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 story, there once again is no 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 scenes here. If that is what you are looking for, you might want to read something else.
Continuing Story Disclaimer: This is the sequel to my first story "Undeniable" and picks up about one week after its conclusion. You may want to read the previous story prior to reading this one, otherwise it will probably not make much sense to you.
Feedback: This is my second attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome and 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
The boardroom began to fill with all five members of the Management Committee, nearly everyone first pouring a cupful of freshly brewed coffee before filing in and taking a seat around the oblong cherry wood conference table. It was grim start to a Monday morning, as anyone would admit, a cool misty rain dampening the spirits of each and every member present during the Monday early morning hours. Most would have much preferred to be in any other place but where they currently found themselves, in a conference room about to ponder and then decide the most politically expedient way to handle what was, at best, a delicate situation. Gordon McDaniel took his seat at the head of the far end of the table, and after reviewing his notes on a legal pad in front of him, addressed the members of the Management Committee.
"Let's begin." The managing partner's expression was serious. "Before we speak this morning first with Robin Wilson, I've been informed that Barbara Roberts has requested that she be allowed to briefly say a few words to the Committee." He glanced over toward the head of the litigation department seated to his right, and upon seeing the nod from Harry Roberts, continued. "Unless there are any objections, Harry will ask Barbara to join us first for a few moments."
The room remained quiet, and hearing no objection to the request, Harry stepped out into the lobby and quickly returned and guided his wife toward an open seat in the center of the conference table. Barbara settled into the cool leather chair and looked down the length of the table to where Gordon McDaniel sat, smiling warmly at her old friend.
"Barbara, it's good to see you." The managing partner opened the dialogue.
"Thank you, Gordon, and thank you for allowing me just a few moments to speak to your Committee this morning." The wife of the litigation department chairman smiled again graciously, then paused and glanced around the conference table just long enough to extend a gentle greeting to each member present. Aside from her husband and Gordon McDaniel, those seated at the table were partners Tim West, Matt Singleton and Patricia Jenkins. Although Barbara wasn't familiar with Tim West, the newest member of the Management Committee, she knew and frequently socialized with both Matt Singleton and his wife. She recognized Patricia Jenkins, a very aggressive corporate law attorney, who had been with the firm for nearly fifteen years. In fact, Patricia was the first female attorney employed by the firm who would eventually hang around the good ol' boys long enough to obtain partnership status.
Gordon continued on. "I've mentioned to the Committee that you've requested an opportunity to address the entire Committee as a whole, so if you're ready now, we can begin."
"Very well." The wife of the chairman of the litigation department folded her hands together in front of her and proceeded to address the members. "As you may know, I don't commonly involve myself in the daily running of this firm anymore. I left all of those administrative chores years ago to my husband and Gordon and their very capable staff. I don't mean to intrude on your judgment on the matter before you today, however, I want to offer to you my thoughts, and then you may proceed as you see fit."
"Well .." Tim West leaned forward and interjected. "I don't believe we've met, Mrs. Roberts, but I'm certainly willing to listen to whatever you have to say. I'm sure you realize, though, that the Committee members here today have a unique perspective on this matter in that we work inside the firm's environment day in and day out. We not only need to consider the inter-workings of the law firm in general, but also the risks any matters brought before us may have on each of our partners."
"Yes, of course you're right Mr. West." Sensing a bit of opposition, Barbara decided to move quickly to the point. "May I be frank with you all?"
Tim West sat back. "Please do."
"Some of you may not know this, but Gordon, his wife, Lynn, Harry, and myself began this law firm so many years ago. As you can imagine, it took a lot of hard work to get the firm established and then to acquire and maintain a client base. In those early days, we weren't sure we'd make it, but ultimately, with perseverance and a little luck, we did." Barbara's gaze settled on Tim West. "One thing we strived for was to see that this law firm recruited the best possible legal minds available, and then to do everything possible to hold on to them once they were here."
Gordon looked up. "I know where you're headed Barbara, and I agree with you to a point. The problem in this situation is that the Committee just simply can't turn a blind eye to the fact that a partner of this law firm deliberately ignored the policies established by this Committee, and instead, acted in her own self-interests, putting all partners at risk in the process. While I agree that Jessica Harrison has a stellar record as a litigator, and up until this point has been a tremendous addition to this firm, what would it say to all our other attorneys if the Committee were to simply overlook her indiscretion?"
"Gordon, I'm not suggesting that the Committee ignore the matter. What I'm saying is that if Jessica were to leave this firm, you and I both know that some other law firm would snatch her up before her feet even hit the pavement, and this firm would be none the better for it. Perhaps the Committee, in this instance, could see a way to work out this matter with her, and Robin, if need be."
It was Patricia Jenkins' turn to speak up. "And if the Committee did see a way to work through this, what would prevent another attorney from doing whatever he or she wanted to do, regardless of the best interests of the law firm and its partners?"
At first blush, Patricia's question seemed damning, but Barbara noted the subtle gleam in Patricia's eye as she glanced toward Tim West. Perhaps she's playing devil's advocate. "Well, I'm quite certain that this Committee could structure an agreement which would adequately protect the firm from harm as it pertains to this particular situation, and which would also send a sufficient message to all other partners and attorneys of this law firm as to an acceptable code of conduct."
It did not go unnoticed by any member of the Management Committee that throughout this entire exchange, Harry Roberts remained silent, sitting in the chair next to his wife, his posture clearly supportive. He was permitting his wife to have the floor entirely to herself, and everyone knew it. Office politics cut both ways, and when the wife of a founding partner, who also assisted in the founding of the firm herself, deemed a matter of such importance that she felt the need to express her opinion, politically speaking, it was in everyone's best interests to listen and take the matter seriously ..that is, unless you happened to be one particular new and quite brash member of the Management Committee, itself.
"I'm sure .." Tim West spoke out again, an overly polite quality coloring his voice. "This Committee will make an appropriate determination as to the proper course of action to take in this matter involving all concerned." He sat comfortably in his chair, confident in his evaluation. As it was, Tim West wasn't entirely stupid. He knew full well that Harry and Barbara Roberts were both significant shareholders of the firm. But something just gnawed at him about the situation. Perhaps it was the fact that someone who hadn't been actively involved in law firm administration in a considerable number of years could just on a whim decide to interject themselves into what was really an entirely internal matter. Or perhaps it was really that, to his mind, he'd be damned if the wife of partner, no matter who that partner happened to be, subtly decided to call the shots whenever she so chose. That was entirely unacceptable. Giving Barbara Roberts respect was one thing. Giving her ultimate say in such matters via pressure tactics was quite another. After all, she has no real vote here.
Barbara smiled deceptively. He's a lost cause. Perhaps a little additional persuasion is necessary. Something for all of them to chew on. "Very well. Let me just leave the Committee with one last thought, then. Which of these would be the greater harm? A stigma associated with this law firm for intolerance of alternate lifestyles which, no matter how vehemently that intent is denied, will nonetheless be perceived to be true within the legal community, or a subtler arrangement whereby sufficient action is taken to protect the firm in this matter, and at the same time, dissuade any like conduct from happening again by any other partner of this firm?"
