Barring Complications

By Blythe Rippon

blythe.rippon@gmail.com

 

Part 1

Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are mine.

Warning: This story involves romance between women. For those of you not offended by lesbian love, happy reading!

Dedication: This story is dedicated to everyone who has fought for marriage equality – by marching in a parade, by writing a letter to a congressperson, by having a conversation at a dinner table.

Copyright Blythe Rippon, June 2013. All rights reserved . This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author. This story is a work of fiction, and is not intended to represent any particular individual, alive or dead.

Barring Complications will be posted in five parts. Feel free to drop me a line at blythe.rippon@gmail.com .

 


 

– PART II –

 

Genevieve

Chapter One

Genevieve Fornier strode down the hallway of HER's D.C. headquarters like a sheriff out to break up a gunfight. She threw open the conference room door and didn't bother closing it.

On opposite sides of a long, rectangular table, hands clutching the edge, feet planted apart, stood two of the most pretentious, laborious, arrogant lawyers Genevieve had ever encountered. And that was saying a lot, considering she'd spent three years at Harvard Law, a few years clerking, and about twenty at Leavenworth, Ross, and Waverley, LLP.

“Sit. Both of you.” Her voice was low and forceful. She chose a chair in the middle of the room, and to her right, at one end of the long table, Nic Ford, president of NCLR, obeyed. Jamie Chance, president of HRC, turned his back on the two women in the room and crossed his arms. Nic fumed at her adversary's back, but Genevieve simply laughed.

“Mature, Jamie. Even for you. Sit your ass down.” She didn't wait for his acquiescence. “Now that we have a new staff, a new division of labor is in order. I expect full cooperation from both of your organizations, and I expect you two to stop acting like jealous lovers. You may not bat for the same team, but you're on the same side.”

Somewhere in there, Jamie had turned around, pulled out a chair, and perched on the edge of it, his perfect posture the only straight thing about him. His hands were folded pristinely in his lap, but his eyes were still blazing. He took advantage of the slight pause in Genevieve's speech to interrupt.

“Don't think you're sidelining HRC on this one. We have been in charge of strategy on the Iowa case for three years – “

Nic broke in. “And look where it's got us. That case was a fucking disaster and you know it. I can't believe you're still President after that embarrassing display of legal puffery.”

“Puff? You shut your flannel-kissing –”

“Children.” Genevieve leaned back in her chair. “I will put you both in timeout. And then no one gets to play.” She grinned. “And I've been told I'm very fun to play with.”

Nic coughed, then coughed again and grabbed her water bottle to cover her embarrassment. There wasn't a lesbian in the legal community who wouldn't drop everything – literally everything – at the chance to play with Genevieve Fornier, and Genevieve knew it. She rarely used it, but she sensed it would be useful here. Allowing her sexuality to ooze out made Jamie uncomfortable and Nic self-conscious. She watched as the butch lawyer ran her hand through her buzz cut and tried to look tough.

Jamie just rolled his eyes and tried to look as though he were above all this.

Genevieve continued, her face impassive. “I've divided up the justices. I want the HRC to focus on all the related opinions written by Kellen O'Neil, Eliot McKinzie, Anthony Jaworski, and Matthew Smith. NCLR will take Alistair Douglas, Michelle Lin, and Jason Blankenstein. My legal team from HER will be in charge of Willoughby and Ryan Jamison, as well has legal research on precedents involving marriage, the Equal Protection Clause, and states' rights.”

Gesticulating a little wildly, Jamie seethed. “What the hell is this? You're giving NCLR all the liberals? What's the point? We know how they're going to vote already!”

Nic seemed equally displeased. “Why is NCLR only researching three justices? We've demonstrated we're far more competent than HRC when it comes to legal . . . well, everything.”

Crossing her perfectly sculpted legs, which inched up the hemline of her suit skirt, Genevieve turned first to Nic. “I've given you three justices because you have something of a harder job than Jamie. You'd better make damn sure we do not lose one of our own.”

Nic pondered that a moment, then nodded, mollified.

Her attention now on Jamie, Genevieve continued. “We don't know how anyone will vote. Nothing is a given here, Jamie. I should hope you learned that in Iowa, when only one of the two liberals swung your way.” She paused. “Although, as I understand it, none of them actually swung your way, and I hear you tried damn hard with Judge Rogers after the decision came down. Classy, by the way.” She paused for effect and Jamie sighed. “But that's neither here nor there. HRC's task is to find decisions authored by every single conservative Justice that might provide an opening, language we can use to support our arguments, precedent we can apply to this case. Additionally, I need to know what questions they're going to throw my way. Prepare predictions for each Justice. Let's think outside the box on this one.”

She stood. “Ladies,” she addressed them, intentionally displeasing them both. “You have work to do. So, go. Do.”

With that, she turned and exited the boardroom.

 

* * *

Alone in her office, Genevieve closed the door and headed straight to the sideboard, pouring herself a tumbler of Pellegrino and wishing it were something stronger. Neat piles atop her desk beaconed to her and she absently leafed through a file folder while she mulled their case's prospects.

Babysitting the butch Nic and the fay Jamie might turn into her reward for everything else that came with this case. It wasn't so much the press that bothered her, or the pressure. Genevieve had always been cool under pressure, finding high stakes appellate arguments a welcome challenge after the minutiae and procedural quagmires of most litigation. No, it wasn't the substance of the case that bothered the generally unshakable lawyer.

It was who she'd be arguing before.

Genevieve had always loved history. History was not just the events that happened in the past; it was, rather, the way writers and archivists selected and excluded particular events in order to construct a narrative, the conclusion demonstrating a chain of causality that ultimately appeared inevitable. Historians operated by the sixty year tenant: only sixty years after an event would there be enough critical distance and perspective to study it and make claims about its significance. So maybe in thirty-seven years Genevieve Fornier would have enough distance to understand the significance of Victoria Willoughby.

For now, she would just need to focus on how to construct her arguments. She assumed, along with everyone else in the legal community, the vacuum that called itself network news, and avid followers of the evolving legal recognition of gay rights, that Ryan Jamison would be the key to this case. Although they hadn't spoken in twenty-three years, Genevieve knew that Victoria – no, she had to get used to calling her Willoughby – would be strategizing on the inside about the best way to sway Jamison.

The damned swing vote was just so erratic. Insiders called Jamison “The Robot” because of his flat affect and mechanical mannerisms, but she preferred the more dynamic nickname “Earthquake.” He was as unpredictable as tectonic shifts, and his decisions on the court often had consequences as serious as a 5.0 on the Richter scale. Some legal scholars and historians considered the swing vote on the court, rather than the President, to be the most powerful person in the country. She shook her head at the thought, finding Jamison too insipid to wear that mantle.

She sank into her desk chair and began with the two opinions Jamison had stirred himself to write. One of them addressed the Equal Protection Clause and might be promising. If there was a code she could use to crack The Robot, maybe she would find it within the language and structure of his own, admittedly scarce, writing.

Four hours later she was no closer to determining the common threads linking Jamison's constitutional interpretations in the decisions he'd authored to those he'd signed onto. But she was pleased to note that he took an expansive interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause – or at least, on one particular day, he did.

She was eyeing the binder labeled “Justice Willoughby” when her desk phone rang.

“This is Genevieve,” she announced into the receiver.

“Ms. Fornier, Nicolette Ford is on the phone for you,” her secretary informed her.

“Put her through please.”

After the call had been connected, she greeted her caller. “Nicolette. Miss me?”

Nic cleared her throat. “Please, call me Nic.”

