Jonathan & Isabella

Chapter One

The nightmare was always the same. He was chasing her, reaching for and she would look back at him smiling. Just as he would get close enough to touch her a large gaping chasm would open between them. He could see her reaching out for him, but they were to far apart. Her face was covered with tears, so many tears he could drown in them. Johnny jerked awake with a gasp, covered in sweat, his eyes flying open and seeing only the darkness of his room. Some one shifted next to him, a woman he didn’t really know. She was nothing, just a distraction he had picked up at a bar. She wasn’t her, the woman he had lost, the woman he had killed. The men who had taken her life had done so because of him. They hadn’t killed her outright, they had forced him to watch her endure being violated again and again before they had slit her throat. He had gotten involved in a case that had held more dangers than he had realized. First had come the threatening phone calls, then a dead animal or two left on his porch and still he had persisted. He had given no thought that he might be putting his beloved in harms way. After her death, he had quit, had turned in his badge and gun and drank himself into oblivion, but no amount of debauchery could erase her face, her torment from his memory.

He sat up, pushing his hair out of his face before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and getting unsteadily to his feet. He was always in a partial fog after he had that dream. He went into the bathroom and switched on the light. He stopped to stare at himself in the mirror, at the bullet scar on the left side of his chest. There was a scar on his back too where the bullet had passed through. They had shot him after what they did to her, but had missed his heart. He had lamented his luck, had prayed for death after that, but it had not come. His mother and brother had tried to tell him it just wasn’t his time and he had yelled at them to leave. It was unfair that he should live while the woman he had loved had suffered and died. He turned angrily away from the mirror, away from his own eyes that accused him, that blamed him and switched on the shower. He stood there under the warm spray, crying silently, telling himself he needed to go see her.

Bella’s alarm sounded at six thirty and she reached over, switching it off and giving a long stretch. Today was the day, her mother’s birthday. Six years ago she would have lamented that fact, but she knew her mother wanted her happiness and had let the sorrow go. Sometimes she still got choked up when she remembered all the amazing memories they had made together, but for the most part she smiled and lived her life to the fullest. She got out of bed, knowing she had promised to meet her sister at the cemetery at seven. She showered quickly, drying and dressing speedily. She made her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then grabbed her keys and made sure her apartment door was locked before getting in her car. She had to stop and get flowers first and then she would go to the cemetery to celebrate the life of the most amazing woman she had known.
It was easy picking out flowers when she arrived at the shop. She always bought her mothers favorites and laid them down. Her sister would be bringing the same type of flowers so their mothers grave could always be covered in fresh Hibiscus’s. Flowers grabbed and paid for Bella drove over to the cemetery, already feeling sad though she tried not to be. She lifted the flowers from the seat beside her and got out, Erin simultaneously getting out of her car with her own flowers.

They hugged, giving eachother strength to smile for their mother before walking to the grave sight. They laid their flowers down then Bella let Erin speak to their mother first. They knew they looked crazy but anybody coming here would understand them talking to the air.
Bella heard a car door shut behind them and glanced back, doing a double take at the dark haired man that started across the cemetery. He was handsome, but that wasn’t what had her staring at him as he walked past them and three rows away, it was the complete and utter sorrow etched into his face. She had never seen anything like it before and it made her heart wrench in pain. She tore her eyes away from him when Erin stopped talking then stepped up to her mother’s headstone. “Hey mom, happy birthday. I’m doing really good, work is going great. Me and Erin really miss you, but we’re living life and being as happy as we can. We have our ups and down, but for the most part, we’re doing good. Anyway, I love you.” She patted the headstone then turned and hugged her sister.

“So, am I still coming over to your place for cake and ice cream?” Erin asked once they let go of each other.

“Yeah, I’m making mom’s favorite.”

“I’ll see you tonight then.” Erin left since she had to get to her next class and Bella looked up at the man who was just standing as still as a statue in front of one of the headstones. She couldn’t help but be drawn to him. She knew sadness, but never something so desolate.

Johnny just stood there, tears streaming down his face as he stared at Lina’s headstone. His heart ached and felt like it was being squeezed. “I’m sorry.” He choked out. “Please forgive me.”

“Excuse me.” The light, feminine voice made Johnny’s head swivel around. “Are you alright?”

He just stared at this woman for a moment, at her beautiful face and sad eyes. He wiped at his face with his shirt sleeve. “I’m fine, what do you want?”

His snippy remark didn’t do anything to deter Bella. “My name is Isabella or Bella if you like, I was just here visiting my mother and I saw you get out of your car. The look on your face…well are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I don’t need your pity.”

Her face became sadder. “I would never pity you, you’re mourning. Just…here.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him. He just stood there, not sure what to do. She let him go after a couple of minutes. “Let me give you something. Do you have a cell?”

“Uh yeah. Why?”

“Let me see it.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and handed it to her. She put her name and number in his contacts then gave it back. “If you’re having a bad day, just call me. I know what it’s like to lose a loved.”
“Um thank you”

‘No problem” Bella walked away, hoping he would call if he needed it. She couldn’t get that heartbreaking face out of her head as she drove home. Even as she cooked one of her moms favorite meals and their moms favorite desserts she only thought of that sad man standing at the cemetery. She realized he hadn’t given her his name but she would ask if he did choose to call her at sompoint.

Bella was just pouring some wine when Erin knocked at the door. Bella quickly answered “everythings ready”

“Thank goodness, I’m starving”

“How was school?’ Bella asked as they walked to the table. “Good, classes havent been all that hard lately”

“That’s good, still seeing that boy from time to time for tutoring?”

“Not much any longer. I don’t really need him any longer”

“wow, good for you”

“Yeah, him and i are still hanging out though. We just dont see eachother for studying purposes and before you talk I only see him as a friend, he feels the same”

I wasnt going to say a word. mighty defensive” Erin gave a small smile “I hope mom knows how well I’m doing” Erin said as she pushed food around with her fork.
“I’m sure she’s looking down on us with a big smile on her face Erin. We pursued our passions and we’re happy. That’s all she ever wanted for us.”

“You always know what to say. All I wanted was to make her proud.”

“And you have.” Bella took a bite of her food. “Oh, I was thinking of setting up a field trip to your studio. I thought maybe it would be nice to get the kids interested in something fun like dance. I mean they’re kindergartners so they’ll be a wild bunch, but I think it would be fun.”

“I’m always open to getting more kids involved. Run it by the principal and I’ll check my schedule.”

“Thank you Erin.”

They talked as they finished dinner then ate some of the cake Bella had made. “Alright, I need to be going, I have to be at the studio i the morning.”

