"So, what do you think?" John asked Jack, sitting down in the chair opposite his desk.
Jack leaned back in his chair. "Honestly? I think it's your best work, no question. It's poignant and honest. Reminds me of why I was so insistent you write a novel in the first place. It has all the passion of your earlier work. It might have taken you till the eleventh hour to deliver, but it was definitely worth it."
"What do you think Adam will say?"
Jack let out a contemplative sigh. "Well, I know the genre change will take him by surprise, but I've never known him to turn down an opportunity to make money. He sees the profit, I see the talent. So, don't worry about him. There's no way I will let this one go," he said assuredly.
Jack's confidence put John at ease. Admittedly, he was uneasy about changing his established genre, but the words had flowed so naturally that he couldn't stop himself from pursuing it. It was the most meaningful thing he had written, far surpassing his previous work, and he knew it. John was intimately connected to it—connected to its inspiration.
"I do have one slight concern," Jack said, looking squarely at John and leaning forward, putting his forearms on the desk.
"Which is?" he asked as he leaned forward and prepared himself for Jack's criticism.
"Have you told her?" he asked, concern and hesitation evident in his question.
John sighed and shook his head. "Not yet, but I will—soon."
"Ya shouldn't be here. You should be at home restin' and y'know it," Martha said indignantly, leaning against the counter, arms crossed. She was beyond frustrated that Rose had decided to come to the shop today. She had tried everything short of sitting on her to prevent her from coming, but Rose had been adamant and therefore, beyond reason. Business had been slow so far, but nonetheless, Martha didn't want her working.
Rose rolled her eyes. "I spent almost two weeks lyin' around in a hospital bed and nearly went barmy. I don't wanna do the same thing at home. I just want to get back to my normal routine; and normally I'm here. So quit being so fussy!"
Martha huffed in annoyance. "It wasn't 'lyin' around', Rose. It's called recovering. And I'm not bein' fussy. I'm being practical."
"Whatever. Either way, it's annoyin'. Just stop complainin' and be happy to have me around, yeah?" Rose said, bumping Martha's arm playfully.
Martha sided before giving her a quick side hug. "Ya know I'm beyond happy that you're back here with me. I just don't want you to push yourself too much. We all have a breakin' point."
Rose returned her hug and gave her a quick peck on the forehead. "I know, love. But, can ya stop being so overprotective? Just for a bit?"
"You're one to talk, y'know," Martha countered, arching an eyebrow at her; but on seeing the expression on Rose's face, she relented. "Fine. I'll try. No guarantees. You're my sister and it's what we do."
Rose smiled and gave her another quick hug.
"Y'know I'm proud of you, yeah?"
Rose looked at herconfusedly and Martha continued, "About John. I know it's not easy for you."
She nodded before shrugging her shoulders. "I'm not really doin' anythin'... I... I'm actually kinda nervous 'bout 'im comin' over tonight. I don't know why; it's not like I've never been on a date—although, I don't think you can really count this as a date. Not that I want it to be," Rose added, feeling the need to clarify even though it was a blatant lie, whether or not she chose to acknowledge it or not.
Martha chose to forego arguing about that last statement, and merely shrugged. "It's close enough for now. I'm just happy ya actually asked him to do somethin'."
Before they could continue the subject, Donna walked in and did a double take upon seeing Rose.
"What are you doin' here?" she demanded, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at Rose.
"Good to see you too, Donna," Rose said with a smile.
Donna was unfazed. "You just got out of hospital, you nutter! The last thing you should be doin' is working."
"That's what I said—minus the "nutter" part. But she's too bleedin' stubborn to listen to sense," Martha huffed.
Rose let out a frustrated growl, running a hand through her hair. "Listen you two—I'm fine. I'm just makin' drinks—s'not exactly hard labour. So please, just button it."
Martha and Donna both grumbled some things under their breaths before Donna gave her order.
"Come sit with me. You're not busy right now, and we haven't talked in ages," Donna said as Rose handed her the drink.
Rose smiled as she said, "I'd love to." She quickly made herself a latte and the two of them went to the back and sat on the sofa. Donna took a sip of her drink and gave a pleased hum.
"So tell me about what's going on between you and my brother," she said rather nonchalantly as she took another sip.
Donna's topic of choice caught Rose off guard and her eyes widened in slight surprise. She let out small chuckle as she said, "You never were one to beat around the bush. What exactly do ya wanna know?"
