For some reason, Tyler felt like apologizing. “I didn’t mean to upset him; I was just telling him. I didn’t expect that reaction.”
“Yeah, sometimes he just has a giant meltdown, usually when he’s tired. Don’t worry about it, seriously.”
Tyler had a hard time relaxing after that, worried about saying the wrong thing and setting off another tantrum. He was just starting to
think he’d gotten the hang of dealing with little kids, and now he was back to square one. With his confidence a little shaken, he pulled out his phone and saw a text from his mom.
Hey, honey! Just wanted to make sure you’re going to be here by five. Your dad is pretty upset about having veggie burgers instead of the real thing, so he’s grumpy, but I just keep reminding him about what the doctor said. Looking forward to seeing you!
Shit. He’d forgotten about his dad’s birthday. Not totally, he had a gift and everything, but he forgot the party was today . . . in South San Francisco.
He looked over at Noah curled up on the edge of the couch and sucking his thumb as he stared at the TV. And Dani, who was dipping the donuts in melted chocolate and placing them on a plate. For a second, he imagined that this was his life, spending his weekends watching cartoons and playing with Noah and his nights making love to Dani.
Even with the unnerving tantrums and the druggie ex, it sounded pretty good to him.
He got off the couch and went into the kitchen, leaning against the counter and watching Dani work. “So, I’ve been thinking . . . ”
“A dangerous pastime,” she sang.
A pink blush stole up her cheeks. “Sorry, too many hours watching Disney movies. What were you going to say?”
“Okay. Today is my dad’s birthday. I was thinking maybe I could take Noah and you to the San Francisco Zoo, and then afterward, we could head to my parents’ house for the party. If you’re ready for that.”
Tyler wasn’t quite sure what her expression meant. The wide green eyes and almost slack-jawed look was definitely surprise, but was that a good thing?
“I . . . I mean, we would love to. That sounds like a lot of fun, but are you sure?”
Without worrying about the appropriateness this time, he reached out and pulled her to him, hugging her against him. She didn’t tense or try to disengage. In fact, she slid her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest.
The trust in the gesture made his heart do a flip in his chest. “Absolutely.”
SEVEN HOURS LATER, Dani walked on the other side of Noah, smiling as Tyler squatted down next to him, pointing out some kind of exotic bird. Dani was hardly paying attention to what he was saying, she was too distracted by the giddy, happy feeling bubbling up her throat.
Okay, so it was stupid, and she’d sworn she wouldn’t get like this, but the day had been amazing so far. They’d gotten dressed while Tyler went home to get changed and drop Duke off at his friend’s place. When he’d picked them up, she’d had the diaper bag packed, Noah in a cute polo and cargo pants, and she was wearing a simple green dress, black leggings, and boots. She’d walked out the door carrying Noah, and the way Tyler had looked at her right before he’d leaned over and kissed her lips sweetly . . .
Well, it had set the tone for the whole trip, during which Noah slept soundly in his car seat while Tyler and Dani talked about everything from music to his family. She knew he had two half siblings that were twelve and ten years younger than him, and from the way he talked about his stepdad, she could tell they were close. The closer it got to three thirty, the more nervous she became. Tyler had wanted to be at his parents’ house early, and now that she was out of time, she kept wondering whether or not his family would have a problem with her. If they wouldn’t like her or would think she wasn’t right for Tyler.
“What do you think?” Tyler asked, pulling her out of her fretful thoughts.
“Ice cream before we take off. Noah’s for it.”
Her son was dancing and jumping around them awkwardly, yelling, “Ice cream! Ice cream.”
She smirked. “I can see that. Fine with me.”
Noah took first her hand and then sweetly reached out for Tyler’s. Within a few seconds, he was swinging between them until he was squealing and Dani’s arm burned in protest.
“Okay, sweetie, no more. Mama’s arm is going to fall off.”
When Noah kept trying, Tyler swung him up and put him up on his shoulders. “Hang on tight, buddy.”
Dani opened her mouth to protest, seeing her small son so far off the ground. Noah held onto the top of Tyler’s head, skewing Tyler’s baseball cap a little. She noticed Tyler’s hands circling Noah’s ankles and took a deep breath. Her dad used to do the same thing to her when she was a kid, and she’d lived. In fact, she’d loved the view from the top of her dad’s shoulders, something Noah had never had.
She did walk a little behind them, prepared to catch Noah if he started to fall back, but that didn’t happen.