Chapter 1: from one beginning to another
She comes home after school on a Tuesday, hiding a detention slip in her backpack and a cut on her forehead under her hair. Henry was still Dad then, and he’s home early. His uniform is halfway off and his hair is ruffled, but that’s not unusual, and Shea barely notices. What she does notice is the wedding rings on the table next to four beers and the fifth in his hand. There are tear tracks on his face. She knows what happened, so she asks where Mom is instead. Shea likes it when Mom breaks bad news better than when Dad does. Only Dad thinks she doesn’t understand, thinks she can’t see, and calls her stupid girl and blind and Maddy fucking left me, you, us and the one thing he doesn’t say is it’s your fault but Shea hears the words anyway. Dad becomes Henry after that. Mom becomes a ghost.
A boy in class calls her slut and I’ll give you $20 bucks for a blowjob. She knocks out his front tooth and gets suspended. Henry doesn’t even notice that she doesn’t go to school for three days. Shea spends a full hour recreating the scene in her head and another thirty minutes tracing the scrapes on her knuckles. When she goes back to school on Monday, she wears a skirt.
Shea is barely 17 and holding a blood type test from her advanced biology class. She keeps waiting for the surprise, the anger, the anything. Nothing comes. Henry taught her to pay attention to the details. Shea used to watch her parents, could see the pained looks and the glares and hear the angry whispers and the late night shouting matches. Madeline used to tell her that she looked like her aunt Kim, but Henry’s eyes would go tight and he’d have an extra beer or two on those nights.
Senior graduation is a week away at Santa Barbara High. In a week Shea will be home more often than not. Henry will be too. All of her senior friends (acquaintances (fuck buddies)) will be leaving, and Shea is a junior but she’s leaving too. Her GED has been burning a hole in her pocket for six months, and she’s just been waiting.
Gus is at graduation right now, guiding parents and friends and graduates. I’m an usher, Shea. It’s an honor. Shea is sitting at an empty intersection at a red light. Her saddlebags are full, and she’s wearing a backpack, but that’s it. Maybe not everything that matters, but everything that she needs. She can see the school to the right. If she turns now, she can pick her best friend up. She can tell him everything, for real this time. She can maybe cry a little. Gus will probably cry, too, but he can hold her if she wants him to, and he won’t blame her for the mess her parents made. The light turns green. Shea goes left.
Shea is 21 and drunk legally by American standards for the first time in her life. The rum is coconut flavored and a Brazilian girl whose name Shea doesn’t care to learn has attached her teeth to Shea’s jugular. Even through the haze, Shea can smell the cologne on her and knows that this won’t make it past the bar. She can see the awed group of guys on the other end, and she knows American men aren’t the only ones fascinated by lesbians. She doesn’t care. Shea pulls the girl’s mouth to her own and tastes tequila mixing with the rum.
She waits for the hangover to wear off before she calls. She tells Henry that she knows. He goes quiet for a moment and then tells her quietly You’re still my daughter. Fuck the DNA. It’s the kindest thing he’s ever told her, and she cries for the first time in years when she hangs up.
A week later Henry gets a postcard with a drawing on a pineapple where there should be words in April with a picture of mountains and big yellow letters saying WELCOME TO GREENLAND. He gets another one with Sharpie-vandalized picture of the Mona Lisa in May with the words art was overrated, pizza wasn’t on the flip side. By December his freezer door is covered.
For the first time in nearly four years, Shea comes back to Santa Barbara. She sees Gus first. He yells at her for five entire minutes and she smiles the whole time and he hugs her and whispers into her hair don’t disappear on me again and she hugs him and laughs but doesn’t make a promise she might break. They get jerk chicken and pineapple smoothies. She tells him stories about foreign women and foreign jails and foreign jobs and not a word is a lie but he scoffs and calls bullshit on half of what she says. He tells her stories about women he almost had and college and internships and maybe a third of it is exaggerated but she lets him have his moment and smiles and laughs and ‘aw’s in all the right places.
