This was originally posted on the Hetalia kink meme on livejournal (now on dreamwidth), for the prompt "falling for your divorce lawyer." It's un-beta-read, so all comments and concrit are appreciated. I tried to write it like an "original" romance more than fanfiction, and I was maybe half-successful. It's definitely fanfic and these are two screwed-up characters, right?
Warnings for language, sexual encounters.
Contains: guest appearances, OCs (female!Portugal), minor side pairings, self-perpetuated angst. I hope you enjoy. :)
All Right, Tonight
The alarm clock sounded, a pleasant bonging of bells that grew in volume slowly, a sound designed to pry one gently from slumber. Arthur had no wish to be pried. He poked his hand out from under his covers to hit the snooze button.
A mere few moments later - at least, it felt like a few moments - the alarm chimed again, and this time the bonging was louder, to alert one that it was possibly growing time to arise, if one pleased.
Once more the clock sounded, the third alarm a harsh symphony with fewer pretensions to gentility. Arthur must have hit snooze again, because his alarm next told him, in his own recorded voice, to "get up, layabout; it's time to greet the day because you have work to do."
Arthur groaned and swept his blankets from his face to greet the day. It was a gray day, if the bleary light leaking in from under his shades was any indication. A typical February Tuesday in Chicago. Arthur turned off the clock. He had no wish to hear the next alarm, which also was his recorded voice, this time cursing himself for being a lazy cunt and other nasty things.
He'd bought the alarm clock at an little electronics shop in Tokyo and had felt terribly technological for the purchase. He had many such items, sleek, tasteful souvenirs that had caught his fancy. Travel was his escape and buying things in faraway places sometimes felt like conquering the world.
Some of the things were useful and some merely objets d'art. He'd arranged them around his condo in the hopes that they would proclaim him a homosexual, half-British gentleman of discernment. But they were mostly silent on that score, since people rarely came 'round.
His friend Portia dismissed them as gimcracks and gewgaws. She admitted to loving his antique French writing desk, however, and spent an unseemly amount of time fondling its knobs and gilt edges.
At least something in Arthur's home was being regularly fondled. Arthur sighed and rolled out of bed.
He set the electric kettle to boiling and brushed his teeth. He steeped his tea and combed his hair and sighed at his reflection. People around the world performed this sort of routine every day; he chided himself for finding it unfulfilling. In an attempt to improve his mood he dressed in a new suit, a brown one that he'd been told was stylish yet soberly professional enough for an attorney of his stature. He drank his tea and drove to the office.
There'd been more of these sorts of mornings lately, those mornings where even the allure of law could hardly drag him from his bed. While he may have noticed the pattern, Arthur did not care to examine it. Perhaps Portia was correct and he needed to leave the house more for things that weren't work? It was just that socializing was so ... wearying and difficult. Having a personal life meant expending a lot of effort for very little payoff.
Or maybe it was simply past time he took another trip.
When Arthur finally strode into the offices of Andersen and Kirkland at eight-thirty, the suite was already permeated with the smell of everyone's morning coffee. The smell didn't annoy him as much as it had used to; it seemed he was getting used to it. Twelve years in the States had taught him that the American legal system was powered by coffee, ego, and paralegals.
Perhaps an overdose of caffeine was the reason his assistant was fairly hopping in her seat.
"Good morning, Mr. Kirkland," she said as he approached. Her purple lipstick surrounded a very wide, white grin.
"Good morning, Monaca," he said.
"I like your suit."
The smiling and bouncing continued unabated.
"Yes?" he said and stopped by her desk.
"Guess who you have a ten o'clock with, Mr. Kirkland!"
Arthur resisted the urge to pull out his pocket planner or his new smartphone, and instead sorted his calendar in his brain. It was more accurate and he was more used to using it, anyway.
"That would be the Tuesday department review with Ms. Zwingli?" Lili Zwingli was the office manager. "Then an update meeting with the Lukes at eleven, lunch with Mr. Andersen at twelve-thirty, the Edelstein custody hearing at two. Speaking of, did Ms. Martens get that research done and into the Edelstein file?"
"Yeah, she had that yesterday. The file is on your desk," Monaca said.. "I moved Lili. For a new client."
Arthur sighed. "But I haven't approved any new clients-"
"Possible new client."
"Thank you." They'd had The Talk more than once about preciseness in speech.
"Possible new divorce client with substantial property," Monaca continued. Bounce.
"A Mr. Alfred Jones. The Mr. Alfred F. Jones."
