"I can't believe you're really leaving tomorrow." I look up from the glasses I'm wrapping in newspaper and watch my brother tape shut yet another cardboard box.
"Yeah, the last two months went by fast." he smiles sadly at me as I nod with a sigh.
"But it will be for the best. I can start anew in Oregon, without that shadow of the drug thing haunting me." he puts the box down from the kitchen table and starts putting together another one.
"I still can't believe that you had such troubles though you've been fully cleared and somebody else was charged with the crime." I shake my head as I continue putting glasses in another box.
"Well…" he scoffs, reaching for some newspaper to wrap the dishes in it.
We continue packing in silence as I won't go on with the discussion we had so many times over the last weeks. Owen's initial euphoria soon wore off after he was cleared from the drug dealing charges as he went looking for another job. I understood his reasons for not wanting to return to his old workplace but had hoped he would find something in the area. But all too soon he learned that he had earned a reputation that was hard to overcome and he had no other choice than to look further away from Chicago. That he would choose the offer from that small college in Oregon came as a surprise to all of us. The only upside was that it was a real teaching job, not just as an assistant.
"Looks like we're done." Owen calls out as I place the last glass in the box and look around the open cabinets. They're all empty except of the few things he is leaving behind for me as I have taken over his lease for the apartment.
"Yeah." I sigh as I reach for the tape to close the last box.
"Perfect timing!" Owen exclaims as the doorbell rings. "That'll be Peter and Kevin with the truck."
"Will you be needing my help?" I walk after him into the hall that is crammed with boxes.
"No, I was thinking they could bring up your stuff and then carry my stuff down. So you can stay with Grace and already start putting things away.
"True." I nod as he opens the door for the two men. They carry parts of my old bed. We step out of the way so they can pass by us.
"Hey, where can we put this?" Peter greets us, skeptically eyeing the crowded hall.
"Put all furniture in the bedroom. We cleared it out." Owen tells them.
"What did you do with the furniture?" Kevin, Owen's friend, asks.
"Good Will picked it up yesterday. Along with my couch, the closet and the dining room table. My apartment in Oregon is fully furnished, so I threw a lot away. All I'm bringing are my book shelves and some smaller stuff." he explains as he follows them to the bedroom. I decide to stay out of the way and walk over to my room to check on Grace. On the way I pick up a basket of fresh laundry. I find my daughter peacefully sleeping, so I settle on my bed to fold the laundry.
"Hey, how is my girl?" Peter appears in the doorway, peering inside towards Grace's crib.
"Asleep." I smile at him as he enters and slowly walks over to take a look at her. I get up and step behind him.
"Thanks for all the help." I say and place my hand on his shoulder.
"No, problem." he replies, turning his head and smiling at me. Our eyes meet and for a moment we just look at each other. I realize that my brother's words are true. I can see Peter's love for me in his glance and a lump forms in my throat.
"Did everything of my stuff from the storage fit in the truck?" I ask hoarsely, retracting my hand from his shoulder and step back a bit. I don't know why but all of a sudden I'm aware of how close we are and it creates a funny feeling in my stomach I can't quite describe.
"No. We had to leave a few boxes behind. But they should fit in a car. I could pick them up tomorrow or Monday after work." he offers and it seems like something in his voice has changed, like he picked up on my uneasiness.
"Peter? Are you coming?" Owen appears in the door.
"Sure." he nods towards Owen and leaves the room.
"Did I interrupt something?" my brother walks up to me, a mischievous grin on his face.
"I have no idea what you mean." I answer, walking back to my bed to continue folding the laundry.
"You could cut the air in here with a knife. Is something going on between the two of you again?" he winks at me, but I just raise an eyebrow at him.
"Come on, sis. You can tell me. Why else were you so quiet about your meetings with him and Grace. What did you do all the time. Grace sleeps over half of the day. So?" he challenges me.
"I haven't told you anything because there was nothing to tell. We spent most of the time shopping for stuff for Grace's room at his apartment. And I needed to make sure he knows how to take care of her." I snap back, thinking that my brother's meddling won't be a thing I will miss once he's gone.
"But can you at least admit that you liked spending time with him and had just a little fun?" he steps up to me and pokes me on the shoulder.
