|Primary Characters:||Amy, Vincent, Bruce, Lauren|
|Description:||Amy runs into a guy from her past. They start dating. Unfortunately Vincent goes through a hard time, again. He’s out of luck with his girlfriend and, as it turns out, also with Amy’s boyfriend.|
Judge Amy Gray was going over an upcoming case feeling rather tired. Lately, her life had been more difficult than usual. Her family still hadn’t quite been able to put the attack on Vincent behind them, and now, just as Amy had suspected, her ex did his best to use her job as an excuse to get Lauren away from her. She had expected his move, but it still hurt. On top of everything else, she’d had a verdict overturned in a higher court and as a result she was under investigation.
Her clerk, Bruce van Exel, glanced at her from his desk, where he was filing documents. His superior looked haunted. He could only suspect it was because of what had happened to her younger brother five months ago. The unfortunate young man had been abducted by men associated with a defendant, in a case Judge Gray was presiding over.
Bruce had an idea that maybe there was something else bothering his superior and for a moment, he considered asking her what it was. Still, he hesitated. He believed in keeping a professional distance to the people he worked with. On the other hand, he felt he’d come to know Judge Gray in the time they’d been working together. There was no one he respected more. He also liked her, but that was such a personal and irrelevant reaction, he preferred not to dwell on it.
Amy rubbed her eyes. It was getting late. She was having a hard time focusing on the small print on the page. As was often the case when she was this tired, her mind began to wander. This time, her ex seemed to be a bit more serious about taking Lauren away from her. Amy’s knowledge of the law made her sense where he was going with his attempts. Unfortunately, she also knew that under the circumstances, there was no guarantee that Lauren would remain in her custody. An older – male – judge might find her situation incompatible with the raising of a child. He might not be willng to take into account the fact that Lauren not only had her mother, but also her grandmother and her uncles.
The thought of losing Lauren made Amy terrified. Suddenly, to her alarm, she felt her eyes fill with tears. Shamefacedly, she looked away so that Bruce wouldn’t to notice. In fact, her sudden move caught Bruce’s attention, and made him look up.
Amy realized her mistake and got up abruptly. Her clumsy movement made her handbag fall onto the floor and some of the contents spilled out. She kneeled and began to pick up her belongings. Her driver’s licence, car keys, keys to her house were all easy to find. Her lipstick, which she didn’t spot at first, rolled away and disappeared underneath the desk. She scrambled after it and managed to overturn the file she’d been studying. The papers inside spread across the floor.
Bruce had moved so silently, she hadn’t even been aware of him coming over to help. Suddenly, his hands were there, calmly picking up and sorting out the papers.
Amy finally found the lipstick and shoved it back into her handbag, feeling at a disadvantage. To her relief, Bruce wasn’t even looking at her, which gave her time to compose herself. She pulled out a tissue and surreptitiously began dabbing at her face, just in case her mascara had run.
Now Bruce had found all the papers and put them back inside the folder and put the folder away. He was standing only a few inches from her, studying her thoughtfully.
Amy was filled with sudden despair. There was nothing she could do. Her child would be taken from her and all her years of studies and hard work wouldn’t be of any use to her at all, when it really counted. Biting her lower lip, she tried to smother a sob which was threatening to make its way across her lips. This really wasn’t a good time.
To her astonishment, the normally extremely prim Bruce put a hand on her arm.
She was upset over something, that was clear. Bruce had no idea what, but it really didn’t matter. Her pain touched him and though he was desperate not to overstep the line separating work from personal life, he couldn’t help wanting to comfort her.
Bruce’s touch made Amy turn around and after hesitating only for a second or two, she closed the distance between them and leaned her head on his shoulder. Awkwardly, Bruce put his arms around her and held her.
It was making her feel better. Feeling another person’s arms around her was undeniably comforting. Still, there was something else about the whole situation which nagged at her. Something about finally being this close to the man she’d been working with for so long. Despite their professional distance she had begun to feel a certain connection with him.
This was highly inappropriate, but there wasn’t any harm in it. In a minute or so, they’d just go their separate ways. Except – her hair smelled so nice. Holding her like this was so –
She’d never noticed quite how strong and – well-built – he really was.
Their lips met and for a moment, they allowed themselves to put aside all thoughts of consequences and common sense.
Bruce was the one to recover first, and he let go, as if he’d burnt his fingers.
Amy looked up to find that as suddenly and as quietly he had moved across the floor to her, he’d backed off again, and was nervously picking on his coat. When he spoke, his voice sounded husky.
“It’s late. I’d better go.”
Amy almost began to babble before she caught herself.
“Yes. Exactly. I’d better go too. Goodnight, Bruce.”
“Goodnight Judge Gray.”
On her way out, Amy could feel her thoughts whirling about in her mind. How could that have happened? Why had she reacted the way she did? And – how wonderful it had been. But of course it was highly inappropriate.
She felt confused and guilty. Had she somehow sent out signals to Bruce to lead him on? For a long time now, she’d been aware that what she’d felt for Bruce was something more than simply a professional relationship. She’d been hoping they were becoming friends. Now she wasn’t so sure anymore.
Try as he might, Bruce couldn’t get the incident out of his mind. The way she’d smelled, the way it had felt holding her in his arms, the taste of her kiss. What was the matter with him? He’d be lucky if he didn’t face a criminal charge when he returned to work in the morning.
Not too long ago, men like himself had been hung from the nearest tree, for even touching a white woman’s hand, or even walking too close to her. This – Bruce knew that if his father had known, he’d have earned himself a whipping. Despite all that, he found, to his astonishment, that he didn’t regret a thing.
After what had happened with Bruce, Amy had tried to keep a professional distance, while trying not to appear – reproachful. It was hard.
Bruce had been fearing some kind of official censure, but when he was finally sure that wouldn’t happen, he still kept watching the judge – Amy – for any signs his behavior had alarmed or offended her. That didn’t seem to be the case, but it was some time before he could begin to relax – as much as he ever did at work.
Amy determined she’d never refer to the incident again and did her best not to think of what had occurred.
Three weeks later, she was beginning to feel a little more comfortable in her dealings with Bruce. She tried not to work so late in the evenings, and if necessary, she’d bring some of the less sensitive material home with her.
One evening, she was expecting Lauren back from her father and for once, her mother was away, visiting an old friend. Knowing that she’d be the one to cook dinner, Amy rushed out to the supermarket, which fortunately was open late.
As she was being jostled back and forth by other stressed out professionals, she somehow managed to crash her shopping cart into one of the others. She backed up and tried to find another passage through the narrow aisle but ended up getting even more stuck. The man who had been pushing the shopping cart looked up from stacking frozen dinners in it and something about his face appeared familiar.
He was devastatingly handsome and seemed to be about Amy’s own age. Judging by the contents of his shopping cart, he was single too, or his wife was away.
“I’m terribly sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. This place keeps getting more and more crowded every month it seems.”
Something seemed to occur to him, and he took a closer look.
“You don’t remember? Stephen Masters. Senior year. I asked you to the prom, but someone had beat me to it.”
“Oh, right. Stephen.”
Amy suddenly felt her cheeks take on color. She’d never expected a guy like Stephen to take notice of her so she’d taken the easy way out and given a friend of hers from her home room a hint that if he asked her, she’d accept. By the time Stephen had shown up outside her locker, Amy had begun to realize what a mistake that was. Most of her girlfriends wouldn’t have hesitated to turn the geek down, despite the promise, but Amy just couldn’t bring herself to do it. It would have been mean and anyway, she liked the boy even if he was hardly her dream date.
“I can’t believe this. You’re still in town.”
“I moved back a while ago.”
“Oh. Me too. I was in California for a few years and in a few other places too. Never thought I’d end up back home again, but I got a job offer I just couldn’t turn down. You were going to law school, right? Do you work as an attorney?”
“Actually, I’m a judge.”
“Thanks. What are you doing?”
“Oh, right. You were artistic.”
“It’s kind of you to say so, but my work isn’t really artistic. Are you married?”
