Jordan's back was warm under his hand. Not sweaty-hot like Eli felt in his jacket, just a comfortable, human warmth that bled through the silk of his shirt to Eli's hand. That little point of connection wasn't enough to keep them from being separated if the crowd surged, but it felt like a lifeline in the press of people pushing them towards the exit.
Breaking out into the evening air was a welcome relief, even though Eli wasn't really ready for the night to end. It'd been a long time since he'd taken time to just enjoy a night out on the town. No visions, no expectations--just two friends having a good time together.
He dropped his hand as he moved up even with Jordan on the sidewalk. Jordan was smiling, humming slightly under his breath, and he looked as relaxed as Eli had ever seen him. The sight made Eli smile, too.
"George Michael aside, I never really pegged you as an eighties' synthpop fan," he said as they drifted along with the thinning crowd.
Jordan snorted. "Are you saying I don't know how to have a good time, Eli?"
At one time Eli would have found himself carefully backtracking, trying to lower the foot perched in front his mouth as gracefully as possible. But he'd gotten to know Jordan a lot better in the past few years, so he simply smiled wider. "Next thing I know, you'll be telling me that you're into Ozzy Osbourne."
"Hardly." Jordan's voice graveled out with indignation, and Eli couldn't help laughing. "Just because I enjoy some popular music doesn't mean that I've completely lost all taste and discernment." A smile played about his lips, puckish enough that Eli wouldn't have been surprised if he suddenly declared that he did, however, like Metallica.
"Of course not," he said as they stopped to wait for the light. "Ellen missed a hell of a concert, though. Not that I'm complaining about getting her ticket."
"Yes, well." Jordan grimaced. "Eighties' synthpop is a little low-brow for her. I'm just happy you agreed to come with me. I'm afraid I would have been rather out of my element on my own."
"I'm sure you would have been fine. I don't think I've ever seen you not come out on top of a challenge."
"Other than when I've faced off against you, you mean." The light changed and Jordan stepped out into the street before Eli could see the look on his face, but he was pretty sure Jordan was still teasing.
"Yeah, but that worked out pretty well in the end, didn't it?" he asked, hurrying to catch Jordan's longer stride.
Jordan stopped at the curb and turned to face him. "I wouldn't have it any other way, Eli."
Eli was caught flat-footed, unable to find a glib response under Jordan's serious eyes. Jordan smiled and started walking towards the queue of cabs, leaving Eli floundering to catch up once more. He still didn't have anything to say as they joined the line, nothing to bring back the lightheartedness they'd enjoyed all evening. He was suddenly struck by the fact that the last time he'd been in this very spot was with Taylor, nearly two years ago, on what turned out to be their goodbye date. Not that the circumstances were in any way similar. It surprised him, though, that he hadn't thought of that night once the entire time they were at the Fillmore.
He was in a truly different place now, he supposed. Yeah, his sex life hadn't been the same since the visions started, but he was one half of a successful partnership, co-head of an increasingly successful firm that focused on the things that mattered. He sort-of kinda had a handle on the visions, and he definitely had the best friends a guy could ask for.
Friends like Jordan.
Jordan had his hands in his pockets, face easy except for the dart of his eyes as he watched each cab slide out onto the street. Eli sighed, feeling a deep contentment settle into his bones. It wasn't anything specific, really. Nothing like the spiking high that came with a winning verdict, or the pulse-pounding thrill he felt each time he laid it all out in front of the jury. Just good, solid contentment. Like all was at peace in the world.
Jordan turned his head. Whatever contentment looked like on Eli's face, it made Jordan raise an eyebrow. "What?"
Eli shrugged. "I was just thinking." He glanced down at his watch. "I promised Nathan I'd stop by tonight, but I've got time. If you want to grab a late night snack?" Nate might be a little pissed if Eli showed up after he went to bed, but he'd get over it. And the way Jordan's face lit up told him he had made the right call.
"Did you have something in mind?" Jordan asked, glancing back towards the cabs. They were the next up, but Eli stepped out of line. It was a great night for a walk.
"I figured we'd wing it," he said, nodding towards the well-lit street stretching out beyond them, awnings signaling the presence of more than one restaurant. "If that's okay."
"Spontaneity?" Jordan fell into step with Eli without looking back. "Don't tell anyone, or my reputation will be ruined."
Eli laughed. Contentment. Yeah, his life was pretty good right now. As long as he didn't eat any bad sushi tonight, he figured he could mark this day down for a win.
Eli stared himself in the eye.
He blinked, and the clear lines of his face melted away into a barely-there reflection. The inside lights had turned the glass of the big bay window in front of him into a mirror, but a step forward changed the angle of the light enough that it went transparent again. He had to be somewhere in Pacific Heights or close by; the views just weren't this good anywhere else in the city, not without being twelve stories off the ground. And he definitely wasn't that high up; a be-scarfed man stood a few feet below the window, tugging on a leash as his dog sniffed out the bushes in front of the house. It was early evening; only a thin stripe of lingering purple hinted that the sun had recently sunk below the horizon.
"I can never get enough of this view."
Eli jumped at the voice right next to him. He turned his head enough to see-- "Ellen? What are you doing here? For that matter, what am I doing here?"
She didn't answer, just lifted a wineglass to her lips as she continued to watch the city. Great. It was one of those visions where he couldn't interact with anybody. Which, on one hand, meant he felt a lot less awkward, but on the other meant he had a harder time ferreting out the truth. He peered out the window again, but he couldn't see a street sign, and the dog walker had already passed out of view.
"Mmmm, I definitely agree with you on that."
Eli turned in time to see a man in his late forties, early fifties saunter up behind them. Salt-and-pepper hair, navy shirt open at the collar and untucked from his black slacks, bare feet--the guy had to live here, or at least be really comfortable with whoever did. He was smiling at Ellen. No, not smiling. Leering. Eli glared at the guy, then turned back to Ellen, looking forward to watching her put him soundly in his place.
Ellen was smiling.
"Um. What exactly is going on here? Ellen?" Eli leaned closer so he could whisper. Not that it mattered. "You know that guy just made a pass at you, right?"
"Are you hungry? I somehow wound up with a chocolate souffle in my refrigerator." The guy stepped forward and set his hands on Ellen's waist, just over her hips. Eli couldn't look away from those points of contact, until he realized he was staring at his partner's wife's ass and jerked his head up again. "And you know how I feel about leftovers."
Ellen turned around, so that she was now cuddled close in the guy's embrace, only her glass of wine keeping any space between them. "You know I shouldn't, Mark. Not after that huge dinner."
"But it's your favorite." The guy pulled an extremely fake pout that made him look like Renée Zellweger and Nicole Kidman had pooled their monthly injections and stuck them in him instead. Eli curled his own lip in reaction, but Ellen didn't seem put off. "Come on, sweetheart. Live a little."
"You don't have to keep spoiling me, you know. I'm not going to leave if you forget my favorite Merlot."
The guy cupped Ellen's cheek. "I know. But I like doing things for you." And then he bent forward to kiss her. It wasn't a small kiss, either, and Ellen wasn't shy about returning it.
Eli looked upwards, trying to see through the ceiling and into the heavens. "Okay, I get the picture. Can I go now?" The kiss went on and on, the glass in Ellen's hand tipping perilously, and finally Eli slapped his hands over his eyes. "Really, I get it, I promise!"
"Get what, Eli?"
Eli slowly pulled his hands away from his eyes. He was practically kissing glass, his whole body pressed up tight against the front window of Nathan's house. A circle of fog lingered in front of his mouth, and there was an actual smudge mark in the shape of his nose.
"Are you okay?" Nate stepped up behind him, the worry on his face clearly reflected by the glass. Eli sighed and turned to face him.
"I had a vision," he blurted. "Of Ellen Wethersby--with another man."
Nate blinked. "Ellen Wether-- Jordan's wife Ellen?"
"How many Ellen Wethersbys do you know?"
"Just the one." Nate opened his mouth and then closed it again. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure it was her, and I'm sure the guy she was with wasn't Jordan." Eli pushed past Nate and headed over to his liquor cabinet. This was the kind of vision that definitely called for a drink. "It was pretty clear-cut. One minute I'm looking out at some guy walk his dog, and the next I've got front-row seats to a make-out session."
Nate seemed to be out of scotch. Eli gave up looking for it and retreated to the couch. He rubbed at his forehead. He knew he shouldn't have been so blithely happy earlier this evening, thinking about how well his life was going.
Jordan was not going to take this well. He'd tell Eli he was being ridiculous, that the visions were nothing but a symptom of the aneurysm, that he needed to take time off. Or...Eli thought maybe it'd be worse if he believed him. Jordan's face would go blank, like it did when he shut down tight on whatever hurt him. He'd nod and say thank you, and then go about his business like he wasn't writhing in pain inside. He wouldn't ask for help, wouldn't talk about it, and Eli would be left knowing that he was the one who broke him like that.
Some days, Eli really hated his job. Calling. Whatever.
"God is so going to owe me for this one," he said as Nate sat down beside him.
Nate snorted. "Do you have some kind of amortization schedule for that?"
"Very funny." Eli dropped his head back, letting it rest on the edge of the couch. The ridge of piping along the seam of the cushion dug into his neck, right below the base of his skull. A little annoyance to keep him grounded in the here and now. Not that it would really help if the big popstar in the sky decided to come singing, but he liked to cling to his illusions at times. "Maybe it's not what it looked like. I mean, maybe it has something to do with the guy with the scarf? Maybe his dog runs off and he winds up getting run over by a car or something."
