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
Robin slipped the thin key card into the lock and unlatched the hotel room door, nudging it wide open to reveal an enticing view of their deluxe mini-suite. As she stepped inside, she saw that it also held the advantage of containing an attached balcony overlooking the ocean and the beach down below. She set her travel bag on the floor beside her and took in her surroundings further while Jess followed in close behind. Directly inside the doorway to the left was a small sitting area with a sofa, a coffee table, and two comfortable looking chairs. To the right was a mini-kitchen complete with a microwave oven, a small refrigerator, and a coffee maker. Several packets of tea and gourmet coffee were arranged neatly on the countertop nearby, along with a wicker basket of fruit. A round table and two chairs were situated a few steps away for occasional in-room dining as needed. Beyond this front area and separated by a partition, a king-sized bed, a large wooden armoire, and a modern television set took up their usual places of residence. Two plush white terrycloth bathrobes were perfectly folded and placed at the foot of the bed. Finally, sliding glass doors at the back of the room led out onto a small balcony where a lounge chair and one upright chair for sitting were located, together with a glass-topped small table positioned between them.
"Jess." Robin grinned widely. "This is perfect."
"You like it, then?" The older woman grinned back, rather pleased with herself at her shrewd hotel selection.
"You bet." Robin grabbed ahold of Jess's hand and led her outside onto the balcony. "The view from here is absolutely incredible. How did you manage this?"
"Well .." It was easy to supply the expected retort. "I have many skills."
A gentle smile. "That you do." Although it was already late afternoon, the sunlight still glistened brilliantly off of the waves below as several children played in the surf. The beach was moderately crowded with adults sunbathing or casually sitting beneath their colorful beach umbrellas. "It's a good thing it didn't even take us an hour to get here. We still have a little bit of daylight time left today."
The dark head nodded in agreement. Cocoa Beach was a mere forty-five minutes' drive east of Orlando, and the Atlantic Ocean frequently summoned many from the more inland areas of the state to make frequent weekend beach excursions to the coast. "It's Friday, and we're here until Sunday, so a weekend of leisure is a mandatory requirement."
A golden eyebrow rose sharply. "Then that laptop you insisted on bringing will remain in its case?"
"Um .." Jess had been caught. "A little email checking will be harmless."
Silently, Robin went back inside, procured the offending laptop and quickly tucked it out of sight in a drawer in the armoire. "It's off limits."
The smaller woman, unfazed by the apparent protest, went about unpacking her travel bag, offering only one comment. "Beach and ocean don't mix with laptop and work." The way she put it made it sound quite obvious.
"It's not work, Robin." Jess pled her case. "Just keeping up with things."
Robin took a few items and hung them up in the closet, then smiled sweetly. "You should get unpacked so we have some time to go out on the beach."
It was a lost cause, Jess realized. In truth, she really didn't want to do any work this weekend, anyway. There was something about being here with Robin and having nothing else in the world to worry about that made the older woman's heart feel light. And she definitely liked that. "So, that's your last word on the subject, then?"
Petite fingers zipped up the now empty travel bag. "Let me make it clear so there's absolutely no confusion." Green eyes twinkled as they settled on her companion's. "During this weekend, laptop, work, and email are bad words. Beach, sun, and ocean are good words." A hint of a smile. "Any questions?"
Jess was charmed. She took a step closer to Robin. "Well, now, let me see if I understand. If I were to say that I wanted to check my emails, that would be bad." She grasped Robin's fingers and brought them up to her lips, giving them a quick kiss. "And if I were to say that I wanted to go sit on the beach, that would be good." She gave the fingers another light kiss. "Have I got that right?"
She makes me melt sometimes. "You're a very quick learner."
"Thank you." Jess grinned, then released Robin's fingers. "So, that's just what I said, then. A weekend of leisure is a mandatory requirement."
Robin tried not to laugh. Jess had a very endearing way of making everything seem like it was actually her own idea. "Absolutely. No work whatsoever."
"Good. I'm glad you agree with me."
An indulging nod. "I do. So, now that we've got that settled, hurry up and unpack your bag so we can go out on the beach." With that command, the younger woman set out for the balcony, leaving Jess to complete her newly assigned task. Robin stood casually at the railing and watched the activity on the beach for a few minutes, silently enjoying the sea air that carried with it the scent of the ocean and a hint of salt spray. It was a gorgeous view. There was a sailboat off in the distance with its billowing bright white mainsail extended and its red and blue spinnaker deployed in order to catch more of the waning breeze. Above, a few seagulls hugged the shoreline, occasionally dipping down past the water's surface to snatch up a minnow or two.
"It's pretty." The alto voice noted.
"Um .." The blonde woman was startled from her thoughts as Jess came up alongside her. "Yeah." Robin took a breath. "See that pier over there?" She pointed over to the right. "It looks like it has some shops and places to eat."
Blue eyes scanned the area. "And there's a fishing pier further down at the other end." A brief pause. "We could take a little walk if you'd like."
