“Uh huh. Can you pause it?” She shifted a bit, causing our shoulders to press together, and held Chris out in front of her. “Have you noticed his eye?”
“Yeah. We have his first appointment tomorrow and I was going to ask his pediatrician about it. I called their office but haven’t heard back so I’m assuming it’s not life threatening.”
She put her feet on the coffee table and laid Chris on her propped up knees before holding a washcloth she’d grabbed from the bathroom. “It’s a clogged tear duct. Perfectly normal. You’ll want to keep it clean and then massage his duct about ten times a day with a warm cloth or your finger.”
She wiped the gunk out of his eye and I took the cloth from her when she was done. Using one finger, Stephanie showed me how to massage the duct by rubbing the side of his nose. I watched closely and nodded when she asked if I wanted to try it.
“It should clear up on its own if you keep massaging it but still ask the pediatrician tomorrow just in case, okay?”
“I will.” I nodded and smiled when Chris wrapped his little fist around her finger. “I seriously don’t think they make babies cuter than him.”
She smiled when Chris locked his eyes on her. “I’ve seen a lot of babies in my time and he’s by far the cutest.”
The silence settled over us as we both stared down at the baby and I was suddenly aware of how close we were. It was such a completely innocent act but my body hadn’t seemed to get the memo. My whole arm tingled from where we were touching and my fingers itched to reach out to her.
I cleared my throat and gestured to the TV. “Meredith kind of annoys me.”
“She annoys everyone, don’t worry. More and better characters come and go.”
Neither of us moved as we watched the episode but she paid more attention to Christopher than she did the show. He stared around curiously and would watch her intently when she’d whisper to him. She stood up about twenty minutes later, declaring he needed a diaper change and that she wanted to do it, giving us some much needed distance.
She came back down the hallway with a freshly changed Chris and took her original spot on the couch but turned so she could put her foot up on the cushion between us. At some point, she had kicked off her boots and I was slowly learning that Stephanie Gibson hated wearing shoes. When I looked at her propped up foot, she immediately moved it back to the floor.
“Wow. I’ve just made myself entirely too comfortable here, haven’t I? Feet on your coffee table, couch.”
I grinned and shook my head as I grabbed her ankle so her foot was back on the cushion next to me. “I like it.”
She returned my smile and we both turned our attention back to the TV. We were in the middle of the second episode when Chris began to fuss and Stephanie insisted on making him a bottle in the kitchen. He fell asleep in her arms shortly after he finished his bottle and she took him back down the hall.
The second episode finished while she was gone and I didn’t bother playing the third while I waited. She finally reappeared about ten minutes later, the brown shirt she’d been wearing almost a week ago on. I grinned and turned so my body was angled towards hers on the couch.
“It’s no problem at all.” She angled her body, too. “I left the other one where this had been in your room.”
We stared at each other for a minute before I broke the silence.
“How was your weekend?”
She shrugged her shoulders slightly. “It was okay. I worked a bit yesterday so it doesn’t really feel like the weekend, you know?”
“Yeah, I understand. That’s how it feels when I don’t work. The days just run together.” I offered her a small smile. “You work a lot.”
“I do. It’s always been one of the biggest causes of conflict in my life.”
“Yeah?” I turned off the TV completely and settled back against the couch. “How so?”
She stared at me for a moment and then sighed. “I’m the oldest of four and each of them is married, has kids, or both. Except me.”
“Okay,” I replied slowly. “That’s a bad thing? You’re only twenty-six.”
“I know.” She gave me a small smile. “I think everyone just expects me to be settled down at this point, especially when you factor my almost-ten year relationship –which is about four years longer than any of my siblings have been in a relationship with their significant others.”
“Ten years?” I could feel my eyes widen and I shook my head. “You’re not even old enough to have been with someone for ten years.”
She laughed softly and let her head fall against the couch. “High school sweethearts. To my family, it always made sense that I’d be the first one married, the first with kids, and here I am… the only one without.”
I nodded my head because that did make sense. When I didn’t reply beyond that, Stephanie ran her hands down her face.
“They’re not alone. I always thought I would be married at this point with a kid or two. But I’ve traded having a family for having a career.”
“It’s not a race, Steph,” I told her quietly. “Life happens when it happens. In the meantime, your job is the reason that so many kids have happy homes. I feel like that trumps whatever notions other people have about your personal life.”
The smile she rewarded me with was breathtaking and she leaned forward to squeeze my hand. “Thank you, Jared. Sometimes it feels good just to have a little validation. You know?”
“I get it.” I stared at her beautiful face for a moment before speaking again. “So, this boyfriend…”
“Ex-boyfriend,” she corrected me softly. “We broke up last year. I wasn’t flirting with you in that coffee shop while I had a boyfriend at home. I promise.”
“You’re not that kind of person.” As I made the statement, I knew it was true but fuck if it wasn’t good to have her confirm that she was single.
She released my hand slowly and sighed. “Tell me something about you.”
“Well.” I paused, trying to think of anything to say. “My best friend has started asking me to send him pictures as proof that I’m keeping the baby alive each day.”
“Ah, sounds like Dave and Alyssa would get along great,” she replied with a chuckle. “You guys went to college together, right?”
She knew the basics but I told her a little more about Dave and our college years. She laughed at the stories of the two of us getting in trouble and soon we were exchanging different college stories.
Her phone vibrated from the cushion next to her and she sighed when she picked it up.
“I have dinner on Sundays with my parents and my mom is constantly checking in to make sure I’m going.” She typed out a quick reply and put her phone back down. She watched me for a second before speaking again. “Before Chris, did you want kids?”
I nodded quickly. “Definitely. I wanted at least two. Angela never wanted any, though. Ironic, right?”
“Somewhat.” She shook her head in disbelief before smiling slightly. “Ironic and lucky.”
“Ironic and lucky,” I repeated with my own smile. “And I know you want kids.”
She nodded her head and her smile fell. “The dream was three but at this point… We’ll see.”
Her phone vibrated again and she let out a long sigh. I nudged her foot with my own.
“I hate to say it but you better go to dinner.”
“Yeah. She’ll start calling if I don’t get over there. Or worse- withhold dessert.”
I laughed and shook my head quickly. “No offense, Steph, but where do you put all of this crap you eat? Your body…” I trailed off, unsure of how to say what I wanted without coming off like a pig. Her body didn’t look like the body of a woman who loved dessert, though. Stephanie just laughed and stood from the couch.
“I’m going to take that as a compliment.” She pat her stomach with her hand like she had just eaten a big meal. “My siblings and I have what we like to call magic metabolisms. We all eat like shit and nothing seems to touch us. Troy is an obsessively healthy eater so it would drive him nuts and he likes reminding me that my magic metabolism is going to go away one day.”
“Well, might as well take advantage of it while you have it, right?”
“Exactly!” She slipped her boots on, zipped them up, and shouldered her bag. “Want to do lunch again this week? If you and Chris don’t mind me imposing, that is.”
I smiled and nodded my head while I stood up from the couch. I wasn’t going to turn down spending time with Stephanie. “Definitely. I’ll be here and working from the home office. You can come by any day of the week. I’m sure I’ll appreciate the break.”
The answering grin was so beautiful and she surprised me by moving forward and wrapping her arms around my middle. The scent of oranges tickled my nose as I hugged her back and we stood like that for a moment before we both stepped back.
“No thanks needed.” I stood at the door after she’d walked through it and smiled at her until the elevator closed.