When we left off last week, Peter had just met with Gordon and obtained the reports from Gail, all in the space of one busy afternoon. Peter called Gwen to talk to her about Gordon, but she said she was at work and didn’t have a break until 7:00. Because his office’s phones would automatically switch to an answering service by then (um . . . doesn’t he have a car phone?), Gordon decided to go to Sacred Heart hospital, where Gwen works, to meet with her on his break.
Peter Pulled into the Sacred Heart parking lot at 6:45 p.m. With the help of some giggling high-school Candy Striper volunteers, Peter easily found his way through the maze of corridors to the cafeteria. He leaned against the wall, just outside the entrance for the serving line, and waited.
For those of you not in the U.S., high school students are allowed to volunteer in hospitals in a number of roles, and they really are called “candy stripers.” Note that they’re giggling, though—why would they be giggling? Because Peter is the Most Handsome Man in Spokane, that’s why!
Presently Gwen Landis came striding down the hall in her nursing whites. Peter couldn’t help staring at her. A smile broke out on his face involuntarily. And with the smile, there came a momentary pang of spiritual conviction. He realized that he was not guarding his heart very well. Not only was Gwen divorced, but he had no reason to assume she was a believer. He had very strict standards and had not dated a nonbeliever in years. He focused his mind quickly on his legal mission, and greeted Gwen with a mix of warmth and professionalism.
Poor Gwen! Her first lawyer solicited her for sex, and her second lawyer is majorly crushing on her. Does Spokane not have lawyers that, you know, act professionally toward their clients? If nothing else, the fact that Gwen is his client ought to make Peter back the fudge up. And also, you know, the fact that she already expressly told him she was not interested in starting any relationship at this time.
Actually, though, I think this illustrates an interesting point. Peter is trying to put a stay on his burgeoning feelings for Gwen by reminding himself that (1) she’s divorced and (2) she’s possibly not a believer, when he should be putting a stay on those feelings by reminding himself that (1) she’s his client and (2) she has already told him she’s not interested in a relationship. The implication is that if Gwen wasn’t divorced, and were she a believer, Peter would be skeezing all over her, their client relationship and her prior expressions of not being interested be damned. This does not do Peter any favors.
I should also note that Farris uses the word “believer” rather than the word “Christian.” While this might not have been conscious on his part, there is a reason for that. Evangelical Christians like Farris don’t consider Christians in mainline Protestant denominations, or Catholicism for that matter, to actually be saved, and often refer to themselves as “Bible believers” in contrast to those others who claim the title Christian. The issue here isn’t whether Gwen is a Christian, it’s whether she’s the right kind of Christian.
“Hi, Gwen. Two meals in one day,” he said with a soft laugh.
“Hi. Thanks for being here, but this is hard for me,” Gwen said quietly. “I’m going home in a few hours and my baby will be gone.” Her lower lip was trembling slightly.
Peter shifted his weight uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry, Gwen. I get so wrapped up in strategy and trying to win I sometimes forget the human costs of lawsuits.”
So, I’m wondering. Does Peter have any moral opposition to lying to Gwen? Because he was not “wrapped up in strategy and trying to win,” he was wrapped up in swooning all over her.
There’s a lot of dialogue now, and most of it is highly repetitive, so I’m just going to summarize for a bit. Peter tells Gwen that Gordon was never served papers, as they had supposed, and that he is willing to sign and affidavit and come to court to testify that Gwen is a good mother. “He seems very eager to be in your good graces,” Peter tells Gwen, and Gwen responds by asking “What condition did you find him in?”
So now they discuss Gordon, and it’s awkward. Peter says he’d clearly been drinking and confirms that he has no job, but when Gwen reacts in a disgusted way Peter tells her to not “be so hard on him” and then Gwen apologizes for being “so bitter” and says she doesn’t like being divorced but was sick and tired of Gordon letting her down and putting his “dreams of quick riches” before her and Casey.
Finally the move on to other things, talking about the timing of Gwen’s required parenting evaluation with a psychologist (Gwen is going to have to move her shift to accommodate). And then Peter says this:
“I’m going to have a friend of mine who’s a psychologist do an independent evaluation. Jean Schram—she’s a good friend and a good psychologist.”
Oh lord . . . so now, in addition to June, Gail, and Gwen we have Jean.
