Accompanying the message was a picture and when I looked at it, I let out a loud groan.
It was Stephanie. She was standing inside of some restaurant lobby in a blue dress that was so damn tight. It dipped low, giving anyone an excellent view of those magnificent breasts, and was sleeveless so it showed her smooth shoulders. It fell about three-quarters of the way down her thighs and she had paired it with some silver heels that made her sleek legs look endless.
In the photo, she was standing next to that nurse, Kara, who looked pretty but I barely saw her. Stephanie was grinning at something she had said and I want nothing more than to put my hands on her in that very moment.
I quickly typed out a text and was surprised at how quickly the reply came.
Me: Pretty doesn’t do her justice at all. She’s breathtaking.
Alyssa: Good answer. I just thought you might like to see your coffee buddy when she gets all dolled up. Don’t tell her I snagged your number from her phone. She’s super protective when it comes to you.
Me: Thanks, Alyssa. Let me know if you guys need a ride or anything at all.
It was impossible to concentrate on the game after that and I ended up in my home office, thinking of Stephanie while stroking myself. It was something I’d done a lot since I first started getting coffee with her. The image of her in that blue dress was enough to get the job done far too quickly. I grabbed a couple of tissues and sighed while cleaning myself up.
Dave was right. I needed to figure out a way to pull myself out of the friend-zone or my ass was going to end up there permanently.
“Are you kidding?” I asked Kevin the following Friday as I sat back in my chair, exasperation evident in my tone. He sighed into the phone.
“We’ve entered an order of protection for Christopher. She’s not allowed within a thousand feet of him and that includes his residence and the daycare. I’m going to call Jared now but I wanted you to know. The trial has been set for May twenty-ninth.”
I nodded and let my head drop to my free hand. “Okay. Thanks, Kev. Let me know if I can do anything.”
We hung up the phone and I opened the Hart file on my computer so I could make notes, also adding in that the DNA had confirmed that Angela was Chris’s biological mother.
The week had been insane. Angela reappearing had caused a whirlwind of paperwork on the DCS end but also a whirlwind of emotions on the personal end. One of the things that I didn’t quite understand was why Angela didn’t have a reason for leaving her son in the garbage. She didn’t even have a bad excuse- just no excuse. We still had absolutely no answers.
I had spent all day Sunday at Jared’s place, nursing a small hangover while doing nothing but watching movies, eating junk food, and talking about the most random things. I had cuddled with Chris but also Jared on the couch. Nothing felt out of the ordinary really, but I had bit back the questions I wanted to so desperately ask about his friendly neighbor.
Jared went back to work as planned and Chris hated his first two days of daycare. Jared dropped him off at work and then doubled back to meet me for coffee every day that week. It didn’t make a lot of sense for him to go to work, get coffee, and go back to work, but I appreciated the effort. I loved that baby but having our coffee dates back in the morning was something quite amazing.
Once I was done entering my notes and Kevin had been given adequate time to notify him, I dialed Jared’s cell, a number I had memorized at that point.
“Steph,” he answered after one ring. “They let her out. Where did she even get the money for bail?”
“I don’t know but she isn’t going to go near Chris. Just make sure the daycare is aware that no one but you is allowed to see or pick him up.”
“I already did that,” he said quickly, the frustration obvious in his voice. “Except I included you in that, too. Just in case.”
I smiled as I leaned back in my chair. “Everything is going to be okay, Jare. Deep breath. You have a meeting at two, so get your hand out of your hair.”
He let out a huff of laughter. “Is there a camera in here or something?”
“I can’t give away all of my secrets, Hart.” I heard his office phone ring and I sat up. “Go work. Everything will be fine. Call me later?”
“I will. Thanks for talking me down, Steph. You seriously make everything better.”
“Ditto, Jared. Bye.”
I put the phone in its cradle and went back to what I’d been doing before Kevin called. What I had been working on was something completely amazing.
I was scheduling an appointment get the adoption process started for Bettina Kelly.
After all of the petitions I had filed, all of the work I had done, all of the uncertainty we’d all faced over the past five years, I had left court that morning after finally having her mother’s parental rights terminated. That cleared the way for Bryson and Carin to legally make her a member of their family. When I had called Carin to give her the news, she immediately burst into tears. She told me that she couldn’t even blame the hormones because she was just happy.
I had just hung up that call when Robin said my name quietly. I looked away from my monitor and saw her standing in my doorway. She walked inside, a solemn expression on her face, and worry hit me immediately.
She sat down at the chairs in front of my desk and stared at me for a moment. I inspected her face and realized how tired she looked. I mean, she and I worked a lot and usually looked exhausted but this was more. It wasn’t just lack of sleep. After a beat of silence, she let out a long sigh.
“I have breast cancer.”
Her words caused my jaw to drop and I blinked at her several times, unsure of what to say. Finally, I managed to croak out, “What?”
“Yeah.” She nodded and leaned back in the chair. “I’ve been going through a lot of tests for the past few weeks and the biopsy confirmed. It’s still early, stage zero or stage one, they aren’t completely ready to classify it, but it’s there. That’s why I’ve been making sure you’re trained up on everything. I’m going to need your help.”
“Anything,” I replied vehemently. And I meant it. I would have done anything to help the woman who was not only my boss but one of my friends, too. I stood and came around the desk so I was sitting in the chair next to her. “Tell me what you need.”
Robin reached out and squeezed my hand. “Nothing right now. I’m going to go through a lumpectomy in a few weeks and I’ll be out for a few days. When the chemo starts, I’ll be out here and there, too. I’ll just need you to fill in from time to time.”
“Of course. Don’t worry about anything like that.”
“There’s no one I trust more to keep this place going.” She sighed and pushed to her feet. “I’ll tell the others at the next meeting but don’t worry your pretty little head too much, Gibson. They caught it early and you’re stuck with me.”
“Good.” I forced a smile and stood, too, watching as she left my office like it was no big deal. The second she was out of sight, my smile dropped.
My stomach felt completely sick and I did the only thing I could think of that would make me feel better.
I called Jared again.
He answered after a few rings and I could tell he was smiling.
“Now I really think you have a camera in here. I literally just dismissed the meeting.”
“Just imagine what I see you do on your lunch breaks, Hart,” I teased, causing him to laugh quietly. The small peal of laughter made me feel better instantly. “Sorry to blow up your phone so much today.”
“What a ridiculous thing to apologize for. Your phone calls are the best part of the day.”
My whole body warmed at the compliment and I had to resist sighing out loud. When I didn’t respond right away, Jared picked up on it.
“What’s wrong, Vanilla Latte?”
“I just received some bad news here at work.” I twirled the phone cable around my finger. “Between that and Angela being released, I’m in a funk.”
He didn’t speak right away. When he did finally say something, his voice was soft. “Let’s end the day and week on a better note. Come by tonight. I’ll make you dinner.”
I let out an unladylike snort. “You don’t cook.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Ms. Gibson,” he replied, his voice with mock formality. “I can grill a mean steak and just got my barbeque spring-ready again a couple of days ago.”
“Okay. I can’t wait to taste this amazing steak. I’ll stop and grab some sides we can have and be there around sixish.”
“Sixish works. See you in a bit, Steph.”
I hung up the phone and I tried to get back to work but it was useless. My mind was completely and firmly settled on anything but the work in front of me. I saved everything I was doing right before five and decided to head to the store.
The few people that were still in the office bid me a good night and I joined the crowd of individuals who were already in the elevator. The elevator stopped six more times before we made it to the bottom and climbed out of the crowded metal box.