Days Like These

~Sequel to Days Go By~
Final Part to Days Trilogy


Chapter 1


Jasina looked up at the ranch and felt completely sick to her stomach, only having a small cup of coffee with no food.  She was afraid of throwing up and had half-expected Randy to show up telling her Arielle's graduation was more important than his work in Australia.  When he didn't show up and Jasina knew she had to leave or else she'd be late, it just broke her heart further. 


Now, she had the unpleasant duty of stepping out of the car and walking into the ranch with a glowing happy Arielle, only to shatter her to pieces with the unfortunate news of Randy's departure.  Wearing a strapless turquoise dress that went to her knees with a black sash around her waist, Jasina looked beautiful but didn't feel it.  If anything, she felt lower than scum, finally stepping out of the car and heading up to the front door in her two inch black strappy open-toed heels.


Mark opened the door before Jasina could even reach for it, wearing a black suit and in the process of fixing his tie, his hair slicked back and braided. “She's doing her make-up.” He said by way of greeting, smiling down at her, the smile slowly fading when he seen how she looked and was tempted to offer her a pick-me-up beer or something.  Stepping back, he let Jasina into the house. “You look like someone shot yer puppy, darlin'.  Bad news?”

“Dad, where'd you put my eyeliner?”

“Top shelf in the medicine cabinet, why can't you use yer own goddamn bathroom?” He shouted back.

“Because you have to finish remodelin' it, duh!”

“Yer Mom's here!”


“Be right down.”


Jasina didn't acknowledge the question and plastered a fake smile on her face. “You clean up nice.”


She knew this was a big day for Mark, especially since he'd raised Arielle from infant into a beautiful young woman who was graduating high school.  Jasina had made sure she looked her best, getting rid of the puffiness after crying so much, wearing black eyeliner and clear gloss, wanting a natural look.  Though, the amount of sadness in her eyes was enough to tell Mark something definitely wasn't right.  Jasina nearly felt her heart crush at the sight of Arielle, seeing how happy she was and didn't know if she could do this.


“You look amazing, Arie.”


“Damn straight I do.” Arielle beamed, completely oblivious to her mother's mood, excited about the day.  She twirled in a circle, showing off her dress before gently patting her hair. “What do you think?  I made Dad curl the back for me.”

“Arielle!” Mark groaned, not believing she had just announced that. “I thought we agreed that'd be between just us, lil darlin'?”

“It's Mom, who's she going to tell?”


Mark slapped his face. “I'm gonna go finish getting around now that yer outta my bathroom.” He announced, heading upstairs to give the women some time alone, knowing this was a big day for all of them.


“You actually had him curl your hair?” Jasina couldn't help giggling, wrapping an arm around Arielle's shoulders as they headed down the hallway toward the kitchen. “I didn't even know he could use a curling iron.”


They both laughed and it felt good, even through the pain and heartache Jasina currently felt.  She didn't want anything ruining her daughter's big day and hated Randy even more for what he was forcing her to do.  Why did she always have to clean up after other people's messes?


“You look perfect, Gary isn't going to be able to take his eyes off of you, honey.”


“He never can.” Arielle smirked, the cocky expression on her face totally like the one her father tended to sport. “But today, he's going to- Mom, your eyes look weird.” She broke off in the middle of her sentence, dropping down at the kitchen table only to get back up, not wanting to ruin her dress. “Looks like you've been cryin'.  Don't cry, you cried at my birthday party, you're supposed to be done cryin'.” She moved to hug her Mom gently. “Happy day, remember?”


She simply hugged Arielle back tightly, not wanting to muse her up in any way shape or form. “I know it is, sweetie, you're right.” She pulled back and wiped a few tears away from her face, being careful not to mess up her own makeup, seeing the confusion in those emerald eyes. “Arielle, sit down.  There's something I need to tell you.” When she merely folded her arms in front of her chest, Jasina suddenly had to sit down and lowered her eyes to the floor, clasping her hands in front of her as more tears stung her eyes. “Sweetheart, Randy isn't coming to your graduation today...or your party.”


“What, why?” Arielle's confusion showed all over her face and then her expression turned panicky.  The way her Mom was sitting, wringing her hands and obviously fighting back tears had gotten her mind and heart to racing, worry filling her. “Is he alright?  Has somethin' happened?” She demanded, unable to sit, feeling tension coiling in her.  She knew Randy sometimes worked some rather dangerous assignments and had visions of him being shot, or stabbed, in her head now.


“He went to Australia this morning for work.” Jasina bitterly stated, trying not to sound resentful, but it wasn't happening.  This was her daughter's graduation day, where she walked the aisle to receive her diploma, a year earlier and as valedictorian. “He surprised me last night with the tickets because he was going to take me with him.  He completely forgot about your graduation and it's nobody's fault except his own.  I told him countless times and he still went because he couldn't cancel.” She stood up from the chair, squaring her shoulders and stared down into Arielle's eyes. “I'm sorry, Arielle.”


“HE WHAT?” Arielle screamed, the worry evaporating into anger, hardly believing she had just spent the last few seconds feeling violently ill at the thought of something happening to him, when it turned out he was blowing off her big day for a damn vacation! “He went to Australia?  NOW?  TODAY?  He couldn't get out of it?!  What the fuck Mom?!”


Mark was slowly making his way downstairs, wincing when Arielle dropped the F-bomb and wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know what was going on, deciding to just stay in the living room for the moment.


“Believe me, I reacted the same way you are now when he told me.  He said he couldn't get out of it because he has 'obligations'.” She did the finger quotes motion, snorting the same time her daughter did, both of them clearly livid at Randy Orton for his selfish choices. “I told him if he loved us as much as he said he does, he wouldn't go.  He would stay here and simply tell them his family was more important.  He said he'd make it up to you and me, but...” Jasina didn't even want to see Randy when he returned from Australia, taking a deep shaky breath because she had to be calm for Arielle's sake. “I don't think...I mean...” She decided not to say anything more, knowing Arielle was angry enough as it was. “Don't let him ruin the biggest day of your life just because he's an asshole, Arie.”


“No, Mom, you don't get it.  He HAS to be there!  He helped me write my speech and I thanked him in it for being one of-” Arielle was so pissed off and hurt that she was struggling to speak without choking up and not cry at the same time.”Call him right now and tell him to get back here!  He has to be here!  He can't be in Australia, not today.”


This was almost as bad as when her Dad totally destroying her birthday party!!  Arielle ran out of the room and upstairs to the bathroom, needing both a minute alone to finish crying, since she had started and to clean her face up, letting out an angry shriek.  Randy Orton was a dead man and instead of finding that as amusing, which is what he always figured he'd feel if Mr. Perfect messed up, Mark found himself genuinely hating that the man had just destroyed Arielle's day.


Randy had just hit HIS level.


Jasina simply sank back down on the chair and put her head in her hands, letting a few tears of her own fall.  How could Randy devastate them like this, especially Arielle?  He meant so much to her and it took a lot for Arielle to let another man into her life that almost matched her feelings for her father.  Jasina had no idea Randy had helped Arielle with her valedictorian speech and that just angered her further, suddenly storming out on the patio to get some fresh air.


“Why Randy?” She whispered heartbrokenly, Arielle's shriek still echoing in her mind, not helping matters at all.


Mark was torn between going to his daughter and going to his ex-wife, knowing he needed to make sure Arielle would be alright.  He had no place in Jasina's life anymore, except as the father of her child. “Arie…?” He knocked gently on the bathroom door, flinching when he heard her tell him to go away, punctuated by something breaking, really hoping she wasn't 'remodeling' HIS bathroom.  Sighing, Mark headed back downstairs and into the kitchen, passing Jasina a bandana. “He's not coming.”


“No.” Jasina really didn't want to see the gloating look on Mark's face or in his beady green eyes, not taking the bandana and refused looking at him. 


She had no idea what she was going to do now, if she could ever trust another man again.  Hell, the way Randy left, she didn't think they were over even though it felt that way.  As much as Jasina despised him right now, she couldn't help loving the man who had managed to piece her back together after Mark shattered her.  Now he had shattered her and Jasina didn't know if she would be able to piece herself back together without help.  The worst part was she had to destroy her daughter's big day, which made the hatred bubble inside of her, overshadowing the love.


Mark wasn't gloating and nothing but concern and sympathy showed in his eyes, knowing how hard it must have been to trust another man with her heart.  He knew how hard it had been for Arielle to fully trust Randy, expecting him to hurt her and after awhile, even Mark had figured the other man would never hurt either of the women he loved dearest.  Crouching down, he gently reached up and moved her hands away from her face, beginning to wipe away the tears and little specks of make-up that had smeared only a bit.


Jasina sniffled a little and didn't pull away from him when he wiped her tears away, his warm hands actually feeling comforting.  Teal eyes locked with emerald green, not believing the amount of concern coursing through them.  Mark wanted to kill Randy, there was no doubt in Jasina's mind about it, but he wasn't losing his temper because he didn't want to upset Arielle anymore than she already was.  They didn't say anything and simply stared into each other's eyes, something they hadn't done since their relationship ended.

“Mark, are you here baby?”


The moment was ruined by that voice and Jasina instantly broke eye contact, turning to stare out into the open land, while Mark went to greet his girlfriend, Shayla.  Now that that moment was over, Mark bent down to kiss Shayla's cheek, really wishing she would quit calling him baby.  It felt a bit...retarded, being his age, his size and getting called baby, but...he tolerated it.


“We're not leavin' just yet, there was a problem and Arie's gettin' cleaned up.” Mark explained, gesturing for her to take a seat. 


Today of all days, it was supposed to be a happy day and so far, it was sucking and he could see the puzzled look on her face, pinching the bridge of his nose, not about to explain it all.


Jasina was in hell.  Randy wasn't there while Mark had his girlfriend, who actually showed up unlike her boyfriend, and that made Jasina sick to her stomach.  When Arielle called for her back inside the house, Jasina took a deep breath and headed into the kitchen, her eyes only on her daughter as she walked past both Mark and Shayla.


“Yes sweetheart?” She asked softly, already feeling drained and the day hadn't even begun, having a full purse of tissues for when they made it to her ceremony. “You ready to go?”




Arielle nodded stiffly, her face remade and a complete mask of nothingness, refusing to feel anything just yet because she knew it would be anger and more hurt and then the water work process would begin all over again.  Arielle nodded at Shayla, who offered her a timid smile in return.  How screwed was that?  Her Dad’s girlfriend was coming but Randy, her almost step-dad, was on his way to freaking Australia?


“I'm going to ride with Mom, okay Dad?”

“Sure darlin', whatever you want.”


Jasina glanced back at Mark and nodded at him with a tentative smile before wrapping an arm around Arielle, guiding her out of the house.  Gary was meeting them at the ceremony because he had a few last minute things to finish up at the office with Trish, promising he wouldn't miss the graduation.  That was the last thing Arielle needed was for her own boyfriend/soon-to-be fiancé to miss the biggest moment of her life.  They got in Jasina's car and drove away from the ranch, Arielle having her graduation cap and gown hanging in the back on a hook.


“I love you, Arie, you know that right?” When Arielle just stiffly nodded, Jasina decided not to say anything else, not even fighting the frown that crossed her face.


“Do I even want to know what happened?” Shayla ventured timidly as she and Mark followed in his truck, feeling waves of both concern and anger radiating off of him from where she was sitting, knowing someone had hurt Arielle which was basically the equivalent of signing their death warrant.

“Nothin' for you to be concerned with.  Just...focus on Arielle today, this is about her.”


Chapter 2


As soon as they arrived at the high school, all thoughts of Randy vanished from her mind as Jasina focused solely on Arielle, helping her walk inside with her cap and gown.  She smiled at the sight of Gary waiting for them and Arielle instantly ran into his arms, hugging him tightly around the neck, a frown suddenly marring his handsome face.  Gary could feel the tension even before he walked up to greet his girlfriend, the expressions on everyone’s faces telling him that the mood definitely wasn’t cheerful.

“What happened?” He demanded softly, looking up at Jasina for the answer.


Jasina sighed and placed a hand on Arielle's back, watching the anger fill Gary's eyes when Arielle told him about Randy going on vacation instead of being here.  The fire in the boy’s eyes was enough to actually scare Jasina momentarily.  She knew Gary had a temper on him and had only seen it once since he’d returned to town to be with Arielle.  However, Jasina knew without a shadow of a doubt that Gary would never hurt her daughter physically or intentionally.


“Seriously?” Gary growled once Arielle walked away from him, needing to get ready for the ceremony. “What an asshole.”


Mark kept his mouth shut as he approached with Shayla, agreeing with Gary wholeheartedly and shook the young man's hand with a forced grin.  Not that he didn't like Gary because, surprisingly, he did; the boy had definitely grown on him.  No, the smile was forced because he really wanted to kick Randy in the balls for being so stupid, for pulling a stunt way too similar to his own and ruining another momentous day for Arielle.

“He'd kick my ass if I tried kicking his, wouldn't he?”

“Eh...” Mark shrugged nonchalantly.


Once Arielle was fitted into her cap and gown, Jasina snapped a few pictures, Mark and Gary involved along with Shayla.  Jasina wasn't going to be cruel to the woman, it was good that Mark had moved on and found someone else.  Shayla was even kind enough to snap pictures of her and Mark with Arielle, the proud parents.  They headed out to take their seats, the warm sun beating down on them and Jasina began snapping pictures with Arielle's camera, promising to use it because it took the best.  As the school march began, Jasina couldn't stop a tear from sliding down her cheek as she watched her baby girl walk down the aisle, the yellow sash around her neck signifying her valedictorian crown.


Arielle was bound and determined to NOT let the absence of Randy spoil this for her, a smile plastered on her face as she took her seat for opening ceremony.  She had omitted the reference to him in her speech, still unsure if she should leave it out or mention him, it wasn't like he was there to hear it.  She noted Toni and her parents, Gary, her Mom and Dad and her friends sitting in the crowd.  Mentally groaning when she realized Shayla had a camcorder out, Arielle kept the smile on her face since her mom was snapping pictures.


Mark was going to have a crying jag later on... his little baby was graduating and he couldn’t believe how fast time had flown.


Once the opening ceremony was over with -the principal talking along with some of the teachers-, it was time for the announcement of valedictorian.  Jasina was all smiles as she kept snapping pictures, trying her best to steady her shaking hands while Shayla continuing videotaping the momentous occasion.  Gary sat beside Jasina and couldn't help grinning proudly; remembering when he graduated from school after getting out of juvie, wishing Arielle could've been there to witness his moment in the sun.

“And now, I am pleased to announce this year's valedictorian.  She ranked the highest in her class, graduating a year earlier than expected, with an outstanding GPA of four point five.  Ladies and gentlemen, please help me in congratulating Arielle Marie Calaway.” The principal announced humbly, an applause echoing throughout the graduating class.

“WOOO GO ARIE!!!” Gary roared while Jasina whistled with her fingers, all of her friends stomping their feet against the bleachers while clapping wildly.

“My baby girl...” With everyone Jasina had been through, being here in this moment for her daughter was worth everything and more.


Mark ducked his head in order to brush away tears with his knuckles, listening intently to her speech.  He knew Randy had helped her write it because she had told him so when he had offered his dubious expertise.  She had also told him he and her Mom weren't allowed to hear it because she wanted it to be a surprise. 


Well he was surprised, wondering where this articulate overly-intelligent -he knew damn well she got from her mother, on both counts- young woman came from.  Her usually rough accent -that was from him- was clipped and soft, a drawl that by no means ruined the overall intelligence that emanated from her.  He found himself reaching around Gary's shoulder in order to place a hand on Jasina's, knowing this was a major moment for her as well.


Jasina never took her eyes from Arielle for even a second, placing her hand over Mark's, giving it a gentle squeeze as tears slid down her face.  The speech was beautifully written and the fact that Arielle acknowledged her in it lifted Jasina's heart in a way that was indescribable.  She knew Mark felt the same way, both of them sharing this moment and watching something neither would forget, not even on their deathbed. 


When her speech ended, Jasina stood up and applauded loudly while snapping pictures, along with everyone in the audience, even the classmates because they all enjoyed it.  The rest of the graduation followed suit, though when Arielle's name was mentioned to receive her diploma, the biggest roar sounded from the audience from all of her friends, family and the love of her life.  Steve and Trish were even there applauding, Trish looking beautiful and ready to pop the kid out any day now. 


When the ceremony ended, the family went to greet Arielle and snapped pictures, exchanging loving embraces.  Even Jasina hugged Mark and snapped a picture with him at Arielle's request, smiling brightly all because their baby girl had finally graduated high school and was grown up.  The fact that their daughter would be moving in with her boyfriend in just a few days didn’t bother Mark as much as he thought it would because he knew Gary was a good man, who would take care of Arielle and protect her with his life.


Not even realizing his arm was still around Jasina, Mark pulled Arielle into them with his other one, crushing both of them against him. “We are so damn proud of ya, Arie.” He whispered in her ear, letting go when she let out a muffled 'thanks' and then crushed Jasina against him without thinking twice, then set her back on her feet releasing his grip. “Can ya believe she's graduated?  Seems like just yesterday she was lockin' us up.” He chuckled good-naturedly.


Shayla was a little surprised when Arielle gave her a hug, having been watching Mark and Jasina, though she did return it awkwardly. “I filmed everything.” She said with a smile. “I'll have copies made off for everyone.”


Gary groaned, really not wanting to relive that experience again, though he was relieved to see the amusement in Mark's eyes, smiling when Arielle instantly came to him. “You have no idea how proud I am of you right now, baby doll and how much I love you.” He murmured softly, smiling when she simply kissed him on the lips.

“I know and now she's in love with the same boy who helped her lock us up.” The irony caused both parents to laugh jubilantly; the hug from Mark definitely needed and appreciated. “It seems like only yesterday she was no bigger than your forearm and now...look at her.  You did a great job, Mark.  She's absolutely perfect, smart as hell and beautiful.” Jasina sniffled, letting the emotions get the better of her as a few tears fell.


“Well...the smart and most of the perfection she gets from you, I just wiped her ass and kissed her scraped knees.”


“There were a lot of them too...”

“Scraped knees?” Gary grinned, keeping his arm around Arielle's waist as they turned to her parents.

“Dirty diapers.”

“Quit embarrassin' her Mark, she's turning red!”


Arielle took a deep breath and shook her head, letting out a shriek when Toni all but tackled her.


Jasina laughed and smacked Mark gently on the arm, shaking her head. “Behave.” She ordered amusedly, knowing he would have plenty of time at the party to embarrass her. 


They all headed down the sidewalk after Jasina snapped a few pictures of the trio and then of just Arielle with Toni, not believing how fast time flew by.  Jasina wasn't surprised when Arielle asked if she could ride with Toni and Gary, nodding and slipped into her own car, taking a moment to check her phone.  No messages from Randy, not even a voicemail.  Sighing, Jasina tossed her phone on the passenger seat and took off to the restaurant.


“So, is everything alright now?” Shayla asked once her and Mark were alone again.

“Yeah, everythin's fine.” Mark assured his girlfriend. ‘For now.’ He mentally added, knowing Jasina was keeping it together for their daughter’s sake.

“So, how does it feel to be graduated?” Toni demanded, glancing across the seat at Arielle before quickly turning her eyes back onto the road.

“Freedom!” Arielle squealed out, grinning, Randy the furthest from her mind.


The party was underway and Jasina instantly decided she was drinking tonight, having a glass of wine to celebrate Arielle's big day.  Gary was already planning on moving Arielle in the apartment during the next few days and Mark didn't look too happy about it, but a deal was a deal.  She sat alone in the far corner and just watched as her daughter mingled with all of the friends and family who were invited. 


It was a privilege being here and yet Randy chose to go overseas instead of accepting the invitation.  The more Jasina thought about it, the more pissed off she became and the more she drank, consuming nearly a bottle of wine herself within three hours.  She wasn't drunk, but felt pretty tipsy and cut herself off since she had to drive home.  All she could think about was how stupid she'd been to actually trust Randy with her heart, trying not to sulk at her daughter's party.


“I can't believe you're a graduate...” Trish sniffled, for the third time, catching Arie on her next round of the room, wiping away tears. “You can come to work fulltime!”

“Whoa honey, why don't you let her enjoy being free for a bit?” Steve suggested, smiling at Arielle. “I'm sure she wants to take a break.”

“I, uh- Oh look, it's time to do cake and presents!  See ya!”


Mark shook his head when he seen Arielle darting away from a laughing Steve and confused looking Trish, not even wanting to know as he stopped Shayla from helping herself to what would be her sixth drink. “Uh-uh, switch to something with less alcohol.” He ordered, refusing to let his girlfriend get sloshed at his daughter’s graduation party.


“Why?” Shayla demanded, raising an eyebrow up at her boyfriend, folding her arms in front of her chest. “I want another drink, baby.  It's a party after all.”


“It is my DAUGHTER'S party and if you drink anymore, yer going to get toasted, embarrass us all, and then I will drown you in that glass, we clear?” Mark said coldly.


He liked the woman, really he did, but she reminded him of Steve in the drinking department.  Only, unlike Steve, she didn't have the social drinking thing curbed.  He had ruined his daughter's birthday party, there would be no coming back from it if his girlfriend ruined her graduation party.  Two parties in one year, he'd never live it down.


Shayla stared at him in shock, the anger registering in her blue eyes. “You seriously believe I would ruin your daughter's party?” She was pissed and tossed the napkin in the nearby trashcan, holding her hands up. “I'm leaving then so I DON'T embarrass you.  Good night, asshole.” She stormed out without another word, slamming the door behind her.


Gary couldn't help laughing at the way Arielle darted away from Trish, not blaming her in the slightest, actually thankful to his boss for allowing him today off. “Baby doll, that wasn't very nice.” He chastised playfully, wrapping his arms around her waist, nuzzling her ear.

“I was caught between a rock and a hard place, much like you are now.”


Gary growled, smiling when she shivered against him. “I can't wait for you to move in with me.”

“I bet you can't.” Arielle turned around, wrapping her arms around his neck, staring into his dark eyes. “I can't wait either.”

“Arielle, it's time to do presents sweetheart.” Jasina interrupted with an apologetic smile, having walked over after Lashonna informed her it was time.


Out of the corner of her eye, Jasina noticed Shayla storm out of the building and didn’t even want to know what that was about.  She was very tempted to kick the hell out of Mark’s girlfriend for trying to cause a scene at her daughter’s graduation party, but swallowed it down.  It was a good thing Arielle wasn’t that attached to Shayla like she had been to Randy or that might’ve been another terrible blow.  Instead, Jasina just handed Arielle presents and kept a smile on her face, luckily not a lot of people noticing Shayla departure. 


Gary could see the anger in Mark's eyes and swallowed hard, keeping his eyes on his girlfriend, thankful she was grinning from ear to ear.


That was the last time he ever dated a woman that literally reminded him of Steve with less common sense.  The whole 'like Steve, lack of common sense' thing probably should have been the indicator that there was only disaster waiting, but...she had long tanned legs and a curvy ass.  Mark moved towards the gift table, effectively shunting Shayla out of mind and focused on his daughter.  Wondering if she'd mind the fact that he hadn't bought her anything, Mark instead gave her a gift card to use to furnish her new apartment with Gary.  Given the amount of money on that card, she'd probably go into shock or start squealing.


Sure enough, when Arielle opened the card to reveal the amount of ten thousand dollars, she let out the biggest squeal and threw herself at her father, causing everyone to laugh.  Gary was stunned when Arielle showed him that it was a Visa gift card, knowing they needed to furnish the apartment and blinked over at Mark, not knowing what to think.  Jasina couldn't have been happier, the excitement and elation on her daughter's face enough to make her forget completely about Randy Orton for the time being.  She had a feeling Mark was back to square one much like her and couldn't help noticing the irony.


Chapter 3


Arielle hid the present from Toni, shooting her friend a dirty look and blushed when Gary tried to take a peek, letting Toni come around and take it away so her parents didn't see it.  Her mind was still reeling from her Dad's present, knowing that Visa card was good anywhere and then realized where the money had come from.  The man was well off, but that was a lot of cash.  It was the money he had always saved for her college fund, which she now didn't need because of scholarships and the internship.  Thinking of the internship brought Randy to the forefront of her mind and she pulled the two gifts from him towards her, taking a deep breath.


Jasina looked over at Mark briefly; seeing his eyes narrowed and knew he wasn't happy that she'd brought the gifts from Randy with her.  He'd left them in front of her door with a note begging her to give them to Arielle on his behalf.  Jasina wanted to toss them, but that wasn't her call to make and reluctantly did what Randy wanted.  As Arielle began opening them, she had to pull away for a second to gather her emotions, taking a deep breath and whipped her head back when a gasp escaped Arielle's mouth.


“Holy cow!”

“More like holy shit, honey.” Steve grunted when Trish elbowed him in the ribs.


It was identical to the camera Randy used, a Canon EOS 5D Mark, a three thousand dollar camera and she remembered Randy telling her the only way he would ever buy her a 'decent' camera was when he thought she was skilled enough to use one.  This told her he finally believed she was ready and she felt tears pricking her eyes.  Reluctantly, Arielle set aside the case and opened the second present, smiling slightly at the sight of a briefcase like he carried, opening it.  Inside was a camera case, folded tripod and a portfolio.  She pulled it out and opened it, seeing all the photographs she had taken along with articles her photos had been featured in.


Jasina could see a few tears sliding down Arielle's face and immediately bent down to wipe them away, not wanting her sad on this big day.  She took the gifts away and set them aside; knowing Randy not being here really shattered Arielle.  There was nothing Jasina could do and she hated the fact Randy caused her daughter pain, never thinking he would. 


The rest of the presents were money, gift cards and other items like movies and books she wanted.  Jasina hugged Arielle tightly and nodded when she went to Gary, both of them stepping outside for a moment for some air, Arielle holding the camera Randy got her.  Screw cutting herself off, Jasina went straight to the bar and ordered a beer, her buzz wearing off.


Gary comforted Arielle the best way he knew how, holding her tightly in his arms while she cried a little over the camera, burying her face in his chest. “Shhh don't cry, Arie.” He crooned soothingly. “You're supposed to be happy today...”

“Happy?” Arielle pulled back to stare up in his dark eyes, hers slightly red and swollen. “How can I be happy when my Mom is heartbroken and Randy isn't here?  It's not right.  Why did he choose Australia over us?  I thought he loved us more than that.  He's such an asshole!!”


Gary sighed when she stopped ranting and simply crumbled, squeezing the camera tightly against her chest, the emotions in him starting to surface.  He wanted to kill Randy Orton for hurting his girlfriend this much. “I love you, Arie, always remember that.”


Mark had no idea what the big deal over the camera was because Arielle rarely discussed her internship on a specific level with him.  She just usually glossed over the details and kept him in the loop without pulling him inside it, no doubt because of the tension between him and Randy.  There was always certain awkwardness there and he knew Arielle sometimes felt conflicted since he was her Dad, but Randy had also stepped up into that role on a level.


“She going to be alright?”

“Which one?”

“Arielle.  You know better, I don't ask about your ex-wife.  Trish usually tells me shit even you don't know, I'm in the know man.”


After assuring Steve everything was fine, Mark made his way over to Jasina, noticing she had apparently decided drinking was on the menu and accepted a glass of wine he was passed.  He knew this was all Lashonna was allowing inside her restaurant with so many underage kids around and it would do, even though he wasn't much of a wine drinker. “Why didn't he come?” He asked finally, knowing Randy was the reason Arielle and Jasina were both down, wanting to seriously injure the man for hurting them.


Jasina snorted as she took another swig of her beer, running the pad of her thumb around the rim of the can, trying not to let anymore tears fall until she was home alone. “He went to Australia for work.  Said he forgot today was Arielle's graduation.” She couldn't look up at Mark because she didn't want to see the pity in his eyes that she knew was there, feeling her heart clench violently with pain. “H-He said he had to go because he had obligations to fulfill.  He was going to take me with him and I normally would've gone in a heartbeat, but...not today.  He chose work over family, like always, and forced me to hurt our daughter on the most important day of her life.” She finished her beer and crushed the can, gritting her teeth through blurred vision.


“Why didn't you just lie to her?” He asked curiously, holding up a hand when Jasina shot him a dirty look. “Just hear me out, darlin'.  I know you don't like lyin' to Arie, but sometimes, there are times when you need too.  Like today.  You could have told her anythin' else, but the Australia thing until after the graduation party, where she wouldn't have had to deal with the anger.” For example, he had lied to Arielle when her first kitten had gotten run over and told her that the kitten had 'moved to Hollywood to star in an animal movie'.  She had written that damn cat letters for a month and he had to send them out, but it was preferable over the truth.


“I don't lie to my daughter, no matter the circumstances.” Jasina stated evenly, wondering what exactly Mark had lied to Arielle about, deciding it was none of her business. “And besides, what hell was I supposed to tell her?  He has no family to our knowledge so saying he had a family emergency wouldn't have worked.  And she would've known something definitely was up when she went to the office only to find him gone.  Trish was the one who signed him off for the damn trip so she would've simply gone to Trish and figured out I lied to her.” There was no way Jasina was doing that, remembering her promise to never lie to Arielle and refused to break it.  She hadn't been a very good mother up until Arielle was twelve years old, but she'd be damned if she wasn't totally one hundred percent honest with her daughter.


“Yer call darlin', it was just a question.” Mark rumbled, having seen the flicker of curiosity that darted enough her face and decided he'd tell Jasina, maybe coax a grin out of her or at least lighten her mood a bit. “When she was six, she had a kitten named Mr. Butters; it was a girl by the way.  Poor thing got ran over out on the road while she was at school and I buried her in the backyard.  When Arie came home and asked where Mr. Butters was, I told her that she had moved to Hollywood to star in them animal movies and was gonna be a big star.” Mark groaned at the memory. “I did it because she was really young and had some mixed up ideas about death and I didn't want to see her hurt and cry.  She dictated letters to me every other day and made me mail them out.  She would literally make me go to the post office with a letter addressed to Mr. Butters the Hollywood Cat and watch me give them to the postman.”




No matter how hard she tried fighting it, Jasina started laughing and shook her head, the sound both genuine and uplifting.  Jasina could see Mark doing something like that just to save their daughter from feeling pain, knowing she probably should've done the same thing, but Arielle wasn't a little girl anymore.  She was a woman and would've been severely pissed if she found out Jasina lied to her about why Randy had missed her graduation day.


“What did she do when she finally found out the truth?”


“Are we talkin' about Mr. Butters?”


Mark groaned louder. “She never found out...”

“This lyin' bastard paid me to write Arie letters and sign them Mr. Butters, I even dipped cat's paws in ink and stamped the letter with them.  That girl had the best lie ever told to her.”


“I'm sure she knows by now that you lied to her.”

“You did too!”

“I'm not her daddy and I was also well paid for it.”


Jasina was laughing so hard, the tears in her eyes were streaming down her cheeks by now, holding her stomach while doubled over.  It took several minutes before Jasina finally calmed down, Trish having joined them when she overheard Jasina laughing hysterically and wanted to know what was up. “M-Mr. Butters...” She gasped out and that's all she could say before she started laughing again, letting the men explain it to her instead.


Trish had laughed herself right into the bathroom, nearly pissing herself.

“WOW, I've NEVER seen her move THAT fast before.” Jasina blinked, not realizing she'd leaned against Mark for leverage so she didn't fall over in her chair, wiping her tears away. “Oh my god, you better never let her find out that Steve did that...Then again, the cat should've died by now since she's seventeen now...”


“Hell, Arie probably figured it out at eight but never called him on it.” Steve chuckled, cracking open his own beer and toasted Mark. “To the funniest lie I ever heard.”


Mark shook his head, smiling in spite of himself and looped his arm around Jasina to keep her from falling when she began laughing all over again. “I'm glad you find that amusin', darlin'.” He rumbled, knowing he would never live this one down, but it had been worth it to make her smile.


“That is the funniest story I've ever heard in my life.  You know what's sad too?  I can totally see Steve picking defenseless cats up off the street to dip their damn paws in ink just to make it believable.” Jasina hadn't even felt Mark's arm wrap around her, nodding when Steve offered her a beer, her sullen mood definitely lifted thanks to Mark. “It also shows what a great father she has.”

“Couldn't agree with you more, honey.” Steve toasted that, both of them taking long swigs of their beer.

“I swear if this kid doesn't come soon, I'm going to reach in there and rip it out myself!”

“Umbilical cord and all?”


Beer spewed out of Steve's nostrils.


“Thanks for a very disturbin' mental image, darlin'.” Mark groaned, paling slightly.

“I'm serious, it's tap dancing on my bladder, using my ribs for a xylophone and my lungs as a crack pipe...I'm about to get that cake knife and perform a c-section myself, we even have liquor for pain relief AND antiseptic.” Trish was completely serious as she spoke.

“Uh honey, why don't we not do that and I'll rub ya down instead?”

“Can you magically remove the baby so it comes out healthy, alive, and no longer cha-cha-ing on my organs?”

“” Steve hesitated.

“We're cutting it out.”


Jasina couldn't stop laughing at Steve and Trish's antics, her eyes suddenly locking on Steve. “You're a good man, Steve.  You've been with Trish since day one and you two were meant for each other.  Keep that flame going, no matter what, because you never know when it might go out.” Jasina held her beer up alone and then downed the rest of it, feeling more than a little tipsy by now and excused herself to use the bathroom, her own bladder crying out to be released.


Trish watched her friend walk away and frowned, still not believing Randy had actually booked his trip to Australia on today of all days, shaking her head. “If you ever hurt me like that, I'll castrate you.” She threatened; sniffling as her hormones suddenly erupted. “Because I love you with everything and I expect you to feel the same way until we both die together, old and wrinkly.”


“He's not old and wrinkly now?”

“Been tryin' to look at my balls again?” Steve groaned when Trish smacked him and gently pulled her against him, kissing her tenderly. “Honey, you already know I'm with you until the end.”

“Good, because I'd kill you otherwise.”

“And now that that's been said, I'll go somewhere else and pretend I didn't hear that, just in case you DO wind up dead, Steve.” Taking a beer -screw the wine- with him, he went to go see if Arielle had come back in yet, shaking his head.


The party ended a few hours later and Jasina was ready to call it a night, hugging Arielle and Gary, making them both promise to drive safely.  She headed out to her car, still sober enough to drive home and couldn't believe what a fantastic, yet heartbreaking day this was.  She turned her head, watching Mark head toward his motorcycle and frowned, wondering what he was thinking about. 


They were both alone and it sucked.  They both deserved happiness didn't they?  Sniffling, Jasina slipped into her car and checked her cell phone, once again no messages or texts from Randy.  She was tired of checking her phone and sped home, tears sliding down her cheeks the entire time.


The party had gone relatively well, all things considered, at least Mark thought so.  Though he knew it was going to take a lot of time for Arielle and Jasina as well to recover from the hurt Randy had dealt them, wondering why the man hadn't cancelled the Australia trip or at least postponed leaving until tomorrow.  Then Mark remembered he was going home alone, his girlfriend basically ending things with him and groaned.


Chapter 4


Her blaring cell phone woke Jasina the following morning, her head pounding from drinking heavily after she arrived home.  She ended up killing another bottle of wine along with a full case of beer, trying to numb the pain in her heart somehow.  She reached over and unplugged her phone, still in her dress from the graduation, trying to wake up long enough to answer the call.


“Hello?” She gruffly said, feeling like a mach truck had run her down going one hundred miles an hour, maybe even faster.  She immediately woke up when she heard Trish sniffling on the other hand, eyes popping open. “Trish honey, what's wrong?  What is it?”


“Sweetheart...I- I don't know how to tell you this...” Trish began, her voice shaking and sniffled again, sounding like she had been and was still crying, which she had and still was. “Randy made it to Australia, Jasina.  He booked a charter flight to take him into the outback and...and...” Trish took a deep, quivering breath. “Jasina, the plane went down.  There survivors.” She gripped the phone so tightly her entire hand went numb, hardly believing what she was saying, her eyes glossed over and could only imagine Jasina's reaction.


The cell phone slipped out of Jasina's hand as it hit the carpeted floor, Jasina simply sitting there with an open mouth and wide eyes, not even feeling the tears as they slid down her cheeks.  She couldn't feel anything, every part of her body felt as if it was frozen solid in a block of ice.  She breathed in and out heavily, the shock overtaking every part of her.  Trish's screaming over the cell phone for her wasn't reaching her ears because Jasina couldn't hear anything, couldn't see anything, feeling as though she was falling in this huge black hole that never had an end.


“Jasina?  JASINA!” Trish shrieked, not caring whose attention she was attracting as she stared into the phone. “I'm coming over there right now if you don't pick up the phone!  STEVE!”


When Trish had found out about Randy, she had called him to come be with her while she made the call to Jasina and had stepped out of the room to give her a moment's privacy.  Now he came running back in. “What?!”

“I need to get to Jasina's, I think she passed out.” Trish hiccupped, tears still streaming down her face.


He nodded grimly.


When Trish and Steve arrived in record time, with a waddling Trish rushing up the stairs, they discovered the door to Jasina's apartment was locked.  Jasina didn't hear the knocking and just kept staring straight ahead on her bed, her hangover cured because of Randy's death.  Randy was dead. 


He was gone.  Those beautiful blue eyes she would never stare into again, never feel his arms wrapped around her, never feel his warm lips against hers.  All Jasina could do was sit there with tears streaming down her face silently, not making a single sound, everything crumbling around her.


Steve did try getting management to come up and unlock the door, but no one could be reached. his wife's urging, he kicked in the door, stepping aside before he got plowed to hell and back by his pregnant woman who was moving a bit too fast for his liking, still crying, and in a panic.  If she went into labor any minute now, he would not have been surprised in the slightest.


“Slow down, Tri-” He shut up when she threw him a deadly look, the tears staining her face no way diminishing the effect.


