The birth of my baby was the most painful experience I had ever undergone. There was no father to support me, so I gave birth alone, in my own living room.
When Aidan was born, I fell in love. I had never felt anything like this before. The tears dripped down my cheeks as I gazed into my baby’s eyes, thinking how much I wished his father were here to share this experience. It had been six months since I had last seen Ren when he had thrown me out of his house. Although I had been happy in recent weeks, I still ached at the idea that my baby would grow up without a father.
In spite of circumstances, I was determined to be the best mother I could be. I rejected all offers of work and instead stayed at home to look after Aidan.
I had bought a new crib for my baby boy which I placed in the living room of our tiny apartment. I knew in a few years, Aidan would be wanting a bed and we would have to move out, but for now this was all I could afford.
For those first few months, Aidan was my comfort and my solace, the thing that kept me sane as my grief over Ren slowly evaporated. I loved my baby boy more than anything in the world.
Ian and Julie also adored Aidan, and we spent a lot of time at their apartment, which was a great experience for both of us. While Ian and Julie played with Aidan, I had a rare chance to relax and take a break from single parenting.
Sometimes, usually at night, Julie or Ian would come over to my apartment to babysit Aidan, or to help me feed him. They had bought Aidan a high chair as a birthday present, which proved to be a real blessing as he had grown into a very messy eater.
Aidan simply worshipped Ian, who spent a lot of time at our apartment during Aidan’s first year whenever he wasn’t busy with work for the Science Lab.
Whenever he was over, Ian would spend all his time with Aidan, playing with him and teaching him to walk and talk. I loved watching them together, thinking what a great dad Ian would make someday. He was already a father figure for Aidan, which I was incredibly grateful for, given how worried I had been about the effects the absence of his father would have on him.
Ian was also a very good cook, and frequently cooked dinner for the three of us while I was taking care of Aidan.
Some nights when I was particularly exhausted he would stay overnight to help me out, either sleeping on the couch or staying up all night reading. It was obvious that he was still had a lot of work to do with his job, and yet he still sacrificed so much time for me and my family.
One evening close to Christmas, Julie threw a house party at their apartment in celebration of Ian’s two years living and working in Bridgeport. Aidan and I were invited, as well as several of Ian’s work colleagues.
Aidan was happily well-behaved throughout, playing quietly on the kitchen floor while I chatted with the other guests. When he started to get sleepy, Julie tucked him into her bed so that he could sleep until we were ready to go home.
After the other guests had gone home, I found Ian in the guest room talking to Julie.
“Hey Ian, could I talk to you for a minute?” I asked him.
“Sure,” he replied, looking slightly apprehensive. “What’s up?”
I got straight to the point to set his mind at ease. “I, um… I just wanted to thank you. For everything you’ve done for us. You… you really didn’t have to do so much.”
For a second he looked surprised, but then he smiled. “It’s a pleasure, Nicole,” he said. “I love spending time with you and Aidan. Besides, friends look out for each other, right?”
“Er… right,” I answered confusedly, wondering why I felt my heart sink when he mentioned the word “friends”. That’s what we were. Good friends. I pushed down my feelings and managed to smile back. “Thanks, Ian.”
“Any time,” he smiled again, and left the room.
Over the next few weeks as Ian continued to look after Aidan during the day, I was able to go back to work and began to steadily rise in my career.
I was still performing sing-a-grams as I hadn’t managed to land a real gig yet, but I was definitely improving, and there was never a shortage of jobs.
Some of the jobs I went on were very uncomfortable, especially since my uniform appeared not to have been designed with snowy winters in mind. But as long as I was earning money for myself and Aidan, I wasn’t too worried what kind of jobs I was doing. It was enough that I could work at all.
One afternoon I was at home with Aidan, and had taken the opportunity to take a warm shower after spending hours dancing in the snow that day. As I emerged, I noticed a missed call on my phone which I had left sitting on the kitchen counter. Picking it up, I realised that it was a message from Ian. I pressed accept and let the message play while I got dressed.
“Hey Nicole, there’s uh, something I need to talk to you about. Could you meet me at the park in an hour or so? Julie says she’ll come over and babysit Aidan, if that’s all right with you. Text me and let me know if you can make it.” The phone beeped and fell silent just as I was shrugging on a jacket. I was surprised that Ian had called me at this time, but the tone in his voice told me that whatever he had to say was important. I sent a quick text back to confirm that I would be there, and then called Julie to make sure she could come round and look after Aidan while I was gone. When she arrived, I kissed Aidan goodbye and left the house, making sure to leave my spare keys with Julie as I went.
I arrived at the park just as the sun was setting to find Ian already waiting for me, standing in the snow beside the gardens. He grinned when he saw me.
“Nicole! I’m glad you could come,” he exclaimed, greeting me with one of his warm hugs.
I hugged him back, smiling as I thought of how safe I felt just knowing that he was here for me.
“So, what was this very important thing you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked as we drew apart. To my dismay, the smile instantly fell from his face and he looked very uncomfortable. I wanted to apologise, but he looked as if he wanted to say something, so I waited in silence until he was ready.
“Well,” he said at last, “you know I’ve been here in Bridgeport for my job the past couple of years.” I nodded, waiting for him to continue.
“And you know it was always going to be a temporary position, until they needed me again back in Sunset Valley.” Uh oh… please tell me this isn’t what I think it is. “I received a call this morning from the Science Facility there. They want me to go back to working there again, since one of their top researchers just retired and they need someone to take over the position.” He paused, looking away as if trying to avoid my eyes as he continued.
“I asked for time to consider it, but the truth is I’ve basically already made my decision. I’ll be leaving next week. It’s a great career opportunity, and I decided I should take it. I… probably won’t be coming back to Bridgeport.”
That one word hit me like a truck, knocking the air out of me as an involuntary gasp escaped my lips.
In that moment of pain I suddenly knew that what I felt for Ian could not be simple friendship. Even the best of friends couldn’t imagine how I felt as I struggled to accept the truth behind his words. And Ian… I knew that what I felt for him went beyond even my feelings for Ren, which I realised now had amounted to nothing more than childish infatuation. How could I have allowed something like this to happen without even realising it?
“Nicole? Are you okay?” Ian’s concerned voice barely reached me, but I could not respond. There was only room in my mind for one thought… Somehow, somewhere, I had fallen in love with my best friend, with Ian. And it was too late.
He was leaving.