A/N: Thanks for your reviews; sorry for the delay.

Chapter 16

Jim sighed deeply as he hung up his clothes in the guest room closet the next day. Out of all the scenarios he had envisioned for his homecoming, moving into his mother's guest room hadn't been one of them. Out of the three women in his life, he had figured on his mother being the one to disown him; instead she had accepted, his daughter had disowned him and his wife…well…he wasn't sure where he stood with her. She hadn't completely disowned him but she hadn't exactly welcomed him home with open arms either. When he had brought up the topic of love in his texts the night before; she had said that she hadn't stopped loving him and he had taken momentary comfort in that fact until his traitorous mind had brought up the thought that just because she said she hadn't stopped loving him didn't necessarily mean that she'd take him back. He frowned a little, staring into the closet where he had just hung his shirts. Nothing had gone as he had hoped or planned…his soul didn't have the peace or relief that he had thought he'd have upon his homecoming. It was just as heavy as it had been for the last thirteen years…maybe even heavier if that was possible. Another heavy breath slipped across his lips into the silence. How was he ever going to get this worked out?

"I know this isn't what you had hoped for Jimmy," his mother stated as she placed a book he had brought on the bookshelf.

Jim shook his head, turning toward her. "It's not that."

"It is," she said, picking up another book with her good hand.

"It's not. You don't have to unpack those, Mom. I'll do it."

"I don't mind," Elizabeth replied. "It gives me something to do."

He smiled a little; she had followed him upstairs as soon as he had arrived and hadn't abandoned him yet. Another side effect of his homecoming he figured. She was still getting used to seeing him…and thankfully she didn't seem to feel the need to flee unlike his wife.

"I know you'd rather be in your own home," Elizabeth went on. "I know you'd rather be living with your wife than your mother."

"Well, I can't deny that I had hoped to go home to my wife," he replied. "But she's made it clear that that's not going to happen. I'm grateful that you've allowed me to come home…at least someone wants me," he said lightly.

"She wants you," his mother remarked.

He scoffed. "She won't even let me touch her."

"She's just confused right now, Jimmy."

"I could clear up her confusion if she'd just let me," he said, a hint of frustration creeping into his tone.

"She's not just going to let you crawl into bed with her and call it all better," Elizabeth stated.

"Who said anything about crawling into bed?"

His mother eyed him knowingly. "I know how men are…you think if you coax her into your bed for a little while she'll overlook everything and you'll go on like nothing happened. Well it's not going to be that way, Jimmy. You can't go on like nothing happened…a lot of things have happened, a lot of time has passed…she's had unimaginable pain and she's struggled in ways you don't even know or realize. You're going to have to have patience…you're going to have to wait."

"I've been waiting for thirteen years," he said as he moved back to the bed and picked up a pile of clothes to put in the dresser.

"So has she," she replied. "You don't know what she's been through, Jimmy."

"I've been through things too," he muttered. "It's not like I was having a good time."

"No says you haven't been through things…no one has said you were having a good time…but you had the privilege of knowing the person you love was alive," Elizabeth stated bluntly. "Johanna's been wandering around the last thirteen years without half of her heart because she laid it in the ground the day she thought she buried you. You don't know what her life has been like…the ways she's struggled…the things she's still going through."

"Then tell me what I don't know," Jim said as he met her eye.

Elizabeth shook her head. "I can't do that…at least not right now."

"Why not?"

"Because she hasn't had a chance to tell you herself. I'm sure she'll tell you her struggles when she's ready…right now she isn't. She's confused, Jimmy…just a few days ago she was a widow and now you've re-entered her life when it didn't seem possible for that to ever happen. She's hurt, she's angry, she's confused. She doesn't know what to think or feel right now. You have to give her some time to sort herself out."

He breathed deeply. "I texted her this morning but she didn't answer."

"She had to go to work, Jimmy. She called me before she left the house as she always does…and I personally think she should've stayed home another day or two. She sounded tired and not as focused as she usually is. Maybe she'll answer later…and if she doesn't, she'll be over after work as usual."

"Or she'll think of some excuse not to come," Jim muttered.

"Johanna wouldn't do that," his mother replied.

"I'm not so sure about that."

"If it was just you here, I'd agree that it was a possibility," Elizabeth stated; "But she comes here for me so I feel certain she'll be here."

He gave her a hint of a smirk. "Great; my wife would rather see my mother than me."

Elizabeth returned his smirk with one of her own. "Quite a turn of events, isn't it?"

