Law & Orders — Moot Court
Matthew had spent less time around Nolan, and still regarded him to some extent as less a father figure and more one of the staff. But for all that, there was a comfort in his presence. You’d be hard put to find an Orton student who hadn’t been reassured and put at their ease by Nolan at least once.
And obviously, therefore, among those parts of the student body who would take advantage of staff office hours, he had even more influence.
Matthew was telling himself, therefore, that the slight sensation of butterflies in his stomach as he approached Nolan’s door was nothing to do with the personal touch of a private meeting with the old eccentric and everything to do with the upcoming moot court.
Which he was pretty confident of. He and Jessica would come in as the glamorous prosecution, unlock the holes in the defence case, wow not only judge and jury but the mysterious men behind the curtain at H,Y,P, and walk into their dream jobs together, the rest of their lives mapped out for them.
When he put it like that he felt much more easily led than he liked to picture himself.
But that was just an artefact of how unusual H,Y,P’s shadow hiring process really was.
He checked his watch. The latest blog advice on power plays suggested you arrive one or two minutes late for your appointment, to show you played by your own rules. He’d done that now, imposed his influence on when the meeting would start. Leaving it too long created an audience that was already mad; he didn’t want to risk that.
He took a deep breath, rapped his knuckles against the door, and opened it.
Nolan looked up from his desk, a small silver cylinder with rotating parts in his hands. And, in one of the two chairs in front of the desk, Madison van Hoyt turned her head to see who’d entered.
She smiled, nodded politely, seemed approving. Matthew, on the other hand, immediately started second-guessing everything about the appointment. Clearly this wasn’t about the moot court. But if it wasn’t, then what on earth would Nolan want to talk to him about?
“Good of you to join us at this time, Matthew,” Professor Nolan said after a moment’s contemplation. “Please do extend, to any judges you work with in your professional life, a better sense of punctuality.”
He flushed beet red, the won authority gone and disarmed in a single condescending sentence. He mumbled something. It might have been an apology.
“Well, sit down,” he said. “We can begin, at least.” He set the cylinder back down among his collection of, Matthew privately assumed, stims, and dithered about the selection of another as Matthew took his seat.
Eventually he selected an interlocking set of chromed plastic chain links. As if on reflex, as he did so, he set that mounted fidget spinner whirling.
For a moment, there was silence in the room, and both students had nothing to draw their attention but the bright, dancing whirl of the spinner. Matthew thought for a second he heard a contented sigh from Madison.
After a moment, Matthew asked “What’s this all about, sir?”
“Sir,” Madison echoed. Matthew frowned. It didn’t sound sarcastic. Actually, she put so much happiness into it that it was a little distracting. He found himself trying not to compare how attractive Madison and Jessica were, which was the kind of decision guaranteed to make him do just that.
At the start of their JD, Matthew hadn’t really given Madison a thought. Old school money on her side meant their paths rarely crossed outside the lecture hall, and he wrote her off as snooty with the experience and worldly wisdom of a young college student. She’d blended into a crowd of women he’d mentally pigeonholed as unavailable, out of reach, inaccessible, or occasionally out of his league. This certainly gave her an inviting air of the forbidden.
Jessica hadn’t seemed unattainable, but looking back on it, he’d come to realise that had been hard work on her part. She’d decided she wanted to be attained, and she’d had the smarts to know he needed to think he was achieving her, earning her, rather than happening to be the person she found most attractive in turn.
(That didn’t bother him so much these days. He knew the work a relationship could take now. Any sense of having to earn her in the first place paled next to the simple reality of the little things needed to keep her.)
There was no question, really, that Jessica was his choice. But sometimes it was nice to have other fantasies.
Nolan hadn’t answered yet, Matthew thought. He was taking his time composing an answer, perhaps. Or he wanted Matthew to come up with an answer of his own. It might be a test.
“Is this about court?” he asked.
“Court,” Madison agreed. Maybe she was mocking him, just so subtly he couldn’t be sure. But he didn’t feel embarrassed. He actually felt pretty great right now. Relaxed. Confident. With a friendly professor and an attractive, intelligent woman.
“We need to have a quick discussion about court, yes,” Nolan said. “Laurie Johnston has selected you two to be the defence team.”
