Katherine chewed thoughtfully on her carrot while she watched John chop an onion at the sink. He was trying to avoid crying over it but not doing well. Katherine laughed at the comical sight of John, two matchsticks protruding from either side of his mouth, trying to talk through pursed lips. “Does that work?”
John shook his head and removed the matchsticks. “I read about it somewhere, but no—it doesn’t appear to be working.”
She giggled and sat up straight. “Assign me a job,” she said.
They were making dinner together, or rather, John was making dinner, but all she had done so far was watch.
“Pour me some wine,” John said.
“That’s hardly contributing to the dinner.”
He shrugged. “After that, you can cut up the broccoli and grate the parmesan cheese.”
She jumped down from the counter and carried out each task in the order John had dictated. By the time she got to the cheese, John was dropping fettuccine noodles in a pot of boiling water.
He turned at her approach. “If we were at my house, I’d make fresh fettuccine with my pasta maker. Your kitchen is too primitive.”
“You’re lucky you found pots and pans.” She held out his glass to him.
He took it gratefully and held it up. “Here’s to friends.”
Katherine touched her glass to his. Their hands brushed, and they looked at each other. Either the wine had relaxed her that much, or John was incredibly handsome that day because she blushed like a schoolgirl.
“Are you okay?” John asked in a lowered tone.
Katherine nodded and chuckled nervously. “I’ll set the table.”
She set down her glass, pulled two plates from the cupboard and two place settings from a drawer. She carried them into the dining room and placed them on the table.
John emerged from the kitchen carrying a large bowl of pasta. “Coming through,” he said, and Katherine stepped aside.
“That looks delicious.”
“Let’s eat,” John said.
Katherine put a bite into her mouth, closed her eyes, and chewed slowly. “Mmm, this is fabulous.”
John raised his eyebrows and grinned in satisfaction. “You like?”
Katherine shook her head. “I love.”
As they ate their meal, John broached a subject that had been weighing on his mind. “Katherine, there’s something about Brenda Cooper that doesn’t sit right with me.”
Katherine stopped chewing, swallowed, and said, “You mean aside from the fact she’s an abused gold-digger.”
“Beyond that,” he said. “It’s more about her relationship with her children.”
She reached for her wineglass and took a sip. “What about it?”
“It’s not there. Have you ever noticed the children don’t seem to warm to her? They just seem to be there when she is around. When they see their father, however, their faces light up.”
Katherine pondered the question. She had noticed something was a bit off but had dismissed it. She didn’t know much about children and figured maybe their response was normal. As a child, she had certainly lit up every time her father walked into a room.
“I had Beth check her out. She couldn’t find anything beyond the glowing praises the newspaper gave her. Even the school teachers and principal seem to adore her.”
“Hmm,” John said.
“What?” Katherine asked.
He shook his head. “I think I’ll dig a little deeper.”
She looked at him and shook her head. “She’s our client. Are we sure we want to know if there’s anything else?”
“What if there really is something amiss in the household?”
“She’s our client,” Katherine repeated.
“They’re just children,” John pointed out.
“And she’s their mother.”
“John, look, I know you mean well, and if it makes you feel better, knock yourself out.” She pointed her fork at him. “Just remember who is paying our bill. We have a legal and moral obligation to represent her to the best of our abilities. I don’t know if I can do that if you find out she’s some Godzilla mother.” She tipped her head sideways. “Can you?”
They were just finishing their meal, John stuffing the last bit of garlic bread into his mouth when the phone rang.
“I wonder who that could be,” Katherine said.
John watched her get up and walk across the dining room. She entered the living room, where the phone stood on a round table covered with a light floral print and topped with a delicate lace table topper. Katherine had once told him it had been a wedding gift to her parents. He loved that about her—how nostalgic she was.
He saw her lift the phone. He could not hear to whom she was speaking, but he could see her talking. She was so beautiful and didn’t even know it. He was lucky to have her as such a good friend. Peter Winters’s comment at the courthouse came back to him. Wake up boy, before she gets away.
Katherine hung up the phone, missing the cradle as her hands shook. She reseated it and walked quickly to the table. “We have to go.”
John stood and frowned. “Who was that?”
“It was Beth,” she said. “She’s been arrested.”
“For what?” John asked.
John’s eyes went wide with disbelief. “No way.”
Katherine nodded. “We have to go.” She began to clear plates from the table.
“You warned her not to talk, right?” John said, rising and helping her clear.
She gave him a sardonic look.
“We both know Beth,” he said in defense.
They stacked the dishes in the sink, put away the leftovers, and rushed out the door.