“I was. We – got a divorce.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I should have paid more attention to my instincts, but – well, at least now I have a daughter.”
“What about you? Married? Any kids?”
“Nah. Not me. In my line of work, you need to work round the clock, more or less. That sort of thing would be hard on a family, but – well, you never know.”
“I get kind of busy too. Oh, that reminds me. I’d better hurry. My daughter’s been away visiting her dad and she’s coming back in – an hour and a half. I’m sorry. I’d better go.”
“Just let me -”
Stephen somehow managed to untangle their shopping carts, turned his own around and began to follow Amy. She couldn’t help smiling. The unexpected meeting had cheered her up. Stephen was the guy she’d had a huge crush on her senior year. If she recalled correctly, all the girls had.
They negotiated the crowds and were able to get all their shopping done in less than forty minutes. Amy knew that was partly thanks to Stephen. His charm smoothed the way for them. Outside, in the parking lot, they stopped, smiling awkwardly at each other. Amy wanted to ask for his phone number, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she hoped fervently that he would ask for hers.
“Well – it was great meeting you.”
“Yes, it was. I was wondering – I mean, now that we’re back, maybe we could – get together. How about lunch tomorrow?”
Amy hastily searched her mind for her schedule but realized that lunch would be difficult.
“I don’t think I could manage lunch.”
“What about dinner?”
She hesitated. This was more or less a dream come true. She’d be a fool not to accept, but there was Lauren to consider. Could she impose on Peter and Gillian or – It occurred to her that Vincent would probably come over and watch Lauren if she asked him. After what had happened only a few months ago, Amy and their mother liked to keep an eye on Vincent, to make sure he was back on his feet again.
“Yes, I’d love to. I’ll just have to do something about finding a babysitter.”
“If it’s a problem -”
“No, of course not. It will be fine.”
“Where do you live?”
“At my mom’s. You remember.”
“Oh, right. Of course. I have an apartment uptown.”
Stephen handed her his card, appeared to hesitate, then took it back and scribbled something on the back of the card.
“That’s my home number. You can reach me at that one too.”
Amy reached into her purse and found her own card and handed it over. After that, she knew she had to go. With one last look at Stephen, who glanced back, a warm look in his eyes, she got into her car and drove home. If she wasn’t there when Lauren arrived, she’d be in trouble. Her ex would be likely to use any transgression on her part, minor as it might seem, in an attempt to gain full custody of Lauren.
As it happened, Lauren was twenty minutes late, which made Amy so concerned, she momentarily forgot all about Stephen or Bruce. She had time to fix dinner and set the table before the doorbell rang.
Later that evening, she called Vincent to ask him to babysit. He sounded distracted somehow.
“Do you have company?”
“No. Andie is busy.”
“Is anything wrong?”
“Not with us. At least I hope not. She’s been busy quite a lot lately, actually. No, it’s something else.”
“What’s the matter, Vincent? Anything I can do?”
“It’s not really a problem, but – the landlord is doing renovations and – I’ll need to move out for a couple of months.”
“That’s inconvenient. Why didn’t he let you know sooner?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. In any case, there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“Come home. Your old room is still available and I know mom -”
“I’ll have to, won’t I? It’s just that – you know how it feels to move back to mom. If there was any other -”
“Mom will be away for at least another two weeks. That will give you time to get used to it.”
“I know. Thanks.”
“It’ll be like old times. You and me watching tv and making popcorn and -”
“Bringing home dates.”
“I didn’t do that.”
“Oh, come on. Sure you did. Didn’t you try to sneak in that longhaired boyfriend of yours so he could spend the night?”
“I did not. We just forgot about time and -”
“Sat up talking?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Ok. I guess it was me who tried to sneak in a girlfriend then. And I would have managed it too, unless mom had come to check on me at twelve thirty.”
“She would. Uh – I don’t remember that time. When was that?”
“You were away at college.”
“Oh, that explains it. Listen, before I forget – could you babysit tomorrow night?”
“Sure. I’ll just have time to move in.”
“If Andie gets in touch -”
“I’ll tell her I’m busy for a change. Don’t worry about it. Though if she wants to drop by, you won’t mind, right? I swear we won’t do anything – inappropriate.”
“Relax. I’m not mom and as long as you get Lauren to bed on time, I don’t really care what you guys do, as long as you keep the noise down.”
There was a drawn out pause on the other end of the line, making Amy wonder if anything really was wrong between Vincent and Andie – who struck Amy as rather – cold.
“Actually, there hasn’t been anything much – inappropriate going on for a long time so I don’t think you need to worry about the noise level or anything else for that matter.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Is it because of -”
Amy could have bitten her tongue. That was just a bit too intimate to ask of a brother, even if she and Vincent were close. But after another rather long pause, Vincent replied, sounding normal enough.
“No. It’s – I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t working out. Never mind.”
“I’m sorry. Would you like me to come over tomorrow and help you move out?”
“No, it’s ok. We can leave the furniture. They’ll just put sheets over everything. I’ll manage the rest..”
“If you’re sure. I could bring the car around.”
“No, it’s ok. Thanks anyway. So, who are you going out with?”
“That doesn’t ring any bells.”
“Sorry. Stephen and I almost made it to the prom together.”
“Almost? Why did you go with that guy with the braces if you’d have preferred this guy?”
“He asked me first and I couldn’t bring myself to stand him up.”
“Tough luck, sis.”
“I know. Still, Stephen’s back and we’ll see what happens.”
“Good luck. You really deserve to find someone better than that -”
“I know. Good night, Vincent. See you tomorrow.”
In the morning, Amy found it hard to meet Bruce’s eyes. For some reason, the thought of Bruce finding out about her and Stephen made her uncomfortable. If Bruce noticed, he didn’t give any indication of it. Not that she’d expected him to. When he wanted to, Bruce could present the most inscrutable look to the outside world.
As the day wore on, Amy got excited about meeting Stephen again. She began to recall how she’d felt about him in high school. Thinking about it, put a smile on her face.
Bruce glanced discreetly across the room at her, and quickly looked away. He couldn’t help wondering what was making her so happy. Perhaps it was something to do with her daughter.
Amy left the office before seven so she’d have time to return home and touch up her makeup and fix her hair again. She also changed into something a little less – judgely. This was just an ordinary dinner. She was seeing a guy from school. All the same, she couldn’t help wishing she’d had a girlfriend to share the news with. The thrill she felt at finally meeting Stephen again made her feel giddy like a teenager.
When she got back, Vincent was there already and he’d picked up Lauren from school. Amy felt a stab of guilt. He’d had to think of that himself. The deal was she asked her brothers or Gillian if they had to pick up Lauren. At least everything was ok now.
“Thanks. You’re an angel. I can’t believe it slipped my mind.”
“Don’t mention it. I figured you’d forgotten. Lauren and her friends were in a good mood today. They surrounded me and began to giggle and chatter so fast I couldn’t follow it all. Are they always like that?”
Amy smiled. Hardly. Usually, they just smiled and waved and ran off after their mothers. She knew Lauren’s little friends adored Vincent. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if they had a bit of a crush on him, if pre-adolescents could develop crushes. Oh, of course they could. She could remember falling for a teacher’s fiance and feeling resentful and jealous whenever the poor young woman entered the room.
“I checked last night and there’s some of mom’s stew in the freezer.”
A sheepish and apologetic look flew across Vincent’s face. Amy was wondering exactly what Lauren had bullied him into agreeing to.
“Actually, we – I – thought I’d call for takeout. Is it ok, just this once?”
“It’s never just this once, but sure. It’s ok. Why not? Just try to learn not to let her manipulate you, ok? She’ll walk all over you if you’re not careful.”
“I know. It’s just so hard to say no.”
“Tell me about it. Ok. Just remember. Bed at eight thirty. No excuses. If she keeps asking for glasses of water or any other obvious excuses, don’t fall for that. Let her go to the bathroom, but that’s all.”
“Check. Now, have fun tonight, sis. I’ll handle things here. Don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks. You’re a sweetheart. Oh, sorry. I know you boys hate being called that.”
