Chapter 7


Chapter 7
Wednesday, August 15
Rita Heatley double-checked the post-it note stuck to the steering wheel of her car. The Penner Hewitt law firm should be four blocks down on the right.
Bobbi said she had to get used to it. No, she didn’t. Something had to be done. Somebody had to take action. Chuck wouldn’t stand up for her, and Gavin couldn’t make any headway with him, so it was all up to her.
Rita knew she’d catch all kinds of grief over what she was about to do. Unless it worked. If it worked, everyone’s lives would return to normal, and no one would be the wiser.
“Here we go.” She parked her car in the first visitor’s spot, and then she leaned forward, straining to see the top story of the glass façade. “This is a lot bigger than Chuck’s building.” Too bad she couldn’t throw that up in his face someday. She grabbed her purse, checked inside to make sure she had everything, and strode into the building.
Natural light filtered down through the atrium into the open lobby. Large plants, even a few small trees, in huge stone pots lined the walkway to the reception desk. As soon as Rita got within ten feet of the desk, the receptionist looked up and greeted her. “Good morning. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to see Tracy Ravenna.”
“Do you have an appointment?” The woman reached for the telephone.
“No.” Nor did she have a backup plan.
“Can I have your name, please?” the receptionist asked, picking up a pen.
“Rita Heatley.”
“One moment.” Rita stepped away from the desk while the receptionist made the call to Tracy. “Ms. Heatley, Ms. Ravenna is in Suite 304. You can take the elevator to the third floor, and she’s the second office on your right.”
“Thank you.” In the elevator, Rita took two deep breaths. Her hands were steady and dry, proof that she was doing the right thing. Rita’s resolve wavered though, when Tracy met her at the office door.
“Ms. Heatley, I’m Tracy Ravenna.” She smiled, and extended her hand. She wore a tailored gray pantsuit with a silk blouse, modestly buttoned almost to the top. Not one of her auburn hairs was out of place. She wore no jewelry except earrings and a tasteful, elegant diamond and gold watch. Rita suddenly felt uncharacteristically self-conscious in her slacks and blouse from the clearance rack at JCPenney.
“Please come in.” Tracy eased the door shut and showed Rita to a leather armchair, then rounded the desk and took a seat. “Is that Mrs. Gavin Heatley?”
“Yes,” Rita answered, taken aback.
The corner of Tracy’s mouth curled into a smirk. “He came to my house one night. He’s quite a gentleman.”
Rita bristled at the way she said “he came to my house,” like she could have Chuck or Gavin or anyone else she wanted whenever she took a notion. She couldn’t be more wrong about Gavin, but that was little consolation. No wonder Bobbi so adamantly protested Chuck having any contact with her. He didn’t stand a chance against this woman playing her game.
Before Tracy could go any further, Rita opened her purse and pulled out her checkbook. “Ms. Ravenna, I’ll get right to the point. How much will it take for you to disappear? For good.”
“Excuse me?”
Rita relished the flash of shock across Tracy’s face. “You’ve brought enough pain into my sister’s life. I want you to leave the state of Missouri. Name your price.”
“Your sister? Bobbi is your sister.” Tracy leaned back in her chair, and spoke quietly, the smirky smile returning. “It all makes sense now. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the connection between Chuck and Mr. Heatley.” Tracy swiveled her chair around and stood slowly. “Mrs. Heatley, you can put your checkbook away.”
Rita never moved her eyes, nor did she close her checkbook, as Tracy moved behind her toward the office door. And this is where she calls security on me.
With a hand on the doorknob, Tracy continued, “Your sister has nothing to worry about as far as I’m concerned. I have all I want from Chuck. The contact between us now is all his doing. Maybe you should try to buy him off.” She opened the office door. “Good day, Mrs. Heatley.”
Rita took the longest way home that she could devise. The disasters would surely keep coming now. Was Tracy telling the truth about Chuck, that he was initiating the contact between them now? Did Bobbi know that? Would Chuck admit to it? That might be enough to take the heat off her.
Should she wait until Tracy said something about their meeting this morning? Chuck might not believe it if she let Tracy tell him. No, waiting would drive her insane. Confessing was the best thing. Confessing to Bobbi.
She couldn’t go right now though. It would look very suspicious if she were dressed for work this early in the morning. She’d stop at home, change clothes, and then go see Bobbi. She went to see her sister all the time. With any luck, Gavin was already at school. When Rita tried the front door, it was unlocked. Gavin was still home. I’m dead.
