Harper had slept soundly, the idea of being in her own bed, in her own apartment, had done wonders for her. She loved the fact that the morning commute consisted of walking from the bedroom to the kitchen table. That fifteen seconds was going to be killer! She decided to take a detour, check on Aiden, make sure he was doing alright. She slowly opened his door, finding him sound asleep and in the same position she left him in the evening before.
She made a cup of coffee and sat down to begin going through the next volume of government regulations. Her concentration was broken by a knock on her door. She thought it was odd to have someone at her door before 9 am on a weekday; she slowly opened the door to find a FedEx delivery man.
“Morning, ma’am. I have a package delivery for a Mr. Aiden McDonald,” the driver offered with a bright and cheery smile.
Harper opened the door wide, “Well, he is asleep, but I’m his mother. I can sign for it if you like.” The driver nodded, handed her his electronic signature device and then passed her a rather large box. It was awkward, and a bit heavy, so she put it on the end of the dining room table.
She inspected the label, the return address was from Marvel Studios. She immediately knew this box had to be from Chris. She remembered when he was in Aiden’s room, he had made comments about his collection of Avenger and Captain America toys. She wanted to open the box but knew Aiden should be the one to do it. She briefly considered waking her son up just so he could open the box! She took her seat back at the table, trying to get back to work and concentrate on the regulations; however, it was useless. She kept staring at the box, wondering what he had done. After all, he had been more than generous in his time and visits. She looked over at her phone, willing herself to call him. It had been days since she had talked to him. She was afraid if she called him now she would appear to be desperate, definitely not the impression she wanted to give.
Instead, she turned back to her work, focusing on it and trying to push him out of her mind. The problem was, he wasn’t leaving her thoughts. It was like the box was taunting her to call him. She gave up resisting, picked up her phone, dialing his number and letting it ring. He didn’t answer, she was disappointed but figured she would at least leave him a voicemail.
“Hi, it’s me, Harper. Aiden received a delivery this morning, did you have something to do with this? He’s asleep so we haven’t opened it yet. I thought I’d offer for you to stop by so you could be here when he does open it. Let me know, hope to talk to you soon. Bye.”
She took a deep breath, figuring now that she had the phone call out of the way, she could now concentrate on work. About an hour later, Aiden shuffled from his room, wiping the sleep from his eyes, asking about the box on the table. Harper filled him in, letting him know it was his, but that he had to wait to open it. He pouted for a few minutes and then began playing a video game and forgot all about the present. Harper was still waiting for a return call from Chris.
As lunch time rolled around, Harper decided it was a good time to take a break. For her, that meant taking a shower and getting out of her pajamas. During her shower, she came to the realization that Chris wasn’t really interested in her, she needed to just let it go. The fight in the hospital room about Max was the last time they talked. He didn’t respond to her text message about Becky and he obviously didn’t return her call from this morning. She was taking the hint. She was tempted to send the box back, unopened, but that would be punishing Aiden and not Chris.
She stepped out of the bedroom, wet hair, no makeup, and stopped dead in her tracks. There in the dining room with Aiden, stood Chris, and they were chatting away. She quickly turned around, trying to sneak back into her room unnoticed, but failed miserably.
“Hey mom, look who came by!” Aiden’s enthusiasm was off the chart.
Chris looked up at her, his eyes locking on hers, “I hope you don’t mind that I just dropped by, I know I should have called first.”
“No, that’s fine, it’s sweet of you to stop by. I’ll just leave you two alone, so you can open the box, I’m just,” she motioned over her shoulder, “I’m gonna just dry my hair, I’ll be right back,” she was sure her nervousness was coming through in her voice.
“Don’t do that on my account, you look great,” Chris replied to her comment. He meant it, makeup and styled hair didn’t dictate how he felt about her, but he couldn’t tell her that. He couldn’t tell her that without admitting his feelings for her, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for that yet.
Harper smiled sheepishly, “Thanks, but I will be right back, don’t wait on me, go ahead and open the box.”