“By our girlfriends. I can just about survive if mom says so or you. Don’t tell Peter I said that.”
Amy gave Vincent a peck on the cheek and he gave her a quick hug before she ran up the stairs to get ready for her date. She never stopped to consider that no one had said anything about this being a proper date. As she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup, the doorbell rang. She heard Vincent going to open it. On her way down the stairs, she listened to the two men talking.
“Hello. I’m Stephen Masters. And you are -”
“Vincent Gray. Amy’s brother. The babysitter.”
“Oh, hi. I remember Amy talking about you. You’re the younger brother, right?”
“Nice to meet you, Vincent.”
“Nice to meet you too, Stephen.”
Stephen held out his hand and Vincent took it. They shook hands solemnly, almost making Amy giggle nervously. At least this time mom and dad weren’t around to embarrass her with their questions.
Vincent and Stephen seemed to be getting along fine, but Amy didn’t really have time to worry about that now. Stephen heard her coming and looked up. His smile widened, as he took in her appearance.
“Amy. You look absolutely stunning. I’m beginning to realize what I was missing at the prom.”
“You flatter me. Well? Shall we?”
“Of course. Great meeting you, Vincent.”
“It was good meeting you too, Stephen.”
Vincent smiled encouragingly at Amy. This was exactly what she needed after that ugly divorce. It might not be his place to say anything, but he hated how Amy’s ex was treating her.
Just as Amy had predicted, she and Vincent settled in easily together. It was just like old times. She had to admit that it was a relief to have Vincent right under her nose. After what had happened to him, she never stopped worrying, if he was out of her sight. Unfortunately, her work kept her busier than ever and what little time she had to herself, she found herself spending with Stephen.
It was as if they’d picked up right where they’d left off. He was easy get along with and their conversations flowed freely. Amy found herself feeling just like a teenager. Flushed, giggly, excited. In the end, she couldn’t help confiding in Vincent and Gillian, just to have someone to share her secret with.
Her mother, who returned from her friend with a renewed interest in traveling, seemed to approve of her seeing Stephen again.
It irked Amy, but hardly came as a surprise, that she’d settled right back into her habit of more or less asking her mother’s permission before dating a guy. That had to stop. She was grown up and her mother had no right to approve or frown on her relationships. This time, though, there wasn’t even one single lecture on – whatever her mother felt like sharing with her about the risks involved in dating.
To Amy’s and Vincent’s – and Peter’s and Gillian’s – surprise, Maxine only stayed for just over two weeks, before she once again left, this time for few weeks in Florida. She’d never exhibited any interest in visiting Florida before. Her travels with their father had usually been to a cabin in the mountains or a rented house by the sea. Never had she felt any urge to lie in the sun or – whatever it was she was looking for at the hotel on Miami beach.
When Maxine’s children discovered that their mother’s friend Simon was away on vacation too, they didn’t know quite what to make of the whole thing. Amy sternly told herself not to jump to conclusions. For all she knew, Simon might be away visiting a relative. However, when his friend Arnold, who was taking Simon’s dog Desmond for his daily walks mentioned that Simon was in Florida, she no longer knew what to think.
As the entire matter was too potentially embarrassing, Amy was able to use her sisterly influence on her brothers, even Peter, and vetoed any further discussions or speculations about the nature of the relationship between their mother and Simon.
Instead, Amy focused what little attention she had left, between work and her daughter, on Stephen and their increasingly frequent dates.
At work, she found that for some reason, she didn’t want to mention her dinners with Stephen. Even when Bruce kindly inquired about her health and about Lauren and the rest of her family, she never told him that she was dating again. She studiedly avoided analysing her reasons for this evasion. After all, there was no possible reason why she shouldn’t date again. Her divorce had been finalized a long time ago.
A case she was working on proved more time consuming than she’d first estimated and for a few nights she was forced to stay until much later than usual. At least right now, with Vincent staying at the house, she no longer had any concerns about Lauren.
On Wednesday night, she thought she was finally beginning to see the end of her all her hard work. Again, she’d accepted Stephen’s invitation to dinner. He’d secured an especially lucrative account for his firm and wanted to celebrate.
If she skipped lunch, she thought she’d be able to finish up at the office and have time to return home to freshen up before dinner, which would be at nine. Stephen had been very understanding about her work and though they usually had dinner around eight, her difficult case had made it necessary to choose a later hour.
Not sure of what to do about Judge Gray’s uncharacteristic haste, Bruce raised his eyebrows slightly, as he noted how Amy twirled her hair and kept glancing at her watch.
“Is anything the matter? Is Lauren ok? And the rest of your family?”
To Bruce’s surprise, his superior now flushed as if she was dismayed at his question. He tensed up. Had he overstepped the boundaries of their professional relationship? Again?
“No, they’re all fine. I’m – just a little late for – an appointment. Never mind. It can’t be helped. Let’s get this work done now, or we’ll never see the end of this case.”
“Yes, of course, Judge Gray.”
Bruce couldn’t help glancing curiously in Amy’s direction. There had been something about her voice which hinted that she wasn’t being completely honest. Again, he couldn’t help feeling concerned. What if something was wrong? Something she felt she couldn’t confide in him? Perhaps he ought to risk offending her by asking again. In the end, he contented himself with doing his best with the paperwork, hoping that everything was fine with his superior and her family.
Finally, Amy took one last look at the paper she’d been working on and put it away in its file. There. All done. She glanced at her watch and found that it was now only a quarter to nine. Guiltily, she got up and snatched her coat off it’s hook and grabbed her purse. In the doorway, she stopped and faced Bruce, realizing that her unaccustomed haste might have attracted her clerk’s attention.
“Bruce – I – really need to go. Would you close up and -”
“Of course, Judge Gray. Leave it to me.”
He broke off, before he said what had been on the tip of his tongue. No need to apologize. He almost blushed too. What a fool he was. On the other hand, there had been something apologetic in Amy’s demeanor and in her words. As she, too, had left something unsaid.
Her face seemed to hint at conflicting emotions, but in the end, she just hurried outside and vanished from Bruce’s sight.
Amy ran down the stairs and outside to her car. She stepped on the gas, hoping no policeman would be keeping an eye on the streets leading to her home. By now, it was almost nine and she hated to think of Stephen being kept waiting. If she’d stopped and considered, she might not have been quite that overeager. Not anymore. As a professional, Stephen should have been able to understand that her work sometimes kept her until late at night. Just like his did. Right now, though, Amy felt more like the seventeen-year-old she’d been the first time she – almost – went out with Stephen.
Vincent hadn’t had a very good day. To begin with, he’d had trouble getting Lauren to come along, when he came to pick her up. She’d been in a difficult and tiresome mood and her little friends had made up some silly game which seemed to involve dancing around him, making some sort of hand gestures. They also shouted high pitched words to each other, which were all but unintelligible to him.
He’d slept badly, because he sensed that Andie was going to break up with him. She hadn’t come to see him or talked to him for over a week, which was highly unusual in their relationship. When he’d tried to reach her on the phone, no one had picked up, even though he knew she was at home.
After he’d almost snapped at Lauren, making her burst into tears, Vincent realized he was in no state to look after a giggling nine-year-old that afternoon. He drove to Peter’s house and while he distracted Lauren by promising her the sort of unhealthy food Amy was constantly warning him about giving her daughter, he begged Gillian to take Lauren for the remainder of the evening.
To his relief, his sister-in-law had agreed willingly enough. Gillian was very fond of Lauren, as were they all.
Finally, he was able to drive home on his own. He sat down and tried to figure out what to do about Andie and their relationship. After a while, he realized that there was nothing he could do, other than going to Andie’s place and talk to her. They needed to have it out once and for all. By now, he didn’t have any hope left that they’d be able to work things out. The last time he’d tried, she’d practically bitten his head off.