Genevieve just laughed. “Yes, Nic suits you better. What can I do for you?”

In the brief pause that followed, Genevieve knew Nic was trying not to let her mind wander at that question. “Um, it would appear that if you're going to have a problem with Michelle Lin, it will be because she doesn't think the state should be in the business of sanctioning marriage at all – gay or straight.”

Genevieve thought about that a moment. “Well, to follow that argument through to its logical conclusion, Justice Lin would have to write some kind of opinion that the constitution doesn't provide federal recognition of any marriage. Do you really think she's prepared to do that?” Genevieve was dubious. Frankly, if Nic sincerely believed Lin would take such a drastic step, Genevieve doubted Nic's ability to contribute meaningfully to the strategy of this case.

“It's hard to say,” Nic demurred. “When she was on the district court in California she issued some fairly radical decisions.”

“I hardly think legalizing recreational marijuana use qualifies as radical. Besides, a jurist's behavior on a district court is often more extreme than his or her decisions once they reach the highest court in the land. There's something about that institution that tends heavily toward the middle. Look at the history of it. Even in the 80s, when seven of the Justices were Republican appointees, the court found a balance.”

Nic cleared her throat again. “I think there's more to say on this subject. I suggest we continue this conversation over dinner tonight.”

Genevieve couldn't help but laugh at what she now recognized as a thinly veiled excuse to ask her on a date. Her response generated more throat-clearing and she checked her laughter. “I'm sorry, Nic. I have plans this evening. Besides, I don't think it's in the best interest of this case for factions of us to socialize. If Jamie felt he weren't being kept in the loop, there would be hell to pay, and we need the HRC's organizational and financial support.”

Nic covered quickly. A little too quickly. It was awkward. “Of course, I hadn't meant it that way. We should invite Jamie to join us, too. The three of us should be working together, every step of the way. Of course.”

“Yes, but I still have plans for tonight, Nic. Let's each do our own research for the next few days, and I'll have my office schedule a strategy session with yours and his for,” she clicked through the calendar on her computer, “next Wednesday.”

“Great. Next Wednesday. Great. Um. See you then.” Nic's voice dropped even lower than its usual timbre.

“Have a lovely weekend, Nic. I look forward to hearing your insights next week.”

“Of course. Goodbye, Genevieve.”

“Au revior, Nic.”

Genevieve hung up the phone. Her strategy had certainly worked, and she was confident Nic and NCLR would support her leadership on the case. Genevieve didn't for a moment consider saying yes to social plans with Nic, though. It wasn't the first time a colleague on a case had been interested in pursuing a more social relationship with her. Over the years, there had been many offers. She had learned the hard way never to mix business with pleasure. “Don't shit where you eat,” her law school roommate had instructed her once. It might be crass, but Genevieve found it sound advice. The long series of brief romantic attachments she had engaged in had been far removed from the legal arena.

Love, she had long ago decided, was nothing more than a distraction.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

The following day, Genevieve sequestered herself in her office to research Victoria's past opinions. As a relatively new Justice, Tori had authored only two decisions, both unanimous, on obscure and mundane tax cases. The senior Justice on each side assigns authorship of that side's opinion, and O'Neil and Alistair Douglas, who almost without fail voted opposite ways, had assigned more cases to themselves and more senior Justices than to their newest colleague.

Still, Tori's decisions from her six years on the D.C. Court of Appeals had been informative. She often went to great lengths to write narrowly-tailored decisions, unlike Douglas, whose writing was rich with sweeping language. Douglas had come of age, judicially speaking, before the rise of “strict constitutionalism,” or the notion that if the Founding Fathers had failed to specifically enumerate a right within the original document, that right did not exist (nevermind that inventions like the internet weren't around for the Fathers to address). In the face of this new conservative philosophy, Tori's decisions seemed geared toward creating nimble law capable of being altered as society and technology evolved.

Genevieve removed her glasses and leaned back in her office chair. She was rubbing her eyes and contemplating going home when her phone rang.

“Genevieve? Your 7pm is here.”

“I have a 7pm? On a Friday?”

“Yes, Dear, it's on your calendar.”

Genevieve looked at her calendar. There it was: 7pm interview with The Advocate . She often wondered what good putting events in a calendar was if she never looked at it.

“Well, send her in. Or him. Or whatever.”

Her secretary hung up the phone and a moment later there was a knock on the door. Genevieve smoothed her skirt as she walked to open it, and she slid into her interview persona.

“Hi Ms. Fornier. I'm Max.”

“Max. How do you do?” Genevieve couldn't tell the gender of the person whose hand she was shaking. She supposed it didn't really matter. “Can I get you some water, or perhaps a glass of wine?”

“No, thank you, I'm fine.”

“Shall we?” Genevieve gestured to two leather chairs, and they settled in.

“Well, Ms. Fornier, I see no reason not to jump right in.” Max pulled out a recording device and Genevieve appreciated that they wouldn't waste time on pleasantries. “How are you adjusting to D.C.?”

“Oh, fine. D.C. is a lovely town.”

“Ms. Fornier. There's no need to be politically correct here. Our readers just want to get to know you a little.”

Genevieve sat back in her chair and pretended to relax. “Well, in that case, it was hard to leave Chicago, which had been my home since law school. I miss my brownstone in Andersonville. I miss my coffee shop and neighborhood bar and favorite restaurant. Relocating is never easy. But I'm sure I'll be happy here, once I learn how to drive around those bizarre circles.”

Max laughed. “A common complaint. So, I've done a little research about you. It would seem that early in your career, you were something of a victim of your own success. Your work was so good that you just ended up getting more of it. How did it feel to be the youngest woman ever named partner for your firm?”

Genevieve laughed her interview laugh. These were talking points she had perfected years ago. “Quite an honor, of course. I was lucky, though. I think it was my status as a public lesbian that did it – I didn't need to go out and drum up business for the firm like other would-be partners. Gay men and women who had suffered discrimination came to me, and I brought the firm a lot of business that way.”

“You were quite the inspiration for a lot of gay attorneys, you know.”

“Well, I don't know about that, but it's lovely to hear.”

“Was coming out hard for you? You came out in law school, if my research serves.”

Genevieve blinked at Max. “Coming out is almost never easy, Max. My experience was harder than some, and easier than others.”

“Would you care to elaborate?”

“Not particularly.”

Max nodded and wrote something on a notepad before firing away the next question. “You're always impeccably dressed. Does that come naturally?”

Genevieve suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. It was rare that she gave an interview when someone didn't find a way to bring up her appearance.

“Let's talk about the case, shall we?” she said, redirecting her interviewer.

Max wrote something else. “Okay then. How confident are you that you'll win?”

She leaned forward in her chair, finally interested in their topic. “Look, we have a good case here. The law is on our side. Broader questions of justice and equality are on our side. Love is on our side.”

“I guess the only question is, are five U.S. Justices on your side?”

“Yes, Max, I think so. I think any Justice would be hard pressed to find logical, reasonable arguments – arguments based in precedent – against marriage equality.”

“Do you feel a lot of pressure to win?”

“Naturally, I do. When I stop and think how painful a loss would be for thousands of Americans, how many people would feel that their government thought them less than full citizens, well, it can be overwhelming. So, I try to focus on the case, and not on the possibility of losing.”

“What's your strategy for oral arguments?”

“It would be premature, and more than a little in appropriate, to get into the specifics of our strategy, Max. But suffice it to say, our strategy will involve winning.”