Matt Singleton finally voiced a thought. "Yes, I think it's a point worth considering."
Harry sat forward in his chair and focussed his attention on the managing partner. "What do you think, Gordon?"
What a mess! The sad fact of the matter was that if the firm chose to make an example of Jessica Harrison in this instance, the real reason for the disciplinary action would be obscured by the sensational aspects of her chosen lifestyle. But still ..partners are not free to play the system in a game of Russian roulette, betting that a delicate enough situation will in the end serve to protect them from potential professional harm, allowing them free reign to act in whatever manner they so chose. Gordon sighed. Either way, the ultimate message would be lost. "All right, Barbara. We'll consider it. It's the best I can say at this point. Let's speak with both Robin and Jessica, and then see where we stand. The way I see it, a lot rides on each party's intent."
Suddenly, Matt felt a headache coming on. He had just finished preparing Jessica's will and was privy to certain privileged information. Still, it was not enough to warrant recusing himself from the Committee. As a matter of fact, as he thought about the situation even further, having prepared her will actually gave him greater insight into each party's intent. But either way, he would be remiss in not disclosing the matter to the Committee at this point. He felt compelled to speak. "I want the Committee to know that I have conducted a few personal probate matters for Jessica Harrison. I trust that my work for her will have no bearing on the subject matter currently before us."
"No." Gordon waived his hand casually. "I don't think that other matters conducted for Jessica or Robin on a personal level are material to the matter before the Committee today." He glanced over at Matt. "Unless you know of some reason why such probate matters might impair your ability to serve on this Committee."
"No." Matt shook his head. "I just wanted to advise the Committee of the issue before we proceed."
"All right." Gordon looked down the conference table to the wife of the litigation department chairman, who had been patiently, albeit curiously, observing the Committee's previous exchange. "Thank you for coming in today and speaking to us, Barbara. We appreciate your concerns and insights with regard to this difficult matter."
"It was nice to meet with you all." Barbara stood up and waited as her husband joined her and guided her out into the firm's lobby. Once safely outside the door, with an audible sigh, she turned to face him. "Oh dear. I think this may be a bit more difficult than I had anticipated."
Harry looked at her thoughtfully. "Well, you gave it your best shot, dear. Unfortunately, Jess brought a lot of this upon herself, and now, it'll be up to her to see her way clear of it. I'm betting, though, that she's up to the task." He led his wife to the elevators. "And although I don't condone what she's done or how she chose to handle it, I'd really hate to lose her."
His wife stepped onto the arriving elevator car and gave him a serious look. "If I were Jess, after seeing that bunch in there today, I think I might just leave this firm and start my own practice, taking Robin along with me. Gordon's Committee might be very wise to think about that." With that thought, the elevator doors closed.
Inside the conference room, Tim West closed his eyes and shook his head in frustration. It was absolutely outrageous. Management decisions were to be made by Management Committee members. Period. Secretaries don't have a say. Mailroom clerks don't have a say. Word processing personnel don't have a say. Associates don't have a say. And most definitely, partners' wives don't have a say. Not in the least. No matter who those partners' wives happen to be. Perhaps Gordon and I need to have a little chat about certain things before we continue.
A point of clarification was apparently in order. Although it was true that Tim West may not have been stupid, all things considered, he most certainly was not very bright.
Robin sat at the oval conference table, drumming her fingers apprehensively on its solid cherry wood top. Gordon McDaniel had stepped out of the room to take a quick phone call, which now had apparently turned into a lengthy phone call. After several more moments, the conference room door swung open and the managing partner joined the assembled Management Committee members and their star witness at the table.
"Robin, please excuse my delay." Gordon looked down the table at the young associate. "We won't take up too much of your time here today. We just have a few things we need to discuss with you, and then we can let you get back to work."
Let's get this over with. "That's perfectly all right." Robin smiled politely, careful not to show her anxiety. "I'll answer your questions as honestly as I can."
It wasn't entirely unexpected, but an uncomfortable silence settled over the room as the Chairman of the Management Committee appeared to be struggling for an appropriate way to begin the inquiry proceedings. He cleared his throat uneasily, then began. "I want you to know that we aren't here to pry into your personal life. On behalf of the firm, we need to make sure that there is no potential risk to the law firm as a whole as a result of your personal relationship with one of our partners, Jessica Harrison. As I'm sure you're aware, your father could have created an enormous amount of trouble for us if he had chosen to do so. As is stands now, we've received a signed letter from him indicating that he agrees not to file a complaint with the State Bar Association implicating this firm in any claims of improper conduct resulting from your relationship with Jessica Harrison."
Implicating this firm? What about implicating Jess? "Would the agreement he signed extend to all partners of the firm?"
Both Harry Roberts and Gordon McDaniel nodded at the same time. Harry was the first to answer Robin's question. "Yes. That was one of the things we wanted to make sure that your father agreed to. We didn't want him coming back later on and try to implicate any partner of this firm in this matter. As you realize, implicating one partner implicates, by extension, all other partners."
"Yes, I do understand that." So, he let Jess off the hook, too. At least that's something. The young associate was, in truth, very relieved. She'd half expected her father to pull something at the last minute, but it seemed now that it wasn't the case.
"Now .." Gordon interjected. "Please remember that we're not asking anything of a personal nature, and everything you say here will be kept strictly confidential. What the Committee would like to know, first of all, is at any time since you starting working with this law firm, have you ever felt pressured or otherwise compelled to maintain a personal relationship outside of work with Jessica Harrison out of fear for your continued employment?"
Green eyes went wide, then became determined. "Absolutely not. If you're asking whether I ever believed that my job was tied to my personal relationship with Jessica Harrison, I can tell you that I never, ever once believed that it was." Robin glanced around the table, noting that all present were looking uncomfortably down at their hands, save for Tim West. His gaze held hers for a slight moment, then Robin looked away.
The managing partner quickly asked the next question. "Were you aware of the firm's policy regarding personal relationships between those with supervisory responsibilities over employees whom they supervise?"
"I became aware of the policy a couple of months after I started working here."
Tim West spoke up. "How was it brought to your attention?"
The young associate grimaced internally. He knows how. "Jessica Harrison mentioned it to me."
"And yet, despite this, you and Jessica decided to continue your personal relationship, thereby leaving the firm open to accusations, the nature which your father recently threatened. Is that correct?" His point made, albeit a bit harshly, Tim West sat back comfortably in his chair.
He's out for blood. "Let me say something." Robin glanced from Tim West to the other end of the table where Harry and Gordon sat. "Because I never felt that my job was in any way tied to my relationship with Jessica Harrison, the allegations made by my father never even occurred to me or to her. It was never an issue with us. I never believed that such a claim was at all supportable, mainly because I absolutely deny it." Her voice had gained a hard edge as she fought hard to keep her resentment at both her father and the Management Committee in check. "My father had absolutely no basis to make such a claim, and no right to threaten to do so."
