Mia Fey is not one to judge.
She is, however, one to be completely unnerved as she witnesses Diego Armando—who should have left two hours ago, penciled in for a half day—slip into the office of their boss, Marvin Grossberg. The door shuts behind him, faint click of the faulty lock echoing loud in Mia's ears.
Mia swallows. Ignores the hundreds of thoughts leaping in unison to the same single conclusion as she hugs the case files close to her chest. Briskly, she walks past Mr. Grossberg's office to the end of the hall where her own office sits across from Diego's. All she wants to do is prove her worth, assist Mr. Hammond by conducting the paralegal duties of this case.
Not entertain the prospect of her boss and her senior partner carrying out a scandalous affair right under her nose.
Spreading the files across her desk, Mia presses in her earbuds and is greeted by a soft twang of blues guitar streaming from them. As she scans through the pages of notes she took during the long, thankless afternoon spent questioning the defendant with Mr. Hammond yesterday, she can't keep her mind from drifting back to the same topic it's been circling around for the past twenty-four hours.
Ms. Doreen Bell, a forty-two-year-old makeup saleswoman, was charged with slaying her cheating fiancé, forty-six-year-old executive Phil Landers. Hoping to surprise Mr. Landers at his office with an expensive takeout dinner in honor of their five year anniversary as a couple, it was Ms. Bell who ended up with the shock of a lifetime, catching Mr. Landers in the half-dressed passionate embrace of his much younger secretary. A calamitous argument ensued, culminating in Ms. Bell throwing her engagement ring at Mr. Landers and vowing he would face retribution for his indiscretions.
Mr. Landers never made it to work the next day. He was found dead in the parking garage of his townhome association, one gunshot wound to the chest—and one between the legs. Despite protesting her innocence, Ms. Bell's threats from the previous evening, as well as her fingerprints on the handgun recovered at the scene were enough to indict her with the charge of first-degree murder.
But it wasn't this outcome that had piqued Mia's interest; the sordid details involving the prosecution's key witness, secretary Becca Encall, were startling in their similarities. She'd listened enraptured, mentally combing through all the moments throughout the previous month that, at the time, she'd thought nothing of—that Ms. Bell had thought nothing of, until, in hindsight, it'd become all she could think of.
Miss Encall was a dedicated secretary, always willing to stay late, come in early, or even eschew a scheduled day off all in the name of ensuring the office continued to run smoothly—which reminded Mia of a certain coffee fiend she'd become well-acquainted with over the past six months.
But Diego's loyalty to Grossberg Law had taken a stronger sense of urgency recently, and Mia can trace the timing back to approximately five weeks ago, when she'd come on board. Her miserable debut had coincided with the news that Mr. Grossberg and his wife of nearly thirty years, Shirlena, had reached the mutual decision to separate.
Irreconcilable differences, they'd all been told. But wasn't that always code for something more? It'd certainly been why her own father had left, why her uncle had left Aunt Morgan—they had their differences. And maybe, after all these years, Mr. Grossberg's been awakened to such differences, on his end, that Shirlena could never fulfill. Perhaps Diego, who Mr. Grossberg has known going on two decades, was more than just a supportive friend, a source of comfort in this difficult time—he was the reason for such difficulties in the first place.
Even with all of Diego's charms having been aimed at women, at least from what Mia's seen, she isn't about to make any assumptions; she isn't going to do what everyone has done, still does to her. The simplest complimentary remark about the opposite sex, and any possibility that she could be attracted to the same sex is rendered null and void.
It's only, from what she knows of Diego, he isn't the type to insert himself up in a clandestine affair, with anyone. If anything, he would shout his affections from the rooftops, openly flaunt his relationship for all to see.
Of course, if the relationship in question was with his technically-still-married boss who was twice Diego's age, it could very well be an exception to his endless index of rules.
"Ow!" Mia turns the page of her notes so viciously that she ends up with a paper cut. She sulks, finger in her mouth, the taste of copper seeping in. If Diego were here, he'd be directing an amused smirk her way—like he'd never been victim of a single paper cut in his life!—and the fact that he's not here causes a strange tweak behind her ribs.
Jealousy? As if. They're all adults here. Diego, Mr. Grossberg—they could do what they wanted, and with each other, even. Let them be caught up in some office romance, if that's what they had their hearts set on. Meanwhile, Mia would focus on the job she had to do... the job...
Mia pops her finger out from between her lips, and sighs heavily. It's stopped bleeding, but there's a thin sliver of red left behind, as well as a scratch of pain that isn't anywhere in the vicinity of her finger.
Covering herself in paper cuts as she did all the work of a lawyer's assistant wasn't her job, but it was about all she was good for lately.
Anxious to wash the metal tang from her mouth, Mia removes her earbuds and grabs her empty mug. She strides from the office to the water cooler stationed against the wall between her and Diego's offices.
At the same time, Diego emerges from Mr. Grossberg's office, his own mug in hand. His eyes widen for the splittest of seconds, locking with Mia's before his expression falls back to its usual coolness.
"Fancy meeting you here, Ms. Fey."
"Yes, quite the coincidence. Us crossing paths at the office where we both work."
"Ha..! I meant, I thought you were helping Robbo with his case."
"I am," Mia says. "Or, I have been, but Mr. Hammond wants to interview the defendant on his own right now. She keeps changing her story; it's incredibly frustrating, so I offered to come back here to continue my research into her relationship with the victim. But I could say the same for you, Mr. Armando. I thought you were taking a half day, and here, it's almost three."
"Keeping tabs on my schedule, huh?" Diego asks with a sly smirk. Mia inwardly winces at the thought of him using it just minutes ago, and in the not-too-distant future, on Mr. Grossberg.
