Scott was double-checking the Permanent Parenting Plan that Josie had drawn up for him and Maggie, when she rang his phone.
Scott pressed the speaker button. “Yes?” he asked, not looking up from the document. Josie had recalculated child support based on the fact that he got custody of Clarice for a few hours each week, and it lowered what he was paying Maggie. He wondered if she would accept it. While it was fair, he didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his time with Clarice. He’d live in poverty if that’s what it took to buy time with his daughter.
“Are you available? Mrs. Stanley just walked in and would like to see you.”
Scott looked up at that. “Yes, send her in.”
A minute later, there was a knock on his door.
“Come in,” he said, pushing his PPP to the side.
Mrs. Stanley walked in and shut the door behind her. Scott immediately noticed something different about her. She stood up straighter and looked less downtrodden and meek. Scott smiled inwardly, pleased with himself.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Stanley?”
She took a seat across from his desk. “I just wanted to let you know that my ex-husband hasn’t bothered me in a couple of weeks.”
“Good,” Scott said firmly.
“I actually ran into him at Wal-Mart last night. He saw me, but he turned around and went the other way like his ass was on fire.”
Scott had to laugh. “I’m glad.”
“His face looked like he’d been in an accident, though… or beat up. It was kind of bruised and yellow in some places. His nose looked broken too.”
“Really?” Scott said, trying to sound shocked.
“You promised you’d get him to leave me alone,” Mrs. Stanley hinted.
“So I did.”
There was a long moment of silence, then finally Mrs. Stanley stood up, smiling. “I just thought you would like to know that.”
“Yes, I’m glad to know he’s leaving you alone. You let me know if he doesn’t.”
“I will.” She fished a check out of her pocketbook. “Should I give this to your secretary, or do you want it?”
“What’s that for?” he asked, confused.
“It’s my weekly payment… for you working on my case.”
“Oh,” Scott replied. He had forgotten she was paying him to handle her case… legally.
“You know what, Mrs. Stanley,” he said, “since he’s not bothering you now, you don’t have to pay me anything more. If he starts again, we’ll worry about you paying the balance, but otherwise, we’ll just consider it even.”
She looked shocked. “I… think you deserve this… for everything you’ve done for me.”
“Keep it,” he said firmly.
Tears welled up in her eyes. “I really appreciate you, Mr. Cunningham.”
“My pleasure.” He laughed a little. “Just recommend me to your friends if they need a lawyer.”
“I definitely will,” she replied with a smile.
* * *
When Clarice came to the basement Tuesday afternoon, she looked much less frightened.
Scott smiled up at her. “Hey, there, princess.”
“Hey, Daddy,” she said pleasantly, as she skipped down the stairs.
Scott reached out and took her hand in his. “How was school today?”
“Okay. Oh, Brad Johnston blew milk out of his nose at lunch today,” she said with relish.
“I’m sure that was funny, but did you learning anything?”
“I guess,” she said with a shrug.
It suddenly struck Scott that he had turned into his father. His father had asked the same questions, and Scott had had the same sort of memory loss. And that made him laugh.
Clarice looked up at him. “What’s funny?” she demanded.
“I just realized I’m turning into Papa Cunningham.”
“What do you mean?”
“He used to ask me about my day at school, and I couldn’t tell him about it either.”
Clarice smiled a little.
They sat down at the table together and Clarice began to get her homework out of her backpack. But she kept furtively glancing at Scott.
“What?” he asked her.
She looked away. “I… um…. Your teeth look really sharp,” she finally said.
“They are,” he said calmly. He had spent some time thinking about how to handle Clarice’s inevitable questions about his condition, and he decided to be honest and act like it wasn’t any big deal.
“Do… do you bite people with them?” she asked, still not looking at him directly.
Scott hesitated. Telling the truth was one thing, but how much of it was he going to tell? “I have,” he admitted, “but only if the other person wants me to.”
“Why would people want you to?” she asked, looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.
“Some women find it romantic.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked bluntly.
Scott was taken aback. Did Josie count? They weren’t really dating—more like friends with benefits. Actually, that was more like employee with benefits.
“Um… not really,” he finally said.
“So… you and Mama…?” she whispered, sounding heartbreakingly hopeful.
“No, Clarice,” he said firmly. “Your mother doesn’t like the fact that I’m a vampire, and I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t like me for who I am.”
Clarice looked down again. “She… I think she wants you to come home,” she whispered.
“What?” Scott asked, startled.
“I overheard Aunt Janet telling her that she needed to get you back.”
“Oh? Why?” Scott asked, feeling terribly curious. It wasn’t that he wanted Maggie back—not now. He might have been that desperate in the weeks following his divorce, but Josie had changed everything. It wasn’t that he was madly in love with her and wanted to marry her, but he had finally discovered what passionate sex could be like, and—even more importantly—he had found someone who accepted him the way he was. He would have preferred to live alone than go back to Maggie.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t curious as to why she was starting to reconsider him.
“I… think Mama’s out of money,” Clarice said. “People call our house looking for her. You know… bill collectors.”
