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Now That You're Gone

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Reade was pacing in his office when Patterson knocked on the door and let herself in. He was on the phone but took one glance at the file folder in the scientist’s hand and waved her over to sit in one of the chairs opposite his desk. He held up a single finger to her.

“If you hear from her, could you let me know?” Reade said into the phone and paused while he listened. “No, don’t tell her I’m looking. That’s okay.” Another pause. “Thanks, Jake.”

He ended the call and looked at the phone in his hand for a moment before turning back towards Patterson and heading to his desk chair. Reade sat down heavily and set his phone on the blotter.

“Still looking for Zapata?” Patterson asked.

Reade nodded. “Yeah,” he admitted. “No one’s heard from her since she signed her exit paperwork. Have you seen her?”

Patterson shook her head. She’d tried calling and texting her friend a few times after Jane and Weller were both hospitalized but she’d been met with voicemail and silence. The last time she tried calling, she didn’t even get voicemail. The call just disconnected.

“No,” she said. “I’ve called. She doesn’t pick up. She doesn’t text back.”

Reade sighed. He’d gotten the same treatment.

“At least it’s not just me,” he said. “I thought maybe she was avoiding me after what happened.”

“Not just you,” Patterson confirmed and then stopped. “Wait. After what happened? After we caught her taking the president’s phone?”

Reade didn’t respond immediately. He looked down at the desktop for a minute and then out through the glass wall of his office into SIOC before turning his attention back to Patterson. 

“She came to my place that night after she was fired,” he said.

Patterson furrowed her brow and fidgeted with the folder in her hands. “You don’t mean...” she trailed off.

“It just happened,” Reade said. He spread his hands out on his desk. “And then she came here the next morning to sign her paperwork and said it was the 'wrong time’ for us. Then she had her tribunal with the CIA, and I haven’t seen her since. I called Keaton, but he said he hasn’t heard from her either.”

Patterson swallowed hard and felt something like dread or hurt maybe even disappointment settle into the pit of her stomach. She fidgeted with the folder in her hands for a moment. She was surprised by her own reaction to what Reade was telling her. What did she care if Tasha and Reade slept together? She already knew that Tasha had feelings for Reade. It was inevitable, if Patterson was being honest with herself, but she still felt sick from the news. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Maybe she just needs time to sort things out? A lot happened very quickly.”

Reade shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking about going by her place to see if she’s there.”

“That’s a bad idea,” Patterson said.

“What? Why?”

“She’s obviously not answering her phone for a reason,” she said. “When Tasha wants to be found, she’ll be found.”

Reade stared at Patterson for a long moment before looking down at the folder in her hands. That was not the answer he wanted from her, and he was honestly surprised that she wouldn’t advocate for looking for the former agent. Patterson and Tasha were best friends. She should want to find her friend as badly as he did.

“So, what’s up? What’s in the folder?”

Patterson had almost forgotten the folder even though she hadn’t stopped turning it nervously in her hands since Reade's confession about Tasha. She looked at it now like it was a foreign object before sliding it across the desk to him. He flipped the cover open before she could explain and started reading.

“What is this?” he asked.

“Rich and I found this on the drive Roman gave Jane in South Africa,” she explained. “I thought you should see it before it was included in a briefing.”

Reade nodded once and closed the folder again.

“Have you shown this to Jane?”

“No.”

“Don’t tell her yet,” he said and flipped the folder closed again. He tucked it away inside a desk drawer. “She doesn’t need to know this right now.”

***

Patterson sat in her desk chair and stared blankly at her computer screen. She wasn’t interested in any of the work waiting for her or anything that might have appeared in her email inbox. All she could think about was Reade and Tasha. She felt sick.

She’d tried to contact Tasha after the team returned from South Africa but had been unsuccessful. Voicemails and texts had both gone unanswered, and eventually Patterson had stopped trying to contact her. Her friend simply needed some space after being fired from the CIA, and Patterson assumed that Tasha would come around again soon. But it’d been weeks and now Reade was telling her that he hadn’t heard from her either. That was completely unlike Tasha. At the very least, she would have gotten a text from her about a Wizardville quest she needed a hint for. But there had been radio silence. She wondered if Tasha was okay.

She pulled her phone out and called up her conversation with Tasha. She’d been the last one to text and her message hung out there unanswered:

It’s weird not seeing you every day. Drinks tonight?