Jasina didn't even flinch or blink when her bedroom door was tossed open by her pregnant best friend, not looking up or acknowledging the presence.  It was only when Trish approached her and placed her hands on her shoulders that Jasina finally snapped out of her shock, slowly locking tearful teal eyes on brown.  She placed her hands on Trish's and gripped them tightly, her bottom lip trembling and shook her head before finally breaking down, crying her heart out.  The shock had worn off and all Jasina could do was bury her face in Trish's shoulder, crying turning to heart wrenching sobbing.


Steve stayed out in the living room, listening to Jasina's sobs and felt his heart twisting violently for her, knowing there was no way Trish was going to be able to soothe this ache for her friend.  He had no idea what to do other than stay out of the way when he wasn't needed and be there when he was.  He was giving serious thought to calling Mark, though what Mark could do was beyond him.


Trish just kept rocking Jasina back and forth on the bed, holding her close, crying silently, not knowing what to do.




Gary was confused to arrive at the office, only to find out Trish had rushed out in a hurry with Steve, his eyes widening when one of the co-workers explained to him why.  Randy was dead?!  He swallowed hard when Arielle walked through the door at that moment and immediately went to her, seeing the sparkle in her emerald eyes.


“We have to get to your Mom's, Arie.” He said grimly, grasping her hand. “Something happened...”


“Why?  What happened?” Arielle asked while rushing with Gary to his car, blinking.


Gary couldn't tell Arielle what happened, still in somewhat shock himself. “Let's just get to your Mom's first and find out what's going on.” He stated, taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze, plastering a smile on his face.  Gary wondered if he should call Mark, deciding he would once they got to Jasina's and Arielle was out of hearing distance. “I'm sure everything is fine, baby doll.” He hoped anyway.


“You're lying, I can tell when you're lyin' Gary, so stop lyin' and tell me what the hell is going on.” Arielle demanded, knowing from the way his face was almost stark white there was something seriously wrong. “Is it my Mom?  Is she okay?”


“That's just it, I don't know if what I heard at the office is the truth.  Your Mom is fine...” Physically anyway, but if what Gary heard was reality, she definitely wasn't going to be fine mentally or emotionally.  He was still trying to wrap his mind around it and saw the worried look on Arielle's face, watching her pull her cell phone out. “Who are you calling, baby doll?” He swallowed hard when she mumbled 'Dad', pressing the call button and inwardly groaned.


Mark had no idea why Arielle was calling him this early, she was supposed to be at work.  Hell, HE was supposed to be at work and was on his way out the door just as soon as he fastened his jeans.  He was running a bit late.


“Darlin', somethin' wrong?”

“I think so, we're on our way to Mom's.  Gary won't tell me what happened, but he said it was fine and he was lyin'.”

“I'm on my way darlin'.”


“Did you HAVE to tell him I was lying to you?” Gary demanded in a groan, ignoring the glare Arielle flashed him and sighed heavily. “I'm not gonna get you upset if it's nothing, Arie.  That's why I wanna go to your Mom's first to find out exactly what is going on.”


Why couldn't she just listen to reason?  Now her old man was probably going to crack him in the face for lying to his baby girl.  Gary didn't see any of this going down well and turned the corner that lead to Jasina's apartment building, his heart rate suddenly speeding up a little. 


What if Randy was dead? 


What if everything he heard at the office was the awful truth? 


It couldn't be, it just couldn't.


If there was nothing going on, then he shouldn't have upset her by saying something had happened and they had to go to her Mom's without telling her WHAT he had heard at the office.  At this exact moment, Arielle figured it kind of served him right. 


Mark skipped his truck and went with the Harley, it would be faster and it was hard to weave a large, extended cab truck in and out of clustered traffic.  Whatever had happened, he had a feeling it was bad and accelerated, not caring if he got pulled over.  It'd be one hell of a chase because he wasn't stopping.


When Gary arrived with Arielle, Steve met them at the doorway, the look in his blue eyes sorrow-filled. “Hey kids.” He gruffly greeted, not even able to be upbeat like he normally was in a moment like this.

“Uncle Steve, what's going on?” Arielle demanded, not liking the look on her godfather's face, feeling something bubbling in the pit of her stomach. “'re scaring me and so is Gary.  What happened?  Is Mom okay?”


Just by the look in Steve's eyes, Gary knew it was the truth and felt tears instantly sting his eyes, having to step away to look out at the parking lot, feeling sick to his stomach.


“Steve, tell me what's going on?” Arielle demanded again. 


When he just shook his head and cleared his throat, squinting to make sure those were tears she seen sparkling in his blue eyes and knew then whatever Gary hadn't told her was...something she didn't want to know.  Her stomach began to do flip-flops, her breakfast threatening to resurface.  When she looked at Gary and seen his condition, she felt tears pricking her eyes.


“Please, someone tell me what-” She jumped when she heard the Harley screeching and turned to see her Dad pulling into the parking lot.


Mark dismounted and caught her when she came running to him, hugging her tightly. “What's goin' on?  Is yer Mom alright?”

“I- I don't know...”


Steve followed along with Gary, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder, knowing he was very close with Randy.  He looked at his best friend and blinked the tears away, rubbing his bald head, something he did when he was extremely nervous or upset.  In this case, he was both.


“Arie, why don't you go in the apartment with Gary so I can talk to your Dad for a sec.” He suggested calmly, nodding at Gary when Arielle refused to leave her father's arms.

“Arie, come on baby doll.” He sighed when she snuggled further against her Dad, her grip tightening on him and looked at Steve helplessly.  They couldn't tell her like this, especially not out here in the open. “Please Arielle...”


“He's comin' with me.” Arielle said firmly, knowing whatever was going on up there, she was going to need her Daddy and not ashamed to admit it. “Is Aunt Trish up there?” She asked, looking at Steve.


Steve nodded helplessly, glancing back towards the apartment and then sighed when it became clear Arielle was giving up her grip on her Mark. “Alright, let's...let's go up.”


Everyone was acting like someone had died... and it hit Mark like a ton of bricks.  He had to actually stop just because the realization had floored him. “'s not her, is it?”


Steve shook his head again.


Gary held onto Arielle as they trekked into the apartment, Steve closing the door behind him and sat down on the couch, looking up waiting for the bomb to drop.

“Please someone tell me...” Arielle's ears perked up when she heard the sobbing coming from her mother's room and immediately flew off the couch down the hallway, stopping in the doorway. “Trish...”


Trish looked up with tears sliding down her cheeks, not able to stop them and knew instantly nobody had told Arielle what happened yet. “Oh Arie...I-I'm so sorry...” She whispered softly, looking down at Jasina.



Jasina heard that and instantly looked up at her daughter, extending her arms silently, holding Arielle tightly against her while smoothing her hair back. “I-It's alright, Arie...It's gonna be okay, I promise...”


Mark followed silently, staying out of the bedroom and leaned against the hallway wall, looking in.  A very pregnant Trish was sitting on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands while Jasina rocked Arielle back and forth, hearing Arie asking what was going on.  The look on Jasina's face...he had to look away, staring at Steve who looked like he had no idea what to do.


Gary dropped down onto the couch, staring at the floor without actually seeing it.


“Mommy, Mommy please tell me what happened...I'm scared...” Arielle pleaded in a soft voice, holding onto her mother and looked up into heartbroken glazed teal eyes, watching Jasina's bottom lip tremble. “Oh Mom...”

“She doesn't know.” Jasina couldn't handle this and released Arielle instantly, needing to get out of this room as she ran out.  There was no way she was breaking the news to Arielle, not about to hurt her daughter again and slammed the bathroom door behind her, flipping the lock on it. “Randy...” She whispered, clutching her chest tightly as she slid down the door, curling up into a tight ball on the bathroom floor.

“That's it, I've had enough!!” Arielle snapped, standing up while wiping a few tears away from her face, staring at Trish pleadingly. “Please Trish, nobody will tell me what's going on.  Please tell me!!”


Trish looked from Arielle to Mark and Steve, who was also standing in the doorway, deciding she had to be the strong one in this situation. “Sit down Arielle.” Jasina quietly requested, taking both of Arielle's hand in hers, trying not to start crying again as she began explaining what happened to Randy.


One minute he was against the hallway wall, staring at the bathroom doorway that Jasina had flown through.  The next he had shot forward and caught his daughter when she actually fell over backwards as Trish said the very thing he had already come to know, cradling her against him.  He slumped down to the floor, remaining silent when she began hitting him in silent protest.


Steve went directly to his wife, having been listening at the bathroom door...unsure of what he expected to hear.


The sound of Arielle yelling and sobbing at the same time completely shattered Gary's heart into shambles, silent tears of his own falling, knowing she needed her father right now more than him.  He didn't mind.  He had watched Jasina fly through the living room to the bathroom, wanting to see if she was alright but stopped himself.  It wasn't his place.  He didn't know what the right thing to do was at this point, still not fully believing they would never see or hear Randy again.


Trish slumped against Steve, wrapping her arms around his neck tightly and felt him lift her with ease on his lap, eight months pregnant and all. “I-I wanna go home...” She whispered, knowing there was nothing more they could do for Jasina right now and looked up at her fiancé pleadingly. “I wanna see Little Stevie.”


Steve nodded and carried Trish out of the apartment down to their car, hoping leaving wasn't the wrong thing to do.


Arielle cried herself to sleep, exhaustion taking over and Mark had to call Gary to come take her, unable to stand up from the Indian style position he had been sitting in with her -now fully grown- in his lap.  After Gary had carried Arie to her bedroom, he gingerly pushed himself up onto his feet and stretched, knowing he should check on Jasina, but honestly, what was he going to say to her?  The man she loved was dead and he couldn't even begin to imagine how that must feel, not knowing what he would do if the roles were reversed.  Hesitantly, he walked over to the door and raised his fist to knock, sighed and then placed his palm against the wood, closing his eyes.


Jasina just lay on the bathroom floor, staring straight ahead at the door, feeling numb from head to toe, no more tears falling.  How could Randy be dead?  The last thing she'd said to him...Jasina felt the guilt eating her completely alive because she honestly thought they would work things out when he returned.  Now he was burned to ashes from a plane crash that was out of his control...all because he'd chosen work over family. 


Lying on the bathroom floor wasn't doing anything for her besides making her hurt further, but Jasina couldn't move an inch, the comfort of the cool tile floor welcoming.  She had no idea Mark was on the other side of the door, feeling her pain radiating through it and probably never would.  First she lost Mark and now Randy...Jasina didn't know if how much more she could take before completely giving up.


Deciding the best thing for her would not be her ex-husband coming in and trying to console her after just hearing about her boyfriend’s death, Mark walked out to the living room, looking around the apartment.  He noticed there were a lot more pictures on the wall than there had been when she hadn't been dating Randy and instinctively knew Randy had been the reason for the upsurge, knowing that the man had basically been living there.  Pictures of Jasina and Randy, Randy and Arielle, scenery, the three of them...they had been a family and it was all around him, visual evidence.  Mark could only drop down onto the couch, staring at a photograph of the couple, obviously very happy with the way they were smiling at each other, not even looking towards the camera.


Chapter 5


Around midnight, Jasina finally peeled herself up from the bathroom floor, using the sink for leverage, feeling completely weak and drained.  Her stomach growled, but Jasina ignored it, refusing to eat anything right now and couldn't even look at her reflection.  She unlocked the bathroom door and walked out, stopping at the sight of her ex-boyfriend/husband sleeping on her couch, one arm thrown over his eyes, one leg dangling off of it. 


He stayed the entire time. 


If Jasina wasn't so heartbroken and dead inside, she might've found this sweet, but right now all she could do was throw a blanket over him before heading back to her room.  Then she stopped in the doorway, remembering when Randy surprised her with the bed and slowly backed up from it as fresh tears began sliding down her cheeks.  She couldn't sleep in there.  All she saw were phantoms of her dead boyfriend and Jasina suddenly had to backtrack back into the living room, lying down beside the couch and curled up against it, visions of her and Randy dancing through her mind.


Mark had woken up when the blanket had settled over him and gotten up, joints creaking from sleeping on her too short couch.  It was large, but not quite long enough for him; he was nearly seven foot tall.  He almost swung his legs right down on top of her, but stopped himself at the last moment, staring down at her.  She was awake, that much was obvious, and it looked like she was trembling.  Carefully, he leaned down to pull her up, setting her beside him on the sofa.


“You want somethin' to eat, darlin'?” Mark asked softly, knowing she hadn't touched a bite all day long, though he wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't hungry either.


“No...” Jasina whispered, not trusting her voice at the moment because all it would do is crack, wiping the tears from her eyes for what seemed like the millionth time. “What are you doing here?”


Even through the whispers, her voice sounded incredibly hoarse and rough from how hard she sobbed, keeping her eyes on her lap, suddenly realizing for the first time that day she was still in the dress from the previous night.  But more importantly, what was Mark doing here in her apartment this late at night?  She didn't even know he was there because her grief overshadowed everything else going on around her.


“I'm here for Arielle, and you.” Mark said simply, not even remembering falling asleep to be honest.  He had been sitting and staring at that photograph of Jasina and Randy, that was all he remembered and thinking about what had happened.  Then the next thing he knew, he was waking up with a blanket over him. “Why were you laying on the floor out here?”


“I-I can't sleep in my room...” She leaned forward and put her head in her hands, trembling slightly, feeling Mark's hand rub her back soothingly. “H-He bought the bed for a gift...” There was no way she could sleep in that bed because his scent was everywhere, which hurt her even more.  Jasina just needed a moment where she wasn't thinking about him, but this apartment had all kinds of memories of her and Randy, including the couch. “I can't stay here...”


Maybe she could get a hotel room or something, but this apartment made Jasina feel like she was drowning, barely breathing.  Mark had no idea what to say to that, though he did understand.  This apartment was filled with memories of Randy and her life with Randy, he got that.  After a moment, he cleared his throat.


“Do you wanna come stay at the ranch maybe?” Mark offered, knowing it was a long shot, but feeling like he should offer anyway.  That and she did need to get out of here for a few days, it wouldn't help her any, not immediately. “Arie will probably come home and you can have the guest room or my room and I'll take the guest room…” He stopped rambling, clearing his throat again.


Jasina slowly looked up to stare at her ex, seeing how serious he was and wondered if that was such a good idea.  She was really vulnerable right now and Jasina planned on spending several of her nights drinking in the coming days.  Trish explained to her through sobbing that Randy's body had been found, what was left of it, and was being flown back to Houston for a funeral that Trish was setting up.  Jasina suddenly felt the need to get out of this apartment even more and nodded, throwing her arms around Mark's neck, hugging him tightly.


“Thank you.” She whispered, beginning to cry again, her tears soaking his neck and collar of his shirt.


Uncomfortable, but he didn't push her away, instead wrapped one arm around her and held on gently.  He knew this was going to be a messed up time for her emotionally, not to mention Arielle, and made a mental note to shut down the shop for the rest of the week.  He doubted Steve would be coming in and he wasn't about to leave his emotionally distraught daughter, or ex-wife, by themselves.


“Yer welcome, darlin'.” Mark rumbled, gently prying her off of him and laid her down on the couch, moving to stand and stretch. “Get a bit more rest and we'll handle what needs to be handled in the mornin', alright?”


Jasina couldn't argue with Mark even if she wanted to, the exhaustion overtaking her entire body and nodded, her eyes already closing.  She didn't feel the blanket covering her that she'd given Mark earlier, her tear stained face shining in the dim light that came from outside in the parking lot.  Her hair was in complete disarray and her breathing was uneven from all the sobbing she'd done.  Her chest would be killing her when she woke up, but for now all she could do was sleep.  Randy was in her dreams and Jasina ended up silently crying while sleeping, wishing she hadn't been so cruel to him before he left.


Mark had figured out how to use her much different from his coffee pot and made a pot of coffee while everyone slept, sipping it while standing in her kitchen.  He hadn't been able to go back to sleep but didn't want to leave, or wake anyone.  He had used the bathroom to wash up the best he could, his hair pulled back into as neat a tail as he could manage.  He had checked on Arielle and Gary, not minding that they were snuggled on the same bed, Arielle's face just as tear stained as her mother's though not quite as heartbroken.


When he seen Gary padding out, Mark just nodded. “Mornin'.”

“Yeah.” Gary muttered, still not believing it, not believing that Randy was gone.


A scream suddenly sounded throughout the apartment as Jasina bolted upright on the couch, teal eyes snapping open and looked around frantically.  She'd scared the hell out of Mark and made him drop the cup of coffee he had while Gary looked white as a sheet, his heart still lodged in his throat.  Her head snapped to the side when Mark rushed inside the living room and immediately started crying again, the reality nearly crushing her that Randy wasn't there. 


He was really dead and gone.


Her mother's scream had awakened Arielle and she was currently standing in the hallway, eyes wide with fright. “W-What happened?!” She demanded shakily.


Gary and Mark just stared at Jasina, coffee pooling on the kitchen floor and Gary hesitantly walked towards Jasina. “Um...” He had been about to ask if she had had a bad dream, but that would have just been plain stupid.

“Nothin' darlin', yer Mom just woke up a bit rough.” Mark said after recovering walking over to tilt Arielle's head back, not missing the sadness in her eyes and glanced back at Jasina, highly doubting she'd be going back to sleep just now.


“Mom...” Arielle slowly approached the couch and sat down, placing her hand over Jasina's, knowing she had to be strong for her mother right now. “You're okay, I'm here.”


Jasina nodded, trembling slightly from the nightmare she just had, taking a few deep breaths to slow her racing heart. “I'm...okay.” She squeezed Arielle's hand gently and slowly pulled the blanket away, standing up on shaky legs. “I'm gonna go clean up, would you mind getting me some coffee, sweetheart?”

“Yes, I'll bring it to you in the tub.” Arielle was already heading toward the kitchen, Gary joining her to make sure she was alright.


Jasina glanced at Mark briefly before heading into the bathroom, slowly peeling out of the two day old dress, starting the bath water.  She needed to be stronger than this because Arielle was picking up the pieces and that wasn't right.  If anything, Jasina should've been picking up the pieces of her daughter, knowing how much this hurt Arielle because she was extremely close to Randy.  Sniffling a little and fighting back tears, Jasina finished stripping and sank into the hot water, drawing her knees up instantly to her chest.


“Here, I'll brew a fresh batch.” Mark said, having drank pretty much the entire pot and that last cup was now all over the floor. “Why don't you go get dressed darlin' while I clean this up and get that goin'?” He had learned the coffee pot didn't take that long to get going. “You can take her a cup in a second, give her a moment to get over her dream.”


Nodding, Arielle headed to go change, the front of her stained dark from crying and blowing her nose in it.

“Pack up, ya'll are comin' home with me.”

“Even Jasina?” Gary arched an eyebrow when Mark nodded. “O...kay.”


Jasina looked up with the bathroom door opened, expecting to see her daughter, but instead it was Mark with a cup of hot java.  She remembered what Mark offered the previous night and Jasina honestly didn't know how to thank him, accepting the cup, not even covering up because he'd seen her naked before.  Hell, they'd been married, divorced by abandonment, tried getting back together and lasted for four years.


Now here they were again.


“Thanks.” Jasina murmured softly and took a careful sip of the coffee while Mark set on the toilet seat, staring at her with those unreadable green eyes. “Are you sure you want me to stay with you?  I can always get a hotel room or something, Mark.”


“Darlin', you'd be payin' out the ass just to lay there and mourn, you can do that for free at my place.  That and you'll be around Arielle, you two are goin' to need each other these comin' weeks.” Mark said evenly, knowing Arielle was supposed to bring in the coffee, but she had been changing, found a shirt Randy had bought her and started crying. 


He had hugged her, passed her over to Gary and gotten Jasina's coffee himself, knowing how she took it.  They had been together for four years after all.  Agreeing, Jasina didn't say anything more and knew she would be apartment hunting in the coming weeks while she was staying at Mark's. 


It was hard to believe that she was about to stay in the same place she moved into for a week, only to leave because her relationship with Mark had faltered.  The irony was simply too much and Jasina had to fight from crying, instead drinking her coffee.  She'd already washed her hair and body, but couldn't find the strength to get out of the tub and definitely wasn't doing it while Mark was in here.


Mark didn't linger.  They had gotten their generic words and what needed to be said, so he left, giving her privacy to finish up, or cry, whichever, maybe both.  He ran a hand over the top of his head as he halted in the doorway to Arielle's room, his heart breaking -more like the pieces of his heart re-breaking- at the sight of her packing, or in the middle of packing, holding the camera she had received just the other day at her graduation party against her chest. 


Gary was helping her pack up, deciding he would be staying at the ranch as well because Arielle needed him just as much as her parents.  He looked up and saw Mark watching Arielle, keeping up the packing, kissing the top of Arielle's head while she packed the camera away Randy gave her.  Gary hoped she went with her internship, having a feeling she would, even if it was only in memory of Randy.


Jasina stepped out of the tub and wrapped a towel around her body, covering the rest of herself up with a robe and walked out, heading for her bedroom.  She didn't inhale because Jasina knew the scent of Randy still lingered in the air, his cologne always had made her heady.  Jasina pulled just a pair of black jogging pants out with a matching t-shirt, all black, and brushed out her hair, beginning to pack up her things.  She took two bags of clothes, her toiletries and makeup, along with another bag of work clothes, shoes and jewelry, walking out of the room, closing the door behind her.  Arielle, Gary and Mark were waiting for her in the living room, Arielle immediately coming to her side.


“We'll get through this, sweetheart.” Jasina murmured, both of them walking out of the door with Mark and Gary following, locking up the place before heading to the ranch.


Mark took his Harley, following behind Jasina in her car, Gary driving Arielle's SUV since Arie was in no condition to drive at all.  He trusted Gary so he kept his attention on Jasina's car, hoping she was good to drive, knowing she was an emotional wreck at the moment.  He was going to have a house full and didn't mind, preferring them to be there then in a hotel, knowing both Jasina and Arie needed to be around people who cared. 


Of course, Arielle had Gary to help her through this and Jasina emotional Trish, who had Steve call to let them know they had all the time they needed off.  She was unable to talk at the moment apparently.  Mark had taken that call and reminded himself to say something to Jasina and Arielle once they were settled in.


Chapter 6


For the next three days, Jasina stayed locked in the guest room, refusing to take Mark's master bedroom because of the simple fact it reminded her of what they used to have.  She cried and only came out when it was time to eat, going out to buy herself some liquor and only drank at night when Arielle was in bed.  She preferred to be by herself during this difficult time, trying to wrap her mind around Randy being gone. 


Jasina thought it hurt when he walked out, after promising to make it up to her and Arielle, but that was nothing compared to how Jasina felt now.  Her entire world felt as if it was ending and Jasina could only find comfort in the bottle, staring out the window while taking shot after shot, trying to numb her pain somehow.  The funeral was in two days and Jasina wasn't looking forward to it, knowing she would completely breakdown when his body was lowered into the cold six foot hole.  Drinking and crying was her way of grieving and, surprisingly enough, Mark had left her alone for the most part.


Mark had left her alone because it had only been five days since Randy had died and he knew it was going to take longer than that to get past the intense grief she felt.  He was also aware she had taken to drinking at night after Arielle had gone to bed, but didn't say anything.  If she started drinking around the clock, then he'd step in.  


She was eating whatever he put in front of her, or some of it, so that was something as well.  Arielle was moving around a bit mechanically, but she would talk if a conversation started.  He knew she would heal faster than her mother, but that was also to be expected.  Mark had shut down the shop until further notice, giving the few employees paid 'vacation' time, he and Steve weren't hurting for money. 


He had a family that needed him.


The night before Randy's funeral, Jasina finally stepped out of her room with a bottle of wine, wanting some fresh air.  She quietly made her way downstairs, into the kitchen and outside on the patio, the full lit moon shining down with stars glistening in the sky.  Jasina wore a black nightgown that was spaghetti strapped, the warm air feeling wonderful against her skin.  Jasina still felt cold though as she took a long swig from her wine bottle, just staring out at the huge stretch of land.


“I know you're out there somewhere.  I can feel you all around me.  I'm sorry for what I said, I didn't mean it.  I wish I could've found a way to stop you from getting on that damn plane...” Her voice cracked as Jasina slowly walked down the few steps that lead to the pool, taking another drink. “I love you so much.  You helped piece me back together when I was at my lowest and're gone.  What am I supposed to do?  How am I supposed to live without you?” Jasina slowly sank down to her knees, gripping the bottle a little tighter in her hand. “I forgive you and I'll never stop loving you, Randy.  I'm so sorry I didn't say it when you left and now...I'll never be able to tell you.”


From upstairs, Mark watched and listened through his open bedroom window, staying out of the glass and in the shadows, every light upstairs already out, but he wasn't taking the chance.  He had been relieved to see her come out of the bedroom, or more specifically, hear her, but now...His heart breaking for an entirely different reason.  He sat down on the edge of his bed and hung his head, his long hair falling over his face and down his bare chest.


Jasina had genuinely loved Randy.


Jasina felt incredibly hot suddenly and stood up from the patio, setting her half empty wine bottle down and peeled the nightgown off, tossing it behind her.  A quick dip would do her some good and Jasina dived in, slicing through the cool water, knowing it was just her and nobody else.  She stayed at the bottom, holding her breath until she couldn't handle it, finally surfacing as oxygen filled her lungs.  The water mixed with her tears as Jasina swam over to rest on the side of the pool, wearing just a black bra and panties, managing to reach for her wine bottle as she took another swig.


“I lost Mark and I thought it was over, I thought I'd never love again.  And now I lost you too.  I have no idea how I'm going to come back from this, if I even can.” Even though she was talking to herself, somehow, Jasina could feel Randy's spirit surrounding her, closing her eyes before going under water again.


Mark made the colossal mistake of getting up and peering out the window again, after he heard nothing from her, wanting to make sure she was alright.  When he heard a splash, he almost thought she was trying to drown herself and then he saw her swimming, relaxing.  When she surfaced, the relaxed posture was gone and he was tense all over again.  His ex-wife was down there swimming naked, or almost naked; he was in hell and had to keep reminding himself that she was grieving.


Jasina finally had enough swimming and pulled herself up out of the pool, the bra and panties clinging to every part of her body, the warm Texan air blowing over her feeling great.  She walked over and sat down on one of the nearby chairs, her bottle of wine beside her, and began sipping it while looking up at the sky again.  Jasina remembered when Randy would have a glass of wine waiting for her whenever she came home from work and they would end up sharing it while talking about their days. 


They always had great conversation.  He was completely honest with her about everything and vice versa.  They would make love after dinner, if the kids weren't with them, or simply stay up watching a movie snuggled on the couch together.  Jasina leaned back and closed her eyes, letting all the memories of her and Randy wrap her up in a warm cocoon, welcoming the solitude.


The one and only thing stopping Mark from going into a full on 'moment' was the fact that he knew she was down there thinking about Randy.  About the time they had together, the things they did together and just the mental image of Randy actually kissing her, doing things to her Mark had done...problem gone.  Having Jasina in the house was beginning to make him realize something: He still loved her and this wasn't exactly the right time for that revelation.


When Jasina woke up the following morning to raindrops splattering on her, she realized she'd fallen asleep outside on the patio after her midnight swim.  It was raining...fitting weather for what was going to happen today.  Jasina looked over at her empty bottle of wine and took it inside with her, padding through the kitchen, having a feeling everyone was still sleeping.  She went upstairs and headed straight to her room, needing to pick out the outfit she would wear to officially bury Randy.  Because his body was in pieces from the plane crash, there wasn't going to be a visitation, just a small funeral with close friends since Randy had no family to their knowledge.


“Hey mom, can I borrow-”


Arielle had been up for an hour, having had a hard time sleeping because of what day this was.  She had already showered and was wearing her black formal slacks and short sleeved blouse.  She froze at the sight of her Mom in nothing except her underwear, drenched.


“What the hell?!  Why are you naked and wet?”


Jasina jumped out of her skin, immediately covering her breasts with her arm because she'd taken her bra off after arriving in her room. “Christ Arie, you scared the hell outta me!  I fell asleep outside and went for a midnight swim.  I just woke up and I'm getting ready to hop in the shower.” Quickly grabbing her robe, Jasina wrapped herself in it and sat down on the bed, crossing one leg over the other. “What did you need?”


“I uh, wanted to borrow a pair of your pearl earrings.  Randy...” Arielle hesitated, coughing and looked away awkwardly. “He said pearls looked nice on me and I figured...” She shrugged, feeling almost stupid, but at the same time… “It's silly, I know, but it makes me feel better.”


Jasina smiled for the first time in days, which felt foreign to her and took Arielle's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “He was right and I understand perfectly, sweetheart.  Hold on.” She stood and walked over to her small jewelry box she'd brought with her, pulling out a set of pearls, tears stinging her eyes. “He also said I looked good in them too, but I never believed him.  He gave these to me as a gift, I want you to have them.” Placing the pearls in Arielle's hand, Jasina closed her fingers around them, blinking tears away.


“Mom, no... He gave these to you.  They're yours, I'll just borrow them today and give them back after the...the funeral.” Arielle said, wiping tears out of her eyes before smiling a watery smile.  It faded into a frown. “Is it true that they couldn't find any family for him?  I know we were his family, but...he didn't have any brothers or sisters?  Or parents?  No one?”


Jasina simply shook her head, taking a few deep breaths to slow her racing heart. “Trish tried, but had no luck.  We were all he had and I want you to have them, Arie.  I don't want them, I'll never wear pearls.  Please, take them it'll mean a lot to me and I know Randy would love for you to have them.” She wiped a few tears from Arielle's face, kissing her forehead and hugged her tightly. “Everything will get better, I promise.” Jasina couldn't fall apart with her daughter, refusing to do it. “Is Gary and your father up?”


“Gary's in the shower and I don't know about Dad, he went to bed late I think.” Arielle shrugged, fastening the pearls in her ears, her hair already pulled back into a low bun at the nape of her neck, looking older than she was. “I'll go check, you get in the shower Mom, you look cold.” She kissed her mother's cheek, sincerely hoping she wasn't about to make it a habit to fall asleep outside; she'd wind up deadly ill from it.


Jasina was glad she had her own bathroom and did as her daughter said, a warm shower sounding inviting after sleeping outside all night.  She hopped out twenty minutes later and slipped on a simple black skirt that went two inches above the knee along with a black dress shirt that had a scoop neckline with white trimming.  She pulled her hair back into a higher neat bun, a few tendrils framing her face.  She decided on simple black eyeliner and clear gloss for makeup, knowing it would be gone from how much crying she knew would happen.  Slipping her black pumps on, Jasina took one last look in the mirror and walked out, heading downstairs to the kitchen for some much needed coffee.


Gary soon came pounding down the steps with Arielle right behind him, struggling with a tie -he had yet to get the hang of them- and flashed a quick smile at Jasina, glad to see her out of her bedroom, even if the circumstances totally sucked. “Morning.” He greeted softly.

“Dad, today would be good!” Arielle called out over her shoulder.


Considering he and Randy had had a semi-tense relationship, Mark wondered why he was even going.  Oh yes, moral support.  Huffing, Mark headed downstairs in nothing, but black.  Black slacks, black dress shirt, and a black tie.


“Need help son?” He asked when he noted Gary was having trouble with his tie.

“No, I think I got it...” Gary flushed, embarrassed.


Jasina glanced over at Mark and frowned, seeing his tie was crooked, shaking her head.  Some things never changed.  While Arielle tried helping Gary with his, Jasina walked over to Mark and took the tie from him, beginning to do it like old times.  He was never good at it, she always had to be the one to do his ties whenever they went out, even before she ran away all those years ago.


“There you go.” Jasina walked over to pour a cup of coffee, needing all the caffeine she could get for today.

“Who taught you how to do this?” Gary asked his girlfriend with a small smile.

“My Mom.”


“Thank God, or else I'd of been usin' clip-ons from day one.”

“You used clip-ons?” Arielle raised an eyebrow at her father.


His eyes narrowed, knowing there was a joke in there somewhere.  While he was glad Arielle was ready to make a joke, Mark wasn't so sure he wanted it at his expense.  Arielle just smiled sweetly, turning to make herself a cup of coffee, adding sugar and creamer, the way Randy used to take his.  She frowned, realizing she had really looked up to him and had adopted some of his traits, sighing heavily.


Jasina put her arm around Arielle and rubbed her arm gently, noticing the way she fixed her coffee and knew it was the same way Randy did. “Let's go sit down for a minute.” She suggested, guiding Arielle away from the counter with their coffee in hand, leaving the men standing there to get their own cup. “Talk to me, Arie.  I'm here to listen.  I know I haven't been myself the last couple of days, but I'm still your momma.  So talk to me, get it all off your chest.”


“I miss him, that's it.” Arielle shrugged her Mom off, knowing she probably felt guilty or something for locking herself away, but Arielle understood why she had done it. “And I feel bad about being so pissed off at him.  I was pissed and hated him, and he died.  We were both pissed with him.  It's like…God's punishing us for feeling that way.”


Jasina wanted to disagree with her daughter and tell her god would never do such a thing, but in truth it made sense.  Randy left on really bad terms and ended up dead in a plane crash.  How many times did that really happen to someone?  Jasina didn't know what to say, frowning and was glad when Gary approached them.


“I miss him too, sweetheart.” She whispered softly.

“This isn't a punishment, baby doll.” Gary assured her, wondering why Jasina hadn't said that. “This was a horrible accident, that's all.”

“That's right, it was an accident...” Hell even Jasina didn't believe that and excused herself, needing some fresh air, letting a few tears slip down her cheeks as soon as she was out of sight.


If Jasina believed that then Mark was losing his 'bullshit' meter.  Leaving Gary to convincing Arielle, he followed Jasina outside, taking a clean hand towel with him because he was only carrying a black silk handkerchief tucked in his pocket and as it was his only one...yeah, no.  He didn't say a word, just walked up behind her, not touching her.


“God isn't punishing Arielle and he is not punishing YOU, Jasina.  You know he doesn't work that way.  It was coincidence, nothin' more darlin'.  Don't think you somehow did this.” He couldn’t stay quiet, knowing that’s how Jasina felt at the moment and wanted to assure her none of this was her fault.


“There is no god.” Jasina whispered, wrapping her arms around herself as more tears fell, meaning every word that came out of her mouth. “I don't believe there is, not after this.  What kind of god does this to someone?  What kind of god forces Randy on a plane only to crash and burn?  Arielle is right, it's a punishment; it's too much of a coincidence not to be.” She took the towel from him to dab her eyes, speaking quietly so Mark could only hear her. “I've lost nearly everything and been dealt a shitty hand of cards in my life, Mark.  There is no god, there's only life and death; nothing more.”


“Darlin', nobody forced Randy on that plane.  Randy went because he felt obligated too, and I'm sure he hated himself for it the moment he realized what he had done.” Mark said just as quietly, not about to let Arielle or Gary overhear this conversation.  While he hadn't raised Arie to be religious, as far as he knew, she was a believer, just not a regularly practicing one. “Nearly everythin' ain't everythin', Jas, you still got Arielle and...Gary and Trish; a whole bunch of people who care about ya.” He almost added 'me', but felt it wasn't appropriate at all.


“I can't talk about this anymore, Mark, please...” She stated, finally turning to stare up into his green eyes, wishing she could believe the words coming out of his mouth. 


Jasina just couldn't. 


Today she would be in denial with anger, walking back inside the house to tell the kids it was time to leave for the funeral.  She knew Mark was trying to help, but nothing he said or did was going to help her today.  Jasina wasn't surprised when Arielle followed her out of the house, both of them heading toward Mark's huge Chevy Silverado that seated four very comfortable.  Jasina sat in the front while Arielle and Gary took the back.  Mark joined them a few minutes later, agreeing to let him drive them to the funeral because of the emotional state Jasina would be in.


If she had tried to even suggest driving herself, he would have knocked her out and driven anyway.  Today of all days, none of them would be in any state to do much else besides cry and walk.  As he had very little emotional attachment to Randy, that wasn't exactly a problem for Mark.  The silence was pressing around them, making the generally quite comfortable Chevy feel cramped and tiny.  He damn near turned on the radio, finally cracking the window.


Arielle was having similar issues and was bouncing her knees, stopping only when Gary pointed out she was kicking the back of her Mom's seat. “Sorry.” She murmured, swallowing when the cemetery came into view.  It was Houston, a large graveyard, and the idea of Randy being buried there was almost too much for Arielle to take as tears stung her eyes.


Chapter 7


Jasina just stared out the window, watching the trees zoom by and took a deep breath when they finally arrived at the cemetery.  She slid out of the truck, straightening her skirt out and could already feel the tears burning her eyes.  It was a beautiful cemetery and Jasina wasn't surprised when Mark walked over with an umbrella over them. 


The rain was comforting in some mournful way. 


She turned around when Trish and Steve came toward them, exchanging hugs and whatnot before they headed up the hill to where a sleek black coffin sat.  Jasina stopped fifty feet from the casket and didn't know if she could do this, feeling Mark's hand on the small of her back encouraging her while Arielle grabbed her hand.  Somehow, Jasina made her feet move up the hill, tears already falling almost as hard as the rain.


“You can do this Mom,” Arielle whispered encouragingly, feeling like she was all cried out of tears and kept her eyes on her mother.  She had a hard time picturing Randy inside that coffin, knowing it wasn't him but pieces of him, not liking that picture in her head. “We can do this.”


Mark and Gary fell behind Jasina and Arielle, though Mark was always ready to reach out and place a gentle hand on Jasina's back whenever it seemed like she would stop, not pushing her, but offering comfort.


The entire funeral was a blur to Jasina as she sat there staring at the coffin, wondering how it had come to this.  She felt numb and didn't even flinch when a few raindrops hit her legs, Mark holding the umbrella so she wasn't drenched.  She didn't remember the opening statement from the priest, didn't remember standing up to place a black rose on the coffin, though the tears never stopped.  It was only when the priest ended the funeral that Jasina slowly snapped out of her daze, but didn't move from the seat.  She stayed and watched as the casket was lowered into the six foot hole, where Randy would stay until the end of time, trying to keep it together.


