His days with her were numbered.
It suddenly hit him like a bucket of cold water late one afternoon as he dined at The Rat and his girlfriend stole bites of food off his plate as she was accustomed to doing.
Her topic at the moment was graduation — still a long ways off and yet so close at the same time — and although he'd been listening well enough, one particular string of words caught his full attention.
"…pass the Bar up north and get a job in a D.A.'s office if I can." She paused, seeing the look on his face. "What's the matter?"
He recovered quickly, reaching for another french fry with a careful veneer of nonchalance. "What's wrong with staying in Memphis?"
She gave her blonde curls a slight shake. "Nothing, I guess. I…just never really wanted to stick around here forever. More opportunities up north, you know?"
He knew. He knew all too well the world of opportunities that awaited her outside of Memphis.
"There aren't any 'opportunities' in your hometown?" he questioned, his pulse speeding up a bit at this undesirable revelation.
"Well…I mean, there could be, of course," Marti answered. "But aren't you the one who says there's bigger things out there than just the here-and-now?"
Trust her to use his own words against him. "Not everything I say is carved in stone, Miss Perkins."
"Whatever, Mr. Parrish," she replied in a somewhat mocking way. She stole another fry off his plate, continuing her thoughts out loud. "I even made a list of places I want to check out up there."
A list! Great. "Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"
She gave him a questioning look.
"I mean, you do still have to graduate, you know," he softened his words with a teasing tone and a cute little smile.
"Are you trying to tell me that the early bird doesn't catch a worm?" she countered smoothly. He was starting to sound a little less than supportive, and she wasn't quite sure how to take that.
Realizing he needed to employ a more under-the-radar approach with this, Julian changed tactics: Give her the illusion of support while subtly collecting information to use against her.
"Do you have your list on you? Maybe I know some of the places you put down." He really just needed to get ahold of it and see exactly what he was up against.
"Yeah, it's right here," Marti said, reaching for her bag and setting it in her lap. It certainly couldn't hurt to get a little inside information to help her along, she figured.
In the split second that her visual attention was diverted, Julian gave a calculated push to the nearest side of his plate on the table. As expected, it struck her half-full glass of Coke which wobbled and promptly tipped over.
"Whoa!" Marti jerked her bag out of the way but wasn't quick enough to prevent a splash of Coke from getting the front of her shirt.
"Wow, I'm really sorry about that," Julian lied through his teeth, up-righting the glass and mopping up the mess with their paper napkins.
"It's alright," Marti stood, pulling the wet fabric a little away from her stomach. "I'll just…um…wash this off in the bathroom."
"Yeah, you do that," Julian answered readily. "I'll take care of this." He poked at the puddle again.
As soon as she was around the corner, he dropped the napkins and snatched up Marti's messenger bag.
Yep — there was the list, right in front. Handwritten on purple stationery. It was a pretty safe bet that she hadn't copied it to her computer yet.
There were easily over thirty law firms listed there, and each of them bearing addresses far north of Memphis, Tennessee.
He had to get rid of that list before she actually applied to any of those places!
Now he wished he'd brought his briefcase so he had someplace to stash this evil thing. Lacking any other options, he folded the paper into smaller sections and jammed it into his pants pocket.
Then he replaced the messenger bag on Marti's chair and quickly finished cleaning up the mess on the table.
Marti came back a few minutes later with the splash on her shirt watered down and nearly dry.
"I got you a replacement," Julian indicated a new glass of pop at her side of the table. "And I apologize again for wiping out your first one."
"No, don't worry about it," Marti waved it off easily. "I've had my clumsy moments too."
But to prevent any more, she dragged her chair around the table closer to his side and pushed his plate and her glass away to the other side.
Julian liked that arrangement better anyway, since Marti was now close enough to touch without having a whole table top in the way.
To distract her from their previous topic of law firms and employment outside of Memphis, Julian reached over, twined his fingers around hers, and teased her with, "Now, I thought cheerleaders were supposed to be graceful at all times. Or does that rule not apply to the pre-law ones?"
Marti leaned in closer, enjoying the intimacy. "Only to those who let rules stand in their way."
Julian gave her a knowing smirk. "Then that would definitely rule you out," he flirted softly in that honeysuckle southern accent that he knew she liked to hear.
She sent him a sly little smile, playing with his fingertips.
"Oh, you wanted to see my list," she suddenly remembered, pulling her hands from his and picking up her messenger bag once again.
Immediately missing their physical contact, Julian leaned back in his chair with a silent sigh and waited patiently for Marti to not find what he'd already taken possession of.
Marti dug through her bag, a frown creasing one eyebrow. "I could have sworn I brought those papers with me..." With a sigh, she gave up looking and closed her bag.
"I'm sure it'll turn up somewhere," Julian assured her innocently, almost surprised that he actually got away with taking it without her knowing it.
"I hope so," she answered sullenly. "That was the only copy I had, and it took me three hours to compile it."
"You'll find it," Julian repeated casually. "In the meantime…" He lowered his voice to an intimate volume once again. "What do you say we get out of here for a while?"
Marti knew exactly what he was suggesting — a little sexy afternoon rendezvous at his place — but sadly she had somewhere to be in just a little while.
"I have cheer practice in about fifteen minutes," she said regretfully, linking her fingers with his once more. "Rain check?"
Disappointed, he confirmed with a little smirk, "Rain check."
Her gaze flickered briefly to his lips and then she leaned in for a kiss (or three, since they never seemed to have just one).
Julian commonly wore his shirt collars with the top two buttons open, and as he felt her fingers creep unhindered toward the back of his neck, his own hand rose to cradle her head.
"You know, people are probably watching us," he whispered against her lips, always more mindful of spying eyes than she ever seemed to be.
"Mm, yeah…I don't care," she mumbled back before giving his lips one final chaste peck. Then she drained half her glass of Coke and scooted her chair back. "I'll see you."
He watched her leave, swallowing the lump that was back in his throat again. He didn't want her to move away — the very thought of it pained his heart.
He had to do something, before he found himself uprooting his own entire law practice just to stay near her wherever she went.
Julian took a french fry from his plate and poked it into his mouth. It was ice-cold and chewy.
Just as well — his appetite was gone, anyway.