Flashes in the Dark – Rebecca

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Hi Litsters,

This is a set of disconnected vignettes about the women in Heather Franklin’s life. I have written them as a separate series to distinguish them from her stories which are more closely bound to her job as a lawyer. Your votes, comments and private feedback mean the world to me, so please do not forget to leave them.

Hat-tip to House MD.

As usual, a profound vote of thanks to my editor, Bramblethorn, for whom no praise can be too effusive.

“The burden of the world is too great for one man to bear, and the world’s sorrow too heavy for one heart to suffer.”

– A House Of Pomegranates, Oscar Wilde

*****

“Read out the number again.”

“Three hundred and fifty million dollars,” said the triumphant senior associate. “We got Holmann Pharmaceuticals on patent infringement and the jury gave us three hundred and fifty fucking million.”

“It’s a shame most of it will go to our client though.”

“Don’t worry. Whatever we get plus legal fees will mean there’s still plenty to go around.”

“There had better be,” replied a perky young paralegal. “I need a new convertible this year. I’ve got half an eye on a Maserati.”

“What are we still doing in office?” yelled the senior partner in charge. “Let’s go to the Ritz and celebrate.”

There were hoots and yells of approval from all directions.

“I’ll get going then.”

All eyes turned in the direction of that voice. Heather Franklin leaned against the lobby wall, covering the tip of her Marlboro with her hand. She lit it carefully and looked up at the crowd goggling at her.

“I’m not much of a party fan,” she said, taking the fag out to blow a thin stream of smoke into the air.

“C’mon, Heather,” insisted the senior partner. “After all, it was your cross-examination that won us the damn thing.”

“Thanks, but no.”

“What if we get a cocktail waitress for you to make out with?” snickered someone else.

“It might come as a shock to you, but lesbians don’t feel the random urge to make out with every other woman they see,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “If you must know the truth, I have an early dinner date.”

She stubbed out the remainder of her cigarette and left, leaving a whole series of jaws hanging open in her wake.

**

Per Se is one of the most high-end restaurants in the city, befitting someone of Heather’s stature. Even though her reserved table was removed from the bustle of the main floor, she could still see the occasional whisper and finger pointed in her direction.

She bided her time, smiling back once in a while. One of the perils of being a known media face was the instant recognition. She looked at her watch, still ten minutes to go.

Heather hoped the dating site algorithm had matched her with someone who could afford to eat at Per Se. She leaned back and let a few more idle glances flit her way. Right at the allotted time, she saw her favourite waiter coming, with her blind date in tow.

The woman looked to be in her mid- to late thirties. She had a graceful gait and fit body. Her hair was red, several shades darker than Heather’s, and it complemented her wine-red cocktail dress. As she came closer, Heather saw the expected gasp light up the freckled face. She looked like the cutesy girl next door who’d grown up.

“Wow… this is a surprise.”

“Does that mean I don’t have to introduce myself?” said Heather, rising to meet her date. They shook hands.

“Rebecca Maitland,” her date said, giving her a perfunctory peck on either cheek. “I have a double speciality in oncology and paediatric oncology and am the head of the department at Clinton Memorial.”

“A doctor, interesting,” Heather said, putting a finger between her lips. “Somehow I can’t seem to picture you in a white coat.”

“I actually was wearing one like half an hour ago,” Rebecca said, dabbing the sweat off her forehead. “Just got off an eighteen hour shift, mostly supernaturally boring meetings.”

“No actual patients?”

“I do that too, once in a while. As a department head, most of time goes in approving budgets, hires and other such uninteresting stuff.”

They were interrupted when the waiter brought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

“With compliments of the house, ma’am,” he said with a bow.

“Thank you,” said the lawyer and accepted his offering. She turned her attention back to her flustered and somewhat uncomfortable date.

“You don’t do this very often, do you?”

“Is it that obvious?” Dr Maitland asked meekly.

“Frightfully so,” replied Heather.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know I had a date till today. Some of the young doctors created a profile on a dating site with my name and details. They quite literally forced me into it, saying I work too hard.”

“I know the feeling. I just wrapped up a long trial myself. For the past three months, I don’t think I had a single weekend.”

“Was it another murder?” Rebecca asked, curiously. “I’m casino şirketleri sorry, I don’t mean to pry… but was it?”

