Finding a Hart

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Chapter 24

Stephanie

“Okay. Sorry. Hi.”

“Hi. How’s it going? How’s life as a dad?”

Jared chuckled before letting out a sigh. “Exhausting is a good word for it. He’s amazing, though, Steph. I seriously don’t know if there’s a more perfect baby in the world.”

“If there is, I haven’t seen it,” I agreed with a quiet laugh. “It was weird not seeing him yesterday. I occupied myself by getting every scrap of laundry done.”

“At least you were productive. I’m still in my pajamas and can’t remember if I brushed my teeth today or not. On the bright side, I haven’t dropped my son so there’s that.”

I laughed out loud and shook my head. “Sounds like a typical new parent to me.” I paused for a second. “So, I still need to come see your digs. Any chance you can squeeze me in on Thursday?”

“I don’t know,” he said slowly and I could tell he was smiling. “I might be able to squeeze you in between a diaper change and a nap.”

“Deal. Eleven okay?”

“Yeah, eleven is perfect, Stephanie.” Jared let out a long sigh. “I’ll make sure neither of us is covered in spit up and I might even brush my teeth.”

“You’re a sweet talker, Hart. I’ll see you Thursday, okay?”

He chuckled quietly. “See you Thursday.”

When I hung up the phone, I stared at it for a moment and realized I was still smiling. One simple conversation had somehow become the best part of my day. The sad thing was, that wasn’t anything new. It had been like that for weeks.

After updating my calendar, it seemed like everything I touched turned to shit. In the last hour of the day, placements fell through, bad decisions were made in court, and I spilled coffee in my lap. Twice.

When I left the office around seven, I was in no mood to talk to anyone so I was happy to see an empty garage when I got home. I loved Alyssa but she was one of those people who constantly tried to make you smile and sometimes you just didn’t want to smile.

I ignored my laptop in favor of binging on This is Us and a pint of Half-Baked Ben & Jerry’s. I eventually made myself go to bed so I wouldn’t look like a walking zombie during my meeting the next day.

It was amazing how much better I felt after some sleep. I had some solutions for the problems I’d encountered the afternoon before and had an extra bout of positivity to take with me through the day. A nice warm shower seemed to finish cleansing process.

I tucked my mint green blouse into my black pencil skirt an hour later and looked at myself in the dresser mirror. I had tied my hair into a bun on back of my head and made sure to have a light hand with my make-up. I wanted to be taken seriously. Alyssa was in the kitchen when I walked out and she let out a low whistle when she caught sight of me.

“Damn. When did you get so old?”

I chuckled and slipped my feet into a pair of black heels. “Bitch. Do I look okay?”

“You really look beautiful, Steph.” She reached over and squeezed my hand. “You’re going to knock ’em dead.”

The meeting was first thing that morning and on a completely different floor than I was used to being on, so I didn’t even have a chance to go by my desk when I got there.

The conference room had about eight people that I’d never met and one person I had. The Director of Child Safety, Ted Blackwell, had been one of the people who interviewed me for supervisor all those months before and he greeted me warmly.

“Stephanie. It’s good to see you again,” he said as he shook my hand. “I have to say, it’s been great watching the positive changes you’ve brought to your division.”

“Thank you,” I replied quietly, feeling my cheeks heat at the compliment. He just smiled again and directed me to where I’d be sitting.

I was nervous but less so than I figured I would be. I spent almost three hours in there with them and was encouraged by how impressed they looked when I had presented my part and answered the necessary questions.

“Great job, Ms. Gibson,” Markell Renton, the deputy-director, said as he shook my hand. “It’s obvious that you’re a real asset to us here and we appreciate all of your hard work.”

“Thank you, sir.” I smiled at him and shook the other hands before heading out of the conference room.

“How did it go?” Keon asked when I walked into our suite. I looked at him and Denise before shrugging my shoulders.

“I feel like it went okay.”

Denise let out a laugh from her desk. “I bet you knocked it out of the park.”

“Let’s hope so because I’m too lazy to look for a new job.” I glanced around and took note of who was at their desks and who was out in the field already. “Did I miss anything?”

“Not so far, but it’s not even lunch time yet,” Rachel replied with a small smile.

I nodded in agreement as I headed back to my office. I sat down in my comfy chair and looked at the day’s calendar. I spent the next hour doing clerical work before grabbing my bag from my desk. I waved to my employees before taking the elevator down to the ground floor.

Robin was walking into the building as I was coming out and she smiled when we came to a stop in front of each other. “Court?”

“Yeah.” I nodded and adjusted the strap of my bag. “I have back-to-backs until five so I was just going to go home afterwards.”

“Sounds good. I hear you did really well in the meeting.”

I let out a long breath and shrugged slightly. “I feel good about it.”

“So do I,” she replied with a grin. “I’m proud of you, Gibson.”

With that, my boss turned away and headed for the elevators. I watched her for a moment before snapping out of it and going to my car.

In direct contrast to the day before, the court hearings I attended that afternoon all went in the direction I needed them to. By the time I made it home that evening, I felt fantastic.

Briana and I went out to grab something to eat and I listened to her tell me about her day. She was an elementary school teacher, specializing in special education, and I loved watching my baby sister speak passionately about helping children.

“Hey,” she said suddenly after she had just finished complaining about a new system the school district had implemented for writing up reports. “I almost forgot. Marco has a co-worker that we want to set you up with.”

I rolled my eyes and fumbled the piece of chicken I had picked up with my chopsticks. I really should have asked for a fork. “I’m not interested.”

“Oh, come on!” My sister’s blue eyes stared me down as she went for her best stern look that resembled our mother a little too much. “You’ve been out on two dates since you and Troy split and you let Alyssa set you up on those. You need to get out there and I have better judgement than she does. This guy is awesome. He has the same sense of humor as us and he’s hot.”

An image of Jared flashed through my mind but I tried to push it back. I refused to believe that the reason I was turning down Briana’s request was because I was hung up on a man I couldn’t have.

“Let me think about it, okay?”

A victorious look crossed her face and I could tell she was trying not to seem smug. “Okay.”

Hanging out with my youngest sister was always a great ending to my day and we stayed at the restaurant until after eight. I went home to an empty house and got myself ready and into bed by ten. The weight of the day hit me hard and I had no trouble falling asleep. I don’t know how long I’d actually been out before my phone ringing on my nightstand pulled me from my slumber.

I reached over groggily and grabbed the noisy contraption, glancing at the display as I did. When I saw the name and how late it was, I was instantly on alert. I sat up quickly and brought the phone to my ear.

“Jared? Is everything okay?”

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