Disclaimers: The characters in this story are mine. This is a 'uber' story, set in today's timeline, and some of the characters may bear more than a slight resemblance to certain other characters we all know, but which are not owned by me. Any similarity to real people is unintentional and purely coincidental. The location is Orlando, Florida. This story is character driven. As in my previous stories, there is not a whole lot of plot. There is no violence, nobody is trying to kill anybody else, nobody is chasing anybody else, etc., etc. There may be some minor angst here, but nothing too traumatic. The backdrop is a law firm, and from first-hand experience, law firms can be rather routine places to work. This story continues the tale of two people set in that environment whose lives are anything but routine.
Subtext Disclaimer: There is subtext, or maintext as the case may be, here. This story deals with the deep, profound love and devotion between two people who happen to be of the same gender. Although there are some scenes depicting the physical expression of that love, there are no graphic or explicit scenes here. If that is what you are looking for, you might want to go ahead and read something else.
Continuing Story Disclaimer: This is the sequel to my previous stories "Undeniable" and "Considerable Appeal" and picks up about one month later. You may want to read the previous stories prior to reading this one, otherwise the storyline will probably not make very much sense to you.
Feedback: This is my third attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome and very much appreciated. Please feel free to let me know if there is something you especially liked or didn't like. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by KM
A soft rap on the wooden office door caught the attention of the litigation department chairman, bringing him from his analysis of the firm's quarterly financial projections. His eyes glanced up through his wire-rimmed bifocals to see one of his junior partners standing expectantly in his doorway.
"Got a few minutes?" Jess asked, hoping she wasn't interrupting something rather pressing.
"Sure." Harry Roberts set aside his spreadsheet. "Come on in." He relaxed back into his chair. "You know, these damn reports the accounting people send down to me have so much gobbledygook in them that even after all these years, I can barely make heads or tails of them. Why in the world cant they just give me the bottom line and leave it at that?" The most senior member of the firm posed his hypothetical question, seeming mildly confounded.
The younger attorney closed the door behind her and slid into a nearby chair opposite his desk. "Well, look at it this way, Harry, as long as my clients keep on paying their bills on time, a large part of that report is going to be positive."
Hmmm. That was certainly true. Pacified for the moment, he tilted the mug sitting in front of him, peering into it to confirm its emptiness. "Coffee?"
On cue, Harry punched the button on his phone intercom to his secretary. "Betty, would you bring in some coffee for us?" He gave the junior partner a look. "Cream and sugar?"
A brief nod.
"Make one black, and one cream and sugar." At his secretary's acknowledgment, Harry then turned his attention to his guest. "All right, so what's up?"
Give it to him straight. "You remember when you told me to come to you with any potential situations?"
He stared at her warily. "Yes."
"Well, I had a visitor this past weekend."
The litigation department chairman raised an eyebrow. "Oh, good grief. Not Thomas Wilson again?"
"No. It was .." Jess could feel an involuntary tensing of her muscles. "James."
What? That came as a shock. Harry leaned forward in his chair. "James?"
"He came by the house on Sunday to see me."
Harry shook his head, trying to make sense of the news. "I can't believe it. I can't believe he'd show his face in this town after his deplorable behavior toward you before." He shook his head again. "What did he want?"
Somehow, talking about this with Harry became easier. "He had a proposal for me."
"A proposal?" Harry was quite surprised at this, and frankly, he didn't know what to make of it.
A quick knock interrupted them. The office door opened, and as requested, Betty brought in two cups of steaming coffee. "Will there be anything else, Mr. Roberts?"
Harry absently accepted his coffee, taking a brief moment to refocus his thoughts. "Yes, Betty. Will you call Frank Wheeler?" He checked his watch. "See if we can postpone this morning's status conference until later on this afternoon."
His long-time secretary nodded, then left the office, closing the door to the prolonged silence inside.
Harry considered this recent revelation. A proposal. This could change everything. Having known Jess both personally and professionally for more than eight years, he was well aware of her previous feelings toward James. And the fact that she'd taken the scoundrel's abrupt departure so hard had indicated to him that her feelings for James, at least at one time, had run quite deep. Deep enough to even now retain some lingering affection? Hmmm. His mind contemplated this idea more fully. And what about Robin and the effect that any potential breakup between them might have on the firm? This could be an absolute mess.
Jess watched Harry carefully, and she could easily see that he'd been thrown for a curve by the news. Patiently, she waited as he tried to absorb the information.
The litigation department chairman took a long sip of his coffee. Personally, he had very strong opinions about James Prescott. The man was a less than honorable sort who had few scruples and even less loyalty. Harry sighed to himself. Hell, the man's a menace, for Pete's sake. But this was Jess's life, after all, and he couldn't tell her how to live it. He took another sip of his coffee. However, he could certainly try to reason with her and set her in the right direction. The problem was, he reluctantly acknowledged, in affairs of the heart, reason doesn't always win out. Finally, he spoke again. "All right, so Prescott made a proposal to you. After all this time, what do you think about that?"
The junior partner blinked, slightly confused. "What do I think?"
"Yes. If you're going to accept, we need to consider the personal ramifications of that as well as the professional ramifications here at the firm, particularly with regard to you and Robin. I think you know my personal opinion about the man. I certainly can't tell you what to do, but .."
"Harry, wait" Jess rushed to stop him. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you plan to accept his proposal?" Just tell me.
As she looked at Harry, she saw the grave concern in his eyes. After several seconds, it finally hit her as to what he was thinking. "No, no. Harry, it wasn't that type of proposal." She shook her head decisively, determined to underscore the point. "If he had come to me on bended knee, I would have spit in his face right after I kicked him in the .." She stopped herself short, letting the better part of decorum take over.
It was Harry's turn to be confused. "So, what, then? What was he peddling?"
"Well, he claimed he came by to tell me how sorry he was for what happened and to pay back the money he took from me." Unable to help herself, she let go a derisive laugh. "Even presented me with a cashier's check, supposedly to prove how sincere he was."
"Is that so?" Harry took another sip of his coffee, now a little more relaxed. "What did you do?"
