Today was mine and Trevor’s last day in court. Judge Logan would finally be ruling on custody of Orla. When I first began this ordeal, I was so scared this crackpot judge would take Orla away from me. But with Mr. Bernhardt helping me, I was confident I would rightfully be granted sole custody. Of course, Mr. Bernhardt cautioned me that Trevor might still get partial custody. I thought he was being ridiculous.
The sun poured through the window, bathing London it’s morning rays. She groaned and rolled over. She had barely slept a wink the night before. But before she could fall back to sleep, the door to the tiny room she’d shared most of her life – first with Karly, now with Orla – creaked open.
“Mama,” Orla whispered. The smells of bacon and black coffee filled London’s nose. She could hear Lyndsy banging spoonfuls of eggs on to plates.
London pretend to be asleep.
“Mama?” Orla drew closer.
London still didn’t stir.
“Maaama, wake up.” This time Orla whined right into London’s ear. When London didn’t reply, Orla climbed on to the bed.
“Mama, twime for bweakfast!” Orla reached down and tugged London’s eyelids apart. London’s eyes snapped open.
London grabbed Orla before she could dart off the bed, hugging and tickling her, and pretending to bite her. Orla shrieked in laughter.
“London, c’mon, we’re gonna be late. Get you rear in gear,” Lyndsy shouted up he stairs.
London sighed and flopped back on her bed. Orla bounced up and down on her chest.
“’Gain, Mama, ‘gain!”
“Sorry Babycakes, you heard Abuela. We gotta get ready to go.”
“Where,” Orla demanded.
“Well, today we are going to go to court. Abuela will come and sit with you and Mama and Dada are going to find out who you’ll be living with from now on.”
“Together,” asked Orla.
“If only it were that simple, Babycakes.” London lightly brushed at the bruise on her neck, tears forming in her eyes.
“Aw, mama owie hurt? I mwake it betta.” Orla leaned over and kissed London’s bruise.
London grabbed Orla up and held her close. Her daughter was so precious – she had to protect her.
“Mama, yer hurtink meeeee,” Orla whined, trying to push away.
London rolled out of bed, Orla still in her arms.
“Sorry Babycakes. Let’s go have breakfast.”
Orla chatted away happily as she ate, oblivious to the fact her mama and abuela were on edge, while simultaneously trying to drink in every moment of what may be their last breakfast together.
Orla ran laps up and down the hall outside the courtroom. Ordinarily, London would have asked her to be quiet, but a million thoughts were clambering in her head, meaning she paid no attention to what was happening around her.
“Orla, come sit with Abuela and you can watch a video on her phone,” pleaded Lyndsy.
Orla had reached one end of the hall, turned, and raced toward Lyndsy. Lyndsy smiled in relief, even opening her arms to welcome Orla. But instead of stop, Orla whizzed by, on the way down to the other end of the hall. As she reached the end, someone came around the corner. The force of their collision sent Orla back on her bottom.
“Oopsie Orla! Did you take a bit of a tumble?” Angelique Jones’s buttery warm voice boomed down the corridor.
Orla screwed her face up in a pout, a variable caricature of a stroppy toddler. Lip quivering, she sniffed. Once. Twice. Then let out an almighty wail.
This was finally enough to get London’s attention. She shot to her feet and strode down the hall.
“Orla, you’re ok! Angelique, I am so sorry! Orla, apologize to Ms. -”
At that moment, Trevor rounded the corner with his lawyer. London stopped short, the words dying in her throat. The blood pounded in her ears. It was the first time she’d seen Trevor since… well, she didn’t like to think about the last time she saw him. Unconsciously, she readjusted the scarf around her neck.
“What all this boo-hooing about?” The moment Trevor scooped up Orla, she ceased crying.
“Daddeee,” she cooed, throwing her arms around him.
“Aw, I missed you, too, Pixie.” He wrapped his arms around her in return.
“So, what caused all those tears?”
Orla lifted her head and glanced shyly at Ms. Jones, but didn’t say anything.
“Orla was running in the hallway and we collided when I came around the corner,” Ms. Jones finally explained.
“Orla, we don’t run inside! You need to apologize to Ms. Jones,” Trevor admonished Orla.
“Sowwy,” Orla mumbled, staring at the ground.
“Orla, you need to look at someone when you apologize to them. And tell them what you are sorry for.”
London’s lip curled into a sneer. Showing off for everyone’s benefit. Like this somehow makes up for all the times I need his help and he just continued playing Density Effect.
“And where were during all this?” Trevor gave London a withering look.
But before London had a chance to respond, the clerk poked her head out the door.
“Caliente vs. Davenport?”
