Tessa took out all of her aggressions on the 205 pots, pans, and dishes in her sink. With each plate that she slotted into the dishwasher she slowly relaxed. She could hear the squeals and laughter that filled the living room. Stella was a big hit and a perfect addition to the family.

As far as she was concerned if the kids could be dragged away from Mario Cart then it was a very good thing.

Hands slid around her hips and Jon’s distinctive soap scent beat back the Palmolive bubble she was currently in. She sighed and leaned back. “How’s it going out there?”

His smooth chin tucked into her neck and his teeth found her ear. “I’m lonely.”

She shivered and laughed. He always knew how to find her ticklish and turn on spot at the same time. “You didn’t get roped into a Mario Cart marathon?”

“Nah, their old man is a side of boring next to a puppy.”

“I love you, Jon.”

His arms tightened. “I know. And I did talk to Mom.”


“C’mon babe, I had to. This thing between you two is ridiculous.”

“I wouldn’t call it ridiculous. Petty, mean, those fit.”

“For both of you.”

She bumped him back. “I’ve been perfectly reasonable-”

“You’ve been perfectly cowardly. Tell her off, show her that backbone that you have no problem showing me. If you don’t want me to fight this battle for you, then do it for fuck’s sake.”

She turned around, her fingers dripping in suds, ready to rail at him when she saw Carol over his shoulder. Eyes, so much like Jon’s, flashed with a similar temper.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Carol said stiffly.

“Jon, why don’t you go out with the kids.” With a nod, she smiled. “Carol and I need to talk.”

Carol took a step back. “I’d rather go back out with my family.”

“It will just take a minute.”

Carol’s chin lifted and her eyes cooled. “Fine.”

Jon looked between the two women, rubbed the back of his neck and left without another word.

“This isn’t working Carol. Why don’t you just get whatever it is off your chest. Open forum, no recriminations, no screaming matches, just spit it out and we’ll see if we can find some sort of common ground.”

“God, you’re a cold one.”

Tessa blinked at her. “What?”

“I don’t understand how my son can be with someone so reserved and cold. I just never will understand this.”

She slowly dried her hands and tried to figure out where she would get that idea. Nothing about her relationship with Jon could be described as cold. But she thought back to the first day she met Carol. Good breeding and an academic family meant capping your emotions. The exact thing about her life with her family that she hated, that’s all Carol had seen from her.

Taking the higher ground, painfully polite conversations, and stepping away from Jon every time she came in was the way she was taught to behave from the womb. But this wild Italian and German family wasn’t like that. And she’d learned to be open and loving with the kids, but rarely around the elder Bongiovi family.

Tessa moved in closer clasping her hands with Carol. She could tell that she wanted to back away, but Tessa held on. “I love that man more than anything else on this Earth.”

“You have a funny way of showing it. He was destroyed when you left him.”

Tessa’s gut rolled. “I know. If I could do it over I would, but I can’t. I didn’t have a family like yours growing up. And I never, ever thought I’d find someone like Jon. And when we lost that baby it killed me.”

“And it didn’t kill Jon?”

“I watched it kill him. I watched him grieve for that baby, a baby that I’d never put into my plans. All that guilt, all those hormones, and in the middle of it all was this brand new relationship that was bigger than anything I’d ever experienced. I couldn’t make any sense of it, so I shut down. But Jon and I got through it. We found a way to deal with it and grieve for that little life. He taught me what love can be like.” She tightened her grip. “He taught me how to open myself up to this amazing family that came as a package deal.”

“That doesn’t mean that when something bad happens again, and it will, that you won’t run and hide. And you would change him completely if you left him again. I won’t lose my boy to that again.”

“I’m not a fortune teller. The only thing I can tell you is that I trust him and I’m committed. There’s no more running in my future. Unless Jon drags me out to exercise.” She smiled and finally saw a thawing in Carol’s cool gaze.

“Look,” Tessa sighed, “we might never have that close mother-in-law daughter-in-law thing, but I want you to know that this family is mine now and I’m not going anywhere.”

“I guess we’ll see.” Carol’s fingers slid free and she went back out to the family.

Surprise, surprise. She was left alone to finish cleaning up.

Well, one thing was for sure...Queen of the May Bongiovi was never going to help out with something as mundane as dishes, but at least she’d listened. She hummed and for the first time her chest didn’t feel like a boulder was sitting on it anymore.

That was about all she could ask for for this Christmas. She might not be what Carol wanted for her son, but she wasn’t going anywhere. She tucked the last pot into the strainer and slathered her poor abused hands with lotion before heading back into the living room.

Jon was on the couch with Romeo draped over his chest, Stella snoring on his feet. Jake was at Jon’s head on the corner of the sectional. Steph was tucked into the corner opposite of Jake, a fashion magazine open on her lap and her head propped on her hand dozing.

Jesse was on the floor, stretched out with the game remote hanging loosely from his fingers Mario long forgotten to dreams. John Sr. was kicked back in his son’s recliner snoring lightly. Carol was on the phone in the other room probably talking to Matt’s wife.

That was their next stop.

She rounded the couch and ruffled Stella’s head, tracing her silky over-sized ears. The dog woofed in her sleep, but didn’t stir. Instead of disturbing anyone, she settled in against Jon’s other side her eyes misting when her husband instinctively made room and held her tight. Romeo’s little fist curled into her blouse and she decided a nap sounded like the perfect end to her day.

She had everything she needed right here.

The End
Happy Holidays
Tara Leigh