AMALISE TURNED FROM THE WINDOW, LEANED back against it, and surveyed her office. It was good to be back. Her eyes caressed the leather- upholstered furnishings, the vintage mahogany desk and bookshelves, the Black’s Law Dictionary given to her by the firm after her second year of law school, the rows of thick volumes bound in rich, colored leather—red, green, and black with gold lettering across the spines—records of corporate transactions she’d worked on during her first year with the firm, plus a few borrowed from other associates to occupy the spaces she would one day fill with more of her own.
Her eyes landed on a framed photograph on a shelf above the books, and a f lood of emotions—anger, pity, fear, sorrow—hit her all at once. She walked over and picked up the photo of her and her former husband. Phillip Sharp’s dark eyes glowered at her from under his brows, as if he had known even then how things would end. In the picture they sat at the Café Pontalba, across from Jackson Square, where she’d waited tables every day for three years during law school.
She closed her eyes, and the memories rushed in, swirling and min- gling—Phillip’s slow descent into madness, his hatred of her, his death, and then the accident and the blessed loss of memory in those last few moments. Twenty minutes, gone. Retrograde amnesia, the doctors said.
She’d been trapped in a nightmare with Phillip. Jude had warned her.
And Jude had saved her in the end.
Amalise moved along the bookcase, plucking each picture of Phillip from its place among those of Mama and Dad, Jude, Gina, and one of Rebecca and her in caps and gowns at graduation from law school. Tucking Phillip’s pictures in the crook of her arm, she crossed to the long credenza behind her desk that held the telephone, her daily appointment book, some new yellow legal pads, a box of sharpened number-two pen- cils, and more photographs.
She picked up a box of business cards and pulled one out. Embossed in shining black letters across the center of the card, just above her con- tact information at the firm, was the name “Amalise Catoir.” Sans Sharp. Good. Pushing the card back into the box, she set it down and trailed her fingers across a framed photograph of Mama and Dad at home in Marianus. And another one of Jude.
Jude, her oldest dearest friend. Since childhood, from the time she was six years old and he was ten, they’d been inseparable. She’d tagged along behind him everywhere. She smiled and picked up the photograph, studying it. He’d taught her to swim and fish, tutored her in math, taught her how to dance. Here, he stood on deck aboard a ship at the mouth of the river, poised to climb down to the pilot boat waiting below. His skin browned by the sun, he shaded his eyes with his hand as the camera caught him by surprise.
And then a question rose against her will: Was he really hers?
Rebecca came to mind. Beautiful, glamorous Rebecca. How casually
she’d introduced Jude to Rebecca, never thinking. Amalise remembered the two of them as they were on that day, two years ago, when she married Phillip. Standing on the veranda, Rebecca had looked up at Jude, green eyes sparkling as he took her hand and led her to the dance f loor.
They had been dating ever since. Yet Amalise had never given much thought to their relationship—until now. For one thing, Jude was too fine a man and too old a friend to discuss his love life. And Rebecca was focused on her career. Driven by her career, in fact.
Amalise’s smile slowly faded. These new feelings for Jude were com- plicating things. During the past few months, while he’d spent so much time at her side as she recuperated, she’d grown conscious of a longing for something more than friendship with Jude, something deeper and differ- ent. She felt a connection with him that went way beyond their childhood companionship.
Was this love?
But how could anyone fall in love with her oldest, dearest friend? He was there in her every memory of youth. Could a person know someone so completely, their every little fault and wonderful thing, and then accept, or even understand, such a fundamental shift in their friendship and then just segue on to romance? Imagining the expression on Jude’s face if she were ever to tell him of her feelings, she put the picture back on the credenza, setting it by the telephone where one of Phillip used to stand.
Jude probably still thought of her as that child.
And then there was Rebecca.
She set her mind to putting these thoughts aside. Jude was her best friend, but Rebecca was a good friend too. They had gone to law school together, becoming the first two women ever hired as attorneys by the prestigious firm of Mangen & Morris. They were the Silver Girls.
Amalise knew she should be happy for Rebecca. And yet, as she turned to her desk, pulled out the chair, and sat down, an empty space opened inside at the possibility of losing Jude to her. She set the pictures she’d gathered up of Phillip face-down on the desk and pushed them aside. She couldn’t imagine life without Jude. He’d had girlfriends over the years, of course. Women loved Jude. But she had always come first, she’d thought, at least since the time she was too young to think otherwise.
And recently, she’d again come to take for granted her supreme spot in Jude’s heart. She hadn’t wondered once about Rebecca during her recu- peration and Jude’s ministrations. Indeed, she’d been so shaken by Phillip’s death, the accident, and the amnesia that sheltered her from knowing what had happened at the end, that she had readily slipped into that old familiar intimacy with Jude, almost as if they’d traveled back in time.
But what about Rebecca?
Amalise reached out, running her hands over the dark, solid desk, steadying herself, reminding the nagging voice inside her head that, since the accident, Jude had spent every moment away from work on the river at her side instead of here in the city with Rebecca.
Enough! She was determined to enjoy her first day back at work.
She leaned down and pulled out the bottom drawer and then swept the pictures of Phillip Sharp inside. One night soon she would take them home and store them in some dark place. For now, she turned and put her hands f lat before her on the desk, ready to go to work.
She recalled once more the glittering prize: partnership at Mangen & Morris in six more years. The unacknowledged fact that hung between Rebecca and Amalise—their competition for that prize—drifted just below the surface of her conscious thought.
She shook off the ruminations and glanced at the stack of files Raymond had left on the corner of her desk. As she reached for the folder on top, she found a note clipped inside. A surge of energy shot through her as she read it. She was ready to jump back into life, into her work. In Raymond’s cryptic scrawl the note read: Welcome back, Amalise.