It was a typical Monday morning; everyone was buzzing with chatter of what had transpired over the weekend while trying to prepare for the early morning staff meeting. The usual banter and chatter never bothered Harper McDonald, but today was a little different; her workload was out of this world, and the stress of her personal life was beginning to take its toll. She refused to bring it into the office, she never talked about it with anyone; instead, she plastered on a smile and tried to pretend as if her weekends and social life were ‘normal.’
She had arrived at the office a little early, hoping to bypass some of the chatter and finish the proof of a significant deal before the meeting started. She had fifteen minutes to get this done; head down and in the zone, the time flew by and she missed the meeting alert to remind her to leave. Her concentration was broken when Max, her boss, leaned into her office.
“So, did you decide to skip my meeting this morning?” Max asked with a hint of sarcasm and a million-dollar grin. Max Kinkaid was the owner of Kinkaid Development, the company where Harper worked. He was a charming man, brilliant, and too handsome for his own good. He had hired Harper shortly after she moved to town and quickly realized that she had talent and could be trusted.
She jumped at the sound of his voice, “Oh! I am sorry I was so engrossed in this contract, I lost track of time. Let me just get this stuff together; I’m so sorry,” she sputtered and began shuffling papers on her desk. While he was a good man, Max made her nervous; she respected his position, but she could never tell if he was completely serious or if he was just yanking her chain.
“Whoa, hey, I’m just giving you a hard time. I was walking to the conference room, saw you in your office and figured you lost track of time,” he approached her desk, noticing she appeared to be frazzled. Suddenly it occurred to him that his words might have upset her, “You gonna be alright?”
Harper stood straight up and looked into Max’s eyes, “Oh, sure, I’m fine. You know, I just hate to be late. Now I’m not only late, but I’ve made you late for your own meeting. Sorry about that.”
“Oh, quit apologizing, it’s not that big of a deal! C’mon and walk in with me so we can be late together,” he flashed that grin and Harper fell into step with him for the short walk to the conference room.
~ * ~
Luckily no one mentioned that Harper was late, or the fact that she walked in with Max. The office, like most, was a grist mill for gossip, and she knew that her interactions with Max were a topic of conversation. While all of her interactions were nothing but professional, none of that mattered when it came to office gossip; people would say what they wanted regardless of whether there was an ounce of truth to it. Harper had always worked hard and expected that her career advancements would be due to her talent and hard work paying off; she just hoped that it would be seen that way and not because she was friendly with the boss or because of what might be deemed as inappropriate behavior.
It was common for her to lock herself in her office and plow through the work on her desk; today was no different. It was also common for her to jet out of the office right at 5:00; this never went unnoticed. Her coworkers talked about her behind her back, the fact that she would leave right at five and never seemed to take any work home. She never popped up online late at night, and no one received emailed from her at odd hours as they did from other associates. She was a salaried associate, and that meant you put in as much time as needed to get the work done. She used to work more than fifty hours a week and several months ago, it all stopped, and now she worked a strict forty-hour work week. She knew it was a matter of time before Max or any of the other principals in the company called her on it.
Traffic, this time of night, was a nightmare; she tried to speed as best she could, but it always seemed like the faster she wanted to drive, the slower the cars around her went. On a good day, she could get from the suburbs to downtown Boston in 45 minutes. Tonight, she was 60 minutes in and still had miles to go. Most likely there was an accident ahead; she knew she should pray that there were no injuries, but all she wanted was for it to be cleared so she could get moving.
It took 20 minutes to get the final few miles. She finally pulled into the parking garage of Mass General Hospital for Children and ran to the elevator. She was late for dinner, and she was pretty sure that she looked quite wearied. She used the elevators doors as a mirror to try and straighten her appearance; from fixing her hair to straightening out her skirt and blouse the best she could. When the doors opened with a ding, she quickly walked down the hall towards room 4560.
As she opened the door, she saw the fragile little boy hugging his teddy bear, fighting to stay awake. Aiden McDonald was the light of her life; at seven years old he was not supposed to be lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life. It broke her heart to see him like this but at least she knew he made it through another day; one day at a time, that was the motto she had to live by these days. Leaving him alone all day was not her choice, but using FMLA would be a financial strain. Unpaid time off from work did not fit the budget when you were a single parent and had bills to pay. She had vacation time but had it banked if Aiden’s treatments didn’t work, and she needed to be there for…well, she didn’t like to think about what that meant.
