With the bag packed, Harper was ready to leave the apartment and go to the office. She was nervous but trying not to show it. Chris exited the apartment first, she walked behind, turning to lock the door, then following him down the stairs and to the car. He held the car door open for her, allowing her to slide in and then closing the door behind her. She watched as he walked around the car, putting the bag into the back seat, before climbing into the driver seat.
He fastened his seatbelt, then turned to her, “Alright, navigator, where are we going now? How do we get to the office?”
“Head to the exit of the complex and then turn right. After you pass through the third stoplight, it is the large office building on your right.”
“Seriously? Wow, that is a quick trip. Doesn’t take you long to get to work each morning.”
“Was a quick trip,” Harper corrected, “When I worked there, and I was staying at the apartment. It is a haul to go back and forth from the hospital on a daily basis.” Harper stared out the window, she was afraid if she looked at Chris she would see pity in his eyes, she didn’t think she could take it. He was sent along as support, but she didn’t want to appear weak in front of him.
“My mom told me what happened, Harper, you might need to hold me back.”
She smiled at this comment, she figured it was for show, but it was sweet. She had fears of her own that she would reach across and smack Max for firing her. She thought she might have a lawsuit for wrongful termination but beating the hell out your former employer might just negate that.
He eased into the parking lot for the office and turned to look at her, “I’m going in to be supportive and act in any capacity that you might need me. Are you ready to do this?”
She couldn’t speak. Instead, she just nodded her head in acknowledgment. Chris turned off the ignition, sighed heavily then stepped out of the car, walking over to help Harper out, locking the door behind her. He walked her to the office door, following her in and calmed his breathing to keep from blowing up immediately.
The lobby of the building was elegant and looked like a courtyard. There was a large reception desk in the middle and multiple glass door entryways for the offices on the exterior of the building. Harper walked past the reception desk and directly to the bank of elevators on the back wall; she pushed the ‘up’ button. She turned to Chris and explained, “The office where I worked was on the 3rd floor. Everyone down here is in the residential real estate division; all of the corporate development was upstairs.” As the elevator arrived, Chris noticed that Harper had a slight tremor in her hands; she was nervous.
As they exited to the elevators on the 3rd floor, he noticed that her demeanor had changed. Where she appeared quiet and nervous before, she was now moving more confidently and the tremor in her hands had all but disappeared. The receptionist at the nearby desk stood as they approached.
“Hello Harper, it is nice to see you again. I just want you to know that almost all of us feel like you got a raw deal. We miss you,” she paused a moment before continuing, “I hate to do this, but I have been told to call Heather, and she will escort you back to your office.”
“Thank you, Melissa, I appreciate the support and I miss you all as well. I figured Heather would have to accompany me, it’s okay,” She smiled and walked over to the side of the reception area and almost immediately, the behind Melissa’s desk opened.
Heather McCord, the HR Manager, walked toward Harper and extended her hand, “Harper, it is nice to see you again.” Harper shook her hand politely and smiled but offered no words, “Just to let you know, we have placed some boxes in the office for you to pack up your personal belongings. I will need to stay with you to ensure that no business documentation or property is removed, I am sure you understand. I take it this is a friend of yours?” Heather asked as she motioned towards Chris.
Harper answered her voice was flat and less than friendly, “Yes, this is Chris, he’s graciously offered to help carry out the boxes for me.”
“Oh, okay, well then let’s head back shall we?” Heather motioned through the open door and led Harper and Chris down the hall. Harper noticed that Max was in his office and on the phone as they walked by, she didn’t make eye contact and kept moving.
As they entered her old office, Harper was flooded with emotion. This whole situation was hard to understand and reconcile. She had the resolve to not shed a tear but the anger; well that was a different story. She walked around to the back of her desk and began to remove pictures from the bookshelf.
Chris took them from her and began placing them gently into the box that had been put on the desk. He noticed the pictures were all of Aiden at various ages; he was careful to put them in the box so they would not rattle and break. After a few moments, the bookshelf was cleared, and the box was completely packed.
“Chris, would you mind taking that one down to the car while I start on the next one?”
