She runs into Andy entirely by accident. There's this health food store on the corner of South Broadway and 4th that has this really great selection of herbal teas; she hasn't been there in a while - it's not exactly on her way -, but she has a free afternoon and just feels like it, so she drives there.
She spots a tall, familiar figure with gray hair perhaps three people in front of her in the queue at the checkout. She recognizes the fit of the jeans, the line of the shoulders, the tilt of the head, the ring on the little finger tapping impatiently on a leather wallet. She smiles.
Strangely, all the hurt, all the anger is gone. She feels only a bittersweet fondness creeping up from her stomach, and the longing to see his face over a coffee cup. Just for half an hour, just to hear how he is.
"Andy!" She calls out his name. He turns and his eyes, sharp and focused as always, quickly search over the people in the store until they light upon her.
The time apart has done them good, she thinks. There's no strain, no quickly hidden resentment on his face, just pleasure.
The checkout clerk impatiently gets his attention, and he pays and remains standing at the counter, waiting for her.
Her selection of teas packed and bagged, she steps up to him. In place of a verbal greeting or an impersonal handshake, she quickly hugs him, breathing in his still familiar smell. He stiffens for a moment, then hugs her back just as tightly.
"It's--it's really nice to see you. How have you been? How's your mother? The kids?"
She can't suppress another smile. It's never been lack of caring or interest that split them up thirteen years ago. He's a genuinely sweet man, and her mother and Tim and Eileen have always loved him. It was work. The hours, the strain, the broken promises again and again because another case, another criminal was so much more worthy of his time and attention than his wife and the kids he'd promised to raise as his own.
"Mom's fine. We had a scare about a possible stroke, but she was just dehydrated. Tim is still in Spain for his engineering firm, and Eileen just finished college with her Master's in Social Pedagogy. I'm certain they'd love to see you again. How about Christmas? You free?"
The irony cuts a little. She knows he's still a cop and has heard something about him now exclusively working homicides. If the past is any indicator, he won't be able to confirm any date set in advance, particularly over the holidays. Still, she'd love to have him over for her family's Christmas dinner.
Tim is no longer strictly anti-meat, but her mother, Eileen and she are still what her best friend calls "militant vegetarians", and her fake turkey is apparently "to die for", according to Eileen.
Andy still wears his AA 10-year-sobriety-chip in form of a signet ring. He looks good; older, but fit, and - she quietly laughs at herself - still as handsome as ever. His brown eyes are warm, and his smile is fond, until it falters a little.
"Gina, I'd love to come. You know I do. But Christmas - you know I can't promise that. I want to, I really--"
She interrupts him, laughing. She didn't manage to change him while they were still married; she has no right - and, for the first time, no inclination - to demand he do so now.
"It's okay, Andy, really. I'd like you to come over for Christmas dinner. Tim and his fiancée will be there, and Eileen - her boyfriend broke up with her only two weeks ago, the jerk -, and my mom, and Aunt Ellis--"
"The one with the herd of cats?" he interrupts her, mock-horrified.
"That's the one. We'll have cat hair in every dish, and discussions about feline digestion all during dinner, and--"
He laughs, and she drinks in his face. He got sober because of her, and became a vegetarian, and generally started looking more after his health, and tried to cut down on his hours and on all the passion and commitment he put into his investigations (and that she felt he deprived them of). She no longer thinks separating and getting divorced was a mistake; she's happy now in her life. Her last "gentleman friend" (her mom's words) didn't work out, so she's single again, but she's successful at work, has two great kids, plus her mom's doctor said she could very well live another 15, 20 years, easily, and Tim has hinted that she might want to prepare for his wedding next summer.
Life is great, and interacting with Andy is easy like it never used to be before.
She asks him to join her for coffee in the café across the street, and he accepts. He guides her to her seat with his hand in the small of her back, and she smiles secretly to herself. He's still so ridiculously courteous; it's too sweet.
Over coffee, she learns that the reason he's being so careful using his left arm is that he broke it not too long ago and only ditched the sling two days earlier, and that he's been back on the job - and not only on desk duty - for almost two months. It's irresponsible, and she wants to lay into him for it, but then she recalls that they're friends now, at most, not spouses, and that she'd rather give him her support than have him wince at each well-aimed barb and shut off from her the way he used to do during the last year of their marriage.
So she just raises a telling eyebrow at him and smirks at his light blush. Oh, he's still well-trained.
"It doesn't hurt at all anymore," he says defensively, and rotates his wrist to show her.
She pats his arm (with just the right amount of condescension) and changes the topic.
She tells him stories about Tim's job, and Eileen's studies, and her work at the assisted living center (including the doozy about Mrs Henderson's fall in the shower), and the glow of well-being in her stomach doesn't diminish at all; to the contrary, it grows and warms her all the way through.
She can finally admit it - she's missed him. She hopes fiercely that he'll make it to their Christmas dinner.
There's a similar mellowness to him that she's never seen before. She tries figuring out the reason through well-phrased, innocuous questions, but he refuses to bite. Finally, exasperated, she decides to hell with it, and asks him directly: "Andy, are you with someone? You're... different."
