The Lullaby Sky

By: Carolyn Brown

CHAPTER ONE

The table gave Hannah something stable to hold on to as the old white-haired judge took his place at the highly polished bench. A river of sweat trickled between her breasts, but it would all be over within an hour. Seven years of misery was about to come to an end. Feeling four sets of eyes scrutinizing her, she stole a quick glance at the other side of the courtroom.

Marty and his lawyer were conversing in whispers, but his cold green eyes locked on her, disapproving as always. She shrank inside her skin and wished she’d worn the little black suit and high heels, that she’d swept her hair up into a twist at the back and not used so much smoky eye shadow. This wasn’t the day to take a stand for independence and wear skinny jeans, a western-cut shirt with pearl snaps, or cowboy boots. The papers weren’t signed and sealed yet, and her soon-to-be ex hated cowboy boots.

A hand came from behind to rest on her shoulder, and she tensed; then Travis patted her gently and she relaxed—at least enough to breathe again. With her four friends behind her, she could draw on their strength to get her through this day. Aunt Birdie, her great-aunt, and Miss Rosie, Travis’s grandmother, had wanted to be there for her also, but Hannah had convinced them to stay home and babysit her daughter, Sophie. Besides, those two old gals said exactly what they wanted when they wanted. Not what she needed in this courtroom.

People were sitting now that the judge had settled into his chair, but Hannah’s feet remained glued to the floor. Her hands had a death grip on the table. If she let go, would she faint? What if the judge said no? What if he made them wait another three months? What if Marty changed his mind and wanted visitation or even full custody of Sophie?

“You may be seated, Mrs. Ellis.” The judge nodded toward her.

The lawyer tugged on her arm, and she let go of the table and slid down into the wooden chair. “Sorry,” she whispered.

“It’ll be over in a little while,” he whispered. “You aren’t contesting anything, so there’s nothing to fight about, and from the looks of his girlfriend, he wants this divorce as much as you do.”

Though the old oak benches in the small courtroom were polished to a glowing sheen, a bit of dust lingered on the end of the table where Hannah and her lawyer sat in two straight-back chairs. Would Marty see that and go into a rage right there in front of his parents, his pregnant new girlfriend, and the judge? Marty did not abide a speck of dust on anything. But for him that was minor. Leaving a hair in the bathroom sink, or worse yet, a single wrinkle in the bedsheets—those were sure to set him off into a screaming rage. Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around her body to protect her ribs.

The judge fanned through the papers before him. Hannah remembered to take breaths, but they were shallow. Afraid to blink for fear she’d wake up and this would be a dream, she felt her eyes become so dry that they ached.

“Approach please, sir?” Marty’s lawyer asked.

The judge motioned him and Hannah’s lawyer forward, leaving Hannah unprotected except for her three friends. Darcy, sitting behind her and beside Calvin, mumbled something under her breath. Outgoing, bubbly Darcy with her spiky, blonde hair was the vice president of a bank in Gainesville, but Hannah had no doubt that the mumbling contained words that would fry the hair off Lucifer’s pointy little chin.

Cal laid a hand on Hannah’s shoulder. Having seen him in his starched jeans, white pearl-snapped shirt, big belt buckle, and polished boots, Hannah knew most folks in the room would think the tall blond was a bull rider or a rancher. Truth was, Cal was a fashion designer—sewing was his passion.

Travis was often every bit as misjudged as Calvin. Tall, lanky, and studious-looking with his wire-rimmed glasses and dark-brown hair that was always too long, he was often mistaken for a schoolteacher. In reality he could wield a hammer or run carpentry equipment with finesse. He’d left Crossing right after high school and had come home only for holidays until last year, when he came back for good. It helped to have some men on her side with Marty glaring at her.

Then there was Liz, the other target of Marty’s glares. He hated quiet, sweet Liz, because she’d given Hannah a job, and he despised the little bit of independence that job had brought into her life. Liz had pressured Hannah into working as a teacher’s aide the past several years at the school where she acted as principal. Liz should be in a court of law for the same reason Hannah was, but Liz was still making excuses for her son-of-a-bitch husband.

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