“Defence team,” they both acknowledged.
“Yes,” Nolan said, a twinkle in his eye. “We have plenty of work to do.”
Matthew’s eyes were still on the swirling, eye-catching spinner. Madison’s presence was suddenly a flush of arousal. He remembered that approving nod. Wanted to impress her.
Nolan set aside his latest tchotchke, opened a drawer, and produced two manila folders, setting them on his desk. “The case is an interesting one…”
Lauren and David had taken to making sure their moot court meetings overran. An accidental discovery after they didn’t take heat for low billable hours the day of the argument, they were now aware that if you were dealing with the moot court, you got a significant amount of leeway concerning client hours.
So they were making the most of it. Part of this involved concocting an extremely complex case to try, full of fascinating little details that might trip a lawyer up if not taken into account. (”Too full,” David had said, with a glint in his eye. “But that’s the fun of it—waiting to see which ones they spot.”)
Part of it had started to involve planning for their futures. Tipped for the top (or they wouldn’t have been handed this responsibility), they had a number of expectations for their career, but were wondering when the correct time to start a family might be (apart from at least ten years into their future.)
“I think it’s one of the things I admire about Jonathan and Louise,” Lauren was saying thoughtfully. “They seem to have carved out the time they need for fun.”
“That might be because they don’t have kids yet,” David said. When he wasn’t pissed off, he tended to be the voice of reason.
“Kids would not fit into their lifestyle,” Lauren retorted, grinning. They shared a brief moment of amusement.
“That reminds me. I have to report for service once we finish up here,” David reported.
Lauren mentally recalculated the amount of time they might overrun by. Bylaw 5 had very clear things to say about the importance of not wasting the time of your seniors.
Bylaw 5: Time is for working or for taking pleasure. It is not to be wasted by poor timekeeping.
“Nolan should be briefing the defence today,” she said.
“Not both teams?”
“The prosecution isn’t fully locked in yet.” She shrugged. “It’s going to take a lot of cram work to pack a full case into their heads, but that’s out of my hands right now.”
David nodded. “How’s Nolan taken it all?”
Lauren laughed. David had first been drawn to her by that laugh. Had chased a date with her for months over that laugh. It had taken time for him to realise that the only way to guarantee hearing it was to delight her by surprise.
She looked at him with that energy he always thought of when he thought of her eyes. A vivacity which delighted him when it was there, and which looked stunning when a few words took it away. “I don’t think our exceptional structure and design is as exceptional as we like to tell ourselves,” she said. David grinned ruefully.
“I guess that counts as letting me down gracefully,” he said. Lauren smiled and shook her head.
“You want to get something gracefully, go serve Louise a while,” she offered. “What’s she got you doing, anyway?”
“I’m not at liberty to say,” he parrotted automatically. Lauren could, by now, recognise a prepared statement, as H,Y,P called compulsive answers, easily. There always a shift in cadence to match the original speaker.
She’d started trying to match the rhythms of her people’s speech whenever she needed to issue a prepared statement of her own, so that her audience would consider it more important. Of course, that wasn’t especially common—yet.
“Secret, or does she just enjoy making sure you can’t say?”
He grinned. “Bits of both. I’m looking forward to talking about some once the injunction ends.” He reached out, slipping his hand into her hair at the base of her neck, and pulled her in close. They kissed, melting together in accordance with the Bylaws.
“See you soon?” he asked, and she nodded, turning back to her work as he went to work off his service.
The door to Nolan’s office closed behind them, and if there had been an onlooker, they might have noticed a sudden shift in their body language, shoulders dropping slightly from a posture of near-attention.
Matthew and Madison blinked as their meeting buried itself out of sight of the conscious mind, and as new memories surfaced in its place.
They smiled at each other, Matthew shyly, Madison confidently. “You’re alright, Hitchcock,” she said, her tone doing things to his spine. “We can definitely work together.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Should be, uh… should be good.”
She laughed. “Okay. When can we work on this? Tonight?”
Swept along in his cover story, Matthew nodded.
“We’ll need privacy,” she said. “You have that?”