The head of the litigation department sensed tensions rising, and softened his voice in an effort to calm things down. "All right, Robin, that's all we were asking. We just wanted your honest interpretation of how you felt about being placed in the situation you were in. Our main interest is that you didn't feel that your job was tied to certain requirements which may or may not have been imposed on you."
His words were said with such sincerity that Robin just couldn't take offense. She gave him a reassuring smile. "I understand why you're asking, and let me state unequivocally that I never felt pressured in any way. I chose to maintain a relationship outside of work with Jessica Harrison of my own free will. The allegations my father put forward never crossed my mind, and therefore they were not an issue with me. I want you to know that I've made it clear to him that what he did was unacceptable, and furthermore, I absolutely and positively deny any such allegations."
"Okay." Gordon was now obligated to pose another query. "We also want to know whether you were either pressured or felt obligated to keep the whole matter quiet, either for fear of your job or for any other reason.
What are they really afraid of? "Let me make this perfectly clear, so you have no doubts. I absolutely was not pressured, in any way either to continue my relationship with Jessica Harrison or to keep it quiet, nor did I feel any such obligation to do so."
As certain people are prone to do, the newest member of the Management Committee was just itching to play the hero and turn up something of substance. "Robin, you, and Jessica in particular, chose to remain silent about your relationship even though you were both fully aware of the firm's policy. If you weren't keeping silent because you personally felt pressured to do so, then what reason did you have for agreeing to keep it quiet?" Now, either Tim West was trying way too hard to make his point, or he really was stupid after all.
"Because .." Robin looked pointedly at him. "The nature of my relationship wasn't something that I personally was ready to disclose." She paused to let that sink in. "I'm sure you understand what I mean."
If the other members of the Management Committee weren't so busy looking at their hands, they might have seen the bright red blush that crept up Tim West's face. If truth be known, he was hoping for some deep dark calculated admission, not merely the obvious and sympathy producing answer he got. "Yes." He cleared his throat. "I do understand what you mean."
Why not just put it all on the table? The young associate decided to proceed further and try to make the Committee understand that there was never some nefarious plot associated with their relationship. "An important consideration was that Jessica and I wanted to continue working together." She looked back up the cherry wood conference table toward Harry and Gordon, directing her further response mainly to them. "We seem to work so well together that it's really amazing. I've gained invaluable practical experience and have learned an enormous amount about litigation practice just in the short time I've spent working with her. She's guided me through many first-year associate pitfalls, and during our trial together last December, I gained a great deal of courtroom working experience. I felt it was beneficial to me and my career to work with her, and so I wanted to continue doing that."
Tim West's head jerked up. This was interesting and certainly could be used as fodder to fuel further interrogation. "You both put your own self-interests ahead of this firm's interests? Is that what you're saying?"
"Take it easy, Tim." Patricia cut him off and now spoke to Robin for the first time. "I can understand how you'd want to gain as much practical knowledge as possible, especially when you're first starting out in this business. It's just an awkward situation because of the ultimate appearance this takes on, especially if it had been brought before the State Bar."
Robin's green eyes closed, and she lowered her head slightly, speaking softly. "I know that now. But it still doesn't change the facts. I never felt pressured, and I wanted to keep the matter quiet because I was the one who was not nearly ready to reveal it. And yes, I also wanted to gain as much practical knowledge from Jessica as I possibly could."
"Robin?" Matt Singleton had been reluctant up until now to ask any questions, considering his recent role in Jess's probate matter, but he thought it best to clarify absolute intent on this matter. "Is it correct that your intention was to keep this matter quiet purely for personal reasons, not as a careless disregard for this firm's well-being?"
Thank you, Matt. "Yes. And I also state unequivocally that it is my understanding from what I know that this was Jessica's intent, as well." That last statement, although not requested, was something she felt she had to add.
Apparently, everyone was satisfied by her answers, or pretended to be, as the room once again became deathly silent. Either that, or everyone was just too embarrassed to ask anything else. Finally, mercifully, Gordon spoke again. "All right. Thank you, Robin. I think that's all we need."
The associate nodded and stood to leave. "You're welcome." She turned to Harry and gave him a quick smile, then straightened her shoulders and silently left the conference room.
The boardroom remained eerily quiet after Robin's departure. Harry rubbed the bridge of his nose above the rim of his glasses and shook his head. Leaving aside the fact that he didn't quite understand Robin and Jess's relationship on a personal level, he nevertheless found it rather disquieting to air it all out in a business setting. There was just something unsettling about the precedent. And unsavory. Perhaps a policy revision is in order.
Tedious wasn't quite how one would describe it, but it was close enough. Jess sat at the oblong cherry conference table, fielding question after question posed to her by various members of the Management Committee. Most questions, not surprisingly, were accusatory in nature. Through it all, though, she was able to ascertain that what they were really after was intent. They harped on it time and time again. What was her intent, first, by maintaining a relationship with Robin, and second, by then concealing it, a concealment which ultimately put the firm at risk? But why focus on intent alone and not on the facts of what actually happened? It was puzzling, to say the least. The Committee members made no pretense of any politeness or tactfulness in their questioning. After all, the survival of the firm, as they saw it, had come perilously close to being jeopardized by her actions. In all honesty, it was not really surprising when Jess thought about it. After all, how was the Committee supposed to react to the fact that one of their own partners had put everything at risk? Jess closed her eyes and took in a long, deep breath before fielding the next barrage of questions. As if my life isn't complicated enough ..
Tim West glared at the junior partner. "I think this Committee still needs an acceptable reason as to why you took such measures to hide your relationship with Robin Wilson, however you wish to categorize that relationship. Would you mind explaining it again for us, because I don't think we totally understand your intent?"
Shaking her head wearily, Jess reiterated her previous answer. "Robin and I work well together. I wanted to continue that, and I knew that by disclosing our relationship, she'd have to be reassigned. As you're no doubt aware, most people don't work well with me, nor I with them." She paused to let that truism sink in. "Without Robin to help me, associate assistance is limited, at best. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck with Mark Stevens again. It's no secret that Mark and I don't get along, as I'm sure you know." She grimaced in an unconscious gesture, recalling a near-malpractice catastrophe which had occurred with Mark Stevens just before Robin had been assigned to work full-time with her. "And the other reason Robin and I both decided not to disclose the nature of things between us is simply because we, ourselves, weren't ready to publicly reveal it. It's a ..very sensitive thing, as I'm sure you're all aware."
"So, what you're saying is that your intent was to put yourself and your workload above the best interests of this law firm." Tim West folded his hands in front of him, confident he'd seen the true motivations behind her actions.
Bastard. Blue eyes leveled a devastating glare at him. "My intent, Tim, was to do the best job I could and to have the best possible assistance in doing so. In addition, I also wanted to be sensitive to both mine and Robin's comfort levels with regard to the public knowledge of this thing." Her gaze hardened further, and she cocked her head slightly. "Does that make my intent clear to you?"
