Megan Wright tucked her blouse into her navy skirt as she rounded the corner into the kitchen. Her biggest opening argument of the month was in less than an hour. "Let's go, Jordan. Two minutes." "Just a sec."
"Not just a sec." She blew at a wisp of hair as she grabbed a cold piece of toast from the kitchen counter. These were the times she missed George more than any other because the morning routine had been his deal. As long as he was at work by eight-thirty he'd been happy. But she had briefings and depositions that started earlier than that.
"Now, Jordan. I have a hearing today." She poured two glasses of orange juice, snatched one and spun toward the vitamin cupboard. Two C's, one A, one E, a B-complex, a CoQ10 and two garlics. She popped the pills into her mouth and swallowed them with a single swig of juice. George had been more than twenty years older than her, a man she respected and tried to love. But the fortress surrounding George's deepest emotions was unyielding stone and razor wire, and in his presence, Megan never felt like more than an amicable business partner. When the love she'd dreamed of never materialized, Megan allowed herself to become like him. Married to her job.
Neither of them had figured Jordan into the plans. But surprise gave way to possibility, and for a time Megan believed that maybe George would come around, spend less time at work, and get caught up in fatherhood.
They would have quiet moments together, watching their baby sleep and dreaming of his future. Laughter and passion would finally find them, and her life would be all she'd ever hoped it to be. But the dream never quite materialized. George was nearly fifty by then, and thrilled with the idea of a son, a child to carry on his name, but he was as distant as ever with Megan.
"You treat me like part of the furniture, George." Megan whispered the words to him one night after they climbed into bed. "Don't you want more?" His eyes had been steely cold. "You have all you could ever want, Megan. Don't ask more of me than I can give."
George had been a bond trader, a financial wizard with a spacious office in Midtown. For two weeks straight he'd complained about a stiff neck, but neither of them saw the signs. When his secretary found him that October morning, arms spread across his desk, his head resting on a pile of client files, she'd thought he was merely resting. An hour later a client call came in and she tried to wake him. Her scream brought most of the office staff and fifteen minutes later paramedics gave them the truth.
He was dead, the victim of a massive coronary. Megan lifted the juice to her lips once more and downed it in four swallows. It had been two years now. Her grieving period had lasted only a few months. The two of them had never loved the way Megan had hoped, the way she'd once, a long time ago, believed possible. She and George were business partners, friends who ran a common household. She missed George in a functionary sense-especially on mornings like this-but he'd taken none of her heart with him when he died.
The problem was Jordan. The boy was the one person George had truly loved, and what little free time and sparse emotions he was able to give had been completely reserved for their only child. Megan never admitted it, but more than once she'd found herself feeling jealous of George's love for Jordan. Because it was a love he'd never had for her. When George died, Jordan was devastated. In the two years since his death, the level of Jordan's behavior in school and at home had plummeted.
Grief and anger, his doctor had called it. A passing phase. Megan and Jordan met with a counselor after George's death, but the sessions were costly and time-consuming, and Megan didn't notice any improvement in Jordan's behavior. She'd asked her doctor about medication for the boy. Ritalin or one of the other drugs kids were using.
"Let's wait." The pediatrician had angled his head thoughtfully. "I still think his behavior is related to the loss of his father."
That was three months ago, and Megan was tired of waiting.
Her mother had lived with them since just after George's death, an arrangement Megan had thought would be best for all of them. Her mom had retired from teaching in Florida that year and lived on a limited income. They could share expenses, and her mother could help her with Jordan after school and on the weekends. But Jordan was too much for her mother, especially now that the weather was cooler and they were inside more. She set the juice glass in the dishwasher. "Jordan!" Her son's tennis shoes sounded on the hardwood hallway as he ran into view. "Sorry, Mom." Megan looked at the boy and felt her patience waning.
"Jordan, orange and green?" "Miss Hanson says October is orange month." "Miss Hanson isn't your mother." Megan pointed down the hallway. "Find something that matches, and do it now. We have to go."
"Okay." Jordan ran back down the hall, his steps a bit slower this time.
Megan glanced at the clock on the microwave oven. 7:16A.M. They'd have to catch every green light along Madison Avenue to make it on time. She darted into her bathroom, brushed her teeth, and checked her look. Trim and professional, dark hair swept into a conservative knot, makeup applied just so. She still turned heads, but not because she was pretty.
Because she was powerful. At thirty-two she was one of the youngest prosecutors in the borough, and she had no intention of getting sidetracked. Not until the D.A.'s office was hers alone. That hadn't been her goal before George's heart attack, but now-now that she was their single source of income, things would always be tight if she didn't keep climbing.
