Chapter 47: Limbo
Alex felt a mounting sense of dread as she walked into work that same morning. For someone who had just gotten engaged, she surely didn't feel ecstatic. Even worse, she was not looking forward to seeing Jim and telling him the news. After the night before, she knew he'd only gotten more attached and wasn't going to take things well. Maybe I can just avoid him most of the day, she hoped.
She also knew that it wouldn't be long before word started to spread. Obviously Victor and Katherine would be over the moon, but she hoped that Robert would give her a chance to tell them before he did. She couldn't believe that just a few weeks ago, she was planning to dump him for Olivia. Now she was planning to marry him. As crazy as that sounded, she didn't think it was any crazier than the events that had just transpired in the past 24 hours.
After Jim and Christina met with their defendant and his lawyer, Jim went to Alex's office to discuss things just before 2 o'clock that afternoon. "It was a shake, not a slam. That's manslaughter," he stated.
"He killed a helpless infant," Alex insisted.
"Murder two," Alex replied.
"Look at your file, Al. Last quarter we had two identical cases, both manslaughter," Jim maintained, playing with the stress ball from her desk.
"Call me crazy. I like to go for murder when somebody kills a five-month-old infant."
"Me, too. But it's my case and I prefer to win."
But Alex was sticking to her guns. Shaking her head and smiling, she advised, "You can always reduce the charge."
Leaning forward, Jim suggested, "Hey, let's uh, talk about this over dinner. My place?" He smiled hopefully.
Alex looked down and played with her pencil. "I can't tonight. I'm sorry. I have plans." She looked back up.
"Plans?" Jim asked.
Alex decided to cut right to the chase. Looking him squarely in the eye, she firmly but gently said, "Last night was a mistake." The hurt and disappointment immediately clouded his face while a cool, unyielding smile had formed on hers. She wanted to soften the blow but simultaneously let him know that she meant what she said. "Robert and I got engaged this morning," she added, the inflection in her voice changing.
Jim rolled his eyes and looked at her in shock. Seriously? he thought. Alex looked down, her smile dissolved when she thought of her bigger plight with Robert. She didn't even try to hide her unhappiness about the path she was taking at the cost of Olivia and her freedom. Although she felt guilty for toying with Jim's emotions, she still was not concerned with trying to offer him words of comfort. After a few seconds, she looked back up at him to gauge his reaction.
Jim stared at her for a bit and then closed his eyes and shook his head. Without another word, he got up and left her office. He felt like he had been punched in the stomach. All he could think about was that Alex had used him and then cast him aside like yesterday's garbage once again, and she didn't even apologize for hurting him. Of course, he knew that he was the one who initiated the sex in the first place by grabbing Alex and kissing her when she was in a vulnerable state with Robert. However, it didn't hurt any less, especially with her rigid smile and condescending tone as if she thought she was explaining something to a child. He had thought that maybe if they slept together again, Alex would change her mind about them. Deep down, he'd known she wouldn't but it stung to hear her keep dashing his hopes. The last thing he ever wanted to be thought of was just a mistake.
Alex looked off into space and pondered everything that had happened. Olivia's words echoed in her head: "How many hearts do you plan on breaking? Are we all just casualties of the war you have with yourself?"
As if Jim wasn't already in a bad enough mood, it wasn't long after his talk with Alex that he found out that Christina had set up an abortion appointment for their defendant's girlfriend. He was not about to stand for her blowing their case with stupid decisions and was going to let her know it. When will this chick ever fucking get it? he thought.
"You wanted to see me?" Christina asked, standing in his doorway.
Jim dropped a file on the table and said, "Yeah." He shut the door and Christina nervously sat down on his couch. "Vida stopped by this morning to thank you for making an appointment for her at the East Side Women's Clinic."
"She asked. I just—"
Jim abruptly demanded, "Did you call on her behalf to make an appointment for an abortion?"
"Yes. She needed help, so I—"
Interrupting again, he accused, "You thought that they'd fit her in if a Manhattan D.A. made the request."
"She asked me to make a call and I did. That's it," Christina replied, terrified of a possible disciplinary action.
"Do you have any idea how politically sensitive this is?" Jim asked. "Now we're gonna have to voir dire jurors as to whether or not they're pro-choice, because defense is gonna claim we pushed a confused 16-year-old into terminating her pregnancy."
"I didn't push her to do anything. I got her an appointment. That's it. I'm sorry. I didn't think—"
"That's right. You didn't think," Jim insulted. He opened the door and warned, "You ever play social worker with a material witness again, I'll fire you." He walked back to his desk and sat down, fixing her with a glare.
