Finding a Hart

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Extended Epilogue

This chapter is a little long.

Christopher

I would never forget the first time my parents sat down and told me that Mom wasn’t biologically my mother. I was eight and they explained that they never wanted me to feel like they were lying to me but as far as they were concerned, Mom was my mother and always had been.

It hadn’t meant that much to me at the time, honestly. I didn’t have a single memory that didn’t include Mom in it. If she ever treated me differently than Emma or Michael, I never saw it. It wasn’t until I became a rebellious teenager that it became an issue.

I ditched school one day to go to the movies with my friends. I don’t know why I did it. It wasn’t like my parents wouldn’t have let me go to the movie any other time. I left school, though, and if that wasn’t enough, I missed a huge science test.

Dad wasn’t home when Mom got the call and she immediately took my phone and told me I was grounded. A year before, disappointing her would have gutted me but all of my hormones just caused me rage.

“You can’t do that! You’re not even my real mom!”

Mom flinched and I saw the hurt hit her face instantly. Remorse filled me but I was still too angry to listen to it. I grabbed my backpack and rushed out of the house while Mom called my name behind me.

I was only fifteen and couldn’t drive so I found the closest bus stop and hopped on. I had no idea where I was going at first and it wasn’t until I ended up on the west side of Phoenix and in front of the Desert Hope Treatment Facility that I realized I had meant to head there all along.

About a year before, I was curious and had looked up my biological mother online. I found out that she was sentenced to spend time in the facility until she wasn’t a danger to herself or others. As far as I could tell, she had never been released.

“Can I help you?” asked the woman behind the desk and I nodded while clutching my backpack.

“I’m here to see someone. Er, she’s my mother, I guess. Angela Roberts.”

The woman shook her head and offered me a sympathetic smile. “Minors have to be accompanied by an adult to see an inmate.”

“He’s with me,” someone spoke behind me and I turned to see my Dad standing there. He was in his suit, obviously having just left work, and he looked sad. He pulled out his wallet and produced his ID, not saying a word to me. She nodded at us both and gestured to the waiting area.

“Put these badges on and give us a few minutes. We’ll call you back.”

Dad’s eyes burned into me when we sat but he didn’t say anything. Finally, I spoke.

“Dad.”

He held up his hand and shook his head. “I don’t want to hear it, Christopher. Apparently you feel like you need to do this so, let’s do it.”

“Is Mom-” I started, but Dad cut me off again.

“I’m not talking about your mother with you while we’re sitting in this place.”

Shame filled me. I had never seen Dad so upset with me and I knew it wasn’t because I was sitting in that facility. It was because of what I’d said to Mom.

Neither of us spoke again and it was about fifteen minutes before someone called our names. We were directed to a set of lockers and told to store everything, including Dad’s keys, phone, and wallet and my backpack. Once we didn’t have any objects, we had to go through metal detectors and then were led to a room that looked like a small office. One of the walls had bars, however, and there was a camera in the corner. In the middle of the room were four plush chairs and nothing else.

In one of the chairs was a woman with grey hair that had brown streaks running throughout it. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, allowing me to see her tired face. She was wearing a peach pair of sweatpants and a white t-shirt and looked… normal. When she heard the door open, she looked up at us and froze. Her blue eyes were the same ones I saw in the mirror every day. She didn’t say anything as Dad and I moved to the two chairs across from her, chairs that were bolted to the ground, and a guard stood in the corner even after the doors were closed.

After a moment of silence, Dad spoke. “Hi, Angela.”

“Jared.” She offered him a small smile and looked back at me. “You must be Christopher.”

I swallowed and nodded my head. “Yeah, hi.”

“You’ve grown into a handsome young man, haven’t you? You look just like your daddy.” She released a small sigh and shook her head, glancing back at Dad when she did. “You and your wife have done a great job.”

“Thank you. We’re pretty proud of him.” Dad leaned forward and turned his green eyes on me. “Chris snuck over here today after getting into a fight with his mother. I think he needed to meet you.”

