DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Trial By Jury and all characters are
property of NBC and Dick Wolf. No infringement intended. Joan and Sally are mine. :)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just another in a line of many fics that have been left unfinished and abandoned on my hard drive. This one, however, now has an ending not sure it was the ending I'd originally planned, but at least it's seeing the light of day. Thanks to the wonderful Flying Peanuts for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Life's Little Changes
The sidewalks of the city were packed with people hurrying along to their workplaces, the unusual amount of snowfall making the going treacherous, not to mention horribly sloppy. The more experienced individuals walked with their hands stuffed in their coat pockets, heads held high, scarves tucked neatly into their overcoats, beat-up trainers hugging their feet and work shoes hidden safely away in their shoulder bags as they navigated through the slushy conditions confidently and with purpose. Some even managed to expertly keep up with the human flow of traffic while sipping on their specialty lattes, coffees, or espressos.
The rookies and snow virgins of the group slipped and slid along the pavement, their expensive shoes skating through the ice and snow, much like someone who'd stepped onto an ice rink for the very first time. Their fight to keep their balance was made worse as they continually casted a worried glance at their wrists or cell phones, checking the time and wondering if they'd make it to work in time to clock in. A few of the lucky ones the ones who'd planned well and hadn't encountered any unforeseen mishaps had already arrived at their offices and were settling into their daily routines. Two in particular readied for their day on the seventh floor of 1 Hogan Place.
"Is she here yet?" Sally Porter asked her co-worker, Joan Wright, as she placed a steaming mug of coffee on her friend's desk. As was their practice, one would head directly to the floor's tiny break room and secure their first cups of coffee for the day, while the other would begin the process of booting up the computers and checking to see if any of the bosses were in. Today was Joan's turn to take the first step into the lion's den.
"No, thank God. She really has been a tear these past couple of weeks, hasn't she?" Joan said, her question purely rhetorical in nature. No one knew better than Sally how insufferable their boss had been lately. She smiled down at her 'Superhero by Day' mug and threaded her fingers through its handle. At least she could enjoy her first cup of coffee in the calm before the storm.
Sally took a sip from her mug and carefully nodded her reply, taking a moment to savor the wonderful caffeinated elixir before making a comment. She sighed contently and eased the cup back down onto her desk. "It's not going to get better anytime soon either. She's going through the change, you know."
Joan's head snapped up just as her lips touched the rim of her cup and she almost spilled her coffee all over her computer monitor. She steadied her mug and was barely able to keep the sloshing liquid from spilling over its edge.
"What?" She stared at her friend in disbelief. "How can you tell?" How could anyone tell, she wondered. Tracey Kibre had acted as if she'd been going through the change her entire adult life, or at least as long as Joan had known her. If their boss was going to get worse, Joan wasn't sure anyone would survive the aftermath.
Sally spared a glance over her shoulder to make sure none of their coworkers had arrived and another at the closed elevator doors. She stepped closer to Joan and whispered conspiratorially, "Kelly accidentally let it slip yesterday after Tracey left in a huff. Tracey slammed the office door harder than usual and I went in to check on Kelly after Tracey had stomped into the elevator and disappeared behind its doors."
"And?" Joan whispered back, leaning in toward her friend. She, too, glanced nervously around the room, but she was more concerned with seeing Tracey than an eavesdropping co-worker. It was a well known fact that Joan couldn't keep a straight face to save her life. Tracey would know immediately that she'd been the subject of their conversation. Swallowing thickly, Joan turned her focus back to Sally.
"And Kelly was sitting on the couch and just staring at the ceiling. She was muttering to herself about surviving Tracey's menopause and hadn't realized that I'd walked in. It seems Tracey had made some remark about their age difference for the umpteenth time, I imagine but she apparently made mention that perhaps they should rethink their relationship. Kelly mumbled something to that effect before she realized that she'd spoken out loud. She quickly apologized and hurried from the room, like a bat out of Hell. Probably been feeling like she's been living in Hell, too."
The elevator dinged before Joan could ask more questions and both women turned to stare at the shiny silver doors. More than a few rapid heartbeats passed between them before the heavy doors began to slowly slide open. Sally held her breath and Joan said a silent prayer, but both women's efforts to will away the inevitable was for naught as Tracey stepped through the gaping hole, a bulldog-like snarl etched on her face.
Joan visibly cringed. The beast had been set free.
"Excuse me, Tracey," Sally said from just outside her boss's office door. Her tone was a bit louder than normal, but since her knock had gone unanswered and Tracey had also ignored her initial verbal request to enter, she figured a slight increase in volume was in order. She did, however, keep both feet in the hallway and angled toward her desk, just in case she needed to make a quick getaway.
Tracey looked up and glared at the door, her dark eyes pinned on her assistant. Sally inched back. She could have sworn she heard a low growl.
