As Jeff sat in the surgical waiting area with his future in-laws, waiting for his fiancee to get out of surgery, he couldn’t help but think back to where he and Jessica had been a year prior. Even though the pandemic had been raging on and they had been quarantining together with their children and Jessica’s family for months by that point, the two of them had been happy and extremely hopeful about their future.
* * * * *
After an extremely long and draining week, Jessica and her boyfriend of about a year, Jeff, were finally able to kick back and relax on a Friday night. The two of them along with their respective children had been staying with Jessica’s parents and siblings in Chappaqua, New York for the past five months, ever since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Since she had been living in Los Angeles, California for the past several years, Jessica hadn’t wanted to be away from her parents, siblings, and her brand new niece Charlotte back in New York, for god knows how long since no one knew when the pandemic would end.
With Jeff laid off from his job in construction, Jessica being able to work remotely, and the kids schooling being virtual, Jeff was incredibly supportive of road tripping and moving everyone across the country to New York at least temporarily.
While the reason they had moved to New York was bittersweet, Jessica was definitely enjoying the extra quality time she was getting to spend with her children, boyfriend, parents, siblings, and niece and she knew that the rest of her family was enjoying spending the extra quality time together as well.
Even though they had been in quarantine in Chappaqua for much longer than they had ever expected, Jessica wouldn’t have wanted things any other way.
“I love you.” Jessica leaned over in bed and lightly pecked Jeff’s lips.
“I love you, too.” Jeff grinned in return and pecked her lips back as his girlfriend cuddled up to him.
The kids had gone next door to the guest house to watch a movie with Chelsea and her family so Jeff and Jessica were finally getting some alone time together.
Jeff had gotten a new job working in a warehouse for UPS and Jessica knew he was exhausted and sore so she was relieved they were getting some quality time to relax and unwind together. While her boyfriend didn’t necessarily have to find a job⸺Jessica had been fine with being the main breadwinner temporarily and her parents weren’t charging them rent or anything ⸺ she knew he had been going stir crazy at home in lockdown so she was glad that he had found something to keep him occupied and she was incredibly proud of him for how hard he had been working to provide for his family the last several weeks.
She lightly pecked his right cheek before she grabbed the television remote from the nightstand and turned on Netflix.
“Can we just relax tonight and watch a horror movie?” Jessica asked, staring up at her boyfriend with her beautiful deep brown eyes.
Jeff was a horror movie nut and he had turned her on to the genre.
“Sure, babe.” Jeff nodded and smiled slightly. “That sounds great.”
Jessica nodded and smiled conspiratorially in return. “Perfect. I’ll go get us some snacks.”
Jeff smirked in return, knowing what Jessica was getting at.
Hillary didn’t want food upstairs in the bedrooms and it especially was not to be eaten in bed. And even though Jessica was turning thirty-six in a month and a bit, she still had to follow her parents house rules. But her mother was going to be staying in Washington DC that weekend instead of coming home to Chappaqua so what Hillary didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt anybody as long as Jeff and Jessica cleaned up after themselves.
“Be right back,” Jessica said before she pecked Jeff’s lips one last time and crawled out of bed.
* * * * *
As she wandered into the kitchen downstairs, Jessica was surprised to find her mother standing over the kitchen sink, washing her hands, having just returned home from the airport a few minutes prior. Jessica hadn’t heard her come in.
“Hey,” Jessica greeted, walking over and standing next to her mother.
Oh, hi, sweetheart!” Hillary chirped in return, looking just as surprised to see Jessica.
“What are you doing here?” Jessica asked curiously. “I thought you wanted to get some work done in DC this weekend.”
“Oh, change of plans,” Hillary said, looking like a deer caught in headlights. She forced a smile. “I missed you guys and decided to come home for the weekend and work from here instead.”
“Oh, okay.” Jessica shrugged slightly feeling like something was off. Her mother wasn’t acting her like herself but Jessica couldn’t quite place her finger on what was different. Plus, her mother had been in Washington DC for the past two weeks straight and had been working very hard to get her constituents all of the resources and assistance they needed during the pandemic since New York had been one of the hardest hit states. It was understandable that she would want to come home and spend a weekend with her husband, children, and grandchildren.