“No, it was something much less sensational. Your run of the mill patent violation.”

“I must sound like a total flake here,” said the good doctor. “I promise there is more to me.”

“I’ll find out soon enough,” said Heather, beckoning for the appetiser to be brought. “I don’t suppose I have to give you my life’s story, if you caught the Belvedere trial.”

They shared a laugh before Heather spoke up again.

“What did your doctors say about me?”

“Born in Scarsdale, graduated summa cum laude from Yale in ’07, and have been practising law in this city ever since,” she rattled off. “There were a few more things, but I think I captured the gist.”

“There’s not much more to me,” Heather lied genially. “What about you? What’s your story?”

“I was born and raised in Syracuse, not all that far from here. My Dad was a high school track and field coach and my Mom stayed home to raise my brother and me.”

“Are they still in Syracuse?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes. My Dad died of thyroid cancer when I was sixteen. He’s buried there. Mom didn’t deal with it well, taking solace in the bottle. She’s in assisted living now. On a good day, she knows me by face. Her neurologists say her dementia is progressing fast and I’ll soon be another unknown face in a sea of faces,” she said matter-of-factly. “My brother, on the other hand, is a successful Wall Street broker. We had a bad falling out years ago and have not been on speaking terms since.”

Heather gaped at her, unsure whether to offer condolences or say something about her remarkably calm tenor. Rebecca sensed her discomfiture and explained calmly.

“When you see people lose their loved ones on a daily basis, it desensitises you to grief,” she went on. “Trust me, Heather, there is so much suffering out there that mine looks tame in comparison.”

“I lost my mother to ovarian cancer,” said Heather, taking a bite of her appetiser. “She suffered for one whole year before the cancer finally killed her.”

“In the case of my Dad, it was detected in the final stage itself, so we only had a few weeks to say goodbye. It’s what made me want to be an oncologist.”

“So you can see more people with cancer?”

“So I can save lives,” said Rebecca, taking a spoonful of braised tenderloin in her mouth. “At least that’s what I managed to convince my sixteen-year-old self.”

“You don’t sound entirely happy with that choice.”

“My job has its moments,” she admitted, taking a sip of the wine. “Sometimes, the definitive test comes back showing the cancer in an early stage. It feels rewarding to see the relief all around when they beat it early.”

“And other times?” asked Heather.

“Other times… it takes some self-prescribed Zoloft,” she admitted. “You’d think it gets easier after seeing it the first thousand times.”

Heather sensed she had touched a raw nerve. She mumbled half an apology and concentrated on the pale strips of salmon that had come to the table. Rebecca ate quietly as well for a few long minutes.

“Desyrel,” Heather spoke up. “It’s my poison of choice.”

“You sure picked a bad one,” the doctor shrugged. “If you were my patient, I’d totally give you a disapproving stare right about now.”

“Do you prescribe anti-depressants to your patients? To lift the gloom of their final days, even a little bit?”

“No,” she replied, cutting into her veal. “Some of my colleagues do, but I refuse. No amount of drugs can take away the reality that you’re living on borrowed time. The best thing you can do is stay lucid and spend what little time you have left with those that matter the most.”

“This is probably the most depressing first date in history,” sighed Heather, taking a bite of the poached halibut. “All we seem to talk about is death and dying When was your last date?” the lawyer asked.

“It would have to be back when Bush was still in office. I hardly have the time for recreation.”

“I have a proposal to make and I hope you’ll see it for the pragmatic solution it is.”

“Okay,” Rebecca replied, unsure.

“We’re both busy working professionals. The stars must have aligned for us both to get the night off. Who knows if we’ll ever even see each other again. I think you understand that a long term relationship is out of the question.”

She nodded, wiping the corners of her mouth.

“You know the usual drill – many dates, movies, Broadway plays before one of us finally woos the other into bed. It’s all very romantic, but what if we make an exception and skip to the end for once?”

Rebecca almost choked on her wine. She looked up, surprise writ large on her face.

“You want to have sex with me? Tonight?”

“My apartment isn’t all that far from here and I have my car.”

“Sex on a first date,” mused the doctor with a smirk. “Can’t say I’ve ever done that.”

