Heartbroken and inconsolable, Stevie had disappeared up to her bedroom the second they had walked through the front door, crawling under the covers and sobbing loudly into her pillow.
The sound of her cries reverberated through the floor and although Karen wanted to go up there and comfort her, she knew that what Stevie needed the most was a little space and some alone time. This whole process had become all she could think about, all that she lived for, and to have been dealt such a tough blow like that by the judge had dashed her hopes badly.
Instead of just sitting around and waiting for Stevie to re-emerge from her room later that day, Karen decided to be of use and run some outstanding errands in the city. Before she left, she unhooked the receiver from the dock and left it on the kitchen table, so that the line would be busy and the phone would not ring. This was something that Stevie had taught her to do from the first day she took over as her assistant, usually to avoid contact with Lindsey after one of their newest blow-ups.
Stevie did not even hear the front door shutting behind Karen as she left, for the sound of her own wails and tortured sobs rang loudly in her ears.
Loss. She had experienced loss in her life before. The loss of time in the grips of her all-encompassing addiction, which had cost her more than she cared to admit. The loss of babies, taken before their time and now nothing but a memory; the heartache she felt in that moment was just as painful as it had been all those times before. The loss of great loves. Despite all that had happened between them, not a day went by when Stevie had not thought about Lindsey. He was constantly on her mind and she cursed the fact that he had not left any contact information behind, not even a number for her to call – nothing.
She was suddenly pulled from the abyss of her self-reflection by the loud tune of the doorbell ringing through the house.
Stevie sighed heavily and rolled over, pulling the covers under chin and waiting for Karen to answer the door and dismiss whoever it was.
The doorbell rang again. Stevie huffed and sat up in her bed, straining to listen out for any sounds of Karen shuffling about downstairs, but hearing nothing.
The third time the doorbell rang a few seconds later, Stevie flung the covers back and slipped out of bed. She walked up to her vanity mirror, wiped away the tear streaks of mascara that had fallen over her cheeks and smoothed out her hair, before slowly making her way downstairs, still hoping that whoever it was would have given up and left.
When she reached the front door, Stevie went up on her toes to look through the peep-hole; whoever it was had just turned to walk away, but the breath suddenly hitched in her throat as she recognised who it was.
“Brenda?” Stevie called out in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
The woman stilled on the pathway upon hearing her voice, her back still turned to Stevie who stood expectantly in the doorway. Excruciatingly slowly, Brenda turned around to face her... but she was not alone.
There, beneath Brenda’s radiant smile, was a very familiar pink bundle, cradled gently against her chest.
If it were just a cruel dream, Stevie desperately willed herself to wake up in that very moment. But no matter how hard she blinked, the mirage remained.
Her voice shaky and laced with disbelief, she eventually built up enough courage to speak.
“Is… is that?”
With wide eyes, she watched as Brenda pulled the soft blanket away from the baby’s face and turned her to face Stevie.
“Say hello to your baby girl, Stephanie,” Brenda beamed, stepping a little closer.
Stevie’s hands flew to her mouth and tears sprung from her eyes.
“But I – I don’t understand…” she stammered.
“Right now, you don’t need to,” Brenda reassured. “I will explain everything.”
The look of shock and confusion on Stevie’s face soon turned to one of immeasurable excitement and longing. Brenda recognised it instantly when Stevie tentatively held her arms out and looked into her eyes earnestly.
“Can I?” she asked timidly.
“She’s yours now, Mama!”
Stevie gasped in delight as Brenda gently passed the tiny baby into her waiting arms, the baby that she was convinced she would never hold again. Yet there she was, batting her eyelids innocently up at Stevie and instantly grabbing a hold of the chiffon of her blouse.
“Oh my sweet girl, you have no idea how precious you are to me!” she cooed, taking the baby’s outstretched hand and rubbing her thumb across it softly.
After soon realising that they were still standing in the doorway, Stevie invited Brenda inside and led her through to the lounge, where she sat patiently for a while and allowed Stevie some well-deserved time to fuss over the baby in her arms.
“I can’t believe she’s here, Brenda!” Stevie stated in awe. “After how the hearing went today, I had all but given up hope…”
“I’ve seen it before,” Brenda began, shifting in her seat and preparing to explain all. “The only reason they do that is to try to break you down. They want to know whether you realise what a huge responsibility it would be, how much it would change your life and whether it truly is something that you want. Honestly Stephanie, I thought you held up perfectly well considering, and the judge told me as much himself.”
“He did?!” Stevie raised her eyebrow sceptically. “Wow. I thought I’d have to wait for the next hearing in a few weeks’ time and even then…”
“I know, honey, I know. But I’ve had years of experience of this process and not once had I seen a judge ask for a second hearing. So I went to his chambers and demanded to know what further evidence he required.”
“You really did that?”
“Of course I did,” Brenda chuckled. “I told you I would do everything in my power to help you, didn’t I?”
“You did,” Stevie said, smiling down at the dozing baby in her arms, just as perfect as she remembered.
“Well, turns out that all he wanted was a copy of your recent health records and the latest toxicology report in your name, both of which I was able to have emailed to me by the contact GP you provided us with in the paperwork.”
Stevie paused a moment.
“He wanted to check I wasn’t still using, right?”
“Yes, he did. But as soon as they had been emailed to me, I was able to show him your records and he found no reason to now allow you temporary custody!”
“Temporary?!” Stevie choked out in alarm.
The baby began to stir and Stevie bounced her soothingly, guilty for having raised her voice.
“We have to call it that, honey. You see, it’s not until I’ve completed two post-placement visits to check on how things are going, that we can get you back into court and finalise the adoption.”
“Oh, I see,” Stevie breathed a sigh of relief. “You mean all you have to do is come over twice, and then legally… she’s mine?”
“Once we all get back in that courtroom and I tell the judge what a wonderful job you’re doing, then yes!”
Stevie could not believe her ears. She lifted the baby and pressed a kiss to her cheek, closing her eyes and taking in the intoxicating scent of her.
The front door suddenly clicked open and Karen walked in, calling out to Stevie loudly. At the sound of shushing, Karen curiously poked her head into the lounge to see Stevie holding her finger to her lips and grinning widely up at her with a tiny pink bundle in her arms.
“I’ll explain everything later!”
A/N: End of Act I, so to speak! I am so glad you guys are enjoying this! I'm going to take a few days break but will then be updating this as regularly as always! Thanks for your support!