“Alright, drive safe.” Bella put away the leftovers then washed dishes before finally going to her room and changing into her pajamas. She went and flopped down on the couch and switched on the TV. Tomorrow was Sunday and she wasn’t especially tired so she found something funny to watch since her mother loved comedies.

Johnny sat in the bar, a glass of whiskey setting in front of him. He had had a few and was a bit tipsy. He sat there staring at this red headed woman at the other end of the bar and she was showing interest. He started to get up when the face of the woman at the cemetery flashed in front of his eyes. He froze, shocked. This time it was not Lina, but a complete stranger. She had said her name was Bella. He swallowed and pulled his wallet out, paying the bartender and leaving the bar. He didn’t understand why she was on his mind, he didn’t know anything about her except her name. He pulled out his phone and found her number, wanting to talk to her. His finger hovered over her name and he backed out at the last second. Instead he called a cab, knowing he couldn’t drive home. When the cab showed up he climbed in the back and paid the driver, Bella still n his mind as he was taken home where he paid the driver and went into his home. He laid on the couch and a sudden loneliness came over him that hurt his heart. He pulled out his phone, needing to talk to someone, even if it was for a few minutes. He went to his contacts and stared at Bella’s name for a minute before selecting it and calling her.
Bella heard her cellphone going off in the bedroom so she got up and went to it. It was an unknown number and that man from earlier went straight to her mind. Bella answered quickly “hello” she spoke with some hesitation. “Hi..um, Bella?”

“Yes, is this the man from the cemetery?”

“Yes, my name’s Johnny but most people call me John. Good ol Johnny boy…”

“You sound drunk. Are you okay?”

“No”

“What would you like to talk about?”

“I dont know, maybe I shouldn’t have called. I just kept thinking of you and I was so lonely”

“I told you to call me whenever. I don’t mind talking to you while you’re drunk”

“Most people get angry at me”

“I’m not most people. I can see how badly you’re hurting. Trying to drown yourself in whatever you were drinking may not be the answer but with a heart as broken as yours obviously is I can see how it would lead to drinking” Bella couldn’t tell what the noise Johnny made really was but her best guess was that it was a small laugh before he said ‘you don’t even know how much of a shit I am and you understand my drinking better than my brother. He doesn’t respect me like he used to. I’m such a waste…such a disappointment…I hate that I lived”
“Lived, what happened?”

“You know, I was in love once. Her name was Lina and she was…” he choked up then cleared his throat. “She was such a beautiful soul, sweet, gentle, gorgeous. I was a cop and a damn good one, but I got in over my head and she was…she was…” He started crying and she wished she could be there with him to comfort him. “She was brutally raped and murdered by the man I was investigating and his goons.” His voice became angry. “The sick fuck made me watch and when they were done they killed her and then tried to kill me. I want to die, I want to take her place, I want to stop having nightmares. Do you know I put a gun to my head once when I was drunk, but I was too cowardly to pull the trigger.”

“Johnny.”

“Even now I’m a coward, calling you like this.”

“It’s okay, I don’t mind.” Her heart was thundering in her chest. “Please, keep talking to me.”

He glanced at his wall clock. “You should get some sleep Bella, it’s late.”

“I want to keep talking to you.” She was afraid if she let him hang up he might hurt himself.

He chuckled. “I’m not going to kill myself.”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth. I don’t want to turn on the news and find out you’ve committed suicide.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“What if you don’t remember?”

“I’m not that drunk. Trust me.”
Bella sighed “tomorrows Sunday so i really don’t need rest but if you insist and swear to me you wont hurt yourself I will get off the phone but please, could I bring you coffee once I know you’re awake? Just call me and give me your address if you want and I’ll pick up some Starbucks and help you through your hangover tomorrow morning” he chuckled again but it didn’t quite seem like it was funny to him “You seem nice too..it might be better if you stayed away from me”

“I don’t want to”

“alright, when I call you in the morning I’ll give you my address and we can have coffee.”

“what do you like?”

“anything”

“ok, goodnight. Call again if you need to”

“I will be alright, thank you for listening to an incredibly drunk and depressing man, even after I snapped”

“People snap when they are sad. I know, I’ve done it plenty of times”

“Goodnight Bella”

“Goodnight” she said again though she really didn’t want to get off the phone. It was a struggle for her to get to sleep since she was so worried. She knew it was insane to be this worried over a man she didn’t know but her heart had only gone out to him more now that she knew why he was so sad. It was hard enough to lose a loved one without feeling like it was your fault. He couldn’t have known the future and he couldn’t control those men. Bella hoped she’d be able to make John see that so he wouldn’t be quite so broken any longer.
Johnny woke the next morning on his couch, his head hurt a little from the previous nights drinking, but he just shoved it aside. He believed he deserved all the suffering that was thrown his way. He sat up and pushed his hair away from his face before standing, his phone falling from his lap to the floor. It came back to him, the drunken call to Bella, and his heart slammed against his chest. He couldn’t believe he had pulled her into his misery like that. He picked up his phone, remembering he had promised to call her and tell her his address. He hated himself even more, but quickly found her number. She answered on the fourth ring and he he heard the creak of her mattress. He glanced at the clock, seeing it was six in the morning.

“Johnny?” She said half awake.

“Yeah, sorry to call you so early.”

“It’s okay, I’m glad you did. What time is it?”

“Six uh do you want to go back to sleep?”

“No, I’m fine. What’s your address?”

He rubbed his neck. “Look, you really shouldn’t spend time with me. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Johnny, please don’t shut me out before I’ve had a chance to know you. You said we could have coffee, so lets have coffee and get to know each other better.”

Even though he felt involving her in his life was a mistake, he gave her his address anyway. He admitted to himself that he was lonely and wanted human contact and if it was with her, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad especially after he had told her what had happened to Lina. He told himself it would only be coffee and once she realized how broken he really was she would leave him alone. “I’ll shower then head over.” She said.

“I need a shower too so I’ll just leave my door unlocked for you.”

“Okay, see you soon.”

Chapter Two

Bella hadn’t gotten much sleep but she nearly ran to her shower. She cleaned then picked out somthing casual to wear before fixing her hair and make up. All that was left now was to grab her purse and head to Starbucks. She just ordered two of what she liked since he had said anything would do. She set the coffee in her cup holders then put his address into her phones GPS. He didn’t live that far away which was nice because she didn’t want his coffee getting cold before she could give it to him.