“What are you up to?” Hillary asked her eldest daughter.
“Well the kids went next door to Chelsea’s to watch a movie so Jeff and I are just going to relax upstairs and watch a movie of our own,” Jessica explained. She grabbed two diet cokes out of the fridge since she knew Hillary would freak if she saw Jessica bringing snacks upstairs.
“That sounds nice,” Hillary replied while drying her hands off with a dish towel. “I better go find your sisters and your dad and say hi.”
Jessica nodded. “See you later, Mama.”
Hillary nodded and left the kitchen, gently rubbing her eldest daughter’s lower back on her way out of the room.
* * * * *
Jeff was lounging on the bed, scrolling through the horror movie selection on Netflix when Jessica came back to her bedroom.
“So, change of plans,” Jessica said, putting the cokes down on the nightstand. “My mom came home for the weekend so no snacks I guess.”
She pouted playfully but in reality she was starving. She hadn’t eaten dinner since she had been waiting for Jeff to get home from work.
“Okay, well…” Jeff thought for a second, since he was also hungry after a long day of working hard and a long drive back to Chappaqua from the city. “How about I order us a pizza and maybe I can convince your mom to let us eat it in the living room while we watch our movie?” He gave his girlfriend a curious look, waiting for her approval.
Jessica nodded. “That sounds good.” She chuckled to herself. “God, it's like I’m a teenager again.”
She loved being around her parents and siblings 24/7 again but at times, it did make her feel like a teenager again and not the thirty-five year old woman she was.
Jeff chuckled in return. “Don’t worry your mom loves me. And you’re her favorite child.” He smirked, knowing that Jessica could get away with things that her younger siblings couldn’t.
“My mom does not have favorites!” Jessica playfully admonished, rolling her eyes at her boyfriend even though she knew that her and her mom did have a particularly special bond compared to her sisters.
Jeff chuckled again and just shook his head to himself. Jessica was totally the favorite.
“I’ll go order the pizza and talk to your mom,” he said, standing up from the bed and leaving the room. He smirked to himself because his girlfriend had no idea at all what was really up his sleeve…
* * * * *
Jeff entered the backyard to see how the progress on his surprise was coming along.
Bill and Marc had just returned from picking up takeout from an Italian restaurant in town where Jeff had ordered dinner for a surprise romantic dinner with Jessica. They had left it in the oven to keep it warm and went to assist everybody else in the backyard with setting up the surprise.
Hillary was placing white candles along a makeshift pathway leading from the backdoor to a dinner table set for two that Chelsea and Hayley were currently setting up.
“Jess doesn’t suspect a thing,” Jeff announced before he turned to his girlfriend’s oldest daughter. “Sophia, can you go inside and distract your mother?”
“Sure thing.” The teenager nodded with a smirk before she jogged inside the house.
“Can I light the candles, Grandma?” Shiloh, Jessica’s youngest daughter, sweetly asked Hillary. She and Jeff’s daughter, Mariah, were bored and didn’t really know what was going on.
Hillary just guffawed in her trademark way. “I don’t think that’s the best idea, sweetie.” She chuckled again and shook her head to herself. Shiloh was always cracking her up. “I’ll take care of that. But how about you and Mariah help Cassandra scatter the rose petals?” Hillary suggested with a warm smile.
“Okay!” The girls happily ran over to Hillary’s youngest daughter, their aunt Cassandra, happy to have been assigned a job to do.
Cassandra smiled at the two girls before she showed them how to delicately and elegantly scatter the dark red rose petals along the candle lit pathway and around the dinner table.
Hillary and Bill managed to suppress their laughter as the younger girls were more dumping the rose petals on the ground in big clumps rather than elegantly scattering them like Cassandra was, but it was the thought that counted.
* * * * *
Jessica looked over at the alarm clock on the nightstand in annoyance as her stomach audibly growled. Where the hell had Jeff gone? She was starving. It was taking him way longer to order the pizza then it should have.
Actually, now that she thought of it, the house was unusually quiet. Where had everyone gone…?