"Jones. He's..." Arthur trailed off. He'd heard that name before. Or he'd read that name before. He sorted the last couple months' worth of business sections through his brain-file. Monaca leaned forward, nodding as if to say that's it, that's it, you'll get it! "Of AFJ Holdings?"
Arthur frowned. Saying "substantial property" wouldn't even begin to cover what might be involved in such a case. Property was what The Mr. Alfred Jones did. He was one of the biggest developers in Chicago.
"To see me?" Arthur looked at Monaca. "Strange. He doesn't already have sufficient representation?"
Monaca shrugged. "F.H. Bonnefoy is his regular counsel. He referred him to you for the family law matter. His secretary called me right at, like, eight-oh-one to schedule."
"Ah," Arthur said. F.H. was one of those hard-edged business types with a smooshy romantic center, the type who could tear down a real-estate competitor but who cowered from the emotional baggage that surrounded family proceedings.
It was a fortunate referral. This could be a very high-profile case, and likely very profitable. Still, he'd have to review the specifics before agreeing to represent Jones. Arthur had a reputation among his colleagues for fussiness, but he refused to take just anything that was thrown at him. Personal life nothwithstanding, Arthur valued his professional time highly and not everyone could afford him. Though Jones could. "Did they send over the paperwork?"
Monaca furrowed her black, precisely trimmed eyebrows. "They said he'd bring the papers with him, which I know is weird. But I guess his wife is filing. Bella looked on the doxpop and there's nothing online at the clerk's office yet."
"Good. Have her check again at nine-thirty, please." He glanced down at Monaca's desk. She had a neon pink sticky note on her desk, with "JOnES 10 RICHH!" scrawled on it in black marker. She saw him looking and her teeth closed more tightly inside her smile. Her purple fingernails scrabbled across the desk to cover it.
"You should probably tear that up," he told her.
"Yes, Mr. Kirkland," Monaca said. Arthur heard the sound of ripping paper as he moved past her desk into his office.
Monaca had been in the there already. His blinds had been opened onto the city, the sprawling mess of a city with its traffic and smog. The strip of Lake Michigan visible from his window, sometimes very pretty, was gray and dreary. Just like at home.
Arthur had moved away from England for a change of weather, a change of world, but it seemed he was destined for the same discontent the UK had offered. He hated to think he'd brought it with him.
Well. Arthur shook his head and turned from the window. He had a good practice and a stellar reputation. And a very efficient staff: the Edelstein file was laid neatly and squarely on his blotter, barely disturbing the ordered lines of his desk. In addition, Monaca had already powered up his PC and brought up the website for AFJ Holdings.
Arthur sat. He started to reach for a pack of cigarettes that wasn't there. Oh, yes, he'd quit, hadn't he? Not that state code would allow him to smoke in his own office, even if he hadn't. How dreary.
Well, perhaps a new, distinguished client would make getting out of bed worthwhile. AFJ Holdings had a nice website, spare and slick. Arthur was no particular judge of technological matters, but he dearly hated those websites where things popped up and danced everywhere. Not long ago he'd tried to access online pornography from his old laptop at home, and had promptly picked up a computer virus from such a site. He'd set the laptop aside and had never tried again. Sex of any kind, whether electronic or in the flesh, was so much trouble, anymore.
He clicked the "about us" link on the website: the usual corporate mission statement that appeared was enhanced by a green sort of sentiment about buying and beautifying properties for the common enjoyment. Hmm. He clicked on the "about our founder" link.
A spectacled man with sun-bleached hair grinned out at him from the webpage. Rather than going for a standard company CEO-style studio photo, Jones had chosen to have his picture taken at a lakeside construction site. He was jacketless and his shirtsleeves were rolled up, showing tanned hands fisted on his hips. Likely he'd been meant to be shown beautifying properties himself, to make the point how much he cared. He was also younger than Arthur would have thought, perhaps in his late twenties. It was likely an old photo and Jones was simply vain.
Because the smiling man in the picture was attractive. He wasn't male model material by any means, but he looked fit and his smile was nice. Very genuine. Looking at it made Arthur's belly flutter a little.
Arthur sighed. So he was male, and a visual creature. Not that such a thing mattered in business. He searched for whatever other information he could discover about Jones.
He found several news articles that mentioned him, most of them to do with business transactions of one kind or another, and a couple of "about-town" style mentions, stating that he and his wife Mariel had attended some fundraiser here or party there.
Soon-to-be-ex wife Mariel, it seemed. Arthur wished he had the filing to review before meeting Jones. Would it be a monster of a case with months' worth of settlement litigation, or one of those bitter affairs with copious weeping and wrestling over parenting time? Or both?