Angela’s eyebrows rose and she tilted her head as she stared at me. “I don’t understand. Surely you know that I…” She glanced at her lap before looking back at me. “Your mother saved you from me, Christopher. And in return, I kidnapped you and almost killed her. That woman had no obligation to you but yet she stuck around because she loved you more than anything in this world. More than I’m capable of doing. Your dad told you that I’m sick, right?”

I nodded my head and rubbed the back of my neck. “He said you had an infection that spread to your brain.”

“That’s right. Even though they cured the disease and have me on some mood stabilizers, I’m not the same. I like to think that I could have been a good mother to you, that I could have loved you like you deserve if it hadn’t have been for the neurosyphilis but we’ll never know. What we do know is that you have two amazing parents out there.” She paused. “What did you and your mom fight about?”

“I skipped school and missed a big test so she grounded me.” It sounded so stupid when I said it out loud. “I, uh, told her she wasn’t my real mom and left the house.”

Dad sighed and I could tell he was pissed but he didn’t say anything. Angela released a loud sigh and shook her head, a soft smile on her face. “That’s the thing, Chris. She is your real mother, not me. Any woman can get pregnant and give birth. Not every woman can raise a baby the way they deserve. I’m not your real mom. I lost that right when you were just a few hours old. You should appreciate your mother. Appreciate that you have two parents who love you so much.”

I felt like such an ass. The woman in front of me was right. Mom didn’t have to be my mother. She didn’t have to love me. But she did. She was there when I got sick. She was there for every birthday. She was there for every baseball game. She was there when my first girlfriend had broken up with me the year before. Mom was always there.

“I messed up.”

“No one is perfect, Christopher.” Angela reached out and squeezed my hand with her cold, calloused one. I knew she was just being nice but I suddenly wanted to leave. “These are the mistakes you can learn from, though. Learn from them so you don’t mess up and do something that you can never take back. Take it from someone who knows.”

Silence spread between the three of us and the guard cleared his throat to let us know that we had five minutes left. Dad shifted in his seat and offered Angela a small smile.

“You seem well.”

She nodded and gestured around her. “I’m happy here. It’s home, you know? How is Stephanie? How are your other children? My parents say they’re good kids.”

“Everyone’s really good, thanks for asking.”

“Good.” She stood from the chair and nodded at the guard. “It’s almost dinner time so I need to get going. Go home and apologize to your mother, Chris. Love her because you don’t always get second chances.”

“I will,” I replied quietly. “Thank you, Angela.”

No one hugged, no one shook hands. I just offered up an awkward wave and my dad dropped an arm across my shoulders. I didn’t look back as we left my biological mom behind.

We got our stuff and walked out to Dad’s car in silence. He didn’t say a word to me until we were almost home. We stopped at the light to turn into our neighborhood and he glanced over at me in the dark car.

“No one in this world loves you more than Stephanie Hart. That woman is a goddess among men for everything she has done for us. I love all three of you kids but I won’t allow any of you to hurt your mother like you did today. Does it make you feel like a man to know you made her cry?”

“No, sir,” I replied shamefully. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not me you should be apologizing to, Chris. You hurt her feelings with your words. You scared her by running away. If I’ve taught you anything in this life, it’s that you need to respect your mother.”

When we made it home, I followed my dad in through the garage door that led to the kitchen. Mom was sitting at the table with her laptop and she looked up when she saw us. A smile stretched across her lips and I realized just how beautiful my mother really was.

“Hey, City Roast.”

Dad stepped forward and bent down so he could kiss her. “Hi, sweetheart. Where are the kids?”

“Bri and Marco took them to get pizza.” She looked past my dad and offered me a sad smile. “Hi, baby.”

Man, I felt like shit for putting that look on her face. Both Dad and Angela were right- she was an amazing person and I was lucky to have her in my life. She could have held a grudge, she could have given me the cold shoulder, but she didn’t do any of that. She literally smiled at me instead.

Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I was fifteen and too cool to need my mommy. I took six steps to close the distance between us and threw my arms around her. She stood and wrapped me in a tight hug and even though I was about an inch taller than her at that point, I felt like a little boy again.

“I’m so sorry, Mom.”

