Milionis and Wade was a small law firm, but very busy. It had begun as a one-woman show with Sandra Wade, but her practice expanded when the firm began to take on court-appointed clients. Sandra had then decided that she needed help, taking on a former classmate, Niko Milionis, as her partner. From there, business exploded. It was that very reason Sirri Amandurre was hired and why there was never a dull moment for him. He stayed occupied with requested research assignments and other tasks too numerous to name. In between all his duties, he continued attending class and gearing up for the Bar. Sandra was already courting him to join the firm.
Sirri enjoyed the work and got on fine with Sandra, but he didn't know yet what to make of Niko. Both attorneys were young and aggressive, but Niko was the conniver of the two. Sirri had done more than his fair share of digging for Niko. He appeared to want to destroy the witnesses he interrogated, mentally beating them down with words. He always pushed the limits, but did get exactly what he wanted a majority of the time.
The busyness was exactly what Sirri needed to keep his mind focused and occupied. Although he missed working at the airport, there were some advantages here. One of those was that he didn't have time to brood. He didn't stay home much due to the very same reason. His mind would not release the thoughts running rampantly through it, thoughts that drove him mad with guilt. He had spent a long time on the phone lately, speaking to various people, including his family. They all agreed with him. He was a shit, a horrible cheating shit, and if Makenna ever consented to see him again, he should thank every deity in the universe. He had even gone out on a limb and called Barb, Makenna's friend, to check up on her. There was nothing he could do to repair the damage, but he longed to go back in time and rethink his decision. He couldn't change it, but he could make it right if she let him. Would she? It was a question for which he was afraid to receive an answer.
One of the tasks Niko had requested of Sirri was tearing apart information given to him by his client's CPS caseworker. He wanted Sirri to find loopholes, dirt, and incompetence. He set about his task grimly, immediately thinking of Makenna and her role as a CPS worker. He nearly swallowed his tongue when he realized that the worker Niko wanted to destroy on the stand was Makenna. Almost two weeks had passed since he had hurt Makenna, and now he was aiding a colleague to further ruin her. But Sirri knew her, knew how she worked so very hard at her job, and knew how much she loved the children. There was no dirt, no incompetence. Ten years of dedicated service shouldn't be scrutinized under a microscope. Sirri immediately knew he should report a conflict of interest to Niko, but he couldn't allow this to happen to her. It simply wasn't right. He still loved Makenna very deeply, and despite his stupidity, he couldn't see this happening to her.
Sirri gathered up the information and took it with him to Niko's office. Niko was busily typing away at this laptop. "Niko, there's nothing to tell about Makenna O'Neill. From what I've looked at and dug into, she followed a direct order from her supervisor and they went by the book. There's nothing illegal about how she took custody of those children."
Niko looked up at Sirri and smiled a little. "Nothing? I'm sure she has made mistakes some time in her career, Amandurre. Did you read her affidavit? The baby was taken into protective custody based on a suspicion of physical abuse on the mother, not the child."
Sirri nodded. "I read the affidavit, but she followed direct orders," he repeated. "The mother was told to keep her children away from the boyfriend because there was a founded report of physical abuse involving the older children. It was the reason behind their being picked up in the first place."
He shook his head and laughed. "You have a lot to learn about CPS cases, Amandurre. Our case has nothing to do with the other kids, not really, just this one. I don't think O'Neill had enough evidence to justify taking custody of the baby. Sarah Ann tells me that the baby was never addressed in the case."
"Only because he wasn't born yet," Sirri said. "Doesn't their policy and procedure cover new children born during an ongoing protective services case?" This was information he had learned from Makenna. She had been having a lot of hell with this case. She talked about it a lot, but never mentioned names. "Doesn't that make a difference?"
"Jesus, Amandurre, whose side are you on? Sit down and let me educate you." When Sirri reluctantly took a seat, Niko continued, "My young, inexperienced friend, that is a loophole we must work through. I don't doubt Sarah Ann's boyfriend beat the shit out of her and her kids. The point remains that he didn't beat the shit out of the baby. O'Neill can tell you that. There is no proof that he laid one finger on him, but CPS rode in on their white horses and rescued him before it could happen."