"No! It's just... well, you've been here so often, lately. Before and after business hours, to er... help Mr. Grossberg. I guess I just found it curious, since we don't get paid overtime for staying late for non-trial related work."
"No, we don't," Diego agrees. "But... you know, tax season is approaching, and Marv's always been crap about being timely with that. Especially this year, it's more... complicated for him, to say the least. I'm just trying to help him get things in order. Be there for him, however I can."
"That's very kind of you," Mia says, "to be so willing, and... I'm sure it's a great comfort to him."
"Don't sound so surprised." Diego makes to slip by her, to his office. "Now, if you'll excuse me—"
"Hold it!" Mia snags his arm, sending a splash of water cresting from her mug to the floor. Diego blinks at her over his shoulder, his parted mouth and raised eyebrows displaying intrigue and confusion in equal measure.
Mia feels the same but is able to restrain it, bluffing by way of a stare that is all intent and determination.
One he has only himself to thank—or blame—for teaching her.
Her hold tightens a smidge on his bicep—a rather firm bicep. She shoves away the urge to loosen her grip, for the sheer sake of squeezing it again. "I... you told me before about how a different environment can provide a whole new perspective on things. So, I was thinking, in a few minutes, I was going to head down to the Daily Grind to go over these files."
Diego replies with an interested, "Oh?"
"Yes, and, you know, I took your suggestion and tried their London fog the other day; it was amazing and I could go for another. Did you know that if you add a shot of espresso to it, it's called a London smog?"
"Ha...!" Neither a yes nor a no—not that she'd expect a direct answer from Diego Armando. He shifts his body, angling more towards her. "Always eager to teach me a thing or two, aren't you, Ms. Fey?"
"Would you like to join me?" She gives him a demure smile, meant to entice. She releases her fingers and brushes them, gentle but purposeful, along his arm.
Her efforts are in vain.
"Would I like to? Absolutely." Diego glances down into his mug, it must be completely empty, or else he'd be drinking from it. As it is, he only pauses meaningfully before adding, "But can I? I'm afraid not, Kitten. I already promised Marv I'd be here until we get this over and done with. So, a couple more hours, minimum."
Mia's hand drops away, confidence draining just as swiftly; Diego Armando was turning her down. Was turning a coffee date down. Not that it would be a date, of course! Just, that was the common term for it, the first word that came to mind! More importantly, he was turning it down for Mr. Grossberg.
"Wow," Mia tries to force a laugh; it comes out stilted and shaky. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Diego Armando? The one who doesn't let anything take precedent over his caffeine addiction."
Or anyone, she adds internally.
"Oh, he's still right here, in the flesh." Diego turns and heads into his office, continuing his explanation. "That's where I was headed; to brew up a fresh batch to get Marv and I through the evening."
"But the coffee maker's in the lobby," Mia reminds him while following behind.
"It is. But I'm in the mood for..." He retrieves a half-empty bag of grounds from his mini-fridge and unclips it. "Peaberries. Ground especially for a French press."
"Perfect for a special occasion," Mia repeats what Diego had told her weeks ago, about his French pressed coffee. She watches as he moves to the credenza behind his desk, removing the plunger from the French press upon it.
"Bingo." Diego flashes her a grin and starts pouring the grounds into the glass carafe.
He's even breaking out his secret stash, just for Mr. Grossberg. Mia chews her lip, trying to find the right phrasing to continue her assault. She'll trap Diego yet. "You know, if you boys have so much to take care of, I could spare an hour or two, stick around and help out. Three heads are better than two."
"No!" Diego stops mid-pour, arm jerking abruptly. A thin arc of coffee grounds miss the carafe and sprinkle the counter. His stare is blank, first towards Mia, then at the scattered grounds framing the French press.
"No?" Mia parrots back at him, just as thrown by this sudden flux in temperament. Is it as good as an admission, this brief glimpse of vulnerability from a man who never showed anything remotely close to it while in court? Who, even in the midst of the most heated battles with the prosecution would radiate confidence powerful enough to rival his favorite java blend?
"No. Listen, Mia... " She's treated to a sheepish smile before Diego turns his attention to the credenza, using one hand to sweep the stray grounds into the other. He brushes them off into the trashcan, and his tone takes a sort of disappointed turn, not that Mia's able to pinpoint what that disappointment is directed towards. "Don't get me wrong... your offer is entirely appreciated, but Marv gets pretty riled up when it comes to his finances. I don't mind being on the receiving end of his frustration and grumbling, but I'd rather not let you subject yourself to that kind of punishment. I know how to handle him when he's like this."
Mia swallows; she doesn't want to spend a single second considering how well Diego can handle Mr. Grossberg, but the images arrive unbidden. "R-Right..." She's utterly failing at playing it cool. "Makes sense."
"Besides, you have an important role to play, yourself, for Robbo."
Diego checks the French press, shaking in a couple more dashes of grounds. Once satisfied, he picks it up and carries it out to hall, where Mia watches from a distance as he fills it with hot water from the cooler. She tries to reconcile this Diego—her colleague, a rival in a sense, but mostly, her friend—with a man intent on encouraging a May-December romance with his boss.
Does it really matter to her, if Mr. Grossberg has found happiness with Diego, and vice-versa, however socially unacceptable—and personally disheartening—it might be? Should she really be intruding on it, if they're able keep it from affecting the atmosphere at the office?
A week ago, she would have called herself crazy for believing it was even within the realm of possibility, but hadn't Diego thought it equally unbelievable, that Mia herself had been in a two year relationship with someone on the opposite side of the law, in Lana? And here, she had begun to appreciate the idea of no secrets between the two of them; he was the first—and only, as far as she knew—to be privy to her relationship with Lana. There was something just so terribly offensive about the prospect that he might not reciprocate her trust, and so thoughtlessly shun her from his own life.
