Genre: Adult Romance – 8,372 words
“If Stene makes me wait another five minutes, he can kiss my ass in court,” Mr. Carson fumes.
Jack pours himself a glass of water, his latte long finished in the twenty minutes that they’ve been waiting for Mr. Stene to arrive.
Jack doesn’t normally take cases for people he knows, but Stene is influential, which benefits Jack. Doesn’t mean he likes him.
The challenge is going to be in figuring out how to get these two assholes to agree on a settlement. Carson’s a narcissist. Stene’s underhanded and cheap.
Jack had considered letting this one go to trial, lord knows he loves the courtroom. However, he also knows that this is a particularly difficult case and if he can pull off a settlement outside of court, it’ll be another shoe-in for his judicial nomination.
Keep your eye on the ball.
Both men are the CEOs of powerful tech companies and Stene headhunted one of Carson’s most prominent developers.
Of course he couldn’t do it fairly or take one of the second tier developers. No, he had to sink his claws into the one developer who was the creator of Carson’s most profitable, multi-million dollar software. Without offering Carson a dime.
Carson’s lawsuit against Stene is for $5 million and he wants the developer back.
But the real question is what does Carson actually want? He already knows that Stene just wants Jack to save him money.
“Mr. Carson, why do you think the developer took Mr. Stene’s offer?”
“What does that have to do with discussing a settlement?” Mr. Carson asks.
“Nothing, just small talk while we wait and I’m curious. Is it possible that he felt under valued or discriminated against because he’s gay? That could certainly turn ugly for a company as public and transparent as yours.”
Mr. Carson fidgets in his seat. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Mr. Dunslow, I’m not sure that I like your tone with my client,” Mr. Freissen says.
“Ah, my apologies, no offence intended. I just find it interesting that a developer who holds so much prestige with your company would jump ship. Feels like there’s more to it.”
“Stene made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, can’t blame the guy for taking it.”
“Are you saying that you couldn’t have matched the offer that Mr. Stene gave him?”
The doors burst open by a well dressed, albeit angry, Asian man, sporting a noticeable stain down the front of his suit. Complete with a blotch of whipped cream just above his jacket breast pocket.
“I’m really sorry Mr. Dunslow, I asked him to wait while I informed you of his arrival,” Charolette says.
“It’s fine Charolette, please get a damp cloth for Mr. Stene.”
“Don’t you dare laugh Carson,” Mr. Stene warns at the look on Mr. Carson’s face.
“Karma’s a bitch Stene, but at least it was worth the wait.”
“Screw you.” He snatches the cloth from Charolette to clean himself up while he takes a seat.
“Why the hell are we here anyway?” Mr. Stene asks Jack. “I told you he’s an unreasonable prick, that’s why I hired you.”
“And as I explained to you, it’s protocol to see if we’re able to reach an agreement before going to trial. One that typically goes smoother when you’re on time. Can we proceed now?”
Mr. Stene gives Jack a dirty look but nods.
Jack looks at Mr. Carson, pretty much ignoring his lawyer. Freissen’s a puff ball, he’s there for appearances. This case will come down to the dance between Jack and Carson.
“My client is willing to settle by allowing you access to the developer for a year so that you can find a suitable replacement.”
Carson laughs. “What a waste of my time. You young hotshots are astoundingly arrogant.”
Jack leans back in his chair, he’s used to the digs at his age.
“Then enlighten me Mr. Carson. We both know that going to trial is going to cost a fortune and even if you are successful, they’re not going to grant you $5 million. You lost the developer, not the software.”
“Yeah, and who the hell is going to fix his software and update it? The guy is a damned genius. It’s going to cost me a small fortune to replace him, if I can even find someone capable.”
Jack nods reflectively, bingo.
“So why didn’t you counter Mr. Stene’s offer to him and try to keep him?”
Carson’s ears turn red.
“High profile human rights cases are nasty business Mr. Carson.”
“Are you threatening me Mr. Dunslow?”
“Not at all, simply sharing an observation.”
Mr. Freissen shifts in his seat, acutely aware that he’s in over his head on this one.
Mr. Stene is grinning.
“Show some respect Stene,” Jack mutters under his breath while he scratches out some calculations on his notepad.
He slides the notepad to Stene who nods in agreement.
“Mr. Carson, I have a suggestion. My client will grant you use of the developer for up to two years for critical fixes and updates that your existing developers can’t handle, and will train a new developer of your choice specifically on the programming for this software. In addition, he will pay $1 million to cover costs. All while saving you a likely far more damaging human rights suit.”
Mr. Carson steeples his fingers to his lips.
“I may have underestimated you Mr. Dunslow.”
“It happens all the time,” Jack says.
“I want $3 million, the developer works remotely, and Stene writes me a letter of apology.”
“Screw you Carson. It’s not my fault you’re a homophobic jerk,” Stene says.
Jack kicks Stene under the table.
“$1.5 and you’ve got a deal,” Jack says.
“I’m not writing him a letter of apology,” Stene whines.
Jack holds eye contact with Mr. Carson without saying a word.
After a full minute Mr. Carson stands and holds his hand out. “Deal.”
