Mason Ch. 10bykalamazoo707©
Toni felt Mason looking at her and looked back at him. Mason smiled at her and turned his attention back to Jamie and the pizza bread.
"So what does your mom like on her pizza?" Mason asked.
"Pineapple and pepperoni and ham and cheese." Jamie replied.
"No peppers?" Mason asked.
"No peppers, she says that they're yucky." Jamie replied.
"She likes onions but she doesn't like those fish things." Jamie replied.
"Those fish things are called anchovies and I happen to agree with her on that." Mason said, "what do you like on your pizza?"
"That's all?" Mason asked.
"Yup. That other stuff is yucky." Jamie said as he sprinkled cheese over the sauce that Mason had already put on the bread.
Mason laughed and then wondered if it would be cheating if he pumped Jamie for information regarding Toni's likes and dislikes. It would be cheating he decided and didn't ask any questions, he left Jamie in charge of calling them when the oven timer went off so he could start unloading the truck while the pizza bread baked. Jamie perched himself on a chair quite pleased to be given such an important duty.
Toni and her parents had already begun to unload the smaller items while he and Jamie were putting the pizzas together. Ben and Mason carried in the heavier pieces with Mason making the appropriate comments about how much things weighed when to him they weighed nothing. After carrying in the second heavy item, Mason noticed that Ben was breathing quite heavily and called a time out.
"We can get one more thing in can't we?" Ben asked.
"I think that the pizza is about done, so it's a good time for a break." Mason said.
Jamie was on his way out to get them when they walked in; the condo was filled with the smell of fresh baked pizza bread making everyone comment about how hungry they were.
"This is way better than mom's pizza!" Jamie quipped as he took another bite of his pizza bread.
"That's because my pizza bread isn't home made." Toni replied, "but I do agree that this is delicious." she added.
"It sure is." Ben agreed. "Thank you for dinner and for volunteering to help us unload the truck."
"Anytime, I wasn't doing anything tonight anyway." Mason replied. "Toni, when are you moving in?" Mason asked.
"Next week, I took next week off so that we could get settled in." Toni replied.
"I'd be glad to help." Mason offered.
"Thanks but unlike my parents, I'm having the movers unload the truck for me."
"We saved money by unloading the truck ourselves." Ben said in response.
"True, but now you have to take the truck back whereas if you had let them do it, they could have taken the truck back with them." Toni replied.
Mason saw an opportunity.
"Why don't I take the truck back for you? Toni can follow me in my car or her car if she isn't comfortable with driving mine." Mason suggested.
"We can't ask you to do that!" Barbara said, "You've already gone far above and beyond the call of duty."
"I really don't mind, all I was going to do this evening was play scrabble against the computer and read. Mason replied. "What do you think Toni?" he asked.
"Sure, we can take the truck back but I drive my own car." Toni replied.
"Can I go too?" Jamie asked.
"No baby, it's already going to be late by the time we get home." Toni said, "But you could help gramma and grampa start to unpack until we get back." Toni said when she saw the disappointed look on Jamie's face.
"That's a good idea." Barbara said, "and you can start decorating your room too." she added.
Jamie was somewhat appeased but not entirely, he hated missing out on things and he really liked Dr. Mason.
The truck was unloaded two hours later with Mason doing most of the heavy lifting.
"You lift weights or something?" Ben asked as he watched Mason move a dresser from the truck.
"I lift a little." Mason replied dismissively.
As the truck was being unloaded, Toni and Barbara cleaned up the kitchen. Barbara hadn't missed the way that Mason paid attention to Toni and Jamie both. She couldn't help herself, she had to say something.
"He's a very nice man."
"Yes, he is." Toni agreed and hoped that her mother would end the conversation there.
"Reminds me of James in some ways." Barbara said and then clamped her mouth shut. She realized that she shouldn't have said anything.
"What time do you want to go shopping for Jamie's bed and dresser?" Toni asked completely changing the subject.
"Is ten too early for you? I wanted to look at some material for drapes while we were out." Barbara replied grateful for the change in subject and that Toni didn't seem to be upset about her comment.
