Alan and Shirley were leaning back in the chairs on Denny's office balcony with a cigar in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other. They had lost in court earlier but, neither one was too upset about it. The closure of the case meant they no longer had to be in the company of their client, Martha Headly, or her obnoxious ex-boss, Mr. Felcamp. Alan in particular had found the man especially loathsome even though he had been correct about one thing: Ms Headly was quite stupid; a fact she proved again when she threatened to sue Alan for not trying hard enough to win her case. He sighed and shook his head. I've wasted enough time on her, he thought. Especially when I can feast my eyes on my delectable colleague. Ah, Shirley, you would stipulate that Denny has to give me permission to make love to you. Aloud, he said, "Denny and Carl won't be back from Virginia until at least tomorrow night, so why don't you and I indulge ourselves in the other oral fixation that Denny and I enjoy."
Shirley cut her eyes sideways at him and asked suspiciously, "And, what other oral fixation would that be?"
Alan opened his eyes so as to appear as innocent as possible and replied, "Dinner, of course. Shirley, the way you always assume that I have ulterior motives hurts my feelings. I admit, I have dreamed of the two of us howling at the moon during the throes of passion but, I really am just suggesting dinner. I've already cancelled our reservation at the Ritz so how about the Steakhouse?"
Shirley stood up and drained her glass. She nodded affirmatively as she took one last puff on her cigar then tamped it out in the large crystal ashtray Denny kept on the table between the chairs. "The Steakhouse sounds wonderful, Alan. And, I apologize for not trusting your intentions but, you, well, you know. Let me make it up to you. Dinner is on me tonight." She held up her hand to silence him when he opened his mouth to protest. "If you want to have dinner with me tonight, Alan, that is the condition. I'm not debating this with you. Agreed?"
Smiling as he stood and walked off the balcony, he answered, "Agreed. Since Denny left his chauffeur at my disposal, I will provide our transportation. Meet me at the elevators in fifteen minutes."
"Shirley, thank you so much for dinner, it was superb. I have to say though, that I was expecting a little more conversation than I received. What's on your mind?" He reached across the table and placed his hand on top of hers. "All kidding aside, Shirley, I consider you a friend and I hope you know that you can confide in me."
She smiled and placed her free hand on top of his hand briefly. "I do know that, Alan. That's why you represented me when Carl Hauser's widow wanted to put my nude photographs on the auction block." She sighed deeply and leaned back in her chair. They had arrived at the Steakhouse a little after eight and had to wait at the bar for a half – hour until a table was available. The good thing about eating a late meal was that they were among the last diners of the night and could linger over dessert, drinks and coffee. "I imagine it's kind of an open secret that Carl and I live together." Alan nodded slowly. "I've been thinking about Carl and my life and how Carl fits into my life and whether or not I'm crazy."
Alan's mouth formed a silent oh as he fidgeted with his tie. He grinned at her and said, "Let's start with the last thing you said. Why do you think you might be crazy?"
"Because I have been married and divorced four, count 'em, four times and I'm still seriously thinking about marrying Carl. And even more bizarrely, Carl is seriously thinking about marrying me."
"Perhaps you are insane, Shirley. Don't you know that Carl would be incredibly lucky to have you as his wife? Has he asked you yet?"
Shirley signaled the waiter to freshen their drinks. "No. We've been feeling each other out; talking about what we want from each other and this relationship. I honestly do love him, Alan, and I'm tired of being out here on my own but…"
"But what, Shirley? You two seem made for each other! What's the problem?"
"I'm the problem, Alan! I have more baggage than a luggage store!" Shirley watched as Alan tried to process what he had heard; she could almost hear the wheels in his head stop turning when he looked at her. She held his gaze for a few seconds, looked down and then looked up through her hair at him again. "You don't believe me, do you? Well, let me tell you a tale.
I was five years out of Harvard Law when I got married for the first time. Rene Benoit was his name."
Alan jumped in, "Let me guess. French, right?"
Shirley rolled her eyes. "Yes, he's French. Do you want to hear this or not?
"I'm sorry, I won't interrupt again." He waved his hand to encourage her to continue.
"Yes, well anyway, I fell for Rene like a ton of bricks. He was a businessman attached to the French Consulate here in Boston. I met him at some charity function or other. He had American - French dual citizenship and operated as a liaison between French and American companies wanting to do business. He was tall with black hair and the most gorgeous blue eyes and one of the most beautiful faces I had ever seen on a man. From the day we met until the day we married totaled less than a year. I was pushing for marriage; I had never wanted anything more than I wanted marriage to Rene. I loved him. Before and after we married, he treated me like royalty. He was amazing, right up until the day I told him I wanted a divorce."
