It was cold for this early in October, the trees in the park were almost bare already, the path was thick with them, a sodden carpet of brown and orange sludge that clung to her boots and hampered her progress. Not that she had anywhere to go on a Sunday afternoon. She had woke at seven to dreary grey clouds and a low morning mist, it reflected her mood. Ellen brewed coffee and sat in her lounge chair with hot tears streaming down her cheeks, she made no effort to stop them, it was going to be one of those days. The miscarriage she suffered fifteen weeks into her pregnancy had been the last blow she could stand. Already emotionally battered from the strain of going toe to toe with Patty she had hit the canvas and months later she was still struggling to get back up. Chris had gone, too deep in his own internal struggles to take on hers, he simply packed his bags and kissed her goodbye. It was too much, was all he said by way of apology and explanation. Even her own mother offered little in the way of comfort. Ellen could see reproach behind her eyes, for not taking better care of herself, for driving Chris away, for being the daughter she loved, but never really understood. After the miscarriage Ellen returned to work like an automaton. She walked into the office around seven every morning and seldom left before nine each night. She packed every minute as tightly as she could. While she was working she didn’t have time to think, to regret, to look at the calendar and wonder about her child. Ellen coped by throwing herself back into the one thing that was constant in her life, work.
The McClaren case had really raised her profile, meatier cases began to come in. She now had a staff of three, all male, all older than her. Ellen’s relationship with them was strictly professional. She drew clear distinct lines, this was her firm, she was their boss. She would decide on the cases, the strategy and the direction. If they couldn't deal with that they were to look elsewhere for employment. So far it was working. Late in the evening she carried on working at home, she scoured online news sites and blogs for corporate rumours and breaking scandals. She networked and traded emails with old colleagues and contacts to keep her name out there. The week she should have given birth she secured a twenty million dollar settlement on a case that was rejected as a no hoper by the larger firms in the city. There was no victory party or celebration, just sober handshakes all round and a staff meeting to discuss the next case. If her mind strayed to thoughts of Patty she immediately snapped them away. She had dumped all the evidence she had of Patty’s malpractice at her feet on the beach house dock when Ellen had just discovered she was pregnant and Patty had suffered the loss of her son. The door had slammed shut on their tortuous relationship for both parties. They had not had contact since that day. Patty had never returned to the law after Michaels death, she wound up her firm and devoted her time between her granddaughter and running the charitable foundation she set up a couple of years ago. They inhabited different worlds now, their paths diverged completely.
Sundays were hard to fill, Ellen only ever cried on a Sunday. Whole days of hot tears and bitter sobs that left her heaving and retching on the bathroom floor. She learned to plan for them too. She shopped, she visited galleries and museums, she met with Katie for lunch, very occasionally she visited her family over in Jersey. But some Sundays could not be beaten back with chores and visits. Some Sundays dragged her down with the sheer weight of her grief. Some Sundays she just gave herself up to it. That was how she came to be walking in the park that Sunday afternoon amongst the low cloud and light drizzle after a morning spent grieving, leaving her with a pain in her chest and the sudden urge to get outside and escape the thoughts of what might have been. Her child would have been six months old by now, probably teething and fractious, clingy and wanting her mother. On good days she would be smiling and gurgling, waving her arms and babbling nonsense. Tears mingled with the rain on her face, she rounded the path heading back towards the small, single storey rented house she once shared with Chris, they never got chance to decorate the nursery, she used it as a home office now. The small local park was practically deserted, the sky that had barely brightened all day was already turning to the purple grey of evening. The wind was whipping up, leaves stirred and scattered, it was time to go home. Ellen looked up, jolted from her musings by the sound of footsteps heading towards her. A woman in a long black coat and a hat perched low over her face was walking a dog at a hurried pace, no doubt hoping to get home before the drizzle turned into a downpour. Ellen stared in disbelief, she recognised that dog. As it got closer, his head cocked to one side and he pulled on the lead towards her. Ellen stood stock still, it was definitely Corey. Of the millions of people in the city, it was Patty Hewes walking her dog on a miserable Sunday afternoon in a park far from her home. Any second now Corey would bark, Patty would look up and their eyes would meet. There was nowhere to go, no way of avoiding it. Ignoring each other was impossible. Ellen's heart began to pound and she felt a wave of panic and heat roll up her body. Her vision clouded, damn tears, she told herself. She landed face down amongst the sodden fallen leaves while Patty was still fifteen feet away, a shocked expression of recognition on her face that swiftly turned to horrified alarm as the woman crumpled to the ground in front of her. Ellen struck her head on the path and lay motionless. The dog barked and lunged forward shocking Patty out of her paralysis, she quickly looked around but there wasn't anyone else within sight. She crouched at the side of the prone figure on the wet ground, blood trickled down Ellen's face diluted by the falling rain. Patty tapped her cheek gently and called her name, there was no response. She willed herself calm, she could feel Ellen's breath on her hands and see movement behind her eyelids, she had passed out, she wasn't in imminent danger apart from the effects of rain and cold. Patty tried once more to rouse the younger woman, she knelt and brushed wet hair from her face, the knees of Patty’s trousers were muddy and quickly soaked through, her coat suffered the same fate, the rain began to lash down in earnest. She rifled through her oversized purse cursing and looking for her cellphone. If Ellen didn't come round in the next few moments she would call 911. Her hand finally closed around the phone and she drew it out ready to dial. Corey stood close by, alert and sensing panic coming from his mistress. The dog nudged in closer to the body on the floor and began urgently licking her face.
“Corey stop that.”
