In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 27

Katherine woke the next morning feeling sick to her stomach. “Oh, great,” she said, “I think I have food poisoning.” She lay in bed, hoping the nausea would abate. A few minutes later, she was vomiting into the toilet. “Not today.”

Rainbow entered the bathroom, took one look at her and meowed. She collapsed against the toilet and held her hand out to the cat. “Come here, Baby,” she said.

The cat trotted over and climbed onto her lap. “Mommy’s sick,” she said.

The cat meowed in agreement and settled into a ball. Katherine stroked the cat until she felt the urge to vomit again. Then she pushed aside the cat. Rainbow protested strongly with a loud meow and dashed from the room.

When it became apparent nothing else was going to come up, Katherine crawled to her bed and climbed back in. She felt the cat jump up on it and settle into a ball at the end of the bed. She certainly wasn’t going to get any work done, better to call in sick.

“Hey! What’s up?” Beth cheerily greeted when she answered the phone.

“I’ve got food poisoning.”

“Oh—bummer,” Beth said. “Want me to cancel all your appointments?”

“All except Clyde and Ariel. See if you can push them to the afternoon. I’m going to see if I can get an appointment with the doctor this morning. Maybe there’s something they can give me to stave off this vomiting.”

“Will do,” she said, and they severed the call.

The next call was to her doctor’s office. She waited impatiently while the phone rang, feeling the nausea return, hoping they’d be able to get her in right away.

“Good morning, Dr. Thompson’s office. How may I help you,” came the familiar, chirpy voice of the receptionist.

“Hi, Tina, this is Katherine Winters. I think I have a case of food poisoning. Can Dr. Thompson fit me in this morning?”

“All I have available is ten o’clock.”

“I’ll take it.”

She hung up the phone, rolled over, moaned, and then ran into the bathroom where she vomited again.

At nine o’clock, she dragged herself out of bed and into the shower. Her stomach, although still a little on the sensitive side, had begun to feel better, and she wasn’t showing any more signs of vomiting. “Could I be that lucky to have it over that fast, Rainbow?”

The cat swished her tail in response. Katherine laughed. “I’m off, little lady.”

She stopped to fill the food bowl on her way out. The cat heard the sound and came running. When Katherine caught sight of her pudgy, four-legged, fur-shedding child waddling down the hallway, she stopped when the bowl was half-full.

She left the cat devouring the food and made her way to the doctor’s office.

A cheery voice greeted her. “Hello, Katherine.”

“Hey, Tina,” Katherine returned. “Thanks for fitting me in.”

“No problem. You feel any better?”

“A little bit. At least I got here without vomiting all over my car.”

They both laughed, and Katherine sat down to wait her turn. The only available seat was next to a young woman with twin toddler girls and a new baby.

“He’s here for his first shots,” the woman explained, holding the infant up for Katherine to admire.

Katherine smiled. “That’s nice,” she said and wondered why the woman felt compelled to tell her this.

“He weighed nearly nine pounds!”

Katherine heard a commotion coming from the two girls and glanced their way. They were playing tug-o-war with a Barbie doll. She looked back at the woman. “I don’t know much about babies. Is that big?”

“It’s pretty big. I had to have a c-section.”

Katherine looked back at the girls, waiting for the moment they would clobber each other. Why didn’t the mother stop them? “How terrible,” she said.

The young mother grinned. “Not really. I got to stay in bed longer, which meant Arthur had to take charge of these two.” She nodded toward the unruly twins. “It was much easier when I had them. They were small, on account of the fact they were twins.”

Katherine glanced at the twins again, then back at the mother. “Is that right?” Katherine knew nothing about baby sizes but guessed it made sense they would be smaller since they only had so much room to grow inside their mother. Katherine looked back at the girls, just in time to see one of the girls become the victor of the argument. The little monster proceeded to take the Barbie doll she held in her hand and smacked her sister on the head. The other child let out a loud yell and started crying.

“Melody,” the mother scolded. “Tell your sister you’re sorry.” The woman looked around the room, addressing the room full of irritated people and smiled apologetically. “I tried to get a sitter,” she explained, “but nobody was available.”

