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 email@example.com .
– PART III –
“Genevieve! Genevieve, wait, please. I'll go.” Tori couldn't believe her words sounded so calm, so in control of the situation, when she knew she was anything but. She placed a hand on Genevieve's shoulder to turn her around and the skin of her palm felt burned. She retracted it instantly.
“Genevieve? Victoria? Is everything okay?” Tara entered the foyer from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
Victoria struggled to catch her breath, and she glanced sideways, hoping Genevieve would answer. Genevieve shook her head but no worries came out. Much to Tori's frustration, Genevieve refused to meet her eyes.
Victoria exhaled a breath she didn't even know she had been holding. “Tara, Genevieve is involved in an open case coming before the Court. We can't –” Can't what, Tori ? she asked herself. Can't anything , was the only answer she could find.
“We can't socialize or be in a position where we might exert any kind of influence over each other.” Genevieve appeared to have found her voice. It was the first thing Tori had heard Genevieve say in twenty years and it erected an insurmountable barrier between them. Still, Tori took a moment to appreciate how beautiful her voice was. Being raised by two French-speaking parents and spending summers in Avignon left traces of a French accent on Genevieve's inflection. That voice used to drive Tori crazy when they were in public and she couldn't touch her.
She stuffed her hands into her pockets when she realized it still drove her crazy.
“Genevieve, I'll go,” she repeated. “I assume you only just arrived, and I've been here for a while.”
Tara swatted her with the damp dishtowel. “Oh, please, you two can be in the same place. Just stay on opposite sides of the room or something.”
They both shook their heads. “We could be disbarred,” Genevieve informed her. “And I doubt either of us wants to jeopardize a case this important.”
“Tara, thanks so much for allowing me to crash your gathering. Please give Sonya my best.” Tori leaned over and kissed Tara's cheek. She paused, then steeled herself to glance at Genevieve. Her face was impassive and she kept her eyes averted. So softly she wondered if she had said it aloud, Tori breathed, “goodbye, Genevieve.” There was no response, so she walked out the front door.
* * *
The car behind her honked, and Tori directed her attention back to the light in front of her, which had just turned green. She hit the accelerator harder than she had intended and the car jerked forward. She was shaking from head to toe and she desperately needed a drink.
She had waited for that encounter since Genevieve graduated and Tori had a year to walk the grounds of Harvard Law School alone. She had imagined it a hundred different ways. They would run into each other randomly on the streets of New York, which both of them visited with some regularity, and Genevieve would profess that she was still in love with her. They would both attend some symposium on women in the law and Tori would apologize for throwing away their relationship. She would be giving a speech at the UN and Genevieve would have attended for the sole purpose of seeing her again, and they would go out to dinner. They would reconnect over Italian food and red wine and chocolate dessert.
In all of these scenarios, Tori pictured herself calm and in control. She hadn't fantasized about her heart beating so hard she couldn't hear anything over its driving pulse. In her dreams, she wasn't having difficulty breathing and her stomach didn't ache. In her dreams, she was forgiven.
She couldn't believe how good Genevieve still looked. It shouldn't have been a shock, of course – she'd seen her picture countless times. But being in the same space as her, close enough to touch her – well, that was another thing entirely.
And now they couldn't even talk to each other, with the exception of oral arguments, until the Court had issued its ruling. It was unbearable and she didn't want to be in her own skin. Her head was pounding and she wanted to escape her body, escape the world for at least a moment until she could regain her composure and objectivity.
She recalled O'Neil's words from the other day – the edict that had so angered her that she sliced off half her finger: it's not personal. Whatever history she had with Genevieve, she had a case to focus on – a case with far-reaching implications for a vast number of Americans. She had never had a problem submersing herself in her work before. And now, when it mattered most, she needed to reestablish her critical distance from the situation and concentrate on the law. Her muddled feelings for Genevieve had nothing to do with her rational interpretation of the equal protection clause and DOMA and the other issues wrapped up in this case.
Her car seemed to be driving to Alistair's house in Maryland. She hadn't planned on that. But the list of realities she hadn't planned for was awfully long at this point, and she was fighting so many other impulses and emotions that she couldn't second-guess her Volvo's destination. A quick glance in her rearview mirror confirmed that the SC policeman on duty was right behind her.
When she knocked on the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired door, she wasn't sure if she hoped for an answer or simply silence.
She tried to smile when Alistair opened the door. If he was surprised to find her on his front porch, he didn't show it.
“Victoria, my dear! Please, come in. Might I interest you in a Moscow Mule? They've got some kick!” He winked at her.
Tori wasn't sure what a Moscow Mule was, but she nodded and slid off her heels just inside the door. The house was quiet, and she assumed his wife was out. She followed him into the kitchen and when he gestured to a stool at the breakfast bar, she sat.
“I've been experimenting with mixology lately. I even bought a book!” He pulled two glasses out of a cabinet, dropped a couple of ice cubes into them, and began rummaging around in the cabinets devoted to his bar. He selected a vodka, pulled two ginger beers out of the fridge, and began mixing. “I perfected mojitos last week. I even tried a strawberry one -- that shut my wife up for a while. She generally doesn't see the point of all this experimenting when there are perfectly good bottles of wine in our cellar that just need to be opened.”
“I'm inclined to agree with her.”
He stopped stirring for a moment and studied her. “Really? But you love to cook.”
She thought on that a moment. “I guess it's not really that different, is it?”
“No sir!” He grinned proudly as he placed a glass in front of her. Raising his, he offered a toast: “to old ingredients and new combinations!”
If only you knew, old man . They clinked glasses and she took a drink. It was strong and refreshing and she knew the ginger and carbonation would settle her stomach.
“So. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
She took another healthy drink of the ginger-vodka concoction and contemplated her answer.
“Alistair, have you ever known a lawyer arguing a case in front of you?”
“It's rare these days that I don't know someone arguing in front of me. The legal community, as you well know, is small and incestuous.”
Tori's head jerked at the last comment. “I wasn't talking about sex.”
He peered at her a moment. “I didn't say you were.”
Victoria looked away, embarrassed. Alistair continued. “Look, it's a little game we play, and everyone more or less knows the rules. Kellen runs a poker game once a month and half the lawyers in the city are involved. As soon as one of them takes a case in front of the Court, he stops coming to the game until the Court issues its ruling. Doesn't mean that he and Kellen can't be friends. Michelle plays in a tennis league in Arlington with other Columbia Law grads, half of whom have appeared before the Court. Same schtick – the lawyer plays tennis elsewhere until the ruling comes down, and then she returns to Michelle's league. There are ways to work around these things.
“Sure, but Jason's wife is a pretty high profile lawyer, and she doesn't get to take Supreme Court cases.”
“That's true. I think that's an arrangement they made between themselves years ago.” In the pause that followed, Tori could tell that Alistair was refraining from asking why she was pursuing this line of questioning.
“Alistair, what have you given up for your career?”
