Cayden. I hadn’t even thought of him since I heard Brad’s voice.
“Wow, boss, you didn’t have to do this,” Maurice said, looking at the watch I’d gifted him for Christmas. His eyes were lit up like a Christmas tree. It was a grand gesture, but he deserved it. He had been an awesome assistant this year and I was pleased with his work. He needed to be rewarded, plus I was in an extremely good mood this Christmas.
It was because of Tiffany, of course. She had reignited the Christmas spirit inside of me. I was looking forward to spending the holidays with her, even though we hadn’t made any concrete plans. I didn’t care what we did, or when we did it, I just wanted to celebrate Christmas with her.
I hadn’t seen her since this morning and was curious about how her interview had gone. I was sure it had gone fine, but I found it odd that she hadn’t returned my text yet. Maybe she wanted to talk to me about it in person. After Maurice left my office I would stroll around to see if I could “accidentally” run into her.
Maurice was still staring at his watch when my phone dinged. I smiled without looking at the phone. It must have been Tiffany, returning my earlier text. I picked the phone up, but the smile disappeared from my face once I saw who it was. My mom. She never texted me at work unless there was an issue. I unlocked my phone to read the text.
Please call when you can.
“Everything okay?” Maurice asked. He had noticed the change in my facial expression. I looked up at him.
“It’s my mom,” I explained. “She never contacts me when I’m at work. I should probably call her to see what this is all about.”
“I’ll give you some privacy, boss,” he said, standing from the chair that he was seated in. “Thank you again for the watch.”
“You deserve it,” I said. He smiled and left my office. Once he left, I shut the door and picked up my office phone. I dialed my mother’s phone number, a bit nervous about what she had to tell me.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“Austin is sick,” she said. “He told me he has a stomachache and he wants his daddy. I told him that you were at work, but he doesn’t seem to care. He said he needs you now.”
My heart ached. I hated it when Austin was sick. Luckily, it wasn’t often, but when he was sick, it broke my heart.
“I can come pick him up,” I told her, looking at the clock. It was 3:00pm. I’d work to do, but I could finish it at home after I picked up Austin.
“Are you sure?” my mom asked. “I can tell him he has to hold on a few more hours. Maybe I can get him to take a nap.”
“No,” I said, shutting my laptop. “I can leave work early, it’s not a big deal. I’ll be there in twenty minutes or less.”
We said goodbye and I hung up the phone. My poor kid, so sick this close to Christmas. I hoped that it was just a twenty-four hour bug that would go through his system. I didn’t want him to be sick for the holidays.
I gathered my things to work on at home and turned off my lights in my office. I walked to Tim’s office.
“Austin’s sick,” I said. “I’m going to pick him up, but I’ll work on editing that article tonight and send it over your way.”
Tim nodded. Although sometimes he could be a bit of a prick, he was a good boss. He was a single father as well. His daughter was in college, but he understood the trials and tribulations of raising a child alone.
On my way out of the office, I bumped into Tiffany.
“Hey,” I said. “I was just on my way out…”
“Can we talk?” she asked, interrupting me. She looked upset. I wondered if the interview didn’t go well. I was slightly torn. I wanted to stop and talk with her, but I really needed to go get Austin.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Austin is sick, and I need to go pick him up right away.”
Tiffany looked down at the ground.
“It’s fine,” she said, but I couldn’t help but notice that she wouldn’t look me in the eyes.
“I should be home in less than an hour,” I said. “You can call me, and we can talk then.”
She shook her head.
“It’s not a big deal,” she said. “We can talk about it later. I hope Austin feels better.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
We parted ways as I walked outside. I felt like something was wrong with her, but Austin came first. He always would, no matter what woman came into my life.
I drove to my mom’s house quickly, wanting to hold Austin. As soon as I walked in the door, my mom greeted me.
“He’s sleeping,” she said. “He fell asleep right after I got off the phone with you. I’m sorry, he probably could have stayed here until you got off work.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Should I wake him up?”
My mom shrugged.
“It’s up to you,” she said. “He may get up in two minutes, or he may get up in two hours.”
As much as I liked my mom, I didn’t feel like waiting around her house for Austin to get up. I went into her bedroom and saw him sleeping on the bed. He looked like an angel and reminded me of Layla for a split second. They both had similar features; dark hair and dark skin. As much as I loved him, sometimes it was painful how much he resembled his mother. Even though I was moving on with Tiffany, I was starting to think I would never get over Layla.
As I stroked Austin’s head, I began to think about what the two of us had been through over the past three years. On one hand, I felt happy that Austin was little enough that he didn’t feel the same sadness that I did. He knew that he had a mother who was watching him in Heaven, but other than that, he didn’t talk about her much. I didn’t expect him to. He had been a year old when Layla had passed away.
On the other hand, I continued to feel guilty that he didn’t have a mother. I knew it would only be a matter of time before he would bring it up. Most of the other children at daycare had mothers or stepmothers. Would he realize that things were different with our family? Would he want me to find a replacement for Layla?
I wondered how Tiffany would be with Austin. I assumed she would be great, but I’d heard horror stories of people introducing their children to their girlfriends. In some cases, the girlfriends couldn’t deal with the baggage. In other cases, the children made it so difficult that the couples broke up. Sure, there were lots of cases where girlfriends became wives and stepmoms, and everything was great, but how was I to know what the case would be with Tiffany?
Stop overanalyzing, Cayden, I told myself. I was notorious at overanalyzing situations and it didn’t get me anywhere but stressed out. I was worrying about situations that hadn’t even happened yet. Tiffany and I weren’t even official. I’d to slow down my train of thought before it crashed and burned.
I wasn’t used to having these feelings, though. I’d been by myself for so long that I forgot what it felt like to be excited about someone. I forgot what it felt like to want to see someone, to want to fall for them. While part of me was scared to get involved with Tiffany, the other part of me was excited and happy. I deserved to fall in love, didn’t I? Didn’t both Austin and I deserve to have a woman in our lives?
Austin started to stir. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at me. Once he realized that it was me sitting next to him, a huge smile formed on his face.
“Daddy,” he whispered, snuggling next to me. As he got closer to me, I could feel the heat radiating off of his body. He had a fever. I would have to call the doctor on the way home. He hadn’t run a fever in a long time.
“Hi, buddy,” I said, stroking his hair.
“I don’t feel good, Daddy,” he said. His voice was hoarse, and I could tell that it hurt for him to speak.
“I know, bud,” I said. “I’m here to take you home.”
He looked up at me again. His dark eyes were bright, despite the fact that he was sick.
“Thanks, Daddy,” he said. I helped him out of bed and led him out of the room.