I knew Mandy was right. I’d been a stronger, better version of myself since Brad had dumped me, but seeing him last night had brought me right back to the insecure woman that I was while dating him.
“You can’t beat yourself up over this,” Mandy said. “I know it sucks, but you need to just move on. Plus, you have a great guy in Cayden. Speaking of Cayden, does he know that you met up with Brad last night?”
I shook my head.
“No,” I said. “I thought about telling him a couple of times, but his son is sick, and I haven’t had the chance to really talk to him. Do you think I should tell him?”
It was now Mandy’s turn to shake her head.
“No,” she said. “You can’t tell him. He will be pissed that you went on a date with your ex. Any man would be pissed. You just have to pretend that it never happened. Don’t let this ruin what you and Cayden have built.”
She was right. If I told Cayden, he would be pissed and rightly so.
“Plus, things went to shit with Brad,” Mandy said. “You’re not planning on seeing him again, right?”
“Right,” I answered.
“Then definitely do not tell him. There’s no reason to. You just need to look at it as closure. It was something that needed to be done before you moved on with Cayden. You needed to know that Brad was an asshole and that you deserved better. It’s actually a good thing that this all happened.”
I wished she was right. I couldn’t see any good things to come out of this. Even if it did make me realize that Brad hadn’t changed, I still was hurt by the entire situation. I’d come so far, and with one date, I’d been so quickly thrown back to where I’d started – hurt, confused, and insecure.
“Maybe you’re right,” I said. Mandy nodded.
“I am right,” she said. “Seriously, you can’t tell Cayden about this. Promise me that you won’t.”
“Fine,” I said. “I promise that I won’t tell him.”
“It’s the right thing to do, Tiffany,” she said. “Nothing else is going to happen with you and Brad. Cayden doesn’t need to know about it.”
She was intent on pounding this into my head. I could not tell Cayden. I could not ruin a good thing with a great guy.
We wrapped up lunch by talking about her newest fling. I was glad that she had brought him up and was more than happy to discuss her life. I wanted to keep my mind off the things that had tortured my brain all morning. It was nice not to think about Brad being an asshole or avoiding Cayden, even if I was only distracted for a few minutes. After we were finished eating, I thanked her for coming for lunch and for her advice. I would be following it. Cayden could never know what happened last night.
“Christmas in two days!” Austin bounced out of my car. He was out of control with giddiness. I was glad that he had made a full recovery from his illness. Sure enough, it was some sort of virus that only rest could solve. Luckily, we had stayed inside all weekend, watching lots of cartoons and snuggling in bed.
“Grandma!” Austin burst into my mom’s house. He raced toward my mom, nearly knocking her over. She embraced him and laughed.
“Someone is feeling better,” she said, kissing his forehead. He looked up at her and nodded.
“I am feeling great,” he said, dashing toward her living room. My mom smiled and looked toward me.
“I’m so glad he’s feeling better,” she said. “The rest must have made a world of difference, huh?”
“I’m so happy, too,” I said. “It was awful seeing him so sick. I was really hoping he would get better by Christmas.”
“Are you looking forward to going back to work?” my mom asked me. I nodded. I wasn’t necessarily happy to go to work, but I was happy to see Tiffany again. I’d texted with her on and off over the weekend, but with Austin not feeling great, we weren’t able to meet up with each other.
“It will be nice to wrap up some things for the holidays,” I told her. “I’m only staying for a half day today, so I’ll be here to pick up Austin earlier than normal.”
“Great,” my mom said. “I need to finish up some Christmas shopping this afternoon. Speaking of Christmas, you are planning on coming to the tree lighting ceremony tomorrow night, right?”
“Of course,” I said. It was a tradition that we had done for years. On Christmas Eve, Miami held a small celebration and lit a Christmas tree in the center of town. It was a simple ceremony, but beautiful. Austin was looking forward to it as well.
“I was thinking, it would be nice if you invited that girl from work,” my mom said. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about inviting Tiffany, but it was a great idea.
“That would be nice,” I said. “I know that she doesn’t have a close family and she doesn’t have any Christmas plans. It will just be low-key, right? You won’t make things weird?”
My mom laughed and playfully swatted at me.
“Me? Make things weird?” she laughed. “But in all seriousness, I promise I won’t embarrass you.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said sarcastically, but turned serious. “I’m just a little nervous about introducing her to Austin.”
“Why?” my mom asked. “She sounds like a great girl and I’m sure Austin will warm up to her in no time. I don’t know anyone that Austin has met that he hasn’t liked.”
My mom was right. Austin liked everyone he met. He never had an issue with teachers or his friends’ parents. He would be welcoming to Tiffany.
“It’s just important to me that they like each other,” I explained. “I can’t date a woman that doesn’t like kids. It just won’t work.”
My mom nodded.
“I get that,” she said. “She knows about Austin, though, right? And Layla?”
“Yes,” I responded. “She knows about everything. She seemed fine with everything, too. Actually, I feel like telling her about Layla brought us even closer.”
My mom smiled. I could tell that she was happy that I was moving on. She had wanted me to be happy, but never pushed me to get into a relationship. She always told me that things would happen when they were meant to happen, and I believed her.
“It just feels weird,” I admitted. “I feel like I’m doing a disservice to Layla. I know she would be happy to see me moving on and to see Austin happy with a mom-figure, but I still feel guilty.”
My mom walked toward me and put her hand on my shoulder.
“I know it’s rough, Cayden, but she would want you to move on. You’re far too young to not fall in love again. You deserve to be happy.”
She was right. I was too young to call it quits on love. Layla would want me to be happy, but I would still always hold a place for her in my heart.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said.
“I can’t wait to meet her,” my mom said. “What’s she like?”
“Amazing,” I told her. “She really is. She is smart and driven and beautiful. She’s funny, too. She really is everything that I look for in a girl. I thought it would be weird dating a co-worker, but it actually makes it better because we have work in common.”
My mom nodded. I knew she understood, because her and my father had met at work a long time ago. They were the picture-perfect couple, something that I’d aspired to be with Layla. Even in their sixties, they still held hands and went on dates. My dad always opened her door. It was rare for relationships to last that long.
“I hope she comes,” my mom said. “Will you let me know if we should expect her?”
I nodded. My mom was a planner. She liked to know everything in advance.
“I’ll ask her this morning at work,” I told my mom. “Don’t tell Austin until I know for sure.”
My mom shook her head.
“I won’t tell him,” she said. “I’ll let you do that.”
She was right. I needed to tell Austin. It was a conversation that I was both nervous and excited about. Truthfully, Austin probably wouldn’t even care. He was so consumed by Christmas thoughts that he wouldn’t care if I brought a “friend” to the Christmas lighting ceremony.