Okay, anyway, there’s one thing that struck me here. Part of the setup to this entire situation that Farris has wanted to emphasize is that Donna, the social worker, carefully selected the psychologist, doctor, and foster parents based on how they would testify in court—i.e. looking for ones that would testify sympathetically to her side of things. This was portrayed as a problem—a plot, really. And now, here, Peter appears to be doing the exact same thing in choosing a close friend to do an “independent” evaluation.
I probably don’t know enough about how social services or the courts work to speak to how this sort of thing usually works, but I would imagine that the ideal goal in ordering a psychological evaluation ought to be to have an expert opinion from somebody who doesn’t have a boat in the race on either side. I don’t know whether this ideal is realized or routinely violated. I’d love to hear from some in my readership who know more! But I find it striking that we’re supposed to find it devious when the social worker carefully chooses a psychologist she has had dealings with, but not devious when Gwen’s lawyer carefully chooses a psychologist he has had dealings with.
In response to her question about cost, Peter says that he will add the cost of the evaluation to her total bill. “Three or four more months of twenty-five dollar payments, that’s all,” Peter assured her.
Gwen smiled and looked at Peter with genuine gratitude. He seemed so eager to help and please her. He really was an interesting guy. But she quickly dismissed the thought when she remembered Peter’s “Bible speech” at lunch.
I am quickly finding this not-romance to be the most annoying subplot in this book. What about Gwen’s earlier assertion that she’s not ready to move on, not interested in a romantic relationship? What about the fact that her last lawyer propositioned her earlier that day in a very unpleasant scene that she ought to still feel the effects off? And what exactly did Peter do here that she should be so grateful for anyway? He merely added the cost of the evaluation to her bill!
Peter then tells Gwen that he didn’t find any “smoking guns” in the reports, but did find some things that were left out. Namely, Peter explains, the social worker reports don’t include pictures of the bruises and don’t describe the bruises in detail, and that the police officer’s report doesn’t mention bruises at all. And then we get this from Gwen:
“Bruises, bruises. My life hangs on the issue of bruises. We see bruises in here all the time, A bruised child is possibly abused, but bruises can come from so many sources. Some children bruise so easily that a light swat that would not be truly damaging will leave them with a substantial bruise.”
First of all, healthcare workers are trained to tell the difference between a normal childhood bruise and a bruise that is the result of abuse. This is why, as one reader pointed out, the social workers ought to have taken Casey straight to a doctor for examination if they had actually found bruises. But second, the entire way Gwen frames this is incredibly dismissive. Perhaps, if it is so easy to inflict “substantial” bruises on children with sensitive skin, we should, oh I don’t know, stop hitting children and adopt more positive methods of parenting?
More than anything else, I feel like this paragraph is really revealing of Farris’s view of using bruising as the standard for determining abuse. In most states in the U.S., corporal punishment is legal and not considered child abuse unless the parent leaves bruises or other marks. This is fairly standard. And it appears that it is something that Farris is not comfortable with. Because some kids bruise so easily! I mean, seriously! Kids with bruises, you just have no idea!
Okay, moving on.
Peter reminds Gwen that he needs her written recollections of what happened during each social services visit, and Gwen says she already started it and will finish it first thing in the morning. And then we get this lovely piece of filler:
The handsome couple turned heads as they passed without word through the corridors and up the elevator to Gwen’s floor. Her fellow surgery nurses tried to ignore Peter as he said good-bye to Gwen at the elevator landing. But as soon as he was gone, they cornered Gwen. “Who was that?” they asked.
“He’s just my lawyer,” Gwen replied.
Normally they would have teased her, but everyone at the hospital knew about Casey. They simply dropped the subject and went about their business.
Really? Really?! Come on, Farris! Stop it already! We get it, Peter’s a good-looking guy! This is just so over the top that it no longer feels at all realistic to me. It’s almost like Peter is surrounded by this aura that causes women to swoon. Does the smell of roses and cologne hang in his wake? I mean come on here!
Also, exactly why does “everyone at the hospital” know that Gwen has lost custody of Casey? First of all, a hospital in a place as big as Spokane would likely have hundreds of employees. Actually, I just used the google. Apparently there is a place called Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital in Spokane, and according to the wiki, “it employs more than 4,000 health care professionals and support staff.” It can’t have been that much smaller in the mid-1990s.
It’s like Peter wants to portray Spokane as a small town and keeps forgetting that it’s actually a city. According to the google, Spokane had a population of 178,887 in 1990.