The next epilogue will be when Christopher found out that Stephanie is his biological mom.
I smiled down at the little human as he crawled towards me with a huge smile on his face. I put my bag down, kicked off my heels, and dropped to my knees. As soon as he was close enough, Chris used my outstretched hands to pull himself to his knees, too. He held his arms out to me until I swept him up in my own.
“Oh, sweet boy. I missed you.” I hugged him to me for a moment before pulling back so I could look into his dark blue eyes. “Were you a good boy today?”
He shook his head, causing me to laugh, and I moved to my feet so I could smile at Jared.
“Hi, Vanilla Latte. How was your day?” He leaned in and gave me a swift kiss, making Chris squeal happily when he was sandwiched between us. I shrugged and propped the baby on my hip so I could follow my boyfriend back into the kitchen.
“It was okay. Kind of boring which I suppose is a blessing. How was yours?”
He picked up a spoon to stir the noodles he had boiling on the stove. “About the same.”
“Da!” Chris smiled at his father and Jared put down the spoon so he could hold out his arms to Chris. The baby shook his head and burrowed himself back against my chest with a cheeky smile. “No. Ma.”
“I know. Mama is your favorite, isn’t she?”
Hearing myself referred to as his mother was still shocking and had the power to bring tears to my eyes. It was a title and role I was incredibly lucky to have, though. Every time Chris looked up to me and said that word, I felt like my heart was going to burst.
“Can you blame him?” I teased, leaning in to kiss Jared’s shoulder. “What can I do to help?”
“Occupying the baby is all the help I need, sweetheart. Relax.”
It was the beginning of October and it had been nine months since I first found Chris in the trash. It had also been three months since the shooting and since I had moved in with my favorite boys. Chris had been crawling for a few weeks and we were on the verge of his real first words.
Everything looked completely different than it had the year before and not just with me. Kate and the kids were still living with my parents and the divorce between her and Eldon was getting nasty. Several continuances had pushed the court date back until right before Christmas and he continued to live life as a free man. The police department allowed him to work under the guise of innocent until proven guilty and it made me sick to know that a man like that was supposed to be protecting our citizens.
The kids were doing a bit better, though. Kate was dutiful about making them all go to counseling and Ryder was flourishing under the constant love of our family. He wasn’t quite crawling yet but he watched Chris and Lila with such wide eyes that I knew it would be happening any day.
Angela Roberts had ended up pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and would spend an indefinite amount of time in a state mental facility. A simple dose of penicillin had cured her of the syphilis but they were trying out different drugs to see if they could counter the damage that had already been done to her brain. She had written a letter to Jared and me, apologizing for everything that had happened and promising never to contact us again.
We didn’t forget what she had done and we never would be able to. When I looked down and saw the small, puckered scar on my stomach where the bullet had penetrated me and the long line where they had cut me open to save my life, I was constantly reminded of how close Angela came to damaging us all for good. I knew that same thought hit Jared’s mind every time his eyes grazed over my naked body or his mouth gently kissed that same spot. The thing was, she hadchanged our lives. She had given us Chris and brought the three of us together, albeit not in the best way. Forgetting wasn’t possible but we were definitely working on forgiveness.
Jay and Maureen visited their daughter weekly and said she was in great spirits. The facility she was in was a nice one and she was happy there for the most part. They also seemed optimistic for her future, regardless of whether she was released or not.
The two of them saw Chris often and Jared had started letting them take him for the day. Chris being the universal lover he was, adored his grandparents and had stolen their hearts almost instantly.
Things at work were better, too. Although Robin still had a few more chemo treatments to go, the doctors were extremely optimistic of her progress. The only work she missed were the few days immediately following chemotherapy and even when she wasn’t there, I felt like I’d found a really good rhythm.
I sat on the floor next to the dining room table and rolled a ball in Chris’s direction. “I got a call from Bryson today. Carin finally had the baby. It’s a healthy little girl.”
“Finally.” Jared looked over at me with a grin and chuckled when Chris tried to grab the ball with a happy screech. “I can’t believe she almost made it to forty-two weeks.”
“Yeah, I won’t ever let it get that far. I’ll make the doctor induce me at forty weeks.”
“Oh, yeah? Something you want to tell me, sweetheart?” His tone was playful but I saw a spark in his green eyes. I shook my head but it didn’t stop my imagination from going wild.
