“Mom, I gotta know,” Erin said as they drove down the street, “who gave you the recommendations for the last two law offices?”
Colleen thought for a few seconds. “Oh, right!” she started, “Joan gave me the recommendation for the first one and Bonnie gave me the second.”
“Well, that explains a lot,” Erin remarked. “Who recommended this last one?”
“That was Ginny,” Colleen replied.
“Well, I hope Ginny has better judgment than your other friends,” Erin said.
They ended up on a quiet street not too far away from where they both lived. It was primarily a residential area but had professional offices on the main thoroughfares that bordered the section. The lawyer's office was in a house where the garage was converted into an office. A sign in the front yard read “Akiyama and Akiyama, Attorneys at Law.” Colleen pulled into the driveway and parked in front of the office.
When Erin and Colleen walked into the office, they found it small but nicely appointed, with a few overstuffed chairs, a couch and a receptionist's desk. There were two offices on either side of the receptionist's desk and a small room with a copier and supplies immediately behind the desk. The women heard the whirring of the copier as they approached the desk.
Just as Erin and Colleen stopped at the desk, a Japanese woman carrying a stack of papers walked out of the copier/storage room. She was nicely dressed and could have been anywhere from her mid-twenties to mid-forties. Her straight brown hair was just off her shoulders and her brown eyes lit up when she saw the two women.
“Good afternoon! How may I help you, ladies?” she asked.
Erin spoke first. “I've come to see about retaining an attorney,” she replied.
“I see.” The woman turned to Colleen and inquired, “And you are?”
“I'm her mother,” Colleen replied. “I'm helping her get around today.”
“Good, good,” The woman replied, setting the papers in the receptionist's “IN” basket and picking up a legal pad and pen. As she wrote on the pad, she said, “First off, may I have your name, please?”
“Erin Donnelly, and this is my mother, Colleen McDermott,” came the reply.
The woman nodded as she wrote. “Why do you want to retain an attorney?”
“I want a divorce,” Erin said. She was starting to show some annoyance at yet another round of questions by an office worker. “Will I be able to speak with a lawyer today?”
“Certainly,” the woman replied. “In fact, you are right now. I'm Karen Akiyama, senior partner of this law firm but please, just call me Karen.” She had a bit of a devilish smile as she introduced herself.
Erin covered her face with her hands. “Oh, my... I... I'm sorry,” she stammered. “I didn't mean to imply... You came out of the room with that stack of papers... I thought...”
Karen laughed. “Don't worry... Erin, right?” she chuckled. “This is a small office. In fact, I am the only attorney here at the moment.”
“Oh, are the others at lunch right now?” Colleen asked.
Karen smiled sadly. “No, I mean that Junichi, that's my husband, was my partner. He passed away a few years ago. I guess I should take that sign down, but my daughter will graduate law school this June and she plans to work with me as soon as she passes the Bar exam.”
Erin was intrigued. “So are you all alone her?”
“At the moment, yes,” she replied. “My receptionist and my law clerk are at lunch. Go in into my office and sit down. I'll be in presently. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, soda, water?”
“What type of tea?” Erin asked.
“What else? Japanese green tea,” Karen said.
“There's a difference?” Erin asked, intrigued.
“Oh yes, a great difference,” Karen told her. “Let me show you. It'll just take a few minutes.” She went into the other office.
The two women sat down in the chairs facing Karen's desk. Erin looked around the room. It definitely reflected a woman's touch in the decor. There was a large painting on the wall opposite her desk, a beautiful landscape. Her diplomas and credentials were neatly displayed on a wall to their right and to their left was a window with a lovely set of drapes.
Behind her desk, Karen had a set of bookshelves. In the center there was a credenza that held some framed photos. There was one with Karen and what had to be her daughter art a graduation. The only way to tell them apart was the daughter had on the cap and gown. On the other side was a portrait of what had to be Karen and her husband.
Karen walked in the office with a pot of tea and three cups. “You didn't say if you wanted any, Colleen, so I brought a cup for you if you do,” she said as she set the tray down on the credenza. “Now, I know that you Westerners usually like cream and sugar with your tea, but I would ask you to try this by itself first,” she explained as she poured three cups. “This is Gyokuro, or “Jade dew” and it is one of the finest teas in Japan.”
“Thank you, Karen,” Erin said as she accepted a cup. She took one sip and said, “This is the most unique tea I have ever tasted!”
Colleen put her hands up as if to say “No, thanks,” explaining, “I'm not a tea drinker.”
“Mom, you have got to try this tea,” Erin urged. “Even you will like it!” Colleen took a cup from Karen, then took a tentative sip. Her face brightened up immediately. “This can't be tea! It's not bitter.”
“That's the beauty of Gyokuro,” Karen said as she sat down at her desk. It's probably the most sought after tea in Japan.” she sat back and took a sip of her cup. “Now, let's talk about your situation, Erin. Tell me what is going on that has brought you to the point of contemplating a divorce.”
Erin sat back in her chair and took a deep breath. “the past few weeks have been difficult for me,” she explained.
