Chapter 20 –Hi! Hello…-
Kalinda woke up from the sound of the opening door. What she saw when she opened her eyes wasn’t real. She knew. And yet, even though she knew she was looking into Leela’s past, she couldn’t stop the images from forming the story. From forming the movie of what had been her life back then. She saw them enter, exchanged looks, and wordlessly communicate the cruelties they would put her through. The flashback was short, but strong, and she jumped out of the chair, ready to defend herself.
The janitor, a small, wrinkled man, looked up in surprise as he heard her approach, and Kalinda had to hold her step in order to not bump into him.
‘ What in the name of… ?’
Before he could finish the question, however, the beautiful young Indian woman had made her way past him, and was fleeing the building. In his years of service, he had found a lot of abandoned objects, but this had never happened before. The old man sniggered while he turned off the airconditioning.
There was a first time for everything.
Alicia felt her head pound in the steady rhythm of her heart. A chant it seemed of a three syllable name she did not want to, but could not avoid, to think about. She closed her eyes, trying to focus on the information Will was sharing with her, but it did not grasp her full attention until she heard his final words.
`So Judge Lessner has agreed to hear their arguments to move up the hearing.`
Focusing now fully on Will, she felt her eyes narrow. She would have to go to court today? How could she fight, if she felt there was nothing left inside of her? But maybe this was the only thing worth fighting for in her life, her job, one case at a time.
`Have you paid any attention to what I`ve just said? You have to be in court this afternoon. Supposedly the victim woke up and had a good story for the police. Kalinda told me this morning that they think he will be able to join the courts soon. And that would be a bad thing, considering his high profile.`
The pronunciation of the name her heart was screaming out,- in anger or despair, she wasn’t sure-, left Alicia paralyzed for a moment.
‘She is here?’
She heard her voice as is from far away, and resented herself immediately for the jump of her heart that came with the thought of seeing Kalinda. She would have to stop thinking like that, feeling like that.
‘ Who? Kalinda? Actually she called to say she would be late. But she will be in any moment to come to your aid.’
He looked at her strangely, the emotion flowing from his eyes –the eyes she knew so well- not quite clear to her. She saw worry, she saw tenderness, but also something that came close to jealousy. He turned around to leave, but hesitated at the door.
‘ Congratulations, by the way. Peter did well. You did well for him.’
Alicia smiled automatically and searched his face again. Why could she not be more attracted to him? She liked him, she loved him.
As she watched him leave, she knew he would probably come the closest to understanding her, if she told him. In a way he was the one she always could count on. Her oldest friend. But not the best. That place had been reserved for the woman who had betrayed her. Betrayed her so profoundly…
Their friendship had been a lie, Alicia had concluded in her long sleepless night. A lie she had believed because she had wanted to believe it. Why would someone like Kalinda seek her out? Why would someone like Kalinda want to be friends with her? It had been the guilt, that had driven the younger woman. A little voice in the back of Alicia’s mind saying that, knowing Kalinda, guilt would have probably driven her AWAY rather than TO her, was quickly silenced by her anger.
She was angry… Very, very angry.
The emotion was just overshadowed by that other sensation. The one that made her heart heavy and her throat close up. Every breath she took, physically hurt. She couldn’t remember ever feeling like that in her life. Not when her parents had announced their divorce, not when CNN had announced her husband’s cheating, not when he had been dragged off to jail. But now, facing a divorce she knew she had to push through, working with HER was a torture. Not because she had caused the separation between her and Peter, at least not only that, but more so because she had trusted Kalinda beyond any other. She had felt safe with her, she had let down her guard. And to what effect? Damn it!
She threw the papers she had been trying to read on her desk. She needed a drink. Even though it was just 10 in the morning, she needed a drink. Even though she was meant to be in court, she needed a drink. She was sick of being the good girl, the good one who would never break the rules. She wanted to break them, now. But she knew she wouldn’t. Not yet, not so close to a critical part in the case.
She would have to claim self-defense, she knew. She and Diana had talked about it, and Jonas agreed. Without a story it was the only thing that could plunge holes in the State’s Attorney’s case. There simply was too much evidence since the girl was found with the weapon in hand at the scene. They had begun to plan their strategy and had discussed it with the client, who seemed reluctant.
Elizabeth Stern had not visited her daughter once since she had been released and was staying with her father. Alex had closed up and seemed to live in her own little world, only coming out of it when Kalinda arrived. The 2 seemed to have something in common, a strange connection she felt weird about.
Alicia laughed without humor, the connection she should have felt worried about was that between Kalinda and her husband. How many times had those two laughed at her ignorance behind her back? The time that Kalinda had visited Peter in prison? Had they sniggered together planning the conjugal visit, wishing it could be for the two of them? When Kalinda had brought Zach home, had they exchanged looks in the kitchen? Looks of contempt towards Alicia for being in the way, looks of desire? And yesterday in the party, what had happened after she had seen the gorgeous woman touch her husband’s forearm? She remembered the urgency in Kalinda’s movements. Her own surprise to see the woman there. Had she been there with a mission? Had she wanted her old job back? Or did she just like the idea of sleeping with a powerful man? The thoughts cut through her like a knife, but she didn’t seem to be able to stop them.
