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~ Chapter Twenty-Seven ~
The four adults sat in the living room around the coffee table, silent. Chance was long asleep, and it was late, but still they sat.
His mom sighed.
Mary Jo cleared her throat. “Can I get anyone something to drink?”
Justin coughed, looked at Arianna. “Are you thirsty?”
She gave a wordless nod.
She looks scared. I need to break the ice before we all suffocate under its weight. He went for the one subject he knew they would have in common: Motherhood. “Mom, I’m sure Arianna is going to love any advice you can give her for Chance. She’s a new mother and I bet she’s not been around too many little ones.” He looked down into his wife’s face with a smile.
She returned his gaze, cleared her throat. “Y…yes, that’s right. I don’t remember ever being around children.”
Janet Hollander nodded. “That won’t be a problem. I can answer any question you have. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it.”
The ice was broken.
“Thank you. I appreciate the help. I’m sure my mother will help.” She hesitated, said, “Well, if my father lets her, that is.”
Justin’s mom threw him a questioning look.
He decided to answer. There was no point in keeping it quiet, at least not to his mother. She was part of the family and needed to know. “Arianna and I…we, have decided it’s possible her dad had something to do with her abduction.”
His mom gasped. “You can’t be serious.”
He nodded. “I am.”
“But that’s awful, Justin.”
“I know, Mom—but…”
“Yes ma’am, it is.”
Justin and his mother looked at Arianna, both surprised she’d spoken.
“I don’t know what to say, child. What happened to you was horrific. I can’t think what to say, how to begin helping you heal. To think your father has something to do with it makes it unbearable.”
“Arianna nodded. “Yes, it does. But it makes sense. He wasn’t happy about me involving Justin at all. He wasn’t helping try to find my son, or encouraging me to do so. When we did find him, instead of helping me get settled back at home, he tried to take my son away from me, claiming I was unfit.”
The last words came off watery and full of hurt. Justin leaned over and put an arm around her shoulders. He whispered, “It’s okay. You’ve got me and Chance,” only loud enough for her to hear.
She put a hand on his, turned and smiled. “Thank you.”
“You poor dear, I’m so sorry. What about your mother? Is she standing beside you?”
Arianna shook her head, letting her chin rest on her chest for a moment. “I don’t know. She’s saying she will, but I’m not so sure I believe her. Chances are it’s partly her fault this happened?”
Justin’s mom looked up, gave him a quizzical look, then returned her gaze to Arianna. She leaned over and patted her tiny, bony hand. “It’s fine, child. We can talk about this tomorrow. If I’d realized you’d be bringing home so many people, I wouldn’t have come Justin. I’ll just drive back tonight and return tomorrow.”
Before Justin had a chance to reply, Mary Jo said, “You’ll do no such thing. You take the extra bedroom and I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“I can’t ask you to do that—I…”
“Nonsense. You didn’t ask, I offered. It’s no big deal.”
Justin’s mom studied the nurse for several moments then agreed. “Fine, but I want you to know I feel bad.”
Mary Jo shook her head. “No need to. I’m a nurse. We’re used to standing on our feet for hours and hours. It’s not gonna kill me to sleep on an over-stuffed sofa. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.” She gave a smile at the end of her speech.
Justin’s mom returned it. “Well thank you. You’re very kind.”
Mary Jo dipped her head in acknowledgement. “Justin, I’m gonna search out the bathroom. Will you be okay helping Arianna with the baby?”
“Of course. It’s down the hall to the left.”
Justin got up and walked over to his mother and gave her a hug. “Thanks Mom. Have I told you lately how great you are? Or how much I love you?”
She chuckled. “I’m sure you have Justin, but you can tell me again.”
Arianna laughed. “I think I’m going to love it here.”
Justin nodded. “I think so, too. Now let’s get to bed.”
Suddenly quiet and looking shy and scared, Arianna said, “Okay.”
Knowing what her issue was, Justin said, “Don’t worry, Ari. I won’t touch you. In fact, I can sleep on the floor if you like.”
She shook her head so hard reddish-blond hair flew from side to side. “No, I don’t want you to sleep on the floor, just give me some time to get used to you first.”
“Of course.” He held out his hand and without another word, she took it and he led her down the hallway.