Night Road

Page 48

"My son's imaginary friend is a duck. What does that say about him, I wonder?"
"This is serious," Lexi said. She had spent endless hours wrestling with her own emotions, and no matter how often or how forcefully she told herself that Grace was better off without an ex-con for a mother, she couldn't trample the new feeling that she'd been wrong to abandon her daughter. It was like opening the door on a tornado-there was no stopping the damage that would be done inside, and no closing the door again.
Abandon. The word ate through Lexi's best intentions and stripped her bare. In all her attempts to be unlike her own mother, had she done the same thing? And how was it that she'd never asked herself this question before?
"You're right," Scot said, pushing back his chair. The metal wheels screeched on the Pergo flooring. "It's very serious. Why don't you sit down? You're moving like an egg beater."
She did as he asked and sat down.
"Talk to me, Lexi."
She took a deep breath. "Giving Grace up was the hardest thing I've ever done." Her voice dropped; it was difficult to say the words, even after all her therapy. "The only thing that kept me going was this image of what her life would be like. I saw pink dresses and birthday parties with ponies and bedtime stories and family Christmas dinners. I saw a little girl who grew up knowing she was loved, knowing where she belonged."
She looked up. "I trusted them, Scot," she said, anger surging up. "All of them. Miles. Jude. Zach. I trusted them to give her the childhood I never had. And you know what I found? A lonely little girl whose daddy is too busy to be with her … a girl who gets yelled at for nothing … who plays all alone. A girl with no friends…"
"What do you want to do?"
She got up again and began pacing. "I'm a felon. An ex-con. I'm twenty-four years old with almost no job experience. Gee, I worked in the prison library and an ice cream shop, and I picked raspberries in the summer. I'm broke. What can I do?"
"Did your Aunt Eva have money when she took you in?"
Lexi stopped moving and stared out of the office window. Outside, a young mother was helping her red-haired daughter up to a silver drinking fountain. "She had a job and a place to live."
"You have a college degree and you're a hard worker. On top of that, you're one of the most honorable people I know. You know more about love-and its lack-than most people. So I'll ask you again: what do you want to do? It's a simple question. Either you stay or you go."
"And if I choose to stay?"
"We would petition the court to modify the parenting plan. We'd seek joint custody. Or, failing that, visitation rights."
"Supervised, I suppose. Me being an ex-con."
"You aren't a violent offender, Lexi," he said. "You aren't your mother. But yes, they might impose supervision at the start. I didn't say it would be easy, but you will get visitation rights at least, and you'll quite possibly get joint custody. We wouldn't get full custody, but you're her mother, Lexi. The court knows how important you are to her. And you're welcome to stay at my office until you find someplace else."
You're her mother.
For years, even before Gracie was born, Lexi barred that thought from her consciousness. The words were simply too painful to consider, but now, hearing them spoken aloud, she heard their sweetness, and longing swelled inside of her.
She could hold Gracie, hug her and kiss her and take her to the park …
"It won't be easy," Scot said into the building silence. "I imagine the Farradays will fight you."
It was too late to worry about that now. She'd loosened the idea of motherhood, and it had uprooted her, swept her skyward. "Let's file the papers," Lexi said.
"You're sure?"
She finally turned to face him. "I'm sure."
* * *
Jude gave up trying to sleep at about four o'clock. She left the warmth of her bedroom and made her way into the dark living room. There, standing in front of the tall black windows, she stared at her own tarnished reflection.
She knew what the doctors wanted her to believe: that panic had caused her delusion rather than the other way around.
She wanted to believe it, too.
But she didn't believe it and that was that. Sometime during the night, she'd become convinced. So much so that hours later, when Miles shuffled through the great room in search of coffee, she said. "I saw her. Lexi. I saw her."
Miles looked confused. "Wait." Walking past her, he went into the kitchen and came out with a cup of coffee. "None for you. You look ready to blast off as it is. Now, say it again."
"I saw her. I wasn't mistaken." She tapped her foot nervously, stared up at him.
"I always wanted to keep track of her."
She nodded curtly. "I know. I didn't. Out of sight, out of mind."
"Yeah. That's how it works." He stood there, naked except for his blue boxers, staring out the window. "Okay," he finally said and handed her his coffee. "Let's find out."
He went to his laptop, pulled up a phone number, and then made a call.
