“What the crap did you just say in there?” Jane demanded as she drove Angela’s car off the lot and away from Gilberti Auto Body Shoppe. “That’s nice? What’s nice?” Impatient hands gripped the steering wheel as she waited out the traffic light down the corner.
Maura was silent, smiling out the window with unfocused eyes. Jane had to repeat herself. “Come on, Maur’, what was so nice about it? He just invited us to a threesome.”
“Mm,” Maura agreed, but did not sound fully committed to the agreement. “But it was still nice.”
Belatedly, Jane turned on her blinker, though it didn’t matter much because she was already halfway through the turn. Someone behind them honked to remind her of her poor road etiquette. She paid no mind. “Nice how? Nice as in, well, I can’t think of anything else to say, so why don’t I say something that doesn’t make any sense?”
“Mm,” came the sound of unconcern once more. It was pissing Jane off, even though her ranting was having its effect at lessening that disturbing dreaminess in Maura’s gaze.
“Well, okay,” Jane replied, scowling as she had done back at the garage, and flipping the bird to a motorist who tried to cut her off from the turn-only lane. “So maybe you meant oh, it’s so nicethat this chucklehead managed to string together an entire sentence? Even if it was about him perving on us. Like we’d be interested in that. Huh!” The husky-voiced woman was driving safely, but a bit more rapidly than she normally would with Maura in the car. “I mean, come on. Is he that clueless? If we were a real couple, he would have seriously overstepped, just now.”
“Mm,” the sound came a third time, “but we’re not. And after all, you can’t blame him for trying. If you want something, there’s nothing quite like asking, for yielding results.” Still woolgathering, she lifted one hand from her lap and held it out the window to feel the air as it supported her forearm and toyed with her fingers. “Giovanni had no way of knowing for certain that we would say no until he asked. And who knows…”
Jane glanced once fleetingly at Maura, then again for a longer moment as they slowed to take an exit on their way to the caramel-brunette’s house. “Who knows what?” Alarm showed clearly in the planes and angles of her chiseled face.
This time, it caught Maura’s attention enough to at least entice her to look in Jane’s direction, though she seemed still to be a bit cloudy-headed, a bit daydreamy. “Who knows?” she repeated, smiling, and did not explain.
By this time, they were pulling into Maura’s neighborhood. It was a gated community with turning, twisting avenues, designed before the days of GPS guidance systems in cars in order to confuse those who didn’t belong there. Even having visited often enough to know her way blind, Jane had to concentrate on navigation, so she could not ask further questions until she had pulled into her friend’s two-car driveway and shut off the engine. “No, wait,” she reached out to grasp Maura by the forearm, stopping her from unfastening her seat belt and exiting the vehicle. “You need to tell me what you meant. Who knows what?”
The smaller woman’s head tilted to one side as she gave Jane a look that all but sang out, Come on, keep up, as if the answer should have been obvious. When it appeared that Jane did not take her point yet, Maura’s countenance took on an air of doubt. “Are you telling me you’d never even consider it?”
“Ew,” Jane responded with genuine disgust. “Really, Maura? Seriously, you actually think I’d consider getting into a threesome with that dumbass? Come on, he wanted to lick your face.Lick your face. In whose book is that normal or appealing?” She got out of the car, slamming the door a bit harder than was strictly necessary, and headed for the house. She had her key out first, the one given to her for emergencies, and she let both of them into Maura’s place without a second thought as the house’s actual owner trailed behind, suppressing most outward signs of amusement.
Divesting herself of gun, badge, and blazer and putting them away in their respectively assigned places, the detective became – at least nominally – a private citizen again. A disgusted private citizen. “I grew up with that guy, right? So believe me, when I say he’s gross, he is gross.Giovanni may have only told you he wanted to lick your face, but I actually know girls who dated him in high school. I know what some of them have said about him, the things he likes to do. Believe me, face-licking is pretty low on the Gross-O-Meter when it comes to him.”
