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Something Never Changes

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It’s not that he doesn’t notice the frequent turns of heads or the confusing smirks from the people passing by. He just doesn’t care. He knows it’s not a matching picture: a manly folk like him holding a well-wrapped, not just red but bright red gift box in his hand, not to mention the dramatically huge white flower-like ornament glued on it. He is familiar with this scenario. Back to the first time he did this, he was holding a much bigger gift box with a lilac bow on the cover. Her assistant was gobsmacked seeing him holding that gift and appearing at her office.

“Sorry, sir, but Ms Lockhart is in court.”

“I know,” He chuckles, “She was still there when I was excused. Will you be so kind and give this to her when she’s back?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Thanks then.”

He was not sure how she would react to his gift, but an inner drive promoted him to do something, anything to show his intention. When she finished cross-examining him, “Thank you, Mr McVeigh.” she said then gave him an approbatory and meaningful smile. The way she pronounced his unfortunate last name made his heart skip a beat. At that moment, he knew for certain that he craved to know more about her and he would see her again. His eyes followed her graceful figure clad in a black suit dress with a shiny belt outlining her narrow waist back to the attorney’s desk. She sat down, raised her head and gave a quick glance to the stand. Meeting his gaze, she swiftly turned to her client and patted her slender fingers on the young man’s arm. After being excused, he rushed to the nearest book store. When he was waiting for the staff to find a nice gift box, he leaned on the counter, pondering. “She’s way out of your league.” An inner voice screaming. Ever since their first meeting, that voice kept reminding him how different they were in values, political stands and lifestyles, but he just couldn’t help it. It was like an instinct to frame his photo with Sarah Pailin, to place it prominently in his office, and to even imitate a similar phone call, leaving her waiting impatiently in his wooden chair. He was enchanted.

 

Standing at the front desk of her new firm, he wonders how their status has evolved. Back then, they were not even dating and now they are married but separated.

“Diane Lockhart please.” He steps forward.

“Do you have an appointment, sir?”

“Uh, no. I’m ...”

“Mr McVeigh?” He is trying to explain to the receptionist but interrupted by a shrieking call of his name. He turns and meets a young girl with curly black hair wearing a huge smile.

“Yes, uh...” He frowns with embarrassment not able to recognize her.

“Marrisa, Eli Gold’ daughter. We met at Jackie and Howard’s engagement party. Remember?”

“Right, right. You work here, too?”

“Yes, they want me for diversity hire.” She jokes with an energetic laugh and turns to the receptionist, “This is Ms Lockhart’s husband. I’ll show him in.”

He follows the girl and is a little intimidated by her perky nature already.

“Wow, you brought a present I see.” She eyes the nicely wrapped box in his hand, “So romantic! That will cheer her up. An Hermès scarf?”

“No.” He answers plainly, but it surprises him that actually he hasn’t given Diane any present like that. “She’s not happy here?” He asks.

“Generally yes, but you know, the Ponzi scheme and all the money she’s lost. It’s not her best time. She never tells me about it, though. I’m observant. I can tell that she feels down even when she tries to look tough. I love Diane, I mean, she gave me this job, but to work with someone like Diane,” her eyes glisten with admiration, “I just want to impress her. Frankly, it must feel like an idiot to disappoint her.” She shoots him a knowing glance but receives nothing but an uneasy look on his face. She realizes she’s said too much. “Sorry, excuse my verbal diarrhea...well, I’ll just shut up.” She makes a zipping motion on her mouth.

He doesn’t blame her and in his mind, he pleas guilty for that, “I’m that idiot for sure.”

 

“Diane, someone is here to see you and he has a present.” Marrisa announces their entrance with a smirk.

Facing the inside of the office room. she is on the phone right now.

She turns. There’s an evident halt of astonishment in her eyes when she watches him step in. He called on her uninvited before. She used to be surprised with joy and welcome him with her big grin and warm hug. But who is he fooling? They are not there any more.

She wraps up the phone call.

“Hi!” She greets softly.

“Do you want me to stay and take notes?” Marrisa says maliciously.

“No, thank you.” She stresses her answer but ends with a slight lift of the corner of her mouth when Marrisa drawlingly moves her steps out. She likes this chatty girl.

They exchange short pleasantries. Then he mentions a missed call from her.

“No, that must be an accidental dial. I think my phone is, anyway, I’m sorry.” She apologizes with an embarrassed smile. He lets it go and asks her for a favor to review his speech to the police union.

“Really? Well, that doesn’t sound like you.”

“Yes, it isn’t.” She cracks up but restrains her laugh. It feels like a century since the last time he heard her symbolic husky laugh.

“I was hoping that you could read it.” He hands her his speech draft.

“Sure. Is tonight okay?” She takes the paper and assumes to unfold it.

“Yes, I will have to give it tomorrow.” Her eyes follow his movement of taking the red box from under his arm. “And...thank you.” Gently, he puts it on her desk and smiles at her coyly.

A smile vanishes almost the second it emerges on her face. Again, she tries to restrain her joyful side in front of him. Or maybe, she is just being polite, there is no pleasure to receive a present from him. The thought crosses his mind but doesn’t linger. He eyes down on the box then shoots her a short but genuine look before turning to leave.

It feels like he was back in high school and just dropped a love letter to the girl he had a crush on. The only thing that stirred his mind was whether the girl felt the same about him. Just like how he feels right now. On his way out, he realizes that they only talked for like two minutes or maybe fewer, but it felt like hours. The strained air between them, both of them tiptoeing when talking to each other, studying small expressions of each other. Will this be the way they talk from now on? Their last meeting didn’t end well with her ceasing the hope for reconciliation and him yelling his refusal to divorce her. Or maybe from the moment he was questioned about his affair in the court, things can never be the same as they were before. He wasn't gonna tell her about the speech until he saw her name on his phone screen. He was gonna be in town anyway and he knew nobody better in wording or speech than she is. Without thinking too much, he went through his working studio and found a cardboard box in the lower layer of the safe under the working platform. He lifted the lid of the box and ran his fingers over the cold steel of the stainless barrel. A lot has changed between them for the past few months, but she loves a revolver, maybe that hasn’t changed yet.