Hannah was relieved when she saw that all the chairs in the waiting room were empty. There were Monday mornings when there were three or four women waiting to file for restraining orders after a violent weekend at home. For the next hour, she lay low. When she got up to use the restroom located down the long hallway, she passed through the waiting room, expecting it to be empty as before.
The woman was sitting in the corner, so still, that Hannah almost didn’t see her. Her head was resting against the wall, her bronze curls stark against the white paint, her skin so pale that she almost blended in. Her eyes closed, she might have been meditating. Hannah’s initial reaction was to retreat into her office and let the young woman rest. Perhaps she was an apparition, and would not be there when Hannah next checked. But they were often pressed for time; if Hannah needed to file a petition with the court on behalf of this woman, she should get started with the interview. She cleared her throat.
The woman opened her eyes slowly, an effort, revealing a translucent blue rimmed in red. After she registered Hannah, she immediately lowered her eyes to the floor. She looked fragile, and Hannah wondered why she was there without a friend or relative for support.
“Can I help you, Miss?” Hannah ventured, taking a very small step toward her. She felt the same sensation she had when she saw a deer near the pond in the early morning; if she approached slowly, she might get a closer look – too abrupt a movement, and the deer disappeared into the fog. The woman was dressed neatly in jeans, a sweater, and boots – appropriate for the weather, but something was off. The clothes looked slept in, or slightly unclean. When she didn’t answer, Hannah continued, “I’m Hannah Robbins. I’m one of the attorneys here. Would you like to come in and speak with me for a few minutes?” The woman followed her out of the waiting room and into her office.
“What brings you here today?” Hannah asked when the woman was seated. The woman exuded a melancholy that was palpable. Many of the women who came to the clinic were tense, anxious, angry. Certainly there were some who were also very sad – upset that their relationships had hit rock bottom. But this was different.
“Why don’t we start with the intake form. What’s your name?” She held her breath, wondering whether the woman would answer or not. When she spoke, it was almost inaudible.
“Katheryn. Most everyone calls me Kat.”
“Kat, what’s your last name?” She looked up, as though she hadn’t contemplated that anyone would need to know her identity.
“Fortunato,” she said. Lucky, Hannah thought. I hope so.
“And what’s your address, Kat?”
“32 Brook Street, in Country Gables,” she said. Hannah forced her face into a mask so as not to betray that this sad young woman lived just around the corner from her. In the three years she had worked in the clinic, Hannah had never had such a close encounter. “Okay,” Hannah said. “And what is the name of the abuser?”
Kat flinched, the word a verbal slap in the face.
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