Overruled, p.17
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       Overruled, p.17

         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  Carter gives Sofia a tour of the tricked-out trailer and I’m relieved to see adolescents aren’t the only guests at the party. It’s actually a lot like a high school reunion. Everyone in my graduating class who hasn’t left town—which is pretty much all of them—is here. We catch up, and I proudly introduce them to Sofia. About an hour later, she says in my ear, “I’m going to go outside—get some air.”

  Colorful Chinese lanterns hang from strings above a line of white rosebushes, framing in the stone patio. A bonfire roars further down, lighting almost the whole yard. I search through the groups of people standing on the grass and—fucking finally—I spot Jenny. She’s talking to tiny, brunette Jessica Taylor—a former member of the cheerleading squad. But most important, JD is nowhere to be seen.

  Time to turn on the charm.

  I pass Sofia my cup of Jack Daniel’s. “Can you hold this for me?”

  She follows my line of sight. “Sure.”

  I snap off the stem of a full white rose and show it to her. “What do you think?”

  Her grip on the cups tightens. “I think she’ll love it.”

  “If all goes as planned, I’ll be gone for a while. Marshall will take you home if you want to go sooner, okay?”

  Sofia stares down at her shoes. “Okay.”

  I wink. “You’re the best, Soph. Wish me luck.”

  But as I walk away . . . she doesn’t.

  Jessica Taylor greets me with a hug. Jenn eyes me warily. I hold out the rose to her. “A peace offerin’.”

  Her face thaws just a bit, her pretty pink lips forming a reluctant smile. “Thank you.”

  Jessica laughs. “Lord, I wish I was as friendly with my ex. He can’t be bothered to even give me rat poison.” She shakes her head. “But you two always were the perfect couple. Remember that football game junior year, after Stanton scored the winning touchdown? And he came trottin’ off the field, straight to you, Jenn? Picked you up and kissed you in front of the whole school—like somethin’ straight out of a Drew Barrymore movie?”

  Jenny’s eyes warm and I know she remembers, the same as I do.

  I’d been late picking her up, we’d argued. One word led to another, and by the time we got to the field she was swearing she’d never speak to me again. My romantic gesture dispelled her of that notion, and she spent that night after the game in the backseat of my truck, speaking all kinds of wonderful words like, yes, more, again.

  Jessica moves on to refill her drink, and I don’t stop staring into Jenny’s eyes.

  “JD fully recovered?”

  She snorts. “Like you care, but yes, as a matter of fact. Carter brought some herbal compresses by the house for him—cleared up the rest of the swellin’. He’s inside the trailer right now, gettin’ more.”

  My smile turns tight. “I’ll be sure to thank Carter for that.” Then I lean closer. “Why don’t we—”

  I never finish the sentence.

  From behind us, on the patio, there’s a whistle, hollering, and rowdy catcalls. I turn and look toward the noise—to see it’s being directed at Sofia. From four assholes I’ve never seen before, whose names I don’t know, but wouldn’t mind reading on a couple of headstones.

  Then one of them reaches out and grabs her ass.

  When they say so mad I saw red, I never knew that you actually see red—but that’s just what happens. My vision tunnels, bordered with hot crimson. I don’t remember walking away from Jenny, I don’t recall crossing the yard. The next thing I’m aware of is my hand around a scumbag’s throat—slamming his head up against the side of my brother’s double-wide.

  “Touch her again, I’ll rip your fuckin’ arm off and shove it up your ass.”

  His hands claw, trying to pry my fingers off—I just tighten my grip.

  Then Carter’s next to me. “Easy, Stanton, we’re pacifists here. You need to settle down, brother.”

  When the dickhead’s face turns an acceptable shade of purple, I let him go. He holds his neck, heaving and gasping. And I snarl at my brother, “Don’t tell me to settle down. Tell your friend to watch where he puts his fuckin’ hands.”

  With one hand on his chest, I pin the grabby prick to the wall of the trailer one last time, for good measure.

  Then I wrap my arm around Sofia and lead her away. Her eyes glow up at me softly. “You know I could’ve handled that.”

  “I know. But you shouldn’t have to.”

  And I don’t leave her side the rest of the night.