"I know things between you and Johanna settled for the most part after Katie was born but I didn't think I'd come home to find you two being this…chummy," he remarked for lack of better words.

Elizabeth fussed with the placement of a book for a moment. "Well…I found myself in the terrible position of needing to be taken care of for awhile…she was the only one who wanted the job…and I know you're probably wondering why she'd want it."

"It's her nature to take care of people," Jim replied as he put a few more things in the dresser drawer.

"Yes; but that isn't why."

"Then what do you think it was?"

"She needed something to hang on to…she needed something that would keep her close to you in some way."

"I don't believe Jo would've said that."

"I didn't say she said it; she didn't…but I know. As long as I was still around, there was another connection to you for her to cling to. Believe me, Jimmy; after that stroke I didn't want to go on…but she didn't give me a choice in the matter."

"I'm glad for that," Jim said sincerely.

Elizabeth nodded. "I am too…although I get aggravated by my arm and hand being so limited in what it can do…and how slow I walk now."

"As long as you're here the rest doesn't matter," he replied.

Elizabeth sighed deeply. "I suppose that's true but it doesn't make it any less irritating sometimes."

"That's understandable…but I'm glad you've had Jo to help you."

"Your sister wanted to lock me away in a nursing home…still does when she bothers to come around. I told her hell would freeze over before I went there and she said she could have me put away in one by saying I couldn't take care of myself…"

"She can't do that as long as you're of sound mind," Jim exclaimed, a measure of outrage at his sister's actions in his voice.

"That's what Johanna told her…she told her she'd never let her put me in one of those places against my will. She told her she'd take care of me herself…and that's how it's been since then. Madelyn doesn't help me…she doesn't call much and she doesn't come around too often…but Johanna comes over several nights a week and she calls before she goes to work and calls after work on days she doesn't come over."

"Johanna's a better person for the job of care taking than Madelyn…Maddy's never been the compassionate type."

"I know," his mother admitted; "But I guess it could be said that I haven't always been the most compassionate person either."

"You've never taken it to her level."

Elizabeth wasn't so sure about that but she didn't want to argue about it; she was just glad to be in the same room with her son again…even if he would throw her over in favor of his wife in a matter of seconds. As long as he was alive she didn't mind not being number one on the list of women in his life…she'd made her peace with that long ago anyway.

"When does Johanna usually get here?" her son asked, breaking into her thoughts as she moved back to the bed to sit down for a moment's rest.

"She's usually here around five," she answered. "She goes home first, takes in her work stuff and her mail; changes clothes and then she comes over and makes dinner…or sometimes she'll bring something that she's made the night before and she'll heat it up."

"How long does she stay?"

"Usually until I go to bed at nine…but I'll understand if she chooses not to stay that long tonight."

Jim frowned. "You think she won't stay long?"

Elizabeth shrugged a shoulder. "I don't really know, Jimmy. She might to see me settled as usual…but she might not if she feels uncomfortable…she might figure that you can make sure I'm settled for the evening."

"I don't have a problem with that but I'm sure you probably prefer her to do that since you're used to her doing it."

His mother laughed. "You're not fooling me for a minute."

Jim's brow rose. "What are you talking about?"

"You're not concerned with what I prefer; you're just hoping I'll needle her to stay with that excuse so she won't hurry away."

"I didn't say that at all."

"You don't have to; your face says it for you," she remarked. "I know you don't want my advice, Jimmy; but don't go being pushy with her."

"Did I say I was going to be pushy?"

"No; but I know how Beckett men are…when you want something you want it right now and you get pushy about getting it. She can't take that right now."

Jim blew out a breath. "She's stronger than you think, Mom."

"I've never said she wasn't strong…but I don't think you realize that these years have worn her down a bit."

"I can change that…I can make everything better if she'll just let me."

"She will…in time."

"I hope it doesn't take too much time…I've lost enough of it as it is."

His mother sighed. "You're going to be pushy…I just know it."

"I'm not going to be pushy…but I'm not going to just stand by silently either," Jim remarked. "She's my wife and I'm not going to give up on her or our marriage."

"I didn't say to give up; I said don't be pushy…she's not entirely the same woman you left behind, Jimmy."

His defenses rose at the statement. "Don't say it like I left her just to do it; I didn't want to leave her; I had no choice!"