"I turned him down. Told him to keep his money and leave."
"Good for you."
Jess picked up her coffee mug from the corner of the desktop and took a large sip of the hot beverage. She had to admit it felt good to get this off her chest with someone who had almost as much history with the situation as she had herself. "Yeah, but then, instead of leaving after I turned him down, he suddenly had a business proposition for me."
"Really?" Harry was intrigued. "What possible business proposition could he have for you?"
"Yeah, I wondered the same thing. I mean, the nerve of him showing up after what he pulled before. Something didn't feel right about it. I was suspicious."
"Absolutely. I think you were right to be suspicious of his motives." The chairman of the litigation department nodded his head thoughtfully. "It figures he might have something up his sleeve, especially showing up out of the blue like that."
"Right." Jess agreed. "So, after I turned the money down, he apparently had another angle. He told me the reason he's in town is he's starting up a local office of his consulting firm here, and then he offered me the job of managing the office and serving as local corporate counsel."
Harry sat back in his chair and whistled under his breath. "Corporate counsel?"
A thought occurred to him, and he stiffened slightly. "Am I in danger of losing you to this endeavor?" Is that what you're telling me?
The junior partner gave him a warm smile. "Not for a minute." She paused, then looked at him sincerely. "Look, Harry, I have no illusions about James. I don't believe he's changed. He's up to something, and I can feel it. I have no intentions of playing whatever game he's dealing."
Something in Jess's voice told him that she was indeed sincere. Still ..he knew her well enough to recognize that she wouldn't so easily let this go. "But .." He waited to hear the rest of it.
You know me too well, Harry. "But I've decided I'm going to let him think I might be interested in accepting his offer."
What? "I don't understand. Why would you want to do that, Jess?"
"Because, Harry, he's determined. I know him. He won't leave me alone until I find out what's really going on and put an end to it."
Harry removed his glasses and set them down on the desktop, rubbing his brow wearily. "Okay, what's this really about?"
He'd caught her, and she knew it. Just as wearily, she answered him. "What this is about is that I'm afraid he'll make trouble for me, possibly for the firm .." She paused. "And probably for Robin. There's no way in hell I'm gonna let that happen."
"You think he'd go that far?" Harry knew the answer.
"In a heartbeat. He wouldn't just show up here without a motive, and I'm not buying the whole 'I'm sorry' angle. I think he's after something, and unless he thinks he has a real chance of getting it, he won't give up. Instead, he'll just start making trouble in an effort to get whatever he's after anyway."
Harry was silent for several seconds contemplating this unfortunate turn of events. To be sure, Prescott was capable of making trouble, and the last thing the firm needed after that unpleasantness with Thomas Wilson was another unpleasant mess with Jess's former boyfriend. And very likely, a jealous former boyfriend, at that. And, of course, that left the door wide open to repercussions concerning Robin, which at the moment, he didn't even want to entertain. Good grief. This just got better and better the more he thought about it. He was also fully aware of the personal toll all of this was having on Jess, herself, although she was doing considerably well in hiding it.
The junior partner spoke up again. "Harry, I really need your opinion on this. If you think it's the wrong thing to do or the risks to the firm are too great, just say it, and I'll handle it differently."
He rubbed his eyes again. She deserved his straightforward opinion. "All right. Here's what I think. On a personal level, Jess, I don't want to see you get hurt again. I don't think Prescott is trustworthy, and I think he'll say and do anything to fool you into believing him. Those types can be deceptively convincing." The senior partner gave her a sympathetic look. "And I just can't afford to have my best litigator torn up again by someone who will only break your heart."
Jess appreciated what he was saying. She knew Harry was truly concerned about her welfare. Most telling was his unsuccessful attempt to cast the issue in terms of her litigation abilities, which she saw through immediately, as his sentence instead melted back into the personal realm.
Harry rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Somehow, something about this just didn't sit right with him. "And on a professional level, I can't allow whatever this man might be planning to potentially infiltrate the firm or affect the working environment here."
Working environment. Jess was aware of what he meant. Robin and me ..the team. Harry had a duty to protect the firm in all capacities. "I can assure you that Robin and I are solid, both here and at home. There's nothing to worry about regarding that. We're a team, and we're working well together, and nothing that James does or tries to do will impact that. I make you that promise."
He folded his hands in front of him. Against his better judgment, he believed her, even though he knew that affairs of the heart were unpredictable, at best. "All right. Go ahead with your plan to expose him, but proceed carefully. If Prescott even hints at making any type of trouble one way or the other, let me know immediately, then cut your ties and send him back to wherever he came from ..no more investigations into whatever he's up to ..no more misleading him into thinking you're buying into whatever scheme he's got going. He'd have shown his hand, and any further involvement with him from that point forward would only mean more trouble. If he persists, we'll take whatever legal measures we can come up with to convince him to go play in someone else's garden."
"And one more thing, Jess." He looked her directly in the eye. "Keep him away from here. Do you understand what I'm saying? I don't want him getting ideas about this firm."
She nodded in agreement.
"All right. I'll advise the receptionists and building security that James Prescott, or J.R. Prescott, or whatever name he's going by these days, is not permitted onto firm premises." The older attorney got up from his desk, stepping around it as the junior partner stood, as well. "I'm going along with this for now, Jess, but I don't like it. I do, however, understand why you want to know what this man's up to, and from a personal perspective, I understand that you don't want any of it to touch Robin."
Harry, for all his old-fashioned ways, could be amazingly perceptive at times. "Thank you."
He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "And I'm sure it wasn't very easy seeing him again."
She gave Harry a small smile. "No, it wasn't, but I let him have a piece of my mind. Hell, I even threatened to have him arrested."
Harry let go a hearty laugh. "I just bet you did." He walked with her toward the door. "Hey, listen, Barbara's been after me to invite you and Robin over for dinner one night soon. Why don't you two talk it over and let me know, okay?"
"Sure." Jess was glad for the brief change of subject. "Give our regards to Barbara and tell her we appreciate the invitation." And perfect timing. A night of distraction just might be a very good thing.