With how long it took her to get ready and then order coffee she knew he had to be out of his shower by now so she knocked with her foot. He answered with an obviously forced smile ‘I forgot how long it takes women to get ready”

“I had to order coffee too”

“True, come on in. I have cereal if you’re hungry” Bella walked in and sat down at the table with their coffees “It’s too early to eat but thank you”
“If you say so.” He took his coffee and sat down across from her, his eyes on the cup in front of him. “So, what do you do?” He finally asked.

“I teach kindergarten.”

“That explains why you’re so nice.”

She smiled. “Not all teachers are nice, but I do really enjoy my job. Kids are the best.”

“I wouldn’t know.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You were with a girl yesterday.”

“Oh, that was my sister, she teaches ballet. You said you have a brother, what does he do?”

“He’s the cop I used to be. He really used to look up to me, I was his hero, but now he’s just frustrated with me. I don’t talk to him much because we always end up arguing.”

She gave him a sympathetic look and reached across the table, grabbing his hand. “I bet he’s just worried about you and he probably hates seeing you like this.”

“You mean he pities me, him and our mother.”

She squeezed his hand. “Not pity, it sounds like they love you and just want you to be your old self again.”

He pulled his hand away. “I can never be that man again, it’s too late for me. Can’t you see that? I am nothing but a broken shell of what I used to be. Do you know what I do at night? I drink and have sex with strangers to try and rid myself of this pain and the whole time all I want to do is die. I see her every night, I feel like she’s haunting me.”

“Johnny, why would she do that?”

“Because I got her killed, I might as well have slit her throat myself. I killed her, me. She trusted me to keep her safe and I betrayed her. Her last memories were ones of pain. She would hate me if she still lived.”

“I don’t think so.”

“What do you know?” He teared and she moved to his side of the table.

“I had to watch my mother suffer. She got cancer and it ate away at her slowly. When it finally reached her brain, there were days she couldn’t even remember who Erin and I were. I prayed I would be taken in her place, I wished there was something I could do, but it finally took her. A hole was torn in my heart, but after awhile I picked myself up and sewed the hole shut because I knew she wouldn’t want me agonizing over it, I knew she want me to live.”
“but you didn’t cause your mothers death, i caused Linas.”

“No you didn’t. Those monsters masquerading as men caused Linas death. You couldn’t have predicted that outcome” No amount of self control could keep John from bawling. Bella wrapped him in a hug. John didn’t push her away but also didn’t hug her in return. Bella didn’t mind, she was just glad he was accepting the hug and letting her comfort him as best she could. When he could stop he said “I can’t believe you’re still here after all that. can’t you see what a mess I am?”

“I want to help. Nobody should face such sadness alone. I had my sister and now you have me.” John wiped at his face then took another swig of coffee. “you’re too nice for your own good but thank you” Bella took his free hand “My mom always liked my giving nature the most”
“It’s going to get you in trouble, nice people always draw the shortest stick.”

“Then I’ll make due with it.” She wiped his tears away and gave him her warmest smile.

“I’m going to chase you away, I’ve got a temper and I’m a drunk.”

“Then we’ll get rid of all the alcohol and I can handle a bad temper, I’m very forgiving.”

He gave a little laugh. “You’re not going to give up are you?”

“Of course not, I’m going to help you get better.”

He took a deep breath and took another drink of coffee. He hated himself for not fighting harder to make her leave him alone. She was far too sweet and trusting. He didn’t even know if he could trust himself around her. She was beautiful and well meaning and he didn’t want to hurt her in any way. He didn’t want to lose his temper or say something he’d regret or bring down some sort of calamity on her head. “I don’t know what to do Bella, I’m so lost and mixed up and full of self loathing. I chased my loved ones away, I quit my job. I have nothing and it’s all my fault.”

“You went through a horrible tragedy and no one can truly say they know how you feel. What you witnessed was horrific, but it wasn’t your fault and you have to realize that before you can move on. That means you need a clear head so no more booze and you’re getting out of this house. I can tell you and Lina lived together here and that you haven’t changed anything. You need some time away from here.”

“What do you propose?”

“Come and stay with me for awhile.”
“stay with you? You’d be stuck with me all the time”

“How else am i supposed to help you stop drinking and blaming yourself?’ he sighed, hating himself more for wanting to take Bellas offer. He was being so selfish but he couldn’t refuse the opportunity to not be alone any longer. “I guess”

“after your coffe make yourself a bag. i can load things into my car aswell that you want in my home. Only rule is you cant bring anything of Linas. It’s not helping you to look at her things. Thats the whole point of coming to stay with me”

“I can deal with that if clothes she bought me doesn’t count. At the end a majority of what i had to wear was things she picked out or bought herself. I’ve never been good at buying clothes”

“Grab them for now and I’ll help you pick out some things.”

“I guess, the clothes do make me break down quite a bit…theres memories in all of them”

“precisely, you never have to forget her. Nobody expects you to. It will just do you a world of good not to be drowning in her memories” They drank the rest of their coffee then he grabbed his suitcase, having to see Linas bag right under his in the shoe closet. He frowned and quickly closed the door. It was sinking in now how much her belongings hurt him. He packed just enough clothes since they were going to get him clothes anyway at sompoint then the essentials. Lastly he collected his laptop and his Roku box incase Bella didn’t have cable or Netflix.

“I’m ready’ he said sadly “you look sadder than earlier, need to talk?”

“Just the clothes and seeing Linas suitcase under mine” Bella hugged him again, it still being awkward since Johnny had such a war going on in his head.
“Come on, I’ll make you something delicious to eat.”

Bella popped her trunk and got behind the wheel of her car while he put his things inside. He then climbed into the passenger seat and buckled up then just sat there staring at his hands while she pulled onto the road. She stayed silent, knowing he probably had a lot on his mind and knew this transition had to be hard. When they made it to her apartment she popped the trunk and grabbed the Roku box and his laptop while he got his suitcase. He followed her, his eyes showing how conflicted he was. She stopped in front of her door and turned, looking into his eyes. “Please don’t back out.”

“What?”

“I can see it on your face. You want to back out, you think you’re trouble and you shouldn’t be here. Please don’t back out.”

He swallowed. “How can you read me so easily?”

“I work with little kids all day so I’ve kind of learned to read faces. I can tell when someone’s hiding something.”

“So I’m like a little kid?”

“Not at all.” She unlocked her door and they went inside. “Okay so the couch pulls out, I’ll be taking that since I don’t want you trying to sneak out.”

“You don’t have to do that, I won’t leave.”

She smiled. “You might if you have a nightmare. I don’t want you trying to drink it away, I want you to wake me.”

“Okay, fine, but what if you need something from your room?”