"All right." Gordon stepped in, sensing an unpleasant altercation. "I think we're now clear on what your intent was, Jessica." He flipped through his legal pad. "The other problem we have is that, as Robin's supervisor, you were required to prepare her performance evaluations. It stands to reason that given your personal relationship, your ability to be objective might be compromised. How would it be possible for you separate yourself from your personal relationship with Robin far enough so that you could prepare those evaluations objectively? As you're no doubt aware, that is precisely why we created the policy in the first place. Favoritism is a motivation killer for everyone else in the workplace. Surely you know that."
That was my original thought when all this started. "Listen, Gordon, I was well aware of the favoritism perception, and I took extreme caution to avoid any appearance of preferential treatment. I oftentimes counseled Robin on many ways to improve her skills as a litigator in an endeavor to do just that. But the truth of the matter is, she's a very good attorney, and her instincts are top-notch." The junior partner shook her head in wonder at her protégé. "Besides, Robin and I work together almost like clockwork. She can anticipate what I need and what is required, without me even asking. She demonstrated that to me time and time again. I was more than pleased with her overall performance at our trial last December." Jess looked at her hands sadly. "I had every hope of continuing that working relationship."
A smirk passed across Tim West's face. You should have thought about that before you broke the rules.
Harry cleared his throat. "What Jess says is true, Gordon, and you know it." Perhaps client satisfaction will carry some weight. "You remember how Phil Jacobs of RSJ Industries told both of us how pleased he was with Jess and Robin's work on the trial. He's promised this firm all of his future work in the Southeast from now on because of it." He sighed. "I'm interested in keeping him happy right now so we don't jeopardize the deal. I've already fielded several calls from some of our other clients who are uneasy with someone other than Jess handling their work."
"Yes, Harry." Gordon sighed. "While that may be true, we can't have the perception of favoritism infecting this workplace, and we certainly can't have one of our own partners deciding on her own what's best for everyone concerned. There are other considerations here, aside from clients and workload requirements, as you know."
The head of the litigation department shook his head. It was becoming clear that Gordon may be a lost cause in this matter. Harry spoke his mind. "Yes, there are other considerations, and I'll tell you one thing, keeping a lid on this whole thing might be the best this firm can hope for at this point."
Tim practically shot up from his chair. "You don't really believe that after what she's done."
"Let's settle down." Gordon tried to regain some semblance of decorum in the already a tense atmosphere. He looked over at Jess who was watching the interplay with interest. "Is there anything else you'd like to say about the favoritism issue?"
Jess's better instincts told her to be quiet. She glanced at Matt Singleton sitting across from her suspiciously silent. Damn, Matt. She'd disclosed to him everything about her finances and probate wishes, clearly indicating her intent as far as the sincerity in her relationship with Robin, yet he had chosen to remain quiet throughout the meeting. Is it too much to ask, Matt, that you could say something positive, here? Resigned that fate had to take its course, she let the matter rest. "No, Gordon, I think I've conveyed my intent on that matter clearly."
"All right." Gordon continued. "The last issue is the sexual harassment claim .."
The junior partner, with lightning quickness, stopped him immediately. She held one finger up in the air, and spoke succinctly. "There is no sexual harassment claim."
Finally, Patricia Jenkins voiced her concern and clarified the managing partner's point. "What Gordon is referring to is the potential sexual harassment claim threatened by Mr. Wilson."
"Which has since been dropped." Jess interjected.
Patricia nodded. "Yes, and which has since been dropped."
Why the hell even bring this up? It's a non-issue. The junior partner took a steadying breath in an attempt to rein in her growing anger, then pointed her finger once again up in the air in a gesture of determination. "Number one, Robin's father had absolutely no standing whatsoever to bring or even to threaten such a claim. Number two, Robin expressly denies it. And number three .." Here, she paused to make her point explicit, steeling her gaze individually on each member of the Management Committee one by one, before she continued, her voice deep with barely controlled emotion. "Number three, I never, ever, even once, in any remote way, intimated such a thing in my relationship with Robin. Never. Nor would I ever do so, and I don't like the implication that I would." Jess shook her head in annoyance, then attempted to calm herself. She studied at the blank faces looking back at her and sighed inwardly. It was now becoming abundantly clear that certain people were determined to hang one issue or another on her in order to justify any potential disciplinary action the Committee ultimately might take. And she didn't like it. Not one damn bit.
"That may be true." Patricia retorted. "But the point here is that a serious claim of a very unpleasant nature could have been made, and the mere allegation alone could have damaged this law firm in more ways than one, and I'm sure you realize that." Her eyes then softened a bit. "Listen, I'm not insensitive to your situation. Really, I'm not. But what I'd like to know is whether you realized the potential peril you were putting yourself and this law firm in by maintaining such a clandestine relationship with a person whom you supervised. And further, whether you understood that as Robin's immediate supervisor, any such allegations of a sexual harassment nature could reasonably have been perceived to be true."
The smug look on Tim West's face didn't escape Jess. That was expected. What she couldn't figure out was Patricia Jenkins' angle. Was the older partner providing her with a way out, or was she just getting ready to put the last nail in the coffin? Blue eyes closed slowly, then opened in resignation. Whatever happens, happens. "Let me say this. As to whether I realized the potential peril I may have been placing myself and this firm into by my keeping my relationship with Robin quiet and that in my supervisory capacity it could have been perceived as sexual harassment, my answer is that I did not realize that particular scenario until Robin's father made his threat. To be honest, since the claim was never even remotely true, it just never crossed my mind to consider it. Perhaps it should have, but it didn't. So, if you're asking whether I deliberately chose to subject this firm to the risk of being tarnished with a sexual harassment claim, my answer is that I did not."
Patricia seemed satisfied at the answer, and sat back in her chair. She jotted something onto her legal pad, but otherwise remained quiet.
For his part, sensing that the issue was in danger of falling by the wayside, Tim West quickly jumped back into the questioning, unable to just sit back and let the junior partner off the hook so easily. "But you were Robin's supervisor, were you not? What about Patricia's question about whether you knew that such a claim, if it was made, could have been perceived to be true, regardless of whether in reality it actually was so? You should have known that."
This guy's getting the hell on my nerves. "Listen, as to whether since I was Robin's immediate supervisor I understood that such a claim could possibly be perceived to be true, let me say this again." Jess held up her finger once more, this time pointedly in Tim's direction. "Since in reality the claim was never even remotely valid, that potential did not cross my mind. Had I realized that such a claim could reasonably have been made, I would have taken steps to avoid it immediately. I absolutely and unequivocally would have done so, and I don't particularly like your implication that I'd do otherwise. Furthermore .." She leveled another devastating glare directly at him. "As to the issue of whether I should have known how it could potentially have been perceived ..well, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn't it, Tim?" You better hope I don't catch you screwing up, buddy, or your ass is mine.
"You didn't answer the question." Tim snapped.
