Finishing Touches
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Finishing Touches

(from 2003 print edition)

Jenna took a deep breath, allowing crisp fall air to invade her body. Feeling the nip of winter's touch creeping further through her open window, she pulled the plush blanket higher around her baby's shoulders. She loved the precious time spent rocking her child to sleep as he snuggled into her breast. At these moments, she felt the most connected to her only love. She also missed him most vividly.

Lightly running her fingertips over Aaron's tiny head, Jenna studied the perfect little features, so like his father's. Daniel had never tried to conceal the pride he had felt whenever someone mentioned how much his son resembled him. He had considered the child his greatest work of art, and his most important. Jenna's husband had been many things, but humble had never been one of them. She couldn't help grinning, recalling his admission of knowing he was a very good-looking guy. And he really was, or had been. Even after he had gotten sick and had lost too much weight, his features had still been perfect and his eyes absolutely beautiful.

She snuggled her baby closer and returned her gaze to beyond the window. The view from their loft was breathtaking at this time of the year, with hundreds of maple trees along the banks of the Illinois River boasting their shades of red and yellow and green and brown. The Spirit of Peoria, a new reproduction of the beloved old riverboats, often sailed by with passengers walking the decks or standing at the rails. Six years earlier, Jenna and Daniel had watched the Julia Belle Swain together whenever they caught it floating along the river. Once, covered only with a sheet pulled from their bed, they had stood before the large window and talked of taking the short cruise on the old paddle-wheel. Some day.

“Some day” had never come. Neither had so many other days they had planned. Their time together had centered around his painting, but then, he had told her to expect that. She hadn’t argued when he had refused to go out because he was working, or when she had to go to bed alone. She had been warned and had willingly accepted his terms. The naivete of youth, Jenna mused sullenly. Now, there was no later for them. The Julia Belle and Daniel were both gone.

His baby stirred in her arms and Jenna coerced herself to rise slowly, moving across the loft to settle Aaron in his crib. Convinced he was still slumbering, she wandered into the kitchen to pour a cup of mint tea; a habit she had developed while carrying her first child. Daniel's mother had suggested it might help settle her stomach and it seemed to work. Even well after the morning sickness was gone, Jenna had continued the routine and joked with her husband that maybe he should try it as well, to calm his nerves. He didn't like mint tea. He didn't like boats either, except at a distance. Alan had once pointed out that Daniel's work was the only interest they shared. Her best friend hadn't been amused when she remarked that her advanced pregnancy proved him wrong.

Not sure what to do with herself while Aaron slept, Jenna returned to the beautifully carved oak rocking chair, a gift from her mother-in-law. Joan had been nearly as excited as her son after hearing that he and Jenna were expecting their first child and had wasted no time making sure they had everything they needed for the baby. Jenna hadn't heard from Joan recently. She considered trying to call, but knew she would have to talk to two or three other people just to get through to Daniel's mother and then most likely have to leave a message. She wasn't up to that today. A fleeting thought of calling her own mother surfaced, then dissipated. She would just try again to invite Jenna to some social gathering. And Jenna’s sister-in-law would insist on coming over and staying the day, with the kids. She wasn't up to that, either.

Alan. He would be at work, but she could talk to Cheryl for a few minutes until her kids interrupted and ask her to say hello to him. Jenna didn't want to talk to him now, anyway. She only needed to feel the connection – to know he was there.

She dialed his number without stopping to think about it. She knew it better than her own.

His voice startled her. He shouldn't be home now. After another prompt, she gathered herself enough to answer, grimacing at the shakiness of her voice.

"Jenna, what's wrong? Are you okay?"

She hesitated again. No, she wasn't, but she wouldn't tell him that. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"You don't sound fine."

Trying to maintain composure, she fumbled for something to say to him now that he was on the phone. "I…I'm just surprised you answered. I figured you'd be at work."

"We just finished a big job. I gave everyone the day off."

"Oh? How'd it go?"

"Another Nicklaus job."

Jenna half-grinned at the term. Nicklaus had been one of her friend's first clients, never satisfied and constantly insisting on changes. When she had still been meeting Alan on Sundays for dessert and coffee, Jenna would hear about all of the complaints and revisions of the week and make jokes to put him in a better mood. It had always worked.

"Jenna?" Alan’s voice called her back.

"Sorry, I thought maybe you'd heard enough complaining recently and I should just stay quiet."

"Do you want me to come over?"

Yes, she very much wanted him to come over. "Oh, no, I'm fine. I was just checking in to see how you guys are doing. Is Justin over the flu?"

"Jenna, that was two weeks ago."

She paused, holding her breath a moment and wishing she hadn't called.

"I'm coming over."

"No. Alan, it's your day off. You should spend it with your family."

"My family is fine; you're not. I'll be right there." He didn't give her time to respond before she heard the click from his end.

Oh, hell. She wasn't ready for company. She hadn't gone out in nearly a week, or showered in two days, and there were dishes in the sink and the baby's toys on his blanket on the floor. She didn't have time to shower and clean both and decided her own cleanliness would be more noticeable. So she checked on her sleeping son and jumped into the warm water.

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