The law office of Carrington, Stone, and Wells was always quietly busy. But when Edward Carrington stepped out of his office, it was as if everyone stopped and held their breath, awaiting his command.
“Paul, would you come into my office, please?” Edward Carrington motioned to the junior partner walking down the hall. Those not summoned quickly walked on.
Paul stopped, a little dance of nerves going up his spine. Had he done something wrong? Why would the senior partner in the law firm want to talk to him? “Uh, sure Mr. Carrington,” Paul replied. He shifted the files under his arm and followed Mr. Carrington into his spacious office.
Waving Paul toward a seat, Mr. Carrington sat down in his throne-like leather chair behind a mahogany desk shined to perfection. “I bet you’re wondering what this is about, Mr James.” His smile turned almost fatherly. It didn’t help with the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of Paul’s stomach. He wasn’t sure what the correct response would be to that, so he merely nodded.
“How long have you been at our firm now?” Carrington asked.
“Just over a year, sir,” Paul said, trying to appear relaxed and not fidget with the files he was holding.
“Have you enjoyed working here?” Carrington leaned forward and steepled his fingers before peering over them at Paul.
“Yes, sir, the firm of Carrington, Stone and Wells was my first choice out of law school.”
“You did very well in law school,” Mr. Carrington stated matter-of-factly. “I looked over your file. And you’ve done very well here making a reputation for yourself as a defense attorney that we can count on to win.” Carrington leveled his gaze at Paul. “Do you like to win, Paul?”
Paul decided to be direct. “Yes, sir.” He wasn’t some rookie anymore. He’d worked hard on his cases and was proud of his successes.
“What do you know about Vicente DiChesney?” he asked, watching Paul carefully.
Paul swallowed before he answered. Was this a test? “Well, Mr. DiChesney is being charged with embezzlement and fraud, I believe. There are some rumors that he’s tied to the mob. Our firm is handling the case.”
“Do you believe those rumors?” Mr. Carrington asked pointedly.
Paul shifted the files on his lap. He sensed that this answer was very important. “Mr. Carrington, I am a criminal defense attorney. My client’s innocence or guilt will be determined by a jury of his peers and my job is to present the facts as my client instructs me¾not to judge him.” He leaned back in his chair, meeting the senior partner’s eyes head on.
Those eyes stared back at him from behind the small glasses he wore. “Well done, son.” He pulled a file out from the top drawer of his desk, with a small white envelope on top. “I want you to take over the DiChesney file. I’ll second chair you for this trial, but I’m looking forward to a long and happy arrangement with Vicente DiChesney and I think you are the man to help this firm achieve the uh, closeness we want with this client.” He fingered the white envelope on top of the file. “It comes with a substantial raise and shot at being a full partner.”
Paul took a deep breath. He opened the envelope and the seven figure number made his eyes swim. He hadn’t expected to make that much money so soon. “Yes, sir,” was all he could manage.
Edward came around the desk and Paul stood. “You’d best get started with this right away. Preliminary hearing is in two days.” Paul took the slim file and put it on top of the stack he’d brought in with him. “Give those other cases to another junior partner,” he said, putting his arm around Paul. “You won’t have time for them now with your new position.”
Paul didn’t want to say yes sir again, so he nodded and left without saying anything else. He was barely able to contain his grin until he was headed down the hall toward his own small office. His mind was racing. He couldn’t wait to tell Emma. She would be so proud of him! He sat down at his desk and reached for the phone, then realized she wouldn’t be home from work yet. He tapped the phone, really wishing he could talk to her, but instead of picking up the receiver he picked up the DiChesney folder. He had to start prepping right away. Tonight was his first wedding anniversary and they had unbreakable plans. Well, as unbreakable as they could be with their schedules. Still, Emma wouldn’t be happy if he spent the evening at work. I’ll tell Emma my news as an anniversary gift, he thought, letting a satisfied smile spread across his face. She’ll be so excited. We can buy everything we’ve ever dreamed of.
Emma rubbed her abdomen, disbelief filling her as she looked at the pregnancy test that was a very bright blue. Shaking her head, a smile slowly spread across her face. A baby! Paul would be so surprised. She looked down at the little stick again, a frown replacing her smile. Surprise might not be the best way to describe Paul’s reaction.
