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there's a road that's long and winding, it hollers home

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You made me feel like I was always falling
Always falling down without a place to land
Somewhere in the distance I heard you calling
Oh it hurts so bad to let go of your hand

Wherever Is Your Heart - Brandi Carlile

*

She gets a text during the work day from an unfamiliar number. The area indicates that it’s a Los Angeles number and the text only says, If you have a minute, let me know. There’s something I’d like to ask you.

Weirdly ominous for a stranger to send right to her phone, but she’d gotten an upgrade last year and hadn’t backed up her old phone correctly, so not everything had transferred. Rusty had been exasperated with her.

“Why didn’t you let me take care of it for you? This is why you have kids,” he’d scolded.

Rusty has taught her a lot about her new iphone, actually, and she is grateful for it. Being connected to her team is a big part of her job. She knows just by glancing at the message, that the text has come from another iphone because it is blue, not green.

Well, it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t have a minute to deal with the text so she clicks the button that makes her screen go dark and drops the phone into her jacket pocket. She and Amy are on the way down to the morgue to hear Dr. Morales go over an autopsy. Drugs or bullets, poison or blunt force trauma, regardless of what it is, the morgue always ranks among her least favorite parts of this job which is a pity because she really does like Morales.

That evening, she looks at her phone again and remembers the text. Pulls it up and shows it to Andy.

“Do you recognize this number?” she asks. He squints at the phone.

“Honestly I don’t know anyone’s phone number anymore. I don’t even know yours,” he says.

“I know,” she says with a laugh. “Technology has made us all lazy.”

“Maybe someone got a new number and doesn’t realize you don’t have it,” he says. “Text them back.”

“I will tomorrow,” she decides. She looks at him, the lines in his face and the little belly he’s been working on spilling over his belt. “Are you planning on spending the night tonight?”

“Nah,” he says. “I gotta get up early and go with Provenza to the victim’s job site.”

She feels a shot of relief and then a flash of guilt. She loves Andy, wants to be with him, but his snoring has been getting worse and she knows it’s because he’s been putting on weight and hasn’t figured out how to delicately bring that up with him. She sleeps better without him, lately.

It isn’t until he’s gone that she’s in her bedroom, looking at her work email on her city issued ipad that she notices the little red number on the messages app. The ipad is much older than her phone, but they’re connected, and when she looks at her texts there she can see the same message she’d received in the morning, except on the ipad there’s a name attached to the number.

The text is from Brenda Leigh Johnson.

She sleeps on this information, wondering what on earth Brenda could want from her that she couldn’t get from anyone on the squad. From Mike or Julio or even Lieutenant Provenza. Though he’d never admit to it, Provenza had taken Brenda’s leaving the hardest. Provenza loved Brenda, from what Sharon could tell, loved her like family.

In the morning, she updates her contact information so that Brenda’s name is attached to the number in her phone. And then, because Rusty is gone and she is alone in her kitchen, she calls Brenda.

Who does not answer. In fact, there’s not even a message, only a generic voice reciting her phone number, so Sharon hangs up before it invites her to leave a message. It seems like all she can do is respond to the text so she carefully pecks into her phone, Call me anytime, Brenda.

And sends it off into the ether.

oooo

She and Andy are meant to go out to dinner, but the day gets away from them and by the time they actually get the chance to leave, she’s too exhausted for a sit down meal in a mid-priced restaurant. Andy can tell by just looking at her, picks up his desk phone and says, “I’ll call for take out.”

“Thank you,” she says, letting her hand rest on his shoulder for a moment. They would go to her condo, eat at the table while Rusty watched TV or joined them, maybe, but not usually. Or Rusty might not even be home, off with Gus or visiting his mother. Working on a story. He keeps himself busy, especially now that Andy is around more. Andy had sold his house but is living month to month in a one bedroom in Brentwood. They’d put in an offer on a house but then it had fallen through and Sharon had told him that it was maybe for the best, that she wasn’t sure she was ready to get rid of her condo. That he should buy a house if he wanted but without the expectation of her moving in right away.

He’d said he was used to her going slow, but she knows she’d hurt his feelings. He’s defeated now, is making little effort toward house hunting. So most nights, they spend at the condo. Sometimes he spends the night, sometimes not. She’s slept over at his apartment only a handful of times.

She waits in the car while he runs in to pick up and pay for the food. While she’s waiting, her phone blips in her purse. She expects it to be Rusty, telling her where he is and whether or not he’s coming home, but it isn’t, it’s Brenda.

Oh, never mind, I found the information I needed.

She stares at the message, perplexed. She can see that Brenda is still typing something.

How are you, Captain? How are things?

She laughs, a little chuckle out into the quiet of the parked car. Sharon had reached out just once after Brenda’s swift departure from the LAPD. Had invited her back for a single social event - Tao’s after work birthday get together, but Brenda hadn’t said yes or no and Sharon had gotten her answer when she hadn’t shown up. Once she’d even mentioned to Chief Howard that he could bring along his wife to something or other, but he’d said, “Oh she’s in D.C. during the week now.”

And then it was the weekends too, because Sharon had overheard Pope and Chief Howard talking about the new Homeland Security promotion Brenda had taken. She’d wondered at the time what that had meant for the Howard-Johnson marriage, but it was none of her business and anyway, she understood the desire to get away.

She texts backs. Things are well. If you’re ever back in town, let me know. Everyone would love to see you.

Andy comes back in with the food and hands it to her where she holds it warm on her lap. She tucks her phone away.

oooo

Brenda texts again four days later. Not words but a photograph. It comes through during a briefing. Sharon glances at the phone and sees only Brenda’s name and the thumbnail of the picture that her phone offers as a preview. She turns the cell phone over - not because she’s embarrassed of receiving a text message during a meeting. They’re all slaves to their phones now, always on call in this job. No, it’s because she’s sitting next to Fritz Howard. She likes the relationship she and Chief Howard have. It’s strictly, one-hundred percent professional. When she’d first taken over Major Crimes it had been awkward because the squad hadn’t trusted her yet and they’d missed Brenda and the obvious tie she’d had to Chief Howard had only been Brenda - but they’ve moved past that now.

And anyway, if Brenda lives in D.C., what does that mean for the man sitting to her right? Sharon is curious because she’s human but she doesn’t want to rock the boat. Her curiosity is at war, however, with what Brenda could have possibly sent her. It makes the meeting drag, the wondering. Mike, who is sitting in on this meeting because he understands the technology they’re talking about, gives her a weird look. She’s not usually fidgety.

Once they’re released, she stands, grabs the phone, turns it over and swipes it open.

It’s a picture of shoes. Black heels. Well, just one heel. Brenda is obviously out shopping because it’s sitting on a display. It’s a beautiful shoe - it has what looks like a little silver or metal detail at the heel and the toe.

She texts back. Cute.

They don’t look much like Brenda though. Sharon remembers a lot of kitten heels, a lot of color. Brenda didn’t have work clothes, she had outfits. Everything was coordinated. It was all very southern.

In the elevator, her phone buzzes, still on silent. She pulls it out.

They reminded me of you, Captain.

She smiles at the phone because Brenda is right. She would buy those.

oooo

Andy is out to dinner with his daughter and her family. Sharon has begged off this time. She had a headache; she’s not in the mood. She loves Nicole, loves the kids, loves Andy but it felt like too much, somehow, on this particular night.

“It’s good for them to have alone time with you,” Sharon had said. Had added, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Oh,” he’d said. “Okay then, tomorrow.”

She hadn’t meant, exactly, to uninvite him from spending the night after abandoning him for dinner, but he’s about fifty-fifty between her condo and his apartment now and Sharon sort of wishes she could nudge it back to forty-sixty. It’d be one thing if they didn’t work together, but since they see each other at work every day, it seems acceptable to her.

When she gets home, Rusty is there, and Gus too, and they’re cooking in the kitchen.

“Hey, mamacita!” Gus says, wiping his hands on his apron and coming over to hug her. He even drops a kiss on her cheek. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your date.”

“No way! This is awesome, we have way too much food!” Gus says and he seems genuine enough. It’s Rusty who looks at her with concern. Her poor, anxious boy, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“I thought you were going out with Andy and Nicole,” he says. “Is everything okay?”

“Oh,” she says, leaning over to pry her shoes off one heel at a time. “Yeah. I just… I felt like coming home.”

“Our good fortune,” says Gus. “Rusty, go add another place setting.”

“I can do it,” she says.

“No you go change,” Gus demands. “You want some wine? We have wine.”

“God,” she says, holding her shoes. “Yes.”

Rusty laughs, pulls another dinner plate down from the cupboard.

She changes into leggings and a big sweater, something she can burrow down into. She even clips her hair back. She’d cut a lot of it off nearly a year ago - fed up with the weight of it and the dry ends, frizzy and splitting. Her stylist had suggested cutting off the damage and she’d agreed, ready for some sort of change even if it was only superficial. But it’s starting to grow back now and she finds that she’s happy about it. She’s starting to feel like her old self again, like waking up from a long, complicated dream. She looks around and everything seems a little too different.

Almost everything is on the table when she comes back out again. Gus hands her a glass of wine and smiles at her, taps the bronze barrette she’s using to hold her hair back.

“Here you go,” he says. And then, “You’re so pretty, Sharon.”

She’s flustered for a moment before she just laughs and says, “Did you already get into the wine, too?”

“Just take the compliment,” Rusty says. “He gives them out like they cost nothing.”

Every moment she spends with them convinces her that she’d made the right choice for the evening. The wine loosens her up just enough that the tight feeling in her chest gives a little. The boys make her laugh, the laughter feels good.

“Mom, your phone,” Rusty says just as they’re finishing up.

“Huh?” she says.

“I heard it beep. I think you got a text,” he says.

“He’s got ears like a bat,” Gus says. “He hears crap I couldn’t make out in a silent room.”

“Ah, to be young,” she says, standing up and walking over to the front door where she’d abandoned her bag.

“Tell Andy hi,” Rusty calls. “Is he coming over?”

“No,” she murmurs, looking down at her phone. “It’s not him.”

It’s Brenda and she’s sent something else again. Not a photograph this time, but a video.

“What is it?” Gus asks. She hesitates but then figures there’s nothing to hide, really. She doesn’t know why it’s her first inclination to keep their renewed correspondence a secret. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the occasional text message between former colleagues.

She looks up at Rusty and gives him what she hopes is a reassuring smile. “It’s Chief Johnson.”

Rusty frowns and says, “Brenda?”

She nods. “She sent me a video, I think.”

“Of what?” he demands.

“Well, I don’t know,” she says walking over to stand between Rusty and Gus’s chairs. The thumbnail is very dark and she can’t make out what it is. She doesn’t imagine Brenda would send her anything she’d be embarrassed for the boys to see. “Let’s watch it.”

“Oh my god,” Rusty says to himself. “Brenda.”

“Who’s Brenda?” Gus asks.

Sharon touches the thumbnail and the video pops up. At first she can’t see anything.

“Turn it up,” Rusty says. “I think…”

She turns her phone’s volume all the way up and starts the video over and realizes Rusty’s is right.

“It’s rain,” Gus says.

It’s a video of the night sky - out a window or on a patio or something which is why they can’t see anything but with the volume up, they can hear the patter of the rain. Just as the video is about to end, she hears the faint rumble of thunder. Then it stops, freezes and gives her the option to push play again.

Sharon looks at Rusty.

“She sent you rain,” he says. “That’s… weird, right?”

“Maybe,” Sharon says. “Maybe she knows it hasn’t rained here in awhile?”

“Who is Brenda?” Gus demands again, more loudly this time.

“She’s just the lady I was with before I was with Sharon,” Rusty says. “But she went away.”

Sharon’s phone makes a bloop.

Day four of this storm. I miss LA.

Sharon shows the boys.

“Are you friends or something?” Rusty demands. “Where even is she?”

“DC, I think,” Sharon says.

“What about Chief Howard?” Rusty asks.

Sharon shakes her head. “I’m not exactly sure.” She doesn’t like to gossip and it’s the truth - she’s not sure. Maybe they have some sort of arrangement that Sharon doesn’t know about. She doesn’t want to speculate.

“Huh,” Rusty says.

“I’m going to clean up the kitchen,” Sharon announces.

“No-” Gus starts but she holds up her hand.

“You cooked, the least I can do is clean,” she says. “But if you wanted to clear the table, I’d let you.”

She leans over and kisses the top of Rusty’s head and then Gus’s because he is starting to feel like hers now, too.

She tucks her phone into the pocket of her sweater. She’ll check in with Rusty in a while to see how he feels about Brenda texting her. Maybe in the morning. She has a feeling he’ll fill Gus in on who she is a little more, if only because she ties in with Philip Stroh. She’s noticed that about Rusty - he likes to frame things in the context of whatever story he’s got his teeth into as if he’s merely at outside observer and not at the heart of it. Something he’ll work out with Dr. Joe, perhaps, in time.

When the leftovers are put away and the kitchen clean, she finally excuses herself to her bedroom and pulls her phone out once the door is closed. It’s late now, after nine and much later in DC but she figures Brenda will see her response when she wakes up.

She texts back, Dry as a bone here. Want to trade weather for a while?

But Brenda surprises her and responds right away.

With pleasure. I’m tired of my feet being wet.

Guess you’ll have to go boot shopping. Sharon pushes send.

She’s brushing her teeth when Brenda texts again.

Do you think if I sent one of my interns out with specifications they’d bring me back something nice?

Sharon laughs around her toothbrush and it echoes around the little bathroom. She spits, rinses her mouth out and dries her hands so she can reply.

There’s always online shopping.

True but what if they don’t fit right? I hate mailing stuff back.

Sharon rolls her eyes. Guess you’ll just have to suffer. She types out another one and sends it fast. Or move back to LA.

But she regrets it the moment she hits send. Obviously there were reasons Brenda left, be it her marriage or the work she could find. She’d barely stayed a full year at the D.A.’s office. It had been a rebound job. Or maybe she was just good enough that someone else snatched her up. They hadn’t always seen eye to eye on things but there was no mistaking Brenda’s talent for the field.

