve coughed. “Something about a brilliant smile.”


Jasina's eyes widened when she heard Mark's voice, swallowing hard, and couldn't believe this!  Trish knew all about her past experience with Mark and she STILL invited him?  This was too much.  Jasina did NOT want to see Mark and he damn sure didn't want to see her.  She quickly slid out of the booth while Trish had the men distracted, sliding her sunglasses over her eyes and ran out of the bar, not even caring how she looked.  Jasina pounded pavement as the tears flowed, knowing she had to get back to the Houston Journal building to get her car so she could go home.  She was so angry with Trish right now and thought about quitting just to spite her.


Trish knew damn well who Mark was, though she hadn't been aware Steve knew him and she was also quite aware when Jasina had taken off. “Excuse us for a moment, Mark...” She tugged Steve out of earshot. “Why didn't you tell me your friend was meeting us here?” Her voice was deceptively sweet.


“I didn't think you'd mind?”


“You two have fun.” Rolling her eyes, Trish hurried out, hoping she could catch Jasina.


Jasina was an accomplished runner, though she hadn't done it in awhile, and arrived at her car in record time.  She slid inside the turned the ignition on, peeling out of there, and headed straight home.  The tears poured down her face, causing her vision to blur, and finally pulled over as she let the sobs tear through her body.  Having a life in Houston was going to be hard and Jasina knew Trish was going to be mad at her for running out...fuck that!  She was PISSED at Trish and wiped her tears away angrily before driving the rest of the way home.  Once she arrived, Jasina locked herself in her room and cried herself to sleep, clutching her chest painfully.


Trish was ignoring Steve's call and Jasina was ignoring hers.  Sighing, Trish tried calling again, this time leaving a message. “Jasina, it's Trish...AGAIN.  Look, I didn't know Mark was going to be there, okay?  I never would have insisted you go if I'd of known, please call me.  Bye.” She hung up, dropping down onto her couch. “Damn it.”




The following day, Jasina walked into work, deciding she needed the job and she listened to the messages earlier that morning when she got up. “I know you didn't know.” She quietly said, holding her hand up when Trish stood up from sitting in her chair in her office, sighing heavily.  Her hair was down, as always, and she was wearing black dress pants with a black cardigan, white silk shirt underneath with black dress boots.  She was wearing black eyeliner and looked like she hadn't cried herself to sleep the previous night. “It's alright.  Let's just get back to work okay?”


“Lets.” Trish replied, not knowing whether to be relieved that Jasina hadn't quit or just as cool as Jasina was apparently being, finally just deciding to be the boss. “You have mail waiting in your cubical in the front office.” She said, sitting back down and shifting through some paperwork, a red pen beside an article she was editing. “And deadline is at four so...You know the drill, Jas.”


Without a word, Jasina walked out and went to her office, after picking her mail up, and sat down in her chair after closing the door.  She finished her article first before sending it to the outbox, knowing the mail girl came by every hour to pick up, and took a deep breath before opening the first envelope.




Recently, my little girl just found out I'm her mother.  She's eight years old.  I don't know what to do.  I sent her to an adoption agency when I was sixteen, knowing I wasn't ready for motherhood.  Now she won't even look at me because I'm trying to get in her life.  How do I fix this and make it right?


Closing her eyes, Jasina took a moment before opening her laptop and typed her response to it.


Under these circumstances, the child is confused and doesn't understand what is going on around them.  Especially at the tender age of eight.  I understand why you did what you had to do, you were trying to do what was best for her and that's what matters.  Don't beat yourself up over that decision.  You were young and scared, you made a mistake.  We all make them, but we also have to suffer the consequences.  The best advice I can give you is to sit your little girl down and explain to her why you gave her up.  Explain to her the benefits and tell her you love her with all of your heart, which I know you do.






Mark snorted as he read the new Ask Jade column, folding the paper in half.  He knew damn well who Jade was and thought it was awfully damn wrong of her to even be printing that question let alone answering it.  What the hell gave someone the right to walk back into a child's life after abandoning them?  The woman in question should keep her ass away until her kid was eighteen and if the kid wanted to know her mother, then SHE'D look the mom up.


Chapter 8


A few months passed and Jasina kept getting questions left and right from different people, asking her advice.  She did the best she could and Trish was pleased with her.  Jasina felt empty though, alone and knew this was what her life would be like.  Never again would she feel love, never again would she have someone there for her and Jasina deserved every bit of it.  Sighing, she shut down her laptop for the night and walked out of her office, sending Trish a goodbye before heading out.  She just wanted to go home and soak in a hot bath.  Jasina was tired, simple as that, she was tired of fighting.




“Dad, DAD!  Wake up!” Arielle laughed, bouncing on his bed.  She smiled as he groaned, lightly kicking his back. “UP!  I'm eleven today!”


“No...yer just two, lemme sleep.”


“Uh-uh, we got a BUSY DAY ahead of us!  Get UP!”


Groaning, Mark sat up.  The next second he had pulled her down and was tickling her.




Jasina had asked for the day off, already knowing what it signified.  She told Trish it was Arielle's birthday and just wanted to be alone, to which the woman reluctantly agreed.  Jasina locked herself inside and watched movies, letting the tears flow, and eventually called Andy.  Andy calmed her down and by the time Jasina was done talking to her, she was mentally, physically and emotionally drained.  Night came before she knew it, but Jasina didn't even notice.  She just wanted to be alone and felt like dying, but she wouldn't end her own life.  The thought had crossed her mind a few times and she was close to doing it, but Jasina couldn't bring herself to do it.  Sighing, Jasina turned the TV and lights off before going to bed, glad this day of hell was finally over with.




Mark was glad it was over because Arielle, Toni and their new friend Gary had driven him up a wall.  If he thought the girls were bad, throwing a boy into the mix made it even worse.  Of course in a year’s time, he'd have to warn Gary in a friendly way that if he even looked at his daughter with even just the idea of just kissing her cheek, he'd wind up being shot.  Eleven years old...where had the time gone?




“I'm leaving.” Jasina announced a week later, standing in Trish's office, wearing all black with shades over her eyes. “Here's my resignation.” She'd made the decision to leave Houston, knowing she should've never came here to begin with.  Jasina had tried and failed, miserably.  She just wanted to get as far away from here as possible. “I'm sorry.” She slid the shades from her eyes and showed Trish just the amount of physical and emotional pain she was in. “Thank you for the opportunity.” She then walked out and ran to her car, getting in, and driving away.  Her apartment had already been sold and she was leaving in the morning.


Trish stared down at the resignation, sighing and rubbed her temples.  She had known this was coming.  Groaning, she pulled out the new advertisement she had had made for the two new openings on her staff.  She had toyed with the idea of going after Jasina, but...the woman wasn't willing to make a move towards living without someone pushing her.


The following morning, Jasina sent a letter, one final letter, before leaving Houston.  She'd gotten an apartment in Austin, Texas, where her mother had lived.  She was going to start over there, fresh, no strings attached to anyone.  Mark would never have to see her again and neither would Arielle.  The entire way all Jasina could do was cry.  She cried and cried, wishing the pain would go away.  She'd made so many mistakes in her life, but did she honestly deserve how she was feeling?  No, she didn't.  Everyone made mistakes damn it!  Everyone made stupid choices in life and she'd done what she thought was best for her family at the time!  If nobody could understand that then fuck them!  She was done, finished and blared the music while putting the window down, letting the wind whip through her hair.


Mark whistled as he walked the driveway to the mailbox, yawning and tousled his hair.  He arched an eyebrow when he seen the self addressed envelope, wondering who the hell...must be for Arielle, he didn't know anyone who couldn't pick up a phone or come over.  Who the hell would be writing him?  He flipped it over, looking a return address and frowned.  The writing was way too familiar.  He sighed, tempted to shred it, but opened it, walking slowly back towards the house.




You can destroy this letter if you want too, but I felt I owed you an explanation on what happened ten years ago.  I know you hate me, and you have every reason too, but you deserve to know the truth and I couldn't leave again without telling you.


From the moment we met, I was heavily into drugs.  Cocaine and crack.  It was a horrible secret, I know.  I couldn't tell you though.  I fell in love with you and I didn’t want to lose you.  I tried fighting it, I tried to stop and ended up going right back to it.  It was a dangerous addiction and it was tearing my life apart.


So when I found out I was pregnant, I quit cold turkey, but at a price.  Remember all those times I got sick?  I was going through withdrawal and it got to the point where I convulsed that day in the kitchen, which sent me into premature labor with Arielle.


That night when we brought her home, I knew what I had to do.  I couldn't put her or you through what was happening to me.  I left because I felt it was the best thing I could do for both of you.  I can't begin to tell you how hard it was for me to write that letter, Mark, or to leave you. 


I know I'm a coward.  That's why I'm writing you again.  I can't keep hoping that something will happen down the road and I can finally have Arielle in my life again because I don't deserve it.  She is YOUR daughter.  She's beautiful, smart, and she reminds me so much of you.  I'm very happy that I at least got to see her and seen how she's grown.  That little piece I will carry with me wherever I go.


So in closing, there are no words to describe how deeply and truly sorry I am for hurting both you and Arielle.  If I could change the past, if I could go back in time, I would change it.  I made a mistake by walking out on my family, but I don't regret it.  I did it for a reason and I don't regret that decision.  I do regret not asking you for help, but at the time, I was terrified. 


You will never see me again, Mark.  As you are reading this, or destroying it, I'm on my way out of Houston.  I'm sorry for all the pain and misery I've caused you both with my presence.  I'm deeply sorry for everything that's happened, you will never understand how much I wish things could've been different.


There's one thing that will never change though and that is I love you.  I love you with all of my heart and soul.  You and Arielle will always be apart of me, no matter what, and I will never forget you.  Maybe one day down the road we could sit down like adults and actually have a civil conversation.  Right now though, that's not to be.


Goodbye Mark


Mark read and reread the letter, brushing away the tears that sprang to his eyes.  So that's why she had walked out on him, on Arielle...She was right, he was going to shred this letter, not today...maybe not tomorrow, but he was going to have to shred it.  As he stepped into the house, he could hear Arielle playing with her new puppy, a birthday present and sighed, going to put the letter away.  No...he'd save it and when she was a little older, when she asked where her mother was, then he would show it to her.




A year passed since Jasina left Houston and she was at peace...for the most part.  She went out in public and decided she wasn't going to hide from the world anymore.  She had no reason too and started running.  She was a little older, a little wiser, and called Andy every once in awhile just to let her know she was doing alright.  Jasina wasn't going to think about her past anymore.  She was three years sober of drugs and felt great, both physically and mentally.  Emotionally, she was still a little rocky, but for the most part, she was getting better. 


She often wondered how things would've been had she not ran out on her family, if she had told Mark the truth.  He would've divorced her in a heartbeat and taken Arielle, so at least she did things on her own terms.  She missed her little girl, but came to terms with the harsh reality that she would never be in her little girl's life.  Jasina pounded pavement as she ran through the park, wearing a pair of dark cotton blue shorts with a matching tank top, a pair of headphones on her head.




“Steve...I'm really not in the mood.” Mark sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he went over the bills.


“I was just talking is all.”


“Not about Jasina.”


“Trish wants to see her, I've been hunting for her all over the place, but...”


“Trish is pregnant and doesn't know any better.”


Arielle's eyes narrowed as she stood outside her father's office, hearing the name Jasina, and wondered who that was.  As far as she knew, her daddy hadn't been dating anyone.  Arielle was twelve years old, blossoming into a beautiful girl with her honey chestnut locks and emerald green eyes.  Deciding to listen in instead of interrupting her father and Steve, Arielle paid attention to what they were saying.


“You know, smartass,” Steve growled. “One day Arie is going to wonder just who the hell her mother is and where she's at.”


That was the day Mark was fearing. “Yeah and how do I tell her that Jade is her mom, who used a false name and, oh by the way Arielle, she left us when you were a baby because she was busy snorting coke?”


“A Hallmark card?”


A small gasp came from Arielle, her eyes widening to the size of saucers.  Jade was her mother?  Jade was really Jasina?  She was highly intelligent for her age and Arielle felt the tears slide down her cheeks.  Her daddy knew about Jade being her mother and didn't tell her?  Sniffling, Arielle ran out of the shop, not wanting to see her father right now.


Mark glanced at the clock, frowning. “Arie should have been here by now...”


Steve got up and went outside, looking around and came back in, shaking his head.


“I'm callin' the school and Lashonna.”


“I'll get the gun.”


Chapter 9


It was a Friday night and Jasina was getting ready to head to bed, exhausted from her job with the newspaper.  She was writing her columns somewhere nobody knew her, refusing to give that part of her life up, even if she wasn't working for Trish anymore.  She'd just finished doing the dishes when a knock sounded at her door, causing her eyebrow to raise.  Probably her landlord to get the rent from her.  Sighing, Jasina got the check out and walked over, unlocking her door and opened it, her jaw dropping at who was in front of her.


Arielle was standing there looking tired and in need of a bath, having rode a bus all the way here, with a few stops. “Why didn't you tell me you were my mom?” She demanded, tears streaking her face before tossing herself at Jasina.


Jasina blinked as Arielle launched herself in her arms, immediately enveloping her as the tears stung her eyes.  Had Mark told her?  Jasina didn't care at the moment and dropped to her knees, holding her little girl to her while she cried her heart out, whispering soothing words in her ear as she finally broke away long enough to close the door.  She sighed when Arielle immediately hugged her again and ran her fingers through her hair, trying to calm her down.


“God I'm sorry Arielle...” She whispered, pulling back to stare back in those emerald green eyes.


Arielle used the sleeve of her shirt to wipe at her eyes and nose, sniffling. “Why didn't you tell me?” She asked in a hushed whisper, impatiently wiping away the next batch of tears that gathered in her eyes. “You knew who I was, didn't you?” She had rehearsed a speech the entire way here, questions she was going to ask, but the moment Jade, no Jasina, had opened the door, that all flew out the window.


“Sweetheart, you don't belong to me...” How the hell was she supposed to explain this to a twelve year old girl?  Jasina was trying to get over the initial shock that Arielle was in front of her and stood up, guiding her over to sit on the couch. “Your father doesn't know you're here does he?” She closed her eyes when Arielle shook her head, biting her bottom lip and raked a hand through her hair. “I wanted to tell you, Arielle, I really did.  I was scared.” She admitted and lowered her head, knowing Mark was probably going to kill her for this. “How did you find out I was your mother?”


“Dad and Steve were talking about it.” Arielle admitted, plucking at the couch nervously, unable to tear her eyes away from Jasina, studying her intently.  She had looked at her before, but now she was seeing Jasina as her mother. “They didn't know I was listening.  You're not going to call him are you?  Not right away, I want to talk to you, please?”


“Shhh relax sweetheart, he doesn't know where I am...” Jasina suddenly raised an eyebrow at her daughter. “How did you find out where I was anyway?” She asked, the curiosity getting the better of her as she stood up to walk into the kitchen, getting Arielle a glass of water.  She wasn't going to call Mark until Arielle was asleep, knowing the little girl had the right to know why she had left, no matter how hard the conversation was going to be.


Arielle couldn't keep the smug grin off her face, green eyes lighting up mischievously. “I went to the newspaper office where you worked and asked around.” She said cheekily, sounding proud of how clever she had been, which she was. “Told them you ordered from me before and I wanted to send you a new catalog.  Worked like a charm.”


“God you look like your father with that expression on your face.” She said, causing Arielle to smile widely and handed her the glass of water before sitting down beside her, giving them a little space.  Jasina still couldn't believe she was here and had actually tracked her down after finding out she was her mother. “Your father is going to be VERY angry, you know that right?” Jasina didn't even want to THINK about the temper Mark had and closed her eyes momentarily, deciding to pick her burial plot out right now and save the trouble of doing it later.


“Yeah...but it's not me I'm worried about, he's gonna blame you.” Arielle said seriously, her eyebrows drawing together in concern. “I'll sweet talk him out of it.” She was twelve and confident in her abilities to wrap her dad around her little finger. “Don't worry about it. Jasina,” She wasn't quite comfortable calling her mom.  Not yet, that depended on how this conversation went. “Why did you leave us?”


Jasina had to stand up and began walking around the living room, chewing on her thumbnail, not quite sure how to say this to her daughter. “Do you know what drugs are, Arielle?” She finally asked, deciding to take it to a teaching approach.  She already knew Mark was going to blame her, which was why Jasina was prepared for virtually anything.  When Arielle nodded, Jasina continued, “Before you were born, I did them.  I did crack and cocaine.  Do you know what that is?” When she nodded again, Jasina took a deep breath. “I left you and your father because of them.” It was the god honest truth. “I didn't do them while I was pregnant with you, just so you know.  I would never put you in harm's way.  But I couldn't stop doing them and they were controlling my life.  I had to get away in order to get better...”