  • • •

  At 1 a.m. the party is still going strong. Sofia’s silly, happy drunk—sitting next to me on a lawn chair, teaching Sadie naughty words in Portuguese. After six or seven Jack and Cokes, I’m pretty shit-faced myself. Carter runs out from the side of the trailer, calling me over, telling me to hurry. I hold my hand out to Sofia and we follow him around to the front. My brother puts his finger to his lips and jerks his head toward my truck.

  My truck that has windows as steamed as that car in Titanic.

  Carter takes one side and I take the other. As I bang on the windows shouting, “Police! Open up!”, he wrenches open the door.

  Then he sings, “I see London, I see France, I see Marshall with no underpants!”

  We laugh like hyenas as my little brother hops out in unbuttoned jeans and his hat, cursing the day we were born. A pink-faced blonde follows close behind, and much to Marshall’s disappointment, disappears into a group of her friends.

  “Y’all suck!” Marshall scowls.

  A bit later, we’re sitting around the bonfire—me, Carter, Marshall, Jenny, and JD. Carter takes a drag on a joint, then offers it to me. I shake my head. Sofia declines too. Jenny, however, readily accepts and hits it like a pro.

  “I thought you said you weren’t as fun as you used to be?” I tease.

  She blows out a cloud of smoke. “At twenty-eight, I smoke for completely different reasons than I did at sixteen.”

  JD also takes a few hits.

  “Alright, listen up, children—I got somethin’ to say,” Carter announces, and all eyes turn to him. “When Jenny and JD get married on Saturday, we’ll all be one family.”

  Nope, not really.

  I open my mouth, but he goes on. “Like the buzzin’ bees of a hive, we all must live in harmony for the colony to flourish. And I am sensin’ tension between Stanton and JD.”

  JD’s shiny eyes squint. “There’s no tension. Stanton and I get along great.”

  Sure. And as far as I’m concerned, we’d get along even better if he moved to China, tried climbing Mount Everest . . . died.

  Jenny raises her hand like we’re back in school. “I agree, Carter. There’s tension.” She pats JD’s leg. “You’re just too sweet to see it, baby.”

  “We have to purge the negativity,” Carter explains. “I have a foolproof plan to reestablish the natural order and reinforce a functioning hierarchy we can all be happy with.”

  JD scratches his head. “That’s a lot of words, man. You wanna run that by me again?”

  Natural order.

  Hierarchy.

  It might just be the whiskey . . . but that sounds like a damn good idea.

  • • •

  It was definitely the whiskey.

  “This is a terrible fuckin’ idea!”

  Life’s funny. One day you’re wearing a suit that costs more than most people bring home in a month, impressing the boss with your skill and expertise. And a week later, you’re in the middle of a cattle pasture at two o’clock in the morning, too drunk to see straight, getting ready to race a tractor.

  Yes, a tractor.

  That was Carter’s grand idea. Healthy competition, may the best man win, and all that crap. Now my father’s tractors are spitting diesel smoke, rumbling like thunder—me in one, JD in the other. Carter’s got the song “Holding Out for a Hero” blasting from my truck speakers and Jenny’s standing in front of us. “Ready, set, go!”

  She throws JD’s hat in the air and we take off. It’
s a quarter of a mile to the tree, then we have to circle around and back. I push the pedal to the floor, shifting into high gear.

  I hear Jenny scream, “Kick his ass, JD!”

  And Carter, “That’s the way, boys! Feel the balance comin’ back—it’s all about the balance!”

  Sofia cups her hands around her mouth and yells, “Go Stanton! Drive that fucking tractor!”

  And I laugh, loud and hard. I glance over at JD and he’s laughing too. Because it’s all so goddamn ridiculous . . . but in the best kind of way. As I start to turn around the tree, that’s when I decide I want to win. It’d be a great way to end a good night. With a victory.

  But there’s a reason you’re not supposed to operate heavy machinery under the influence of drugs and alcohol. That reason becomes clear when JD and I don’t leave enough clearance as we both try to make tight U-turns and end up scraping the machines against one another. I move my leg just in time to not get pinned, but the tractors get hung up, caught on one another.

  “Back it up!” I tell him, jerking the wheel.

  “You back it up!” he retorts.

  And just when I consider punching him out and backing up the fucking thing for him, a gunshot rings out, echoing across the field.

