Finding a Hart

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Chapter 25

Jared

I felt terrible for calling Stephanie but I didn’t know what else to do. The only other person I could call was Dave but he had his own kids at home and wouldn’t have been able to help.

Three hours. That’s how long Christopher had been crying. I felt like an utter failure. I’d only had my son home for two and a half days and I was losing it. How was I going to do this?

After five rings, I thought for sure it was just going to go to voicemail but Stephanie picked up and I felt a sliver of relief run through me.

“Jared? Is everything okay?”

There was a huge amount of worry in her voice and I wondered how she knew that something was off. That’s when I realized how late it was and I felt like a total dick. My son continued screaming in my arms, though, and I knew she was my lifeline.

“God, I’m so sorry, Stephanie. I didn’t want to bother you but I think something’s wrong.”

“It’s okay,” she said, her voice calm and barely audible over Chris. “What do you mean?”

“He’s been crying for almost three hours and nothing I’m doing will calm him down. I’ve fed him, rocked him, burped him, changed him, bounced him… I think he’s sick. I don’t know what to do.” I glanced down at Chris and my heart clenched. His face was red, his eyes were scrunched up, and his whole body shook as he cried.

Stephanie was as steady as ever on the other line. “Okay. The first thing you need to do is calm down. The more worked up you get, the more worked up he gets.”

“I’m trying, I’m trying. It’s just so frustrating.” I could hear how strained my voice was and I knew she picked up on it, too.

“Put him down and walk away. He’ll be okay and it will give you time to take a breath. Go do it right now.”

I did as she said but his cries somehow amplified when I placed him in the bassinet. I had never felt so helpless in my life as I did when I stepped away from my son.

“I’m sorry, buddy. Daddy just needs a second, okay? I’ll be right back.” As I left my bedroom where the bassinet was, I resisted the urge to punch the wall

“Deep breath, Jared,” Stephanie’s voice was soothing and I closed my eyes while trying to absorb her comfort. “Grab a drink of water or something. I took your address from your file and I’m on my way.”

“God, Stephanie.” I couldn’t stop my voice from cracking. “Thank you. I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Of course.” It sounded like she was in the car and her voice was slightly echoing from the Bluetooth. “I’m only ten minutes away. Talk to me for a minute, gather your thoughts. When did this start?”

I told her about how he’d woken up screaming just twenty minutes after I put him down and how I couldn’t get him to stop. I just kept rambling and didn’t stop until she interrupted me.

“Okay. It’s fine. I’m here. I just pulled in. Where should I park?”

My building had visitor parking but I didn’t want to have to explain so I walked over to the intercom that was in the living room and pressed the call button. It beeped once and I spoke into the speaker.

“Angelo, it’s Jared.”

“Yes, Mr. Hart. What can I do for you?” The voice of my overnight doorman flooded the living room.

“I have a guest pulling in now. Her name is Stephanie Gibson. Can you let her in and park her car for me, please?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Thanks, Angelo.” I moved the phone back to my mouth. “Just leave your car in the loading zone and Angelo will park it.

“Okay,” Stephanie replied. “I’ll be right up.”

I cracked open the door so she could come right in and realized that she had already helped me calm down completely. I headed down the hallway into my bedroom and right to the bassinet. I scooped my crying son back into my arms and held him to my chest.

“It’s okay, buddy. Stephanie is here and she’ll help us figure out what’s wrong.” I heard my name being called from the living room and immediately headed down the hallway. Stephanie appeared at the end and we stopped in front of the nursery door.

She was wearing a red hoodie and a pair of jeans. Her blonde hair was piled on the top of her head in a messy bun and her face was make-up free. She looked so beautiful that not even the crying baby could make me miss it.

“I’m sorry to call you like this.”

“Don’t apologize. I’m happy to help.” She extended her arms for Chris and I didn’t hesitate to hand him off to her. He screamed even louder, if it was possible, and held his little clenched fists to his side. Stephanie placed her hand on his forehead and shook her head. “He’s a bit sweaty but he doesn’t have a fever. You said you’ve fed and changed him, right?”

I nodded and ran my hands through my hair, which I’m sure was a mess. That’s when I realized I was in a pair of blue sleep pants and a white t-shirt that had spit up on the front. Awesome.

“I tried giving him his bottle again just a few minutes ago and he took it for a second before spitting it back out.”

“Okay. Let’s re-swaddle him and see what we can do.” She followed behind me as I turned to head into the nursery. It had been a spare bedroom that I rarely used. I hadn’t had time to paint or anything but had managed to put together a crib, changing table, and a gliding chair to place inside of it.

