Home > Only You (One and Only #1)(12)

Only You (One and Only #1)(12)
Author: Melanie Harlow

“Babies her age eat often. Every few hours.”


She grinned ruefully. “We need to get you a few baby books so you can learn all this stuff. And you probably need some baby items—a stroller, some kind of crib, maybe a swing, or at least a bouncy chair.”

Inwardly I groaned, picturing my awesome, manly loft with baby furniture in it. “Really? Even if it’s just for a month?”

Emme cocked her head. “It’s not just for a month, Nate. Even if Rachel came back for her today, you are still her father. For life.”

There was something fierce in her eyes, something that dared me to disagree with her. Or maybe something that suspected I would disagree with her, and prove that she had been right about me. That I was all talk, and not really man enough to handle being a father. I didn’t want her to think that, even if I was scared it was the truth.

Gathering my courage, I pushed myself off the counter and stood up straight. “I’ll go get her. I’m sure you have things to do today.” Feeling proud of myself, I left the kitchen and went upstairs.

“Good morning,” I said to the angry baby in the car seat next to my bed. Not that I blamed her. Who’d want to sleep like that? I picked it up by the handle and went back downstairs. “Don’t worry Paisley, I’m going to get you something better to sleep in today.” Except I had no idea where they even sold baby shit. Maybe Emme would know.

She was still in the kitchen when I got down there. “Want some help?” she asked as I set the car seat on the island and began washing my hands.

“Nope. I’ve got this.” I dried my hands on a towel and picked up one of the plastic bottles Emme had washed last night and left on a paper towel to dry. “You should feel very special, Paisley. Not only am I giving up my Saturday morning workout for you, but I am making your breakfast before I even make coffee.” I hoped I sounded relaxed and confident, which was the complete opposite of how I felt. “Okay now, what was it again? Two level scoops of this stinky powder?” I took the cap off the can of formula.

“Well, seems like you’re doing okay,” Emme said hesitantly. “I’ll go get dressed.”

“Okay,” I said breezily. She left the kitchen and I exhaled, my chest collapsing. Pretending to know what I was doing was tiring. I measured two level scoops of formula and dumped it into the bottle. “Next I add four ounces of water.”

But when I went to the sink, I realized that I probably should have added the water first since the formula took up some space in the bottle. In the interest of doing things exactly right, I dumped the powder back in the can and started over. “I made a mistake, Paisley. Sorry to say, it’s going to happen a lot.” I glanced at her, and it was kind of amusing how interested her expression was. She wasn’t even fussing while I spoke to her. “Don’t tell anyone.”

I got it right the second time, and I even used warm water, which seemed smart to me because it allowed me to skip a step (heating up the bottle). Congratulating myself on a job well done, I brought the bottle and the car seat into the living room, set them both on the coffee table, and unbuckled the car seat straps. As soon as I lifted her out, I could tell that she needed to be changed.

“You stink,” I told her. “Maybe not as bad as last night, but that is not a pleasant odor about you. I thought babies were supposed to smell good.” I was more confident in my bottle-making skills than my diaper-changing skills, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Keeping Paisley in place against my chest with one arm, I laid the blanket on the couch with the other. Before I set her down I grabbed a clean diaper from the bag. There were only two left, which meant shopping was first up on the agenda today. As I changed her, I started making a list of things I would need. Since she seemed to like my voice, I talked it out.

“We’ll need diapers for sure, and more formula, and probably a few more bottles. We’ll need a stroller and something for you to sleep in,” I said, swapping the old diaper for the new one, “and maybe some kind of lounge chair for you to sit in instead of that car seat. Speaking of which, I’m going to have to figure out how to buckle you into my car. Okay, let’s see how I did.”

I finished zipping up her sleeper and picked her up, holding her out in front of me and turning her this way and that. “Well, you’re still in one piece and still breathing, so that’s a good sign.” I placed her in the crook of my arm, grabbed the bottle from the coffee table, and fed her a couple ounces. She probably would have eaten more, but I remembered that Emme said it was good to burp her about halfway through. Setting the bottle aside, I sat her on my knee and propped her up over one hand like Emme had shown me last night. With the other hand I rubbed her back, and I only had to wait about thirty seconds for her to give me a decent-sized belch.

“Look at you.” Emme’s voice came from the direction of the stairs. I turned around and saw her coming down, dressed again in her jeans and sweater.

I settled Paisley into my arms once more and began feeding her the rest of the bottle, crossing my legs so one ankle rested on one knee. I was determined to look like I could handle this. “Not bad, right?”

“Not bad at all.” She came over and sat next to us, reaching over to brush Paisley’s hair off her forehead. “Is your daddy taking good care of you?”

My stomach heaved. Daddy. Jesus fucking Christ. I cleared my throat. “I need to shop for her. Can you point me in the right direction?”

“Probably Target, or maybe Babies“R”Us.”

“There’s a place called Babies“R”Us?” I asked incredulously.

She giggled. “Yes. Do you want me to go with you?”

Of course I did. In fact, what I really wanted was to give her my credit card and have her do it all. “Only if you have time.”

“I have a wedding tonight, so I do have to work eventually, but I could help you out later this morning.” She sighed and fell back against my couch. “Although I definitely need a nap.”

“A nap sounds fucking amazing.” I set the empty bottle aside and sat Paisley up to burp her again.

“Do it while she takes hers. I’m telling you, that’s the only time you will be able to sleep.” She got to her feet. “I guess I’ll go home for a bit. Anything you need before I go?”

I couldn’t think of anything, although I was tempted to make something up so she would stay a little longer. What was I going to do with this baby all by myself? What if she started crying and I couldn’t get her to stop? “Not that I can think of.”

She must have sensed my fear, because she patted me on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine, Nate. You’re doing awesome, all things considered.”

I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Thanks. I think I’m still running on adrenaline.”

Emme nodded. “Are you going to tell anybody? Your family? Your work?”

The thought of telling my mother terrified me. This was a woman who was scared to leave the house and buy groceries because she worried about having a panic attack at Kroger. She wore gloves if she went absolutely anywhere, because the thought of touching germs terrified her. She had her doctor on speed dial because she was always convinced she had picked up some awful, incurable disease if she’d been out in public.

Thankfully, she had a longtime neighbor that often checked in on her, a good Samaritan who made sure there was food in the house, drove her anywhere she needed to go, and made the occasional phone call to me when things got bad. I would talk to my mom, assess the situation, and depending on her mental state, I sometimes had to make the nearly three-hour drive to Grand Rapids and get her out of the house. Usually, it was just that she had stopped taking her medication due to some irrational fear that someone at the pharmacy was trying to poison her. Once I could convince her that wasn’t the case, she would take it again and improve within days. I tried to be patient with her, reminding myself that she hadn’t always been this way, that once upon a time, she’d been a happy, well-adjusted woman with a beautiful home, a solid marriage, plenty of money in the bank, and two healthy sons. She must have thought it would all last forever. Hadn’t we all?

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