“What’s her relationship with the victim?” Allison asked, going through the police report. Sitting on the chair in Christopher’s office, she leaned forward slightly, waiting for his reply; he was briefing her on the new case he dumped on her lap.
“Half-sister,” Christopher explained. “The victim was 8 when her parents divorced, the mother remarried and had another child.”
“Our defendant…” She concluded, as Christopher nodded in agreement. Leaning back, she let out a heavy sigh. “I hate family crimes,” she confessed. “A family should be a safe place, a haven, a shelter… not a nest of vipers ready to gun you down,” she said, frustrated. At the same time, she lost count of how many times the thought of doing that to Ruth, her ex-mother-in-law, had crossed her mind. She had to push away the image of the old witch being bitten by a viper.
“What are you thinking?” Christopher asked, a curious and amused look on his face.
She swallowed her devilish smile. “Believe me, you don’t wanna know,” she said, holding back a laugh.
Christopher smiled back, one of his boyish smirks that women found so attractive. “So, are you on it?” He asked for a confirmation that she would take the case.
“Yes,” she smiled, taking the folder from his hands, giving a quick look at the cover before reverting her attention back at Christopher. With all that happened over the last two years, the only thing that remained unchanged was their friendship, a complicated one maybe, but one of the few certainties in her troubled life.
“So, how does it feel?” Christopher asked, obviously referring to her new condition as a single woman. The papers were finally signed one month before and she was still trying to get used to being called Allison Mayfield again, after so many years as Mrs. Murphy. It still sounded weird and unfamiliar, almost as if it belonged to someone else.
“Good… I think,” she replied hesitatingly. Because if she had to be honest, the moment she signed the papers she felt both relieved and overwhelmed at the same time. On one hand it was long overdue and just a mere formality, on the other hand she became more aware of her loneliness weighing down on her. Only recently she had found herself getting used to being alone, especially at night, when turning over an empty half of the bed had been excruciating in the beginning. “What about you? How are you lately?” She asked, giving her attention back at Christopher.
“Good,” he said with a slight nod. “Anything new?”
Besides the divorce? She wondered.
“Nope,” she simply replied. “How’s Liz doing?” She asked, trying to switch topics. Although Christopher was reluctant to talk about it Allison knew he’d been dating that associate from Cullen & Brightman for a few months now. Liz looked a good ten years younger, but Allison knew very well that he always had a thing for young brunettes.
Christopher gave her a soft smile. “She’s fine… tired… overworked,” he said softly.
Allison couldn’t still say if it was love or if he had just settled in. But he seemed genuinely happy and relaxed or whatever it was, she wished she could only experience some of his happiness. “Okay,” she said, lowering her gaze. Looking back up at him, she saw his concerned look.
“Is there something… you might want to talk about?” He asked, slowly, with that sweet voice that Allison knew he reserved to her and to nobody else.
Was there? A lot of things were still crowding her mind. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to share them. “No,” she simply answered with a shy smile, “but thanks for offering,” she quickly added. Or maybe there was something indeed. She was just uncertain if he was the right person to ask about this, if she could even allow herself to do that. “I just wish… I just wish there was a way to know beforehand if the one we’re in love with is the right one indeed… or if he’s just miserably bound to break our hearts into tiny pieces,” she asked, more to herself.
Christopher’s eyes didn’t hide a hint of sadness or regret and the bittersweet smile he gave her, whenever feelings were the item on the agenda, spoke more than any word ever could.
Of course he was the just right person. She regretted asking. “I… I’m sorry, Chris.” She smiled softly. “Maybe you are not the most suitable person to talk about these matters,” she apologized.
Christopher leaned forward on his desk, reducing the distance between them with a disarming attitude. “Who is he?” He asked out of nowhere.