She quietly walked into his room, not wanting to wake him. She kissed him on the forehead, and he stirred, rolling his head to look and her, opening his eyes wide, “Hi, mommy!” Her eyes lit up, she loved the sound of his voice, even if it was soft and raspy due to his treatments.
She never spoke to him as if he were fragile or sick, preferring to talk to him like he was a ‘normal’ child and not defined by his illness, “Hi, pumpkin, how are you feeling today?”
Aiden struggled to sit up; he had a gleam in his eye and was excited to say, “Guess what? I had a visitor,” there was excitement building in Aiden’s voice, “Mom, Captain America was here! He talked to me and gave me a shield, and it was awesome!”
“Whoa, really? Captain America was here?” She tried to match his enthusiasm, it just wasn’t possible. “I guess you were lucky that you were wearing your Captain America pajamas today!”
“Yeah, he thought they were really cool!” But you know what the best part was? He didn’t make any comment about me not having hair!”
Harper had a hard time holding back the tears when he said that; it seems so small, but for a sick child to be treated as if nothing was wrong, well it’s a huge deal. Aiden had been teased quite a bit when he first started losing his hair, and he had been embarrassed when Harper suggested just shaving it all off. She had told him he looked cool, but he didn’t buy it. So for Captain America to not say anything bad about him not having hair, it made it a red letter day in her book.
She pulled herself together so she could respond, “Well, it would have been rude for him to say something and it would have meant he was just jealous at how handsome you are!”
There was a knock on the door and the dinner car was rolled in. The orderly put Aiden’s tray on the table and lowered it in front of him. Harper thanked him and then sat down to help her son eat. The drugs had made him so weak that it made even the simple task of holding a spoon, almost impossible. The drugs also made it hard for him to eat or to even have an appetite; the issue tonight was that he would not eat because he could not quit talking about Captain America.
This visit was literally the best drug he could have received; although Harper had doubts as to who had actually visited him. She had watched stories online where window washers or delivery people dressed up as superheroes to cheer up the kids. She figured maybe someone was dressed up to bring something in his room and just chatted for a minute when he noticed Aiden’s pajamas.
Their dinner conversation with interrupted by a ringing telephone. Harper checked her phone, and it wasn’t ringing. It wasn’t the hospital phone either. She began to look around and noticed a phone on the other bedside table, a misplaced cell phone. She didn’t recognize it, she didn’t answer it, that would not be polite, but she did pick it up to look at it. The screen didn’t give away who might own the phone and she didn’t recognize the name or the number calling.
“That must be Captain America’s phone, mom! He must have left it here; we have to get it back to him,” Aiden was suddenly concerned as to how Captain America would live without his cell phone.
“Don’t worry I’ll take it to the nurses’ station, and I’m sure they can get it back to him. I bet he knows it’s missing and will come back looking for it,” Harper put the phone down on the table where she had been sitting and tried to get Aiden to finish eating. He was done and put his head back on the pillow and began to drift off to sleep; the excitement of the day finally catching up with him.
Harper slowly stood, hoping not to make any noise as she moved across the room. She quietly opened the door and walked out into the hallway towards the nurses’ station. “Hi, Becky, I am sorry to bother you, but someone left a phone in Aiden’s room earlier today. He swears that Captain America came to visit him today, not sure what that is all about but whoever it was, I think they left it behind.”
“Oh, thank goodness you found this! Chris has been calling us for the last two hours trying to figure out if he left the phone up here; he’s been freaking out! He is probably on his way here.” Just as she finished her sentence, the elevator dinged, and Harper was hypnotized by the man who was starting to walk towards her.
“Chris, your phone has been found!” Becky exclaimed when she saw him walking down the hall. He immediately took off into a sprint towards the nurses’ station.
“Thank God! I knew it was up here somewhere; which room did I leave it in?”
Harper gathered herself and cleared her throat, “Room 4560, Aiden McDonald’s room. It rang when he was having dinner, that’s how we knew was there. We didn’t answer it or anything,” she felt as if she needed to make sure he was aware of that, “My apologies for not letting the nurses know earlier so that they could relay the message to you.”
“Well, I appreciate it, thanks. Um, Aiden, the little boy with the Captain America pajamas right?” Chris said as he looked at Harper square in the eyes; he was mesmerized. She had big, emerald-green eyes and he could get lost just staring at them; he could not help but smile at her.
Harper was shocked, “Yes, that’s right, how did you remember that?“
“Are you kidding? He would be hard to forget! He’s a huge Captain America fan. I think he was my best reaction all day, his little face just lit up when I walked in. He was my favorite visit all day even though I’m not supposed to say that,” Chris was a little sheepish as the words came out of his mouth.
