I rubbed the back of my neck tiredly. I couldn’t even think- my brain was that tired. I stared at the computer screen while I tried to make sense of the words on it and let my head drop into my hands with a sigh.
As it turned out, taking on extra at work and starting a new relationship at the same time didn’t mesh well together.
It had been four weeks since Robin had divulged her diagnosis, since Jared and I had become a couple, and since we had received the court documents from Angela.
Jared was in constant contact with his lawyer, who felt that we had nothing to worry about, not really. Even so, I had briefed Robin and Keon on everything and officially transferred the case to the latter. Although Keon was a newer caseworker, I trusted him to handle the Hart file with the upmost professionalism.
I still felt like shit. I should have transferred the case long before that point, back when our friendship really started to develop. Hell, I probably should have transferred it to someone else the second he walked into the hospital that day. Selfishly, I hadn’t and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if that gave more ammunition to Angela’s case.
Robin had started her treatments just a few days after telling me about the cancer. Between the surgery and chemo, she had missed quite a bit of work. She had tried to come in a few times but when I saw how badly she felt, I made her leave. She and I kept in constant contact via text and e-mail but I didn’t allow her to do much.
My family was also getting on my case because I had missed three Sunday dinners in a row. I had made sure to attend Lila’s first birthday party the weekend before, though. Those milestones I wasn’t going to miss no matter how busy I was. I was glad I had gone. Little Lila Gibson had ended up taking her first steps right in the middle of her party and it had been amazing to witness.
Otherwise, I spent my time doing triple duty at work playing manager, supervisor, and caseworker. To top it off, I had a few new hires that I was in the midst of training. I had them assigned to a few other senior caseworkers for training but the questions were never ending from all angles.
So when Keon poked his annoying, albeit gorgeous, face into my office shortly after five and offered me a smile, I wanted to throw my keyboard at him.
“Hey, boss. We’re going to take off, if that’s okay.”
I offered him a small smile. “Go away. Tell everyone else the same, please.”
“No one should work as late as you have been especially on a Friday. You’re not staying much longer, are you?” he asked and I shook my head before gesturing to the computer. “I’ll leave soon. Have a good weekend, Keon.”
So, soon was probably a stretch. I made some coffee in the lounge and was still working at eight when Jared called.
“You sound dead on your feet.”
I let out a loud yawn and locked my computer. “I’m two cups of coffee in, too. What are you doing?”
“Digging back into Grey’s. Some woman is having her seventh kid.” He sounded horrified. “Seven. People are nuts.”
With everything I had on my plate, my morning coffee dates with Jared had become more infrequent and my evenings with him basically nonexistent. The only time I was really seeing him and Chris was during the weekends. I hadn’t stayed the night and we still hadn’t done anything sexually, but I was about as happy as I could be under the circumstances. We talked on the phone a lot and sent a lot of text messages. It was interesting to see our texts slowly evolve from friends to more than friends. Both of us were bolder in text and the things we’d been dying to say since we met had started bubbling to the surface.
The first time we did have coffee after becoming a couple had been interesting, though. I had beaten him to Java Express and placed our order, so I was already at the table when he arrived. He walked in, heading right towards me, and pulled me in for a long kiss. A kiss that was broken apart when several people started clapping. We both turned to find the Java Express staff and some of their regulars grinning at us.
“It’s about time,” called out a barista who had served us many, many times. “We were beginning to think that you guys would never get a clue.”
Yeah, that had been embarrassing.
“So six is your limit?” I asked Jared over the phone while I tried to conceal another yawn.
“Most definitely.” He paused for a moment before speaking again. “I haven’t seen you since Tuesday, you know.”
I grabbed my bag before turning off my office light and pulling the door closed. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, no. I was just teasing you.” I could tell he felt bad for even saying it. “Want to come over?”
“I’m not sure I would be very good company tonight, Jare,” I replied honestly. “I’d probably fall asleep on you within about five minutes.”
There was a beat of silence before he spoke. “I’m okay with that. You can stay the night with us.”
My steps faltered as I moved out of the elevator. “Yeah?”
“Yeah, sweetheart. We don’t even have to share a bed or, if we do, I can stay on my side. It’s a really big bed.”
“So you don’t want to sleep in the same bed as me then?” I teased, walking out to the parking lot. Jared chuckled softly.
“Steph, if only you knew how much I actually wanted you in the same bed as me. You’d probably cringe if you had the inside scoop to my brain.”
