The ladies requested their checks, and while they were settling up, Harper boxed up her leftovers to take back to the hospital with her, hoping that she might get hungry later. By the time they pulled into the parking garage, they had been gone for almost 90 minutes and Harper was anxious to get back to the room; she knew that nothing had happened because they had not received a phone call. However, the need to get back to the room was overwhelming, they pace of her steps increased as she exited the elevator and began walking towards Aiden’s room.
As she reached the door, she was out of breath; she waited for Lisa to catch up and she tried to calm her breathing. With Lisa finally at her side, she slowly slid the door open to the room and found Chris sitting on the edge of bed, reading to Aiden. He had picked up a book, one that happened to be Aiden’s favorite, and was reading as if he had an eager and attentive audience. He was animated, although not loud, and he provided a different voice for each character. She stayed just in the doorway, not wanting to disturb Chris, she wanted to just watch and listen because this was such a sweet scene and she wanted to enjoy it.
Harper was so lost in the moment, she forgot that Lisa was there until she heard her whisper in her ear, “He reads like that to Ethan and Miles all the time; he loves it. It is so sweet, and he will make the most amazing dad one day.”
She smiled, Lisa was right, he would be an amazing dad. She couldn’t help but think that Aiden deserved to have a dad like that; would David be that type of dad if he were still alive? She cursed herself for even asking herself that question. Harper cleared her throat and took a step forward, “I see you found Aiden’s books?”
Chris was startled, “Oh! Hey there, yeah, I hope you don’t mind? I thought maybe a story would be nice,” he smiled broadly, “I thought it would be a treat since he’s been so good. I didn’t have to yell at him for swinging from the ceiling or anything.”
“Well, we did have a long talk before I left. I told him that swinging from the ceiling would be inappropriate,” she returned Chris’ smile.
“I was serious the other night you know, you should do that smiling thing more often.”
Harper could feel her face start to flush; she was saved by Lisa clearing her throat to announce her presence, holding up the bag from the diner. “Thanks, Ma, I’m starving! So, did you two have a nice chat?” He began digging into his sandwich while he waited for their response.
“We certainly did,” Lisa offered, “As a matter of fact, Chris, what are your plans for tomorrow?”
“Um,” he thought for a moment, “I don’t think I have any. Probably goofing off with Scott, why?”
“Great! I will fill you in on the way home. Come on, we are going to leave Harper and Aiden for the evening, we’ll see them in the morning.” Lisa walked over and gave Harper a hug, “If you need anything tonight, you call me, you got it?”
“Yes, thank you so much,” Harper released from the hug and walked over to the chair where Chris was seated. He hurried and put the remains of his sandwich to the side and stood to face her. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek, “Thank you for coming to check on me.”
This time, it was his turn to flush with embarrassment, he was not expecting her to kiss him. “It was my pleasure, and you’re welcome! I’ll talk to you tomorrow I guess,” he turned to walk away, “Oh, I almost forgot, I had Becky bring you a few more pillows and blankets to make the couch more comfortable. It’ll be better on your neck than sleeping in that chair.”
For the majority of the drive home, no words were spoken between Chris and Lisa. About ten minutes before pulling into the driveway, he finally broke the silence and got the nerve to ask, “So, how was dinner? You wanna give me your impression of Harper?”
“Wow, only took you twenty-five minutes to get up the nerve to ask, that has to be a record!”
“Hilarious, Ma, since you said we’ll see her tomorrow, I’m going to guess things went well.”
“It did go well. I think she believes asking for help is a sign of weakness; I set her straight and let her know it wasn’t and that she also has to learn to accept help if someone is offering it. And I also let her know that not all offers of help come with strings or expectation of repayment.”
“I don’t know why she thinks like that. Is it because she’s been alone for so long she doesn’t know what it’s like to have people around who want to help?”
“I think that is it exactly! Tomorrow I’m going to sit with Aiden while she has a few errands to run. I’d like for you to go with her,” she looked over at her son, knowing he would be smiling at this news. “I know that’s asking a lot of you, but I thought you could help her clean out her office and provide some support for her.”
“Yeah, you are sure asking a lot, ma,” he was smiling, just as she had expected, “I’ll gladly help her out, but what am I missing? Why is she cleaning out her office? Did she quit her job or something?”
