For days, they danced around the topic. Once he came home from the station and found her on the phone with Christopher, telling him she'd let him know her decision soon. Then she was asking him if she should keep scheduling patients for weeks out when she might not be here. He'd catch her doing chores she might have put off otherwise- reorganizing a bookshelf, or cleaning the ice from the back of the freezer, and he knew she was preparing for the future, for when she left. If she left.
Still, they never talked about it, not really. She didn't tell him if she was leaving, and he didn't ask her if she would stay. God knew he wanted to ask her, but that wouldn't be fair, would it? As much as he might be aching for her to stay with him, something inside of him said this had to be her decision, that it wasn't his place to insert his opinion where it hadn't been asked for.
So he walked on eggshells. Afraid of offending her, desperately avoiding giving her another reason to leave him; she had far too many already, and he knew he'd been far too distracted lately, knew she hadn't been appreciated the way she deserved to be. Maybe she should go, if only to find a place where she would. Maybe she'd be better off.
"Jean," he called out gently, walking into the kitchen one day. He found her chopping celery and wondered what she was making, but he was almost certain he had already asked, and didn't want her to know he'd forgotten.
"Yes?" she replied, glancing up just momentarily before returning her attention to the task at hand. Her hands didn't falter even as her eyes left them, and he would have worried she'd cut herself, but for the knowledge that she had decades of experience protecting her.
"You know those old jars you found in the attic yesterday?"
"Of course I do," she said, and this time didn't look up. Her tone was not unkind, but there was just a layer of tension where there hadn't always been, and it caused him to be careful with how he approached the next question.
"What, uh, what were you planning to do with them exactly?"
She'd finished with the celery now, and moved on to the pair of carrots she'd laid aside. "I was thinking of giving them away," she said. "I'm sure I know someone who could use them for jam or something. Why?" she asked, pausing to look up at him with a questioning look on her face. "Did you need them for something?"
"No, well, not exactly," he began. "I mean, I was thinking of using them for an experiment of sorts, but if you already have plans for them…"
"I don't, not really. You want to keep them?"
"Oh, no, not if you- I mean, if you don't end up giving them away, I'll be happy to take them off your hands. But if you do-"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Lucien, if you don't want me to do something, you have to tell me that."
She set her knife down as she said it, probably a bit harder than she meant to, and the resulting sound hung in the room for a second with the strength of her words.
"Alright," he said slowly, "I'd like the jars, then."
"Alright," she said, lifting the cutting board up and using the knife to guide her vegetables into a bowl. "Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"
He thought he saw a tiny little smile on her face as she said it, but it felt less like an expression of happiness and more like an attempt to lighten the mood. It didn't do much good, and the weight of the air in the room made him feel like they were talking about something much heavier than a box of glass jars.
"This was delicious, Jean," he told her later that night as she began to take up their plates.
"Why, thank you," she replied with a smile, turning the sink on and beginning to wash the dishes. "It was a new recipe-well, new to me. A lady at the church shared it with me."
"You'll have to make it again sometime," he said, before he could catch himself. "That is- I don't mean-" he couldn't find a way to backtrack, could not unspeak his words about a sometime that might not come.
"I know what you meant," she said softly, focusing intently on the plate she was scrubbing.
"Here, let me help you," he said, picking up a rag and taking the plate from her as she moved to put it aside.
She offered him a tightlipped smile as he began drying the dishes. "Thank you."
Well, there he'd gone again. They'd had quite a nice dinner, and he'd had to ruin it with a seemingly harmless comment about the future. Now he'd brought up thoughts of Adelaide, and her leaving, and him wanting her to stay. For all the work he was doing to avoid pressing her, he couldn't seem to avoid the subject entirely. He thought they'd gotten past the tension of that earlier conversation about the jars, but now the tension was back, and that moment was brought back to the forefront of his mind.
He thought of the sharpness of her tone. For heaven's sake, Lucien, if you don't want me to do something, you have to tell me that.
Oh, god. He almost dropped the glass he was drying. If you don't want me to do something…
And oh, how he didn't want her to do something. He didn't want her to leave. He didn't want to say goodbye to her lovely smile, her caring hands, her warm heart. There was a slow but steady something growing between them, a spark being kindled into flame, and he didn't want to put that out.
You have to tell me that, she'd said, and maybe this was what she meant. He didn't want her to leave, and he'd never said the words out loud.
She washed the last dish, and he dried it and put it away, and she started to turn away, probably to head into the parlor, or maybe even straight to bed. He couldn't let her go though, not without letting out the words that had settled so heavily on his heart.
"Jean," he said, breaking the silence.
"Yes?" she replied, and how funny that this conversation should begin exactly as that one about the jars had. Maybe it wasn't about jars, really. Maybe it never had been.
He watched as her face shifted into curiosity as his silence went on a bit too long, and he forced himself to speak. "Don't go to Adelaide."
Her mouth dropped open, just a bit, and he watched her eyes blow wide. "Why not?"
"Because I...I don't want you to." What a horrid answer that was; he saw no reason why his wants should have any impact on her actions. But she didn't seem offended by his response, only bewildered.
"Of course I don't," he admitted. "I thought you knew that, but then you…" he trailed off, feeling silly to bring up the stupid jam jars, even if he'd spent all evening with them on his mind.
"But then I what?" she asked in a timid voice.
"Earlier, you said if I didn't want you to do something, I should tell you. So this is me, telling you." He took a step closer, close enough to easily reach out and touch her, but his hands stayed put by his sids. "Jean, I don't want you to leave. I know you love your son more than life, and if you want to be with him, I can't stand in your way. But I couldn't let you go thinking that I don't care one way or another." Boldly, testing the waters, he reached out and took her hand in his. "I do care, Jean. I don't want you to go."
For a moment she just looked at him, eyes down to their joined hands before settling back on his face. "Lucien, I…" her voice broke around the words. "I don't know how to choose," she whispered. "It feels impossible. My boy needs me."
"I need you." He said it before he could help himself, but found that he didn't regret the words. They were true, after all. "Maybe not in the way Christopher does, but I need you, Jean. When you're here...everything makes sense. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Her grip on his hand grew tighter as she took a deep breath, her gaze landing somewhere behind him, and the look on her face told him she was thinking hard about something. "It doesn't last forever," she whispered, her voice so small he could hardly hear.
"New motherhood. It doesn't last forever. It feels overwhelming at first, and you think you'll never get through it, but you learn to cope. You get better at it." She looked into his eyes. "Suppose I go to Adelaide, for a time. A month. Six weeks. However long they need me. They won't need me forever. And you…"
I will need you forever, he wanted to say, but it felt too strong for the moment they were standing in. "I'll be here," he said instead.
"You'll be here, and I'll be...back."
He smiled, wrapping both hands around hers and staring into her beautiful eyes. "That's all I need to know.