That got a smile out of the otherwise stoic Max. “Indeed. All right, enough of the nuts and bolts. Can you tell us a little about the status of your personal life?”

“Well, I'm not married if that's what you're asking,” she couldn't help but reply.

Max laughed. Genevieve thought she saw the word “cheeky” appear on the notepad.

“Are you seeing anyone?” Max tried again.

“I'm looking at you right now.”

“I guess that means I'm not going to get an answer. You know, interviewing lawyers is always an exercise in wordsmithing.”

“I should hope so! We're not doing our job if we don't evade, redirect, or deliberately misinterpret.”

Max shifted in the chair. “Now, Ms. Fornier – “

“Genevieve is just fine, Max.”

“Okay. Genevieve, then. Rumors are flying that Justice Victoria Willoughby is a lesbian, and I'm sure you've heard the calls that she recuse herself. As a member of a very small legal community, perhaps you have some insights here. What can you tell us about Justice Willoughby? Does she have reason to recuse herself?”

The briefest of pauses passed before Genevieve could respond. “It is neither here nor there whether Justice Willoughby is straight, gay, or anywhere in between. And these calls for recusal are ridiculous attempts to stir up media frenzy. You know, if the arguments against gay marriage are that it would threaten straight marriage, than every Justice involved in a straight marriage should ‘consider recusal.'” She suddenly very much wanted this interview to end. “Max, I'm sorry to do this, but I confess I had forgotten that we had an interview scheduled for tonight. I've made other plans, and I really need to get going. Maybe you can go through what you have so far, and email me any additional questions?”

Max hid any signs of disappointment or irritation as the two stood and shook hands. “That won't be necessary, Genevieve. I have enough to go on already. Have a good night.”

“You too – take care, Max.”

When the door closed, Genevieve leaned against it and closed her eyes.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

An hour later, she walked through the front door of her home. As she headed toward the kitchen, she dropped her keys on a table, her purse on the couch, and her suit jacket on a chair. She pulled open the fridge and stared at the contents. She needed to go shopping, and the only think edible was a box of leftover Thai food. She tossed it into the microwave and stared at her townhouse. She was pleased with the size, location, and style of her D.C. residence. There were still a few boxes occupying corners here and there, waiting to be unpacked, and she was grateful for them. Manual labor would provide a welcome break whenever she needed to step away from the case for a bit.

Like now. Her head was buzzing with information overload, and she found herself craving a glass of pinot.

She untucked her blouse from her suit skirt and poured a healthy amount of wine into a hand-blown wine glass. It had been a gift from a client gifted in the art of glass blowing. She leaned against the kitchen counter and savored the wine. She needed an escape, something to create distance between herself and her research, something to regain her composure after being thrown at the end of the interview. Spending this much time trying to get into Victoria Willoughby's head was unnerving. It reminded her of another time she had obsessed with what went on inside that gorgeous head, and nursed her heartache. She took another drink of wine.

She closed her eyes and gave into the pull down memory lane that she'd fought since she first took over the case and realized she would again be in the same room as Tori.

 

 

Harvard Law School, 1988

 

She had been milling around the assembly room in Pound hall for the past five minutes, chatting with colleagues and exchanging glances with a cute 3L from her admin law class. Genevieve couldn't remember her name, but she could read the signs. It was the beginning of a new school year, Genevieve had the confidence of a 2L, and she was in the mood. The woman had short blonde hair and with her low-cut blouse and tight pants, Genevieve found her a little too blatant. Still, it had been a boring summer and Genevieve was ready for some fun.

She maneuvered around the space, keeping the same distance between them while continuing to flash demure smiles toward the 3L. She had worked her way back toward the door when her eyes lighted on a woman standing in the entrance.

She wore a black pantsuit with a white satin blouse and her auburn hair fell in expertly sculpted, easy curls to the middle of her back. Her porcelain skin was flawless, her cheekbones high and chiseled, and her posture ram-rod straight. As her hazel eyes took in the room, Genevieve felt her stomach flutter. There was something about the newcomer's impeccably tailored suit, her Hollywood-ready hair, the inevitable glasses women at Harvard Law wore (need them or not) to be taken seriously, and the slightest hint of make-up. She seemed so untouchable, so remote, so pristine. As she studied the woman before her, Genevieve's mind began to wander.

All this, she knew, added up to one straight cookie. Still, she could dream.

“All right, everyone, please take your seats. We're going to begin,” came a loud voice from the front of the room.

Once everyone had settled, the three producers of Harvard Law's annual Parody began describing the work that needed to be done before rehearsals could begin. The show, they took turns announcing, would contain at least twelve pop songs whose lyrics had been altered to mock life as a law student, the bizarre politics of big firms, gunners who were clearly on a path toward election to the US Senate, and the infuriating legal procedures that often dictated trial strategy.

The previous year, the producers of the Parody had labored to craft a book show, with a loose plot stringing together the dozen songs that made up the performance. The end product was so convoluted that the two directors couldn't make it comprehensible, and the audience spent more time struggling to work out the plot than howling with laughter at the brilliant puns in the altered lyrics. So this year, the producers proclaimed, the show would be a straight review (Genevieve rolled her eyes at that), with no effort to concoct a story.

The blonde glanced over at her and mouthed, “hi.”

Genevieve smiled that smile she reserved for situations like these and mouthed, “hi back.” She uncrossed and re-crossed her legs. Slowly. The blonde watched and bit her lip.

The producers droned on, and Genevieve pretended to be interested. The producers identified twelve pop songs that they wanted to parody and the same number of legal issues, law courses, jurists, and firm quirks. Volunteers could sign up in groups of two or three to match a song with a topic. Drafts of their parody would be due in two weeks, and auditions would commence in three.

As everyone stood and started moving in the general direction of the signup sheet, Genevieve gathered her jacket and bag slowly, waiting for the blonde to come to her. Instead, once she had slung her bag over her shoulder, she discovered the redhead by her side.

“I'm Victoria Willoughby. Your new Parody partner.” Victoria extended her hand and waited for Genevieve to shake it.

Genevieve stared. Who the hell was this girl? She glanced over her shoulder and saw the blonde look at her, shrug, and sign up with someone else. Genevieve worked her face into a neutral expression and nodded, clasping the outstretched hand. “Sure. I'd be delighted to work with you.”

“Good, because I'm a IL, and I have no idea what I'm getting myself into.”

Genevieve nodded, absently, thinking to herself, that explains why I've never noticed you before. What she said was, “well, I didn't write last year, so we can learn together. I'm Genevieve Fornier and I'm in my second year.”

“I know who you are,” Victoria said, surprising her. “We're up.”

Genevieve glanced up and noted that they had in fact made it to the front of the line. Faced with the prospect of combining “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “lawyer-politicians” (at least that vaguely rhymed), “Rock me Amadeus” with contract law (which, let's be real here, doesn't rock anyone), or “I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking For” with “Lexis Nexis” (which was thematically interesting but a scansion nightmare), she selected Escape Club's “Wild, Wild West” and “Justice Rehnquist.” She looked up at Victoria, who nodded her approval, and Genevieve put their names next to the slots.

They drifted away from the front of the room to allow others access to the signup sheets.

“I live in Gropius. Do you want to stop by tomorrow night to start working?” Genevieve asked.

“That works well. I live in Gropius.”

Genevieve noted the short, sharp sentences and decided they supported her earlier prediction that breaking the newcomer's perfectly put-together exterior would be a hell of a lot of fun. She sighed and reached into her bag, pulling out a notepad. After scrawling her room number and “8pm” on a corner, she tore it off and passed it to her collaborator.