"Maybe." I admit, not looking at him. "I like watching him with Grace. I like knowing that she's as important for him as she's for me and that I'm not alone in caring for her." I murmur, playing with the piece of clothing in my hands that I wanted to fold.
"There is one thing I am sure of, that you can count on Peter to be there for Grace." he states, patting my shoulder. "And also for you." he adds, stressing the words as I look up at him.
"I guess." I reply warily, finally folding the shirt I've been holding. Instead of an answer my brother just squeezes my shoulder before he heads out the door and I continue dealing with my laundry. A few minutes later he returns and places a neatly wrapped package next to me on the bed.
"What is that?" I ask him surprised.
"Initially I wanted to give this to you tomorrow morning before I leave, but I think it fits more now." he smiles at me as I reach for the box and am astonished by its weight.
"Can I open it?" I wonder as I place it on my lap, looking up to my brother.
"Go ahead." he urges me on and I tug at the bright green ribbon.
"I really hope you are not mad at me." Owen mumbles as I loosen the tape to pull the wrapping paper away and reveal a light blue box. I carefully shake the box next to my ear and hear something heavy rattle around in it.
"Why should I be mad?" I ask him, raising an eyebrow.
"You'll see. Open it." he winks at me.
I look back down at the box in my lap and start lifting the lid slowly. My view falls on a round object that looks like it's made of glass. I tilt the carton and let it fall into my palm.
"A paperweight." I state a little surprised after turning it in my hand.
"Thanks, Owen. This will come in handy at work." I tell him kindly though I don't know why he made such a big deal out of it.
"Did you see what is inside of it?" he asks and I nod, looking at the ball in my hand again.
"Yeah?!" I reply, stretching the word as I'm still at a loss for what my brother means.
"A red rose." he exclaims, smiling at me.
"Yeah, I saw the rose. It's a bit corny even for you, Owen, but I like it." I chuckle, still turning the paper weight in my hands.
"You don't get it, do you, sis?" he says, watching me inquiringly.
"No?" I answer hesitantly, peering down at the object in my hand once more. And suddenly images flash before my inner eye.
…Peter picking me up from the airport with a single red rose…
…Will suddenly showing up and turning everything upside-down again…
…Will's confession that left me totally confused…
…The night I spent with Peter, the night, I now know was the night, I conceived Grace…
…Me leaving the next day before Peter woke, not yet knowing what decision I'd be making within one day…
…Seeing the rose on his coffee table and taking it with me…
…Owen showing up at my apartment as I was just preparing the rose for drying…
…Will's letter, that was the last push I needed to go back to him…
…Handing Owen the box with the rose, telling him to throw it out…
I keep looking at the rose and not only the memories are back but I also remember how I felt during all of this. How much I had missed Peter during my visit with my father. How safe I felt in his arms as I showed up at his door. If I'm totally honest with myself then I have to admit that I haven't felt like this since. I sigh deeply, closing my eyes, a little overwhelmed by the memories bubbling up inside of me. What if I hadn't decided to go back to Will? What would my life be like? Would I still be with Peter, living the life I dreamed of and like I pictured it once briefly? Or would my situation be the same because Peter and I couldn't make it work?
"Alicia?" Owen's voice pulls me from my thoughts.
"You kept it? Though I told you to throw it out?" I whisper, peering up at my brother.
"I couldn't throw it away, sis. I just felt, that maybe one day you'd be happy…"
"It's okay, Owen." I interrupt him and get up from the bed.
"Thank you." I squeeze his shoulder and place a kiss on his cheek. "We should go back outside and help, don't you think?" I smile at him and am glad as he nods, not wanting to discuss this any further. I walk over to Grace's crib to check on her and place the paperweight on a shelf behind it. My glance stays on it for a few moments and the thoughts from earlier push themselves into my mind again. I force them back and head out of the room. I step into the living room where I find some of my boxes already piled up and busy myself with unpacking.