Patty pushed the animal away just as Ellen raised her arm and rolled onto her side to escape the assault, her eyes flickered open, she groaned and covered her face from the driving rain.
“Ellen, can you stand, you passed out, it's pouring down, I need to get you up and out of here. Help me get you on your feet.”
Ellen groaned again and with Patty’s help hauled herself into a sitting position on the path.
“Do you feel able to stand? Should I call an ambulance?”
Ellen shook her head and took in a few deep breaths, her senses cleared enough to realise she was sat in the pouring rain under rapidly darkening skies and Patty was hovering over her, gripping her arm tightly trying to get her to her feet. She had to get up, Patty came to the side and put an arm around her back, her other hand clutched Ellen's and slowly she got her legs underneath her and managed to get upright. Her head swam sickeningly, quickly she bent at the waist with her hands on her knees for support and breathed heavily in and out. Patty stood helplessly, she raised her arm and dropped it again.
“My cars over there” Patty gestured to a small parking area in the near distance. “Can you manage to walk?”
Slowly Ellen stood upright and nodded gingerly, Patty wrapped an arm round her waist and began walking slowly towards the car, she could feel Ellen trembling with the cold beside her. Finally they reached the vehicle, Patty opened the passenger door and Ellen virtually fell into the seat. She popped the trunk and Corey bounded into the well, Patty retrieved a thick blanket and got in the drivers side banging the door shut. She wrapped the blanket over the shivering younger woman and started the car. As she approached the exit she looked over anxiously at Ellen whose eyes were drooping closed.
“Ellen which way, where do you live?”
“Right out of here, then left, number two twenty two.” She mumbled into the blanket.
Patty shot out into the light traffic and swore at the driver behind her who was gesticulating wildly. She laughed a little manically and tossed the black trilby to the floor, she shook out her hair and a couple of minutes later she pulled into what she hoped was Ellen's driveway.
“Is this it? Come on. I'll help you get inside.”
Ellen grunted and stirred, still disorientated, Patty helped her from the car to the doorway. Ellen fished her keys from her coat pocket but her hand trembled so badly Patty took them from her, unlocked the door and guided them inside. They made their way into the lounge and Ellen went to flop onto a couch but Patty held her up.
“No, go and get out of those wet things and take a shower to warm up. Is there anyone I can call? Where's Chris?”
“Gone.” Came the simple reply.
Ellen shook her head and made her way along the hall to her bedroom. Patty helped her off with her sodden coat and boots. She looked around to see a door she presumed led to bathroom. She went in and turned on the shower.
“Will you be alright in there? I'll go and make some tea. Are you sure you can manage, you might have a concussion or something.”
“I feel better now, less dizzy, I'm just cold. You can go now, I'll be fine.”
“I'll go when I'm sure you’re alright, don't be long in there.”
Patty’s voice turned sharp with command but Ellen didn't have the energy to bristle, she nodded one more time as she pulled her sweater over her head. Patty headed to the kitchen and put water on to boil. She busied herself with mugs and found teabags in a cupboard. She opened the fridge for milk and was alarmed to see there was little else in there except bottled water. She heard Ellen moving around down the hall and by the time she had brewed the tea and took the mugs through to the sitting area Ellen emerged in a pair of striped pyjama shorts and a faded t-shirt. She had a soft grey terry robe around her that finished at the knees. Patty drew in a breath as her eyes scanned the frame of the woman in front of her. Always on the slender side, Ellen now looked skeletal. Her legs were so thin they seemed barely able to hold her up. Skinny forearms poked from the end of the robe that Ellen hastily fastened to hide herself from Patty’s blatant appraisal. On closer inspection Patty could see the blackness under Ellen's eyes, the hollowness of her cheeks. Her once beautifully conditioned hair was pulled back in a hasty pony tail and frizzy from the shower.
“What have you done to yourself?”
Patty couldn't keep the anger from her voice, her once beautiful girl was a pale shadow of her former self.
“Don't Patty. I'm grateful for your help, I'll be fine now. I'm alright. You can go home.”
“Your head is still bleeding, let me have a closer look. Do you have any dressings anywhere?”
Ellen sighed heavily. “In the bathroom, the cabinet above the sink.”
“Come with me, the light will be better in there.”
Ellen leaned sulkily against the sink while Patty dampened some gauze and carefully inspected the wound before cleaning it with antiseptic and applying some cream. It was little more than a scrape but it gave Patty an excuse to linger.
“You look awful, you've lost so much weight, I'll never understand this size zero nonsense, it's not in the least attractive. Are you eating at all? There's no food in the fridge. Look at yourself” she turned Ellen to the large mirror over the sink.
“Patty leave me alone, please.” her voice took on a desperate note Patty ignored.
“No, I've left you alone for over a year and look at you. I said look at yourself Ellen.” Patty barked getting increasingly angry.
Ellen dragged her eyes up to meet her own reflection she barely recognised anymore. Skilfully applied make up and careful clothing choices hid the worst of her appearance but now, being forced to confront herself, she saw what Patty saw and her eyes filled with tears that spilled down her cheeks once more. Her arms trembled against the sink, she have up on the last of her control.
“I lost my baby Patty, I miscarried months ago....” she wailed, her face contorting with grief.
“I know, Kate told me, I'm so sorry.” Patty hovered and placed a comforting hand on the younger woman's arm.
It was a while before Ellen could respond, when she did her voice was hoarse with tears.
“I found out during the McClaren case, I lost her a month later, she would be six months old by now, I can’t stop thinking about her, I can't stop.”
“I'm so sorry.” Patty walked them back into Ellen's bedroom.
