“Look, I’m telling you we’re fine.” Franco’s raised voice was a welcome distraction. He’d been arguing with a nurse just inside the door of Lily’s room all while the mother/daughter bonding ritual was attempted, and it sounded like he’d finally gotten fed up.

Between DCFS rules, hospital restrictions, and car seat laws, it was quite a trick figuring out a way to get Lily and her baby out of the hospital. Hopefully this works.

“I’m listed as the father on the birth certificate, right?” Franco continued.

“Yes, but—”

“You’ve seen my ID, mail showing a current address, and Lily told you I’m the father. I’m twenty one, and I’ve got a friend waiting outside right now to take us home. So what right you got to tell me what I can do with my woman and my kid?”

“Children and Family Services told us the mother is underage.”

“Bullshit. They don’t know nothing about me and Lily. They wanna bitch about anything, they can come find us at this here address I showed you.” He pointed at the envelope she still held in her hand. “’Cause me and my kid are leaving, hear?”

Franco was short and skinny with three pimples red and raw on his nose, but he sounded so tough even the snooty nurse in her starched white uniform looked intimidated.

“But—” She tried, but she was scrambling, that much was sure. “The doctor will be making his rounds in another hour. If you just wait till—”

“Didn’t I just say I got a friend waiting downstairs right now? How we supposed to get home if I wait for the damn Doc? Think I wanna take my kid home on the L with all the crackpots and germs floating around?”

“But we’re not, we’re not ready to release her. Do you even have diapers bought for this child? Do you have a car seat? A crib?”

“We’ve still got some of those baby boxes available,” the nurse’s aide suggested. She was still holding a loud and red-faced Rosie, bouncing the baby up and down trying to quiet her. “We could send one of them home with these two.”

The nurse looked pissed that the aide was taking Franco’s side, but Franco grasped the straw quick. “Baby box? What’s that?”

“It’s only cardboard, but big enough to use as a bed for the first few weeks anyway,” the aide answered. “Some company donated a bunch of them, hoping the hospital would agree to start buying them for young, first-time parents. It’s a thing that started in Finland, I guess.”

“You want me to take my baby home in a box?” Franco asked.

“It’s nicer than you think. Plus it’s filled with all kinds of stuff, clothes even, to get you started. That would work for them, Anita, don’t you think? And DCFS could follow up later to see if they need anything else.”

Maybe the nurse’s aide had been more sympathetic than Lily had given her credit for. She even looked back and gave Lily a small, encouraging smile as the nurse finally gave in with a, “Wait here, then. There’s paperwork and details need to be sorted out.”

“Well, hurry it up, woman.” Franco was cocky with victory. “My ride’s not gonna double park for long, now, is he?”

Their transportation wasn’t really double parked, Lily saw when they finally rolled her out the exit doors in a wheelchair. With one wave of his arm, Franco summoned a long, fin-tailed purple Chevy that chugged smoke as it circled the drive to meet up with them.

Lily had never seen the car before, just as she had no idea what Franco had been yammering on about with the nurse. What home was he talking about? Franco’s address, the one on his ID and where he got his mail from, actually belonged to the Unitarian church on Armitage Avenue. They let people pick up their mail there once a day during the week. And what friend did he have who actually owned a car?

Then she saw who stepped out of the driver’s seat.

I love bringing back Riley King from my first book, Painted Black. In so many ways, Cry Baby Cry is circling back to the very beginning of the series.

“Well, there she be,” Riley King called over the hood of his car. As usual, he was wearing a bright Hawaiian print shirt, and a thick gold chain winked from inside his collar. He grinned as he walked up to them. “Sweet baby Jesus, what a cute little thing you holding there, girl. Let me see.”

Lily actually pulled Rosie away from the man when he reached for her. She looked up at Franco with her mouth open, but he just shrugged.

“Now, don’t be shy, girl.” Was Lily imagining it, or was there a warning glint in Riley’s eye? “Let Uncle Riley get a peek at the pretty little thing. What her name now?”

It was the nurse’s aide who answered. Lily’s tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. She did let Franco’s pimp pull the baby blanket back to get a look at Rosie’s face. The baby was sleeping, thankfully, having been fed a small bottle of formula by Carmen, the aide, before they’d checked out.

Carmen was now looking at Riley and the rumbling, antique car with a frown between her eyebrows. “I don’t see an infant seat in the back,” she said. “You need to strap the baby into a safety seat in order to take her home. If you don’t have one, then I’m afraid I’m not—”

For an instant, Lily had an impulse to say, “Here, take her back then,” before getting in the car and driving away without Rosie. Even as the thought dropped into her mind, however, some raw place in the pit of her stomach cried out in protest at the idea. Hormones, maybe? Kicking in despite her lack of maternal instincts?

“Car seat?” Riley asked. “Why, I just found out not one hour ago that sweet Lily here had her little one. No time for any shopping, now, was there? We planning on stopping at Target, though, straight away, I can promise you that. Even though we only going two blocks or so. Three maybe. And I promise to drive slow and careful as a man already picked up twice for DWI.”

He laughed and smiled, fingering the row of jeweled studs lining the cartilage of his right ear. “Just saying, of course. Never touch the stuff myself.”

Lily didn’t know Riley well, but she doubted the truth of that. Maybe he didn’t drink, but she found it hard to believe a man who dealt drugs and sold sex didn’t have some questionable recreational habit. Carmen, however, actually blushed at Riley’s “joke.” Could the woman actually find this lanky, dark eyed man with hair like a grease helmet attractive?

“I’m sorry, but it’s against the law …” Carmen stumbled to a stop, blushing even redder at Riley’s exaggerated cry of disappointment.

“What about if we put the baby in this box bed you gave us and strap that in real tight?” Franco asked. “We could take all the stuff out, and string the seat belts through these handles here.”

Fifteen minutes of sweating and swearing, and the Baby Box bed was strapped securely enough that Carmen seemed to approve. Either that, or she was so distracted by Riley’s flirting that she didn’t really care anymore. At any rate, Lily was finally able to settle into the back seat next to Rosie with a sigh as they drove off.

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