Luckily for her, they were stopped for her.
As her assistant peeked her head through the door, asking if she could interrupt, Alicia had never been more happy to see her. Even if the papers in the other woman`s arms meant more work for her, at this moment work equaled distraction and any distraction from this was more than welcome. Reaching out to take the files she was surprised to see the woman shake her head and tell her they were meant for administration.
`It`s just that there is a young girl here… to see Miss Sharma, and she has not come in yet. She tells me she is your client? Wouldn`t tell me her name.`
Looking through the glass that separated her office from the hallway –who ever had come up with that great structure? Wasn`t law about confidence?-. She recognized the slumping demeanor, that seemed to be the trademark of teenagers these days, of Alex. As she rose to meet her, she pondered over the reason of the visit. A thought, unwelcome and unbalancing, entered her mind as she saw the disappointment on Alex’ face when she saw her, and not Kalinda, approach her. Did the investigator make everyone fall in love with her?
‘ Alex. Hey. Why don’t you come in?’
Smiling weakly, the pale teenager followed her, but not before she looked around as if trying to find a way to escape.
While Alex was looking at the seat as if it would bite her, Alicia sat, suddenly realizing this was the first time she was actually alone with the girl. Searching for a way to begin the conversation, to make her client feel at ease, Alicia sensed how much she really was affected by the events of the former evening. This was something that always came to her naturally, but now, she seemed scared to trust her instincts.
‘ You were looking for… Kalinda?’
Every letter of the name she uttered felt like thorns. She wanted to spit out the word, the word she had associated with trust, but she was surprised she managed to sound quite neutral, if not a little cold.
The girls voice sounded hoarse, and she coughed, avoiding eye contact. The girl played with a ring, that seemed too large for her slender finger, turning it around endlessly in a nervous gesture.
‘Can I help you, maybe?’
She sensed how her voice sounded warmer, trying to focus completely on her client who seemed to need… What? Protection? The girl probably sensed the same, for she looked up, finally making a connection.
‘ I… I don’t know’
A worried wrinkle adorned the freckly nose, and Alicia felt a wave of tenderness wash over her towards the girl. She had always been too close to her clients. Kalinda had seen that the very first day… No… She had to stop thinking of Kalinda as her friend. She had to stop thinking of her at all.
‘It’s just that... I got worried, you know, when she didn’t arrive this morning.’
So much for not thinking about the investigator… But they had not had an appointment to see their client that morning. The question must have been visible on her face.
‘ She has been stopping by in the mornings, making sure everything was ok. My dad… He gets forgetful at times and she reminds him to give me money for groceries and stuff. And we talk. Just talk. It’s nice…’
The girl blushed slightly, making Alicia’s heart jump. Had her earlier snarky assessment been right? She was surprised by the revelation though and felt slightly guilty. She knew about Jonas condition and yet she had done nothing to ensure the safety of the young woman who now depended on him.
‘ But then this morning, she didn’t and… Well… Yesterday my mom came by, and… I just wanted to…’
Much to Alicia’s horror, the girl in front of her suddenly, unexpectedly succumbed to tears. The shocking of her shoulders was immense and made the tiny creature convulse with sadness. Placing the box of tissues she always had at hand for these situations in front of the girl, she moved closer, instinctively wanting to reach out and put her arm around her. Comfort her. As she would her daughter. But as she carefully touched a shoulder, the jerk in which Alex’ pulled back was almost violent, and Alicia found herself, shocked, take a step back.
‘ Woaaa, take it easy there, tiger.’
Kalinda’s smooth voice seemed to fill the room and Alicia’s neck twinged as she moved her head to look at the woman. The investigator entered the office with ease, as if it was hers, and smiled, genuinely, at her. Or at least what seemed genuine. Probably Kalinda did not even know the meaning of the word.
Anger at the other woman, and, even more so, at herself, painted her thoughts with a dark sarcasm she was not used to. It was almost as if she heard the investigators voice in her head. She wanted to… Do… Something. Demand her to leave, flee herself, hit her, kiss her. Anything that would bring Kalinda off balance. Wait.. What? Kiss? Of course she had meant kick. Or had she?
Kalinda’s greeting sounded casual, as it had sounded every day. But this day… Last night… A name… Had made everything different. The tone however made it quite clear to Alicia that Kalinda did not know that. That to her, things were quite the same.
So… Peter hadn’t told her. He had not run to his girlfriend to whine his wife had found out about them.
She pressed out the word with effort and saw how Kalinda looked at her strangely, on the verge of saying something.
The girl had jumped up at the entrance of the investigator and now threw herself in her arms, trembling with more than just the tears she was shedding. As Kalinda looked, helplessly, at Alicia over the girls shoulder, the attorney simply shrugged and sat back down. Seeing how the investigator stood there, her hands for a long time useless next to her body before she brought them up. Leaning back and pressing her fingers together, Alicia just watched them, slightly amused with how clearly uncomfortable Kalinda was feeling at this moment.