He met her just inside the front door. “Rita, where’d you take off to? You didn’t even say goodbye.”
“I’d rather not say,” Rita said, trying to push past him, still hoping to escape.
Gavin closed his eyes and began to rub his temples. “Rita, where’ve you been?”
“All right, this is going to sound really bad…”
“Don’t tell me you went to see Tracy.”
“Ok, I won’t tell you.” Rita tried to walk away once again, but Gavin caught her by the arm before she could get through the doorway.
“Have you lost your mind?” Gavin shouted. “Chuck and Bobbi are in the middle of legal action with her!”
“It was a bad idea. It’ll never happen again.” She pulled her arm away and widened the distance between them.
“What did you say to her?”
“Not much. I just… I suggested there were other places she might want to live, that’s all.”
“You threatened her?”
“No,” Rita raised a hand. “I did not threaten her. Not at all.”
“Then what did you do?”
Gavin had the most piercing eyes of anyone Rita had ever known. Her only option now was to get the ugly truth out there and pray for mercy. She took a deep breath and the words spilled out. “I offered her money to leave the state.” When Gavin didn’t explode, Rita knew it was very bad.
“How much did you offer her?” he growled.
“That part was up to her.” She resolved to play it cool, like it was as mundane as stopping by the ATM.
“I see, and just where were you going to get this money?”
“It depended on how much exactly. I’m sure John could have covered it.”
“You were going to drag our son-in-law into this? Were you going to let John go to jail for you, too?”
“Oh Gavin,” Rita rolled her eyes. “Nobody’s going to jail. You make it sound bad.”
“Come on.” He pulled her toward the door. “Get in the car.”
“Where are we going?”
“You’re going to apologize to Bobbi and Chuck, and pray to God that this doesn’t affect their court case.”
“First of all, that was exactly what I planned to do, so you can cool it with the ‘Mr. Heatley’ voice.” She straightened her back and launched into the rest of her defense, lame as it was. “Second, you agreed with me that it was best if Chuck didn’t have anything to do with Tracy or Jack—”
“So I put you up to this? You know how insane that is?”
“Only because it failed. If it had worked, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“Because you would’ve kept it from me.”
“I didn’t say that, but I guarantee you wouldn’t be this self-righteous.” He hated being called self-righteous. That should distract him long enough for her to concoct a better strategy.
“No, I’d rather die than see Bobbi hurt again, but the fact is… they’re both adults. They’ve chosen a course of action, and you… we have to stay out of it.” Gavin prodded her out to his car, and then he called Bobbi from his cell phone.
“Has Chuck already left? No, Rita needs to talk to both of you. Thanks. See you soon.”
Gavin’s short, clipped syllables were the only words he spoke on the drive to the Molinskys’. He never even glanced her direction. She began to wish they could go back to the scolding indignation. Her best hope for a way out of this mess lay in her sister’s grace. Chuck was another story. Rita folded her hands in her lap, stared out the window and prayed.
Bobbi peeked out the kitchen window just in time to see Gavin’s car pull in the driveway. “Shannon, Aunt Rita’s here! Why don’t you get the door for her?”
She heard little feet dash from the family room to the entry hall, and then Shannon’s voice rang out, “Aunt Rita! Is this a Katelyn day?”
“No, sweetie, that’s tomorrow. Uncle Gavin and I need to talk to Mommy and Daddy.”
“Mommy’s in the kitchen, but Daddy’s not here.”
Shannon skittered back to the family room and a moment later, Rita came into the kitchen with Gavin a half step behind. “Hey, sorry to bother you so early in the morning,” she said taking a seat at the kitchen table with Bobbi.
“What’s wrong?” Bobbi said, glancing at Gavin who was standing in the doorway. “I’ve never heard Gavin sound like that on the phone.”
“Gavin is overreacting,” Rita said, nodding toward him, “but I’ll wait until Chuck gets here, so I only have to go through it once.”
“Do you want some coffee, then? It’s Indonesian. I think it’s my new favorite.”
“If that’s the strongest thing you’ve got.”
Bobbi looked to Gavin, but he shook his head.
Rita always turned down Indonesian coffee. Always. Gavin’s not speaking, not even hello. That’s a bad sign.  
Bobbi got a cup from the cabinet and poured Rita’s coffee.