Nate made a hmmming noise that really didn't sound much like agreement.
"Yeah, I know. That still doesn't explain the kissing." Eli sighed. "You're not being much help here, you know."
"What do you want me to say, Eli? That suddenly instead of guiding visions you're getting paranoid hallucinations?" Nathan nudged his shoulder. "I wouldn't put it past you."
"And the laughs keep coming." Eli frowned. "Just, I don't know. Work with me, okay? If it's not an affair, what could it be?"
Nate shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's something that happens way in the future? You said the dogwalker was wearing a scarf, and it hasn't been quite that cool lately."
"So Ellen has an affair in the future and I'm supposed to stop her? Or--" Eli's gut dropped out. "Oh, God. What if Jordan is dead in my vision, and she's moved on?"
"Don't you think you would have had a vision about that instead?" Nate made it sound perfectly logical, but that was the problem. The visions were never logical except in hindsight.
Eli snapped his fingers. "The journal. Surely dad would have known if something bad was going to happen to Jordan. He knew about the bank, after all."
Nate pushed up off the couch and started towards the kitchen. "Forget it, Eli."
"Come on, Nathan. Give me a clue, anything."
"I told you, I only read a little bit of Dad's journal, and most of that was gibberish, anyway."
"So no clues that match up at all?"
"No." Nate opened his fridge door and came up with a pair of bottles. He popped the tops, then headed back to the couch. "And why are you so set on getting me to help you with this? Isn't Frank your one-stop shop these days? Takes care of your back pain and vision interpretation with one low payment?"
"What happened to you being my supportive big brother? I get the vision at your house, you're up first on support." Eli frowned at him. "Besides, Frank's out of town. Some retreat or seminar or something. Won't be back until tomorrow."
Nathan rolled his eyes. "Well, then talk to him tomorrow. Was there any reason for you to think you have to act right away? That something would happen if you don't tell Jordan right now?"
Eli rubbed his hand over his face. "No. Maybe. I don't think so. It's just..."
"I don't know how I'm going to tell him, Nate." Somehow, at some point in the last year, not seeing Jordan hurt had become one of his top priorities. Eli shook his head. "I don't want to be the one to deliver the news."
Nathan rubbed a hand between Eli's shoulder blades, offering comfort--but no more advice. Eli was pretty sure that said it all.
The first thing Eli heard was the cooing. Soon followed by a chugging choo-choo-choo and a high-pitched baby giggle. He grinned and slowed his pace, trying to soften his steps even though the carpet already did a good job of muffling noise. A legacy of the heyday of WPK, along with the marble entryway and the leather couches--a legacy that had nothing on the one Eli was witnessing right now.
"Yes, that's right. Choo, choo, choo," Jordan pattered as Jacob grabbed at his lips. "That's how the train goes on the tracks. And the trolley goes ding, ding, ding, up and down the town."
Eli held back a chuckle. No matter how many times he saw Jordan being all gooey-eyed over his grandson, it never failed to melt something in his own heart. Jordan was as dapper as always in his grey Armani suit and charcoal tie, but he didn't look a bit like the reserved, unapproachable head of the firm that he usually did. He seemed unburdened by thoughts of propriety, not weighed down by past mistakes or worries about the future of the firm. Just completely wrapped up in the moment. He looked young. Vibrant.
Jacob babbled and grabbed for Jordan's tie. "Yes, you're going to be a very good lawyer when you grow up, aren't you? Just like your mommy and your grandpa."
"Don't forget about his daddy," Eli added, pushing away from the doorframe. "He might not be the best role model ever, but he's pretty good in the courtroom."
Jordan snorted. "Grandfather's privilege, Eli. Matt's good, but he's no Wethersby."
"Not going to argue that." Eli settled against the side of the desk, content to watch Jordan tickle Jacob under the chin and get adorable giggles in return. When Taylor had given birth, Eli had had a maudlin moment, wondering about the future he'd given up. But he didn't love Taylor that way anymore, and she and Matt had made a perfect baby boy together. He was more than happy to play the role of doting godfather.
Besides, there were a lot less diapers involved that way.
"Do you want any children?" Jordan asked, as if he were the psychic one all of a sudden. "Someday, maybe?"
Eli sighed. "I used to think I did. But now, I'm too afraid I'll pass on my family's legacy."
Jordan looked up, frowning at him. "You mean the aneurysm?"
"That's part of it." The prophetic visions themselves really weren't so bad, no matter how much he didn't want to deal with this latest, but he wouldn't wish them anyone, let alone his child. What bothered him the most, though, was that he didn't know anything about being a father beyond what his own had taught him. Didn't know if he'd wind up a crazy drunk somewhere down the road, either. "Besides, I'm so busy with the firm right now, I couldn't handle another responsibility."
"That's rather defeatist, don't you think?"
Jacob kicked out, somehow managing to fling his tiny sock into the air. Eli caught it, then leaned forward, trying to figure out how to get all of the little guy's toes in at the same time. Once he accomplished that he gave Jacob's foot a playful tug and got a happy squeal in return. When he looked up, Jordan was watching him pensively.
"Practical," Eli answered, forcing a smile. "I'm okay with it, really. I just wish..."
"I get lonely sometimes." Jacob was busy entertaining himself by blowing bubbles in his spit, but Jordan was fully focused on Eli now. "It's hard enough to find someone who'd put up with my hours and the insecurity of building a firm. Throw in the magical mystery tour in my head, and, well, let's just say my hand is considering filing a petition for a restraining order."
Jordan's lips turned upward just a little, but he still looked far sadder than he should with Jacob in his arms. "I'm sorry, Eli."
"Hey, I'll figure it out."
"What about, ah, Maggie?" Jordan asked as he started gently bobbing Jacob up and down. "For a while I thought you two were destined to wind up together."
So did I. Something in his gut squirmed at the memory of that vision, with her and the baby at the future rally. Something like bad tuna salad on top of a hangover. It wasn't that he didn't like Maggie, or didn't find her attractive. But... "There might have been something at first, but, I don't know. We just never fit." He shook his head. "Once we got past that initial phase... I think she saw me as some kind of hero, hard as that is to believe."
Jordan smiled fully. "It's not, really."
The warmth in Jordan's eyes melted away the discomfort of talking about the disaster of his not-relationship with Maggie. Eli smiled back at him, genuinely this time, suddenly feeling much better about his romantic prospects for some reason.
"There's got to be somebody out there, though. I mean, look at you and El--" Her name stuck on his tongue. Eli couldn't believe he'd said that, couldn't believe he'd forgotten last night's vision so quickly. But maybe this was the right opening. He cleared his throat and tried again. "You and Ellen. You've been together for what, twenty years?"
"Something like that," Jordan said, looking down at Jacob, hardly seeming to pay attention to Eli's words at all. "We should probably see if your mommy is ready to take you to daycare, hmm? Your Uncle Eli and I have documentation to prepare for the Overmeyer trust."
He stood up, ever graceful as he walked over to the door with Jacob cradled in his arms. Eli watched until they passed out of his line of sight, then he sighed and flipped open the file. He had tried. Really, he had. The timing just hadn't been right. That was exactly what he was going to tell Frank later today.
Eli rapped his knuckles against the door frame. "Hey, Taylor. You got a minute?"
She looked up immediately, but her eyes were blank for a long second, still focused on whatever she'd been reading. Then she blinked and smiled at him. "A minute, but not much more. I have to file this brief in an hour."
"Not a problem." Eli stepped into the room and closed the door, giving them some privacy. "I was just wondering if you'd spent much time talking with Jordan lately."
Taylor frowned at the door, then him. "I talk to him every day. Why, is something wrong?"
"No, nothing. Not that I know of." Eli rocked back and forth on his heels, smiling as innocently as he could manage. "I just wanted to make sure everything was okay with him. With him and you and the whole family. What with all the changes and everything."
Taylor huffed. "This is what you wanted to ask me? Eli, he couldn't be happier. I practically have to pry Jacob away from him so we can go home at night."
"Yeah, that's great." He dropped the smile. "But besides Jacob. Everything okay?"
"Okay, Eli. Spill." Taylor tossed her pen onto the desk--not a good sign. "What's going on with my father?"
Eli held up his hands. "Nothing, I swear! I was just wanting to get to know my partner a little better, make sure everything's going as well as I think it is. I haven't been doing this whole business thing as long as he has, you know. I thought maybe I was forgetting something."
Taylor rolled her eyes. "Let me give you a little advice. What he really hates is people talking about him behind his back."
Eli sighed. "Right."
Tayor softened a little. "I don't know what you're worried about, Eli. You've known him for what, nine, ten years now? And the two of you are closer than I've ever seen you."
"No, I know. I just... Sometimes I think maybe I'm a little too self-centered, maybe. What with the aneurysm and everything."
Taylor snorted. "You, self-centered? No!"
Eli glared. "I said a little. Trying to do good works here, remember?"
"I know. But come on, you have to give me a little ex-fiancée latitude."
Eli smiled. "Doesn't that whole thing come with an expiration date?"
"Hmmm, let me think. No." Taylor grinned. She looked good, and not in the way Eli used to think of her as looking good. She looked happy. Motherhood suited her. Matt suited her. Not being with him suited her. He would have hated to admit that even a year ago, but it wasn't hard at all now.
