Book 1 of the Separate series
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P R O L O G U E
Lucius Black sat on the edge of his client’s bed, stunned by what he had done. Her sleeping form lay motionless behind him. The pale moonlight shone on her bare back. Cold shivers ran down his body. Hurriedly, but with great caution, he pulled on his pants. His hands shook. Any minute now and she will be awake! Just then the bed creaked. Panic cramped his stomach. He took some deep breaths very softly, trying with every fiber of his being to maintain control.
I’ve got to get out of here before she wakes up! Grabbing his shoes and resisting every impulse to run, he tiptoed slowly from the room and down the hall. He arrived at the front door. As he reached for the knob, the foyer floor squeaked. He hesitated for only an instant and then silently slipped his bare feet into his soft, Italian leather, Salvatoris. A deft turn of the doorknob, and the New York attorney escaped from his worst nightmare.
He fumbled for the keys to the rented Cadillac. Nausea swamped his stomach. He struggled into his shirt and flung his jacket to the back seat. The reality of what he had done stunned him. It sickened him to recall the previous four-hour tryst that had begun as an innocent victory dinner.
Yesterday, the city council of Trinity, Missouri, had capitulated to his lawsuit, filed on behalf of his client, an adherent to the Wicca religion. But dinner was honestly all he had intended, and how she had seduced him was foggy to the usually sharp-minded attorney.
He was about to turn the key in the ignition when his stomach constricted and the sour bile rose up into his throat. He flung open the car door, barely in time to throw up in the driveway. Two more retches of his inadequately digested dinner, and he was able to wipe his mouth on his shirtsleeve and start the car. Cold sweat beaded on his forehead. In spite of his frantic desire to race to his hotel, he managed to back the car slowly and smoothly out of the driveway. He wound shakily through the narrow, moonlit streets where branches shook in the wind like witches’ gnarled fingers, and the pre-dawn shadows danced like demons across the countryside.
His nagging thought on this frantic drive was, What if Catherine finds out? But by the time he was standing under the stinging spray of the hotel shower, furiously attempting to scrub off his impropriety, he had convinced himself that she never would.
C H A P T E R O N E
“No, Hamilton, absolutely not! I know it’s been five years, but the answer is still no!” Lucius Black sighed and settled the phone more firmly between his neck and shoulder. He gazed out the window of his tenth floor New York townhouse, overlooking the Hudson River toward his boss’ office. He could picture Hamilton Fischer sitting behind his monstrous mahogany desk on the thirty-fifth floor complex of S.C.U.L.R., the Strategy to Constrict the Unilateral Liberty of Religion, more commonly known as ‘Secular’.
Lucius didn’t appreciate Hamilton Fisher calling on his day off. He had invested eighty plus hours a week for eighteen months on his last court case. He needed a break. No longer a young law student who could survive on decaf and no sleep, the rigorous work schedule had taken its toll on his thirty-five year-old body.
He had planned to stay home and relax in his sparsely furnished pad. The frosted pale blue interior accented with gray steel, glass, and charcoal leather furniture invigorated him. Lucius felt it mirrored his personality and his desire to remain uninvolved on a serious level. His ex-wife hated it, saying it reminded her of a huge deep freeze. Perhaps, Lucius thought, that is why I like it! It reminds me of Catherine. One room was different. Only one room in his high-rise condo did not exude this frigid ambience that kept people at arm’s length. Catherine had asked for and received his permission to decorate the bedroom where his son and daughter stayed every other weekend. Lucius hoped that Cat’s influence in their room would make the children feel more at home when they were with him. She had transformed it into a Southern Living showcase. Golden oak beds covered with quilted blue and green flowered spreads coordinated with cheery sunrise-yellow walls. This gave a homey, country feel to the room that clashed with the rest of his digs. Lucius considered the complete collision of styles unsettling to the organization of his methodical mind, so he kept the door closed at all times when the children weren’t around.
“Lucius, Lucius, Lucius,” his elderly mentor sighed, bringing him back to the present.
“All we want you to do is go back to southwest Missouri for a fishing trip. Take your fly rod and gear and go catch some big trout, and while you’re there test the waters for your next case. It’s one the whole nation will be talking about.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I had one of our researchers in the Kansas City office following the local politics in Lakeside. The city council there is about to pass a home rule amendment to the city charter. And you, my boy, are going to be right in the thick of it!”
