Red Tropical Fish
It took me five minutes into the continuous knocking to realize I wasn’t dreaming. Groaning, I reached for the phone on my nightstand, wondering if I’d slept through my alarm, only to remember that I had the day off, which meant it didn’t matter what time I got up.
The band had arrived to Los Angeles late last night in preparation for their performance on an award show the tomorrow evening and had decided to make use of the extra time by not working at all. Thus, Jaxon had given me the day off from my nanny duties and I had intended to spend my vacation doing a lot of sleeping and relaxing and eating room service and watching as much reality television as possible.
Which was why the knocking was confusing, because I wasn’t expecting any visitors. Mostly because I didn’t know anybody in the state of California.
Pushing back the covers, I swung my bare feet to the floor and dug a hoodie out of my duffel bag, tugging it up my arms and wrapping it around my body as I padded towards the door. I pulled it open to find Jaxon on the other side and tried not to show my embarrassment at my current state of undress as I sleepily mumbled out my greeting. “Morning.”
“Hey…,” he started off with a wide smile until he took in my appearance, at which point his expression faltered slightly, “sorry, I didn’t realize you were still sleeping.”
“Yeah, I uhhh….,” I started, crossing my arms over my chest to cover myself more fully before realizing that maybe my sense of time was completely off, “shit, do I not have today off?”
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I’d thought today was a different day. We spent so much time traveling and were hardly ever in the same place for a full twenty four hours that half the time I had no idea where we actually were.
“No! I mean, yes, you do,” he corrected himself as he spoke, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was nervous. “The twins just wanted me to ask you if you wanted to spend the day with us.”
More than likely, he was saying that just to be polite and today was the first time in a while that he’d get to spend some quality time with his children and I didn’t want to take that away from him, so I shot him a grateful smile and shook my head. “Oh, that’s sweet, but you probably don’t want me tagging along.”
“Really?” he quirked one eyebrow upwards. “You’re gonna deny the request of the world’s most adorable three year olds?”
I tried not to show my surprise at the fact that he was actively encouraging me to come along. Despite the fact that he’d told me he didn’t care whether or not anything happened between me and Trey, I got the sense he wasn’t as excited about the idea as he let on, which meant things between us for the past week had been a bit tense. Not as frosty as they had been when I first started, but we weren’t anywhere near best friend status.
“Oh, well, I just thought…,” I paused, wondering if he truly meant those worse, “you don’t mind?”
“Of course not!” he shook his head and shrugged, “the more the merrier.”
“Well, okay then,” I replied slowly, thinking that spending the day with the kids was bound to be fun, no matter what, and I really needed to get out of the habit of being completely unproductive with my down time anyway, “give me like a half hour to get ready?”
“Sounds good,” he nodded, turning in preparation to walk back down the hallway, “I should probably make sure they don’t have Pete covered in maple syrup. See you in a few.”
Thinking my day was about to take a turn for the interesting, I smiled as he walked away and returned to the bedroom to get ready. As promised, precisely twenty seven minutes later, I was knocking on the Rigalis’ hotel room door and being greeted by Peter holding Finn at his hip.
“Morning, Pete!” I greeted as I stepped through the doorway.
Returning my smile, he handed Finn to me and exited to the hallway, leaning in to press a kiss to the three year old’s forehead and lifting his hand in a wave. “See you later, Finny. Bye, Divya. You guys have a good day.”
“You too,” I grinned, glad that his cheeriness level was increasing with each passing day. Soon enough, his ex-girlfriend would be nothing but a distant memory.
Jaxon was just putting the finishing touches on Audra’s pigtails when I entered the bedroom and he flashed me a smile as turned to grab the duffel bag with all of the children’s emergency gear. “We’re good to go! You ready?”
“Yep,” I smiled, pleasantly surprised at how little tension there was in the room. “Where are we going, exactly?”
