New Leaf, Same Tree
For Richie Roberts, the following week was the week from hell. Neither work nor his personal life were going well. Which was a big deal for him. Since he'd divorced Laurie, and she and Michael had moved to Vegas, he hadn't had a personal life to worry about.
What passed for his "personal life" had been a string of one-night stands and sexual encounters which went nowhere, because that was the way he wanted it. That left all his mental effort to go toward his work. Which worked out fine for Richie.
On Friday night, after what had happened with Jess, he went to a bar where he'd frequently picked up women in the past. He wasn't really sure what he was feeling at the time, but he thought it was some combination of frustration, anger and confusion.
Confusion over how he could have mistaken her signals. Anger because he really wasn't sure that he had misread her, and that maybe she was just leading him on. Frustration for the obvious reason that he'd been thinking he was minutes away from some damn great sex, and then it was called to a halt! Well, he knew how to remedy that situation.
Richie was only on his first beer when he noticed an attractive blonde eyeing him from the end of the bar. Raising his bottle, he smiled at her. That smile had gotten him any number of women in this place and several others. This time was no different.
Within the next five minutes, she had walked over, seated herself next to him in the booth he was occupying and introduced herself as Lila. She was a stewardess on a layover from a Los Angeles to New York flight. She'd be leaving again the next day and was, supposedly, crashing at a friend's apartment for the night.
Richie tried to listen politely, but he was more interested in the hand sliding up his thigh than in the details of her stay in the city. After what seemed like an eternity, they had reached the point where he asked her back to his place. He was more than ready.
It was during the drive to his apartment that Jess began to invade his thoughts again. Lila was chattering away about some ex-boyfriend who'd taken her dog with him when he left her, and some friend who'd gone out with the ex-boyfriend and ended up with the dog.
Richie couldn't help but compare her insipid prattling to the conversation he'd had with Jess earlier that evening. It had been mutual, had flowed smoothly and naturally--not been some forced gibberish between strangers to fill up the awkward time until they were undressed and between the sheets.
It wasn't until they were through his apartment door and Lila was already removing her skirt and pantyhose that Richie realized, to his great shock, that he really didn't want to do this! For the first time in his adult memory (hell, his adolescent one too), Richie Roberts had a willing sex partner and he wasn't interested in doing the deed. What the fuck? he wondered to himself.
Having never been in this situation before, he wasn't sure what to do. Lila was sliding her hands up his arms, and then down his back to the waistband of his jeans. Hesitantly, he pulled them away.
"Uh- Look-" he began awkwardly. What was her name again? "Lena-"
"Lila," she murmured, putting her hands against his chest this time.
"Uh- Sorry. Lila." Once more, he pulled her hands away from him. "Look- I, uh- I think I made a- A mistake here."
"A mistake? What the hell do you mean?" Lila seemed to finally be getting the message. She was backing slightly away to look at him, confused.
Richie was still fumbling with the words to explain the situation, as much to himself as to her. "I mean- Uh- I mean I don't think I shoulda asked you home with me like this."
God, he hoped that didn't sound as lame and clumsy to her as it did to him! Thank God he'd never sounded this awkward in front of a judge! He'd have been laughed out of the courtroom!
Lila was going from confused to annoyed. Standing there with her skirt around her ankles and her pantyhose halfway down her legs, Richie thought she looked as awkward as he felt. He would have laughed if he weren't still so bewildered about why he was feeling this way.
Unsure about what to do next, he skirted around her and made his way to the kitchen for a glass of water. At least it gave him something to do! On his way to the sink, he spoke again.
"Look, I'm, uh- I'm really sorry about this. I can drive you home. Or call you a cab if you want." His glass safely in his hand, he took a sip of it, walking slowly back to where Lila was now in the process of pulling up her pantyhose and skirt with short, angry movements.
"Well, this is a helluva time to tell me this!" Her voice was loud and resentful and he hoped it wasn't carrying to the neighboring apartments. After all, he was in the district attorney's office now, and he had an idea that his neighbors felt he should act a little more refined.
