I leave the elevator on Owen's floor and head to his door, ringing the bell. I know it is rather late but his apartment is on my way home from the office so I thought I'd drop by with my news rather than calling from home. I'm sure he's not in bed yet and that thought is confirmed as I see light shimmer through under the door. I hear steps behind it seconds later, but my smile and greeting freeze on my lips as not Owen opens the door but Alicia. I hear her gasp as she realizes who stands before her and I see her hand tighten around the edge of the door. I expect her to slam it shut like she did the last time I saw her.
"Alicia?!" her name rolls over my lips as I can't stop looking at her.
"Hi Peter." she replies and I realize how much I missed hearing her say my name. But then I remember the last time she said it and I can hear the anger and pain in her voice in my head.
"I'm sorry…I had no idea you were here…I'm looking for Owen…I better go." I stammer and turn to leave. I head for he stairs, wanting to get away as fast as possible.
"Peter, wait!" I hear her call out as I just reach the top of the stairs. I'm not sure if I heard correctly but I turn and look at her.
"Could you come in, please? We need to talk." she goes on, stepping aside in the door frame, clearly inviting me to the apartment. I stay in my spot, looking at her. The shock in her eyes that I detected when she opened the door has vanished.
"Alicia…" I sigh, but something in her gaze makes me stop.
"Please?" she adds and looks directly into my eyes. I can feel the urgency in her voice and nod slowly before I walk towards the door and pass her. She closes it and moves past me through the hall into the adjacent living room. I follow her, watching her sit down on the couch but I keep standing in the middle of the room.
"Don't you want to sit down? Or can I get you anything to drink?" she asks and I can hear the nervousness creep up in her voice.
"No, I'm fine." I shake my head and walk over to the armchair furthest away from her to sit down.
"I'm sorry for not…"
"I'm sure you wonder what I want to talk…"
We start simultaneously and I guess I see a small smile on her face before she looks down.
"You were saying?" she peers up again but I slightly shake my head.
"Just that I am sorry for what I did or rather what I didn't do. Not telling you about Will…" I trail off as I see her shake her head.
"That's not what I wanted to talk to you about. I know you are sorry, Peter. Owen and my Dad told me. Also that you want to be there for Grace and that is what I need you to do. I need your help for her." she says slowly, like she overthinks every word, her gaze only meeting mine at her last words.
"Sure, Alicia. What do you need?" I reply without hesitation, glad that she might let me help and maybe I can start being a Dad for my daughter.
"I went to a lawyer to finally get divorced and as Will is named as Grace's father in the birth certificate he could claim custody of her. I can't let this happen." she sighs, kneading her hands in her lap.
"What can I do?" I put my hands on the armrests of the chair, fighting down the impulse to get up and sit next to her, taking her into my arms.
"Would you take a DNA test to prove your paternity? It's the only way to change the birth certificate, so Will can't go for custody." she barely whispers but she holds my gaze.
"Of course I will. Anything you need, Alicia." I tell her softly and I can literally see the tension leaving her.
"Thank you." she sighs, a small smile appearing on her lips but it doesn't reach her eyes.
"Could you please contact my lawyer? He'll tell you what to do. I'll give you his number." she reaches for a piece of paper and a pen on the coffee table. She picks up the note once she's done writing the number and stands. I get up as well and take a step towards her. Our fingers brush as she hands me the note and again I feel the once familiar tingling spreading through my hand. She quickly pulls her hand back and casts down her glance. I close my eyes briefly, enjoying the tingling until it fades.
"Can you call him as soon as possible?" she asks and I open my eyes.
"Sure, first thing in the morning." I nod and she flashes me a small smile.
"I know I should go, but could I see Grace…" I trail off as I hear a whimpering from behind Alicia.
"Right on cue." I chuckle as I hear my daughter through the baby monitor behind me.
I knew Peter would ask to see her and I can't deny him the chance. Not after he just agreed to help me. I pass by him but realize after a few steps that he isn't following me.
