My little nephew, Ryder, had been born early that next morning after about ten hours of labor. Mom and baby were both doing great and my niece and nephew loved their little brother immediately. I also spent quite a bit of time cuddling him during the moments I could.
Eldon was such a dick. When I went in to see my sister at the hospital during my lunch, she was wide awake and exhausted, holding her newborn son in her arms. Eldon, on the other hand, was fast asleep in the chair next to the bed with his headphones in. When I asked Kate if she’d slept, she just smiled instead of answering, telling me enough. When I tried to get her to send Ryder to the nursery she refused, not outright saying so but I knew Eldon didn’t want him to go.
I stayed at the hospital for three hours so that I could take care of Ryder and let her sleep. Eldon woke up right as she did and gave me the shittiest look when he realized I had his son. Luckily my mother walked in shortly after and I knew she would make sure Kate got the help she needed and that Eldon wouldn’t interfere.
February passed quickly. I continued to see Jared once or twice a week, usually during my lunch breaks when I was out of the office but on the weekends, too. We kept our friendship platonic in the physical sense but he’d quickly become one of my best friends. I had fun with him, could tell him just about anything, and spent my days looking forward to when I could see him again.
We had become extremely comfortable with each other, too. Gone was the one cushion barrier we kept between us and I routinely found myself pushed up against his side. He didn’t seem to mind and would usually drop his arm across my shoulders.
“Is it bad if I’m extremely nervous to leave him next week?” Jared asked me the second week of March while I sat on the floor with ten-week-old Chris after we’d eaten lunch on a Thursday afternoon.
“Not at all,” I replied as I leaned over and pressed kisses to the baby’s tiny foot, earning a toothless smile from him. He had just started giving consistent smiles the week before and each one was amazing. “Hell, I’m nervous about it but I checked them out. They haven’t had any complaints or violations.”
Jared’s company had a daycare in the building that he was going to be dropping Chris off at when he went back to working in the office. I had brought up hiring a nanny but he didn’t want to go that route. Besides, the daycare would enable him to see his son whenever he wanted and would also give Chris more social interaction.
“That makes me feel better.”
I twisted my head and shrugged. “I might have also threatened that I’d be doing random drop-ins to check on everything.”
“Of course you did,” Jared said with a laugh. “I hope you don’t mind but I put you down as someone who could pick him up and as a secondary contact if they can’t reach me.”
“I definitely don’t mind.” I lifted Chris into my arms and moved to the couch. “Want me to stay for your video call?”
“If you can. That would be amazing since he’s probably going to be tired and cranky here soon.”
I nodded my head and gestured towards the hallway. “I’m just going back to the office after this. Go forth and be business-like.”
“Thanks, Steph,” he replied as he stood. “It should only be about fifteen minutes.”
Chris and I sat on the couch for ten of those minutes and he cooed at the plastic toy I was holding in front of him. When he started fussing, I went to the nursery to find one of the giraffe loveys he was completely obsessed with. I draped the fabric over my shoulder and settled Chris against my chest while he sucked on his pacifier happily.
“You’re so demanding,” I murmured to him as I pressed a kiss to his forehead. I was almost back to the couch when someone knocked on the door. I froze, unsure of whether or not I should answer it. Normally Howie or Kenneth would buzz up to alert Jared to visitors and I was almost positive I hadn’t missed the intercom sounding.
After a moment of my own indecision, whoever it was knocked again and I pulled open the front door slowly. A woman was standing in the hallway, fidgeting nervously, and her blue eyes zeroed in on Chris immediately.
“Oh. Oh, he’s beautiful.” She stretched a hand out and I stepped back so she couldn’t reach him.
“Can I help you?”
Her eyes flashed to mine and she pushed her brown hair behind her ears. “Who are you? Is Jared home?”
“Jared’s busy.” I shook my head and moved when she tried to touch the baby again. “What do you need?”
“I need my son,” she said simply and my eyes widened as I reached for the door to close it.
“You need to leave. Now.”
She put a hand out to stop me from shutting the door and shook her head. “You can’t keep him from me. I’m his mother.”
I heard the office door open down the hall and Jared’s footsteps sounded on the floor. “That was a big waste of time. Were you able to get him to…?” His voice trailed off as he got closer. I didn’t take my eyes away from the woman at the door as I felt him approach where I was. She sucked in a breath and offered him a small smile. “Jared.”