"I, um," Sally began and quickly held up a file, hoping to distract her boss and draw Tracey's penetrating gaze to the manila folder. It was difficult for Sally to concentrate on her words when she was being scrutinized so carefully, and she certainly had no intention of becoming the next victim to be chewed up and spit out by Tracey today. Her deception worked as Tracey zeroed in on the file and Sally hurried to relay her message. "I wondered if you had any idea where Kelly is. She asked me to deliver the Henry file to her this morning, and I haven't seen her come in. She isn't scheduled for court today, either."
An almost imperceptible shift of black eyes toward the couch where Kelly usually perched during the day would have been missed had Sally not been looking specifically for something that would confirm her suspicion. Tracey had been so wrapped up in her dark mood that she hadn't realized that she'd been alone the entire morning, and, as usual, she covered it well.
"Have you tried her cell?" Tracey asked nonchalantly, as if there should be no reason why she would know where Kelly happened to be. After all, they only lived together, shared all their meals together, usually came into work together, and spent almost every minute together.
Sally lowered the file that had been acting as a rather weak shield and risked being burned by Tracey's searing gaze. "Yes, I have." She paused long enough for the other woman to take in her reply. "I keep getting her voicemail."
"Did you leave a message?" Tracey's gruff tone faltered slightly. She remembered seeing Kelly's phone on the nightstand when she'd finally given up on sleep and had crawled out of bed at four o'clock that morning, her pajamas soaked from sweating half the night. She'd grumbled, bitched, and complained all the way to the bathroom but had done so as quietly as her foul mood would allow. Even in her current self-centered, overly emotional state of mind, she'd somehow realized that Kelly hadn't slept any better than she had in the past two weeks; mostly because Tracey hadn't let her.
Sally nodded. "Yes, two, in fact. I'm beginning to get a little worried," she admitted, daring to take another step into the office. "It's not like Kelly not to call in if she's going to be delayed and she never ignores her calls." 'Unlike you these days,' Sally wanted to add, but getting fired hadn't been on her daily list of items to accomplish. She readied to ask permission to leave the office to go check on Kelly, but stopped abruptly at the odd sound coming from just outside the door.
Thunk step thunk step thunk step
"That's because my cell phone hit the sidewalk, bounced into the street and then caromed into the storm drain," Kelly said, breathlessly, as she pulled her crutches closer to her body to fit through the door. "I didn't have time to go find another one to replace it."
"Oh my God, what happened to you?" Sally hurried over to the injured woman and grabbed hold of the briefcase that had been hitting against Kelly's right crutch.
"I hit the sidewalk, too, only harder," Kelly replied as she finally made it to the couch and plopped down. She released her crutches and tossed her head back against the padded cushion, not caring in the least that her metal 'legs' had slid noisily to the floor. She closed her eyes, purposely avoiding looking at Tracey, and rested her bruised palms in her lap. "Took me forever to hail a cab to take me to the hospital."
Tracey sat perfectly still and studied her lover from head to toe. Kelly's face was unmarred, but the rest of her was hidden beneath long silk sleeves and jeans jeans? Tracey frowned and focused on the younger women's legs, sweeping her gaze down to a single trainer on one foot and bare toes poking out of a fresh plaster cast on the other.
"Sally," Tracey said slowly, edgily, her voice dropping to its lowest register. "Could you excuse us for a moment?"
Sally stood from her crouched position and leaned Kelly's crutches against the side of the couch before glancing over at her boss. She recognized both the overly-controlled tone and Tracey's struggle to keep her expression neutral. Hurrying toward the door, she reached back for the doorknob. "Yell if you need anything, Kelly," she said as she pulled the door toward her. With a heavy sigh, she stepped over the threshold and closed the door, wondering if anyone would miss her if she took the rest of the day off.
On the other side of the door, silence was so thick even the thinnest of legal briefs couldn't slip in-between the wide space that separated the two women. Kelly continued to keep her eyes shut, bone-tired and not in a mood to fight with her lover. If Tracey wanted to start something, then she would have to be the one to begin the conversation, something Tracey never did in these types of situations. This, however, was a circumstance that had never happened before, and chances were, would never happen again. Plus, there was the whole 'going through the change' aspect that made Tracey very unpredictable; nothing was sacred these days.
"Why didn't you call?" Tracey asked as calmly as she was able. She intertwined her fingers and clenched them together, her fingertips digging painfully into the backs of her hands. Her bruised ego and hurt feelings wouldn't allow her to do what she really wanted: rush across the room and take Kelly protectively in her arms.
Kelly remained stubbornly silent. She knew why she hadn't called and she wasn't proud of it, but she also knew that she'd do it again. She'd been in too much pain to have to also endure Tracey lecturing her on falling down, like it had been her fault that the heel of her shoe had snapped off or that the sidewalk had been so slick that her ankle had twisted awkwardly. At least now, with a drug-induced, rather pleasant buzz thrumming through her, the pain had been temporarily put on hold. That didn't mean, though, that she was ready to open herself up to Tracey's wrath.