“I’ll be really quiet I promise.” She sat his things on the coffee table then took the spare key off of her key chain and handed it to him. “You can come and go as you please. The shower is across from the bedroom and the closet at the end of the hall holds towels, sheets, blankets and extra pillows. Eat and drink whatever you want as long as it’s not booze and don’t be afraid to ask if you can’t find something.”

Chapter Three

“thank you”

“Just take your suitcase into your room and I’ll get somthing delicious cooking” Bella set his laptop and Roku box on her bed then went into the kitchen to prepare french toast. Johnny never came out of the bedroom but she left him be as she did in the car. He needed time to sort in his own head. Atleast here he could do it with someone to comfort him after instead of booze. Bella sliced the strawberries she had in her fridge and set them on the table along with all the syrups she had just before all she finished making enough french toast to fill the both of them.

She walked to her bedroom door “Johnny, breakfast is ready”

“I’m coming” His voice sounded heartbroken so she opened her bedroom door to find he had been silently crying. She crossed the room to him and wrapped him in yet another tight hug “don’t cry by yourself”

“You were cooking”

“so, I’ll burn them” This time he clung to her, her sweetness and wonderful smell. They stayed like this until he said “breakfast is getting cold, lets go eat it” He took a deep inhale then exhale as he stood then wiped his face before following Bella into the kitchen. “wow, strawberries and everything”

“I wanted to give you a nice breakfast. if I had more fruit I’d have cut up others”

“This is a better homemade breakfast than I’ve had in a long time. I typically eat cereal if I’m not going out”

“My mother was a great cook and she passed that down to my sister and I”

“Lucky me then” he gave her a sad smile and Isabella tried not to let it break her heart. Isabella kept him talking between mouthfuls, not knowing if she could handle any more crying just yet.
When they finished eating, Bella washed their dishes while Johnny went and sat in front of her TV. When she came into the living room, her heart giving a lurch. “Johnny, would you like to go somewhere?”

“Where would we go?”

“How about the park, you could use the fresh air.”

He sighed and got to his feet. “Okay, I guess.”

“If you don’t want to go, we can stay here and relax. I don’t mind.”

“You want to go to the park, so lets go to the park.”

She crossed over to him and grabbed his hands. “This isn’t about me Johnny, it’s about you. I want you to smile, I’m sure you have a wonderful smile, and be happy. You deserve to live a full life.”

He swallowed the lump forming in his throat. “Lets go to the park Bella.” She gave him a big, warm smile and grabbed her keys. He followed her out to her car and got in the passenger seat. “So, what are your favorite foods, I want to be able to make them for you.” She asked.

“I just like food so all food is my favorite food.”

“Good, I love an man who isn’t picky.”
“when did you plan on taking me clothes shopping?”

“I guess after the park we can head over to the mall if you’re ready. I don’t want to rush you. I’m just trying to help”

“Ok, after the park is fine”

“You make me feel like I’m forcing you with how you answer”

“You’re just giving me the push I need, I know that. It’s just hard.” Bella kept on with small talk until they arrived at the park. They got out then began walking side by side, his face somhow looking even more desolate. “Um, would it help you atall to hold my hand? Holding hands with my sister has made me feel better many times”

“sure” He held her hand weakly but it slowly tightened into a real grasp as they walked and continued to talk. They stayed at the park until lunch time “I’m getting hungry, we can eat at the food court”

“I really like their Chinese place”

” then we’ll eat there”

“do you like it?”

“Yeah, i wouldn’t agree to eat somwhere i didn’t like. Especially in a food court where theres plenty of options”

“Just making sure” He took Bellas hand again for the short trip over to the mall. It truly was giving him more comfort than he had even felt in bed with those random women. She had offered her hand and didn’t seem to mind he still wanted to hold it so he just enjoyed the contact, only breaking it briefly so they could get out of the car.
Johnny noticed people glance at them, some even smiling. It didn’t take him long to realize these people thought they were a couple. He wanted to release Bella’s hand, but his need for comfort and his fear of hurting her feelings made him keep a hold of her. They stopped for Chinese, both of them ordering fried rice and teriyaki chicken with Coca Cola. She smiled. “Feeding you is going to be so easy. You’d probably eat pea soup.”

“Probably.” He replied as they sat down at a table, popping open their containers and eating.

“So, what hobbies did you have before?” She asked.

“When I had friends we’d play basketball and I have a guitar at home, but I don’t much feel like playing it.”

“Because you used to play it for her?”

“Yeah, because I used to play it for her.”

She took a sip of her soda. “It’s a shame, I really like the guitar. I’ve been wanting to learn so I can maybe play for the kids, but I haven’t had the time.”

He jabbed at his food before getting a piece on his fork and taking a bite. “Well, I guess I could teach you, I mean if you really want me too.”

“You don’t have too, I can always take a class at the college.”

He sighed, feeling sad and conflicted, but wanting any excuse to get closer to her. She was the only link he had to the rest of the world right now and he wanted to do something to pay her back for her kindness. “No, please, let me teach you. We can swing back by my place after we’re done clothes shopping.”

“As long as you’re sure.”

“I am, I promise.”
They finished their food then threw their plates away, only saving their cups still full of drink. Bella guided him to mens clothing store she thought had handsome clothes and still asked his opinion though he assured her he had none when it came to what he wore. “They’re just things so the world doesn’t have to be exposed to your nude body constantly” Bella smiled “That is true but a funny way to think of clothes” She bought him a pretty sizeable collection of clothes before leaving. “I’ll pay you back”

“I have the money. it’s alright” she assured. They drove back to his place so he could run upstairs and fetch his guitar before they returned to Bellas. First thing Johnny did was change “where’s your trash bags?’

“Under the sink” he retrieved one then quickly threw away all the clothes he had brought with him. “I didn’t see your dumpster”

“I’ll walk with you. I’m surprised you’re already throwing them away”

“It was the point of you buying me clothes. These are so hard to look at…I know you’re right about changing my wardrobe”
“You don’t have to throw them out right away. We got you out of the house, that’s a huge step.”

“It’s okay, I want to, I need to.” He opened the dumpster lid and momentarily hesitated then took a deep breath and threw them away. “I’ll what’s still at home.” She rubbed her hand up and down his back as they went inside. “So uh, you want me to teach you how to play now?”

“You sure you’re up for it? You can always take a nap.”

“No it’s fine. If I lay down because of this you might not be able to get me up for lunch or dinner.” He picked up his guitar and sat down on the floor. “Come on, sitting between my legs is the best way to learn. She sat down on the floor and he lowered the guitar down in front of them.

“So, what do we start with?”

“You said kindergartners so we’ll do the usual nursery rhymes.” He showed her how to position her arms and placed her fingers. “Baa Baa Black Sheep first and a lot of these songs have the same music, just different lyrics so it’ll be easy.”

