Chapter 28

The last few weeks of bliss over the holidays dissipated like mist over the water when I approached the Court House. It felt like just yesterday that I had this familiar sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, the rising heat in my throat, the loud thumping of my own heart in my ears. My headache felt overwhelming today.

The waiting room was quieter than last time, more subdued. The dull gray walls seemed colder. The few chairs scattered around the room were empty.

It’s 9:45, where is my lawyer? The room started to fill when I saw Rod. He skewered me with a pinched-lip, narrowed-eyed glare. His lawyer led him to side Room C, turned on the light, and closed the door. Sitting on the hard bench, I watched my lawyer hurry by nodding her hello as she opened the door for another woman to enter the courtroom. What a ridiculous system. My lawyer booked her whole day here but instead of sitting with me, holding my hand and preparing our plan, she rushed back and forth from client to client. How could she even care about a single one?

A baby in a stroller began to stir and his mother, a young girl, barked an order for him to sit still. My heart ached. I wanted to take this child and wrap my arms around him. I longed to comfort him and in turn to be comforted.

A wicket window abruptly opened and a rush of people formed a line in front of it. The lady behind the window sighed audibly.

“Armstrong vs. Barker come to Courtroom Two,” sounded over the loudspeaker. “Armstrong and Barker in Courtroom Two.”

A large woman, followed by a brood of children made her way to the courtroom door. A young man, obviously her lawyer, with a tailored suit and briefcase, appeared out of one of the side rooms and followed her.

The wall clock ticked the hours away as name after name bellowed from the loudspeaker.

My heart jumped when the loudspeaker finally called our names, “Williams vs. Kramer come to Courtroom Two. Williams and Kramer in Courtroom Two.”

Here we go. Where is my lawyer? Do I go in by myself? Is she already in there? Rod strutted by like a peacock decked out in his finest suit, marching beside his lawyer.

I grabbed my briefcase, made a final visual sweep of the waiting room for my lawyer, and slowly made my way to the courtroom door.

“Heather,” I heard a call from behind me. “Sorry about that. I was in an important meeting with a client.”

I smiled weakly.

Once inside, Ms. Turner motioned for me to sit down in the front row of seats. Rod and his lawyer were already sitting on the far side of the court. Rod sat ramrod stiff with a blank look on his face.

My body was cold yet I felt sweat pocketing under my arms. My breathing shallow, I had to take deep gasps to catch my breath. I could easily count my pulse against the thumps of my heart.

“All rise for the honourable Judge Howlett.” Judge Howlett was a stern man with a tight expression and a gruff voice. This was not the same judge that we had before. This guy was all business and wasted no time taking his seat and opening the file folder on his desk. He shuffled some papers around.

Careful to stand with everyone and sit down again when the other people did, I was surprised to see so many people in the seats. Who were these people? Why were they interested in my life? Were they even allowed to be in here?

My thoughts were interrupted by a question from the judge. His gaze was steady but I had missed the question. My lawyer responded. Then Rod’s lawyer countered. Then the lawyer who represented the Children’s Aid Society returned. It seemed to be a bit of a rally. I had trouble focusing and couldn’t follow what they said. Their voices faded until it sounded like they were coming through a long tunnel. I wondered how Rod could live with himself. What goes through his mind? Was he so submerged in his own lie, like a spider that gets trapped in his own web? I thought back to the taped meetings at the police station. Will I get to see Rod’s interview? Will he see mine? What if they want to show Caitlin’s interview in the court? She was behind closed doors for a full fifteen minutes. I haven’t even seen it. Actually, I don’t think I could handle seeing it. Even though she had come away appearing content and not crying, hearing the details through Donna was graphic enough for me to retch.

Then the judge leaned forward, took off his glasses, and dismissed us.

What happened? I looked to my lawyer, and she motioned for me to leave with her. I didn’t get it. What just went on?

I followed her out of the courtroom and into one of the side rooms. I closed the door behind me and sat down.

“What happened?” I asked before Ms. Turner opened her file.

She smiled stiffly. “It’s good and bad news. The judge ordered in favor of the Children’s Aid Society.”

“What does that mean?” I bit my lip.

“He agreed to subject Caitlin to continued supervision but her supervisor will now be a family member, not the C.A.S.”

Emotions twisted my stomach. “You mean Rod’s sister, Deana, will now be the supervisor?”

“Yes.” Packing up her things, Ms. Turner stood to leave.

My face fell. “Forever?”

“Well, at least until Caitlin turns eighteen.”

It took me a moment to process. “Caitlin will continue to be supervised. But it’ll now be by Deana, not the C.A.S. When?”

Ms. Turner brushed a fleck of lint off her skirt. “It starts this weekend. I will complete the paperwork and get it to you as soon as possible. Good day.”

Packing up my stuff, I left the building. White speckles of snow slowly descended from the sky. I lifted my face to feel the light flecks on my face.

“Heather?” Sarah called while approaching from the parking lot.

“Hi, Sarah.” My voice was flat. “The judge ordered supervision, but not by C.A.S. By Deana.”

“That’s good. Right?” She searched my face. “How do you feel?”

“I feel tired.” I looked up and met Sarah’s eyes. “But you know what, I think I’m going to make it.” I motioned for Sarah to join me to sit on the bench. “I’m thankful that someone will be held accountable, even if it is Deana.”

Even as I said those words, I realized God had done so much to put my fears to rest. “I’m not sure how it’ll all work out but I feel as if God is going to protect Caitlin.”

Sarah sat silently, nodding slowly. “Would you like to come to church with me on Sunday?”

“I’ll think about it.” I had gone to my parents' church over the holidays, as was expected, but I wasn’t sure about going outside of Christmas or Easter. Looking into Sarah’s eyes, I wanted to say thanks for coming, but instead said, “Yes. Yes, I’ll come.”