“Don’t look, but that guy is staring at you.”
I looked, I couldn’t help it. I glanced up and across the crowded tables filled with freshman college students trying to socialize and eat free ice cream, but I didn’t see any guys staring at me. Big surprise.
“Judy! I told you not to look!” My roommate Claire shook her head at me. I had known her just one week, but it was already obvious she was boy crazy.
“Well, I don’t see him.”
Claire put her manicured hands on my shoulders and tilted me about fifty degrees to the left. “There, that guy.”
Damned if she wasn’t right—that girl had eyes like a hawk when it came to the opposite sex. There was a boy, another freshman I assumed, who was staring directly at us. He was average height with a lanky build, reddish brown hair, and wire rimmed glasses. Our eyes met for a split second and he turned redder than his hair and looked away quickly.
“Aw, you scared him off,” Claire commented, clucking her tongue.
“He was probably staring at you,” I said. It seemed like between the two of us, Claire was the obvious choice for any red-blooded American man.
“Oh no, he was definitely looking at you,” she insisted. “Trust me, I can tell. He’s kind of cute too, don’t you think so? A little geeky, but cute.”
“I… I guess…”
Claire’s eyes widened, “You like him! You should totally go over there!”
Now it was my turn to blush. I don’t know who Claire thought she was dealing with, but I had never even been on a date before. I wasn’t about to approach a random guy at a freshman ice cream mixer.
“You don’t have to make out with him,” Claire said. “Just go over and say hi.”
I looked up again and the boy was looking at me again, although once again quickly looked away when my eyes met his.
“You really think I should?”
“Definitely! Oh Judy, you have to!”
Claire gave me a once over to make sure that my lipstick wasn’t smudged (although in retrospect, I wasn’t wearing lipstick) and that my hair wasn’t sticking up in some strange direction. Then she gave me the go-ahead to approach the red-haired stranger. To say I was nervous would be an understatement.
As I got closer, I could see that he was alone. He had scooped some ice cream into a bowl and was poised to spray on some chocolate syrup from the spritz container. Up close, I could clearly see his brown eyes behind his spectacles and pale freckles across the bridge of his nose. I spoke the phrase that Claire had armed me with: “Hi.”
The boy’s eyes went wide at the sound of my voice and he sprayed a stream of chocolate syrup across his button-down shirt. He looked down at his shirt and his face turned red again. “Oh crap,” he said.
“I’m so sorry!” I gasped as I grabbed a tissue to help him clean up the mess on his shirt. As I rubbed the napkin against the fabric, effectively spreading the brown stain, I could feel the muscles under his shirt.
“Why are you sorry?” he asked, “I’m the one who just spilled chocolate all over myself.”
Our eyes met again and this time his face turned scarlet as he spritzed another dollop of chocolate out of the container, this time hitting him square in the chin. I couldn’t help it: I laughed. Hard. I laughed harder than I had since I had arrived at an unfamiliar school, surrounded by people I didn’t know, missing my family like crazy.
And he laughed too. I could tell he needed to laugh as much as I did.
“I’m Judy,” I said.
He took my outstretched hand, “I’m Shane.”
It was years later that Shane McGrath admitted to me that it was at this moment he knew that he would someday ask me to marry him.
I looked up sharply at the mention of the name. My husband Bob had half a slice of buttered toast shoved into his mouth and crumbs sprayed from his lips as he spoke. He had The New York Times splayed open in front of him, covering half the table, as he always does at breakfast on Saturday morning.
“What?” I said.
“That’s your ex-husband, right?” Bob asked. He patted his hair to make sure it was in place. Lately he had started doing the comb-over thing and I wasn’t a fan, but I didn’t know how to tell him. “Shane McGrath, right?”
“Yes…” I couldn’t say why, but I hated the sound of Shane’s name coming out of Bob’s lips.
“He’s in the paper,” Bob said, shaking it as evidence. “He got…” Bob paused to chew his toast, “arrested.”
“Arrested?” My heart jumped in my chest.
“Yeah, for uh… embezzlement, conspiracy to commit fraud, and… oh wow, attempted murder. Nice.”
I felt the coffee I had ingested minutes earlier rising in my throat. “No, that can’t be the same Shane McGrath. He would never…”
“He’s an investment banker, right?” Bob pushed the paper across the kitchen table at me and tapped a grainy black and white photo. “That’s him, right?”
The photo was very poor quality, but there was no mistaking my ex-husband’s face. And Harper-Tenenbaum, the company in the article, was the name of the company where he had been working the last time I had talked to him.
When was the last time I had talked to Shane? He called me on my birthday, like he did every year. That was eight months ago. He had sounded… fine, I guess. I hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. Embezzlement? Attempted murder? “It’s got to be a mistake,” I said.
Bob shrugged, “Sounds like they got a pretty strong case.”
Bob would know. He was an attorney with one of the biggest law firms in the city. A lot of people thought he was the best lawyer in the city. So if Bob thought that Shane was in trouble, he may as well pack his bags for jail.
“He must be innocent,” I blurted out.