Alan placed both of his elbows on the table, intertwined his fingers and then rested his chin upon his hands. He looked confused. "If he was so great, why did you divorce him?"
"I woke up one morning, looked at him sleeping next to me and thought: I don't want this life anymore. I don't want him anymore. He had done nothing wrong. He never cheated on me or abused me in any way. And, in case you're wondering, there was no one else in my life. After fourteen months of marriage, I was over it. So, I left."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," she repeated. "I never had a problem meeting men, so I went right back to the dating scene with a vengeance. It was around that time that I met and had my fling with Denny."
Alan perked up at the mention of Denny's name. "Tell the truth, Schmidt. How long did you and Denny ahh…collaborate? Denny always makes it sound like you were together for about two years, if not longer."
Shirley smirked, "Honestly, the affair, just like the sex, was very brief. I love Denny, you know that but, there's a reason why he's a friend instead of a lover. Let's leave it at that."
Flushing slightly, Alan stuck his finger in his collar and pulled it away from his neck. "I agree, let's leave it at that. Can we move on to Husband Number Two?"
"That would be Dewitt Peterson. I met him when he was the city's District Attorney. After a few dates, I was certain he was the one for me. We were married on a beach in the British Virgin Islands. We chartered a boat with a captain and a First Mate and spend a month sailing around the Caribbean. It was glorious!
Unfortunately, after we returned to Boston, things began to go downhill. He and I both discovered that he really did want a girl like the girl who married dear old Dad. He wanted me to get pregnant immediately and he wanted me to use Shirley Peterson personally and professionally. I had been considering using his last name socially because keeping Schmidt had been a sticking point with Rene and I was trying to learn from what I thought was a mistake on my part. Professionally though, I wasn't feeling inclined to do what he wanted me to do. Denny, Edwin and I had just formed Crane Poole and Schmidt six months earlier and as I kept telling him over and over: I'm Schmidt!"
Alan eased back in his seat and looked thoughtful. He wanted to choose his next words carefully. He was pleased that Shirley was unburdening herself to him. He knew her to be as private a person as he himself was and felt that this was proof of the position and trust he had earned in her eyes. She knows I won't judge her, he realized. He felt honored and didn't want her to pull back because he had said something stupid. Finally, he opined, "I would think that as an elected official and an attorney himself, Dewitt would have recognized the value of name recognition."
"Oh, he did. For him. He actually told me that since CP&S was less than a year old at the time, changing the firm's name to Crane Poole and Peterson wouldn't be that big of a deal. He told me how proud he would be if I became Shirley Peterson. I have to admit, he could be very persuasive and charming when he wanted to be. I started thinking that maybe we could change the name of the firm. I mean, what would it hurt? I even broached the subject to Denny and Edwin to get their reactions.
Edwin was reluctant but would have gone along with it if it was what I wanted. Denny flat out refused to entertain the idea. And since it was only his name recognition at that point that was bringing clients through the door, he could pretty much call the shots.
I thought he was just being a jealous ex – lover and to a certain extent, he was. But, he was so adamantly against the name change; I started to think there was another reason. When I asked him what he wasn't saying, he clammed up. Now Alan, you know how I get when I want to know something."
I'm getting a better idea by the second, he wisely thought to himself. To her, he answered, "I do indeed."
"Yes, you do and I wanted to know why Denny was so opposed. Dewitt was never one of his favorite people but, they moved in the same social circles and knew many of the same people. They were always civil toward one another. I deduced that whatever Denny's true reasons were, Dewitt had to know. But, when I asked him, he swore he had no clue why Denny was so dead set against me changing my name and thus, the firm's name." She sipped her chardonnay and set the glass on the table and began to run her finger up and down the glass stem unconsciously; an act that Alan found strangely erotic.
Forcing his eyes and mind from Shirley's hand, he cleared his throat and asked, "What happened? Obviously, the firm's name remains unchanged."
