Authors: Rhonda Marks
“All done,” the nurse said as she exited Tesia’s room. “She dropped off to sleep as soon as I finished. Why don’t you go get a bite, Nitika?”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Javier added as he approached them. “My treat.”
The nurse gave him a megawatt smile as she turned in his direction. For a hot second, Nitika felt a pang of jealousy, but quickly shook it off. “I’m really not hungry.”
“Then go with me and watch me eat,” he teased.
She took a quick look at Tesia and saw that she was sound asleep. What would it hurt to step away for half an hour? “Sure.” After disposing of the medical garb, they headed for the cafeteria.
, tell my why you decided to become a sperm donor.”
Javier almost choked on his mouthful of food when Nitika sprung that question on him. He held up a hand to let her know he was chewing, but it also gave him the time to come up with a coherent answer.
Should he tell her the truth? He had trouble picking it out himself sometimes. Donating sperm during grad school was the thing to do in order to pick up a few quick bucks. The school newspaper was littered with ads for young women to donate eggs for big money and young men to donate sperm for not as much cash. Hey, but when you’re scrounging the couch cushions for extra change, any little bit helped.
But the death of his beloved wife had something to do with his decision to donate
, too. He and Candy fell in love at first sight during their last year of college and had an enormous wedding the summer after graduation. She immediately obtained a good job as an application developer, while he started graduate business school. While things weren’t perfect, they were happy. They’d planned on having at least three children, and living out in the suburbs, the white picket fence and everything. Then she got sick, really sick, and all their dreams disappeared. No happily ever after, no kids and finally with her death, no hope.
Now here he was in a similar situation
, this time with a child he should not know about, very ill and in danger of dying. Maybe he was cursed. “Um, long story,” he finally answered, then shoved another forkful of Spanish rice in his mouth to ward off speaking any further. That seemed to satisfy Nitika for the time being since she simply nodded and continued on with her meal too.
He had to coax her into making a plate for herself,
shaking his head at her skimpy choices. While he piled his tray high with several items from the delectable looking buffet, she only picked up a salad and an iced tea.
“You know you have to keep your strength up, right?”
She quickly lifted her head and pinned him with an icy stare. “You, too?”
She set her fork onto the tray and took a small sip of her tea. “I get this lecture daily from friends and hospital staff. I’m fine.”
He took the time to examine her clothing and noticed that her blouse seemed to hang from her frame. “You’ve lost weight.”
She opened her mouth then quickly closed it. After letting out a loud huff, she responded. “Yes. Eating is the last thing on my mind now.” She brought a shaking hand to her mouth and looked away. “How can I eat when my baby is suffering?”
Javier’s heart clenched watching her
reaction, so much like his during Candy’s suffering. His family practically force-fed him one day after he fainted in the hospital. He didn’t want to leave her side during a particularly harrowing episode, and refused to eat food brought to him. He’d never fainted before, and then realized he was not helping his wife by being stupid.
“How are you going to be there for Tesia if you’re ill?” He slid one of the grilled chicken breasts from his plate onto hers. “Eat.”
With an air of resignation, she slowly cut off a piece of the chicken and placed it into her mouth. He smiled when she swallowed it and quickly cut up the rest. She added it to her paltry salad and before he knew it, finished it off.
“Happy?” she asked once she
set aside her utensils and downed the rest of her tea.
mmensely,” he replied as he speared a piece of the apple pie sitting before him. Instead of putting it in his mouth, he held it out for her. He could see the indecision in her eyes before she mischievously leaned forward and took it into her mouth.
Thank goodness he was sitting down with the table hiding his growing erection. Damn! This was
not the time nor the place for this to happen. He’d been without a woman for too long if the simple act of Nitika eating from his fork made him hard.
“That was so good! I haven’t had something that delicious in quite a while.”
“Do you want me to go get a slice for you?” He prayed that she said no to spare him from embarrassing himself in front of a room full of diners.
“No thanks,” she said while patting her flat stomach. “I’m more than full.” She glanced down at her watch. “Will you excuse me? I’m going to call and see if Tesia is still asleep.” She gathered their trays and headed for the exit, while he remained in his seat, watching her swaying hips as she walked away. Not. Good.
Nitika took a little extra time out in the hall after checking on Tesia. Her little girl was still fast asleep and resting comfortably, according to the nurse. Any other day she’d still rush back to her room and try to catch a quick nap herself. But with a gorgeous man who just fed her a piece of his apple pie waiting for her inside the cafeteria, she could spare a few more minutes.
Swiping her hand down her make-up
-free face, she turned to the wall next to the cafeteria entrance, plastered with all kinds of notices. She needed time to get her runaway libido under control. Javier Crespo was making her lose what little mind she had left.
Suddenly a wave of guilt washed over her and she had to lean against the wall for support. How could she have these feelings while her baby was upstairs fighting for her life? What kind of mother was she? Squaring her shoulders, she took a deep breath and reentered the dining room. She needed to let Javier know she was going back to their daughter’s room.
With all the best intentions, she marched over to the table where he sat, but stopped short. A couple of what appeared to be student nurses sat at the table, giggling and blushing at something he was saying. The nerve! To his credit, he stood when he saw her approaching. The wide smile on his face though evaporated when he spied the stern look on hers. “Um, you’re back.”
Biting down on her lower lip, she gave her head a sharp nod. “Um, I think I’m going to head back upstairs. I’ll see you later.” She turned to leave but stopped when she felt Javier’s hand on her upper arm. Heat rushed to that spot and it took everything within her to wrench herself free. Instead, she simply stared at his hand until he removed it.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I thought we could stay down here for a little while longer.”
“You can if you’d like. I’m sure your new friends don’t mind keeping you company.” She looked over at the young ladies who boldly returned her stare. Children nowadays!