“How do you figure that will make national news?” Lucius clicked the button for the speakerphone and hung up the receiver. He walked over to the couch and sank into its deep leather cushions.
“In the last two elections,” Hamilton answered, “a coalition of churches put together a slate of candidates that ousted four of the seven natives from the Lakeside city council. Now these new members are proposing an amendment that will close all the public schools! Then private Christian schools or home schooling will be the only options other than moving to another school district. The amendment also declares that Lakeside will become a tax-free zone — whatever that means.”
Lucius pictured the sneer on Hamilton’s face as he continued. “And because the local churches allowed the four new council members to crusade from their pulpits, the IRS is looking into the possibility of a non-profit status violation as we speak.”
The pause on the other end indicated that the soon-to-be-retired senior litigator was taking a deep drag on his Meerschaum pipe. Lucius could almost smell the sweet smoke as he waited, knowing that his boss was lofting three perfect smoke rings over his head.
Finally, impatient, Lucius broke the silence. “Are you sure?”
“It’s true. Our office informed the local IRS division about the impropriety of the Lakeside churches, and immediately an agent sent me a copy of the IRS directive stating they were beginning an investigation into our allegation. That should start the 501(c)(3) rescission process against the churches involved,” his boss chuckled. “It’s great using the Internal Revenue Service to intimidate those kooks.”
Lucius yawned. This wasn’t the first time he had heard Hamilton Fischer ridicule their lifelong foe. Lucius came to work for S.C.U.L.R. as an intern twelve years earlier, while attending Harvard Law School. He had been tutored by Hamilton ever since. Hamilton was the driving force behind S.C.U.L.R.’s attack against Christians. He unabashedly accused Christians of trying to force their beliefs on all Americans, and Lucius followed tightly and obediently in his mentor’s footsteps. Now it sounded as though Hamilton thought Lakeside, Missouri, might be the next major victory for the firm and Lucius’ ticket to fame.
“So do you think that those hick preachers will cave like always?” Lucius calculated that this might be an easy victory. “They never want to lose their non-profit status ‘cause they’re only in it for the money anyway. They probably think people will continue to donate to the church without getting a tax break, but it won’t take long for most preachers to realize how absolutely shallow their parishioners are.”
“You’re so right, son! If the news hasn’t already reached every tax-exempt church, it surely will once the IRS gets involved. The loss of their non-profit designation means the loss of the preacher’s free ride, plain and simple.”
Lucius couldn’t help but smile at Hamilton’s affirmation. “Now about your vacation, you leave the day after tomorrow. I’d like to meet tomorrow afternoon to go over the details. How’s two o’clock?”
“Yes, sir. Two’s fine."
“Good. Clear your schedule for the next month. I’ll reassign those two little cases you’ve started, so bring along any contact info the staff will need.”
“A month?” Suddenly Lucius had a catch in his throat and almost choked . He didn’t want to be away from the city or absent from seeing his kids for that long of a stretch.
“I’m sending you on an all-expense-paid vacation for a month, and you’re complaining? Listen here, young man, this could possibly be the case that puts Lucius Black on the varsity team of litigators in America. More importantly, our board of directors would move you to the top of the list of my successors. Now do you understand?”
“Yes, sir, I do. I’ll see you tomorrow at two.” Lucius cleared his throat, pleased at the prospect of being considered for the position of president of S.C.U.L.R. This could be the beginning of all his dreams coming true.
“All right then.” Hamilton Fischer ended their conversation with an abrupt click.
So much for a relaxing day off, Lucius thought, stretching his arms out in front of him, and, joining his fingers, he let out a deep sigh as each of his knuckles cracked. He phoned his secretary, and they divided up the clients to be contacted. Finally, after having pizza delivered for dinner, Lucius began trying to reach those with whom he had scheduled appointments over the next month. He hoped his two children would understand as he purposely put the most distasteful call at the end of the list — the one to his ex-wife.
Having finished his business calls, Lucius grabbed the remote and headed to the couch. He watched the evening news and channel surfed in an attempt to delay his call to Catherine.
