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Chapter Seven

“Mom, can we go to lunch?” Ralph asked, and Tully lifted her head up from the file she was reading. The kids had stayed in the law library for the morning, and Tully had spent the time in her office starting on the Hebert case.

“What are you in the mood for?”

“A sandwich from Maspero’s. Bailey said she voted for that too.”

“Maspero’s it is, then.”

When they went to get Bailey and one of her paralegals handed Bailey a stack of papers, Tully looked at her watch, held up four fingers, and mouthed, “Four hundred dollars.”

Libby was leaving work as they stepped out of the building, so both kids immediately flagged her down and invited her to join them.

“Are you sure?” Libby asked Tully. “I don’t want to intrude.”

“These guys are in charge today, so if they asked, I suggest you accept.”

When Tully put her arm up for a cab, Libby had other ideas. “Come on, Counselor, it’s only ten blocks. Let’s walk.”

“Yeah, Mom,” Bailey added.

Tully mentally calculated the time such a trek would keep her out of the office, but weighed the lost work against how open her kids were to the idea. The peace wasn’t going to last, her future fights with Jessica would guarantee that, so she decided to enjoy it as long as she could. Taking the heavy book bag from Libby, she waved everyone down the street, but by the time they reached the restaurant in the French Quarter, she was sweating and craving a cigarette.

“Explain to me why walking sounded so good to everyone?”

Bailey and Ralph took turns slapping her lightly on the stomach and laughing. “The extra set of tires, Mom. We gotta work on that,” Bailey said. “And you can’t puff in here, so chill.”

Tully could feel her ears get hot and knew her face was boiled-crawfish red from the teasing, especially when the kids went in and left her on the sidewalk with Libby. “I raised two comedians, huh?”

“Maybe they’re just concerned about you. It’s good to have someone care enough to look out for you, so don’t worry about it.”

Something in the last statement made Tully stop Libby from going in. “You okay?”

“Just stuff you don’t have to worry about.”

“This morning someone told me she was a great listener. That offer cuts both ways, you know. I’m not only a great listener, but a pretty good problem solver too.”

“With what you make, Tully, I’d certainly hope so,” Libby teased.

“Yeah, but I do my best work when it’s pro bono. I only put on my problem-solving hat and cape when the case is important to me.”

Ralph stuck his head out one of the open doorways. “Are you coming in?”

“They’re waiting,” Libby said.

“You fed them well this morning, so they won’t starve.”

“It’s too long a story to get into now, Tully, and you’re busy later, I’m sure.”

Tully opened the door to appease Ralph, but stopped Libby from going in. “I made a deal with Bailey and it’s working out great for me, so I have a proposition for you too.”

“Gosh, Tully, you’re propositioning me?”

Her ears got even hotter as Libby put her hand on Tully’s stomach, but the sudden heat had nothing to do with the extra weight she was carrying. “Uh-huh, funny girl. After lunch why don’t you come back to the office with me and the kids and tell me what’s bothering you.”

“And what are you going to tell me?”

“If we have time, I’ll recap the last twenty-four hours for you.”

Throughout lunch Tully sat back with her burger, enjoying how Libby got her kids to open up. After the tremendous changes in their life they should have been sullen and depressed. However, Libby spoke their language.

As they walked back to Tully’s office, Libby kept them talking while Tully gave her staff directions over the phone. They had worked through lunch and already gone over the file once after finishing the Heberts’ statements. Now they were compiling their separate files so that Tully could use her medical background to decipher and add to them.

Libby and Bailey window-shopped along the way, but Ralph hung back and turned to Tully every so often as if willing to wait her out. “Just leave them on my desk if they’re done and tell the team we’ll meet later this afternoon.” Tully cut her phone conversation short so that Ralph could talk to her.

“Big case, huh?”

“Could be, but the guessing part of my brain tells me that’s not what you want to talk about.”

Suddenly the hot-pink sweater set in the window of the boutique they were passing seemed to fascinate him. “I’m sorry I screamed at you yesterday,” he said just above a whisper.

“You don’t have to apologize, buddy.” She stepped closer to him, not wanting anyone to overhear them. “When you protect your mother or your sister, you’re just being the kid I hope I’m doing a good job of raising.”

“Even if it’s you I’m screaming at?”

“Even then. Just as long as you know I’m going to tell you when you’re wrong about something.” She stopped and turned him so they were facing each other. “No matter how upsetting any situation is in life, I hope you realize I’d never hit your mom or you.”

“I know that. Why didn’t you tell me I was wrong yesterday? Right away, I mean?”

“Because I was in shock. It won’t rank as one of my most stellar memories, so I’m sorry for not explaining better.”

“Are you okay now?”

From the corner of her eye she saw Libby and Bailey start walking again, so she jerked her head in their direction to get Ralph moving. “Not yet, but it has nothing to do with you or your sister. Your mother and I were together a long time, and it’ll take time for me to be okay with the reality that we’re not anymore.”

