Appealed, p.17
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       Appealed, p.17

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
 
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  summer, just before junior year—when you had a few of the lacrosse team guys here for the weekend? They were in Cashmere’s crowd of friends.”

  It takes me a minute to vaguely recall. “Yeah?”

  “I didn’t know they were here, so I came over to see if you wanted to do something. You were all in the pool. I was standing on the back patio, but none of you saw. You were talking about girls . . . about me.”

  My stomach knots itself and my eyes drag closed. Because I remember now.

  “They said I was weird. That I smelled weird . . .”

  My head snaps to her. “You didn’t.”

  Her voice is softer than a whisper.

  “And they said I was ugly. That they’d have to put a bag over my head if they wanted to—”

  “Kennedy . . .” I beg.

  Because I want to kill something. Pulverize something. I want to reach into her mind and wrench those memories away so she’ll never have to think about them ever again.

  “I left after that.”

  I grasp her shoulder. “They were assholes, okay? Stupid and cruel little dicks to say those things. I never said them.”

  “No, I know that.” Then some iron comes into her voice. “You never said anything. After they were gone, you came to my house and we hung out . . . just like normal. Because I was good enough to be your friend—as long as no one else was around to see it.”

  All I can do is stare at her, pull the words from deep inside, and give them to her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I was a jerk and a pussy for caring what they thought. But I liked you. Blond or brunette, designer clothes or a trash bag—I wanted to be close to you. Even then.”

  When her eyes dip, I lift her chin. “If I could go back and change all of that, I would. But this is where we are now. We have to move forward. I’m in love with you. And if it takes awhile for you to wrap your head around that—to wrap your heart around it—then I’ll wait. Because you’re worth waiting for. You always were.”

  • • •

  Things are upbeat again between us by the time we walk into my parents’ house, holding hands and heading up to my room for a shower.

  Until we come to a screeching halt in the foyer.

  Because standing there, staring at our entwined hands like it’s a living, breathing miracle—is my mother.

  “Hello, darling!” If she smiles any bigger, her face will break in half. “Kennedy, dearest, I can’t tell you what a joy it is to see you again. Here. With Brent.”

  “Hi, Mrs. Mason—it’s great to see you too.”

  There’s hugs and cheek kisses all around.

  I try my damnedest not to sound as disappointed as I feel. “What are you doing here, Mom? I thought you guys were in Saratoga.”

  “Your father’s back was acting up, so we had to come home.”

  That’s when my father walks past the open doorway of the library, on the phone and pacing, and his back seems just dandy to me.

  My eyes narrow on Henderson. And I smell a traitor.

  “Did you two have a nice day?” my mother asks.

  “Yeah, it was great,” I tell her. “We took the boat out. We were just going to head up and grab a shower.”

  So much for christening the ballroom with a blow job.

  “That’s nice,” she coos softly. “In case you had planned on other arrangements, I think it’s best that you both spend the night in Brent’s room. And use his bathroom as well—the other rooms in the house, unfortunately, aren’t prepared for guests.”

  Poor Henderson looks down right insulted. “Beg your pardon.”

  My mother waves her hand, shushing him. “They’re not prepared, Henderson. And that is that.”

  Now she’s just creeping me out. It’s one thing if I want to screw Kennedy ten different ways. But to think of my mother cheering us on—sitting on the sidelines with a flag in one hand and a foam cock in the other—is just wrong.

  “Okay. Thanks, Mom.”

  I lead Kennedy up the stairs. But we’re not in my room for more than two minutes when her phone pings with an incoming message.

  She sits on the end of my bed, reading it. From my swiveling desk chair I tap my forehead like a mind reader. “Wait—don’t tell me. Because my mother couldn’t stop herself from telling your mother we’re here—it’s a message from her. And we’ve been summoned to your house for dinner tonight.”

  Kennedy sighs and shows me her phone. “You should take your act to Vegas—you’ll be a hit.”

  Then she throws herself back onto my bed and blows a frustrated raspberry at the ceiling.

  • • •

  Dinner at the Randolphs’ is a formal affair. The men wear suits, the ladies cocktail dresses. I had appropriate attire at my parents’, and my mother loaned Kennedy a little black dress she picked up years ago in Paris. I’ll forever be grateful that it still had the tags on—that my mother never wore it. Otherwise, the massive erection it caused when Kennedy walked out of the dressing room could’ve been weird.