A few days later I have completely settled with all my stuff in my new apartment. I just got home and started making some lunch after I put Grace down for a nap. I keep checking on her in-between cooking as the day nanny told me she had been fussy during the morning and didn't drink much. It had taken me a while to get her to fall asleep and she felt a little warm. I make a mental note to check her temperature once she is awake again as I walk back to the kitchen. I walk to the fridge to retrieve the lettuce for my salad as the door bell rings. I check my watch though I know it's too early for it to be Peter. It's his first weekday over night visit with Grace but he won't pick her up for another few hours. I put the salad back into the fridge and head to the door. I check through the door viewer who is in front and step back a bit as I see an older woman who I don't know. I take another look, taking in her appearance. She has white-blonde hair, her clothes look expensive and she peers impatiently up and down my door. I see her extend her hand to ring once more, so I hurry to open the door, not wanting Grace to wake up from the noise.
"Hello? Can I help you?" I greet the unknown woman after I opened the door.
"Hello. Are you Alicia Gardner?" she asks cooly, examining me from head to toe.
"Yes." I nod, eyeing her skeptically. "And you are?" I ask her calmly, hiding my curiosity.
"I'm Jackie Florrick." she introduces herself, extending her hand.
"So, you must be Peter's mother." I state, smiling faintly as I shake her hand.
"Yes, I am." she nods, her face still motionless.
"Do you want to come in?" I offer, though I'm not sure what she wants from me.
"Thank you." she passes by me but stops halfway through the hall, critically eyeing some moving boxes that lean against the wall because I hadn't had time to move them to the cellar yet.
"Please excuse the mess, but I just moved in here last week." I apologize, though she didn't say anything but I feel intimidated by her gaze.
"Don't worry, dear. I know you are working." she tells me in a sweet voice but her glare doesn't match her words.
"What can I do for you, Mrs. Florrick? Did Peter send you to pick up Grace?" I cut right to what I want to know and this scenario is the most likely one though I doubt that Peter wouldn't have told me if there was a change in the plan.
"Is he okay?" I ask as the thought that something might have happened to him crosses my mind.
"Of course he is. Why wouldn't he be?" she asks, but it's a rhetorical question as she continues without waiting for an answer from me.
"And no, Peter didn't send me. He doesn't know that I'm here."
"Then why are you here?" I walk further to the living room, gesturing her to follow me and we sit down on the couch.
"To see my grand-daughter." she says curtly and I'm surprised by her words.
"I'm not sure I follow you. Didn't Peter take her to see you?" I ask. Peter never said anything but I was sure he had visited his mother with Grace on the few afternoons he's had her since he started to see her regularly.
"No, he hasn't. He comes up with one excuse after the other. She first needs to adjust to him, he doesn't have her on his own, etc. And as I came across your address recently I thought I take matters into my own hands and just pay you a visit. So, can I see her?" she tells me and I can hear the disappointment in her voice.
"I'm sorry." I tell her. I'm not sure why Peter keeps her from Grace, but I won't judge him before I know his reason.
"Thank you." she nods, but there is still no emotion in her voice or her expression.
"And of course you can see her." I can't find a reason to deny her request.
"Thank you." she repeats and right on cue my daughter starts whimpering through the baby monitor.
"She just woke up." I smile at Jackie and get up.
"Are you coming?" I head towards my former room that I use as nursery now. By the time I reach Grace her whimpering has turned into a full-blown screaming. I take her out of her crib and rock her against my chest. I brush over her forehead and cheeks, not sure if her red face comes from the screaming or if she still has a little temperature.
"Shhh, sweetie. Are you hungry?" I whisper to her as she slowly calms down, nestling her face against my shoulder. I pat her back as I head outside again to prepare her bottle in the kitchen. Jackie has stayed outside the door, watching me.
"This is Grace, Mrs. Florrick." I smile at her as I hold Grace in front of me.
"Do you want to hold her?" I ask, but Jackie shakes her head.
"No, it's alright. I don't want to upset her more. She looks a little peaky. Is she sick?" she remarks, puckering her lips.
"I'm not sure. She seems to have a bit of a temperature. I'll check once she has eaten." I answer, not sure what to think of her refusal to hold her.
"Then I will wait for you outside." she turns and walks towards the living room.
"I just need to prepare her bottle." I tell her as I follow her.
"You're no longer breast-feeding?" I can't miss her criticizing tone and just shake my head.
