Together they entered the attorney's office, and Schwartz rose to greet them. Obviously surprised that it was a couple that was here, and not just the lone black man he'd sought, he asked them to kindly have a seat and that there was a matter at hand to tend.
Silently, they sat, and Schwartz began. He lit a cigarette, offering them one from his pack. The Evans declined, but the attorney indulged, and sat, as he began the tale of his client.
"As you know, Mr. Evans, Candice Quigley is my client, and she's seeking child support for her daughter. Now, I generally don't handle simple support motions...especially against a man of your means...but there's more to this case than what's on the surface."
"A man of my means?" James asked, perplexed. Surely this Schwartz didn't believe James had any reasonable ability to pay, especially to what a suit like this would expect?!
Florida clasped James' hand again, to signal him to stay quiet. "Please continue, Mr. Schwartz," she said softly.
"Candice Quigley, while she is my client, and I have a duty to protect her interests, I must admit that I am moments away from calling Child Services and having the child taken from her, due to neglect and possible other abuse. She is not a good mother, Mr. Evans. She's not got the means to continue to support the child, keep a roof over her own head, pay me, and fund her drug habit. So guess which she's picking to continue with."
Florida gasped. James' jaw continued to tighten. What did Schwartz want from them? "I'll assume the drugs," James said, in answer to the rhetorical question.
Schwartz nodded grimly. "I've done my checking on you, Mr. Evans. There is a lab down the street, where you can have your blood drawn. I will pull some strings to expedite the results. If in fact you are Lisa's biological father, I could ask the Court to consider putting the child in your custody. Otherwise, she will be in the foster care system, and that is not always optimal."
James was stunned, and speechless, to the point of where his jaw dropped. Whatever this Schwartz had dug up on him, it was proof enough for the stripper's lawyer to consider him the better parent? Based on how this child was conceived...dear God, if that made him a good enough man to warrant custody, what conditions is this child living in? "I... I.." James couldn't form any such words to answer.
Florida spoke up at that point. "Mr. Schwartz," she said formally and kindly."We have three children of our own, as I'm sure you know. Our youngest is nine, and while I'm out of practice with babies, it won't take too long to refresh the memory. What do you need from us, besides the blood test?"
Schwartz and James both now turned huge eyes to Florida. James was ready to burst into tears...Not only was she there for him, she was offering to be there for his bastard child. Schwartz was very impressed by Florida's dignified demeanor, and he offered a gaze of sympathy. "Nothing else, Mrs. Evans. I'll handle it from there..and thank you."
"Yes, Florida..thank you," James said, barely above a whisper.
Together they walked down the street to the blood lab, and the vials were drawn. Florida said nothing after leaving the lawyer's office, and sat stoically in the waiting room at the lab for the test to finish. James reappeared a short while later, with a gauze and tape in the fold of his arm, and they walked side by side to the bus stop.
"Baby, I-" James began, but Florida shook her head. "No, James," she said. "Not now, I'm not ready to discuss this any further. My mind is racing, my thoughts are all over the place, and I don't want to talk to you right now."
James understood, and stood silently. When the bus arrived, he paid their fare and together they sat for a silent ride home.
They returned to the Evans apartment, where they came onto the scene of Thelma cleaning up the kitchen, JJ painting, and Michael doing his homework on the couch. It was silent, and three pairs of eyes went to their parents.
"I'll get dinner going," Florida said, after nodding hello to the children. James took Florida's coat and hung it, and sat beside Michael. Not much was said over dinner, and when they went to bed that night, they decided that none of this would be mentioned to the children until the blood tests came back. What if it wasn't James' baby? Then there would've been upheaval over nothing.
Schwartz lived up to his word, though: The tests were expedited and in ten days, their phone rang. "Hello," Florida asked. Every time the phone rang lately, she had heart palpitations. Finally it was the call.
"Mrs. Evans, hello," Schwartz personally said, not leaving this call to an impersonal receptionist. He was impressed with these Evans and was truly concerned about baby Lisa's welfare. "I wanted to let you know that the tests came back."
"Okay," Florida said, breathlessly. "And they confirmed that Mr. Evans is the baby's father."
Florida felt a sense of dread and a wash of relief at the same time. "I see," she said, trembling. "So what's next?"
"I'm scheduling an emergency court hearing for custody, and I'll call you as soon as I get the date, Mrs. Evans. And...thank you."
"Thank you, Mr. Schwartz. I'll make sure to keep the telephone line open."
"Thank you again, Mrs. Evans. Goodbye."