Arielle considered that for a few minutes, frowning again. “Did dad know about the drugs?” She finally asked, well aware of addiction and drugs because she had just gone through the D.A.R.E. program at school. “Why couldn't you get better with us?” She fired off before Jasina could answer the first question. “Why did it take you so long to get better?  Were you never coming back?  Didn't you want me after you got better?”


Tears fell down her cheeks as Jasina turned away from her daughter, sniffling and wrapped her arms around herself. “Arielle, when I left, I didn't stop the drugs right away, sweetheart.  It took me a LONG time to get off of them...” This was hard as Jasina took a deep, shaky breath before walking over and sat down on the couch, facing her daughter. “It took me seven years to finally seek help after I left you and your father.  Something...happened and it changed my whole outlook on life and I finally went to someone for help.  I went to a rehabilitation center and I've been clean for over three years now.” She sniffled a little, closing her eyes. “I wanted you so much, not a day went by I didn't think about you or your father.  I love you both with all of my heart.” She opened her eyes and locked with emerald green. “I love you and your father, Arielle.  I never stopped.  That's why I came back after all this time, but I...I panicked, and I seen how happy you are with your father.  I didn't want to...ruin your life.” She whispered that last part, more tears falling. “I'm so sorry Arielle...”


A big part of Arielle wanted to scream and rage at this woman, her mother, for being so weak, especially right now and when she needed answers, love and reassurance the most, but a little piece of her felt bad and that piece won out. “Don't cry, please.” She whispered, scooting on the couch to wrap her arms around Jasina. “Don’t cry, it's okay...” She awkwardly patted Jasina's back. “It's gonna be okay.”


“I don't have the right to cry, Arielle.  I don't have the right to sit here with you and tell you what happened.  I don't have any rights to you.” Jasina sucked it up, drying her tears and stared down into her daughter's emerald green eyes. “I love you.  I love you so much and I promise, if I do get a second chance, I won't run again.  I just want what's best for you Arielle, and I know your father feels the same way.  I made a lot of mistakes in my life and I'm going to own up to them.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, being strong for her daughter's sake.  She could break down later on, her little girl needed her right now. “I'm so sorry for what I did, for walking out on you and your father, Arielle.  You will never know how truly sorry I am, sweetheart.”


Arielle nodded, relief filling her now that Jasina had stopped crying.  Adults crying bothered her a little bit. “Okay, so you can tell daddy that and everything will be fine again, right?” She knew her dad would be angry at first, just like she had been, but when Jasina explained everything, it all would be okay.  It had to be.


“Unfortunately sweetheart, I don't think it's going to be that easy.” Jasina replied softly, not wanting her daughter to get her hopes up. “You're father has a temper...” Arielle didn't need to hear her talking bad about her father and flashed a smile. “Everything is going to work out for the best, I promise.” She tapped her nose and kissed her forehead. “Now come on, you must be starving and you need a bath or a shower.  I will cook you something while you clean up, alright?”


“Alright.” Arielle agreed amicably, standing up and stretching, hiding a yawn behind her mouth.  She looked around the apartment, studying it intently before glancing back at Jasina. “Can you cook?” She asked suspiciously, arching an eyebrow when Jasina just looked at her. “It's just a thing I ask everyone.” She was interested in cooking.


“I'll warm you up some spaghetti I made earlier and you can be the judge.” Jasina winked and smiled as she guided Arielle to the bathroom. 


She got her a towel, telling her to use whatever she needed, and shut the door to give her some privacy.  She was twelve after all, a pre-teen.  Jasina blinked tears away as she went to the kitchen to warm up some spaghetti for her daughter.  Mark was going to be so angry, Jasina could only hope he didn't send her to jail.  He would have no reason too considering Arielle showed up on her front door step and managed to find out where she lived from the Houston Journal.  Sighing worriedly, Jasina slid some garlic bread in her toaster oven, not believing the night she had.


Arielle took longer in the shower then she normally would have, longer because she was examining everything.  She knew exactly what her dad's favorite shampoo was, Herbal Essence.  Though he told her if she ever told anyone he'd string her up by her ankles.  She must have been weird because she liked knowing things about her dad, but then again, he had been the constant factor in her life.  Until now.  She didn't even know what kind of soap Jasina used. she did.  Scented.


“Wow... that is a big bottle of shampoo...”


When Arielle walked out an hour later, her food was just finishing.  Jasina smiled, seeing her pale blue nightgown, and walked over when she was having trouble with her hair. “Come here.” She quietly said, taking her hand and sat on the couch, putting her between her legs.  Slowly and gently, Jasina began brushing her daughter's hair, not believing she was actually getting to experience a slice of what motherhood had to offer.  It was her hair, the same feel and everything, completely mind boggling. “Do you have any questions for me, Arielle?” She asked softly while she did this. “I'll answer anything you want to know sweetheart.”


Arie started shaking her head no then hesitated. “Yes.” She whispered, one question that she wanted an answer to now.  All the rest could wait.  They had time. “You said you left because of your addiction...Since daddy and I weren't enough for you to get past it, what happened that made you realize you needed help?” She asked, remembering Jasina telling her something had happened though she hadn't said what.


Jasina took a deep breath, biting her bottom lip, wondering if she should tell a twelve year old this.  She had to and closed her eyes, getting her emotions under control. “Do you know what an overdose is?” She asked quietly, continuing to brush her hair out, and felt her nod, the memory overtaking her. “I overdosed on cocaine and...” Jasina had to take in a shaky breath, closing her eyes. “I was pronounced dead for ten minutes, Arielle.” She felt her daughter tense and lifted her chin, turning her face around until their eyes met. “I survived though and that's what opened my eyes and made me realize that I didn't want to die.  That's what it took to get me to seek help.  Do you understand?”


“Yes.” Arielle murmured, frowning and tilted her head back to look up Jasina's nose. “You didn't put a hole in your nose from snorting cocaine?” She asked curiously, then frowned again. “Don't people get brain damage when they die and are gone that long?” At the look she got, she shrugged. “I watch House.” Arielle tossed her arms around Jasina's neck. “I'm glad you didn't die, God musta known I wanted to meet you.”


“I'm glad I didn't either, sweetheart.” She whispered, holding Arielle tightly against her, and kissed her forehead.  She pulled back and stared into those tear filled emerald green eyes. “Don't cry honey, everything is going to be fine.  You have to trust me on this, alright?  Now come on, you need to eat.” Jasina wiped her tears away and kissed her forehead and nose before leading her over to the kitchen table, sitting down right next to her and ran her fingers through her hair.  Jasina was truly a lucky and blessed woman.


“So...” Arielle stopped after that, beginning to inhale the spaghetti.  It was good and she just now realized how hungry she was, easily packing away two plates and a few pieces of the garlic bread. “That was good.” She said afterwards, licking her fingers clean. “You can cook, awesome.” She leaned back, stretching contentedly.  She had a shower and food in her, she was a happy kid.


“I'm glad you enjoyed and approved it.” Jasina laughed softly as she stood up, clearing the table, and rinsed the dishes in the sink before walking over and extending her hand to Arielle. “You look tired, we'll talk more tomorrow.” She promised, leading her daughter her bedroom.  That and she wanted to wait until Arielle was asleep before calling Mark, knowing he was probably worried out of his mind. “Good night sweetheart.  I love you.” She whispered, kissing her forehead, and tucked her in before turning the lamp off.  Feeling Arielle pull her down for a hug, Jasina felt the tears sting her eyes as she hugged her daughter back tightly, not believing how understanding she was. “Get some sleep sweetheart.” She whispered and kissed her cheek before walking out, leaving the door cracked.


More tired than she would admit, Arielle snuggled under the blanket, burying her head in the pillow and inhaled, smiling.  Tonight she had finally met the mother she had wondered about for so long.  It didn’t take more then two winks before she was sound asleep, completely tuckered out from her long bus ride and emotionally exhausting night.


Chapter 10


Once Jasina knew Arielle was asleep, she closed the door fully and took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she held her cell phone in her hand.  It was non-traceable so Mark wouldn't be able to find her and kill her.  Damn it, this wasn't her fault!  Taking another deep breath, Jasina flipped her cell open and dialed the number she got from Arielle, closing her eyes as it rang.  He answered on the second ring, sounding frantic.


“Mark,” She began quietly. “It's Jasina.” She held the phone away from her ear as he began to scream bloody murder at her, waiting until he was calmed down. “Listen to me, Arielle overheard you and Steve talking about me being her mother.” She had to hold the phone away again, feeling tears stream down her cheeks, finally hanging up.


“Mark, you just yelled at her!” Lashonna scolded. “I thought you were past all that?”


“I fucking lied!”




“Uh Trish, darlin', I wouldn't...”


“Arielle went to see Jasina.”


“Oh, well, that's good right?”


The phone rang again in his hand and when he answered, it was Jasina's turn to talk. “Shut up.  Shut up right now Calaway.” She ordered in a deadly voice, the anger flowing through her body. “Now you're going to keep your mouth shut and LISTEN to me for ONCE.  Arielle overheard you and Steve talking and found out I'm her mother.  She found out where I am through Trish's Houston Journal, somebody gave her the information.” She had to take a breath, knowing she had to be strong. “She arrived earlier tonight.  I don't know how she managed to get here, but I want to make it CLEAR that I had nothing to do with this.  She shocked me when she arrived at my doorstep, Mark.  Now you can either yell at me like a banshee and throw a fit, or you can talk to me like a civil adult.  Though if you start screaming at me again, I'm hanging up.”


“Deep breaths.” Steve coaxed, watching as Mark gripped the phone so hard he was likely to shatter it. “Inhale, exhale.”


“Do NOT pull that pregnancy shit on me, Steve!” Mark snapped, slapping his hand over the receiver, taking a deep breath before narrowing his eyes. “Where are you so I can come get her?”


Steve flashed a thumbs up at the civil tone, groaning when Mark tossed a nearby pad of paper at his head.


“I will bring her back myself.” Jasina stated, not wanting Mark to know where she lived.  She liked living after all. “I'll leave tomorrow and be there hopefully by five o'clock.” It was a long drive, but this would give her more time with Arielle. “I'll bring her to the shop.” Jasina didn't want to let her little girl go, not when she just got her back, but knew she didn't have a choice as she take another deep breath. “Is that alright with you?”


“Yes, that's fine.” Mark said softly, suddenly feeling drained. “Thank you, Jasina, for calling.”


“Tell her I'm pregnant!” Trish squealed.


“Please tell me you heard that.”


“Now tell her far along and how fat I've gotten!”


“Here, talk to Trish.”


“Did you think I wouldn't call Mark?” She softly replied, making him hold the phone, knowing he was relieved. “I would never keep her away from her father.” She heard Trish was pregnant and smiled, knowing Steve was the father. “Now you can give the phone to Trish.” She closed her eyes when her friend got on the phone, hearing Trish's bubbly voice that she missed over the past year. “Hey girl!  Congrats on the baby.  I know you'll make an excellent mother.”


“Yeah, I know, I've had a nursery made adjacent to my office so I can still work AND take care of the baby myself.” Trish gushed.


“What the hell am I?”


“Male, not a babysitter, hush, the grown-ups are talking.” Trish said sweetly, giggling when he growled. “So you'll be in town tomorrow?  You HAVE to stay the night with me, at least one night, we've got a year worth of catching up to do!”


“I think I can do that.  I'll leave Sunday morning and come back home.” Jasina softly replied, wondering if Trish could be any happier, then decided not to question that. “Listen sweetie, it's been a very emotional night and I'm exhausted.  I'll be leaving early in the morning, please tell Mark that.” When she agreed to do so, Jasina smiled. “I can't wait to see you, Trish.  Bye honey.” She closed the lid to her cell phone and sunk down on the couch, proceeding to cry her heart out.  She was getting it all out before having to say goodbye to Arielle the following day.


Mark waited until everyone was gone before sitting down at his kitchen table with an old photo album in front of him and a case of beer beside him on the floor, cracking one open and draining it in one swallow.  He had to go to the basement to find this, but...Cracking open a second beer, this time sipping, he flipped through it, pictures of him and Jasina when they had first met, their wedding, her pregnancy...Had he really been so blind not to realize she had a problem?  Why couldn't she have come to him with it in the first place?




Around five thirty the next evening, Jasina pulled up in front of Mark's shop and put the car in park, taking a deep breath.  She was wearing blue jeans with a black tank top, black sunglasses over her eyes.  She hadn't cried, not once, around Arielle, knowing the little girl was probably very emotional right now.


“Your father is waiting sweetheart.” When Arielle asked her to walk her in, Jasina nodded and stepped out, taking her hand and guided her inside the shop, the bell dinging above them.  Jasina slid her black sunglasses up on top of her head, brushing the hair from her face just as Mark walked out from the back.


“Uh hi daddy.” Arielle flashed him the most sweetest, charming smile she had, knowing it usually caused him to melt.


“You are in trouble.” He announced softly, staring at her, his eyes making sure she was alright. “We'll discuss it later, Arie.  Come here.” He dropped to a knee to hug her tightly, just glad she had come home safely.  Lord only knew how many things could have gone wrong with her hopping a bus and taking off like that.  He looked past her to Jasina. “Thank you.”


“You're welcome.” She softly replied, keeping her emotions in the best she could and looked down when Arielle pulled away from Mark to stare up at her.  Jasina dropped down in front of her, smiling tearfully. “I told you everything was going to be fine.  Just remember no matter what you do, your father loves you regardless, and so do I.  Now come here.” Tears slid down her cheeks as Arielle threw her arms around her neck, causing Jasina to hug her close, knowing this was goodbye. “I love you Arielle Marie Calaway.” She whispered, pulling back and tapped her nose with a smile. “Be good for your father, alright?”


“Wait, you're leaving already?  You can't!  Not that I finally just got to meet you.” Arielle glanced back at her dad. “Tell her she can't go!”


“Arie, lil darlin'-”




“Jasina…” Mark swallowed down his pride. “Would you like stay and have supper with us?  Here.”


“I'll order pizza!”


Those green eyes penetrated her soul as she stared back at him, swallowing hard, and nodded gently. “Sure, I'd like that.”


She smiled when Arielle began jumping up and down before zooming into the office to grab the number for the pizza place in town.  Jasina wiped her tears away that had fallen while she was saying goodbye to Arielle, clearing her throat, wanting to say so many things.  No...she said it all in that letter she wrote Mark.  If he had more questions for her, she would answer them, but other than that Jasina was leaving the past behind her and moving on.


Mark dropped down behind the desk, watching as Arielle began writing down what she wanted on her pizza. “You best be asking Jasina what she wants, maybe she don't like pineapple and ham.” He teased, knowing they were going to be having a long night when they got home.


“Oh...Jasina, what do you want on your pie?” Arielle asked, glancing at her mother.


“I'll eat whatever you want, sweetheart.” Jasina replied softly, sitting down in a chair in Mark's office, and smiled when Arielle sat on her lap, wrapping her arms around her waist.  She knew Mark would be punishing her and, honestly, Jasina didn't blame the man.  She'd been scared when she opened her door to find Arielle on her front doorstep, one because she thought Mark was there and two, she had no legal rights to this little girl. “After the pizza I have to get going okay?” She told her softly, seeing her nod, and ran her fingers through her chestnut hair that matched Jasina's perfectly.


Mark placed an order for three pizzas, all of them larges, each one separate toppings, remembering what Jasina used to like on her pizzas, and it wasn't pineapple. “Be here in forty-five minutes.” He grunted when he hung up.


“See, we have plenty of time.” Arielle said with a grin, snuggling up to Jasina. “Now...tell me...hmm...Do you have any brothers or sisters?” She asked, deciding to start with the easy questions.


Mark hid a smile, knowing Arielle was going to use forty-five minutes to drive Jasina crazy with her constantly running mouth. “Darlin', just remember to let her answer before ya spring another.”


“No I do not.” Jasina answered with a smile, hearing Mark place an order for a pepperoni pizza and couldn't believe he actually remembered.  That made her heart swell as she got more comfortable, refusing to let her daughter go.  The last time she had been with both Mark and Arielle was when they dropped her stuff off. “By the way, did you get that playground?” She asked suddenly and grinned when Arielle nodded enthusiastically, holding her hands up when Arielle stated it was HER asking the questions. “Well yes ma'am, go right on ahead then.”


“How bout a mom and dad, everyone has those.  Well, almost everyone.” Arielle said, sounding sad for a moment before grinning again.


