As he approached the door, John felt his palms become sweaty and his stomach begin to somersault. He hoped that he'd read the address right, considering Rose had scribbled it in a hurry on her way into the shop. But based on the child's bicycle and various toys in the small front yard, John felt fairly certain that he had the right address. A few moments after pressing the doorbell, a man answered the door, wearing a friendly, yet puzzled expression on his face. John immediately recognized him from the photo he'd seen at the coffee shop, and for a horrifying moment, feared that maybe this man was Rose's boyfriend. That is until he saw the gold wedding band on his hand.
"Can I help you?" the man asked, still smiling.
Only when he opened his mouth to answer, did John realize that he had been holding his breath. "Yes-hi, I'm John...John Noble. I was-" He was cut off by a voice he recognized as Martha's in the background.
"Who is it, Mick?" she asked, coming to the door to see for herself. On seeing him, she smiled and said, "Hey, John! C'mon in. Mickey, this is the bloke Rose said was comin' over. He's Donna's brother. John, this is my husband Mickey."
Mickey smiled and shook his hand. "Nice to meet ya, John. You must be the one Tony has talked about almost nonstop."
Even though John could tell his smile was genuine, he still felt like Mickey was making a silent study of him. It made him slightly uncomfortable—like he was meeting a girl's father for the first time.
Which of course isn't the case, because this is most certainly not a date, John reiterated to himself.
As he entered the home, he was hit with the tantalizing aroma of banana, butter, and vanilla. Taking in his surroundings, he couldn't help but notice that Rose was nowhere in sight. Before John could inquire about her, Tony came down the stairs, still clad in his Superman jimjams, plopping one foot in front of the other and rubbing his eyes. On seeing John, he gave a sleepy smile and eagerly ran to hug him. Martha and Mickey both smiled at the interaction.
Yawning, Tony greeted him. "Hi, John!"
"Good morning, Tony. You sleep well?"
Still rubbing his eyes and taking another long yawn, he said, "Yeah, but now I want pancakes. Aunt Martha, are they ready?"
"Soon, love. Rose woke up late this mornin', so she's running a lil' behind," Martha said smilingly, ruffling his hair.
"Does she need any help?" John asked rather hopefully.
"Uh, I'm not sure. You can check with her. She's in the kitchen—it's just through there," Martha said, pointing the way.
John made his way towards the kitchen while the other three went into the living room. As he got nearer to the kitchen, he heard a beautiful, melodic humming. As he reached the doorway, John saw Rose swaying slightly back and forth, humming some tune he didn't know. She was in an oversized, well-worn hoodie and shorts. He thought the outfit a contradiction, but considering it showed off her long shapely legs, he didn't find any fault with it. Her long blond hair was up in a messy bun on the top of her head, with a few strands framing her face and grazing her neck. John had to make a conscious effort to breathe, because he found looking at her made the task too difficult to do involuntarily. He couldn't think of anything more captivating than this woman gently swaying back in forth, the rays of sunlight highlighting her soft features. For a moment, John forgot why he had come into the kitchen. Finally, his thoughts came back to him.
He cleared his throat, and smiling asked, "Do you need any help?"
Rose slightly jumped at his unexpected voice and inadvertently touched the skillet, stumbling back in pain.
"Ow! God that hurt!" she yelped, grabbing her hand and biting her lip.
John rushed over to her. "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to scare you! Here—let me see," he said, taking her hand in his. Seeing a small red welt forming, he picked up the cloth from off the counter and wet it with some cold water, never letting go of her hand. He didn't think he could let go of her, even if he wanted. Taking the rag, he gently put it the burn. He felt a small shiver, unsure if it was from him or her.
"You alright?" he asked, worry and concern evident in his face. Rose held his gaze, and John felt the shiver again.
"Uh…yeah. The rag's just cold," she said, quickly averting her eyes as her cheeks began to pink.
If John thought her breathtaking before, then he had no words for what she at that moment. Trying to focus on anything besides her gorgeous face, he turned his gaze to the task at hand. Suddenly, Rose's head shot upward and she pulled away from him, running over to the stove.
She flipped the pancake over to reveal a circle of solid black. "Crap! Well…," she sighed, turning to John. "This one's yours for scaring the life outta me," she teased, poking a little bit of tongue through her teeth as she smiled.
John pouted briefly before breaking out into a grin. "Don't I get any points for coming in to help in the first place? Plus, I did just give you exceptional First Aid."
"Oh, alright. Next time though, you burn it, you eat it!"
"Weelll, technically, you burned it, so I think I should be exempt from punishment."