One thing was certain. Jess was very considerate, and Robin noticed that. Jess would always phrase things in an inclusive manner, asking Robin's opinion and seeking her input, never assuming anything. The younger woman nodded slightly and stood for a moment watching Jess as the intense azure eyes gazed eastward out across the ocean. Strands of dark hair moved gently in the light breeze, framing the well-defined face as the white loose-fitting linen shirt Jess wore contrasted wonderfully against her tanned skin. The late afternoon shadows cast by the buildings climbed further across the cream-colored sand, and the shade of an occasional palm tree jutted in the direction of the ocean. The sound of the waves, first hitting the shore then receding, along with the deep blue color of the ocean itself, had a mesmerizing effect. Robin wasn't sure if it was the setting or just something overwhelming that rose up inside of her, but the sight of Jess against the backdrop of the sand and the ocean absolutely captivated her. She couldn't take her eyes away. I think I've always known you.
A few seconds later, Jess turned, observing the sea green eyes fixated on her. "You okay?"
Robin finally blinked and looked away, a little embarrassed. "You caught me staring."
"Did I?" A small smile. "What's there to stare at?"
"You." It was out before Robin could stop herself. "Um ..I mean, the view. It's beautiful." That certainly was true.
"Beaches have a magic to them." Jess agreed. "So, you ready to go for that walk now?"
"Give me a minute, and I'll be good to go." The smaller woman quickly ducked back inside their hotel room.
Jess watched Robin leave. Hmmmm. Was it the beach that held the magic, or was it the person you were with? She silently contemplated that concept.
Ahoy there, matey!
'Ahoy ..?' The alternate internal voice couldn't believe the cerebral chatter had chosen this particular moment to surface. 'What do you want? Can't you see I'm busy right now? Robin and I are going for a walk.'
Listen skipper, not to let the wind out of your sails or anything, but a little sand and sea won't get rid of ol' Jimbo P.
'I'm really not in the mood for any of your lame rhymes.' This was already getting tiresome.
To rhyme or not to rhyme? That is the question. Doesn't matter. Running away never solves anything.
'I'm doing no such thing, least of all running away from him.' The alternate internal voice absolutely refused to say his name.
Did the boom hit you on the head already? Surely, you can't be that dense. Or can you?
'There's nothing wrong with taking a little down time with Robin before things start to get ugly.' The alternate internal voice rationalized. 'Besides, we deserve it.'
Justify it all you want. You're the one steering this ship.
And if you crash upon the rocks? What then?
Typically, the alternate internal voice became defensive. 'I know how to navigate this channel just fine.'
Port is left, starboard is right. Red light to port, green light to starboard. Which way, sailor?
The alternate internal voice now grew rather testy. 'What do you mean which way?'
You're the captain. Surely, you must have a compass to guide you.
'I have a compass, and I know which way I'm going.' The alternate internal voice confidently assured, then made an executive decision. 'Green light. Full steam ahead.'
But can't you see the storm clouds brewing on the horizon? You've got to pull this ship into shore. There's a safe harbor close by if you'll only recognize it.
The alternate internal voice had to admit that the idea was tempting. It would certainly be easy to reverse tack and head back into port. 'You seem to think I'm not capable of commanding the helm.'
Because, Admiral, you're ignoring the treacherous waters ahead. Batten down the hatches!
'Good grief.' An internal eyeroll. 'You're chock full of clichés today.'
Here's one more, and it would be wise of you to listen to it. There's a lifeboat ready for you. All you have to do is take it.
By all reasonable standards, it made perfect sense, but the internal voice nonetheless remained steadfast. 'No lifeboats are necessary. Steady as she goes!'
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. You're determined to walk the plank on this one.
'Another rhyme ..don't you ever give up?' It was a rhetorical question. 'Listen, Bluebeard.' By now, the alternate internal voice had absolutely had enough of this conversation. 'Give it a rest. I get all the metaphors, and I can assure you that I'm fully aware of what I'm doing. So stow it, and let's set this ship on course.'
Aye aye, Captain. Hoist the mainsail!
'I'll tend the wheel.' The alternate internal voice cheerfully supplied.
Shiver me timbers
"You ready?" Robin poked her head out onto the balcony where the taller woman was still standing.
Without missing a beat, Jess tucked away all doubts that had somehow surfaced and gave Robin a dazzling smile. "You betcha, kiddo. Lead on."
The sun was close to setting as Robin and Jess strolled along the beach in the waning moments of daylight. They had browsed through some of the shops on the long pier and then stopped inside one of the restaurants for some dinner before taking their leisurely sunset walk. It was a calm evening, and all threats of the typical late day summer thunderstorms were nowhere to be found for a change. The beach had largely cleared out, and the intermittent sounds of the splashing waves and the high-pitched squawking of the seagulls were all that permeated the quiet shore.
"Isn't this great?" The comment in the form of a question was left unanswered as green eyes gazed out across the open ocean. "What are those lights?"
Jess followed Robin's line of sight. "Looks like one of the cruise ships heading out from Port Canaveral over there. I know they have some weekend cruises over to the Bahamas."
The blonde head nodded contently, as the rush of the advancing and retreating water edged perilously close to their path. "I like the way the waves are higher here. There's more atmosphere than over at the Gulf, although the sunsets there are pretty." Robin recalled one sunset in particular where she and Jess had exchanged rings and made their commitment to each other just as the glowing orange disk sank into the water, a moment she would absolutely treasure forever.