  I instinctively flinch down. With my ears still ringing from the sound, I look over . . . and see my daddy, dressed in a blue robe and black boots, holding his shotgun.

  The party’s definitely over.

  • • •

  “What in holy hell were you thinkin’?”

  The six of us sit at the kitchen table, heads down, mouths shut.

  “The two of you with a child! You didn’t act this way when you were in goddamn high school!”

  It’s best to just let him get it all out. The more you talk, the longer he’ll yell.

  “My son, the lawyer, tearin’ up my winter grass like a fool, with my other son—the drug dealer—helping him along!” he hollers, his cheeks bright and rosy, like a pissed-off Santa Claus.

  Carter takes this moment to interject, “It was a bondin’ exercise. I’m a healer, Daddy.”

  “You’re an idiot!”

  And those are the first words my father speaks directly to my brother in two years. Makes sense.

  Carter stands. “You need to relax. Stress is a silent killer. I have some herbs that can help you with that.”

  “You can help yourself to my boot up your ass!” my father yells louder.

  But Carter is not deterred. He throws his arms around my father’s neck. “I love you, Daddy. I’m so glad we’re talkin’ again.”

  For just a moment, my father pats Carter’s back and his eyes go gentle. And I know he’s happy to be talking to my brother again too. Even if it’s just to yell at him.

  Then he pushes him away and he’s back to glaring at us. “Every one of you are gonna get up at dawn to reseed my goddamn field, or I’m gonna break some asses!”

  “Yes, sir,” JD answers.

  “Yes, sir,” Jenny replies.

  “Definitely don’t want any asses getting broke,” I agree.

  And because she’s a smartass, Sofia adds, “Or cracked.”

  I cover my mouth so my father doesn’t start up again. Marshall giggles behind me.

  Just as he turns toward the stairs, Mary comes strolling in the back door wearing the same outfit she had on earlier—denim shorts, red top, white denim jacket, blue sneakers. Of course it’s the same outfit—because she hasn’t been home yet to change into anything else.

  She screeches to a halt just inside the door, looking at the group of us like a deer in the light of an oncoming tractor trailer. “What’s goin’ on? Did somebody die?”

  No. But the night is still young.

  “Are you just gettin’ home?” my father asks, his tone turning more threatening with every syllable.

  Her face goes blank. A liar’s face—the kind who’s trying to not show any tells that they’re bluffing. “Of course not!” she claims. “My curfew is at midnight, and it’s after midnight. If I was just gettin’ in now . . . that would be wrong.”

  My sister is not a good poker player, and she’d make a terrible witness in a court of law. But my father, like so many others when it comes to his youngest, his only girl—is blind. Or he’s just getting too goddamn old to keep up.

  “Then where the hell were you?” I ask, tilting my chair back.

  She gives me the evil eye for a split second. Then more smoothly she says, “Couldn’t sleep. I . . . got dressed and went for a walk.”

  She kisses my father sweetly on his cheek. “You should head up to bed, Daddy. You’re lookin’ kinda flushed.”

  He pats her on the top of the head, then goes up the stairs mumbling that we kids will be the death of him yet.

  I’m prepared to let it go—shit, I blew through my curfew ten times more often than I made it. But then my baby sister pulls a pitcher of juice out of the refrigerator, and takes off her jacket—revealing half a dozen red clusters of broken blood vessels on her lower neck and chest.

  Marshall takes the words out of my mouth. “What in the actual fuck is that?”

  Mary almost drops her glass of juice. “What? What’s what?”

  Carter, Marshall, and I surround her. “That!” I point to the marks. “Did you get into an altercation with a vacuum cleaner hose?”

  She looks down. “Oh.” And lies again—badly. “I scratched myself on a bush.”

  Carter inspects her neck more closely. “Those are hickeys, little girl. Fresh ones. Who’s been suckin’ on my baby sister’s neck?”

  “I’d rather not say,” she replies, clapping her lips together.

  “I don’t give a rat’s ass what you’d rather,” I tell her. “You’re gonna say, and you’re gonna say now.”

  Sofia stands up. “Hold on a second.”

  I lift my hand. “Just sit back down, Sofia. This is a man thing—you wouldn’t understand.”

  As soon as the words are past my lips, I know they were the wrong ones to say.

