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FOUR who gets Jess?

"Mommy, are we there?" Kathy was suddenly aware of someone pulling at her shirt collar. She looked in the mirror and saw Jess had woken from her nap in the backseat.

"In about ten minutes we'll be at Grammy and Grampy's sweetheart. Are you doing okay?" Kathy spoke to her daughter through the rearview mirror. She could not believe she had thought about Dan and her marriage all the way home. She wondered how she had managed to keep her mind on the road when her thoughts were so consuming.

"Hungry," Jess replied to her mother's question.

"Well, I'm sure Grammy will fix you right up when we get there." Kathy saw Jess smiling in the backseat. She was glad her daughter enjoyed spending time with her parents. They were going to become an even bigger part of her life.

                                                                          ******

Four days after Kathy and Jess got settled in at her parents' house, Dan tracked her down. She knew he would eventually be calling when he found the house completely empty.

"What the hell have you done?" he screamed over the phone to her. She wondered how he could sound so shocked about them leaving after what he had done to her.

Kathy tried to sound calm. "Since we no longer have a marriage, I thought it best to leave and start my life over again away from you. I have put most of our belongings into storage until the judge determines who gets to keep it."

"What judge? What the hell are you talking about?" Dan continued to yell into the phone.

"I will be contacting a lawyer next week to proceed with a divorce. I suggest you find yourself a lawyer too." And with that, Kathy hung up. She was pleased with how calm she had sounded during the brief conversation.

"Is everything alright?" Miriam asked as she walked into the room.

"Yes, Mom. I told Dan he better get himself a lawyer. If he calls again, refer him to my lawyer, Mr. Benton. I'll put his number by the phone."

Her mother looked a little surprised. "Have you already seen Mr. Benton?"

"No, but Dad talked to him and I have an appointment with him Monday morning." Kathy smiled slightly at her mother and left the room. She went to see if Jess wanted to go outside and play. She wanted to enjoy herself as much as possible before the whole divorce process started. She was beginning to think things were going to be harder than she first thought.

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Kathy shifted her weight in the soft leather chair. She had just finished telling Tom Benton the story of her marriage and what she wanted from the divorce.

At first he didn't say anything as she finished talking. He just sat behind his desk jotting down some notes on a piece of paper. Kathy quietly watched him.

He was fairly attractive for an older man, she thought. He was in his late forties, with thick dark hair that was beginning to gray. He seemed like a strong man, making her feel a little more at ease about getting through the divorce without too many scars.

"Well Kathy," he looked up at her, "I don't anticipate too many problems but in some cases, you can never tell. It all depends on Dan, his lawyer, the judge, things like that." Mr. Benton noticed her squirming a bit in her chair.

"Now, don't start worrying until there's something to worry about. I know your main concern is your daughter and your full custody of her. There's hardly a judge alive who gives custody to the father over the mother but joint custody or visiting rights is where we may encounter some problems." He shuffled through some of the notes he had been taking.

"As you have stated here, your husband has shown little to no interest at all in Jess; so during the divorce, this may not be his driving force. He may be more concerned about some of your assets instead. Do you have any questions at this point?" he asked.

"Only what the next step will be," Kathy responded.

"Okay," Mr. Benton started again. "If Dan agrees with the conditions and signs the divorce decree, the court hearing will be simple."

"However," he continued, " if he doesn't agree with the conditions of the divorce, then the judge will have to make a decision based on what he hears from both of you at the hearing.

Unless, of course, you agree with any changes of the petition Dan may want. Do you understand so far?"

"Yes, I think so." Kathy said.

"Okay, then I will draw up the papers, send them to Dan's attorney, and get the show on the road." He smiled. "If I need anymore information from you, I'll call and if not, I will be in touch when I hear back from his attorney."

Kathy thanked Mr. Benton for his time and started out to her car. "It sounds pretty easy," she thought to herself. Then suddenly she remembered Dan's words that horrible night. "This is not over yet."

"What if he is going to prolong this or cause some sort of trouble to get even with me for leaving," she wondered. But she reassured herself that he did not care enough to give this divorce a second thought.

Kathy drove home looking forward to seeing her daughter. She was glad Jess seemed to be adjusting to their new living arrangements. The one good thing about Dan's not being around too much was Jess really did not miss him. If anything, she only feared him.

After a wonderful afternoon spent with her daughter and a quiet dinner with her mom and dad, Kathy decided to spend some time alone. She had picked up a novel at the grocery store the previous day and felt like absorbing herself into someone else's life and problems.

She asked her mom to watch Jess and she went in to her father's den. She nestled herself into his reclining chair and opened up the book.

After a half hour of trying to stay focused on the story, Kathy set the book down on the end table. She could not help thinking about her life. She was going to be facing so many new things. She wondered how she would deal with all the change.

Kathy had always been shy and introverted. Although her marriage was a disaster, she at least knew where she stood. But now she knew where nothing stood and she was frightened.

In two weeks, she would be starting classes at the secretarial school in the nearby town. This did not scare her too much. She was only twenty-seven years old so she did not feel she would be too out of place.