Feeling dejected, but determined, he picked up his car keys again and got back into the car. Andie’s place wasn’t more than four blocks away from his own place but it was a little further from mom’s house. Still, even though he knew he was doing the right thing, he appreciated the delay before meeting Andie again, face to face, most likely for the last time.
Outside her building, he stayed in the car, fidgeting, going through what he wanted to ask her and what he had to tell her. In the end, he knew it was no use putting the moment off any longer.
He still had Andie’s key, which she had handed to him, rather grudgingly, he now thought, and he decided to return it. Whatever conclusion they came to, he knew that was what he’d have to do. The curtains were drawn so he was beginning to think she wouldn’t be in anyway. If not, he’d just borrow a pen and write her a note to explain why he’d left the key.
As he stepped inside, he didn’t hear anything, and he came to the conclusion that Andie wasn’t in. That was odd. At this time, she almost always would be. If she’d had to go away – to see her parents or her grandmother, who lived in a home – But he knew far too well that if that had been all, she would have let him know. She wouldn’t just leave without explaining, at least not if their relationship had been in good shape still.
He looked at the chest of drawers where her phone was, but there didn’t seem to be any notepad there or a pen. Frowning, he walked into the kitchen. He looked at the refrigerator door. There was a shopping list, in Andie’s room mate’s writing. Moira. That was an odd girl. She’d never liked him. When they’d first met, she’d stared at him, in a way that was almost hostile, but Andie had assured him that Moira was fantastic. She had a heart of gold and was solid as a rock and so on. Maybe, but she’d never shown him any of those aspects of her personality. Now, it wouldn’t matter anymore.
He still couldn’t see any pen or pencil. By now, he’d lost his nerve and was beginning to reason with himself. Maybe it was just as well that he returned home. He could write her a proper letter and send it in the mail. Standing around in her apartment when she wasn’t there was making him uncomfortable. That, if nothing else, showed him where they were standing. Six weeks ago, he wouldn’t have thought twice about waiting for her in her room.
As if the thought of her room had made him aware of it, he now thought he could detect a sound from that direction. Someone laughing. Had he been wrong about her being away?
Now the door opened and he caught a glimpse of Andie. She was standing with her back to him and all he could really see was that she was – just wearing her underwear. Her hair was in disarray and she seemed to be talking to someone who was still inside the room.
So that was it. She was having an affair. Despite everything, Vincent felt a stab of pain. It had happened again. One of his relationships fizzling out without ever taking off. What was wrong with him? Was it the – incident – after all? Though Andie had assured him that she understood and somehow, it had been a relief to lose himself in her arms, once he’d felt well enough to see anyone.
He looked back towards Andie’s room and now she was moving again. Backwards. She was laughing again and talking to the person still inside her room. He recognized that tone, or – almost. Now that he thought about it, he realized that he’d never heard her sound quite that – loving – towards him.
“Come on. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”
“I don’t know. I want more of -”
Vincent was jolted out of his brooding when he heard who it was Andie had been talking to. Moira. Had he misinterpreted the situation? But even as he thought of that, Moira’s arms came into view. She pulled Andie back towards her and began to kiss her in a way that didn’t leave any room for doubts. Vincent was stunned.
Of course he’d heard about women who – loved each other – like that. Lesbians.
In fact, when he was at college, someone had told him two post graduate students on their campus were – like that. His room mate, Liam, had had a lot to say on the subject. He’d been fascinated and had gone on and on about how much he’d love to be able to peek into their room one night.
Vincent hadn’t been nearly as thrilled. It had all seemed – confusing. Women loving other women? That was so odd. What would be the purpose? Of course, that was long before he’d learned more than he wanted to know about relations between men.
Or rather not, but the incident from his childhood, he’d all but managed to repress. That wasn’t – real. Besides, nothing had happened. Not then.
At last, the two women had realized they had company. Moira, who had had a look of such affection in her eyes, Vincent had felt like crying, let go of Andie and advanced on him, aggressively. As if she intended to throw him out. Her menacing expression wasn’t in any way diminished by the fact that she was wearing nothing but bra and panties.
“Seen anything interesting?”
Vincent didn’t know what to say. Did she seriously believe he was there to spy on them? And what was Andie thinking? Why wasn’t she saying anything?
“How dare you come here to spy on me?”
“I was just -”
“Isn’t it obvious that I’m not interested? Well? What else do you have to say?”
“You don’t return my calls. You never come and see me anymore. Don’t you think that makes me wonder? We were – Don’t I even deserve an explanation? When were you going to tell me it was over?”
“Fine. It’s over. Now will you leave us alone?”
Vincent felt his eyes sting humiliatingly. He’d – never expected Andie to just begin a relationship with someone else, let alone another woman, and simply not tell him about it. The way he’d felt about her, he’d assumed she’d felt the same about him. Now he was beginning to think that maybe Andie had never cared about him. Had it all been just a – front? An alibi to explain away her room mate?
“Ok. You’ve made your point. I won’t bother you again. Andie – did you ever -”
For a second, it seemed as if she was relenting. Something about her eyes made him think he might have reached her at last. If so, he’d never know. Moira seemed to have lost patience with him and she began to advance on him again, eyes smouldering, her jaw set in a way that didn’t leave him any doubts about her feelings for him.
Without another word, Vincent turned and left. He more or less ran down the stairs and he was halfway home before he even stopped to consider. It was lucky that he hadn’t ended up crashing the car. Mom’s car. All the time, he kept having to blink to clear his sight. Why hadn’t she cared enough to explain? Did she think he’d be such a prejudiced, intolerant bastard, she didn’t dare?
He pressed his knuckles to his lips and when that didn’t help, he bit into them, so hard, he almost drew blood.
It was at least half an hour before he collected himself enough to go inside. What if one of the neighbours began to wonder?
Now he was beginning to wish Amy had been home. He wanted someone to talk to. Not mom. This was something too embarrassing and humiliating. Not Peter either. They weren’t close enough to discuss something this painful and besides, somehow, he didn’t feel like exposing Andie’s secret to Peter. What if Peter, too, just like Liam, found the idea of two lesbian women irresistible? No matter how badly Andie had hurt him, he didn’t want to give away her secret to someone who might react that way.
He paced back and forth, unable to let the matter go or do anything more constructive. Like work on his book or – some housework. After he’d moved back in, he had promised Amy he’d do his part of the chores. She worked so late, it was only fair that he did his share.
When the first shock had left him, he looked up to find that it was almost eight thirty. Wasn’t Amy going out to dinner tonight? Feeling sluggish and dazed, Vincent got up and made an effort to clear away the dishes from yesterday’s dinner. Despite his feelings he kept glancing at his watch, wondering when Amy was going to show up. If he remembered correctly, Stephen would be picking her up about this time. Where was Amy? Vincent was beginning to worry that his sister had had an accident or that something else had happened to cause such a delay.
The sound of the doorbell ringing made him look up. That had to be Stephen. And Amy hadn’t even called to say she’d be late. He went to open the front door and found Stephen standing outside, carrying a bunch of flowers, clearly intended for Amy.
“Hello, Stephen. Amy’s a little late. Won’t you come in?”
Stephen stared oddly at Vincent, but after a moment’s pause, he smiled and nodded.
“I’ll – just call her at work and check when she’ll here. Why don’t you sit down? I’ll be right back.”
Vincent went into the kitchen and picked up the phone. He dialled the number for the courthouse. No reply. Had they closed up already? If so, where was Amy? As he was about to hang up, a formal voice replied.
“Could I speak to Judge Amy Gray, please?”
“There’s no reply at her extension. This is the switchboard. As far as I know, only the night judge is here.”
Where could Amy be? Vincent was debating with himself whether he ought to let Stephen know about his concerns or – Suddenly, he became aware the Stephen had followed him into the kitchen.
“Are you ok, Vincent?”
Vincent hardly knew this guy, even though he had been around a lot in the past month or so. How could he share anything as intimate as what had just happened to him? He had to put him off with some half-truth. Except, Vincent didn’t even trust his own voice anymore. Between his, possibly exaggerated, concerns about Amy and the shock Andie had given him, he felt crushed.
