FELIX TOOK HIS FIRST STEPS A COUPLE of weeks ago, but he’d already given up walking for running, a sort of clumsy, arm flailing run that had me constantly reaching to balance him when he passed. He was always leaning forward, big head of curls leading the way as his tiny body raced to catch up.
He eyed the phone in Gage’s hand from where he stood, pudgy hands smacking a beat on the low coffee table, and then he was off towards his uncle who didn’t even notice. His little feet didn’t move fast enough for his body, and his run melted into a forward fall.
I was off my seat in an instant, but not close enough to catch him before he hit the carpet. I swept him up in my arms, placing him back on his feet but not letting him go at first. His wide, one tooth smile and baby giggles like gurgling spit eased my split second of panic.
“Rea,” Dexter laughed from the hallway. “If you try to stop him from every fall, you’re never going to be able to do anything else. My dude is clumsy, but he’s tough. Let him fall. Only way he’ll learn to slow down.”
He squirmed between my hands, but still wasn’t steady on his feet. As I eased my grip, he launched himself at me, wiggling his head on my chest and patting at my silk tank top as he snuggled close. He popped his head up, looking at me with big honey eyes and babbling in a baby language I couldn’t understand; but I laughed when he laughed, like I got the joke he was telling.
Then he raised one fist, and spread his hand flat. His fingers were so fat I was amazed he could move them.
“Ba-ba?” he questioned very clearly.
I was willing to walk miles for this boy’s bottle if need be, even in the ridiculously high shoes I was wearing tonight, anything to get that smile back and stop the tears brimming in his eyes.
“Uh-oh.” Dexter knelt down beside us, running his hand over Felix’s silky curls. “Only sippy cups for you. Remember you’s a big boy now!”
Felix didn’t seem convinced as he glanced at his father. He wrapped his arms around my neck and tried again, louder. “Ba-ba?”
“Do not give him a bottle,” Leona warned, peaking her half curled head over the railing above us.
“Jesus, Lee, go finish your hair and get dressed already.” Dexter rose to his feet as the doorbell chimed throughout the townhome.
Felix sat up on my lap, smile back and little arms still around my neck as he squealed, a high-pitched, ear piercing, scream of joy.
“I think your Grandma’s here.” I smiled with him but snuck a look at Gage who slipped his phone back out of his pocket at the sound of the doorbell. He tapped his thigh with one finger and met my eyes over the screen. I knew he was ready to leave, he didn’t like being around his mom.
“Where’s my big boy?” Her raspy voice echoed in the open living room, and Felix hid his face in my shoulder, popping back up to see her in a fit of giggles.
“Ba-ba?” he paused from the game of peek-a-boo to question his grandma.
Nadia paused, head barely reaching Dexter’s shoulder as she stood next to him with her hands on her hips, hinting at a tiny waist under her large white t-shirt and grey sweat pants. “Still staying strong with the sippy cup rule?”
“Yup. I’ll go get it. It’s past his bedtime anyways.”
Gage stood and followed Dexter to the kitchen, leaving me with their mother and Felix.
Nadia watched Gage as he left and smiled in his direction. She might have even spoken too low for me to hear, but he ignored her.
She turned back to me with a plastered on a smile and wiped her hands over her sweats as she knelt on the floor beside me.
“Guess what baby boy, Gi-Gi is having a sleep over,” she cooed, tickling his back and making him wriggle in my lap.
“Bu?” He looked from Nadia to me. “Bu! Bu!” Climbing off my lap, he did his dangerously clumsy run to the toy shelf along the wall.
“He wants you to read him a book.” She gave me a tight-lipped smile and her blue eyes looked everywhere besides at me.
This was our first time alone together, and with the way Gage always ignored her, I couldn’t blame her for being nervous. I was nervous too.
“That book is almost bigger than him.” I rose to my feet, going to catch Felix as he dragged a book off the case that was wider than me.
“Good Night Moon is his favorite.” She kept glancing to the kitchen. I did too. Dexter was the only one who would be able to ease the tension. Gage would ignite it.
“Bu. Bu,” Felix repeated over and over, shoving the book at me. I took it and he grabbed my hand, walking to the couch nearby.
I sat and he tried to hoist his little body up, but couldn’t. So I lifted him onto my lap and opened the book in front of us. At least if I was reading conversation wouldn’t be necessary.
Felix leaned back on me, his body going limp as he trusted me to support him. One hand reached up and fisted the ends of my straightened hair that hung to my chest. I didn’t care if it curled or frizzed in his sweaty fist. I was ready to join his sleep over and forget about going out. This boy had me captivated. He was innocent, trusting, happy, and perfect, but I didn’t want to ruin any of that.