Arthur read as much as he could in preparation. By nine-thirty, no filing had yet appeared on the court's online docket, and by ten, Jones was there. Arthur could hear a man's loudish voice outside his office, and Monaca's higher-pitched tones. Within moments she buzzed him and said in a bright voice, "Mr. Jones is here to see you, Mr. Kirkland."
"Thank you, Ms. Carlo. Show him in," Arthur said.
Arthur stood and straightened his jacket. He found himself looking in the decorative mirror on his office wall. It was meant to showcase the Italian glass sitting on the chrome shelf before it, but if he wanted, Arthur could catch a glimpse of his own reflection. He saw the same thing he saw in his bathroom mirror every morning: yellow hair that refused to lay flat, thick Churchill eyebrows, unremarkable nose, unremarkable green eyes. He did think his suit's warm color was kind to his complexion. Otherwise, he was nothing special to look at. Thankfully he was a very good attorney.
Jones, on the other hand, was much better-looking than expected. Arthur felt his stomach flop a little, like his world had turned sideways for an instant. Meeting Jones in person was like the difference between seeing the Grand Canyon in photographs and experiencing it at its very edge, complete with that sense of boundless depths, like you could just fling yourself into empty space and float forever.
Jones had long limbs that moved with a quick grace and energy as he stepped forward and thrust out his hand.
"Hi. I'm Alfred Jones. Frannie said you were the best."
"Ah?" Arthur shook his hand. Jones's grip was solid and warm enough to hold him grounded. "Hello, Mister Jones. Arthur Kirkland."
Jones was a little taller than Arthur, perhaps an inch or so, and of medium build. One thing his photo had gotten right was his age; he was young - at least, younger than Arthur's thirty-five. Quite young to have amassed such an empire in real estate.
Jones's blue eyes behind his spectacles had widened as Arthur spoke. "Oh my god, you have a British accent. That's awesome."
"Indeed. Er, thank you," Arthur said, a little embarrassed.
"Where are you from? England? I mean, the UK? Someplace over there, anyway?"
"Yes, England. I grew up in Oxford," Arthur said, trying to sound polite and not ... eye-rolly. At least Jones's uncultured-sounding brand of American brashness offset the vertigo he engendered. Somewhat.
"Is that close to London? I was in London once."
"Er, somewhat." Arthur composed himself and gestured to one of the seats in front of his desk. Like the smell of coffee, uncultured and brash businesspeople were another thing he'd gotten used to while living in the U.S. "Do you travel?"
"Only for business! I figure I'll have time to actually look at stuff when I retire."
A pity. "So how can I help you, Mr. Jones?"
"Call me Al." It seemed like Jones winked, but Arthur couldn't be sure. He waved a manila envelope. "I guess I'm getting divorced."
"I'm sorry to hear of the end of your marriage, Mr. Jones."
"Al. And it wasn't a surprise, really." Mr. Jones - Al - plopped into the chair with an oof. He crossed his long legs. He was wearing socks with stars and stripes on them. " Mariel - my wife - moved out a few months ago. She said she wanted space. Like nobody's ever heard that before, right? But I guess it was time."
"Ah. Thank you," Arthur said, taking the envelope as Mr. Jones - Al - held it out to him. He opened it and laid the papers on his desk. It was a dissolution pleading with no court stamp. An unfiled copy.
"Do you know when she plans to file?" Arthur asked as he scanned the caption: State of Illinois, County of Cook, Mariel Jones v. Alfred Jones.
"Today, she said. At least, that's what her sister said, since her sister was the one who brought me the paperwork last night."
"Hmm. We did not see a filing as of nine-thirty this morning; things may change from this copy to the official court document. So this is not a proper service of process. She - ah- may not even file."
Jones's forehead wrinkled a little for the first time. "Why else would she give it to me?"
"To get your attention, perhaps? To prompt a reconciliation?" Jones continued to look stymied. Arthur swallowed a sigh. He'd never been very good at playing psychologist, and he hadn't expected it in this case. He had learned, however, which questions to ask. "Are you sure she wishes to be divorced, Mr. Jones?"
Jones crossed his arms. "Al. And, well, yeah. I mean, she does, obviously. She's the one who left me."
Arthur set the papers aside. This might be a waste of his time. He sat up straight. "How about you? Do you want to be divorced?"
Jones frowned. "Yeah. I guess."
"Are you sure?" Arthur really didn't want to have The Preciseness In Speech Talk with a prospective client.
