Lisa and Aiden had spent the day playing chutes and ladders and Uno. She knew that Aiden had to be tired and suggested they stop playing, but he insisted he was fine. She got up to get a drink of water, but when she returned, Aiden was fast asleep. She pulled the covers up on him and tucked him in, then took a seat on the couch and began to leaf through a magazine when she was startled by the ringing of her cellphone.
“Hello,” she whispered as she stood and quickly moved from the room toward the lounge down the hall.
“Mom, why are you whispering?”
“I’m at the hospital, Aiden just fell asleep, and I don’t want to wake him.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize you were still there. How’s he doing?”
“Yeah, I’m still here, Harper isn’t back yet, she didn’t leave until 10:30. She had a lunch appointment, she’ll probably be back soon, though.”
He let out a sigh, “I didn’t ask about her Ma, I asked about Aiden.”
Lisa smiled, while he might try and deny it, she knew Chris wanted to know about Harper but wouldn’t ask. “Aiden is doing pretty good; I think I wore him out playing games today. He is getting his color back and getting his strength, Harper said he is responding to treatment.”
“That’s great, any word on when he might get out of the hospital?”
“Harper thinks they may let him go home next week. That’s great news, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, that is great news,” Chris’s voice dropped, he figured if he didn’t make up with Harper in the next few days, he might never see her again. “Hey, I’m going out with Josh and the guys, so there’s a chance I won’t be home tonight. I just thought I’d tell you so you wouldn’t worry.”
“Christopher, you’re thirty-three years old, I’m sure you can take care of yourself. Are you sure that’s all you wanted?”
“Um, yeah, that’s all. Be careful on your way home from downtown, Ma. I’ll talk to you later.”
As Lisa hung up the phone she had to laugh, she knew that Chris wanted to know about Harper and his call was nothing more than a way to get information. He had been torn up about their argument since it happened, but he wasn’t going to cave, at least not yet. She walked back to Aiden’s room and took her place on the couch, waiting for Harper to return.
When Harper walked into the room forty minutes later, Lisa and Aiden were both sound asleep. She was carrying bags of food and didn’t want to wake them, she quietly sat them on the table in the corner of the room. Electing not to unpack them for fear that the rustling of the bags and containers would make too much noise. She sat down her purse and keys in the chair and tiptoed back out of the room, careful not to wake anyone.
She approached the nurse’s station, catching Claudia while she was updating charts, “Hey there, how has Aiden been today? They are both asleep in there right now, so I guess game day wore them out.”
“Oh goodness, the two of them have been in there laughing all day!” Claudia responded with a wide grin, “When I would go in to check his vitals he was having a ball. I put his last medicine bag up about an hour ago, and he dozed off right after that went up. I think he will sleep until dinner.”
“And I take it he wore poor Lisa out?”
“Oh, she loved it, too. She left the room for a phone call and then went back in, I didn’t realize she was asleep. Must have happened right after she went back in. I saw the bags, you brought him chicken soup, didn’t you?”
“Of course, you know I can’t resist, it’s his favorite!” Harper started to laugh softly, “I can’t help but spoil him while I can. Have a good night, Claudia.” Harper turned and walked back toward Aiden’s room and slowly opened the door, as she did, she noticed that Lisa was awake. She walked over and sat next to her on the couch, “I hope I didn’t wake you? I’m so sorry if I did.”
“Oh, no, you didn’t. I honestly didn’t intend to doze off. When did you get back?”
“Oh, I got back about ten minutes ago. Just long enough to sit the bags down and walk out to talk to Claudia,” she said while gesturing to the door. “I brought some food, I know it’s a little early for dinner and late for lunch, but thought you might be hungry. I figured it was the least I could do for you sitting with Aiden.”
“You didn’t have to do that, but it was sweet,” Lisa stood from the couch and made her way over to the table to see what Harper had brought back. She was hungry now that Harper mentioned it, “So, how was your lunch with Max?”
