December 22, 2014
New York Supreme Civil Court
60 Centre St, New York, NY 10007
"I'm in court," I hiss the words while gaping at my reflection. The complexion is a drained, ghost-white color. My stomach gurgles and turns over, carrying a surge of bile up my throat that I force back down.
"It's been a month, Maggie. I need you to get your stuff, and you've been avoiding my phone calls. I mean, I get it, but we need to be adults about this."
Adults? Is he kidding me? I hold the phone tight to my ear and harshly rub my face with my free hand. "This is why you're calling me?"
"I didn't know you were in court," he laments. "How about I call you later?"
"Or maybe you can stop by after work and get the boxes," he proposes with a bright tone as if we're considering dinner plans. "I think that would be the easiest solution to all of this, don't you?"
"Why?" I let out a disgusted chortle. "Is it more convenient for you? Is she working tonight or out with her girlfriends?"
"Come on, Maggie. Are we going to do this right now?"
"Hey, you're the one who called. But I guess I'm used to you turning everything around on me."
"Look," he snaps. "I don't care if you come tonight or not, but come January, I fully intend on breaking this lease and getting a place of my own. If the rest of your stuff isn't out of here by New Year's, I'm putting it in the trash."
"I need the ring back too."
He hangs up on me.
I raise my phone in the air, ready to launch it at the mirror, but then decide against it in case my boss needs to get in touch with me. I grit my teeth instead and shove the thing back in my purse. Then I run the faucet, my hands trembling as I scoop up the cold water and splash it on my face, then nod at my appearance in the mirror.
My stomach flips over. This time, I run into the stall and vomit up lunch, sobbing as I flush my anxieties away.
My phone begins to jingle with it's classic, bland chirp—another phone call. I hesitate, nearly back together again. Another rant from Hunter describing why he wants to love someone else instead of me would be disastrous. It takes a few moments to dig the phone back out, the anxiety that it's my boss with an essential detail about the case pulling at me.
"Hey, Mags. I didn't know if you'd answer. They come back yet?"
I sigh with relief. At least it's Coen. Speaking to him always makes me forget about Hunter for a while.
"No, they're still in deliberation."
"Yeah, I figured." He pauses, and I can detect him sipping what could only be coffee. "Uh, Hunter called looking for you before. I told Shelby to tell him not to call your cell. He didn't, did he?"
I move a hand through my hair. I don't want to answer Coen, he's just going to ask me more questions, and I can't break down again. I have to get back to work.
At the same time, though, I can't lie to him. I've never been able to.
"He called but--can we talk later? I have to get back out to the client before he calls up Barry and butchers my career. This guy can't stand me, Co."
He chuckles. "That client? He can't stand anyone. I warned you to give this one a hard pass, but you were your classic, stubborn self."
"I just--I needed this on my roster, Co. Barry and Lawrence dangled the partnership in front of me. What was I supposed to do?"
"Look, I get it," he sighs. "I just think you got yourself into a little predicament, that's all. We both know you haven't given this case the focus it needed."
"Yeah, I know." My tone is hollow, defeated.
I stare at my reflection again. Weeks of fatigue and desperation encompass my eyes and the corners of my mouth.
"Mags," he utters. "You're okay, right?"
I'm not. It's the only thing I won't reveal right now. It's a question Coen doesn't need to ask. He knows I've been a wreck for months. I guess he's just anxious. Hunters call set off alarms inside of him, and I'm sure he's been sitting at his desk since then, staring at his phone, waiting for me to tell him if the bastard got in touch with me.
"I'll survive the rest of today," I force a hint of reassurance into my tone.
"How about Tonic tonight?" He proposes brightly. "Happy hour. My treat?"
The smile cracks at the corner of my mouth. "Sounds good."
"You better go. Good luck with the jury. Shoot me a text after, all right?"
"Yeah, I will. See you back at the office, Coen."
"See you later, and hey--Mags."
"No matter what happens, you're still a hell of a lawyer in my book."
The heat rises in my cheeks. "Thanks, Coen."
He hangs up first.
Sometimes, I don't know what I'd do without him. I put my phone away and give myself one more glance in the mirror before I head back to my client.