He showed her slowly, re-positioning her fingers when it was needed. She laughed when she messed up and he gave a small smile that she couldn’t see because her back was to him. She was so beautiful and smelled amazing and her laugh made his heart leap excitedly in his chest. “This is not as easy as people make it look.” Bella said as they went through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Again.

“I’m self taught so I know what you mean. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star has the same melody as the ABC song.”
“I couldn’t imagine learning this by myself”

“Well you don’t have to. I’ll be here awhile so I’m sure in that time I can have you playing sensationally”

“I doubt any of my kids know that word and I definitely doubt I’ll be amazing at this”

“when I’m done with you I will be. I’m proud of my playing” She smiled again causing the same thing to appear on his face. They practiced until Isabella needed a break “I still need to go shopping so would you like to order somthing or would spaghetti be fine with you?”

“Ordering is fine with me if you don’t feel like cooking but I love spaghetti”

“I’ll make the spaghetti” she said with a smile then went to the kitchen. While she was busy cooking Johnny connected his Roku box and started adding thigns to his Netflix Q since he didn’t want to start watching somthing then pause to eat with Isabella.
“What kind of shows do you like?” Bella asked as she cooked the hamburger.

“Man stuff.”

She laughed, his heart giving that little leap again. “What does that mean?”

“You know, action, adventure.”

“Are you assuming all I watch are chick flicks?”

“You don’t?”

“I have two drawers on my entertainment center, one for chick flicks and one for your so called manly stuff.”

He frowned. “I’ve offended you.”

She put her spatula down and stepped into the living room. “If you had offended me I might have started spouting profanities or something.”

“You don’t seem like the type to curse.”

“You’d be surprised.” She gave him a warm smile and went back to cooking, finishing up the meat and noodles. She mixed the sauce into the meat then drained the noodles. “Okay, time to eat.” He came into the kitchen and they both made their plates then went and sat down in the living room.

“What do you want to watch?” He asked.

“In Bruges?”

“Sounds good.”
He gave her a look that still said he was surprised “sorry, Lina only liked what I considered girl movies. I’m not trying to offend you. I’ve honestly never had a girlfriend that liked what I like to watch though I’m not saying you’re my girlfriend”

“calm down, I understand. Alot of guys actually assume girls only watch chik flicks and comedies”

“I’m not sexist”

“You’re tense though. I’m fine, you’ll know if you upset me. I don’t hide it”

“Ok, I’ll stop fumbling over myself now” Johnny said as he pressed play. Isabella smiled before enjoying the dinner she had prepared. They watched a couple of movies, Bella wanting to stay awake with him until he was good an exhausted so he would definitely just go to sleep once he was alone. It was only when he could barely keep his eyes open then Isabella said “lets go to bed”

“we havent finished Brain Dead yet”

“We can finish tomorrow’

“alright” he said within a yawn. “you sure you dont want your bedroom?’

“I’m sure, go on”

“Goodnight then”

“I’m going to get the shopping done in the morning. Want to come or sleep in?”

Chapter Four

“No school?”

“The principal insists I take an extra day off this time every year, thinks I need it to completely clear my head.”

“Because of your mother?”

“Yeah, I don’t need it, but I figured might as well.”

“Then I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Remember, if you need anything, come and wake me up. I won’t get mad or anything.” He just nodded and went into her room. She pulled the cushions off the couch then pulled out the bed. She grabbed a pillow, sheet, and blanket out of the closet and made it. She went ahead and pulled off her jeans, leaving her shirt on and flopping down in bed. She put on Destination Truth and curled up, watching it until her eyelids fell closed.

The nightmare was different this time, her screams filled his head and he struggled to get free, to save her. He was bound to a chair with rope, his mouth taped shut. He couldn’t save her, he couldn’t protect her. He was helpless, watching her being punished for his crime against these men. Blood sprayed from her throat, her heart pumping it quickly out as he watched the life fade from her eyes. The next thing he felt was pain, hot and burning it blossomed in his chest like a fireball. Johnny jerked awake, setting up, his face drenched in sweat and his hair sticking to his forehead. He grabbed his chest, gasping for air, tears filling his eyes. He felt sick, his stomach twisting. He needed something, anything to wash away those images. He threw the blankets off and got out of bed, almost tripping as he made his way into the living room where Bella was sleeping soundly.

An overwhelming sense of guilt washed over him as he looked at her. He didn’t want to wake her, but he needed to before he sneaked out and got drunk. He reached down, brushing his knuckles gently over her cheek so she jerked awake with a sharp inhale of breath. “Johnny, you okay?” He shook his head, unable to answer her past the lump in his throat and before he knew it he was crying. “Okay, come on.” She pulled him down next to her and he wrapped his arms tightly around her waist, his head resting on her chest. “It’s okay, just let it all out, I’ll be right here all night.”
His tears didn’t cease until he was once again sleeping. It had taken hours and Isabella was emotionally spent with how hard it was to listen to him cry so heartbrokenly. They had stayed up so late and slept so long before the bad dream that it was nearing morning so Isabella just laid awake rubbing his back for comfort. She let him sleep in when morning came. Him getting more rest after whatever horrible nightmare he had was more important than buying groceries. She had all day and at worst she could swing by the store after school tomorrow.

It was late morning when Johnnys eyes opened and he remembered what he had done last night. He pushed himself into a sitting up position “I’m so sorry”

“don’t be. Thats why I’m here”

“I’m really glad you aren’t leaving me today.”

“do you still want to go shopping with me?”

“Yeah, just let me shower”

“I’ll make omelettes while you’re in there” Johnny hugged her tightly “Thank you so much. That was a lot better than going to the bar” He let her go and went to get his shower, not really wanting her to say anything to his statement. He just needed her to know how much being there for him meant since he was nothing but a stranger. Isabella sighed upon seeing she didn’t have a lot of ingredients for omelettes but knew he wouldn’t care so just began cooking. When John came out she turned to see him in his new clothes. “very handsome, we did well yesterday”

“I do like them a lot”
“Why don’t you pour us some milk while I finish up here.”

“Okay.” He opened cabinets until he found the one with glasses, making Bella smile. He poured them some milk and she turned, handing him a plate with an omelette on it then turned back to scoop hers out of the pan. She switched the stove off then sat down next to him. “This is really good Bella, thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it, I need to do some real shopping today. I didn’t realize how low I was on stuff until you moved in.”

“Good thing you have me to help carry everything then.”

She giggled. “Are you implying I’m not strong?”

