Home > Well Traveled (Well Met #4)

Well Traveled (Well Met #4)
Author: Jen DeLuca

 

One

 


   My phone rang for the fourth time that morning before I was through the gates of the Renaissance Faire. What was that one song called? “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”? Ain’t no rest for lawyers, either.

   All I wanted was a break. A chance to breathe, while I waited in line for my turn to buy a ticket. But that wasn’t in the cards for me, so when my phone buzzed from my back pocket, I pulled it out, tapped the green button, and jammed it against my ear. “Nothing’s changed in the last half hour,” I snapped, my blood already close to the boiling point. “No, the transcript won’t be ready till Monday. Yes, that’s the soonest she can expedite it. No, I can’t give you any more information than what’s in the goddamn nine-page memo I emailed you at four o’clock this morning. Anything else?”

   Silence. Wow. I’d finally stumped the Boston attorney who was the lead on this car accident case. But as the silence stretched on, my heart sank. I hadn’t even looked at the caller ID, had I?

   “Lulu?” The voice on the other end was elderly, tentative. Fuck.

   “Grandma. Hi.” I tried through sheer force of will to sink into the ground, all the way to the center of the earth if I could manage it. I cleared my throat hard, took a cleansing breath, and switched from Louisa Malone, Corporate Attorney, to Lulu Malone, Loving Granddaughter. “How’s it going?” There. Much better. Much less sweary at the octogenarian.

   “I’m fine, dear. I was just a little worried about you. It’s been a couple weeks since you’ve called, and—”

   “Oh, sh—crap, Grandma. I’m sorry.” I pressed a hand to my forehead. No matter how busy I got, I always called my grandparents at least once a week. They were both in perfect health, but they were also in their eighties, living by themselves in the big old family house where they’d raised their kids. That house had a very long staircase and lots of hallways. Lots of places to fall. Nobody else in the Malone family seemed overly concerned about them, but I was. So I called. Every week, until now. Damn, I definitely needed a break.

   “I’m sorry,” I said again, but she was already on to other topics.

   “Where are you?”

   Such a good question. I was currently sandwiched between a woman in an enormous green-and-gold brocade gown and a man in a The Lord of the Rings–esque cloak with a sword strapped to his hip. So I settled for the easier answer. “North Carolina. Just for the weekend. We have this big product liability case. Someone was in a car crash, and they’re suing the tire company. They sent me down here to take a deposition of one of the witnesses.” It was a total waste of time, but I didn’t tell her that. Besides, if I wanted to make partner, this was what I did. I took the bullshit assignments, and I did my best to be indispensable.

   “Doesn’t sound like you’re in an office, though,” Grandma said. “I hear music.” She wasn’t wrong; the sound of bagpipes floated on the breeze, and somewhere from inside the Faire a drum sounded like a distant heartbeat.

   “That’s because I’m not.” I seized on the topic change eagerly as I took a few steps forward in line. Almost my turn now, so while I talked I dug in my bag for my wallet. “I’m at a Renaissance Faire. Like the one Mitch does. Remember? We went to see him last summer.”

   “Of course I remember. That was so much fun.” Grandma sighed happily, and my heart swelled. I’d gone with Grandma and Grandpa up from their home in rural Virginia to small-town Maryland, where my cousin Mitch participated in a Renaissance Faire every summer. He wore a kilt, spoke with an exaggerated accent, and swung a sword around like an overgrown child having the time of his life. Grandma was a cheerful person to begin with, but the glee on her face while she watched her muscled grandson perform had been next level.

   Sure enough . . . “Are there lots of kilts there?” she asked. “You know how I like those.”

   “Please tell me you’re not thinking about your grandson in a kilt, Grandma. That’s just weird.”

   She snorted. “Of course not. What’s the matter with you, Louisa?”

   “So many things.” I dutifully looked around while her chuckle floated through the phone.

   “You should see if those kilt boys are playing.”

   Ah. That’s what she was thinking of: a musical group that we’d seen last summer. They had a name, but hell if I could remember it. The only thing I remembered was the way Grandma had waited in her seat for them like an elderly groupie. And the way they’d come right over to talk to her after the show, even doing a little flirting, making her blush right in front of my super-tolerant grandpa.

   “I’m not sure if they’re at this Faire, Grandma, but I’ll keep an eye out.” It was my turn at the ticket booth, and I wedged the phone between my ear and my shoulder while I handed over my money, mouthing a thank you. I hated being That Person—the one who wouldn’t get the hell off the phone when it was their turn in line—but I’d fielded enough phone calls from work while in line for coffee that I was a master at it. Besides, no way was I hanging up on my grandmother.

   “See that you do.” She was silent for a moment, long enough that I paused before walking through the front gate, stepping aside to let the crowd move on ahead without me. I looked at my phone—had the call dropped?

   “Grandma? Everything okay?”

   “Oh, I’m fine,” she finally said. “I’m just glad you’re taking a day off. You work too much.”

   That brought me up short. The Malones were a success-driven family, at least as far as my parents and their siblings were concerned. There’d always been a sense of competition between them, wanting their kids to be as successful as possible. In my mother’s perfect world, for example, I would have accomplished the following by now: (1) partnership at the firm, (2) marriage, and (3) children. So far I was a failure on all three counts, and therefore a failure in her eyes and needed to work harder at achieving my (i.e., her) goals.

   But those four words from Grandma, you work too much, made unexpected tears spring to my eyes. Because she was right. And she was the only one who noticed.

   “That’s okay,” I said. The cheer in my voice sounded false as I blinked back those unwelcome tears. “If I want to make partner, this is what I do, right?”

   “Hmm.” Grandma sounded doubtful, and she wasn’t wrong. I’d been “a year away from making partner” at Stone, Prince, Rogers & Dunbrowski for, oh, the past five years now. And every year something came up. Another associate—usually a man who joined the firm after I had—vaulted ahead of me into the available slot, getting that corner office and prime parking space, while I got a pat on the head and a “maybe next year.” The glass ceiling in the firm had been broken only once, as far as I could tell: by Imogen Dunbrowski, one of the founding partners. I’d worked on exactly one project for her when I first got to the firm, and she’d never asked for me again, so that’s how well that went. Rumor was she ate law clerks for breakfast. I had yet to break through my own personal glass ceiling, and at this point I wasn’t sure what it would take.

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