His mother gave him her signature glare. "Don't raise your voice at me," she said sharply. "I know you're upset and hurt that she won't let you come home right now but that doesn't mean you get to take it out on me. I didn't say you left her on a whim; I said she isn't the same woman that you left behind…because whether you like it or not, no matter the circumstances, you did leave her behind," Elizabeth said, holding up a hand as his mouth opened; "And I know, you didn't have a choice; no one said you did…but the fact remains. She's changed in some ways, Jimmy; just like I'm sure you've changed in some ways."

"I haven't changed at all," he retorted. "I'm the same man I've always been; the man she married…and if she'll give me a chance to show her that then I'm sure we can get through this."

Elizabeth shook her head. "You totally ignored the part about her not being entirely the same person that she was."

"That's because I don't believe that she could change that much. I mean sure she's older now…we all are; but she's ageing gracefully and slowly…still beautiful in every way possible."

"I'm not talking about her looks and you know it…you just don't want to think about the fact that there may be things that are different about her now. You spent some time with her the other night; I'm sure you picked up on little inklings that she's changed in some ways."

"What makes you think I spent time with her the other night?"

"She told me, you dunce," Elizabeth remarked.

He smirked at her, a touch of amusement in his eyes at the term she had used. "I thought she didn't want anyone to know."

"She doesn't want Katie to know; she has no reason to hide anything from me."

Jim sighed as he sat down on the foot of the bed. "Yeah; she made it clear that she didn't want Katie to know…she also told me that my daughter is investigating me and gave me a chance to confess any other misdeeds before Katie unearths them."

"Are there any to confess?" his mother asked.


"Don't yell!" Elizabeth shouted back; "It was just a legitimate question based on the current circumstances."

Jim blew out a breath. "I haven't become a criminal mastermind while in Virginia, okay? I led a very boring life there; there's nothing to find so Katie's wasting her time. I could tell her that myself if I knew how to get a hold of her. I didn't bother to ask Jo for her number because I figure she won't give it to me."

"You can count on that," she replied. "And before you ask; no, I'm not giving it to you either…at least not right now. Not enough time has passed at the moment. If I gave you her number you'd just make things worse."

He gave her a tight lipped smile. "You really know how to make someone feel better, Mom."

"Well it's only the truth; I've always told you the truth as I saw it," Elizabeth replied. "Katie's a live wire; you have to wait until she cools down. If she's going through the trouble of investigating you then you're going to have to bide your time because investigating will keep her anger boiling for awhile. She's not the same girl you left behind either; you need to realize that. She's not nineteen anymore, Jimmy; she's a grown woman and she's been through a lot too…not to mention the fact that she thinks taking care of her mother is her responsibility in your absence. If you think she won't try to shield Johanna from you, you're wrong…she will."

"Johanna doesn't need shielded from me and Katie doesn't need to be wasting her time with investigations that aren't going to get her anywhere."

"It's what she feels she has to do right now," his mother stated; "Katie does what she wants, you're not going to be able to change that. You just have to wait while she let's things run their course…and then maybe she'll listen to you…if you catch her in a good mood."

"You're really not making me feel better at all."

"Was I supposed to?" Elizabeth asked.

"Well you are my mother," Jim replied; "It would be nice if you could throw out the occasional word of comfort or support."

"Okay," she said; "I'm glad you're here and you don't have to worry about tip toeing around me; I'm too old to wait for things to make sense…too old to need in-depth analysis and a complete run through of complicated feelings. You're my son, I love you; I've missed you…I'm just grateful you're home now. There; is that good for now or do I need to work on it?"

He gave her a small smile as he patted her hand. "No; that was fine…thank you."

"No problem; I don't want it said that I let you down in terms of motherly comfort and support. I've tried to be better at it than I use to be."

Jim shook his head. "You've always done fine when it counted, Mom. You're doing fine now."

Elizabeth gave him a nod; squeezing his hand. "I've been your wife's mother figure for the past thirteen years so don't get offended when I occasionally mother her in Naomi's stead…sometimes she needs it."

"You don't have to worry about that…I'm glad the two of you have been there for each other when needed."

"We've needed each other a lot these last several years," his mother admitted; "And I know you think you know her better than I do…and in many, many ways you do…but I know the person she's been for these past thirteen years and you don't…and I'm not saying that to hurt you…just as a reminder that maybe you shouldn't totally ignore everything I say."

"When have I ever done that?"

"Get a notebook and pen and we'll start with your birth," Elizabeth remarked; "I remember specifically asking you to hold off another day or two because I didn't have your room in order yet but did you listen? No; of course not."

Jim gave her an amused smirk. "Alright; let's not go digging up ancient history. I'll try to heed your warnings."

