Sirri Amandurre sat in the crowded courtroom, his eyes wandering, searching. Makenna wasn't here yet, but he recognized one of her co-workers and her supervisor. He wondered if she would show up at all. She knew he worked with Niko, and she would have to assume he might attend court once in a while. Not only that, but when he spoke to her a week ago, she sounded sick. If she was still sick, she would have an even better excuse not to come today. But God help him, he wanted her to show up because he was almost aching from the desire to see her. If he wasn't afraid she would call the police, he would show up at her door. The temptation was great. The sad part was that he would gladly spend the night in jail just for the opportunity.
For a moment, he tore his eyes away from the swinging double doors that served as an entrance to the courtroom, allowing them to focus on Niko and Sarah Ann Abel. Niko had been coaching Sarah Ann for days on how she should testify, what to wear, and even how she was to act. Sarah Ann, all of twenty, was dressed demurely, almost matronly. It was a far cry from her tight jeans and torn tee shirts. However, Sirri was privy to a few facts the general public did not know, like the ring of bruises around her upper arm. It was more than obvious they had been put there by someone's fingers, more than likely by her boyfriend. Of course, he was certain that Makenna had seen them and would probably mention it in her testimony.
Although he was a sympathetic man, the sight of her irritated him. He knew how hard Makenna had worked to help her, to help protect her children, but now Sarah Ann intended to shit all over her, with the help of Niko's bulldog defense tactics. Makenna had been doing this for ten years and was tough when the situation warranted it. Her entire way of life would be torn apart and tested to the limits. It was wrong, but Niko was hell bent on making her look like a fool, and he would more than likely succeed. It was so unfortunate and Sirri had done what he could to soften the blows. He only wished he could do more.
Feeling the effects of her flu, Makenna made her way toward the front where she normally sat with her co-workers, but she nearly stopped and ran in the opposite direction. She recognized the back of Sirri's head almost immediately. At first, she thought her mind was playing tricks on her, but it wasn't. She thought better of it. After all, he worked for Niko now. He had every right to be there, just as much as she had. The thought did nothing to quell her irritation. She pushed her body forward, moving past him and toward the other workers. She didn't once glance in his direction.
Sirri smelled her perfume before he ever saw her. Suddenly, all the tightness and anxiety left him. He didn't turn to look at her. Instead, he waited for her to walk by. When she did, he held his breath. Although it was more than obvious she was sick, she still looked absolutely beautiful. Her dark suit framed her body perfectly, enhancing her complexion. Her hair was down and flowed freely about her shoulders. He longed to see her eyes, but she wouldn't afford him one simple glance. He wanted to follow her like a lovesick puppy, but he stayed put. What he wouldn't give for the ability to erase time.
Makenna took a seat on the hard bench. Her only case today was clueless girlfriend-abusive boyfriend, and it wouldn't be heard for a while, but she began getting her things together anyway. It offered a wonderful distraction. Not two rows behind her sat her former lover. She could almost feel his dark eyes boring into her. She was tempted to turn around and look at him, but she didn't. When she walked past him, she did notice he was decked out in a suit and tie. It wasn't often that he wore a suit, he didn't have that many as he couldn't afford them. When he did, the sight of him took her breath away. Today was no exception. Despite the hurt and betrayal, he could still turn her head. In a way, she hated him for that, hating herself more for feeling this way. She loved the bastard, even now, and she had fought hard not to. Nothing she did worked, especially since… She cut the thought off. She needed no further disruptions, not today, not when she had to face Niko "Jaws" Milionis.
Minutes became hours, and Makenna was losing her patience. She knew the juvenile docket received precedence over CPS cases, but she wanted to scream anyway. Any time she left the bench to move about the room, Sirri's eyes followed her, begging her to look his way. God help her, she had been tempted more than once to grace him with a glance. Damn him. Why had he come today? On the job training or just to torture her? It was almost noon and the juvenile cases were just about exhausted. The attorney for CPS assured her that their cases would be heard after lunch, hers first. Thank God for that.
