Hey guys, this will be the last chapter of "Finding A Hart". There will to epilogue.
I felt the blood leave my face. “Syphilis? Like the STD?”
“Wait, what?” Stephanie shook her head next to me. “If she had syphilis, Jared would have it and that means I would have it. It’s not a hidden infection and would be very obvious.”
“You’re mostly correct, Ms. Gibson.” The doctor gave my girlfriend a sad smile. “Angela likely contracted the infection about ten years ago and either did not realize she had it or hoped it would go away. If my timeline is correct, she was just a teenager and probably scared to tell her parents. It stopped being contagious years ago as it entered different stages. Syphilis, if left untreated, can be detrimental to your organs, including your brain. The infection turns to disease and spreads in the brain, killing parts of it, and can cause mental defects. The personality changes that have been seen in Angela are because of the syphilis.”
“Syphilis.” I sat down in the chair behind me as I tried to wrap my head around everything the doctor was saying. “Can you cure it? What about Christopher?”
“The baby is fine. Since it was already at a tertiary stage when he was conceived, it had no effect on him. We can cure the disease to keep it from spreading any longer but there is no way to heal the damage it has done to her brain. She won’t be the same ever again.”
A loud sob left Maureen’s chest and as a parent, I had the upmost sympathy for her. When I didn’t speak, the doctor did.
“Have you had a sexually transmitted disease panel run on you since your relationship with Angela ended, Mr. Hart?”
I nodded and raked a hand through my hair. “In November for my insurance physical. It came back clean.”
A few tense minutes passed before Stephanie broke the silence.
“I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. I can’t imagine how devastated you are.”
She had just been shot but yet was the one giving the condolences. If I didn’t know anything else about Stephanie Gibson, that would have been enough.
Jay gave her a weak smile. “Thank you, Stephanie. It doesn’t excuse or make what happened to you better but I hope having some answers gives you a bit of closure.”
“It does and I appreciate it.” My girlfriend was a saint. Seriously.
Chris whimpered in her arms and I watched as Jay and Maureen both looked at him. The longing on Maureen’s face hit me hard. My parents would never get to know their grandson. Yeah, Chris had Richard and Elaine, who were amazing grandparents already, but Jay and Maureen were there, too. I just wasn’t sure I could trust them completely. I met Stephanie’s eyes and she gave me a soft smile, telling me that she knew exactly what I was thinking. When she nodded, letting me know she agreed, I turned back to the others in the room.
“Would you like to meet your grandson?”
Maureen started crying again while nodding her head rapidly and Jay was obviously choking back his own emotion when he spoke.
“That would be amazing.”
The doctor excused himself and I watched as the others came near the bed. Chris clung to Steph shyly and it took a few minutes of coaxing before he was giving Jay and Maureen smiles. He wouldn’t let either of them hold him, but they seemed content to be able to interact.
After about twenty minutes, Maureen wrapped both me and Stephanie in hugs while Jay offered us his hand. They both thanked us about ten times and I promised I would call them in a week or two to see about getting together for dinner.
“You’re a good man, Jared Hart,” Stephanie told me softly once they were gone. She had a fistful of fruit-flavored puffs in her hands that Chris was pushing into his mouth like a starving man. I ran my palm over the top of his head and leaned down to kiss Stephanie.
“You make me a better man, sweetheart.”
After three nights in the hospital, Stephanie was discharged and I took her home with me. The doctor told her she could return to work two weeks after the surgery and ordered her to take it easy until then. So when I came out of the bathroom to find her holding Chris in her arms later that evening, I groaned and pulled him from her.
“You are going to pop your stitches, Stephanie Nicole.” I gave her a stern look and held Chris over my head. “Do not let Mommy pick you up. Do you understand me?”
The only response I received was a smile and a spit bubble.
When I looked back to Stephanie, she was wiping her eyes and I knew it was because I’d called her Mommy. She sniffled and then rolled her eyes as she did so often when she was embarrassed.
“I’m fine. How can I deny him when he holds those little arms up?” She stepped towards me and touched the baby’s chin. “Look what I discovered, though.”