“Yeah—uhhh. No. My girlfriend…”
Madison dismissed Jessica with a wave of her hand, and she wasn’t even present. “My place, then,” she said airily. “Eight o’clock. We’ll order in. You good for Himalayan?”
Matthew had never eaten Himalayan, but wasn’t about to show weakness by admitting that. “Yeah, I’m good,” he said.
She nodded, gave him one last, lingering look that seemed to be assessing every emotion that crossed his face, then nodded to herself again. She leaned in and planted a kiss on his cheek, then slipped away.
Matthew watched her go with confused, churning emotions, then shook his head and shrugged. Jessica was waiting for a report on the meeting. He should deal with that.
At the same time, Jonathan had called his friend Professor Nolan for an update on court preparations.
“I’m still trying to lock in our field for the prosecution,” he said. “I was wondering if I could pick your brains on our little cast of characters. Add a little something to their permanent record.”
“Where would you like to start?”
“Alphabetical order usually seems as good as any, to me,” Jonathan said agreeably. “But, ah, is there anywhere you think I should start?”
“Hm. Well, if you want my opinion, there isn’t much point in us discussing Eric Davis. Out of those on our remaining list, I think he’s probably the least useful for the roles you want. Solid, dependable, but not an inspired kind of mind.”
“Worth hiring for other roles?”
“Depends on the competition, I’d say. He’s ambitious, but he doesn’t have what he’d need to reach his ambitions. That would need removing from him.”
They contemplated this prospect for a while. Jonathan eventually said, “In which case, he’s unlikely to enjoy his career outside H,Y,P.”
“That is true,” Nolan said after a moment. “But of course, that’s not technically our responsibility.”
“No.” The idea hung in the air for a few moments. Eventually Jonathan spoke again. “Either way, that’s not connected to the business we’re here to discuss. So, you recommend ruling him out?”
“I could always be wrong,” Nolan granted. “But I imagine he’s not going to be a key player.”
“Alright. Let’s move on, then. Heloise van Roth.”
“Gifted, certainly,” Nolan replied diplomatically. “A great knack for argumentation. But she relies on it too much.”
“How do you mean?”
“She has a good grasp of most topics I’ve seen her argue on, but she knows it. And sometimes she doesn’t really bother to check the details, because she feels sure of her argument. So you end up with unforced errors, and she compensates, or tries to, by then arguing her case in the follow-up.”
“That does sound like a behaviour pattern that we can correct for.”
“I hope so. I’ve been trying to nudge her in that direction. Slow going, though. She was sharp enough to notice the first couple of changes to her behaviour. Wrote them off as getting used to law school, but I’ve had to be careful about pace.”
“Noted. Jessica Beaumont is top of my list right now and it’s unlikely she’ll be pushed off. But if there are any issues…?”
“I did already let her know she’d have an appointment in a day or two…” Nolan sighed regretfully. “Issues? Mmm… none that I can think of, except that a naturally suggestible lawyer is, without training to spot when it’s being used against them, vulnerable to the right kind of shyster approach in closed session.”
“Naturally suggestible? I take it there’s a recommendation somewhere in our email system?”
Both of them laughed. One day the firm would get beyond using myriad emails to notify staff of everything they needed to know, using some more sensible digital information management system. But it was unlikely to happen until the current Senior Partner retired. His reign had been marked throughout by a dislike of change.
It was small wonder that the obvious recommendation—here is a gifted and susceptible lawyer—had simply been lost, and would remain lost until a data request was made of one of the Archives, two lovely women trained and indoctrinated in industrial-scale recall.
Jonathan continued, “Alright, then. We’ll set that aside as irrelevant anyway—she’s almost certainly going to be something. The main question is partner track or intern to associate.”
Nolan made a noise of agreement.
“Nicholas Warren,” Jonathan said as he moved on.
“Model student. Very rich family. Quite the ego. But I wouldn’t say that’s so in a way which could hurt him.” In his office, Nolan tucked the phone between shoulder and ear, reaching out to pick up one of the smaller Rubiks cubes. He began unsolving and re-solving the cube.
“That sounds… grudgingly approving?”
“Yes, that’s probably fair,” Nolan agreed. “I’d guess he’s high on your list. Yes?”
