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What a Nice Surprise

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Neal Caffrey sat at the bar, leisurely sipping his scotch while talking with the bartender, a pretty brunette wearing a black suit vest over a white tank top and a pair of tight blue jeans. The few patrons lucky enough to be in the bar at three in the afternoon could see that they were having a good time, talking and laughing. Neal had even loosened the tie that complemented his vintage Devore.

“You didn't tell me. What brought you to LA?”

“The Henley Gallery is having a Caffrey showing tonight.” He mentioned it casually, as if he was only an interested art aficionado.

“I've heard about him. Used to be some sort of art forger that went legit. Isn't it a photography exhibit though?”

Neal nodded, surprised that she knew that much about him without knowing what he looked like. There was a spread in the LA Times about the show, and he'd given a couple of interviews to art news sites. The gallery itself was new and was advertising everywhere it could.

The summer before his anklet had been officially and forever removed, Elizabeth asked him to take a photography class with her. He'd agreed and immediately excelled at the new medium. He still painted and sculpted, but manual photography had become his passion. He loved developing his pictures, watching them come to life in a bath of developer. Elizabeth had taken some of his photos and shown them to her friend at the Dearmitt Gallery, and suddenly he had a legitimate art career.

Now, he was alone in LA for the opening night of his exhibit at the up-and-coming Henley. Peter had a case he couldn't leave, Elizabeth had an huge wedding, and Mozzie had taken off for Scandinavia or Switzerland or somewhere. They'd all attended his showings before, so he wasn't upset that they were busy. He was lonely though, and while he hadn't been to LA before, he hadn't made it further than the hotel bar since his arrival that morning.

His cell phone remained stubbornly silent too. He didn't expect to hear from Mozzie, but Peter or Elizabeth should have returned the voicemail he'd left them when his plane landed at LAX or even shot him a text. It was unlike them to be out of touch for so long, and he was worried. Since his anklet had been removed six months ago, they were having fun testing the boundaries of a relationship that none of them had seen coming. It was exhilarating and terrifying at once, and Neal loved living on the edge of those emotions.

“Refill?” The bartender interrupted his musings.

He shook his head and put his hand over the glass. “No, thanks. I should probably go out and see the sights before I have to be at the showing. Thank you. For the drinks and the conversation.” And the distraction, he added to himself.

She smiled as she wiped down the bar, leaning over far enough to flash him more of her chest than he'd expected. “It was my pleasure.”

He smirked, left her a generous tip, donned his hat and headed back up to his room to grab his camera. He spent the next couple of hours getting the lay of the land and documenting anything and everything that stood out to him about California. He even wandered briefly into the subway station at Hollywood and Vine, flirted with a group of sorority sisters by Joe Walsh's star on the Walk of Fame, and made his way by The Troubadour.

There was still a couple of hours to spare before his showing when he walked into the gallery and asked to borrow their darkroom. They happily obliged, and Neal lost himself in developing film and choosing his favorites to print. He'd been so distracted that he was surprised when the curator knocked on the door to let him know that it was almost time to start.

Schmoozing people was a Caffrey specialty, and Neal worked the gallery like he was wont to do. He answered questions, smiled in the right places, and seemed to be having a good time, but he kept looking over his shoulder or glancing toward the door. It wasn't that he needed any of his friends by his side; it was that he wanted them there to share in the excitement with him.

He finally got a moment's peace and made his way to the corner to stare at a picture of Elizabeth's naked silhouette wearing his hat to further obscure her face. She'd made him promise not to tell anyone that she had posed, and it wasn't for sale. It was one of his favorite pieces though, and he insisted on using it in his shows.

When he couldn't take the ache of missing her and Peter any longer, he felt a hand on his shoulder. It slipped down to encircle his arm the same way that Elizabeth did it on their evening walks through Brooklyn.

“Hey, handsome,” she greeted him softly. “I knew we'd find you by this one.”

Neal chuckled and looked down at Elizabeth's bright smile. “It is my seminal work, or so I've read.”

“You looked sad. Has your trip been okay?”

“It's been great. I thought you and Peter were busy this week though.”

Peter cleared his throat behind them, and they turned to see him holding three flutes of pink champagne. “We found the time,” he said as he handed them each a drink. “And I think this deserves a toast. To-”

Neal interrupted. “To muses.”

“And lovers,” Elizabeth added softly as they clinked their glasses together.


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