“You really scared me,” he said, recovering quickly, “I went to your house and you weren’t there, and Aria wouldn’t tell me where you were. That’s a really loyal friend you’ve got there.”
“I know,” I agreed.
He grabbed onto the desk, staring into my face. “I couldn’t find anything, not a trace! I was looking for you, and my dad had his people on the case. Not the way you think, not at all. Like I said, he’s done with that shit. I included myself when I said he was going to leave us alone to figure it all out. He understands it has to be that way if he wants to be included as Billy’s grandpa. Otherwise, we all walk together.”
“Seriously?” I asked, it not sounding like the Conrad I knew.
“Yeah, I know it’s weird, right. I made it clear to Dad that he wouldn’t see Billy again if he didn’t back off, and if he went after you again, he and any goons he sent would have to go through me first.”
“You are a good fighter,” I conceded.
“Damn right. As anyone who tries to mess with my girl, or my baby is going to find out. Painfully I would wager.”
My heart swelled with love for Carl. It was all I could do not to cry. He really was ready to step up and be a father to Billy and a partner to me. I wanted him so much it hurt. I doubted that Conrad would ever actually apologize to me but was willing to let that go.
“I suppose we’d better go back to my place then,” I said, fighting back tears of joy.
“It’s closing time,” Ryan said, coming in looking at his Rolex.
“Hey, Mr. White,” Carl said.
“Well, as I live and breath, Jinx Willcox, how ya been, man?”
“Busy,” Carl admitted.
Ryan looked at the two of us. “That’s good. You two know each other?”
“He’s my baby daddy,” I said with a smirk.
Ryan blinked for a second, then raised up his hands. “Congratulations!”
“Thanks,” Carl said, as humble as I had ever seen him.
“Shall we?” I asked, taking Carl’s arm.
“Let’s,” my love agreed.
“You know, you could have just called in the numbers,” Ryan joked, locking the door behind us.
Getting our son from daycare, we put him in the car Ryan lent me — complete with car seat — and I dove us back to my apartment, nestling the tires up to the curb in my usual spot across the street from the building. I let Carl get Billy out of his car seat and take him inside.
“You know, I nearly put monthly report duty off onto Chris. I’m happy I didn’t, though. Otherwise, I would never have found you again.”
He then stopped in the middle of the road, looking at me with deepest, darkest concern.
“I’m really sorry I left you like that. I have a much better idea now, not only how much it must have hurt at the time and what a shock it was to finally find me again.”
I took his arm, putting my other hand on our son’s back. “I have a better understanding of why you did it and how much it must have hurt not to be able to be there. Now get the baby out of the middle of the road!”
Moving like he had just woken from a dream, Carl sprinted across the street to the safety of the sidewalk.
“You’re forgiven,” I said, kissing both him and Billy.
We made the best of my tiny apartment, and things felt alright again. Almost as good as they had been the morning after we had gone to Carl’s for dinner, and things had gotten carried away. Thought the thing was I was no longer sure that was the case. Maybe things had gone exactly like they were supposed to. I didn’t entirely trust Conrad but was willing to put up with that if it meant that we could be a proper family.
The apartment was smaller than I expected, but one-bedrooms tended to be, no matter how gentrified the area was. I sat on the couch, still cradling Billy, who had been asleep when we had picked him up from daycare.
“I think he should go to bed,” Lila said.
“Just give him a minute,” I said.
As though we had rehearsed it, Billy woke up and looked up at me, still blinking sleepily.
“Daddy!” he said happily before snuggling back into my arms and going back to sleep.
“How did you know?
“I didn’t. I just kind of guessed.”
Lila showed me to the bedroom, and I put Billy down into the brand new cradle, which still had the tags on. It was okay but didn’t have nearly the same character as the one at Aria’s place.
We just watched our son sleep for a moment, Lila hugging me from behind, her chin resting against my arm before leading me back out into the living room.