“Oh, Christopher.” She pulled back slightly and put both of her hands on my cheeks. “It doesn’t matter what you say or what you do, you are my son and there’s nothing you can do to change that. I love you, sweet boy.”

“I love you, too.”

I never went to see Angela again but I was thankful to her and her wise words. I had a newfound respect for my mother and I made sure to treat her like she deserved to be treated. I liked to think that my brother and sister followed my lead, too.

Mom never asked me about my visit. She didn’t ask how it was, she didn’t ask why, she didn’t make me feel bad for going. She just continued to love and support me like she always had.

Six years later

I was back in my childhood home for the weekend and wearing a suit. A knock sounded on the door at the same time someone said, “Chris?”

“Yeah, come in.” I pulled the knot tight on my necktie and looked away from the mirror just as my father poked his head inside my old bedroom.

“You about ready?”

I nodded my head and slipped on my suit jacket. “Yeah. Is everyone else?”

“We’re just waiting on your mom.” He leaned against the door frame. “She’s nervous.”

“It’s always weird when she gets nervous. I used to think she wasn’t afraid of anything.”

Dad chuckled quietly and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. It was a lot like mine- blonde and with a mind of its own- but his was starting to show streaks of silver. Even so, my father didn’t look like a guy in his early fifties.

“There’s very little that actually scares her and most of it has to do with you kids.”

I followed him out of the bedroom I had occupied growing up and we headed down the stairs to the first floor. My little sister, Emma, was sitting on the couch staring at her phone but she looked up and smiled when she heard us.

Emma was two years younger than me and the spitting image of our mother. Looking at old pictures of Mom side-by-side with ones of my sister made you realize just how alike the two were. The biggest difference was that Emma had Dad’s green eyes.

She was wearing a light-blue dress that seemed a bit tight but I knew better than to say anything about it. Emma hated when I went all big brother on her and so I had learned just to keep a protective eye on her at all times.

Like me, Emma went to Arizona State University but she still hadn’t declared a major. Both of our parents were on her about it because her sophomore year was wrapping up in just another two months and it was time for her to finally choose. I, on the other hand, was following in my mother’s footsteps and would be completing my degree in social work at the end of that semester.

“We ready?” she asked and Dad just shook his head.

“Waiting on Mom. Where’s Michael?”

“I’m right here,” my little brother spoke from behind us and we all turned our heads to watch him come out of the kitchen with some sort of pastry shoved in his mouth.

Where I looked like Dad and Emma looked like Mom, Michael seemed to be a perfect mixture of them both. He had Mom’s golden hair that cooperated more than mine ever would and grey eyes that had flashes of blue and green in them. He was four years younger than me and still in high school, but the two of us were close.

Like me, Michael was in a suit but it seemed to be a bit too small for him. Dad noticed, too, because he sighed loudly.

“That suit’s only a year old. I thought your growth spurt was over, kid.”

“Our cupboards say differently,” Mom commented as she walked down the stairs with a smile. She was wearing a white dress that came down to her knees and a pair of heels that gave her a couple of inches. Her golden blonde hair was pulled back in some elegant bun and she just looked happy. “Are those my cookies, Michael?”

“Sharing is caring, Mom.” My brother just gave her a sloppy grin and she laughed quietly.

“I’ll remember that the next time you have something I want, baby.” She pressed a kiss to my brother’s shoulder before turning to look at me. A soft smile sat on her lips and she reached up to straighten my tie. “You look very handsome, Christopher.”

Being twenty-one-years-old didn’t diminish the desire for my mother’s approval but the compliment still made me blush slightly. “Thanks, Mom.”

She kissed my shoulder, just like she had Michael, and moved to fuss over my sister for a minute. Finally, she turned and looked at all of us. “We ready?”

The five of us went out into the garage and after an argument, Michael ended up in the middle of the back seat. He grumbled about it but that only made Emma and me intentionally squish him the whole way to some fancy hotel near downtown Phoenix.

Dad parked in the valet area and we all shuffled out of the vehicle. I watched as my father came around the car and offered my mom his arm while giving her a look of admiration. It still blew me away that they could be so in love after more than twenty years of marriage.

