Previously: Chapter 6 [U]
Look! An update!
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Chapter 7: The Whole Truth
They were standing in the lobby of the INS field offices, waiting for their formal interviews which had been scheduled fifteen minutes apart, no doubt to prevent them from colluding on their answers. Spencer was running her hands around Ashley’s collar, making the fold sharp and smoothing the points out.
“Think we’re ready?” Spencer asked.
Ashley’s head was swimming a little from the feel of those fingers against her neck, but she managed to nod at least.
She sighed. “No.” She tugged at the unfamiliar confines of the business suit she was wearing. “I feel like I’m going to a funeral.”
Spencer chuckled. “You look gorgeous.”
Ashley blushed. She’d been advised by her lawyer to dress conservatively. This had necessitated a trip with Spencer in tow to buy an appropriate outfit, as her wife had vetoed almost all of her skirts as being ‘a bit slutty’. She had, however, added that she ‘meant it with love’. That had helped, but only a little.
“Where the hell’s Bill anyway?” she grumbled. William Dos Santos had been her father’s lawyer and oversaw most of her business dealings, including her grandfather’s estate.
“We’re early. He’ll be here. Stop fussing.”
“Yeah. What’ve I got to worry about? It’s not like I’m being interviewed by a shadowy government agency with far-reaching powers I can only guess at.”
Spencer rolled her eyes. “They’re not the CIA. I don’t think you need to worry.” She brushed a speck of lint from Ashley’s collar. “Just tell the truth and you’ll be fine.”
“The whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
Spencer leaned in and whispered, “Our version of the truth. Same thing.”
The feeling of Spencer’s breath against her ear made her a little lightheaded. Not enough to override her fear, though.
“What if I say something stupid?”
“You? I can’t believe you’d do that,” Spencer deadpanned.
She snorted, “That’s no way to speak to your wife.”
“It’s because you’re my wife that I can get away with it.”
She knew that Spencer was joking, but it was the truth all the same. It had reached the point where she would let Spencer away with pretty much anything.
She shifted her weight between her feet, bouncing nervously. “I just want this to be over.”
“I know. But you’re going to be fabulous.”
“Whatever.” She grinned anyway. Spencer had a way of making her feel secure.
Spencer checked her watch and glanced towards the building’s front entrance. “Seeing as we’ve got time, I’m going to use the restroom. Do you think you’ll cope on your own or do you want to come with me?”
“Remember to include that in your list of reasons for marrying me — good sense of humour.”
Ashley rocked on the balls of her feet and watched Spencer cross the lobby.
She was an incredibly lucky woman in many respects. Her wife was smart, funny and beautiful. And with heels on, her legs looked even better than usual, she noted appraisingly.
And they were dating.
Well, that was how Ashley thought of it. She was not brave enough to ask Spencer’s opinion.
After their trip to Central Park, they had been to the Metropolitan Opera (Spencer’s suggestion), the Museum of Modern Art (also Spencer) and Coney Island (Ashley). For their six-month anniversary on the twenty-first, Ashley had treated them to lunch at Tavern on the Green. She’d wanted to arrange a Broadway show as well, but Spencer was still working back shift. She had been surprised and delighted when she returned home to find a note on her pillow stating ‘IOU a proper night out’.
The past weekend, Spencer had been babysitting her niece, Mia. The three of them had gone to FAO Schwartz, where Ashley had to be talked out of buying the whole store. She had been dancing on air all day because Spencer had introduced her to the child as her Aunt Ashley. Even better, the little girl had stayed overnight in Spencer’s room, while Spencer slept in Ashley’s bed.
It was the first time they had shared a bed since the night Spencer had crept in to Ashley’s room, but it seemed natural. There had been no awkwardness or even prevarication. As on the previous occasion, they ended up snuggling together without comment. Waking up in Spencer’s arms was one of the happiest moments of her life. There had, however, been no chance to enjoy it for long as Mia had come barrelling into the room, demanding attention from her aunts.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Philip Sachs, Spencer’s immigration lawyer, arriving. He introduced himself, then went to the front desk to confirm that he and his client were present. Meanwhile, Spencer returned from the restrooms.
“Phil seems nice,” she said.
“He is,” Spencer replied, then smiled at her fondly. “Still nervous?”
She turned at the sound of Phil calling to her. He had a pen in his hand and was beckoning her. “I’ll be right back.”
