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What am I doing? Rhetorical question. I know what I’m doing. This just isn’t where I thought I would be at thirty-four. No, not this bar. Starting over with a brand new career. I had a job (emphasis on “had”). Not a great job, but a good job. And I suddenly decided I needed law school. No one needs law school, by the way. Now I’m thirty-four, out of law school; I’ve passed the bar exam, but am unemployed. With a capital U. I’m too old for this shit.
Yes, I’m signed, thank god, but one’s love life is only part of one’s life, right? So after finishing law school with a bunch of snot-nosed twenty-five-year-olds (no offense), I’m starting over. Starting over sucks, FYI.
So the seeming failure of my ill-conceived master plan led me to a bar on a Wednesday night (not like it’s a work night for me) to commiserate with my BFF, Logek. Yes, that is her real name.
“Seriously. It’ll work out. You’re brilliant. You’re talented. Fuck ’em,” Logek said.
And this is why I go out with Logek when I’m down. She always has the right words, in the right order. Unfortunately, her usual pick-me-up wasn’t enough to get my eyes up from the bar.
“I know,” I said. My voice was muffled since my head was resting on my forearms on the bar. “I know.”
And she knew what was coming next.
I picked myself up from the bar. “But, I just wish I’d gotten a ‘We’d love you to apply again when you have more experience’ or even a ‘We think you’re an idiot.’ That at least might have been helpful. But after months of interning there for free to just get a ‘We went with a different candidate’? No explanation. Nothing.”
Logek gave me a frustrated face. She’s been talking me off this particular ledge for a week now. “Kate. What do you hate more than anything?”
“Oh, right. But what do you hate almost as much?”
“People who feel sorry for themselves.”
She raised her eyebrow. I let out a loud sigh and gave myself a physical shake.
“Kate,” she said. “You worked your ass off for them—for free—for six months feeling sure you’d get the job. Then they say, ‘Thanks but no thanks’? I’d say they weren’t the right fit for you if that’s how they treat their interns. Give it a couple months. You’ll probably realize it was for the best.” Logek hugged me and put my drink in my hand. “To bigger and better things,” she said emphatically.
I nodded, took a swig of my drink, and straightened my shoulders.
“So,” Logek said, a little louder than necessary. “How’s Jonathan?”
I smiled. “He’s good,” I said. “He’s been a doll through all this, of course. ‘Their loss, better things to come…’ All support, all the time.”
Logek pushed her heavy, blonde hair back over her shoulder. There must be a man around. “Some things matter more than others. Screw the idiots at the DA’s office. If they aren’t smart enough to want you, it only means that someone better will. And, in the meantime, you’ve got a gorgeous man who loves you and thinks you’re brilliant.” She finished with an overly bright smile, busting out her halogen-white teeth and her dimple. Yep. Definitely a man around.
Right on cue, a predictably attractive man strolled up behind Logek, pretending to order a drink. He was good-looking, but not my type of good-looking—a little too pretty. And he knows it. I hate that. But, Logek is a different animal and maybe he’s just her type. Best of luck, Pretty Boy.
Logek is my best friend. We’ve been friends since high school. She has signed five times and never had a single one go to term. Not me. When I fall in love and sign, I mean it for the entire seven years. I’m traditional that way. Of course, she always intends it when she signs, too; it just never works out that way. I guess, like the rest of us, she’s a romantic at heart. Every time she signs, she wants to believe it’s the person she will re-up with for life.
Pretty Boy paid for Logek’s drink and tried to charm her pants off. From the look she gave me, her pants are securely in place, but at least the drink was free. I smiled. Being with her does make me forget about my barely-on-life-support career. Which is her ultimate goal. Which is why she’s the BFF.
But because she’s signed five times and breached four times (one time the guy actually breached, if you can imagine that) she is perpetually low on cash and is always happy to accept a free drink. What do you expect when you are paying on four failed contracts? Moral of the story: sign well, or, at the very least, only breach when you’ve got nothing to lose.
“So, really?” the guy asked. I know where this is going.
“Yes, really,” Logek said, with a gloriously fake smile on her face. “It’s pronounced ‘logic,’ but it’s spelled L-O-G-E-K. Mom was a little heavy on the painkillers and Dad was off getting coffee.” Logek and I have told this story thousands of times. Her name is the ultimate icebreaker.
The guy looked appropriately dazzled. Naturally. Men are simple. All it takes is long, blonde hair and a name no one else can pronounce and they’re asking you for a pen. The stereotype about women always trying to get men to sign is usually debunked around Logek. Even when she has no interest, men want to get a pen in her hand.
