Sara Ellis had been called a lot of things in her time, most of them not fit for polite conversation. “Bitch” was only the least creative. “Fucking scary” was one of her favorites. She’d been accused of being arrogant, ambitious, and aggressive (all true, and Sara never understood where the insult was supposed to be). Her dad had called her Sunshine. Neal had called her Repo.
What Sara had never been called, not once in all her thirty-three years, was stupid.
So when Diana Barrigan called her up out of the blue and asked her out, Sara said yes. It was two months almost to the day since Sara had dumped Neal as nicely as she knew how, for being hopelessly in love with Peter Burke. She thought that was long enough not to or risk the working relationship Diana needed to have with Neal. Besides, that was Diana’s business, not hers.
“Do you like Thai food?” Diana asked.
“I’m allergic to peanuts. How do you feel about sushi?”
“Sounds great. Eight o’clock on Friday okay for you? I’ll drive.”
“Perfect. See you then.” Sara hung up.
And just like that, she had a date. With Diana, who was fucking scary in her own way. Diana who carried a gun and probably knew two dozen ways to disarm someone and two dozen more to make them beg for mercy. She was also whip-smart and knew how to rock a suit. Sara suspected she might be in serious trouble.
Because Sara was not twelve, and because she refused to lend events any more significance than they deserved, she did not spend the four intervening days planning her outfit or fretting about whether it’d be okay to call Diana in the meantime, just to chat. She did have her apartment cleaned, and if it took her ten extra minutes to choose her clothes on Friday morning - well, some days were just like that. In the end she wore a spring collection D&G dress with her mother’s pearls. The dress was hot, the pearls were elegant, and the four inch Manolos made Sara’s ass look amazing. Diana wouldn’t know what hit her.
At six, Sara was just winding up at work when Diana called to let her know that something had come up at the office and she’d have to meet her at the restaurant. At 7:45, Diana texted to tell her she’d be fifteen minutes late. At nine, Sara saw Diana push the door of the restaurant open and scan the tables for her. Sara, who was working her way slowly through hot sake and a bowl of spicy edamame, raised her hand and waved.
“I’m sorry,” Diana said, sliding into her chair. “We’ve been working this embezzlement case, and Neal caught something at 4:45, just as I was about to sneak out. I could’ve killed him, but it broke the whole case wide open.”
“No problem,” Sara said, sliding the menu across to her. “Sake?”
“Please,” Diana said, looking grateful. “What are you drinking?”
“Nigori. Here, try it.” Sara passed the little sake cup across to Diana, who sipped and nodded. Sara signaled to their waiter, then pushed the bowl of edamame into the center of the table. “Breathe,” she told Diana. “I’m not angry. It happens to me, too.”
“It happens to me a lot,” Diana said ruefully. She sighed. “You look amazing, by the way.”
Sara smiled. “Thanks. So do you.”
Diana pulled a face. “I just came from work. I’m in FBI slacks.”
“I like the slacks,” Sara said, firmly. “And that scarf is lovely. Stop trying to sell yourself short. It isn’t going to work.”
Diana opened her mouth, shut it, and then smiled. “Okay.”
Diana was visibly tense from her day, so Sara kept the conversation light and easy over dinner. They traded amusing work anecdotes over sashimi, until Diana cracked her up with a story that involved Peter and Neal having to switch identities for the duration of a case. “I swear to God, it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in years,” Diana finished, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes.
Sara decided she loved Diana’s laugh. It was unafraid and unaffected, and it did pleasant, fluttery things to her stomach.
She was definitely in serious trouble.
The conversation hit a lull when the waiter came to clear away the plates. They were both working on their second round of sake, and neither of them seemed to be in a particular hurry. Diana leaned back in her chair, smiled at Sara, and said, “So. Let’s just get it over with. Relationship history in fifty words or less.”
Sara raised her eyebrows. “Direct.”
Diana shrugged. “I thought you’d appreciate direct.”
“I do,” Sara said, smiling. “All right. Billy Parker in high school - lost my virginity in the backseat of his father’s car. Jeanie Davis in college. Mostly to piss off my parents, but we had fun. Then Jack - oh God, what was his name? He was older, the first guy I ever slept with who really knew what he was doing. Then there was Tim, Miranda, and Ken. And Neal, of course.”
“Of course,” Diana echoed. “I talked to him, you know. Before I called you. I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be weird between us.”
Sara found herself curious. “What’d he say?”
Diana shrugged. “He said that if either of you had the right to be angry, it was you, and you weren’t. I didn’t ask him, but I assume it was the Peter thing?”
Sara was entirely unsurprised that Diana knew. It wasn’t as though Neal was particularly subtle about his feelings for Peter. “Yes, mostly. Also, he lies like it’s pure reflex and he still has the damn Raphael. But mostly Peter. I think he was hoping it would just go away eventually -”
Diana snorted. “Denial. Not just a river in Egypt.”
