The woman who stood when I entered the reception area was wearing sunglasses despite the subdued lighting. The day outside was overcast, too, or had been when I came in, which made the sunglasses even more incongruous. The boy with her was about twenty or so. Though he was a decade younger than I was, his eyes cut downward when he saw me before flicking back up to my face. I don’t know what men find so fascinating about a woman’s knees, but I’ve gotten used to it.
“I’m Robin Starling,” I said, holding out my hand to the woman.
She took it in a weak grip. “Lynn Nolan. You did some wills and a trust last year for my husband and me.” I couldn’t see her eyes through the sunglasses, but there was some discoloration on her cheek just visible beneath them. Though she was forty or so, her long, blond hair fell past her shoulders.
“I’m Matt Nolan,” the boy said when I looked at him. His dark blond hair was combed roughly forward in bangs that covered his forehead.
“Come on back,” I said.
I led them down the hall to my glass-walled office. I closed the door to give us auditory privacy, but at the law firm of Northcutt, Hambrick and Larsen, visual privacy was something denied to associate attorneys and their clients. The Nolans sat in the client chairs as I walked around my desk. Matt was wearing baggy jeans and a striped polo shirt that looked too small for him. Lynn was wearing capris and a matching jacket over a pale cotton blouse. She was tall, though several inches shorter than I was—maybe five feet six or seven.
“Are you here about your estate planning?” I asked. “Has something changed?”
Lynn Nolan raised her hands to the stems of her sunglasses and took them off.
She had a black eye with some swelling over her cheekbone and a bit of purpling along the lower rim of her eye socket. The contrast with her pale coloring made it look like she was wearing a fright mask.
“Ow,” I said.
“I have a question for you.”
“Is it possible to get a divorce secretly?”
My eyes slid over to the face of her son Matt. “You mean, are divorces matters of public record? Yes, I’m afraid they are.”
“I mean would the person being divorced need to be notified? Or would it be enough for him to find out after the fact?”
“No, he’d have to be notified. A suit for divorce is a lawsuit. Once it’s filed, notice and a summons would be served on the other party just as they would be in any lawsuit.”
Lynn took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “That’s it then,” she said. “I was afraid of that.”
“That’s not it, Mom,” Matt said.
“Your husband do this to you?” I asked.
“Last night,” Matt said.
“Did you see him do it?” I asked him.
He looked at his mother. “No. I was out. This isn’t the first time, though.”
“You’ve seen him hit her before?”
“I’ve seen him grab her. And hurt her.”
I looked at Lynn. “He’s hit you before?”
She hesitated, nodded.
“Move out of the house,” I said. “We can get a preliminary injunction to keep him away from you while the divorce goes through.”
“You don’t know Derek.”
“Is he home now? We can—”
“He’s usually home. He works out of the house.”
“Then don’t go back. Get what you need at Target and move into a hotel.”
She seemed to consider it, then shook her head.
“He keeps close track of her money,” Matt said. “He knows exactly how much she’s carrying, and she has to account for every cent of it.”
“Not any more,” I said. I looked back at Lynn. “Do you have a credit card?”
“He’d know,” she said softly.
“Not ’til he gets the bill,” I said.
“When I don’t come back…”
“He’ll find her,” Matt said.
“Then let’s have it out now. I’ll go to the house with you while you pack some things, and we’ll take along a witness. I can get the divorce suit filed and the preliminary injunction in place this afternoon.”
Matt looked at his mother hopefully.
“You can do this,” I said, though I myself had never been married and didn’t know what I was talking about. “You need to do this.”
Lynn stood. “I’ll think about it,” she said. “I’ll think about it and let you know.”
Matt stayed in his seat, looking as if he were in pain.
“Take a picture of your face before it heals,” I said. “A close up. Keep it in a safe place, and let me know when you make up your mind. If anything else happens, call me.”
“It’s Matt,” Lynn said. “At this point in his life he doesn’t need…”
“An abusive father,” Matt interrupted. “Nobody does. Don’t use me as an excuse for letting this go. I don’t have to live at home, anyway, with him or with you. I can move into an apartment.”
“You’re about to get married,” his mother said.
“Exactly,” he said, getting up to face her. “I can move in with Melissa.”
“No. I don’t want you to rush that.”
“I can do it. It won’t be like you and Dad.” He looked down at me. “Mom married in haste,” he said. “It was my fault.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” his mother protested. “You weren’t even born.”
“I was in utero,” Matt told me. His mother sank back into her chair, looking stricken. “The wedding was in early February,” Matt said. “I was born August 30.”
I did the mental arithmetic. “Two months premature?”
“I weighed nine-and-a-half pounds. Some preemie, huh?”
“How long have you…” Lynn trailed off.
“Dad’s never liked me. Why would he? I’m the matchmaker who put together his happy home. It’s like I held the shotgun.”
“When…” She got the word out and seemed to run out of air.
“I figured it out when I was fifteen.” His shoulders tensed. He took a breath, then said, “A few weeks ago, I started wondering about something else.”
His mother looked at him, but it was clear she wasn’t going to ask.
“I’ve begun to wonder if I’m even his. I don’t look like him. He’s square-headed and barrel-bodied and has that reddish complexion. I’m…” He gestured at his face. I nodded. Both of us looked at Lynn.
She said, “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“That’s not an answer, Mom.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She looked at me. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Starling.”
“Robin,” I said. “Sorry about these…” My eyes cut to Matt. “…complications. But you think about what I’ve told you. You don’t have to live with an abuser.” I scribbled my home phone number on the back of one of my business cards and walked around the desk to give it to her. “If anything else happens, anything at all, you call me.”