“Almost as high as Beaumont. I’ve pondered just pre-emptively booking the appointment. But at the same time, the less time I give him thinking he’s made prosecution, the less risk there is that he’ll brag pre-emptively to someone else in the class.”
This was a known reason for disqualification. It was important that those tipped for the top understand how to keep something secret; putting this kind of weight on that requirement usually ensured it. Most years, it wasn’t a problem. But a lot of candidates had the kind of ego where they might think the laws didn’t apply to them.
Jonathan considered this mindset (which he had once had) to be deeply inappropriate. It also contravened Bylaw 9.
Bylaw 9: Even the Senior Partners are not above the rules.
One of the quirks of the recruitment process was that the usual divide between what a lawyer had been like at school and their professional life was sharper than ever. For some, in fact—Jonathan among them—it was easiest to try to forget the person they had been before.
“You think he’ll make it past that?”
“I think if there isn’t much time between invitation and interview he would. Which is my one doubt. It feels like I’d be making an exception for him, and I’m not sure I should.”
Jonathan nodded. “Of course, that’s technically my decision. But it seems like a tough one.”
Nolan decided to lighten the mood. “I’m sure Louise will enjoy making it for you,” he said. He held off speaking for another couple of moments, waiting to hear Jonathan laugh. Once he had, he continued. “May I ask who Lauren’s pick is?”
“Heloise, but I’m not sure I agree based on what you’ve said.”
Nolan settled for a diplomatic “Mm.” Then, after a moment, decided that this was too little, that it wouldn’t do.
“I would have to wonder whether Lauren is letting the fact there’s little between these people in the quality of their work allow her to say they’re of equal worth, and therefore she can push for those she finds most attractive.”
“Heloise is attractive, then?”
“Not on the level of Miss van Hoyt,” Nolan replied. “It’s been an instructive year, and doubtless next year will be for you.”
Jonathan chuckled. “Alright. Well, that’s information worth noting. And if Lauren may already be influenced by appearances, I see no reason my selection can’t be. Could you have some photos emailed over to myself and Louise?”
Nolan smiled. “Certainly. I’m sure the two of you will have much to discuss.”
“And with that being the case, I think this conversation is probably done in its own course.”
“Have a good day, then, Jonathan. I have work to do on other potential candidates.”
They ended the call.
Jessica had been churning with excitement, anticipation, and nerves throughout Matthew’s meeting. It had to be the moot court. But it might not be. Or it might be bad news. She was waiting exactly where they’d agreed, watching the door. He wasn’t going to make it into the lounge before she knew it, and she had a clear view of anyone else coming in. They could talk in private. No risk of being caught and disqualified.
When Matthew appeared in the doorway she raised a hand, waving, and smiled broadly. She saw Matthew’s smile in turn, though it seemed muted somehow—obviously his mind was already on the job—and he raised a hand in turn, making his way across to her. They hugged, he kissed her, he sat beside her, slipped an arm around her, and sighed contentedly.
Jessica waited for him to breach the topic.
After what felt like five minutes but which was probably a lot closer to just one, she spoke up. “So?”
“What happened with Nolan?”
Matthew blinked. “Oh, yeah, that.”
After another few moments silence she drove a knuckle in between his ribs. “Come on!”
He blinked again, and smiled. “I don’t think it was about the court,” he said. “But honestly I’m OK with that.”
Jessica frowned. “What’s got into you?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know? Honestly… I think I just got halfway through and I realised that it doesn’t matter if I don’t get into this special court thing. We’re both great. We come as a package. So we’re going to do fine. H,Y,P will pick us up anyway.” He looked across and smiled. “It’s pretty chill.”
She sat there for a while, thinking through the conversation she’d expected, the conversation they’d had. She knew him well enough by now to know something with confidence.
Matthew was hiding something.
It didn’t make sense for what he was hiding to be the moot court. Even if she wasn’t going to be-
Maybe she wasn’t going to be part of it. Maybe he was trying to let her down gently.
But that still felt… off. Dancing around the topic wasn’t how Matthew handled awkward questions. He favoured tricks he thought disguised what he was trying to say, though usually they didn’t.
David rapped his knuckles gently on Louise’s office door and waited.
“Enter,” she called, and with permission given, he did.