She turned, spatula in hand and swatted at him, but still smiling, said, "Don't anger the person makin' your food. It never ends well."
It was then that Mickey came in whining, "Rose, step it up! I'm gettin' ready to eat the batter if you're not done soon."
Rolling her eyes, she took the spatula to Mickey. "You're worse than Tony. Gimme like ten more minutes, yeah? Unless you wanna go at it?" she suggested, holding the spatula out to him.
Mickey shook his head. "Not after last time."
John raised an eyebrow and asked, "What happened last time?"
"I sorta melted the spatula," Mickey said with a slight smirk.
"How did you melt the spatula?"
"We're still trying to figure it out," Rose laughed. "Personally, I think he did it on purpose so we'd stop askin' 'im to cook, coz he hasn't cooked since. Lazy bum."
"I would never," he said, winking at John when Rose's head was turned. "Don't forget to put banana slices on the top of mine."
This time, Rose really did hit him with the spatula. "Mickey, get out! You're complainin' I'm taking too long and you're in here nattering on. Bugger off!" she commanded, smacking him again for good measure before he finally left them alone.
Soon after, John helped Rose set the table and after a few more minutes, they all sat down to eat. John had to agree with Tony—Rose made awesome pancakes. They were moist, buttery, and most importantly, they were banana—his favorite. As he enjoyed the scrumptious meal, John took in the scene before him contentedly. Rose bantered with Mickey and Martha as if they were siblings. Mickey kept his arm around Martha, occasionally kissing the top of her head. This would lead to Martha complaining that he was getting syrup in her hair, but based on the smiles she kept sending him each time, she really didn't mind. Tony kept asking for more pancakes till Rose finally cut him off at four. As he witnessed these interactions, John found himself studying this family dynamic, and trying to determine the reason for its foundation. It was clear that they were integral to one another—a solid unit not to be broken. And the love amongst them was so apparent, one would have to be blind not to notice. Seeing this made him eager to know more about them.
After breakfast, Martha delegated the kitchen cleaning to Mickey, who after giving her another heavily syrup-laden kiss, complied. Tony took John's hand, and running, led him to the living room to play with the toys he had left on the floor earlier. Martha and Rose followed them into the living room, both curling up on the sofa. John laughed as the two of them fought over the remote, Rose insisting that "I cooked, I choose," and Martha countering with "I don't care, I have the remote." Rose lunged forward and grabbed at the remote, eliciting a tug of war.
The battle was interrupted by Tony asking, "Rose, can we go to the park?"
Martha used the distraction to her advantage and assumed control of the remote. Frowning, Rose stuck her tongue out at her and then turned to Tony, answering, "Ya mean now?"
Tony turned on the puppy dog eyes. "Please?"
Sighing, she said, "Alright. Let's change and we can go."
Cheering, Tony turned to John. "You're coming too, yeah?"
John looked to Rose, waiting for her to say something. However, the look on her face made it clear that she was waiting for his response. Grinning widely, he turned back to Tony and said, "Wouldn't miss it!"
He saw a small smile play on Rose's lips at his answer, causing his own smile to widen. Still cheering in delight, Tony ran up the stairs to change, with Rose not too far behind him.
John turned to Martha. "He's an amazing kid. You should be proud."
Martha shook her head in agreement. "He really is, isn't he? We couldn't be prouder of him." She took a pause and then looked more fully at him. "It's really nice of you to take an interest in 'im. I've never seen 'im take to someone like he has you."
"I'm grateful I met him," John replied with complete sincerity.
Martha grinned at him, and turned her attention to the telly just as Rose and Tony came down, dressed and ready to go. Though Tony practically begged, Martha and Mickey chose to stay home and "vegetate," as they put it. The park was only about a block away, and the three of them enjoyed the leisurely stroll. As soon as the play equipment came into view, Tony broke free from John and Rose's grasp and ran to join the few children that were already there. Still keeping a close eye on Tony, Rose sat in one of the swings and John sat in one next to her.
They both silently swayed back and forth for a moment, before Rose piped up. "What was your favorite thing at the park when you were young?" she asked, looking over at him.
"I liked the seesaw. Donna and I would slam down as hard as we could and try to make each other fall off. I won most of the time, but then she would smack me afterwards, so it was a rather bittersweet victory," he laughed, Rose laughing with him.
"You?" he asked.