  Her eyes go wide, then narrow. She folds her arms and takes deliberate steps toward us. It’s her court stance, defense attorney mode—and it’s sexy as fuck.

  “I’m sorry,” she says, not sounding sorry at all. “Did you just say, ‘It’s a maaan thang’?”

  “I don’t talk like that.”

  “Well, that’s how Neanderthal sounds in my head. I’m just waiting for you to grunt, pound your chest, and rub some sticks together. Or have you not discovered fire yet?”

  “Soph . . .”

  Now she raises her hand. “Don’t Soph me. I didn’t see either of you putting the screws to Marshall about the name of the girl he was spending time with in your truck—with his pants down at his ankles!”

  Mary gasps. “Who were you with, Marshall?”

  He backs up a step. “I’d rather not say.”

  Mary looks to Jenny, who supplies the information. “Norma-Jean Forrester.”

  “I knew it!” Mary squeals, then smacks Marshall’s arm. “She is so skanky!”

  “She is skanky!” Jenny agrees. “Her whole family’s skanky.”

  I raise my arms. “Can we focus here, please?” I pin Sofia with my gaze. “The reason we’re not interrogating Marshall is because Norma-Jean Skanky didn’t leave a horde of hickeys behind her.”

  Sofia nods. “So it’s the hickeys you have a problem with?”

  Not really—but it sounds better than being enraged at the thought of my sister doing the same things I could care less if my brother does.

  “Yes.”

  Unfortunately, there’s a reason Sofia is a top-notch attorney—because she can see straight through bullshit.

  “You’re sure?” she smirks.

  “Yes, Regis, that’s my final answer.”

  “I see.” She grasps the collar of her shirt and pulls it down. “So then I guess you have a major problem with all of these hickeys too?”

  Four—no five—fading hickeys and two
bite marks mar Sofia’s otherwise flawless skin. Looking at them makes the blood rush straight to my crotch.

  “My word!” my sister exclaims. “Did you turn vampire while you’ve been in DC?”

  Jenny adds her two cents, laughing. “For Christ’s sake, Stanton!”

  It should bother me that Jenny’s not more upset by visual evidence of my dalliances with another woman. But . . . it doesn’t.

  I point to the hickeys at hand. “That is totally different!”

  “Why?” Sofia asks, her gorgeous eyes burning with challenge.

  “Because you are not my sister.”

  “Well, she’s someone’s sister,” Mary counters.

  Keeping her eyes on me, Sofia holds up three fingers.

  “Three!” Mary catches on. “She’s three someones’ sister!”

  “And my oldest brother could kick your ass without breaking a sweat.” Then she folds her arms, pacing like she’s giving a closing argument. “So, Mr. Shaw, it would seem we are at an impasse. You can let your sister go to her room without further pressure to produce a name. Or . . . the womenfolk and I will go into the other room and take photographs of my hickeys—and send them to my brother. To see if he agrees with your allegation that it’s a man thing.”

  For a minute, I forget that Sofia and I are not the only ones in the room. “I love it when you get all defense counsel on me.”

  She just smiles back.

  I sigh. And roll my eyes. “Go to bed, Mary.”

  “Yes!” She gives Sofia a high five as she passes. “You go, girl!”

  Marshall announces that he’s going to bed too, and follows Mary up the stairs.

  Carter yawns. “I’m beat. The couch is calling my name.” He crosses the kitchen, peeling off his clothes as he goes. By the time he exits the room, the last view I have of him is his lily-white ass.

  I rub my eyes, to erase the image and because I’m exhausted myself.

  “Hey, Stanton?” JD asks. “Since we all have to get up in”— he checks his watch—“two hours to reseed the field, would it be all right if Jenny and I crash here?”

  Without thinking, I shrug. “Sure.”

  And the four of us head out to the barn. After Jenny and JD are settled in Carter’s old room and Sofia and I are under the covers in my bed, she whispers to me.

  “Is this weird? This is weird, right? Does it bother you that they’re . . . there?” She points to the open door to the bathroom that connects the two rooms.

  Again—it probably should. I should want to rip Sausage Link’s head off. Smother him with a pillow. Throw him out the window and watch him fall the two stories, praying he’ll land on his head.

  But I just pull Sofia closer. “I’m too tired to give a shit.”

 
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