“You mean twin boys?” I choked out through soft laughter and Kara shook her head.
“Nope. Girls. You named them Vikki and Rikki. They had the bushiest eyebrows I had ever seen on infants.”
The two of us laughed so loudly that Chris startled slightly in my arms and I pat his back quickly to soothe him back to sleep.
“You just missed his father,” she commented off-handedly even though I knew it was anything but. A few days before, I had confessed to Kara that Jared and I had known each other before Chris was born and she had immediately romanticized the situation. “He was in here for about two hours. He’s still scared shitless of that baby but it’s sweet to watch him try.”
“He’s a nice guy,” I replied, leaning down to inhale the baby’s sweet scent. “He’s also a client.”
“Oh. Then you don’t mind if I ask him out?”
My eyes snapped up at her offhanded comment and Kara was giving me an innocent look. When she saw my expression, her lips curled up into a knowing grin. “That’s what I thought.”
“Shut up,” I mumbled, feeling the blush hit my cheeks again. “You and Alyssa will get along great.”
I was saved from anymore of Kara’s teasing when she became occupied with a brand new baby that was brought it. I stayed with Chris for another hour before kissing him softly and heading home.
Shortly after midnight, I was called out to a bar where two little kids had been left in the car while the father was inside drinking, and I spent the next few hours handling that situation. I was almost four by the time I crawled under my blankets so I could go to bed.
My alarm went off just three hours later and I had to move quickly to get ready. I needed to be to Jared’s by ten but I wanted to see Chris before. He was going home the next day and I didn’t know when I would see him again. The thought made my stomach hurt but I also felt uplifted at the same time.
Chris was going home.
Once my hair and make-up were done, I stared longingly at my jeans. Since I was still on call, dressing casual wasn’t an option so I pulled on a grey, long sleeved dress and a pair of black boots. I walked off the elevator on the fourth floor a half-hour later and went to the NICU. Kara grinned at me through the glass as I washed my hands and she immediately took the coffee I’d brought for her when I walked through the door.
“You’re amazing. Seriously.”
I laughed and set my cup on the desk off to the side before walking to Chris’s bed. “You’re an easy one to please, Kara.” I looked down at the sleeping baby. He was tightly wrapped in a receiving blanket and his little hat was on his head. I lifted him into my arms and held him to my chest.
“Dr. Struthers is still on board with him going home tomorrow,” Kara noted quietly and I nodded as I looked up at her.
“I’m so happy for him and his dad and so sad for me.”
Kara smiled and dropped her head to my shoulder as we both stared down at the perfect bundle in my arms. “You’ll have your own someday, Steph, and you’ll be the best mom.”
“I hope so.”
We stood like that for a few more minutes and she left me with the baby so she could attend to a little one who woke up crying. I took my usual spot in a glider and ran my hands down Chris’s cheek. I didn’t say or do anything else for about thirty minutes and I grinned when his little eyes fluttered open. He let out a big yawn and smacked his tiny lips together as his deep blue eyes looked up. I knew he couldn’t focus on my face but I liked to think that he knew who I was.
“I’m going to miss you, buddy,” I whispered softly. “You’re going to have a great life, though. Your daddy already loves you and he’s going to give you the world.”
A tear slipped down my cheek and I reached up to wipe it away quickly but more followed anyway. I silently cried while peppering his precious little face with kisses, only then realizing how much I’d come to care about Christopher Hart. I continued speaking to him in a low voice and only stopped when someone said my name.
I glanced up at Kara and saw that Jared was standing next to her with a small smile on his face. He wasn’t wearing the usual suit I was accustomed to seeing him in and instead had on a pair of jeans and a Michigan Wolverines t-shirt. I stood and turned slightly to remove any signs of my tears from earlier still on my cheeks. Once I was sure my face was clear, I faced Jared and plastered on a smile.
“Great minds think alike, City Roast.”
He chuckled and nodded his head. “I guess so. I just wanted a quick visit before you came by.”
“Well, here. I’ve been hogging him for a bit now.” I offered up the baby and Jared shook his head.
“You hold him. I don’t mind watching.”
I stared at him for a moment, unsure of how to reply to that, and only looked away when Chris began to whimper in my arms. I tried to comfort him for a moment but Kara glanced at his clipboard and shook her head.
“He’s probably hungry. He hasn’t eaten since about six.” She readied a bottle and tried to hand it to me but I gestured to Jared.
“Come on. Let’s practice while we can.” I held out the baby and gently transferred him from my arms to Jared’s. His face lit up as he stared down at his son and it was truly breathtaking to see. I backed up as the two of them sat in the glider and Jared began to feed him the bottle.