She stopped and cleared her throat. “I mean, I can admit he looks all right. Okay, he looks really great. And I might have had kind of a thing for him when I we were in school together, before I heard some of that stuff from Andrea Talucci. But now? No. No, I would not even come close to considering getting into a ride at an amusement park with him, or an arm wrestling match, let alone getting into bed with him.” Then she paused, turning to face her best friend with an accusatory glare. “Wait a minute. Are you saying that you would consider it?”
Maura’s head tilted, inviting Jane to follow her own observations and draw a conclusion. She held the pose for a moment, then began putting away her purse, charging her phone, washing her hands, and taking care of the other minutiae of arrival at home, as if Jane hadn’t just asked her something heavy, and as if she had given a perfectly reasonable response.
As the quiet stretched out between them, Jane found her eyebrows lifting slowly, so slowly, and her head tipping forward and down at the same pace, such that her expression melted seamlessly between indifference to absolute disbelief. “You’re thinking about it right now,” she realized.
The smaller woman had a way of looking like she thought everything she was doing or saying was perfectly reasonable, logical, and normal, especially when it wasn’t, and that was the way she looked as she began to nod. However, almost immediately she qualified the nonverbal assertion, pausing in her hand drying to give better attention to her friend. Her BFF. Her LLBFF, in fact. “Well… Not exactly.”
Jane sat down in one of the stools tucked beneath the kitchen counter top. It was intended to be a graceful slide of rump into seat, but instead was a heavy and almost clumsy landing. She was well on her way to discombobulated. “Seriously,” murmured, staring off into space. Maura allowed herself a private smile as she left Jane to think, fetching them both glasses of ice water before taking dinner fixings out of the refrigerator. She had prepared them the night before, and now it only needed a wok, a stirrer, and some heat before it would be a lovely chicken and vegetable stir-fry. She turned on the burner and set the wok atop it to heat.
The ersatz chef pulled an apron over her light blue dress and turned to take a look at her friend as she tied its strings at the small of her back. The lanky woman, usually so self-assured as to verge on cocky, sat slumped and round-shouldered at the countertop, expression stunned. “Perhaps,” Maura told her responded quietly, “but not exactly.”
Jane sat almost perfectly still as Maura tossed the diced chicken into the heated oil and stirred it swiftly until the sizzling calmed down and the meat had turned from pink to white. As the diminutive woman removed the meat to a plate and tossed in handsful of fresh vegetables, setting off another round of steam and sizzling, the detective stirred herself and asked, “What do you mean, not exactly?”
Maura smiled over the food, facial expression turning just a little bit dreamy once again. “I mean, I considered… certain elements of Giovanni’s suggestion to be unobjectionable, and even appealing, but not all of them. Will you set the table?” She tossed the meat back into the vegetables once the latter were warm through, but still crispy. The darker woman remained reticent, though she did acquiesce to the request as her hostess stirred the dinner elements together, served the meal into two wide, shallow bowls, then tossed a few crunchies and some roasted slivered almonds atop each. “Here, Jane,” she offered as she carried both bowls to the set table. “Eat.”
Just about halfway into the meal, Jane realized she had been staring at her friend, eating the fresh, crisp, fragrant food without tasting it at all. Maura didn’t seem to notice, but maybe that was because she too kept losing focus, gazing off into nowhere.
She cleared her throat, took a sip of water, cleared her throat again. “Hey,” she started off conversationally, then stopped. She had no idea where to take it from there. Jane’s lips pressed together as she thought about it, and as she thought, her expression and posture became more and more hesitant, more reluctant. Her head shook; she would let it go, if permitted.
Permitted, however, she was not. “You want to know which elements,” Maura surmised aloud.
There was no response.
“I’ll tell you if you ask,” added the woman as she pick up a small bite with her chopsticks, ate it, and waited.