Christina swallowed hard and held back tears. She then got up and exited his office. She couldn't remember a time that she'd felt so low at work and wondered if there would ever be a time when Jim Steele didn't seem to think her every move was wrong.
Although Alex had dreaded telling Jim about her engagement, she knew there was another whom she dreaded telling even more—her best friend. But she knew that if she didn't tell her, it would be even more awkward if she found out some other way and then confronted her about it. So the next evening, she decided to go to her apartment to inform her in person. She wasn't going to tell her not to tell Olivia; she just hoped that when Olivia did find out that she would have someone to comfort her. She couldn't stomach breaking the news to her on her own and seeing Olivia's heart shatter in front of her yet another time. Besides, Olivia was her greatest weakness but also her greatest strength, and she was afraid that both those attributes could cause her to renege on her new commitment with Robert.
"Serena, I've got to tell you something," Alex began nervously as she took a seat beside her on the sofa.
"What's up?" Serena asked, crossing her legs.
Alex took a deep breath. Exhaling, she informed her, "Robert and I are getting married."
Serena's mouth dropped open. "You're joking, right?"
Alex shook her head. "I wish I was."
Serena leaned back and folded her hands on her knee. "You couldn't sound more thrilled," she remarked wryly.
"Sometimes the best decision is not the one that makes you happiest."
Serena shook her head. "This is going to require alcohol." She got up and poured two glasses of Riesling. Returning and handing one to Alex, she asked, "What do you think Liv will say?"
Alex nodded her thanks and replied, "Olivia is seeing Zoe. She already made it clear to me that she has no intention of getting back with me, so I really cannot be concerned with what she will think. And even if she changed her mind, I can't take going back and forth like this anymore than she can. When I was in the program, I spent a year and seven months with my life essentially in limbo. I don't want to spend the rest of it that way. I need stability. Robert isn't going anywhere."
"And you know this how?" Serena pressed.
"He told me that he knew I was the one for him the moment he saw me."
"But he's not the one for you and in the end, that's all that matters. You two will never be on the same page. A marriage should first and foremost be about love, not a business or social arrangement. You both want each other as trophies." She paused for a moment before continuing, "Besides, you've told me that you and Robert were having problems. Do you expect those to just magically disappear now that you're engaged?"
Alex looked into her glass and responded, "This marriage is not about our past; it's about our future. If we have something happy to look forward to, then maybe we won't have time to be at each other's throats. We can focus on something larger and more important than trivial fights."
Serena thought her remarks sounded rehearsed. "But Alex…these fights are not trivial. They are indicative of problems that are much deeper and that aren't going away anytime soon. You can't keep running in life, Alex, when the going gets tough. Instead of facing the problems head-on, you run to what you think is the next best solution. Rushing into marriage is not going to leave your present problems behind."
"In order to protect myself in the past, I've had to run. I faced Zapata and by extension, Velez, head-on and it almost cost me my life and spirit. In order to survive, I had to go into Witness Protection. Even when I came back to testify against Connors, I had to be relocated in the program for my safety."
Serena touched her shoulder comfortingly. "But sweetie, you don't have to run anymore."
"I think that with certain situations, it's more important to run than to let them overtake you. It's the fight or flight syndrome," Alex argued. She took a long drink of wine. "Jim was not too happy when I told him we were engaged."
"Well, you said awhile ago that he'd started to have feelings for you, so I'm not surprised."
"Yeah…but that's not the only reason…" Alex started cautiously.
Serena's eyes grew wide. "Did something happen between you two?"
Alex took another deep breath before explaining, "Well, a couple nights ago, we got into this huge argument in the conference room over a case. I'd told him to indict someone; he didn't want to do it. I informed him that it was my bureau and that he basically had to do what I said. He made a snide remark about the problems Robert and I were having as he turned to leave."
"Wait…how did he know that the two of you were having problems?"
"A few days ago, he asked why I'd kicked him to the curb. I told him it was because I met Robert and he seemed like the perfect guy. He got caught up on the words 'seemed like' and asked if I was in love with him. I just kinda avoided the question and said he was a wonderful man. But he wouldn't let it go and so I finally told him that I did love Robert. That's when he asked if we were having problems. I deflected the answer again but he put two and two together. I didn't go into details."
"But Alex, if Jim was questioning whether you were in love with Robert, don't you think others will, too?"