When lunch recess was called, Makenna stayed put. She declined offers to join her co-workers for lunch. The thought of food turned her stomach sour. Perhaps once Niko collected Sirri and they vacated the room, she would go downstairs, get a soda, and hope that it settled her nervous stomach. This flu was kicking her ass in more ways than one. But Sirri didn't leave. When Niko approached, he declined the offer. Bastard. He was going to make her talk to him.
There were only a few people in the room now, but Sirri hesitated. He would approach her in good time. He was simply gearing up for it. You're a coward, Amandurre. Yes. That was probably true. The thing was, he had hurt her so badly that he wasn't sure he had the right to speak to her. It didn't matter; he was determined to do it regardless of her reaction. Move it, you oversized chicken. It's now or never. Steeling himself, he stood and slowly moved toward her.
Makenna tensed up the moment she recognized the faintest hint of Sirri's cologne. As she feared, he was going to approach her. If she had known this was going to happen, she would have gone to lunch with her co-workers. Perhaps you wanted this to happen. No. She didn't. She didn't know if she would ever be ready to face him, but it didn't matter. He was approaching her despite hell. When he stood next to her, she looked up at him. His large hands were folded before him, making him appear dour and serene. He was very handsome in his suit, a shadow of a beard already prickling his cheeks. It seemed as if he was waiting for her to speak, but she refused.
"May I join you for a moment," he asked, breaking a long, awkward silence.
"You can do whatever you want, Sirri," she said flatly.
Not reacting to her coolly spoken words, he slid into the space between her and the bench. He sat beside her, his body turned slightly so he could see her face. It was very pale. She didn't look well at all. She tended to catch every bug going around. He had often taken care of her when she was ill, bringing her blankets, chicken soup, and offering her comfort when she needed it. She would never believe him again, but he loved her so very deeply. How he longed to ask her what he could do to make it right. He missed her incredibly. He wondered if she missed him as much. He couldn't believe she allowed him to sit beside her.
"How are you," he asked. It was a stupid question, but he didn't know what else to say without saying it all.
She glanced at him. "Dandy," she blurt sarcastically. "Don't I look it?"
The acid-laced words from her mouth almost made him wince. He had done this to her. He had done everything that made her so bitter and hateful. She was ill, but if he attempted to voice his concern, she would rip into him again. "I know I'm responsible for all your pain," he began.
That among other things, she thought unkindly. "What do you want, Sirri?"
She had tried to give her voice a hard edge, but he heard more in it. At first, it was so subtle, he couldn't quite identify it. It dawned on him slowly, as if he had uncovered some great discovery. Regardless of her words, her body language spoke to him differently. She wanted him here, wanted to see and talk to him. This was not the right time or place, but he didn't think he would have another chance to speak to her one on one. "I want to make it right, Makenna. I'm not asking you to forgive me, just let me make it right."
She looked into his eyes, realizing that this was the closest she had been to him in weeks. She wanted so badly to hate him, but she didn't. It was why everything was so damned hard. "How could you hurt me so badly and then ask for this," she demanded, ensuring her voice did not carry. The courtroom wasn't quite empty. "I'm not sure you deserve it. As I see it, you can make nothing right, not this time."
In that moment, he knew he should have left it alone and walked away. He didn't. He couldn't. "When you called, you wanted to talk to me. I could sense it, but you wouldn't. I'm here, sitting beside you. Talk to me now. Say now what you couldn't say then."
Her lips began to quiver ever so slightly. Yes. There were many things she needed to tell him. She didn't think she had the courage to do it, especially right now. Part of her held onto the hurt and anger. It was the part that ruled her. She again told herself he didn't deserve it. How many times had she asked herself how she could love him after what he did? They were too numerous to count. She suddenly felt another onslaught of nausea. Damn this flu. Damn many things, but damn him most of all.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she said defensively. "I only called you to keep you from bugging my friends about us, about me. I had nothing more to say to you."