Slowly, he turned and faced Stephen. His face must have given him away.
“Hey. What’s wrong?”
“It’s – personal. Amy – I think she’s on her way now. She should be here any minute now.”
At least he hoped so. If not, he’d really have something to worry about.
“I see. Thanks. You know, if there’s something you’d like to tell me, I’d be happy to -”
Vincent forgot his manners and dropped down onto the nearest chair.
“It’s just – my girlfriend just dumped me. Just -”
“I’m sorry. That must painful. Had you been together for long?”
“What? Oh, a couple of months.”
Stephen pulled out another chair and sat down too. He seemed to be scanning Vincent’s face anxiously. His voice had sounded so sympathetic, that Vincent suddenly lost it completely. He began to cry.
For a moment, he was caught up in the memories of Andie and – before that, the attack. Now he realized that meeting Andie and throwing himself into the relationship with her had been what had helped him deal with the memories of what had happened that day. That and Amy’s love and care. Now without Andie – he felt as raw and broken up as he had that day, just after it had happened.
He more or less forgot about Stephen’s presence and retreated inside himself. When he felt the hand on his shoulder, it didn’t produce any reaction. Not even when he felt his hair being stroked and an arm going around his shoulder, did he pay much attention.
It wasn’t until he felt Stephen’s lips brush his own that he finally came awake.
Breathlessly, Amy ran up the front steps and fumbling with her key, she tried to unlock the door. It wasn’t until she’d tried three times, that she realized the reason she couldn’t unlock it, was that it was already unlocked. She pushed the door open and burst inside. It was just two minutes past nine. Stephen wouldn’t have had time to lose his patience. She’d spotted his car outside and now she was looking around for him expectantly. Where was he?
She opened her mouth to call out his name, but decided to go looking for him instead. They were late, but not that late. If she just explained to him she’d have time to freshen up, at least if she hurried. She glanced into the living room, but it was empty. There was no sign of Vincent either. Lauren would be in bed, so she didn’t even wonder about where her daughter was.
Without reflecting more closely, she ran towards the kitchen. If Stephen was using the bathroom or something, Vincent might be –
In the doorway, she stopped and stared in disbelief at the unlikely scene. Vincent was sitting beside the kitchen table. Stephen too. That wasn’t what was so surprising, though if she’d had time to consider, she would have wondered about that too. What she couldn’t bring herself to believe, was the fact that Stephen had his arms around Vincent and he was – No. Impossible. Stephen was in love with her and Vincent –
Suddenly, the unmoving tableau became animated again. Vincent pulled back and as he did so, his eyes met hers. He got up and backed up against the wall. Finally, her presence seemed to filter through to Stephen. He was on his feet and moving towards her, but Amy wasn’t going to let him say anything. This was simply – too much. Had he – she felt a stab of pain as the thought registered – used her? Was it Vincent he’d been interested in all along?
“No. I don’t want to hear it. Get out.”
“Please. You have to -”
“I don’t have to do anything. Just go.”
It still didn’t seem as if Stephen had heard her. He kept coming at her, with his hand stretched out towards her. Amy sidled away, towards the kitchen entrance.
“No. Leave me alone.”
Finally, her words seemed to register and Stephen’s hand dropped down by his side. He kept glancing at her, but to her relief, he was walking away. She didn’t relax until she’d heard the front door slam shut.
Vincent was staring at her, eyes wide, as if in shock. In shock? That was nothing compared to how she was feeling. How dared he do this to her? Even after she’d told him how much Stephen meant to her he’d – She was struggling to keep the tears at bay, but distress, shock and anger made it hard to exert the same control she usually could.
“You knew how much this relationship meant to me. How could you – Why did you have to pick Stephen for your – experiments?”
Vincent was still in shock. He’d never expected anything like that to happen. When he’d felt Stephen’s lips brush his own, he’d recoiled violently. For a second, his mind had been a blank. A man, holding him down – He’d panicked and – then his sister had been there.
Amy. His big sister, the only one he knew he could trust completely. What was she saying? It was as if the words didn’t make sense. He could see her lips moving, and the words she said sounded familiar, but somehow, halfway between her mouth and his ears, they lost their meaning and turned into gibberish.
Vincent’s teeth began to chatter and the tears he hadn’t managed to check, began to flow more freely. He felt cold and he could feel his legs give out under him and he began sliding to the floor.
Amy stared at Vincent. She hadn’t expected her words to have such a strong effect on him. Slowly, it was beginning to dawn on her that she must have jumped to the wrong conclusion. Not about Stephen’s actions, but about Vincent. He couldn’t have been a willing participant. She began to recall all the times her little brother had gotten in trouble over some girl. Always a girl. What had she been thinking? Vincent wasn’t –
At last she broke out of her paralysis and she hurried over to Vincent. Ignoring her tight skirt and her uncomfortable shoes, she sank down beside him and put her arms around him.
“I’m sorry. I – made a mistake. Are you ok? Did he -”
There was no reply and by now, Amy was beginning to see that she probably couldn’t expect one for some time. Instead, she pulled Vincent into her arms and held him. For a second, his lack of response alarmed her, but then he slumped down against her and buried his face against her shoulder.
“It’s ok. Don’t worry about it. He’s not coming back.”
Amy’s comforting words and her arms around him recalled Vincent to the present. He was making a spectacle of himself. Overreacting. All that had happened was that Stephen had – He couldn’t understand why, but – in any case that was nothing. Nothing was wrong.
“Amy – it’s ok. I’m -”
Self-consciously he pulled back, and began to rub furiously at his eyes. The situation made him feel as if he was about five years old and had fallen and skinned his knee. He wasn’t a kid anymore. Whatever had happened, he was too old to crawl into his older sister’s arms and hide there from the big, bad world.
“I’m sorry. I was being stupid. it was just – I didn’t expect to find Stephen -”
“Me neither. I was just – ”
“Andie – she’s – dumped me. And – I guess – that was quite a shock too. So I was – blubbering like a five-year-old and -”
“I see. And Stephen chose that moment to – jump you. I can’t believe I was such a fool. He must have been using me. Was it you he was after all along?”
“I don’t know. He never – God, if he’d given me any reason to believe – You know me, Amy. I’m not -”
“Of course not. Not you. But didn’t you ever notice anything odd about -”
“No. I hardly knew him. For what it’s worth, i really thought he was interested in you. I never imagined -”
“I knew it was too good to be true. A guy like Stephen -”
“He doesn’t deserve you anyway.”
Amy angrily dabbed at the tears that had smeared her mascara and was getting in her eyes, making them sting. She swallowed and blinked clear her sight. Her little brother really was sweet. Even after such a bad shock as this must have been, he was always prepared to fly to her defence.
She couldn’t resist hugging him again, though she knew he’d want to recover on his own. Boys were always so – shy about showing their emotions.
“I’m sorry about Andie too.”
“Me too. You have no idea -”
“Was she having an affair?”
“Yes. With – you’ll never believe this – her room mate. Moira.”
“Moira? You mean – Oh.”
Vincent smiled wryly. Was everyone gay these days?
“Yes. I walked in and caught them -”
“I’m really sorry about that, Vincent. At least she could have had the decency to -”
“That’s what I thought. I guess – it was too good to be true. After what happened – I must have just wanted to – throw myself into an affair – any affair – to – forget. Apparently, I was wrong about Andie. She never cared as much about me as I – thought I cared about her. Now, I just don’t know. Maybe I just – wanted to think I cared.”
“Vincent – some day -”
“I know. At least I hope so.”
“You deserve someone -”
“We both do.”
“In the meantime, I – guess – oh, screw all deceitful boyfriends.”
“And girlfriends. Have you had anything to eat?”
“No. It’s ok, Amy. I don’t think -”
“Yes. You’re going to have something. Come on. I’m not going to let you starve just because -”
Vincent sighed and resigned himself to his fate. He knew that it was no use fighting Amy when she was in this mood. It was no use denying she had a tough streak and as the younger brother, he knew better than to try and oppose her when she was like this.