“We’re casino firmaları lesbians in a Literotica story. We should be having sex at first sight.” Heather pointed out. “It’s a miracle we haven’t started making out yet.”

“That stereotype mostly applies to perpetual eighteen year old hotties,” came the light-hearted reply. “I doubt two women in their thirties would be as desperate to jump into the sack.”

“Let’s make an exception then.”

“C’mon, Heather. You can’t be serious about this.”

“Would you prefer a couple more hours of awkward conversation followed by a peck on the cheek and we never hear from each other again? I’ve been under a ton of pressure for months on end and I am desperate for stress release. Those bags under your eyes tell much the same story about you.”

Rebecca leaned back, the absurd sense of the situation sinking in. Heather reached out and put her palm over the doctor’s.

“For once, let’s do what we want to. Let’s have a memorable night. When I look at you, I see someone who needs a friend to talk. I could also use a friend too, even if for one night only.”

The doctor seemed unsure, still digesting the idea. Heather leaned forward and spoke again.

“I get it. I really do. You feel you have no one to talk to, no one who would understand the staggering weight you carry on your shoulders. I don’t know you and yet, I know you deeply.”

Rebecca sat motionless. Heather stroked her palm.

“Lonely, isn’t it?”

There was a soft nod on the other side of the table.

“It doesn’t have to be. Let all those shields down for one night and pour it all out. All I ask in return is you let me do the same.”

“You wouldn’t want to hear it.”

“No, Rebecca,” said Heather. “You don’t want to say it. I am trained to take it all in, you’re not. You cannot imagine the kind of things I am forced to keep secret because of attorney-client privilege. I hide secrets for the worst people in the city, I can take some for a friend.”

There was silence, as Heather searched her friend’s eyes for a hint of indecision. Instead, Rebecca smiled broadly and raised her hand.

“Check please.”

**

“Nice view,” remarked Rebecca, looking out of the thirtieth-storey balcony. “I bet you pay exorbitantly for it.”

“Yeah,” said Heather, putting down two goblets on the table and pouring them to the brim with the finest three-decade-old rum from Jamaica’s Appleton Estate. She lifted one of the glasses to her nose and inhaled the smoky aroma.

Rebecca picked a glass off the table and sat down with. Heather leaned back on the recliner, stretching herself out.

“Is this the part where I come onto you? Like in a bad porno.”

“There’s no lame background music, so I think we can refrain for a little while,” replied Heather with an eyeroll.

“What have you been up to since the Belvedere trial?”

“Don’t tell me the media’s forgotten about me already?” she replied with mock dismay.

“Sadly, they’ve moved on to that NBA team owner’s unfortunate knack for racist remarks,” said Rebecca. “Fame is a fickle friend.”

“To say the truth, I’m glad to be out of the spotlight. I had become an idol of sorts. I’d hate for everybody to see the kind of people I’ve defended since, the kind I usually have to represent in court.”

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to become a villain,” Rebecca quoted. She drained her glass in a gulp.

“What about you? I’m sure you get to play the hero at work.”

“More like the grim reaper. Usually, it’s about telling someone their lifespan has been reduced drastically. It hurts to see that look in their eyes, that look of disbelief turning to despair.”

“How many patients can you save?”

“Not as many as I would want to.”

Heather leaned over her onyx cabinet and retrieved her lighter. Flint rolled and a second later, she had her favourite blend of Marlboro between her lips. Rebecca watched her blow a puff of smoke.

“Those things will kill you, you know? Maybe not now, but they will.”

“They’d be doing the world a favour,” she said, undeterred by the dire warning.

Rebecca’s eyes shot up at the last sentence. She studied the nonchalant lawyer taking a few more puffs from her cigarette and asked.

“You’re not the same person they showed on TV. You look weaker.”

“Strength is a useful façade, but I can stop pretending when there’s no one around to notice.”

“I have a façade too. Today, I had to tell a newly married man he won’t live long enough to see the twin girls his wife is pregnant with. Every bit of me wanted to jump over the table, hold him tight and cry into his shoulder. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was to give him this news. Instead, I kept a straight face and gave him a treatment plan for chemo which might give him an extra month to live, and will be excruciatingly painful. His wife sobbed for the entirety of the appointment, but he listened to everything I said quietly.” güvenilir casino

Heather looked over and smiled weakly. The doctor leant to the side, resting her head on a cushion.