"You know I love you, right?" The words were out before he could stop them. Blood rushed to his face a second later. "In a completely platonic, non-stalker-y ex-fiancé kind of way, I mean."
Taylor laughed. "You're crazy. You know that, right?"
Eli snorted. "Yeah, but I have a note that says I'm allowed, so it's okay."
Taylor shook her head. "I love you too, goofball. Now go away so I can finish this brief."
"Eli," she called softly. He paused at the door, one hand on the knob as he looked back. "Just be his friend, okay? That's all he wants from you."
Eli nodded, then slipped out the door. If only it were really that simple.
Click, click, click, rest. Click, click, click, rest. Part of his mind was aware of the motion of his thumb on the button of his pen, but mostly he was focused on watching Jordan. Eli just didn't understand why Ellen would cheat on him. Yeah, they'd gone through some upheaval when Jordan changed the direction of the firm, and they probably had had to tighten their belts a little, just like the rest of them. But he didn't think Ellen was that shallow. And Jordan was Jordan. Handsome, powerful, full of wit and intelligence both, and beneath everything, he had a true generosity of soul. Why would Ellen want someone else? The vision had to be about something else. Something he wasn't seeing yet.
"Is there something wrong, Eli?" Jordan asked without looking up from his work. Eli straightened in his seat, feeling as caught out as if he'd been daydreaming in class.
"No, nothing. Nothing at all. Why do you ask?"
Jordan looked up. "Because you've been fiddling with that damn pen for the last fifteen minutes. If there's nothing pressing on your mind, I would appreciate it if you could restrain your fidgeting. Please."
"Oh." Eli set the pen down on the table, just out of reach, and picked up a simple capped ballpoint instead. "Sorry."
Jordan set his own pen down carefully, aligning it with the edge of the legal pad he'd been taking notes on. "Eli. I realize that I might not appear to be the most emotionally-available person, but if something's wrong, you can tell me. Is it the aneurysm?"
"Not exactly," he muttered. Jordan gestured for him to continue, expression expectant. Eli opened his mouth--and chickened out. "I'm just having a hard time focusing lately. And working on this trust is, well..."
"A bit dry?" Jordan sighed. "It's not exactly what I got into law for, myself. But it is important, and our accountants will be much happier once we're far enough along to start billing."
"I know. And I'm not complaining, really." Eli shook his head. "Actually, it's kind of nice not to be dealing with a life-or-death case for a change. It's almost like a vacation, really."
"Except for the part where you still have to get the work done." Jordan smiled wryly. He took a deep breath and arched his back a little against the back of his chair, stretching without looking all cock-eyed and crazy like Eli always did when he tried that maneuver. "I'd hoped that our outing the other evening would provide a bit of a change of pace for you, but I suppose one night isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things, is it?"
Eli shrugged. "I'm not really sure that the grand scheme of things is all that it's cracked up to be. One thing I've come to appreciate in the last few years is how sometimes, what you think are little moments are more important than the big ones. You just don't realize it at the time."
"I hardly think one concert in the company of your old fogey of a business partner counts as an important moment in time."
"Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence." Eli shook his new pen at Jordan. "You are not an old fogey, and also, I thought we were out as friends. And for the rest, well, I had a good time, and that's all that matters, right?"
"I'm hardly going to argue against you on that point, counselor. Flattery will get you everywhere, after all." Jordan picked up his pen again, but he simply held it, fingers stroking softly along the length. "But speaking of a change of pace. I hope you don't mind, but I made reservations at the Cliff House for a luncheon meeting tomorrow. Patti said your schedule was open."
Eli raised his eyebrows. "What's the occasion? Get the urge to do the tourist thing?"
"Not us, but our guest is from out of town, and she indicated that she'd like to see as much of the 'sights' as possible while she's here." Jordan opened the drawer to his right, pulled out a sheet of velum and passed it over. "She comes highly recommended by an acquaintance in Boston, and I thought we should at least talk to her before Martin and Marci snap her up."
Eli glanced over the resumé. Third in her class at Harvard, served on the Review, clerked with the Court of Appeals. Good stuff--and hardly someone who was going to be willing to accept what they were able to offer. "What are we going to pay her with? Sand dollars and souvenirs?"
"It's only an exploratory meeting, Eli. There are no offers on the table." Jordan waved him off when he tried to hand the resumé back. "Hang on to it. I'd like you to do most of the talking tomorrow."
He shrugged and put it into his to-do folder. "If nothing else, at least the food should be good."
Jordan chuckled. "That's the spirit. Now, shall we get back to our dry, yet potentially lucrative work?"
Eli held up his pen. The non-clicky one. "No more noisy fidgeting, promise."
"Good." Jordan smiled, then bent his head back to his work. Just like that he was engrossed in research again, unmoving except for the occasional glide of his pen. Eli wished he could sink into his own work that easily, but when he looked down at the first sentence the letters didn't form any words that he knew. He just saw Ellen, smiling up at that Mark guy instead of Jordan.
He brought his thumbnail to his mouth and started chewing. At least it didn't make very much noise.
Eli paced. Frank was busy restocking his shelves with whatever herbs were in the half a dozen bags he'd brought back with him from Santa Monica. Of course, Frank had a tendency to busy himself with something else whenever Eli was spilling his guts out, right up until the point when he delivered a message with a wallop. Eli kept pacing, not sure that he was ready for that moment to come just yet.
"It's all so Jerry Springer," he added. "I mean, yes, I want to help Jordan, but you think God would have a little more on his mind than one guy's failing marriage, you know?"
"If you hadn't noticed, he does seem to have a particular interest in people who are important to you." Frank stood up and dusted his hands together. "I had a great weekend, by the way. Thanks for asking."
Eli stopped in his tracks. "Oh, man. I'm sorry. I'm a terrible friend, I know it. I just get so caught up in these visions..." He pulled out one of the bar stools and swung a leg over. "Go on, tell me all about it. You have my undivided attention. Well, unless I get a message from the Almighty, and then all bets are off."
Frank snorted. "Relax, Eli. I was just teasing you. You're not a terrible friend. You wouldn't be so torn up about Jordan if you were."
Eli waved him off. "No, I am. I'm always using you, Nate, everybody. I'm not star friend material, I know that. But I want to be. So, go on. Talk."
Frank straightened. He had an odd smile on his face, like he almost didn't know what to do now that he was the center of attention--which made Eli feel like an even suckier friend. "It was good." Frank shrugged. "Not really that much to tell, though. Twelve hours of lecture doesn't really make for compelling storytelling afterwards."
"What, you didn't eat? Didn't enjoy the view on the drive up or anything?" Eli leaned forward. "Come on, Frank. You brought it up for some reason. Besides reminding me of what an ass I am, I mean."
That odd little smile came out of hiding again, only this time it looked more shy. "I just had a good time. Met some interesting people. If things go well, I'll see some of them again soon."
"If things go well? What does that mean-- Are you talking about a date?" Eli grinned. "Did you meet somebody, Frank?"
Frank kept scrubbing at the counter, but the smile had turned into a full-out grin. "Maybe."
"All right, man. Congratulations!"
"It's just a date, Eli. I'm not getting married just yet."
"Still. I like hearing about good things happening to my friends." As opposed to seeing the bad things. He still couldn't believe that Ellen would do that to Jordan. She always seemed so dedicated, so genuinely caring about his well-being. Although he guessed wanting to make sure Jordan didn't die wasn't the same as wanting to stay faithful to him.
"You're thinking about the vision again, aren't you?"
"Yeah." Eli rubbed at a spot of something brownish-pink on the bar with the edge of his thumbnail. A curl of old varnish came with it. Eli flattened his hand out, hiding the scratch. "I know the grown-up thing to do is to tell him. I just don't want to."
Frank swiped his cloth across the counter, nudging Eli's hand out of the way. He rubbed hard a few times, then dropped the cloth off to the side. The scratch was gone. "You might not be wrong about it meaning something else. Maybe you're seeing something that hasn't happened yet, something you can prevent. Or maybe it has to do with the guy you saw her kissing, and nothing to do with Jordan at all."
"Other than his wife cheating on him, you mean." Eli sighed. "Yeah, maybe. I hope so, anyway."
"To tell you the truth, I think this might be a wait-and-see. Give it time."
"I hate those kind."
Frank patted him on the shoulder. "I know. Just, try having a little of that faith that George Michael sang about."
The clouds scudding across the bay were white and fluffy, but they left a dense grayness below, the surface of the bay choppier than usual. A storm was imminent, just one micro-change away from the droplets finally giving in to gravity and crashing towards the earth. It all felt a little too metaphorical for what was going on in his life right now, like God was sitting up there with her hand on the weather machine, waiting for the best time to shake things up with a little lightning and thunder.
"Isn't that right, Eli?"
Eli blinked. Jordan was smiling tightly at him, like he did when Eli had just done something stupid in front of someone Jordan wanted to impress. He had no idea what he'd missed, and he couldn't even blame his inattention on an actual call to action from beyond. Just his own overwrought imagination. He smiled congenially. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."
"I was just telling Amanda here that you were the one behind the vision of our firm."
