Chapter Eight

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Thursday came around torturously slowly.

Stevie had spent the last two days completely baby-proofing her entire house, to the point where Karen hardly recognised it anymore. In fact, the night before, Karen had walked into the lounge and had found Stevie crawling around the room on her hands and knees, ‘trying to get a baby’s-eye view of the place’ she had said; she then went about securing all of the drawers and cupboards that were in reach, and stowing away any objects that could be considered choking hazards for a baby. All of Stevie’s most delicate lamps had been moved out of reach and the most expensive had been put into storage. Karen had even ordered for a custom set of baby gates to be made and delivered straight to the house, specifically designed for the grand staircase that swirled up the mural wall of the great entryway.

Despite having almost cleared out the home security aisle of Mothercare and having all but turned her house into a giant marshmallow, Stevie was still jittery on the morning of the inspection.

Karen was updating her diary in the lounge when Stevie suddenly swept into the room with a frilly yellow apron hung around her neck.

“Apron or no apron?” she asked with a serious expression on her face.

“No apron, Stevie,” Karen chuckled, unable to suppress the laugh that had bubbled up inside her at the ridiculous sight. “Yellow has never been your colour…”

“Stop it Karen, this isn’t funny!” Stevie whined, pulling the apron over her head and discarding it on the couch.

“Stevie just calm down, you’ve done a great job with the house. Everything’s going to be fine…”

“You don’t know that!”

Stevie shifted her weight from foot to foot, wringing her hands together nervously and looking around the room for anything she might have missed.

“Should I have baked something?!” Stevie gasped.

“What?”

“You know, like a cake? Or cookies or brownies or – something?”

“Why would you do that? You hardly know how to make toast!” Karen snorted, only half-joking.

If she had wanted to calm Stevie down, she had actually managed to accomplish almost the complete opposite. She sighed deeply when she saw Stevie’s eyes pop out of her head and the colour drain from her face at her comment.

Karen stood up and wrapped her in a hug.

“Come on Stevie, deep breath.”

“I don’t know how to do this, Karen,” she whispered vulnerably.

“Yes you do, you’ve always known. Just be yourself today, okay?”

Before Stevie even had a chance to respond, the doorbell rang and Karen headed off to answer it. Stevie threw the ghastly yellow apron behind the couch and made her way out into the entryway to welcome Brenda.

“Brenda! It’s so good to see you, thank you for coming over!” Stevie beamed warmly as Karen took the woman’s jacket.

“Not at all, thank you for having me!”

Thankfully, Brenda’s smiley disposition always made Stevie feel so at ease. She leant down and slipped a clipboard out of her briefcase, before attaching several sheets to it and whipping out a pen.

“It’s my pleasure!” Stevie replied, eyeing the sheets wearily. “Would you like something to drink? Tea? Coffee?”

“I’m fine thank you Stephanie, you’re too kind. No I think I’ll just hop to it, if that’s alright?”

“Absolutely.”

“The faster we get this done, the sooner we can process your file and the sooner you can bring that gorgeous baby girl back with you to this beautiful home!”

Stevie’s heart fluttered happily in her chest at the wondrous thought, and she led Brenda into the kitchen to begin the inspection.

Karen followed them both through the house, making sure to keep a distance so that she was not in the way, but also staying close enough to offer moral support to Stevie, who she could tell was growing more and more nervous every time Brenda scribbled something down on her clipboard.

Stevie was sure to mention each of the things she had installed to make sure that everything was one hundred percent child-friendly as they made their way through each of the rooms in the house.

“I have baby monitors set up in the kitchen, the lounge, the master bedroom and... this room,” Stevie trailed out.

“Ah! So I’m guessing this is the would-be nursery, correct?”

Stevie nodded with a smile as Brenda took a closer look around the room.

“Well, it’s a lovely room, nice and spacious, lots of natural light... Yes, I think this would make the perfect nursery!” Brenda said, scribbling something down.

The process was lengthy and by the end of it, Stevie was just about ready to fall into bed with exhaustion. The three women convened in the lounge where Karen had set out coffee and biscuits. Stevie gave her an appreciative smile and Karen winked back at her.

They both watched silently as Brenda flicked through each of the sheets she had been scribbling down on throughout the process, seemingly scrutinising every little detail with great concentration.

“Well Stephanie, what can I say?” Brenda began with a smile. “I believe that your house is perfect for a child!”

“Really?!” Stevie yelped in delight. “Do you really think so?!”

“I do. Everything is exactly how it should be and I couldn’t spot a thing that would make me think otherwise! I am very, very pleased with how this is progressing.”

“Oh Brenda, you have no idea how relieved I am to hear that!” Stevie breathed, relaxing a little in her chair. “I was so worried that you wouldn’t think so, but I’m so glad you do! I just can’t wait to have her here at home with me. I...”

Brenda’s phone suddenly began ringing and she had to apologise for interrupting before taking the call. Stevie shook her head understandingly and took a sip of her coffee, grateful for the momentary respite.

Unfortunately, it did not last long, as when Brenda abruptly shot a glance in Stevie’s direction, she instantly knew that something was not right.

“Is everything okay?” Stevie was quick to ask as Brenda hung up the phone.

The woman paused for a moment with a conflicted expression on her face.

“I – I shouldn’t be telling you this, Stephanie… but I’ve just been told that another couple have just filed for custody of the same baby girl.”

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A/N: Uh oh, what's going to happen next? Thank you all for your continued support for this story!

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