Ashley waited while Spencer and Phil finished up with the reception staff. She felt a little thrill that Spencer came to stand next to her, subtly leaning in towards her, rather than remaining with Phil. He excused himself to make a quick call and stepped a few feet away.
“All good?” Ashley asked.
Spencer nodded, as she reached around to rest her hand at the base of Ashley’s spine. “They’re sending someone down to meet us.”
“I bet you get Sorensen and I get Eaves.” Even as she grumbled, she felt her tension easing as the pressure of Spencer’s hand soothed her.
“I don’t think so. I think the guy said Agent Cho.”
“I bet I still get Eaves.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Spencer rolled her eyes. “I know. It’s not like the threat of deportation is hanging over my head.”
It was said without rancour, but Ashley still hung her head. She was so caught up in what losing Spencer would mean to her that she had forgotten about what it would mean for Spencer. She knew already that she would move to Canada in a heartbeat if Spencer wanted it. At least their marriage would be recognised there.
Spencer shook her head and rubbed Ashley’s back. “It’s fine. I’m the one who needs the citizenship, not you. I was in the same boat even before we got married.”
Even though Spencer was the one risking everything, she was still intent on comforting her. Ashley thought that had to mean something.
A young man at the reception desk called Spencer’s name. On the other side of the security gate, an Asian woman in a severe black suit was standing with a case file in her hands.
“I guess that’s my cue.” She stepped away from Ashley’s side and glanced over to her lawyer, who was finishing up his call.
“Yeah.” Ashley knew she should say something more. “Spence, I—” She stopped. The lobby of the INS building wasn’t exactly the best place to tell her wife that she loved her.
Spencer gave her a quizzical look, tilting her head. Phil was making a hurrying gesture behind her. She looked between him and Ashley. “I’d better go.”
“Good luck,” she finally said, chickening out.
“You, too,” her wife replied, starting to walk away.
Ashley shot her hand out, grabbing Spencer’s forearm. Startled, Spencer turned back to her, looking even more confused. Ashley pulled her wife into a hug, which Spencer immediately returned. They held onto each other for a few moments, Ashley’s arms tight around Spencer’s neck, and then Spencer pulled back. She cupped Ashley’s cheek, rubbing it with her thumb.
“I’ll see you soon.”
* * *
When it was her turn to be called, it was indeed Agent Eaves who met her and Bill and showed them to their interview room. It was nothing like the image she’d built up in her mind of a bare interrogation room. In fact, it was just a generic conference room: large oval table, comfortable leather chairs, coffee machine, vase with fake flowers, nondescript framed prints on the walls. It could hardly have been more benign. Having shown them to the room, Eaves left again with no explanation.
Sorensen joined them presently and fixed coffees, chatting amiably about the unseasonably warm weather that morning. Eaves, naturally, kept them waiting, eventually sauntering into the room in the sullen manner of one whose day had been inconvenienced. He did not bother with pleasantries. He opened his file and immediately counselled them that the interview was being recorded and had everyone state their name for the record.
He opened up with a series of factual questions. As advised by counsel, Ashley kept her answers short. She gave basic information about Spencer’s date of birth, family, friends, work history. She confirmed that she had never met her wife’s parents because they lived and worked abroad. She hadn’t met her brother-in-law, either. Neither he nor Spencer knew where he was, but he had sent a postcard from Guam in February. She flinched a little when asked about Spencer’s previous dating history, but she answered what she knew. She admitted that she didn’t know everything because she didn’t want to know about Spencer’s life before her.
Eaves had a tendency to sneer occasionally, a slight curling of the lip and a wrinkling of his nose. It did nothing to enhance his plain, doughy features. Sorensen stayed quiet, taking notes on a standard yellow legal pad, even though they were being taped.
She confirmed that they had met at the club in Los Angeles. Spencer was her sister’s best friend and the working partner of Kyla’s then-boyfriend. No, they hadn’t hit it off right away. Yes, they had broken up and got back together many times. No, she wouldn’t have said it was a particularly stable relationship. Yes, her proposal had been spur-of-the-moment. She added that she was an all-or-nothing kind of girl.
A series of detailed questions about their day-to-day lives followed. Eaves read them from a pre-printed sheet, implying that Spencer would be asked the same questions to see if their answers matched.