He glanced down at her empty glass, and his own mostly consumed drink. “I think we need seconds.”
He fussed with ingredients for a bit before he answered. “I suppose that's a tricky question, isn't it? I don't know – one can never know what one doesn't have.”
“Okay, that's true existentially, I suppose. But I'm sure there have been moments in your life when you had to decide between two things, when you knew what you were sacrificing.”
“Seems to me you're talking about regret. That's no way to live, Victoria. You have to live in the present – too much backward or forward thinking will drive a person nuts.”
“Ah, is that your clinical diagnosis?”
“Yep. And I prescribe Moscow Mules as medication.” He presented her with her second drink and they clinked glasses.
“I noticed you have a shadow tailing you.”
Victoria turned toward the door, alarmed.
“Relax, I meant the cop.”
“Oh, him. Yes. Well, I've been accosted by a few too many reporters and the Supreme Court police got involved. They're rather conspicuous, huh?”
“I think that's the point. Have any inconsiderate reporters approached you since you've acquired your escort?”
Tori thought about that a moment. “No, actually. I guess it's working.”
“Sleeping better at night?”
She smiled. “I doubt I'll get a good night's sleep for a while.”
“And again, I prescribe Moscow Mules.”
She laughed and shook her head at him. “You're nothing if not consistent.”
As the conversation moved to Alistair's garden and the fall vegetables he hoped to harvest, Victoria felt some of the tension leave her shoulders. Her breathing grew slower and deeper, and her fingers ceased trembling. She still felt fluttery, but her visceral response to seeing Genevieve had faded substantially. She made a mental note to buy Alistair a bottle of top shelf vodka.
She'd only been home five minutes when it hit. Part of her was surprised it waited until she had removed her shoes and earrings. Memories flooded her head, and all she could do was sit down and hold on and relive some of the most bittersweet moments of her life.
Harvard Law School , 1989
After spending June through August in D.C. working for the Attorney General's office, Tori returned to Cambridge and her cramped quarters in Gropius. She found the small space oddly comforting in its familiarity. She had acquitted herself well in D.C., but the cutthroat attitude that permeated every building, every interaction, the very cobblestones of the district, was exhausting. She had a lifetime in front of her filled with social events that were more about work than mingling, and eleventh-hour position changes, and ass-kissers. For now, she could simply focus on studying the law in its many nuances. As she unpacked her suits and hung them up in her small closet, in order from light to dark, she hummed a George Michael song and thought of Genevieve.
She knew from their intermittent phone calls during the summer that Genevieve was upgrading her living situation. She claimed that two years was long enough to endure the depressing dorms of Gropius, and she deserved hardwood floors and Victorian molding and space . In July, she'd contacted another rising 3L, a woman named Bethany who had similarly tired of dorm life, and suggested that the two share an apartment. Bethany had remained in Cambridge for the summer as a research assistant for their admin law professor. She scouted apartments and when she called to say she'd located a charming and affordable two-bedroom in Porter Square, Genevieve mailed her a check.
Tori heard all this though the telephone with a rising feeling of trepidation. She wasn't exactly friends with Bethany. Truth be told, she found the blonde Texan with the big hair to be a bit of a pill. Bethany talked incessantly – about anything. Everything. She could latch onto the most insignificant detail of a conversation and talk it to death. She wondered at Genevieve's choice.
And, if she was being honest with herself, she felt anxious about sharing Genevieve. She preferred it when it was just the two of them. She tried to shake off any proprietary feelings she was having toward Genevieve and headed back to the car for another load.
After a brutally humid summer in D.C., Tori was enjoying the light, cool drizzle in Cambridge as she finished unpacking the car. The mist turned into fat raindrops when she returned from the grocery store with items for her mini-fridge and makeshift pantry. By the time she was carrying home her books for the upcoming semester, a full-on thunderstorm was in effect.
After sliding open the two small windows on her corner bedroom and studying the rain for a long minute, she pulled her long hair into a messy ponytail. She longed for Genevieve, longed to hear about her summer in Chicago at the ACLU, to hear about her plans for this upcoming semester, just to hear her, period. Her voice was thrilling – musical with undertones of a slight French accent. Tori thought about calling. They had both been back in Cambridge for about six hours. She had waited long enough, right?
But it wasn't just Genevieve's voice that Tori missed. Calling wouldn't suffice. She scooped up the slip of paper on which she had scrawled Genevieve's new address and slipped it into her purse. She was sure there was some shopping she needed to do in Porter Square. Remembering that it was raining, she grabbed an umbrella on her way out the door.
A mile separated her from Genevieve's apartment, and she spent that time as she had spent much of her time during the three long months of summer: overanalyzing their friendship. She picked apart small gestures, insignificant touches, glances she might have imagined. They were both so circumspect in their word choice, but she still found moments when she thought they dropped their guards and truly connected.
She loathed speaking in code, and she could sense that Genevieve had tired of it as well. Maybe she should attempt a more explicit conversation about their relationship and what she hoped for.
Yeah, and maybe she should drop out of law school and learn to fly planes. She was the most risk-averse person she had ever met. If she were ever to be truly happy, she realized, she would need to take a chance on someone, to open up and reveal who she really was under the layers of masks. She doubted Genevieve Fornier was that person.
She was so infuriatingly sure of herself! And so easily sensual. She turned heads everywhere, whether they were walking around campus or climbing at the gym. She must know, of course, Tori thought. She had heard hints that Genevieve was something of a player, but not once since they had started writing their parody together had Tori heard of her engaging in any kind of liaison with anyone.
Tori knew she could be dense about these things. Of course Genevieve had been with people during their almost year-long friendship. Tori must have just missed the signs.
And if she had missed those signs, what other signs had she missed? Or misinterpreted.
Maybe she should just ask Genevieve about her love life.
Like she would even know how to begin that conversation.
She looked up and realized she was standing in front of Genevieve's apartment building. Before giving herself time to change her mind, she reached out and rang the buzzer next to “Fornier.”
“Speak,” Genevieve instructed. God, she knows how to be direct. Why can't I be that direct?
“Hi, Stranger. It's Victoria,” she began.
Before she could say anything else, the door buzzed and she was granted entry. As she climbed the stairs, she glanced at the closed umbrella in her hand. She'd forgotten it was there. She'd forgotten it was raining. She brushed her wet hair back from her forehead. Great. That's a way to make an impression.
She rounded the corner on the second floor and the door at the end of the hallway was thrown open. “Jesus, come inside! You know they make these things called umbrellas – “
Tori cut off her speech by engulfing her in a soaking wet hug. “Missed you,” she said into Genevieve's dark hair. She congratulated herself on her directness for a moment, before she felt Genevieve shiver. Embarrassed by her display, and by getting Genevieve's cloths wet, she pulled back. She was surprised when Genevieve clung to her tighter, refusing to let her go and whispering “missed you back.”
She pulled away enough to look into brilliant blue of Genevieve's eyes, which were smiling.
