Several days had passed since Lisa had visited Aiden, she had not talked to Harper since. She had also never come clean with Chris about what had taken place. She knew that she should tell him, give him a warning about Harper’s involvement with Max and his pronouncement of feelings for her. She just didn’t know how to break the news to him.
She was in her office, working on theater plans, production schedules, and holiday events, when Carly joined her, offering to help. They were deep into the discussion when Carly decided to do a complete 180 and change the subject, “So, Ma, have you been to the hospital to see Harper and her little boy lately? Do you know how they are, or when he is going to be released?”
“No, I went a few days ago but haven’t talked to her recently. The last I heard, she was hoping he would be released in the next week.”
“What about Chris? Is he still seeing her?”
“I don’t know, I’m not sure if he’s talked to her or not.”
“What happened? You liked her, Chris was head over heels, and now everything is cooled off, what did I miss?”
“I think they had a disagreement, but I’m not sure what his feelings are now. I’ve got no idea if he’s talked to her or not,” Lisa answered, trying to seem not interested, even though she was dying to know what was going on.
“I see you two still enjoy talking about my love life,” Chris commented as he walked into the room, taking a seat in the chair opposite his mom and sister.
“Of course, little brother, it is so much fun! So, give us the scoop, what’s going on which Harper? When was the last time you talked to her?” Carly began to pry, like any good big sister would.
“A few days ago, like Ma said, we had a disagreement, but we cleared the air. I’m actually thinking of going down to visit the pediatric ward today and ending the day with a visit with her and Aiden. I’m just not sure if I’ll see her after he gets out of the hospital.”
“Why? You two exchanged numbers, you live in the same city, it isn’t like she was here from some other state. Good grief you are so dramatic.”
“Well, Carly, I gave her my number, told her to call me, she hasn’t.”
“She called you to clear the air, right? Isn’t that calling you?”
“I meant she hasn’t called because she wants to see me or anything. She called to apologize, that’s all. I’m coming around to the idea that she might not like me in the same manner that I liked her, I’m not going to force the subject.”
“Did you ever think that maybe she is a little intimidated by you? I know you two have spent a short time together but you’re an actor, that’s a lot to take on. And by the way, have you ever told her that you really like her?”
Chris gave his sister a strange look, “Uh no, I haven’t told her; I’d think it’s evident.”
“Ok, I know this is odd coming from me since I argued against you being involved with her in the first place. However, you have a woman who is stressed because her child is very sick. Add to that, the fact that she lost her job, and oh yeah, she’s been a widow and not dated for years. Hello, are you stupid? Did you think that maybe it isn’t so clear to her since her mind is cloudy?”
Chris and Lisa looked at one another, stunned at the revelation that Carly might be on the right track. Neither of them said anything; they didn’t really know how to react. Carly didn’t let up, “You know Chris I have always thought you were a smart, deep thinking man, but you have just shown what a meatball you can be!”
Aiden was sitting up on the bed playing a video game with the sound off because Harper was working and couldn’t concentrate with the game noise. Of course, it was no better dealing with Aiden’s commentary. She had been studying the first of the binders detailing the real estate regulations. Her eyes were growing tired, her head was beginning to throb, she wasn’t sure she could keep going. Who knew that reading all day could wear a person out just as much as doing physical activity? She had pages of notes prepared and felt as though she, at least, had a grasp on these documents.
There was a loud knock on the door before she could react, Aiden had already yelled, “Come in!”
Harper looked up just in time to see the door open and Chris walk in. Immediately she had butterflies in her stomach, and she worried about how she looked. She tried to remain calm and figured he was there for Aiden, not to see her.
“Hey, Chris!” Aiden bellowed when he saw him walk in the room, “Want to play my game with me?”
“Hey buddy, it’s great to see you! What game?”
“Lego Indiana Jones, mom won’t play with me because she can’t get past the first level. She is awful at these games.”
Chris looked over at Harper and flashed a smile, “Hi Harper, how are you?”