A warm smile appeared, as if Jess was thinking the exact same thing. "I'd say both the Gulf and the Atlantic have different benefits." Although not terribly obvious, something seemed deliberately cryptic about how she put that. "The sky's pretty tonight. Lots of orange and red."
Robin studied the sky. The uneven buildings lining the beachfront slipped further into shadowy silhouette as the lower edge of the sun began to dip behind them. It really was very calming, and she took a few moments just to take it all in.
"You sure you had enough to eat back there, kiddo?" Jess smiled, then winked.
"I'm good. I will say, though, that I'm very surprised at your choice of dinner entrée."
A look of mock consternation. "Something wrong with broiled flounder?" An ebony eyebrow arched.
"Um .." A small giggle. "No. It's just that it wasn't ..you know what."
The taller woman bent down and picked up a cone-shaped seashell, examining it up close before tossing it back into the ocean. "I don't know what you're talking about." Actually, she did.
"Jess, you know they had many of those other type of dishes to choose from. I just thought you might have liked one of them." A pause. "But broiled flounder's good, too."
A quick retort was now long overdue. "I'm very happy to know that my dinner selection has received your stamp of approval, Robin."
Robin gave Jess a dubious look, then shook her head. "You do this just to get attention, don't you?"
A quick wink. "I can assure you, Robin, if I wanted your attention, I wouldn't need to use dinner entrées to get it."
Oh. Robin had to admit Jess was right. "You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"
A charming smile was her only response. Jess had a way of making her point without so much as saying a word. Besides, Jess mused, playing was fun. "So .." She decided to change the subject. "Want to go out on that fishing pier up there and watch the rest of the sunset?"
The night breeze was picking up just a little now, and their walk so far had been extremely pleasant. "Yeah, I think we can get a better view."
The sturdy wooden-planked pier showed a few signs of weathering, but it had a solid railing along its sides and several board benches for sitting. A lone fisherman stood off to the far end casting his line out into the gently rolling sea. As Robin and Jess approached, several seagulls dived repeatedly into the water in front of him, searching in earnest for food. Apparently, his bait had attracted company. Letting out a small sigh, he packed up his rod and reel, grabbed his tackle box, and sauntered back toward the darkening beach, whistling lightly as he went along. A single white pelican perched attentively on a corner piling, however, remained.
"Let's sit here." The taller woman indicated a bench that faced back toward the beach offering them a panoramic view of the skyline behind the beachfront hotels.
"A little pink and purple in the sky now." Robin commented, situating herself comfortably next to Jess on the wooden seat.
"I .." Jess hesitated, then found her voice once again, whispering softly. "I have something for you." She reached into the front pocket of her cotton shorts and pulled out an object.
Green eyes, once so fixated on the vibrant sunset, fixed now onto blue. Petite fingers felt the object as Jess placed it gently into the palm of her hand. "A velvet box." Robin took a breath. I know what that means. "Jess?"
The younger woman paused, then did as she was told, slowly raising the hinged lid of the soft velvet case. Inside, she found two small diamond earrings, a quarter carat each, set with solid gold posts. "Jess, these are beautiful." Even in the diminished lighting cast by the backlit sky, the diamonds held a faint yet definite sparkle. "But .." Robin looked again at Jess. "I don't have anything for you."
At that moment, it was one of the sweetest things Jess had ever heard. "Sweetheart, you're all I need."
Robin bit her lower lip, then looked once more at the earrings. "Did I miss an occasion?" She knew it wasn't her birthday or any major holiday.
Jess smiled. "No, you haven't missed any occasions. I just wanted you to have these." Actually, Jess had a speech prepared, but now somehow she didn't know where to begin.
"These are beautiful." Robin said a second time, her voice filled with wonder. She then offered a faint chuckle. "You seem to be giving me diamonds a lot." The hues of the sunset deepened as she reflected on the diamond heart pendant Jess had first given to her last Christmas and then the gorgeous diamond ring Jess had placed on her finger under the setting sun committing herself to their love forever. The symbolism of it all was beginning to become apparent.
Jess took moment to consider her thoughts before speaking again. "Diamonds are forever." It wasn't just some clichéd saying. To Jess, it was what she felt in her heart. She took Robin's hand in her own. "These earrings are meant to be worn together, as a pair. Diamonds are strong, you know, stronger than anything else in the world." God, I'm not making any sense. This wasn't sounding as articulate as she had planned. "I'm not sure I'm saying this right." She looked away, a little embarrassed at her apparent lack of eloquence.
Sea green eyes searched for and then held steadily onto crystal blue. "I know what you're saying." In truth, it was actually quite profound. "You're saying that diamonds are forever and are stronger than anything in this world, and that these diamond earrings are a pair, meant to be worn together, one never without the other."
It wasn't like Jess to become so emotional over simple prose, but hearing those words coming from Robin, the sentiment that she herself had tried to express, caused her eyes to moisten just a little bit. "Yes."