After a few years in the company, David had adjusted to the way submission and dominance now made him feel. He’d been less than sure about Lauren when the two of them opened their eyes as the moot court prosecution, realising suddenly where the found themselves, but that had been, he felt, a lack of contact beforehand.
They’d both been from families where money was never an issue, but Lauren’s family didn’t have to worry about buying the kids a new car or booking a third annual family vacation. David’s family just didn’t have to worry about the mortgage, health insurance, or anything like that. One of the reasons he’d been keen to go to H,Y,P was their health package; the firm retained the services of a number of medical practitioners in multiple fields who were or had been clients of the firm, and H,Y,P proudly guaranteed an insurance package throughout retirement if you worked there for a minimum of ten years.
So while David had admired Lauren’s beauty, and acknowledged her smarts in the lecture hall or the debate chamber, they’d found themselves running with very different groups. David hadn’t given her much thought until they heard the guilty verdict handed down and found themselves kissing—in the approved fashion. In hindsight it was obvious that they’d both already received significant conditioning.
At the time, David was naive enough to consider himself master of his own mind. That hadn’t been the case in some time, and initial assignment to Jonathan Young II had quickly brought them up to speed on the firm’s values.
He’d been very happy partnering himself with Lauren, who preferred not to be in control except during the working day. But being seconded often by his senior to work with his senior’s partner meant that David had had plenty of opportunities to test how closely he would follow the Bylaws.
It had taken quite a while for him to be completely comfortable working under Louise, but now he found himself a little light-headed and floaty whenever he stepped through her office door. On days like today, when service could be expected, the effect was even more intense, and made for more lasting impact into the bargain.
He stopped just past the arc of the door, letting it swing shut, trusting to experience which told him the door’s mechanism would slow it before it could slam.
Louise was clearly very aware he’d arrived; she was also clearly working. During David’s internship elsewhere, if he’d showed up on time and the lawyer he was meeting with had been running late, they would make a big show of him being early, point him to a chair, and radiate irritation. Louise simply got on with what she was doing.
David had initially considered this a power play, and technically he still did. But he didn’t object, and in fact, he felt strongly that his pre-H,Y,P self would also have preferred this. At least it didn’t attempt to make him feel bad for doing something right, by gaslighting him that he’d gone wrong.
To pass the time he took down a coathanger Louise kept on her coatrack, took off his jacket, and hung it up. He knew what would soon be expected of him, after all.
He paused, considering, and raised a hand to his tie.
“Don’t,” Louise said, and David therefore did not. Instead he approached the desk, stood by a guest chair, but did not sit.
Louise’s eyes flicked up to him again, then back to what she’d been doing, which she now worked to finish. At length she transferred the offending paper back into the manila wallet it had come from and scribbled a note on her pad. Then she sat back and looked up at David, smiling. “Well, are you ready to report?”
“Of course,” he said promptly. Memories of sitting in the chair he now stood beside spilling the secrets of his meetings with Laurie uncontrollably surfaced, and were more than a little pleasant. “But I’m afraid there’s little new confirmed at present. We’re waiting on Mr Young to confirm the defence team.”
Louise nodded. “Well, that’s a shame. Teasing it out of you won’t take much time.” She smiled. “Are you prepared to discuss something a little different?”
“Anything you please,” he said, in the approved fashion.
“Alright. This may extend your service beyond Jonathan’s sentence.”
He had the right to refuse such a thing. His primary commitment was recognised as being his relationship with Laurie. The two hadn’t yet even moved out of the apartment block owned by H,Y,P, although the topic occasionally came up.
“Anything you please,” he said formally.
Louise smiled. “Good.” She set her pen down finally. Looked at him across the table. Reached behind her head, let her hair down from her tight work bun. Took a deep breath.
“Jonathan and I have decided to start a family. But we’re having difficulties of our own.
“We’ve agreed on you.”
He swallowed, then smiled. “Certainly, ma’am. Although if Lauren wants priority, we may apply for you to wait until our own?”
Louise smiled and nodded. “You’ll have to discuss that first, of course. But that being the case, I have other tasks for you.” He nodded politely.