Mia blinks, unsure why it's so imperative that she have her fears confirmed. So she could figure out how to be most supportive? Or—what the dull throb in her heart suggested—to get over it, as soon as possible?
Regardless, if she's going to expose them, it's not going to be through getting Diego to crack. Having already shown an uncharacteristic flicker of unease, he's likely redoubled his guard. Her only hope is to catch them, if not in the act than on the verge of it.
Before she can second-guess whether or not the plan sowing roots into her mind is worth setting into motion, Diego is reentering the office.
"Here, let me." She meets him not but a few feet from the door, using both hands to carefully take hold of the French press by its base.
Maybe it's their close proximity or the boldness of her actions, but she has no trouble extricating the French press from Diego. Stunned might be an exaggeration, but what else would describe a Diego who relinquishes his treasured French press without a fight?
Mia can feel his eyes on her as she turns away and places the press on the credenza. It's verified when she faces him once again, and he's considering her the way he might a menu at a new coffee shop—searching for the best they have to offer.
If she's on to him, he's doing a magnificent job of acting himself, that he's on to her.
If it's really even an act.
Still, she can't let her guard down. Gingerly, she rests the plunger onto the press, keeping her attention solely on it as she speaks nonchalantly to Diego.
"Mr. Armando, you do realize there's more to life than coffee, don't you? Which is why there's coffee." She looks to him, nodding sagely to reinforce one of the many Diego-isms she's absorbed during their trips to the Daily Grind. "If you really must help Mr. Grossberg, the least I can do is take five minutes to prepare your coffee. I'm not in any kind of hurry. And I've seen you use this enough, I think I know what I'm doing."
"Four minutes," Diego corrects her, showing as many fingers.
"Oh, I know, but Mr. Grossberg likes cream in his, and by the time I... oh, don't make that face, at least it's not decaf, like Mr. Hammond."
Diego cringes even harder, but doesn't protest.
"Anyway, go, go. I'll bring it over when it's ready." She makes a shooing motion with her hands, to which he reluctantly obeys.
It's no small concession, she knows, that he left her to use any of his equipment related to coffee. But that speaks to how urgently he needed— or wanted?—to be in the next office over, with Mr. Grossberg.
Mia sets the timer on her phone. Four minutes—five, maybe, as she's bought an extra minute under the guise of adding cream to Mr. Grossberg's coffee. She hurries to secure the mug Diego set aside and scans the selection of others he has lining the window sill above the credenza. There's one with a faded logo for the hybrid coffee shop/patisserie adjacent to the courthouse, All Rise. Mia grabs it.
Interrupting Mia's preparations is a dim jazz melody warbling from the wall between Diego's office and Mr. Grossberg's. After setting the mugs aside, she presses an ear to the wall, straining to hear any snatches of conversation. But there's nothing, only indistinct murmurs filtering through the low brass of the jazz continuing to play.
Damn! But isn't the music itself existing evidence enough? As far as she knew, Mr. Grossberg didn't listen to music while at work; it must have been Diego's selection—a wise precaution on his end, creating background noise to drown out any other sounds that might otherwise make their way to potential eavesdroppers (like her). And knowing Diego, to set the mood.
Eurgh. She shakes the image from her already scarred brain, pushing away. She can't just stand here glued to the wall for three more minutes. There has to be something else here, in Diego's office, to tip her off. Hard evidence.
Her hand poises on the handle of the file drawer; no, she can't just snoop around. Diego trusts her, as she does him—or, as she thinks she does. There must be something available out in the open that she could go off of. Her eyes rove his desk's surface, hunting for anything even mildly incriminating.
It's not immaculate by any stretch, but there's nothing about his desk that screams Diego Armando, let alone that he's entwined in an office romance. Mia sighs, ready to abort mission and finish preparing the coffee when her gaze lands on the large calendar overtaking most of his desk.
She recalls Mr. Landers's personal planner holding a wealth of damning evidence, that anyone who spent a few seconds paging through could easily conclude that he was straying from his marriage. Well, the condoms kept in his desk drawer, that Ms. Bell had found when she'd turned his office upside-down in her fit of rage, were a dead giveaway too, and not exactly what Mia hopes to discover here. She scans the calendar, finger guiding her from date to date.
Only one box is filled in. Just four days away, this Saturday reads Il Duce's w M – 7 pm in Diego's hurried scrawl.
Mia claps a hand over her mouth when a gasp escapes. What are the odds?
Diego has reservations this weekend with Mr. Grossberg. And at the one of the most notorious hotspots in all of Los Angeles for successful men to dine with their mistresses without the risk of being exposed.
How notorious? Truth be told, Mia hadn't learned of just how disreputable Il Duce's Pasta Sock was until speaking with Ms. Bell yesterday. Only a half mile from Mr. Landers's office, it was where he would bring Miss Encall often—to discuss work, of course. Ms. Bell herself was adamant that she was at Il Duce's the night Phil was murdered, digging deeper into how involved the whole illicit affair had been—not that anyone could corroborate her alibi.
Mia squeaks from behind her hand. Backing away from Diego's desk, she looks to find him watching her from the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" She blurts, not wanting him to ask her the same thing—she hasn't thought of a good excuse yet. "I told you I'd bring it over when—"
"I left the peaberry grounds out." He nods over to where they're still sitting on the credenza.
"Oh! Right, well, I was just about to put them away!" She might as well tack on a "Gee whiz!" on for good measure, for how over-the-top her enthusiasm is.
Mia can't look at his face, at the suspicion she knows he's regarding her with. She instead focuses on where the top two buttons of his dress shirt are undone, exposing the bronze skin below his neck. Was it like that earlier? With how much she's noticing it now, she certainly would have noticed it then, wouldn't she?