It’s not bad news, like a tragedy. He’s furious about something.
Bobbi slid Rita’s cup to her and sat back down. She could see Gavin’s hands clenched in tight fists.
It’s Rita. She’s done something, and he’s livid. What’s she done that she would need to talk to me and Chuck? Unless it had to do with Tracy. Rita’s done something to Tracy. Rita and Tracy… This should be good.
They listened to the clock tick as they waited for Chuck, Rita and Bobbi sipping their coffee, and Gavin crossing and uncrossing his arms across his chest. Rita flinched when the refrigerator began to hum.
What on earth has she done? 
Gavin’s eyes darted back toward the entryway when they heard Chuck’s car. When he finally opened the front door, Rita leaned back in her chair and let a deep breath go. “Good grief, who died?” Chuck said, as he strode into the kitchen.
“Nobody yet,” Gavin replied. “Rita?”
“Chuck, sit down,” she said quietly, motioning him to a seat. “I need to confess and apologize to you and to Bobbi.”
He glanced at Bobbi as he slid into a chair, but she shook her head. “I don’t have any idea what she’s talking about.”
Gavin moved over and stood at Rita’s side with his arms crossed. Rita scowled at him, and then faced Bobbi. “First of all, this is going to sound crazy, but honestly, I had only the best intentions.”
“Rita,” Gavin said.
“I’m going to tell them,” she said to him. “Calm down.” Then she turned back to Bobbi and Chuck. “It breaks my heart, Bobbi, to see you having to deal with Tracy again, after all she put you through, and I wanted to take that away somehow.” She looked at Chuck briefly, but then pulled her chair around to face Bobbi. “I had a meeting with Tracy this morning.”
Chuck stiffened, and Bobbi reached under the table to squeeze his knee. “What did you say to her?”
“This is the part that sounds really bad, but if you just—”
“Do you want me to tell them?” Gavin interrupted.
“Gavin!” She held a hand up to him. “I offered her money to leave town.” The cascade of words didn’t register for a very long moment. Then Bobbi raised a hand to her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
“You didn’t,” Bobbi said. She tried to picture the scene in her mind—the checkbook laid out on Tracy’s desk, Rita uncapping her pen with a flourish, ready to write a very large number, one with plenty of zeroes. Rita and Tracy in a room together… That would have been worth watching.
“She turned me down,” Rita answered quietly. “Anyway, it was a stupid, reckless thing to do, reflecting extremely poor judgment on my part. The last thing I wanted was to hurt you or make things more difficult for you.” She glanced at Chuck. “Either of you. I am very sorry.”
“I cannot believe this,” Chuck said. “This is like a soap opera.” He shook his head slowly, and then as he spoke, his voice grew louder and sharper with each word. “You were in the kitchen that Sunday. You heard me tell Brad to stay out of this.”
“I know, Chuck—”
“This is not a game. This is my life you’re playing with, Bobbi’s life, and an innocent little boy’s life.” His neck grew redder as his jaw clenched.
“I can’t take it back, Chuck. I’m sorry I did it. I don’t know what else to say—”
He cut her off with an angry wave of his hand. “Don’t say anything. Don’t talk about Tracy, about Jack, about the court case to anybody. Consider this a gag order.” Rita dropped her eyes and shifted in her chair. “If she brings this up in court, I’m dead.” Chuck leaned back in his chair and rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand.
“Chuck,” Gavin said at last, “can we file a statement or something that says Rita was stupid, and she acted on her own, without your knowledge and against your wishes?”
“I don’t know,” Chuck said, wearily. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Gavin said. “If I had any idea she cooked this up, I wouldn’t have let her out of the house. We’ll do anything we can to make it up to you.”
“Don’t you mean I’ll do anything?” Rita corrected.
“No.” Gavin held up his left hand and pointed to his wedding band. “I mean we. Come on. Let’s go before they completely disown us.” Rita waved weakly as she followed Gavin out.
“Unreal,” Chuck huffed once they were gone. When Bobbi smiled, he became indignant. “It’s not funny.”
She slid closer and wrapped her arm around his. “Can’t you just see Rita whipping out her checkbook? If that doesn’t make you smile…”
“She shouldn’t have done it,” he said, softening just a little.
“No, she most certainly should not have done it, but think how long you can hold this over her head.”
“True,” Chuck admitted with just a hint of a smile. “I hope she didn’t do any real damage.”
