The morning sun came in through the bedroom window, bringing Harper out of her slumber. She was still clutching the pillow to her chest, she had thoughts of Chris in her head. She was enjoying the silence of the room and the thoughts of her date when she heard the door open and Aiden walk in. He slowly approached the bed, checking to see if his mom was awake, he then climbed onto the bed and sat next to her.
“Morning, mom! Did you have a good date?”
Harper just looked at him for a moment before answering; the life was back in his eyes, he had his personality back. After all of those months in the hospital and his life hanging in the balance, she had her sweet and innocent little boy back, and it made her heart swell. “Yes, I had a good date, and Chris wanted me to tell you hello.”
“Can you invite him over today?”
“No, I don’t think that is a good idea.” She sat up on the bed and began chewing her lip while she thought of the best way to explain this to her son. “You see, Chris is a friend to the both of us, but he has family and other friends in his life. He can’t just hang out with us all the time.”
“I know, but he likes you, he told me.”
“Well, I like him too. He is a nice man and I certainly hope that we hang out with him more, but he isn’t like a kid from school that you can just call to come over and play.”
“But he likes to play, he played games with me and said we were buddies.”
She put her arm around her son and cuddled with him; he was so innocent and sweet, and it broke her heart to have to burst his bubble. “Aiden, he is a grown up, you can’t just call him to play. I know that’s hard for you to understand.” She kissed his head and rubbed his back, “We’ll just have a day for the two of us, we can do whatever you want, except calling Chris.”
The alarm began buzzing at 6:00 am and Harper was tempted to slap the snooze alarm but was afraid it would make it harder to get out of bed later. She was not looking forward to leaving Aiden, but she was looking forward to having interactions with people other than doctors and nurses. She flung her legs off of the side of the bed, padding into the bathroom for a shower. She did her hair, makeup, and got dressed relatively quickly. When she went into the kitchen to make her coffee, she realized it was only 6:45. She had 45 minutes before she had to leave for work and all that did was provide more time for her to begin to stress about going back to work.
During the two weeks, since she had been hired, she had devoured the information in the binders and felt confident that she would be able to hold her own. Her concern was not whether she knew the material or could do the job, it was the fear of developing new relationships at work and the questions that she might get over Aiden and her situation. She was not anti-social, she just didn’t want to be defined as the woman who had a dying child and needed special work arrangements.
By the time Becky had arrived for duty, Harper had consumed 4 cups of coffee. She was trying to keep the shakes at bay, but the tremors were noticeable.
“I see you are nervous to go into the office,” Becky observed while pointing towards Harper’s trembling hand. “How many cups of coffee have you had this morning?”
“Too much I think. I can’t help but be nervous. I am scared no one will like me or I won’t be able to do the job. What happens if they think they made a mistake hiring me?”
“You are over-thinking it,” Becky put her hands on Harper’s shoulders, “Take a deep breath, hold it for 5 seconds and let it out. You’ve got this.”
“You know, in the past, I’ve always been so strong and confident, but lately, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around things like I used to.”
“It is understandable; these last few months have been highly traumatic. Just do the breathing exercises, and it will help keep you centered and calm.”
“Thanks, Becky! I will try to call and check in if I can, but call me if there is an emergency.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be okay. Good luck although I know you will do great!”
Harper gave her a hug and then moved to the front door. She took a deep breath, opened the door and walked to her car. The drive to the office was short, she was 15 minutes early and didn’t want to sit and have more time to think about what could or would go wrong. The tremors were returning, panic was setting in. She stood from the car, smoothed the shirt on her black and white dress and buttoned the top button of her yellow cardigan. She took two deep breaths and then held her head high and walked with confidence into the building and towards her new office.
Harper’s fears disappeared when she got into the office. Everyone was friendly and welcoming – they were excited to meet her and did not mention her unique working situation, never asking questions about Aiden or her private life. She wanted to open up to people eventually and make friends and begin to rediscover herself beyond life as Aiden’s mother. Chris had made her realize she was more, this would be a good way to do it, just not on the first day in the office.
The day had been busy; meetings to go over what she had learned from the reading materials, as well as meetings to kick off some of the larger building projects. She was heading back to her office after the last meeting when she realized it was almost quarter after 5. She had never had an opportunity to check in on Aiden. Heck, she had not even had time to go to lunch, and the rumble in her stomach drove that point home. She grabbed her purse and some work materials and made the short drive back to the apartment.