Nevertheless, his thoughts kept returning to his last case in southwest Missouri five years before. He blamed that case for Catherine’s and his divorce.
For years his long workdays had strained their relationship. Then followed the death of five-year-old Tyler. Their firstborn son drowned at a lake in the Catskills while they were on a family vacation. That, of course, devastated them both. ‘The Ex’, as Lucius referred to Catherine, blamed him. Consequently instead of turning to his marriage partner during those first few weeks of mourning he sought solace in a bottle.
He then spent the next two months in Missouri on his ill-fated assignment. His S.C.U.L.R. client was a self-proclaimed, practicing witch of the Wicca religion. The case back then was against a small town with ‘To God Be the Glory’ as its motto. Being away from twoyear- old Jordan, their new baby girl, Denise, and his grieving wife were the coldest and loneliest times he could remember.
Lucius remembered winning her case after the Christians wimped out and agreed to change the motto. Being an atheist, he delighted in a fight between Christianity and another religion, and lately he was defeating the Christians every time. Either he got them to settle before going to trial or he placed the case before a liberal judge. Whichever way it went, he credited his expertise. Lucius still recalled bitterly that he had crossed the line and slept with his client, the witch.
Contemplating indiscretions during his marriage was not out of character for Lucius, but they had always remained just that — fantasies. I still don’t believe how easily I fell into that witch’s trap. He shook his head and turned his attention back to the television. But as easily as he flipped the channels, his mind flipped back to Connie, the witch. He rationalized that Connie, must have cast a spell on him. And while Lucius didn’t believe in spells, nothing else made any sense. He shuddered at the thought of himself in her bed. Something that happened that night, he knew, created a permanent emptiness in his gut. Then, out of the blue, Connie called Catherine and told her about his transgression! I still can’t figure out what possessed that witch to ruin my life. That call was the knife that severed the last remaining thread binding my family together.
Catherine immediately filed for divorce and later moved upstate which Lucius knew was to discourage him from exercising his court ordered, every-other-weekend visitation with Jordan, now eight, and Denise, who had recently turned a precocious six. And Lucius was abandoned to muddle through the rubble of his life.
Now he faced another case in Missouri. Already he felt the apprehension of returning to the scene of his crime. Maybe within the next eighteen hours, before I meet with Hamilton, I can come up with some sort of excuse…but no, he would see right through me.
Night had settled when Lucius finally dialed the phone for his last and most difficult call of the day.
“Hello, Catherine.” He spoke coolly. He always attempted to give her the impression that he hadn’t been hurt and even now felt indifferent to their situation.
“Oh hi, Lucius. How are you?”
“I’m okay, I guess. How are the kids? Are they still up?”
“They’re getting their PJ’s on. Would you like to talk to them?”
He was slightly surprised by her friendly tone. She must have had a good day.
“No, that’s all right. I don’t want to disrupt your schedule.” Lucius attempted to chide her a little. He believed Catherine’s schedules for the children were more for the purpose of irritating him than for their benefit. “I’ve got to be out of town for about a month, and I wondered if I could come up tomorrow around five and take them to that diner they like. That way I can explain why I won’t be able to pick them up for a few weeks. If that‘s all right with you?” He let his voice trail off, hoping for a positive answer after his foolish criticism. His harsh attitude once again triggered the unhappy memories of his childhood. Lucius had promised himself he wouldn’t be like his father, yet sometimes he could hear his dad’s voice in his own, and it terrified him. How many times, he wondered, did his severity come across to Catherine like his dad’s had to his mother and him? When Tyler was born, Lucius vowed to prove that he could be a better daddy to his children than his own father had been to him. Then his little boy’s drowning and the divorce robbed him of that opportunity, and he no longer could control the situation. He determined that the court-imposed absence from Jordan and Denise would be the only similarity to the unhappy childhood he experienced under the harsh demanding dictator that reared him with the aid of a belt. An only child, Lucius spent his adolescence trying to follow the myriad of rules laid down by his disciplinarian father. His withdrawn mother turned to drink as she and her son failed to measure up to the endless demands of the over-controlling, loveless man.
“Sure, that would be fine.” Catherine’s answer returned him to reality. “You’d have them back by seven, right? Their bedtime is eight o’clock on school nights, you know.”
