"There you are." Owen hurries towards me as I open the door to the apartment and takes Grace from my arms.
"You're late, sis." he adds as I hang my coat and follow him into the living room.
"Late for what?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.
"My appointment with my lawyer. You said you'd come with me." he calls out as he walks further into my room. I walk after him and lean in the door frame, watching him putting my daughter down for her nap.
"I said I'll come with you if I find someone to watch Grace. I'm not bringing her." I sigh, folding my arms in front of my chest.
"Well, I got you a babysitter." he looks up, as he's still bent over Grace's crib.
"Not that teenager again. I didn't like her, Owen." I take a few steps into the room, glaring at my brother.
"No, not her. The one I got this time is much better and she should be here any minute." he winks at me as he puts a blanket over Grace.
"We'll see." I say doubtfully as I walk out of the room.
"So, how was the apartment?" he follows me, after he left the door ajar, so we will hear Grace without the baby phone.
"Not too bad, but without a job I don't know why I keep looking at apartments." I let myself fall into an armchair.
"When will you finally file for divorce, Alicia? And ask Will for alimony? That would make things much easier for you." he sits down on the armrest of my chair.
"You know that I don't want his money." I snap, preparing for another argument on this topic with my brother.
"I get that you don't want his money for Grace but didn't you say you'd consider spousal support?" he looks at me challenging and I sigh as he acts exactly as I feared.
"I changed my mind. I wouldn't even take it if he offered." I glare at him, hoping this will end the discussion before it even started.
"Alright. It is your decision." he caves in and gets up.
"So, where is this babysitter of yours? Shouldn't we be leaving soon?" I change the subject, trying to push the flood of feelings and anger that still rushes through me at the mention of Will's name.
"Can you tell me at least who it is?" I flash my brother a half-smile to show him I'm not mad at him. He smirks at me and a boyish grin settles on his face until we both laugh.
"All I'll say is that you know the person." he grins after a while but my smile freezes on my face as an idea shoots through my mind.
"But you didn't call Peter?" I whisper, looking at him, hoping not to see confirmation in his face.
"No, sis. Don't worry. I promised you not to tell him you are back in Chicago and I intend to keep that promise." he walks back over to me, sitting down again on the armrest and hugging me.
"Thanks, Owen. I'm sorry for thinking that. I will talk to him. I'm just not ready yet. Can you understand that?" I return the hug, blinking away some tears.
"Take all the time you need, sis." he smiles at me as he leans back and stands again.
"He asked about you and Grace though when I met him last week. He really wants to be there for Grace." he adds and I have no idea what to respond. Luckily the doorbell saves me for now, but I'm sure my brother will bring it up again.
"Hi Alicia." I hear my mother's voice moments later behind me. I repress a sigh and get up from my seat to greet her, though I'd rather want to strangle my brother for calling her to babysit.
"Hi Mom." I walk toward her and we hug.
"It's so nice of you to let me look after Grace. I couldn't believe it when Owen told me you wanted me to come over." she exclaims, walking over to the couch and I shoot my brother an angry stare. I should've known that he told her it was my idea to call her.
"Why wouldn't I, Mom?" I turn and force a smile on my face.
"You were her first choice, Mom." Owen chimes in, settling down next to her.
"I rather thought it sounded like you had no one else, like I was your last choice." she says in a gentle voice but I can hear the accusatory undertone. We had a long talk after I moved in with Owen and I have forgiven her for not telling me about Will's deceit like I have my brother, though I think her motivation was different from Owen's and Peter's. The talk we had before I found out about my pregnancy makes me believe that she wanted me to stay with Will and she kept quiet because of that. I haven't asked her about it but apparently accepted her explanation.
"But anyway, I am always happy to help you, Alicia. So where is my cutest grandchild?" she finally says as none of us answers.
"She's asleep, Mom. She'll be hungry when she wakes. There are prepared bottles in the fridge. You just have to heat them up. Want me to show you?" I gesture towards the kitchen but she shakes her head.
"No. We'll be okay. You two can go now." her glance is bored and it seems like she can't wait until we are gone.
"But I need to give you some more instructions, Mom." I protest.
