“Who was that lady?”
“Someone I used to know, a long time ago, when I was a lawyer.”
“You don't do that anymore.”
“No I don't, should we go and find daddy?”
Sophie answered with a smile and a nod, her natural happy disposition restored with mention of her father. Ellen sighed inwardly and began to walk at a more regular pace. Chris spent time with his daughter on alternate weekends. Ellen was on her way to drop her off when they called into the drug store for some of Chris’s favourite cough candy. Their relationship had never really developed beyond the deep feeling of protectiveness he aroused in her. He had been her prom date in high school, seeing him so scarred and troubled after his time in Afghanistan had fooled her into believing there was more to it. Sophie was unplanned, he was delighted, Ellen was terrified. They lasted barely two years. What didn't work when they were kids in high school was never going to fly over fifteen years and a lot of baggage later.
Patty was half mad with grief that poured out of her as strongly as the vitriol she slung Ellen's way during that final awful confrontation. The younger woman felt no triumph or vindication after finally proving something she had suspected for years. As desperately as she needed to know the extent of Patty’s involvement, she had never wanted it to be true. The fact that Patty had tried to have her killed was indisputable now and that hurt as much as losing David did. Because for all their battles, for all their bitter words and angry exchanges there was so much about Patty that Ellen admired and adored, she always felt that reflected back at her. Even during the worst of their spats Patty’s eyes would still gleam with pride and begrudging respect that the younger woman had the strength of character to stand up to her, to challenge her, to downright defy her. That made Patty’s actions even more abhorrent to her former employee. Of course there was no admittance of guilt, no begging for forgiveness, no grovelling pleas for understanding or mitigation. There was nothing but the cold eyed defiant stare of a monster and that's what finally drove Ellen away from the law, away from the high octane, nerve shredding roller coaster that she had been riding since she first set a stiletto heeled pump in Patty’s office, and away from the woman herself. Patty’s ambition was both a terminal disease and an infectious one. The blond threw Ellen's actions during the McClaren case right back at her. Words and actions that had cost a man his life as she well knew they would. That put them on a level in Patty’s mind.
“Congratulations” she spat venomously. “You're finally in the game.”
Ellen never tried another case. The subsequent birth of a bald squalling scrap of a daughter filled Ellen with a new kind of wonder. The first few months passed by in a stumbling blur of feeding, changing and rocking the seemingly furious little body. There was no time for anything else. No time for thinking, no time for looking back, no time for wondering if she had done the right thing. There was just motherhood and frantic futile attempts to keep her house and laundry in order. She wondered why on earth she found it so difficult. After the first year the merry go round began to slow down. Sophie was thriving, toddling and a constant source of delight. Chris was consumed with his work at the vets association and Ellen watched him with fierce pride coupled with the growing certainty that as much as she cared for him they were closer to best friends than anything else. He did not excite or challenge her, he was a good man, a doting father and a kind and decent person. It should be enough, it should be the kind of relationship they could build a strong foundation for a satisfying life with but Ellen felt stifled and adrift. Then guilty and ungrateful. Then angry and confused. Chris began spending more and more time at work and away from Ellen's reproachful gaze. He could sense her growing unease, her dissatisfaction, her trying and failing to accept that this was it. This was her life now. A family, a nice little house in the suburbs, a monthly scramble to pay the bills surrounded by other people in the same situation. Watching her trying to convince herself she was happy was breaking his heart. They began to argue, harsh words in angry whispery voices so as not to disturb their child. The harder he tried to convince her of what they had the further Ellen retreated into herself. Their daughter became the only bright spot between them, their only common ground. They both wanted the best for her and Chris was the one to finally bring the charade to an end. There were tears on both their parts. The sense of failure wore heavily on Ellen's slender shoulders. When he left she felt shockingly bereft, she had to steel herself against begging him to reconsider. She missed his steady presence, she missed her daughters eyes lighting up when daddy came home, she missed having someone to share the minutiae of everyday life with. The financial struggle increased, Chris paid child support but the savings from her glory days were almost gone. A return to the law was out of the question while Sophie was so young, besides that Ellen was gone. She was as dim and distant a memory as the life she once shared with David. She had to start again, to reinvent herself once more. Perhaps Patty had been right all along. She was an ungrateful child who took what she wanted but could not deal with the consequences. It was high time she grew up, she was alone with a dependant child that was her reality now and she was determined to face it.