" I know. Look- I said I'm sorry. Just got a little- Confused. That's all." He was still struggling for words. "Work's been getting to me lately and, uh- I didn't mean to lead you on or anything-" Suddenly, he had a mental picture of Jess, trying to explain much the same thing to him. He had a much clearer picture of her situation now.
"So- Can I call you that cab?"
"Don't bother!" Lila snapped, finally getting her clothing adjusted and picking up the purse she'd dropped just inside the door. "I'll get my own cab! I hope the driver's a little more clear about what direction he's going in than you are, Richie!"
On her way out, she slammed the door so loudly that he winced. Now, that had to have carried to the neighbors. He could picture them opening their doors enough to peek out and see a disheveled, angry woman leaving his apartment at this hour. Damn.
After she'd left, Richie set down the glass of water he'd been using as a shield and pulled himself a beer out of the fridge. He pushed a pile of papers off the armchair in the living room, plopped down with his beer and put his feet up. Rubbing one hand over his face, he tried to figure out exactly what had gone wrong with an evening that had started out so pleasantly. The only thing he could come up with was that he had messed up again--royally.
He fell asleep in the chair with his head propped in one hand, waking up several hours later when the beer in his other hand tipped over and soaked his jeans. Too tired for a shower, he simply stripped off the wet jeans and crawled into bed. Alone, he thought to himself. You had two different women with you tonight, Roberts, and you're goin' to bed alone. What's wrong with this picture?
The rest of the weekend passed in a blur of work, as it usually did. On both Saturday and Sunday, he went in to the office and worked for awhile, worked some more at home. And thought a lot.
After what had happened with Lila, he didn't want to try going to a bar again on Saturday night. He worked some more and, when he needed a break, sat in front of the TV with a beer. Didn't get very much sleep at all.
He kept trying to put the blame for what had happened on Jess. She shouldn't have led him on. Shouldn't have responded to him the way she had if she hadn't been ready to do anything about it. Then, he'd realize that he had done the exact same thing with Lila and that he had to hold himself accountable if he was going to hold Jess accountable. He went round and round with that one until he was exhausted. Of course, that didn't take him long. Richie was a lot more used to thinking about work and the law than about himself!
He was relieved when Monday finally arrived. Everyone else was at work too, and there were frequent interruptions from secretaries, clerks, and other attorneys either knocking at his office door, or simply opening it and sticking their heads in to talk with him. Usually, Richie hated interruptions. Sometimes locked his office door to prevent them. But now he welcomed them. Helped keep his mind off the weekend.
Jean, his secretary, whom he had inherited from the last guy to occupy the office, was direct. "You look like hell, Roberts," she told him, when she came in about two hours after him on Monday morning. "I don't look that bad after keeping my grandkids for two weeks! You spend the weekend here at the office again?"
"Thanks, Jean. Good morning to you too, babe."
"I'd tell you that you look like you've been with a woman all weekend, except you look better than this when you've been with a woman all weekend."
"Can we just drop it, Jean? Look, I need to catch up with Moretti's attorney. Can you get him on the phone for me?" Paul Moretti was an informant for a mid-level mob boss that was the centerpiece on Richie's trial calendar right now. The case had been coming together slowly over several months, but there were still a few key elements he had to nail down.
Jean eyed him speculatively and seemed about to make another comment. Stifling the urge, she said, "Sure, Richie. I'll get him for you." She helped herself to a cup of the coffee he had made earlier before exiting his office for her own.
Richie made it through to Wednesday, although the week seemed as though it were crawling by. Several times he picked up the phone to call Jess as he had told her he would. Then, he put it down, not having any idea what to say to her. He almost hoped she would call him. Maybe it would be easier to say something if she started it off. But he didn't hear from her.
Wednesday morning at about ten Jean came to the door to tell him that he was wanted on Line 2. The fact that she came to the door rather than picking up the phone told him that he wasn't going to like the call, even if he hadn't seen the expression on her face.
It was Paul Moretti's lawyer. He got right to the point. Moretti had been found dead of an overdose this morning. Richie thanked the guy politely for calling him before hanging up the phone and exploding.
"Shit!" He slammed one fist down on his desk, loudly enough to be heard over half the building. Jean quickly closed his office door.
"I knew you weren't going to be happy," she said drily.
