6.30am. Way too early to get up on a regular day, where I don’t have to go to work or an appointment. So why am I awake? I stare at the time on my phone with a deep frown after tossing and turning for what felt like an hour, unsuccessfully trying to fall back asleep.
I don’t get it. I should be exhausted. I managed to get some writing done last night, and by the time I went to bed, it was past midnight. And now I’ve had enough sleep after only six hours? Very unlike me. As much as I’d love to ignore the obvious reason for my insomnia, I have to acknowledge the undeniable fact that I am nervously anticipating my plans for today.
I look at my phone again: 6.35am. Ugh, what the heck! I sit up in bed and run my fingers through my hair with a yawn. Might as well use the early hour to go for a quick run while it’s still cool outside. So that’s what I do, but what usually helps me clear my head does nothing to ease the nervousness. Damn. I keep wondering what Aaron and I are going to do today and if that slight attraction I felt yesterday will still be there.
By the time I arrive back home, take a shower, and prepare a cup of coffee in my aunt’s kitchen, it’s 8.45am. But just as I want to make some breakfast, someone knocks on the door. With the mug of steaming coffee in my hand, I go and check who the early morning visitor is. Not prepared at all for the man who suddenly stands in front of me with a subtle smile on his lips, I draw in a sharp breath. I stare at Aaron with wide eyes as the heat creeps up my cheeks. “Oh, hi,” are the only words that will leave my mouth. Yup, the attraction is still there.
“Good morning, Sweetcheeks.” His smile widens slightly when I roll my eyes.
“Good morning,” I grumble. Forgotten is the fluttery feeling in my stomach from a moment ago. I need to stop reacting to him calling me pet names; otherwise, he’ll never stop. I take a deep breath and give him a forced smile. “What are you doing here already?” I ask. “Didn’t you say you’d pick me up at 10?”
“Yes, but I’ve got something planned for today that requires us to leave a little earlier.” He eyes me up and down. “As you’re already dressed I assume you’re ready to go?”
I frown. “I, uh, I haven’t had breakfast yet.”
He holds up a bag I hadn’t noticed yet. “I brought breakfast; we can eat on the way.”
“Um, okay,” I mumble. “Can I at least finish my coffee?”
“I have some of that in my car. You can have that on the way as well,” he says with a wink. “Now grab your purse or bag or whatever it is you girls need and put on some comfortable shoes.”
I let out a long, slow breath and stare at him.
“Come on; it’ll be worth it. I promise.”
With a shrug and a sigh, I finally comply. Luckily, I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt so that my sneakers match my outfit. I grab my purse and follow Aaron to his car. Once we’re on our way, he points to the bag with the food he brought. “Help yourself,” he tells me.
When I open the bag, my eyes widen. There are breakfast muffins, waffles, some sandwiches, and even cut up fruit. “Wow, this looks great. Did you make that?”
He chuckles. “No, I didn’t; I bought it. But it’s good.”
I hold out a sandwich to him. “Can you eat while driving?”
He nods as he takes the sandwich and carries on driving silently. A few minutes pass where we eat without saying a single word, which makes me start to wonder. When I’m done with my muffin, I turn to him. “Are you okay? You’re unusually quiet.”
His eyebrows shoot up, and he throws me a glance. “Unusually? We’ve known each other for a day.”
I shrug. “Yeah, and you were in a much lighter mood yesterday.”
“Maybe that was the exception, and this is what I’m normally like. Dull and quiet.”
I study him for a moment. “Nah,” I say with a wave of my hand. “I don’t believe that. But it’s okay; you don’t have to tell me what’s bugging you. Are you okay, though, to spend the day showing me around?”
We stop at a red light, and he turns to me with the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. ”Of course I am. It’s just something that happened at work. But don’t worry; it’s nothing I want to bore you with.” The smile on his lips widens, making that dimple appear again, and I almost sigh. “Let me know if I’m too insufferable,” he adds with a wink.
“Okay,” I laugh.
The light turns green, and we continue on our way until we stop at a subway station. While we take the subway to a still unknown place—as Aaron won’t tell me what he planned for today, of course—we have some more of the indeed excellent food, and we talk some more, and Aaron actually laughs. Whatever is on his mind has a noticeable effect on his mood.
When we exit the subway station and walk toward our destination, it suddenly dawns on me. “Battery Park?” I squeal as I grab his arm. “Are you taking me to Liberty Island?”
My enthusiasm makes Aaron laugh out loud. “Yup. And Ellis Island as well. As it was a little too impromptu, I couldn’t get tickets to climb up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty though.” He pulls out two tickets from the pocket of his shorts and holds them up.
I beam at him. “Aaron, this is amazing. Best idea ever. What do I owe you?” I want to take the tickets to see how much he paid for them, but he snatches them away and stows them in his pocket.
“Nothing, Honey Cake. My treat,” he tells me with the usual smirk on his face.
I roll my eyes and sigh. “Even though I would love to kick your ass for all those ridiculous names, how about I treat you to dinner at my place tonight as a thank you?”
“Deal,” he says with another small laugh.
A little while later, we board the ferry which takes us to Liberty Island, and we even manage to get a seat on the third level, where we have the best view for the ten-minute ferry ride. I take in everything like a little kid, which is looking at a shop window from a candy store, and I stare in awe at the Statue of Liberty when we exit the ferry and proceed across the wooden pier. I grab Aaron’s arm so I don’t have to watch where I’m walking. He chuckles and links my arm with his to lead me over to the visitor center where we take a look around.
Over the next few hours, we explore Liberty Island, learn interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty, take pictures, and enjoy the incredible view of Manhattan.