She watched, amused, as Victoria folded the paper twice and carefully placed it between the front cover and the first page of her civil procedure textbook. She looked up and smiled. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Genevieve Fornier. I think we'll work well together.” The coolness in her eyes melted for the briefest of moments and with that fleeting glimpse behind Victoria's steely façade, Genevieve suddenly didn't feel like playing games anymore. What was it with this girl? Memories of the first time her father had taken her on a rollercoaster flooded her brain and she recalled the thrill of unexpected twists and turns assaulting her.

“I'll see you tomorrow then.” Victoria shook her hand again and Genevieve knit her brows at the formality. It had seemed for a moment like they had both revealed themselves, had shared something intimate.

Genevieve realized it must have just been her. She swallowed and returned the handshake. Before she could summon the wherewithal to reply, Victoria was gone.

* * *

 

Genevieve watched from her desk chair as Tori paced around her room in Gropius, singing from their notes.

 

“Forty-seven lame clerks, noses in their law books

North, east, west, south, overturn the US House

Sitting in the Court Room, waiting for the big boom

Judges in their chambers, writing up their papers.

 

He's so mean, but I don't care

I love his robe and his bald receding hair

Overturns the laws that we like best

Heading back to the twenties

Living with the wild Rehn-quist.”

 

Genevieve admired the sound of Victoria's sweet voice. The lyrics left something to be desired.

“Hmm, that still needs work,” Victoria said, sitting down on Genevieve's bed. “Why are we talking about clerks, then people in the courtroom, then Rehnquist? We need to pick a point of view, don't we?”

Genevieve laughed. She had been thinking the same thing, but wasn't sure prolonging their time together as collaborators would be a good idea. She was finding her writing partner's perfume distracting. But she if wanted their parody to be even passable, it definitely needed to be rewritten.

Genevieve had acted a couple times in college, and Victoria had directed a production of Twelve Angry Men for the politics department as an undergrad, but neither had much experience with theatrical writing – or song writing.

“I mean, I don't know why they wanted to do something with Rehnquist. He's so boring,” Genevieve said, trying not to stare at Victoria's legs. The skin there looked so soft that all she could think was how it would feel against her lips.

“‘Give me give me wild west, give me give me safe sex,'” Tori sang softly, further distracting Genevieve. “I suppose ‘Rehnquist' does rhyme with ‘sex.' More or less. But I don't think I can go there. It's just too disrespectful. What about ‘gives us all a complex, wild Justice Rehnquist?'” she tried.

Shaking her head, Genevieve smiled. She was enjoying Tori's sweet side. “That's pretty tame. I think we can take more risks than that. What would you do with ‘give me love give me love, give me time to live it up?'”

Tori looked up from her notebook with mischief in her eyes. “Drink my wine and let you handle it.” She tossed her notebook into Genevieve's lap and took a healthy swig from a glass of chardonnay on the nightstand next to her.

Smiling wryly, Genevieve nodded. “Fair enough. At least we didn't get stuck with ‘We got A Groovy Kind of Law.'”

Tori chuckled, and Genevieve gave up. “Let's finish this some other time. I'm tapped.”

“Me too,” Tori said. Genevieve watched her glance around the room, taking in her surroundings. The accommodations in Gropius, Harvard Law's Spartan dorm, were cramped, institutional, and depressing. Genevieve had found a way to turn her small rectangular living space into a cozy, inviting area with rugs on the floor and tapestries adorning the walls. She had replaced the florescent light bulb with a soft halogen lamp. Tea lights around the perimeter of the room warmed the room.

They had been all business up to now, focusing their attention on meter and rhyme. The lull in their work suddenly felt awkward.

“Did you live in Gropius last year?” Victoria inquired, clearly trying to make conversation.

“Yeah, my parents believe in supporting their children through college, but they drew the line at graduate school. They just retired to Avignon and I'm on my own financially. Since I want to keep open the option of doing public interest after I graduate, I'm trying to take out as little in loans as possible.” Genevieve shook her head, finding her response a little stilted, trying to figure out why she was having such a hard time talking to the self-possessed woman sitting on her bed. It had nothing to do with the smell of her hair, Genevieve swore.

“That seems like reasonable parenting. If I wanted kids, I'd adopt a similar stance toward financial support.”

“You don't want kids?”

Victoria squinted at her. “Are you seriously asking that? What self-respecting woman at Harvard Law would ever admit to wanting kids?”

“Oh. Good point.” Genevieve picked a piece of lint off of her slacks and tried to find a better conversation thread.

Tori stood up and started wandering aimlessly around the room, tracing the patterns of the tapestries with her index finger. Genevieve was struck by the contrast between her black on black attire and the rich colors of the fabric surrounding her. Like a black hole, Victoria seemed to capture all light and matter, swallowing them until all Genevieve could see was her radiant skin, her flowing hair, the slope of her neck. She felt powerless against an invisible force, pulling her toward Victoria, and without thinking she stood up and took a step toward her.

Still facing a tapestry, Victoria continued the conversation Genevieve had forgotten they were having. “Look, I don't want to seem harsh. I adore children. I'm just not convinced I could be successful at both law and family. And I wouldn't want to do either half-way.”

Genevieve exhaled and returned to her desk chair, pulled close to the bed. “What about a husband?”

Tori turned and peered at her, the expression on her face inscrutable. After a moment she smiled and shrugged. “I heard a rumor once that spouses require time and energy. Seems like a chore.”

Genevieve couldn't tell if she was joking. “Sounds lonely,” she said, feeling like they were playing a game and only Victoria knew the rules. It was a new experience for Genevieve, who typically reveled in her role as in-charge girl. She felt off-kilter and couldn't figure out how to right herself, or the room.

Victoria returned to her seat on the bed, crossing her legs and briefly bumping her knees with Genevieve's. “I suppose it's possible I'm joking.” They looked at each other and once again Genevieve was hit with a wall of heat. She felt her face flush and hurriedly stood. She began to follow the same path across her rugs that Victoria had just tread.

Tori continued speaking. “Realistically, though, I don't have big expectations in that department. Love seems more like a distraction.”

“Really?” Genevieve was surprised, and she struggled to reconcile Tori's jaded perspective with her Stepford exterior. “Sex seems like a distraction. Love seems like . . .” she waved her hand, searching for the appropriate description. “A lifeline. A sanctuary. A soft place to land.” She turned around to find Tori's hazel eyes piercing her.

“You're a romantic.” It wasn't a question.

Genevieve had been called many things. Sophisticated. Manipulative. A force to be reckoned with. She'd never been called a romantic. She met Tori's gaze and replied, “I think I might be. With the right motivation.”

Tori's eyes widened, and Genevieve got the impression she had scared her new friend. Genevieve quickly changed topics. “So, Career Lady, what are your aspirations? Partner at Skadden? White House council? Don't tell me you want to be a Senator?”

Victoria closed her eyes as she said it. When the whisper of “Supreme Court Justice” wafted into Genevieve's ears, she almost laughed. Sure, lots of women at Harvard Law dreamed of a seat on the bench. But they didn't say it out loud. Certainly not to near strangers.

Tori opened her eyes and Genevieve closed her mouth. Who was this girl?

“I've never said that out loud before.” She smiled. “It felt good. I know no one's supposed to admit to such things. Humility and such. But I've wanted it for so long and no one knows and – “ she stopped midsentence. Genevieve wondered what she had censored. “Besides, maybe you'll wind up in the Senate. Might as well get you used to the idea so you'll confirm me without a fight.”