“Well, he told me that he regretted firing me. He said he was sorry for making a hasty decision, and he had considered giving me my job back,” Harper stopped for a moment to think about how she was going to phrase this next part for Lisa. “The funny thing was, he changed his mind, he said, when my boyfriend confronted him. He said he was scared of him and changed his mind about hiring me back.”
“Your boyfriend?” Lisa turned and gave her a questioning look.
“Yeah, that’s the funny part, Lisa. He thought Chris was my boyfriend,” Harper couldn’t contain her laughter any longer.
“Wow, he figured you were dating my son? What in the world made him think that?” Lisa had to admit she was amused by this concept.
“He said that Chris defended me like we were dating, so he assumed he was my boyfriend. Since he saw Chris’ arms and was intimated by him, he wasn’t going to hire me back, well that and,” Harper took a deep breath before continuing, “He told me that he has been attracted to me all along. He didn’t want to offer me my job back now that he knows Chris isn’t my boyfriend because he would like to date me instead and it wouldn’t be professional if I worked for him.”
Lisa almost choked, this was not what she had expected to hear. She was going to need to let Chris know right away, her theory on the two of them having space would need to be revisited. “So, he wants to date you? I’ll admit that I didn’t see that coming.”
“I didn’t either, it really came out of left field,” Harper had her head down, unable to look up at Lisa, “He did tell me, though, that he has two friends with job openings. So, he’s trying to help me find a job, hoping to make up for firing me I guess. I did bring a copy of my resume for Ryan, though, I’m exploring all options.”
“So, are you going to go out with him? With Max, I mean,” Lisa was very curious and a little concerned as to what this might mean for Chris.
“Well, I at least agreed to have dinner with him tomorrow night, after Aiden goes to sleep. He’s going to be in downtown for a meeting.”
“So just like that, all is forgiven? The other day you were really upset and angry, hurt even that you were treated the way you were. Now you have lunch with him and agree to go on a dinner date. Guess you had feelings for him too?”
There were sarcasm and notes of rancor in Lisa’s voice, Harper detected it and was caught off-guard. She couldn’t deny that there was some validity in her statement, but still, it was hard to hear in that tone, “That’s not entirely fair. I wouldn’t say I’ve forgiven him, I’m still angry that he put me in this position. I’ve got no paycheck right now, my insurance for Aiden is in jeopardy, so forgiveness isn’t coming so easy. But he said he has regrets, and he is trying to make up for them. He wants to help me find a job, I feel like I need to give the guy a chance.”
“In other words, you’re using him?” Lisa immediately regretted saying that, she noticed the words hit Harper with force, “I’m sorry, I should not have said that, it was out of line,” Lisa stood and quickly gathered her things, “I need to go, again, I’m sorry, Harper.”
Harper stood in stunned silence. While she was taken aback by Lisa’s statement, she had to wonder if there was some truth in her words. It was not her intention to use Max, but was it the unintended consequence?
Lisa’s words rattled in her head all night, making it difficult to sleep. She kept thinking back to her thoughts of Max over the years. She had found him smart, attractive, he had a smile that could make a girl melt. She had always found him to be generous and kind, their working relationship was perfect. If she was honest with herself, there were times when she would have been thrilled to go out with him. However, her thoughts always went back to the rumors and how they would not be able to keep a relationship between them quiet, at least not in that office
She was still angry, she hated that he fired her, and she felt he overreacted. But how could he not? He didn’t know what she had going on, he had no clue that she was dealing with something so serious. But he never asked her about her personal life, he never asked about Aiden even though his pictures were all over her office. You can’t get mad at him for not knowing, right?
She had every intention of going to that lunch meeting, standing her ground and not letting him get to her. Instead, she melted, gave in, rolled over like a puppy waiting for their belly to be rubbed. How she had given in so quickly and ended up coming away with a date, she had no answer for. What about Chris? She hated that she had upset him, and she wanted to fix things with him. She had feelings for him, or at least she thought she did. She was confused, that was the bottom line.
