I wish Peter would be driving faster as I sit in the backseat with Grace next to me in her car seat. She is not crying but whimpers from time to time. I'd love to take her in my arms but won't risk it as long as we are in the car. So I just stroke her hand and whisper soothing words to her. I brush over her palm and she starts to cry so I carefully turn her hand and see the same blisters on it as she has around her mouth. I draw a sharp breath and swallow hard, trying not to succumb to tears.
"What's wrong?" Peter turns his head as we stop at a red light.
"She has the blisters on her hands too." I tell him in a hoarse voice. I look up and see him close his eyes briefly, the same worry visible in his face that I feel inside. He turns back forward again and accelerates fast as the light turns green.
A few minutes later we finally arrive at the emergency room. Peter helps me putting Grace in her carry-cot and we hurry inside. Luckily it is not too crowded and a nurse shows up soon to guide us to the examination room. She asks what is wrong and about Grace's medical history and I tell her about the fever, the blisters, her lack in appetite and that she has been a premature birth.
"Could you remove her pajama? I'll go get the doctor." she tells us after she examined the blisters briefly and heads outside.
I undress my little girl while Peter watches me. We don't talk, just share anxious looks. Grace starts crying again as I remove the pajama from her feet. I fear to look at them, though I already know what I'll find and a short glance confirms my scare.
"There too?" Peter asks me and I nod, watching him exhale deeply. This time I'm not able to swallow the lump in my throat and I feel tears roll down my cheeks.
"Hey, don't cry. It'll be okay." Peter steps up to me, gently patting my back with one hand while he lightly strokes Grace's belly with the other. I can't find my voice so I just nod softly, hoping he's right. I put Grace's pajama down next to her on the table and brush her arm tenderly. She's stopped crying and is grabbing for my fingers, holding them tightly but releasing them immediately, new tears rolling over her face.
"Oh honey." I sob, lifting her up into my arms. She is fully crying again now and I can't help my own tears from falling once more. I close my eyes, trying to stop them but it is a feeble attempt. My eyes meet Peter's as I open them again and he looks as helpless as I feel. Peter starts stroking the back of Grace's head and our fingers touch, the familiar tingling spreading through my hand and arm. This time I don't retract my hand but allow the contact, somehow drawing comfort from the once familiar feeling.
Peter steps closer, placing his other hand at my back and I lean against him, thankful for the support. We stand like this for a few moments until the door to the examination room opens and Peter steps away from me. I turn and see a young doctor enter, followed by the nurse from earlier.
"Hello, Mrs. Gardner, Mr. Florrick. I'm Dr. Black." he greets us, smiling.
"Hello." we both reply and I put Grace down on the table again.
"And you must be Grace." he addresses my little girl, smiling at her.
"Let's see what's wrong with you." he bends forward, gently brushing her cheek.
"I will need you to wait outside while we look at her. We'll call you as soon as we have some results." he straightens up again, looking at Peter and me.
"Do we really need to leave?" I ask, my stomach clenching at the thought to leave Grace's side.
"Yes, please, Mrs. Gardner." the doctor states and fresh tears start to roll down my cheeks. I feel Peter's gaze on me as I brush the tears away.
"We won't be in your way. We'll just stay here in the corner." Peter tries to persuade the doctor.
"I know this is hard for you but it'll help us to know sooner what is wrong with Grace. Please let us do our work." the doctor asks us determined and I nod faintly, realizing the longer we argue about this the longer it will take until we find out what is wrong with Grace.
I hear Peter draw a deep breath next to me and know he is about to protest once more. So I reach for his hand, squeezing it lightly. I can feel he is surprised by my action but doesn't say anything. I peer over to him and he nods slightly. I walk over to Grace and place a kiss on her forehead before I turn and pull Peter with me outside. We head to the waiting room and sit down in silence. I'm still holding his hand in mine and though it was a gesture meant to calm him I realize the contact calms me a little too.
None of us says anything for a while but with every passing minute I feel the panic inside me rising again.
"How long can this take?" I finally blurt out after we've sat there for nearly an hour.
"I don't know." Peter says, anger and trepidation lacing his voice. I turn to look at him, his gaze is on the opposite wall, a hint of rage flickering in his eyes. My glance wanders down to our hands which are still joined and I start drawing circles on the back of his hand with my thumb. An attempt to sooth him because I can sense he's on the edge of jumping up and running outside. I can relate to the intention as the waiting is stretching my patience thin as well but deep down I know it won't change anything. I feel transported back to the time after Grace's birth, the insecurity and fear about not knowing if she'd make it. Only one thing feels different. Looking back now I realize I was alone in my worry and anxiety for Grace's well-being back then and I suddenly understand that I should've seen it all along in Will's behavior that he didn't care as much as myself about my daughter. But I was too preoccupied in my anxiety to realize it. It's a comfort to know that the man sitting next to me feels the same love for Grace as I do. A tiny smile appears on my lips at that thought, the same moment Peter squeezes my hand lightly. I peer towards him and we share a small smile.