It took a year to get back on an even keel. After an initial couple of months being fractious and clingy Sophie adapted to the change of circumstances with a child's acceptance. Chris visited regularly, he would spend time with his daughter, take her out and return her to the house glowing and happy. She would wave him off smiling and turn to her mother who masked her guilt and tears behind a bright countenance, silly games and extended cuddle time. They managed to fill their days quite happily with low cost outings to parks and the various child friendly free events around the city. There were play dates with neighbours kids and when she approached four Ellen enrolled her in a nursery where Sophie came on in leaps and bounds. She talked a mile a minute, was confident, outgoing and a little leader amongst her pack of friends.
Ellen set herself up as an online provider of legal documents. She did her research, bought top of the range equipment and sought out the best marketing advice. She was still expanding her client base but she was getting established. Money was coming in and she was able to fit the work around Sophie's needs. The last six months had been the happiest she had felt in a long time. Chris had been seeing someone for a while and they had moved in together last year. At first Ellen was reluctant to allow Sophie to meet her. The last thing she wanted was for her daughter to grow used to another adult only to be let down and upset if things didn't work out, but to Ellen's mild dismay Sophie took to her almost instantly. Once the initial shyness had worn off she often came home with happy tales of Amy’s ability with a football, her mastery of the guitar and her fondness for dressing up games. After a year of increasingly less awkward acquaintance, even Ellen would grudgingly admit to liking Amy. She obviously adored Chris, was extremely careful not to present herself as a mother figure to Sophie and spoke to Ellen with unfailing warmth and politeness. As hard as she looked, Ellen found nothing not to like. Now Sophie spent every other weekend with her father and Ellen had more time on her hands than she had since the child was born.
Chris had agreed to pick up Sophie in the city that morning as Ellen wanted to do a little shopping without hauling her daughter in and out of the stores. When she arrived at the cafe they had arranged to meet at he was stood outside waiting for them. Sophie let go of her mothers hand and greeted him with a running hug, he swung her up into his arms easily giving her a quick squeeze and a kiss.
“Hey there big girl, are you ready for your favourite lunch?”
“Hi daddy, we bought your candy.”
Sophie handed over the paper bag containing the strong smelling candy that Chris swore by with a grimace.
“Thank you, my cough will be gone in no time. Are you ok Ellen?”
Chris noticed Ellen had yet to make the usual remarks about the evils of too much sugar for Sophie and the need for regular bed times, she looked harried and preoccupied.
“Yes, sorry. We just ran into Patty, it was a bit of a shock after all these years”
“Wow” Chris caught on straight away. Patty, like Madonna, only needed one name.
“How did that go?”
“It didn't. I was so stunned to see her in front of me by the time I gathered myself she had gone. Neither of us said a word.”
“Did you want to talk to her?”
Ellen had never revealed Patty’s involvement in the attack to him. She had barely spoke of her former employer since she left her on the dock that day. Chris had first hand experience of Patty, he knew how obsessed Ellen had become with beating her in the McClaren case. It had almost caused them to break up before the news of the pregnancy brought them back together.
“We have nothing to say to each other anymore. It was just bizarre, like seeing a ghost.”
Chris gave her a long look. He seemed to be considering saying more but Sophie was wriggling to be set down and the moment passed.
“Have fun with daddy. I'll see you tomorrow. Be good ok?”
Sophie replied dutifully and kissed her mother goodbye, her attention already turned to her father and the weekend ahead. The urge to go shopping had deserted Ellen, she felt distracted and her mind drifted back to a time when her career and Patty Hewes consumed every waking moment. It felt like a lifetime ago. She conjured up scenarios of what would have happened if they had struck up a conversation. Ellen wondered about Patty’s granddaughter Catherine and the tentative bond they had established before her relationship with the older woman had derailed for good. Catherine would be almost nine by now. Ellen recalled the sweet, quiet, painfully shy little girl who shared Patty’s life. Michaels child who he abandoned at birth and then tried to reclaim three years later in the never ending war he fought against his mother. Ellen went along with it. Taunting Patty with her threat to testify against her in the custody hearing. Using a child as ammunition in their own battle was another low point she could not reconcile with now. She would never have done it anyway. Ellen stalled, she used every delaying tactic in the book to eke out Patty’s misery and add to her stress. For all Patty’s wrongdoings she was the lesser of two evils as far as Ellen was concerned. The only reason Michael wanted Catherine was because he knew it would hurt his mother. In Ellen's opinion Michael was a sick boy with a massive Oedipus complex and no redeeming features. Patty’s own deficiencies at least had some balance in her desire to hold criminals accountable for their actions. Well, some criminals, some of the time. Patty did have some sort of moral code somewhere but she would conveniently adjust it to fit if it came in the way of winning a case. Ellen sighed wearily when she realised she had been walking aimlessly for twenty minutes. She looked around to get her bearings and headed for the nearest subway entrance to return home.