Amy got up, then pulled Vincent to his feet and began to rummage around in the freezer. He was hoping she wouldn’t dig up one of mom’s old stews. His mother was a good cook, but sometimes, those stews – When he saw what Amy had in her hand, he began to relax a little. His mouth twisted into an almost-smile.
Chocolate chip cookie ice cream. Exactly what they needed. To his surprise, Amy began to search through the freezer again, and this time she pulled out package of fudge ice cream. For him. She must be really upset if she intended to keep the chocolate chip cookie ice cream for herself.
They sat down at the kitchen table and began to eat right out of the containers. After a couple of spoons of her ice cream Amy leaned across the table and took a spoonful out of his container. She licked the spoon, then pushed her container towards him. Vincent smiled and took a spoonful too.This was ridiculous. Here they were, as if it had been twenty years ago. Stuffing their faces with comfort food. The worst part was that it was working.
“How is Lauren?”
“Oh. I – asked Gillian to take her.”
“Good. At least she didn’t hear us – no, me – screaming and -”
“God. What if she’d walked in just like you.”
Amy considered. At least that hadn’t happened. That would really have given her ex a good weapon to use against her in the upcoming custody battle.
“Vincent. She didn’t. She’s not here. It’s ok. Let’s not think about it anymore.”
With an effort he pulled himself together. It was nothing. Another guy’s lips had brushed his for two seconds. No more. He was overreacting. Lauren hadn’t seen it and – mom hadn’t either. What Amy was saying made sense. He’d try to forget about it. Eventually, he might even be able to get over Andie. Besides, he probably never loved her anyway. Not that much. It was all just part of a reaction to –
“Do you think you could sleep now?”
“Yes. I’m ok.”
“I’m going to have a word with Stephen about this. He’s never coming near you again. Ok?”
“Ok. But, really, I’m fine. It was nothing.”
Amy clenched her teeth. No, it wasn’t ok. No one laid a finger on her little brother while she was still around and could do something about it. But she wasn’t going to upset Vincent more by referring to it again. He needed to forget. But Stephen was going to get a piece of her mind. Nothing was going to stop her from making sure he fully understood her feelings about the whole incident.
Thoughts of what had happened kept Amy awake most of the night. If Vincent had any sleep, she didn’t know, though she got up twice and standing in the doorway, peered into his room. It looked as if he was sleeping, but she couldn’t be sure. By morning, Amy had come to the decision that she’d wait a while, before she talked to Stephen. If she went to see him today, even after work, she might say more than she’d intended. She’d need to calm down before she took another step.
Throughout the day, Bruce caught himself glancing thoughtfully at Judge Gray. He had a feeling something was wrong, but he knew he would never bring himself to ask what it was. Whatever it was, he hoped it wasn’t anything serious.
Amy barely had time to get home, after work, before the phone rang. Vincent was in the kitchen, apparently fixing dinner, so she yelled to him she’d get it. Breathlessly, she picked up the phone and said her name.
“Amy, please, can we talk?”
“Stephen, this isn’t a good time.”
“I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Or – your brother.”
Speaking more sharply than she’d intended Amy snapped at him.
“You should have thought about that before you threw yourself at Vincent.”
“That wasn’t my intention. It just – happened.”
Amy sighed. Maybe it would be better to get all this out of the way, before her mother returned from her vacation.
“You know what? Ok. Let’s talk about it. Not tonight though and not here.”
“No. Let’s have lunch tomorrow.”
He suggested a place, and Amy agreed, mainly so he’d hang up.
Without her noticing, Vincent had approached the phone and was looking at her inquiringly.
“It was Stephen. He wanted to talk. I agreed to meet him tomorrow. Maybe it’s better to get it out of the way.”
“I’m sorry. I hope you realize I didn’t – do anything to lead him on.”
“Of course. Last night, I was just upset. I’m sorry I -”
“No. It’s ok. Are you ready to eat? Lauren will be down any minute now and -”
“Yes, of course. Thanks, Vincent.”
“For taking such good care of Lauren. And for being so – I love you.”
Vincent’s tense features relaxed into a smile.
“I love you too, Amy. Besides, Lauren’s my niece. Of course I want to help take care of her.”
Amy hugged Vincent, then went to change and wash her hands. When she returned, Lauren was sitting at the kitchen table, excitedly telling Vincent about her day in school.
“And Josh had brought a – Oh, hi, mom. Just wait till you hear what I did in school today.”
“Ok, honey. What did you do?”
For the rest of their meal, Amy and Vincent listened to Lauren’s stories from school and nothing else was said about last night’s incident.
The following day, Amy was relieved to find her work load a little less heavy and she was able to sneak out to lunch quite early. She sensed Bruce’s unspoken questions about her unusual behavior in the past couple of days, but she knew it would be no good trying to explain.
Reluctantly she walked into the restaurant and sat down. Naturally, Stephen was already there. He looked sad and tired. She was wondering if it was because he’d been found out, for some other reason.
“Amy, let me try to explain.”
She opened her mouth to say that she too had a thing or two she liked to tell him and that his explanation really didn’t interest her, when she realized that she hadn’t decided what to say, so she resigned herself to listen to his explanation.
“I – hadn’t realized that I – had those feelings for your brother. Honestly.”
“I see. So you didn’t keep seeing me so you’d have an excuse to see Vincent?”
“No. I didn’t even know I -”
“What? You had no idea you were -”
“I was hoping -”
Stephen sighed and rubbed at his eyes, as if he was exhausted. It did look as if he hadn’t had much sleep since she last saw him.
“When I was at college, I – felt drawn to another guy, but – I thought – I was hoping – we were just good friends. Nothing happened. Since graduation – it’s happened once again. A colleague – but nothing happened with him either. You have to believe me, I truly thought my feelings for you were genuine. Still are. There was just something about Vincent -”
“Ok. Now what? What do you expect me to say? That I’m ok about it and that we can go on seeing each other?”
Stephen’s eyes seemed to be pleading with her, but Amy wasn’t going to let herself be manipulated again. After learning the truth about Stephen, she knew it would be no use, hoping for a relationship. From what he’d told her, it was obvious he wasn’t – interested in women.
“No. I see that I’ve hurt you too badly and – I’ve let you down. I wish – you could forgive me, but I realize that might be too much to ask.”
“I might be able to forgive you for what you’ve done to me. If you didn’t know -”
Amy broke off and shook her head.
“But there’s Vincent to consider too.”
“Yes. Do you think – he’ll let me talk to him and apologize in person?”
“I’ll ask him. Stephen, I think you’d better face the fact that you’re – a homosexual. Trying to have a relationship with a woman wouldn’t be fair to her or you.”
“You – might be right. I – know you won’t want to be friends, but – I really care about you. I’m terribly sorry I hurt you and Vincent.”
“Ok. You know what? I don’t think I could eat. I’m just going to -”
Stephen nodded sadly and when she got up he got up too and held out his hand to her. It would have seemed petty not to take it. Amy shook it solemnly, knowing as she did so, that this would be the last time she’d see Stephen, unless – Vincent agreed to meet him so he could apologize.
On the other hand, in all fairness, Amy thought that maybe what Stephen had done wasn’t so bad. He’d made a mistake. It was sheer bad luck that he’d picked a young man who had just gone through a traumatic experience involving other men.
Bruce was surprised to see Judge Gray return so early from her lunch, but as always, he contented himself with wondering.
In the evening, Amy told Vincent what Stephen had told her, including his request to see Vincent. Her brother shrugged, seemingly unconcerned.
“Why not? It’s no big deal, really. I was startled and upset about Andie and Moira but what he did, was just a – ok, not that I was too happy about it, but – it was just a kiss. I think I’ll survive.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Once I had a chance to cool down. As long as you’re not upset – I suppose he couldn’t help it. He probably had a hard time dealing with being a homosexual and –
Too late Amy realized that the door to the kitchen where she’d been talking to Vincent was standing slightly ajar. Without either of them noticing, Lauren had wandered in and was now staring at them, curiously.