“You look good. Drenched, but good. And now you've gotten me drenched too. C'mon,” she ushered Tori into her bedroom and closed the door.
Tori stood a few paces past the door, dripping on the hardwood floor, oddly still except for the trembling. Genevieve approached her and slid off her trench coat. The rain had seeped through the thin material, leaving her blouse wet. “Why don't you take that off? You can borrow something.” Genevieve glanced down at her own attire, which was marked by big wet splotches. “Guess I should change, too.” Tori continued to stand there, silent. She couldn't seem to get any parts of her – her brain or her body – to function.
Genevieve began to unbutton her own shirt. She turned and walked toward her closet, throwing open the accordion doors. “How was your summer? Chicago was hot . But I made some good contacts there, and I think if I want to, I'll be able to return to the ACLU after a couple of years in the private sector.” She selected two sweaters from the top shelf of her closet and returned to stand in front of Tori, who felt herself being studied for a moment. Genevieve held out one of the sweaters, but Tori couldn't seem to make her hand raise and grab it. “You okay, Tor?”
Victoria nodded slightly. She couldn't stop staring at the rays of blue in Genevieve's eyes. “I missed you,” she repeated. She reached out a hand, and with the faintest of touches, caressed Genevieve's cheek. “God, you're so beautiful I can't breathe.”
Genevieve's eyes grew and she dropped her outstretched arm, stunned. Tori's fingertips trailed from her cheek down her neck and across her collarbone. She pressed the flat of her hand against Genevieve's upper chest and felt Genevieve's heartbeat quicken. She dragged her eyes up from Genevieve's chest and, biting the inside of her cheek, stared at her lips. “I'm in love with you,” Tori said. At least, she thought she said it. She wasn't sure. She was shaking and she couldn't tell where her fear ended and her hope began.
She barely heard Genevieve say, “thank god.”
In an instant, they were kissing. Genevieve's hands threaded through her hair, Genevieve's body melded to hers, and for a moment all Tori could do was hold on. She regained her strength and pushed them backward until Genevieve was trapped between the door of her room and Tori's demanding body. Genevieve's hands were everywhere and Tori's vision blurred. Her skin was humming everywhere it made contact with Genevieve and she felt hot and cold at the same time. She kissed Genevieve's shoulder, but it wasn't enough, so she bit her too.
Genevieve groaned for a moment, and then Tori felt herself being pushed away. “Jesus, Tori, stop.” With mere inches between them, she could see Genevieve try to say something sensible about slowing down or waiting, but their eyes met and desire overcame them both.
Tori's hands pressed her shoulders against the door.
“God, Tori, I never thought – I've loved you – I can't believe – “ Tori felt all resistance leave Genevieve as she gave up speaking and their lips met again.
As Genevieve's tongue found hers, Tori struggled to wrap her mind around what was happening. She'd wanted, fantasized, longed for, but she'd never thought she would actually touch Genevieve like this. Her thoughts stalled again when Genevieve roughly reversed their positions, throwing Victoria against the door. She grabbed Tori's hands, raised them above her head, and pinned them to the door. Her demanding lips found the soft skin of Tori's ear, her jawline, her neck. As she slowly dragged her tongue up Tori's throat, Tori began to writhe against her. Genevieve pulled away.
“We should stop.”
That idea was so distasteful that Victoria instantly revised it. “We should slow down. But could I maybe …could I stay?”
Genevieve took her hand and led them to her bed.
* * *
“Jesus, Tori, you have to stop that. I really want to take this slower. I want to do this right.” Their bodies were tangled in the sheets and each other, and Tori was having a hard time with the slow-down plan. Her head was spinning and her lips were chapped. But the predominant feeling coursing through her was joy. And still a modicum of shock.
Tori traced light circles over Genevieve's abdomen, which began twitching. “Ticklish?”
“Little bit,” Genevieve admitted. She kissed Tori's hair, closed her eyes, and sighed.
“Welcome home,” Tori murmured. Just then a booming clap of thunder shook their room and a brief second later lightening illuminated the room. “To both of us.” As she spoke, Tori's body began moving against Genevieve's again.
“Don't start that again. Let's just. I want to be sure. Are you sure?”
“Sure that I love you? That I want you? Have you seen you? God, I can't even describe it.” So instead she began nipping on an inviting earlobe.
Genevieve gently pulled away and repositioned them so they were on their sides, facing each other. She gently placed on hand on Tori's cheek before she said, “we should talk about this.”
“Should we? We've been talking plenty. We just haven't been using words.” When Genevieve acknowledged this truth with grin, Tori laughed quietly. “Overruled, Councilor.”
“Mmm, if I misbehave, will you hold me in contempt of court?”
Tori began softly licking Genevieve's lips. “Yes. I'll remand you to my chambers for a search and seizure.”
“Hmm, technically, that would be illegal,” Genevieve mentioned wryly, referencing the anti-sodomy laws just upheld by Bowers v. Hardwick during the previous year.
“All right, I'll overturn that horrible decision as I drag you into my chambers and have my way with you.”
“You seem awfully confident in your ability to multitask.”
With a gleam in her eye, Tori questioned, “you want to test me?”
“Hell yes. Why don't you hit ‘play' on the CD player, and then tell me how you would go about overturning Bowers .”
Victoria leaned over to the nightstand and turned on the CD player. She grinned as George Michael's “Faith” filled the room. “I listened to this album and dreamed of you all summer.”
She ran her finger down Genevieve's chest. “All summer.” Tori had no idea where this confidence – this ability to be upfront about what she wanted – was coming from, but she wasn't about to stop and question it. She felt invincible, and she never wanted it to stop.
“You're stalling. Bowers . How would you craft your opinion, Madam Justice?”
As Victoria thought about her reply, Genevieve threw her on her back and began to kiss down her body. “Um. Right. Bowers . Well, the first thing I'd have to address is the absence of an enumerated right to privacy in the Constitution. I would contend that while not explicit, the right to privacy is implicit in a number of Constitutional provisions, specifically the fourth and ninth Amendments. Further, as Blackmun wrote in his dissent to Bowers …just because churches and religious institutions …exert moral judgment against … homosexuality …doesn't mean the state…oh god …” Tori struggled to continue. “The state can't criminalize acts simply …because religious …religions…”
“Religious religions, huh? Clever.” As George Michael crooned out “Baby, I know you're asking me to stay, say please, please, please don't go away,” Tori felt a rush of emotions flood through her – lust, yes, but passion and affection and something that felt more enduring than desire. As she faltered again in her hypothetical legal argument, she poured the feelings coursing through her into the body pressed against hers. They both gave up the struggle and acquiesced to the pull of their bodies.
* * *
It was about well past midnight when a particularly loud clap of thunder reverberated around Genevieve's bedroom and woke them. Genevieve drew the comforter over their entwined bodies and Tori began to drift back to sleep when she suddenly shot awake. Her heartbeat quickened.