Okay, she wasn’t really expecting this. Not from Christopher at least. And honestly, she wanted to believe that the last two months served the purpose of forgetting. What was she supposed to say? Fake ignorance or simply admit that she obviously failed? She let out a small sigh, collecting some courage. “Todd O’Bryan,” she admitted in a whisper, looking down, unable to meet his gaze. Two months since she last saw him. Two months since the Wayne case. She found it extremely depressing that her days were marked by cases. When she finally found the inner strength to look up, she met his amused look. What was funny in that? She gave him a questioning look.
“Oh,” he said. He hesitated, probably trying to formulate a decent answer. “Okay… well… let’s just say that… working at Patrick’s employ doesn’t make him the ideal candidate,” he said, failing to hold back a laugh.
Allison gave him a disappointed and reproachful look. He was unashamedly making fun of her. She watched with faked indignity as he tried to regain some composure. She had to admit that fate was obviously trifling with her.
“This insignificant detail aside,” he said with a look of carelessness, “what does your heart say?”
What did her heart say? She crossed her arms over her chest pulling the file as close as she could. She had spent the last two months trying to ignore it, hushing its every small attempt at letting itself be heard, pretending it was some unwelcome voice of conscience that just needed being unheeded and contradicted out of mere spite. Every time it managed to let some feeling leak out, she just became more confused.
“I don’t know, it’s not very talkative these days,” she said wretched.
Christopher smiled bitterly and lowered his gaze to the floor.
Allison waited patiently for him to say something, although she couldn’t say what. Some advice, some comforting word, maybe. Her gaze was fixed on Christopher in expectation.
When he looked up, she saw a hint of irony in his smile. “Welcome to the ‘I’m-struggling-for-love’ exclusive club,” he said with a deep sigh, before looking away and back at the papers on his desk.
Not what she expected. But it was Christopher, and he was being honest as always.
She gave a last glance at the file in her hands then left, throwing herself headlong into work, so she didn’t have to think about anything else. It lasted one month. One month in which she did nothing but work late hours so she could keep her mind busy. But much to her disappointment, after all the time and effort she had spent on it, her client was reassigned to another associate.
“I’ll take the first witness,” Susan whispered to Allison, “this should confuse them.”
“Okay,” Allison agreed, nodding.
Susan Moore was the only female name partner. A ginger, elegant woman in her fifties, married with a former hockey champion, two kids and a past as a prosecutor, she had been an excellent mentor.
Standing outside the courtroom, the two women were discussing the last details of their defense strategy under the attentive and clearly tense stare of their client, before facing the prosecution in front of the jury. The corridor had a life of its own, which Allison had grown accustomed to. Attorneys and clients huddled in tense little groups with quick glances guarding their privacy coupled with the murmur of blended voices made Allison feel at home, her home away from home, court. She took this all in, almost without a conscious thought then looked back to Susan.
“And thanks for being my second chair by the way,” Susan said.
Allison smiled, and as Susan made her way through the double doors, Allison stepped slightly aside to let their client enter first. She watched as he strode in, his head held high. She remembered her first days at the firm and Christopher’s speech about not being able to recognize when people were guilty or innocent. Either the man in front of her was innocent, or he was confident that his connections would make him come out clean. Situations like these made her always question herself and if she was on the right side of justice.
The man they were about to defend was one of the most important clients that Moore, Collins and Hayes could ever recall. The son of the Columbian consul in Boston was accused of helping illegal immigration and they had to win this case no matter what.
As she took a few steps in Allison recognized a familiar figure, his back turned towards her. She had a head start for once. Todd. She took the remaining steps with her gaze straight in front of her, in the hope to avoid meeting his gaze. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him looking in her direction and failed at her attempt, looking back. She was expecting to get some sadness or regret in the way he looked at her. Instead she met a gentle and subtle smile, which she returned. All her previous confidence was already gone.
“Hey,” Todd said softly.
“Hey,” Allison replied with some hesitation.
She stood there, unsure if she had to go and take her seat or just wait for him to say something else. The only certain thing was that their silence was more than a little awkward.
“So, you’re the second chair?” He asked, finally breaking the screaming silence.
“Yes,” she nodded slightly.
“Okay… good luck, then,” he whispered.