Shea hasn’t seen her dad in four years. She doesn’t go to Henry’s place until right as she’s leaving. Her saddlebags are packed and she has a new backpack with new-ish clothes (and a new hickey on her collarbone) (both) from Joy. She’s leaning against her bike in Henry’s driveway, waiting for him to come outside. She only waits a few minutes because some things don’t change. He drops his tackle box when he sees her and she thinks good thing the pole is already in the truck. He’d have an aneurysm if he dropped that. But then she’s being hugged and ohgod what do I do with my arms. She loses all of her pretty practiced words and even the cruel ones that were always on the tip of her tongue around Henry when he pulls back and there are tears in his eyes. There’s maybe forgiveness and even an apology under the tears but not on his lips. Instead he asks her to come fishing. Instead of going to Thailand, Shea ends up on a boat off the coast of California with a beer in her hand. They last two hours before the arguing gets any bite to it, but there’s no soul scarring venom in the words anymore. Even when Shea is on a plane thousands of miles away, she thinks things are going to be okay.
Shea gets stabbed in Egypt by a man who was offended by her uncovered head. She has sex with a nurse named Ahura in a supply closet at the hospital who gives her a spare hijab. She buys four scarves in the afternoon and doesn’t go anywhere else without one.
Nobody gets a postcard this month.
Shea calls Gus and he tells her about this new job he has at some pharmaceutical company and he’s excited even if she thinks the job sounds ridiculously boring. She hangs up and send Henry another postcard, this time from Portugal. She hasn’t seen either of them in over a year. Shea looks down at her passport, sitting on the hotel dresser, and decides Santa Barbara and Gus deserve annual visits to go with her monthly postcards. And maybe Henry does too.
Shea comes home.
Chapter 2: an intermission
There are phone calls and rooftops and cigarettes and it's all very cliche.
Shea is 20 and stateside for the first time in a while. New York is beautiful and horrible and messy and organized and every time she blinks she feels like it’s changed in every single way while leaving everything the same. It’s dizzying and terrifying and she’s not sure if she loves it or hates it but she’s here and she’s on a rooftop and she can’t see the stars, but god is the city bright.
There’s a cigarette in her hand burning itself down that she hasn’t smoked at all. She can feel the heat reaching for her fingertips and there’s ash on her boot and the smoke is curling and unfurling under her nose. She’s always hated the smell of cigarettes; they remind her of police stations.
When she sighs her breath steams the air and she can’t quite tell where the smoke ends and her breath begins, grey swirls curling around each other and themselves.
She throws down the cigarette just as the embers reach her fingers, grinding it down beneath her ashy boot. Her hand twitches a little, itching for something to do, and she’s not quite sure why she reaches into her coat pocket until she’s already dialing.
For a breathless moment, there is no sound, and Shea wonders if he hung up. The thought makes her hand itch for another cigarette (maybe this time she’ll smoke it).
“Shea, where are you?”
Shea sniffles a little bit before answering. It’s actually pretty cold outside and she’s shivering. “On a rooftop in New York. There is a depressing lack of superheroes despite what Marvel says. I haven’t seen Peter Parker once.”
“It’s three am in New York.”
And god has she missed her best friend. Nobody can quite manage I’m-annoyed-by-you-and-worried-for-you-but-I’m-going-to-pretend-I’m-only-annoyed-but-I-hope-you-know-I’m-worried-too-but-don’t-acknowledge-it like Burton Guster.
“Yes it is. And I’m very kindly not going to ask why you know that. Because I really don’t care about the answer. How’s college?”
She can practically hear the eye roll. “It’s good. It’s college. Stop changing the subject.”
“Darling, sweetheart, schnookums. The subject has not been selected yet. We were just getting into the juicy parts of the conversation.”
“Yeah. Like why you’re on a rooftop in New York at 3 am and calling me.”
And suddenly oh. She gets it. Shea suddenly understands exactly how this sounds, how it looks. “Dude, you just have to see this skyline at night. During the day it could be any city, could be anywhere in the world. But I drank three Redbulls and a double-shot espresso and haven’t slept in 30 hours because, seriously, this view… It’s something else, man.”
And she just can’t find the words to explain. Because right now – silence. There’s no hats to count, no trunks to escape from, no science fair to win, no road to navigate, no job to find, no guy to flirt with, no girl to hit on. It’s the wind and the city lights in place of stars and the smell of a cigarette and all of her memories seeping into the night air with every breath. Right now she is still and steady and okay and she just wants to share the moment with her best friend just to prove it existed.
