Read Chesapeake Tide Online

Authors: Jeanette Baker

Tags: #Novel, #Fiction, #Contemporary Romance, #Adult, #Sex, #Law Enforcement, #Man Made Disaster, #Land Pollution, #Water Pollution, #Radioactivity Pollution, #Detective Mystery, #Rural, #Small Town, #Suburban, #Urban, #Wilderness, #Louisiana, #Maryland, #Christianity-Catholicism, #Science-Marine Biology, #Social Sciences-Geography, #Fishing-Fresh Water, #Fishing-Salt Water, #Boat Transportation, #2000-2010, #1960-1969

Chesapeake Tide (2 page)

Libby wanted out, but where would she go and, more to the point,
how
could she go now that Eric was taken with the idea of being a parent?

She turned into the parking lot of the Juvenile Court Building, pulled out her parking pass and pushed it into the receptacle. The gate lifted. She found her usual spot, grabbed her briefcase and raced inside.

Nora McCoy, assistant district attorney, had been frowning for quite some time. Libby could tell by the depth of the depressions on either side of her mouth. Nora wasn't happy, and revealing the contents of Libby's report to these warring parents wouldn't improve her mood.

“Sorry,” Libby mouthed as she slid into the empty seat at the end of the conference table. She nodded at the two attorneys and their clients seated on either side.

Nora began the meeting with her usual introductions. “Mr. Irvine and Ms. Benedict, this is Elizabeth Delacourte, our expert on analyzing DNA samples. Libby, you already know both attorneys. Since we're pressed for time, I suggest that Ms. Delacourte present the results of the tests.” She hesitated and cleared her throat. “May I say, before we begin, that there is a great deal more to parenting than a similar genotype. The child in question is six years old. Whatever happens here today will benefit no one. Mr. Irvine, you will still be responsible for child support and, Ms. Benedict, you are still required by law to allow visitation.” She looked first at the grim-faced man and then at the woman who was not aging well. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes,” said the parents simultaneously.

“Will you accept the ruling in this case?”

This time the man said, “Yes.” The woman merely nodded. She would not meet Nora McCoy's eyes.

“Very well. Shall we proceed?”

Libby opened her briefcase, passed out six copies of her report and came right to the point. “This won't mean anything to you unless I interpret the numbers. Please, bear with me for a moment. Basically, there are eight areas we test when paternity is questioned. Let's start by looking at line one hundred. That sample of blood came from your son, Jeremy. Line two hundred is a sample from Mr. Irvine. We call these controls. Everything is measured according to these two lines. The numbers in the boxes are called alleles. These are found in different places on the DNA molecule. Related individuals have different intensities of the identical number, a lighter and darker six, for example. Unrelated individuals have four distinct numbers at one or more locations.”

Libby drew a deep breath. This wasn't her typical case. She knew of no way to soften her conclusion. “In nearly every box, the alleles show four different numbers. Jeremy and Mr. Irvine are not biologically related.”

A strangled sob rose from the man's throat. He covered his eyes. For long minutes the only sound in the room was the ticking of the clock on the wall. Finally, he lifted his head. “I knew it,” he said. “I've always known it.” He looked at his ex-wife, a doughy woman with orange hair, round sad eyes and thirty-five extra pounds around her middle, a woman well past the age of mothering a six-year-old. “How could you?”

Although no one was more than three feet away, collectively they strained to listen. “I wanted a baby,” she whispered. “I was forty-two. My time was nearly up. Nothing was happening with us.”

“Damn you,” he said bitterly. “Who is Jeremy's father?”

The woman's voice was flat, deliberate, as if nothing mattered. “I don't know. I went to a sperm bank.”

The man's eyebrows lifted. “You did what?”

“You heard me.” She started to cry. “I was artificially inseminated.”

Nora McCoy stood. “This matter, while relevant to the two of you, has no place here. As far as the court is concerned, Mr. Irvine is Jeremy's father. He is still responsible for child support and he is six months in arrears. The consequences for failure to pay are salary garnishment or jail. I'll leave the four of you here to resolve this matter.” She collected her papers. “Libby, please join me in my office.”

Without a word, Libby followed her out the door and down the long hall into a small room with a single desk, two chairs and a narrow window. “Dear God.” She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. “That was awful.”

Nora poured two cups of coffee. “I've seen worse. It's all in a day's work around here.”

Libby picked up the cup, wished it held something stronger than coffee, and drained it. “I can't take this anymore. This isn't what I want. I'm a biologist. I'm tired of being the voice of doom to people too selfish and immature to live up to their responsibilities.”

“Be fair, Libby. It isn't always like this.”