"Thank you for being here with me." I whisper in a throaty voice, closing my eyes to keep new tears from falling.
"Why wouldn't I be?" he asks softly, pulling his hand from mine to place it on my back, drawing me carefully closer so my head rests on his shoulder. I release a deep sigh, gladly accepting the comfort of his embrace.
"I want to be there for anything, Alicia. The tears as well as the laughs. I couldn't think of someplace I'd rather be now than here with Grace and you." he adds while gently stroking my upper arm and I nod against his chest.
"Mrs. Gardner? Mr. Florrick?" a voice from the door makes me look up and I swallow hard as I see Dr. Black walking towards us. We both get up and my hand searches for Peter's again as we watch the doctor nervously.
"Grace has a viral infection called hand-foot-and-mouth-disease. It is rather common among small children as it is highly infectious." he tells us.
"Does she need to stay here?" I ask hesitantly as I have never heard of this illness.
"Normally no, but I'd like to keep her here until tomorrow afternoon. She lost a lot of fluids as she has the same blisters in her mouth and throat as you saw in her face, on her hands and feet. That makes swallowing painful and she refused to drink as you told the nurse. We will hook her up to an IV to make sure she won't dehydrate. We will give you an oral solution, when you pick her up tomorrow, that will ease the pain." he explains and I nod, still clutching Peter's hand.
"Will she need other medication?" Peter asks.
"No. There is not much to be done about it. This will go away on its own. The painkiller will just help her to swallow and should only be needed a few days. The fever should also be gone by then." the doctor offers and I feel Peter's hand relax in mine and I breathe a sigh of relief.
"And she really needs to stay the night?" I ask, not looking forward to leaving her in the hospital.
"I would strongly recommend it. You two go home and get a good nights sleep, okay?" he smiles encouragingly at us.
"It's just that she spent a while in the hospital after she was born and I really don't want to leave her alone." my stomach clenches at the thought of going home without her.
"I understand, Mrs. Gardner. I've looked at Grace's file. But you have nothing to worry about. Just go home and get some rest. We will take good care of Grace." he reassures me, but I still have my doubts.
"He's right, Alicia." Peter interrupts me. "I'm sure we can see her now, right, doctor?" he smiles at me, squeezing my hand.
"Of course. Just follow me." the doctor nods and turns to leave.
"I know it will be hard for you to leave her here. It's hard for me too, but it's for the best, Alicia. You need your rest." he whispers to me as we follow the doctor outside. I just nod, knowing he is right.
Dr. Black shows us to the infant ward and we step inside a room with three cribs. All have a drip standing next to them and I shortly wonder what is wrong with the other two kids as I walk to the one in the middle with Grace. I gasp as I see the IV in her little arm.
"Don't stay too long. She just fell asleep. I'll see you tomorrow. And don't worry. She'll be alright." Dr. Black bids us goodbye and leaves the room.
We stand at her crib for a while, just watching her as she is sound asleep. Her cheeks aren't as flushed anymore like they were when we brought her in. I slowly bend down to place a kiss on her forehead, carefully stroking her belly. She starts stirring and I quickly retract my hand.
"Let's go." I try to say determined but my voice quivers.
"We can stay a few more minutes." Peter tells me, putting his arm on my back again.
"No, it's okay." I swallow hard but nod firmly.
"Okay." he whispers and I reach for his hand again as he leads me outside.
Twenty minutes later Peter stops in front of my apartment but I'm in no hurry to get out of the car. We haven't talked during the drive and I know his thoughts are with Grace too.
"Are you okay?" Peter breaks the silence after a few minutes.
"Yeah." I say slowly.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asks and I feel his gaze on me. I shake my head but still don't move to get out of the car. I realized why I dread going up to my apartment. It'll be the first time since Grace was born that I will spend a night totally on my own. The thought scares me and for a brief moment I'm tempted to ask Peter to stay with me. But I know I can't do that.
"No, I'll be fine." I tell him, avoiding his glance as I reaching for my seatbelt.
"You're not okay, Alicia. You want to go back?" he grabs my hand and I look up.
"I would but we can't. It's just…" I fade off as the image of Grace hooked up to the IV appears in front of me and once more tears start forming in my eyes.