“But, you're so --” Genevieve stopped before she embarrassed them both.

Tori smile, enigmatically. “So what?”

“I'm sorry. I don't even know you.”

“You know me as well as anyone else here.”

Genevieve found that a little sad. “I guess that's the point. You seem to play things pretty close to the chest. I guess I'm just surprised to hear you speak so bluntly about wanting to be a Justice.”

“And now you know why I'm so private. The less people know about my personal life, the higher my chances of receiving a nomination and a relatively simple confirmation.”

“Well, you certainly have everything all planned out. Shouldn't you be spending your time trying to get on law review, not writing for the Parody?”

Tori shrugged. “I can do both.”

“Not if you want any social life to speak of.” She paused. “Which I'm coming to understand you don't.”

Tori smiled her assent. “I should go.”

Genevieve nodded absently and Tori stood.

“I'll walk you to the door.” As soon as she said it she felt like a complete dolt. The door was all of six paces away. Tori, however, seemed charmed. She gently laid her hand on Genevieve's arm. “Thanks for tonight.”

Genevieve wasn't sure what she was being thanked for. “If you change your mind about wanting to have fun, a bunch of us are going out to Lincoln's Inn tonight, and we might hit up a bar afterward.”

“Will Carolyn be joining you?”

“Carolyn?”

“Yes. Blonde. Perky. Not one for subtlety. She was angling to be your writing partner at the Parody meeting.”

“Oh. That Carolyn.” So that's her name . “I don't really know her.”

“Oh?” Victoria's expression gave just enough away for Genevieve to wonder if she intuited the other things Carolyn might have been angling for.

“Oh.” They seemed to be stuck on the same word. Genevieve threw out an “um” just to mix things up. “I don't know what her plans are. But like I said, you're welcome to join us.”

“I'll pass, thanks. Have a lovely time. Let me know when you want to meet again to finish our song. I'm just upstairs in 315.”

Genevieve nodded, mutely, and quietly closed the door behind her departed guest.

 

* * *

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you want to be a Supreme Court Justice?”

Victoria looked at her like she was nuts. She set her notebook with their Parody lyrics on her bed and shifted in her desk chair. “Who wouldn't want to be a Supreme Court Justice?”

“So it's the power, then?” Genevieve asked. She was on her stomach on Tori's bed, trying to ignore the faint smell of perfume on Tori's pillow.

“No, of course not. Give me more credit than that.”

Genevieve rolled her eyes. “Well, I don't want to be a Justice. Explain it to me.”

“Wait, you wouldn't want to be a Justice? Why ever not?”

“‘Why ever not?' Do people still talk like that?”

“Evidently I do,” Victoria responded. “You haven't answered.”

“Well, for one, it's a ton of pressure. And I can imagine a bunch of cases where I could see both sides, and it would be difficult to determine which way to vote.”

“Seeing both sides is of course a useful skill for a jurist to have. But you forget, Genevieve, that a Justice's first duty is to apply the law as it is written.” Her tone shifted, and there was a reverence in her voice as she spoke. “There are obviously numerous of cases where you could argue that Justices in the past have voted their personal opinions rather than the law – and naturally, a Justice's interpretation of the law will be colored by his or her personal opinion. But the driving force behind every vote must be the constitution and its amendments.”

“That's such a politician's response. You still haven't answered the question.”

“I like the robe.”

“Ah, now we get to it.”

“And, you know, the scarf thingy.”

“Scarf thingy?”

“You have seen pictures of Sandra Day O'Connor, right? She wears that lace scarf thingy.”

“Yes, I know what you're talking about. It's just hard for me to believe a future Supreme Court Justice uses words like ‘thingy.'”

Tori grinned. “Oh, I use all kinds of fun words. I call my brother ‘dude.'”

“You have a brother?”

“I do. He's an undergrad at Oxford. And sometimes I call him ‘dude.'”

“Noted. I'll call him the same if I ever meet him.”

Tori studied her a moment. “He'd like you. He'd probably hit on you.”

“He's not my type,” Genevieve answered quickly.

“How do you know? You haven't even met him.”

Genevieve hesitated. “Just a hunch,” was the best she could come up with.

Tori opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. The ensuing silence made Genevieve nervous. She hurriedly asked, “can I start calling you ‘Madam Justice' now?”

Tori rolled her eyes. “Let's wait a bit on that one, shall we?”

Genevieve bit her lip. Despite the occasional awkward moment with Tori, she was fascinated. She'd never met anyone as uncompromising as Victoria, anyone with such strong convictions and direction. It was simultaneously infuriating and deeply compelling. She wanted to know more.

“So your brother's at Oxford. Do you get along with him? Where did you go for undergrad? Do you have parents? Do you get along with them ? Where do they live?” She didn't seem to be able to stop the flood of questions issuing forth from her moth and she rather wished someone else was present to clap their hands over her mouth.

Tori just raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “You're funny.”

“I am?” Genevieve was confused. She hadn't said anything clever or deployed the perfect pun for the moment. But Tori's eyes sparkled with amusement. And something else Genevieve couldn't identify. “So where are we with the song?” Genevieve asked, hoping a change of focus would make her feel more comfortable. She was accustomed to being in charge of operations like this one – especially this one, where she was a year further along in law school than her counterpart. So she tried to take control of the situation.

“Song?” Tori asked blankly.

“Our parody?”

Victoria looked startled. “Right. Parody.” Genevieve watched her turn back to her notebook with something like disappointment. She felt it too.

“So what rhymes with justice?” Tori asked.

“Um, cactus?”

It was going to be a long night.

 

* * *

 

Genevieve definitely had a type, and it wasn't Victoria. She had only ever dated older women – her first tryst was with the assistant tennis team coach in high school. She had never been drawn to bookish or artistic types. Like gentlemen, she preferred blondes. At five foot eight, she sought out petite woman with curves, not tall redheads. She enjoyed flirting but wasn't one for prolonged courtship. She liked her women, and whatever she did with them, uncomplicated.

So she couldn't for the life of her figure out why she was pacing outside Pound Hall waiting for Victoria to get out of class.

It was bad enough that she'd memorized her class schedule.

She was about to force her feet in the direction of her dorm when the doors opened and studiously dressed men and women began streaming out of the building.

“Now what?” she thought. She hadn't planned this far ahead, and she couldn't hatch a scheme to look casual on such short notice. She thought about leaning against a lamppost, but dismissed that idea as trite. She could “accidentally” spill the contents of her purse, but that seemed like a lot of work and she wasn't sure what she even had in there. Embarrassing items like tampons, surely. She was on the verge of stopping a stranger to initiate a conversation when Tori walked up to her.

“Heading home?” she asked, completely failing to recognize anything weird in Genevieve's loitering.

“I'm kind of hungry,” Genevieve admitted.

“I was hoping you'd say that.” Without waiting for a reply, Tori started toward Mass Ave. Genevieve shrugged and enjoyed the view for a moment before hurrying to catch up and telling herself to get a grip.

“How was class?” she asked, hoping she could settle into easy conversation with this woman who always left her anxious and wanting more … more something.

“Excellent. I was on call, and Dershowtiz seemed pleasantly surprised with my answer.”

Genevieve rolled her eyes. Only Tori could say class was “excellent” the day she was on call. Classes at Harvard Law were large enough that professors assigned students to particular days throughout the term when they could be called on to answer questions about the reading. It was nerve-wracking, and most students faltered in the spotlight. Genevieve had managed a passable answer about criminal procedure when he had called on her the previous year, but most students disappointed the distinguished professor with their responses.