Elizabeth eyed him seriously. "Make sure you do…I don't want her to stop coming around here because you got pushy."

Jim leaned over and kissed his mother's cheek. "I promise that I won't disrupt your routines with Johanna. I'll be careful."

"Good; see that you are," Elizabeth said before rising from the edge of the bed. "I'm going to go get some lunch; do you want something?"

He shook his head. "No; I'm not really hungry right now…I'm going to finish up in here unless you need me to help you with something in the kitchen; because I will…you don't have to hesitate in asking."

"No; you finish getting settled," his mother replied. "I'll be fine and if you get hungry before dinner you know to help yourself in the kitchen."

"Okay," he said; watching as she slowly made her way to the door and then stepped across the threshold into the hallway. He watched until she was out of sight and then pulled his phone from his pocket to check and see if it was possible he had missed a message but there was nothing there…his wife still hadn't responded…and even though he knew he probably shouldn't; he tapped out another message asking if she was okay. He stared at the screen for a moment after hitting send before he forced himself to put it back in his pocket…it would probably be another unanswered message but he just couldn't help himself.

"Jo," Sharon Harper said for the second time as she stood in front of Johanna's desk. Her friend was staring absentmindedly at her laptop, completely oblivious to her presence. "Johanna!" she said sharply, slamming her fist against the desk.

Johanna flinched, her gaze jerking toward her secretary. "What?"

"I've been trying to get your attention for nearly five minutes and you're in another world somewhere," Sharon replied. "What's going on with you today?"

"Nothing," she lied. "I was just concentrating, that's all."

"You were staring at the screen but you weren't seeing anything; you were out there in another universe."

"So I drifted for a minute; sue me," Johanna retorted.

"It's been more than a minute," Sharon replied. "You've been in a daze all day, not to mention the fact that you look like hell. I know you claim you aren't drinking…but I've seen you like this before; it's usually how you look when you're hungover."

"I don't have a hangover," Johanna stated; although she wouldn't mind having a drink or two to take the edge off of her churned up emotions. Maybe she'd stop and buy something on the way home…she knew that she had told Katie that she wouldn't keep alcohol in the house…but she knew her limits…and it was her damn house anyway; she could have what she wanted.

"Jo!" her secretary said once again.

"What!?" she exclaimed.

"You're gone again," Sharon stated. "What the hell is going on with you?"


"It's something."

"I said it's nothing; what do you want," she replied. "Is my client here?"

"No; that's what I came in for; he had to reschedule."

"Again?" Johanna asked.

"Yes; he's asked for an appointment in July."

"And did you inform him that he better keep that one because I'm not going to be working here for too much longer?"

"No," Sharon replied; "I'm not telling people that. You're not going anywhere."

"Oh believe me, I am," Johanna remarked. "I'm done come the first of September, Sharon."

"You'll change your mind before then."

"No, I won't. Mark's getting the paperwork ready."

Her secretary scoffed. "No, he's not. I heard him telling Cathy that he just told you that so you'll settle down because he knows you're going to change your mind at the last minute. He's not going to add to your caseload so you can take a few weeks off and get your head straight again but he hasn't started any paperwork for your so called retirement."

Anger rushed through her and she surged to her feet. "Well I've got news for all of you; when I walk out the door at the end of August, I'm not coming back. I've had it with this hell hole, Sharon. So thank you very much for the information because I'm going to go set Mark straight on a few things and if he doesn't want to do my paperwork, then I'll just quit at the end of business today and he can take on my caseload."

Sharon sighed deeply. "Fine, if you want to retire, why not at least finish out the year. It's stupid to retire in September."

"I'm not staying for the rest of the year because I'm sick of this place!" she all but yelled. "Do you not listen? Do you really not see what goes on here? You all think you should tell me how to run my life and what I'm supposed to do and when to do it and I've had enough. I'm sick of this job; I don't like it anymore. I don't believe in it anymore and I'm bored with it. I'm sick of putting up with everyone here. I'm at the end of my rope here and it's time to move on before I lose my mind or go to jail for punching someone."

"Just take the few weeks off and maybe you'll change your mind," Sharon insisted.

"Did you come in here for anything else besides the meeting that's been rescheduled?" Johanna asked sharply as she sat back down.

"Yeah; I came in to see what the hell is going on with you. Like I told you, you look like hell; you've been a space cadet all day and yesterday you called off…something's going on and I don't know why you won't tell me what it is."