"Jordan ..."She grabbed her leather jacket and flung her bag over her shoulder. "Now!" He was waiting for her near the door. "Beat ya!" His crooked grin caught her off guard, and for half a second she smiled. "Very funny."
"Big hearing?" Jordan opened the door for her. Megan shut and locked it. "The biggest." They hurried down the stairs and out onto the street. It was raining, and Megan hailed the first cab she saw. "Get in, Jordan. Hurry."
He tossed his backpack in and slid over. She didn't have the door shut before she said, "Fifth and 102nd. Fast." The routine was the same every morning, but sometimes- days like today-they had less room for error. They were a block away from school when Jordan pulled something from his backpack and stuck it in Megan's bag. "Hey, Mom. Could you mail this? Please?"
Megan jerked a folder from her purse and opened it. The hearing notes were in there somewhere. She'd stayed up until after midnight studying them, but she wouldn't be prepared without going over them one more time.
"Mom?" The folder settled on Megan's lap and she looked at Jordan. "What is it, honey? Mommy's busy with her court notes."
"I'm sorry." His eyes fell to his hands for a moment. "I put something in your bag." "Right..."Megan concentrated. What had the boy said? Something about the mail? "What was it again?" Jordan reached into her bag and lifted a white envelope from the side pocket. "It's a letter. Could you put the 'dress on it and mail it this morning? It's important." "Address." Megan raised her eyebrows at him. Whatever they taught kids at St. Andrews, it wasn't enough.
Her son's academic abilities were nowhere near Megan's expectations for an eight-year-old child. Yes, he could hit a ball over the fence and throw it to home plate. But that wouldn't help him get into college. She patted his cheek. "The word is address. Not 'dress." "Address." Jordan didn't skip a beat. "Could ya, Mom? Please?"
She dropped her eyes back to the folder and lifted it closer to her face. "Sure, yes." She cast him a brief smile. "Definitely." The letter was probably for his grandpa Howard in California. But usually he addressed them.
The cab rumbled along, inching its way through a sea of early-morning yellow, but Megan barely noticed as she studied her notes. Getting a conviction on the case was a sure thing. The defendant was a nineteen-year-old up for murder one, the ringleader of a gang of teens who'd spent a week that past summer lying in wait for late-night female victims in Central Park. In each case, the young men studied their prey for days, watching them enough to know their walking pattern, the direction they came from, and what time of night.
At an opportune moment, they'd grab the victim, strangle her with fishing wire, and rob her clean. They dumped the bodies in the brush and made their escape through back trails out to the street. The first two times, the gang pulled off their deed without a hitch. The third time, an off-duty police officer happened by and heard someone struggling in the bushes. He darted off the path into the bramble, and a gun battle ensued. The victim escaped with bruises on her neck, but the police officer and one of the gang members were killed in the fight.
Megan wanted the death penalty. The cab jarred to a stop. "St. Andrews." The cabbie put the car in park and didn't turn around. "We're here, honey." Megan leaned over and gave Jordan a peck on his cheek. "Get your bag." Jordan grabbed his backpack, climbed out of the cab, and looked back at her. "Don't forget, okay?" Megan's mind was blank. "Forget what?" "Mom!" Jordan's shoulders slumped some. "My letter. Don't forget to mail my letter." "Right ...sorry."Megan gave a firm nod of her head. "I won't forget."
"Promise?" Something desperate shone in his little-boy eyes, and Megan felt as if she were seeing him for the first time that morning. He was a great kid, really, and she loved him in a way that sometimes scared her. But then why didn't she spend more time with him? She had no answers for herself, and suddenly she needed to hug him more than she needed air. Even if she missed her hearing.
She slid out of the car and went to him, pulling him into her arms and ignoring the surprise in his eyes. Her answer was quiet, whispered against the top of his head. "Promise." For the briefest moment she savored the way he smelled, the way he felt in her arms-like a little boy again. "Have a good day, okay?"
His arms tightened some, and he pressed his face against her. "I'm sorry I'm so much trouble." Megan shot a quick look at the cabbie. "You're not so much trouble, honey. We'll figure everything out somehow." She glanced at her watch. "Okay, buddy. Mom can't be late. Love you."
"Love you." Jordan gave her one last look, then darted up the sidewalk to St. Andrews. Megan climbed back into the cab and watched until he was safely through the front door, then she turned to the driver and raised her voice a notch. "Supreme Court on Centre." She straightened her notes and slipped them back in the folder. "Fast."
