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Chapter 18

A young woman in her early twenties entered the reception area. “Mr. Cantrell will see you now, Mrs. Roark. His office is the second door on the right.”

Charles stood when she entered his office. “Sorry about the wait, Ginny. I had an emergency phone call that I needed to take care of.”

“No need for an apology. While I was waiting, I read an article in Southern Living. As much as I enjoy reading, I rarely have free time these days.” She drank in the richness of her surroundings. “Your office is amazing, very professional but also comfortable and beautifully designed. The offices at Roark & Erikkson are adequate but I sometimes feel that a little color and style would make the offices more cheerful.”

He gestured to the visitor’s chair. “You sound like my wife Nell. Ten years ago, the firm’s offices were in a historical building over on Lincoln. The building needed updating, but I liked its charm. My partners and Nell argued that we’d bring in more clients if the firm moved to a more convenient location and hired a decorator to add a touch of sophistication to our offices. We did manage to bring in a few new clients, but I like to think that we were hired because we are capable attorneys, not because we have expensive tastes.”

Ginny laughed. “I like to think that you can have charm and style. I would have pegged you as a person who liked new and sophisticated.”

“Maybe in New Holland, but here in Summerfield, I lean toward architecture and decor that is more in keeping with a historical community. Besides, expensive doesn’t necessarily mean quality.”

“Amen. We are in full agreement. Your values are very much in line with mine.”

He laughed. “I take it that your initial impression of me wasn’t positive. Ruth called me the day after the dinner party and chided me for acting like a stuffed shirt. If I did, I apologize.”

“It was an odd evening. I wasn’t happy to be there, and I sensed that everybody at the dinner table had similar feelings.”

“As much as I hate to admit it, that’s a fair assessment. I had read Nick’s glowing assessment of you, but there hadn’t been time to verify the information. And despite Julie’s death certificate, I was leery of the information concerning her death. Six months before your arrival at Ruth’s door, she received a report from a private investigator that didn’t mention Julie’s illness. Ruth was shocked by the news, and skeptical of you, the bearer of bad news.”

“I can understand why she questioned the validity of the information. Julie was a vibrant individual. I hadn’t seen her in years, so when an unknown lawyer showed up at my door with news that she was deceased, I was skeptical. I don’t think any of us anticipate death in someone so young.

“According to Julie’s friend Abigail, Julie worked up until the week before she died. Abigail was terribly concerned about Julie’s loss of weight and sallow complexion, but Julie didn’t tell her about the doctor’s diagnosis until the very end. Because she hid her illness from friends and her employer, it’s not surprising that the PI sent Ruth a positive report.”

“I like to think that I’m open-minded, and yet I showed up at Ruth’s with a chip on my shoulder. I assumed she was callous or didn’t care about her great granddaughter. And, I misjudged you. When I learned that Nick’s ex-wife was your daughter, I questioned your ability to be objective in a case that he was involved in. He assured me that you were a professional.”

“For obvious reasons, I don’t discuss Nick and Susan’s marriage and divorce. I adore my daughter, but I know her strengths and weaknesses. Nick is too hard on himself. Susan loves David. She has since she was a teenager. The truth is, the her marriage to Nick was a mistake. They will both tell you that, so I’m not talking out of school.

“My concern with their relationship has to do with the present. She still consults Nick when she has issues that she can’t solve on her own. I would be happier if she consulted David or me, but David is the one who needs to put a stop to it. Enough of that. You are not here to discuss my daughter and her ex. I assume that you’re here to talk about Sean Kendrick’s parents.”

She nodded. “Yes. Since you know them, I need your input. They want to meet Molly. I am in favor of a meeting, but I need to know what to expect. What are their expectations? Have they accepted Sean’s decision to give up his parental rights? If so, is there a chance that will consider adopting Molly?”

“In the past, Tom and Beth were home bodies. When his company offered him a position in their London office, he was reluctant to say yes because of the five-year contract that was part of the deal. The offer was tempting because of the money. He and Beth are secure financially, but the financial burden of retirement can be scary. They felt that more money would lessen their anxiety.

