Home > Sunrise on Half Moon Bay(3)

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay(3)
Author: Robyn Carr

Could one of them be asking your husband to get a real job? Adele thought. She kept her mouth shut about that. Instead, she asked, “Like what?” Wondering what any of this had to do with her.

“I’m planning to see a headhunter, look for another firm that’s in need of general counsel. Since I’m experienced in corporate law, I could join a law firm but I’d be on the bottom rung. Or... I’ve even given some thought to private practice. My experience in Human Resources lends to a number of specialties. I have an open mind. I might be qualified to work for the state. Whatever, I have to be thinking now. I have a feeling, a strong feeling, my income is going to be severely impacted. Soon.” And she wondered how Justine’s husband was handling this news.

Justine started dating Scott in college, right around the time Addie was born. He was undeniably smart, though not a great student and not really motivated, except maybe on the golf course. Based on what little information Justine had shared over the years, Scott had never leaned toward ambition, but he was a steady, good man and devoted father. He got his degree in business, started out in sales for a big sporting goods manufacturer. He did pretty well, and while he was doing that, Justine took the LSAT and killed it. She went to law school—Stanford. Scott was very supportive of the idea. Just make me a stay-at-home dad with a set of clubs, he had said.

Since Scott traveled all the time in his first job, they settled in San Jose in a small town house. It was convenient for him as a base of operations and close enough to Stanford for Justine to commute. That was such a long time ago. Adele remembered that town house. She’d been there quite a few times as a little girl.

She remembered Justine had said Scott was excited that his wife was going to be a successful lawyer. “That’s all we want,” he had said. “She’ll knock ’em dead in the legal world, and I’ll take care of all the domestic details.”

That transition had been gradual, but eventually it led them to where they were now—Justine, a self-made woman with a high-paying corporate job and Scott, a stay-at-home dad and husband who worked part-time in a sporting goods outlet. He had been a volunteer EMT, played a lot of sports, loved hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, boating.

“What does Scott say about this?” Adele asked.

Justine shrugged. Then she said, “He’ll support my decision.” She straightened. “I wonder how difficult it would be to find a small family law practice looking for someone like me. Or to start my own practice—a one-woman practice.”

“Has it ever occurred to Scott to get a serious job?” Adele asked. “I mean, forgive me, since I haven’t had a serious job in my life.”

Justine smiled patiently. “Your jobs have all been serious, and without you we’d have been lost. If you hadn’t dedicated yourself to Mom’s care, it would have cost our whole family a fortune. We’re indebted to you. And I agree it would help if Scott worked more than part-time, but I think that ship sailed years ago. He’s only worked part-time since Amber and Olivia came along.”

Adele adored her nieces, ages sixteen and seventeen. She was much closer to them than she was to Justine.

“I’m sorry you’re going through this,” Adele said. “I wish there was something I could do.”

“Well, the thing is, the future is looking very uncertain. I might need your help,” Justine said.

“What could I do?” she asked.

“Adele, I don’t like to push you, but you have to get it together. We have to make some decisions about what you’re going to do, what we’ll do with the house. I realize what I’ve given you for your hard work hasn’t been much, but I don’t know how long I can keep it up—paying for the maintenance on this house, the taxes, a modest income for you... I don’t want to panic prematurely,” Justine said. “Maybe I’ll be able to work everything out without too much hassle, but if I run into trouble... Money could get very tight, Addie. All those promises I made—that I’d help financially while you fix up the house, that I’d give you my half of the proceeds when and if you sold it... I might not be able to come through. I know, I know, I promised you it would be yours after all of your sacrifice, but you wouldn’t want me to ignore the girls’ tuition or not be able to make the mortgage...”

“But Justine!” Adele said. “That’s all I have! And I was considering finishing school myself!” Though if she was honest, she had no plans of any kind.

Justine reached out to her, squeezing her hand. “We’re a long way from me needing money. I just felt it was only fair to tell you what’s going on. If we’re in this together, we can both make it. I swear, I will make this all work out. I’ll make it right.”

But as Adele knew, they had never really been “in it together” in the past, and they wouldn’t be for very long in the future. Addie’s dedication to their parents allowed Justine to devote herself to her career. For that matter, it should be Justine and Scott shoring each other up. At least until Justine had a better idea. But where was Scott today? Golfing? Biking? Bowling?

