The house and garden are filled with kids and
parents. I told Sarah that we should've gone out for Noa's third birthday, but
for some reason we decided to throw a party at our place. Now I'm starting to
wonder why. The place is filled with kids from top to bottom, and their parents
tagged along, too. Reaching the kitchen island, I notice that
Gabe is sitting in his chair at the dining table, drawing pad in front of him.
"Hey sport," I say, "what are you doing here? Don't you want to
play outside with the others?"
Gabe looks up to me and shakes his head. "It's too busy, Dad."
"Yeah." I nod. Gabe's not much of a person who likes a lot of people around him. I sometimes need my space too, but Gabe even more so. "Okay kiddo, you stay put. Holler if you need anything, all right?"
At Gabe's nod, I move to the back yard. Sarah is talking to Grace and Emma, laughing about nothing and everything, feeding Reen a spoonful of something. Our little girl has started to crawl a little, and if we don't pay close enough attention, she'll be farther away than we realize. Noa is playing in the sandbox with two of her best friends; Laeticia and Hailey. When Sarah first went to dress her this morning, Noa practically begged if she could wear her flower girl dress. Sarah negotiated that she could wear her dress until the party. So, when the two of them came down the stairs this morning, Noa was wearing her dress, saying her infamous words: "Me a Princess, Daddy!"
Oh, my little girl… Three years old. She's growing up so fast… Yeah, right, Hammer. She's been with you guys a little longer than nine months and you're already complaining that she's growing fast. What the hell is wrong with you? But, to be quite honest, she is. They all are. Gabe, Noa, Shireen too.
"…tell you about Mandy stopping by, the other day?" I hear Emma somewhere in my ear.
My head turns to the three ladies sitting in the garden. Sarah looks up to me. "Mandy stopped by the other day?"
I nod and walk over to them. When I think about Mandy's face when she saw Emma with me… I still have to laugh.
Emma picks Shireen up out of her playpen and
takes her to the kitchen. Feeding time. After that, Emma is going home to her
boyfriend Paul, whom I've met a few times before. I told her that I could feed
Reen myself, but she insisted. I'm busy going over that stupid case anyway. Gabe and Noa are playing outside in the yard;
Noa sitting on the swing and Gabe is pushing her. At times like these, I'm so
glad we have a nanny. A nanny and two pretty much independent kids, who know
how to entertain themselves. The doorbell rings, and without thinking
twice, I get up to open it, running over the list with things to do before
Sarah comes home, in my head. There is still so much to do around here… Moving
Noa's buggy and doll out of the way, I open up the door; only to stare straight
in Mandy's face.
She gives me a brilliant smile. "Hi."
"Hey," I answer, not really knowing what to think of her stopping by. Did we have a meeting I forgot about? But she's dressed in jeans and a sweater, not in her uniform.
"I'm sorry if it's inconvenient, Harm," she apologizes. "But I thought that you could use the Brighton-file for your case tomorrow."
That's thoughtful. Then why do I have the feeling that this is not just about the Brighton-file? Nonetheless, I step aside. "Come on in."
Mandy steps into the hall and looks around. "Amazing place, Harm," she says, impressed.
I give her a smile. "It's all right. It's better than our last place." That was a two-bedroom apartment, but that's not something she has to know. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Uhm, are you sure? I mean, I totally understand if you're busy and everything." She runs a hand through her hair.
I shake my head. "No, that's fine. I was going over the case, to be honest."
When Mandy enters the living room, she looks in awe at the fire place. Seriously, what is it with everybody and the fireplace? It's not that impressive. Emma looks up from giving Shireen her spoonful of dinner and looks at the guest. Before she can say anything, Mandy has drawn her conclusion. To her, Emma is my Sarah.
Emma smiles at her. "Hi."