“What are you doing here?” His voice was angry and his hand came up to grip my shoulder.
“I wanted to see our son.”
He immediately shifted me so I was standing behind him. “He is not your son. He is my son. You gave up the privilege of being his mother when you left him in the trash.”
I used my free hand to pull the phone out of the pocket of my black slacks. I kept my hand behind Jared’s back and sent a text to both Valerie and Kevin.
Me:Angela Roberts is at Jared Hart’s home. 8755 South State Street. Apartment 21-A.
The response was almost instant.
Valerie:We’re on our way. Be there in less than ten minutes. Is she alone? Is she being violent?
Me:Just her and not so far. She’s demanding to see the baby.
“You have to understand, Jared,” Angela was saying with a pleading tone. “I never wanted a baby. You know that. I didn’t even realize I was pregnant until about four months after we broke up and it was too late to do anything about it. I was going to tell you but…” She shrugged, like she didn’t know why she never told Jared. “When I went into labor, I panicked.”
I shook my head and stared at her over Jared’s shoulder. “You could have left him at the firehouse. The hospital. You could have left him at a church. No one would have asked any questions and he would have been safe. Instead, you left him in the garbage where he almost froze to death.”
“Who the hell are you, anyway?” She narrowed her eyes at me. “That’s not your baby and this is none of your business.”
“She saved his life. She bonded with him when he had no one. She’s been more his mother in the past ten weeks than you ever will. This is very much her business.” Jared ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “You know that I never would have turned away my own child. You almost killed my son.”
His whole body was trembling and he dropped his hands to his sides, clenching them into tight fists. I brought my own hand up to rest it on his tense shoulder and he relaxed minutely under my touch.
“I messed up. I know,” she said quietly, looking up at Jared with a desperate expression. “But he’s my son, Jared. You can’t keep me from my son.”
“Actually, you have no rights to him legally,” I stated as I tightened my hold on Chris. “Your parental rights were terminated six weeks ago.”
“I am not talking to you,” she seethed, anger on her face.
Jared shifted to the side so he was blocking my view of her and hers of me completely. “You don’t get to see him. You don’t get to know him. What you did was unforgivable and now you need to leave. How did you even get up here?”
Before she could answer, the elevator chimed and I could hear footsteps rushing forward before Kevin spoke.
He didn’t give her time to respond before his voice proclaimed that she was under arrest for child endangerment. I heard Angela continue pleading with Jared as Kevin read her rights out loud. I moved so that I could see into the hallway and Valerie was searching Angela’s pockets. After a moment, two uniformed officers took Angela, who was still trying to talk to Jared, towards the elevator and we stepped back so the detectives could come inside.
“She had this on her,” Kevin said as he held up a key card. Jared shook his head as he folded his arms across his chest.
“I thought she turned it in. She must snuck in when Howie was occupied.”
I glanced down at Chris and realized he was asleep with his cheek against my shoulder, his pacifier barely still in his slack jaw. I touched Jared’s arm and he snapped his head to look at me.
“I’m going to go put him down.”
He nodded and I offered him a small smile before walking down the hallway. I gently placed the sleeping baby into the bassinet and tucked the lovey in next to him. He didn’t stir but the pacifier fell from his mouth and I placed it on the nightstand behind the bassinet. I leaned in and pressed my lips to his chubby little cheek, letting them linger for a long minute.
“I love you, sweet boy,” I whispered as I stepped backwards and left the room. Everyone was standing in the kitchen when I made it back down the hall and three sets of eyes landed on me. I raised my brows expectantly. “What did I miss?”
“We were just telling Mr. Hart that we’d call after she was arraigned,” Kevin explained and Valerie nodded in agreement as she studied me.
“Were you doing a home visit today, Steph?”
I cleared my throat and caught Jared’s eye before shaking my head. “I was here on a friendly visit.”
“Ah.” She smiled and I inhaled a long breath.
“Actually, I should be getting back to work.” I walked over to where my heels were and slipped my feet into them before grabbing my bag.
“We’ll walk out with you, Stephanie,” Kevin said as he offered his hand to Jared. Valerie did the same and they both walked towards the door. I went to where Jared was standing in the kitchen and searched his face for a moment.