Like Real People Do

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Aqua Swimming Pool

I was distracted. Which wasn’t a good thing under any circumstances, but considering I was supposed to be working, it was especially bad.

But I couldn’t help it. It had been hours since Jaxon had left to talk to Lauren and we were currently sitting at the airport gate, waiting for the announcement that boarding had begun and Jaxon still hadn’t showed up. Which meant that they were having one hell of a conversation.

And that in turn meant that instead of performing my nanny duties, I had left the twins in the care of their ever attentive uncles and was staring blankly out onto the tarmac, watching as suitcases got loaded onto the plane as I mentally worked out every possible way their conversation could go.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

I started at the sound of a soft voice, looking to the side to see Trey slipping into the uncomfortable plastic seat beside me. “Oh, hey.”

“I would ask how you are, but I have a feeling I already know the answer,” he said pointedly.

I scrunched up my nose apologetically, knowing that I’d been in kind of a mood for the past couple hours. “Am I that transparent?”

“It’s understandable,” he shrugged. “I mean, who wouldn’t be worried about their significant other’s ex was back in town?”

He hadn’t actually seen Lauren, but I’m sure the news of her reappearance had spread like wildfire as soon as Benji left the room.

“But that’s just it,” I sighed. “She’s not just some high school sweetheart that he’s going to reminisce with and then they’re going to part ways on good terms. She’s the mother of his children. That means something.”

“I don’t think he sees it that way,” Trey pointed out.

I know he didn’t. Jaxon didn’t really consider Lauren to be Finn and Audra’s mother. In his mind, she was practically erased from existence the day she walked out on them. And although I could understand that point of view, because he was being a fiercely protective father, Jaxon disregarding Lauren as a parent didn’t change the fact that she was the one who gave birth to those twins.

I explained my logic to Trey. “I know. But it doesn’t matter how much he wants to convince himself that she’s not a factor. At the end of the day, she’s still Finn and Audra’s mother. If she wants to be in their lives, she has a right to be, no matter how Jaxon feels.”

“That’s a very mature perspective,” he replied, looking somewhat impressed. “You don’t feel threatened?”

“Of course I do,” I said quietly. “But the truth is that I don’t really know that much about their relationship. All I know is what Jaxon told me about the day she left. But I figure if they planned on being a family forever, they must have really loved each other.”

There was a pause and I could tell Trey was debating whether or not he should fill me in on the inner workings of Jaxon and Lauren’s relationship, but he eventually gave in, exhaling slowly before beginning. “They did. Jaxon once told me that a week after he met her, he knew she was the one. At the time, I thought that was so ridiculous, but the more I saw them together, the more I was convinced. People always scoff at young love, as though the fact that you’re a teenager somehow makes your feelings irrelevant, but I honestly think that if they hadn’t gotten pregnant, they would have made it.”

That made sense. Getting pregnant so young was bound to cause tension in even the best of relationships. “You don’t think they were ready to be parents?”

“Is anyone ever really ready to be a parent when they’re nineteen?” he shot back.

I shrugged. “Jaxon seems to make it work.”

In every story I’d heard about the pregnancy, it never seemed as though Jaxon had any doubts, which was impressive for anyone, let alone a teenager.

“Yeah, well, Jaxon’s always been all in,” Trey replied. “He bought Lauren a ring and everything.”

My eyebrows flew upwards in surprise. That was news to me. “An engagement ring?”

Trey squeezed his eyes shut, realizing that he probably made a mistake letting me in on that part of the story. Letting out a shaky breath, he said, “Yep, but shit, he’d kill me if he knew that I told you that, so don’t tell him you know, okay?”

I could keep the secret, but that didn’t mean that I was going to let him get away with absolutely no explanation. “Trey-”

“Oh, they’re boarding,” he cut me off before I could question him further, looking rather relieved at the grainy voice speaking over the announcement system. “Looks like Jaxon made it right on time.”

I followed his gaze to see Jaxon skidding to a halt in front of his children, looking a bit out of breath as he reached out to grab the handle of Audra’s purple princess suitcase and began herding the twins towards the boarding line. My lips parted to call out to him as he passed me, desperately wanting to know the results of his conversation with Lauren, but I pressed them together again when I realized this wasn’t the right time and he shot me a grateful glance before headed towards the plane.

It turned out the right time didn’t come until hours later. The twins were extra active on the plane and being greeted by a plate of fresh baked cookies at the next hotel meant they completely skipped their usual afternoon naps, so Jaxon didn’t have a moment to himself until after he finally put them to bed at night.