“Not a problem. I appreciate your understanding.” He was somewhat befuddled by her cordial response and the warmth in her tone.
“If you’d like, you could stick around and put them to bed, and afterwards maybe we could talk. I have some important news.”
In the half-decade since the divorce, they had engaged solely in small talk, mostly about the kids. Her announcement and caring attitude aroused his curiosity.
“Something to do with the children?”
“No,” Catherine spoke softly. “It’s something that’s happened to me.”
“You’re not sick, are you?” His mind quickly ran down the list of diseases a young woman of thirty-two could contract. He had taken his annual physical only the week before, and the doctor had recommended cutting back on fried foods to lower his slightly elevated cholesterol level. He also decided to lose the extra twenty pounds he had gained since college. All in all, Lucius thought proudly, it was a good checkup for being in his mid-thirties.
“No, no, nothing like that. I’ll tell you tomorrow. I have to finish getting the children to bed now. So tomorrow at five then, okay?”
“Sure. See you then.”
Even though the phone went dead, he still held it to his ear. First Hamilton, and now Catherine. Everyone in Lucius’ life seemed to put him at the mercy of tomorrow. His Rolex showed that he would have to wait twenty-one more hours for his ex to answer the questions racing through his mind.
Minutes passed while Catherine sat and stared at the phone. She hated the fact that his voice still quickened her pulse. How can that be, after all the pain? In high school and college, she had dated lots of men, but none of them left a lasting impression. For Catherine it was love at first sight. He swept her off her feet into a whirlwind engagement, and in less than a year they were married. Catherine smiled at the memories, but then shook her head to force them out of her mind. Too many times she ended up replaying images of Lucius being in bed with that other woman. All the bitterness and anger she had harbored towards herself for Tyler’s death and towards Lucius for abandoning her wanted to swallow her back into misery. She couldn’t afford that. She had come too far to look back.
The children’s giggles brought her back to the present. She rose from the chair, stretched, and smiled, thinking how God had blessed her.
Tomorrow. . . Lucius will be here tomorrow. What I have to tell him will be the end of everything for us.
Two ten! Lucius impatiently glanced at his watch again. It isn’t like Hamilton to be late. One of the many things Hamilton had instilled into Lucius from the onset of their relationship was time, billed in tenths of an hour, was money. And S.C.U.L.R. attorneys didn’t work cheap. So where is he anyway?
Lucius stood and strode over to the secretary sitting behind her paper-strewn desk.
“Did Mr. Fischer by any chance leave a file out for me, Claudia? I might as well get a start on our meeting before he gets back from his lunch engagement.”
“Does it have to do with Lakeside, Missouri?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
Lucius took the thick folder she handed him and leafed through the documents it contained. The S.C.U.L.R. research department documented the history of a church known as Spirit Fellowship. The file noted that one of their members, David Trimble, also a newlyelected city council member, had devised a plan to circumvent the state of Missouri’s mandatory automobile insurance law. The report claimed that the church required its parishioners to enter into a trust agreement making the church the trustee. Basically, Lucius understood, the people gave their vehicles to the church. I can’t believe people could be so foolish as to trust the priest — or whatever he calls himself — after all that has surfaced from the Catholic Church!
He read that Spirit Fellowship had even acquired a fleet gasoline card, and the church retained the yearly two per-cent rebate for administrative costs. What a scam! Even if those who buy gas with the card do get a five-cent per gallon discount. The only good thing I can see about it is the mandatory professional driving course the church initiated for those purchasing the insurance.
Lucius leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. He had advocated tougher driver training ever since he unsuccessfully defended a shuttle bus driver involved in a fatal accident on an icy thoroughfare. His argument in court claimed that the state of New York, as licensor, never adequately trained his client regarding evasive action on slick surfaces. Lucius’ premise held the state ultimately responsible for the driver’s actions, since it had trained and licensed him. The report from Lakeside showed, by the insurance actuarial tables, that those enrolled in the Spirit Fellowship insurance program reduced their loss ratio to one-third of the national average, thus confirming Lucius’ position.
Just as Lucius was turning to the rough draft of the position papers, Hamilton Fischer came barreling into the room.
“Sorry, Lucius.” Hamilton acknowledged his tardiness with a brief nod, feigning sincerity.