"Kelly?" Tracey said again with an edge so sharp Kelly was in real danger of being sliced and diced if she stayed quiet. Apparently, though, her drugs were really good ones as Kelly didn't so much as bat a closed eyelash, not even when Tracey's chair scraped against the floor or when her lover's high heels clicked loudly on the floor, heading her way. Defiantly, she sunk down deeper into the couch.
A slight depression in the cushion beside her was almost Kelly's undoing, but she held firm to her conviction. She was the one injured, after all. She was the one who'd had to admit herself into the ER, the one who'd had to hold still despite being in tremendous pain during several sets of x-rays, the one who'd had to grip on to the edges of the exam table instead of her lover's hand when the cast had been applied, and the one who'd had to endure a recent onslaught of tongue-lashing from Tracey and not the good kind, either. She was the injured party here, damn it!
Tracey just sat and stared at Kelly. This close she could see how pale her lover's face really was and how the muscle in Kelly's jaw clenched slightly, although Tracey wasn't sure if it was because Kelly was bravely trying not to show her pain or if it was necessary to keep her lover from participating in conversation. Tracey reached out to take Kelly's hand but quickly pulled back, her turbulent thoughts and all-over-the-place emotions taking over her actions. Had she really been that different lately? So difficult and so horrible that Kelly had chosen not to call for help, even though she'd been seriously injured? She stared down at Kelly's cast and tried to order her chaotic thoughts.
Concentration had always been one of Tracey's greatest attributes but, lately, she just couldn't keep her focus. She'd have her nose buried in a file and, the next thing she knew, she was thinking about something else, usually a completely different non-related topic, and oftentimes, chocolate or some other sweet played the distracting role. Thankfully, she hadn't been due in court this week; otherwise, she'd probably mix up cases and present wrong evidence, like introduce a knife instead of a gun or call a witness from a different trial. She hated feeling so completely out of control.
Sighing quietly, Tracey moved her gaze from hard, white plaster to soft, faded blue denim, a contradiction in every sense and, with one being so near in proximity to the other, such a stark contrast: one stiff and unyielding and the other warm and inviting, kind of like, she thought, the impression she and Kelly must give whenever they stood side-by-side. She'd never thought about that before, never really cared, and she wished she could just hit a button and make it and all the other similar thoughts she'd had lately go away. Tracey Kibre wasn't exactly synonymous with a namby-pamby cream puff.
Another soft sigh and she finally lifted her gaze to find a pair of blue eyes looking back at her, tired, glassy blue eyes. She reached for Kelly's hand and, this time, nothing stopped her.
"Owww," Kelly hissed, a grimace accompanying her declaration of pain. She pulled her hand back and turned it over. Red skin, scattered bruises, and a few cuts and scratches dotted her palm.
Tracey very carefully, and almost reverently, cradled Kelly's hand in her own. She stared down at the raw, angry-looking skin and any fight she may have had in left in reserve drained away at seeing the damage to her lover's smooth, silky skin. "I really wish you would've called," she said softly, her tone so different from the accusatory one she'd used earlier. There was a real warmth and sincerity in her words.
Kelly watched silently as a single tear welled up in the corner of Tracey's eye, and she treaded carefully, not wanting to say or do anything that might set the other woman off. This emotional roller coaster she'd been riding with her lover was keeping her off balance, too. One minute, she was scaling up a ridiculously steep incline and, the next, she was plummeting down at the same angle and at neck-breaking speed. They'd never actually come to a complete stop before, until now.
"You first," they said, speaking again in unison. They shared a chuckle before Kelly spoke, beating Tracey this time.
"What did you want to say?" she asked, reassuring Tracey by gently easing her sore palm on to her lover's leg. She offered a smile and looked at Tracey expectantly.
"Well," Tracey began hesitantly, not really certain as to what she wanted to say. She silently cursed herself for speaking Kelly's name so quickly and not holding out longer. And why was she so damn nervous all of a sudden? It was just Kelly. "Are you injured anywhere else? What did the doctor say?"
"Just some bruises on my elbows. I somehow managed to get my hands down and took the brunt of the fall there. I landed hard on my elbows, though," Kelly reported, her expression shifting to something close to a pout. "My new red silk blouse is ruined." The sidewalk had rushed up to meet her so quickly, she hadn't had time to do anything but protect her face and chin. With the excruciating pain in her ankle, she hadn't really noticed the injuries to her hands and elbows until much later. They certainly stung like Hell now.
"And your ankle?" Tracey asked, starting to feel more grounded. Sticking to pressing matters had been the right tack to take, even if it had been more instinctual than planned.