The day so far had been busy, which was a good diversion from more worrisome things. The rain had started in the early hours of the morning and apparently had no sign of letting up any time soon. Robin gazed out the large office window into the unwelcome gloom. Wish it would clear up. It was almost time for lunch, and her stomach was already starting to rumble. Unfortunately, Jess was tied up in an all day meeting today and couldn't join her. The young associate stared at the dim outline of the lake with its decorative fountain down below and contemplated her options, considering the pouring down rain outside and the likely prospect of getting completely drenched. An umbrella definitely wouldn't do its job with all of that blowing wind and rain. Rats. It appeared the small café downstairs would have to suffice.
"You busy?" Michelle Richards, one of the senior level associates, stepped just inside the office doorway.
Startled from her thoughts, Robin shook her head in response. "Just thinking about lunch." She laughed. "I'm getting hungry, but I don't want to go outside in this." She motioned toward the window.
"Looks like it's the downstairs café today." Michelle commented. "It'll probably be packed, though. Better leave now before the rush gets going."
Robin nodded. "Did you need something?" She reached across to retrieve her purse from the credenza drawer.
"I was just wondering if you had any good research on comparative negligence and sovereign immunity I could use without having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and work it all up again. I've got a few cases to start, but I could certainly use a few more if they're on point."
The younger associate stood up. "I've got some files here with a lot of research I've accumulated on various issues. You're welcome to sift through them and see if there's anything you can use." She paused for a moment. "Hey, want to go down and grab some lunch with me, and I'll get those files for you when we get back?"
Considering the time, Michelle was getting a little hungry, herself. "Sure, why not?"
They made their way to the elevators after a quick detour to Michelle's office to pick up her purse. Once downstairs, they placed their salad and sandwich orders at the café deli counter. As predicted, the noon rush had started early because of the inclement weather, and the lobby café was already crowded. They searched the room and were lucky to find a small vacant table near the very back.
Once seated with their lunch, Michelle opened up the conversation. "So, how have you been doing?"
It was a seemingly benign question, but Robin knew there was another unasked question in there. The younger associate was acutely aware that the office grapevine had been working overtime following the events of the Management Committee hearing just a few months ago, and that she and Jess had been one of the major topics of discussion. Lately, though, things had subsided quite a bit, and Robin now hardly noticed any more of the obvious chatter. She acknowledged, though, that human nature being what it was, unfortunately some gossip came with the territory. "Not too bad, now that things have settled down some."
"That's good." Michelle's voice became sympathetic. "I'm sure it was hard at times, but it now seems most people have moved on and found something else to occupy themselves with."
"Well, that suits me just fine." I just want to forget about it all. Robin took a bite of her sandwich and regarded her lunch companion. Michelle was a nice person and really had been rather supportive during the more difficult times over the past several months. And actually, Robin sensed that Michelle seemed quite sincere in her attempts at friendship. Not to mention her discretion when she'd walked in on Jess and me together in a rather personal moment. So, considering everything, the younger associate didn't mind opening up to Michelle just a little bit. "You have no idea what a relief it is not to have to worry about hearings and committees and things like that. There was a lot of stress and pressure, and I'm just glad it's over with."
The senior associate nodded thoughtfully. "And everything else is going okay, too ..you know ..outside of work?"
That question, too, seemed to have another meaning, as if the troubles at work may have taken their toll on things at home. And in truth, Robin really didn't mind talking about some of the more personal things with Michelle ..well, to a limited extent, anyway. She wasn't going to get into the whole James matter that had just emerged. It was a major issue and much too personal to discuss. But other areas of her life ..well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk about them. "Oh yeah, things have been great. I mean, there have been some stressful times, some having to do with work and some having to do with our families or things that have happened in the past with each of us, but Jess, she's really great. She's so wonderful about everything, and she really lifts my spirits when things get tough." Robin blushed when she realized she was gushing. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do." The senior associate took a forkful of romaine lettuce, then smiled. "You still have that look in your eyes, you know."
God, I'm so transparent. "What look?"
"That look that says you're so hopelessly devoted to someone that you're floating around on the nearest cloud."
"I think you caught me." Robin laughed. "I obviously don't hide it well."
Michelle laughed along with her. "Damn straight." Suddenly, she stopped, looking a bit guilty. "Sorry."
Robin bit her bottom lip lightly as she considered her thoughts. "No, it's okay. You'd be right. Partly, anyhow."
"Well, it's hard to explain, the way I feel for Jess. It's not something I would've considered before I met her. Actually, I don't think I would have considered it at all if we hadn't met." Green eyes studied the random patterns on the marble tabletop. "I've just accepted that this is how I feel about her. I can't deny it, and I certainly don't want to go through my life without her. I've come to see that it's the person inside that matters most, not the gender, not the packaging, and if you find someone you feel this intensely for, you can't let it slip through your grasp just because it might not be exactly what you expected."
"I've never looked at it that way before, but I can see what you're saying. Still .."
"I know." Robin began eating her salad. "I don't think, unless you've experienced it yourself, you really can understand. Sometimes, I still don't understand." That was an admission she hadn't voiced out loud to anyone before.
"But even so, you know in your heart that it's right for you. Is that what you're saying?"
"Exactly. Even though it's unexpected." Robin paused, then continued softly. "I don't think I've told you about this, but I was engaged last year."
"You were?" Michelle was a little surprised at this revelation. She was happy, though, that Robin seemed to be confiding in her. Often, she'd thought that the things that had been going on, at least at work, must have been very tough to deal with. She felt quite bad about that ..although to all appearances, Robin seemed to be handling these things quite well.
The younger associate became more somber. "David was killed in a car accident, and I guess you could say that I ran away after it happened. I don't mean that I was there at the time it happened, but afterward, I blamed myself for it, and I couldn't handle coping with everything. So, I took off as far away as I could get from there, and I ended up here."
"I'm really sorry to hear about that, Robin."
"Jess helped me through it all, and in the process, we became ..close." That was the condensed version of the story.