During the trip she mentally checked the inventory of her cabinets, hoping she had something quick and easy to fix for dinner. She wanted to eat, visit with Aiden, and call Chris. She could not wait to tell him about her first day. She bounded up the stairs, and as she began to open the apartment door, she noticed soft music playing. She also thought she smelled food cooking, but cooking wasn’t part of her arrangement with Becky. If she had cooked, well she deserved a raise! As she opened the door, she found Chris and Aiden in the kitchen stirring pots on the stove.
“Mom, you’re home! We wanted to surprise you, we cooked dinner!” He came running towards her and wrapped his arms around her. “So, are you surprised?”
Harper looked around the room and noticed the table set and a large bouquet of lilies sitting on the kitchen counter. Chris was in the kitchen with his sleeves rolled up, a smile on his face, and a dish towel slung over his shoulder; he looked so domestic. She picked Aiden up, kissing his cheek, “I’m totally surprised! I think this is fabulous! Did you cook or did Chris?”
“He did, but I helped!”
Chris began to laugh softly at the interaction between Aiden and Harper. It was evident that the little boy adored his mother every bit as she adored him. He took the towel from his shoulders, wiped his hands dry and walked over to where Harper was standing. He leaned forward and gave her a soft kiss and whispered in her ear, “There is more where that came from after the little one goes to bed.”
“I certainly hope so,” she responded. After taking another look around and walking into the kitchen to see what was cooking she commented, “I didn’t know you could cook, I can’t believe you did this. It was very thoughtful and sweet.”
“Well, there is still so much you have to learn about me!” He gave her a soft pat on her behind as he slung the dish towel back over his shoulder and checked on all of the pots on the stove. “I figured you wouldn’t want to cook, and I wanted to hear all about your day so it just made sense. Plus, it gave me time to hang out with Aiden. By the way, he told me you wouldn’t let him call me over to play.”
“I know; I am such a mean mommy!” She said in Aiden’s direction as he watched from the bar stool. She walked over to Chris, he wrapped his arm around her as she snuggled up to him with her head on his chest. “I’m not really sure how I got so lucky to have you come into our lives.” She looked up at him and smiled, “Please don’t ruin the moment and answer that.” They both laughed
“I was actually wondering how I got so lucky to leave my phone in Aiden’s room that day. If I hadn’t done that, I would have never met you.”
“So, what time did you get here and what time did Becky leave?”
Chris moved away from Harper, picking up the plates and silverware and handing them to Aiden. “Here buddy, can you please set the table for us?” Aiden nodded and got right to work, “Um, I got over here around 11:30, she left around noon. I talked to her around 9:30 because she helped determine what you did or did not have in the house for me to cook. Aiden, hey buddy tell your mom what you and I have been doing all day.” He had been coaching him all day on what to say; he was hoping he would pull it off correctly.
“Drinking, watching movies, and looking at cute girls on the internet!”
A smile spread across Harper’s face, “Wow, sounds like a full day!” She gave Chris a slight smile and a jab to the shoulder, “Searching girls on the Internet, eh? Maybe I need to limit your time with him after all.”
“Oh, you are more upset over the girls than the drinking and watching movies? Gee, I underestimated you.”
They both laughed, and she joined Chris in dishing up the meal and getting it to the table. The three of them sat down and began eating; it was like they were a family having dinner and it felt completely natural. Harper loved the chemistry between Chris and Aiden, they joked, played with one another, and sometimes it was hard to tell which one was really the kid.
Dinner was going well when there was a hard knock on the front door.
Chris was seated closest to the door so he made a move to answer it, “You aren’t expecting anyone are you?” Harper shook her head as he reached for the doorknob and turned to open the door.
Standing in the doorway with a dozen roses was Max Kincaid.
“What are you doing here?” Chris asked, the disdain for the man was evident in his voice.
“I could ask you the same question,” Max responded.
“Max? Hi, I didn’t know you were going to stop by,” Harper said as she placed her napkin on the table and stood.
“Well, it ruins the element of surprise if I warn you I’m coming over. I guess I should have called, though, looks like you’re already entertaining.” Without an invitation, Max stepped into the apartment and approached Harper. He set the roses on the table and held her shoulders while he kissed her cheek. “I wanted to hear all about your first day in the office. I haven’t talked to you in a few days.”
“Well, um, it went really well,” Harper flashed a look at Chris, who was not very happy at the intrusion.
Chris realized she had not told Max about their decision to date, and he knew she was uncomfortable. He kind of wanted to watch her squirm but figured it would be best to take the high road, letting her talk to Max and tell him the truth. “Aiden, why don’t we give your mom a few minutes to speak to Max; let’s go in the living room.”