“Why don't you rest for a while. You look exhausted.”
Ellen compliantly curled herself into a ball and Patty drew the cover over her surprised at the lack of argument. She stared down at her one time protégé with a heavy heart before quietly leaving the room.
Patty retrieved the dog from the car and brewed more tea, she drank it slowly, lost in her thoughts, the animal sleeping at her feet. Patty knew the pain of losing a child, it never went away, it gnawed at you like a cancer from the inside out. When Ellen left her on the dock at the beach house Patty watched her go with a mixture of disdain and despair. Ellen, who had always sanctimoniously believed in her ability to hold on to her lofty ideals had finally discovered what it took to haul yourself to the top. It was bloody, lawless, terrifying and brutal. It was the biggest thrill in the world. Patty knew the knives had been out for her for years. Once her rivals and detractors scented her weakness after losing Michael they would be circling like a pack of wolves. Patty beat them to the punch and wound up her firm, her life's work. She had experienced success and attained the power she had always dreamed of. She had more money than she could ever spend, but she sensed her time was up and confounded everyone by simply walking away. After Michael was killed, she could no longer balance the books. She took a long look at her life, she was almost sixty, Catherine was all she had left, she would not fail another child. Her thoughts turned to the woman lay sleeping down the hall. Ellen, who was to be used and discarded. Ellen, who she thought she could bend and shape to her will. Ellen who turned out to be her fiercest adversary and greatest cause of regret. The door which had been slammed shut and bolted for almost a year was now standing ajar.
One hot summer Sunday back in June, Patty had dropped Catherine off at one of her kindergarten friends houses for a fifth birthday party. With no wish to remain surrounded by over excited preschoolers and besotted parents decades younger than her Patty had an hour or so to kill in a strange neighbourhood. she spotted the park and decided to take a stroll. It was busy that day, families taking advantage of the beautiful weather. People sat with picnics on the grass, balls and frisbees were tossed for panting dogs to chase. Patty sat on a bench and idly watched, her eyes flitting from one scene to another. Her wandering gaze was caught by a solitary young woman walking slowly. She wore a pale blue summer dress printed with butterflies. Her dark hair swung in a high pony tail, her footsteps unhurried and steady in wedge heeled navy sandals, yet something about her posture spoke of weariness and defeat. Patty’s heart lurched in her chest when she realised who it was. After a couple of minutes Patty lost sight of her in the crowd and she returned to breathing normally. When she got back to her apartment, she made a decision. Patty was well aware of the location of the building that held Ellen's office, she could easily procure the young woman's home address but it would not do to approach her directly. Neither could back down from their last stance. It had to be a chance meeting, accidental, catch her off guard and perhaps there would be an opportunity to reconnect. After seeing Ellen in the park that day the blond knew what she wanted above anything else. She wanted Ellen back in her life. Patty had walked the same route, in that same park, at the same time every Sunday since. Sometimes with Catherine, sometimes with Corey, sometimes alone. She walked the same circuit under the clear blue skies of summer, the howling wind of Autumn and even in pouring rain. Finally, on the fifteenth Sunday of asking, her wish had been granted. Patty thanked god she encountered her before the winter set in and she had deal with ice and snow. She was here now, in Ellen's home, she had listened to her story, comforted her while she cried. The door had swung open fully, Patty marched right through.
An hour or so later a groggy, sleep mussed Ellen appeared in the doorway. The haunted look in her eyes had been replaced by a wary suspicious one. Patty decided it was an improvement.
“You didn't have to stay, I told you, I'm fine.”
“I wanted to be on the safe side. You should eat something, I’m starving” Patty raised her eyebrows speculatively, “I could call for take out.”
Ellen goggled at Patty’s nerve. She really shouldn't be surprised by the other woman's behaviour. In the past, whenever they encountered one another after some time apart Patty would treat her as if they had no history, no hidden agendas, no secrets. She would merely pick up a conversation as if she had just stepped out of the room for a few minutes. Not this time, Ellen vowed.
“I'm not really hungry. I'm sorry you've wasted the afternoon. I’ve been working hard, I, um, I told you about the baby, it's been tough, it's been a difficult few months, and then seeing you. It was a shock. What are you doing out here anyway?” Ellen's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“It's not too far away. I found the park a while back, it's always quiet. Corey has got a bit aggressive with other dogs as he's got older.”
Patty lied smoothly, Corey looked up at his mistress in surprise, she nudged him with her foot and he settled his nose back down onto his paws.
“I should get back anyway, Mrs Ororo takes Catherine out on Sundays once in a while, they’ll be home soon.”
Ellen smiled at the memory of the sweet toddler in Patty’s care.
“How is she?”
“Growing up, she was five in May. She's a good girl. She's become much more vocal since starting nursery school.” Patty smiled proudly, her relationship with her granddaughter was the most precious thing in her life.
“That's good. Well thank you for getting me home, looks like your trousers are ruined. I'm sorry about before..”
“Nonsense” Patty stood up to leave.
“We all need a shoulder to lean on at some point. After Michael...Well without Catherine I don't know what I would have done.”
Ellen walked over to the door anxious for Patty to leave before the conversation headed into the dangerous territory of the past. Patty put on her mud spattered coat and called Corey to her side. She stared at Ellen for long moments in the doorway before reaching out a hand and touching her cheek tenderly.
The action seemed to snap something loose in the younger woman, she jerked her head away angrily, embarrassed now at her earlier loss of control.
“I don't need you to worry about me. You of all people have no right. You're not going to just walk back in my life. I'll never trust you, I'll never forgive what you did. All those years you strung me along and lied at every turn. We are done Patty, you should leave now.”
