Earlier in the day, Jordan had overheard Jon on the phone with his son. “I miss you too, bud, but I’ll see you tomorrow. Are you being good for Mommy?” He laughed. “Just checking. Give her a big hug and kiss for me, okay? I love you.”
She had stood on the other side of the door, feeling guilty for eavesdropping, even though it was unintentional. She wished she knew more about his kids, but it was a topic both of them had avoided; she knew that the more she knew about them, the harder it would be to live with herself. But the envy that burned in her stomach was hard to ignore—envy not only of his wife but of Jon himself. It was an odd feeling, to be so envious of someone she loved so much, and of an aspect of his life she could never be part of.
The duplicity of it all was astounding to her. Because whether she was lying with him in bed or simply watching him smile at her from across the room, the happiness she felt was indescribable. She was dangerously close to being unable to imagine a life without him. Yet she feared that once they arrived home, reality would once again rear its ugly head…in spite of his promise to her.
Spirits were high and the atmosphere jovial once they were airborne. Still, Jordan was struggling to put on a happy face; she hated that she had to share him with the others, hated that she didn’t know how soon they could be alone again. And she hated herself for being so selfish. She realized that the combination of exhaustion and emotion was probably making her overly sensitive. She also realized that maybe crawling into her own bed when she got home might provide some perspective.
Eventually the frivolity died down, the endorphin rush finally wearing off and the human side of everyone emerging. Jon motioned for Jordan to join him in the back of the plane, away from the rest of the passengers, many of whom were already asleep.
“How you doin?” he asked, as they settled into their seats.
She smiled softly. “Okay. How about you?”
He gave a slight nod. “I’m good. A little worried about you.”
“What do you mean?” She tried to shrug off his concern.
“Jordan,” he began. “I know this can’t be easy on you.” She still looked tired and stressed, in spite of their relaxing mini-vacation, and her attempts at hiding it were not working.
“Baby, listen.” He took her hand in his. “I know you’re scared. But I need you to know something. I don’t regret anything that’s happened between us, and I want you in my life.”
Her heart swelled at his words, but she felt tears stinging the back of her eyes. She remained silent as he continued.
“I’m not going to lie to you. I can’t give you all of me. And it would be unfair to just expect you to accept that. I have an idea, but if it’s not enough for you, I’ll understand.” As he said it, he found his pulse quickening. He was stunned at how nervous he found himself.
He had gone over it in his mind a dozen times since thinking of it. How he’d propose it to her, whether or not he was even justified in asking. And he wondered just how selfish he was being; He wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He was asking her to share him but at the same time, knew he didn’t want to share her.
He told her then, doing everything he could to make the possibility sound as enticing and wonderful as possible. An apartment in New York City, with a home office. A commute via train to the corporate offices in Philadelphia as necessary, with ample vacation time and a more-than-generous salary. Broadway, shopping, dining… a chance to step out of her safe zone and live a life she’d only dreamt of.
Jordan sat in stunned silence. The offer was, professionally, more than she could have ever imagined. But personally…
It wasn’t that she wanted him to leave his family. In fact, that was the last thing she wanted. She didn't want to be the reason behind someone else's heartbreak. It would be one thing if she knew he was unhappy in his marriage, or if his wife were some sort of hateful shrew that he was bound to out of obligation alone. But that wasn’t the case, and she knew it.
Yet she couldn’t deny her feelings. In her mind, she heard Bella’s voice. I would do whatever I must to be with the man I loved.
Jon’s voice was soft as he squeezed her hand. “Look, I don’t expect an answer right now. Take it with you and think about it. I know I’m asking you to uproot your life for me, and as attractive as I hope the offer is, I know you need to make whatever decision is best for you.”
She smiled softly, nodding, and he brought a hand up, cupping her face in his palm as he brushed away a tear with his thumb. “I’m going to do whatever I can, however, to make this an offer you can’t refuse.” He grinned then, winking at her, and she laughed.
He was pleased when she dozed off, and he watched her while she slept. And in spite of his own fatigue, he found the lyrics of a song running through his mind.
I know that life has made you leery
You weren’t dealt a fair hand
Parts of you have died and yet
You’re a pillar when you stand
But I can see beyond your walls of granite
To the softness held inside
In spite of the strength you show the world
It’s your heart you try to hide
Better to not count on anyone
Then to be let down again
Easier to play by your own set of rules
Believe me baby, I understand
But if you’ll let me be your hero
It could be better than you’ve ever known
And if you let me be your hero
You’ll never be alone
He moved across the aisle so he could stretch out. As he drifted off, the song continued to develop in his mind. The next thing he knew, the voice of the pilot was announcing that they were in preparation for landing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The ringing of the phone woke her and Jordan looked at the clock on her bed stand before answering. She’d taken a red-eye from New York and arrived home at around 6:30. She’d showered and fallen in bed, asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. The clock now read 3:45. She groaned and reached for the phone.