"Something wrong, Mia?" She finally peeks up at Diego, and he's less smirky than she might expect. More concerned, if anything. "You're as skittish as a kitten in room full of rocking chairs. Wouldn't want to get your tail pinched, now would you?" And there it is. A slight bob of his eyebrows, so quick she might have imagined it. She wishes she could say the same about the very real warmth creeping to her cheeks as he passes her the clipped bag of grounds.
"No, no... I just..." She takes it from him, kneeling down to his mini-fridge and storing them away amongst all the other bags. A small bottle of creamer rests in the shelf of the door, hazelnut flavor. She remembers buying it for Diego, for use when he brews her a cup of one his blends, but it's empty enough to suggest that she isn't the only one he brews coffee for. "Mr. Hammond's latest case is stressful, that's all. It's all I've thought about since I agreed to help him."
Which isn't untrue. She's just omitting the part where it's led to a myriad of other thoughts.
"Ha...! The difference between a great and horrible shot of espresso boils down to a few seconds; the same could be said about working on a case. Too little—or too much—time spent thinking on it, and your product isn't fit for public consumption."
"You think I'm over-thinking things?" In more ways than one, maybe, she adds to herself.
"Could be. Or, " Diego continues, smooth and thoughtful, "it could be that you're just not cut out to play paralegal, and it's getting to you."
He appears ready to elaborate, but the phone's timer goes off. Its melody is too chipper, too upbeat for the weight that squeezes down on Mia at the same time Diego depresses the plunger.
She admires, is even attracted to Diego's honesty, no matter how many metaphors he wants to wrap it up in. But lately it's as if life has been nothing but one awful truth after another, and hearing another from Diego makes it feel like one of those nine lives he claims she has has been taken.
"Care to do the honors, Ms. Fey?" Diego gestures to the empty mugs and the carafe filled with freshly pressed coffee. As much as she doesn't care for coffee's taste, the aroma causes her mouth to water.
"Oh... sure. Might as well be good for something." The self-deprecation is meant to be a joke, but Mia can't force levity into he voice. Which makes it even more pathetic, like she's fishing for Diego to counter it, to shower her in compliments.
She pours the coffee into the two mugs, leaving room in Mr. Grossberg's while Diego's is filled to the top.
"You know, as wishy-washy as Marv is, you'd think I could get him to at least try his coffee black. Once, just once." Diego says as he adds a healthy amount of creamer to Mr. Grossberg's coffee, looking none too pleased about it. He sighs, closes the bottle off and looks over to Mia. "But hey, listen, if you need more Post-it notes, they're in the center drawer."
"I assume that's what you were doing. Pawing through my desk." He has a mug in each hand now, and draws a short sip from his. "Rob's always asking to borrow them, never returns them. One of these days I'm going to cover every inch of his desk in Post-its, just to make sure he never takes mine again."
"O-Oh..." She'd been so sure she'd finally learned to read him, but in this moment, he still has her guessing. Could he really be clued in to how much she's uncovered today, and just how she's done so? She'd never put anything past Diego Armando, but he doesn't need to know that. "Yeah, he's taken them from me, too. Lemme know when you decide to get your revenge, if you want an accomplice."
"Ha..! That's the spirit." Diego's grin spreads, sharpens, and he gives a small nod towards the remaining coffee. "There's still some left, Kitten. Why don't you help yourself—but promise me, don't be like Marv. Try it black before you taint it."
Mia drains the mug she brought along of the water that's left, and fills it halfway with the coffee. The rising steam heats her face, and she manages a weak smile. "I'm warning you, I've never liked my coffee black."
"But have you had peaberries? French pressed?"
"Then how do you know you'll like it or not, unless you try it?" Diego backs towards the door. He takes another sip of coffee as he does, not spilling a drop from either mug. An action that must come from years of practice. "Mm. You know, the best moments in life are like a good cup of coffee—piping hot and full of flavor."
Normally Mia would roll her eyes. Right now, she'd rather shut them, force away the images springing up in her mind that tie Diego's statement to their boss. "Thank you for such wisdom, Mr. Armando. Have a... nice evening with Mr. Grossberg."
Diego leaves, and it's close to a full minute that Mia stands there, vacant stare matching her insides. The room feels smaller, emptier than when she was alone in here before. So does she.
Much like when she was poking around for signs of a tryst, the only noise is the jazz tune coming from Mr. Grossberg's office, fuzzed over by the wall separating them.
Bringing the cup to her lips, Mia takes a small sip. It's silky, with the tiniest hints of berry. The acid she so despises in most coffee is nonexistent. She doesn't know if she could drink a whole cup of the stuff, but one sip isn't so bad. Maybe not even two; Mia tries another, and it's better than the first. She almost congratulates herself on a job well done, then remembers she didn't make it.
She stood by, while Diego did all the work.
Bitterness hangs in her mouth, and it's not the coffee.
Maybe Diego losing interest in her and directing it somewhere new isn't so inconceivable after all.
If he'd even been interested in the first place.
He'd been there to support her from day one, but so had Mr. Hammond and Mr. Grossberg. And that didn't mean they had designs on her. She can't deny there's a lot of wishful thinking on her end—her heart swells too much, her smile grows too wide when she thinks of the possibility of their friendship transforming into something more.
What had been excitement and anticipation is replaced by shame—for being a foolish girl who, again, went charging forward thinking her ambition would be enough to get what she wanted from life. It's not like she held some sort of expectation from Diego, that he had to reciprocate her feelings—she'd just been so certain, up until yesterday, that he did.
But she'd been so certain she could prove Terry Fawles innocent through her belief in him.
