Comments to Advocate email@example.com & Rsawest firstname.lastname@example.org
For Disclaimers see Chapter 1
It was a beautiful day for golf, and crowds of anxious golfers flooded the Hazeltine Golf Course clubhouse. Lawyers, judges, politicians, industry leaders, and local celebrities were often seen on its luxurious links and in its rich facilities. At least two of the trio at the ninth hole preferred not to be seen at such a high profile place, but the third person insisted.
Stuart Chow adjusted the brim of his baseball hat to shield his eyes from the mid-morning sun. He was still jet lagged from the hastily planned trip from Hong Kong. Adding to his irritation was the fact that someone of his rank was sent to deal with such a minor problem. Stuart, however, realized that nearly any "minor" problem could be blossom into something major. Why else would Baba have sent he and his sister half way around the world to the Twin Cities?
Elizabeth Chow was listening politely to the tall man who spoke as he set down his tee.
" So finally I tell the guy that Im not your average tourist and that hed better give me a better price on that camcorder. When he didnt respond, I told him that I was a personal friend of H.C. Chow "
Stuart clamped down on his jaw to keep from blurting out a Chinese obscenity. He used my fathers name to get a discount? I dont know how you obtained this position. Are you stupid or arrogant or both?
"Junior, do you know the reason my father sent us?" asked Elizabeth.
Junior nodded then took a few practice swings as he spoke. "Yeah, I know that Mr. Chow is worried about the way things are going."
This guy plays dumb well. I see why he was given such a position. Beneath that sunny exterior is truly a ruthless, calculated player. He looks like how do the Americans put it? Ah, yes the boy next door. Very smart Baba. I now see why Junior is our point man here, thought Elizabeth.
Her brother wasnt in a reflective mood. "Father is worried about these arrests. Were losing a lot of product and the publicity isnt good for business," Stuart stated bluntly.
Junior stopped swinging his club and faced both Chows. His eyes went cold as he spoke flatly. "Mr. Chow does not have to worry about things here. Just as I have taken care of things in the past, I will take care of things now."
"And the missing product, Junior?" questioned Elizabeth.
"With the size or our operations, youre worried about a few kilos here and there?" Junior retorted.
"It shows signs of carelessness. A little bit of carelessness can become a huge problem. A problem, Im sure, for which you will not want to be responsible," Stuart reminded.
Junior resumed his swings again. "Does Mr. Chow express a lack of confidence in my skills?"
"Not at this point, but he is beginning to worry."
"Have I let the organization down in the past, Stuart?" He kept swinging and then bent down to adjust the depth of the tee.
"Thus far, no. But you have never faced this type of situation before. Father was wondering whether "
"I knew exactly what I was doing when I joined the organization. Mr. Chow chose me over several others. He shouldn't have to wonder."
"All right Junior, I'll tell Father that things here will be fixed. The next time we call, I expect that our supplies will be at normal level and the arrests will be down significantly. You know what you need to do," Elizabeth urged.
"Don't let us down. Don't let Father think he made a mistake when he gave you this position. Control your people, get the product back out there, and teach your grunts to be more careful," Stuart stated coldly, as he walked back to the golf cart and sat down.
"You still here Jody?" Amanda inquired, as she poked her head around the edge of the doorway and stepped into her friends office. Hands on hips, she began to grin as she looked around the room, noticing several new additions to the already chaotic décor. The room was hectic, wild even, but in an odd, comforting sort of way. Amanda walked across the hard wood floor until she was standing on a multicolored woven rug of southwestern design. She stopped, eyes flickering from one object to the next.
In the corner of the room was a short black marble table. Perched in the center, a lava lamp peacefully pulsed. No one in a million years would believe this is a psychologists office, Amanda thought as she brushed her fingers lightly over carved wooden animals, which were probably purchased at a local flea market, and stood proudly alongside crystal antiquities. Bleached wood bookshelves lined two walls of the room. Interspersed among the novels and reference books, were items familiar to an American childhood. A George Jetson thermos and an ever-trusty magic eightball were book-ending Grays Anatomy. Anne Rice was poised to frighten a Faberge egg. High on the wall opposite the entrance, a pigmy blow-dart tube crisscrossed a Japanese samurai sword. Amanda exhaled loudly and smiled. This room is just so Jody.
"Here to steal my treasures I see," Jody observed as she marched into her office and peered over Amandas shoulder. She immediately began to inspect Amandas pockets in case any of her "treasures" had decided to leave with the shorter woman.
Playfully slapping Jodys hands away, Amanda growled. "Enough all ready with the touching. You know I wont be pawed by the likes of you," she teased.
"Humph .you should beeee so lucky. Ill bet your new lawyer friend wouldnt get scolded for seeing whats inside your pockets." The brown-eyed woman grinned evilly.
Despite her best efforts to stop it, the blonde began to blush. "I only said I wouldnt be pawed the likes of you," she valiantly bantered back.
"Ouch! Now I rank below a lawyer? You really know how to hurt a girl." Jody plopped down onto the low, thickly padded love seat and looked up at her friend.
Her face suddenly lost all traces of the prior teasing. "Amanda, you do know what they call a lawyer with a shit-eatin grin on his face, doncha?" she asked seriously.
Amanda rolled her eyes but gladly played along. "No, Jody what do they call a lawyer with a shit-eatin grin on his face?" She looked down at her stoic faced friend who was doing her best not to giggle out loud.
" A cannibal of course!" Jody exclaimed as she burst into laughter.
"Ha Ha Jody. Veerrrry funny," she stated seriously. But a second later she was laughing along with her friend. When the chuckling finally died down, Amanda turned away from Jody, who was still looking incredibly pleased with herself and her latest joke. Scanning the room, her eyes finally found and rested on Elvis, whose hips swayed rhythmically back and forth, and whose stomach heralded 11:50 am. Jody watched silently as Amanda began roaming the office again, stopping every so often to inspect a nick-nack. The older counselor didnt miss her partners glance at the clock.
"A little nervous, Amanda?" she prodded. It took her only a split second for Jody to realize her friend really was genuinely worried. Wow! I havent seen her fidget like that in a while. Jodys demeanor softened instantly. "Hey, its just a lunch date not a death sentence Itll be fun." Jody walked over and stood along side Amanda.
"I know," the smaller woman stated somewhat guiltily, head dropping slightly. With great effort, Amanda put a halt to her nervous restlessness and tried not to focus on the anticipation that was making her stomach upset. Jesus, Mandy whats wrong with you? You dont even know this woman. Theres no reason to be so so freaked out. If you dont hit it off, youll never see her again. Nooo, that would be bad. Wouldnt it?
"Listen, my friend." Jody wrapped a denim-covered arm around Amandas shoulder and steered her back toward the love seat. "If shes not a perfect gentleman, shell have to answer to me. I have experience in this area, you know." Plopping back down onto the love seat in unison, both women giggled as they remembered their first meeting nearly 10 years ago.
It was the hottest April in years. At least thats what everyone kept telling her. Not that it made her feel any better. For some reason, Amanda couldnt picture that blazing San Antonio sun not making her curse her fair skin, and its propensity to burn. But here she was "deep in the heart of Texas."
At the time, it seemed completely logical. Join the Army National Guard. Pay your own way through school. Dont rely on Mom and Dad for every penny, youre an adult now. Time for start making your own way. But at the ripe old age of 19, there were plenty of times she didnt feel like being an adult, and as much she was enjoying this independence, she was a little surprised to find herself homesick.
