Emmett was late to the party. Part of him suspected he'd done it on purpose; the rest of him was sure of it. The less time spent in the vicinity of Elle-and-Warner-the-couple, the better.
He was well aware that his behavior could be considered passive-aggressive. He'd also spent quite a bit of time deciding what to wear to this little shindig. He'd contemplated staying in the suit. After all, he knew Elle liked it; she'd picked it out. But suit or not, he couldn't compete with Warner. He wasn't even going to try. So after a long deliberation - fifteen minutes deciding what to wear was a long time for Emmett, after all - he'd decided to go as himself. And if Elle the fashion maven didn't like it, too bad.
He was aware that this was fairly passive-aggressive too.
But nonetheless, he'd washed the product out of his hair, put on his most comfortable jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, grabbed his jacket, and left his apartment. He'd even walked part of the way, just to postpone his arrival even more.
Standing in front of O'Grady's, he took a deep breath in. You can do this, he told himself. You're her friend, so suck it up and be one.
He had barely set foot inside when he was ambushed. "Where have you been?" demanded Paulette.
The woman was dressed in a mixture of especially bright colors, Emmett noted, and the wide smile on her face looked genuinely happy. "Well, don't just stand there!" she exclaimed. "Go get a drink. Have fun!"
Nodding, Emmett headed towards the bar, keeping an eye out for a familiar blonde head on the way. He could say hello, give Elle his congratulations, and fade out of there before he had to deal with anything else. Unfortunately, the only blondes he saw in the main room were not his blonde. Not that she was his anyway. Beer in hand, he headed towards the back room, where Elle's get-together was taking place.
The back room was fairly crowded for its size, and loud, too. Emmett was reminded of just why he didn't like parties in the first place. Too many people, and too much noise. You couldn't concentrate in circumstances like these. Although Emmett suspected that nobody else really worried about being able to concentrate...
A flash of blonde hair caught his eye, and he took a step forward, but it wasn't Elle. It was a pretty blonde, of about Elle's age, he thought, but no one he recognized. After a few more moments of fruitless scanning, he finally saw Elle. She was, of course, wearing pink, he saw with amusement but no real surprise. She was also surrounded by people, and as those in her immediate vicinity drew back, others surged forward to surround her. She was the center of everything.
Emmett wouldn't be shocked to find that she was the center of any gathering, even one not set up in her honor.
So much for the quick in-and-out he'd hoped for. With an inward sigh, he moved to an out-of-the-way corner and settled in, nursing his beer and sunk in gloom.
"So you're Emmett, right? The lawyer?"
He turned to find a trio of young women standing between him and the crowd. He thought the blonde was the one he'd momentarily mistaken for Elle earlier. "Yes, I'm Emmett," he answered.
"Serena," said the brunette, who looked to be the ringleader. "That's Margot and Pilar," she continued, indicating the other two.
"We're Elle's Delta Nu sisters," the blonde, Margot, put in. "We came to see the trial."
"Oh," said Emmett.
"He looks different," Pilar commented to her two sisters.
"Of course he looks different," Margot put in. "The lighting in that courtroom was totally unnatural."
"No, that's not it," Pilar objected.
"Guys!" Serena cut in. "He was wearing a suit before, that's all."
The other two looked him over. "Oh, yeah," said Pilar.
"He's still cute, though," Margot said. "In a geeky sort of way."
Emmett could feel himself flushing as the three studied him. "Um...thank you?" he managed. "So..." he continued, wondering what they wanted. In his experience, women - especially attractive women - didn't just come up and introduce themselves.
"So Elle said we should make sure to meet you," Serena put in.
"Oh. Okay," Emmett said. Pull yourself together, he thought to himself. You are perfectly able to make conversation. "Are you staying in town long?"
"A few more days. We thought the trial would last longer," Pilar said.
"They frequently do," he assured her. "But then they don't usually have Elle on the job."
"I know! Wasn't she fabulous?"
"She was that," he agreed.
"Omigod! It's Emmett Forrest at an actual party! Can you believe it?" came a teasing voice from behind him.
Emmett swung around so quickly that he almost dropped his beer. "Hi, Elle."
"Girls, I'll talk to you later, all right?" she said to her sisters. They left without comment, but Emmett noticed some sort of silent communication happening between them. He just wasn't sure what it meant.
Elle turned back to him. "Thank you so much for coming! I mean, I know you don't like parties, but it was really important you be here. I mean, there was no way I could have done this whole thing without you. And I mean that literally," she laughed, waving around her very pink drink."So thank you for putting up with my crazy ways and getting me thr-"
"Whoa," Emmett interrupted. "Slow down there, Elle. You'll impale yourself on your garnish."
"It's just that it means so much that you're here, that's all."
"No problem." He looked around. "So this is what the cool kids get up to?"
"Well, it's better than the last party I went to. I was wearing a bunny suit," she said with a wry smile.
Emmett laughed. "I remember that outfit," he said. "You looked..." He paused, then took in her raised eyebrow. "...cold," he finished.
"Oh, I was," she said. "At least this time I'm not getting laughed at." She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, I want you to meet someone."