“Lauren. I didn’t hear you come in. Are you hungry?”
“Dinner’s just about ready. Why don’t you sit down?”
“Ok. What’s ho-mo-sexual?”
Amy stared beseechingly at Vincent, who stared back, equally at a loss. How did you explain that to a nine-year-old?
“Lauren, it’s not nice to eavesdrop when grownups are talking.”
“I see. It’s that kind of word.”
“That’s not the point.”
“It always is when you tell me about grownup stuff. Why won’t anyone tell me? Is it a bad word?”
“No. It’s just – something you’ll understand when you’re older.”
“You’re always saying that. Who kissed you, Vincent?”
“It was a man, wasn’t it? You said ‘he’. Why did he kiss you, Vincent?”
“Lauren. Go and wash your hands.”
Lauren rolled her eyes and threw up her arms in a gesture of mock despair, no doubt directed at the grownups who never answered any interesting questions.
Amy looked at Vincent, apologetically.
“I’m really sorry about that.”
“It’s ok. Maybe we should tell her. She’ll get the idea it’s something really – sick. But you decide. It’s your daughter.”
“Maybe you’re right. Kids hear things and it could get blown out of proportion. But there are times when I don’t know what do with her. She can be so -”
“That too. You know what I mean. Exasperating. That’s the word I was looking for.”
Lauren walked in, an air of saintliness on her face. As if she was trying to say ‘aren’t I good?’, implying that the grownups were not.
“What does ex-as-perating mean?”
“I’m glad you asked. It means someone who can be really tiresome.”
Lauren’s eyes flashed at Amy, then a smile spread across her face.
“Kind of like you?”
“Yes, honey. When I was your age. Ok, sit down and wait while Vincent serves your dinner and I’ll explain a few things to you.”
Lauren did as she was told, with a look of expectation on her face.
“Ok, it’s like this. There are some men who like other men.”
“How do you mean? Like?”
“They don’t like women as much as they like men.”
“Like old mr Moffett?”
“No, sweetie. He’s just an angry old man who likes his house to stay the way it is, even if it needs tidying up.”
“Ok. I don’t understand.”
“They like to kiss other men. Not women.”
“is Vincent a homo-sex-u-al?”
A look of alarm flew across Vincent’s amiable features. Amy felt a headache stirring behind her left temple.
“But a man kissed him. You said so.”
“The man made a mistake, honey. He didn’t mean to.”
“So the man was a homosexual?”
“Yes. There. Now you’ve had your explanation.”
“Ok. Thanks. You know, mom, it wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. I thought it had something to do with – you know – how you have babies.”
“Forget about babies for a while, Lauren. You’ve had enough explanations for one night. Now I don’t want to hear another tiresome question from you for a long time, ok?”
“Ok. That man, was he as good looking as you are, Vincent?”
“You’ll have to ask your mom about that. I wouldn’t know.”
“What did I tell you about asking questions, Lauren?”
“Oh, ok. I was just wondering.”
“It’s good that you wonder, but sometimes I think you’re just asking because you know we’ll be upset with you.”
“No, I don’t. I just want to know things and no one will ever tell me anything.”
“Ok, if you want to know anything really useful, I’ll try to answer your questions. But not grownup stuff.”
“That’s more interesting than kid’s stuff.”
“You’ll just have to wait, that’s all. Now I want us all to sit down and have dinner without any more questions. Is that clear, Lauren? I’m serious.”
“Oh, ok. Can I tell you about the play I’m going to be in, at school?”
“Yes, you can tell me about that.”
For the rest of that evening, Lauren behaved herself and after Amy had put her to bed, she sat down to have a talk with Vincent.
“I’m so sorry about that.”
“No, it’s ok. I told you. If we hadn’t explained to her, maybe she would have asked her teacher and I’d hate to think what she’d think of me if she heard Lauren’s version.”
Amy recalled how Lauren had referred to the unknown man who had kissed her uncle. She couldn’t help smiling at that.
“Oh, nothing. Just the way Lauren’s talking about you. ‘Was he as good looking as you are?'”
Vincent blushed slightly.
“She’s right, you know. You’re really cute.”
“Great. Your boyfriend thought so, but not my girlfriend. If that’s the way it’s going to be, I’d much rather be ugly.”
“Vincent, one day you’ll meet someone who -”
“I hope you will too.”
“Yeah, me too. But it’s ok. I can wait. I’m just so glad mom wasn’t here.”
“Tell me about it. I would have just died if she’d been the one to walk in and catch -”
“Speaking of – kisses – what do you think about her sudden interest in going away on vacation – with Simon?”
“We don’t know that, Amy. She could just be – on vacation. On her own, I mean.”
“I hope so. Or are we being selfish? Maybe we shouldn’t grudge mom -”
“I don’t grudge her anything. I’d just rather not know.”
Vincent met Stephen for a drink and heard his apology. After he’d assured Stephen twice that he wasn’t offended, the two men went their separate ways and that was the end of it. Vincent told Amy about the meeting and after that, they both, without discussing it, came to the decision that they wouldn’t refer to the incident again.
It was still almost a week until their mother would return, but Vincent had to go to New York to see his publisher, so Gillian promised she’d pick up Lauren and take her home in the afternoons. She was happy to see her husband’s niece a little more often.
On Friday night, Lauren asked if she could spend the night at Peter’s and Gilian’s and Amy agreed. She was surprised, but saw no reason to refuse. Even if the house would be empty without Vincent and Lauren, not to mention her mother, she knew she’d be ok on her own.
She briefly considered going out to see a movie, but in the end she decided she was too tired. Instead, she bought popcorn and a few other snacks and prepared herself for a night in front the tv. Around eight Vincent called to let her know he was ok and to ask about her. She assured him she was fine, and hung up.
The movie continued until almost one and by that time, she found it increasingly difficult to keep her eyes open. She was relieved it was over so she could go on up to bed.
In the morning, Amy decided to do her weekly shopping, to get it all out of the way before Vincent’s return on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t fair to expect Vincent to handle all the household chores, just because she was working away from home and he wasn’t. The deadline for his book was getting closer and she knew he had to work too.
As she was turning onto the street where the supermarket was, she heard the sounds of police sirens and the screeching of brakes. She looked in the rearview mirror and saw that two police officers cornered a car and were forcing the driver out. Something about the man seemed familiar and to her horror it dawned on her that it was Bruce. The police officers had grabbed him roughly and were pushing him down onto the hood of his car.
Not stopping to think things through, Amy stepped on the brakes and risking the oncoming traffic, she ran across the street and called indignantly to the officers.
“Hey. What are you doing? That man is my clerk. He’s not a criminal. Why are stopping him?”
One of the officers looked up, a look of disdain on his face.
“Ma’am. This car matches the description of a stolen vehicle and we felt we had reasonable cause to investigate. If this man is innocent -”
“It’s my car. I have the registration in the glove department. If you’ll just -”
To Amy’s distress, the other officer put his hand on Bruce’s neck and shoved hard, in a way that seemed rather more rough than the situation demanded.
“Excuse me. I’m Judge Amy Grey, and that man is my clerk. Let him go.”
The man smiled disbelievingly.
Sensing his reaction, Amy drew herself up indignantly.
“That’s right. Would you like to see my ID?”
“Yes. Now that you mention it, ma’am, let me see some identification.”
Furiously, Amy began to rummage around in her purse and when she found her ID card, she pulled it out and brandished it in the officer’s face.
“Thank you, Judge Grey. If you’ll just let us finish our -”
“No. The way I see it, you have no reasonable cause. Mr van Exel owns this car.”
“If you’ll just let us get on with our job -”
“Let mr van Exel go and we’ll discuss this further.”
Bruce’s anguished eyes stared up at her.
“Judge Grey, please. There’s nothing you can do.”
The pleading in his voice made Amy even more furious.
“Yes, there is. If you won’t listen to me, I’ll have to speak to your superior. Captain -”
“Bruno, I don’t like this yabbering. Let’s book them both and let the Captain decide -”
“Are you out of your mind? This is a judge. Let’s just look at the guy’s paperwork and get it over with.”