He did as he was asked, figuring she needed some time to begin processing the end of this job and would rather do that with him out of the room. As he made his way back into the office from the car, he noticed the man in the office a few doors down from Harper’s was walking his way.
“Hi, I’m Max Kinkaid, I saw you walk in with Harper, so I’m going to assume you’re here to assist her?”
Chris stopped so he could address him; he extended his hand and offered a firm handshake in return. “Hi Max, I’m Chris, and your assumption would be correct.”
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Chris.”
“Sorry, I can’t say the same thing.”
Max was taken aback by the tone of Chris’s voice and the words that he spoke. He had never had anyone talk to him in that manner. “I’m sorry, come again?”
“I can’t say that is nice to meet the man who felt the need to fire Harper when she is going through so much right now. I guess I have just never truly met someone so mean-spirited.” With those words, Chris began to turn and walk away.
“Please come in my office a moment, I would prefer not to do or say anything further in an area where others might hear.”
“I really don’t know what you could say or do. I’ve said my peace, anyway.”
“I really don’t expect you to understand, I am not sure why I am even bothering to try to explain myself to you.”
“Really, you wouldn’t expect me to understand? Why exactly is that?”
“Well, honestly you don’t look like you run a business so you wouldn’t begin to know the pressure I’m under or what I have to do to make this place operate. I’ve got to rely on all of these folks here to work as a team to get things done, especially when there is a deadline in place. We had an investor meeting, and Harper was an integral part of the team that was putting the presentations together and providing the background for the meeting. She said she needed to leave for some emergency, but I told her no, she needed to stay. She was insubordinate, and I can’t have that.”
“I really can’t believe that you have been able to stay in business with an attitude like that. That woman is going through the most difficult time in her life, and you fire her.” Chris took a deep breath and decided to walk away; he decided against it and walked back over to Max. “Are you married? Do you have children?”
“Divorced with two kids, not that it is your business. Why would that be remotely relevant?”
“Let me ask you, Max, if something happened to one of your children, and you had to leave, and your boss told you that you couldn’t go, would you stay or would you go?” Chris paused to see if Max would answer, he didn’t. “You might not care about your children, but Harper adores her son. The boy is her life, and her world revolves around him. His is dying, so she doesn’t really give a shit about your investors and your presentation. You fired her because she rushed to his side; she did what every loving parent would do, and you told her that it wasn’t important. I guess I see now why you’re divorced, and I’m going to assume why your ex-wife has your children.”
“Wait, what did you say? Harper’s son is dying? Are you serious?” Max was shocked at the brazen attitude of Chris but was completely caught off guard by the information about Harper’s son.
“Yes, he’s been in the hospital for months, he has cancer. He had a severe allergic reaction to his chemo drugs on Monday, and it almost killed him.”
Max sat down in his chair and put his head in his hands. “My God, I had no idea, she never told anyone.” Max looked up at Chris, “You’re sure? This isn’t some sort of joke, right?”
“I would never lie or joke about a kid dying. I’ve sat with Aiden; I know how bad his condition is right now. She was driving to MassGeneral every night and then was driving out here every morning. She only gets a little sleep, doesn’t eat and worries non-stop that Aiden will not make it through the day when she’s at work.”
“Why didn’t she tell us? Why isn’t she taking time off from work to be with him?”
“Those are questions you will have to ask her. You’re telling me that no one in this office ever thought to ask if she was okay? I can’t believe that no one noticed how tired she looked and how she didn’t eat. For a ‘team’ you sure don’t seem to look out for one another,” With those words, Chris exited the room and walked back to Harper’s office. She was standing in the middle of the room looking at the packed boxes and doing a magnificent job of keeping it together.
“Hey, I was worried, what took you so long to come back?” Harper said as she turned and smiled at Chris.
“Your former boss stopped me to introduce himself. Frankly, I think it was more that I was a stranger in the office, and he wanted to know what I was doing here.”
Harper started to chuckle, “So he didn’t recognize you either?”