“No, she didn’t quit, she got fired. When she had to leave when Aiden took his turn for the worse, her boss didn’t approve of her leaving, so he fired her. They told her she can come in and clean out her office, and I think she could use some moral support, I want you to be that for her.”
Chris could feel his blood pressure rising, the heat building in his neck and face. “What kind of company fires a woman for leaving for her child’s medical emergency?” He was getting more and more angry as he considered this, “How in the hell is she supposed to find a job with Aiden in the hospital, Ma?”
“Calm down, Chris, I know you’re upset. I have to tell you, I totally agree, but take a deep breath, okay. We can help her, I already told her I would call a few people, and I’ll see if I can help find her a job,” Lisa had to admit that the chivalry her son was displaying was unexpected and quite sweet. She was proud of him for taking up the cause and just hoped he could keep his emotions in check at Harper’s office tomorrow. “I guess you won’t complain any if you had to sit with Aiden if she went on a job interview? She said she would sell her stuff and would give up her apartment to pay for his care, I won’t let that happen, and I know you won’t either. We’re going to help her, I promise.”
He did as his mom said; he took a deep breath and gripped the steering wheel as hard as he could. They were blocks from the house, and he just had to stay focused to get home. When he pulled the car into the garage, he got out and marched into the house and up to his room; he didn’t even acknowledge his brother and sister in the living room.
Lisa walked into the house, placing her purse on the hall table and shuffling through the mail that was there. She finally went into the living room where everyone was seated and watching her intently.
“So where have you two been all night? I see that Chris seems rather upset, and frankly, you look a little worn out yourself,” Carly asked.
“We were in downtown at the Children’s Hospital,” Lisa answered as she lowered herself into the fluffy chair next to the fireplace.
“Do we know anyone in the hospital?” Ryan asked while looking over at his wife, Carly.
“No, we don’t; but Chris went the other day, and he now has this crush on the mother of a dying child. I am going to guess that is where you were, visiting his new girlfriend?”
“Show some respect,” Chris demanded as he came back down the steps. “Look, you don’t ‘approve’ of me having concern for Harper that is fine. But have some respect for a dying child You know this woman is a single mom fighting to stay afloat and frankly, she’s pretty amazing.”
“Oh, poor Chris he’s got it bad doesn’t he?” Carly remarked snidely.
“Carly, that’s enough!” Lisa chastised her, “I was skeptical about this situation but after talking to Chris and more importantly, to Harper, I see his feelings are genuine. It is actually very sweet how he is watching out for both of them. It is unconventional to be sure, but don’t belittle his feelings.”
Carly felt sufficiently whipped, “Wow, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how serious you were about her.”
“Yeah, well she is oblivious to the fact that I have feelings for her. She isn’t asking for anything, and I’m certainly not pushing, but she’s alone, and I want to help.”
“Ok, I’ll back off, just promise you’ll be careful, all around.”
He walked out of the room, into the kitchen, grabbed a beer and walked right past everyone without saying a word and headed back upstairs. Once he was out of earshot, Lisa spoke up. “Carly, maybe you should come and visit and see Harper. That way you can judge for yourself if what he is feeling is real. I had dinner with her tonight, and she doesn’t want help, but she is going to accept it. I think you are too judgmental.”
Carly loved her brother and wasn’t one to interfere with his relationships; she was just concerned that this could end poorly for both of them and since a child was involved the stakes were higher. He had never been in a relationship where there was a child involved, and she was concerned that he might be underestimating the situation. Maybe her mom was right, maybe she should not be quick to judge and instead, offer him support; but she would keep an ‘I told you so” handy, just in case.
~ * ~
Harper was pacing around the room; this was really helpful in her thinking process although she was sure people thought she was insane. It provided an opportunity to work on everything that was zinging through her brain and to put them into coherent phrases and topics. The item weighing heavily today was the visit to the office. She was not looking forward to facing her former coworkers and having them watch as she gathered her things. Typically, when someone was let go, HR would box up their personal belongings and have them sent to them. She was surprised when she was told that Max was allowing her to personally retrieve her things.
She was hoping he would not be in the office when they arrived; she did not want to face him. There was a degree of anger when she lost her job, it was to be expected of course, but she was not sure if she could keep the anger or the emotions in check if when she came face to face with him. There was a part of her that wished she would have asked Chris or Lisa to get her things on her behalf, but that would have been the coward’s way. She knew she had to face the music.