Aiden was confused, but he walked into the living room with Chris. He whispered, “Do I get to finish eating after he leaves?”
“Yeah buddy, you’ll get to finish when he leaves.”
Harper watched as Chris and Aiden moved into the living room; she turned, motioning Max toward the kitchen. Figuring the farther away from the living room, the more privacy they would have in their conversation. “It was very sweet of you to stop by, I had actually planned on reaching out to you later tonight. Chris surprised me with dinner when I got home.” She fidgeted with the dish towel on the cabinet, the one that Chris had slung over his shoulder earlier in the evening.
“I thought you said you two weren’t dating? Am I missing something here? I mean I thought I was clear that I had feelings for you and wanted to pursue a relationship?”
She took a deep breath before beginning her response, “Max, when you asked me about it, Chris and I weren’t dating. But since the day we had lunch, things have changed, we’ve made the decision to start seeing one another.”
“You didn’t think I should know? Were you just stringing me along? How did you meet this guy and get so close in such a short period of time?”
“Chris was doing charity work at the hospital when he met Aiden. The two of them connected, since he’s Aiden’s favorite superhero, Chris started spending more and more time with him. When things got terrible for Aiden, Chris, and his mom started coming around more, we got close. I wasn’t looking for anything to happen, it just did.”
“He’s Aiden’s favorite superhero? That makes no sense, who is he supposed to be?”
“It’s funny that you don’t know who he is because I didn’t know either when I first met him. He’s Chris Evans, and he plays Captain America in the Marvel movies,” she waited a minute for it to sink in. Max glanced over his shoulder into the living room, staring at Chris, “It’s the beard, Max, it’s what threw me off, too. Anyway, the relationship just developed. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. I was surprised when you said you had feelings for me, I wanted to see if I could feel that way. I’m sorry, I just don’t have the same feelings, I wasn’t misleading you.”
Max turned from her, walking toward the door, then paced back over to face her, “Wow, what a fool I am! I thought that by getting you hired on with Belinda that it would earn a bit of gratitude.” The tone of his voice was a tad above bitter and hateful.
“Now wait a minute, Max. You might have gotten me an interview, but my skills and qualifications got me the job. And let’s not forget why I was in the position to be looking for a job. You want gratitude from me for you firing me? You expect that I will repay you for helping me get a job by dating you and having sex?” He voice was rising, she was sincerely hoping that Chris and Aiden could not hear her, “You have the nerve, you really do.”
“I got you that job to make up for the mistake I made in firing you. I think it’s best that you remember that I can make a call and get you fired from that job.”
Harper made sure she was standing straight, her shoulders were square, she took a step and stood toe-to-toe with him. “And you just remember that I can make a phone call and sue your ass and own your company. Don’t mistake my quiet demeanor for stupidity.”
Max swallowed hard and took two steps backward, “You talk tough, but I don’t think you really have that in you, Harper.”
“I don’t believe that you want to test me, but if you feel lucky, go right ahead.”
He turned, walked to the door, opening it slowly and started to leave. He stopped, looking back at her, “Good luck with the job, and good luck with your career.”
“Thank you, Max, I hope you really mean that.”
The door closed softly as he left the apartment and Harper let out a breath she did not remember holding. She was startled when she heard the applause and whistles from the living room. She turned and noticed Aiden standing on the couch, “Yeah Mom, you were awesome!”
Harper began to smile and walk towards the living room, Chris met her halfway and pulled her into an embrace, “You did the right thing, sweetie. I’m proud of you for standing up to him. I have your back, no matter what happens next with the job, okay?”
“Harper! We are going to be late if you don’t hurry up! I am sure you look beautiful, but we have got to go!” Chris yelled as he stood with Aiden at the front door of the apartment.
It had been three months since they started dating. Tonight was important, though; Harper and Aiden were joining the Evans family for midnight mass, then spending the night so they could celebrate Christmas morning. Harper was so nervous about this, even though she had met his family and spent time with them; it was important to look perfect for Christmas. She took a deep breath, stepped out of the bedroom, flipping off the light as she exited.
As she approached the guys at the door, she heard Aiden speak. “Whoa, mom you sure do look pretty!”
She walked over to her son and bent down to give him a kiss on his head. “Thank you, sweetie, you are quite handsome you know.”