“Hi Chris, I’m good,” she felt as if her cheeks were on fire.
Before Chris could finish sitting down on the edge of the bed, Aiden was handing him a game controller, “Ok, I started over, you can play this first player, I’ll play next.”
After a few moments, it was evident that Chris had lost all of his lives, it was Aiden’s turn. “You’re as bad as mom at this game.”
“Ouch, that hurts! So you aren’t a gamer, Harper?”
Harper had been trying to act like she wasn’t watching or paying attention to their interaction. She didn’t want Chris to know she was looking at him; the way his hands moved on the controller, his facial expressions as he was trying to move the character along, or the way he had his tongue sticking out. She was going to have to leave the room if he kept it up.
“Sorry, did you say something?” Man, she hoped that sounded convincing.
“You don’t like to play games? Video games I mean?”
“I’m not very good at them, he beats me every time! I get frustrated too easily, I hate it when I can’t win or beat the levels.”
“Mom, you and Chris should play with each other, that way one of you can win!”
Chris and Harper exchanged glances, Aiden apparently didn’t understand that his innocent comment could be taken another way. They both began to smile; Chris was confident it looked like Harper was blushing.
“It’s okay Aiden, you and Chris play your game, mommy will just watch.”
The boys played for a little longer, then it was evident that Aiden was worn out. Chris recognized it, suggesting they take a break for a bit, “I know you don’t want to, but I think you need to rest a little. You need to build up your strength so you can beat me again!”
Aiden laughed and swore he felt fine, then immediately fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Chris walked over and sat on the couch next to Harper. “Well, it is good to see he has some energy, and that he still has his sense of humor. He’s an amazing kid.”
“I know he loves it that you stopped by. He had a new nurse the other night, all he wanted to do was talk about how cool it was that he knows Chris Evans.”
Chris put his arm across his chest, threw his head back and laughed; it was a beautiful sight. He had a wonderful laugh, a beautiful smile, was perfect in every way. Harper could just watch him all night long; it was taking every ounce of her not to reach out and touch him.
“I connected with him the first time I met him; he’s a special kid.” Chris put his hand on Harper’s leg, “So, when does he go home?”
“Day after tomorrow. His treatments are done, the doctors are confident that they have put him in remission. They want to give him a few months and check to see his progress. If he’s in remission for six months, they’ll be more optimistic to say he’s cancer free.”
“Can he go to school and do normal kid things when he’s released?”
“No, not right away. I won’t put him in school until after the first of the year; we have to be careful about germs and what he is around right after her gets out to be safe. Wouldn’t make sense to send him for a few weeks and then go on winter break.”
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m better, less stressed now that I know he is going home. Plus, I am less stressed because I got a job!”
Chris was watching Harper as she relayed her news. Her eyes were twinkling as she said the words, ‘I got a job,’ and a smile came across her face that could light up any room. She was excited, and in turn, he was excited for her. The stress of losing her job along with the stress of Aiden’s illness had taken a toll on her, now she could turn the corner and begin to move forward.
“This is fantastic news, where will you be working? And when do you start?”
“I’m going to work Pruitt & Massey, they’re a real estate developer, but they mainly do residential complexes and small shopping centers. As far as when do I start? Well, I technically started yesterday, when I filled out all of my paperwork. I actually started working and taking notes today, though. I’m going to help project manage their residential jobs, but right now I’m reading legal documents and regulations to get familiar with them. They know about Aiden and are working with me on arrangements.”
“I am happy to hear they are going to work with you, that is extremely encouraging. So, how will it work when Aiden is released? Are you going to be able to work from home until he goes back to school?”
“Actually, I’m not sure. I’m looking into options for home care since Aiden can’t go to daycare or be around other kids. I’m sure they’ll let me stay home with him for a little while, but I don’t know how far I can push it with this job.”
“Did you know, I’m good friends with Aiden’s nurse Becky? I could talk to her for you, to see if she’d be interested in some hours outside of the hospital, plus she has friends. If she can’t help, maybe she’ll have names for you.”
