Tess was awoken at three in the morning that night. Her phone was ringing and she could sense it was something important. Blearily, she fumbled for the cell on her nightstand.
"Hello?" She asked, her voice dimmed with sleep.
"Cassie Whitlock was arrested an hour ago," It was her social worker friend that had helped her previously. Her name was Amber and specialized in younger people when they start going wayward. Amber was probably assigned to Cassie's case. She sounded happy, like she couldn't wait to tell Tess.
"What?" Tess asked, shooting up in her bed, instantly awake. Was this really happening? Was it just a cruel hopeful dream?
"She was driving drunk, err, buzzed driving. She blew under though, but just barely. She was with her friends who were all legally intoxicated. Cassie was released to her parents after they made it to the police station."
Tess' heart thrummed against her chest. She ran a hand through her hair to steady it's shaking. "What does this mean?" She asked hopefully.
"Agnes' case was assigned Judge John Mumford. He's been on a soap box about drunk driving since his son was killed by one several years ago. This levels the playing field. He'll want to the throw the book at Cassie and make her really regret this decision. That may mean he'll rule in favor of Gru."
"What?" Tess asked again, she heard the words, understood what it meant, but she still couldn't process it.
"Gru has the upper hand again!"
"I have to call him." Tess said, abruptly hanging up on Amber for the second time.
Tess knew she really shouldn't be so happy about this. Someone could have gotten hurt with Cassie driving. Tess knew she shouldn't be happy for Cassie's loss, but Agnes needed to stay with Felonious and if this was the way it was going happen, she'd take it.
The second she knew Felonious answered the phone; she hurriedly spoke, even before he could say anything, "Cassie Whitlock was arrested tonight for drunk driving. The Judge that was assigned to Agnes' case hates drunk driving and this may give you the advantage again."
Felonious was silent for several long moments. "Are you serious? Don't toy with me like that, Tess."
"I'm serious. My social worker friend works with kids who do stupid stuff like this. She just called me. I wouldn't lie to you, Felonious."
Felonious sighed in relief and his rich laughter filled Tess' ears. "This is incredible! This is just what I need!"
"Don't get your hopes up just yet. This judge is a hard ass either way. Just be wary and get some real sleep! You sound awful!'
"Ha, I'll try. But before I do, may I request your services? I'm keeping Margo and Edith home from school today. I don't want to put too much stress on them with what's happening by piling school work on top of it. I need someone to watch them. Margo is old enough to stay home alone and watch Edith, but I don't think this is the best circumstance. I'd rather someone be with them."
"Of course! I'll be over at my usual time."
"Thank you, Tess. I don't know what I'd do without you. Goodnight."
"Good night Felonious."
Tess was awake the rest of the night. She was too antsy to even try to sleep, so she did what she always did when her mind was getting the better of her; she put herself to work. Since she didn't have any cases to work on (or a job at all, she thought wistfully), she cleaned.
By five that morning, Tess had her laundry caught up and two clean bathrooms to show for it. Afterwards, she got ready for the day ahead of her and headed to Felonious.
When she arrived at just past six thirty, she saw another vehicle parked at the curb. She knocked at the door and the usual au pair minions let her in. They were named Jerry and Stewart and apparently really liked her and started requesting hugs whenever she came and left.
After doting on the minions, she found Felonious in the kitchen with an elderly woman she guessed was his mother. They were both seated around the kitchen table with nearly empty cups of coffee and full, but ignored, plates of food.
His mother was a short woman with angular features and a curly, grey beehive updo and red glasses. Tess was surprised to see that the older woman was wearing, of all things, red Converse shoes. From what Felonious told Tess about her, she was a bit of spit fire.
Felonious himself looked dapper in a black suit and tie. Tess had to stop the inappropriate thoughts that instantly popped into her head that stemmed from how good he looked.
"Good morning," she greeted, upon entering the room and sat down next to Felonious.
"Mom, this is Tess."
"So you're the one my son never shuts up about." Her accent was just as thick as Felonious'.
Felonious groaned and slumped back against his seat, covering his face with his hand.
"Hello, I'm Tess Sutterfield. It's nice to meet you," She said politely.
"Marlena Gru, my son tells me you have helped him Agnes."
"I did what I could." She said modestly.
Tess could tell Marlena was interrogating her, "I also know that you work for the Federal Bureau of Investigations and that you are investigating my son."
She knew Marlena was alluding to the possibility that Tess was only with Felonious for information for her case. "I was.I lost my job because I refused to work on his case."
Marlena was visibly taken back. "Oh." was all she could say.
"Tess, would you come with me?" Felonious asked.