“No, guess he didn’t. Must be in the water out here,” as Chris moved to pick up a box, the door to Harper’s office opened and Max walked in. Chris stood back up and took a defensive position next to Harper.
“Heather, would you please excuse us for a few moments?” Heather nodded at Max and quietly exited the room. “Harper, your friend here tells me that I am an ass of the highest order.”
“I never used those words,” Chris interjected.
“Right, he didn’t use those words, but he made it clear that is what he thought,” Max shot Chris a stern look, “Harper what was the real reason you left the office when I told you not to?”
“Max, I don’t want to get into this. I’ve cleaned out my office, I am leaving, and this is over. Please don’t make this any more uncomfortable than it already is.”
“I am not trying to make this uncomfortable; I am only trying to understand something that your friend said to me.”
Harper looked at Chris who shrugged and smiled back at her, “Fine! I left because my son, Aiden, he had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to medication and his body was shutting down.”
“Is it true you had to rush from this office all the way to downtown Boston to MassGeneral?”
“Yes, that is true,” Harper shot an angry look at Chris; he had evidently told Max everything, “Max, my son was dying, and I was praying that he wouldn’t die before I got to the hospital. You didn’t want me to leave, you had your reasons, but my reasons outweighed yours. I don’t regret walking away, even though it cost me my job. I can easily replace a job, but I can’t replace Aiden.”
Max looked down at the floor and began shaking his head, “Why in the hell did you not tell anyone about Aiden? Did you think we wouldn’t help you? You let people in this office question your integrity and dedication to your job and whisper about you and never spoke up? Why didn’t you take time off? I am at a loss Harper, I really can’t understand.”
“I didn’t take time off because I can’t afford to! I didn’t want to use my vacation days because I might need them if Aiden was dying and I needed to be there to hold his hand and say goodbye,” Harper was angry, and there was no way that she was going to let tears fall, not this time. “I asked HR about taking time off, and they told me I could take FMLA, which is awesome, except for the fact that it is unpaid time and since I am a single mother, I can’t afford to not have a paycheck! So my options were to find a way to do my job and be at the hospital at night or be without a job. Money won out over spending every minute with my son. Pardon me that I didn’t tell you, I had more important things to worry about.”
Harper bent over and picked up one of the boxes and began walking toward the door, Max approached her and took it from her hands. “Harper, you have known all along that I care about you and think very highly of you. Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”
“Why? Max, did you ever hear the gossip that everyone thought I was sleeping with you? Did you ever hear them whisper that I was getting away with not taking work home at night because you would let me get away with anything? I started working here and moved up quick and not a damn one of those people out there think it is because I am a talented or smart woman, they think I’m screwing you.”
“I had no idea.”
“Of course, you didn’t. You work hard, and you come in and out of my office to talk to me, and it is all legitimate, and we have a good working relationship. We get along, and I had always respected you. But you’re the reason why I don’t have friends in this office. That’s why I never got invited out for drinks after work, they all made fun of me. I am sure the gossip mill was in a tizzy when they realized you fired me. They probably think it is because we broke up. Newsflash, we were never dating!”
“Why didn’t you ever say anything? I could have set it straight, and I would have worked something out with you in regards to Aiden and his situation.” Max was genuinely sorry, and he was trying to make Harper realize that he wanted to fix it.
“Chris, can you pick up that box? We need to go, I want to get back to the hospital,” Harper took the box back from Max and began walking out of the office. Chris followed close behind her, and he noticed that everyone in the office was watching her walk out.
She didn’t say a word as they left the office and entered the elevator. She didn’t even speak when they loaded the boxes in the car. No, she was holding off because she wanted to unleash her anger in the privacy of the vehicle, “Why in the hell did you feel the need to tell Max everything? I am, I,” she stammered to find the right words, “I’m disappointed that you felt you needed to tell him when I worked for him for years and never mentioned it.”
“Tell me, Harper, why is it that you never mentioned it? You don’t get why I told him and for the life of me, I can’t understand why you didn’t! I can totally understand the need to be private and not wanting the office all up in your business, but you should have told your boss.”
“Oh my God, you tell him he is an asshole and then you defend him?”