Things were fast becoming out of control as almost everyone now felt compelled to throw in their two-cents worth at once. Both Harry and Gordon, nearly in unison, shouted across the fray in an effort to calm everyone down and regain some semblance of decorum. It took a few moments, but the assembled parties finally quieted. Jess focused her eyes on her hands, realizing now that whatever decision the Management Committee ultimately made, her relationship with her partners was seriously damaged.
We need to end this quickly before it all but destroys us. "All right." Gordon shook his head somberly, then glanced up at the junior partner. "I think that's all we'll need for today. If the Committee has anything further, we'll let you know. As soon as a decision's been made, either Harry or I will inform you."
Jess nodded but surveyed the managing partner's demeanor. Something else is eating him. "I have one question for the Committee." She met and then held Gordon's gaze. "My understanding is that Robin will receive no disciplinary action resulting from this matter or as a direct result of the Committee's decision on this matter. Is that still the case?"
"Yes." Gordon nodded. "The Committee has agreed that Robin is not the responsible party. Further, Robin still has standing to file a claim, if she so chooses."
Oh. I see it now. Jess held back a smile as she realized the actual game being played. It definitely explained their obsession with intent. She almost laughed at the reverse implication, whether or not the Committee members realized that they'd just given it away. The Committee was taking no action again Robin, in part because the Committee was afraid that the young associate, herself, might file a claim against the firm. They'd obtained a waiver from her father, that was true, but they'd obtained no such waiver from her. Any disciplinary action against her would likely be seen as retaliatory in nature. Well, whatever leverage works here, works for me. Just as long as Robin's protected. And Tom Wilson, ol' buddy, I can do blackmail with the best of them. "Fine." Jess stood up to leave. "Then, I'd say that it would be wise of the Committee to include in its final written decision that Robin is cleared of any and all wrong-doing."
Gordon raised an eyebrow. He wasn't sure whether or not the junior partner's statement was a thinly veiled threat. His mouth opened slightly as he mulled that thought over. It was just quite possible that a less than favorable decision against Jessica could result in Robin's filing a sexual harassment claim against the firm. Of course, Robin's taking such an action would also necessarily implicate the junior partner, which was highly unlikely to happen. Still, if things eventually turned sour between Jessica and Robin, all bets were off. He sighed wearily. "All right. We'll consider putting something to that effect in our decision." Having given that concession, he sat there stoically and watched as the junior partner exited the conference room, her shoulders unexpectedly confident.
Good grief. Can this day get any worse?
Robin sat at the dining room table, pouring intently over the household finances and going over the bank statements from her and Jess's joint checking account. She'd been studying their domestic financial situation for a significant part of the evening, and what she saw was not good, at least not from her perspective. In fact, it was downright aggravating. And disturbing. For the past two months, ever since Robin had moved into The Ranch, she had been depositing money into their joint checking account every week to help cover the everyday household expenses which she and Jess incurred. Now, in reviewing the bank statements, Robin found that every single dime she'd put into that account was still in there, left entirely untouched and wholly unspent. The bills, however, were all paid up, with not even a single one left owing. Green eyes closed in frustration. This could only mean one thing, and one thing only. Jess had been depositing twice the amount of money into the checking account as Robin had been, far more than enough to cover the entirety of their household expenses.
Ordinarily, Robin would have calmly and rationally inquired of Jess about her discovery, just in case there was some logical explanation for what she'd found. But these were not ordinary times. Many trying events had recently occurred which would have put even the most calm and rational of persons on edge. As such, Robin fell victim to her compounded and unresolved anguish and anger. The list of culprits seemed endless. There was the intrusion into their personal lives by the firm's Management Committee. That was true and trying enough, but taken together with the betrayal by her father, which was very fresh in her mind, his revelations about his influence on David, and the apparent lack of confidence which her parents ultimately viewed her capabilities, Robin took her additional discovery about the household expenses as yet another personal insult. Rightly or wrongly, she fumed about the revelation, and that fuming became more intense as the minutes ticked by. Jess, it seemed, did not value her ability to contribute to the running of the household, so much so that the older woman took it upon herself to pay all of the household expenses regardless of Robin's good faith contributions. Why won't anyone take me seriously?
Robin stewed about this for several more moments until Jess returned into the living room. The junior partner had just spent an inordinate amount of time sending e-mail messages attempting to calm down several of her clients, most of which were unhappy and nervous about her extended leave of absence from their cases. It didn't seem to sit well with any of them that other very capable partners of the law firm were handling their cases during her unscheduled hiatus. They wanted Jess back on the job, plain and simple, and they were becoming increasingly restless with each passing day. Now, as it turned out, restless clients correlated well with one very restless junior partner, and the result wasn't pretty. Not in the least bit. And since Jess was not used to being idle for so long, she was going absolutely and positively stir-crazy. And that was putting it kindly. Restless and stir-crazy was a volatile combination, and as such, not surprisingly, led to one on-edge and very cranky attorney. This time, the word 'cranky' was most definitely not a term of endearment.
The past several days had been filled with anxiety and anticipation awaiting the Management Committee's decision, which now at mid-week, was still not forthcoming. It was a fact that only served to add more tension and stress to an already tense and stressful period of time. Adversity can make one stronger, as both Jess and Robin so recently experienced, and although that was generally a truism, it was also a truism that adversity can test even the strongest of relationships, sometimes stretching them to nearly the breaking point. That being the case, what followed next was only natural and bound to happen, and in reality probably should have happened sooner. Jess and Robin finally reached the precipice of that breaking point, the household finances only proving to be the catalyst toward that ultimate path.
Robin eyed the taller woman entering the living room. "Jess, could you please come over here for a minute?" Although it was phrased in the form of a question, and very politely, too, the younger woman's tone of voice and demeanor served notice that it was, in reality, a distinct command.
Coming out of her e-mail preoccupation, Jess approached the dining room table, surveying the assorted piles of cancelled checks, bank statements, and paid bills as she did so. If she had an inkling as to what Robin was up to, she didn't let on. "What's up?"
"I've been going over our joint checking account, and I see that there's quite a bit of money remaining in there even though all our bills are paid up. Do you know why that is?"
"Well, I'm assuming that it's because we've got some extra money in the account right now."
I'm in no mood for games. "Jess, let me explain this. For the past two months, I've deposited money in this account every week to take care of our household expenses. We agreed to that. Now, I want you to look at this." The younger woman held up the check register for the older woman to see. "Do you see how much money we have left-over in the account after all our bills have been paid for the past two months?"
Blue eyes squinted to read the amount reflected on the last line. "Yes." It was a purposefully succinct answer.
"And that amount, coincidentally, is just a little bit more than everything I've ever deposited into the account." Green eyes hardened. "Jess, how could you do that?"
Both dark eyebrows rose. "How could I do what, Robin?" The taller woman really didn't understand what Robin was so upset about.
"Don't pretend you don't know. We agreed that we would both deposit money into the joint account for household expenses. I've done my part, but you've obviously taken it upon yourself to deposit more than enough money to cover all of our bills yourself. That was not what we intended, and you know it." Robin glanced at the check register once more. "Again, Jess, tell me, how could you do that?"
