The smile falls from my mouth and I shake the thoughts away.
After Max is dressed and is quietly eating breakfast in his highchair, I make an extra strong cup of coffee and grab my phone.
I find a text from Pace sent at three in the morning. Wow, late night. I find myself wondering who he was out with, and what he was doing. It's not my business. His text is straight to the point.
I need to talk to you today.
I owe him that much at least. He's been so kind and generous with me and Max. I kind of just stormed into his life, and then out of it. Not that I would think a man like him would mind. I shrug away the sullen thoughts and hit reply.
Sure. What did you have in mind?
Can you guys come by later? Stay for dinner?
I take a deep breathe. I want to reply, Yes, yes, yes! But I temper my longing for a man that was never really mine to begin with. I need to think about what is best for my son. I glance over at Max. Knowing how much he enjoys being near Pace, and also that I owe Pace an explanation in person, I decide maybe we should go.
I will be there.
A text message pings a few minutes later, and a silly smile graces my lips. I assume it's Pace replying. But it's Elan.
How are you and my son on this fine morning?
My stomach churns. I glance over at Max who's happily eating chunks of bananas and dry cereal.
We're fine, thanks.
It's strange to think I dated this man for six months, that we have a child together, and yet I feel like I have nothing to say to him. I suppose it's because we haven't spoken for so long. There's bound to be some awkward silences as we reacquaint with one another.
What are you doing this weekend? I would like to see you again.
I chew on my lip.
Sure. We don't have any plans.
Okay, I will call you Saturday morning. We can meet for brunch.
I don't tell him that Max usually takes a nap late-morning, or that a restaurant might not be the best place to meet. I don't want to crush whatever this is building between us. He will learn how to be a father, and I will help him.
I tote Max on my hip with the diaper bag slung over my arm. This whole doing everything one-handed business is already getting old. And I have a long ways to go before my cast will be removed. I take a deep breath and try to calm my nerves.
"We're going to see Pace," I tell Max as we head upstairs toward Pace's condo.
"Pa-pa," he says, clapping his chubby hands.
"Pace," I correct him, my voice coming out more firm than I intended.
Pace opens the door before I even have a chance to knock. He must have been watching for us.
"Hi," I say.
"Hi." His eyes are guarded and I wonder how tonight is going to go. He takes Max from me, lifting him into his arms and tossing him up in the air to coax a laugh from him. "Hey buddy, you remember me?" he asks.
"Pa-pa," Max murmurs.
"That's right. Papa Pace." Pace beams at him and my stomach twists.
We step inside and a few things hit me at once. The scent of appetizing food wafts from the kitchen and I notice new toys are scattered on the living room rug. "Pace?" I ask.
He doesn't answer right away, he just carries Max into the living room and sets him down amongst the pile of toys.
I follow them, my heart beating fast. "What is all this?"
Pace sinks down to his knees and watches Max go after an inflatable bouncy dragon. He chuckles. "I knew you'd like him," he says. Then he turns to me, his smile faltering just a bit. "This is me showing you that I am in this. I am not giving up on you, or on Max. If Elan's back in Max's life – fine. But I'm not going anywhere."
My heart kicks in my chest as his words tug at me. I look around at the pile of new playthings, there are books and age appropriate toys and things for learning. Tears spring to my eyes. His thoughtfulness shouldn't surprise me at this point, but no one has ever done something so sweet and meaningful before. "What did you do?" I whisper, taking it all in.
"I wanted Max to be comfortable here. I also wanted you to be comfortable, so in addition to the toys, I did some baby-proofing. The cabinets now have safety locks and the outlets all have covers."
I glance around his condo and notice the little plastic covers have been inserted into all the wall outlets and the potted palm in the dining room that Max liked to dig in is no longer resting in its spot in the corner. I swallow down the lump rising in my throat. His gestures are too much.
"Excuse me for a minute," I squeak and head into the bathroom, drawing deep pulls of oxygen into my lungs as I lock the door behind me. Who is this man? What happened to the cocky, smart-mouthed player? This man is gentle and kind and… my heart feels like it's breaking in two.
I want to sneak a phone call to Rachel, to ask her what she thinks all of this means. Has he changed? Am I the exception to the rule? Knowing I can't hide in the bathroom, as much as I might want to, I splash cool water on my cheeks and check my reflection in the mirror. My green eyes are watery and my cheeks are flushed. I don't want to appear as though I've been crying. That will only inspire questions from Pace I can't answer.
After I've composed myself, I meet Pace and Max in the living room. They're sitting on the floor surrounded by a mountain of toys, happily talking away in the language that only they seem to know.
"Everything okay?" Pace glances up at me, looking solemn.
I nod. "Everything's fine," I confirm. My hands are trembling, but I sink to the floor beside Max, trying my damnedest to pretend like Pace didn't just rock my entire world.
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