“Yeah, you spent more time with him than any of the other kids. But, I’m not surprised, Chris,” Becky chimed in, “He is a sweet little boy and the favorite of every nurse on this ward. But we do overlook his love of a particular superhero, though,” she said with a smirk and a giggle; Chris just shot her a dirty look.
Harper had the feeling she should not be listing to this conversation. It sounded like the banter between a boyfriend and girlfriend, and she was suddenly uncomfortable. The problem was, she was lost in the deep melody of this handsome stranger’s voice. It wasn’t just his voice, he was incredibly beautiful, and he seemed so kind. She was not generally attracted to men with facial hair, but this man’s beard and his mussed hair had her captivated, she was struggling to breathe at the moment.
“Wow, I’m incredibly rude! Here I am carrying on this conversation, and I’ve never formally introduced myself,” Chris said as he stuck out his hand to Harper, “Hi, I’m Chris Evans.”
Harper shook his hand, “Hi Chris, Harper McDonald, I’m Aiden’s mother.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you. Wow, is that tacky for me to say in this situation?”
“No I wouldn’t say it’s tacky; rude or insensitive, maybe,” Harper said with a soft chuckle. “Seriously, though, thank you for taking the time to visit with Aiden. He only has me to interact with outside of the doctors and nurses so it gave him a nice change. Although he didn’t mention that you were there today, only just that Captain America stopped by. Becky, are hallucinations a side effect of these new drugs?”
Chris let out a laugh and flashed an amazing smile that Harper could not get enough of, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, it’s just, I guess you haven’t seen the Captain America movies?”
“Um, actually, no, I haven’t. Aiden has watched them numerous times, but I have never watched them. I’ve had no interest in seeing them, I’m not into the comic superhero thing.”
Chris put his hand over his heart and acted as if he was wounded by her words. Becky, the nurse at the station who had not moved during the exchange, began laughing hysterically. Harper was confused so she asked, “What am I missing?”
Becky quit laughing and looked at her seriously, “Harper, you have no idea who you have been talking to do you?” Harper slowly shook her head no. “This is Chris Evans, he’s an actor. Specifically, the actor who plays Captain America in those movies!” As Becky explained, Chris smirked and looked at Harper to see the realization hit her.
Harper wanted to crawl into a hole and hide; she could feel her face turning 50 shades of red, “Oh! Wow, don’t I feel like a fool? I’m sorry Mr. Evans, I apologize for not knowing that.” Chris reached out and put his hand on Harper’s shoulder. His touch electrified her, she was embarrassed for not knowing who he was and excited that such a handsome man was actually touching her.
“It’s okay, I actually like the fact that you didn’t know who I was. I don’t get that much anymore now that I’m in the Marvel movies.”
“Ok, that makes me feel worse. Your picture is everywhere, but I didn’t know it was you! I haven’t seen the Marvel movies, and I guess I just wasn’t paying attention,” Harper knew that Chris was trying to make her feel better, but she just kept feeling worse.
“Harper, I think it threw you off because Chris has a beard. Captain America is clean shaven so you probably just didn’t recognize him,” Becky offered, in the hopes that it would alleviate some of the embarrassment.
“Well, yeah, maybe, again, I am sorry Chris. I really do appreciate that you took time out of your schedule to visit with Aiden, it really brightened his day. For all that he’s been through, that means the world to me. So, thank you! And, I’m glad we were able to help you find your phone,” Harper turned and made a hasty retreat into Aiden’s room.
Chris watched her leave, “Shit, Becky, we made her feel bad.” He turned to face the nurse they had been chatting with, “She didn’t need us laughing at her. I should go in there and apologize, right? I mean, she seems like a lovely woman.”
“She is a big girl Chris, she’ll be okay. Besides, this took her mind off of Aiden for more than 5 minutes, and she needed that more than anything.”
Chris shook his head and thanked Becky for helping to get his phone back. He began to walk to the elevator, he couldn’t help but look back one more time at the door to room 4560. He had enjoyed meeting Aiden earlier in the day, and now he was intrigued by his mother. He was sure he would have a hard time forgetting her.
~ * ~
Harper could not get back into Aiden’s room quick enough; she was thoroughly embarrassed that she did not realize she was talking to the star of her son’s favorite movie. Worse than that, she admitted that she let her son watch a movie that she had never even seen! Chris must have thought she was a fool, and she was sure that Becky, Aiden’s nurse thought she was an idiot.