As she was about to speak again, this time to permit the subject change, Jane found her voice. “No. Don’t tell me what you’d be doing in bed with Giovanni freakin’ Gilberti.”
“Well, nothing, actually,” Maura said with an open smile. “He really did make me feel nauseous. If, as you say, face-licking is the least of his potentially offensive bedroom behavior, then I really don’t want to find out about the rest. Giovanni wasn’t one of the elements of his scenario that I felt I wanted to preserve.”
Nonplussed, Jane sat back in her chair. “Oh,” she said with visible and audible relief. “Well… okay.” She sat for a moment, and Maura sat too. Momentarily, both went back to eating.
The meal was finished and Jane had started loading the dishwasher – it was her habit, whenever Maura was the one to cook – when a thought occurred to her. “Hey, Maur’? If Giovanni wasn’t part of it, what… Um. Wait a minute,” she ground to a verbal halt, having tripped over the realization that she was about to ask her best friend a question she herself wouldn’t want to answer. “Never mind.”
“Never mind because you think I’ll be embarrassed or offended, or never mind because you don’t want to know?” Maura asked as she removed the place mats and wiped down the table. As she rounded the kitchen island to shake out her cleaning cloth and rinse it, the smaller woman realized there was another nuance to question. “Or is it that you do want to know, but you don’t want to ask? If you really want to know the answer, I’ll give it to you.”
The problem was Jane did and didn’t want to know the answer at the same time. Wait, was that what Maura meant when she talked about Schrödinger? Crap, now that made sense! “The problem,” she said aloud, slowly, pouring after dinner drinks, “the problem is you’ll tell me the truth if I ask you.”
Maura looked at Jane curiously. “Of course I will.”
Jane made a groan of frustration. “See? You see? If you just answered it right away, I wouldn’t worry about it. Now I gotta think about it.” She absently handed Maura her wineglass and walked into the living room. “You never make things easy,” grumbled Jane. And before fear could win out, again, she asked, “Why would it be ‘nice?’” In trying to make air quotes, Jane nearly spilled her beer.
The petite woman before her moved quickly, one hand darting forth, fingertips supporting the bottom of the sweating beer bottle to avoid spillage. “Well, why wouldn’t it be nice?” asked Maura, not quite as rhetorically as Jane would have liked. On her way to the sofa after Jane, she laid out her reasons, as if it were something quite normal. “Sex is nice. Sex with attractive partners is nice. I can’t say I’ve seriously considered simultaneous multiple partners, but I can see where the appeal might lie, of course – after all, if one attractive person is great, two could theoretically be even better.”
Before Jane could voice her thoughts concerning that little assertion, however, Maura continued on, taking her seat on the couch and crossing her legs up beneath her, showing every sign of relaxation. No, this wasn’t an awkward conversation. Not at all. “In the balance, though, I’d have to think that there would be logistical issues that would prevent such an encounter from being as satisfying as the fantasy alone. In a daydream, everything goes the way you want it. In reality, you’re working with two other people, and each of them has their own fantasy about how it should play out. In each person’s fantasy, they’re usually the one that would be, as it were, in the middle. In reality, the other two people are focusing on one person, or two people are focusing on one another, a majority of the time. At a relatively early point within such an encounter, one person will become superfluous and ignored.” With almost-successful nonchalance, the too-frank woman concluded, “It doesn’t strike me as something that would be all that enjoyable, outside the realm of fantasy.”
“Sounds boring. For that one person.” Jane worried her teeth along one thumbnail. “Now it sounds like you’re saying you wouldn’t like it, but Maur’, I know you said it would be nice, so what’s the nice part, if it’s not Giovanni and it’s not the idea of two other partners?”
Gaze directed down into her wine glass, Maura murmured, again with a lightness that suggested surface unconcern over the faint undertone of unease, “Other aspects.” She lifted the glass to her lips, adding just before the sip, “The company, for instance.”