Figuring it would be easier for Aiden, Chris picked up the box, moving it to the floor in the living room. He sat it in front of the couch, taking a seat to watch as Aiden began ripping at the tape. Once the tape was gone, Aiden flipped open the box and let out a loud shriek, the box was full of all things related to Captain America and The Avengers.
Marvel Entertainment had packed the box with the movies that Aiden was missing from his collection, along with boys, books, games, and action figures. Aiden’s eyes were wide as he pulled each item out and inspected it. He was laughing and crying at the same time; he reminded Chris of a child at Christmas.
Without warning, Aiden moved and wrapped his arms around Chris’ neck, giving him a tight hug, “Thank you so much, I love all of it. You’re the best Chris!”
Harper walked in just as Aiden began to hug Chris, she expected Chris to push him away or to be flippant about the situation. Instead, Chris hugged Aiden back, he seemed to relish the affection. Not in a creepy way, but in a real emotional bonding moment. When they released from the hug, Aiden sat down next to Chris and began going through the contents of the box, one item at a time.
Harper exited her room, walking towards them and sitting in the chair opposite the couch, “Wow, Aiden, it looks like you hit the motherlode of all things Marvel.” She didn’t make eye contact with Chris. Instead, she remained focused on the box and on her son.
“Chris had this stuff sent to me, it’s awesome. I can’t believe he did this for me, he’s awesome! Can I keep it, mom? Can I, please?”
The excitement in his eyes filled her heart. She quickly glanced over at Chris, “I believe he gave this to you as a gift, so it would be rude to not accept it. So, yes, you can keep it.” Chris smiled as she spoke, looking back at Aiden and his stockpile. “It was a kind gesture, Chris. Thank you, but I hope you know you didn’t have to do that.”
“I know, but seeing the look on his face, it was worth it! The Marvel team did a great job filling the box based on what info I gave them from my visit a few weeks ago; I took inventory when I was in his room.”
Harper nodded, then stood and walked back into the dining room. She closed her work binder and straightened up the table. Chris stood up, patted Aiden on the shoulder, and stepped beside her, “I’m sorry I didn’t return your call this morning. I was busy at the time you called, when I was free, well, I thought I would just stop by. I hope I wasn’t out of line?”
She didn’t look at him, “No, that’s fine, not a problem at all. I hope you don’t mind that I called, I just thought you might enjoy being here when he opened the box.”
“After the other day at the hospital, well, I figured you were still mad at me,” he was starting to get really nervous, “I wasn’t sure if you would want me to come over, actually.”
Harper swallowed hard, she didn’t expect that he would be worried she was mad; she was sure it was the other way around. She fidgeted with her hands while attempting to come up with some sort of answer for him. Finally, she just let it out, “I’m not mad at you, I was actually afraid you were mad at me. I’ve picked up the phone a few times to call you, but I was too nervous to actually go through with it and dial your number.”
He let out a nervous laugh, “Maybe you should’ve called, it would’ve relieved the worry and doubt for both of us. So, when did he get to come home?” He asked, gesturing his head toward Aiden in the living room.
As she was about to answer, Aiden came into the room, “Hey, mom, can Chris stay for dinner or is Max coming over again?”
Her blood ran cold, she turned towards her son, “Please go in the other room, we’ll discuss dinner later.”
“I want Chris to stay, mom,” he turned to look at his hero, “Will you please stay for dinner?”
Chris walked over to Aiden, crouching in front of him so he could look directly into his eyes, “Buddy, let me talk to your mom a minute and we’ll see, okay?” Aiden couldn’t hide his disappointment, his head down, he turned and walked back to the living room.
Chris stood up, turning to face Harper, keeping his voice low but his tone made it clear, he was not happy, “So, you and Max dating now?”
“It’s not what you think, I swear,” the look in her eyes conveyed that she was begging him to believe her.
He looked at her for a long minute, swallowed hard and said, “Tell me what happened between you and my mom?”
Her eyes widened, and she shook her head, “What? What does that have to do with anything?” She was flustered, couldn’t think clearly and had no idea what was happening.
