Allison rushed into the DA’s building. Chloe had kept her on the phone for a good ten minutes discussing new evidence and she ended up being late for the court session. Susan would be disappointed. No, she’d probably be downright angry, since what Allison had in her hands was the folder with the complete list of witnesses and the draft for the questionings. Running until the last few steps remained to the courtroom, she stopped right outside the closed doors. She regained some composure, smoothed down a crease from her blue skirt and roughly fixed her hair with her fingers, while she caught her breath.
Finally, she opened the door. The reproachful and displeased look she caught on Susan’s face made her flush lightly in embarrassment. With short hurried steps, she quickly took her seat next to her boss, careful to avoid throwing even a fleeting sidelong glance at the prosecution table.
Allison and Todd had discussed what had happened between them. A lot. But in whatever way they turned it around, it didn’t change the fact that it was simply wrong. The courtroom was their workplace and they needed to keep a professional distance.
“I’m sorry, Susan. I was on the phone with Chloe, there’s new evidence we need to discuss,” she whispered.
“Good or bad?” Susan simply asked, her tone giving away a remnant of annoyance.
“Hopefully good,” Allison replied, her gaze fixed on the judge. Don’t look to your right. “We should call Mr. Ramirez to the stand again,” she whispered, being careful not to let the prosecution hear her.
Susan gave a questioning and perplexed look. “We already questioned him and it led to nowhere,” she whispered back.
“Yes.” Allison nodded. “But we didn’t know that the immigration stamp was forged,” she explained with a smug smile.
Susan sat there for a moment, lost in thought, probably processing her words. “You take over his questioning,” she concluded, getting a broad and proud smile out of Allison.
Well, technically it was Chloe who got the piece of information. Note-to-self: offer her a drink later.
“Mrs. Moore,” the judge opened the session giving the nod to the defense, “you are invited to call your first witness to the stand,” he concluded.
“You go,” Susan whispered and Allison promptly stood up.
“We would like to call Mr. André Ramirez back to the stand for a new line of questioning, Your Honor,” Allison said with a decided voice as she moved closer to the witness stand, reminding herself again that she shouldn’t glance toward the prosecution table. Hard thing to do, she had to admit, since she could feel Todd’s gaze fixed on her, following her every step, and this wasn’t certainly helping at all. Still, she failed again as she threw a sideways glance at him, catching his look of worry and discomfort. He clearly wasn’t expecting this twist. She felt slightly bad for him, this was certainly not good for the prosecution. But her first interest was to her firm and the client, and she knew very well that they couldn’t afford to lose this case, neither economically or for their image.
The bailiff reminded the witness that he was still under oath. After he was seated in the witness stand and the jurors turned their attention to Allison, waiting for her to start the questioning.
“Mr. André Ramirez,” she started, “you said in your previous testimony that the defendant, Mr. Pablo Juarez,” she indicated the man sitting next to Susan, “helped you to obtain the entry visa for the United States. Is that correct?” she asked him.
“Yes,” the man replied in a faint voice. It was time to prove that she was excellent when it came to intimidating witnesses.
“Can you state for the jury in which way he helped you?” She went on with her questioning, walking slowly and confidently in front of the judge.
“Objection, Your Honor!” Todd’s voice emerged strong from the prosecution table.
Allison couldn’t help but throw him a questioning look. “On which basis, Mr. O’Bryan?” she asked him with a hinted smirk.
“Mr. Ramirez has already been asked these questions and they led to nowhere, Miss Mayfield,” he said confidently. A little too confident for her taste.
“Sustained,” the judge declared in favor of the prosecution.
Todd paid her with the same hinted smirk, which she chose to ignore for her own nerves. It was distracting, and he was probably well aware of it too.
“Mr. Ramirez,” she started again, as she very calmly walked to the defense table, taking a document from the folder in front of Susan, “do you recognize this document?” she asked, as she politely handed the paper to the witness. Out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t help but notice Todd stiffening in his seat.