"I think it's a very good thing that she was able to help you." The senior associate became contemplative. "You know, I don't know Jessica very well and I've only had limited contact with her. When I came on board with the firm, I saw that she mainly just kept to herself and often seemed to have somewhat of an intimidating effect on those who worked with her ..difficult to deal with and had a bit of a reputation for it." Warm hazel eyes looked across the small table at Robin. "Maybe she just needed you to come along."
Robin accepted the statement for how it was intended, appreciating the sentiment. She also knew that at least part of the statement was true. "I know that some people have difficulty working with Jess. I think it's just that she puts such high expectations on herself, and as a result, she also puts high expectations on anyone else who's working with her."
"And you're okay working like that?"
The young associate smiled. "Actually, yes, it works out really well. I can practically read her mind, so I'm pretty clued in with the way she thinks and does things."
The hazel eyes continued to convey a very genuine warmth. "You seem to be good for her."
"And she's good for me." In truth, Robin was a little shy about saying that, but at the same time, she really did like talking about these things with Michelle, and it was good to have another outlet besides Dr. Richmond. "Who knows what you will find in people? Even the most unexpected things can happen. Just look what happened with me and Jess." She paused to consider her thoughts. "I guess what I'm saying is that I thought how I felt about David was everything until I met Jess, and then it all changed for me."
"Hmmm." Michelle arched an eyebrow slightly. "So, then, are you saying you're ..flexible?"
"Ha." Robin grinned at that characterization, then blushed. "I suppose you could interpret things that way, although I will say that I'm definitely not flexible now to anyone other than Jess, I don't care what gender they happen to be. If I was ever flexible, I think it was just to the idea of being with her."
"So, tell me .." Michelle winked. "What's it like?"
"What's what like?" The younger associate deliberately feigned innocence.
"You know. C'mon, girl. Dish." Michelle stopped. "Unless you mind."
Gosh, this was getting personal. But then again, it was a good feeling to talk about the more personal things in a non-judgmental way with someone who seemed to genuinely care, someone who was not invested in any part of her life and had nothing to gain or lose. "Okay ..you really want to know what it's like?" A blonde eyebrow lifted playfully.
"On a scale of one to ten." The senior associate countered. "Be honest."
"All right." Robin leaned forward in her chair and whispered to her lunch companion conspiratorially. "Twenty." A slight pause. "At least."
Michelle's eyes became wide. "You're kidding."
"You wanted honest."
Could it be true? A skeptical look. "Perhaps you're just a little biased?"
"But it just seems hard to believe it could be so .." The senior associate let the thought trail off, but the skeptical look remained.
Robin finished the last of her lunch, for a moment ignoring the challenge, before finally trying to explain it in a way that would make at least a little bit of sense. "Okay, I'll admit it has a lot to do with the person you're with and how intensely you feel about them, not just physically, but emotionally. Jess is the most loving person I've ever met, and I know without a doubt she'd do anything in the world for me. And there's this thing, this connection between us that's almost magic, electric even." As she said it, Robin had this far off look in her eyes before she suddenly realized once again how she must be sounding. "I know it seems corny, but it's true. And even when we're not together .." She looked across the table shyly. "You know ..that way ..we still feel it between us. It's all interconnected."
Michelle was fascinated, and if truth be told, maybe just a little bit jealous.
"So." Robin concluded. "I think my assessment is dead on."
Her lunch companion nodded her head slowly, now a little closer to understanding. "No wonder you have that look in your eyes."
Robin gave her a knowing glance.
No wonder at all.
Robin snuggled up tightly against Jess in the waterbed, molding herself to her companion's body. She breathed in deeply, then sighed in contentment as the darkness settled around her. "You make an excellent cuddler-in-chief."
"Do I now?" Jess was famous for such questions, the primary purpose of which was to seek out additional flattery.
"Yes." A light giggle. "And that's just the way you like it."
"What about Sammy Shamu over there?"
"Hmmm .." Robin pretended to consider that alternative. "Maybe I should go get him." She started to lift herself up.
"Not so fast." A large hand stopped her. "Besides, there's no room for him."
"This is a queen-sized bed, Jess. There's plenty of room for him."
"Do you see any room here?" The older woman indicted between herself and Robin.
The smaller body relaxed back into its former position. "Not a millimeter."
"I rest my case, Your Honor."
Another giggle. "You're such a goofball."
"Hey." A long tapered finger reached over and lightly tapped the blonde head. "I resemble that remark."
"And I rest my case, Ms. Goofball." After a few minutes of silence, Robin tilted her chin up and softly brushed her lips across one very enticing angular jaw. "I think Michelle was right."
"Yeah, we had a little talk over lunch today. It seems I don't hide very well the fact that I'm hopelessly devoted to someone."
"I see." Jess smiled in the darkness. "And just who would that someone be?"
Robin decided to play a bit. "Well, Sammy Shamu's looking good right now."
That earned her a playful slap on the wrist. "Perhaps you might want to rethink that answer, Robin."
Soft lips once again brushed against Jess's jaw. "It's you I'm hopelessly devoted to, which you know very well. Apparently the look in my eyes betrays me."
"It seems you and Michelle had quite a conversation."
You don't know the half of it. "We talked mostly about how things are going now for me ..for us after everything that's happened. It was actually nice to talk with her and not feel so self-conscious. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I think I do. It's only right that you have friends to confide things in."
"You don't mind, then?" Robin asked timidly.
"Why would I mind, sweetheart?" The older woman interlaced her fingers with Robin's, then casually rocked their hands back and forth playfully. "Just as long as you say lots of nice things about me, of course."
"Then you should be very happy."
"Oooh, do tell. What glowing things did you two talk about concerning me?"
"Well .." Robin hitched herself up on one elbow. "For one thing, she wanted to know what it's like."
"What it's like?"
"You know .." The younger woman felt slightly awkward. "You and me ..what being together is like."
Oh. "Seems a bit personal for her to be asking."
"I think she was just curious, Jess, not really about you and me in a salacious or gossiping way, but more about what the feelings are."