“Genevieve. Where's your roommate?”
“She's in Texas visiting family until Sunday.”
“Oh, thank god.” Tori exhaled heavily.
“We'd probably scare her speechless, which would be saying something. Hey, that would be a huge relief – I don't know if I can take her constant chatter. Maybe we should think about it.”
Tori sat up, alarmed. “What? No! We can't tell her!”
Genevieve likewise rose and placed a comforting hand on Victoria's back. “Hey, Tor, I was joking, okay?”
Victoria nodded. She wasn't sure whether to believe Genevieve, or panic and run away, or fall asleep, or ravish the woman looking at her with concerned eyes.
“Let's go back to bed, huh?” Genevieve guided Tori back to the bed and wrapped her body around Tori's still shivering form. “Good night, darling.”
Tori dismissed thoughts of Bethany, and everyone else, and relaxed into the body next to hers. “Good night, Vee,” she whispered.
After a moment, Genevieve's muffled voice said into Tori's neck, “no one's ever called me ‘Vee' before.”
“It means I love you,” Tori replied.
* * *
Two decades later, alone in her house, Victoria cried over Genevieve. Cried for her. It wasn't the first time, and she doubted it would be the last.
“Abuse of executive powers. Unconstitutional.”
“For once, I agree with Jason. Sets a dangerous precedent of sweeping executive authority. Unconstitutional.”
Victoria was surprised as they continued around the Justices' conference room that the vote was nearly unanimous. It was the third case they had discussed in that morning's Conference of Justices, and the only one that wasn't bitterly divided. Only Eliot McKinzie seemed to think the US government could continue to hold detainees at Guantanamo without charging them with a crime. She shifted in her seat, and noticed others were fidgeting too. O'Neil preferred unanimous decisions, although with high profile cases he was rarely able to wrangle this type of decision. In the next weeks, he would bring unrelenting pressure to bear on Eliot to join the majority decision.
Victoria watched the Chief Justice lean back in his chair at the head of the conference table and steeple his fingers. She could see the wheels turning in his head, and knew he was contemplating who to assign the task of authoring the decision. If the author could tailor the wording of the opinion to make it more palatable to McKinzie, the Kellen O'Neil might just get his unanimous decision.
This was how the game was played.
“Willoughby. I want a draft of the majority decision circulated to all of us in two weeks. Moving on. The public domain case. I side with the appellants.”
While the other Justices in the room, in order of seniority, began to call out their votes, Victoria put a check mark next to the Guantanamo case on the list in front on her. She was careful to exhibit no other reaction. When it was again her turn to speak, she voiced her vote on the public domain case, noting that they were split along party lines, Jamison siding with the conservatives.
The Council ended, and Justices gathered their folios. Tori caught a wink from Alistair and she discretely smiled back. When she returned to her private office after a brief stop to let her clerks know they would be authoring the habeas decision, she found Alistair waiting for her.
“Clearly I need to have a talk with my secretary about admitting strange men into my chambers.” She crossed the office and sank into her desk chair.
“Just because I spend a lot of mental energy trying to reduce life's problems to mathematical equations, doesn't mean I'm strange.”
“Just a geek, huh?”
“I prefer dork, if you don't mind.”
“There's a difference?”
Alistair pursed his lips at her, which looked so ridiculous she almost slid out of her desk chair. “More science, less science fiction.”
“Ah, I see. Hey, is that a dig on people who like science fiction? Because the reboot of Battlestar Galactica captures the human condition better than any television show, ever.”
Alistair shrugged. “I don't judge. I just correctly classify.”
Tori pulled her thermos of tea from her bag and unscrewed the cap. “Is this really the conversation you stopped by to have?”
“No, but I find the true gems in life come from the seemingly unimportant conversations in the gaps between the overthought dialogues that are supposed to structure our lives.”
Victoria stared at him. “You're a weirdo. Who talks like that?”
“Evidently I do.”
Victoria was reminded of a having a similar exchange with Genevieve. Genevieve had given her that grin that made her feel slightly drunk for a moment, unsure of how her limbs would respond if she told them to move. She pulled her mind back to her chambers and Alistair and the present with effort. She rolled her eyes.
“Fine, fine,” he said, throwing up his hands. “What's your strategy with the habeas case?”
“Jesus, Alistair, he just assigned it to me! All I've had time to think about since then is that my dry cleaning is ready.”
“When you get into it, I'm around. Bounce ideas off of me. Strategize with me.”
Victoria tilted her head. “You don't think I can handle this?”
“I'm just saying, I went to law school with Eliot. His wife and my wife play tennis together. If you get stuck, I might have some valuable insights.”
“You don't think I can handle this.” This time she said it as a statement.
Alistair rose, tipped an imaginary hat to her, and exited her office, calling over his shoulder in an exaggerated cockney accent, “g'day, ma'am”
Tori sipped her tea, thoughtfully. On the one hand, she was irritated that Alistair would doubt her ability to write a decision that every Justice would be wiling to sign. On the other hand, she wouldn't put it past Alistair to sense the flicker of self-doubt in her, and decide to play a little reverse psychology. Alistair had to know that any challenge of her powers of judicial persuasion would be met with nothing short of single-minded determination.
Either way, she was going to write a hell of an opinion, chastising the executive branch for overreach of power and reaffirming the universal right to freedom from unlawful, indefinite detention. And it was going to be unanimous.
The misinformation campaign to capture the leak in her office was much less fun than television shows would indicate. Victoria was grateful that she had an impressive poker face, but she felt awful lying to her staff. She found it difficult to keep straight her various stories about why she was again changing her home phone number, and wound up excusing herself from a prying conversation with her secretary by pretending she was coming down with the flu. When her secretary insisted she go home immediately so as not to spread germs, Tori cursed herself for not concocting a less contagious malady, like a migraine.
Finding herself unexpectedly dismissed from her own chambers in the middle of the day, she stopped by Pollard's office.
“Good, glad you're here.” He handed her a bag filled with cell phones. “Each one is labeled and programmed as per our agreement the other day. No one else has any of these numbers but the members of your staff, and they each have been given a different number.”
“So now we just wait and see,” she said.
“If one of them rings, we'll record and trace the call, and we'll immediately start investigating the staff member who was given that number.”
Tori shivered. “Well, thank you.”
“Not at all. This is what we do. Have you seen any more of your stalker?”
“Not since I've had a conspicuous police officer trailing me.”
“I suppose so.”
“We ran the plates the Harbour Club gave us on the black hatchback. Dead end. We found the car abandoned in Virginia.”
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“Nothing you need to worry about. Enjoy the rest of your day, Madam Justice.”
She could tell she wouldn't get more information from him, so she said “you too,” and exited his office. She hoped no one noticed the clinking canvas bag filled with cell phones that she awkwardly carried.