Jack looks at the line up in front of him and curses. He doesn’t want to be late for this morning’s meeting. With the Stene case wrapped up yesterday, he’s eager to dive into a new one. With a huff he turns to leave, he’ll have to make due with the mud they call coffee at the office.
He opens the door and comes face to face with liquid brown eyes that mesmerize him. There’s a fire and kindness in those eyes that immediately sparks a connection in Jack that he doesn’t understand.
Locked in place, he can’t stop himself from staring, yet he couldn’t tell you what she actually looked like if his life depended on it.
The girl tilts her head to the side and clears her throat.
Jack blinks several times. “Oh, uh, sorry.” He takes a step back to make room for her to enter the crowded coffee shop. As she walks by he catches a scent of citrus combined with vanilla.
She looks back at him, and he notices that she’s clutching his favorite John Grisham novel to her chest.
“Is something wrong?” She asks.
What is wrong with him? He’s one of the most successful lawyers in the city, and yet he can’t take his eyes off this girl like some love struck puppy.
Romance is the lowest priority in Jack’s life. He’s well aware that women want a powerful, successful man who’s capable of taking care of them. His father took care to engrain that into him.
But more than that, power and success is attained by reaching the highest possible goal. For Jack, that goal is to become a judge.
Relationships cause a distraction when it comes to achieving high priority goals, and he won’t allow distractions to get in his way.
He lets go of the door and steps towards her, back into line.
“No, nothing’s wrong. I’ve just realized that starting my day without a latte would in fact be an awful decision.”
Her smile encompasses her entire face, lighting up her eyes and her chuckle is lyrical.
His heart melts as he is inexplicably drawn to this stranger.
“John Grisham fan?” He glances at the copy of The Partner she’s holding.
“More of a noobie I’d say. It’s the second book of his I’ve read and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.”
“It’s one of his best in my opinion, though in fairness I can’t say that I’ve hit a bad one yet.”
“I wouldn’t have pegged you as an avid reader.”
Her eyes travel over him taking in the Armani suit and Rolex watch. “You look too important to have time to waste reading novels.”
“That’s a bit judgemental don’t you think?”
She shrugs her delicate shoulders. “Just calling it as I see it. Lawyer I presume?”
“My suit tells you I’m a lawyer?”
Her eyes sparkle with mischief and she glances at the gold embossed plaque on his briefcase.
Jack Dunslow & Partners Law Firm
“Either that or you have a penchant for carrying around other people’s briefcases in an attempt to make yourself look important.”
He laughs. “That’s an interesting conclusion. Do you often meet men in Armani suits carrying other people’s briefcases?”
“One can always hope. It would make for a more interesting character than the typical arrogance of men who feel the need to advertise their level of success.”
“You say that as if you believe that success isn’t something to be proud of.”
“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Not at all, I’m curious actually. Do you have something against success?”
“I wouldn’t say that. It’s just typically cold. You’re up next.”
She nods at the counter.
“Oh, you go ahead.”
“No, please, you have more important places to be than I do.”
She steps back and the barista asks for his order.
He’s annoyed at how quickly the line up had moved along.
He places his order and looks at her. “Allow me to get yours as well?”
She shakes her head and looks at the menu pretending to ponder what she wants to order.
Jack steps to the side watching her as she moves to the counter.
“Morning Emma,” the barista smiles warmly. “The usual?”
“Yes please, Shelley, and don’t forget to add $5 to pay forward,” Emma says quietly.
“Of course. How’s the new arrival settling in?”
“Marvellously, he’s such a gentle pup. So inquisitive and eager to please.”
“You must bring him in once he’s ready for an outing,” Shelley insists.
“Absolutely, you’ll love him. It’ll be awhile yet though.”
“Seems you’re a regular here, Emma,” Jack says with surprise. “Why haven’t I seen you before?”
“Because you’re usually here later and in a hurry.” Emma says, taking her coffee and heading to a table in the corner.
“Wait, you recognize me?” he says, following her.
He stands awkwardly next to her table. He wants to join her, but feels presumptuous asking. It’s a foreign feeling for him. He’s not one to ask permission for anything.
“It’s amazing what you can notice about the world around you when you take the time to observe.”
She watches him, taking a perverse pleasure in his discomfort. Should she invite him to sit and put him out of his misery? She’s spent most of her life avoiding his type. Full of themselves, greedy for power, and hell bent on impressing everyone around them.
“Observation is something that I normally excel at.”
“Maybe in a courtroom, but not around us mere average folk.”
“There’s nothing average about you,” he says, immediately regretting his forwardness. “Sorry. I just mean, well, you’re intriguing.”
“You’re a bit of a puzzle yourself,” she says.
Curiosity gets the better of her.
“Well, sit down if you’re going to humor me.”
It’s almost comical the way his eyes light up at the invite.
“I’ve been trying to figure out if you’re Jack or one of the partners.”
“And what’s your conclusion?”
“You’ve certainly got an air about you that suggests you’d be Jack. But you’re awfully young for that to be true.”