The dark head nodded. "So, how did you answer?"
"Well, I'm afraid I sounded so totally corny that I think she thought I was flying around up in the stratosphere."
"You? Stratosphere?" Jess quipped. "Certainly not."
"You're such a brat. Keep it up and Sammy Shamu's coming over."
Over my dead body. "Point made." There was an extended silence before the older woman spoke again, this time whispering. "So, what did you say?" For some reason, she was just a little bit nervous about the answer.
Huh? "What's twenty?"
"On a scale of one to ten .."
"You mean you rated it?"
"Honey." Robin smiled. "It's a twenty." She let that sink in for a few seconds.
Jess mentally pondered the answer. Oh. She mentally pondered the answer some more. Oh. "A twenty?"
At least? "You said that? That's what you told her?"
"Um ..no, not at all." It's a twenty ..at least. The older woman was pleasantly surprised. "A twenty is more than ten."
"Very astute." A quick peck on the cheek. "A twenty is way more than ten. Off the charts."
Robin could feel the older woman's body puff up just a little bit beneath her. A little ego stroking never hurts. "You don't mind me giving my honest assessment, do you?"
"Of course not, Robin. As long as it's your honest assessment, then who am I to mind?"
The smaller woman smiled internally. She's so funny. "I didn't get into any details. You know I wouldn't do that. Just how it feels to be absolutely hopelessly devoted to you." Suddenly, the smaller woman felt long arms gather her into a tight embrace.
"I thought I was the hopeless one." Jess whispered into the blonde head, tightening her hold even further.
"And don't forget crazy." Robin whispered back.
About you. "Never." Silver-blue eyes fixed on gray-green in the darkness. "And I'm afraid they're both incurable afflictions."
Petite fingers stroked the older woman's cheek as the connection between them grew that much stronger. "You say the nicest things."
"So do you, sweetheart." A satisfied sigh. Wow. A twenty.
"Hey, Jess .." The young associate studied the stack of documents resting on the conference room table in front of her. "Have you seen this?"
"What?" The junior partner glanced up from preparing her interrogatory questions.
"This invoice. You remember when you were saying to follow the money? I've been trying to figure out what Bronson Construction did with most of the money the owner paid them, especially if they didn't pay their subcontractors and there are now so many liens on the project."
"Did you find something?"
Robin slid the invoice across the table. "Here, second line from the bottom. Do you recall a pool being built on that office project?"
"A pool?" Blue eyes scrutinized the paper. It clearly showed a line item for pool supplies. "Maybe the building has a health club."
"Nope. I checked the architectural plans and specifications, as well as the as-built drawings, and no health club was designed or built into the project."
"Hmmm .." A slender finger tapped rhythmically on the glass-covered tabletop. "I suppose it could have just been a clerical error."
Robin's expression was doubtful. "Yeah, maybe .."
"Okay, here's what I want you to do. First, find every single invoice submitted by Bronson. I know there are thirty boxes of documents, and maybe you can get one of the paralegals to help you, but locate every invoice and request for payment in there. Then, see if there are any other suspicious charges showing up." Jess scribbled something on her legal pad. "Second, draft up for me a request for production of documents to Bronson asking for all invoices related to the project, all invoices submitted by Bronson to the owner, all invoices submitted by any subcontractors and suppliers to Bronson, and for good measure, all invoices submitted by Bronson to anyone else for any work associated with the project."
"Right." The younger attorney made note of the requests. "So, what are you thinking?"
"I don't know." The tapping on the tabletop continued. "Bronson, himself, could have passed on to the owner some of his personal costs under the name of his business."
"True, but that wouldn't explain the failure of him to pay his subcontractors."
Jess nodded, deep in thought. "But what if the pool supply charge on the invoice he submitted was put on there in error, and the charge was never meant to be passed along to the owner of the project?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if he's been placing phony charges on invoices to his company, then having his company reimburse him for those illegitimate charges?" A dark eyebrow lifted. "Or what if he's been setting up dummy corporations and diverting some of the money?" Probably to offshore accounts. "That might explain where all of this money went."
Robin considered this. "But we can't prove that. He could just as easily been spending company money on his own personal projects."
"That's right." The junior partner smiled, starting now to piece things together. "Either way, he's been embezzling company funds for personal gain."
"You realize, of course, this is all just supposition."
"Ah, but that's where you come in, kiddo. Get me enough suspicious looking invoices to request a court-ordered financial audit of his company. Then we'll see once and for all where all that money went."
Matt Singleton poked his head inside the conference room through the open doorway. "Hey there."
"Hi Matt." Robin gave him a brief wave.
Jess swiveled around in her chair to greet the probate attorney and member of the Management Committee. "Hey. What brings you over to our neck of the woods?"
He briefly glanced over at Robin, then back over to the junior partner. "I left those papers you asked for on your desk. If you have any questions, just give me a call."
"Will do." Jess nodded. "Thanks."
"You two sure look busy in here." He commented, surveying the piles of paper scattered across the rectangular shaped conference room table.
"You know how it is, Matt, never a dull moment." The junior partner grabbed a pile of documents and held it up to him. "Want to help?" She offered a teasing grin.
"Uh ..no, I don't think so." The probate attorney shook his head and backed away. "You guys look like you're handling things just fine."
The young associate laughed. "Actually, we're wading in paper."
He pointed a finger in her direction. "Then don't drown." With that, he scurried off down the hallway.
Robin shook her head at his narrow escape. "Wise guy."
"More like coward." Jess chuckled. "I guess it's just you and me, kiddo."
A blonde eyebrow rose. "And thirty boxes."
"Ooooh, sounds like a fun date." The junior partner drawled. "You with those thirty boxes, I mean."
"Bailing on me, are you?"
"Not at all." Blue eyes quickly scanned the hallway outside to confirm it was clear. "I just know how ..stimulating you find document reviews."
"You and thirty boxes. On a scale of one to ten, Robin .." A deliberate wink of a blue eye. "How would you ..rate that?"
