An excerpt from Butterfly

Chapter 2

The motion for summary judgment still lay in a pile on the floor where it had landed after Paul stormed out of the room. Jay’s chest was heaving and I could tell his eyes were tearing up, but he looked determined not to cry. I didn’t know what to say to him. I couldn’t believe that Paul had actually just thrown the motion at Jay and hit him in the stomach with it. I felt the sting of the assault too, but I’d told Jay not to present it to Paul yet. Jay had brushed off my concern, rationalizing that he could flesh out the arguments more during the prep meeting. He was wrong. Paul flew into one of his trademark tirades, only this one was worse.

I examined my freshly manicured nails and scratched at my cuticles. My plans to go out weren’t looking too good now. The motion would have to be redrafted and more case law research would need to be done, which meant it would be another late night. I probably wouldn’t even be able to go home and feed my cat at a decent hour, never mind getting dinner for myself. This was not the way I wanted to start my week.

I got out of my chair and bent down to pick up the motion papers.

“Leave it.” Jay’s voice sounded defeated and defiant all at once.

I looked at him, then down at my hand, unsure of what to do. “I can start outlining the first draft of edits and have it to you maybe by 8:30 tonight?”

“I said leave it. It’s fine.” Jay didn’t look at me. He stared out the window at the twilight settling in over the city.

“Okay. You wanna just start in the morning? I could be here by 7:30. We could have something better by lunchtime tomorrow. We’ll have the rest of the day to file it anyway.”

Jay was silent for a moment as if he was pondering the idea. He finally looked over at me and shook his head. “No. Just go home. Don’t worry about it.”

I couldn’t read the look on his face, but I was concerned. Jay never just shut down, and this wasn’t the first time that Paul had yelled at him, but it was the first time Paul actually threw something at him. Paul Montello had a reputation for blowing his fuse. During my first week at Montello & Osborne, Paul stopped right in the middle of deposing a witness and invited opposing counsel to step outside and “go off the record” if he had a problem. I’d been shocked, but Jay barely looked up from his computer when I went to his office to tell him about it. “You’ll get used to it,” Jay had said. He’d put up with it for nine years waiting to become a partner in that firm. I told myself I could do it too, all the while eyeing that bottle of Maalox sitting on Jay’s desk. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

It got more awkward, me just sitting there and Jay just looking out the window, so I gathered up my notes and left the conference room. I grabbed my coat and purse from my desk and hurried out the office as I reached for my cell phone. The two missed calls made me smile. I tapped the number to return the call. She picked up on the third ring.

“Sydney, where are you?” Loren asked excitedly. I could tell from the background noise that she was still out. Good.

“Just leaving work. You would not believe the day I had.”

“Well forget about it and hurry up. We’ve moved over to the U Street corridor. Hurry up,” she said again before hanging up.

I probably should stay anyway and get some more work done, I thought. I should, but I won’t. I’d brought my lunch all week; one night out won’t put too much of a dent in my savings to buy a house. I decided I didn’t care and shoved the phone in my purse before heading to the metro. Twenty minutes later and I was standing inside the restroom of this new spot Loren had found, trying to figure out what to do with my hair. I wish I’d gone to the salon on the weekend like I had planned, but as usual I’d had to go to work and ended up canceling my appointment. I pulled the pomade out of my purse and tried to smooth down my edges. My hair was just above my shoulders—not long enough to be considered long and not short enough to be considered “fun and flirty.”

After about five minutes I managed to make my “in between” hairstyle look halfway decent so I moved on to applying lip gloss before re-examining myself in the mirror. I could stand to lose five or ten pounds. I’d always been just this side of too skinny before moving to D.C., but somehow I’d made up for it and then some. Now I was just on the other side of average, trying to lose that extra five pounds that I always hear people complaining about. My mother used to praise me whenever I appeared to put on a little weight but just before I’d moved to D.C., Mom had looked at my growing curves and said, “That’s enough now, dear.”

 I sucked in my stomach. I’d get by with it tonight. When I finally exited the restroom, I was greeted by the hostile stare of the two women who’d been waiting to get in.

