The Good Wife, Will/Alicia
I lied,” he says.
(This is a full year later, and out of the blue. She’s the ex-wife of the state’s attorney. Her hair has gotten long. She’s leaning against the edge of Will’s desk, flipping through a plastic-bound deposition. He’s picking at the seams on a ball.)
“I know,” she says.
That stops him. He blinks. “You know?” Will asks, looking her in the eye for the first time in twenty minutes (eighteen months). Their trial starts in ten hours. His hands go very, very still.
Alicia swallows. “Yeah.”
“Are we--are we talking about the same thing?”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“Why didn’t you?”
Will huffs out a noisy sigh, stands up like he wants to stalk off somewhere. Alicia doesn’t move. “This is useless,” he says, voice rising. “These cyclical non-conversations we have. Have been having. They’re just...useless.”
“It feels that way,” she tells him.
“So then why do we keep doing it?”
“Habit?” she guesses. “I don’t know. Fear.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Uh-uh.” Alicia shakes her head (lawyering, objection). “I’m not the one who lied.”
Will considers that. “No,” he says eventually, quiet. “I guess you’re not.”
They stand there for a minute. They stare. They’re close enough so she can smell him, wrinkled and familiar, Will at the end of the day. He’s warm through his dress shirt. Her steady pulse thuds. “You know what I’m afraid of,” he mutters finally. She lays her mouth on his to make him brave.
“Ever made out in a courtroom?” he asks.
Alicia raises her eyebrows, smiling. “This isn’t a courtroom,” she replies. It’s two-thirty in the morning in a lecture hall in White-Gravenor; Will bribed a security guard so they could get in here and practice his opening remarks.
(“Like a dress rehearsal,” he reasoned, pulling her by the hand across the icy quad, snowboots and pajamas. “Can’t perform without a dress rehearsal, Alicia.”
“Do a lot of musical theater in high school, did you?”
“Absolutely,” he fired back. “Senior year I played Nathan Detroit.”
That stopped her. “Did you really?” she asked, imagining the jacket and fedora.
Will grinned. “No.”)
“It’s a mock courtroom,” he says now, strolling grandly across the floor with his hands in his pockets like he thinks he’s Atticus Finch. He’s wearing a tie over his sweatshirt. “For a mock trial.”
Alicia rolls her eyes. “Right,” she says.
“Right,” he echoes. He stops where she’s sitting at one end of the front row, puts his hands down on her armrests and leans over. He smells warm, like the bed he pulled her out of to come here, and this close up he looks nervous, which is surprising. “You think I can do this?” he mutters, glancing up at the vaulted ceilings. Alicia feels her heart move in her chest.
“I think you can do anything,” she answers honestly. He kisses her once for good luck.
Out at a dive near his crappy Georgetown apartment and halfway through a serious throwdown over Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alicia gets up to pee, comes back, and very calmly slips her panties into the front pocket of his beat-up leather jacket.
(This is before hell and handbaskets, January of their 1L; these are those few fleeting weeks when they can't keep their hands off each other and she's still the kind of girl who'll get drunk and use her underwear to win a fight. Months later, drunk himself and sleeping his way through a veritable cavalcade of Lady Hoyas, the he'll think maybe he made the whole thing up--
--but that's later.)
"Not fair," he says now, smirking down at her, shaking his buzzing head. Her hair is loose and curly. She looks incredibly pleased. "That's not fair, because you know I have a point--"
Alicia raises one immaculate eyebrow. "I'm sure you do, counselor. If you wanted to get to it anytime soon, I know I for one am waiting with bated breath." She takes a step closer, and Will feels himself start to blush. Never in his life has he been so well and totally bested. He kind of thinks he's in love.
"No, seriously," she continues, beer bottle skirting along her bottom lip. "What was the name of that article you were talking about before? The one from the Harvard Law Review? Because I think I'd actually like to go home and do some reading, you know, really bone up on my RBG."
Will's fist tightens around the warm bit of cotton in his coat pocket. He feels very, very alert. "You're a punk," is all he manages, and it sounds just a little like he's not getting enough air. "You realize that, don't you? You fight filthy."
Alicia smiles blandly. "I really have no idea what you mean."
"We're going to continue this conversation." He's a little closer into her space, now, one leg slipping between hers (he can play this game, too). He presses just the slightest bit, patient, waits for the hitch in her breath.
"Absolutely," is all she says once it comes; still, it's a real grin now, her whole face opening. "I look forward to it."
"Over breakfast, maybe?"
"Breakfast would be good."
They weave through the crowd, music thumping. Will reaches back for her hand.