When she got home, dropped her keys and purse on a table, unbuttoned her jacket, and went straight to her sideboard. She extracted one phone at a time from Pollard's bag and lined them up. They looked identical, and Pollard hadn't labeled them in any way. He hadn't wanted Victoria to know which of her staff was leaking her phone number to Damien Fitzpatrick -- at least not before the SC police could decide what to do with the information.
Tori was relieved that she wouldn't know right away. Since staring at the row of phones wasn't going to make them ring, she slid off her heels and headed into her office. She hadn't worked from home in a while, and she was looking forward to a change of scene.
Sitting in front of her computer, she opened a blank document and began outlining her thoughts on the habeas case. Wallace would write the first draft, but Tori wanted to lay the groundwork first. Eliot McKinzie, she suspected, had advised the Bush administration in personal chats that the Court would have no problem with the shadowy legal framework behind Guantanamo. Tori knew he was tight with both the President and the Chief of Staff. These kinds of off-the-record chats often got presidents into trouble. She remembered what happened when Chief Justice Fred Vinson told President Truman that the Court would have no problem with the Presiden seizing the country's steel mills, only to have the entire court vote against him when the case came to trial. It had been embarrassing.
And Guantanamo was embarrassing to judges and legal scholars everywhere. Private military tribunals were an illegal substitute for fair trials, to which even the worst, most despicable of murderers had a right. Frankly, Tori favored public civil trials more for the healing of national trauma than anything else.
She flipped though the petitions and amicus briefs, making notes in the margins of things she wanted to come back to, and typing in quotations and case citations for the Court's opinion. She had a pen in her mouth, a binder in her lap, and her fingers poised over the keys when a cell phone rang. She was so startled she bit into the pen, cracking its outer shell.
She rushed to the sideboard to see which phone was buzzing and vibrating, but none of them were. She stared at the neat row of phones, puzzled, until she realized the sound was coming from behind her, from the table where she'd discarded her purse when she first arrived home. She mentally shook her head at herself before fishing out her actual phone and saying hello.
“Well, how was the cookout? I've been wondering if some fetching young thing whisked you away to Barbados, since that would be your only excuse for not calling with details.”
“Hello to you too, William. How was your weekend?”
“I watched SpongeBob with child number 1 and fought with number 2 about taking a bath. If my drenched jeans were any indication, she won that one. All in all, not as fun as a cookout with a sexy lesbian doctor and her hot single friends.”
“What's new under the sea? Have you heard that SpongeBob is really a critique of nuclear testing and the political economy of the Cold War?”
“Eh, so says the internet and a bunch of conspiracy theorists with too much time on their hands.”
“Wow. My whole conception of the show has changed. I have to rewatch the whole series now. Tommy will be thrilled when I tell him I want to start back at episode one.”
Tori knew her brother was mentally replaying the series in his head. She sank into her couch and appreciated her ability to redirect him.
“Wait a minute! You only change the subject when you're hiding something. Spill it, or I'm telling Diane and she'll weasel it out of you.”
“Sure, get your wife to do your dirty work for you.”
“Um, we've started trying to figure out who the leak in my office is.”
“Uh huh. And what else?”
“I got assigned a big opinion to write,” she said.
“Not something you'd want to divert my attention from. C'mon, Sis, you can't lie to me. You performed a magic show for me when I got the chicken pox in second grade and I saw right through your tricks.”
“Genevieve was there.”
“At your magic show? I remember it just being the two of us.”
“At the party, dimwit.”
“Genevieve...Genevieve... Oh, the girl from law school?” He asked, innocently. “I think I remember her. Oh yeah, that's right, the only women you've ever been in love with, biggest regret of your life, yadda yadda. Well, did she march right up to you, take you in her strong arms, and kiss you?”
“Did you march right up to her, take her in your puny, I-don't-lift-weights arms, and kiss her?”
“No, for crying out loud Will.”
“Did she slap you?”
“Are you quite finished?”
“I'll be good.”
“Doubtful. You're mediocre at pretty much everything.”
“False. Case in point, I excel at driving you nuts.” She could hear the pride in his voice.
Tori groaned. “That you do.”
“Seriously, what happened?”
“Nothing. She's arguing the gay marriage case before the court, so I can't talk to her. I left.”
“You left? She's going to think that's all you do.”
“Start? Haven't we been at this for five minutes?”
“How was work today, William?”
“Normally I wouldn't let you off that easy --”
“You call this easy?”
“-- but I can tell you really don't want to talk about it. So I'll just brag about myself for a while. I'm going to win an award from the Arlington city council for the best design of public space in the city.”
“Wow, that's fantastic, Will! I guess you excel at things after all.”
“Just trying to be like my big sister, you know.”
“See, and then you go and say things like that and I forget how annoying you are.”
He laughed. “Oh don't worry -- I'll remind you soon enough.”
“Congratulations, Will. I'm proud of you.”
“So there's going to be a ceremony a week from Saturday...”
“I'll be there,” she said.
“Wouldn't miss it.”
“I'll email you the details. See you this weekend?”
“Sure, I'll stop by on Saturday.”
“Great! See you then.”
“Love you more. Cuz I'm the better sibling.”
Tori paused. “Sigh. Shouldn't we have outgrown this kind of juvenile behavior by now?”
He chuckled. “Are you kidding? When we're eighty, we'll be competing about who rocks better in a rocking chair.”
“That's a skill?”
“It is the way I plan on doing it.”
“Au revior, Brother.”
It took three days for one of her decoy cell phones to ring. She had almost gotten over worrying about them. Almost.
She was seated at her kitchen island, eating a breakfast burrito, when one of the devices on her sideboard vibrated and rang. She put down her food, and the tortilla unwrapped itself, salsa and green pepper spilling out. Guess I'll need a fork now. She crossed to the phones and grabbed one. Her professional persona slid on like a well-worn sweater and she said hello.
“Justice Willoughby, it's Damien. Just calling to see how everything is progressing with the habeas case.”
His information was certainly up-to-date. Victoria's blood felt like ice in her veins and it took an extra beat before she could come up with a reply. “I thought you were interested in the DOMA case, Mr. Fitzpatrick.”
“Oh, I am, of course, Madam Justice. Can I call you Victoria? I'm interested in both cases. You see, there have been calls for you to recuse yourself from both, so it seems to me they're related.”
“Excuse me? Why on earth would I step down from a habeas case?”
“Ah, so you agree that the DOMA case is different -- that there might be some merit to those calls for recusal.”
Tori clamped her mouth shut, furious that she was being played -- and effectively. She knew better. She hoped Pollard had been able to trace the call, because she was done with this conversation.
She sighed, knowing she had to do this right or the calls would continue. “What do you want, Mr. Fitzpatrick?”
“Please, Damien is fine. I want to show the world the real you. How about an exclusive interview? I could come to your chambers.”
“That is quite out of the question, Mr. Fitzpatrick. I will thank you to stop calling me. Good day, Mr. Fitzpatrick.”