“Are you mad at her?”

“Yes, I am,” she said with no further elaboration.

“Me too.” Ralph looked toward the windows again. “But I’m madder at myself for making you feel bad about what happened. That was my bad.”

“You did what you thought was right in your heart, and that’s what counts. Don’t ever apologize for standing up for the people you love.”

When they arrived at the building Libby rode up with them, with Tully still carrying her book bag.

“Mom, we’re going back and I’m going to finish my term paper,” Bailey said. “We’re not going home real late, right?”

“Just tell me when you’re ready, and I’ll pack and finish up at home.”

Libby followed her down the long hallway to the office at the end. Tully asked, “Want something to drink?”

“Maybe later. For now let me enjoy seeing the inner sanctum for the first time,” Libby said as she turned full circle to take in all of Tully’s office. “This great view encourages me to study.”

“Once you’re finished with law school, I want the first crack at you.”

Libby glanced back from the view to see if Tully was serious and noticed that Tully’s head was down as she reviewed the stack of files on her desk. “Really? Do I give you the impression I’d make a good attorney?”

“You have the potential to be anything you want, and from our talks downstairs about law, I’d say you’re going to be a fabulous lawyer. The added bonus, of course, is that you know how to use the fancy espresso machine we bought for the break room.” Tully looked up after the jibe and winked.

“You’re just hilarious.” Trying to stay out of the way, Libby sat on the sofa. “If you’re busy I can go.”

“Not before you tell me what’s wrong.”

“I asked you first, remember?” She pointed to the other end of the couch. “So sit and tell me what’s bothering you.”

“I remember, but I don’t want to dump my troubles on you, Libby.”

She pointed to the seat again. “But you want me to dump mine on you? That hardly seems fair. Take a seat, Counselor. I asked because I wanted to help.”

“Something happened after I left the coffee shop yesterday.” Tully hesitated, then told the whole story, making Libby jump by smashing her fist into her other hand when she described briefly going home.

When Ralph had asked her if she was angry, Tully hadn’t elaborated, but Libby was smart enough to hear the venom in her voice. Tully wasn’t just angry, she was pissed.

“What happens now?”

“Great question, but I have no idea. I don’t think I can go back after that. Walking in on that scene in our bedroom killed the part of my heart that belonged to Jessica, you know what I mean?”

“After being together all this time, you still loved her a lot, didn’t you?”

Tully leaned forward and put her elbows on her knees so she could rest her chin on her hands. “Corny, I know, but yes.”

Libby put her hand on Tully’s back. “That’s sweet, not corny. I’ve never met your partner, but she’s a fool to have let what you two have go so easily over an affair.”

“Ah, well, enough about my pathetic life. Tell me what’s got you sounding a bit blue today.”

“My roommate’s getting married.”

Tully moved back in her seat to give Libby her full attention. “And you were in love with the guy or something?”

“Oh, God, no. I’m upset about losing the other half of the rent when she moves out. Tracy wasn’t the best roommate I’ve had, but she was quiet and seldom there. Studying at home was great.” Libby raised her hands as if in defeat and smiled. “Oh well, I guess I have time to get another job.”

“Libby, I don’t mean to pry, but won’t your folks help you out?”

“My mom and dad died a few years back, and not to complain, but all they left were a few debts.” She gazed up at the ceiling as if trying to control her emotions. “Sorry, that sounded awful, I know.”

“Don’t worry about how it sounded. Just tell me how I can help you. I don’t know your whole schedule, but how can you squeeze another job and school into your days?”

“I appreciate it, please don’t think that I don’t, but—” The intercom buzzed, interrupting Libby.

“Tully?” Roxanne’s voice came through.

“What’s up?” Tully pressed the button to respond.

“I hate to bother you, but Jessica’s here and is waiting to see you.”

“Keep her in the waiting room for a minute. I have to finish something first.” Tully kept her eyes on Libby.

“There’s nothing to finish, Tully. I’ll go,” Libby said as soon as Tully removed her finger from the intercom.

“You can go if you want, but I’d like for you to stay so we can talk about a few things.” Tully didn’t go back to the sofa, but did walk around the desk and sit on the edge of it.

“I’m not going to take a handout from you.”

“I may only buy coffee from you, but somehow I knew that you wouldn’t just accept money from me. That’s not what I had in mind, so please stay.”

“Okay, but if you want me to go and come back later, that’s all right too. You have enough to worry about without adding me to the list.”

“You’re one of the few people in my life who’s concerned about my stress level, which is refreshing.” Tully picked up Libby’s bag. “Come on, and I’ll put you in the room with the kids. Just don’t let Bailey talk you into writing her paper for her. The computers in there can access a couple of law libraries, so feel free to use one of them.”

Tully suddenly started worrying about Libby and whatever was bothering her, which was better than concentrating on the mess her life was currently in.

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