Patty stared at her one time employee and long time nemesis Ellen Parsons from behind the vast expanse of her desk, this was getting beyond a joke. Every once in a while the younger woman would turn up in her office like a bad penny. They would spar a little, trade insults and accusations before Ellen would stomp out, or Patty would throw her out, only for one or the other to make contact a few months later and the whole charade would start again. It was confusing, exhausting, and extremely arousing. One of these days she was going to slam that girl against the nearest wall and......
“Patty, are you even listening to me?”
“Are you coming to the point any time soon?”
Patty smiled acidly, she could not keep doing this, it was wearing on her nerves and she seemed to be losing the upper hand. The young woman was getting further and further under her skin. She had been in her office less than five minutes and already Patty could feel her blood pressure climbing dangerously.
“The Stevens file is incomplete, I thought we agreed....”
“Why would you think that? Everything we have is there.”
Ellen could think of a myriad of reasons to believe Patty was holding out on her, the chief one being that Patty Hewes was as trustworthy as a cornered snake.
“So you don't have a new witness?”
Ellen pinned the older woman to her chair with a hard look, she was fishing they both knew it but Tom had let something slip over drinks on Tuesday that made Ellen's antenna twitch.
“A new witness? If I had I would have declared it. How was Tom the other night by the way? Is the new baby keeping him busy? I don't think he's getting enough sleep, his concentration isn't what it should be.”
Ellen smiled then and her posture relaxed, Patty had probably set Tom up with bogus information just to see if he would pass it on. Well that was his problem now. The infernal woman never stopped playing games and baiting traps. Her eyes slid over Patty’s slight figure leaning back in her office chair, she had on a blue striped shirt, Ellen thought the colour suited her, it brought out her eyes. The buttons were undone practically down to her cleavage, her gaze stuck there momentarily mesmerised by the scattering of freckles that adorned the fair skin. When her eyes snapped back up she found Patty staring back with an amused expression on her face.
“Was there anything else Ellen?” she inquired, her voice held a slightly mocking tone.
“No, I just don't want any nasty surprises.”
“Nor do I.”
Patty’s head went back down to the papers strewn across her desk effectively dismissing the younger woman.
“Are you almost done? I thought you might like to um.... to go for a drink”
Ellen looked as surprised as Patty did that the invitation had fell out of her mouth. Now the words dangled between them like an olive branch or a grenade without a pin. Patty let the silence stretch out till it became uncomfortable.
“Ok, it doesn't matter, you're obviously busy...”
“No, I'm finished here but don't you have to rush back to Josh or whoever is it?”
Patty furrowed her brow and removed her glasses, she was enjoying herself now.
Ellen brushed that one off easily.
“I just thought you might like some company rather than go back to your empty apartment. It's up to you.”
Patty laughed, she had to admire the girls spark, there was no one else in the world who would consider saying something like that to her.
“Ok, why not? Give me five minutes to clear my desk.”
Ellen was now not sure this was a good idea. Patty seemed particularly playful tonight and past experience told her that wasn't always a good sign. She retrieved the blond woman's coat from the closet and gallantly held it open for her to put on. Patty quirked an eyebrow but played along with an exaggerated thank you. Ellen's hands unnecessarily smoothed the fabric across slender shoulders giving them a slight squeeze as she stepped away.
“Are you hungry?”
“No I ate at my desk earlier, what about you?”
“Same here, just a drink then?”
“Alright, just a drink, nowhere with loud music.”
“Got it, no loud music.”
They got into the elevator and after what Ellen considered to be the slowest descent in history they left the building into the crisp October evening air. Ellen avoided the bar nearest to the Patty’s office, too many prying eyes would find it a little strange to see her socialising with the blond given their past history. So just as she sensed Patty was about to start complaining about walking this far in her four inch heels she took the older woman's arm and steered her into an old haunt she used to frequent with David and their friends when they first settled in the neighbourhood.