From anyone else, Jack would have taken offence at the patronization of the statement. But there’s something about Emma’s demeanour that isn’t the least bit offensive.
“I graduated at sixteen, finished my BA in three years and law school in three years.”
“Impressive,” she says, her tone flat.
She removes the lid from her coffee and licks at the whipped cream.
“But you’re not.”
“Does it matter? You have every right to be proud of that accomplishment.”
Of course it matters. He wants her to be impressed. But in reality, what’s to be impressed about getting through school more quickly than others.
That’s not a definition of success or power. But then she probably doesn’t understand how well it positions him for becoming the youngest Asian appointed judge in the city; as his next step at least.
“It was a means to an end.”
“The end being to own your own law firm?”
“No, that was just another stepping stone.”
“I see. You’ve got your sights set higher then?”
“Ah, aspirations to be Chief Justice?”
“Would that impress you?”
She laughs. “Not particularly.”
He frowns. How would that not impress her? She mustn’t understand the prestige that would come with successfully climbing that ladder.
“But in fairness Jack, that’s your dream. It shouldn’t matter if anyone else is impressed by it. I mean, you are striving for that goal for yourself right?”
He stares at her blankly.
Pity takes root in her stomach as she realizes that he doesn’t likely know what it means to strive for a goal for personal reasons. He’s probably got an overbearing father who has pushed him to be the best his whole life.
His phone buzzes. He glances at it, annoyed at the interruption, and curses.
Emma gives a knowing smile. “Duty calls.”
“I’m late for a meeting,” he says without enthusiasm. Though he doesn’t move, once again memorized by her eyes.
Breaking eye contact he looks at her book as he stands to leave. “You’ll have to tell me how you like it.”
The implication that she’ll have another encounter with him isn’t lost on her. It leaves her feeling unsettled. The last thing she wants is a power hungry man pushing his way into her peaceful life.
“Nice of you to join us,” Frank sneers as Jack walks into the boardroom late.
Since meeting Emma several weeks ago, this has become a more regular occurrence. He should probably move the meeting time to later, but if he’s honest, he’ll overextend his time with Emma no matter how long they have for their morning coffee and book discussions.
“I beg your pardon Frank? Last I checked I’m still the founding partner here. I had an unavoidable delay, I apologize if that’s going to interfere with your tee-time.”
Jack sits at the head of the table while Frank slumps in his chair trying to hide the scarlet shade of his ears.
Frank is twenty years Jack’s senior and he’s never hidden his contempt at the young pup’s success. But as with most of the partners at Dunslow, he’s fond of the wealth that Jack has created for them all.
He’s not naive though. He’s well aware that Jack recruited a large crew of powerful partners to fuel his ambition of one day becoming Chief Justice.
Though in Frank’s honest opinion, Jack’s better suited to be a politician than Chief Justice. Not that he’d vocalize that opinion. Not when he’s so close to retirement.
“Welcome back Damian, how was the vacation?” Jack asks.
“Too short, but gratifying,” Damian replies.
“I’d hardly call a month in the Bahamas a short vacation,” Jack teases.
“Yeah, well if you decide to setup a satellite office there, just let me know. By the way, congratulations on the Carson vs Stene settlement,” Damian says. “I fully expected that one to go to trial. There’s little that Carson enjoys more than being the centre of attention.”
“It turns out that the risk of a Human Rights case isn’t the kind of spotlight he enjoys,” Jack says.
“Peter, has my judicial nomination been submitted?”
“Yes, it was sent out yesterday. Though I did get confirmation that Paul has been nominated too.”
Jack curses. Paul’s his biggest rival for the next judicial appointment. They’re equals in terms of the power and success they’ve accumulated, but Paul has enough years on Jack that the committee could well lean in his favor for that alone.
At least he’s got a few months to get a couple more notable cases under his belt to impress the committee with.
He flips through the cases that have been set in front of him for assignment.
“Jesus, what is with the sudden influx of pro-bono requests?” Jack mumbles. He doesn’t have time to waste on deadbeat endeavors.
His eyes linger on one particular case when he spots a note saying ‘Referred by Emma’ and shakes his head.
“Frank, assign this one to one of the juniors,” he passes the file down the table to Frank.
“Why wouldn’t you leave it in the junior pile for them to choose from themselves?”
Peter spots the referral note on the file and glances at Jack.
“Since when do you question my decisions of assignment?” Jack’s eyes bore into Frank until Frank looks away.
Jack turns his attention back to the last file in front of him. Charlotte has an excellent sense of priority. She always manages to order the files in such a way that the golden nugget Jack’s looking for is the last one in the pile.
“I’ll take the Fredricksen case. Seems like it might be a good candidate to take to trial.”
“I’ll have a venti peppermint mocha please, and add an extra $5 on my tab for the next person in line.”
The new barista smiles at Emma.
“Why do you do that?” Jack asks Emma as they take their seats. “If the next person in line can’t afford their own coffee they shouldn’t be in line.”
Emma looks sideways at Jack. “It’s not about whether they can afford it or not. It’s about doing something nice and unexpected for a stranger.”
“Seems a bit insulting to me. It also places them in a position of feeling obligated to do the same thing for the next person.”