Patterson hated the idea of double texting but Tasha was her best friend. She tapped out her message and hit send.

Haven’t heard from you in forever. Everything okay?

She knew Tasha wasn’t going to respond, and she shoved the phone back in her pocket. She drummed her fingers on her desktop.

What is Tasha up to? Where is she? she wondered. The idle curiosity slowly became something more urgent. What if everything isn't okay? What if something has happened?

Patterson got up abruptly from her desk and walked quickly towards the locker room, stopping inside only long enough to grab her jacket and purse.

***

The hallway leading to Tasha’s apartment was unusually dark, and Patterson cast her eyes to the ceiling as she approached Tasha’s door. One of the light fixtures overhead had burnt out. She knocked and listened. If Tasha was home, she was doing a great job of being silent. Patterson heard no movement inside and the TV was off. Nothing but silence. She knocked again and waited.

She turned to leave and nearly banged into a man carrying a ladder and toolbox. Patterson recognized him almost immediately as Tasha’s building manager. He’d let them in one night when they’d gone out drinking and Tasha locked her keys inside. She stepped out of his way and watched as he set up his ladder outside of Zapata’s door.

“Hey, I don't know if you remember me. I'm friends with Tasha Zapata. We met once,” she said and considered reaching for her badge and then thought better of it. “Have you seen her lately? I’ve been trying to reach her but haven’t heard from her.”

The building manager stopped and set the toolbox down on one of the ladder’s steps. He considered the question for a minute.

“You two got locked out that time. No, not recently,” he said finally. “Maybe one? Two weeks ago?”

“She still lives here though, right?” Patterson pressed.

“If she’s moved, no one told me,” the building manager said. “Just got her rent check a few days ago.” He started up the ladder and stopped. “If I see her should I tell her you’ve been looking for her?”

Patterson shook her head. While she was disappointed that even Tasha’s building manager hadn’t seen her in weeks, she almost felt relief at hearing she was still paying rent on her apartment. At least she still lived there.

“No, it’s okay,” she replied. “Thanks.”

***

Walking home from Tasha’s was either the best idea Patterson had all day or it was the absolute worst. She couldn’t decide. Their apartments weren’t that far apart and it was quicker to walk than grab a bus and then the subway and then walk from the stop to her own front door. Walking gave her time to think, but same problem: walking gave her time to think. And the only thing her mind wanted to think about was Tasha. Tasha’s one-night stand with Reade and Tasha’s sudden disappearance. Every single thought in her mind right now was upsetting, and she didn’t know what to do with herself. So, she walked home and tried to silence the thoughts that insisted on running rampant through her mind.

Her brain fixated on Reade’s news: He’d slept with Tasha. And the more she tried to shove that revelation out of her mind, the more Patterson’s mind held onto it and amplified it. Reade slept with Tasha. Tasha had slept with Reade.

Patterson climbed the stairs to her apartment and unlocked her front door. She locked it automatically and tossed her jacket and purse in the general direction of the couch before heading into the kitchen. She grabbed for a rocks glass and pulled the stopper from the bottle of Bulleit she kept on the counter. She poured two fingers and tossed the glass back, draining it. Patterson poured a second glass and closed the bottle again. She took the glass back to the living room and fell onto the couch.

Reade didn’t deserve Tasha. Her smile, her laugh, the way she looked at you. That look. It was almost too much to take. Tasha had a way of looking at you that could make time stop. The whole room would just cease to exist. She had a way of making it seem like the whole world was circling around you. And Reade didn’t deserve Tasha looking at him that way or her laughter or that smile. Thinking about Reade with Tasha just made Patterson angry. And it was irrational.

Reade’s my friend. Tasha’s my best friend, she thought as she sipped at her bourbon. If anything, Patterson should be happy for them. But she wasn’t. The more she tried to calm herself down, the more she fumed. Reade didn’t deserve someone as wonderful as Tasha.

Patterson felt bad for even thinking like that. Reade deserved to be happy, and she was certain that he thought Tasha would make him happy. They were great friends, after all. And Reade’s single; Tasha’s single. Of course, Tasha’s the reason Reade is single. Reade probably thinks he’s in love with Tasha.

That thought made Patterson want to throw up, and she finished her drink in one long swallow. She turned the glass in her hand and looked down into its emptiness.

There’s nothing wrong with Reade, she rationalized, but he’s wrong for Tasha.