He just looks at her without an expression on his face.
"--Good different, I mean," she tacks on quickly. "You're... content. Not so driven. Less angry. It suits you."
He grimaces. "You know me too well, Gina. No, I'm still... unattached. I'm interested in someone, I admit it, but I don't think that'll go anywhere, ever. It can't."
She gets them another two cups of coffee and a slice of chocolate layer cake each. He grimaces at the cake like it's done something to offend him, and after that, it's easy getting him to talk.
"So you've kissed - what? Twice?" she concludes, "And she's still with her husband, who's a jerk?"
"Summed up perfectly like always," Andy mutters, disconsolate. "He's always stood by her, even in the beginning when I was making her life hell, and she's loyal. She won't break it off, especially not with her parents in the picture. They like the guy, and she'd rather work a crime scene with an a-month-old floater than disappoint mama and daddy. It would be disgusting if it weren't so--so--"
"Picture-perfect, storybook, falling-into-a-diabetic-coma sweet?" She interjects wryly.
He closes his eyes and nods.
"I'll make you a deal," she says. "You tell her how much you're looking forward to having Christmas dinner with me and the kids - no pathetic hanging out at work! -, and I'll get you a truly awesome gift you can put on your desk and make her jealous. I'm willing to bet Eileen's first baby tooth that your Chief will be jealous! Plus enough containers of leftovers and Christmas cookies that you can impress everyone, including her parents. If you can't make it to dinner - shut up, I know how your job works! -, I insist on having you over on New Year's Eve. The kids will love to see you. You're the only father they've ever known. They might not be your own, but you know how much of a loser Greg was, and just passing on your DNA to someone doesn't make you a dad."
Oh, at a time Andy and she wanted children of their own as a couple - pretty desperately, too. A sweet little baby together in addition to a precocious, self-contained nine-year-old and a three-year-old with a preference for throwing pre-verbal hissy fits.
But she couldn't conceive. They tried and tried with increasing desperation until they both had themselves checked out by a doctor and it turned out that Andy's sperm count was too low.
Even at their worst times in the past, she's always been deeply grateful that Andy never let it show, never made her kids feel that they were not enough. He stuck it out for twelve years, smiling and reacting with alacrity to being called "dad", checking over homework, going to Little League games and ballet recitals, reading bedtime stories, laying down the law when it was necessary and comforting them when it was not, heating up chicken soup and driving to the other side of town to get a special brand of dessert, a trading card, or a plush toy that Eileen absolutely had to have when she broke her right leg in two places in 1986.
She blames herself for how she treated him after the divorce. He practically went from being a full-time father (well, as much as his job allowed) to a man who lost his family in one fell swoop. Back then, Tim was already away at college in Connecticut, and Eileen was in the middle of her worst adolescent phase, so she ignored any protests from that side and decided to just count all the sullen antagonism as part of the usual teenage drama in her house.
She's done them both a disservice; she knows it now and she even knew it back in 1997. Keeping them apart was cruel, and unfair, and she's lucky Eileen never blamed her later on.
At first, Andy tried to rebel against her decree (she still vividly remembers the fear she went through when one day Eileen didn't come home from school until evening, defiantly stating that Andy had taken her for ice cream). He showed up for school plays, and to the one parent-teacher-conference Gina was never told about, he sent birthday and Christmas presents, and instructed his partner, that sleaze Ray Hodge, to check up on Eileen twice. Then Gina - and she's still more than a bit ashamed of the lengths she went to - threatened him with a restraining order, and he backed off. He tried to make the cut final, and set in stone (her guess is that he thought it then might hurt less), and she's never heard from him or seen him again until today.
She still thinks, though, despite both her children keeping mum about it, that he's been writing to both Tim and Eileen at college, perhaps even went to see them on occasion. When she first suspected so, she'd already calmed down enough not to need a definite confirmation one way or another.
Now, she has the chance to make up for her thoughtless cruelty and closed-mindedness. Christmas and the New Year are a time for second chances, aren't they? She wants Andy happy. She wants to make sure that Tim and Eileen never again have to think they have to keep something secret from her in order to avoid hurting her.
The wounds from Andy and her painful divorce might never heal, but they've scabbed over. She wants to make amends.
Secretly, though, she has to admit that she kind of hopes Andy won't make it to Christmas dinner. Because in case he won't, she has definite plans to grab a tub full of leftovers and go see him at work sometime around the 27th or 28th in order to catch a glimpse of that elusive creature Andy's fallen head over heels for, his boss, the apparently inimitable Brenda Leigh Johnson.
2010: Andy's 15 years sober
2005: Andy's 10 years sober (= chip); Brenda joins the LAPD
2002: Bill Croelick convicted of murdering Lisa Barnes
1997: Gina divorces Andy
1995/96: Andy investigates Rick Zuman
1995: Andy joins AA and becomes a vegetarian
1985: Andy marries Gina
1982: Eileen born; Gina separates from Greg
1976: Tim born
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