“What are you doing tonight?” Kara asked, glancing up at me as she changed Jewel’s diaper.
“I’m on call for a bit longer and then I was thinking about going to bed early.” I sat on a stool next to her and sighed. “I live such an awesome life.”
Kara started to wrap the little baby back in the blanket and raised her eyebrows. “Honey, you work ten hours day, go out on calls in the middle of the night, and find babies in the garbage. It sounds like your life is kind of complicated.”
“Yeah.” I rubbed the back of my neck and laughed softly. “I guess that means I definitely earned the right to go to bed early.”
I twirled on the stool and sighed tiredly as it came to a stop so I was facing Jared. He smiled when my eyes met his. I returned it with one of my own but didn’t say anything.
Kara and I supervised while Jared did the diaper changing on his own and she gave him swaddling pointers. Around nine-thirty, he stood from the glider. Just as he moved to hand me the baby, Kara made us stop and pose for the camera.
“It’s for the graduation wall,” she said, gesturing to the wall of photos behind her. “Now smile, you two.”
I stood next to Jared, who was still holding Chris, and we both smiled so she could take the picture. Once she had set the camera down, he offered me the baby. I smiled gratefully and held Chris, who was sound asleep, tight.
“I’ll see you again soon, baby boy. I promise.” I pressed my lips to his forehead and inhaled the clean, baby scent mixed with men’s body wash. “Stay sweet, Christopher.”
I placed him back in his bed and had to swallow to keep the tears that threatened back. I stepped away so Jared could kiss his son and Kara wrapped me in a hug.
“I’m going to miss you around here.”
I hugged her back hard. “Then we just have to see each other outside of the NICU.”
“Please. You better call me.” She let me go and smiled at Jared. “I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, Mr. Hart. Bring your car seat and I’ll have some bags ready for you take home.”
“Okay.” He thanked Kara and followed me out of the NICU. He grabbed his jacket as I did the same and swung my bag over my shoulder. We didn’t speak as we stepped into the elevator and I fidgeted slightly in the awkward silence.
“Thank you,” Jared said quietly from where he was standing next to me. I turned my head and raised my brows.
His lips turned up into a smile. “For everything you’ve done for him. You saved him. You’ve loved him when he didn’t have anyone. I watched you through the window of the NICU for a bit today… You’re amazing with him.”
The elevator doors opened and we both stepped out into the parking garage. I shook my head as I began digging through my bag for my keys.
“I don’t usually get attached to the kids on my caseload for this reason.” I closed my fist around my keys and sighed. “If I’m only temporary in their lives, it’s a good thing. I kind of forgot my rule with your son.” I stopped at my car and forced a smile to my face. “I’ll meet you at your place?”
I barely had the words out before my phone was ringing. I glanced at the caller ID and gave Jared an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. One second.” I swiped my screen and brought it to my ear. “This is Stephanie.”
“Stephanie, this is Sam in dispatch. We have a report of domestic incident involving a twelve-year-old boy. He and his mom are currently at St. Helen’s Hospital in Chandler. Can you respond?”
Chandler was at least thirty minutes away if traffic cooperated and there was no telling how long I’d actually be there once I arrived. I knew right away that I wouldn’t have time to get the home visit done with Jared before Chris went home the next day.
“I’m on my way. Can you email me all of the information, please?” Same confirmed and I hung up my phone before shaking my head apologetically. “I’m going to have to cancel on you, City Roast.”
I waited for Jared to get upset but he just smiled. “I understand. Someone needs to save the world, might as well be you.”
“I’m hardly saving the world,” I replied with a chuckle. “I’m not going to be able to get your home inspection done before tomorrow, though. Did you get a car seat?”
He nodded and gestured me towards his car where he opened the back door. I bent down and leaned inside so I could inspect the installation of the car seat base, nodding my head in satisfaction as I did.
“It’s perfect.” I pulled out of the car and Jared’s eyes darted to my face from where they’d been on my ass. He gave me an embarrassed smile and cleared his throat.
“Thanks to YouTube. I went to the store with that list you gave me the other night. The people of Target hate me because I kept them there after closing but I ended up getting everything you wrote down. I already have the bassinet and rocking chair set up and I’ll do everything else this afternoon.”
I sighed and folded my arms over my chest. “I wish all of my parents cared a quarter as much as you do.” I glanced back at the car and shook my head. “Can I do the visit later this week?”
“Of course. I have nowhere to go for the next two months.” He paused and gave me a serious look. “You can come by just to see him, you know. Anytime you want.”