“On an adventure,” he replied cryptically, widening his eyes at Audra to send her into a fit of giggles as he picked her up off the bed and brought her to his chest, pecking her cheek lightly and stepping towards the door.
I followed close behind, with Finn at my hip, unsure of where we were headed, but excited nonetheless. We didn’t take strollers because Jaxon didn’t want to have to keep track of so many items, but I didn’t mind carrying a three year old around when necessary, so I agreed.
The first stop on our adventure was a miniature golf course. Jaxon and I took turns lining the twins up the correct positions and showing them how to swing, only to have them end up randomly hitting the balls in whichever direction they desired and eventually, we decided that seeing the looks of absolute disgust on the faces of the other golfers was much more entertaining than actually trying.
So we let them hit the neon colored balls as hard as possible and chase each other across the putting greens until they got hungry, at which point they were rewarded with chicken fingers, French fries, and chocolate milkshakes.
By the time we arrived at our second destination for the day, the aquarium, they were eager to make the most of their sugar highs. They spent the first half hour running up and down the tunnel of exotic fish, trying to spot the sharks, but once they settled down, they were supremely fascinated with the colors and movements and ended up almost hypnotized as they stared into the tanks. Every once in a while, they would ask one of us the name of a certain type of fish, but for the most part, they were content just watching the little creatures and not so little creatures swim around.
“What adorable children you have.”
A soft voice turned our attention away from where we were crouching in front of the glass and pulled Jaxon into a standing position so that he could properly address the middle aged woman who had spoken.
“Thanks,” he grinned proudly, “I made them myself.”
“Now, now,” she scolded, though the corners of her lips lifted into an amused smile, “you must give some credit to the mother.”
Realizing what she meant, I shook my head as I stood as well and began to correct her assumption, surprised to see that Jaxon was shaking his head to indicate I shouldn’t bother. “M-m-mother? Me? No, I’m…”
“There’s no need to be modest, dear,” she assured me, “The four of you make quite a lovely family.”
I wondered what it meant that us being a family was the conclusion she jumped to and I was curious as to why Jaxon didn’t seem to want to set the record straight. Perhaps he thought it wasn’t worth it because she didn’t seem the type to run to the tabloids with such information. After all, it wasn’t as though the reason that she approached us in the first place was because she recognized Jaxon as a famous figure. So I just nodded and shot her a soft smile. “Thanks.”
“How old are they?” she asked, smiling down at Audra and Finn, who were still completely mesmerized by the fish.
“They just recently turned three,” Jaxon replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Oh,” her eyes lit in reception of this new knowledge, “so then you’ve probably been going crazy with the preschool applications.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Jaxon blinked, not nearly as excited about his kids being three as this stranger seemed to be.
“Preschools,” she repeated, her brow furrowing in concern, as though our lack of knowledge about this situation was going to ultimately lead to the decline of civilization, “You know, you have to start applying an entire year in advance so that they can get in when they’re four. And they must go to a good preschool. It’s the foundation for the rest of their lives. Good preschool means good primary school and excellent high school and eventually a top tier university.”
“University?” Jaxon deadpanned, saying the word as though he were talking about quantum physics, “They’re three. I don’t really have to start thinking about that now, right?”
She scoffed, her worried gaze hardening to complete disgust as she spoke. “Of course you do. It’s all about planning ahead. What you do now could drastically change their lives for better or worse in the future.”
All of the color drained from Jaxon’s cheeks and he looked so devastated at this news that I actually felt my heart ache when he replied, his voice so soft, it was barely audible. “Oh.”
Before I gained the nerve to jump to his defense, Finn wrapped his arms around Jaxon’s leg and stared up at his father with wide eyes as he announced his need to go ‘peepee’ so we bid the judgmental lady farewell as we headed out, detouring to the restrooms before finding the car to return to the hotel, because it was almost naptime anyway.