“You were sleeping, weren’t you?” Tina said on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry!”
Jordan tried to shake the haze of sleep from her brain. “No, that’s okay. I need to wake up anyway or I’ll be up all night.”
“I thought I’d grab some takeout and bring your kids home. I’m dying to hear all the details. Your cryptic e-mails were no fun at all.”
Jordan couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry, I was busy. What day is it?”
Tina chuckled. “Sunday, honey. And the sun is shining and there is a world outside your door. But I’m guessing you’d rather stay in.”
Jordan nodded. “You guessed that right. You’ll be lucky if I drag my ass out of this bed for you.”
“Look, these cats are coming home. If we have to keep them one more day I think I may end up getting divorced,” she teased. “So what do you want for dinner?”
Jordan laughed. “You aren’t going to believe what sounds good.”
Later they sat together, eating burgers and fries. Jordan sighed happily. “This tastes so good!”
Tina smiled, shaking her head. “This has to be the easiest you’ve been to please in a long time. Well, eat up. From the looks of things you can use it.” She couldn’t help but notice that Jordan had lost a little weight. “So, are you glad to be home?”
Jordan nodded. “I am.”
Something in her voice told Tina there was more to the sentence. “But????”
“But nothing. It’s nice to be back, to sleep in my own bed…” But one without Jon in it.
Tina watched her for a moment. Something was different about her. She seemed happy and sad at the same time, and almost guarded. “You’re not sorry you went, are you?”
Jordan shook her head. “No, absolutely not.” She smiled softly then. “It was amazing, all of it. I’ll have to show you pictures.”
Tina was dying to ask about Jon but she could tell now wasn’t the time. A lot was going on behind those dark green eyes but she decided to let it go for now. “So did you bring me a present at least?”
Jordan laughed, nodding. “Of course. For you, for Kev, for Morgan and Liz, for my boss, for my assistant…” She took a bite of her burger, wiping ketchup and mustard from the corners of her mouth. When she finished chewing, she smiled at Tina. “Enough about me. What’s been going on around here?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Just over a week later, Jordan was loading groceries into her trunk, still trying to settle back into her life. She had returned to work but oddly enough was not as happy to be there as she had expected. She loved her job, but now…
Jon’s offer had been weighing heavily on her mind. She had spoken to him several times since arriving home and he hadn’t brought it up, but she knew it was on his mind as much as it was hers. Still, he had sounded rested and relaxed, and she realized that her genuine happiness for him was stronger than any envy she had.
She slid behind the wheel and turned the key, opening the sunroof to let the warmth of the spring day soak in on her. She hit the scan button on her radio to escape the annoying voice on the commercial she was hearing, and she smiled to herself when the next thing she heard was Gladys Knight and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” It had been one of her mother’s favorites and they used to dance together in the living room—her mother, Morgan and herself, even getting the “whoo whoo’s” down as good as any Pip ever had.
She looked out towards the mountains in the distance as she listened.
I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine.
Suddenly she knew with all her heart what she wanted. And she couldn’t wait to tell him. She looked at her watch, realizing she’d better hurry if she were going to keep her doctor’s appointment.
She waited for Dr. Cole in the examination room, watching the clock on the wall and thumbing through an eight-month old issue of Redbook. Finally there was a knock at the door and Dr. Cole entered the room, an apologetic smile on her lips.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” She looked through the chart in her hand. “Periods still as sporadic as ever, I see.”
Jordan nodded. “Honestly I’m more surprised when I get one than when I don’t. I did have two in a row a few months ago. Ruined a brand new pair of lacy underwear,” she said, laughing.
Dr. Cole nodded. “Are you sure they were periods?”
Jordan looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Well, as opposed to any abnormal bleeding or spotting. Were they full-length periods?”
Jordan thought about it. “Well, I don't know. A couple days at the most I guess. Is that bad?”
“Not necessarily. It’s just with your history I want to make sure there isn’t more going on in there. How is everything else? Any pain? Fatigue?”
Jordan shook her head. “No real pain. Occasional discomfort but nothing that feels too different than normal.”
“And fatigue?” She motioned for Jordan to lie back.
Jordan sighed, putting her feet in the stirrups and wincing as she felt the smooth steel of the speculum. “Well, yes. But I’ve also been keeping pretty busy; I just returned from a six week work trip to Europe and I didn’t exactly sleep as well as I should have. I assume that will go away as soon as I get caught up.” She laughed lightly.
She stared at the ceiling, reading how to properly give herself a breast exam, until Dr. Cole withdrew the speculum and stood, inserting two fingers into her vagina and pressing on her abdomen. Jordan gave a small cry.
Jordan nodded. “Just a bit. Guess I’m a little tender.” She gave an embarrassed laugh. “I have been rather…active the past few months. Maybe I’m just a little bruised?”