Robin looked around them, and seeing that they were alone on the pier, leaned over and gave Jess a delicate kiss. "They're beautiful, Jess. Thank you."
"You're welcome." The sun had now set, and all that remained was the dusky blue tint of the sky above. "Sweetheart, things are likely to be difficult for a little while for us. I've got to do some things that will be ..unpleasant. But no matter what happens, remember that I'll love you forever. Like diamonds."
That sounded a bit more serious than Robin was comfortable hearing. Was this a foreshadowing of something, or just Robin's imagination working overtime? Whatever it was, it made her uneasy. "I wish you could forget about James ..not get involved with him again." The smaller woman sighed. "But I can understand why you want to find out what he's doing here. I agree that we can't be looking over our shoulders every day wondering when and where he might show up again. We need to get him out of our lives once and for all." And away from you.
"I promise that will happen."
Robin nodded, then closed the lid on the velvet case and tucked it safely away inside her pocket. She stood up and went over to the near side of the pier, resting her forearms on the wooden railing and looking out into the twilight over the sea.
Jess joined her. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah." Petite fingers grasped hold of the larger hand resting on the railing nearby, green eyes though, never leaving the horizon. "I love you, Jess."
"Same here, honey." As understatements go, that was a big one. Several silent moments passed, neither one of them saying anything else, and Jess somehow found herself peering down into the black water near one of the pier's thick round pilings.
The intense interest in the water below didn't escape Robin. "Um ..Jess?" The smaller woman scrutinized the water's surface. "What are you looking at?"
Blue eyes blinked. "Nothing."
The blonde head cocked sideways. "Did you see a fish?"
"Then what else is down there?"
"I just thought I saw .." Jess shook her head. "Nothing."
Robin didn't know a whole lot about fish, but she suspected what little things tended to hang around pilings at night. She stared further into the water. Nothing was there. "I don't think you saw any of those, Jess."
"Probably not." A pause. "Besides, I'd need a flashlight to shine in their beady little eyes to be absolutely sure."
Good grief. "I knew you shouldn't have had that broiled flounder tonight. You're in shrimp withdrawal."
"Hey." An indignant look. "I resemble that remark."
An exaggerated eyeroll. "Come on, silly. Let's get back to the hotel room so I can try on my new earrings." Robin tugged at Jess's arm.
"Right." Jess lingered, though, taking one more quick look into the dark water below. But if I just had a flashlight ..
"Do you have the sunscreen over there?" Robin searched the area underneath their beach umbrella for the turquoise bottle of lotion. The sun was hot, even though it hid at times behind some passing puffy clouds offering a little reprieve.
Jess had just returned from taking a dip in the ocean and had taken her place on her large brightly colored beach towel laid out on the sand next to Robin's beach chair. "You getting burnt?" She handed Robin the bottle.
"Maybe a little. Will you put some on my shoulders?" The younger woman turned her back toward Jess.
"Sure." Jess's fingers glided easily over Robin's skin, liberally coating her petite back and shoulders with the white lotion and gently rubbing it in. "You'd better put some on your nose, too. Looks a little red."
"Yes, Mom." Robin giggled. "Did you have a nice swim?"
"The water's great. Cool but not cold. Nice waves today." The taller woman leaned back on the beach towel. "So, what were you doing while I was away? Reading a little?"
Robin picked up her book, looked at it, then returned it to its location under the umbrella, grasping her water bottle instead. "Actually, I was just watching the people." She chuckled. "See that little boy over there?" She pointed over to the left of where she and Jess were sitting.
"Yeah." The kid couldn't have been much more than about two years old.
"I was watching him and his father. The father had taken him down to the edge of the water where the waves wash up to get the boy's feet wet while his mother was back up on the beach with the videocamera taping them. After a minute, the father left the little boy standing at the water's edge while he ducked himself underneath for a second. All of a sudden, this big wave came up and splashed right in front of the little boy, knocking him down." Robin smiled and shook her head. "The mother who had been taping all of this, dropped the camera, and like lightning, went running over to make sure the boy was okay, pointing her finger at the father and scolding him for not watching their son. But the child was never in danger, and he was totally unfazed. He got himself back up like nothing had happened and started playing in the sand and the foam from the waves. Meanwhile, the mother was still scolding at the father."
"Sounds a little scary." Jess noted.
"Well, you had to see it. Actually, it was kind of funny and really cute."
Jess saw the look on Robin's face as she spoke, and even though those green eyes were hidden behind her sunglasses, it was apparent. There was also a kind of wistful quality to Robin's voice as she relayed the story, something that was hard to miss. She wants children. It was patently obvious, and Jess had observed this for some time now. The thing was, Jess wasn't sure she was ready to think about that just yet. Too many things going on. But was that fair to Robin ..
Her thoughts were interrupted as the smaller woman stood up, blocking the sun's rays as she did so and casting a slight shadow upon the beach towel. "My turn to go in the water. Watch my stuff." With that, the petite body turned and sashayed toward the waiting waves.
Watch your stuff. The older woman smiled to herself. As attentive blue eyes followed Robin's retreating form across the sand, Jess was indeed watching her stuff.