“Yes, it’s a copy of my entry visa,” he confirmed nervously.
“Can you read that number right beside the word approved?” she went on with her questioning.
“734,” Mr. Ramirez replied in a faint voice. And for good reasons, Allison thought.
“Can you repeat it, just a little louder,” she asked, miming the little with a gesture of her fingers, “because the jury and the prosecution might have not heard it.” She glanced at Todd, who was serious now.
Mr. Ramirez cleared his throat. “734,” he repeated, this time louder.
“Do you know what that number is?” Allison asked, more confident at every question.
“No,” Mr. Ramirez replied.
“Well, it’s a registration number, Mr. Ramirez. A progressive registration number, to be more specific, made of three figures. It’s odd, because we have checked personally with the immigration office and it should be four figures, unless you came in the States in the fifties, sixties maybe? Which I’d tend to exclude since you were not even born back then,” she explained, looking straight in his eyes. “Now, I am a little confused… Why should the son of the Columbian consul, who has wide access to legal immigration forms, give you a forged visa?” she asked, faking confusion for dramatic effect, because the answer was right there in front of her, sitting in the witness stand in a cold sweat.
“I…,” Mr. Ramirez hesitated, “I don’t know,” he shrugged.
Allison knew very well that she couldn’t give the answer herself without getting an objection, which would very likely be sustained. But this was certainly enough for the jury to doubt his words. “No further questions, Your Honor,” she concluded.
Heading back to her seat, she looked at Todd. No quick sidelong glances this time, she stared right into his eyes as he took the bunch of papers in front of him and threw them in frustration. This was the reason why they were supposed to keep the distance, one of them at least, since the list was endless.
Susan gave her a pleased smile. “Good job, Allison,” she said, gathering the few papers scattered in front of her.
Allison replied with a smile of satisfaction.
“Does the prosecution have further questions for the witness?” the judge asked.
“No further questions, Your Honor,” Todd replied, glancing at Allison.
All they had to do now was wait for the judge to set the date for the next session, give the jury their instructions and wait for their verdict.
In a moment of quiet, she caught her phone vibrating on the table. She checked the caller and had to force herself not to blush.
“Great job Miss Mayfield, drink later?” the text said.
“I thought drinks were off-limits Mr. O’Bryan,” she wrote in reply, as she failed to hide a smile.
“Dinner? No refusals accepted. Wins require celebrations,” he insisted with a new message.
Allison was finding it really hard not to laugh, and having her boss sitting right next her was making it awkward and slightly uncomfortable. “We didn’t win yet.”
“I thought I said no refusals accepted Miss Mayfield.”
This time she failed to suffocate a light laugh, getting a weird look from Susan. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed, slightly embarrassed. Damn. There was no way out with that man.
“You are damned persistent. Okay for dinner.” She finally gave up. Not that she had any other option.
The moment she sent the message, she immediately regretted it. She started to search frantically and in vain for some ‘undo’ button. Dinner… it was long, demanding and dangerously close to the night… Maybe she had better accept the drink. Or not? Suddenly she felt panicky. How did they go from coffee to dinner after all they said about it being wrong? The way Todd managed so easily to trick her into doing things she apparently didn’t want was at the same time fearsome and intriguing.
“The court is adjourned. We’ll meet back here in five days for closing arguments, jury instructions, then turn the case over for the jury’s deliberations,” the judge declared, closing the session.
As she stood up to leave the courtroom, Allison turned to look at Todd who was staring at her intently. She gave him a soft smile before looking down, shy.
That same night, sunk in the comfortable couch of her apartment with her feet resting on the small coffee table, Allison sipped a glass of full-bodied red wine, slowly savoring every drop. It was warming, relaxing and gave her comfort.