“No.” Jasina whispered when Mark asked if she wanted to leave, shaking her head, never taking her eyes off of the disappearing casket for a second.


Giving her space, Mark walked a few feet away, Arielle's soft sobs reaching him even though she stood across the coffin, a bit away from it, holding onto Gary like he was her lifeline.  He stuck his hands in his pockets, wishing there was something he could do for Jasina, but... there wasn't.  Besides just being there for her, however she needed him to be and, right now, she needed a moment to say final goodbyes.

“She's lost weight.” Trish whispered from her place nestled against Steve, wiping away her own tears as Mark joined them.

“She's grievin' sweetheart.” Steve murmured, noting the change in Jasina as well, frowning.


Jasina didn't care if she was drenched from head to toe, slowly standing up from the chair and walked over to stare into the dark black hole. “It should be me in there, not you.” She pulled something out of her purse, holding a picture of her and Randy she always carried with her, knowing she would have to find a way to let him go. “I will never...forget you.  You are unforgettable Randy Orton and I will always love you.  Don't give them too much hell wherever you are.”


She kissed the picture and let it float in the six foot deep hole to land on top of the casket, nodding when the men began shoveling dirt on top of it.  Jasina stood there for a moment longer and felt the wind whip around her, closing her eyes.  Knowing somehow it was Randy saying goodbye to her, Jasina finally walked away from the casket with a tear streaked face.


Trish was waiting for her, smiling sadly as she opened her arms to hug her friend, rubbing her back gently before pulling away. “You look like you need some solid sleep, sweetie.” She murmured, knowing Jasina probably wasn't sleeping all that much, not that she found that surprising at all. “How are you holding up Jasina?  Honestly?”


“I feel dead inside and numb.  Still alive though.” She couldn't even crack a smile, having stopped wiping her tears away because they mixed with the rain. “I wish it was me in that coffin instead of him.” Jasina knew she should've died on several occasions, but for some reason her life was spared more than once. “He didn't deserve to die the way he did...We were so happy until Australia.  I suddenly hate Australia and want to blow the whole fucking continent to smithereens.”


Jasina knew she was probably scaring Trish with what she said, but it was the brutal honest truth.  Not much scared Trish and this didn't either.  Jasina had always felt so strongly about things, whether positively or negatively, so this wasn't too surprising.  She simply nodded, trying to be supportive.


“Right now you do, but it won't always be that way, Jasina.  Of course, you would probably say the same thing to me if our situations were reversed and I wouldn't believe a word you said, or want to hear it.  Just...take whatever time you need, but don't bury yourself in that coffin with him.  You know Randy wouldn't want that for you.” Trish said, hoping Jasina listened to her because she would hate to lose someone so near and dear to her heart.


“We'll never know what Randy truly wanted in his life because our time was cut short.  It's not fair.  It's just NOT fair!  First I lose Mark and now Randy...when am I ever going to be happy Trish?  When is this so-called god finally going to give me a break, if he even exists?” Jasina demanded harshly, the pain and anger in her voice clear as day, saying everything she'd been thinking since finding out about Randy's death and then some. “I don't believe there is a god anymore and I don't know how much more I can take...”


“You can take anything sent your way, Jasina, you always have and you will now.  You just don't see it yet.” Trish said evenly, her heart going out to her friend though she knew at this moment, Jasina would not be appreciative of another hug or a shoulder pat.  She was too angry, too hurt. “You have your daughter and you still have Mark, whether you want him or not.” She blinked when thunder boomed, feeling Steve drawing her back.


“Come on honey, it's about to pour again.” Steve looked down at Jasina, nodding when she returned his gaze. “Take care of yourself, Jas.” He actually meant that seriously, having heard from Mark she wasn't doing so well.


When Jasina was frozen and couldn't handle being in the rain anymore, she finally headed back to the truck and slid inside, slamming the door as hard as she could.  Her grief was turning into raw anger, something she hadn't felt in a very long time and couldn't even look back at Randy's gravesite or she would completely crumble.  Mark pulling away was a silent blessing as Jasina stared straight ahead, water dripping from the tendrils that were pressed against her wet cheek, the clothes clinging to her body like a second skin. 


When Mark turned the heater on, Jasina simply closed her eyes, leaning back against the seat as they headed back to the ranch.  They reached the ranch around twenty minutes later and Mark was pretty sure it was going to flood, something that only happened once in a blue moon.  He helped Jasina down, whether she wanted his help or not, feeling water sloshing around his ankles and made a mental note to fill in the holes of his dirt drive.


Gary swept Arielle up into his arms and hauled ass for the house, both of them shivering from cold.  Gary had the right idea and Jasina looked like she might start screaming at the sky.  Mark snatched her up and carried her towards the house, his long legs covering the ground quickly.


Jasina didn't even have time to protest as Mark got them both in the house within seconds, his long legs definitely one of his better assets.  He set her down on her feet and Jasina stood there while he took his shoes off, cursing since they were full of water.  The heavens were opening up and mourning on the passing of a good strong man named Randy Orton, there was no other explanation.  She took her pumps off and started padding up the stairs, tensing when Mark's hand stopped her by grabbing her wrist, turning to look in his green eyes.


“What?” She asked in a monotone voice, really not wanting to be touched at the moment, her teal eyes emotionless.


“You'll get through this, Jasina.” Mark said softly, knowing she was probably tired of hearing it, but...she needed to hear it at the same time.  She needed to know there were people who believed in her and loved her, him included. “You don't have to be alone in this, darlin'.  We're all here for you, if you want us to be, even me.”


His heartfelt words did absolutely nothing for her, that's how dead inside Jasina felt and yanked her wrist out of his grasp, her lips one fine grim line. “You don't have to be, Mark.  You have your own life to live.  Don't make it an obligation to be my savior.  If you want to be here for someone, focus on our daughter.” Walking up the stairs, Jasina barely made it to her room before letting the tears fall, completely shattering as she dropped to her knees.


Fortunately, he was perfectly capable of being there for both of them and he plastered a smile on his face when Arielle came downstairs, out of her wet clothes and in a pair of long sleeved thermal pajamas. “If yer that cold darlin', I can get the fireplace going.” He offered, shedding his tie.

“Why don't I get the fire started and you go change, Dad?  You're drippin' all over the floor.” Arielle suggested softly. “Maybe you can talk Mom into coming down, we can make hot chocolate or somethin'...”


Mark had a feeling the only way Jasina would come down was if that hot chocolate had Bailey's in it.


Jasina did strip out of her wet clothes, slipping on black pajama pants with a tank top, even opting for socks since it looked like a monsoon was happening outside.  She sat on the bed with her knees drawn up, staring out the window, for once no tears falling because she was sure all of her ducts were dried up.  When she heard a knock on her bedroom door, Jasina didn't acknowledge it, not surprised when the door opened and Arielle stepped in.



She looked at Arielle and managed a very small smile. “Hey sweetheart, you look warm.”


“I am...Dad is making a fire downstairs and I want you to come down.  I've made some hot chocolate for everyone.” Her emerald eyes were pleading with her mother, needing her right now.


Jasina couldn't deny Arielle anything and nodded, heading downstairs with her, their hands clasped.


Gary and Mark had both changed into rather similar pajamas, both wearing fleece bottoms and thermal, long sleeved shirts.  Gary was wondering if this might not be...wrong, on some level.  A cozy, roaring fire going, hot chocolate...and they had just come home from Randy's funeral.  Gary did smile when Arielle came back down, Jasina in tow, though the smile faded at the look on Jasina's face.  She looked...dead.


Mark heard them coming down, out in the kitchen boiling water, mugs already set out, knowing tonight was not going to be an easy one to get through.


Jasina walked into the living room and sat down on the couch, furthest away from the fire, letting Arielle and Gary sit together on the loveseat.  Mark had gotten new furniture finally, remembering the old ratty couch he used to have, and stared straight into the roaring fire.  When Mark walked in with the tray of hot chocolate and handed her one, Jasina took it with a nod of thanks, inhaling, smelling something a little more than just chocolate.  She glanced over at Mark, raising an eyebrow, and sipped the spiked hot chocolate while staring back into the fire.

“Mmm this is good, thanks Daddy.”


“Welcome darlin'.”


Mark’s was better though, he had decided a shot of Bailey's was in order for him and Jasina.  Carefully, he lowered himself down onto the floor, stretching his long legs out towards the fire and felt a wave of contentment washing over him as the warmth began taking away the chill the rain and the funeral had embedded into his bones.  It was probably wrong to feel contentment given the day, but...he couldn't help it.


It wasn't easy for Jasina to sit there with her ex-husband, daughter and her daughter's boyfriend, but she managed to do it somehow.  Whatever Mark spiked her hot chocolate with was working wonders and relaxing her body, which is what Jasina needed more than anything.  She curled her feet up beneath her as they all just stared into the fire, the silence somewhat comforting while the rain continued pounding on the roof.


Mark had no idea how long they all sat there, but when he looked around, Arielle was asleep with her head resting on Gary's shoulder while Gary was obviously struggling to stay awake, his head resting on top of hers.  Jasina looked like she was contemplating her now empty mug and he figured he could use a refill.


“Want another?” Mark asked, his voice a low rumble so he wouldn't wake or startle the kids.


“Sure.” Jasina stood up with her cup, handing it over to Mark while she walked over to gently tap Gary on the shoulder, managing a small smile. “Go up to bed and take her with you please.  You two are bushed, it's been a long day.”


Gary nodded, looking down at his sleeping girlfriend with a small smile of his own. “Thanks Jasina.”


Gary hugged her with one arm before lifting Arielle with ease, carrying her out of there, whispering a 'good night' to Mark on his way up to Arielle's room.  Jasina watched them go and was proud that Mark hadn't stopped Gary, knowing it couldn't be easy for him to watch another man cart their little girl up to her room.  He handed her the fresh cup of spiked hot chocolate and Jasina went back into the living room to sit in front of the fire, Mark putting a few more logs on it.


Since Gary and Arielle were no longer on his loveseat, Mark dropped down onto it, stretching his legs out and smirked when they hung off over the side, but it was still comfortable.  The room was nicely warm and the rain hadn't stopped.  Mark didn't dare look outside, pretty sure he'd find their vehicles sunk in mud, inwardly groaning at the thought and chased it away with a sip of his spiked cocoa.


Jasina wondered what was going through Mark's mind, chewing her bottom lip as she stared down at her cup, sipping it since it was so hot.  She hated feeling like this and knew Randy would kick her ass if he caught her in this current state.  Still, Jasina couldn't just turn her emotions on and off like a light switch.  She was a human being after all.


“You look uncomfortable, you can have your couch.” Jasina looked at him, her voice calm and soft, not hard and cold like it'd been when they arrived back from Randy's funeral.


“No, darlin', I'm not uncomfortable, I'm just thinkin' about tomorrow.  I'm going to be hip-deep in mud trying to get our cars unstuck, you know how bad it floods here when it rains like this.  Thankfully it only happens once every so often, eh?” About the only downside to his property, it was on a low point, other than that, it was perfection.




Jasina ran the pad of her thumb around the rim of the cup, knowing that was going to be hell for him to do.  That was if it stopped raining too and dried up enough.  Jasina knew nobody had to work so they were all staying in the ranch, though all she really wanted to do was work to keep her mind off of Randy.


“So what happened to Shayla?” Deciding to change the subject and put the focus on him, Jasina watched him heave a heavy sigh. “You two looked like you were getting along and then she stormed out of Arielle's graduation party.”


Mark could not stop himself from groaning, rubbing a hand down his face and stared at her before looking into the fire. “Shayla is the female version of Steve.” He said finally, hearing her snort and nodded. “Only, whereas Steve doesn't drink during work or heavily at events, she will.  She thought it was alright to get drunk at Arie's graduation party and I wasn't havin' it.  She got pissed when I cut her off, called me an asshole and took off.  Ain't heard from her since, good riddance.”


“You would end up with a female version of Steve, wouldn't you?” Jasina was feeling pretty good and couldn't believe she was chuckling at Mark's expense.  She finished her hot chocolate and set it on the coffee table, letting out a yawn as he leaned back against the couch, yawning slightly. “You better find happiness before you get too old, Mark.  Time is short, can't spend it by yourself unless you prefer it that way.”


Mark almost came back with a 'look who's talking', but managed to stop that sentence before it came out.  All things considered, that would have been the ultimate mood killer.  Instead he drained his mug before setting it down on the floor next to the loveseat.


“I think I'll just...take it one day at a time, darlin'.” He said finally, staring at her intently, hoping she'd do the same.


No one expected her to recover immediately, she could only take it a minute at a time, an hour at a time and eventually a day at a time.


“Fair enough.” She stood up from the couch and stretched, noticing the fire was dying down. “I'm heading up to bed.  See you in the morning.”


She walked out of the room and upstairs to her room, leaving Mark alone with his thoughts, the Bailey's definitely acting as a sedative.  She would have to thank Mark for the spiked cocoa when her mind wasn’t drowning in grief.  Jasina managed to make it to her bed, keeping her door cracked and instantly fell asleep, wondering what the future held now that Randy was no longer part of it.


Mark sat there, watching as the fire burned out until it was nothing but embers.  As tempting as it was to get up and stoke the fire back to life and toss on a few more logs, Mark felt too...tired to move.  He was too tired to even head upstairs, instead pulling the throw off the back of the loveseat and draped it over his lower body before tucking his hands behind his bed.


One day at a time.


Chapter 8


“Mom?” Arielle called out, walking inside the ranch with a big smile on her face, heading straight for the patio since it was in the middle of the day. “Dad?”

“On the patio, Arie!”


Three months had passed since Randy's death and Jasina had stayed at the ranch, not having the desire to look for another lonely place to live.  She paid Mark rent by slipping bills into his wallet without him noticing, since the man always carried money on him.  She was shocked he didn't mind her staying at the ranch since Arielle now fully lived with Gary.  That didn't stop her from coming to visit them.  Jasina was currently sunbathing on the patio, having just gotten off of work and smiled when her daughter came rushing outside.  Mark was still at the shop, which is why Jasina was taking full advantage of sitting by the pool with a grin.


“Hey sweetheart, what's up?”


“Nothin', just wanted to come check on you guys, make sure yer still alive.  Neither of you ever call and visit.” Arielle teased, dropping down into the other lounge chair and leaned back with a sigh, kicking off her shoes. “Being a workin' woman is hard on the feet, I appreciate you and Dad a LOT more these days.” She generally stopped in a few times a week, mostly to check in on her Mom, who seemed so much better, but Arielle could sometimes see the sadness still lurking behind those familiar teal eyes.


“You know we love you and there's no reason for calling when you come over anyway.” Jasina pointed out, having black shades on with a sky blue string bikini, one arm tossed over her head, letting the sun seep into her tanned skin. “Trish is finally back from maternity leave, how does Gary feel about that?”

“Trish's little girl is SO cute!!” Arielle immediately gushed, looking over at her Mom with a smile. “Emily is amazing, Trish brought her in today for everyone.  Did you see her?”


“Yes I did, she is adorable.” Emily had Steve's incredible blue eyes and Trish's dark hair, definitely a knockout and already had her father wrapped around her finger. “Steve is too cute with her too.  He brought her over last night with Trish and was so overprotective.  Mark had to smack him upside the head to get him to stop and then in turn, I had to defend Steve by smacking your Dad.”


“I'm with Dad, Steve came in with her, so he could take her when Trish was ready to work and he was growlin' at EVERYONE to be careful, even me!  Like I ain’t ever watched Stevie JR?” Arielle rolled her eyes and huffed. “Just wait until I have a baby of my own, I'mma go round tellin' him to be careful and growlin' at him, see how well HE likes it.”


“I hope that's not for several years to come, young lady.” Jasina lowered her sunglasses as they slid down her nose, looking stern for a minute. “Your Dad would have a heart attack if you ended up pregnant before you were at least married first.” She pushed her sunglasses up when Arielle simply rolled her eyes, both of them going back to sunbathing, enjoying their mother/daughter alone time together.

“Poor Gary, he couldn't even hold Emily because everyone was hoggin' her.  And then Trish was immediately orderin' him around.  It was hilarious.” Arielle was still doing her internship with a new photographer/undercover detective named Ted DiBiase JR, who wasn't nearly as good as Randy was, but he would suffice.  Not to mention he wasn't bad looking either. “I think Trish was tryin' to talk Steve into letting Gary be her babysitter so she could keep Emily at work with her, but Steve said that Gary had enough to be goin' on with, what with also being her...mole.  Actually, Steve said bitch, that man has gotten bold as brass now that she's not so hormonal, I'd forgotten about how he was when he wasn't worried about his nuts being cut off, it's pretty funny.” She took a breath, having been speaking rather fast. “But Trish doesn't want the baby with Steve at the shop all day because the garage is nothin' but guys, which Steve took offense too and I'm sure Dad will too since you know, he raised me.  But I personally think you should talk Trish into opening a daycare center on the floor, she could have Emily there with her, but not interferin' with work and the other girls could also bring in THEIR babies.  What do you think?”


It took Jasina a few seconds to process all of that, wondering why her daughter was so hyper and sat up a little more in the chair, pushing her sunglasses up on top of her head. “A daycare center?” She tapped her chin in thought, smiling at the thought and nodded. “Yeah you know what?  That's a great idea, Arie.” Jasina honestly meant it, reaching down to take a sip of her sun flavored iced tea with one lemon in it. “I don't blame Trish for not wanting Emily at the shop, but then again look at how you turned out.  You're beautiful and smart, somewhat girly and you grew up around that shop, actually helping your Dad run it.  Emily could be the same way...though I think Trish would keel over dead if that happened.”


“I love Trish, I honestly do, but she has her prissy moments and it confuses me because she's with Steve who is her polar opposite.  Makes no sense.” Arielle sighed, standing up to go get herself a glass of tea, taking her Mom's glass in for a refill.  When she came back out, which was ten minutes later, she was in her old swimsuit. “Can't tan properly in work clothes.” She laughed, handing over the glass and settled back down. “Oh, by the way, Ted wore jeans to work today.  The man has an ass that is very snatchable, don't ever tell Gary I said that.”


“Arielle Marie Calaway!” Jasina blinked when her daughter said that, immediately feeling her cheeks flush, both of them having a good hearty laugh. 


Jasina hadn't really noticed Ted because she wasn't ready to move on to another man yet.  They either didn't work out or died, Jasina was contemplating cutting herself off of men altogether.  She could live being celibate for the rest of her life.  That's what toys were made for, which she had several of, though Mark had no idea about them.


“I can't believe you just said that!  He's your teacher!”

“Oh come on Mom, I can look I just can't touch.  And that man is DEFINITELY touchable...” She immediately stopped when she heard her father's voice calling for Jasina, smirking secretively over at her. “Hey Daddy, we're out on the patio!”

“What she said!”


“And Mom just freaked because I told her my partner's ass was snatchable.” Arielle added when he stepped out to join them, smirking when he let out a ‘WHAT?’, calmly sipping her tea.

“Arie, don't you think, darlin', yer a bit too old to be doin' that to us?” Mark groaned, shaking his head at her smirk and pulled off his stained t-shirt, having every intention of hosing himself down. “Yer SUV pissed oil on me when I was changin' it, I hate that damn thing.”

“Well I LOVE it, so can I have it back?  I hate the loaner.”


Jasina couldn't stop laughing even if she wanted to, shaking her head at her ex-husband, moving her feet back and forth while he went to get the hose. “You know she's a grown woman now, Mark.  Gonna have to cut the cord eventually.  And if she thinks a man's ass is snatchable, more power to her.” Though, that didn't stop Jasina from being shocked at how blunt her daughter was.

“Whose ass is snatchable?”


Jasina bit her bottom lip to keep from telling Gary, especially when Arielle jumped up to hug her boyfriend tightly, kissing him.


The only snatchable ass Gary wanted was his girlfriend's, though he didn't dare do it in front of her parents. “What're you doing here, baby doll?  I went home and figured you were here.  Hey Jasina.”

“Hey Gary, she was checking up on me like always.” Jasina sipped more of her tea, noticing for the first time how the sun glinted off of Mark's chest, thankful she had shades on so he didn't know she was slowly checking him out.


“Apparently she thinks Brad Pitt's ass is snatchable.” Mark joked, knowing damn well Arielle did not find Brad Pitt snatchable so much as smackable, aiming the hose her way when she shrieked at him.


When Gary pointed out he was also in the line of fire, Mark considered that and returned to spraying himself down, making sure to get the oil off his face and chest.  Not even realizing he had soaked his already skin tight jeans, they currently clung and outlined his muscular thighs to perfection.  Jasina definitely realized and felt her mouth suddenly go dry, mentally shaking herself as she stood up from the chair, pulling her shades off.


“Brad Pitt has NOTHING on Jason Statham, Arie.  Just saying.”


She winked over her shoulder and walked past Mark, diving right into the pool, desperately needing to cool off.  Mark didn't want her and Jasina had cut herself off from all men, refusing to get hurt again.  That didn't mean she couldn't appreciate her insanely gorgeous ex-husband, though it was at a hefty price.  This pool was blessing as she resurfaced while Mark began spraying at Arielle again, both her and Gary disappearing into the house.


“Chickenshits!” Mark bellowed after them, snorting and turned to roll the hose up.

“Up yours!”

“Yeah, up yours!”

“Is it me...or since they moved out, they've gotten insanely fuckin' cocky and mouthy?” Mark asked, no real malice in his tone so much as amusement.


Gary and Arielle had...exploded out of shells he hadn't been aware they were cocooned in, knowing it was the excitement of being out on their own and it would eventually pass.  When he heard their cars pulling out, he kicked off his boots and shed his jeans, wearing boxers beneath them but since they were also soaked, not much was hidden from the imagination.  He threw the damp clothing onto the patio, not about to track water through the house.


“She is your daughter.”  Jasina stated simply, loving the feeling of the water flowing over her, looking up at Mark and immediately regretted doing that.  He was just in his boxers...those long legs...Jasina had to stop the naughty thoughts from entering her mind, instead beginning to move all around the pool. “What did you expect her to do?  Be your perfect angel forever?  That girl has an evil streak that damn near matches yours and mine put together.”


Grunting, Mark sat down on the edge of the pool and dangled his legs in the water, making sure everything was tucked away properly in the boxers so he wasn't flashing his dick or balls in her direction. “She was never a perfect angel, darlin', but she sure did hide that damn evil streak pretty good until recently.  She's definitely got yer mouth.” He smirked when Jasina gaped at him. “What?  I am nothin', but good-tempered and PG-rated.”


Jasina laughed hard at that and it was all condescending sounding, wondering if Mark was trying to bullshit her or himself, maybe both. “Good-tempered and PG?  You drop more F bombs than anyone I know!!  Steve can't even match your temper when you're pissed off.  Steve would be calling your bullshit right now if he was here and you can get that innocent look off your face.  You're anything BUT innocent, Mark Calaway.”


“Darlin', unless you can prove otherwise, I am as innocent as the day I was born.” Mark said sweetly, a tone that did not suit him at all, his emerald eyes sparkling mischievously.  He began laughing, unable to keep up with the charade; she knew him too well and PG was definitely not his style. “Hell honey, I'm more of a mature audience’s only kinda guy.” He teased, splashing water at her when she swam too close, not trusting her at all; she'd get him if she could.


An evil gleam came over Jasina eyes as she went under water, knowing Mark was watching her every move.  She could see him through the water, the chlorine not strong enough to hurt her eyes, and watched as he turned his back for a split second.  That was all she needed.  Jasina surfaced just beneath his feet and grabbed his ankles, yanking as hard as she possible good.  Mark was on the very edge and ended up crashing in the water, Jasina already swimming away from him and surfaced laughing.


“You looked like your ego could use a cool down.” She smirked, knowing he thought she would splash him, but Jasina was always full of surprises as she went under water again.


Going under water instead of scrambling out of the pool was her mistake because Mark took advantage.  Using his long legs and muscular arms, he cut through the water until he had reached her, diving under in order to wrap his arms around her and began to barrel roll, surfacing long enough for them both to take a deep breath before doing it again, their bodies pressed together tightly.  When he finally let her go, he was laughing when they both broke the top of the water, wiping water from his eyes and flicked his hair back over his shoulders.


Jasina had to catch her breath several times and laughed right along with Mark, splashing him lightly in the chest. “You suck.” She muttered good-naturedly, knowing she had it coming after pulling him into the water with her, her heart pounding much the same as his. 


Then Jasina noticed for the first time the position they were in and felt her heart actually skip a beat because her chest was pressed against his, his arms at his sides since he released her and those intense green eyes were twinkling down at her.  What was it about her ex-husband that always turned Jasina into complete mush and made her mind heady?  She would never understand, having tried figuring it out since the first night they met.


“See if you would've just jumped in the pool, you wouldn't have had to use the hose.  Silly man.”


“Darlin', if I woulda jumped into the pool without hosin' off first, I'd of ruined yer pretty swimsuit with all the oil that covered me.” Mark drawled, his eyes moving down to that blue bikini she wore.  Lingering over some of his more favorite body parts before remembering his manners, Mark returned his gaze to her eyes, still grinning wickedly and shrugged one shoulder when she gave him a look. “Just appreciatin' the suit, darlin'.” He rumbled, swimming away from her in a lazy backstroke.


“Uh huh.” Jasina fought back a full body shiver at the heated look he had, clearing her throat a little. “Typical man, I swear.”


She swam toward him splashing a little more, deciding it was time to get out before she ended up raping him.  Then again, Mark looked as though he'd be the dominant one and Jasina immediately stopped her thoughts from heading in that direction.  It would only lead to trouble and heartbreak, two things she wanted to avoid at ALL cost.


Chapter 9


“I'm getting out and making something to eat, did you have any plans for dinner or is it whatever?” She asked cordially, heading for the ladder.


“Being a typical man, I did not, had a few for dessert though.” He rumbled, knowing he was pushing his luck but could not for the life of him keep that comment to himself. “I brought home steaks for the grill and some baking potatoes.  Of course, I woulda had it started by now if someone hadn't been distractin' and splashin' at me.” Mark used his arms to pull himself out of the pool, standing up right and tugged his boxers back up since they had slid down...rather low on his hips. “How's that sound?”


It took every ounce of willpower not to look down at his boxers, Jasina keeping her eyes on his face the entire time with a soft smile.  He'd been really caring and comforting over the past three months since Randy's death, even so much as holding her some nights when she had nightmares of plane crashes...or of Randy in general.  Jasina hadn't pushed him away, needing the comfort more than anything, but now that she was starting to feel like her old self again, she wondered if maybe it was time to put the walls back up.


“You splashed at me first.” She retorted, steaks and potatoes sounding wonderful, her hair matted to her head as she ran her fingers through it.  Little water rivulets ran down her arms and chest, flat toned stomach and legs, grabbing her towel to wrap herself in it. “Well if you don't start them, then I will because I'm starving and I know you have to be.  You're an eating machine after all.” Why hadn't Arielle and Gary stuck around for dinner?  Jasina wasn't sure how to feel being along with her ex-husband, even though it had happened a lot lately, though she'd usually be up in her room working or somewhere he wasn't.


“I'll get the grill fired up, after I pull on some pants.” Mark rumbled, wanting to do two things: Snatch her up and pull the boxers off his balls because being wet and sticking to him was beginning to chafe.  He idly wondered if he could get her to rub...and that line of thinking was cut off. “Be right back.” He grunted, walking past her into the house and headed straight for his bedroom.  Jasina was coming out of her mourning, so it seemed at least, and he wondered if three months was enough time before starting to...look at her THAT way again.  Not that he had ever actually stopped, but would never admit it to anyone, especially her.


“Maybe it's time to get my own place.” Jasina murmured aloud, already feeling some kind of sexual tension between the two of them, and couldn't act on it. 


It'd only been three months and Mark hadn't found another woman to be with, probably because of her staying at the ranch.  It wasn't right.  She had definitely overstayed her welcome and it was time to leave, to pick up the pieces of her life and move on.  Sighing, Jasina walked into the house a few minutes later and went straight up to her room to change out of her bathing suit, slipping on some white cotton shorts and a matching strapless top that had blue hem. 


It was hot and Jasina wanted to be comfortable, blinking when she looked in the mirror and realized how long her hair had gotten.  It was past her shoulders and most of the streaks had diminished, probably because of how much time she spent in the pool.  She brushed it out and pulled it up in a black clip to keep it off of her neck, wondering if Mark would ever turn the air conditioner on.


Mark only used the A/C for Arielle and now that she no longer lived with him, he felt no need to use it at all, loving the dry Texas heat.  He didn’t mind sweating, but couldn't stand coming in from the heat, walking into a freezing house...that was a recipe for a stuffed and still runny nose for him.  Screw that.  After pulling on a pair of jean cut off shorts that hugged him like a second skin -downside to being his size, everything fit like a second skin-, Mark headed back downstairs, his damp hair still hanging loose.  Though he had a rubber band around his wrist for when he cooked to pull it back.


“Hey Jas,” He called over his shoulder, deciding to ask her opinion on something he had been thinking about for awhile. “What do you think about tearing the wall down between your room and Arie's?”


Jasina was busy cutting up some broccoli to add to the meal and ended up slicing her finger, not expecting him to ask her something THAT random. “SHIT!” She dropped the knife on the counter and held her bleeding finger to her mouth, sucking on it.  Mark walked over instantly and took her finger out of her mouth to survey the damage, turning the sink on to run it under cold water, which would help stop the bleeding faster. “W-Why would you want to do something like that?” She asked, looking up at him with confused teal eyes. “I mean it's your house and everything, but that came out of left field...”


“Sorry darlin', I guess I wasn't thinking about how it would sound outside my head.” He laughed, keeping her finger under the cold water while reaching for a clean dishrag.  After turning off the water, Mark wrapped the hand towel around her finger, applying steady pressure, mindful not to apply TOO much pressure; he was a bit stronger than the average person after all. “But Arie is moved out, and that guest room is tiny, you hardly got room to swing yer legs out of bed without knocking them against yer dresser.  I figured I'd tear down the wall and expand that room…your room.”


That was definitely a sweet thought and Jasina found herself melting a little, especially with how he took care of her cut finger.  He wanted her to stay here, that much was obvious.  Jasina wondered why though and chalked it up to loneliness.  Arielle was out on her own with Gary and that left Mark alone with this huge ranch by himself, which was a little heartbreaking in a way.


“Are you sure you want to do that?  I mean, I know you're usually sure about things you want to do, but...Mark, don't you want to find someone to spend your life with?  Don't you want to be happy again?” Jasina knew she was rambling, but couldn’t stop the questions from dropping. “Me staying here is holding you back, whether you realize it or not...and I was thinking of looking for my own place because it's not fair to you to have your ex-wife living with you.”


“First of all, yer not holdin' me back from anything.” Mark said firmly, staring down at her out of intense green eyes. “I do what I want, when I want, and you know that better than anyone.  This is where I want to be right now.  I like havin' ya here, I'm not used to an empty house Jasina; I'm used to someone bein' here.  If you want to go, then go.  Just... don't use 'holdin' me back' as yer excuse, darlin'.” Mark wasn't being mean; if she really wanted to leave and felt she was ready too then she should, but she didn't need to convince herself if was for HIS own good.  Jasina needed to do things for herself. “But yer more than welcome to stay.”


“I appreciate that, but I do feel it's time for me to leave.  So don't change anything about this place for me.  If you're gonna do it, then do it for you.  I didn't mean to use holding you back as an excuse, that wasn't my intention.”


Jasina pulled the towel from around her finger and saw the slit, walking away from him to get a band-aid out of one of the drawers.  Mark kept them around because Arielle was extremely accident prone.  She put a band-aid on her finger while Mark went to start up the grill, Jasina watching him and frowned, hoping she hadn't hurt his feelings.  It was definitely time for her to leave, Jasina would start her apartment hunt tonight online.


Mark contemplated the idea of having the ranch to himself.  He could stay up late and play music as loud as he wanted too without waking anyone up.  He wouldn't have to worry about waking up early except for work.  He could completely redo every room in true bachelor style...keep his fridge stocked with pizzas and beer opposed to actual food…walk around bare-assed...No.  Nope.  Couldn't see that suiting him for more than a few weeks, maybe a month.  


Shaking his head, he headed out to start up the grill, wondering just how long it would take her to find a new place.  What the hell did she need a place for anyway?  She had one here.  He didn't bug her about being in a relationship, didn't expect anything of her, the woman had it made. 


She was insane.




For the next straight month, Jasina looked for apartments and had zero luck, feeling as though her head was going to explode.  She couldn't find the right apartment, one like Trish had found, and even asked for her expertise.  It was like the universe was out to get her or keep her bottled up with her ex-husband...either way her luck SUCKED. 


So Jasina kept living at the ranch in the small guest room, refusing to destroy her daughter's room because Arielle stayed there a few times out of the month.  It wouldn't be fair to Arielle.  She shared dinners with Mark, even cooked for him and they would talk about their days.  It was almost as if they were together, but they weren't, confusing everyone around them.  It didn't matter though, until Jasina could find her own place she was stuck at the ranch and honestly, it could've been worse.


Other than the lack of sex, they were practically a couple.  If Mark went out, he invited her along, be it for shopping or deciding a beer at the bar opposed to his kitchen table was in order.  He'd haul all the laundry downstairs to the basement for her and then back up, she made sure he had matching socks since he was in the habit of pulling on whatever he grabbed first, not overly caring if he wore a black with a white. 


When she needed his help, he helped.  When he needed hers, she was there.  They spoke regularly, laughed and joked, cooked was like being married minus the rings and the sharing of a bed and bodies.  That last part only really bothered him whenever she'd break out the bikini to sun bathe...and a few other times, like at night.  Jasina was practically his again, only nothing was official.


“You look like you had another day with no luck.” Mark commented when he seen the frown on her face.


“I need a drink with a large volume of alcohol, what does that tell you?” She grunted, setting her bag down on the counter, having already kicked her heels off at the door.  She wore a pinstriped black and red skirt suit with a matching cardigan and short sleeved red V shaped shirt beneath, taking the cardigan off instantly since there was no air conditioner unlike the office. “I've decided I'm giving up, not worth the stress and aggravation.” Jasina took the glass of brandy he handed her and slammed it back, sitting down at the island while he cut up some steak cubes. “Unless you have a problem with me living here until the day I die?  Because that's exactly what it looks like is going to happen.”


“Nope, no problem with that darlin'; it's nice havin' a woman in the house.  Reminds me I'm not allowed to trek mud onto the floors or run around in my underwear.” Mark joked, knowing she had been tearing up Houston looking for a new place to live.  He had once considered suggesting she find a new apartment in the same complex she had once lived in, but...that would have probably gotten him a skillet to the back of his skull. “Pour me a glass, would ya?” He smiled when she poured him a healthy measure, bending down to pick it up with his teeth since his hands were a little...greasy and nasty.  Tilting his head back, Mark drained it then set the glass back down, smirking when she stared at him. “I'm a man of many talents.  I think I did that with a shot glass once from your...” He trailed off, his eyes moving purposefully to her chest.


Jasina immediately snapped her fingers in his face, smirking when those green eyes met hers, purposefully folding her arms in front of her chest. “My eyes are not down there, Calaway.” She stated, crossing one leg over the other, her skirt riding up her thighs just the slightest bit and cracked open the beer Mark had procured moments before she walked in the door. “Besides wanting to go down memory lane, how was the rest of your day?”


“Hold on...” Mark was now blatantly staring at her leg, more to the point, the tanned expanse of thigh she was so thoughtfully showing off.  When she raised the now opened can of beer threateningly, he grinned and looked back into her face, his eyes twinkling in amusement. “Sorry Jas, couldn't help myself.  My day seems like it went a lot better than yers.  Steve brought Emily into the shop today when he came in to pick up his paycheck, tyke's growin' way too damn fast.  She looks like her momma.  Thank God.”


“Oh behave, Steve is just as good looking as Trish.” Jasina giggled when Mark's eyebrow slowly rose, stopping in mid-cut, finding it incredibly amusing. “Trish is a lucky woman, that's all I'm saying.” She took a long swig of beer and found it adorable how Mark's stance suddenly became tense, his shoulders squaring a bit more, puffing his chest out.  She took the clip out of her hair and shook it out a little, having recently had it dyed back to her natural honey blonde with a few layers in it and it rested just below her shoulders. “So what are you cooking for us tonight, chef?”


“Forget food let's go back to the part where you think Steve is good lookin'.”


She thought Steve was good looking?  Steve was BALD, how was that good looking?  He would never understand women.  When she just smiled sweetly at him, he smirked slightly, carrying the diced cube steak to the waiting skillet on the stove, already drizzled with olive oil.  He dropped the meat in and turned the burner on to let it brown.


Chapter 10


“So... darlin', ya also think Trish is good lookin’?” He teased in a low purr, wondering what Steve would say to that or what Steve would do if he knew Mark had a very fleeting visual of the two women together.


“Not in THAT way, you pervert!” She threw a pan handle at him, feeling her cheeks flush slightly and decided since he wanted to screw with her, she would screw with him. “She is a beautiful woman and if I wasn't strictly dickly, I would go after her in a heartbeat.  Now Steve on the other hand...” Jasina began fanning herself for added effect and had to take a long swig of beer, sighing wistfully. “That man can wear a pair of blue jeans unlike any other.  He just has one of those snatchable asses and don't even get me started on his chest and arms, not to mention his blue eyes.  He could get away with murder with those damn baby blues and he knows it.  He doesn't realize it, but he has Trish wrapped around his damn finger and I don't blame the woman.  I'd be wrapped too and baldness is hot on certain men, he is definitely one of them.  Oh and his voice...”