"Maybe because it's nothing…or maybe because it's none of your damn business," Johanna replied; "Pick whichever answer suits you."

The secretary sighed deeply and softened her tone. "Come on, Jo; you always tell me when something is wrong."

"Do I?" Johanna asked. "Long ago I did…but not in a long time."

"You know that's not true."

"It is," she insisted; "Because for the past thirteen years you haven't really been my friend like you used to be…you talk about me changing, about me not being who I used to be…neither are you. You act more like a minder than a friend."

"Friends take care of each other, Johanna," Sharon replied. "Some need more care than others."

She shook her head. "I didn't need taken care of…I needed a friend…the one I used to have…you haven't been that person for a long time."

Sharon eyed her. "I think that's what you tell yourself to excuse how you've changed since Jim died."

Johanna flinched at the statement, a part of her wanting to scream that her husband hadn't died…that he was alive and well and settling into his mother's guest room as they spoke but she bit her tongue; concentrating on the headache she'd had all day as she forced herself to hold back. She couldn't tell her yet…she didn't have the energy to deal with the fallout that telling her would bring. "I know I changed," she said slowly; "It's hard not to when you've lost part of your soul…but everyone else changed too. It's not just me like you all think…it's everyone…and maybe it's time we all went our separate ways…maybe we've all outgrown each other. Maybe we hang on to these relationships because they're so old that we can't picture them not being there."

Her secretary shook her head. "Jo; what's gotten into you today? That's nonsense. What's wrong today? Besides the usual of missing Jim? I think you're alone too much; it's why you sink into depression…and a glass of wine or two. You need to start dating again; and by dating I mean someone who isn't Jim's brother and not Jeff either. It's sick to be going out with Andrew and it's not much better to be going with Jeff; that's just keeping the wound open because they're so connected to him. There are several guys here who would love to take you out and spend some time with you; please give one of them a chance."

"No," Johanna said; her voice trembling. "I've told you no a million times and I still mean it….especially now."

Sharon looked at her oddly. "What do you mean especially now?"

"Nothing," Johanna said with a shake of her head; chastening herself for almost letting it slip that she wasn't about to cheat on her husband. "Just that I'm too old to change."

"You're not old," Sharon chastened; "You're still pretty and active and vital…you just have to let yourself live again."

"I live, Sharon."

"Not as much as you should."

Johanna sighed. "Can you just leave me alone?" she asked. "You told me that my meeting is rescheduled; which is fine with me then I'm done with meetings for the day. Go back to your desk and do whatever work you need to get done."

"Why did you really call off yesterday?" Sharon asked; undeterred by her friend's attitude.

"Because I didn't feel well," she answered; "I already told you that."

"And yet Jeff posted a picture of the two of you together."

"So what!?" she asked sharply. "I ran into him when I was out getting some air; it's none of your damn business."

Sharon eyed her. "Kind of convenient to run into someone you've been going out with…what happened, Jo; you called off to spend the day with him…had a few drinks…fell into bed with him and that's why you're out in another universe today…because you feel like you cheated on Jim or something? You didn't…I think you should've picked someone that didn't have a connection to him but…"

"No, I didn't sleep with him!" Johanna exclaimed angrily. "I didn't spend the day with him. I wasn't drunk. Don't worry about what I do; start worrying about your own problems and mind your own business now get the hell out of here and let me be."

Sharon smirked at her and shook her head. "Are you going after Mark now?"

"No," she snapped; "I don't feel like it. I'll deal with him tomorrow. Right now I just want to be left alone. Don't bother me unless it's business or Katie; anything else I don't want to hear. Do you got that?"

"Alright," Sharon replied; sensing that she had pushed enough. "I just wish you'd straighten yourself out of these days…maybe you'd feel better. Do you want to go do something this weekend? Maybe it'll get your head back out of the clouds."


"Why not?"

"Because I'm going to take Elizabeth out for awhile. She hasn't been out of the house for awhile…is that okay with you?" she asked sarcastically.

"Okay, but I'm sure you're not taking her out the entire weekend; we could do something after you take her around."

"I'll let you know, okay?" Johanna answered; blowing out a breath and wishing her secretary would just go as she had asked.

"Fine, you let me know," Sharon said before walking away.

"Close the door behind you."

"Of course."