She picked up her phone from the nightstand and was aimlessly scrolling through Instagram when her oldest daughter, Sophia, poked her head into her mother’s bedroom.
“Hi, Mom.” The girl walked towards her mother’s bedside.
“Oh, hey, sweetheart,” Jessica quietly said, patting the empty space on the bed next to her as she gently smiled at the teenager. “How was your day?”
Sophia shrugged as she crawled into bed with her mom and pulled the comforter up and around the two of them. “It was fine, I guess.”
Jessica just nodded and ran her fingers through her daughter’s long golden blonde tresses that looked so similar to Jessica’s own. She knew that Sophia had been struggling in quarantine and that she missed James, she missed living in California and she missed seeing her friends in person.
“Have you seen Jeff anywhere?” Jessica asked her daughter, frowning. “I thought he was ordering a pizza but he’s been gone for a while…”
“Oh, I think he’s talking to Grandpa about something in the backyard.” The little white lie easily rolled off of Sophia’s tongue and she answered as cool as a cucumber.
Jessica rolled her eyes. Great… Once her stepfather got going and got involved in a deep conversation, he could be engrossed in it for hours. She really hoped that Jeff and her stepfather wouldn’t be talking for long because she was hungry.
However, she was pleasantly surprised when Sophia suddenly snuggled up to her mother and rested her head against Jessica’s shoulder, cuddling with her. Sophia wasn’t usually the touchy-feely cuddling type and was a sullen teenager most of the time who barely wanted anything to do with her mother.
Jessica often wondered what had happened to her sweet, innocent, cuddly, baby girl. She had grown up way too quickly and Jessica couldn’t believe that her little girl was already turning fourteen in only a couple of days. Where had the time gone??
So on the rare occasions that Sophia wanted to cuddle, Jessica was going to take advantage. She missed Jeff and was looking forward to spending some quality time with him that night, but she also enjoyed spending time with her oldest girl, one on one. It reminded her of what life was like when Sophia was a baby. Before James or Jeff or Sophia's siblings came along. When it was just her and Sophia against the world.
She often marvelled over how much her life had changed in the past fourteen years between getting married, having miscarriages and then eventually having more children, getting divorced, and eventually finding love again…
She was broken out of her daydreaming and reminiscing when Sophia suddenly spoke.
“You love Jeff, right, Mom?”
“Hmm, what was that?” Jessica asked, her mind not quite registering what her daughter had just said.
“You love Jeff, right?” Sophia asked again. “And he loves you?”
“What?” Jessica gave her daughter a quizzical look. “Of course we love each other, honey.” She gave Sophia a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about any of that, honey. You leave all that grown up stuff to Jeff and I, okay? You just be a teenager.”
Sophia nodded and gave her mother a satisfied smile in return as she cuddled up closer to her mother. “Do you love Jeff as much as you once loved Daddy?” She asked curiously.
James was the closest thing Sophia had to a father and she was very close to her stepdad.
Jessica chuckled nervously, having not been prepared for this conversation. “What I have with Jeff is very different from what I had with your stepfather. It’s a ...different kind of love. I loved your stepfather deeply at one point in time, yes. But I also love Jeff very much.” She stared down at Sophia softly, her brown eyes searching her daughter’s face for answers. “What is all this about anyway?” She raised her eyebrows in confusion.
But before Sophia could answer, Jeff poked his head into the bedroom with Cassandra in tow.
“Finally,” Jessica exclaimed. “Where have you been?”
Jeff entered the bedroom carrying a black cocktail dress that would show off Jessica’s curves in all the right places, while Cassandra followed him, carrying a curling iron in her hands.
“What’s all this?” Jessica asked, her eyebrows furrowing. This night was getting stranger and stranger by the minute. “Are we going out?” She frowned, worried. Restaurants had slowly started to reopen but her family hadn’t wanted to risk anything so they had still been quarantining and staying home as much as possible for the most part.
