Ellen is tired to death of meeting with prospective clients. When she pictured going out on her own, she imagined going up against the most successful attorneys in the city, making CEOs sweat during depositions, raking in billions in settlements for innocent victims of negligence, fraud and corruption. Ellen Parsons: maverick. So far, it's just about making enough money to get off the ground. Still, it feels good stepping out of the elevator and seeing her name on the door. She lets herself in and looks appreciatively at the wet paint – Palladian blue – knowing she herself selected the color.
She sits at her desk and swivels around in her chair. Why not? It's her office, and there's no one here to see. It's eight o'clock at night. The painters have gone home. Her assistant has left.
The phone rings, and she knits her eyebrows wearily before picking it up.
Her pulse quickens when she hears Patty's voice.
"I understand congratulations are in order."
"Where's your office?"
"Fifty-third and Eighth."
"So when can I come see the place?"
"It's pretty busy around here, Patty. We're still remodeling, and I have clients…"
"What are you doing now?" Patty asks.
"Well, nothing, but..."
"See you soon."
Ellen sighs. She definitely did not mean to give Patty permission to come over.
It's been over a year since they broke off their affair.
At first it was intoxicating. It felt like all the barriers that the two women had erected between them came tumbling down in the space of a few days. They became more and more daring in their interactions with each other, sharing things they had never told anyone, both feeling understood for the first time in years. And as for the physical side of things, it was, well… earth-shattering.
But then things got complicated. The problem was Patty's work. Ellen was working at another firm, but the cases were painfully dull. Patty dangled interesting cases in front of her, knowing the younger attorney couldn't help getting involved, couldn't help doing her one more work-related favor. It would have been fine, except that Patty was always in control. If Ellen showed her own initiative, or expressed scruples, Patty overrode her, or worse, went behind her back. Most disconcertingly of all, Patty had acted surprised when Ellen took it personally, or let her frustrations spill over into their romantic relationship. Finally, fed up with being used and manipulated, Ellen had decided to give Patty a taste of her own medicine.
The witness' name was Stefano Gonzalez. He was 32, a successful entrepreneur with a new wife and a new baby. He was also entirely blameless, in danger because of what he knew, not what he had done. Patty had made all kinds of promises – if he testified, she could keep him safe, his family would be safe and he could go back to his life when it was over.
Ellen knew it was all bullshit. So late at night, without a word to anyone, she went to see Stefano and explained the situation. She used Patty's firm's resources (Patty had trusted her enough to allow her access) to buy plane tickets for Gonzalez and his wife. They left on a flight early the next morning, to return in a few months after the case had settled.
It was days before Patty discovered what Ellen had done. When she did, there was screaming. There were tears. Paper weights and picture frames from Patty's desk were smashed. In the end, Ellen walked out, exhausted, but liberated. She went to Patty's apartment to retrieve the few things she had left there, and then headed uptown to spend quiet night after quiet night in her own place.
Patty doesn't often call anymore.
Ellen wants to look busy when Patty arrives, so she spreads out a convincing assortment of notes and files on her desk and bends over them. She can't concentrate, though, when she tries to read, so instead she curls her legs under her and doodles on an envelope a cartoon of Patty peering fiercely over her glasses.
The elevator dings, and Ellen forces herself not to go to the door. She doesn't even look up. Patty doesn't knock. She walks straight into Ellen's office and without any precursor says, "So. Are you going to give me the grand tour?"
Ellen stands on legs that have fallen asleep. Damn it, she should know better than to sit on her legs. She tries to be subtle about bashing her ankle against the bottom of the desk to wake it up as she gives Patty a beaming smile.
"Of course. It's good to see you, Patty. You look good."
She means it. Patty is wearing dark red, and it's an amazing color on her. Besides, she is flushed and bright-eyed from the chilly night air.
"Thanks. Is this supposed to be me?" Shoot. Patty is looking at the drawing on Ellen's desk. She picks up the envelope to take a better look. "I like it," Patty states.
Ellen cracks up.
Patty looks sheepish and covers it by saying, "How many rooms are in this place?"
The answer to this question is three, plus the atrium. Ellen feels a bit foolish as she marshals Patty around. But she is proud of the décor – she thinks she's created a very attractive space on a very limited budget.
"Obviously, it's small," Ellen says, searching Patty's face for any sign of disapproval. She shouldn't care, but she wants Patty to be impressed. "You hate it," she says.
"I'm just glad I can focus on work that matters to me. No more paralegal bullshit. No more watching senior partners turn pale when I suggest going after a big target. No more kissing up to exacting bosses."
"You? A kiss-up?"
"Remember the first year I worked for you? You made me miss my engagement party to hand deliver a brief to a judge! And I did it."
"We all pay our dues, Ellen."
Ellen knew better than to expect an apology at this late date, but she still finds Patty's nonchalance irritating.
She is about to deliver a sarcastic comeback when she sees Patty's faraway look and stops herself.
How much harder must it have been when Patty started out in the seventies, a woman in a man's world? What dues did Patty pay? Ellen has never asked.
Patty comes out of her reverie. She kisses Ellen lightly on the cheek, and while there's some of the old electricity, Ellen is surprised at how friendly – how collegiate it feels.
"Congratulations, Ellen. Really. Come on, I'll buy you a drink. I want to tell you about the case I'm working on."
"Sure, Patty," Ellen says. But she's not worried. She has her own cases, now. And she's her own boss. It makes all the difference in the world.