Stephanie placed him on the changing table and proceeded to wrap my son in a blanket so he was back in burrito mode. They all tried to teach me to swaddle at the hospital but I sucked at it and Chris managed to get free within seconds. Stephanie’s swaddle looked so good that I wasn’t sure I would even be able to get him out of it.

With him still on the table, she pulled her sweatshirt over her head, revealing a simple brown shirt underneath that tapered off into a V-shape at her breasts. She tossed the hoodie onto the glider and picked Chris back up.

“The tight swaddle simulates the pressure they felt in the womb and can help calm babies down. Of course, sometimes babies are just colicky and there is nothing you can do.” She picked up a pacifier that I’d left on the changing table and held it in her hand as she moved him to her shoulder and pat his back quickly with her palm. “Crying as much as he has been probably caused him to swallow some air and make his stomach hurt.”

As if on cue, Chis let out two smaller belches before an even bigger one. His crying slowed from frantic to a whimper and she pulled down her shirt in the front, revealing the tops of her cleavage. After sticking the pacifier in his mouth, she moved the baby so his cheek was against her chest.

Holding him tight against her, Stephanie rocked her whole body without moving her feet and she spoke in low, reassuring voice. Chris whimpered a bit more and attempted to spit out the pacifier but after a moment, he accepted it and sucked furiously. I watched as his body started to relax and his whimpers tapered off, leaving behind steady breaths with the occasional breathing spasm from crying for so long.

“You’re okay, sweet boy,” she cooed quietly as she continued to rock her body from side to side. “You’ve just exhausted yourself, haven’t you?”

I watched as she pressed her nose to the top of my son’s head and a look of total contentment washed over her face. In a whisper so quiet that I couldn’t hear her, she said, “I’ve missed you.”

After a few minutes of silence, he was asleep and I was completely amazed. Stephanie looked up at me with a smile and she chuckled softly when I reached up to rub my eyes.

“How did you do that?” I asked her, feeling the weight of the past four hours hit me hard. She ran her hand over the top of his head and shrugged her shoulders.

“Babies feed off of your emotions. If you’re frantic, they get frantic. It happens to everyone and it’s even worse when you don’t have someone to tag in when you need relief.” She motioned to the crib as she shifted Chris so he was cradled in her arm. “Is this where he’s sleeping?”

“No, I’m keeping him in my room.” I led her back to my bedroom where the huge king-sized bed that I loved was. Nightstands sat on either side and they matched the large dresser that was opposite the bed. The bassinet was set up on the side where I slept and a second glider chair was in the corner.

Stephanie lowered Chris into the bassinet gently, placing him on his back. His breathing didn’t change when she pulled her hands away and she stared at him for a moment before stepping back.

“So, he’s okay?” My voice was a whisper as I looked at my son.

“Yeah,” she replied, still smiling but adjusting her shirt so not so much of her skin was showing “He’s perfect.”

I shook my head in disbelief and gestured for her to follow me. We walked out to the kitchen, which I knew was a chef’s dream. I never really cooked, though. It seemed wasteful to do it for just me so the dark granite counters and sparkling appliances were extremely neglected. Stephanie was inspecting the impersonal space closely when I spoke up.

“My office set me up with this place when I first moved here. They decorated and I never felt the need to change it.” I unhooked the childproof latch from the fridge and pulled out two bottles of water, handing one to Stephanie. She unscrewed the cap and leaned a hip against my counter before taking a sip.

“It’s really nice. How long have you been here?”

It was funny because I felt like I knew her from all of our conversations at the coffee shop. I knew that Stephanie had an affinity for foods that were bad for her, especially sweets. I knew that she rubbed the back of her neck when she was tired. I knew that she chewed on the inside of her cheek when she was nervous. I knew that she was both a morning person and a night owl, somehow able to manage both despite her busy schedule. I knew that she loved to help people and would go out of her way to do so.

But I didn’t know the basics. We had made such a game out of our coffee mornings that we had glossed over the small details about our histories.

I took my own drink and lifted myself so I was sitting on the countertop. “Almost three years. I moved down here from Michigan after my best friend told me they had a position open at his firm. The first summer, I was so miserable and wondered what the hell I did.”

She let out a small laugh and shook her head. “Almost melted, huh?”

“I don’t miss the snow, but the heat definitely took some getting used to.” I pushed myself off the counter. “My co-worker’s wife is a photographer and came by to take pictures of Christopher yesterday. Travis dropped off the prints today and I really want to show them off.”

I led her back down the hall into the room I used as an office. It was more den-like and had my comfortable loveseat and gaming consoles in it. The TV in there wasn’t as big as the one in the living room but it got the job done. I also had the desk with my computer and equipment set up in the corner.

“This is more how I envisioned your home.”

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