Once Sharon was gone and the door was closed, Johanna opened her bottom desk drawer and took out her purse, rummaging through it for something to take for the headache building above her eyes. Her fingers closed around the small bottle of Excedrin Migraine that Katie had dropped off to her at the office a few months before when she had needed something to take the edge off before court. She sighed deeply as she twisted off the cap and shook out a tablet before reaching for the bottle of water on her desk. She swallowed the pill with a sip of water just as her phone chimed. Johanna paused, pulling her hand back before she could reach for it. It might be Jim…he had texted her that morning…wishing her a good day at work; telling her that he was looking forward to seeing her again that evening at his mother's…that if she wanted to talk before then that she was free to call him on her break.

She hadn't answered him…it wasn't that she hadn't wanted to…her heart had begged her to respond…but her brain hadn't known how; especially after the messages they had exchanged the night before regarding love and her confirmation that she did still love him but needed time. Her thoughts and emotions were still in turmoil; her heart throbbing with it's newly acquired ache every moment of the day. She just hadn't been able to respond; hadn't been sure how to respond to his message without making it seem like he was wearing down her need for time to adjust. Her lack of response didn't seem to deter him though; he had sent her another message around lunch time…wanting to know if she was okay since she hadn't responded to his last message. She had tapped out a quick message telling him she was fine, just busy and had let it go at that.

Johanna blew out a breath and took another sip of water, savoring the feel of the cool liquid as it slid down her throat but she couldn't help wishing it was something stronger. She put the bottle of water down and reached for her phone, her stomach tightening as she tried to figure out if she wanted it to be Jim or not. She shook her head, trying to clear away the cobwebs as she woke up her phone to find that the message was from Jeff.

"How are you doing, Sassy?"

She released the breath she had been holding; feeling a tiny hint of disappointment that the message hadn't been from her husband and she didn't know what to make of the feeling. She needed time and yet she also craved some form of contact…and yet at the same time she was dreading spending the evening at Elizabeth's because she wasn't sure what to say to him…how to act, think or feel. Why did this have to be so hard? It had never been this hard in her daydreams…but of course that's what made daydreams so good; you never had to deal with the messy things in a daydream.

"I'm just trying to get through the day," she wrote back to Jeff.

"Anyone giving you any problems?"

"Just the usual," she answered.

"Go home early if you can," Jeff wrote back. "You have enough on your plate without putting up with them."

"I should," Johanna responded; after all, it wasn't like she was getting anything accomplished in regard to her paperwork. She had gotten through her meetings alright which she considered a miracle…but her paperwork just wasn't keeping her focused today.

"Do it; they don't own you…and if they have a problem with it; tell Mark you can quit today instead of waiting until September. You don't owe them anything, Jo; not after the way they've been treating you all these years. They're lucky you've stayed as long as you have."

She felt the same way; they had been hounding her for years; policing her, pressuring her…being everything but what friends and colleagues were supposed to be. She supposed it was her fault…she had floundered for those first few years…and when she had gotten somewhat back on track she hadn't wanted to hurt anyone's feelings so she had done her best to tolerate their new behaviors. But it seemed like things had only gotten worse instead of better…time hadn't taken care of anything in this sector of her life and it left it feeling oddly alone at times. She hadn't just lost Jim…she had lost a part of herself…she had lost some of the friendships she had been used to having. She had lost the closeness she had always shared with her daughter. She had lost so damn much…and now Jim was back…and she didn't know how to reconcile what had seemed so impossible into the current reality. She didn't know how to tell people…how to walk the precarious line with Katie as she investigated her father. She just didn't know anything at the moment…except that she ached…that she longed for her husband to an even deeper degree than she had before…and yet at the same time, she was afraid…so afraid he'd leave again, that he wasn't the man she knew; that too much time had passed, that maybe he wasn't the same…that maybe they could never be the same. It was just too much…too much to think about; to worry about; to sort through.

Her office felt oppressive and the medicine hadn't had time to take care of the headache laying above her eyes. Maybe she should go home…lay down for a little while before she had to go to Elizabeth's…brace herself for seeing her husband again. Try to get herself pulled back together in some fashion so that she could get through the rest of the work week. Her phone chimed again in her hand and she glanced down at the screen; seeing another message from Jeff.

"Jo? Are you okay or did you just get a call? I hope I didn't upset you."

"No, you didn't upset me," Johanna tapped back quickly. "I just drifted for a minute…it's a problem I've been having all day. I thought being at work would help but it's not…so I'm taking your advice; I'm going to pack up and go home."

"Good idea. Go home and get some rest; work can wait. Have you heard from Jim?"

"He's texted twice today…and it's my evening with Elizabeth so I'll be seeing him this evening."

"You going to be okay?"