“And good luck to you,” she said smiling.
As she sat at the defense table, she caught a concerned and questioning look from Susan.
“Is everything alright?” Susan asked quietly.
Was everything alright? Yes, until a couple of minutes before.
“Yes, it’s just… Patrick played his best card,” she answered, trying to keep her gaze straight.
“Make him regret it,” Susan whispered, impassive.
Allison felt a hint of envy. She wished she could count on even a small part of the confidence Susan showed on every occasion. Trapped in a situation she didn’t like, Allison gave a conflicted look at Todd. She caught him looking at her then he immediately switched his attention towards the judge as the man called the court into session giving the floor to the prosecution and their first witness.
Todd stood up and with a confident tone he spoke, “We would like to call to the stand Mr. André Ramirez, Your Honor.”
Allison stared at the jury trying to read their faces. They had worked hard to get Latin Americans on the jury, knowing by experience the importance played by the race factor. Still, as much effort the defense could put into trying and convince those few citizens of their client’s innocence, they were well aware that these people reached the jury table with a prebuilt image of the defendant in their minds and it was sometimes hard to change it.
Allison watched as Todd followed the witness to the stand, stopping short to give the jury a nod before turning back to the witness.
“Mr. Ramirez, do you know the defendant?” Todd said, looking back at the man sitting between Allison and Susan with a cold stare. Allison caught him lingering on her for a brief moment and felt herself tensing up nervously.
“Yes, I do,” the witness said, his voice slightly quivering with anxiety. Allison had to admit that Todd was really good at his job.
“Can you state his name for the jury?” He went on, shifting his gaze between the witness and the jury, throwing a quick look at Allison. Is he trying to impress me?
The examination had barely started and the man was already in a cold sweat. Todd’s eyes were piercing and intimidating. Under Todd’s gaze, the poor man would be inclined to confess everything.
“Pablo Juarez,” the witness said, his look shifting nervously between the jury and the prosecutor standing in front of him, “the son of the Columbian consul in Boston.”
“How do you know him?” Todd went on with his questions.
Allison studied him, unnoticed and interested. His walk was upright and intimidating. She couldn’t say he was powerfully built or particularly tall, still his assertiveness made him overshadow everyone around him.
“He helped me to obtain the entry visa for the United States,” Mr. Ramirez replied, his voice barely audible. Allison didn’t envy the man at all. She remembered her conversations with Todd and how they made her cringe with discomfort.
Allison observed as Todd walked confidently, back and forth, between the witness and the jury, pursuing his questioning with decided tone and couldn’t help but notice how he kept throwing glances at her with faked indifference. She forced herself not to smile. She forced herself not to look at him as, a few questions later, he said to the judge “No further questions, Your Honor,” and walked back to his seat.
As Susan stood up for the cross-examination, Allison threw a glance at the prosecution table. Todd, probably feeling her gaze, looked back and gave her a smile, she couldn’t say if it was sincere or mocking. What she knew was that she needed to concentrate to avoid any further weird looks from Susan. And so she did.
“The court is adjourned. We’ll meet back in three days,” the judge declared, closing the session. Unlike both side’s expectations, the first day of the trial had gone by with modest order.
As she followed Susan outside, Allison heard her name being called and stopped. She already knew who it was and let out a small, imperceptible sigh before turning around to see Todd approaching. She couldn’t help but notice that his steps were nowhere close to the confident ones he had just showed in the courtroom. He moved forward with some hesitation.
“Hey,” he said softly.
“Hey,” Allison replied in the same soft tone, stealing a nervous glance at Susan, uncertain of what to do. Allison knew this conversation wasn’t bound to be short and would need privacy. “I’ll meet you back at the office, Susan,” she said, choosing to ignore the questioning look of her boss. Susan just nodded and turned to leave. She’d deal with that later.
Turning her attention back at the man standing in front of her, she didn’t say anything. To be honest, she had no idea what to say at all. It had been a few months since their last meeting and she still had it completely fresh in her mind; their conversation – actually her conversation, since from what she could remember, she didn’t give him much chance to talk.
