The first thing you should know about me is that I hate lawyers. The second is that I work for them.
I didn’t plan it that way. Not one bit.
I was going to be a huge star, leave Blueberry Bay behind without so much as a farewell glance over my shoulder as I booked it the heck out of there. The problem with that plan was, well, you need talent in order to be a star—and I never had much of that. At least not that I’ve discovered.
When the temp agency assigned me to work for Fulton, Thompson, and Associates as their new paralegal, I almost said no. But then I saw those dollar signs and remembered how rent is a thing that exists.
And so here I am, doing the needful to get by as I continue down that elusive path toward fame by eliminating every possible talent one at a time. Stands to reason, if I keep at it long enough, I’ll eventually find my true calling. Who knows? I could be the world’s best hip-hop yodeler…
Except I already tried that and I’m not.
It’s fine, really. I’m enjoying the journey, although I sure do wish the destination would hurry up and get here already.
Hi, I’m Angie Russo, and one day you’re going to see my name in lights.
You see, my nan used to be a celebrated Broadway actress back in the day. That is, until she quit at the peak of her career to retire to Glendale, Maine, and raise her family.
Before you ask, no, I can’t sing, dance, or act, but Nan assures me that I have star power in my blood. Just like she did and just like my mom.
Oh, yeah, you probably know my mom. She’s the news anchor on Channel Seven and my dad does the sports report. Seeing as they’re these huge career types, it was Nan who did most of the work raising me—and that suited me just fine.
In fact, I’d still be living with her even now if she hadn’t given me a gentle push out of the nest and told me it was time to fly.
That was about a year ago and happened just shortly after I collected my seventh consecutive associate degree from Blueberry Bay Community College. Yes, indeed, I’ve always loved learning anything I could wrap my brain around.
At least God did me a solid by making me smart, even if He made my unique talents hard to find. One of my degrees is, in fact, for paralegal studies and law administration services, which may seem like a strange thing to study for someone who hates lawyers as much as I do. But that’s a story for another time…This is the story of how I almost died, and it’s a good one.
I began my day by sniff-testing two blazers with the goal of choosing whichever was cleanest for a will reading at the office that day. Both smelled vaguely of sweat and gym shoes, meaning either would earn me a stern lecture from the partners. Then again, maybe that’s precisely what I deserved for putting off that trip to the dry cleaner’s for so long.
After spraying a cough-inducing fog of deodorizer into my closet, I plucked the neon pink jacket off its hanger and pushed my arms into the sleeves. A black and white polka dot blouse and stretchy leggings completed the outfit perfectly. Because I didn’t have time to wash my hair that morning, I pulled my poofy shoulder-length hair into a messy bun and accented the do with a cute barrette I picked up earlier in the week from my favorite dollar store.
And before you can ask…
No, I didn’t have time for dry cleaning.
And, yes, I always had time for the dollar store.
On that particular morning, I didn’t have time for either one, though. In fact, I’d spent so much time agonizing over which blazer to wear that I’d pretty much run out of time altogether. I’m already not a morning person, but when you add in a manic rush to get to a job I don’t even like…
Well, I could already tell just how bad this day would end up.
I raced out the door—unshowered, unfed, and uncaffeinated—hoping that I’d at least have some luck and catch all green lights on my commute that day. Instead, the longest train in the world cut me off not even two blocks from my house. The train tracks run along the only major street to serve our small coastal town, and there’s absolutely no way for me to reach the firm via backroads, which meant I found myself stuck waiting in a line of angry, honking cars for a solid fifteen minutes.
By the time I actually reached the office, I was the last one through the door and we had less than ten minutes until the will reading commenced. My hope to sneak in undetected proved unfounded as well.
“Russo!” Mr. Thompson bellowed before the door even closed all the way behind me. If you pictured an old, white guy wearing boat shoes and an ascot, you’d have a pretty good idea of how Mr. Thompson looked and an even better idea of how he acted. He was a fantastic lawyer, but not a very personable boss.
