Between Sisters Page 12

When the song ended, he set down the guitar and stood up. The crowd clapped politely, then turned away, heading back to their pitchers of beer and buffalo wings.

He walked toward Claire. She couldn’t seem to move.

Directly in front of her he stopped. She fought the urge to look behind her, to see if he was actually looking at someone else.

When he didn’t say anything, she said, “I’m Claire Cavenaugh.”

A smile hitched one side of his mouth, but it was strangely sad. “I don’t know how to say what I’m thinking without sounding like an idiot.”

Claire’s heart was beating so fast she felt dizzy. “What do you mean?”

He closed the distance between them, small as it had been. Now he was so near she could see the gold flecks in his green eyes, and the tiny half-moon-shaped scar at the edge of his upper lip. She could see, too, that he trimmed his hair himself; the ends were uneven and sloppy.

“I’m The One,” he said softly.

“The one what?” She tried to smile. “The way? The light? There is no way to Heaven but through you?”

“No joking. I’m the one you’ve been looking for.”

She ought to have laughed at him, told him she hadn’t heard that corny a pick-up line since the year she tried shaping her eyebrows with a Lady Bic.

She was thirty-five years old. Long past her believing-in-love-at-first-sight years. All of that was what she meant to say, the response she framed in her head. But when she opened her mouth, she heard her heart speak. “How do you know that?”

“Because, I’ve been lookin’ for you, too.”

Claire took a tiny step backward; just far enough so that she could breathe her own air.

She wanted to laugh at him. She really did.

“Come on, Claire Cavenaugh,” he said softly. “Dance with me.”


SOME MARRIAGES ENDED WITH BITTER WORDS AND UGLY epithets, others with copious tears and whispered apologies; each proceeding was different. The one constant was sadness. Win, lose, or draw, when the judge’s gavel rang out on the wooden bench, Meghann always felt chilled. The death of a woman’s dream was a cold, cold thing, and it was a fact, well known in Family Court, that no woman who’d gone through a divorce ever saw the world—or love—in quite the same way again.

“Are you okay?” Meghann asked May.

Her client sat rigidly upright, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. To an outside observer, she might have appeared serene, almost unconcerned about the heartbreaking drama that had just played out in this courtroom.

Meghann knew better. She knew that May was close to the breaking point. Only sheer force of will kept her from screaming.

“I’m fine,” May said, her breathing shallow. That was common, actually. In times like these, women often began Lamaze-type breathing.

Meghann touched May’s arm. “Let’s go next door and get something to eat, okay?”

“Food,” was May’s reply, neither an agreement to nor a rejection of the idea.

In the front of the courtroom, the judge stood up. She smiled at Meghann; then at George Gutterson, the opposing counsel; then left the courtroom.

Meghann helped May to her feet. She held on to her arm to keep her steady as they headed toward the door.

“You bitch!”

Meghann heard May’s sharply indrawn breath, felt her client’s body tense. May stumbled to a halt.

Dale Monroe surged forward. His face was a deep, purply red. A blue vein throbbed down the middle of his forehead.

“Dale,” George said, reaching for his client. “Don’t be stupid—”

Dale shook his lawyer’s arm away and kept coming.

Meghann sidestepped easily, putting herself between Dale and May. “Step back, Mr. Monroe.”

“That’s Dr. Monroe, you avaricious bitch.”

“Excellent word usage. You must have gone to a good liberal arts college. Now, please, step back.” She could feel May trembling behind her, breathing too fast. “Get your client out of my face, George.”

George lifted his hands, palms up. “He isn’t listening to me.”

“You took my children away from me,” Dale said, looking right at Meghann.

“Are you suggesting that I was the one who fraudulently transferred assets out of my wife’s reach . . . or that I stole money and equity from my family?” She took a step toward him. “Or wait. Maybe you’re suggesting that I was the one who banged my daughter’s piano teacher every Tuesday afternoon.”

He paled. It made that vein look even more pronounced. He edged sideways, tried to make eye contact with his wife.


“May, come on,” he said. “You know me better than that. I didn’t do all of those things. I would have given you everything you asked for. But the kids . . . I can’t see them only on weekends and two weeks in the summer.”

He sounded sincere, actually. If Meghann hadn’t seen the ugly truth in black and white, she might have believed he was upset about the children.

She spoke quickly, so May wouldn’t have to. “The separation of your assets was entirely fair and equitable, Dr. Monroe. The custody issues were also fairly resolved, and when you calm down, I’m sure you’ll agree. We all read the depositions that reflected your lifestyle. You were gone in the morning by six A.M.—before the children woke up—and you rarely returned home before ten P.M.—after they were in bed. Weekends you spent with the guys, playing golf and poker. Hell, you’ll probably see your children more now than you did while you resided at the family home.” Meghann smiled, pleased with herself. That had been a smart, well-thought-out argument. He couldn’t disagree. She glanced at George, who stood silently beside his client. The attorney looked like he was going to be sick.