Amanda sat down heavily on the slightly damp wooden bench in the dressing area of the women showers. For the millionth time she looked around in wonder. Okay, Fort Sam Houston, I gotta hand it to you. You may be old but you are beyond CLEAN. A wry smile crossed her lips, and dont I know EXACTLY how you stay that way.
With a groan she stood, then bent deep at the waist, stretching the tired muscles her legs, her body gradually cooling from the vigorous five mile run shed just completed. Slowly, she began to unlace her running shoes. Dead silence filled the air. Silence? Wow. Im actually alone, as in nobody but me. She chuckled to herself and considered that it had been several months since shed been completely and utterly by herself. She smiled, savoring the moment.
The biggest challenge for most new recruits seemed to be discipline, both mental and physical. But for some reason, Amanda found herself rising to meet both these challenges with little trouble. She was in good shape physically, even before she went through the rigors of boot camp. Now, with the slightly reduced physical demands of advanced training, she felt less soreness as her body was allowed to catch up, and accept the new demands she placed on it.
The mental challenges she encountered were more along the lines of accepting authority from sometimes "unpleasant" sources, rather than an actual intellectual challenge.
Shed been pleased to find out that a local guard unit had positions open in the medical field. While she couldnt exactly take courses in psychology, the field she intended to major in, at least her time in the military wouldnt be spent fixing trucks or shuffling paperwork.
"You have two choices if you insist on staying in the medical field, Miss." The handsome young recruiter had smiled. He knew he had her.
"Um...ok...but, Im just asking out of curiosity. I havent made up my mind yet...but...I guess you could explain my choices." She tried to look disinterested but shed already decided to join and she could tell the recruiter knew it too. I dont think Hollywoods gonna be calling you any time soon, Mandy, she mused. No wonder my cousins were always kicking my butt when we played poker.
"I think youd make a bang-up combat medic. And best of all, youll get to spend a few months of advanced training in beautiful San Antonio, Texas." He smiled, sensing victory, and cruelly played his trump card. "Have you heard of the Riverwalk? Its got the best shopping "
You forgot to mention that Id have to drink a bathtub full of water today to keep from melting, and that I would have chigger bites on top of chigger bites! She thought wryly. Not surprisingly, thinking about her chigger bites suddenly made them itch. Scratching a particularly itchy spot slightly above her panty line, she grunted. God, that cold shower is gonna feel awesome. You know its bad when you cant even stand your own smell.
Amanda peeled off the last of her running clothes, stuffing them in a locker, grabbed her purple shower shoes and tolietries, and strolled into the slightly darkened shower room. Flipping on the lights, she walked to the farthest showerhead and began adjusting the temperature of the water. When the water ran lukewarm she stepped underneath, groaning loudly. Mmmmmm. This is HEAVEN. I have soooo been missing, peace and quiet and a perfect shower. Ahhh Unsnapping the plastic case that held her soap Amanda began to lather her arms and legs. Leaning back, she wet her hair and allowed the strong spray to ease the tension in her shoulders and neck.
All good things must end, she thought as a husky redheaded woman entered the shower room, flinging her towel over one of the many unused showerheads. "Youre Greer arent you?" the woman asked with a thick Southern accent.
"Um...yes... Im Amanda." Amanda searched her mind. "Youre in 2nd platoon, right?"
The woman smiled broadly and began gathering the shower supplies she had laid out only seconds before. Looks like shes leaving. Oh well, she must have changed her mind. More quiet time for me, Amanda mused and gladly shifted her attention back to rinsing the sweat out of her hair. Eyes shut tight, she leaned back until the water cascaded down the back of her hair and across her face. Reaching out in the general direction of soap shelf, she began to feel around for the missing bar. Suddenly, the bar was thrust into her searching hand.
"Wha Oh...hi um "
"Right Rhonda." Jeesh, this entire place is empty and she decides to take a shower 2 inches away from me.
"So, what do you think of Fort Sam?" Rhonda inquired, eyes drifting from Amandas face and traveling down the length of her body.
"Well I mean its okay. Its my first trip to Texas and I havent " Amanda stopped speaking when she felt an unexpected cool palm circle her wrist. Instinctively, she pulled her arm back.
"Looks like you got a little sunburned, Amanda." Leaning forward, Rhonda didnt stop until her shoulder was nearly brushing Amandas. A sly smile crossed her lips.
Amandas brow creased as she took a step backward in an attempt to regain some of her rapidly diminishing personal space. "You know Rhonda, this is a really big room and theres no need to...uh feel like you have to be ah social or anything," she quickly finished.
"Its okay, Sugar. Im enjoying the company right here," she drawled, once again closing the small gap between herself and Amanda. "You know, darlin, Im from the area and Id be glad to show you some of the finerattractions." Her proper tone contrasted starkly with the plain leer that now graced her face.
The implications of Rhondas offer were crystal clear, even to Amanda, whose naiveté had been the subject of some rather extreme teasing since her arrival at Fort Sam. Swallowing hard, Amanda kept her gaze at her feet, suddenly extremely aware of her own nakedness.
"What do you think? We could " began Rhonda.
"I dont think shes interested Rhonda, are you sweetheart?" interrupted the newest addition to the shower room. A medium sized, naked, brunette swaggered over to Amanda and Rhonda. Turning away from Rhonda, the brunette wriggled her eyes brows and looked pointedly at Amanda. A smile shaped her lips. "Well?"
Suddenly, Amanda, who was standing there in shock, realized she was supposed to say something. Duh... Mandy. "Oh...ah...right. I mean... no," she stammered. Okay, relax Mandy. Composing herself, she straightened her back, and projected a confidence she didnt feel. "Thats right. Sorry, Rhonda, Ive already been enjoying the best San Antonio has to offer," she replied suggestively as she leaned closer to the brunette.
The newcomers eyes widened. She hadnt expected Amanda to be that daring. She doesnt even look old enough to be out of high school. Go kid! She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
"Far be it from me to interfere. It was nice talking to you " The redhead looked to Amanda and then to the stranger. "Amanda," she drawled, all the while looking directly at the muscular brunette. "Ill come and shower later," she sweetly added. Turning on her heel, Rhonda quickly gathered her towel and exited the shower, leaving the other two women alone.
As soon as Rhonda was out the door, the newcomer backed away from Amanda, giving her some much-needed breathing room. Amandas relief was evident as she exhaled loudly.
"Thanks for coming to my rescue er "
"Jody. Jody Penbrook. No problem. When I walked in I could tell Rhonda was coming on a little strong. She bunks a few cots from me and apparently thinks her Southern charm is irresistible." Jody smirked. "It didnt look like you were interested. I hope I wasnt butting in too much. I..."
"No, no. That was great," Amanda blurted. "Im really grateful for the help. She kept trying to lay her hand on me and well Ew." Amanda wrinkled her nose and made a face.
Jody burst into laughter. "Eewww is right. That ones sicky sweet," she added.
After a few minutes of light conversation, Jody turned off her shower and stepped near the entrance where she began to towel off. Turning back towards Amanda she thought for a moment then said, "Listen, Im heading over to the clubhouse for some beer tonight. Wanna come?"
Amanda turned off the shower nozzle and grabbed her shampoo and soap as she approached Jody. "Sure, but why save me from one wolf just to throw me to another," she teased as she began to dry her hair.
Jody rakishly ran a hand through her short dark locks. "You wish," she snorted. "Too bad for you, I dont lean that way, if you get my drift." She smiled broadly. "I just want some company to help me enjoy my 35 cent Coronas."