Sirri recognized the tone of her voice immediately. She wasn't telling him the truth. She always became defensive when she was hiding something. "I know you, Makenna. You wouldn't have called just for that. Whatever it is, you want me to know. If you hadn't, you wouldn't have made the call at all. I can't force you to tell me anything, but I wish you would drop this front and talk to me. Really talk to me. You're right; I don't deserve your forgiveness or a second chance. However, I do deserve to be heard out, to listen to you say what you need to." He stood suddenly, unexpectedly. Looking down at her, he said, "Call me, Makenna, whenever you're ready. I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here. Always."
She didn't move an inch until he was out of sight. It was her cue to bolt from the room to desperately search for a bathroom.
When CPS v. Abel and Mitchell was called, Makenna sighed heavily. Finally. After a long morning of waiting, it was time to get this case going. The parties and their attorneys approached the bench. As was custom in all CPS cases, Makenna and the CPS attorney stood to the right of the judge. The parents and their attorneys stood to the left. In her ten years of working for the agency, she had never once actually sat on the stand. Although the hearings dealt with rather serious situations, they were always held informally. For the first half of the case, Makenna was asked standard questions by the CPS attorney: name, occupation, etc. Briefly, Makenna went over her affidavit, explaining the circumstances surrounding the night she picked up the children, and it seemed that all parties were listening raptly. Of course, she figured Niko was just collecting mental fuel for his fire. And she was right.
When it was Niko's turn to cross examine her, he stood peering down at his notes, as if he wasn't paying one iota of attention to what was being said. It was an old trick he had learned in law school. Although it irritated the hell out of the court, it gave him enough time to gather his wits and to prepare for a grand attack. There were only a few things he could hit hard, and he would need all the time he could get. The presiding judge had to call out to him twice before he snapped out of his seeming coma. Flashing a brilliant smile and then apologizing profusely, Niko came around.
"Ms. O'Neill, I have read your affidavit a few times and I'm aware this case has been ongoing for several months. When was the infant, Sean Mitchell, born?"
Makenna rolled a mental set of eyes. She knew he was going to zone in on that. Behind her, out of her line of sight, Sirri wasrolling his eyes. "Sean was born December fourth."
"Yes, yes," Niko said, almost mumbling the words. "December fourth. Why wasn't he included in the case before that? He was never addressed specifically, was he?"
Oh dear God, don't tell me he's being stupid on this. "He wasn't included yet because he wasn't born," Makenna answered calmly. Niko wasn't a moron. He knew this, but he wanted to make her life hell. Oh yes he did. "However, since his siblings were already involved in a case, any new child born during its duration is automatically covered."
"Even if said child isn't abused or neglected?"
She locked eyes with the venomous rattlesnake. They were sparkling with their usual brand of evil mirth. "Yes. It's in policy."
"I see," he said before turning a page from his handful of typed notes. "We know that Sean's siblings had a founded report of abuse. Was there ever one founded for Sean, Ms. O'Neill?"
The bastard knew the answer to that as well, but again, he did enjoy playing games. She never took her eyes off his face. "No, there was not."
Niko smiled. It was barely a smile, actually, just a twitching of his lips. He nodded thoughtfully, as if he had discovered the cure for the common cold, but didn't want to share it just yet. "Okay. No report. So what led you to your conclusion that Sean was in danger on the night you took him and his siblings into protective custody?"
Makenna had told this story a dozen times. The father's attorney had asked her the same question about two dozen times, but the story never changed. "Ms. Abel had told me and my supervisor that Mr. Mitchell had beaten her and the other children on numerous occasions. It was apparent that he had a violent temper. We had instructed Ms. Abel not to have her children in the same home with Mr. Mitchell due to the allegations that she made. But she did not follow this simple safety plan. Instead, I found her at Mr. Mitchell's residence. Based on that and policy, I had no choice but to take the children into protective custody to prevent further harm."