Using the time her non-intervention was giving her to think, Alicia saw the investigator, who had frozen at the moment of the touch, slowly start to thaw. Wrapping, tentatively, her arms around the young girl. Alicia didn’t know what it was that gave her the insight, but she was just as sure it was true as she had been the night before when Wiley had given her the information. She had been wrong before. Her client was not in love. Her client was terrified. She saw in Kalinda’s eyes that the investigator came to the same conclusion. And even though she resented their connection, over anything, right now, she had to let the teenager come first.
As the girl calmed down in the Indian woman’s arms, Alicia finally undertook action. The water she went to fetch felt useless, but Kalinda gratefully smiled at her as she took the paper cup and presented it to Alex, finally able to get herself out of the young woman’s fierce grip.
Kalinda had recognized the fear in which the girl had held her, like a lifeline. After the initial shock of the sudden and firm touch was passing, she had felt it in the trembling of the body, heard it in the frequency of the breathing. She did not know why the girl had chosen her to protect her, -or maybe she did, but she didn’t want to think about it- and she wasn’t sure that, if the same had happened a year ago, she would have been able to respond the way she did. It amazed her how much she had changed. How much she was changing every moment she spend with Alicia. For it was the lawyer that had induced the difference, she knew. Kalinda, most of the time, didn’t know if she was happy about the change, as it made her more vulnerable, but at this moment, she was grateful for it.
Guiding Alex to a chair, indicating her to sit, she sat down next to the girl herself, following the paper cup of water, that shook dangerously with their client’s hands with her hands, ready to catch it if dropped.
She hardly recognized her own voice, warm, understanding, urging. She sounded like a mother, although nothing like her own.
‘ My mom, she came to visit yesterday. She told me…’
The girl sighed, shivery placing the cup on the table before her again, looking up at Kalinda with a desperate look.
‘ She told me he woke up, and I just got so scared. Already before she told me the rest of it, I got so scared, and I didn’t know why…’
She could almost hear the question mark at the end of the sentence, but was not ready to venture a guess.
‘ What was the rest of it?’
Alex inhaled deeply, focusing on the investigators question, and Alicia saw how she slowly calmed down.
‘ She said… She said that he wasn’t angry, that he forgave me. She said that he was such a good person. That she was so lucky to have him, that she would like to see me try get a TV in my room if she had decided to marry the security-guy. Things like that. And then she said that I had ruined everything and that SHE would never forgive me for that. And then she…’
The girl’s voice broke and Alicia, despite herself, exchanged a look of horror with the investigator. She saw how Kalinda closed her eyes in defeat before she softly vocalized the thought they both shared.
‘ Did she hurt you, Alex?’
The girl did not answer and seemed to be distracted as she shook her head, avoiding eye contact. Kalinda felt her heart contract in a strange way, and pushed the words out.
‘But she did. Before?’
‘ She said I wasn’t her daughter anymore and then she just… Left…’
It was as if the girl spoke the words from another world, the lack of intonation somehow adding to the pain of the moment.
Not knowing what to say, Kalinda hopefully, expectantly, looked up at Alicia, who stood behind her. A fierceness in the other woman’s eyes momentarily shocked the investigator to the core, but the decided it must have been a trick of the light because when she looked again, Alicia`s eyes had softened and were now focused on the client.
`Alicia, I… Oh…`
Diane, who was walking in confidently, seemed shocked at the scene she witnessed. Alicia noticed how Kalinda had quickly pulled her hand away from Alex’ back, as if she had been doing something inappropriate instead of simply comforting an upset teenager. The gesture confused Alicia as well as Alex, who looked up and half-smiled at the woman she knew.
‘ Hi, aunt Diane…’
Her voice sounded steady, as the girl wiped away the remainders of her tears. It was impressive how quickly the young woman regained composure, and it reminded Alicia awfully much of Kalinda. Although that was strange because there had been so little times she had actually seen the investigator lose it in the first place. The similarities between them were painful, so painful even Alicia had to force herself to look away.
From the corner of her eye, however, she saw how the investigator stood. The demeanor she recognized and silently called ‘ Kalinda on target’ was oozing from her. She had been given a clue and it was time for her to hunt it down. Alicia had no idea which part of Alex’ story had triggered the restlessness, but she was glad it had, knowing, in a moment, the investigator would excuse herself and she would be liberated from the worst of the constricting sensation that prevented her to breath properly. And indeed, not too much later, Kalinda, leaving Alex safely in the hands of Diane, told them she had to check something. To Alicia’s astonishment however, Kalinda laid her hand gently against her upper arm and leaned close to ask a question.
‘ At what time is the hearing?’
The soft breath close to her ear made Alicia shiver and withdraw, stiffened and horrified by her own physical response to -what not even should be allowed to qualify for- a caress. Biting her lip to suppress the moan she tried to respond coldly, but heard her voice trembling as she told Kalinda the time. For a moment they exchanged a look, a look of question, a look of search. And it seemed like Kalinda was about to say, to ask, something more.
‘Ok, I’ll be back as soon as possible.’
She turned and, with a smile in her and Alex’ direction, left the room in a rush, leaving behind the lingering scent of a perfume and a very confused lawyer.