Three months later
Ben was leaving the courthouse, not able to smile. His heart was beating louder and louder with every second in his chest, blood rushing through his ears, and he was about to faint, the stress and panic of the past months only slowing falling off his shoulders.
Even now, minutes after the judge had told them his decision, he could not believe what he heard.
It was over.
It was finally over.
The Rogers’ family had lost. The rich, posh, sophisticated people with the connection and friends in the right places had lost, and he, a kid without a family, without proper education, money, who had went into the hearings without any hope, had won.
His lawyer was close to him, putting a hand on his arm, and when Ben looked up, the older man had a smile on the kind face.
“You look pale,” the barrister said.
“I don’t feel so good,” he whispered.
“You should feel good,” the other man said.
“I know. It’s just…it feels so unreal.”
Now the lawyer nodded, looking down at the smaller and younger man, whose clear eyes still showed signs of insecurity and fear.
“I couldn’t have done this without you,” Ben continued, a hesitant smile on the lips, but the barrister shook his head, still smiling.
“No, you are wrong there, Ben,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without you. There are very few fathers who would fight like this. You gave your whole heart into this battle, and it paid out. You have really no idea how happy I am that we could turn the odds in our favor.”
Ben beamed at those words.
“You will pay for this!” Came a voice from behind them, down the wide stairs, and both men turned around, looking into the furious face of their opponent.
“You heard the judge,” Ben’s lawyer said. “Your daughter is incapable of caring for an infant child, my client is clearly the better choice.”
“Listen, Hamilton,” Mary’s father continued. “Your client is a drug addict man whore, who seduced my daughter with the plan of getting some money out of her, nothing else.”
Thomas Hamilton smiled lopsided and tilted his head.
“You were present in court, weren’t you, Mister Rogers? Then you should have paid attention. My client was cleared of any accusations you made against him, or more, that you tried to make against him. There were absolute no hints of drug use, there is a spotless criminal record, by the way, very different to that of your daughter who has been arrested for drug possession, indecent behavior and disorderly conduct. Not only the judge, but every thinking person would have granted custody to Mister Gunn, and I am very glad to say that there is nothing you can do against it.”
Rogers glared at the smug expression of the barrister, while Ben blinked with growing nervousness.
“I will have my lawyers file for appeal. Emily should grow up with her family.”
“I am her family,” Ben now chimed in, anger in his voice. “I’m her father. I doubt you even know which songs she likes or which food she prefers. If she meant so much to Mary, where is she?”
“She is upset and my wife is consoling her, thanks to you,” Rogers hissed.
“She is probably posting a heart wrenching Instagram story,” Hamilton said. “If you now excuse us, we are going to pick up Emmy from child services now and take her home. Good bye, Mister Rogers.”
Hamilton took Ben’s arm, while he gave Rogers a last look and lead his client down the stairs.
“Can he do that?” Ben asked.
“He can. And knowing him, he will. But there is no way that an appeal will change anything, Ben. Facts are facts. Mary Rogers is a terrible mother, and you are a good father. And if Rogers tries anything, be assured, you have my support.”
Ben nodded, looking at his feet and pulling a strand of his hair that had escaped his ponytail, behind his ear. He knew that Hamilton was a fantastic lawyer, decent and honest, with a sense of honor that his profession usually lacked, but he also knew that he would not be able to afford more hours of the barrister, not wanting to admit that he already emptied his account and was at the brink of a financial disaster. Now, he had to take care of his daughter, and he was happy about it. But the child would cost more money, meaning he would have to put in more hours in the bar, which meant he needed to hire a babysitter, meaning he needed more money.
“I know,” he said. “I just would like to just live with Emmy in peace.”
“We will do anything in our power to provide that for you.”
Ben’s smile was a little helpless, but not without hope.
While picking up Emmy from the social worker who was watching the child during the court hearings and who had been informed that she was to be handed over to her father and that the Rogers family was only allowed to see the child supervised, Hamilton had joked that Ben would be able to get the attention to every single women in the whole of England as a single dad with a cute daughter who giggled at the funny faces the barrister pulled at her.
And indeed, when Ben arrived at the nice playground he had seen a few days before while driving past the park in a bus, it took only minutes until the first woman approached him. He almost rolled his eyes at the not so subtle behavior of the woman who had to toddler sons that were keeping her busy. But the handsome young man with the adorable baby in his arms, had her distracted and she seemed to be torn between fussing about Emmy and flirting with her father.