“Yeah, man… I wish I could see it, too.” His voice is kinder, softer, and maybe a little sadder this time, but he sounds like he understands it a little bit. Maybe not all of it, probably never all of it, but enough to hold this moment with her.
“So. Tell me about college.”
And this time the conversation goes and goes and goes until the city lights fade and the sun creeps through the buildings and Shea decides maybe she should sleep and Gus decides maybe he should go to class. But she falls asleep quickly and doesn’t dream and when she wakes up she’s smiling.
Chapter 3: tickets and arrests and pranks
Lassiter is kind of an asshole. Shea wants to pull a prank but will settle for going to the dog park.
“God, who’d want to be such an asshole?”
Gus is entirely unprepared for Shea to come storming into his office, but he manages to keep himself from reacting (mostly).
It’s been a year since Shea decided Santa Barbara was home, but Gus still hasn’t shaken the feeling that she’s on her way out of town every time he sees her (he maybe never will). It doesn’t help that she’s always carrying that stupid motorcycle helmet every time her sees her (Shea you’re going to get yourself killed on that thing please please wear the helmet he’d said when he handed it to her years ago because he knew she’d never give it up).
“Mr. Guster, are you playing video games at work?”
Gus can’t decide if he’s more distracted by her arrival, her initial question, or her secondary question. Looking down at his hands on the arrow keys and space bay, and remembering this is Shea, he decides to ignore the former and the latter.
“Who’s an asshole?” He asks, closing down the game. He’d been losing anyway.
Shea sighs and flops into the chair across from his desk, sprawling like a puppet with its strings cut. She runs a hand through her short hair, sandy strands flopping right back into her face. She’s pouting at him. “Head Detective Carlton Lassiter.”
It takes a moment but then –
“You got arrested?”
Shea pokes out her tongue. “I felt like Libby Parsons, man. Totally false arrest.”
“Wait, Libby who?”
“Parsons. Don’t tell me you forgot about Double Jeopardy!”
“With Ashley Judd?”
“And Tommy Lee Jones. Who Lassiter is a much more Irish, much less fun version of.”
“I’ve heard it both ways.”
“Normally I would disagree, but given the state of our education system, I’ll let you have that one.”
Shea is beaming at him and her eyes are bright and for a moment the years melt away and they’re sitting in Gus’s bedroom arguing whether or not Molly Ringwald was better than Ally Sheedy. But then he blinks and remembers –
“You got arrested?”
Shea rolls her eyes and slouches further. “Dude, stop saying it like it’s a surprise. Anyway, it was completely bogus. The important part here is that our fair city’s Head Detective is a blackhole of resentment and repression and also just a massive asshole.”
Gus looks blankly at his best friend in the entire world, calmly considers leaping over his desk to murder her, and then turns back to his computer to pull back up his game.
“Ugh, fine. I called in a tip that was apparently too good to be true, right? So when I go to collect my reward, he arrests me. By the way, did you know interrogation rooms smell like the inside of a kiddy playpen at McDonald’s?”
"Like somebody took a piss on a pile of vomit and then tried to clean it up with bleach."
"That's disgusting. Why would you even --" Gus holds up a hand to stop himself from asking and Shea from answering. Because he really doesn't want to know. "Not the point. Now. Shea. What did you do?.”
“Jesus! So he arrests me because apparently they think I’m an accomplice. And of course he just can’t believe I’m smarter than he is, so I go a different route.”
“The Santa Barbara Police Department may now believe I’m a psychic. And maybe hired me to consult on a case. Today. And I may have been driven here by Detective Timmy-Fell-Down-A-Well. Because I may have claimed your Magic Head was essential to my psychic process.”
The thunk of Gus’s head on his desk makes the secretary down the hall jump.
“How is this my life?” Gus asks even as he grabs his coat and follows his friend out of his office, snagging the helmet she forgot on his way.
It’s not until after the cabin and the arrest (of them) and the arrest (of the dad) and a celebratory smoothie that Gus even thinks to ask.
“Why did you walk into my office talking about Lassiter being as ass instead of just telling me to come with you?”
Shea swallows her gulp of pineapple-spinach-mango (ewgh. spinach.) before answering. “Because he gave me a ticket when we got to your building. Apparently my left blinker is out.”