“You see, I’m trying to piece things together, and I just can’t help but believe that your buddy Max is the missing puzzle piece. Ma doesn’t talk about you anymore, Harper; she quit coming to visit you, and I know she hasn’t called you. Hell, she even stopped trying to push me into seeing you, it’s like you two had a falling out,” he crossed his arms, his body language indicating he was digging in for this conversation, and he wasn’t letting it go so easy. “I want to know what happened. What is it that I don’t know about?”
She diverted her eyes from him, unable to look at him because she knew she couldn’t lie to him if she were staring into those eyes, “Nothing, nothing happened with your mom.” She knew she didn’t sound convincing, he wasn’t going to let this go.
“I’m not stupid, please don’t treat me like I am.”
She let out the breath she was holding and looked up at him, Fine, I had lunch with Max a few weeks ago, he let me know he overreacted in firing me. He was going to offer me my job back, but my boyfriend almost attacked him so he changed his mind,” she stopped, giving an opportunity for the words to sink in. Chris just stared at her, a confused look on his face, “He thought we were dating, when you confronted him, well he was scared of you, he changed his mind, decided not to hire me back.” Chris didn’t laugh, he just kept staring at her, willing her to move on with the story, “He told me he had a few job leads for me, that he was glad he didn’t hire me back because he could act on the feelings he has for me.”
Chris was unflinching, a scowl on his face, his eyes focused on her, as if he was staring right through her. She had to admit that he was sexy; there was a fire in his eyes, and it wavered between passion and anger. She would like it to be fueled by passion when he looked at her, but right now, she was pretty sure it wasn’t.
“Aren’t you going to say something?”
“Nope, because I know this story isn’t finished. Keep going.”
She took a deep breath and moved forward, “He asked me to go to dinner with him, I agreed, and when I told your mom, she asked if I had feelings for Max. I told her that I didn’t think so,” she stopped, unsure about going on but knowing he wanted her to be honest about what happened, “She accused me of using him. Right after that she got up and left, she hasn’t talked to me since.”
“So do you? Have feelings for him, I mean?”
“I do, and I don’t, that’s my honest answer. I’ve worked for him for years, we’re friends, and I’ve always valued that friendship. But I don’t’ think I have romantic feelings for him,” she bowed her head as she finished her answer.
“You don’t think? I thought you were smart and had just been dealt a really shitty hand in life. Now, I’m not so sure about that. You have no idea what you want, do you? No idea what you are looking for?”
“Oh, and let me guess, you do? You know it all, don’t you? Have it all worked figured out?” Harper spat out at him, she was growing frustrated with him and his high and mighty attitude. He glared at her, with his crossed arms, standing in judgment, if he had an opinion she was ready to hear it. “Enlighten me, Chris, show me what I’m looking for.”
He accepted her challenge, uncrossed his arms and took two steps towards her, “You’ve been on your own for several years. Frankly, you’ve lost who you are. You identify yourself as David’s widow, Aiden’s mom, and you’ve lost Harper and what she needs or deserves.” He took another step towards her, she instinctively took a step backward, “Max is not in love with you, he never will be. He’s looking out only for himself, keeping you on a string so you won’t sue him.”
“So, in other words, I’m not worth anything, then? Is that what you’re saying?” She couldn’t help but be defensive at this point.
“I’m not saying that at all, you’re worth more! And Max won’t be the one to give it to you, he won’t make you happy,” once again he took a step closer, she took another step back. “You deserve someone who cares for you, can see what a bright, sensitive, smart, and gorgeous woman you are. You deserve someone who will care for and love Aiden, treat him as his own. I’m telling you, Max isn’t that man.”
“And what makes you so sure?”
“Well, what makes you so sure that he is?”
She hated to admit that he had a point, she swallowed hard as she tried to gain composure to answer. She was getting turned on as he was so commanding in his voice, so sure of his words. It was almost as if he had this speech ready and waiting. While she was formulating her answer, he took two more steps forward, when she took her steps back, she ran out of space, her back was against the wall.