"Jim happened to catch me at a vulnerable moment and he's the one who brought everything up. It's frustrating having to hold it all in. I obviously couldn't talk to Olivia and I thought you'd just say 'I told you so.' Everyone else is out of the picture because they think of us as the perfect couple."
Serena smirked and took a sip from her own glass. "So when do we get to the part where Jim was the perfect outlet for all your pent-up frustrations?"
Alex rolled her eyes. "Anyway, as he was leaving, I grabbed him and demanded that he not walk away. I wasn't going to let him get away with claiming that my judgment was skewed and I was using him as a punching bag because of the problems with Robert. He snatched his arm back and before I knew it, he'd grabbed and kissed me."
"And you didn't pull back?" Serena asked in amazement. "It didn't occur to you that you were still at work?"
"Serena, you don't understand," Alex explained, looking at her with a sense of desperation. "It was like everything was threatening to consume me and something just snapped inside me. I had to get away from it all. When he kissed me, one thing led to another and it was kind of like I wasn't even myself anymore."
"Sounds to me like Mike's death was the trigger and your problems with Robert finally pulled it," Serena analyzed. "But you can't use a Band-Aid when you need stitches."
Alex looked down and contemplated what Serena had said. "After Mike's shooting, I started throwing myself into my work even more. I was just on autopilot. I talked to Olivia about it the night after it happened when she came over, but I tried to suppress it as much as I could after that. Robert kept trying to get me to express my feelings and it just pissed me off. He accused me of being distant and it just led to fights. Then he complained that we don't get to spend enough time together because I'm such a workaholic. He said I was avoiding him on purpose. He acts as if he doesn't work a lot, too. He and his Blackberry could be lovers."
Serena rubbed her knee gently. "You can't just shut off your feelings, Alex."
"But Robert was supposed to be part of my new life. I didn't want to drag painful elements of my old one into it."
Leaning closer to her, Serena replied, "Sweetie, you're human, not a robot. You can't just reprogram yourself and expect things not to go haywire at some point." She sighed. "You've only known him a few months. Are you even sure he really loves you? How do you know this isn't some power play on his part?"
"Geez, Serena, you sound like Liv. Not everything has to be calculated."
This time it was Serena's turn to roll her eyes. "Why are you marrying him? Guilt?"
"Because I lost almost two years of my life already. I don't want to feel like I'm still trapped in the past somewhere while everyone else is steadily moving forward. I need to make up for that lost time."
"But if you had stayed, you probably would've still been with Liv—not a guy."
"Doubtful. I still probably would've been too afraid of being outed and Liv would've just gotten tired of it sooner. So I might've already been married to a guy even if I'd never been shot. After all, it's what most people expect."
"Most people don't have to live with your conscience at the end of the day. You can't bounce between Robert and Jim like some ping-pong ball, exchanging one bad choice for another. You shouldn't sacrifice their feelings for your own."
Alex groaned and set her glass down on the coffee table. She stood up and stated, "Serena, I didn't come here for your approval. I just wanted to let you know before you heard it from someone else or saw the announcement in the papers."
Serena put her hands up in surrender and stood up, too. "Whatever, Alex. It's your life."
Alex put on her coat and scarf and picked up her purse. "I need to go. I don't want Robert to worry."
Serena was disappointed that Alex had walled herself off just as quickly as she'd opened up. However, she was not surprised. Nodding, she said, "All right. Have a good night."
"You, too, Serena," Alex said, giving her a quick smile and leaving.
Alex woke up the next morning to Robert bringing her breakfast in bed. "Guess what day it is, pumpkin?"
Propping herself against the headboard, Alex smirked and replied, "Um, Saturday?"
"Not just any Saturday. This is the day you get your ring," he said, smiling widely. He held a forkful of scrambled eggs out for her to accept. "You ready to be wowed, sweetie?"
Alex forced a smile. "I'm sure whatever you picked out will be lovely, but you really didn't have to go to any trouble."
"Trouble, my dear? Hardly. Besides, you know I'm not going to show up to Victor's tonight without a ring on his sister's finger. What type of cheapskate would that make me?"
Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Alex bit into a slice of bacon. "Thanks for breakfast, honey."
Robert brushed his thumb across her cheek. "Anytime."
A few hours later, Alex and Robert walked out of Harry Winston with her new engagement ring on her finger, and even Alex had to admit it was quite impressive. The 4.5-carat princess-cut solitaire diamond with two baguettes sat atop a platinum band and caught the sunlight at every angle. Yet buried deep inside her, the darkness and shadows surrounded, their tendrils ever ready to inch forward and pull her down into the abyss.