Only the ones in my head--but he figured Jordan would probably find a way to dissolve the partnership if he said that out loud. He kept his smile aimed at Amanda, trying to figure out what Jordan was wanting from him. She was a good looking girl, Taylor's height but not quite as curvy, brunette hair swept back in a bun that was both professional and flirtatious. Once upon a time he would have found her devastatingly attractive, but now she just looked like a kid to him.
"It was more a series of coincidences, really. One case after another that I couldn't say no to." God had made sure of that. Eli shrugged and reached for the butter. "Jordan is the one who took that big step and decided to do it for real. When everyone was saying 'no, you can't do this,' he's the one who had the guts to make a difference. I'm telling you, if you really want to learn how the law works, then there's no one better than this man here."
Eli snuck a glance at Jordan. His brow was confusion-tight, but he didn't look displeased, either, lips drawn up almost enough to quantify as a smile. So not exactly what Jordan had been hoping for, but he was never immune to flattery--especially if it was true.
"Eli is being modest." Jordan shook his head, lips spreading into a full smile. "I have never seen anyone so skilled in the courtroom. I knew from the moment I met you that you were something special, but these last few years, you've been..."
Eli raised his eyebrows. "What?"
"Inspired. That's the only word that comes close."
Inspired. That was definitely a good way to put it. Eli had both fought against and striven for that inspiration since the visions started, but the way Jordan said it, the way he spoke about Eli even knowing all that he did, it made him think that it wasn't just about the quirks of his vascular system. There was faith in Jordan's eyes, and it didn't look anything like worship.
Amanda laughed. Eli startled, knocking his elbow against the edge of the table and sending the butter knife spinning before he managed to trap it under the flat of his palm.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that you're not at all what I was expecting. I mean, I'd heard stories about how craz-- Well. The point is, the two of you are adorable."
Eli blinked. "Adorable?"
Amanda had the decency to blush. "That's not really the right word, I know. But it's so refreshing to see two men who are so passionate about something besides screwing people over. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me."
"It's our pleasure," Jordan said.
"And I really, really hate to do this, but I'm running late for another appointment." Amanda stood, holding out her hand to Eli. "Can we talk later?"
"Um," Eli said eloquently, letting her hand drop out of his grip. It wasn't that she wouldn't be perfect for the firm, but he didn't want to lead her on, either.
"Of course we can," Jordan stepped in smoothly--quite literally, nudging Eli out of his stupor and taking Amanda's hand into both of his in one graceful move. "You have Eli's number, don't you? Eli, give her your card."
Eli did so, more out of rote than with any real belief that she'd use it, and smiled at her one more time before she turned to wend her way out of the restaurant. He sank back down into his chair, baffled by the pleased smile on Jordan's face.
"Well," Jordan said. "She is a fine young woman. Isn't she, Eli?"
"She's great," Eli said. "Too great. I'm pretty sure the only reason she even agreed to meet with us was because she wanted to see how crazy we really are."
Jordan chuckled. "You underestimate your reputation, Eli. Yes, there are detractors out there, and those who want nothing more than to spread gossip that would be better off in those tabloid papers, but your record stands for itself."
"Yeah, well." He felt a blush creeping up his neck, which was ridiculous. "Whatever her reasons, we still can't afford her."
"Perhaps not," Jordan said mildly. "But what did you think of her, Eli?"
Eli shrugged. "What else is there to say? I mean--" He stopped with his mouth open as the pieces fell into place. "Oh, no. No, you didn't. This wasn't an interview at all."
Jordan's lips curled up on one side. He couldn't even be bothered to play innocent, apparently. "I wouldn't say that. It just wasn't an interview for the firm."
Eli really wanted to drop his head to the table and pound it once or twice, but he'd gotten to be pretty expert in the kind of behavior that got you stared at versus the kind that got you thrown out of a place, and while it might only end up in the first category, he didn't feel like testing the waters right now. Plus, pounding his head couldn't be all that great for the aneurysm. "I can't believe you're trying to play matchmaker. All I need right now is a chorus from Fiddler on the Roof."
"It is a classic for a reason." Jordan shook his head. "I simply saw an opportunity to introduce you to someone I thought you might like, and I took it."
"Oh, is that all? Then why all the cloak-and-dagger with an 'exploratory meeting', then?" Eli almost said I thought we didn't keep secrets from each other anymore, but his conscience caught up to his brain in time and kicked him in the mouth, hard.
Jordan sighed. "Would you have gone if I hadn't? I'm worried about you. You admitted yourself the other day that you're lonely."
"By choice." Eli shook his head. "I just can't do it, Jordan. Not right now. As soon as I get close to someone, they figure out what my life really is and that's it." He snorted. "The worst part is that they're right."
"No, they're not," Jordan very nearly growled. His eyes were intense. Angry. "I wish you would--"
"What, Jordan?" Eli asked tightly, unable to look away from the passion of Jordan's gaze. "What do you wish?"
"I wish you would see what a good person you are. And not because of some mission from God. Just because--" Jordan looked away, breaking the tension between them. "I'm sorry for this whole," he waved his hand at the table, "charade. I just want to see you happy."
"I should be going," he said, standing up. "I have a two o'clock with Arthur Jones, and we both know I can't afford to be late."
"Right," Eli said, and that was the end of the discussion, Jordan walking off without a backwards glance. Eli watched him until he was out of sight, then shook his head and went back to staring out at the roiling clouds until the waiter appeared with the bill.
"How was your meal, sir?" he asked.
"Confusing," Eli said, and reached for his wallet.
The room went black.
"What the--" Eli started to ask, but someone nearby shushed him. Loudly. His eyes started to adjust, and he realized the room wasn't completely black. Runner lights marked the aisles between the seats. He was in a small auditorium, not far from the darkened stage. A velvet-covered seat was open next to him, so he slipped into it as quietly as possible, wondering what he was supposed to be seeing.
He didn't have long to wait.
The spotlight flared, so bright Eli had to shield his eyes with his hand for a second. When he dropped it again, a lone figure was sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage, microphone in hand.
A piano started in with a slow, melancholy melody. Eli recognized the song, but he couldn't place it, not just yet. Jordan seemed barely aware that he was on stage. His eyes were closed, the microphone resting casually on his thigh, and his head was tipped to the side as he listened to the music. After the piano glided through another bar, Jordan raised the microphone, his eyes still closed.
"Turn down the lights, turn down the bed. Turn down these voices inside my head. Jordan's voice was amazing, just like it always was in Eli's visions. But the pain in it this time... Eli swallowed hard. Jordan's emotion was a palpable thing.
"Cause I cant make you love me if you don't. You cant make your heart feel something it won't." Jordan finally opened his eyes as he launched into the chorus. He was a natural in the spotlight, dressed all in black, the fine lines in his face making him look even more distinguished. Elegant. But Eli felt like a voyeur. Whatever message he was supposed to be getting, it was too much to see Jordan this way. Exposed. Hurting. Eli wanted to jump up and yell at the audience to leave, to shout fire in a crowded theater just to get them away from Jordan.
"Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't," Jordan sang, the chorus drawing to a close, and Eli couldn't take any more. He closed his eyes, wishing that would close off his ears as well.
Eli cracked one eye open. Mid-morning sun caught him full in the eye, and he slapped his hand over his face before he went completely blind. He blinked away the pain, eyelashes catching against his skin, and then slowly parted his fingers, his pupils finally readjusting. It wasn't all that bright in the room, actually. Just a lot brighter than a club at night.
"Um." He was sitting on the edge of his desk. The file he'd been looking for was a mess of papers under his shoes, and Jordan stood in front of him, worried look on his face. Well, worried for the Jordan he knew. He didn't look anything like the Jordan he'd seen in his vision, that man who was so full of heartache. Eli had to remind him that this was the real Jordan. Always so contained, always so sure of himself.
Except he was pretty sure that the Jordan in his vision hadn't simply been relaying God's chapter and verse--emphasis on the verse. He knew that something of what he'd seen had been this Jordan, too. Putting it together with his previous vision, Eli was pretty sure he knew why Jordan felt that way. Still had no idea what to do about it, though.
"Do I need to call Nathan, Eli?" Jordan asked gently. His eyes had gone soft, no trace of that presidential hardness that he usually gazed down upon his minions with. Jordan might not show his feelings often, but he had a way of making Eli feel cared about that nobody else did. Sometimes he just wanted to bask in that feeling, maybe stare back with a goofy smile that would make Jordan roll his eyes and have to hide his own smile. Instead he shook his head, trying to throw off his vision-induced stupor.
"No, sorry I'm fine. Just a bit--" He wagged his finger at his temple. "Woo-woo. Crazy train, if you know what I mean. Time out's over, I promise."
"If you're sure, Eli." Jordan held his gaze for a few more seconds before he turned back to the work table, all business again, quicker than flipping a switch. "I had a thought about the powers of appointment for Overmeyer's charitable trust."
"Cortland is the trustee, right?" Eli squatted down and started gathering up the papers he'd dropped. "I thought we'd decided general powers were the way to go."
"Yes, but if we're going to do that, we should write in a reversion clause." Jordan smiled. His choice of clients might have changed in the past year, but that look of smug satisfaction when he found a loophole or closed a trap was the same as it had been when Eli first met him. "We just need to find some boilerplate that will direct the money to a second choice and remove the option of the funds reverting back to Overmeyer's estate."
"Right. I'll get on that after I file discovery for the Madsen case."
Jordan nodded, his attention already back on the trust. Eli watched him for a little while longer. He still didn't understand what the visions were wanting him to do--but he was pretty damn sure he was going to have to tell Jordan.