Patty didn't flinch, she held her ground in the doorway. She had been expecting this. It was a relief to watch Ellen let it go, to see her animated at last. They had to do this to move on. Even if it meant they never saw one another again, they had to go through this. Ellen's chest was mottled with blotches, her eyes had come alive with fire. Her cheeks flushed, her frame vibrated with fury. Patty just stood there passively, it made Ellen even angrier.
“Don't stop there, get it all out.” Patty goaded her lightly.
“You cold hearted, vicious, manipulative old bitch”
Ellen railed in a low, dangerous voice. The dog slunk a safe distance away at the younger woman's hostile tone.
“One by one you threw us all away. Ray, Tom, me, even Michael. Are you satisfied now? It cost you everything, your lies cost your own son his life. How the fuck do you sleep at night?”
“About as well as you I imagine..”
Patty sounded a lot cooler than she felt. Ellen's hand slammed against the doorframe inches from her head.
“Don't you dare compare yourself to me. Get the fuck out of my house, you disgust me.”
“So why did you keep coming back?” Patty said, her voice low and equally dangerous, “Whose door did you come to with Hi star? I guess I had my uses despite your apparent disgust.”
“I never knew for certain until I found him, I never wanted to believe that you could do that to me.”
Ellen turned away and took a step back.
“So in between furthering your career, you were just waiting for the moment you had the proof to bring me down?”
“Don't try to make it sound like I was an opportunist. You tried to have me killed. You hired a man to kill me.”
Ellen turned and addressed the words to the expanse of the room with her back to Patty. Her shoulders shook and she gave in to tears again, great racking sobs wrenched from her guts, rasping through her throat, burning and choking her.
“You could work and be successful anywhere yet you even now you practice in the same city and live half an hour away. Tell me, what is it that you really want to say to me?”
“Don't play games with me. Haven't you done enough?”
“Why won't you tell me?”
“I'll never forgive you, I'll never trust you...” Ellen turned back to her protagonist but remained two steps away.
“I miss you.” The blond whispered.
Patty’s words were barely audible. She braced herself for the first time, the screaming and anger she could stand, a final rejection would be more than she could bear. Ellen met her eyes and knew it, she saw the chance to land the knockout blow. Patty was wide open, all her defences were down. For the first time, she saw real fear in the older woman's eyes. Ellen swiped angrily at her face rubbing the remaining tears away. Her shoulders slumped and she felt exhausted as the flood of adrenalin brought on by the argument drained from her system. She was too tired to fight anymore. Too tired to deny that she had felt more alive in the past five minutes than she had in the past twelve months. Too tired to hang on to the hate she harboured for the woman in front of her when all she had ever wanted was to matter to her. She could never untangle her feelings for Patty, they were too caught up with betrayal, anger and a burning desire for revenge.
Patty turned and opened the front door before Ellen reached an arm out from behind her and slammed it shut before she could move. Patty could feel the younger woman's body against her back, Ellen's breath was hot on her neck. The younger woman placed her lips near Patty’s ear.
“You want me to come back to you, after all you've done, you turn up here and think I'll fall at your feet.”
Patty turned in the doorway and sucked in a breath. Ellen was too close, her eyes were still hard with anger, heat rolled off her body.
Patty knew she had to be careful here, a few badly chosen words now could undo everything.
“I would like to see you again. I understand if that's not possible.”
Ellen stood back and barked out a laugh, a cruel, merciless sound.
“You understand? You haven't got a clue. Go home Patty.”
“I know what it's like to lose a child, I know what it's like to be haunted by the past. I've done many things I'm not proud of and believe me I carry the burden of them every day. I don't expect anything from you, you'll either call me or you won't. I hope you do, I hope you begin to look after yourself better, I hope you can move on from the loss you've suffered. I'm leaving now, Corey, come on boy, let's go home.”
The dog scuttled out gratefully from behind the couch and skidded to a stop at his mistress’s side. Patty opened the door and headed down the drive into her car without a backward glance. She heard the door slam behind her. She settled herself in her seat and just for a moment put her head down on the steering wheel and closed her eyes. It could have gone better, it could have been a lot worse. Patty had done what she set out to do, she had ended the stalemate, it was up to Ellen now, it was her move.
Ellen pondered her move for a long time. As Christmas approached thoughts of Patty were increasingly hard to shake off. When she drove over to Jersey to spend the day gift shopping with her sister and six year old niece, the child made her think of Catherine. There was only a year or so between them and seeing the excitement and enjoyment her niece was showing over the approaching holidays lifted Ellen's heart and impulsively she purchased two new story books in the series she recalled reading to Catherine on the one occasion she babysat for her overnight. On the twenty third of december Ellen closed up the office and wished her staff a good Christmas. She picked up the festively wrapped parcel and took a cab over to Patty’s apartment. It was approaching eight, it had snowed heavily three days earlier, icy grey sludge was banked onto the pavements as Ellen carefully made her way into the building. Almost three months had passed since that Sunday and Patty had almost given up hope.
“Ellen, it's good to see you. Come in.”
Ellen walked in cautiously, her eyes took in the familiar layout of the vast apartment she had never felt comfortable in. A large, beautifully decorated Christmas tree took up a corner, some soft music played in the background. Ellen could not recall Patty ever watching the tv. She hovered uncertainly in the middle of the room.
“That's a pretty tree.” she stated at a loss for anything to say.
“Is Catherine in bed?”
