Mary stepped out of the elevator onto the tenth floor of Colonial Hill Towers,, a sleek corridor of slate grey with art deco wall sconces in a platinum color. She slid the paper with the number of Paige Newlin's condo from her jacket pocket and glanced at it, narrowly avoiding a tall young man in ripped jeans who was hurrying down the hall. His black backpack hit her as he hustled by. Mary apologized reflexively, but the youth didn't answer, just shoved past her into the elevator cab. 'Didn't your mother teach you manners?' she said sternly, whirling on her heels, but he said nothing as the silver elevator doors closed.
Mary read the apartment number on the paper. Next to it was Paige's phone number. She had called before she came up, a requirement of the security desk in the lobby. She walked down the hall and reached the door at the end, dreading what lay ahead. She was from a close-knit Italian family and though it had its own stresses and strains, it remained a solid source of comfort and love. How could she deliver news like this? Daddy killed Mommy?
Mary knocked reluctantly on the door. If she hated being a lawyer when it was boring, then she hated it even more when it got dramatic. She needed a job with less emotional involvement. Emergency room doctor, perhaps. Or child cancer specialist. Paige Newlin, dressed in a blue chenille bathrobe covered with oversize coffee cups, slumped sobbing in the middle of the large white sofa. Her sleek head of red hair, knotted back in a shiny ponytail, was buried in Mary's arms, and her bony shoulders shuddered as she wept. She was tall but thin and fine-boned; she struck Mary instantly as the kind of girl for whom the delicate cycle was invented. And she had burst into tears as soon as Mary had told her that her mother had been murdered.
'I can't believe it. My mother, dead?' Paige cried, weeping.
Mary held her closer, and the girl collapsed in her embrace, the two of them sinking like a single stone into the downy cushions of the sofa. Mary sensed the deep grief Paige must be feeling; she had already experienced the loss of her husband. She was just now putting herself back together, two years later, functioning in her job and life without thinking of him constantly. She looked around to regain some professional distance.
The apartment was decorated completely in warm white; even the coffee table and a large entertainment center behind the sofa were a pickled white wood. The center was well stocked with C Ds and a stereo system. There were no books in the room other than some glossy coffee-table volumes, and the decor telegraphed resources far surpassing that of most teenagers, if not lawyers. Mary wondered what Paige's singular life must be like and knew instantly she wouldn't want it, no matter the material rewards, as she listened to the girl's crying.
'I was supposed to go over… to dinner,' Paige said, between sobs. 'I didn't. I should have… gone.'
'Don't think that way now. This wasn't your fault. You had nothing to do with this.'
'I just saw her yesterday… at the shoot.'
'"Shoot"?' Mary didn't get the term.
'A photo shoot downtown, for the newspaper. My mom booked me for Bonner's Department Store, and the shoot was there. She was there.'
A photo shoot? Not the stuff of most teenager's lives. At sixteen, Mary had been conjugating Latin verbs and rolling the waistband of her kilt to shorten it. She'd be called to the Mother Superior's office and asked to kneel. Not to pray, but to see if her hem touched the linoleum.
'Who would do that? Who?' Paige's shoulders began to shake, and Mary felt a deep pang.
'It gets worse, Paige. There's something terrible I have to tell you.'
'Huh?' Paige looked up, her ponytail disheveled and her eyes puffy with tears. Mary saw the pain etched on her flawless face and the red blotches sprouting on her neck, above the V-neck of her bathrobe. Mary got the same blotches when she was upset, and from the itching under her silk blouse, knew she had them right now. She couldn't imagine how she'd feel hearing what Paige was about to hear:
'You should know that your father has been arrested for the murder of your mother, and he intends to plead guilty,' Mary said simply.
Paige gasped, her mouth forming a horrified circle. 'What… did you say?'
'He's going to plead guilty, and we will be representing him. That's why he couldn't come here himself, to tell you. He's in custody now, but he loves you and wants you to know that.'
'My father? My father? Her eyes glistening, Paige looked wildly away and back again. 'He confessed? He's in custody! That's not possible.'
'I know. It's a shock/
'He didn't do it. He couldn't do it. He could never.' Paige kept shaking her head, her ponytail swinging back and forth. 'What did he say?'