Just not quite yet.
Patti cornered him in the break room, both hands on her hips in a warrior stance that would frighten off anyone unlucky enough to be looking for a cup of coffee. "Are you going to talk to me, or am I going to have to find out about whatever is driving you crazy when you show up on my television screen? I can see it now: Local lawyer gives birth to litter of puppies, says it was gift from God. Film at eleven."
"What are you talking about?"
Patti rolled her eyes. "It's obvious that something's bothering you, Eli. Haven't you learned by now that hiding things from me is always a bad idea?"
Eli sighed. He leaned way out, peering past her shoulder to make sure that no one was lurking on the other side of the counter. "I'm not keeping secrets," he said, then winced at the finger she held up. "Okay, I am, but it's not about me. I had a vision."
"Uh-huh." Her hand went back to her hip. "And what was in this vision that's had you acting like a monkey on crack all week?"
"I can't tell you. It's personal to...the person who's involved." Eli rubbed at the spot on his forehead that had been in a permanent knot since Sunday night. Maybe he should go see Frank again, get a little needle action. "It's nothing for you to worry about, I swear. I just haven't worked out how to tell...this person yet, and it's driving me a little batty."
"You can say that again." Patti still had her perpetual frown, but she'd lowered her hands enough that Eli wasn't afraid she'd reach out and smack him if he said the wrong thing. "I take it this person is someone I know, and that's the reason you're being so circumspect?"
"Maybe." Patti narrowed her eyes at him, but he wasn't going to give. Not even for Patti. "Look, just trust me, okay?"
She smacked him. Hard, on the hip, and he hadn't seen it coming. "How well do you know me? Of course I trust you, Eli. I just want to help. If you can't tell me who or what's bothering you, maybe you can at least tell me why."
He wanted to, he really did. Even if Patti had started out skeptical of the visions, she'd always been a rock for him. A sharp, jagged rock that wasn't exactly fun to run into, but one he could always count on. Eli pressed his lips together, trying to figure out a way to express the heart of the problem. "I don't know how to tell this person what I know," he said. "Or even if I should."
"You don't think they'll believe you?"
Eli sighed. "I don't know. It's not that, so much as what if h--" Eli snapped his mouth shut.
Patti raised an eyebrow. "So you're afraid that...this person will believe you, and bad things will happen because of that."
"Yes! That's it, exactly," he said gratefully. "I just keep thinking that it's none of my business."
"I don't know what to tell you, Eli." Patti turned away from him and started filling herself a cup of coffee. Eli hated the wave of disappointment that filled him. Yeah, the visions were his, but if Patti was going to come in here and all but demand for him to spill his guts, the least she could do was follow through and give him some advice.
"We need more creamer. Add that to your grocery list," she said as she turned back around. Before Eli could protest the expense, Patti poked him in the chest. "And I don't know who or what you're afraid of, but it seems to me that you already know what to do. Especially when someone up there is making it your business."
She pressed the coffee cup into his hands, fluttered her eyelashes at him, and then sashayed out of the room like queen of the prom. Eli shook his head and lifted the cup to his mouth, then lowered it with a grimace. He was definitely going to have to swing by the grocer's later.
At least that would give him an excuse to avoid Jordan just that little bit longer.
"Do you want any more lo mein?" Jordan held out the box, tipping the open mouth towards him, but Eli shook his head. The little he'd already eaten sat like a lump of iron in his stomach. A big, freezing cold lump of iron made out of cowardice and guilt.
They'd moved to Jordan's office after their public hours ended, opting for his more comfortable couch and bigger workspace. It hadn't helped Eli relax, though. The whole time the iron in his gut had been gaining mass, filling him up until he could hardly choke down any of the Chinese they'd ordered.
"Are you feeling all right, Eli?" Jordan set the box down and leaned back on the couch. It was a deceptively casual pose, far more relaxed than he usually was around other people, but Eli knew better than to be distracted by it. Not when Jordan's gaze was so sharp. Measuring.
It was now or never.
"I had a vision. Two, actually." Eli licked his lips. He still was never sure how anybody would react to his visions, no matter how many times they'd been proved right in the past. And Jordan-- Well, Jordan was still watching him, waiting. Not writing him off yet. "I saw Ellen."
Jordan sat forward immediately. "Is she okay? Is she in danger?"
Eli shook his head. "She's fine. As far as I know, anyway."
"I'm sorry, I don't know how to put this delicately." Eli grimaced as he realized he was going with the slow-pull method of Band-Aid removal rather than the quick and painless. "In my vision, I saw her with another man. They were kissing."
"Ah." Jordan sat back again, not as relaxed as he was before. He didn't look upset, though. Not nearly as much as he should be. "Is this what's had you so wound up all week?"
Eli gaped at him. "You know about it. About Ellen and...."
Jordan smiled. A smile of acknowledgment, nothing more. He stood up and paced over to the window. "I appreciate your concern, Eli. Really, I do."
Jordan turned towards him. "But what?"
"I'm sensing a 'but' in there. 'I appreciate your concern, Eli, but....'"
Jordan nodded. "But it's not necessary. Ellen and I are...complicated, but our relationship isn't one you need to worry yourself over."
Okay. That did weird things to the guilt lump. Kind of transformed it into an embarrassment and uncertainty lump, but didn't make it go away. Eli rubbed his hands against the weave of his pants, confused. "Okay, I'm not trying to pry here, but, are you sure? Because these visions, they usually mean I'm supposed to do something."
Jordan sighed. He went to his sideboard and poured himself a glass of something malt, then returned to the couch with it in hand. "I have always been ambitious, Eli. Even when I was young and thought I could change the world if I just worked hard enough."
"You have changed the world. You are changing it."
Jordan smiled. "Always so positive, Eli. It shames me to say that I can't remember if you've always been this way, or if it's a result of your recent..."
"Brain thing?" Eli shrugged. "I guess I've always been this way deep down, but the aneurysm made me see how important it is to look for the good things in life."
Jordan nodded. "And you've reawakened that part of myself, as well. But as I was saying, when I was young I was extremely ambitious. I did everything I could think of to get ahead. I became friends with the best students in school--"
"Marci and Martin."
"And a few others who didn't prove to be as...hungry as we were." Jordan sighed. "I did all the right things. Made all the right moves. Part of that was pursuing Taylor's mother until she agreed to marry me."
"Which was a good move, considering it produced Taylor."
"On that, we agree." Jordan raised his glass and took a shallow sip. "Unfortunately, she wasn't particularly happy about being married to a man who spent more time with his law books than his new wife and daughter."
Eli opened his mouth, but he wasn't sure what to say. He could have very well wound up in the same situation himself with Taylor, if the aneurysm hadn't shown up when it did. "I'm sorry?"
"That I was an ass?" Jordan snorted. "Yes, me too."
"I didn't mean--"
"It's okay, Eli. I've gotten to know myself pretty well over the years, and I fully acknowledge where I've gone wrong." He glanced over at Eli, lips twisted in a parody of his earlier mocking smile, and then looked back down to his glass. "I met Ellen shortly after the divorce. She was beautiful and smart, and she loved the idea of an ambitious, well-to-do husband. We fit well together, or so I thought at the time."
"Which one of you cheated first?" It was a bold question, but he hadn't become a successful lawyer by asking the easy stuff.
Jordan laughed. "If only it were that simple."
"So what happened?"
"After years of hard work, the firm was finally in a good place. Not just a good place, an enviable place. I could let myself sit back, relax a bit and look around at my life. And what I found was that I loved my wife." Jordan sucked in a huge breath, letting it puff up his cheeks, and then blew it back out. "I just didn't have any interest in being with her. Or any woman, for that matter."
Eli blinked. Blinked again, but the world still seemed a little cockeyed. Not vision cockeyed. More upside-down, brain-injury-resulting-from-falling-down-stairs-after-too-many-margaritas cockeyed. "So you're saying..."
"I'm gay, Eli."
"Oh," he said faintly. "I thought that's what you were saying."
"Please, don't hurt yourself leaping to be supportive."
Eli jerked his head up. "No! I didn't mean that that's a bad thing. Not at all! I'm just surprised. Like, really, really surprised."
"At least now I know I haven't given myself away."
Eli raised his hand and let it drop again in a pointless gesture. "I guess I don't understand. I mean, we live in San Francisco..."
"Why keep up the charade?" Jordan leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, letting his glass dangle between his fingers. He looked as relaxed as Eli had ever seen him, and it hit Eli suddenly what a weight that secret must have been. Much heavier than the small lump of ore in his own stomach earlier. More like the burden he'd felt hiding his aneurysm and the visions--but he'd only carried that around for a few months. "Perhaps, if I'd been the man I am now, I would have been open about it. But at that time, even in San Francisco, big corporate money wasn't all that fond of doing business with anyone too different."
He looked up then, and his smile was warm. Genuine. "And I love Ellen. I truly do. We just...don't sleep in the same bed anymore."
Eli slumped back in his own seat. He was glad, really. This was so much better than what he'd been afraid of. Really, it was. But...
"You're thinking about this awfully hard, Eli."
"I was just thinking that if this was what I was supposed to find out, it was a round about way for me to do it." Eli shrugged. "Usually the visions are more about things I can prevent, or change somehow."
"Well, now you know."
"Thank you for telling me. I know you didn't have to."