Not that Emma really looks like Sarah, though. Her hair is black instead of Sarah's dark brown, and her skin is a little darker. Emma has bright grey eyes instead of chocolate brown ones. But that are all things Mandy doesn't really know. Besides, Emma is the only grown up woman in the house, feeding our nine-month-old, so I'm not surprised Mandy thinks Emma is my wife.
"Is that Shireen?" Mandy moves closer to the counter, where Emma and Reen are sitting and smiles at Emma. "She looks like you."
Emma looks at me and I shrug, silently asking her to play along. Emma nods. "Thanks. She has Harm's terrible timing and smile, though."
"Thanks." I bent over Reen's head and whisper in Emma's ear that Mandy probably thinks that she's Sarah. At that she laughs. After that, I move over to the fridge. "What can I get you, Mandy?" Then it hits me that I haven't properly introduced them. There's not really a need to, I think. Mandy already has drawn her own conclusions.
Mandy looks up. "A soda or something would be great."
While I pull out a soda, Mandy and Emma talk about Reen. Suddenly, Mandy notices Gabe and Noa in the yard. "Is that your oldest, Noa?"
Emma turns around. "That's Noa, yeah," she confirms.
Mandy frowns. "Who's that little guy with her? I thought you guys only had Noa and Shireen."
Rolling her eyes at me, Emma shakes her head. "That's her older brother Gabe. He's the actual oldest."
For a little while, Mandy looks at the two of them in the yard. "How old is Gabe?"
I set the soda in front of her. "Just turned six." His birthday was a happening. He didn't really want a party, but he wanted to go to the Air and Space Museum and then have dinner at McDonald's. So, that is what we did. We went to the Air and Space Museum and celebrated with the five of us.
Mandy is impressed. "You guys have been together for quite a while, then."
Emma and I look at each other and shrug. "Not that long."
Shireen gurgles and reaches out for her spoon. Emma hands her another and I move back to the dining table. Mandy smiles. "You guys really have an incredible place here. It has to be amazing to have all this space available to you."
Wiping Shireen's mouth with her bib, Emma looks at me. She doesn't say anything, though. That's exactly what Emma thought the first time she came to visit us. Well, it's not my fault that Frank built a villa. To be honest, I have to say that I'm pretty happy that he did. I don't respond to that comment and start to talk about the case. Mandy was lead counsel on this one, until Clayton Webb came around and recruited her for his latest mission. I'm just very glad it's not me or Sarah. His missions have a way of turning into a not-so-smooth operation in the end. But that is something Mandy has to find out for herself. Besides, Mic is coming with her. He should be able to protect her if anything goes wrong.
About forty-five minutes later, when the kids are sitting in front of the TV, waiting for dinner to be ready, Mandy says her goodbye's and leaves. Emma is leaning against the counter when I return to the kitchen. She arches an eyebrow at me. "They don't know that you and Sarah are married at the office, do they?" she asks.
I shake my head and put some of my papers away. "No. Should they?"
Emma shrugs. "It's not my business, Harm. They're going to find out sooner or later." She starts to laugh. "Wait until Sarah hears this… Anyway, I'm going to head home now. Paul is waiting." I nod and wave at her. The first couple of days I let her out, but after a while she insisted that we could stay just where we were and let herself out. "Thanks, Em. See you tomorrow. And thanks for playing along."
Emma winks and waves goodbye at the kids. "See ya, Harm."
Sarah is laughing. "Oh, I could just
imagine that look on her face when she walked in. Must've been priceless."
"It's wasn't too bad," Emma admits. "I seriously trained my abs that day."
Yeah, I bet. She seriously had to laugh hard that day. The laughter gets interrupted when Gabe comes running out into the yard. He clings onto my leg and looks up to me. "What is it, buddy?"
"He's back, Daddy."
I frown. "Who is back, sport?"
And then I see it. In the middle of the kitchen is a figure. A man. How the hell did he get in there? He's going to ruin Noa's birthday.
I take a deep breath and swallow hard. Moreno's back.