“I’m not defending him; I just think you should have been honest with him. I am on your side, I swear.”
“Why did you feel it was your place to tell him?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, he was still shocked they were arguing over this. “Please don’t be mad at me,” he pleaded. “I didn’t do it on purpose, and I had no agenda to tell him. He was trying to be nice, and I thought he was smug, and I just couldn’t help myself. I just thought he should know what an ass he really is, and it just came out.”
Harper could not respond; she was angry that Max knew, but she also realized that Chris was defending her honor. He was standing up for her even if she didn’t stand up for herself. There was a time when she would have stood up for herself and would stand her ground on issues and fight tooth and nail for what she believed in. But right now all of her fight was focused in one place only, and that was not on herself.
They rode in silence back to the apartment; they were going to drop the boxes off and head back to the hospital. When Chris put the car in park, Harper defiantly opened the door and got out. She wanted to show she could open her own door, and she didn’t need a man to do it for her. Chris walked to the back and opened the trunk and before he could do anything, she had reached in and grabbed a box and began marching towards the apartment steps. He realized she picked the heaviest box, the one he put in the car first.
The two boxes remaining in the trunk were light, and he was able to carry them together. He got to the top of the steps as Harper was marching back out of the apartment. She had to hurry up and put on the brakes as she was about to run him over. She quickly moved out-of-the-way and let him pass. He turned and noticed she was standing just outside the apartment.
“Can you please come in here a moment? I want to talk to you and clear the air before we drive back to Boston.”
Harper crossed her arms and looked angry, but she did as she was asked and walked into the apartment. Chris softly closed the door and led her to the living room and the fluffy couch.
“Look I know you are mad, you are making it very evident,” Chris started, “Let me tell you I couldn’t help it, seriously. I wanted to punch him, I really did. Maybe I should have done that instead.” Chris hung his head; he didn’t know how to get her to understand. “He was smug, and I am so furious that he fired you over something so ridiculous.”
She jumped from the couch, “What? You think Aiden being sick is ridiculous.”
He stood and faced her, putting his hands on her shoulders and squatting down to look her in the eyes, “No sweetheart, I think Max firing you over an investor presentation that he waited until the last-minute to do is what is ridiculous. I totally get that you are an independent woman, and you can take care of yourself, blah blah blah,” Chris said as he took his hands off her shoulders and stood up straight. “Once in a while, let someone else help you fight.”
He walked straight to the door, hand on the doorknob when she finally spoke, “I thought we were going to talk and clear the air?”
He took a deep breath before answering, “You don’t want to clear the air, Harper, you want to fight, and I am not going to do it. You want me to say that I am sorry for defending you? Ok, I am sorry, sorry that I wanted him to feel guilty and realize he let a good thing go. I’m sorry that I wanted to fight on your behalf because you deserve it. I’m sorry that I even tried.” He noticed that her head was lowered, and he knew he had probably gone too far, but it was too late to take any of it back, “I’m going to the car and when you’re ready to go, let me know, and I’ll get you back to the hospital.”
She looked up in time to watch him walk out of the apartment and close the door. She let him have his moment and then she locked the apartment door behind her and joined him. The drive to the hospital was quiet, neither of them spoke.
As he pulled into the parking garage at the hospital, Harper thought it might be good to talk. She waited until he pulled into a spot and as he put the car in park, Harper reached over and put her hand over his. “Chris, I am sorry. I guess my pride got in the way. I had not told anyone at the office about Aiden, and I didn’t want them to know and feel sorry for me. I was, and still am, angry that Max fired me. I hoped I wouldn’t have to see him today and then to see him and know that he had found out. I guess I just didn’t handle it well.” She let go of his hand and put her hands in her lap; she kept her head down, scared to look at him. “I don’t know how to handle people being nice to me and taking up my cause, I’m so used to being alone that I am not sure how to handle it when I am not.”
