* * * *
In the next week they got a lucky break. Mikael’s judge advocate was granted an arbitration meeting instead of having to go in front of the Judge Advocate General. Luckily the argument of the case being brought was a trivial one and could be easily solved by a simple meeting, especially since the complainants not being married was seen as invalid. Celeste’s lawyer argued abuse and she was fearful for her life or to be alone with him in the room. But with no evidence of any abuse or nothing in Mikael’s record of ever being violent that was easily solved by simple affidavits from the many people who were on his side, including his superiors.
But to make sure she felt safe, two military police would be stationed in the room while the meeting went on. On Mikael’s side of the table India sat right next to him and they openly held hands. Gran was next to her and Brownie was beside Mikael. They were a united front ready for action. She looked at their grandmothers and tried to keep from smiling. The grandmothers had come dressed to impress, looking like socialites. Their faces were cool, calm, and dignified. She loved the expression of horror that came across Celeste’s face when she saw Mikael wasn’t alone and her very pregnant belly. Armed with their evidence, Mikael’s representative was ready for a battle. The arbitrator sat at the head of the table and everyone was silent until Celeste’s two-bit lawyer spoke up.
“I’d like to lodge a formal complaint that Major Mikael came with his family to intimidate my client,” he said.
India looked at him and frowned. She instantly hated the man in the second hand Armani suit trying to look like a big shot lawyer and not pulling it off.
“How are two elderly women who raised my client and his fiancée who is pregnant supposedly intimidating your client?” Judge Advocate Mitchell wanted to know.
“I agree, let’s get this started shall we,” the arbitrator said. “Now Mr. Boyer, your client claims that Major Nolan did in fact commit some kind of adultery and also was abusive. What actual proof do you have of these accusations?”
Mr. Boyer puffed up his chest like a turkey. “Major Nolan did in fact purchase a ring for my client.”
“What about the abuse, are there pictures, filed complaints with the police or military police?” the arbitrator asked.
Mr. Boyer frowned. “No, but you must understand she was in fear for her life, and many abused women do not report the crime, especially with military personnel.”
“Yes, I also know that many personnel are wrongly accused as well,” the arbitrator responded. He directed the next question to Mikael. “What can you say to this Major?”
“I can say I did have a ring…” Mikael started.
“See, I told you!” Celeste said triumphantly.
“Control your client please,” the arbitrator said curtly.
“Like I was saying, I did have a ring but never was it meant for her, nor did I present it to Celeste. In fact, the ring was my grandmother’s, hidden in my lock box along with financial paperwork,” Mikael said stiffly. “I never gave her a key to said box nor permission to search my personal things.”
“But you allowed her in your home, which suggests some sort of freedom to do so?” Mr. Boyer said.
Mikael gave him a cold look and India felt his hand begin to clench in her grasp. She squeezed it gently and he relaxed. She had to let him silently know that she was supporting him.
“Freedom to come in, take a shower, order some dinner, drop off a movie, read a book till I arrived home. I did not give her permission to go into my walk-in closet, reach behind my uniforms to the partial false wall I installed.” He cast a cold gaze in Celeste’s direction. “I never gave her permission to jimmy the lock on my fire safe box where I keep my valuables, search through them to see what I was worth, and then open a ring box that held my grandmother’s ring. Does that answer your question Mr. Boyer?”
“It answers a lot of mine,” the arbitrator commented and began to make notes. “Major, what about the alleged abuse?”
Judge advocate Mitchel spoke. “In the file before you, you can see that Major Nolan has a stellar record and various commendations. Not only that, but it includes written affidavits from his superiors, friends, and even previous girlfriends that he has never showed an inkling of violence. You can also see from various combat reports that the Major has more than once tried to find peaceful means of dealing with situations where more than one commander would have ordered a commencement to engage the enemy.”
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t abuse me,” Celeste said through gritted teeth.
“But with smart phones and other devices at your disposal, why didn’t you take a picture or record the event on your phone?” Judge Advocate Mitchell asked. “Even if you didn’t report it to the police you could at least keep it for your own records. In a case of being so scared I would leave some kind of proof in the event that something happened, I would assume?”