'He wants to plead guilty, and that's all I'm permitted to tell you.' Wetness came to Mary's eyes at the girl's anguish and she gave up trying to convince anybody she was professional. Italian girls were entitled to their emotions.
'I don't understand.' The girl broke down, and Mary looped an arm around her lithe, trembling form.
'I can't explain it. If you want, I'll take you to visit your father and you can ask him whatever you want to know.'
'My father's really… in jail?'
'At the Roundhouse. He should be arraigned tonight or tomorrow. By morning it will be all over the newspapers, and he was very concerned about that, for your sake.'
'Oh, my God, my father.' Paige's face dropped into her child's hands, and her head buckled on a neck that seemed no stronger than a blade of grass. She cried harder, and Mary vowed, not for the first time, to find another job.
'Mary,' Paige said, her voice chocked. 'Can I have some water?'
'Sure,' Mary answered, grateful for a task to perform. She got up, crossed the room, and found her way into the adjoining kitchen. She flicked on the light, illuminating an ultramodern galley kitchen that looked as outfitted, and as clean, as a sample home. Black granite counters, polished stainless steel sink, and a complete absence of foodstuffs. Mary had never seen a kitchen like it outside of a magazine and hated it instantly. She opened the white cabinet next to the sink, stocked with matching glasses, and filled one with water. Next to the sink sat a small photo in a heart-shaped silver frame, and she picked it up out of curiosity.
It was a tiny picture of Paige in summertime, wearing jean shorts and a T-shirt, grinning at the camera. She was being hugged from behind by a young man whose tan, muscular arms were wrapped around her body. Her neck and long hair obscured his face and he seemed to be kissing Paige's nape. It must have been the boyfriend that Newlin mentioned.
'Mary, my water?' Paige called out weakly, and Mary grabbed the glass and left the kitchen with it and the photo. She handed the water to Paige as her crying slowed to hiccups and then to a stop.
'I saw this photo of your boyfriend. Would you like to give him a call? Maybe it would help to have him here.'
'What? My boyfriend?'
'Isn't this him? Your father told us about him.' Mary turned the picture around to face Paige.
'Yes, it's him.'
'What's his name? He seems like a nice guy.'
Trevor. Trevor Olanski.'
Mary glanced again at the photo. 'That's funny. He reminds me of a kid I just saw in the hall, when I came up tonight.'
'No, it can't be.' Paige sipped her water. 'Trevor wasn't here tonight.'
'He wasn't?' Mary blinked. 'I think he bumped into me at the elevator.'
'Trevor didn't come over tonight,' Paige repeated, and wiped her eyes. 'I think… I'd like to go see my father now.' She brushed a strand of hair into place and stood up, arranging the bathrobe around her slender form. Her face and chest were aflame with blotches, gainsaying her apparent composure. I'll be dressed in a minute.'
'Sure,' Mary said, nodding, and watched as the teenager padded off in her terry slippers. Confused, she sank into a chair as Paige scuffed down the hall and closed a door behind her.
Mary gazed at the heart-shaped photo. She couldn't see the boyfriend's face. Why did she think it was the kid in the hall? She ran her finger over the picture, and her finger pad ended up on the tear down the thigh of the boyfriend's blue jeans, visible beside Paige's slim hip. The jeans were ripped lengthwise.
Mary looked closer. Everybody's jeans were ripped. People paid extra for them that way. Then she remembered. The kid in the hall had an up-and-down slit, too. Odd. All of Mary's jeans ripped the same way eventually; sideways, not up and down. So this pair must have been cut lengthwise, on purpose. How many kids cut their jeans that way? Some, but not many. But the boy in the hall and the boy in the photo did, both of whom were tall and roughly the same body build.
It puzzled her. Was Paige lying about her boyfriend being here tonight? No, of course not. Why would she? Duh.
Okay. Maybe it was personal. Paige lied because she didn't want Mary to know she had boys over. At sixteen, she was way too young for that, and Mary thought instantly of thirty-three nuns who would sign affidavits to that fact. And on this one issue, she would side with her church. Suddenly the door down the hall opened, and Paige reappeared in casual clothes.
Mary set down the photo, but couldn't chase the nuns from her head.