Arthur offered a small smile. "If you like, we can proceed with this consultation, then, as if she had indeed filed this document. Is that agreeable?"
Jones nodded and his forehead unwrinkled at last. "Yes. I just want to get this moving. Get my ducks in a row right away. "
Arthur raised an eyebrow. So Jones was one of those who expected the world to jump around him and then fall into place. He didn't seem to realize that Arthur hadn't even reviewed or agreed to take his case, but it felt impolitic to mention that until necessary; Arthur was used to dealing with people who had a great deal of money and personal delusions of power. And, in his experience, the legal system did seem to jump about them. As an attorney, he himself had to juggle the desires of his clients - who paid him - with his own advice and preferences in any legal situation.
"Well, Mr. Jones, divorce can be an emotional, intimate and painful process," the indifferent psychologist in him said. "I will need to ask you some personal questions."
"Ha ha. More? Okay, yeah." Jones shifted in his chair. He didn't ask again to be called "Al." Arthur felt like he'd gained a point, anyway.
"Thank you. First, I must ask how long you've been married, and if you've been separated at least six months? State law requires six months for a no-fault divorce."
"Eight years this May. And, uh, not quite. Maybe four months?"
"I'm surprised she didn't wait, though by the time the documents would go before a judge, the six-month requirement will have been met." Arthur gestured over at the papers. "What do you think about her requests?"
"Aww, I haven't read 'em. That's what you lawyers are for, right?"
"Wha- oh, yes, of course, but-" Arthur started. Surely the man wasn't serious? Just because he was rich and good-looking, did he think he ... And Arthur decided to try and scratch that from his own mental equation. There was no way Jones could possibly be as blithe and clueless as he appeared. Perhaps he was being disingenuous. Arthur slid the not-filing back over to his blotter and flipped through the pages, scanning the document for the pertinent details.
"I tried to call her just to talk about it, but she wouldn't answer," Jones added.
"Hmm." Arthur read quickly. "Irreconcilable differences are her grounds, which is general enough. I see you have no children."
"No, thank God."
Well, that would make things easier. Hmm. No protective order had been filed and there was no mention of spousal abuse... Ah- there was something taped to one of the inside pages.
It was a handwritten note on a sheet of lavender, lined paper. Um, interesting. I know you won't even bother to read this. You are emotionally distant and that makes it impossible to discuss anything about us. Still, I'm sure you were expecting this. Plus, Alfred, you are gay- gay was underlined twice - and maybe we'll both have better relationships with other men-
Arthur forced himself to stop reading. "Ah. Mr. Jones. There is a note inside here for you. I read part of it, pardon." He handed the stack of papers across his desk. Jones leaned forward, eyes wide.
"Shall I give you a moment alone to-"
Jones waved at Arthur without looking, his eyes behind his glasses intent on the page. "No, just gimme a sec. What? Really, Mariel?"
Arthur resisted the urge to clear his throat and renew his offer of privacy. But Jones read the note in record time and looked up at Arthur again. He slapped the stack of papers against his thigh and then held them out for Arthur. Not knowing what else to do, Arthur took them.
"I can't believe she- Plus, I'm not gay. God."
"Oh?" Arthur said in a bland voice. He tried not to sneer. Jones was probably one of those Type-A homophobes.
"Oh," Arthur said, managing not to choke.
"Yeah, and she knew that. At least, you'd think she did. I mean, I was married to her for eight years. It's not like we didn't have enough sex."
"Ah?" Arthur swallowed, unable to stop listening to Jones's ramble.
"And it's not like my past was a surprise. I met her the night I broke up with my boyfriend. She was the owner of the restaurant where Ivan - my ex - dumped me."
"Yeah." Jones shrugged. He sat back in his chair and tapped his lips with his pen. "Maybe she was more upset about that threesome with her friend Felix than she let on? I mean, it was her idea in the first place. God, Mariel, what crawled up your ass?"
Felix, maybe? Arthur managed not to say it aloud but was unable to stop the mental image his brain conjured of Al - Jones - in a sexual threesome. Arthur's heart may have been secure and his practice choosy, but his gonads were utterly indiscriminate.
He needed to get back to business. Jones was being a font of information, but not the information necessary to get the proceedings back on track. "Ah, Mr. Jones, perhaps the rest of the document will reveal further information we can discuss now, even if it is not a proper- would you like this note?"
Jones shook his head and crossed his arms. "Nah. Keep it. Toss it. I don't care."