Great, now his daughter was guilt tripping him out. “You girls want something to drink?” He asked, standing up and clearing his throat.




He looked at Jasina.


“Sprite is fine, Mark.” She replied quietly, tightening her hold a little on her daughter and cleared her throat. “My mother is dead, she died awhile ago.” She didn't miss the shock in Mark's eyes, but chose not to acknowledge it, focusing on answering her daughter's question. “I never met my father so I don’t have one.” She smiled down at her daughter to keep her spirit up, rubbing her back up and down. “And you do have a mother and father.  As long as you want me in your life, Arielle, I'm not going anywhere.” She promised, refusing to let her little girl go and knew Mark wouldn't deny their daughter anything, especially that.


Mark quietly got them their Sprites, retrieving himself a water. “Here.”


“Thank you, dad.” Arielle said, taking them both and handing one to Jasina. “So I can call ya mom now, right?  I like Jasina, but mom sounds better, don't you think dad?”


She was trying to mess him up, his beautiful angel had her horns on today. “I think Jasina is a beautiful name, Arielle, you call her what ya like.”


“I don't want to pressure you into calling me that, Arielle.  If you feel comfortable with it, then I'd love it if you called me…mom.” She replied softly, smiling tearfully when her daughter called her mom for the first time, and wrapped her arms around her after turning her, burying her face in her hair.  She was getting her second chance and Jasina wasn't going to blow it for anything. “You know, you really stir up one's emotions, Arielle.” She stated, pulling back and smiled when a tissue was handed to her. “So what else do you want to know?  I'm an open book.”


“First off, can you call me Arie?” She asked, scrunching her nose. “I like my name, but...I like Arie better.”


Mark shrugged when Jasina arched an eyebrow his way. “Steve started calling her that when she was two.”


“Yep.  Steve's my uncle, well, he's not really my uncle, he's like adopted.” Arielle explained. “I adopted him, right dad?”


He began laughing, remembering how when she had been five she had given him a handful of pennies in order to buy her Uncle Stevie. “You sure did, princess.”


Chapter 11


“Alright, Arie.” Jasina smiled and proceeded to answer every one of her daughter's questions.  Such as, where had she been all this time prior to coming back to Houston.  That one had been hard to answer, but she did it since she hadn't been in one place for too long.  Then there were the questions of her favorite music, movie, and little things like that.


“And yes, I did name you after my favorite Disney movie.” She stated with a smirk, remembering when Arielle had told her that when they first saw each other in the shop.


“Okay, so why is it spelled with two L’s and an extra E instead of A-r-i-e-l?” She demanded after hearing that, mentally vowing to never let Toni know this or she'd have to pay up five bucks, spelling out the original spelling of the name.


“Because she thought that was too plain.” Mark spoke up, remembering the name discussion quite well.  He hadn't been happy when she announced their baby was going to be named after a damn fish, but...He'd lost that battle.


“I wanted it to be different.” Jasina replied, remembering that conversation with Mark as well.  He was so hell bent on not naming their daughter that, but she won out with her hormones.  Jasina couldn't stop smiling, remembering how he'd rubbed her feet afterwards since she put the silent treatment on him.  Mark hated that punishment, but it worked effectively. “Arie is a pretty nickname though sweetie.” She assured her softly and pressed her forehead against the side of her head, closing her eyes.


“Dad how much longer?  I'm starving.” Arie demanded, getting up to walk over and hug him, trying to butter him up to avoid the spanking she figured she had coming later.


“You're always starving.” He growled, looking down at her. “You need new jeans girl, I can see your ankles.”


“Mom can take me!”


“Um...Arie sweetheart, I don't live around here anymore.”


Jasina didn't want to hurt her daughter, but she also wanted to be honest with her.  She seen the sadness in Arielle's eyes and sighed, raking a hand through her hair, going to say something else when the pizza arrived.  It would have to wait until later as she watched her daughter grab her own pizza and sat down in the chair beside her while Mark got them paper plates.  She took it from him and took two slices, setting her Sprite down and began to eat slowly.  Jasina wasn't much of an eater nowadays.


Arielle was wolfing down her pizza.


“Girl, slow your butt down, ain't nobody going to snatch that from you.” Mark said, watching her.  She had his appetite that was for sure, but he couldn't see where it was going because she was tall and skinny as a bean pole.


“I'm hungry!”


“I've noticed, try taking time to chew though.”


Jasina laughed softly and shook her head, remembering how Arielle had eaten two plates of spaghetti and three pieces of garlic bread before she was full the previous night.  Jasina finished one slice of pizza and was full.  Not only that, but she had a feeling she would be crying later on and didn't want her stomach too full.


“Thank you for dinner, Mark.” She quietly said, placing the piece she didn't touch back in the box and threw her plate away in the trash, smiling as she watched her daughter inhale her large pizza.


Mark had watched Jasina like a hawk, noting she had only eaten one piece of pizza.  He knew she had stated she had cleaned up her life, she had said so in her articles, but one slice of pizza?  She was a bit on the thin side and he couldn't help, but wonder if she wasn't as clean as she said.  Drugs made people thin right?  So did depression another voice reminded him, studying her again.  That was more likely the case.


“One slice?”


“Yes, I'm not very hungry.” Jasina replied quietly, knowing the pizza wouldn't go to waste, and raked a hand through her hair after Arielle was done eating.  She had finished nearly half of the pizza, which made Jasina shake her head.  Definitely her father's appetite. “Okay sweetie, I really have to go now.” She said, knowing she had to get out of there so she could go to her hotel room.  Trish had called her, saying Steve was staying the night with her, which she didn't mind.  She sighed as Arielle took her hand, walking out of Mark's office, and bent down to hug her tightly again. “Here's my number.” She said, pulling back to hand her a card the newspaper in Austin had given her, kissing her forehead. “You call me for anything, I don't care if it's day or night, alright?”


“Oh, I will!” Arielle stared down at the card, committing the number to memory and smiled brightly, slipping it into her back pocket, tossing her arms around Jasina's neck. “Thanks, mom!”


If Arielle didn't call Jasina at least three times an hour, Mark would be surprised.  He had a feeling his telephone bill was about to skyrocket.


“You're welcome, sweetheart.” She whispered, pulling back again and cleared her throat as she stood up. “Be good for your father and no more running away.” Her voice was stern for a second before kissing the top of her head. “I love you Arielle, never forget that.” She looked up at Mark, not even needing to say anything before walking out and slipped inside her car.  Once inside, Jasina let the tears flow as she started the ignition and pulled out of there, her hands trembling on the wheel and tried to get her vision to clear.


Arielle felt her dad's hand on her shoulder, sighing and tilted her head back to look at him, green eyes meeting green eyes. “I'm in trouble when we get home, aren't I?”




“Oh well, it was worth it.  Did you know by bus it takes a day and half the night to get to Austin?”


“Did you know that's about as long as it'll take until you're gonna be able to sit on your ass again?”


“Aww hell.”


After arriving at the hotel, Jasina took a shower before slipping into a pale blue nightgown, wiping her tears away.  She knew Mark was going to let her back in Arielle's life, but that didn't make the hurt of being away from her any less painful.  Or him.  She loved Mark, but knew they would never reconcile.  At least she had her daughter.  Jasina was going to be thankful and grateful for what life had thrown at her as she sat on her bed.  After crying for an hour straight, Jasina finally laid down and stared up at the moon, silent tears falling, though she had a smile on her face.




“I'm going to get her back in Houston.”


Steve watched his pregnant girlfriend pacing, trying to coax her back into bed.  He had thought he'd never be one to find a full term pregnant woman sexy, but...Maybe he was hormonal too. “Honey, come back to bed...”


“I'll offer her a job with a lot of money...No!  I'll talk to her editor and-”




“She belongs here, she has a little girl here, yeah, I'm doing it.”




The following day, Jasina was up at eight o'clock, wearing a blue jean denim skirt with a lavender top.  She walked out of her hotel room and looked up, raising an eyebrow at the sight of a VERY pregnant Trish Stratus coming toward her. “Oh my god, look at you!” She smiled as the two embraced tightly before pulling back, her bag already in the car, seeing the happiness radiating off of Trish.  Pregnancy definitely suited her. “What are you doing here?”


“I figured I'd have my baby in your lap.” Trish said seriously, watching as Jasina's jaw dropped and giggled. “I'm just kidding, though that could very well be the case if little Steven JR in there doesn't stop kicking mommy's bladder!” She rubbed her stomach gingerly. “I want you to come back to work for me, Jasina.” She then said, staring at her friend. “And I'm really not going to take no for an answer.”


“Trish, I don't know-” Her eyes widened when another truck pulled up behind her car, raising an eyebrow, and felt a bright smile cross her face when Arielle jumped out and ran over to her. “What are you two doing here?” She asked, bending down and hugged her daughter tightly, kissing her forehead.  Arielle was the light in Jasina's life as she slowly stood back up, facing Mark and Trish. “I have my job back in Austin to think about not to mention my apartment and all of my things there.  Not to mention I have nowhere to stay out here, sweetie...”


“Trish said you might need some help making your decision about your new job.”


“Old job, new salary.”


Mark leaned against Trish's car, arms folded over his chest.


“You can resign, you did it to me.  And we'll get you a new place.  I'll put you in a penthouse, you're COMING back to Houston!”


“Besides, I'm here in Houston, right dad?”




“Well, now this really isn't fair.  You have the cutest green eyes ever pleading with me not to mention a pregnant woman with hormones.” Jasina joked, tears in her eyes, and nodded with a big smile. “I'll come back to Houston.  I can't stay away from my little girl.” She hugged her to her side, running her fingers through her hair. “Besides, we have to go shopping for new jeans.  And I'm paying for them.” She grinned when Arielle squealed, her eyes looking over at Mark, not believing how delicious he looked.  Age had been wonderful to the man before she looked at Trish. “When do I start?”


“You have two days to get your ass back in Houston.” Trish said sweetly, glancing back at Mark, arching an eyebrow at Jasina. “He does fill them jeans out don't he?” She murmured, watching with a grin as Jasina's cheeks flushed.


“What's that mean?  Hey dad, your jeans are too tight!”


“As long as the vitals ain't losing circulation I'll be alright.”


“Trish!” Jasina groaned as she shook her head, rolling her eyes, though her cheeks were tinged red. “Alright, but I'm going to need a U-Haul...” She raised an eyebrow when Arielle cut her off, telling her she could use her father's truck. “Ummmm Arie, you're going to have to ask your father.  You can't just expect him to do something, sweetheart.” She tapped her nose and watched as Arielle walked over to Mark, crossing her arms in front of her chest.




Her sweet tone of voice didn't fool him for an instant.  Mark arched an eyebrow behind his sunglasses, dropping down to one knee when she tugged on his shirt. “What, lil darlin'?”


“Mom can't afford a U-Haul, we need to haul her stuff for her.” Arielle said in a hushed whisper.


“Oh, really.”


“So we need to go help her move.”


“I am going to hire that little girl to help me sell ads for my paper.”


Jasina was trying so hard not to laugh as she watched her daughter play her ex-husband like a fiddle. “I don't blame you, she's quite convincing.” She whispered back in Trish's ear, shaking her head.  She watched with adoration as Arielle's kept whispering to her father, leaning against her car and watched as Trish got in her car, telling her two days or her ass was grass.  Jasina nodded, telling her to have her office ready because she'd be back in action.  When Arielle was done talking to her father, she trotted over and crooked her finger, causing Jasina to bend down. “What's the verdict?”


“He says he'll do it on the grounds I pay for the gas.” Arielle said frowning, her dad had turned her game on her and that wasn't as funny as her doing it had been. “I think he knows I was hustlin' him.”


Mark had his face buried in his arm, laughing his ass off.


Jasina couldn't stop herself from laughing and nodded, patting her head gently. “I'll pay for the gas.” She assured her daughter, shaking her head and walked over to him. “You are evil.” She stated, seeing Mark was laughing harder, and felt Arielle grab her hand. “Okay so how are we doing this?”


Chapter 12


They arrived sometime later that night in Austin and Jasina showed Mark the guest room, which was plain with just a bed while she went to go whip them something up quick to eat.  Arielle was in the bathroom taking a shower as Jasina searched her fridge, tapping her chin in thought, still not believing she had Mark and Arielle in her apartment.


If someone had told him ten days ago that he would be talking to his ex-wife, much less staying at her place, he would have laughed their ass to hell and back.  As it was, Mark was actually here.  He sat down on the bed, raking a hand through his hair, working out the braid he had bound it in that morning.  As tempted as he had been to exercise his rights of denying Jasina access to Arielle, he couldn't do that to his daughter, not when she was so damn happy.  That and it seemed like Jasina had gotten her life under control.  Not that that excused her for walking out on him and their infant, but...He sighed, hanging his head.


She decided to just make some hot dogs and hamburgers, something simple and quick, knowing Arielle was starving and Mark had to be as well.  Trish had taken her car to her place and Jasina had driven with Mark and Arielle in his huge truck.  She didn't have a lot, but her little car wouldn't have held it all.  When the food was done, Jasina took a deep breath and walked to the guest room, knocking on it.


“Food's done.” She quietly called through it, knowing he would hear her, and walked into her bedroom to change into black pajama pants with a matching tank top.


“Did I hear somebody mention food?” Arielle asked, walking out of the bathroom in a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt, brushing her hair.


“You sure you're not a boy, darlin'?” He asked, stepping out into the hallway.


“Uhh yeah? “


“Just wondering.”


“It's on the table, help yourselves!” Jasina called through the door and looked up when the door opened, staring back at Mark while she finished clipping her toenails. “The plates are in the cupboard along with the cups.  I'm afraid all I have is water and milk for the time being.” She smiled apologetically at him before turning back to her task, not in the mood for food at the moment.


“You need to come eat.” He said gravely, wondering if she was living off that measly slice of pizza from the previous night and admitted to himself he wouldn't be surprised when she shook her head. “Hey Arie, make your momma a plate, she'll be out in a minute!”




He winked at Jasina before walking out.


Jasina smiled back at him and set her clippers down after doing her final toe, walking out, and seen her plate had indeed already been made. “Thank you sweetheart.” She murmured, kissing the top of her head before sitting down, seeing they had hamburgers while she had a hot dog. 


Mark remembered how much she loathed burgers, would he never stop surprising her?  Probably not.  The three ate in silence, Jasina actually eating three hot dogs, hungrier than she thought.  Her life was complete, with her daughter and Mark, though she knew she didn't stand a chance at rekindling what they once had.  That was her fault, but Jasina wasn't going to let that get her down.


“So is Trish really gonna put you in a penthouse?  That is so cool.  We live on a ranch, but you probably knew that didn't you?  You lived there before I was born, right?  Well, dad's added on, a lot!  We even got a pool, it's outside, but it's underground, maybe you-”


Mark watched his daughter talk without breathing, was that even possible? “Arie, do you ever take a breath?” He asked curiously.


She inhaled deeply before rattling off again.


Jasina raised an eyebrow, nodding, glad Mark had done something with the huge land, smiling the whole time. “That's wonderful.” She said when Arielle took a breath to take another bite, standing up as she cleared her and Mark's dishes, walking over to the sink to rinse them off.  She decided she would let Mark do the parenting part with putting Arielle to bed.  Drying her hands off, Jasina turned around and bumped right into Mark, stumbling back. “Sorry, I didn't see you there.” Her kitchen was fairly small when his huge form was in it as Jasina stepped around him, clearing the rest of the table off.


“How can you NOT see me?  I'm broader than your damn doors woman.” He grumbled, though it was with good humor. “Sorry, didn't mean to sneak up on you.”


“I keep telling him to wear bells or something.”


“I'm a guy, guys don't wear bells.”


“Gary does.”


Mark arched an eyebrow.


“He does, he attaches them with safety pins to the bottom of his boxers and-”


“HOW do you KNOW this?”


Jasina didn't even want to know who Gary was as she shook her head, finishing cleaning up, deciding the dishes could wait until after they were in bed.  She wasn't sleeping tonight.  She would pack while they slept as she walked into the living room, looking around.  Her walls were blank, no pictures, for obvious reasons.  She had a TV with a stand, couch and a coffee table.  Jasina walked over and pulled some boxes out of her closet that she saved over the years of moving, folding them up, and began placing her things in them.  It didn't take anymore than three at the most.  How sad was that?


“Bed.” Mark grumbled, deciding he was going to be having that gun talk with Gary a year sooner then expected. “I'll be there to tuck you in, gimme a minute.”


“Dad, I think your face is going to explode, it's this awesome shade of red.”


“Bed.  Now.”