“Yes, she's just gone down, I doubt if she's asleep yet if you want to say hallo. She’s excited for Christmas.”
Ellen smiled as familiar memories from her own childhood assailed her.
“No, I don't want to disturb her, I bought her a present, and then time got away from me, it was too late to mail it so I thought I'd bring it over myself...” Ellen closed her mouth realising she was rambling.
“Well I'm glad you did. I've got some food from dinner if you're hungry.”
“No, I ate at work.”
“Can I get you a drink?”
“I don't drink anymore.” Ellen stated with finality, she had stopped drinking as soon as she discovered she was pregnant and had not felt the urge to return to it.
“I'll make tea or coffee if you prefer.”
“No, I just wanted to drop off the gift. I’m not here for you. Say hello to Catherine for me.”
Patty stared at her steadily for a long moment.
“Alright, thank you. What are you doing?”
“For the holidays, are you going to your parents?”
“No, I'm just spending them quietly at home.”
Ellen looked up sharply and Patty was immediately contrite.
“Sorry, none of my business. You could come here. I'm sure Catherine would like someone not quite so fossilised to play with.”
“I hope she likes the gift. Goodbye Patty, happy Christmas.”
Patty closed the door softly and smiled, that was progress. A two minute visit, an awkward conversation and avoiding responding to an invitation. It wasn't much, but it was a lot more than she dared hope for when she walked out of Ellen's house three months ago. Ellen made her way home thinking of Patty and how she felt when she saw her again after their last encounter. For the past three months She had made a concerted effort to retake some control of her life. The emotional meltdown and subsequent screaming match with Patty had served to focus her mind. She made some small adjustments to her work life balance. She went out with Katie once or twice and took a little time for herself. She spent a weekend at a lakeside cabin where she read, walked and took very long baths. The immense feeling off loss didn't go away but she found allowing herself the time to think about it and grieve, instead of trying to block it out by burying herself under a mountain of work or pretending everything was fine, was helping. After some time she found passing a baby in a stroller still made her feel sad and wistful but it was a massive improvement from wanting to drop to her knees and sob. Some days were better than others but on the whole, by the time Christmas approached she was feeling brighter and stronger and on a more even keel. Strong enough to think about Patty and the words that had rattled around in her brain ever since that Sunday.
“What do you really want to say to me? Why did you keep coming back?”
The whole argument had sounded like a lovers quarrel, they had never been that. Their mutual attraction had been obvious for years but there was too much history, too much in the way, too much pain. Ellen knew why, and she knew Patty knew, but from her silence since their last meeting, Patty had made it clear. She had done all the pursuing she was prepared to do. It was up to Ellen to make the next move. Today she had made a faltering step. She had found herself back at Patty’s door, driven there by that impulse she could never get away from. No one affected her like Patty Hewes did. No one made her pulse race, her heart pound, or her temper flare like the mercurial blond. No one could make her feel as invincible as Patty did when they worked together. Nothing had ever matched the sickening feeling of betrayal when she finally found out the truth. Patty had tried to have her killed, she had set off a chain of events that led to David's death and upended Ellen's whole world. No one could forgive that. Ellen believed Patty when she said she had bitter regrets but that didn't alter the facts. When she came face to face with Patty tonight, Ellen hadn't felt the surge of anger that she normally associated with the older woman. She felt something she easily recognised. Something she had become very familiar with. She felt loss.
Once she had settled Catherine in bed on Christmas eve Patty picked up her cell and stared at it for a long time. She set it down only to pick it up again five minutes later. She poured herself a drink and listened to some music. Catherine was a placid, sweet child. She had gone to bed tonight quite happily with no noticeable excitement for Christmas day despite what she said to Ellen. Patty blamed herself for this. She was too old, too out of touch to properly engage with a five year old and fire her imagination. Patty felt she could have handled it better but wasn't sure how. Catherine's gifts sat under the tree, they had been there for days. Patty had told her not to touch them and the compliant child obeyed without question. The blond chuckled wryly, surely that wasn't natural behaviour for a five year old. Patty looked at her cell again and could not shake the feeling of loneliness that had enveloped her since seeing Ellen that Sunday. Last nights brief visit and awkward conversation had made it worse. Her fingers had pulled up Ellen's number on her cell as if on automatic pilot, she stared some more. Indecision was not a state of mind she was familiar with. To advance or to retreat? To spend the rest of her days regretting the worse decision she ever made. The decision that had come back to haunt her time and time again, or attempt to draw Ellen close one last time. She had lost her son, she had walked away from the firm she had spent almost twenty years of her career at the helm of. The rest of Patty’s life yawned before her. She could fill it anyway she chose yet she recognised and had acknowledged something was missing. Ellen was missing.
The child sleeping upstairs was her sole comfort and over the past year Patty had come to doubt her ability to raise her as she deserved to be raised. She had loved her son, she thought that was enough, bitter experience had taught her it wasn't and Patty was not inclined to repeat her mistakes. She jabbed the call button.
Ellen checked the caller display and felt the familiar jolt on seeing Patty’s name there. She sighed heavily and answered.
“What do you want Patty?”
“I want you back in my life. I want you to tell me what I can do to make that happen.”
Patty held her breath during the silence that followed. This could be the last conversation they ever had. She had to strain to hear the words whispered across the line.
“Tell me you're sorry for what you did.”
Ellen's voice wavered and broke. A tear slid down Patty’s cheek, she inhaled and swallowed hard.
“I've been sorry every second of every day.”
