“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, Laney. I guess being a conservative means you don’t believe in free speech,” Payton teased.
“Don’t get on your liberal high horse—of course I believe in free speech,” Laney said, toying with the heart locket she wore.
“Then I should be able to say anything I want, right? Even the word ‘penis’?”
Laney sighed. “Do we have to do this right now?”
“You should try saying the word sometime.”
“I’ll pass, thank you.”
Payton shrugged. “Your choice, but I think you’d find it liberating. Everybody could use a good ‘penis’ now and then.”
Laney glanced nervously around the coffee shop. “People are listening.”
“Sorry—you’re right. Good rule of thumb: if you’re gonna throw out a ‘penis’ in a public place, it should be soft. Otherwise it attracts too much attention.”
The woman at the next table gaped at them.
Laney leaned over. “I apologize for my friend. She gets this way sometimes.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Tourette’s. So sad.”
The woman nodded sympathetically, then pretended to make a call on her cell phone.
Laney turned back to Payton. “If you’re finished with the First Amendment lesson, I thought maybe we could turn back to the subject of J.D. Because I do have a suggestion as to how you can solve your problem.”
Payton leaned forward eagerly. “Great—let’s hear it. I’m open to anything.”
“Okay. My suggestion is . . .” Laney paused dramatically. “. . . learn how to play golf.” She let this sink in a moment. “Then you’ll never have this problem again.”
Payton sat back in her chair, toying with her coffee mug. “Um, no.” She brushed off the suggestion with a dismissive wave. “Playing golf is just so, I don’t know . . . snooty.”
Laney gave her a pointed look. “You know, when you make partner, you’ll have to get used to being around people who grew up with money.”
“I don’t have any issues with that,” Payton said huffily.
“Oh, sure, right. You don’t think that has anything to do with why you’re so hard on J.D.?”
“I’m hard on J.D. because he’s a jerk.”
“True, true . . .” Laney mused. “You two do seem to bring out the worst in each other.”
In each other? “I hope you aren’t suggesting that I somehow contribute to J.D.’s behavior,” Payton said. “Because if so, we really need to get this conversation headed in a sane direction.”
“It’s just kind of odd, because J.D. has lots of qualities that you normally like in a guy. A guy who maybe isn’t quite so, you know . . .” Laney gestured, trailing off.
“So what?” Payton prompted.
Payton rolled her eyes. “First of all: please—like I said, I don’t care about that. Second of all: What are these alleged other ‘qualities’ J.D. has?”
Laney considered her answer. “He’s very smart.”
Payton frowned and grumbled under her breath. “I changed my mind—I don’t want to talk about this.” She grabbed the dessert menu sitting next to her and stared at it intently.
Appearing not to hear her, Laney kept going with her list of J.D.’s supposed attributes. “He’s also passionate about the law, interested in politics—albeit on the opposite side of the spectrum. Which, interestingly, doesn’t seem to bother you about me.”
Payton peered over the top of her menu. “You have charm.”
“That’s true, I do.”
“It’s quickly fading.”
Laney went on. “And J.D. works hard, just like you, and he can be funny in that sarcastic kind of way that—”
“I object!” Payton interrupted. “Lack of foundation—when has J.D. ever said anything funny?”
“This isn’t a courtroom.”
Payton folded her arms across her chest. “Fine. Total crap—how about if I just go with that instead?”
“Gee, sorry, Payton—I didn’t mean to make you so uncomfortable,” Laney said with a grin. “I won’t say anything else.” She picked up her menu. “Let’s see . . . now what looks good? That flourless chocolate cake we split last time was divine.” She glanced up at Payton. “Except just one last thing on the subject of J.D.: he’s totally hot.”
Just in time, fighting her smile, Laney put her menu up to block the napkin that came flying at her face.
“Hot?” Payton nearly shouted. “That smarmy, prep-school-attending, pink-Izod-shirt-wearing jerk who’s been handed his career on a silver platter?” She covered her mouth. “Well, look at that—maybe I do have one or two issues with money.”
Laney nodded encouragingly, as if to say they were making progress. “But you’re about to be named partner. I get why you’ve been guarded in the past, but you’ve made it. You don’t have to keep trying so hard to prove that you fit in with these guys.”
Payton was surprised by this. “You think I come across as guarded?”
“At work, you can sometimes . . . have a bit of an edge,” Laney said carefully. “Like this thing with J.D., for example.”
Payton tried to decide whether she should be offended. But as much as she might not want to admit it, a part of her knew that what Laney was saying wasn’t completely off base.