Tess nodded and followed him down to the lab. She followed him to the back and into a room that looked to be his office. From a drawer in the desk, he pulled out a manila folder with his name at the top. Tess began to wonder…
"A few days ago, your replacement was hired and assigned my case. This person starts today. Last night, I took your files," he said, gesturing with the folder, "and replaced them phonies with false information."
She took the files and looked through them, even though there was nothing different about them. "You had better not have made me look like an idiot in the false reports." Tess said tersely.
Felonious put his hands up, "Of course not. I wrote the false information myself and not the minions."
"Well, I guess that's one less thing to worry about."
This only bought them time. If the new criminologist was smart, he or she would make a move using what they thought was Tess' notes and information. And smarter still, if they went in with heavy backup from the National Guard. Once this person found out all the information was wrong, a new case would have to be built from scratch and to have the National Guard brought in was another can of worms. Approval from Chief Daniels to even contact the National Guard was required and he would have to go over the case with a fine toothed comb (which could take weeks). Then everything on the Guard's part had to be done which could take months, especially if the suspect was not an immediate threat like Felonious. By Tess' calculations, Felonious had roughly a year to figure out what he was going to do.
Tess got lucky with the information Hattie Smith gave her and effectively put her on the right track. Since all the child abuse, endangerment and neglect was struck from his file, they no longer had that lead. Without an address (which Hattie Smith could have provided) to stake out, a criminologist could stumble in the dark for weeks just trying to findtheir suspect to discern a pattern. Anyone who knew anything about Felonious was too afraid of him to talk. She doubted that they would show up at the courthouse, she was fairly certain she was the only one of them knew of this event.
Felonious looked at a clock on the wall and stiffened. He took Tess' hand and said "Come on, I need to get Agnes up and ready."
She nodded and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
When they emerged from the lab, Margo and Edith were sitting on the couch in their pajamas, watching cartoons. As Felonious went upstairs, she could tell by the looks on their faces that their minds were on more important matters. Jerry and Stewart looked absolutely depressed, sitting on the floor, defeated. She had never seen any of the minions act anything but happy and rambunctious. The ferocious Kyle was hiding under an end table with only his tail was visible. He could sense something was up by the mood and thick energy in the room and that spelt trouble.
Tess could hear Marlena in the kitchen washing the dishes. Tess was willing to bet that she was like Marlena; they would rather put themselves to work than let their minds wonder.
Tess sat down on her knees in front of Margo and Edith and took their hands.
"Everything will be ok. I promise." She said, looking each of them in the eyes. Margo began to sob but Edith remained silent, only allowing a single tear to escape. Tess reached up and hugged them both, placing a kiss on their foreheads. Still holding their hands, she brought them closer together so all three pairs were in the middle. "You will always have your father. You will always shave me. You will always have each other." She said.
Tess had no idea what was going to happen. She didn't know if it'd be good or bad, but she knew that she and Felonious' would do everything they possibly could to keep everyone together, lawfully or not.
Tess heard Felonious' heavy footfalls coming down the stairs. She turned and saw Agnes' dressed in a dark blue dress, holding onto her father for dear life, her head buried him his shoulder. Tess' heart clenched at the thought having to separate her and Felonious. Marlena would be at the courthouse with her son and granddaughter, both more than likely sequestered outside the courtroom.
"She's not going to let go." Felonious said, trying to put Agnes down.
"I WANT MOM TO GO!" Agnes yelled.
Everyone froze for a split second. Agnes called Tess mom. At that moment, Tess fell in love with those three girls and became their mother.
"I will sit with her and Marlena until she calms down." Tess said.
Felonious nodded, "Will you two be ok until she returns?" he asked Edith and Margo.
They quietly nodded.
"Ok. Well, let's go." Felonious said, taking a calming breath, but everyone felt like they were walking to their own gallows.
It was Tess' first time riding in the tank but took no joy from it. They were not headed a fun place. Marlena drove Tess' car since Tess doubted her ability to drive the tank back and Agnes wouldn't let Tess out of her sight for even the unbearably short drive to the courthouse.
As soon as they reached the courthouse, Tess saw Cassie and her family. She was dressed in a dress that looked like it came straight of a Hot Topic shelf and large sunglasses, probably nursing a hangover, looking every bit of her young, inexperienced age. Her parents looked like unfriendly rich folks.
Tess suddenly stopped her train of thought. Why was she vilifying these people? They weren't doing anything evil. Cassie just wanted her daughter back and her parents were doing everything they could to help their daughter. There was nothing wrong about it, only that they did not understand that it was not best for Agnes.
A large group of men, dressed in black suits with black sunglasses and black leather suitcases walked side by side, only looking straight in front of them, confidently up to Felonious. They were Felonious' lawyers. They were so focused they were nearly robotic and it was nearly comical.