The beer had yet to actually make it to Jane’s lips throughout that explanation. She swallowed once, then took a drink to stall for time. Her brain screamed for a moment. Maura thought the company, Jane herself, would be pleasant. Jane took another swig from her bottle. It was safe right now to agree with what Maura said. She swirled the bottle, letting the amber liquid swish a couple times. Just because Jane could lie didn’t mean that she ever really wanted to lie with Maura. It made things awkward later on, and Jane wanted Maura to always trust her. “I think,” Jane said slowly, trying to place her emotions in the right place. “More than anything else, I don’t like the idea of Giovanni watching me have sex.”
Wasn’t that the truth? She didn’t like the idea of Giovanni watching her have sex, that was totally true. He was sleazy beyond belief. But more than that, and this was the part Jane didn’t know what to do with, was she didn’t want him watching Maura have sex. With anyone. The feeling had a name and she found it after her third sip of beer, and Jane started to choke, coughing and trying not to spit beer over the table, floor and Bass, while her poor brain informed her she was… jealous… of Giovanni taking Maura on a date.
“That aspect didn’t appeal to me, either,” Maura replied mildly, glancing elsewhere. It would be easy to convince herself that she was doing so in order to give Jane some privacy from scrutiny, but the detective was very good at discerning motivations. She could zero in on the ‘wrong thing’ that almost anyone was hiding, and it was easier for her when looking her subject in the eye.
Jane narrowed her eyes over her bottle and frowned a little. “So. Basically you’re saying the part of his idea that you did like was the, uh, company?” Jane crossed and un-crossed her ankles. “The me part.” Flippantly she added, “Is this your way of telling me that you’re attracted to me?” She wanted the answer to be no and yes at the same time, and suddenly her palms were sweating.
Studying the set of Jane’s features, the tension in her shoulders and the not-quite-light tone of voice, Maura knew with certainty, “You’re uncomfortable. I’m sorry, Jane. At the time I really wasn’t aware that I’d even spoken aloud. I wish I hadn’t.” Relaxation evaporated, leaving her looking almost as tightly wound as her best friend at the other end of the couch.
Reflexively, Jane put her hand on Maura’s knee. “I’m not – That’s not.” She sighed and slouched in the couch. “I asked, y’know. I knew what I was asking.” Knowing what to do with the information was another thing. That Maura hadn’t answered the question was answer enough for her. “You’re my LLBFF.” Jane reached over and poked at Maura’s ribs. “I’d totally be a fake lesbian for you any time.”
“I know,” replied Maura softly as her eyes dropped to Jane’s hand on her knee. From the kitchen came the scraping sounds of Bass’s shell against the lower edge of the kitchen cabinets, on his way to investigate the offering of organic spinach that she had left for him. “I know. Thank you for that. I suppose that’s another thing that wouldn’t work as well in reality.” Her wry smile did not quite reach her eyes.
The human brain needed a DVR replay function, Jane thought. At least, hers did. She was sure Maura’s already had one, and could backtrack, replay, zoom in, pause and so on and so forth. Instead of asking ‘What reality?’ Jane bit her lip momentarily. Oh. There was a sensation of a very large brick hitting her in the back of the head. “Oh-kay,” she breathed out, softly, hardly conscious she was speaking aloud.
Sometimes reality opened the door to a new version of itself, one you’d never before imagined. Now Jane had a Narnia moment where she was trying to think over every conversation similar to this before. Maura liked her. Like, liked her liked her. Like, found her attractive.
Jane stared at her beer for a moment. She had to say something now. She had to decide if that changed everything or nothing at all. Glancing at Maura’s incomplete smile, there was only one feeling, and that was to make the smile reach her eyes. “Okay,” Jane repeated, this time more firmly. “We’re okay.”
Maura took a moment simply to be still, then nodded assent. If Jane said they were okay, then they were okay. Acceptance of the situation, as she now saw it, permitted her to smile honestly, albeit in a subdued way. “What do you think, then?” she offered. “Movie?”