And besides, Mia will be the first to admit that she's never been good at picking up on romantic advances—she hadn't figured out Lana's attraction to her until Lana had kissed her one night after studying for their mid-terms. So maybe she'd been misreading these supposed signals from Diego the whole time—that she wasn't any different from Lana, from Detective Starr, and all the comments he'd fling at them, toeing the thin line between saucy and truthful. All he wanted from them was a reaction, and a reaction was what he got.
This doesn't lessen the sting of his comment. He'd been one of the only people she was able to lean on since the Fawles trial, and dammit, her career was about her and her family but Diego's opinion mattered. If he's shacking up with Mr. Grossberg, could Mia really fault him? Someone with a track record of success and even the cases he lost, at least the defendant hadn't killed themselves on the stand due to her inability as an attorney.
Gathering the files into her bag and shouldering it, Mia closes the office door behind her. If she's going to mope, she'd rather be nursing a hot, fragrant London Fog—and as Diego's already made clear, he and Mr. Grossberg are in want of privacy of their own.
All her recent failures—of course, because she's the daughter of Misty Fey—scroll through her mind, recited in Dahlia Hawthorne's sickly sweet voice, when they're interrupted by... nothing.
The music from Mr. Grossberg's office has stopped, and Mia does too, doubling back to the door. She inches close, pressing an ear flush against it. They're talking, but she can't make it out through the thick cherry oak of the door.
From the narrow strip of light spilling out onto the hallway carpet at the bottom of the door, she's certain the sound quality will be better from that angle too.
Setting her bag down, Mia drops to her belly, flipping her hair out of the way so it's not obstructing her ear. Ugh, when was the last time this carpet was vacuumed? Probably never, is her educated guess. She nearly unleashes a violent sneeze from the dust, able to stifle it enough that it's nothing more than a squeak.
Her nose wrinkles, and he wipes it with her arm. She can almost hear Diego comparing her actions to those of a cat, until she realizes... she literally can hear him.
"...now or never. You have to tell her or..."
Mr. Grossberg grumbles something hushed, barely coherent, that she doubts is any clearer to Diego, who must be standing right there with him.
Diego again. "If you don't, I will."
There's a pause, too long for comfort. Then a hearty clearing of the throat.
"My dear..." Mia edges as close as possible, but all she catches is the end of his statement. "...feel about you. I'm..." his words trail off again, until, "...should have let my feelings known sooner."
Suddenly nothing is remotely appetizing, not even that London Fog, and her stomach curdles. She knew all about Mr. Grossberg's shortcomings when it came to asserting himself; had this changed, even moderately, with Diego in the picture?
It sets Mia fuming. Not that it's Diego, but this newfound resolve Mr. Grossberg had discovered—weren't there other people he could be utilizing it on? Maybe, for instance, Redd White? And here he was more worried about how to tell Mia about their budding relationship, than he was about atoning for his cowardly actions. She expected this from Mr. Hammond, so desensitized to anyone with problems that he wasn't being paid to address, but not from Mr. Grossberg. Malleable as he was, she hadn't thought him this selfish.
One last sentence penetrates through Mia's veil of anger. It's Diego. "...understand. She's always been good like that."
Oh, she'll understand, will she? Because that's what Mia Fey did, was it? Understood why people hid truths from her, because she was too inept to draw it out of them.
She stands, hand flying to the doorknob.
It doesn't even occur to her that it's locked until she's met with resistance—of course these bozos have the door locked, for their little meeting. But she knows the trick, the right pressure to exert, and she quickly rotates the knob back to the left, catching the broken lock.
The door's thrown open with a deafening wham! It's followed by Diego jumping back from beside Mr. Grossberg and swearing loudly. Then the hollow echo of ceramic on wood. "Heavens!" Mr. Grossberg exclaims as he straightens up in his chair, pushing away from his desk as coffee flows out in every direction, dripping down all sides.
"I knew it!" Mia shouts.
Mr. Grossberg stammers out a flustered, "M-Mia, my dear! What is going—"
"What the hell, Mia?!" Diego finishes for him.
Mia's focus darts frantically between the two men, but she addresses only Mr. Grossberg.
"Mr. Grossberg! I don't know how to say this; i-it's not something I can claim to understand, but..." She sucks in a breath, locking eyes with Diego for a moment. He's cradling one hand tight in the other and his shirt is saturated wet from the stomach down to his belt. In any other circumstance, Mia would feel bad about causing him to spill coffee all over himself and Mr. Grossberg's desk, but not today. Not this circumstance. She looks back to Mr. Grossberg. "You and Mr. Armando are lovers!"
"We're...?" Mr. Grossberg is in the middle of snatching papers off his desk, all of them at least partially drenched with coffee. He splutters, chin wobbling as the words won't take shape. "Of all the... Ms. Fey, what on earth are you...!"
"Don't think I don't know!" She closes in on them—or, more accurately, Mr. Grossberg, since Diego is on the floor, trying to stretch for his mug from where it's rolled beneath the desk. "All your private meetings, all your French press and peaberries, all the extra hours you've been here—I'm talking to you, Mr. Armando!" Mia leans over the desk and calls down to Diego.
Diego dutifully pops up to his feet, mug in tow. He stares at her; she stares back.
And he laughs. Not his usual terse "Ha...!", but real laughter, so hard that he'd be on the floor again if he wasn't resting upon the desk to support himself. His free arm clutches his side across his stomach, soaking it with the coffee still yet to dry on his shirt
Of all Diego's reactions, this was not the one she'd foreseen—and it's maybe the one that pisses her off the most.
Or, it would if his uncontainable laughter wasn't so infectious that Mia feels the tickle of a giggle in her own throat. If he wasn't so damned attractive that even though Mia can no longer see his face—it's buried against his arm now, he's hardly able to stand—she's still drawn to him like a magnet. It's his presence, not his face, that keeps reeling her in.