Jaxon was quiet for the entire ride, absentmindedly stroking Audra’s hair as she slept soundly across his lap, and he was quiet as we entered the hotel lobby, not even noticing the paparazzi calling out his name, and he was quiet when we reached the room, kissing both his kids on the head when they were safely tucked beneath the covers.
As I closed the door the bedroom and set the baby monitor on the kitchen table, I watched him run his hands down his face and sigh softly into the palms of his hands. “Everything alright?”
“Huh?” he looked up, a bit startled, as though he forgot I was in the room. Nodding, he cleared his throat to regain his composure. “Yeah, sorry, I’m just thinking.”
“About what that lady at the aquarium said about preschools?” I could tell her words had been bothering him since we started our journey home.
“Maybe,” he admitted quietly, tangling his fingers roughly through his hair.
Throwing my shoulders back, I stared at him directly as I spoke, figuring that one of us needed to be strong, so it might as well be me. “You shouldn’t be.”
“Fine,” he scrunched his eyebrows in confusion, his tone that of a child who had just been told he couldn’t have dessert before dinner, “I won’t.”
“Good.” I stared him down.
He held my gaze for a few moments longer before bursting into laughter and shaking his head, his fingers wiggling into the front pockets of his jeans. “How do you do that?”
Shrugging, he smiled softly. “Always know exactly what I’m thinking.”
It was probably because I thought about him pretty much constantly; definitely way more than was appropriate for an employer/employee relationship. So I considered all the various ways he could react to situations and narrowed down the options to what seemed most like him. But it wasn’t as though I could admit that openly, even if it was just a crush, which meant that my response had to choice but to be comical. “Did I forget to tell you? I’m a mind reader. It’s one of the reasons they gave me this job.”
My words achieved their intended reaction when his smile widened and light slowly returned to his eyes. “Oh, is that right?”
“Yep.” I said matter of factly, crossing my arms over my chest and looking at him challengingly. “That and my mini golf skills.”
“Oh, please,” he rolled his eyes, stepping forward to counter my assertion, “I kicked your ass.”
“Did not,” I retorted, narrowing my gaze.
He took another step towards me, making us toe to toe, an action which would have fueled the fire were it not for the fact that his height advantage made it so my line of sight landed directly on his lips. Gulping, I tilted my chin upwards slightly so that I could look him in the eyes, hoping he couldn’t hear my heart rate increasing. “Really? Do we need to have a showdown?”
“Pick the time, DG,” he replied, lowering the tone of his voice to the sexiest whisper I’d ever heard in my life, making me momentarily dizzy, “And prepare to lose.”
We stayed locked in a staring contest for who the fuck knows how long. I didn’t move because I’d never been this close to him before and I wasn’t entirely sure I was capable of movement and he seemed to think whatever was happening was highly entertaining. Eventually, though, he burst into a fit of chuckles and took a step back, shaking his head, his eyes crinkling adorably as he lifted one hand to wipe away a stray tear.
It made my heart sing to know that I was the reason for his smile and I decided that for as long as I worked for him, I would make it a goal to make him smile like that at least once a day.
“Alright, do you still need me?” I shot him a one hundred watt smile because his current state of happiness meant I couldn’t physically manage anything less, “I was gonna go take a bubble bath.”
If he thought that was too much information, no indication showed in his casual shrug. “No, go for it. You should definitely do something you originally planned on doing.”
“I had fun today,” I swayed lightly from side to side, not ready to leave quite yet, “thanks for inviting me.”
“It was Audra’s idea,” he admitted, his cheeks getting a bit rosy.
“Well, tell her thanks, too,” I grinned, curling my fingers around the strap of my purse.
Letting out a soft laugh, he nodded, glancing down at the floor and then up at me again. “Will do.”
With one last nod, I turned towards the door, calling out over my shoulder. “Goodnight, Jaxon.”
He didn’t respond right away, but as I stepped into the hallway, I heard him whisper ‘goodnight’ to my retreating back and knew that I would be grinning for the rest of the evening.