Mechanically she began the myriad of chores that needed her attention. She gathered laundry, emptied the trash, put away dishes and made the beds. The small house seemed oppressively silent, Ellen would have given anything for her daughters company right then. To hear her chatter, to complain when Sophie wanted the toy Ellen had only tidied away five minutes ago, to answer the myriad of unrelated questions Sophie asked constantly. ’Why can't we have a dog’ ’why is pink a girls colour’ ’where does the sun go when it's dark’ Her baby was ready for school, when did that happen? Ellen felt like she had blinked and four years had disappeared. she sat down heavily with a pile of laundry on her lap and was alarmed to feel the sting of tears. Seeing Patty had really thrown her off. In the past four years she had been so consumed with her daughter and the daily grind of domesticity that thoughts of Patty and the career Ellen had left behind gradually receded to the point where they became merely memories, another chunk of her life to be boxed away like school and college and David. At the time it was everything, now raising her child was everything. And then what? A little voice spoke up in her brain. What would she do once Sophie started school full time? That event was less than a year away. What did she want out of life then?
Ellen made herself a coffee and wandered out into the small back yard, Sophie's swing hung still, her canary yellow bike with big training wheels stood abandoned on the path, the little flower patch they tended together looked bedraggled and forlorn. There was no sign or sound of any of her neighbours on this grey chilly day. It looked like rain. She turned back inside, dumped her coffee in the sink and looked at the clock. It was only two thirty in the afternoon. The day had seemed to last a week already. Ellen tore her gaze away from where it landed on her cell phone. She wasn't really considering calling Patty, what on earth would she say. One glimpse of the blond after almost five years and she felt like she was unravelling at the seams. She picked up her cell and tossed it down again as if it was a glowing piece of coal. After a few seconds she picked it up again, she could call Chris, call her mother, call anyone to stop this self destructive urge to hear Patty’s modulated voice caress her name once more. It wouldn't do any harm she reasoned with herself. What else could they do to one another. It's not as if she wanted anything, she certainly didn't owe her anything. She could make the call, out of politeness, ask after Catherine, brag about Sophie, tell Patty... Tell Patty what exactly? That she still hated her, that she still had the power to affect her, that the awful dark red slash of lipstick she was sporting this morning made her look like a mannequin? Ellen turned the cell over and over in her hand. What good would it do? Her inner voice argued back strongly. She had broken away, she had no connection to Patty any longer, even on the off chance that the blond would respond with any positivity to the call what then? Could she see herself meeting with Patty for lunch or dinner, reminiscing over the good old days? They could talk about the blood and brain matter that spattered her office wall when Ray Fisk blew his brains out. Discuss Ellen’s grief and bourbon fuelled breakdown that culminated in threatening Patty with a gun. Or perhaps the Wake they attended for Tom when the entirety of his remaining family treated them like lepers. They were just the highlights. She wondered if she was experiencing the swiftest descent into madness in history.
Ellen put the phone down, picked up her laundry and headed for the kitchen. While she waited for the programme to finish the spin cycle it suddenly struck Ellen that Patty may be ill. She was picking up a prescription after all. Perhaps that was why she didn't approach her. If she was ill she wouldn't want Ellen to know. It could be serious if she was picking it up herself rather than sending a minion from the office. What if it was serious? What if Patty died without them ever speaking again? Ellen practically ran back to the couch for her cell. She dialled Patty’s cell number from memory then pressed end call before it even had a chance to connect. She could not ring on the fly without an idea of what she was going to say. She should not ring anyway, what was she thinking? Patty would laugh in her face, or accuse her of wanting something or worse, just hang up. Was that she was most afraid of? Before she could think anymore she hit recall, jumped to her feet and began to pace. Sitting down with a cup of coffee for a catch up was not on the cards. The phone rang twice before it clicked over to voice mail. Ellen seethed impotently and hung up. She was at least thankful her number would show up as unknown. She had changed her personal cell number years ago just after Sophie was born. The McClaren case had briefly turned her into a hot property, she kept receiving calls from law firms and prospective clients. Then her daughter came along and her life did a one eighty. Ellen hovered by the phone for a few minutes on the off chance that Patty would return the call. She wondered if the older woman was at the office on a Saturday afternoon or if she was spending some time with her granddaughter. She wasn't dressed for the office this morning, maybe she was too sick to be in work at all, she looked very different from the Patty she left years ago. She looked older, she had a tenser set to her frame, she was more deliberate in her movements. Maybe she was in recovery from surgery or having treatment for something awful. Ellen snatched up the cell once more and hit redial. After two rings she almost dropped the handset when Patty’s impatient tones sounded in her ear.
