Nolan slowed as he came to the next section of downhill on the path, and he looked over his shoulder. The boy was pedaling furiously trying to keep up with him. Nolan smiled and put one foot down on the ground while he waited for him. Finn stopped his bike right next to Nolan’s and grinned up at him, despite the fact he was breathing a little hard from all that pedaling.
“You’re doing real good, Finn.” It kind of surprised him that the boy had never really been on a bike before. He’d taken right to it. The other boys his age already had training wheels off, but with the way Finn was going, Nolan thought his would be gone before the summer was over. If only Evan had ever let the kid just be a kid.
“Thanks for getting me the bike,” Finn said, looking down at his handlebars. “You didn’t hafta. Or to take me riding. I really appreciate it.”
Nolan reached out and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It was from your mom and me, remember? And I like spending time with you.”
“But, you’re not even married to my mom yet. Aren’t you gonna get tired of me?”
The only reason they weren’t married yet was because they’d been waiting on the judge to sign off on the divorce. Maura’s ex had been dragging his feet about signing the papers, one more way he tried to control her. So, Nolan had finally convinced her to take it to court, or it would have continued until the end of days.
“Never, Finn,” he assured the boy. “I want to spend the rest of my life with your mom and you kids. I won’t get tired of you. You ready to keep going?”
The boy nodded, and Nolan grinned at him. “Okay, but this is a big downhill. You’ll need to be careful and keep on the brakes, okay?”
He nodded again, and Nolan set both feet on the pedals taking off down the hill. He took quick glances over his shoulder, not enough to send him off balance, but he wanted to be able to keep an eye on the boy. Halfway down the hill, and he seemed to be doing fine. Nolan relaxed a little. Too soon, though, because only moments later he heard a sharp cry. Glancing back again, he saw the boy’s back tire fly up and the whole bike flipped.
Nolan pressed down on his own brakes, but he was jumping off the bike before it even stopped. He was used to acting quickly in emergency situations. And was thankful he’d strapped a small medic bag to the back of his bike. He quickly pulled it free and was running back to where Finn lay on the paved path. he wasn’t moving and for a moment, Nolan was dead certain his own heart had stopped.
But, a quick touch told him the boy’s pulse was normal. Then, he groaned, and Nolan closed his eyes in relief. “Finn, can you talk to me?”
“I know. Where does it hurt?”
He could hear the tears in the boy’s voice, and it had a lump rising in his throat. “Let me see,” he said and gently rolled the boy over. His stomach twisted at the mess the boy’s knees had become. Skin had torn and dirt and gravel covered them. “All right, Finn,” he said gently. “It’s going to be all right.”
“It hurts. Big boys don’t cry, but it hurts.”
Nolan leaned over him, one hand on the boy’s cheek. “You can cry, Finn. It doesn’t make you weak to cry when it hurts, okay?”
The boy just closed his eyes, but Nolan saw the tears sliding down his cheeks. He grabbed what he needed from his bag and started cleaning the dirt away from the ripped skin. He thought he was probably going to need stitches.
“Should we call an ambulance?” someone asked from behind him.
He glanced up and saw a crowd had gathered. Nolan shook his head. “I have EMT training. But, I need to get him back to my car. We’re back in the first parking lot. And our bikes.” Shit. He couldn’t carry Finn and the bikes. And Finn’s brand new bike…he was just glad he’d been insistent the boy wear a helmet. They might not even be having this conversation otherwise.
“I’ve got a cart here,” one of the people in the crowd called. “We can get you and your boy back to your car. Your bikes, too.”
Nolan nodded and just said, “Thank you,” while he continued to clean out the cuts on Finn’s knees. Some were deep. Yes, they were definitely going to need stitches. He wrapped a bandage around each of them, but that was all he could do for now. By the time he zipped his bag back up, the bikes were already in the back of the cart, and someone stood at the side of it. He lifted Finn into his arms and carried him over, sliding into the passenger seat.
“You’re pretty steady there,” the man commented as he headed away from the path.
“I run into fires for a living. This is a minor emergency.” It didn’t feel minor to him, though. His heart was beating so hard, and it broke every time Finn cried out.
“Your dad’s a hero, son,” the man said glancing at Finn.
“He’s not my dad yet,” Finn said, even though his teeth were grinding together. “But, he’s gonna be. He loves us more than Dad ever did.”
When they got to his car, he thanked the man then grabbed their bikes. He buckled Finn into his seat and backed out of their spot, reaching for his phone. As soon as it was dialing Maura’s number, he hit the speakerphone button, so he could keep his eyes on the road.
“Nolan?” she answered. “You guys on the way home already?”
“No,” he said, his voice nearly catching in his throat. He could hear it crack as it came out. “Finn fell. He’s going to be okay, Maura,” he assured her, “but his knees are pretty tore up. I’m taking him to the hospital right now. He may need a few stitches, but he’s going to be all right.”
“I’ll meet you there. I’ve got his insurance card with me. I’ll drop the girls at your parents’ if they can watch them.”
Nolan’s heart started to settle. “I’m sure they can. I’ll talk to you when you get there. I’m so, so sorry, Maura.”
“It’s not your fault, Nolan. Kids fall and get hurt. I’ll meet you there.”
Nolan tried to believe her words as he drove the rest of the way to the hospital, but he still couldn’t help feeling guilty for this. He should have found a way to keep it from happening. He never wanted Maura or her kids to hurt again. And this time he was the cause of it. He wasn’t sure he could ever forgive himself for that. His hands tightened on the wheel, then Finn’s small voice said, “Thanks for taking me today, Nolan. I’m sorry I wrecked my bike.”
That had the grip on his chest breaking. “It’s not your fault, Finn. You couldn’t have known that would happen.”
“You couldn’t either, Nolan,” the boy said as if he’d understood the guilt Nolan carried. “My dad would have just yelled at me for falling. You helped me.”
No, Nolan thought, Evan never would have taken him in the first place. But, the boy’s words eased more of the guilt off his shoulders. He knew as well as anyone there were things you couldn’t stop from happening. What mattered though was how you handled them. And he’d always do what he could to ease any of the pains these kids felt. They may not be his by blood, but he’d always love them as if they were.
“I always will, Finn. You’ll get those knees stitched up and they’ll be good as new.”
“Will you stay with me?”
He drew in a deep breath, feeling his eyes sting. “Always.”