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Waffles taste better after you've been out-of-your-mind sick, Leslie decides.

 

JJ’s is always perfect, of course, but there’s also comfort and familiarity after a weird day of throwing up and giving a speech high on flu medicine. 

 

It’s nice, after feeling so crummy, to finally feel good again.  This good mood has nothing to do with who delivered the waffles.

 

Definitely not.

 

Her cheeks hurt from smiling, but that’s just because she’s happy.  Happy the Harvest Fest is working and that it’s going to be super successful and she’ll finally have her normal Park’s budget back.

 

Her mood has nothing to do with who brought her these waffles or how cute his butt looked in his khaki pants or how sweet and calm he was with her yesterday.

 

She was kind of out her mind, but she does remember some of it.

 

Leslie remembers a big, warm hand on the small of her back (that she’s pretty sure was Ben’s), guiding her to the stage and away from a scarecrow maybe? He’d helped her sit down after she gave her speech and led her back to his car- which she assumes is how she got back to the hospital, but she was out cold after that.

 

She remembers his voice, low and concerned and feeling more intimate than she’s ever felt with another coworker before.

 

Leslie has grown to respect Ben as a hardworking city government employee, and it’s nice to smile back at him and finally know that it’s a genuine exchange.  Anything beyond that she’ll have to dissect later, after she saves her whole department.  Later, she’ll wonder why she feels like she has a fever again whenever she remembers Ben whispering to her while she was sick:

 

Be careful.

 

 “I know,” Leslie snaps. She doesn’t mean to, of course she doesn’t, but sometimes she feels like she can’t really help it.

 

“Sorry,” Ben says back, holding up his hands and sounding the opposite of sorry.

 

Leslie winces.  Sweet, annoying, overly protective Ben only has the best intentions, she knows that.  But she still can’t help but feel a little frustrated.

 

She makes her way, carefully, to their bed and she and Westley settle on their sides. It’s 1am and if it were either of her other two she would just sit in the rocker in the corner, pop out a boob and be done with it.  But Westley is maybe a little like Ben, she’s realizing - a little sensitive and a little needy, acts cranky when he’s actually feeling sad or hurt.

 

So instead they lie on their sides, kind of hug and stare at each other.  Leslie slides her shirt halfway off so Westley can feel more of her warmth, absorb the comfort of her bare skin.

 

Once he’s settled, Leslie looks across their bedroom to her husband.  He’s sitting still in the rocker.  He seems less annoyed than his tone implied, but that’s probably just because he’s watching Sonia and Stephen sleep in the bassinet beside him.

 

“Babe,” she whispers.  It seems like half of their day is spent whispering now.  The next time she gets to be alone with Ben, really alone, she’s going to talk at full volume the whole time. Maybe above full volume.

 

“Honey,” either he’s ignoring her or she’s taking this whispering thing a little too far.  Either way, she can’t help the moisture that’s starting to form in her eyes. That’s another thing she’s looking forward to- not getting weirdly emotional all the time.  Well, at least not weirdly emotional about something that’s weird for her. Because she'll probably still cry at every milestone, big and small, even when they pee in the potty for the first time. 

 

Ben's sigh interrupts her thoughts.  He crosses the room instead of answering, slides slowly to his side of the bed to face them.

 

He still doesn’t say anything and Leslie sniffles.  He looks at her then, tiredness lined with worry mixed with the constant care she feels from him. He holds her hand that’s cradling Westley and wipes the tears out of the corner of her eye with the other.

 

“Sorry.”  This time she believes him.

 

“Me too.”

 

//

 

“Are you sure you have to go?”

 

Ben pushes his sunglasses to the top of his head and nods.

 

“I’m sure.”

 

Leslie stamps her foot and little and whines, but Ben can’t help but be amused.

 

He pulls her by the waist and leans down to kiss her.

 

“It’s just two days.”

 

“Two weekend days! And we barely get to see each other as it is…”

 

“You mean working in the same building, on the same floor, everyday-”

 

Leslie smacks him on the arm, but leans a little more into him, her body a comforting weight pressing him into the side of his car.

 

“You know what I mean. We technically can’t see each other at work, besides for work things.”