Sara smiled. “That’s what I thought, too. And I don’t play second fiddle in anybody’s orchestra.”
“Me neither,” Diana said, and raised her cup.
Sara tapped hers gently against it, caught Diana’s eye, and held it as she sipped. “Okay,” she said, “your turn.”
Diana shrugged. “Boring, really. I didn’t start dating till college, and then I fell in love with my freshman year roommate, Laura. She was straight, of course. But then there was Sally and Erica and Rita and then Christy.”
“No guys at all?”
Diana shook her head. “Never any question for me.” She drew her finger around the tiny rim of her sake cup. Sara found herself watching it, watching Diana’s hands. “Christy and I broke up about four months ago. It was . . . hard.”
“Was it the long hours?” Sara asked, forcing her gaze up to meet Diana’s.
“The long hours - and the risk,” Diana sighed. “She just couldn’t adjust once we moved to New York. But I had to be here. After the whole fiasco with Fowler and the music box, Peter needed help. And . . . well, I’d been looking for an excuse. My dad had just retired and both my parents are getting older. I hated feeling so far away. But what about you? Are you a New York native?”
Sara snorted. “Hardly. No, I grew up in Minnesota and came out here for college. I’ve been here so long now that I’ve gone native, but deep down I still harbor a shameful, secret love for salads that involve mayonnaise or Jell-O.”
Diana laughed. “I won’t tell. Do you still have family out there?”
“Not really,” Sara said. Then, because this was not the time to sour the conversation by talking about dead parents and vanished older sisters, she added, “Hey, are you up for dessert? There’s this place right by my building that does s’mores at your table. It’s nice.”
Diana nodded, her smile softening. She caught Sara’s eye and Sara felt her breath catch in her throat. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
They split the check, and Sara gave Diana directions to her place. They could park there and walk to the restaurant. The evening was cool but pleasant enough with a coat, and if things went well, Sara decided, she’d ask Diana up for coffee.
Sara parked her car and walked down the block to where Diana had found a space. “Not bad,” she remarked, and held her arm out. “Shall we?”
“Sure,” Diana said, taking her arm. “So,” she added, as they strolled, “when do you love New York the best?”
“Fall,” Sara said instantly. “You?”
“Late spring, right before it gets too hot. I like it during the holidays, too. Why fall?”
“Oh, the usual,” Sara said with a shrug. “The leaves and the chill in the air. But mostly it’s that I like coats.”
Diana raised her eyebrows. “Coats?”
“Long coats,” Sara said, looking up at the brightly lit Manhattan sky. “I love long, tailored coats. I can’t tell you how many I own. I buy a new one every year.”
“But you only wear one at a time. How many coats can you possibly need?”
Sara shrugged. “It’s not about need. I just like them. When I’m done with one of them I donate it to Goodwill and someone else gets a really nice coat.”
Diana shook her head. “I know people who are like that about shoes. You’re the first person I’ve met who’s like that about coats.”
“Oh, I’m like this about shoes, too,” Sara assured her.
Diana laughed, which had been Sara’s intention. “You’re quite the fashionista, aren’t you?”
Sara shrugged. “I’ve been called that before. And I am, a bit. But that’s not really the point.” She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and pulled Diana around to face her, tugged her in by the belt looped around the waist of her gray wool coat. “It’s not about what other people think. It’s about how it makes you feel. It’s about the way something fits,” she said, lowering her voice almost to a murmur, “when it really fits, when it hugs your curves all the way down - I love that. Don’t you?”
Diana licked her lips. “I guess,” she said. “I wore this dress once, as part of an undercover op, when I had to pretend to be a runway model. With this enormous ruby.”
“Felt good, didn’t it? Kinda hot?”
Diana’s smile widened, took on an edge of wickedness. “Definitely.”
Sara leaned in. “You should let me take you shopping sometime. I’d like that.”
Diana shook her head. “Not all of us make nine grand on our lunch breaks.”
Sara shrugged. “Neither do I all the time. But I know some nice places that won’t rip you off. I believe in feeling gorgeous every day. Don’t you?”
Diana echoed her shrug. “I don’t usually think about it. I feel professional every day. That’s good enough for me.”
“And you do it very well. Professional is good. Professional is hot.” Sara leaned in so her lips were right next to Diana’s ear. “The first time I saw you in a business suit -”
A shriek from down the block broke them apart. “Ow! Stop it, let go!” a woman shouted. A man’s voice, an indistinct rumble, answered back. Sara glanced at Diana, who nodded before bolting off in the direction of the shouting, Sara close on her heels.
The couple was in an alleyway behind the corner coffee shop. The guy, who was big and broad and reeked of liquor, had the woman trapped against the wall. She looked more pissed than afraid, at least. Diana marched right up to them both, whipped out her badge, and said, “Excuse me, is there a problem there?”