A faint blush. She's incorrigible. "I have no comment. After all, a girl has to have some secrets." That remark earned her a significant stare from across the table, and Robin had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. "Don't worry, Jess, you're still ahead."
"You'll let me know when I'm in danger then, will you?" The junior partner casually quipped, then resumed working on her interrogatory questions.
"Believe me, thirty boxes just couldn't compare."
Jess didn't look up from her notes. "Glad to hear it."
"Forty boxes, on the other hand .."
The significant stare from across the table returned in full force.
Uh-oh. I think I'm in trouble now.
Robin rushed into the house through the garage door, barely noticing Jess standing in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the evening's dinner preparations. The younger woman slowed down, pausing to set her keys on the counter just as Jess handed her a glass of chilled Chardonnay. "Oh. Thanks." She accepted the wine. "Exactly what I needed."
"Hey there." Jess poured a glass of wine for herself, then set about rinsing a head of lettuce and one large tomato. "I thought you'd be home from the office sooner, especially since I left after you did. Where'd you go?"
Jess shut the water off. "St. Isaac's?"
"Uh-huh." Robin didn't elaborate. Instead, she crossed the tiled floor and casually flipped through the mail resting in a small pile on the kitchen table.
Jess set the tomato on the cutting board and watched the smaller woman from across the counter for a moment, studying her demeanor. This is curious. "Why did you go to St. Isaac's?"
"Um .." Turning her attention briefly from the stack of mail, Robin glanced up. "I was just there for a few minutes, then I left. No big deal."
No big deal? The dark haired woman took a few steps over to the kitchen table where Robin was still standing. "Okay, but did you have a reason for going there?" This news was actually quite surprising. As far as Jess knew, Robin hadn't stepped foot in a church in more than six months, and even then, it was merely to acquiesce to her parents' wishes.
"It was Dr. Richmond's idea, not mine." Robin was being deliberately evasive.
Okay, maybe she doesn't want to talk about it. Jess went back over and continued preparing the salad.
Several moments of silence stretched between them as Robin sipped her wine and began opening up a few of the envelopes, offering no further comment on the subject.
Then again ..she's being too quiet. Jess knew Robin often tended to shut down when she was confronted with things that were uncomfortable for her. This could very well be one of those times. As the silence lengthened, curiosity finally got the better of Jess. "So, how was it?"
The taller woman purposefully set the salad bowls aside and stood at the edge of the counter opposite Robin. "How was it ..you know, going there?"
"Like I said, no big deal. I went inside, stayed for a few minutes, and then left." Petite hands restacked the mail into a neat pile. "I really don't know what it was supposed to accomplish. I felt nothing while I was there. It's not like I was going to have a spontaneous conversion or anything like that."
"You felt nothing?"
"Not a thing. I mean, what did Dr. Richmond think was going to happen?" Green eyes caught Jess smiling. "What?"
Jess just kept on smiling, a warm and affectionate expression that radiated to her eyes.
"What?" The younger woman asked again, truly perplexed.
"You felt nothing?"
"Yeah, that's what I said." Robin stood motionless as Jess stepped forward and gave her a gentle hug. Curious sea green eyes gazed up into warm blue. "What was that for? Not that I mind or anything, but what ..?"
"Honey, don't you see?" Jess smiled again, then rested her palm lightly against Robin's cheek. "You felt nothing."
It was clear the younger woman still didn't understand.
"No anger, no guilt."
Robin was silent as she contemplated that. And it was true. While she was at St. Isaac's, she hadn't felt any anger or guilt ..really more of a nothingness than anything else. "I guess that's a good thing then, huh?"
"Yeah, it's a very good thing. It means you're letting some of that pain go." Jess gave Robin another hug. "I'm very proud of you, sweetheart."
A small smile. "And here I thought it was just a complete waste of time." Another thought emerged. "But, you know, this doesn't mean I'm ready to go back to church."
"Of course not. It just means that you aren't carrying around such a heavy burden with you, which is a wonderful thing."
The blonde head nodded silently.
"Now, go ahead and get changed from your business suit, and I'll get dinner on the table. Deal?"
"Deal." Robin started to leave, then spun back around. "What are we having?"
Cryptic. "What kind of food?"
A frank look. "And this good food we're having wouldn't just happen to involve certain seafood related items, would it?"
Jess was the picture of innocence. "I don't know what you mean."
"Yes you do, and you know it. Spill it, Jess."
"Fine. If you must know, Robin, the good food we're having is .." A pause. "Chicken."
"Chicken?" Not what I expected. "We're having chicken?"
A dark eyebrow lifted. "Something wrong with that?"
"Um, no, not at all. Chicken's good."
"Just what I said. Good food." Jess watched as Robin turned and headed down the hallway toward her bedroom. Yep, chicken. A hidden smirk. And maybe just one or two of those other things, as well.
"Hey kiddo, come over here and sit by me." Jess grasped Robin's hand and tugged her over to the plush sofa where her own long body was already comfortably seated at the far end.
Robin positioned herself beside the dark haired woman, tucking one leg up underneath her. "Thanks for making dinner tonight." A hidden smile. "I will say, though, that a few of those pieces of chicken on your plate looked a little suspicious."
Azure eyes blinked several times. "Suspicious?"
"Yes. If I didn't know better, I'd say they looked like jumbo shrimp, but since you very clearly told me that we were having chicken, I'll have to take your word for it."
"We did have chicken." Jess was unwilling to accept the fact that she'd been caught.
"Right." An indulgent pat on the arm. "Whatever you say, Jess."
"I say it was chicken." There was tiny wink accompanied by a poorly contained smile. She's on to me. Jess fell silent and took a few moments to simply look at the younger woman, wondering how in the world she'd ever managed before she met her. Robin was the most important person in her life. And as crazy as it sounded, it was actually as if she'd always known her, even before they'd met. And even crazier still, Jess could have sworn that she loved her even before she met her. Crazy. Okay, really crazy. Jess turned her attention to what she wanted to say. "Honey, I need to talk with you about something."
Green eyes focused on the older woman, sensing something serious. "Okay."