“And thank you, Claudia, for giving him the Lakeside file. Glad you weren’t wasting time waiting for me, Lucius. Come into my office, and we’ll get on with it.
“Yes, sir. I got through most of it.” Lucius winced with irritation at the hint of a reprimand.
“Good, good.” Hamilton pushed open the heavy, floor-to-ceiling, dark walnut door into his spacious, corner office.
“Claudia, hold all my calls.”
The two attorneys settled into soft, burgundy leather chairs around a mini-conference table. Someday, Lucius thought, this could all be mine! The rich, wood-paneled office held a commanding view of Hudson River traffic with a peek at Central Park. He’d dreamed of having an office like this since the first time he set foot in it. However, unbeknownst to his mentor, becoming S.C.U.L.R.’s star litigator was not his goal. Instead, he longed to start his own firm and be captain of his own ship. He figured that if this case was intended to catapult him into the spotlight and be the key to unlocking his dream, then his total attention needed to be directed toward his boss.
“So what do you think of that Spirit Fellowship documentation?” Hamilton opened his briefcase, withdrew his own thick folder labeled ‘Lakeside’, and placed it on his desk. Then, he expertly tamped his Meerschaum, settled it between his teeth, lit it, leaned well back into his deep leather chair and proceeded to loft his trademark three perfect smoke rings in the direction of the ceiling.
Watching Hamilton’s ritual, Lucius attempted to disguise his boredom. Lucius intercepted his desire to sarcastically raise his eyebrows, which would make obvious his disgust at the old man’s ego.
“I can’t comprehend how gullible people are when it comes to religion. Why would anyone give up ownership of his car to the church? And the gasoline credit card scam — that cleric must be making a tidy sum off that two-percent. I wonder what else he’s cheating on.”
“There are definitely other skeletons in his closet. And that’s why you need to go fishing.” Hamilton winked. But with the pipe clenched in his teeth, it looked more like a grimace.
“What we need is a client who has been unduly discriminated against, whose rights have been violated. Not necessarily by that church, but by the action of the Lakeside City Council. More specifically by the newly elected, self-serving, religious fanatics that now hold the majority of the seats. We already know when push comes to shove, the churches will back down. But if this amendment passes, which seems inevitable, then it’s our duty to knock down those pious, high-minded bigots. If you can find the nut that started this take-over, we can crack him. Like I always say, take out your rival’s quarterback and the opposing team’s offense will end up fumbling the game away.”
“They always do, don’t they?” Lucius smiled in agreement. “The report mentioned a David Trimble. He’s on the council and attends Spirit Fellowship, too.”
“He’s definitely one we’ll target for intimidation.” Hamilton Fisher droned on, continuing his briefing. However in Lucius’ mind he was already on his way to upstate New York and what used to be his family.
Lucius parked his new silver Beemer at the curb and turned off the key. Here goes nothing! He cracked all ten of his fingers, deliberately, one at a time, and then ran them through his thick, curly, black hair. The windows of his ex-wife’s Craftsman-style bungalow glowed brightly in the damp April evening air. A glance at the front porch showed no signs of life, indicating to Lucius that the kids were probably intent on their homework and Catherine busy in the kitchen.
For an instant he dwelt on a memory of the moments right before dinner. He could almost see her ash blonde hair bouncing as she bustled from stove to sink and hear her humming in her sweet soprano. Then he stopped his reminescence. No sense going there. He removed the roll of antacids from the breast pocket of his hand-tailored, Italian suit and popped one into his mouth. Perhaps assuaging the heartburn would dull the heartache as well. Lucius hated the fact that he still hurt. Most of the time he was able to bury the pain beneath a strong bravado. But coming face to face with his beautiful ex-wife always brought it right back to the surface. He dreaded facing Catherine and telling her that his new assignment would be taking him back within a few miles of that unfortunate location. Even though he’d argued with his boss about it, in the end he believed had no choice. So he was going to Missouri.
Slamming the door on his car and memories, Lucius steeled himself to face his family. He approached the house slowly, trying to postpone the inevitable. He resented having to tell the children that he wouldn’t be able to pick them up for his next few weekend visitations. This shouldn’t be a big deal. They’ll get over it. But in the back of his mind, he remembered the times he got dressed, expecting his dad to take him somewhere. And he waited and waited. In the end, Dad said, “Sorry,” in a voice that even a kid could tell held no regret.
