I don't own SMASH

-o-

7. WEDLOCK

New York – Early December 2013

Jesse Hamm was the most adorable man she knew.

Now that 'Kiss Me Kate' had proven to be a success despite the birds of ill omen predicting a flop because of the sudden departure of Derek Wills to greener pastures, Karen had time to think and rest. Most of the hard work was done. Sure, it was still eight performances a week, but she could have nailed her role down pat even in her sleep. It was a walk in the park really, following the drama and angst of the previous weeks.

Still, her contract was truly binding, so she saw no point in hiring an army of solicitors to get her out of it. She owed only twenty two weeks to the production, there was simply no way around it. Fortunately, she was tall. Her waist had not filled out as fast as she was afraid to, nothing that the costume designer couldn't control anyway until she could leave the show. If Jerry Rand was not happy which her expanding rounder shape, he'll have to fire her himself. Good luck with that, since he didn't think it would be pertinent to add a pregnancy clause to her contract.

As it was expected, her life felt a lot easier after her stomach stopped playing tricks at the end of the first trimester. Being with child agreed with her. She felt like a million bucks, full of renewed energy and strangely happy, -hormones, no doubt. Still, she missed Derek a lot. She had to stop herself from calling him several times a day. He had been a constant in her life for more than two years and her lover for a few weeks. She couldn't deny that his absence had hit her harder that anticipated. Now that he was out of touch and seemed determined to keep it that way, she could assess the depth of her loss. In a way, expecting his child had prevented her from hitting rock bottom. It was ironic that Derek could somehow still achieve to protect her, if vicariously.

People had no doubt who the father was, yet they chose not to confront her. On the contrary, she was swamped by kind ministrations and covered with baby gifts. Quite unexpectedly, Johnny Stein became a very good friend. His reputation didn't give him justice. He was attentive, gentle and surprisingly helpful. He was used to being around pregnant women, his five older sisters had made sure of that. He was now the proud uncle of nearly a dozen of nieces and nephews, going from three months to seventeen years.

And there was Jesse. A production designer older than Derek, who had lost his partner to AIDS a decade before, Jesse Hamm was a gentle soul and the providential man. In Jesse's world, nothing was ever a problem, there was always a solution. When she finally made up her mind about moving out of her small Brooklyn apartment, refusing to use the loft where Derek had offered her to stay, he immediately volunteered to help her out and stepped up to the plate. He arranged everything, from packing her few possessions to hiring a moving company, and refurbishing her new place from floor to ceiling. He had exquisite taste. Karen was quite happy in her new flat. They spent an awful lot of time together and discovered they had much in common. In the end, it was a surprise for the both of them, but it turned out they were kindred spirits. In an ideal world, Jesse should have been her rebound guy.

When it became obvious that they were attached to the hip for various reasons neither Karen nor Jesse wanted to delve into, they were faced with a dilemma which appeared to solve itself quite easily. Karen needed a father to maintain appearances. Not for her own sake, god, she didn't mind being a single mother. Her parents didn't know anything about her affair with Derek Wills, she wanted the child to have a father figure in its life, and Jesse had always wanted to be a father. The untimely death of the love of his life had left him alone and unable to fulfil that need. It became an Occam's razor decision of sorts and an arrangement they were quite happy with. They were married before Christmas, not even two months after Derek's return to London. She was in her fifth month and nobody could have guessed from the wedding pictures. She was radiant, but which new bride wouldn't be?

She sent a card to Derek. He didn't receive it. He was in South Africa filming a thriller for ITV.

-o-

London – November 2018

Derek was right. Her new life in London fell quite fast into the comfort zone category. So did living with him. Not that they actually shared a lot. After long and exhausting hours of rehearsal, instead of going back to his place to work on the blocking or whatnot like he used to when they were in New York, he spent every evening in a different place with a different woman hanging on his arm, getting drunk and partying the hardest he could.

He usually went back in the wee hours of the morning to shave, have a shower and change before heading back to the theatre. Their paths barely crossed, not even in the kitchen. Allergic to tablets or any mobile device except his beloved cell, he would buy a newspaper on his way to work and have a cup of coffee and a sandwich near Leicester Square. From what she witnessed, it was a miracle he was able to operate during the day, or even still standing.