"I raised the two of you, so I think Grace and I will be fine. Don't worry. Help your brother." she brushes my words away.
"But…" I start but my brother gets up from the couch and pushes me towards the hall.
"Mom is right. They'll be all right and we need to go. We can't keep Elsbeth waiting." Owen says and I sigh in resignation.
"Okay, let's go. But don't hesitate to call if something is wrong, Mom." I call over my shoulder into the living room.
"Yeah, yeah!" she waves at me and I leave the apartment with my brother and a bad feeling in my stomach.
"She's not picking up, Owen." I exclaim worried as I hear the answering machine of my mother's phone for the second time.
"Maybe because you already called her twice from the car. She told you that Grace is still asleep. Put that thing away now. Elsbeth will be here any minute. What is your problem, Alicia? You are not that worried when you leave her with me." he hisses, clearly annoyed by my behavior.
"Mom isn't my first choice as babysitter. You knew this. I still can't believe you called her without asking me." I snap back but put my phone away.
"I know, but she was the only one who agreed. And I really wanted you with me here today." he explains, gesturing to the room we are sitting in. We were still a little early for the appointment though Owen made it look like we were too late on the drive over.
"I know and I'm glad I'm here. I just wished you had told me you called Mom." I reach over to grab his hand and smile at him.
"I'm sorry, sis. Won't happen again." he returns my smile and squeezes my hand.
"Hello Owen." the door opens and a redheaded woman enters, smiling brightly at my brother. She walks towards us, extending her hand to Owen.
"Hi Elsbeth." he shakes her hand while her gaze wanders to me, raising an eyebrow as she examines me.
"And who do we have here?" she asks, walking around the table and sitting down opposite us.
"I'm Alicia, Owen's sister." I declare, offering her my hand over the table.
"Oh, you are the lawyer." she says inquiring, her gaze moving to Owen as she shakes my hand.
"You're not here to tell me you will switch lawyers, Owen?"
"No, Elsbeth. I just wanted her to be here for me. You said you had important news, that required a decision." Owen explains.
"Right." she replies hesitantly as she starts opening the file she brought with her.
"So, what are the news?" Owen asks impatiently.
"Well, the prosecution offered me a deal, which means they know they don't have enough for a trial. The offer comes with an expiration date. They need an answer by tomorrow morning or the offer goes away. So, what will you do?" she folds her hands on the table and looks at Owen expectantly.
"Uhm, what is the offer, Ms. Tascioni?" I ask as Owen looks at me helpless.
"Oh, please call me Elsbeth." she smiles brightly at me. "Didn't I sent you an email with the details?" her glance wanders from me to Owen, who shrugs his shoulders.
"No, you didn't." he shakes his head.
"Oh, damn. That's what it was. I knew I had forgotten something. Sorry, Owen." she smiles apologetically at him and I briefly wonder why Owen is so impressed with her.
"What is the prosecution offering?" I ask impatiently, feeling how I switch into lawyer mode.
"He admits to possession and they drop the dealing charges." she states, looking at me.
"Which sentence would that mean?" I ask carefully as I know what the jail time for the possession of up to 500 grams of marijuana can be.
"A year in jail and a $5000 fine." Elsbeth casts her glance down and I hear Owen gasp next to me.
"He can't go to jail, Elsbeth." I say serious as I look around to my brother, who has become very small in his chair, his head resting in one of his hands.
"I know, Alicia, but they won't budge on the jail time. I tried. They are going very hard on any drug related crimes." she explains, also looking at Owen now.
"I can't take that deal, Elsbeth." he sighs after a while.
"I wasn't planning on telling you to do that, Owen." she smiles at him and I wonder what she is planning to do. I feel helpless as I watch my brother, not sure what can be done to help him.
"But we can't go to trial either. You said that our chances are slim in front of a jury." his voice is laced with desperation and I can see real fear in his eyes as he looks up.
"Maybe we don't have to do either." Elsbeth smiles, pulling a document from the file in front of her.
"What do you mean?" I ask puzzled.
"So glad you asked." she points her index finger at me, smiling mysteriously.
"Elsbeth?" Owen is bursting with curiosity, not leaving the other woman from his sight.
