I wake from a gurgling sound coming from the baby-monitor, but as Grace isn't crying just rather telling a story to her toys, I decide to snuggle deeper into my pillow and try to fall asleep again. If I am lucky, Grace will fall asleep once more as well. Suddenly I think the pillow beneath my head feels odd and I open one of my eyes and a man's jeans-clad legs come into focus. I lift my head, realizing I slept cuddled up to Peter's chest, his arm holding me close. Slowly I remember last night, how much I enjoyed his company, our talk, even his teasing. I look down at his sleeping form, a hint of a smile lingers on his lips and once more I feel the yearning to lean down and kiss him. I recall last night, the moment I had nearly kissed him, wondering if I had really done it if the ring on the door hadn't interrupted us. I wasn't thinking that moment, all worries that I would've to deal with the implications later had been wiped from my mind, all I knew was that it felt right. Now that feeling scares me, so I scoot away from Peter and get up from the couch.
I head to the kitchen, taking Grace's high-chair with me before I walk into her room to check on her. She's standing in her bed, both hands holding the grid, babbling happily and smiling at me as I approach her.
"Morning, honey." I smile back, switching the baby-monitor off before I take her out. She grabs my neck and cuddles her face into the bend above my shoulder. I hug her close and place a kiss on her head.
"Nanananananananana!" she babbles and I wonder when she'll say her first word and if it will be 'Mommy'.
"Are you hungry?" I ask her, stroking her nose and cheek.
"Bababababa." she answers and I take it as a yes, carrying her with me into the kitchen. I place her in the high-chair and she watches me as I start the coffee-maker and the electric kettle to prepare her bottle.
"Good morning."I spin around at the voice behind me and see my brother leaning in the door. Dark shadows frame his eyes, that are barely open and he's still wearing the shirt and pants he left the house in yesterday.
"Did you just get in?" I ask through the sound from the kettle which makes him squint his eyes.
"No." he yawns, rubbing his eyes, walking further into the room and falls on top of a chair.
"Your talk with Grace woke me." he mumbles, resting his head in his hand that he propped up on the table.
"Huh?" I ask confused, eyeing him through the steam rising from the bottle I prepare Grace's breakfast in.
"Well, my bed on the couch was occupied." he peers up, raising an eyebrow at me. "So, I went to sleep in your bed and that damn baby-monitor on your nightstand was on." he growls, massaging his forehead between his eyes.
"You slept in my bed? In the clothes you wore all night on your party?" I exclaim as I hand him a glass with water and an Advil bottle.
"Your fault that you didn't occupy it yourself with Peter." he says, a meaningful tone in his voice as he shakes two pills out of the bottle.
"Nothing happened. We just fell asleep." I defend myself, pouring coffee into two mugs.
"I figured as you were both still clothed. But you looked cute cuddled up to him. Well, at least from what I remember in my alcohol-clouded mind." he chuckles, taking the mug I offer him from my hands. I turn away from him and finish preparing Grace's bottle.
"How come Peter spent the night here?" he asks after taking a deep sip of his coffee.
"Don't change the subject, Owen. You will change the sheets of my bed later. No discussion." I drink some of my own coffee before I sit down next to Grace, handing her the bottle.
"Yeah." he snorts, getting up to refill his mug.
"Do you have anything to eat? I'm starving." he turns to the fridge, opening it.
"Great. Chinese." he mumbles contently, starting to take the containers out on the table.
"Good morning." Peter's voice from the door, startles us both.
"Good morning, Peter. You want some coffee?" I smile at him as he looks as tired as I feel and I have no doubt I look tousled as well.
"Sure. Thank you." he returns my smile and walks over to the counter, pouring himself some coffee. He quickly strokes Grace's head and places a kiss on her hair before he sits down at the table.
"You want some Chinese, too?" Owen asks with a full mouth, eating something that looks like garlic chicken from a container while he holds an egg roll in his other hand.
"No." Peter and I say simultaneously, both shaking our heads.
"So, all that extra food really was for Owen." Peter chuckles, winking at me over the rim of his mug.
"Huh?" Owen sounds between two bites, looking at Peter confused.
