Immediately following Jordan’s return from telling Jon goodbye in Chicago, her doctors had admitted her to the hospital. She’d offered a feeble argument but had acquiesced, realizing that regardless of her own personal heartache, her baby’s welfare was paramount. The doctors were concerned for her weight loss, and her emotions were not helping—she lost her appetite whenever she was stressed or depressed. As a result she was undernourished, anemic, and suffering borderline exhaustion.
After just a few days, however, they had released her, with strict instructions in hand for diet, rest and doctors’ visits. The fetus showed a strong heartbeat, they told her, and the tumor growing in the lining of her uterus was something they would watch closely.
She was nervous revealing her pregnancy to her boss, but was relieved to find that Beth was more than supportive. They adjusted her travel and work schedule and even rearranged some of the departmental duties so she could limit most of her work to in-office tasks. “I’m pregnant and I’m not married,” Jordan had said simply. “I know that for some donors that might be an issue.”
Beth had shrugged it off. “Yes, it might. So we’ll send other people out on those meetings. You’ll do phone contacts, letters, grants. It will be fine.” Beyond that she’d asked no questions, and Jordan was grateful.
Tina and Morgan had helped her convert the spare bedroom into a nursery, and eventually the excitement over the arrival of her daughter helped ease her heartbreak. Morgan was steadfastly in her corner, agreeing that it was best to keep the secret from Jon. Tina wasn’t as confident it was the right choice; partly because she hated to see her friend tackling motherhood by herself, and partly because she knew that Jon had cared deeply for Jordan.
She’d even had a bit of an argument with Kevin about it; he thought Jordan was wrong to keep the secret. “I don’t know the guy, but he has a right to know. Period.” Although she didn’t completely disagree with him, she also could understand Jordan’s reasoning.
“It doesn’t matter what we think,” she’d said, finally. “This is Jordan’s decision to make, and she is making the decision she believes is best for everyone involved.”
The only other time it came up was when Jordan asked the two of them to be the child’s guardians should something happen to her. At that point Tina put her foot down. “If something happens to you—which it won’t—I will tell Jon about his daughter.” Tina had taken Jordan’s hand. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t raise her, but I would tell him she exists. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to make you a promise I can’t keep.”
Jordan had nodded, giving in. She didn’t expect everyone to understand. She wasn’t just protecting Jon and his family from scandal and heartbreak; she was protecting her daughter as well.
It didn’t stop her from missing him, however, and she cried herself to sleep more nights that she could count. She’d saved the e-mail she’d received after she’d sent him the finished biography project. It had read simply, “Thanks, it’s perfect. I assume I don’t have to tell you that things aren’t the same without you. I regret that we weren’t able to offer you all that you deserve, but please know the door is always open. We miss you. Jon.”
She’d known the “we” really meant “I” and that he was being as careful as she had been. Of course, it only reinforced her decision. If there had to be a secret, it would be hers to carry, not his.
Just before Thanksgiving, Jordan began to spot and was ordered on strict bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy, and two weeks before Christmas she went into premature labor—to no surprise of her doctors. They took her daughter via C-section and then fought to control the bleeding as they removed the tumor, this time leaving no doubt as to the possibility of future pregnancies.
Jordan spent five more days in the hospital herself and then was at her tiny daughter’s side daily for the next five weeks. It was with much celebration, then, when they returned home together. That night, as Jordan sat feeding her baby in front of the fire, she realized that it was a year earlier that the snow storm had stranded her in Chicago. She smiled softly to herself, the mixture of sadness and happiness causing a tear to land softly on her baby’s head.
She’d sent a card to Jon on his birthday, to the Foundation offices under a confidential cover. She’d included a short note that read, “I hope the next year brings you as much happiness as you brought me. You’ll never know how much you meant to my life. Thank you. Always, J.”
On her own birthday, a huge bouquet of roses was delivered with a note that read simply, “Back at you, babe.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
She got used to her routine as a single mother, happy to have family and friends nearby to help. She’d contacted her father, who had flown out to meet his grandchild and to see both of his daughters for the first time in more than five years. She confessed to him that the baby’s father was a married man and told him that she no longer harbored any resentment towards him or her stepmother. “You can’t help who you fall in love with,” she’d told him, and he hadn’t pressed for more information on Francesca’s father.
In September, Tina had announced that she and Kevin were expecting their own child. Jordan was thrilled, in spite of the tiny pang of jealousy she felt as she watched Kevin prepare for fatherhood.
They had a good life and as time passed, she was more and more confident that she’d made the right decision. She found Francesca’s resemblance to Jon both comforting and disconcerting; each day the child looked more and more like her father, and Jordan knew she wasn’t the only one who saw it. One day Tina noted, “I keep waiting to see some part of you in her but I just don’t.”
Jordan had nodded. “I know. Although she has one hell of a stubborn streak. That may be thanks to me.”
Tina had laughed. “Lucky you.”
One Saturday in early October, Jordan had just gotten the baby down for her morning nap and was sitting down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper when a photo caught her eye, along with the accompanying headline.