“Of course not, you have to be strong to deal with someone like me.”

She nudged him with her elbow. “You’re extremely easy to deal with.”

A small smile pulled at his lips and she saw it in his eyes even though it wasn’t completely on his face. After breakfast she took her turn in the shower while he waited patiently for her in the living room. When she came out, he just stood there staring at her. She was wearing a pretty red tye dye sun dress and a pair of sandals. Her hair fell around her shoulders and her bright smile made his heart skip a beat. “Wow.” He said without thinking.

“Thank you.”
John blushed causing Bella to smile even wider. She grabbed her purse then they headed down to her car. “what will you do when I’m at school tomorrow?”

“when does Kindergarten get out?”

“2:30”

“I’ll sleep in and just watch somthing on TV or get online”

“Ok, if you find yourself really needing me call and I’ll see what I can do. I can’t promise I’ll be able to leave school but a lot of times subs are around if a teacher needs to leave”

“I’ll be fine, I’ll most likely sleep until lunch time so there wont be much time left before you’re coming home”

“good” He smiled again, finding it amazing how much she cared about him. Upon entering the store Bella said “lets get some drinks first. You can get anything but beer and things like that”

“Thanks” Bella would ask Johnnys opinion every now and then even though he kept assuring her he was fine with anything. She just wanted to try and get things he would prefer to eat. They checked out once they had a full cart then drove back to Bellas apartment. Bella went to grab some things and Johnny stopped her “please, you keep paying for everything. Just go upstairs and wait for me to bring this up.”

“alright thank you. Don’t feel like you owe me though”
“Go on.” She smiled and playfully rolled her eyes then headed up to her apartment, unlocking the door and leaving it open for him.

She sat down on the couch, patiently waiting for him to come upstairs. When he walked through the door she came to her feet and followed him into the kitchen where he sat the bags down. “Is that everything?”

“There are still a couple of bags, I’ll be right back.”

“Then I’ll get to putting this stuff away.”

She pulled the groceries out of the bags and put them where they needed to be, making sure to stuff the bags into a drawer she had designated just for them. When he came back up, he helped her with the rest then they flopped down on the couch. “Why is shopping so tiring, I’ve never understood it.” He asked then yawned.

“Because it’s not fun, it’s something you do out of necessity, not because you enjoy it.”

“Makes sense. So what now?”

“I’d say lunch, but we had kind of a late breakfast so I’m not particularly hungry.”

“Yeah, me either.” They sat there in silence, Johnny feeling awkward. He found actual conversation hard since he hadn’t had a real one since Lina died. The most he talked was when he was talking a woman out of her pants and that made it even worse.

“You okay Johnny?”

He looked at her. “I don’t know how to talk to you, like really talk to you. I haven’t been particularly chatty except for when I was drunk and I only respond because I feel I have to. I haven’t really asked you much about who you are as a person.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, I don’t really know.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess…do you like ice cream?”

“Yeah, are you saying you’d like to take me out for ice cream?”

“Exactly, I want to do something for you so can I take you out?”

“Now it sounds like a date.” She smiled and he looked around the room.

“Well maybe an ice cream date.”

She laughed and he frowned. “I’d love to go on an ice cream date with you.”
He gave that small smile again “when would you like to go on the date?’ she asked since he wasn’t talking. “After school tomorrow to give me a little time to prepare for it I guess. I’m tired right now and I’d like to atleast try to think of things to talk about while we’re out”

“sounds good. I’ll come back home and then we can leave” The rest of the day was a bit awkward since Johnny was so nervous but it wasn’t overly so since they filled the time watching things on Netflix together. When Bella had to sleep to get up early Johnny paced around her bedroom, worried he would ruin the date they planned. He was so nervous. He didn’t want to fail but knew he might be awkward since it had been so long.
The next morning Johnny woke to the sound of the bedroom door opening. He had only fallen asleep a couple of hours ago so he was drowsy and disoriented and it took him a moment to realize who it was. “I’m sorry.” Bella said softly. “I was just going to grab some clothes and take a shower.”

“It’s okay, do you want me to make you some breakfast or something?” He asked.

“No, go back to sleep. I’ll check in on you around lunch.”

“Okay lo…” he cut himself off. “Uh, have a good day.”

She just smiled then gathered her clothing. He laid there, his heart nearly beating out of his chest at what he had just said. He didn’t think she noticed and if she had then she hadn’t said anything and he was glad for it. He was embarrassed by his slip of the tongue. He tried to go back to sleep, but he was much more nervous than he had been the day before so he waited until Bella was gone before getting out of bed and going into the kitchen to make himself breakfast.

Bella grabbed a bagel on the way to work then hurried to her classroom. She made sure everything was set up and smiled when her students started to arrive. They put their bags away then took their seats, all smiles. They started out the day with their ABCs and the word of the day. “Okay, so before we get into the real work, why don’t you all tell me what you did this weekend.” She said. One of her students, Tabitha raised her hand. “Yes Tabi?”

“If we tell you will you tell us?”

“Well that seems only fair, okay deal.” The kids went around saying one thing they did over the weekend. When they were all done speaking they sat there quietly, waiting for Bella to answer.

“This weekend I made a new friend named Johnny. Johnny used to be a cop so he’s really, really cool.”

“Can we meet Johnny?” Hayden asked.

“Maybe one of these days. I’ll have to talk to him first. Maybe we’ll have a career day.”

“What’s a career?”

“It’s what you want to be when you grow up.”
She let the kids talk about what they wanted to be for a short time since it made them all so excited then directed them back into learning. After breakfast Johnny cleaned himself up and decided to watch television. His heart rate was still going crazy and he was nervous so he hoped watching something would help calm him. He needed to think of conversation topics for their date anyway. The last thing he wanted was for them just to be staring while they ate ice cream.

No matter what he watched his mind trailed back to what he had almost said. Did he really love her? He didn’t think he could love again, felt selfish for even considering loving Bella. She deserved so much more than he was. He sighed, knowing he had somhow let himself fall in love. She was such an amazing person. She didn’t even know him and she had invited him into her home to help him grieve and put himself back together.
Once Bella had the children lined up at the cafeteria at lunch time, she pulled out her cell and called Johnny. He answered almost instantly which made her smile. “So I take it you’re doing okay?” She asked.

“Yeah, just watching TV and over thinking.” He replied.

“Over thinking?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing bad, I promise. So are you eating lunch there?”

“I kind of have too. I take the kids back to class afterwards.”

“Okay, then I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

“Alright and don’t be afraid to call or text me if you need me.”

He laughed. “Don’t worry about me Bella, I’ll be fine.”