Steve sounded like he constantly had a cock down his throat, his voice was growly constantly.  Huffing, Mark turned his attention to the diced onions, green peppers and tomatoes he had already cut before getting to work on the meat. “So if you find that hot, then what the hell were ya doin' with me?  I'm the complete opposite of that.” Granted, he didn't have a fat ass like Steve's, but...Getting the feeling she was enjoying this a bit too much, Mark whirled around and crossed over to gently take her arms, bending down so their lips were inches apart. “You havin' fun getting me worked up, Jas?”


“As a matter of fact, I am.” The hilarity shined in her teal eyes, but being this close to him sent her heart suddenly racing, his hot breath on her face very welcoming. “Almost as much as you were blatantly checking me out and trying to get me riled up.” Jasina smiled and reached a hand up, tapping his nose gently with her finger. “I was with you because you have an even lower voice than Steve's, which I found incredibly sexy and your ass is better than his in anything you wear, even those baggy overalls when you're working on the roof.”


“You know darlin'...I think you should give them baggy overalls a try yourself...” Mark teased, catching her finger between his teeth when she went to tap his nose again, biting down gently before letting go and returning to the stove.  He had to put a bit of space between them before he sat her on that kitchen island and had his way with her right there, smirking slightly as he recalled a few times they had been together in the kitchen. “And if you weren't so damn provocative, I wouldn't check you out.  Keep them legs covered up or I'll be eyeballin' them constantly.”


“Provocative?” Jasina giggled, not able to stop, wondering if he was serious. “I don't have a sexy bone in my body.  I'm accident prone like Arielle, poor girl gets it from her momma.” Jasina slid from the chair as she finished her beer off, tossing the can in the trash, her finger still tingling from Mark nibbling on it.  She walked past him and ran her hand across his ass, smirking when he jumped slightly. “Still the same as I remember.  I'll be right back, gonna change into something more...provocative.” Jasina laughed all the way out of the kitchen, shaking her head, deciding maybe she should cover much as she could since it was hot as hell in the ranch.


“Tease!” He shouted after her, wondering if he was going to make it through the night.


He sincerely hoped her idea of provocative consisted of wearing a gunny sack...then regretted thinking that because Jasina would make a burlap sack look sexy.  After giving the skillet a shake to flip everything, he went to retrieve himself a beer.  It was going to be a long night, he could already tell.


After quickly showering, Jasina contemplated what to wear and decided she deserved a little payback on Mark, whistling innocently.  It wasn't provocative...exactly, but he definitely would notice a few things.  She giggled as she slipped into the blood red tank dress that went two inches above the knee, leaving her shoulders bare and clipped her hair up because it was simply too hot to leave down.  She left her face devoid of makeup since this was her sleep attire for the evening and padded out of her room, heading down to the kitchen, grabbing another beer on the way.


Mark had his back to her though he heard her coming in and cracking open another beer, busy finishing up dinner, a loaf of French bread sitting on the counter for dipping into the broth and juices from supper. “Hey, you want to grab the plates and start-” He trailed off as he turned around.


Mark immediately wished he hadn't and could not, for the life of him, keep himself from thoroughly checking her out.  If he snapped and attacked her, it was going to be her own damn fault.  He was THRILLED he was wearing his tight jeans because the erection he suddenly felt being choked to death by the constraining denim was sent straight from hell, courtesy of Satan herself.


“And start what?  You have to finish your sentence, Mark.” Jasina chastised playfully, already knowing what he wanted and set her beer down on the counter.  She walked over to reach up pulling the plates down from the cupboard, the dress rising just a fraction before lowering again.  Jasina could feel Mark's eyes boring into her and smirked before heading to the table, setting it up for just the two of them. “Whatever you made smells amazing.” She complimented, finishing up with the silverware and then went back to her beer, quite enjoying being a little evil.


Fuck dinner, they were going to wind up skipping right to dessert.


She knew what she was doing, torturing him and the way he figured it, if she was enjoying teasing the hell out of him, then she probably realized where this was going to eventually lead.  Going along with it for now, he just grunted and poured the contents of the skillet into a rectangular, shallow bowl and then grabbed the loaf of French bread, carrying them over to the table.  He then grabbed his own beer and sat that down at his plate, walking around to pull out the chair for her.


“Tell me darlin', that a night dress or a party dress?” Because it looked like it could go either way.


“I would never wear this out of the house, you should know me better than that.”


Jasina immediately reached for the food and began making her plate while Mark sliced the bread, handing her two.  She was starving and took a drink of beer, the sun having set so there was a warm breeze through the patio screen door.  Then Jasina realized that Mark had taken his shirt off and had to stop herself from running her eyes over every inch of his chest, having every part of it mesmerized, keeping her eyes on her food as she blew on the first bite.  It was still pretty hot, though the temperature was nothing compared to how high hers currently was.  Mark preferred being shirtless since most shirts were...constricting on his muscular large form and, if she wasn't aware of that by now, then the woman was thick in the head.


“I don't know...I could see you out in it, with a pair of spiked heels and your hair done up.” Mark drawled, dunking a slice of the bread into the broth, winking across the table at her. “How is, darlin'?  Your face is flushed, didn't burn yourself, did ya?”


“Vivid imagination you have.” Jasina commented, dipping her own bread in the broth. “It's delicious and I'm flushed because it's hot in here.” He could take that however he wanted, but she was too busy trying not to let her eyes linger on him for long.  She wiped away a drizzle of broth off the corner of her mouth before going back to the main course. “And no, I don't wear spiked heels, I'm not the hooker type.” She smiled sweetly at him, owning some stilettos, but Jasina knew exactly what kind of heels he was referring to, rolling her eyes.


“Who the hell said you had to be a hooker to wear spiked heels?  Clear heels maybe, but not necessarily spiked.  Besides... you don't even have to wear them outta the house, if you ever felt wear some spiked heels, you could wear 'em around here.  Maybe vacuum or do some dishes in them.” Now he was just outright teasing her, grinning as he took a bite of his food.


Jasina raised an eyebrow and chewed her food thoughtfully, contemplating what he said. “Really?” When he nodded, the amusement in his green eyes very clear, Jasina decided she would give him what he wanted as she took another drink from her beer. “What else would you like seeing me do around here, Mark?” She asked curiously, her tone sweet as honey.


Mark knew he was being baited, he KNEW it, and like the idiotic typical male he was, he walked right into it. “Well darlin', wouldn't say no to seeing you prancin' around in them spiked heels in nothing but an apron.” He leered at her, snorting when her eyebrow arched.  She had asked and he wasn't going to lie or shy away, he could play the game.  Actually, he was being played most likely, but it would be worth it. “And you could start sun bathin' in the nude, that'd eliminate any...tan lines...”


“So basically walking around nude is what you'd like.” Jasina summed up, looking very interested and decided if that's what Mark wanted, that's exactly what he was going to get.  Of course she would make sure they were completely alone when it happened, but being out in the middle of nowhere definitely had its perks. “Heels, naked, apron...” She took another bite of food, still keeping the smile on her face. “You should skip the boxers next time you go swimming so your balls don't chafe.” She said while standing up, having finished her dinner and walked the plate to the sink, trying not to start laughing.


Growling, he pushed away from the table and went after her, taking the plate and setting it down a bit harshly on the sink before whipping her around, feeling her hands instantly landing on his chest.  Not even thinking twice, he bent down and brushed his lips against hers, his hands running down her sides and then back to cup her pert ass, pulling her against him tightly.  After a moment, he pulled away, his eyes darkened with lust.


“I'll take that under advisement, darlin'.” He murmured huskily before heading outside, deciding a dunk in the pool right about now would be in his best interest, otherwise he was going to maul her.


Jasina stood there in complete shock and slowly brought her hand up to touch her lips with her fingertips, swallowing hard.  The last man that kissed her was Randy...Jasina knew it was pointless to start crying, but she couldn't help it, every part of her body trembling from head to toe.  She was just having a little fun with Mark and he took it too far, too fast.  She didn't even know he still felt anything for her and was sadly mistaken. 


Managing to get a hold of herself, Jasina walked out of the kitchen slowly, wiping the tears away that fell.  She couldn't go through the pain of Mark again, remembering why they broke up in the first place.  Hell, they got along better apart than they ever did together, which was cruelly ironic in itself.  Jasina decided against going to her room and simply decided to go for a drive, slipping her pumps on that were by the door, grabbed her purse, keys and cell phone, just needing some space to clear her mind.


He had stripped down, following her advice, diving into the pool and resurfaced in time to hear her car starting.  Groaning, Mark swam over to bang his head against the tiled ledge.  He shouldn't have done that...She had only been messing with him, not inviting him to kiss her!  Mark rubbed his head and stared down at the water, contemplating drowning himself.  He just hoped he hadn't set her back in her recovery or something, knowing she hadn't just forgotten about Randy overnight.


Jasina ended up back at her old apartment and looked up at the door, knowing Randy's apartment had been cleared out by a few people Trish hired.  She'd left everything to Jasina, including his money, which was in a private account.  Four months...Jasina unbuckled her seatbelt and stepped out of the car, closing the door as she made her way toward the stairs, taking one step at a time slowly. 


So many memories flooded her and it was almost overwhelming at first, but Jasina somehow pushed through the pain and heartache, walking toward her door.  Trish had piled all of Randy's things inside with Jasina's permission, refusing to let it be destroyed by being tossed away.  Taking a deep breath, Jasina shakily unlocked the door and pushed it open, stepping inside as the musty smell instantly entered her nostrils, the door closing behind her as she tossed her keys on the counter.


Randy's things were numerous, all neatly placed in piles about the apartment.  The various cameras he had used over the years, stacks of photo albums containing personal pictures and professional images, the souvenirs he had brought back from the numerous places he had been.  His entire life had been placed in Jasina's old apartment, parts of it he had kept from her because of how dark those times had been, such as his time in Iraq and trips to Libya, places that had been filled with despair that he hadn't wanted to bring her down with. 


Set away from everything else was a large scrapbook, a sky blue with silver gilt edges on the four corners.  All the pictures he had taken of Jasina, all their articles they had done together.  It was the 'shrine' she had joked about him having, only it was real.


That was the first thing Jasina noticed, something drawing her to it, and cried with every page she turned.  They were absolutely breathtaking, Randy's shots flawless, even ones she didn't know he had.  There was one with her sitting on the beach with Arielle sitting with her, her arms wrapped around her, both of them laughing with big smiles on their faces.  He truly did love them and Jasina had accused him he didn't.  She felt terrible and clutched the album against her, crying her heart out, but didn't dare get any tears on the shrine.


“Randy, I'm so sorry...” Jasina choked out, covering her eyes as she doubled over, the pain consuming her all over again. “I'm so sorry...please forgive me...” She ended up lying on the dusty couch clutching the album to her chest, crying herself to sleep.


Chapter 11


Arielle did not like having to come here, but when her Dad called to say he might've upset her mother and couldn’t get her on the phone, if she had any ideas where Jasina might’ve gone, she knew she had too.  At first, she didn't even think Jasina would come HERE and had called Trish.  Trish hadn't seen hide nor hair of her, didn't even hear from her. 


She had gone to the Emerald City, knowing that was her Mom's favorite bar, nothing.  She had gone to dozens of other places and  Arielle let herself in with the key she had never given back and took a deep breath, stepping into the living room.  After her eyes adjusted to the dim light that came in from the covered windows, she spotted her mom laying on the couch, sound asleep, clutching a book to her.


When the book tried being pulled from Jasina's grasp, her eyes snapped open and clutched it tighter against her.  Both girls let out screams of both fright and surprise.  It took several moments before Jasina could clearly tell who was in the apartment with her, breathing heavily.


“Arie?” She set the album down on the couch, standing up. “What are you doing here sweetheart?” She pulled her daughter against her, hugging her tightly. “Sorry, you scared the hell out of me.  Are you okay?  Where's Gary?”


“Lord almighty mom, you SCARED me!  And Dad!  And everyone else!  We've all been playin' round robin trying to get a hold of you!” Arielle hugged her again, squeezing tightly. “Dad said you left last night and he thought he upset you, but he didn't say what he did.  When you didn't come back, he called me, figuring you might've come to my place.” She pulled Jasina down onto the couch with her, taking her hand. “Mom, what's going on?  Why'd you”


The sun barely peeking through the window curtain told Jasina she'd slept through the entire night and then some. “What time is it?” She cringed when Arielle said three in the afternoon, cursing. “Damn, I didn't mean to sleep THAT long.” Jasina let out a yawn and was thankful she'd kicked her heels off sometime during the night while sleeping, otherwise her feet would be throbbing. “Your father kissed me last night after we ate dinner and...I sort of freaked out and ran out of the house.” She couldn't meet Arielle's eyes, staring down at her lap, tears stinging her eyes. “I know it's been four months, but...I didn't think he felt that way about me still.  I thought we were just friends and he was helping me because he felt bad or whatever.  I felt guilty and that's why I came here, but that was definitely a mistake.”


It took Arielle a few moments to process all that, trying to wrap her mind around her Dad kissing her Mom, which did not seem so weird all things considered.  They were married and obviously were attracted to each other at one point.  She was living proof of that.


“Dad probably isn't ever going to stop feelin' that way about you, Mom.” Arielle said finally. “I have no idea why he kissed you though because he knows you don't feel the same anymore.  Do you?”


“I-I don't know.” Jasina was so confused and knew that wasn't the answer her daughter was expecting to hear, but it was all she could offer right now, standing up from the couch. “He was my first love, Arie, so of course I'm always going to feel something for him.  But we don't work.  We tried that for four years and all it resulted in was both of us heartbroken and Randy...” She still had a hard time saying his name, turning away as a few tears slipped down her cheeks. “Randy gave me everything your Dad didn't.  He gave me hope for the future, promised me he would always be there and stitched the pieces of my heart back together that your father broke.” She tossed her hands up in the air, laughing ruefully. “Your mother has officially lost her mind.”


“No, not yet.” Arielle said, sounding very serious and very grave, two things not normal for her. 


Well, it had been after Randy's death but over the past few months, she had begun returning to normal.  She would always love and miss Randy, but she also knew he would kick her ass for mourning her entire life away.  Her Mom, on the other hand, that had been an entirely different sort of bond, one that couldn't heal overnight.


“Are you going to move out of the ranch?”


“I've been trying like hell to find a place and I'm coming up empty.  There's nothing out there, I've looked everywhere.  This apartment has a curse of some sort or something I don't know.” Jasina knew she wasn't making sense and looked around her living room at all the boxes, all with Randy's name etched on them in black marker. “Your Dad even offered to knock down the wall between your room and the guest room I'm staying in, but I told him no.  I wouldn't feel right.  You're still his baby girl and you need a room at the ranch in case you need a place to stay.  Did your Dad say anything about what he did or did he simply send you out looking for me?”


“Mom, if he wants to take down that wall, he can. I rarely stay over anymore and I'm officially moved out, it is his house.” Arielle chided gently, having a feeling her Dad had been doing it to make Jasina more comfortable since the guest room as miniscule and her Mom would have probably felt weird about sleeping in HER old bedroom. “And no, he just said he upset you, I think he knew if he told me about the kissin' thing, I'd of sent Trish that way to smack him silly.  He asked if I had seen you, told me he couldn't get a hold of you and I sent myself out lookin'.”


“No, your Dad doesn't need to do that.” Jasina waved her off dismissively, trying to wake up and knew she would need some three in the afternoon.  Then again, maybe not. “Arie, with me staying there, he can't mingle with other women.  It would look pretty stupid for him to bring home a woman and have his ex-wife living there, don't you think?” When Arielle reluctantly nodded, Jasina was glad someone understood her point of view. “I will find my own place.  I have to, especially after what happened last night between us...” It was a kiss, only a kiss, but...Jasina simply wasn't ready.


“Mom, just... out of curiosity...” Arielle began slowly, knowing her Mom wouldn't like hearing this and probably didn't need to hear it, but she was about to say it anyway. “What if dad doesn't WANT to bring home another woman?  Whether you're there or not?  I mean, even though you two aren't together, he could still go out on a date or somethin' or go back to some woman's place.  And I don't think he has.”


“It's none of my business if he does or not.  You're right, I suppose he could go on a date if he wanted to...” So why hadn't Mark gone out to find another woman?  Shayla was the only woman that he tried having any kind of relationship with and after the blowup at Arielle's graduation party, it was almost as if he'd given up. “I'm sorry I worried all of you, the kiss just...caught me off guard, I wasn't expecting it...” Jasina also didn't expect the intense feelings that came with that kiss, all the feelings and love rushing back combined with the guilt she felt over Randy's death. 


Definitely wasn't a good combination.   


“So, if it was just a kiss, why'd you run Mom?” Arielle asked curiously.  She knew her Mom still thought of Randy, but running because of a kiss seemed a bit...stupid to her.  So she figured she was either just really young or totally missing something here. “Why not just co-cock him one?  Or did you feel bad?  Or maybe you liked it and that makes you feel guilty?” Arielle also might have been watching Dr. Phil again too much.


“Stop watching those stupid programs that fill your head with false notions of what a relationship is supposed to be.” Jasina ordered, rolling her eyes when Arielle waved her off, sighing heavily as she walked into the kitchen to get some water. “I was shocked, Arie.  I was legitimately shocked and had to get out for just a little while.  I suppose I felt guilty because Randy has only been gone for four months.  We were together for only four months, which doesn't compare to the four years I was with your father, not including before you were born either.” Jasina knew she had to stop rattling, closing her eyes and gulped down some much needed water, her throat suddenly dry.


“Sure it compares Mom, you can love more than one person and you can love them differently but just as intensely.” Arielle said, not quoting her daytime shows, but actually speaking directly from herself. “Are you still going to move out of the ranch?” She asked next, knowing if Jasina would, that kiss would probably ensure she somehow found a new place within the next week or two. “You're not...movin' back here, are you?”


“I don't know what I'm going to do right now.  I'm gonna still keep looking because I can't live with your father forever.  It's just...weird.” She didn't know what other word to use, rubbing the back of her neck to try to ease some of the tension from sleeping on her old couch. “It just doesn't feel like home, you know?  I want a place that feels like home with my taste and style.  I don't feel that at the ranch and I don't think I ever did, even when I moved in for that week.” The only question Jasina really wanted answered was why Mark had kissed her in the first place. 


What was going through that stubborn bull-headed brain of his?


“You and Dad are so good together though, it's like you're married, but you're not, you know?” Arielle shook her head, flipping her hair back behind her shoulders. “You two should just rent a house in town and split it down the middle. He doesn't like livin' alone and I don't think you do either.” This would explain why her Mom couldn't find a place to live because, honestly, with the money Jasina had, finding a suitable new apartment or even a house shouldn't have been a problem.


“Rent a house in town and split it down the middle?”


Jasina actually contemplated that, knowing Mark loved his ranch because of all the property.  She suddenly remembered the patch of land he'd shown her four years ago on their first date.  He was thinking of building something out that way, though Mark never had, for what reason Jasina didn't know.


“We get along better apart than we ever did together, which is crazy because everyone assumes we are a couple.” That didn't make a lick of sense and Jasina felt like bashing her head against a wall, sighing. “I'll figure it out, but the first thing I need to do is talk to your Dad.”


“Uh yeah, that would be great because he hasn't stopped texting me the entire time I've been here.  My ass is going numb from the constant vibratin'.” Arielle said, reaching into her back pocket to pull out her cell phone, her confidence that it was her Dad proven right by his name on every text. “Oh wait, one is from Trish, just one though.  You want me to call them and let them know everything is kosher?”


“Call your Dad and tell him I'll be there shortly.  I'll call Trish, kill two birds with one stone.”


She hugged Arielle again, kissing the top of her head before stepping outside, needing some fresh air.  Jasina wasn't surprised when Trish answered on the first ring, cringing when she began screaming and had to hold the phone away from her ear.  All Jasina could hear was something about thinking her maid of honor was dead -the wedding was just a few months away- and missing work without any explanation.  When Jasina was sure Trish had blown all of her stack, she slowly put the phone back to her ear.


“I'm sorry Trish, I didn't mean to worry anyone.  It was a complete accident...”


“You running off in the night and not taking anyone's phone calls, worrying us all half to death, was an accident?” Trish echoed, the anger draining from her tone since she had pretty much gotten it all out already. “Jas, why didn't you come here or something?  Where ARE you anyway?  I'm assuming Arielle found you or you seen that I tried to blow up your cell.”


“I'm at my old apartment.  I came here last night because...something happened and I had to leave the ranch for a few hours.  I was only planning on being gone for a few hours and...Something lead me here...” Jasina knew it was the guilt of Randy's death that consumed her day and night, but wasn't about to admit that to anyone. “I did bring my phone with me, but I forgot to take it off of vibrate and...Ended up falling asleep on the couch.”

“Why did you have to leave the ranch?” Trish demanded, sometimes too observant for her own good. “What happened?  Did Mark bring a woman home or something?”


Jasina sighed heavily and closed her eyes, her lips still tingling from Mark's kiss. “Mark kissed me...and I freaked out, left the ranch and came here...”

“WHAT?” Trish actually kind of wished Mark had brought home another woman because that would have probably been a little bit easier for Jasina to deal with -not to mention more expected- than a kiss.  After taking a deep breath, she apologized for screaming, again. “So, he...kissed you.  WHY did he kiss you?”


“How the hell should I know?” Jasina shot back, the frustration built up ever since the kiss happened. “I didn't even know he still felt anything romantic for me.  I mean we do have a daughter together, so there's bound to be some feelings left over along with love.  I will always love him, but...” Jasina looked back over her shoulder, seeing Arielle was still on the phone with Mark. “I can't get hurt again, Trish.  I physically, emotionally and mentally can't handle anymore hurt and pain.  I've been contemplating going celibate actually...”


“You have absolutely NO idea why he kissed? It just happened right out of the blue?”


“We were talking and teasing each other like always, all in good fun.  We ate dinner and I stood up to put my plate in the sink, only for him to follow, turn me around and kiss me.”


The conversation they had and things mentioned might've had something to do with it, but there was no way Jasina was telling anyone that...EVER.  Maybe she had egged Mark on a little, but again she never expected him to actually kiss her!  Maybe a slap on the ass or something teasing like that, but a kiss...Jasina had been totally shocked and bolted, that was the bottom line.


“I really need to get my own place before I end up in another bad situation.  Mark and I are finally getting along and not ripping each other's throats out.  I don't want to go back to hating him again, Trish.”


Trish could read between the lines pretty well and knew there was a lot Jasina wasn't saying, but not about to even contemplate what kind of talking and teasing they were getting up to in order for Mark to decide a kiss was a pretty good idea. “Well...” She coughed, clearing her throat. “Maybe it wouldn't be like that again, Jasina.  You've both changed.” Obviously.


“Now I know you've lost your mind and I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that.”


Had Trish really forgotten how much pain and hurt Jasina and Mark caused each other? 


Mark didn't want to get married and settle down, she'd been with him for four years and absolutely nothing happened.  Jasina had fought not to let it bother her, but then Randy came along and completely turned her world upside down in a good way.  She thought she would end up marrying Randy, but that wasn't in the cards for them.


“Mark and I don't work and we don't belong together.  Not to mention it's only been four months since Randy...” Jasina forced his name out, taking a deep breath. “I'm not ready and I don’t know if I'll ever be.”


“ stands to reason then, that talking and teasing, with Mark, might be a bad idea then?” Trish suggested, coming back in a roundabout way to the reason Jasina had taken off like a bat out of hell. “Because either he got caught up in what he thought was a heated moment or he thinks you're ready to, well, he thinks you're ready.”


“That's why I need to get my own place immediately.”


Jasina knew Trish was right and knew she definitely wasn't ready to be in another relationship with any man, whether it was Mark or not.  Ted had actually asked her out and Jasina declined.  He turned his attention to Eve and they both hit it off well thankfully.


“I did tease him, I'm not going to deny it, but it was only because he was teasing me...” She groaned, hearing Trish laughing and knew that was the WRONG thing to say. “Never mind, I need my own place so please keep your eyes and ears open.”


“Oh sure, I'll do that.” Trish clucked her tongue, the amusement in her tone very clear. “So he was teasing you and you decided to get a little revenge, hmm?” She couldn't help poking a little fun at her friend, hearing Jasina growl and decided to save it for later. “Alright, alright I'm done, I'll behave.”


Meanwhile, Arielle was giving her Dad the third degree, or trying to at least…



“Why did you kiss her?”

“At the time, it seemed like a damn good idea.”

“Well, Dad, your damn good idea wasn't such a damn good idea.” Arielle scolded, leaning back against the kitchen counter. “You confused Mom to hell and back!”


Mark blew into the phone.  Great.


“So, new rule, if she moves more kissing her.  Got me?  It's not good for her emotionally.”

“You've been watchin' Dr. Phil again, haven't you?”


“Why'd you kiss her?” Arielle tried asking again.


“I can't tell you.” Mark was NOT about to tell Arielle about the conversation they had or the mutual teasing they had put each other through before he jumped the gun.

“So I'm to assume you kissed her because you're a moron then, Daddy dearest?”

“Arielle Marie, why don't you come out here and visit me awhile?” Mark suggested through gritted teeth.  She wasn't too old to get her ass whooped. “I’ll give you an ass paddlin’ that’ll make you think twice before talkin’ to me like ya are now.”


“Mom, I'm going to KILL Dad!!” Arielle shrieked, storming back inside. “He thinks it's okay to give me an ass paddlin'!”

“Did you forget you're still on the damn phone with me girl?!”

“Oops!” Arielle hung up.


“I'm going to kill Trish too for making fun of me.” Jasina smirked when Trish scoffed over the phone, promising to call later and hung up, mother and daughter looking at each other flabbergasted. “Your father won't touch you, but I wouldn't go back to the ranch right away.” She suggested, walking back inside the apartment to grab her purse and car keys, wondering what the hell she was going to say Mark when she got to the ranch. “What did your Dad have to say?”


“Besides a whole lotta nothin' and threatening to bust my behind?  Mostly nothing.  He was just worried about you, wanted to know you were alright, if you were coming back, that sort of thing.” Arielle rolled her eyes, scooping her SUV keys out of her front pocket, jingling them thoughtfully. “What'd Trish say?  I seen you holdin' the phone away from your ear, she did the screaming thing, didn't she?”


“She screamed at me and then some.” Jasina muttered, though she knew she deserved it, both of them walking out locking the door behind them.  She did grab the album that Randy made with her and Arielle's pictures, one of his final gifts, refusing to leave it behind. “Well your Dad won't need to worry long because I'm on my way to go see him.” They hugged, Arielle needing to get back home to Gary, knowing he must've been worried too. “Tell Gary I'm sorry, okay?”


“I will.  Try not to have anymore panic attacks, okay?  Because if Dad calls me again, I'm going to tell him to go out huntin' you himself.” Arielle was only half-kidding as she pulled away. “I actually need to get to work, Gary is probably still waitin' on me, unless he took his car...Alright Mom, I gotta go, I love you, be good!” Laughing, she waved and then jogged to her SUV, wondering just what her parents were going to do with themselves. “Probably have a bunch of awkward moments.” She muttered, pulling out on the road.


Chapter 12


The entire ride to the ranch Jasina was going over in her mind what she was going to say to Mark.  She glanced over at the album Randy made, placing a hand on it, and wondered what the hell she was supposed to do.  That kiss definitely awoke feelings inside of her she hadn't felt since she was with Mark, her feelings for Randy completely different. 


Mark had her heart, Jasina always knew that, even though Randy had tried stealing it away and almost succeeded.  She loved Randy and would never forget him, but Mark was her number one love and always had been.  She just wasn't sure if she'd ever fully trust him after everything they'd been through together and vice versa.  When Jasina pulled up to the ranch, she didn't get out of her car right away, simply staring straight ahead while slowly letting her hands slide from the wheel.


Mark heard her car idling out in the driveway from his spot in the garage, tinkering with his motorcycles, the garage bay door open.  He didn't move, knowing going out there would probably make her shift into reverse and leave or something.  She was going to have to come to him because when he took the lead...he messed up apparently.


After Arielle had ended their call, he had come out here to occupy his mind, having gotten very little sleep, worried out of his mind for Jasina, more specifically: her mindset.  He had no idea where she would go, assuming Arie or Trish's, only to find out this morning that they hadn't heard from her.  Now he knew where she had been, in her and Randy's old apartment.


Deciding this was ridiculous, Jasina cut the ignition of her car and stepped out, leaving the album behind for the time being.  She still had on the tank dress and pumps, having brought all of her clothes to the ranch when she left the apartment four months ago.  She pulled it down as far as it could go, without flashing her boobs, and headed into the garage, pumps clicking against the rocky pavement as classic rock blared throughout it.  Maybe now wasn't a good time to talk to him.


Mark was sitting on the floor of the garage, several large pieces of cardboard beneath both the motorcycle he was working on and him.  Wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a gray beater, his hair was pulled back from his face by a blue bandana.  He looked up when he heard the clicking of her heels, his eyes level with...that dress and tilted his head back to look up at her.


“I'm sorry about last night, Jas.” Mark said after a moment, figuring the best way to kick this conversation off was with an apology.


“There's no need to apologize, Mark.” Jasina smiled down at him softly, trying not to notice the way his jeans hugged those muscular thighs and ass, or how the beater looked ready to shred off of his chest.  Jasina was proud of herself for keeping her eyes on his face, clearing her throat. “Let's just pretend it never happened and...I'll try not to get you riled up anymore, okay?” She hoped that didn't sound mean and rude, because that wasn't Jasina's intentions, just wanting to make amends and move on.


“Sure, Jas.” Mark agreed evenly, feeling proud of HIMSELF for how agreeable and neutral his tone of voice was.


He wasn't entirely sure if the word 'riled' was the appropriate term for what she had done to him last night.  Rock hard might have better described the situation, but he wasn't going to provoke a fight or do anything else to make her uncomfortable.  He now knew how that would turn out: With her heading back to the place she had been happy with her now dead boyfriend.  That was a sharp reminder that she wasn't his, hadn't been in quite some time, and apparently Jasina still loved a dead man.


The even tone of his voice told Jasina that he definitely didn't like what she said, but respected it, nodding back at him. “Good, I'm gonna go shower.”


She walked out of the garage and into the ranch, deciding she would be leaving as soon as possible, wondering why she suddenly felt a new hurt and urge to cry.  It wasn't because of Randy this time either.  Jasina blinked them away and headed upstairs to her room, pulling her pumps off and shut the bedroom door.  First a shower, then she would be hunting for a new place to live until she couldn't keep her eyes open anymore.


Sighing, Mark leaned forward until his head was resting against the Titan's gas tank, knowing he wasn't going to be able to work anymore without screwing up the bike, which he'd later have to kill himself for if that happened.  Pushing himself off the floor, Mark headed inside and glanced towards the stairs, knowing instinctively that she would be looking to leave.  Whatever peace and pleasantness that had been between them before last night was gone and would probably never be recovered. 


He had messed up.




For the next several weeks, Jasina threw herself into her work, trying to find a new place to live and Trish's wedding.  Whatever Trish needed, Jasina was there.  She spent a lot of time over at Trish and Steve's, deciding keeping her distance from Mark was the right thing to do and best for both of them.  She was hardly there, only coming in late at night when he was either sleeping or working on his motorcycles, barely seeing him.  Dinners were spent alone, there was no more sunbathing and no more taking advantage of a place that wasn't her home. 


Jasina wore mostly short sleeved shirts and pants when she was in the ranch, not wanting to rile Mark up or be provocative in any way.  They were not together and the more distance she put between them, the better off everything would be...even though Jasina felt more dead inside than ever.  She was like a robot, though smiled whenever around people.  As soon as Jasina was alone though late at night, in her cold empty bed, all she could do was cry and think about all the mistakes she made in her life.


“Just admit it, Jasi, you're still in love with him.”

“Trish, not now okay?” Jasina had a really bad day and didn't need Trish telling her how she felt because she still wasn't sure of it herself. “I agreed to walk down the damn aisle with him at your wedding, what more do you want?”

“I want you to stop being stubborn and just tell him how you really feel.” Trish stated, staring in the full length mirror with her wedding dress on, having lost all of the baby weight. “You need to do it soon, he won't wait on you forever.”

“What makes you think I'm still in love with him anyway?  Or that he feels even REMOTELY the same for me?” Jasina demanded, growling when Trish flashed a cocky smile.

“Simple, I know you better than you know yourself.”


“I'm done discussing Mark with you.”

“Oh come on Jasi, we're best friends and I know you're hurting and it's not because of Randy anymore.” Trish stopped her friend from storming out of the store, turning her around. “I'm trying to help you, don't you see that?”

“You're not helping me by constantly telling me that I'm in love with him, when I don't know if I am!” Jasina snapped, tired of going around in circles with Trish, tears stinging her eyes. “I have way too much shit to worry about right now to deal with what I'm feeling inside, so please...”


Trish wanted to bite her tongue, but something forced her to continue. “Mark still loves you, Jasina.” She watched Jasina freeze, slowly walking toward her still in the wedding dress. “Steve has been grinding into him for the past few weeks and Mark said he loves you, but he thinks you don't love him because of Randy.  This isn't about Randy.  You and Randy weren't meant to be obviously or he wouldn't have...”

“Have what?” Jasina whispered, not masking her hurt and slowly turned around to face her best friend. “Died?  He wouldn't have died if we were meant to be?  Is that what you were going to say?”

“No, but...”

“We're done here.” Jasina walked out of the store.




“Might as well admit it, you still love her and she doesn't love you, so yer miserable and making me miserable too.  Which is damn rude of you since I'm about to be married.”

“Steve, I swear to God if you don't shut the fuck up and stop talkin' about Jasina and me, I will cram this wrench up your ass and these bolts down your throat.”

“Just callin' it like I'm seeing it.”


“Well stop fuckin' seeing!  I admit it, I never stopped lovin' her, but she doesn't love me anymore and I'm not about to try to force her to, so back off man!”


Steve let out a low whistle. “Man, you are fucked.”


He stood up with the wrench in one hand and the bolts in the other.


“You realize, if you cram that wrench up my ass, it'll make us late for the tux fittings, right?” Steve said, trying to sound serious but failing miserably, though he was backing away.  Trish and Jasina were doing something involving their dresses and he and Mark had appointments for later.  No rental tux for his best man, mostly because any suit Mark wore generally had to be custom fitted, kind of like Steve's. “All I'm sayin' is you love the woman-” He ducked when the wrench came flying at his head. “And she probably still loves you on some level, but she's also-”


Mark hurled the bolts.


“Probably thinks she's betrayin' Randy or something, or maybe she figures shit won't work with you, cause you're so damn-” Steve ducked again, dodging out of the way when the tire Mark had tossed rebounded off the wall behind him. “Violent.”


Mark hurled a tire iron next.


“If you throw one more goddamn thing at me, Mark, I'mma fuck you up so bad we'll have to prop you up on a stick for the weddin'!”


Steve actually looked like he meant it and Mark hesitated, lowering the second tire he had grabbed.


Steve was ready when Mark threw it, not buying that 'thoughtful, maybe I shouldn't' look that had flickered across his friend's face. “Warned you, son, now it's on.”


“Shit!” Mark grunted when Steve tackled him, both men crashing onto the garage floor, instantly beginning to tussle.

“Admit it, shithead, yer going to be stupid enough to let her walk away!”

“Fuck you!”

“You're like a damn kid!  DON'T BITE!”


Arielle almost shouted ‘WHAT THE HELL’ when she seen her Uncle Steve and Daddy rolling around on the dirty garage floor, throwing punches at each other, Steve shouting something about Mark being a shithead.  Her eyes nearly dropped out of her skull when her Dad actually went low and dirty and tried biting Steve.  Hiding a smirk, she whipped out her cell phone and set it to record.




Mark bit him again.

“CUNT!  PUSSY!  JUST ADMIT IT, YOU LOVE HER!  STOP BITING!” Steve kneed him again.


They were fighting like…girls.


Arielle had retreated to the office, waiting patiently and listening as her Dad and Steve cursed each other out, while also patching each other up.  When they walked into the office, she smiled sweetly at them. “Hi guys, you missed your fittin', did you know that?”


Steve looked at the clock on the wall, letting out a string of curses before smacking Mark between his shoulder blades. “See what you did?!”

“It's not MY weddin', jackass.” Mark muttered, busy daubing a paper towel against his split lip. “How long you been here, darlin'?”

“Oh...not long.”


Trish was sitting at home with Stevie JR and Emily, trying to get them both to lay down for bed, wondering why Steve was so late from getting home from the shop.  She heard her cell phone go off and thought it was Jasina, only for a video to start loading via text. “What the hell?!” She practically shouted, groaning when Emily began crying in her pack-n-play while Stevie kept coming out of his room every five minutes.  All Trish could do was sit there and stare at the video of Mark and Steve fighting like...little school girls, barely making out what they were saying. “Oh my god...” Now she was pissed and immediately dialed her fiancé’s number, lips pursed tightly together. 


Steve's cell phone went off and as soon as he answered it, he groaned when his fiancée began screaming at him at the top of her lungs.




Arielle had heard every word and bolted out of the shop.


Steve dropped the phone and took off after Arielle. “GET BACK HERE TRAITOR!”

“It was too good to pass up, Uncle Stevie!” Arielle threw over her shoulder, heading straight for her SUV.


Mark chased after them, not very fast since he had been kneed in the balls a couple of times. “Don't touch my kid, pansy!”

“I'm gonna break her fingers!”

“I'll tell Trish!”


Steve came to a halt suddenly, groaning when Mark plowed into him from behind, both men toppling.


Arielle snapped a picture before sliding into the vehicle, waving at them from behind the glass before starting The Beast up and driving off.  She went straight home, knowing Gary was waiting for her, not surprised when she pulled up to the apartment complex and he was waiting for her outside.  She hadn’t texted him the video, deciding it would be better to show him in person and smirked at the thought. 


