Readingbooks to the kids at the library is the highlight of my week. After the week I’ve had, it was exactly what I needed. Being around kids reminds me that there’s still good in the world.
There are still a million reasons to smile even if I did get fired. Mr. Wilson and his wife want to move away to spend more time with their grandkids. They’re closing Sinful Desserts though they did give me two weeks’ severance pay.
The problem is it’s been hard to find a job given the time of year. Most folks are focused on their ranches and harvesting the crops right now.
I have a little bit in savings. I can make it for a month, but not for much longer than that. I don’t know where I’ll go if I have to leave this little town. I’ve never had a permanent home, other than the hospitals are frequented during treatment when I was a kid. It’s hard to get adopted when you’re considered medically fragile.
Now that I’m in remission. There’s no reason to suspect that I won’t live a long life, but I’m still alone. The thought makes my heart ache. I rub my chest absently as I walk into my apartment and flop down on my couch.
Morton, my chubby cat who always looks like he’s frowning, hops onto the couch next to me. He meows pitifully, and I scratch under his chin. “Keep your head up. This is a temporary bump in the road.”
Once Morton is contentedly purring, I pick up my latest knitting project. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s to stay in motion when it feels like everything is falling apart. It feels like everything’s falling apart these days.
I give my kitty a bright smile when he bats at my yarn. “Don’t worry about us. I’ll find a job. It’ll be a good one too. We’ll celebrate with new catnip toys. And tuna. Extra tuna for both of us.”
There’s a knock at my door, and I rush to open it. Gabby should be home from her honeymoon soon, and I can’t wait to catch up with her. But it’s not Gabby standing on the other side of my door.
With a baby.
I thoughtthe grumpy mountain man was attractive before, but it’s nothing compared to how my ovaries respond when I see him clutching a small, wriggling bundle. Babies and kids are my favorite thing. I’ve known since I was sixteen that I want to be a mom one day. It’s why I started working in childcare after I turned eighteen.
“I need a minute,” Hale grunts.
I think those are the most words he’s ever said to me at once. I don’t know what to do with all his words or why he’s here. Sure, I have a crush on the giant, scowling gym owner. But after my dance last week, he didn’t seek me out. I accepted that maybe this infatuation with Hale is one-sided. After all, we’ve never even seen each other outside the dessert shop or that one class.
I open the door wider and gesture for him to come in. The moment he’s inside, I regret it. My apartment is in a continual state of chaos thanks to all of my craft projects. There’s a half-finished felt monkey started on the scratched-up coffee table and the sweater I’m knitting is casually thrown on the back of the garage sale armchair. The ball of yarn I’m using is half dismantled thanks to Morton. He might be a senior cat, but he’s a playful kitten at heart.
“I’m kind of in the middle of…” I let my voice trail off as I gather some laundry from the chair and plop it onto the floor. I pat the armchair, indicating where he should sit. It’s the one piece of furniture in my apartment that doesn’t have springs that will gouge out his spleen.
I put my hands on my hips, suddenly wondering why I’m making excuses for the state of my apartment. That’s pretty much the least important thing right now. “Why are you here? And since when do you have a kid?”
“Since this week. He’s my nephew,” Hale says as if that explains everything.
“So, you’re babysitting,” I clarify, the tightness in my chest easing. Some of the jealousy that’s been eating me alive since I first saw him with the baby eases. He doesn’t have another woman. He hasn’t touched and kissed and made love to someone else.
“I’m his guardian now,” he blurts out.
It takes a moment for his words to register. When they do, sorrow rushes over me. I don’t apologize to him though. Out of all the people in the world, I understand people saying sorry doesn’t fix anything.
“His mom didn’t want him.” His voice cracks, and he clears his throat. “Doesn’t matter. He has me now.”
There’s steel in his voice, and I don’t doubt that Hale will be an amazing father. If he applies even a tenth of the determination that’s allowed him to build a successful business, then his nephew is in great hands.
He pulls the baby from the carrier on his chest and turns him toward me.
The boy gives me an adorable frown. He has the thickest eyebrows I’ve ever seen on a child, and I smile at him.
“This is Ollie,” Hale introduces.
Ollie reaches for me instantly, and my heart squeezes in my chest. Because of the treatments, I may never have children of my own. It’s one of those situations where I won’t know until I know. There’s a chance I could get pregnant but a chance I may never. Sometimes, I feel lucky to have made it through. Other times, I can’t help but feel like I got cheated by life.