Bob raised his eyebrows at me. In our three years of marriage, my previous nuptials were something we hadn’t discussed much. Bob knew I had been married and why I had left Shane, but not much more than that. I hadn’t seen Shane since Bob and I were engaged and the two men had never met. I wasn’t one of those bitter divorcees who wished my ex would fall into a black hole.
“I’m surprised you’re defending him,” Bob said. “Doesn’t sound like he was such a nice guy to you.”
“I assumed you hated him.”
There were times when I hated Shane. When he’d stumble in at midnight, claiming to have been working late, but I’d see the lipstick on his collar. He was terrified of losing me, but he couldn’t stop himself. When I told him that I was leaving him for good, he cried. He begged me to stay but several trial separations had proven to me that he couldn’t change. I tried to make it work with him for five years of marriage. We were a couple for nearly a decade.
Bob had an amused look on his face. “Don’t worry,” he said. “He might get off. He just needs a damn good lawyer.”
The ringing of the phone woke me at midnight. I sat up in bed, covered in sweat. I think I had been having a nightmare, but I couldn’t remember it. Bob was lying next to me, rubbing his face with his fist. “Judy, answer the phone,” he groaned.
I fumbled for the receiver next to our bed. I grabbed it and mumbled a sleepy hello.
“Oh shit, you were sleeping…”
“No, I…” I let out a loud yawn.
“Judy, it’s Shane.”
I had been expecting this call, ever since I saw Shane’s name printed in the paper this morning. But it still was a shock to my system to hear Shane’s voice on the other end of the line. I always forgot how much I missed him until I’d hear his voice. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“So you know then?”
“It was in the paper.”
“Judy, I’m fucked.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. I read the whole article and the charges were no joke. He was facing twenty years in jail. I didn’t know how he had gotten himself into this mess, although I still felt certain of his innocence. Shane had a problem with cheating, but deep down, he was a good person. Murder? No way.
“I know,” I said. “Where are you now?”
“I’m at home,” he said. There was a slight slur in his voice and I guessed he had been drinking. I didn’t blame him. “Out on bail.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
“Judy, I need your help.”
Stupid me, it didn’t even occur to me what he was talking about. I thought he wanted my moral support or something.
“Your husband is Robert Houseman? Robert Houseman from Houseman and Locke? Right?”
I looked over at the sleeping lump beside me. “You… you want Bob to defend you?”
“Everyone says Robert Houseman is the best, he’s the best…” I could hear the desperation in Shane’s voice. “You don’t have to do this, Judy, but… if he could at least see me or…”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “I mean, I’ll talk to him. I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Shane said breathlessly. “That would be great.”
“Maybe we could meet for lunch tomorrow?” I suggested.
“You mean… all three of us?”
I knew Shane well enough that I could detect the anxiety in his voice. I felt it too. It occurred to me that he and I hadn’t seen each other in… how long? Four years, at least. It would be weird seeing him again after so much time. It would be hard to try not to think of the future I had once planned out for the two of us. I thought Shane and I would grow old together.
“Is that okay?” I asked.
“No, it’s fine,” he said, almost as if he was trying to convince himself.
We made plans to meet up for lunch the next day. As we confirmed the arrangements, I looked over and saw Bob snoring peacefully beside me. I didn’t know how I was going to convince him to do this, but I knew I had to try. I owed Shane that much.
If you only get one love in your life, Shane was it for me. He was the first boy I ever kissed and I was the first girl he ever kissed. We fell in love that first week of college and we were inseparable for the next four years. We got married during the summer after graduation and I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. We spent our honeymoon in Europe, making love in every city we passed through.
Then Shane lost his fucking mind and started sleeping with everything with a skirt.
Even throughout his infidelities, I knew that he loved me with every fiber of his cheating being. But I couldn’t take it anymore. He made me feel like a fool for staying with him. And it grew clear that it wasn’t going to stop.
We stayed sort of friends for years after the divorce. We spent holidays and birthdays together, keeping each other company, but no sex. Shane never dated anyone else seriously and when I asked him about it, he told me that no woman could ever compare to me. I don’t know if he meant it, but he at least seemed to think he meant it.
Once I got serious with Bob, I cut off my contact with Shane. I guess I still felt like I was sort of in love with Shane and I couldn’t get married again with that on my shoulders. The only way to deal with it was to stop seeing Shane entirely.
Of course, Bob didn’t know any of this.
What Bob knew was that we were meeting with my ex-husband so that he could get a little bit of legal advice. He seemed a little perplexed that I was okay with this, but I could tell when he read the paper that he was intrigued by the case. And it was a big case that would look good on the firm’s resume. Really, I was doing Bob a favor. Or that was what I tried to tell myself.
Even though I said it wasn’t necessary, Bob wore his suit to lunch. I guess he felt that since it was “business”, he had to. I wore a dress so as not to look frumpy next to Bob, but I knew it was also my need to show my ex that I still looked damn good. I could tell even from the grainy photo that Shane still looked good.
We were supposed to meet at noon and by five after, Bob was checking his watch. “He’s late,” Bob muttered.
“You’re not billing him for this lunch,” I said in a firm voice.
