Dancefloor Dust

Chapter 17

I look up from the case file I'm reading as I hear a series of loud knocks on my front door. I check my watch and realize I've sat over this case since I got home. I get up and a pain in my neck tells me I haven't moved in hours. I walk slowly towards the door, though I'm not really in the mood for company, but my curiosity about who is nearly knocking down my door wins over my wish for solitude.

"It's a girl!" Owen shouts at me the second I open the door. I have no time to realize the meaning of his words before he storms by me into the apartment.

"Owen? What?" I follow him, eventually noticing all the stuff he's carrying. He has let go of the pink balloon whose inscription says the same as his greeting words 'It's a girl'.

"Does that mean...Alicia had" I stammer, trying to wrap my brain around that thought.

"Are they both alright?" I ask hesitantly while I watch Owen open up a bottle of champagne so the cork ricochets from the ceiling.

"Yes, they are." he tells me while filling two plastic cups.

"Now." he adds in a low voice.

"What do you mean by 'now'?" I walk over to him, looking at him seriously.

"Well, the baby was born 4 weeks ago. The bleeding didn't stop and they were forced to perform a c-section a week after Alicia was admitted to the hospital. Your daughter has been in an incubator since." he puts down the cups on the coffee table, avoiding my gaze. My mind is blank as his words sink in and I sit down on the arm-rest of my couch, fearing my knees will buckle any second.

"But she's okay now?" I ask barely audible.

"Yes. Actually she's been breathing on her own since yesterday. That's why I thought it was about time to tell you." he's still not looking at me.

"Why only now?" I stare at him, asking myself if I had wanted to know about the ordeal Alicia and her baby have been through during the last weeks. I avoid to call it my baby after the decision I made right after I learned I was the father. I've thought it over and over during the last weeks, always arriving at the same conclusion; I had no other choice than to walk away from them, sacrificing my want and need to have Alicia and the baby in my life.

"I was so conflicted if I should tell you or not, Peter. I thought you had a right to know, but I didn't want you to feel obligated to act against your conviction that staying out of Alicia's life is the right thing to do. And I think you would've done so because you care about my sister. You would've been there for her even if it meant she could find out the truth. You know that I don't agree with your decision but I've come to accept it and I respect you for it, though I can only imagine what it must mean to you, knowing you have a child and chances are high you'll never see it. So you don't have to fear that I'll tell Alicia the truth. But I thought you at least needed to know that your daughter is born and doing good."

"Thank you, Owen. I really appreciate that you respect my decision and that you came to tell me she's alright." I smile weakly at him.

"You're welcome." he returns my smile.

We just sit in silence for a while and I'm just lost in my own thoughts about the fact that I have a child now. The vision of the little girl that looks like a spitting image of Alicia appears before my inner eye again. This time I allow myself to watch her for a while, imagining what it must feel like to hold her, to have her tiny hands grab for mine or see her smile at me for the first time. I feel a smile spread on my face.

"I really have a daughter. My daughter." I whisper, overwhelmed by a sudden happiness that seems to eliminate all the pain.

"She definitely looks like you, Peter. A little at least. No resemblance with Will whatsoever." Owen's words burst my bubble, I have felt so comfortable in for the last few moments and the reality closes in on me again. A reality in which I might never lay eyes on my child.

"But I'll never hear her call me 'Daddy', never see her do her first steps, never get to hold her in my arms. So I guess it's better I don't start calling her mine." I try to ban the sadness from my voice but Owen's glance tells me I failed.

"It's not too late if you want to change your mind, Peter. You can still tell Alicia the truth." Owen tells me carefully.

"No!" I exclaim, pushing all thoughts about throwing my decision out the window, far away.

"It's for the better if I stay away. I don't want her to grow up while her parents fight over custody." I add, more mellow as I know Owen only means well.

"It's alright, Peter. I understand." he says sympathetically.

"Thanks. But would you mind going now? I guess I need to be alone."

"Sure, but if you need some one to talk to, you know how to reach me."

I nod as I accompany him to the door.

"Thanks again for telling me, Owen." we shake hands and he just smiles at me before he walks towards the elevator.

"Owen?! One more thing." I call after him.

"Yes?" he turns to look at me.

"What's her name?" I ask hesitantly.

"Grace. Alicia called her Grace."

A few days later I find myself outside the hospital. I know from Owen that Grace won't be released for some weeks and Alicia stayed with her, not leaving her side since she was born. I had called Owen a few days ago to ask if he had a picture of my daughter, because not knowing what she looks like drives me crazy. Sadly the only one who has taken pictures so far is Will and for obvious reasons Owen won't ask him for a photo. I pondered over if it was a good idea to just go to the hospital for a while, but a number of sleepless nights seem to tell me that I don't have a choice. I know that seeing her just this once will not make up for what I'm going to miss from her life in the future nor will it fill the emptiness that I feel whenever I think about that she'll never know me.

I need several attempts until I finally enter the hospital and take the elevator to the floor Owen told me to go to. He has encouraged me to do at least that, despite my concerns that I could run into Alicia or, even worse, Will. He also told me the best time to go would be early afternoon as Alicia has started leaving the hospital around that time to take a walk during the last few days and leaving Grace in the care of the nurses. During that time I might have a chance to catch a glance at her through the window of the baby ward.

I can feel my heartbeat in my throat as the elevator opens and I nervously look around for any familiar faces as I walk through the ward. Finally, after I passed by several patient-rooms, I arrive at the nurse's station and see the window behind which the bassinets are lined up. I hesitantly step closer to make out the names on the beds until I finally spot my daughter's name. It pains me to read Will's last name on the sign but I try not to think about that he gets to raise her, preparing myself to look up instead and take the first glance at my daughter.

