Finding a Hart

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Chapter 21

Stephanie

I stared at him for a moment as all sorts of emotions ran through me. I was a weird mix of sad, happy, grateful, and something else that I couldn’t place.

“Thanks, Jared. Really. That means a lot to me.” My phone chimed with the email from dispatch and I held it up. “I have to go, though. You’re going to do great. I promise. Call me anytime.”

He nodded and held his hand up in a wave. “Thank you, Stephanie.”

“Of course. I’ll talk to you soon.” I grinned at him before turning to rush back to my car.

I drove to Chandler and spent almost five hours at the hospital with the battered mother and son. When they both refused to admit that the father was the one who’d hurt the son, the police promised to look into it and I opened a file on the family so we could make multiple home visits in the future.

I was on my way back home when my phone rang and I pushed a button on the steering wheel to answer it.

“Hey, Lyss.”

“Are you working tonight?” Alyssa asked by way of greeting and I smiled.

“I’m off call in exactly one hour. Why? What’s up?”

She let out a small cheer. “Good. Get your ass home. I had a shit day. I have the new Baywatch movie that has Zac Efron and The Rock. We’re going to watch those hunky boys while we eat popcorn and gorge on this new wine I bought. I won’t let you say no.”

“Well, I guess I have no choice, then.” I smiled as I maneuvered my car onto the freeway. “Give me thirty minutes and I’ll stop to grab chocolate on my way.”

“And that is why we are best friends,” Alyssa said with a laugh. “See you soon.”

Jared

I woke up Sunday morning feeling like I was going to throw up.

It all still felt like a joke. Less than two weeks before, I’d been a certified workaholic and a confirmed bachelor who was slowly trying to woo my coffee buddy. Suddenly, I was a father to a two-week-old baby and asking my boss if I could do some work from home while I figured my shit out.

Luckily I was damn good at my job and doing it from home wouldn’t be too hard. My boss, who happened to be the CEO, was really understanding when I explained everything that had happened. I would have to go into the office occasionally but I was hoping that Chris and I would have some time alone together before that happened.

And hopefully time together would help me figure out how to keep him alive.

I’d spent a lot of time on the internet over the past seven days. I’d googled everything from making bottles to changing diapers and even tried to figure out how to swaddle. I bought everything Stephanie had told me I needed and even caved to some of the gimmicky stuff. I would need to hide the wipes warmer when she came over…

I read up on SIDs- something I almost wish I hadn’t done-, diaper rashes, infant fevers, and every other ailment I could think of. I just hoped I was ready.

I traveled down the elevator shortly after eight with the diaper bag in my hand. I’d packed everything in it that the internet had recommended and had no idea if it was enough.

As I stepped out of the elevator, the friendly doorman smiled at me from behind the counter before rushing around to get the door. No matter how many times I told him I could do it, Howie still insisted on being the one to get it for me.

“Today’s the big day, isn’t it, Mr. Hart?”

I nodded and swallowed nervously. “It is. I’m going to go have breakfast with a few guys from work and then pick him up. The hospital said around ten.”

Howie had been a huge help in everything. I spilled my guts to him the night I’d gone to the hospital for the first time and he had basically talked me down off the ledge. He also helped me figure out how to fold the damn stroller when I moved it out to my car. He had six children of his own, along with eighteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was a plethora of information.

“I’m excited to meet the young fellow,” he replied with an encouraging nod. “It will all work out.”

“I hope so.” I sighed and reached into my pocket for my keys. “Thanks, Howie. See you in a bit.”

After placing the diaper bag in the backseat, I got in my Subaru and wondered for the tenth time if I should have traded it in for something a bit bigger now that I had a kid. I figured if it was too small, Stephanie would have said something when she checked the car seat.

I had almost asked her if she would be at the hospital when I picked him up today but I couldn’t be sure that wasn’t crossing some imaginary line. It wasn’t like I hadn’t had female friends before but I had never had a female friend that I wanted so much. On top of the friendly thoughts I had about her, I had many very unfriendly thoughts, too.

The small diner I was meeting my friends at wasn’t too far from the hospital and both of them were already there when I arrived. Travis waved at me the second I stepped through the door and I smiled at the hostess before heading to the table. I pulled out a chair and sat across from Dave. Both men greeted me and Travis slapped me on the back.

“How are you feeling, Daddy?”

I ran a hand down my face and sighed. “Were you this nervous when you brought your girls home from the hospital?”

“Nah.” He shook his head and opened his menu. “But I had my wife and she knows a hell of a lot more about babies than I did. Hell, than I still do. The only reason all three of them made it past one is because of Liz.”

Dave leaned forward and knocked the menu out of Travis’s hands. “Shut up. You’re not helping.” He turned his eyes on me and nodded once. “It’s going to be great. Exhausting, but great. You and the kid will have a routine down in no time. It’s hard but worth it, Jare.”

The two of us had met our freshmen year of college since we both took so many business classes. Our friendship had been easy and permanent and we ended up sharing an apartment for the rest of our college careers. Even after he moved to Arizona, we had kept it touch constantly. I was there for him as his best man at his wedding, when his two kids were born, and stood by his side when his wife had served him with divorce papers because she need ‘more freedom.’

Since he was the sales manager at Vandines, I had the opportunity to work with him a lot and it had been him who had referred me to the company. He had made the transition to Arizona seamless and now I was soaking up every piece of parenting advice he offered me.

Travis was one of the leads in our tech department. He was a year younger than us and married with three cute little daughters. He meant well but his playful personality could get irritating sometimes.

All three of us ordered and talked about anything but kids. Travis had just finished telling us a story about his old fraternity days when I excused myself to use the restroom. On my way out, I took another route back to my table since a group of people were blocking the way I originally came.

Along the row of booths, I heard a laugh and I knew immediately who it belonged to. Sure enough, seated across from another woman at the end was Stephanie Gibson.

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