“Patty, hi. Are you ill?”
“Not that I'm aware of. Who is this?” Came the answer, delivered slowly and carefully as if she was speaking to someone dim witted or dangerous or both.
Ellen fumed. Patty knew exactly who it was. Why else had she picked up, she probably had the number traced already. Could she do that?
“It's Ellen.” she answered flatly. Silence reigned.
“Alright, I'm hanging up.”
Ellen had the handset in a death grip.
“That's why you called?” Patty cut in hurriedly. “You're worried about my health?” Patty did not seem incredulous or angry just mildly surprised.
“It didn't seem right to leave without speaking. I was just shocked to see you and when I turned around you were gone.”
“I'm wracking my brain for something to say to you that's on safe ground.”
Ellen had to admit that didn't leave much wriggle room.
“Ask me about Sophie.”
“Alright. Tell me about your daughter.”
Patty exhaled and Ellen could picture her removing her glasses and sitting back. Her shoes would be discarded under her desk, her jacket hanging from the back of her chair. Her shirt sleeves rolled back at the cuff.
“Are you in the office?”
“No I came home a couple of hours ago. Sophie? That's a pretty name....”
Now the mental picture shifted to Patty sat curled into the favourite corner of her couch, a cup of tea on the side table. Barefoot with painted toenails.
“Is Catherine there? I've been thinking about her since I saw you this morning. How is she?”
“She's not ill either, she's in her room. Are you alright?”
“Yes I'm fine.”
“Good. Now we've established we're all well. Are you going to tell me about your daughter or shall we move on to the weather?”
“Patty” Ellen choked on a sob.
“What do you want to hear?” Patty’s voice was gentle now, all trace of sarcasm and guardedness was gone, just a mild exasperation remained. “You've left it all behind. I understand that. What I don't understand is why you've called.”
“I don't understand either.” Ellen whispered back, she managed to get herself under a semblance of control and gambled on the truth for once.
“I thought about it and I didn't want our last conversation to be the final words between us.”
“I think we should let things lie. Be happy Ellen.”
There was a click and then silence. Ellen put the phone down gently and stared vacantly into space. The taste of anti climax bitter in her mouth. Patty sounded reasonable, they had spoke without arguing or worse, raking everything back up. Why cut her off so abruptly. She got up with a weary sigh, well, she had her answer, she had done what she set out to do. Ellen opened her lap top deciding to take advantage of the quiet time and get some work done. After a wine induced heavy sleep on Saturday night Ellen was looking forward to Sophie coming home and slipping back into their routine. Patty invaded her thoughts but she turned them away with more determination now she had been brushed off. She had took a risk and made an overture, Patty had turned it down, she had every right after all. The brief chapter was over. Mid way through the week she received a card in the mail. The card had a picture of butterflies on it but was completely blank inside. It held a single photograph. A photograph of a child with long fair hair and guileless blue eyes stared shyly at the camera while clutching the hand of her grandmother. Patty looked completely different to the woman she had seen at the pharmacy the other day. She was wearing jeans and a striped shirt. She was barefoot and wore a little light make up. The blond was bent at the waist with her face close to Catherine's looking uncertainly at the lens. She must have set up a camera with a self timer. Patty always was a bit hopeless with technology, it probably took all morning for her to work it out. The photo had a date stamp on the reverse. Sunday. The day after her call. Ellen didn't waste anytime thinking things over she picked up her phone and called Patty’s cell.
“That was a thoughtful thing to do, it's a lovely photograph. Thank you.”
“Thank you for your concern the other day. As you can see we are both well. I take medication for mild blood pressure, I have done for years.”
Ellen removed the handset from her ear and stared at it incredulously. What happened to letting things lie, be happy and goodbye?
“Good, I'm glad. Patty I....”
“I thought about what you said.” the blond cut in. “If we were to have a last conversation what would you like your final words to me be?”
“Look I was upset, I was shocked..”
“You don't want to tell me?”
“What? No. I don't know... What would you say?”
There was a long weary sigh, she sounded disappointed. Then she inhaled sharply.
“I would tell you I regret ever laying eyes on you.”
“Does that mean you're sorry?”
“Ellen I'll be sorry for the rest of my life.”
“Don't be.” the younger woman whispered tasting salty years on her lips.
“If it was our final conversation I would tell you that... that...” she gulped in a breath and steadied herself.
“Don't say it Ellen. Don't.”
Patty’s distinctive voice whispered in her ear. Ellen steeled herself one last time.
“I would tell you that I love you. Part of me always will. Goodbye Patty. Be happy.”