“I wasn’t thinking at the time,” Celeste said stiffly. “I-I was too scared, right now I’m still very scared of him.”
Oh please, at least dial up the acting to be convincing.
India had to stop herself from rolling her eyes.
“I’d like to ask his fiancée India Newton, who is also due to give birth to his child, if she ever experienced any abuse at his hands?” the arbitrator said.
My turn, time to put some nails in her coffin,
India thought with satisfaction. “Sir, I’ve known Mikael from the time I was three. I’ve had a few occasions to meet Ms. Covington as well, at which time she could have approached me about any abuse. She has always been cold to me, and the people Mikael calls family. But to answer your question, Mikael is not a violent person in any way, shape, or form.”
“She’d always lie for him, she wanted him even when we were together,” Celeste cried out.
“He was always mine, I thought you knew. Celeste, tell the arbitrator that Mikael was actually broken up with you when we got together and had been for almost eight weeks,” India said sweetly. “Shouldn’t this have come up sooner and not after you saw me at his apartment and found out that we were together and I was pregnant?”
“Bitch!” Celeste said malevolently.
“Control your client,” the arbitrator ordered.
“I’d like to add something if I may,” Brownie said with utmost politeness.
“You never liked me anyway,” Celeste snarled at Brownie.
Brownie raised one elegant eyebrow. “Dear, that’s not even a question. I think you are a vile, money hungry, evil witch who will get your just desserts eventually. But that is neither here nor there. I do have valid evidence to share that may help end this charade.”
The arbitrator nodded. “Please go ahead Mrs. Nolan.”
“Mikael and India have known each other from the time they were toddlers, and they are betrothed as shown in this contract.” Brownie slid it across the table. “India’s grandmother also has her copy, and it will show that from the age of nine and seven they were arranged to be married at the consenting age of twenty-one. Because of Mikael’s military career, they thought it best to wait until he was stationed closer to home before they married.”
Gran slid her document over to the arbitrator as well. “A totally valid reason, because now the war in the Middle East is ending. They can focus on the impending birth of their daughter, did we mention it was a girl?” Gran beamed. “And the wedding will be after that. Right now India is feeling much too pregnant to even look at wedding dresses and flowers.”
The arbitrator looked over the documents silently.
Brownie continued. “As you can see, the documents are dated well over twenty years ago and are perfectly valid. Also, I have a recording on my cell phone where Ms. Covington called me and told me in no uncertain terms that I could solve this problem and I know how. I only can assume she meant monetarily, because of my gallery and the money I’ve made off my art over the last few years.”
“I- I- I never did that,” Celeste sputtered.
“Please put it on speaker and play the voicemail for me,” the arbitrator said.
“You never thought I knew about the modern aspects of technology?” Brownie said sweetly as she pressed the button.
The message played loud and clear, and everyone including her own lawyer looked at Celeste as she could clearly be heard subtly asking for money.
“I can see this is over,” the arbitrator said. “I’ll be notifying the Judge Advocate General that this was a frivolous lawsuit brought by Ms. Covington and her lawyer.”
“But we have more evidence,” Mr. Boyer protested.
“I hope it’s evidence on why I shouldn’t charge you both with trying to file a false claim against a decorated soldier with an extensive military career,” the arbitrator said angrily. “There are too many people trying to take advantage of our military personnel while they are away for their respective tours and at home. This kind of lawsuit could destroy a man’s career, and I suggest you walk away now. If you continue to pursue this I will have no problem suggesting some kind of action be taken against both of you. Mr. Boyer, shame on you for taking the bar and still allowing this travesty, shame on you.”
“But I’m the victim here,” Celeste cried out pitifully.
The arbitrator shook his head. “You, ma’am, I have no doubt have ever been a victim except of the repercussions of your own malice. This proceeding is over with. One more warning, Ms. Covington, leave these people alone or I personally will help them file a restraining order against you and take further action, am I understood?”
Celeste nodded stiffly and her lawyer answered for her. “She is quite clear, your honor.”
‘Then this is dismissed.” The arbitrator packed up the files and handed the contracts back to Brownie and Gran. “Major and Ms. Newton, I wish you many blessings for the upcoming birth of your daughter and your future marriage.”
