For Angelo

By: Marian Tee

“Yes, ma’am.”

She winced. “Please call me Nellie. That M-word makes me feel so old.” And how was it that there were still teenagers as shy and respectful as Lane, Nellie wondered absently. Sure, the girl suffered from some kind of trauma, but Nellie had met a lot of young girls suffering from trauma through the law firm’s charity work, and the way most of them had cussed would make even Eminem sound like a choirboy.

Her teasing had made the tiniest smile appear on Lane’s lips. “O-okay.”

Nellie was privately surprised at how good it had felt to make the young girl smile, and the realization made her wince. Careful now, she warned herself. More of that and you’ll end up being a hatefully boring do-gooder.

Returning her attention to Lane, she clasped her hands on her lap and picked her next words with care. “As your lawyer, it’s my job to ensure you do what’s legally right but also what’s best for you.” She paused. “I’m not in any position to stop you from refusing your inheritance, of course, but I just want to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.”

In front of Nellie, the girl’s increased tension was palpable, and her movements were jerky as she unfolded her legs then tucked them under her, fingers tapping restlessly on her knees.

Without looking at Nellie, Lane asked haltingly, “You know about my mother?”

“Are you referring to the rift between your mother and paternal grandfather?”

Lane nodded jerkily.

Nellie tried to be properly vague, saying, “According to the case file, your grandfather disapproved of her relationship with his only son, and this has led to your parents’ breakup and your mother raising you on her own. I understand that your mother’s subsequent nature of employment—”

The way Lane vehemently shook her head stopped Nellie from speaking.

“I’m sorry, N-Nellie…but I d-don’t think you understand anything.” But the girl’s voice was more pained than harsh, and it was the first time Nellie glimpsed any kind of strong emotion in her client.

Lips trembling, Lane said fiercely, “You might have heard all s-sorts of things about my mom, but I want you to know they’re all w-wrong about her. My mom’s a nice person, a kind person, and she’s the most wonderful, bravest person on earth. She never had anything bad to say about anyone, not even when he…”

Lane sucked her breath in, and her eyes suddenly squeezed shut as if she was trying to ward off a painful memory.

And Nellie had a sudden urge to run away and forget she ever knew someone named Lane Petersen.

Oh, no.

So this was why her dad wanted her to handle this girl’s case.

She cleared her throat. “Umm, Ms. Petersen—” She didn’t do Hallmark scenes, ever. That was so cliché, not to mention unprofitable. “I don’t think—”

But it was too late.

“I was seven when I first met my grandfather, and that first time h-he told me that my mom was a s-slut.”

Nellie wanted to cover her ears. I’m just going to pretend I’m not hearing anything, she thought desperately.

“He wanted me t-to disown her and come live with him in his mansion.”

Lane’s voice was emptier than any teenager had a right to sound, and Nellie furiously blinked back tears. She had never cried over sappy movies, and she was not going to cry now.

La-la-la, Nellie mentally sang, frantic to distract herself.

“When I d-didn’t agree, my grandfather got in touch with my school and told them about my mom’s job.” Lane was pale-faced, her gaze far away, and it was clear she was lost in a haze of despair and stolen innocence.

“We moved from town to town, but he would always find us, and he used his connections to ruin any chance of my mom finding a good job—”

The girl’s voice broke.

And Nellie’s heart of ice started to break with it.

Lane’s head swung to face her, and the young girl’s eyes sought Nellie’s in unconscious need.

“I just want you to understand,” Lane choked out, “that I don’t hate him. I r-really don’t b-because my mom taught me better than that.” She swallowed audibly, and the way the girl visibly fought not to cry ironically made Nellie want to bawl her own eyes out.

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