Bill collectors? No bill collector had ever called the house when Scott had been there. Of course, he had insisted on living debt-free. Their only bill was the mortgage, and it was modest. There was no reason why Maggie couldn’t pay the bills with her salary. Child support should have been icing on the cake.
“Aunt Janet said you made a lot of money being a lawyer, and that Mama needed to get you back.”
Oh-ho! Gold digging! That was it, was it?
“And… what did your mother say?” Scott asked, trying to keep his voice casual.
“She said she’d try.”
“Mm,” was all Scott replied.
“Are you mad?” Clarice asked anxiously.
“No, I’m not mad,” he said honestly. Actually, it was everything he could do to keep from busting out laughing.
“So… will you come home?” she asked hopefully.
He shook his head. “No, baby. I can’t come home just because your mother wants money. That’s not very fair to me. I want someone who loves me. Can you understand that?”
“Yeah,” she said glumly. Then tears welled up in her eyes.
Scott reached out, touching her arm. “What’s wrong?”
“What… what if they take away our house?”
Scott leaned in, looking at her intently. “Clarice, don’t worry about it. If something happens, you can come live with me. I’m going to get you a bedroom built and you can stay here all you want.”
“But where will Mama go?”
“She can rent an apartment or something. Or she can live with Aunt Janet. She has money, Clarice; she makes a decent income. She may have gotten herself into a bit of trouble with her finances, but she can afford a place to live. Don’t worry about it. The two of you won’t be homeless, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, not sounding convinced at all.
He shook her arm a little to get her attention. “Hey, don’t worry,” he repeated. “I’m not going to be moving back in, but I will still take care of you. And I won’t let anything bad happen to your mother. Okay?”
“Okay,” she said again, but sounding more reassured.
They tackled her homework, then Scott took her out to dinner at the local Chinese buffet. Between bites, Clarice gossiped about everyone in her class.
As Scott pulled up in front of the office again, he noticed Maggie’s car was already there and waiting.
Clarice leaned over, quickly kissing Scott on the cheek. “IloveyouDaddybye.”
“Hey,” he said, as she opened the door to get out of the car, “don’t forget your backpack. It’s still downstairs.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. Before Scott could get out of the car, she had run into the office.
“Evening,” Scott said to Josie, as he entered the office at a more leisurely pace.
“Evening,” she said, smiling at him brightly. She really was most lovely.
Clarice came flying through a moment later. She gave him a quick hug around the waist, then went flying out the door.
“Bye, I love you,” Scott shouted after her. She waved her hand at him as the door slammed closed behind her.
Scott watched as she ran to get into Maggie’s car. “I wonder why she’s always in such a hurry to leave?” Scott wondered aloud. “She doesn’t seem to mind being with me.”
“If I had my guess, she wants to keep the two of you apart. Maybe she’s afraid the two of you will fight if you get together.”
“I don’t know why; we never fought before. I always gave Maggie everything she wanted; what was there to fight about?”
He sat down on the edge of her desk. “That reminds me, though; do you have a business card for Jim?”
She pointed to the table which divided the two halves of the lobby. “He keeps some of his cards there.”
Scott got up and went to pick one up. “Is that Parenting Plan ready to go?”
“Yeah, it’s ready,” she said, pulling the document from the sorting rack on the corner of her desk. “I made the changes to it.”
Scott plucked a pen from the cup on her desk and began to write on the back of Jim’s card. Then he stuck it under the paperclip holding the Parenting Plan together.
Curious, Josie leaned over to look at it.
Jim handles bankruptcies, if you need him. –Scott
“What’s that about?” Josie asked, looking up at him.
He sat down on her desk again. “I found out why I suddenly have visitation with Clarice again.”
“Maggie is apparently in some financial distress. Clarice said bill collectors were calling the house.”
“Ah,” Josie said knowingly.
“Her sister, Janet, is apparently telling her she needs to take me back. Visitation with Clarice seems to be the initial peace offering.”
Josie looked at the business card again, then burst out laughing. “I take it this is your answer? File bankruptcy?” She laughed even harder.
“Damn right that’s my answer. She threw me out on the street and took everything I own. And now that she’s in trouble, she wants to get me back so she can take my money. I’m not a fucking credit card; she can take care of herself like I took care of myself.”
“What about Clarice?” Josie asked, looking up at him seriously.
“If Maggie fucks up, I’ll be in court to get full custody of Clarice so fast it’ll make her head spin. Scott’s the one holding all the cards now.”
He felt a rush of power—almost as powerful as he felt after he beat up Mrs. Stanley’s husband. He was no one’s doormat anymore—least of all Maggie’s.
He looked hard at Josie. “When’s my first appointment?”
She looked at the computer. “You don’t have anyone until nearly dawn.”
He took her by the hand, pulling her from her chair. “Good.”
She laughed. “What are you doing?”
“I have something I need you to do… downstairs,” he said, pulling her with him.
She laughed more. “At least let me lock the front door.”
He sighed dramatically. “If you must.”
She hurried to lock the front door, then turned to look at him with a grin. “Does it turn you on to think about your ex-wife going bankrupt?”
He held out his hand to her. “It’s certainly not a turn off.”
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee