– Chapter 13 –
Law offices set Gideon’s teeth on edge—and with good reason. He envied the millions of people who got to live their whole lives with little to no contact with the justice system. They were lucky, traipsing joyously about, nursing benign delusions about the effectiveness of Law, and luckier still were those for whom Law was simply an abstraction to bandy about at dinner parties.
They would never know the sting of arrest or accusation. Central booking ink would never blacken their fingers. Their mugshots wouldn’t be Googleable. Their paychecks would never be garnished. They wouldn’t have to explain their complicated history with law enforcement on an additional sheet of a job application.
And above all, they’d never have to suffer a fidgety paralegal repeatedly offering room temperature water from a dusty pitcher in a windowless room like this one.
He’d worked with Cooper, Willis, and Dunn once before. They specialized in discrimination and child advocacy and they’d settled his case with Maranatha’s father. They were a much smaller firm then and what he remembered most about them was that they weren’t hard-nosed about agreeing to settle, even though pushing that case to trial would’ve brought them very high-profile publicity.
They seemed fair and he was appreciative, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be here a minute longer than he needed to be. The stuffiness of the room and his inability to look outside it made him feel like an interrogation was imminent. The overhead light was abrasive. The print on the wall, of a boy at the edge of a pond filled with water lilies, was cloying and, for whatever reason, that made him uncomfortable, too.
“Look, I’m still not entirely sure why I came and I don’t know how much help I’ll be and I’m not guaranteeing that I won’t drop out of this later. But here’s the list you asked for.”
Gideon pushed a legal-sized sheet of yellow paper across the table, every college-ruled line—front and back—saturated with hasty descriptions, jotted with fountain pen ink. He could’ve easily continued on to other pages, but he couldn’t figure out why he should bother. They were probably already up to their ears in prosecutable offenses Holy Pentecost had committed. Brian the paralegal picked up the paper and scanned both sides before nodding and slipping it into a folder.
“Mr. Agee,” Brian said, folding his hands on the tabletop. He looked pained and prim. “We’re very interested in your testimony. You’re the only teacher we’ve spoken to who’s willing to join the case.”
Gideon stood. “Well, keep me posted. I’ll… do what I can, I guess. We done?”
Brian got to his feet and extended his hand. “There’s a meeting with the other clients in the conference room across the hall. Had we known you would join the suit, we would’ve notified you earlier, but it might be beneficial for you to sit in.”
“I’ll pass,” he said, heading for the door.
“We’d like to schedule a deposition for some time in the next two weeks.”
As they left the room, Gideon remembered the immediate relief he always felt when he left rooms in lawyer’s offices and how relief that eventually tensed into panic.
He glanced into the conference room, packed to the gills with people whose faces he would’ve preferred not to focus on long enough to recall. But he did recognize a few of them, though none of their names sprang to mind. Jeff Cooper was furiously scribbling on a whiteboard as everyone focused on one of the women talking and gesturing wildly from her seat in the back of the room.
Then, he saw Maranatha—and he couldn’t believe his eyes didn’t instantly track to her. She was sitting at the center of the long mahogany table, with her back to the view of the lake, her elbows on the table and her chin propped in her hands. She was staring right at him. He froze. An easy grin brightened her face and she offered a subtle wave.
He didn’t return the smile or the wave; he was too busy syncing her face up with his memories of it and comparing the woman in front of him with the age-progressed figure that stalked his imagination. She was as he thought she’d be: gorgeous. She’d straightened her coiled tendrils and swept her hair elegantly away from her face. She was frowning now and that roused him from his stupor. He frowned back and began to walk toward the exit. He was almost there when she called out, “Wait!”
Gideon looked over at the receptionist, whose eyes were on Maranatha clopping toward the lobby in four-inch heels that made her look positively Amazonian. The receptionist turned back to him to see what he’d do and he shrugged, ducking out of the front door.
His car was nearby and he ran to it, frantically aiming the keychain remote at the door.
“Wait!” she called again, and it was the deflation at the end of the word that made him take his hand off the door handle. He leaned his back on the car and watched her practically skip toward him, buoyed with relief.
He already felt bad for her. There was no way he wouldn’t mess this up.
With one abrupt motion, she grabbed him, hugged him, and let him go, except for his left hand which she lifted and examined before releasing.
“How are you not married?” she chuckled. “You must be, what, forty now?”
“Thirty-nine. And I was. Married. For a while.”
She nodded and for a full half-minute, neither of them said anything. What could she have been thinking?
“It’s good to see you,” was what she finally said.
“Yeah. Good to see you, too.”
“Really? I thought you might be—I thought it might be—Weird, you know?”
He nodded. It was strange. It was stranger than he ever could’ve guessed. His instinct, even now that she’d caught up to him and they were standing here, staring, was to run. She had to be nearly thirty, herself, but he still couldn’t shake his leftover paranoia. She was a Rorschach inkblot; he saw was a restraining order. All he wanted was to get away from her. All he wanted was to hug her again. When she’d pulled him toward her, she smelled of red wine and pomegranates.
“I heard you were living in Washington now.”
“I’m in Grand Rapids, usually. I’m a professor. Well, adjunct, anyway. Off on summer break. How long are you here? What are you doing now?”
It dawned on him that he’d never heard her talk this much, without prompting. He liked the choppiness of her sentences; she wasn’t afraid of fragments or rushing her words. It was like she was making up for years of silence.
He smiled, opening his car door. “I’m in advertising. I’ve been a copywriter for years now. But listen, I should probably get going.”
“Print or television?”
“Anything I’ve seen?”
“We’ve done some national spots, so maybe.” He looked at her again, at her brown inquisitive eyes and the bridge of her nose and her lips, and he remembered why he’d been stupid enough to kiss her.
“It really was good to see you,” he said, hoping that his voice convincingly conveyed finality. He ducked into the car and willed himself not to look at her as she stood there, waving and watching him drive off.