The Good Wife, Alicia, Owen
Alicia gets home for Christmas her first year of law school, falls facefirst into her childhood bed, and sleeps like a dead woman for thirteen straight hours.
It's been a big few weeks, is all.
Once she’s finally conscious she spends the break in her coziest (rattiest) sweatpants, perching on the counter in the kitchen while her mom makes chili and watching reruns with her brother, flipping through magazines without actually reading them. She stares out the window in her bedroom, watches the neighbor kids stomp through the snow. She smiles a small, secret smile. She thinks.
"What is with you?" Owen demands finally, cornering her in the laundry room with a heaping pile of towels their mother instructed him to fold (Alicia knows he's going to do a shitty job on purpose with the hope that it'll make her so crazy she'll take over; she also knows it'll probably work). "You've been wandering around humming to yourself like a goddamn Disney princess since you got here. It's like there should be a pack of woodland creatures following you though the house."
"Shut up," she says, and she tries to sound aloof but she can't (she can't); she's grinning like an idiot. "I am not."
"Uh-huh," he says, patient. "Right. Who is he?"
Quick, defensive: "What makes you think it's a he?"
That piques Owen's interest; one elegant eyebrow shoots up (it's a family trait). "Is it a she?"
"No!" Alicia grabs for the towels. "God, give me those. I swear, you're a useless human."
Owen hands them over happily, hops up onto the dryer. "Then it's either a he or it's drugs. And I've met you, Big Sister, so I know it's not drugs."
Alicia doesn't really know whether or not to be offended by that. "It's not drugs," she allows.
Owen nods, like he’s more than willing to do this all day. “Ergo...?”
Alicia doesn’t mean to tell him. She and Owen are close, but that’s not the kind of person she is--the kind to blab, to spill open, to wave her secret heart like a flag. Alicia tucks her feelings away where nobody can find them (not even her, sometimes), a practiced hide and seek inside her chest; still, for the first time in her life she feels like she's got to tell somebody, like she physically can't keep it to herself. It's terrifying, frankly. She's pretty sure she’s doomed. "You know Will?" she asks, and God, God, she can't even say his name without blushing. "My friend Will Gardner?"
"The guy you went home with at Thanksgiving?” Owen asks. “I knew you people had a thing! I said it to Mom and she was all: your sister is focusing on her studies; also, men are the devil and break your heart and leave you with ungrateful children to raise all by yourself.” He grins. "Anyway, I was onto you, is what I'm saying. You and your thing."
"We don't have a thing! I mean, we didn't at Thanksgiving, we were just--I just mean--" She stops talking and busies herself with the towels: uniform creases, orderly and precise. "I don't know what I mean."
"Look at you!" He sounds positively gleeful, as if she’s a kid tying her shoes for the first time or a robot learning how to feel. "Oh, you're in trouble."
Alicia sighs, drops the pile, remembers Will’s hands on her face. "I'm in trouble, Owen."
"Do you love him? 'Cause you look like you love him."
"What?” She freezes, thinks of course and that’s ridiculous in the same fractured second. She’s twenty-three years old with hardly any experience to speak of; she doesn’t even know what love means. Maybe she really is a robot. But oh, the way he looks at her...
Alicia shakes her head. “I mean, I--of course not, I--we're not even dating, really--."
"Just mind-bending sex, then?” Owen snorts; he’s totally enjoying himself, the bastard. “So that's why you look so relaxed."
"Shut up!" Now she really is blushing. "Shut up, shut up, this conversation is over, we are not having this talk." Alicia yanks him off the dryer, thrusts the towels into his hands. "We’re done here. Go."
"Will Gardner," Owen says slowly, like he's turning it over in his mind. "Huh."
Alicia stays behind by herself for a moment, listens to the hum of the machines.
A week into summer vacation and Tai gets clocked in the head at another Val party, by a rubber-soled Doc Marten clog this time. She comes to and Travis is propping her up on a lounge chair by the pool. “You gotta be careful,” he says, looking concerned and adorable. “This is like, your MO now.”
Tai stares at him blankly. “My what?”
“Your modus operandi,” Travis tells her. “It’s Pig Latin. It means, like...a thing you do a lot.”
“Oh,” Tai says. She still cannot get over how people talk here. “Yeah.”
Travis goes into the kitchen to get something to put on her face, which is probably swelling up worse than Amber’s after her latest corrective rhinoplasty. There’s a beer pong tournament happening in the living room, and except for a blow-up doll floating forlornly in the pool, Tai is all alone out here. Since Cher started dating Josh she doesn’t come to as many Val parties anymore, and Tai is feeling sort of lonely and sorry for herself in the minute before Travis comes back and hands her an ice pack shaped like a giant Oreo cookie with a bite taken out of it. He smiles goofily. “It’s not real,” he says.