"You know I hired a private investigator to keep an eye on some of your colleagues at the college. He thinks he saw the other teaching assistant Frank hide some weed in a locker."
"That's great news. Did you get any pictures or found out who the locker belongs to." I ask her, getting my hopes up this could exonerate my brother. I peer over to Owen and he has scooted to the edge of his seat, staring at Elsbeth.
"Unfortunately no pictures and he didn't find out whose locker it is. I've been trying to get the police to search the campus again, but so far no one will believe me. In fact the ASA laughed at me, telling me I was looking for a scape goat." she laughs nervously.
"But they just can't ignore this." Owen exclaims. "This is new evidence. How can they turn you down." he looks from me to Elsbeth, clearly outraged.
"It's no new evidence yet, just a hunch from the PI." I place my hand on his arm, trying to calm him down.
"So, what do you suggest we do?" I ask Elsbeth as Owen seems to be speechless, just keeps on shaking his head in disbelief.
"I will find a way, don't worry, Owen. Somehow I will get them to search the college again. I just don't know how yet. You are innocent and I'm gonna prove it." she tells him with determination. I watch her and now I understand why Owen trusts Elsbeth. She really believes him and I know how few people still do. I realize that the chances are slim to get the police to investigate the new lead, but listening to her I believe she will do everything to make it happen.
"Thank you, Elsbeth." Owen sighs, panic still audible in his voice.
"So, I'll call the ASA later to tell him we won't take the deal. And then I will think about how I can get the police to investigate again." She puts her file back together but I can see she's already wrecking her brain for a solution.
"Please do and keep us posted, Elsbeth." my brother nods and gets up.
"Do you have a moment, Elsbeth? I'd like to talk to you about something." I ask the other lawyer.
"Is this about Owen's case?" she looks to my brother and I follow her glance.
"No, I have a problem of my own. You can go home already, Owen, and make sure Grace is okay." my gaze wanders from Elsbeth, who nods at me, to my brother.
"Sure, sis." he smiles and briefly squeezes my shoulder before he heads out the door.
"Okay, Alicia, what can I do for you?" she looks me straight into the eyes and I sigh deeply.
"I need a divorce lawyer and was wondering if you could recommend someone?" I finally say and she nods.
"Allow me the question: You are a lawyer yourself, so don't you know anyone you'd like to handle this?" she carefully asks.
"I haven't practiced here for long. I got back here over a year ago after I separated from my husband for the first time and worked for Stern/Lockhart. Then I got pregnant and had to stop working because of complications and I had learned that my husband had cheated on me with my boss. So, I hope you understand that I don't want anyone from my old firm handling my divorce." I try to smile but talking about this is still hard for me.
"Sure. So, it's not only about the divorce but also about custody for your daughter, right?" she pulls out an empty piece of paper from her file and starts making notes.
"No, Will, my husband, is not Grace's father. He can't file for custody of her, can he?" I suddenly feel panic rise inside of me as I express the thought.
"I'm not too adept in family law. I just ask you some major questions so I can give my colleague Jake some information. He sounds like the right person to handle this. He took care of my own divorce and my ex-husband ended up paying alimony and sees his kids once a month." she winks at me and I just nod, the fear Will might get custody for Grace still keeping a hold of me. I sigh deeply as I feel tears well up.
"Oh, no, I scared you, Alicia. I'm sorry." she reaches over the table and grabs my hand. I use the other one to brush the tears from my cheeks and shake my head.
"It's okay." I whisper, not trusting my voice as I still see images of Will taking Grace from me in my mind.
"We will make sure your husband won't get your daughter. Jake will help you." she smiles at me and strokes over my hand once more.
"What kind of hand lotion are you using? Your skin is really soft. I'm always on the lookout for new skin care products." she suddenly asks me.
"Uhm, lately only baby lotion." I answer, surprised at her change of the topic.
"Ok, I might try that. So, where were we?" she looks down on her notes.
"Right, your divorce! You don't need to answer this and I only ask it out of personal curiosity but how is your relationship with Grace's father?" she looks me directly in the eyes and though I'm still a little confused about the earlier question, I feel she is now back on the subject of my divorce.