But the idea of starting a whole new life with just her and Jess terrified her. She did not want to be alone. "What if I never get married again?" she thought. "I'm so shy, I'm surprised I even met Dan and shocked I actually married him."

The thought of having to get to know someone all over again was awful. She not only had to think of herself but she had to think of Jess too.

"I just have to be confident and believe in myself," she said aloud. Easier said than done, she knew, but she was determined to give it a try.

                                                                          ******

Kathy walked into the kitchen to hunt for a vase for the flowers she had gathered from outside. Just as she found one in the cupboard under the sink, the telephone rang.

"I'll get it, Mom," she yelled to Miriam who was in the family room watching television.

"Hello," Kathy said. Instantly she recognized Mr. Benton on the other end of the line. She was glad he had called. It saved her the trouble. It had been over a week since she visited his office and she was planning to call him later that day to see if Dan had accepted the terms of the divorce.

"Um, we got a hearing in front of Judge Farrell next Tuesday morning at ten," her lawyer said. Kathy quickly picked up on something strange in his voice.

"That was fast," Kathy said. "does that mean Dan agrees to the conditions you drew up?"

What Kathy heard next totally caught her by surprise. She felt herself slide into one of the kitchen chairs for support. At that moment, her mother walked into the room to refill her juice glass and noticed the color draining from Kathy's face.

After a few moments, Kathy hung up the phone and just sat paralyzed in the chair.

"What in heaven's name is wrong, Kathy?" Miriam asked.

But instead of an answer, all Miriam heard was sobbing noises coming from her daughter.

She grabbed the tissue box from the top of the refrigerator and placed them on the table in front of Kathy. She held one of her daughter's hands as she sat in the chair beside her. She would just wait until Kathy pulled herself together.

After about five minutes, the sobbing became silent and Kathy began blowing her nose and tried to settle down. She knew though she was still in shock because she still felt semi-paralyzed.

After taking a few deep breaths, Kathy was able to tell her mom what had been said. "Mr. Benton told me there is a hearing next Tuesday," she began.

"Well, that's good isn't it?" Miriam asked. "Doesn't that mean Dan has agreed to the terms of the divorce?"

"No, Mom. The hearing is so Dan can get visitations set up with Jess. He is filing for joint custody." Kathy felt fresh tears roll down her cheeks.

Miriam stared at her daughter in disbelief. She could not believe what she just heard. She had no doubts this was all about revenge, revenge for Kathy's leaving him.

"I can't imagine any judge giving that man custody," Miriam said sharply.

"Yeah, well, we'll see," Kathy said as she got up from the table. She gave her mom a small hug and walked outside for some air.

                                                                          ******

Kathy entered the courthouse wearing brown slacks and a creme colored blouse. The colors matched the autumn season now upon them. She hardly slept at all after she received Benton's phone call last week and it showed under her eyes.

She waited outside their assigned court room until she saw Mr. Benton approaching her.

"Hello, Kathy, how are you doing?" he asked as he offered his hand.

"I've been better," she replied honestly.

They entered the court room and walked up to one of the front tables to take their places. They were a few minutes early.

"So, give it to me straight," Kathy said. "What can I expect today?"

"To be honest, the judge will in all probability set up some kind of visitation for Dan. The fact remains Jess is his daughter. We can present our concerns but I do not think it will make much of a difference."

A few minutes passed and Dan and his lawyer came into the court room. Kathy tried not to look at him but she could not help herself. He sat at the table opposite them, staring directly at her with a smug smile.

All doubts about his intentions quickly disappeared. She knew by the look in his eyes that the only reason he was doing this was for spite. He had to show he still had some control in this situation after she left him. God, how she hated him.

Kathy slowly drove home after the hearing. Benton was right about what could be expected. The only surprise was the judge set up a visitation schedule that consisted of Dan's seeing Jess every other Saturday. This was to be a six month trial period. Six months!

The judge wanted this trial period in order to have something to base his ruling on concerning the joint custody. The decision on the custody would coincide with the divorce hearing.

That evening after a light dinner and some play time with Jess, Kathy picked her daughter up and took her to bed. She would take this time to tell her daughter about the visitations.

She had asked Mr. Benton earlier what would happen if she would not allow Jess to go on these visits. He said the judge would most likely hold her in contempt and put her in jail until she followed his orders. Kathy did not see that as an option.

She got Jess changed into her nightgown and tucked underneath the covers. "I have something I want to talk to you about, Jess. I want you to listen to me very closely."

"Okay, Mommy," Jess said with a serious look on her face.

"Starting in two weeks, you are going to go on visits with Daddy," Kathy began.

"No!" Jess shouted while sitting up in bed.

"Jess you have to," Kathy said. She felt tears burning in her eyes. How could she make her daughter do this? "There is a man called a judge who says every other Saturday you have to spend time with Daddy since you are his daughter."

"No!" Jess shouted again, and this time she laid down and pulled the covers over her head.

Kathy reached up and turned the light off and then laid down on the bed next to her daughter. She put her arms around her little body and held her close. She was searching her mind for some soothing words but could think of none.

"Daddy scares me," Kathy heard Jess say. And the next sound she heard was her daughter's crying.

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