Donna shrugged. "I don't know. Just give me something. It's like pullin' teeth trying to get John to tell me anythin'."
Rose gave a small bashful smile, tucking her hair behind her hair in nervousness. "Well…I really like 'im."
"Well, I knew that! I'm not completely daft, ya know. I've known that little tidbit for weeks. Give me somethin' new, somethin' juicy."
Rose couldn't help but laugh at Donna's eager manner. "I honestly don't know what to tell ya."
"You're no help," Donna huffed, taking another sip. After a pause, she continued, "I'm glad you two met. You're both better for it."
"What makes you say that?" Rose inquired curiously, but feeling herself inwardly fidget at the route of the conversation.
"You both seem more…I don't know…alive, I guess. John's always been a bit manic—never stopping for a minute. But recently, it seemed to me to be more because he just didn't know what to do with himself or where he belonged—kinda like he was searching without realizing it. But since he's met you, he seems to have direction—like he has a purpose."
For some unknown reason, that statement struck a chord with Rose and she felt her breath briefly catch.
Donna continued, "And you—you seem to have this spark in your eyes now. You're just…different when I see you together. You seem happier."
Rose smiled and looked down at her hands, and said quietly, "I…I am happier with 'im."
Donna's eyes softened and she smiled at her. "Then for heaven's sake, do something about it!"
John knocked on the door and tried to quell the nervousness that was brewing within him. He chastised himself for his foolishness.
It's not like this is a first date. I mean, I've been over here frequently—no need to feel like a nervous schoolboy.
He knew what made this time different though—Rose had actually been the one to ask him to come over. It was the first move she had made and it hadn't gone unnoticed by him. In fact, it had fueled his hope and determination.
Martha opened the door for him and as he entered, she said, "Y'know, you don't have to wait for one of us to answer the door. I think that after everythin' we've been through together, you can come an' go as you please."
That gesture took John completely by surprise, and caused him to literally stop in his tracks. "Seriously?"
Martha looked at him like he was daft for questioning her. "Of course. S'not as if you're some random bloke. You're practically part of our lives now."
John couldn't begin to fathom what he could possibly have done to deserve these people. His life had never felt so full, so complete as it did now. He beamed at her and the two of them went into the living room where Mickey was sprawled out on the couch watching a match. At their approach, he turned his head and greeted John. As his eyes went back to the screen, they caught a glimpse of a bag in John's hand.
"What's in the bag?"
John had forgotten that he had brought a bag. His memory now jogged, he looked at the bag and said, "It's something for Tony. I've been meaning to give it to him for a while and I finally remembered to bring it with me. Where is he anyway?"
Mickey nodded towards the kitchen. "He's helpin' Rose cook. He probably just didn't hear ya come in."
Without hesitation, John turned and walked towards the kitchen, Mickey's shouts of protest at the telly echoing behind him. When John got to the kitchen, he saw Rose at the stove, stirring what smelled like alfredo sauce. Tony was at the table, running a block of cheese slowly across a grater, his brow furrowed and tongue out in concentration.
Rose heard John's approach and looked up at him and smiled. At seeing her, his own face burst into a smile without any effort on his part.
"Hello," he said with a little wave.
"Hello. We're almost ready. Aren't we, Tony?" she said, half turning her body towards Tony.
Tony looked up from his task and smiled. "Yep!" He put down the now tiny block of cheese and went to hug John, but before he could reach him, Rose grabbed ahold of his collar and stopped him.
"Aaat! You have cheese all over your hands. Go wash up! John doesn't need you using 'im as a napkin."
Tony stuck his lip out in irritation, but quickly went to clean up.
John moved toward her. "Would you like some help?"
"Actually, I'm okay," she said, picking up the plate of grated cheese that Tony had left on the table. "I'm just gonna add this and everythin' should be done in a few minutes. What's that?" she asked as she caught sight of the bag.
"Surprise for Tony."
"What is it?"
"That would be telling. You'll just have to wait till later!" he said, grinning at her. Rose rolled her eyes good-naturedly and smiled.
In short order, dinner was ready. They all sat down, and once again, fell into easy conversation. John cherished these times with them. He was amazed that he fit so easily within this family dynamic. He didn't feel like an outsider looking in—he felt at home in a way he hadn't experienced before. It wasn't as if his own family was cold or that he never felt like he belonged. This was a feeling in another league entirely. The way John felt being there—being with Rose, in particular—was something unique; there really wasn't a way to compare the two.