"Ten is good; I wanted to make a few stops myself. James' parents are coming into town tomorrow night; maybe we could go out for dinner or something." Toni said.
"Sounds good, I'll call Gina while you and Mason take the truck back. Any preference on where we go?"
"Just so its child friendly, I don't care." Toni replied.
Barbara hesitated and then said, "Maybe Mason would like to come, we should take him to dinner as a way of thanking him for all of his help." she added.
"Mom, I don't know and he might be uncomfortable around people that he doesn't really know." Toni replied.
Barbara had the sense not to push anymore, "It was just a thought." she said and closed the subject. She worried for Toni, she was afraid that Toni would be too afraid to love again after losing James but she still had a very good feeling about Mason, he was good for Toni and Jamie.
"The truck's unloaded." Ben said with a smile. "As thanks I invited Mason to dinner with us tomorrow night." he added.
Mason watched Toni's reaction, there was a brief flash of anxiety and then it was gone. She was feeling something and she either didn't like it, was afraid of it or both and he wondered if it was the bond working.
"James' parents are coming into town; we're having dinner with them." Toni said.
"So what? The more the merrier." Ben said initially not understanding what the problem was.
"Look, it's fine; we'll do dinner another time." Mason said much to Toni's relief.
Once again Barbara couldn't leave well enough alone.
"They've met Mason before so I don't see a problem with him joining us." she said.
"Barbara..." Mason started to say.
"We'll know the time and place by the time you get back from delivering the truck." Barbara said in her 'don't argue with me voice'.
Mason checked the rearview mirror of the truck often to make sure that Toni was still behind him. Both of her parents seemed to realize something that Toni hadn't, he was beginning to care for her. Not just care about her, but care for her and Jamie. At some point the was going to have to start thinking about how he was going to tell her about Katrina but that was going to be easy in comparison to telling her about what he was. He decided to call Ethan for help when the time came for that revelation. The irony of having to ask Ethan for help wasn't lost on him, theirs was now a solid friendship now that Katrina wasn't between them.
The other issue was when he was going to tell her that he bought the condo next to hers. After thinking about it for a few minutes, he decided that he wouldn't physically move in until their relationship was further along. He didn't want to accidentally run into her as she came or left her condo, for the time being he would stay at his house.
Going to dinner with her, her parents and the Jacobson's was going to be interesting. He knew from the brief inter action that he had with Gina, James' mother that she had blamed Toni for not saving James. What he didn't know was whether she still felt that way and if she would be angry if she thought that Toni had moved on.
Toni had her own thoughts as she followed the truck that Mason was driving. She liked him and not necessarily in the romantic sense but he was calming in much the same way that James had been. They were two completely different men she knew and understood that, but she had seen some of the same similarities that her mother had seen and that was why she didn't comment at her mother's statement. But there were major differences too, James was playful- she had often referred to him as her big kid but Mason was more reserved, his sense of humor running more to the dry side whereas James thought that the movie 'Dumb and Dumber' was the greatest movie ever made, Mason would probably consider it stupid just as she did.
Toni was honest with herself, she was anxious about Mason going to dinner with them but her mother had made it impossible for him to back out. It wasn't so much that he was going; it was more what Gina would think. Gina would jump to the wrong conclusion and think that Toni was dating already although they were well past the two and a half year mark of James' death. Toni had a suspicion that as far as Gina was concerned, she should never move on or remarry even if James had released her to do so. "Why am I even thinking about this?" she muttered to herself. "It's only dinner." she added as she pulled in behind the truck when Mason parked it.
The drive back was quiet with very little conversation until Mason decided to give Toni an out as far as the upcoming dinner was concerned.
"I could call and cancel." he said looking over at her.
"Oh no you don't! My mother will accuse me of telling you to do it." Toni replied. "It's fine really." she added.
"What is it about me coming to dinner with you that makes you so nervous?" Mason asked.
"Can I be honest with you?" Toni asked.
"Please." Mason replied.
"Gina, James' mother initially didn't like me because of the obvious differences in our skin color. Over time she adapted but still thought that I was after James' money which wasn't true, if it had been, we wouldn't have gone through three years of breakups and reconciliations before we got married. At any rate, when James died, she blamed me; she wanted to know why I couldn't save him a second time." Toni paused for a moment.