Her father and Uncle Steve would NEVER live this down and Arielle would use the video as blackmail if necessary.  She greeted Gary with their usual kiss and then told him to sit down while whipping her cell phone out, not even giving him a chance to say anything.  Once the video finished playing, all Gary could do was gawk at his girlfriend in shock, eyeballs about ready to pop out of his skull or so it seemed.


“You WHAT?” Gary was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down his cheeks as he stared at the picture Arielle showed him. “It looks like they're humping each other, baby doll!!”

“I know.” Arielle grinned, then flipped her phone up so Gary could watch the video again.


Gary was on the ground rolling by the time the video ended for the second time, requesting a third replay.


Chapter 13


Arriving at the ranch, Jasina stalked inside and was glad Mark wasn't home because she was raiding his little bar, desperately needing a drink.  She went upstairs to change into a bathing suit and headed down to the newly installed hot tub Mark purchased.  She poured herself a glass of wine and took the bottle with her, deciding against hard liquor, and started it up before sinking into the hot water.  She kept her hair clipped up because there was a lot more chlorine in it than the pool, the bubbles instantly relaxing her.  If Trish knew what was good for her, she wouldn't mention Mark or Randy to Jasina for a very long time.


Even over the roaring jets of the hot tub, Jasina could HEAR Mark cussing up a storm and blinked, wondering what the hell happened to get him in that kind of mood.  She was on her second glass of wine and didn't move an inch, too busy enjoying the jets plummeting against her back to care what Mark's deal was.  It had to do with Steve, that bald man always got underneath Mark's skin in some way.


Mark had no idea if Jasina was home at this exact point in time, he didn't care.  He hurt all over and as soon as the door was shut behind him, he stripped down to nothing except the outfit he wore the day he was born: His birthday suit.  He was covered in bruises, but it was his dick he was worried about, letting out a sigh of relief when he seen it wasn't all...weird looking, just feeling a bit tender.  Groaning and trying to rub some of the aches out of his shoulders, Mark headed straight for the patio, stepping outside with everyone intention of soaking in the hot tub.


Jasina didn't notice Mark come out because her eyes were closed, the wine doing exactly what she wanted it to do, completely relaxing her along with the hot jets.  All the stress was gone for the moment and Jasina knew she could fall asleep in the hot tub if she wasn't careful.  Her eyes suddenly snapped open when she felt new ripples in the water and lifted her head from leaning back against the ledge, feeling her jaw drop at the sight of a rather large dick in her vision.


“Mark, what the hell?!” She yelled, covering her eyes instantly and finished off the rest of her second glass, turning her back to him. “Lord have mercy, didn't you see me in here?!”


“Nope.” Mark grunted, not feeling apologetic in the slightest, not after the afternoon he had had. “I know you and I ain't exactly on the most comfortable of terms right now, darlin', but I'm comin' in there. Don't be lookin' anymore either.”


Easing himself into the hot water, across from her, Mark folded his hands over his junk, tipping his head back onto the ledge and closed his eyes.  He would never admit it, but Steve could throw one hell of a punch.  He smirked slightly, at least he got to soak in a Jacuzzi.  Steve was probably getting another ass kicking, this one courtesy of his soon-to-be wife.


Jasina's eyes narrowed to slits at her ex-husband, not appreciating the cockiness of his tone. “Trust me, I have no interest in looking.” She shot back swiftly and moved in the hot tub to where her vision wasn't on him, sipping her third glass of wine while staring up at the glistening stars.  She would much rather look at them than his wrinkly dick, that was for damn sure, and leaned her head back once more to resume the relaxation Mark rudely interrupted.


“Good.” Mark grunted, unable to play nice and she would have to settle with his attitude of leaving her alone if she let him lick his wounds in peace.


Apparently Arielle hadn't forwarded that video to her mother.  Mark silently sent a prayer of thank you up above because he was pretty sure she would have at the very least given him some sort of messed up look.  Not to mention, she hadn't even noticed he was looking a bit...beaten up and vowed to kill Steve, if Trish hadn't already.


“How's the house huntin' coming along?” He asked after a long silence, just to break it.


“It's coming, I'm hoping to get a few calls back by the end of the week.”


He wanted her out badly and Jasina contemplated just getting a hotel room and lying about getting a place of her own...just so she wouldn't have to be asked anymore.  There was no reason for Jasina to look at him because that just caused trouble and that's the last thing she needed right now.  After her third glass of wine, Jasina decided to call it a night and stood up in the hot tub, beginning to move toward the stairs, letting out a loud yawn. 


She could get some more hunting accomplished before bed with her bottle of wine in her room.  Mark groaned when she tripped over his bruised -Steve was a shin kicking son of a bitch- legs, reaching out to catch her before she toppled and cracked her head.  Instinctively pulling Jasina back against him, Mark reached out to steady the bottle of wine before it spilled in with the water.


“You alright darlin’?” He asked gently, shifting her so she was pressing against a bruise on his chest.


Jasina noticed how Mark winced and pulled back, seeing the bruise on his chest for the first time.  It was the size of a baseball!! “What happened to you?” She ignored him asking how she was, looking up at his face and saw his split lip, eyes widening. “Mark, did you get into a fight with someone?” When he didn't answer her, she purposely poked his chest on the baseball sized bruise, raising a sharp eyebrow. “Ready to talk now?” She kept prodding it until he finally growled, stopping her by wrapping his hand around her tiny wrist. “What the hell happened to you?”


“Good goddamn woman, that hurts...” Mark growled, refusing to let go of her wrist because she would probably wind up poking him all over again and that area was now throbbing. “If you must know, Steve and I got...into a bit of a scrap.  Nothin' serious.” Though he really, really hoped she never seen the video Arie had decided to make, not even wanting to know what her reaction to it would be. “He looks worse.”


“Why in the world would you get into a scrap with your best friend?” Jasina demanded, eyes narrowing as she crossed her arms in front of her chest, prodding his chest again as soon as he released her wrist. “He is getting married in just a few short weeks and you decide to rough him up?!  What the hell is wrong with you, Calaway?  You need to remove the stick from your ass pronto and apologize to Steve!!” She shoved right on his chest for good measure to push away, shaking her head in disgust. “You are his Best Man and you get into a fight with him, I don't understand you anymore.” She climbed out of the hot tub and snatched the bottle of wine from him, scowling.


“What the fuck, Jasina?  He picked the fuckin' fight with me!” Mark roared after her, rubbing his chest. “Why don't you go shove a goddamn stick up in yerself since apparently it's that goddamn time of the month!”


That was about as close to calling her an outright bitch as he was getting, groaning and sank beneath the water.  Why the HELL was he getting beaten up tonight?  Kneed in the balls, punched to hell, and now slapped around by his ex-wife.  He felt like...Steve, a bitch.


Oh it was war now. 


Jasina could not believe he said that to her and stalked right back over, standing on the second step of the hot tub, but didn't get in. “You need to cool down, Calaway.” She proceeded to pour the entire bottle of wine, what was left of it, right over his head and tossed it in the nearby trashcan, smiling sweetly. “Have a nice night, dickhead.”


Slamming the screen door shut behind her, Jasina stalked up to her room, pissed beyond belief and could swear smoke was coming out of her ears.  Shove a stick up herself?  Jasina wasn't on her period and, even if she was, it was none of his damn business!


“Stupid prick!”


“Thanks for the drink, SWEETHEART!” Mark shouted after her, dunking right back under the water to rinse the wine out of his hair.


Steve was dead wrong.


How in the hell he could ever love THAT harpy?  How could he love a woman who just assumed she knew something and jumped in on the nagging and being a bitch?  Steve was wrong and Mark should’ve messed him up worse than what he did.


“Fuck him...” Mark snorted when he surfaced, groaning as he rubbed his chest again. “Damn it... I hate it when that bald prick is right...”


Jasina took a shower to try calming down a little and then started laughing at what she did to Mark with the wine, not able to help finding it amusing.  She changed into a simple white nightgown and checked her phone for messages.  Blinking when something began uploading, Jasina thought it was a picture from Trish regarding the wedding.




Her eyes flew open as she watched the video of Mark and Steve rolling back and forth in the garage, punching, kicking, biting...They were fighting like a bunch of women!!  Jasina could not stop laughing even if her life depended on it, especially when she heard Arielle's voice in the background.  She couldn't really hear what they were saying, something about balls and biting...because Arielle was moving around trying to get the right frame.


Mark stormed into the house after officially turning into a prune, not really caring about being naked, wet, and wrinkled because he didn't ache quite as much.  Huffing, he snatched his phone up when it rang, arching an eyebrow when he heard laughter coming from upstairs.  The harpy must have found someone else in pain to make miserable and have a laugh at.



“Got to tell you Mark, I don't know if I can have you as my father-in-law, you fight like a girl.”

“Love you daddy!”


He snapped the phone shut, growling.


When Jasina finally calmed down -she had to shut her phone in order to stop watching the video, wondering if Trish saw it-, she headed out of her room just as Mark was coming up, covering her mouth with her hand.  Her quiet giggling quickly turned into full blown laughter and Jasina couldn't even look at him without busting a gut, stumbling down the stairs as tears streamed down her face.  She was definitely saving that video because if Trish hadn't seen it yet, she was going to tomorrow at work.


Well, that answered his question about if she had seen it, she had, and now he had three people laughing at him.  One his daughter, one his soon-to-be dead future son-in-law and his ex-wife.  He hoped Steve was fucking MISERABLE.


“Laugh it up, giggles.” He called down the stairs, a case of beer in one hand and a cigar in the other. 


Needing time alone to lick his wounds and heal his ego, Mark decided beer and cigar was the ticket.  Mark hated his best-friend, simply hated him.  First because the bald prick was right.  Second because the bald prick hadn't shut up, therefore causing Mark to lose his temper. 


Jasina had made two sandwiches and grabbed another bottle of wine, also making Mark two sandwiches because she honestly felt bad for yelling at him.  That video showed clearly that Steve had pushed him over the edge somehow.  Steve was good at pushing Mark’s buttons better than anyone, including her.  Jasina tried not to laugh as she headed up the stairs, stopping outside his bedroom door.


“Giggles is here with a peace offering.” She called through it, smirking when he growled ‘go away’ and rolled her eyes, pushing it open, effectively ignoring his request. “Now honestly, when have I ever went away, Mark?” She retorted, kicking the door shut and walked over with the two sandwiches, holding her own in the other hand along with the wine under her arm. “Come on, peace offering.  I'm sorry for what I said in the hot tub.  I saw the video and...” Jasina had to stop talking for a second before she started laughing again. “” She slowly asked through giggling, covering her mouth when her hand when he snatched the sandwiches.


“Thank you, now feel free to leave.” Mark GROWLED at her louder, not about to tolerate her standing there and laughing at him. 


He had a feeling he was going to get reamed out by Trish, laughed at by Gary and Arielle, and probably heckled even more by Steve.  He deserved a LITTLE bit of peace and he couldn't get it in his house.  His bedroom should be a goddamn sanctuary!  When she kept on trying to stifle her giggles, he let out a few choice curse words, pulling on a pair of cut off sweat pants.


“Jas...Darlin'...I'm going to tickle you behind yer knees until you piss yourself.” He cautioned, not even threatening anymore, green eyes glinting wickedly.


“Oh no you're not!!” Jasina squealed and didn't move fast enough because Mark grabbed her around the waist, dropping her back on the bed and began doing exactly what he threatened. “Mark stop!!” She shrieked out in laughter, rolling on the bed and felt his arm wrap tightly around her waist so she couldn't escape, squirming, doing everything she could to get away. “If it wasn't you, you'd be laughing your ass off too, you big mongrel!!  If you don't stop tickling me, I will piss in YOUR bed, Calaway!!”


“Piss in my bed and I'll just sleep in yours, darlin'.” He threatened, though he did slow down on the tickling, just in case.


Not completely stop, but he did let her draw a few breaths.  When she said she was about to piss, he changed his mind and stopped, knowing that while he would never let her live it down if she DID, she'd probably never forgive him for making her do it.  Nothing like being pass the age of thirty and wetting a bed.  Smirking, Mark let her roll onto her back and stared down at her.




Jasina watched his hand extend and nodded, slipping hers into his with a smile, still giggling a little from being tickled. “Truce.  And you fight like a girl!”


She jumped over him out of the bed and ran into the bathroom to empty her bladder, managing to slam the door shut.  If Mark wanted to tickle her while she pissed, that was on him, but Jasina could only withstand the tickling for so long before needing to empty her bladder.  As soon as she flushed and washed her hands, Jasina walked out only to be tossed back on the bed and Mark began assaulting her all over again with the tickling.


“I lied about the truce.” Mark informed her, smirking wickedly.


Payback was a bitch, and she was a lovely shade of red from laughing so hard.  Once again, he would tickle her mercilessly, stop to let her breathe, and start all over again.  When her hand found his chest, he retreated with a groan.


“That's just playin' dirty, Jas!” He groaned, kneeling on the bed and staring at her out of narrowed emerald green eyes. “You. Play. Dirty.”


“It's the best way to play.” Jasina shot back with a smirk, backing up on the bed a little and hadn't realized her white nightgown rode up during his tickle fest.  She got on her knees and sat in front of him, holding her finger up threateningly, knowing that definitely had to hurt.  It was a nasty shade of purple and blue mixed, Jasina had always hated seeing Mark in any kind of pain. “Come on, lay back and I'll play nice for a change.”


He arched an eyebrow at her, wondering where the hell that had come from, other than left field.  Lay back and she'd play nice?  Either it was a trap or a very weird come-on.  When her hand approached her chest however, Mark dropped down onto his pillows, half-propped and stared at Jasina through half-opened eyes, nothing but slivers of emerald green showing as he took her in.  Her nightgown was riding up and this felt like the other night, only this time, he wasn't about to scare her off with a kiss. 


The only way she would be scared because of him was if she decided to smack him again.  Jasina smiled and reached over him to the nightstand, pulling out the jar of salve Mark always kept, because he got frequent bruises while working on his bikes.  She opened it up, the smell of sandalwood and oak trees permeating the air, making her sigh.  She took a dollop of it in her fingers and scooted over closer to him, beginning to spread the salve on his chest over the bruised area.


“I am sorry about earlier.  I didn't mean to accuse you of anything, but I also know your temper and Steve very RARELY starts scuffles.” Unless it had to do with having his beer stolen, then all bets were off. “And I'm also sorry about the wine.” She quickly added, not meeting his eyes as she started rubbing the salve into his chest, giving him a deep tissue massage because it would help with the blood flow.


“You don't know Steve that well, darlin'.  He thinks provokin' me is the most fun on God's green earth, next to fuckin' his wife that is.” Mark watched as she massaged the salve in, letting out a soft groan of both pain and pleasure.  The fact that she was rubbing him was definitely a perk. “Don't worry about the wine, it washed right out.” He added as an afterthought.  The deep tissue massage hurt, but it would also feel better once she was done with it.  Then there was the other, more pleasurable, feeling he was currently experiencing from her small soft skilled hands.


“What was he provoking you about?” Jasina couldn’t help asking. “All I got out of the video was something about balls and biting.”


Jasina bit her bottom lip so she wouldn't start laughing again, the amusement shining in her teal eyes as she kept massaging his chest, enjoying herself a little too much, honestly not meaning to do it as long as she was.  She remembered doing this whenever he'd come home from the shop, the salve still the same scent, reminding her of the good days they had together.  There was a lot of them, along with incredible sex...and suddenly Jasina could feel her libido come alive, slowly gliding her hands back and forth while pressing her fingers into his chest, the swelling already fading.


Mark considered that, almost tempted to tell her the honest truth, but...he wasn't quite that distracted yet.  He tipped his head back against the pillows, letting his eyes drift shut and enjoyed the feeling of her now just...stroking his chest.  It was almost like old times and, like old times, he could feel himself rising to the occasion, groaning softly.




She immediately stopped when he groaned, holding her hands up. “What?  What did I do?  Are you okay?  Did I hurt you?” She couldn't stop the questions from leaving her mouth, firing one after the other, teal eyes wide. “Oh god, sorry I didn't mean to press hard.  I know it hurts, it looks really painful.  You need some pain reliever to make the inflammation go away too.”


Now she was rambling and went to say something else when Mark pressed a finger against her lips, silencing her.  There wasn't any pain reliever in the world that was going to make this inflammation go away.  Mark knew exactly what was going to make this go away: His hand in the shower just as soon as he got her out of his room before he did something stupid.  Like flip her onto the bed and screw her right through the mattress.


“You're not hurtin' chest...” He murmured, unable to keep his voice from dropping to a low, husky baritone, his eyes clouded over with pure lust.


When she moved, he automatically reached out to steady her so she didn't topple off the edge of the bed, letting out a hiss from his clenched teeth as she brushed against him.  Jasina felt it.  There was no way not to feel what she'd done to Mark.  She kept her eyes away from his face, moving to where she was on her feet in front of him.


“I umm...I should go...” That was really stupid to say, but Jasina honestly didn't know what the RIGHT thing to say was. 


“Yeah...” He whispered, not really meaning it, and didn’t let go of her. 


He was having a problem downstairs that she apparently caused while trying to help him and he would have to deal with it on his own instead of the old-fashioned way.  Even though he knew he should, Mark was unable to force his hands to break their grip.  Mark didn't want her to go to her bedroom, he wanted her to stay right here with him, where she belonged.  Not in a room across the hallway, this could have been miles away as far as he was concerned.


“Jasina, I don't want you to go, darlin.” He admitted, knowing that wouldn't help his cause, but...Steve had been right and what else did Mark have left to lose?


“I can't stay.” She whispered, tears stinging her eyes and extracted herself from his arms, backing away slowly. “I'm sorry, good night Mark.”


Jasina walked out of the room and shut the door behind her, tears instantly sliding down her cheeks, feeling her stomach tightening.  Every part of her was screaming to go back inside, to be back in his arms, but her mind kept reminding her of what happened between them the last time they tried being together.  Sex was nothing but full of complications, but damned if Jasina didn't crave and want it...almost needing it.  She made it back to her own room and collapsed on the bed, crying herself to sleep.


Groaning, Mark laid out on the bed and then rolled onto his stomach, not caring if he was smothering the problem in his shorts.  While the idea of hitting the bathroom was tempting, it was also...awkward.  Considering she was right across the hallway, if Jasina heard the water, she would probably know what he was doing in there.


“Goddamn it...” He cursed into the mattress.


Chapter 14


Deciding against telling Trish what happened with Mark was the best choice she could've made in her life.  Though both women couldn't help laughing and re-watching the video of Steve and Mark fighting like women.  It was going to be their own personal blackmail if the men ever got out of hand, more for Trish than Jasina because she wasn't with Mark the way Trish was with Steve. 


The wedding was just a week away and Jasina had no idea who her date was going to be, deciding going alone would probably be best.  She was avoiding Mark again, which was easy because he'd been working longer hours at the shop, his way of avoiding her more than likely.  Jasina didn't care, she was too busy dealing with work and trying to find an apartment, pleased when she finally got a call from a reality named Sally. 


Sally wanted to meet her for a drink at Emerald City to discuss the possibility of renting a small house that had two bedrooms and was in Jasina's price range.  She agreed to meet with Sally around six o'clock and groaned when she looked at the time, seeing it was a quarter to six.  Immediately packing up her things, Jasina rushed out of the office and sped toward Emerald City, knowing if she blew this she might not get another shot at getting out of the ranch.


John Cena stared around the bar, Emerald City, curiously, virtually memorizing every aspect of it.  His best friend had told him about this place a time or two in a few of their once a month phone calls.  He and Randy Orton had been friends for what seemed like forever, though in actuality, just since college. 


They had parted ways for their respective careers, met up every now and again, but generally exchanged phone calls or emails at least once a month.  John hadn't heard from Randy in MONTHS, which was not like his friend at all.  He was the responsible one, sort of.  So...with some time on his hands, John had come to Houston.  He just hadn't anticipated his GPS being stupid and getting him lost twice.


Jasina walked hastily through the door just five minutes after six, having to stop and get gas, otherwise she would've been stranded, hoping Sally understood.  She walked over to the bartender, Timothy, smiling when he turned to smile at her. “Hey Timmy, have you seen a woman come in by the name of Sally Morrison?” She asked, trying not to sound irritated.

“No I haven't and nobody has asked about you.” Timothy hadn't seen Jasina since before Randy died, not wanting to drag up horrible memories for her.

“Oh okay, well in that case just get me a glass of red wine.” Jasina hoped Sally wasn't standing her up and paid for the wine, telling Timothy she would be over at one of the booths waiting, heading in that direction.


John watched the bartender, Timmy, as he turned to a woman who had just walked in.  He had some funny stories and had been entertaining John for the past thirty minutes with them.  She looked like a businesswoman, casual business maybe, but definitely had the professional look going whereas he was laid back and casual in a pair of knee length cargo shorts and one of his favorite baby blue sports jerseys.

“Jasina, this guy down here, his name is John Cena, and you have to hear him talk.  His accent is worse than ours.” Timmy remarked with a smirk.


“I don't HAVE an accent, YOU have the accent.”


Timmy set her glass of red wine down before her, rolling his eyes towards Cena. “Maybe in YER neck of the woods.” He purposefully drawled. “But down here, son, yer the one with the funny way o' speakin'.  Want another beer?”

“Keep 'em comin'...hoss.”


“Sounds like a Boston accent.” Jasina commented offhandedly, sipping her wine and smiled gently when the blue eyed man name John turned to face her. 


Deciding to take a seat at the bar to wait for Sally, Jasina crossed one leg over the other, wearing black dress pants with a red shirt with a black sash just below her breasts, two inch black pumps on her feet.  Her hair was down, not having time to do it that morning and wanted to get out of the ranch as quickly as possible.  She’d been avoiding Mark for the past few days, knowing eventually she would have to face him.


“I've been to Boston a time or two, just a lucky guess.”


“Boston accent, yes.” He flashed a grin at her, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners and then shot Timmy a look. “An UNDERSTANDABLE accent.”


Timmy mumbled something that was so thick with an 'accent' that even he barely understood himself, setting another beer down in front of John.

“Thank you, always appreciate it when someone proves my point.” John laughed, laying out a crisp bill on the counter before looking back at Jasina. “I know he sort of introduced me, but...” He leaned over to hold out a hand. “Cena, John Cena.” He could not help himself from even adding a bit of a 'Bond' overtone to that, he was naturally goofy.


Jasina laughed softly and slipped her hand into his, wondering what the hell men were eating these days because she was surrounded by behemoths it seemed. “Nice meeting you, Mr. Cena.  I'm Jasina Jameson.” She decided being polite couldn't hurt and slipped her hand out of his, taking another sip of wine. “So, how is Houston treating you thus far?”


“Well...” He shook her hand firmly before letting go, settling back comfortably on his bar stool, the grin never leaving his face. “Ask me again tomorrow and I'll let you know, I've only been in town for about...” John looked at the watch on his wrist. “Four hours, most of that in traffic.”

“What makes you think you'll see her tomorrow?”


John considered that, then shrugged. “Nothing wrong with hoping, right?”


Jasina tried not to giggle at Timmy's protectiveness, shaking her head. “What brings you to Houston, Mr. Cena?” She asked, letting her curiosity get the better of her.


Honestly, he looked like he could use someone to talk to, being new to the city and all.  She knew what that was like, remembering how awkward it was to find her way around Houston when she returned after being away for over a decade. So many things had changed...Jasina hardly recognized Houston, though now she knew the city better than most.


“Just here to visit a friend.” John said with a slight frown, remembering his beer and took a long swig from it, smacking his lips before setting the bottle down. “And when I see him, I'm going to kick his ass.  He told me that 'navigating Houston wasn't a problem', he lied.  That or my GPS system secretly hates me, which could be entirely possible, she's Swedish.” At her look, he began laughing. “The voice, it's Swedish.  I haven't figured out how to change it yet and I need to because she sounds really bossy, reminds me of my Mom.  Only twenty years younger and foreign.”


“Well no wonder your GPS isn't working, Swedish can't be easy to listen to when it's telling you to go East or West.” Jasina felt bad for the guy, wondering who this friend was and it sounded as though John hadn't seen him in quite awhile. “Well good luck with that, I hope you find your friend.” She looked past him to the blonde that walked through the door, smiling, knowing it had to be Sally. “Excuse me.” She stood up and walked over, the badge reading Sally Morrison. “Hello Ms. Morrison, I'm Jasina Jameson, we spoke on the phone earlier today.”

“Oh yes of course, I was just about to ask the bartender if he saw you in here yet.  So sorry I'm late, the meeting ran behind, you know how that goes.” Sally smiled, both women walking toward a nearby booth. “So Ms. Jameson...”

“Please call me Jasina.”

“Right,” Sally paused, pulling out some documents and ordered a glass of wine, both women looking as though they needed a drink of two. “Well Jasina, I think I've found the perfect place for you and it's just down the street from your work.”


John backtracked over that entire conversation, trying to peg where he had messed up.  He should have elaborated: The accent -What was it with accents today?- was Swedish and he had made her think the woman was actually speaking Swedish.  Now Jasina Jameson probably thought he was the world's biggest retard because he was complaining about getting lost when the GPS was apparently speaking Swedish.  He mentally called himself an idiot around a thousand times while finishing his beer, shaking his head.


Jasina loved the place just by the photos alone and immediately signed the documents, not even needing a second thought.  Whatever was wrong with the small house, she would take care of it by hiring people if need-be.  It was a small two bedroom house with a small yard and one car garage, white with blue shutters and new carpet, roofing, appliances, furnace and brand new A/C installed.  Jasina shook hands with Sally and made plans to go see her new house tomorrow, already writing a check for the down payment, not wanting to waste any time.  She was ready to get out of the ranch, feeling like the biggest weight had lifted from her shoulders.


When Jasina came back to the bar, no doubt to tell him goodbye, or maybe celebrate her good news -she was smiling the brightly- with another glass of red wine, Timmy found himself returning the smile.  It was infectious. “You look happy.” Timmy commented, wiping out the inside of a mug. “Your Sally friend must've had something good to say.”


“Yes she did.” Jasina was beaming from ear to ear, celebrating by having another glass of wine, Timothy a good friend of hers. “Right after the wedding I will have my own little house!” She announced proudly, laughing when Timothy hugged her over the counter. “It's right down the street from work and has almost everything new in it...and it's in my price range.” She held her glass of wine up, knowing this was going to be the perfect way to start moving on from Randy and having her own new beginning. “So yes, this is some of the best news I've heard in awhile.”


“I'm glad for you, honey, sounds like this place is just perfect for you.” Timmy said, still smiling from ear to ear.  He started to say something but his attention was diverted by the resident drunk/slut. “Oh Lord...she's spotted the new guy.”


Timmy rolled his eyes.  This was one of the many reasons he liked Jasina.  When she got drunk, which was very rare, she wasn't trashy.  John was trying to dissuade this woman from raping him, his eyes widening when she actually ran her hand down his chest to the crotch of his denim shorts.


“Lady, I haven't even known you for a minute and you're- HEY, HEY!” Now he was in a full-blown panic.


Jasina narrowed her eyes at the drunk slut that frequented many of the bars around Houston, recognizing her from the trashy bar her and Randy had gone to for their award-winning article.  Her name was Lois and she wore clothes that looked two sizes too small on her...possibly more.  Feeling sorry for the newcomer, Jasina decided to help him out as she took a long swig of her wine, smirking at Timmy.


“I'll take care of it.” She finished her wine off and slid off of the stool, walking over, having a soft spot for the new guy for some reason and snaked an arm around his neck from behind. “Excuse sweetheart, but he's taken already.”


Lois narrowed her eyes, knowing Jasina from around town, rolling her eyes. “You're not serious are you?”

“You want proof?”


Jasina promptly turned John around on the stool and brought his face down to hers, kissing him softly.  Timmy did his part in not giving away the ruse by turning away, mostly because he couldn't hide the fact that his eyes had grown about three sizes larger.  John wasn't entirely sure if he was just 'going with it' to maintain the charade or just responding to the kiss naturally, but if she asked later why he had pulled her up between his legs and moved his hands to the small of her back, he was going with the charade bit.  Jasina finally pulled back from the kiss, Lois was furious and stormed out of the bar in a huff, tripping over her own three inch heels in the process.


“What a whore.” Jasina muttered, rolling her eyes and walked away from John to resume her seat at the bar, asking Timmy for another drink. “Sorry, but you really don't want an STD your first night in Houston.  I hope you don't mind me helping you out.” She flashed a sweet smile.




John was fairly certain he wouldn't have gotten an STD because he wouldn't have taken that woman to bed, not even if he was three sheets and five days to the wind.  Unless of course, she had something that could be transmitted via saliva.  That thought made him shudder.


“Yo Timmy, could I have a glass of water, a shot of bleach and a Brillo pad?”

“Sure thing, stud.”


Jasina didn't let the question bother her and shrugged, refusing to let anything sour her mood.  She finished the wine and decided three glasses was enough, needing to call it a night. “See you later, Timmy.” She called over her shoulder, walking out of Emerald City and headed toward her car, wondering when she'd get the chance to tell Mark about her new place. 


It didn't really matter, he couldn't stop her from leaving the ranch and maybe a clean break would be better than having another conversation.  He wasn't going to talk her out of it, the papers were signed and the down payment was taken care of.  Jasina was ready to finally have her own place, her own bedroom, kitchen and could walk around naked if she wanted to.  It took John a few seconds to realize he might have just offended Jasina, or made her think he was gay, by that comment of his and he practically ran…Actually, he did run right out of the bar.  He spotted her getting into her car and groaned, waving his hands to hopefully stop her.


“Hold up!” John shouted, his feet pounding across the pavement before skidding right into her car, groaning when he collided with it. “Stupid...rock...” He grunted, rubbing his chin before looking down at her. “I'm not gay.  And I wasn't trying to...fuck that hurt...trying to offend you with my mouth, I was thinking about the STD thing.”


Jasina blinked, immediately getting out of the car to make sure he hadn't cracked his jaw, not concerned with the small dent in her hood. “I didn't think anything like that of you, Mr. Cena.” She slapped his hand away when he tried pulling away from her, grabbing his sore chin to force their eyes to meet while she examined where he collided. “Are you okay?”


“Lady, that hurts, you mind?” John whined, jerking his chin out of her hand which only made it hurt worse, cupping it tenderly. “I'm fine.  I just thought I might have offended you so I came running out and, like the chump I am, botched it.” He laughed at himself, sometimes he could be smooth as silk and others...the world's biggest clown.  Today he was a clown apparently. “I uh, dented your car...with my chin...My mom always did say I had a head like a rock.”


“Your Mom was right and don't worry about it.  Did she also tell you that you're a big baby when it comes to pain?” She smirked when he glared at her, reluctantly stepping back to get back in her car, sighing when he stopped her. “You didn't offend me at all, John.” Jasina decided being on a first name basis was appropriate. “You're fine okay?  I don't think you're an asshole or anything like that.  You can rest easy, okay?”


“Not really, I came out to apologize and wound up breaking your car.” He joked, letting go of his chin and grinning, knowing his chin was probably a lovely red color, surprised he hadn't bit his tongue or broken anything. “Can I pay you for the damages?” When she shook her head no, John frowned only to immediately start smiling again. “Well how bout dinner?  Can I take you out to dinner?”


“You wanna take me to dinner?  Like a date?”


When John simply nodded, Jasina had to think about it for a minute, remembering the last time she went on a date.  John reminded her a lot of Randy, which was both good and bad.  Was this a sign from Randy that she had to move on?  For months she had begged him to send her any kind of sign and nothing came about...until now.  There was a reason why she met John at Emerald City, remembering all the times she'd shared a drink with Randy prior to them dating and then falling in love.


“If it'll make you feel better about denting my car, then sure you can buy me some food.”


What did she honestly have to lose?


“Cool, we can go- Uh, anywhere but here.” John wasn't about to bring her back to a bar for dinner, not this one anyway.  Especially now that he knew there was a STD slut floating about, waiting to grab unsuspecting guys by their junk after less than a minute of 'knowing' them. “I'll have to Google a place, but cool.” He whipped out his cell phone. “What's your digits?  Or would you prefer mine?”


Jasina couldn't help giggling softly at how he asked for her number, waving him off when he looked confused. “Sorry, go ahead and give me your...digits, honey.” She had a hard time saying that word because of what she did for a just wasn't proper grammar, but Jasina couldn't deny how adorable John was. 


Maybe he wasn't like Randy after all, definitely not as articulate, which was refreshing.


John squinted his eyes at her suspiciously. “Wait, I know this one...I give you my digits, you promise to call and you don't.” When she arched an eyebrow at him and frowned, he held up his hands. “Or maybe not.  I can't help it, you're a ho- attractive woman and I'm the goof who plowed into your car after saying I needed bleach when you just kissed me.” He grinned broadly. “It was a good kiss though, wasn't it?”


“Can't deny that one.” Jasina was never one to lie and took his hand after pulling a pen out of her purse, writing her number on it and blew so the ink would dry quicker. “If I was planning on not calling you, I wouldn't be giving you my number first.” She smirked when he blushed, folding her arms in front of her chest and smiled when he handed over a card with his name and number on it. “And yes you are a goof, but you're an adorable one that I find interesting.  I don't just date anyone. John.  So take my...digits...and why don't you give ME a jingle when you figure out where and when you want to do this?”


“So if I ah, jingle,” He was going to either get slapped, blow this, or maybe both because he was grinning like an idiot at that. “You tonight, you're going to be free, right?” John honestly had no idea how long he would be in town, not expecting anything to come of this, but he wasn't about to leave Houston without at least one date with this woman.  When she had stepped up to plate and saved his ass, he had been instantly intrigued.


“You want to do it tonight?” Jasina couldn't help laughing when he nodded, looking down at her attire and decided she would definitely have to go to the ranch to shower and change. “You'll have to give me at least two hours to go home and get ready.  I'm not going out on a date in my work clothes.” She stated seriously, though the amusement in her teal eyes was something Jasina couldn't hold back. “So you get busy with the Googling and text me the place and time.  I'll meet you there.”


“Yeah, I'll get busy with ogling- I mean Googling and um, text you.”


John rubbed the back of his neck, smiling crookedly.  He had to head back to his hotel, shower and change too, Google first though.  He didn't blame her for the 'meet you there' part, women had to be cautious.  He could've been a crazy mass-murder/serial rapist for all she knew.


“So, I'll text you and... yeah.  See you later then, Jasina.” He began jogging backwards, grinning at her and sidestepped that rock this time.


“See you in a bit, John.” She murmured and slipped back into her car, giggling at how cute he was, pulling out of Emerald City's parking lot to head back to the ranch. 


It was the wine, Jasina was blaming her rash behavior on the alcohol.  She had to admit, John was a great kisser, though they wouldn't have a repeat of that on the date.  She knew it was fast, but if there was one thing Randy taught Jasina, it was life was too short.  She wanted to live.  When Jasina arrived at the ranch, Mark was there and she hoped he stayed wherever he was so she could get ready for her date in privacy.


Chapter 15


This apparently wasn't Jasina's lucky day because Mark was sitting on the couch, watching ESPN, though he muted it when she came in, turning his head to look at her and offered a grin.  Things had been...tense between them.  That kiss, and then that night, things were piling up fast.


“Hey darlin', how was work?” Mark asked, trying to get things back to how they had been, before he had kissed her. “How's tacos sound for dinner?”


Jasina pulled her pumps off and chewed her bottom lip, wondering how she was going to break the news to him about her date and the house. “Actually, I won't need to worry about dinner tonight.  I'm...going out to dinner with a client from the office.” Why was she lying to him?  The lie flew out of her mouth before she could stop it and now Mark looked curious, which made this even worse. “So you'll have to eat dinner by yourself tonight.” She didn't have time to chat and began heading up the stairs to her room, needing to get ready for her date with John before the poor guy thought she was ditching him.


“Since when do you have clients?” Mark asked curiously, getting up to follow her though he did halt at the foot of the stairs, cocking an eyebrow when she hesitated. 


Last Mark knew she wrote an advice column and relationship/addiction articles.  Since when did that mean clients?  He supposed it wasn't any of his business, he was just curious, that curiosity not helped by the client bit.  Not to mention going out to dinner with a client?


“It's one of Trish's clients that she personally asked me to take care of.” Mark didn't talk to Trish often, so hopefully this wouldn't backfire on Jasina, flashing a quick smile. “They are out of town and Trish asked me to handle it for her because of wedding preparations.  She also asked me to remind you that the wedding dress rehearsal dinner is on Friday and if you don't close the shop down early, she won't be happy with you.  Now I really have to get ready.”


Tacos didn't sound good anyway and Jasina had tried putting as much space between her and Mark as possible, especially after he kissed her and then the bedroom incident.  Pinching the bridge of his nose, Mark headed out to the kitchen to put away everything he had set out, no longer feeling hungry.  The prospect of dress rehearsal held absolutely no appeal to him and the idea of eating alone held even less.


John had found THE perfect place and he even knew how to get to it.  One long drive and a right turn, even he couldn't mess that up.  Feeling pretty damn pleased with himself, he texted Jasina the location.  Jasina received the text message and nodded, never hearing of that place before, having just stepped out of the shower.  She decided on a simple midnight blue dress that had a ruffled hem swaying just above her knees. 


It was one-shouldered, leaving her right bare and she decided on open-toed black heels that strapped up her ankles.  She curled the ends of her honey blonde hair, outlined her eyes in midnight blue that matched the dress, and painted her lips in rose petal gloss that made them shimmer.  She clipped a simple blue stone around her neck that hung on a silver chain and matched her silver ankle bracelet and earrings.  Nodding at her appearance, Jasina headed out of her room and downstairs, completely sober.


Mark had returned to his ESPN, with a beer in tow and was mid-drink when he seen her, sputtering.  He had to bang his fist on his chest to clear his pipes, the beer going down the wrong tube. “You look...gorgeous, Jas.” He said, rasping a bit.


This client must've been... something else.