Perhaps Mrs. Jones was not far off about her husband's emotional inaccessibility. Well, it took one to know one. Not for the first time, Arthur was thankful that he'd avoided such entanglements. He peeled the note off and folded it unobtrusively to the side. He flipped the pages. Mrs. Jones did not seem to be requesting a lump sum or spousal maintenance. There were, however, a large number of exhibits regarding property.
"It seems she plans to request a great deal of real estate."
"I just want to do whatever she wants. To get this over with."
Arthur frowned without meaning to. "She claims that she supported you through your MBA and thus she deserves fully half of your property, their earnings and dividends."
"Huh? Really? I mean, she was totally supportive. But it's not like we paid rent, because I owned our building."
Arthur made a note to that effect. What property before marriage? CPA? Bonnefoy? "I must ask- you have a lot at stake here. Why don't you want to fight this - any of it?"
He sensed more than saw Jones's shrug. "Well, I still care about her. We were totally in love once. You don't just get over that right away, you know?"
Arthur wondered if Jones had ever told his wife that. "Hmm. I shall never fall in love."
Arthur heard a noise that sounded like "ha." Arthur couldn't believe he'd said it; feeling his cheeks heat, he glanced up to see Jones staring at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Pardon my familiarity," Arthur said.
"Nah. I like it." Jones waved a tanned hand at him. "Not what you said, because that's stupid. But I like knowing what the people I work with are like. What they're thinking. I'm gonna hire you."
"Well, I must first decide if I'm going to take your case, Mr. Jones," Arthur said. He had some pride, dammit, even when faced with a handsome and admittedly fascinating puzzle. A puzzle who sounded like a college boy with a gaping chasm of a clueless streak. How had Jones possibly amassed such a fortune? "Any one of my associates could handle a case where the client wishes to roll over. I prefer a client who will trust me to protect his or her interests."
Jones smiled again, a dangerous thing for Arthur's innards. "Haha! I like the idea of you protecting my interests, Arthur."
"Hmm," Arthur said. Americans! And their propensity for casual use of first names. "Is your wife currently employed?"
Al - Jones, dammit- nodded. "Yeah. She directs operations at three of my properties. Mary's at Lincoln Park, Americana on Grant, and Evolve. On-"
"Rush Street," Arthur supplied.
Jones's eyes brightened. "Yeah! Have you been there?"
"No, I'm sorry," Arthur said. He'd merely recognized the names of all the establishments, even if he hadn't patronized them. The first two were bar/restaurants, and the last was a "progressive" - meaning LGBT-oriented - downtown nightclub.
"Oh. Because - well - never mind, I guess. Okay. It's a really cool place."
"I'm sure," Arthur said with what he hoped was a general smile. Inwardly, however, he wondered what that "never mind" had been about. He swallowed. "I'm sorry to come back to it, but it seems strange to me that, considering what she wants, she gave this to you before she formally filed for divorce."
Jones's eyebrows drew down in an expression of innocent puzzlement. "I know, right? Huh."
There must be something else going on that Jones was forgetting to mention, Arthur thought. Or, considering the note, neglecting to mention out of a sense of guilt. Well, he, Arthur, would uncover it. If he took that case, that was. He opened the document to the last page, the signature page, to see who the attorney for the petitioner was. It was Ludwig Beilschmidt. Arthur couldn't stand the man. He began to see why Bonnefoy had sent him this case. It seemed tailor-made for him.
If Arthur could get past the fact that Jones was an obvious, if good-looking, idiot who had probably inherited his money, and past any interest his own gonads had despite that fact, this case would be a very satisfying challenge. And he was totally going to take it, wasn't he? Arthur sighed. He was such a jelly, sometimes.
"Well, if you truly want to end your marriage, the first thing I would recommend would be a cross-petition for dissolution. That way, if she does not pursue her case, you will have a filing of your own and will not need to re-file in the future, dragging out your divorce and paying more court fees."
That was all he had to say about his own strategy. He needed a bloody keeper, for Christ's sake.
"May I have this copy of the document for further review?" Arthur asked.
"Absolutely, Arthur," Jones said. He smiled. He smiled like a cat would smile, if cats could. It dampened the innocence of his expression. He unfurled from his chair and stood. He placed his palms on Arthur's desk and leaned forward, so far forward that Arthur could smell his cologne. Arthur perforce stood as well and for a moment it seemed almost as if Jones meant to kiss him, so much had he invaded Arthur's space. But then he stuck out his open palm, thumb up. "Great to have you on my team."
Before Arthur could protest or indeed even have second thoughts, he found himself clasping hands with Jones once more. "I will - ah - be in touch," he managed to say.