"But you know how important it is for the development of the child?" she states as I pass by her and hear her walk behind me towards the kitchen.
"I do, but.."
"You young women today. Too busy to sacrifice time for your kids. I get that breast-feeding is inconvenient but it is essential for the child." she interrupts me with a lecture. I don't bother turning, rolling my eyes as I step into the kitchen. I put Grace in her chair and start preparing her bottle.
"I kept breast-feeding both my kids until they were nearly a year. I'm sure it did them good, considering how they turned out." Jackie walks in behind me and I see her watching me closely from the door.
"Sure." I mumble while I fill the electric kettle with water, trying to find out a way to get rid of her. Back when Peter told me about his mother's criticism I always thought he was exaggerating until now as I experience it first hand.
"Are you sure she should already sitting in that chair by herself?" she states as I put the formula into a bottle.
"She can sit on her own since a few days." I retort, again not bothering to look at her.
"Well, I was just thinking as she was a preterm-birth she might be behind in development anyway. Which brings me back to breast-feeding. By stopping it too soon you might have pushed her back weeks. But again, your decision." she adds in a skeptical tone. I swallow hard at the snappy response that is in danger of rolling off my tongue as I pour the hot water into the bottle. I walk over to the fridge to add some cold water so I can start feeding Grace right away as she starts fussing in her chair. I put the bottle on the counter and reach for Grace, pressing her to my chest. I grab the bottle again and pass by Jackie to walk back into the living room. I settle on the couch and start feeding Grace but she doesn't seem hungry as she stops drinking after a few sips and starts to cry.
"What's the matter, honey? Not hungry?" I wonder, trying to calm her down by stroking her belly.
"The bottle surely is too hot. You didn't test it against your wrist." Jackie's voice from behind startles me.
"No, it isn't. I know which mixture to use so it is ready for drinking instantly if needed." I say, not able to hide the annoyance from my voice this time.
"I'm just trying to help. She's my grandchild after all." she seems offended.
"Yes, she is and that is the reason I let you in though you came unannounced. I briefly wondered why Peter didn't let you see Grace but spending a few minutes with you I guess I know why." I snap, putting Grace down on the couch and getting up.
"How dare you?" she is clearly taken aback by my words.
"No, how dare you? You come here behind your son's back, demanding to see your grandchild. Then you see her but refuse to hold her but keep criticizing me instead. That is not how you make a first impression, Mrs. Florrick. And I think it's time for you to go now. I need to take care of Grace." I stare at her and for the first time since she stepped into my apartment she seems speechless.
"I…I just wanted to help." she states, avoiding my glance.
"Well, your help is not needed." I reply, not lowering my gaze as I see her take a deep breath.
"If you say so. No need to see me out. Have a good day." she turns on her heel and a few seconds later I hear the front door fall shut again and breathe a sigh of relief. I know it was a mistake to act like this but I am just glad to be rid of her. I have no time anyhow to think about it as Grace starts screaming again and I take her to her room to finally change her diaper and take her temperature.
I'm nervous as I haven't been in a long time as I show up at Alicia's door. My mother called me during the afternoon, admitting to her secret visit to Alicia and complaining about her rude behavior. Knowing my mother I'm sure Alicia was totally right to tell her to leave. I'm anxious to know Alicia's mood as all I got this afternoon was a text telling me she had to cancel Grace's overnight stay with me because of a light fever. I didn't reply as it reached me on my way into a meeting but decided to drive over as soon as I was finished.
"Hi, Peter. Didn't you get my message?" she greets me as she opens a few moments after I've knocked. She looks exhausted and I see her repress a yawn as she leans to the door frame.
"I did, but I thought I'd come over to apologize for my mother and check on Grace. I brought her a little something." I tell her, faintly smiling as I retrieve a pink bunny from the bag I'm carrying.
"That is cute. Thank you." she smiles and steps back, gesturing to me to come in.
"But you don't need to apologize for your mother. I know you had nothing to do with it." she tells me as we walk into the living room and I breathe easier as I hear her words.
"How did you know she was here anyhow?" she asks curiously as we sit down and I place the stuffed bunny on the coffee table.
