The MBTA bus, typically, was running late.
At another time, Emmett Forrest might have been bothered by it. Or, given his usual even temperament, he might have just laughed and shrugged it off. At the moment, however, he was feeling too numb to care one way or another.
Right at that minute, Elle was talking to Warner. And Emmett, who hadn't been bothered by it as he'd walked away from the two of them, had found himself losing his confidence the farther he'd gotten. After all, he'd seen the possessive--and very assured--look on Warner's face as Elle's ex-boyfriend had approached her. And he was fairly sure he knew what Warner wanted. So by the time he'd reached the bus stop, Emmett's good mood was thoroughly decimated.
It was stupid, he told himself. Elle had every right to talk to Warner. So what if her former boyfriend was an ass? Elle was smart enough to realize it.
Of course, she evidently hadn't realized it when she'd crossed the country to follow him to law school.
And just because Emmett loved her--was in love with her--it didn't mean that she would care. How could she, when he'd never told her? The one time he'd worked up the courage to do it, to tell her how important she'd become to him, she'd blurted out what Callahan had done to her, and how could he tell her then? Bad enough that her professor had taken advantage of his position of power to hit on her. Emmett couldn't add to that by forcing more, also probably unwanted, advances on her. She was upset enough already.
Upset enough to leave Harvard, no less. Thank god for Enid Hoopes and--though he never would have believed it--Vivienne Kensington...
Emmett wanted to hit somebody.
More specifically, he wanted to put his fist into Callahan's face and wipe the ever-present arrogant smirk from it. He was a little surprised, actually. He'd never been one for acts of physical violence; he'd been too scrawny growing up to win fights, so he'd relied on arguing his way out of things. It was one of the things that had pushed him towards the law. And, once he'd met Robert Callahan--and survived the lawyer's class (and the internship that followed) with flying colors--he'd wanted to be just like him. Successful, confident, and very, very assured.
Now he just wanted to slug the bastard.
Instead, he took his aggression out on the door to Elle's dormitory. The door sprang open with a crack as it bounded against the outer wall of the building. Luckily, it did not hit the woman who'd been poised to enter.
"Emmett?" asked Vivienne. "Are you all right?"
"No," Emmett grated out. "Elle's leaving."
"What?" the brunette said sharply.
"She's leaving," he repeated. "Harvard, Boston, all of it. Callahan--"
"Kissed her," Vivienne interrupted. "I know. Then she slapped him. But that's not a reason to quit law school."
He said in some surprise, "How did you know?"
"I saw it." She paused for a moment, then said, "Wait right here."
Fifteen minutes later, Emmett found himself seated at a small table at a nearby coffee shop, with Vivienne and Enid gathered around.
"...just like a man!" Enid exclaimed upon hearing the story. She looked over at Emmett, and added quickly, "No offense, Emmett."
Emmett shrugged it off. It was hardly important right now. "She won't talk to me. She won't even open the door," he said, almost to himself.
"You seem awfully upset about it," mused Vivienne, stirring her coffee.
"Of course I'm upset!" he burst out. "Elle is quitting law school. She's leaving." He ran a hand over his face, wondering how he'd ended up here, anyway. "Yes, I'm upset," he said more calmly. "Elle is my friend, and what happened to her isn't right." Crossing his arms over his chest, he looked pointedly at Vivienne. "The question is, why do you care? You've never hidden what you think about her."
"I was wrong," Vivienne answered simply. Emmett studied her carefully, but could find no hint of deception on her face.
"Okay," he said with a short nod.
"Well, what are we going to do about it?" Enid put in. "We can't let Callahan get away with it."
"I don't care about him right now," Emmett said, rather surprised to find out it was true. "Elle is more important."
Both women nodded.
"Can you two try to talk to her? I can't. She's had enough unwanted attention from men for one night," he added somewhat bitterly.
"I hardly think it would be unwanted," said Vivienne.
Emmett shook his head. He couldn't even get Elle to open her door, much less stay, and he could hardly camp out on her doorstep waiting for her to come out of her room. There was no use in pretending he could change her mind. A thought occurred to him; an unpleasant thought, but a thought nonetheless.
"What about Warner?" he asked slowly.
"What about Warner?" Vivienne asked, her eyes narrowing.
"Well, they were friends for a long time," he said, trying to sound reasonable. "Could you ask him to talk to her? Maybe he'd have better luck than I did."
"I can't ask him," Vivienne said.
"Look, I know it's awkward," Emmett said, "what with their history--"
But Vivienne was shaking her head. "I can't ask him because he's...angry with me," she explained. "We broke up."
"You did?" asked Enid. "When was this?"
"About half an hour ago," Vivienne said with a shrug. Emmett's eyes shot to the hand that was holding her coffee. Sure enough, there was no flashy diamond on her finger.
"Uh, sorry," he said, feeling more than a little awkward. "I didn't mean to..."
"It's okay," she said, interrupting.
There were a few minutes of silence.
"Well, what if she really wants to leave?" Enid said. "She's an adult, after all."
This was not a cheerful thought for Emmett. He wanted Elle here, where he could see her every day, where they could laugh and study and do that stupid secret handshake she'd insisted on. Where he felt better just from having her near. But that was what he wanted. What did Elle really want?
"Then she should go," Emmett said finally. "But it should be because she's decided she doesn't want to pursue a law career, not because someone chased her away."
Vivienne took a sip of her coffee. "Someone is going to have to tell Brooke Wyndham. She'll be upset, too."
Emmett frowned. He wasn't about to leave that to Callahan. He was fairly sure Elle was the only one on Brooke's legal team that the woman respected. Vivienne was right; Brooke would be upset, and Callahan, being the arrogant jackass that he was, would only make it worse. And as much as he was worried about Elle, he had a responsibility to the client. "I can't get in to see Brooke at this hour. That'll have to wait until morning."