Tori led them to an Indian restaurant and when the host asked where they'd like to sit, she pointed to a table in a little nook near the back of the room. The lights were low, sensuous smells wafted into her nose and mouth, and Genevieve found the whole situation terribly romantic.

Maybe she could just pretend it was a date.

She was having a difficult time concentrating on the menu. Why did Tori have to look so good in suits? They were usually so cumbersome and unflattering. She was only other woman at Harvard Law who wore suits well, and Genevieve might feel competitive if she weren't distracted by attraction.

She had just decided on the saag paneer when the waiter appeared.

“Two Kingfishers, mixed vegetable pakora, garlic naan, saag paneer, and vegetable masala,” Tori announced. The waiter nodded and walked away before Genevieve could say anything.

She cleared her throat. “And what if I don't want any of that?”

Tori raised her brows. “Do you want something else?”

“No,” Genevieve admitted.

“Okay then.”

“Okay then.”

She wondered why she so often ended up repeating things Victoria had just said.

“So where are you going to work this summer?” Victoria asked.

“I've got a few interviews lined up. Firms in Seattle, Boston, and New York. But I know it's hard to get into public interest if you don't have any nonprofit or advocacy on your resume, so I was thinking of looking in the public sector.”

“Good, you should. You'd do well there.” The waiter arrived then with their beers, and Tori raised her bottle. “To us!”

Genevieve clinked glasses, grateful that the low lighting obscured the blush she knew was spreading across her cheeks when Victoria called them “us.” God, she never blushed! She marveled at Tori's ability to take control of any situation, including Genevieve's career objectives for the summer. She drank and regrouped. “What are your summer plans?”

“I might be working in the Attorney General's office,” Tori said, her bright eyes shining.

“Wow, really? How'd you work that out?”

“Derschowitz took me aside after class today. He often sends someone to the AG's office as a summer associate, and he's considering recommending me. He asked for a writing sample and my resume.”

Genevieve was impressed. It wasn't easy to capture Derschowitz's attention, especially as a 1L. “Sounds like you're well on your way, Madam Justice,” she teased.

Victoria did something that she didn't expect. She dropped her eyes and looked shy. “Let's not get ahead ourselves,” she responded, softly. But it was clear to Genevieve that she was thrilled, and without thinking, Genevieve reached across the table and took her hand.

“I believe in you.”

She felt Victoria's fingers tense and immediately knew she had overstepped. Fortunately, the waiter arrived with their drinks, giving her cover to remove her hand with minimal embarrassment. She mentally kicked herself for being too forward.

She sought for safer topics. “Are you thinking of acting in the parody, or was the writing process harrowing enough for you?”

Tori sent her a completely disarming smile and Genevieve felt her temperature rise. What was it with this girl, and her mixed signals, and the power she seemed to have over her?

“I'd hardly call spending time with you torture, Genevieve.” God, even the way she said “Genevieve.” The way she sort of slid into the G and the way her lips moved around the “vee” sound. Genevieve didn't understand how she was still sitting in a chair, and not in a puddle on the floor. Victoria continued, so Genevieve presumed she hadn't actually had some kind of fit. “Singing in front of drunk law students doesn't rank high on my list of fun activities.”

“What does?”

Victoria shrugged. “A good book. A fireplace. Tea.”

“Tea? You can't honestly be telling me that ‘tea' is a fun activity. Jesus, you must be English.”

“I suppose that means we're destined to always be at odds with one another, France,” Tori tossed back at her, grinning.

Genevieve sat up straighter, pulling it together. “I'd like to challenge your reading of history. There have been many times our respective motherlands came together for a common purpose.” She thought a moment. “But your cuisine leaves something to be desired.”

“You'd be surprised. I guess I'll have to prove you wrong.” She winked at Genevieve, who was suddenly no longer sure what they were talking about.

Genevieve coughed.

Victoria laughed. “I'll cook for you sometime.”

“Oh.”

The waiter brought their pakora and Genevieve watched Tori meticulously place pieces of their appetizer on her plate in neat little rows.

She suddenly felt inspired to introduce Tori to fun. “All right. Friday, when classes end, you're coming with me.”

“I am?” Tori glanced up from her food, amused. “And what are you going to do with me?”

A thousand inappropriate responses flitted through Genevieve's mind before she replied, “wall climbing.”

She expected resistance – maybe pouting or flat denial. Possibly a piece of pakora flung at her. She hadn't expected a casual shrug and a soft, “okay.”

Tori laughed as Genevieve shook off her surprise. “What do you want me to wear?”

Nothing, Genevieve thought. “Loose pants. And something warm – it gets cold in the gym.”

“Done.”

The waiter arrived with their entrees, and Genevieve closed her eyes and inhaled. “We're sharing, yes?”

“Sure, I'm very good at sharing. I paid attention in kindergarten.”

Genevieve laughed. “I bet you paid attention in all your classes.”

Tori studied her a moment. “I'm certainly paying attention now.” Once again, Genevieve wasn't sure what they were discussing.

And she decided for the moment that she enjoyed the uncertainty.

 

* * *

“Tired?” Genevieve took her climbing shoes off. She threw them in the bin by the door as they exited the gym.

“I'll definitely be sore tomorrow.”

Genevieve grinned. “Me too. I'm always sore in muscles I didn't know I had after climbing.”

Tori slid into the passenger's seat of Genevieve's car. Now that they had stopped climbing, Genevieve could see Tori shiver, and she turned on the heater. It was cold for October.

“Hungry?” Genevieve asked.

“Always. Do you have something special in mind?”

“Isn't every outing with me special?” Genevieve teased, happy that she was regaining her ability to flirt, which had so recently abandoned her.

Tori rolled he eyes. “Where to, then, Casanova?”

Genevieve drove them to a tiny Greek restaurant tucked into an alley in downtown Boston. She was surprised Victoria was willing to dine out in their climbing clothes.

When the waiter came, Genevieve was ready. “Two falafels, a hummus plate, and two glasses of house white.”

She leaned back in her chair to watch Tori's reaction, but all Tori revealed while she smoothed her napkin across her lap was a small smile. “Why did you want to go to law school?” she asked.

Genevieve knit her eyebrows. “Really? That's what you want to talk about? How about this -- what would you be doing in an alternate universe where you're not in law school?”

Tori raised her eyebrows. “Okay, I'll bite. I'd probably be a chef.”

“I never pictured you for the manual labor type.”

“Oh? I don't mind getting my hands dirty.”

Genevieve almost kissed the waiter when he chose that moment to bring their drinks. She guessed that would go over better than kissing her dinner companion.

“Your turn.” Tori slipped her wine and waited.

“Oh. I've never thought about it,” she stalled. The truth was, she was only in law school because she couldn't think of anything better to do. But she surmised that response would be unimpressive to someone as driven as Victoria. “I'd be a professional parody writer. I'd put Weird Al out of business.”

“Well, given how brilliant our recent collaboration was, I'd say you're in for an illustrious career.”

“Is that sarcasm? I thought chefs didn't have time for insincerity.”

“I'm talented at multitasking.”

Genevieve opened her mouth for a comeback, but came up empty.

“If you can't stand the heat, get out of my kitchen,” Tori laughed.

Genevieve grabbed her wine and took a big, healthy sip.

 

 

* * *

 

So here she was, twenty years later, standing in her kitchen, still drinking wine because of the anxiety Victoria Willoughby gave her.