It takes a little while for Brenda to respond and the guilt grows and grows. Should she apologize?

A text comes through that’s just a long link and when Sharon opens it, it’s to a pair of knee high brown boots.

She breathes a sigh of relief.

Though she hates the boots. She could lie, call them nice. But she’d always told Brenda the truth, even when they worked together, even when it wasn’t what Brenda had wanted to hear. So she tells the truth now.

You could do better.

Brenda sends through one of those little yellow faces with the tongue sticking out and then a little moon and a little golden star. Goodnight, Captain Raydor, she says.

Sharon says nothing in return.

oooo

Sharon goes to the mall on a Sunday when Andy and Lieutenant Provenza are at the Dodger’s game and Rusty is out somewhere with Gus and she is alone. She goes to buy moisturizer from the Shiseido counter and is talking to Emily on the phone. She’s winding toward all the counters through the shoes and the handbags when she stops short.

A pale pink Coach handbag. It’s got a black strap and the clasp is a little back bow.

“Hold on,” she says into the phone. “I have to take a picture of something.”

“What?” Emily says. “I thought you were at the mall.”

“I am, but I have to take a picture of this purse to send to someone.”

“A picture of what?”

“A purse,” she says. “If I got to the camera, am I going to hang up on you?”

“No mom,” Emily says, sounding like she might be laughing at her. “You’ll just the green bar at the top that says touch to return to call.”

“Okay and then how do I make the picture go into the text message box.”

“Oh lord,” Emily says. “Okay we’re gonna hang up and then you’re going to go to the text message, touch the little camera icon and then take the picture and it’ll do it for you.”

“We don’t have to hang up, honey, it’s just a silly little thing…”

“It’s fine, I have to go to rehearsal,” she says. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Sharon says.

She ends the call and follows Emily’s instructions. Finds the text chain she and Brenda have been nursing and touches the little camera. Snaps a picture of the purse and sends it.

She’s being rung up for her very expensive moisturizer and also the eye cream that they’d talked her into when her phone beeps loudly from her own black handbag.

“Sorry,” she says, handing her Macy’s card across the glass counter while she fishes out her phone. She can’t help but smile to herself when it’s Brenda who has just sent an enthusiastic row of exclamation points.

And then, as she’s walking away with her purchases, Brenda sends, Did you even bother to look at the price?

No. Better to live in ignorance, I think.

Brenda sent, LOL. Were you always funny?

Sharon smiles. She was a lot of things back then that Brenda didn’t want to know about. In Brenda’s defense, she’d been mired in some pretty heavy issues and Sharon now knew exactly how hard her job had been. But still. They’d gotten off on the wrong foot, had only just started to level out as colleagues. Sharon likes to think they’d been on the track to friends but then she’d left so abruptly.

And now here they are. Strange how life works out.

Yes. Sharon sends. You were too much of a snot to notice.

Kind of a bold text at this point, but what does Sharon have to lose, exactly? The worst case scenario is that things go back to how they were a month ago.

In the car, her phone beeps once more.

Fair enough.

oooo

I am on the worst date.

Sharon snorts, glancing at her phone, because she’s on a date with Andy right now, too. It’s Saturday night, it’s what people do. They just finished a case and have managed to make it this far through the weekend without picking something else up. Andy had suggested going out and Sharon had agreed.

As much as she loves Andy, and she does, dates aren’t really the same as they used to be. It’s not often she gets to relax, indulge in an expensive meal, put on a boatload of dark eyeshadow. Andy tells her that it’s fine if she orders wine, but she just feels odd about it. If it were a group of them and there was someone else there drinking too, maybe. So she doesn’t order anything but water and misses the lazy, languid buzz a good glass of wine brings her.

She usually wouldn't look at her phone on a date except for Andy’s eyes are on the television in the bar behind her as much as they are on her, so she doesn’t feel that bad.

But is the food any good? she asks.

Sharon, he said that he didn’t believe in dessert!!

Sharon frowns. What does that mean?

I DON’T KNOW!

She snorts and then looks up to find Andy looking at her with a soft smile.

“I’m so sorry,” she says and slips the phone into her handbag.

“It’s fine,” he says. “What’s funny?”

“Oh, nothing, it’s silly,” she says.

“I like silly,” he says.

“Just a friend is on a date and the guy is boring,” she says. “Guess it’s date night all around. How are the Chargers playing?” She twists in the chair to look at the score but it’s too far away for her to make out, even with her glasses. It’s time to go back to the optometrist, maybe, and get a strong prescription. The last time he’d threatened bifocals, so she’s dragging her feet.

“They’re losing,” he says. “Are we on a boring date?”

“What?” she asks. “No! I mean, I wish the food would come, but I’m not bored. Are you bored?”

“I’m never bored with you,” he says, reaching across the white tablecloth to grasp her hand. She immediately feels guilty because sometimes, on occasion, she does find Andy a little dull. Part of her knows after Jack, dull is good. She likes predictable because it comes along with warm and loving and kind. He doesn’t blow her off, he doesn’t lie about where he’s been. He doesn’t disappear for days, weeks at a time. He doesn’t come home sloppy and drunk and dangerous.

But sometimes she just wishes…

“I love you,” he says now.

“I know you do,” she says. “I love you, too.”

The food comes, she takes her hand back.

Andy gets up halfway through the meal to go to the restroom and the moment he’s gone, she looks at her phone again.

He works for the treasury department. The ultimate accountant.
By the way, he has on a brown sock and a blue sock. First thing I noticed.
I ordered another glass of wine and he winked at me. I might kill him.
His name is Berry. No, not Barry. Berry with an E.
Sharon don’t abandon me now, I need an escape strategy!!

She chuckles at the string of texts waiting for her and responds, Tell him you have an early morning.

We’re the government, we don’t do Sundays.

How are you texting me if you’re with him? Sharon sends.

Oh, he’s talking so much about himself that he hasn’t noticed me.

Andy comes back, she puts her phone away again. Andy must noticing her glancing at her purse because he says, “It’s fine. Do you need to get it?”

“No, it’s rude,” she says as she pulls her phone back out anyway.

I’m on a date, too, Sharon says.

Tell Andy hi.

That’s interesting. Where is Brenda getting her news? Who is telling Brenda about Sharon’s personal life?

“Chief Johnson says hello,” Sharon says. She already feels guilty about being less than attentive; no sense in lying about this.

“That’s who you’re texting?” Andy asks with real surprise. “I didn’t think that… I didn’t know you still talked.”

“Just a little,” she says. “Here and there.”

“No kidding,” he says. “How is she?”

“Fine, I think,” Sharon says. “Did you know she and Chief Howard split?”

“I mean, I assumed,” he said. “She moved back to the east coast and he didn’t.”

“It’s too bad,” she said.

He just shrugged, looked like he didn’t necessarily agree.

“Andy?” she prompted.

“It’s just… don’t get me wrong, Fritz is a nice enough guy but I never understood their relationship,” Andy said. “He always wanted the Chief to do all these things that she clearly never wanted to do.”

“Like what?” Sharon asked.

“Come home by a certain time or go on trips she was too busy to go on or… I mean, it doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. “I’m just not surprised, that’s all.”

Andy knows both of them better than she does, there’s no denying that. Now that she and Andy are together, it’s easy to not think about how loyal all of Major Crimes was to Brenda. It’s easy to forget how tough that first year was when Brenda left and she stepped in. She reaches across the table like he’d done before and takes his hand.

“You’re going to stay over tonight, right?” Sharon asks.

Andy’s face lights up when he smiles. “Of course!”

At home, hours later, Sharon gets out of bed and shrugs into her soft pink robe, leaves Andy behind all tangled up in her sheets. She belts her robe tightly and creeps out of the bedroom into the kitchen. She fills a glass of water from the dispenser on the refrigerator and drinks the whole thing even though she knows it’ll make her have to get up to pee in a few hours. Her phone sits on the counter, charging.

She looks at it but when the screen lights up she finds everything undisturbed.

She texts Brenda even though it’s late.

Did you make it out alive?

She watches the screen for a long moment, slightly hopeful for an immediate response, but when nothing happens, she just feels silly, and turns her back on her phone to put her dirty glass into the the top of the dishwasher. Just as she’s pushing the door back up, she hears the phone bleat.

Just barely. He tried to kiss my cheek and I ducked out of the way and it was awkward.
I really didn’t miss dating.

There it is. A tiny opening. Sharon takes it.

I was sorry to hear about you and Chief Howard, for what it’s worth. Her finger hesitates just a moment before she hits send.

Thanks. And then, I’m starting to think there isn’t a man in the world I could make a marriage work with.

Sharon chuckles into the quiet kitchen, a dry and knowing laugh.

As it turns out, marriage is not all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. I have no desire to marry again.

I thought you and Andy were getting serious, Brenda replies.

Just where is she getting her intel? Sharon leaves the kitchen and goes to sit in one of the arm chairs, even props her bare feet up on the table. Her bathrobe slips from around her legs, exposing her knees, her shins, some of her thighs.

Oh, I think he’d get married tomorrow if I wanted to but that’s simply not a requirement for me. Seems like such a hassle. And of course, the other part that she doesn’t say. The part where she’d been tied to the same disappointing man for most of her life, the part where she values - above all else - her freedom. Her choice to say no and walk away unattached. Andy isn’t Jackson, but it was such a hard lesson to learn. She doesn’t even want to put herself in the position to have to learn it twice.

You’re a smart lady, Brenda says. I wish… I’m sorry it took me too long to realize that.

Brenda Leigh Johnson being introspective. Will wonders never cease?

oooo

It’s a couple weeks of silence between them. Sharon is so busy with a case that it takes her awhile to notice and she doesn’t take it personally because there’s all the chance in the world that Brenda is busy too. She realizes in the morning that she hasn’t checked in with Brenda in a while and maybe her thinking that sends a beacon out into the universe because that afternoon when she’s scarfing down a late lunch, her phone buzzes against her desk.

Hypothetically…

When nothing comes after that, she huffs a little, wipes her hands on the flimsy paper napkin that came with her salad and sends Brenda nothing but a question mark.

After a few moments, her phone makes that bloop noise that happens only when a text comes through while she’s watching her phone like a pot of water that’s never going to boil.

Hang on a second.

“You messaged me!” Sharon says to her phone, says it loudly enough that she glances up, embarrassed. No one is looking at her through the glass walls of her office. A few people are out, a few are in the break room with their own lunches. She’s a stickler for people not eating at their desks; she wants people to actually take their breaks and not work through them. It’s a rule that she breaks all the time. The only person who ever calls her on it is Lieutenant Provenza and he does it by expression alone. But she’s safe from his grouchy concern because he and Andy are out.

Julio’s at his desk, too. She can see him. He’s got his back to her and his spine is curved in that way that means he’s hunched over his phone as well. She watches him straighten up and spin back toward his desk. He’s smiling and he looks up, right at her. She’s caught.

She tilts her head a little and then looks away again, her cheeks burning.

Hypothetically, if you were going to spend a big chunk of money would you spend it on clothes or something less tangible like a trip?

All that for a question about shopping? she demands.

All what?

Never mind. And I think my answer would be obvious. I work too much to travel. Clothes.

Yeah, I guess that would be practical, Brenda sends. Fritz thinks I should buy a house.

Does he still get a say in your finances? She sends back. She’d stayed in touch with Jack solely because they had children who deserved to have a father in their life. Had it only been her, she would have happily banished him from the planet, content to never see him or think of his face ever again. She’s never been one to stay friends with her exes. It is something that concerns her about Andy, too. She doesn’t have plans of leaving him but she worries that if something goes wrong, further on down the line, working together might not be possible. She certainly doesn’t want anything from her personal life upsetting her team.

Well, my daddy passed away and they were real close, so I offered him half my inheritance. He said no but of course that didn’t stop him from giving me his opinion.

She gasps, hit by a surprising wave of grief. She’d met the Johnsons only briefly, though they’d been very kind to her at a time in her life where kindness had been in deficit. But Brenda, she knows, had been exceedingly close to her parents. Had been taken out at the knees by the sudden loss of her mother. It seems tragically unfair to lose her father only a few years later.

I’m so sorry.

Thank you, Sharon, Brenda sends.

Sharon eats her salad, watches her phone. After several minutes, it beeps again and she feels a little relieved. She’s been worried they’d killed the conversation with the serious topic.

Anyway I don’t know if I want to stay in D.C. forever, so a house seems extreme. I could spend it on things like clothes or a car or expensive handbags. Or I was thinking I could take a trip.

Where would you go? she asks.

Oh I don’t know. Europe? I lived in California for nearly a decade and never even saw San Francisco. Julio says a Mexican cruise but I think he’s just angling for a ticket on a booze cruise. I want serious suggestions only!

Sharon looks up slowly from her telephone, through the open blinds and glass walls of her office. Julio is still sitting at his desk, tapping away at his computer, pausing only to pick up his phone, glance at it, and smile before swiping at the screen and tapping his fingers against it. She stands, walks slowly to her office door.

“Detective Sanchez,” she says in a low, even voice. The voice she uses with her own children, with suspects and murderers. A voice that means trouble. His head snaps up and he jams his phone into his pocket.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Come in here, please,” she says. She doesn’t wait for him, just goes back to her desk and sits, crossing her legs. He comes to the door and she gestures for him to take a seat. He leaves the door open, which she finds amusing. Like she can’t do anything that bad if other people can hear it, even though no one else is around.

“What is it, ma’am?” he asks.

She gives him a long, steady look and watches him try not to fidget.

“How long have you been talking to her?” she asks.

“Excuse me?”

Sharon leans in, elbows on her desk. “You know who I mean, don’t play dumb with me, Detective. How long?”

“Well,” he says, looking down at his lap. “I never stopped, Captain.”

“Really?” Sharon asks with surprise.

“Yeah,” he says. “She left so… it all happened so fast and… I wasn’t spying for her or anything, ma’am, if that’s what you think.”