"Hey, Bill, sorry to call so early, but we have a situation here. Can you find out when Alexa Baill was released?… yes, I'm aware we asked not to know . Something has changed. Yes. Thank you. I'll be right here."
He hung up and took his coffee back. "Are you okay?" he asked gently, touching her hair.
"I've been better."
They stood there together, staring out at the backyard, saying nothing as the sky turned bright and blue. Time passed like the beats of their hearts, quiet and steady. The phone startled Jude so much she let out a little scream.
Miles answered. "Hello?"
Jude tapped her foot again and crossed her arms, digging her fingernails into her own arms so tightly she almost drew blood.
"Really?" Miles said, frowning. "Why is that? Oh. Okay, thanks. Again, sorry to bother you." He hung up.
"Well?" Jude said, wishing she'd downed a Xanax.
"She was released two days ago. Time was added onto her sentence for bad behavior."
Jude's foot tapped so fast she was practically dancing. "She came straight here."
"You don't know that."
"We have to do something. Get an injunction or something. Maybe we should move."
"We are not going to move." Miles took her by the shoulders and made her look at him. "Calm down, Jude."
"Are you insane?" Jude felt hysterical laughter bubbling up inside of her. She knew it was inappropriate to laugh now, but her emotions were all cross-wired these days. Sometimes she cried when she was happy and laughed when she was scared and screamed when she was tired. She pulled free of Miles and ran to her bedroom, where she found her Xanax and fumbled to open the bottle. "Damn child-proof caps."
Miles took it from her and opened it, handing her a pill, which she downed with his hot coffee. "You better get me an appointment with Dr. Bloom."
She survived the next two hours in a medicated haze. She washed and dried her hair and dressed in a pale beige summer-weight sheath. It wasn't until she was in Dr. Bloom's chair, squirming under the psychiatrist's sharp gaze, that she realized she was still in her slippers. "Thank you for making time for me," Jude said, trying to hide her slippered feet.
"A panic attack. You haven't had one in more than eighteen months. What happened?"
She couldn't meet Harriet's penetrating gaze. It made her feel weak and delusional. So she glanced to her left. "I was at Zach's house on Saturday morning, making breakfast for everyone. Zach is studying for finals. School is going late this year. All those damn snow days add up."
"And?" Harriet prompted.
"I saw Gracie outside … talking to … Lexi."
"Lexi is the girl who was driving the car that night."
"We haven't talked much about her. In fact, I believe you said you'd never come back if I mentioned her again."
"Out of sight, out of mind," Jude answered by rote, tapping her foot again.
"So you saw her again, after all these years, and you had a panic attack."
"She was talking to Gracie!"
"Her daughter," Dr. Bloom said.
Jude snapped to her feet and started pacing. She was having trouble breathing. "She gave up that right when she went to prison. She signed documents."
"Is that when you think she gave up the right to be a mother? When she went to prison? Or when she killed your daughter?"
"Both," Jude said, breathing hard now. Her chest hurt. "What's the difference? She can't waltz back in and act as if it never happened. Zach finally has his life back on track. I won't let him see her again."
"Sit down, Jude," Dr. Bloom said in a reasonable voice.
"What if she wants … what if-oh, God." Jude drew in a great gulping breath and started to panic. Dr. Bloom was beside her almost instantly, touching her back, rubbing it in a soothing way.
"You're all right, Jude. Just breathe. Here, sit down."
Jude got her breathing under control and the pain in her chest receded. With a shaking hand, she pushed the sweat-dampened hair out of her face and tried to smile. "I'm falling apart."
"Would that really be so terrible?"
Jude wrenched away from the doctor. "Are you sure you went to med school?"
"Jude. You can't control this situation."
"Thanks for that pearl." She looked longingly at the door. This wasn't helping. "I should have swallowed a handful of pills when…" She couldn't say the words out loud. She'd never been able to.
"You thought about it," Dr. Bloom reminded her. "But even in the darkest times, you had hope."
"You think hope is what stopped me?"
"What stopped you?"
She was not going to answer that. She hated the answer, anyway. "I'm worried about Zach, damn it. He's fragile, like me. He's never gotten over his guilt … or his grief. To see Lexi again … and what if she wants to be Grace's mother? I won't let her be a part of our family again. Oh, God…"
"She's already a part of your family," Harriet said.
"Shut up."
"Excellent retort. By the way, you don't sound like a woman who feels nothing for her granddaughter."
Jude reached for her purse, snagged it. "I need to see a lawyer, not a shrink."
"What makes you think you need a lawyer?"
"I need to protect Grace and Zach. Maybe we need a restraining order…"
"You think keeping Lexi away will protect them?"

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