It was a late Friday night and Hope’s absence was palpable through the surreal silence surrounding her, which let her thoughts run wild, boundless, uncontrolled. It had been a positive day but she felt the weight of the emotional stress. The anxiety derived from the questioning added to the restlessness that flooded over her at the sense of discomfort she felt in seeing Todd so angry at the end of their last court session. All these feelings were resurfacing in the quietness of the night. And the more she let herself linger in the thought, the more she thought dinner was a very bad idea.
The coffee, the kiss… The kiss… She couldn’t get that little and almost innocent kiss out of her head. She unconsciously licked her lips. The dinner… She shook her head and shuddered. The dinner! Panic started to prevail at that thought. In five days they’d go before the jury for the closing arguments and, acting like two witless kids, they thoughtlessly decided to have dinner together. Tomorrow. Way to be coherent with your own decisions, she considered.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing. The clock showed 10pm. There was only one person who would show up that late in the evening. She forced herself to stand up, annoyed by the unpleasant interruption of her little moment of quiet, as the doorbell rang for the second time. “I’m coming,” she said loudly with a strained voice.
As she lazily opened the door, she met two depressed puppy-dog eyes filled with guilt.
Allison looked at her brother with the resigned look of someone who’d been through that enough times to know he had just messed up his love life again.
“What have you done this time?” she asked as she stepped aside to let Mark in.
“Hi Mousie, I’m happy to see you, too,” he replied with a faked sarcastic tone, making his way into her living room and sinking into her couch. Mark was six years older than Allison but she often had a hard time treating him like that. She had lost time of the girlfriends she had to meet, like and then forget.
“Make yourself at home,” she joked, as she sat beside him and gave him a reassuring and slightly motherly smile. “So… what have you done?” she asked again, this time softly.
“It’s over,” he just said defeated.
“Joss?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. Mark didn’t say anything, he just nodded.
Allison gave him a confused look. “Wasn’t it already over a couple of months ago?”
“It wasn’t,” he contradicted her, giving her an annoyed look. “Okay, it was…” he corrected himself, taking the bottle of red wine from the coffee table. “But now it’s over for good,” he declared, shifting his gaze from the bottle to Allison, to the bottle again. “Excellent wine,” he changed subjects, “I need a glass of good wine to drown my sorrows,” he said faking a winy voice.
Allison couldn’t hold back a laugh. Her brother should have acted in some soap opera instead of designing luxury buildings.
Pouring him a glass of wine, she insisted on a little more, hoping that alcohol would make him open up, even if she was pretty sure she’d end up regretting it in a few minutes’ time. “What happened, Mark?”
“Do you think I’m unable to make a… permanent commitment?” he asked doubtfully.
“Joss said that?” she asked softly. Mark sighed and nodded.
Allison took a moment to choose the best answer, one that wouldn’t hurt him. “I guess, it depends… Which kind of responsibilities are we talking about? Something like a full commitment or who has to do the laundry?” she asked trying to get a picture of the situation. “And most of all… how important is Joss for you to take over such responsibilities?”
She was realizing only now how this was fitting for her own situation, too. She was about to do something that would involve taking on huge responsibilities, if accidentally disclosed. Her mind went to the dinner again. Her conscience kept telling her to just call Todd and give it up, but something deep inside was screaming at her to hush the conscience and just listen to her heart. Yes, she wanted it, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t anxious.
“Are you still with me?” Mark asked her with a concerned look.
Snapped back to reality, she smiled in the attempt to dissipate every concern from his side. She didn’t want questions asked, she didn’t want Mark to ask questions. She wasn’t really ready to cope with his jokes or whatever he – or anyone else for what it was worth – had to say about it.
“Wait wait wait…” Mark said, straightening up on the couch in full attention mode. “I know that look,” he commented in a flourish of enthusiasm, apparently forgetting his own love pains. “Fire away!” He said with a knowing smirk.
“There’s nothing to… fire away,” Allison said, holding tight to a pillow and hiding behind a long sip of wine. No, she couldn’t do it.
“So… Mr. Nice Guy struck again?” he teased her.