“Well, if you want to go up, I’ll join you.” This caused the pair to narrow their eyes in her direction. Nitika wanted to s
tick her tongue out at them, but knew that would be beyond childish. Plus she’d won so there was no need to gloat.
“Nice meeting you, ladies,” Javier said as he pushed in his chair.
“Nice meeting you,” the pair whined in a sing-song voice. As she and Javier exited the dining room, she dared to look back to see them pouting. Good.
“You don’t have to go upstairs with me. It’s a workday, right?”
“Every day is a workday for me. But I’ve made arrangements to be here as long as it takes.”
Nitika almost stumbled upon hearing his response. He works every day? Just like her father.
What were the odds that she’d pick a sperm donor who was a workaholic? Only her. “If you’re sure, then let’s go.” She started for the elevator, shaking her head at what she’d just learned.
“Do you mind if we took the stairs,” he asked, interrupting her
depressing thoughts. “I think I ate a little too much back there.”
“Sure,” she replied. “I need the exercise
“So are you sleeping here every
night?” he asked as he held the door to the stairwell open and allowed her to pass through first.
Yeah. Tesia has problems sleeping and I hang around to give the nurses a break. They have a ton of other children to look after.” She slowly climbed the stairs, looking over her shoulder as she spoke to Javier.
“What about work? I mean, do you still get to the office?”
“No, I’m on temporary leave. I’ve used up all my vacation time and sick leave. Right now my wonderful co-workers are donating their extra days so I have some kind of income.”
“Sounds like some really good people. How about your relatives? Are they helping?”
She took a deep breath and allowed his question to hang in the air. Talking about her parents or any of her so-called relatives was something she hated to do. The only person who knew the whole story was Elise. But this man was her daughter’s father. He was going to find out the truth one day. Might as well be today.
“My father had a heart attack when I
was seventeen.” Worked himself to death. “My mom died a few years before that. Both of them were only children, like me, and had very few relatives. I spent my teen years in foster care.”
She’d stopped moving and Javier was one step below her. She dared to look behind her to find his lips a hair’s
breath away from hers. They stared at each other for what seemed like minutes before he leaned in and touched her lips with his. Softly at first, then he became more insistent, and her mouth opened for him. His arms wrapped around her waist and he hauled her flush with his body. This man was making her do things that she hadn’t thought about doing in years.
An employee with an embarrassed look on her face announced her presence and they immediately jumped apart. Nitika had to grab onto Javier’s arm to steady herself. She mumbled “Sorry.” as she made room for the woman to pass them on her way down the stairs.
“Guess we need to get moving, huh?” Her chest rising and fall rapidly, she dared to look in his direction. His scorching gaze made her want to start the kiss all over again, but instead she turned and practically ran all the way to the next level and out the door. This was so not the time to be doing this.
Over the next week, Nitika did her best to d
odge Javier and avoid another kiss from him. But as hard as she tried to stay away from him, he did the opposite. At every turn, he made sure to be there. Every meeting with the oncologist. Every time a doctor came in to see Tesia. Every night before she drifted off to sleep, he was there. She was on the verge of a breakdown.
While he played a card game with Tesia, she slipped out the door and down the hall to put some space between them. They still had not told Tesia he was her father: Nitika wasn’t ready to take that step yet.
Yeah, she knew her reluctance to do so was cowardly on her part, but she couldn’t help it. What if when Tesia fully recovered, Javier disappeared, never to be seen again? Or worse yet, what if he decided he wanted to stay in her life and tried to gain some type of custody? Tears sprang to her eyes over both options. Something needed to be done. Soon.
Tesia was growing closer to him every
day. She never really had a father figure in her life. Sure, there were co-workers and husbands of girlfriends who made time for her. But Nitika made a vow that she would delay any love life until her child was grown and out of the house. She did want her little girl to go through what she did growing up. And she meant to keep it that way, no matter how tempting the man may be. And Javier Crespo certainly was temptation personified.
“How’s it going, girlie?”
Nitika jumped at Elise’s question. Her hand over her heart, she glared at her best friend. “Stop sneaking up on me like that!”
Elise smirked and turned to look inside Tesia’s room. “If you weren’t so engrossed thinking about that man, you would have heard me clomping down the hall.” She glanced down at her heavy boots and stepped a few feet away to demonstrate how loud her footsteps were.
“Alright, maybe I was a little distracted.”
Girl, a nuclear bomb could have gone off and you wouldn’t have noticed. Come on.”
Nitika gave one last
wistful look toward her daughter’s room then followed Elise into the family waiting room. A television in the corner blared the news, while exhausted looking adults tried to snooze in recliners scattered around the room. Luckily she’d never had to sleep out here. Her nights were spent next to Tesia’s bed in a semi-comfortable bed/recliner. “How are you?”
“I’m supposed to be asking you that. I can see you’re still not eating right.”
Nitika suppressed a grimace at that remark. After their first visit to the cafeteria and the subsequent kiss in the stairwell, she’d refused to accompany him anymore. Instead, she dined in Tesia’s room, accepting leftover meals from the food staff. Yeah, she was being a coward, but it couldn’t be helped. She had to protect her heart.
“You’re not your mother, you know.”
Nitika shot her friend a dirty look and stood. “I have no idea—”
“Yes you do. Unfortunately, all you’ve ever experienced are screwed up examples of so-called loving relationships. Love does not equal instability. Love is a beautiful thing with the right person. Look at me and Mason.”
Nitika snorted and turned her head away from her friend. In her lifetime, all she’d experienced was heartache as a result of loving someone. Her father and mother were so wrapped in their own lives they couldn’t spare any love for her. Nothing and no one could tell her anything different. Love hurt, hurt bad. Love was to be avoided at all costs. The last thing she wanted to do today though was to argue with her best friend and foster sister.