Her pacing was interrupted by the sound of the glass door sliding open; stopping mid-pace she turned toward the door and saw Chris and Lisa walking in. She did not expect to see Chris, this was a surprise and not a bad one at all. Damn, he got better looking each time she saw him; today it was the bright blue oxford shirt setting off his eyes. Her breath caught, and she hoped he didn’t notice, it took a minute to get herself to back to a regular breathing pattern.
“Good Morning, how’s he doing? Any change?” Lisa asked as she motioned toward Aiden.
“Morning!” She tried to sound chipper and unphased by the shock of seeing Chris, “He’s good, vitals are strong, and his eyes were fluttering earlier. The nurses think that might be a sign that he’ll wake up this afternoon,” she walked over to the bed, kissed Aiden’s forehead and put her hand on his hand, “I just hope he waits until I get back.”
“Well, that is very encouraging. I hope you don’t mind, I decided to bring Chris along. I thought I would stay here with Aiden and Chris could drive you to the apartment and office. He can help you carry your things; no sense in you doing all the lifting – that’s what boys are for.” Lisa said with a wink; she just hoped that Harper didn’t see through her ruse to allow the two of them to be alone.
“Well, that was very thoughtful, thanks for agreeing to help, Chris. Let me grab my purse and keys and we can go,” Harper began looking around for her things; she grabbed the duffel bag and started walking to the door. She stepped toward Lisa and gave her a hug, “Thank you so much.”
Lisa smiled and returned the hug, “Good luck to you today, Aiden and I will hold down the fort.”
Harper and Chris walked out to the car, he opened the door for her, closing it once she was in and settled. She didn’t realize that guys still did that sort; chivalry was in fact not dead. He walked around, got in, fastened his seat belt and broke the silence, “So, are we going to your apartment or the office first?”
“They are close to one another, but I should probably go home first. I can make myself a little more presentable before I go into the office.”
“Not sure about that, you already look great; but if it will make you feel better than to the apartment we go. So, where am I driving to?
“Billerica, about 30 minutes from here.”
“Ok, I know the general direction; you can navigate as we get closer.”
“Deal! I feel like I should apologize for having a small apartment that is completely underwhelming. I am sure you are used to big swanky houses and living lavishly,” Harper chuckled nervously, “I think it will be obvious that I am not a big movie star or anything.”
“You know, I hate to tell you this, but you’ve got the wrong idea about me. I’m just a regular guy from Boston, I grew up in a modest home and lived well, but we weren’t rich by any means. I mean yeah, my dad is a successful dentist, but we were still middle class.”
“Well you are a big time movie star, so I figured you have a big house and live this really fancy life,” Harper realized she probably sounded like a fool, it might be best for her to shut up, she was nervous and had a tendency to ramble.
“Well, it’s true that I have been in movies and yes, several of them have been big. I’ve got a nice car, I’ve paid off mom’s mortgage, and I’ve got a place in LA, but I always prefer to be in Boston. I’m not a fan of the LA lifestyle, I’m not a fan of the attention, either. I’m not comfortable in those situations.”
“I thought all actors loved and craved the attention?” Harper responded back to him.
“So, you don’t know many of us do you?” Chris chuckled and glanced over at her, “I don’t like having the spotlight on me, Chris the person. I like acting, hell, I love it, it’s fun! I just don’t like doing interviews and talking about myself; it seems so pretentious and fake. And press conferences and I do not get along, at all. I like the work, just not everything else that goes with it.”
“I had no idea, I just thought everyone that went into the profession wanted the attention, fame and all of the perks. Although, I would expect the photographers chasing you around would get old.” Harper fidgeted with her hands and didn’t quite know how to talk to him; even though Chris was very personable and charming, she didn’t know how to react. “So, are you on a break or something right now?”
“Yeah, just finished a movie and I’ve got some time off before we have to do the press for it, then I start working on another project. I needed some down time, luckily the photographers leave me alone when I am in Boston, which is why I come here versus staying in LA.”
“So, tell me, who exactly is Chris Evans? I feel like when I have seen you, it is all about me, which I find odd. Tell me about this guy that is playing the hero and driving me to my apartment and office.”
Chris started to laugh, “Well, let’s see. You’ve met my mom, I’ve got two sisters and a brother. We’re kind of tight-knit; supportive of one another, and when I’m in town I stay with mom in the house I grew up in.”
“Really, so you are a momma’s boy? I guess I can see that you two seem very close.”