She got back to her feet and returned to the kitchen. She poured another glass of bourbon and hesitated. She closed the bottle again and decided to bring it with her back to the living room. Patterson dropped back onto the couch and set the bottle on the table in front of her. She took a long swallow from her glass.

How could Tasha sleep with Reade? What could she possibly see in him? Sure, he’s a nice guy. A perfectly nice guy but on what planet is he the right match for Natasha Zapata, Patterson thought as she continued to sip at her bourbon. She felt a wave of anger rush over her again and she downed the rest of her drink in one large swallow. She suddenly felt herself growing furious with Tasha. What was Tasha thinking? Was she thinking at all? Reade? Really!?

Patterson considered pouring herself another bourbon but closed her eyes as the room started to slip sideways. She slowly set her glass back on the table and pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes as she leaned back into the couch and tipped her head towards the ceiling. Why was she slamming glass after glass of bourbon? Why did it matter that Tasha and Reade had hooked up? It’s not like it was the first time Tasha had shown poor judgement.

Why would she choose Reade? Patterson’s bourbon-soaked mind wailed, and Patterson felt herself starting to tear up. Her heart felt too large for her chest and she felt sick to her stomach. She took a few deep breaths and reached for her purse on the floor. It had fallen there and half of its contents now lay strewn on the floor. She groped for her phone and speed-dialed Tasha’s number. She listened through the four rings and then the voicemail greeting.

“Tasha, it’s me. Patterson,” Patterson slurred into the phone. “No one knows where you are and you haven’t answered your phone in days. Weeks, even. We’re worried. I’m worried. I miss you and you’re not here and it’s not fair. You can’t just up and disappear and not tell anyone where you are. Don’t you know that people care about you? We love you. I love you, and I need you to call me back because I love you, and you don’t even know it because you don’t answer your damn phone and you just leave and you’re gone and I love you. Not Reade. Me.” She took a deep breath and paused in her ramblings. She seemed to realize what she’d just said, and she adopted a quieter, less rambling tone. “Just call me back. Please. Call me back.”

Patterson disconnected the call and finished her drink. She set the empty glass on the coffee table. She willed Tasha to return her call but after staring at the phone for what seemed like an eternity, she sighed. Tasha wasn’t going to call her. What was wrong with Tasha? Didn’t she care that people were worried about her? Was she so oblivious that people were in love with her? Or maybe she was just that uncaring. Maybe she just didn’t care that someone might be in love with her and feeling lost and untethered without her.

Patterson snatched a throw pillow off the couch and shoved it against her face. She screamed into it until her throat began to feel sore and her eyes watered.

She realized then that this was the first time she’d gotten Tasha’s voicemail greeting in nearly a week, and she slowly pulled the pillow away from her face. The first few times she’d called, she’d gotten voicemail. After that, the call would just disconnect. Was Tasha actually monitoring her calls? Could her voicemail have been full and she’d now emptied it?

Patterson closed her eyes again and tried to gain control of her breathing. She tried to remember what she’d just said to Tasha’s voicemail. If her friend was monitoring her messages, she was about to hear a rambling, drunken message. Patterson was certain she’d just confessed being in love with Tasha, and she wasn’t sure how Tasha would react to this.

She’d long since come to terms with her own sexuality but had mostly dated men, most notably David and Borden and that one date with Jack Izenberg but Patterson knew she was also attracted to women. She’d never tried to hide or shy away from that. Tasha was her very best friend, and she’d felt uncomfortable crushing on her but she knew that it was more than just a crush. She was in love with Tasha. Why else was she so angry that Tasha and Reade had... She couldn't even finish that thought. It made her stomach churn. It was all wrong. If it weren’t for Tasha’s insistence that she had feelings for Reade, Patterson had Agent Zapata pegged as a lesbian. But she’d also wondered if Tasha was just in denial and latching onto some perceived attraction to Reade as a way to convince herself that she wasn’t gay. They’d never talked about, and Patterson had no idea if Tasha knew that she was gay or if she actually was gay at all but Patterson wagered she was. And she was usually right.

Tasha is wonderful. She’s smart and tough and funny and damn, she’s beautiful. She can drink any of us under the table, and she knows her way around a computer, Patterson mused. She’s the sexiest woman I know. But Reade...