They’d had a whirlwind courtship and Emma assumed Paul wanted children as much as she, but after their marriage it became clear his focus was his career, and that he thought hers should be as well. Whenever she’d brought up having children, he’d always change the subject, or nuzzle her neck and tell her they were so good together, why would they want to ruin a good thing? It bothered her and had for a long time. She’d just never found the courage to take a stand. Looking at the positive pregnancy test, she knew the time had come. We’ll just have to deal with it, she thought, shrugging. Once he got used to the idea, he’d be as happy as she was.
Emma looked at the clock, wondering how she would deliver the news. Luckily, she had an hour before he got home to think of something. She changed out of her skirt and put on jeans, determined to make his favorite—chicken cordon bleu. After a wonderful dinner she’d just tell him he was going to be a father.
As she walked toward the hall she passed the full-length mirror on their closet door. Unable to resist, she stopped and pulled her shirt tight over her still flat belly. Not for long, she thought, the happiness coursing through her. All her fantasies of being a mother bubbled to the surface. Paul will be happy, she told herself. How could he not be?
Thinking of his mischievous smile before he left this morning, Emma knew he had something wonderful planned for their anniversary, but she doubted he could top the gift of a child. Emma laughed nervously to herself. It will be okay. We love each other and we’ll share that love with a child. But just in case, she hurried to her cupboards to get started on the chicken cordon bleu.
Paul glanced at his watch, then ran his hands through his hair. He’d been going over the DiChesney file for the last two hours, and he was beginning to get a headache. The state had some airtight evidence on DiChesney that was going to be hard to rebut. It’ll be a difficult case, but I will win it, Paul thought fiercely. Even Carrington sees my talent. He tapped his pencil on his cheek, making a mental checklist for himself of everything to be done before the hearing in two days. Hopefully we get a sympathetic judge. He jotted down a note to himself to check on that tomorrow bright and early. For now, though, he needed to go home. Today had turned out to be incredible both personally and professionally and he felt like celebrating with his wife.
As he shut down his computer, he went over his preliminary game plan one more time, knowing this case could make his career. With everything in place, he put the file folder in his locked drawer, and stood to put on his suit jacket. He slid his arms in, enjoying the feel of the Italian cut and expensive fabric. He loved this suit. Feeling for the jeweler’s case in the jacket pocket, he smiled to himself. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Emma about his raise and to give her the diamond necklace nestled there in the pocket. He loved to give her nice things, but now the sky would be the limit. With this raise they’d soon be able to take that trip to France she’d been dreaming about. When they could both find a convenient time to get away, of course.
Paul grabbed his briefcase and locked his office door behind him. His steps quickened as he strode toward the exit. Suddenly he couldn’t wait another moment to be with Emma. He jangled his car keys.
“’Night, Steven,” he called as he walked by the man behind the security desk.
“’Night, Paul,” he returned. “Going home for dinner today? That’s a first for you I think.”
“Yeah.” He smiled, feeling sheepish. “It’s our first anniversary. And I got a big raise today.”
“Congratulations,” Steven called to Paul’s retreating back.
“Thanks.” Paul waved as he walked through the parking lot of the law firm, whistling as he went. Tonight he would take Emma to her favorite Italian restaurant and give her the necklace. He tapped his suit jacket pocket one more time to reassure himself it was still there. He’d just been able to pick it up this morning from the jeweler’s. The string of diamonds had caught his eye and when he’d looked closer he could see it made the shape of a delicate heart and hung on a thin gold chain. It was beautiful, and he could imagine it nestled at Emma’s throat, catching the eye of everyone in the room.
He fished his keys out of his pocket and climbed into his car, starting the engine quickly to get the heater going. Arizona may be known for its warmth, he thought, but it can get chilly. He waited a few moments for his little car to warm up before easing out of the parking stall. That’s another thing we can afford now, new cars for both of us, he thought. Paul turned on the radio and a love song crooned from the speakers. Smiling, he thought of Emma. Her long brown hair, her bright smile, her thin waist and long legs. She was the perfect package.