Reaching out, she grabbed Emmett's free hand and pulled him across the room. Seated at a table were two older people: a man in a plaid jacket, holding a half-empty scotch glass, and a carefully dressed woman who had Elle's eyes.
"Mom, Daddy, this is Emmett," Elle announced, sounding rather proud.
"Oh, hello," Emmett stumbled, then pulled himself together. "Nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Woods."
The woman smiled genially at him and took a sip of her martini. Mr. Woods gestured to an empty chair, and said, "Sit down, Emmett."
It was only then that he realized Elle still held his hand. With some embarrassment, he pulled a chair out for her, then sat himself, setting his beer down on the table in front of him.
"Are you in town for the trial?" he asked.
"Just to see our little girl," Mr. Woods answered. "We wanted to surprise her."
"And you did," Elle said with a little laugh.
"Not as much as you surprised us," her mother said with a fond smile, then took another sip from her glass. "You really seem to fit in here, don't you?"
Elle's smile grew slightly crooked, Emmett noticed, but her voice didn't waver. "I guess I do."
"So much for law school being for boring, ugly, serious people," her father put in. "I guess you're the exception that proves the rule, Button."
Button? thought Emmett.
"Daddy, Emmett isn't any of those things either, and he made it through law school," Elle protested. "Well, he can be serious, but not all the time. And he's certainly not boring or ugly."
"I don't know, Elle. I might have to disagree with you about the boring part," Emmett said with a self-deprecating chuckle.
For a moment she looked like she was going to protest, but then a loud voice called her name from across the room.
"Elle! Come keep Bruiser away from the tap!"
"I'll be right back," she assured her parents. Giving Emmett a rather sweet smile, she headed for the hairdresser.
Emmett suspected there were laws against dogs in drinking establishments, but he wasn't going to argue about it. Especially since Bruiser was, for the most part, well-behaved. And since the dog pretty much went where Elle did. Taking a pull on his beer, he looked back at the Woods, then set the bottle quickly down on the table. It would only be polite to keep the conversation going. He'd talk about Elle, the one thing the three of them had in common.
Mrs. Woods beat him to the punch. "How did Elle end up trying the case, anyway? I thought she was working for that other lawyer, the handsome silver-haired one."
'Uh, she was," Emmett said. "But there was a difference of opinion as far as...trial strategy goes, and the client preferred to go with Elle."
"And you?" asked Mr. Woods.
"Well, a law student isn't allowed to try a case unless she has a supervisor who's licensed. I'm licensed, so..." Emmett trailed off.
"Weren't you also working for that lawyer?"
"Well, yes, for Stidwell, Vyskowski, Fox & Callahan. But I... also had a difference of opinion, so I... left."
"You mean you quit."
"And you charged in to slay the dragon, and save the fair maiden," Elle's mother said with a smile.
"No, I didn't," Emmett said quite firmly. "Elle can slay her own dragons. I just held her coat."
"That's our girl," Mr. Woods said, and looked fondly at his wife. "Just like her mother,"
"But I married my dragon," Mrs. Woods said rather flirtatiously. Mr. Woods chuckled and raised his glass to his wife.
With a weak smile, Emmett glanced around the room. Where was Elle? She'd said she'd be right back, and now would be a very good time for her return. And then he saw her; she'd captured Bruiser, who was wearing a little plaid sweater, and was holding him in one arm as she talked to...Warner.
"Hmmmm?" he said, studying the expression on Elle's face. She didn't seem ecstatic. There was a smile on her face, but Emmett didn't think it reached her eyes.
Mr. Woods spoke again. "So, Emmett, how long have you been in love with my daughter?"
What? "No, sir, we're friends. That's all," he said quickly, turning back to them. Neither of Elle's parents looked convinced.
"Really, I just helped her study. Like a tutor. There's not... she doesn't..." he said, floundering.
And was saved by Paulette.
"Everyone! Attention! The guest of honor has a few words to say," the hairdresser announced in a very loud voice.
Relieved, Emmett blurted out, "Excuse me." He rose quickly. "I'm just going to go..." Crossing back to his out-of -the way corner, he finished under his breath, "...hide over here." He leaned against the wall and watched Paulette lift the Chihuahua from Elle's arms as the room quieted.
"Go on, Elle. I'll watch Bruiser," promised Paulette.
Elle smiled, her gaze sweeping the room. "I want to thank everyone for coming to our little party," she said. "And for your support during Brooke's trial."
"Which you won!" called out Brooke.
"I know we were very lucky today. I can't expect every case to hinge on my exhaustive knowledge of hair care..." She shook her head over the laughter that welled up. "I've still got a long way to go. I mean, this is still my first year of law school. But it took a lot to get me this far," she said, "and everyone here was part of it. I'd like to thank you all for that. First, my sorority sisters, for the moral support. Not to mention for keeping me away from parties like this one for three months while I studied for the LSATs," she added.
"Of course, there's Mom and Dad, who are paying for the whole thing."
"Thank my stock broker," her father called. She smiled lovingly at him and shook her head.
"No, I'm thanking you," she said. "Law school isn't cheap, and I don't have to work two jobs to get me through, either. So thank you.