“Oh Chris, that’d be wonderful, but I don’t want to ask you to infringe on your friendship with her, though.”
“Oh, I think she’ll love it. When I leave here, I’ll go talk to her.”
“Thank you! I swear, between you and Max, I’m feeling all kinds of special.”
“Max? He’s making you feel special? Isn’t he part of the reason why you’re in this boat?” Chris couldn’t help but to have a biting tone to his words.
“Well, yeah, but he got me my job with Pruitt & Massey; he knows one of the principals in the firm. He made a call to her to say that I was available, gave her the details of my departure, and helped set up the meeting so I could get the job.”
Chris couldn’t believe that Max, the man she despised days ago, was now going to be her hero because he helped her get a job. “So he called his friend, said ‘hey I fired this girl, I was an ass, I don’t think she should work for me again, but she should totally work for you.’ That must have been an interesting phone call.”
“I don’t think you are fair Chris. Max said he made a mistake in firing me, had he known the entire situation it wouldn’t have come to this. He’s willing to admit he was too quick to pull the trigger and is trying to make amends. Why can’t you be happy about that?”
Chris stood from the couch and looked back at Harper, “We’re not going to agree on this, I’m sorry. I’m glad you got a job, thrilled they’ll work around your schedule with Aiden, and I know you’ll be successful. You just won’t convince me that Max is truly looking out for you.”
“What, why not? He helped me get a job, how is that not looking out for me?”
“Because, sweetie, he is the one who is going to benefit in this. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got a job, you’re benefitting, but he helped you to help himself.” Chris began walking toward the door, “I’ll talk to Becky for you, and I’ll follow-up in a few days, have a good night.”
Harper was stunned, she had not expected that conversation at all. What was going on that she kept arguing with him? All she wanted to do was to be on good terms, spend time with him, and it seemed to unravel every, single time. This was when she missed not having someone in her life to talk to about these things.
Chris left Aiden’s room, closing the door behind him. For a minute, he stood, back against the wall, wondering how he ended up in this situation every time. He noticed Becky at the nurse’s station and began to walk towards her, “Hey, you got a minute?”
Becky turned to look at him, “Yeah, sure, what’s wrong though? You look like your dog died or something.”
“You know Aiden is getting out of here in a day or so, right?” Becky nodded her head in acknowledgment, “Well he can’t go back to school right away, he needs someone to be with him so Harper can go back to work. Do you think you could help find people to sit with him? I’m not sure if you need extra money or if you have friends who need extra hours or anything?”
“Chris, does Harper have any idea how much that would cost? I’m not sure her insurance will cover that cost because having an RN sitting with him will be expensive.”
He shook his head, “No, I don’t think she does. I’m just not sure I want a babysitter with him, though, I mean what if something were to happen? He needs to have someone there with him to take care of him.”
Becky smiled, she knew what this was all about, “Look, he won’t be on any chemo meds or anything when he goes home, there wouldn’t be any situations like he had a few weeks ago. He will be ‘normal’ when he goes home; he just can’t be around a lot of germs for a few weeks while his immune system builds back up. I think a nurse is a little overboard.”
“Humor me, please,” he cocked his head, and his eyes were pleading, “I want to make sure he’s okay, and Harper one less thing to worry about when she goes back to work.”
“Chris, I think you’re falling for this woman and this boy, your judgment is clouded by that. I’m a nurse, I’m all for keeping kids safe and healthy, but you’re going a little overboard,” Becky watched as her words sunk in; she felt for him. “Okay, look, I’ll sit with him but not in the capacity of a nurse. My schedule is getting ready to change; I’m going to be working Friday through Monday on 10-hour shifts. I can sit with him on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and I know someone who could probably do the Friday and Monday shifts.”
