I slam the door behind me and rush upstairs where Grace's screaming has reached a new high. I hurry to her room, locking the door before I take her out of her crib. She keeps on screaming while I rock her in my arms which temporarily wipes my anger about the talk with my Dad from my mind. She won't calm down until I put her down in her crib again, actually just to get a new diaper, but she stops crying as I put the teddy bear next to her. She grabs the bear's arms and her face relaxes as the tears dry down. I smile at her before I turn to get the stuff to change her as I hear a knock on the door. I sigh as I know it can only be my Dad and the anger from before rises up again.
"I don't want to talk now." I call out, staring at the door.
"It's alright, Alicia. I know I should have told you, but just look at the pictures and tell me that you really want to withhold Grace from her father." he says as he slides some photos under the door into the room.
I don't reply but busy myself with changing Grace's diaper and dressing her in some fresh clothes. I catch myself peering over to the stack of pictures on the floor. I try to ignore them, but once I'm done taking care of Grace I walk over to the door and pick them up. I take Grace in my arms and settle in the armchair by the window, placing her on my chest. I take my time to look through the pictures and soon another tear slides down my cheek. I brush it away, but can't deny that seeing Peter with Grace tugs at my heart. But then I remember that he lied to me just like my family, including my Dad now. Somehow my father's dishonesty feels the worst as he has always been my constant. I blink away fresh tears as my glance wanders around the room and rests on a picture of my Dad and me from where I was a baby. It's not unlike the pictures of Peter and Grace that I still hold in my hand. I peer down at my sleeping daughter, wondering if I can be enough for her, if I can really deny her the relationship with her father. A relationship that has been so important in my own life and still is. I carefully reach for a blanket, covering Grace and myself before I look through the pictures again, trying to push my resentment away and just think about what is best for my daughter. And for the first time doubt about my denial to hear Peter out creeps into my mind. My glance falls on the pictures again, especially one that shows Peter holding Grace up and the way he looks at her reminds me of how he used to look at me, caring and full of love. But I can't decide the well-being of my kid from a snapshot and postpone any decision-making until my anger towards my Dad has died down and I have talked to him. I stroke my daughter's back lightly and let the pictures fall to the floor as sleep captures me a little later.
I wake the next morning after a restless night. Falling asleep on the armchair was bad for my back and though Grace woke me after a few hours to get fed and I went to bed then, I still feel stiff as I get up. Grace waking more often than usual tonight makes me think that she's picking up on my troubled mind. I check the clock and gasp as I see it's already 10am. I walk over to Grace's crib, wondering why she didn't wake me as it's been several hours since I last fed her. Instead of my daughter I find a note from my Dad telling me that he took her downstairs to let me sleep. I briefly wonder how he got inside as I remember locking the door last night but then I recall that I went downstairs to get Grace's bottle several times this night and didn't lock it again. Suddenly the thought my Dad could have taken her out to meet Peter once more flashes into my mind and I hurry downstairs. I find Grace in the kitchen where my Dad sits at the table with her on his lap, drinking a coffee and reading the paper.
"Good morning, pumpkin." he greets me as I rush inside the room.
"I hope you didn't take Grace on another trip to see Peter." I snap at him as I take Grace from him, pressing her to my chest.
"No, I thought I'd do you a favor by letting you sleep in a little. I heard you go downstairs a few times tonight." he tells me calmly and guilt for my inconsiderate remark rushes through me.
"I'm sorry, Dad." I peer down as I walk around the table and sit down opposite him.
"It's ok, honey. I know that I should have told you, but I knew you wouldn't allow it. You can't say I didn't try to tell you that I think you should call your mother and brother and reconsider your opinion about Peter. And after I talked to him when you slammed the door in his face I couldn't deny him to at least see Grace." he tells me gently and I can only nod.
"I know, Dad. I've thought a lot about that last night." I sigh, reaching for a cup and the coffee pot.
"Did you come to a conclusion?" he asks me, pushing the milk towards me. I just nod as I take a sip from my coffee.
"Will you tell me?" he smiles.
"I realized I've been running away from all the mess in Chicago though I told you I couldn't do that. Staying here, where you shielded everything from me, has been comfortable but seeing Peter and finding out you met with him made me understand I can't hide from my life forever." I pause, taking another sip from my coffee and peer over the rim of the mug towards my father but he just looks at me, still smiling.
"So, I've decided to go back to Chicago to get my life back in order. I'll talk to Owen and Mom and get the divorce going." I barely whisper the last words as this scares me the most.
"That sounds really good, pumpkin. I'm glad you decided that." his smile brightens and I try to return it but instead I feel tears well up and a big lump appear in my throat.
"Oh, honey. What's wrong?" my Dad gets up from his seat and hurries to my side. He takes Grace from my lap and puts her into her baby seat before he sits down next to me, putting one arm around my shoulder. I sling my arms around his neck and bury my face at his chest, tears streaming down my face now. He just holds me for a little while until my sobs die down. He gently pushes me back and lifts my face with his index finger under my chin so I have to look at him.
