The first thing that Sara did when she stepped off the plane at JFK was call Peter. While she weaved between harried travelers on her way to baggage claim, she listened to the ringing on the other line. It wouldn't be a surprise – not to him – because they'd been talking at least once every other week since Neal had been found.
Peter was the one who called her when Neal went missing because he knew that they kept in contact and that she would worry if she reached out and Neal didn't respond. It had been a blow that left her reeling for days, and she'd almost flown back to New York then. She'd been preparing to put her life on hold when Elizabeth called late one night, needing a friendly ear, and Sara realized that she'd just be in the way. There was nothing that she could do in New York that she couldn't do in London, which boiled down to sit-and-wait.
"Hey Sara," Peter greeted warmly. "How was your flight?"
"Long and sleepless, unfortunately." She sidestepped a mother using a stroller as a battering ram through the crowd. "How is he?"
"Not so bad. Elizabeth and I are going over there for dinner tonight. You should come with us."
"I don't want to impose." She was dying to see him but wasn't sure how he would take the surprise. It had only been a little more than four months since he'd been found.
"You wouldn't be. I'll tell June to set an extra place at the table."
She frowned at his words. Peter had made it sound like Neal was hosting the meal. "Neal's not cooking?"
He hesitated just long enough to set her on edge. "He will, but we're eating downstairs."
"Is this a dinner party?"
"Of a sort." Peter wasn't good at subterfuge, and they both knew it.
"Peter, are you setting something up that I should know about?"
"June throws a dinner party about once a month now. She thinks that it helps to give Neal and Diana a reason to socialize. It'll just be us – me, you, and El – Neal, Diana, and June."
The thought of seeing Neal while in a group was strange, but it might be best for him. The last thing she wanted to do was make him uncomfortable. Peter had warned her that Neal didn't always react well to people other than Diana, though he'd been pleased to report progress on that front during the last few phone calls.
"Yes, sorry. What time?"
"Six," Peter replied. "Elizabeth and I can pick you up. Where are you staying?"
"I'll just hail a cab. The hotel is out of your way."
They argued good-naturedly over the details before he finally relented in her request to find her own transportation. They both said goodbye, and Sara was faced with retrieving her luggage and then getting a nap and a shower in during the next five hours.
June's home was just as breathtaking as she remembered. It was spring, and there were flowers blooming on the grounds that were gorgeous. She stopped to smell a rose before moving to the front door and ringing the bell.
A housekeeper let her inside and informed her that everyone was in the parlor. She followed the sound of jazz toward the back of the house and found the group sifting through a stack of vinyl. She smiled when she saw Neal pick up an Etta James album and hand it off to June.
He looked good, really good. From Peter's description, she expected him to be skin and bones and barely standing, but he had a healthy tint to his skin, though it was paler than she remembered, and he was dressed just as nicely as ever in a pair of black pants and a deep blue button-down.
Elizabeth saw her first and hurried over. "Sara! I'm so glad you made it."
She returned Elizabeth's hug but her eyes were on Neal. His head had shot up at her name, and he was staring at her with a mix of confusion and something that looked like it could be fear. Then, he blinked, smiled, and waved at her.
Peter and June moved forward to greet her, but Neal and Diana stayed seated on the couch, close enough that their shoulders were pressed together. Sara watched as Diana whispered something into Neal's ear, and he nodded in response.
Their eyes locked again when she managed to get away from the others, and he stood up as she neared him.
"It's good to see you," she said, holding out her arms but letting him make the decision about whether or not to make contact.
He nodded and leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. "You too. I didn't know you were back in New York."
She noticed that he carefully avoided being drawn into an embrace. Neal had always been tactile with her, hugging and kissing whenever he got the chance. It was odd to miss that when she hadn't seen him in so long anyway. "I just got back today actually. A position opened up in the Sterling Bosch branch here, and I took it."
His eyebrows drew together. "A position?"
"Senior VP." She was proud of the achievement but didn't smile until Neal did.
"That's great. Congratulations."
"Thank you, Caffrey."
Everyone else congratulated her too and then June ushered them all into the dining room for dinner. She somehow maneuvered them so that Sara got to sit on one side of Neal. June winked in response to Sara's confused expression and directed Peter and Elizabeth to other chairs.
The conversation at dinner was kept light and easy with topics that ranged from the weather to sports to Dancing with the Stars. Apparently, Neal had somehow become a fan because he disagreed passionately, but softly, with Elizabeth and June about who would win the season.
Diana, Sara noticed, was pretty quiet throughout the meal. It was quite a jarring change from the dinner party they'd had together so long ago, when she'd been with Neal and Diana had been with Christie. It hurt to see two of the strongest people she'd ever known in such a different light.
Afterwards, they moved back to the parlor with their coffees, and June put on Neal's Etta James album.
Don't know why
There's no sun up in the sky
Since my man and I ain't together
Keeps raining all of the time
Sara moved to the window, unable to look at Neal while the song played. The soulful voice singing those lyrics made tears well up in her eyes. Things could have been so different for them if she'd stayed in New York, or if Neal hadn't been taken… She couldn't think about that now.
Oh yeah, life is bad
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, stormy weather
And I just can get my poor self together
Oh, I'm weary all of the time
The time, so weary all of the time
She jumped when a hand dropped onto her shoulder. Spinning around, she saw that it was Neal. He took a hasty step back and raised both hands in a gesture of harmlessness.
"Are you okay?" he asked in a voice deep with concern.
She nodded and then remembered that they weren't alone. They were out of earshot but not eyesight of the rest of the party. "What about you, Caffrey? Are you okay?"
He shifted from one foot to the other and looked down at his shoes. "I'm working on it. Every day is a little bit easier."
She wasn't expecting his honesty, but she appreciated it. "That's good to hear. I've been… worried about you."
He gave her a lopsided grin and shrugged. "I'm okay. And I'm very glad to see you. It was a surprise, but a good one."
She smiled, pleased with his admission. "I was afraid you'd feel blindsided, but Peter convinced me to come."
Neal glanced over his shoulder just as Peter looked away from them. "He's sneaky like that."
"I don't think he acted alone," she replied with a laugh.
He conceded that point with a tilt of his head, and then shifted his weight again. "So, you're back in town to stay for sure?"
"Good. That's good."
She nodded but didn't know what to say to that.
"I hope I get to see you again soon."
Oh oh, keeps raining all of the time
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, raining all of the time
Stormy, stormy, stormy weather, yeah
Thank you for reading!