Between You and Me(5)

By: Jennifer Gracen

All eyes were on her now, rounded with shock. Dane gaped, his mouth an O of surprise. Charles stared hard at his sister as Lisette gently took their baby from his hands. “What’s going on, Tess?” he asked softly, as if talking to a wounded animal.

Tess set her cup on the nearby end table before turning back to them. Again she swept the heavy mass of her long curls over her shoulders. Her heart rate was climbing, but now that she’d said the words, they made more sense than anything had in a long time. “I need to be by myself for a little while. To change things up. So I’m going to go to Aspen, and stay at the house there. You’ll be in Cancun for most of January,” she said to Dane, “and you’ll be at the Palm Beach house for two weeks,” she said to Charles. “So neither of you will be using the ski house. I am. I’m just letting you all know.”

Dane made a sound that sounded like sputtering.

“Why is this the first we’re hearing of it?” Charles asked.

“Umm, because I don’t have to report to anyone,” Tess replied evenly.

“I didn’t mean to insinuate that, and you know it,” Charles said, shifting forward in his seat. His eyes, the bright marine blue they’d all inherited from their mother, were now focused like lasers on Tess. “If you need to take a break, of course you should. I’m just surprised.”

“Ten minutes ago, we were talking about Cancun, and you didn’t even mention it.” Dane was equally focused on her, studying her as if sensing something was off. “So yeah, this seems like it’s coming out of nowhere.”

“And if it is?” Tess inquired sharply. “So what?”

“You guys are acting like her parents,” Julia remarked. “Might want to take it down a notch.”

“She’s right,” Lisette said, bouncing Charlotte on her knees.

“We are not,” Charles said, but it came out weak with recognition.

Dane kept staring at his sister. “How long will you be gone?”

“I’m not sure,” Tess admitted. But she knew what she really wanted to do, so why not do it? Throw herself into researching sperm donors, in vitro, whatever it would take to help her have the baby she so desperately wanted. Be away from stress and prying eyes, cleanse her body and mind . . . “At least two months, I think. Until the end of February, probably? Maybe more. I’ll see.”

The wave of shock was palpable as her brothers and their wives all exchanged brief glances of astonishment. Charles got to his feet. “Come on, Tess. Let’s find a quiet place to talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Tess said, looking up at him. It was so strange how she felt utterly calm and pulsing with exhilaration at the same time. The adrenaline rush was invigorating. “I’m merely telling you all that I’m going away for a while. It’s not up for discussion. End of story.”

“Bullshit,” Charles said tersely. He crouched in front of his sister, took her hands in his, and stared into her face, searching. “What the hell’s going on?”

“I’m with him,” Dane said, scooting to the edge of his chair and leaning toward her. “Did something happen? This just seems so sudden, and—”

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, actually,” Tess said. “New Year’s is just around the corner. I need something new. I need a change. So . . . I’m going to just go somewhere else for a while.”

“Please give us something more here,” Charles implored quietly. “I’m worried about you now.”

“Me too,” Dane said. “What he said. Tess, honey . . .”

She smiled at both of them, squeezing Charles’s hands before pulling them free. “There’s nothing wrong. I’m fine.”

“I don’t believe you,” Charles said.

“Okay.” She rose to stand, and he mirrored her.

“Talk to me,” he whispered fiercely.

Dane stood too, reaching out to grasp her elbow. “When are you leaving?”

“Day after tomorrow,” Tess said, deciding as she said the words.