Katherine had alerted Tony to their situation, and he had Katherine’s car waiting for them at the front curb. He saw them rushing toward the door. He opened it, so they were free to dash to the car unencumbered.
John watched her while she drove. The stress of the situation set her jaw firm. Her eyes misted slightly from the emotions of having a friend in need. Even from this angle, she was beautiful.
Katherine saw him watching her from her peripheral vision. She chanced to take her eyes off the road for a few seconds to look at him. “How could she get herself into so much trouble in just a few short hours?”
“She’s Beth,” John said in reply.
They let the silence descend, separating them like a black abyss. John didn’t like it. He reached over and picked up Katherine’s hand, squeezing it in support, pulling them back together.
She smiled, noting—not for the first time—how wonderful and natural it felt to have John hold her hand.
When she was a little girl, a frequent and recurring nightmare of her mother’s murder had frightened her. Her father would sit next to her on her bed, stroke her hair with one hand, and hold her hand with the other. The gesture was soothing, protective as if nothing bad in the world could touch her—as long as he held her hand. It felt that way now with John.
John had often held her hand in the past: walking from the habitual restaurant, a squeeze and lingering hold when she felt stressed, walking along the beach, silent as two friends could be—the extension of their hands communicating what their words did not.
Now, with the darkness stretching between them, his hand linked them, safe passage from the world of worry, to the land of optimism.
She smiled, did not look at him, but said, “I love you, John.”
At the utterance of her words, John’s heart stilled. She had said the statement many times before they hung up from one of their last minute bedtime chats. A light, “I love you,” and his replied, “I love you, too,” before hanging up the phone, punch in the arm followed by, “I love you, you big dummy,” whenever he said something audacious. They each said these statements with the love of two friends deep in touch with the other’s feelings. This last profession of love had come from within her heart, not the surface love, but the love that came from deep inside.
He stroked her hand, “I love you, too, Katherine.”
When they finally arrived at the police station, John was reluctant to let go of her hand. Katherine laughed. “I need that hand to put the car in gear.” When he let go, he felt a severing of a cord, one that tethered him to a life he never thought he would find.
They found the duty sergeant, who recognized them both and said, “You’re here to see Elizabeth Chandler, I assume.” He led them down a hallway laden with photos of past police captains, many of whom Katherine recognized from social gatherings at her father’s house. As many times as she had walked this hallway, passed these photos proudly displayed, she was not prepared for the feeling of dread that hit her stomach.
The last time Katherine felt this way was five years ago when they had arrested Beth for drug possession. She was hooked up with Jack Cole then. What was going to be her excuse this time?
She saw her through the window as they approached the door. She was slumped in a chair, her eyes wild with fright, red-rimmed and swollen from crying. She held a tissue in her hand, wadded up from constant squeezing and wringing.
She looked up when the door opened, relief flowing to her eyes. “Oh, Katherine, thank God you’re here. I don’t think I could stand another moment of this.”
John asked the officer to excuse them for some privacy, and then he and Katherine took the two chairs opposite Beth. “Start from the beginning,” he said.
“I don’t know what to say,” she began. “One minute I was driving home from the pool hall, and the next minute I was behind these bars. I can’t believe he did this to me again.”
Katherine narrowed her eyes, “Who did this to you?”
“Jack Cole?” Katherine asked as if they knew so many Jacks.
Beth nodded. “Ironically, he was waiting for me when I left your office a few hours ago. Remember, we were talking about him?” Katherine nodded. “Well, he was there in the parking garage, waiting for me. He said he wanted to talk about Timmy.” She lowered her eyes. “I hate to admit I was weak, but I was, at least at first. I let him talk me into having a drink with him, but as I sat next to him—looking into those seductive eyes of his, I had flashbacks from our previous relationship together. I got up and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I was so angry and needed time to deal with it. When I got back, he was talking to some police officer. It made me angry, and I wondered. Is he the kind of man you want in your life? So I grabbed my purse and left. The next thing I knew, I was here. The only thing I can think of is Jack must have put the drugs in my purse when I used the restroom. I don’t know why he did, but it couldn’t have happened any other time.”
Katherine shook her head in disbelief. “So, Jack’s back?”
“I’m afraid so,” Beth said, “And I can’t believe I let my guard down so easily.” She looked at Katherine and then at John. “Can we fix it?”
“We’ll certainly try,” John said. “Do you have any idea where we can reach Jack? Did he leave you a number?”