“Thanks, Becky, it means a lot to me. I’ll cover the costs, but I don’t want her to know that; you tell me what your real rate is and what she’s paying you, I’ll cover it all. I told her I’d call her to let her know if you’re interested, but if you want to tell her first, that’s fine. If not, I’ll call her tomorrow.”
“I’ll talk to a few of my friend about the Friday and Monday shifts, then I’ll talk to Harper.”
He nodded then began walking away, he was halfway to the elevator when he turned back toward Becky, “You’re wrong you know, I’m not falling, I already fell.”
An hour or so after Chris had left, Becky walked into Aiden’s room. Harper was sitting on the couch with her legs tucked under her; she was reading the large regulatory binder and had a hard time keeping her eyes open.
“Harper, I am sorry to interrupt; can I have a moment of your time?”
Harper looked at Becky and quickly closed her binder, “Of course, please come in, have a seat.”
“Well, Chris spoke to me when he was leaving tonight, mentioned you were looking for some help with Aiden when he is released since you have to go back to work, and he can’t go to school just yet.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll only need it for a month or so, the daycare he used to go to will take him back after he gets his medical release. I think the doctor said it would take 4-6 weeks to build his immune system back up.”
“I have a friend, Paula, she can sit with him on Monday and Friday and then I can be with him the rest of the week. Paula is a nurse on the 6th floor, I can bring her down to meet the two of you.”
“Oh, wow, that’s fantastic,” she hung her head, unsure of how to continue, “But I’m not sure I could pay the two for you what you would need. I mean, I need to see what insurance would cover, I don’t think I can really afford nurses, I was just going to get babysitters.”
Becky nodded, she understood where Harper was coming from, “Aiden is a great kid, I would love to help you out, and I’m sure we can negotiate something on the pay. I didn’t agree to do this because of the pay,” Becky hoped that her little white lie would hold up. “It will be your decision, obviously; but, it would be easier for Aiden if it were people he already knew.”
“I agree; I’ll call the insurance company tomorrow to work out the details. Thank you, Becky, this would be a relief if we can work this out.”
Becky stood up, checked on Aiden, then left the room.
Harper pulled out her phone and texted Chris. She knew it was late, but she wanted to do it before she went to bed. It was a small thing that would help her relax a little more.
“Thanks for talking to Becky, she’s interested in helping out. You really are my hero.”
She thought her text sounded mushy or corny, but she didn’t care. She wanted him to realize just how thankful she was for his help. She waited, but he didn’t send a return text or give an acknowledgment; she was disappointed. She settled into the couch and drifted off to sleep.
Chris was sitting at the dining room table reading through a stack of scripts when the table began to vibrate, it was his cell phone. He picked it up, looked at the screen, it was a message from Harper. He was happy to see that Becky had talked to her and that Aiden would be taken care of. Her message about being a hero, that was harder to accept. She had no idea he had feelings for her and he couldn’t keep up the charade any longer. He would quietly help out with the expenses, but he couldn’t put himself in a position to be hurt because she didn’t realize his feelings.
~ * ~
Harper sulked around the hospital room, she should be elated, her son was finally being released from the hospital and was going home. Instead, she was upset that she never heard back from Chris after she sent him the text message two days ago. She wanted nothing more than to see him and talk to him again.
The only person she had heard from was Max, he had sent Aiden balloons and a cookie bouquet. It was a sweet gesture, it made Aiden feel special, particularly as he had not received many deliveries. Of course, she had to remind her son that he couldn’t just sit down and devour twelve adorable cookies at one time. She would have Aiden send a thank you card to Max, she would make a phone call to thank him on her behalf. She had talked to him the previous night, before the gifts were delivered, and agreed to have lunch with him in the next few days. Since she had coverage during the day, she could take her lunch break from work to meet with him, but she could not go at night since Aiden was home.
She still wasn’t able to say she had feelings for Max, but she was at least giving him an opportunity. She was ready to move, wanted to feel like a woman again. The problem was, she wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted. The only thing she was sure of, was that she had butterflies in her stomach every time she saw and talked to Chris.
