The driver turned around. “Hey—your friend back there was giving you some pretty strange advice.” Around fortyish and wearing a ragged flannel shirt and a Sox cap that had seen far better days, the guy had one of the thickest Chicago accents J.D. had ever heard. “He seemed a little off the wall, if you know what I mean. I don’t think I’d listen to him if I were you.”
J.D. grinned. “I’ll take that under advisement.” He opened the door to the cab and stepped out.
“Because everybody knows that Darcy doesn’t win Lizzie over just by being nice.”
J.D. stopped. He looked back over his shoulder.
The driver rested his arm on the divider. His rolled-up sleeve revealed a tattoo of a black scorpion that covered his entire forearm. “See, it’s all about the Grand Gesture. That’s how you get the girl.”
“Thank you,” J.D. managed to say.
The driver shrugged. “No prob-lem. Frankly, it sounded like you could use all the help you can get.”
He put the cab into gear.
“And listen—tell your friend to try English Breakfast next time. It’s a little more robust. Earl Grey is really more of a Sense and Sensibility kind of tea.”
AT HOME LATER that night, after J.D. had done the final checks for the evening of his email and work voice mail and cell phone voice mail and home voice mail and was satisfied that there were no work matters that required his immediate attention, he thought about Tyler’s advice. Figure out what you want. And it was then that J.D. realized.
He didn’t know.
As he had told Tyler, things weren’t that simple. Chase did complicate things. Of course he did. Maybe Payton really liked him. J.D. could see the two of them together—with all they had in common, they just seemed to make sense.
Tyler had been dismissive of this, and maybe to him Chase and every other obstacle just made the whole Payton issue a better intrigue, but then again, Tyler wasn’t up for partner that year. Tyler also wasn’t competing with Payton for only one partnership spot. And Tyler certainly didn’t have the history he had with Payton. Eight years of history.
It was a long time. It struck J.D. then, that he had become so swept up in beating Payton that he hadn’t directed his anger where he should have: at the firm. They were the ones who had put him and Payton in this position. Making partner was never a guarantee, but after all his hard work he deserved better. She deserved better.
But what bothered J.D. most was not the unfairness of the firm’s decision. Rather, it was the fact that when he looked back on the past eight years, he wasn’t necessarily proud of his own behavior. He had regrets, and there were things he wished he could go back and do differently. There was that one thing in particular that even Tyler didn’t know about . . .
Figure out what you want.
J.D. knew that he wanted to scrap the past. To start over. For the next fourteen days at least, he wanted to do things right. If he couldn’t change the fact that things had to come to an end with Payton, he could at least change the way they ended.
It wasn’t much, J.D. realized, and it certainly didn’t answer all the lingering questions.
But it was a start.
EARLY THE NEXT morning, Payton rushed around her office, packing up her trial briefcase. Yes, now she wished she had packed it the night before, but her mother had taken a late flight out and Payton hadn’t seen the need to make a special trip into the office at midnight. A good trial attorney should be prepared for anything, she knew, and that’s why she always built in extra time, particularly since she took the “L” to work. Ah, those little tricksters at the Chicago Transit Authority, she could always count on them to keep things spicy. Because, really, who didn’t want to spend an extra fifty-five minutes in the packed, hot, smelly car of a train that inexplicably moved only three miles an hour the entire trip downtown? That was fun stuff.
Payton grabbed the case files she had reviewed over the weekend and stuffed them into the large, boxy trial briefcase that weighed nearly a ton. She hoped Brandon would show up soon so she could pawn the thing off onto him—after all, wasn’t that what junior associates, and men, were for?
Payton heard a knock on her door and looked up. Instead of Brandon, she saw J.D. standing in the doorway. He was armed with a Starbucks cup.
“I noticed that you seem to be running late,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d have time to grab this on your way to court. Grande sugar-free vanilla latte, right?” he asked, gesturing to the coffee. “I’ve heard you say it to Irma a few times,” he added quickly.
He held the cup out to her.
Payton looked at it, then back at J.D. It was a trap, it had to be. She remained where she stood.
The corners of J.D.’s mouth curled up. “No, I don’t plan to throw it at you.”
Payton smiled. Ha-ha. Throw it at her? As if that had ever crossed her mind.
“That’s not what I was thinking,” she assured him as she walked over and took the cup. He certainly was taking their truce seriously, she thought. How sweet.
She subtly sniffed the coffee for poison.
J.D. smiled again. “And no, I didn’t put anything in it.”
Payton took a sip of the latte.
J.D. winked. “Nothing that can be detected by its smell, anyway.”
Payton stopped, mid-swallow, and held the liquid in her mouth. He was kidding, of course. Payton smiled and shook a finger to let him know she was in on the joke. Ah, J.D. you funny guy, you. She looked around her office. Seriously, why was there never a spittoon around when you needed one?