"Beer for 35 cents?" Amanda inquired doubtfully.
Brown eyes twinkled. "Why do you think I joined the military in the first place?"
Both women relaxed into laughter. Grinning, they made their way towards their clothes and a solid friendship.
Brown eyes slid sideways. "If Id know you batted for the other team I wouldnt have interrupted Rhondas seduction."
"Yes, you would," Amanda replied confidently.
"Ok. Maaaybe," she hedged. Changing the subject, Jody brought them back to the present. "So tell me, where ya goin on this date?"
Amanda stomach lurched slightly as she looked up at Elvis, noticing it was just a few minutes before noon. "I was thinking D'Amico and Sons. We can walk there from here."
"Good idea. Itll give you a little more time to get to know each other."
Still sensing her friends tension, Jody tried to lighten the mood. "Did she have to be lawyer, though? You know what that shark did to me in the divorce," she grumped.
Bidding Elvis goodbye, Amanda focused on her friend. She sighed. "The lawyer didnt do anything but his job, Jody. Youre the one who decided to commit legal suicide by representing yourself." Amanda laughed, remembering the expression on her friends face when she read the divorce clause entitled "property division."
"How was I supposed to know Chester would go out and hire some slick mouth-piece to take me to the cleaners?" she protested. "Shit, Amanda. Im paying him alimony for Christs sake! What kind of man takes alimony?"
Rolling her eyes at her partner Amanda noted, "Well I dont what kind of man would do that, But I do know how we can spot the ones that do. Theyll be driving their ex-wifes car, living in her house, petting her dog, still hanging out with her friends and..." she teased.
"Enough already!" Jody lightly punched the smaller woman in the shoulder. "Since when did you get so mean? Why, I remember when you were this sweeet, kiiiind-hearted "
"Ms. Greer, are you here?" A velvety voice called from the waiting room.
Amanda immediately jumped up, straightening her skirt with one handwhile smoothing her hair with the other. "Do I look ok? I mean...its just a casual lunch," Amanda whispered nervously.
"Well, well, well. It looks like princess charming has arrived. Lets go inspect the goods, shall we?" Jody rose and turned towards the door, only to have Amanda grab her arm and stop her from exiting.
"Be nice!" she growled in a whisper.
"Just what are you implying?" Jody eyes went round in her best imitation of a precious moments figurine. The looked failed miserably. Giving up the innocent routine, Jody whispered back, "I just want to make sure her intentions are honorable. You know, freak her out a bit," Jody grinned mischievously.
"No thanks," Amanda whispered firmly. "I already have one father. Soooo I dont need another."
Jody relented. "Ok, Ill be good." Seeing Amandas disbelief, she hastily added, "I promise."
Satisfied, she released Jodys forearm and nervously straightened her hair once again. "Okay, lets go. Wait! Ill go first." Jumping in front of Jody, Amanda marched out of her friends office.
Claire stood in the middle of the waiting area gazing at the eclectic collection of watercolors that peppered the walls. Nice. She spun to look at another. I should get some of these for my new office.
Exiting Jodys office, Amanda approached Claire from behind. Claire was wearing a deep brown, linen pantsuit and casual leather flats. Shes definitely tall enough to forgo the heels, thought Amanda. Her raven hair hung loose and looked slightly wind blown. Thats different from how she wore it at the courthouse. I like this better. Boy Amanda sucked in a nervous breath. Even from the back shes gorgeous!
Hearing footsteps, Claire turned around to see Amanda and Jody approach. Claire had selected a pale yellow, v-necked silk blouse to wear under her suit. Completing her outfit were a pair of diamond stud earring that sparkled in the light as she turned to meet Amanda and Jody head on. Stopping a few feet from each other, Claire and Amanda stood silently. Pale blue eyes twinkled as they took in Amanda.
The blonde shifted slightly, from one foot to the other, wishing shed worn anything else, had a different hairstyle, and a different figure and
Without her permission, a nervous smile graced Claires lips as she observed Amandas fidgeting. She looks a wreck, Claire thought. Looks like Im not the only one whos nervous. Claire focused on lightly flushed cheeks. She doesnt hide her nervousness very well, does she? Oh well, if this career has taught me anything, its never let em see ya sweat.
Amanda suddenly stopped all motion and looked directly at Claire. Mossy green eyes met brilliant blue and held them. In response, Amanda felt a smile stretch across her face, mirroring the one on the darker woman. Neither woman spoke a word.
Sensing an impending moment of embarrassment, Jody broke the deadlock by thrusting her hand toward Claire. "Nice to see you again, Ms. Easton. I didnt introduce myself before. Im Jody Penbrook, Amandas business partner and best friend," she added somewhat possessively as she shook the womans hand.
Claires eyebrow drifted up as she finally broke eye contact with Amanda and looked at Jody. Shes a psychologist? Claire starred at Jodys black corduroy pants and faded denim top. She looks more like someone whose about to work in the garden than a doctor.
Extending her own hand, "Im Claire Easton." A firm shake. "Its a pleasure to meet you."
Amanda came back to her senses and realized shed been staring again. Okay. Time to get a grip. Nice save Jody. I owe you one.
Turning her attention back to Amanda, Claire tried her best to keep a goofy grin off her face. God, how old am I? Straightening her back, she spoke softly as she looked down at Amanda. "Are we ready to go? Ill trust you to pick the place. I dont get down here too often."
"You bet. How does Italian deli sound?" Amanda reached into the closet to retrieve her purse. Suddenly, her stomach rumbled loudly.
"Im thinkin it sounds pretty good to you," Claire chuckled. Is she blushing? God, thats adorable! Wait shes not a puppy. But, damn she is cute. "Whered you get the watercolors? Theyre fantastic," she said, mercifully changing the subject. Claire motioned toward one of the smaller pieces near the entrance to the other office.
"Actually," Amanda smiled, "that ones mine."
Both eyebrows lifted. "Mine as in you own it, or mine as in you painted it?"
"Well, both, I guess."
"Youre an artist?" Claire questioned, clearly impressed.
"I dont think Id go that far. Theyre just "
"I keep telling her theyre great. Maybe she needs to hear it from somebody besides me," Jody interjected.
"Jodys right. Its really beautiful." I wonder if Ill see that blush again? Oh...yeah... here it comes.
"Thanks," Amanda replied as her face began to color. "I guess we should get going. D'Amicos can get kinda busy this time of day."
"Do you want me to drive? I had to park quite a ways down the street but "
"I was thinking we could walk. Its really nice out today and its only a couple of blocks. I mean if thats okay with you?" she hastily added.
"Absolutely. Lead on." Turning back to Jody, Claire extended her hand once again. "It was nice meeting you." A quick shake. Releasing Jodys hand, Claire made her way back along side Amanda. "Ready then?"
A smiling nod. "Lets go."
In two long paces Claire was in front of Amanda, opening the door. She gestured for Amanda to pass through. Amanda glanced back at Jody, both womens eyebrows raising simultaneously, in acknowledgment of the gallant gesture.
"Ill see you at 1:30 for that joint session with Mr. and Mrs. Berger," Amanda called to Jody as she exited the clinic. Without a glance back, Claire stepped out the door behind her.
Well I dont know about the princess part but she certainly is charming. Amanda deserves that. Jody strolled back to her office thinking about Claire and Amanda and the frozen burrito she would be having for lunch. They did make kind of a cute couple.