"Are you coming?" I turn and he looks at me surprised while the whimpering over the speaker turns into screaming that can be heard through the door. I don't wait for his answer but hurry to my room to comfort my daughter. But I already know that she's hungry as I checked my watch and she is right on time like every evening. I switch on the lights as I enter the room and step towards her bed to take her out. The desperate crying dies down a bit as I rock her in my arms.
"It's okay, honey." I whisper to her, stroking over her back as she nestles her head against my neck.
"Is she okay?" Peter's voice startles me from behind and I turn to see him stand in the doorway, looking as if he's not sure to come in.
"Yes, she is just hungry. I need to get her milk." I reply and walk towards him to get to the kitchen.
"Can I help you?" he asks as I pass him. I stop and think about it for a second.
"Could you hold her so I can prepare her bottle?" I keep Grace close to my chest as I wait for his answer. He seems surprised by my offer but nods after a few seconds, flashing me a thankful smile. Our hands touch again as he takes Grace from me, but I try not to linger at the memories the tingling feeling conjures in my mind like it did earlier. I hurry to the kitchen instead, trusting Peter will keep Grace occupied until I return with her milk. I walk back a few minutes later and the first thing I realize is the absence of whimpering or crying as I pass the hall leading to my room. I slow down as I approach the door and stop just outside, seeing Peter sitting with Grace in his arms in the armchair next to her crib. He holds Grace's favorite teddy and let's it walk up and down her legs and stomach as she tries to grab it. He repeats it a few times until he let's her hold it, using his now free hand to stroke her hair and over her cheek before he slowly bends his head to kiss her on the forehead. It's the same scene as in the pictures my Dad showed me and once again I feel a tear roll down my cheek. I brush it away as well as the feelings that start bubbling up inside of me and sigh deeply before I step further into the room.
"Here we go." I announce myself and Peter looks up.
"We found a way to pass the time." he smiles at me, a smile that brightens as he looks down at Grace again. I gasp softly as I see the love for her in his eyes, the same love I feel whenever I look at her or think of her.
"You found her favorite bear." I state, trying to find my balance again as I never thought there'd be anyone who loved Grace as much as I do.
"It is?" he asks, taking his eyes from Grace as I'm walking closer.
"Yes, you picked her fave from the gazillion of stuffed animals she has, most from Owen, by the way." I chuckle as I hand him the bottle. Somehow it feels natural to give it to him so he can feed Grace and I only realize it as I see his astonished look when he hesitantly takes it from me. But I just lightly nod and he smiles at me thankfully.
"Why did you?" I ask curiously as most people always go for the more colorful ones than the rather old-fashioned light-brown teddy bear.
"Well, I guess it just caught my eye. I think I had a similar one when I was a child." he slowly answers, not looking up as he offers Grace her bottle which she greedily sucks on.
"Okay." I walk over to my bed and sit down when suddenly it dawns on me why he picked it.
"You gave it to Grace, right? When my Dad let you see her." I challenge him and he peers up. He nods briefly and I see a flash of guilt in his eyes.
"I'm not mad anymore at my Dad for this. I was furious at first, of course, but it also kind of helped my to open my eyes again for the reality, that I needed to get back to my life." I fold my arms in front of my chest, keeping my glance down.
"I'm sorry, Alicia. Sometimes I think if we never had met again…"
"Don't, Peter. I've had a lot of time to think in the last months and that thought crossed my mind more than once. At first I wished it was true, that you never walked back into my life but then I realized that I'd still be living a lie, because all that Will did had nothing to do with you. It had already happened before we met again. He'd still let me think he wanted a family and I'd still be miserable." I sigh deeply, again recognizing the hurt I still feel when I talk about this.
Peter isn't saying anything but I feel his gaze and look up, my glance resting on Grace. She is done with her bottle and her head rests against Peter's chest. I feel a smile spread on my face as I watch her sleeping peacefully, a smile that appears whenever I see her.
"But the most important reason why I don't regret meeting you again is sleeping in your arms, Peter." my eyes meet his but he lowers his glance to look at Grace, a small smile tugging at his lips.