“No we’re not going out,” Jeff admitted. “I brought date night to us so I need you to come out to the backyard. I have something special planned. But first,” He handed his girlfriend the cocktail dress. “You’re going to put this on. And Cassandra and Sophie are going to help you with your hair and makeup.” He slyly smiled over at his girlfriend, with that charming smile of his that always left Jessica weak at the knees.
“Jeff.” Jessica sighed. She was hungry and exhausted and just wanted to cuddle in bed with a movie and some snacks. The last thing she wanted to do was to get all dressed up, even if it was just to have dinner in the backyard. “I’m exhausted. Can we do this another night? Let’s just watch a movie like we were planning. Pretty please?” She jokingly batted her eyelashes at her boyfriend.
“Jess.” Now it was Jeff’s turn to sigh. “We haven’t been able to go out on a real date in months. We deserve to relax and have some alone time.”
As much as he loved his girlfriend’s family and he was grateful that he and his daughter had been welcomed into the family with open arms, he sometimes missed pre-pandemic life, when he and Jessica had more quality alone time together. Plus, he had put a lot of thought and planning into this night in particular. “Just because we can’t go out, doesn’t mean we can’t have a nice date night at home.”
Jessica noticed the pleading look in her boyfriend’s eyes. Even Sophia and Cassandra were staring at her strangely, especially Cassandra. Her youngest sister’s big blue eyes were also staring deeply into Jessica's brown ones.
And as charming as her boyfriend’s yearning expression was, it was Cassandra’s face which won her over.
Jessica just shook her head to herself and chuckled at her boyfriend and her baby sister as she grabbed the curling iron out of her sister’s hands. “Fine. A date night sounds lovely.”
* * * * *
A little while later, after she had changed into the black cocktail dress, paired it with a pair of simple plain black stiletto pumps, applied her makeup, and Cassandra and Sophia had assisted her with curling her hair, Jessica stepped into the backyard, her daughter and her younger sister in tow.
As she closed the sliding glass door behind her, something seemed...different. This was no ordinary date night, Jessica realized.
There was a pathway lined with candles leading from the backdoor towards a dinner table in the middle of the backyard, which was set for a romantic candlelight dinner for two, with rose petals scattered around the backyard, and across the top of the table. There was instrumental romantic music playing softly in the background and two glasses of red wine were already poured.
But what Jessica found most unusual was that besides Jeff, her entire family, including her sisters and children, were waiting for her in the backyard. Shiloh and Mariah seemed lost in their own world as they played together off to the side, but everybody else seemed to have been waiting for Jessica. And Jeff looked uncharacteristically nervous as he paced back and forth in front of the dinner table.
Jessica’s Brother-In-Law, Marc, gently nudged him to get his attention, upon noticing that Jessica had entered the backyard.
Jeff stopped pacing and turned around. His breath immediately caught in his throat. His girlfriend’s beauty always took his breath away, whether she was walking around without makeup and in sweats, or if she was all dolled up like she was right now.
“Hey, honey.” Jessica gave him a nervous but reassuring smile. “What’s going on? Why is everybody out here with us?”
She had thought that Jeff wanted a romantic date night in, with just the two of them and the table was only set for two people…
So what the hell was going on?
Jessica walked over to her boyfriend and the two of them were standing in front of the dinner table together.
Jeff took a deep breath to settle his nerves before he reached down and clasped his girlfriend’s hands. Jessica smiled curiously up at him. “What’s going on, honey?”
“Jessica Dorothy Rodham, my life was forever changed for the better when I met you, just over a year ago. I never thought I would find love again after Lauren passed away and then...you came along.” His voice caught slightly at the mention of his first wife and his first love but he cleared his throat and pulled himself together. He nervously smiled down at Jessica before he continued. “And if Lauren’s death and this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that life is short. Too short to waste another minute. We’re not promised tomorrow. So Jessica Dorothy Rodham…” he dropped down on one knee and pulled a velvet ring box out of his pocket, presenting Jessica with a gorgeous princess cut diamond ring, “Will you make me the happiest man on earth and do me the honor of becoming my wife?” He gave his girlfriend a nervous but hopeful smile.
Jessica gasped as tears pooled in her eyes. They had discussed marriage of course, especially over the last couple of weeks, but this was completely unexpected. He had definitely surprised her.