The weekend had been great. Lots of sun, only one small thunderstorm late on Saturday, and plenty of relaxation. And now ..well, now it was back to work. It had been a very long day. The first day back always seems that way. Jess had been so covered up in work, deadlines, putting out fires, and just overall case management issues that she'd barely gotten around to any of the things she had really wanted to do. And so it stood at 5:30 p.m., a busy day with little to show for it. Unfortunately, it looked as if it would take a late night tonight just to catch up. Damn. Things never go the way you want them to go.
Resigned to her fate for the evening, the junior partner grabbed the pleadings folder of the case she was working on and studied its index. For some reason, it was not caught up to date. Discovery had definitely come in. She'd seen it, but it was obviously not where it should be. Jess grew rather annoyed at the situation. She'd need to speak with her secretary soon about this. Angie was usually pretty good about keeping the files current, so why were things getting so lax? Just as Jess was in full grumble mode, there was a light knock at her office door. "Come in."
Robin poked her head inside. "You leaving soon?"
A sigh. "Afraid not, kiddo. It's been the day from hell, and I need to stay for a while and get some things done that I should've done already. You go on, and I'll see you later."
The young associate stepped over and knelt on one knee next to the cherry wood desk. "Sorry." She offered a sympathetic smile. "Can I help?"
"Thanks, but there are just some tedious things I have to plod through myself." The junior partner tapped the folder in front of her. "And I've got to hunt down some missing documents. They're probably here under these piles somewhere." She waved one hand to indicate the stacks of papers covering her desk and the floor near her credenza, then flipped through one stack in particular, distracted..
"Well, if you're sure .."
Robin really wished there was something she could do, but she'd come to recognize when Jess's mind was already made up. "Will you be late?"
"Hopefully not. I'll try to be home at a decent hour." A small frown. "No promises, though."
"Okay." The younger attorney stood up to leave, then turned back. "Should I keep dinner for you?"
"Nope. I'll grab a sandwich or something from the vending machines." Jess was decidedly unenthused about the idea, and it showed.
Robin gave her a reluctant nod. "See you at home, then." She left the office, leaving the door partially open.
Perhaps a little less than an hour had passed as the junior partner plowed her way through the papers in the pile closest to her, oblivious to much of anything else. The law firm was quiet, almost all of the staff having gone home more than an hour earlier. It was then, as she studied the ridiculous settlement proposal from an opposing counsel, that a low clearing of the throat sounded from the direction of her doorway. Blue eyes glanced up, focusing in on the long form leaning casually up against the wooden frame.
"Thought I might catch you here." The figure smiled, looking impeccably dressed and very at ease.
Damn it. I don't need this. "What are you doing here? Especially at this hour?"
"Come on, Jess. Is that any way to say hi?" James took a seat in the chair nearest the large floor-to-ceiling window, making himself comfortable. "I tried to reach you this past weekend, but you weren't home."
"I went to the beach." A bored look. "Not that it's any of your business."
"Ah." He appeared to contemplate that response. "Have a good time?"
A visible eyeroll. "Cut the small talk. Why are you here?"
James sighed. This was going to be a little bit harder than he thought. "Look, I just thought I would check in with you and see if you've had time to consider my offer."
Now that the situation had sunk in, Jess remembered Harry's warning about keeping James away from the firm. "Listen, you're not authorized to be here. If you want to discuss your personal business ventures, it'll have to be somewhere else." I've got to get him out of here.
"All right." He seemed to agree, nodding slowly. "Let's go get some dinner, and we can discuss it." It had actually turned out to be a pretty good opening for him.
The junior partner cast her eyes over the piles of paper strewn about her desk. Shit. What were her choices? Having James hanging around where he didn't belong, or letting her work go so she could get him out of here? Bad options all the way around. "Fine. Let's go." She hastily stood up and grabbed her briefcase. "But make it quick. I don't have all night."
They left her office and rounded the corner near the reception area, taking the first elevator car down to the building's lobby before anyone could see them.
Or so Jess hoped.
The small booth at the bistro a few blocks from the firm provided a cozy setting for dinner. Actually, it was a little bit too cozy. The lighting could have been brighter.
Steely blue eyes studied James from across the table, then lightened up just a little. Jess knew she'd have to make this good in order for him to believe her. "You wanted to talk, so talk," she offered casually.
"Wine?" He avoided the subject.
"Good choice." Once he had placed their order, James leaned back in his seat and attempted to engage in some idle chit-chat. It was an ice-breaker, so to speak, and there was really no use in getting into business just yet. "You're looking tan. The beach must've agreed with you."
"It was relaxing." A dark eyebrow edged up. "Too bad that ended."
Touché. "Which beach did you go to? Daytona or Cocoa?"
Why all this interest in how I spent my weekend? If she had thought about it hard enough, the answer was probably quite obvious. "We went to Cocoa. Any more questions?"
"You and ..Robin, is it?"
This was territory Jess was absolutely not getting into with him. "Robin is off-limits when it comes to you. If you want to talk about something with me, then do that, but don't bring her up again."
Defensive. "Hey .." He held his palms out directly in front of him. "Sorry. I just didn't think you'd have a problem talking about .." He smiled, rather amused. "Your girlfriend."