"Grace is the best thing that ever happened to me and she's worth all that trouble." I whisper and once again I'm nearly overpowered by the love I feel for my daughter, a love I never thought possible until I had her in my arms for the first time.
"I know what you mean. That day in the hospital when I saw her for the first time I knew that, no matter if I'd play a role in her life or not, I would always love her. Thank you for letting me see her, Alicia. You don't know how much this means to me." he carefully stands and walks the few steps to the crib. He places another kiss on her hair before he puts her down, tucking her in and placing the teddy next to her. He casts one last look at her before turning towards me.
"I better head home now." he smiles as I nod and follow him out of the room.
"Why did you stop by anyhow?" I ask as we reach the door.
"Oh, I totally forgot. I wanted to tell Owen that the police will search the college again tomorrow. His lawyer came to see me and asked me to help. I talked to one of my buddies at the police station and he called me late today to tell me they'd give it a go tomorrow morning." he explains.
"Really?" I exclaim happily and step up to hug him. I feel his surprise about my spontaneous outburst of joy, but after a short moment he hugs me back. It's just a brief embrace, but as I step back I can't shake the sensation that I felt safe in his arms for the first time in forever, like nothing could hurt me and everything would be okay.
"Yes, if we are lucky that other guy still has some weed stored in another locker and this will be enough to exonerate Owen." he says and yanks me from my thoughts as he steps further to the door, a half-smile on his lips.
"Thank you, Peter, for everything." I look into his eyes and hope he understands that I don't only mean his help for Owen.
"It's the least I could do. I will call your lawyer first thing tomorrow morning. Good bye, Alicia." he reaches for the door and opens it.
"Thanks, Peter. Good night." I watch him leave and lean in the door frame as he walks to the elevator when he suddenly turns.
"Can I see Grace again?" he asks and I can see the fear I will say 'No' in his eyes. I hesitate for a moment as I'm not ready yet to make any commitment so he could see her regularly. I need to deal with the problem that Will is still her father on paper first.
"I will call you, okay?" I smile at him and he nods, the disappointment clearly visible in his face.
"I promise." I keep smiling at him, realizing he knows I mean it as he returns my smile.
"Where are you headed again?" Owen calls after me as I walk into the hall to put on my coat.
"To the office, handing in my resignation. I've put it off long enough." I peer into the living room, holding up the envelope that holds my notice, sighing deeply.
"Why don't you just mail it? You don't look like you want to go there." he peers over the magazine he is reading, tilting his head.
"No, I don't want to go, but mailing doesn't seem right either." I shrug my shoulders before I head to my room once more to check on Grace. I slowly walk into the room, stopping a few steps in front of her crib. She's fast asleep, so I turn and head slowly outside again, closing the door behind me.
"Grace is asleep, but she should wake soon. I need to run some errands afterwards. Is that okay for you?" I put the envelope in my purse, stopping in front of my brother.
"Yes, I have nowhere to be." he sighs, putting his magazine down.
"No news from Elsbeth yet?" I ask him but he shakes his head before I even finish my question.
"No, nothing since she told me the police really searched the college two days ago. She promised to call as soon as she knows more." he leans back and folds his arms in front of his chest, lowering his glance.
"Have you thought of calling Peter? Maybe he knows anything." I suggest, smiling at him.
"Oh, are we allowed to say Peter's name again?" he exclaims, raising an eyebrow at me.
"I think so." I mutter, avoiding his stare.
"You still haven't told me everything about his visit. What happened, sis?" he asks me curiously.
"Nothing, he told me about the police search and I told him to call my lawyer because of the DNA test. That's it. End of story. I need to go. See you later." I snap, knowing that I haven't heard the end of this. I can only hope that the police search comes to a positive ending and my brother can get back to his job. All this sitting at home isn't good for him and though he seems in a better mood since Grace and I live with him, I know he misses his work.
Half an hour later I step out of the elevator into the once familiar reception area of Stern/Lockhart.
"Hey, Alicia." Mary, the receptionist greets me and I step up to her desk.
"Hi, Mary. I have an appointment with Diane." I smile at her.
