About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The First Law of Love
Shore Leave Cafe Novel
By Abbie Williams
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams
All rights reserved.
Chicago, Illinois - May, 2013
Rain spattered the glass a few inches from my nose as I sat in the gloom of my apartment. I blew a long stream of smoke toward the five inches of screen near the bottom of the window, cranked open in my attempt to ensure that no one would complain about the scent of the cigarette. I was stressed. I needed nicotine right now, not a lecture.
The city was dismal under a weeping sky, an hour from sunset. The streetlight a block away went through its paces in a repeating array of blurry color, starbursts of red, green, yellow and then back to red; I watched like one mesmerized. The orange neon L on Papa Leone's Pizza sign needed replacing, zizzing in and out, flickering like the tail end of a firefly. I closed my eyes, conjuring up an image of fireflies at dusk. In the background I could see Flickertail Lake gleaming blue promises and my heart clenched on a hard note of longing.
I hadn't been back to Minnesota, where my mother's side of the family had run the Shore Leave Cafe for generations, in over a year. This seemed inconceivable, but what did I expect as a student in the JD program at Northwestern College? Free time? A boyfriend? The ability to see my family now and then?
I expected none of these things, as my father warned me over three years ago, after I'd been accepted to his alma mater, Northwestern Law. As I'd been staying in Chicago with them the warm, windy afternoon I'd received my letter of acceptance, Dad and his wife Lanny took me out for dinner at Spiaggia and I felt as though the universe was presenting me with an incredible gift — a chance to make something of myself.
Euphoric could not begin to describe me that evening, buzzed as I'd been on my own glory, real and imagined. The juris doctor program. Chicago and all its glittery bustle. Dad's beaming smile. Visions of myself standing triumphant before judges, winning case after important case through the decades of my career, stormed my mind as I sipped wine, too revved up for food. That was also the evening I first met Ronald Turnbull, a business associate of my father's, a brief introduction as he'd paused at our table to chat with Dad and Lanny.
"Ron, this is my daughter, Patricia," Dad had said, and I'd delicately placed the wine glass on the table to offer my hand.
Ron, silver-haired and intimidating, confident of his place in the world, produced a smile as our hands met. "Ms. Gordon. I understand congratulations are in order. Your father speaks highly of your academic abilities."
"Thank you," I responded. "I plan to prove myself and then some."
He chuckled, seeming amused, and I felt my shoulders square in immediate defense, but then Ron surprised me by saying, "I've got my eye on you, Ms. Gordon. I'll see you in appellate court. And perhaps we can chat next May, when you're on the hunt for summer work."
I was stunned by this offer but I'd kept all of that from my expression, maintaining a professional mien. "I appreciate that very much. Again, thank you."
Dad couldn't keep from grinning as Ron was led to another table. He leaned toward me and murmured, "I would love to see you ground floor, Turnbull and Hinckley. That's promising, Tish, promising indeed."
"He sits on the appellate court?" I peered discreetly after Ron. The appellate court was comprised of alumni and faculty; as a first-year student I would present mock cases before them, arguing against fellow students. Nervous anticipation prickled along my spine.
"Alumni," Dad confirmed. "And Ron is an old friend. I've talked about you for years, honey, but you'll prove yourself."
That he thought so sent the warmth of pride through my heart. Dad was an expert schmoozer; a sincere compliment from him was a rarity and so I let myself bask in the one he'd just bestowed.
"Favors," Lanny said, caressing her wine glass. She had not yet touched the appetizers, but for reasons other than my own; she didn't remain a size two for nothing. My stepmother wasn't exactly the evil witch I'd once believed; though her personality was as shallow as a wading pool she was my father's wife, and I was mature enough to be civil to her. She elaborated, "Favors are what get you ahead. You scratch Ron's back now, he'll return the gesture." Her full, candy-tinted lips plumped into a speculative pout as she regarded me. I studied her flawless eyebrows, her professionally-applied false eyelashes as she added, "It doesn't hurt that you're young and beautiful, either."
I wasn't sure if I should thank her or consider this a smoothlydelivered insult. Implication: that's how a woman gets ahead in the corporate world. Certainly she had used her own considerable talents in that department to hook a successful lawyer like my father. Dad noticed my rising temper and grinned. "Ron does have a very eligible young nephew."
At this I laughed, rolling my eyes, and Dad winked and refilled my glass. He added, with a nod at his wife, "Lanny's right about favors. People don't take them lightly. Ron is as old-school as they come. You can't go wrong on his good side, honey."
I acknowledged this truth. "I'm not eyeing a corner office just yet, but it's good to know there's even a remote possibility."
And I did my damnedest. Both summers, rather than fly home to Landon to indulge in summertime on the lake, I'd completed externships at Turnbull and Hinckley. Ron's firm was elegant and understated, with the prestige afforded one of the top law offices in the city. I'd been so jazzed to step through the revolving doors onto the marble floor of the main entrance, overwhelmed and rabid to prove myself worthy, that it took a few days to realize that everyone around me was enmeshed in competition. Sharks in a goldfish tank, far too confined, constantly eyeing the gleaming promise of the ocean just beyond reach. Sharks that offered sincere smiles but would sink their teeth in any exposed flesh the second your back was turned.