Without the presence of the ever enthusiastic Jenny, and her frequent conversations with Theo and her parents, her life would have been pretty dull. She didn't mind the peace and quiet, but she was not dead yet. So she went to see a few plays, tried out some restaurants, and spent her weekends strolling down the streets of London holding on to a good old map.

To be honest, it didn't distract her from her main concern. She found herself craving Derek's company which made it even more difficult to come to a decision for Theo. Her unexpected longing shouldn't have interfered with that process, but it turned out otherwise. She knew that as soon as Derek would lay eyes on the boy, he'd know. She needed more time to prepare herself for the impeding wrath of her former lover. The worse that could happen would be that he didn't feel concerned. She feared his indifference more than his anger. Either way, she had to come clean. That was the hard part. The more she waited, the more difficult it became. She had no idea how she could break the news after all this time. "By the way, I forgot to tell you: you have a son." That was a nightmare. He would quit 'Damsel for Hire', would throw her out of his mansion, would probably never speak to her again except by means of attorney.

On the other hand, Theo could stay exactly where he was and she could visit him for Christmas. Her little man was having the time of his life in Iowa. Though her folks made sure he wasn't spoiled, still they remained his grand parents. And that's what grand parents are basically here for. And what was the point of having him in London if she couldn't spend some true quality time with him? He was certainly better off over there for the time being. Maybe, after Halloween, or when they were through with the rehearsals, or…

She was aware she just delayed the unavoidable disclosure.

Karen had not seen the point of being involved with anyone since her divorce. There was no one in her life, she was not interested. Theo knew his stepfather had died a few months after her mother had divorced him, but he was still a baby at the time and couldn't entertain the same fond memories she had left of Jesse.

Of course, over the years, there had been the occasional flings, and some harmless one-night stands but nothing that could have jeopardised the quiet life she had been determined to build with her son. She didn't want to be involved with anyone for the sake of being involved. Her path hadn't crossed Prince Charming's yet but life had been easy on her. A string of smashing successes, a wonderful son, she was lucky. At this stage of her life, she had no regrets. Working with Derek again made her realize that he had been, and probably still was, the love of her life. Yes, she was lucky. Lots of people go through life without knowing what true love is.

Before getting more emotional than necessary, she revived her laptop and checked her e-mails. She could talk to her parents, talk to her son, basically, she knew she was living a lie. She wanted Derek back into her life, she had known that the day she had accepted John's and Harry's offer. When she had boarded her flight to London, she remembered toying with the idea of seeing Derek again. Now, she was stuck.

"Everything okay, darling," his strong voice startled her. "You look tired. Would you care to join me in the library for a nightcap?"

"Oh, I didn't know you were back already. I didn't hear the door," she said.

He rubbed his chin with a weary smile. "I've been trying to work for the past couple hours. I didn't want to disturb you. Good news from your family, I hope," he asked from the doorway, careful not to trespass any boundaries.

Immediately, Karen realized she had been talking to her mother for the last forty five minutes with her door open. To say she was embarrassed was an understatement. "You should have said something," she shook her head. "I thought I was alone, I'm sorry Derek."

"No need to apologize. You're a blessing for this house. Most of the time, it feel like living in Satis House, minus dear Ms Havisham of course."

"At least you, unlike her, take care of your estate," she grinned.

He nodded. His mouth twitched but his face remained inscrutable. "At least, it's an improvement to be in a Charles Dickens novel," he mused.

"I take it you're not a fan of Du Maurier then," she chuckled. "Too bad, you'd make a dashing Rochester."

But he was in no mood to play along. He leaned on the doorframe and crossed his arms, looking away. She finally broke the awkward silence. "So you were saying a last nightcap?"

"Right, sorry love, I've had a lot on my mind lately. I apologize for not giving you my full attention."

"You know you don't have to Derek. It was really kind of you to let me stay here," she added.

He looked up, and his eyes lingered a second too long on her face. He seemed hurt.

"We're still friends, yes?" she frowned. "I don't want to be a burden and I wouldn't like you to think I need to be entertained."

"But still I'd like to spend more time with you."

"Eight hours a day at the theatre, I think you give me plenty already," she tried.

"I've missed you Karen," he said bluntly. "I have no idea why I left you."

"Please don't," she whispered, stooping on the couch and averting her eyes. She heard him exhale sharply.

"I shouldn't have bothered you."

When she looked up, he was gone.