Media attention began to unsettle senior partners and Richard became aware he was becoming more of a liability than an asset to them. It was hinted increasingly that maybe it would be best for him to take a leave of absence for a while until media fervour calmed down. The stress was enormous, and he began to take medications to keep him on an even keel, but this in turn further affected his work. Finally, senior partners called him in for an interview. They had a pre-prepared letter of resignation for him to sign and a half million-dollar check as a terminal payment. They advised him not to fight their decision and just leave quietly for the sake of all and issued vague suggestions as to why it would be profitable for him to do that.
When prescription medication failed to help him through this life changing experience he turned to stronger stuff and without work his savings evaporated and eventually the apartment had to be sacrificed. He was now a wreck and when his resources were all gone he found himself out on the streets with no place to go. He’d been out on the streets for several months now.
Lost in contemplation he suddenly remembered the need to guard all that now remained as his assets in life. A shadow had appeared by the supermarket trolley that was his only permanent belonging now and he was quite protective. He jumped up ready to do battle with city inspectors or some of the riff raff around him. But this was a woman dressed for business and smelling of a familiar perfume.
“Was it really worth it Richie?”
Claire stood there with tears rolling down her cheek. “You’re a mess!”
Richard stood there wishing she were not there to see him in this condition. He’d been bitter at the time when the divorce went through but there on the streets with lots of time to think he realized she’d done the right thing. Their philosophical underpinnings had drifted apart and she was in the right.
“I’m sorry I let you down Claire.”
“Richie are you happy living on the streets because your life is far from over if you’re willing to make changes you can make something of yourself. The man I married was a decent hardworking person. Is he still there inside you or is this what you call living?”
“Claire I have all these psychological problems to deal with and a drug dependency and just can’t see a way out. You go home and enjoy a normal life with what I’m sure would be your new husband and hopefully family now. I know that’s what you wanted. Just leave me here where I deserve to be.”
“Richie I didn’t leave you for another man, we just drifted apart philosophically, but I don’t want to see you in this condition. This is my suggestion and it will be my gift to you for the good times we did have in early days of our marriage. Come with me to drug rehab right now and we’ll get you straightened out in time. After that we’ll get you a job. You don’t have a licence to practice law, but you can do something positive for the rest of your life. Now don’t disappoint me again. Get up and come with me now!”
Richard got up mechanically and reached for his shopping trolley, but Claire jerked it out of his hands.
“No! Give it to that guy over there who seems to have a deep interest in it. Come with me now!” She took him by the arm and steered him toward the road where she hailed a taxi.”
The taxi driver waved his hand at her. “You can get in, he stays out!”
Claire produced a wad of notes. “Perhaps you may wish to reconsider?”
“OK get in. where to?”
Claire wrote the address and they sped off to the suburbs weaving in and out of traffic.
She sat him down in the reception area and went into an inner office. The centre was one of her clients. Then she returned in the company of a couple of nurses.
“Richie this is the deal I want you to cooperate with these people and do whatever they tell you to do. It’s going to be a tough long haul getting you weaned off drugs and back into the physical shape you used to be in. I’ll check in periodically and I’ve told them under no circumstances to let you out of this place. Now you owe me for the stress you put me through, and I want you to promise me you’ll do what I say. Do you agree?”
Richard shook his head in amazement. Why was she doing this after her experience with him leading to divorce. He nodded his head in agreement and was led away by nurses. Claire returned to centre office to talk with the manager wiping tears from her eyes. Seeing Richie in this condition had troubled her mightily since she’d caught sight of him a week previously. It had been quite a struggle for her to decide to help him rehabilitate.
Over the months that followed Claire phoned in for reports and sometimes watched his progress through a one-way vision window with her client the one in charge of the rehabilitation centre. There’d been months of hell for Richard as he willed to kick his drug dependency and Claire found it difficult to watch when he had to fight for his life.
She’d shared when introducing Richard to this centre they’d once been married and the owner Cliff Sheffield was intrigued as he watched her interest in this case. It was costing her a considerable amount even though Cliff had reduced fees as a mark of respect for his legal counsel. There was always some litigation from families of patients who in their grief wanted to lash out and blame others for their family member’s dependency. Claire handled such cases professionally and fairly. Cliff’s admiration for her grew with each encounter. Now that they’d developed professional respect for each other he felt safe to satisfy his curiosity.
“Claire, why are you doing this, are you still in love with this man even after divorcing him?”
Claire spun around in surprise and Cliff instantly regretted asking such a personal question.
Cliff looked so uncomfortable that Claire wiped tears that came as she watched Richard struggle to get out of the depths he’d sunk to and laughed involuntarily. Richard had made tremendous progress, but the journey was still incomplete, and she felt for her former husband.
The question shocked her. Why was she going to all this trouble? Was the love that got them together in marriage still present? She’d rationalized that it was just compassion for the man she’d once been married to causing this huge financial outlay. Her parents thought she was foolish to be doing this and constantly nagged her to find a soul mate before she was too old to have children of her own. The obsession with Richard they thought was foolish and detrimental to her future happiness. She needed to move on!
Claire shrugged and averted her eyes from Cliff’s penetrating gaze.
“Cliff I’m a pretty good judge of people as a lawyer but really don’t understand myself. I’m sorry for Richard and think he paid a heavy price for a decision he made when we worked together at my previous law firm. I know he’s a good man at heart and its plain to me he wants out of the mess his life has become. I think I’m putting out money and effort because I want to help him. I don’t think there’s love involved. You’ve got professional qualifications in all this stuff. Analyse me and help me resolve this question as I need to have it settled in my mind.” Claire laughed nervously she was feeling uncomfortable.
Cliff nodded. “OK, my evening manager has taken over now so join me at my favourite restaurant and we’ll talk this through. No payment for a consultation for you Claire and no payment for the food. This is on me. Well take a cab and you can pick up your car afterward.” He steered her toward the entrance and had the secretary call a cab for them.
During the meal and after Cliff asked seemingly innocent but leading questions as he led her professionally to confront her feelings about life, about her job and about Richard. After a while Claire began to close up and Cliff with his professional training understood it would need time for her to digest the questions he’d asked and answer them herself. He was beginning to be intrigued with this woman who he’d professionally admired through their legal contacts.
Claire understood and decided to ask some questions of her own. She pretended to be the psychologist now and playfully pretended to analyse Cliff. He played along enjoying the game and her company. She drew out his childhood and family memories then probed his single status. Was he a confirmed bachelor and if so what did he have against women? Cliff laughed when that question was raised.
“I should have something against women as my wife left me after we’d been married only a few months. I worked and helped her financially through her MA studies, and she lucked out with a job tutoring at the university. I met her during college years, and we went steady until she finished her studies then we married.
Then one day she arrived home packed her things and told me she’d accepted a scholarship to further her education in Europe. As you can imagine I was devastated! I poured myself into one degree after another and eventually gravitated to managing and later owning this rehabilitation complex. She found someone in France after a couple of years there and asked me for a divorce which I gave her. I worked my way through the grieving, anger and move on process some time ago but it made me very cautious and protective of my heart.” Cliff shrugged and looked at his watch. “You need to be getting home, so you’ll get rest and prepare for the tough work you do tomorrow.”
To be continued.
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