They hung up and Bella went into the cafeteria, getting her a tray of food and sitting down with the children in her class. She kept a smile on her face the rest of the school day thinking about her date. She had never been so excited about going out. Johnny paced nervously around the living room as it got closer to her getting home. When he heard footsteps outside her apartment door he froze and didn’t move even when the door opened. She smiled at him and he felt it like a punch in the gut. “You look nice.” She said as she shut the door. “Just let me change then we can go.”

“Okay.” He felt his heart hammering in his chest at that fast nervous pace as he waited for her and it only got worse when she came out in a beautiful yellow dress, her hair pulled up in a bun so it was off her neck.

“Ready?” She found how nervous he seemed absolutely adorable and the way he looked at her, as if resisting her was impossible made her heart leap happily in her chest. It was a look of adoration that she didn’t think he knew he wore.

“Yeah, so uh Baskin Robbins okay?” He asked.

“Of course, would you like to drive?”

“Sure.” He took the keys and they left her apartment. He kept glancing her from the corner of his eye and he saw her smile. She looked absolutely radiant, seeming to light up the world around her with just the turning of her lips. When they got to Baskin Robbins they ordered their favorite ice cream then drove out to a nearby lake.

“I love this place.” She said as they walked along the bank. He held onto her hand with one of his while he ate his ice cream. He felt so guilty needing her in his life, her smile, her warm comforting touch, and her understanding. She was the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen and she was slowly putting his shattered heart back together.

“Bella?”

“Yes?” She looked at him and he kissed her. When he pulled back she looked surprised and a little dazed. “What was that for?” She finally asked.

“I just…I really…” He frowned and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Love me?” He nodded and she smiled.

“I love you and need you and I hate myself for it. You deserve someone with less baggage and who doesn’t wake up shaking and covered in sweat almost every night, but you make me feel alive and when I sleep with you I don’t have nightmares.”
Bella gave him a warm, loving smile. “Don’t hate yourself for wanting me. I love you too. Even if you have nightmares with me I’ll be happy to comfort you through them.” She took his hand “Just go ahead and move in with me. Pay out your lease then leave that apartment forever. I’ll spend every minute of our time chasing away all your pain and replacing it with happiness.” Johnny pulled her into another kiss then let his forehead rest against hers “thank you”

“after our icecream do you want anything else from your old apartment?”

“No, I have all I need. I’ll just donate what’s left in my apartment. I’ll hire sombody because i doubt I’ll be able to do it myself. Maybe my family might help”

“I’m sure they would but are you sure you don’t want anything else?”

“I need to move on.”

“I’m really proud of you for already doing so much better. You havent even asked me for a drink”

“I honestly don’t need one with you” Bella smiled ‘You sure know how to sweet talk”

“I hope I do, I don’t know how to just talk to people any longer”

“I think you’re doing really good”

“I’m only doling this good because of you. Thank you so much”
“Next, you need to reconnect with your family.”

“I need to apologize to them. I feel so horrible for shutting them out and for all the things I said to my brother. I just don’t think I can do that today.”

“We’ll call them tomorrow then and see if they’d like to come over for dinner.”

“If you think that’s best then I’ll do it.”

She smiled and kissed him. “I’ll always love you Johnny, you just have to let me. Don’t ever close yourself off from me.”

“I’ll try, I promise.” He swallowed the lump forming in his throat and quickly finished his ice cream, wanting her in his arms to enjoy the security of being close to her. She tried not to laugh at him watching her eating her ice cream, as if staring at her would make it evaporate into thin air. She ate as quickly as she could, not wanting to get a brain freeze. The moment she finished eating he gathered her into his arms, this time making her laugh. “I’m not going to vanish.”

“For all I know this is a dream and any minute I’ll wake up all alone next to some stranger with the smell of booze on my breath. I don’t want to go back to that.”

“You won’t I promise. We’ll always be together.”

He stroked his knuckles over her cheek, a worried look on his face. “I don’t want to chase you away. I’m terrified of saying the wrong thing or doing something terrible. Not having you terrifies me. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t lose you, not after…”

“Hey, I’m never leaving, no matter what happens. I swear.” She held up her hand. “Pinkie promise.”

He smiled and hooked his pinkie with hers. “Okay, pinkie promise. Can we go home now, I just want you, no matter how I can get you. Even if it just means curling up on the couch and watching some weird movie we’ve never seen before.”
Isabella gave a happy smile “of course” They drove back to her home, found somthing on Netflix then cuddled until dinner. “Please don’t cook tonight. Lets order some chinese. I just want to hold you.”

“I guess since we just got together and you need me close. I don’t like eating out, at fast food restaurants anyway because it’s so much healthier for you to eat at home. What chinese place do you like?”

“If you wont like it you can cook”

“No, I’m just letting you know. We have a lot to learn about eachother”

“Ok, I like Orient Garden”

“Lets find the menu online” Isabella answered so he grabbed his laptop since it was nearest and showed her their menu. They picked what they wanted then he called. The next morning when it was time for Isabella to head to work Johnny still didn’t want to let her go but knew she needed to. Just before she headed out she asked “we’re calling your family when I get home right?”

“Yes”

“Good, I’ll be back before you know it” Johnny was stressed about calling his mother and brother but he did miss them. When Isabella returned home she could see how worried he was “they are your family. I’m sure they understand what you were going through”

“will you sit between my legs while I call on my cell?”

“Anything that will make things easier for you” Johnny grabbed his cell then sat against the arm of the couch with his legs opens so Isabella could settle herself there. He locked one arm around her then decided to call his mother first. She answered surprisingly quick “Baby? You ok?”

“Yeah, um, I was calling to say I’m sorry for how I acted and treated you.. I love you and”

“sh, you’re ok. I’ve been so worried. You quit answering my calls so all I’ve been able to do is read the paper and make sure you havent died and pray no cops come to my door to have me identify you..I’m so glad you’ve finally called me”

“I’m really sorry mom” he said as a single tear slipped down his face. “when can I see you?”

“want to come to dinner somtime soon?”

“when?”

“Tomorrow night so Isabella has some warning”

“tonight is fine, I dont need more warning than this” Isabella interrupted then Athena asked “Isabella?”