Kelly shrugged. "The doctor said it was a clean break. Didn't feel so clean to me," she complained and not just because of the pain involved but because she ended up so filthy after she hit the wet, dirty pavement.
"This wouldn't have happened if I'd been with you," Tracey finally put into words the guilt she felt when she first laid eyes on Kelly's cast. If she hadn't been so bullheaded and left for work while Kelly was still asleep, she could've stopped her lover from falling.
Kelly shook her head. "It happened so fast, Tracey, there's no way you could've grabbed me in time. I'd have still broken my ankle, still hit the pavement, only you'd have fallen, too." She gestured toward Tracey's outfit. "I'd have never heard the end of it if your favorite suit got ruined."
Tracey opened her mouth to deny her lover's accusation and quickly snapped it closed. She looked down at her jacket and skirt, the smooth lines fitting her perfectly. She would've been pissed.
A loud yawn practically split Kelly's jaw and distracted Tracey from coming up with a plausible denial. "Sorry," Kelly apologized. "These drugs are a lot stronger than I thought." She yawned again. "I think I'll have Sally call me a cab and go home. I'll come in tomorrow and catch up on things."
Tracey glanced at the stack of files on her desk and then at the clock on the far wall: 12:30. It was way too early to knock off for the day. A soft moan drew Tracey's attention back to her lover as Kelly struggled to sit up and reach for her crutches. Tracey glanced past her desk to the far corner and the never-used Christmas gift Sally and Joan had given her. She pushed to her feet and headed toward her desk.
"She didn't say anything about Kelly's injury?" Joan asked in bewilderment. "You're kidding?"
Sally leaned forward and glanced toward Tracey's office door, checking to make sure it was still closed. "Nope, not a word. She didn't even get up; just asked me to leave."
"Poor Kelly, she can't catch a break," Joan said dismally, adding a tsking sound and shaking her head sadly.
"Other than her ankle, you mean," Sally pointed out and earned a scowl from her friend. She held up a hand in apology. "Sorry, that was bad."
"Yes, it was," Joan agreed with a firm nod. She looked at the closed door. "Kelly was in a lot of pain. Tracey won't expect her to stay the rest of the day."
Sally's jaw dropped and she stared disbelievingly at the other woman. "Now who's kidding; we're talking about Tracey here." She watched Joan pull her shoulders back and ready to defend their boss's love for Kelly. "Hold on a second," Sally said quickly, rising from her chair and glancing toward their co-workers. Surprisingly, no one seemed to be paying any attention to their conversation. Of course, the nosier of the bunch were on their lunch break. "This isn't the same Tracey that we taught how to make a Yule log," she whispered quietly. "This is menopausal Tracey. Who knows what she'll do."
"Sally," a stern voice called out from Tracey's open office door. "You still have the Henry file?" Tracey eased to the side and allowed room for Kelly to pass.
Sally snapped to attention and turned toward her boss. "Um, yes, Ma'am, it's on my desk," she stuttered and gestured toward the file. Her face neared a crimson color and the tips of her ears appeared dangerously close to igniting. Tracey bit back a grin and turned toward her other assistant.
"Joan, could you call downstairs and ask for someone to hail a cab?" Tracy waited for her lover to move forward a few feet before she angled toward Sally's desk and retrieved Kelly's file. She lifted the plastic lid of the mobile folding file cart and slipped the folder inside. Sliding the lid back into place, she stood and gripped the cart's stainless steel handle. "Kelly and I will be working from home this afternoon," Tracey said matter-of-factly as she started for the elevator, pulling the cart behind her. She had to consciously slow her stride to keep from leaving Kelly behind.
Once she and her lover were tucked safely into the elevator, Tracey stuck her head out and called back to her assistants. "Why don't you two take the rest of the day off?" Her timing, as usual, was impeccable as the elevator doors began to close on her suggestion. She was barely able to see the expressions on the two women's faces.
Sally stood, frozen in place, her jaw resting on her chest; while Joan grinned widely and even wiggled a few fingers at their retreating boss.
Inside the descending elevator, Tracey slid an arm around Kelly's waist and chuckled. If she had to go through this stupid change of life, then she'd take advantage of any situation she could to glean some kind of enjoyment.
"You really are incorrigible, you know that?" Kelly said teasingly, having accused her lover quite often of the offense.
"I know," Tracey replied with a mischievous grin as the doors slid open, revealing a spacious lobby and Joe, the doorman, hurrying forward to greet them. "C'mon, let's get you home and rested," Tracey whispered low enough for only Kelly to hear. "Then I'll show you just how incorrigible I can really be."
With her ear still tingling from Tracey's warm breath, Kelly tentatively started forward, suddenly very grateful that she had crutches to hold her up. She had a feeling she was in for a bumpy ride but, as long as it was with Tracey, she'd just hang on and savor every second.
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