They hadn't spoken in twenty years. After she graduated law school, Genevieve clerked for a district judge in Chicago for two years before taking a position at Leavenworth, Ross, and Waverley, LLP, an employment law firm. She cut her teeth on wrongful dismissal cases and made a name for herself defending LGBT employees against workplace discrimination in all its forms. She earned a reputation as a cutthroat litigator and along the way she made huge strides for LGBT rights. She argued cases in front of state supreme courts and federal courts of appeals. She carefully avoided appearing in D.C., where she knew Tori was a judge.

When HER called to offer her the position of President of the organization and lead attorney on the Iowa case, she put aside her pride and personal pain. She knew they needed her – needed her experience arguing high profile cases and her fresh take on a stale legal strategy.

She also knew that her plaintiffs would have the vote of the young Justice, regardless of who was arguing the case.

She couldn't afford to devote any more emotional energy on Victoria Willoughby.

She finished her wine and headed upstairs to bed.

 

Chapter Four

The conference room at HER was feeling claustrophobic, and there were only three people in it. Or maybe Genevieve was feeling stifled by Jamie's routine of pacing, sitting, rocking back and forth, and pacing again. His erratic movements were making it impossible to concentrate on the case in front of her. Not that she hadn't read it five times already. It was one of the two cases Jamison had authored as a Justice.

Jamie suddenly stopped moving, causing both Genevieve and Nic to drop what they were doing. “Jamison's swayed by public opinion! The Court generally walks a fine line between responding to the will of the people and forging ahead of the majority. That's what it did in Loving when it ruled on interracial marriage. Maybe we just need to hit hard in our briefs and arguments that the public is moving toward supporting marriage equality, and Jamison will vote our way.”

Genevieve admired Jamie's optimism. She could tell he thought that believing in something hard enough would make it so. That's probably why he presented such a weak case during the original trial at the District level.

She felt bad about busting his balloon, but it couldn't be helped. His disappointment today would be nothing compared to his disappointment if they lost and he couldn't get married. She sighed. For about the fiftieth time that evening. “The majority of Americans are opposed to the death penalty for minors, but he voted for it in 1998. I don't think the key to his vote is popular opinion, sadly.”

Nic resumed chewing on a pen and staring intently at the ceiling.

Jamie paced again.

Genevieve rolled her shoulders, popping askew vertebrae back into place. They had been at it for hours. They needed a breakthrough. But she'd settle for a break.

“Who wants Chinese?”

Jamie nodded absently and Nic appeared not to have heard her. She was about to repeat her question when Nic burst from her chair. “He doesn't believe in a right to privacy! That's it!”

“But he signed onto a decision about internet privacy last year,” Jamie returned testily. “Your theory doesn't work.”

“Oh.” Nic sat back down.

“Also, that's not really a judicial philosophy. It's just an interpretation of a single issue,” Genevieve mentioned.

Genevieve could tell they were all hungry because they weren't thinking clearly and were snapping at each other. Well, Jamie and Nic's default attitude toward each other was condescension. But she didn't usually feel like joining in.

She snatched up the phone on the sideboard of the conference room and politely requested her secretary order them Chinese food. When he asked what kind, she told him, “whatever dishes go best with desperation.”

Nic started flipping through a file of Jamison's opinions for the twelfth time that day. Jamie grabbed another binder and was about to do the same when his phone rang.

“Hey sweetie,” he cooed into the phone, and Genevieve and Nic both smiled. Any irritation they felt about him always dissipated when he talked to his family. His adoration for his partner and their five-year-old daughter made them melt. He was an attentive father and a partner who love romance. They tried to busy themselves with outlining their brief, but it was impossible not to listen.

“Carlos, you can't just let her eat cheerios for dinner. I know how hard it is to resist those big brown eyes, but, you know, man up or whatever…Yes, I hate that expression, too…No, I don't really know what it means … Okay, yes, I appreciate that there are many different ways to be a man, and each one is equally valid … Fine, the expression ‘man up' is misleading and a form of gender oppression. Is this really why you called? …That's okay, go ahead and eat without me. I think we'll be here late…I'm sorry, baby – I promise to eat dinner with you two tomorrow night…Love you, too. Don't wait up.” He hung up the phone and took a minute to transition back into work mode. He settled into his chair and cleared his throat.

“Okay, briefs are due in a week,” Genevieve reminded them, as if anyone had forgotten. “Nic, I want you and NCLR to write the section on the fourteenth amendment, addressing both Due Process and the Equal Protection clause. Jamie, you and HRC please draft the section on precedent, explaining how the cases such as Lawrence v. Texas and Loving v. Virginia apply here. I'm taking up issues of states' rights and the reach of the federal government in terms of marriage and religious protection. I'm going to hit the states' rights issue hard. I've got a feeling at least on the conservatives might move on that front. My people will write some narrative describing our four plaintiffs and their personal histories. Please circulate drafts of your section to me and each other by Monday. My staff will handle the formatting and the actual filing.”

She stood and walked to the huge window. From the windows of HER's offices, she could see the tip of the Washington Monument. Between her location and the Washington Mall, dozens of windows were lit, indicating lawyers, lobbyists and pundits working late. They were all laboring for causes they believed in – fair economic policy, maybe, or free speech, or foreign aid. While it was true that people working in D.C. were self-righteous and often vicious, they committed their time and energy to changing their country for the better. It was a question of who's “better” would win the day.

She turned her back to the busy D.C. lights and focused her attention on her co-counsel. “Where are we with Jamison?”

“Nowhere. We're nowhere with Jamison,” Nic responded, dejectedly.

“You were the one who was supposed to research him,” Jamie said pointedly.

Genevieve sighed, angry at him for pointing out her failure, but mostly angry with herself. “Yes, I know.” She ran her hands through her hair. “He's such a bizarre animal.”

Nic seemed to notice her stress and exhaustion. She stood and stretched. “I'm way too tired to keep at this tonight. Jamie, Genevieve, I'm sorry but I think after we eat we should call it a night.”

Genevieve knew Nic wasn't saying it for herself, and she was grateful. They exchanged a small smile while Jamie acted put out that Nic couldn't keep up with him. Even so, Genevieve could hear the relief in his voice.

She almost wished they could just put the Chinese food in the fridge and leave that much sooner.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Genevieve watched as, for about the fiftieth time that morning, Bethany checked out some guy who passed their table at Common Grounds, a coffee shop just off of Embassy Row. She hadn't remembered Bethany being this easily distracted when they lived together their 3L year at Harvard Law. “Bethany, Darling, you're going to spill your hot chocolate on yourself. And he's way too young for you.”

Bethany appeared not to have heard. When she finally turned back to Genevieve, she asked, “how's the unpacking coming, honey?” Before Genevieve could answer, she whipped around again. “Ooh, look at him. He's handsome.” He was wearing cowboy boots and tight jeans and Genevieve thought he was horribly unattractive. Bethany, on the other hand, licked her lips. “I wouldn't throw him out of bed.”

Genevieve shook her head and peered at the steaming mug in Bethany's hands. “How can you drink that stuff when it's seventy degrees outside?”

“Oh, you know I can't stand coffee. And I've found that my coffee dates get all awkward if I don't order anything. Plus, it's a little too early for wine.”

Genevieve tugged on her apple turnover, breaking off a corner. It wasn't the healthiest of breakfasts, but the sugar soothed her stomach. Her favorite part of moving to D.C. might just be proximity to Bethany, who, despite her Texan roots, seemed disinclined to ever leave the District. “You could always order an Italian soda or something.”

“They make me burp.” Bethany let out the faintest of belches and giggled.

