Joe tried to gauge his son’s mood as they ate
breakfast the next morning. Ben was quiet,
chewing away at his cereal, his gaze fixed on
the tabletop. Joe cleared his throat, determined
to get this right with his children.
“So how are things at school these days?
Ben shrugged a shoulder. “It’s okay.”
“Any new friends?”
JOe pushed his cereal away and focused on his
son. “There’s something I wanted to talk to you
Ben fiddled with his spoon, “What did i do
“You didn’t do anything wrong.This is about me
Ben’s gaze flew to his face. “What about her?”
“Well, she and I have gotten to know each
other. And it turns out we both like each other.
So, we’ve decided to start dating.”
Ben’s eyes burned with intensity as he stared
across the table. “What about MOm? Don’t you
love her anymore?”
“Of course I still love her. But it’s been two
years, mate, and sometimes it’s nice to have
someone to go to the movies with and dinner
and stuff. We’re dating, Joe said firmly. I
wanted to give you guys a chance to get used
to Hannah being back before I told you about
us, but she told me you asked her about it last
“Yeah, and she said you were just friends.”
“Because I asked her to. Like I said, I wanted
you kids to have a chance to get used to her
being around first.”
Ben stood. “Is that all?”
“Do you have any question? Anything you want
to talk about? Joe asked.
Ben simply stared at him for a long moment.
There was no mistaking the anger and hurt in
“I’ve got homework to do”
Ben strode for the hall. Just before the exited
teh kitchen he dashed his forearm across his
eyes. Then he was gone.
poo. Joe sighed, wondering if he should go after
Ben or give him time to cool down and cry a
The doorbell rang, the sound echoing through
the house, and he pushed himself to his feet.
“I’ll get it,” Ruby said.
He was halfway up the hallway when he heard
A smile curved Hannah’s mouth when he
entered the entrance hall and she saw him.
Before he could respond, Ben strode between
them and pointed a shaking finger at her.
“You’re a liar. A bloody liar.” he said.
“Ben!” Joe said, startled by the boy’s voice.
Ben shouldered his way rudely past Hannah
and out the front door. Joe made eye contact
“Sorry.” Then he went after his son.
Ben hadn’t gone far. He stood beside the
mailbox, his head bowed. Joe stopped in front
of him, “I asked Hannah to keep what was
happening between us private. That’s why she
told you we were just friends last night.”
“Then you’re a liar, too.”
“Yes, I guess I am. in this one case. But do you
understand why I made that choice? Look at
Ben slowly lifted his head. His face was filled
with so much misery Joe’s chest ached.
“This doesn’t change anything between you
and me and Ruby. It doesn’t mean I love your
Mom or any of you less. It only means that
Hannah and I are going to spend some time
together. Now I want you to come apologize to
Ben stiffened. “No way. I didn’t do anything
wrong. She’s the one who lied to me.”
“Because I asked her to. I thought you like
Hannah. She’s been a good friend to our
“That was before. She’s not my friend. You can’t
make me like her.”
“NO, but I can make you apologize. Right NOw.”
He turned to find Hannah standing behind him,
a concerned frown on her face.
“It’s okay. ” she said.
“Ben needs to apologize to you.”
“He’s allowed to have his feelings,” she said. “I
“I wnat you to go to your room,’ he said to Ben.
Ben speared Hannah with a burning look as he
strode past her.
“I’m sorry. That was my fault.” Joe said.
“It’s all right. I’d be angry if I was in his shoes
Ruby appeared on the doorstep, a frown on her
“I need to talk to Ruby,” he said.
“I think she’s heard enough to have a fair idea
of what’s going on.”
He shook his head. “What a screw up.”
“Yeah, well, it could have been worse.”
“They could have walked in when we were
going at it yesterday morning.”
He couldn’t help but laugh.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do,
okay?” she said.
She gave him a small smile before turning to
wave to Ruby and walking away. He watched
her for a moment, admiring the swing of her
Then he took a deep breath and went to talk to
Later that night JOe got a call from his mother.
“I thougth you should know that Ben phoned
and asked if he could come live with me,” she
“Thats not going to solve anything,” his mother
“Thank you, I Know that.” He took a deep
breath and let it out again.
“what’s going on? Did you two have a fight or
“I’ve started dating someone. Ben doesn’t
approve.” he filled his mother in briefly.
“Oh, Joe. You’ve made a real mess of things,
“I’m open to suggestions,” he said.
“Who is this woman anyway? How come I
haven’t heard about her before?”
“she lives next door.”
“The girl Ruby has taken such a shine to?”
“I see.” she said drily.
“I thought you’d be happy I was seeding
“I am. But it’s not like you only have yourself to
think about. It’s not enough that you are
attracted to this woman. You have children to
“I know all this, MOm. The kids already have a
relationship with her. And I wouldn’t have
gotten them involved if this was just a fling.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. I only hope she feels
the same way.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not saying she’s a bad person, Joe.
saying that you’re asking her to take on a lot.