As everyone filed into the courtroom, London took one last glance around.
“Here Trevor, you’re going to busy, let me take her.” London turned back around in time to see her mother take Orla from Trevor. While her voice was sweetness and light, London knew ever since Trevor had attacked her, Lyndsy thought it would be best if Trevor was left in a doorless room with no food and there was nothing but venom in those words.
“London, do you not have anymore family coming,” London’s lawyer Oliver Bernhardt whispered to her.
“I guess not.”
Despite his usual professional manner, Oliver sighed slightly as he put his briefcase on the defense’s table.
“Did you not impress upon them the importance of their presence as a show of support for you?”
“I did, I swear I did. I guess they must have all been busy.”
That morning, Karly had informed her she had an important meeting with a client.
“I can’t reschedule – I’ve got a good feeling about this book Lo. And I’m not the only one. If we don’t snap this one up, someone else will. This book places high enough on the best seller’s list, I’d be promoted for sure! But I’ll be thinking of you!”
But it was hard to not feel let down. London had been depending on her sister. Her father had muttered vaguely about meetings, too. And Calvin and Antoine wouldn’t be able to make it either. London was now regretting not contacting some of her extended family – surely not everyone in Oasis Springs was taking a meeting today.
However, after a few minutes, it became apparent that no one was coming to support Trevor either.
Well that’s something, London mused. Obviously Cliff couldn’t make it due to work, but is Sarah-Jean that pigheaded?
After the divorce, Sarah-Jean vowed to never be in the same room as London ever again. “If I ever have to be in the same room as that stuck up, home-wrecking bitch, I…well I don’t know what I’d do!” She’d blustered to anyone who would listen. Which, fortunately for London, wasn’t many.
“All rise for the honorable Judge William J. Logan,” shouted the bailiff.
London’s face blanched as she stood up shakily.
“I thought you were going to ask judge Logan to recuse himself,” London hissed to her lawyer.
The stodgy, old judge plopped down into his chair.
“You may all be seated. Court is now in session.”
“You can only request a recusal, but in the end, it’s up to the judge. But if things don’t go the way we hoped, we can use that as part of our appeals process.”
“Ms. Caliente, Mr. Bernhardt, something you’d like to share with the rest of the court,” judge Logan asked pointedly.
London’s face flamed with embarrassment, but Oliver Bernhardt was as smooth as butter.
“No, your honor, my client was just asking about today’s proceedings. Sorry to have interrupted.”
London was positive he’d be able to hear them.
“Well, on that note, today’s proceedings are as follows: We will hear closing arguments, then after a brief recess, I will giving my ruling in the custody case of Caliente vs. Davenport, regarding Orla Eve Davenport.”
“Actually, your honor,” Akash Kapoor, Trevor’s lawyer, stood up. “We have more testimony that we would like to have entered into evidence.”
“It’s unusual, providing more testimony this late in the case,” judge Logan stroked his chin thoughtfully. “But I’ll allow it.”
“Thank you, your honor.”
Trevor slithered up to the witness stand.
“Mr. Davenport, please reiterate, for the benefit of the court, the incident that occurred on the night of Tuesday, the fifth of this month, as it speaks to the defendant’s character?”
“Well, like you said, it was last Tuesday. I’d originally been scheduled to work the day shift, but my boss asked me to stay late that night. Which was odd, since it was a Tuesday and we weren’t very busy. I later found out it was because of London – Ms. Caliente, asked him to.”
London fought to catch her breath.
This can’t be happening! Is he really going to tell them – that?
It was happening and Trevor did tell them. He told them every sordid detail. The way she’d licked her lips and touched herself, inviting him to do the same. How she’d followed him home and tried to seduce her way back into his life. The court stenographer’s key clicked judgmentally, the clerk seemed to avoid London’s gaze. And Judge Logan? Well, there was an unmistakable look of disgust on his face.
Lyndsy couldn’t take it anymore.
“And what about what you did her? When she was leaving? A man who dares to lay a hand on a woman is unfit to be a parent!”
“Order in the court,” Judge Logan roared, banging his gavel. “Mrs. Caliente, sit down or I will have you arrested for being in contempt of the court.”
“It’s Ms., also,” Lyndsy retorted, as she sat back down next to a frightened looking Orla.
“I should have guessed,” muttered judge Logan.
London couldn’t tear her eyes off Orla.
This isn’t fair to her. She shouldn’t have to hear this – even if she doesn’t understand most of it. She deserves two parents who each other as much as they love her. Trevor’s right, I am a failure as a mother.
“I’m going to throw up,” London moaned, tears stinging her eyes.