Before the divorce, when the kids were small, Catherine had always taken a back seat to the firm, and now he appeared to be giving Jordan and Denise the same treatment. Although, in his mind, he still justified his absences. When the kids are older they’ll appreciate that their father helped stop the over-zealous, religious bigots from trying to rule in the schools and in government.
Lucius also felt apprehensive about the news Catherine had for him. He hoped she wasn’t planning on moving farther away, but it suddenly struck him. She’s found another man!
Lucius climbed the front steps of the quaint, three bedroom bungalow and paused to crack his knuckles once more before ringing the doorbell. He ran his hands through his hair again and realized they were sweating, even in the cool, spring, evening air. “Don’t know if the pressure is worth it,” he mumbled to himself.
“Daddy!” Jordan squealed with delight, opening the leaded glass door. “It’s not Friday!”
“It’s not?” Lucius responded with mock confusion as he swung his son up on his back.
“Where’s Sissy and your mom, Sport?” Scanning the cozy living room, warmed by a crackling fire in the stone fireplace, he glanced through the arch leading to the dining room just in time to see the kitchen door fly open.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Pint-sized Denise tore through the entry, her blonde braids flying straight out.
“There’s my girl!” With one hand around his back holding Jordan up so he wouldn’t be strangled by his son’s death grip around his neck, Lucius reached down and swung his daughter under his other arm. The children laughed and squirmed so hard that he had to kneel down on the floor to get a better grip. Their mother’s feet came into his line of vision first, her sandals, and her toes, neatly polished. Then the mint green stretch slacks, accentuating her long legs and as he raised his eyes, a perfectly coordinated fuzzy angora sweater came into view. Catherine had a flare for style, and Lucius couldn’t help admiring her still shapely figure, even after birthing three children in rapid succession. Her face glowed and exuded a youthful vibrancy. Her hair shined like a halo in the flickering firelight. She appeared more beautiful than he remembered from when he had last seen her less than two weeks before. His eloquent verbiage that had swayed many a difficult jury crumbled to the floor as he greeted her with a soft wolf whistle.
“Lucius!” Catherine chided, avoiding his eyes. “How are you?”
“Fine.” His answer rang hollow even to his own ears. Maybe it was his attraction to her incredibly good looks, or memories of the few times that he’d let down the wall to his soul, but he suddenly felt extremely vulnerable.
“Will you have dinner with us?”
He tried to hide his astonishment. He hadn’t even had time to fill her in on his plans for the evening with the children or, actually, to recover from her beauty.
“Are you sure? Well… Yes, I’d love to!” “Jordan, Denise, take your father to your bedrooms and show him some of your school projects. And, Denise, get out your scrapbook for your daddy to look at, too. Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes.” She walked away with a confident smile. Sharing dinner together after all these years felt bittersweet to Lucius. He poignantly remembered the many times he had disappointed his little family by calling with a last minute excuse. But fond memories also rekindled as he contemplated how well mannered Jordan and Denise behaved in the presence of their mother. He’d never admitted to her how he ordered takeout or took the children to McDonald’s during their visits with him, fearing her disapproval over their meal’s lack of nutritional value. Sitting down to eat at the glass dining table in his condo was a rare occurrence, and proper protocol, let alone any attempt at etiquette, vanished when the children spent time with him.
After dinner, Lucius helped them with their homework and then gently mentioned his upcoming, month-long absence without mentioning his destination. He didn’t know whether to be disturbed, disappointed, or relieved when his announcement was met with childish indifference, so as eight o’clock approached, he volunteered to put them to bed.
Every so often he caught glimpses of Catherine as she busied herself cleaning up in the kitchen and overheard her on the phone giggling. It had been a long time since he’d heard her laugh. Their biweekly encounters always had an aura of mandatory, cordial though frosty interaction that masked their disappointment in one another. Yet this time seemed different, and he wondered if it had something to do with her news.
He read a story to each of the children and gave them a good night kiss on the forehead. Lucius had never experienced any sort of affection from his own parents, but he had been a willing student to Catherine in order to be sure his children felt loved.