Patty sat in the nearest empty booth with a grateful sigh. Standing only five four in her stockinged feet she considered the shoes to be a necessary evil. Ellen was pleased to find the bar had changed little in the last couple of years. It was also relatively quiet due to the time. At nine thirty it was too late for the after work crowd who had already moved on and too early for the late night revellers. Inoffensive music played in the background the lighting was discreet without being too dark. Ellen returned from the bar with two cocktails she purchased on impulse. Patty eyed the drink warily. Ellen gave her an innocent smile and tipped her glass towards the blonds.
“Live a little.”
She teased taking a large swallow. Patty shrugged in resignation and did the same, it tasted as lethal as it looked. Ellen cast round her mind for a conversation opener and came up empty, she took another gulp of her drink. Patty wondered why on earth she had agreed to this, she was tired and suddenly the thought of her empty apartment seemed rather appealing. Ellen looked helplessly round the bar and Patty took the opportunity to regard her drinking companion. Ellen was no longer the wide eyed innocent that Patty employed three years ago. In her place there was a woman who looked older than her twenty nine years, who’s eyes had witnessed too much and who's heart had hardened against loss and pain. Patty knew she was to blame for most of that, sometimes she was sorry she hired the girl at all.
“How are you Ellen? Really”
Ellen rose both brows and turned to face the woman who she could never quite shake off.
“I'm fine, you know working hard, getting by.”
On impulse Patty voiced the thoughts she had been trying to ignore for sometime.
“You capable of so much more than that, come back and work with me.”
“You mean for you.”
The older woman ignored the barb and earnestly carried on.
“There’s so much more we could achieve, one day Ellen it could all be yours. I could see myself handing over everything I’ve built to you.”
“For what? Don't tell me you've developed a conscience at this late stage Patty.”
Just like that they were back to square one. Patty sighed in resignation.
“I think it's time I left.”
She stood, disappointed but not really surprised. This back and forth had gone on long enough. She carried tremendous guilt for what had occurred during the Frobisher investigation, Ellen's retribution nearly finished them both. It was time to draw a line under everything for good. Neither of them could move on when they spent so much time ripping open old wounds.
“Don't go.” Ellen still looked angry but her tone was soft.
“what do you want Ellen? It would be easy enough to avoid me if you really wanted to.”
“Out of sight, out of mind. It doesn't work does it? We’ve tried that.”
“I don't know why I let you do this.”
Patty’s voice was barely a whisper.
“Yes you do.” Ellen signalled for another round.
They sat back avoiding each others eyes. Their drinks arrived, Patty tried a different tack.
“Have you ever thought about moving away, making a fresh start.”
“Its crossed my mind, but it would be running away. I'd still feel the same wherever I was. Is that what you want Patty, do you want me out of your life for good?”
The older woman exhaled and took another large swallow, she felt like they were inching their way towards the edge of a cliff.
“Feel the same about what?”
“Everything. I just can't let it go. I don't want us to be like this. I can't forgive you, but I can't seem to stay away either.”
Patty was acutely uncomfortable discussing this. No amount of fancy footwork or verbal manoeuvring could justify her actions as the Frobisher case imploded. She could bury it in some dark dusty corner of her mind but then Ellen would come along dig it up, and the seemingly endless cycle would begin again. She felt she would spend the rest of her life atoning for a disastrous decision made during the most stressful period of her professional life. Yet when Ellen had the opportunity to extract the ultimate revenge she couldn't do it.
“I can't rewrite the past. You have got to look forward, concentrate on your career. You're still so young, you can achieve great things.”
“I'm not you Patty, I'll never be you.”
“I wouldn't want you to be. It's getting late, I'm going home. Can I drop you off?”
Suddenly Patty was desperate to get away, to escape to the safe haven of her apartment and drink all the memories into oblivion. To wake up in the morning to a new day with new problems and no time for guilt and regrets.
“You can't keep running away from this, from me, I know it haunts you. I know you're sorry.”
“Then leave it alone Ellen, for gods sake. Leave it alone.”
Patty was on her feet and halfway to the exit before Ellen could stop her. She threw some bills at a passing waiter and hurried out after the older woman.