What did you expect? I had reminded myself countless times upon collapsing in my dorm room after midnight, rising before dawn to shower and hit the sidewalk running. I thrived on competition. I was tough. Never mind that a part of me, deeply buried, quivered with fear that I would do well enough, be successful to a degree, but perhaps never achieve real greatness. Never truly matter.
What would it take? Partnership? Your own firm? Rule over the entire city? I giggled at this thought, envisioning a sleek black cape and designer shoes with heels as sharp as icepicks, rubbing my hands together before I ensnared all of Chicago in my power. That's what sleeplessness does to you. Creates delusions of grandeur.
The rain seemed unending and I lit a second cigarette with the ember from the first. I would graduate Northwestern in two days, the first major goal accomplished. Mom and my stepdad, Blythe Tilson, were coming for the ceremony and I planned to fly home with them the next day, for a well-deserved rest in Minnesota. My heart swelled at the picture of Shore Leave, of my family waiting there for me; Grandma promised that half of Landon would be at the celebration thrown in my honor. After three weeks at home, I planned to return to Chicago for good, pass my bar exams in July, and then (hopefully) accept a position at Turnbull and Hinckley.
I pressed my forehead to the chill of the window glass. It was humid outside, muggy with springtime, but cold as a meat locker in our air-conditioned apartment. Grace's father paid our utility bill; I never took for granted that one of my roommates was a trust-fund baby. And yet here I sat with the window open, wasting energy even now.
Camille, I thought. I want to talk to my sister.
My phone was lying on the windowsill and I snatched it up. Camille answered on the second ring. "I knew you were having a bad day. I had a feeling."
"Hi," I whispered, inundated with gratitude that she knew me well enough to understand this even before I spoke a word. Suddenly I missed her so much that I ached.
"What's going on?" she asked and I imagined her sitting on the porch of the homestead cabin that her husband, Mathias Carter, and his father, Bull, had refurbished. They'd added a whole new wing, two bathrooms, and a loft where the six-year-old twins slept.
My older sister had four children and was currently expecting a fifth in late October; Mathias basically just had to look at Camille to get her pregnant. They hadn't let Aunt Jilly tell them if this latest baby was a boy or a girl, wanting to be surprised instead. I pictured all the kids running loose around Shore Leave these days — Aunt Jilly and Uncle Justin had Rae, Riley, and Zoe; Mom and Blythe had Matthew and Nathaniel — realizing I would hardly recognize my nieces and nephews, let alone my half-brothers, these days. I was not a very good aunt or big sister.
"I'm just ... blue," I muttered, without elaborating. I studied the rain streaking my narrow window on the outside world, picturing Landon, no doubt bathed in the dusty-gold glow of the setting sun. My body craved that sunlight, the liquid embrace of the lake water, the natural sounds I'd missed here in Chicago the past three years. Wind through the leaves, water lapping the shore, birdsong.
"Do you have Clinty's calendar?" Camille asked, attempting to lighten my mood.
"Oh my God, yes," I said, giggling. "Ina and Grace have it displayed front and center, just to torture me. They think he's the hottest thing ever. I told him if he ever shows up here they'll have him out of his fireman's uniform before he can say 'threesome.'"
My sister laughed; in the background, I could hear nine-year-old Millie Jo fighting with one or both of her brothers. I turned to look at Clint's picture, attached to the front of our fridge with two magnets shaped like chocolate chip cookies. Clint was more like my brother than my cousin and I snorted a laugh at this image of him; every December the Landon Township fire department produced a calendar featuring their firefighters as a way to raise money for the upcoming year — the calendars never failed to sell out within an hour.
"He has filled out," I allowed, feeling better just joking around with my older sister, like the old days. Clint was six months older than me, having turned twenty-five last November; he was the July Fireman of the Month and had posed wearing his work pants, suspenders, helmet, and a wide grin. Nothing more. He stood with a heavy-duty ax braced over the top of his shoulders, wrists caught on the handle on either side, nicely featuring his muscular biceps.
"We've all been teasing him," Camille said. "He's so embarrassed."
"Oh please, he loves the attention," I argued. I knew this was true, even having been apart from Clinty for three years. At least back when I attended the U of M in Minneapolis for my undergrad degree I was able to journey home to Landon whenever I wanted; here, in Chicago, that was out of the question. Fortunately Dad and Lanny lived just across the city and were gracious enough to take me to dinner when I was able to emerge from beneath the stacks of law books and petitions and countersuits which had filled my waking hours for far too long.
But it's been worth it. All those hours you'll never get back, all that sleep you've lost, will be worth it to have that degree.
"I'm sorry we aren't coming to Chicago for the ceremony, Tish. We'll celebrate next weekend," Camille promised, but in the next second her voice moved away from the phone as she hollered, "Kids, quiet down! I can't hear Auntie Tish!"