Jordan smiled, but it was tight this time. Like Eli had said the wrong thing. "Yes, well. You're my partner. If I can't tell you, who can I tell?"
Eli didn't have to think about it. "Martin and Marci don't know, do they?"
Jordan shook his head. "I think Marci might suspect. We dated for a while, you know. Before I met Taylor's mother."
"Ah, no. That one had slipped by me." He was kind of glad it had; in no way did he want visions of Marci Klein with anybody, let alone Jordan. He was fairly sure they would involve bullwhips and medieval instruments of torture, and wow, was he sorry he'd gone there. He cleared his throat, trying to focus on something less scary. "What about Taylor?"
"No one knows, Eli, not really. Nobody important but you and Ellen."
Jordan set his glass down on the table, then stood up fast. Graceful as always, but fast. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I need some fresh air."
"Right. Of course." He stood up, moving with gentlemanly impulse before he thought it through. Jordan stepped to the side. Eli patted him awkwardly on the shoulder, which earned him another tight smile. The discomfort in his gut was mostly gone now, but something still niggled at him as Jordan headed for the door. A feeling that something about the conversation wasn't quite finished.
"Jordan," he called, then jogged to catch up to him. Jordan was halfway to the elevators already, and while he glanced over his shoulder in acknowledgment, he didn't slow down. Eli followed alongside, and Jordan finally turned to face him once he'd pushed the down button.
"Does the song 'I Can't Make You Love Me' mean anything to you?" Eli felt slightly breathless. Like he'd run across half an airport instead of down a flight of stairs. He needed to hit the gym a bit more often, maybe. "You know, by Bonnie Raitt?" He tried to hum a bit of it, but gave up after a few bars. Carrying a tune really wasn't his thing.
Jordan raised an eyebrow. "I prefer the George Michael version, actually."
"Oh." That made a lot more sense, all things considered. "So, uh, does it? Mean anything to you?"
Jordan's jaw tightened. "Why do you ask?"
"My second vision. I saw you, singing that song. I thought it was about Ellen, which is why I finally decided to say something."
Jordan nodded once, sharply, like he'd just resolved to step forward in front of a firing squad. "I sometimes sing it to myself. When I'm alone and feeling particularly maudlin, I suppose."
"Maudlin about what?" He knew he was pushing. Whatever Jordan was holding back, it was deeply personal, but Eli's intuition was telling him to go for it. The same gut-deep intuition that was never wrong in court, that he'd learned to heed to get what he needed out of a witness.
"You know, Eli, just because a question is there to be asked, doesn't mean you want to hear the answer."
"Maybe that's true. But I do want to know, and I think you want to tell me."
The elevator dinged. Jordan stepped in. He turned to face Eli at last, fingers pressed into the rubber seal of the inner safety door, holding them open.
Jordan smiled--and it was the exact wistful smile that Eli had seen on his face before he'd lifted the mike in his vision. His eyes, though. Eli's throat tightened, body sympathetically responding to the pain in Jordan's eyes.
"Let's just say that it's not exactly the easiest thing in the world when your daughter falls for the same man you have." Jordan dropped his hand from the door. He didn't look away from Eli as the doors slid together, letting the truth shine out of his eyes for that brief moment. And then the doors shut completely, taking Jordan down and away, leaving his confession sitting in the office with Eli.
"You better not be talking about Matt Dowd!" Eli finally shouted, but he knew the elevator was too far gone for Jordan to hear him. He ran his hand down his face, stretching the skin and muscles over bone until they slid away from his fingers and settled back into place, releasing a bit of the tension he felt.
He needed a drink. And to talk to somebody.
But definitely the drink.
"Hand me that, would you?"
Eli reached for the spray bottle by rote, handing it over to Frank without ever looking away from the faded gray top of the balustrade in front of him. He was vaguely aware of tongues of flame shooting up from the grill beside him, of Frank spritzing away until everything was under control. The steaks were probably going to have an extra crispy crust on them tonight, but all Eli could focus on was the pain in Jordan's eyes before the elevator doors had closed.
"You're going to have to talk to me about it sometime, you know."
Eli sighed. "I can't. It's not mine to talk about."
Frank hmmphed, but he went back to basting his vegetables. Leeks tonight, and something red hiding behind them. Tomatoes, maybe. Didn't really matter. Whatever Frank cooked turned out good--unless he got caught up doling out advice and let things burn again. Eli liked a little char on his roasted corn, he really did, but there was a point of no return.
Eli sighed again, then took a long swig of his beer. He shouldn't have come here. Shouldn't have thought that he could spill his thoughts to Frank, get some needle action, and walk out the door again with everything neatly back in the boxes they belonged it. Not when this wasn't about the visions, not really. This was about something deeply personal to Jordan, and about Eli not knowing what to do about it.
Jordan hadn't come back to the office last night. Or at least he hadn't come back by two, when Eli finally threw in the towel and headed home, too tired and confused to wait any longer. He'd come in early, hoping to catch Jordan before anyone else got in, even though he had no idea what to say. But Jordan hadn't been in all day, even though his briefcase was gone from his office and a box of Overmeyer financial paperwork was missing. Eli had holed himself up in the library all day, trying not to dwell on the situation.
Yeah, that had worked well.
"Food's up," Frank called gently. He'd been treating with Eli with kid gloves all evening, like he somehow knew what was on his mind. And the thing was, Eli wanted to talk about it. He just couldn't. So instead, he took the plate Frank offered and sat down in the lawnchair next to him, turning his attention to the food.
"You going to eat the plate, too?" Frank asked sometime later. "There's more vegetables if you're that hungry, but I'm all out of steak, dude."
"Huh?" Eli looked down at his plate--which was empty. Empty and scored with marks from his fork and knife. He dropped the silverware onto the plate, then set it all on the concrete block next to his chair. "No, I'm fine. It was good, thanks."
"Mmm hmm." Frank had one eyebrow cocked. It was never good, that eyebrow. Made Eli think of his mom after he'd tried to lie his way out of getting caught stealing her eyeliner. For nefarious purposes involving Nate's face, of course, but she never needed to know that.
"It was good. The leeks turned out great. Although, did you do something to the tomatoes? Because they were kind of...weird."
"That's because they were red peppers, Eli."
"Oh." Eli tried a sheepish smile, but he still didn't think Frank was buying. "So much for moonlighting as a judge on Top Chef, huh?"
Frank shoved himself up out of his chair and headed back over to the cooling grill. "So are you going to talk to me, or did you just invite yourself over to save on the grocery bill?"
"I told you, it's too--"
"Too personal, yeah, I got it the first twelve times you told me." Frank turned around, half-filled Tupperware in one hand and the tongs in his other. "Eli, I know who your brother is treating for what and that he's sleeping with the woman you lost your virginity to. I know your firm's financial troubles and which of your clients might be going bankrupt next month. I know that Taylor and Matt had a month long argument over what to name the baby and why Patti won't hug you except at Christmas."
"So your point is you can keep a secret?"
Frank tossed the tongs onto the tray beside the grill. "My point is, Eli, that I don't think this is about whether you should or shouldn't tell me. I think it's that you're afraid to tell me. Because whatever it is, if you say it out loud, that makes it real."
Eli shrugged. "It's pretty real already."
Frank snapped the lid onto the container, then sat back down in his chair. He leaned forward, hands clasped loosely between his knees. "Come on. Tell Docta Chen what wrong."
Eli snorted. Frank winked at him, and something gave in the middle of Eli's back. Right between his shoulder blades. It let him breathe again. Let him spill the words out. "So, you know my vision about Ellen Wethersby? It wasn't exactly what I assumed it was."
Frank nodded. "So what was it?"
Eli cleared his throat. "Um. Apparently Ellen and Jordan have an arrangement. Because, um. Jordan's gay."
Both of Frank's eyebrows shot up. "Didn't see that one coming."
"Oh, then you're going to love this part." Eli really wished he had another beer right now, but the cooler was all the way across the roof, and if he took the time to go get it, he wouldn't ever get this out. He rubbed at his mouth, but there really wasn't any non-self-centered way to say it. "Last night, he more than implied that he's interested in me. Or Matt Dowd, but I really think he's got better taste than that."
Frank snorted. Eli smiled back, but Matt-baiting wasn't as much fun when the guy wasn't around to hear it. Or Taylor. Not that Eli was ever going to bring this one up to her.
Frank was the one who got up to get the beers. He opened them both, and Eli knocked back a long swallow until he was half-dizzy with the need for air. When he finally looked up again, Frank was staring at him, lips twisted with thought.
"So, what's going on? You're freaked out because you think he might come on to you?"
"No!" Eli pinched the bridge of his nose. "No, it's nothing like that. I just... I don't know. I don't know how I feel. I mean, he's Taylor's father. Taylor, my ex-fiancée-Taylor."
"Yeah, I kind of remember that part. But what does that have to do anything?"
"I don't know." Eli set the beer down, half-full though it was, then rubbed the sweat and condensation on his palms off onto his jeans. "I just keep getting wrapped up in that part. Taylor's dad is gay. Taylor's dad likes me, likes me."
"Try this. Pretend Jordan isn't Taylor's dad at all. He's just some guy you work with, no relation to Taylor at all. Now how do you feel?"
Eli shrugged. "I don't know if I can do that. I mean, Jordan's never been just some guy I work with. I've known him for almost a decade, worked closely with him for the majority of that. Even before I started seeing Taylor--"
"Tst tst tst! No Taylor!"