Ellen wiped away her own tears. She had spent years railing against this woman. Years of hanging onto the hope that what she suspected was not the truth, because who could still have feelings for a woman that had ordered her murder. Even when the truth finally emerged it was against the horrifying backdrop of Patty losing her son followed not long afterwards by Ellen miscarrying her child. The events that occurred during the Frobisher case had changed and shaped their lives ever since. So much pain and anger. So many regrets. So much senseless loss.
Ellen knew if she hung up now it would be over. Patty would be gone from her life for good. She could concentrate on her firm, carry on rebuilding her life out of the giant shadow cast by a tiny woman who fought and won with anyone brave or stupid enough to cross her path. Patty Hewes whose name inspired her to study the law in the first place. Patty who lifted her to the greatest heights and caused her to plumb depths she never believed she was capable of. Patty who despite everything still had the power to make her heart beat erratically in her chest.
“I'm still here.”
“I'm asking for a chance. Whatever you decide I'll respect that.”
“You think we can be friends?” Ellen's voice was completely devoid of inflection.
“I think we can be whatever you want us to be.” Patty whispered not daring to hope, not daring to say anymore.
“I'm hanging up.”
“Alright” came the soft reply.
“I'll call you. I think. I don't know.”
“Alright. Happy Christmas Ellen.”
“You too. Give Catherine a hug from me.”
“I will. Goodnight.”
Three months passed in the blink of an eye. Ellen looked at her cell and even pulled up Patty’s number many times but never called. Patty slowly resigned herself to the fact Ellen was not going to make contact and she had to accept that. Spring was in the air after a long hard winter and Catherine deserved her full focus and attention. Perhaps they should take a holiday. Full time school was looming for the little girl who was still showing little sign of outgrowing her shyness or reticence around strangers. Catherine loved the freedom of being at the beach house, so maybe a week on the shore or somewhere different before Patty the term started. Ellen would be better for such things. Ellen would find a way to bring the girl out of her shell. She wouldn't be averse to playing on the floor or theme park rides or using the latest gadgets that had the blond in an exasperated state before she even opened the box. Ellen had made her decision. Her silence spoke volumes. Patty shook herself mentally as she got her granddaughter ready for the day. She loaded the child and dog into the car and without making a conscious decision she drove to the park close to Ellen's house. Corey bounded ahead as Patty walked along and Catherine made use of the scooter her grandmother had bought her for Christmas. There was weak sunlight, leaves beginning to clothe the bare trees and bulbs starting to poke through the softening soil. It was mild and Patty slowed her pace as Catherine scooted ahead. She felt melancholy despite the burgeoning of Spring. She failed to hear the scurry of approaching footsteps due to the irritating scrape of the scooters wheels on the concrete path.
“I've been meaning to call you.”
The voice practically in her ear caused Patty to start in alarm.
“Jesus. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Sorry” Ellen grinned and didn't look remotely contrite. “What are you doing out here? Are you stalking me?”
“Hardly. It's been months since we spoke. I like it here, it's quiet and Catherine can scoot to her hearts content.”
“She's working up a head of steam on that.”
The pair walked in silence for a few beats.
“I'm sorry I never called you back.”
“That's alright. I got the message loud and clear.”
“It's not like that.” Ellen drew to a stop and tried to make eye contact.
“Then what is it like?”
Patty had never been so glad to have the distraction of a five year old. She kept her gaze riveted to the small blond form pedalling furiously and wobbling precariously along the path with Corey for company.
“Catherine slow down.” She called out, too late as the scooter connected with a stone that pitched the little girl forwards and headlong onto the path.
“Shit” the blond muttered and the pair hurried towards the wailing child who was struggling to get upright.
“Let me look at you.”
Patty held the child at arms length as she quickly scanned her for injuries. Thankfully her jeans had saved most of the skin on her knees but they were still badly scraped. Both hands were bleeding from where she tried to save herself and the sight of the blood increased the volume of her cries.
“It's alright, just a little blood where you've took the skin off. We’ll get you fixed up in no time. Does it hurt anywhere else?”
Catherine shook her head and continued to cry as Patty glanced around to see how far they were from the car. The little girl held out her arms to be picked up. Patty scooped her up and held her close whispering comforting words until the worst of the crying seemed to be over.
“Come back to the house it's closer than driving her home. Those cuts need bathing. You're a brave girl Catherine. I bet that hurt a lot.”
Catherine nodded but began to cry again as Patty tried to set her down.
“I can't carry you all the way back to the car sweetheart, try walking.”
“Noo” Catherine wailed and clung on with her legs, refusing to straighten them out.
“I can do it.” Ellen said quietly and held her arms out.
“She won't...” Patty began but Catherine surprised her by reaching out and the pair passed the child between them clumsily.
“There you go.”
Ellen said as she adjusted her grip and little arms wrapped themselves around her neck. Patty grabbed the scooter and called the dog to heel before they set off back to the car. Ellen rubbed Catherine's back reassuringly and tried to draw her into conversation as they walked along.
“I used to read you stories when you were little. Do you remember that?”
“You're Grandma’s Ellen, you bought me new books for Christmas.”
“The cat in the hat?”
“No, Spot books, he's a dog like Corey.”
“That's right. You've got a great memory. Spot goes to the city...”
“Spot gets lost in the city.” Catherine corrected in her tiny voice.
“I remember now. He went to the pound and a little girl came and adopted him.”
“She had curly hair.”
“She sure did. I had curly hair when I was little.”
“Not now, you've got pretty hair.”
“You've got pretty hair too.”
Catherine smiled and pressed a kiss to Ellen's cheek before tucking her head into the crook of her neck and settling in her arms. By the time they reached the car and strapped her in she was quiet and docile once more.