"So tell me a little about yourself. All I really know is that youre a lawyer." Amanda asked, as she reached up and brushed back a windblown lock of hair. She noticed Claire was slightly behind her so she slowed down her gait. Amanda turned her head to look, waiting for a response. Nothing.
"Claire?" Is she still in there?
"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about where to start," Claire mumbled somewhat defensively. Uh...oh. That didnt come out the way I wanted.
Frowning slightly, Amanda stepped down off the curb and onto the street. "This isnt a cross examination, Claire. I was just trying to make conversation. You..."
"No, Im the one whos sorry," Claire interrupted, worried she had already offended her date. "As if you couldnt tell, Im just a little nervous," she admitted.
She is? Couldve fooled me. "You dont look nervous," Amanda said skeptically, as she looked both ways before crossing the street.
Claire chuckled and jogged a few steps to keep pace. "Well, youll just have to trust me then. I dont date a lot." She paused. What the heck. "And I well " A deep breath. "Sometimes things come out a little jumbled."
A large stagnant puddle stood between Claire and the curb. In one long stride she agilely jumped over it, landing gracefully on the sidewalk beyond. Turning, Claire saw Amanda hesitate before jumping across.
Claire extended her arm towards Amanda. "Here, Ill help you over," she beckoned.
Amanda looked at the puddle, her gaze shifting to both sides, as she noted she would have to maneuver around several cars in order to get around it. She looked back at Claire, who was waiting patiently, arm still outstretched.
"Okay. But dont blame me if I ruin that pretty suit." Amanda swayed back then leapt forward extending her right arm out far in front of her. Before Amandas back foot even left the ground, Claire could see she wasnt going to make it across. She immediately lunged towards Amanda and tightly grasped the outstretched hand. Pulling as she stepped back, Claire saw Amandas front foot land on the edge of the curb.
"Whoa, whoaa!!" Amanda squealed, arms flailing, as she tried to balance on the edge without toppling backwards. With another quick tug she was propelled forward, directly into Claires arms.
"I gotcha," Claire muttered as she pulled Amanda to her, twisting slightly she deposited the slightly rattled woman back onto her feet.
Amanda hesitantly cracked opened her eyes. I cant believe Im not on my butt, in the mud. Instead, she found herself in a comfortable warm space, wrapped tightly in strong arms. Hmm. She inhaled. She smells like roses. Amanda intentionally kept her eyes focused on the pale yellow blouse that was only inches from her face. I will not blush in front of her again. "What do you eat for breakfast? Youre a lot stronger than you look," she teased.
Looking down, Claire reluctantly opened her arms and began to untangle herself from the smaller women. Taking a small step backwards, she released Amanda. "Coffee." White teeth flashed. "The breakfast of champions," she bantered back.
The light teasing relaxed both women. Chuckling, they resumed their trek toward the restaurant.
"Well?" Amandas eyes drifted sideways, watching Claire as they walked.
"Well what? Oh, yeah right." Claire cleared her throat formally. "My life in less than 30 seconds by Claire Easton."
"I didnt ask for the Cliff Notes version," Amanda protested. A sharply raised eyebrow greeted her comment. "Okay. Sorry. Go on, go on." Jeesh.
Claire lowered her arching eyebrow with a slightly smug look. Smiling, she continued. "Im a Twin Cities native, but I earned my undergraduate degree at Indiana University and my J.D. at University of Chicago. Im thirty-one years old and I live in Mendota Heights."
A few more steps. Silence Amanda looked back up at Claire who was strolling along looking quite pleased with her revelations. Patience be patient, Amanda admonished herself. Another two steps. Uggh! She couldnt help herself.
"Thats it? Thats all youre gonna say?" Amanda asked incredulously. Mentally rolling her eyes, shed make a perfect P.O.W.! "Dont talk my ear off or anything."
Claire knit her brows and scowled. "Id rather hear about you anyway."
Completely ignoring her companions statement, Amanda cocked her head slightly to the side. "Whats J.D. stand for? Ive always wondered."
"Juris Doctor." Claire replied, shifting her body to allow a small group to pass.
"Really?" Amanda questioned. "Then how come attorneys arent called Doctor? I mean, if you have an M.D. youre called doctor and if you have a Ph.D. youre called doctor, why not people with a J.D.," she reasoned.
Claires eyebrows disappeared behind dark bangs. "Is this lawyer joke?" She shot a stern look toward Amanda, causing her to gulp. "Cause if it is," her eyes narrowed dangerously. "I probably already know it," she finished with a grin.
"I can see youve got a twisted sense of humor." Amandas reply was casual though she was forced to admit she was relieved. Her guts still churned at the thought of truly upsetting her new friend. "Lucky for you I only know one lawyer joke." And I dont think Ill be telling that one, she smirked to herself.
Amanda abruptly stopped and motioned to the door on her left. "Here we are," she announced, her mood visibly brightening at the prospect of food. "I hope you like pasta, theyve got really great pasta."
The yeasty smell of fresh bread and the tang of ripe olives and vinegar wafted out as Amanda opened the door and they made their way inside. The deli was small and crowded, but not overly so. A line of customers snaked out from the cash register, running along the deli counter and stopping half way to the door.
After only a few moments of waiting and chatting, both women looked into deli case, Amandas eyes flashing from dish to dish. "Ill have the chicken pasta salad and sliced tomatoes," the blonde informed the bored looking young woman at the cash register. "And a pop," she quickly added. The cashier looked to Claire. "Ill have a roast beef sandwich and tea." The young woman nodded and started ringing up the orders as Amanda began to open her purse.
"I asked you to lunch, remember?" Claire nudged Amanda. Grabbing the two empty glasses the cashier sat on the counter, she thrust in them into Amandas hands. "Here, you take care of these and get us a table ok?"
"Okay." Amanda smiled. "But hurry up. Im starving!"
Claire looked back at the man at the deli counter, who was piling chicken pasta salad onto a shiny white plate. When his hands stopped, Claire leaned forward, gesturing towards his hands. Hey buddy," she glanced back at Amanda and chuckled indulgently, "you might want to keep going."
The early afternoon sun had disappeared behind dark clouds by the time both women emerged from the restaurant. Their conversation was more relaxed, each woman moving past her initial nervousness and easing into an almost familiar sense of camaraderie. The lunch crowds had thinned and traversing the popular street was much easier.
"Wanna see a picture?" Amanda asked excitedly, as she began digging through her purse. "This one is only a few weeks old, I took it at the park near my townhouse." Her pride evident, she smiled and passed the photograph to Claire.
Claire stopped walking so she could examine the photograph more closely. Pictured was a toddler standing in bright sunlight and perched on a wooden park bench. A laughing smile showed several small teeth along with a few toothless gaps. The childs reddish blonde hair was tussled and her cheeks were a rosy pink. She looked happy.
"It was still kind of chilly for a trip to the park but I couldnt resist. Cabin fever I guess," Amanda admitted, taking back the photograph and neatly zipping it in an inner compartment of her purse.
"She has your eyes." Claire used the neat segue as an opportunity to look directly into Amandas.
Amandas smile widened as she spoke. "Everyone says that. I guess...Well...I sorta see it too." She looked down at her watch. "Whoops, wed better hurry back. My 1:30 p.m. appointment should be here in about 10 minutes."
"How old is she?" Claire continued, curiosity driving her question.
"Shes already 19 months. I cant believe how fast time flies. But I think shes got a jump start on the terrible twos," Amanda offered wryly.