Legal community mourns the loss of popular judge.
Jordan felt her breath catch. It was Rob’s father. Cameron Mitchell was the reason Rob had gone to law school, she knew. He was a wonderful man whom Jordan had adored when she and Rob were dating, and following the breakup he’d told her that his son was a fool for letting her go.
The article said that he’d died of pancreatic cancer, which had been diagnosed less than two months earlier. Her heart broke for Rob; she knew how much he’d worshipped his father. When his parents had divorced he’d chosen to stay in Denver with his dad rather than accompany his mother to Austin with this brothers and sister.
She’d gone to the funeral to pay her respects, and when Rob saw her, he’d smiled in spite of the tears in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” she said softly. “I know what you must be going through.”
He looked at her warmly. “Thanks for coming. Dad loved you, you know.”
She nodded. “I know. I loved him too.” She reached to hug him then. When she pulled away she said, “How about you? Are you all right?” She couldn’t help but notice there was no woman at his side, only his siblings.
He shrugged. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just have to get used to it. It all happened kind of quick.”
Jordan nodded again. “So I understand.” Then, before she could stop herself, she added, “If you need to talk give me a call.”
And he did. They met for lunch the next week, and then for coffee a few days later. She helped him mourn his loss, being a friend to him and nothing more. Their meetings became more frequent and then when he invited her to dinner one night, she’d agreed.
“I can’t believe you’re having dinner with him, but whatever,” Tina had said when Jordan dropped Francesca off for the evening. She wasn’t as concerned as she’d thought she might be; Jordan didn’t seem as vulnerable as she once was where Rob was concerned.
It was inevitable that eventually they’d start reminiscing, especially after a couple glasses of wine. Rob couldn’t help but notice how beautiful he still found her; even more so than a decade before, he thought. And Jordan couldn’t deny that he was still almost devastatingly handsome, and that the touch of grey in his hair actually made him even more attractive, if that were possible.
“Jordan, there’s something I need to say,” he said, setting his wine glass down. He looked at her, his eyes serious. “I know I hurt you badly.”
Jordan felt her breath catch in her throat, not answering.
“I owe you a huge apology. I was an asshole.”
She laughed uncomfortably. “Yes, you were, as a matter of fact.”
He smiled softly. “I know I was. The fact that you’re even willing to talk to me is more than I deserve.”
She remained silent, unsure as to what he was expecting.
“I did love you, Jordan. More than you probably ever knew. I just wasn’t ready to grow up. I liked the idea of being a playboy.”
Jordan reached for her wine glass. She wasn’t completely surprised at his confession but she also wasn’t willing to grant him absolution, either. “Rob, I knew what you were. I guess I just wasn’t ready to grow up either—to accept the fact that you were never going to be the man I needed you to be.”
Ouch. Rob nodded. “The thing is, though,” he paused, fidgeting with his cufflinks. “I think I’ve become that man. Finally.”
“Rob,” she said, shaking her head. “Things are different.”
“Jordan, I’ve changed. And I have yet to meet a woman who makes me feel the way you did—do.” He looked at her, trying to read anything behind those dark green eyes that he’d missed so much. “And you’re still single, which I’m guessing means you haven’t found Mr. Right yet, either.”
She couldn’t help but chuckle. Mr. Right. By whose definition?
He continued. “Look, I’m not asking you to just take me back. And if you just want to remain friends, I’ll accept that. I am in no position to ask for more from you. But what we had was pretty good—we were just young and stupid back then.” He winked at her and she couldn’t help but laugh.
He grinned. “Does that mean you’ll at least think about it?”
She smiled, shaking her head. “Think about what? Dating you?”
“Well, yes, if that’s what you want to call it.”
When she picked Francesca up later that night, she told Tina what had transpired. Tina didn’t seem too surprised.
“So what are you going to do?” Tina asked.
Jordan looked at her daughter, who was fast asleep, a tiny smile on her lips. “Well, I invited him to dinner at my place tomorrow.”
Tina chuckled. “Baptism by fire, huh?”
Jordan nodded. “My guess is he’ll leave skid marks, he’ll leave so quickly.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“If he doesn’t, I’ll think about it,” Jordan responded.
Rob showed up at her door promptly at 7:00 the next night. Jordan was preparing a Mexican-style dinner and poured them both a margarita.
Rob smiled. “I’d forgotten how good your margaritas are.” He raised his glass in toast and she laughed.
“Yes, one of my many talents.” She brought her glass to his before bringing it to her lips. She took a drink and then looked at him. “Rob, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Okay,” he answered, his voice curious.
Jordan took a breath. “Last year I had an affair with a married man.”
Rob looked at her. “And?” He didn’t understand her confessional tone.
“Well, it’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but I don’t regret it.”
He shrugged. “Jordan, please. I’m in no position to judge anyone. I guess I’m a little surprised but it doesn’t change my opinion of you.”