“They’re not that bad,” Katherine lied.

At that point, the other twin decided to retaliate, snatched the Barbie from her sister’s hand, and smacked her back. The woman started to cry and thrust the baby at Katherine. “Would you mind?” she asked through her sobs. Not waiting for an answer, she deposited the baby in Katherine’s arms. She grabbed each girl by an arm and dragged her out the waiting room door.

“But…” Katherine protested, but the woman was already outside.

Katherine looked down at the sleeping baby, who didn’t seem to notice the shuffling in the least, and smiled.

“How many children do you have?” an older woman to her left asked.

“Leave her alone, Margaret,” a man beside her said. He held a magazine at eye level and didn’t bother to remove it before speaking.

The woman rolled her eyes and pointed at the man. “That’s my husband, Walter,” she explained. “He’s anti-social, so he thinks I should be, too.”

The man sighed heavily but made no other contributions to the conversation.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind,” Katherine said.

“He looks beautiful in your arms. You look like a natural mother.”

Katherine’s cheeks turned rosy. “Oh, I don’t have any children. I’m a lawyer.”

Walter lowered the magazine and looked at Katherine. “Is there some law against lawyers having children?”

Then all the people in the room started laughing. Katherine blushed again and laughed along with them. “I only meant I don’t have enough time to have children.”

Three women laughed harder, and Katherine turned toward them. One woman raised her hand, waving it in the air. “Annie Campbell, three children, full-time engineer.”

Another woman raised her hand. “Amy Trent, registered nurse, four children.”

The third woman said, “Betsy Howard, HR manager for St. Andrew’s Hospital—twin boys.”

Katherine’s mouth gaped. “And you all find time to do this?” She lifted the infant slightly, emphasizing his presence. They all nodded. “Wow,” Katherine said.

The woman reappeared with the two girls. She marched them to the middle of the room and said, “Tell them.”

The two girls looked down at the floor, swayed back and forth, and grabbed each other’s hand.

“Tell them,” the mother said more sternly this time.

“We’re sowwy,” they said in unison.

There were murmurs of acceptance, despite impatient glares. “Now sit over there until it’s our turn,” she said, pointing at a wall near the reception counter. The girls did as their mother said. She turned back to Katherine, her eyes softening as she looked at her son. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I sometimes swear being the mother of twins drives me crazy.”

She reached down to take back her son, and Katherine found she didn’t want to let go. “It was no problem,” she said. “I’m glad to have helped out.”

With reluctance, she shifted the baby’s weight to his mother’s arms. With the baby gone, her arms felt empty. She felt a tear sting her eye, and she blinked it back.

The door opened, and the nurse called the little family into the exam room. “Come, girls,” the mother called, and the two of them snapped to attention and followed behind.

The door shut with a soft thud that made Katherine jump. Her heart pounded, and the noises in the room became distant. She reached down and caressed the arm that had held a little life only a moment before and felt the emptiness.

When she looked up, Margaret was staring at her, a knowing smile on her face.

***

Inside the exam room, Katherine waited for Dr. Thompson with a sad heart. She thought of the baby, whose name she did not even know, and remembered John’s words so many months ago. “We’re lawyers. We don’t have time for children.” Other people did. Why couldn’t she?

Dr. Thompson entered the room. “Hello, Katherine.”

“Hi, Dr. Thompson.”

She glanced at Katherine’s chart. “Food poisoning, huh?”

“I think so.”

“Get hold of some bad fish or something?”

“Chicken, I think.”

“You told Carol you have nausea and vomiting. Any diarrhea?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Stomach pain?”

She shook her head again. “Neither of those things.”

“Hmm.”

“Well, anyway—I think I probably wasted your time this morning. I’m feeling much better.”

“You still look a bit peaked.” She scanned her file. “It looks as if you’re a bit overdue for a physical. Since you’re here, why don’t we do one now?”

Katherine looked at her watch. Dr. Thompson put a hand on her arm. “Katherine, slow down. Take time for this.”