“Just another appointment. It was one of four I had today.”

“That bad, huh?”

“So what did you do today?”

Heather stubbed out the remainder of her cigarette and looked up at the ceiling, thinking how best to phrase her thoughts.

“There was the verdict in my patent infringement case. Other than that, I spent the day preparing a strategy to help a certain bank justify depriving a widowed mother of four kids of her late husband’s pension.”

“Did you have any second thoughts?”

“No,” said Heather brusquely, taking out a new cigarette. “It’s in the job description. The bank hired me for a particular reason and it was my duty to deliver, no matter how cruel the outcome.”

“Just doing your job, eh. Is that why you need Desyrel to sleep?”

“Among other reasons.”

“What about a relationship? It’s not as scary as it looks at first,” Rebecca chuckled, pouring herself another helping of the Jamaican rum.

“I’m more of a fan of lesbian bars and one night stands. Long term commitments aren’t for me,” said Heather dryly.

Rebecca took another sip from her glass. Heather spoke up again.

“Who was your first relationship with?”

The doctor composed herself, her lop-sided smile clearly showing the disinhibiting effect of alcohol in her system.

“Years ago, I was doing my oncology residency at Mount Sinai Hospital. There I met a concept artist named Esme Hill recovering from surgery.”

“The Esme Hill who won the Pulitzer last year?”

“The same. Until then, being gay was just an excuse to avoid dates from my fellow residents, but Esme was different. With her, life had more colour. She was so witty and her art was… out there to be honest… but it spoke to me. We would spend days at a time in her studio.”

“How was the sex?” Heather interrupted. Rebecca looked at her wide-eyed.

“You know, the sex. Don’t tell me you spent all that time together without getting it on.”

“I swear, you’re a dirty old man inside,” said the somewhat tipsy doctor. “It was your typical starry-eyed whirlwind romance, complete with sex hot enough to set the mattress on fire. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other at times.”

“What happened?”

Rebecca took a deep sigh. Heather understood that whatever came next would be hard for her to remember.

“The warning signs were all there. Esme loved kids. Whenever we went to the park or the mall, she would smile at every kid who walked past. She hugged any who came to her, and talked to them like they were her own. It was only a matter of time. I should have seen that day coming.”

The doctor turned away. Heather saw a few stray teardrops crawl down the side of her face, as her eyes closed at the memory.

“One day she came to me with several brochures from sperm banks in the area. She was so thrilled at the prospect of having children of her own. She discussed them animatedly with me. I thought I could go through with it, for her sake, but I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t.”

She shed a few more tears, keeping her face turned away so as not to show them.

“I told her I didn’t want kids and I wouldn’t be there for her if she went ahead with it. She was so distraught. She cried, she begged me to reconsider, but I didn’t. I didn’t see her after that day. The last memory I have is of her crying into her brochure.”

“You’re not a fan of kids, I take it then?” said Heather, moving closer. The doctor turned her face towards her. Rivulets left by tears stained her cheeks, tears she had held back for too long.

“I love kids. I always have. But I don’t want to have any of my own.”

“Why-”

“Perry Taylor,” interrupted Rebecca, her tone bereft of all emotion. “He’s eight years old. He is the most cheerful kid you’ll meet, always smiling and always full of life. He loves drawing and he loves fireworks. He’s looking forward to the fourth of July to see a fireworks display.”

She paused to stifle a sob.

“He has an aggressive variant of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He will not see the fourth of July. No matter what I do, he will live for another six weeks at most.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Every day, no matter how busy I am, I go to his ward, sit beside him and hold his hand. He tells me about how much he liked the fireworks last year, before his parents got divorced. I’m the only one he has left to talk to.”

“What about his parents?”

“His parents spend all their time in court, trying to get one over on the other. His use to them disappeared when they realised he wasn’t going to live long enough for them to wrangle child support out of each other.”

“That’s…” began Heather, unable to come up with a proper adjective.

“I tell him he’s going to be all right and we’re going to see the fireworks together, even though I know it’s a lie.”

That was the limit of Rebecca’s fortitude. She held her head in her hands and cried. Heather reached out and patted the back of her head. After a minute, she raised her head, her mascara messed up in a flood of tears.

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