“Of course it can,” I said, stirring my coffee. “Bonding over dietary restrictions can be very romantic.”
George gave me a playful jab to the shoulder. “You get a sarcasm pass because you’re lactating and it’s clearly eating your brain. Where was I? Oh, stage four. Well . . . stage four is where one person is totally invested and the other is just . . . over it. Awful, right? So, stage one doesn’t sound so bad, but in my opinion it’s the worst after stage four. If someone feels comfortable breaking up via text message, you clearly haven’t gotten to a place where you can ask a lot of questions, and you definitely can’t call them up and be all Oh hi, it’s me, the guy you wore the Lion Tamer outfit with? Can you tell me what happened?”
We all nodded sympathetically, and George glared at the bowl of muffins in the center of the table before reaching for one. “Now I’m eating my feelings.”
“Aww, George. Were you totally infatuated with him?” Hanna asked.
“Oh, girl, no,” George said with a laugh. “I don’t do infatuation unless his name is Sumner.”
The waiter stopped by our table, filling my coffee before taking each of our orders. “I’ll have the crispy waffle with berries and Devonshire cream,” I told him.
“I have no idea how you look like this,” Chloe said, motioning to my body, “and still eat like that. You don’t run with Hanna, and I know I haven’t seen you at the office gym in months.”
“One of the joys of breastfeeding,” I said. “I have to eat more calories to keep up my milk.”
Which was true. I still worked out when I could, but pregnancy and motherhood had left me with this new body I was only now getting used to: a slightly wider waist, but curves that had never been so full. I’d always been a bit on the skinny side, but I felt softer now, with rounded hips and boobs that surprised even me. It didn’t hurt that sometimes I’d turn around and see Max flat-out staring at my chest, completely unable to look away. I’d be lying if I didn’t say those moments made me feel like a fucking queen.
“What’s the plan when you go back to work?” Hanna asked, and taking in my outfit, added, “I’m assuming that’s where you’re headed now?”
I nodded as I took a sip of my coffee. “I don’t officially go back until next week, but thought it might be easier to ease myself into it.”
“Are you actually going to walk into your office and sit at your desk today?” George asked.
George had been a godsend while I was on leave. I was out for sixteen weeks, but I’d never wanted to feel disconnected from my career at Ryan Media Group, so I’d stop in on a pretty regular basis even though anything I needed to look at could have easily been couriered over to the apartment. Without really talking about it, we’d built up a system: Anna and I would meet George at his desk in the outer office, he’d hand me the stack of files and any messages that required my attention, and I’d leave him whatever I’d been working on at home.
I never went inside my office and he never questioned why.
Which was ridiculous, when you thought about it. I was Sara Stella, capable of managing multimillion-dollar campaigns and overseeing an entire finance department.
But I hadn’t quite figured out how to do all that and be mommy, too.
“You haven’t gone into your office yet?” Hanna asked. “Is it going to be weird to go back?”
“I don’t think so? I mean, I want to go back to work. I need to. It’s such a part of who I am and I need that part of my life. But Anna . . . the idea of leaving her for eight hours a day still fills me with this guilt like I’m ruining her somehow or I’m missing some vital mommy muscle that makes me want to stay home. Plus, I know I want more at some point and how will we make all that work? Is it fair of me to want more children when I’m pretty sure I’ll always need that side of me, too?”
“Bullshit,” Chloe said. “You think men ever have this conversation with themselves? Of course they don’t. You’ve killed yourself to get where you are. If you can have both, have both. It might take some adjustment but who cares? You figure it out as you go.” She tilted her head and added, “You don’t see Max wanting to stay home.”
“Actually,” I started, and it was enough to get Chloe’s attention. She put down her mug and sat back in her chair, waiting. “I don’t really know what’s going on with him right now. I know he wants me every bit as much as he did before Anna, but I think it’s been more of an adjustment for him than he thought it would be, the idea of my being a wife and a mother. He’s so careful, like he’s not sure how to treat me.”
“Can you blame the man?” George said, and we all turned to him. “Have you seen what childbirth does to a vagina?” He did a full-body shudder.
“As horrible a flashback as that was,” I said, “George has a point. I think Max is worried he’ll do something to hurt me, and I’m not really sure how to show him I’m the same Sara I was before. That I want the same things I did before.”
Chloe shrugged and picked up her coffee. “I don’t know, Sara. He went from having you all to himself to watching you learn how to be a mama. Doesn’t surprise me his brain is having to rewrite that code a little.”