Niko took in her statement and flicked his quick smile again. He shook his head incredulously. She may as well have told him that the Easter Bunny was about to make an appearance and share his candy with the courtroom. He liked putting on a big show, allowing everyone in the room to know that he didn't believe anything out of her mouth…or anyone's for that matter. "Ms. O'Neill, have you ever seen any marks or bruises on Sean? Any signs of overt neglect?"
"No," Makenna answered shortly.
"Did Sean ever seem listless or below weight?"
"So why did you take protective custody?"
Makenna sighed and shook her head. "For the best interest and safety of him and his siblings."
"Based on what?"
"Past allegations of abuse toward Ms. Abel and her children."
"But none on Sean?"
She was becoming quite impatient with this. Oh yes she was. "No."
Niko turned another page and peered down at the paper again. "So you just picked up the baby for the heck of it?"
"No. I told the court why already."
He looked up at Makenna and gave her a brilliant smile. "And that was?"
"Past allegations of abuse toward Ms. Abel and her children," Makenna repeated patiently. Niko used this tactic often, thinking that he could rattle the workers and force them to say something different. She didn't care for him in the court setting, not at all.
Behind them, Sirri shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had expected Niko to put this play into motion, and he hated it. It was obvious that when Niko couldn't find any real meat to bite into, he would use the stupidest shit he could find. It might look like a brilliant ploy by a sharp attorney. But to him, it seemed as if he were reaching for a branch to prevent himself from tumbling off a high cliff. He didn't want Makenna to be his branch, but somehow, it was much too late for that thought.
The cross examination went on for twenty minutes or more. By the time Niko was finished, the father's attorney really had no other fuel to burn. Niko had covered all the necessary bases. When recess was called forty-five minutes later, Makenna didn't hesitate to get the hell out of the courtroom.
She went into the bathroom and stayed there for a long time. Today, she hadn't felt well enough to bother with a lot of makeup, so she stood at the sink and splashed her face with cold water until her cheeks grew numb. She blotted her face dry with a sand papery towel. She then took a long look at herself in the mirror. Her face was flushed, but there was high color on her cheeks that had nothing to do with the water. Her fever was rushing back again. Great. It was exactly what she didn't need. When court reconvened, the judge would make his decision about this case, and she could then go home and collapse into her bed.
Makenna left the bathroom and noticed Sirri lingering in the hallway. He had likely seen her dart out and then decided to follow her. He turned toward her just as she closed the bathroom door behind her. "I suppose all those brilliant notes he had in there were compiled by your hands," she commented pointedly.
Sirri visibly jumped when he heard her words. He hadn't expected her to say anything to him, not after the episode between them earlier. He had followed her. He had been awaiting her, but what he didn't expect was for her to make the first move. For a moment, she sounded like her old self. "I helped him gather information, but that's all," he said. "I don't agree with his tactics."
He was telling her in not so many words that he didn't dig up any dirt. Not that there was much to dig up. Maybe ten years ago, there might have been, but not today. She hadn't been a rookie worker in years. "Don't think I'm thanking you."
"I was expecting nothing, Makenna. I don't have ulterior motives and I would never try to manipulate you. I simply do not appreciate his style." Taking an incredible chance, he approached her, but did so slowly. "I've known you for two years. In that time, I've heard you speak of your work and what you do. I know how hard you work; I know how important your job is. That's what motivated me. I had hoped you wouldn't have thought that about me, thought I would stoop to that level to help you, to keep you from being torn apart by an uncaring attorney. I'm doing nothing to save my own ass in this. I'm doing nothing to make myself look the hero. I know I hurt you, but I don't think I deserved that."