"Fantastic." Jones released his hand and strode, long-legged, for the door, rushing out as quickly as he'd blown in. Arthur practically jogged to reach the door first and open it; it was his office, after all. Jones paused in the open doorway, and it seemed as if he looked Arthur up and down for a bold moment. "Nice suit, by the way," he said.
To his mortification, Arthur felt his cheeks heat. He hated, hated, hated that he blushed so easily. "Thank you," he said and turned away quickly, but not quickly enough to miss Jones's grin.
Behind him, Monaca giggled. "Bye-bye!" she called at Jones as he left.
When he was sure Jones was gone, Arthur turned and gave Monaca a Look. "Bye-bye?"
Her face crinkled with amusement. "Sorry, Mr. Kirkland."
He sighed. "If Ms. Zwingli is available, please let her know that I am free for a few minutes."
He'd have a short department review- Lili was a tiny blonde who ran his office like a Swiss watch- and then he'd set himself and his paralegals to reviewing the Jones file until lunch.
In fact, the official court filing appeared online at eleven-thirty; it was the same as their copy, just as Jones had said it would be. So he wasn't one-hundred-percent deluded, anyway. Arthur took the file home with him that night. He did force himself to set work aside long enough to go to the gym, but he put off dinner with Portia until the next evening.
On Wednesday, Arthur was pried gently from slumber at the first alarm. He was in the office by seven forty-five, before the coffee smell, and noticed it by its absence, along with the time. He was surprised. It seemed a legal challenge could still get him excited enough about life to get out of bed, even if it felt sometimes like the wrong kind of excited.
He turned on his computer and resisted the urge to Google-image search Alfred Jones. He did have an e-mail from Bonnefoy. He was asking what Arthur wanted as a retainer for the Jones divorce, and promising to arrange a wire transfer right away. he also added that Arthur could just call him personally with the routing numbers, so they could catch up with each other.
Bonnefoy was slick as a Frenchman—or, at least, a Quebec Frenchman, which is what Bonnefoy was. Arthur snorted and typed a reply thanking him politely for the referral and naming a rather high figure. When Monaca came in, Arthur had her call Bonnefoy's assistant with the bank information.
Still, there was something strange about the whole situation. Why hadn't Mariel Jones been able to wait two more months to file for divorce, and why did Jones seem so unwilling to care about what he'd spent so much time building?
When the bank transfer and retainer agreement came through later that morning, Arthur filed an appearance with the court, which meant he was officially on to the case. There would be no rolling over. He got the name of Jones's CPA from Bonnefoy's secretary, and set his legal team to work.
Of course, he'd have to meet with Bonnefoy personally sooner rather than later. Jones had been busy since he'd gotten married. He had indeed inherited some of his wealth, but that wealth had increased substantially over the last eight years. The trick would be discerning whether all of that property was eligible to be split evenly, as Mrs. Jones had asserted. Or, if not to be split, which real estate and revenues would go to her and which would remain with Jones.
Jones hadn't seemed to care, but Arthur was going to be paid to care. He would have to meet or at least speak with Jones again, soon, if only to determine which properties he was personally attached to. Then Arthur would make his suggestions.
Unfortunately, Arthur was booked for the rest of Wednesday and unable to pay the attention to the file that he wished. It was a draining day, as well, with the fallout from the Edelstein's custody case - the child was apparently a musical prodigy and his divorced parents were arguing over who would have a greater proportion of control over his schooling. Father wanted him to go to Vienna, but the mother wanted him to remain in the country.
The hearing yesterday had not gone well for Arthur's client, Mr. Edelstein. The courts were generally opposed to relocation and Austria was very far away. But he and his client weren't giving up; Arthur was trying to encourage Mr. Edelstein to accept split schooling for the child, to acquire "diverse acculturation."
Sometimes clients just didn't wish to take his advice. He wondered if Jones would.
Arthur canceled dinner with Portia again, but promised upon pain of death to meet with her on Thursday night. He even made reservations, at Americana. It would be a good idea, he told himself, to personally visit some of the properties and dinner could thus perform two functions.
Still, Arthur felt strange when he met Portia just inside the entrance of Americana at seven-thirty pm on Thursday. It was like ... even though Arthur had only met Jones once, the place had Jones's stamp on it, if that made any sense. He'd been buried in Jones's business all day, and the aesthetics seemed like him, the haphazard-looking arrangement of tables, the rustic, unsanded wood walls hung with little rural landscapes. The waiter and sommelier had tiny, almost tasteful American flags sewn onto their waistcoats.