She smiled sadly at the screen; people were always asking her if she was going to be okay…like she had any choice but to be anything but okay. "As okay as I can be."

"Hang in there, Sassy," he wrote back. "It's going to be alright…just remember that he loves you; and that I know he would've never left you unless he absolutely had to and even then he wouldn't have made the decision lightly. I'm not trying to defend anything or judge anyone…you have every right to be hurt and angry and unsettled about all of this; hell, I'm a little shaken myself; but I know how much he loves you and that he wouldn't have done this if he hadn't had to."

Johanna breathed deeply. "I know…I know he didn't leave just to have something to do or because he was in some mid-life crisis. I know he had no choice…that he wanted to keep us safe. It's just hard…I'm happy he's alive; it's all I ever wanted…but it's hard…and I'm afraid."

"What are you afraid of?"

"That he'll disappear again if I get too close too quickly…that he's not the same…that we won't be the same. That too much time might've passed and what if he realizes that I'm not what he wants anymore? He's been hanging on to how things were…and so have I…and if we can't get back there somehow after some time has passed…I won't know how to handle it."

"Jo; you're thinking too much. Honey, you need to just give yourself time to get used to the fact that he's alive…time to work through some of the hurt and fear. You have to start over in some ways but that's okay. Just give yourself time; don't go thinking the worst because of how long it's been…the two of you had something special; something that doesn't die just because of time and distance. It'll work out; I'm sure of it…you just have to have some time to adjust and he'll need to be patient…and we both know that's not his strong suit."

"That's the truth," she replied. "He can get very impatient."

"That's right…he gets impatient; your temper gets riled and before you know it, you two will be having one hell of a fight and he'll kiss you to shut you up and you'll see that nothing's really changed."

Tears stung her eyes as she smiled at the message. "I hope you're right."

"I know I am; now pack up your stuff and go home. Let me know how things go tonight."

"I will, I promise," she replied before laying her phone down and taking a breath to steady herself. She'd get through this one way or another.

Johanna stood in front of her closet later that day hating herself for debating a wardrobe selection. Why was she doing this to herself? She wasn't going on a date…she was going to her mother-in-law's to make her dinner as usual…that didn't call for a special wardrobe selection.

But Jim was going to be there.

Her heart thudded against her ribs…he was going to be there. It was so hard to get used to…and she kept saying she needed time so why was she worried about what to wear? He had already seen her in work clothes…a tank top and leggings…jeans and a blouse. This shouldn't be difficult. She shouldn't even be thinking about it…after all, they had been married for nearly thirty-five years; he'd seen her in every array of wardrobe selections that there was to be seen.

And yet she still didn't know what to wear.

She eyed her phone as it laid on the dresser…she needed advice but who was there to call? She couldn't call her sister-in-law because she hadn't told her family yet about Jim's reappearance. She couldn't ask Katie…Katie would tell her not to go at all and let Jim take care of his mother but she couldn't do that. She couldn't call Sharon. She couldn't even seek out Maggie because she didn't know either. There was only one choice left…and while she wasn't sure it was such a good idea; she picked up the phone and called him anyway.

"Hey, Sassy; what's going on?" Jeff said, answering on the second ring.

"Do you remember that recent conversation we had about what you should say to your ex-wife on Facebook?"

"Yes; speaking of which; it's going well."

"Good," she smiled; "I'm glad…but I have a question."

"What is it?"

"What should I wear to my mother-in-law's house to see my recently resurrected husband?" she asked; knowing the words were probably in poor taste but she had to try to inject some humor into it or she'd cry again…and she had done enough of that once she had gotten home from work. In fact she had set her alarm and cried herself to sleep for a short nap.

Jeff chuckled in her ear. "Well that depends; if you want to get him excited; show a little leg…if you want him very excited, show leg and cleavage."

Johanna smirked as she stared into her closet. "I don't think I want to get him excited…I mean he just came home on Monday and this is Wednesday…it might look a bit slutty to get him excited this quickly."

"Hmm; I better make a note of that since I'm going to be having lunch with Maggie next week. I don't want to be slutty either."

She laughed. "I think you obtained that reputation when you were laying with Melanie."

"But I reformed," Jeff quipped.

"At least that's the story for publication."

"Watch it, Sassy," he teased; "As for Jim…he's probably excited no matter what you have on…he's probably been thinking about being excited with you since ten seconds before he saw you for the first time on Monday."

"Well…he did want to come home with me."

"Yes; and I'm sure he didn't just want to tour the homeplace…he was probably hoping to get reacquainted."

