The afternoon of December 2, 2008.
Her hand's much smaller than his, the nails well-manicured but unpolished, and her palm is soft and warm but her shake has all the firm enthusiasm he could want.
Justin shakes a lot of hands. Only the good ones stand out.
The morning of December 5, 2008.
When she exits a cab right in front of him, her cell in one hand, her bag in the other, and both feet encased in sleek black heels that coax his gaze up her calves, it's hard not to smile.
"I'll be right there," she obligingly tells her phone, but she spots him and smiles around it. "I'm walking into the building as we speak."
She clearly isn't, but he smiles back at her as she takes the cell away from her ear and closes the cab door behind her. "Good to see you again, Ms. Reed."
"Kate. You can call me Kate if I can call you Justin."
"That sounds fair to me." Looking back over his shoulder at her once she's passed, he's amused to catch her half-turning to do the same.
"It's good seeing you, too!" Her afterthought is accompanied by a grin. "I saw yesterday's press conference. Has anyone ever told you that you're more attractive in person?"
He pauses, as surprised as he is gratified. "No, but I'll certainly remember it."
That grin on her face and the matter-of-fact rise and fall of her shoulders suggest blamelessness, but she continues to walk away from him. "We should talk again sometime when I'm not running into a meeting. Maybe over coffee."
"I'd like that," he calls after her.
The night of December 9, 2008.
Something -- paperwork? -- gets trampled under his foot about five steps into her darkened apartment.
"Damn it," she laughs, hurrying him past it, her hands trapping his at her waist. "I should've put all that away this morning before I left."
"You want to now?"
"No. No." Her hands guide his to the small of her back where they can meet, and she tiptoes to get closer to his height. "I'll do it later."
Later is good. Later is great. Her signals are loud and clear, and her lips don't need to tempt his. Freeing his hands, he palms the sides of her face, pulling her as close as possible, and dips down for an encore of the kiss that got them here in the first place.
She only spares a moment to turn on a single lamp, and it's enough to see them safely past her papers on the floor and over to the couch. Her fingers fumble with the buttons on his shirt, moving to his belt next, and he makes it his (almost) solemn duty to get inside her blouse and past her bra. Soon enough her skirt's pooled around her ankles, his pants have been kicked away, and he discovers that not only is she beautiful and warm and slick with anticipation but she's practically portable.
Later she drapes an arm over him and tells him it was the couch's first time. He chuckles and summons the energy to give the cushion behind him an affectionate pat.
The morning of December 13, 2008.
"I love this," she tells his chest, burrowing between his body and the bedsheets like she could go into hibernation until spring.
He smiles at the ceiling. "What's not to love?" Mornings, he discovered years ago, are a lot better when you've had sex the night before and wake up with someone you really like up close and personal with you.
"You're so modest, Justin."
"I think you're misinterpreting me on purpose."
Her laughter is warm against his skin. "It's only because you're cute when you smirk."
It's a whole luxurious hour later before either of them manages to dress to face the day, and once he gathers his things he kisses her forehead. "I'll call you."
Wrapped in a big green sweater, she grins at him as she pins her hair on top of her head. "You better."
The afternoon of December 16, 2008.
"It's me, silly. What're you doing?"
He smiles against his cell, glances toward the closed door. "Do you want the honest answer or something more exciting?"
"How about the exciting one first, then the honest one?"
"I'm thinking about the next time I get to see you."
Her exhale sounds either appreciative or amused; either way he can hear a grin seep into her voice. "That could be very exciting, but hold on a second here. It's not honest?"
"Well, to clarify, I have thought about you, Kate, but right this minute I'm in the middle of an e-mail. It's interesting, but believe me, it doesn't lend itself to the same kind of excitement."
"Then tell me the city of San Francisco doesn't need you to work late tonight. We can celebrate."
The surge of pride in his chest doesn't feel deserved, but he doesn't smother it. Instead he laughs and leans back, rolling his chair enough to allow his legs the freedom to stretch out in front of him. "I take it you won the Freeman case today."
She sounds a step away from cackling in glee. "Did you doubt me?"
He shakes his head. "Never."
The morning of December 17, 2008.
"You know, Kate" -- his hand, greedy, molds to the curve of her bare hip and tugs her back -- "I'm not complaining, but when you invited me out to dinner to celebrate I didn't think I'd be paying for it."
Lifting her head, she peeks over her shoulder at him. "You have to admit it's not much of a celebration for me if I'm buying my own drinks."
"See, that is why I'm not complaining," he points out.
She smiles, eyelids lowering, and turns toward him. "You got to take me out; I had a celebratory dinner with a few glasses of wine--"
"And the dirty martini."
"And a dirty martini," she goes on indulgently, pausing to lean in and kiss his chin. "It sounds like a win/win situation, am I right?"
Not ideal, he thinks as her second kiss lands on his lips, but definitely win/win.
The afternoon of December 24, 2008.
"Kate Reed's phone."
The unfamiliar voice stops his heart in his chest. "Ah, this is Justin Patrick. I was hoping to sp--"
"Oh. Justin." (It's easy to envision this faceless guy repeating the name for Kate's benefit.) "This is Kate's brother, Spencer. I've heard a lot about you." (Slowly the tension in his shoulders starts to unravel.) "I'm afraid Kate's out doing some last-minute shopping and left her phone behind. Can I relay a message?"
"No, no, that's fine." He can barely remember the last time he was jealous, much less the last time he was jealous because he was in love. It hits him sharply to think of himself that way -- to think of Kate that way -- but this December has been the best in recent memory, and a large chunk of that can be attributed to getting caught in Kate's whirlwind. "I just wanted to wish her a merry Christmas before I leave for the airport. I'll try her again later on."