"It's just what?" he whispers, reaching for my other hand, gently rubbing his thumbs over my knuckles. I feel the well-known tingling and realize I experienced it all night while he held my hand. I sigh deeply but it seems to give me the courage to voice my fear.
"I…I don't…want to be…alone…tonight." I stammer, the tears now streaming freely over my face. "I'm afraid all I will see is Grace in that hospital bed. She looked so tiny, Peter. I know it sounds stupid as I know she will be fine but since the weeks after her birth, when I didn't know if she would make it, I'm so afraid to lose her." I say breathlessly.
"I understand, Alicia, I really do." he lets go of one of my hands to brush some of my tears from my cheek.
"Would it help if I stayed with you tonight?" he hesitantly offers, holding my gaze.
"I can't ask you to do this." I murmur, casting down my glance.
"You can. Just let me find a parking space." he smiles at me before he starts the car again.
A few minutes later we enter my apartment. Peter follows me to the living room where we just stand for a while, both lost in thoughts.
"Do you want to go straight to sleep or should we talk for a while?" he eventually asks, looking around the room.
"I'm not sure I can sleep just now. How about we get that glass of wine?" I offer, nodding towards the two full glasses I placed on the coffee table earlier, before Peter called me to tell me about Grace's fever.
"Sure." he smiles and I pick up the glasses to head to the kitchen. When I return with two fresh ones I find him in one of the armchairs. I hand him a glass and sit down on the couch, pulling my feet up. We both drink a few sips in silence until I feel his glance on me and I peer up.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you and Grace." he says, his gaze resting on his wine.
"When?" I ask confused, not sure what he's referring to.
"After Grace's birth. I should've told you as soon as I knew. I made the wrong decision back then." he states, his eyes finally finding mine.
"It's okay, Peter. I thought a lot about why you decided to act like this and tried to put myself in your place. And I think I can understand you. I'm not sure I would've done the same but I get why you thought you had to stay away." I smile faintly at him before I take another sip from my wine.
"I'm glad you understand why I thought I had no other choice. I made the wrong decision and I can't stop being grateful to you for giving me the chance to see Grace grow up." he keeps looking at me and I don't doubt his words.
"I did what was right, Peter. And I meant what I told you earlier. I really had a good time during the last weeks. I enjoyed spending time with you and I hope we can continue to do this in the future, though I think you will be okay with Grace on your own." I flash him a smile.
"I'd like that. I had a good time, too." he returns my smile.
We continue talking about Grace and I tell him a little about the time right after her birth but he soon realizes it is a sore topic for me, even more so tonight and he changes the subject to my new job. We empty our wine and I feel more and more relaxed, the tension from earlier leaving my body and mind.
"Tired?" Peter asks as he sees me yawn.
"I think so." I reply, placing my empty glass on the table.
"Do you have a blanket for me?" he asks, putting his glass away as well.
"Sure." I say slowly, images of my little girl alone in the hospital appearing in my mind again and I know that I won't sleep though I feel tired.
"Everything okay?" Peter asks, like he sensed the change in my mood.
"Should I leave?" he adds, looking at me puzzled.
"No, I was just thinking about Grace again. You think she is okay?" I whisper, looking to the floor.
"I'm sure she is. You need some sleep, Alicia. It's been a long day." he smiles at me and I don't know if it is the fatigue or the little worry left about Grace alone at the hospital, that I once more feel tears run down my cheeks.
"Hey, no more tears, Alicia." he hurries to my side and pulls me towards him and for the first time tonight I no longer fight to keep the tears back but let go and soon I sob heavily. He puts both arms around me, gently stroking my back. He just lets me cry and suddenly I have the feeling I no longer need to be strong, like I can finally let down my guard because there is someone watching out for me. And soon my tears are not only about Grace's illness but also about everything that went wrong in my life. He just keeps holding me and as my tears die down it feels like I can finally breath freely again. I realize how tired I am and part of me just wants to cuddle deeper into Peter's embrace and fall asleep. But I know I can't and so I slowly lean back and look up to him.
"Better?" he asks, brushing a tear from my face and I nod, trying to smile.
"I really should get you to bed." he stands up and pulls me with him. He takes my hand and I follow him to my bedroom. I walk inside, heading to my wardrobe to retrieve the blanket for Peter. He didn't follow me but stands in the door and I step back to him, handing him the blanket.
"Good night, Alicia." he softly kisses my cheek and turns to leave but I grab his hand. His head spins around, raising an eyebrow at me. I swallow hard, not sure I can really ask what is on my mind. He doesn't say anything, just stares at me confused.
"Can you stay here with me?" I whisper, watching him closely and as he doesn't react I doubt he heard me.