Hearts Asunder 9

"I know youíre always in a good mood, but I have the feeling that youíre happier than usual," Justus said as he approached a smiling Jason in Lilaís rose garden. "Care to enlighten a jaded councilman?"

"Hi, Justus." Jason slid over on the bench. "Sure, have a seat. Why are you jaded?"

Justus unbuttoned his suit coat and took a seat. "I donít know. Things in general." He groaned. "Unhappy constituents, Edward harassing me about becoming legal counsel for ELQ, Simoneís pain in the butt ex-husband, that kinda stuff." He waved his hands in resignation. "I donít want to discuss that, I want to discuss you. Does your beaming smile have anything to do with my little bit of a cousin?"

Jason laughed. "Maybe a little bit," he said. "Things have been going well for us, very well." He reached into the shirt pocket and pulled out the small jewelry box that had been warming his heart with anticipation all day. Opening the box, he showed the 2 Ĺ-karat diamond and platinum ring to Justus. "So, what do you think?"

The man took the ring out of the box and examined it closer. "It think itís beautiful, but not quite my size," he joked.

Jason scoffed. "Itís for Keesha," he said, taking the ring back and replacing it in the box. "Iíve had this ring for a long time, since right after we came back from Paris. I was going to give it to her for graduation, but I donít want to wait those few months anymore. I love her more than I thought it was possible to love anyone, and Iím going to ask her to marry me tonight."

Justus gave him a hearty pat to the back and grinned. "My cousinís marrying my cousin. Thatís great. You two are going to be very happy together."

"Weíll be happy, but will Mr. Ward?" Jason put the ring back in his pocket and frowned. "Heís still not crazy about me."

"Donít worry about Uncle Dave, heíll come around. He knows how happy you make Keesha and how much she loves you. And when it boils down to it, thatís all that matters." Justus glanced at his watch and stood. "I need to go, I have a meeting in town. Good luck tonight, not that youíll need it or anything."

Jasonís smile returned. "Thanks, Justus."

"Youíre welcome." As Justus walked into the house, he ran into Keesha walking out to the garden. "Hey, Little Bit," he said with a kiss to her cheek. "Bye, I gotta go."

Jason stood from the bench after hearing Justus greet Keesha. His heart rate increased and his loins stirred at the thought of her nearness. They had been spending quite a bit time together the past several weeks, even more than usual, and neither he nor his libido was complaining.

A few short months ago he was feeling neglected, and feared their relationship was falling apart as a result of the guilt she felt after AJís accident. He was even more certain that her decision to play nurse to AJ during his recuperation would be the final nail in their coffin as a couple. Keesha was adamant that it wouldnít be, that her helping AJ wouldnít change anything between them; that when he was well everything would be okay, and she was right. It was like his concerns existed a lifetime ago, when in actuality they stopped only a few weeks before, when AJ was released from the hospital, just like she said it would. Now, things couldnít be better between them. He looked into his shirt pocket and pulled out the blue velvet box. Well, maybe they could be a little better.

Keesha walked over to where Jason stood in the garden. "Hey, Reginald told me you were out here." She brushed her lips against his cheek and gave him a fierce hug.

Jason breathed in her heavenly scent as he returned her embrace. "Yeah, I was just uhÖI was doing some thinking." Clutching the ring box in his hand, he gave her a final squeeze and pulled back. "Iím surprised youíre here. Not that Iím not always glad to see you, but I thought you were meeting with Simone about the wedding?"

"I was supposed to, but she got called away to an emergency before we could meet." She released a deep breath and sat on the bench. "I came over because I needed to talk to you."

"Well, I like to be needed." Jason placed the box in his back pocket and sat next to her. "Actually, I want to talk to you, too." He took her hand, and was surprised to find it clammy and shaky. "Are you all right?"

She shrugged. "Thatís the question of the day. Honestly, Iíve been better. Thereís so much I have to say, I guess I donít know where to start."

"Then let me start." He took her hands in his and pressed them to his lips. "Keesha, I love you. I doubt those three little words will ever fully express just how much I care for you or how important you are to me, but they are true. Iíve loved you from the moment I laid my eyes on you." He smiled as he remembered their first meeting almost two years before at the Nurseís Ball, when they bumped into each other on the crowded dance floor. "Then, all I knew was that you were the most beautiful woman Iíd ever seen. Now, I know you are the best of everything that is good and decent in this world."

Keesha closed her eyes for several moments. "Jason, I--" she croaked.

He silenced her with a soft kiss to her full lips, and twined his fingers through her silky dark curls. "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I donít want to think of my life without you in it."

Keeshaís eyes filled with tears. "Jason, plÖplease, let meÖ."

