XXXVII) Sophie

"Well, hello."

She was beaming when she opened the door. Smiling and giddy, in spite of the circles that lined her eyes. Holding the cause of both happiness and exhaustion securely in her arms.

Cal Lightman let his eyes soak in his very first glimpse of Gillian's daughter. The tiny black girl with the dark, curly hair.

"Cal Lightman meet Sophie Anne Foster."

"Hiya there, Sophie Anne Foster." Cal smiled because it was impossible not to. Gillian's happiness was contagious. "Pretty name for a pretty girl."

"Come on in," Foster guided him into the living room. Her place was much smaller than his and it was the first time he's seen it less than meticulously neat and clean. There were baby toys scattered on the floor and unwashed dishes in the sink. A cup of half finished coffee sat on the dining room table and one of Alec's suit jackets was dangling haphazardly from a chair.

Even Gillian Foster had already learned that parenthood and neatness were mostly incompatible.

"Want to hold her?"

"Of course." Cal nodded as Gillian handed him the little girl, his mind going back in time to when Emily was only a few weeks old. He took the baby in his arms, cradling her with ease. He half expected her to cry, but she didn't. Instead her large, dark eyes stared at him with curiosity.

"Can I get you anything?"

"Tea would be nice. Assuming that having my partner back at the office next week is not an option, 'cause if it is..."

"Dream on, Cal. We agreed to four months." She wiped her hands on an apron she wore. "Tea is an option though."

The baby made a face when Cal rocked her. "She looks like you."

"Funny."

"No, really... that cranky, little pout she made just now, did you see that? That's classic Gillian Foster right there. That's your face if you don't get your second cup of coffee by ten in morning. And I should know, I study faces for a living." Cal lowered his head to give the baby a kiss on the nose. "Right now I'm also the only one who studies faces for a living..."

Gillian put her hands on her hips and watched them both with delight. "I'm not coming back before four months, no matter how much passive-aggressive whining you do. Not happening."

Cal grinned. "Can't blame a man for trying." He gave Sophie another kiss. "I should hate you for stealing her away from me. But it's hard when you're so bloody cute."

"You know most civilized countries offer maternity leaves up to a year long, right? Including the one you're from."

"Good thing we're in the US then." She couldn't stop smiling at the sight of the two of them together. "Hang on. Let me get my camera."

He patiently let her take half a dozen photos, marvelling that Sophie hadn't starting fussing and crying yet.

"How's everyone doing at the Group?" she asked him, after promising to e-mail him the photos and setting the camera back down.

"I fired Noelle two days ago."

Gillian couldn't hide her shock. "You did what?"

"She was high as a kite during an interview with a client in the Cube. Should've never let her step inside it." He winced at the recollection.

"What happened?"

"She puked all over the guy."

Gillian cringed. "Oh no..."

"Oh yes," Cal chuckled before turning serious again. "Only amusing thing about it was that Rader did this brilliant budget analysis that same morning, and it screwed the whole thing up and he had to redo it. We have to take Noelle off the payroll. Give the client a huge discount."

"I'm sorry..."

Cal shrugged his shoulders. "Shoulda seen it coming." He faced her with a lopsided smile. It was hard to be upset when you held a brand new person in your arms. "Go ahead, say it."

"Cal..."

"Really. I insist."

"Fine." Gillian hesitated. "Told you so."

"Sleeping with her probably wasn't the best idea either..."

Foster's jaw dropped. "What?"

"She practically threw herself at me!" Cal pointed out. Defensively. "There's only so much of that a guy can resist."

Gillian rolled her eyes. "You are unbelievable..."

"Problem was, as soon as the deed was done, Noelle figured she could get away with murder."

"Serves you right."

Cal chuckled as he hoisted the little girl higher, so that her face was level with his. She still couldn't take her eyes off him. "You see, your Mum's always right. Might as well accept that from the start so you don't have to learn the hard way like me."

"As if you're ever going to learn," Gillian sighed, as she held out her arms to take the baby from him. "Any other office news?"

He told her about Wei-Ling's crush on one of the research assistants. That she thought she was hiding it from them but of course she wasn't. Told her about the other new lab tech, who in turn had a crush on Wei-Ling. It was a minor soap opera.

Gillian giggled. It was the first Lightman Group love triangle. "Can you believe we have a company that's big enough for water cooler gossip now?"

"Remember when we used to run this thing out of my dining room? With Isabel nipping at our legs? When Zoe came home late one night and found you sleeping on my couch?" It wasn't funny then but he could laugh about it now. Could laugh about the madness of doing everything themselves back then. But every time he walked into their brand new office it reminded him that it was worth it. Ten times over.

"Hmm...I don't think I remember that." She told him. "I think I blocked those days from my memory. "

"You loved those early days. Don't lie."