Patterson poured another drink and left the stopper off. The bottle of Bulleit was about one third full and she thought she might be returning to the bottle again. She thought briefly about how many glasses she’d had but wasn’t sure if it is was three or four. Could have been five. She hadn’t been counting. Her face and lips were feeling a little fuzzy so she knew she’d probably be hungover in the morning. She was about to slam the glass back again when she heard her phone vibrating nearby. She grabbed for it just as it started to slide off the couch and looked at the caller ID. Her breath caught in her throat. Tasha. She took a deep breath and accepted the call.

“Tash?”

“Hey, Patterson,” Tasha’s voice came from the other end. She sounded tired but Patterson could almost hear her friend’s smile. “I got your message. Are you okay?”

Patterson was nodding and then realized Tasha couldn’t actually see her. She licked her lips. “Yeah, yeah. I’m good,” she slurred. “I’m sorry about the rambling message —”

“Are you drunk?”

“I’ve had a few drinks,” Patterson agreed and set her glass back on the table as if Tasha could see the glass. She felt ashamed and fell silent.

“I’m sorry that I haven’t answered any calls or texts,” Tasha said when the silence started to become uncomfortable. “It’s been busy.”

Patterson said nothing. Her first instinct was to say “it’s okay” but it wasn’t okay. Her visit to Tasha’s apartment and then date night with the bottle of bourbon both told her that it wasn’t okay.

“I know that’s a shitty excuse,” Tasha said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”

“Are you okay? We’ve been worried.”

“I’m okay,” Tasha replied. She took a breath and hesitated. When she’d gotten Patterson’s message, she’d listened to the voicemail immediately just like she had with every other message she’d left her. She’d read each text as it arrived, too, but when this message came in, she had to call her back. It wasn’t that Patterson sounded drunk, and it wasn’t that her friend had been worried. It was the other thing she said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“What you said on your message —”

“We are worried,” Patterson interrupted. She had a feeling she knew what Tasha was getting at and wasn’t sure how to answer it. She was in love with Tasha, and had been since the first day they’d met but they were friends. She didn’t want to screw that up. And what did it matter anyway? Tasha was gone. She’d moved on. She’d moved on to Reade. Patterson had missed her chance.

“Not that,” Tasha said quietly.

“Oh.”

“What you said,” Tasha began and stopped. She took a deep breath and tried again. “You love me?”

Patterson didn’t respond right away. The bourbon had clouded her mind and she wanted to make sure she said the right thing.

“Patterson?” Tasha asked when her friend didn’t respond. “You said you love me. What did you mean?”

Patterson sighed and glanced at her full glass of Bulleit and decided to leave it on the table. She licked her lips again and chewed her bottom lip. Forget it, she thought and grabbed the glass, tossing its contents back.

“Reade told me,” she said finally. “He told me that you and him slept together so it doesn’t matter what I meant.”

“We did,” Tasha said. “I also broke it off with him the next day. What did you mean?”

Patterson closed her eyes and counted to five to calm her nerves. She finally just said what she wished she’d said a hundred times before but had never been brave enough to say.

“I love you. I’m in love with you. I’ve loved you since the first day we met. We banged into each other as you were getting off the elevator and I was getting on and my coffee went all over the front of my white shirt. I didn’t even care. I was too busy staring at you and trying to stammer out my own name,” Patterson said. She suddenly felt very sober and pressed on. “But you left. You’re not here and you’ve moved on so it doesn’t matter if I’m in love with you. I missed my chance to tell you how I feel because I was just too afraid of ruining our friendship. I love you. And I should have told you that every day since we first met. I’m in love with you.”

It was Tasha’s turn to be silent. She remembered meeting Patterson that day and knocking over her coffee. She’d been instantly captivated with the blonde and had spent days developing and harboring an enormous crush on her. And then Patterson had introduced her to David one night at the nearby bar, and Tasha’s dreams of maybe dating the scientist had gone out the window. Straight girls don’t date their gay coworkers. So, Tasha had focused on work and her new partner Edgar Reade instead, and they’d become best friends. And she’d slept with him only because she knew she wasn’t going to see him again for a long time and he wanted her. It all felt so silly now.

“You’re in love with me?” Tasha asked finally.

“Yes,” Patterson said matter-of-factly.

More silence.

“It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way,” Patterson said quickly. “But I needed you to know. I just wish I hadn’t waited until you were gone.”

Patterson heard the deep breath Tasha took and braced herself for a complete shutdown. Tasha was going to disappear again and this had been one big mistake.

“You have no idea how long I’ve hoped you’d say that to me one day,” Tasha said. “I’m in love with you too.”