"The fact is it was a question that I asked myself everyday for months. What I'm getting at is this, she'll jump to the wrong conclusion and think that I'm looking to replace James with someone else with money and that I'm betraying him."
Mason gave what Toni said some thought, "Toni, even if you found someone else, James is irreplaceable, you will always love him and I hope that whoever the lucky man is will understand that and not ask you to forget James or what you had together. As far as tomorrow night, goes, Gina would feel the same no matter who went to dinner with you but I stand by my offer to cancel."
Toni actually gave it some serious thought and decided against it. What would happen if she met someone? Would she turn them away just because Gina would be upset?
"No, I would like for you to come, it's like my dad said; you've helped us so much. Which reminds me, have you cashed that check yet?"
"As a matter of fact I have." Mason replied, "And I've already donated it to the veteran's fund at the VA hospital. As per the terms of our agreement, I believe that we-meaning you, Jamie and I have a date on Saturday night."
Jamie was asleep on the sofa when they got back to her parent's condo.
"Leave him here for tonight." Barbara said. "Just bring him clean clothes in the morning when you come." she added.
"Are you sure?" Toni asked.
"I'm sure." Barbara said. "I also talked to Gina and they're up for dinner and Mason is more than welcome to come too. There's a new sea food place that they heard about and want to try, is that alright with the two of you?"
"Fine by me." Toni said looking up at Mason for his opinion.
"Sounds good, is that one by the pier?" he asked. "If it is, I've been looking for a reason to go myself." he added.
"I think that's the one, is six alright? Toni and I should be done with our shopping by two or three." Barbara said.
"Six is perfect." Mason said. He really didn't care where they went although he really did want to try out the new restaurant.
"Ok Mom, I'm going home and I'll be back around nine-thirty with clean clothes for Jamie. As a matter of fact, I'll just pack a suitcase so that he has clothes and things here." Toni said.
Mason walked her to her car after she kissed Jamie goodnight.
"It's early by grown-up standards; could I interest you in a drink?" Mason asked.
Toni wanted to say no but felt like it would be a mistake so she said yes. Neither she nor Mason thought about the rumor mill, as far as they were concerned, they were off the clock and could do as they pleased and really, what was there to tell?
Mason followed Toni to her house and then they took his car to a small bar that looked relatively empty. Mason went in first to clear a path just in case the place was fuller than it appeared. As soon as he spotted an empty booth he headed toward it with Toni following close behind.
They hadn't been sitting long when Mason heard his name.
"Fuck it." he thought as he saw Joyce making her way toward them followed by a man whom he assumed was her date. Of all of the places that he could have chosen he had to chose one that Joyce would be at. He looked over at Toni checking on her reaction, she was having the same thoughts.
"Mason! Toni!" fancy seeing the both of you here." Joyce said as she sat down next to Mason. "This is Chuck, my significant other." she said indicating the man still standing. "Sit down, they don't mind sharing a booth with us do you?" she asked.
Toni looked at Mason and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "your choice."
Mason was aware that if he said that they minded that Joyce would have the story all over the hospital before they got back to work. Actually, it really didn't matter she would still talk about seeing them together and the rumor mill would continue to be fed. He could have compelled them to leave but if he and Toni were to become a couple as he hoped then this was going to be a part of their everyday lives. If they were already a couple and wanted to be alone, he would have compelled Joyce to go away but realistically they wouldn't have come to a bar if they had in fact wanted to be alone.
"Of course you may join us." Mason said. "Please, introduce us to your ma..., significant other."
"Oh it's alright; you can call him my man if you want." Joyce said. "Chuck baby, this is my colleague and office partner Mason Donahue and the lovely lady with him is Dr. Toni Jacobson. She works at the same hospital that we do but in a different department."
"Nice to meet you." Chuck said with a nod of his head.
An hour later, Mason and Toni made their escape.
"I'm sorry about that, I had no idea that Joyce would be there." Mason said as they walked out.
