May 31, 2010 12:00 PM

Jesse James is a man who likes his routines. Most mornings he brings in the newspaper from outside his beachfront, L.A.-area home before having breakfast with kids Sunny, 6, Jesse Jr., 12, and Chandler, 15. After dropping off the kids at school, he typically puts in a 12-hour day at his West Coast Choppers garage before heading home to help the kids with their homework and watch the occasional bedtime movie together. But since the collapse of his marriage to Sandra Bullock, even the most mundane rituals are marked by a profound absence. “Jesse is the only one to blame for all of this,” says a friend, “but his life, too, came crashing down on him.”

It has been two months since life as both Bullock and James knew it was shattered by his infidelity. While Bullock embarks on a new chapter as a single mom to 4-month-old Louis (see box), James, 41, is still trying to pick up the pieces for both himself and his kids. Those close to him say the famously gruff guy, whose don’t-mess-with-me machismo helped define his multimillion-dollar empire, has been deeply humbled by his mistakes. “Jesse still feels like a fool for messing up his great life with Sandra and the kids,” says a source. “He still really loves Sandra, and it seems that he doesn’t even understand himself how he could deceive his family the way he did.” Since returning in April from a monthlong stint in a treatment facility (for still-unspecified personal issues), “he is feeling stronger but obviously very sad for the situation still at hand,” says another pal. Not that he’s resigned himself to losing the woman he once said made him feel like Superman. Exactly the opposite, in fact: James’ friends say he remains fervently committed to winning her back. “He hasn’t given up hope that he can fix things,” says the source. “This thinking is what gets Jesse through the day.”

Is a reconciliation a real possibility? At least one friend of the couple’s doesn’t rule it out. “I’d be horrified but not surprised,” says the friend. “She believes in the best of people. She likes the life they had together. To her, they were going to grow old together, and when they were together, they were happy and they made big decisions together-over real estate, pets, parenting, adopting Louis.”

For now, though, it’s clear that Bullock, 45, is moving forward, without James. “Jesse and Sandra have been in contact briefly,” says the source. “They share the same main focus as before: the kids’ well-being. They are only in contact because they want the best for all the kids.”

One of James’ top priorities is making sure his children from his previous marriages-to first wife Karla, 50, and second wife Janine Lindemulder, 41-continue to share their feelings with him. “He’s been talking to them a lot, keeping communication open,” says his friend. Prior to the split, “one of his issues was compartmentalizing stuff, just dealing with it himself … but he wants the kids to feel comfortable talking about things.” For her part, Bullock especially takes time to stay connected to Sunny, who was just 1 when she and James married. “Sandra spends a lot of time talking on the phone to Sunny,” says the source close to James. “It’s still very hard for her that Sandra and Louis are not around.”

Although Bullock and James haven’t lived under one roof since the actress moved out of their Los Angeles-area home as the cheating scandal broke in March, they have found themselves in familiar territory at the same time. On May 14 both James and Bullock were in Austin, the adopted hometown where they spent much of their downtime during their marriage. (It’s also where Bullock filed for divorce on April 23.) But this time James was in town with his older daughter Chandler to visit Austin Speed Shop, his custom-car outfit, while Bullock hit her favorite shops with Louis and checked in on her restaurant Bess Bistro.

The Oscar winner may see her ex around town far more frequently in the near future: James has put his L.A. house on the market and, according to a source, has already made an offer to buy a house in Austin. Might the proximity to Bullock be a motivating factor? “His mind-set is the same as [just after the split], and Jesse feels that as time goes by, his and Sandra’s relationship has still not reached the final chapter,” says the source close to him. “He is not giving up hope that Sandra will come back to her family. Everyone knows that when the time is right, Jesse will try to get Sandra to come home.”

It is, as James himself put it in a statement, “an incredible mountain to climb.” Whether or not he can succeed in being “the mate Sandy deserves,” as he stated, “Jesse is definitely a changed man,” says another close friend. “Although there is still sadness, you can also tell he has a rejuvenated soul. He’s put his family through a lot, and he is doing everything he can to make things better. He loves his family more than anything.”

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