Coaxing his mouth open, Stephanie used her fingertip to touch the bottom of his gums and I widened my eyes. Sitting there, under the swollen tissue and a glob of drool was the beginning of a little tooth in the middle.
“He’s getting a tooth!”
She laughed softly when Chris chomped down on her finger. “A sharp one, too. It feels like the one next to it isn’t far behind. That explains the extra drool we’ve seen lately.”
“Big man is getting teeth.” I kissed his forehead before doing the same to hers. “Time’s moving too fast.”
I forced her over to the couch and placed Chris on the floor, where a blanket was spread out with a bunch of his toys. I took the spot next to her and pulled my girlfriend to my side.
“Did you talk to Robin?”
She nodded and pressed her cheek to my shoulder. “Yeah. She refused to bring me my laptop. I couldn’t bribe Keon to do it, either.”
“Good. You don’t need to be working. The office will survive without you for two weeks.”
“Maybe,” she grumbled, causing me to laugh. “When are you going back to work?”
“Monday. There’s no sense in going back one day before the weekend.” I hesitated and tightened my hold on her while looking at the baby. “Besides, I’m kind of nervous to take him back.”
The manager of the childcare facility had called and apologized profusely a few days before. Angela had given them a fake ID to get in and knocked a bunch of baby food items and bottles off of the counter in the infant room. When the teacher and the director, who had been giving the tour, bent down to clean it up, Angela had snatched Chris and slipped out the door before anyone realized it.
Now, I think they were afraid I was going to sue them. New policies were in place that didn’t allow parents touring to actually go in the classrooms and Vandines had hired security to staff the center.
I didn’t want their money. I just wanted to be sure Chris was safe.
“I’m nervous, too, but she’s locked up and you know the daycare is going to be on constant alert now.” Her lips pressed to my chin. “He’s your son, though, so you need to follow your gut.”
“Stephanie. He’s never really been just my son.” I shifted back so I was looking into her eyes. “He’s ours and so what you feel in your gut matters, too.”
She looked away with a long, shaky sigh. “I feel like you’re just trying to make me cry today.”
I couldn’t help laughing and she joined in after a moment. We stayed on the couch until Chris started babbling angrily. I picked him up and fed him dinner before getting him ready for bed. Steph moved slowly until she was sitting in the nursery’s glider and held her hands out for the baby. I reluctantly gave him to her, making sure he was settled on her uninjured side before stepping away.
I stood in the doorway while she read him Goodnight Moon and Christopher’s eyes were heavy when she closed the book. She kissed his forehead and didn’t protest when I gently pulled him from her arms. I pressed a long kiss to the same spot Stephanie had and laid him in his crib.
He grabbed his lovey, held it to his face, and immediately rolled over with his eyes closed. I smiled down at him and turned to offer Stephanie my hand. She let me help her to her feet and the two of us walked down the hallway to our bedroom.
She brushed her teeth and put her pajamas on while I went through the condo to make sure everything was locked up. When I returned, she was just appearing from the bathroom.
“I suppose asking you to ravish my body is out of the question, huh?” she joked as she took a seat at the edge of our bed. I nodded and kicked off my pants so I could pull on my sleep shorts.
“Humor me, Vanilla Latte, and I promise to reward you with some amazing orgasms next week, okay?”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” she replied, moving slowly until she was laying against her pillow. “Oh, I missed our bed so much.” Her eyes tracked me until I was in the spot next to her. I grabbed the remote but didn’t turn on the TV just yet. “I love you, Jared Hart.”
I smiled and leaned in to kiss her nose. “And I love you, Stephanie Gibson. Now be good and watch some TV with me and I’ll make a donut run in the morning.”
She grinned and her eyes gleamed happily. “With double chocolate glazed?”
“And apple fritters, sweetheart.”
“Deal.” She gave me a long, sweet kiss and settled up against my side. I dropped my cheek to the top of her head and turned on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy for us to watch from bed.
Laying there with that woman and our little guy in the room across from ours, I wasn’t quite sure how life could get any better.