"Listen, Robin .." The older woman's tone of voice became very careful and deliberate. "We have plenty of money in the account. All the bills are paid in full. There is absolutely no problem. If you're asking why there's a surplus in the account, I thought we'd keep a reserve in there just in case we needed to do some maintenance on the house this spring and summer. That's all."
"That's all?" It was a rhetorical question. "Well, you could've at least discussed it with me. But no, you just took it upon yourself to make that decision, instead."
"I really don't see the problem, here." The dark head shook in exasperation, analyzing the matter. "It's only prudent to keep a reserve fund so we have money to fix the air conditioner or buy a new refrigerator or fix the roof or do whatever else we might need to do to keep this place going. This is really a very minor issue, Robin .." A large hand gestured in front of the stacks of papers on the table. "And besides, I really don't see what you're so upset about. The agreement was that you deposit money in the account, I deposit money in the account, and we pay the bills from the account. End of story. There was never any restriction on how much money either party could deposit, was there, because if there was, I certainly don't recall it?"
The younger woman stood up abruptly from the table. That's it! "Don't you do that. Don't you play word games with me. You know full well what the agreement was. The agreement was that we would equally share in paying the household expenses. Equally, Jess. It was not that one of us would pay the bills and one of us would keep a reserve fund. That wasn't how it was supposed to work, and you know it."
I don't need this. "Number one, Robin, I don't need your permission to pay the bills, and number two, I've been taking care of things around here just fine for many years now, and I certainly don't need you telling me how to run my house."
The blonde head snapped up. "Your house? What happened to our house? Every time I turned around, you kept on telling me that this is my house, too. Now, all of a sudden, it's your house?"
Jess took a long, deep breath to try to gather some perspective and calm herself. All things considered, she wasn't totally unsympathetic to Robin's point of view on the matter. She let go a sigh, then offered up her explanation. "I only meant that I know what it takes to keep up the house. I've been doing it for many years. It's wise to keep a reserve fund for maintenance and repairs. Things happen, and we have to be prepared. That's all I was trying to do."
Green eyes gauged Jess's demeanor. She just doesn't get it. Robin sighed sadly and sat back down at the table, shaking her head slowly in bewilderment. It was one thing for Jess to want to be prepared, and it was quite another to make such decisions without discussing it together. Just as Jess turned to head back into the living room, something down deep inside of Robin, something she didn't recognize, lashed out, and she said something she never thought she'd ever say. "You don't have any faith in me. You're just like my father. And David."
Upon hearing that statement, Jess stopped dead in her tracks. She didn't move for a very long time as she considered the damning accusation. The older woman knew full well that she was many things, and she certainly could be difficult at times to get along with. She also believed that she had been doing extremely well in trying to be empathetic with Robin's difficulty in dealing with David's death, so much so that she had put down her own admittedly irrational jealousy time and time again upon merely hearing the man's name. But now, being compared to the manipulative and controlling man that Robin's father was, and then having David thrown back in her face like that ..well, it nearly caused the older woman to lash out, herself. She absolutely didn't deserve that indictment from Robin, and she took it very, very personally. Blue eyes blinked several times very slowly, then, rather than say something she knew she'd later regret, Jess made a fateful decision. I need some air. Without a backward glance, she strode over to the kitchen, grabbed her keys from the counter top, and headed straight for the garage door.
From that moment on, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Robin caught the older woman's movement out of the corner of her eye. She saw Jess stiffen her shoulders, take a step toward the kitchen counter, pull a set of keys roughly into her hand, and then rapidly proceed toward the door leading to the garage. And to the car. And suddenly, it was as if Robin's whole world was collapsing right in front of her eyes in a surreal instant replay that was both eerie and uncanny in its familiarity. In an action she'd later not remember, the younger woman, in fit of panic, bolted from the dining room table, raced across the length of the room, and headed straight for the garage, trying desperately to block the older woman's exitway. As she did so, her voice rang out in a guttural, agonizing cry that defied all possible description, a mixture of stark fear and terror that echoed off the room's surrounding walls in an urgent and considerable appeal which seemed to go on forever. "Noooooo!" She rushed to the door and braced her arms wide on either side of the metal frame, looking straight on into shocked azure eyes, before crying out in the same agonizing fashion once more. "Noooooo! You promised me!"
Jess stared at Robin in utter confusion, trying to read into the depths of the frightened sea green eyes locked intently upon her own. What the ..? The older woman's gaze slowly tracked from Robin to the keys resting loosely in the palm of her own hand, and then, with a sickening clarity that caused her to reel unsteadily backward, she nearly collapsed as the realization ultimately hit home, and hit home hard. Oh, dear God. What am I doing? She watched almost mesmerized as the keys, wholly of their own accord and in slow motion themselves, helplessly fell onto the tiled floor, clanking with a deafening intensity that shattered the ensuing vacuum of all discernable sound. For very long moment, they both stood there, locked trance-like in each other's gaze, each unable to move amid the absolute silence that followed.
Finally, Jess, in an action totally within her better character, rushed forward and gathered the younger woman in an all-encompassing embrace, her hold tightening as she felt the smaller body simply fall into her own. She heard the heavy sniffling increase and then clung to the trembling petite form even tighter, trying with all her might to come up with something, anything, to make up for her horrible misjudgment. Her tongue, however, inexplicably remained silent, and all she could do was cleave in utter and complete remorse to the one who held her heart. Finally, with her own tears streaming unchecked down her face, she offered up the only words she possibly could. "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Sweetheart. Please forgive me." Long fingers combed through golden strands of hair as Jess whispered her desperate plea over and over again. "Please forgive me. Please. I'm so sorry."
Robin buried her face into the older woman's chest, trying to calm her all too real fears and leaning even further into the safe haven standing before her. Finally, tear-filled sea green eyes gazed quietly up into remorseful blue as a petite hand reached forward and cupped the older woman's cheek. It was another moment before Robin found her voice well enough to speak, and when she did so, she whispered her heart's greatest fear. "I'd be lost without you, Jess. I couldn't bear it."
How could I have done this? "I know, Sweetheart. I know. And I'm so very, very sorry." Jess kissed the top of the blonde head, briefly taking comfort in the younger woman's spring rain scent, then rested her forehead gently against Robin's. "Let's go ahead and sit in living room, okay? We need to talk about this."
Robin nodded and followed Jess over to the plush sofa, sitting down so that they were face to face with each other. She came to realize that she had her own apologizing to do, and that the accusations she'd leveled against Jess were entirely out of line. Perhaps it was all the tension and stress of what they'd been going through, but there was still no excuse to lash out at the one person who was her entire life. "Jess .." A petite hand grasped a larger one. "I'm very sorry for what I said. I didn't mean it." She looked down, trying to gather her thoughts. "You're nothing like my father or David. It was way out of line for me to say that, and it's not true. You're the sweetest and gentlest person I know, and I know you love me with all your heart." The younger woman brought the hand she held to her lips and placed several soft kisses on the knuckles. "For a moment, I thought you wanted to control my life just like my father and David did, but I was wrong. You have always protected me, and I know that whatever you do, that's what's foremost in your heart."