“You know he isn’t the man for you, that’s why you can’t think of a single thing to say to defend him,” he leaned forward and whispered into her ear, in a low and breathy voice, “Do you have feelings for him?”
His breath on her ear sent a shiver up her spine, she closed her eyes and put her head down, turning her head away from him, “No.”
He cupped his hands on her face, then ran one hand up into her hair as he pushed his body into hers and kissed her. He let his lips linger for a moment, then pulled back, stared into her eyes, released his hands and walked away without saying another word to her.
She watched as he said goodbye to Aiden, then walked out of the apartment. She raised her hand, touching her lips; the kiss was not hot and steamy, it as sweet and loving. However, it still raised her body temperature and left her yearning for more. She wanted to dash out of the apartment and tackle him in the parking lot, but she couldn’t move, she was frozen in place.
She was snapped back to reality when she heard her son ask, “Why did Chris leave? I thought he was going to stay for dinner?”
“Um, he had to go, we’ll have him come over another night,” she only hoped that would be true.
Chris drove to the theater; he couldn’t bring himself to get out of the car. Instead, he sat there and let his mind wander back to the kiss. He wanted to give her a kiss that would bring her to her knees, he had her against the wall, which meant he had the power to do it. But he chickened out, giving her a sweet kiss that probably did nothing more than get her worked up. Why didn’t he just come out and say that he was the man she needs? He should have said the words because he didn’t think the kiss conveyed it.
Tired of beating himself up about it, he got out of the car, walked into the theater, heading straight for his mom’s office. He didn’t bother knocking, just walked in and started in on his line of questioning, “Why in the world would you accuse Harper of using Max? Do you really think that’s what she’s doing?”
Lisa put down her pen, looked up at her son and smiled, “Well good afternoon to you, too! Obviously, you’ve talked to Harper?”
He shook his head at his mom, unsure as to why she started the conversation that way, “Yeah, I just left there. And Aiden is doing well, by the way, thanks for asking,” he couldn’t help but slide a snarky remark in for good measure.
“You aren’t mad at me for suggesting she was using Max. You’re upset because you found out she went to dinner with him.”
“Dinner?” He let out a laugh, “Oh, no, she’s been seeing him, Ma. He’s been to the apartment to see Aiden. He got her a job at a company that a friend of his owns.” He began pacing back and forth in the office, his steps were deliberate and forceful, “I don’t think he’s slept with her yet, but I didn’t ask. I’m not sure I could’ve handled the answer, to be honest.”
“Sit down, Christopher, you’re going to wear a path in the carpet,” Lisa began speaking in a soothing voice, he complied and lowered himself into a chair directly across from her desk. “You’re upset because you have feelings she isn’t reciprocating. But you can’t be mad if you don’t tell her how you feel.”
He leaned forward, put his head in his hands, took a deep breath and exhaled, “I told her she needed someone who would love her like she deserves, someone who would love Aiden like he was their own. And I told her that person was never going to be Max.”
Lisa looked at her son carefully, “Did you tell her that person was you?”
He shook his head no, bowed his head and looked down at the floor, “No, I couldn’t do it. Instead, I kissed her. I backed her up against the wall and kissed her, a soft kiss, then walked out.”
“Wow! That sounds romantic and a little intense. Did she say anything?”
“No, I had hoped she would follow me out to the car. I even waited a minute or two to give her a chance,” he said with a slight chuckle. “I think she was stunned, she wasn’t expecting it. Probably had trouble processing it; it was all I knew to do, she had no idea about my feelings for her.”
“How long are you willing to wait before you talk to her again?”
“I am seriously fighting the urge to call her right now!”
“She doesn’t know what she wants, she’s most likely confused right now. Don’t push it, but don’t wait forever either.”
“Aren’t you going to talk me out of pursuing her? Tell me I’m crazy and to just walk away?”
“Would it do any good if I did?”
Chris laughed, “Probably not!”