“How bout I just hug you now and we'll call it a night?  Twelve's a bit old to be tucked into bed.”


“And a bit young to see a guy's boxers!”


“You wear boxers!”


“You don't see me flashin’ them though!”


“Mark...” Jasina sighed as she shook her head, knowing he was being an overprotective father.  It was rather adorable.  She smiled and hugged Arielle, kissing the top of her head. “Good night sweetheart.” She murmured, watching as Arielle scampered into her room, knowing Mark would take up the entire bed of the guest room. 


If she kept this up, Jasina would be done packing by morning hopefully.  She wouldn't get any sleep, but...she really didn't need any.  If she did get tired, she would take the couch as she kept packing.


Mark cleared his throat awkwardly, watching her pack what little belongings she had. “Need any help?” Which sounded stupid even to him, but he felt the need to offer.  He wasn't looking forward to a night on that bed.  His feet were going to hang off, he might need the floor.


“No, I'm fine.  Thank you anyway.” She seen how awkward he was and she was as well.  Especially after writing him that goodbye letter.  She never thought she'd see him again, though because of their daughter's scheme to run away and come see her, Jasina had managed to get her second chance. “You can sleep with Arielle in my room, Mark.” She said softly, standing up, and dusted herself off. “It's a king, a lot bigger than the guest room.  I'll take the couch.  Go to bed, you look exhausted.” She then walked into the kitchen to do the dishes.


“I'm not putting you out of your own bed, Jasi.” Mark said firmly, following her into the kitchen, ducking his head so he wouldn't hit the low hanging light. “I feel like a kid in a playhouse.” He grumbled, arching an eyebrow when she began to silently laugh at him. “Quiet.” He snapped jokingly. “Go to bed, we got all day tomorrow to get you out of here.”


“Nope, I'm just as stubborn as you, Mark.” She replied as she looked at him over her shoulder briefly, not having been called Jasi in a long time, before going back to doing the dishes.  He gave her goose bumps just being around him.  Hell, Jasina forgot what sex was, she hadn't had it since she left Mark.  Though he'd never believe her and she wasn't going to tell him. “I'm not going to bed anytime soon so go ahead and sleep.  I promise I'll get a few hours of sleep, but I want to get the majority of the packing done tonight.” That and she didn't feel right having him packing her things, it was kind enough of him to help her move.  She could do all the hard labor.


“If you say so, but I'm sleeping in the guest room.” Mark shrugged, watching her for a moment, remembering a time it had been her in his kitchen in their house, pregnant, bare foot and in the kitchen.  It made him half smile. “Good night, Jasi.” He yawned, walking out of the kitchen and down the hallway to the guest room, closing the door behind him, staring at the bed. “Hmm.”


“Good night Mark.” She quietly whispered, finishing up the dishes before beginning to pack them. 


It took her nearly five hours to pack up everything, including her DVD player and whatnot.  She had nothing in the guest room except that bed and some clothes in the closet.  By the time five o'clock rolled around, Jasina was exhausted and laid down on the couch, pulling the cover that was on it over her, closing her eyes as the sleep engulfed her body.  She knew in a few hours she would be getting up and moving from Austin back to her true home Houston, Texas.


Mark had managed to fall asleep on the floor, having contemplated the twin sized bed for awhile before determining that it must be meant as a pillow because it was tiny.  Hell, he'd put Arielle into a queen sized bed when she had outgrown her toddler bed, just so he wouldn't have to worry about breaking anything when he sat down with her at night for her bedtime story.


The following day was busy to the say the least.  Running on three hours of sleep, Jasina needed a lot of coffee.  Arielle was chipper as a spring chicken and Mark looked like he hadn't slept well.  Sighing, Jasina made them all a quick breakfast, pancakes with eggs and bacon before getting started.  It took six hours for them to load everything, though Jasina left the twin bed behind.  She didn't need it, more worried about her bed.  She would get another one when she got to Houston, knowing Trish was probably giving her a really good job.  She put her resignation into the newspaper before heading on the road with Mark and Arielle.  Halfway there, Jasina had managed to fall asleep, her head resting against the window, her hair pulled up in a ponytail with black cotton shorts, white tennis shoes and a black tank top.  Arielle was laying on her, also sleeping.


Mark turned on the radio, keeping it low so it didn't wake the girls.  Though he doubted anything could wake Jasina right now, she was even snoring lightly, he found that amusing and grinned.  When she was pregnant she had sounded like a foghorn and he had recorded it just to play back for her when she kept denying it.  He turned the volume up just a little.


Her eyes slowly fluttered open and looked down, smiling down at her daughter.  Arielle.  She ran her fingers through her hair, not to the point of waking her up, just a light caress before staring out the window again, the lyrics to the song ‘Wish You’d Stay’ by Brad Paisley flowing through her mind.  Tears swelled in her eyes as she closed them, blinking them away, feeling her daughter snuggle against her and couldn't believe what she had given up all those years ago.  She wish she'd of stayed too, for not only Arielle, but Mark as well.


He was aware she'd woken up, having caught the gesture with Arielle out of the corner of his eye and cleared his throat, quickly changing the station.


They arrived in Houston a little after six o'clock as Jasina stepped out of the truck, looking up at her new penthouse Trish had already set up for her, and inhaled the air.  Home.  Houston.  She seen her daughter walking up to her and winked, knowing this wouldn't be hard getting her stuff moved in.  She wasn't surprised when Trish and Steve showed up so while the men did the heavy lifting, the three girls talked and caught up.  It was around ten o'clock when Mark had the bed put together and all of her furniture inside, which wasn't a lot.


“I appreciate all of your help, Mark, truly.” She wanted to hug him, but instead extended her hand, a warm smile on her face.


“Don't mention it.” He murmured, taking her hand in his, squeezing instead of shaking, letting go abruptly and stuffed his hands in his pockets, looking around the place and whistled. “She doesn't spare any expense, does she?”


“No, I don't.” Trish said, walking into the bedroom and frowning. “I think we need to get you some furniture, more of it.  Since Mark is apparently so handy.”


“Mark has done enough, Trish, and I don't see the need for it.” Jasina was a simple woman, shrugging her shoulders.  The place was huge though, had two bedrooms with a huge living room, dining room, kitchen and a balcony, which Jasina immediately fell in love with. “I'll fill it up somehow.” She said as Arielle hugged her around the waist. “Now don't forget, this weekend I'm taking you shopping for new jeans.” She seen Mark sigh a breath of relief and chuckled softly, knowing he didn't care for shopping.


“Thank god...”


“Why?  Shouldn't you be thanking mom?”


Trish had to go into the bathroom to pee she was laughing so hard, not wanting to wet herself.


“What'd I say?”


Jasina shook her head, laughing quietly, and kissed the top of Arielle's head. “You just let me know if there's anything else I can do, Mark.” She said, meaning that, wanting to be a full time mother and not one of those that Arielle only saw on the weekends. “You too sweetheart.  Though it better be within reason and your father has to give approval too.” She laughed when Arielle groaned, mentioning something about two against one, shaking her head. “That's what parents do with their children.” Jasina smirked when Arielle stuck her tongue out and tapped her nose gently.


Chapter 13


“Hey Jas, I need toilet paper!”


“Oh yeah, that's down in the truck still.” That was a lot of floors down as Arielle giggled when Trish groaned.


“Use a blow dryer.”




“Mark Calaway! “ Jasina scolded, watching as her daughter started having a fit with giggles, and shook her head just as Steve walked in. “Go get your girlfriend some toilet paper from the truck.”


“What's wrong with my niece?”


“Mark told Trish to use a blow dryer...”


Steve was HOWLING with laughter as he walked down to the truck, having to stop and piss in the local bathroom.


“You guys are so not funny!” Trish yelled from the bathroom. “He better be fast, I might air dry in here.”


“What's that?  She's not wiping?”


Mark stuffed a knuckle in his mouth to keep from snorting.


“Hey Trish, I found some paper towel?”


Jasina was laughing so hard, she was leaning against Mark as Trish snatched the paper towel from the crack in the door.  She finally got her bearings together just as Steve walked back in. “Too late.” She stated, walking over to sit on the bed, pulling Arielle between her legs.


“Aww hell.” He grumbled and smiled when Trish walked out, only to get paper towel thrown in his face. “Thanks honey.”


“No problem, darling.” She smiled sweetly back at him.


“Trish, did you wash your hands?”


Trish blinked, staring at Arielle. “Of course I did.”


She held up the bottle of hand soap. “With what?”


Mark was biting his knuckle again.


Trish walked back into the bathroom, coming out with a bar of soap. “This, my dear.”


After they talked for a few more minutes, Trish and Steve headed out, Trish berating him for taking so damn long with the toilet paper and Steve just grumbling a 'yes honey' in return. “She's got him wrapped around her finger.” Jasina commented, shaking her head, and heard Mark announce they were leaving. “Thank you for all your help once again, both of you.” She smiled as Arielle hugged her. “You know where I live, you come see me anytime you want.” Jasina knew she wasn't welcome at the ranch, which was understandable, and kissed the top of her head.


“Oh, I will.”


“She'll call first.” Mark said gently, looking down at Arielle with a raised eyebrow, sticking his tongue out at her when she did it to him. “Just to make sure your mom is home.”


“Ohhhh...yeah, good idea.”


Jasina chuckled softly and nodded as Arielle headed out, shouting she loved her over her shoulder. “Love you too sweetheart.” She called back, walking behind Mark, and leaned against her door.  She wanted to tell Mark how much she loved him too, but held back for very good reason. “Have a good night, Mark.” She softly said and shut the door after he walked down the stairs to the truck.  Jasina closed it, her back pressing against the door, and closed her eyes before going to her room.  She was exhausted and was out like a light as soon as her head hit the pillow.


Mark listened to Arielle's chatter the entire ride home, only to sigh when she fell asleep as they were pulling into the driveway.  Go figure.  He carried her into the house and to her bed.  He had just pulled off her shoes when he realized she was twelve.  Twelve years old and sighed, shaking his head.  The years had gone by too damn fast it seemed.  Pulling the blankets over her, he walked out of the bedroom, feeling pretty tired himself.




A few months passed since Jasina moved back to Houston and things couldn't have been better.  Her and Arielle shopped and saw a movie at least once a week, sometimes with Mark, sometimes just the girls.  Arielle wanted to include her father and Jasina honestly didn't mind seeing Mark...or spending time with him.  Though she also knew he would eventually find someone else and that saddened her.  She would wish him well though if that time ever came, knowing she blew it with him and accepted it.  It was a Saturday afternoon when her phone rang, her eyes widening at the sound of Mark's frantic voice.


“Mark, what's wrong?” She asked worriedly, already slipping her shoes on and rushing out the door.


“Arielle has locked herself in the damn bathroom and won't let me in!” Mark was in a full blown panic at the moment. “She's screaming at the top of her damn lungs that's she fuckin' dying and she won't let me-”


“DADDY, I'M BLEEDING TO DEATH!” Arielle screamed just from the other side of the door, wailing hysterically.


“WHAT?” Now Jasina was scared as she peeled out of her parking lot of her penthouse and zoomed down the road as fast as she could without getting pulled over. “I'm on my way, Mark!  Just...tell her to calm down...” Jasina was frantic now, wearing white cotton shorts with a white grayish tank top, having been in the middle of cleaning since it was her day off from the newspaper.  Why was her daughter trying to give them BOTH a heart attack? “What is she saying?”


Mark held the phone right up to the bathroom door. “Arielle, honey, it's yer mom, c'mon, open the door!” He pleaded.


“NO!  You stay out!  I'M BLEEDING TO DEATH, MOM!” Arielle shouted. “I want my mom!  NOT YOU DAD!”


Now that stung just a little bit.


“Eww...Eww, what is that?  MOM HELP!”


“Mark, just...I'll be there!” Jasina hung up as she threw the phone on the passenger seat and pulled on the road before beginning to speed.  She arrived in record time, five minutes, and surprisingly didn't get pulled over before shutting her car off and ran up the drive of the ranch and through the front door. “MARK?” She heard his voice and took off upstairs, taking two at a time, finally stopping when she heard Arielle screaming. “What the hell happened?” Jasina demanded, not giving him time to respond, and knocked on the door. “Sweetheart, I'm here.  What's going on Arie?”


The door opened enough for Arielle's thin arm to jerk her mother in the bathroom, slamming the door shut right in Mark's face.


All Mark could do was stare bemusedly at the door, slumping back against the wall to wait.


“Mom, I'm dying, look!”


Jasina had to bite her lip to keep from laughing, patting her daughter's shoulder reassuringly with a smile. “Relax sweetheart, you're not dying.  Hold on okay?” Jasina opened the door and stepped out, seeing Mark stand up, the fear in his green eyes unmistakable. “Relax, she's fine.  She's having her first period.”


Mark stared at Jasina for a moment before finally making a face. “All that fuss over-” He stopped again, going pale. “Wait a damn minute, she's TWELVE!  She can’t have- no, no, no.  I don't even have any...anything for...” He raked a hand over his face, finally just staring at her. “Please tell me you're pulling my chain.”


“I started when I was twelve.” Jasina said patiently, seeing how pale Mark was, and sighed as she placed a hand on his arm. “It's common for girls to start at this age, Mark.  I'm not pulling anything, she started.  I'm going to go get her some pads that I have in my car.  Then I'm going to take her shopping and show her what they're for and whatnot.  You don't have to worry about anything.  Just...take a deep breath.” She was afraid he was going to keel over at any given moment, his chest rising up and down at a rapid pace.


Mark was reliving when he and Jasina had first started living together and his first time dealing with a woman on the rag he couldn't run away from.  His green eyes were getting wider and wider, the color draining from his face. “I am going to go pour a drink then get started on making a new house for myself out back.” He muttered.


Jasina lost it as she started laughing, her eyes sparkling back at him. “Did you honestly think Arie wouldn't have her period?” She laughed harder when he muttered something about he was hoping, shaking her head. “She's growing up into a woman, Mark, whether you want it to happen or not.” When the sadness took over his green eyes, she sighed and pressed her hand against his chest. “She'll still be your little girl no matter how old she gets.  Now I have to go get those pads out of the car.” She quickly rushed downstairs, knowing Arielle was stuck in the bathroom until she had one.


“Dad, is she back yet?”


“She JUST walked out the door.”


“Well tell her to hurry!”


Mark rubbed his face, exhaling loudly.  Oh yeah, he was building a guest house that he'd be using once a month when he apparently got his period too.


Jasina rushed back upstairs and seen Mark was still there, smiling and walked inside the bathroom after tapping on the door, shutting it behind her.  She explained what they were used for and how once a month she would be getting this until she hit menopause at the age of fifty.  Jasina was surprised Arielle hadn't been taught this kind of thing in school, but...that was the school system and it made her roll her eyes.  It took about a half an hour before Jasina and Arielle emerged from the bathroom, both of them wiping tears away, and she bent down to hug her daughter close, kissing the top of her head.


“Now go get ready so we can go get you some more.” She tapped her nose and watched as Arie went to her room, sighing gently.


Mark had to look away, not entirely sure if he was ready to acknowledge his little princess was growing up. “I'm going downstairs.” He rumbled, taking the steps two at a time.




He did a full body shiver, not even wanting to know why though his mind cheerfully supplied the answer, especially since he'd just done the wash a day ago.


Jasina took Arielle shopping, coming back with some new clothes since her daughter insisted she needed them, shaking her head.  She couldn't believe how much she missed out on and let her daughter walk upstairs while Jasina looked around the house.  They'd been gone for three hours, Arielle insisting on trying on every pair of pants and shirt she wanted, chuckling softly.  Pictures of Arielle adorned the walls and Jasina felt the tears swell in her eyes, quickly blinking them away when Mark walked back in.


“Feeling better?” She asked softly, seeing the color was back in his face.


“No.  I hope you bought her that Midol or Pamprin shit, whatever the hell it was you used to take.” Mark grunted, a beer in hand as he dropped down onto his massive couch, picking up the remote and flicking to a sports channel, his eyes not even focused. “So...what all did she get and how much do I owe ya?”

“I got everything and you don't owe me anything.” She replied softly, seeing he was having a hard time with this, and smiled gently as she walked over to sit down next to him. “I know this must be hard for you, but she will always be your little girl.  You know that right?  Just because she's changing, doesn't mean she won't love her daddy any less.  You are her entire world, Mark.” She patted him on the shoulder as a gesture for comfort before standing back up, not wanting to overstay her welcome.


“I had to duck and dodge you during that time of the month...” Mark groaned, covering his eyes with his hand. “What if she's exactly the same way?” He could just picture it, his sweet cherub throwing plates at his head because he didn't have an afternoon snack waiting or something else that was trivial, but to her would be the end of the world.