It took a long moment of reflection, but Jess finally spoke. "I'll admit that when you compared me to your father, I was very angry. I certainly don't mean to control you. I'd never want to do that." It was a risk, but she decided to admit the real cause of her behavior just moments ago. "But when you mentioned David ..I just completely lost it. It made me crazy."
It's harder for her than I thought. The younger woman knew that David was a sore subject, but she had to know exactly what Jess was thinking, otherwise they'd never be able to deal with it. Robin ducked her head and caught Jess's gaze, her voice very soft and gentle. "Tell me why." Petite fingers rubbed the back of the larger hand in a soothing motion. "Why does it make you so crazy?"
Blue eyes broke the gaze and characteristically glanced away. "Because he has a part of your heart that I'll never have."
Robin understood now, as she recognized the jealously for what it was. She tightened her grip on Jess's hand. "No, honey. You have my whole heart. Just you. No one else." Green eyes closed briefly, then reopened. "I will admit to you that he's inside my mind sometimes, and it sometimes distracts me, but you're inside my heart all the time. Every moment of every day. It's only you. Please believe that." She paused, as if setting her mind to something, then made a fervent vow. "I'm going to learn how to deal with David's memory, and put it in the proper place. I promise you that."
A long silence followed. "It's just that sometimes I can't help feeling jealous of him." Jess suddenly felt very ashamed at the admission. "I know it's not rational, but it seems as if he's always there, always between us, like a ghost that just won't go away."
She's hurting so much over this. Petite fingers continued to gently rub the back of the larger hand. "You are such a brave person. You've been so understanding with me, even though I know it's been really hard for you." Robin knew she had to ask the next question, although in truth, she wasn't sure she really wanted to know the answer. "Jess, is he really there between us?"
And now, here was the ultimate dilemma. To be honest or to be kind. Jess, unwilling to hedge the truth at this point, chose to be honest, however much it might hurt. "Yes, Robin, sometimes he is."
The smaller woman took a deep breath, nodding her head reflexively. "All right." She swallowed. "Then, I'll work on that. I can't deny that he was a part of my life, or that some things about him and our time together still affect me, but I'll work on that with Dr. Richmond."
This doesn't seem right. "No, Robin. It's my problem, not yours. I've got to accept that he is ..was an important part of your past, and I have to deal with it. And I promise you .." Jess's gaze locked onto Robin's with an intense determination. "I promise you, no matter what, I will never, ever try to leave like that again. Never."
"I know." But even as Robin said it, in her heart, she really did not know. Her heart still clung to the fear, and it wasn't giving it up easily. But at the moment, she had more repairing to do. "I also want you to know that I know you weren't trying to control me. You were only doing what you thought was best." A small hand reached out and tenderly stroked the older woman's cheek. "I'd just really appreciate it if you and I could make these decisions together." Her voice was very soft and gentle, and this time, held no reproach. "Okay?"
The dark head nodded. "Okay. I promise, from now on, we'll do that." Jess leaned in and gave Robin a sweet kiss. "I'm very sorry for the way I acted tonight."
"And I'm very sorry, Jess, for the way I acted tonight."
God, Jess, you really screwed up. "I'm pretty tired, now. How about we call it a night?"
"Yeah." The smaller woman rose from the sofa. "I think that's a very good idea."
Adversity, in whatever degree it comes along, can make one stronger. That fact had already been demonstrated with the attempt by Thomas Wilson to tear Jess and Robin's relationship apart. And now? Well, perhaps allowing the really unpleasant things to come fully out into the open was a start to maintaining an even stronger, unbreakable bond. If a relationship could withstand the tests and trials of real life wholly intact, then nothing of an earthly origin could ever destroy it. And by the same token, if a relationship could withstand the tests and trials of the heart wholly intact, then nothing of the spirit could ever destroy it, either. The events of the evening, although tragic in a way, were entirely necessary and most likely inevitable in coming. For if wounds are left to fester, the tests and trials of real life can ultimately threaten to overcome the strength of the heart.
And had that happened tonight, that would have been the real tragedy.
As it turned out, it was early, much too early to sleep, even though both Jess and Robin made heroic attempts to do so. They each laid separately in the queen-sized waterbed, resting on opposite sides, neither speaking nor asleep. Both were mulling over the events of the evening in their minds. And both were feeling intense remorse. Finally, as the prolonged silence and distance became entirely too uncomfortable to withstand another moment longer, Jess turned her head toward the smaller woman and sighed. "Robin?"
"Yeah?" Came the much too quiet reply.
"Are we okay?"
Silence was the only response.
Damn. Well, maybe things will look differently in the morning. Just as Jess had given up expecting an answer, Robin silently inched over and snuggled up next to the larger body, wrapping her arm securely around the taller woman's waist. That action, so familiar and yet so simple, hit Jess hard, releasing a flood of emotions in its wake, most of which she simply couldn't process. Shuddering slightly, she took a deep breath before whispering what was truly in her heart. "I love you, Sweetheart, so much. Please always know that. No matter what ever happens, or my inconsiderate behavior, you're the most important thing in my life."
A small hand slid underneath the Calvin sleep shirt and rubbed circles in a soothing motion on the soft skin of Jess's stomach. "And I love you, Jess. More than I can say. I don't know why I said those insensitive things to you. I feel so ashamed about that." Robin lifted herself up on one arm and brushed her lips tenderly against a soft cheek. "I never want to fight with you again. Never."
"Me, either, Sweetheart. It hurts my heart."
"And mine, too." Robin's heart hurt in more ways than one. There was something she really needed to know, and she knew she had to ask. "Jess?" Her voice became raspy. "Would you really have left tonight?"
Damn. How to answer that. Silver-blue eyes closed briefly. Honesty hurts, but lies hurt worse. "I really don't know what I would have done. Yes, I would have gotten into my car, but I'd like to think that after that, I'd have realized what I was doing, and then have come back inside. But to be honest .." Sliver-blue eyes focused somberly on gray-green in the dark. "I just don't know." I broke my promise.
The blonde head nodded slowly. It hurt to hear the admission. "Jess, but you said it won't happen again, right?" There was a definite note of uncertainty in the question. "Right?"
Long arms reached out and engulfed the smaller woman in a tight embrace, and in doing so, Jess almost lost her composure. With a fervent, almost fierce vow, she whispered her answer. "Yes, I said it and I meant it. It will never, ever happen again. I promise you that, Robin, with everything I am, and I pledge to you that I will never give you cause to worry about this again."
"Thank you." A simple response, yet filled with much more meaning than the words themselves conveyed.
"So we're okay, then, right?"
Relieved, Robin rested her head on a broad shoulder, and the movements of her hand resting on the older woman's stomach now became playful in nature. "Yes, Jess, we're okay." The hand became even more playful. "But, I think we have one more very, very serious matter to discuss."