~ * ~
The alarm clock illuminated the bedside table; it was 1:45 am, Harper had not yet been able to fall asleep. Her mind was still trying to process the confrontation with Chris. She could not believe he kissed her, could not believe she didn’t have an opportunity to kiss him back. Her body screamed for her to move but she was frozen in place. She remembered the feeling of his body against her, could only think of having him that close again. She had no idea that he had feelings for her until that moment; she was fairly sure he didn’t know that his feelings were mutual.
She tossed the covers aside, sat up and rubbed her hands over her face, it wouldn’t do any good to stay in bed when her mind was on anything but sleep. She pulled on her robe, padded across the apartment to check on Aiden. She stood in his doorway, watched him sleep and let things that Chris said run through her mind. There was no doubt that Aiden was the most important person in her life, but maybe she had lost sight of who she was, what she wanted. She realized she had sacrificed so much, but she wasn’t complaining. That is what you did when you were a parent, she knew that, but was it selfish for her to want something for herself for once?
She knew there were parents, even single parents, who had enriched lives of their own while still providing for their children. Why couldn’t she do that? She slowly pulled his door shut, walking back to the dining room. Since she was up, she might as well work, keep her mind off of Chris.
Harper let out a loud snore, startling herself awake, as she sat up, a piece of paper was stuck to the side of her face. At some point, exhaustion had overtaken her, and she had fallen asleep. As she peeled the paper from her cheek, she looked around and realized that Aiden was not up yet. She yawned, stretched, and decided to splash cold water on her face to revive herself. She changed out of her pajamas into jeans and a t-shirt, then moved to the kitchen for an extra strong cup of coffee.
Her mind kept drifting back to Chris, no matter how hard she tried not to think about him. If he was willing to make a move, then she needed to put herself out there, too. It had been years since she had dated, she wasn’t even sure how things were done these days. It was cosmopolitan for women to be aggressive, make the first move, but it just didn’t fit her personality. She had no choice, though, she needed to put her feelings out there, take a chance and hope for the best. The worst that could happen, he could tell her he’s not interested, after all, she’s been misreading the signals. But how can you misread a kiss?
Deep down, she knew that Max wasn’t going to be the one to make her happy. She had known it before Chris pointed it out. Of course, he kept saying that Max was using her, maybe he was. But maybe she was using him after all, using him to get back into the dating world, determine what she really wanted for herself.
The struggle she had, though, was Chris the one that would make her happy? Was he referring to himself as being the ideal one for her? Right now he was all she could think about, but long-term would he be the one? She didn’t think she had the typical Hollywood look, it would only be a matter of time before he moved on. She had figured before it was all said and done, she would find an argument for a ‘relationship’ to be over before it could ever start.
She fought an internal battle for an hour, before deciding to go for it. She made a few phone calls, set up a few arrangements. Her thought being, if she was going to go out on a limb, make a move, everything had to be in place before she called him. She dialed his number, waited for him to answer. She was on the verge of hanging up when he finally answered.
She didn’t give him an opportunity to even say ‘hello’ she just barreled forward, “I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time, do you have a minute or two to talk?”
Chris started to laugh, “Good afternoon, Harper, it’s nice to hear your voice. For you, I’ve got a few minutes, what’s up?”
“I’m not really good at this sort of thing, see, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about yesterday.”
“Oh? Did something happen yesterday?” Chris asked with a smirk, trying to act coy.
“Um, yeah, well, you see, I wanted to know if we could discuss what happened over dinner tomorrow night. Would you be willing to go out to dinner with me?”
Chris was surprised, he hadn’t anticipated that. “Dinner? Yeah, I can go dinner tomorrow night, what did you have in mind?”
“I’ve made reservations, got a sitter for Aiden. I thought I’d pick you up at 7 pm, would that work for you?”
“You want to pick me up? Isn’t that unconventional, shouldn’t I come and get you?”
“I thought whoever did the asking did the picking up, is that not how it works?” She began to worry she was going about this all wrong.