"I'm not ready for that yet."

"Understandable; you're classy, you don't jump on the first date. I get it," her friend replied; "Just don't make him wait as long as you did the first time around."

An amused scoff slipped across her lips. "He could've had what he wanted sooner if he had just given me what I wanted back then."

"I know," Jeff said lightly; "I believe I mentioned that to him but he ignored it…until, you know…what do we call that period of time…the unfortunate separation?"

"I usually just call it the tough love portion of our relationship," Johanna remarked.

"Okay; but to your friends who suffered during those three weeks in May 1976; it was the unfortunate separation."

"That does have a certain ring to it," she replied; "But that doesn't help me tonight."

"What does it matter what you wear?" he asked.

"I don't know," she sighed. "I feel stupid…I haven't felt this way since…"

"Since the first time you went out with him," Jeff supplied; "But you're not going out…you're going to Elizabeth's."

"I know; that's why it's stupid…and it's not like I'm aiming for anything. I do need time to get my head wrapped around things…so I don't know why this is an issue."

"Maybe because it's easier to focus on," Jeff gently suggested. You might not be ready for a lot of things in regard to Jim…but you're already falling into old habits. I know you, Sassy; you always wanted to look your best for him and that hasn't changed. It's easier to focus on that instead of focusing on what actually seeing him will be like tonight."

She toyed with the sleeve of a top in the closet. "I want to see him but part of me is dreading it," she said quietly; "Because I don't know what to say or do or think. I just…I don't know."

"It's okay," he consoled; "You don't have to be on your A game right now, Jo. I'm sure he'll understand. Just do your best…it's probably going to feel a little awkward but you'll get used to it. Try to relax, okay? It's Jim…he loves you."

She breathed deeply. "I love him too."

"I know you do."

"He probably doesn't think I do since I wouldn't let him come home."

"Honey, if you want him to come home; tell him you changed your mind…he'll be in your car so fast your head will spin."

"I'm not ready to let him come home," she said; her voice trembling. "I love him but I'm not ready…and loving him doesn't make him feel like less of a stranger right now and that makes me feel bad too."

"Jo; quit beating yourself up for being human. You're allowed to feel that way. You two just have to reconnect…when you're ready; that's all. Just relax…put on your favorite jeans and your favorite shirt…put on some lipstick and take some pressure off yourself. Go do your normal thing and if you need to leave a little earlier than usual, then do that, I'm sure Elizabeth will understand. If Jim gets pushy, tell him to ease up, he will. You've got this, Sassy."

"Okay," Johanna replied; "I'll do my best."

"That's all anyone can ask of you."

She took another breath. "I want to hear more about you and Maggie next time we talk…this lunch date is a new development that Maggie hasn't called me about yet."

"It just got planned a little while ago," Jeff replied; "But I'll fill you in…and you let me know how things go at your mother-in-law's tonight."

"I will…thanks for the pep talk."

"No problem," Jeff replied; his smile evident in his voice. "You let me know when you need another one."

"I will; talk to you later."

"Have a nice evening, Sassy."

Johanna ended the call and put the phone back on the dresser before opening the drawer and taking out her favorite pair of jeans. She pulled them on; telling herself she was being ridiculous about worrying what to wear. Jim wouldn't care about what she was wearing…but Jeff was probably right; it was just something easier to concentrate on. She moved back to the closet and took out a soft purple short sleeved shirt that was one of her favorites. She pulled it on and then moved to her vanity and sat down; putting on her makeup although she usually went to Elizabeth's without it in the evenings. She ran the brush through her hair; her nerves flickering beneath her skin but she did her best to ignore them as she picked up her amethyst butterfly bracelet and slipped it on. She had taken it off on Monday and hadn't worn it since…and while she didn't usually wear it every day, she wore it often enough that she felt naked without it when she didn't wear it. Her fingers rubbed against the charm; the first gift Jim had ever given her. Maybe seeing it on her wrist would let him know that she wasn't trying to hurt him…maybe it would show him that she did still love him.

With that thought in mind, she rose from the seat of her vanity and shoved her feet into her favorite sandals. She collected her phone, tapping out a quick text to Katie letting her know that she was heading to Elizabeth's as usual…hoping it would inspire her daughter to check in before the end of the night since she hadn't heard from her. She grabbed her purse and her keys and headed for the door of her bedroom; her stomach churning at the thought of the awkward evening to come. She took a deep breath; it would be fine…at least she hoped so…but only time would tell.