As Harper watched Aiden sleep, she tried to push the encounter with Chris out of her mind. If only it were that easy. He was handsome, ridiculously so. His voice, so smooth and sexy; he had a great laugh, and he seemed genuinely nice. How could she not think that? He remembered Aiden’s name and recalled visiting with him, movie stars don’t do that. It was not entirely plausible that she would have mistaken him for a “regular” guy. Nope! She was still an idiot. And to top it off, she had not even believed Aiden when he said that Captain America had been there.
Sometime during the night, in between watching Aiden sleep and talking to herself about what a fool she was, Harper had dozed off. She was startled awake when the nurse came into the room to check on Aiden.
“Sorry Harper, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Claudia offered as she checked Aiden’s vitals.
“No, it is okay, I need to get up. What time is it anyway?”
“It is 6 am.”
“Crap, I should have set my alarm so I could have had time to get back to the apartment to get ready for work there. I guess I’ll have to get ready here today.”
“I just hate that you have to run around so much. It is horrible that your boss won’t give you any time off,” Claudia immediately regretted saying something, she shook and hung her head in embarrassment. “Look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything, it really isn’t my place.”
Harper reached out and put her hand on Claudia’s, “It’s alright, I appreciate your concern. I honestly haven’t shared Aiden’s situation with anyone in my office. I had talked to HR early on and found out about FMLA, but I can’t afford unpaid time off,” Harper pulled her hand back and stood up straight, not wanting to appear weak or vulnerable. “Aiden is hanging in there right now. The Doctor has said he sees signs of improvement, and it is better for me to work and keep my mind busy instead of sitting here and watching him sleep all day. I’m sure that makes me sound horrible, though.”
“No, it doesn’t make you a bad mother. I do understand, and it wouldn’t do you any good to sit here all day while he sleeps. You are here for him every day, and this boy adores you. Although it might be a tight race between you and Captain America, to be honest.” Claudia said with a snicker.
“Oy! Becky told you?”
“Yeah, she actually told everyone! Don’t feel bad, though, I didn’t recognize him either, and I saw the movie!”
Harper laughed as she headed to the bathroom while Claudia finished up with Aiden. Harper finished her shower and got ready for work. She went back into the room and spent a few minutes with her son; letting him know she loved him and would be thinking of him all through the day. She then gave him a soft kiss on his head and headed out for the office; she just prayed for a smooth and uneventful day.
~ * ~
The Evans house was alive with activity, breakfast was being made, and the chatter of kids could be heard as Chris came bounding down the stairs and made his way into the kitchen. His mom was at the stove, cooking breakfast while his sister, Carly, was busy making plates for her boys Ethan and Miles. Carly’s daughter, Stella, was in the highchair with Cheerios spread all over the tray.
Chris kissed each one of the kids on the head, and then moved to the cabinet and retrieved a cup to pour himself a cup of coffee, “Good morning family unit.”
“Wow, someone is in an awfully good mood this morning!” Carly exclaimed as she turned to look at Chris over her shoulder, “Did you have a particularly good night last night?”
“Chris, didn’t you go to the children’s hospital yesterday? How did that go?” His mother had asked before he could answer his sister’s question.
“As a matter of fact, I did have a good night, Carly. I lost my phone, but when I found it, I met a beautiful woman. Before you ask, no, I don’t know if I’ll see her again. No, I didn’t ‘party’ with her,” Chris was animated and using air quotes to get his point across, “and yes, Ma, I did go to the hospital yesterday.”
“So, where did you meet this woman that you didn’t party with?” Carly asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm, but she was not letting this go.
“Wow, I tell you I visited with sick and dying children, and you are more concerned about the woman I met? Geez, Carly, where is your compassion?” Chris said throwing a kitchen towel in her direction.
“Is she girlfriend material?” Carly chided.
“I don’t know, she could be.”
“Define could be,” Chris’s mother Lisa commented.
“She seemed a little shy. She had beautiful green eyes and she had absolutely no clue who I was!”
“What’s her name?”
“Harper, her name is Harper McDonald.”
“So, wait, you met a girl, got her name and didn’t sleep with her? What, are you losing your touch?” Carly could not contain her laughter.
Chris began tickling his nephew, “Your mommy is going to drive me crazy, tell her to leave me alone, Miles.” His nephew could not give him any help due to his fits of laughter.
“So, are you thinking you might see her again?” His mom was intrigued.
“I don’t know, possibly,” he walked over to his mom and gave her a kiss on the cheek, “I’m heading out, I’ve got places to go and people to see. I’ll be back for dinner.”
“Sure you will, unless you get a better offer, right?” Carly yelled as Chris was closing the front door.