She clicked the phone off and returned it to its home between numbers eight and ten. Shaking her head at the number of devices in her life, she fetched the SC police phone from her purse and dialed Pollard.
“Excellent work, Madam Justice. I believe we have some good information.”
“When can I expect your report?”
“Give my team a day or two. I'll call you when we have something.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
She returned the cell to her bag and headed into the kitchen to eat away her anxiety.
Dressed in a charcoal suit with a white blouse and stilettos, she leaned against the countertop and ate slow-churned chocolate ice cream from the container. This was not how she wanted to spend her Friday night.
She grabbed Sonya's business card from her wallet and twirled it between her fingers. She had been meaning to call and apologize for leaving the cookout so abruptly. She turned the card on the diagonal, trapped two corners between her index finger and the countertop, and flicked it. It landed with the text up, which she interpreted as a sign. She stored Sonya's number on her personal phone and dialed.
Sonya picked up on the third ring and said hello.
“Hi, Sonya, it's --”
“Victoria Willoughby. I was hoping you'd call. I wanted to apologize that Tara and I didn't cross-check our guest lists -- we certainly didn't mean to put you in an awkward situation.”
“No need to apologize. These things happen.”
“Well, I'm sorry this thing happened before we broke out the badminton -- it was pretty raucous.”
Tori couldn't tell if Sonya was being sarcastic. “I'm sorry I missed it.”
“Indeed you are. You can make it up to us by coming over to play doubles this weekend.”
“Doubles? In badminton?”
“You have no idea. Tara is very competitive. In most matters I am too, but I can't take seriously any game with equipment called a shuttlecock.”
“Fair enough. I suspect I'd be in your camp.”
“Excellent. We can pair up to take on Bethie and Tara. It's best if they win or lose together. Sibling rivalry and whatnot.”
“Understandable. So when is this happening? Do I need a racquet?”
“Nope -- we've got you covered. Just wear athletic clothes. Or garden party attire. Bethany once kicked my ass while playing in a white gingham dress.”
The conflicting messages were making Tori's head spin. “What are you wearing?”
There was a brief pause before both women cracked up.
“Gotta admit, it's been years since a woman on the phone asked me that.”
“I'm not sure a woman on the phone has ever asked me that. I'm quite certain I've never said it.”
“Well I'm honored to be your first.”
“And you're taking my badminton virginity.”
“Well, there will definitely be loud noises and sweating, and the way Tara does it, you'll probably need a nap afterward.”
Tori blinked. “Wow, I don't even know how to respond to that.”
“You've got until tomorrow at three to think of a good comeback. Bring a change of clothes and stay for dinner.”
“I guess it's settled then. What else can I bring?”
“Just your sense of humor.”
“You're in luck-- It seems to follow me wherever I go.”
“See you at three then.”
“Three it is.”
Tori smiled as she hung up the phone. She glanced at her left thumb, still healing from her clumsy knife handling, and was glad her injury brought Sonya into her life.
The next morning she carried her tea and a binder on the habeas case to her back patio. The sunshine had been deceptive, and she soon retrieved an afghan from her couch and wrapped it around her shoulders while she worked. She could feel the change of seasons in the crisp October breeze.
Consensus building had never been a particular strength of Tori's. But her first year on the bench taught her the importance of convincing the other members of the bench to join opinions. Certainly managing personalities was much an indicator of a successful Chief Justice as jurisprudence. Kellen deftly delegated opinion authorship and subtly massaged any resulting bruised egos. Tori sensed he had given her the habeas case for a reason, and she suspected it had something to do with learning how to finesse her fellow Justices. She wondered too if he might be testing her mettle. She needed to craft a strongly-worded opinion while still appealing to a reticent colleague. A watered down opinion ran the risk of losing members of the majority to concurring opinions -- decisions which reached the same conclusion as hers, but articulated different reasons for doing so.
The binder on the patio table in front of her contained a draft of the decision along with the briefs filed by the two sides and supporting case materials. Wallace had written a good draft. She wanted to make it excellent. For the next three hours she combed through it with two different colored pens and a highlighter. She dropped post-its as placeholders for additional cases to site and text she would generate before Monday. She drew arrows rearranging sections and paragraphs.
When she competed her first read-through, she shrugged off her blanket and walked around her back yard. The kale and squashes in her little vegetable garden needed harvesting and once again the rosemary seemed hell bent on overtaking all the other herbs nearby, many of which were shrinking along with the days. She plucked a sprig of rosemary, thinking she would bring a pitcher of rosemary mojitos to the badminton extravaganza.
She was walking back toward the wrought iron table and ice cream chairs when she heard the unmistakable click of an SLR camera. The sound came from the viburnums lining the left side of her property. Suddenly Tori was aware of how loud her breath sounded. She recognized the music of the birds in her cherry trees, chirping away. The hum of a lawnmower wafted from the south. Other ambient noises she had been ignoring suddenly flooded her consciousness.
Her field of vision narrowed, everything becoming blurry but one object that instantly seemed magnified, sharp and larger than it had any business being. The habeas binder. It was open to a case on the legality of military tribunals for civilians. The two sides submitted briefs with vastly different interpretations about this earlier case and its relevance to the present situation. She had written notes on the printout of the case about whose interpretation maintained. It was not information she wanted leaked to the press.
She thought back to Lincoln's time, to an era before the Secret Service and paparazzi when the President of the country could walk around town unmolested. She cast her mind back even further, to the John Marshall court when the Justices roomed together in Washington in boarding houses. In the early years of this country, its leaders felt free to go about their lives much like normal citizens, without fearing for their privacy.
This was her home. Her personal backyard. That someone with a camera could be spying on her, could be a security threat to her, was beyond frustrating, beyond infuriating. It was violating.
All this flashed through her mind in an instant. She squared her shoulders and walked slowly back to her patio, trying to convey to anyone watching that she was simply going about her business, that she hadn't heard the camera, that she wasn't trembling. She reached the table and gently closed the binder, hiding all of her notes from the zoom lens. She tucked it into the crook of her arm, grabbed her tea, and eased open the sliding glass door. She shut it harder than she had intended and pulled the blinds closed.
Grabbing one of the twenty cell phones now in her possession, she walked upstairs to her bedroom, dropped into a chair, and pulled her legs to her chest. Her fingers shook as she dialed.
* * *
The agent outside Tori's house hadn't seen anyone. They were doing a sweep of her yard and taking some surveillance measures Tori didn't really understand, or even want to know about. Pollard informed her that they had reason to believe it was the same person who had trailed her to the Harbour Club, but he didn't see fit to share that reason. He instructed her to report to his office first thing Monday morning to review the situation with leak, and said it would take a few days before he could debrief her on the stalker issue.
In the face of all of this chaos, Tori decided, the best thing to do was badminton.
Tori opened the Pollard's office door and barely stifled a gasp. She didn't know which of her staff members she expected when Pollard called to tell her his staff had traced the leak, but it certainly wasn't Wallace. She squared her shoulders and sat down across from Pollard, next to her clerk.