“Mind adjourned,” Louise purred, and immediately David’s expression emptied into a contented smile, his body comping to attention in the approved fashion. “Leave your tie on, but your shirt can go,” Louise grinned, and beckoned him around the desk…
Jessica’s conversation with Matthew was kind of stilted, but they recovered something almost like their old equilibrium before he made his excuses and left the room. She sat there for maybe a full minute before deciding she wanted to know more than she wanted to remain unsure, and she slipped after him, grabbing her coat on the way out.
Matthew walked like someone without a care in the world. The idea she might trail him evidently didn’t occur to him, and honestly that made her feel guiltier than anything else.
She followed him out of his dorms, across the campus quad, and out toward another of the building wings. But there was nothing ahead except…
…some of the womens’ rooms.
Her pace slowed, anxiety rearing its head in her belly. Her stomach churned and for the first time she understood how physical fear of the unknown could become. But she couldn’t bring herself to stop following. She thought of all her mentor figures, from parents out beyond. And in the end, it was the thought of Professor Nolan that spurred her on. She could just picture what he’d have to say about an occasion like this.
“Find out the truth, Jessica. Don’t shy away from it. Learn what you need to know, every time, or you can easily be misled, and neither of us would want that.”
As Jessica watched Matthew, somewhat lost in the area, catch sight of Madison van Hoyt and suddenly pick up speed, walking directly toward her, she felt she was finding the truth.
Professor Nolan might have sighed, and delivered a lesson on not accepting appearances without verification. Or he might have smiled to himself, and nodded, as if a marker on his own checklist had been completed. It very much depended on the context in which he’d given that advice.
But Jessica had been a willing participant in her own conditioning for over a year now. It wouldn’t have occurred to her to ask, even if her subconscious didn’t enthusiastically keep information about Nolan from her.
She watched Madison elaborately throw her arms out and fold them around Matthew’s neck. Watched her boyfriend accept the embrace. Watched Madison seem to face her directly, then plant a kiss on Matthew’s cheek.
Her head spun. Acting on instinct alone, she turned and she ran, sprinting for what she considered safety.
For Nolan’s home.
She ran and she ran. It would only be later that she’d realise quite how much she must have stood out, a fleeing figure against the ordered calm of the rest of campus. By that time she’d already left Nolan’s house.
Hammering on the door, she was let in by a Professor Nolan who had abandoned his shirt and jacket for a threadbare old hoodie bearing the Orton campus logo, a glass of red wine in his hand as he opened the door. He seemed more than surprised to see her, but gave ground, allowing her in, shielding her tears from the view of curious students outside.
He closed the door behind her and followed her back into the house. She was now wandering aimlessly, needing to move but not knowing the place well enough to understand.
She came to a halt in the kitchen, staring at the table, which had been set for two. The table was an easier part of this to take in than the other figure in a chair at the kitchen table. Some part of her knew she wasn’t ready to take that in.
She’d blundered in on the supposedly sexless Nolan’s quiet date, it seemed.
Jessica finally looked up at the date herself, panicking that things would be even worse. The woman in the chair was vaguely familiar, not a professor, not a student, but someone whose face Jessica had definitely seen before. But she wasn’t sure where, and the expression on the woman’s face was certainly not one she would have seen. A glassy, almost empty expression. It must have been adopted to hide embarrassment; her own glass of red wine was resting on the table, but her fingers were splayed across the base, and she kept the liquid swirling with gentle circular motions while her eyes seemed locked on it.
Behind her, Nolan politely cleared his throat.
Jessica didn’t look back, but she did find her voice. “Professor, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to—to interrupt—”
The woman still hadn’t looked up. Hadn’t even reacted to Jessica starting to speak. Hadn’t even blinked at the noise—no, she realised. That wasn’t true.
It would be fairer and more accurate to say she hadn’t even blinked.
“To what do we owe the pleasure, Jessica?” Nolan asked. He stepped out from behind her, standing by her side, so that he and his date were almost flanking her. Yet she didn’t feel threatened—far from it, she felt inexplicably comfortable.
“I… I just… I saw…” Jessica was catching up to the fact that only her instincts had driven her here. Professor Nolan wasn’t a school counselor. He wasn’t responsible for her feelings or her romantic entanglements. Embarrassment bloomed hot and red in her cheeks.