"I know, but she's in a deposition, so Mr. Stern will take your meeting." she tells me and I freeze. I never had much to do with Stern while I still worked here, so I'm surprised he will meet with me instead of Diane.
"Okay." I reply slowly, not sure what else to say. Deep down I am glad that I don't have to meet Diane but I'm not too keen on talking to Stern either. Suddenly mailing my notice seemed like the better idea, but it is too late for that.
"You can go through. He'll be with you any minute." she smiles at me.
"Thanks." I nod and turn in the direction of Stern's office, stopping at his assistant who tells me to wait inside for him. I walk inside and sit down on one of the visitor chairs in front of the desk.
"Hello, Alicia. So nice to see you." I hear Stern's intimidating voice a few minutes later behind me. I get up and shake his hand.
"Hello, Mr. Stern." I reply, smiling.
"Please, sit down." he gestures towards the seat as he walks around his desk.
"Diane is sorry she couldn't meet you herself. A last-minute deposition." he shrugs his shoulders apologetically.
"It's okay, Mr. Stern."
"So, what can I do for you, Alicia?" he folds his hands and props his chin on top of them, his eyes still resting on me.
"I'm here to give my notice. I won't return after my maternity leave." I reach into my purse and take out the envelope.
"Oh." he replies and I see a flicker of surprise in his eyes.
"I liked working here but some circumstances make it impossible to come back." I offer as a general explanation and he nods.
"I understand. And I think there is no chance in trying to get you to reconsider, right?" he asks as I put my notice on the desk in front of him.
"No, there isn't." I grab my bag and stand as I see no need to stay any longer.
"Well, I think I am to blame for this." he gets up as well.
"What do you mean?" I turn around, not sure what to make of his statement.
"I put the pictures on your desk. The pictures of Diane and your husband."
"What? Why?" I gasp, putting my one hand over my mouth as I grab the back of a chair for support with the other.
"I feared the competition when Diane told me who your husband was and that he planned on opening a firm here. I didn't want another competing firm in Chicago and then I remembered the pictures my PI made of Diane and your husband when he made a background cheek on her as I contemplated making her a name partner. I thought if you left your husband again he would dismiss his plans and leave Chicago." he explains.
I have no idea what to say. I'm shocked by his admission but the longer I think about it the clearer it gets that it doesn't matter. It might matter to Diane and Will where the pictures came from but it doesn't change my situation. The pictures and the knowledge that Will cheated on me is only a small piece in the big pile of lies and deceit that Will has dumped on me. But it is a small comfort to know that I wasn't the initial target, just the victim of a grander scheme.
"It's okay, Mr. Stern. It doesn't make any difference." I sigh, letting go of the chair.
"Well, let me tell you anyhow that I'm sorry. I wasn't really thinking what it will do to you. I was just thinking about my firm." he looks at me and I guess I see a trace of a smile on his face, the first since I entered his office.
"Thank you, but knowing this is just one piece of the puzzle. I better go. Goodbye, Mr. Stern." I offer him my hand and he takes it.
"Goodbye, Alicia. I hope to see you in court one day on the other side." he smirks and I head outside, briefly waving to Mary, who waves back while she's on the phone. I step up to the elevator and wait for it to arrive.
"Hey, Alicia." I hear Elsbeth's voice behind me and turn.
"Hi, Elsbeth." I smile at her and we shake hands.
"What are you doing here?" she asks me as we step into the elevator.
"I handed in my notice." I sigh, though I feel relieved that I have this behind me.
"Oh." she exclaims.
"It's okay. What about you?" I smile at her.
"Deposition against Diane Lockhart. She's a shark but I love her style. Don't you?" she quickly changes the subject which confuses me, so I just nod.
"That reminds me I wanted to call you later. I talked to Jake and we want to make you an offer. Do you have time for a coffee?" she goes on without even taking a breath as we ride down.
"Sure, Owen is looking after Grace. I have a little time." I agree as we step into the entrance hall.
"Great, there is a small café around the corner. Shall we?" she doesn't wait for my answer but grabs my elbow and steers me outside.