Traffic was light and before long he pulled up in front of their home in Mesa. He walked through the front door and dropped his keys on the hall table. “Em, I’m home,” he called.
She came out of the kitchen in jeans and a t-shirt, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Hi, honey,” she said, offering her face to him for a kiss.
Paul frowned. “You don’t look like you’re ready to go. I have reservations at Cucci’s tonight.” He followed her back into the kitchen. “Is that chicken cordon bleu I smell?”
She looked back at him, a smile on her face. “Yeah, I thought we’d eat in tonight.”
He never could resist that smile. Wrapping his arms around her, he turned her quickly and backed her up against the counter. She laughed and pressed her hands against his chest. “Paul, I need to take the chicken out of the oven.”
He nibbled her ear, trailing kisses down her jawline. “You seem extra happy tonight. If I’d known eating in could do that for you, I’d never take you out again.”
Emma smiled, letting out a small contented moan as he touched his lips to hers. She ran her free hand up his neck and curled her fingers into his hair, obviously enjoying the kiss. But she pulled back much too soon. He reached for her again, but she put two of her fingers over his mouth. “Wait, I have a surprise for you.”
Paul raised his eyebrows and she dropped her hand to his chest. “I have a surprise for you, too. I think you’re going to like it.”
She bit her lip and broke away from the embrace, pointing toward the table. “Everything’s ready, so let’s sit down.”
Just then her phone chimed. “That’s my dad’s ringtone. He hasn’t been able to call me since he got to Africa.” She turned to grab it. “You go sit down. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t be too long,” he called after her. “We have some celebrating to do.” Paul sat down at the oak table they’d recently bought, now laden with food and candles. He poured himself a glass of wine, anxious to see the smile on Emma’s face when he gave her the necklace. He loved her smile and how it made him feel. Like he could conquer the world. He took another sip of his drink as he watched her pace back and forth in the kitchen doorway, the jeans she was wearing emphasizing her curves. He hoped she wouldn’t be on the phone much longer. He wanted her all to himself.
After a few more minutes she came into the dining room and set down the chicken dish. The candlelight fairly danced in Emma’s eyes. “You are positively glowing tonight, sweetheart,” he told her.
A shadow passed Emma’s face before she gave him the smile he liked to see on her face. “Thank you.”
“How’s your dad?”
“He’s fine,” she said. “He finally got a connection to check in with me. There aren’t too many great internet connections in Uganda, I guess.” Her expression turned pensive. “It’s been so hard for him ever since Mom died. He’s thrown himself into his job and barely comes up for air.” Her voice got really soft and Paul leaned forward to catch her words. “It only makes it worse since his job is so dangerous.”
Paul set down his wine glass and came around the table to put his arm around her. “Well, at least he checks in with you regularly.” He touched her hair. “Maybe this will help get that beautiful smile back on your face. I was going to wait, but I’ve wanted to give this to you all day.” He pulled the velvet box from his pocket, flipping open the lid.
Emma gasped, the diamonds giving off a prism of color in the candlelight. “Paul, it’s so beautiful,” she breathed. “How can we ever afford something like this?”
“I got a raise today,” he announced proudly. “A big one. Mr. Carrington gave me control of a very important case and said I have a shot at being a full partner. We can afford a lot more things . . . such as Paris.” He grinned like a little boy on Christmas morning as he placed the box on the table and grabbed both her hands. “As soon as we can, let’s go to France. Let’s make our plans for a working trip around the world. We could work remotely for a bit right? Move some court dates around and we’re set.”
Emma’s face fell, her grip tightening on his hands. “I’m so proud of you, honey. But I’ve got an anniversary gift for you myself.” She pulled his hands toward her stomach, her eyes starting to glisten with tears. “I’m going to have a baby,” she said, softly, her voice trembling. “You’re going to be a father.”
Just like that the air was sucked out of the room and Paul couldn’t breathe. His jaw went slack as what she’d said sank in. Paul pulled his hands away from her body as though he’d been burned by the mere touch of it. “You’re kidding, right?” He sat down heavily in his chair. “You can’t be serious. We’re always careful.” Unable to sit still with the word baby echoing through his brain, he stood and began to pace, then stopped to look at her. “You can’t possibly be happy about this.”