She nodded. “I have been feeling a bit rundown lately. I thought I might need some vitamins or something. Maybe you could give me one of the B12 shots. It worked the last time.”

She nodded. “We’ll see. Let’s just see what’s going on first. We’ll need a urine sample and some blood.”

She thought about protesting but realized she had been feeling rundown. It would be good to find out what was wrong. She nodded.

Dr. Thompson put a gown on the exam table and escorted her to the nurse’s station. “Brenda will help you. I’ll see you in a bit.” Then she disappeared into another room.

Katherine peed in a cup and sat nervously waiting for the needle stick when Marcy went to extract blood.

“All done, you can look now,” she said, grinning.

“So, I’m a baby,” Katherine said, smiling innocently.

“I’ll put you back in the same room, and you can undress.”

The doctor came in a few moments later. Katherine was sitting on the table, thumbing—but not reading—through a magazine.

“All set?” Katherine nodded. “Lie back and relax. You know the drill.”

Katherine sat back and put her feet up in the stirrups, letting her legs fall to the side as Dr. Thompson did a pelvic exam, feeling around, checking size and location of internal organs. When she finished, she snapped off her gloves and washed her hands. “We’ll do a breast exam now,” she said. She pulled down one side of Katherine’s gown and palpated the area. Katherine winced when she touched her. “Sore?” Dr. Thompson asked.

“Yes,” Katherine said. “I’m getting ready for my period, so I’ve been a little tender lately.”

“I see. I’ll be right back. You can get dressed now.”

She disappeared, returning a few minutes later. Katherine was reading a poster on prenatal growth when the doctor walked in. She turned and smiled. When she saw Dr. Thompson’s expression, her smile faded. Dr. Thompson eyed Katherine with a serious expression. “Um, Katherine,” she said, “When was your last period?”

Katherine thought. “About six weeks ago.”

“So you’re late?”

“A little,” she said, “but I’m not surprised. I skipped a pill this month, so I’ve been thrown off schedule a bit.”

“What would you say if I told you you’re not going to start your period for, oh, about another eight months?”

Katherine narrowed her eyes at her suspiciously. She took a step toward her. “Are you telling me...?”

Dr. Thompson interrupted her with a nod. “That’s where I went a few moments ago. I had Brenda run a pregnancy test on the urine sample you gave us.” She grinned. “You’re going to be a mother, Katherine.”

Katherine’s eyes grew wide, and her mouth fell open. A million thoughts soared through her head at once: How could this happen? What should she do now? How would she handle a baby and working? And speaking of which, what was the company policy on maternity leave? Would she need a nanny? Should it be a live-in, or a report for duty at seven a.m. nanny? Who would get up with the baby if she didn’t have a live-in? Certainly, she couldn’t function well in court if she was up all night with a crying baby. What would John think? Oh dear, John…he didn’t want children. Wasn’t he the one who had convinced her she was too busy for children?

“Katherine?” Dr. Thompson said.

She shook her head to clear it. “Are you sure?”

“Your breasts are tender, and your uterus is enlarged. I’d say you’re about five to six weeks along.”

Katherine thought about Timmy, and about the baby that she had held in the waiting room. She imagined herself growing large, John rubbing her belly and talking to the baby. Then she remembered how empty her arms had felt when the baby’s mother lifted him from them. She smiled and giggled.

“You’re happy about this, then?”

Her grin grew wide. “Oh, yes!”

“Well, you appear to be in excellent health. We’ll get the blood tests back just to double check, but I think you’re on your way to a healthy pregnancy. Do you have any questions?”

Katherine stared in awe. Did she have questions? She had a million questions. “That’s it—just like that, I’m having a baby?”

Dr. Thompson laughed. “Yes, just like that. You did all the preparation.”

“I’m still in shock.”

“What about the father. Is he going to be as excited?”

She shook her head. “I have no idea. What about my age—is that going to be a problem?”

“Not at all. Many women are postponing motherhood until their thirties. Some even wait until they’re forty. We’ll want to do some additional tests, but you’re still very young. Everything is going to be fine.” She placed her hand over Katherine’s, smiling into her face. “Congratulations, Mommy.”