“London, get a hold of yourself,” Mr. Bernhardt said under his breath. “Your honor, my client and I would like to request a fifteen minute recess.”
“Granted. We will reconvene at 9:45.”
Judge Logan had barely finished before London was up and out the door, looking for a trash can. She wretched until she was dry heaving.
Her lawyer came up behind her.
“Is it all true London,” he murmured.
London straightened up and turned to face him. She began to wipe her mouth with the back of her sleeve, until she noticed he had a handkerchief proffered. She started to explain herself, but decided against it.
“It is,” she simply stated.
“And the part about him hurting you? Is that true, too?”
“That bastard,” Oliver growled, his body becoming tense, fists clenched. “But I think we can use this to our advantage. If Trevor has a history of having a temper, Judge Logan couldn’t possibly award him custody.”
“I don’t – I don’t want to talk about it.”
“London, you have to. Right now, things don’t look great for you.”
London burst into tears. “Oliver, that was the worst night of my life. I felt so ashamed after he used me and so helpless to protect my daughter. And then when he said those awful things…” London squeezed her eyes closed. “ And he choked me.” She let out a ragged breath. “If it hadn’t been for Orla, I think I would have died after that.”
“London, don’t even let him make you feel like that again. What he did – it was wrong. And we are going to prove that today by making sure you get full custody of your daughter. But you have to testify against him. You have to talk about this. May I?” Oliver queried, simultaneously reaching for London’s scarf.
Reflexively, London drew back. Oliver froze.
“I’m sorry, that was stupid,” he murmured.
London shook her head. “No, I’m sorry -”
Oliver cut her off. “You have nothing to be sorry for London.” His words seemed tender.
London suddenly was awash with need. She had been forced to be strong, for the sake of her daughter, but now, she just wanted someone to hold her. She fell against him, wrapping her arms around him like she might sink if she didn’t have him to hold.
“London, stop. You’re in a vulnerable place and not thinking correctly.” Oliver freed himself from his grasp. Before London could say anything more, he walked away.
You idiot. What were you even trying to do?
London glanced around, relieved to see that she was alone in the corridor and they had not been seen.
When she returned to the courtroom, Oliver was already seated at the defendant’s table. London slid into the chair next to him.
“Oliver, I wanted to apologize -”
“London, let’s just forget about it.” Oliver cut her off again. “I know that you are in a difficult situation and you are in need of support right now. But that was a foolish thing to do and we should both be thankful we weren’t caught.
London spent the whole time her lawyer was cross-examining Trevor staring at the table, embarrassed and ashamed.
You are needy nitwit. That was completely unprofessional. If you’d been caught, Judge Logan probably would have granted full custody to Trevor right then and there. He would have been well within his rights and it would have been all your fault.
London’s head snapped up. The way Oliver said her name and was staring at her, she could tell this wasn’t the first time he’d called her name. He looked at her expectantly, clearly waiting for her to answer his question, but she had no clue what he had said. She tried to convey this with her eyes, which she suspected made her look insane. Finally, he repeated himself.
“Ms. Caliente, if you could please come forward to give your rebuttal?”
At that moment, London wished she hadn’t heard him after all. Her throat closed up and her chest ached from the pounding of her heart.
Giving her statement, reliving that horrible night was like an out of body experience. She watched as she laid herself bare in front of the court. She couldn’t help the tears streaming down her cheeks, and the judge had to ask her to compose herself. Oliver offered her his handkerchief for the second time that day. Finally, the awful moment when she had to lift her scarf and display the lingering bruise for everyone to see. By the time she was finished, she felt raw.
Except she wasn’t finished.
Mr. Kapoor slid up to the witness stand, his gaze cool. London thought of a circling shark.
“Ms. Caliente, you’ve spoken of how my client, Mr. Davenport allegedly attacked you. And you’ve admitted there were no witnesses to this crime.”
“Well, one of the neighbors heard us. He shouted at us.”
“But did he see anything? This alleged physical attack, for example?”
“I don’t know,” London said weakly.
“So you have no witness to corroborator this story.”
“It’s not a story. Trevor choked me. I thought I was going to die.”
“But you don’t have a witness to back that statement up. And why didn’t you go to the police with this story? Why isn’t my client on trial for assault and battery?”
“I- I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t bring myself to relive it. I had to pretend, for my daughter’s sake, that everything was ok. I couldn’t let her father become a monster.”
“Mmhm. But there was nothing actually stopping you from going to the police, if it actually happened as you claimed? You didn’t need to go to the hospital?”
“I mean, I probably should have gone to the hospital, to have my throat looked at…”
“And why didn’t you do that, Ms. Caliente?”
“I thought they wouldn’t believe me. That they wouldn’t believe what had happened,” London whispered.
