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Joel Marshall Petra Alison

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#1 Joel Marshall

Joel Marshall

Posted 13 September 2016 - 05:21 AM

Joel never expected to be successful in reasoning with Nich. In fact he wasn't terribly shocked with the end result, though perhaps he was a little taken aback at the man's transparency. Certainly everything had been communicated through smiling lips with a strange calmness, but there was a sociopathic nature to it that felt as though Joel's case was writing itself. Naturally he'd have to dig a lot deeper than one recorded conversation to prove that Laslow was unfit to be this child's caretaker, but he was more motivated than ever to do so. The moment he returned to his sorry excuse for an office, he was already dialing up the number Petra had given him only the day before.

 

His conversation with Sharla Black went as expected; she gave him more details on the trouble Christian had been in at school, though otherwise seemed as though she was ready to wash her hands of it. Joel was trying to persuade her into a statement in Petra's favor without saying it directly; if, for any reason, she thought of her as unfit and said so, he'd have a hell of a bigger predicament on his hands. But he could work with what he was given so far, which was more about Christian himself. Father figures in his life (sorely lacking), the sort of background he'd already been raised in. Considering his only mother figure was ready to be rid of him, Joel couldn't imagine his environment had been the best.

 

Then came conversations with the principal of his school as well as a couple of teachers, some of which had a better perception of why Christian was acting out. It would be easier for Joel to make his case if he made certain that this kid needed love and attention first and foremost-- not to be tossed to the side like a piece of property in yet another household that wouldn't spend time with him. And he could have spent the following day processing these recorded interviews into a document (he didn't have a secretary for such things), but he was eager to let Petra know of his progress. That and he half-hoped that she might have more information for him than before.

 

(Scouring the internet for Laslow's previous shady cases would come that weekend, when he was drunk and obsessive and bored as always.)

 

So he made an appointment with her at her place this time, doing his best to keep his curiosity at bay as he wandered to her front door. Three knocks and he waited as patiently as he knew how to, shuffling his beat up briefcase from one hand to the other. 



#2 Petra Alison

Petra Alison

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 04:22 PM

Waiting was excrutiating, painful. She'd never been much of the patient type, of the aimlessly waiting type especially, but this particular instance seemed far more taxing than, say, waiting in traffic or watching an oven preheat. Every glance at the clock on her wall brewed the idea in her mind that time was working againsy her, dragging its feet mercilessly. Then again, there was no yelling whether or not the appointment time would be met, either. While she certainly appreciated and even had grown to look passed her lawyer's shortcomings (mostly thanks to the fact that he was assisting her at all), there was no denying that there were shortcomings, and while he had been on time before (and she had been slightly less punctual than desired, the horror), she simply wasn't sure if that was usual or just some sort of one time deal.

She was as pleasantly surprised as she could be, then, to hear three knocks at her door, right on time, though she certainly wasn't able to find grace nor serenity as she rushed to answer it, pulling off the chainlock clumsily and pulling the door open too fast, bumping it against the toes of her foot in the process. It certainly wasn't an attractive opening statement to be certain.

"Sorry, sorry, I'm... come in." Finally stepping aside to let him pass revealed a home almost entirely too clean, nearly obsessively immaculate. "You can sit wherever,' she added, pacing passed him and towards the kitchen. Their first meeting he had been smart enough to place them in a public, confined space, keeping the physical traits of her anxiety controlled to smaller, more minor movements, but now that she was home and given space to roam, her nerves wouldn't allow her to sit still.

It was obvious that she wouldn't be calming down anytime soon, either, by the way she was already messing around in the kitchen. "Sorry, I, uh, I cook when I'm nervous so... are you hungry?" Never had she been the guarded type when it came to expressing herself nor her own thoughts, nor was she capable of being almost awkwardly blunt about things at all times.

Perhaps it would have been better for the situation for her to calm down and listen, give her nerves a break to prepare for what was coming, but that didn't even resonate as an option in her mind.

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#3 Joel Marshall

Joel Marshall

Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:42 PM

Joel liked to think that he could read people very easily. In this case he had a feeling she was the anxious sort based on their first meeting, but nothing could have prepared him for her greeting. The way she clumsily opened the door, even apologized for it; he noted it all and shook his head in something like disbelief as he stepped in, letting his eyes scan her place to absorb even more details.

