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Ride Steady


PAGE 136

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He shoved his phone in his pocket and went to his bike.

Then he rode to the hospital.

He hit maternity only to see Lee wasn't alone.

Hank was with him.

"I'm here, what?" he asked when he stopped close.

"Need you to suit up," Lee told him.

"What?"

Lee knocked on a door. It opened, a nurse peered out, looked at Joker, then raised her hand and crooked her finger.

Joker looked to Lee, to Hank, then to the woman.

He followed her.

Once inside the door, he suited up. Covers over his boots. Cut off and gown over his tee.

Once done, she led him to a room that had little domed cots.

She stopped beside one and he stopped with her, looked down, and stared at the tiniest baby he'd seen in his life. The kid couldn't be bigger than his hand. He had tubes in his mouth and in his thin arm, cotton taped over his eyes, yellowed mocha skin, tufts of soft black curly hair.

"Preemie," the nurse said softly. "Addict."

Those two words sliced through his stomach, and Joker cut his eyes to her.

"She'll be good," she said. "She got this far, no stopping her now."

Joker looked down at the baby, who was not a he but a she.

"Can she be held?" he asked.

"No, but she can be touched," the nurse answered. "Through those holes in the sides. Let me get you a glove."

She got him a glove.

Joker put on the glove, shoved through, and he was right. The kid was as big as his hand.

But she seemed so fragile, he hesitated to touch her. Instead, he pressed his finger to her palm.

And when he did, her fingers curled right around.

Tight.

"Told you she'll be good," the nurse muttered.

Joker stared at the baby girl, feeling something soak into him through his fingertip.

Then, gently he pulled his finger away and his hand out of the hole.

He nodded to the nurse and walked to the door. He took off the shit he'd put on and walked back into the hall.

"Do not fuck with me on this," he growled to Lee.

"Woman came in, had the kid, took off. She barely hit recovery before she vanished. No one's seen her since," Hank told him. "It's been a week and a half."

Joker glared at him.

"She was high when she came in. Deserted her baby," Hank went on.

"And how many people out there are in line for this kid?" Joker asked.

"None," Hank stated.

"Mixed race," Lee said quietly, and Joker narrowed his eyes at him, knowing that didn't mean dick to people who wanted a kid. "Born preemie, addicted, serious shit, Joke. And all systems are go now, but no one has any clue what's gonna happen with that kid. How she'll grow up. How she'll develop. There could be problems down the line, and those problems and their likelihood, those in line have backed off. That little girl needs someone special who can suck it up and don't give a fuck what they'll face, long's they got a kid to love. Now, if we don't find people who got it in 'em to give her a beautiful life anyway, she grows up in the system."

"So what you're sayin' is, you want me to go to my high school history teacher who's been through the wringer with his wife and offer up a kid with issues and a mom that's disappeared?" he asked.

"You think for a second they'll say no, then no, I don't want that shit," Lee returned.

"My guess, they won't blink at the kid. But the mom has disappeared. She comes back-"

"She won't come back," Hank stated.

"If she comes back-" Joker started again.

"She won't come back," Lee said firmly.

Joker stared at him.

Then he asked, "Dad?"

"Dad's out of the picture," Hank said.

Fuck.

They knew the dad.

They also knew the mom.

They knew everything.

Fuck.

"How out of the picture?" Joker pushed.

"Very," Hank told him.

Joker looked between the both of them.

Then he clipped, "I get their hopes up, shit goes south, we got a problem."

"There won't be any problems," Lee replied inflexibly.

Joker took a beat.

Then he said, "You gotta give me twenty-four hours."

"Why?" Lee asked.

"'Cause I gotta talk to Carissa," he told him.

"Good call. She can back you up with your teacher," Hank muttered.

Actually, he hadn't thought of that. But he'd pull her in on that too.

What he'd thought of was little fingers curled around his own.

Tight.

"Yeah," he agreed. "But gotta talk to her mostly because, they say no, I gotta know if she's good takin' on a baby who might have problems down the line."

Lee's head jerked, and Hank stared.

Joker walked away.

* * *

The next day, standing in the Compound, Carissa at his side, her hand tight in his, Joker stared at Keith Robinson, who stood, head bent, hand lifted and wrapped around the back of his neck.

They were the only ones in the room.

They waited.

He took his time.

Finally, he dropped his hand and looked at Joker.

"I can't put my wife through it again."

Joker nodded.

He'd given him the info, and he wasn't surprised at his decision. The man loved his wife. Carissa went through what Keith watched his wife go through, Joker would make the same call.

"Then Carissa and I are takin' her on."

Keith blinked before his face changed.

"That's honorable Carson"-he looked to Carissa-"Carissa, honey"-back to Joker-"but believe me when I say that if things turn, you fall in love in an instant, and hearts break very easily."

"I've been assured by people who can do that that things won't change," Joker told him, repeating something he'd already shared.

"You think that and then-"

"Keith, you don't get me," Joker cut him off quietly. "These people would not have approached me if they didn't know things would not change."

Keith stared into his eyes.

Joker let him.

Carissa squeezed his hand and leaned into his arm.

"Maybe I should talk to my wife," Keith whispered.

Carissa made a sound like she was fighting tears.

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