I watched her big, blue eyes do their damage to a guy that, let’s be real, was no match for her.
So while Logek is paying off her two remaining breaches of contract, I’m about to let my contract go into automatic renewal. These seven years have flown by. Jonathan is every bit as sexy, funny, and sweet as he was when we signed. The contract is up in a couple of weeks, but, like most contracts, it has an automatic renewal clause. If neither of us contacts the attorney to notify of cancellation, it automatically renews for another seven years. So many contracts don’t renew and it seems like just as many don’t even go to term, so I’m a lucky girl.
With Logek and Pretty Boy engaged in conversation a couple feet away from me, I sipped my drink and casually (at least I was shooting for casually) glanced around the room in case I knew anyone here. Nope. Nice to know my luck hasn’t changed that much.
From the rim of my glass, I noticed someone watching me. Why is he looking at me? I’m wearing my token. I looked down at my necklace—a gold feather quill with a diamond at the tip. He knows I’m taken—it’s not as though I intentionally left it at home.
He walked over and stood in front of me with his back to Logek (which is hardly ever the case, I might add). I had to do the quick math (sad, I know)—if I’m five foot nine and I’m wearing three-inch heels and he’s at least three inches taller than me … screw it. I can’t do math sober—now it’s pointless. Whatever, he’s tall. He’s got dark, dark hair and light eyes. We were in a bar so I couldn’t vouch for the eye color—either green, gray, or hazel, though. Big eyes. Perfect lips. Holy shit. He’s beautiful.
He held out his hand. Big hand, long fingers, tan. Gasp. I shook his hand, politely, because that’s what you would do when any man offers to shake your hand. Regardless of his movie-star quality.
“I’m Adam,” he said in a deep voice. Figures. He does kinda make you think of original sin.
“Kate Shaw,” I said, trying to sound casual.
“Kate. I love that name.” I’m sure you do, incredibly hot guy, who is inexplicably hitting on me.
“Thank you,” I said, turning back toward the bar. Score one for Kate.
“What do you do?” he asked, seeming genuinely interested. He’s good.
“I’m an out-of-work attorney,” I told him, with a quick nod and an ironic smile. “You?”
“Oh … sorry,” he said, cringing slightly, acknowledging that he just stepped in it. “I’m in marketing.”
Of course he is. It’s pretty much the vortex that sucks up young, attractive men, giving them no actual job definition other than “marketing.” Translated as: I’m good at selling shit to people that don’t need it because I’m (incredibly) good-looking. Oh, Adam. I am so onto your game.
I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really? Just marketing? That encompasses anything from being a sign spinner to being an advertising executive.”
He smiled. “I’m not a sign spinner,” he said. Shit. He has a dimple. Whatever. Jonathan is six feet, gorgeous; has dark Latino skin, black hair, dark eyes. Hot. All that on top of him being the love of my life. Like this guy is going to sway me.
“Good,” I said, playing with the token on my necklace. “Too much sun is bad for you.”
He laughed. At my stupid joke. I narrowed my eyes at him, looking, I’m sure, bitchier than I intended.
“What?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Nothing,” I said, looking over at Logek who, unfortunately, was engrossed in Pretty Boy. Shameful.
Adam frowned at me. “You’re a beautiful girl. Why am I a dirtbag for noticing?”
Difficult question to answer. “You’re not. But it’s obvious that I’m signed. Maybe you should run along and find an available playmate.”
“I’m aware that you’re signed.” He frowned. “Does that mean you aren’t allowed to talk to a man?”
“No. I just like to be clear from the get-go. I mean, this is a bar. I’ve heard that, on occasion, single people actually try to meet in places like this.”
He laughed. “I’ve heard that as well. But I know that you’re not single. So can we move on?”
“So, what were we talking about?”
“We were just discussing what you do for a living.”
“I’m in advertising with Samson and Tule.”
Oh. They’re good. Even I have heard of them.
“So, Kate, what types of law are you interested in?”
“Right now, I’m interested in the kind that makes me employed. Well. Except signing law.”
He chuckled. “Not interested in signing law? That certainly would be an easy meal ticket at least. Suckers sign every day. And then breach the very next day. Steady employment.”
I smiled. “Most signing firms deal strictly with breaches. Spending my days with bitter, angry couples trying to deconstruct their contracts does not sound fun. Too emotional. Add in the child custody battles and the thought makes me cringe. Everything is sunshine and roses when people sign, so they aren’t practical about covering themselves.”
He nodded. “Yeah. People sign when everything’s great. And then one year later, everything is shit and they don’t understand why their contract doesn’t cover it.”