"A blend of various American fusion cuisines, choosing the best and freshest from around this great nation," Portia read from the menu, squinting in the low candlelight. "Look, Arthur, the menu is divided between regions of the country. Ooh, Pacific Northwest has lots of fish. You know I love fresh seafood. How did you hear about this place?"
"Here and there," Arthur said. "So how have you been?"
Portia shrugged. She had her long, dark hair wound up off her neck into a loopy hairdo thing that was odd but attractive on her. Her black dress was trim and tasteful, showing off only half her bosom, unlike her usual more, er, bold style. However, she was wearing her diamond skull necklace and had the usual little jewels pasted onto her long nails - her "pirate bling," as she called it. Her nails flashed in the light as she waved her hand at him. "Lonely, obviously. Or I'dve had a date and been unable to reschedule to tonight."
"Sorry about that," Arthur said. "Big new case."
"Yeah, yeah. Ooh, this wine is actually good."
"But if you want fish we shouldn't have chosen the red right off."
Portia held up her glass. "We're not driving. We can get a white with dinner."
"True." He'd taken a cab. Arthur clinked glasses with her and sipped the cab they'd chosen for drinking. It was decently dry and leggy, not bad for California wine, which was all the restaurant offered. One thing Arthur and Portia had in common was that they were wine snobs.
They'd taken a vacation in the south of France together, once. Portia had managed to pick up a man there, while Arthur had not. He wasn't particularly attracted to Frenchmen, anyway.
"So tell me what happened with... de Coverly, was his name?" Arthur asked, meaning the most recent man Portia had dated. She'd e-mailed Arthur moaning that she and her boyfriend had broken up. But then, she never kept any of them very long. "The, ah, motorcycle enthusiast?"
"God," Portia said. Her fingernails winked again. "He was a poser. A weekend warrior. And awful in bed."
"Oh," Arthur said. "I'm sorry it didn't work out. But you'll find someone new."
"I know." She drained her glass and allowed Arthur to pour her a new one. "Guess what? I do have a blind date next week. My upholsterer Sherry is fixing me up. He's a master carpenter from Milwaukee. He's Korean."
Portia was an interior designer. Arthur raised his glass in salute. "Good luck."
"Thanks." She returned the salute, sipped and pointed a long fingernail at him. "How about you? Anything date-wise on the horizon? Did you go to that website Tony told you about?"
"I've been ... thinking about it," Arthur half-lied. He'd had some interesting sexual dreams the last couple of nights. But thinking was the extent of it. Tony had referred him to an online match site for gay men, but Arthur's laptop was dead and he didn't want to do any man-shopping at work, lest his IT person know too much about what kind of men Arthur liked. "About getting out there again. Some time."
"You're so lonely over here. I don't know why you don't- hey, who's that?"
Arthur glanced up to see someone wave at him from across the restaurant and head their way. It was Alfred Jones. Speaking of sexual dreams. But then, one couldn't help what one dreamed. Still, Arthur felt the awful blush creeping up his neck. To be so obviously here, in a restaurant Jones owned and had specifically mentioned- it was awkward enough to be painful.
Jones closed in on them, his long legs winding expertly among the tables in what would otherwise have been a beeline. Arthur had seen him previously in a trim navy blue suit, but this evening he was dressed more casually, in black trousers and a striped silk button-down shirt. The top two buttons were buttoned down, exposing a tanned throat to match his hands. All his clothing clung to his athletic build.
He halted at their tableside, standing between them so that both Arthur and Portia had to crane their necks up to look at him.
"Arthur! Hi. Hey, you haven't called me." Jones pouted.
"Ah!" Arthur felt the flush reach his cheeks and burn. Thank heavens for the dimness of the restaurant. "The last two days have been busy, and I haven't had a chance to-"
Portia's eyes were wide and her expression gleeful. Arthur's heart sank. "Arthur! You had a date and you didn't call him afterwards?"
"Haha! I knew it!" Jones said, flashing a brilliant grin at Portia.
"No, he's-" Arthur started, but Portia continued.
"No wonder you canceled on me. And you didn't even tell me about it, you jerk."
"- a business associate," Arthur managed.
"He's my divorce lawyer," Jones said, damning his own client confidentiality.
"Portia, this is Mr. Alfred-"
But Portia didn't miss much, conversationally, and she was extremely nosy. "What did you know?" she asked Jones.
"My gaydar is never wrong," Jones answered, closing his lips so that his grin was even more smug.
"-Jones," Arthur said, loudly. "And Mr. Jones, this is my-"
"Not your girlfriend, obviously," Jones said.