"As if I would ever try lying to you."

"Liar."

Gillian smirked. "I put some tea and cookies on the coffee table. Help yourself." She looked at him. "I am sorry about Noelle. I know you liked her."

Cal sat down on the couch and reached for a cookie. He didn't want to talk about Noelle Nehru. They cookies were too sweet for his taste but after eating one he helped himself to a second anyway.

"Brought you something," he told Gillian, getting up to grab the pink gift bag he'd set down near her door, before settling back down on the couch again. "A few things."

Gillian put Sophie in a playpen and joined him on the couch, reaching for a cookie herself before she opened his gift.

She pulled out the outfit he had customized for Sophie.

Gillian raised her brows as she read the inscription on the front. " 'If you think my Mum's hot, wait 'til you see the guy she works with' " She smirked. "Really, Cal? You want me to leave the house with her wearing that?"

"Course I do. Told you I'm ready to seriously start dating. She needs to wear that when you're going for strolls in parks full of sexy mothers."

"Right..."

"Open the next one, luv."

Gillian lifted out the book he bought.

" 'Black Hair for White Dads' ?"

"That one's for Alec," he clarified.

"I figured given the 'Dads' part."

"Forget that I work with a language expert. Nothing gets by you." He ignored her look and rambled on. "Saw this thing on TV where this Dad had to figure out how to do his adopted daughter's hair. It's different, you know, black hair from...white hair."

"I noticed."

"You did?"

"But I'll be sure to make Alec read it. Tell him that braiding her hair is going to be his responsibility. Twists and all."

Cal pointed to the bag. "There's one more in there."

Gillian hoisted out the large bottle of liquor. "You got me a bottle of scotch? Or is that for Alec too?"

"Both of you. You're gonna need once she starts teething. Trust me. And feel free to give some to Sophie if you ever need to take her on a flight. Believe me, you and a whole planeload of passengers will be glad you did."

"Speaking from experience?"

"You bet."

Gillian wrapped her arms around him and pulled him into a hug. "Thanks...for all of it. Most of all for stopping by." She tucked a stray hair behind her ear. "I kind of missed your company these last two weeks."

"You're saying there's no way you can stand four months without it, yeah?"

"I'm saying you'll need to visit often during those four months, seeing as I won't see you at the office." She stole a glance into the playpen before eating another cookie. "Tell me, how long does it take before you actually get time to have a meal again?"

Cal pretended to think about it. "I dunno, how old is Em now? Still hasn't happened."

"Great."

"How's Alec adjusting to fatherhood?"

"He's... amazing, Cal." She was beaming again. Still on cloud nine after two weeks. "He's so crazy about her. I mean, he used to come home and do a few hours of work every night. Not anymore. Now it's all about feeding her, going for little walks with her, bathing her...she's got him completely wrapped around her little finger."

"The man is whipped."

Gillian reached for another cookie. Some things hadn't changed. "Think you might be right."

Cal finished his tea, serious now. "How is...her health."

"We took her in for a check-up a few days ago and it's..." She paused and he read the emotions on her face. "It's really promising."

"How'd you mean?"

"I mean... we expected the worst. We knew Keisha was drinking heavily during parts of the pregnancy. She did drugs too. Other teratogens. We expected at least some foetal alcohol effects. We were even prepared for a baby with severe cognitive impairments. Foetal alcohol syndrome maybe."

Cal scrunched his lips. He remembered that conversation too. The one they had at the office a few weeks ago when the adoption had finally been sealed and he felt a bit like shaking some sense into her.

"Do you have any idea what this entails, Gill? To raise a child with those kind of issues? We're potentially talking a life-long dependence on you. An entire life of treatment. Are you really ready for that?"

His usually cheerful partner had been sombre and pensive that evening.

"Alec and I, we've been given a lot. We're lucky...to have each other. To be healthy and financially well off. We have the chance to give something back now. If that means giving a child that's been thrown a curve ball even before it comes into this world a second chance, then yes. Giving her hope and love and opportunities she wouldn't have had otherwise? Yes, we're ready for that."

"And?" Cal asked softly, his thoughts back in the present.

"She hasn't shown any symptoms, Cal. I mean, there'll be more tests as she's older, but so far there's every indication that she's healthy. Really healthy." Gillian's eyes were moist and she wiped away a tear. "Sometimes I look at her and all I can think is that she's this miracle, who somehow defied all the odds in the world. I expected a baby full of challenges and ended up with a perfectly healthy little girl. How in the world did I get so lucky? It's like I won the lottery."

"You know..." Cal started and paused. Her gratitude left a lump in his throat and it threatened to expose his carefully cultivated lack of sentimentality. "Sophie didn't do so bad in the Mum lottery either."