She tried to look confident; perhaps it worked. As she crossed the wooden floor, she heard her heels clacking with each step. The sound was like an exclamation mark on the sentence of her every breath.
At the high oak bench, she stopped and looked up. It took an act of will to keep her hands open and at her sides. “Yes, Your Honor?” Her voice, thank God, sounded normal. Strong.
The judge leaned forward to say softly, “We all know what happened last week, Meghann. That bullet missed you by inches. Are you certain you’re ready to be back in a courtroom?”
“Yes.” Meghann’s voice was softer now. Her right hand was trembling.
The judge frowned down at her, then cleared her throat and nodded. “Step back.”
Meghann headed back to the desk. John Heinreid stepped in beside her. They’d tried dozens of cases against each other. They often shared a glass of wine and a plate of oysters after a long day in court.
“You sure you’re okay? I’d be willing to shove this back a few days.”
She didn’t look at him. “Thanks, John. I’m fine.” She went back to the table, slid into her seat.
Her client, a Mercer Island housewife who couldn’t possibly live on nineteen thousand dollars a month, stared at her. “What’s going on?” she mouthed, twisting the gold chain of her Chanel handbag.
Meghann shook her head. “Don’t worry.”
“I’ll restate, Your Honor,” John said. “My client would like to stay these proceedings for a short time so that he and Mrs. Miller can obtain counseling. There are, after all, small children involved. He’d like to give the marriage every opportunity to succeed.”
Meghann heard her client whisper, “No way,” as she planted her hands on the desk and slowly rose.
Her mind went blank. She couldn’t think of a single argument. When she closed her eyes, trying to concentrate, she heard a different voice, gruff and desperate. It’s your fault, you bitch. Then she saw the gun pointed at her, heard an echoed blast. When she opened her eyes, everyone was looking at her. Had she flinched or cried out? Shit. She didn’t know. “My client believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken, Your Honor. She sees no benefit to counseling.”
“No benefit?” John argued. “Certainly, after fifteen years of living together, it couldn’t hurt to spend a few hours with a therapist. My client believes that the children’s welfare should be paramount here. He’s merely asking for an opportunity to save his family.”
Meghann turned to her client. “It’s a reasonable request, Celene,” she whispered. “You won’t look good if we fight this battle in front of the judge.”
“Oh. I guess . . .” Celene frowned.
Meghann returned her attention to the bench. “We’d ask for a time limit and a follow-up court date to be set now.”
“That’s acceptable to us, Your Honor.”
Meghann stood there, a little unsteady on her feet as the details were worked out. Her right hand was still trembling and a tic had begun spasming in her left eyelid. On autopilot, she packed up her briefcase.
“Wait. What just happened?” Celene whispered.
“We agreed to counseling. A few months or so. No more. Maybe—”
“Counseling? We’ve tried counseling—or did you forget that? We’ve also tried hypnosis and romantic vacations and even a weeklong couples’ self-help seminar. None of it worked. And do you know why?”
Meghann had forgotten all of that. The information that should have been at her fingertips had vanished. “Oh” was all she could manage.
“It didn’t work because he doesn’t love me,” Celene’s voice cracked. “Mr. Computer Software likes male prostitutes, remember? Blow jobs under the Viaduct and in X-rated theaters.”
“I’m sorry, Celene.”
“Sorry? Sorry. My children and I need to start over, not relive the same old shit.”
“You’re right. I’ll fix this. I promise I will.” And she could. A phone call to John Heinreid that threatened to reveal Mr. Miller’s preferred sex partners and it’d be handled instantly. Quietly.
Celene sighed. “Look, I know what happened last week. It was on every channel. I feel sorry for that lady—and for you. I know that husband tried to kill you. But I need to worry about myself. For once. Can you understand that?”
For a terrible moment, Meghann thought she was going to lose it. How in God’s name had she glanced at Celene Miller and seen just another pampered, spoiled housewife? “You should be taking care of yourself first. I did you a disservice in here. I screwed up. But I’ll fix it, and you won’t be paying a dime for this divorce. Okay? Can you trust me again?”
Celene’s frown released. “Trusting people has always been easy for me. It’s part of why I’m here.”
“I’ll catch up with John right now. We’ll talk tomorrow about what I came up with.”
Celene tried valiantly to smile. “Okay.”
Meghann put a hand down on the desk to steady herself as she stood there, watching her client walk out of the courtroom. When Celene was gone, Meghann sighed heavily. She hadn’t realized that she’d been holding her breath.
She reached for her yellow pad, noticed her trembling fingers and thought: What’s wrong with me?
A hand pressed against her shoulder, and she jumped at the contact.
It was Julie Gorset, her partner.
“Hey, Jules. Tell me you weren’t in the courtroom today.”