“So…” Todd started with some hesitance, “how are you doing, Miss Mayfield?” He said with a smile.
Some things didn’t change over the last few months; like the way he looked at her and the way she felt under his gaze.
“I’m… fine,” she said, trying to sound calm. “You?”
“I’m fine, too,” he said. He looked around for a moment and Allison found herself doing the same.
What was she looking for exactly? Maybe unconsciously making sure that Patrick wasn’t around? She didn’t really know herself, so she looked back at Todd the moment she heard him catching his breath to talk.
“I was… I was wondering if you’d like to join me for a drink,” he said, not hiding some anxiety.
A drink. She knew by experience that drinks can be very tricky and all but innocent. Actually, last time a man offered her a drink, she found herself in the king-sized bed of his mansard penthouse a little more than one hour later. She shrugged. No, she couldn’t do that.
With apologies in her eyes, she didn’t need to say anything else; the way Todd was looking at her, it was clear he already got his answer. Still, she was sure he wasn’t going to give up like that.
“If you worry about the side effects of alcohol, we can go for a more innocent cup of coffee,” he said as if reading her mind. “Only a cup of coffee, nothing more…” There was a hint of a plea in his voice that fixed his magnetic gaze on her and just took her steadiness away.
She looked down for a moment, gathering… she didn’t know exactly what she needed. Strength? Courage? Confidence? Maybe all of these together. “Okay,” she finally said in a whisper, “a cup of coffee, nothing more,” she repeated to him, but mostly to herself.
“Okay,” Todd said with a smile, as they headed outside the building, side by side, but still keeping a comfortable distance between them. The traffic covered their silence, as they stopped for a coffee at a small cafeteria on Canal Street on their way to Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Allison kept turning the coffee cup in her hands. A bit because it was damn freezing, but mostly because she had to work off the slight discomfort in some way. Better through her hands than through her eyes, she thought.
“So,” Todd started, as they walked slowly toward the park. “How are things going?”
“Good,” Allison said with a slight smile. Were things good? Well, overall she couldn’t complain. “They are good,” she repeated, more to herself, as she took a long sip of coffee in the vain attempt to warm herself. She heard in the distance the familiar gurgling of the fountains and looked up to see that they had reached their destination.
“Have you gotten used to your new… old name yet?” Todd asked, getting a light laugh out of her, as he peeped around, probably looking for a bench.
She had to admit, that he was as good at unnerving her as he was at putting her at ease. Allison Mayfield. She had to repeat the name in her mind to catch the effect that hearing its sound had on her. “Let’s say that,” she started thoughtfully, “at least I’ve started to turn around when I hear it, instead of looking behind me to see if there’s any Miss Mayfield,” she concluded with a satisfied look. She followed his gaze and spotted a free bench beyond the sprinkling fountains.
“Wow,” Todd replied with faked wonder, “that’s noteworthy progress,” he joked.
Allison gave him an amused smile. “It is indeed,” she nodded. “And what about you?” She asked softly, shifting the attention to him.
Todd looked thoughtful for a moment. He was always so confident and never short of words that if she managed to get him hesitating, even for a brief second, she couldn’t help but feel a hint of pride, despite how childish she knew that was. A light, cold squirt of water reached her face. She instinctively stepped aside and lightly bumped Todd’s arm. She distanced herself a bit embarrassed, apologizing with her eyes. But Todd didn’t seem bothered at all by the sudden and unexpected contact.
“The same old things,” he said with indifference, as they sat on the bench. Surrounded by the bare trees, the wind felt less icy and more endurable. “You know, I don’t have time for a life outside the office, my boss keeps enslaving me with inhuman working hours and an unbearable pace,” he concluded with a serious look.
Allison sat there, looking at him for a moment between worried and amused. She wasn’t sure if he was being serious or just kidding, before catching a glimpse of fun in his eyes that made her go for the second and burst out in loud laughter.