“Patty wait, I'm sorry.”
She caught Patty just about to get into a cab. Ellen thought for a moment there was the glint of tears in her eyes and her chest tightened with the knowledge she was responsible for them. Despite everything, she still craved the attention of the woman in front of her.
“Get in, I'll drop you off.”
“Your place is nearer.”
“Whatever Ellen, just get in.”
The cab ride was largely silent, both occupants gazed out of the side windows trying to settle fraught emotions and frayed nerves. Patty cursed herself for once again allowing Ellen to bulldoze through her defences. Whatever progress they managed to make could be undone in seconds with a well directed barb or insult perceived or intended. She didn't even know why they tried anymore. Lately they had gone way beyond their mutual twisted mind games. Whatever the end game was, Patty felt it was in sight. Ellen sat and brooded on the reasons she kept throwing herself back into the older woman's orbit. Truthfully when she stayed away, she missed the arguments, the trading of blows. she missed her. She missed her brilliance, her sharp mind and razor like wit. No one measured up, no one even came close. She exhaled noisily and glanced over at her travelling companion as the cab pulled up outside Patty’s building.
“Can I come up for a drink?”
“I don't think that's a good idea Ellen, it's been a long day, go home and get some rest.”
“Please? Let's not part on bad terms. I know you miss me...”
Once again Patty was undone by the chance of prolonging the agony of the younger woman's company. She smiled wryly.
“How can I miss you when you won't go away?”
By the time they entered the building they were both laughing.
Being in Patty’s apartment unnerved the young woman, she had so many memories of this place, of them sat together working, talking over strategies, sharing drinks and impromptu meals. There were some good times. Times when Patty made her feel like she was special and her opinions mattered, when she felt cared for and she knew where she was going. It felt like an age ago now. She didn't know what she wanted anymore. Ellen sat in the large bare room, accepted her drink, kicked off her shoes and tucked her legs to the side. Patty took her usual seat and unconsciously mirrored the pose. She read Ellen's mind with the ease of familiarity. She tipped her drink towards the younger woman.
“Just like old times.”
“I miss them.” Ellen's voice was thick with emotion.
“I miss them too.”
It was as close to an acknowledgement of their relationship as either had ever got. It seemed to stun them into contemplative silence. For once Patty held her tongue. She had waited and waited for Ellen to come to terms with her feelings. She had endured the fights and recriminations, god knows she deserved whatever the girl threw at her. It was the uncertainty she couldn't tolerate. Perhaps they had reached a stalemate, neither seemed willing or able to make the final move. There was no trust on either side, she doubted there ever would be. Yet here they were, sat in each others company the air so thick with tension it was almost tangible.
Ellen could feel it too. She stole glances at the woman she had raged against for what felt like an eternity. Now all she wanted was to reach out and close the distance between them. She wondered if it was possible after all the years spent hurling insults and trading blows. Her heart betrayed her brain at every turn. She wanted to finish Patty but when she had the chance she didn’t take it. She tried to stay away but then would manufacture an excuse to return. She wanted Patty to hurt and suffer the same way she had but found she was aghast when she saw pain in the older woman's eyes. It was hopeless, perhaps in some perverse and twisted way they were made each other.
“What is it Ellen?”
Patty knew this was her chance. The chance for what? she berated herself. What could they ever have?
“Can I stay here tonight?”
Ellen addressed the words to the expanse of wall in front of her.
“I think you should go home.”
Ellen's eyes filled with tears. Patty leaned across the distance between them and took her hand. She loved this woman, she loved her so much it physically hurt. This was the end game, it was time to let go. Ellen deserved so much more than Patty could ever give her. It had to stop whatever it cost her.
“Go home.” she said it again, gently.
Ellen stood and gathered her belongings, she gave Patty one last long look. It said everything she couldn't, for Patty it was enough.
“Thanks for the drink, I guess I'll see you around.”
They didn't kiss goodbye. Ellen turned and left closing the door silently behind her.