“Oh.” Pause. “What an asshole.”
“Shea, I’m not going to cover Lassiter’s car in plastic wrap with you.”
“…what about with Post-Its?”
“That would take longer for us to do than it would take him to fix.”
“Damn… Wanna go to the dog park?”
“Shea, we don’t have a dog.”
“No, but the pretty ladies at the dog park do.”
“I’ll grab my coat.”
Chapter 4: righting a wrong
Maybe Lassiter isn't really an asshole. Shea gets a hug.
Lassiter has wanted to see Shea Spencer in cuffs more times than he can count since he’s met her. She’s rude and disrespectful and flirtatious and makes a mockery of real police work while dancing around bodies in muddy boots holding a smoothie.
And she’s always, always right. In the end at least.
And isn’t that the rusty, dull edge of the knife? Lassiter thinks for just a moment on every single case that he’s right, that’s she’s wrong, only for the ‘psychic’ to come through with the proper culprit. It’s frustrating. It’s humiliating. It’s astounding. So as badly as he wants to put Spencer in cuffs, he never would. She helps.
And yet -
Here she is, Shea Spencer sitting in lockup with a split lip and a black eye and red rings around her wrists from the cuffs that had been there half an hour ago. They must have been on very tightly to still have left marks.
“Spencer?” He asks incredulously.
She doesn’t visibly react at his admittedly loud exclamation other than to twitch one brow upward incrementally. Her eyes remain shut.
“Is there a parrot in the station?”
Lassiter will deny the noise he made was a squawk.
“You, my good Irishman. You are the parrot.”
It takes a moment, but then Lassiter blinks and understands. He is surprisingly unoffended.
“What in the name of sweet Lady Justice are you doing?”
“Sitting. I was napping. But now I am sitting and listening to a parrot.”
Lassiter bristles a little bit at her blatantly feigned ignorance. “In here. Why are you in a cell with a black eye and a busted lip?”
Spencer sighs and finally opens her eyes. Eye. One is nearly swollen shut. They’re red-rimmed and bloodshot and she looks exhausted and hungover. “I got in a fight. Want to spread some influence and make it go away?”
Lassiter instinctively snarls a little bit, hackles rising. “I will not abuse the justice system. Especially not on your behalf.”
He starts to leave, feeling the faintest hint of disappointment at Spencer’s disregard for morality, but he catches her expression fall as he turns and he realizes it was a ruse to get him to leave. He turns back and really looks at Spencer. She looks… angry under the exhaustion, maybe even a little sad. Lassiter doesn’t thinks he’s ever seen either of those emotions anywhere close to Shea Spencer since he’s known her
the bruises on her arm look like fingers, not cuff marks.
“No. Wait. Why were you fighting?”
And by the way Spencer’s eyes go cold and her mouth goes thin Lassiter can tell that was the right question to be asking.
She swallows hard and her fists clench and unclench. “I had an issue with a man at a bar.”
“Where’s he at?”
A lip twitches in what might’ve been a smile. “The ER. Apparently I broke his arm… and his dick.”
Lassiter blinks. “You can break that?”
“If someone kicks you hard enough, yes.”
Her jaw clenches again. “He didn’t know when to shut his mouth. So I shut it for him.”
Only years of police work and countless hours spent around murderers and thieves and arsonists and rapists enable Lassiter to keep his jaw from dropping. Shea Spencer is many, many things – liar, thief, con – but angry and hateful are not those things. Except for when she is, apparently.
“I can’t help you if I don’t know why,” he finds himself saying.
Spencer looks almost as shocked at the words as Lassiter feels. She swallows hard and looks away.
“He was angry that I wouldn’t let him buy me a drink. And then he saw me let someone else buy me a drink. Then he grabbed me and said he was going to “fuck the tease right out” of me. So I hit him. And then kicked him.”
Lassiter’s pen snaps in his grip. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Lassiter goes to the hospital after making a stop at a bar.
The man in the bed should objectively be attractive except for half of his face is black and blue and swollen. One arm is in a white cast, a blue sling holding it close to his chest.