Ben was tired and had taken place on one of the benches and looked at the playing children. He could not wait until Emmy was a little older, could walk and started to climb the stylized pirate ship on the playground that looked like so much fun. Several boys and girls were climbing ropes, screaming and laughing. He heard phrased shouted that he had heard in pirate movies he knew from his own childhood, and the children were in their own little world. Emmy was again giggling, the happy little girl she was with her butterfly shaped pacifier in her mouth and the large blue eyes, that already were so similar to his own, marking her down as his daughter without any doubt, were looking with excitement at the action that was taking place on the playground. Ben knew that she would not be able to understand what was going on there, but he could feel her excitement and he wished he could take her into the monkey bars, up the ropes, into the sand box to build a castle, or play hide and eek with her. He could not wait until his daughter was big enough to take part in this exciting world.
Emmy spat out her pacifier and it plopped to the ground. Different from other children Ben had witnessed, she did not start to cry, but looked in the same manner as her father down at the pacifier in the sand.
“Seriously?” Ben asked, chuckling, and Emmy giggled and hit him with a tiny fist, already acting so much like him that he sometimes was surprised.
Balancing his girl on his thigh, he leaned down and picked the pacifier up.
“Good thing I came prepared, huh?” He asked her and fished in the bag he had places next to him for the replacement and offered it to her. “Don’t spit it out again. We only have these two.”
Emmy suckled on the pacifier and blinked at her father, those huge eyes so pretty and innocent and full of love and trust that Ben’s heart was bursting with happiness and pride.
“She is such a cutie. Just like her daddy,” the women he almost had forgotten about said, and when he looked up, he saw her smiling a little too brightly at him. Instead of replying, he settled for a smile and touched Emmy’s blonde hair that he just knew would one day turn a darker shade like his own. Mary was a brunet with hazel eyes, but Emmy mirrored him in appearance and he was already curious what she would look like when she grew up. The idea that this tiny girl, that was only a few months old, would one day be a teenager, a woman, was so abstract to him that he could not quite bring himself to think of that. Only a few hours ago, he had not truly believed that he would be allowed in her life, yet alone see her grown up in his own care, and he knew that when they returned home, he would cry his eyes out.
“Robbie!” The woman suddenly screamed, making him wince and Emmy starting to get upset at the loud sound. She started to wail silently, but her baby brows knit together and showing first signs that she would start to cry. Immediately, Ben started to rock her in his arms, whispering her name over and over and pressing soft kisses to her hair until she had calmed a little. It was the only thing that upset her, loud voices, and he did not want to know what had caused that reaction in her.
“How old is she?”
Ben looked down and looked into the deep blue eyes of a little boy with blond curls. He wore a cute jeans overall and a striped t-shirt underneath, the feet in pink sneakers. The boy was chewing on his lower lip, like he was unsure if he had been allowed to talk to the strangers and shifted a little from one foot to the other.
“She’s nine months old,” he replied, still rocking Emmy, who was still fussing a little. “How old are you?”
“’m four,” he said, showing Ben proudly four fingers of his right hand. “’m Percy.”
Ben grinned and reached out with his right hand, that the boy inspected for a moment and then shook.
“Hi, Percy,” he said. “I’m Ben, and this is Emmy.”
“Tha’s a funny name.”
“Well, she’s called Emily, but she doesn’t really look like an Emily, does she?”
Percy seemed to be deep in thought for a second, and then shook his head.
“Nah, she doesn’t. She looks like an Emmy,” he agreed, making Ben grin even wider and laugh a little. “She’s pretty.”
Ben beamed with pride, a little surprised by the boy who had stopped his exciting game on the pirate ship to go and look at a baby he found to be pretty instead. What a strange and adorable little fellow.
“Yer her daddy?”
“Uh huh, I am.”
“Doesn’t she have a mommy?”
“She has, but she is not here.”
“Mah mommy and daddy are over there,” he said, pointing towards the benches on the other side of the playground and Ben followed to look, and froze.
The woman sitting on the bench was stunning, with long dark curls and a slightly tanned complexion, wearing a white blouse and jeans. She had a beautiful face even over the distance, and was talking, using her hands, to the man beside her, a picnic basket between them as well as a thermos, which both spoke of a family trip to the park, enjoying the sun.
Next to her was a tall man. He wore jeans as well, paired with a dark v-neck that hugged impressive muscles in all the right places, showing off strong arms, one of which were draped behind the woman over the back of the bench. His hair, a light brown, was cut short, almost a buzz cut, and he smiled, making him look happy and content in his family’s presence.
The smile that still followed Ben in his dreams.
Dreams that suddenly turned into a nightmare, realizing that the man of his dreams was married and unreachable for him.