“Wow, Aaron, this is so awesome,” I tell him for the umpteenth time today when we sit down and have lunch. “This was seriously on top of my list. Thank you so, so much.” I give him a wide smile which he returns. Luckily, his mood has improved since we got here; he talks more and laughs a little. To sum it up: he’s his flirtatious self again; at least as far as I can tell.
“You’re very welcome. As my dad said: I had to make up for our first encounter.”
I chuckle. “Yeah. But I told you I’ve already forgiven you for going all Hulk on me.”
Aaron shakes his head with a laugh. “Still, I owed you a fun day out in the city.” He studies me a moment before he asks, “So how do you like it here so far?”
I shrug as I take a bite of my sandwich. “It’s okay,” I answer after I swallow. “Sometimes, it’s a little too quiet for my liking. I’m used to having lots of people around. Philip comes over quite a lot, but only to quickly check on me—or to eat.” I laugh when Aaron rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, sounds like Dad. But he’s over at your aunt’s house all the time, so it’s probably out of habit too. I’m sure he’s even got a key.”
I nod. “Yeah, those two are pretty close, huh? But I don’t mind; he’s a nice guy.”
Aaron snorts. “Of course. He’s always nice to pretty women.”
I look at him with raised eyebrows, but before I can ask about the pretty-women-part, he continues talking. “So you have a big family?”
I nod. “My dad and aunt have three more siblings, and they all live close by. And of course, they’re all married and have kids, so there’s always plenty going on at someone’s house.”
“Of course they’re all married? Is that a prerequisite to being part of your family?”
I let out a heavy sigh. “Seems like it,” I respond. “You won’t believe the mayhem it caused when Aunt Jannie moved to New York to become a photographer. Unmarried and childless to this day.”
He lets out a long breath. “Wow.”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m spending the summer here. I need to conjure up a plan on how to tell my parents that I’m somewhat following in my aunt’s footsteps and become a writer.”
“So they won’t be happy?”
I shake my head and frown. “No, they won’t.”
Aaron nods but doesn’t say any more. We silently finish our lunch before he gets up and holds out his hand. “And now on to Ellis Island?”
Ready for more fun things, I take his hand with a smile and let him pull me after him towards the ferry.
Later that day, after a fantastic trip that exceeded all my expectations from this morning, I’m sure I’m way too close to developing a silly little crush on a guy I hardly know. To my defense—it is a major challenge not be affected by Aaron’s charm and his smile and how he treated me like someone special today. Yeah, I need to keep my hormones in check.
When we arrive in front of my aunt’s house, we get out of the car, and as we make our way to the front door, a pretty brunette with a happily giggling infant placed on her hip exits Philip’s house.
When Aaron sees her, he stops in his tracks. “Amy! Hey,” he calls.
“Aaron!” A wide smile spreads on her face, and the girl in her arms screeches and reaches out her hands to him.
They meet at the edge of the property with only the small bushes separating them. The little girl leans over to him, and Aaron accepts her into his arms. Instantly, she hugs him tight. “Hey, baby girl,” he says with a laugh.
Wow, ovaries, keep calm. Hot guy with a baby is a deadly combination.
Aaron leans over the bushes to give who I suspect to be his sister-in-law a peck on the cheek. “Hey. I didn’t know you were back already.”
She grimaces. “We had to return today. My mom broke her wrist this morning.”
“What? How did that happen? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s at the hospital now. Luckily, Ben and I were able to get a flight back home right away. I just picked up Bella. She spent the day at your dad’s while my dad took my mom to the hospital. Ben is picking them up now, and we’ll meet at our house.”
“I’m sorry you had to cut your honeymoon short,” Aaron says.
Amy waves her hand. “It was only a couple of days. Now, won’t you introduce me to your new friend?”
Aaron turns to me with an apologetic look on his face. “Oh, I’m sorry. Of course. Amy, this is Kaitlyn. She’s Jannie’s niece. Kaitlyn, this is Amy, my sister-in-law. And this is Bella.”
I laugh when Aaron’s niece starts fidgeting and babbling in his arms after she heard her name. “Hey, Bella. I’ve heard so much about you. And you too,” I say as I stretch out my hand to Amy. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Amy responds with a wide smile. “Philip has told me all about you; he wouldn’t shut up. I have to try your chocolate chip cookies.”
I laugh. “Sure. I’ll make some more. One batch doesn’t last long with these guys.”
“Yes, save some for me next time,” she says as she stretches out her arms towards her daughter to take her back from Aaron. “Okay, I’m sorry, guys. I gotta go. Aaron, give Kaitlyn my number, will you?” She looks at me. “Give me a call, and then we can hang out—if you want to, that is.”
“I’d love to,” I tell her with a smile.
With a peck on Aaron’s cheek and a small hug for me, Amy says goodbye and walks over to her car. My gaze falls on Aaron, whose eyes are still fixed on Amy. The way he looks after her makes my insides quiver. Even though I don’t know him too well yet, a vague sense of foreboding takes hold of me. There’s something in his eyes while he watches her leave—this is not how someone would look at their sister-in-law.
Aaron takes a deep breath before he finally turns to me. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but closes it when he sees the look on my face. “What’s wrong?” he asks with furrowed brows.
I shake my head, not willing to go there right now. “Nothing. Come on; let’s make dinner. I’m starving.”
With a small nod, he follows me inside the house. “I was thinking,” he says when we walk into the kitchen to start cooking, “we could go to Central Park tomorrow.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Tomorrow? Don’t you have better things to do? Work?”
“Not right now,” he mumbles as he turns away from me to avoid my gaze.
He gives me a quick look before he opens the fridge to get some of the ingredients that we need. “That’s... a long story,” he says hesitantly.
As he doesn’t explain this any further, I guess that’s all I’m going to get out of him right now, which means I’ll put that on my list of things about him that we need to delve into some other time.