 

Everything was so clean, so sterile-- while it felt homey in its own right, he couldn't even remember the last time he stepped into a place so coldly clean. His own place was a goddamn mess, and his office wasn't much better. Those diners he liked to frequent were clean enough to serve food but were... also a little questionable, truth be told. He'd always been that way, too; he was that boy that played in the mud for the simple sake of getting dirty, and in a way he'd never really gotten out of the mud. He was sloppy in many aspects of his life-- but not in his career. Despite being quite the procrastinator, he was not a lazy man. Like her, he needed to stay busy as much as possible.

 

He realized he hadn't said anything after a few moments and cleared his throat, nodding over at her. Was he hungry? He was always hungry, honestly, but for now he just shrugged in case she changed her mind and wanted to sit still. "I could eat," he said noncommittally, sitting himself in a dining chair as he pulled notes and papers out of his beat up briefcase. While he considered leaving the tape recorder locked away in there, he found himself taking it out and placing it on the table. Hopefully she wouldn't have a problem with how he obtained that information.

 

"Hi, by the way," he said with a little smirk as he looked back over at her. His smile was meant to be the slightest bit comforting, in hopes that her nerves might settle, but he might have looked the slightest bit amused by her antics anyway. "No need to be nervous, Ms. Alison. I've collected a lot over the past couple of days, and I think we have a pretty strong case."



#4 Petra Alison

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 09:52 PM

In times of anxiety, few things made as much sense as the order and calming sensation that cleaning brought. Cooking was close, too, though, both activities something she could control and micro-manage to her heart's content. She needed that sometimes, needed things she could organize over and over again until things fit just right, until things were inherently perfect in her eyes. So often she found herself in situations that were the exact opposite, after all. The reality of her life was that it in and of itself was messy. Not in a financial way, not in any real tangible way, honestly, but in the way that lingered just out of reach. She could organize her way out of grief, she couldn't clean her way into a child's life. These things were out of her control, were things she had to subject herself to the help of others' for. Being so out of the loop made her nervous, outright horrified her, honestly. It was only natural that she channel that anxiety into something at least borderline healthy, then, though he likely thought she was downright insane just from watching her.

 

Because she really had managed to keep it together during their first meeting. She wasn't going to pace the aisles of a crowded diner, after all, and while she had eventually ended up succumbing to a few physical ticks, they weren't major and were maybe even unnoticeable altogether. And besides, what living, breathing human being didn't fiddle with their hair or clothes in some way? 

 

"I'm afraid I don't have... onion rings,' she replied in some strange, awkward attempt at a joke, though the problem with her humor was that it was almost rooted right alongside her uppity nature, coming across far more teasing than anything. She realized her mistake immediately after, too, sighing silently as she grabbed a glass pan from one of the cabinets and set it on the counter. It may have seemed like she was wholly distracted by the entire cooking fiasco but the truth of the matter was that she was focused intently on him, zeroed in on his every word like some kind of lunatic. She barely got a 'hello' out as response to his greeting before she dropped a spoon in response to his next statement, her hands suddenly unsteady with excitement. 

 

But excitement was too soon, right? Pretty strong case still wasn't an assured victory, though she imagined there never was such a thing in these instances. That was another thing she hated; as someone who had a fairly black and white view of most, if not all things in life, being uncertain of something was debilitating. She hated maybes, what ifs, possibilities. Something could always go wrong.

 

"Call me Petra, and please, go on, I... you don't have to wait for permission, I assure you."


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#5 Joel Marshall

Joel Marshall

Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:36 AM

It occurred to Joel that he needed to be careful. With most of his other clients he'd always been cautiously optimistic, putting off a sort of neutrality that was encouraging, to be sure, but not certain. Internally he felt certain about this case if only because he wouldn't allow himself to lose. But the truth of the matter was that he didn't know; Laslow still had a hell of a lot of influence around this town, and at the end of the day it wasn't his decision. The only thing he could do was influence others' decisions, and that was a difficult thing to face.

 

So he had to do his best to wear that mask of neutrality again, to lock his hope away so she wouldn't be influenced by it. The words "strong case" were permissible-- he didn't want her to feel as though she was walking into a losing battle-- but Laslow's words rang out in his mind regardless. It would crush her if he gave her too much hope and lost anyway. The potential guilt that came from that, however, was washed away easily by knowing she wouldn't give up, no matter the cost.