Tony had seen the bag John had brought for him, and all through dinner, had pressed him about what it contained. John assured him that he would find out after dinner. So the second dinner was over, Tony leapt out of his chair, took John's hand and the bag, and bolted towards the living room. The rest of them soon followed, and when they finally made their way into the room, they saw Tony holding a medium sized sphere. He looked up at John expectantly, eager for him to explain the object.
"Remember when we first met and you mentioned Rose took you to the planetarium?" he asked him.
"This," John said, smiling, "is like a mini planetarium. You plug it in, turn off the lights, and it shines the stars and constellations onto the ceiling. Now you can turn your room into outer space any time you want."
Tony's eyes were wider than he had ever seen them. The little boy looked at the object in wonder, holding it as if it was the most precious object in the world—to him it was.
"This…is…AWESOME!" He carefully put the object down and then threw his arms around John's neck. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" he chanted, bouncing in excitement.
Chuckling, John hugged him back.
"Can we turn it on now? Oh! Let's use it down here! The ceiling is much bigger. Please?!" Tony squealed excitedly and turned from adult to adult, looking for permission from any one of them.
Rose beamed at his enthusiasm and nodded yes. "Sure, sweetheart."
John and Tony began clearing away objects off the floor. Mickey and Martha decided to go out for a while, saying they wanted some time to themselves. While John and Tony made the area acceptable for "stargazing," Rose cleaned up the kitchen. When she was finished, she found them lying on the floor with John describing the various constellations. On hearing Rose come in, Tony rolled onto his stomach and looked at her.
"C'mon, Rose. John's tellin' me about Cass-e-o…what's it called?" he asked looking over at John.
"Right. That. C'mon, Rose!" he implored.
Smiling at his exuberance, Rose walked over to them. Tony was next to the sofa, which meant the only place Rose could lie down was next to John. She was grateful that the room was mostly dark; that way, John wouldn't be able to see her blush. The three of them laid there as John told them various legends and both Rose and Tony asked questions. Before too long, Tony had drifted off during one of John's stories with his arm draped across John's chest. Rose and John continued to lay there quietly looking up at the "stars."
"They finally told me what happened—how I ended up in hospital," Rose said, breaking the silence yet keeping her eyes upward.
John turned his head towards her. "You okay?"
Slowly, Rose met his gaze. "Yeah…I mean I guess as okay as you can be with gettin' hit by a car. I still don't remember it. The last thing I remember is…," she trailed off and diverted her eyes.
"Us fighting," he finished knowingly.
Rose gave a barely perceptible nod.
"I'm so sorry. You have no idea how terrible I feel about that night." Rose could hear the regret and hurt in his voice.
"S'not all your fault, y'know. It wasn't exactly a shining moment for either of us." After a brief pause, she continued. "Before that, the evening was rather…"
She turned her gaze back to him. "Rather perfect."
John grinned at that. "Yeah?"
His grin broadened and she smiled that tongue in teeth smile that, unbeknownst to her, he adored.
Tony began to squirm, causing Rose and John to divert their attention to him. Seeing the lateness of the hour, she reluctantly began to get up. "Can ya help me get 'im upstairs? He's got school tomorrow, and he won't sleep good if he's on the floor."
In a matter of seconds, John had swiftly moved the little boy so that he was now cradled in his arms. They both went up to his room, and John laid Tony gently down in bed, careful so as not to wake him. He pulled the covers closely around Tony and softly kissed his forehead. John and Rose walked together to the door, both reminiscing about the last time they did this very thing. As she went to open the door for him, John grabbed her hand, causing her to look up at him.
"Rose?" he said hesitantly.
"I'm going to kiss you now, okay?"
He saw fear flash in her eyes and, for a fleeting moment, feared she would retreat yet again. But to his surprise, she faintly nodded. Cautiously, he lowered his lips to hers. It wasn't anything earth shattering or spellbinding, and in no way did it meet the promising intensity of the one they had shared that tragic night. Rather, this kiss was simply a promise. When they broke apart, they met each other with soft smiles. John faintly grazed her cheek with his knuckles.
"I'll see ya tomorrow?" Rose asked, her voice filled with quiet hope.
He grinned down at her. "Count on it."