Just before sunrise, Jimmy arrived the construction office and parked facing west. Slowly, the sun lifted above the horizon. Its light reflected in his rear-view mirrors, warming the brisk chill of the morning. Jimmy remained in the driver’s seat, frozen, unable to open the door and go inside. For the first time in his life, his body had nothing left to give.
He reversed out of the parking lot and drove around town, trying to settle his mind, but his thoughts kept returning to Brayden. He wanted to drop by and see how the boy was feeling, check if the color had returned to his cheeks. He wanted to smell Brayden’s breath to ensure his fever had broken. He wanted to kick back and spend the entire day listening to Brayden’s silly stories, hear his belly laugh.
Most of all, he wanted a redo of the night before. If he could do it all over again, he would hold Ky in his arms, feel her heart beat against his as they watched Brayden sleep. He wouldn’t kiss her, and he wouldn’t ask any questions. He wouldn’t force her to decide. He’d just hold her, just love her, revel in his ignorance and leave the future unasked.
His truck had been pointed toward home, but along the way it had wandered. He’d ended up at Chelsea Lake, instead. When Dan answered the door, he looked surprised to see Jimmy, but he stepped aside and offered a cup of coffee.
“How’s Emily?” Jimmy asked as Dan poured.
“Perfect.” He waved Jimmy over to the table and they sat across from each other. “She woke up a few times last night, but Stace got her back to sleep fairly quickly.”
“How’s Stacy feeling?”
Jimmy nodded and took a sip of his coffee. Dan had brewed it weaker than he liked it, but the caffeine helped. Dan eyed him and waited patiently for him to say what was really on his mind. Jimmy opened his mouth to say it, but he chickened out.
“Brent’s got a few more interviews today. I looked over the applications last night and they all look pretty good.”
“Is that what you came here to tell me?”
“No.” Jimmy looked down into his coffee and tried to find the right words. “Ky officially told me she doesn’t want to get back together.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I really thought you guys might have another shot, now that you’ve told her everything.”
Jimmy shook his head.
“You didn’t tell her, did you?”
“Don’t you think she deserves to know?”
“It’s not going to change anything.”
“Maybe not…” Dan sighed. “What about Brayden?”
“I don’t plan on giving her a choice where Brayden is concerned.”
“Meaning, she’s not going to shut me out of his life anymore. He’s my son, Dan.”
“Are you going to follow them back to California?”
“Yeah, I am,” he answered without hesitation. “It’s what I should’ve done all along.”
Dan pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly, thinking. “You don’t have any legal rights to Brayden.”
“If this is going to work, you’re going to have to win her trust. And you’re going to have to let go of how you feel about her.”
“I know.” Jimmy fidgeted with his coffee mug. “I’m just not looking forward to the day she meets someone else. I’ll be shut out of Brayden’s life so fast…”
“Not necessarily,” Dan said, but his expression said otherwise. Jimmy knew he had only a few more years, at most, as Brayden’s father, and Dan’s eyes confirmed it.
“I’m going to take what I can get.” He stood to leave, but Dan stopped him.
“If you want to go up and see Emily, you can. Stace is sleeping, but you won’t wake her.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Go hold my baby for a while, clear your head. That’s why you came here in the first place, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy admitted. It was.
The very first time Jimmy had held Brayden in his arms, an unexpected sense of euphoria had consumed him, the power of that moment unforgettable in the way it had altered his entire sense of self. It wasn’t about holding a baby. He’d held a few over the years, those of both family and friends, and he had never felt anything other than uncomfortable and clumsy. It was Kylie herself that had made the difference holding Brayden. She had been an integral part of the experience. The combination of Brayden and Kylie together always made him feel as though he were invincible. Without them uplifting him, he was merely human.
Upstairs, Jimmy knocked softly on the bedroom door before he stepped inside. Stacy lay in bed, curled onto her side with her back to the door, but as Jimmy got a few steps into the room he realized she was awake, watching over Emily as she slept cradled in her arms.
“Hey, stranger,” she whispered. She reached for him as he approached, and he took her hand. She looked even more tired than he felt, but her exhaustion came from lack of sleep. His came from loss of hope. “What finally convinced you to take a day off work?”
“I had to see you, Beautiful.”
“Aw, you’re sweet, but you don’t have to lie. I know I’ve been upstaged.”
“Never, Stace.” He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “You smell sweeter than usual today.”
Stacy smiled. “Dan said the same thing.”
“Maybe all those chili dogs finally flushed out of your system.”
She smiled again, her eyes closing in a blink that lasted longer than normal, the effort she made to re-open them apparent. He brushed her hair from her face and tucked a stray curl behind her ear, and she closed her eyes again. Without opening them, she asked, “You want to hold my baby?”
“She looks pretty comfortable where she is.”
“She won’t mind.”
Unable to resist any longer, he carefully slipped one hand under Emily’s body and the other under her head to support her delicate neck. Her body jerked in a newborn startle reflex, but she quickly settled into his arms. It had been a long time since he had held a baby so small, and he was amazed yet again how incredibly weightless they seemed. Her mouth opened in a wide ‘O’ as she yawned, her breath scented with breast milk and that sweet unknown newborn breath always carried. He couldn’t define it, but he had always imagined it came from Creation itself.
“God, she’s beautiful, Stace,” Jimmy whispered in awe, but Stacy didn’t answer. She had already fallen asleep.
He carried Emily over to the rocker under the windows and sat with her, gently rocking and humming a song that he made up as he went along. Her face was still a little squished and red from the violence of birth, but he could see how beautiful she would become. She was Stacy in miniature—small, feisty, curly-haired and gorgeous.