And it’s going to take a special kind of woman,
a very generous woman, to do that.”
He stared at the wall. It wasn’t as though he’d
never considered those issues. But he’d let
desire and need override his common sense
and caution. Had that been a mistake?
He flashed to the hot and sweaty hour’s he’d
spent in bed with Hannah the previous morning
and the contentment and peace he’d found
lying with her in his arms afterward. There
hadn’t been a doubt in his mind then. He had
to hang on to that feeling, to that belief.
“Hannah is special,” he said.
“I hope you are right. What do you want to do
about Ben and how is Ruby taking the news?”
“She couldn’t be happier. She told me she’d
been wishing for Hannah to be my girlfriend
because she thought we were both lonely.”
Despite everything, the memory brought a smile
to his mouth. At least one of his kids was happy.
“I’ll talk to Ben,” he said.
“Maybe he should come stay with me for a
couple of days, let him cool down.”
“No. We’re a family. He can’t opt out when it
suits him. We have to work this through.”
“Good to hear.”
“Glad you approve of something,” he said drily.
“I know. And thanks for the call. I appreciate the
heads up. And the lecture.”
“Anytime.” his mother said, and he knew she
They talked a little more before he ended the
call. He sat for a while, going over the
conversation again in his mind. Then he pushed
himself to his feet and made his way to Ben’s
His son was lying on his bed, his eyes flicked
toward Joe then away again.
“Could we talk for a minute?” Joe asked.
Ben ignored him. Joe walked to the bed, “I asked
you a question.”
“I didn’t hear you.”
Joe decided to let the lie slide. “I just got off the
phone with your grandmother. She told me you
wanted to come stay with her.”
“Is that really what you want?” You don’t want to
be here with me and Ruby anymore?”
Ben shrugged, avoiding eye contact. “At least
Mama doesn’t lie to me.”
“I’ve explained to you why i felt it was best to
hold off on telling you and Ruby what was
happening between me and Hannah. You’re old
enough to understand that there are different
kinds of lies. If you tell a lie to hurt someone, or
to cover up something bad, that’s wrong. But
what I did was to protect you and your sister.”
Ben simply stared at him, unresponsive. Joe
sighed. Clearly there would be not getting
through to him tonight.
“Look, all i can say is that I love you kids and
you’re my first priority, always. I’m sorry if what i
did hurt your feelings. But that doesn’t mean you
can milk this forever. You’re not going to your
Ben looked as though he was going to say
something for a moment, then he shrugged.
“You’re the boss.”
Not the most satisfactory conversation Joe had
ever had, but it would have to do. He couldn’t
force his son to feel one way or another. He
would simply have to wait him out. Ben had liked
Hannah before Joe had started dating her, and
Joe was confident his son would come aroudn
eventually. It would take time, and patience.
He crossed his fingers that Hannah was prepared to
ride out the storm with him.
Two weeks later, Hannah waited on the front
porch of Joe’s house for him to return from
dropping the kids at school. He was running a
little late and she checked her watch. If she got
the job she was interviewing for this afternoon, it
would be the end of their early morning
The sound of a car engine brought her head up
and she smiled as Joe pulled into the driveway.
“Sorry, I got held up with one of Ruby’s
teachers,” he said as he exited the car.
He kissed her deeply, she leaned against his
broad chest. This was the one thing in her world
that was absolutely right: being with Joe, holding
him, touching him, being touched by him.
never had a more considerate or passionate
“You okay?” he asked when he broke the kiss.
“Yeah, of course.”
“I’ve got an appointment at ten o’clock with my
lawyer.” he said.
She checked her watch. It was nine thirty.
“We’re on the clock, pay attention,” he said as
they moved into the house.
“I love your eyes,” she said. mostly to stop
herself from saying something else.
He smiled. Then he tensed as he caught sight of
the clock on the DVD player.
“poo. I’m going to be late,” he said. He rolled off
the couch and onto the floor.
Hannah laughed as she helped him round up his
underwear and shoes, buckling his belt for him
as he pulled on his shirt. He left her to lock up
the house, kissing her one last time before
bolting for his car.
Over the next week, Joe swung between two
states — happiness and frustrated sadness. It
seemed crazy to him that both states could
coexist, but it was the reality of his life. When he
and Hannah were alone, he felt invicible. She was
s*xy**, strong, smart, he couldn’t stop thinking
about her. Then there was Ben. Angry, silent,
It has been three weeks since Hannah returned
and they started dating. Ruby was happy, each
night she trekked next door to help Hannah with
her chores. Ben never did. He’d taken to
spending time in his room, except when Joe
forced him to join them at the dinner table.
The worst thing was that Joe felt so powerless. He’d
tried patience. He’d tried communication.
tried bribery, to his shame. Nothing got through
to his sullen son. Ben had effectively withdrawn
from the family.
The tension within him came to a head when
Hannah was over for dinner Tuesday night.