"It's not funny!" she insists petulantly, backing away as Mr. Grossberg starts blotting up coffee with paper towels. It's mostly to keep convincing herself, because a reluctant smile forces its way through. "I thought...!"
Diego lifts his head, blinking back tears of mirth. When he's finally able to speak, he's too breathless to sound incredulous. "You... you thought I'd be messing around with this wet blanket? No offense, Marv," he says to their boss, "but I only drink bold roasts."
Mr. Grossberg is too busy sweeping down his desk to bother responding. With an exasperated sigh, he tosses a wad of paper towels into the waste bin, then rips off a few more. "Ms. Fey... it is quite the opposite of these delusions you've whipped up. Diego has been helping me try to reconcile with Shirlena... You see, I'm not exactly... er, I'm not versed in the ways of romance."
"Oh, and Senhor Cafeína here is?" She raises her eyebrows at Diego in a challenging manner. For all his flirtations, she hadn't heard of him out on a date with anyone, at least since she'd been here. Another piece of information that supported her suspicions about him and Mr. Grossberg.
Remnants of his laughing fit escape as a snort. "Come on, Mia. Between me and Rob, who would you go to for any advice? Ah, damn..." Using one hand, Diego tugs at the waist of his ruined shirt until it's untucked.
The silence she's struck into is her tacit answer. Mr. Hammond was the only one in the office still married, but Mia would hardly say that qualifies him in soliciting any sort of advice when it comes to romance. He spoke about his wife so little, that Mia and Diego would always joke she didn't even exist—that she must be a blow-up doll, if she was anything at all.
Mr. Grossberg collects all the soiled paperwork, disposes of it along with more paper towels. He lifts the phone to wipe beneath it. "I don't know how you came to such a conclusion, hrm... Why, Diego is like family to me! How could you think that a few extra hours here and there meant something so... so..."
"Impossible," Diego supplies, turning Mr. Grossberg's question into a definitive statement.
"It wasn't just that!" Mia protests. "I... I heard things and—"
"You were eavesdropping?" Diego asks, and she's instantly reminded of one of his rules: Don't ask a question you don't already know the answer to. Embarrassment suffuses Mia's cheeks. This misunderstanding is no longer humorous to him, and for how she'd just contended it wasn't funny—she likes the Diego who thought it was much better.
"I wasn't trying to," she says, contrite. Except, if that were true, she wouldn't feel the need to add on, "I... I'm sorry."
She's thrown off when Diego doesn't respond, instead setting his mug down and rounding the desk to approach her. When he does speak, it's to their boss with an artificial pleasantness.
"You good in here, Marv?" His eyes don't leave Mia. The intensity of his gaze could bore a hole through the wall and she hasn't seen him like this since they were in the lobby following the Fawles trial.
"Er, I think so," Mr. Grossberg says. "If you want to take the rest of the day off, my boy, then—"
"I thought you might say that." His arm goes around Mia's shoulder as he keeps on speaking to Mr. Grossberg. "I think Ms. Fey and I here need to have a little chat, and clear things up. Off the clock. Reprint those forms, and we'll pick up where we left off tomorrow. And hopefully you and Shirlena can pick up where you left off tonight."
She's looking at the floor now, but she can practically hear the wink in Diego's voice and is brutally aware of his arm still around her as he leads her out of Mr. Grossberg's office. It's steady, solid—would be comforting, even, if Mia didn't find the idea of picking up Mr. Grossberg's hemorrhoid cream from the local pharmacist (which she'd had to do two weeks ago) a less discomforting ordeal than the one she's currently in.
Diego escorts Mia down the hall and into his own office. He says nothing as he shuts the door behind them, and begins unbuttoning his shirt, revealing a black, fitted tank underneath. Any attempt at a further apology or explanation from Mia is extinguished, her teeth clenching as she fixates on the spray of dark hair peeking out from the boundary of where soft cotton meets Diego's skin.
There's a closet in the corner of Diego's office (Mia longs for the day she's promoted, and presented with an office containing a closet of her own). He moves to it, laying his dirty shirt over a hanger and searching through the few others within for a replacement.
"Well." Diego turns to her, holding a wrinkled gray athletic tee. He tugs it on, then runs a hand through his hair to smooth it down. "Never a dull moment here at Grossberg Law, huh?"
A lock of hair still pokes out astray, and Mia chooses to focus on it instead of looking directly at Diego. She hopes they still keep in contact, even a little, after today. After she's fired.
"I... I guess I should pack my things."
"And why is that?"
Her gaze slips to the floor again, but she hear Diego's footsteps as he closes in on her. Then his fingers are on her chin, lifting it.
"My eyes are up here, Mia."
She knows how women affect her. Their soft glow that she could melt into, warm and sweet like laying on the green grass of the campus common in summertime. Diego sets her on fire in an altogether different way; he ignites something at her core, makes it spread through every inch of her until it's almost unbearable. Nearly impossible to contain. Except that she's not going to let Diego Armando think he's won; she'll prove she can stand the heat.
Of course, if he knew how much he challenged her (and he must have some idea), he'd only add fuel to the fire. A lot like he's doing now.
His fingers fall away. He repeats himself, more serious. Concerned. "Why would you need to pack your things, Ms. Fey?"
"You were there! What I accused Mr. Grossberg—both of you—of. He'll fire me! He must think I'm a lunatic, on top of being a joke of an attorney, and—"
"Ha...! I don't think this has even cracked the Top Ten, as far as office shenanigans go. In case you're wondering, I probably hold nine of those Top Ten, Rob might have snuck in there somewhere. I doubt he'll remember half of it by the time he and Shirlena are all squashed up to each other tonight. As for me, I've already forgiven you... but the eavesdropping part..." Diego shakes his head. "That's far more upsetting."