“So, is this about something that just came up?” Karen asked.
“No, it's more like everything has finally come to a head.”
Erin thought. “I gave birth to twin boys about seven months ago,” she started. “Up until then, Ronnie, my husband, had been... well like we were since we married. After, though... No, it actually started about one to two months before the birth, as I recall, he started to pull away from me. I thought it was me at first... hormones, fatigue and jitters at being the mother of twins... but it was like he had changed once I brought the boys home.”
“How did it change, Erin?” Karen asked, listening closely.
Erin took another sip of tea. “Well, before the twins, he was loving, in his own way,” she explained. “He was always a bit... stand-offish, I guess, but he really seemed to have loved me and care for me. Once the babies were in the mix, however, he seemed to have lost all interest in me as a wife. He treated me more like a live-in nanny. Ronnie started “working late,” as he put it, almost every weeknight. He would come home so late I was sleeping when he got in bed with me.”
Taking notes on the legal pad, Karen looked up. “Was this every night?”
“Pretty much,” Erin acknowledged. “He would be home all weekend, but he was... different. Cold, aloof, not wanting to have anything to do with me. We were strangers who shared the same house... the same bed.”
“How was he with the babies?”
“Like they didn't even exist,” Erin said, as a tear formed in her eye. “I can count on one hand how many times he picked either one of them up. He never helped at all with caring for them. He had seemed so excited that they were coming...” Erin's voice trailed off. She looked at the picture of Karen and her daughter. “Or did I just want him to be excited?” she said in a low, sad voice.
“I don't know how else to put this,” Karen said, somewhat embarrassed, “but how was your... personal lives?”
“You mean our sex life?” Erin said quickly, snapping out of her distraction. “It was non-existent. I would have gotten warmer feelings from a rolled up quilt than I got from him. He even refused it when I tried to...” Erin paused, unsure of how to explain what David had suggested and she had done. “When I tried, no when I asked him if he'd like to try his favorite position,” she explained, her cheeks reddening.
“You don't have to say any more, Erin,” Karen said gently. “I understand. Have you tried getting counseling?”
Erin looked surprised. “Um, no, I hadn't thought of it,” she admitted, “but knowing him, he'd have refused, insisting nothing was different.”
“Tell her about that phone call, dear,” Colleen interjected.
“What phone call?” Karen asked.
“Where I tried to get Ronnie interested in making love to me again,” Erin explained. “He told me... let me remember... he told me, “act like an adult. You're the mother of twins now. You don't have time for playing silly games.”.
“Silly games?” Karen said, incredulous.
“That's what he said... “Silly games”,” Erin repeated.
“What happened then?” Karen asked.
“I wanted to talk to someone... to one of my friends,” Erin said. “But as I sat there, trying to think of who to call, I realized I hadn't seen any of my friends in months-definitely not since the twins came home. Ronnie had run them all off.”
“So that's when she called me,” Colleen explained.
Karen turned to her. “Did you do anything, Mrs. McDermott?”
“Yes, I did,” Colleen replied. “You see, I had my concerns about Ronnie from the start. When Erin called and told me everything that happened, I went to an old friend of mine who's a private investigator and had him check Ronnie out. He shocked us when said that Ronnie was seeing three different women.”
Karen looked concerned. “Who did you use?” she asked.
“Victor Bennett,” Colleen explained. “He and I go way back... all the way to high school.”
Karen smiled when Colleen mentioned Victor. “I like him. I think he's the best investigator in the city, if not the state. If he's sure your daughter's husband is seeing three women, I have no problems accepting that. When did he tell you?”
“Yesterday,” Erin said. “Mom brought him over and he gave me his report and pictures.”
“And that was when you decided to go right to retaining an attorney?”
Erin nodded. “I decided then that there was no way I'd let him back in my life, or even anywhere near the twins. But that’s not all.”
“There's more?” Karen asked, leaning in towards Erin.
“Remember how I said he had run my friends off? This morning I found out he also sold my car, effectively trapping me at home for the last two months straight.” Erin told her.
“How could he have done that?”
“The car needed some repair work done,” Erin explained, “so we took it over to our mechanic, but that was over two months ago. He kept telling me that the mechanic was waiting on this part or that part, so I didn't suspect anything. When we set out today, our first stop was at the garage so I could check on the status of my car. The owner of the shop told me Ronnie signed over the title instead of paying for the repairs.”
Karen kept taking notes. “I see, but I meant how could he have sold your car?”
“Oh, I see now,” Erin said. “When Ronnie got me that car, he told me not to worry, that he had taken care of everything. I found out today, the title was still in his name only.”
Karen sat back, putting her hands together with her fingers spread out. “So we have a man who systematically runs off his wife's friends, sells her only means of transportation when he's not around, seldom comes home and does not do anything but sleep and,” she stopped and looked at Erin. “I can assume he does eat when he's home?”
“Yes, he does,” Karen confirmed.
“So, he doesn't help with any of the day to day work around the house,” Karen picked up, “just sleeps and eats, he has no interest in his wife sexually; and we have pretty solid evidence he is cheating on his wife with at least three other women.”