“That is something you're going to have to deal with.  Though...” Jasina leaned over the couch to where their eyes locked. “Chocolate helps during that time of the month.  You'll be fine.” Jasina winked at him reassuringly just as Arielle came downstairs, causing her to turn around and smiled. “Did you take the Pamprin for your cramps sweetheart?” Arielle nodded and walked inside as she sat next to her father, leaning against him.


“So what was that about chocolate?” Arielle asked, which also happened to be her favorite candy, dessert, drink, whenever she could get it.


“There's a bag of Hershey Kisses on the counter, knock yourself out.” He replied, looking down at her, cracking a grin when she smiled at him.  Okay, maybe this wouldn't be so bad.


“Oh yeah, my laundry?”


And then again...


“Arie, give your dad a breather okay?  He's gone through a traumatic experience.” Jasina smiled and rolled her eyes. “You have new clothes to wear for a week, now give your old man a rest.” She ordered before kissing the top of her head, sighing and walked toward the front door. “Arie, I'm gonna get going okay?” She called, slipping her shoes on, having taken them off when she came in from shopping with her daughter.


“No, you're staying for dinner.” Arielle said firmly, getting up and smiling sweetly when both her parents just looked at her. “I'm making lasagna.”


“You gonna remember to cook the noodles this time?” Mark quipped, actually cringing when her green eyes flashed on him. “Go eat some damn chocolate.”


“I'm gonna put rat poison in yours if you don't play fair, dad.”


“Am I really now?” Jasina replied, crossing her arms in front of her chest and seen the pleading in her daughter's eyes, smirking. “You apologize to your father and I'll stay for dinner.” When Arielle grumbled a 'sorry dad', Jasina grinned before nodding, slipping her shoes back off and walked toward the kitchen, brushing against Mark accidentally on the way. “So who taught you how to make lasagna?”


“My home-ec-” Arielle trailed off when she heard her dad clearing his throat. “Fine, dad did.” She rolled her eyes. “I was failing home-ec and he showed me how to make it so I'd pass since I needed extra credit.  I did okay the first time around, then the second I forgot to boil the pasta.”


“And didn't bother tellin' me when she realized it.”


“Did you know Dad is too big to perform the Heimlich on?”


“Most definitely, I don't even think I could perform that move on him.  So Mark, you better not choke or else there's going to be problems.”


She smiled sweetly before turning back to her daughter, watching her get the pan out and crossed one leg over the other, her honey chestnut hair flowing down her back.  It was to her waist now, curling at the ends, though Jasina was contemplating cutting it to her middle back again.  Her eyes were totally focused on her daughter right now though, smiling and nodding when Arielle pointed out what she was doing, giving her own teaching lesson.  She was smart and it did Jasina's heart good to see how grown up Arielle was becoming.


Chapter 14


Mark stayed in the kitchen out of habit since Arielle wasn't allowed to cook without an adult present and he was usually the only adult in her life.  He sat down on a stool at the kitchen island, grinning  when Arielle placed a beer in front of him and a Sprite in front of Jasina. “Sometimes I think I have you trained and others-” He ducked a Hershey Kiss that came flying at his face. “I think you have me trained.”


“Thank you sweetheart.” Jasina giggled, shaking her head and took the Hershey’s Kiss from Mark before he could have it, unwrapping it and popped it in her mouth. 


It'd been so long since she had chocolate, so long since Jasina felt this happy, and had a big smile on her face.  It was genuine and full of life, her eyes sparkled, and she was getting her curvy figure back since she was eating properly.  Having Arielle in her life did that and Jasina owed her little girl her life.  She would give it up in a heartbeat for her too.


Mark was taking a drink of his beer when the next Hershey's Kiss came flying, getting the corner of eye, which in turn made him drop the can.  The can EXPLODED.


“Wow...Mom...What kind of underwear are those?”


He glanced down at Jasina's soaking wet shorts, arching an eyebrow. “Yeah, what kind?”


Jasina was as red as a strawberry, the beer covering her, and cleared her throat as she stumbled off the stool. “That really is none of your business.” She grumbled, peeling her shorts off her thighs and groaned. “Do you have a towel?” She asked, seeing Mark was laughing, and smacked him in the arm. “Marcus William Calaway this is not funny!!” She shouted, completely humiliated.  Her panties were lavender and were now see-through until they dried. “Arie, I'm gonna have to go home and change, honey...”


“No...” Arielle's face crumpled.


“She's not going.” Mark rolled his eyes, standing up. “Come on, Jasi.” He walked out of the kitchen, turning when she didn't follow. “Bring your purple panty covered ass over here and let's go, woman.”


“I'm going to shove my foot up your ass in a minute, Mark!” Jasina growled, not amused and reluctantly followed him as she plucked the cotton fabric from her thighs, sighing heavily.  She couldn't believe she was soaked in beer, thanking god none got in her hair...that she knew of. “What made you drop that damn beer anyway?”


“Off hand Arie throwin' another piece of candy right into my damn eye.” Mark grunted, leading the way up the stairs and into his bedroom.  He didn't think anything of crossing to the closet and pulling out one of his t-shirts.  Hesitating and switching the white out for black, Mark turned to hold it out to her with a grin. “Just in case.”


“This is nice of you and everything, Mark, but my garments are soaked through too...” She trailed off, turning redder, and swallowed hard as she touched her cheeks, which were a deep crimson red. “Let me just run home really fast and change...” Jasina knew damn well he didn't have any panties and she wasn't going to fit in any of Arielle's.


Arching an eyebrow at her, his green eyes roamed her wet body, smirking wickedly.  “Hmmm...That shirt is gonna probably fall down past yer knees and as long as you don't go spreadin' your legs, there shouldn't be a problem.  Washin' your clothes ain't going to take that damn long woman.”


Jasina shook her head back at him, clearing her throat awkwardly.  “Thanks.” She mumbled before walking out, going into the bathroom and slipped out of her clothes, groaning when she seen her bra was soaked through too. ‘This is bad.’ She thought before slipping the pure black t-shirt over her head, inhaling the scent and closed her eyes.  It smelled just like him, Jasina always loved his scent.  She waited until her cheeks weren’t flaming anymore before walking out, the t-shirt indeed going past her knees, carrying her wet clothes.  Mark was waiting for her as soon as she walked out, raising an eyebrow. “You're letting Arie cook alone?”


“No.  I called down on her to hold on till we're back.” He said, smirking and looking down at her. “Should I turn up the heat?” It was off, it was a nice warm night.


“Hurry up, I'm waitin'!”




The look in his eyes set her heart racing as Jasina swallowed hard, hearing their daughter calling for them, and handed him her clothes. “No, it's nice in here.” She softly replied, beginning to walk past him toward the stairs.  His shirt clung to her body, even though it was a little big, for obvious reasons.  Mark was huge and, if people didn't know him, they wouldn't approach him.  That's just the type of aura that surrounded him. “Coming Arie!”


Arielle arched an eyebrow when she seen her mom, taking in the black shirt and began cracking a smile that she had definitely gotten from her father. “Wow mom, that thing is huge on you.” She studied her parents thoughtfully. “How did you two even make me?  Dad is so big and mom is tiny.”


Mark had to turn around and walk right back out.


Jasina blinked at her daughter and felt her cheeks burn even more, raking a hand through her hair. “Umm...” Jasina watched Mark walk out of the kitchen and stopped him by grabbing his arm. “Oh no mister!  I had the talk to her about her period.  YOU can talk to her about sex.” She stated, seeing Mark's eyes widen, and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Fine, we'll do it together.  Fair enough?”


“I know what sex is you two.” Arielle made a face, wondering what the hell they were on about. “I mean you two don't match up physically.”


“How do you know what sex is when you didn't know what your damn period was?” He demanded, trying not to remember just how damn well he and Jasina had matched up physically.


“Toni and I asked her mom.”


“Sweetheart, it doesn't matter the size...” Jasina was trying really hard not to think the same thing, her entire body flushing and sat on the stool, crossing one leg over the other. “This really isn't the best conversation during making dinner.” She finally said, smiling at her clueless daughter who was busy finishing up the lasagna before popping it in the oven.  She was glad her daughter had someone to turn too regarding that subject, knowing Mark wouldn't be able to handle it.


Mark was making plans to call Lashonna after Jasina was gone and Arielle was in bed, wondering just what else his daughter had been learning about that he wasn't aware of.  Women...


“Yep, Lashonna told us that the stork comes and that's sex.” Arielle said innocently. “Though I coulda sworn there was something about eggs and tadpoles in there, I didn't catch too much of it, she was pretty flustered.”




Jasina put her head in her hands, shaking it back and forth and silently began laughing, her shoulders shaking. “She...She actually said storks?” When Arielle nodded, looking clueless, Jasina cleared her throat, knowing she would have to talk to her daughter. “Sweetheart, that's what most adults say to kids.  The truth is, sex is something that you will learn about when you're older and in school.  You'll understand why your father and I were compatible and you'll also learn about what you went through today.  Now, how about a different topic, hmmm?” She suggested, seeing Mark was more than flustered and so was she.


“No, if it's not storks, eggs and tadpoles, then what the hell is it?”


Mark arched an eyebrow, retrieving himself another beer and took a long swallow, staring at her intently. “Sex is a man and a woman, naked, in a bed together.”


“That's it?”


“You know how animals mate?”


“Yeah, kinda, our- Ooooohhhhhhhhh.” Arielle made a face. “You two are sick!”


“Sex is not a bad thing, Arie.” Jasina conceded with a smile, her teal eyes sparkling. “If we hadn't had sex, you would've never been born.  Though, it will be awhile before you even get want to do that with a boy.” She cleared her throat when Mark growled, rolling her eyes. “Of course that is if your father doesn't chase every boy away that you date.” Jasina couldn't believe she was having this conversation with her daughter with Mark around, and cracked open her Sprite, taking a long swig of it.


Arielle was considering that, her head cocked to the side thoughtfully. “Even Gary?”


“Especially Gary.  You're not allowed to even date until you're at least...fifty.”


“Won't you be dead by then?”


“Just wait until you're at least a teenager and let me worry about your father.” She stated, ignoring Mark's deathly glare, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “How long until dinner is ready?” She asked with a smile, hugging Arielle when she came toward her, and kissed the top of her head.


“Half hour.  Let's do something.” Arielle tapped her chin thoughtfully, studying her parents. “Hmmm...a game?”


Mark arched an eyebrow and asked, “What game?”


“Twister!  I'll go get it.”


Now he was grinning, shooting Jasina a look.


“Arie, honey I can't play that game.” Jasina protested, sliding off of the stool, ignoring Mark's grin as she stopped her daughter. “Sweetheart, I...this is the ONLY thing I'm wearing right now.  Maybe after my clothes are done?” She suggested with a smile, not liking the grave look on her daughter's face. “Or you and your father can play while I watch.”


“Dad, can't she wear a pair of your boxers?”


“Honey, Jasi of her could fit in my boxers.” Maybe an exaggeration, but...they'd fall off of her, a lot.


“What about that pair that Melina woman left here?”


“I thought I threw those away?”


“No, they're in a box in the hallway closet.  Where I put them when you DIDN'T throw away that stuff you were supposed too.”


“I don't feel comfortable wearing another woman's clothes, Arie.” She stated gently, but firmly, that smile never leaving her face. “I'm not good at Twister anyway.  You and your father can play, I don't mind watching.” She shot Mark a look when he went to open his mouth, smirking when he decided against saying anything before going back to sit on the stool.  It was HIS fault she was in this predicament after all by dropping his beer like a damn fool.


“Whatever happened to Melina anyways?”


“I don't know, think she moved, why?”


“I was just wondering.” Arielle looked at her mom. “Melina used to come clean the house for us.  And my old dog attacked her on her first visit, shredded her skirt.  It was kinda bad.”


“Yeah it was.  I had to go buy her new damn clothes.”


“I’m sure you didn't enjoy that.” She giggled and stood up, walking over to look in the oven, raising an eyebrow. “It looks delicious, sweetheart.” She kissed her forehead and hugged her tightly, sighing gently. “Thank you for making me stay, even though Trish is going to have my butt on a silver platter for not getting my article done.” She shrugged when Arielle raised an eyebrow. “She loves me, I'll sweet talk her like you do to your father.”


“Hey, she don't sweet-”


“Daddy, could you set the table please?”


“Sure thing, princess.”


Arielle winked at Jasina as he got up.


Jasina laughed and shook her head. “Mark, she has you wrapped around her finger, just admit it.”


She walked over to the cabinet, where she knew the dishes were and pulled some plates out, handing them to him before getting the silverware, their fingers brushing together, sending a shiver down her spine.  Jasina helped him set the table while Arielle finished with the lasagna, popping some garlic bread in the toaster oven to go with it.  She sat at the table and watched her daughter admirably, knowing she would never be able to repay Mark for how well he took care of their daughter.


Once everyone was seated, Arielle smiled. “Okay, say grace.” She giggled at the shocked look on Jasina’s face. “It was a joke.”


“I'm saying grace anyway, just to make sure I survive this meal.” Mark joked, studying the lasagna like it might kill him, his green eyes twinkling, enjoying joking with his daughter.


“You're not serious are you?”


Jasina shook her head with a smile, crossing one leg over the other, and wished her clothes would dry already as she began serving first her daughter then Mark before herself. “I'm sure it's delicious sweetheart.  Here, mom will take a bite first.” She did it and grinned before beginning to eat more, knowing she had her mother's cooking skills.


“Of course it is, I made it myself.”


“Good thing you're not cocky.” Mark said deadpan, watching as Arielle began eating, digging in himself. “Delicious sweetheart.”


“I know.” Arielle grinned, beginning to inhale like usual. “HOT!”




Chapter 15


They ate dinner together, like a family, though it saddened Jasina that it really wasn't the case.  She didn't show it though, not wanting to ruin their time together.  It wasn't often Jasina got to eat dinner with her daughter and Mark.  Especially Mark.  God she missed him.  Jasina hadn't thought about another man besides him in the span of eleven years, how crazy was that?  She finished eating and stood up, walking her plate to the sink and rinsed it before putting it in the dishwasher along with her fork.


“How much longer until my clothes are done, Mark?” She asked softly, really needing some panties right about now.


Mark frowned, making a face and slapped his forehead, walking out of the kitchen and downstairs to the basement.


Arielle shook her head when she heard the dryer going. “About another hour mom.” She said, beginning to clear the table and looked at the dishwasher. “We don't use that.  Dad unhooked it when I um...”


“Decided to test laundry soap in it.”


“Oh good grief.” Jasina rolled her eyes and took her dishes back out, beginning to hand wash them, knowing Mark had forgotten to start the dryer. “Thanks.” She muttered good-naturedly before walking over to clear the table off. “Uh-uh, you cooked.” She stated, shoving her daughter gently away. “We got this.  Go sit down and relax.” Jasina winked at her before bringing the rest of the dishes to the sink, filling it with water and soap before doing them.  She didn't care if she was a guest or not, she wasn't going to just sit around and let everyone cater to her.  Jasina didn't deserve that, especially from Mark and Arielle.


Shrugging, Arielle went into the living room, flipping on the television.


“Homework first!” Mark yelled from the basement.


“Dad!” She shrieked, walking over to the door and sighed. “What're you doing?”


“Folding these damn clothes you left in the dryer.  Homework, now.”


“Aww man.”


“Mind your father, Arielle.” Jasina stated as she finished the dishes before proceeding to put the food away, knowing Mark had three plates full.  He could eat more later if he wanted, but she didn't want the food going to waste.  When she was finished, she walked over, seeing her daughter doing math and made a face. “That was never my strong subject either.” She whispered before wiping the table down.


“I'm better with history.” Arie said, frowning as she scribbled on a piece of blank paper, rechecking her figures with a sigh. “Think it'd be cheating if I used a calculator?”


“Yes.” Mark grunted, carrying up a basket filled with clothes and set it down beside the stairs. “Those need taken care of before you go to bed, Arie.”


“Sure, sure when I'm done.  Hey mom, why don't you spend the night?”


That question caught her off guard as Jasina blinked, seeing Mark had frozen in place as well and cleared her throat, choosing her words carefully. “Sweetheart, I have a lot of work to get done and I'm sure your father would like a little peace and quiet tonight.” She said softly, raising an eyebrow down at the homework and showed her the correct process, shrugging. “I know a little math, not a lot though.”


“Dad never gets peace and quiet, he doesn't mind, do you daddy?” Arielle shot him a pleading look. “Or I can go stay with you!”


“You have school in the morning, Arie.” Mark finally spoke up, snapping out of his daze.