"I'm just so scared, Dad. Scared of being a single mother, of not being enough for Grace. I'll need to find a new job. I can't go back to Stern/Lockhart, not after I know Will cheated with my boss. But how can I raise her if I need to work? That's not how I imagined this, Dad." fresh tears roll down my cheeks as I think of my uncertain future.
"Don't be, Alicia. You are the best mom that Grace could hope for. You will find a way to do both justice, Grace and your new job, that you'll undoubtedly find. And I will help you as much as I can from here as will your Mom and Owen, once you talked to them. They never wanted to hurt you, just shield you from harm." he wipes some of my tears away as I nod at his words.
"But don't consider going back to Will just because you think you can't take it on your own." he puts much emphasize on his words.
"I won't, Dad. I'm done with him. What he did to me…I hope I never have to see him again." I say in a firm voice before I wipe the rest of my tears away.
"I know you are frightened of the divorce, but the sooner you get it going the sooner it'll be behind you." he tries encouraging me and I lightly nod.
"And don't be afraid to ask your family for help. And never think you're not strong enough to make it." he pulls me into his arms again and I nod against his chest.
"Thank you, Dad." I lean back, smiling faintly at him. Part of me wants to stay here, protected from so much that is out there to harm me, but I know I can't and another part of me doesn't want to lead that life. So I place a kiss on my Dad's cheek before I get up to prepare to return to my life. It won't be the same but I'm determined to make it my own.
I mute the TV as I hear a knock on my door. I get up as I hear a second knock, checking my watch and wonder who this might be. I walk to the front door and can't believe my eyes as I see my sister with my niece in her arms in front of it.
"Hi Owen." she says shyly, avoiding my glance.
"Hey, you two." I greet her and step forward to take Grace from her as I see a suitcase next to her.
"Come on in." I smile at Alicia and step back so she can enter the apartment.
"The cab is waiting in front of the door. I have another two suitcases. Would you mind?" she carefully asks me.
"Sure." I smile at her as I hand her Grace and head out the door.
A few minutes later I have brought Alicia's remaining luggage upstairs and join her in my living room where she sits on the couch. She has removed her coat and is feeding Grace.
"Why didn't you call?" I sit down next to her. "I would've picked you up from the airport."
"I was afraid what you might say." she looks at me, but still avoids my gaze.
"But you weren't afraid to just show up here?" I raise an eyebrow at her but keep on smiling.
"I was, Owen." she turns her head away to look at Grace.
"I'm sorry for not returning your calls, for not listening to your reasons. Can you forgive me?" she finally looks directly at me.
"I was never angry at you, sis. I need to say sorry for not telling you about Will's deceit. I knew it such a long time and didn't say anything. I should have told you the moment I knew, but I wasn't strong enough to let your bubble burst. Neither was Mom nor Peter." it's my turn to peer down now.
"Dad told me your motives during the last days. I didn't want to listen to what he tried to tell me for weeks until a few days ago when I learned he had met with Peter and took Grace with him. I was so angry at Dad at first but it kind of woke me up from the life of denial I lived during the last weeks. It made me realize I need to get my life back." she holds my gaze as I look up and I can hear the resolve in her voice.
"That's good, sis. Really good." I smile at her and see her nod as she puts Grace's bottle on the table. I decide against asking about Peter for now. Of course I know he saw Grace as we met after he returned. It's been a long time since I saw him this happy, actually not since my sister left him. I got the feeling that this short time with Grace meant the world to him.
"So, can we stay here until I find a new apartment?" she asks me cautiously, shifting Grace on her arms so she rests on her chest.
"Of course you can. As long as you need to." I nod, smiling.
"Thank you." she returns my smile, reaching for my hand, squeezing it lightly.
"It'll be fun, right Grace?" I reach for my niece and take her from Alicia's arms. At first she just stares at me, a little like my sister does when she thinks I'm crazy but as I keep holding her in front of my face and walk through the room she starts laughing.
"Owen, careful. I just fed her." Alicia calls out but it's already too late. Grace's laugh vanishes from her face and before I can react she has thrown up on my shirt.
"Urgh!" I exclaim as Alicia rushes to my side, taking Grace from me.
"That'll teach you not to dance around with Grace shortly after she ate." she chuckles, patting Grace on the back as she rests again against her chest, her face above Alicia's shoulder which is covered with a cotton cloth.
"Why didn't you warn me?" I ask her, playfully enraged. "And why don't I have one of those?" I point to the cloth, but my face is giving me away and I start laughing as I see the amusement on my sister's face.
"Yes, living with you will be fun." she laughs.
I think to myself that I hope she is right as I head for my bedroom to change. I could need the distraction from my own situation that is still unsolved and I hope I can help Alicia get her life back.