A sad smile flitted across her face. "Serendipity happened. I had gone for a walk early one beautiful Spring Sunday morning to get some fresh air. Dewitt had been asleep when I left. He usually liked to sleep in on Sundays so when I returned, I made a point of not making noise so he wouldn't be disturbed. But this particular Sunday, he must have gotten up not too long after I left. He had made some coffee and was in the den on the phone with his brother. I was about to walk in and say hello when I heard him say 'Once Shirley starts maternity leave, I'll take over.' I froze in the hallway and continued to listen to him lay out for his brother his entire plan to move himself into and me out of, the law firm I co-founded. He told his brother that getting me to become Shirley Peterson was the first step, changing the firm's name the second. Once that was done, he planned to sabotage my birth control so I would get pregnant. Once that happened, he would take over my cases 'to help me out.' From there, he figured it would be a cinch to convince me to stay home with the baby and, if I got restless too quickly, he'd impregnate me again! He figured the firm was so new, most people would assume that he was the Peterson in Crane Poole and Peterson so my returning would harm the firm's credibility because I would be seen as the 'fake Peterson.' That way, he figured my loyalty to the firm and to Denny and Edwin would make me decide to remain a stay at home mother and he would benefit from being a named partner in an up and coming law firm that he didn't have to work to create while I, the true named partner, would become invisible to the public eye."
Alan stared at her in disbelief and whispered, "Please tell me you made that up. That has got to be the most Machiavellian, most diabolical thing I have ever heard! What did he say when you confronted him? Is he still alive?" He raised his glass in the waiter's direction to signal for another round.
"It is all true and no, I never did confront him," she said. Shirley watched his eyes widen in shock.
"You never said anything to him? I don't believe it!"
"Believe it, Alan. I was very much in love with Dewitt. I did want a child with him at some point. I was thinking about changing my name for him! The betrayal I felt was like a physical blow. All I could think about was getting the hell out of there. I left the house as quietly as I had entered it, got into my car and drove to a girlfriend's house. He never even knew I was there or had heard what he said. I called Denny and told him what I had heard, that I was divorcing Dewitt immediately, that I didn't want to speak to him ever again and Denny had to handle everything. I was quietly hysterical and Denny could hear it in my voice. Denny was enraged that Dewitt had hurt me so profoundly. Suffice it to say, Denny took him to the cleaners; so much so, he ended up relocating."
Shirley snorted, "Who cares? Anyway, later on, I did ask Denny if he had been aware of Dewitt's plot against me. He said he had no idea; he just never trusted him and had no intention of having 'Peterson' on the door and it didn't matter whether it referred to Dewitt or me.
By the time the divorce decree came down, the marriage had lasted two years; the last ten months of which we were separated. That marriage taught me not to trust a man as far as I could throw him."
Alan was fascinated. He didn't know if it was the wine that had loosened her tongue and made Shirley so willing to share with him or what but, for whatever the reason, she was telling him her back story and he was hoping that nothing interfered and caused her to stop. He leaned toward her and reasoned, "Well, since Theresa exists, you must have decided to trust some man again."
Shirley sighed, "Yes and no. My third husband, Louis Taylor, Theresa's father, was the answer to the sound of my biological clock ticking. The practice was growing exponentially, clients were begging for our services and I had to make a decision: Slow down, meet someone and have a child or keep up a frantic work pace that would probably make having a baby impossible. Despite my fiasco of a marriage to Dewitt, I really did want to become a mother.
Louis filled the bill. He was incredibly handsome and a successful restaurateur. He had never been married and since he wanted to protect his assets as much as I wanted to protect mine, he had no qualms about signing a pre-nup. So, we married and I got pregnant four months later. We divorced when Theresa was seven months old."
"Did you love him, Shirley?"
She closed her eyes and gently shook her head. "No, not really. I liked him a lot. He seemed like good parent material. I have fond memories of him and I honor him as my daughter's father but, I was never in love with him and we both knew it. When we divorced, I was perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life raising my daughter and flitting from one man to another as the mood struck me."
"And then, along came Ivan Tiggs."
Shirley laughed and gestured for another round. Noticing Alan's raised eyebrows, she shrugged her shoulders. "One more for the road and the end of my tale and then we'll leave. Is that alright?"
Alan spread his arms wide and responded, "Tomorrow is a slow day and we have Denny's limo so, of course it's all right."
Shirley relaxed back into her chair, "Good," she said. Holding her fresh drink, she tilted her head and said, "Ivan pursued me from the moment we met. I was at Gillette Stadium in a luxury box with a date watching the Patriots play the New York Giants when I got a call from a client. I stepped into the hallway for some privacy and a man was standing about twenty – five feet away talking on his phone. We acknowledged each other then I turned my back to him. When I finished my call, I turned and he was still standing there smiling at me. He introduced himself and said he would love to take me out for drinks. His eyes and his smile were so attractive and ooo…his moustache…"
Alan grimaced and interjected, "I know what Ivan looks like, Shirley. Settle down." He grinned when he noticed she had flushed slightly.