“Yeah, we are very close, and she is super supportive and is very involved in my life and my career,” he glanced over and Harper and realized he probably said more than he should have. “Sorry, I know that is probably something you miss.”
“Honestly, I never had it to miss it. My mom wasn’t thrilled when I moved to North Carolina for school and even less so when I married David. She complained I was too far away, that I was too young to get married, even though I was the same age she was when she married my dad. We were just different people.”
“What happened to your parents? I mean from what you have said, you are alone, so I guess they have passed?”
“They were killed in a car accident, killed by a drunk driver. They never saw it coming; which is good I guess and from what the police said, they never felt a thing. It happened shortly after David and I were married,” Harper glanced over and caught Chris’s eye, “The regret I have is that we didn’t make peace before it happened, of course, they never got to meet Aiden.”
“I’m really sorry Harper, I cannot even imagine what that is like.”
“Can we talk about something different?”
“Absolutely! So, when Aiden gets out of the hospital, I want to take him on a real tour of this beautiful city. I’m gonna bet he has never been to Fenway Park!”
“No, sadly I am not a baseball fan, so we have not made our way there. I am sure he would love it, though. He’s pretty gullible, so I bet you could make him a Red Sox fan. Hell, if you asked nice enough, you could make him a Patriots fan, too,” she started to laugh and soon he was joining her. It felt good to laugh; she needed that in a big way.
Harper gave Chris some navigation and they pulled into the apartment complex where she lived. They were modest apartments, three-story brick structures situated in a square with a park, children’s play area and a community pool in the middle. The grounds were well taken care of and seemed like a safe area to live. Chris had to admit that the town and the apartment complex indeed appeared to fit with what he had expected for Harper.
She directed him toward her building, and he pulled into a parking spot closest to her unit. He exited the car and came around to Harper’s side where she was already getting out, he shut her door and began walking towards her apartment.
“I have a 2nd-floor unit so I hope you don’t mind the steps. I really wanted the ground floor but at the time I moved in, this was all that was available.” She fiddled with the lock and opened the door, “Well, welcome to my humble abode, it’s tiny, but it’s home; please, make yourself comfortable.”
As the two of them entered the apartment, the were in the living room; the kitchen was on their immediate left. Chris realized she was exaggerating when she described the apartment as tiny, but he was going to be polite about it. “This is a nice place, I don’t think you should call it tiny, though, you should go for comfortable, or even cozy.”
The living room had stark white walls, which was one disadvantage of apartment life; painting the walls was not an option either. He could tell from her furniture, Harper had a particular lifestyle before her world changed with David’s death. The couch was a soft butter yellow, it looked like a piece of furniture you would fall into and never want to get out of, the accent pillows were in cranberry and olive-green, making the room look sophisticated but so livable. The accent chairs matched the pillow colors, and the room was pulled together with a cream shag rug that you just wanted to roll around on. There were double French doors that led to the balcony, and they were flanked by large wooden bookcases; Chris was drawn to them because of all of the pictures.
He looked over all of the photos carefully but was drawn to one, in particular, he picked it up and turned toward Harper, “This one is my favorite, it is a beautiful picture of the two of you,” he commented regarding the framed black and white photo.
“Thank you, it’s my favorite as well. It was right before Aiden got sick, he was four in that picture, he was happy, healthy and full of life.” She walked over to stand next to Chris, “He is such a goofball, and you can see it in that picture, but cancer has sucked that all away. I just want my goofy little boy back.”
“Oh, it will. I knew when I met Aiden that he had a little mischief in his eyes. I am sure he can be a handful.”
“Well, yeah that is an understatement,” She said with a laugh, “Please make yourself at home. I’d like to take a quick shower, I sort of forgot what it was like to take one in my own bathroom since I’ve been using the hospital shower for so long. You don’t mind waiting, do you?”
“No, I don’t mind at all. Can I do anything around here for you while I’m waiting for you? Want me to run a load of laundry? I bet those Captain America pajamas could use a wash! Hint hint, wink wink!”
“Oh, hey, that’s an excellent idea! Let me get the duffel bag,” she unzipped the bag and began to rifle through it, “Ok, here are both pairs of Captain America pajamas and his Superman pajamas. I tell you what, I’ll start the load, would you mind to keep your ears open and throw them in the dryer if it goes off before I’m out of the shower?”
“Wait? He has Superman pajamas? I thought I was his favorite? Man this is bursting my bubble!” Chris said and stuck out his lower lip in the most adorable pout.