It was a very good thing Jasina hadn't been standing in front of him or else her dress would've been ruined, blushing at his compliment. “Thanks Mark...” Concern filled her eyes when Mark kept having to pound on his chest, knowing the beer must've gone down the wrong pipe, her smile instantly returning. “Enjoy those tacos and ESPN, I'll see you later.”


She began heading for the front door and heard her cell phone go off again.  It was another text from John making sure she was showing up.  The boy definitely needed more self-confidence.  Mark arched an eyebrow when her cell went off, seeing her smiling slightly and settled back against the couch with a frown.  He wondered if he could get Arie to hit her mom up for information and then tell him...Probably not.


“Have fun.” He called out, making it sound like he didn't care, which he didn't.


Not at all.




Given the style of this place, John actually took care when dressing himself, dusting off his black dress shoes and the only suit he owned, that he took everywhere he went -never knew when he might need it.  He hesitated at the suit, it was pinstriped, and while he did look pretty darn good in it, it might've been overkill.  Sighing, he hung it back up and went with a pair of brand new jeans that weren't baggy and a white button up shirt, leaving the top buttons undone and foregoing tucking the shirt in.  He still looked good.


“If I get lost, it's a sign I'm not supposed to be here.” John muttered, having turned off the GPS because he couldn't take another 'turn right here' when he knew that wasn't the right he was supposed to take.


Jasina arrived twenty minutes later at the restaurant John told her to meet him and stepped out of the car.  Fluffing her hair a little, Jasina locked up before heading inside with purse in hand.  She barely got to the front door when beeping sounded behind her, making Jasina turn around and chuckled at John pulling into a parking spot of his own.  He stepped out and Jasina had to admit he cleaned up nicely, those jeans hugging him like a second skin.  He was definitely a looker, especially with those blue eyes and she simply stood there waiting for him to walk up to her.


“I told you I would show up.” Jasina stated as soon as he was close enough, giggling. “And I'll forgive you for being late because you're new around here.”


“I winged it, my Swede kept saying ‘turn right here, you missed your turn’ so I shut her off.  Then there was construction and you look hot by the way.  Gorgeous, I mean gorgeous.  Well, both.” His grin was firmly in place as John took her in, his eyes lingering a second or two on her beautifully tanned, toned legs. “Your gams are...” He whistled. “Bet you could crush a guy with your thighs.” She either did exercises for her legs or was one of the those rare, very lucky women with a natural inclination towards extremely sexy legs.


“My gams eh?” Jasina didn't take offense to anything he said, blushing slightly, actually feeling like a real woman for the first time in months. “You don't clean up so bad yourself, white definitely suits you.” She winked and allowed him to guide her inside the restaurant, both of them instantly seated in a cozy booth in the far back to give them some privacy.  She ordered a glass of wine while John stuck with a beer, both of them refusing to get completely sloshed. “So besides my gams and the fact I'm hot,” Jasina had to pause when he cleared his throat awkwardly, lowering his blue eyes from hers. “What else has caught your interest in Houston?  And how is your chin doing?  You have a little bruise from the impact.”


“It takes more than crashing face first into a car to slow me down.” John joked, toasting her with the beer before taking a small sip, not out to get drunk or even mildly buzzed.  He'd wind up rapping to her or something.  Now THAT would be embarrassing. “It's fine, thank you.” He hesitated. “I think I mentioned it earlier?  Maybe I didn't.  I'm here to visit a friend, give him an ass kicking or two.  So, besides him, the only thing in Houston that's caught my interest”


“Right your friend, any luck with that?” When John shook his head, Jasina decided not to ask anymore on the subject because frankly it wasn't her business and she wanted to have a nice date with John. “Well you definitely caught mine too, so you can stop being nervous.  Be yourself, I'm just like every other woman out there.” She winked, trying to ease the tension and sipped her wine while the waitress came over to take their orders.  The shrimp pasta sounded incredible and Jasina couldn't pass it up while John opted for a steak and lobster. “So, what do you do in Boston for a living?”


“I run a gym.” John said promptly, knowing some women found that 'cute' while others thought he was a meat head.  He figured he was both. “I bought it off the owner after working for him for years.  I went to college and got a degree in exercise physiology.” He grinned broadly. “Which is a real degree by the way.  What do you do here in Houston for a living?  I would say modeling, don't strike me as the air-head type.”


“You would be correct in your assumption.” Jasina was glad he wasn't the judge them first type of man, sipping her wine. “I'm actually a writer for the local newspaper.  I have my own article called 'Ask Jade' and I also write my own pieces about certain topics.” She hoped he didn't ask her what kind because Jasina didn't want to get into her past.  That's one thing she was always afraid of when dating, though the only other man she'd dated besides Mark was Randy...and now John. “I have an associate's degree in journalism.” She added as if he needed to know that information. “And owning a gym can't be all peaches and cream, so I commend you for taking it over.”


“Nah, mostly it's body odor and dudes wearing tight shorts, which is... disturbing.” John replied cheerfully. “So Ask Jade, huh?  Is that your penname?  Jade?  Jasina Jameson and Jade, I like J's.  Course, it helps my name begins with one.” He winked at her. “Ask Jade sounds like an advice column, what kind of questions do you get?  Anything real weird?”


“It's mostly questions from women regarding real life...and children...” Jasina remembered when she received a letter from a little girl named Little Mermaid asking about her father being lonely.  Jasina had found out it was from her own daughter and she cried for hours, a memory she would never forget. “Kids write in for advice on what to do about their parents and vice versa.  I even get some from men regarding relationship scenarios and advice on what to do.  It's basically open to anything unless it's a sexual nature.  We do know that kids read the paper and don't want them getting wrong impressions.”


John's blue eyes were now sparkling with wicked delight. “If you could, would you offer advice on sex?  Kind of like Dr. Ruth?” He was teasing her and keeping his voice low so he didn't attract unwanted attention or embarrass her, his half-cocked grin letting her know he was just picking on her. “So, if I write in and ask for advice, will it get printed in the paper?”


“As long as it's PG rated, I could pull a few strings...” Jasina teased back, taking another sip of her wine and couldn't believe what a great connection they had already. “Though if you want private advice on sex, I suppose I could give you some.  You look like you don't need much though...then again you did ask for my...digits.” She couldn't help laughing again, knowing he would probably get annoyed with that. “I'm sorry, let me explain.  When you asked for my digits, I was caught off guard because I'm used to a guy saying phone number or just number.  Digits was definitely a first for me.”


It took a LOT to get John annoyed and she was nowhere even near mildly annoying, he just laughed. “So I popped your digit cherry, is that what you're telling me?  I'm an original, from the 90's, so I guess I'm retro, not original.  I could have said 'let me get your phone number', but it just doesn't have the same pop to it.  Wait a minute, because I asked for your DIGITS, I might need sex advice?  That's not fair.  I can dance and you know what they say about guys who can dance.”


He was so full of life and Jasina couldn't remember the last time she laughed this hard, her stomach actually hurting in a good way.  John was definitely a breath of fresh air, one Jasina needed desperately and all of her problems seemed to fade away at the sight of him.  She wasn't worried or nervous about anything, not like she'd been with Randy, though that was a lot of sexual tension mounting.  With John, he was easy-going, fun and caring, though if he apologized for denting her car one more time, she was going to have to hurt him.  When their food arrived, it smelled fantastic and Jasina asked for another refill on her wine, letting her food cool.


“So, you're a gamer huh?  That's not surprising, you look like you're a big kid at heart, which is a very attractive quality to have.”


“Xbox, PS3 and I even have a WII which is really boring when you're playing by yourself.  I also take a PSP everywhere I go, so yeah, you could call me a gamer.” John agreed, wondering why they were talking all about him. “I figure it's good practice, you know, being a big kid myself.  I'll have experience when I eventually get around to having kids of my own.” He took a deep breath, inhaling his food. “Mmm...What about you? Do you have any kids?”


“Yeah I do, a beautiful daughter named Arielle.  She just recently graduated high school a year early.” Jasina beamed at the thought of her little girl and took a bite of her shrimp pasta, feeling her eyes widen instantly.  The taste...Randy instantly popped into her mind and the fork slipped from her hand, clanging on the plate, tears forming in her eyes. “Oh my god...” She whispered, remembering the dinner Randy had surprised her with just a short month before his death and immediately stood up from the table. “John, this has been great, but I really have to go...”


She tossed some bills on the table and began walking away, trying to keep the tears in and needing some air desperately, suddenly feeling suffocated.  Automatically, John sniffed himself.  He didn't stink.  John knew he looked fine, he scraped his teeth and found nothing.  Then he leaned over and took a bite of her food, which was delicious.  Frowning, he got up and chased after her, catching her gently by the hand right outside the restaurant door.


“Jasina?” John asked softly, confused by the tears he seen in her eyes. “What's wrong?  Did I do something to upset you?”


Chapter 16


“No...” That's all that came out of her mouth before she burst into tears, feeling John pull her into his strong arms and couldn't believe how this date had changed...all because of her emotions. “I'm sorry, it's not you John.” Jasina sniffled, pulling away and accepted the tissue he handed her, wiping her eyes. “My-My boyfriend passed away around five months ago and...This's just a memory.  He surprised me with dinner at my old apartment one night and...This is the food.  I thought he cooked it, but apparently he got take-out from this place...” It was definitely coincidental; Jasina suddenly wasn't hungry anymore and she looked up into his kind blue eyes. “I ruined our date, I'm sorry, John...”


Her boyfriend had gotten her takeout and managed to pass it off as a home-cooked meal.  That was slick and John felt appreciation for that stunt.  Then he felt bad because the guy was also dead.  Surprisingly enough, John wasn’t upset or discouraged by this sudden turn of events, his heart going out to Jasina for her loss.


“You didn't ruin our date.” He told her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and guiding her outside, figuring some fresh air would do them both good.


“Sir...Are you coming back in?” The hostess asked, interrupting them. “Because you have to pay for the meal still.”

“Oh, yeah.  My bad.”


John whipped out his wallet, still staring down at Jasina.  Jasina managed to crack a weak smile, wiping a few stray tears away and waited for the waitress to return with his card along with two boxes of their food, John thanking her.  John guided her over to a nearby bench and Jasina sat down, crossing her ankles and kept her eyes lowered, trying to get her emotions under control.


“Thank you for understanding, John.” She whispered, feeling him lift her chin with his strong hand and his lips brushed against her forehead, accepting another hug from him. “Randy's gone and I need to get over it, but this really took me by surprise.”


“You don't have to get over anything, it's obvious you loved, Randy was it?  That's my buddy's name.” John smiled slightly, but it was a sad smile.  He was sad, felt sad for her because how much she still hurt was obvious. “I bet he loved you more then you knew...”


Buying take-out and passing it off as home-cooking.  The guy either had no shame at all or was trying desperately to do something nice and romantic.  Given the type of food and the type of woman Jasina seemed to be, John was going to go with the latter.


“I hope he did.” Jasina whispered, looking up at the starry night sky, one of the things she enjoyed about Houston. 


For some reason, the fact that John's friend Randy had the same name didn't make her question whether or not it was her Randy he was searching for.  Her dead Randy.  There was a lot of Randys in the world, even a few in Houston that she'd come across, so she wasn't about to bring up her dead boyfriend possibly knowing John.  Granted, he was out of town, but that was just a coincidence and she wasn't about to ask him either.


“I did love him and I always will, but...he's gone and I have to move on.” She slowly looked up into John's blue eyes, swallowing hard. “Please don't take this the wrong way, but you are the first guy I've dated since Randy's death.”


It never even crossed John's mind to ask her about her Randy, figuring the guy was probably from Houston like she was.  Randy was a rather common name, so was John.  Jasina definitely was not though, he had never heard that one before.


“I am the first guy you dated since he died...” John echoed, his eyes wide. “I'm not entirely sure if that's a good or bad thing.  I'm glad I'm the first, I feel pressured to not blow this and I already have.” He had taken her to the restaurant her dead boyfriend had used.


He was such an ass.


“You didn't blow anything, John.” Jasina assured him with a soft smile, knowing he was only in town for a short amount of time and decided to just let everything flow as it should. “I just don't want you to think I'm using you to get over him or something like that.  Honestly, I had no idea that he got food from this place.  It was a surprise dinner that I honestly thought he cooked and you had no idea.” She moved to sit on his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, hugging him. “You're a sweet guy, I'm sorry to have dumped this all on you.  So don't feel pressured or anything because you did everything right.  I just got emotional because...I didn't know he came here for the food.  It hit me harder than I thought...”


“Oh hey, I'm're not dumping anything on me, except yourself, which I so do not mind.” He gently looped his arms around her waist, giving her plenty of room to squirm away or punch him if she wanted too. “I don't mind, Jasina, if you want to talk about him.” He said quietly, seriously.  John wondered if she had actually spoken to anyone about Randy, really talked about him.


“I bet you don't.” Jasina smirked, sitting sideways on his lap and actually felt comfortable doing so, the fresh air doing her a lot of good. “I don't want to talk about Randy anymore.  It's time for me to let him go and move on, like I said before.” She knew she probably sounded like a broken record and John was very sweet to offer to let her talk about him, but Jasina wanted to enjoy life instead of mourning her dead boyfriend. “I'm over him, I really am.” She meant it, Randy was gone and she accepted it awhile back, smiling when John's dimples showed. “The food just caught me off guard is all.  Why don't we just go somewhere else or maybe go somewhere to talk?” She suggested, standing up from John's lap, extending her hands to him. “I don't want to end our date yet.”


“I would, um, invite you back to my hotel, but that would seem like I'm trying to get into your pants, which I would love nothing more than to happen, but I’m also not the type of guy to push a woman into something she isn’t ready for.” He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. “What other places do you like to go to?” He wasn't about to suggest they go wherever she was currently staying, remembering that she had seen a realtor earlier in the day at Emerald City, so obviously she didn’t have her own place.


“We could go back to your hotel room, I don't mind.”


Her fingers slowly slid down his shirt covered chest, before going back up to wrap around his thick muscled up neck, teal eyes locking with his.  She hadn't had sex in nearly half a year.  Jasina was going to go out of her mind if she made herself celibate much longer.


“Whatever happens, happens.  We could simply talk and have a couple of beers or watch a movie cuddling.  Whatever you want to do, John.  I don't think you're getting in my panties though, I wouldn't have agreed to this date if I knew those were your intentions.  You're too sweet for those type of intentions.”


She wasn’t however.


John stared at her in silence, knowing an invitation when he heard one, though she had dressed it up and given other options, but the invitation was still there. “Alright, we can do that.” He said slowly, feeling her fingers playing with the back of his neck, trying not to shiver as he stared into her eyes, knowing his were probably darkening. “Though...if you keep playing with my neck, we're never going to leave this bench.” He was a bit...sensitive back there.


She giggled softly, stopping what she was doing and watched him stand up to tower over her, wondering what it was about tall men that were attractive and downright sexy. “I'll follow you?” She said suggestively, not waiting for his reply and walked away toward her car, feeling the butterflies suddenly erupt in her stomach. 


What if they did have sex and she was terrible at it? 


It'd been at least six months since a man last touched her, besides the kisses Mark had given her recently.  She didn’t consider kissing to be sexual, not even when it came to her ex-husband.  Jasina pushed those negatives thoughts out of her mind and followed John out of the restaurant parking lot, glad he'd remembered to take their leftovers.  She would be hungry after this, she simply knew it.  Jasina checked her makeup in the mirror at a red light and hoped she was doing the right thing, though her libido was overriding her rational thinking.


John was giving himself a pep talk. 


He was really, really hoping she meant what she said about really being over her dead boyfriend, Randy, and not just using him to forget.  He scratched that, forced it out of his mind.  She probably was lonely, though given how beautiful and friendly she was, he found it hard to believe there wasn't a line of men waiting on her. 


He wanted her.  She wanted him.  It was simple as that.


“You got this.” John told himself, squishing the nerves down, not about to make a total fool of himself.


Jasina was doing the exact same thing John was, reminding herself she was single and could have sex if she wanted.  Randy was dead and she wasn't cheating.  Becoming celibate definitely was a mistake, one that Jasina planned on rectifying, honestly not caring if John thought she was a whore or not. 


If they ended up having sex on the first date, would only be the second time in Jasina's life that it happened.  The only other man she'd slept with on a first date was her ex-husband, Mark.  Jasina pulled into the parking lot of the hotel and checked herself in the mirror one final time before stepping out, following John inside to his room.


John ignored the arched eyebrow the girl at the front desk shot his way, looping his arm around Jasina as they headed for the elevator.  Keeping a distance from her would have made it look like he was trying to hide something and he wasn't.  He was an adult, with no strings attached to him. 


He could do whatever and whomever he wanted, though he generally tried not to have sex on the first date.  Generally it did happen, he was a guy after all.  Once at his hotel room door, he turned to stare down at her, bending down to brush his lips gently against hers.


“If you've changed your mind, now would be a good time to tell me.” John said, giving her an out.


One he hoped she didn't take.


Jasina responded by reaching up and began unbuttoning his shirt, her darkened turquoise eyes boring into him, letting him know she wanted him just as much as he wanted her.  She could see it in his darkened blue orbs that swam with pure lust, gasping when he suddenly pressed her against the door to kiss her again, this time a little more passionate.  Jasina instantly reciprocated, her fingers massaging the back of his neck and felt the door open and close, her back once again pressed against the door, only this time they weren't out in the open.  John lifted her up and Jasina instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist, pushing the shirt off of him while he worked on removing her dress, carting both of them over to the bed, stumbling slightly.


It really was a beautiful dress.  Though at the moment, it was more trouble than it was worth and John had to fight to keep himself from just ripping it off.  Finally depositing her on the bed, John finished tugging it away from her. 


It was getting dark and he wasn't liking that, so he reached out to flick on the light near the bed, dimming it down.  Just enough to see her, a low murmur of appreciation escaping his lips.  Her undergarments and high that was sexy.  He moved so he was hovering over her, trailing kisses along her collar bone.


No words were spoken, just the sounds of a sexual nature echoed throughout the hotel as Jasina finally remembered how much she used to enjoy sex.  She'd been so deep in mourning over Randy that she hadn't even realized what she was missing out on.  John took his time with her and reintroduced her to a world she thought was long forgotten. 


Every part of her body trembled with new life and Jasina actually saw stars explode before her eyes when she came with John.  He definitely was a stallion in bed and had a lot of stamina, which she was used to because both Mark and Randy definitely were not one minute men.  From the foreplay, to teasing and tormenting her body, to finally getting down to business...Jasina enjoyed every single second of it, letting John know it.


She wasn't shy anymore.


John had noticed a bit of...trepidation, like she was afraid she had forgotten the basics and realized he was probably her first time back in the saddle so to speak since her boyfriend's death.  No pressure there.  Once she had gotten over that issue...mind-blowing was the best way to accurately describe the experience between them and he knew he was pleasing her just as much as she pleased him.  He hadn't been lying about the dancing and bedroom thing and he was proving it to her. If the moans, soft sighs and gasps she made, along with the scratches she had left on his shoulders and back, were any indication, her return to sex was explosive.


They had sex for hours in all positions they could come up with, Jasina fully satisfied by the time they were finally done.  She collapsed on top of him, having finished their fifth bout by being on top and felt his hands run up and down her back while she buried her face in the crook of his neck.  Their bodies were caked with sweat and it felt amazing, Jasina knew she would definitely be sore tomorrow, already feeling the delicious ache between her thighs. 


She hadn't had sex like this since Mark, Randy couldn't go more than twice in a night, though she wasn't complaining.  Jasina made it clear to John not to leave any marks on her neck or arms.  Only places where only she would see them, Jasina knew had quite a few on her inner thighs, chest and stomach, snuggling further against his rock hard body.


John didn't mind not being able to leave marks on her, not visible to the public ones any way.  That wouldn't have looked very professional in the workplace, but he had definitely left...marks in places not generally displayed to the public eye.  He definitely did not like being marked himself, it would be definite proof that this wasn't the most realistic, kinkiest dream he had ever had.


“Damn...” John murmured, clearing his dry throat and kissed the top of her head before dropping his back onto the pillow, wondering if his heart was about to leap out of his chest with the way it was pounding.


“I second that.” Jasina chuckled softly, not having the strength to roll off of him and smiled when he just tightened his arms around her. 


For the first time in six months, Jasina wasn't sleeping alone and it felt wonderful.  Her bed had been cold for too long and as much as she loved Randy, she also knew he wanted her to be happy, to live her life.  Her cell phone had an automatic alarm set for when she had to get up in the morning for work and Jasina couldn't keep her eyes open anymore, falling asleep against John, barely whispering 'good night' before the darkness consumed her.


The fact that she was obviously going to spend the night made John feel a lot better.  It meant she hadn't been using him to forget, because if she had been, she probably would have just had a guilt overload and bolted.  He murmured a good night back and fumbled for the sheet, drawing it up over them.  While the night would be warm, eventually they were going to feel a slight chill from their bodies cooling down and the sweat factor. 


He was asleep almost as quickly as she was with a smile on his face.


Chapter 17


“Wow, someone is happy today.” Trish commented when Jasina walked into the office, Gary following her as usual doing her bidding.

Jasina shrugged, not able to wipe the smile from her face, having gone back to the ranch to change into work clothes after leaving John at the hotel.  She sent him a text apologizing, but she had to get to work and promised to contact him later.  She didn't want him thinking she was using him because that was not her intention at all, genuinely liking him.


“Why wouldn't I be?” She retorted with sparkling teal eyes, heading to her office with a cappuccino.


Gary raised an eyebrow, wondering what was going on with Jasina and knew Trish was thinking the same thing.


“The hell if you are, Teddy!”

“Watch me, Ariebelle!”

“Don't call me-” Arielle clammed up when Gary and Trish both poked their heads out of Jasina's office door. “Sorry.”

“She's mad because I'm signing her up for a photography contest among Houston interns.”

“I see...Good luck with that Arielle, no more yelling from either of you.” Trish ordered sweetly.


Gary shook his head when Arielle went to kick Ted in the shin once Trish's head was turned, snorting when Ted retaliated.  Randy Orton he was not, but there was no denying his methods...worked.  He shifted his attention back to the...insanely happy Jasina, raising an eyebrow.


The entire day all Jasina could do was smile brightly, which was contagious and actually hummed while writing her articles and answering the 'Ask Jade' column.  She never thought having sex could make her this happy, but the littlest things in life usually do.  Not that sex was a small thing, but it rejuvenated her in ways Jasina needed to be. 


It was all thanks to John Cena.  Jasina owed him everything and decided to thank him until he left Houston.  She would start out by asking him to be her date for Trish and Steve's wedding, hoping he accepted her invitation.


At the end of the day, Arielle strolled into her mom's office, arching an eyebrow when she heard Jasina humming under her breath. “Mom, are you feeling alright?” She asked curiously, circling around the desk to place a hand on her Mom's forehead, checking for a fever. “Gary said you were actin'...weird, I didn't believe him.” She was glad to see her Mom happy, which obviously Jasina was, but...after a full day's work and she was STILL grinning?  That just seemed...odd. “What's got you in such a good mood?”


“Just in a good mood today, honey.  I've had a great day, nothing more than that.” Jasina wasn't about to tell her daughter multiple orgasms and hours of mind-blowing sex with her date was the reasoning for her happiness. “I'll try to be less happy.” She joked, closing her laptop after saving her work, seeing the skepticism on Arielle's face. “So I heard that Ted has enrolled you in a photography contest?” Jasina changed the subject swiftly, grinning. “You will win hands down, now you just have to figure out what to photograph.”


“I don't WANT to be in this competition.  I keep tellin' him I'm not ready, but he won't listen.  He says 'Well Randy had a ledger with upcoming events for the year and he was going to sign you up, so I'm signin' you'-” Arielle clamped both hands over her mouth, realizing she had just rattled off about Randy, though when Jasina's expression didn't change, not even a twinge of pain in her teal eyes, she slowly removed her hands. “Anyway, he's doing it.” She finished lamely.


“If Ted thinks you're ready to do this, then you need to trust your mentor, sweetheart.” Jasina simply said, the mention of Randy no longer hurting her and she knew why. 


She was finally moving on. 


Jasina wasn't in love with John by any means, but she did feel something for him or else she wouldn't have had sex with him.  Arielle would be confused for awhile, but everything would come out in the open eventually and that part Jasina was not looking forward to.  John would be kept secret until the wedding at least.


“I think you'll do a fantastic job.” She packed up her things and felt her cell phone vibrate, knowing it was probably John since he knew what time she got off of work.


“Of course you have to say that, you're my Mom, you think I'll do a fantastic job on everything.  Mom, seriously, I don't want to do this.  What if I bomb?  I'm nowhere NEAR as good as Randy was or Teddy is...” Arielle bent down to rub her shin, scowling. “And he KICKED me with the toe of his cowboy boot, isn't that employee or intern abuse?” She shot her Mom a trembling lip and wide hurt eyes, not mentioning that she might've...kicked him first.


“I'm sure he wouldn't have done that had you not kicked him first, Arielle.” Jasina shot back seriously, folding her arms in front of her chest, knowing her daughter inside and out. “I know how you are, you can't fool your mother.  If you REALLY don't want to do the photography contest, then go talk to Trish about it.  I can't do anything about it because I'm not involved in your internship anymore.  Though I will tell you that if you complain to Trish this soon, she might take you out of the internship and make you do something else...something you might not enjoy.  Think about it.” Dropping a kiss on the top of Arielle's head, Jasina walked out of her office, leaving her with those thoughts.


“Mom, I already did talk to Trish and she told me to suck it up!” Arielle shouted after her Mom, groaning when she just got soft laughter back and slumped against the office wall. 


It wasn't like she didn't feel honored that Ted wanted her to do it or that Randy had thought she would be ready and that had been MONTHS ago when he had made that note in his ledger.  He had anticipated her being skilled enough even then.  But what if she wasn't?  What if she wasn't as good as everyone thought she was?

“Come on Arie, I'll walk you down to your car and I'll tell you a really, really amusing story about my first photo contest.”

“What kind of amusing?” Arielle looked up at Ted, suddenly interested.

“The kind of amusing that'll make you wonder how I even got this job.”


“What is going on with your Mom?” Gary wondered, sidling up beside his girlfriend, who was laughing at Ted over something he clearly missed. “She wasn't herself today.”


Ted frowned, looking down at Gary. “What do you mean?” He knew about Randy's death and how Jasina had been with Randy in a relationship, but not the details.  He was shot down after asking Jasina out on a date and decided not to bark up that tree again.


“I don't know.” Something definitely was fishy. “Arie, why don't we go see your Dad?  Maybe he knows something.”

“Yeah, yeah, so tell me how you completely botched the session, Teddy Bear.”


Ted wondered if he'd ever get used to hearing that nickname. “Well, for starters, I-”


He looked at Gary, hesitating before sighing.  Ted knew Arielle would just repeat it to her boyfriend anyway, so he might as well get the humiliation over and done with now.  Arielle's eyes widened when Ted began listing off everything he had done wrong to botch the session, which also included winding up with a bunch of pigeons using him as a statue, an elderly couple nude, and a dog bite.


“No WONDER you lost, didn't you even get the picture you wanted?”

“I was disqualified on the grounds of old woman nipple to the very left of the frame.”


Gary slapped himself in the face when Arielle doubled over laughing. “Are we going to go see your Dad?”


“Sure, give me a minute to laugh at Teddy Bear...” She gasped, holding her side.





When Jasina arrived at the ranch, she was mildly surprised to see Arielle's car in the driveway and parked on the side of her, wondering what was going on.  Probably questioning Mark about her sudden change of mood.  Though Jasina didn't care what people thought and she wasn't telling them about her night of passion with John. 


However, since Arielle was here along with Mark, it was time to tell them about her new house she was moving into just after the wedding.  That's the soonest it would be ready and Jasina was fine with that, planning on spending as much time with John as possible while he was in town.  She walked in the house, hearing talking in the kitchen and took her pumps off before heading in that direction.


“I swear to god man, she was just...perky and happy.  It was...nice but weird.”

“She was humming, at the end of the day.”

“Couldn't she just be happy to be gettin' off work?” Mark arched an eyebrow at the kids.

“It's MOM, she loves her job.”Arielle pointed out.

“Maybe she's sick?” Gary suggested lamely.

“You know, that's what I thought, but she's not.  Not unless being happy is a mental illness.” Arielle stated, knowing something was going on with her mother.

“I think you two are makin' a big deal outta nothin', there ain't a law sayin' she can't be happy.” Mark stated, though he couldn’t help wondering what was going on with Jasina either secretively.

“Course not, but WHY was she happy?”


“I wasn't aware it was against the law to be happy, but apparently it is.” Jasina said somewhat defensively from behind them, having overheard the conversation and walked inside the kitchen, the smile etched on her face a little tightened. “There is a reason why I'm so happy and I was waiting for all of us to be able to get together so I could announce it.”


Gary lowered his eyes, feeling like an ass that they’d been caught talking about Jasina behind her back like this.

“Well, we're all here together now.” Arielle demanded, refusing to back down as she stared at her mother through slightly narrowed eyes. “What is it?”

“The day after Trish and Steve's wedding, I'm moving out of the ranch.” Jasina announced, wanting to do this a little easier, but her daughter wasn't letting that happen. “I found a cute little two bedroom house just down the street from work and it was in my price range.  It has new appliances and everything.  I've already put a down payment on it and signed all the papers, but it won't be ready for me to move in until the day after the wedding.  So it looks as though you'll be free of me soon enough, Mark.”


At first, Mark had been about to say 'SEE', because he had agreed with Jasina.  There wasn't a law saying she couldn't be happy, but after hearing her the news behind the happiness, he wasn't feeling so...happy, himself.  He didn’t want her to leave and it clearly showed in his eyes and body posture, though Mark was also a master at controlling his emotions.  If this is what Jasina truly wanted, he wasn’t going to stand in her way from leaving, even though that was his first instinctive move.


“Darlin', I was never worried about you livin' here.” Mark said after a moment, ignoring the gauging looks Gary and Arielle were now giving him, not about to show them anything besides calmness.  He didn't need kids analyzing him next.

“That's great Jasina.” Gary said with a smile, trying to make up being an ass earlier.


“What do you need two bedrooms for?” Arielle asked curiously. “Me and Gary, right?”


“Well yeah, I suppose you and Gary, but mostly you because you are my daughter.” Jasina sounded amused as she walked over, hugging both kids against her, kissing the top of Arielle's head. “And I know you weren't worried about it, Mark, but it's time for me to get out of here and live my own life.” Not to mention the sexual tension mounting between them was suffocating and there was no way Jasina was making a trip to insanity again. “So you happy for me?”

“Of course Mom...” Arielle felt bad for her father because she could tell he wasn't happy about this sudden turn of events.


Gary decided to keep quiet before he inserted his foot in his mouth again.


“Thrilled, this means I can run around naked again.” Mark teased, not really into the teasing but... he had to make an effort.  Obviously she wanted to be away from him and was psyched over her new little house with brand new appliances and everything else.  His ranch...not so new and definitely not small. “Does it have a white picket fence also?”


Gary winced at that, though he was glad someone else had done the 'ass' thing, though it was Mark so...he didn't bother making a derisive noise, not in the mood to eat the table.


Mark stood up from the table. “Sorry Jasina, that was out of line.” He apologized, not entirely sure he meant it.


Normally, Jasina would've snapped at Mark for that snide comment, but nothing was going to sour her mood, simply smiling back at him. “If it does, it'll be easier keeping out intruders.” She winked down at Arielle, deciding having her own comeback was much better than losing her temper. “So, anything else you would like to know?”


“Is that all you're happy about?” Arielle asked, looking up at her mother.

“Yes and please come ask me questions next time instead of going to your father.  He has enough on his mind and my life is none of his business.  Right Mark?” Jasina looked down when her cell phone went off, excusing herself to answer the call.


“Bitch.” Mark muttered under his breath, turning and storming out the patio doors, completely ignoring the shocked looks Gary and Arielle threw his way.


“If he manages to make it through the weddin' without blowin' it, I will be VERY surprised.” Arielle said seriously.

“Well, let's give him a little cred- Okay, okay, no credit.” Gary backtracked when Arielle shot him a deadly glare.

“Not that I'm complaining much, but did you left a three inch long scratch on me?” John said by way of greeting, amusement in his voice.


“Oops?” Jasina giggled softly, heading up to her room to have a little more privacy, not wanting the kids to overhear her conversation. “Sometimes I just can't control myself in the bedroom.” That was her excuse and Jasina smiled when John chuckled, sitting down on her bed while staring out the window. “You left some marks on me too, though I'm definitely not complaining.  I want to see you again tonight.” Hoping she didn't sound too forward, Jasina couldn't help it, having thought about their night all day at work, which explained her goofy smile and happiness.


“I definitely want to see you again, and try taking you out again, just not to that restaurant.  You can pick the place this time, maybe we can try the date thing one more time and see how that works out.  Not that the sex wasn't great because it was, it was off the charts great, but-” John stopped when he heard her chuckling. “I'm going to get you if you're laughing at me, I will think of something incredibly mean to do to you...though you might also like it...”


“You have NO idea how much enjoy a little torture.” Jasina practically purred, smirking when John groaned in her ear, the delicious ache between her thighs beginning to slowly throb with life. “We don't need to go out anywhere, I'd be happy just to spend some quality alone time with you.”


Didn't Trish say something about Mark going out of town for a few days with Steve for a bachelor party?  She remembered vaguely, chewing her bottom lip, wondering if bringing John to the ranch would be a good idea.  If Mark found out, he would blow a gasket, but Jasina was a born and bred risk-taker, a smirk curving her lips.


Chapter 18


“Let me call you back and I'll see if maybe you can come over to the place I'm staying at until my house is ready.” She'd told John about her current living situation, though left out a few the man she lived with being her ex-husband.  There was no reason to give him that information. “Give me an hour okay?”


“Sure, take your time.” John laughed, figuring he would use that hour to continue compiling his list of addresses to go visit tomorrow since today had turned up absolutely nothing. “Well...don't take TWO hours or I might get lost trying to come hunt you down.” He teased, loving the sound of her laughter.  He knew he definitely did not love Jasina -he didn't buy into that love at first sight crap, but did believe in lust at first sight-, but she was amazing and he knew they could have something, even if it was just a brief fling.


Jasina immediately called Trish as soon as she hung up with John, trying to sound cool and calm. “Hey honey, I have a quick question for you.” She said by way of greeting.

“Sure, what is it?” Trish was busy painting her nails while the kids were sleeping, Steve in the kitchen making dinner.

“Didn't you mention something about Steve and Mark going out of town for a few days for a bachelor party?”

“Yeah, they're leaving tonight after Steve is finished with dinner and helping me with the kids.” Trish eyeballed her husband-to-be, having already laid the ground rules down for the bachelor party. “Why have you heard something different?”

“Nope, I was just making sure I heard you right at work.” Jasina had a clouded mind all day, though she hadn't told Trish about John yet. “Thanks.” Jasina hung up, calling John back instantly.


Trish blinked as she stared at the phone, wondering what Jasina was up to.


“Why are you eyeballin’ me like that woman?” Steve demanded when his wife got off the phone.  A bachelor party was supposed to be fun and he was going to worry about his penis being cut off before his wedding. “I haven't done anythin' yet!”

“Yet being the operative word, dearest.  You and Mark are still going, right?”

“Yes...” To Vegas, not that Trish needed to know that.  Mark had been for Cancun, but Steve had squashed that one, too many naked women on a beach.

“You had BETTER behave.” Trish warned sweetly, her brown eyes narrowed.


When John’s cell rang five minutes later, he was somewhat shocked, but immediately brushed it off. “So... it hasn't been an hour, I take it you have good news?” John answered Jasina’s call instantly, not expecting it to be so quick.


“You can come over here around nine o'clock.” Jasina figured that was when Mark would be leaving the house, which was two hours away, keeping her voice down. “My roommate will be gone by then and we'll have free reign of the house.” She smirked at the many rooms that were in the ranch, though all she really wanted to take advantage of was the hot tub, swimming pool and her bed. “I'll text you when it's safe for you to come over.  It'll just be easier for him not to know about you yet.” She hoped John understood and didn't question her further, sighing when a knock sounded at her door. “Gotta go, I'll text you.” She hung up and stuffed her phone in her purse. “Come in.”


John sincerely hoped she texted him an address sooner rather than later, simply so he could Google it and get an hour head start on the arrival time, knowing his luck his Swedish voice on the GPS would send him to Mexico.

“Kids left.” Mark said, pushing open the door, having recovered his little temper issue, trying to keep the gruffness from his tone. “Arie said she'd call you later.  Darlin', I'm sorry about that comment down there, I shouldn't have said it.  I knew you were lookin' for a place, findin' one threw me off.  Not to mention how happy you are about leavin', guess I took it the wrong way when I shouldn't of.”


“It's fine Mark, didn't even bother me.” She wasn't apologizing to him about anything she said, simply sitting on the bed staring at him. “I don't know why you're so thrown off considering I've been looking for a place for the past three months.” Jasina pointed out, folding her arms in front of her chest, wondering when he was leaving so she could see John. “And of course I'm happy to leave and have my own space instead of constantly sharing with my ex-husband.  I appreciate everything you've done Mark, but the fact is we are exes for a reason.  So you shouldn't take me leaving any way because there should be no emotional involvement in it.  I don't know what's gotten into you lately, but you need to understand that I came here as a friend in need and nothing more.  Now if you'll excuse me, I want to take a shower in peace.”


It took everything Mark had in him to not lose his temper again.


Given that she had been looking without success, the suddenness of finally getting a place had thrown him off.  Secondly, while they might have been exes for a reason, that meant jack considering everything that he had done for her.  She needed a place to live to get away from Randy's memory, he had given that.  Mark had stepped up and helped her the best way he knew how. 