This time, Chris reached over and took ahold of Harper’s hand. With his other hand, he gently turned her face towards his, “I’m sorry if you think I betrayed you and told Max; I did it in the heat of the moment, but you need to know, I would do it again. You are special, and you deserve to be happy, and Max should be aware that he was stupid in letting you go.” Chris let his hand drop from her face, and let go of her hand. He looked away from her and lowered his head, looking down into his lap, “I wish you’d let me in Harper because I don’t want to fight with you.”
She didn’t say anything in response, the silence in the car was awkward for a moment. Chris broke it by opening the door and getting out of the car, he walked around and opened her door, offering his hand to help her out. They walked into the hospital together, but the chasm between them was noticeable.
Harper didn’t say a word as they walked down the hall toward Aiden’s room; she knew there was a chance that she would not see Chris again after today. She wouldn’t blame him if he never came back. He was right, she was holding him at a distance because she didn’t know him that well. She was just too scared to let down her guard so she could get to know him or for him to know her.
Her worries about her friendship, or lack thereof with Chris, were cast aside when she got closer to Aiden’s room. They had been gone all day and had received no calls or updates regarding his condition. She figured it meant he didn’t get worse, but it also meant he didn’t get any better. But what scared her was the fact that the privacy curtain was 100% closed. Usually, there was a portion that was open so he could be monitored by the nurses. So, why was the curtain closed now? Surely this meant something had happened, and it could not be good. Chris noticed it as well, and he quickly closed the distance between them, grabbing her hand and squeezing it gently to show support.
Harper gripped the handle and slowly slid the door open and pushed back the curtain. What she saw brought her to her knees; Aiden was sitting up in bed, clutching his shield pillow and talking non-stop to Lisa Evans. Chris quickly helped her back up, and she sprinted to the bed, pulling Aiden into an embrace.
Harper could not hold back the tears as she rocked him back and forth. She finally pulled back to get a good look at him, “You have no idea how happy I am that you are awake,” she kissed his head and gave him another hug.
“He woke up about two hours ago, the doctors have been in to see him and said they would stop back later to talk to you. He’s been bright-eyed and talkative; he is an absolute charmer,” Lisa offered as she took Chris’ hand, he had walked around the bed to stand next to her.
Chris couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face, seeing Aiden awake and the weight off of Harper’s shoulders, it was truly a blessing. He moved so he could see Aiden’s face, “Hey, buddy, how you feeling?”
The little boy’s eyes lit up when he realized who was talking to him, “I’m good, but mom’s squeezing kinda hard.”
Chris laughed at his remark and Harper quickly released him, moving so she was sitting next to him. She put her arm around him so she would not squeeze so hard. “Well, she’s just happy to see you awake, she’s been terribly worried about you.” He turned to look at his mom and thought he would ask the question that seemed to be lingering in the room, “Ma, why didn’t you call and tell us he was awake?”
“I did, three times and each time it went to voicemail. I figured you two had your hands full and would be back as soon as you could. I thought this would be a pleasant surprise after the stress of the afternoon. Besides, our time alone gave me an opportunity to read to him and to tell him all sorts of silly stories about my sons and the trouble they got into when they were little.”
Chris reached into his pocket for his phone and realized his ringer was off; he had, in fact, missed three phone calls.
“It is a fantastic surprise, I am so happy to have him back,” she took the opportunity to kiss his head again, and Chris noticed the tears slowly falling down her cheeks.
“Where did you go, momma? Why weren’t you here?” Aiden asked quietly.
“I had a few errands to run, and Chris was kind enough to take me. And Ms. Lisa was nice enough to stay with you while we were gone.”
“Did everything go alright?” Lisa was cautious in how she asked her question.
“Yeah, it was all right,” Chris responded, figuring it was best not to go into details for Aiden’s sake, “Buddy, I had to take your mom to your house, and I saw your room. You have a quite a collection of books and toys, I’m jealous. And your Captain America sheets are awesome!”
“Santa gave me those for Christmas.”
“Wow, Santa is kind of cool,” Chris told him, “He knows you’re a big fan, I guess.”
Lisa stood up from the chair she was sitting in and took a step toward Chris, “I think we should go and give them some time alone.” She then moved over to Aiden and put her hand on his, “I enjoyed talking to you and when you get out of here, I am going to have you come over to my house to you can swim and play with Ethan and Miles.”