After a few more steps Claire abruptly stopped. Several seconds later Amanda realized she was alone. Looking back she saw Claire standing beside a large S.U.V. "Oh...is this yours?" I cant believe lunch is already over. That sucks!
"Yep ...listen." A deep breath. "I had a really nice time and er " Crap! Shes gotta go, I need to say something
"I had fun too." Amanda worked herself a little closer to Claire.
For an instant, Claire felt as though she would panic. Amanda was standing so close and she wanted to see her again but
"Id like to see you again," Amanda said, lightly squeezing Claires arm.
YES!!! "Thatd be great." Thank God. Claire was hugely relieved. "Id like to see you again too. Here." Claire reached inside her jacket pocket and withdrew a business card. Checking her pockets she realized she didnt have a pen. Shit! She began to unlock her car door. "I just need to grab and pen and I can give you my home number and "
"Here." Amanda thrust forward a pen. Claire looked up in surprise. "I was hoping youd need one," Amanda said impishly. The taller woman smiled and penned her home phone number on the back of the card. Handing back the card, she was surprised when Amanda immediately tore it in half. Taking back her pen, Amanda wrote on the now half card, and handed it back to Claire. "Thats my home phone and pager number. But Ill call you tonight and we can set something up, okay?" Her voice suddenly sounded a little insecure.
"Not if I call you first," Claire stated confidently. "I should be home after 7:00 p.m. Ill talk to you later then. Goodbye Amanda." Neither woman could keep a goofy grin off her face.
"Bye." Wow. That voice alone is enough to make me melt. The therapist watched as Claire got into the Explorer and drove away. After standing there for another moment lost in thought, Amanda looked down at her watch. "Uh oh," she muttered, and began jogging the last block back to her office.
Pulling around the block, Claire caught a final glimpse of Amanda jogging back towards the clinic. Great legs! Opening her glove box Claire pulled out her constant driving companion, Gumby. Bending his flexible green arms and legs she expertly attached him to the top of her steering wheel and began talking.
"Things went ok, Gumby. She wants to see me again. Yeah, I figured I blew it about a million times but either she didnt notice or she was just being nice." Claire nodded as though Gumby had responded. "Youre right. She was probably just being nice. I did sound like a real dork. More than once," Claire snickered. "Considering what she does for a living, I think Id better keep you in the glove box if shes around. Can you imagine what she'd say if she knew I actually talked to you? Ill bet I could be an entire case study all on my own."
Claire amused herself by picturing her tall frame lying on a dark leather couch where a man with a clipboard answered her every observation with thickly accented German. "VERRRRY INNNNTERESTING, Ms. Easton," she mimicked. "Nope Gumby, I think youll be my little secret."
"When she passed over that picture, you could see in her eyes how much she adores that baby. No mention of the father though. I guess whoever he is, hes out of the picture." At least I hope so, she thought grimly. "I like kids sort of. I mean, Ive never really been around many even when I was one." Claire shrugged.
Her own childhood was normal she supposed. Her parents were kind but were largely preoccupied by with their careers. She was raised mostly by nannies. Being an only child, she grew up in an adult world. Consequently, she found herself not having much in common with her contemporaries. Rather than hanging around kids, with whom she felt uncomfortable, she simply preferred to spend time alone, reading or horse back riding. By the time she was ten she had acquired the necessary skills to "work a party" as her father put it. By the time she was fifteen, she was fully accepted in the same social circles as both of her successful parents. She was one of "them." Though she often wondered if "they" were aliens or some equally strange creatures. More than once shed had the distinct displeasure of fending off some of her parents more amorous associates.
Merging onto the interstate Claire hit the gas hard. Time to get back to work and figure out what the hell is going on. Please please, dont let Amanda or her partner be involved. Claire and Gumby swung into the fast lane.
Expertly steering with one hand, she opened her briefcase and retrieved the ringing cell phone. "Claire Easton," she answered as she adjusted the phone, changing lanes once more.
"Hello Beautiful," the voice smoothly stated.
Recognizing the voice Claire grimaced. "Hello, Mr. Levine." I cant be disappointed its not Amanda. I only left her fifteen minutes ago!
"Please, after everything youve done for me, dont you think you should call me Aaron?"
"Is there something you needed Mr. Levine." Claire only partially hoped she'd kept the irritation out of her voice. Some guys just cant take a hint.
"I was hoping youd agree to have dinner with me tomorrow. Id love the opportunity to show you how much I appreciate your efforts."
Mommy and Daddy paying the bill was all the thanks I needed, Twerp, Claire thought. However, she replied, "that wont be necessary Mr. Levine. I was just doing my job."
"I insist. What time can I pick you up?" he persisted.
Claire was just about to tell him where he could shove his dinner when a light bulb popped on inside her head. This could be the connection I need. Aaron could lead me to information those stale files could never divulge. One dinner with the brat is a small price to pay if it helps me figure out whats going. Right?
Claire deepened her voice, fairly purring out her next words. "Alright, Aaron. I can see youre not the type of man to take no for an answer." She rolled her eyes and continued. "You can pick me up at 7:30 p.m., my secretary will fax you directions." A pause. "Oh, and Aaron?"
"I trust a well-connected man such as yourself, knows how to show a lady a good time." It was a statement not a question. Too subtle for the moron?
"Count on it, Claire. Im happy to see we think alike."
She could picture his smug leer. Yuck! "I will. Until tomorrow then " Claire snapped closed the phone as she began pulling into her parking ace. What have I gotten myself into now?
Comments to Advocate email@example.com & Rsawest firstname.lastname@example.org
For Disclaimers see Chapter 1a
Amanda had a lot on her mind as she climbed the stairs of the Cornerstone Clinic. She felt a wave of relief when she saw that Iris' office door was open.
"Iris?" said Amanda as she peeked in.
Iris Park looked up from a stack of papers, her reading glasses still perched on her nose. "Hi Amanda, how are you?" Iris' smile went right to her gray-blue eyes. Sitting back, she pushed her papers away.
Amanda studied the woman in front of her for a moment. Iris hadn't changed since the first time they met nearly ten years ago. Amanda was a student in her class, and eventually, Iris became her supervisor. What always surprised the young psychologist was how much presence and energy this red haired woman radiated. She exuded confidence in those around her.
"Not too bad," Amanda said, leaning against the doorframe.
Iris peered at Amanda over her glasses, giving her the familiar look that said, "What's really bothering you?"
"I've met someone."
Iris nodded and smiled, taking off her reading glasses.
"She's amazing and it's been such a long time I don't know how to react anymore," explained Amanda, closing her eyes.
"Sound like a big crush to me," said Iris with a smile.
"A crush after one date? Well, I guess I cant disagree with you," Amanda laughed.
"Some things never change, Dr. Greer," agreed Iris, who started laughing too. Then she sobered. "Amanda, it's okay to want this you know. I'm sure Jody would agree."
"I don't know. It's awfully risky. It's only been one date and I already nearly fell into a puddle. And she hasn't meet Missy yet "
"So does she like hockey?" interrupted Iris, with a glint in her eyes.
"Im going to ask her over to watch the playoffs this weekend."
"Not a bad start there, you know. Could do worse."
"It's been a long time since I was in a relationship. This was my first date in months. How can I feel this way so quickly?"
"You know that some things defy explanation. Sometimes things seem like magic."
"Come on Dr. Park, my rational mentor and mother-figure, you're not saying that this is magic?"