Eli frowned, and Frank pulled his finger back after one last warning shake.
"You were talking about Jordan."
"I just respect him so much. And we've gotten so close in the past few months. Working on cases together, trying to keep the firm afloat." Eli shrugged. "He's a great guy. Funny and smart and he gets what I'm trying to do. How he feels about me doesn't change that. Except..."
Eli stood up, fast enough that he had to reach for the balustrade to keep himself from overbalancing. As soon as his blood caught up with his brain, he started pacing, tiny little steps between the pair of chairs. "Except I can't keep thinking about it. He's still Jordan, but he's more, somehow. He looked so hurt, Frank, and I just want to..."
"Want to what, Eli?"
"I don't know!" Eli stopped, hands on his hips, trying to figure it out. His breath was coming a lot harder than it should be, and there was a unsteady trip-trip-trip to his heart that made him wonder if he should give Nate a call, just in case. He dropped his hands and looked over to Frank, hoping that the answers would be on his friend's face.
"We're talking about Jordan Wethersby, right?" Frank asked quietly, as smoothly as any lawyer with all the right cards in his hand. "Jordan, the man who you were ready to give up your license and your reputation for, in order to save his life?"
Eli nodded. "Yes, of course."
"Jordan, the guy who you were ready to sacrifice your friendship with, just to make sure he wasn't found incompetent because you were defending him?"
"You're getting at something, I can tell." Eli pointed at his chest, then at Frank. "This is me, noticing you getting at something."
Frank smiled. "Maybe."
"Come on. Just spit it out. Please?"
Frank sighed. "I think you already know, Eli. Think back to when he told you, Eli. What exactly did you think when he first told you? What did you want to do, Eli?"
"I wanted..." He closed his eyes, remembering. The sad little smile that Jordan always had when he couldn't quite hide his pain. The way his eyes were so open, wanting, but never asking for anything. Jordan wouldn't ever ask, even when all he had to do was--
Eli opened his eyes. "I wanted to tell him it was going to be okay. I wanted to reach out and tell him it's going to be all okay, because..." He sank downwards, somehow finding the chair behind him without tumbling to the ground. He didn't feel light-headed; he felt like part of his head was gone. Boom, exploded, the realization too big to keep in his puny little skull. "Oh, God."
Frank touched his shoulder, grounding him just enough for him to look up, for his eyes to process the warm smile on Frank's face. "Maybe you should tell him, then."
Eli nodded slowly. Kept nodding until another thought finally made its way through the jumble of Jordan? Me and Jordan? Wow, me and Jordan that was looping through his head.
"Crap," he said, as chilled as if a Gatorade cooler of ice water had been dumped over him. "Taylor is going to kill me."
Eli sighed as he slowed to a stop, craning his head backward as he peered up, up, up. The entire facade burned with a Gotham-city glow, washed with light from the spotlights beneath and doubled again by the encroaching fog. It was impossible to pick out which specific offices had lights on from where he was standing, not from thirty floors down, but he would have bet money that Jordan was up there. Jordan's work ethic wouldn't let him avoid what needed to be done, and the job was always a good distraction from uncomfortable thoughts.
A lot better than alcohol, for sure.
He could go up there now, try to corner Jordan when there was no one else to hide behind and talk this thing out. Except what would he say? "Hi, I might be gay for you, but it didn't occur to me until an hour ago when I was talking to my psychic adviser. Surprise?"
Eli eased back onto the edge of one of the giant street planters, its pebbled surface oddly smooth against his palms. This...this was verging on as surreal as standing on a mountainside, sprinkling his dad's ashes across the Himalayas because a vision had given him the idea. Nowhere near as weird as spending months with God as played by Sigourney Weaver as his own personal shrink, but still. Pretty damn surreal.
He dropped his head back, aiming his gaze up at the narrow strip of starry night visible between the fringe of leaves and the towering office building. "I could use a little advice right now, if you're not busy. Please."
"I only have a few minutes, but since you asked so nicely--"
Eli jumped to his feet, jerking his hands out of his pockets as he spun around to see who had sent his heart pounding. "Maggie?"
She smiled and pageant-waved at him. "Hi. Forget your keys? Or is this another vision thing?"
"More the latter." Eli swallowed his shock. "What are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "Figuring out the best way to sneak in and steal all of your client files."
Maggie rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, Eli! I was having drinks with Erica and Susan at Antony's. My car's around the corner."
"Oh." He frowned. "Isn't it a little late for you to be out by yourself?"
"You're right. You never know what kind of strange men you're going to run into around here." She tugged the shoulder strap of her purse up high on her shoulder and took a wide step to his left. "Good night, Eli."
"No, wait, Maggie..." He reached for her arm, but stopped short of catching hold of her. They weren't that close anymore. She took one more step, then stopped. He could see her shoulders rise from a deep breath before she turned around. "I'm sorry," he said once she was facing him. "I know you're a big girl, and I shouldn't have started in on the twenty questions. You just caught me off-guard."
Her mouth softened at the same time her brow creased with a vee; Maggie never could hang onto irritation very long, especially if there was somebody pathetic in need of compassion. "So a vision, huh? Another earthquake on the way?"
"More on the order of a personal shake-up," he said. "Figured out something about myself. Which, hey, always a good thing, but now I don't know what to do with the information."
"Sounds serious," she said, eyebrows rising. She dropped her hand away from her purse strap and went to lean against the same giant planter he'd been leaning against before, patting the edge beside her. Eli settled in beside her without hesitation, but his words didn't come with the same ease. He crossed his arms over his chest, suddenly empathizing with Jordan in a way he hadn't, earlier.
"I don't know that it's all that serious." He snorted. "Kinda feels that way, though."
"Eli..." Maggie curled her hand around his upper arm, just above his elbow. "You're okay, right?"
"Oh! Yeah, sorry, I'm fine." He tapped his temple. "Everything good. Or at least as good as it's always been."
"Good." She smiled and let go of his arm. "So what's up, then?"
"Ah. I think I might be in love." He rubbed his palms against his slacks. "With a man."
"Oh." Eli didn't miss the way Maggie had tensed with his first words, then relaxed again with his next. Or the way her head shot up as they finally sank in. "Oh! Wow. That's..."
Eli snorted. "And now I understand exactly how he felt when he told me."
"Oh, Eli, I'm sorry! I just never guessed at all. Although I guess if you didn't know, then there wasn't any reason I should know. Sometimes it's obvious, though, like my junior high boyfriend, Charles. Poor guy was the last to figure it out. Kind of makes you wonder--" Maggie cut herself off with a frown. Then she looked directly at him, eyes wide as she reached for his arm again. "Wait. When he told you what?"
Eli shrugged. "That he's gay. And that he has a thing for me. Or, at least I think that's what he meant."
"So this isn't just theoretical."
She let go of his arm to sock him in the shoulder.
She rolled her eyes. "I'm pretty sure that it's not in your arm, Eli. Now are you going to tell me the story, or do I have to drag it out of you word by word?"
"There's really not all that much to tell." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "A few days ago, somebody told me he was gay, and then heavily implied that he was into me. And I just now figured out that I feel the same way. I think."
Her brow wrinkled, and Eli braced himself for her to ask who it was. "So what's the problem?" she asked instead. "Is it the guy thing?"
"I don't think so. It's all kind of new though."
"Yeah." He looked away from the compassion in her eyes, down to the ragged cuticle along his thumbnail. Perfect for chewing on, if he was going to give in to the habit. "The thing is, I shouldn't even be thinking about starting a relationship. Not with all the baggage I'm carrying around."
Maggie snorted. Then she full-out laughed. Eli transferred his frown from the hangnail to her, but she didn't look repentant at all. "What?" he asked.
"Oh, come on. You don't get how ridiculous that sounds, not even a little bit?"
Eli considered. Maybe it was a little emo, but-- "It's true though!" he said, and no, he didn't sound whiny. The evening air was getting to his sinuses. "I can't expect anybody to go through this with me."
"Oh, Eli." She shook her head. "How can you be so smart and so dumb all at the same time? Everybody has bad stuff in their life. Some worse than others. Dealing with that stuff is part of being in a relationship."
"But what, Eli? If this person knows you well enough to want a relationship, then maybe you should let him make his own choices." She arched an eyebrow. "And then maybe you can work on not being so afraid of what you want."
He opened his mouth to rebut--but every counterargument he came up with just worked in her favor.
"I rest my case," she said, smirking.
"I kind of hate you sometimes," he said.
"Back at ya." She knocked her shoulder into his. "So, anything else I can help with? I am totally up on what's hot in shoes right now, thanks to Susan."
"I'm pretty sure they don't make Laboutin's in my size." He shook his head. "No, you're right. I need to do a little more thinking, I guess."
"Go home. Get some sleep." She hopped off the planter, her heels barely clicking against the concrete as she landed. She shrugged her purse back onto her shoulder, then turned to face him. "I don't know about you, but I've got a full day ahead of me tomorrow, and I always think better when I'm rested."
"And full of caffeine." He smiled at her nose wrinkle. "Don't deny it."
"Like you're one to talk." She smiled softly. "Good night, Eli. And good luck."
"Thanks," he said and waved goodbye. He watched her walk away until she rounded the corner, then quickly followed until he could see that she made it to her just car fine. Then he turned around and started his own homeward trek. He wasn't sure how much he'd sleep tonight, but Maggie was right. A new day would give him a fresh perspective.