“Justice Willoughby. Thank you for coming,” Pollard said.
Tori tried not to look at the young man sitting next to her. Even so, she could feel his nervousness, and she found it contagious. Her stomach fluttered.
“The Supreme Court Police have conducted a thorough investigation into the leak in your office,” Pollard continued. Tori stole a glance at Wallace when she heard his sharp intake of breath. It was clear had had no idea why he had been summoned to Pollard's office until that moment.
“The leak in your office traces back to Wallace,” Pollard announced.
The young clerk turned abruptly to Tori and immediately began to protest.
Pollard held up his hand, silencing the agitated young man. “Wallace, Justice Willoughby has the utmost respect for you, and when we embarked on this investigation she singled you out by name as the least likely candidate for the leak in her office. We dug deeper. Wallace, tell me about your roommate.”
“Byron? Wait, what does Byron -- I'm sorry, I'm very confused.”
Tori felt for the young man. Pollard intimidated her, and she wasn't being accused of anything. Still unsure where this was going, she followed her instincts and reached for Wallace's hand.
Pollard's deep voice cut in. “Let's forget the big picture for a moment and focus on the details. Wallace, tell us about Byron. How long have you known him?”
His hand was clammy, and Tori squeezed it reassuringly.
“Four months. My first roommate -- a friend of mine from law school -- had to move back to Maine to take care of his mother. She had cancer. But I was stuck with this lease. So I put an ad in Craig's List. Byron was one of the people I interviewed. He struck me as pretty boring, and boring people make great roommates for clerks. I'm rarely home, and when I am, I just want to sleep. He doesn't party. He irons his shirts. He goes to church every Sunday.”
Pollard nodded, as though this description confirmed something. “And where is Bryon from originally, Wallace?”
“Uh, well, I don't know him that well.”
“California, Wallace. Fresno.”
It was Wallace's turn to nod, although his was slower and more uncertain than Pollard's.
“Justice Willoughby, who's the reporter who keeps harassing you? The one with the insider information?”
“Damien Fitzpatrick,” said, although she knew Pollard knew his name.
Wallace turned to her sharply. “There's a reporter harassing you?”
Pollard cut him off with a gesture. “And do you know where Mr. Fitzpatrick went to high school?”
“I sure don't. But I'm betting you do.” Tori was growing impatient with Pollard's Socratic method.
“Fresno High School. He and Byron were co-editors of the school newspaper. Wallace, is your laptop password protected?”
Wallace looked down as he mumbled “no.”
Pollard leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. “There you have it.”
Victoria and Wallace exchanged confused glanced before speaking at the same time.
“How much trouble am I in, exactly?” Wallace inquired.
“What happens with this Byron character now?” Tori asked.
Pollard rolled his eyes and Tori felt a bit like a truant who had been called into the principal's office. He turned to Wallace first. “I'm going to take your laptop for the next few days to dig around in there.” Tori wasn't sure if he meant that his team would physically disassemble the machine, or dig around in the software, but she got the distinct impression asking for clarification would not look very impressive. ”You absolutely must password protect your laptop in the future. I'm surprised that you got away without a password for this long. Once we've analyzed the laptop, we'll assess what's next. In the meantime, Wallace, I suggest you find yourself a new roommate.” Pollard closed the binder that had been opened on his desk, and Tori realized the meeting was over. She couldn't help but give Pollard a quizzical look, to which he responded, “the rest is details. You needn't trouble yourself with them. Suffice it to say, the leak will be plugged.” He stood, and Tori and Wallace followed suit.
They closed the door behind them and walked down the hallway toward the elevators that would take them back up to Victoria's chambers.
“Justice Willoughby, I am so sorry. I had no idea you were being harassed, and I can't believe I played any part in it.”
Tori sighed. “You didn't Wallace, at least not wittingly. I'm just relieved that we know how the information got to Fitzpatrick. He's --”
“A bigot and an asshole,” Wallace finished. He hit the button to call the elevator. “How much did he know?”
“Rather a lot, truth be told.” They boarded the elevator and the doors closed. Tori hoped it would be the last time she rode away from Pollard's office. “I'm sure he'll publish some sensational story about all this.” She ran her hand through her hair.
“No one takes the Star Reporter seriously. Everyone will just assume it's fabricated. Besides, after Pollard's through with him, I'm not sure he'll be publishing anything.”
Tori hated when he called her that. Although she knew he was a polite southern boy who called every woman older than him “ma'am,” it made her feel like his mother.
“Anyone else threatens you or bothers you, I'll kick his ass.”
She took in his slight frame and his narrow shoulders. “You want to make good on that promise, you better start working out.”
He shrugged sheepishly. “My gym smells like feet. And burned eggs.”
Tori smiled. She had grown awfully fond of Wallace, and she thought she might just have a solution for him. “I know this really great gym . . .”
Victoria couldn't believe it. She blinked once. Twice. Still, the letters engraved on the gold plate in the middle of the door remained. She clenched her jaw and proceeded past the private Harbour Club dressing room to the following one. The one with her name on it.
Of all the fitness joints, in all the towns, in all the world…
She closed the door to her private room, wondering how likely it would be that she and Genevieve would work out at the same time. She wondered what Genevieve did for exercise these days. She wondered when the hell everything became so complicated.
She stripped, neatly folding each article of clothing and placing it on the countertop before removing the next. She pulled on her racing suit, wondering for the first time how she looked in it. Older, probably. But she was still trim. Diane always said she looked ten years younger than her age, but sisters-in-law were unreliable sources. Grateful for the robe the Club provided, she slipped it on and pulled open the door, wondering if she might see Genevieve on the other side.
She wasn't sure if it was relief or disappointment she felt, but she knew she didn't want to feel it every time she turned a corner in her gym.
Her laps flew by and before she knew it she was faced with the prospect of walking through the locker room past Genevieve's door again.
“Maybe I need to start swimming with someone so I have a buffer,” she mused. Steeling herself, she exited the pool area though the door marked “ladies locker room.”
The hallway was quiet and she entered her private stall without encountering a soul. She enjoyed a long, hot shower and took her time getting ready. She pulled on her clothes in the same order she always did, finishing with earrings, her watch, and finally her heels. The December weather was threatening to snow, and she was glad she had decided to wear her long coat. She put her hand on the door handle, ready to exit, when she heard a low rumble indicating someone had just turned on the shower in the room next door. The sound was soon topped by singing.
Genevieve always sang in the shower, Tori remembered.
She hurried through the locker room, up the stairs, and out of the club.
* * *
She no longer had to wonder what Genevieve did to stay in shape these days.
On Thursday, after a horrid day of disagreeing with O'Neil, Jamison, and even Alistair Douglas, Tori decided to lift weights to relieve some stress. She hadn't lifted weights in years, and she had to wander around the huge facility for a bit before she found the machines. They were lined up in two long rows. She stood there, at a bit of a loss for a moment. There were so many of them. Well, she just needed some kind of pattern, some kind of order to go about things. She decided to do a machine from row A, then a machine from row B, and so on. That seemed manageable.