“Mr.…? What?” Allison gave him a confused and unbelieving look. Did he really think… “It’s not… he’s not Chris,” she confessed with a faint voice. And she immediately regretted it. Maybe it was better and safer if after all Mark thought it was still about Chris. But the look of disbelief in his eyes made it clear that it was too late for a retreat.
With wide eyes and an evil grin, Mark was already on a tangent. “Mousie! What are you up to?”
Allison slightly stiffened, nervous. No, she definitely wasn’t ready for such a confession. But he was her brother, the only person she could open up to and fully trust to never betray her secrets.
“It’s… complicated, very complicated,” she started, her voice low and uncertain. Curled up in defense, her gaze was fixed on the glass in her hands, as if the wine could transmit her some strength by osmosis.
“Okay,” Mark started very quietly, “I’m used to complicated… very complicated worries me a little,” he admitted, not hiding some concern, as he gently stroked her forearm, reassuringly.
Where could she start? What would she say to begin with if she had no idea how she felt? Slowly, hesitatingly, she decided to take it step-by-step.
“He… His name is Todd,” she started, looking back up to meet her brother’s expectant look, “and… he… he’s a prosecutor,” she confessed looking down, hoping this would be enough for him to get the whole picture.
Mark gave her a questioning look, his mind clearly working to connect the two simple pieces of information. “Prosecutor.” He repeated slowly. “Does that mean that he works for your ex-husband?” he asked as confirmation. He was obviously getting the whole picture. She found it somehow funny that Mark still had a hard time mentioning Patrick’s name. If she was lucky and he was in good mood, Mark usually called him the husband. Most of the time, he was just the jerk.
“Yes, it does,” she said with a hinted and slightly embarrassed smile. “Actually, he’s my replacement.” She needed more wine. One glass wasn’t enough to even start and handle this conversation. She poured herself some more liquid, giving Mark the time to assimilate her words and, hopefully, to come out with something other than a joke.
“Now, this is very complicated,” he said in a serious tone. “What happened exactly?” he asked very softly, “and does Patrick know it?” he asked with a slight hesitation, not taking his eyes off of her.
“Patrick doesn’t know it,” she started, “not yet at least,” she quickly corrected herself. “We only… we only kissed and…” Damn, why was it so difficult to share such personal information with her own brother? “He asked me out,” she went on, looking down, her hands torturing the poor pillow in tension, “tomorrow… for dinner…” She concluded with some discomfort.
Looking back up at Mark, she met his expecting and intent look. “And?” he asked.
Allison gave him a look of disbelief. No, he wasn’t getting the whole picture. “And… I can’t! It’s… it’s wrong, ethically wrong and inconsiderate and…” She suddenly let the pillow go to take her phone on the coffee table. She needed to do it. To call him. To say she couldn’t. But before she could press any button, Mark took the phone from her and held it hostage.
“How important is this Todd for you to take over some responsibilities?” Mark suddenly asked, distracting her from her anxiety.
Allison gave him a confused look. Why was he talking about responsibilities? She was the one supposed to be giving responsibilities speeches, not Mark. “What do you mean?”
“This is very likely going to bring consequences, good or bad,” he said softly. “Is he worth taking the responsibilities for those consequences?” he asked, his gaze fixed on her questioning.
Was he? Was Todd worth that? How could she possibly know when everything was just beginning and she barely knew him? Shifting her gaze from the phone to her brother, she realized she didn’t have an answer. All she had was an indelible kiss and that ungovernable attraction taking hold of both of them whenever they were around each other. This was something she couldn’t deny. So was she ready to take the responsibilities for the possible consequences? One last look at her phone, she took it from Owen’s hand and put it back on the table and sipping some more wine, pondering Mark’s words.
“I don’t know,” she said looking down conflicted. “But I think, I want to know…” she said, giving her attention back to her brother with a soft smile. “You still didn’t tell me if Joss is,” she said, remembering what led them to this conversation.
Mark reacted by drinking all the wine in his glass with a sad look in his eyes. “No, she probably wasn’t.”