“That’s why I always pay a set amount. It’s pretty rare for someone to spend less than $5 here. So by only paying forward $5, the next person can do the same while still only spending the same amount that they would have spent anyway. And if it so happens that they’re in a tight spot and that $5 savings gives them a bit of relief, there’s no need to pay it forward.”
Jack shakes his head. “Still seems redundant to me.”
“Yes, well, I’ll convert you one day.”
Emma’s eyes sparkle when she smiles. It’s the same smile that melted his heart several weeks earlier. The reason he shows up every morning at precisely 6:55 so that he can hold the door open for her and they can have morning coffee together.
He’s never felt a connection with a woman the way he does with Emma, despite how different they are.
She also fascinates him with her innocence. It’s not that she’s naive, far from it. But she has a pure outlook on life that’s refreshing. She has a way of setting up his day with the right tone.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Emma asks.
Jack coughs, embarrassed at being caught out daydreaming.
“Ah, uh, actually I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the cases you’ve been referring to me.”
“Oh good, they’ve been contacting you then?”
“Yes, they have. And I appreciate you thinking of me, but Emma, I’m not able to take on pro-bono cases. I’ve got too much at stake right now preparing for my judicial nomination.”
Emma lowers her eyes to her coffee. “Oh, I see. I’m sorry.”
“But I have been connecting them with our other lawyers,” Jack rushes to add. “They’ll be well taken care of, but there’s only so many we can take on.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you. How’s the Fredricksen case going?” Emma asks, changing the subject to hide her disappointment.
“I wrapped it up last night.”
“Oh? Did it go well then?”
Jack smiles. “They always do. Though I had hoped for a trial on this one, I miss being in the courtroom. Anything exciting happen at the animal shelter yesterday?”
Emma grabs her phone. “Oh you have to watch this, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Jack watches the short video of a kitten with its face and body flattened against a cage door, both front paws sticking out between the bars pawing the air like mad.
“And how long did the little guy do that for?”
“He took breaks, but overall, nearly an hour.”
“Persistent little devil.” Jack looks at his watch. “Sorry, but I have to run a bit early today for some meetings, turns out even the boss shouldn’t be late so often. Can we dive into The Firm tomorrow?”
“You could always take me out for dinner rather than waiting for our morning coffee.”
Jack laughs. “Ah, what’s dinner with a schmuck lawyer, just you wait until my judicial appointment, then we can really dine in style.” His eyes twinkle. “Besides, I highly doubt you’d enjoy eating supper at ten o’clock at night.”
“Indeed. Tomorrow it is then.”
He gives a wave as he heads out the door.
Emma sighs and wonders why she continues to entertain these morning coffee dates. Are they even dates? She’s not really sure what they are.
Jack takes his seat at the head of the board table, mulling over Emma. She’s getting bolder with her hints for a proper date. He’s worried that she’s going to get bored with him before he manages to reach the level of success that he knows she deserves in a man.
“What’s got you grinning like a maniac Peter?” Jack asks as he scans the agenda for their meeting.
In his distracted state over Emma, he almost missed it.
He looks sharply at Peter.
“Paul turned down his nomination? But why?”
“Does it matter?” Peter replies still grinning.
Jack leans back in his chair as a grin spreads across his own face.
“No, I don’t suppose it does.”
So that’s it then. With Paul out of the running for the next judicial appointment, there’s nothing standing in Jack’s way.
Jack barely pays attention for the rest of the meeting. All he can think about is that it’s finally going to happen and now he can finally move things forward with Emma.
He pulls out his phone to text her. Then puts it down. Should he ask her out for their first official date by text?
Maybe he should wait for their morning coffee?
But he doesn’t want to wait, he wants to celebrate with her tonight.
He could phone her, but he’s never done that either.
Things have been pretty casual between them, so maybe a text would be okay?
He picks his phone up, stares at it, and puts it back down.
The meeting drones on around him.
He’s still distracted when the members stand, signifying that the meeting is over. He doesn’t even know what was discussed.
Peter watches him while he gathers together his papers.
“What’s the dilemma Jack?”
Jack stares at his phone. “Text, phone, or wait.”
“Pretty high stakes on that choice.”
“Piss off. What would you know?”
“Send her a text and don’t forget one of those smiley faces. I’m told that girls like those.”
Jack looks at Peter. “She’s not in high school.”
Peter laughs. “Then phone her like a normal adult would. Don’t stay out too late though, we’ve got an early meeting in the morning.”
Peter closes the door behind him before Jack can find something to throw at him.
“Hey Emma, it’s Jack.”
“Oh, Jack. Is everything okay?”
“What? Oh, yeah, everything’s good. I know this is a bit sudden, but my schedule has changed, and I was wondering if you might like to go for dinner with me tonight?”
“Before ten o’clock?” She asks.
He laughs. “Yes. Say six at that little Italian place next to the coffee shop.”
“That sounds lovely Jack. See you there.”
Emma stares at her phone. What brought that on? It’s not like this morning was the first time she’s hinted at him taking her out for dinner.
“Sounds like someone has a date,” Melissa teases.