  The dining room table is long enough to seat thirty and fully appointed. Without the classical music playing in the background, the room would’ve been awkwardly silent through the first three courses.

  Because our parents aren’t talking—they’re all just kind of watching us. Expectantly.

  Finally, Kennedy’s father attempts normal conversation.

  “How’s your Nevada case coming along, princess?”

  I frown at her and whisper, “He has a nickname for you? Why does he get to have a nickname and I don’t?”

  “Not now, Brent.”

  Begrudgingly, I let it go. But she can bet her sweet ass we’ll be talking later—even if I have to tie her to the bed until the discussion reaches its full culmination. It’s possible I’m just looking for an excuse to tie her to a bed.

  “It’s going well. I’m confident I’ll be able to secure a second conviction.”

  Mitzy clears her throat, signaling that the observation portion of the evening is complete—and the examination segment will now commence.

  “Yes, that’s all very nice, Kennedy. But is there anything you would like to tell us? An announcement, perhaps, that it would behoove you to share?”

  Kennedy blinks like a blond Kewpie doll. “Nothing comes to mind, no.”

  Mitzy throws down her linen napkin and narrows her eyes at her daughter, like a sharp-clawed hawk. “I was at the Prince benefit, young lady. I saw Brent whisk you away after David’s tawdry proposal. So, what I’d like to know—what I believe all of us here are entitled to know—is what exactly is going on between the two of you?”

  The cross-examination force is strong in Kennedy’s family. Mitzy Randolph would’ve made a kick-ass attorney.

  “Brent and I are . . . friends.”

  And fuck me, the benefits are fantastic.

  Mitzy huffs. “Don’t be coy, Kennedy—you’re not good at it.”

  And I get why Kennedy’s reluctant to share with her mother. It’s like that scene from the original cartoon movie Cinderella. When Cinderella makes her own pink dress from scratch, and her bitchy stepsisters tear it to pieces. For as long as I’ve known her, there’s not a single aspect of Kennedy’s life that Mitzy wasn’t waiting to rip to shreds.

  But this’ll be different. Kennedy has me now.

  I throw my own napkin down, reach over the table, and take Kennedy’s hand. “The truth, Mrs. Randolph, is Kennedy and I are dating. We’re seeing how things go . . . enjoying each other’s company. Beyond that, it is really none of your business.”

  Kennedy is looking at me like I’m the prince that just woke her with a kiss, found her glass slipper, took her on a flying carpet ride, and defeated the evil witch.

  And we get lost for a moment—just looking at each other.

  Until my mother squeals loud enough to shatter the crystal glasses on the table. She claps her hands together. “You were right, Mitzy! You were so very right!”

  “I told you
, Kitty. Just like we planned!”

  Kennedy frowns. “What do you mean, like you planned?”

  And like the villain from a Batman comic, Mitzy reveals her devious scheme.

  “You’re thirty-two years old, Kennedy; you obviously weren’t going to get yourself married. Kitty and I knew that, once we orchestrated your and Brent’s reunion, things would progress. And look how perfect it’s all turned out.”

  “You didn’t orchestrate anything, Mother. Brent and I saw each other again at the party. We were assigned to try the same case.”

  Mitzy lifts her penciled eyebrows. “And who brought you home—making it possible for you to be at the party and try your little case?”

  Kennedy’s jaw hits the floor.

  “You said Father was sick! You said he needed tests!”

  “A means to an end, darling.”

  Her indignant brown eyes zoom to her father. “You had an oxygen tank when I visited! And the”—her hand flutters in front of her face—“the nose thing!”

  “That was your Aunt Edna’s oxygen,” her mother volunteers unhelpfully.

  Her father has the decency to look ashamed—but only a little. “I just want you to be happy, princess.”

  That’s when my mother reenters the conversation. “You know what I can’t decide, Mitzy?”

  “What’s that, Kitty?”

  “Summer or fall? June is classic, but the threat of thunderstorms will hang over the entire affair. And pish-posh to that ‘rain is good luck on a wedding day’ silliness. There’s nothing lucky about mud and soggy gowns.”