 

Some of those thoughts were derailed by her attempt at humor, however, in which case he broke into an amused half-smile as he shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak and he nearly found a bit of flirtatious sarcasm rolling off of his tongue before he managed to rein it back in. She was gorgeous, sure, but she was his client in a custody case. He didn't need to get any more involved than he already was. "I eat more than just onion rings, y'know," was what he settled on, lightly joking but appropriate.

 

He eyed her for a moment as her nerves seemed to get the best of her; it hadn't occurred to him that it could be excitement she was feeling at the moment, a sort of hope that threatened to consume her. So he continued all the same, shuffling around the papers until he felt satisfied with what he had. "I spoke with Ms. Black today and she updated me on everything that's going on with Christian at school. I spoke with a few of his teachers and his principal at his current school, too, and they all seem to agree that his main issue is in how little attention he gets. Kids act out in this stage in life if they feel neglected-- you get it."

 

He took out another stack of papers he'd been faxed and pushed his glasses further onto the bridge his nose, his brow furrowed slightly as he looked over them. "Seems he's very intelligent, but he recently stopped applying himself at school, so his grades have been dropping. Pretty typical sign of--" This was all common sense, wasn't it? It didn't take a degree in child development to know how children acted when they were neglected. He was familiar with that, himself.

 

"Anyway, I think the best case we can make is presenting you as the more... ah, nurturing parent. The sort of parent who could turn this whole matter around rather than make it worse, as it would be with Laslow. I'd have to make a case against him, too, but-- well, I'm working on that." He glanced nervously at the tape recorder in front of him, still deciding whether or not to play it just yet.



#6 Petra Alison

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 02:12 AM

For someone so straight cut in her way of thinking, she was notorious for straddling the line between optimistic and cynical, both hopeful and hopeless at the same time, though some of that undoubtedly was denial directed both ways. Depending on her mood and how invested she was in whatever required her attention at the time, she could either be obliviously hopeful or unrelentingly down about the situation at any time. This was one of those moments where she could do nothing but look back and forth in both directions, confused and lost by the prospect of possibilities. She wanted more than anything to be self-assured and confident that she (and Joel by extension, as he was now deeply involved) could win this, could walk away from the court victorious and happy with newfound purpose, but there were little trickling thoughts that interfered causing that pretty sunny view to become overcast.

 

It was easy to describe her inner turmoil as stormy even without that analogy, though. She was constantly at war with her own self, not only because of possibilities and struggling with hope but because of the nagging idea that she might not be cut out for this. Petra, like everyone else, had her fair share of issues, the biggest of which was that she had no idea how to accurately or appropriately grieve, though she imagined there weren't set guidelines for that sort of thing. Then again, it was easy to try and handwave that away with the excuse that there was no right way to grieve, but that felt too easy. Certainly she had moved on and made peace with the idea of loss, and certainly she had survived and even rebuilt what was left of her after watching someone she deeply cared for died, but there were scars leftover from the mess of it all that didn't involve Lily's death so much as it involved Lily's life. And the truth of the matter was that Petra couldn't wash her hands of the responsibility of most of it, always having a dangerously codependent nature that made her sacrificial both in her interests and in her own value. 

 

She lived for people, whether they lived for her or not, made homes from them and made herself so cozy in them that she could see no wrong in anything they did. Lily wasn't good for her in that sense, with that mindset; she enjoyed attention, adored adoration, and did nothing to encourage or even deter Petra away from the way she seemed to lay down her own well-being for the sake of her and everything she wanted. 

 

But that was beside the point, wasn't it? Those insecurities and fears about how she could navigate Christian's troubles alongside her own meant nothing if she was never allowed to see him. That brought her right back to point A, to Joel, just in time to hear his rebuttal to her comment. She couldn't help but laugh a little herself though it was undeniably strained, strangled by nerves. Time for more distractions. Turning on her heel, she nudged open the refrigerator door, grabbed a handful of ingredients that had obviously been set aside and organized for a meal later on, and sat them on the counter, her eyes almost glassy as she listened to him recount details from Sharla.

 

She knew everything he mentioned, though it had been only recently learned. Still, she nodded regardless, unsure of anything she could really add to the conversation. He had heard the stories firsthand now, from both Christian's guardian and his teachers, and she was nothing more than a secondhand narrator in that case. She winced a little at the pause in his commentary, though. Neglect. It was a pretty typical sigh of neglect, no doubt. She had never really considered Sharla a competent caretaker, though now more than ever it was coming to light just how right she had been about that assumption from the start. Both Sharla and Lily lacked a deep understanding of empathy, though the latter was a matter she would doubt until proved otherwise despite the evidence she'd seen firsthand.