"I..." Mia starts, then pauses, drawing in a deep breath. She should get it over with, confess to everything. "I'm sorry. I am, I just... I needed to know. I searched over your desk too, for... I don't know, evidence. Not for Post-its, although I should probably take some for Mr. Hammond, but um... I'm sorry, Diego. I should have asked, but I didn't exactly know how."
Diego nods once. "Apology accepted."
"... Just like that? You're not... upset or—"
"A little peeved, maybe. I was, anyway, but I'm over it now." He pauses, then continues after her widening eyes broadcast her disbelief. "Look, we've known each other, what, seven months, and this is the worst thing you've done to me? I'm pretty sure we're still on solid foundation here, as friends and colleagues. I still don't know how you reached the conclusion that I was messing around with him, though."
Mia does, and she explains it to Diego the best she can. About the background of the Bell case taking up residence in her every thought, and influencing how she perceived what was nothing more than a long-standing, professional relationship.
There's the contributing factor, a subject she feels comfortable broaching with only a select few people, Diego being one of them. "Not only that, but I didn't want to assume that... well, I've been the victim of it myself. But it's natural, and I guess I did it too, until talking with Ms. Bell made me think otherwise."
"Ah," is his simple reply, and it sends a wave of relief through her. She's so grateful to know someone like him, who can sound so much more understanding in one syllable than so many others she's known have failed to over the course of years and years. "Well, kudos for not making assumptions, and never say never, right? But my preferences thus far have been entirely singular, Mia. Women, just to clarify."
"Right... it was stupid of me." She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, a nervous habit she's had since she was a little girl. Which is what she feels like.
"I wouldn't go that far; 'stupid' is a bit harsh."
"But you have to admit," she says, lightening up a bit at his assurance, "it was all pretty suspicious. Especially, you got kinda spooked over me suggesting I stay and help you guys. And you turned down my offer to go to a coffee shop. That's not typical Diego Armando behavior."
"You seemed to have a pretty good handle on your part of the case, though. You just wanted my company, but Marv needed my help... I'm not joking—for once, right?" For as much time as Diego spends ragging on Mr. Grossberg, his worry is transparent. She rests her hand softly on his arm, letting him know she's listening. "He's been hopeless these past weeks, and I know things have been rough on you too, but he's just... utterly useless. It's pathetic to watch, but I'm literally the only person he's turned to for any kind of support. He's not exactly a popular guy, y'know?"
Some days Mia felt Mr. Grossberg deserved it; that he made his bed, and should lie in it, all the ties he'd cut when he'd pledged his allegiance to Redd White. It wasn't as simple as that, though; it was easy for Mia to say what he should and shouldn't have done with all the dirt she'd dug up over the years. But Diego was right; Mr. Grossberg was helpless, not just when it came to himself but with others, which was punishment enough. Sure, she could split hairs and say that whatever he'd suffered paled in comparison to Mia's family and countless others, but wasting time and energy on resenting Mr. Grossberg didn't bring her closer to taking down Redd White, to reuniting with her mother.
"Yeah..." Mia says, distant. "Yeah, I know."
"And I'm guessing all those sweet nothings you heard were the script I drafted up for Marv to recite to Shirlena. Which is exactly why I didn't want you to stay and help us. The last thing you needed to see was that train wreck. I spent a good half-hour coming up with that apology, and he didn't even get to talk to Shirlena directly; he had to leave a message. After I had to nearly twist his arm off to call her in the first place, then he leaves her a message sounding like he has a mouthful of marbles."
It's ironic, Mia thinks, how Diego always claims that Mr. Grossberg was the one so patient with him. The rough-around-the-edges adolescent that he met so long ago, who he began to see almost as a child of his own. Now Diego's the one exercising an endless supply of patience, of tolerance, all because of that longstanding loyalty. And Mr. Grossberg's the one needing guidance like a bewildered child.
"Do you think they'll reconcile?" Mia asks.
Diego shrugs. "Those two kids are crazy about each other—or just crazy, I think. It's no guarantee, but there's a lot better chance now than there was before, when all Marv wanted to do was gripe and grumble about it and wallow around in misery. Then he tries to act like he couldn't care less, like," Diego adopts Mr. Grossberg's low, rumbly tone, "'Oh, that's life, my boy.'"
It's usually funny when Diego imitates Mr. Grossberg. This isn't; it's just sad.
Yet, Diego's pointed grin returns. It's strange seeing it without a mug of coffee half shielding it, but hardly unwelcome, and Mia finds a smile of her own creeping up.
Until Diego says, "What I want to know is what you found."
Mia blinks."What I... found?"
"Yeah. You must have found some pretty decisive evidence, scrounging around my desk. Since you were so ready to damn me to a secret romance with that casanova of a boss of ours."
There's no point in hedging around the truth. Mia just tells Diego, reciting what she read off his desk calendar. "'Il Duce's at seven, with M'. Your dinner reservation for Saturday night."
"With Mr... ha! You think I made reservations for a Saturday night out with Grossberg?"
"Well, considering I thought you were his rebound..."
"Or just a good old-fashioned homewrecker," Diego smirks.
"Or that," Mia manages to laugh lightly. She refrains from adding in the tidbit about Il Duce's reputation—that's not important right now. "But what was I supposed to think? 'With M', there's no one else—'"
She cuts herself off. There is someone else. If it's not Marvin, the M could only mean...
Diego's slow smile confirms it. "It was going to be a surprise—but I guess I can't get anything by you, can I?" He pauses, likely to let Mia reply, but she's speechless. "I was going to ask you to Il Duce's. Not Marv, but you."