Genevieve rolled her eyes.

“So, how's working with Nic Ford and Jamie Chance? Is he as dreamy in person as he is in magazines?”

“You do know he's queerer than a three dollar bill, right?”

“He's still nice to look at, with those black eyes and that chiseled jaw ... Yum.”

“Bethany, dear, how long's it been since you got laid?”

A sly grin was her only answer. “How long has it been since someone buttered your muffin?” She teased back.

“Wow, isn't Mean Girls a little young for you?”

“Oh no, honey. I swear, there's a perfect Mean Girls quote for every situation,” Bethany returned, meaning it.

“Doubt it,” Genevieve mumbled though a bite of turnover.

“Ahem,” Bethany pointed to her breakfast. “‘Is butter a carb?'”

Genevieve almost sprayed flaky pastry everywhere when she barely suppressed her laughter. “Not bad. Got any quotes that don't involve butter?”

“Don't you wish you knew. That's why my hair's so big -- it's full of secrets.”

They both gave up trying to pretend they weren't cracking up.

Once she'd caught her breath, Bethany asked, “seriously, though, how's your trial prep coming?”

Genevieve shrugged. “We haven't had the breakthrough we need. Jamison is a tough code to crack.”

“Any chance you'd have more luck trying to sway one of the more solidly conservative Justices?”

“It's possible. We're structuring the arguments with that in mind.”

“Victoria Willoughby must be shitting herself right now.”

Genevieve coughed. Bethany always did have a way with words. “Why do you say that?” she croaked and reached for her water.

“Well, that glass closet she's been living in all her life –”

“Wait, glass closet?” Genevieve said.

“Yeah, she thinks she's in the closet, but everyone else can see right through the charade. You know. The glass closet. Surely you've heard that one before?”

“No, no I haven't.”

“Gen? You okay? You look upset -- is it because I just out-gayed you?” She looked delighted at the thought.

“No, although, I probably should be more upset at that. Really, I'm fine.”

Bethany accepted her answer at face value and continued dominating the conversation. “So I want you to meet my sister. You need friends here, and I think you two would adore each other.”

“You're not going to try to set us up or anything, are you?” Genevieve wrinkled her nose. She hated being set up. It took all of the fun of the chase away, for one.

“God, got a pretty high opinion of ourselves, don't we? What makes you think you're good enough for her?”

Genevieve pursed her lips, wondering if it was a trick question.

“Relax! Wow, Genevieve, wound tight much?”

She shook her head. “Sorry, it's been a bit of a whirlwind, and I feel like I'm still playing catch-up.”

Bethany nodded, although her big blond hair remained exactly in place. She and the women in her family did their part to keep Aqua Net in business.

“Totally understandable. Have you found your way around? Located the grocery store and all that?”

“Still a work in progress. But there is a wine bar across the street I'd love to check out some time.”

“That can be arranged. Seriously, you and Tara need to be friends. She and her partner just got married -- as soon as D.C. made gay marriage legal they started dress shopping and catering tasting.” She put her glasses on and spoke in the accent of their old employment law professor: “It's important when you're working on high profile cases like this to be reminded what you're fighting for.” Genevieve laughed at the impression. And the sentiment. “And, you know, since you're not in danger of getting all gay married anytime soon...”

Genevieve laughed. “We're quite a pair, aren't we?”

“A couple of confirmed bachelorettes,” Bethany giggled.

“So, really, there's no one?”

“No ma'am. I remembered when I chose a D.C. firm over the Governor's office in Texas thinking that I'd have a hard time finding my man. I don't want a policy wonk -- I want a cowboy, and there aren't many of those around these parts.”

“I see a lot of hipsters wearing cowboy boots these days,” Genevieve suggested playfully.

“Oh no, baby, I want the real deal.”

“You literally want a man to throw a lasso around you while riding a longhorn, don't you?”

Bethany's eyes sparkled as she nodded. “You haven't found your cowgirl yet?”

Genevieve shrugged and Bethany looked at her knowingly.

“What?” Genevieve asked, suspiciously.

“Nevermind. Listen, sweetie, I've got to run. But you're coming to my sister's party on Saturday, and I don't have time to argue with you. I can't wait to see the look on your face when you meet her. She looks just like me, except her hair is even bigger. Be good, G-string! Toodle-loo!” Bethany kissed her on the cheek, snatched up her suitcase-sized purse, and was gone before Genevieve could decide whether to sigh in exasperation or chuckle at Bethany's antics.

She took a moment to savor the silence before she, too, gathered her things and left the coffee shop.

 

 

Chapter Six

 

She'd worked well into the night for the past week, and she was exhausted. She needed a break – a chance to give her mind a rest. She knew some of her best ideas came when her mind was otherwise engaged and whatever problems she was trying to solve were bubbling under the surface unnoticed. So she'd taken Bethany up on her invitation to attend her sister's get-together.

Although the day had been warm, she could sense a slight chill in the late afternoon breeze. She was glad she had chosen linen pants rather than the skirt she'd been considering. She double-checked the Palisades address in her cell phone. Yep, this was the house. Mansion, rather. She had no idea what Bethany's sister or her partner did for a living, but it was certainly lucrative. The front yard was huge, and the colonial house had front porch columns that stretched all the way up to the second floor. She shifted the bottle of wine to her left hand and rang the bell.

A petite blond woman with huge hair opened the door and Genevieve instantly knew she was Bethany's sister. Her hostess smiled. “You must be Genevieve. I feel like I've known you forever. I can't believe we haven't met before.” Genevieve was slightly overwhelmed when Tara pulled her into a bear hug. Tara must have felt her reticence. “Oh, honey, you're at a party with a bunch of Texans. Get used to it,” Tara instructed. “Oh, wine! Aren't you a dear? I'll take that off your hands. Please, head on out to the back yard. The grill's all fired up, and we're going to start cooking soon. Help yourself to a beverage and make yourself at home.” Tara started toward the kitchen, and Genevieve could just make out her squeal, “ooh, how'd she find a wine from Texas hill country!?”

Bethany had been right – Genevieve adored Tara instantly. It was hard to be cranky in the face of such infectious enthusiasm. Smiling to herself, she realized she was glad she had come – happy for the distraction from work and the opportunity to begin a real life in D.C., complete with friends and parties and shared food.

Turning toward the rear of the house, she walked through the dining room, admiring the huge flower arrangement of snapdragons that rested on the table. They seemed to smile at her, so she smiled back. On the other side of the dining room was a sliding glass door. She slid it open and stepped into the sweeping back yard. It sloped down to a gazebo. Two dozen people were milling around the grounds, sipping cocktails and enjoying the late afternoon sun. She spotted Bethany to her left, playing bocce ball against a striking blond with a wedge cut. She was about to head over and introduce herself when she heard a familiar voice coming from just behind her, on her right, near the grill.

She felt her stomach plummet and her palms instantly started sweating. She knew if she were forced to talk right then, her voice would crack. She closed her eyes for a moment and felt the ground sway underneath her. All she could think was, “this is not happening.”

She bit her lip and the pain brought her to reality. She turned slowly, knowing what she would see.

Heels, even though she was standing on grass. A navy blue dress with a deep V neckline. Red hair, loose around her shoulders. A single black pearl hanging around her neck on a silver chain. Her look was completed by a glass of white wine in her hand.

Genevieve was able to take all this in before raising her eyes and colliding with Tori's hazel ones, wide with shock.

Without a word, Genevieve spun around and walked back into the house.

 

To be continued.

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