Disclaimer: I do not own Goren or LO:CI. The rest is MINE MINE MINE! Timeline: 13 years later; February 2022
She sat in a meeting room at the lawyer's office and was sure she was going to be sick. There didn't seem to be a restroom connected to this room. She was contemplating whether or not she could just quietly barf into the planter in the corner behind her; she thought the better of it as she looked across the table at the young, extremely well-dressed African-American lawyer who'd introduced himself as Mr. Carver, and the much taller, older man who seemed to see straight into her thoughts, and whose name she'd missed.
The nerves were understandable - receiving a certified text message from an unknown lawyer had a way of making you utterly scattered. Discussion for the past week had revolved around what in the world this meeting could be about; Joss had been focused on the possibility of something being wrong with her newly-won scholarship, and her mom had been wondering if Joss had been in some sort of trouble she decided not to share with her. Adding to Joss's stress was the request for a face-to-face meeting. Who did that anymore?
Letting her mind wander, Joss thought about the violin competition she'd recently won. It was an unexpected victory, as Yin Lian was participating, and had always won in heads-up competition between the two. However, Lian had come down with stomach flu before this event, and as a result had to withdraw. Perhaps the Yin family was trying to force a rematch for the scholarship money....
Her mother's hand was tapping a 4/4 march of nervous energy on the table. "Joss, honey, please pay attention..." she gently chided. Joss shook her head and returned her focus to the room as the younger of the two men continued. "So we're satisfied that you are the Jocelyn Rose Stackhouse we've been looking for. I'm sure you're wondering why you've been invited here."
Joss clenched her hands together, looking at her mother with strained eyes. Her mother nodded to the men, as if to prod an answer out of her. Joss took a deep breath. "Yes. I'm wondering why I'm here."
The much older man, with curly hair shading from gray to white, withdrew an envelope from the folder in front of him and kept his eyes on Joss as he sat it on the table. "I am happy to inform you that you are the recipient of a private scholarship. This letter will explain everything." Joss watched in astonishment as his large, graceful hands moved the letter across the table toward her; letters were extremely rare, and she'd never received one that wasn't connected to school, a scholarship competition, or a birthday card from her grandma in New Mexico. Old people used letters. "We'll answer any questions we can after you've read it." Then the men left Joss and her mother alone to digest the letter.
Joss lifted the letter with shaking hands. Looking at her mother, she asked, "Do you have any idea..."
Her mother shook her head. She was as confused as Joss was. "The only way to find out..."
Joss nodded and opened the letter. The paper was heavy, and felt rough under her hands. With her mother at her shoulder, she began reading.
As the door to the meeting room closed, Martin Carver shook his head and stated in the sonorous tones he inherited from his father, "Neither one of them seemed to recognize you."
The older man turned to the son of his former D.A., replying, "I told you normal people don't look at the pictures on the back covers of books. Just cops and stalkers."
Martin huffed in humor. "Indeed you did. My mistake for not believing you." He glanced into the meeting room. "They're reading it." And after a few moments, he continued. "She seems like a very accomplished young lady."
"She's quite something, isn't she?" The man grinned as he ran a hand across the back of his neck and furtively looked in on the women reading his letter. "I told you she was special."
Martin sighed. "Yes, you did, Mr. Goren." After a long pause, he continued. "I'm still not sure that whatever good deed she did for you is worth receiving such a large scholarship."
"It was." Pausing to examine his own thoughts, Bobby smiled. Then he sobered. His voice measured and his face calm, Bobby resumed the discussion. "Look, Martin, as long as that money exists, I need to find ways to distribute it. I'd never be able to spend it myself. It's tainted for me." His brow furrowed as he watched Jocelyn turn the letter over and begin to re-read it. After a few moments, she sat back with a distressed look on her face.
"But Mr. Goren," Martin objected, "we could structure a more measured scholarship..."
Bobby's eyes met Jocelyn's and he raised his eyebrows in silent questioning. He nodded in response to the answer he saw in her eyes. He tossed an answer over his shoulder as he moved toward the door. "No, Martin. It's fine the way it is."
Joss sat back, stunned. She looked around, trying to find something to bring her back to reality. There was a heated conversation on the other side of the glass windows. Mr. Carver was anxiously trying to convince the much older man of some point, but the man stood firm. When she caught his eye, he lifted his eyebrows, then nodded and moved toward the door. She wondered what they were arguing about.
Joss furrowed her brow and looked at her mother. "Do you remember...?" The men re-entered the room and returned to their seats.
Her mother frowned back. "No, honey, I don't. You were quite the social butterfly at that age. You'd dance at the drop of a hat, talk to anyone about anything. But it must be you. You called everyone "People"; strangers, your Aunt Christie, the babysitter, everyone. "
Joss began biting the thumbnail of her bowing hand. "This just doesn't happen. People don't give strangers scholarships," she looked at the younger man across from her, "do they?"
He raised one shoulder. "In my experience, Miss Stackhouse, 'people,'" the young man gave a pointed look toward the older one, "do all sorts of unusual things."
"Who sent me this letter? Surely you know his name?" Joss queried.
