“No buts. This is exactly what we need. Now get dressed, he’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”
George showed up exactly fourteen minutes later.
From the bathroom, I could hear Max open the door and let him in, and begin grilling him as they went from room to room.
“And what about her bottle?” Max asked, clearly hoping to be proven right, and that George had absolutely no idea what he was doing.
“Sara’s breastfeeding so I assume you have expressed milk in the freezer? Maybe even fresh in the refrigerator,” George said, more to himself than to Max, I was sure. “What am I talking about? Honestly, I think I’ve seen more of Sara’s boobs in the last four months than my own.” There was the sound of the freezer door as it opened and closed, and I stepped out into the living room, watching as George answered Max’s questions one by one. Max looked begrudgingly impressed.
“I assume she’s getting about six ounces a feeding,” George continued. “Probably every three hours or so? I’ll heat the refrigerated milk first—only ever under warm water, never the microwave. It kills beneficial properties, you know—and I’ll use the frozen if needed. Though you’ll probably be back by then . . .” George trailed off.
“We have a bottle warmer,” Max said, brow furrowed in what I was certain had to be confusion. George really did seem to be more knowledgeable about taking care of an infant than we were. “And nappies?”
“You mean diapers? Oh you Brits are so damn cute. And please, Maxwell. I could probably diaper you in your sleep and you’d never have any idea. I am a pro.”
“Or so you’ve been told,” I said, stepping out to kiss his cheek. “Sorry, Chloe’s not here and I had to throw that in for her. Thank you so much for doing this.”
He waved me off. “No problem. The little princess and I will probably just sit here and cry through The Notebook. For very, very different reasons, I’m sure.”
Between kisses and cuddles and last-minute instructions, it took another fifteen minutes for George to shoo us out of the apartment.
But we didn’t go to the restaurant around the corner. George had apparently made such an impression that Max made us last-minute reservations at a little Italian place a few miles away. I was nervous at the prospect of leaving Anna when I didn’t have to, but I was also giddy. We were going on a date, just the two of us, and my pulse hadn’t slowed down yet.
I watched his profile as he drove us both to the restaurant; as I studied the way the streetlights passed overhead to emphasize the fullness of his lips, the cut of his jaw, I thought back to our first real date—is that what that was?—when he’d taken me to Queen of Sheba and I hadn’t been able to stop looking at his mouth. I still couldn’t stop looking at his mouth.
The press didn’t follow him like they did before we were together, but since Anna had been born, there was an uptick in Hot Daddy Max Stella photos in Page Six and on various Internet gossip sites. I couldn’t say that I blamed them, no matter how much I still resented them for ever spooking me in the first place.
I closed my eyes, my heart squeezing tightly as I was pulled back in time to our first night together after the pictures in the papers, the ones that made me think he’d cheated. He’d thrown a party, and after not answering his calls for over a week, I’d shown up, finally ready to talk. But it hadn’t been as simple as I expected—he’d been genuinely hurt—and I had some apologizing to do.
I remembered the small, grudging smile Max gave me when we woke up together the next morning; he had handed over the last tiny bit of himself with that.
I remembered how that look had squeezed my heart, painfully. He’d been scared to let me back in, and in the stark white light of the morning, with both of us sweaty and spent, we couldn’t hide with our faces pressed to the other’s skin, or in the game of transparency through photos. He looked at me directly, baldly, and there was nothing else between us.
“Stay,” he said, bending to suck at the skin just beneath my ear. “Stay with me. It’s good, Petal. Us. It’s so sodding good and if you spook again it will absolutely wreck me.”
I nodded, heart trapped somewhere between my throat and the sky. “I love you.”
“That means we’re settled. It means there’s no question where my heart is. You’ll stay here.”
It had been that easy. It had always been that easy. And I had learned to trust it.
But now it was a different shape: bigger, yes, but unwieldy, and the ease of it all—Max and Sara, a rhythm ricocheting between us like a shared heartbeat—was now pounding too hard for me to bear.
Because now I felt everything. It was like a faucet had been turned on inside me, filling me with warmth and pride and thrill and terror and vulnerability and strength and powerlessness and lust and it never shut off. It filled and filled until I was sure I was bursting from it, but how could I ever complain that I felt too much? How could I explain that I was burning up with the constant awareness that if anyone ever tried to hurt my man or my baby I would rip them inside out with my rage?
How could I ever complain that it was often hard to find myself in the desire to be mother and lover in equal measure to the two people in my life who seemed to matter above even my own need for air?
Max held my hand as we drove, until a text from George pulled me out of my memories.