“Who do you think you are?” Dale whispered harshly, taking a step toward her. At his sides, his fingers curled into fists.

“You going to hit me, Dale? Go ahead. Lose what little custody you have.”

He hesitated.

She took a step toward him. “And if you ever hit May again, or even touch her too hard, you’ll find yourself back in this courtroom, only it won’t be money at risk. It’ll be your freedom.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Am I?” Her gaze found his. “Yes. I am. Are we clear on that? You stay the hell away from my client or I’ll make sure your life turns into a shower scene from Oz. And I don’t mean Munchkinland. Every other Friday you can park in front of the house and wait for the kids to come out. You return them on time, as stipulated, and that’s the sum of your contact with May. We’re all clear on that, right?”

May touched her arm, leaned close, and whispered, “Let’s go.”

Meghann heard the tired strain in May’s voice. It reminded Meghann of her own divorce. She’d tried so hard to be strong, but the moment she’d stepped out of the courtroom, she’d broken like an old drawbridge, just crumbled. There was a big part of her that had never stood upright again.

She grabbed her briefcase off the oak library table and slipped her other arm around May’s waist. Linked together, they walked out of the courtroom.

“You’ll pay for this, you bitch,” Dale screamed to their backs. Then something crashed against the floor.

Meghann guessed it was the other oak table.

She didn’t look back. Instead, she kept a steadying hand on May’s waist and led her to the elevator. In the small cubicle, they stood side by side.

The moment the door closed, May burst into tears.

Meghann held May’s hand, squeezing it gently. “I know it seems impossible now, but life will get better. I promise. Not instantly, not even quickly, but it will get better.”

She led May down the courthouse steps and outside. The sky was heavy and gray with clouds. A dismal rain spit itself along the car-clogged streets. The sun was nowhere to be seen. No doubt it had followed the geese south, to places like Florida and California. It wouldn’t return to western Washington full-time until after the Fourth of July.

They walked down Third Street to the Judicial Annex, the favorite lunch spot for the Family Court gang.

By the time they reached the front door, Meghann’s suit was more than a little damp. Gray streaks marred the collar of her white silk blouse. If there was one accessory no local owned, it was an umbrella.

“Hey, Meg,” said a few colleagues as she walked through the restaurant to an empty table at the back. She pulled out a chair for May, then sat down opposite her.

Within moments, a harried-looking waitress was beside them. She pulled a pencil out from her ponytail. “Is this a champagne or a martini day?” she asked Meghann.

“Definitely champagne. Thanks.”

May looked across the table at her. “We aren’t really going to drink champagne, are we?”

“May. You are now a millionaire. Your children can get Ph.D.s from Harvard if they want. You have a beautiful waterfront home in Medina and no mortgage payment. Dale, on the other hand, is living in a thirteen-hundred-square-foot condo in Kirkland. And you got full custody of the kids. Hell yes, we’re celebrating.”

“What happened to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“My life has been hit by a Scud missile. The man I love is gone. Now I find out he might have existed only in my mind, anyway. I have to live with the fact that not only am I alone, but, apparently, I’ve been stupid, too. My children will have to live all their lives knowing that families break, that love is impermanent, and, most of all, that promises get broken. They’ll go on, of course. That’s what children and women do—we go on. But we won’t ever be quite whole again. I’ll have money. Big fat deal. You have money, I assume. Do you sleep with it at night? Does it hold you when you’ve awakened from a nightmare?”

“Did Dale?”

“A long time ago, yes. Unfortunately, that’s the man I keep remembering.” May looked down at her hand. At the wedding ring on her finger. “I feel like I’m bleeding. And there you sit. Drinking champagne.” She looked up again. “What’s wrong with you?”

“This can be a harsh job,” she answered truthfully. “Sometimes, the only way I can get through it is—”

A commotion broke out in the restaurant. Glass shattered. A table crashed to the floor. A woman screamed.

“Oh, no,” May breathed. Her face was pale.

Meghann frowned. “What in the—?” She turned around in her chair.

Dale stood in the open doorway, holding a gun in his left hand. When Meghann looked at him, he smiled and stepped over a fallen chair. But there was no humor in that smile; in fact, he appeared to be crying.

Or maybe that was the rain.

“Put down the gun, Dale.” She was surprised to hear the calmness in her voice.

“Your turn at the mike is over, counselor.”

A woman in a black pinstripe suit crawled across the floor. She moved slowly until she made it to the door. Then she got up and ran.

Dale either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He only had eyes for Meghann. “You ruined my life.”

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