Proof positive. And now a court hearing. Possibly a baby coming into the home, not from her own womb, but from her husband's dalliance. Florida took heart in one thing she allowed James to tell her, something that gave her some odd sort of reassurance: That this baby came from an error. It wasn't as if James had loved another woman, or trusted another woman, or even liked another woman better than her. Mistakes happen. That James' love was never in question gave her enough resolve to see this through.
She called the office building where James was now transferred to days on the custodians shift, and told him that the phonecall came, as well as the rest of what Schwartz said. James nodded, and managed a stammered "okay" into the phone. It would be about 3 hours before he got home, and about an hour before the children got home from school. Florida paced a bit, and then put on her coat to go to Wilona's boutique.
She'd not mentioned a word of any of this to Wilona. She'd vowed not to until it was confirmed. And for the rest of Florida's days, it would occur to her that Wilona, much as she tried to look otherwise, didn't seem too surprised. Of course Wilona was sympathetic, and to her credit, Wilona didn't spread the Evans gossip to her other friends, and offered to help any way she could.
Three days later, Mr. Schwartz was in touch. However, it wasn't by telephone..it was a knock on the door. It was at dinner, and James opened it; he wasn't expecting to see Schwartz holding a sleeping baby..James' baby...and one of his colleagues holding a suitcase full of baby things and a diaper bag.
"I'm sorry to come on such short notice," Schwartz apologized. "However, it was this or the foster care system. Candice died of a heroin overdose, and the police called me to come to the scene. She'd been dead at least twelve hours...and the baby was in the room the whole while. I told the police I would take the baby to her surviving parent."
Florida had appeared at James' side, having gasped hearing of the child's mother's death. She reached to take the child from Schwartz, taking the bundle in a motherly way. The other Evans children were absolutely dumbstruck, unable to move from the table.
"Please come in," Florida offered, stepping aside for the baby's things to be brought in as well as Mr. Schwartz to come inside to see the home firsthand. "We..we were just sitting down for dinner. I'm sure we've enough for everyone."
"No, that's alright," Schwartz said, kindly, and humbly. "There's not, like I told you, any real money left, but from the sale of some of Candice's things, there should be some money coming your way for the baby. And there's always Social Security, to file for, a child's entitled when a parent dies..."
"No," Florida said firmly. "She is gone now, and the baby will be raised as ours. Whatever money is there, please use it to pay down her bill with you." Schwartz knew this was pride on Florida's part, and James said nothing as he helped with the baby's suitcase. Schwartz decided there to anonymously 'help' from time to time, with these funds, as well as some of his own, when the need arose. Always in secret, never for any bragging rights or benefit. He truly admired these people.
"Well, then, I guess we'll be going," Schwartz said, and shook James' hand. Florida nodded, and James showed the men out. Florida took the bundle over to the table.
"Well, children...I wish there would've been some time to have you adjust to this news, but you don't always get what you wish for. Meet your new baby sister..Lisa."
JJ and Michael's eyes bugged out, and Thelma stared almost accusingly at Florida. "That ain't our sister, Mama." Her eyes went to James. Thelma was not about to accept this just like that, so matter of fact.
"She is, Thelma, and ain't nothing you can say or do to make it not so." Florida shook her head and went through the bag to find the child's bottle, and give it to her. "So get used to it."
"Daddy, I hate you!" Thelma shouted, and ran from the table to her room. Florida and James' eyes followed, but they let it be. Thelma was entitled to her emotions..especially since she'd be sharing her room very soon with her new, just-learned-of, half-sister. JJ simply continued to slowly eat, not looking at anyone. Finally, some time later, Michael asked if he could hold the baby. It was a trying, long night...at least Lisa was good-natured, regardless of the horrors she'd lived through in her very young life...and Florida, as she said, took to mothering a tiny one easily. Not that there wasn't any resentment; of course there was, but never, ever taken out on the baby. It did come out in sharp words to James sometimes, such as "If you wouldn't mind getting off your backside and taking the diapers to the incinerator." This said after a 16 hour shift, when any of the children could've done the chore.
And James felt guilty, and didn't say much for a long while. He didn't want to admire the baby too long or do anything to upset his wife and previously existing children. It took Thelma almost 2 months to speak to him again, and she would not babysit or help in any way with Lisa. JJ's grades dropped further, if possible, in school, and he stayed out later on nights than he'd ever done before, for awhile. Only Michael accepted Lisa easily, and even seemed to like her. "At least I ain't the littlest anymore," he'd say to the baby with a grin, which would make her grin in turn.
(To be continued..and feedback most certainly welcome. :)