“Mommy!” Katherine laughed. “That sounds so odd.”

Dr. Thompson walked to the door, put her hand on the knob, and turned it. “Get used to it. I’ll see you again in four weeks. Marcy will bring you some prenatal vitamins and get you set up for your next visit.”

***

Katherine walked from the doctor’s office in a stupor. All the way back to the office she kept touching her abdomen, wondering about the inhabitant resting in there. Was it a boy? A girl? Would it look like her or John? Did it have blue eyes or green eyes? Would it inherit both of their drive for work? Would they be too busy to give it the attention it needed? Oh dear, and what about preschool? She had overheard some of the other lawyers talking in the lunchroom about how hard it was to find a decent preschool—and about how long the waiting lists were.

She walked by Beth’s desk without even saying hello. She dropped her purse on a table and flopped down on the couch. Her hands automatically traveled to her belly. Would she do that the entire time?

Beth came in and stood before her. “Feeling better?”

She nodded absently. “When are Ariel and Clyde due?”

“Ariel in an hour, Clyde can’t make it until tomorrow.”

She nodded. “I guess I’d better get started.” She rose and walked to her desk.

“Are you all right?”

Katherine smiled. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine.”

“Here’s Ariel’s file. Um, Katherine, have you seen this yet?”

She took the file and opened it, shaking her head. “All I know is she shot her father. Is he dead?”

“He may as well be. He’s in a coma and the doctors don’t expect him to come out of it. The circumstances aren’t clear because Ariel’s not talking about it.”

“Please tell me it was some self-defense move.”

“Don’t know. As I said, Ariel’s not talking.”

“Has she been evaluated by a psychiatrist?”

“I don’t think so.” She indicated the file. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Katherine spent the next hour reviewing what little there was in the file. Ariel was fifteen, attended San Francisco High School, a track star destined for a college scholarship. She lived at home with her mother and father. At least her father used to live there. He was now in, as Beth had said, a coma at St. Andrew’s hospital.

At one o’clock, Beth entered and announced Ariel’s and her mother’s arrival.

“Show them into the conference room and I’ll be right there.”

When she had collected her thoughts, she made her way to the conference room. Mrs. Parson was sitting with her back to the door, picking at her cuticles, which were raw and red. She had a despondent look on her face. Ariel’s head hung low, avoiding eye contact with people. Her hair draped down, blocking her eyes from view. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me? Katherine wondered.

To avoid startling them, she knocked gently on the door, opening it as she did. She smiled warmly. “Hello, Mrs. Parson. Thank you for coming in.”

Mrs. Parson rose and extended a hand to Katherine. “Thank you for helping us. Please call me Janice.”

Katherine sat down and indicated Janice should do the same. She bent her head toward Ariel. “Hello, Ariel.”

The girl lifted her head and looked compassionately at Katherine. Her heart melted. She couldn’t imagine what could have driven this girl to shoot her father. “Ariel, do you want to tell me what happened?”

“She’s not talking,” Janice said.

Katherine put a hand over Janice’s hand. “I want Ariel to answer.”

“Yes, of course. Sorry.”

“Did you shoot your father, Ariel?”

Ariel nodded.

“Did he do something to make you angry?”

She nodded again.

Katherine thought they would get nowhere with yes and no answers and was just about to say so when Ariel said, “He killed my dog.”

Janice gasped. “He told me the dog was run over by a car.”

“Is that what happened, Ariel? Did the dog get run over by a car?”

Ariel didn’t answer, but picked up her hand and made a trigger finger out of it.

Katherine turned toward Janice. “I’d like to have an evaluation done. Obviously, Ariel’s distraught over something.”

Janice nodded. “We can do that.”

Janice took out her checkbook. “What do I need to pay you?” Katherine was surprised. She assumed she would be doing this pro-bono. “I don’t have much, but I’m willing to spend whatever it takes to save Ariel.”

“My firm usually requires a $25,000.00 retainer.” At the look of shock on her face, Katherine continued, “We’ll settle for whatever you can afford.”

Janice relaxed. She wrote out a check for $10,000.00 and handed it to Katherine. “Will that do?”

Katherine looked at the check, looked at Janice and the state of her worn clothes, un-styled hair, and plain face. $10,000.00 was nothing to Katherine but was everything to this woman. “Were you saving this money for something?”

“Ariel’s college tuition, but I think this is far more important.”

Katherine tried to hand the money back. “Let’s just see what happens.”

Janice shook her head. “I may not be able to pay any more than that, but I would feel better if you took it.”

Katherine took back the check and inserted it in into Ariel’s file. She pulled Janice aside. “Is there any chance your husband could have been molesting Ariel?”

Janice paled. She shook her head rapidly. “Not Robert. He loves Ariel. He would never hurt her.”

Katherine looked back at Ariel. “Two weeks ago, would you have thought Ariel would shoot her father?”

Katherine walked them back to the main hallway that would take them to the lobby. “I will set up an appointment with Dr. Chang and give you a call.”

Janice nodded.

Katherine made her way to John’s office, her heart beating wildly. He was not there, and she relaxed. She walked back to her office and put in a call to Lynette Jenkins. “Hey,” she said when Lynette came on the line. “Do you have time for a visit from an old friend?”

“Katherine,” Lynette said. “How wonderful it is to hear from you. I’m in all afternoon. Stop by whenever you’d like.”

“I’ll be right over,” she said. “I’ll be out the rest of the day,” she told Beth as she walked by her desk.

It was a beautiful summer day, and Katherine intended to take advantage of it.

She pulled into the university parking lot and found a parking spot with ease. She walked briskly to Lynette’s office and rapped on the open door.

Lynette, bent over some papers, looked up when Katherine knocked. She smiled broadly, squealed with delight, and ran to hug her friend.

“You look great,” she said. “Step back. Let me take a look at you.”

Katherine did, and Lynette shook her head. “My, how little Katherine has grown up so pretty. Your mother would be so proud of you.” A tear threatened to spill, but Lynette shook it off. “How is Peter?”

“Daddy’s fine. Lonely, I think, but he won’t admit it.”

Lynette nodded. “Of course he wouldn’t.”

“I read in the papers you’ve been a busy girl. What’s the matter, Katherine—you weren’t busy enough, so you have to play the caped crusader?”

Katherine laughed. “That’s why I’m here.”

“And I thought you just wanted to admire my humble dungeon.”

Katherine looked around, saw row-upon-row of law books lining one wall, stacks of student papers to grade, a small round table that Katherine would swear had the same exact stacks of papers on it the last time she was here, about two years ago. “How about I buy you some coffee?”

Lynette grabbed her jacket from the coat rack, her purse from her desk drawer, and turned off the lights. “You don’t have to ask me twice.”

They made their way to the student union and bought coffee and sandwiches from a vendor. They found a corner table and sat down. “I was hoping I could pick your brain about something.”

Lynette nodded, chewing on her egg salad sandwich.

“My impromptu action the other day in court may have helped two kids, but you can imagine what the publicity has done to the firm.”

“You’re flooded with phone calls, and now everyone wants you for their lawyer.”

She nodded slowly. “Now the firm wants me to solve the problem without making us look bad.”

“Sticky problem. How can I help?”

“I had an idea, and I’m hoping you can either help or put…” She trailed off, staring off to the left of them at a young man sitting across the room from them. “Who’s that young man over there?”

Lynette turned and looked. “The kids all call him Greasy Charlie—for obvious reasons, but his real name is Charles Dannon.”

“I think he’s following me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know why. All I know is I’ve seen him outside my apartment building, getting onto the elevator inside the building, outside the ballet studio, and now he’s here. A bit too much a coincidence, I think.”

“He is a student,” Lynette pointed out.

Ignoring her, Katherine got up and went to him. As she approached, he slunk down in his seat, turning sideways—as if she couldn’t see him—as if he couldn’t see her. She stopped in front of him, crossing her arms over her chest. “Are you following me?”

“No. I’m studying.” He made a gesture with his arms as if to insinuate absurdity.