When he joined Catherine in the living room, she handed him a cup of steaming coffee, with just the right amount of cream. Her thoughtfulness pulled at his heartstrings. Tonight, for some reason, he felt like an adolescent schoolboy beholding his first love.
Sitting on the embroidered couch across from her as she rocked in the antique rocker she had inherited from her grandmother, Lucius once again absorbed her beauty. I wish I could erase the last five years. She is so beautiful. If only I could make it right again.
“Well, I have had an interesting month,” Catherine began hesitantly.
“Tell me about it! Mine, too. But go ahead, give me your news first.
” “Well, it actually began when we first moved here almost four years ago. The family next door has always been so sweet. They’ve helped us out on many occasions, making sure we were settled in and all. And they invited us to their church, which, of course, I declined numerous times.”
“Always trying to convert someone!” Lucius retorted, shaking his head.
“No, not really. They were very gracious, never overbearing. But over the years that we’ve been neighbors, I’ve been able to see a difference in their lives. They have given selflessly whenever I needed anything. If my car wouldn’t start because I left the lights on, or when Jordan flushed one of his toys, they were always right there with a helping hand. The older boy shovels the snow from the walk and driveway in the winter, and when I offered to pay him he told me that the Bible says helping the fatherless and widows is true religion.”
“The gall! Jordan and Denise aren’t orphans! And you certainly haven’t been widowed. At least I’m not dead, yet!” Lucius was appalled and insulted! Christians always have a way of appearing holier than thou.
“No, Lucius, of course not physically. But that’s what the children are missing – an everyday father figure. And I do often feel like a widow, all alone after losing my soul mate.” The longing look in Catherine’s hazel-green eyes was unmistakable, and Lucius exhaled deeply. He yearned to reach out and touch her.
“Since Denise started school, I’ve been faced with hours to fill,” Catherine continued. “And all the things I tried didn’t relieve the hopeless feeling I was experiencing. This month capped a year of searching for a direction for my life.”
“That’s great, Cat! So, where are you headed?” Lucius took another sip of his coffee. He hoped that she was finally going to let bygones be bygones and they could resume being a family. He felt confident enough to turn on the charm in hopes that the evening would end with his spending the night. He leaned forward and looked deep into her eyes. He wallowed in their depth.
“To heaven, actually.”
“What?” Lucius blinked.
“Lucius, I found that in all my searching, someone was actually looking for me. And like a lost sheep, the Good Shepherd found me.”
This rhetoric sounded all too familiar. Many times his adversaries impugned that he was lost and needed saving. He couldn’t comprehend the words coming from his ex-wife’s mouth. Is this some sort of bad joke?
“I’ve asked Jesus to save me and give me eternal life.”
Blood rushed to his head. His ears rang, and he couldn’t speak. Lucius tried forming words but nothing came out. Finally he shook his head in disbelief.
“He’s given me His Spirit, and I’ve become a new woman. The old Catherine passed away, the one who couldn’t forgive you. He’s taken away all the bitterness I felt towards you. Jesus forgave me, and, Lucius, I have forgiven you.”
Holding his head in his hands, his fingers raked his hair. A team of confounding voices screamed in his mind. How could she do this to me! I’m the liberator of those deceived by religion. But wait… If she forgives me then maybe we are getting back together. No, that can’t be… Now she’s the enemy!
“You’re kidding, right?” But he knew she wasn’t. “How could you?” he groaned. “You know my whole life has been directed at eradicating the false hope of religion. And now you’ve bought into the lie!”
“All I know is once I was blind, but now I see. I see the truth. Jesus is the truth, but I never knew it until I had tried everything else and nothing worked.”
Lucius sat stunned and speechless. A look of abject shock shone on his face. Her calm unsettled him, and his thoughts grew more confused. He fought to concentrate on the conversation. These conflicting feelings for the woman he still loved, and his entire reason for living, headed toward a crescendo that threatened to break the outward equanimity on which he so prided himself.
With a flicker of hope and straining to keep his voice under forced control, he finally asked, “So where does that put us?”