Dexter handed Felix his sippy cup on the second page, then went off to hurry Leona along. The little boy used one hand to tilt it back into his mouth, never releasing my hair. By the end of the book he was asleep. I was amazed that it happened so quickly.
“I’ll put him in his crib,” Nadia whispered, adding a wink for me.
I let her lift him from my lap, missing the weight of his warm body the moment it was gone.
She walked up the stairs with him, and as I pulled my eyes away from them, I caught site of Gage leaning against the kitchen doorframe.
“Damn, that was a turn on.” He pushed off the wall and walked towards me. His eyes dropped over my body, torturously slow, like we had all night alone.
“What was?” I adjusted my silver sequin shorts that had been crumpled beneath Felix. I was dressed in my most Vegas-y outfit I could find. The shorts were short, but the top was flowy, although it had a low neckline. Gage had liked it on me, so I went with it. Anything to help get us back to where we were last time we were in Vegas three months ago, when we said our vows.
Sitting next to me on the couch, he adjusted the wide strap of my dark green tank. The tips of his fingers tickled the skin at my collar as he dragged them under the fabric.
“You reading to Felix.” He captured my eyes in his stare, a look that excited and devastated all at once. His head dipped lower, lips softly following behind his fingers at my collarbone. “You can read me a bedtime story anytime.”
I snorted, laughing the moment the words were out, and he pulled back, a smile sliding over his face.
“Damn, that sounded better in my head.” He laughed lightly, body vibrating next to me. “Forget I said that.”
But I was full on laughing now and couldn’t stop.
His cheeks flushed with just a touch of pink under his olive skin. He twisted to face me, eyes narrowing. “It’s not that funny.” His smile undermined his serious tone.
It probably wasn’t that funny, but I was grabbing on to this moment.
I nodded, sucking in air to calm down. “Go pick out a book. I’ll read—”
Before I could finish teasing him, his fingers were at my stomach, tickling me. I squirmed under his touch, giggling to the point that I couldn’t breathe. I hit at him and trying to pull his hands away.
He silenced my shrieks with a kiss. His lips overlapped mine, his hands stilled their attack and gripped my waist.
And I felt that spark, that heat, a current that ran through my veins, electrifying every cell. The back of his hair was baby soft as my hands ran up his shoulders and neck to grip his head, pressing the kiss, making it last. He kissed me like he meant it, like it was all that was needed.
He pulled back, still clutching me. Both of us were breathing heavy, the air filled with shallow pants. His eyes darted around my face, like he was scared for my reaction.
I smiled, smoothing the hair on the back of his head with my hand, and he relaxed some.
The corner of his mouth tugged up, but no smile formed. “I love you. You know that right? You never have to question that.”
My heart dropped along with my smile. I searched his face for signs of where this was going. His brows were creased with worry and he gripped my side harder, encouraging me to speak.
“I know that. Just like I love you. I always will. Always.” I met his eyes, hoping he really let my words sink in and believed them.
This weekend was my last attempt with patience. I had planned on avoiding this topic. I wanted to have fun with him, get us to a good spot, and then, hopefully, when we returned to the city he would be more open with me. If not, I wouldn’t be so quiet about my anger anymore. I just hoped we didn’t get to that point. But he seemed to be giving an opening to talk now. I only wish we weren’t at Dexter’s house about to leave. We were bound to be interrupted.
I gripped his forearms, moving my hand over the smooth material of his black button up. “You can tell me anything, and that won’t change. I will still love you.”
His lips pressed to a firm line, his eyes lost that open gaze, a veil dropping over the little bit of him I thought I had gotten back, and my heart cracked. He rose to his feet, tugging my hand with him, but he was looking towards the steps.
Dexter and Leona were coming down.
“Finally, she’s ready,” Dexter groaned with his head tossed back.
“Shut up.” Leona slapped at him, but he caught her hand, laughing.
“It’s okay Lee. You look hella good, I’d wait all night if I had to.” He spun her around as she reached the bottom step, making her high waisted skirt flutter up. Her red crop top showed a little skin and matched her fire engine red lips.
She smiled up at Dexter but turned her head so he could only kiss her cheek when he swooped down. “Don’t mess up the lips or I’m gonna have to go reapply already,” she warned him.
“Oh, good Lord, no.” He pulled back quick, tugging her to the door. “Let’s go before she decides she wants her hair up or something. Aliya and the others are already waiting for us.”