He's trying to get to you, Jess. "What I have a problem with is your inappropriate interest in things that don't concern you."
The wine arrived, and he grasped the stem of his glass, taking a long sip. "It was just conversation, Jess."
Right. "I believe that you wanted to discuss something with me." She looked at him expectantly. "I'm listening."
James opened his menu and studied it. "Can't we have dinner first, then talk business later?" It seemed to him to be a perfectly reasonable request. "The T-bone looks good."
Let's not make this too easy for him. "Look, I've got things to do. I don't have a lot of time to be wasting it with you. If you want to talk, we'll talk. Otherwise, I've got better places to be."
"Fine." Resigned, he turned his full attention to her. "I was hoping you've had an opportunity to consider my business proposal."
"So far, I've heard nothing to convince me to leave my present employment."
"Fair enough." He casually took another sip of his wine. "I've scheduled a meeting at the end of next week here in Orlando for our personnel who will be opening the new office, along with the principals of the company. Perhaps you might be able to attend."
Jess silently contemplated her response. "I'll need to check my schedule."
"If you attend, you'll be able to see firsthand the scope of the operation and the responsibilities associated with managing the office. Additionally, it will afford you the opportunity to meet the staff and then determine additional staffing requirements as necessary, including the legal staffing."
"Just to be clear .." Jess set her menu aside. "I'm not making any promises. Even if I do go to that meeting, there are many factors to consider, one of which is whether I'd even enjoy working in a corporate environment."
"Here's what I'll do. I'll ship you a prospectus and a copy of our corporate earnings statement prior to the date of the meeting. You can decide first on what the risks are, and then, depending upon what you hear at the meeting, you can determine whether it might be something you would consider." James was saying all the right things, and he knew it. The hook was almost set.
Before they could continue their conversation, the waiter appeared, and after rambling through the evening's house specials, he took their orders. It must have been the time of evening, but the lights in the bistro seemed to dim even further as the sunlight outside finally faded from view.
Jess refocused her attention on the issue at hand. "Did I understand you to say that as manager and corporate legal counsel, I would have discretion over the staffing decisions for this office?"
"And I could hire anyone I wanted, including legal personnel?"
James gave her one of his most charming smiles. "You'd have carte blanche." That should seal it. Something told him he was on the verge of victory.
"And salary requirements?"
"Pay them market rates. You, naturally, would receive a generous base salary, which would be negotiable, plus a percentage of the net profits the office brings in under your management."
What's he scamming? This all seemed too good to be true. "I wouldn't be cheap."
"Understood." He slowly swirled the richly colored wine in his glass, then set the final bait. "You can even hire Robin, if you'd like. I'm not adverse to any type of nepotism arrangement." He glanced up, catching her blue eyes in his. "Not that she would exactly be considered family."
He's trying to provoke me. Jess paused, then calmly responded. "What Robin is or is not isn't any concern of yours." I'll be damned if she's getting anywhere near this. "She has her work to do, I have mine." That wasn't true, but James didn't know it.
He leaned forward, all business pretenses aside. "Come on, Jess. What's really going on with you and the little blonde? You can tell me."
Jess hadn't expected such a blatant attempt at gaining her personal information. But considering everything, she should have. "Have I not made it clear to you, both when you came to my home unannounced and then during this entire evening, that Robin is none of your business?"
"It just seems so out of character for you." He appeared to be considering the situation. "I mean, she's kind of cute, I suppose, if you go for that type. But, Jess, you've always been so much more ..aggressive."
Jess tried very hard to keep herself under control. "Let me be perfectly clear because you seem to have trouble understanding this." She placed her forearms stiffly on the table, speaking very succinctly to him. "I am not going to talk with you about Robin. You'll need to get your jollies from someplace else."
Ouch. Definitely defensive. "Okay, Jess." He let the matter drop. "Whatever you say."
She relaxed, having sufficiently made her point. "Besides, you're in no position to make any judgments about me considering your own less than stellar track record."
And still bitter, I see. James didn't respond, having gained from the exchange pretty much what he wanted, anyway. He did raise an eyebrow, though, offering Jess a subtle smile that seemed to convey that he had won something. "More wine?"
Damn it. Jess cringed inwardly, now second-guessing herself. Had she just made a critical mistake? In her attempts to keep Robin out of play, had she instead put her right smack into the middle of all of this? And by doing so, had Jess revealed her own weakness? It was apparent that James had some strange fascination with her relationship with Robin. Or perhaps he was just curious. Men are like that. Or could it be that he saw Robin as some form of competition? A dark eyebrow lifted. Men are like that, too. But surely he's gotten the message that he's no longer in the picture and his previous actions are unforgivable. Hadn't he? The uneasy feeling lingered. So, then what's he after?
It had been a largely uneventful evening at home by herself. Robin had warmed up some leftover lasagna and spent some time relaxing in front of the television watching the nighttime game shows and a not very funny situation comedy. It was lonely without Jess, and even though she tried to make the best of it, she didn't succeed. She hated spending evenings by herself when Jess was working, which fortunately for them had been blessedly few and far between lately. There was something about the quiet and stillness of the nighttime that made it uncomfortable for Robin to be alone in the large house at night for any length of time. The sounds were amplified, and she seemed to hear every creak and groan. And furthermore, she didn't like the fact that Jess was holed up at the office not getting to eat a proper dinner.