When I meet him in the hallway, though, his mood is anything but pleasant.
"I don't know if I'm confident in the closing remarks you've made today, Miss Dawson."
"The jury was very attentive," I say, trying to hide the turbulence in my voice. "I'm confident that we proved our case, sir."
"Because, as you know, we have the utmost confidence in Harrison and Fink. I would hate to have to find another firm to conduct business with."
"Yes, Mr. Garbin. I understand, but I do not doubt that when they come back, we'll walk away clean." I smile for him.
I'm sweating. I never sweat. Usually, I know if I've won a case, and I haven't lost since I was an assistant attorney at McMoorland and Klein, and that was a criminal defense case. That was years ago, too, when I was clueless and fresh out of law school.
No, I won't lose. Failing isn't an option. I've poured months of blood and sweat into this case. All my ducks are in a row, oh yes—no room for failure here.
That's what Barry always tells me during staff meetings. "There's no room for losers at this firm, Miss Dawson."
Coen always exchanges glances with me and eventually looks up at the ceiling.
He's never lost a case either, but he's a legacy. His father's father's father was a lawyer.
I'll make partner before Coen Alexander or die trying. He knows it's my goal too, but it doesn't phase him. He's not about the partnership. I tell him all the time that he's out of his mind, and he just tells me that he has his reasons, but won't get into them with me. Despite how close we've become, there's still a part of him that's so private.
I can't think about that right now.
The bailiff sticks his head out of the courtroom. "They're back."
I draw a long breath and stand up, straightening out my skirt before leading my client back into the courtroom. I see the attorney for the other side sitting at his desk, smiling up at me as if he knows how scared I am right now.
No, I'm not confident in my closing remarks, either. I got jittery back there in front of the panel. Usually, I'm calm, relaxed, have them eating out of the palm of my hand by the end of the closing argument, but not today. Lately, I've been distracted, with good reason, but still, there's no room for that at Harrison and Fink. I steer around what's been going on at home. My bosses don't give two rat craps that my fiancé is currently living with some other woman in the Brooklyn apartment we leased together, or that I've moved into a barely affordable studio with shitty insulation and a roach problem.
Coen says I should have thrown him out, but I just wanted to escape from the situation. Leaving was the logical thing to do, in the end.
We honor the bailiff's orders, and the judge enters the courtroom, taking a seat on his leather throne before looking out at the courtroom. I've worked with this particular judge several times. He's always respected me and the practice I work for, but today the look I'm getting from him is telling me I'm losing my touch.
I am. I've been going downhill for the better part of six months.
"It's considerably shitty," Coen said to me during happy hour the other night. "But Mags, you can't let it stop you now. You've worked too hard. Everybody knows you live at the firm. "
He was right. He usually is.
I never considered being with anyone besides Hunter. We met in law school, blossomed what seemed like the perfect romance, and when we graduated, he moved here with me. We were together for eight years. Life didn't seem manageable without him, and then he dropped out of my life as quickly as he came into it.
When I wake up in the morning, I'm a little more lost than the previous day. My mind swims with a million memories of us. I can't shake the love I have for him, and that just makes me certifiably insane. It's a miracle I'm able to sit in this courtroom right now, let alone address a panel of jurors. I'm always lightheaded, only sleep a couple of hours a night. I'm weak, don't eat enough. I drink too much, alienate myself from my family, and people in general.
Well, besides Coen. He won't allow me to alienate him. Coen pushes through my temper and depression, determined to be a friend to me.
I plunk down into the chair. My client narrows his eyes at me and frowns as if he's sorry I was ever appointed to represent Mulligan Insurance. I quickly look away from him and pour myself a glass of water, chugging it down in an un-ladylike manner.
"Has the jury reached a decision?"
I've lost. I know it even before the juror begins to read the decision out loud. It's the look they get in their eyes and the expression that falls on their face that tells you if you've failed. It's the same one, every single time.
"We, the jury, find for the plaintiff in the amount of seventy million dollars."
I feel the client's gaze digging into my skull, but can't bring myself to look at him. I've failed, and my career is over.