“But that wasn’t the case with you?”
“No. We did a practical contract with the typical re-up terms. No blinders there.”
He nodded as though he was thinking over what I said. “I sort of bailed on a buddy over there,” he said, gesturing to the other side of the bar. “I should let him know where I am in case he’s looking for me,” he said. “You’ll still be here?” he asked, pointing at the bar in front of me.
He poked his long finger against the polished bar. “Still here, right?”
I couldn’t help but smile. I nodded again.
I watched him walk away, broad shoulders, tall frame, and all. Good lord.
Now Logek turned back to me, ignoring the guy in front of her like she had been listening, waiting, for Adam to leave.
“Kate!” she hissed.
“Logek!” I said, sarcastically matching her level of excitement. No idea where it was coming from.
“You know who that was, right?”
“Adam?” I had a feeling there was more.
“I’m pretty sure that was Adam Lucas.”
“You’ve heard us talk about those guys before.”
She gave an exaggerated sigh. “Yes. He’s a contract killer.”
Oh. I knew I should know that term. I know I’d heard it mentioned, but I couldn’t recall the meaning.
“He’s one of those guys that only goes after signed women.”
“Yep. They’re notorious.”
“Why is that?”
“Why are they notorious or why do they only go after signed women?”
“The signed women thing.”
“I don’t know,” she said, reaching for her cocktail that was sitting on a napkin on the bar. She picked up her glass, holding the napkin against the bottom. I was never sure why people did that. “Maybe because they’re more of a challenge. Maybe because they only want women who aren’t looking to sign a guy.” She clearly thought the second option was the more likely possibility. It probably was.
Wow. A contract killer. After me. Insulting and exciting at the same time.
“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I said, momentarily slipping back into my sour mood. “An incredibly gorgeous guy comes over to talk to me, not you. I should have figured there was a reason.”
“Kate! Shit! You are beautiful! And smart! And a pain in the ass!” With that she gave a frustrated growl and turned to the guy that was still waiting for her attention to turn back to him. “Bill,” she said.
“Ben, this is Kate. Is she gorgeous?”
Perfect. Thank you, Logek. This is the cherry on the top of my sundae.
Ben looked at me as though he hadn’t realized I was there before and I had magically appeared. He looked into my face for a minute before smiling.
“Yes, she is.”
“See,” Logek said, turning to me with eyebrows raised. As though Ben’s validation was what was going to save me from a lifetime of insecurity. I rolled my eyes and she turned to the bartender and pointed to my empty glass. The bartender nodded.
“Enough,” I said. “Talk to Ben.” She frowned at me and turned back to Ben who had waited most patiently.
The bartender took my empty glass and handed me another gin and tonic. I wasn’t sure that I should have this fourth drink. Usually three is entirely ample to buzz my tower. But screw it. Tonight was the night for it. Jonathan was working late and, anyway, he deserved a break from me crying on his shoulder.
“Good girl,” said a low voice behind me.
I spun around and sure enough, there was Adam. Back just like he said he’d be.
“Good girl?” I asked.
“You are still here.”
“Do I get a dog treat? Or a scratch behind the ear or something?” I probably didn’t need any more to drink.
He just looked at me with the slightest smile. He leaned down to me, since he was tall enough to need to, and got close to my face. Too close. Close enough to tighten things in me.
“Do you want a scratch behind the ear, Kate?” he said, lifting his hand to my ear, brushing it gently with his forefinger. Well, I guess it was his forefinger—I don’t have eyes in the side of my head. It did, however, elicit an unexpected shudder from me.
“I’m good,” I said, pushing away his hand.
He laughed. “Okay, Kate. So you’re an unemployed attorney. What’s the plan?”
I was tempted to tell him it was none of his business. Or that I didn’t want to talk about it. But three and a half cocktails in, you bet your ass I wanted to talk about it. “I’ve recently been operating under the assumption that I would get a job that I, in fact, did not get.” Shit. Was I slurring? “So, I’m sort of regrouping.” Bullshit. “Actually, starting from scratch.”
“What sucks more is that I really wanted that job.”
Uh-oh. Tears. Close to the surface. I was not going to cry. Not going to. Dammit. A traitorous tear ran down my cheek. Son of a bitch.
He brushed his thumb across my cheek, wiping away the tear before I had a chance to. “I’m sorry, Kate. I get how disappointing that must be.”
I shrugged and took another drink of my cocktail.
“So,” he went on. “What have you been applying for?”
“Anything. Everything that is looking for a new attorney—which, by the way, most are not. What the hell was I thinking? I’m thirty-four and a brand new attorney. Why in the world did I do this?”
