Ben and I made it back to the house around noon and then he was off again to check on his patients at his practice. I was grumbling uncharitable things under my breath about the lack of help when Mark wandered in to the kitchen. The smell of alcohol hit me and my head snapped up.
“What is it, Mark?”
He looked at me, eyes wet with tears. “I miss Max.”
“Oh honey,” I gathered him up in a hug. “I know you do.”
“I want him back, Marlowe. I want him back so bad.” He shuddered with his tears and clung on to me.
There was nothing that I could say to make him feel better. I knew that much. So I stood there in the kitchen and rubbed his back while he cried. Miles came in and saw us together and without saying anything, wrapped his arms around the both of us. A small hiccup from Mark shook us out of our reverie and I patted Miles on the shoulder.
“Miles is going to finish putting away the groceries for me and I’m going to take you upstairs, where you’re going to lie down for a change.” Mark protested and I held up a hand to his mouth. “No. I know you haven’t been sleeping. You will take a nap and I will stay with you, understand?”
Mark relented and nodded. I guided him out of the kitchen and up the stairs, calling for Gibbs along the way, but he was too busy being a puppy with the Twins in the other room. I shrugged and Mark and I walked up the stairs together. I talked Mark in to getting in to bed and pulled a chair over. I closed the curtains in the room and then sat down in the chair.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Mark.”
“You’re the best friend I could have.”
“You’re damn right I am.” I heard Mark laugh a little and I smiled.
“I miss him. We had just started talking about adopting when he died.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“We didn’t want to tell anyone yet. Still discussing where we were going to adopt.” I heard him shift in bed and then a sigh. “I’ll sign the papers on the thirteenth. The Realtor found a buyer already.”
“So that’s it? You’ll finish moving in here then?”
I thought about it for a while. “You know you’re welcome to stay as long as you want, right? You’re family.”
“Yeah.” There was silence from his side of the room for a bit and then he said, “as much as I miss Max, I’m glad I have you.”
“Me too, Mark. Now close your eyes and try to sleep. I’ll be here.”
There was some shifting around. His breathing evened out after a while and I yawned. I might as well take a nap too since I was here.
Ben shook my shoulder a few hours later and motioned for me to come in to the hall. I checked on Mark, he was still sleeping. I stepped out in to the hall ans stretched. My neck popped and Ben winced.
“You know, most men would be jealous if they came home to find their girlfriend sleeping in another man’s room.”
“He’s not sleeping. Had a break down today.” I said as I stepped in to his arms and hugged him.
“I know. He’s been pacing his room and the hall for a couple of weeks now.”
“He’s hurting and I don’t know how to help. Mine was so different.”
“We’re doing what we can. He knows we’re here for him if he needs help.”
“I know. It’s just frustrating.”
“I know, ‘Lowe.” He said and he kissed my hair.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“I’m gonna go back and sit with him some more. Will you take dinner tonight?”
“Yeah, I can do that. Pancakes?”
I smiled. “Apples and cinnamon?”
“You got it.” He kissed me and strolled off down the hall.
I smiled and walked back in to Marks room. Settling down in the chair again, I heard Mark sigh and roll over.
“How long was I out?” He murmured sleepily.
“Well, it’s about six now and you went down about one; so about five hours.” I replied. “Ben’s home, he’s making apple cinnamon pancakes.”
“My favorite.” He said with a yawn.
“Mine too so if you want some, you’re going to have to get out of that bed and shower. You reek.” I said and watched him smile.
“While you’re doing that, I’m going downstairs to hassle Miles about Denver. I feel nosy today.”
“He took Denver’s ring back to the store.”
That brought me up short. “You’ll have to elaborate on that.”
Mark sighed. “He’s not going to propose anymore. He’s pretty much going to break things off with Denver because they just can’t seem to work out their issues.”
I tapped my fingers on my chin. “Is there a pool on how long that’s going to last?”
Mark laughed so hard there was tears coming out of his eyes. “Yeah. I’m in for twenty that says they’re back together again by Valentine’s Day.”
“Damn it, you stole the good one.”
Mark hiccuped and started laughing again. “I know. That’s what Ben said when he put his twenty in the pot for Saint Paddy’s.”
“Why am I always the last one to know about these things?” I whined.
Mark grinned. “Because you’d tell Miles and we’re not ready for him to find out yet.”
“I can keep a secret from Miles. I’ve had more practice at it.” I huffed. “Take your shower. I’m going to have pancakes. I will save you some.”
I walked out of the room before Mark could reply and made my way downstairs to give Ben an earful about not telling me about the pool. When I walked in to the kitchen, it was covered in flour again and my very tall boyfriend looked like a ghost. I couldn’t help my reaction. I started laughing.
“What happened?” I said through laughter and hiccups.
“The Twins.” Ben said, ruefully.
That only made me laugh harder. When something cold and sticky hit my chest and sank under the collar of my v-neck t-shirt, I stopped laughing and eyed Ben.
“I hope you know, this means war.”
“Bring it, Red.”
I threw a handful of pre-seasoned apples at him and the war was on. It ended when Jude came in and yelled at us. looking down at my feet while she stared us down, I nudged Ben. He nudged me back and then Judge separated us with an exasperated sigh.
“You two act more like the pair of nine-year-olds that I just took upstairs to bathe.”
“He started it.” I said, sullenly.
The noise his mother made was hilarious.
“You’re thirty years old, Child. You know better.”
Ben snickered and I stepped on his toes. He cursed at me and made Jude smile.
“Clean this up. I’ll ask Miles what to do about dinner.” She said as she walked out of the room. A second later, she stuck her head back in the room and said, “and no making out!”
I started laughing again as I reached for the broom closet. I found myself plucked from my path and plopped on to the counter. I eyed Ben, who leaned down and kissed me. I reached up and pulled him closer, kissing him back. When we broke apart he kissed my nose.
“Thanks for being a five-year old with me.”
“Likewise.” I said and kissed his chin.
He kissed me hard and pulled me back in to his arms. I kissed him back, wrapping my arms around his waist and keeping him close. I always imagined the big fan fare and the huge moment; but sitting on that counter in the kitchen covered in flour and spiced applies, I realized that this was perfect.