The man’s eyes follow Lassiter as he walks in, taking Lassiter’s measure as Lassiter take his. Lassiter doesn’t know what the man sees, but Lassiter barely keeps his lips from curling. The man’s eyes are beady and suspicious, his hair greasy. These things separately could be forgiven; after all, the man had been in the hospital all night and day and he didn’t know who Lassiter was. Suspicion and poor hygiene were understandable. But Lassiter keeps seeing Spencer’s cheek swelling to nearly blind one eye, the smear of dried blood on her lips, the angry scrapes on her knuckles, kept hearing the dead monotone as she recounted what had happened.
“So I heard you got in a bar fight last night,” Lassiter begins affably enough. “Mr…”
“Jack. Jack Cowl. Just a bit.” Cowl’s words are tinged with sarcasm and disdain. “Bitch tried to kill me.” The man speaks with all the bravado and misogyny that his Manhood will grant him.
“I was hoping that you could describe the events leading up to the assault, sir.” Lassiter flips out a notepad and holds a pen at the ready. He hopes he doesn’t break this one.
Cowl nods, some of the hostility slipping away. To him, Lassiter is a Man, too. “I was at the bar with some buddies of mine, just blowing off steam. I saw this hot piece sitting at the bar, so of course I went and bought her a drink. She gave me this look, you know? She laughed and turned me down, but I knew what game she was playing. She wanted me.”
Lassiter forces his fingers to relax on the pen. “And how did this turn into you getting hospitalized?”
Cowl nods fast, eager now that he has Lassiter’s attention. “This dykey looking chick started harassing her, you know? Butch hair, leather jacket. And I just wanted to help, so I pulled the hot piece away, but then out of nowhere she just starts swinging.”
Lassiter blinks and looks the man up and down. “Sir, you’re over six feet tall. How big did you say your assailant was?”
Cowl suddenly gets defensive. “I mean, she was tiny, but -- ”
Bruises and blood flash in Lassiter’s mind. The pen snaps. “Your victim has a black eye and busted lip.”
“Tha- that wasn’t me!” Cowl’s eyes widen almost comically as Lassiter’s anger leaks out. “Must’ve been the cops when they pulled her off of me!”
“And the handprint on wrists? The threat to “fuck the tease” out of her? Were those the police as well?”
The man sputters as best he can without actually opening his mouth, but Lassiter cuts him off.
“If this goes to trial, you will lose. This was a case of self-defense against your wounded pride and bigotry. There are other witnesses. I’ve already spoken to the bartender. He’s willing to testify. I would suggest dropping the charges. I would strongly suggest dropping the charges.”
Cowl keep his mouth closed this time. He nods.
He sees Spencer three days later. She’s leaning against the hood of his car.
Her eye is less swollen now, but still painful to look at. Her chin now sports a matching bruise, crescent shaped cut dividing her bottom lip in two. Her knuckles have scabbed over now, though, and the bruises on her wrists are hidden by the sleeves of her jacket. She’s smiling.
“Spencer,” he greets calmly, continuing his walk to the car.
She doesn’t say anything and neither does her until he’s thrown his case in the car and closed the door again. They stay leaning against the car in the empty lot for a while. Lassiter is looking at the stars. He doesn’t know what Spencer’s looking at.
“Thank you,” she finally says, all bravado gone.
“I didn’t do anything. And neither did you. You never should have been arrested.”
Spencer doesn’t say anything for a long minute. “Maybe.”
“Why didn’t you tell the officers what you told me?” The question has been burning in his mind ever since he saw her in the cell.
For the first time since they greeted one another, Spencer looks Lassiter in the eye. She looks a little lost. “I don’t know.” The honesty in her voice twists something inside Lassiter’s chest, and he’s struck by how young she is. “I didn’t trust them.”
“And you trust me?”
Lassiter didn’t know that Spencer’s eyes were hazel like that. This close he can count every eyelash, every freckle on her nose. He can smell the mint of her gum on her breath. She’s beautiful. If he leaned in he could kiss her.
He doesn’t, though. Doesn’t even want to. He maybe wants to hug her.
Her lip quirks up, and Lassiter spares a moment of panic for the thought that she can read his mind.
And then she hugs him, tiny, wiry arms squeezing his torso, sandy hair burrowed into his chest. Hesitantly, he wraps his own arms around her, his own hold a bit looser. He can feel the ridges of her spine.