Chris started to laugh, “I’m sorry, I’m just teasing you. I’m free tomorrow night and would love to go to dinner with you.”
“Oh, yeah, I totally knew you were kidding,” she tried to play it off, hoped she wasn’t making herself look like a complete ass.
“I guess you’re going to need me to text you my address, right?”
“Well, it would be helpful, might make it easier to come and pick you up. I told you I’m not good at this sort of thing,” she laughed nervously.
They each said their goodbyes and disconnected the call. She could not believe she had actually asked him out. On one hand, she was excited that he had said yes, but on the other, she was nervous because he had actually said yes!
Friday morning, her last day working at home. She focused on getting the binders read, or at least attempted to, she didn’t want to go into the office on Monday without having the majority of the work done. She had a small problem, her stomach was in a knot. She was nervous about her dinner with Chris, from what to wear to whether she would make an absolute fool of herself.
She began fidgeting, deciding to give in and start getting ready a full three hours before her date. She styled her hair several times, tried her makeup a few ways to get the perfect look, never feeling like she had it just right. She lost track of time and almost had a panic attack when the doorbell rang, it was the sitter for Aiden!
Harper ran to the door, swinging it open, “Hey Becky, come on in. I really appreciate you giving up your Friday night to sit with Aiden.”
Becky walked in, taking a look around the apartment, “It’s not a problem, I’m just glad I was available, my shifts were changed this week,” she looked over Harper, all dressed up, a sight she wasn’t familiar seeing. “Wow, you look great, so what’s the special occasion?”
As the question was escaping Becky’s lips, Aiden ran into the room, “Hi Becky, doesn’t mom look pretty? She’s going to dinner with Chris tonight!”
“Oh, really? Glad to see you two are staying in touch,” Becky said with a grin, she was also tempering her comments with Aiden being in the room.
“Yeah, mom likes him, but she doesn’t think I know that,” Aiden proclaimed and started laughing hysterically.
Harper glared at her son and his laughing subsided, “Will you please go in the other room? I need to talk to Becky,” she watched as he shrugged his shoulders and walked back into his bedroom where he had been playing before Becky came in. “So, yeah, I’m going to dinner with Chris. It is really nothing more than an opportunity to thank him for his kindness towards Aiden, and towards me, that’s all.,” she wanted to downplay it.
“Right, I see. And, is Aiden correct, do you like him?”
“Sure, he’s a good man. He’s been so kind to Aiden, but we’ve had a few scuffles, he can be quite protective.”
“Harper, I mean do you really like him. Come on, you know what I’m referring to.”
“I don’t know, maybe,” she was playing coy since she didn’t know Becky that well.
“I’ve known Chris for a long time, he’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, so believe me when I tell you he is protective of the people he cares about. It’s evident he cares about you and Aiden, so be careful with your heart, but be careful with his, too.”
Harper nodded in agreement to what Becky was saying. She appreciated her candor, although she had to admit it was a little odd. “I’m confused, Becky, I just don’t know what’s going on between the two of us. I guess I’m hoping tonight gives me a little clarity, one way or the other,” she didn’t want to go into any other details. She definitely didn’t want to explain the kiss or the feelings around it. No, she figured it was best to leave that topic off limits. “I guess I should give you the five-cent tour of the apartment!” She tried to quickly change the subject and make light of the reason she was there.
After walking her around, Harper glanced at the clock, “I guess I should go. I need to pick him up at seven, and I don’t know how long it will take to get over there. It’s about a thirty-minute drive, right?”
“Yeah, traffic shouldn’t be that bad, but it wouldn’t hurt to leave now, especially since you’ve never driven over there before,” Becky offered, she could tell that Harper’s nerves were getting the best of her.
Harper walked over to Aiden, pulling him into a hug, “Please be good tonight, don’t give Becky any trouble! I’m a phone call away, if you need me,” she kissed the top of his head, leaving a faint lip mark on his bald head. She grabbed her purse and stood in front of the door, taking a deep breath before turning the knob and exiting the apartment.