When I walk into Anna’s house, Paul’s birthday party is in full swing. Soft music echoes through the house, along with lively chatter and laughter.
I wave to some people I know here and there on my way to the kitchen where I find both of Paul’s sisters preparing finger food.
“Hey, Anna! Hey, Meg!” I smile and stand opposite them at the kitchen isle.
“Jack!” Meghan beams at me. “I heard you have the best present for our brother?”
Anna hits her sister’s arm. “Meg, that was obviously just a joke.” She narrows her eyes at me. “Right, Jack?”
The way she says my name makes me burst out laughing, and for a moment, I’m tempted to go along with that story, but I nod. “Yes, that was just a joke. Don’t worry.”
"Aww, how genuinely disappointing.” Meghan pouts.
Anna glares at her. “There are kids present at this party.”
“Maybe next year, Meg. By the way,” I throw in, “Liv says hi. And sorry that they had to cancel.”
Anna waves off my apology. “That’s fine. We understand. She should rest her shoulder.”
“Which, of course, she doesn’t,” I grunt. “With Lucy’s birthday coming up, she’s in full party planning mode. I guess you only turn five once.” I roll my eyes.
Anna laughs, “Yeah, that sounds like Liv. Every party she plans is always a major event.”
“You could say that. So, why are you having Paul’s party here?” I ask.
“This is a birthday-slash-garden-warming-party.” Anna grins widely at me. “But mostly garden warming party. I have to show off my new and improved backyard.”
“That Tessa designed for you,” Meghan laughs as she grabs a tray with food. “Come on, Jack, grab that tray over there please and follow me outside into the all new and improved backyard.”
I chuckle and do as I’m told.
When I walk through the French doors and follow Meg over to a large table to put down the tray, I take a look around the backyard and the people that are gathered around.
I have to admit, the backyard does look amazing. Tessa, who is a florist, recently started to expand her business and designs people’s gardens now. And she did an excellent job with this one.
When I look around further, I suddenly spot a familiar face I didn’t expect to see.
What is she doing here? Instantly, my heart beats just a tiny bit faster, and my lips lift in a tiny smile.
Seriously? I thought I’d gotten over this. But obviously not. I still don’t know what this woman did to affect me like that. It’s been two weeks since I first saw her. Two weeks where thoughts of her kept popping up in my head. Two weeks where I tried to get over it. Because that’s bound to fail.
This is the first time I see her in her regular clothes instead of scrubs. And damn, she looks stunning. Her hair falls loosely over her bare shoulders, and she’s wearing a knee-length, peach colored dress that makes me smile even wider.
She’s talking to Tessa and hasn’t seen me yet. I walk up to her when Tessa indicates she’s going to be back in a minute.
“Nice color,” I say as I stand next to her and point to her dress. “Peach again, huh?”
She turns to me and looks a little stunned when I smile at her.
“I happen to like peach, be it color or fruit,” she responds with a raised eyebrow. But then she smiles back at me. “Hi, Jack.”
“Wow, so you do know how to smile.”
“Yeah, sorry. I tend to get a little grumpy when I’m injured. Or any of my family members.”
She nods. “Fair enough. How’s your sister?”
“She’s doing okay. It’s a little hard to be injured when you’ve got an almost five-year-old little troublemaker running around.” I add in a low voice, “And when you’re pregnant.”
“She’s got a five-year-old kid?”
I nod. “My niece, Lucy. And she’s quite a handful. Well, like mother, like daughter.”
Emma laughs out loud. And fuck me, that is the happiest sound I’ve heard in a while. And the way her whole face lights up and her blue eyes shine brightly does things to me that I didn’t think possible anymore. Boy, I’m in trouble!
Shit, I need to stop talking to her for a minute and cool down. “Can I get you another drink?” I point to the empty glass in her hand.
She hands it to me with a smile. “That’d be great! Thanks.”
“What can I get you?”
I nod and quickly turn to walk into the house. And once I’m inside, I run my hand over my face and take a deep breath. Don’t be stupid, Jack!
In Anna’s kitchen, I look through her juice supplies in the fridge. And, sure enough, she’s got what I’m looking for.
Just as I’ve closed the fridge and grabbed the glass, someone calls my name. “Hey, Jack!”
I turn around and see Ben approaching. He’s carrying his nine-month-old daughter, Bella, who screeches with joy when she sees me.
“Hey, Bella!” I laugh. “How are you?” And I laugh even more when I get the typical baby babbling as an answer. “Ah, yes. Interesting.”
Ben laughs too and gives her a kiss on her cheek.
“How are the wedding preparations coming along?” I ask him. Ben and his fiancée, Amy, are getting married in June, which is less than three months away.
Ben grimaces. “I’d say just fine, but Amy is a little stressed. She and Lauren spend so much time with the planning. I didn’t think there’d be so much to consider. But I’m glad that Amy has Lauren to remind her to breathe every once in a while.”
Lauren is Amy’s best friend and, with that, her maid of honor.
“So, are you bringing a plus one to our wedding? Amy is freaking out over the seating chart for the reception.”
I shrug. “I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know soon, okay?”