For God's sake, what was Niko trying to prove? This case wasn't about Makenna or her office. It was about the safety of three children. Could the arrogant son of a bitch not see that? "But what if she hadn't taken the child, and the boyfriend hurt or even killed him? What then, Niko?"
"A wrongful death suit," Niko offered with a smile. "Seriously, that's not our problem. Our problem is proving that O'Neill did not have just cause to pick up the baby. Why don't you plan on coming to the hearing? If you wind up staying on, you'll need the experience."
Sirri didn't know how much of a good idea that was. He didn't want to witness an attempt to ruin her professional life. After all, he had done his fair share of aiding in the ruination of her private life. The temptation to see her again was too great. "Yes," he said. "The experience will be invaluable."
Makenna had come to work just long enough to complete a leave sheet. For the past few days, she had been battling a bad cold. Today, she finally convinced herself that she needed to see a doctor about it. She had been running a fever and was ordered to stay home for three days. Her task was simple enough, but there were other factors weighing very heavily on her mind. She basically sat at her desk in a state of disbelief, with her nose running and everything. For no reason at all, she felt like crying.
"Makenna, I thought you were going home. Are you okay?"
She looked up at Barb, blinking her eyes owlishly, stupidly. She hadn't even heard her friend entering the room, nor had she seen her sitting down. Where the hell was she? "I'm going," she said before reaching for a tissue. She hated being sick. "I just got sidetracked."
Barb nodded. "You can tell me to butt out if you want, but did something happen with you and Sirri?"
Many words and emotions entered her mind, but Makenna didn't know what to act on first. Sirri knew Barb was her friend, and she wondered if he had called her, or even put her up to engaging her in conversation about their relationship. God, she was so suspicious about everyone now. "Yes," Makenna finally admitted. "I don't want to get into it right now, Barb, but I will say that we're not seeing each other anymore."
Barb kept her eyes on her friend, gauging her reaction. Makenna probably had an idea that Sirri called her, but it wasn't for the reason she might be thinking. He only asked the basest of questions, although she had the distinct impression that he longed to ask more. "I'm sorry, Makenna. Do you think it's something that you can work out?"
Barb's question shook her. She wasn't expecting it. Not at all. "I don't know," she whispered. "I just don't know. Barb, I…" The words dried up and died in her throat. She wanted Sirri to know nothing, and she was certain now that Barb had been speaking to him. If she said anything about what was running through her mind, Barb would surely tell Sirri. "Have you been talking to Sirri?"
"He called," she admitted. "But he didn't ask me to cheerlead on his behalf. He didn't ask me to speak to you about anything, Makenna. Mostly, he was worried about you. Worried and wanting to know that you're all right. We've all been worried about you, darlin,' you haven't been yourself lately."
She nodded vaguely. Damn the bastard for going through her friends to get to her. Why didn't he have the balls to talk to her himself? Of course, it didn't help that she had basically told him to get lost and stay lost, now did it? Even after two weeks, she was still blaming herself for their breakup. What the hell was happening to her? Of course, she had her answers, but it still didn't stop the constant internal questioning. "I'll be fine, Barb," she managed to say after a long, silent moment. "Relationships die, life goes on. I'm sorry Sirri bothered you. He had no right to do so." She sighed, opening her mouth and letting out the worst hypocrisy of all. "If he had wanted to know information about me, he could have come directly to the source."
"Makenna, maybe if you spoke to him, cleared the air, it would help," Barb suggested tentatively.
Stifling a huge sneeze into a tissue, Makenna looked up at Barb. "I don't think anything can help at this juncture, Barb. All I know is that it's over, and I don't know if anything he said would do any good. If you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about Sirri anymore. There's too much going on that you have no clear idea about, and I'm not in the right frame of mind to discuss it with you."
Sirri hadn't wanted to go home when he did, but both Sandra and Niko chased him out of the office at six. Neither of them had the desire to work late tonight. It was pitiful, but he almost wanted to beg them to let him work overtime. Being home was not a good thing for him, not with what had been going on. Whatever the case, it didn't really matter, everyone was going home, and he had no choice but to follow suit. Sure. He could have stayed at the office and then got arrested for loitering. Wouldn't that be nice on top of everything else?