“Over here!” Loren waved excitedly from the other side of the dance floor. I weaved my way over to the bar and stood in front of her. “Took you long enough. We already ate,” Loren announced, gesturing towards the people that were also sitting along the bar. India, another designer, was seated beside her. She was a tall Japanese girl with long hair and red highlights wearing a cream-colored wool dress and brown boots that stopped just below her knees. She was winter chic. Of course she had to have an exotic name like “India,” I thought. Not that she was born with it—Loren told me how she had changed her name a few years ago. But, it was who she was now. Beside her was a guy that looked like he should be on somebody’s football field. On the other side of Loren was Rob, a guy that looked like John Legend, who of course also happened to be a budding musician. I was the fifth wheel again and told Loren so.

“You are not. We are all just hanging out. Here,” she said and handed me a menu. “You must be starving. Sit down and order something. My treat,” Loren instructed.

I looked around for an empty seat, but there wasn’t one. Nobody in Loren’s group moved. Finally, the John Legend look-a-like got up. “You can have my seat. I’m tired of sitting anyway.”

I sat down and quickly scoured the menu. The burger and fries were calling to me, but when the bartender asked me what I wanted, I ordered the scallops instead. Music filled the room as I scarfed down my snack. Loren jumped off her chair and bounced over to the dance floor followed by the rest of her group, which meant I was in charge of watching the purses and coats again. Loren and India tossed their hair and swung their hips while everyone watched. Just walking on the dance floor, the two of them gathered a lot of attention. My looks were pretty, but practical. No one had ever accused me of being exotic and my looks had never opened doors for me like they did for Loren. “Pleasant” was how a guy had once described me, which wasn’t so bad, I guess. But, I wanted to be more than that.

As I watched Loren and company moving around the dance floor I thought about joining them, but didn’t want to be in that awkward position of deciding which pairing I was going to intrude upon, so instead I focused on trying to get the bartender’s attention.

“You gotta be more aggressive if you’re going to get a drink.”

I turned my head to the side. “Are you talking to me?”

He smiled and I found myself smiling back. He was at least six feet tall and athletic, with dreadlocks that hung just passed his shoulders in a ponytail, 5 o’clock shadow, and smooth brown skin. He was average looking, but he exuded so much confidence that you knew no one could tell him he shouldn’t be on a men’s magazine cover.

“You’re never going to get his attention that way. Look at the crowd you’re competing with. Watch me.” He leaned over the bar and coolly waved his arm in the air until the bartender acknowledged him.

“Grey Goose and cranberry for me,” he said. “You?” He looked over and waited. I smiled and ordered a glass of Reisling.

“A sweet wine drinker, huh?”

I mentally kicked myself for not ordering Pinot Noir or a dirty martini. I shrugged and smiled again.

“I like a Riesling myself every now and then.” He turned and leaned comfortably against the bar, so I slid around in my seat so that I was facing in his direction. “Those your friends?” He nodded to Loren and her crew.

“Not really. I just know the tall girl. We’ve been friends for years.”

“Seems they’ve abandoned you.” He smiled and swirled the liquid in his glass. I stared at his hands and thought how beautiful they were. I wondered if he played piano. Maybe he was a jazz musician.

“That’s okay. I’m good here,” I said as I tried not to giggle like a 12-year-old.

“I’m Marcel, by the way,” he said, extending his hand toward me. I reached out and shook it.

“Sydney,” I said.

“Sydney,” he repeated thoughtfully. “I used to have a crush on a girl named Sydney when I was in junior high. That was until she borrowed my Thriller album and refused to return it. There’s no room for forgiveness after something like that.”

“You’re funny.” I giggled and looked over at Loren who gave me a discreet nod. I smiled back and played with the swoop of my bangs.

“So what do you do, Marcel?”

“I work for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In the homicide division.”

“No wonder you’re drinking,” I said.

Marcel laughed and rolled his eyes in mock offense. “What about you, Miss Comedienne?”

“I work for a small firm doing product liability defense.”

“And you want to make fun of me? I bet that’s real exciting. What kind of cases? Someone claiming the manufacturer didn’t warn them that they couldn’t fly while wearing a Superman costume? Employee claiming no one told him he shouldn’t clean a moving saw blade after smoking weed on his lunch break?”

“Not that bad.” I laughed. “But yeah, it gets to you after awhile. Especially those billable hours.”

“I’ll bet,” Marcel said, finishing off his drink. “Well, I have to head out, but it was really good meeting you, Sydney.” He pulled out a business card and handed it to me. “If you think you’d be interested in working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office give me a call. Homicide is not all we do.” And with that he was gone.