“Yes…” she gasped out, as she brought her right hand up to her mouth in shock while Jeff slipped the engagement ring onto her ring finger on her left hand. “Yes, yes, yes!” She squealed, grinning excitedly as the weight of what had just happened started to sink in. “Of course I want to marry you!”
She continued smiling widely at her now fiance as he wrapped Jessica up in a tight hug and pulled her in for a passionate kiss while everyone cheered excitedly for the newly engaged couple.
“Get a room, you guys!” Jessica’s son, Lucas, jokingly yelled out, causing all of the adults to chuckle.
Shiloh and Mariah didn’t really understand what was going on but they came over and gave their parents excited hugs, realizing that everybody was celebrating something.
Chelsea poured the happy couple some celebratory champagne while Hillary was the first to officially congratulate her daughter and future son-in-law.
“Congratulations, honey,” Hillary said, with a big smile as she pulled Jessica in for a hug.
“Thanks, mama,” Jessica said in return as her mother lightly pecked her cheek. Jessica smiled to herself, realizing that this must be why her mother came home from DC unexpectedly.
“Congratulations, you guys,” Bill said, patting Jeff’s back, extremely happy for the two of them. He was glad that the proposal had gone according to plan. It reminded him of when he had proposed to Hillary the first time, all those years ago.
As Hayley showed Jessica the pictures she had taken to capture the moment, Jessica was relieved that by coincidence, she had gotten her hair and nails done a few days prior, once salons had been allowed to reopen in New York.
“Congratulations, you guys,” Hayley said as she took a few more pictures of the newly engaged couple.
“Thanks, Hayls,” Jessica replied, smiling warmly at her younger sister, glad that the teenager had helped to capture this special moment.
As Cassandra brought Jeff and Jessica’s dinner out to the backyard for the happy couple to celebrate with, Jessica’s stomach growled. She had gotten caught up in the moment and had forgotten how hungry she was. As Cassandra and Chelsea were making Jeff and Jessica’s plates, she realized Jeff had ordered chicken fettuccine alfredo, Jessica’s favorite meal from her favorite Italian restaurant in town. Her mouth started watering and she took a sip of champagne.
Jeff chuckled as he noticed the expression on his now fiancee’s face.
“We’ll leave you two lovebirds alone now,” Bill said, so that the happy couple could enjoy this moment and have some time to celebrate it in private. He wrapped his arm around Hillary’s waist and started leading his wife inside.
“Yes, let’s eat.” Jeff chuckled as he pulled Jessica’s chair out for her.
“Finally!” Jessica teased lovingly, staring down at her engagement ring in awe as she sat down to finally eat dinner.
* * * * *
Jeff was broken out of his reverie when a nurse came by to update them about Jessica. After learning that she was out of surgery and everything had gone well, Jeff and Hillary went to call the kids and the rest of the family to update them, while Bill offered to sit with Jessica until she woke up from the anesthesia.
As he took a seat by his daughter’s bedside, he thanked the nurse who was getting Jessica settled and taking her vital signs.
The nurse finished up and left the room to give her patient some privacy.
Bill took Jessica’s hand in his and gently squeezed it, smiling down at her. He took his face mask off and placed it in his pocket as he stared down at his sleeping daughter. She looked peaceful. He started to gently stroke her long blonde hair which was splayed out against her pillow, when suddenly her eyelids started fluttering and she slowly opened one eye, and then the other.
“Hey!” Bill smiled down at her, happy to see that the effects of the anesthesia were wearing off and that she was awake.
“Bill?” Jessica croaked out in a scratchy voice, surprised to see her stepfather there. “What are you doing here?”
Not that she wasn’t happy to see Bill, she was just confused.
“Chelsea had everything under control at home so I decided to keep your mom company,” Bill explained, softly smiling down at her.
Jessica just nodded slightly, her head feeling heavy as she did so. She was confused because they had been told that the hospital had strict rules about the number of visitors due to COVID but she was just happy and relieved to see her stepfather at her bedside and she was glad that her mother had had Bill by her side after all on this difficult day.
