They met at their usual place: the clearing in the park. Piper was already there when Rocky arrived, lying on her stomach on top of a blanket and chewing on her lower lip as she concentrated on the staff paper before her, portable keyboard open and ready for use to the side.
She looked up as he approached, her lips stretching into a smile and her heart rate accelerating just slightly, as it always seemed to do in his presence. “Hey.”
He hesitated before he replied, “Hey.”
He expected some sort of follow up question as he settled himself on the blanket and stretched out his legs beside her, but she returned her attention to the staff paper, humming the notes she’d just drawn before deciding to add a staccato for punctuation.
There were about a million questions she wanted to ask. About Hallie and how she came to be and where her mother was in the midst of this situation, but for once in her life, Piper decided to exercise some self control. This was an important conversation, and one she knew they would have to have eventually, and she didn’t want to screw it up by forcing him into it, only to have him emotionally shut himself off afterwards.
So she focused on the music, deciding to let him set the tempo. They worked in harmony for about an hour, bouncing ideas off each other and trying out musical riffs on their respective instruments, and eventually, they ended up with a pretty solid theme.
They were just finishing up a riff when Rocky cleared his throat and spoke softly. “Are you going to ask?”
Piper chewed on her lower lip, lifting her gaze to meet his, wanting to confirm they were ono the same page. “About your daughter?”
He nodded, trying to school his expression as much as possible. The truth was, he was scared shitless. His feelings for Piper were getting stronger by the day and her reaction to knowing about his daughter would make it either extremely easy to walk away or impossible to turn back.
She let out a breath, choosing her words carefully because she knew this was a pivotal conversation. Once which would decide the course of their relationship going forward. And for once in her life, Piper wanted the journey to be easy.
“Look, I get it,” she began. “We don’t really know each other that well yet and your daughter…that’s deeply personal.”
“It’s not just that,” he replied, the weight in his chest easy a little as he realized she wasn’t upset, “it’s easier I guess. Separating Hallie from school. I can handle everything if I compartmentalize and keep being a father separate from being a student.”
“I guess that makes sense,” she nodded. Honestly, she had no idea how to respond. Seeing as she had no children of her own, she really wasn’t in a position to make judgements about how Rocky lived his life.
“Restraint, Peters?” he lifted an eyebrow, both surprised and completely ecstatic that the conversation was going so smoothly. “That really isn’t your style.”
“Shut up,” she laughed, deciding now was a good a time as any to move on to lighter topics. “You’re good at soccer.”
“Thanks,” he grinned, leaning back on his palms. “I played in high school.”
Crossing her arms in front of her, she rested her chin on top of them, making herself more comfortable. It seemed as though Rocky was opening up just a smidge and she planned to make the most of the feelings of lightness. “All years?”
“Yeah, I actually got a scholarship,” he admitted, feeling like a jackass for bragging, “but…”
“Violin won out?” she offered.
He shook his head. “I would have had to travel constantly for the games and I didn’t want to be away from Hallie that long.”
“Understandable,” she replied. The fact that he was a devoted father did dangerous things to her heart. “I guess it’s a good thing you’re a musical prodigy, huh?”
He let out a sharp laugh. “I actually almost didn’t come here.”
“No?” She hated that there was some alternate timeline where she might never had met him.
He chewed his lower lip thoughtfully before continuing. There was a certain relief to being able to reveal this side of his life to someone, and he couldn’t be happier that it was Piper who was on the other end of this conversation. “I thought I should get a degree in something that would guarantee me a steady job and leave me able to financially support Hallie once I graduated. But my parents weren’t having it. They said it would have been a shame to waste my talent.”
“They’re right,” she agreed, thinking that if she ever got the chance to meet his parents, she was going to give them the world’s biggest hug.
He smiled back softly. “They usually are.”
“It’s great that they’re so supportive.”
“I’m lucky,” he replied. If he was being honest, lucky didn’t even really begin to describe his life. The fact that he had Hallie and was given the chance to play music as well was surely more of a gift than he deserved.
Lifting her head, she uncrossed one arm to reach out and gently squeeze his calf. “For the record, I’m really glad you’re here.”
He stared at where her hand rested on his leg. It was more of a gesture of comfort than flirtation, but for some reason that single touch made him more flustered than he’d ever been in his life. Lifting his gaze to meet hers, he smiled softly. “Thanks, baby. Me too.”
And he meant it. Because he got the feeling that he’d miss Piper, even if he never met her.
She felt her entire body warm and she had to fight back the grin threatening to stretch her lips at his use of that endearment again. It wasn’t so much the fact that she found that particular pet name so enticing that made her feel like she could do anything. It was the fact that he said it as though it wasn’t at all a big deal. As though he’d been calling her that for years. As though she was his girlfriend and he was just casually expressing gratitude. As though them being a couple was the most natural thing in the world.
They stared at each other for a good five quickened heartbeats and Piper was in the process of sitting up straight so that she could press her lips to his when he said, “I should get going. I have to take Hallie to ballet.”
She sat back on her heels. “Can I come?”
“To ballet?” His eyebrows lifted in surprise.
“Yeah,” she grinned. “I’d love to spend time with Hallie. Maybe afterwards we can take her for ice cream.”
She knew she shouldn’t be offering to stuff his child full of sugar, but she wasn’t ready to be apart from him just yet. Besides, ever since seeing that adorable toddler, Piper had been dying to get to know Rocky’s daughter better.
“Um. Okay,” he replied, before he could think better of it.
He probably should have said no. Because he knew Piper wouldn’t be around forever. Piper Peters was destined for greatness, and he shouldn’t be allowing his daughter to become attached to someone who would inevitably leave. But there was something about the earnestness in her eyes and the genuineness of her smile that made him unable to refuse.
He suppressed the knots in his stomach as they packed up their things. He didn’t want to break her heart and that made him instantly feel guilty. Because knowing him, breaking her heart was all but written in the stars.
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