“Then it's settled, I'll go get the extra bedding!” Arielle was up and off in a heartbeat, not giving them time to turn her down.


Mark stared at Jasina. “She's your daughter.”


“Oh don't even go there with me.  She's OUR daughter.” She corrected, pointing to the stairs, raising an eyebrow. “Unless you WANT me to stay the night?”


She smirked when Mark cursed before going after Arielle, hiding her sadness perfectly as she went over to sit down at the table, raking a hand through her hair.  Having separate parents was harder on Arielle than Jasina ever thought.  Then again, she never had separate parents so she honestly didn't know.


“Honey, she has to work and you have school.” Mark said, trying to dissuade his daughter.


“Dad, just this once...I'd like you both under the same roof, then I can pretend that I have both my parents instead of just one.” Arielle said, looking up at him, sadness creeping into her green eyes. “Please?”


Mark could only nod, pain eating away at him and headed back downstairs. “You're stayin'.”


Her head snapped up when she heard that, teal eyes widened, groaning. “You couldn't convince her?” When Mark shook his head, Jasina knew she was in hell, pure and utter hell. “I'll leave when she goes to sleep.  I know you don't want me here.”


Jasina didn't give him a chance to say another word before walking out and upstairs to talk to her daughter.  She knew she had to explain to Arielle that her mother and father were not together and probably would never be again.  The thought broke her heart, but it was the harsh reality Jasina had to live with.


Mark raked a hand through his hair, glancing at the stairs then back to the couch.  He had a guest room, but it was currently storing a bunch of old clothes, toys, stuff Arielle had outgrown during the years.  Not to mention everything of Jasina's that she hadn't taken when she had left him.  He'd always meant to go through and throw it all out, but somehow never seemed to find the time, or the willpower.


“Arielle, I don't think this is a good idea sweetheart.” Jasina was being turned down no matter what she said, sighing heavily. “Look, I know you wish your father and I were together, but that's not the case.  He tolerates me being around because it makes you happy.  That doesn't make him a bad person, you know what I did, sweetheart.” She sighed as Arielle sat down beside her, running her fingers through her hair. “I can't begin imagining how confusing this must be for you.  We'll work this out alright, but I really can't stay the night.  I have that article I have to finish for Trish and your father doesn't need me staying under his roof.  Do you understand?” She was speaking softly and quietly, staring into those green eyes of her daughter's.


“So you two are just pretending to get along for me?  Well forget it!  If you guys are just faking it then I don't need either of you!” Arielle shouted angrily, tears rapidly welling in her eyes. “Just forget it.  I don't need you guys lying just to make me feel better!”


He stood in the hallway, listening, his head hanging as his daughter's words pierced his heart.


“Damn it Arielle listen to me!” Jasina shouted, her own temper up, and grabbed her arms firmly in her grasp. “I hurt your father when I ran away!  I don't blame him one bit for not liking me, Arielle!  I made a terrible mistake, I told you what happened, do you honestly blame him?  Because I don't.  This is my fault entirely and I'm paying for it!  Look at me...” Her voice lowered a little, knowing Arielle's hormones were going crazy since she started her period. “We both love you unconditionally and we'll get along for your sake.  I have nothing against your father, I love him.  I told you that.  But he doesn't love me, not anymore, and I don't blame him for that.  What I did is unforgivable and I'm, I'm BLESSED...that he gave me the opportunity to be in your life.”


“He only did it to make me happy, so it really doesn't count.” Arielle whispered, closing her eyes, a few fat tears rolling down her face. “If I hadn't gone to Austin he wouldn't of ever looked you up and you never would've come back.”


Arielle was just as big a heartbreaker as her mother was; Mark had to walk away before he started crying as well.


“I know, I know that.” She whispered, her own heart breaking and pulled her daughter into her arms, holding her tightly against her. “That doesn't make him a bad person, Arielle.  It doesn't.  He was only doing what he felt right to protect you.  He loves you so much sweetheart.” She slowly lifted her chin up as their eyes met. “One thing you need to understand about life, Arielle, is that everything happens for a reason.  I left to clean myself up, though it took me a long time to do it, and a life alternating experience, which I told you about.” She sighed as she wiped her tears away along with her daughter's. “He just wants you to be happy sweetheart and if you being with your biological mother does that, then he's willing it.” She was going to say suffer, but thought best not too.


Mark figured now would be a good time to come in and start settling things down.  He knew his daughter.  After all, he'd been the one to mop up those tears for years now.  Sighing, he settled on the other side of the bed, reaching out to gently run his fingers through Arielle's hair, hair that was so much like her mother's.


“Lil darlin', not everythin' works out the way we want them too.”


“Why not?”


“Because that's the way life is, sweetheart.” Jasina quietly replied, not moving from her spot on the bed, wiping her own tears away as she continued holding Arielle. “Life deals you the cards and it's your decision on what you do with that hand.” That was the best metaphor she could come up with and pressed her forehead to the side of Arielle's head. “Your mother wasn't dealt the best hand and that was my own stupidity and choices.  Don't ever follow in my footsteps Arielle.  Follow your own path.” She stated almost forcefully, choked up with emotion and squeezed her a little tighter. “I'm so sorry...” She whispered heartbrokenly and pressed a kiss to her forehead, closing her eyes.


This was getting to be a little much.  There was only so much in one night that Mark could take.  First his daughter starting her period, then the awkward dinner and now this.  Just listening to Jasina made him both angry and sad, his heart aching for her as well as himself.


“'s gettin’ late and everyone is tired.” And emotional. “Jasina, you can stay here, I'd feel a lot better if you did, I don't want you driving in this condition.”


She knew that's not what he really wanted, but nodded anyway, tapping her daughter's nose gently. “Now go on and take a bath or whatever you do before bed.  I'm staying.” She smiled as Arielle threw her arms around her neck, hugging her tightly and kissed the top of her head, wiping her tears away. 


She let Mark have a minute alone with Arielle while she went downstairs, trying to get her own emotions in check.  She paced back and forth, taking deep breaths, and had the sudden urge to call Andy.  Jasina would do that when she was home tomorrow after she got off of work.  Sighing, Jasina just walked over to stare out the sliding glass door, overlooking the huge land Mark lived on, and sighed almost wistfully.  It was beautiful out here, always had been.


After Arielle had told him off for being too clingy, Mark made his way downstairs, shaking his head.  Too clingy?  Shaking his head, he looked around, spotting Jasina by the glass doors that led to the backyard, walking over to stand behind her.


“You alright?” He asked softly.


“Yes, I am.” She softly replied, slowly turning around to face him, staring into his green eyes. “She's overly emotional because of the hormones.” She explained and smiled when he grimaced. “Are my clothes done?” She asked, not feeling comfortable in just his shirt with no garments underneath.  The man made heat spread throughout her body, even after all this time, but Jasina hid it to perfection.  Mark didn't want her and Jasina accepted that, she was trying to move on the best she could, even though no man would ever compare to him.


“Probably.” Mark shrugged, making his way across the room and to the basement door, glancing back at her.  Smiling somewhat he disappeared down the steps.  He returned a few minutes later with her clothes, passing them to her. “I didn't fold them on account you'll probably be puttin' them back on.” This was more than awkward. “You can sleep in my room, Jasi.”


“Nope, you were stubborn about sleeping in my room at my old apartment in Austin, so I'm going to say the same thing to you that you did to me.  I'm not kicking you out of your room, Mark.” She smiled back at him and took her clothes gently. “Thank you for washing them for me.” She added as an afterthought before going to the bathroom to change, closing the door behind her. 


Her back pressed against it as she inhaled the scent, wishing she could keep it, but knew that wasn't possible.  Sighing sadly, Jasina pulled the shirt over her head and slipped her panties and bra back on along with her tank top and shorts.  Her socks were tucked in her shoes so she didn't have to worry about finding them in the morning.  When she was finished, Jasina walked out with Mark's shirt in hand, wondering where he'd gone off to.


He was in his bedroom, the door shut except for a crack, peeling his shirt off over his head.  Grunting, he kicked off his boots and socks, nudging them aside with his foot before tossing the shirt into a clothes hamper, stretching his arms over his head to crack his back.  Loosening the tail he had his hair pulled back in, he shook out his long hair with a groan.  He knew his couch wasn't the most comfortable to sleep on, if anything he needed to get around and replace it.  Making up his mind, he stood up and headed for the door.


Jasina was standing there when he opened it, her hand up ready to knock on it, and had to learn how to breathe again.  His body was so muscular, she remembered running her nails down his chest and felt the muscles ripple beneath her touch. “Here.” She said, handing him the shirt he borrowed her with a hesitant smile. “Thanks again for letting me wear it.” She said before turning and walking down the hallway, heading for the stairs.  She needed to breathe and took deep breaths, still wondering how the hell she had managed to walk out on him.  Then again, she hadn't been in the right frame of mind.


Mark shook his head, following her in just his skintight jeans.  He watched her walk down the stairs, mentally wondering if it was wrong to be admiring your ex-wife's curvy hips or the way her ass swayed from side to side.  Not to mention them beautiful legs, she must have taken up running or something.  Clearing his throat, he headed down the steps after her.


Chapter 16


This was bad, in a good way, but bad nonetheless.  Feelings that Jasina hadn't experienced in years were surfacing and it was hard shoving them back down, especially around her very delicious looking ex-husband.  He definitely hadn't let himself go.  He was strong, muscular, that long auburn hair looked soft to the touch and those penetrating green eyes...Jasina was shocked a woman hadn't snagged him after she left.  That made her smile a little as she headed to the living room, not remotely tired, though she needed a distraction. 


Her eyes began scanning the pictures that adorned the walls, seeing how little Arielle was in soft purple.  Mark never did like pink and she was glad he hadn't made Arielle wear that color.  So many memories she had missed out on, Jasina had to take a breath as she picked one up of them.  Arielle was probably four or five and she was grinning in the camera while sitting on her father's lap.  They looked dressed up, though Mark still wore his black jeans with a nice white shirt and his hair pulled back.  They looked happy as she set the picture back down.


Mark watched her, knowing it had to be hard to see pictures of the daughter she had left behind.  A part of him wanted to rage at her for leaving, but another part understood, somewhat.  He had never had an addiction, something that consumed his life, unless Arielle counted.  So since he hadn't ever been in her shoes, he couldn't judge her.  Theoretically.  The part that bothered him the most was why hadn't she come to him.


It hurt more than words could say to see what she had given up all those years ago, what she had walked away from, but Jasina didn't regret her decision.  She needed help, even Andy agreed with her.  Mark wouldn't have been enough to stop her from doing the drugs.  She needed psychiatric help and he couldn't afford that, not when he was just getting the shop underway.  They barely could afford Arielle's birth let alone a drug addiction on top of that. 


Jasina had made the right decision, though it cost her the love of her life and the first eleven years with her daughter.  Still, Jasina knew deep in her heart she did the right thing.  Andy told her everyone had choices in life and sometimes they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, sometimes the right decision wasn't always the easiest to make.  The more she looked around, the more it made her smile, knowing Arielle had been well taken care of and loved while she was gone.


Dropping down onto the couch to watch her, Mark nudged underneath the coffee table with his foot, pushing out a few photo albums. “They're mostly of her if yer interested.” He said, knowing she would be.  Inside were pictures from when Arielle was an infant all the way up to now.  Bath times, outside, with the various pets she'd had over the years.  Life documented in photographs.


Jasina jumped and shook her head, turning around to face him. “I see the quiet aura about you still hasn't changed.  You still manage to scare me half to death.” She joked, smiling at him, and looked down at the photo albums.  She picked one up and sat down on the couch, slowly looking up at him when he didn't move, staring into those green eyes. “Thank you.” So much emotion and love were in those two words as Jasina turned back to the photo album and flipped it open, running her fingers down the pictures. “She is so beautiful...” She whispered, feeling tears well up in her eyes, and blinked them back.  How she could walk out on her beautiful daughter, her family, and especially the man sitting next to her Jasina would never understand.


Mark moved next to her, looking down at the pictures as well, it had been so long since he'd gone through these. “That's when she was two months.  All the hair on the left side of her head rubbed off cause that was the only side she'd sleep on, her head always had to be facing left.” He remembered that, shaking his head.  Arielle had had a beautiful full head of hair...with a bald patch.


“Just like me.” She whispered thoughtfully.  Jasina always had to be facing left when she slept, ever since she was little, and noticed that when her daughter came to see her in Austin.  The more pictures they flipped through, the more Jasina learned as Mark quietly told her what each picture meant.  He snapped more than one of the same moment, which made her smile.  He wanted to capture every moment of Arielle's life and it made her heart both swell and hurt all at once.  An exquisite pain. “What was her first word?” She asked softly, closing her eyes when he said 'dada'.  Good, she didn't want it to be anything else and knew Arielle was a daddy's girl through and through.


“And her second was gimme.” Mark snorted, rolling his eyes. “Then her first sentence was 'Aww hell', thanks to Steve repeating it so damn often.  She said it in my office.  Imagine, sitting in the office with a little angel in a play pen who suddenly screams that cause her blocks knocked over.  I had an old woman in there for an oil change, she walked right on back out.”


Jasina giggled softly when she heard that, shaking her head, and felt Mark chuckling as well.  It was nice that they could hold a decent conversation and even laugh about their little girl without him trying to tear her head off.  It felt great, like a big weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. “I'll have to remember to scold Steve for that later.” She stated when they finally calmed down, flipping the page again. “She has your attitude, you know.” She smirked when Mark grumbled, knowing she was right. “And your appetite.  She may look like me except the eyes, but the rest of her is all you.”


“I wonder why.” Mark said instantly, groaning when he seen the expression on her face and reached out to stop her before she could get up, knowing that hadn't been a very good thing to say, but...Here was the moment. “Jasina, I'm sorry, but...honestly, I raised her, is she supposed to be anything else?” He asked softly, staring at her, refusing to let her up. “Why?” He whispered. “Why didn't you tell me you had a problem?”


“I was afraid.” She replied, her heart pounding furiously in her chest.  Hadn't the letter said enough?  Why did he want to know why she hadn't told him?  Did he enjoy tormenting her? “My counselor told me, who is also a very good friend of mine now, that even if I would've told you, you wouldn't have been able to stop me.” That was the truth as the tears swelled in her teal eyes. “I should've been honest with you from the beginning, but I loved you so much that I...I was afraid of losing you.  And I did it anyway.  I thought if I told you, you would've divorced me and taken Arielle away because of her druggie mother...” She had to look away from him, knowing he wouldn't let her go. “That was my train of thought at the time and I can't change it.  I wasn't in the right frame of mind, Mark.  I know sorry doesn't cover it, but...goddamn it I'm sorry...I didn't want you going through it with me, I didn't want to cause you anymore pain than what I already had.  I couldn't do that to you and Arielle...”


“Your counselor told you I wouldn't have been able to stop you, she's probably right.” Mark said quietly. “But damn it, Jasina, I could have been there to help you through it.  I wouldn't have left ya, or taken away Arielle.  I would've been mad as hell and maybe gone away for a few days, but I would've always come back to ya.”


“That's just it, Mark.  I didn't know that...and I wasn't in the frame of mind.  I wasn't thinking.  All I kept thinking was I have to run.  I have to get away from here and let them live their lives without this poison infecting them.” The tears were flowing now as Jasina buried her face in her hands, not caring about showing her emotions anymore. “It took me...a long time afterwards after I left to get over them Mark.  I didn't stop when I first left here.  They got worse because I was so depressed about leaving that I...I let them completely consume me.  My every thought, every move, everything...” He wanted to know and she was telling him. “I didn't know what else to do and I was an absolute coward for it.  I should've told you before we even got married, before we had Arielle.  I should've, but I didn't because I was happy and I thought I could kick my addiction with you.  It didn't happen though.”


That was a lot to digest.  He had read her letter, he had read it over and over again, but to hear those words from Jasina herself broke his heart.  He reached onto the coffee table for the box of tissues, holding it mutely out to her.  He didn't know what to say or do right now.


“Stop crying.” He finally said gruffly, always uncomfortable with tears. “C'mon, it's over and done now, no point in cryin' about it.” He plucked a tissue from the box and began gently mopping away her tears, catching her chin in his hand and tilting her face up.


“I never meant to hurt you...” She whispered, hoping he believed her when she said that because it was the truth. 