“Are Mom and Jeff here?” Jessica asked, squinting up at Bill groggily.
“Mmm hmmm.” Bill nodded. “They just went to make some phone calls but they’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Jessica nodded and as if right on queue, Hillary and Jeff entered the room a few moments later.
“Oh, you’re awake!” Hillary said, a mixture of relief and exhaustion displayed across her face as she took her face mask off and joined Bill at Jessica’s bedside.
Jeff stood on the other side of Jessica’s bed, across from his future in-laws and lightly pecked his fiancee’s forehead after taking his own face mask off.
“How are you feeling, baby?” he asked, giving her a gentle hug, relieved to see that she seemed to be doing okay, all things considered.
“I’m fine...I think,” Jessica answered, still feeling kind of out of it from the effects of the anesthesia but she wasn't in as much pain as she had expected to be in. “How are the kids?”
She missed her babies. She had to stay overnight at the hospital for at least a day or two and it had been a long time since she had last spent a night away from her children.
“They’re good. They send their love,” Jeff answered, gently squeezing his fiancee’s hand. “Chelsea was just about to start cooking dinner when we called. Everything’s fine. Don’t worry.”
Jessica nodded, knowing that her sister had everything under control. “Maybe we can call them before they go to bed?"
“Of course we’ll call them, sweetheart,” Jeff replied, softly kissing the top of Jessica’s head again.
Hillary softly smiled to herself and reached for Bill’s hand. She was glad that her daughter had found somebody who loved her and treated her well.
“God, Sophia is going to have the worst birthday ever,” Jessica realized, with a guilt stricken look on her face. She felt guilty enough that her oldest daughter’s fourteenth birthday had been spent in quarantine and now her fifteenth birthday which was only a couple of days away wasn’t going to be celebrated under the best of circumstances either. She let out a harsh sigh, feeling like a terrible mother.
“Hey, none of this is your fault, honey,” Jeff said soothingly, gently stroking Jessica’s back. “Sophia understands.”
Hillary nodded in agreement and stared softly at her daughter. “Yeah, sweetheart. We can still make the day special for Sophia somehow.” They still had a few days to think of ways to give Sophia a fun fifteenth birthday party despite the ongoing pandemic and her mother's circumstances.
Jessica just nodded, too exhausted to argue.
“We’ll let you get some rest,” Bill suddenly said, giving his daughter’s hand one last gentle squeeze, noticing that Jessica was struggling to keep her eyes open, still not one hundred percent over the effects of the anesthesia yet.
Jessica nodded as she cleared her throat which was incredibly dry from the breathing tube that had been placed during the surgery.
Hillary nodded, agreeing with Bill as she quickly poured Jessica some water from the pitcher that was on the nightstand next to Jessica’s bed.
“Thanks,” Jessica said gratefully, smiling weakly up at her mother as she grabbed the plastic cup from Hillary.
“No problem, sweetie,” Hillary replied, gently running a hand through Jessica’s long tresses one last time. She pecked Jessica’s forehead as her daughter yawned.
Hillary slung her purse over her right shoulder. She didn’t want to leave Jessica’s side but she knew she was in good hands with Jeff and the wonderful doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. Plus she wanted to get home to Hayley, Cassandra, and the grandkids.
She gave Jessica a gentle hug goodbye and pecked her cheek one last time before she put her face mask back on in anticipation of leaving the hospital.
“Goodnight, you guys. Get some rest,” Bill said to his daughter and future son-in-law, giving Jessica’s hand one last squeeze.
“Night,” Jeff said, smiling weakly at his fiancee’s parents, grateful for all of their love and support, especially over the last couple of weeks.
“Love you,” Jessica weakly called out to them as Bill was putting his face mask on.
“Love you, too, baby girl,” Hillary replied, smiling at Jessica with her eyes.
Her parents waved goodbye to Jeff and Jessica just as Jeff was crawling into the tiny hospital bed with Jessica and snuggling up to her as Jessica's eyes were drifting shut.
Bill reached for his wife’s hand as he closed the door to Jessica’s room behind them on their way out. “Come on, honey. Let’s go home.”
To Be Continued...