Emma stared at her toes for a moment before she raised her chin to look at him. “Yes, I am very happy about this. And you will be, too, once we think it through. We need to talk about it.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face, then watched as Emma reflexively covered her middle and sat down. He knew this was the one chance he had to argue his case. He took a deep breath for calm and knelt in front of her. “Em, how can we achieve all our goals and dreams if we’re tied down to a kid? Do you really want to be waking up all night to a screaming baby? Kids are messy, dirty, and needy. You’re responsible for another person. Just like your dad. He feels responsible to let you know he’s okay instead of just doing his job.” He stroked her hand. “What would we do with it while you’re working? Childcare is expensive.”
Emma extricated her hand and stroked his cheek. “Thinking about childcare is a positive step,” she said, her look hopeful. “And you said you got a raise today. That could cover a lot of expenses.”
Paul shuddered inwardly. A kid would take the entire raise and probably more until he was drained dry. “No matter how much money we had, it wouldn’t be enough. We could spend it all on some ungrateful kid who will do nothing but cause us heartache, then turn around and say what horrible parents we were!”
“Not all children are like that,” Emma said firmly. “And you will be a great father.”
Paul looked at her, the rein he had on his frustration pulled tight. “I don’t want to be a father, Emma. I thought that once you got settled in your career you would give up this ridiculous idea of being parents. We have a great thing going, just the two of us.” He stood and pulled her up beside him. “Why would I want to share your attention?” He tried to nuzzle her neck, his hands caressing her waist. “Besides once you have a baby your body will never be the same. And it’s perfect.” She stilled his wandering hand and pulled away.
“Try to understand, Paul. Please. I want this child. It was created in love, it’s a miracle it even happened. I want to be a mother,” she said, her voice turning desperate. “I’m sure once you get over the shock, you’ll see. This is a good thing.”
Paul let his hands drop, knowing he’d lost. Anger surged through him. Why couldn’t she see? His eyes bored into hers. “If you insist on keeping this kid, then you’ll be a single parent.”
The words hung in the air like an electrical current between them. Emma swayed and for a moment, he thought she might faint. He almost reached for her. No sympathy, he told himself. Make her see reason.
“You can’t mean that,” she whispered. “You’d throw away our marriage?”
He tilted his head, using the expression he used on every jury he’d appeared in front of when he wanted them to know he meant business. “I mean every word. I do not want a child. Em, you know what growing up was like for me. I always took second place to my parents’ careers. I swore to myself I wouldn’t put any kid through that kind of hell, wondering if they’re important, having to compete with clients and meetings.” His own lonely childhood flashed in front of his eyes, the endless babysitters, the loneliness. He couldn’t yield on this one. “I have everything I could ever want¾a beautiful wife, a great career, and enough money to make life fun. That’s all I want. No children. I can’t make that any more clear.” He couldn’t stand to look into her eyes anymore, the hurt there piercing him to the core. He leaned toward her, nearly giving in, wanting to comfort her. No compromises. Not this time. Not on this subject. He strode toward the hall, picking up his jacket on the way. He had to get out of here. He headed toward the door. This definitely wasn’t how he’d imagined this evening ending.
Emma trailed behind him, and he could barely look at her expression of shock on her face. Opening the front door he turned back to her, but kept his eyes on a point just above her head. “I love you Emma. I promise you that I will be a faithful, good husband that will provide for your every need. I know I can make you happy. But I don’t want any kids slowing us down. You have to make a choice.”
Emma sank to the tiled entryway, tears starting to roll down her cheeks. “Don’t go,” she begged. “Let’s talk about this.”
When he shook his head, she curled her legs under her and wrapped her arms around them as if she were making herself as small as possible to protect her from the words coming out of his mouth. He barely made out her muffled voice saying. “What am I going to do?”
Paul’s jaw hardened. “Choose me, Emma.” He stood there, hoping she’d raise her head and see he wanted what was best for them.
“I can’t,” she whispered, huddled on the floor.
And just like that, it was over. “Just remember, you chose this for yourself,” Paul said, anger burning through his veins. This should have been the happiest day of his life and she’d ruined it. Kids ruined everything. When Emma didn’t move, he shook his head, slamming the door as he walked away.