“When Sean went to his mom with the news that he had a child, she was ready to pack up and come back to Summerfield. Tom wasn’t willing to break his contract, and she didn’t want to come back without him.”

“So, is their plan to take Molly to London when they return?”

“No. There is political unrest where they live. Because of the trauma Molly has already suffered, they believe that their London neighborhood is not a good place for her to live and go to school. They discussed putting her in a boarding school, but decided against that option. They believe that she would be better off in a family environment.

“After a lot of soul-searching, Sean is convinced that Molly needs to remain with you. Beth has reservations.”

“I can understand her anxiety. I think that it would be a good idea for them to visit my home, but there is an issue. Because of my own loss, I’m not sure that I’m emotionally able to effectively deal with the unpleasantness that is inevitably part of a court battle. What will happen if I decide that I don’t want to move ahead with adoption proceedings?”

“Is that a possibility?”

“I can’t rule it out. As you know, I didn’t want to contact Ruth. Initially, taking Molly into my home wasn’t an option. Julie was little more than an acquaintance, not a cherished friend. I’m a teacher, so I tend to get in over my head when I hear about a vulnerable child who is in trouble. Molly’s story touched me. And now . . . here I am contemplating an adoption. That’s a huge leap of faith.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t imagine that you would have knocked on Ruth’s door if you’d known what you were getting into.”

“I admit that I didn’t have a high opinion of the Northrop’s. I assumed that there were underlying circumstances that drove Julie away from home. I expected Ruth to be bullheaded and opinionated, and Christine to be self-centered and vindictive. What I didn’t anticipate, was learning that Christine had mental issues. But, who’s to say that if Ruth handled the failed family relationships differently that the outcome would have been any different?

“Julie was a good mother, and Molly is an exceptional child. In my book, that’s really all that matters.”

“I agree. Ruth’s guilt was a heavy burden for her. She was convinced that she failed her daughter and granddaughter. Even in this day and age, mental health issues aren’t openly discussed. Christine’s therapist warned Ruth and George that signs of a psychotic disorder typically began to appear in the late teens or early adulthood. George, in particular, couldn’t accept that Christine’s condition was serious.”

“Teresa Kesler was a longtime friend of Christine’s. I plan to meet her at Simon’s Coffee House at two. It will be interesting to hear how her perspective differs from family members perspective.

"Molly’s impression of her grandma wasn’t positive. She has been asking questions that I don’t know how to answer. I’m hoping that Teresa will be able to tell me what Christine was like before she became ill. I would like to be able to share a few positive things about Christine.”

Charles nodded. “Good idea. I know Teresa. She’s a lovely person. She and Christine were joined at the hip when they entered high school. She made excuses for Christine’s behavior for a long time, but I think she’s finally broken ties with her.”

“According to Gwen, she has, but she’s willing to talk to me.”

“I know from experience that it is difficult to watch a friend make mistakes. As George and Ruth’s lawyer, and friend, I was there during the down times and the up times during Christine’s escapades. So many of their disappointments and frustrations were related to Christine’s mental condition.

“She was an adorable, but precocious child. George and Ruth adored her. They attributed her erratic behavior to the rape incident, but Nell and I noticed changes in her personality long before she was raped. There were rumors that she she’d been hanging out with Kevin, the rapist, for months. If the rumors are true, it’s possible that she was participating in unacceptable behavior.”

“Charles, if I decide to go ahead with the adoption, how do you think that Christine will react? Can she demand visitation rights? What about the Kendrick’s if they decide that they want a grandchild? Sean and Katie don’t want children now, might never want children. Will the Kendrick’s be able to petition the court to reverse the adoption?”

“The court won’t grant Christine visitation rights, but it is possible for the Kendrick’s to petition the court. For that reason, you need to make sure they sign papers granting permission for you to adopt Molly.”

“That’s what I thought.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m running out of time, but I have one more topic we need to discuss. How’s the investigation into the fire at Ruth’s going? Any suspects?”

“Two of Ruth’s neighbors reported seeing a stranger lurking about in the neighborhood. Their descriptions were the same, but the police haven’t been able to identify the man. I would like to tell you that the fire bug will be brought to justice, but I don’t see that happening."

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