It was nightfall before Megan had a chance to grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and go over the cases she'd worked on that day. The hearing had gone brilliantly. The jury- made up of married women and retired men-was bound to be more conservative than most in Manhattan, and her opening remarks had been right on. By the time she sat down, half the jurors were nodding in agreement. The trial would take two weeks of formalities, and she'd have her conviction.
She liked to call Jordan after school, but the morning hearing had blended into an afternoon briefing and two late depositions. Now it was seven o'clock, and she still hadn't gone over her files, five of them spread out across her desk. One at a time she worked her way through each document, checking the facts, going over witness lists, looking for loopholes. Trying to think like a defense attorney in case some small detail had slipped her mind. By seven-thirty she was convinced none had.
She was loading the files into a cabinet when the phone on her desk rang. Megan grabbed the receiver and kept filing. "Hello?"
"Megan, I can't take it. The boy made a racetrack in the bathroom and flushed a Mustang down the toilet. We have an inch of water on the floor, and the supe's on his way up because Mrs. Paisley in ?c?a?ehas a wet ceiling." Her mother paused only long enough to refuel. "I fixed chicken for dinner, but by then he didn't want to eat, so I sent him to his room to read. He's been crying for the past half hour."
Megan shut the file drawer and fell back into her chair. "A wet ceiling? Mom ...how long was it flooded?" "Not long, and don't have that tone with me." "You were watching your soap, weren't you? No wonder he was playing in the toilet."
"Megan, the boy's crying. Come home. We'll talk about it here."
Traffic was a nightmare, and Megan used the time to think about her life. Tears were nothing new for Jordan, not lately. She thought about her options, but none of them brought her peace. Her mother was right, the boy needed a friend-someone to take walks with and play sports with. But where would she find someone like that?
A fragment of a conversation played in Megan's mind. A couple had been talking in the halls outside Megan's office.
"Child support is fine, but he needs more than that." The woman kept her voice to a low hiss. "It's not my problem. I'm writing the checks; that's all the court asked me to do."
"We wouldn't be here if you spent even a few days a month with him, can't you see that? Kids need more than food and a roof over their heads."
Megan stared out the window of the cab at the dark, wet streets of New York City. More than food and a roof over their heads...The words echoed in the most solitary part of her heart, the part she'd closed off the spring of her thirteenth year.
That was the problem with Jordan, of course. He was lonely, left with only a tired old woman far too often. The truth made Megan's eyes sting and it roughed up the surface of her perfect plans. She'd have time for Jordan later, when she made a name for herself as a prosecutor, when she was making big money and able to choose her hours. Wasn't that what she always told herself ? For now, Jordan had to know she loved him. She told him all the time.
It took Megan half an hour to get home. She rarely felt tired after a full day in court; exhilarated but not tired. Today, though, she wanted only to bypass the situation with Jordan and go straight to bed. The three flights of stairs felt like five, and Jordan met her at the door. "Did you do it?"
Megan locked eyes with him as she walked in and closed the door behind her. "Do what?" "Mail the letter." Hope shone in his expression. "Did you?"
Her heart skipped a beat, and she resisted the urge to blink. "Of course."
"Really? You found the address?" The lie came easier the second time. She brushed at a wisp of his hair and kissed his forehead. "Definitely." Jordan flung his arms around her. "Thanks, Mom... you're the best."
Guilt found its way to her throat and put down roots. "Enough about that." She swallowed hard and pulled back. "What happened in the bathroom?"
It was an hour later before they got through the story and she tucked him into bed. By then her mother was asleep, and finally Megan took her bag and retreated to her bedroom. The letter was still tucked inside. As she pulled it out her heart stumbled. Jordan had scribbled just one word across the front of the envelope:
Suddenly she remembered. Jordan had asked her to address it before dropping it in the mail. Megan closed her eyes, clutched the letter to her heart, and exhaled hard. Then, afraid of what she'd find, she dropped to her bed and opened it. Inside was a single page, filled with Jordan's neatest handwriting.
Megan narrowed her eyes and began to read.
Dear God, my name is Jordan Wright and I am 8 years old.
I hav somthing to ask you. I tride to ask you befor but I think you wer bizy. So I am riting you a letter insted.
A sad, aching sort of pain ignited in the basement of Megan's soul, the place where she had assigned all feelings about God and prayers and miracles. Jordan had said it perfectly. God had always been too busy to hear the prayers of a lonely, forgotten woman, and now He was too busy for her son. She gritted her teeth and kept reading.