He gave her space, but made sure she ate.  He let her have her nights of alcohol, but still watched over her to make sure she didn't turn into a full on lush.  As for what had gotten INTO him lately, the woman was either the dumbest broad he had ever met -he knew she wasn't- or just purposefully ignoring the fact that the night everything had changed between them again -the night of the kiss-, she had been teasing him just as much as he had been torturing her.


“Thank God I'm leavin'...” Mark snorted, turning to walk out of the room. “Enjoy yer shower.”


“Have a good night, Mark.”


Jasina slammed the bedroom door and walked into the bathroom, starting up the sprays.  Jasina didn't miss all the hidden emotion swimming through his green eyes, knowing he wanted to explode on her for what she said, but it was the honest truth.  Granted, she had been teasing him, but that was only because he wouldn't stop torturing her!  It was fair game and then he had to ruin it by kissing her, telling her silently that he expected more out of this than just friendship. 


There was no friendship when it came to Mark. 


There was only lust and power.


Jasina knew he expected them to get back together and that just ticked her off because she thought he'd helped her with Randy's death out of the kindness of his heart.  Hell what heart?  The man only had a heart when he got what he wanted or when it came to Arielle, but other than that he was a heartless prick.  Jasina sent John a quick text with Mark's address before jumping into the shower, wanting to be fresh and clean before John arrived, seeing all the marks on her body and giggled.




Steve was a bit confused when Mark showed up earlier than expected, having JUST gotten the kids down for bed. “Um, yer early and my wife is suspicious of what yer plannin'.”


“Smart woman.”

“Now Mark, I like havin' a good time as much as the next guy, but remember, I'm about to be a married man…”


Mark smirked, deciding this trip to Vegas was just what he needed to get all thoughts of Jasina out of his mind.  He wanted her in every way and, yes, like an idiot he had assumed they would eventually get back together.  He hadn't taken care of her for nothing after all, he had done it because he cared for her.  And maybe a little bit of the motivation had been sexually related.


“Not me.” The tone of his voice implied he was planning on getting rip-roaring drunk and finding a woman to take his frustrations out on.




Jasina waited another hour before contacting John, wanting to make sure Mark was really gone and changed into her black bikini, having a bottle of wine chilling in a bucket of ice.  When the doorbell rang, Jasina walked down the hallway in a white terry cloth robe that was tied loosely and went to mid-thigh, her hair up in a clip.  She hoped John cottoned onto the fact that there was a hot tub in the ranch and brought his swim trunks...unless he planned on being naked.  That was a delicious thought as she opened up the front door, staring back into those baby blues.


“So you didn't get lost eh?” She remarked with a smirk.




John grinned down at her, his eyes devouring her body hungrily, imagining what was or wasn't beneath that terry cloth robe.  He wasn't about to tell her he had memorized the route, she already knew he was a total idiot on the GPS and directions thing.  He made up for it with more…interesting abilities.  He bent down to kiss her, smiling when she returned it with enough passion to tell him they definitely didn't have a one or two time only thing going.


“So,” He rumbled softly against her lips. “You going to invite me in?” He held a small bag in his free hand, containing his trunks and a few other things.


“Of course, you better get your cute ass in here.” Jasina took his hand and guided him inside, pushing the door closed behind them and locking it up before they headed down the hallway into the kitchen. “I have some wine and beer since I didn't know if you liked wine.  The hot tub is ready too.” She poured herself a glass and smiled when John opted for a beer, slowly removing her terry cloth robe. “Why don't you go change into those trunks unless of you want to be naked?  Either way is fine with me.”


“Let me get a little bit more relaxed before I go streaking.” John laughed, smirking down at her. “By the way, I should warn you, when I DO get comfortable, I prefer being nude.” Which was the honest to God truth, he loved going without his clothes.  Of course, that wasn't legal outside of his house, but he was still holding out that someday it would be. “So if you ever show up at my hotel without calling first and I open the door naked, don't be surprised.”


“Oh I won't.” That didn't surprise Jasina in the slightest and she found it somewhat adorable, hopping up on the counter.  John stood between her legs and kissed her softly, her hands instantly going to the hem of his shirt. “Mmm I think I know how you can relax more.” She pulled his shirt up over his head, tossing it over his shoulder and ran her fingernails gently down his chiseled chest. “There you're not so...restricted now.”


“Uh huh...”


John was quite comfortable standing between her legs, his eyes feasting on the bikini clad body before him.  He had seen her naked, but in a way, this was much better.  It was leaving something to his already quite creative imagination.


“Eventually, I'm going to put you in one of my jerseys.” He growled, bending down to nip at her collarbone. “NOTHING but the jersey...” His strong hands were now massaging the insides of her thighs very slowly, inching their way upwards, not in any hurry.


“Anything you want, John.” Jasina purred, leaning back a little on the counter so he could get better access to her neck, spreading her thighs more for him. 


It was just sex between them and Jasina was fine with that, refusing to develop feelings for a man who lived up north in Boston.  She leaned forward and began running her tongue down the length of his chest, hearing another guttural growl escape him, wondering if they would even make it to the hot tub.  Her hands found the button of his jean shorts, unsnapping them and shoved them down his long muscular legs with her feet, moving her lips back up until he captured them in a passionate kiss.


“Mmm hot tub time?”


“That or right here on the counter...” He growled against her neck, pulling away long enough to follow her gaze down, smirking. “Yes, that's because of you.”


John chuckled huskily, knowing with his stamina, they'd be in the hot tub and many other places tonight, hoping her roommate never found out, that would probably be awkward, for her, not him.  He doubted he'd ever meet the roommate.  Scooping her against him, he felt her legs automatically wrapping around his waist and followed her whispered directions towards the patio door.


“Jas, if you keep playing with the back of my neck, I will pin you to the wall and fuck you right there.” John warned her in a growl against her ear.


Jasina giggled softly, knowing the back of his neck was one of John's most sensitive areas. “Promises, promises…” She stopped for the moment, slowly slipping down his body long enough to submerge into the hot water, onto straddle him with her arms still around his neck. “Naked it is then.”


There was no reason for him to have trunks, though that didn't mean Jasina had to be naked right away, enjoying teasing him as their lips met in another hot kiss, steam rising around them.  If he really wanted too, John could have ripped those bikini bottoms off of her with just one finger, or pushed them aside, which was actually a rather interesting idea.  Granted, there was no one around to see them, but the idea of keeping her covered as much as possible with her clothing while having sex with her…it reminded him of being out in public and trying to hide what was happening, wondering if she would be opposed to that idea sometime down the road.  He leaned back against the tub wall, his hands resting gently on her hips while she ground herself against him, never breaking the kiss.


“Tease.” He murmured against her lips, biting gently on her full bottom lip.


“Yeah look who's talking.” She murmured, not even concerned with her wine because John was all she needed at the time. 


Making love in the hot tub was amazing, along with the swimming pool...and couch in front of the fireplace.  By the time they made it to her bedroom, Jasina's body was burning and John was the only one who could put the fire out, which he did repeatedly.  They ended up falling asleep in her bed, curled up completely naked, her head resting just beneath his chin.  Somewhere in between all the different places they had sex, Jasina had asked John to be her date for her friend's upcoming wedding and he accepted.


Chapter 19


John was up before Jasina was, mostly because he was in a strange house and found that somewhat awkward.  Being in Jasina's bedroom helped, always took him a night or two to get used to a new place, especially when staying over.  Yawning, he gently extracted himself from her and headed into the bathroom.  Really pleased with the fact that she had her own private bathroom, John was not up to pulling on his shorts –they were downstairs now that he thought about it- and not about to walk around naked in a strange house.


Arielle arched an eyebrow when she seen the strange car in her Dad's driveway. “Well what the hell...” She muttered, shutting off the ignition and slipping out of the SUV.  She kept as quiet as she could as she headed inside, using her key to let herself in.

“Doll, we have got to get some food...” John yawned as he walked back out of the bathroom, freezing when he seen a young woman standing in the now open doorway. “Um, hi...”

“Wow...” Arielle gaped with wide emerald eyes.


“Mmm what did you say, John?” Jasina stretched and let out a loud yawn, slowly opening her eyes to smile at him, though it faltered at the look on his face.  Her eyes moved from him to the doorway, immediately covering herself up, mouth dropping open. “Arielle?!  What are you doing here?” She demanded, stumbling up to her feet and was glad John caught her, already feeling her cheeks burning.  Her daughter definitely had the worst timing and Jasina was currently hiding John's naked body with her blanket covered one, feeling as though her heart might leap out of her chest.


“I came to see if you wanted to go have BREAKFAST with me, but it looks like you already skipped to dessert.” Arielle said, torn between being disgusted at walking in on a naked guy and her MOTHER, but also...the guy was pretty hot.  Since she had been introduced to the joys of sex, Arielle was able to better appreciate a fine specimen when she seen one. “Next time you're havin' a sex party, maybe you should text me a 'stay away' sitch.”

“Sitch?” Even though this was...strange as hell, that was funny and John openly laughed, knowing this had Jasina's daughter.


“How dare you!!  I'm NOT having a sex party!” Jasina stated indignantly, elbowing John to stop him from laughing, folding her arms in front of her chest. “You should've sent me a text telling me you wanted to have breakfast or mentioned it yesterday when you were here.” Jasina was tired of being mortified, snatching another blanket off the floor and gave it to John before sitting down on her bed. “Arielle, this is John Cena.  John, this is my daughter Arielle.  Would you give us a few minutes please?” That question was directed at John, smiling gently at him when he nodded.


“Oh no, please stay, you are MUCH better looking than her.” Arielle insisted with a wink, loving how her mother looked completely mortified.


What on earth was with the woman and getting caught doing the deed?  Honestly?  Or caught after doing it.  This was like déjà vu, remembering the time she and everyone else had walked in on Jasina and Randy sleeping naked on the couch.  Arielle STILL had that image in her head sometimes and knew Gary had the same problem.


“Dad doesn't know you have him here, does he?” Arielle somewhat demanded. “He would blow UP if he knew you had another man in his house.”


John turned to stare at Jasina out of wide blue eyes before heading downstairs.


Information overload.


“ARIE!!” Jasina groaned, burying her face in her hands, knowing John had no idea just who her roommate was. “Of course your father doesn't know!  He probably will now, but that's okay because I still have my old apartment until my house is ready.” She stood up angrily and began clipping her bra on along with pulling her panties up, grabbing her robe to wrap herself in, knowing she would have some serious explaining to do to John. 


“Why would he know?  I'M not about to tell him, are you fuckin' serious?” Arielle wondered if her mother had completely lost her mind with her current mindset. “He'd kill me just for bein' the bearer of the news!”


Arielle looked horrified by the mere idea of telling her Dad about Jasina sleeping with some other guy in HIS house.  Oh HELL NO!  He'd probably go on a killing rampage and she shivered.  One thing about her father was when his temper spiked, it could turn deadly in a hurry.  She still had the scar on her calf -he shot her with a BB gun while trying to escape his wrath after locking him up with her mother with Gary and Toni’s help- to prove just how far her father’s temper could go when pushed.


“If you want some, more power to you.  I was worried I was going to have to send you to a whorehouse or somethin'.  How about I leave and you go down there and be with the hottie?  Mom,” Arielle walked over to take her Mom's hand, knowing she was angry. “I mean it, I'm not tellin' Dad.”


Jasina couldn’t help breathing a huge sigh of relief, hugging her daughter. “Thank you, Arielle.” She couldn't believe she'd gotten busted by her own daughter, knowing it was a mistake to bring John to the ranch, but didn't feel up to holing up in his hotel room again. “I'm not mad at you.” She pulled Arielle into a hug, knowing it was time to come clean with her regarding John. “John and I are just having fun.  He's here out of town looking for a friend and he lives all the way in Boston.  He did agree to be my date for Trish and Steve's wedding, and I will let them and your father know when the time is right.” She sighed softly, pulling back to stare into Arielle's green eyes. “I hope you understand that sometimes adults have sex just to have sex.  There doesn't have to be any feelings or emotions involved.”


“Mom, I love you, but when you say things like that, I get pissy because I AM an adult.  Please, quit thinkin' I'm thirteen.  I get it.  You and John are just havin' a good time, which is fine.  A bit of shame since he's so fine lookin’, but...whatever.” Arielle said with a half-grin, wondering if either of her parents would stop treating and talking to her like she was a child. “I have to go, um...find something to do since Gary is expectin' me to be gone for awhile.  And I wouldn't tell Dad about John...ever.  Or at least leave out the part about havin' him here.” Arielle really didn’t want her mother murdered for scratching an itch by her father.


Jasina chuckled, knowing her daughter was right and stopped Arielle from walking out the door, grabbing her hand. “We can go to breakfast.  John has some things he needs to do, so I'm all yours.” It was the weekend after all, no wonder Mark had decided to go out of town with Steve for a bachelor party.  Trish was probably going out of her mind with worry. “And I'll try to start treating you like an adult.  Sorry.” She snatched some clothes out of her closet and pulled the jeans and red form fitting shirt on after removing the robe. “I'll need to speak with John before we leave, do you wanna take my car or yours?”


“Mine and why can't he go with us?  I'm pretty sure I heard him sayin' something about being hungry.  Though I could have misheard, I wasn't paying much his face or what he was sayin', if you catch my drift.” Just seeing her Mom's jaw hit the floor made saying that worth it and Arielle could NOT stop herself from laughing. “What?  I'm not allowed to look?”


Well, there was laughter coming from upstairs and that had to be a good thing, John thought as he finished with his grooming, having used the downstairs bathroom for  quick shower and dressed.


“I guess you can...” Jasina smirked, ruffling her daughter's hair and slipped some white tennis shoes on before heading down to talk to John. “I'll ask if he wants to join us, okay?” When she nodded, Jasina walked toward the kitchen and saw John was finishing up getting ready, clearing her throat. “Sorry about that.” She murmured, not sure what else to say and lowered her eyes, chewing her bottom lip. “I'll understand if you want to end whatever this is between us.”


Who wouldn't after finding out that she was rooming with the same man she'd made a child with?


“Because you have an adult daughter?” This meant she was probably a bit older than him, and a cougar…now THAT was kind of hot.  John grinned when she looked confused. “Or the fact that this is apparently your...ex-boyfriend?  Ex-husband?  His house?  I'm not gonna lie and say I don't find that a bit weird, but...I'm not freaked out and I certainly don't want to stop whatever we got going.” He walked over to cup her chin, staring down at her. “We'll just have to stay at my place, casa de hotel.  That cool with you?”


The biggest smile lit her face and Jasina couldn't help reaching up, pressing her lips to his in a passionate kiss, feeling his arms instantly wrap around her body. “Arie wanted me to ask you if you wanted to join us for breakfast.” She hoped he did, knowing this was treading on dangerous territory to bring her daughter around yet another man, but Jasina had to roll with the punches. “You're hungry, I'm starving and so is she.  So come on, she wants you to come with.  She thinks you're hot and I'm inclined to agree with her.”


“She thinks I'm hot huh?  Is she legal?  Because I'm thinking a mother-daughter-” He stopped there when she punched him, rubbing the spot and began laughing again. “Chill woman, pop a pill and relax, I was only messing with you.  I'm not into the mother-daughter thing, just the mother.” John kissed her forehead and pulled away in time to see Arielle coming into the room. “Hello again.”

“Hi.” Arielle greeted sweetly, having overheard their small conversation. “So, what's this about mothers and daughters?”

“She has no shame, does she?”

“No, I do not.” Arielle grinned impishly. “So, who’s hungry?”


They ended up at a local diner that had incredible breakfast, Arielle picking the place out.  Jasina sat down with John and smiled when he took her hand beneath the table, lacing their fingers together.  She ordered strawberry stuffed French toast with bacon and eggs while John went with the huge breakfast platter and an omelet, neither woman looking shocked. 


Hell, look who Arielle's father was along with Jasina's dead boyfriend.  Arielle decided on pancakes with sausage links, eggs and a slice of toast on the side.  When Gary walked in, Jasina instantly tensed, feeling her eyes widen and could see the shocked look in Arielle's as well.

“Gary, what are you doing here?” Arielle somewhat demanded, blinking.


“I saw your car...” Gary said slowly, wondering what the hell was wrong with these women, not missing the looks on either Jasina or Arielle's face.  His gaze finally shifted to the man sitting with them, an eyebrow arching. “I'm not allowed to stop in?”


“The more the merrier!” John laughed, standing up from the table, knowing who Gary was because Arielle had told him about her boyfriend. “I'm John, John Cena.” He greeted, extending his hand.

“Hi.” Gary was trying not to be suspicious, but this was…just weird.

“John is in town to find a friend, he just arrived…the other day, was it?” Arielle lied smoothly, her eyes on John.

“Few days ago.” John confirmed with a nod, getting back to his plate of food.


Jasina sincerely hoped Gary didn't tell Mark about this, knowing how protective the man was of Arielle, even though she no longer lived under his roof. “He's also a friend of mine.” She added, smiling up at him and watched as Arielle waved the waitress over to add Gary to the breakfast.

“So who is this friend you're looking for, John?” Arielle decided to change the topic and keep it simple, seeing her mother physically relax.


Before John could say, Gary had to give his order to the waitress when she came back to get it again, having forgot to add his toast.

“John is going to be my date for the wedding.” Jasina announced, causing Gary to spew orange juice out of his mouth while Arielle swallowed hers down the wrong pipe, both of their eyes wide. “I asked him last night and I didn't want to go alone...”


John had been playing it cool and not announcing that he knew who Gary was, or that he and Jasina had met before this seemingly innocent breakfast, mostly because he had seen the looks on Jasina and Arielle's faces.  Deciding to just see how things went.  Now that it was blown out of the water, he raised his eyes to Gary who was mopping orange juice off himself, passing over a handful of napkins.


“Here.” John offered gruffly.

“Thanks.” Gary rasped, reaching over to thump Arielle on her back. “You alright baby doll?”


“, whose wedding is this again?” John asked after an uncomfortable silence ensued.


“My best friend Trish and Steve's.”

“My godfather's.” Arielle rasped out a little more, coughing from the orange juice. “Damn...”

“Steve is Arielle's godfather because he's Mark's best friend.” Jasina explained, seeing the comprehension dawn in John's blue eyes. “Mark is my ex, Arielle's father, yes.” She confirmed, taking his hand again to rest on her lap.


“W-When are you going to tell Trish, Mom?”

“The next time I see her, probably not until Monday.”


“So, let me see if I got this right...your best friend and your ex-husband's best friend are getting married?”

“And she's the Matron of Honor, he's the Best Man.”

“And you want me to be your date, I'm down with that.” John didn’t have a reason not to go with Jasina.

“Ballsy, aren't you?  God that hurt...” Arielle groaned, coughing.

“Better make sure she doesn't mention anything to Steve, not until you've had time to break it to Mark.” Gary pointed out, knowing that was going to be an explosion of massive proportion.


“Why do you three get this tense look whenever he's mentioned?” John couldn’t help asking, wondering who this guy was.

“You're a big man, right John?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“My Dad is bigger.” Arielle said seriously.

“With a serious temper.” Gary added, swallowing hard.


“He's just very intimidating, but there's nothing to worry about.  He's just a big brute with a temper that WILL be checked at Trish's wedding.” Jasina didn't even want to THINK about what would happen if Mark pulled the same stunt he had at Arielle's birthday party, cringing.

“Trish will kill him if he ruins the wedding.” Arielle stated acutely, knowing that her father's temper paled in comparison to Trish's. “She's actually scarier than my Dad.”

“I agree with that.” Gary grinned when their food arrived, his stomach growling.

“You are a brave man, John Cena.”


“How am I brave man?”


John was beginning to get confused.  First the ex-husband was a brute, now the bride was, which wasn't so strange.  John knew a lot of women who went nuts during the wedding season and he couldn’t help feeling lost.

“I think we're scaring the guy.”

“Shaking in my Jordan’s.” Not a lot scared John. “Actually, you're confusing me.  Do I need to wear a bulletproof vest or something to this wedding?” John wanted to be prepared, looking completely serious.


“No, but it has to be a suit and tie at least...”


Trish was very adamant about the dress code at her wedding and Jasina had to make sure whatever John wore met Trish's criteria.  She decided she wasn't telling Mark about John, he could find out on his own at the wedding.  They had to walk down the aisle together, it was going to be very awkward all around. 


They finished breakfast and parted ways, Jasina promising to call Arielle later on and knew Gary would be asking a ton of questions about John as soon as he was alone with Arielle.  Jasina went back to the ranch to clean up from her and John, not wanting to leave any evidence of what she'd done while Mark was away.  John went hunting for his friend, promising he would contact Jasina later on after he was finished.


“You realize, if you're...hiding something from your Dad, he's going to find out, right?” Gary had been poking and prodding Arielle ever since leaving the diner, but so far, she wasn't saying anything useful outside of what he already knew.

“He's not findin' anything out from me or you.” She said, shooting him a look that told him if he breathed one word to her Dad, she'd have to kill him painfully. “If he ruins Trish's weddin', Trish will feed him his balls.”


Chapter 20


It was the night before the wedding and Jasina decided to call it an early night with John, wanting to be in tip-top shape for Trish's wedding.  They had a lot to do in the morning, getting hair and nails done, along with last minute wedding details, wanting everything to go perfect for the bride. This was a long time coming and being the maid of honor, it was Jasina's responsibility to make sure everything went flawless for Trish, knowing she would do the same thing if the tables were reversed.  Jasina walked inside the ranch, having everything of hers packed up besides her maid of honor dress and took a week's vacation from work for the big move that would happen in two days. 


She was ready for it and had a feeling Mark was too.


Mark was ready for this to be done and over with.  Trish and Steve had been living together practically as man and wife for quite some time now, he was a bit surprised they were finally tying the knot and a bit curious why they hadn't done it sooner.  He was happy for them, but a bit on edge because Trish had warned him if anything went wrong, she was going to hurt him.  When he had said he wasn't responsible for the other guests, she had mentioned the cake knife and his balls in the same sentence.


“Jasina, read over this and tell me if it sounds right.” Mark stated when he spotted her, having been pacing in front of the fireplace -he had actually built a fire- in nothing except a pair of light blue, skintight jeans, his hair cascading down his back and shoulders.  He held out the speech he had written, part of the Best Man deal.




Looking pressured was the understatement of the century as Jasina took the piece of paper, sitting down on the couch, and began reading over it.  Being the Best Man wasn't all wine and roses, there was a lot to go into a proper wedding...a Trish wedding.  Jasina finished reading the speech and looked up at him with a soft smile, handing it back to him.


“That sounds damn near perfect, Mark.” Jasina honestly meant it.


For the first time, she noticed how the firelight reflected off of his glistening chest and outlined his muscular form.  His hair did absolutely nothing to stop naughty thoughts from entering her mind.  And those jeans...Jasina suddenly felt warmer, especially when their fingertips brushed together when he took the paper, keeping her eyes away from his.


“Don't be so nervous, it's just a Best Man speech after all.” She half-joked, trying to lighten the mood a little.


“Darlin', I wasn't nervous at all until Trish informed me she had no problems in usin' my balls as a cake topper.” Mark told her with a grin, feeling much better about the speech.  She was a professional writer and he knew she wasn't about to lie to him to spare his feelings, so he took her word for it. “Thanks Jas, appreciate it, darlin'.” He rumbled, folding it up and slipping it into his back pocket, stretching his arms over his head and yawned. “You ready for tomorrow?”


“Yeah, it's been a long time coming for both of them.  I can't wait for it to be official.”


Jasina was excited about the wedding, even if she had to wear pink, because that's what the main color was.  It was Trish after all.  She was girly girl all the way through and Jasina didn't care what color of dress she had to wear as long as she was a part of it.   Jasina knew how hard Trish worked on this wedding from the smallest detail to the biggest, so it was going to be rewarding for everyone involved to see it come full circle.


“It'll be very uplifting watching those two confess their love to each other in front of family and friends.”


Mark snorted, dropping down heavily on the couch and rested his arms along the back of it, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “It'll be upliftin' to see them do what they should’ve done five years ago.  What's the sense in waitin' so damn long if you know yer going to be together forever, ya know?”


“Yeah I do, but at the same time, they had to make sure they weren't doing it just because they had a baby together.  They had to be sure.”


Maybe the problem with her and Mark was that had just jumped into marriage after knowing each other a short period of time.  Mark was a dare-devil and didn't normally think of the consequences with his actions.  Jasina stared into the fire deep in thought while chewing her bottom lip, remembering how happy they were at one time and how it had all fallen apart because of her secrets.


“They did the right and smart thing by waiting.”


“Two kids and a lotta years later...” Mark grinned evilly, then looked at her thoughtfully “ Just think, Jas, if we hadn't gotten married, we'd probably still be together with a dozen kids by now.” He laughed when she just stared at him. “Jokin', jokin'!  Half a dozen.” After enjoying his little joke, he grew thoughtful again. “I'm glad they have a few tykes and are sure...I always wanted a siblin' for Arie, but...she seems to have mostly turned out alright, bit spoiled though...”


“It's not too late to give her one, Mark.”


There was no malice or anger in Jasina's voice when she said that, just pure thoughtfulness, looking up at him with emotion-filled teal eyes.  What would've happened had she not run away and told him the truth?  There was no way they could have anymore children together because of what happened during Arielle's birth.  Did Mark suddenly forget that?


“You're still pretty young, you could definitely find someone to have a child with.” It definitely wasn't her, Arielle was her one and only, which both hurt and relieved Jasina at the same time, her eyes turning back to stare into the fire.


“Oh hell Jas...” Mark groaned, realizing what he had just said and,, more importantly, to who he had said it, wondering if he was a total prick. “I shouldn't of said that, I-” He took a deep breath, noticing that she didn't seem overly phased by his callousness, but that could have been just a front she was putting up. “I wanted her to have a brother or sister, but not just by any woman.  I wanted it to be you and then when we found out you couldn't have anymore, I just let it go.  Yeah, I could’ve always had another child by a different woman after the divorce, but it wouldn't of been the same.  Besides, Arie was more than enough to handle.  Two would have driven me into an early grave.”


“Why are you doing this to me?” Jasina stood up from the couch, shaking her head. “Y-You have no right to say things like that to me, Mark.”


He wanted it to be her.  What the hell was that supposed to mean?  Why was he even dredging up painful dashed hopes and dreams that she’d come to terms with long ago?  She didn't and couldn't deal with the emotional garbage he was throwing at her and had been every time they seemed like they were getting along.


“I'm not kidding, what the hell is wrong with you?  You found out the day we had Arielle that I couldn't have another baby.  So why would you even say something like that to me?  Are you trying to purposefully hurt me?  What do you think you'll gain from telling me that you wanted another child with me and let it go because you knew it couldn't happen.  It would've never been the same because it would've been impossible even if we did stay together!” Jasina gritted her teeth and could feel the tears sting her eyes, clasping her hands together. “I've moved on and I can't wait to get the hell out of here and away from YOU!” She stormed out of the room and upstairs, not believing how heartless her ex-husband could be, sniffling.


“Goddamn it!” Mark cursed, slapping himself right in the middle of the forehead a bit harder then he intended too, groaning in pain and hunched forward.


He hadn't meant it like THAT.  He had meant it as a sort of compliment.  You'd figure a woman would be pleased to hear she was the only one a guy wanted to have his kids and since she couldn't, he hadn't had kids at all...and he had totally messed up that entire conversation with his fat mouth.  Mark used to be smooth and now he idiot, a fumbling forgetful idiot.  He almost went to go apologize then stopped, knowing now was probably not the time and any apology or explanations he made towards her wouldn’t matter.


“What the HELL is wrong with me?” He grumbled, suddenly needing a beer.




Personally, Mark wasn't sure if sangria was his color, though since he kept his hair dyed and not the natural red, there would be no clashing today.  He wore a tuxedo that had been especially tailored for his frame and it was similar to Steve's, minus a few accessories and a slight variation in cut.  His undershirt was the sangria color and so was his tie, though he sported a bit of gold in the form of a white and gold silk handkerchief in his breast pocket.  He also had a black vest over the sangria shirt so the tie stood out. 


Mark had trimmed his goatee and mustache, even taking Arielle's suggestion for trimming his hair, cutting only a few inches off, mostly dead ends anyway.  He had pulled his hair back into a neat pony tail in the center of the back of his head and borrowed an old can of Arie's hairspray to ensure there would be no flyaways.  Gold watch, cufflinks and he was good to go, he hoped anyway.


“Fuck, forgot the shoes...” They were downstairs, Mark cursing under his breath as he headed down to retrieve them.


Steve looked damn good and Mark didn't hesitate to tell his friend the minute he seen him stepping into the room reserved for the groom, knowing Jasina and Trish were somewhere else in the building. “You clean up damn nice, Austin.”

“Not looking too bad yerself, Calaway.” Steve replied, adjusting his tie in the mirror, wearing a suit very similar to Mark's except he had a gold vest on with a gold tie, a white handkerchief with sangria trim in his jacket pocket. “Can't believe we're finally gettin' married man, it seems like only yesterday we met...”


Grinning, Mark walked over to clamp a hand on his friend's shoulder. “About time you two made it official, I worried ya might wait until you were old and gray.”


Steve snorted at that, turning around. “Alright...Let's- you don't think she's going to get cold feet, do you?”

“No, definitely not.” Given the seriousness Steve had put in that question, Mark figured pointing out that Trish had invested way too much emotionally and financially into this wedding ceremony to back out now. “She loves you, she's not gonna get cold feet.”




The following morning, Jasina was up and out the door before Mark could even bat an eyelash, not wanting to run into him again.  She was fully ready to delve into Trish's wedding, refusing to let anything and anyone destroy her good mood.  It was Trish and Steve's day, nothing else mattered.  John had texted her the previous night wanting to know the time to meet her at the wedding and Jasina gave him the time, hoping he had something that would pass under Trish's approval radar. 


The morning was full of running around, getting nails done with rose petal colored tips and her hair was done as well.  Jasina refused to have any highlights put in her honey chestnut locks, wanting to be natural and Trish had no problem with it.  It was swept up on top of her head in tons of spiral curls, a few tendrils framing her face.  Her makeup was natural tan and browns with pink shimmering gloss. 


Now she stood in front of the mirror in the bridal suite of the chapel, smoothing down the front of the dress.  It was a sangria colored strapless satin A-line dress with a pleated chiffon ruched bodice, the side draping over the stomach region.  The drape hung down the side of the dress, which added to the style. 


A beautiful gold diamond waterfall necklace dangled around her neck that matched her bracelet and small diamond gold stud earrings.  She didn't want anything too drastic and slipped on her gold two inch open-toed heels that strapped up her calves, the dress hiding them for the most part.  All in all, she looked almost as beautiful as the bride, admitting she was nothing compared to Trish.


Trish was radiant in her wedding dress, which was a strapless A-line gown with beaded gold lace and had a scalloped sweetheart neckline.  It had a chapel train that had a gold trim, her heels gold as well.  She had a gold waterfall necklace on that had little sangria colored stones in it along with matching earrings and a bracelet, a sangria and gold clip in her brunette hair. 


Trish definitely wasn't traditional and wanted to incorporate her wedding colors in her dress, knowing she did exactly that.  Her hair was down in tons of loose curls with natural browns for makeup, her lips painted a deep sangria, foundation hiding any flaws.  She looked absolutely stunning and Jasina knew as soon as Steve saw her walk down the aisle, he would probably keel over from a heart attack...especially since the wedding dress only went just to her knees and had a gold lace hem, her legs too beautiful not to be shown.


“Are you ready for this?” Jasina asked with a smile, fixing the train that hung down Trish's arms and went just past her wedding stress, making sure she looked perfect.

“Born ready.”


“Steve isn't gonna be able to keep his eyes off you.” Arielle beamed, standing in a simple strapless gold satin dress with a sweetheart neckline and it was the same length as Jasina's dress. 


She had a sangria colored sash around the waist for style and sangria jewelry, a simple necklace with earrings and bracelet, sangria heels -special ordered- on her feet.  The rest of the bridesmaids looked exactly the same with their hair swept up like Jasina's, the only hair being left down was Trish's.  She walked over to stand beside her mother, looking beautiful as ever and couldn't wait to see what Gary looked like because he was one of Steve's groomsmen.


“I can't wait to see the look on his face!!”

“I can't either.” Jasina looked up when a knock sounded at the door, plastering on a smile at the sight of the Best Man.


“They're about ready to start.” Mark announced, looking Jasina over with wide eyes.


He tried to remember the last time he had seen her looking like this.  She had gone all out for Trish's wedding and looked stunning.  He cleared his throat, looking to Arielle and smiling at her, she looked just as beautiful as her mother.  When his eyes finally landed on the bride, he was speechless, his green eyes widening even more.


“Steve is a damn lucky man, Trish.” He said finally, knowing Steve was probably going to lose his marbles when he saw his bride.


Trish beamed with sparkling white teeth, walking over to straighten Mark's tie a little. “Yes he is.” She agreed, stepping back with a firm nod. “That's much better.  It was a little crooked.  You did very well, Mark.  Thank you so much for being patient with me through this fiasco.”

“Wow Dad, glad to see you took my advice with the hair.” Arielle grinned, walking over next to kiss her father on the cheek. “You look very handsome, doesn't he Mom?”

“Yes he does.” Jasina had to take a drink of water before answering because her throat suddenly became extremely dry, not wanting to sound hoarse when speaking. “We'll be out in just a minute.  Tell Steve not to faint until AFTER the ceremony, please.”


“I think Gary might've slipped him some whiskey into his drink to calm his nerves.” Mark said, bending down so only Jasina could hear him.


Pretty sure Trish would blow a fuse if she thought they were getting started on the reception early.  It wasn't that they were trying to get Steve drunk so much as calm him a bit since the man had begun pacing back and forth.  Openly discussing every aspect of his and Trish's life together so far and if Trish would still want him once they were married.  Steve had been driving himself and everyone else crazy.


“Speakin' of, I got to get back and make sure his breath is minty fresh.  Five minutes and then we're walkin' down the aisle.”


Jasina nodded, locking eyes with him briefly and watched him walk out the door, exhaling slowly.  She immediately snapped out of it, even though Mark left a lingering scent of his cologne in the air, which made her briefly heady.  She nodded at Trish's sister, Margaret, and her fourth bridesmaid, Michelle, LaShonna being in the group too.  There were four bridesmaids and a Matron of Honor, four groomsmen and a Best Man.  They all filed out of the bridal suite with Trish being last of course, heading toward the entrance of the chapel, the doors shut so Steve couldn't see his bride.


Chapter 21


John couldn't believe that he had nearly been late for the wedding, knowing that wouldn't have made a very good impression on Jasina's friends.  Not to mention after all the stories Arielle and Gary had wickedly poured down his ear, he figured Trish might injure him severely.  Though if he could sneak in without anyone seeing him, as long as the wedding hadn’t started, John would be in safe haven, thankful when he arrived the wedding was just about ready to commence.


“Sorry man.” He grunted when he walked into another guy, frowning when he had to look up.  This guy was in the groom’s party, that much was obvious.

“Don't worry about it.” Mark said, waving him off. “Ya here for the weddin'?”

“Yeah, I'm not, um, late am I?”

“Nope, just go through them doors down there and grab a seat, if there are any left.”


John nodded and headed in the direction the man pointed, breathing a huge sigh of relief and didn’t notice the door to the bridal suite open as the women began filing out.


“Mom, is John here?” Arielle quietly whispered, not having spotted him when she walked out to go to the bathroom, the bridal suite not accompanied with one.


“He should be, yes.  I haven't seen him yet.” Jasina murmured back, having told Trish that she had a date for the wedding and nothing more than that.  It was better that way. “Did Gary...?”

“I told him if he uttered a word, he wouldn't have any balls in the morning.”


Jasina nodded and couldn't help chuckling, all women turning to face the groomsmen as they began pairing up.  Arielle blushed at the way Gary looked at her while Margaret had her own husband to walk down the aisle with.  LaShonna had her husband, which was a very good friend of Steve's, and that left just Jasina and Mark standing staring at each other.  When Mark extended his arm, Jasina accepted it as she looped hers through his, standing in the far back since the Matron of Honor and Best Man walked out after the bridesmaids and groomsmen.


“Did you manage to make Steve's breath minty fresh?” Jasina murmured to him, staring straight ahead.


“He damn near swallowed a bottle of Scope, which probably has more alcohol in it than the shot of whiskey did.” Mark murmured back, his eyes also straight ahead though he had a smile on his face. “Arie looks gorgeous, you know she's going to want a weddin' of her own now, right?” He was only half-joking, having seen the way Arielle had watched Trish handle everything and then today she had actually called it all romantic.


John's eyes were fastened on Jasina, wanting to let loose with a catcall or a whistle, but refrained.  He did notice that her ex-husband -The Best Man, best friend of the groom, he had remembered- was also the guy he had bumped into.  Apparently, Jasina hadn’t told Mark about him or else his brains probably would’ve been splattered on the ground and walls of the building.  Then again, John wasn’t exactly a small man and could probably take her ex…maybe.


“Whatever she wants, we'll give her.”


Jasina slowly made her way down the aisle with Mark, the conversation cut short as they moved flawlessly together.  The dress flowed with each step she took and Jasina couldn't help letting tears fill her eyes at the thought of her baby girl getting married.  Then she saw the look on Steve's face, the sheer love shining in his blue eyes and knew without a shadow of a doubt that Trish was his soul mate. 


Releasing Mark's arm once they arrived at the front, each took their rightful places, Steve never taking his eyes from Trish for a second.  Jasina wiped away a tear while holding her bouquet of sangria colored roses with gold glitter on them, seeing the brilliant smile on her best friend's face.  She hoped one day she had the same experience with her soul mate, suddenly remembering her wedding with Mark and how beautiful it had been.


Mark could not believe the way Steve and Trish looked, wondering if they had always stared at each other this way and maybe he had missed it or was used to it so much that it took an event like their wedding to make him recognize it.  Either way, he could tell that no matter how much they may have squabbled or argued over who wore the pants in the family, they genuinely loved each other.  He felt a pang in his chest, knowing he was jealous of them and what they had.