She should feel annoyed by his joking about the boss. Yet, she couldn’t help but find his self-irony funny and intriguing. It was something she wasn’t used to. She was used to people looking at her now ex-husband as a source of contacts and business. She was pretty sure that Patrick wouldn’t find it amusing at all that his newest attorney (and, to be honest, one of the best) was sitting on the bench of a public park exchanging sheep’s eyes with his fresh-ex-wife. The thought made her stiffen in her seat, reminding her that some things didn’t change. Even divorced, she found herself in an unpleasant situation. How would Patrick react to this? After all he was Todd’s boss. He had the power to fire him whenever he wanted, if he wanted. Looking up at Todd, she caught his questioning look.
“Things… things didn’t change, Todd,” she said in a faint voice.
No, she wasn’t ready to put his career at risk. Not even if he was the one ready to take the risk in the first place.
“What didn’t change?” He asked, his smile gone, probably sensing where this was leading.
“The… complications,” she said looking down. She didn’t have to give more explanations. They both knew them well. “Not to mention,” she went on, “we are opposite counsels in a trial, anything more than a coffee would be…” How could she define it? “It would be ethically wrong,” she concluded, looking away.
“I know.” Todd simply nodded, very calmly, without flinching.
If he knew it… “Then, what are we doing here?” She said putting her thoughts into a licit question.
Todd looked away for a moment, probably searching for the reason, before directing his gaze back on her. “Sipping a coffee,” he said quietly, “enjoying each other’s company for a few minutes, far from work, negotiations, witnesses and judges,” he went on, his voice low but not showing any hesitation. “Far from all those people who expect us to be tense and wage war against each other,” he added. “Because… we are not, are we?” This time his voice showed a slight concern.
Well, she couldn’t blame him. Their last conversation wasn’t exactly a friendly and relaxed one. Certainly they weren’t waging war against each other, but as to not being tense, she wasn’t completely sure. Whenever they were together, the tension – at least from her side, was palpable. “We are not,” she said with a soft smile. It was better that way. “I should go now,” she said after checking the clock, “my boss is waiting for me,” she apologized, “and probably… your boss is waiting for you, too,” she concluded, giving him a knowing look.
“May it never be that I disappoint my boss,” he joked with a smile, getting a soft smile out of her.
They both had to go. It was a matter of fact. Still, neither of them moved a single finger or showed any intention to stand up and leave. Allison found herself looking at him, her gaze unconsciously shifting from his eyes to his mouth. She had no idea whether Todd noticed her gaze or just decided in a moment of weakness that it – she – was worth a try. All she knew was that in the next moment he was leaning close to her, his dark eyes fixed on her mouth. Bad idea. He was so close that she could feel his breath, with the strong aroma of coffee. It’s wrong. She instinctively backed down.
“Bad idea,” she whispered looking away.
“Bad idea,” he repeated, but the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes didn’t match his words.
They were both well aware that this was exactly the kind of complication they were supposed to avoid. Still, those lips were too magnetic and Allison found herself leaning forward again, searching for his mouth, meeting his lips in an attempted, shy kiss. Their lips were barely brushing against each other and she had to remind herself to breathe. She had spent months trying to forget him, trying not to think about him, pretending he was just a trick played by the feeling of loneliness that had been keeping her company over the last months. For what? Was this the result of her obviously wasted efforts? All these rambling thoughts crowded her mind, making it spin, as their kiss became deeper, making her forget for a moment that they were sitting in an open and public place. She loved the feeling of his mouth and of his tongue. His lips were soft and warm, he tasted like coffee and something she couldn’t define for sure. Mint maybe?
The moment she broke the kiss in need of air, she realized that they had just crossed the line they were never supposed to cross. She looked in his eyes, catching the same sudden sense of guilt for not being strong enough to resist something like a simple kiss. It was just a kiss. She kissed her daughter every day, she had kissed Patrick for so many years that she had lost count. It was supposed to be just a kiss. But it was in fact a huge complication.