The house was completely silent, save the soft tapping of the keyboard beneath Jonas’ fingers. Normally he loved these sort of quiet mornings – when the rest of the family was off at work or school or running errands, and he was free to sit at home and get some work done in peace.
But he could not shake the feeling that today would be anything but peaceful…
The man’s worried thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the chiming of the doorbell echoing throughout the empty house. The sound almost made him jump.
Jonas did his best to force a smile as he rose to his feet. He hadn’t expected Josh to arrive so early. Alright. He told himself. Don’t fuck this up.
Jonas knew how risky it had been to invite Josh to come – especially without telling the boys. But he would be heading back to the U.S. in just two days, and Jonas couldn’t bear to let the other man go without speaking to him first – just the two of them.
“Good Morning.” Jonas widened his smile as he opened the door for the other man. “Thank you for coming.”
Jonas nodded. “I had a feeling you would be. The boys told me you wanted to speak with my wife, and…” He shrugged. “Well, I hope you don’t mind if we speak instead.”
“That’s probably a good idea.” He paused for a moment. “Look, Jonas, I really want to apologize. I let my temper get the better of me.”
One look at the other man’s face told Jonas he was sincere. It’s okay, he almost replied. Jonas had to bite back the knee-jerk reaction. No matter how difficult Mari had been or how sorry Josh was, it was certainly not ‘okay’.
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” He said at last. “And I understand. Let’s just say we know a thing or two about tempers in this family…” Despite everything, Jonas almost laughed. “Would you like to sit down?” He gestured toward the living room doorway in the distance.
Josh nodded, and followed Jonas down the hall.
Ah, here comes the fun part… Jonas was still not exactly sure what he intended to say, but one thing was certain – he had to say something.
He took a seat beside the older man, clearing his throat softly. “I’m really glad I have this chance to talk to you. I know things haven’t exactly been easy for any of us and… It didn’t feel right for you to leave without having the chance to…” Jonas paused, furrowing his brow. Scheiße. How the Hell do you say it in English? “Ah… reinen Tisch machen… Clear the table?” He looked at Josh hopefully.
Josh laughed in a quiet burst. “Clear the air? Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.”
Jonas could not suppress his own chuckle of amusement. “Yes, clear the air.” He nodded, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry. All those years learning English, and I guess some things still escape me…” The man gave a small shrug, then fell into silence for a few moments.
Verdammt. This was so much easier in my head… He thought helplessly. Especially when I didn’t have to translate…
Jonas took a deep breath. “By now, I’m sure you’ve probably figured out that… this really hasn’t been easy for my family.” He began uncertainly. “Especially my wife.”
Josh smiled wryly. “I’ve gathered that, yes.”
“Look, I know what you probably think of her. You made that very clear the other night.” For a moment, Jonas’ tone hardened. Though he had forgiven Josh for the outburst, the memory still stung. He quickly chased the feeling away. “And I understand why you do. I promise you, I do. She’s being so damn difficult, and it’s not fair to you. I know it isn’t. And I’m sure you won’t believe me when I tell you this… But she knows it too.”
“Mari is…” Jonas paused, trying to collect his thoughts. “I guess you could say she… Damn. This is hard. I can’t really find the words… Not even in German.” For a fleeting moment, his lips curled into a small smile that was gone as quickly as it had come. “It was a long time ago, before I knew her. But… Back when you, um… ‘met’ her…” Jonas stumbled over the words a bit, trying to hide his discomfort.
“I think that was when she was at her worst. Her lowest. I don’t know all the details, but… I know enough. She was depressed. She… hated herself.” Jonas shook his head. “From what I’ve heard, it was pretty damn scary. Her parents didn’t know what to do…” He paused, breathing deeply. Though he’d been fortunate enough to have never witnessed it for himself, the stories alone were enough to break his heart.
The man cleared his throat softly before continuing. “She was in therapy for almost ten years after the boys were born.” Jonas explained. “And she’s come so far, even from when I first met her. But she’s still… broken. I’ve tried so hard to fix her, but I don’t think anything will ever be enough take the pain away. Not completely. And having you come back into her life – into the boys’ lives – after all these years…” He shrugged helplessly.
“Josh, please understand. Those boys were everything to her for so long. I think they were the only good thing in her life… Until she met me, of course.” He allowed himself a smile yet again. “She just… doesn’t know how to deal with this, I guess. And I know that’s no excuse for how horrible she’s been to you. But… I just wanted you to maybe understand why. She’s trying. And I’m trying too.” Jonas hoped the other man knew how sincere he really was. “Give her time, and she’ll come around. I promise. And, until then… I’m sorry. I really am.”
Josh remained silent for a long time, taking in everything Jonas had told him. Jonas felt his heart rate quicken as he waited for Josh to finally speak, terrified of what his response may be.