He asked about musical tastes; favourite foods; which side of the bed each preferred (she told him with a smirk that Spencer had to be furthest from the door, no matter what side that was, and she just wanted to be next to Spencer); brand names of perfumes and toiletries. He wanted to know about work schedules and things they did together. Ashley happily shared details of their movie nights and their recent trips together.
Eaves seemed to have nothing more than when he’d interviewed them at home. He moved onto finance: was there a pre-nup; what transfer of assets had occurred during the marriage; how their accounts were arranged; how their income was split; how their bills were paid; Ashley’s plans to assume her grandfather’s estate. Bill answered most of those, and Ashley relaxed a little.
And then Eaves returned to one of his favourite subjects: Spencer’s lease. Ashley patiently repeated everything she had told him before. Yes, she had known that Spencer had kept her apartment for several months. The lease had not been renewed, though. No, she hadn’t found it strange that her wife hadn’t asked for the money to terminate. Bill had already confirmed that Ashley supported their household but had no standing arrangement to give money to Spencer.
“Is it possible that your wife kept the apartment so that she could continue seeing other people on the side? Other women?” Eaves asked with a mean, thin smile.
“No, It is not!”
“Are you sure?”
“I am positive.” She tried to keep her contempt from her tone.
“And have you heard of,” he paused and looked down at his notebook, “Petra Adams?”
She knew that he hadn’t needed to check the name. He was just doing it for effect. “She works with my wife.”
“Is that all she does?”
She clasped her hands together and took a moment to calm herself. “I’m not sure what you’re insinuating.”
“I think you know full well, Miss Davies. What is Petra Adams to your wife aside from being a colleague? Are they mere acquaintances? Friends? Gym partners?”
At that moment, she despised him thoroughly for his fake innocence, his refusal to make a direct accusation. “They were seeing each other socially for a while.”
“By socially, you mean romantically?”
“Yes.” She clasped her hands so tightly that her knuckles showed white.
“I see.” He looked down at the notebook again. “And this was after you were married?”
William reached a hand out and placed it on her forearm, sensing her building anger. She shook her head at him. She had no intention of losing it with a miserable, spiteful little runt like Eaves.
“Yes and no.”
She wondered if Petra herself had been the one to tell him, or whether it had been someone else at the TV station, or even one of Spencer’s neighbours. It didn’t really matter, she supposed. There had always been a chance that the relationship might be raised.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific, Miss Davies. Has your wife been seeing Petra Adams during your marriage?”
“She started seeing her before we were married. We weren’t seeing each other at the time.”
“That wasn’t what I asked. Has your wife seen Mrs Adams since September 21, 2011?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“At her apartment? The one she kept behind your back?”
She shook her head, exasperated, and threw her hands in the air. “How many times do I have to tell you that I knew about the apartment?”
“But not about Mrs Adams?”
“No,” she replied sullenly.
“So, you would categorise your marriage as an open one?”
“No, I would not.” She was determined to be calm and factual, but it was getting harder to maintain her composure. He looked so superior. She wanted to punch him in the face.
“Yet your wife was seeing another woman after you were married?”
“Yes, she was.”
“And you were fine with this?”
“No, I was not.”
Eaves leaned back in his chair, letting his posture relax. It was the first time she had ever seen him looked pleased. She was willing to bet that he had been one of those kids who tortured bugs with a magnifying glass.
“That hardly sounds like a normal, loving marriage to me.”
Ashley scowled, biting her lip to prevent herself from swearing at him.
“I don’t think that marital fidelity is required as proof of a loving marriage,” Bill interjected.
“But you would agree, counsellor, that the lack thereof is often grounds for divorce? And so soon into the marriage, there is an obvious inference that the marriage itself is not normal.”
“I love my wife. I am in love with her,” Ashley said quietly. “I don’t want a divorce.”
Eaves pulled a list from his file. He passed it across the table and Ashley saw that they were names of some of her former lovers. “This would seem to imply that you have also been seeing other women throughout the time that you claim to have been in a relationship with your wife. I see no evidence here to support your assertions of love.”
She had a fair idea that the vengeful hand of Christine Davies was behind the list. She doubted that the INS had the time or resources for the sort of investigation required. She pushed the sheet of paper back towards him.