The three of us followed our parents inside and to a banquet room that had a sign outside of it. The sign was fancy and in elegant script it said, National Social Worker of America Awards.

This was the first time the award ceremony was being held in Phoenix in more than ten years and my mother had been excited to attend one in person. She had been nominated for different awards a few times over her career but had never won. She was supposed to be presenting an award tonight but there was also something else, something she didn’t know.

We found our table and I didn’t recognize the people we were sitting with. Mom must have known them, though, because she struck up conversation immediately.

Dinner was good but dessert was better. The awards ceremony started not too long after that and it was honestly quite boring. Mom got up to present and that was the only time I paid full attention. She looked so beautiful up there and I was reminded again of how lucky I was.

I watched my mother return to the table after giving someone an award and I smiled. What I was about to do was a privilege.

“And to introduce us to the winner of our Lifetime Accomplishment Award, is Christopher Hart.”

Soft applause sounded around me and I stood from my seat, catching my mother’s confused expression before heading up to the stage. I buttoned my jacket during my journey and moved to stand in front of the podium where an award had already been placed. I reached into my suit jacket and pulled out the notecards I’d tucked in there earlier.

“Good evening,” I said into the microphone, clearing my throat slightly. “My name is Christopher Hart and it’s my distinct honor to be up here in front of you all today. The woman receiving this award is someone very special to me and I’m so proud of all of the work she has done over the course of her career.”

My eyes found my mother’s in the crowd and I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks. I smiled and nodded at her once before continuing.

“This year’s recipient is Stephanie Hart and she has been a social worker for twenty-six years. She started out right here in our Phoenix office and was promoted to supervisor of the department after just five years. Ten years after that, she became the manager of the Prevention and Support department and she continues to hold that title to this day. She has impacted the lives of countless children in the most positive way but none more so than my own.”

“When I was just a few hours old, my biological mother abandoned me in the garbage.” I flipped my notecard and forced myself to look back out at the crowd. “It was the middle of the winter and I was left to die. A woman heard my feeble cries and searched the garbage until she found me. I was rushed to the hospital where I was given medical treatment. The same woman who found me knew that I would be starving for social attachment and she began to spend hours at the hospital to ensure I had someone to bond with. She worked hard with the police to find out where my place was in life and they found my biological father, who had no idea I existed. He had never held a baby but she taught him everything he needed to know. He named me Christopher Stephan Hart, after the hero who saved me.”

“If you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s not sure who she loved first- me or my dad. But the fact is, she loved us both and she loved us fiercely. She didn’t give birth to me that day but she gave me life just the same and I never felt anything but love from her. When she and my dad married, she adopted me to legally become what she already was- my mother.” I picked up the award and looked at Mom in the crowd. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than you, Mom. You put your whole heart into this job each and every day and I can’t even begin to guess how many lives you’ve bettered. Thank you for being there when I needed you the most. Thank you for being my mom when you didn’t have to. Thank you for being the most amazing woman I know. It is my pleasure to announce that this year’s Lifetime Accomplishment Award goes to Stephanie Hart- my mom.”

Thunderous applause sounded around us and I watched as my mom stood from the table and embraced my brother and sister before doing the same to my dad. She walked up to the stage and took my hand when I offered it to her at the stairs. The second she could, Mom wrapped me up in a tight hug.

“You changed my life, Christopher Hart,” she said through sniffles as we pulled apart. She placed her hands on both of my cheeks just like she had when I was fifteen and shook her head slightly. “You and your daddy gave me the greatest gift by making me a mother for the first time. You say I saved you, but you saved me, too, sweet boy. I’m so proud of you and the man you have become.”

I swallowed back the emotion that clogged my throat and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too.” She squeezed my hand and took the award when I held it up. I stepped back as she moved to the podium, swiping at the tears on her cheeks as she did. I stood off to the side and watched as she gave the most elegant thank you speech, citing the love of my father, me, and my siblings as her greatest accomplishment.

The first few minutes of my life might not have been the greatest but every second after that was perfect and that was because I was a Hart.

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