“It’s not,” Sharon reassures him.

“I like her,” Julio says now. “She’s funny.”

“She is,” Sharon agrees.

“I liked her as a boss but it’s sort of nice to have her just as a friend,” he says. “I don’t think she talks to anyone else. Well, at least she didn’t before.” Now it’s his turn to lean in. “You like her, too, don’t you.”

He says it like an accusation, he says it in a way that does make her feel kind of guilty. Like it’s a dirty secret they’re sharing.

“I always liked her, Julio,” she says. “I just didn’t think she liked me.”

“Well, be careful with her,” Julio warns. “She’s had a rough couple years. It’s a big deal she even reached out to you, you know? Don’t blow it.” He stands up. “Is that all or am I really in trouble?”

“No,” she says. “You’re fine.” And then, “Does she talk to anyone else? Mike or anyone?”

He shakes his head. “I thought it was just me. I thought I was special.” He smirks at her. “Guess you’re special, too, ma’am.”

“How long ago did he pass?” she asks. “Clay, I mean.”

“About six weeks, I think,” Julio says. “She likes pink. Roses or tulips, maybe.”

Sharon smiles. “How did you know?”

“Because that’s exactly what my mother did, ma’am,” he says. “Sent her flowers.”

It’s not that hard to find Brenda’s address. It’s slightly against the rules, using law enforcement databases to find personal information not related to a case, but it’s the kind of little rule Sharon will break if she thinks it’s for the greater good, when she’s sure no one will get hurt as a result. She chooses a pretty arrangement online and types in her credit card information.

She considers, briefly, sending them on behalf of Andy, too, but while Andy knows that Sharon’s been in contact with Brenda, he doesn’t really know that they’ve started to really become friends. Chatting on a level completely outside of work. Talking to each other for the sake of company. So she leaves Andy off, sends the flowers from her and Rusty and clicks the browser closed.

She realizes she never texted Brenda back.

I don’t care for cruises, myself, but I love San Francisco, she sends.

Maybe the response is a teeny, tiny bit selfish. There’s something appealing about having Brenda back in the same state, even if there’s 400 miles between them. She indulges in a small fantasy about driving up the coast and spending the day playing tourist with Brenda Leigh Johnson, but it doesn’t last long and she knows it’s a ridiculous notion anyway.

oooo

“Your phone is beeping,” Rusty says without looking up from his own. They’re in the car, driving across town at the worst time of the morning commute. She’s taking him to his appointment with the oral surgeon. He’s finally getting those wisdom teeth out and she took the whole day off to drive him there, get him home and take care of him for the first twelve hours, at least. Twenty-four, if they’re lucky.

“I’m driving,” she says.

“You want me to look?” he asks. “What if it’s work?”

“They know I can’t come in today,” she says and then considers how that wouldn’t stop them if something were bad enough. “Yeah, go ahead.”

He reaches into her bag at his feet and fishes around for a moment before pulling the phone out.

“Oh,” he says. “It’s her.”

“Amy?” she asks, frowning and turning her head to glance at the little screen in his hands.

“Brenda,” he says. “She says thanks for the flowers.” Rusty squints at her. “Did you send her flowers?”

“We sent her flowers,” Sharon corrects.

“Why?”

“Her father passed away,” Sharon says. “That’s just what one does.”

“Oh,” Rusty says. “That sucks.” He then chuckles. “I thought for a second… like, you sent her flowers.”

She glances at him, shakes her head in confusion.

“Like, you know,” he says wiggling his eyebrows. “Flow-ers. Romantically.”

Sharon chuckles. “I think Andy might not appreciate that.”

“Yeah,” he says. “You want me to text her back?”

“I’m going to have very little to do while you’re in surgery,” she says. “I’ll write her then.”

Rusty tosses the phone back into her purse.

She does text Brenda while she’s waiting for Rusty. Tells her that she’s welcome, tells her that she’s waiting around for Rusty to come out and has the whole day stretching in front of her.

Sounds nice, Brenda writes. Send me a picture of his chipmunk face.

Did you decide where to go on your trip? she asks.

Not yet, we just started a big project so I can’t get away anyhow.
Going into a meeting. TTYL, Sharon.

It’s a big of a logistical puzzle getting a loopy Rusty from the office to the car. His face is swollen and packed with gauze and she can see little flecks of dried blood at the corners of his mouth. He keeps trying to say things but she can’t make it out and suspects that even if she could, it would all be nonsense.

He mumbles something leaning heavily against her in the parking lot while she digs her keys out of her pocket and tries not to let both of them topple to the asphalt.

“Honey, just be quiet,” she says finding the fob and pushing the button three times in a row, desperate for the locks to click open. They do. She puts him in the back seat, pushes his head down like she’s arresting him to get him in the car. He doesn’t resist her - that might be easier than the full, boneless weight of him. She spends a good five minutes trying to buckle him in and then just gives up. He stretches out across the backseat.

He babbles incoherently for most of the drive. She can make out some words - mom and Gus and she’s fairly certain he’s talking about going to the circus though she’s not sure what that’s about. And then, four blocks from home he says practically crystal clear, “Your phone is ringing.”

She isn’t going to answer it while she drives but she does turn around to check on Rusty and he’s sitting up, holding a big wad of bloody gauze between two fingers, a long line of saliva connecting it to his mouth, still.

“You’re not supposed to take that out,” she says.

“It was so much in there,” Rusty said. “It was all everywhere.”

“Okay, that’s okay, sweetie,” she says. “We’ll repack you when we get home.”

He’s more alert when they get home, but also in more pain. He keeps spitting onto the ground and the saliva is bloody. The price of his lucidity is the pain and they can both tell the price is too high.

She helps him change into pajamas, marveling at how strong and good he looks compared to the skinny boy he was when she’d taken him in. He’s still got scars on his chest and discolored areas but overall he’s stronger, more muscular and not so bone thin. She doesn’t get to see him like this usually. When he’s in bed she helps him sip at some water and then puts on one of the black latex gloves from her purse and folds up some clean gauze like the nurse had instructed her.

The inside of his mouth looks like a crime scene.

“Hurts,” he mumbles when she’s pulling the glove off.

“I know it does,” she says. “I’m going to the pharmacy right now to get your pills. Stay right here and try to rest.”

It’s not until she’s wandering around the Rite-Aid, waiting for the pharmacy to fill his painkillers that she even remembers to check her phone.

One missed call, Brenda Leigh Johnson. One voicemail.

Sharon stands next to a display of nail polish and listens to the message, her heart hammering.

Hi Captain. I mean, Sharon. It’s me. I was just calling because I thought… I just wanted to talk to you for a moment. You always used to have the best pep talks. Not the fake cheerful ones but the get off your ass and do something about it kind and I just needed one of those but… I think you said you were with Rusty today. Don’t call me back. It was nice hearin’ your voice on your voicemail anyway. Bye.

Her voice sounded a little watery. Close to tears. The sound of it gives Sharon’s heart a little tug. She realizes she hasn’t heard Brenda’s voice in a long time either. She’d seen Brenda in rare fighting form plenty of times but this Brenda is all too familiar as well. This sounded like Brenda in the thick of the Shootin’ Newton mess, a little lost.

She wants to call her back right now, right away, demand to know what is the matter and how she can help. But Brenda had said not to call and so she doesn’t. She picks up the Vicodin and pays for it. Drives home and wakes Rusty enough to swallow the pill around the gauze. Only when he’s out again does she pull her phone out and think about calling Brenda. She’s holding the phone when it starts to ring again and she has one second of dumb, blind hope before she realizes it’s Andy.

“Hello?” she says.

“Hey,” he says. “How is he?”

“Oh,” she says. “Pretty out of it. They said he’ll sleep for most of the rest of the day.”

“But everything went okay?” he asks.

“Yes, of course,” she says. “How are things there?”

“We’re fine,” he says. “Don’t worry about it.”

She looks out the big windows of her condo, the smoggy skyline, the wind moving through the tops of the palm trees. It’s not even lunchtime yet. Only the afternoon in Washington.

“Andy, is Detective Sanchez there?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Will you put him on a moment?” she asks.

“Uh,” he says, clearly confused. “Sure. Hang on.” And then, more muffled. “Julio? Sharon wants to talk to you.”

There’s a pause and then, “Hi, Captain.”

“Hi,” she says. “Julio, I was driving home and Brenda called me.”

“Called?” he asks.

“Do you ever talk to her like that?” she asks. “Actually speak to her, I mean.”

“No,” he says. “What did she want?”

“She didn’t say really but she sounded… upset and I just…”

“I’m on it, ma’am. I’ll check in with her right now.”

“Subtly,” she instructed. “I don’t want her to feel like I’m sicking you on her. She said not to call her back but I feel like I ought to do something.”

“I’ll play it cool, ma’am,” he promised. “I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks,” she says.

She almost hangs up but then she hears Andy again, his voice filtering through the speaker.

“Say it again?” she says, rushing the phone back to her ear.

“You still want me to come for dinner?” he repeats.

“Sure, honey,” she says absently. “See you then.”

An hour later, Julio texts her that everything is okay. That Sharon doesn’t have to call her back, but a friendly text might be appreciated.

She texts him, Good hustle, Detective.

He sends her a little brown thumbs up and she laughs.

oooo

Brenda glosses over it all like it never happened and Sharon allows it. Sharon breaks the ice by sending a picture of Rusty to her, his swollen cheeks and purple bruises. Brenda tells her to tell Rusty she says hello and then after that it’s back to normal. Pictures of statement jewelry and expensive shoes, jokes about bad dates, complaints about incompetent colleagues. Little jokes, nothing very deep.

Brenda is in the middle of texting her every thought she’s having on a crappy movie playing on HBO when Sharon gets called to a crime scene. She doesn’t tell Brenda, tries to never taunt her with her old life. She just lets the messages come, buzzing in the pocket of her navy trench coat as she stands over a dead man.

Julio notices the buzzing and says, “Jupiter Rising?”

She reaches out and touches his elbow, gives him a nod and a warm smile.

oooo

She likes this little tiny thing that she and Julio share, it brings them closer. She sits with him one lunch in the break room, their phones between them on the table.

“How does she have time to text us all day long?” Sharon wonders aloud.

“Government jobs,” he says. “No like ours. Federal.”

“What is she doing exactly?” Sharon prods. She knows that Julio knows more, that they’re closer. He’s been playing this little game for years already.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I looked up their organizational chart once. She’s up there.”

“No sense moving all the way out there for less,” Sharon says.

“She works very hard, I think, but she said once that she was trying not to make her entire life about her job,” he says. “I think that’s what we are.”

“Sort of a transitional friend,” Sharon says. “Work adjacent.” He nods. “Does she have real friends out there?”

“What do you think?” he asks dryly.

Sharon’s phone buzzes and then just a second later, Julio’s goes too. They both lean in to look at the screens. Sharon snorts back a little laughter. Julio looks up at her and smiles.

oooo

Andy still touches her reverently like she’s an idol, a saint, a queen. Like every time is the first time. It’s respectful and she appreciates his attention to detail, but sometimes she just wishes they could get it done and get some sleep. He kisses her shoulder, her clavicle, spends several long moments on one breast and then the other. Kisses down her belly and starts to push her legs apart, shifting into position.

“No,” she says. “Come up here.”

His head pops up and he frowns at her. “What?”

“Come here, come kiss me.”

“What’s the matter?” he asks. She has to force herself not to sigh huffily.

“Nothing,” she says. “I just don’t want that.” She gives him a longing look and says, “I just want you inside of me.”

That’s a sentence designed to distract him. She feels a little shitty for saying it, but she really just wants this to move along. He does slither back up to her, kissing her mouth, her cheek.

“I can make you feel good,” he promises.

She bites her lip in frustration. She wants to snap at him, tell him it’s not a dick, that she’s not a man obsessed with having her sex sucked on all the damn time, but she doesn’t.

“I know you can, but you have to be in the right mood for that,” she says with infinite patience. “It’s not about you, it’s about me.”

She reaches between them, wraps her fingers around his dick and effectively ends the discussion. Gives him a few solid strokes, twisting her wrist at the end and then he’s all too happy to push between her legs, to sink inside of her. It’s good, it’s basic pleasure and she wraps her legs around him, closes her eyes and tries to feel only the good. The thick weight inside of her, the rasp of his chest hair against her bare breasts. She moves her hips against his, trying to get him to move faster.

He grunts, complies. She can hear them, the wet noise of their coupling.

On the nightstand, her phone buzzes. She immediately knows it’s Brenda - who else would text her so late? Brenda doesn’t sleep like a normal person, Sharon is convinced she must just take catnaps all day long or that she’s just learned to adjust to a life of insomnia. Thinking about Brenda while Andy is inside of her makes her gasp. She feels herself get wetter, feels herself start to tingle. The way something a little dirty, sort of naughty turns her on.

“You like it,” Andy says, because he thinks it’s what he’s doing. He grabs one of her legs, hitches it up. She’ll pay for it all day tomorrow, the burn in her thigh with every step. But she moans.

“Yeah,” she says. She reaches down between them and this always helps get Andy off. If there were ever a situation where she needed to make Andy come as fast as possible, she’d touch herself. It makes him crazy. She rubs at herself, gasping at the sensation. He’s starting to get sloppy in his thrusts; he buries his face in her neck and jerks his hips, once, twice and stays deep inside her, coming.

She pulls her hand away from herself and rubs it down his back, soothing circles, kissing his cheek, whiskers rough against her lips. It takes him a few moments to come back to himself. He lifts his head and kisses her. Murmurs uncertainly, “Did you…?”

She nods at him, smiles.

She doesn’t like to lie but it’s his own damn fault for buying into such an obvious deceit. She pats him once on his shoulder and he slips out of her, rolls over. She gets up, grabbing her robe and draping it around her shoulders. Slips her phone into her hand and pads to the bathroom, closing the door behind her, and purposefully not looking at her reflection. Her flushed skin, her sagging breasts.