She opened her eyes in a little squint and looked straight at him with a puzzled expression, but she didn’t cry. They simply gazed upon each other, making introductions and feeling each other out. As easy as that, Jimmy fell in love.
A soft knock fell upon the door. His breath caught as Kylie walked into the room. Dressed in a snug t-shirt that didn’t quite reach the waistband of the low-slung jeans that hugged her hips, he could see a flash of her silky skin. He longed to reach out and run his finger along her tight abs. Her hair was done up in a loose knot that threatened to come undone and she hadn’t bothered with make-up. She was natural beauty, as always, and he ached for her.
“How’s Brayden?” he whispered, careful to keep his voice low as to not wake Stacy.
Unaware he was in the room, Kylie startled at the sound of his voice. Her cheeks flushed pink as she inhaled, pausing before answering, “Good. Better, thank you… for last night.”
“I didn’t realize you were here, I’m sorry…” she faltered. “I just assumed that was Dan’s company truck parked outside.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“Oh… I thought yours had a dent on the fender.”
“It did. I got it fixed.”
“You guys should write your names on the doors, so you can tell them apart.”
Jimmy smiled. “I’ll bring it up at the next board meeting.”
She stood in the doorway, hesitant to come inside. When she finally started moving, he kept his eyes on her as she crossed the room toward him. The closer she came, the faster his heart beat, and the pinker her cheeks flushed. She stayed back, keeping space between them, but when Emily kicked, and her mouth suckled as though nursing, Kylie closed the distance in an instant.
“Aw, she’s awake. She was being so quiet I never would’ve guessed.”
As she leaned in to look at Emily, she placed one hand lightly on the back of the rocker he was sitting in. When her arm brushed across his shoulder, the pounding in his chest became so painful he could have cried.
“We’re just sitting here bullshittin’ with each other,” he said, forcing his voice to sound as casual as possible. “She thinks her dad’s got a big nose.”
“She does not.” Kylie smiled. “You’re mean.”
“I’m just repeating what she told me.”
Kylie moved in even closer, squatting down so she could see Emily better. “I can’t imagine Brayden ever being this tiny, but I guess he was, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, he was,” Jimmy whispered, remembering. The pain in his chest intensified.
“She looks just like a little Stacy.”
“You want to hold her?” Jimmy asked. She was so close to him he could smell her shampoo. It took everything he had not to reach up and untie her hair.
“I better not. I might be carrying Brayden’s germs. I probably shouldn’t have come at all, but I needed a baby fix.” She straightened up and tilted her head slightly. “I’m surprised you’re not working.”
Jimmy shrugged. “I felt like taking a day off.”
“You? Take a day off?”
“I put in some long hours at the Polinski’s. I’m kinda beat.”
“Ah… What theme did Nita go with this time?” Kylie asked.
“I bet that looks interesting with her Dutch dining room.”
“She ditched the Dutch a while ago. She got tired of dusting the wooden shoes.”
“Did you ask her to pay you in kolaches again?” Kylie teased, and Jimmy smiled.
“Who, me?” Jimmy asked, feigning innocence.
“You’re a kolache whore.” She let out a soft laugh as she ran a light hand around Emily’s down-covered head. “What are you doing with the rest of your day off?”
“I don’t know for sure. I hadn’t thought past this.”
“I see,” Kylie nodded. They fell into a comfortable silence.
Jimmy wished, for just one moment, that the baby in his arms was his and Ky’s, that the morning was theirs to create.
“What were you going to show me?” Kylie asked.
“Yesterday, when you called, you said you had something to show me.”
“Oh… yeah…” Now that he knew they would never be together, the idea of showing her the house he’d bought for her felt pathetic. But he still wanted her to see it.
“Did you forget?” Kylie asked.
“I didn’t forget.”
“Can I see it?”
Visibly disappointed, she paused before asking, “Why not?”
“Because I don’t have it with me. It’s too big to fit in my pocket,” he teased.
“You’re an ass.” She smiled. “Then where’s this ‘something’ at?”
“Oh…” Uncertainty marred her face. “I don’t know…”
“Alright… Do you want to go now, or should I meet you at your apartment later?”
“I’m not living at the apartment anymore.”
“You moved?” she asked in surprise.
“Yeah…” He looked down at Emily as though she could give him courage. “I bought a place.”
“The Malek place?”
“Yeah,” he answered, surprised she remembered. He had mentioned his dream for the house to her only one time before, in passing, when they had been driving around on the gravel roads late one night after her shift at Captain Jack’s. That night had happened long before they had started dating, and they had never discussed it again. He never imagined she would have held on to that.
“When did you buy it?”
“Oh… I see,” she replied softly, her eyes adverted from his gaze. She leaned in, brushed her hand along Emily’s soft hair again. “She’s a beautiful baby, isn’t she?”
“Time goes so fast… seems like just yesterday you were rocking Brayden like that…” Kylie cleared her throat. Quickly, she straightened, turning her back to him as she walked to the door. “Well, let’s go do this thing of yours. I need to get home and check on my son.”
“You want me to give you a ride there? It’s not far, just on the other side of the section.”
“No, I’ll follow you.” She disappeared from the room so fast he never saw her leave; he just blinked, and she was gone.
Carefully, Jimmy laid Emily in her bassinette and tucked her receiving blanket around her. His hand lingered for a moment before he let her go, and then he paused to place a soft kiss on Stacy’s cheek. Her eyes remained closed, but she touched his hand to stop him from leaving.
“She’s still in love with you,” she whispered.
“I know,” he whispered back.
“Don’t let her leave again.”
“She has to want to stay.”
He kissed her again and hurried to catch up to Ky.