Chapter 5: misconceptions and corrections
Juliet is mostly a good detective. Lassiter has some tact.
Juliet O’Hara is damn good at her job. She is the youngest detective on the force with the best qualifying score in the department and with the best arrest record since Lassiter was a Junior Detective.
That being said, Shea Spencer makes no sense. At all.
Juliet watches her. She steals officers’ coffee and replaces them with smoothies. She sings “It’s a Small World” while solving an abduction. She wears comic book tees and lace dresses with equal frequency. She sits on Lassiter’s lap and then invites Juliet to dinner. She spins and spirals, and Juliet hopes Shea knows what the hell she’s doing, because Juliet sure as hell can’t figure it out.
Juliet watches her, perhaps more than she should. She notices when Shea switches mascaras. She notices the highlights in Shea’s hair. She notices the darkening freckles on Shea’s nose in the summer. She notices the tan lines on Shea’s collar bones. She notices Shea and her eyes and her hair and her skin. Juliet notices Shea.
Juliet is meeting her aunt for dinner at some swanky Greek restaurant with killer tzatziki sauce and a little distracted and in a hurry because fucking hell where is my cell phone and Carlton will kill me if I miss a call. So she’s maybe not looking up and runs face first into something warm and solid right as her hand closes over her phone in her purse.
“Jules!” A cheerful voice crows in her ear as a hand grabs her elbow, steadying her and keeping her on her own two feet. This is why she doesn’t normally wear heels.
She looks up, thank you on the tip of her tongue, and finds herself face-to-face with none other than Shea Spencer.
Her eyes are brighter than normal, framed by thickened lashes and dark brown liner. There’s blush on her cheeks, high lighting the angles and planes of her face. Her lips, stretched in a wide smile, are pink and shining against her white teeth.
Juliet feels a little dizzy and the words die on her tongue.
Shea’s brow crinkles and the skin around her mouth tightens into a frown and Juliet’s words come back to her in a rush.
“Shea! What’re you doing here?”
Shea’s forehead smooths and her lips turn upwards again. “Can’t you tell?” Shea purses her lips and throws a hand on her hips, striking a pose and waving her other hand up and down to indicate her entire body.
Juliet cocks an eyebrow and notices Shea’s outfit for the first time. Instead of jeans and sneakers, Shea is wearing a tight green dress and black heels higher than Juliet’s and oh. “Are you on a date?”
Shea’s smile widens to crocodilian proportions as she leans in the whisper faux-conspiratorially. “Yup. And he’s a real cutie. Somewhere between Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling.”
The twist in her stomach is just because Juliet hasn’t eaten all day.
“Good luck with that then,” Juliet says with a laugh, maybe choking on the sound a little bit. Shea’s smile has fallen a little bit, and she opens her mouth to speak, but Juliet cuts her off. “Oh! I see my aunt. Sorry to ditch you. Have fun with Ryan!”
Juliet does not run away. She hasn’t seen her aunt in months and missed her. For the rest of the night Juliet feels the weight of eyes on the back of her neck and tries very hard not to look up for fear of meeting a pair of hazel eyes.
Still. It’s nothing out of the norm when Juliet notices Shea leaving, some Tall, Dark, and Handsome escorting her with his hand on her lower back. Because Juliet notices Shea.
Lassiter is not a tactful man. Many subtleties are lost on him. He will never understand the value of a rose over a simple I love you or why taking women out to dinner is more romantic than grilling steaks or why people don’t just say words. It’s one of the many reasons his wife is now his ex-wife. She wanted him to show he loved her without her asking for specific things, and that’s just something he didn’t – doesn’t – understand and probably never will. Since he was a child, he has made a point of being blunt and direct. It’s served him well as a cop, if not as a husband, and so he should probably know better than to ask his friends potentially uncomfortable questions with no warning.
“Is Spencer gay?”
He does it anyway and Juliet stabs her hand with a pen.
“I uh you she uh g- what?”
Lassiter, rather tactfully, he thinks, glosses over his partner’s apparent fall into stupidity. “There was an incident a few days ago with evidence suggesting Spencer was with a woman.”
“Carlton, what are you talking about?”