She drapes the robe over the towel rack and sits on the toilet. Looks at her phone

Brenda has sent her a picture of the inside of her freezer and it’s jammed full of ice cream cartons. Seven kinds of chocolate plus some others.

It’s endearing, these little snapshots of her life that she sends Sharon. She talks to Julio more, it seems, but doesn’t send him things like this. Little windows Sharon delights in peering through.

She must be so lonely out there, it makes Sharon ache.

She feels a little guilty as she wipes herself clean. Guilty for thinking about Brenda when she should’ve been focusing on Andy, guilty about letting herself think about her friend when she was right in the middle of sex and confusing the two things, mushing them together into one bizarre titillation.

It’s just Brenda, she thinks as she washes her hands. Only Brenda.

oooo

Sharon thinks fall would be her favorite season if she lived anywhere else. It’s her colors - rusty browns and mustard yellows, dark burgundy lipsticks. She likes cozy sweaters and crunchy leaves. They’re deep into the first week of October and she watches Rusty watch TV, all the characters wrapped up in mufflers and knee high boots, hats and jackets.

It’s 84 degrees in Los Angeles.

She and Andy are in a strange place. They’re not fighting, but things feel strained nonetheless. He mentions that he feels she’s being distant, she tries to get him to go running with her in the mornings and he takes offense, like it’s a dig about his weight, which it is. Things are tense. But as forthright and assertive as she is in her career, her marriage to Jack has made her non-confrontational in her relationships. It’s difficult for her to tell him what she thinks they both need, it’s hard for her to lay it all on the table. So she makes passive aggressive suggestions - running, light cream cheese, how about a salad now and then. And she knows how it makes her sound, she does. Everything else she pushes down.

She does the same thing her mother did which is its own sort of torment. She buries things and then acts surprised when they start to grow.

Brenda sends her a picture of a beautiful tree, all orange and red and gold. She looks at it sitting in her office and feels herself start to tear up. Has to rush to the restroom before anyone sees her, gets in there and expects it to be empty, but it isn’t. Someone in the stall, the toilet flushing and she is given no relief. So she waves her hand in front of the paper towel dispenser and presses the scratchy paper under her eyes, trying to sop up the moisture without upsetting her makeup.

It’s Amy who emerges from the stall. Some rotten luck.

“Captain, you okay?” Amy asks.

“Fine,” she says. “Allergies, I think.”

Amy looks like she’s not buying it, but also like she knows her place.

“Okay,” she says. “Feel better.”

She locks herself in a stall, the one all the way at the end and looks at the picture again. Reacts emotionally to it once more and then sends, to Brenda, It’s so beautiful.

I miss a lot about LA, but this helps.

Feeling weepy and sentimental, Sharon sends her LA misses you, too.

Sharon receives a pink heart for her trouble.

oooo

Their computers, when tied into the internal system, come with an instant messaging system that nobody uses. In fact, when it dings, it takes her several moments to figure out where the noise is even coming from. To notice the blinking down in the corner of her screen. She clicks on it and it pops open a box with a message from J. Sanchez.

It says, Come to my house, 7:00 pm. Don’t bring Flynn.

They’re two weeks from Thanksgiving now and Andy wants to have the meal with Nicole and her family which is usually fine except for Rusty asked specifically if they could have the meal at the condo so Gus could cook. She’d said yes, of course. Had invited the kids, though only Ricky is coming, not Emily which is normal. It’s hard for her to come for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sharon had countered with inviting Nicole and her family to the condo, but Andy had said it was too many people, and what about Nicole’s husband and his family?

Sharon had said that Andy could go to Nicole’s for dinner and come to the condo for dessert.

Andy had said that wasn’t the point.

Sharon had said that they should spend the holiday apart, then, that it wasn’t necessary for them to be together every waking moment of the day and be together every night.

That hadn’t gone well.

Andy always needs love, constant reassurance that her love has not faded or altered. He needs validation, he needs to be needed as much as he needs her. At first it had been heady, being wanted so much. Now it’s starting to weigh down on her.

Two weeks ago she would have had to make up some excuse about where she was going that he couldn’t come. Tonight, it won’t be an issue. He’ll go home to his crummy apartment. She’ll let him.

She turns and looks through the blinds of her office at Julio’s desk. It doesn’t take long for him to look over at her. She nods. He nods back.

She spends the afternoon wondering what it’s all about. Maybe he has a request to make of her that he doesn’t feel like he can say in the office, where anyone might hear. Maybe Andy had confided in him and he feels the need to give her a heads up.

In her heart, she nourishes the little hope that it has something to do with Brenda, but that seems absurd. She’s been texting Brenda off and on all day. About trivial nonsense - the weather, the run in her stockings, what she’s gonna do for the holidays. Christmas in Atlanta, Thanksgiving up in the air. Sharon wants to invite her to the condo, because for a moment it seemed like she was fishing for just that. Brenda’s across the country, though, Sharon knows this. Knows that their friendship, while it has started to feel important, is merely a surface thing and that her window for being real life flesh and blood friends with Brenda was squandered with bickering and passive aggressive jabs and Turrell Baylor.

Now all that they have is this.

Sharon goes home on time for once. Julio winks at her as the elevator doors close.

She goes home, changes into jeans and a different blouse. Puts on a fresh coat of lip gloss. She still looks tired, but it’s been a long week and at least it’s Friday, for whatever that is worth in her line of work. She’ll go see what Julio wants, maybe go to the Cuban take-out place on her way home and got to bed by ten o’clock. She doesn’t expect to see Rusty or Gus on a Friday night.

She’s been to Julio’s once or twice, doesn’t have trouble finding it. The house is glowing and inviting and she parks on the street, unsure of what to expect. Whether it’ll be a five minute visit, whether she should’ve of brought something. Will Mrs. Sanchez be home?

What is she doing here?

But she trusts Julio, has grown more and more fond of him.

She presses the doorbell and hears Julio holler out, “She’s here!”

What in the world?

The door open and it’s not Julio and it’s not Mrs. Sanchez, but a girl. For just a flash of a moment, Sharon is convinced it’s Brenda but then she gets a better look and realizes this girl is at least 20 years younger. Has darker hair and a stronger jaw, but it’s her body that looks like Brenda, skinny and curvy and compact.

“Oh, you must be the captain,” she says. “Come in, come in.”

“Um,” she says.

“I’m Charlie,” she says. “We’re all in the backyard. Do you want a margarita? I think there’s a little lime left but Julio said next pitcher was strawberry, so I’m holding out. There’s beer, I think, too.”

“Oh,” she says. “I’m not…”

“Back here,” Charlie says, heading toward a glass slider. She can see a fire burning back there, which is a god awful idea with how dry this year has been, and she can hear tinny music through cheap speakers. There’s some laughter. Charlie slides the door open and says, “Definitely brunette.”

“See!” she heard Julio say. “Pay up, Chief.”

“No, no, no way,” says another voice and that one Sharon recognizes. “I don’t admit defeat just yet, I gotta see her for myself first.”

Sharon stops in the open doorway and surveys the scene in front of her. Julio, Mike, David Gabriel and Brenda all sitting around a glass patio table with half a bar’s worth of bottles between them all. When Brenda sees Sharon, she stands up with a shout, both hands in the air.

“Captain Raydor!” she hollers. “You’re finally here!”

“I am,” she says. “As are you!”

For a second it looks like Brenda is gonna rush her, but she doesn’t, just puts her hands down and rubs her palms on her thighs. She’s in jeans which is not ever how Sharon pictures her when they text. Sharon steps all the way out.

“Nice to see you, Mr. Gabriel,” Sharon says to David who has half risen. He sits his ass back in his seat and smiles awkwardly at her.

“You don’t have to… David is fine. Nice to see you, too, ma’am.”

“And you, Mike,” she says.

“Julio invited me,” he says quickly, like he’s been caught.

“I did,” Julio says.

“I see,” she says. “Well. This is a surprise!”

“You meet Charlie, my niece?” Brenda says. “Charlie, go get her somethin’ to drink.”

“I asked,” Charlie says hotly.

Julio hits Mike who stands up and offers his chair to Sharon. She takes it, gives him a nod and a smile and settles herself down, still confused and a little bit overwhelmed.

Mike disappears into the house.

“This is really a surprise,” Sharon says. “You didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“No, well,” Brenda said. “At first it was gonna just be for the night. I got called back for court for something to do with the DA’s office, though I think for the last time. But then I figured… anyway Charlie wanted to come see the USC campus and so she came too. We’re just here for one more night and part of tomorrow. It’s still quick, but…”

Brenda trails off as Mike comes out with what is obviously the end of the lime pitcher, because the plastic cup he sets in front of her is not quite full.

“Strawberry time?” Charlie asks hopeful.

“Yeah, come on,” Julio says, standing up. Mike takes his chair.

“Where’s Mrs. Sanchez?” Sharon asks.

“Bingo night,” David and Mike say together. Sharon glances at Brenda who giggles.

“You got some catchin’ up to do,” Brenda says, pointing at the drink.

Generally, Sharon wouldn’t, but she’s cut way down on her alcohol intake since dating Andy and it had never been very high to start with. A drink actually sounds… kind of heavenly.

She swallows it, tastes the tangy lime first and then, underneath, the tequila.

“Atta girl,” Brenda says.

oooo

The boys take Charlie into the garage to teach her how to throw darts and leave Sharon and Brenda in the backyard to tend the fire. They drag their chairs away from the table and closer to the flames. Sharon feels pleasantly full from the pizza that had arrived not long after she did and from the drinks - the lime and then, a full cup of the strawberry. But the conversation they’re having, she and Brenda, is not as comfortable as it is over their telephones. Sharon asks after her job and her life and realizes she already knows the answer to her questions and Brenda answers them dutifully, even though it’s not necessary.

Here in person, they can’t seem to find their groove.

“Do you usually stay with Julio when you visit?” Sharon asks now.

“Well,” Brenda says. “I used to stay with Fritz.”

“Ah,” Sharon says, uncomfortably.

“I stayed with Julio last time, just one night on his couch. Mrs. Sanchez made me breakfast so it’s kind of the best deal in town!” She shrugs. “I get the guest room tonight and Charlene’ll take the sofa. She says she don’t mind…”

Sharon smirks at the way Brenda’s accent thickens when she drinks. How it seems to roll off her tongue, one world all jumbled into the next.

“You think she’ll come to school out here?” Sharon asks.

“I really don’t know. I’m not sure she’s even sold on grad school, but she got a sociology degree and has been using it to wait tables, she I think she probably has to do somethin’.”

“Rusty’s been going to UCLA,” Sharon offers.

“I know,” Brenda says.

“Right,” Sharon says.

“I thought you might bring Detective Flynn,” Brenda says, looking at the fire, not Sharon. It’s getting low. She should grab another log from over by the cinderblock wall.

“Did you want to see him?” Sharon asks, surprised.

“No, I mean… I figured if I wanted to see you… I mean I like Flynn but…”

Sharon stands now, hurries over to the wood pile and picks up a log carefully wary of splinters. Busies herself by tossing the log on and watching it smoke and crackle.

“Julio said not to bring him,” Sharon admitted. “He’s… we’re figuring out a balance.”

Brenda makes a face. “That sounds like a bad sign.”

“I'm not sure yet,” she says. “He makes a big deal about respecting what I want and then pouts when he doesn’t get his way.”

Brenda crinkles up her nose.

Sharon backtracks, says, “Maybe that’s not fair.”

“Maybe it’s typical,” Brenda counters. “Maybe that’s just men.”

Sharon wants to argue Andy’s side of things, to stand up for him, but all she does is shrug and watch the fire lick around the edges of the fresh log.

“Did you decide about your Thanksgiving plans?” Sharon asks, trying to steer the conversation away from Andy.

“No,” she says. “Maybe. I miss the days when I could just work through holidays. I might take the train to see my brother in New York.”

“I wish your court date were later,” Sharon says. “You could have had Thanksgiving with me and Rusty. I mean, you’re still welcome to, obviously but…”

“That’s sweet, Sharon,” Brenda says. “Best offer I’ve had so far.”

She smiles like she means it and probably she does. But they both know she’s not flying back across the country just for that.

“I’ve moved a lot of new places in my life,” Brenda says, kicking at a patch of dried up grass with her foot. “When I moved out to Los Angeles I thought I may as well be moving to Mars. But I think it’s the place I miss the most, you know?”

“I do,” Sharon says.

Brenda slaps her knees. “Burned those bridges though, eh? Can’t come back here.”

Sharon wants to tell her that she’s wrong, that she could, but professionally, Brenda wouldn’t find much work in LA. Not like the job she has out east. Nothing like what she deserves.

“Next time you come out, stay with me,” Sharon blurts. “Me and Rusty. Think about it.”

Brenda nods, her eyes crinkling. “Yes ma’am,” she says. “I will.”

When Sharon leaves, she and Brenda hug. It’s awkward at first, but then Brenda gives her a little squeeze and when it’s time to let go, Sharon has to make herself.

“Don’t be a stranger,” Sharon says softly.

“Bye now,” Brenda says.

oooo

It takes time to get back to normal, whatever that means. After Brenda’s visit, they don’t text quite so much, they aren’t quite so open. They have to build it back up again, though Sharon isn’t sure why that is.

She talks about it a little bit with Rusty, because now that Rusty knows that she and Brenda text, he asks about her from time to time.

“We talked about it in my psychology class,” Rusty says when Sharon explains how she feels seeing Brenda in person has made something comfortable feel quite awkward. “Digital intimacy.”

Sharon blinks. “But I know her in real life,” Sharon says. “I knew her in person before I ever spoke to her across a screen.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Rusty says. “Intimacy is based on disclosure, right? How much people are willing to share and how deep that sharing goes. Digital intimacy comes quicker because it’s easier to talk about things when you aren’t face to face, so when you take the screen away, it can be kinda jarring.”

Sharon rests her chin on her hand and watches him eat his breakfast.

“How’d you get so smart?” she asks him.