Tai laughs. “Thanks for the tip.”
They sit there for a while, not really talking a whole lot. She can hear the party clanking on inside the house. Even though Travis doesn’t smoke anymore he still smells like weed all the time, familiar, kind of nice in a weird way, and when she takes the frozen Oreo off her eye he’s just sort of looking at her like he thinks she’s really pretty or something, like how guys look at Cher and Dionne. “Can I kiss you?” he asks, and Tai smiles. She never thought Travis would be shy.
“Sure,” she says, and lets him. Her head spins, aching, bright.
Neiman’s sends her a postcard for a bitchin’ friends and family sale, so Cher tells Josh he needs to take her to the mall.
“Now?” he asks. He’s watching some grainy-looking movie on IFC, feet on the coffee table and a bowl of popcorn in his lap. He reaches up and tugs her onto the couch beside him, one heavy arm around her shoulders. It’s possible she thinks he’s pretty cute. “I’m busy.”
“Oh, come on.” Cher rolls her eyes, trying to keep her focus: downtown this very moment are a pair of Anna Sui platforms with her name on them, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to let a boy keep her from what is rightfully hers. “What are you actually doing?”
Josh trails the pad of his thumb over her collarbone. “Well...”
“Later. This is important.” She squirms around until she’s facing him. “Anyway, don’t you want to observe me in my natural habitat? I’m like a gazelle in the Australian outback.”
“I’m pretty sure gazelles live in Africa.”
Eventually Josh heaves himself off the couch with a noisy sigh--like there was ever any doubt about who was going to win that particular battle--and grabs his car keys. “Lead the way,” he says.
She really only means to look at shoes--Daddy’s been giving her a hard time about her credit card lately, and though she knows she’s got the situation on lock there’s no reason to antagonize him unnecessarily--but the fall lines have all started to come in and before she knows it she’s loaded down with an armful of dresses to try on. Or, more accurately, Josh is.
“Two minutes,” she lies, parking him on a tufted chair outside the handicapped dressing room (more space) and shimmying into a strappy black Versace. She gives her hair a little fluff and opens the door. “So?” she asks. “What do you think?”
Josh doesn’t say anything for a second but his face does that thing it does sometimes when he looks at her where he blushes, kind of, his mouth falling open just the tiniest bit. It makes Cher’s stomach drop a little. “Yeah?” she asks.
Josh recovers, swallowing. He clears his throat, rubs hard at the back of his neck. “Uh,” he says. “Yeah.”
Cher smiles and reaches for his hand, yanking him into the dressing room with enough force that they tumble backwards a little bit against the wall, door clicking shut behind them. Three hangers clatter to the floor. Josh looks super shocked in the second before he grins and kisses her, thumbs pressing into her hipbones and wet tongue moving hard over hers. Cher laughs. She closes her eyes and hears loudspeaker music, the soft whoosh of commerce and silk.
“Got you some flag cake.”
Jack glances up as Renee crosses the broad expanse of lawn between them, her bare feet sinking into the grass. It’s getting late: across Kim’s yard young couples wrangle kids overdue for bedtime, tantrums and laughter. Lonely crickets rub their noisy legs together. Renee hands him the cake, flimsy paper plate buckling under its sugary heft. “Thanks,” he says, and smiles.
“Don’t thank me so fast,” she says, settling herself carefully in his lap in a lawn chair underneath a lemon tree. “I shoved like half of it in my mouth on the way over here.” She shifts around a little bit, getting comfortable, bracing herself on his shoulder and peering down at the metal legs of the chair. “Is this gonna hold us both?”
Jack smirks. “I mean, you did just eat that cake.”
“Smartass,” she says, an elbow to his rib cage. She’s laughing, her lithe body moving in his lap.
They sit there for a while, watch the party, his free hand playing absently in her hair. She smells like sunscreen and frosting, like summer. It sets something aching in his chest. On the deck Kim is lighting citronella candles to ward off mosquitoes, flip flops and tank top and her chin tilted up at something Stephen is saying. When he glances back down at Renee she’s watching, too.
“You know,” she says eventually, voice low and quiet in the humid air. “All things considered, your kid’s really...”
“Normal?” Jack supplies.
“Yeah,” he echoes, and when he hears his own voice it’s like he can’t believe it, either. “Yeah, she is.”