She laughed lightly. “Well, that’s good to know but that’s not everything.” She set her glass down on the counter, gesturing for him to follow her as she walked down the hallway and into the baby’s room. There, in her crib, Francesca was sleeping soundly.
Rob stood, looking at the baby in stunned silence.
“This,” Jordan said, “is my daughter.”
“Wow,” Rob said, finally. “I thought you couldn’t…”
“I know, so did I. But she proved everyone wrong.”
“Oh my god,” he said, quietly.
“Yes, I know. So… if you want to leave now, you know where the door is. I won’t hold it against you.”
Rob laughed. “Well, I was kind of hoping to get some dinner first.”
Francesca woke at the sound of his laughter. She gave a small cry that turned into a broad smile when she saw Jordan standing over her. Jordan reached in to pick her up.
Francesca looked at Rob, rubbing her eyes sleepily.
“Seriously, Rob,” Jordan said. “This is my life now. And if this two-for-one thing doesn’t appeal to you, I’ll understand.”
He looked at the child, whose brilliant blue eyes were gazing back at him. “What about her father?”
“He doesn’t know,” Jordan said simply. “He lives on the east coast and has a wife and family there. We met while we were both in Chicago in business and one thing led to another…”
She hoped her explanation would be enough for him, without actually having to lie.
Rob nodded. “Well, I guess I can see why you didn’t regret it. She’s beautiful.” He smiled. “Can we have dinner now?”
They continued to see each other over the next few weeks and on Francesca’s first birthday, she invited him to join her family and friends for the birthday party. They spent Christmas Eve together at her place, then Christmas Day with Tina and Kevin.
Tina watched as Rob took Francesca from Jordan and went to join Kevin in the living room to watch the game.
“Okay, is this for real?” She asked, stealing the last bite of pie that Kevin had left on his plate. She had been prepared to hate him, but instead she was struck by his charm and obvious affection for both Jordan and the baby.
Jordan shrugged. “I don’t know, but he seems sincere. And he was always good with his nieces and nephews. That was partly why I fell in love with them back then. Not the main reason, but one of them.” She smiled, blushing.
“And you really haven’t slept together yet?” Tina looked at her suspiciously.
Jordan laughed, shaking her head. “No, and he hasn’t even tried. He barely kisses me hello and goodbye. I mean, the attraction is definitely there, but he’s not pushing me for anything. If I didn’t know better I’d think he was someone else.”
Tina regarded her friend. “So do you want to?”
Jordan sighed. “I do, but I don’t. I’m a little scared. Not just as to what it might mean for him and me, but for Ches. And also because it would be the first time since…” Her voice trailed off. Since Jon.
Tina nodded. “I know, but Jordan…you’ve moved on in every other aspect of your life. You’ll be able to do this, too.”
And less than a week later, she did. They’d rung in the New Year together in her living room and when they’d kissed, neither of them pulled away. She’d thought of Jon briefly at first, then let herself enjoy the man she was with. They’d barely slept all night, reveling in their rediscovery of one another.
Finally Rob spoke up. “Okay, is it just me or is it better than ever?”
Jordan smiled. “Well, I know I’m better,” she teased, and he’d laughed.
“I honestly don’t know if I should be jealous of whoever is responsible or be thankful to him.”
Be thankful, she’d thought.
He’d proposed on Valentine’s Day and she’d accepted. When she’d told Tina, her friend was genuinely happy for her.
“I have to ask, though,” Tina said, groaning as she lowered herself into her chair. This baby couldn't come soon enough. “Are you going to tell him?”
Jordan shook her head, lowering Francesca to the floor before taking a seat. “I see no point. He’s never asked for a name. I’ve told him all he needs to know.”
Tina looked at her. “Don’t you think that is kind of like starting your marriage off on a lie?”
“No, I don’t,” Jordan answered. “If Jon were just some businessman—even a very wealthy businessman—would you even be asking?”
Tina sighed. Jordan had a point.
“Rob loves me and wants to be a father to my daughter, and Francesca adores him. It’s not like I’ve lied to him. And really, what good could come of him knowing?” Jordan watched as her daughter toddled towards the sliding glass door, giggling as she watched a squirrel on the back porch . “Maybe some day Ches will want to know who her real father is, and I won’t lie to her. But for now…”
Tina regarded her friend—who’d lived through so much heartache, and who now was finally getting the happiness she so deserved. “Okay,” she finally said, smiling. “So when is the wedding?”
Jordan grinned. “Well, I thought I’d wait until you gave birth. It’s going to be small but I want you standing up with me.”
A week or so later, Jordan was on her way to meet Rob at a house their realtor had recommended when she heard the familiar sound of Richie’s guitar come over the radio. It was the first time she’d heard the new song, and when she heard Jon’s voice, she felt a flutter in her stomach. As she listened, her mind drifted back to their time together and she looked into the back seat where her daughter was chattering away happily. As the song ended, a lone tear escaped and trailed down her cheek. “That’s your daddy, baby girl.”
Two days later she received a copy of the new CD in the mail, accompanied by a hand-written note that read simply, “For you. Literally.”