“My fancy school learnin’,” he says. She reaches out, pats his hand. “Anyway, you gotta tell her something you haven’t told her before. Reaffirm your bond, or whatever.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Maybe.”

But she thinks about it all day. Walks around with her hand in her pocket on her phone. She is hoping Brenda will text first, but it’s almost the end of the work day and she’s sitting in her office. It’s drizzling outside, a big to do in LA, even in January. Andy is working at his desk, she can see him through the glass. He’ll sit and work until she is ready to leave. Then he’ll ask if she wants him to come over.

He does this all the time, is always putting the ball firmly into her court so she has to be the bad guy if she says no. He thinks he’s doing it in the name of chivalry, but really it’s emotional labor that he doesn’t want to handle.

She picks up her phone, opens her messages thread, touches Brenda’s name.

Their last text was from two days ago, Brenda complaining about snow.

She types I think I have to break up with Andy and hits send.

It’s not until she looks at the little blue bubble that she knows it’s true. That she’s known it for some time, that she’s been pushing it away, quieting it in the back of her mind to deal with later.

Brenda doesn’t make her wait. Her response comes in less than a minute.

What happened?

What happened indeed. Sharon shrugs her shoulder, physically actually moves them as she thinks about how to respond. A lot of little things. The fact that Sharon doesn’t ever want to get married again is always looming in the distance because it feels like each month she spends with Andy is him trying to march her toward a permanent commitment.

Why had she even started dating him in the first place? She has enough years in Professional Standards under her belt to know that dating within the division is a recipe for disaster and that a superior dating their rank inferior is a powder keg and this is why.

She’s going to blow up her division. Crack a line straight through it with Julio and Amy and Buzz on her side and Provenza and probably Mike on the other. She barely made it out of Internal Affairs, if she asks to transfer out of Major Crimes, it won’t be good. But Andy can’t afford to retire, so he’ll have to go somewhere else. Back to Robbery Homicide maybe, though they overlap a lot. Provenza will retire, finally, maybe. And then what, she’ll have to replace them somehow.

Jesus.

She ignores Brenda’s question and says, How do I salvage the division?

Brenda’s reply takes a lot longer to come. The typing bubble starts and stops a few times.

I think you gotta decide on the one thing that is most important to you and be willing to let the other things go. If keeping everyone intact is what you want, you have to figure out how to work with him. If rebuilding it with new people is what you want, find the best people.

That’s good advice, but she doesn’t know what she wants, exactly.

Sharon, I got that vacation time, still, and I’m gonna have to take it pretty soon. You want to do that San Francisco trip? Talk it through? I’ll meet you there.

Her vision starts to swim as she reads it.

She wants that so, so much. She wants to get away. She wants to see Brenda again and for it to go better than the last time. She wants Brenda’s amazing brain to help her make a plan.

Yes.

She hits send.

oooo

She has a lot of vacation time too, as it turns out. But having a lot doesn’t make it easy to take it, so she negotiates four days off plus a weekend with Taylor and sends Brenda the February dates.

Brenda sends her a hotel confirmation for the InterContinental Mark Hopkins - one room, two queen beds. The little note in the email says, “See you there.”

It’s all kind of thrilling. Like she’s sneaking away for an adventure though she knows they’re probably just going to eat expensive meals, drink a lot of wine and do touristy stuff. It’s been at least eight years since Sharon has been to San Francisco. She thinks about what they could do. Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Alcatraz. Maybe they could just shop.

Maybe they could rent a car and go to wine country.

But before she gets too excited, she has to tell Andy she’s going.

She opens her datebook to write the trip down and realizes that they’ve booked it for the 12th through the 16th. Valentine’s Day. She can’t blame Brenda - Brenda had said anytime and those were the dates Taylor had offered, but she thinks Brenda could have mentioned it to her. She’s probably sitting in her office laughing right now.

She’s still fretting over how to bring it up when Andy steps all over it and says, “What do you want to do for Valentine’s Day? I don’t want to wait too long to make a reservation if we’re going to go out.”

They’re at the condo, eating dinner. Rusty’s out.

“Actually,” Sharon says. “I took some vacation that week. I was starting to worry about capping out on my vacation hours.”

“Oh,” Andy says. “Did you want to get away? We could go to Big Bear or…” He trails off because he can already see it on her face. “What?”

“I’m going out of town. A friend invited me up to the Bay Area. I didn’t realize until after I’d said yes that it was Valentine’s Day. I mean, we can still celebrate, if you want, just push it back a little.”

“We can still celebrate if I want?” he says. “What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing,” she says.

“Holidays are your thing, Sharon, I go all out for you,” he says.

“Okay, well, you don’t have to this year,” she says. “Off the hook.”

“Who are you going with?” he asks.

It might be easier to lie but she doesn't.

“Brenda Johnson,” she says. “You know she never got up to wine country? Not once when she lived here.”

Andy stares at her, a look of sullen confusion on his face.

“What?” she asks.

“I just don’t understand why you tried to hide it from me,” he says.

She shakes her head. “I didn’t. I told you right now, I was perfectly honest.” She puts her hands on her hips. “Am I not allowed to have a life outside of work and you, is that what you’re implying?”

“Sharon,” he says. “Stop trying to make this my fault.”

“There’s no fault,” she says. “No one did anything wrong.”

“Then why do I feel like you’ve betrayed me?” he asks.

“Because you’re being extremely dramatic, that’s why,” she says. “I don’t want my entire life to be about you and I don’t want to be your entire life.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you being the most important thing in my life,” he says, volume rising.

“Don’t you yell at me, Andy Flynn,” she snaps. “You know what’s important? Your children. Your grandchildren, your health, and your friendships. I should be a slice of that, not everything. I can’t handle being your everything and I’m not interested in it.”

His face is red and he’s breathing hard. “I thought after Jack… I thought that was what you wanted.”

“I just want some balance,” she says. “And I just want to go up north to see my friend.”

“Fine,” he says. “That’s… fine.”

“Yes,” she says. “It is.”

oooo

It’s a short flight, just under an hour. She spends more time getting to the airport, getting through security and waiting to board than she spends on the actual flight. Julio takes her to the airport. Her plane leaves at 9:25 in the morning. She’ll be settled in San Francisco by lunch time. Brenda arrives at 2:00.

“I’m a little jealous,” Julio admits when they’re pulling into LAX. He veers off toward departures.

“Should I have invited you?” Sharon asks with a smile. “On our girls trip?”

“No,” he says. “Just don’t go stealing her away from me, ma’am.”

“I promise,” she says.

She drinks a diet soda on the flight, doesn’t eat the little pretzels they offer her. She didn’t check her bag, only put it in the overhead bin. Her flight isn’t even full. There’s a woman sitting in her row by the window, she has the aisle seat.

It’s only in the air that she realizes she’s surprised at herself for making this trip. It’s not like Brenda is a stranger, but this is also not the relationship they’ve ever had. This marks a real change in things. They’re one hundred percent moving past the screen and back into the real world.

Sharon is used to being a certain kind of friend to other women. Sharon is usually the professional one, the pretty one, the mom who had her life together. But Brenda doesn’t have children and Brenda has outpaced her professionally and always had. Brenda is pretty, too.

Maybe they’ll be on equal footing, then. Maybe in the places Sharon lacks, Brenda will hold her up. Maybe where Brenda feels weak, Sharon can offer some leverage.

The plane lands, Sharon takes a taxi to the hotel instead trying to figure out if there’s a free shuttle. San Francisco airport is south of the city, so a taxi is faster and the driver puts her suitcase into the truck for her. When she arrives, she pays him in cash and gives him a tip. A bellhop rushes out to meet her, takes her bag the rest of the way.

She’s early for check in, but she figures she can sit in the restaurant or the bar, but the desk lets her check in early because the room is ready.

Travel on a weekday is always so much easier.

So she takes a key, reminds them that one more person will be checking in the afternoon. The room isn’t huge but it’s nice, the hotel is nice. It’s close to Union Square, a lot will be walkable. There are two beds, Sharon picks the one closest to the bathroom and leaves the one next to the window for Brenda.

The bathroom is the most impressive part of the room. It has a separate shower and tub and the tub is huge, curved at the rim with little golden claw feet.

It’s tempting to stay in the room and just wait for Brenda, but she’s got a few hours and so she knows better than to make herself bored and crazy with waiting. One of the restaurants in the hotel is the Nob Hill Club so she eats there, alone, happily. Gets a sandwich and side salad, a glass of water and pays for it with her credit card instead of charging it to the room which is reserved through Brenda.

She’ll happily pay her half of their lodgings, but she’s going to wait for Brenda to tell her what she wants.

After her lunch, she walks out until she finds a Starbucks and then she goes in and orders a soy latte with vanilla syrup and sits at small table going through her emails on her phone until it’s nearly two. Then she heads back to the hotel to freshen up.

Brenda texts to say that she’s landed. She texts again to say she’s in a cab on the way.

Sharon uses the bathroom, reapplies her lipstick and brushes her hair. Tucks her case away in the closet, though she doesn’t unpack anything. Sits on the foot of the bed and waits and waits, feeling buzzy just under her skin. She can distantly hear the elevator ding every so often and each time it makes her pulse jump.

Three nights with Brenda in this room. How is she going to cope?

The elevator dings and she tells herself to calm down but then, not long after, the sound of the lock mechanism on the door releasing. Sharon jumps up, wipes her hands on her jeans. It’s a heavy door and she can hear Brenda say, “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” before pushing it open and blowing her hair out of her face.

“Let me help,” Sharon says, rushing open to hold the door open. And then, “You’re here!”

“I’m here,” Brenda says, pulling her case in all the way and smiling. “You can let go of the door.”

What had Sharon imagined, exactly? A hug, maybe. That’s what she’d been picturing. That they’d hug. But the suitcase is between them and Brenda’s got her purse and her coat in her arms and it’s too awkward for that scenario to play out. So Sharon just steps aside and says, “How was the flight?”

“Lord, long,” Brenda says. “Oh this is nice!”

“Wait till you see the bathroom,” Sharon says.

Brenda dumps her coats on the foot of Sharon’s bed, shoves her suitcase against the wall and then turns to face Sharon. Flings her arms out and envelopes Sharon up in a hug.

Sharon wonders how someone so tiny can make her feel so surrounded. Sharon hugs her back.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a vacation that wasn’t full of family obligations,” Brenda says over Sharon’s shoulder. Finally she steps back. “Thanks for coming.”

“Me?” Sharon says with a smile. A grin, really. Her face hurts. “LA to San Francisco is nothing! You poor thing!”

“Okay, I’m gonna pee and change my clothes and then you think we could walk around a little? I’ve been sittin’ down all day.”

“Yes,” Sharon says. “That sounds lovely.”

They do walk for a bit. A few blocks up, a few blocks over, a few blocks back down. Brenda talks mostly, at first about how warm it is, even though it’s cool for Sharon. Brenda has jeans on now, too, and sneakers and a puffy black coat and her cheeks get rosy as they walk. Her blonde hair is in a bouncy ponytail that Sharon remembers well.

They end up circling back to the hotel. Sharon points out the Tonga room as they pass it, mentions that it’s well known and that they should go before they leave. But says that also, the Top of the Mark is famous in its own right and would Brenda like to go up to the hotel for a drink?

“Yes,” Brenda says. “But I think I need to be fed first. Could we eat?”

There’s a chinese place they’d passed as they first set out so they head there. It’s still early enough that most people aren’t off of work so there’s no wait. They order a bunch of things to share between them, sit picking at them as they talk about their days here.

“I rented a car on Thursday,” Sharon says.

“What? Why?” Brenda asks.

“Well,” Sharon says. “I figured we could drive up to Napa or Sonoma. It’s not very far. Maybe do some wine tasting?”

Brenda just stares at her.

“We don’t have to,” Sharon says uneasily now. “It’s no bother to cancel the reservation.”

“No!” Brenda says. “No it sounds really amazin’. I’m just… happy. To be here with you, I’m just happy, that’s all. Kind of a foreign feeling, lately.”

“Yes,” Sharon agrees. “That’s been going around, I think.” She gives Brenda a soft smile. “Anything you’ve got your heart set on while you’re here? Coit tower or walk across the Golden Gate?”

Brenda shakes her head. “I’d be just as happy to sit in a bar or go shoe shoppin’,” she says. “I’m happy to go along with your plans, anyway.”

They split the bill, head back to the hotel. The bar upstairs is high-end, so they change into something nicer. Brenda, the little black dress she’d arrived in. Sharon puts on slacks and a blouse.

“It’s the view that’s great,” Sharon says. “I’ve been up here once but it was a long time ago. I was still married.”

Brenda nods knowingly. “I’m so glad I’m not married anymore.”

Sharon says, “Me too,” because she is.

They get a little table with a view, order cocktails. Maybe they both prefer wine but there’s time enough later on for all of that. Cocktail bars are for cocktails. Sharon gets a Lemon Drop, Brenda goes for a Chocolatini, surprising exactly no one.

“It is pretty,” Brenda says, looking out across the city, twinkling lights blinking on in the coming darkness. But they admire it only for a few moments before Brenda turns back and says, “Well did you dump Andy or what?”

Sharon smooths her little square cocktail napkin across the table and says, “No.”

“No?” Brenda says. “I thought I was gonna spend this whole trip goin’ there, there!”

“We did have a spat,” Sharon admits. “About me coming up north with you.”

“About little ole me?” Brenda asks. “He jealous of me?”

“I think he’s jealous of anyone I talk to that isn’t him,” Sharon says. The amused, playful looks slides off of Brenda’s face.

“That’s not good,” she says.

“We talked about balance but…” Sharon trails off as their drinks are delivered. Brenda thanks the waitress.

“But?” she prompts. Sharon shrugs helplessly. “You’ve already made up your mind about leavin’ him.”

“I think I have,” Sharon says.

“Okay,” Brenda says. “Okay. Let’s make a plan. For Major Crimes and for you.”