She wasn’t going to get any sleep, she got off the couch, checked the time on her phone, it was 2:30 am. Since her brain wouldn’t shut off, she decided to take a walk. She pulled on a sweater and eased out of the room into the hallway. The hospital was quiet, all you could hear were the beeps and hums of the machines in each room as she walked past. With each step, she tried to reconcile how she got into this mess and how she was going to get out of it.
Chris had decided to go to the gym, he wasn’t required to work out when he was on break, but it was easier to get back on his training regimen if he kept up a regular routine. Plus, it was a was a great way to relieve stress, and he always felt better after he finished. He had just finished his weights and was cooling down with a run on the treadmill when his cellphone began to vibrate in his pocket. He had hit a good stride, he wasn’t about to stop and take a call, no whoever it was could wait. The vibrating stopped only to begin again immediately. Evidently, the caller was persistent. Or, it was important. He slowed down, jumped to the outside of the treadmill and turned the machine off. He wiped the sweat from his face and hands, pulled his phone out of his pocket and noticed the missed calls were from Harper.
It had been several days since their fight, while he had been tempted on more than one occasion to call her, he decided that she needed to come to him. She needed to show interest. Evidently, she was ready. He dialed her number and hit send.
The phone had barely finished the first ring when she picked up and answered with a breathy, “Hello.”
“Sorry I missed your call, Harper, I’m at the gym and couldn’t answer right away.”
Oh, that’s okay, look if it’s not a good time, I can just talk to you later. I mean, it’s not an emergency or anything.”
“No, you’re fine, I’m getting my stuff and heading to the car. What’s on your mind?”
“Well, I,” Harper was having a hard time finding the words, “The thing is, I want to tell you that I am sorry, profoundly and sincerely sorry for the way I acted the other day. You were nice, and I was, um, irrational…yeah that’s the word that fits.”
Chris had to chuckle, she was actually struggling with the idea of apologizing, and she was tripping over her words, “Irrational is a good way to put it.”
“You aren’t going to let me off so easy, are you?”
“Nope! Tell me more, I need you to explain this.”
Harper took a deep breath, “I can’t explain why I never told anyone. Well, yes I can, I didn’t want people to pity me. Anyway, I just didn’t let people into my private life, and I let you in and then you told Max.” Harper just put it all out there for him, “I got angry that you told him and I shouldn’t have. You were honorable; I should have said thanks instead of being angry.”
“I get it, I do. Look, I’m sorry I betrayed your confidence. I didn’t mean to upset you, but you have to know, I did control myself, though, because I really wanted to punch him. That would have made it worse, right?”
Harper started to laugh, “Oh my goodness, yes! That would have made it so much worse, so thank you for not punching him!” She let the smile cross her lips, she missed him, the sound of his voice reinforced how much. “You know Aiden had a great time with your mom the other day, I think they wore each other out, though.”
“She told me she was enjoying herself when I talked to her. She also said he might be coming home soon, is that right?”
“Hopefully, I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will be next week. If so, you’ll have to stop by and say hello. I’m sure Aiden would love to see you again.”
“How about his mom?”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing you, either,” she admitted.
“Well, then I guess I’ll have to find the time to stop by. Thanks for calling, Harper. I’m glad we were able to clear the air,” Chris was sincere, he was glad she had called, and they could put this behind them.
“I am too, Chris. I hated having this between us.”
Chris returned home from the gym in a great mood, it lasted throughout the day. He was in the family room, playing on the floor with Miles when his mom came into the house. She stopped in the doorway, watching her son and grandson play with matchbox cars. They were completely oblivious to the fact that they were being watched. Finally, Miles noticed her standing there and took off to give grandma a hug.
Chris sat up, turning his attention to the doorway, “Hey, Ma, how long you been standing there? I didn’t hear you come in?”
“Yeah, I know, you two were pretty intense with the cars. You need kids, Chris!” She started laughing, but she was serious, he would make a great dad one day.
“Don’t start, Ma,” he groaned and rolled his eyes, he had heard that comment from her more than once. “So, how was your day?”