Tess knew that everything they did was well planned and thought out to play with their opponent's mind and caused fear and self-doubt. They dressed similar and walked together to show they were a unified front and walked Felonious to the courtroom in front of him.
Outside of the courtroom, Felonious was somehow able to extricate Agnes and handed her to Marlena. Tess walked up to Felonious and straightened his tie and smoothed out the lapels on his suit jacket.
"It'll be ok." She said as she kissed him.
Just as they parted, the doors to the courtroom opened. Felonious hugged his mother and Agnes one last time and squeezed Tess' hand as entered the courtroom with his lawyers. Cassie and her family followed closely with her lawyer. The large wooden doors of the courtroom closed loudly, leaving her, Marlena and Agnes in the hallway, sitting on a hard bench.
As soon as Tess sat down, Agnes jumped from Marlena to Tess, burying her head in the crook of Tess' neck. Tess cradled her little body despite the unsettling feeling of a police officer standing with his eyes unwaveringly on Agnes. If Felonious lost Agnes' custody, that man would swoop in and take Agnes from Tess and hand her over to Cassie. He watched to make sure neither Tess nor Marlena tried to kidnap Agnes.
"Do you think he has a shot?" Marlena asked quietly, referring to Felonious and Agnes' custody.
"I have no idea."
Not long after everyone vanished into the courtroom, Tess could easily hear what was going on. She could hear Felonious' angry voice yelling, Cassie wailing uncontrollably and the voice of Cassie's lawyer arguing with all seven of Felonious'. Tess jumped when the sudden sound of the gavel being banged repeatedly stopped the yelling. Judge Mumford's voice thundered over everyone else's. The courts were really between a rock and hard place. It was either to send the girl to her biological mother who couldn't provide for her solely or let her stay with her adoptive father who was convicted of murder.
Tess soon realized that Agnes was fast asleep and took this as an opportunity to return to the older girls. She carefully handed her to Marlena and kissed the little girl on her forehead, fearing she'd never see her again.
As soon as she returned to the older girls, she busied herself with preparing them breakfast that they didn't really eat. Tess didn't blame them. Not even Kyle would eat the leftovers or Jerry or Stewart, so she had Jerry take the rest down to the lab to the minions that had no idea what was going on and thus not sick with worry. After the dishes were clean, Tess found herself with nothing left to do. She was left to her thoughts and that terrified her. She couldn't clean because it wasn't her house and because Felonious kept it very clean. She wasn't sure if the girls had homework or if they did, did they finish it? She would have had them do that and help them, but she didn't want to stress them. All that she could do was sit down with the girls and watch TV.
It was dusk when Tess heard the familiar engines of the tank. Tess couldn't bring herself to look over her shoulder and if Agnes was there, but Edith and Margo already did. They looked out the window, gasped and ran outside. To Tess, that reaction could go either way. Bracing herself, she stood up and followed the girls.
Outside, Agnes was right there in the middle of her sisters, receiving the biggest hug of her life. Felonious and Marlena stood closed by, looking as though they had been through a war or two, but relieved. Tess herself suddenly felt like she had been through war.
Tess slowly walked up to everyone, not really believing her eyes.
"Oh, Agnes," She said, about to cry.
"Mommy!" Agnes exclaimed, running up to Tess.
She caught Agnes and in that moment, Tess felt like she wouldn't let this child, or any of those girls, go for the world.
Turning to Felonious she asked, "So what did Judge Mumford say?"
"I believe the American expression is, 'he hung her out to dry.'" He said with a smug look.
"Really?" Tess asked.
"Even I thought he was harsh. He called her irresponsible and selfish, not just for trying to take Agnes but for driving last night. He said it was all a giant waste of his time." Felonious explained.
Tess honestly felt bad for Cassie, but she was done with all this nonsense. Jerry and Stewart heard the commotion and ran outside, even though they probably weren't allowed to. Agnes quickly forgot about the adults and turned her attention to the two minions who never looked so happy.
Felonious walked over to Tess, picked her up and spun her around. Placing her on the ground, he kissed her. "Thank you." was all he could say.
Later that night, Marlena had gone home and the girls were in bed. Edith tried to get them to let her and sisters have one more day off from school as a 'celebration.' Felonious and Tess were downstairs, sitting on the couch in each other's arms.
"What do think of Agnes' declaration?" Felonious asked, alluding to Agnes calling Tess mom.
"What do you think?" Tess asked. Given the opportunity, Tess wouldn't hesitate to adopt those girls at that moment, but she didn't want to overstep her boundaries. She and Felonious had only been 'courting' for a few days.
"Are you going anywhere?" Felonious countered.
"No." Tess said candidly.
"Then I can't think of a better woman to be their mother."
A/N:Don't worry, folks! It's not over yet!