“This makes the fourth time I’ve seen you in the last week.”

“Hello…I go to school here,” he pointed out.

“And do you take ballet classes, too?”

“Don’t be absurd. I’m not some fruitcake, you know.”

Lynette came up to the table and touched Katherine’s arm.

“Dr. Jenkins, this lady is harassing me. Can I have her thrown off campus or something?”

“Come on, Katherine.”

She led her back to the table and sat her down. “If he is following you, that’s not the best method of approaching him.”

“I know.” She calmed her breathing, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

“Back to your idea…”

Katherine took another deep breath and glanced over at Charlie, who was still trying to avoid her eyes. Lynette touched her arm. She turned her attention to her. “I was wondering how you would feel about some of your more advanced students interning with us. They would evaluate the initial intake. I, or another attorney, would review them. We would weed out the ones we wanted to keep and let your students walk the others through the Public Defender’s office.”

Lynette took a bite of her sandwich, giving herself time to think. She washed it down with coffee. “What would be your criteria for the ones you keep?”

“The fixable ones—the ones who want help.”

Lynette made a skeptical expression. Katherine leaned across the table, emphasizing her next words, “We need programs—not prisons, Lynette. You know as well as I do that a good portion of these felons didn’t have to end up there.”

Lynette sighed and pushed away the rest of the sandwich. The thought of all the people she wished she could have done more for tugged at her heart, making her lose her appetite. “I agree. Let me talk to a few of my students, feel them out.”

Katherine beamed with delight. “Thank you so much.”

Lynette held up a hand of caution. “I said I’d talk to them. There’s no guarantee they’ll be interested.”

“I understand. But think how good it would look on a résumé, not to mention the positive feedback for the university.”

“Okay, Katherine. You can stop. You convinced me.”

They said goodbye, and each went their separate way. Katherine glanced over at Greasy Charlie’s table to see if he would follow, but he held his position.

She drove around for a few minutes, wondering what to do next. She didn’t want to go home, and she couldn’t go to her father’s house. She was far too excited about the baby not to tell him about it, and John should be the first to know.

She found herself parking in front of the Japanese Tea Gardens. She paid the man in the booth and entered the gardens. Immediately, she felt her body relax, and a sense of calm serenity washed over her.

There was only a handful of people in the gardens that day, which wasn’t surprising, considering it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. She passed an elderly man tending plants, a woman pushing a baby stroller, and some young lovers, oblivious to the world around them.

She made her way to the tea hut. A young Japanese woman wearing a warm, welcoming smile greeted her. She had two options for seating—she could either sit at a table, or take a seat at the bar that overlooked the gardens and the pond. She chose the bar.

She placed an order for Jasmine tea. Within minutes, the woman who had seated her delivered a steaming pot of tea, and a tray filled with snacks, which she devoured.

She spotted a pair of birds flitting from bush to bush and tried to decide who was chasing whom. For some reason, this made her think of John. Having that thought pop into her head—she knew it was time to share her little secret. She had wanted to keep the child to herself for just a little while, and now she wanted to shout it to the world.

She took out her cell phone, ready to call John, but then decided to text him instead. She wanted to do this in person, but if she got him on the phone, the sound of his voice would surely make the announcement catapult from her mouth. She began the text:

K: Where are you?

J: Just leaving the courthouse. Where are you?

K: At the Tea Gardens. Want to join me?

J: You know I do. Be there in a flash.

She put the phone back in her purse and waited for John, finishing her tea and carrying on a lighthearted conversation with an older woman seated next to her. She couldn’t help turning the conversation toward John. Apparently, her eyes betrayed her because the woman commented on it. “You’re in love.”

Katherine demurred. “Is it that obvious?”

“I can spot it a mile away.”

“Are you married?” Katherine asked.

The woman nodded. “Sixty years.” Her eyes clouded with wetness. “I lost Henry this past year.”

“I’m sorry,” Katherine said.

The woman smiled. “No need to be. It was his time. We’ll see each other again.”