Renee smiles and leans her head back. Jack presses his mouth to her ear.
The West Wing, Josh/Donna
Josh gets out of the shower at the Holiday Inn Express in Peoria, Illinois, pulls on a pair of sweatpants, and finds Donna passed out crossways on top of his hotel bedspread.
“Uh,” he says, and stops. “Donna.”
Nothing. A U of W t-shirt rides halfway up her back; three good-sized freckles punctuate the skin beside her spine like points on an interstate map. Josh swallows. “Donna,” he says, more loudly this time. He hesitates, then nudges her ankle a little bit with his knee. “Come on. Hey. You’re not supposed to sleep on top of those things. They’re covered in...substances.”
“Hmm?” she asks, rolling onto her side and exposing a pale strip of stomach in the moment before she scrambles awake. “Oh. Oh, God, sorry. Sorry. You said to let myself in, so I did, and I shouted that I was here but I guess you didn’t hear me.” She scrubs one hand over her sleepy face. “Actually, it’s possible I forgot to shout.”
“It’s possible?” he asks, and he means it to sound sort of charmingly snotty but she looks so embarrassed he grins. Josh sits down in the desk chair, puts his feet up on the bed: even after the shower, he feels like he got hit by a semi. He hasn’t slept more than three hours in months; he smells like industrial laundry detergent and hotel conditioner. Basically, he’s happier than he’s ever been in his life. “You got tomorrow’s schedule?”
“Yeah, right here.” Donna hands him a stack of papers off the cheap laminate nightstand. “The restaurant was closed, but I got you some Cheez-Its if you’re hungry.”
“Have you eaten?”
“I had chips.”
“Chips aren’t dinner.”
“Neither are Cheez-Its.”
“We’ll do better tomorrow.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she tells him, sitting up a little straighter, curling her knees up to her chest. In her pajamas with her hair long and loose she looks maybe seventeen years old. Sometimes Josh wonders what he did before Donna, although actually not that often because thinking about it makes him feel nervous and weird in his chest. “We did pretty well today, I thought.”
“Yeah.” Josh nods. He puts his feet back on the floor, leans forward and scrubs his hands through his hair. He’s twitchy, sort of. More than usual. “Yeah, we did good.”
They sit there and watch each other, careful. The AC kicks into life. Outside in the corridor he can hear CJ and Toby arguing about something, whatever they’re irritating each other about on this particular evening, their voices disappearing down the hall. Donna chews her bottom lip. “Well,” she says finally. “I should go.”
“Yeah,” Josh says, not moving. “It’s late.”
“Let’s say 5:15.”
Donna nods, still sitting on the mattress. Josh is oddly aware of his heart. He thinks of maps and legends, of places he hasn’t been yet but might like to go, and when he kisses her backwards into his rented bed she makes a noise that sounds like home.
Neela leaves her wallet on the coffee table by mistake, so Ray brings it out to her when he sees that the ambulance is parked in the bay. “Leave the house in a hurry, did you?” he asks. Lately both of them have gotten into the habit of watching Saved by the Bell reruns on TBS until the last possible second before they have to catch the train to work. Neela is weirdly obsessed with the Tori episodes.
“It was the one with the sock hop!” she confesses, tossing the wallet into her backpack. She’s sitting in the back of the ambulance, feet dangling off the edge like a little kid. Sometimes Ray forgets how small she is, like the sheer force of her personality takes up extra space or something. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Hey, Barnett.” Neela’s riding with that douchey EMT Gates, who appears in the bay with a turkey sandwich and a Mountain Dew. Ray hates that guy, sort of irrationally. Even his choice of beverage is annoying. “How’s the shiner?”
Ray rolls his eyes. He swears to God, every single person in Cook County knows he got his face bashed in by the vengeful father of his accidental grade school girlfriend. His whole face aches. It has not been the best week of his life. “Okay, I guess.”
Gates nods, nudges Neela in the arm in a friendly way Ray doesn’t entirely appreciate. “You ready, Mayday?”
Neela, to her credit, looks sort of nauseated. “Yup,” she says dully. “I’m ready.”
Ray doesn’t move. He doesn’t like the way this guy is looking at her, like he’s just waiting to pounce with his fake charm and early-90s Michael Bolton looks. Ray doesn’t like this guy’s hair, either. It seems like maybe he got a perm. “Well,” he says eventually. “Have a good day, honey.”
Neela gives him a funny look. “Uh, you too, dear.”
“I’ll see you tonight when you get home.”