"This fucks with the whole damn case! Why the hell couldn't he just lay off the shit until after the trial? Then he could've killed himself without messing this thing up!"
"Watch out, Richie. Your compassion is showing," Jean told him sarcastically.
"You got anything constructive to tell me?" Richie asked her. " 'Cause I'd sure appreciate it right now. Seeing as how I'm gonna have to rebuild a big part of this case without Moretti!"
Jean threw up her hands and backed out of his office. "Okay, boss. I'm gonna leave you to wallow in your misery and try to figure this thing out."
All day, while he was reading through other case files and talking deals with defense attorneys, Richie's mind was working on how he could fill the gap left by the death of Moretti. When seven o'clock pm came, he still hadn't thought of anything, but his head ached and his stomach growled from lack of food. He'd skipped lunch with everything that had been on his mind.
There was a coffee shop a block away and he decided to hit it for a sandwich. Maybe the walk would do him as much good as the food. It was when he walked in the door and saw Jess that he knew he'd made a mistake.
She was sitting with some blond guy in a booth. Skinny fellow with a shirt and tie. Looked like an accountant. Richie had sized the guy up instantly, before Jess even laid eyes on him. When she looked up from the sandwich she was eating, she met his eyes.
Richie was close enough for speaking to her to be almost mandatory, but he had no idea what to say. That seemed to be happening to him a lot lately, he reflected. Since meeting her, in fact.
"Richie." Jess spoke first, saving him the trouble. "How are you doing?"
He thought he could see real concern in her eyes. Maybe he was looking as bad lately as Jean said. "Okay." Richie nodded at her. "What about you?" He was questioning Jess, but his eyes had gone to the guy sitting across from her again.
"I'm fine." She looked over at the guy, too. This is Jim Thorpe. He's another teacher at my high school. Jim, this is Richie Roberts. He's in the district attorney's office. You remember the case where I was a witness? Mr. Roberts was the prosecutor."
Richie noticed that she hadn't called him a friend or anything. Just said he was from the district attorney's office. Well, what was she supposed to say? Mr. Roberts and I went out on a date Friday and he got mad at me when he didn't get laid?
"Hi." Richie acknowledged the man, wondering to himself if this guy was "teaching" Jess anything outside of school. Then he pulled himself together and said, "I'm just takin' a break for somethin' to eat before I go back to the office. It's good to see you, Jess."
He walked away from them quietly, but his head was pounding harder than ever. When he was seated at a table, he ordered coffee and a sandwich, wishing he had a bottle of aspirin to swallow. He didn't seem to be able to take his eyes off Jess and this Thorpe guy.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was really only about ten minutes, they got up and left. But that chance meeting with her had made a miserable week even worse. He went through another very restless night, again thinking of calling her, but not knowing what to say any more than he had a few days ago.
Jean refrained from commenting on how he looked on Thursday, but she thought to herself that this wasn't just the case. She'd been working with Richie for four years now. They had a good relationship--mutually insulting and very direct with each other. He was much easier to work for than the last attorney who had been in the office.
She'd tried to mother him in the beginning, but Richie Roberts didn't take well to that. Jean admired him for his work ethic and the strict code of honesty that he kept himself to on the job, but his lack of a personal life bothered her. She knew he was divorced, had heard around the office that it was because he slept around on his wife. But he didn't talk much about personal things and she tried to respect his privacy, while still worrying about him. He didn't seem to have anyone around to care about him.
It was mid-afternoon on Thursday when she picked up the phone and heard a young woman's voice asking for Mr. Roberts. Jean knew that voice. She never forgot a voice on the phone, not after more than twenty-five years of working as a secretary.
"Is this a business call?" she asked the young woman courteously, trying to get information.
"No. It's personal."
Her curiosity aroused, Jean put her on hold and walked to the door of Richie's office. He was sitting at his desk, smacking that baseball glove that he kept around and looking thoughtful--and tired.
"There's a woman on the phone for you, Richie." Jean looked at him with a bit of sympathy and a little irritation too. "If she's the one who's had you in such a state all week, please try and do something about it. You've been impossible to work with!"
"Who is it?" Richie was looking at her irritably and smacking his glove harder.
"Says her name is Jessica Lane."
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