"Peter didn't believe me, that all the food I ordered was for your hangover." I explain to my brother while I feel Peter's gaze on me. I can't look at him, his stare makes me feel uncomfortable, stirring a mix of emotions in me I don't want to feel.
"That.." Owen nods his head in the direction of the fridge "…will be gone by this afternoon. This is just an appetizer." he laughs, gesturing to the three containers in front of him.
"You want something else? Toast? Or I have some cinnamon buns in the fridge. I only need to put them in the oven." I address Peter without looking at him, hurrying to stand and get away from his gaze.
"No, Alicia. I need to go anyhow. My mother expects me for lunch and I need to drive home and change." he holds me back by my elbow and the contact hits me like a flash.
"Okay." I breath, succeeding to hide my surprise and lean casually against the counter, watching him rise from his seat.
"Bye Owen. Are we still on for drinks while you are here?"
"Sure. I'll call you tonight, okay?" my brother answers, still chewing and Peter nods.
"Bye honey." he takes Grace from her chair into his arms and she clings to his neck like she did with me earlier. I watch him hug her close to his chest, placing a kiss on her hair. He then stretches his arms out, holding her above his head, smiling up at her. Grace squeals happily, trying to grab his face though it is way out of her reach. Watching Peter and our daughter makes me smile and I realize once more I made the right decision to allow him the contact, not just for Grace and Peter but also for myself as I don't want to miss him from our life anymore.
He takes her back into his arms again, kissing her forehead before he puts her down into her chair again and turns towards me.
"Bye Alicia." he keeps his distance like he sensed my discomfort from earlier, but suddenly I feel like I'd be missing something if I didn't hug him, so I lean in and place a kiss on his cheek.
"Bye Peter." I murmur as I hug him close, feeling him return the hug hesitantly.
"Thanks for letting me stay last night." he says as we loose the embrace.
"You're welcome. It was fun." I smile at him.
"True." he chuckles and leaves after he stroked over Grace's head one last time.
I walk back to the table, taking Grace's bottle from it and place it in the sink.
"What happened last night?" Owen's voice sounds as soon as we hear the front door fall shut in the hallway.
"Nothing." I snap, not wanting to deal with my feelings, even less discuss them with my brother.
"Do you finally know what you feel for him?" Owen suddenly stands behind me, placing his hand around my shoulder.
"No." I sigh, clutching the rim of the countertop before I turn around fast, pushing Owen's hand from my shoulder.
"I'll take a bath with Grace. You can sleep a little more in my bedroom if you want to." I tell him, taking Grace from her chair and hurry from the room, fleeing from his stare and further questions, wishing I could flee from my thoughts as easily.
I'm just packing my stuff together when the phone on my desk rings.
"Yes?" I answer as I see it's Mona, Elsbeth's and Jake's secretary.
"Hi Alicia. Jake wants to see you in his office."
"Sure, I'll be right over." I reply, reaching for the notes I worked on for his case during the morning, glancing over my watch, hoping this won't take too long as I have to pick up Grace in 45 minutes. My gaze stays on the window for a few seconds, watching the falling snow that still covers the ground though it's already early March.
I walk over to his office and Mona waves me right through, so I step inside, finding Jake behind his desk.
"Hi Alicia. Take a seat." he smiles at me, gesturing to the couch in the corner of the room. I look at him surprised as he stands, taking some papers from his desk and walks over to the couch, sitting down in one of the armchairs.
"I guess this has nothing to do with the Carter case." I state as I sit down opposite him.
"No. This just came with a courier and I thought you should see it right away." he nods to the papers he brought from his desk and placed on top of the table between us.
"What is it?" I ask slowly, not taking my eyes from him.
"Your divorce papers." he says slowly and my glance wanders to the stack of papers.
"What is it this time? They found a comma out of place?" I sigh, referring to the last two times they sent the papers back on bogus pretenses.
"No, this time they are signed." he smiles, moving the papers into my direction with his fingertips.
"Are you sure?" I ask hesitantly, extending my arm to pick them up.
"Yes, Alicia. All you need to do is sign too and it's over." he offers me a pen he took from his suit pocket. My eyes wander to the documents in my hands and I turn to the last page, swallowing hard as I see Will's signature.
"Wow." I sigh, leaning back in my seat, not quite believing that this part of my life will finally be behind me once I signed the papers too.