It was hard, but Jess bravely maintained her self-control under the tickling assault to her stomach. "And just what serious matter is that?"
It has to do with house rule number eight."
"Um .." Dark eyebrows furrowed. "There is no house rule number eight."
A giggle. "There is now."
"Is that so?" The older woman grabbed the increasingly playful hand. "And just what is house rule number eight, if I might ask?"
"House rule number eight specifically states that in the morning when one party is asleep, the other party, no matter how tempted, shall not wake the first party up with renditions of certain songs."
"Um ..I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, Robin."
"I think you do." The hand resumed its playful adventures. "And it's not allowed."
Jess tried hard to reign in a chuckle. "You wouldn't, by any chance, be talking about my favorite two songs in the whole wide world, would you?"
"Well .." A playful finger poked the bare stomach. "If they're the ones you sang to me in the morning on several occasions, then yes, I would be talking about those." Robin could sense the exaggerated pout that followed. "And pouting about it won't work, Jess, so don't even try it."
"Fine." She never said I couldn't think up other songs. "You win, Robin. I agree to abide by house rule number eight."
That was way too easy. "You do?"
"Just like that?" She's up to something.
"Yep. Just like that. You have very persuasive powers, you know." An aggrieved sigh. "But I'm sure gonna miss ol' Gilligan and the Skipper." Another aggrieved sigh. "And the Millionaire and his wife." It was official. Three aggrieved sighs in a row. "And of course, the Movie Star." Make that four. "And we certainly can't forget the Professor and Mary Ann, can we now?" A large hand recaptured the playfully assaulting hand once more. "And I'm really, really going to miss good ol' Mr. Bluebird and that marvelous Zip .."
"Don't say it." Robin reclaimed her hand and went about her previous task.
"Well, as I recall, house rule number eight says nothing about lyrics, Robin, or mentioning said lyrics at nighttime."
She's impossible. "It says songs, Jess, which includes lyrics. Just so we're clear, I've now amended house rule number eight so it clearly makes reference to any time of the day or night, waking up or going to sleep."
One last aggrieved sigh for evening before Jess closed her eyes, ostensibly to sleep. "Okay, fine, Robin. Just remember Scooby Doo."
Scooby Doo? "You are very, very weird." The playful petite hand stilled and gray-green eyes closed, well on their way toward sleep. After a brief moment and a sudden thought, one gray-green eye quickly popped open. She wouldn't dare. The other eye likewise popped open, as a certain cartoon theme song came rushing very clearly to mind.
Yes, she would.
The pale dawn sunlight cascaded across the tiled floor through the living room's sliding glass doors, signaling the start of a brand new day. As if prompted by daybreak alone, the motorized pool sweeper outside began its daily ritual, flicking its tail wildly at times and occasionally spraying bursts of water up into the crisp morning air. Robin settled herself into the easy chair next to the sofa after retrieving both a cup of gourmet coffee and the morning newspaper. In an unusual occurrence, Jess had not yet gotten up, apparently preferring to spend her morning sleeping in just a little bit later rather than worrying about not being at the office. The younger woman had just gotten comfortable when Jess's wide awake form strode purposely into the living room, something of great importance obviously weighing on her mind.
"Good morning." Robin sipped her coffee.
Hmmm. A little grumpy this morning? "Didn't you sleep well?"
"I slept fine, Robin." Blue eyes studied the smaller figure sitting casually in the chair, then proceeded over toward her. "What are these?" Jess presented Robin with the items in her hand.
Sea green eyes glanced from Jess to the items in question, then back to Jess. "I would think that would be quite obvious. Don't you?"
Dark eyebrows narrowed slightly. "Funny. I know what they are, Robin. What I want to know is where they came from and what happened to the other ones."
A shocked expression. "Are you accusing me of something?"
"Let's just say, to use a phrase you, yourself, said to me very recently ..if the shoe fits."
Robin stifled a giggle. "Well, they do seem to be more your style."
That comment brought a pair of raised eyebrows. "More my style? What was wrong with the other ones?"
"Aside from the fact that they were obnoxious and hurt my eyes, they never really did suit you."
"I thought they were lovely."
The smaller woman played along. "Yes, Jess, they were indeed very lovely. Just not quite ..you."
"And these are?" Large hands lifted the items to Robin's green eyes for inspection once again.
"Yes. I think they suit you perfectly."
"Perfectly?" Jess mouthed the word. "Um ..I'll have you know, Robin, that I am nothing like this."
"And you were everything like the yellow Tweety-Bird ones?"
"Yes." The older woman proclaimed proudly. "All bright and sunshiny."
Now, Robin simply couldn't hold in the chuckle any longer. "I don't think so, Jess."
Blue eyes fixed righteously on green. "I won't dignify that remark. And besides, since when did slippers become a running commentary on personality types, anyway?"
She's so much fun. "Since you decided to poke fun at my bunny slippers, that's when." Robin nonchalantly resumed her paper reading.
"I happen to think I have a very sunny disposition."
A giggle escaped from behind the newspaper. "Right. Sunny. I don't think I'd bet the farm on that."
With that retort, Jess took a seat on the plush sofa and contemplated the items still in her hand. Finally, she bent down and put both of said items onto her feet. They fit well. "All right, Robin, have it your way. But I'll have you know that I am absolutely nothing at all like these. Nothing. I most definitely am not in any way remotely like the Tasmanian Devil. Not even a little bit. I just want to be perfectly clear about that."
Another giggle, this time muffled. "If you say so, Jess."
"I do." The tall form got up from the sofa and knelt down next to the easy chair, grasping the newspaper and setting it down on the smaller woman's lap. "Because if I was anything like that, Robin .." She leaned in for a good morning kiss that had a tad bit more to it than just a simple good morning. "You'd most definitely know it."
Uh oh. The younger woman swallowed. "I think I might have given you ideas."
A playful, yet satisfied grin. "Oh, you can definitely count that."
The easy teasing and playfulness didn't escape either one of them. Humor has healing properties, and they both knew it well. Jess, herself, realized that Robin's slippers swapping scheme was really an overture, a way of letting the older woman know that everything was really okay between them. In fact, one could say that any prolonged lack of their usual teasing and joking banter could have clearly been seen as a warning sign, one of very deep concern. The fact that Robin sought so quickly to reaffirm their relationship with humor was in reality a testament to the solid foundation upon which their relationship was actually based. It was a brand new day.
Just then, a ray of bright morning sunlight streamed in, reflecting off of Robin's diamond ring in such brilliant and dazzling flash of light that it caused both women to momentarily stare at it. Jess took the smaller hand into her own and gave the ring on the petite finger a gentle kiss. She then stood up and padded toward the kitchen, raising an eyebrow and casting a parting glance over her shoulder as she did so. "Tasmanian Devil, huh?"
A very wide grin. "Yep. Tasmanian Devil."
To Be Continued ..
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© Copyright 07/02/2001