“Perhaps I should take her home.”
“I'm only around the corner.”
Ellen stated and slid in the passenger seat before Patty could talk her out of it. Corey jumped into the well and they set off towards Ellen's house. Patty left it to the younger woman to tend to the wounds once it became apparent that Catherine was basking in the attention. She sat quietly on the kitchen counter while Ellen filled a bowl with warm water and sponged off her hands gently removing grit and loose skin before applying a cooling salve. Ellen kept up a distracting stream of questions about kindergarten, her friends and favourite cartoons to take the little girls mind off her injuries. It worked like a charm. Catherine didn't even whimper as her jeans were removed and Ellen repeated the process on her skinned knees. Patty could not recall hearing her granddaughter chatter so much in one sitting.
“There you go big girl. All done.”
Ellen said brightly as she carefully replaced her jeans and set the little girl down on the floor.
“I think you deserve a treat for being so brave. Patty, is it alright if she has some ice cream?”
Ellen looked across to the blond who sat at the small kitchen table. Catherine had wandered over to her grandmother and held up the most badly affected hand with an imploring look.
“Kiss it better”
She whispered and Ellen looked away quickly feeling the traitorous sting of tears. She heard a soft smacking sound of lips on skin and a couple of murmured words as she busied herself looking for her emergency carton of cookie dough, refusing to let her mind wander to the child who was so cruelly torn away from her.
“I don't think that park is a lucky place for us.” Patty muttered ruefully. “I think a little ice cream will finish the job.”
Ellen set a small bowl down before making some tea and finally sitting at the table when she could put it off no longer. It was quiet save for the scrape of the spoon on the bowl as Patty helped Catherine eat between sips of tea.
“All gone.” Catherine said in a sing song voice.
“Good girl, do you feel alright now?”
Catherine nodded against her grandmothers chest, she appeared sleepy, she rubbed her eyes and curled herself into Patty’s arms.
“I should take her home. Thank you for looking after her. It's been good to see you again. You're looking better, more rested. More like yourself.”
Ellen looked up and found herself captured by the intense blue eyes she knew so well.
“I'm not even sure who that is anymore.” Ellen said softly as she gathered crockery and placed them in the sink.
“I am. You're a fine lawyer with a great career ahead of you. There's no limit to what you can achieve..”
“You mean I'm like you.” Ellen snapped shortly.
“No. You've always followed your own path and I've no doubt you will continue to do so. I mean it. I wish you well. Now it's really time I took Catherine home.”
“Can I have a hug?” Ellen asked the child as she roused herself.
Ellen put her arms out and Catherine surprised her grandma again by reaching out for the embrace. Ellen hugged her tightly for a few moments. Catherine’s lips were cold against her neck from the ice cream. She smelt of outside and cookie dough. Ellen inhaled deeply before setting her down on the floor.
“Bye sweetie. You take care on that scooter ok? No more tumbles.”
“I'll be careful. Thank you for the ice cream.”
With a last quick hug Catherine skittered back to Patty and tugged on her hand ready to return home to the more gentle pursuits of her books and crayons.
“Were you really going to call me?”
“I don't know.” Ellen replied honestly as she walked them to the door.
“Will you call me now?”
“I don't know that either.”
Patty took advantage just as she took advantage of every situation in her life. Knowing the younger woman would not start a scene with Catherine in the doorway, she quickly leant in and pecked a dumbstruck Ellen just to the side of her lips.
“Thank you for helping out. I'll speak to you soon. Say goodbye to Ellen Catherine.”
Patty marched them down the path and fastened Catherine into her seat. Before Patty got in she locked eyes with Ellen and raised her hand in farewell. Ellen shook her head, raising her own hand automatically in return.
It was almost ten when her cell phone rang. Patty took a fortifying sip of bourbon and answered.
“Have you lost your fucking mind?” Ellen began without preamble. Patty winced but held on to her composure.
“Thank you for waiting for Catherine to be in bed before you called. And no. I lost my mind once and we both paid dearly for it. I'm asking to see you again. We could take Catherine out somewhere.”
“Don't. Don't use that little girl to try to reel me in.”
“I'm not. I thought you'd be more comfortable with a chaperone. A less awkward way to reconnect.”
“Can you hear yourself?”
“The time for bullshit and games has long gone. I'll spell it out for you. I believe we could have something, I want to find out what it is, I want,...I would like to have you back in my life.”
Patty tried to relax her iron like grip on the phone. She knew this was her last roll of the dice. She believed Ellen knew it too.
“I don't know if I can be around you.”
“Don't you want to find out? let's start again Ellen.”
Patty heard how close she was to outright begging. She closed her eyes and sent up a silent prayer.
“You won't ever interfere with my work...”
“If you even dream of pulling any of your crap....”
“I can't believe I'm even considering this.”
Patty sucked in a breath and realised how rigidly she was holding herself. How much this actually meant to her.
“Any condition you want.”
That brought a shocked bark of laughter from the other end.
“Now I know you've lost it.”
“Now you know how far I'm prepared to go for a chance. That's all I'm asking. A chance.”
“You had your chance. More than one.”
Ellen's voice turned hard as old scars threatened to reopen and the betrayal she thought she would never recover from rose back up in her mind. Patty’s shoulders slumped and her head dropped. She had said and done all she could and still come up short.
“I wish I'd never set eyes on you. I wish I knew how to get you out of my head.” Ellen whispered almost to herself. “You hurt me more than I know how to say.”
“There's nothing I can do that will change that.”
There was a rustling and fumbling sound down the line. The sound of a throat being cleared and perhaps tears being wiped away.