"You look like you need some more time." Jake says carefully, lowering his hand that holds the pen.
"No, I'm just surprised he agreed, stopped playing his stalling tactics." I smile weakly, reaching for the pen. Suddenly all that matters is putting my signature on the paper to finally end this marriage.
"It's done." I say a few moments later after I wrote my name on all the copies, pushing the documents towards Jake. A mix of emotions hit me: relief, joy but also sadness about the time and love I wasted on a man who lied to me from the beginning. I push the thoughts away, concentrating on the positive feelings and a genuine smile spreads on my lips.
"So, should we toast to this?" Jake drags me from my musings.
"No, thanks." I shake my head at him. "I need to pick up Grace from the day nanny." I say, getting up from my chair.
"Sure." he nods. "But don't you want to celebrate this?" he stands as well and I walk over to him.
"I'm just glad it's over." I hug him briefly, Peter's face appearing in front of my inner eye. I close my eyes for a few seconds, pushing the need to call him away like I did often during the last weeks, not wanting to admit he's becoming a constant in my life I don't want to miss.
"Thank you, Jake." I step back, smiling.
"You're welcome. And now hurry. Your daughter is waiting for you." he winks at me and I leave the room.
Two hours later I step out of the elevator on my floor, a fussing Grace in my arms and a few grocery bags in my hands while I try to find my keys in the depths of my purse.
"Can I help you?" a familiar voice makes my head jerk up and I nearly let the bags slip from my hand as I see Will standing at my door.
"What do you want?" I croak, mad at myself that I didn't say the words in a steady voice but that they reflect the shock and insecurity I feel.
"Telling you I'm sorry." he replies in a low voice and I notice his eyes cling to the bags in my hand, like he's unable to meet my glance.
"It's too late for that. I signed the divorce papers earlier." I state, glad that my voice is back to normal as I pass him to open my apartment door.
"I know and this shouldn't be an attempt to keep you from signing. I just felt the need to tell you I know I made a big mistake and I learned my lesson." I feel his presence behind me before he softly reaches out to hold me back on my shoulder. I move away to get rid of his touch and finally open the door, letting the bags fall inside before I face him again.
"Please, just hear me out. This will only take a few minutes and then I'm out of your life forever. I'm going back to Baltimore. I've closed the office here." his eyes flicker from the floor to my face.
I don't know what to respond, so I just nod, telling him it's okay to go on. I shift Grace, propping her on my hip. She cuddles her face to my neck and think I see the hint of a smile on Will's face.
"She looks like you, Alicia. I'm sorry I tried to keep this from you. It was selfish and I know now that I had no right to do that."
"Then why, Will?" I snap, finally voicing the question that tortured myself since I found out about his vasectomy.
"It's complicated." he sighs, lowering his glance and stepping back.
"Try me." I retort, impatience and anger clearly lacing my voice.
"I never wanted a family, never pictured myself with kids. That's why I had the vasectomy at a very young age. But then you walked into my life and I wasn't strong enough to tell you the truth, fearing I'd lose you if I told you I could never give you kids. So I never said a word, hoping that I would be enough for you and you'd never find out my lie, not realizing that this would be the reason I'd lose you one day. I'm sorry for hurting you, Alicia."
He looks relieved after he's finished and I'm lost for words for a few seconds that pass in silence.
"Did you never regret having the vasectomy?" I eventually say.
"No, never. I made the right decision for myself but the wrong one for you." his eyes finally find mine and I guess I see real remorse in them.
"But why did you try to get me back after I left you and moved here? Why go on with this charade?" I ask, trying to make sense of his words.
"The same reason I never told you the truth: I loved you. It was never my intent to hurt you, but my selfishness did."
Once more I don't know what to say, just staring at him while his words sink in.
"I guess that's the reason I never wanted kids. I can't put my needs second to someone else's." he states after a while.
"But I'm glad you got your wish, Alicia. Maybe not exactly like you wanted it but I can see you are happy." his gaze rests on Grace, who fell asleep in my arms, and finally I see a smile spread on his face.
"I am." I nod, strangely realizing that though he is right and I never pictured myself as a single Mom, I'm nonetheless happy with my life.