Brenda, and that planning little mind of hers, gets to work.

oooo

They spend the day playing tourist. They take an Uber to the Buena Vista to have brunch, then do Pier 39. Eat a late lunch there, and then go to the Embarcadero. It’s leisurely, it’s fun. They’d both slept hard and slept in. Sharon had been curious about how sharing a room might go, but Brenda was a quiet sleeper, buried almost completely beneath her blankets. She’d let Sharon shower first. She’d also let her hair dry naturally so it was as curly as Sharon had ever seen it. Sharon catches herself more than once daydreaming about putting her hands into it and then had to scold herself. It's all very confusing.

Brenda buys three dresses, a pair of kitten heels in silver and navy, and a new pair of sunglasses as hers had finally broken.

“It was tragic,” Brenda says, looking at the display of glasses. “An arm snapped right off. I sat on ‘em. David Gabriel had bought them for me when I first moved to Los Angeles.”

“You had the same pair of sunglasses for ten years?” Sharon asks.

“Yeah, about,” Brenda says with a shrug. “Is that weird?”

The new pair is fetching, very old Hollywood.

“God I miss California,” Brenda says now, as they make their way back toward the hotel. It’s a bit of a walk, just over a mile. It’s not the distance that’s bad, but the hill at the end. Still, good for them.

“Well,” Sharon says. “Maybe you wouldn’t find work in L.A. but there are other places. Here or Oakland, or Orange County or San Diego.”

“It feels like I was always going to end up back D.C. whether I wanted to or not,” Brenda says. “Like all I did was escape for a bit.”

Sharon doesn’t know what to say to that so she says nothing.

“Hey,” Brenda says, huffing a bit. But Sharon can at least see the hotel now, they’re on the home stretch. “Do you want to get drunk tonight?”

Sharon tilts her head, looks up into the blue sky and then back at Brenda. “Can I have a nap first?”

Brenda laughs, a genuine sound. “Sure, honey,” she says.

“Then I’m in,” Sharon says.

oooo

Brenda lies down on her bed for about fifteen minutes before she gets up again, says she’s going to run down to that CVS on the corner to gets some things she forgot to pack. Sharon decides to call Rusty. They do a quick check in, tell each other that they love one another.

She has to force herself not to check in with work. Andy hasn’t texted her at all since she’s left which is unusual but not, necessarily, unwelcome. She knows he’s doing it because he wants her to feel bad that she asked him to find some balance but she actually does want the space, she wants to be able to focus on Brenda without thinking about him.

As awful as that sounds.

And she tries to think if there’s anything he could do to salvage the relationship but even if he changed wildly, magically somehow became her perfect man, she knew it wouldn’t help. She was done and when you’re done, you’re done.

She is dozing when Brenda comes back, dozes through Brenda rummaging in her suitcase and locking herself in the bathroom. She sits up when Brenda comes out. She’s done herself up. Her hair is styled, her makeup finished. She has on a black cocktail dress and sheer pantyhose, but has not yet put on shoes. It’s one of the new dresses she bought earlier in the day. She hadn’t tried it on, had said that she hated trying things on. The dress fit well, though.

“You look nice,” Sharon says, sitting up, smoothing down the hair on the back of her head where it had been against the pillow.

“I thought Tonga Room tonight. It’s so close,” Brenda says, rubbing her hand against her hip. “That okay?”

“Sounds great,” Sharon says. “Except I’m going to have to work pretty hard to catch up to how good you look.”

Brenda rolls her eyes, but smiles.

“I highly doubt that, Captain,” she says. “As I recall you were not the greatest fan of my particular fashion sense.”

Sharon swings her feet over the side of the bed, stands up. “I was a bitch,” she says.

“Yeah,” Brenda says. “But so was I.”

Sharon lays out the two dresses she brought with her. An ivory sheath and an eggplant fit and flare. Both are simple, both purchased because they were versatile, appropriate for work with a structured jacket or blazer. Sharon has a fine professional wardrobe, but realizes that her professional wardrobe is basically all she has. She has not much in the way of casual wear, even less that is fancy or beautiful just for the sake of it. She just knows if she ever found her way into Brenda’s closet, she’d be overwhelmed with beautiful dresses and pretty fabrics and enough colors to make a whole garden.

Of course, some of the things Brenda had worn to work, Sharon wouldn’t have considered professional. But that was Brenda. She just did it anyway and it was fine. Brenda made things bend to her will for the most part. And when they didn’t, well, the explosions were spectacular.

She chooses the eggplant because Brenda reaches out and runs her fingers across the fabric, makes a funny little noise in her throat.

oooo

Sharon doesn’t mean to get this drunk. There was something about knowing she didn’t have to drive, the atmosphere of the Tonga Room, Brenda’s liberal ordering of drinks. Sharon knows she’s drunk when Brenda finally settles their tab around ten, but when she stands up, she realizes that she’s much further gone than she realized.

“Come on, pretty thing,” Brenda says, looping her arm around Sharon’s elbow. “Steady on.”

“Sorry,” Sharon says. “Sorry, I… I’m…”

“You’re fine,” Brenda says. “Watch your step, there we go.”

The outside air is cold, brisk, refreshing. Brenda tugs her along but Sharon stops a few steps out and leans against the side of the building. Takes a few deep breaths.

“You gonna make it?” Brenda says.

“Yes,” Sharon promises. She rarely throws up from drinking, anyway. She gets the spins, sometimes, and headaches the next day, but she’s pretty sure she’ll hold it together.

It’s her inhibitions, not her gag reflex, that take the hit. Something compels her to step forward and throw her arms around Brenda. Brenda wobbles a bit on her tall black heels, clearly not expecting it, but doesn’t hesitate to hug Sharon back.

She sounds tickled as she says, “You havin’ fun?”

Sharon nods, breathes in. Brenda smells pretty. Fresh and slightly floral, clean and real and familiar. Sharon feels her eyes start to water. She takes in a shuddering breath.

“Okay,” Brenda says softly. “I know. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Brenda rubs Sharon’s back, her hand steady as it moves up and down Sharon’s spine.

“Why aren’t you drunk?” Sharon demands, her voice cracking in the middle.

“I didn’t know you were such a lightweight,” Brenda says. “Come on. We’ll go get some water.”

She’d pretty much stopped drinking because Andy is an alcoholic. She doesn’t tell Brenda that. And anyway, Sharon can hold it together long enough to make it back across the street to the hotel, into the warmth of the lobby. Brenda has to fish her room key out of her bra, Sharon stares.

“This is what they get for never putting pockets in our clothes,” Brenda says. Sharon just nods.

In the room, Brenda cracks open a five dollar bottle of Fiji water and hands it to Sharon. Sharon drinks at it dutifully as Brenda reaches for the white binder on the desk and starts to flip through it. Says, “Damn.”

“What?”

“No pool.”

“It’s February,” she says. “And night.”

“For the hot tub,” Brenda says. “Oh well, we’ll just have to use the tub.”

“What?” Sharon says. “I didn’t… even bring a suit.”

“I bought you one,” Brenda says, absently, still flipping through the binder. “Do you think they’d send up ice cream this late?”

“You bought me one?” Sharon says.

“Yeah, when I went out earlier. To the drug store. In case you didn’t bring one which, oh look, I was right.”

“You want me to wear a drugstore bathing suit into the bathtub with you?” Sharon asks, crossing her arms.

“You can always tell people that ain’t ever been poor,” Brenda says, rolling her eyes. “Hot water is hot water.”

“Well,” Sharon says feeling a stab of guilt, thinking about Rusty and how he grew up and his godforsaken mother. “Let me see the suit.”

It’s just a simple one piece, black and neon blue, cheaply made but that’s what it was for, really. One time use.

“If you hate it, you can wear mine but it’s a two piece.”

Sharon takes the one piece. Brenda orders ice cream from room service.

The clawfoot tub is not very long but it’s deep and it’s wide. The top rim is curved and and the sides have a gentle slope and Brenda is the one that fills it with steaming hot water while Sharon changes quickly in the closet. When she comes out, wearing the stretchy fabric, Brenda is in her little two piece, thin and fit and pale as ghost. Sharon can tell right away that any color she carries on her face is cosmetic. Sharon is pale too, but even her arms and legs have color by the way of freckles. Brenda looks like she hasn’t been out in the sun in a long time and it’s probably true.

“This is silly,” Sharon says.

“You’re sobering up,” Brenda comments.

But she does still feel buzzed so she just shrugs, tells herself to go along with it. She’d gone along with the texting, with the tentative friendship, with bonding with Julio over a woman who was long gone, with blowing off Valentine's day to come to San Francisco to spend a few nights with someone who’d once hated her through and through.

The ice cream arrives, Sharon freezes, Brenda breezes past her in the pink and purple bikini to get it.

“Thank you,” Brenda says, syrupy sweet. Closes the door and says, “I didn’t tip him. I figure the show was tip enough.”

They end up sitting in the tub side by side, the wrong direction. Their necks cradled by the curve of the long side of the tub, their feet hanging out over the edge. At first it’s weird but then it isn’t, anymore. The hot water is nice and they bring their ice cream and it’s just so silly and decadent. Sharon finds herself laughing, enjoying it all. Life is fun with Brenda. Brenda had always made things more interesting, more exciting. Just more. Now, more fun.

“God you’ve got good legs,” Brenda says. “I forgot. How’d I forget a thing like that?”

Sharon straightens one, looks at it critically. “I guess,” she says, though she has a lifetime of compliments about them.

“Flynn was a leg man,” Brenda says. “Makes sense I guess.” She scoops the last little bit of her chocolate ice cream out and licks at the spoon.

“Hmm,” Sharon says, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Andy always seemed to like everything about her body.

“How was he in bed?” Brenda asks.

“Excuse me?” Sharon says, her eyebrows lifting.

“Just curious,” Brenda says, taking Sharon’s empty bowl and reaching out to set them on the tiled floor. She had to struggle to reach and they clinked but did not break. The water sloshes a bit as she moves. She’s next to the faucet. Every so often she lets the water drain a little and then tops it off with hot water. Such a waste. They’re in a drought! But Sharon is complicit anyhow.

“He was…” Sharon says. “He is… it’s fine.”

Brenda grimaces and says, “Yikes.”

“What? Fine is fine.”

“Fine is not what I look for in the bedroom,” Brenda says, running her hand through the water. They touch a little. HIp to hip.

“I think his sex drive is higher than mine because he’s always…. but I have to sort of talk myself into it,” she says. “God, is that awful?”

“Just with him or with anyone?” Brenda asks.

“Uh… I mean I’ve had good sex before,” Sharon says. “But you know how men are. They’re hairy and they’re rough and they’re dense. I just feel like I have to be in the mood to overlook all of that and getting there is work.”

Brenda tilts her head and says, “Maybe what you don’t like is men, Sharon.”

Sharon laughs, allows herself to sink a little lower into the water. She’s gathered all her hair up in a black elastic but is low enough now that the hair above the back of her neck is wet. Her chin breaks the surface of the bathwater. “Does anyone like men?” she asks rhetorically.

“Yes,” Brenda says. “Some women really do. They like hairy. They like rough.”

“Hmm,” Sharon says again.

“I, myself, don’t have a preference,” Brenda says, her voice sounding slightly unusual. “Men or women. Fine by me.”

“Really?” Sharon asks, sitting up. The movement causes water to slosh over the side. “Shit.”

“It’s okay, we got towels,” Brenda says. She fusses a little, yanking the plug and turning the hot water on again.

They don’t say anything while the water runs. Sharon feels the heat creep toward her. When Brenda turns it off, she clears her throat. “Have you ever considered that?”

“What?”

“Women,” Brenda says. “Have you ever considered… I mean… I know you’re Catholic but…”

“Um,” Sharon says. She wants to say no, but is that the truth? Did she not think about Brenda while in bed with Andy? Did it not help immensely to imagine someone else on top of her? Someone soft and sweet?

“You could try,” Brenda says. “With me. If you don’t care for it, well no hard feelings but then if you did, maybe that could answer some questions.”

“With you,” Sharon says, looking down at Brenda’s mouth. “Now?”

Brenda smiles just slightly. “Yeah,” she says. “That way it won’t ever have to leave the tub.”

She tastes like chocolate. Intellectually, she knows it’s the ice cream, but what else would Brenda Leigh Johnson taste like?

oooo

Sharon ubers back to the airport to pick up the rental car. She gets up early, sneaks out while Brenda sleeps. Brenda sleeps hard.

It will be easy to write off their kissing as a drunk mistake if that’s what she wants but they were both sober enough to stop, to take a step back and go to sleep in their separate beds. She doesn’t want to cheat on Andy, even if she does want to break up with him. She’s been cheated on before. She doesn’t want to be on the other side.

The car is a little Miata, something she’d never buy but will be good for a day or two of driving around.

Her phone buzzes.

Where are you?

Rusty had taught her how to dictate her text messages so she does it now, says “Picked up the rental. On my way back. Send.”

She hears the whoosh of the text going through.

Brenda is dressed when she gets back, though still seems tired.

“I have a headache,” is all she mumbles. Sharon cracks the other Fiji water and hands it to her. They share a small smile. “Thanks,” Brenda manages.

They’re coming back to the hotel for their last night, so they don’t have to pack anything. Just handbags and jackets and phones. Brenda is in jeans again and her puffy coat, her hair pulled back into a ponytail.

It’s too cold to ride with the top down and it makes the little car seem small. Sharon drives, does not offer driving to Brenda. She remembers how legendary Brenda’s sense of direction became. Brenda is quiet behind her big sunglasses and Sharon starts to fret a little.

“You okay?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Brenda says.

Sharon wants to bring up the tub, wants to talk about what it felt like to have Brenda’s tongue slip into her mouth, but she knows once she brings it up she can’t unbring it up and there’s a lot of day left in front of them, and a whole night.

Sharon’s phone starts to ring from the console between them. They both glance at it and see it’s Andy.

Brenda snatches it up and answers it.