"Don't worry about it." Toni said, "We're already the topic of the rumor mill so what's one more rumor? She asked.
Mason took her home and walked her to the door. He really didn't like the idea of her being in the house alone but there was nothing that he could do about it.
"Make sure you lock up and set your security system." he admonished.
"Yes dad." Toni teased and then laughed. It felt good to tease and laugh she thought as Mason tried to give her a stern fatherly look. "I'll see you tomorrow night at the restaurant." she said as she stepped inside.
Mason was going to ask about picking her and Jamie up but changed his mind. Toni was already worried about what Gina might think and if they arrived in the same car it would only cause more problems and there was no need to add to that anxiety.
"I'll see you tomorrow night at the restaurant." Mason said before walking away.
Toni shut the door, locked it and set the alarm. She kicked off her shoes and went to Jamie's room to pack his suitcase for his room at her parent's condo. She packed a few book and toys for the next day and went to her room. She had stopped thinking of it as hers and James room a few months ago just as she had stopped thinking of the house as theirs. It was just a house now but one that she couldn't and wouldn't ever sell, there were just too many memories.
She found herself restless and decided to take a hot bath to relax. Afterwards, she lay on the bed and played all of the discs that James had made for her including the last one. She had to be sure, that James was going to be alright with her being with someone else if she found someone. The more she thought about it, the less concerned with Gina's feelings she became. She was an adult and didn't have to explain anything to anyone unless she chose to and that was that.
By the time she finished the last disc, she knew that James would have wanted her to be with someone else. The issue for her now was what would happen if that person died, she meant it when she told her father that she couldn't go through that again. She would much rather remain alone than go through the grief and pain that she felt when James died, so maybe she shouldn't get involved with anyone. The problem was that it didn't feel like the right decision. There was no one, so why was she even thinking about this? She wondered as she turned off the television.
Mason went to his condo as opposed to going home. It was fully furnished and set up the way that he liked it. There were two units of blood thawed in in the fridge as he had requested, he poured both bags into a large glass and heated it in the microwave.
He opened the patio doors and stepped outside taking his drink with him, it was beautiful here he thought as he sipped the warmed blood. He looked over to his right at the empty patio that belonged to Toni and found that he missed her. He wasn't ready to say that he loved her but he did miss her. The bond was beginning to establish itself he realized and then wondered what Toni was feeling.
The next day, Toni was at her parent's condo suitcase in hand. Jamie had already had breakfast and was waiting for his clean clothes before taking his bath, even as young as he was, he liked things done in a certain way and couldn't be convinced to take his bath since his mom was on the way.
"But gramma, what if she forgets something and has to go back home or she stops at the store?" he asked.
Barbara finally gave up and let him wait until Toni got there. Jamie greeted Toni with a hug and a kiss before taking off to the bathroom.
"Where's dad?" Toni asked.
"He went for a walk, he said something about wanting to explore the place, he should be back any time now." Barbara said. "Have you eaten this morning?"
"I ate a bowl of cereal and some fruit so I'm fine." Toni replied.
Ben came in a few minutes later slightly out of breath, "man am I out of shape!" he exclaimed.
Toni and Barbara both looked at him and then at each other.
"Daddy sit down and mom call 911." Toni said as she led him to a chair.
"911? Why are you calling 911?" Ben asked.
"You don't look so good and if you're fine, we'll be having dinner with James' parents as planned now shush a minute." Toni said as she took his pulse. She noted with relief that it was rapid but not weak and irregular as James' had been.
Ben protested the entire time that the EMTs evaluated him. "I'm fine!" he kept saying.
"Well sir, your blood pressure is 190/ 110 that don't sound good to me." the one EMT said.
"Daddy stop fussing, we're going to the hospital." Toni said firmly.
Just then Jamie came out of the bathroom.
"Grampa?" he asked.
"I'm fine, I promise." Ben said holding out a hand to Jamie.
Jamie didn't look convinced but nodded his head as he took Ben's hand.
"Baby, you ride with me so gramma can go with Grampa." Toni said as the EMTs helped Ben onto the stretcher.
"This is just plain embarrassing." Ben grumbled as he was strapped in.