“I do understand.” Josh said at last. “Like I said, I let my temper get the better of me before. It’s just been very frustrating because I want to explain to her that I don’t want to steal the boys from her – or you. I’ve actually been wanting an opportunity to speak to you since I got here. You’re their father. Stefan… I know he doesn’t seem to appreciate that, but I do.” He sighed softly. “But about Mari. I sympathize with her a lot. I’m not proud of the man I was when I ‘met’ her either.”
“Thank you for understanding.” Jonas replied. “Seriously. And… for what it’s worth, I’ve never felt like you were trying to ‘steal’ them. I know that’s not why you’re here. But I won’t lie. Seeing them with you… It hurts a little.” He confessed, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “Especially Stefan. Things with him have always been pretty complicated… I guess you picked up on that, huh?”
“Yeah. He’s tried not to be too obvious about it, I think, I just kind of got it from some things he’s said and the way he talks about you. The biggest clue was that he calls you by name.”
Jonas nodded, and tried his best to hide the pain in his voice. “Yeah… I don’t think I’ll ever be anything but ‘Jonas’ to him.” He forced a smile. “And that’s okay. It’s his decision. It doesn’t change the way I feel about him. He’s my son.” His voice was suddenly thick as he spoke. Great, now you look fucking ridiculous. Jonas cursed himself as he fought back the wave of emotion that threatened to overtake him. “And I know he cares. He’s a good kid.”
Josh leaned forward, bracing his arms on his legs. “He is a good kid,” He agreed. “You’re a stronger man than me; it would drive me crazy if a kid I’d raised pretty much his whole life had the same attitude towards me as Stefan does you.”
“Oh, it drives me pretty damn crazy.” Jonas laughed. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I learned that a long time ago. I mean, I used to think that maybe he’d come around, but…” He stopped himself abruptly. “Hey, who am I to complain? I mean, think how many kids out there hate their step-parents. I got lucky with those boys. Even Stefan.” Jonas’ smile widened. “And… I guess I should be thanking you. Without you, I wouldn’t have my sons. Hell, I might not even have my wife and daughter either.”
“Both the boys are pretty great. You and Mari did a damn good job.” Josh grinned. “And that Clara seems like a real firecracker. I wish you the best of luck with that one. My Cora is giving me all kinds of grey hairs.”
A loud burst of laughter escaped Jonas’ lips. “Yeah, ‘firecracker’ is certainly one way to put it… She’s her mother’s daughter, that’s for sure.” He shook his head slowly. “Sounds like you’ve got your hands full with yours too… You said she’s twelve, right? God, does that mean it doesn’t get any better from here?” His terror was only half-feigned.
Josh laughed and shook his head. “Oh, you poor bastard. It’s only going to get worse once she discovers boys.”
“Fuck.” Jonas slumped back against the couch cushions, hiding his face in his hands for a moment. “Know of any good convents back in Willow Creek?”
The older man snorted. “Not off the top of my head. This is the land of castles. Maybe there’s a nice tower you can put her in somewhere?”
“Are you serious?” Jonas struggled to keep a straight face. “A beautiful girl all alone in a tower? We know how that one ends…”
“Jonas?” A deep voice called from the hallway. “Josh?!”
Stefan appeared in the doorway, raising an eyebrow curiously at both men as they continued laughing together on the couch.
“Schön, dass du schon wieder da bist…” Jonas caught himself, his eyes flicking toward Josh with an apologetic shrug. “I’m glad to see you back so soon.” He repeated in English. “Josh decided to stop by a little early, so I was just keeping him entertained for you until you got back.”
Stefan looked uncertainly at his stepfather. “Entertained, huh?”
Then Jonas watched as his lips stretched into a warm smile.
It was such a simple gesture, but so happy, so genuine, that Jonas felt his heart practically burst at the sight. It did not happen often, but Jonas lived for the moments when he caught Stefan looking at him the way he was now. It was the way Tobi looked at him every day – the way a child looks at his father.
The moment was gone all too quickly as Stefan turned his attention to Josh, his smile widening even more. For one fleeting moment, Jonas felt a burst of anger course through his veins. How many years had he been bending over backwards to get one lousy glimmer of that warmth, that affection? And what the Hell has this guy done to deserve it? He thought bitterly. Pass a fucking DNA test?!
And just as quickly as it had come, the feeling was gone. Christ, I sound like Mari. Jonas almost laughed at the thought. This is what the boys have always wanted. I should be happy for them… I AM happy for them. Josh is a great guy. He reminded himself as he moved aside for his stepson to sit between them. He went through a lot to be here…
And Stefan went through a lot to find him.
Thank you to JoieWilder for writing all of Josh’s dialogue and actions in this chapter.