 

"Evidence against him?" The rhythmic sound of her chopping vegetables paused as she looked up, attention suddenly razor-sharp, eyes set on him in a way he could likely feel. "Could you elaborate?"


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#7 Joel Marshall

Joel Marshall

Posted 14 September 2016 - 04:27 AM

There was something nearly threatening in this woman's movements, in how rigidly organized she was in seemingly every aspect of her life. It seemed as though she liked to be in control, at least of her surroundings, and it occurred to Joel that he still knew next to nothing about her. He was willing to fight for her custody in court, absolutely, as she would turn out to be a much better parent than the man who couldn't even recall the boy's name, but he still wasn't sure what sort of characterization he was arguing for. 

 

This was precisely why he'd become good at reading people over the years. A lot of law had to do with painting someone in a certain light, and to do so you typically needed to at least get a grasp of what the other person was like. He could see her at face value here, the typical type A personality, but he had had a feeling there was a hell of a lot more underneath the surface. Her story about the boy's mother echoed in his mind, a reminder of just how caring she actually could be, even years later. She was the best person suited for this. He could argue for this. He could win this.

 

They could win this.

 

He cleared his throat as she pressed for elaboration, running his teeth across his bottom lip as he fiddled with the tape recorder in front of him. "Y'know-- it's Nicholas Laslow," he started. "He's got a good reputation among a lot of folks here, but a lot of us know better. He's clearly been involved with some shady stuff in the past and if we try to paint him as unfit to be a parent... All I've gotta do is dig into his old cases, talk to a few contacts--"

 

Joel stopped himself for a few moments, looking over at Petra. It might have been clear that he was looking for permission to continue before he even opened his mouth, but it warranted discussion anyway. "I've already collected a bit myself. It's not... exactly ethical, but it's also not illegal. Recording conversations is fine so long as one party consents, so it's admissible evidence. If you want to hear it, that is. If you want to submit it."



#8 Petra Alison

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 04:42 AM

She actually wasn't aware at all of any sort of reputation Nicholas had. She knew him in a sort of personal way but it was still at a distance. She had met him, of course, several times, and had grown to hate him for what he had done and what she'd been told he was like, but she had no actual idea what sort of baggage he had behind him at all. Would it surprise her to learn that most of his case winnings were rooted in unethical and even illegal methods? Not at all. In fact, it would surprise her more to learn that they weren't. Still, she had never actually heard of anything, so it wasn't like she could say either way. Speculation was all well and dandy and she certainly had her own stockpile of assumptions about Nich's character as a whole, but she also wasn't dumb enough to think that they'd hold even the slightest amount of water in court.

 

She was thankful, then, that not only had Joel taken her case, but that he seemed privy to this sort of thing and was also willing to look deeper. He, much like her, seemed to genuinely dislike the guy, though she wasn't sure of just how much nor was she aware of the reasoning why. Then again, it didn't much matter. They had a mutual enemy as well as a mutual goal. No matter how much they both personally disliked the man, and she certainly, undoubtedly did, the fact of the matter was that they both wanted better for the child stuck in the middle. 

 

And while a good deal of her reasoning was rooted in her previous feelings for Lily, in keeping in tune with Lily's wishes and continuing the love she had for Christian long before he was born, a good deal of them were also just her maternal nature as a whole. She had always, always been the nurturing type, and while that concern and care may have been slightly selective in who she bestowed it too, it was undeniable and forever lingering beneath the surface. It especially seemed to shine full force whenever the helpless were involved, revealing in her a messiah complex almost too sacrificial in nature at times.

 

She hummed a response at his statement, finishing up her meal preparation and scraping the ingredients into the pan and placing it into the oven, her only stop before making her way to him a brief pause at a hand towel hanging nearby. Once she was done with that, he had garnered her full attention yet again, her eyebrows raised as she mulled over his personal meaning of the word unethical. Recording conversations without the consent of the person speaking seemed a little on the bad side but she honestly couldn't bring herself to care whenever she considered who the person was.

 

"I... of course I want to hear it, please. Anything that could help would do a great deal of good, after all." She wasn't sure just how much she didn't want to hear it, though, had absolutely no idea just how much worse Nicholas could get. "It isn't illegal to record someone without consent?" 