"Good. I wish you nothing else. Good bye." he turns and walks towards the stairs without looking back. I catch myself staring after him and though I didn't get all the answers to the questions that haunted me, a feeling of closure spreads through me, that putting my signature under the divorce papers wasn't able to give me.
"Okay, looks like we're done here. That was the last signature, Mr. Kane." I smile at the client in front of me who just signed a nice settlement agreement with his former employer.
"Please call me Jim." he smiles back as he hands me the pen and the documents.
"Thank you, Alicia. I never thought they'd agree to this." he leans back in his chair, the relief is visible on his face. His smile finally reaches his blue eyes, that I noticed right away at our first meeting.
"You're welcome, Jim. But Elsbeth did all the heavy lifting. She's sorry she couldn't be here, but she was called to court." I say as I put the documents in the folder and rise from my chair.
"I know what both of you did. Thanks again." he stands as well, extending his arm.
I take his offered hand, smiling at him once more.
"What happens now?" he asks, still holding my hand in his, not taking his eyes from me.
"We messenger the documents to the law firm of your former employer and they issue the cheque. You should have it in a few days." I slowly retract my hand from his and turn to the door.
"Will I need to come in again to get it?" he follows me outside.
"No, they will send it directly to you. So unless you get in some more legal trouble this is the last you'll see of us." I joke and he chuckles lightly.
"That's a shame, Alicia." he murmurs and his glance shies away to the floor.
"Well, I bet you have better things to do than spend time in some law offices." I reply in a lighter tone, not really sure what to make of his statement.
"True, but I won't be seeing much of you any longer." his eyes search mine again but this time it's me who avoids his gaze, realizing I didn't imagine his slight flirting, that I wondered about ever since we met. I never played along but only due to the fact that he is a client and it wouldn't be appropriate. The words linger in the air between us as I ponder what to answer, if I should cut it short right now or if I am interested enough to participate in it.
"Mr. Kane.." I start but he reaches for my shoulder, making me pause.
"I thought we settled on Jim." he smiles, keeping his hand on my upper arm.
I just nod as I watch him, still unsure of what to do.
"Now that this is all over, I can finally ask you if you would like to go to dinner with me?" he says, letting his hand fall back to his side, studying me, as I switch the file from one hand to the other. I'm surprised by his invitation and again torn on how to react.
"I don't expect an answer right away, Alicia." he smiles, apparently realizing my hesitation.
"Just think about it and call me, okay?"
I nod lightly and he takes it as agreement as he walks away, waving at me. I watch him walking down the corridor towards the reception area until he turns a corner and I can't see him any longer. I feel flattered by his invitation and I have to admit that I like him, but do I see the possibility of him being more than just a friend? I shake my head at myself as I turn and walk to my office, the thought that my life as a single Mom is complicated enough and I shouldn't add more complexity to it.
My head snaps up at Elsbeth's greeting and I realize I've been sitting at my desk for a while staring holes in my desktop, Jim's invitation to dinner still rotating in my mind.
"I just met Jim Kane at the elevator. Did everything go okay?" she asks as she enters the room.
"Yes, he signed." I pat the folder next to me. "I'll get the documents ready to have them messengered this afternoon." I smile at her but the way she looks at me with her head tilted tells me she saw right through me and knows that my mind is somewhere else.
"Good. Anything else happened that I should know?" she wonders in a light voice but from the months I've worked with her I know she won't take 'No' for an answer.
"I think he asked me on a date." I come clean right away as I am not in the mood for Elsbeth's cross examination.
"Really? Good for you. You need to get out there and he's a nice guy." she winks at me before she heads to the door.
"It's about time you get on with your life, Alicia." she turns, smiling at me before she rushes out.
Her words circle in my mind as I start getting the documents ready and by the time I'm finished with them I've made up my mind that I will accept Jim's invitation for dinner. Maybe it really is time to get on with my life and that signing my divorce papers a week ago and finally drawing a line under my life with Will was just the beginning.
"You're late." I greet Peter at the door as he arrives to pick up Grace. I'm feeling bad for using him as a babysitter tonight but none of the girls I usually use was available and it was down between asking him or my mother. I had hoped he would arrive earlier, so I could get ready after he left but with him running an hour late I had no choice than to dress in the meantime.