She let go a sigh. There was one other thing that was bothering her this evening ..the matter of another little message on their answering machine from her mother. One of many over the course of the past several months. Up until this time, Robin had ignored her mother's messages or refused outright to speak with her, being too angry at her mother's deceptions about her father's intentions toward Jess. But now that some time had passed and things had played out a little bit more, perhaps Robin was being unfair. She reflected on this further. It was entirely possible that her mother hadn't actually known about her father's blackmail scheme and the resulting ultimatum to Jess. So maybe Robin should give her mother the benefit of the doubt ..
She picked up the cordless phone from the living room coffee table, a petite index finger traveling absently across the keypad. It was definitely a debatable subject, one which Robin now decided to consider more fully. A short conversation with her mother would stop the continuing messages, and maybe even make a little peace in the process. And hadn't Jess been encouraging her to talk with her mother? Maybe it would be a good thing. On the other hand, it might aggravate an already bad situation, especially if the tone of the conversation turned combative. I'm not in the mood for an argument. Finally, after much internal debate, the petite finger dialed the number.
"Hello." Colette Wilson answered the phone.
"Mom, it's Robin."
"Oh, Robin dear, I'm so glad you called." Colette's voice sounded extremely relieved. "It's good to hear from you."
"I received your latest message tonight, and decided to call you, but please, Mom, I don't want an argument." It was best to set the parameters of the conversation right away.
"Me, either." Colette agreed. "I've been worried about you."
"I've been fine."
There was an awkward silence before her mother continued. "I'm sorry about what happened."
"Do you mean that?" What's changed?
"Yes, I do. I didn't know what your father had in mind when he left here that day, and if I had known, I would have done everything possible to stop him. I thought he just wanted to speak with your friend and make sure that you weren't going to be hurt."
"Well, guess what? He was the one who did more to hurt me than anyone could have. And to even think that Jess would hurt me in any way after I had explained the situation to you both .." Robin stopped herself before she let the conversation deteriorate.
"I know that, dear, and I told him that I was very upset at his tactics, especially since what he did made you so unhappy. That's not what either of us wants for you."
"Do you know what trouble he caused for Jess at the firm? Do you know what she had to go through with the Management Committee, all because of me?" The tears started to come, and Robin was helpless to stop them. "He tried to humiliate her and destroy her career and reputation."
"Robin, I don't approve of what he did, and I told him that. I hope you believe me."
Robin regained her composure, but her voice remained shaky. "And she was willing to give everything up just to spare me. Do you know that she was ready to sacrifice everything for me and what that cost her?" I almost lost her that night.
"I'm very sorry about that." Colette did indeed sound sincere.
"Don't apologize for him, Mom. I already told him that if he continues his obsessive need to interfere in my life or hurts Jess in any way, he won't see me ever again."
"I think your father understands that now, Robin. He doesn't want to alienate you." A brief pause. "Nor do I."
Robin let out a breath. Her mother seemed to have conceded. "Okay, but as I told him, it's going to take me some time to get past this."
"I understand that, and it's enough that you called tonight."
There was so much more to talk about, but now wasn't the time to get into everything. There was, however, one last thing that needed to be said. "For me to move past this, you both will have to accept my relationship with Jess."
There was another silence.
"Mom, we can't move on unless that happens."
Finally, her mother spoke. "I know that she is important to you and that you want to be with her, but just like you're going to need a little bit of time, I'll need a little bit of time with this, too." It was as honest as Colette could be. "If you're truly happy, then I'll accept that that's what you've chosen." She added.
Robin sighed. It's not a ringing endorsement, but it's a start. "Fair enough." Her voice became very soft. "Mom, Jess is the most wonderful person I could ever hope to meet. I'm committed to her. I love her with all my heart, and I really want you to love her, too." This was an admission Robin hadn't voiced before, or even acknowledged to herself.
There was an audible sigh. Colette knew her daughter's feelings for this woman ran very deep. "I'll give her another chance, Robin. It's the best I can do right now. Let's just give this some time. The important thing is that you're happy."
Robin couldn't figure out whether her mother really believed that or whether she was just placating her in the hopes that as time went on, the relationship with Jess would eventually end. "I am happy, and you and Dad have to believe and accept that." And don't interfere.
"Are you taking care of yourself?" Colette changed the subject. "I worry about how you're coping with things."
Perhaps it was a good time to end that part of their conversation and let things settle down a bit. "I'm fine. I've been going to counseling, and now that it's been almost a year since David died, I'm starting to handle things a little bit better."
"That's good to hear." Colette was well aware of how traumatic those past events had been.
By this time, the whole conversation had started to take its toll, and Robin suddenly felt very weary. "I need to go now, Mom. Jess will be home soon."
"Okay, dear. I'm really very happy that you called. Please take care of yourself."