"She called me earlier."
"To complain about me? Because I threw her out?" she interrupts me.
"Yeah, she mentioned something like this. But I'm sure she deserved that you threw her out." I say diplomatic, trying to hide a smirk.
"I can imagine what she said. I got a glimpse of how she is, Peter." she says, a smile spreading on her lips now.
"Actually I'm quite impressed by what you did. Most people are intimidated by her. I don't even think my sister ever dared to throw her out." I tell her appreciative.
"Well, maybe it was about time someone showed her the limits. I hope she didn't let it out on you." she says apologetically.
"I'll live. I have many years of training to deal with my mother." I wink at her and notice the smile reaches her eyes.
"So, we are good?" I ask carefully, though I think I can trust her smile.
"Sure. I won't hold your mother's actions against you." she tells me, her eyes finding mine.
"Good." I sigh. I'm glad she thinks that way but with my mother you never know. It wouldn't be the first time that her meddling ruined something. One of the reasons her relationship with my sister is rocky at best.
"Thank you. I was afraid you might reconsider our agreement."
"No, Peter. I don't think I ever told you but I had a good time with you and Grace the last two months. It's nice to share the responsibility with someone." her gaze still holds mine and I smile even wider at her words.
"I'm glad, but I brought a peace-offering if my mother did some permanent damage." I laugh as I fetch a bottle of red wine from the bag.
"Oh, my favorite." she exclaims as she reads the label and gets up.
"I couldn't bring the cheap stuff." I wink at her.
"Good thinking." she chuckles before her gaze flickers between the bottle and me. She opens her mouth partly, closing it again immediately as if she's not sure how to say what she wants to say.
"Should we open it or do you need to leave?" she asks hesitantly and I'm a bit surprised by her offer. It is true that we have spent a lot of time together in the last weeks but always with Grace and it was mostly to make sure she survives when I take care of her alone. But we never just sat and talked on our own. Something I'd loved to do but never had the heart to ask her.
"Sure, if you like." I reply.
"Good, I'll get some glasses and a corkscrew." she smiles and leaves towards the kitchen. I grab the bottle and follow her.
"So, tell me what is wrong with Grace? Do we need to see a doctor?" I ask, worry rising inside of me and a little guilt that I forgot to ask this first.
"No, it's not that bad. Babies and kids have this from time to time. Goes away as fast as it comes. She had it once when I was at my dad's and I freaked but the doctor told me not to worry if it doesn't increase above a certain degree or last longer than two days." she explains and I feel relieved.
"Okay, good. Can I go see her?" I take the corkscrew from Alicia and start opening the wine as she retrieves two glasses from the cupboard.
"Yes, but please don't wake her. The afternoon was terror as she didn't want to sleep." she asks me and I nod.
I pour the wine and Alicia takes the glasses to the living room while I head to Grace's room, opening the door carefully. I don't switch on the light just open the door wide enough so the beam from the lamp in the hallway illuminates enough so I can see my way to her crib. I slowly walk the few steps and bent over her, smiling as I see my little girl sleeping. She has kicked her blanket down and as I watch her more closely and cover her again I notice a few spots around her mouth. I turn and switch on the small lamp on her changing table. I look at her again and now I can see her flushed cheeks and the spots look like blisters. I stroke over her cheeks and forehead which seem too warm even for a light fever.
"Alicia!" I call out, no longer caring if Grace wakes up or not.
"Shhh!" she hurries inside the room. "Why did you switch on the light?" she hisses, her eyebrow raised.
"I don't think this is just a light fever anymore." I say in a tense voice, pointing towards Grace.
"What do you mean?" she looks at me puzzled before her glance wanders to Grace.
"What is that on her face?" she asks me and I can hear panic in her voice.
"I have no idea." I shake my head as I watch her taking Grace from her crib.
"Oh my god, she's really hot." she exclaims, her eyes darting from me to Grace who starts to waking up, slowly opening her eyes.
"Let's take her temperature." I offer, trying not to let my own fear show in my voice.
"No, we need to see a doctor." she decides and I can see a tear gleaming in her eyes.
"Okay." I nod and a few minutes later we are on our way to the hospital.