A thoughtful, reminiscent look came into her eyes as she replied, "The swings. When I was little, I would tell my dad to push me higher and higher. Told 'im I wanted to touch the sky. Then this one time, I fell off while he was pushin' me. Got skinned up pretty bad, wouldn't get on them again. A few weeks later, he took me back to the swings and told me to get back on. I threw a fit. Practically kicking and screaming. Begged 'im not to make me. He just put me on the swing, and told me to start moving. Didn't want to, but he wouldn't let up. So I started moving back and forth, getting higher. Then he stood in front of me and told me to jump off, that he'd catch me. I was terrified, but I did it anyway. And he caught me. Then he just smiled and told me to never be afraid of fallin', even if it hurts sometimes."
John listened with rapt attention. He saw her eyes glisten as she recalled the childhood memory, but it vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. When she looked back at him, he could tell that the smile that graced her face was forced. It wasn't natural and merely an façade.
What happened to you?
John so badly wanted to delve further into her past, to learn all there was to know about her; but he knew that the moment wasn't right.
Instead, he nodded his head and smiled. "Smart man."
At that statement, she smiled. Faint, but genuine. "Yeah...yeah, he was."
For the next hour, they talked about random subject, laughing and thoroughly enjoying each other while gently swinging back and forth. Before long, Tony decided he had had enough of the park, and the three of them went back to the house. Once there, Tony played in the backyard, while Mickey showed John the car he was currently restoring. Though Mickey owned an auto shop, his passion was restoring classic cars and made up quite a bit of his business. John was extremely impressed with Mickey's work, his talent evident.
Time continued to pass quickly , and before John knew it, it was 7:00 P.M. The four of them insisted he stay for pizza and a movie, saying he had spent all day there and he might as well finish the evening out. As the movie played, Tony snuggled up against John, his Batman blanket wrapped securely around him. Before long, he was out like a light, his head resting on John's lap. John found himself occasionally stroking the little boy's head affectionately, Tony's face mirroring the peace and tranquility that John felt inwardly at that moment. When the movie finished, Martha and Mickey said their goodnights and went upstairs for the night.
John and Rose sat in silence for a few moments. Now that she was in the security of her home, John decided to ask more about her past.
"So, how long have you three been raising Tony?" he asked, his voice slightly shaking with nervousness at approaching, what he suspected, was a touchy subject.
Rose kept her face stoic as she looked at him, only the faintest trace of sadness was visible in her eyes.
"Six years. My parents died a year after he was born. I was nineteen, so was Martha. Micks was twenty. We're all extremely close. Mickey and I grew up together, and Martha and I are basically sisters. So… after it happened, we decided to raise 'im together. Martha's mum was already furious that she an' Mickey had run off and gotten married; so when she heard about our plan, she basically told Martha she was throwin' her life away and wrote her off. Hasn't talked to us since. And Mickey—his gran had passed a few years before my mum and dad. So, we all lost someone, in one way or another. But we have each other, and that's all we really need."
John could hear the strength in her voice start to fade as she finished her story. He wanted nothing more than to put his arms around her, pull her to him, and take that pain, which she was trying so hard to hide, away. In that moment, John understood what Jack had said. He knew, with unquestionable certainty, that he had found something more than special—it was a necessity. Even though his brain didn't have all the answers as to why, there was no denying the feeling was there. He didn't want to deny it.
Clearing her throat, Rose glanced at the time and turned to him. "I should call it a night. I have to open the shop tomorrow."
John carefully turned and picked up Tony, who nestled into his arms. Following Rose's lead, he took Tony up to his room and tucked him. In that moment, John felt an unparalleled feeling of belonging and completeness. As he backed towards the door, Rose made her way to the bed, gently stroked Tony's hair and kissed his forehead, causing a small sigh to escape from the little boy. Rose and John made their way downstairs and Rose opened the door for him.
He turned to her. "Thank you for today. It was one of the best times I've had in years."
"Me too. I'm glad you came," she said quietly, a smile playing on her lips.
John fixed his eyes intently on her, drinking in her presence. He so badly wanted to kiss her, but as he looked at her, he saw her holding back. Her eyes , though filled with warmth and what looked like longing, appeared guarded and unwilling. Though inwardly disappointed, he put on a smile.
"Goodnight, Rose," he said and made his way onto the walkway.
He had made it to the end of the walkway, when he heard her call out to him. "Will I see you at the shop tomorrow?"
He turned back to look at her and, seeing her waiting, somewhat hopeful eyes, smiled and said, "Count on it."
Smiling, she closed the door as John made his way home to dream of what tomorrow could bring.
Just wanted to say thank you SOOO much! It bugs me that I can't reply to your reviews and let each of you know how much it means to me. Hope you guys continue to like this story. It was my very first attempt and I'm refining it. Thanks again!