Several readers remarked that it was odd that Deanna demanded that her husband Rick come home from work immediately, after being served legal papers about a future court date involving their son. I thought that it was somewhat odd as well—it’s not something that can’t wait a few hours—but I can also see the impose. She’s scared, she’s alone at home with her kids, and she wants to get this figured out now rather than waiting some hors until the end of the work day.
It’s not like she’s going to be able to think about anything else in the meantime.
But first, Farris needs to introduce us to Cooper Stone, the dashing, handsome lawyer friend Rick just called. Farris tells us that Leesburg, Virginia, “had exploded in the past fifteen years,” with new chain restaurants and a doubling in population. The legal community, though, was still small.
The lawyers of Loudoun County still felt part of a tight-knit, small-town community, and they were suspicious of outsiders until they had proved themselves to be true Virginia gentlemen. Oh yes, or Virginia ladies. There had been that pesky challenge to tradition. Population growth wasn’t the only thing that had changed since Warren Jameson had opened his law practice.
Let me remind you that this book was written in the early 2000s and set in 2005. This isn’t 1985 or something.
Warren Jameson, of course, is the law office—established thirty years before—where young Cooper Stone now practices. The practice is located in “an old Victorian home on King Street” in Leesburg’s downtown, a short walk fro the courthouse.
Next Farris gives Cooper’s background. He is Warren Jameson’s nephew, but his “Yankee father” moved the family to Spokane, Washington, where Cooper was raised. Cooper practiced law for two years with Peter Barron & Associates—now where have we heard that name before?—and then took a job with Senator Matthew Parker, who was lately out of office due to the Democrats’ 2004 sweep.
And that is how Cooper ended up in his uncle’s law practice in Leesburg.
Rick and Deanna made the ten-miles rive from their home just south of Purcellville into Leesburg without speaking a word. They had talked, though some of Deanna’s talking sounded more like crying mixed with yelling, for more than an hour after Rick arrived home.
What in the blazes? I feel like that tells us more about what Farris thinks women sound like when they’re upset than it does about the actual story.
Anyway, after all that “crying mixed with yelling” on Deanna’s part, Rick and Deanna left the kids with a teenage babysitter who lived nearby and headed off to Cooper’s office, a heavy silence enveloping them during the drive.
Rick rounded the car and helped her down from the front seat of his Chevy Suburban, a courtesy that had been drilled into him by the refusal of this Southern belle to get out of a car unless he opened the door for her.
With Rick at her side, Deanna’s sense of vulnerability waned just enough for her fierce maternal instinct to rise to the surface of her conscious mind.
This is why men should not write women. Or at least, this is why sexist men like Farris should not write women. This is like some sort of caricature of a stereotype.
He could feel her body slightly quiver every minute or so. He had seen her angry many times, but this felt different. The only other times he had felt her tremble like this were in the early stages of her three labors.
After a few minutes of waiting in the lobby, Cooper comes bounding in—but quickly checks his buoyancy at the sight of Deanna’s distress. The damsel in distress vibe reminds me of Gwen, in Farris’ first novel, and of dashing lawyer Peter’s immediate protective response—he found her weeping in a parking lot, remember.
Cooper invites them into his office and asks what this is all about.
“Sir, some lying government bureaucrat is trying to take my child—that’s all,” Deanna drawled bitterly.
Her choice of words made Cooper want to grin so badly that the corners of his mouth began to ache, but he managed to demonstrate a suitably somber impression as he looked up from the papers he was quickly scanning.
Angry women are so cute it just makes you want to laugh sometimes, amirite?
Rick tells the whole story of the woman who came to Layton’s Sunday school class, and then asked to come visit their home to see a homeschool in action.
“Do you know this woman’s name or the name of her agency?” Cooper asked.
“That … that …” Deanna was about to describe the woman’s lack of adherence to the norms of civilized behavior in even more colorful language.
Cooper looked up from the papers with a raised eyebrows and a suppressed smile. “Yes?”
Rick says he found the woman’s business card in his desk drawer, and Cooper notes, after looking at it, that Stoddard is the director of the National Commission on Children. “You didn’t get some random bureaucrat in your house,” he tells them. “It appears that she is the top dog.”
“Dog is ever so fitting,” Deanna muttered.
Rick put his hand firmly on his wife’s knee as a signal to go no further.
Good god, I hate it when men do that.
Cooper says he’s baffled by the dependency petition—that he’s never heard of one filed by a private party before—and puts in a call to a friend at the juvenile court.
“Are you talking about one of those two treaty cases?” she replied.
“Two cases?” the surprised lawyer answered.
“Yeah, two lawyers from some big D.C. firm showed up here the other day to get Judge Holman to sign an order appointing a guardian ad litem in two different cases. He asked them the same question—how can a private party bring a case like this?”
Cooper’s friend—Patty—tells him that the lawyers showed the judge “some prevision in this treaty that gives certain organizations standing to enforce the treaty,” and that that was enough to convince the judge to (reluctantly) sign off on it.
I’m not going to go back into the treaty stuff this week—I did that a lot last week—but suffice it to say that there is no such provision. The treaty recognizes that there are NGOs that will play a role in helping implement the treaty—say, organizations that provide healthcare or schooling for children in impoverished areas of the globe—but says nothing about these organizations “enforcing” anything, or about court cases.
Cooper asks for the name of the other family, but of course that’s confidential.
Once off the phone, Cooper tells Rick and Deanna that they aren’t going through this alone—that there’s another family—and that the judge seemed interested in the question of standing too. He tells them there’s nothing more that the need to do at the moment, but that he has “a ton of legal research” to do.
“We are dealing with issues that are not only new to me, but I’m pretty sure have never been dealt with by any lawyer in the country. Treaties. Third party plaintiffs in dependency cases. Constitutional rights.”
Um, actually, all of those things have been dealt with by many lawyers, thank you very much. Like in his first novel—when Peter Barron took on a case in juvenile court despite knowing nothing about that area of law—this i the point where Cooper ought to be handling Rick and Deanna off to a lawyer who actually has relevant experience—a lawyer whose area of expertise is international law, maybe. But of course he won’t.
Like Peter, Cooper tells Rick he will work for free. Rick objects, and ultimately they settle that Cooper will do the first ten hours for free, and that they’ll talk again after that.
As Rick drove home with Deanna, Farris tells us that there was “a new load on his mind.”
How am I going to pay for all this? was the question that kept replaying in his mind. He didn’t dare say a word to Deanna. Her load was too much already. He shrugged and kept on driving, lost in his circle of thoughts.
Rick, you see, is a Manly Man, a Protector and Provider. Deanna is freaking out about the possibility of losing her son, going full-on mama bear, but Rick is more absorbed in taking care of the emotionally debilitated Deanna (at least, that seems to be how he sees her at the moment), and handling manly things like who will pay the court costs.
She weeps and rails; he broods and problem solves.
For those of you who have suggested that this book is starting slowly, let me just say that you have a lot still ahead of you. For instance, Cooper Stone still needs to be introduced to his love interest—and let’s just say that you haven’t seen the last of Jody Easler. For now, rest assured in knowing that the game has begun.
The case is filed, and the lawyers are assembling.
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