Christmas Memories

Normal days in the office passed slowly, but this one seemed to be speeding by at an alarming rate. Claire looked up from her desk and glanced at the clock on the far wall. Only another hour, and it would be time to leave. Most of the staff had cleared out early, knowing no one would fault them for it, and even Adam had announced his intention to go home when the last of his paperwork was finished. Only Jack seemed intent to work until the appropriate hour. He was such a workaholic that she couldn't imagine him leaving early for much less than a nuclear war.

Biting her lip, Claire looked at the clock again. She couldn't concentrate. The anticipation of seeing her family over Christmas always made her feel this way. Her father would be there, with his prestigious degree in the law, a college professor who had been as hard on her as anyone else, maybe harder. He loved her, but their relationship was not as close as she might have wished. Mrs. Kincaid, her mother, a socialite to the nines, who spent most of her time and energy doing charitable work while keeping up a pristine home in the country. This year, the family event was to be held at their winter cabin, in upstate New York. Claire had not been there since she was five years old. The most she remembered of it was a sprawling house surrounded by deep drifts of snow.

Claire had tried to come up with any number of excuses as to why she couldn't attend, but all of them fell flat. Her only alternative was to beg Jack to come with her, to act as a barrier. It was a dangerous move to make, for only a handful of people knew they were involved. But her father had guessed at the last banquet they had attended together that there was something going on, and Jack had agreed, being so mild-mannered that he was comfortable with just about anything outside the office. Pressing her face into her hands, she sighed and listened to the murmur of voices outside the door. More than one of her coworkers stuck their head into her office and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Then things quieted down, and she realized everyone had gone home. Only the guard, McCoy, and Adam Schiff remained. She heard the squeak of Adam's office door, which no one ever seemed to fix, followed by his authoritative step in the hall, and went out to wish him Merry Christmas. Grandfatherly in appearance, with his coat hanging over one arm, Adam Schiff did not look the formidable District Attorney that he was. He was one of the most demanding men she knew, determined to stick it to her so that she would find out if she really was cut out for the job. More than once, she had thought about quitting, but in those hours of doubt, Jack was there to tell her not to let anyone get to her. "You're a damn good attorney, Claire," he said. "Don't allow Adam's hard-nosed idealism run you off."

"You're still here?" Adam asked gruffly when she appeared. He thought she was too sweet to work in the district attorney's office, a place that demanded harshness and compromise. Claire felt too much, but despite all of this, he was fond of her, in his own way. The manner in which she looked at him just then, a hint of a smile on her lips, softened him up a little bit. He should have known his voice would bring Jack from his office, the tall figure leaning against the doorway. Jack always looked so self-confident and assured of himself. It was one of the many reasons juries loved him so much, the other being a resonating voice that his female coworkers defined as "gravely."

Adam beheld them a moment and then continued down the hall, calling out, "Don't you people have homes?" He nodded to the watchman and pressed the button for the elevator. Turning to survey them beneath the brim of his battered fedora, he added, "Don't drink too much eggnog."

"Merry Christmas to you too, Adam," Jack dryly shot back; and received a hint of a smile for his troubles. With a wave of his hand to indicate he was only half serious, their boss vanished into the elevator. Jack shifted his attention to the beautiful woman at his side, and knew at a glance that she about to have a nervous breakdown. There was a look about Claire that accompanied mild panic, though she might not have shown it in her mannerisms. He had once gone hunting with his father, and could only describe it as the look a deer in the crossbow has when it knows it has been spotted.

"Everyone's gone home," he said. "I don't see why we can't leave early."

Something akin to horror came into her enormous brown eyes, and she shook her head. Jack picked up her jacket off the coat tree, and approached her with it. "I can't," she said, "there's the deposition." Claire was not making much progress as he propelled her down the corridor, her high heels clicking on the wooden floor. The hold he had on her elbow was commanding, but also gentle. He was doing this for her own good.

"It can wait until next week."

"What about the Melnik case?"

"Danielle isn't going to call tonight. If I know her, she's doing last-minute shopping at Macy's." Jack halted and gazed into her eyes. His dark hair was starting to gray at the temples, but otherwise he did not look his age. His features were very angular, not attractive so much as mesmerizing for the command he wielded over them. Claire was lost in his eyes, the color of melted chocolate. "Claire, the watchman is waiting until we leave to go home for the night. Do you really want to sit here twiddling your thumbs for another hour, at his expense?"

Looking at the good-natured older man seated so patiently behind his desk, arranging and rearranging the tray of peppermints that he offered to everyone on their way in, Claire conceded. As much as she dreaded the trip upstate, it would be less trouble just to prepare for it. Jack assisted her on with her coat, for the weather outside was quite nippy, and then accompanied her down the elevator and through the front lobby. They could almost hear the relieved sighs as they went through the revolving doors onto the street, for it meant the place could officially lock up.

She had left her car home that morning and taken the subway, but Jack insisted on a taxi. The streets were a mad dash of activity, as last-minute shoppers and sightseers took in all the glorious city of New York had to offer them. It would not be dark for another hour or two, but already colored lights were twinkling from arbor windows and atop the street posts.