"I'm sorry. Court session ran longer than I thought." he smiles apologetically at me in passing as he heads to the living room.
"Hello honey." he greets Grace who is sitting on her play mat, doodling with crayons on a big sheet of paper. She lifts her head as she hears his voice and stretches her hands out towards him. He picks her up, holding her up over his head and she laughs out. I can't help but smile every time I see him do this, both laughing at each other. I watch as he lowers her to his chest and she wraps her arms around his neck while he places a kiss on her cheek. He leans back to look at her and once more I realize how much she looks like him. My feet itch to walk up to them, share in the hug but before I can take a step I recall that I can't, so I just sit down on the armrest of a chair and continue to watch them.
"Are you ready to go?" he asks Grace as he puts her down on the floor and she walks a few steps, while he holds her one hand as her other grabs his trousers. Peter chuckles lightly as she stumbles over his foot but he's quick to catch her and scoops her up in his arms again. Her low cry turns into a giggle as he holds her up once more above his head. He turns her around and places her on his shoulders, holding a firm grasp on her feet while she grabs his hair.
"Aren't you a little dressed up for going to the movies?" he states as his glance falls on me. My eyes flicker to the floor and I regret not telling him the truth about why I need him to watch Grace tonight. Some part of me feels guilty to admit to him I'm going on a date while I know how he feels about me.
"I'm not going to the movies." I murmur as I try to pull my skirt below my knees, all of a sudden thinking it's too short. I look up and see him watch me puzzled, but after a moment I see realization in his features, sadness clouding his eyes.
"We will be out of here in a minute. Won't we, princess?" he lifts Grace from his shoulders and carries her outside, a smile, I know to be fake, plastered on his face.
I sigh deeply before I get up and follow them into the hall. Peter has already put Grace in her jacket and shouldered her diaper bag. I stay in the doorway, watching as he places her into her stroller and heads towards the front door.
"Thank you for taking her tonight, Peter." I walk over to them, kneeling down in front of the stroller, caressing Grace's cheek.
"It's no problem. I would've picked her up from the day nanny anyhow tomorrow. You know that I love spending time with her." he smiles but I know the smile isn't for me.
"Good bye, honey." I place a kiss on Grace's cheek before I stand again.
"So, I'll pick her up around six tomorrow?" I face Peter and he just nods before he leaves the apartment without another word.
I lean against the door after it fell shut behind him, closing my eyes briefly to get rid of the image of pain in his, but it stays with me. My glance wanders to the clock on the wall, realizing I only have 20 minutes until Jim will be here to pick me up. I groan as I suddenly would rather spend the night curled up on my couch than on a date with a man I hardly know. Eventually I detach myself from the door and head to my bedroom to change into a pair of trousers.
An hour later I sit opposite Jim and the waitress just left with our food order.
"So, Alicia, tell me something about you. I'm in a bit of a disadvantage here, because I guess you know all of me there is to know from my law suit." he says and I smile politely, realizing he is right. He's in his early forties, divorced, no kids, dedicated to his job as an architect and about to start his own firm with the settlement he got from his former employer. I also know from our talks that he loves to golf. The facts sound boring in my head but nonetheless I am here to find out if there is more to him.
"Well, what would you like to know?" I ask him, reaching for my wine, taking a sip.
"Anything you'd like to share." he smiles encouragingly, also lifting his glass.
"There isn't much to know about me. I have a daughter, Grace, and she pretty much is my whole world at the moment."
"Yes, I saw the pictures in your office. She's cute. How old is she?" he asks, twirling the stem of his wineglass between his fingers.
"She'll be one year next week."
"Oh, that must be difficult to combine with your job." he observes.
"It's not easy, but I manage. She's at a day nanny when I'm at work and her Dad is a big help too." I explain and suddenly Peter's sad expression swims before my eyes again. I hurry to grab my glass and take a deep sip from the dark red liquid.
"That's good to hear. So you still get along despite the divorce?"
I'm a little taken aback by his question, wondering how he knows about my divorce, but then I realize that my name-change was too obvious.
"I wasn't married to Grace's Dad. That part of my life is rather complicated." I smile nervously as I put my glass back down on the table, not willing to go into too much detail.