Jasina felt the exact same way, watching and hearing the beautiful vows they wrote for each other.  Trish had someone from the office help Steve with his, but she knew it was ninety-nine percent from his heart.  Jasina clapped loudly along with everyone else when they were finally pronounced husband and wife. 


Steve actually dipped Trish to passionately kiss her, making everyone laughing softly and cheer for them.  They headed down the aisle together as husband and wife, the bridal party following suit with everyone throwing gold rice at them.  There was a huge black stretch hummer limo waiting for the entire bridal party, which Jasina told John about, so he would simply meet her at the reception as they all piled in carefully, not wanting to muse anything.


“You know Dad, don't even think about peelin' that tie off cause there's pictures next once we get there.” Arielle said when it looked like Mark was about to loosen up his clothing, her eyes sparkling wickedly.


“Would you help pay for my wedding?” Arielle asked out of the blue.

“Wait- what?” Gary blinked, wondering where THAT came from.

“Yeah, what- wait a minute, you don't want to marry her?” Mark narrowed his eyes slightly at the boy.

“O-Of course I do, I just want to get to ask the question before she starts hitting you up to pay for anything.” Gary clarified, folding his arms in front of his chest.


“Might as well ask her now because she's been wanting to marry you for quite some time, Gary.” Jasina winked when Gary blushed, giggling softly and was stuck sitting next to Mark the entire way to the reception.

“Calaway, don't even THINK about touching that tie.” Trish ordered gravely, brown eyes narrowed.


Jasina full out laughed when Mark's hands instantly dropped, accepting a glass of champagne, being careful not to spill.

Trish beamed, everyone toasting her and Steve on their marriage.

“Told ya, Daddy.” Arielle whispered, grinning before turning to Gary. “If you even THINK about proposin' to me today, I will gut you.” Arielle informed Gary sweetly, under her breath so nobody else could hear.


Today was about Trish and Steve, not them.

“Sweetheart, when I propose to you, it will definitely not be in front of your parents.” Gary assured her.

“Did you ask them?” Trish asked her husband quietly.

“I thought you did?” When Trish shook her head, the newly married couple smiled sweetly at their respective best friends. “We need babysitters.” Steve announced without preamble.

“Preferably you both since Mark has more experience with babies and Jas, you're great with Stevie.”

“Not to mention if Mark tries to let him stay up late or'd stop that damn quick.” Steve added helpfully.


Mark arched an eyebrow slowly.

“It would mean so much to us...” Trish batted her eyelashes at him.


Jasina still hadn't told Trish about finding a new place to live, not wanting to take any focus off of the bride this week, and slowly looked up at Mark with wide teal eyes.  Just looking into Trish's pleading brown eyes was enough to make Jasina nod, without even discussing it with Mark.  She would have to change her moving arrangements.


“We'd love to...” She ignored the looks that both Gary and Arielle shot her, keeping her smile on when Trish squealed while Steve shook Mark's hand. 


What the hell was she supposed to do? 


Say no to the beautiful pleading bride and groom?


“Great!!  We have a list and their things...and for Emily, she has a rash and-” Steve shut up when he realized Mark was staring at him like he had lost his mind. “Sorry, I know you raised a girl, but...she's MY baby girl.”


“Hey now!  He did a really good job on me!” Arielle defended.

“And your Mom did a great job at polishing you up into becoming a woman instead of just a tomboy.” Trish teased gently, laughing when Arielle nodded her agreement. “They're both great parents.”


It was everything else they sucked at.


“I'll make sure Emily and Stevie are well taken care of, Steve.  So will Mark.”


They were great parents together, but when it came to a relationship, there was a lot of complications and...Jasina suddenly found herself delving into the past again, immediately stopping when the limo came to a halt.  Everyone piled out, Jasina taking the list from Steve and kissed his cheek, wearing smear-free lipstick so there was no mark left behind and then hugged Trish gently.  They snapped what seemed like a gazillion photos before finally heading into the hall, the bridal party announced. 


When it was Mark and Jasina's turn to be announced, she didn't take his arm and simply walked out when their names were called, waving to everyone before immediately heading in the direction of John.  Trish and Steve were next as they waltzed into the room, the spotlight on them.  They took their rightful place at the head table, the room decorated in sangria and gold and looked absolutely exquisite.


John had followed everyone to the reception, glad for the line of traffic to follow.  It meant he wouldn't get lost.  Not to mention he knew absolutely NO ONE here besides Arielle, Gary and Jasina.  He knew Mark by sight now and obviously the couple with the spotlight on them and in the obvious wedding clothes were Trish and Steve.  When he seen Jasina heading towards him, he smiled in relief and went to greet her.  He hesitated at taking her in his arms, wondering if that was a good idea with her ex-husband lurking around.


“Probably not a good idea to kiss you, is it?” John asked with a half-grin.


“Why wouldn't it be?” Jasina replied, confused. “The photos are done and I owe you something for looking as dashing as you do.” She smirked when John blew on his knuckle and brushed his shoulder, giggling at how cute he was.  He wore a simple black suit with a dark blue dress shirt beneath, which brought out his sky blue eyes nicely. “Come here.” She pulled him down for a soft kiss, making sure not to muse up her look and sat down when he pulled out his chair for her. “Such a gentleman, who would've thought?” She joked, laughing when he scoffed and nodded at a waiter who came over with a tray full of different wines and champagne, taking a glass of wine while John already had a beer in front of him, barely touching it.


“Now you know for a fact, I'm more hood rat than gentlemen.” John teased, nodding when Arielle waved at him from where she and Gary were watching the dancing couple. “She looks excited, first time being part of the wedding ceremony?” When Jasina nodded and smiled quizzically at him, he shrugged. “I have three younger brothers and one older, all married.  I've been to several weddings.” He took a sip of his beer, his eyes yet again appraising her appreciatively. “And you are definitely the finest Matron of Honor I have ever seen.”


Jasina blushed while sipping her wine and placed her hand on his thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Thanks, you clean up nice yourself, Cena.”


She winked teasingly, accepting another soft kiss from him and leaned her head on his shoulder while they made idle chatter.  Arielle and Gary walked over to join them at the table along with LaShonna and Henry, everyone wanting to know who Jasina's new flame was.  She introduced him as a friend, hoping John didn't mind that, and was glad he didn't considering they were simply sexing it up with no strings attached.

“Damn girl, where do you find these hunks?”

“Not sure.”


“Hunks, what am I?” Henry teased, pretending to be put out and laughed when LaShonna gently nudged him in the ribs with her elbow.

“You are my incredibly handsome husband, no hunk holds a candle to you.”


All John could do was stare and listen to them, amusement written plainly all over his face. “She met me in a bar.”

“That suddenly explains a lot.” Henry teased, winking at Jasina.


Jasina rolled her eyes, knowing it was ironic since she'd met Randy and Mark in bars before engaging in relationships with them. “Keep it up, Henry.” She never noticed Mark’s eyes hadn’t left her.


“Will ya stop starin' and just go over there?” Steve demanded, staring over at his Best Man, who was brooding with a glass of beer in front of him. “Just ask her to dance.”


Trish had no idea who Jasina was bringing for a date, thinking it would be someone from the office and felt a little betrayed that Jasina hadn't told her about her new flame. “What's his name anyway?”

“No idea, nobody knows him here.”


“Well, I think I'll just go over and introduce myself.” The bride was already on her way over, Steve following suit along with a reluctant Mark.


When John saw the bride, groom and the Best Man coming their way, two out of three wearing stony expressions, he knew he was going to be wearing a smile a bit harder than usual.  When Trish reached the table, he automatically stood up.  LaShonna bit her lower lip nervously, glancing at Mark and then back to Henry, who was just stepping away to let everyone else by.  Taking a cue from her husband, she waved at Jasina and retreated as well.

“I'm Trish Austin, and this is my husband Steve, we're friends of Jasina's.” She introduced politely, the smile never leaving her lips as his blue eyes darted between her, Mark and Steve.  The poor guy probably felt like he was being ganged up on. “You must be Jasina'”


Jasina stood up along with John, smiling softly and watched as John nodded, shaking Trish's hand. “He's a friend of mine.” She clarified, placing a hand on John's and winked when he simply looked back at her with those understanding blue eyes, staring straight at Trish.

“A friend?” Trish tried not to sound condescending, but just the way Jasina kissed John, it was obvious they were more than 'friends'. “Well thank you for coming to my wedding, John.  Tell me, how did you two meet?”

“Emerald City.” Jasina answered before he could. “He's in town to look for a friend, but he lives in Boston.”


While Trish decided to make small talk with John, obviously rooting for more information that what either John or Jasina was willing to come forward with, Mark was getting bored with the whole thing.  He recognized John as the guy he had run into right before the wedding and half-wished he had sent the guy in the opposite direction.  Mostly because Trish was convinced that he was more than Jasina's friend and Mark didn't like admitting that Trish was usually spot on about those kind of things.  Reaching out towards Jasina with an open hand, he flashed her a charming grin.


“Darlin', feel like dancing with the Best Man?” He asked in a slow drawl, extending his hand.

“Oh, then the photographs can get some pictures of you on the dance floor!” Trish squealed with delight.


It was almost like Trish was on his side.


Chapter 22




Jasina knew what Mark was doing and kept the smile on her face, even though it didn't reach her eyes, slipping her hand into his as he guided her to the dance floor.  Just as his arm looped around her waist, ‘Four Seasons of Loneliness’ by Boyz II Men came floating out of the speakers.  It was one of Jasina's favorites and she wondered if it was coincidental.


“I know what you're doing, Calaway.” She murmured softly, reaching up to grip his arm lightly while he took her other hand, their eyes meeting as they began dancing, the song speaking volumes of its own.


His luminescent green eyes were innocent as he stared down at her. “Dancin' with the Matron of Honor?” Mark asked, the corner of his mouth quirking in just the barest hint of a grin, the grin fading as he began listening to the song.


More specifically, the words of the song.


Part of Jasina wanted to run as far away from this dance as possible, but the more she listened to the song, the more it told her and Mark's story.  He had tried so hard to be there for her during the hard months after Randy's death.  Jasina thought at first he was doing it to reap the benefits and take advantage of her vulnerability, which is why she fought so hard against it. 


Teasing him was very wrong, Jasina didn't even know why she did it other than to get a rise out of him purposefully or maybe she did it for a different reason.  Maybe she was hoping deep down that he still held some kind of feeling for her and he did because of that simple kiss in the kitchen those months ago.  Jasina finally knew why she'd been so adamant about finding her own place to live and it was because she was afraid of falling in love with Mark again, falling in love again period.


Trish had turned her attention from John and was now watching the pair dance, sighing softly as she took them in. “You know who it should be out there?” She murmured, all too easily picturing another man with Jasina in his arms.


“Who?” Steve asked his newlywed bride and frowned when a few tears slipped down her cheeks, reaching over to wipe them away.


Arielle sniffled a little because she knew exactly who Trish referred to, feeling Gary's arm wrap around her shoulders, comforting her.

“Randy Orton.”


John had been watching Jasina and Mark dance thoughtfully, only half-listening to the conversation from the newlyweds, Gary and Arielle, idly wondering if Trish had a problem with him or something.  His attention was fully on Gary though, standing up from the table so fast his chair fell backward.  They did not just mention his friend, the guy he’d been searching for since coming to Houston…had they?


“Did you say Randy Orton?” John demanded, almost smiling with relief when Gary nodded. “Man, I've been looking for him for a LONG time and he's been under my nose?  You guys know him?”


“Um...we...knew him…”


John didn't catch the past tense, shaking his head at his own dumbass self.  He could have asked Jasina any time if she knew a Randy Orton and hadn't, not even thinking about it.  Why would she know him?  Showed what he knew.


“Wait Jas and Randy are a thing?” John demanded, blue eyes wide. “Were a thing?”


Arielle's eyes were getting wider and wider, swallowing hard.


Trish swallowed hard, remembering Jasina saying that John was here to look for a friend and looked over at her newlywed husband, more tears filling her brown eyes. “Oh my god...”

“He doesn't know.”


Arielle couldn't even speak, knowing her mother was about to get a rude awakening, her parents dancing no longer the center of attention. “Uhhh...”

Steve wondered what the hell they were supposed to say to John, sorrow filling his blue eyes, clearing his throat. “Come with me, son.” He stood up from the table, which caught Mark's eye and John went with him outside of the reception hall.


Trish locked eyes with Mark, silently telling him not to let Jasina out of his sight until John returned, covering her mouth with her hand. “He knew Randy...and it sounds like it was personal...” She hoped Steve broke the news gently to John, excusing herself to use the restroom to clean herself up.


“Mark, what's wrong?” Jasina asked, looking up at him and had noticed a worried expression cross his face. 


“Nothin' darlin'.”


Mark smiled down at her, unsure of what the hell was going on over there but from the looks of it, nothing pleasant.  He had seen Steve take John off and away, knowing from the incredibly sad look on his friend's face that it wasn't for a beat-down or a game of twenty-one questions.  He could not think of anything that would pierce the happiness of this day for Steve or Trish unless someone had died.  But all their friends and family were here and this somehow involved John.


“You're lying to me.” She didn't stop dancing with him though, refusing to be rude and cause a scene at Trish and Steve's wedding, eyes narrowing slightly. “I can tell when you're lying to me.  I know you better than you know yourself.  What's going on?” Jasina turned her head briefly when Mark twirled her, noticing Arielle and Gary were alone at the table, wondering where John had gone.


“Darlin', if I had any idea, I would tell you, as it stands, my honest answer is: Nothin'.”


Mark had no idea what was happening, therefore he could say nothing and mean it, pulling her back against him.  He frowned when he saw Arielle gesturing towards the reception hall.  He cleared the frown quickly, not wanting to upset Jasina anymore; she seemed to already be getting....peaky.  As soon as the song was over with, she was going in search for John, knowing Trish and Steve must've said something to him to make him leave, frowning.



Don’t go too deep into the flood

Don’t wade too long, you’ll poison my love

Don’t shut me out, don’t hold it all in

Don’t let my venom get under your skin



Steve had no idea how to even begin other than blurting it out, taking a long, deep breath.  Very carefully and slowly, Steve began explaining what happened to Randy.  Including his involvement with Jasina and how their relationship came crashing down because of the plane crash.  It was very hard for Steve to relive and reiterate, but John deserved that much considering how far he’d come to find his friend.


“There were no survivors, son...I'm so sorry.  We tried contactin' everyone and anyone who knew Randy, but the man didn't give us much to go on.” Steve explained solemnly. “He never once mentioned you or we would've contacted you immediately.”


“I would have KNOWN if something happened to Randy, we were practically family.” John said after a long moment of silence, his blue eyes impossibly large, his face pale. “You must have the wrong Randy Orton.  My buddy was about this high with brown hair and-” He trailed off when Steve began shaking his head, his hand, which was now in the air, demonstrating the height, beginning to shake.


Steve nodded solemnly, placing a heavy hand on John's shoulder, feeling the man's body trembling violently. “He was an undercover investigator for the local newspaper here in Houston.  He worked for my wife, Trish.  He had blue eyes, stood over six foot tall and...Jasina was in a relationship with him for four months.  They loved each other deeply.  Randy took a trip overseas to Australia and ended up in a plane crash.” Steve had to reiterate the awful memory because John wasn't understanding, seeing the tears suddenly burn in John's eyes. “His grave is in the local cemetery here in town.”



‘Cause every word and every turn

Every sign points to your hurt

With every hour you’re drifting further away


Come make your peace, come find your way

Come lay your wreath at the altar of change

Don’t lose your step, don’t break the bones

Don’t shoulder your burden out there on your own



John snorted at that, not bothering to hide the tears that were flooding his eyes and down his cheeks, not ashamed of crying.  Randy had been his best friend since college.  Yes, they hadn't seen so much of each other over the past few years due to Randy's constant traveling and John flying back and forth from LA to Boston for talks of expanding his gym and fitness programs.  However, every month at least, they spoke at least once and now, it had never crossed John's mind Randy might be dead.  Not Randy.


“His ashes you mean?” John demanded bitterly, struggling to fight down the pain, the panic, the overwhelming sadness that was threatening to engulf him.


Steve could only nod, removing his hand from John's shoulder, seeing how truly broken up the man was over Randy's death. “I'm gonna head back inside, give ya sometime by yerself, son.  I really am sorry...He was a really good man and Jasina loved him a lot.” He left John with those thoughts and headed back inside the reception to be with his wife, stopping when Jasina came flying at him and stopped her. “Honey, you don't want to go out there right now.”

“Where's John?” Jasina demanded, yanking her arm out of Steve's grasp angrily, having ran away from Mark as soon as the dance ended. “I don't know who the hell-”

“Jasina, listen to me.” Steve ordered in a plea, his tone of voice grave, which immediately shocked her out of her anger. “John was searchin' for his friend, Randy...Orton.”


Jasina paled instantly and felt her eyes nearly bug out of her head, staring at Steve bewildered. “W-What?”


“Jas...John was here lookin' for a friend and that friend was Randy.” Steve said gently, reaching out to steady her when it looked like she was about to fall heads over heels from shock. “He overheard us talkin' about Randy and...Well...he didn't know.”


Steve knew he probably wasn't the right person to have told John all this, but he didn't want a bit scene either, this was a wedding.  His wedding.  Trish's wedding.


Jasina couldn't believe what Steve was telling her, tears filling her eyes.  John was looking for HER Randy the whole time they were screwing around and having sex?  Randy and John were best friends; John had missed Randy's funeral services and everything because Randy hadn't told anyone about his family and friends, including John.  He never once mentioned a John Cena or else Jasina would've contacted him immediately for Randy's services.


“I-I didn't know...” Jasina stammered out, blinking as huge tears slid down her face, seeing all the sorrow in Steve's eyes. “Go back to your wedding reception, Steve.  I'll find him.  This is your big day, don't let this ruin it.” She had to be the stronger person, wiping her tears away without musing her makeup too much and headed out to find John.


Mark arched an eyebrow at Steve when he seen Jasina taking off, having also seen her doing something to her face, frowning slightly.  He wanted to ask his friend just what the hell was going on, but refrained because Steve looked troubled enough and this was a wedding, Steve and Trish' wedding.  They didn't need to look anything except happy.  Instead, he went for Arielle, since she was also sporting a stunned expression.


John was sitting on the ground with his back against the building, his knees drawn up and his face buried in his hands, not caring who seen him crying.



‘Cause every word and every turn

Every sign points to your hurt

With every hour you’re drifting further away


Don’t banish me then bid me home

Don’t tell me where I came undone

Don’t harbor love like it’s all your own

Don’t linger over what you’ve done

Don’t sink underneath the weight of when you’re trying to carry way too much



When she found John, Jasina didn't go to him right away, not exactly sure what to say to him.  How was she supposed to know the Randy he was referring to was the same one she had a four month relationship with and still grieved for on occasion?  Jasina took her heels off and set them on the grass before making her way toward a crying John Cena, her heart breaking at the sight and could already feel tears falling of her own.


“I'm sorry, John.” She finally murmured, watching his head slowly lift as tear-filled blue eyes met sorrow-filled teal.


“You knew him...all this time, he was your dead boyfriend...” John whispered raggedly, not bothering to brush away the tears that flowed down his face, knowing it wouldn’t do any good as he would only cry even more. “And I never once thought of asking you if you might know him...”


Staring at her, he realized full on that this was the woman Randy had loved.  The one he had said he was going to marry in one of their previous phone calls.  John had never even known her name because Randy had teased him mercilessly with it, telling him to come meet her and find out himself.  He had always put it off or something had come up.  This was HER and John had been running around with her having one hell of a time.


Now he was paying for it.


“I know...” She lowered her eyes from his and closed them briefly, knowing Randy hated them both at that moment. 


No, he was dead.  He was nothing more than a spirit and spirits didn't have emotions.  Jasina slowly moved until she was kneeling before John on the grass, scooting between his legs and wiped his tears away with the pad of her thumbs.


“I'm sorry, John.  Randy never once mentioned anything about you because if he had, I would've called you the second I found out about the plane crash.” Jasina sniffled, trying to stay strong. “Even if I did know you were a part of Randy's life...what we've been doing...I wouldn't change it, John.  I wouldn't change it for anything because...he's gone and I've had a great time with you.  I'll understand if you regret it because Randy was your best friend...”


“No...I don't regret's...I don't know...”


John looked away from her, struggling to understand what he was feeling besides the overwhelming grief, and maybe even a hint of guilt.  Definitely guilt.  He knew Randy well enough to know that his friend wouldn't have wanted either him or Jasina to grieve or feel bad for what had happened between them, but that didn't stop him from feeling that way regardless.


“He loved you, really loved you...and I knew about it.  I mean...I didn't know who you were at the time, but...he wanted to marry you, Jasina...and we-” He shook his head, knowing dimly that this wasn't the time to spill everything he was thinking because a lot of it was grief-induced.


“Don't say anything else, please.” Jasina held her hand up to stop John from opening his mouth, taking a deep breath, knowing this was the end of their fling.  He found his friend and now it was time for him to go back to Boston while she stayed here to once again pick up the pieces of her abused heart. “I understand perfectly.” She leaned forward, brushing her lips against his without preamble and pulled back to stand up in front of him. “The cemetery is about fifteen minutes from here, if you want to visit his grave.  It's near the back with a huge black and green mixed tombstone.  Take care of yourself, John.”


That was her way of saying goodbye. 



And you never should have let go

You could have joined in the whole show

I never should have let go

You never should have let go


‘Cause every word and every turn

Every sign points to your hurt

With every hour you’re drifting further away

Now you’re drifting further away

‘Cause you’re drifting further away

And you’re drifting further away



Jasina watched him slowly nod, cracking a hesitant smile before turning and heading back inside, picking her heels up in the process.  John watched her walk away and knew he should probably stop her, say something to let her know he wasn't trying to say goodbye, but...he couldn't.  Everything was still too fresh and, honestly, he needed to be alone right now. 


Pushing himself to his feet, John stuffed his hands in the pockets of his slacks and headed for the parking lot.  Eventually he would see her again, maybe, and then they could try this conversation again.  But he was hurting and had a feeling that learning who he was in relation to Randy had hurt her all over again.


Chapter 23


After stopping in the bathroom to fix herself up the best she could, Jasina finally made her way back into the reception hall, sighing when Trish instantly came up to her, managing to put a smile on her face. “I'm alright.” She said before the question could even pop out of her mouth. “Sorry about that, honey.”

“What happened?  Where is he?”

“Gone.” That smile never left, though Jasina felt like crawling in a hole and never coming out again, but refused to ruin her best friend's wedding day. “Let's talk about it later, okay?  This is your wedding day, it's supposed to be a celebration.”


Trish frowned when Jasina merely hugged her and headed back to the table, watching her just as Steve walked up to ask her to dance. “Do you think she'll be okay Stevie?” She asked quietly while they swayed together, staring into his blue eyes.

“Only time will tell, honey.”


Arielle had sent both her Dad and Gary packing with a threat that involved Trish's sisters and one of the female guests, who had a bit too much to drink already, and a well spun story that would definitely get both men on Trish's shit list.  Once they had taken the hint and gone away to brood and glare at her, Arielle made her way to her mom.  Seeing the way too bright smile on her mother's face didn’t fool her for a second.


“Mom, is everything okay?” She asked slowly, already knowing everything wasn't.


“Let's talk about it later, Arie.” Jasina softly requested, taking a glass of champagne off a server's tray that passed her, sipping it gently. “I don't want to ruin Trish and Steve's big day with meaningless personal stuff.” She sat down at the table with Arielle still looking worried, winking to assure her everything was fine.

“Where's John?”

“Gone.” Jasina drained her champagne, knowing later on she would more than likely cry herself to sleep.


“Mom, is it really a good idea for him to be...out right now?” Arielle asked slowly, knowing Jasina had basically told her to drop the subject for now and ignored it. “I mean he gets lost all the time, even with a GPS and he's probably-” She shut up when she realized she was probably going to make things worse for her mother, which meant ruining whatever composure Jasina had left. “I'm going to go over there...with- Hi Dad, I thought I told you to go away?”

“Darlin’, you go away.” Mark shot back, nodding when Arielle glanced worriedly at Jasina and set down in Arielle's chair once she had vacated.


“I don't want to talk about it.” Jasina didn't look at Mark when she said that, keeping her eyes focused on the dance floor, just wanting to enjoy what was left of the reception. “I'll talk about it later, but not at our best friends' wedding.”


If Mark so much as uttered the names John or Randy, she would go to another table away from him, not about to walk out of the reception.  When another server passed by with a tray full of alcohol, Jasina opted for the sangria wine, taking her time with it.  Nodding, Mark let her take one sip of her wine before plucking the flute from her hand and setting it down on the table.  Ignoring the look Jasina shot him, he stood up and took her hand, pulling her up with him.


“Come on darlin', put on your best happy face and at least pretend to have a good time.” Mark tried persuading, pulling her out towards the dance floor.  If it was a slow song, he could dance and since she obviously needed a distraction, what better way to do it? “Come on Jas, one dance.” He coaxed when she appeared a bit reluctant.


“You already had a dance.” Jasina reminded him, though she knew what Mark was doing.


Deciding it couldn't hurt to dance again with her ex-husband and the Best Man, Jasina slipped her hand into Mark’s.  He was also stopping her from drinking, which both annoyed and relieved Jasina all at once.  She sighed when another good song began floating through the speakers, Mark leading the way as he swept her across the dance floor along with the other guests.  Arielle and Gary joined them moments later.


“So what if I already had a dance, there a rule sayin' there's a limit?” Mark teased gently.


“I suppose not.” Jasina admitted softly, enjoying the feeling of being in his arms and immediately pushed those thoughts away.  After the John disaster, Jasina wondered if maybe she was meant to be alone since every attempt at having a boyfriend backfired.  Hell, John wasn't even her boyfriend and THAT even backfired!! “So, what do you think of us being a team for the week with Emily and Little Stevie?” She asked just as Mark twirled her, pulling her back into his arms.


“So long as you don't try to tell me how to handle a baby, I think we'll get along just fine.”


Mark was only half-joking because a lot of women still liked to heckle him about his methods.  Even though, as far as he was concerned, Arielle had turned out just fine, a bit mouthy, but given who her parents were...that was to be expected.  Not to mention, Jasina had been there for the later years, thank God, so Arielle had definitely turned out better than anticipated.


“We'll be fine, darlin', it'll do us some good to have munchkins around.”


“I hate to burst your bubble, but I am still moving into my new place tomorrow.  I tried calling to reschedule the move in date, but my realtor couldn't do it.  If I don't move in, I'll have to give up my house and lose my deposit.” That wasn't happening, not after how long it took her to find it. “So you'll have to keep the kids for at least a few days so I can get my things moved from the ranch to my new place.”


Trish and Steve had totally sprung this on her and if Mark couldn't help her out, then she would simply hire someone or tell her friends to find someone else.  For once, Jasina was thinking of herself instead of everyone else around her, needing to get away from the ranch and any memories she had with her exes.  If that bothered him, Mark didn't show it, simply shrugging his massive shoulders while never missing a step of the dance.


“That's fine, take all the time you need.”


Mark wasn't a complete idiot when it came to children and decided right then and there to not mention this to Steve or Trish since they would probably flip out.  Then again, that sucked to be them, springing this at the last minute.  However, they would also owe him and Jasina because this was a major deal to dump on someone with only a few hours notice.


“Thank you, Mark.” Jasina smiled genuinely up at him, not able to wait to move out of the ranch. “I have a moving truck coming at nine AM tomorrow with movers who will take care of everything.  I have several stops to make on the way to the house because I bought all new furniture for my new place.” She explained, actually sounding happy about the move and knew Mark would be busy with an infant little girl and a boy toddler. “I'm sure they'll enjoy spending quality time with their Uncle Marky.”


“Emily thinks pullin' my hair is the best thing ever and Stevie is going to learn how to drive a hammer and nails.” Mark's green eyes lit up at the thought, envisioning giving the boy a small hammer to bang things with at home, which would in turn drive his best friend and new wife right up a wall. “Yeah...we're going to have a damn good time.  The kids and I will stay outside in the mornin' to keep out of the way.”


Jasina could see the evil glint in Mark's eyes and knew he would purposefully show the kids ways of making their parents' lives miserable.  When the dance ended and another song began, Jasina just kept dancing with Mark, both of them making small talk about what the next week involved.  It was time for the cake cutting and Jasina laughed when Trish shoved cake in Steve's face after he smashed some in hers lightly.  Once everyone had a slice, it was time for Trish to toss the bouquet, all the women gathered around...only for Jasina to catch it, her eyes widening slightly. 


She hadn't even tried catching it, the flowers simply landed in her hands and Jasina immediately flashed a smile when cheering followed.  Then it was Steve's turn to toss Trish's sangria colored garter, delving his bald head beneath the dress and pulled it off with his teeth, hearing cat calls and whistles behind him.  He then tossed it over his shoulder, wiggling his pale eyebrows at Trish and chuckled when she gave him a heated look that promised naughty things to happen on their wedding night.


Arielle began giggling when the garter landed right on her Dad's shoulder and then onto Gary's head, since they were standing shoulder to shoulder away from the men and yet... “Nice throw Steve!”


Mark was staring down at his future-son-in-law, smirking. “You're next.”

“Jasina caught the flowers and it hit YOUR head...” Gary muttered, blushing when he got whistled at, pulling the garter off his hair.


Jasina giggled softly at Gary, kissing the top of his head while she went off to laugh with Arielle, both of them finding it amusing.  The rest of the reception was great with great memories and moving moments.  Trish and Steve took off for their honeymoon, Steve thrusting a list at Mark quickly about what to do regarding their children, before slipping into the limo that would take them to the airport.  Jasina promised Trish that everything would be fine with her children, knowing the woman would worry anyway. 


Once they were gone, Jasina decided to call it a night and headed out of the reception with the rest of the bridal party.  The hummer limo took them back to the chapel, where all of their cars were waiting.  Jasina headed back to the ranch first and finally let the few tears slip down her cheeks, looking over at the passenger seat where the beautiful gold and sangria colored bouquet lay, wondering what kind of message the universe was trying to send her.


Mark was going to KILL Steve and Trish for this.


The idiots had packed bags for their kids, which was great.  However, he had no place for Emily to sleep and he hadn't even thought about that until he was inside his ranch.  With Emily in one arm, little Stevie draped over his shoulder, Mark had several bags and a pink diaper bag hanging from his forearms.


“Christ...” He muttered, managing to kick the door closed behind him with his foot.


Finally deciding that he was just going to make JR up a bed on the loveseat, Mark was sleeping on the couch with Emily on his chest.  He'd get her a play pen -or whatever they were called these days- in the morning.  Jasina had stopped at the store, knowing Mark didn't have anything for Emily, and walked through the door about an hour later, carrying a pack-n-play.  She walked into the living room, seeing Mark was settling down on the couch with Emily, still in her Matron of Honor gown and began setting it up while Mark simply stared at her with wide green eyes.


“I figured you'd gotten rid of Arielle's baby furniture, so I stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up this.” Jasina said, looking at him. “It's a playpen, but it comes with an attached bassinet and changing table. It’s called a pack-n-play.”


Mark groaned softly, watching her and then arched an eyebrow. “What the hell does it need all that for?”


It looked like a playpen only with a mini table on top and a scooped soft bucket.  When Jasina tried pulling the now sleeping Emily off his chest, he had to bite his lip when Emily latched onto his now loose hair.  He didn’t want to wake either her or Stevie.


“Here.” Mark grunted, reaching up to begin the untangling process, remembering how Arielle used to do the same. “What would I do without ya, darlin'?” He rumbled once she had Emily in her arms, sitting upright.


“Precious little angel...” Jasina cooed gently to the baby girl in her arms, rocking her a little when she squirmed slightly. “That's my girl.” She gently set Emily in the bassinet and covered her up with her baby pink blanket, smiling softly when the little girl instantly fell back asleep. “Come into the kitchen so we don't disturb her.” She whispered, taking Mark's hand and guiding him out of the living room since Little Stevie had just gotten to sleep too. “I'm having a little toddler bed delivered here tomorrow for him so you can put him in the guest room and keep Emily with you in your room in the pack-n-play.”


“Jasina, you don't have to do that, it's no trouble.” Mark said softly, not wanting her to spend a wad of money when he would only have the kids for a week or so. “We can make do.  I was planning on puttin' Stevie in Arie's old room, I think I still have the bedrails I used for Arielle when she moved out of her crib...” the basement...or was it in the garage?  He shook his head, stifling a yawn. “Appreciate it though, let me pay you-” He frowned when she began shaking her head. “At least let me pay for half.”


“No, it wasn't that expensive so don't worry about it.  The most important thing is they both have places to sleep that are comfortable and safe.” Jasina stated, pouring herself a glass of wine, desperately needing it after the day she had.  She still couldn't believe John was Randy's best friend...and Randy never mentioned him once or anyone up north for that matter. “Thanks for keeping the kids for a few days, I'll do my half at the end of the week once everything is settled in my new house.” Jasina honestly wanted to forget about meeting John Cena and everything she'd done with him, hoping Mark never found out about their night of passion in his house.


“Don't worry about it.”


Mark shrugged, deciding since he no longer had to worry about Emily sleeping on him he could shed the shirt and began unbuttoning the dress shirt he had only managed to un-tuck.  His shoes now hidden under the couch where he wouldn't have to see them for at least another six months.  Once he had the shirt undone, he stopped, deciding to leave it on for now, not wanting to make her uncomfortable given the night she had had.


“How're you holdin' up?” Mark asked quietly, having sort of gotten the story from Arielle. 


“I'm as good as can be expected.” Jasina answered honestly, looking up at  him sadly. “I wasn't even in a relationship with John, but...I felt a connection and it was because of Randy.” She could already feel the tears building, stopping them from falling because Jasina was honestly tired of crying. “I'm just trying to get through all of this and...Every time I feel like I'm getting somewhere, I keep failing at every turn.” She took another sip of wine to calm her nerves, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Hopefully this house will finally give me some peace of mind and help me move on completely from everything.”


He was gathering from the way she had said all that that Jasina was done seeing John.  Mark was surprised to find that instead of having a pleased, satisfied feeling about that, he felt sympathy for her.  She wasn't having the best luck with relationships this past year.


“You're not failin' at anythin, Jasina.  Shit eventually has to get better.” He said after a moment, figuring if she had hit rock bottom then the only direction to go from there was up.


“Yes I am.” Jasina shot back softly, lowering her eyes from his and moved to pull herself up on the counter, holding her glass of wine. “Ever since we split up, I haven't had any luck.  The guys either die on me or I screw them for shits and giggles, only to find out that they know my exes.” She laughed bitterly, shaking her head and finally let a few tears fall that she simply couldn't hold back. “You are the only relationship that I had longevity with and the worst part of it all is that John told me Randy wanted to marry me...”


That hurt her more than anything because Jasina wasn't aware that Randy felt THAT strongly about her.  It made her realize how ridiculous their final moments were together when they should've been loving instead of heartbreaking.  Sighing inwardly, Mark got up to retrieve a dish towel since his handkerchief was in his now discarded suit jacket and he wasn't carrying his usual bandana in his back pocket, not in these slacks.  He held it out to her, kneeling down by her chair and pressed it into her still hands, wondering why he was always passing her something to mop up her tears.


“He loved you, darlin'.  Even I could see that.” Mark said softly, knowing that wouldn't help, but…it was true. “He'd want you to be happy.”


She'd heard it so many times and Jasina was tired of it, not bothering to take the dish towel while Mark wiped her tears away. “Don't you think I want to be happy?  I've been trying everything in my power to move on and be happy, but at every turn I've been knocked down.  I'm sick of it.  I'm tired of having moments where I THINK I'm happy, only to come to harsh realizations that it's all a hoax.” Jasina slowly looked up at her ex-husband, seeing all the concern and sadness swimming in his green eyes, suddenly not able to stand it. “I'm going to bed, I have to get up early for the movers and you need all the rest you can get because of the two munchkins.”


Mark nodded, knowing him showing her sympathy was probably the very last thing Jasina wanted right about now.  That and his advice, both things she could do without no doubt.  He wondered if maybe she should just leave Houston altogether, but then scrapped that.


She wouldn't leave her job or Arielle and he didn't blame her.  He also did not want to see her go, but knew better than to admit that outside his own head.  She had made it known that they were over, several times.


“Yeah, good night darlin'.” Mark said finally, deciding he would move Emily and Stevie upstairs tomorrow, they could all sleep in the living room tonight because he had  no interest in relocating the now set up pack-n-play.


Chapter 24


The following morning, Jasina was up after getting zero sleep because she had spent the night crying and having nightmares of Randy and plane crashes.  John was even in one and died in a plane crash, which is when Jasina decided she wasn't going back to sleep.  She spent the majority of her morning drinking coffee and directing traffic to the movers, making sure none of her furniture was damaged and that they didn't damage anything in the guest room.  When the final piece was packed into the truck, Jasina turned to Mark and managed to flash a small smile, extending her hand to him, watching as his swallowed hers like always.


“Thank you for letting me stay here.” She said appreciatively, smiling. “I'll never be able to repay you and...I'm sorry about everything that's happened.”


Mark had brought the kids in when he seen the last of Jasina's things being loaded into the back of the moving van, knowing she would be leaving as soon as possible. “Anytime darlin' and don't be sorry.” Mark said, squeezing her hand gently before letting go.

“Is Aunt Jazzy leavin?” JR asked, tugging on Mark's jeans to get his attention, smiling when his giant uncle looked down at him then pointed to his aunt.

“Yeah lil man she is, but yer going to see her real soon, okay?” Mark grinned when JR nodded and hugged Jasina before letting go, showing her his new hammer. “He even gets to take that home with him.” Mark chortled evilly.