She did twenty reps on the chest press machine, irritated by how hard it was. This is supposed to relieve my frustration, not make it worse . She crossed the aisle, and from the shoulder raise machine, she could see through the windows of Studio C, where twenty people were in downward dog. Rolling her eyes, she raised the two handles of the machine above her head . Yoga, a sport for hippies. Still, some of them looked pretty good in there. One woman in particular. When the pose ended and the class moved into warrior one, she got a full profile view of Genevieve and dropped the weigh she had been holding over her head. The sound reverberated through the weight room, and the chief of staff to the majority whip gave her a dirty look.
She debated looking over her shoulder and trying to put the blame on someone else, but only William ever seemed to fall for that.
Of course Genevieve did yoga. Add it to the list of things she excelled at. Victoria crossed the aisle to the bicep machine. Just count, she told herself. One. Two… eighteen, nineteen, twenty. There. Done.
Congratulating herself, she crossed the aisle again and contorted onto the inner thigh machine. Squeezing, she stole another look into the exercise room. The class was in some pose that involved being half upside down, and Genevieve along among them seemed to be able to balance on her head. There wasn't a drop of sweat on her. Her muscles weren't shaking. She might as well have been sleeping, she appeared so relaxed. Jesus, does anything faze her? She moved out of the pose gracefully, and slid right back into a downward dog. It was a view of Genevieve that Victoria hadn't seen in years, but her body had the same reaction now that it did then. Her face flushed and her legs started shaking.
Or maybe her legs were shaking because she was still squeezing them together on the damn weight machine. She had no idea how long she had been there, but her muscles were so taxed they had difficulty releasing.
When she dismounted the machine and tried to cross to the outer thigh machine, she almost slid to the floor, a big puddle of disaster.
She made it back across the aisle, and revised her workout strategy. Machines in row A only. Then a long shower.
* * *
Friday at work involved oral arguments in three cases related to Miranda rights, and she was fairly certain the bench would issue unanimous decisions. It was a better day at work than she'd has in a long time, and she probably would have walked out of her chambers at the end of the day with a lighter step, had her egregious mistake on the weight machine the night before not left her with a slight limp. She supposed most single people in the world had more exciting things to do on a Friday night than go to the gym, but she was a person of habit, and at 7pm she was ready to swim.
She emerged from her private room in the Harbour Club with goggles, cap, and water bottle in hand, at the same Genevieve stepped out of hers. Genevieve wasn't wearing a robe over her swimsuit. Of course she swam in a two-piece. Tori's mouth went dry and her hands trembled slightly. What have I done to deserve this?
They stared at each other for a brief moment before falling into step and proceeding to the pool together. The two far lanes were both unoccupied, and they dropped into the water, adjusted their caps and goggles, and began slow, relaxed freestyle strokes at the same time.
Usually Tori was irritated by swimmers in the next lane matching her stroke for stroke. It inspired her competitive side and she would focus all her energy until she had surged ahead. But she was content to push off from the wall in unison with Genevieve. They maintained an easy pace until after twenty laps, when by some unspoken agreement they stopped for a water break.
Water breaks in between laps usually brought on a wave if dizziness for Victoria, and she closed her eyes for a moment until it passed. When her equilibrium returned, she glanced at her fellow swimmer. They pulled their goggles back on, nodded at each other, and resumed their laps.
Tori typically stopped at thirty, but the leisurely pace she had been content to maintain with Genevieve had left her with more energy. At forty, they stopped again for more water, nodded once more at each other, and swam ten more.
* * *
The second floor of the Harbour Club contained rooms for acupuncture and massages, an exercise studio filled with Pilates machines, and the Club Café. Tori rarely ate there, but she was famished after swimming for so long. Her hair was still wet, but she'd thrown on a little makeup just in case.
She tried not to ask herself, in case of what?
The café was largely unoccupied, but she chose a table against the far right wall. She glanced through the menu, decided on an omelet and a glass of Chardonnay, and returned the folded menu to its slot at the end of her booth. Peering around the café in search of a waiter, her eyes fell on Genevieve, nursing red wine.
She likewise hadn't dried her hair. Tori could see the path that her hairbrush had taken through her long locks. She wore skinny jeans tucked into knee-high brown riding boots and a loose-fitting red shirt that laced up the front. The shirt was open at the top and Victoria could see she wasn't wearing a necklace. She didn't have earrings on either.
The only view of Genevieve that Victoria had since her graduation from law school was pictures in different law magazines when Genevieve had won important cases, which had been often enough. In all the pictures, she was wearing a suit, tasteful accessories, and the perfect hairstyle. This limited view of her had given Tori the impression that Genevieve was completely untouchable -- a magazine model of a mythic figure who was always ready for her close-up. Seeing Genevieve fresh from the shower, still slightly flushed from their workout, was wholly unnerving for Tori. She looked relaxed, not poised for a fight, and for the first time in years, Victoria allowed herself to remember that Genevieve was a real person and to ponder what her life was like away from the courtrooms and cameras. What she wore in the privacy of her own house. If she cooked. If she kept houseplants. What she looked like first thing in the morning.
Who she woke up with.
The last thought startled Victoria, and she felt her cheeks go red. She realized she had been staring, but Genevieve didn't seem to mind. She realized also that Genevieve was looking back at her with similar open curiosity.
The waiter came and she placed her order.
She wasn't sure she would be able to stand this. After the waiter left, she stole one more glance, then headed toward the ladies' room.
The lighting there was brighter than in the café and she blinked a few times. What the hell was she doing? Now, away from the distracting yet oddly comforting presence of Genevieve, she started shaking a bit. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She studied herself in the mirror, styling her damp hair, mostly because it gave her something to do.
Her stomach growled and she headed back to her table, hoping the service in the café was impossibly fast.
It was, it turned out, and the waiter was delivering Genevieve's soup and salad. Victoria had just settled back into her booth when he reemerged from the kitchen with her omelet. She stared at the side plate of toast.
The one time in law school that they had gone to a diner together, Victoria had ordered an omelet. When it arrived accompanied by toast, she told Genevieve she didn't like toast. Genevieve laughed at her, telling her toast seemed pretty benign and a general crowd pleaser. She then confessed that the toast was her favorite part of any breakfast meal. Tori had slid her plate of buttered rye triangles across the table and Genevieve had devoured them all.
Tori looked up to find Genevieve gazing at her toast, and she wondered if the woman across the café from her was lost in the same memory.
Or maybe she was just hungry. Tori wished she had the courage to send her toast to Genevieve's table via the waiter. Maybe next time.
Wait, next time? What on earth was she thinking? “Next time” was going to be in the Supreme Court. The following Tuesday was oral arguments.
She ate her omelet, paid her bill, and left.
To be continued.
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