He inserted his key into the lock, but was surprised when it didn't quite unlock. Stupidly, he realized it meant that someone was home. Reese? Wasn't he still working the graveyard shift? The poor bastard might be sick, some weird kind of flu was going around, and it might have claimed his roommate as its next victim. God, I hope not, he thought uncharitably. He didn't want to deal with his roommate, not tonight or any night. Although nothing that Sirri had done was really Reese's fault, he couldn't help being angry with the man. Part of it was that Reese kept bugging him about both Makenna and Melissa. Just because one dumps you, doesn't mean you have to ignore the other one, Reese had said after Makenna fled the scene. Oh, Reese was full of them, all right. Makenna is a knockout, Sirri, but Melissa ain't bad. Why should you be alone, man?Sirri had been quite tempted to throttle his police officer friend. He was an insensitive jerk. And what are you, Amandurre? Why, he was the King of the jerks. Yes he was. Ah. Correction. He was the King of the cheating jerks.
Sirri pushed the door open and stepped inside. Before he had the chance to close the door, he saw why it was unlocked. His ex-wife was seated on the living room couch, her long legs crossed in what she hoped was a provocative pose. For a moment, the rage was settled in his body hugely, stoked like a high burning fire, almost forcing him to react and try to throttle her. What the hell was she thinking coming here, making herself at home? And Reese. What a stupid bastard he was. What did he think he was doing? Running interference? He didn't like Makenna, he had never made that any secret, but Sirri never thought he would go this far, bringing in Melissa to help 'fix' him. You're a hypocrite, Amandurre. You did fuck her after all. He did, and he would be paying for that mistake for the rest of his life. However, he wouldn't just add to the problem and repeat the mistake. No way in hell.
"What are you doing here, Mel," Sirri asked after he put a cap on his rage.
"I've been hanging around after my mother died, getting up the courage to speak to you again," she said. "I didn't want to go back home until we had another chance to talk."
Sirri hated Melissa's voice most of all. It was sugary sweet, fake. She didn't think anyone could decipher it, but that was part of her stupid charm. Whenever she wanted to manipulate him, she used this tone even more, making it more sugary. It was enough to make him want to vomit. Perhaps it was his turn to puke on her feet. Evilly, he wondered if she would mind. He tore her words apart, digested them, and translated them the best way he could. She didn't want to go back home until they 'talked,' which meant 'fucked' in Melissa-speak.
Sighing, he said, "We have nothing to talk about, Mel. I think you should leave."
Inside, Melissa smiled. He had used the very same words two weeks ago, but she had managed to coax him to bed anyway. He was so easy. She stood and approached him, ignoring the way he cringed away from her in disgust. "Sirri, we have lots to talk about. Two weeks ago, we made love. I think that means there's something left between us. Don't you? You're free now, away from…her, and we can try again. I love you, Sirri. Very much."
He smiled bitterly and shook his head. "Mel, two weeks ago, we fucked. I don't love you. I don't fuck women I love. Who I love is whom we hurt, and I'm still working to make that right. She'll never forgive me, I deserve that, I truly do, but nothing could make me want you again. And you don't love me, you never did. You loved how you could control me, how you could make me do whatever you wanted me to. I allowed you to do it, because I didn't know better. I didn't know what it could be like to be loved for me, not for what I could for you, not for how I could make you look. No more, Mel. No more."
This was a first. In the years that they were married, she had never heard him speak like this. She could always manipulate him; she had had him under her thumb and in her possession every way imaginable. She didn't like this switch. Didn't like it at all. Perhaps she could use another side of Sirri, a side that would never change. "What if I told you I was pregnant?"
He shook his head again, the bitter smile never leaving his lips. "You've played this game before, Mel, and I fell for it. But not now. I didn't even come inside you," he said through gritted teeth, his facial expression changing from bitter to snarling in less than a nanosecond. "If you're here for a reconciliation, you're wasting your time. The only thing you deserve…maybe…is an apology for my fucking you. Go back home, Mel. The sight of you turns my stomach."