Jasina felt his hand on her chin and let him wipe her tears away, trying to stop them and took several deep breaths before they subsided, having set the photo album aside when he wanted the explanation.  She wanted to reach out and touch him, but the fear of rejection stopped her from doing so.  Still she couldn't stop staring into those green eyes that had haunted her dreams, her every thought, for the past eleven years.  He was the perfect man, a little rough around the edges, but all Texans were like that.  She remembered when she first met Mark, in Emerald City, the bar Trish had taken her that day after the barbeque.  She was drinking with a few of her friends when he came over and asked her if they could step outside a minute and talk.  From the moment his voice murmured in her ear, Jasina was a goner and still had been to this very day.


Mark finally broke the stare himself, getting to his feet. “You're tired, get up there.” He said, his voice gruff and cleared his throat, eyes narrowing when she shook her head. “Jasi, I'll carry yer ass up to that bed myself if ya don't move.” He threatened.


“No, I'm not tired and I want to look at more pictures.  I'm not taking over your bed either.” She stated stubbornly, crossing her arms in front of her chest, her own eyes narrowed. “You didn't want to take me up on my offer to use my bed, I'm not taking you up on yours.  I'm fine, Mark, really.” She assured him softly, wishing she had brought her laptop, but then remembered why she came over here in the first place.


“Look, take the albums with ya.  But you're not sleepin' on the couch.” Mark said firmly, rolling his eyes when she just shook her head again.  A second later he had scooped Jasina up in his arms and was already on the steps, ignoring her protests. “Woman, you wake Arielle up and I'll turn you over my knee.” He growled, tempted too anyway.  He wondered idly if her ass was as firm as it looked, arching an eyebrow.


“This is not fair.” She grumbled, crossing her arms in front of her chest while he carried her up the stairs to his room, pouting. “You're not sleeping on that couch either.” She stated when he set her down, stopping him by grabbing his arm. “Mark, please...I know you slept on the floor at my place.  Don't make me do the same thing here.” The room brought back a lot of memories and it smelled the same, causing a small smile to cross her face. “You are far too big for that damn couch downstairs.” Was this man out of his mind to actually give up HIS bedroom to the woman who broke his heart?


Yes, he was out of his damn mind, giving up his bed...No, he wasn't giving up his bed. “I'm not sleepin' on the couch either. I'm sleepin in my bed.” Mark announced, a smirk curving his lips when he seen her eyes widen, shrugging. “You can't sleep on the floor.  They're wood and it'll kill ya come mornin, and my couch is a death trap.”


Chapter 17


Jasina opened and closed her mouth several times, but she couldn't form any words.  All she could do was nod and scooted over on the side she normally took, biting her bottom lip.  This was awkward as hell.  He was purposely messing with her that had to be the only explanation.  Jasina wasn't going to question it though as she stood up, pulling the comforter back and slid in the bed, leaving her shorts on since this was her ex-husband after all.  Though normally, Jasina either slept with a tank top and panties or a nightgown.


Mark had started sleeping in boxers when Arielle was big enough to run and crawl into his bed with him.  Though she didn't do that anymore except during thunderstorms when she was woken up by the thunder.  Therefore, he was back to sleeping in the nude.  He hooked his hands in his jeans, watching her trying not to watch him and inwardly chuckled, this was actually kind of fun.  Slowly, he slid them down, hearing her exhale, guessing she'd noticed the black boxers and snorted, crawling into the bed.


The bed was huge, though there was a slight problem.  Jasina had to sleep on her left side and that faced Mark.  Sighing inwardly, Jasina got comfortable, and closed her eyes, her hands tucked under the pillow, her hair fanned out over it and the rest flowing down her back.  She wasn't tired, but knew Mark was and wasn't going to keep him up.  He hadn't brought the photo albums with him anyway.  Jasina couldn't believe she was actually in the same bed as her ex-husband, wondering when she entered a Twilight Zone.


Mark wasn't comfortable with her facing him, it made him feel like he was being stared at.  Sleeping alone for so many years had done that to him.  He rolled over so he was staring up at the ceiling, folding his arms beneath his head. “You're not going to sleep, are ya?” He asked conversationally, already knowing she wasn't.  He didn’t think he would be either.


“No, but I can try.” She replied softly, her voice barely above a whisper, and snuggled further into the pillow.  She felt him shift and sighed, slowly opening her eyes and just looked at him. “You're not tired?” She asked, watching as he shook his head, and bit her bottom lip. “Then why did you insist on coming up here to go to sleep?” Jasina was confused and threw the comforter off, beginning to get up so she could go back downstairs to look at some more pictures or something.  She felt restless.


“Because I know if I don't try to sleep I'm going to stay up all damn night and be a bear in the morning.” He pulled her back down, rolling over and pinning her beneath him. “Why can't you sleep?  Besides the obvious fact you're uncomfortable here.” Mark stared down at her, feeling her curvy body pressed against his.  He didn't remember her having some of these curves...being clean had done wonders for her figure.


Having him this close was making her head spin as Jasina tried focusing, staring into those eyes again.  Those damn eyes. “I'm not uncomfortable, first of all.” She said, loving the feeling of his rock hard body against hers.  It'd been so, she couldn't think like that!  She had to breathe, though his scent was overtaking her. “I'm restless.” She said in a softer voice, her stomach tightening slightly and she could feel the desire rushing through her body. “Why can't you sleep besides the fact that I'm here?”


“It's just the fact that you're here, no other reason.” He said conversationally, shifting so he wasn't crushing her under his weight. “Well...that and I'm kinda worried about seeing Arielle in the morning.” He pulled a face. “I don't know what to do with a girl who's...PMSing it.” Maybe he'd make chocolate chip pancakes in the morning.


“So THAT'S why you insisted I stayed.” Jasina started laughing softly, ignoring his grimace, and shook her head.  That desire quickly went away as she patted his shoulder gently, comfortingly. “Don't worry, Mark.  PMS isn't as bad as it seems.  Just have chocolate and Pamprin for her cramps.  I know she's going to be in a lot of pain because I was when I was her age.” Jasina shivered, remembering when she would be sent home because her cramps hurt her so badly.  She hoped that wasn't the case with Arielle.


Besides the obvious male discomfort on this very feminine topic, Mark wondered if he should be keeping notes. “You know what'll come next?  Bra shopping.” He groaned, already picturing it.  Arielle holding up bra after bra after bra, asking him which one. “Oh dear lord...” He dropped his face, hiding it in her shoulder. “Shoot me, just shoot me.”


Jasina was giggling harder now and ran her fingers through his hair, loving the feeling of it as it slid from them gently. “I will be taking her bra shopping.” She told him, trying to set his mind at ease. “I'm warning you now, if she's anything like me physically and woman wise, she's going to start sprouting them before she's thirteen.  I was a size C by the time I was that age.” When his head popped up from her shoulder, Jasina nodded with a sigh. “Poor girl, she's gonna have her mother's figure and cup size probably.” She actually grimaced. “Hopefully she won't go past a D cup.  I stopped when I was about eighteen...”


“Maybe my genes will kick in and she'll be tall enough to support them.” He grunted, trying not to picture his baby girl, his innocent little angel, his baby with a pair of… “Damn it, Jasina, knock it off.” He groaned, clamping a hand over her mouth. “No more, I'm going to go buy a shotgun first thing in the morning and a chastity belt, they still sell those, right?”


Jasina was laughing hard against his hand as she managed to move his hand away, the amusement clearly shining in her eyes. “If my mother ever tried that, I would've shot her.” She stated, raising a slow eyebrow. “You're not putting a chastity belt on our daughter, Marcus.” She smirked when he growled, knowing how much he loathed his full name. “You can buy a shotgun, though if you shoot one of the boys she'll bring home, I'm going to have to hurt you.”


Technically, he could do whatever he wanted too and there wasn't a damn thing Jasina could do about it, but he didn't feel mean enough to point that out. “I'll be shootin' Gary first.” He said thoughtfully. “Gary is the boy that hangs out with her and Toni, the boy who apparently thinks wearin' bells on his boxers is a fashion trend.” He was STILL wondering just how Arielle knew that tidbit, deciding he and Gary would be having a chat soon.


“You're being overprotective.” She pointed out, shaking her head, knowing she wouldn't be able to change his mind. 


She knew cooler heads would prevail and Mark would see that he would be pushing his daughter away if he chased away all of her friends that were male.  She decided not to point that out though or the fact that Arielle had to grow up sometime.  That's the last thing he needed to hear as she simply laid there, letting him rant and rave, finding it both cute and amusing.


His mind strayed off his daughter and onto the mother, literally.  Now that he was paying attention to the woman underneath him, those curves were beginning to walk back into his train of thought. “Sleeping in your clothes...Do you want a shirt or something?  This way they'll be fresh in the morning.” He almost said something along the lines of 'sleeping in that bra can't be comfortable, let them swing free', but...that wouldn't have gone over well all things considered.


“I didn't want to impose.” She softly replied, smiling when he stood up and walked over, getting her another shirt and tossed it at her. “Thanks.” She muttered when it landed on top of her head and proceeded to pull it over her head.  She slipped her shorts off while under the comforter and managed to get her tank top off without showing him anything, but part of her stomach, smoothing the shirt down.  It went to her knees, as always, and felt him rejoin her in the bed, making sure to keep her legs covered and away from his. “Thank you.”


“Not a problem.” Mark grunted, laying back down, drawing the covers up to his chest, flipping onto his stomach.  Then his back, then finally his side.  It was so damn odd to be sharing a bed.  Especially with the one person he never thought he'd want back in his bed.  How funny life could be sometimes. “Don't you have a boyfriend waiting on you somewhere?” He asked out of the blue.


That caught her off guard as Jasina laid on her left side, facing him, wondering how she was supposed to tell him... “There's been no one else, Mark.” She softly said, deciding the truth was best, and closed her eyes. 


Of course he didn't know about the two years of rehab she went through or the fact that she'd been so hopped up on drugs that she didn't want to destroy another man's life.  She figured saying all of that might ruin the peace between them and kept it to herself.  He would find everything out eventually as she inhaled the shirt and pillow.  It smelled like him and that made her smile.


“Woman, are you- you're sniffing my pillows?” Mark began laughing, moving to grab the pillow from underneath her head, sniffing it. “Smells like me.” He grunted, passing it back to her, arching an eyebrow. “Sorry.  Not used to a woman in here I guess.  Maybe I should start lighting candles or something, eh?”


Jasina blushed as she shook her head, snatching the pillow back. “No, I love your scent.” She stated, her cheeks flaming hot by now and buried her face in the pillow. ‘I did not just say that!!’ She thought frantically, curling up with the comforter to hide herself from more embarrassment.  Judging by the house, she knew he didn't have another woman in his life, which is why she didn't ask him.  Though then again, he might think of it rude or conceded if she didn't. “You don't have a woman waiting on you?”


Mark was still chuckling over her confession.  Loved his scent?  He always thought he smelled like a garage, but then again, that was him.  Women were weird creatures.  Especially this one.  He popped an eye open to see her hiding under the blankets, reaching out with one hand to pull them off of her, laughing when she snatched out her hands for them.


“Not that I know of.” He drawled.  He wasn't about to tell her he'd had a few flings, that was none of her business for one.  Two, they never lasted more than a month and he had never allowed any of them to meet his daughter.


“You asked me, I was just returning the favor.” She informed him, snatching the blanket back over her before laying down again. 


It was really surprising he hadn't found anyone, but then again, she had broken his heart.  Sighing gently, Jasina closed her eyes, her arm resting on top of the comforter, her legs curled slightly.  She could never lay stretched out, it drove her crazy.  Not to mention she was in her ex-husband's bed wearing his t-shirt and she was fighting the urge to pounce on him.  She pushed a strand of hair from her face and rubbed her eyes, letting out a small yawn, knowing she still wasn't tired.  If anything, her body was alive and on fire, though Mark didn't need to know that.  She would be going through hell tomorrow at work, that much was certain.


“Okay, enough talkin', we both got to work tomorrow.” Mark also had to find a way to go to sleep so he'd stop thinking about her, not in the mood for a cold shower because, honestly, that’s what she was beginning to do to him.  Damn it.  So much for happily divorced. “Good night, Jasi.” Yawning loudly, he rolled over so his back was facing her, grunting and moved long enough to get rid of the damn boxers, laying back down and sighed contentedly.


“Night Mark.” She whispered, biting her bottom lip, seeing he had removed his boxers and, for the first time in her life, Jasina had moved to lay on her right side.  She couldn't stare at his bare back, see those muscles ripple...she bit into the pillow before bringing the comforter over her body fully, hoping she would eventually drift off to sleep.  That wasn't likely to happen, but she could hope.


When she did eventually drift off to sleep, it was long after Mark already had.  He rolled over sometime in the early morning, groaning softly and tossed his arm around her, pulling her back against him.  Mmm...This dream came with a warm, soft body.  When Jasina woke up, she was going to find herself trapped under a massive thigh, her back to a broad chest and a hard-on digging into her back.


Chapter 18


It was hot and Jasina was burning up as she slowly opened her eyes, sweat beading her body.  Who had turned up the damn heat?  She froze when she felt an arm tighten around her body, swallowing hard, and looked up to see Mark's sleeping face.  How in the hell did she wind up in THIS position?  Not to mention she could feel...oh dear Christ!  This was her ex-husband and he was...


“Mark...” She tried wiggling out of his arm, but that wasn't happening.  This was awkward as hell as she bit her bottom lip, finally elbowing him in the gut, like she used to do when he wouldn't get up. “Mark!”


“Five more minutes, darlin'.” He drawled sleepily, not opening his eyes.  Instead he buried his face in her hair, inhaling deeply and groaned, sleep making the sound husky.  He moved a little, rolling her onto her back, a large hand skimming her bare thigh under the t-shirt, which somehow had wound up around her hips.


Jasina's eyes flew open when he did that, though it felt so good.  She couldn't succumb to it though, knowing he was still asleep, and bit her bottom lip as her eyes drifted shut.  Oh man, his big hands, she remembered them vividly.  Every part of this man's body she remembered, but those were exceptional.  No!  She couldn't do this and pushed his hand away, knowing she had to get out of there.


“Mark!” She said a little louder, remembering the morning sex sessions he used to love. “Mark, get up it's Jasina!”


“Mmmmhmmmm...” He rumbled, moving lazily and pulled her underneath him, leaning down to kiss her throat, his hand back under the shirt, caressing her panty covered sex. 


When he got hit again, his eyes flew open, pulling back.  All he could do was stare down at her, sleep quickly evaporating.  Mark took quick stock of what position he was in and where his hand was, then noticed...she was enjoying it.  She woke him up, but she was still pretty wet.  He leaned down and kissed her.


This was wrong, so very wrong, but damned if it wasn't wonderful.  Jasina moaned as soon as his lips touched hers, her heart pounding a furious tattoo in her chest.  For a moment, just a moment, remembering how it used to be.  She felt his tongue swipe across her lips, her hand burying in his auburn tresses as their tongues entwined together, her entire body shivering at how exquisite it felt.  She hadn't been kissed or touched in so long so her body was incredibly sensitive.  Kissing him was always heaven on earth and this was no exception as she arched her body into him, completely giving into the desire that coursed through her body, screaming out for attention from him.


Growling softly, he used his thigh to nudge her legs apart, settling himself between them, his erection pressing into her, never breaking the kiss.


“Dad, did mom leave, cause I was hoping she could-” Arielle halted in the doorway, her green eyes widening and her mouth dropping. “What the HELL?”


So much for not breaking that kiss...Mark looked up at his daughter. “Don't you know how to knock?”


“Uh, no, since when do I have too?”


Jasina was breathing heavily as she shoved Mark off of her, stumbling to the floor, and popped right back up as she raked a hand through her hair.  Her lips were slightly swollen, her hair tousled, and her shirt was...she quickly pulled it down.  This was DEFINITELY awkward, especially with the conversation that she just had with her daughter the previous afternoon.


“What did you need Arie?” She quickly asked, refusing to look at Mark, her eyes solely on her daughter. “Your hair?  Got it.” She swiped her clothes from the floor and flew out of there, shutting the door behind her.  That was her EX-HUSBAND and she almost...Jasina had to learn how to breathe as she shoved Arielle down the hallway.


“Uh hold up, Mom...” Arielle dug her feet into the floor, refusing to be pushed away from the scene of the crime. “I'm doing my own hair, I know how.” She was trying not to grin at her mom's flushed face, her green eyes sparkling with amusement. “So...he doesn't think of you in that way huh?” She asked, folding her arms over her chest, arching an eyebrow.


“Arielle...” She groaned, needing to get out of there before Mark got up, not wanting to face him at the moment. “Look, it's REALLY complicated...” She said, quickly pulling her shorts up.  How the HELL was she supposed to explain this one? “I am not discussing this with you.” She finally stated, pulling her tank top on and took the shirt off, tossing it in the laundry basket that was in the hallway. “Now what did you need?” She asked promptly, crossing her arms in front of her chest, imitating her daughter's stance.