"Complicated." I reply after thinking about it for a little while, feeling at a loss of describing it with another word. I have no idea why but moments later I start telling Elsbeth the whole story and once I am done I feel relieved. Elsbeth has listened without interrupting me a single time.
"Let's see if Jake is in his office. You should get this divorce running as soon as possible." she says as I'm done talking and gets up to walk outside. I'm a bit thrown from her reaction and not sure if I should follow her, so I just watch her walk away. After a few steps she stops and turns, looking at me.
"Are you coming?" she calls out, laughing.
An hour later I walk out of Jake's office, feeling a bit more at ease. He promised me that his first step would be to correct Grace's birth certificate to get Will's name as father off of it. The easiest way to do this will be to offer DNA results that Will is not her biological father. I told him that Will won't agree to this voluntarily so he suggested to have the real father get tested, which means that I have to get in contact with Peter. I had wished to have a bit more time to make that step and certainly not because I need something from him. But it looks like circumstances will force me to act sooner.
"How did it go?" Elsbeth, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, startles me a bit as I was completely lost in thoughts.
"Good. He's getting on it right away. Thanks for the recommendation." I reply.
"That's good. Well, I was a little selfish here and tried to keep the case in our firm. But no worries, Jake is a brilliant divorce lawyer. You're in good hands." she winks at me and I nod, smiling.
"So, it's just the two of you in the firm?" I ask, trying to think of something else than my looming divorce.
"Yes, we started this firm about two years ago when we left our old firm together. He deals with family law and I handle the criminal and litigation. We also have two part-time paralegals and one assistant. He's bringing in the money, so I can have my fun in court." she laughs after the last sentence and I join her.
"I hate the ties that he wears but he's an amazing lawyer." she ads and I only briefly wonder about these little remarks anymore. This seems to be Elsbeth's quirk, but it doesn't make her less likable.
"Yeah, criminal doesn't really pay." I say, ignoring her last comment when an idea shoots into my head.
"You are not by any chance hiring?" I ask her bluntly and she tilts her head, looking at me surprised.
"Are you looking for a job?" she finally asks me and I nod.
"I'll give my notice at Stern/Lockhart in a few days that I'm not returning after my paternity leave. I can't work there anymore after what happened. But I need a job and I can't live at Owen's forever." I admit and she smiles sympathetically at me.
"Yeah, I understand. We are not looking for someone at the moment, but let me talk to Jake and see what he thinks. According to your brother you kick ass in court." she finally says.
"Thank you, Elsbeth." I extend my hand and she takes it with both of hers.
"You can call me anytime. Maybe you want to go out for coffee sometimes or for a walk. I usually go to a playground with my 4-year old on the weekends. I know Grace isn't old enough for that but maybe you'd want to join me sometime." she reaches into her jacket pocket and hands me her card.
"Sure, why not. I'd like that. Thank you again." I smile at her and she waves after me as I leave the office, really intending to meet with her for coffee.
The thoughts of how and when I should talk to Peter still run through my head a few days later as I sit alone on the couch in Owen's apartment, trying to read a book but catch myself as I read the same sentence for the third time. Owen has gone out with some of the last friends that still stand by his side and I encouraged him as he seldom leaves the apartment. And aside from that I looked forward to a quiet evening on my own, but now that I brought Grace to bed the silence in the apartment feels deafening, so the sudden ring of the doorbell makes me jump. I walk outside in the hall, opening the door without checking who's outside as I think it's Owen who forgot his key. I gasp as I see Peter standing in front of the door and my first impulse is to slam the door like I did when he showed up at my father's house. But then I remember that he has no idea that I'm back in Chicago. I look into his face and the surprise is palpable in his eyes.
"Alicia?!" he finds his voice after a few moments that we just stared at each other.
"Hi Peter." I reply and he looks even more bewildered at me. I guess he thinks I will slam the door in his face.
"I'm sorry…I had no idea you were here…I'm looking for Owen…I better go." he stammers and turns on the spot. I start closing the door but then I remember I have to talk to him anyway, so why not now.
"Peter, wait!" I call out and step forward. He turns, looking as if he's not trusting his ears.
"Could you come in, please? We need to talk."