Katherine nodded. What would it be like to live with the same man for sixty years? Could she do it with John? The interesting thing was until they had become romantically involved, her answer would have been an instant yes, but they wouldn’t have lived in the same house. Would having the same man forever, living together, eating together, sleeping together… Would she be able to do that? “What was it like?” Katherine asked.

“Pure heaven,” the woman said.

The woman sat at a table near the bar. Katherine stood and crossed to her table, bringing her teacup with her. “May I?”

“Please do,” she said.

Katherine sat down, extended her hand for a handshake. “Katherine Winters.”

The woman accepted Katherine’s hand. She had the most delicate handshake that reminded Katherine of a rose petal. “Annabelle Carter.”

Katherine’s eyebrows rose, and she tilted her head sideways. She was all too familiar with the name, even though she had never met the woman. Annabelle Carter was an icon in the community. Born of wealth beyond Katherine’s wildest imagination, she singlehandedly created an empire in the business world. Ten years ago, she had founded the Carter Center, a drug rehabilitation center that focused attention on the cause of the addiction, not just merely the addiction itself. The residents of the Carter Center came out with a new outlook on life. If Katherine remembered correctly, the success rate of the center was quite high.

Annabelle laughed lightly and nodded slightly. “I see you’re familiar with my name.” She picked up her teapot and poured some in Katherine’s cup, being a gracious host. “If you don’t mind, I like to pretend no one knows me here.” She lowered her voice in a somewhat playful secretive way. “It’s so demanding being me sometimes.” Katherine nodded, and she went on. “Henry and I met the summer of our high school graduation.” She smiled in fond memory. Katherine let her daydream, taking a moment to admire the delicate features of this aging woman, whom Katherine had always admired. One would never guess from looking at the woman just how strong she was. Peter had spoken of her once, Katherine remembered. He had come in one day, exuberant beyond imagination, babbling on about a wonderful woman who had purchased ten apartment complexes from him. “Mentioned something about turning them into a center for druggies,” he had said. Katherine had dismissed the conversation at the time. There were rehabilitation centers all over town. Another one was nothing new to her—at least it wasn’t then, but now that she sat with the woman, her admiration grew.

When Annabelle was ready, she continued. “We grew up in the same town but went to different high schools. My cousin Wendy threw a farewell party for her boyfriend. Todd was shipping out to sea that summer and he and Henry would be on the same ship.” She grinned. “They were both so handsome in their uniforms. I think they wore them just to impress us girls, but I didn’t mind. They were heaven to look at.” Katherine chuckled periodically throughout the story, nodding in all the appropriate places.

She saw John enter the garden and pay for his admittance. Warmth and longing seared heat through her body, flushing her face red. Annabelle followed her gaze. “You have news for your young man?”

Katherine stood. “He needs to be the first to hear it.”

Annabelle nodded, understanding. Katherine reached for her bill. Annabelle put her hand over Katherine’s. “Let me.”

“Thank you,” Katherine said. She bid her farewell and rushed to meet John.

He greeted her with a kiss and a smile. “You taste like Jasmine.”

“Let’s walk,” she said.

They strolled along the path, quiet at first, holding hands. “Beth said you had food poisoning. I guess you must be better.”

“Beth was misinformed, by me.”

They passed the part in the gardens where they could make two choices, walk around the bridge, or cross over it. Crossing over it seemed to be the favored part of the garden for young children. Katherine stepped back, watching the children climb one side of the bridge, and then down the other—stopping in the middle, to wave anxiously at parents waiting for them to come down the other side.

“Let’s sit for a while.”

“Is everything okay, Katherine? You’re scaring me.”

She smiled. “Everything is fine.” She found a bench and led him to it.

He stared at her with concerned eyes. “You don’t look sick,” he said.

She reached into her pocketbook and took out the little souvenir stick the nurse had given her. She put it in his hands. “I’m not sick—and I didn’t have food poisoning.”

He looked down at it. “Is this what I think it is?”

She smiled apprehensively, biting her lower lip while she watched the display of emotions cross his face. Was that a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth? “It’s exactly, what you think it is,” she said.