“Mine was okay, but your day must have been better. You’re in a great mood, what happened?”
Chris stood up from the family room floor and began walking toward his mother, “Well, Harper called and apologized, this time, I could tell she meant it. Officially we have cleared the air, I am thankful that is all behind us.”
Chris noticed the expression change on his mother’s face, “Be careful with her Chris, a few days ago the two of you were angry with one another, and it was hard for the two of you to clear the air. Maybe that was a sign, just watch yourself going forward.”
“What are you talking about, a sign? I’m confused.”
“I’m just saying that you two are very different people. You said yourself, you weren’t sure if she had the same feelings for you that you have for her. I’m just telling you to watch yourself and be guarded, that’s all.”
“What happened at the hospital when she came back yesterday? What aren’t you telling me?”
“I don’t believe you, Ma. You liked Harper and seemed eager to have something happen between the two of us. Now, you’re warning me like she’s evil and you want me to stay away. Why have you changed your mind?”
Lisa took a deep breath, she hated the idea of lying to her son, but right now, she had no choice. “Nothing happened, Chris. It’s my job as your mom to worry about you, I just don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all. This was a big deal between the two of you, just don’t want to see something like that get in the way again.” She turned and headed down the hallway towards the kitchen.
Chris watched her walk away, he was confused and convinced she was holding something back. He just had no idea what it could be.
~ * ~
Aiden and Harper spent the day reading books and making plans for when he was released from the hospital. Just a few days more and they could put this behind them and concentrate on the next stage of recovery. Before she knew it, dinner was being brought in, and she had to get ready. While Aiden was eating, Harper stepped into the bathroom to change her clothes, put on her makeup, and fix her hair. She dressed in a black and white horizontal striped dress paired with a canary yellow cardigan, she loved the contrast of colors, even if it meant she looked like a bee.
As she stepped back into the room, Aiden looked up and commented, “Wow, mommy you look pretty.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. I’m going to dinner with a friend tonight, but don’t worry, I won’t be leaving until you go to sleep, and I promise I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“Are you going to dinner with Chris?”
“No, not tonight, I’m going to dinner with Max, a guy from the office,” She had not told Aiden that she had lost her job, right now wasn’t the time for that announcement, either. “How about if I read you one more story before bedtime, deal?”
“Deal,” Aiden said as he snuggled down in the bed preparing for the story. Harper read three pages and he was sound asleep, she put the book down, kissed his head and quietly left the room. She waited until she was in the hall to put on her shoes, not wanting the clicking of her heels to wake him as she left the room.
She hailed a cab for the ride to Beacon Hill for dinner. Max had made reservations for a French restaurant called No. 9 Park. She had heard wonderful things about this restaurant, never thinking she would get an opportunity to eat here. Max was waiting at the door, he took care of the cab fare and walked her into the restaurant.
They were seated at a table on the outside edge of the dining room. It was amazingly intimate for such a busy dining room. A waiter appeared immediately for their drink order; Max took control, ordering a white wine she had never heard of. Harper wasn’t much of a wine drinker but didn’t have the heart to tell him.
They made small talk, discussing everything except work or Max’s office. He opened up about his kids and spoke politely about his ex-wife. She talked about David, recounting how they met and of course, the conversation turned to Aiden.
Partly through dinner, her mind began to wonder back to her first dinner ‘date’ with Chris at the bistro by the hospital. It was not as fancy as this restaurant, but she had to admit that she liked it, and the company a lot better. When dinner was over, Max drove her back to the hospital, he was not going to come in, but he at least walked her to the after-hours security entrance.
“Thank you, Max. Dinner was lovely, and I had an enjoyable evening,” she was telling the truth, she did enjoy it, but there were no sparks for her, not like what she felt for Chris. She had a feeling that Max had stronger feelings for her than she would ever have for him.
“Thank you for joining me, I would like to do this again if you’re up to it.”
“I’d like that,” she said with a smile. She did not intend to fall in love with Max but what could it hurt to put herself out there and feel like a woman again? Did that mean she was leading him on and using him after all? She could not get Lisa’s words out of her head.