“So is there anything you can do in the meantime?”
“No, I’ll just have to wait and see what Tracy does next.”
Friday, August 24
At Building Blocks Daycare, Laurie Dillard straightened the small chairs at the project table and picked up a stray piece of paper from the floor. She checked her watch, and glanced out the front window. The flurry of parents dropping off children would begin any moment now.
A bell rang, signaling the front door had opened, so Laurie and the rest of the early staff began signing kids in and taking instructions from parents. Next week, when school started, things would quiet down considerably with only the three and four-year-olds to process each morning.
“Morning, Miss Laurie!”
She looked up to see Jack Ravenna flying through the door. He stopped long enough to drop his lunch box in his cubby, before he disappeared through the back door, and out to the playground. She waved, and signed him in for the day.
When his mother came in moments later, Laurie said with a smile, “Your little tornado is already outside.”
Tracy didn’t return the smile. “Once in a while, I’d like to kiss him goodbye.”
“Is everything all right? You seem kind of down this morning.”
“Just aggravated. It’s Jack’s dad.”
“I thought his dad was dead.” Laurie stepped from behind the counter, and guided Tracy to a corner, giving them a little more privacy.
“Yeah, well, I lied,” Tracy said with a sigh. “I told Jack that because I didn’t think his dad would ever want anything to do with him. I figured it would be easier for him.”
“No, the truth is always best in the long run.”
“I think he’s going to sue me for custody of my son.” Tracy’s eyes glistened as she glanced outside at Jack.
“That’s not right.” With anyone else, Laurie would have immediately given a hug, or at least taken a hand. Tracy never seemed the type for that. It left Laurie awkwardly unsure of how to show support and sympathy.
“I know that, but I don’t have any recourse.”
“Doesn’t it matter that he hasn’t been around for six years? Has he even seen Jack?”
“He’s seen him, but Jack doesn’t know him.”
“Can he really get custody?”
“Who knows? I don’t think anybody can predict what family courts will do. He’ll at least get visitation. I haven’t told Jack yet. I don’t know how to break this to him.”
“Maybe his dad has changed. Maybe he realized his mistake, and he wants to be a good dad now.”
“You don’t know him.” Tracy stiffened, and there was a hard edge to her voice. “He wants to get back at me, so he’s going to try to take the only thing that’s precious to me, and that’s Jack.” Tracy closed her eyes and swallowed hard.
“I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
Tracy shook her head slowly. “We go to court in two weeks for round one. That’s all I have left. Two short weeks.”
“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer. God can take care of this.” Tracy shook her head slightly as she turned to leave. “You don’t believe in prayer?” Laurie asked.
“I would swing a dead cat over my head at midnight if I thought that would help. Pray, by all means.”
“Wait and see,” Laurie said, walking Tracy out of the building. “God will work this all out.”
That evening, Glen Dillard waited outside the Casa Ranchero Mexican restaurant for Laurie. They had the best enchiladas north of Texas, but it was a dive, and Laurie only ate there if he dragged her. He gave her a fair opportunity to choose the place, and she said, “I don’t care. You pick.”
When she pulled in and got out of her car, he could tell from her tightly clenched jaw and furrowed brow that the restaurant was the least of her concerns. “So how were things at the daycare today?” he asked gingerly.
“Oh, some deadbeat dad is trying to steal one of my kids away from his mother. She’s raised him all by herself, and this guy’s never even contacted them. Now after all these years, he shows up, and he’s going to talk a judge into giving him custody. He’s thrown their lives into complete chaos. I just hate it for both of them.”
Glen put an arm around her shoulder, and walked with her toward the restaurant door. “We live in a messed up world.”
“I know. I just don’t want anybody messing with my kids. I told his mother I would be praying for this to work out.”
“Does she go to church anywhere?”
“I doubt it. She seems pretty ‘worldly,’ you know? Not that she’s a terrible person, mind you. I just don’t think she has a real strong concept of personal sin.”
Glen smiled at his wife. “Laurie, have you ever just come right out and said something bad about somebody? Ever?”
“I’m sure I have.” She thought carefully. “I called that guy a deadbeat. That was bad.”
“You have a very sweet heart,” he said, holding the door open for her. “Maybe this will be an opportunity for the mother. If she sees God answer your prayer, maybe that will give you a means to reach her.”
“I hope. At least something good would come out of all this mess.”
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