He looked down at the stick, then back into her eyes. He had loved Katherine for a long time, almost since the beginning of their friendship—back when he was too shy to tell her how he felt. He feared he might scare her, so he had not told her. It was far better to have her as a friend than lose her altogether. Even now he guarded his feelings, wanting to shout to the world this new and wonderful news, but so afraid of this raving beauty rejecting this plain-John, ordinary and boring fella. He stammered, “I…I don’t know what to say.” Inside, his heart soared. He’d hoped and wished for this since the first night he and Katherine had made love. He felt a bubbling sensation rise in his belly, threatening to spill from him in the form of a giggle. “How do we feel about this?”

She chuckled. “I’m thrilled.”

He broke out into a grin. “Really?” She nodded. He stood, whooping as he did so. He turned in a circle, clasping his hands to the side of his head. “I’m going to be a father!” he shouted.

Katherine looked across the park and saw Annabelle rise from the table and make her way to the exit gate. She waved. Katherine waved back.

A woman pushing a baby carriage passed. John grinned and pointed at the carriage. “I’m going to get me one of those.”

The woman smiled. “Congratulations,” she said and then continued along.

He pulled Katherine to her feet, crushing her against him. “I can’t believe this. I didn’t expect this.”

She laughed. “I take it you’re happy about it?”

“Over the top,” he said. “When is it due? I want to be there for all your doctor appointments. We’re buying this kid everything.” He sighed. “Oh, Katherine—you have made me the happiest man in the world.”

She gave his a lopsided grin. “What happened to, ‘we’re lawyers. We don’t have time for children’?”

“That was months ago. I’ve changed my mind.”

They sat side by side for a while. Every so often John would reach down and lay his hand on the place where their baby rested, waiting out its time. The sky grew dark, and a cool breeze kicked up, blowing their hair back from their faces. An elderly Japanese man passed them. “Sorry, but we’re closing,” he said.

“We’re having a baby,” John said, grinning.

“We’re still closing,” the man said.

They nodded, thanked him, and he moved on.

“Ready?” John asked.

Katherine shook her head. “I want to stay here forever and never let in the ugly world. We could put a little house right over there.” She pointed to a clearing by the pond. “And no one could touch us.”

John chuckled, “I think the owners would frown on that.”

He rose and extended his hand to assist her. She took the hand, standing to join him. They walked toward the exit—both of them regretting having to return to the real world.

***

Across town, Chad perused the reports Charlie had brought him. “What’d she go to the doctor for?”

Charlie shrugged. “You just said follow her.”

Charlie threw the papers at him. “This is crap. You aren’t bringing me anything worthwhile.”

“Hey! I can’t help it if the lady is boring. You said to follow her, and that’s what I’m doing. I can’t control where she goes and who she’s with.”

Chad narrowed his gaze. “What does that mean?”

Charlie shrugged. “Only that she spends a lot of time with this one particular guy, and they are very familiar—if you know what I mean.”

“What does he look like?”

“Tall, dark wavy hair, good build. He drives a convertible.”

Chad’s anger surfaced. “John Wheaton,” he spat. “That guy’s always in the way.” He paced the floor, slamming his fist into the wall every few steps. He picked up a lamp, threw it across the room. It shattered into pieces and fell to the ground. Chad looked at the lamp. A smile slowly came to his face. He nodded slowly. “It’s him. He’s the reason I can’t get anywhere with her.” He turned to Charlie. “Maybe it’s time to get rid of him.”

Charlie’s eyes grew wide as he shifted his weight in his seat. A growing sense of alarm spread throughout his body. “What do you mean by that?”

“I want you to shift your focus.”

“To…?”

“I want to know everything John Wheaton does.”

“Why?”

Chad grinned sardonically. “You just never mind that.” He wrote down John’s name and as many specifics as he knew. He handed the paper to Charlie. “Start immediately.” Charlie hesitated. “Take it!” Chad screamed.

Charlie reached out, tentatively accepting the paper. “I’ll only follow—nothing else.”

Chad shrugged, smiling in satisfaction. “Of course, you won’t—you don’t have the guts to do anything else.”

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