Ben chuckles. “It better be really soon or else you’ll have to face my fiancée.”
I smile and wave to them as I walk back outside and find Emma where I left her.
“Here you go, peach.” I hand her the glass.
She gives me a sideways look with narrow eyes. “Are you telling me this is peach juice or are you calling me peach?”
I shrug nonchalantly. “You know what, I think I might call you that from now on. Because every time I see a peach, I think of you.”
She rolls her eyes but smiles softly. “Good thing my favorites aren’t bananas.”
I burst out laughing, and she joins in. Again her sweet laughter touches me in places that I almost thought were dead.
“So, Peach. Thanks for taking such good care of me the other night. And sorry for being so insufferable.”
She chuckles. “Well, it is my job. And believe me, I’ve had worse patients.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Sorry, I’m bound to professional secrecy.”
"Aw, come on. I’d love to hear your stories. I bet you have plenty.” I lean a little closer to her so I can whisper in her ear, “I can keep a secret.”
And suddenly, her sweet scent fills my nose, a scent I hadn’t noticed before because I was freaking out when she was too close to me at the hospital. And now I’m acceptably close while being sufficiently distant for me to feel comfortable and her scent to engulf me.
What the fuck am I doing? Why am I flirting with her when I know I shouldn’t? I shouldn’t smile at her like that, and I sure shouldn’t call her pet names. I shouldn’t notice that she smells heavenly.
I’m relieved when Anna joins us and interrupts our conversation. “Hey, Jack, could you check my dishwasher? It’s acting up again.” She gives me a hopeful smile.
I groan. “I’m not a fucking handyman. I’m a medical device engineer.”
“I know. But would you please, please have a look at it? You know more about any electric household appliance than anyone else I know. And you fixed it before.”
I roll my eyes. “Fine. I’ll have a look at it later,” I sigh.
“Thanks so much!” Anna beams at me before she gives me a quick hug, which makes me cringe, and takes off again.
I take a deep breath and look at Emma who is watching me silently. And again I see the unasked question on her face. And I expect her to voice it soon.
But then she asks, “You’re a medical device engineer?”
I nod. “Yeah, I actually work for the company that provides your hospital with ultrasound equipment. And we are responsible for technical support.”
“Really? That’s awesome. My friend Rob, he’s one of the ob-gyns, and he always goes on about how great that ultrasound equipment is. He always throws around these big words - Excellent imaging, HD, 3D, and even 4D. And those portable ones? Just amazing!” She laughs as she mimics her friend.
And I can’t help but laugh too. It’s just so contagious. “Your friend sounds like a real fan.”
And when she smiles again, a really strange sensation rushes through me. What kind of friend is that when she smiles like this thinking of him?
I push that thought far away while we continue talking about this and that, and I find myself enjoying her company more and more. Talking to her feels easy, something I can’t say about many people, especially people I’ve just met.
I’m not even sure how long we’ve been talking when we’re interrupted by someone calling my name.
“Jack! What the fuck? When did you get here?” Paul shows up next to us and frowns at me.
“Oh hey, Paul! Happy Birthday!” I grin at him.
Emma chuckles, and before I can say any more, she says, “I’ll let you guys catch up.” She winks at us before she walks over to Tessa, Amy, and Lauren.
I look after her until Paul hits my shoulder. “What the fuck are you doing?”
I give him a questioning look. “What do you mean?”
“Emma is a nice girl. Stay away from her. That’s only gonna end in disaster.”
“What? Are you insulting me?”
“No, Jack. But I know you. And I know you’re not in the place to start anything that’s close to a relationship, and that’s what she deserves, not some drunken one-night stand.”
“Paul,” I sigh and roll my eyes.
“No, don’t you roll your eyes at me. I’ve seen the way she looks at you. She’s attracted to you. Don’t lure her in. Because you know you can’t offer her what she needs.”
As much as I wish he were wrong, I know he’s not. And I hate that.
After an afternoon of talking and laughing and meeting more of Paul’s friends at his birthday party, I was starting to feel weird. A mixture of tired and dizzy and achy which made me say goodbye to everyone earlier than I wanted. Because I really enjoyed myself.
So now I’m back at my apartment. And for the past fifteen minutes, I’ve been sitting on the toilet lid in my bathroom, staring at my hands. Or rather what I’m holding in my hands.
On my way home from Paul’s party, I realized a few things.
First, I’ve been so damn tired the past couple of weeks.
Second, my body has been aching in the weirdest places. My lower back, which has never given me any trouble so far, felt a little stiff. And an occasional headache almost made me forgot about the sporadic nausea.
Third, I’ve been feeling off in general, not like my usual self. Something I held my tiny crush on Jack responsible for.
And last but not least, I’m late. I haven’t even noticed that I should have gotten my period a while ago. I did have a slight bleeding, but nothing more.
So I stopped at a pharmacy on the way and bought a pregnancy test. Because even though those are pretty sure signs for my personal nightmare, there was a slight chance that I might have been wrong.
But now I’m staring at the little stick in my hands, and I can’t fucking believe it. The result is clear.