The guy barely glanced at the badge. “No problem,” he said with a glare.
“That’s not what I heard from halfway down the block,” Diana said, and reached around him to try and pull the woman out from between him and the wall.
“Hey!” the guy barked. “You keep your hands off of her.”
“You should do the same,” Sara snapped.
“Are you all right?” Diana asked the woman.
“I’m fine,” she said stiffly. “He’s just had a lot to drink tonight. Sorry about all the fuss.”
“Don’t apologize for me,” the man snapped, turning toward her and raising his hand.
Sara stepped forward. “Hey,” she said, just to get his attention, and when he turned to look at her, hand still up in the air, she whipped out her baton, catching him in the knee. He gasped in pain and brought his hand down, clipping her high on the cheekbone with the back of it. He was wearing a ring and it scratched. Sara saw red and was about to get very serious with her baton, but Diana got there first, slamming the asshole up against the wall. The guy made a sound like a balloon deflating and stared at her with wide eyes.
“Listen to me, sweetheart,” Diana said firmly, “I could make an amazing number of problems for you. But you’re lucky tonight. I’m in a good mood. So no one is going to be pressing any charges. You’re going to go home and dry out. Are we clear?”
The guy nodded, glaring. Sara gritted her teeth in frustration, but Diana was being smart and she knew it; she could argue self-defense, but he hadn’t actually hit her until she got him in the knee. All he had to do was claim he was never going to hit anyone. It’d be a lie, but things still might get complicated. It was better if they all just walked away.
Diana let him go and he jerked away from her. “Crazy dykes,” Sara heard him mutter.
“Say that again,” Sara said, making sure her baton was visible where she held it against her leg. He didn’t answer, just glared daggers as he limped off. Sara watched him go, eyes narrowed.
“You really should be more selective about when you use that thing,” Diana told her, catching Sara’s baton between two careful fingers. “You’re going to get in trouble some day.”
“I like getting in trouble,” Sara said with a smile. Diana gave her an exasperated look; Sara suspected she might have learned it from Peter. “Sorry,” she shrugged, unrepentant, “I just hate assholes.”
“Yeah, me too,” Diana said with a sigh. “What do you say we save s’mores for another night? You’re bleeding.” She touched Sara’s cheek lightly with her fingertips, and Sara surprised herself by flinching. He must have clipped her harder than she’d thought; it stung. “Let me help you get cleaned up?”
Sara hesitated. It was only a scratch, and she could clean it herself. But Diana was watching her steadily, and somehow Sara didn’t think she’d take no as an answer very easily. “Sure. I have ice cream in my freezer.”
The cut was worse than Sara had thought. She swore when she saw it in the mirror; there was a three-inch scratch, bleeding slightly, right under her eye, and at some point she would have a startling bruise to cover up. Diana made her sit down on the lid of the toilet while she got disinfectant out of Sara’s medicine cabinet. “I can do it,” Sara said, reaching for the cotton pad in Diana’s hands.
“I know you can,” Diana said, not letting go. “Just let me, all right?”
Sara let go. “Fine,” she said shortly, and closed her eyes, ignoring the sting of the disinfectant as Diana cleaned the cut. She suppressed her reflexive irritation; Diana only meant went, after all. And it was . . . well, it wasn’t nice, per se, but it was a bit of a novelty to have someone else doing this for her. Diana’s fingers were warm and dry against her skin. She was already feeling a little buzzed from the adrenaline, but there was a different sort of buzz now - the buzz of human touch, of Diana’s perfume and the musk of her skin.
“What an asshole,” Diana muttered after a few long seconds of silence.
“I’ve met worse. And so has my baton.” Diana gave a small snort of laughter. Sara smiled, eyes still closed. “That was the first time I’ve ever been called that, though. Dyke.”
Diana’s hands stilled. “Did it bother you?”
Sara opened her eyes and was startled to find Diana had gotten to her knees. They were eye to eye. “No.”
“I like the word ‘dyke,’” Diana confided, reaching to dab again at the cut. “It’s a strong word. A tough word.”
“I like it, too,” Sara said. She hadn’t much cared for the way the guy had said it, but the word itself - well, it was better than most of the things she’d been called in her life.
Diana was looking at her again, almost worried. Worried she might’ve scared her, worried she might’ve offended her - Sara didn’t know. Sara watched Diana from inches away, and reflected that she’d never been called stupid and she’d never been called a coward; she knew an opportunity when she saw one.
She leaned in to kiss her. Diana tasted like wine and kissed like she did everything else - fearlessly, with no artifice or fancy tricks. Sara didn’t know how a kiss could be comfortable and adventurous all at once, but somehow kissing Diana was. It was an adventure, but the sort of adventure that might last a while.
Maybe even a good long while.