I get Max changed into a dry diaper and a new outfit – his favorite blue t-shirt with an alligator on the front and a pair of shorts. And since I'm now wet too, I take the opportunity to change into something more appropriate for having company over. A sleeveless midnight blue dress. It's cotton and stretchy and soft, and I hope doesn't give off the impression I'm trying too hard. I finger-comb my tangled hair and pull it back into a low ponytail.
When Max and I emerge from the bedrooms, I find Pace standing in my living room, looking at the photographs of Max that I have on pretty much every surface with a wistful expression on his face.
He's stripped off his wet t-shirt and when he turns to face me, I feel like someone has punched me in the stomach. All of the air has been sucked from my lungs.
His chest and abs are rock solid muscle, like they've been carved from stone. He's tan and has a light spattering of dark hair that disappears under the waistband of his jeans…and speaking of waistbands, there are no boxers or briefs that I can see. Does he go commando? And why do my fingers itch to find out?
"Do you have a dryer?" he asks, holding up a damp t-shirt.
"Y-yes," I stammer and point to the hall that leads to the laundry room. A shirtless Pace and I'm reduced to one word answers and pointing. Excellent.
His gaze wanders over my curves, stopping at the knee-length hemline of my dress and he smiles appreciatively. "Be right back."
I hear the dryer start up and I head into the kitchen, securing Max in his highchair and begin removing ingredients from the fridge.
"I'm sorry I can't offer you anything more sophisticated than grilled cheese sandwiches," I tell him.
"I haven't had a grilled cheese in years. Sounds great." Pace beams at me.
Why is he always so sure and steady when I feel anything but?
Pace plays with Max while I busy myself buttering slices of bread and tucking cheese between them. It takes every ounce of willpower I have not to turn around and watch them interact – the sweet sounds of baby babbling, coupled with deep male laughter tug at my heartstrings. Don't be fooled by this pretty man, Kylie.
When the sandwiches are ready, I cut Max's into little bites and dump the whole thing on his tray. Then I toss in some raspberries and his cup of milk. Pace watches me move around my kitchen and the sign language I use to communicate with Max. If he wants to hang around, he's going to have to get used to the pecking order here. Max's needs come first.
When I finally set our plates down at the kitchen island where Pace is sitting, I'm expecting him to make some comment about how the sandwiches are now cold, but instead he turns to me and smiles.
"You're a really good mom."
No one's ever said that to me before and the emotional impact of his words stop me dead in my tracks. It's as though all of my edge that I've fought to keep – my strength, determination and the lady balls I've had to grow since becoming a single mom – all of it is wiped out in an instant. "T-thank you," I murmur.
Pace takes a bite of the sandwich, his eyes not straying from Max. "What's that sign mean?" he asks.
I look over at Max and see his little fingers opening and closing. "Milk," I say.
"I've got it." Pace stands, and grabs the empty cup from his tray.
My feelings toward him soften, as I watch him pour milk into the sippy cup, fasten the lid tightly and place it back in Max's chubby grasp.
I don't need any help, but damn his presence here feels good. So good. I'm tired of being strong all the time. Here is a man, a gorgeous fucking man, who is willing to help. Why not let him? The lump in my throat makes it difficult to swallow.
I'm amazed to be here, sharing this moment with Kylie and her son. It's something so normal – having lunch – yet it feels like so much more. Her eyes stay glued to me as I move around the kitchen, helping clean off Max's hands and dumping the remnants of his tray of food into the trash.
After lunch, Kylie lays Max down in his crib for a nap, and then rejoins me in the living room. She begins picking up toys and tossing them into a basket beside the couch. I get the sense she doesn’t often have downtime – time just for herself – time to be a woman and not just a mom. It's strange how being near her makes me think of things I've never before considered.
"Come sit down for a bit¸" I encourage, patting the seat next to me.
She does, falling back into the plush sofa with a soft sigh. "I love him, but God, he's exhausting," she laughs.
"He's great," I say.
Her eyes slide over to mine and she studies me quietly, her face suddenly serious.
Today hasn't been about romance. We weren't trying to impress one another, well, maybe I was trying a little – showing up here with that pool, but I wonder if all of this – the slow start, the conversation, the getting to know someone, is the key to it all. Talking, building a friendship first, having it lead to something on a deeper level than I've ever operated at before. I've never approached a relationship with a woman like this before. And it feels so entirely different, I'm beside myself for what comes next.
It's been interesting seeing her in her space all day. Unlike my tidy and sparse condo, her house actually feels like a home. It feels lived in and alive. There are candid photographs on the walls and decorating the shelves and mantle. Selfies with her and Max, or just Max alone, because she's the one behind the camera. There are no happy family portraits, just a beautiful girl who doesn’t understand her worth, and her baby son.