There was a crash and a shriek, followed by the twins declaring that it wasn't their fault.
"Dammit," Camille muttered. "I'll call you right back!"
I sat there after she'd disconnected, realizing my cigarette had burned out and that my sister would be unavailable for the rest of the evening. I sighed; probably this was a sign that I shouldn't be smoking at all. I tapped the screen on my phone and checked out my text messages; Grace and Ina were at Howie's, our neighborhood bar, and insisted that I get my ass down there as soon as possible, which was a better idea than moping about our dim, empty apartment, but I wasn't sure if I was in the mood for company.
What the hell is wrong with you? Go have a drink. Relax!
Howie's had been our perpetual hangout since living together all of this past year; our lease was up next month, we would go our separate ways, and so I should probably spend one last evening there. It was just that I struggled to relax; my shoulders had been in a perpetual anxious hunch for the past three years. My screen flashed with a picture of Ina and Grace sitting on either side of an empty barstool, both pointing to it. I giggled, heartened by this evidence of my friends having fun; as the image faded out, I texted back, Be right there.
I flushed my cigarette butts, washed my hands, and inspected my reflection in the bathroom mirror. My eyes had been shadowed by sleepless smudges for so long that I didn't even notice anymore; I kept a concealer stick in my purse. I supposed the shadows wouldn't disappear anytime soon. I pressed both palms to my belly, thinner than I'd ever been while living in proximity to Grandma and Aunt Ellen's delicious cooking; lawyers didn't eat, we drank — black coffee for breakfast, protein shakes for lunch, vodka shots for dinner. I'd heard variations of this joke since first year.
Counselor Gordon, I thought, and a thrill went all through me.
I removed the clip from my curly hair. It was in desperate need of being cut and styled; surely I could manage a visit to Lanny's stylist before graduation. I reapplied lip gloss; I still loved my old raspberry-flavored dime store brand and even if I someday managed to pull down six figures, damned if I would ever waste money on expensive cosmetics. I changed into jeans, heeled boots, a short-sleeved sweater, and clipped two pairs of gold hoops in each ear before collecting my purse from the heaps of stuff on the kitchen table. I grabbed an umbrella from the rack beside the door and hurried to the elevator.
Howie's was one level below ground; I could hear music pumping as I descended the familiar rickety steps to the front door. Pushing inside, I was flooded with the familiar scents and sounds; I spied my roommates at the bar, sipping from martini glasses, joined by another friend of ours from school, Robbie Benson, my main competitor for top honors. I felt my spine straightening as though about to face off with him in mock debate. Robbie grinned at the sight of me.
"Gordon, where the fuck have you been?" he demanded, already into what was probably his fifth beer. But shit, we deserved it; we'd scarcely seen the light of day since the autumn of 2010, as our pasty complexions clearly attested.
"Tish, I already ordered you a drink," Ina said. She elbowed Robbie, complaining, "You just brushed your arm against my breast and I don't think it was accidental."
I giggled at their usual bantering, claiming a stool as Amy, the regular bartender, slid an icy gin and tonic my way.
"Thank you!" I called, restraining the urge to guzzle it.
"God, where's your cousin when we need him?" Grace asked, bumping her shoulder against mine. "I'm drunk. I need a muscular backwoods firefighter right now."
"I'm texting him that you said that," I told my roommate, setting aside my drink to do just that. I reflected, "You'd eat him alive."
"That's about what I feel like doing." Grace sighed, smoothing a hand over her sleek blond hair.
"You know, I have a plastic fire helmet from Halloween. It's right in my closet." Robbie leaned over the bar beside Grace and offered up his best Kennedy-brother smile. He was slickly handsome, entitled as only a boy raised in a household with two successful litigators could be; though he wouldn't have full access to his trust until age thirty, he already possessed more money than I could probably even dream.
"Jesus, I'm not that drunk," Grace returned. Robbie was unfazed; he had gamely taken our shit for years now; he grabbed her cocktail and licked the rim of the glass. Grace shrieked, slapping at him. He ducked away, closer to me, just as my phone flashed with a return message.
Tell her I'm free after work, Clint had responded, and I held up the message to show Grace. She shrieked again, snatching the phone from my hands as Ina crowded close. Giggling, they began composing a response.
"So, Gordon, have you talked to your dad today?" Robbie settled on the stool to my right, studiously ignoring Ina and Grace.
I finished my drink in two swallows and nodded when Amy held up the bottle of gin. I told Robbie, "No, actually I haven't. Why?" "Then you haven't heard about Ron's offer," he mused. "I've successfully one-upped you. Damn, I feel pretty good about that."
I squeezed a lime wedge over the ice cubes of my second gin and tonic. I cautioned, "Don't get too comfortable with that feeling." Curiosity overtook my attempt to play it cool and I demanded, "Ron's offer about what?"
Excerpted from The First Law of Love by Abbie Williams. Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.