"Me?" Now she knows Diego has no clue about Il Duce's clientele—not that she thinks every customer who sets foot inside is there on the downlow, of course.
"Since we're coming in Saturday and spending the whole day adrift in the sea of mysteries surrounding Dahlia Hawthorne, I thought it'd be infinitely more bearable if we have a nice Italian dinner waiting at the end of it—even better if it were a surprise, but no looking back now. They have the best gelato in town; we could go just for dessert if you wanted to skip the meal."
Mia can't remember the last time she went out for dinner, at least somewhere that didn't have a dollar value menu. "That's... that sounds great! I'm glad the surprise is ruined, now I can starve myself all day Saturday in preparation for it." But she does wonder... "How do you know about Il Duce's, though?"
"Rob picks up from there every so often, and I always throw a few bucks at him so he can grab me an affogato. It's usually half-melted by the time he gets back, but it's still better than any of that sugary garbage from a chain. If their pasta's half as good as the gelato, we're in for a real treat."
Mia's not one hundred percent sure what an affogato is—likely it involves gelato and coffee, but it'll be something to ask Diego about when they go on Saturday.
But her anticipation is short-lived, as her memory tweaks at the wound that was opened not too long ago. "Are you sure you want to be caught dead with someone like me, Mr. Armando? Someone who isn't even paralegal material?"
"...What are you talking about? Who's thinkin' that?"
"You are! Need I remind you, that you thought I was all worked up earlier because I was out of my depth, trying to do all this work for Mr. Hammond."
"I meant that you're not a paralegal, Mia. That's not what you went to school for. You're just as much a part of this team as any of us, and everyone has to pull their weight, sure, but screw Rob if he's gonna keep you from being co-council."
She doesn't tell Diego that it was more her idea. Mr. Hammond went along with it readily, Diego having soured his view of some unproven rookie as co-council long ago. The last thing she wants is for Diego to have a chat with Mr. Hammond, lobby for her to join him in the courtroom tomorrow; she's not ready. "I... I mean, he has every right to, though. So do you, so does Mr. Grossberg... You say I'm a lawyer but I... I'm a mess, Diego. A hot mess," she forces out a stilted laugh, "but a mess nonetheless."
"You're the only one who thinks that," he says firmly. "Alright, so I won't deny the hot part, but I sure as hell don't see a mess when I look at you. All I see is someone with the makings of a successful attorney. I wouldn't be agreeing to come in this Saturday and help you research if I thought you were a mess."
Mia doesn't like being pitied, which works out well for Diego, since he never shows her any. He always tells her what he feels she needs to hear, and luckily this time it's what she wants to hear as well.
"I might regret saying this, but... you're right." She folds her arms under chest, meeting his smile with her own.
Diego's smile flickers out, a sudden pensiveness taking over. Like he just remembered something of dire importance.
"What?" Mia prompts, not that she thinks Diego will keep whatever he's thinking to himself anyway.
"Nothing..." But it's obviously something, with how he's looking at her. "Just, you know what really gets me about you thinking I was dying for a piece of the Grossberg pie?"
She thought he was over it, so she's honestly curious. "What?"
"I'm not sure what you think I saw in him in the first place. Sure, there's someone for everyone—Shirlena's proof of that. But, come on, Mia: even if my field of interest was as expansive as yours, Marv is like one of those gas station cappucinos—all filler, no kick. Like I told him back there, I need the strongest roast available to keep my senses awake and my mind sharp."
"Oh..." Mia fidgets in place, feeling strangely vulnerable. "I don't know what I—"
"Someone like you."
Everything stops—everything except Mia's heart, beating like a drum, pulsing in her ears. This is what she wanted, isn't it? She needs to say something! "I... Thank you..?"
"No, thank you. I'm glad you're here, Kitten," Diego continues. "With me right now, yeah, but at this firm. This place needs you here; I need you here to keep me grounded, to keep me from going insane trying to figure out why I haven't ditched this place. Mia, you give a damn, and God, do you know how many attorneys out there don't? Two of them work in this office, I'll tell ya that much. So, get it out of your head that I'd have my sights set on a steaming pile of apathy like Marv."
Mia finds her voice again, infuses it with a hint of teasing. "Can I take this as a confession, Mr. Armando?"
"A confession of...?"
"Of your feelings for me, professionally and... not profesionally."
"You can take it however you wish. Maybe just a confession of my feelings not for Marvin Grossberg."
Mia hadn't realized how close they were standing to each other until now, until it occurs to her that if she wanted to, she could push up on her toes and kiss Diego without taking another step forward. She stares at his collar to keep herself from being tempted any further.
Besides, her logical side argues, they haven't even gone out yet. There's still time for that, no need to rush, not when there's more important things to take care of. Her case with Mr. Hammond; Saturday, the everlasting pursuit of Dahlia Hawthorne's tangled past.
"You still up for that London Fog?" Diego asks, breaking Mia from her reverie. "You really got me wondering how its smoggy partner will taste."
"Oh," Mia laughs, mostly to herself. "I'd only asked you to see just how dedicated you were to staying here with Mr. Grossberg. I wasn't really inviting you."
"Ouch!" Diego presses a hand to his chest. "After pouring my heart out to you like that—"
'—And pouring coffee all over yourself."
"And that. You're uninviting me?"
Mia laughs again, more in earnest. "No, I'm kidding. Of course you're invited" She sneaks by Diego, reaching for him to pull him along. "Let's blow this joint."
She misses his arm, latching to his wrist instead. It freezes both of them, but all Mia can feel is a warm thrill. She looks back at Diego, and puffs of amused laughter leave them both. But their hands linger, then move, Mia's slipping neatly into Diego's.
Ms. Fey, says a little voice inside her, giddy and bubbling with hope. You and Diego Armando could be lovers.