"Maybe Brooke can talk to Elle," suggested Vivienne.
"She won't have much time to talk to Elle before the trial resumes," Enid said.
"Could we get the trial postponed?" Vivienne asked aloud.
Emmett shook his head. "For what reason? The lead counsel being a bastard is hardly reason for a postponement."
"Hey, we could have a protest march!" Enid offered.
With a short (and not very humorous) laugh, Emmett shook his head again. "No. All we can do is talk to Elle. Just try and talk her into not making any rash decisions, okay? If she won't speak to you tonight, try again in the morning. I'll warn Brooke." Setting aside his untouched coffee cup, Emmett rose.
"We'll do our best," said Enid.
"Don't worry. We've got it covered," Vivienne added with a firm nod.
"Just...just make sure she's all right."
Of course, when Emmett broke the news to Brooke the next morning, her first action was to fire Callahan and insist on Elle taking over. "Sisters have to stick together," she declared. "Wait --she can represent me, can't she? I mean, it's legal, isn't it?"
Emmett's mind raced for a few moments; then he gave a decisive nod. "There's a way," he said, deliberately ignoring just what effect it would have on his own career. "Get a phone and call Vivienne or Enid. I'll be back. I just need to get something." And he'd rushed out, hoping against hope that he'd make it back in time, and that Elle would be there when he returned...
"Emmett!" a voice brayed out, pulling him out of his preoccupation. "Geez, I've been calling your name for at least fifteen minutes!" Paulette complained. He glanced over to the guy in the UPS uniform, standing next to her, for confirmation. The guy--what was his name, Kirk? Kent? Emmett couldn't remember--shook his head no.
"Paulette," Emmett acknowledged.
"I'm supposed to tell you, there's a party. We're all meeting at O'Grady's tonight, to celebrate Elle's victory," she said with a wide smile. "And I knew you'd want to be there, right?"
A victory celebration. Of course he was proud of Elle. After what she'd pulled off earlier, she deserved a party, more than a party. Now maybe everyone else would be able to see what Emmett saw in her. But he didn't think he could face it if she walked in, arm in arm with Warner. Not tonight, not until he got his unruly feelings back into their little safe internal box.
"I don't think so. But thanks," he added, trying to be polite.
Paulette blinked at him. "What do you mean, you don't think so? You have to be there."
"I'm not much of a party person," Emmett excused himself.
"But Elle will be there," the hairdresser protested. "She'll want you there too. Eight o'clock. It's to celebrate," she repeated.
"Thanks anyway." He nodded, then looked down the street, wondering if the damn bus was ever going to show up.
"Paulette--" the guy--was his name Karl?--began.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I know! I'll just call her." She began rooting in her bag, then triumphantly pulled out a cell phone. "She'll tell you."
Emmett was beginning to have grave doubts, both about her actions and the stability of his stomach. "Listen, Paulette, don't bother her. She's..." He swallowed hard, then continued, "...kind of busy at the moment."
But she was too fast for him. "Elle!" she cried into the phone, not bothering to announce herself. "Here's Emmett. He won't come to the party tonight. Tell him you want him to."
Emmett put up his hands and backed away from her. She thrust the phone at him, into his palm, and he tightened his fingers around it so it wouldn't fall to the sidewalk. He tried to hand it back, but she was more successful than he'd been about avoiding it. That, or she was pushier than he was. He let out a sigh, and lifted the phone to his ear. With some resignation, he said, "Elle?"
"Emmett?" her voice returned promptly. "I know you don't go to many parties, but--"
Deliberately ignoring the manners his mother had drilled into him, he interrupted her. "Look, Elle, you were great today. Amazing. But you don't need me to tell you that. So have a great time celebrating."
"You have to come," she insisted. "You promised, remember?"
"No, I didn't."
"Yes. You said you were gonna see me later. Well, tonight will be later. Please, Emmett. This is your victory too. It won't be a celebration without you."
"Elle," he began, then didn't know what else to say.
"It's really important that you come. Besides, I want you to meet someone."
He sighed again. Some day he was going to be able to say no to Elle, and have it stick. This was not the day. "Fine. Is this a suit kind of party?"
Strangely, he could almost hear relief in her tone as she answered, "It doesn't matter. Hot, suit-wearing Emmett or adorable scruffy Emmett. I like them both. Just as long as one or the other of them is there."
There she went again with the 'hot'. He knew better. The 'adorable' was new, though. He'd take it, though it made him feel like Bruiser. "Okay."
"It's at eight o'clock, did Paulette tell you?" She had, though come to think of it, he wasn't sure when the two women had had the time to discuss a party at all. The trial had hardly been over when Warner--
"It's at O'Grady's. We've got the whole back room."
"Did you want us to come pick you up?" he heard next. There it was: us. So she and Warner were an item after all. Well, he'd known all along that it was what Elle had wanted. Even if he'd been stupid enough to hope otherwise. "Emmett?"
"No, I can get there," he forced out. Paulette and the UPS guy--what was his name?--were looking at him with sympathy, but Elle didn't seem to notice anything wrong.
"So I'll see you there, then!" she said happily. "'Bye, Emmett!"
"Yeah," he answered, then stared at the phone a moment before pulling himself together enough to turn it off and hand it back to its owner.
"Boy, you really don't like parties, do you?" Paulette said. Emmett shrugged. "But you'll have fun. Just wait and see," she pressed on. "Kyle's coming too, aren't you?" she added, looking at the UPS guy. That's right, that was his name, Emmett thought. "So we'll see you tonight then!"
Emmett nodded at them, then turned away as they left, to face the street once more. If he was very, very lucky, the bus wouldn't come at all.