Bob grinned, “If I were billing him, I wouldn’t be upset if he was late.”
“Has he retained a lawyer at all yet?” Bob asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He’s very nervous about this whole thing and he thinks you can help him.”
“He should be nervous,” Bob said, “those charges are serious. Especially the attempted murder charge. Christ, what a mess.”
I heard a shuffling of chairs from across the restaurant and I turned to see Shane’s familiar face. Even though it had been four years, he still looked the same. The same short reddish brown hair, same brown eyes behind frames perched on his nose, same freckles across his nose. But something was different. Very different.
“Oh my god,” I breathed. “What…”
“I take it he wasn’t in a wheelchair when you were married,” Bob said softly.
Shane navigated the wheelchair between tables with a skill that tipped me off that the chair wasn’t a new addition. As he approached our table, I looked down and saw his feet quietly resting on a single footplate. “Uh, hi,” he said.
I was too surprised to talk. Shane wheeled closer and pulled off his gloves, with had the fingertips cut off. He held his hand out to Bob, “Shane McGrath.”
Bob shook his hand, “Bob Houseman, good to meet you.”
Shane looked at me. “Hi, Judy,” he said quietly, almost shyly.
He held out his hand to me and I took it. Despite the gloves, his hand felt very calloused to me. Another clue that he had been in the wheelchair a long time and had failed to mention it to me during our yearly birthday phone calls.
Bob was always one to get right down to business. He folded his hands across his menu and leaned forward, “So I hear you’re in quite a jam, Mr. McGrath.”
Shane cleared his throat, “Yeah.” He glanced over at me, but quickly looked away when our eyes met.
Bob started to ask him another question, but I cut him off in the middle: “What happened to you?”
Shane stared at me in surprise. “Judy?”
“I mean, why are you in a… are you sick or…?”
“Oh.” He blushed and looked down at his legs. “I was in an accident about three years back. It’s not a big deal, really.”
Not a big deal? Shane was crippled and in a wheelchair, what seemed like permanently, and it wasn’t a big deal? “So you can’t—”
“Judy.” It was Bob’s turn to interrupt now. “I think Mr. McGrath came to me for legal advice. You can socialize later.”
I was furious at Bob for talking to me like an insolent child, but even more importantly, I was frustrated that my questions were unanswered. I sat back and played with my napkin while Shane and Bob discussed the case against him. I stole a few glances under the table at Shane’s legs and I felt fairly sure they weren’t able to move on their own. I watched him shift a few times and adjust himself and his legs seemed to move with the rest of his torso. Once I actually saw him grab his knee and adjust it slightly.
I couldn’t believe Shane hadn’t told me about this, although I guess I wasn’t surprised. He was clearly a little self-conscious about the whole thing. In fact, he seemed more self-conscious and quiet in general than I had seen him in years. He was acting more like the shy, 18 year old boy I had met that first week in college than the confident philandering investment banker he later became.
“So what do you think?” Shane asked Bob. They had been talking for thirty minutes straight and I had finished most of my salmon. From what I could gather, Shane and two other men at the company were accused of embezzlement. An accountant at the company had uncovered what was going on and a hitman was hired to kill him. The murder was unsuccessful due to a tip-off to the police.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Shane,” Bob said. Somehow in the last thirty minutes, they had started to be on a first name basis. “It doesn’t look good for you. It sounds like they have a fantastic case against you. You’re looking at… at least ten to fifteen years in jail, maybe more.”
Shane’s face turned a shade paler and I felt my own heart flutter. I couldn’t imagine Shane going to jail. “I see,” he swallowed.
“Of course, I don’t know all the details…”
“Do you think… you might be able to defend me?”
Bob glanced at me, “Uh, sure. As long as you don’t feel it’s a conflict of interest based on… you know, your history with Judy.”
“No, I don’t think so.” Shane looked down at his largely uneaten plate of food. “The thing is, I don’t have a lot of money right now. The bail money wiped out most of my savings.”
“Well, that’s a problem,” Bob said. “Our legal fees are pretty stiff.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You’ve got two options,” Bob told him. “Either you hire a lawyer you can afford or you go back to jail and use the bail money to pay your legal fees.”
Shane looked over at me and I knew there was a third option he was considering: I ask my husband to represent him for free. What Shane didn’t know was that Bob wasn’t big on doing things for free. “What do you think, Judy?” Shane asked me.
“Bob,” I said, resting my hand on my husband’s knee for good measure. “This is a pretty high profile case. Don’t you think it might be in the firm’s best interest to take it on as some free publicity?”
Bob frowned at me for a moment, then he laughed. “Free publicity. Interesting spin, Judy.”
Shane leaned back in his wheelchair, a defeated expression on his face. How the hell did he end up in this situation? I knew he wasn’t capable of embezzlement, much less attempted murder.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” Bob said.
I stared at him. “Really?”
“Don’t look so surprised,” Bob said. “You’re right, it is good publicity. And I can tell Shane is pretty down on his luck right now.”
Shane managed a smile, but I knew what he was thinking. Even the best lawyer in the city might not be enough to keep him out of prison.
To be continued...