“And he lied to me about the car,” Erin added.
Karen smiled at Erin. “That's a given,” she explained. “Now, I have to ask some questions about you.”
“Me?” Erin repeated, concerned.
“Yes, I need to know if there's anything he can use against you,” Karen explained.
Erin pretended that she was trying to remember. What she was really thinking was, “I can't just blurt out about the BDSM in front of Mom! Maybe it won't come up.”
Erin smiled sweetly and said, “There's noting I can thank of that could cause any problems.”
Karen smiled. “I'm glad to hear that,” she said. “I've decided to take on your case. This is the type of man my husband and I like to take on.” She stopped, realizing what she had just said. A small frown passed over her lips. “Of course, it's just me now.”
Colleen had a sympathetic look on her face. “I understand your situation. How long has it been?”
Karen had a puzzled look on her face until she realized what Colleen had asked. “It was about three years ago,” she said, lost in her memories for a moment. “We were counsel for the defense in a civil lawsuit. Junichi had just wrapped up his opening argument when he had a massive heart attack.”
“Oh, no!” both women exclaimed. Colleen said, “That must have been very hard on you.”
“It was a shock,” Karen continued, “since he hadn't shown any signs of heart problems. Heart disease runs in the men in his family, though.”
“That is so sad,” Erin remarked.
Karen smiled. “Actually, it was his second choice of where to die,” she said. “First place was in bed with me. He died doing the work he enjoyed the most.”
The three women sat in silence for a minute.
“But I know what Junichi would say,” Karen continued, “so I will say the same. I will take on your case, Mrs. Donnelly.”
Erin's eyes suddenly filled with tears. “Oh, thank you so much, Karen!” she exclaimed. “You don't know how much better it makes me feel.”
Colleen appeared pleased but not overjoyed. “Yes, thank you for taking on my daughter's case, but there is one detail. What will it cost?”
“Of course,” Karen replied, “that question always comes up. Now, considering the issues we're looking at, the fact that there's...” Karen looked at Erin. “I don't know if I asked already. Do you and your husband own your house?”
“Well, yes... as much as anyone can own a house these days,” Erin replied.
Karen continued, “There's the house, children, and this looks like it will be contested; so there will be more work possible. My usual fee for such a divorce is seven thousand dollars.”
Colleen whistled. “Seven thousand?”
Erin looked at her mother. “But Mom, that's less that what the other lawyers wanted.”
“Who was that and how much, if you don't mind me asking,” Karen inquired.
“Oh, I can't remember their name now, but it was a fancy office downtown in a big building and they were very condescending to us. They wanted twenty thousand dollars.”
Karen smiled. “I think I know who you mean. They're on the fifth floor?”
“Yes, they are.”
Karen nodded. “Professional courtesy prevents me from saying anything bad about them, so let me just say they are particular about their clientele.”
“They're downright rude and bitchy,” Colleen blurted out. Karen just put her hands up as if to say “I'm not saying any more.”
“As I said, the fee is usually seven thousand,” Karen continued. “But in this case, I'm just going to ask for two thousand, to cover my expenses and any filing fees we may have.”
“Two... two... two thousand?” Erin stammered, surprised.
“Yes, Erin,” Karen confirmed. “Use the rest of the money you would have needed to get yourself a good car.”
“I was planning to help her do just that,” Colleen said, “but your generosity will make it much easier.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Karen!” Erin cried, almost jumping up and running around the desk to hug her.
Colleen was opening her purse. “Is a personal check acceptable?”
“This time, only,” Karen said with a sly grin.
“This time?” Colleen asked, surprised.
“Correct. And if I do happen to require anything else, a personal check will be good that time, only,” She explained.
“Oh, I get it!” Erin called out.
Colleen finished writing the check and handed it to Karen. “So, what's our next step?”
“Your next step will be to sit tight until the paperwork is ready,” Karen told her. “My next step is to writ up said paperwork.”
“When do you think it will be ready?” Erin asked.
“I will probably have you come in next Monday and review the papers before I file them with the court.”
“Next Monday?” Erin said, sounding a little disappointed.
“Unfortunately, I have a few cases to clear up, so that's when I estimate I'll have it done,” Karen explained. “I'm sorry, Erin, you'll just have to hang in there one more weekend.”
“I understand,” Erin said.
As it turned out, Erin didn't have to spend the weekend with her husband. One of Ronnie's co-workers took sick and he had to go to a weekend conference to cover for him. Erin enjoyed a quiet weekend with the twins and her mother.
Erin was just finishing up dressing Thomas for the morning that next Monday when her cellphone rang. She pulled it out and saw it was Karen. “Could you and your mother come over this afternoon and review the papers?” she asked.
“What time would be best?” Erin replied.
“Would 1:00 PM work?”
“We should be able to make it then. I'll call mother and have her get her friend to sit with the twins.”
“Oh, no you don't!” Karen said. “I want to meet them, so just bring them with you! I can watch them while your review the papers.”
“Why, sure, I will!” Erin exclaimed.