“I don't want to close the door for good, but I can't make you any promises.”
“I'm not asking for any promises other than you keep in touch.”
“I will. I can't say anymore right now but I'll call you soon. Goodnight Patty.”
Patty hung up, exhaled in a long stream and refilled her glass. Goodnight wasn't goodbye.
It may as well have been. More months passed and Patty felt the loss more keenly than ever. The summer was long hot and largely uneventful. Catherine was moving up from kindergarten to full time school in September. The pair spent a week at the beach house before the end of the holidays. If anything Catherine seemed to have grown quieter over the past couple of months. She was clingy and unusually demanding of her grandmothers attention while they were at the shore. Patty was mystified and concerned with this turn of events. She worried the child was sickening for something but she refused to be drawn by her grandmothers gentle probing and Patty was at a loss. If she was honest she would be glad when the little girl started school and developed a more structured routine. The pair returned on a Sunday. A fraught journey punctuated with tailbacks and tantrums on both sides. It was approaching eight and Catherine was refusing to get ready for bed. The weary stand off was interrupted by the chirp of Patty’s cell. She was going to ignore it until she saw Ellen's name in the caller display. She snatched it up immediately.
“Ellen, can I call you back in half an hour I'm trying to put Catherine to bed.”
“Actually I'm downstairs but if it's a bad time I can...”
“No.” Patty butted in hoping she didn't sound as desperate as she felt. “Come on up, I'll open the door.”
“If you're sure...”
“Really I could do with a hand.”
A couple of minutes later Ellen appeared hesitantly in the doorway and looked on in amusement as two pairs of very similar eyes stared at one another in obvious aggravation.
“Hey Catherine, wow you've grown over the summer. Let me have a look at you.”
Catherines eyes immediately snapped to the visitor and a wide smile replaced the mutinous look.
“Ellen!” She cried and skipped straight over for a hug which caused Patty to roll her eyes in exasperation.
“We've been to the beach house.”
“That's great. I'll tell you what. Why don't I help you get your pjs on while you tell me about all the fun stuff you did.”
Ellen looked over at Patty and got a brief nod of permission. The young woman picked up the little girl and carried her towards the stairs.
“You can show me your room. It's been a long time since I saw it. Have you got some new Spot books. How about a story? Would you like that?”
They were half way up the stairs leaving Patty feeling redundant and pretty useless in the living area. She cleared away for a few minutes before picking up their luggage from the hall closet. The blond went up to her room, opened the case and began sorting laundry. She strained to hear the muffled conversation interspersed with giggles from down the hall. When she entered Catherine’s bedroom she was more than a little surprised to see her granddaughter snuggled onto Ellen's lap in the bedside chair as Ellen read the latest Spot adventure in a soothing voice.
“Almost done.” She whispered to Patty who sat on the end of the bed until Ellen wound up the tale.
“Teeth time.” Ellen swung Catherine to the floor and towards Patty who took her into the bathroom. The little girl clambered happily into bed on her return.
“Night grandma.” She said all wide eyed innocence and minty toothpaste as she pressed a kiss to Patty’s cheek.
“Goodnight sweetheart.” Patty replied a little sardonically as she tucked in the covers.
“I'll see you soon ok. Sweet dreams.” Ellen got a hug and a kiss before she slipped from the room.
“What did you do with her. Five minutes before you arrived I thought her head was going to start spinning round.” Patty huffed and handed Ellen a cup of tea. The younger woman let out a laugh.
“She’s learning to push your buttons. She's starting early.”
“She's been a handful today. I don't know if she's worrying about starting school or she's worked out her home life is different from her friends or..”
“Or maybe she's just over tired after a week collecting shells and running on the shore. She's fine Patty.”
“I worry about her. I worry I'm not doing enough.”
“I'm sure all parents worry about the same thing.”
Ellen looked away to hide the pain of her loss that continued to hover just below the surface despite the passage of time. Patty went quiet as she handed over a cup of tea to her guest.
“Something tells me this isn't a social call.”
Patty tried to sound relaxed and breezy but the silence from Ellen over the past few months and the uncomfortable set of her frame had the blond feeling wary and tense.
“I wanted to see you, I got a great settlement in the Dresden case.”
“I know, I still have my sources, I've followed the case, you did a sound job. It's certainly got your name out there.”
“It was a big case for me, when the settlement figure came in, you were the first person I wanted to call. That day you found me in the park, that argument we had. You asked me why I kept coming back, you know why, it's always been about you. I kept coming back because no matter how hard I tried, and believe me I have tried, I can’t hate you enough to stop loving you.”
Patty’s cup stopped halfway to her mouth. She set it down and it rattled into the saucer, otherwise silence reigned. Ellen took a shallow gasping breath as she stared down the petite blond sat across the room. Getting those words out of her mouth was one of the hardest things she had ever done. It had been almost a year since she had slumped to the ground in front of Patty that day. Almost a year of turning their history over and over in her mind. Almost a year of healing and accepting before finally coming to a decision. Patty tried and failed to blink away tears, she was making a titanic effort to hold herself together. Eventually she let out a long shuddering breath.
“That's quite the confession.” She managed, her voice had taken a pitch and tone neither of them recognised.
“If we're going to do this, that has to be the last one. No secrets, no lies, no games. You offered me your hand once, after hi-star. I wasn't ready then, I'm not sure I'm ready now but I want to try. If that's still what you want”
Ellen extended her hand between them feeling both foolish and determined. Patty nodded unable to form the words. She clasped the hand gently between both of hers.