"I do know his name. My client wishes to remain anonymous. I have been instructed to accept any communications you wish to convey." He paused a moment, drumming his fingers on the table to let this point sink in. He then continued. "Would you like to hear the details of the scholarship?"
"No!" Joss nearly yelped, while her mother just as quickly added, "Yes!" Her mother was the more practical of the two, and knew better than Joss how important a scholarship could be.
The younger man looked at the older one. He placidly began speaking, while the younger one reached for a pen to take notes. "This is a full-ride scholarship to the school of your choice. The scholarship is to be used to obtain a bachelor's degree in the subject of your choice, although your benefactor would prefer your degree relate to music. It is to include all tuition, room and board, and materials costs; they will be paid directly to the school you inform this office you will be attending. You will also receive a monthly stipend to handle incidental costs, such as transportation and entertainment."
Joss and her mother stared at the man in open-mouthed amazement. "You've got to be kidding," the violently-shaking Joss gulped at the older man. "This letter says I gave a guy who is now some famous writer a hug when I was four and now he wants to pay my way through college? It's insane!" Joss looked at her mother for support, but her mother's dazed look and ashen complexion indicated she'd be receiving no help from that direction. She turned back to the older man with a look of shock on her face. "I can't accept this; it's too much!"
"Of course you can." The older man's eyes twinkled as he smiled. It made his face look years younger. "Perhaps thinking of it as karma, the result of your previous good acts, would make the gift easier to accept? We'd hate to report that you've decided to decline the scholarship."
Joss's mother zipped to life. "She's not declining anything."
"Mommmm!" Joss jumped sideways in her seat, mentally marshaling her arguments into multiple configurations, reviewing them for effectiveness.
"No, Joss. I understand it feels uncomfortable." Her mother took a deep breath and turned to face her. "But you don't turn down something this big. You accept gracefully. So accept. Gracefully."
Tearing her gaze away from her mother's eyes, she faced the men across the table. "I accept." Joss flicked her eyes toward her mother, then added, "Gracefully."
Mr. Carver smiled the whitest smile Joss had ever seen. "Excellent. The letter you're holding is yours, and we'll be sending you additional paperwork describing the remaining details." The men stood, and Carver moved toward the door. "If you'll follow me, we'll verify your contact information, and..." Joss followed quickly, her mother a bit slower.
Bobby held the door open for older woman. As they exited the room, she turned to him. "You're Robert Goren, the writer, aren't you? Did you do this?"
Avoiding the question, he bent to her ear and replied, "You have a lovely daughter."
As she gasped in recognition, he turned and exited the office. He had given Joss the scholarship himself. Martin could handle the rest.
Until the end of her long and happy life, when things seemed too difficult, and she was unable to see her way through, Joss would re-read the most important letter of her life.
You will not remember me. We only met once, and you were quite young. It was a particularly horrible time in my life; I had lost nearly everyone important to me to death or madness. In fact, I felt headed for madness myself. I was most certainly depressed, and floating through my life, touching nothing and being touched by nothing.
Then I ran into you. Happy, friendly, dancing, caring, four-year-old you. You showed me some dance moves. You told your mother that red wool coats were like winter flowers, and that mittens were better because your fingers weren't lonely. And your capacity for empathy at such a young age surprised me. You immediately knew I was sad, and shared that you had lost your father recently, but that you weren't sad because you talked to him every night. I told you I was sad because I lost my mother. You climbed over a booth in a restaurant to give me a hug; your mother was horribly embarrassed by it, but honestly, it was the first hug I'd received in ages, and it was desperately needed and treasured. You told me I'd be okay. I believed you.
I began to heal, in time. It was years before I felt human again. There were a lot of contributing factors to my healing. But every time I could stand to think of it, I tracked the beginning of it to the hug you gave me.
The internet is a wonderful thing. Since your mother had chastised you with your entire name, I was able to look you up every year or so. That's how I discovered you were quite the violin virtuoso; I even attended a couple of your performances with the Children's Orchestra Society. Your Mozart solo was stunning - such depth for one so young! Your mother was bursting with pride that night; her face seemed lit from within. I'm glad you found something at which to excel.
One of the people who hurt me deeply was a man who felt that I was the son he never had. After he died, I discovered he was quite the investor as well. He left me a sizable inheritance. Even after handling his daughter's care, I was left with a significant amount of money I felt uncomfortable spending. It pleases me to be able to use money that I can't in all good conscious spend on myself to instead provide you some assistance toward furthering your education.
You may worry about the amount of money you're receiving. Please believe me when I tell you I have even more than that at my disposal. I'm am extremely well-known writer. I started writing as a way to deal with my own life. I wrote a true-crime novel that did fairly well, and fictional police procedurals that did exceptionally well. Pretty soon my famous name interfered with my ability to do my job. I decided to retire from the force and write full time. I thought I would regret it, but I've discovered recently that I'm more than my job, more than I thought I could be. It's a wonderful realization.
I'm not going to sign my name. I don't want you to feel beholden to me. If you'd like, in the future you can write me and send the letter to this firm and they will forward it to me. But most of all, dear Joss, live a wonderful and happy life. That's the best advice I can give to you. And it's the best gift you could give me.
You'll be okay, Little People.