Aiden’s hair had started to grow back, and he was finally putting on weight. He was getting back to his “normal” look. His cancer was in remission, and his strength was coming back to 100 percent. He had been back in school for two months; she had wanted to wait and start him in January, but he had been insistent that he go back right away. She hated to admit it, but it was the right thing to do; being back in school and around other kids had helped in his recovery. The school had informed his classmates and their parents about his situation so they could know about his circumstances. It provided a teaching opportunity as well as a preemptive strike against teasing or bullying since Aiden would be different. The kids were great, and every day Aiden had a story about a new friend. The only restriction Harper had imposed was that Aiden’s relationship with Chris was off-limits. He was not allowed to talk about it with anyone, no exceptions!
Aiden didn’t understand that kids would want to be his friend just so they could meet Chris. He did notice that his friends loved his Marvel collection; they were jealous that he had so much stuff. The only thing he could say was that his mom’s boyfriend got all of it for him. It wasn’t a lie, but it just wasn’t the entire truth. He was allowed to keep out the framed photograph of him with Chris, the one where they met in the hospital that first day. Chris had been kind enough to autograph it, the framed photo sat on his desk. His friends thought it was cool that he met him, they just couldn’t know anything else.
Chris cleared his throat, “The boy is spot on, you sure do look pretty!” He walked over to meet Harper and gave her a kiss, “Ok, you were definitely worth the wait; but we have to go.”
“Do you have the bags and the gifts?”
“Baby, they were loaded in the car an hour ago,” Chris opened the door, escorted Harper and Aiden to the car. They drove in virtual silence on their way to St Anselms in Sudbury for that night’s mass. Chris pulled to the curb, letting Harper and Aiden out while he went to park the car; they waited for him right inside the church. Once inside, he escorted them down the side aisle to where his family was seated. Harper took the opportunity to say an extra prayer for Chris being in her life and the happiness he had brought into their lives.
Chris was having a hard time sleeping – his excitement for Christmas matched that of his niece and nephews. It had always been his favorite holiday. However, this year he had already received his present, she was lying in bed next to him. He watched her sleep, the soft rise and fall of her chest with each breath, her hair falling gently across the pillow. He was so happy with her, even when she frustrated him before they began officially dating. She was a challenge, and he liked it. He wanted to touch her, trace his fingers across her shoulder and down her arm; hoping his touch would set her skin on fire. He would intensify her feelings by placing kisses down the path where his fingers had traced. He wanted to gently roll her onto her back and look into her eyes as he made love to her, he wanted to have her grip his shoulders as he pushed her over the edge screaming his name. The problem was he was in mom’s house, and she would wake up the entire family, that was not a show he wanted to give on Christmas Eve. He adjusted himself and rolled over in the hopes that by not looking at her he would be able to drift off to sleep.
It evidently worked, because when Chris opened his eyes, the clock read 6:55 am, and he was alone in bed. He got up, dressed and headed downstairs; Harper was sitting at the kitchen table with his mom and sister.
“Well, good morning sleepy head!” Lisa commented as he entered the kitchen.
“Morning, how long have you guys been down here? And are the kids still sleeping or did I miss all the commotion?” Chris kissed Harper’s cheek, taking a seat at the table next to her. He reached for the coffee, pouring himself a cup.
“We’ve been down here about 30 minutes or so, your girl was the first to wake up,” Carly grinned. “And the kids are still asleep, we’re trying to keep them upstairs as long as possible. Besides, Scott and Shanna aren’t up yet either.”
“I didn’t want to wake you, I was having trouble sleeping so I tried to be quiet and come downstairs. But I think I woke your mom.”
“Nah, I wasn’t asleep either. I think I’m too excited for the kids to open their presents.”
Moments later, Ryan, Scott, and Shanna came downstairs, and the family made sure the final touches were ready for the festivities. At 8 am Carly and Harper went upstairs to wake the kids while Chris and Ryan were charged with documenting their reactions when they came down the stairs. The Evans family had been insistent that Aiden gets to participate in a big family Christmas. With the struggles that they had overcome during the year, it was only fair that Aiden gets to experience the joy of the holiday.
The kids all loved their presents, and sufficient pictures and video were taken to document the day. Harper joked that it would be the second directorial project for Chris. She wanted to see if he had what it took to be the director and cinematographer. The adults had stuck to their rule of no gifts; well most of them had; Harper had bought small gifts for the Evans family as a token of gratitude for their support.
After finishing Christmas dinner and cleaning up the mess, everyone moved into the family room to gather around the fireplace and watch Christmas movies. However, Chris excused himself from the group and took Harper’s hand, leading her into the living room where they could be alone.