“Because it was a personal goal?”
I laughed and shook my head. “I mean, I’d thought about it, but really did it because I wasn’t happy where I was and couldn’t find anything else.”
“And where were you?”
“TV.” He looked at me, assessing. I was used to this. “Not in front of the camera,” I offered. “Behind. Sales, programming. Funny thing is—TV doesn’t translate to other fields. So I’d basically painted myself into a corner. Career-wise.”
Adam just nodded. Why was he even listening to all this? Oh, right—because I’m a signed woman and he’s a contract killer. I can’t even get hit on right.
“You know,” he said, pulling out his cell phone. “I’m a member of the Chamber of Commerce and they just sent out something about a new job site they were launching. I didn’t really look at it, but it might be useful. Here,” he said, without looking up from his phone. “Give me your number and I’ll text you the link.”
Give him my number. That seems imprudent. But my fourth gin and tonic was assuring me that it was for a completely legitimate, nonpromiscuous reason so I rattled off my cell phone number to him and he typed away on his phone.
“There you go,” he said, slipping his phone back into his pocket. “Maybe it’ll have some good leads on it.”
He nodded, smiling seductively. Or just smiling. With this guy, who could tell?
“So.” Subtlety was not in my vocab right now. “I hear you’re a contract killer.”
He laughed, but also nodded ever so slightly, clearly not denying the accusation.
“So you admit it then?”
“Why should I deny it? Although I do find the term amusing.”
“Why do I feel no need to deny it or why am I amused by the term?”
Why does everyone do that to me? “Why are you?”
“Why am I what, Kate?” Why does he keep calling me Kate? Because that’s your name, dumbass. It’s just that people rarely call you by your name. Like that first time, sure, when you’re being introduced, but after that, no. Even Jonathan—I get “baby,” “sweetheart,” “beautiful,” but hardly ever Kate. It’s sort of a thing for me when people use my name—when I hear it, it electrifies me a little, feeling oddly intimate.
“Only after taken women.”
“Hmm.” He leaned down close to me again. Too close again. “I don’t see the need to sign a contract with a woman to be with her.”
“You don’t have to sign. Lots of people date and never sign.”
“But women can’t help it. They ultimately want that. They are raised believing that relationships involve a piece of paper. The fairy tales teach little girls that a happy ending only comes when Prince Charming asks you to sign a contract to be his and his alone. I’m not saying there aren’t men with the same ingrained ideals—but I do think all women fall victim to it in one way or another.”
Hmm. Tell the truth or not? The gin said to tell the truth. “I did. What can I say? My parents have been re-upping since I was born. What about yours?”
I wasn’t sure he’d answer. So far this had been the “Kate Show” as far as sharing personal information went. “No. They were one and done.”
“Do you think that changed the way you feel about it?”
“No,” he said, smirking. “I think logic made me feel that way about it.”
At the mention of her name (sort of) Logek turned around, eyebrows raised in question.
“Adam,” I said, hand extended. “This is my friend, Logek.”
“Oh,” he said, smiling. He shook Logek’s hand. “Interesting name.”
“Isn’t it, though?”
He smiled and nodded at her. And then turned back to me. Like she wasn’t there.
“So it’s illogical to want to commit to someone?” I said, falling back into our conversation.
“No. Not for some people.”
“You don’t really believe that, though.”
“No,” he said, with a secret smile. “I guess I don’t. It just feels like a trap to me.”
“What about children?” I was seeing the allure of the contract killer already—I could ask these bold questions without being misconstrued. He knew I wasn’t testing him out to see if he’d be white-picket-fence material.
“What about them?”
“It’s kind of irresponsible to have them without being under contract.”
Hmm. I’d always thought so. I was wondering whether I was prepared to have this depth of conversation right now. “I think so.”
“Because. It provides for their future. It doesn’t leave their life to chance.”
“Did it do that for you?”
He smiled. “I can’t say it did that for me. I just think that there are plenty of people that will be good parents without a paper mandating it.”
“I think you’re the one being naïve now,” I said.
He looked disconcerted. I don’t think he had people challenge him often. Or maybe just women. I got the impression he wasn’t used to having this much depth in his conversations, either.
“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” I said. “I’m just saying that it’s possible that because it didn’t work for your parents, it shaped your views on it.”
Something flickered through his eyes momentarily. Some sadness or longing. It was strange how much I could read from his subtle expressions.
He shrugged noncommittally. “I suppose anything is possible,” he said, looking at me steadily. He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to get going.”
He leaned in again and gave me a peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you again, Kate Shaw.”
Copyright © 2016 by Erin Lyon