“Yes, it is. The circumstances are different but someone is always disappointed.” She shuddered. “What could she have been thinking?”

“Who?”

“The mother.”

“You heard her. She wanted a baby and it wasn't happening. She was desperate. Forty-two-year-old women have trouble getting pregnant, especially with indifferent husbands. She did what she had to do.

“We've all had high school biology, Nora. Any educated person would know that Jeremy couldn't have come from both of those people, one maybe, but not both. There are specific rules of genetics for which there are no exceptions and brown eyes aren't possible with her green and his blue.”

Nora McCoy grinned. “Not all of us paid attention the way you did.”

Libby's cell phone rang. “Excuse me,” she said. “I should take this.”

Nora waved. “Take your time. I'll give you some privacy and see if anything's happened in the conference room.”

Libby settled into a chair, removed her earring and glanced briefly at the number in the window of her phone. Suddenly, everything stopped. Ignoring the persistent ringer playing “Scotland the Brave,” she stared at the number, her fingers unable to perform even the simple function of pressing the receive button. The song played itself through once and then stopped. Libby did not answer her phone. The number remained on her screen along with the message,
one missed call.
She waited another minute and pressed first her message button and then her password. There was nothing. With shaking fingers she pressed her call-back number.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Daddy.”

“Libba Jane?” That voice, one she hadn't heard more than a dozen times in the last seventeen years, froze her into an alert stillness.

“Libba Jane,” he said again. “Is that you?”

“Yes.”
How long had it been? A year, two years?
How much time had passed since she'd heard that familiar voice, soft on vowels, liquid of consonants? She'd lost track, preferring to forget the years of forbidding silence with only an occasional obligatory phone call.

“It's been a long time, honey.”

“A very long time.”

She could hear the tremor in his voice. “It's your mama, Libba. She's had a stroke. It looks bad. She wants you home. She wants to see Chloe once again, before—” He left his sentence hanging.

“Dear God.”

“You need to forgive us, Libba Jane. We never thought you'd stay away for good. I'm sorry. We were wrong. Please, come home.”

Home.
Libby closed her eyes and the smells came back to her. The fishy, brackish odor of the Tidewater; sweet peaches ripening under an unforgiving sun; loamy, dank marshland; vanilla and sugar floating from the door of Currie's Ice Cream Shop; old leather and dust from her father's library; lavender and magnolia, lemon wax, new grass. Today was a sign. The phone call was a sign. She was going home.

She blinked back tears. “I'll come.”

“Thank God,” her father said.

Tw
o

C
hloe's slight body, framed in the doorway of her room, was as rigid as a deer rifle. “I'm not going,” she said.

Libby, busy with packing, didn't answer.

Chloe tried another approach. “I can't go. It's almost time for summer school midterms. I'll flunk everything.”

“No, you won't. People have emergencies. We'll work it out.”

“I can stay with Dad.”

Libby turned toward her daughter, hands on her hips. “Your grandmother is gravely ill. I'm her only daughter. You're the only grandchild she'll ever have. Shame on you. This isn't about you. You have no choice. You're going.”

“How long do we have to stay?”

“I don't know.”

“If it's more than two weeks, can I come home?”

“I don't know.”

“What
do
you know?”

Libby's cheeks flamed. “I know my mother nearly died. I know that I have a spoiled, self-absorbed daughter. I know I have an ex-husband who, at every defining moment of my life, has let me down. Shall I go on?”

“You're not supposed to do that, you know.”

“What?”

Chloe was enjoying this. Her mother took the bait just as she always did. “Put Dad down in front of me. It's bad for my self-concept because he's part of me, just like you are.” She watched Libby struggle with her temper, hoping her dark side would win. Even though it was unpleasant to sit through one of her lectures, it was worth it. She was always so penitent later on. On more than one occasion her mother's remorse had led to a new pair of shoes or a CD from Tower Records.

Libby wet her lips. “You aren't your father, Chloe. Obviously, he and I don't see eye to eye on most things. If we did, we wouldn't have divorced. I don't see you as an extension of him at all. You are your own person, and whatever difficulties you and I have are ours alone. They have nothing to do with him.”

This wasn't going the way Chloe had planned. There was nothing left but brutal honesty. “Mom, I can't go to Maryland with you. My life is here. I have an important part in the school play. My friends are here. You've described Marshyhope Creek to me. I wouldn't fit in. I'm not the cheerleader-homecoming-queen type. I don't care about sports. I don't care about school spirit. I like living here. I'm not a Southerner. Please don't make me go.”

Libby sat down on the bed. “I'm asking for a month, Chloe, six weeks tops. That's it. Surely that isn't too much. I've been here for seventeen years without a break. I'd like to go home to visit. I'd like to see my mother again. It may be the last time. Can you give me that?”