"Nope," Portia said, staring at Jones with actual stars in her eyes, or maybe those were merely the reflections of the restaurant's candlelight.
"Friend," Arthur ground out. "Portia Galati."
"Nice to meet you."
"Same." They shook hands. Jones still beamed down at Portia. She did look very attractive this evening. And was Jones gaping into her cleavage? Whatever the case, they managed to tear their gazes from each other to both look at Arthur.
"So did you come to check out my place?" Jones said. He winked at Arthur; it was apparently a habit. It was an overly familiar one, but for some reason, it warmed Arthur's belly rather than his ire. Jones was everything Arthur was not used to. "How do you like it?"
"Very nice," Arthur said.
"Good wine. I can't wait to try the Alaskan salmon," Portia said, leaning her chin on her hand. It made her cleavage that much more enticing. To someone who found those sorts of things enticing, anyway. As Jones very well might.
Arthur wasn't particularly secretive about his own sexuality, nor ashamed of it. He was out. But now Jones knew something personal about him that Arthur hadn't told him. Arthur had planned to keep things on the strictest level of professionalism.
Already Jones was making that impossible, and Arthur had represented him for only two days. If only Arthur weren't attracted to him.
And there, he'd admitted it for what it was. Now he'd just have to make it a personal challenge to never let it show. Personal challenges were almost as engrossing as professional ones.
"The salmon's awesome." Jones waved a hand around the restaurant. "I came here to try and catch Mariel, but she's not working tonight. I suppose I ought to give up. As my lawyer, do you think that's what I should do? If she doesn't want to contact me?"
"We can discuss it. Soon," Arthur suggested. Even if Jones didn't care about airing his own private business, Arthur was going to. It was professional pride. He tried to hint that at Jones without revealing too much information to everyone around them. "I'd like to schedule a meeting with F.H., if you are available to join us."
"Frannie! Of course. How about tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow!" Arthur stared. Well, he was nearly ready, though he'd hoped to have the weekend to prepare for a meeting the first of the week. Jones clearly expected him to jump. "We'll have to see if everyone's schedule agrees-"
"I make my own schedule. And Frannie'll make time for me." Insinuating that Arthur should, as well? "Tomorrow's good, never fear."
It seemed Jones's chest swelled as he stood there. Did he think he was a superhero? The President? He baffled Arthur, truly.
"I can have my assistant call your office first thing tomorrow to schedule," Arthur said. He tried to smile without overdoing it.
"Nah. Call my cell. Didn't I leave a card? I didn't, did I? Here's one." Jones pulled a slim wallet from a back pocket- his pants were so tight, how had he fit that in there?- and plucked a card from it. He placed it on the edge of the table near Arthur's wine glass.
One of the waiters came up and tapped Mr. Jones on the shoulder. She spoke in a low voice that was nevertheless audible to those gathered at the table. "Pardon me, Al. Jose wants to know if you'd have a minute to talk?"
"Sure," Al said, and the waiter left. He shrugged at Portia and Arthur. "My chef."
"Ah. I'll see you tomorrow, then, Mr. Jones," Arthur said.
"Okay. Haha," Jones said, as if laughing at a private joke. "Now we're even, Arthur. Nice to meet you, Portia."
Then he left. Arthur looked at Portia, who was staring back at him. "I didn't even know we were in competition," he said lightly. Though now he said it he realized they'd had a battle of wills from the moment they'd met.
"Does he own this place?" Portia said, looking around it as if with new eyes.
"Yes," Arthur said simply. He picked up his glass, inhaling the bouquet, finding it calming.
Portia shrugged and turned back to her own wine. "Well, I know you can't discuss the case. But I will tell you that he thinks you're cute."
"What?" Arthur spluttered- literally. He grabbed his napkin and blotted at the table where he'd spit out half his mouthful of cabernet.
"Totally he does. Because you are cute, Arthur, no matter what you think. But I know you can't pork your clients, either. Too bad."
"No," Arthur said with a sigh. He hoped it was a dismissive-sounding sigh. You could take a lover as a client, but you couldn't take a client as a lover. "And it doesn't matter, because ours is a professional relationship. Also, I'm sure you're mistaken."
"Not," Portia said. She glared at him.
Arthur glared back. "And he was staring at your breasts."
Portia looked down into her own cleavage. "Everyone does that. They can't help it. Even you look at my breasts now and then."
Arthur mock-frowned. "That's preposterous."
"You just appreciate pretty things." Portia stuck out her tongue.
Arthur laughed and downed the rest of his wine. It was going straight to his head, because he felt giddy.