"This isn't a particularly easy thing to talk about." Long fingers reached down and picked up a large manila envelope from the coffee table. Robin can handle this. After all, look at all the progress she's made in such a short amount of time. "First, I want you to know that I consider you my family."
"As I do you." A small, but curious smile followed.
"And we said we're it for each other forever, right?"
"Yes." I'm so glad your heart knows this, Jess.
It was time for Jess to lay her cards on the table, once and for all, no holding back. She opened the envelope and pulled out several papers. "So, in light of that, I've taken some steps."
"Steps?" Robin wasn't sure what Jess was getting at.
"A while back, I asked Matt to draw up some estate planning documents for me, and he dropped them off today."
The smaller woman merely listened, staring at the papers. She knew exactly what estate planning meant.
"Are you with me, sweetheart?"
The blonde head nodded slowly.
"Okay." Jess continued. "I need to talk about some things with you, see what you think, and then get these papers back to Matt." In truth, Jess wasn't exactly sure how to proceed without getting into territory which might be alarming to Robin, but this needed to be done, so she went on with her delicate explanation. "The first thing I have here is .." For some unexplained reason, her voice faltered, and she sat there for a moment unable to go any further.
"Let me see." Slowly, petite fingers grasped the edge of the document, turning it slightly. The words were clear. Last Will and Testament. "It's a .."
Green eyes closed as a rush of anguish came out of nowhere, then they reopened. "Okay."
Jess proceeded cautiously. "First, I should explain that my mother and Peter and my nephews are taken care of. I haven't told you a whole lot about my father because quite frankly, I just haven't heard from him in so many years that I simply don't keep track of him anymore." There was actually a little bit more to the story, but now wasn't the time to get into it. "The last I heard, he's somewhere in New York, and his attorneys have communicated to us that he has set up several trusts and inheritance vehicles for both Peter and me. My mother was generously provided for in the divorce."
Robin continued listening. There would be time to discuss Jess's father some other time.
"Anyway, in the event that something happens and those trusts and inheritance vehicles as they relate to Peter, and by extension, the boys, don't materialize, or if my mother is in need of further support, I've put a provision in this Will for them to receive something." Jess was now starting to ramble. "And I also had to take into consideration that should those trusts and inheritance vehicles materialize as planned, then my own estate will have grown considerably and there are certain things I need to do in regard to .." Suddenly, she caught herself. Damn. Here she'd planned to have a simple discussion about an uncomfortable subject and then be done with it, and instead, she found herself getting caught up in all of the little details. She knew beyond any doubt that Robin wasn't concerned with details. Robin would only be concerned with the larger picture, the one that attempted to contemplate the unthinkable. And that, and only that, was the important point in all of this. "Bottom line, aside from the provisions I mentioned, you're the beneficiary. You're already on the deed to the house, so we don't have to worry about that, and I've named you on the life insurance policy. But everything else will be yours, including my partnership interest in the firm."
The smaller woman tried to process this. She tried to separate herself from her immediate feelings and the devastation that would surely come from such an event and look at things from a more detached perspective. But that didn't work, and she should have known it wouldn't. There was just no way in the world she could disconnect herself from the inconceivable notion of what this particular Will anticipated. She and Jess were not disconnected. They were definitely connected, even interconnected. After a long moment, she gave voice to her thoughts. "I don't think I could accept it, Jess."
Accept what? "The money?"
Robin spoke very softly. "The fact that you wouldn't be here."
Of course. Jess understood. She'd known Robin would have trouble with that. Robin's whole reaction to what had happened with David told Jess this. Maybe it was too soon to bring this up. A large hand covered Robin's. "Nothing's going to happen, sweetheart. We just have to be prepared, that's all."
Prepared. A brief nod. "I know." And in her mind, Robin really did know that on a practical level, it would be irresponsible not to put the proper planning in place. But her heart ..well, her heart was anything but practical at the moment.
Jess offered a small smile, more in an effort to reassure the younger woman than anything else. "You all right?"
No. I don't want to think about this. "Yes."
"Okay." Jess carried on with her task. "Now, I have a favor to ask you, but it would be completely up to you."
"Actually, a couple. The first is that I'd like to name you as the administrator for this Will. That way, you'd have the final determination over everything, and you could see to it that the provisions I've specified are carried out. Will you do that for me?"
Would she? How could she not? "Yes." The younger woman nodded, bracing herself against her own emotions that were now threatening to overwhelm her.
Jess could see how difficult this was becoming for Robin and resolved to get this over with as soon as possible. "Thank you." One down. "Okay, here I have another document. It's a Power of Attorney form giving you full power of attorney to act on my behalf in all financial and legal matters in the event that I can't." Jess looked up from the paper. "Do you agree?"
Again, Robin nodded her consent. "Yes." But none of this is going to be necessary.
The older woman took a deep breath and then retrieved the third document. This one's going to be difficult. "Next, I have my Living Will which I've signed." Blue eyes glanced at Robin. "Are you familiar with what a living will says?"
No life support. The lump that had been slowing forming in Robin's throat grew larger. Unreadable green eyes stared blankly at Jess. "No extraordinary measures are to be taken .."
Quite unexpectedly, Jess's own eyes began to water. It was the way Robin had said it that nearly broke her down. "Yes." Her voice became hoarse. "This is just so you know."
By this time, Robin was barely composed inside, now nervously bouncing her foot on the edge of the coffee table in a valiant attempt to keep her emotions under control. All that kept running through her mind was that there was no way that any of this was going to happen. So, why were they discussing it? Jess wasn't sick or hurt or anything. There would be plenty of time to talk about this stuff later. Much later.
Sensing now the younger woman's growing agitation, Jess suddenly stopped. Something wasn't right. Robin wouldn't look her way and only stared straight ahead, focusing on the vacant fireplace. What is she thinking? Jess knew. The pain of David was still too raw, too near the surface. Damn it Jess. Damn it. She wasn't ready. "Oh, come here, honey." She enveloped Robin into a tight hug and whispered. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I didn't mean to upset you." Her hold tightened further. "It's just that I wanted you to be the one to take care of things for me, but it was selfish of me to put that burden on you." Blue eyes sought out and caught distressed green. "I'll ask Peter to do it, okay?" Jess hastily gathered the documents together and began placing them back into the envelope.