  “It will depend on the location,” Mitzi says. “Location is everything. We won’t have it in the city. Perhaps Palm Beach?”

  “Mother . . .” Kennedy growls.

  “Though the humidity in Palm Beach is atrocious. But definitely outdoors. White tents, green hills, sunset . . .”

  Kennedy stands up. “Mother—”

  “And white flowers!” Mitzy says. “But no lilies—they remind me of a funeral.”

  Kennedy stamps her foot. “Mother!”

  Mitzy makes a sound like a disgruntled hen. “Kennedy, really! What’s gotten into you? Is this any way for a bride to behave?”

  “You’re not doing this! You don’t get to be in charge!”

  “Lower your voice. All that yelling will make you break a blood vessel—and your complexion really can’t afford that.”

  “We will make our own decisions, and you will have no say in the matter, Mother! If we want to get married in Tahiti, we will!”

  Mitzy gives Kennedy an indifferent wave. “Yes, yes, that’s fine dear.” Then she turns toward my mother and asks her who designed Ivanka Trump’s wedding gown.

  “In fact,” Kennedy hisses to no one, “that’s just what we’ll do. We’ll get married in Tahiti!” She bangs the table. “In a bar!”

  “Is that a proposal? This is so sudden.” I squint as if I’m thinking it over, then nod. “I accept.”

  “Naked!” Kennedy yells at her mother, wagging her finger. “And we won’t take any pictures!”

  “If we’re going to be naked, we really should take a few pictures.” I insist. “Or a video.”

  But our mothers just keep on chirping. Kennedy and I might as well not even be here anymore—which is the best fucking idea I’ve heard all night.

  I stand up and grab her hand. “Come on.”

  She doesn’t come willingly at first, so I tug her along.

  “Doesn’t that bother you?” she complains, gesturing back toward the parents, who don’t even notice we’ve left the room. They’re having too serious a discussion.

  About us.

  “No, it doesn’t bother me.”

  “How can it not? How can they—”

  I cut her off with a deep kiss—one hand holding the base of her neck, the other at the small of her back—pressing her against me. Then I tell her, “Let them have their fun. Let them talk and plan their hearts out. When the time comes, we’ll do whatever the hell we want anyway.”

  I pull her toward the back door. “Now, let’s go for a walk. You can let me into your boathouse.”

  “Is that a euphemism?”

  I’m surprised she has to ask.

  “Yep.”

  17

  My parents are on the boards of several charitable organizations, institutions, and societies whose goals are close to their hearts—feeding children in third-world countries, bestowing iPads to inner-city schools, protecting endangered plant life in the rain forest. Fund-raisers—high-end parties that drum up donations for those endowments—are par for the course. And sometimes my parents hit me up to stand in for them, to represent the Mason Foundation.

  That’s how Kennedy and I end up walking through the arched doors of the Smithsonian Institute the following Thursday night, for a gala supporting the creation of sustained clean drinking water in Africa. The room is lit with cool, strategically placed orange beams of light and bright, festive swaths of cloth draped across the ceiling. There’s a steady roar of chatter and laughter and the tinkling of champagne glasses as tuxedo-clad gentlemen and jewel-dripping ladies enjoy themselves thoroughly.

  Kennedy looks outstanding in a short, body-hugging ice-blue number with an off-the-shoulder neckline that gives the impression the dress could just slip off her at any moment. I’m going to test that theory later on. We have a drink and make small talk with the main organizer and emcee of the evening, Calvin Van Der Woodsen, an old acquaintance of my father’s.

  After a few minutes, Calvin’s called away because the kitchen has run out of purple kale for the garnish. And that’s when my wretched cousin walks up to us.

  “Hey again, cuz. Didn’t expect to see you tonight.”

  “Louis.” I nod.

  And he leers. At Kennedy. “Who do we have here?”

  “Kennedy Randolph, you remember my cousin Louis, don’t you?”

  Her lips draw together like she’d sucked an unripe lemon. I take that as a yes.

  “Randolph, huh? I used to hook up with your sister, back in the day. Claire . . .” Louis stresses the consonants in a sleazy kind of way. “You look like her. How’s she doing?”

  Kennedy stares him down. “She’s married. Happily.”

