Holder’s apartment is cleaner than she expected it to be.
To be sure, it’s nothing fancy; a three bedroom condo that’s sixty per cent living room-kitchen and had probably seen better days before it was built as testament to sixties and seventies architecture, but its clean and warm and Holder’s tall bulk fills the space around her and Jack with a comforting silence.
He asks no questions when he opens the door, cell phone still to his ear. He asks no questions as he wrestles with Jack in the living room, both of them ignoring the way the younger man looks at her partner with the kind of adoration that should only be reserved for good fathers and better mothers. He asks no questions as he somehow makes the food in his refrigerator stretch to three. Not until Jack’s in his room and he and Linden are on the couch does he turn to her with the questions in his eyes: why are you here?
Why is she here?
Linden’s (she even calls herself by her surname now. Sometimes she wonders if she’ll reply to Sarah if asked) asked herself that question, of course. She asked herself that question on the way over, her gaze constantly flickering to the rearview mirror, searching for any tails. She’d asked that question as she’d dragged Jack up the dark stairwell that led to Holder’s apartment, her hand resting on the gun at her hip as she’d anxiously surveyed the stairwell. She’d asked that question as she’d heard his cell phone through the wall of his apartment and exhaled a sigh of relief when she knew he was home: why is she here?
She’s here because Holder’s her partner, and despite everything, she trusts him; trusts him with her son. For all his faults, Holder loves Jack and Linden has seen the adoration in both their eyes whenever they’re together. So as she washes her face in Holder’s stark yet clean bathroom, the smells of detergent and male sweat never more welcoming, she repeats that mantra in the rusting mirror: she can trust him. Jack can trust him.
“You gonna tell me what happened?” He asks as they sit on the couch and drink a clandestine beer.
“No.” Linden wishes it were stronger. Her tongue needs to be looser for the conversation that’s too come. She’s always had a problem letting people in.
He seemingly reads her mind and pulls a bottle of unmarked clear alcohol from behind the couch.
“Y’know, if you guys wanted to have a sleepover, ya coulda come earlier.” He says as he pours them a stiff finger and pushes the shot glass in her direction.
The liquor’s burned fire down her throat when she talks again.
“Someone’s been inside the hotel room.” Her eyes roam the sparse walls, the old TV, the faded pictures and old magazines that clutter the low-rise coffee table – anywhere other than Holder’s grey-blue stare that bores into the side of her head with something akin to worry on his face.
“Take it ya don’t mean room service, right?”
She reaches for the bottle and pours them both another shot. “There’s a picture taped to the refrigerator.”
Linden’s fingers tremble as she reaches for the glass. “The woods. The mountains. Looks like a kid’s drawing but it wasn’t. It was … malevolent.” She finds the right word. “I didn’t put it there and neither did Jack. And the other night, someone broke the light outside my room.”
Holder seems to consider this. “So who do you think it was, Linden?”
“I don’t know.” She chugs the shot and it burns all the way down.
She whips her head around, almost offended that he should ask until she sees his face: he doesn’t buy it either, but it’s a question that needs to be asked.
“Of course not.” Greg would – is, she reminds herself – go through a lawyer, not scare tactics. He would break the door down, not pick the lock and close the door afterwards to cover his tracks.
At first she liked that; who wouldn’t like a boyfriend whose hobbies didn’t include breaking and entering? She liked it because he was so different to all those who had been before, and after a lifetime of being dragged from one foster home to another, only to stand on the other side of the fence and watch as kids were dragged from one foster home to another, she wanted something else, something different. She wanted a man who was good and clean and pure, in a way. But soon, when the job became everything, had to become everything, he didn’t understand.
Her silent cell phone indicates that Rick feels the same. Is this what it’s going to be like, now? Silent cell phones and missed flights and endless I’m sorrys that won’t keep the bed warm at night?
“You spoke to Carlson about it?”
The look on her face gives him his answer. Right now Linden wouldn’t give their boss a glass of water if he was dying of thirst.
“So you got no idea who would break into your place?”
“I said no.” Her words come out sharper than she intends. “It has to be someone connected to the investigation.”
Holder runs his hand through his short hair. “Jesus, Linden. What the hell we got ourselves into?”
“Ya don’t have to go back to the hotel.” His hands brush hers as she helps him make the couch into a comfortable bed.
“You don’t have to give us your bed.” His couch doesn't look comfortable, but Jack's slept on worse and she's used to sleeping on the floor.
“I’m serious.” Holder’s eyes are boring into her head. “It ain’t safe there. Ya can stay here until the case is closed.”
“We’re on day nineteen – twenty.” She amends as she looks at the kitchen clock. “You really want us here for another three weeks?”
“Don’t want to have to pull your bodies outta the water, either.”
Their eyes linger on each other as they say their goodnights, him not quite willing to leave her alone with a door between them and her not quite sure she wants to hear it close behind her.
“You just holler if ya need anything.” He says.
She nods. “I will.”
She jumps when his hand finds its way to her shoulder and squeezes it reassuringly. “We’ll catch this guy, Linden.” He says.
He rarely touches her. She imagines its hard for him; his handshakes with Jack are drawn-out and elaborate and encompass the whole body. He's always moving, always animated. Sometimes she knows that he wants to touch her and offer her comfort but he doesn't until now, not since that awful day when Linden had been convinced that her son was dead and had broke down in front of him. He'd been there then, and he's here now.
She leaves the door ajar when she finally retreats to bed; more ajar than it is open.
It’s comforting, listening to him move around in the next room. She’s forgotten what it’s like to share her space with another adult. She’s beginning to wonder if she ever knew how.
His bedsheets are soft in that way that comes from being slept in several times, and his scent is on the pillows, infused with the smell of cigarettes that she inhales like a junkie needing a fix. It’s comforting, being here, surrounded by his scent like a blanket of trust. Despite everything that has happened between them, she knows that he’ll keep her safe, that he’ll keep her son safe. And as she has to keep reminding herself, sometimes even the strongest need help. In fact, sometimes admitting that you need help is strength in itself.
So she lies in Holder’s bed, his comforter wrapped as tight as it will go around her body, his scent surrounding her, and falls asleep to the sounds of his breathing through the ajar door.