“Yeah, it’s thanks to her I’m calling. She pulled me out of the self destructive life i was leading and is sitting with me right now so I have the strength to call you and Evander”

“I can’t wait to meet her. I heard her say tonights ok. I really want to come to wherever you are”

“Tonight then” Johnny gave his mother the address then hungup to call Evander. “see, I knew they still loved you”

“That’s mom, she has always loved me no matter what. I’ve never given Evander a reason to hate me until now but I’m more worried about him. It’s why I chose mom first”

“He’ll be more understanding than you give him credit for. Anybody with a heart could understand Johnny. There were better ways to handle the situation but not all people have the strength to see the better ways when loseing a loved one” Johnny hugged Isabella close then called his brother. The phone had nearly gone to voicemail when he answered “Johnny?” He asked questioningly. “Yeah, hi Evander”

“what’s going on? Do I need to pick you up from somwhere?”

“No, I just called to say I’m sorry”

“You need to apologize to mom more than me”

“I have already called her”

“Good then i accept your apology. Why did you quit answering us? All we wanted was to be there for you. We’ve been so worried. You have no idea how hard this has been for me and our mother, especially mom. She worried over nothing and you gave her solmthing huge to worry about”

“I know, I was stupid and confused in my grief. I’m really, truly sorry. I was hoping you could come to my new girlfriends house and have dinner with us tonight. Moms coming”

“Girlfriend?” he said with a slight hint of excitement and curiosity”

“Yeah, she’s why I’m calling now and why I’m not going to drink any more”

“Then I’d love to meet her.” Johnny gave his brother the address aswell then got off the phone “what should I make them?” she asked. “anything, they aren’t picky”
“You and your family are going to make life very easy for me. Christmas and Thanksgiving are going to be really, really easy.” She turned around, her arms going around his neck and smiling lovingly at him.

He swallowed. “How do you know we’ll even make it to Thanksgiving and Christmas?”

“I just know. I’m going to stick by your side, I’ve committed myself, there is no way you’re getting rid of me.”

“I don’t want to make you cry, I’d really hate to make you cry.” He tucked some stray hair behind her ear. “A person as compassionate as you should never have to cry.”

“I know you’ll try hard to be good and hopefully we’ll be able to get your job back.”

He gave a small laugh. “I don’t think I’d be a good cop.”

“Johnny, you were a good cop and if you really want to then you will be one again. I have faith in your abilities.”

He searched her face for a moment, seeing that she meant what she said. There was no doubt on her face at all. He tangled his fingers in her hair, kissing her hungrily. He felt the holes in his heart being filled up with her love. “I love you so much Bella, so so much.”

“I love you too. Now, I need to change into something more comfortable and decide what I’m making for dinner.”

“Can I help?”

“Uh with clothes or dinner?”

He laughed. “Well I won’t lie, I’d love to help with your clothes, in fact I’d quite enjoy it, but I meant dinner. I’ll wait for the clothes.”

“Oh he has a sense of humor I see, well that’s good.” She gave him a quick kiss then went into her room and changed while he got up and looked through her pantry. “Find anything?” She asked, her voice startling him.

“Plenty, how about goulash?”

“Sounds good.”
“Should we start cooking now?”

“I’ve only just got home so we should wait a little bit. It will only take about an hour”

“Ok”

“stop being so nervous. They seemed so happy to hear from you again”

“I know, I’ve just lot some social skills in my seclusion. When you only interact to get” He paused, feeling a little ashamed to say it. “as i said, there were better ways to handle it but its hard to be rational when loseing a loved one. Don’t keep making us talk about this” Jonathan walked over to Isabella “I’m sorry”

“I love you, just relax for a little bit until it’s time for cooking” Jonathan did his best to relax until Isabella told him it was time to start preparing the meal. They had the table set and the meal in bowls by the time a knock sounded at the door. Jonathan looked at Isabella “we’ll answer it together” she said softly and took his hand. They opened the front door to see Evander and Athena had arrived together.

“welcome” Isabella barely got out before Evander hugged her. She giggled and Athena hugged Jonathan. It took a lot of strength for her not to cry but she held it together as she let her son go to get her turn at hugging Isabella.
“Thank you so much.” Athena said.

“You don’t have to thank me.”

“Yes we do.” Evander added once the door was closed. “He would have never called us if you hadn’t made him. You saved my brother’s life.”

“Well, I couldn’t just let him be alone, especially with the face he was making, it broke my heart.”

“You better never, ever shut us out again Johnny or I’ll kick you ass.”

“You wish, I still have cat like reflexes.”

He was teasing his brother, but still felt an incredible sense of guilt for closing them off when they had tried to be there for him. Bella grabbed his hand and gave him that beautiful smile that put him at ease. “We made goulash for dinner.” Bella said.

“It smells amazing in here.” Evander said, making Bella’s smile widen.

“There’s plenty so eat as much as you want.” She gestured towards the kitchen table and everyone sat down, Athena looking like she was still on the verge of tears. Johnny reached across the table, taking her hand in his.

“I’m sorry mom, I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“Oh sweetie, I was just so scared for you and then you said such hurtful things to us. I know you thought we didn’t understand and really I guess we didn’t. What you went through was so horrible.”

“I should have let you two help me.” He swallowed. “I uh I tried to kill myself, but I couldn’t.”

Evander choked on his food and both he and Athena looked shocked. “Why didn’t you call?” Evander asked.

“I was just so angry and depressed, I didn’t think I deserved to live after what had happened to Lina. I just drank and cried and other things I’d rather not talk about, but none of it helped. Then I met Bella and I felt this release of tension, this breath of fresh air and I knew the way I had handled things was selfish and wrong. I should have called, I should have asked you to come and set with me even if it was for me to rage at you.” Bella stroked her thumb over his other hand.

“It’s okay, you’re alive and that’s all that matters. Let’s just eat and be happy.” Athena replied and Johnny gave her a small smile. He hoped he could repair the damage he had done, especially the relationship with his brother. Evander would have felt betrayed and abandoned. They ate slowly, talking mostly about work and moving things out of Johnny’s apartment. Evander and Athena volunteered to help the movers and make sure anything important went to Lina’s parents. After dinner they watched a movie, something funny to keep the mood light. Bella enjoyed spending time with his family and couldn’t help but notice how much he and Evander looked and acted alike.
The following days were busy but happy. Jonathans mom and brother were over near constantly and soon Jonathan was even accepted back in the police force. They had all missed him and had only been waiting for Jonathan to want to be one of them again. He had been an amazing cop and though it stung when he quit none of them could blame the guy. That night he gave Isabella a long, heartfelt kiss. He was beyond grateful to her and knew none of this could have been possible if Isabella hadn’t opened her heart and helped.

He hoped he was a strong enough man for there never to come a time he took her for granted or quit appreciating the life she had given him back. He was glad he had his family back. Between the three of them and the police force nobody would let him fall back into that horrible, meaningless life he had been living before. He only hoped Linas parents were happy to receive their daughters things and had moved on as he was doing now.

~ The End ~

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