  “Too bad.” Then he points at me, spilling some of his scotch on the floor. “Speaking of marriage—from what I hear, I’m on my way to winning our bet.”

  Shit. I forgot about that.

  Kennedy goes pale, and I can practically feel her heart stutter.

  “A bet?” she whispers.

  “Yep.” Louis nods. “Thanks to you, Brent’s gonna owe me a ten-thousand-dollar bottle of scotch.” He winks at her. “I’ll think of you every time I enjoy a glass.”

  After he walks away, Kennedy turns her back on me. I lean in, hissing right against her ear. “Don’t do this—don’t you fucking dare. He was at the birthday party at my parents’ house, and he bet me that my mother would have me married by the end of the year. That’s it. So help me God, I’ll cut my other fucking leg off if I’m lying to you.”

  I spin her around and her eyes are wide, uncertain. Looking for some reassurance that I’m not sure how to give.

  “Do you believe me?”

  She inhales slowly. “I want to. But . . . it’s hard.”

  I curse under my breath. And wrap my hand around her arm.

  “Let’s go.”

  We pass Calvin on our way toward the door—I tell him Kennedy has a migraine and we won’t be able to stay for the rest of the evening. Outside, I spot Harrison parked down the street and motion to him with my hand. Then I get Kennedy in the backseat and press the button to raise the divider that separates us from the driver’s seat.

  For a minute, the backseat is silent.

  Then she says in a tiny voice, “Please don’t be angry with me.”

  “Angry at you?” I bark out a laugh. “Sweetheart, I’m furious with my younger self—I want to go back in time and punch that kid in
the nuts. And I am livid with the guy who messed with your head in college. It’s taken everything I have not to find out where he is now, where he works, buy the company, and ruin him.” I cup her jaw and soften my voice. “But I would never be angry with you. Not about this.”

  Her brows draw together. “Then why did we leave? Where are we go—”

  “You don’t trust me. So we’re going back to my place, and I’m going to make love to you until you do.”

  Great plan, right? I think so too.

  Her eyes go golden with heat. “That . . . could take awhile.”

  “Then it’s a good thing my stamina is unparalleled. We’re screwing until you trust me—or we starve to death—and that’s final.”

  She sounds breathy. Excited. “Harrison would never let us starve.”

  I wink. “Exactly.”

  • • •

  Two days later, Kennedy’s still at my house. As I pet her awake, she tells me if she has one more orgasm—even a little one—she’ll drop dead. So, I take pity on her and go for a run. When I get back, she’s curled up on the chaise longue in the living room, wearing a pair of my blue-and-white-checkered boxers and a Green Lantern T-shirt. Her soft hair falls over her shoulder as she turns the page in a brief and sips her coffee.

  And warmth blooms in my chest and down my arms—making my fingertips tingle. With the rightness of it all. What did Waldo say about relationships? Satisfaction. Having her in my house, wearing my clothes—it’s so much more than satisfying. It’s fucking joyous. Exuberantly fulfilling in a way I can’t possibly describe.

  I still want to live my life free—but I want to live it free with her.

  Kennedy must feel me watching, because she peeks up. “Everything okay?”

  I nod, slowly smiling. “Yeah—everything’s perfect.”

  I kiss the top of her head as I walk past, heading up the steps to take a shower. When I walk out of the bathroom with the towel around my waist, I hear voices coming from downstairs. One definitely Kennedy’s, the other too deep to be Harrison. Still dripping, I walk down the stairs—and listen.

  “. . . you know his family. But you need to understand that we’re his family too. Don’t fuck with his head.”

  That’s Jake—talking to Kennedy in my living room. There’s no hint of a threat in his voice; he’d cut his tongue out before he’d ever threaten a woman. But he has this way of putting things that makes the simplest sentence sound like a warning.

  “You think I could do that, Mr. Becker? Fuck with Brent’s head?” Kennedy sounds almost surprised.

  “Watching the way he’s turned himself inside out over you the last few weeks—absolutely.”

  There’s a pause, and I imagine the look on her face, her stance—the way her eyes probably narrow, her arms cross, and her hips cock—like when she’s in court, sizing up her adversary. “You’re very protective of him, aren’t you?”

 
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