"I promise, sweetheart, Iíll hear you out, but thereís something I have to do first." Jason reached into his back pocket and pulled out the box. "This isnít quite what I had planned, but Iím feeling motivated, and my heartís racing so fast I think Iíll pass out if I donít do it now." He smiled, dropped to one knee on the lush deep green grass, and opened the box to her.

Keesha gasped and shook her head. "Jason, please, stop." She sobbed. "Donít do this."

She had always been emotional, but he wasnít expecting quite this kind of reaction from her. Jason got off his knee and took possession of his vacated seat on the bench. "Somethingís been bothering you since you got here. What is it, Keesha? Whatís wrong?" he asked, wiping away her streaming tears.

"Everything." She lowered her head. "Everything is wrong, and Iím sorry, Jason. Iím so sorry."

He ignored the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach and the sound of what he could swear was his heart breaking in his chest. "About what? What are you sorry about?"

"I donít know how Iím going to do this," she said more to herself than to him.

"Keesha, youíre scaring me." He blinked away the tears that burned his eyes. The sadness and despair he saw in her brown eyes when she looked up pierced him to his very soul. Whatever it was she needed to say, Jason knew it was the last thing he wanted to hear. Determined to finish what he started, he shrugged off the distressing emotions that had showed up out of nowhere. Once he proposed, everything would be fine. He took her hands in his and attempted to swallow the knot in his throat, but it wouldnít budge. He proceeded nonetheless. "Look, this is happy time for us, better than happy. I love you, Keesha, and I wantÖ."

Her hands cupped the sides of his face. "Jason, stop!! I want us to have some time apart."

He swallowed the sob that rose in his throat, searching her weepy eyes for some sign of misunderstanding in what he just heard. "You what?" he murmured.

"I love you, Jason. Know that I love you, but I justÖ" She wiped away the tears that filled her eyes. "I need some time to figure things out."

"What things?" A raw and primal grief overwhelmed him. "You say you love me."

She sniffled. "I do."

"Then where is this coming from? Weíre fine."

She shook her head. "No, no weíre not."

"Keesha, I donít understand. Last night and this morning we were as close as two people can be. Whatís changed?"

"Me, Iíve changed."

Unshed tears pooled his eyes and his voice shook with emotion. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, not at all, this is not about you, itís about me," she said patting her hand against her chest. "Iíve come to realize that losing myself in your arms, no matter how much I want it to, canít fix the problem we haveÖthat I have. And I canít avoid dealing with it, not anymore. Itís not fair to you to pretend otherwise."

"Pretend?" Jasonís head was spinning. It was as if he had been spirited off to the Twilight Zone, nothing was making sense. "Youíre gonna have to clue me in, because it appears there are some things Iím totally in the dark about. When did making love to me become a cure all for the apparent ills you find in this relationship?"

Keesha didnít answer, and her silence was beginning to speak volumes.

It seemed his worse fears were coming to pass. "All right, let me guess." He tapped his forefinger against his temple. "Hmm, about what, three weeks ago? That would be around the same time you developed an insatiable need for me, and AJ got released from the hospital. Thatís it, isnít it?" Her watery gaze met his and the truth was there. There was no stopping the tears that flowed freely down his cheeks. "This is about AJ."

Keesha hung her head in shame, tears dropped to her lap. "I didnít plan it." Her voice was apologetic. "It was the last thing--"

The ripping pain in Jasonís heart was eclipsed by a dark searing rage. "Did you sleep with him?" He lifted her lowered chin with more force than he intended. "Answer me!"

"No! No, I didnít." She reached to touch him, but he moved away. "You have to believe that."

"Okay, you didnít sleep with him, but you want to, right?" He grunted and swiped at the tears in his eyes. "Now itís starting to make sense. I guess itís a good thing AJ and I look so much alike, huh? Itís easier to pretend itís him when youíre making love to me! No wonder you couldnít get enough."

She shook her head and retreated to the yellow rose bushes that were a few feet away. He thought that so funny in the craziest of ways. This morning she couldnít get too close to him, now it seemed she couldnít get away from him fast enough. As long as heís known her, this look, this picture of guilt was new for him. "Jason, donít do this."

"Donít do what?! Look at the truth youíve laid before my feet?" He walked over and stood behind her. Angry breaths blew through her hair as he spoke into her ear. "Here I am, prepared to ask you to spend every day of the rest of your life with me, and instead you tell me you want us to have some time apartÖbecause of AJ? How do you expect me to react, Keesha?!" He gripped her arms and turned her to face him. "Are you in love with him? Tell me!"

"I donít know, okay?!" She lowered her voice and covered her face with her hands. "I donít know."