She cleared her throat and started again. "I gave him my business card. Two days later, we met for our first date. Ivan was attentive and gentlemanly but, the thing I liked best about him was that he could make me laugh. Whenever we were together, I felt that I was light and young and glowing in the company of a man who truly adored me. I found him intoxicating. I was content to leave things the way they were but, he insisted we marry. Against my better judgment, I relented and we married after a year of dating. We lasted for four years. He's my favorite mistake."
"Yes, I noticed you two were more than cordial when he came by the offices two years ago."
Shirley placed her elbows on the table and put her hands on either side of her face. "And therein lies my problem," she sighed. "If Missy hadn't told me that she was still with him, I would have been involved with him all over again. It's bad enough I slept with him again. Not that it was bad but, I shouldn't have done it. I just have really bad taste and judgment when it comes to men. And now Carl is back in my life. He transferred to the Boston office because I asked him to take over Paul's duties and to be with me. And he did and we're happy and we're talking about marriage and…Alan?"
"Am I crazy to be thinking about marriage again? Do you think I can be happy with Carl? Do you think I can make Carl happy?"
"Well, Shirley…" Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by the ringtone of Shirley's phone. She looked at her screen, smiled, held up her index finger to Alan and answered.
"Hi, Carl, how's it going? Oh, that good, huh? What? Why? Oh. Lord, how did he get the gun into the courtroom?" At that, Alan leaned forward with a concerned look on his face but, Shirley held up her hand to forestall his saying anything. "Alan is with me at the Steakhouse; we had dinner and we've been talking over drinks. I'll tell him." She looked at Alan and smiled. She laughed and said, "I will definitely tell him that! I miss you, too. Yes, OK, I'll see you soon." She turned it off and placed it back in her purse. She reached for her glass, sipped some wine and smiled some more.
Alan was almost beside himself. "Shirley!" he exclaimed, "What in the world happened to Denny?"
"He managed to smuggle a gun into the courtroom and he shot it to 'help' the judge regain order. He was held in contempt and he is being held overnight in the local jail. Carl said not to worry; he made sure that Denny is in a cell by himself and he will be released tomorrow."
"I'm not happy about this at all. May I ask what Carl said that made you laugh?"
"Carl went to see Denny in the jail cell to make sure he was OK and when he turned to leave, Denny told him that you're way more fun than he is. Try not to worry, Alan, there's nothing we can do about it. It's almost eleven. Denny will be fine. We should leave. What were you going to say before the phone rang?"
Shirley pulled cash from her wallet and handed it and the check to the server while Alan called the chauffeur to alert him that they were about to exit the restaurant. He stood up and held Shirley's coat for her. They stepped outside and directly into the car. Once they got settled, Alan asked her, "What does your heart tell you, Shirley?"
She smiled and leaned back against the seat and allowed her shoulder to touch Alan's. "My heart is telling me that I've finally gotten it right. And that really scares me because I want to believe it."
Alan leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. "Believe it, Shirley. Trust your heart and your instincts and give yourself permission to be happy. He will propose eventually, you will say yes and you will be happy. You're home, Shirley. Good night."
As she exited the vehicle, she said, "Thank you for listening, Alan."
"Thank you for telling me, Shirley."
Alan and Denny sat on the balcony of Denny's suburban bedroom having a nightcap before bed. Carl and Denny had arrived from Virginia at six the next evening and the chauffeur had met them at Logan International, dropped Carl at Crane Poole and Schmidt and picked up Alan and then continued on to the house.
"Alan, my friend," Denny said as he pointed his cigar at his companion, "I am never traveling anywhere without you again! Carl was no fun at all, except for his closing; that was a little bit fun. He told me on the flight home that you and Shirley had dinner together last night. Did you have a good time? Did you talk about me?"
"Yes and yes, Denny. We had a lovely time. It was quite illuminating. Shirley makes for a very interesting dinner conversationalist. I know you harbor deep feelings for her still but, I do believe that she and Carl will marry someday."
Denny swallowed the last of his brandy and got up to enter the bedroom. Alan followed and closed the balcony doors behind him. As they got into bed, Denny reached over to turn off the light. He settled in and waited until Alan had settled in against him before responding, "Me, too. It's good; I want her to be happy. I do. Goodnight, Alan."