“Great, I’ll call you,” he stepped forward gently kissing her on the cheek, “Have a good night, I’ll talk to you soon.” He stepped away, walking back to his car and driving off into the evening.
Harper kissed Aiden and left the hospital a little before 7 am, she was driving home to prepare for a job interview. This was one of the meetings that Max had helped set up. She was a nervous wreck, during the drive, she practiced what she would say in response to the most common questions. She hoped she could pull herself together before this interview started, if not, she would go down in flames.
She wanted to make an impactful and positive first impression, but she was not feeling confident enough to wear a bold power color for the interview. Instead, she went ultra conservative, wearing gray and ivory, with no pops or color at all. Although, she did feel good dressing up versus spending yet another day in jeans and a sweatshirt. She drove to the office building and pulled into the parking lot more than fifteen minutes early for her appointment. In her mind, this meant she was on time. She always lived by the rule that you show up early in case they need you to fill out paperwork or complete testing, showing up on time, meant you were late.
Harper was met in the lobby by Harrison Pruitt, one-half of the managing team at Pruitt & Massey. He was a tall, balding man who appeared to be in his mid-sixties. He had a firm handshake and a confident walk. She could tell that he would be a force to reckon with during negotiations. He walked her down a long hall to a large conference room where she was introduced to Belinda Massey, the other half of the managing team. Belinda and Max were good friends, this immediately put Harper on guard. Belinda was a tall woman, even without her four-inch high heel shoes. She was an attractive woman, with long chestnut colored hair, and Harper could not help but let her mind wonder as to the details of the ‘friendship’ between Belinda and Max. She had to quickly tell herself to quit worrying about it, surely this wasn’t jealousy she was feeling, right?
Belinda carried most of the interview, asking about Harper’s experience with Max and his company. Every question was centered on her work history and the knowledge she had of real estate laws governing residential project development. She was confident in her skill set; while residential work had not been her role at Kinkaid Development she could quickly adapt to this role and would be able to excel.
Pruitt & Massey excused themselves, leaving Harper alone in the conference room. She glanced at the clock and realized she had been there for almost two hours. Moments later, the door opened, and they returned with a third person, their HR Director. It was an easy decision for them, they liked her, wanting her to be a part of their team as soon as possible. She was offered a position that would be a step up from the one she held at Kinkaid Development, the salary was a step up as well. They understood her situation with Aiden, allowing her to work remotely in the beginning. This flexibility was possible due to the amount of reading she would have to do to familiarize herself with regulatory documents. They had some projects that would come her way, she needed to be familiar with the rules.
Harper completed her new hire paperwork, leaving the office with binders of regulatory documents. She had been there for several hours and was drained from the stress and excitement, but thrilled that she was able to secure a job and get health benefits for Aiden once again.
She stopped by the apartment to change her clothes before heading back to the hospital. It was mid-afternoon by the time she got back, the nurses letting her know that Aiden had just completed his final treatment. This meant he would be weak, have a hard time keeping any food down, and would want to sleep most of the night. The nurses would pump him full of anti-nausea medication and keep him on fluids and glucose, no solid food for the remainder of the evening or the morning.
She walked into the room, taking notice that Aiden was asleep and peaceful. Harper settled into the chair next to the bed and began rifling through the new hire documentation. She wanted to read up on her benefits, find out what to expect. She was finishing up when she noticed Aiden beginning to stir. She decided to get on the bed and snuggle with him, wanting him to feel safe and secure, in reality, it was helping her more than him. She loved spending this time with him, even if he wasn’t awake to realize it or enjoy it. The room was quiet; she was comfortable enough that she dozed off.
Harper woke to what sounded like the rustling of plastic. She opened her eyes, rolled over slightly, finding Max placing bags on the table along with a vase of flowers, “Sorry, I didn’t want to wake you, I just wanted to leave this for you.”
“It’s okay, no need to rush off. What are you doing here?”