He felt bad that he was gone the entire morning, so he insisted on doing the tucking in alone, which meant that I had a moment of solitude, sitting with my feet soaking in the shallow end of the hotel’s rooftop pool and staring out at the city lights. The light patter of footsteps coming from the pool entrance drew my attention and Jaxon smiled softly as he slipped out of his flip-flops and sat down beside me, sticking his feet in the water as well. “Hey.”

“Hey,” I replied, feeling my stomach twist into knots because I was one thousand percent sure that this was going to be an important conversation.

He let out a tired laugh, swinging his feet slowly back and forth beneath the water, his fingers curling around the tiled pool edge. “Crazy day, huh?”

“So it seems,” I replied, noticing he was tense. “Are you okay?”

“A little in shock, I guess,” he shrugged. “Lauren and I had a very long, very enlightening conversation.”

“That’s good, right?” To be honest, I wasn’t sure myself.

He exhaled softly, pausing for a moment before he responded. “I guess. You know, I spent so long thinking that she was the bad guy for walking away, but now I’m starting to wonder if maybe it wasn’t partially my fault.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion, wondering how he could have come to that conclusion. “What do you mean?”

He took a moment to formulate his thought process before beginning. “As soon as she told me she was pregnant, I was in it for the long haul. And I think she got so caught up in my excitement and enthusiasm, that she didn’t really have a moment to think about what she actually wanted. She didn’t want to let me down, so she said she was fine with keeping the babies rather than putting them up for adoption. I was so enamored with the idea of being a family that I didn’t really consider her feelings at all. I couldn’t see how miserable she was. Maybe if I had been paying attention, her leaving wouldn’t have been such a slap in the face.”

Maybe that was true. Maybe he was too caught up in his own happiness to notice the lack of hers. But that didn’t really change the fact that she walked out on her own children and I didn’t think Jaxon should be blaming himself for something that wasn’t his fault at all. Though I guess the one bright spot in all of this was that he hadn’t mentioned anything about her wanting a second chance with him.

“Is that what she told you?” I asked quietly.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “What do you think?”

I had been hoping he wouldn’t ask me that. Because I didn’t agree at all, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure it was my place to say anything. This was about him and Lauren and I didn’t know enough about their relationship and their dynamic to form any sort of opinion on her. Just because I was dating Jaxon didn’t mean I had any right to tell him what to do about his ex. So I went for the most neutral response ever. “I think that there’s no point in overanalyzing the past. There’s nothing you can do to change it. All you can do now is work towards a better future.”

It was cheesy and a bit clichéd, but he seemed happy with the response just the same.

“You’re so smart,” he grinned, leaning towards me as though wanting to share a secret. “Can I tell you something?”

My breathing hitched, like my body knew what was coming next was sure to change everything. “Sure.”

He sighed contently, the corners of his lips lifting upwards and his gaze direct. “I’m falling in love with you.”

Maybe I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t and I was caught off guard. And seeing as I wasn’t exactly a smooth individual to begin with, my reply was appropriately awkward. “Thanks.”

That’s not what I wanted to say. I wanted to say that I was falling for him too; that I was actually way past being in the process of falling and that I was definitely completely head over heels in love with him and that I was pretty sure I’d been in love with him since that night he’d apologized to me in the moonlight on the tour bus.

But for some reason, I couldn’t get it out. I couldn’t say those words. Not now. Not when it seemed like our relationship was still so unsteady. It wouldn’t be fair.

Still, he seemed unoffended by my lack of reciprocation, laughing softly and kicking his feet in the water once more. “You’re welcome. I should probably go to bed. We have to be up early tomorrow.”

“Of course,” I nodded, watching as he drew his knees upwards and stood up straight. I followed suit, wishing I had brought a towel and resorting to shaking my feet to get off the spare water droplets.

“Hey, Divya?” he said, pausing before turning back towards the main building. “Thanks.”

“For what?” I asked, genuinely confused, because I was pretty sure I didn’t actually say anything helpful.

His expression was serious. “For always telling me what I need to hear.”

My stomach tightened further into knots and I felt bad, because that wasn’t what I had done at all. “Anytime.”

Stepping forward, he reached out to gently squeeze one of my hands and pressed a soft kiss to my lips, whispering, “Sweet dreams, beautiful,” when he pulled away.

“You too,” I whispered to his retreating back. There was a part of me that wished I was a hopeless romantic so I could believe that all that mattered was that we loved each other, but the pessimist in me couldn’t help but feel as though this was the beginning of a storm.

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