No, I can't let her down. She needs me. "Wait."
The older woman froze.
Very gently, warm petite hands covered the larger ones still grasping the papers, as sea green eyes bravely conveyed their silent affirmation ..I'll do it ..and pale blue eyes communicated their grateful understanding ..thank you.
"I ..um .." Jess cleared her throat, suddenly raw with an emotion she hadn't known existed and one she couldn't even begin to define. "I have one final thing." She handed Robin the last document. "May I designate you as my medical surrogate?"
The smaller woman hesitantly took the document, silently studying the language on the paper. She knew what Jess was asking. Would she make her medical decisions if Jess were unable to do so? Even the ultimate decision. "You want me to ..?
"You're my family, the person I trust with my life." It was as simple as that, and as complex.
"But I .." As she considered the full meaning, Robin tried to summon as much strength as she could. "How could I possibly ..?" She couldn't say the words.
Long fingers gently brushed Robin's cheek. "If this would be too hard for you, honey, just tell me. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. My thinking in asking you is that you're the one I trust the most to know the best thing to do in a situation like that. We're connected. You know my heart. You're the one who has my heart." Jess placed a very soft kiss on her forehead. "No matter what happens, Robin, you know I'll never leave you."
I've heard those words somewhere before. The younger woman tilted her head slightly as her mind contemplated what Jess had just said. In a very profound way, it was the greatest honor for Jess to have asked her to be the person to handle this. Robin lifted her hand up to the older woman's face and slowly traced the outline of her cheek, then down along her jaw to her chin. Her thumb and her forefinger rested there as she glanced up and met the anxious blue eyes silently waiting in front of her. Her breath caught for a moment. It was true. She and Jess were each other's family, and they had to take care of each other, no matter what. "Yes, I will take care of these things for you. You can count on me."
A sigh of relief escaped before Jess could censor herself. She wrapped her arms around Robin. "Thank you."
"I have a request, though."
A request? "Anything, sweetheart. What is it?"
Serious green eyes fixed onto blue. "These papers ..we ask Matt draw up similar ones for me. You're the one I want to take care of things for me, too."
Jess nodded her agreement. "Absolutely. I promise with all my heart I'll do the same for you." A slight pain rose from inside her as the thought penetrated her mind. Then, as if all of the emotion had somehow become intensified, she suddenly felt an overwhelming need to be as close to Robin as possible. Shifting her position, Jess stretched her long body out along the length of the sofa, pulling Robin down alongside her.
They were both very quiet for a long time, each reflecting on what they'd just decided. It seemed odd talking about these things, but at the same time, in a practical sense, they had made their commitments to each other, so it was only right that they legalize those things they had control over.
Robin placed her head on Jess's shoulder and took hold of her hand, squeezing it just a little more tightly than necessary. You're not going anywhere. "Can I ask you something?"
"Why did you decide to do this now? It's not as if we talked about it." The smaller woman wasn't being judgmental, just curious.
Jess really didn't have to think hard about this at all. In truth, there was only one answer ..it was simply the right thing to do. In a very quiet tone of voice, she started to explain. "Before you came into my life, it was just me, and having certain legal provisions in place just wasn't an important issue. I knew that Peter and my mother would take care of things for me, and that was fine." She placed a light kiss on Robin's forehead. "Then, you came along, and everything changed. You're the person who's the closest to me now, and the most important. I know we're committed to each other, but unless I went ahead and formalized things legally, you wouldn't be protected by the law."
Robin knew that was absolutely true.
After several moments of extended silence, Jess looked at her. "You're it for me, you know."
Robin's heart nearly skipped a beat. Her grip on Jess's hand tightened in reflex just a little bit more. "You're it for me, too." That conveyed everything.
Slender fingers brushed the blonde bangs away from the smaller woman's eyes. "You okay?"
Considering what they'd just discussed, Robin was actually doing pretty well. And as strange as it sounded, she felt an odd sense of peace come over her. "Yeah. I'm good."
A look of complete and total understanding passed between them, and Jess brought their entwined hands up and nestled them underneath her chin. "So, now that we've gotten that settled .." A grin slowly emerged. "I believe I still owe you a trial surprise. Am I correct about that?"
Green eyes lit up. "A trial surprise?"
"Unless you've forgotten .."
"No way." The smaller woman hitched herself up on one elbow. "So, what is it?"
"A little anxious, are we?" The grin widened considerably.
"Yes. So spill it, Jess."
"How about I just give you a few hints?"
Hints? Good grief. A light giggle. "You sure enjoy torturing me, don't you?"
A beat. "I have absolutely no comment on that, Robin." The voice was low and unexpectedly sultry.
Oh my. The blush on Robin's face was plainly visible. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Anything you want." Came the predictable retort.
A golden eyebrow arched. "You're incorrigible."
"So I've been told."
A small peck on the cheek for added encouragement. "Proceed."
"Well, what I have in mind involves the four S's." Jess was being deliberately vague.
It's official. She enjoys torturing me. "The four S's?"
"Sun, sand, sea, and surf."
"Ooooh." Robin liked the sound of that. "The beach?"
"Very perceptive." Cerulean eyes took on the color of the ocean. "We have reservations for this weekend at a resort on Cocoa Beach. You think you might be interested?"
"Oh yeah." A weekend getaway. "I'm totally there."
"Good." An adoring smile. "Because I was totally counting on that."
Robin was amazed at how Jess could come up with the sweetest things at the most unexpected moments. "Have I told you that you think of the best trial surprises?"
"Do I now?" She's delightful. "Well, as you know, I aim to please ." The dark haired woman was suddenly silenced by a gentle kiss on the lips.
At that moment, life was good. And with all of their planning and anticipation of the weekend to come, they'd almost forgotten all about James.
To Be Continued ..
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© Copyright 04/12/04