"I'll let her know to expect you. She'll be sorry she missed the call."
"Thanks, Spencer. I appreciate it."
The morning of December 29, 2008.
Putting his pillow over his head almost muffles the assault of Kate's ringing cell.
"Ignore it," she demands, voice thick with sleep as she curls in toward him. "Ignore it. It's not important. It can't be important."
"Well," he reluctantly admits into the pillow, "it can be important."
"Ignore it!" She swats at his chest. "It'll only ring one more time before it goes to voice mail."
She's proven right, but now he's half-awake. Moving his pillow back under his head, he reaches for her, finding the hem of the shirt she slept in and raising it past her warm thighs.
"What're you doing?"
"I'm taking my shirt back." He opens one eye to see that both of hers are still closed, so he pushes the hem up to bare her breasts.
Her head turns away from him, her eyes too stubborn to open, but she does inch closer. "You don't need to."
"I do if I want it off you."
"And why" -- she sounds less willing to whine about being awake than she did a minute ago -- "would you want that?"
Lifting himself up, he rises over her, arms braced on either side of her head. "Because nothing turns me on like you ignoring your phone so you can stay in bed with me."
Finally she opens her eyes to look up at him, her hair fanned in dark waves around her face. "I thought having to argue your side of things made you all hot and bothered."
"That too. Or maybe it's just you."
She arches her eyebrows. "Maybe you're crazy about me."
He lowers to kiss the smug curl of her lips. "Fair assumption."
"Maybe," she adds once she's regained an inch of space between her mouth and his, "you want to do this all the time."
The night of December 31, 2008
She's late again, but he doesn't mind when she hooks her arm through his and raises her champagne. She's stunning in scarlet, smiling at him like the two of them have a secret nobody else at the party knows.
If he has one at all, it's that she had it exactly right a few days ago. He would do this every day.
The night of January 20, 2009.
"Justin," she hisses up at him as she tucks one hand in his and rests the other on his shoulder, "your uncle is creeping my friends out."
Even though he steps on the edge of her nice white dress, he smiles down at her for the sake of the pictures being taken as they dance. "My dad talked to him. I also told the bartenders not to serve him any more."
"That's my dress," she informs him sharply, all photogenic smiles herself.
"Sorry. Your foot wasn't supposed to be there."
She almost laughs, narrowly avoiding a misstep. "We should've practiced this last night. It could be the worst first dance on record."
It's true that the limo broke down, the person delivering the cake had the wrong address, one of the bridesmaids spilled wine on her dress, and Kate refused to let the photographer insert Lauren into any pictures of her with her father, but it could be worse. Even if she refuses to let him lead it could still be worse. They've pulled this off: they're married. No matter how hard it was to bring this together on such short notice and no matter what the rest of the night brings, the most important part of the evening is behind them. "Honestly, Kate" -- his smile feels more genuine now than it did when the music started -- "I doubt many people are watching our feet."
The night of May 11, 2009.
"I don't think I understand why you like this movie so much."
Mouth opening in surprise, she jabs his side with her elbow. "Are you kidding me? Justin, this is a classic."
He shrugs, draping his arm along the back of the couch so his fingers can get preoccupied with her shoulder. "I'm not saying it isn't. I just don't get why it's such a favorite for you when so much of it is black and white. It even tells you which witches are good and which are wicked."
"It's not all black and white," she protests as Dorothy and her friends skip down the road. "The wizard isn't what he claims to be, and sweet innocent Dorothy accidentally kills two witches." She holds up one hand. "I know, I know, but believe me, Justin, the book is better. It's been a while, but I was all over it as a kid."
"I'll have to take your word for it." Unfamiliar with the book, he nods to the television. "So Dorothy's house lands on a wicked witch, and before sister of said witch can do anything about it a third party, obviously not neutral, takes the dead witch's shoes and gives them to Dorothy. How would Kate Reed deal with this matter?"
"Well, if you insist..."
He flashes a grin at her. "I do."
"Okay," she says slowly, sitting up and straightening her shoulders. She points one finger in the air. "First we make Glinda sit her ass down while we find out if the Wicked Witch of the East had a will. If she did, she may have left those ruby slippers to her sister. I don't see why the Wicked Witch of the West shouldn't have first crack at the shoes. Dorothy's a total stranger."
"Does this make Glinda the Questionably Good Witch? How is Dorothy supposed to get home without the shoes?"
"Well, if they call me in early enough Dorothy still has options in front of her." She waves her hand at the movie. "Nobody here seems to know the wizard is a fraud at this point, and he hasn't left in the balloon yet." Laughing, she leans toward him until their shoulders touch. "Glinda would've been doing Dorothy a bigger favor if she'd given her a leash for Toto."
"What if Glinda knows? She definitely knows the slippers will take Dorothy home, but she doesn't share that information until the end of the movie."
"If she knows and comes forward with it we have to ask a whole new set of questions. Can the wizard still take Dorothy home in the balloon? Can she be persuaded to go with him even if he hasn't done anything to gain her trust? Does anyone even know what happens to the slippers after they're used for something like a one-way trip to Kansas? If it's possible and means never seeing Dorothy again, can I convince the Witch of the West to allow a one-time use of them? And are you done poking holes in one of my favorite movies?"
He feels himself grin again. "I wasn't poking holes."
"You were definitely poking holes." She tilts her face up to his and kisses the corner of his mouth. "Just sit back and enjoy it. Or sit back and let me enjoy it."
"Don't let me stop you." He shrugs easily, moving in again to press a second kiss against her cheek. "Tell you what: I'll even go open a bottle of wine."
"Mmm." Eyes shining, she pats his back encouragingly as he rises from the couch. "Best idea of the night, Tin Man."