The officer who had just spoken stuck his head inside the car window and after dragging out everything that was inside the glove department, he found the registration papers. He studied them closely, then demanded to see Bruce’s ID. Gingerly, Bruce pulled the card out and let the officer take a look.
The officer appeared slightly ill at ease. Now that he’d realized his mistake, he knew that he could end up in trouble, for talking back at a judge, even if she only worked in the family court.
“Yes, uh – everything appears to be in order so we’ll just -”
“After you’ve apologized to mr van Exel.”
The guy named Bruno glared at her.
“We were just doing our jobs. So this van Exel guy wasn’t the one we were looking for. How were we supposed to know that?”
“If you hadn’t -”
“Judge Grey, please. It’s ok. No harm done. If I can just -”
“Yeah, you go on, boy. Your boss bailed you out this time, but if you talk back -”
Amy’s face was turning crimson. She’d never actually met a man like this – a racist who didn’t even bother to hide his views on people of a different color. She wasn’t going to let him get away with it.
The other officer was getting nervous.
“Hey, Jack, let’s go. We’re done here so we should just -”
“You’re welcome to leave at any time, after you’ve apologized to mr van Exel.”
“Judge Grey, please – it’s not worth it.”
The officer named Jack kept glaring at them, mostly Amy.
“Yeah? In your dreams, lady.”
“Jack, for crying out loud, let’s go.”
Amy was beginning to see that Bruce was looking extremely unhappy. She was creating a scene. Maybe that wasn’t in his best interests. In the end, she just stood there, watching the two officers get into the car and drive off.
Bruce’s eyes met hers. He appeared to be hesitating.
“Judge Grey – I appreciate what you were trying to do, but -”
“I’m sorry. I just hated the way he -”
“I know. Me too. But it’s never worth it. They always find a way of making us pay.”
“Not anymore. I wanted to report him. But if you don’t want me to, I won’t.”
“Like I said, I appreciate what you were trying to do -”
“But it was obvious that they just picked on you because of -”
“Yes. I know. That’s the way it is.”
“They might even have shot you.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. They’d have no reason to fire at me.”
“So you were just going to let them humiliate you – no. This isn’t right.”
“Judge Grey -”
“Amy, there’s nothing to do about it. You can’t fight the entire system.”
The injustice of it all was making her eyes fill with tears of anger. Seeing Bruce lying like that, across the hood of his car, being manhandled by two redneck cops had filled her with a feeling of blind rage. She’d wanted to physically attack the more brutal one of the cops and tear his hands away from Bruce.
Bruce watched Amy’s reaction, feeling – he wasn’t sure how it made him feel.
“Where were you going?”
“Oh, I was just going to do my weekly shopping. Over there. At the supermarket.”
“Oh. Maybe we should just get on with it.”
“Listen, would you like to come over for dinner tonight?”
Bruce didn’t reply for so long, Amy was beginning to think she’d made a serious mistake. He appeared to be hesitating. The expression on his face told her was going to decline. To her surprise, she heard him say something completely different.
“I’d love to.”
“Your daughter – she’s welcome too. I’m sure Lauren would love to play with her.”
“Oh. Yes. Thank you, but she’s away visiting her grandmother.”
“Right. Lauren’s visiting her uncle and aunt. I’d forgotten. Shall we say about – seven?”
“That would be fine.”
“See you later.”
When Amy got back into her car, Bruce was still standing by his car, a pensive look on his face.
At seven, Amy had dinner under control. The potatoes au gratin were in the oven and so was the ratatouille. She’d learned to cook that recipe while she was still married and she wasn’t going to risk trying anything new, the first time Bruce came over. It never occurred to her that there might not be a second time.
When the doorbell rang, she pulled off her apron and began to frantically pat at her hair. On her way to the front door, she stopped to take a look at herself in the mirror. The heat in the kitchen had made her cheeks turn red, but other than that, she seemed to look ok. Another signal from the doorbell made her run the few steps left to the door. She unlocked it and let Bruce in.
“Judge – I mean Amy.”
“Bruce. I’m glad you could make it.”
He had a bottle of wine in his hand and held it up for her inspection, rather doubtfully.
“I’m not really good at wines. Is this ok?”
“I’m sure it is. I’m not really good at wines either.”
“Come on in.”
She showed him into the living room and asked him to sit down, then poured him a drink. Bruce accepted a small one, but when she left to take a look in the kitchen, he still hadn’t touched it. Sitting on the edge of his chair, he looked a little awkward.
Everything was fine in the kitchen, and Amy returned, hoping to make Bruce feel less ill at ease.
“So you managed to find the way here? It just occurred to me that I must have forgotten to give you directions.”
“No, it was no trouble at all.”
“Your daughter – Lauren – you mentioned that she was away visiting her uncle? Which one? Your younger brother or -”
“My older brother, Peter and his wife, Gillian. Vincent is in New York. He had a meeting with his publisher.”
“I see. And your mother?”
Amy blushed slightly as she recalled her and Vincent’s speculations about her mother’s friend Simon.
Her reaction puzzled Bruce, but he could see no apparent reason for Judge Grey’s reaction. Amy’s.
“She’s away on vacation. In Florida.”
“It’s a new interest, apparently. My mother never showed any interest in vacations out of state. Though I suppose there’s no reason she shouldn’t.”
Not sure what to reply, Bruce made a noncomittal noise.
A sense of defeat filled Amy. It wasn’t working. Their little conversation hadn’t helped at all. She was hoping that after dinner, they’d find a topic more interesting to them both.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and finish up in the kitchen. We should be able to sit down in five minutes, at the most.”
“I – wanted to tell you it was very kind of you to invite me.”
“Oh. It’s a pleasure.”
Her features relaxed into a smile, which made Bruce smile in response, suddenly looking both younger and less tense.
Just as Amy had calculated, everything was done and she carried the dishes into the dining room. She returned to show Bruce to the table.
“I opened your bottle of wine. It seemed a lot nicer than the one I’d bought.”
Bruce looked embarrassed. He wasn’t used to this type of praise from – a white woman.
“Oh. I’m glad you liked it.”
“Please, sit down. I – I’d better tell you right away that I’m not really a cook. Usually my mother cooks, but this is one the few recipes I don’t usually fail with.
“I’m sure it will be delicious.”
Bruce recognized the potatoes au gratin, naturally, since he’d had it before, from time to time, both at private dinners and in restaurants, but he didn’t know what to make of the casserole or whatever it was. Still, it had an appetizing smell and he was hungry,
Sitting down at the table, eating and drinking, helped them find less strained topics of conversation and for a while they chatted about this and that. Amy was beginning to relax. It seemed her dinner party would be a success.
Afterwards, they returned to the living room and Amy went to pour Bruce a drink. She handed the glass over and as she did so, their fingers touched. Their eyes met and for a moment, they remained standing, as if frozen to the spot. Amy pulled her hand back and was about to go and pour herself another drink, when suddenly, Bruce put his glass down and put his hand on hers again.
The next moment, she was in Bruce’s arms, and they were kissing again, just like on that night in her office.
They sank down on the couch and this time, there were no little voices at the back of their minds, warning them about their course of action. This seemed exactly the right thing to do.
When Bruce left, towards morning, he’d never once retreated inside his professional mask.
As Amy stretched out on the couch again, she couldn’t stop herself from grinning contentedly. Why had she tried to fight it? If she hadn’t been such a coward, the whole incident with Stephen might never have happened.
For once, Bruce was able to shut out the memory of his father’s admonitions. This didn’t concern the old man. It was his life, and if he chose to risk everything, it was his business. He knew he was most likely making a serious mistake, professionally and otherwise, but he didn’t feel a trace of regret. For the first time in years, he felt happy and lighthearted. Whatever happened later, it would be worth it.
Before long, they would be forced to make a decision about what to tell their families and friends. There were professional issues to take into account, too, but right now, none of that seemed important. For now, they would only think of themselves.