A thick, meaty vein pulsed at the side of his head, and for some reason I couldn’t stop staring at it. He pointed at me with a shaking finger and a scowl. “Late and dressed like you’re attending an 80’s themed party instead of a will reading. Nope. That’s not going to fly today. Go see if Peters has a jacket you can borrow.”
It took the strength of a thousand body builders not to roll my eyes as I slumped off to find the only female associate in the whole place.
We often got grouped together by nature of our shared gender, but Bethany Peters and I were nothing alike. She was blonde and pretty and looked like she should be sweet as pie, too—except she was actually the biggest shark of them all. I guess you have to be in order to get taken seriously in a man’s world.
But what did I know?
I was just a glorified secretary who didn’t even want to be there.
Bethany turned her nose up at me the second I entered her office, and I pinched my fingers over mine. See, Bethany had an obsession with essential oils and even sold them in these tacky online parties that she invited us all to about once per month. Even at that point I’d only worked at the firm for a few months but had already ordered more lavender bath salts than I could ever possibly need.
On the day of the will reading, Bethany’s office reeked of juniper and lemon—definitely not one of her better combinations. Still, whatever blend of restorative girl power mojo she was trying to concoct, I sincerely hoped it would work for her.
“Let me guess,” she said in that nasally, condescending tone that she always used whenever talking to me or one of the other employees without a law degree. “Fulton sent you in to borrow a jacket from me.”
A smile crept across my face. “Thompson, actually.” Call me a contrarian, but I loved getting the chance to prove her wrong, espe
cially when a day started off as bad as this one had. It was a small and beautiful gift.
“Can’t you pick up some more appropriate work clothes for yourself so you’re not always stuck borrowing mine last minute?” She sighed before lumbering over to the other side of her office with loose arms and large, exaggerated strides. She looked like a preppy blonde gorilla, but I decided to keep that particular comparison to myself.
“Thompson… Fulton… They’re both kind of freaking out today,” Bethany confided in me. “Apparently the old lady that died is related to Fulton.”
“How do you know?” My eyes grew wide. So, this was why everyone was making such an unusually large fuss that morning.
“Well for starters, her last name is Fulton, too.” She tapped on her temple to draw my attention to her superior brain power.
I tapped on my head and shot her an ugly grimace in response. Now we were both office gorillas, and what an exhibit the pair of us made.
Bethany chuckled as she handed me the most boring navy-blue blazer God ever put on this green earth. “Try to keep it together for the reading, huh?”
I nodded while switching jackets. The blazer pinched at my armpits, but I knew better than to complain. “Thanks,” I muttered, narrowly escaping Bethany’s office before she could once again remind me that Goodwill or the Salvation Army were nice places to find clothes within my budget.
“I’d lose the barrette!” she shouted after me.
Aargh, so close.
But since Bethany tended to be like a dog with a bone once she had an idea, I pulled my cute little accessory out, taking a few caught hairs with it. The bun came out next, and I quickly finger combed my hair to make it semi-presentable. Hopefully that would be enough to make everyone happy.
“Angie, is that you?” Mr. Fulton, the senior most partner called from inside the conference room. For whatever reason, Thompson always uses our last names, and Fulton sticks to our firsts. Maybe
that was their way of playing good lawyer, bad lawyer, or maybe they just liked to keep us on our toes.
I put on my best smile. After all, the guy did just lose a family member. “Good morning, sir. Can I help you with something?”
His eyes lingered on my face briefly before he cleared his throat and pointed to the dusty old coffeemaker in the corner of the room. “We’re going to need lots of coffee, and since you’re a bit late this morning, I’m afraid there’s no time to make a run to the barista. You’ll have to use our backup maker. As strong as you can make it, please.” “I’m on it!” We didn’t use the in-house coffeemaker very often and really only kept it around for code red caffeine emergencies. The fact we needed it now was definitely not a good sign.
In fact, I’d never actually used that old thing at all. The one time I’d almost had the chance, an intern burst into the office carrying a tray of Starbucks and let me off the hook. This ancient thing shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, ...