"Not in the mainstream sense, no. But how do you explain reasons people get together? I can't explain human nature. It just is. And it just happens when it happens. We can't plan for it."
Amanda shifted against the doorframe. "So you have a sense about this?" she asked hopefully.
"The only thing I have a sense about is that youre ready for a relationship. You deserve to be happy, Amanda. "
"What about Missy?"
"Doesnt she seem happy?"
"Yes, as far as I know, she's a very happy baby. She knows how much I love her."
"So why would this make Missy unhappy then? Go with your instinct. Trust it. Missy's mom deserves to be happy," Iris encouraged, as she stood up and walked over to Amanda.
Amanda was silent as she stared out the window. Iris laid a hand on her shoulder. "You do deserve to be happy, Amanda," she repeated softly and smiled.
"I think I am beginning to believe that Iris."
Claire sat down her empty wineglass and propped her feet against the coffee table. Fiddling with her sock, she pondered her current predicament. Should I call her? She said shed call you, remember? A voice interjected. But its already 9:00 p.m. I dont wanna wait anymore!
Maybe she was just trying to let you down easy. She probably has no intention of calling you. Its just easier to blow someone off from long-distance. Youve done it yourself, the voice taunted.
RING... RING... Claire jumped over the coffee table and then stood, staring at the phone as it rang. Taking a deep breath she answered. "Hello."
"Hi, Claire. Its Amanda."
Yes!! Thankyouthankyouthankyou. "I was just thinking about calling you." Fuck! Why did I say that? Could I sound a little more anxious?
"Really?" A pause. "Are you still interested in getting together again?" Amanda had her fingers crossed on the other end of the line.
"Absolutely." The goofy grin Claire had been sporting off and on all day made a reappearance.
"Great. How about we get together late Saturday afternoon at my place? Are you interested in watching the hockey playoffs on television?"
"That sounds wonderful." Does Minnesota have a hockey team? "How about if I show up around 4:00 oclock."
"4:00 oclock sounds perfect. Do you need directions?"
"Ive got the address. Thats all I need. Its a date then?" Man, I hope my gaydar doesnt need maintenance.
Amanda could hear Claires smile through the phone and she didn't miss the implications of the simple question. "Its most definitely a date. Ill see you then. Bye."
"Bye, Amanda." Click. The line went dead. Well, at least Ive got nearly a week to figure out how to stop acting like a hormonal teenager around her. Plus, itll give me plenty of time for hot showers. Just thinking about going out with Aaron Levine makes me feel dirty.
"I know. I know. But I still wanted to check to see how shes doing...No, thats okay. I know how much she loves playing in the tub. Just tell her I said hi, and I love her, and that Ill pick her up in the morning . Okay, Mom . I love you too Bye."
Sitting the phone back in its cradle, Amanda returned to her stool and began squinting her eyes, trying to imagine a picture on what was still a clean white canvas. Bringing the paintbrush to her mouth she began chewing the already gnarled wooden tip.
DINGDONG DINGDONG DINGDONG.
"Ugh! Coming!" Laying down the brush Amanda exited her spare bedroom and began unbuttoning her paint smock. Reaching the front door, she stopped, and called out loudly. "Who is it?"
"Jeffrey Dahmer," replied the decidedly female voice.
"Hmmmm." Amanda tapped her chin with her index finger. "Im very finicky when it comes to the serial killers I let into my house. I might consider Manson, or Son of Sam, but Dahmer is just too creepy. Try again tomorrow."
Amanda immediately stepped back as the front door flew open and Jody marched in. "You really should lock your door. A real lunatic might try to get in one day."
Jody narrowed her eyes, and plopped down on the couch. "Im here in a shameless appeal for sympathy," she sighed.
"Men are pigs, right?" Amanda asked.
"I havent told you what happened yet!" Jody protested.
Amanda brought her hands to her hips, "Okay, tell me."
"I was stood up."
"Men are pigs."
"Are you always this impatient?" Jody asked, slightly irritated.
"Was that a real question? Besides, why did you come over?" Amanda sat down next to her friend, propping her feet up on the coffee table.
Jody looked slightly guilty. "So you could tell me that men are pigs."
"Well then, look how much time I just saved us," Amanda replied reasonably.
"I guess." Craning her neck, Jody scanned the townhouse. "Wheres my buddy? Its not past her bedtime already, is it?"
"Shes spending the night at my folks place. It was weird. They just called me out of the blue and asked if she could come over. They said something about not seeing her much lately. Which is true I guess. I dont know. I suppose I should bring her over more often." Shrugging, Amanda removed her feet from the coffee and stood up.
"You mean youre free for the evening!" Jody exclaimed with undisguised eagerness. "Lets have a girls night out."
"Actually, I was hoping to do some painting and "
"Come on Amanda," Jody interrupted. "When was the last time you got out and cut loose?" Looking down, Jody began rotating the tip of her foot into the carpet. Continuing her adolescent behavior, she pulled out the big guns. Puuuleeeease," she beseeched with puppy dog eyes.
"Jody, I really wanted to " Amanda looked at the pathetic pout her friend was displaying. It was all she could do not to laugh "go out with you tonight," she finished.
"Great. If you insist," Jody grinned smugly. "Besides, maybe Ill get lucky. I could use a change of luck in the man department."
"And just how many times have you gone out already this month?" Amanda inquired, eyebrow arching. Not waiting for an answer she began walking towards her bedroom. "Lemme go change."
"I dunno 4 maybe 5. I dont keep track of exact numbers." Following Amanda into her room, Jody sprawled out across her bed and waited for her friend to pick out an outfit. Emerging from the walk-in closet Amanda held up light blue knee-length dress in one hand and a pair of white bib overalls, which were spotted with yellow daisies, in the other. Pointing at the dress Jody smiled, "Thatll work." Nodding, Amanda disappeared back into the closet. "You cant fault me for loving men," Jody called after her.
Amanda poked her head out of the closet. "I would feel sorry for you except I havent been out that many times in the past year." Her head disappeared back into the closet and Jody could hear her digging for shoes.
"You know, Amanda, sex can be a two-person activity."
"Slut!" rang out the voice in the closet.
"Spinster!" Jody retorted, as she ducked the sneaker that came flying out of the closet.
Amanda reemerged wearing the powder blue dress and a pair of gray pumps. "Spinster?" she squealed in mock indignation. Crossing the room, she flipped on the light and entered the attached bathroom. Rolling over on her belly, Jody propped her chin up on a fist and waited.
Stepping out, Amanda held up a tube of red and pink lipstick. "I wont be thirty for another year or so. But I seem to recall your thirtieth birthday party what .six, seven, years ago?" she teased.
Scowling, Jody pointed toward the pink lipstick. "That was uncalled for," she whined. "It was three years ago and you know it!"
"Time drags for us sexually frustrated spinsters How do I look?" Amanda slid in her second gold hoop earring and stood before her friend.
"Gorgeous as usual. Youll have every guy in the place after you."
"Great," she replied sarcastically.
"It is for me. Im bound to catch some poor cast off," Jody laughed.
Turning off the lights as they went, the pair made their way to the front door. "By the way," Amanda asked, "where exactly are we going?"
"Who knows where well end up? The night is young and so are we."
Amanda was about to offer a smartass comment when Jody growled. "Not another word Amanda." Laughing, the friends made their way into the night.
"Okay, its almost show time," Claire muttered, as she glanced at her watch. She still had another ten minutes before she was supposed to meet Aaron. Thank God, I called and arranged for us to meet at the restaurant. I cant stand the thought of Aaron knowing where I live, much less coming inside my home.