“It would appear so,” Emma says.
“About time if you ask me,” Sally says. “You’ve been having morning coffee with this guy for ages. What the heck has he been waiting for?”
That’s a good question, Emma thinks.
Well he’s got old fashioned manners, she’ll give him that, Emma thinks as she walks towards the Italian restaurant and spots Jack waiting by the door for her.
Most men she’s been on dates with are either late, or already half way through their first beer when she arrives.
He smiles and opens the door for her. “You look lovely.”
“Thank you,” she says quietly and ducks inside. She’s still a bit suspicious over this unexpected invite.
“So, I have to ask Jack,” she says once they’re settled at their table and have ordered a glass of wine. “Why the sudden jump from morning coffee to dinner?”
He grins. “Well, we finally have a cause to celebrate.”
“Oh? What exactly are we celebrating?” Her heart sinks a little. She knew there was some underlying reason for this.
“My primary competitor on the next judicial appointment has dropped out of the running. Within a few months, you’ll be looking at the next Provincial Justice appointee.”
“So you’ve been selected?”
“Not exactly. But with Paul out of the running, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’ll be appointed. The only thing Paul has over me was a few years.”
“I see.” Emma smiles and raises her glass. “Then congratulations on your almost appointment.”
His eyes light up as he clinks his glass against hers. Nothing could be more perfect for him. If he plays his cards right, not only will he become a judge, but he’ll finally be worthy of Emma’s affections.
Emma places her glass on the table.
Does he really believe that she gives a damn about whether or not he gets appointed as a judge? Sure, she’s happy for him to reach his goals, but it’s not why she wants to spend time with him.
But maybe the pressure of striving for that goal is what has made him a bit distracted? With that out of the way, maybe things can really start to move forward between them?
She surprises herself by realizing how much she’d like that.
She smiles at him more genuinely. She really is happy for him.
They spend the rest of dinner doing what they love to share together most and discuss their latest John Grisham book.
Emma, Melissa, and Sally stand in silence staring at the front counter.
After several moments, Melissa asks, “What are you supposed to do with it?”
Emma shakes her head.
“Start your own florist shop I’d say,” Sally chimes in.
“Right?!” Melissa says.
“Oof. What was he thinking?” Emma asks.
“Clearly that size matters,” Sally quips.
Emma swats her arm, her gaze still fixated on the largest, most elaborate floral arrangement she’s ever seen. It’s in the shape of a tree, a weeping willow of sorts, covered entirely with roses, baby’s breath, and various ferns. There has to be dozens of roses.
“It must have cost him a fortune,” Sally says.
“Maybe you need to tell us exactly what happened this weekend?” Melissa asks.
Emma blushes as flashes of her date with Jack jumps into her mind.
It had started out innocent enough, just another dinner at his apartment, well penthouse to be more precise, along with his exquisite cooking.
She’s been getting used to their weekly dining, with no desire to go to restaurants anymore. There isn’t a restaurant in the city that could pull off meals of such perfection.
“You’ve missed your calling in life,” she had teased him.
He had laughed. “There’s no money to be made working in a kitchen. This is purely a guilty pleasure for me. Made all the more worthwhile being able to share it with you.”
Emma’s been surprised to find that Jack has quite the romantic side to him. He never really seemed the type. But ever since their first dinner date he’s been more self assured about spending time with her.
Yet she can’t help the nagging feeling that it’s got more to do with his impending judicial appointment than with her.
Regardless, Saturday had been their sixth weekly dinner at his place and while she can’t deny that he’s a gentleman to a fault, it was indeed becoming a fault.
It’d had taken her an extra glass of wine, well maybe two, to build up the nerve to make the first move. After that, there was no stopping them.
It was a glorious night and the first time they’d spent the entire Sunday together.
Though, here it is Monday afternoon and Emma has no idea what to make of the intended meaning behind such an ornate floral display.
“Well, whatever happened, it doesn’t change the question of what the hell we’re supposed to do with it,” Sally says.
A mother and her daughter come through the front door and the little girl runs up to the display.
“Don’t touch Trixie,” the mom says instinctively.
“It’s so pretty momma.”
Emma doesn’t miss a beat. “Would you like to pick your favorite to take home?”
Trixie’s eyes widen like saucers and she looks at her mom for approval.
“Oh, that’s not necessary,” the mom says.
Sally and Melissa stare at Emma.
“Oh please, we insist, in fact it’s a little promo thing we’re doing this week. Everyone who comes in gets to pick a flower to take home, and you get two more if you buy something.”
Melissa stifles a chuckle.
“Well isn’t that lovely,” the mom says with a smile and nod at Trixie.
“I can’t wait to hear about Jack’s reaction to this,” Sally says under her breath.
Jack’s surprised at how crowded the pet store/animal shelter is. It seems out of proportion for such a small, niche business.
Melissa elbows Sally and tips her head towards the front entrance. “Looks like you get a front row seat.”
They watch his gaze search for and find the no longer, quite so elaborate floral display.
His brow knits together in confusion.
Emma spots him. “Oh Jack! I’m so glad you stopped by.” She’s grinning from ear to ear as she takes his hands in hers.