Adele realized she had some difficult realities to face. When she dropped out of school to help her mother care for her father, she wasn’t being completely altruistic. She’d needed a place to run away to, hiding an unplanned pregnancy and covering her tattered heart. She’d never told her family that her married lover—her psychology professor—had broken down in tears when he explained he couldn’t leave his wife to marry Adele, that the college would probably fire him for having an affair with a student. For her, going home was the only option.

At the time Justine and Scott had been riding the big wave and didn’t lust after the small, old house in Half Moon Bay. That house was chump change to them. So, they worked out a deal. Adele had become her mother’s guardian with a power of attorney. But the will had never been adjusted to reflect just one beneficiary rather than two. In the case of the death of both parents, Adele and Justine would inherit equal equity in the eighty-year-old house and anything left of the life insurance. At the time, of course, neither Adele nor Justine had ever considered the idea that Adele would be needed for very long. But before Adele knew it, eight years had been gobbled up. She was thirty-two and had been caring for her parents since she was twenty-four.

Adele, as guardian, could have escaped by turning over the house, pension, social security to a care facility for her mother and gone out on her own, finding herself a better job and her own place to live. She wasn’t sure if it was her conscience or just inertia that held her in place for so long.

“I just wanted to make sure you understood the circumstances before anything more happens,” Justine said. “And since you don’t have any immediate plans, please don’t list the house for sale or anything. Give me a chance to figure out what’s next. I have children. I’ll do whatever I can to protect them and you. They’re your nieces! They love you so much. I’m sure you want them to get a good education as much as I do.”

Does anyone want me to have a real chance to start over? Adele asked herself. This conversation sounded like Justine was pulling out of their deal.

“I’ll think about this, but Scott has responsibilities, too,” she pointed out.

“He’s been out of the full-time workforce for so long...” Justine said.

“Just the same, we all have to live up to our adult commitments and responsibilities. And you’ve had a highfalutin job for a long time. You’ve made a lot of money. You can recover. I haven’t even begun.”

“I need your help, Addie,” Justine said. “You need to come up with a plan, something we can put in motion. Make plans for your next step, put a little energy into this old house, make suggestions of what we should do with it, everything. Let’s figure out what to do before I find myself short and unable to help. I’m sorry, but we have to move forward.”

Chapter Two

Justine’s visit and her ominous predictions created a pretty dark day for Adele. Her head ached from her brow being furrowed all day. She hadn’t even begun to figure out what she wanted to do next before Justine threw a wrench into everything. Addie was lost in deep thought; she took a couple of hours with a calculator, looking over the numbers. They were pretty bleak. It had been a consideration to get a home equity loan to improve the property before selling it, but if Justine couldn’t swing it, how was Addie supposed to? She was pretty sure one had to have a job before being approved for a loan.

Addie had no money, no income, just what Justine provided. There was a little saved from the insurance, but without money from Justine, she was going to run out soon. How could her sister do this to her now? While Addie cared for their mother, Justine and her family had been to France and Italy and Scotland, not to mention many long weekend trips here and there. They had all the sports equipment under the sun and lived in a very nice house. And now, after Adele had put in eight years, Justine was warning her that she might pull the rug out from under her? How could she?

She tried to remember that Justine hadn’t had it easy as it all looked. Law school was a struggle for her, though in the end she graduated with honors. Then she worked long hours while Scott started to work shorter and shorter weeks. When Justine wanted a baby and didn’t conceive, she saw infertility specialists and was thirty-five before being blessed with the birth of her daughter Amber. Then, like so many infertile women, she ignored birth control after Amber was born, thinking she just couldn’t get pregnant. Olivia came eleven months after Amber.

Adele couldn’t really remember all the details of Justine and Scott’s early years together, but by the time her nieces were born when she was in high school, it was obvious that Scott made sure the girls got what they needed but he didn’t go much further. Justine stopped at the store for groceries on her way home from work, sometimes at ten at night. She spent her days off doing laundry, and if she couldn’t stay up until midnight working on briefs, she’d get up at four in the morning to work. And then Scott would criticize her for not working out and complain about the toll her long hours took on the family. But he somehow justified an expensive country club membership. Scott did most of the cooking, but it wasn’t much of an effort. He didn’t like labor intensive meals after a rugged day of playing golf. Adele witnessed a lot of those squabbles because she was a frequent babysitter when her nieces were little.

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