"Paulette, who gives great manicures, and even better advice.
"Enid and Vivienne, for...shall we say for challenging me to do my best?" she said with a wry grin. "And for keeping me from going back to California to be Malibu Barbie.
"Brooke, who didn't let a dreadful loss and a worse accusation keep her from being strong. Brooke, for letting me take over her defense. And," she added, "I suppose I could thank Chutney for trying to kill Brooke in the first place, but I don't think murder is something to be thankful for. Better to have no need for a trial in the first place. Though I guess that would be bad for our post-law school job prospects, wouldn't it?" she said with a wide smile.
"And then there's Emmett, who gave up so much to supervise me at the trial," Elle said, meeting his eyes, her face growing more serious. He gave what he thought was a carefree little shrug and hoped that she wouldn't elaborate on that. Even though they'd all seen him blow off Callahan at the courthouse that morning, most of them probably didn't realize what it meant, and he didn't particularly want them to. But Elle wasn't finished.
"I owe him a lot. Not just for all his help with the studying, but also because he was the first person to really believe I could be something more than this," she explained, lifting a lock of her blonde hair. "Emmett believed I could do this before I even did." This time when she looked directly at him, her eyes darted quickly away. Emmett's heart sank when he saw where her attention had turned.
"And finally, Warner. Warner Huntington the Third, my UCLA sweetheart," she elaborated, smiling-rather too fondly, in Emmett's opinion-at said sweetheart. Emmett gritted his teeth and looked away. His gaze landed on Vivienne, and he swallowed. She was even worse off than he was, he thought. He'd just loved - pined for - Elle, but at least it had been unspoken. Vivienne had actually been engaged to Warner. He had to give her credit, though; the tall brunette looked perfectly poised as she watched Elle speak. It showed a lot of class.
"Most of you know that Warner is the reason I came to Harvard in the first place," Elle admitted with a laugh. "And because of him, I learned something very important. I learned that love is worth fighting for. Worth taking risks for, even though it might not work out. And so-"
Emmett braced himself, shutting his eyes as if it would stop Elle from saying it, though he knew it was hopeless.
"Emmett Forrest, will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?"
He opened his eyes to find himself the center of attention. The room was strangely silent, too, although Emmett could hear music pumping in from the main bar area. Then Paulette began to gesture madly at him, despite the dog she was holding. Emmett saw with some interest that Kyle was able to calm her agitated motions with a single movement of his own. Wait a minute. Elle had said-
His eyes flew back to her, standing there in all her pinkness. "'Scuse me?" he managed.
The smile on her face dimmed a little, but she soldiered on. "I'm asking you to dinner, Emmett."
"Dinner?" He could feel his heart beginning to pound in his chest.
"For someone who passed the bar exam, he's not too bright, is he?" he heard someone say. He thought it was Elle's father, but didn't look over to find out for sure. He was too busy trying not to have a coronary to bother.
"Yes, dinner. And not one of our helping-me-study-and-going-Dutch-on-Chinese-takeout-because-we're-friends dinners, either," Elle said firmly. "A real dinner, where I pick you up and maybe bring you flowers, and take you out to eat in a restaurant. A date."
"You want to bring me flowers?" he said numbly before her last words sank in. "A date..." he echoed her.
"Of course a date. You know, when two people spend time together because they're interested in each other? In a romantic sense?"
"You're asking me to go out on a date," he said, still not quite believing, then realized the kicker and added, "In front of all these people."
Elle nodded, but other than that, she was very still. She gave a rather crooked smile. "Love is worth taking a risk, remember?"
Ahh, now he understood. He nodded, and suddenly realized that he knew how to breathe. "Man, Elle, you've got to be the craziest person I've ever met."
"Emmett, I came all the way across the country for Warner. And believe me, you are worth a much bigger risk than that. This? It's nothing at all."
It was incredible. Impossible. But it seemed it was true. Elle Woods wanted to go on a date with - was interested in - him.
"So is that a no, then?"
Tilting his head to one side, as if considering, he asked, "I don't know. Is this a suit kind of date or a scruffy kind of date?"
She began to smile again. "Either one. I told you, I like you either way."
He couldn't help it. He began to smile himself. He didn't answer, though; he just grinned at her, letting the joy wash over him and not caring how sappy his expression made him look.
"Say yes, you idiot!" called Vivienne from across the room.
"Well?" Elle said, beginning to look impatient now.
Emmett raised his eyebrows. "If I don't say yes, are you going to resort to the Bend and Snap to persuade me?" he asked, half hopefully.
"Emmett!" Elle's face was turning pink. It went rather well with her dress.
Grinning at her, he gave in. "Yes, Elle. I will go on a date with you...and Bruiser," he added. "We might need a chaperone."
The people between them cleared magically as she ran toward him, beaming, her arms outstretched. Then she was in his arms, just like after the trial, only so much better because this time he wasn't going to have to let go, and he was beaming right back at her. "Took you long enough, you butthead," she complained over the sudden buzz of conversation in the room.
Emmett just laughed, and tightened his grip around her. What was that old saying? Better late than never? He had to agree.