“That's another thing.” Chloe sat down beside her mother. “It's been years since we've visited your parents. I don't even know them, not the way I know Dad's. Why not? You always change the subject when I ask you about them.”

“It's complicated,” Libby began. How much was too much to tell a sixteen-year-old? She decided on the truth. “They didn't want me to get married. They said it wouldn't last. I wanted to prove them wrong.” Her laugh was completely devoid of humor. “They were right, of course, but I couldn't admit it. That's why I never went home. I suppose it all comes down to pride. I didn't want them to know they were right.”

Chloe's nose wrinkled. “If you want my opinion, you didn't have much of a relationship with your parents if you couldn't admit you'd made a mistake.”

“I thought I had one with my mother,” Libby said slowly. “My dad was always away working on one cause or another. He never seemed to have time for a family. I resented that.”

“My dad wasn't around much, either,” Chloe reflected, “but now that he is, I want to make up for lost time.”

Libby slid her arm around Chloe's shoulders. “I won't stand in your way. Give me a little time. Please?”

“Why can't you go alone?”

“I'm proud of you. You're my one accomplishment. I want to show you off. Please humor me.”

“Six weeks is tops. If I hate it, I'm coming home,” Chloe warned her.

Libby held out her hand. “It's a deal.”

Reluctantly, Chloe took it. “Dad isn't going to like this.”

“I'm sure you'll be able to handle him,” her mother said coolly.

In the end, it was Libby who was left with the responsibility of managing her ex-husband. He showed up at her door the next morning, without the courtesy of a warning phone call, taking up time she couldn't spare.

“I could dispute this, you know,” he said, flicking a speck of lint from the sleeve of his cashmere sweater.

Libby folded her arms and leaned against the doorjamb. “You could, but you won't.”

“You seem very sure of yourself.”

Libby ignored his comment and asked the question she'd wanted to ask for some time. “Tell me, Eric, why you've suddenly become so interested in your daughter. For the last fourteen years I can count on one hand the times you've been home more than two weeks in a row.”

He didn't deny it. “I was working. Actors have to go where the work is. Besides, people change, Libby. I've never been fond of babies. Now that she's older, we have more in common.”

“She's not supposed to be your friend. She's your daughter. Whether you have anything in common with her or not is beside the point.”

Eric sighed. “I didn't come here to argue with you.” “

Why did you come?”

“May I come inside?”

“I'm in the middle of things right now. I'd like to settle this quickly.”

“You're not going to make this easy, are you?”

“Should I?”

“I'm sorry it turned out this way, Libby. I really am. But you're just as much to blame as I am. You could have walked at any time these last seventeen years. Why didn't you?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

He shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I don't know. I suppose it was too much effort. It didn't matter. There wasn't anyone else I was serious about.”

“In other words, having a wife and child was a convenient excuse.”

“I suppose so. What do you want me to do? That's all water under the bridge. I can't go back and change anything. I'm sorry if I wasted your life.”

“Speak for yourself,” she shot back. “My life is just beginning.”

“Libby,” he appealed to her. “Chloe doesn't want to go. I think it's selfish of you to force her.”

Libby felt the familiar rage that came and went with her ex-husband's scattered logic rise up in her chest. She counted to ten and waited until she was in control of herself. “What do you suggest?” she asked calmly.

“You should think of Chloe and stay here.”

“My mother had a stroke, Eric. She may not make it. Are you implying that if you were faced with similar circumstances you would ignore your mother's request?”

“My mother hasn't absented herself from my life for the last seventeen years.”

She hated him. There was no other emotion strong enough to describe her feeling.
Relax, Libby,
she told herself.
If you lose your temper, he wins.
She thought a minute. “I have a suggestion.”

He looked wary. “What is it?”

“I'll keep Chloe in Marshyhope Creek for two weeks. That should be long enough for her to get to know her grandparents. After that, if I feel the need to stay longer, I'll send her home. We have joint custody. You can take care of her.”

“For how long?” He was less than enthusiastic.

Libby suppressed a chuckle. “I'm thinking of permanently relocating. I've never cared for California. Besides, Chloe and I are in a difficult place right now, the usual mother-daughter thing. She needs her father, and since you have so much in common, I'm sure she would love to live with you. You can send her to me for summers and vacations.”

His mouth dropped. “You're not serious?”

What had she ever seen in him? “Are you saying you don't think it's a good idea?”

“I can't have her live with me.”

“Why not?”

“The circumstances aren't right.” His voice crept up. “I'm gone a lot. I haven't arranged my life to accommodate a child.”

“She's not a child, she's a teenager.”