And now she realizes what he’s doing, is giving him a kind of really, Ray? exasperated look. He expects her to call him out on his adolescent lameness but instead she actually plays along. “Shall I bring home dinner?” she asks dutifully, batting her eyelashes a little.
“Nah,” he says. A crazy idea occurs to him: just to see if he can get away with it, he grabs her face and plants a smacking kiss on her mouth. She tastes like beeswax, which he happens to know is what she puts on her lips. “I’ll cook.”
Ray grins and strolls into the hospital, leaves Neela and Gates standing in the bay looking sort of equally shocked. All things considered, the rest of his day is not so bad.
“What if I got a tattoo?” Neela wants to know.
Ray raises his eyebrows. “Why?” he asks. “Have you been watching that show?” They’re sitting on the couch flipping channels, her bare ankles crossed in his lap. He presses an experimental thumb against her instep. “Kat von Whatsherface is not a good role model for you, Neela. You’ll wind up covered in Chinese symbols and naked Geisha girls.” He pauses, considers. “Which, actually, come to think of it...”
“I’m serious!” she says, trying not to laugh. “Did they hurt a lot, when you got them? Yours?”
“Nah.” Ray shrugs. “But I’m really manly, so.”
“Right,” she says. “Obviously.”
He glances at her sideways. “Was that sarcasm, Dr. Rasgotra?”
“Certainly not, Dr. Barnett. I haven’t the foggiest idea what you mean.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Ray smirks and reaches for another beer, hands her one. They ordered Indian for dinner, and her mouth stings pleasantly. “What would you even get?” he asks.
Neela mulls it over for a moment. “I don’t know,” she says thoughtfully. “Nothing stupid. Something sort of, you know. Meaningful.”
“That’s sweet, Neela, but I don’t really know how my face is going to look on your a--”
She hits him with a throw pillow; beer splashes onto the couch. “Tosser.”
“Watch the furniture, will you?” he says, as if the integrity of the microfiber is a matter about which he cares deeply. Then, deadpan: “A list of all the bones in the human body in alphabetical order, perhaps? A portrait of Kate Middleton, your people’s future Queen? A small, anthropomorphized scalpel?”
“All right, all right!” Now she really is laughing. “So maybe I need to give it a little bit more thought, is all.”
“Maybe,” Ray agrees. “Anyway, I think we’re going about the planning phase all wrong. I think maybe instead of what you’re going to get inked onto yourself for all eternity--” and here he pushes aside the strap of her tank top, lays his lips against her shoulder--“I think maybe we should be exploring where.”
Neela smirks, feels her heart ratchet up a little. “Is that what you think?” she asks.
“That is what I think.”
“Well,” she says after a moment. “You are the expert.”
She clicks the power button on the TV. Her skin hums under his hands.
Reese starts coming over a lot after the day in the orange grove, showing up at his door in the middle of the night. Charlie doesn’t mind. Since Ted left the house is quiet and echoing, closed doors and cool tile and the sound of his own heart. Reese won’t talk. He thinks maybe there’s something she’s scared of that has nothing to do with Roman. The cut on her mouth cracks and bleeds.
“You should put Vaseline on that, Reese, ” he tells her, with the authority of a person who’s been punched in the mouth more than once. They’re sitting in the sedan in an alley in North Hollywood underneath somebody’s drooping fruit tree, heavy with dark avocados. Earlier this afternoon one of them fell and bounced off the hood of the car, splattered green and soft on the pavement. “It’ll heal faster that way.”
“It’s healing fine,” she mutters. She raises her hand like she’s going to touch it, then changes her mind. She looks out the window instead.
“Reese,” he says.
Charlie doesn’t answer. He slams the car into drive.
“Crews,” she says again. “We’re supposed to stay in the alley, Crews.”
“We’ll go back to the alley,” he tells her. He peels around the corner and heads into a Korean grocery, comes out with a tube of Vaseline and a green plastic basket of strawberries. He puts the berries on the dashboard in the sun.
“You wanted fruit?” she asks. She sounds annoyed, which is her regular tone. It makes Charlie feel sort of safe.
“Reese,” he says. “Come here.”
Reese sighs loudly. Charlie thinks she’s going to fight him but instead she just leans forward, waiting. The sun streams in orange and white. Charlie squeezes the Vaseline onto his thumb and touches it to the raw, split place at the corner of her lip; Reese breathes in.
They look at each other, patient. Her pulse twitches under his hand. Reese turns her head so his finger slips into her mouth, the pad of his thumb scraping over her teeth, and bites down--soft, like an experiment, a look on her face like something is blooming there. Charlie feels the light on his neck.