Chapter 36 - The Bear

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Caleb had a follow-up appointment with Nick. Ella tried to offer to take him, but Joe reminded her that she had a Christmas party to perform at that night. She had been burning the candle at both ends and Joe was worried about her.

"It was the only way I got through the holidays last year without you... being too exhausted to think."

"But you aren't without me and I worry about you," Joe reminded her.

Caleb was one of the last appointments of the day, so the waiting room was empty. Caleb insisted on going in to see Nick on his own, so Joe stayed seated. A few minutes later, he heard his name.

Sara said, "Come with me."

He was worried that something was wrong with Caleb, but he had seemed fine — normal even. Instead of leading him to his brother she pointed to the open door with the sign stating 'Don't poke the bear'. Joe had been in that office before.

Tim was once again behind his desk and Joe asked, "Did you want to see me, Dr. Burke?"

Tim motioned for Joe to take a seat which he did. He stared at Joe a minute and Joe wondered how he looked. He knew his shirt was wrinkled from his full day of work. He still had his tie on but had loosened it. Joe didn't have to wear a tie, but before they dated Ella had told him that she liked the look. He wore one every day except in the hot weather for Ella even during his year in Massachusetts.

"You know every time I turn around someone is telling me how impressed they are with you."

"Me?" Joe was confused.

"Even Cara made a point of asking about Caleb and telling me how much you cared about him."

"Cara?"

"From the ER, she grew up in town so she recognized my daughter. Ella wouldn't have known her since she's a number of years older, but she knew Dr. Burke's daughter. Then the nurses on the floor told me how they had to convince you to leave, but you came right back."

"He's my brother. I would do anything for my family. I've..."

"Then I met Caleb and he..."

"Told you what a jerk I am..."

Tim smiled, "In between telling me how much you did for him."

"I focused on you leaving my daughter, but never thought of the family you were supporting. I got an earful from Tommy about the kind of woman your mother was. He helped me see your anguish..."

"If I could do it all again there was so much I'd do differently starting with letting Ella come with me. I thought that I was protecting her from my mother, but I was so wrong."

Tim nodded again and asked, "What do you want from me?"

Joe was shocked by his question and thought if he was like a genie with only a few wishes he better get them right.

"I want you to spend Christmas and holidays with your daughter, but she'll only go if I'm included. I want you to walk her down the aisle and be happy for her the day she becomes my wife. I want you to love our children."

Tim nodded, "Is that it?"

"Yes... no. I wish we could get back to what we lost, but Ella's happiness comes first."

"So you want to be a guest in my home and you want me to bless your marriage?"

"Yes." Joe wasn't going to back down.

"Okay."

"Really?" Joe asked.

"Yes, but if possible can you bring Caleb with you whenever you come? I really like that kid."

Joe laughed. "He likes you too."

Joe sat in the audience at the Christmas concert with Ava and Tony. He was more excited than ever because Caleb was going to be on stage.

He had told Ella that he had seen her father but didn't elaborate. He wanted to surprise her. He shouldn't have been surprised but her parents and grandmother entered the auditorium and took seats in the row in front of Joe. They were followed by Nick and Bridget who cried, "Joe, Joe."

She pushed past Tony and Ava and climbed on his lap announcing, "I've missed you. Daddy's letting me stay up late to see Caleb."

"What about Ella?" he asked.

She answered with less enthusiasm, "Yeah."

It was the first time that Joe had seen Julie or Elizabeth since before he left and Bridget chose his lap. Joe was glad that Tim had thawed or he would be sweating.

Before he could dwell on it, Ella appeared on the stage and started her speech which welcomed everyone and introduced herself. Then she turned the focus on her students who sounded amazing.

Joe was stunned when Caleb and Gabby sang a duet. They sounded really good together. When they were done the loudest cheers came from the group around him. He was afraid he was going to cry because even if the Burkes never accepted him, they had his brother. Caleb's life had been rotten enough that he deserved as much family as he could get.

As the concert was ending, Joe stood by the edge of the stage with Bridget and a bouquet of red roses. He had always bought them for Ella. Although she never told him, that would have been one more moment that Ella would have had to face without him last year.

She stood in front of the crowd and thanked a list of people — the administration, the auditorium staff, her students and their parents. Then she said, "I'd like to thank my family, many are here tonight. My biggest supporter is here with my niece."

She smiled at Joe and mouthed, "Thank you." He reached up and handed her the flowers. Then he picked up Bridget and put her on the stage. She hugged Ella, but then she ran to Caleb and hugged him. Ella laughed and announced, "Drive safely and happy holidays."

Students crowded around her. Caleb bypassed the crowd and brought Bridget back to Nick. Joe was just behind him when Caleb exclaimed, "Doc your wife looks just like Ella!"

Everyone laughed. Joe stood feeling awkward until Ella was next to him. She greeted her family and Julie came over and said, "I hope you haven't made other plans for Christmas. I'd like you all to come."

"All?" Ella asked looking at Tim who nodded.

Julie clarified, "Yes, all three of you."

Ella corrected, "Four, Leah too."

"Well, then four."

Ella hugged her mother and her father. Joe saw her eyes glistening and he couldn't stop smiling.

A/N one more chapter to go.  Thanks to those of you who have anxiously awaited each chapter.  As much as I would have loved to publish it all at once my biggest fear is running out of stories to publish.  It takes time to get a story ready for readers.  Last update in Saturday along with some info on what is next.

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