When his young niece Bailey moves in, Cory knows he needs to end his casual fling with Ken. Bailey’s had enough upheaval in her short life, and Cory doesn’t want her to get attached to a “friend” who won’t be sticking around. Even so, Cory finds himself continuing to let Ken into his life, but a one-night-stand gone serial isn’t what Cory wants, and so he makes The List: his requirements for the perfect partner. Helping out during a difficult time, Ken finds himself being pulled into the family unit despite Cory’s previous emotional distance. He hopes he’s finally breaking through, on the verge of convincing Cory to make their relationship more than a casual one. Then, while helping Bailey write to Santa, he finds Cory’s list and takes it as his cue to bow out—just when Cory needs him the most…
He was about to walk down to the kitchen when an impulse made him check on Bailey. Peeking into the room, he was alarmed to see that she had kicked off her covers and was nearly bare, huddled in a ball and shivering in her sleep. He hurriedly tucked her back in and then looked at the medicine’s directions. Past time to try another dose, but should he wake her up? He put his palm to her forehead—still hot, but didn’t seem as bad as last night. She took the decision out of his hands by fluttering her eyes open.
“Oh, hi. No, it’s, uh, Uncle Ken,” he improvised. “Time for some more medicine.”
“I‟m not ‘posed to take things from strangers. But you helped me when I threw up. Are you Uncle Cory’s best friend?”
“What? No, well yes, we’re friends.” With benefits. He hoped they still were anyway.
“Okay. Is it still grape?”
“Mmm hmm,” he acknowledged absently, measuring the dose he and Cory’d decided on last night. She willingly took it down, and he stood, unsure of what to do next. “Do you think you could sip some ginger ale?”
“What is it?”
“It’s fizzy like pop, and it helps your tummy feel better. What does your mom usually give you to drink when you’re sick?”
“Don’t know.” Her chin started quivering at the mention of her mom. Oh great, you jerk. You had to go and remind her. He remembered her crying for her mom last night and decided he needed to distract her.
“Do you want to come down to the kitchen with me to get it?”
“Are you going to carry me again?”
He smiled at her hopeful question. “Sure, sweets.” He helped her bundle into her robe and slippers and carefully lifted her. “You let me know if you think you’re going to throw up. I don’t want any on me.” He made an exaggerated, disgusted face that made her giggle.
“You’re funny.” She hooked her arms trustingly around his neck, and he swallowed around the lump in his throat. Man. He was finally starting to get what people saw in kids. He must be tired; he was feeling all emotional…