For the first time since they had broken up, she felt guilt, incredible gut-wrenching guilt. She had needlessly hurt him and couldn't justify it. He was right; he hadn't deserved that shot, no matter what he had done. "I'm sorry, Sirri. You didn't deserve it. I'm just not well, and I…"
He nodded slightly. "I know. You held your own against him, and if anyone came out looking bad, it was him. I'm sorry, too, Makenna." He moved another step toward her. "Today, when this is all over, would you consider going across the street and having coffee with me?"
She shook her head. "I don't think that's such a good idea right now. I'm not ready for that yet."
Makenna said nothing more to him. Instead, she moved past him and made her way back toward the courtroom. It didn't fail to reach him when she uttered the word 'yet.' It, more than anything, gave him hope. It meant that she would eventually be ready to hear him out. Perhaps it was why she didn't stick around when she said it. She might have been tempted to go along if she had lingered. 'Yet' was attached to the future, and when he saw her last, she couldn't fathom the idea of a future with him anywhere in it. Now, she was at least considering it. 'Yet.' It was a word consisting of one tiny syllable, but to him it said more than a thousand words could ever say in his entire lifetime.
They were all back in the courtroom anxiously awaiting the judge. Sirri kept his eyes riveted on Makenna. He sat back, watching silently as the judge approached the bench and made his decision. He agreed with CPS, ordering that the children, especially Sean, all remain in foster care for now, and he further ordered the boyfriend into intensive domestic violence counseling. Niko's finagling did nothing to make Makenna look bad. It was the first thing in weeks that brought a smile to Sirri's face.
When court was dismissed, Niko approached Sirri and reached for his briefcase. Impatiently, he stuffed his notes into it and snapped it closed. He didn't like to lose, but it was all part of the game. No skin off his nose. He still got paid. He stopped fiddling around with his briefcase and focused his eyes on Makenna. She was getting her things together as well. He watched her as she made her way toward the exit. Just before she went totally past him, he called out her name.
Curiously, Makenna stopped and glanced at Niko. She couldn't help but notice Sirri as well. He stood back, out of the way, but also in clear ear and eyeshot. "Yes?"
"I'd like for you to meet our law clerk, Sirri Amandurre." He motioned for Sirri, and he reluctantly stepped over closer to the two of them. "This is Makenna O'Neill, and she gave us a clear run for our money today."
Sirri didn't want to tell his colleague that introductions were quite unnecessary. Niko had no clear idea that just a few weeks prior, he and Makenna had planned to marry. Sirri said nothing. He couldn't, but he did manage a brief nod in her direction. She returned the gesture, raising her hand briefly in an anemic wave. It was severely awkward, one of the most awkward moments they had both ever experienced in their lives.
Without missing a beat, Niko said, "I know I can be a bit of an ass in court, but you know how it is." The words were as close to an apology that he could muster without actually apologizing. He didn't like to do that. He could act like a gracious loser. After all, ninety percent of what he did was playacting. Perhaps he should have become an actor instead. "Why don't you join us for a drink? You can celebrate winning while I celebrate like a good loser with my tail tucked between my legs."
From the corner of her eye, Makenna could see that Sirri was gazing at her intensely. The look was so deep, it was almost nerve wracking. It seemed as if she was missing something here, something dire. "Thanks, Niko, but I don't drink."
Sirri's eyebrows shot up at that. Since when did she not drink? Perhaps it was her way of being polite, but she wouldn't have said that. Again, he made no comments. He stood back with his hands clasped firmly in front of him.
"Okay," Niko said jovially. "I'm sure we'll meet again."
Makenna nodded vaguely and made her way out of the courtroom. Sirri watched her leave, keeping his eyes glued to her. He simply couldn't look away. He was still holding onto 'yet.'
"Forget her, Amandurre," Niko said from far, far away. "She is way out of your league."
Sirri's eyes shifted to Niko. The other man was shaking his head incredulously and smiling ever so slightly. It was then that he realized something a bit disturbing, perhaps more disturbing than Makenna's refusal to go for a drink. Niko was attracted to Makenna.