“Emma, what happened…”
“You have been a miracle maker today, I never would have thought that such a simple idea could have had such a huge impact.”
Jack’s confusion deepens.
“Your generous gift has made this the busiest day we’ve had in months.”
“I don’t understand,” he says as watches another customer pluck a couple of the flowers from the arrangement.
“Well, you see, the girls and I were admiring the arrangement you sent. Oh look, I took several pictures after it arrived. Wasn’t it beautiful?” She flips through several images on her phone.
“But…” Jack holds out a hand as another flower is removed.
“Yes, right, well we were stumped on how I could possibly get it home. Then this adorable little girl came in and was in awe of it. Understandably so. Well, she was so taken by it that I offered for her to choose a flower to keep. The way her eyes lit up inspired me. I’m sure she’s never had a rose of her very own. So I started offering one to each person who came in. Word seems to have travelled,” she finally takes a breath as she looks around the small crowded store with delight.
“But Jack, the most amazing part is that this small gesture has enabled us to find forever homes for six of our furbabies today alone! I can’t thank you enough.” She gives him a big hug.
“She’s good,” Sally says to Melissa.
“Emma, stop. That was meant to be something special for you.”
A mixture of conflicting emotions dance across Jack’s handsome features.
“And it has been,” she says. “Not only was I rendered speechless when it arrived. But I’ve got all these wonderful photos of it that will far out last the life of the arrangement. And, it’s brought a little more light and brightness to the lives of many others. Not to mention the joy of forever homes for our precious darlings.”
“I suppose…” Jack’s tone is hesitant. He’s torn between disapproval at the willful dismantling of his declaration towards Emma that the arrangement was meant to signify, and the obvious joy the process has brought Emma.
He doesn’t understand what’s happening or what it means. Most women would want something like this on display for as long as possible for bragging rights.
“I’m serious Jack, this has meant so much to me. I’ll admit that I was taken a bit off guard when it arrived. I mean it was so elaborate, almost too much so. But once I realized how much sharing it meant to others, as well as myself, I was ecstatic.”
While the confusion doesn’t leave his features entirely, the pure joy coming from Emma makes him smile with a shake of his head.
“I’m not sure that I’ll ever understand you Emma, but if you’re happy then I’m happy.”
She beams at him and gives him a kiss. “I couldn’t be happier,” she says.
Emma watches Jack while she takes a sip of her wine. Something’s definitely off with him tonight.
Things have been going so well the last few months. After his initial shock of her giving away pieces of the floral arrangement he’d sent her, he seemed to accept that it was something that delighted her. Though he hasn’t sent another one.
Since then he’s relaxed a fair bit, though they only have dinner together once a week because of his judicial ambitions. But at least they still do morning coffee together everyday.
It concerns her that he goes to the office seven days a week, but she learned to leave it be. It’s something that he’s particularly sensitive about, though he assures her that it’s a temporary necessity.
“Okay Jack, enough with the brooding. What’s wrong?” Emma asks when they finish eating and he’s barely spoken a dozen words.
“I’m not really in the mood to discuss it,” he says.
“Then why the hell am I here. If I wanted to have dinner in strained silence I would have gone to see my father.”
He looks at her with a frown. “You’re not close with your father?”
“Not the point. But if you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong, there’s no point in me sitting here while you mope.”
Anger flashes in Jack’s eyes. “Then you may as well leave. You will after you find out anyway.”
“Find out what?”
He stares at her. Why is he delaying the inevitable?
Because he likes her, that’s why. And he’s scared that this will be the last time she’ll want to have dinner with him. Though it’s inevitable.
“I didn’t get the judicial appointment I was expecting.”
He waits for her announce that it’s time for her to go.
She stares at him. “I’m really sorry Jack, I know how important that was to you. But why would that cause me to leave?”
“Because Christ only knows when the next opportunity will be. Why the hell would you wait around for that?”
“You’re upset, so I’m going to let that comment slide. But Jack, there will be other opportunities.”
“Are you sure about that? You don’t know what they’re like. They’re a bunch of pompous jackasses who can’t believe that someone as young as me could be good enough for a judicial appointment.”
“Is that why they turned you down?”
“What other reason is there? Sure they spouted some non-sense about not enough community service. But let’s be real, it’s my age they have an issue with.”
“In fairness Jack, community contribution is a major consideration for a judicial appointment.” It was the one thing she had wondered about with his aspirations to become a judge. He’s never given her the impression that he has any interest in giving back to the public.
“What the hell do you know about the process to becoming a judge?”
His tone pisses her off.
“If you’d ever put some effort into getting to know me, you’d know exactly why I know about judicial process.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Not once have you asked me anything about my family or my personal life outside of the animal shelter.”
“What does that have to do with anything. I’m interested in you, not your family. When have I ever talked about my family either?”
“Exactly my point Jack. You don’t care about anyone outside your immediate bubble and what they can do for you. I tried to ignore it. To pretend it wasn’t the case. But it’s precisely why I never told you who my father is. I wanted you to like me for me, not who I’m related to. But it was never lost on me that you never even asked.”