"I will. Goodbye." Robin clicked off the phone. God, that was draining. Had they made any progress? After everything was said and done, Robin couldn't be sure. Her mother seemed to be remorseful about her father's actions, and that was good, but what bothered Robin most was that her mother still seemed unsure about Jess. She said she would try to accept their relationship, but that was a far cry from accepting Jess as a person. But why? What was it about Jess that was so objectionable? Robin couldn't for the life of her figure that out.
There was a nuance there, and what Robin didn't understand was that her mother accepted that she loved Jess as a person but not as a woman. And that simply was just going to take some time.
Robin returned the cordless telephone to the coffee table and glanced up at the clock on the wall. 9:45. Where is Jess? Why isn't she home yet? Robin briefly debated whether to pick the phone back up and dial Jess's direct line at the office, but then thought better of it. After all, since Jess was working, she probably wasn't having a good time, and Robin should really just let her get her work done and come home as soon as she could. And it certainly wouldn't help get her home any sooner if she was distracted or nagged about working late. Next time, I'm staying to help her no matter how stubborn she is.
After another hour passed without hide nor hair of Jess, Robin finally went to bed, the aftereffects of the phone call to her mother ultimately getting the better of her.
Besides, Jess surely would be home soon.
The door leading from the garage into the kitchen opened as the junior partner disabled the alarm, then reset it after she was safely inside the house. The place was very quiet, with a small lamp in the corner of the living room providing the only light. She surmised that Robin must have gone to bed, and she couldn't blame her considering the hour. Easing her way over to the sofa, she took off her suit jacket and fell back onto the cushions. God it had been a long day. She was tired, uncomfortable in her business suit, and her feet hurt. She noted the time on her watch. 11:20. Later than she would have liked.
To top it all off, she didn't get much work done tonight. After the excruciatingly long dinner with James, she had retreated back to the firm to attempt to do some work, but instead, found her mind wandering, unable to concentrate on much of anything. She'd barely made a dent in all she had planned to do. Not to mention that she was now having doubts about whether she was actually going to be able to pull off her plan with James. What an arrogant jerk he is. It had been nagging her all night long after their lengthy dinner and her subsequent hasty departure. Plain and simple ..his interest in Robin bothered her. If his stated mission was to entice Jess into working for him, what was it with all of the questions about her relationship with Robin? Unless he was just curious. It could be nothing more than that. But still ..
Weary from thinking about it for the better part of the evening, Jess decided just to go to bed and start a brand new day tomorrow. She'd be able to think more clearly then and maybe be able to piece this puzzle together.
She got up from the sofa and shuffled her way back toward the master bedroom, her suit jacket draped over her arm and both dress shoes in hand. Quietly, she opened the door and tip-toed over to the walk-in closet, letting herself free of her confining clothing and changing into her more comfortable Calvin Klein boxers and t-shirt. She dashed into the bathroom for several minutes before stepping around to her side of the waterbed and gingerly slipping underneath the covers.
The motion, though, woke her sleeping companion. "Jess." A groggy gray-green eye noted the time on the digital clock. "You're home. I was getting worried."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
Robin edged herself over alongside the larger form. "I bet you're tired."
You can say that again. "Yeah. Long night."
"Did you get everything done?" Robin mumbled into Jess's shoulder.
"Um ..no, not as much as I wanted."
"I'm sorry. I promise I'll help you tomorrow."
A weary smile. "Okay." There wasn't any protest.
"And you didn't even get a good dinner. That vending machine food is terrible." Robin, now a tiny bit more alert, raised up slightly on one elbow. "If you're hungry, I could fix you something to eat."
As worn out as she was, Jess could have cried. "Sweetheart, I'm okay. I managed all right. Go on back to sleep."
The smaller body snuggled up again to the larger woman, a petite hand resting comfortably on Jess's waist on top of the Calvin t-shirt. Silently, soothingly, a petite thumb lightly brushed back and forth over the soft fabric. "I'm glad you're home. I almost called you a couple times."
"I'm sorry I was later than I expected." Jess drew the covers up around them both.
The petite thumb kept up its motion. "Was there that much to do?" It was meant to be more of a statement rather than a question. "You should have let me stay and help you."
"Well, at least one of us had a relaxing evening."
Not really. "Actually, I spoke with my mom tonight." Robin paused, not particularly wanting to think about that subject anymore this evening.
Jess became a bit concerned. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I'll tell you about it tomorrow."
An unexplained wave of emotion caught Jess off-guard. She wrapped her arms around Robin and pulled her close, a protective gesture that either stemmed from shielding the younger woman from her family troubles or perhaps defending her against other more sinister forces. He's not getting anywhere near you.
"Did you run into any problems tonight?" Robin was almost prescient.
Jess kissed the top of the blonde head resting on her shoulder. "Nothing I can't handle."
It was clear that throughout this entire conversation, Jess had several opportunities to tell Robin about her dinner with James and instead chose not to do so. So why did she keep silent about it? Why did she ..lie? Actually, it wasn't exactly a lie, Jess rationalized to herself. More like an omission of fact.
Well, whatever it was, it just wasn't the truth.
To Be Continued ..
© Copyright 07/19/04
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