Making one last-ditch effort, Melissa reached out for Sirri, placing her hands on his chest. He took them off and pushed her away. She then held them out, as if begging him to understand. "Okay, Sirri, the pregnancy thing was a bit much," she began. "But I do love you, more than you know. I realized it when you were there for me at Mom's funeral."
"I wasn't there for you, Mel," he said. "I was there for Arla." Moving swiftly, he approached the door. He had forgotten that it was standing wide open and blaring. What a show the neighbors must have seen. He didn't give a fuck. "For the last time, Mel. Get out. Get out and stay out of my life. You've ruined me for the last time."
Dramatically, she cried, "How could you, Sirri? How could you take me to bed, make love to me, and then treat me like this? How could you?"
"I see your acting skills have yet to improve," he commented dryly. "Leave, Melissa. Don't make me call the police."
Sirri never moved away from the door. He watched as Melissa wiped the crocodile tears from her eyes. With as much dignity as she could pitifully muster, Melissa slowly walked toward the door. As she drew closer to him, he was ever so tempted to plant his hand into the middle of her back and push her out. But he resisted. Despite the temptation, he wouldn't strike out at any woman. She lingered for a few seconds just in case he wanted to change his mind, but his facial expression never wavered for one moment. There was no chance in him changing. She would understand that, and if she didn't, he wouldn't mind repeating himself. In order to clean up his act and get back on track, he would have to dispose of all the trash in his life. He might as well start with Melissa.
As soon as Melissa left the apartment, he closed the door behind her, locking it for good measure. He wasn't naïve. He knew she would be back for more, but he was certain that he was finally free of her manipulation. Why hadn't he known this before all hell broke loose? Why hadn't he done this two weeks ago? Stupid. Stupid. Sirri turned away from the door and was on his way to the couch. It had become his intimate friend lately. However, the phone rang, diverting his attention for a moment. Surely Melissa hadn't gone around the corner and called him on the payphone? God. Please don't let this be Mel.
Despondently, he picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Don't call my friends anymore. You got that?"
Although the caller's voice was somewhat foggy, nasally perhaps, he didn't have any trouble recognizing it. Makenna. From the sound of her, she was very sick. He closed his eyes tightly and bit his lip. "Makenna, I'm sorry, but I can't stop thinking about you, worrying about you. Don't get angry with Barb. Direct it toward me. I only wanted to find out if you were okay."
"I'm fine, Sirri. You can stop going through the channels and asking. Don't do it again, please," she said.
There was more going on. He could sense it. She didn't just call to chew him out for speaking to Barb. Would she listen to him now? "Makenna, I refuse to believe you called just to chastise me for speaking to your friend. What else is it? I'm here. You can say whatever you want, but I ask that you give me the same chance."
"There's nothing else to say, Sirri," she whispered.
Her voice had changed. She was crying now, and he sank lower and lower into the putrid pool of his guilt. There was plenty to say, and she was reaching out to him, he could feel it. But she wasn't budging. "Let me come see you. If you don't want me to come to your apartment, I'll meet you wherever you want. Just see me. Talk to me."
"No, Sirri. No."
The line went dead. He immediately cleared the line and then tried her number. All he got was a busy signal. He dropped the phone and stood in the room, wondering what he should do. Should he try to see her? She wouldn't open the door. Damn it. She had called to talk to him, but something was keeping her from it. What could he do? What could he do?
Makenna took the phone off the hook the moment she hung up on Sirri. She had come close to spilling out everything to him, but in the end, she couldn't do it. Her heart wouldn't let her. It was still tender, still aching. Stupid. Stupid, she thought, as much as Sirri before her. Oh yes. She had called Sirri to chew him out for daring to contact Barb, but there was more to it. A lot more. The moment he suggested he should come over, she had nearly told him to do it. She didn't think she would ever forgive him for what he had done, but there were a few things she needed to tell him, a few things she needed to get off her chest. But she couldn't. She just couldn't.