I shake my head. “Tell me it’s okay to go, not because I need your permission, because I need you. And if leaving now lands me locked out of your house on your front doorstep later, then I won’t go. I choose you. Always. But it pisses me off that there has to be a choice.”
Griffin closes his eyes and pushes out a long breath. “It’s okay to go.”
My fingers lace around the back of his neck, waiting for him to open his eyes. “I love you, Grocery Store Guy.”
His eyes open. I kiss him. He barely kisses me back, but I feel a small pull and that’s enough.
“You might not always be first in line, but you’re always first with my heart. Okay?”
“Meet me at my place?”
I give him one more peck on the lips and leave before one of us says something we shouldn’t.
The cries rattle my bones as I open the front door. The man standing in the doorway to his bedroom, gently bouncing the arched-back baby, shares no resemblance to the confident professor. He’s the young boy in my head—feigning confidence while drowning in desperation.
“Sorry. I would have been here sooner, but I stopped to pick up a few things.” I hold up the bag in my hand. “Teething gel, homeopathy pills for teething and colic, calming baby massage oil with lavender.”
“Hold her. I’m going to call the doctor.” He takes the bag from me with one hand while passing Morgan to me with his other hand.
Kissing her warm head, I take in his disheveled hair, wrinkled white tee, and black jogging pants. Nope. No sign of Professor Hunt anywhere.
“I know. I’m a disaster.” He looks in the bag. “How can I know so much but feel like I know nothing at the moment?”
There’s nothing I can say. I’m twenty-one with no true parenting experience and way too inexperienced at life to give sage advice.
“Call the doctor.”
He glances up from the bag. “So you think so too?”
Bouncing his screaming daughter, I nod several times. Nate lost his wife in an unexpected blink. I don’t want my gut instinct to be wrong; I’m not going to suggest rubbing gel on her gums or dissolving pills in a teaspoon of water until a doctor rules out anything serious.
A few minutes later, Nate jogs down the hall. “He’s meeting me at his office.” He grabs a pair of running shoes from his closet.
I put Morgan into a football hold with her tummy pressed to my arm and swing her back and forth. Her cries ease a fraction.
“You have a pediatrician willing to meet you at his office instead of sending you to urgent care?”
“He’s a friend of mine.”
“So why were you afraid to call him?”
Nate looks up.
“Really? You’re worried he’s going to think you don’t know what you’re doing?”
“Do I?” He finishes tying his shoes. “For the love of God! Listen to her. She won’t stop. Something is wrong.”
Desperation. He’s killing me.
“Let me know what you find out.” I start to hand her to him.
“You’re not coming?”
“I … I don’t know. Do you need me to come with you?”
“If you want to, that would be great.”
Morgan shakes in my arms as her cry hits a peak. A few seconds of silence follow before she gets her second wind.
“I’ll go.” I don’t know if I want to go, but the slight relief on Nate’s face says he needs me to go.
“Thank you. Let’s go.”
We arrive at the pediatrician’s office after the loudest fifteen minutes of my life. Nate falls short of keeping his shit together, but I applaud him for his attempt. The agony etched into his brow is too deep to fool anyone.
“Nathaniel.” The tall blond with green-framed glasses shakes Nathaniel’s hand.
Kids must love his fun glasses and huge smile. Moms must love everything else about him. He’s hot. A different kind of hot than Griffin, but still … hot.
“John, this is Swayze.” Nate unfastens Morgan from her car seat.
“Nice to meet you.” John shakes my hand before washing his hands at the sink.
He examines Morgan. I watch Nate. Are his thoughts on Jenna? Or is he asking God why? Why take the mother of his child and leave him lost without a sense of what to do?
We go through a few questions, and I say we because I have more waking-hours knowledge of Morgan. The doctor concurs that it’s nothing serious. He prescribes a change in her formula and gives Nate a few samples to try when he gets home along with the things I picked up for gas and teething pain.
I put Morgan in her car seat. Before I get the harness latched, she’s asleep. She wore herself out.
“I apologize for calling after hours. I was just—”
John shakes his head. “Hey, man, don’t ever apologize. First-time dad. On your own. I’d be a mess too. Don’t tell Bella I said this, but no amount of schooling can replace motherly intuition. She’s better with our kids than I am.”
“Let me know how the change in formula works. And…” he gives me a quick smile before returning his attention to Nate “…I’m glad you’ve found someone. It’s good for you and Morgan.”
“Oh…” Nate shakes his head and chuckles “…Swayze isn’t … I mean, she’s Morgan’s nanny. That’s all.”
I return a shy grin and shrug.
John’s eyebrows lift a fraction. “You found a nanny that comes with you to after-hours doctor’s visits. She’s quite the find. Sounds like she’s a keeper.”
“Yeah, well…” Nate redirects his focus to the car seat, refusing to look in my direction or John’s “…again, thanks. I’ll call you.”
I’m not sure which is worse, the screaming or the awkward silence. For Morgan’s sake, I’ll say the screaming is worse. But the ride home isn’t fun.
“I shouldn’t have called you,” Nate says as we go in the house. “I had a weak moment, and I overstepped a line.”
What do I say? In my years of being a nanny, I’ve never had anyone call me to accompany them to a doctor’s visit outside of my normal working hours. But maybe other nannies have had it happen. I’ve also never been a nanny for a single parent.
“I wanted to help you out, even if my help was in the form of moral support.”
“Still …” He sighs, setting the car seat on the floor.
Morgan hasn’t made a sound since we left the doctor’s office.
“I’ll pay you overtime for this.” He rubs the back of his neck, eyes filled with regret.
“You don’t have to pay me anything extra. Technically, you didn’t ask me to come over here. I offered because I, too, was concerned about Morgan.”
He steps closer, too close for the silence surrounding us. The last time we were this close I had my hand on his bare abdomen, and the time before that, he hugged me in the garage to comfort me during my breakdown.
“John thought we were … together,” he says.
Definitely too close. Yet, I feel no urge to step back. Standing this close to him feels familiar and a slew of other crazy emotions.
I look up. He’s so close I have to strain my neck a little. “Crazy.” My voice trembles. “Since I’m so young.”
That’s it? That’s my best response? Yes, I’m fifteen years younger than Nate. But … he just lost his wife a few months ago and I have a boyfriend. That should be why it’s crazy.
He grins. “True. Sometimes I forget how young you are because of everything you know about me that happened before you were born.”
Why are we having this conversation an inch from our toes touching?
“Do you have a few minutes?”
Do I have a few minutes to stand this close to a man who is not Griffin? No. His name is all it takes to force my feet to distance us.
“A few minutes for what?” I glance at Morgan.
“I want to show you some photos.”
“Of Morgan?” I return my attention to him.
“No.” He jerks his head toward the bedroom and lifts the car seat. “I don’t think I should take her out of here until she wakes up on her own.”
I follow him down the hallway. “You mean you’re afraid to take her out of it.”
Griffin is at my apartment. I should be there. Why am I following Nate when I need to find my way home to my boyfriend?
He retrieves a shoebox from his closet and sits on the bed. I take a seat next to him, but not too close.
“Where was this taken?” He holds up a photo. It’s young Nate dressed like a pirate.
“Outside of the bowling alley.”
“How can you tell? There’s no sign, I’m facing the street, and the background is blurred and black because it was night.”
“You know how I know. Are we back to this?”
He doesn’t respond. Instead he grabs another photo. “What about this one?” It’s Nate and the girl from the photo in the back of the book in his nightstand. Morgan—Daisy. They’re eating cotton candy.