“I wanted to know where you were since you weren't on the couch.” Arielle wasn't bothered in the slightest, just bounced past her mom and flitted back into her dad's room. “Daddy...”


Mark was in his jeans by now, glancing at her as he pulled a t-shirt over his head. “Yes, princess?”


“Why don't you make some pancakes and coffee, then we'll have a talk.”


“How bout I make the pancakes and the coffee and we don't have a talk?”


“I have to go Arie.” Jasina called, knowing she was going to be late, and reluctantly walked back into Mark's room. “I really have to go, I'm going to be late.  Give me a hug.” She stated, kissing her daughter's head before standing back up, staring back at Mark. “Umm...see you later?” She walked out and down the stairs, slipping her socks and shoes on before nearly jetting out to her car, getting in and peeled out of there.  Her lips were still burning as Jasina felt the tears burn her eyes, her entire body trembling from pure desire, needing a desperate cold shower.  She grabbed her cell from the passenger seat and dialed Trish's number, swallowing hard. “I-I'm going to be late.  An hour at the most.  Thanks hon.” She hung up and drove home.




“So, let me get this shared a bed with your druggie ex-wife and then almost fucked her?”


Why was Steve his best friend?  And why did he always confide in the guy? “She's not a druggie anymore, but other then that yes.”


“So fuck her and get it out of your system.  Then you can go back to being Arie's single parent dad and life will go on.”


Mark threw his screwdriver at Steve.




“I can't believe what happened...”


Trish had to blink, seeing how badly her friend and co-worker was shaking, placing her hand on hers for comfort. “Sweetie, it's perfectly natural...”


“No it isn't!  He's my ex-husband and I thought he didn't have feelings for me!” She snapped, then immediately apologized, biting her bottom lip. “Jesus what am I going to do?”


“Maybe you should have a talk with him.”


“I'd rather shoot myself in the damn skull than do that, Trish.”




“Ouch!” Steve wailed, getting hit with his third screwdriver of the day. “What'd I say this time?”


“Nothing.” Mark grunted from under a truck. “You just annoyed me by being there.”


“Look, do you still love her?”


“It's complicated.”


“Oh, but waking her up for some early morning delight ain't?”


“Sex is different.”


“Not when it's with the former love of your life, moron!”


“Arie will be here soon, you mind dropping it?” Mark growled, regretting ever telling Steve about what had happened. “I think Trish has gotten to you, you're talking like doctor fucking Ruth.”


“Well...when you come in here needin' laid and I'm the only option, I feel the need to speak up and save my ass.  Literally.”


“You best call Trish and let her know she's about to be a single mother.”




“Maybe I should pretend it never happened.” Jasina reasoned, raking a hand through her hair.


“You know damn well Arie isn't going to let it go, Jas.” Trish reasoned, sighing as she looked up at the clock. “I say you should talk to him.”


“Oh and what do I say huh?  Mark, I love you with all my heart and I want you back?” Jasina snorted, rolling her eyes, though that was the truth. “I don't see that going too well, Trish, do you?”


“Does he still love you?”


“I don't know.”




Later on that day, Jasina left the Houston Journal and walked to the parking garage, wearing a pink and gray skirt suit, black pumps on her feet that matched her purse.  She was still so confused about what happened between her and Mark, knowing she would eventually have to face him.  Groaning, Jasina slid in her car and turned the ignition, pulling out of there and headed to her penthouse.  She had some serious thinking to do.


Jasina decided she wasn't going to mention what happened between her and Mark until he did.  Not that she hadn't enjoyed.  She could still feel his hands on her...Jasina groaned, turning the air conditioner on, and wondered briefly if HER period was on the way.  No, she just got over it a few days prior, which was why she had those extra pads in her car.  These weren't hormones, this was her body SCREAMING at her to have sex.  It wasn't happening as she walked over and took an ice cube out of the freezer, rubbing it around her neck, her hair up in a clip to keep off of her neck.  Time for a haircut definitely.




Mark would take Steve back over Arielle in a heartbeat.  He was trying to get supper around while she did her school work at the table, or was supposed to be.  She was barraging him with a shitload of questions.


“Arie, schoolwork.” He ordered, tossing a dish towel over his shoulder.


“Are you and mom getting back together?”


“Not that I'm aware of.”


“Why not?  You have to make an honest woman of her.”


“Have you and Toni been sneakin' Lashonna's books again?”




The next Saturday, Arielle was at her mom's knocking brightly on the door.  She had gotten permission from her dad who had then asked Lashonna to drop her off.  When Jasina opened the door, she walked right in, dropping her bag on the floor.


“Dad said if you didn't mind, I could spend the night with you.” She didn't add he was currently giving her what she wanted on a lot of things just to shut her up.


“Well, I'm always happy that you're here.” Jasina smiled down at her, hugging her before kissing the top of her head.  Jasina had gotten a queen sized bed for her guest room and made it Arielle's.  She painted the walls a deep blue that went well with the beige carpeting. “Your father DOES know you're here right?” When she nodded and explained Lashonna had brought her over, Jasina physically relaxed. “Good.  I was getting ready to make dinner, do you want to help?” She grinned as Arielle bounced into the kitchen, after putting her bag in her room.


“So, what are we making?” Arielle asked eagerly, washing her hands thoroughly in the sink before drying them off, looking around the kitchen curiously.  She always loved her mom's kitchen.  It had a lot of things in it that made cooking easier, like an electric mixer for example.  She hadn't been able to talk her dad into buying one yet. “ and dad talk yet?” She asked innocently.


“No we haven't and we're probably not going too.” Jasina stated evenly, letting her daughter know right off the bat that topic was barred from discussion. “I was thinking about making some stuffed shells.  It's Italian and really good.  What do you think?” She grinned when Arielle nodded eagerly before walking over to grab the ricotta cheese out of the fridge along with a few other ingredients they would need.  She needed a distraction and cooking along with her daughter would do the trick.


Chapter 19


“You sure Trish gave you the okay to be here?” Mark teased when Steve showed up, Harry already in the kitchen with the beer, ready for a game of poker.


“As far as I know, she's planning on going over to Jas's tonight with Lashonna.”


“As long as the women aren't in our hair, who cares?”


“Arie is there.”


“Well, then her and Trish will be driving her insane because Trish told me- Oh wait, I'm not allowed to tell YOU.”




Jasina had just finished stuffing the final shell when a knock sounded at her door, causing her eyebrow to raise. “Will you get that sweetheart?” She asked, going to wash her hands since they were full of cheese, smiling when she heard Trish's bubbly voice along with Little Steven's cries and Lashonna with Toni.  She smiled and walked out of her kitchen, drying her hands off, and hugged Trish before taking the little man in her arms. “How's my godson?” She quipped with a grin. “What are you all doing here?”


“Harry and Steve are with Mark tonight for a guy's night only so...” Lashonna rolled her eyes dramatically, her teeth shockingly white against her dark skin. “We thought we'd come- Toni, don't touch the radio.”


Trish smirked, shaking out her hair. “Besides, we figured you could use the company.  Arielle, you and I have some digging to do sweetheart.” She looked pointedly at Jasina.


“Trust me, I know.”


“I am not talking about that.” Jasina stated defiantly, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “You told Lashonna?”


“Honey, it's not like it's a big secret.  Steve and Harry know.”


Jasina was going to KILL Mark!  What the hell gave him the right to talk about what happened between them with other people? “Is that right?” She finally said through gritted teeth.


“Whoa Arie, look how red your mom is!” Toni crowed, both girls giggling.


This was going to be a LONG night.


“Jasina, we know.” Trish gestured to herself and Lashonna. “You really think the guys aren't going to gossip, they're just as bad as we are.”


Arielle nudged Toni with a grin. “Mom and Dad were uh...”


“Storking it up?”


“Yeah that!” Arielle giggled, Mark having had a word with Lashonna about that.


Trish was trying not to giggle now.


Jasina groaned more before walking into the kitchen, shaking her head and popped the shells in the oven.


“So...spill girl!  We want details!”


“This really isn't an appropriate time to-”


The girls were in Arielle's room playing with toys and talking.


“You were saying?”


“Look, he was sleepy and didn't realize it was me...” Okay that was a lie, but damn it, she had to say something to get them off of her back. “He probably isn't even talking about it anymore.  He probably wished it never happened and I don't blame him.”


“Oh yeah sure, he was only trying to get some with a figment of his imagination.  According to Steve, Mark woke up and knew EXACTLY who he was trying to get jiggy with.”


“Excuse me?” Lashonna began laughing, shaking her head.


“You know what I mean.”


Mark was going to die; Jasina was going to murder him in his SLEEP for this!  “He actually said that?” She turned beat red and slammed the utensil in the sink, the anger radiating off of her in waves. “I didn't realize this was a big fucking game to him.” She spat, suddenly pissed beyond belief, wanting to ring his thick neck and beat his skull in! “Look, I don't want to talk about this anymore.  I'm so pissed right now.” It took a lot to spark anger in Jasina and right now, she was LIVID.


Lashonna and Trish exchanged looks, both folding their arms over their chests.  Lashonna and Trish were polar opposites of each other so when they had been introduced through Steve, and hit it off, it was been a bit surprising.


“Look, you told ME what happened, most of it.  You can't go getting pissed off just because HE did too.”


“She's right, Jas.”


Trish had a point and she hated her for it at that moment. “Look, I love him, but I'm also not going to beg him to come back to me or whatever.  What happened between us was nothing actually.  It felt great don't get me wrong.  I haven't had sex in over eleven years...” She seen their eyes widen and held her hand up. “Drugs don't exactly stimulate the body and I wasn't in the right frame of mind.” She sighed, the anger diminishing from her body. “I don't know what to do.” She whispered, pressing her fingers against her forehead, tapping it gently.


“Uh hello, you go right up to him, kiss him breathless then let him do the rest.”


“Which means you'll need a weekend babysitter for Arie and a lot of condoms.”


“Or you need to get a Mirena, that's what I'm using.”


“How long do they last?”


“Five years I think.”


“No, I am not going up to him and doing that.  No, absolutely not.  He doesn't want me.  He may THINK he does, but I broke his heart and hurt him!  I ran away from him, you guys.” She groaned, this was so confusing and not to mention frustrating as hell as she walked into the living room and sat down on the couch, crossing one leg over the other.  Jasina couldn't stop thinking about Mark, his strong hands, that muscular body, and his lips...dear god. “See, I wrote him a letter before I left to move to Austin and I TOLD him that I loved him.  That I still do.  So what makes you think he wants more from me than just sex?”


“Oh well, we didn't say he wanted you for more then sex.” Trish said bluntly, seeing Jasina's face fall. “Honey, look, I didn't mean it the way it came out.  From what Steve would tell me-” And it wasn't too much because apparently his life had been threatened, something about screwdrivers. “Mark is a bit confused about all this himself.”


“You two need to be adults, sit down and talk about this.”


“Or we could just pretend like it never happened.” Jasina retorted evenly, refusing to get her heart broken.  Granted, she deserved it.  She deserved the pain of getting a slice of heaven while the rest of her life was miserable hell.  But...Jasina had made a mistake, several, but she had atoned for them and it was time to move on. “I'll talk about it if he brings it up.” She stated finally before walking into the kitchen, seeing her shells were done and smiled. “Who's hungry?”




“So are you ever going to mention it to her?” Harry asked curiously, trying to understand why the hell he was losing so much money and if Lashonna would kill him for cutting a check.


Mark knew why the man was losing money; it was because he couldn't shut up.  Steve was about broke too. “Not until she says something to me first.”


“Cold day in hell.  Damn it Mark!” Steve snapped when Mark threw down his cards. “You're cheating!”


“You know how women are.  They won't make the first move, man.” Harry sighed, knowing this was pointless in arguing with him. “Do you love her?”


“Don't bother, I already tried.” Steve grunted, popping the top on another beer. “If ya ask me, ya two should fuck THEN see ya feel.” He ducked when a beer can was chucked at his head. “What'd I say?”


“When you two are done?”


“Hey, get us another beer, Mark.  It's the least you could do since we're both almost broke.”


“Your girlfriend can foot the bill, she's rich.”


“When are you going to marry Trish?”


“HEY, we're talking about MARK, not me.”


“The man is a chickenshit, we've established that.” Harry smirked when Mark growled, raising an eyebrow as if to contradict him. “Now when are you tyin' the knot with that beautiful blonde?”


“Son, if yer wife heard ya talkin' bout that to another woman...”


“Hell, Lashonna agrees with me that Trish is beautiful, but nobody takes my wife's place.  Just marry her already.”


Steve grunted. “I'll think it over...”


“Trish is probably already planning the wedding.  The minute he works up the balls to ask, she'll have him down the aisle.” Mark smirked, setting down the beer, dropping back into his chair and picked up his cards.


“Hey, at least I- Never've already been married.”


“And divorced.”


“Hey, SHE left ME.  I'm not chasin' her.”


“Unless it's in the bedroom?”


“Yeah, I wouldn't bother with her man.  Just let her go.  She's baggage.” Harry stated as he looked at his cards, sipping his beer. “What?”


“That's really low to say.”


“She's an ex-druggie who RAN away from her family.  I'm biased when it comes to Mark and he shouldn't have to chase her.  He's right.”


Steve knew he had a point and shut up.




The girls were in bed, Stevie JR was asleep for the night and the women were all enjoying a glass of wine. “I think I want another baby.” Trish mused thoughtfully.


“No you don't.  It's easy to find a babysitter for one, try four.”


“Yeah, but yours are all in their teens, except Toni.”




“Motherhood suits you.” Jasina smiled as she sipped her wine, having not drank since rehab, though she figured one glass wouldn't hurt. 


One glass turned into sharing the whole bottle with Trish and Lashonna.  They had to sleep over so while Trish and Lashonna took her bed, Jasina took the couch.  She couldn't sleep though.  What was she supposed to do?  Risk asking Mark and get her heart broken?  What if he wanted sex and nothing more?  Jasina didn't even want to think about it as she turned on her side, eventually falling asleep.


Arielle answered the door the next morning, smiling when she seen her dad. “Is the weekend over?”


“No, but you forgot your school bag.” He held it up, wearing a pair of sunglasses to hide the fact he was hung over.  Steve and Harry were still passed out in his living room.


“Everyone's asleep, but me and Toni.” She said, holding up a finger for silence, pointing to the bottle of wine, the very empty bottle, on the coffee table.


Jasina bolted upright on the couch, breathing heavily, her eyes wide and focused her vision before landing on her daughter and...Mark.  Oh god. “What time is it?” She whispered, groaning as she stumbled off the couch, wearing a lavender colored nightgown.  She didn't want to think about the dream that had woken her up, not to mention she heard her daughter answer the door.  Jasina was a light sleeper. “Oh god my head...” She grumbled, popping two aspirin and downed them with water.


“Hard night?” He joked, rubbing the back of his neck.


Arielle decided now would be a great time to let them have a private moment, vacating back to the guest room.


Reluctantly, Mark shut the door behind him, knowing it'd be rude to just walk out. “You okay with keepin' her till Monday morning?” He asked quietly.


“Yeah, that's fine.” She replied softly, cracking a smile, and wondered what would happen if she mentioned what happened between them.  Damn it she had to stop being stubborn and just suck it up!  That was easier said than done though as she raked a hand through her hair, feeling very awkward at the moment. “We need to talk.” She finally said, staring at him through the sunglasses. “Not right now obviously, but...when would be a good time” She asked finally, rubbing her temples with her fingers.


“Um...” Mark knew exactly what she wanted to talk about, raking a hand through his hair then smirked, deciding to toy with her a little bit since she was obviously as flustered about this as he was. “Talk about what exactly?” He asked innocently, the wickedness in his green eyes hidden by his sunglasses.


“The bedroom incident you jackass!” Lashonna shouted from the bedroom where she and Trish were listening, the door open now.


He buried his face in a hand, shaking his head.


“I'm going to KILL you both!  Trish, I'm taking Little Stevie!” She called over her shoulder, hearing both women laughing their asses off and felt her cheeks flush red, wanting to hit them THEN Mark.  He knew damn well what she wanted to talk about, the jackass!  Lashonna had been right calling him that. “Never mind Mark.” She was too humiliated right now as she poured herself a cup of coffee, shaking her head.


“If you wanted to talk about it...” Mark trailed off, frowning when he heard Trish go ‘yes’ and walked back into the bedroom, glaring at them. “You both need to shut the hell up.”


“Or what?”


“I won't tell you how much money your men wound up losing to me.”