“Well, I thought I’d surprise you. I talked to Belinda, she told me you accepted a position, so I wanted to congratulate you. I brought some Chinese food, a bottle of wine, and some flowers. I thought maybe Aiden could eat with us, of course, he couldn’t enjoy the wine,” he laughed nervously.
Harper gingerly got off the bed, trying to keep from waking her little boy, “He can’t have solid food right now and he is totally knocked out from today’s treatment. I tell you what, there’s a lounge down the hall, we can go down there and eat, that way we don’t wake him.”
Max moved to help Harper pick up the bags of food, leaving the flowers, and followed her down the hall, “I hope you don’t mind that I did this, I was taking a gamble.”
“No, I don’t mind, it was a sweet gesture. I owe you a thank you, for helping me get the interview at Pruitt & Massey. This is going to be a tough job; I hope I don’t disappoint them. I’d also hate to ruin your friendship with them if they end up regret hiring me.”
“Harper, you got the interview on your own merit, all I did was to help coordinate the meeting time. You do realize that you never give yourself enough credit, right? You underestimate your strength and ability, you are going to do a fantastic job,” Max took a sip of the wine that he had opened, “When do you start?”
“Actually, I’ve already begun. I had completed all of the new hire paperwork before I left today. I have several binders of new regulations that I need to start reviewing and taking notes on.”
“Ah, yes, the new Section 8 rules! Belinda told me she had a contract to build two new developments that would eventually be Section 8. I think you get to see if there are any significant hurdles they need to worry about. You’ll get so familiar with the regulations, I bet you get to run the projects.”
“I’ll start on the binders tomorrow, I just didn’t get a chance to start them today,” she took a sip of her wine, giving herself a minute to compose herself as well. “I don’t anticipate running the project, but I do want to contribute to their success.”
As they ate, they chatted about work related projects. Max was glad she received the job offer, his feelings of guilt over firing her were starting to subside. He thought he would turn the subject back to Aiden, steer her into territory where she was more comfortable, “So, any news on when you can take Aiden home?”
“Provided there are no setbacks from his final treatment today. Hopefully, we can go home in a few days. I’ll have to work out getting someone to sit with him at home while I work, he won’t be able to go to school for a few weeks because of germs and the fear of getting sick. I might see if I can get a nurse that might need hours on the side or something, just someone to more or less babysit him.”
“I’ll ask around and see if I know anyone who might have a resource you can use. I’ll let you know if I find anyone.”
“Thanks, Max, I appreciate it, but you really don’t have to do that or anything. I mean, it isn’t that I don’t like you, but wow, I am not very articulate at the moment.”
“Here, I’ll make it easy for you. I know I don’t have to do anything, but I want to. I was honest with you at lunch the other day, I have feelings for you, have for some time. I don’t want this to be a one-time deal, I’d like to see you again and regularly,” Max took a deep breath; he was as nervous as she was but he was better at containing it. “I realize the need for caution with Aiden; due to his illness and the idea of having a man around. I have kids, I want to be careful with them meeting my lady friends. Sorry, that sounded odd and pretentious.”
“No, you’re right, we aren’t sure what ‘this’ is right now, there’s no need to bring our kids into it until we know for sure. I want, to be honest with you, Max, I don’t know what I want. I’ve been alone with Aiden for years, dating or being in a relationship has never been a priority for me. I’m not sure I know how to do it.”
“I’ve been divorced for five years, I know that’s different than losing a spouse, but I haven’t been dating much either. I think we can try to figure this out together.”
When they finished dinner, they cleaned up their mess and started to leave the lounge. Max turned to Harper, taking her hands in his, looking into her eyes, he spoke softly, “I’m not going to pressure you, but please promise me that you’ll at least give me, give this, a chance.”
Harper nodded, she could at least agree to that. Max leaned in for a soft, sweet kiss. It never turned passionate, and Harper thought to herself that it lacked fireworks. She couldn’t help but compare it to the kiss you received from Chris, and the way he made her feel. But nonetheless, she made a promise to give this a chance, she would at least do that.