Adjusting her rearview mirror, Claire added a fresh coat of lipstick. "Well, Gumby, I dropped so many hints that hes gotta believe Im interested him or at the very least a drug score. Yeah, I know YUCK! And what makes it even worse " Claire blotted her lips " is I get the feeling that when it comes to Aaron, I need to actually connect the dots. But if I can make him work to impress me, maybe hell let something slip."
Claire looked at her watch again and took in her surroundings. The streets were just beginning to pulse with nightlife. Couples and small groups began passing by Claires Explorer with increasing frequency. Aaron had instructed her to meet him outside Origami, a place she hadnt visited in years.
Origami was located in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. The once dilapidated brick buildings, now housed some of the hottest nightspots and most elegant eateries in the Twin Cities. The early evening shadows gave the area an aura of mystery and excitement it didnt have in broad daylight. Origami, the popular Asian restaurant and bar, was trendy without being overly exclusive. Its patrons ranged from yuppies trying to remain "fresh," to entertaining businessmen.
So Origami has got more going on inside than sushi? I wonder if Mark knows this is where Aarons "friends" hang out?
A black Mercedes pulled up along side Claires Explorer. When the driver exited, Claire took at deep breath and bid farewell to her faithful-driving companion. I knew I should have paid better attention when I was watching Miami Vice. "Wish me luck, Gumby. I may need it." Grabbing her purse Claire made her way out to greet Aaron.
Aaron had spared no expense in efforts to impress the lanky brunette. His Mercedes had been detailed and the streetlights reflected brightly off its glassy finish. He wore his dark hair slicked straight back, in an effort to look dangerous and sophisticated. Claire thought it extenuated his prematurely receding hairline. His black Armani suit was impeccably pressed and his new Italian shoes shone. He wanted to bed Claire, plain and simple. And tonight he was willing to do nearly anything to make sure that happened. Why shouldnt Claire want him? So what if she was a few years his senior? He was still a man to be reckoned with. The County Attorneys office couldnt touch him. No one could. Aaron puffed out his chest. He could show a beautiful woman like Claire a good time. He had the right connections, and hed stretch them to the limits for the chance touch her taste her.
Aaron smiled, his eyes traveling up and down Claires body. "Hello, Claire. Im glad you decided to take me up on my offer. I wanted the chance to thank you personally. You look lovely." Aaron reached out for Claires hand and lightly kissed her knuckles. Claires stomach lurched.
You can do this! "Why, thank you Aaron. Ive been looking forward to tonight." Claire intentionally freed her own charismatic force. Both her looks and demeanor demanded attention and oozed raw sexuality. "I hope before the evening is over well both get what we want." Claire smiled and let the implication hang in the air. Aaron swallowed hard. Thats right Aaron. Start believing youve got a shot. "Shall we go inside?"
"Of course." Straightening, Aaron offered his arm to Claire.
Slipping her arm around his, Claire wasted no time in her quest for information. "Nice choice Aaron. Do you have the opportunity to come here often?" Claire questioned as they began walking inside.
"Its where I meet with business associates and..." he looked at Claire "I thought it would suit a beautiful woman like you." Aaron held open the door and Claire passed in front of him.
Christ, I think I really am gonna be sick! Does he think thats suave? "Well, I am partial to exotic flavors." Claire deepened her voice and looked at Aaron, "Im sure I wont be disappointed." Aaron shifted slightly, Claires words clearly making a physical impression.
After a quick check with the hostess, Aaron returned to Claire and informed her that their table would be ready in a few moments. "Why dont we wait at the bar upstairs? Im sure some of my associates would be delighted to meet you," Aaron offered pointing to the staircase.
Claire began to make her way upstairs. Trying to hide her surprise she asked, "You mean they know were coming?"
"No, not exactly. Its just " Aaron leaned closer to Claire " I had a little business to attend to tonight anyway so I thought Id kill two birds with one stone. You dont mind do you?"
Jackpot!!! "Of course not. Id love to meet some of your associates. You never know, maybe I could end up transacting a little business myself." You are making this way too easy. But I already knew you were involved with drugs. What I need to find out is how that ties in with criminal cases being tossed out. If you had the cops in your back pocket there wouldnt have been an arrest to begin with. Whats the common thread?
Origamis bar was far too crowded for Claires tastes. Bodies were pressed tightly against each other as the patrons moved in a mass pilgrimage toward the bar. Finding a relatively empty corner, Claire leaned back against the cool brick and watched as Aaron went to fetch her scotch and soda. Blue eyes scanned the bar and its customers. What am I even looking for? Shit! What am I gonna do if it actually comes down to me buying drugs? I dont know anything about drugs and theres no way Im buying or using. Im not risking my entire career for
"Here you go." A drink appeared before her eyes and Claire immediately flinched back.
"Jesus Aaron, dont sneak up on me like that! Howd you get back here so fast? Theres no way you could have made up to the bar and back so quickly," Claire observed, taking a large swallow of scotch. The burn of the alcohol reminded her of her recent over indulgence and she winced remembering the resulting hangover.
"Sorry Gorgeous, I didnt know you were so jumpy. I have a friend at the bar." Oh yeah she wants me bad. You dont need to be nervous, Babe. Im a sure thing.
Smiling at Aarons arrogance, Claire immediately composed herself, and was back in the game. Stroking a fingertip up and down Aarons sleeve she whispered in his ear. "Are you always this confident?" She could feel Aarons shiver. Casually, she took another sip of her drink. "You certainly seemed confident at your trial," Claire observed innocently.
"Lets just say I had a feeling things were going to work out."
"I guess it wouldnt do for an important man like you to end up in prison." Claire stilled her teasing finger and waited for Aarons reaction.
Aaron began choking on his martini. "P Prison!" he exclaimed. "I told you there was NO way I was ending up in prison." Aarons tone turned condescending. "Claire, I belong to a very important and powerful organization. In order for business to continue running smoothly, that organization cant have its executives cooling their heels in jail now, can they?"
Claires eyebrows shot skyward. Executive? You wish. Claire mentally snorted. It doesnt take Dick Tracy to figure out that youre only one step above an errand boy. Claires finger resumed its journey. "Well, it seems I underestimated your status Aaron. I wont make that mistake again."
A small Asian woman waived a hand at Aaron then quickly descended the stairs. "Looks like our table is ready. We can come back up after dinner. My associates should be here by then." Without waiting for Claires response Aaron began making his way through the crowd and down the stairs.
Claire sat down her empty scotch glass and began to follow. Im half way home asshole. I knew your acquittal was no accident! Now all I need is a few names, and a little detail and I can take this to Mark. Half way down the winding open staircase Claire was assaulted with a pungent odor. God, I hate pickled ginger.
"I love pickled ginger!" Amanda squealed.
"I know. Why do you think I picked Origami?" Jody replied, laughing at her friends enthusiasm.
"Oh, I dont know." Amanda pretended to be considering her options. "Could it be this is the spot where you were stood up earlier and youre hoping to catch a glimpse of the future emergency room patient?"
"Er should I say no?" Jody looked down sheepishly at her shoes.
"Dont bother. But you do realize Im not bailing you out." Amanda glanced at her scowling friend and stifled a giggle. "Come on slugger, lets go inside. Ill buy you a beer."
Opening the door, Amanda was surprised by the large mid-week crowd. "Wow, I havent been here since undergrad. I dont remember it being this busy," Amanda squinted, "or this dark."