“Good mornin’ Lieutenant Flynn,” she says, sounding the most chipper she’s sounded all day. “Oh, yeah, uh huh you too, you too. Nope, we’re having a ball. Eating and shopping mostly. She’s drivin’ so… mmmhmmm, I’ll tell her. Alrighty, talk to you soon. Bye-bye now.”

She hangs up.

“You didn’t have to…”

“He says hi. Call him later,” Brenda says.

“Sure,” Sharon says.

They cross the Golden Gate Bridge; Brenda cranes her neck to look up and see as much as she can.

“It’s so orange,” Brenda says. “It ain’t gold at all.”

“Not really,” Sharon says. “We could park, walk some of it if you want.”

“No,” Brenda says. “Let’s keep going. I’m hoping breakfast is on the other side of this bridge.”

So Sharon stops in Marin, instead of pushing on. Finds a cafe on the street, parks and feeds the meter with quarters.

Brenda perks up with coffee, more with food. Once breakfast is mostly over and they’re waiting for the check, Brenda rests her cheek on her hand and says, “So Captain Raydor, what’s the verdict?”

“Of breakfast?” she says, looking over her shoulder.

“No, of kissin’ girls,” Brenda says, though she does lower her voice. “Did you like it?”

Sharon colors, gets flushed with heat. It’s an unnecessary question, Brenda must know that she did by her enthusiastic participation in the experiment. All she can manage is a nod.

“Yeah,” Brenda sighs. “Me too.”

“You already knew that,” Sharon says, staring down into her coffee cup. She wraps both hands around the mug and squeezes.

“We were never friends, Sharon, so it was weird to text with you for months and start… thinking about you like… I thought maybe it only worked on the phone, you know? I was hopin’ it only worked on the phone.”

“Did you really text me because of a work thing or was that just an excuse?” Sharon asks.

“I really did need something, but I admit I could’ve called Provenza or David or someone. But I’d seen earlier that week someone who kind of looked like you and I thought I wonder if she… is happy or has settled into the job or wishes she was back at FID and I thought maybe I could just check in and it might mend some fences.”

The server comes back, sets the check between them. Brenda reaches for it, holds the black little book in her hands.

“I don’t mean to complicate your life,” Brenda says.

And at this Sharon just has to laugh. So she does.

“That’s all you’ve ever done,” she says, when she’s recovered.

oooo

They only do two wineries and they lag a little. Their hearts are not fully in it. Maybe it’s the hangover Brenda is pretending she isn’t nursing. Sharon’s not sure how she got away unscathed except for perhaps because she drank her water before she went to bed and Brenda not until after. The wine is good, the grounds beautiful, the weather warmer than in the city. Sharon is more interested in the landscaping and Brenda indulges her on a few rambling walks where they look at the gnarled bare branches of grapevines and still, duckless ponds.

At one point, standing beneath an old oak tree, Brenda nudges her and says, “Maybe in the spring, you could come out to DC?”

Sharon looks at her, surprised.

“If you get your life worked out, that is,” Brenda says, putting her hands in her pockets. “DC in the spring is real nice.”

“Hmm,” Sharon says. “Where would I stay?”

“Oh,” Brenda says. “There are so many wonderful hotels. Probably some great Airbnbs. One townhouse with a huge bathtub if you wanted to bring a suit.”

“Ah,” Sharon says. “Would I have to share?”

“No, you get to share,” Brenda says.

Sharon laughs. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“No pressure, no expectations,” Brenda adds.

“Of course.”

“We could just…” She shrugs her shoulders. “Have a little fun.”

“No pressure,” Sharon nods. “Just fun.”

Brenda pushes her sunglasses up on her head, looks out across the vineyard. Takes one last look before heading back to the car.

oooo

Get home okay?

She breaks first, sends the first text since they’d parted at the airport, headed for separate gates. Brenda’s plane had left first, a couple hours before Sharon’s. She’d spent the remaining hours on her laptop, looking over her résumé. Part one of Brenda’s plan was getting a job offer to use as leverage. Something to catapult her out of Major Crimes into a better position, with a higher rank. It’s not a totally novel or new idea, she’d pulled this ploy once or twice before, but it hadn’t occurred to her because she loves Major Crimes. But with a promotion, she could still oversee it without breaking it apart.

Or, as Brenda had pointed out, she could take a job somewhere else. There are plenty of places in LA she could work. And there are places outside of it.

Now it’s the next morning, her last day off before work. She’s washing her clothes from the trip and some of Rusty’s laundry. She’d eaten breakfast with him, told him about what she’d done.

Andy’s coming for dinner.

“Want me to stick around?” Rusty had offered.

“Maybe best if you don’t,” she’d said. He’d pulled a face and nodded.

It’s nearly forty minutes before Brenda replies.

Back to real life. Ho hum.

She feels the same way, a little. She likes her life, mostly, but also feels at some point she lost control of it. Had settled into settling.

Another text comes through, this one a link.

A job posting for Homeland Security, based out of DC.

Just a thought.

It is a thought, though. Using a job offer from down the street is just going to piss someone like Will Pope off, but losing her to a different state is going to hit him where it hurts because they’ve been losing officers in droves to other metropolitan areas for a while now because people want to make more money and have at least a small chance at advancement. She’d warned him of this before she’d moved to Major Crimes. It would serve him right to lose her too.

She applies for the job.

oooo

She thinks about breaking up with Andy but he comes over and spends most of the evening patiently catching her up on what she’d missed at work and apologizing for being an asshole about her trip and she ends up having sex with him instead.

It’s less about Andy, she realizes, and more about making out with Brenda in a bathtub and then behaving for the two nights that followed. She’s keyed up, she’s confused and horny and practically drags him to the bedroom. They don’t even get all of their clothes off.

She comes, but she’s thinking about Brenda when she does.

Andy smiles after, says, “I should let you go away more often.”

She doesn’t bother to get upset over the thoughtless remark. She knows this is the last time she’s going to let him into her bed.

oooo

Brenda had advised mentioning her job search to a few key people. Dr. Morales. D.D.A. Hobbs. Fritz.

“Really?” she had asked. Brenda had nodded.

“He knows lots of people lots of places and he ain’t got any loyalty to you,” she says. “And I think you should probably tell Julio.”

“You think he’s going to let it leak?” Sharon had asked, appalled.

“No, I just don’t think you ought to blindside him. It’s rude.”

So she does tell Julio. Explains that she’s trying to salvage Major Crimes, trying to disarm the bomb instead of detonate it. He’s always been quieter, always been the type to listen to her all the way through he he does it now. Thinks it over for a moment.

Then says, “I think you’d have more of us on your side than not, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” she says softly. “But Chief Pope promised me a promotion and then never came through with it. I’ve been a Captain for a long time, I’m willing to take my chances to get the promotion I deserve or a better job for my trouble.”

He nods. “She said you applied for a job in DC.”

She looks down at her desk blotter, runs a finger along the varnished edge of the desk. “I did.”

“Guess you had a good trip with her, then,” Julio says. When she looks up, he’s smirking.

She rolls her eyes. “I’ve not thought seriously about… it’s more about leverage…”

“You don’t have to explain,” Julio says. “We all started out hating her. We all fell in love.” He shrugs. “She might be a Xtabay.”

Sharon blinks, shakes her head.

“A succubus, ma’am,” he says.

Sharon snorts. “Nothing… nothing really happened, anyway, probably I won’t be moving to DC, I haven’t even discussed the idea with Rusty yet.”

“But if you got an interview, would you go?” he asks.

She tilts her head. “Yes.”

oooo

She does get contacted for an interview and it happens the same day Chief Pope storms into Major Crimes. He walks through the bullpen and into Sharon’s office. He doesn’t notice Sharon over by the white board.

“Been a few years since I saw that,” Provenza says.

Pope comes out again, bellows, “Captain Raydor! Might I see you in your office?”

It does not sound like a friendly request. She gives him a slow, calm smile. Walks delicately, does not rush. He doesn’t deserve it.

Says, “Of course, Chief.” Holds open the door and makes him walk in first.

She closes the blinds once they’re inside. Turns and crosses her arms, gives him that cool smile.

“What can I do for the Chief of Police today?”

“Why am I getting calls from the Sheriff's Department? Oakland Police? Internal Investigations with Bank of America? Homeland Security?”

“Checking references, I imagine,” she says.

“Why, why, WHY on earth would you not come to me first?” he asks.

“I did,” she says. “Four years ago. You promised to make me a Commander and then told me there was a promotional freeze. Four years is a lot to give, Chief.”

His face gets red, he sputters. “This is about Commander? Fine! Be a Commander.”

“Four years ago, that might have made me very happy,” she says. “Now, with the experience I have… Chief, do you know how much a Special Internal Investigator for Bank of America makes?”

“So what, what do you want?” he says. “Deputy Chief? Because honestly to have another Deputy Chief leading Major Crimes-”

“I need to rise above head of a single division,” she says. “Or I think it’s probably time for me to move on.”

“Move on,” he says. “Move on? Who am I going to find as qualified as you to run this highly specialized division?”

“You have a force full of Captains, sir,” she says.

He chuckles, a dry, angry sound.

“You’d move across the country to work for Homeland Security to spite me, is what you’re saying,” he says. “Cute.”

“No,” she says. “I’d move across the country to work for Brenda Leigh Johnson. No matter where I landed.”

He gapes at her. Opens and closes his mouth a few times. She can practically see him thinking about how he’s never going to escape that woman.

“Well,” he says finally. “I’ll see what kind of offer I can put together for you. Best I can do.”

“Thank you, Chief Pope, that’s very generous.”

He still mutters something unpleasant under his breath as he storms back out of there. She wonders why he bothered to come down instead of hauling her up to his office. But as she turns to look through the glass, she sees her whole squad, standing, staring at her through the swinging blinds.

She can close blinds and shut doors, but there’s no way they didn’t hear his bellowing voice through the walls.

When she exits her office, Andy’s face looks stricken.

“Something you want to share with the class, boss?” Provenza asks.

“My first priority is always keeping Major Crimes intact,” she says. “I wouldn’t leave you to the wolves if I knew you weren’t in good hands. Preferably under my own watchful eye.”

She pushes a smile at their serious, concerned faces.

“I’m in my sixties. I can’t do this forever. The late nights, the weekends, the holidays. But I can, if I’m lucky, maneuver myself into a position to keep helping you.”

The silence is slightly unbearable, her smile starts to falter.

“Thank you,” Julio says.

“Thank you?” Provenza demands.

“Yep,” Julio says. “You gotta problem with that, sir?”

“Well, yeah,” Provenza says. “First of all, I’m in my seventies!”

“And you’re going to die at your desk, everyone knows that,” Mike says. “Believe it or not, that isn’t everyone’s goal.”

“Yeah, why not stick it to Pope if you can,” Julio says.

“We have work to do,” Amy says. Sharon nods, gratefully, steps back into her office.

Not thirty seconds later, Andy knocks.

“Sharon-”

“We can talk about it later,” she says.

“Are you kidding me, because-”

“Later, Lieutenant,” she says.

She almost never pulls rank on him anymore. He straightens up. Salutes. “Yes, ma’am,” he says snidely and shuts the door too hard behind himself.

She looks at her phone, opens her messages, scrolls through until she finds Brenda, sends her only one emoji.

The little, smiling poo.

Looks at her email and sees that she’s moved forward in the application process for Homeland Security, with an interview date of early April.

Just in time for DC in the spring.

oooo

What if I do all of this and it backfires?

She hits send, clenches her phone tightly in her hand. She’s in her own bathroom, hiding. Andy has just arrived, he’s out chatting with Rusty.

She’d told Rusty, of course, that she was going to end things. He’d been ambivalent to the news.

“I thought you liked Andy,” she’d said.

“I like you,” he replied.

She’d let him answer the door, anyway, and is now staring at herself in the mirror, wondering if she’s being stupid and burning down her life for no good reason. But even if she takes Brenda totally out of the equation - no Homeland Security, no DC in the spring, no shared bathtub, she knows she doesn’t want to be with Andy and that she deserves more than to work herself to the bone only to retire as a Captain. She wants more out of her career, out of her relationship, in her bed.

Why had she never found a man to be happy with? Why hadn’t she ever put any thought into that?

And why had she been so hell bent against Brenda when she’d arrived on the scene? Because she was smart and competent and exhilarating and Sharon hadn’t known how to feel about that so she’d chosen to feel hostile. When all along, she’d been drawn to Brenda.

If you still have feelings for Andy, there’s no harm in putting it off, is what Brenda sends back.

It’s very Brenda advice. Avoid what you don’t want to do.

I meant my job she sends. I’m sure about dumping Andy. I’m about to do it right now.

Oh! Call me when you’re done. If you want.

Call you? Not just text?

Call me. Brenda sends this text with a little thumbs up.

Rusty takes off as soon as Sharon shows her face. She sits Andy down on the couch, offers him water or coffee or tea but he declines it all.

“Andy,” she says. “There are some things we should talk about.”

“Oh,” he says. “Now you’re ready? I had to find about you changing jobs with the rest of the squad.”

“Yes, that was unfortunate. I wanted to make sure Major Crimes was going to be okay.”

“Be okay?” he asks.

“Andy,” she says. “I think maybe it’s time for us to take a step back.”

He stares at her. “You know, I’d hoped you wanted to, I don’t know, move in together or you were taking the promotion so we could be together with less scandal.”

She shakes her head.

“You’re dumping me,” he says.

“I’m not… not happy,” she says. “I thought I could be but I’m not so I’d rather part ways on friendly terms than let it fester.”

“It’s not you, it’s me. We can still be friends. Did you pick up a book of clichés?”

She’d married Jack young, he’d cheated on her and abandoned her. Honestly, she doesn’t have a lot of experience breaking up with people.

“I hope we can both be professional about ourselves at work,” she says.

He stands up angrily.

“Unbelievable,” he says. “Do you know how much time I put into this?”

“The same amount as me,” she says. “And by the way, Andy, I’m not a machine that you drop coins into to get what you need.”

“Jesus,” he says. “I’m leaving.”

“If you need a few days off of work, I’d authorize that,” she tells his back as he heads for the door.