Dr. Cole laughed. “Well unless you’re dating John Holmes, that shouldn’t be an issue. You’re overdue for your ultrasound anyway, so why don’t we just do that now instead of sending you over to radiology?”
They moved to another examination room and Jordan took her place on the table. She couldn’t count how many of these things she’d had done over the years. It always made her heart race a little, ever fearful that they might once again look inside and see something that didn’t belong there.
“Relax, Jordan,” Dr. Cole said, sensing her apprehension. “Let’s just take a look.” She moved the instrument over Jordan’s abdomen, and her face became unreadable as she looked at the monitor screen. Then a subtle but unmistakable look of concern appeared in her eyes.
Jordan felt her heart jump. “What is it?”
Dr. Cole remained silent, pressing more firmly as she tried to bring up a better view. She reached to tap a few keys on the keyboard, marking whatever it was she was looking at.
“You see something, don’t you?” Jordan struggled to keep her voice calm.
The doctor wiped the head of the probe and returned it to its cradle. “Get dressed and we’ll talk.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“She’s still in shock,” Tina was telling Morgan over the phone. “She is in the tub right now.” She had received the call from Morgan a few hours earlier, telling her that the doctor’s office had called her, that Jordan had fainted and was in no shape to drive. Unfortunately Morgan was in Miami at a conference. Tina had dropped what she was doing and gone to retrieve her shaken friend.
Morgan was silent on the other end of the phone as Tina told her what Jordan had learned at the doctor’s office. “Jesus. I just can't believe it. She and I have been so out of touch lately…tell her I love her and will see her tomorrow night.”
Tina assured Morgan she’d relay the message and hung up. She put the kettle on, thinking a cup of chamomile might sound good to Jordan. She herself felt like she needed a shot of vodka.
When Jordan emerged, her eyes were swollen and her voice shaky. “I think I really screwed up this time,” she said, quietly.
Tina shook her head. “You don’t know that. Dr. Cole said there are more tests to run. Everything is going to be fine. You have to believe that.”
“But if I’d known…” Jordan’s voice trailed off, and Tina interrupted her.
“You didn’t know. But you’ll take care of yourself now, and do whatever you need to do.” Tina held out the cup of tea. “Morgan called. She said to tell you she loves you and she’ll be home tomorrow.”
Jordan nodded, taking the mug but not drinking from it. Her cell phone rang but she made no move to retrieve it. Tina reached for Jordan’s purse, pulling the phone from inside. She looked at the screen. “It’s Jon.”
Jordan shook her head. She couldn’t talk to him right now. He’d know something was wrong; he’d hear it in her voice. Moments later, her land line rang. “Don’t,” she said to Tina.
The answering machine picked up and then she could hear the smile in his voice. “Hey babe, I just tried your cell and hoped I’d catch you here. I had a few minutes and wanted to hear your voice. Anyway… I got the file you sent; it looks great. I like the way you’re putting it together. I knew I made the right choice when I hired you.” He laughed then. “For more reasons than one. I’ll try to call later; if not I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He paused. “I hope you’re having a good night. I love you.”
Tina looked at Jordan, shocked, and watched as a tear slid down her friend’s cheek.
Jordan insisted on going to work the next day. She wanted the distraction, wanted a reason not to think about the decision she had to make. Yet she could think of nothing else and finally told Beth she wasn’t feeling well and apologized before heading home.
When Tina found her, she was sitting in her rocking chair, holding Brando tightly.
“Jordan, honey,” Tina began, reaching to stroke Jordan’s hair from her face.
“I’m being punished,” Jordan said. “That’s it.”
Tina shook her head. “You’re wrong. God doesn’t work that way. You’re one of the best people I know and you’ve lived through enough bullshit in your life that frankly I think he owes you one, if anything.” Jordan laughed a little then, and Tina took her hand.
“Are you going to tell Jon?”
Jordan shook her head. “Why? There’s nothing he can do to change it.”
Tina ached for her friend. “That’s not what I meant. But don’t you think he’d want to know?”
Jordan smiled sadly. “It doesn’t matter. It’s best that he doesn’t.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because if he knew, I don’t think he could keep it—keep us—a secret.” Jordan’s voice was shaky but determined.
“So? I get the impression this has gone beyond the clandestine affair.”
Jordan sighed. “We’ve made it this far without anyone finding out. It needs to stay that way.”
Tina was incredulous. “You’re doing this to protect him?”
“Not just him, Tina. His wife…his kids…they are innocent in this.” She ran her hand along Brando’s back. “If we’re found out, they’ll all suffer.” Jon especially.
Tina fought to keep from raising her voice. “So you’re just going to go through this alone?”
Jordan brought her eyes to Tina’s. “No. I’ve got you, I’ve got Morgan and Liz. I won’t be alone. But Jon can’t know.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “He just can’t.”
As if on cue, Jordan’s phone rang. She saw it was Jon and took a breath before answering.
To next section...