I shortly close my eyes before I peer up and see her for the first time. Grace is wrapped in a colorful blanket, so only her face and her little hands stick out.

She's fast asleep and I just watch the steady rise and fall of her chest as I seem to fully comprehend that she is a part of me and I know that, although this might be the only time I see her, I will love her till the day I die. I never got it when others told me that having kids changes your life completely, but now I truly understand the meaning of loving some one unconditionally. I know that I'd do anything to keep her safe and happy, which sadly means to never let her know of my existence, allowing her to call another man her dad.

I keep watching her, trying to savor every second of these precious minutes that I get to spend with her though we're separated by a pane of glass. Suddenly she stirs under the blanket, clenching her small hands. She yawns and opens up her eyes and though I know it can't be, I feel like she's looking directly at me. I realize that this image of her will be burnt into my memory forever. I close my eyes for a second and as I open them, hers are shut and she seems to have fallen asleep again. I know I should leave but can't seem to move from the spot I'm standing in, continuing to watch my daughter.

"What are you doing here?" an angry voice drags me from my thoughts. I don't need to turn to know that Will stands behind me.

"You have no business here, Mr. Florrick. None!"

"I had to see her. I'll be gone in a minute and it will be the last you see of me." I reply as calmly as possible though everything inside me screams how wrong I am. But once more I ignore it, thinking it was a mistake after all to come here. But another glance at my daughter makes me change my mind. Nothing, not even the worst fight with Will, can take these last few minutes away from me where I could imagine, although just for some seconds, that her, Alicia and myself were really a family.

"You'll be leaving right now. I hope you got a good look at her because you can be certain that I will do everything I can to make sure this is the only time you ever lay eyes on my daughter!" he nearly shouts the words at me.

"Your daughter?" I scoff as I can't believe he dares to call her his in my presence.

"According to the law she is. You might have knocked Alicia up but she left you and came back to me - her husband. You had your chance and blew it. And that's what haunts you. You could've told her the truth but chose not to because you know it will never change how Alicia feels about you. It would only hurt her, so you let her go because you know staying with me is the best for Alicia and the baby." he tells me, a smug grin on his face.

"What did you just say, Will?"

My head spins around and I gasp as I see Alicia standing a few feet away from us.

I look at Will and am sure he's as shocked as I am that she clearly has witnessed our argument.

"Alicia, honey. Let me explain. I was only protecting you." Will walks over to her, trying to put his arm around her shoulders but she pushes him away.

"Stay away from me. I want the truth. Now!" she almost yells at him and I can see the shock and disbelief in her eyes.

Will just stands motionless, apparently lost for words.

"Is this true? Are you my baby's father?" she turns her glance towards me, her eyes pleading with me to tell her the truth. I can't say anything so I just nod slightly. Alicia gasps and covers her mouth with one hand, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

"How long have you known this?" she whispers. "And how do you even know it?"

For a second I think she will collapse, her shoulders tremble with silent sobs and I move towards her, prepared to catch her if she falls, but as she sees my movement she straightens up and her glance tells me I should not come closer.

"Tell me! I don't care who tells me but none of you will leave before I know the truth." I can hear the anger in her voice and know that we have to come clean.

I remain silent for a few more moments, giving Will the chance to explain his betrayal but as he's not speaking I start telling her everything. She listens motionless, more and more tears streaming down her face. When I come to the point how we know that Grace is my daughter she stumbles backwards and once more I'm ready to rush to her aid but she's able to hold on to the wall before she collapses into a nearby chair. So I stay away from her though I want nothing more than take her in my arms to comfort her. I watch her silently, not sure if I should go on. Suddenly she lifts her head to look at Will.

"How could you?" she whispers between sobs. "It was all a lie. Our whole life. You betrayed everything I thought we had."

"I'm sorry, Alicia." Will voice isn't more than a murmur, his glance on the floor.

"You're sorry?" she snorts, the tears have stopped falling.

"Please, let me explain. Alicia, please." Will starts pleading with her, kneeling down by her side, reaching for her hand.

"Don't touch me!" she pulls her hand away from him.

"I want you to leave now." she tells him sternly.

"Sure, honey. I'll let you calm down and we'll talk tomorrow." he replies, a tiny smile on his face.

"No, we won't talk. I don't want to see you again. Goodbye Will." she stares at him indifferently.

I'm prepared for a tirade from Will, him trying to persuade her to give him a chance to tell her the reasons for his actions. But to my surprise he just turns and walks away without another word. I watch him go and as I turn my head again my glance lingers on my daughter still sleeping peacefully, not aware of the drama surrounding her.

"Why?" Alicia's whispered question lets me spin my head around and I see her staring at me, fresh tears glistening on her cheeks.

"Why didn't you tell me? You knew the last time we saw each other. Why did you keep his secret?" the pain in her voice is palpable and I'm struggling hard not to cry myself.

"You were in no condition to handle the truth. And it wasn't my secret to tell. It was Will's responsibility to come clean. I did what I thought was best for you." my words sound hollow in my ears and I suddenly know I took the easy way instead of doing what would've been right.

"I see. So you thought living a lie was best for me?" she states coldly.

"I'm really sorry. I realize now I should've been honest with you, but you told me you still loved him and I didn't want to destroy your happiness." I mutter, my gaze on the floor.

"You better leave now, Peter. I don't want to see you again either." my head jerks up at Alicia's hard words. Her gaze is determined and as I'm not moving she gets up and walks away. I stand motionless for a while until a nurse turns up, asking me if I'm ok. I nod and after a last glance at my daughter I leave the hospital, knowing I committed the biggest mistake of my life.

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