“Thanks, Captain,” he says snidely.

Slams the door behind him.

She’s still on the phone with Brenda when Rusty finally comes back. It had been awkward at first, but now they’ve settled into it and Sharon realizes it’s been over an hour.

“Rusty’s home,” Sharon says.

“Tell him hey,” Brenda says. “Maybe… can I call you tomorrow?”

“Sure,” says. “Thank you.”

Brenda laughs, says goodbye, hangs up.

“Well you aren’t crying,” Rusty says. “Who was that?”

“Brenda,” Sharon says. “She says hi.”

“Cool,” he says. “How’d it go with Andy?”

She shrugs, waves her hand in the air as if to say so-so. “He was… not happy.”

“As long as you’re happy,” he says.

“I know you and Andy have spent a lot of time together so don’t feel like you have to cut him out of your life,” she says.

“Sharon,” he says. “It will be an honor and a privilege to remove that dude from my life.”

“I really thought you liked him!”

“I really just like you,” he says. “But between him and Jack, I’m not sure I trust your taste in men.”

“Well,” she says, looking down at her phone. “How would you like to go to DC? Take a little trip? Maybe we could see Brenda while we were out there?”

Rusty stares at her, his mouth open. “Her?”

“You like Brenda,” Sharon says. “There was a time when all you wanted was Brenda.”

“What happened in San Francisco?” he asks.

“Nothing!” she says. “I just… probably can’t work with Andy so I’ve been trying to get Chief Pope to give me a promotion. And to do that, I have to look at offers from other jobs - Brenda helped me get an interview with Homeland Security.”

“You want to move across the country?” he says. “Sharon!”

“No,” she says. “I want to stay with the LAPD, but I don’t think it would hurt to go out there. See what we think. And maybe we could see Brenda while we’re there.”

He narrows his eyes at her. “Okay,” he says. “But I think you’re being weird about something.”

“Noted,” she says.

oooo

She takes a Friday and a Monday off. They leave Thursday night, take a red eye. Rusty still finds flying a novelty, and exciting opportunity. He likes the little bags of peanuts, the seat by the window, the swooping feeling in his belly as the plane takes off. The flight isn’t full, so they have a seat between them but she lifts her arm rest and he does too and he reaches over during their ascent to pat her hand.

It’s very sweet.

Things have been rocky at work. Andy is cold, distant, more like the Flynn that used to drink with her ex-husband and obstruct FID investigations than the man she’d spent so many nights with. The division is functioning but she can certainly see the joins. Pope is dragging his feet, keeps telling her soon, soon, soon.

Bank of America has given her an offer that she’s very seriously considering. It would nearly double her salary. In some ways, it feels like a step back because it’s work very similar to what she did when she was in Internal Affairs, but… for much, much more money.

Still, she knows she owes it to herself to at least go to her interview. And to see Brenda. To see where that might… be able to go.

Her interview is first thing Monday. They’ll do touristy stuff Friday, and then Brenda promised to spend the weekend with them. It’ll be good to get away, anyway.

She’d offered to book a hotel but Brenda insisted that she and Rusty stay with her. So that’s what they’re going to do.

It’s three in the morning when they land. Not an ideal time. Brenda had tried to say she’d come pick them up, but she has to work so Sharon says no. They’ll take a cab. Brenda can leave them a key. Under the mat or in the mailbox.

The cab finds the Alexandria townhouse easily enough and doesn’t wait around after they get their luggage on the sidewalk. Rusty is dead on his feet, stands there as Sharon lifts the potted plant to get the key and then quietly unlocks the door.

When they walk in, Rusty says quietly, “It smells like her.”

“Yeah,” Sharon says, feeling suddenly emotional. “It does.”

The guest room is downstairs, Sharon pulls Rusty’s toothbrush from her purse and helps him find the little bathroom. He brushes his teeth and then she tucks him into bed.

“Sleep as long as you want,” she says, brushing his hair back and kissing his forehead. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

He doesn’t ask where she’s sleeping. They haven’t discussed it directly, but Rusty’s a smart kid and she’s under no impression that he doesn’t know what’s happening.

She carries her suitcase carefully up the stairs in the dark, turns and counts doors. Brenda’s door is open slightly, she can see the clock on her nightstand creeping on towards four. She shuts the door behind her. Toes off her shoes, sheds her clothes down to just her underwear and her tank top.

Pulls the bedding aside and slides into the bed.

Brenda sleeps hard - something she’d learned in San Francisco. She doesn’t wake up.

oooo

Brenda’s alarm goes off at six am. It startles Sharon awake far too soon. Brenda groans, Sharon can feel it against the skin of her neck. At some point, Brenda had snuggled up to her. She’s so warm against Brenda, smells so familiar. Like San Francisco, like the murder room, like a different time.

She rolls away, just enough to smack at the top of her clock and then snuggles back up. Says something into the pillow.

“Hmm?” she says. Sharon hasn’t opened her eyes yet, the feel glued closed she’s so tired.

“You’re here,” Brenda says again. “God you smell amazin’.”

Sharon smiles.

Brenda pushes her face into Sharon’s neck and breathes in. Then kisses Sharon’s neck.

“Mmm,” Sharon says. She tilts her head to give Brenda more access.

“Good flight?” Brenda says and then presses her lips to the stretch of jaw between Sharon’s ear and her chin.

“Long,” Sharon says, though it comes out as a croak. Her voice is always thin when she first wakes up. She feels Brenda’s leg worm between her knees. Feels Brenda shift, feels Brenda’s mouth connect with hers.

She should feel weird about it, right? They’ve only just embarked on this sort of intimacy, she should feel self conscious about her less than perfectly smooth legs and her morning breath, but all she can do is kiss Brenda back.

Sharon opens her mouth; Brenda slides her tongue against Sharon’s.

Sharon makes a small, desperate noise in her throat.

She can feel Brenda’s hands on her, searching, then sliding up under her tank top across the skin of her waist, her ribs, all the way up to the bottom of her bra.

Brenda moves her mouth away and says, “Why do you still have this on?”

She doesn’t have pants on, it seems like no bra was over the line. Sharon ignores the question, just goes back to kissing.

They kiss and kiss; Brenda manages to unhook Sharon’s bra. slides her hand up her back and pulls her closer.

When the alarm goes off again, Sharon is panting and flushed and much more awake.

“I gotta get up,” Brenda says, a little out of breath herself.

“Okay,” Sharon says. Brenda slides her hand down from Sharon’s back to cup her butt. Sharon gasps and leans in, kisses her again. Reaches past Brenda to bat at the nightstand to silence the alarm. By the time she actually manages to slap the snooze button, she’s practically on top of Brenda.

Brenda puts her hands on Sharon’s hips. “Not making it easy,” she murmurs, and then slides her thumb along the elastic top of Sharon’s underwear. And then swipes lower.

Sharon gasps. She’s so, so wet. It feels too much, too fast and she squirms against Brenda’s thumb.

“Well,” Brenda says. “I can skip the shower.”

Sharon has no expectations, really, but Brenda slides her thumb underneath the fabric and presses it against Sharon. Her warm wetness, her slippery, swollen center. She’s so turned on that she doesn’t need a lot. Just the novelty of being touched, the newness of the person touching her, the feeling of being so, so aroused - a feeling she’d started to think was long gone.

She pushes back against Brenda’s thumb, circling her hips. Finally cracks her eyes to see Brenda looking up at her in open mouthed wonder. Her beautiful skin and dark eyes and blonde hair in wild waves. She smiles up at Sharon and Sharon tips, takes a shuddering breath and clenches, squeezing her thighs and curls into the contractions. It’s so good, it’s so, so good and she milks it, takes her time, just comes and comes.

When she relaxes, breathing hard, a little dizzy, Brenda sighs and says, “That was beautiful.”

“Mmm,” is all Sharon can manage.

Brenda removes her hand from Sharon’s underwear and gives her hip a damp pat. “Now I really gotta get up.”

Sharon slides off her onto her back, exhausted once more. Brenda kisses her cheek and says, “To be continued, Captain Raydor.”

Sharon falls back asleep feeling boneless and deeply satisfied, doesn’t even hear her leave.

oooo

It’s a bit of a walk to the metro stop but it feels good to stretch their legs, reemerge into the world. It’s the afternoon by the time they make it to the Mall and into the Museum of American History. They have the whole weekend to see things so it’s nice not to feel rushed. Rusty seems genuinely excited to be in a museum, to be doing something new and spending time with Sharon.

“You’ve been here before?” Rusty asks.

“I have,” she says. “I brought my kids. They were a little younger than you, I think.”

“But you’ve never lived out here?” he asks, pulling her toward the Abraham Lincoln exhibit. There’s a bit of a line to get into it, but she doesn’t mind the wait.

“No,” she says.

“But you might take the job?”

She shrugs. “I think it would have to be a really excellent offer and even then, it’s partially your choice, too, you know.”

“You mean I could come with you?” he asks.

She feels a sharp pang. “Of course! You’re my family, you’re my son, of course you could come with me. Oh my god, Rusty, yes!” She gathers him up into a hug, maybe too tight and too much for the space they’re in but he lets her hold him for a moment.

“But if I wanted to stay in California, I could stay,” he says.

“If you decided you wanted to stay in California, then I can’t imagine I’d accept a job on the other side of the country.”

“Not even for Brenda?” he asks.

She colors, looks over her shoulder to buy some time.

“Brenda and I are just... “ She shakes her head. “We aren’t anywhere near that point.”

“I knew it!” he says. “I knew you liked her.”

“Yes well, that took years and years so no sense rushing into anything.”

“What if Chief Pope tells you you have to stay a captain?” he asks.

She pats his shoulder, the line is moving. They shuffle into the exhibit, looking over the pictures and the objects in the cases.

“Even if Chief Pope gives me exactly what I ask for, I’m thinking of taking the Bank of America job,” she says more softly. “It’s better money and there’s a lot of travel so you and I could live practically anywhere, really. Any large city.”

“LA or DC, with your girlfriend,” he says.

“Listen, don’t you tease us,” she scolds. “I’m old and Catholic and not good at change.”

“I think it’s cool,” Rusty says. “I think it’s never too late to figure out who you really are.”

They stop in front of a case that holds President Lincoln’s iconic silk top hat.

“Whoa,” Rusty says.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Whoa.”

oooo

They take the metro back toward Brenda’s neighborhood. She’s texted them the address of a restaurant. She’s off work now, they can meet for dinner, spend a little time together. It was weird to make themselves at home in her empty house. Most everything was new, but Rusty recognized a few things from Los Angeles. A chair from her old duplex, a chipped mug with yellow flowers. Something that must be sentimental for her to haul back and forth across the country.

Brenda beats them to the restaurant, stands up when they approach the table. She’s in work clothes - a dress and heels. She hugs Rusty, kisses Sharon’s cheek. Beams at them as they settle into their seats.

“You’re the first people who have visited me from LA,” she gushes. “Oh, lord, a sight for sore eyes.”

“You saw Sharon this morning, though, right?” Rusty asks innocently.

“Only for a second,” Brenda says. She doesn’t flinch, doesn’t give anything away. Sharon looks at the napkin on her lap, into her water glass, her reflection in the flat side of her butter knife.

Rusty asks a lot of questions and it takes them through the meal. Questions about Brenda’s job, about her life here, about the position Sharon is interviewing for - technically under Brenda but it a different department so they’d not often cross paths. Whether she’s dating anyone.

“Nope,” Brenda says. “Just little old me.”

They walk back to Brenda’s house; Sharon admires the neighborhood, the wide sidewalks and green trees and big picture windows giving them glimpses into other people’s lives.

Brenda gives them a little tour now that everyone is awake. It’s not a huge place but good for her. There’s a small square of yard, an updated kitchen, a bathroom upstairs and down. They plan out their Saturday - back to the Mall and their Sunday, Mount Vernon, maybe, and some monuments.

Brenda is tired, but they’re still on California time.

“It’s okay,” Rusty says. “I can entertain myself.”

Brenda shows him how to use the remotes to control the TV and how to get to Netflix. Gives him her wifi password and tells him he can help himself to anything in the kitchen.

“Don’t stay up too late, we have a big day tomorrow,” Sharon says. “Please brush your teeth and shower tonight if you’re going to be too tired to shower in the morning.”

“I put clean towels in there for you, honey,” Brenda says.

“I’m fine,” he promises. “Goodnight.”

Sharon kisses the top of his head. “I love you.”

“I know,” he says.

She follows Brenda up the stairs.

The upstairs is smaller than the down. There’s only the master bedroom with the attached bathroom and a small little office that Brenda uses mostly as a closet. Brenda shuts the door behind them and says, “Well.”

“Well,” Sharon says.

“How about a bath?” Brenda asks. She give Sharon a wicked little smirk.

Sharon nods thoughtfully. “Shall I run to the CVS to get a suit?”

“No suits,” Brenda says.

oooo

It’s still sex. Sharon doesn’t know exactly what she expected but having sex feels like having sex and there’s some comfort in that. They’re careful to be quiet, but also, Sharon can’t remember the last time she has felt so free. So completely herself. Brenda isn’t shy either, pulls Sharon’s hand right to where she wants it and comes on her fingers, breathing hot and heavy into Sharon’s ear.

After, Brenda says, “Will Pope is never gonna give you want you want.”

“I know,” Sharon says. “But you and I both know that this interview is…”

“I know.” Brenda pulls Sharon’s hand to her mouth, kisses her fingers. The inside of her wrist. “What are you gonna do?”

“I think I’ll take the B of A job,” she says. “I’d have to come to New York and to Boston all the time.”

“I could come see you,” Brenda says. “If you wanted.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” Sharon says, nuzzling her nose into Brenda’s messy hair. “Or I could swing by and see you.”

“We could just,” Brenda pauses, shrugs. “Just see how it goes.”

“You’ll still text me, right? Now and again?” Sharon asks. “I like when you text me.”

“Every day,” Brenda says, kissing her once, twice, a third long time. “Every single day.”