Mikael stood and saluted. “Thank you, sir.”
The arbitrator smiled. “No need for that, Major, and we thank you for your service to our wonderful country.”
With that the arbitrator left and the room was silent. Brownie and Gran stood while Mikael helped India to her feet.
“But Mikael…” Celeste pouted her lips and held out her hand to him.
“Don’t you dare talk to him or I’ll come over this damn table…” India snarled and made a move to grab at Celeste.
Mikael took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Sweetheart, it’s not worth it.”
Brownie patted her hand. “It’s really not, India, don’t mess up your pretty manicure with such filth.”
Gran nodded. “Trash is trash, Honeybee. Let’s get you home so you can get those feet up before they swell.”
They left without looking back at the vicious human being that was Celeste Covington. They’d won and from that moment she was just a footnote in the past. India vowed never to think of her again unless he saw her on the streets and maybe could sneak in a punch or two. It was hard to forget what she did to Mikael and all she put him through. But as they stepped out into the chill breeze it wiped away the ill feeling as they walked to Mikael’s car to head home. They had a baby to prepare for. In India’s opinion, with Mikael, Brownie, and Gran, they were the best family to be born into.
November came in and the New York chill came with it. To India, being pregnant and having to go out in the sweltering heat of summer was torture, but being thirty-seven weeks pregnant and trying to get into a winter coat was murder. All she wanted to do was to sit in the warmth of their apartment and not move off the couch. It was the only place she seemed to be comfortable. She had started to even sleep on the couch, and Mikael refused to sleep upstairs without her so he slept on the floor next to the sofa. It was sweet and she knew he was worried, especially with her backaches being a constant thing. She had her weekly appointment that morning and the doctor told her she was three centimeters dilated and her cervix was thinning out nicely.
Still, she had three more weeks before her due date and the baby could come whenever she wanted. The nursery was finished, the last touches done by Mikael. It all worked, even the pink camouflage blanket on her bed. Mikael found it at the Commissary on base and bought it without hesitation. India smiled as he lay in the soft sofa cushions and tried to relax so she could sleep. Isabella would be daddy’s little girl and even had a bear that wore a little army uniform. Soon they’d be getting ready for Thanksgiving with Brownie and Gran who fussed over her constantly until it made her crazy. When Mikael was at the base neither one of them were too far away. The transition of moving Brownie into India’s apartment after she gave them her larger brownstone went smoothly. She loved hearing them talk about the new living situation over dinner one night.
“It’s a pre-Christmas gift that we are moving in earlier than expected,” Brownie said, taking a bite of her pot roast. “Etta and I can take care of this smaller brownstone better than I ever could with the other house.”
Gran smiled. “We’ll be happy knowing that you are close by and we are happy being roommates again. Remember the little flat in Paris, Brownie?”
“It was smaller than this room but we made it work, then there was the prince who stayed with us for three months.” Brownie and Gran looked at each other and laughed while India and Mikael watched them in interest.
“One of these days you two should write your memoirs,” India said suddenly. “There’s a whole lot of stuff we don’t know about you, huh?”
Gran smiled wickedly. “Maybe we will and leave it in a safe deposit box until we’re both passed, then you can read it. I don’t need the shocked looks from you if you knew half the things we did.”
“That scares me more than an IED on a dirt road in the Middle East,” Mikael said.
“Hush, and say you both love the house,” Brownie scolded.
Mikael grinned. “Yes, Brownie and Etta, we love the house and we love you for it.”
“You didn’t think that when you had to recreate the beginning of the nursery over there and repaint that room so I can use it for a art studio,” Brownie said.
India smiled as she remembered their groans because she had just finished the reading tree stencil on the wall. But luckily they were able to recreate everything, including the little lights inset into the wall to make it look like a starry night over the reading trees. Isabella’s nursery even had a window seat for when she got older. Maybe she’d sit there and read or write poetry or daydream about travelling. She had a bookshelf full of books to read to their daughter every night. She was looking forward to opening her baby’s imagination as she grew up using books, and she was sure the Grans would do the same. Brownie would teach her art and Gran would teach her photography and tell her about Paris and London and France. She was so excited to see her baby girl.