"They have exactly the life they want," Rachel smiled. "A neat package of work and play." And no stress.
She cast a glance at the Waterford crystal clock on her desk--last year's top salesperson award.
Quarter to five. She stretched her arms over head. Her back muscles ached with fatigue. She longed to hug Ellie, inhale her sweet smell. "My mother said that in life you stop at each station, not just pass through it. She forgot to warn me that there would be a time when it felt as if I were making the entire trip in one day, every day." She dropped her arms. "I'll have to adopt some of your French nonchalance to exit this place, as if I, too, have all the time in the world."
She got up and checked herself in the mirror on the back of her door. She put a couple of drops of Visine in her eyes to make the green appear alert, touched the shiny spots on her nose and cheeks, and applied a darker lipstick. Her face shouldn't reveal to her male colleagues that her morning had started with the weekly laundry, hours before they woke up. Or that for the past three years she'd been living a nightmare.
"What did your lawyer say that will make my day?" Jacqueline asked.
"Funny how my I.Q. drops thirty points the minute I speak to him. I can't grasp the legal convoluted logic." Rachel sighed and recited, "When it comes to 'preponderance of evidence,' we're in better shape than in prior trials."
"Pass that by me again?"
"'Preponderance of evidence' is all that's required in Family Court. If we have more credible evidence in our favor than they, we win. It's the easiest standard to meet, very different from criminal court where we have to prove Wes's guilt 'beyond a reasonable doubt.'"
"That would be an interesting twist."
Rachel swallowed hard. "But I must send Ellie to Wes on Monday, the Fourth of July."
Jacqueline stared at her.
"Until now it was a question of visits. This time around Wes is going for full custody." Rachel's stomach rumbled. "Apparently, my denying him his visits is strong legal grounds for reversal of custody--"
"What kind of system is this? Last year he admitted Ellie slept in his bed, and that turkey of a judge found nothing wrong with it."
Rachel shrugged. "No worse than when Chuck asked the next judge to forbid him from showering with Ellie. His nudity at eye level with her face--"
"In France we do shower with kids."
"Well, I guess this judge had French ancestry, because he said that when his three daughters were little, he, too, often showered with them."
Jacqueline's olive skin was pale. "Tell me you won't send Ellie to Wes--"
"Jacques, please. I have no choice."
Jacqueline took a step forward and hugged her briefly. Her perfume smelled of cinnamon and spicy wood. "We'll do something fun Monday. And I'll cover for you Tuesday morning when Wes drops Ellie at the daycare center, she may need you."
Rachel shook her head. "That's when I'm back in court. For the last time."
"Okay, then. I'll sleep over at your place and check Ellie at the daycare center at eight."
The familiar feelings of gratitude and awe bubbled up. "You're more than a best friend--"
Jacqueline waved her hand. "Wes has been lucky to catch a ride on this new-age trend of keeping fathers involved in their children's lives at all cost--I'm evening out the score."
Rachel dropped her face into her hands. "Can we not talk about it now?"
Jacqueline left, and Rachel, collecting herself, punched in her home number. The babysitter had picked up Ellie at four. The light of Rachel's day would be their picnic dinner under coppery skies. Her heart expanded with pleasure as she heard Ellie's chirpy voice.
"Remember our picnic, Mommy? And I want to plant all the flowers--"
Copyright Talia Carner 2002. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at www.taliacarner.com
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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