“Do you need me to confirm that I wasn’t a virgin on my wedding day?” She saw Sorensen swallow a grin. “I’ll gladly admit that. Do you want me to tell you that I have been both unfaithful and a terrible girlfriend in the past? That’s true enough. But I promise you that I have been faithful to my wife since the day we married.” Her voice was rising. “Do I wish that my wife had not continued to see Petra Adams? Yes, of course! You want the truth, the absolute truth?”
“That is surely the whole point of this interview.” Eaves’ confidence had been shaken, but he bluffed well.
“Then I’ll give you the truth.” She could sense Bill’s uneasiness next to her. “I didn’t marry my wife for the purest of reasons. My mother is correct in her accusations that I did it mostly to spite her. And my grandfather too, for that matter. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am in love with her. It doesn’t change the fact that, on our wedding day, I looked at her after we’d been pronounced married and I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. And when we kissed, I knew with an almost blinding clarity that she was the one for me.” With every statement, she slapped the table open-handed.
“And I will not sit here while you toss out snide insinuations about her. She is a better person than either of us. My marriage may not have got off to the best start, but I am in love with my wife,” she reiterated, “and I want my marriage to work — more than anything in the world. And, frankly, I don’t give a shit if you don’t believe me.” She slumped back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
There was a long pause before anyone said anything. Bill was the one to break the silence. “Shall we take a short break?” he suggested.
“No, it’s fine,” Ashley said. “I’d rather get this all over with now.”
Eaves looked back down at his assembled papers. His own voice was tight with anger. “Are you denying that you fraudulently married your wife in order to assume your grandfather’s estate?”
Bill answered, “My client doesn’t need to answer that. Marrying for money is not a crime and, in fact, forms the basis of countless thousands of quite happy marriages in this state. It is merely a happy coincidence that marrying the woman that she loves also fulfilled the requirements of her grandfather’s will.”
“And what of the quarter of a million dollars paid to Miss Carlin a mere three months before your wedding?” He was staring right at Ashley, his sneer more pronounced.
“A purely business decision,” Bill countered. Having been forewarned by Ashley that Eaves would pursue this, he had brought all of the paperwork dealing with the contribution to Spencer’s documentary, showing that it had been taken from an account from which both Ashley and Kyla accessed funds for business and charitable purposes. “And one of which my client’s wife was unaware until you informed her, I understand.”
As Eaves looked over the papers, Ashley smiled inwardly. She suddenly realised that Eaves was so desperate to impeach her with the evidence that Christine had provided that he had completely dropped the ball. He wasn’t pushing her at all on whether she and Spencer had lived together during the first months of their marriage, while Spencer had been seeing Petra. He had been blinded by their mutual animosity and could only see Ashley’s guilt.
Eaves was clearly exasperated. “Are you denying that your marriage is a sham?”
“I most certainly am.” He was making it too easy. The wedding might have been a sham at the time, but her marriage as it stood definitely was not. At least, not in her eyes.
“Have we not already covered this ground? I think my client’s declaration was quite emphatic,” Bill added.
Sorensen spoke for the first time in almost an hour. All he said was, “Robert,” in a warning tone.
“Are there any further questions?” Bill asked.
Sorensen shook his head, more at his partner’s behaviour than in answer to the question. “I think we’re done here.”
* * *
Ashley strutted into the lobby, her suit jacket over her shoulder, dangling from her finger. Bill walked alongside her. She spotted Spencer and Phil chatting in a relaxed manner and approached them.
“How’d it go with Cho?” she asked. She smiled at Spencer. She was a happy woman: she had a beautiful wife and she had crushed that weasel, Eaves. It was a good day.
“Like we expected,” Phil replied. He addressed Bill. “Should we compare notes?”
“That would be good. Do you have time now or shall we schedule it?”
“Now’s fine for me if it works for you.”
“Ladies,” Bill said, “if you’ll excuse us.”
“Spencer, I’ll speak to you later,” Phil said, shaking her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Ashley.”
“You, too,” she agreed, but her attention was all on Spencer. Having admitted to Eaves how she felt about Spencer, she felt like a new person. Saying it out loud had made it so real to her.
Spencer nodded her head towards the door. “Should we head out?”
“Yeah, I definitely need to get out of this place,” she agreed.
Her wife chuckled. “Eaves?”
“Yeah, Eaves.” She started walking. “Let’s go home and talk about it.”
* * * * *
Next up: Chapter 8 [X, NSFW]