As her mind raced with everything that was going on, she heard a little voice, “Mom!! Are you daydreaming again?”
Harper’s head snapped up, and she saw Aiden getting settled into the wheelchair that Claudia had brought in. The balloons from Max were tied to the wheelchair handle, and Aiden was holding the cookie bouquet tightly in his lap, “Sorry, buddy, I guess I was. Let’s go!”
Aiden was released from the hospital on Tuesday. Harper was given the approval to work from home for the remainder of the week; she would start in the office on Monday. For Harper, this new reality was not yet sinking in. She could not believe that Aiden was home, that life would be getting back to a regular routine.
She was going through the kitchen cabinets, trying to determine what they had on hand to fix for dinner. Her new reality did not include going to the grocery store and stocking up before Aiden was released. There was a knock at the door, her heart stopped, she said a silent prayer that it would be Chris.
She slowly walked to the door, nervously wringing her hands before turning the knob and opening it. She tried to hide her disappointment when she realized it wasn’t Chris, but Max on the other side, with a bag of groceries in hand, “I thought I would bring some fresh food and make dinner for the three of us, if you don’t already have plans, that is.”
“Wow! What a surprise, Max,” it was a nice gesture, but all Harper could think of were Chris’ words from the other night, ‘he helped you to help himself.’ It suddenly hit here that she had not offered for him to come in, “Sorry, how rude of me, please come in. Aiden, honey, come here, I’d like you to meet someone.”
Aiden came shuffling in from the other room with his tablet in hand, playing some game that he couldn’t get enough of. He looked up at Max, “Hey! So, who are you?”
“Aiden, don’t be rude, you have better manners than that! This is Max, he’s a friend of mine, used to be my boss. He was kind enough to bring groceries for dinner and is going to eat with us. He is also the nice man who sent you those cookies.”
Aiden put out his hand, offering a handshake, “Nice to meet you. Thank you for the cookies, mom won’t let me eat them all at once!” With the introduction out-of-the-way, Aiden turned, walking back into the living room to continue playing his game.
“I’m very sorry, I guess being stuck in that hospital room for a few months sucked all of his manners out of him,” she was embarrassed, her son had never been so rude before. She would have to talk to him about it after Max left. “So, what do you we have in the bag?”
Max and Harper got to fixing dinner, tacos with all of the fixings. It was a home run as far as Aiden was concerned, but then again, most kids loved food you can eat with your fingers. The conversation at dinner was light, it revolved around sports and games. Harper was thrilled that Max and Aiden were getting along and appeared to have some common ground. When dinner was finished, Harper let Aiden go and play while she cleared the table. Max joined her in the clean-up efforts, helping with the dishes in the kitchen.
“I really do appreciate that you brought groceries by, it was a thoughtful gesture. But you know you didn’t have to do that.”
“I didn’t have to, I know, but I wanted to. Plus, I figured you didn’t make it to the store before bringing him home,” he gestured toward Aiden in the living room, “And you are most likely sick of take out. If I brought you groceries, I could see you again, so I did have a motive.”
When the kitchen was clean, Harper and Max made their way towards the living room to talk. Aiden took the hint and excused himself to his room, shutting his door so he didn’t have to hear any of their conversation. Although, there was nothing romantic about the conversation at all. Instead, they talked about her new job and things that were going on at Max’s company.
Max checked his watch, “Goodness, it is almost nine, I should be going,” he stood up and started to move towards the door. Right before opening the door, he turned to Harper, who was following him, “Tell me we can do this again, please?”
She smiled warmly, “I’d like that, and I promise to have a stocked kitchen next time.”
He leaned in, giving her a gentle kiss, “I’ll call you,” he then opened the door and walked out, down the steps and towards his car.
Harper waited until he pulled out of the parking spot before she stepped back into the apartment and shut the door. She went into Aiden’s room to check on him, he had fallen asleep playing his game. She tucked him into his Captain America sheets, while his action figures kept watch from the nightstand.