“What are you doing? Don’t you want to snuggle in and watch the movies with everyone?”
“Yes, but there is something I need to do first.” He sat on the couch and pulled her down next to him.
“Look, I know we weren’t going to exchange gifts, and I broke the rule. But you can’t get mad at me, you broke it, too!” He winked and then turned to open the small drawer in the side table; being careful so that Harper could not see what he was retrieving. He held his hands closed so that she could not see what he had; she was getting nervous. “I’ve been working on this gift for a few weeks, I really hope you like it.”
Chris took her hand and placed a long, thin box into her hand. The box was only about 3.5 inches long so it wasn’t big enough for a necklace or bracelet; she was stumped. She pulled on the thin red ribbon around the box and slowly lifted the lid.
“A key? I am confused Chris.”
“Well, you see I could tell you something really goofy like that is the key to my heart, but I’d be afraid you would smack me for that,” he mocked. “Seriously, I figured that since our relationship was serious that it was about time that I got a place of my own. I can’t have you over here because of the lack of privacy, and I can’t keep hanging out just at your house. So I bought a house, and this is your key to it.”
“You bought a house? How in the world did you keep this quiet?”
“Well, I am kind of hoping it will be ‘our’ house. Harper, I would like for you and Aiden to move in with me. Now, I know you are going to say we are moving too fast, you’re unsure about this. Believe me, I’ve heard your voice in my head every time I’ve started to rehearse what I was going to say. But I have to leave in January and February for a few award show appearances, then I launch a press tour in April and a movie shoot in May. I want to come home to my house and have you there, no more traveling to your apartment or you coming to my house and worrying about a sitter for Aiden.”
“I don’t know what to say,” She was trying to select her words, not wanting to ruin the moment but needing to be realistic as well. “I mean, things are going well, but I figured when you started to go back to the Hollywood life you would forget about us. I was afraid to be optimistic that this was as serious as it felt. This, well this means you’re really serious?”
“I’m totally serious; I’m not leaving you when I go back to work; I’m just going to do my job, but I’ll come home to you. We’ll not see a whole lot of one another for stretches of time, I don’t want to waste precious moments when I’m home traveling between our places.”
“I’m overwhelmed, seriously, I didn’t expect this.”
“Well, you’re going to say there is an obstacle because of school for Aiden. That will be one of your concerns in moving, and I totally understand. However, the schools over here are great, I think it would be an excellent idea for you to leave him where he is to finish out the school year. After all, you still have to travel over there for work. You could put him in the schools over here next school year.”
“You really have thought this through haven’t you?” It was Harper’s turn to smile, and she tried to wipe her eyes before the tears began to trickle down her cheek, “What did I do to deserve you?”
“I ask myself that question every day!” He quipped, reaching up with his thumb, he wiped her tears away and gently kissed where they had fallen. “You know, I’m really the lucky one in this relationship. I want to do all I can to hold onto you and not let my work life mess up what we have.”
“So are you going to tell me about our new house?”
“I am going to do one better, you want to go see it?” Chris stood, reaching for her hand to help her up from the couch. “I don’t want to tell Aiden yet, I want you to see it first because this is your Christmas present, I don’t want to share this moment with anyone else.”
Chris went into the family room, told everyone that he was taking Harper for a quick ride, they’d be back shortly. His mom was the only one who knew his secret. He walked her to the car, opened the door, making sure she was settled before easing himself behind the wheel.
“Before you pull out of the driveway, how close will we be living to your mom?”
“We’ll be a few blocks away; close enough but not too close.”
Chris drove to the house, Harper had no clue where he had driven to; she was not as familiar with Sudbury, but she had a feeling that would change very quickly. She was, however, a little worried when he stopped, he didn’t pull into a drive. The street was tree-lined, it made it difficult to see the houses; the street lights did not offer much help either. The street was quiet, and that was a definite plus.
Chris came around, helping her out of the car, walking her up a long and winding walkway. She was still having trouble making out the specifics of the house. The only thing she could tell for certain was that the house didn’t have a big wrap around porch like she had always dreamed of having. Chris opened the door, led her inside, flipped a light switch, and the house came alive.
He had placed a large Christmas tree with white lights in the living room next to the fireplace. Directly in front of the fireplace, to the right of the tree was a blanket with a champagne chiller and two glasses. He had thought of everything, it seemed. He reached down, grabbed the bottle, popped the cork and poured a perfect glass and handed it to her. Clinking his glass to hers, he leaned in, kissed her softly, whispering in her ear, “Welcome home, Harper.”