A flush of arousal ran through my veins at his words and I shivered slightly in the warm, early-May air. I pulled open the door to my car and slid in behind the steering wheel.
“If you’re sure. I’m going to stop by my place and grab a change of clothes.”
“Perfect.” The smile was obvious in his tone. “I’ll scrounge up something for you to eat since I’m sure all you had was a Cup of Noodles about two hours ago.”
“I ran out of Cup of Noodles yesterday, for your information. I popped a bag of popcorn tonight.”
Both of us laughed and I told him I’d be over soon before we ended the call.
Alyssa’s car was in the garage but the house was dark and quiet when I walked in and I knew she was probably asleep. I packed a quick overnight bag, scribbled out a note for my best friend, and got back into my car.
Howie was at the desk when I walked in the side door and he smiled when he saw me. I returned it with a bright one of my own and gave him a tight hug. Instead of moving towards the elevator with me, however, he handed me something.
“Your own keycard and door key, miss,” he said happily. “Mr. Hart had them made some time ago but he asked me this morning to give them to you the next time you were here.”
I accepted both from Howie and raised my eyebrows. “Pretty confident man, isn’t he?”
“Perhaps.” Howie continued smiling at me. “Or maybe he was just hopeful.”
“Maybe.” I pressed a kiss to the old man’s cheek and went to the elevator. He stayed where he was, watching me, and I waved as the elevator doors closed.
When I got upstairs, I didn’t use the key in my pocket but knocked like I always did. Jared opened the door with empty arms and immediately wrapped them around me.
I sank into his hold and pressed my cheek into his chest. “Hey. Baby asleep?”
“Yeah. Come inside.” He kissed the top of my head and then released me, stepping back so we could close the front door. “I ordered tacos for dinner and got some leftovers warmed up for you.”
My stomach grumbled just thinking about food and I kissed his chin. “Thanks, Jare.”
We settled on the couch with a plate in my lap and my feet in Jared’s. Stories about our days were exchanged and it wasn’t until my plate was empty that I reached into my pocket to pull out the keycard and key I’d been given earlier.
“You had a key made for me?”
He nodded. “I actually had one made up for you when I first put you down as an emergency contact for Chris but it felt kind of weird giving it to you. If you’re not comfortable using the door key, at least use the elevator pass, okay?”
“I can handle that.” I put my plate on the coffee table and moved over so I was sitting next to him. He dropped his arm across my shoulders and I released a content sigh. “I’ve missed you.”
His hold on me tightened and I felt his lips press to the side of my head. “Me, too. I’m glad you’re here, though.”
Neither of us said anything else. Without the TV on, silence filled the living room but it was the best kind of silence. It was so comfortable that I felt my eyelids start to droop and had to fight to keep them open. Jared didn’t miss it and he stood from the couch, pulling me to my feet in the process.
“Let’s go to bed, Vanilla Latte.”
I followed him into the bedroom feeling like a nervous virgin. I knew that he wouldn’t pressure me to have sex but I briefly wondered if he expected it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have sex with Jared because I did. I really did. I just didn’t want our first time to be when I was dead on my feet with the baby two feet from the bed. It might have sounded stupid, especially for a twenty-six-year-old woman who had lost her virginity ten years before, but I wanted it to be better.
He gestured me to use the bathroom first and I offered him a smile before heading in and closing the door. After changing into a pair of sleep shorts and an old t-shirt, I brushed my teeth and washed off whatever make-up was still on my face. When I couldn’t procrastinate anymore, I pulled the door open and moved back into the bedroom.
Jared had also changed his clothes and was in a pair of pajamas similar to mine. He smiled when our eyes locked and then motioned to the side of the bed opposite of the bassinet.
“You take that side, okay?”
I nodded and pulled the blankets back while he took his turn in the bathroom. I walked over to the bassinet and stared down at Chris, who was fast asleep. He’d broken out of his swaddle and had his hands over his head. His little face was turned away and I leaned down to press my lips to his chubby cheek.
I peeled myself away and got into the bed where Jared had told me to. A minute or so later, the bathroom door opened and the light went off. My eyes stayed on his shadowy form and I felt nervous anticipation run through me. He pulled his shirt over his head, leaving him in just his sleep pants.
The mattress dipped slightly as he laid down and he didn’t hesitate to move towards where I was already in the center of the king-sized bed. His lips pressed to mine in a soft, chaste kiss and his hand came up to cup my cheek.