Aiden’s eyes grew wide, and he turned to look at his mom, “Can I? That would be awesome.”
Harper smiled at her son, she had not seen that much excitement in his eyes in a while, “Well, if Mrs. Evans wants you to visit, we can arrange that.”
Lisa gave Aiden a hug then walked around to the other side of the bed. She motioned for Harper to stand and pulled her into a hug, “I’ll call and check on you tomorrow. Just because he’s awake doesn’t mean we won’t’ be back,” she gave her a tight squeeze and then continued, “I can tell something happened between you and Chris, the room got cold when you two walked in. If you want to talk about it, give me a call. Just because he’s my son doesn’t mean I can’t be your friend.”
“Thank you,” Harper responded as she pulled away from the embrace, “I really can’t thank you enough for being here today. And I would love for you to visit whenever you want.”
Lisa exited the room, she figured Chris would want to say goodbye, and she was going to give him some privacy. He stepped over to the bed and shook Aiden’s hand, “I’m glad I got to see you again. Do me a favor, don’t give your mom any trouble, okay?” Aiden shook his head vigorously, “Alright, be good and get some rest.”
Chris started to walk away, and Harper met him at the end of the bed, “Thank you for being so sweet to him. He looks up to you, well to Cap, so I appreciate that.”
“Can I see your cellphone?”
She thought this was an odd request but handed him her phone. He punched in a few numbers, “He’s a good kid, and he’s been dealt a really shitty hand in life. I genuinely like him and want him to get better,” he said to her as he made eye contact with her while giving her phone back to her. “I’ve put my contact information into your phone; if you need me, you can call,” and with those words, he began walking towards the door.
She took a step to follow him, “Wait, Chris, does that mean you aren’t coming back to visit the two of us?” She tried to sound hopeful in her question.
He didn’t look back, and he didn’t answer. Instead, he stepped out of the room and began walking down the hallway. No words were spoken until he was in the car with his mom; she finally decided to ask, “I take it that things didn’t go well today? So, does this mean you are giving up?”
He let out a heavy sigh, “She’s mad at me, no, mad isn’t strong enough, she’s furious with me because I defended her honor against her former boss,” he turned to look at his mother. She could see the confusion in his eyes, and what appeared to be flecks of pain, “In my defending her, I told him about Aiden’s condition, something she had never done. Ma, her entire office had no idea that Aiden had cancer. Her boss fired her for leaving and didn’t know she left because her son was dying! I was trying to help, and she has made it abundantly clear that she is not happy about it.”
“I’m sure she had her reasons for not telling anyone.”
“Yeah, she’s too damn independent and wants no help from anyone. She has some fucking wall up and won’t let anyone in.”
“Did she apologize to you for getting angry? And, did you apologize for revealing her secret, the one you didn’t know was a secret?”
He stared in disbelief at his mother for a moment, he couldn’t get over the questions she was asking. She was defending both of them at the same time, “She apologized for snapping at me. And, yes, I told her that I was sorry. But for the record, I told her that I would do it again.”
“Well of course you did and you would, that is who you are. I take it that you don’t believe her apology?”
“No, I don’t believe her. She has a wall up, ma and I guess I can’t help a woman who doesn’t want to be helped,” he turned away from his mom to stare out the window, he then looked back at her, “I really do have that Prince Charming syndrome don’t I?”
Lisa Evans let out a hearty laugh, “Yes, you certainly do! Your heart is in the right place, but you can’t expect her to change overnight. You just need to continue to show her that you want to be there for her. I bet you haven’t even told her you like her, have you?”
“No, I started to. I was so close to saying it out loud earlier today, but I was pretty sure I would scare her off.”
“She doesn’t know that she needs someone, Chris. You need to show her that she’s been looking for you all along.”
Now it was his turn to laugh, “You know, you should probably write an advice column if that theater director gig ever goes south.” He knew his mom was right, Harper didn’t know she needed someone because she has spent so much time trying to prove that she doesn’t He just had to decide if he was willing to keep working at it.