Ben opened the door to her knock and walked away without acknowledging her at all.
“Ben!” Joe said sharply, but his son just kept
walking up the hallway.
“That’s it. I’ve had enough.” He moved towards
the hallway, but Hannah caught his arm.
“Wait five minutes before you go after him and
say something you might regret.”
Hannah might not want to acknowledge it, but
Ben’s attitude was getting worse, not better, He
was becoming openly, aggresively rude,
something Joe would not tolerate. Ben didn’t
have to like what is happening between Joe and
Hannah, but he had to respect his father’s
decision, and he needed to respect Hannah.
Ruby was standing in the kitchen doorway, a
drink in her hand.
Hannah cleared her throat. “Um, hi, Ruby.”
“When are you going to stay the night?” Ruby
Hannah made a choking noise.
“Ruby,” Joe said, amused despite himself.
“I’m only asking what everyone else is thinking,”
Ruby said matter of factly.
“Everyone? Who’s everyone? Joe asked.
“Grandma, and Aunty Robyn next door.”
“Staying the night isn’t something people should
rush into,” Joe said.
“Why not? I thought you liked each other. It
would be cool to have Hannah here for
breakfast.” Ruby said.
There was a sound from the hallway and Joe
swung around to see his son standing in the
living room doorway, his angry gaze fixed on
“What is wrong with you? Ben snarled. “why are
you trying so hard to replace mom?”
Hannah visible flinched and Ruby went pale as
she stared at her brother.
“I’m not. I’m not trying to replace Mommy.” she
saidi. She looked at Joe, stricken.
“Yes, you are. Wanting Hannah to be in that
mother-daughter thing with you, always sU-Cking
up to her and trying to get Dad to like her more.
What do you think MOm would say if she could
Ben was white with anger, his hands curled into
a fist by his side.
“Ben,” Joe said, stepping forward.
Ben swung toward him. “You’re just as bad.
Don’t you care that she’s not here? Don’t you
even think about her anymore?
“Of course I do, we all do…..”
“No, you don’t. You just want to be with Hannah
all the time and forget about everything else.
don’t even care that she’s dead.”
“You know better than to talk like that,” Joe said.
Hannah stepped forward. “Ben, the last thing I
want to do is try to take your mom’s place. My
dad left when I was about Ruby’s age, and I
know it’s not the same as dying, but I missed
him like crazy.”
Ben refused to even look at her, keeping his gaze
fixed on his father.
“I don’t want to try and take away your
memories of your mom or replace her or
anything like that, I promise,” Hannah said, “I
just like spending time with you and your dad
Joe watched carefully, trying to read his son’s
response, not sure if he should intervene or not.
“You want more than that,” Ben said. “I’m not
“I swear, I just want to hand with you guys. No
agenda. Couldn’t we at least try to be friends?”
She asked and reached out to place a reassuring
hand on his shoulder.
Ben looked at her and shrugged his shoulder,
roughly brushing Hannah’s hand away. “I told
you, you’re never going to be my mom.”
Ruby was across the room in a flash, throwing
herself between Ben and Hannah, reaching out
to push her brother away.
“Stop it! You’re going to ruin everything!
going to make Hannah hate us and then she’ll go
away and we’ll never see her again.”
“You’re a traitor,” Ben yelled. “A stinking traitor.”
He shoved Ruby with all his might. She
staggered backwards, off balance then fell onto
her outstretched left arm.
Her wail of pain made the hairs on the back of
JOe’s neck stand on end. He was at her side in
“It hurts. It hurts so much,” she sobbed.
“I think it’s broken,” JOe said.
Ben stood frozen, so pale Joe thought he was
going to pass out.” I didn’t mean it. I didn’t
mean it. ” Ben bolted for the door.
“Ben!” Joe shouted. It was dark outside and the
last thing he needed was to have to chase Ben
down when they had to get Ruby to the hospital.
But Ben was gone, the door banging loudly
“I’ll go after him,” Hannah said. “You need to get
Ruby to a doctor.”
He nodded briefly, giving Ruby a reassuring
sq££ze. Hannah headed for the door and he
gave his daughter all his attention.
By the time he had Ruby in the car and ready to
go, Hannah had returned.
“No sign of him, I’m sorry. I have no idea how he
disappeared so quickly,” she said helplessly.
“I need to go,” he said.
“I’ll find him,” Hannah promised.
He looked at her, remembering his mother’s
warning. He figured tonight definetely qualified
under the tough category, but she showed no
signs of flinching.
“Thank you, he said.
She simply shook her head. “You don’t have to
“Love you,” he said, stepping close to press a
quick kiss to her lips before turning to slide into
the drivers seat.
She looked flustered for a moment, then her
mouth lifted at the corner. “Nice timing.”
“Figured I’d better get in while the getting was
She looked as though she wanted to say more,
but she pushed his car door closed. “Call me
from the hospital, let me know how Ruby is.”
Joe tried to gauge his son’s mood as they ate