Catherine sighed and studied her hands in her lap. “Though at times I’ve hated you, I realize now that in reality I hated what you did and not you personally. But Jesus restored all the years of love that I missed from you with his love for me. Jesus loves you too, Lucius, and so do I. He can forgive you and make you new again, too. Then we could have a fresh start.” She looked at him hopefully.
“You don’t have any idea what you’re asking.”
“Yes, I do. But what good is it for you to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?”
“You can only lose your soul if you believe in something beyond this life. And I don’t.” Sorrow flooded his gut and his thoughts plummeted from the pinnacle of expectancy a few short moments before, but now sorrow flooded his soul. Any hope of getting back with his family crashed around his feet.
As if Catherine could read his thoughts, she added, “Your life is not who you are, Lucius, but whose you are.”
“I’m who I am! The only one who calls the plays in my life is me!” Lucius barked loudly, imitating Hamilton Fischer’s frequent use of football analogies.
“You certainly are the god of your life, but it’s eerie that you chose those words to describe yourself.”
“I’m not following you. I am who I am.”
“That’s God’s name in the Bible, the Creator of the universe, the great I Am,” Catherine countered.
The thoughts in his head became jumbled all piled up on one another like a gang tackle dog-pile. Well, I am god, at least of my universe. So, why isn’t it working the way I want it to? If she hadn’t become a Christian, we could have gotten back together. Why wouldn’t God want us to be a family?
“What am I thinking? There is no God! Those Christians next door have somehow persuaded you that someone else can fix your problems. If you hadn’t made such a big deal over one little misstep and had gotten over it, you would never have become so bitter and resentful.”
As a child, he had always shifted the blame off himself to someone or something else to deter his father’s anger. His courtroom practice was the zenith of that character deficiency. But, outside those hallowed halls, it didn’t always win — and especially not in his marriage. Lucius attributed his blame-shifting to his childhood. The habit was too ingrained in him to respond any other way.
“A month ago, Lucius, your comment would have devastated me,” Catherine calmly replied, her mouth curling up slightly at the corners. “But, I’m not going down that old road. Jesus has filled my heart with true love, joy, and peace. I’d like you to experience how wonderful it can be, but I guess now’s not the right time.”
“You’re right! Now is definitely not the right time! I have to leave.” Grabbing his coat from the hall tree by the door, he turned and caught himself taking in her beauty one more time. He could feel tears looming. “You think you believe in God, but I’m going back to southwest Missouri for a case that will show all of America that Christians are using religion to force their moral views on this whole country. By winning, I’ll prove to you and to the world that this god thing is nothing more than a smoke-screen for a power grab!”
“Save your closing for the jury,” Catherine interrupted as she held the door open for him. “I’ll be praying for you.”
Lucius whipped his Beemer down the narrow country lane leading to the highway. Catherine’s new found faith had blindsided him. Now his mission was directed at saving her from the deception of Christianity and from infecting his children with it. I’ll show her! I’ll show her! He roared blindly down the Interstate, as tears threatened his vision and his mind rampaged on a plan of attack for his case in Lakeside, Missouri. Thankful that he was already packed, fly rod and fishing gear included, he now focused on the morning flight out of JFK.
Catherine watched the lights of his car disappear in the darkness. Her heart ached for him. Perhaps I should have waited to tell him, but then when would there ever be a good time? Tonight she had come close to running into his arms when he smiled at her. I could have had him back, I know it. I know he would have come back tonight if I hadn’t broken the news to him. She sighed and went into the kitchen. She put water into the kettle and turned on the stove. A cup of tea will be soothing. Maybe it will ease my disappointment.
“Oh, Jesus, I trust you. You know I do. It’s just…” She covered her face with her hands. “It would have been wonderful to have Lucius back in our lives. Why did he have to be in such a friendly mood tonight? You have washed away all my pain and filled me with such joy and contentment! But now. . . now. . .” A flood of unsettling emotions hammered her in the wake of Lucius’ departure. The kettle screeched. She rose and turned off the stove. She poured the steaming water over a chamomile teabag into her favorite yellow mug. She walked into the living room with her mug and curled up into the overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. She picked up her Bible from the coffee table and placed it on her lap. Flipping through the pages, her eyes rested on Proverbs. . . “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. . .” Relief flooded her soul. He knew what she was going through, and He cared. “Oh God, you are so good. Please show Lucius the truth.”