“Not at this time.” I paused and stood from the floor. “That doesn’t sound bad, though, does it?”
I could feel Chris tugging at my pant leg but my eyes didn’t leave Jared as he strode across the kitchen and placed his hands on my hips. He leaned down and gave me a soft kiss.
“It sounds amazing, honestly.”
We broke apart when Christopher pulled himself to standing using our legs and whined at our feet. Jared lifted him into his arms and tossed him into the air, causing the baby to giggle uncontrollably. I let the two of them play and finished getting the spaghetti dished up so we could eat.
Despite having a bib on, Chris managed to get pasta everywhere. He even had a noodle hanging from his ear at one point, something both Jared and I had to take a picture of. When we were done eating, I leaned over and kissed my boyfriend.
“You want the baby or the kitchen?”
“I’ll take the kitchen.” He gestured to Chris. “He’s been asking for you ever since we got home. I’m pretty sure he’ll rebel if it’s anyone but you.”
“Should we get you into the bath?” I asked the baby and he offered me a big smile while shaking his head. I chuckled and pressed my lips to his nose.
After cleaning his hands and face and taking off his bib, Jared pulled the tray away for me. Noodles fell from Chris when I lifted him from his highchair, causing Jared and me to laugh,
I walked down the hallway and into his room. He babbled the entire time and wiggled as I tried to get his pants off. I pulled the little t-shirt over his head, leaving him in just his onesie, and laid him down. I reached out to unsnap his buttons and suddenly froze.
The onesie he was wearing was one I’d never seen before and I read the lettering on it twice before the words started to make sense.
Mommy, will you marry my daddy? And…
The text had a small arrow next to it, pointing to the side, so I reached out to pick Chris up. I lifted him by the armpits and turned his body so I could see the back of his onesie.
Officially become my mommy by adopting me?
Tears clouded my vision as I moved Chris so I could reread the front and then the back again. He giggled like it was the most fun game we’d ever played and I finally pulled him against my chest so I could go find Jared.
I didn’t have to go far, though. He was standing in the doorway, leaning up against the frame with a smile on his face.
“Is this for real?” I managed to choke out and Jared stepped forward. “Will this make it more real?” He dropped to his knee and held out his fist. His fingers opened slowly, revealing a beautiful ring. The square diamond sat on a platinum band with small diamonds surrounding it. I tore my eyes from the jewelry so I could meet Jared’s. He was still smiling, looking cool as a cucumber.
“Even before we knew Chris existed, I was smitten with you. Your sense of humor, your positive outlook on everything, your adorable obsession with carbs…” I laughed softly but he kept going. “And then once Chris entered our lives, the way you loved him completely. I love you, Steph, more than I thought I could possibly love someone. I want to be by your side while we raise Chris to have the best of our qualities. I want to go to bed at night with you in my arms and wake up knowing I can have coffee with you each and every day. I want to have babies with you and give Chris siblings he can grow up with.” He swallowed while the baby and I both stared at him. “Stephanie Nicole Gibson, will you marry me?”
“What do you think, Chris?” I asked the little guy in my arms through my tears. “Should I marry Daddy?”
“Hey, that’s not fair. He doesn’t have nodding down yet.”
I held my hand up and gave him a teasing smile. “Shush. Let Christopher answer. Should Mommy marry Daddy?”
“Ma!” Chris placed one hand on my cheek and let out a content sigh before turning to look at Jared with a big smile. “Da!”
“That sounds like an agreement to me,” I said with a small laugh, dropping so I was on my knees, too. I wrapped one arm around Jared’s neck while still holding onto the baby. “I want nothing more than to be your wife and his mother, Jared Hart.”
“Good, because I was ready to lock you up until you agreed.”
I laughed softly and watched as he put the ring on my finger. Chris also kept his eye on it and immediately began grabbing at the jewelry like it was the coolest thing ever. I looked at the man in front of me and shook my head.
“Thanks for taking the last apple fritter that day.”
“It was my pleasure.” He leaned forward and gave me a sweet kiss, causing Chris to lean in, too. A noodle that was still in his hair smashed to Jared’s cheek and was still stuck there when we pulled apart. I stared at it for a second before breaking down in a fit of laughter.
Jared joined in and a beat later, Chris did, too, although he had no idea why we were laughing.
Sitting there on the bedroom floor with smashed noodles falling between us, I knew that I’d found exactly what I had always wanted.