 

“Which almost never happens. I see you all the time for non-work things, like that thing in the closet and that thing-”

 

“BUT, but the weekend is just for us. All day, no interruptions.”

 

Ben raises his eyebrows.

 

“Some interruptions.”

 

Ben has to kiss her again, so he does.  Leslie sinks into him, her arms around his waist and her head on his chest as he holds her tight.  It’s only been three weeks of secret dating, but he thinks Leslie must feel the same way he does.  He hopes so at least. The way she’s protesting his two day business trip with Chris makes him feel like she does.

 

He cards his fingers in the back of her hair, kisses up the side of her neck, they way he's learned she likes, while they hold onto each other. 

 

“I’ll make it up to you.”

 

There’s the sparkle.  He’ll be thinking about the way her eyes light up in that exact way for the next 48 hours until he can see her again. And maybe he’s a little obsessed for three weeks, but these three weeks have felt like they have been building for 8 months, maybe 30 years, even.

 

“How?”

 

“It’s a surprise.”

 

This time, she kisses him. Long and deep and yeah, they might be both a little obsessed.

 

Ben finally pulls away and rounds the car to the driver’s door.

 

“Call me when you get there.”

 

“I will.”

 

“And call me on the way, if you can.”

 

“I will.”

 

He’s about to get in when-

 

“And Ben?”

 

“Yes, dear?”

 

Leslie looks like she wants to say something, but holds back. In the pause between her words his stomach drops a little before she says:

 

Be careful.

 

Leslie says softy as she offers her hand to him.  His wife has always been small, but at sixty-five she could be considered somewhat more breakable. She still holds her hand out like she could lift him if she had to.  Ben believes she could.

 

He takes her hand but stands on his own, even though his bad knee protests some.  Today, his knee is a faint annoyance compared to the ache he feels. It almost feels overwhelming, until Leslie squeezes his hand more tightly, leads him down the aisle of the church and back to the parking lot.

 

Sonia hugs him for the fourth time in the bright sunshine and he kisses her ear and it’s like she’s six again and time hasn’t passed at all.  But time has passed and with it brought his father's death.

 

He thought he might say something bitter or sarcastic, how only his father would be stubborn enough to live with such bad health for so long, but he can’t.  Instead he just feels sad.

 

Westley and Stephen smile sadly at him, and they seem a little surprised when Ben kisses them each on the cheek. They smile happier after, though.

 

It’s later, they’re back at the hotel and Leslie is taking off his suit jacket for him, hanging it in the closet.  She stands between his legs where he’s seated on the bed and undoes the knot in his tie, tosses it on the back of the chair.  He’s about to ask her if she can take off his shoes too, half joking but half serious because he suddenly has hardly any energy at all.

 

Instead she brushes his hair from his forehead, presses her lips their lingeringly and slides into his lap.  She squeezes tightly and he presses kisses up her neck and for a few moments he gets what he wants: time doesn’t pass.

 

//

 

“Move over.”

 

Leslie scoots on their couch, but continues chewing on her nail.

 

“You went over the rules with them again right?”

 

Leslie looks like she’s listening, but definitely not to him.  There’s a shout of ‘shut it, Stevie’ which tells him where she’s really focused.

 

“Babe?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“The rules?”

 

“What? Oh yeah. Yes. The rules. We all went over it again. I put a laminated copy in the glove compartment and I’m planning on texting it to all of them in every hour on the hour.”

 

“And they all agreed, right?”

 

“To the rules? Yes. The laminated copy and the texting they may or may not know about.”

  

Ben chuckles and wraps his arm around her waist. His three 18-year-olds may not be pleased that their first road trip will be periodically interrupted by worried questioning from their mother, but honestly Ben’s extra glad to have Leslie on days like this.  It’s only a few hours to Indianapolis, but there are still a million worst cast scenarios he could think of easily right now if you asked him.

 

All three of his kids coming running through the living room then, shouting 'bye' as they pass.

 

“Wait!”

 

“We know the rules, Dad, Mom reminded us.”

 

“Okay so you’ll be back by 8?”

 

“Dad!”

 

“Okay, okay have fun.”

 

“Yes, have fun,” Leslie adds and squeezes Ben’s knee in reassurance.

 

They’re walking through the door when Ben and Leslie shout in unison:

 

“And be careful!”