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#9 Joel Marshall

Joel Marshall

Posted 14 September 2016 - 05:48 AM

Again, Joel realized just how little he truly knew about her. In moments he'd be pressing play on this tape, and then what? How would she react? Would she be angry? Would she feel threatened? Laslow clearly felt confident in his case and she'd hear all about that. Yet it occurred to him that Nicholas wasn't the only one she'd hear. She'd hear his side of it too, chock full of that determination he'd tried to hide from her if only so she didn't get hopes up. Joel preferred to be dishonest if he thought it would benefit both parties and this was no exception, yet he found his finger hovering over the play button anyway, a part of him wanting to take this risk of honesty with her. 

 

The only way it was admissible evidence to court was if she approved of it. Period. It was senseless to debate this any longer and he knew it. The only reason he was debating it at all was because he was too attached to this case to start with. Any other case and he wouldn't have even initiated a conversation before he was playing the tape; hell, he might have just emailed it to someone and called it a day. Yet somehow he was invested in how she felt, worried that she would have her hopes dashed in a devastating way. 

 

Part of him wished he'd never asked for her story when they were back in the diner. This would all be so much easier.

 

"It's perfectly legal," he reassured her. "Conversations between two other people-- that's illegal. But as long as one party consents, it's fine. It's not the best business practice for me to go... underhanded like this against a colleague, but--" But what? But he was invested now? He wanted to see the kid go to the right home? This was more than a case, this was a matter of doing the right thing? Instead of putting any of those thoughts into noncommittal words, he just pressed play and leaned back, letting his and Nich's words echo through the room.

 

This was the first time he'd listened to it again. For some reason hearing himself, especially challenging Laslow like he'd done, was strange. The conversation wasn't even that important aside from the man's admission that he didn't intend to care for the child himself, or the implication that bribery was in the rulebook. He'd need proof of the second to make a good case in court, something he intended to thoroughly research once he returned home. For now he fell silent, however, allowing her to take in this conversation and react as she wanted. Perhaps she deserved to know what was said.



#10 Petra Alison

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 05:58 PM

The nervous rift of electric tension from earlier was amplified at the mere idea of hearing this evidence. What had Nicholas said? Joel mentioned it being viable evidence against him, but she couldn't imagine him slipping up too much. He had always seemed so calculated and put together prior, the only facet of his personality she even remotely envied especially as she was so easily flustered and dramatic as she was. Still, there must have been something he had said to bring about even small amounts of confidence.

The range of emotions that flickered across her features was almost too broad to catch even with an unblinking eye. Outright disgust was first, the mention of bribery almost surprising in a way that it probably shouldn't have been. That was most definitely something she likely should have expected from him. Next came the name-calling, and offense right after, her anger at the word disgrace directed towards someone she held lightyears above herself in terms of worth palpable as she parroted the word back aloud, her voice high and tight and not entirely unlike that of a birds.

But what bothered her the most aside from that was how impersonal and even outright cold the conversation seemed on Nicholas' end. Certainly she noticed Joel's voice, his affliction, the added rift of confidence and even determination that lingered beneath each bite of words, but she only noticed it so much at all because it was an almost laughably stark contrast to the voice on the other end. And the manner of which he referred to Christian - like he was an objecr, property, some lifeless case to be won - had her gritting her teeth in silence until the tape finally clicked and ended its playback.

And then, not even a dam could hold in the floodwaters of her frustation.

"The child is his, he says, like it's just that simple, like Christian isn't a person at all but some... some sort of thing , like some nice, shiny trophy he can sit on his shelf!" She gasped in a breath of air, standing in the meantime, her attention immediately shifting to a picture on the wall nearby that she suddenly found it very necessary to fiddle with and straighten repeatedly. "And to call his mother a disgrace! The nerve, the audacity. She was the mother of his child! Beyond any personal feelings he had for her, he should be grateful that she existed at all because without her, his child wouldn't exist at all!"

She paused again in speech, still idly shifting the frame from left to right before her anger wore into exhaust, perhaps even a sadness she couldn't quite recognize, though make no mistake that she was still and would be forever fiercly, wrathfully protective of both the child and mother in question.

"Using this footage... I want to, I want to use it. I need it to be understood that he doesn't intend to care for Christian at all. Not even as a fellow human being. He even says he won't personally be the one attending to..." To him. She couldn't even finish it. While she had been determined before to merely take Christian herself, she was now at least aware that any outcome was better than Nicholas. Any at all, even if she wasn't involved herself.

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