And maybe he'd finally be able to get Jordan to stop avoiding him.
Eli sprinted. Sprinted like he was back in junior high and being chased by Josh Peck and his pack of bullies. He didn't call out, because he knew Jordan wouldn't listen to him anyway. The doors were just barely far enough apart for him to fit through by the time he got there. He slid inside, for once grateful for the worn slickness of the soles of his shoes, and took a few seconds to catch his breath before he looked over.
Jordan was staring determinedly at the bank of buttons in front of him. Eli had seen hardened judges quail under the ferocity of that look. Didn't matter. Jordan couldn't escape now, and Eli could put up with the glares and the ignoring game for a little while if he had to. Patti had been his secretary for eight years, after all.
He wound up following Jordan all the way to the garage, all the way to his car before Jordan finally huffed and turned to face him. "Was there something you needed, Eli?"
Eli hitched his thumb over his shoulder, in the direction of his former parking space. "I called Triple A earlier, but they told me they can't do anything for non-existent cars. And I forgot my bus pass."
Jordan rolled his eyes, but he unlocked the car. Both doors. "Get in."
Eli did. Once the doors were closed, though, Jordan just sat there, not bothering to do more than slide the key into the ignition. "I assume this is a not-so-subtle attempt to talk to me about my revelations the other night."
Eli swallowed. "Well, you kept running away from me all day, so I figured if I was in the car, too, it wouldn't matter how far you went."
Jordan snorted. "Fine. But I'm not having this discussion in the parking garage."
"Wherever you want to go. But, uh, before I finish making a complete ass out of myself, tell me you weren't talking about Matt Dowd."
Jordan started the car and slammed the gear shift into reverse. "I wasn't talking about Matt. I do have a little dignity remaining, Eli."
"That's what I said!" Jordan looked over at him, and Eli realized that he probably wouldn't be thrilled to learn he'd talked to Frank about the situation. "Um. When I was talking this out in my head, I mean. Talking to myself. It's an aneurysm thing."
Jordan raised an eyebrow, but he didn't say anything. Just put the car into drive and took them out of the garage, into the San Francisco evening. The sun was setting over the Pacific, the city was already in full sparkle around them, but Eli couldn't look away from Jordan. He'd had the wonders of the city around him all of his life, but he'd never been able to look at Jordan like this before. Never been able to watch him when all of this potential sat between them. Eli's palms were sweating, his heart was racing, and his mouth was dry. He was really going to do this. See where this crazy thing went.
Jordan eased them onto Geary, driving west towards the setting sun. Eli had half a thought that they might be headed towards one of the golf courses Jordan played at, maybe to grab a drink at the clubhouse. He was so focused on watching Jordan, though, that he didn't realize where they really were until Jordan circled the fountain pool and parked the car.
"The Legion of Honor?" Eli eyed the palatial museum spread out before them. He really wasn't sure that he was up to art class tonight. "Are they even open right now?"
"No." Jordan paused with his hand on the door handle. "I like to come here sometimes when no one else is around. To think. Does it not meet your expectations?"
"No, I was just..." Eli trailed off, unsure how to finish that sentence. I was just too busy watching the way your face relaxed the tiniest amount when we turned to have any intelligent remark. He smiled tightly and opened his own door, happy when Jordan didn't press for an explanation.
Jordan led him over to the fountain, taking a seat on the concrete rim facing the museum. Eli sat beside him, not too close, not too far. Now that he was here, he wasn't sure how to start, or whether he should wait for Jordan to bring up the topic. There really wasn't much to see, sitting here. Just the up-down lines of the columns breaking up the horizontal sprawl of the building. That and the Rodin, too far away for the naked eye to pick up any detail.
Eli took a deep breath--and just let himself talk. "You know, I've always thought most art collectors are in it because of the status thing. You know, doing whatever's the most chi-chi investment at the time."
Jordan gave him a grudging nod. "That's not untrue, for many people."
"But it's different for you, isn't it? Ever since I've known you, you've collected art." Eli looked back at Jordan. The breeze was picking up as the evening cooled, mixing the chlorine smell from the pool water with the salty sea air. Jordan looked as unruffled as always, except for a tiny wisp of hair over his temple. "It's all about the art itself for you."
"I like beautiful things." Jordan shrugged. "And I go after what I want."
"Except, apparently, not always."
Jordan smiled as he shook his head. "Masterfully played, Eli. It just comes naturally to you, doesn't it?"
"I'm not trying to play a game, Jordan. Not trying to win or lose." Eli frowned, but it didn't feel right to jump in with everything, not yet. "I just want to talk, you and me."
"I know." Jordan sighed. "You should know, though, that not all of my turmoil these past few days has come from my...confession, shall we say?...to you the other night."
"Is there something wrong?"
"Only in that something which has been a long time coming has finally happened." Jordan rubbed his hands on his slacks, an uncharacteristically nervous move for him. "After I left the office the other night, I went for a walk, rapidly concluded that I was a complete and utter fool, and went home. Where Ellen proceeded to ask for a divorce."
Eli could feel his eyebrows climbing, up, up, and up. "Um."
"Yes, that was pretty much the depth and breadth of my own eloquence. That vision you told me about, the one with her and another man? Apparently he's proposed. To Ellen."
The words I'm sorry stuck in his throat. "I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything, Eli. I just wanted you to understand that my playing 'hooky' wasn't your fault, in any way. My decisions, my consequences."
"No, see, I don't know what to say because I know that, as a friend, I should be supportive and say that I'm sorry and all that stuff." This was it, now. Eli swallowed hard. His earlier nervousness was nothing on what he felt now, blood rushing to the surface of his skin, pounding hard through his heart, preparing him to flee from rejection. "But I just keep thinking that this means the field's completely open now, isn't it? If Ellen's not in the picture to split your affections."
Jordan gaped at him. Literally gaped. "What are you saying, Eli?"
Eli shrugged. "I'm saying that this whole thing has caught me off guard, because I'm not usually so blind to what I want. Which, if you still can't tell because of the way I'm bumbling through this, is you, Jordan."
"Me? Eli... I don't--" Jordan flailed his hand out. "Words fail me."
Eli smiled. "I guess there's a first for everything, huh?"
"I don't know what you're thinking, Eli." And he looked completely mystified, eyes achingly wide and face slack. "I never meant for you to, to--"
"To what? Return your feelings? Or did I get it wrong?" Eli edged over, so that their knees brushed together. "I, uh, am not completely sure of myself here, so if you could give me a little hint, it'd be appreciated."
"Eli." Jordan brought his hand up slowly, fingertips unsteady before they finally made themselves at home on Eli's cheek. Eli moved in, watching Jordan's eyes until the moment their lips met. It was awkward at first, Jordan nearly frozen in place, Eli himself uncertain, but then Jordan tilted his head slightly to the side and kissed back. He'd experienced forceful kisses before, kisses filled with passion and hunger, but this was... This was grabbing-shoulders-and-hanging-on kissing, swept-overboard-and-clinging-with-last-breaths kissing. And it wasn't one-sided at all.
Eli was panting when they broke apart at last. "Wow. I'd say that works, wouldn't you?"
Jordan laughed. "For me, definitely. But Eli, are you sure? I'm an old man, getting older all the time."
"Older, yes. But not old." Eli licked his lips. He was tempted to move in for another kiss, but he wanted to give Jordan time to make his closing argument. "Does it really matter?"
"I'm well past my prime, not just older. I could keel over dead at any moment. Do you really want to be dealing with that risk in a new relationship?"
"Do you?" he asked quietly. It would have been easier to keep flinging out glib rebuttals, but this was too important. Nearly every relationship he'd attempted in the past year and a half had sundered on this one thing, and he needed it out in the open. "Jordan, the aneurysm's never going to go away. Not unless it takes me with it."
Jordan's gaze moved up, towards Eli's cowardly hairline, to where the bandages from his ill-fated surgery had once rested. "I think, Eli, that it really doesn't matter what I want from you. I don't pray, but every day there's a part of me that hopes with all its might that your visions are real. That you truly are speaking to some higher power. Because if that's so, then surely that means you'll still have a lot more time on this earth."
"Oh." Eli looked down, to where his hands were somehow wrapped in the lapels of Jordan's suit. Refusing to let go. "That's...wow."
"No, God, no." Eli leaned in again, wanting the reassurance of a kiss. For himself, for Jordan. It was every bit as good as their first kiss, and by the time he drew back Eli had no doubts about going down this path. "Okay, yeah, Wethersbys are definitely gifted in more than just law."
Jordan frowned. "Eli, I adore you, but if you ever bring up my daughter in similar circumstances again, not only will I cease speaking to you, I'll sell my half of the firm and move to Florida. Where all the other crazy old men go to bury their heads in the sand."
Eli started laughing, and after a moment Jordan's chuckles joined in. "No Taylor, got it. Anything else?"
Jordan grinned. "Well, since you do seem to have a way with these kind of things, I've always wanted to meet Roland Orzabal. Or perhaps Curt Smith?"
Eli rolled his head back until the cloudy night sky filled his vision. "Hear that? The Tears For Fears guys. It's a special request." Jordan was still smiling when Eli looked down again, the lines around his eyes crinkled up with happiness. Eli kissed him again, with no intention of stopping any time soon.