"Okay." he nods, leaning forward slightly, putting his hand on top of mine.
"I'm a good listener, Alicia, if you want to tell me." he offers, his eyes searching mine. I lean back a bit, recognizing curiousness in his glance. His hand still covers mine and I feel the strong urge to pull it back fast, his touch feeling wrong on my skin. Luckily I am saved by the waitress arriving with our salads.
"So, tell me about your plans for your own office." I change the topic as I reach for my fork to start eating.
I'm glad that the subject of his architectural firm lasts through the main course as I soon realize we have nothing in common. We arrived at talking about the weather as I decline the waitresses offer for dessert.
"Are you sure you don't want dessert?" Jim asks and I shake my head as I take the last sip from my glass.
"Should we order another bottle of wine?" he wonders, glancing to the empty bottle in the cooler next to our table.
"No, Jim. I guess we should go. I have to work tomorrow." I smile, taping my watch with my fingertips. I hope he agrees as I can't wait to end this dinner, thinking what a big waste of time this was. I sigh silently, briefly wondering how much different this evening would've been if I had spent it with Peter as I remember my first date with him. I push the thought away fast, not lingering on the memory of how different Peter's hand felt on my skin, but focus my glance on Jim.
"You're right." he nods, waving the waitress to request the bill.
The drive to my apartment passes in silence and I open the seat belt even before the car comes to a stop.
"Good night, Jim. I had a nice time." I say politely, offering him my hand.
"Me too." he smiles at me, turning in his seat as he takes my hand.
"Can I call you again?" he asks, keeping my hand in his and once again I feel the need to pull it back.
"I don't think so, Jim. I'm sorry." I decline his request, choosing to go for the truth rather than leaving him with the hope of a second date, that I know will never happen.
"Did I do something wrong?" he asks, still clutching my hand.
"No, I guess I'm just not ready to date again yet." I lie, realizing that he doesn't think the same about our date as I do. I watch him nervously, hoping he won't take my refusal the wrong way.
"Oh." he exclaims, finally releasing the grasp on my hand and I take the chance to pull it back.
"I'm sorry. I wish you good luck with your own business." I smile again and reach for the handle to step out of the car.
"Good night, Alicia." he says sadly and I sigh in relief as I push the door shut behind me. I don't watch him drive away but head to the front door. I'm halfway to the elevator when I consider driving over to Peter to get my daughter. Suddenly I miss her and want nothing more than take her into my arms. I turn on my heel, only realizing I don't have my car keys with me as I reach the door again. I sigh and walk back to the elevator. During the ride up to my floor I reconsider, not wanting to rob Peter of his time with her, not to mention that I would surely wake her up. Also I don't want to face Peter again tonight, his hurt expression still clearly visible before my inner eye. I sigh as I search for my keys in my purse and step out of the elevator.
"There you are!"
I look up at the booming voice and see my father sitting on the bench in the hall in front of my apartment.
"Dad?!" I exclaim, rushing towards him. He stands, opening his arms wide and I let myself fall into his embrace.
"What are you doing here?" I ask after a few moments, leaning back to look at him.
"I'm here for Grace's birthday next week and of course to see you. To check how you are doing for real and not what you tell me on the phone." he raises an eyebrow at me as he pushes me back a little, eyeing me curiously.
"I'm fine, Dad." I state as I step out of his arms and over to the door to open it.
"We will see about that." he says as he grabs his suitcase and follows me inside.
"You know that Mom will be there for Grace's birthday?" I remark innocently, hanging my coat, glancing at him in the corner of my eye.
"Don't change the topic, pumpkin." he smirks, passing by me to the living room.
"Well, I had to try." I laugh, heading to the kitchen, getting two glasses and a bottle of red wine.
"Where's Grace?" he asks me as I return.
"She's staying with Peter tonight. I was out." I explain, sitting down on the couch next to him, handing him a glass.
"You don't say." he chuckles before he takes a sip from his wine.
"Where were you, honey? Tell me what's going on in your life?" he places his arm around my shoulder, pulling me towards him, so my head comes to rest on his shoulders. I sigh deeply as I cuddle into his embrace, realizing how much I missed him during the last months, the feeling that he's got my back no matter what. So I no longer hesitate as I start telling him what's been going on in my life.