"You need to get out more, my friend. This place is always packed. Let me go check with the hostess and see how long wait is. Maybe theyre still holding my earlier reservation." Slipping away, Jody moved towards the hostess while the blonde did her best to avoid being squashed by the people coming and going near the door.
A few moments later Amanda saw Jody wave and point toward the stairs leading to the bar area. I guess were going to the bar first.
Amanda placed a hand on the stair railing and looked up preparing to take a step. As her eyes drifted upward her foot stopped mid-motion. Standing at the top of the stairs was the most stunningly beautiful women she had ever seen. Amanda forgot how to breathe.
Claire stood at the top of the steps in a form fitting, blood-red strapless dress, that barely extended below her panty line. Amanda swallowed hard, contemplating the unlikely existence of any panty line at all. Claires thick dark hair was pulled up on one side by a pearl comb and spike black heels completed the outfit. A man a few steps in front of Claire turned to her and said something that made Claire flash a brilliant smile. Jesus, shes gorgeous! A few more steps and Claire looked down to see Amanda. When their eyes met both women smiled in pure reflex.
Amanda Man, she looks fantastic! Amanda? The smiled dropped from Claires face. Ohshitohshitohshit! Whats she doing here? I dont want her to see me with Aaron! Claire was so busy trying to figure out what to say to Amanda that she didnt even notice when Jody stopped along side her.
"Hello, Claire." Silence. "Claire?" Jody tapped her on the shoulder.
Claire turned, slightly startled. "Hi Jody," she pushed out. Maybe they wont ask what Im doing here. Please, please, please!
"What are you doing here tonight?" Jody began looking around to see if Claire was alone.
Fuck! Claire looked at Jody for several seconds trying to decide what to say. "Im here on a business dinner," Claire offered. Thats truer than you know, Jody.
Jody stared at Claires dress. "Business dinner, huh?" Jodys tone made it clear she didnt believe her.
"Yes, and if youll excuse me "
At the moment Aaron decided Claire was taking entirely too long descending the stairs. Turning around, he made his way back up several steps to retrieve Claire. "Whats taking you so long, Gorgeous?" Aaron asked gruffly, laying proprietary hand on Claires shoulder.
Uh oh. What else could possible go wrong? Claire wondered, as she inconspicuously tried to move out of Aarons grasp.
"Hello, Aaron. I didnt think wed be seeing each other again so soon." Jody held out her hand. Shes here with him? Hes barely out of his teens. What about Amanda? Bitch! she seethed.
"Dr. Penbrook? Huh, I guess it is a small world." They shook hands. For a split second Aaron looked a little embarrassed to have run into her. Recovering quickly, he addressed Jody, "I didnt know you knew Claire."
It was all Claire could do not to groan out loud. Shit, I had to ask? "Dr. Penbrook and I share a mutual friend," Claire offered. At least I think she was friend before tonight. Youve got three seconds to get your hands off of me, Aaron.
"And here she is now," Jody added, as Amanda made her way up to the trio.
Amanda looked at Jody, and then back to Claire and Aaron, her smile fading. Her brow knit in confusion, "Hi Claire, Im sorry it um it looks like everyone knows each other here but I but " She felt her chest constrict as she watched Aaron pull Claire into him and wrap his arm around her waist. Aaron was making clear that the two shared a "personal" relationship.
Mercifully, Jody interrupted her friends ramblings. "Amanda this is Aaron Levine. Hes a new patient. We had our first session yesterday. Aaron, this is my partner, Dr. Amanda Greer."
Aaron hadnt heard a word Jody said. All he knew was that Claire didnt seem to be pulling away from his advances, at least in the presence of these other women. He decided to press his luck. Turning his head he began to nuzzle the soft skin around Claires ear. Both Amanda and Jodys eyes widened at the display.
Claire couldnt take anymore. Thats it buddy! "Listen "
"We should go," Amanda choked out, before turning and pushing her way through the bodies drifting up and down the stairs.
"Crap," Jody muttered. Shooting Claire a deadly look, she took off after her friend.
No!!! "Get the hell off me!" Claire hissed, as she wrenched herself free from Aaron. "Wait!" she yelled, but the women were already near the bottom of the steps. Not bothering to look back at a stunned Aaron Levine, Claire flew down after Jody, having already lost Amandas shorter form in the crowd. Claire watched as Jody exited Origami but she was still a good fifteen feet and twenty people from the door.
"Finally," Claire mumbled, as she pushed her way out the front door and felt a blast of cold night air. Frantically looking up and down the street but she couldnt spot Amanda. "Where the hell is she?" Turning the corner, Claire scanned the parking lot. Spotting two figures near the back of the lot, Claire called out into the shadows as she approached, "Amanda, is that you?" As she got closer she saw Amanda, sitting on the hood of a dark colored Audi with Jody perched along side her.
Claire breathed a sigh of relief. At least I found you before you left. You must think "Amanda, I need to explain. Its not what it looked like."
Jody stepped directly in between Claire and Amanda, effectively blocking Claires view of Amanda. "Why dont you just go back to your boyfriend?" Jody taunted as she emphasized the word "boy." Even in dark, Claire could see the anger in her face.
Stepping to the side she tried to look around Jody. "Amanda " Claire began again, but stopped when Jody mirrored her movements, blocking her view once more. It was Claires turn to get angry. Pale eyes shifted, focusing completely on Jody. "Move" she growled, her face turning feral.
"Or what?" Jody challenged.
"Jody, what are you doing?" Amanda jumped down off the car, wiping her eyes with an irritated hand.
Claires gaze never wavered. "Or, Ill move you myself."
Amanda could feel angry waves pouring off both women. "Jody," Amanda grabbed her friends arm and pulled her away from Claire, "I can talk for myself."
Sensing the finality in her partners voice, Jody stepped away and slipped into the passenger seat of Amandas car.
Claire felt a lump in her throat and swallowed hard before speaking. "Amanda," she began softly, "I know what it must have looked like but Aaron is just a client. I need to explain."
"You dont owe me any explanations, Claire. I barely know you. You can have dinner with anyone you like." Thats true, Amanda told herself. Weve only gone out once. I dont have the right to be jealous or upset. But thats exactly how I feel! "Im sorry about Jody, she gets a little protective sometimes." A pause. "I should be going. Goodnight Claire."
Without another word, the smaller woman left Claire standing open mouthed, in the parking lot. Claire raised a hand to shield her eyes as bright headlights temporarily blinded her. Then the car simply backed out and drove away.
"That went well," Claire muttered sarcastically. Fuck! She mentally screamed. Could I have screwed this up more? Wait. Dont ask. I might as well see if I can get any more information out of that idiot Aaron.
Reentering Origami, Claire noticed that although the bar area still appeared to be overflowing, the dinner crowd finally seemed to be thinning. A quick scan of the dining area and Claire had resigned herself to the fact that shed have to enter the sea of people upstairs to find Aaron.
Twenty minutes later Claire was still looking. Maybe I missed him and hes in the bathroom or back downstairs. Thirty more minutes, and Claire was ready to pack it in. Ahhh the perfect end to the perfect evening, she thought as she made her way out of the restaurant and to her car. Amanda probably wont speak to me again. Claire closed her eyes at the unexpected pain that prospect presented. Her partner obviously hates me. And, finally, that little jerk ditches me before I find out anything I can take to Mark.
Claire rummaged for her keys and unlocked her car door. I wonder if Gumby still loves me?
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