“And why is that, Ms. Calietne?”
“Because the sex,” the word tasted tinny in her mouth, “it was consensual.”
“Objection, your honor, this encounter could potentially be classified as rape by deception,” Oliver called out.
“Your honor, my client did not make any false claims in order to coerce Ms. Caliente into sleeping with him.”
“But his actions implied it.”
“Overruled,” barked Judge Logan. “This is just he-said, she-said. Please stick to the facts, Mr. Bernhardt.”
Mr. Kapoor refocused his attention back on London.
“Ms. Caliente, have you ever heard of BDSM?”
London was taken aback. “No! I mean, yes, there were those books that came out…” she stammered.
“So you know that some practitioner of BDSM, what’s know as the submissive in the relationship, get off on pain? That they want to be choked?”
“Not all of them do.” London, caught off guard, gave the wrong answer.
“Ms Caliente, you seem to know a lot about BDSM.”
“Wh-what?! No, I don’t I just mean…”
“Mean what, Ms. Caliente? Are you saying that you didn’t beg Trevor to choke you in the throes of you attempt to trick him into getting back together? That he didn’t want to participate in your deviant behavior, but you forced him to?”
Unable to take the accusations any longer, London burst into tears.
“Your honor, please! This is ridiculous! Mr. Kapoor is badgering my client.”
“Mr. Kapoor, please reign in you line of questioning.”
“Oh, I’m finished with my questioning, your honor. But I’d like you to think long and hard before you give custody of an innocent child to someone with such perverted tendencies.”
“Those are some very serious accusations, Mr. Kapoor. That being said,” Judge Logan turned to London. “If they are true, they will be taken into consideration in deciding Orla’s future.”
“They’re not,” London insisted feebly.
“That’s enough out of you, Ms. Caliente. We will recess now while I review the evidence. We will reconvene later this afternoon, where I will give my final ruling in the custody case for Orla Eve Davenport.”
Lyndsy went to purchase lunch from a food cart, while London watched Orla as she chased pigeons. Oliver Bernhardt slid up next to London. They watched Orla as she waddled on pudgy legs, her bouncing curls and toddler giggles drawing the attention of all around her. After a few moments, he broke the silence.
“London, realistically, I think we need to start planning out our appeal.”
London glared at him furiously.
“I thought you said my testify would help! Now I feel like a used up sack of trash and we may be worse off than we were before.”
Oliver flinched, taken aback by outburst by his usually calm and even sweet client.
“I know, I’m sorry London. I didn’t realize Trevor’s lawyer would stoop so low. Or that Judge Logan would act like it was fact with absolutely no evidence.”
“I trusted you, Oliver! I thought you were going to help me protect my daughter!”
“London, I -”
Lyndsy returned, balancing food and drinks. Noting her daughter’s distress, she interrupted him. “Mr. Bernhardt, I think you should go for now.”
“But I -”
“Mr. Benrhardt, please.”
Oliver glanced unsurely back at London, but left without another word.
Lyndsy watched him go with pursed lips. When she finally deemed him far enough away, she faced her daughter, a look of concern spreading across her face. She pressed a hot dog into London’s hands. London stared at it mutely, unmoving.
“London, you have to eat something.”
London unwrapped it and took a bite, chewing slowly. She felt like she was trying to eat a mouthful of cotton. She let her hand fall limply back down to her side. A million questions were popping into her head. She turned to Lyndsy and opened her mouth. But all that she managed to get out was “Oh mama!” before she broke down into tears again. Lyndsy wrapped her arms around London. There wasn’t much else she could do.
Some time had passed sunce lunch, though London had lost track of the minutes. She was grateful for each addition minute with her daughter, but Orla was becoming restless.
“Mama, wanna go howme,” she whined.
London briefly considered scooping up Orla and making a run for it. But under the watchful eyes of Ms. Jones and the bailiff, that wasn’t happening.
“Me, too, Babycakes. Me, too.”
An hour later, maybe forty-five minutes, they were finally called back into the courtroom.
“All right, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. In the custody dispute of Caliente vs. Davenport for Orla Eve Caliente, I find in favor of the plaintiff. I award full custody of Orla Eve Davenport to Trevor Davenport, effective immediately.”
London felt like a rug had been pulled from underneath her.
“London, we’ll start the appeals procress immediately…” Oliver put a hand on London’s arm.
“This is bull shit,” Lyndsy shouted, erupting from her seat.
London turned and watched as Ms. Jones gathered up Orla.
“C’mon sugar, let’s get you to your daddy.” Under other circumstances, London might have catagorized her tone as remorseful.
How can I live without her?