Julie looked at her sadly. “I was. And we need to talk.”
The Pike Place Public Market was wall-to-wall people on a sunny summer’s day. Now, at nighttime, it was quiet. Sweaty vendors in gauzy clothes were busy packing up their homemade crafts and loading them onto trucks parked outside on the cobblestone street. The night air rang out with the ping-ping-ping of delivery trucks in reverse gear.
Meghann stood outside the Athenian’s open door. The bar was hazy with cigarette smoke; the expansive Puget Sound view sparkled in the few open spaces between patrons. There were at least two dozen people at the bar, no doubt shooting oysters—drinking them raw from a glass jigger. It was a house tradition.
She glanced from table to table. There were plenty of possibilities. Single men in expensive suits and college boys in cutoff shorts that showed their lean torsos and checkered boxers.
She could go in there, put on her kiss me smile and find someone to spend time with her. For a few blessed hours, she could be part of a couple, no matter how false and fragile that pairing might be. At least she wouldn’t have to think. Or feel.
She started to take a step forward. Her toe caught on the threshold and she stumbled sideways, skimming the door’s side.
And suddenly, all she could think about was what would really happen. She’d meet some guy whose name wouldn’t matter, let him touch her body and crawl inside of her . . . and then be left more alone than when she’d started.
The tic in her left eye started again.
She reached into her handbag and pulled out her cell phone. She’d already left a desperate-sounding call me message on Elizabeth’s answering machine, when she remembered that her friend was in Paris.
There was no one else to call. Unless . . .
Don’t do it.
But she couldn’t think of anywhere else to turn.
She punched in the number, biting down on her lip as it rang. She was just about to hang up when a voice answered.
“Hello? Hello?” Then: “Meghann. I recognize your cell phone number.”
“I’m going to sue whoever invented Caller ID. It’s ruined the time-honored tradition of hanging up on someone.”
“It’s eight thirty at night. Why are you calling me?” Harriet asked.
“My left eyelid is flapping like a flag on the Fourth of July. I need a prescription for a muscle relaxer.”
“We talked about a delayed reaction, remember?”
“Yeah. Post-traumatic stress. I thought you meant I’d get depressed; not that my eyelid would try to fly off my face. And . . . my hands are shaking. It would not be a good week to start quilting.”
“Where are you?”
Meghann considered lying, but Harriet had ears like a bloodhound; she could probably hear the bar noises. “Outside of the Athenian.”
“Of course. I’ll be in my office in thirty minutes.”
“You don’t have to do that. If you could just call in a prescription—”
“My office. Thirty minutes. If you aren’t there, I’ll come looking for you. And nothing scares off drunk college boys like an angry shrink named Harriet. Understood?”
Honestly, Meghann was relieved. Harriet might be a pain in the ass, but at least she was someone to talk to. “I’ll be there.”
Meghann hung up the phone and put it back in her purse. It took her less than fifteen minutes to get to Harriet’s office. The doorman let her in and, after a short question-and-answer routine, pointed to the elevator. She rode up to the fourth floor and stood outside the glass-doored office.
At precisely 9:00, Harriet showed up, looking rushed and poorly put together. Her normally smoothed black hair had been drawn back in a thin headband and her face shone pink without makeup. “If you make a crack about the headband, I’ll charge you double.”
“Me? Be judgmental? You must be joking.”
Harriet smiled at that. They’d often discussed avid judgmentalism as one of Meghann’s many flaws. “I had to choose between being on time and looking decent.”
“Clearly, you’re on time.”
“Get inside.” Harriet unlocked the door and pushed it open.
Even now, late at night, the office smelled of fresh flowers and worn leather. The familiarity of it immediately put Meghann at ease. She walked through the reception area and went into Harriet’s large corner office, going over to stand in front of the window. Below her, the city was a grid of moving cars and stoplights.
Harriet took her usual seat. “So, you think a prescription will help you.”
Meghann slowly turned around. Her eyelid was thumping like a metronome. “Either that or a Seeing Eye dog. If the other one starts, I’ll be blind.”
“Sit down, Meghann.”
“Do I have to?”
“Well, no. I could go home and finish watching Friends.”
“You watch Friends? I would have guessed you tuned in to PBS. Maybe the Discovery Channel.”
Meghann did as she was told. The comfortable chair enfolded her. “I remember when I hated this chair. Now it seems made for me.”
Harriet steepled her fingers and peered at Meghann over her short, clear-polished nails. “It was a week ago today, wasn’t it? When your client’s husband tried to shoot you.”
Meghann’s left foot started to tap. The plush gray carpet swallowed the sound. “Yes. The funny thing is, the publicity has gotten me clients. It seems women want a lawyer who makes a man that crazy.” She tried to smile.
“I told you you needed to deal with it.”