“I was so angry when I left, and that cop was standing there all self-righteous and coming to my rescue. I will bet that is why Jack did it. He probably was afraid of them catching him with it on him. I’m pretty sure Jack will contact me. He wants to see Timmy. Besides that, he thinks I have his package.”
“Okay. I don’t think I can get you out tonight. It’s too late to rouse a judge. I don’t have to tell you that, but I’ll certainly give it a try.”
“I understand. Can you do me a favor and pick up Timmy? The babysitter is probably frantic with worry.”
“Katherine, you take care of Timmy, and I’ll see about getting Judge Wainwright to issue bail tonight. He and I are pretty tight,” John said.
“Thank you, John,” Beth said. “I owe you guys so much.”
Katherine shook her head, laid her hand over Beth’s hand. “We are friends. What else would we do?”
“I know, but I’m grateful nonetheless.”
They rose in unison. A detective, who no doubt had been watching from the spectator’s room on the other side of the glass, entered and motioned to Beth. She followed without another word.
Katherine heaved a sigh. “She’s in deep this time.”
“We’ll get her out of it,” John said.
Katherine looked dubiously at him. “She had the package on her. How are we supposed to defend that?”
“We’ve had worse cases. Don’t you believe in honest justice anymore?”
“I guess I’m just shocked by the situation. Just this afternoon we were talking about Jack being released, and a few short hours later, Beth’s in jail because of him.” She sighed. “I’d better go and get Timmy.”
“Right—and I’ll make that phone call.”
Timmy was excited to see her. “Aunt Kat!” he screamed, running to her from his stack of Legos of which he had been playing.
Katherine laughed, marveling at how good the boy felt in her arms. She held him an arm’s distance away, looking at him. “My, you’ve grown so much since I last saw you,” she teased. “Do you want to come home with me?”
“Where’s Beth?” Karen asked, uncomfortable with letting Timmy go without a phone call from Beth.
Katherine rose to her feet, came face-to-face with the babysitter. “Beth’s held up with an emergency. She can’t get near a phone or she would have called herself. I’m on your pickup list,” Katherine said. “Go and check it if you want.”
Karen stared at her, doubtful. She was angry about having to work late without notice. She had plans that night and had to cancel them. After a moment, she softened. After all, this wasn’t the first time Katherine picked up the boy. She had surprised her that was all. Beth usually called if she was going to be this late. Then the boy’s grandfather usually picked him up. “I’m sorry. I hope Beth is all right.”
“She’ll be fine,” Katherine said. “Ready to go, Timmy?”
“I have to clean up first,” he said.
Katherine blushed, embarrassed that she hadn’t thought of that herself. “Of course you do. Here, let me help.”
By the time they finished picking up the Legos, Karen had returned carrying a car seat in her hand. “Here, you’re going to need this.”
Katherine took the car seat from her. “Thank you. And I’m sorry about this. Beth would have called if she could.”
Karen nodded. “I know. She’s always good about that. Is she truly okay?”
“She will be. She’s run into a little trouble.”
“Come on, Timmy. Are you hungry?”
“I fed him,” Karen said. “He ate meatloaf and mashed potatoes.”
Katherine glanced at her watch. “Of course,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Can I have ice cream now?” Timmy asked. “Miss Karen said I could have ice cream after dinner.”
Katherine looked at Karen for confirmation. She nodded.
“Okay, Timmy. We’ll stop on the way home.”
Katherine turned and reached for the doorknob. She turned back to Karen. “If someone named Jack Cole shows up, please don’t let him near Timmy.”
“So that’s what this is all about, Jack Cole?”
“You know about him?” Katherine asked.
Karen nodded. “Beth and I have spoken about him before. I know she was anxious about his release. You don’t have to worry. He’s on the list for no pickup.”
“Ready, Aunt Kat.”
Katherine handed Karen two twenties. “I am sorry about keeping you.”
Karen sighed and pushed back the money. “It’s okay. Really. I’m sorry for losing my temper.”
She opened the door, racing Timmy to the car. They arrived, Timmy tagging first. Katherine laughed. “You’re fast,” she said.
“Yep,” Timmy said, boasting. “Uncle Austin said I’m going to be a track star.”
“I just bet you will.”
Katherine buckled Timmy in and went around to the driver’s door. She glanced up just in time to see a car with a vaguely familiar face in it pull away from the curb. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked like Jack. She looked at Timmy. She would have to tell Beth about this, and warn Karen, too.
“Let’s go, Aunt Kat. I want ice cream.”
She climbed into the driver’s seat. “Sorry, Timmy.”
She pulled away from the curb and made a mental note to get a restraining order first thing in the morning.