“In what possible way could your father be relevant to anything?”
“He’s the incumbent Chief Justice.”
Jack stares at her in silence for what seems like forever, before he explodes.
“Are you shitting me? You’re the reason I didn’t get selected? Daddy doesn’t like that I’ve been seeing his daughter? Oh that is just rich! Un-freaking-believable.”
“You arrogant bastard. Did it ever cross your mind that you didn’t get selected because you don’t give a damn about the people or world around you? I may not have the closest relationship with my father, but there are other reasons for that. One thing he has always been is a caring human being with a high level of integrity. And those are shoes you will never fill Jack Dunslow.”
She shoves her chair back, grabs her purse and storms towards the door. Yanking it open she looks back at him. “And for your information, I haven’t spoken to him since the day before I met you.”
She slams the door behind her.
Jack stares at the closed door while her words slowly sink in.
Jack picks up the phone and puts it back down again.
He shoves away from his desk and paces around the room.
It’s been two months since his fight with Emma. She won’t answer his calls or reply to his texts. She left her read receipts turned on though, so he knows she’s been getting his messages.
She wants him to know that she’s done with him and he can’t stop thinking about her.
Her words replay in his head every single day.
Is she right? Does he really have his priorities screwed up that much?
His father brushed it off.
“It was a noble effort son,” he’d said. “But you’re right. Those pompous asses are letting your age stand in the way of your greatness.”
His words felt shallow and empty in a way they never have before.
Jack picks up his phone again and dials.
“Good afternoon, this is Jack Dunslow. I’d like to speak with the Chief Justice please.”
After a brief wait, the voice on the other end of line is warm and welcoming.
Jack instantly understands what Emma meant.
“Jack, a pleasure to hear from you. What can I do for you?”
“Thank you for taking my call, Sir. I’d like your advice regarding the community service requirements considered for a judicial appointment.”
“Excellent Jack! I’m thrilled to hear that. Why don’t we meet for lunch next week?”
“Thank you, Sir. I’d appreciate that very much.”
Jack hangs up the phone and takes a deep breath.
Jack wipes his sweaty palms down the side of his pants and clears his throat.
“Shelley, I really do appreciate you agreeing to give me this opportunity. I’m not sure what to expect, but I hope that it works out in your favor too.”
Shelley tilts her head as she takes in the small bead of sweat on his brow. She almost feels sorry for him.
“Just to be clear Jack, this is an experiment. If you piss off or upset my clientele, it won’t happen again.”
Jack nods. “Yes, yes. Of course. I understand that.”
She hands him his latte and smiles warmly. “Go on. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
Jack takes a seat at the table in the corner that had been moved away from other tables in order to create some level of privacy.
He straightens his note pad. Picks up his pen and places it back down. Shifts the angle of his laptop.
With a shake of his head, he takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. It’s ridiculous for his stomach to be knotted up this much. Maybe this is how other lawyers feel when they’re in a courtroom?
It’s foreign to him.
A couple walks up to the counter. The woman is holding a poofy little dog. Shelley points towards Jack.
He takes another deep breath. Here we go.
“Mr. Dunslow?” The woman asks.
“Yes that’s right. Please take a seat.”
“Before we do that, are we to understand that you’re actually offering a proper, free consultation? As in, we’ll actually get the useful information we need from this? It’s not some sales pitch to convince us that we’ll need to hire you at the exorbitant prices lawyers charge these days?”
Jack’s eyes widen a bit. He wasn’t expecting such a blunt confrontation.
“Of course, absolutely. I mean to the best of my ability within the limitations afforded to us within a setting such this. It’s not like I can make any judicial decisions for you here that would require a court appearance. But why don’t you tell me the nature of your inquiry and I will be completely honest about how I can or cannot help.”
The woman nods, satisfied with his reply and takes a seat.
The man doesn’t look particularly impressed.
“My husband and I are getting divorced.”
“Ah, I see. I’m sorry to hear that. So are you needing information on the filing process?”
“No, that won’t be a concern. We need some information regarding custody arrangements.”
“Oh, okay. How many children are involved and how old are they?”
“Just one, and Princess is seven years old.”
“Princess?” Jack asks.
“Yes. She’s a purebred Pomeranian, and she has special needs.”
“Pardon me? Pomeranian?” Jack looks at the little poofy dog that she’s holding.
“You want to discuss custody of a dog?” Jack asks, failing to hide the disbelief in his tone.
The woman looks at him sharply. “Is there a problem Mr. Dunslow?”
“Well, no. But, uh, it’s a dog.”
“I don’t appreciate your tone Mr. Dunslow,” the woman says.
“I told you this was a mistake Mary,” the man says.
“Well at least we found something to agree on George,” she stands up. “Why would you bother to get people’s hopes up and then be condescending Mr. Dunslow. It’s most disappointing.”
Jack stands up. “No, wait. Please. I’m sorry. This is a bit of new territory for me and you caught me off guard. Please, sit down and let’s see what we can find for this situation.”
She looks at him skeptically.
“Please Mary, I would genuinely like to assist you with this.”
She sits down.