“You are his favorite, but he had liked Superman before he liked Captain America,” Harper said as she gently patted Chris on the shoulder to console him over the news that there were other superheroes out there, “He will be your biggest fan from here on out, I am sure.”
“Hmpf, he better be,” Chris kept his lip out and pouted for effect. He was so comfortable with her and he really wanted this day to just be the two of them, like this.
Harper moved to the laundry closet just outside the bathroom, she tossed everything into the washer and then moved to her room to get her things for her shower. She turned and looked at Chris who still seemed to be entranced by the living room and the decor. He was extremely fascinated with the pictures on the wall and on the bookshelves.
Chris wandered into the kitchen and looked around then walked past the closed bathroom door into the small bedroom that was Aiden’s. Like the living room, the walls were stark white, but the decor was bright and sunny. There was a large picture window in the room, and Aiden’s bed was parallel to the window. His bedspread was blue, the sheets had Captain America on them, Chris could not help but smile. Next to the bed sat a desk, apparently, it was used as a nightstand as well as a desk. There were shelves built as a hutch along on the back, they were filled with toys, primarily Captain America, of course.
He did notice, as he looked around the room, that Aiden was missing toys for the other members of The Avengers. Chris figured he would make a few phone calls and see if he could fix that. He turned to the left and noticed the large bookcase that encompassed the wall. He was so lost in reviewing the books on the shelf that he didn’t hear Harper step up behind him.
“Find anything interesting?” She asked, startling Chris and making him jump, “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Oh, you’re fine, I was just lost in thought. I’ve got to tell you, I love his room. He must love to read, he has so many books.”
“I began buying books the minute I found out I was pregnant. I’ve always loved books and reading and so did David. We just wanted to instill the love of books in our kids, too.”
“So, how many have you gotten through?”
“Oh, not nearly as many as I would like. He falls asleep so quick I never get very far. Hey, I put the stuff in the dryer so we should be able to leave shortly.”
“Dang, I lost track of time, guess you can’t count on me for laundry duty.”
Chris and Harper walked back into the living room, and he took a good look at her. Her hair was swept back, and her makeup was subtle, and she looked vibrant and alive. He could not help that he was staring at her.
“Is something wrong? Do I look terrible?
“No, far from terrible. You’re beautiful, and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”
Harper had to admit to herself that Chris’s comments regarding her appearance were unsettling. She never thought of herself as attractive, she was just plain. Not ugly but not a beauty and definitely not worthy of someone like Chris. The attention he paid to her was not something she was prepared for and just didn’t know how to react to.
The two sat quietly in the living room, on opposing ends of the couch listening to the hum of the dryer. The silence was awkward and luckily it was quickly broken by the melody that signaled the end of the dryer cycle. She catapulted herself off of the couch and moved to retrieve the clothes. After quickly folding everything and repacking the duffle bag, she walked back toward the living room.
She noticed that Chris was leaning forward on the couch, his elbows resting on his knees, one arm up with his chin resting on his thumb and his fingers in front of his mouth. He had a mischievous smirk on his face.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?” Harper began to smooth out her clothes, fearing something was wrong with the way she looked.
“Nothing is wrong. Quit fidgeting, you look fine,” he responded, but the smile never left. He moved to stand up and took a few steps toward her, “I just enjoyed watching you do the most normal thing in the world, fold clothes and put them away. I know, that sounds ridiculous, I’m sorry. I guess I am sappy about normal things.”
“You enjoyed watching me fold clothes?”
“Yeah, I told you it’s silly. But when you rush around on movie sets and your schedule is all crazy, the ordinary and mundane, well, you miss it.”
“Oh, okay. Well, fell free to come over anytime and wash and fold my clothes when you need a sense of normalcy. Just make sure you actually listen for the washer to go off,” she gave him a devilish grin, and he couldn’t resist a laugh at her sarcasm and wit. “I have my duffel bag packed, are you ready to go?”
“I am, let me carry that,” he said as he moved to take the bag from her hand. His hand grazed her’s, and he felt the electricity when they touched. She resisted letting the bag go but eventually gave in, “I wouldn’t be a proper gentleman if I didn’t carry your bag to the car.”
“Oh, yeah the chivalry thing again. Sorry, guess I can’t get used to that.”
“Well you better, I’m not planning on stopping it anytime soon.”