She heard him take a decision in the way his breathing changed. “Lauren, look up,” he directed, and the woman raised her head, turned it slowly to face in their direction. With the clue of the name, Jessica recognised her at last; with her hair down, not in a suit, she hadn’t recognised the H,Y,P partner from her headshot.
“Meet Jessica’s eyes.”
Jessica looked back at Nolan for a moment, brow furrowing, then turned back to Laurie, wondering what all this might be about. She met a steady, unblinking, apparently unseeing gaze. The woman’s eyes were startlingly empty. Somehow, they also seemed welcoming. As if they only awaited something to occupy that emptiness for delight.
“Jessica… look at Lauren… and see how far down she sits…”
What did that mean?
“…and drop down to meet her.”
The world fell out from below Jessica. A sudden moment of shocked vertigo and then a warm, empty sense of rightness.
Nolan steadied her, a hand on her back, as Jessica almost fell. With the extra support she stayed upright, mind reeling, feeling as if her body swayed even as it didn’t.
“Lauren is a model of how a H,Y,P partner should act,” Nolan told her. “Almost a role model for you, that way.”
Breathlessly, her eyes never leaving those of the older woman, Jessica nodded.
“See how deep Lauren can be?”
“You could impress us both if you could go that deep. Isn’t that so, Lauren?”
The sound that left the older woman’s lips was somewhere between a contented sigh and an eager moan of anticipation, and Jessica was not prepared for what it would do to her to hear such a sound. Nolan’s hand still on the small of her back, Jessica shivered with surprised, unexpected delight and excitement.
Taking Lauren’s sound as assent, Nolan put his lips near to her ear. “Why don’t you try?”
Jessica felt like she sank away entirely, abstracted from her self, watching with a strange excitement. She was still. Unnaturally still.
Lauren made another sound, and Nolan chuckled. “You can wake up soon, Lauren. But not yet.”
He stepped out from behind Jessica. Helpless, motionless, and increasingly aroused, she watched him approach Lauren, bend down to her. Saw what was obviously him kissing her, even if his head was in the way.
Lauren allowed him. Or maybe kissed back. Jessica kind of wanted Lauren to be kissing back. She kind of wanted to be kissing Lauren.
She didn’t think that was all frustration with Matthew.
Nolan turned back to her. “Jessica, you are now a witness. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
“Yes,” she agreed. The forms of law were comforting. Rules to guide her. Rules to govern her.
“Why are you here?”
“I saw Matthew kissing Madison van Hoyt and I think I’m being abandoned.”
A soft whimper of something escaped Lauren’s lips—sympathy? Empathy? It sounded guilty but honestly that made NO sense.
“Ah,” Nolan said. “Jessica, do you trust me?”
“Yes.” No hesitation.
“Then I have some things for you to hear, but I have nothing for you to remember. Sealed testimony.”
This time both Jessica and Lauren made the same excited, anticipatory, needy sound at once, their eyes still helplessly interlinked.
Nolan said something. Jessica didn’t remember what. But she felt, suddenly, that if she were to be taken upstairs, alongside Lauren, everything would seem better. And there would be no consequences she would care about.
Nolan said something else, but Jessica didn’t remember that either.
Lauren rose and approached her. Put one hand on her chest, just above her breast, and leaned forward.
They kissed. Lauren’s hand slowly trailed down onto Jessica’s breast, caressed her through her hoodie and her bra. Jessica found her own hands moving in the approved fashion, one to Laurie’s hip, one to the back of her head, slipping fingertip-light across her scalp into her hair.
Nolan said something, and the two women turned, and made their way to the staircase, Lauren leading. Their clothes seemed almost to shed as they walked, or that was how Jessica would remember it, years later.
Jessica was already in Nolan’s office the following morning, her mind absently reviewing the events of the previous night, when there was a knock at the door and Nicholas Warren stepped in.
Jessica looked up at her partner for the prosecution and smiled. She pictured herself, after victory, with Matthew working as her intern, carrying out his duties in the approved fashion and those slightly-too-tight button-down shirts that had no damn right to look as good as they did on him.
She could work with this.
She turned back to Nolan, waiting for her mind to be opened and for the Professor to rearrange things.