“Thank you. Let me see what tools we have to work with.” Jack takes a deep breath while he pulls up a search on his laptop.
“Ah, here we go. Looks like this is exactly what we need.” He turns the laptop so that George and Mary can both see the screen.
“So we’ve got a few key points to consider, which includes primary custody, as in who will be the primary decision maker, how to handle the various expenses, and then how visitation will be managed.” Jack smiles at Mary, realizing that this really isn’t so daunting after all. “So let’s start at the top.”
An hour later Mary stands and hands Princess to George. She holds her hands out to Jack beckoning him to rise. She pulls him in for a hug.
Stepping back she says, “Mr. Dunslow, I cannot thank you enough. I was awfully worried at the start of this meeting, but you have given me so much peace of mind.”
“It’s been my pleasure Mary. I’m certain that Princess is going to adjust well to the arrangements.” He looks at George and offers his hand.
“Yes, thank you Mr. Dunslow, you’ve saved me an incredible headache,” George says.
Mary tuts and takes Princess back.
George grins at Jack.
“I’ll be here every Wednesday morning, feel free to swing by with Princess anytime. And be sure to let your friends know that I’m here.”
“Oh we will Mr. Dunslow. Count on it,” Mary says, and he believes her.
Jack catches Shelley’s approving smile as Mary and George head for the door.
He leans back in his chair and stretches. This really is going to be alright.
SIX MONTHS LATER
“Good morning Jack,” the barista greets him with a smile. “Would you like the usual?”
“Yes please Patty, and the normal $5 to pay forward to please.”
Emma freezes in place hugging the tri-color King Charles to her chest. She hasn’t spoken to Jack in nearly eight months. He finally gave up trying after two months of being ignored.
She changed her own schedule for her daily coffee and reading so as to be sure not to run into him during the two months she was ignoring him.
The change in schedule had just stuck with her after that.
But she promised Shelley that she’d bring Gizmo in for a visit today and the morning was the best time for Shelley. It never occurred to her that Jack would still be coming here.
He looks different. Still well groomed and as handsome as ever, but not flashy like he was before.
Before Jack turns around, Emma scootches to the far corner with her back towards him.
Why is she being such a coward?
She steals a glance over her shoulder to see Jack sit at a table with a couple and watches people take their coffee to sit in a line-up of chairs off to the side.
“Emma! Oh my god, give me that bundle of fur!” Shelley exclaims loudly. Emma suspects if it was done intentionally.
Jack looks up at hearing her name and their eyes lock.
Emma turns away from him to hand Gizmo over to Shelley.
“What is he doing over there?” Emma whispers.
“Oh Emma, it’s the most incredible thing. About five months ago, Jack approached me to ask if he could setup a free consultation session one morning per week and offered to pay me a fee to section off that side of the cafe. As soon as word got out, the place started flooding. What used to be my slowest day of the week, is now my most profitable. And the number of people that he’s helped, honestly, I can’t even begin to add them up.”
“Wait, Jack Dunslow is offering free legal consultations in your coffee shop and paying you for space to do so?”
Shelley nods vigorously. “Isn’t it in incredible!” Before turning her attention back to Gizmo as she coos at him, rubs her nose against his, and is rewarded with a delicate, but wet kiss up the length of her cheek.
“Oh Emma, he is so adorable. Will he be up for adoption? I could just gobble him up.”
“Mmmm, I suspect in another couple of months,” Emma says, but she’s distracted.
What is Jack up to?
Does he think this stunt will impress her?
“Why didn’t you tell me before that he was doing these consultations?”
Shelley looks at her. “I’m sorry Emma, but he asked me not to tell you.”
Emma frowns. “Why would he do that?”
Shelley shrugs. “I didn’t ask. Since you two weren’t coming in together anymore, I just figured something had happened between you two. Not my business to pry.”
“Because I didn’t want you to jump to conclusions,” Jack’s timber voice being so close makes her jump.
She turns to face him.
“What conclusions might I have jumped to?”
“That I was offering this service for the wrong reasons. In fairness, based on my past behavior, it would have been a justifiable conclusion that I deserved.”
Emma looks over at the people waiting for his return.
“You came up with this idea?”
“I’m flattered, but no. Six months ago I could never have come up with a genuine idea like this. The Chief Justice suggested it after I met him for lunch to get some advice.”
Emma snaps her eyes back to Jack’s the fury within her causing her pupils to contract.
“I didn’t tell him anything,” Jack says, before she can tell him off. “But you’re right, I can only dream that one day I might be worthy enough to fill his shoes.”
Jack looks at the people waiting for him and back at Emma. “I need to go, but it was really good to see you.” He holds her gaze, drinking in those memorizing eyes that so entranced him forever ago. “Ummm, I just finished the latest John Grisham novel last night. If you’re not too busy, I’d love to discuss it with you over coffee sometime.”
Emma stares at him. Does she dare hope that Jack Dunslow has actually come to his senses?
“I should have it finished tonight,” she says, before she can think about it too much.
He holds her gaze and a soft smile reaches his eyes in a way she’s never seen before.
“Tomorrow it is then.”