“That's not the point. She's a minor. She needs a schedule and regular meals and bedtimes. What do I know about that?”

Libby's eyebrows lifted. “You're surprising me, Eric. I had no idea you were even aware that raising a child requires sacrifices.”

He stared at her, his eyes narrowing. “You're playing with me. You never intended to give her to me, did you?”

“I considered it,” she lied. “However, your arguments make sense. If you really can't take her, I suggest you hold this trip up to Chloe as a good idea. She isn't happy about it and you're not helping.”

He ran his hand through his perfectly groomed hair. “I see your point.”

“Thank you.” She turned away.

“You've changed, Libby,” he said softly. “You've lost your sweetness.”

“It didn't get me very far, did it?” she returned. “Goodbye, Eric.”

Eric, waiting in the school parking lot for his daughter, would have missed her if she hadn't called out and flagged him down. Her appearance shocked him. “Chloe, for God's sake, what have you done to your hair?”

“Colored it.” She tossed her pack onto the floor of his Corvette and climbed in beside her father. “I don't want to go to Marshyhope Creek.”

“Who colored it?”

“I did. This trip will ruin everything. Besides, Mom's making noises about staying for a long time. I don't want to live in the South.”

“You need a professional for such a drastic color change. Why did you choose black? You have beautiful hair. It's just like—”

Chloe arched an eyebrow. “Yours?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. What's wrong with that?”

“It isn't black, Dad, at least not all of it.” She held up a piece of hair. “These are streaks. Can we get together on the same subject? I want to stay here with you.”

He signaled and maneuvered into the line of traffic. “Hold on, Chloe. I need to concentrate.”

She simmered in self-righteous anger and stared out the side window. They were heading west and the glare was directly in her eyes. She closed them. Life wasn't fair. Children were chattel, no better than pets, at the mercy of their parents' every whim, just like in the nineteenth century. If only she were two years older. She could get a job and live on her own. She folded her arms and relaxed against the headrest. Supporting herself wasn't the answer. She'd done enough shopping in Beverly Hills and on Wilshire Boulevard to know that minimum wage wouldn't cut it. What she really wanted was for her father to step up to the plate and offer to have her live with him.

“Dad,” she began experimentally. “I think it's great that you're living close by.”

He smiled.

Encouraged, she continued. “Isn't it terrific that we can see each other whenever we want to?”

“You bet.”

“It's too bad that Mom wants to go back to Maryland just when you and I have started to really get to know each other.”

He nodded.

“I wish it was possible for me to stay here. Don't you?”

He fiddled with the radio. “Yes, I do, Chloe.”

She pounced. “Maybe there's a way.”

“A way for what?”

“To have me stay here.”

He turned to her, a frown marring his forehead. “What are you talking about?”

“You weren't listening to me,” she accused him.

“Of course I was.”

“Tell me what we were talking about.”

“You said you didn't want to go with your mother to Marshyhope Creek.”

“Well?”

“Well, what, Chloe? You can't always have what you want. This trip is important to your mother. She wants you to see your grandparents. It's the right thing to do.”

“I can't believe you're taking her side,” Chloe argued. “I don't want to know my grandparents. They haven't wanted to know me until now. Don't you think it's more important for me to know my own father?”

“We already know each other.”

“We haven't spent more than three months together in my entire life. You've always been away on some shoot. Do you think that's enough?”

“You're exaggerating, and if I haven't been around, it's because I was working. You and your mother seem to forget that.” He tugged at the knot of the buttery-soft sweater tied just so around his neck. “We'll have plenty of time when you get back. Take it on the chin, Chloe. Nothing lasts forever. Do this favor for your mother. You won't be sorry.”

Chloe stared at him, at the perfect profile, the long eyelashes, the carefully put-together clothes, and wondered, not for the first time, whether it was really a benefit to have such incredible-looking people for parents. She was bound to be at a disadvantage. The odds were against her even coming close to such physical beauty. Anyone meeting Libby and Eric would automatically assume their offspring would share the same physical attributes. Not that Chloe thought there was anything wrong with her looks. However, she was a realist, and
spectacular
wasn't an adjective that was going to be applied to her appearance anytime soon. Fortunately, she wasn't hung up on beauty. There were more important things at hand, like not burying herself in a Southern town too small to warrant a dot on the map. “You don't want me,” she said at last, resorting to emotional blackmail. “This isn't about doing what's right for Mom. You don't want me to live with you.”

“That isn't true, Chloe.” His voice was sharp with guilt and exasperation. “I came back to Los Angeles to be with you. If I didn't want you I wouldn't have driven through this traffic nightmare to pick you up and take you home with me. Try not to be so dramatic.”

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