Lassiter frowns at his partner’s slightly desperate tone. “Spencer. I’ve seen her with men before, but she seems to be into women. Is Spencer closeted?”
Lassiter would have a hard time explaining his interest if pressed. The obvious answer would be he himself is attracted to the wayward consultant, but it would also be the wrong answer. No part of Lassiter wants to sleep with Spencer. But he does find himself increasingly protective of her and the idea of her feeling as though she has to hide twists a knife in his gut.
“I, uh…” Lassiter has no idea why Juliet hasn’t regained her thought process yet. A terrible thought dawns on him.
“Detective O’Hara. Please tell me you are not homophobic.” Lassiter finds himself using the same tone he would use on a suspect.
Juliet’s eyes widen and then narrow, angry and defensive and little bewildered. “God no. Carlton…” she trails off, pulling one lip between her teeth as indecisiveness colors her features. She blinks and steals her expression, and Lassiter is nothing but curious now. “Carlton, I’m a lesbian.”
Lassiter rocks back a little in his chair. “Oh… really?”
Juliet’s shoulders remain tight by her ears and she stares down at her desk. “Yes really.”
“Oh.” Lassiter pauses, wishes that he maybe actually did have the gift of tact because oh look the knife has a friend now. “My mom remarried a woman. They’re very happy together.”
The noise Juliet makes could only loosely be called a laugh, but the tension eases and she looks up. Lassiter counts it as a win.
“I thought Shea was straight,” Juliet says after a moment, her voice colored with some kind of emotion Lassiter can’t quite grasp. “Why ask, though? Incident sound very sinister.”
Given how well his attempt had been disregarding tact, Lassiter pauses this time to test his words before speaking. When he does answer, it’s slowly. “Spencer was wrongly arrested after defending herself at a bar. When I interviewed the assailant, he revealed himself to be a bigot and implied Spencer preferred a woman to him and gave that as reason for his assault. He’s now in jail. Spencer, clearly, is not.”
Juliet’s face is curiously devoid of emotion, but Lassiter knows better. Her fingers are digging into her palms and there’s a tic in her jaw and she’s not blinking and her nostrils are flaring. Mr. Cowl should count himself lucky he’s in a jail cell.
(He was arrested for destruction of private property rather than assault. Spencer didn’t want to press charges, said that i got my justice. he won’t be trying to fuck anyone anytime soon. not after that kick. The bartender, on the other hand, liked Spencer quite a bit and was all too happy to press charges of his own for the broken barstools and dented walls. Lassiter was very okay with this.)
Juliet breathed through the anger, relaxing her knuckles and her jaw before turning back to Lassiter and giving him a look. “Why do you care?”
There are several ways Lassiter could take this question.
Do you care because you want her?
Do you care because you’re nosy?
Do you care because you care?
He’s not normally one for emotion or emotional conversations, but he started this conversation and he’ll be damned if her doesn’t finish it.
“Because she deserves someone who cares.”
When Juliet smiles at him a moment later, he knows he said the right thing. Maybe he does have some tact after all.
Chapter 6: one shot, two shot, go.
Everything that can go wrong does.
Shea shouldn’t be here.
She should be on one of her ridiculously late runs or having drinks with Guster or even sleeping like a regular human being. But she should not be here, now, with him.
“They’ll think it was a murder-suicide,” Drimmer is saying. His smug fucking face is calm and his voice is even and Lassiter can barely hear him through the thump thump thump of his own heart. “They’ll think you killed your secret lover in a fit of rage when she confronted you about Chavez and then killed yourself out of guilt. It’s all in this note right here.”
Shea starts giggling at “secret lover”, hysterical little hiccups. Lassiter wants to look at her, wants to say something, but he’s staring at the barrel of the gun pointed straight at her chest.
“Dude, secret love? I’m Ellen DeGeneres with better hair,” she says.
Lassiter watches Drimmer frown and open his mouth as though to speak and he’s distracted and Lassiter moves then because his gun is hidden in the bowl on the counter and then he has it and he’s turning and there’s a gunshot and then there’s another gunshot and ohgod he doesn’t know who fired first and –
Shea is standing next to Drimmer’s body. There’s a pool of blooding spreading on the floor and all Lassiter can think is my floors are going to be ruined.
Lassiter tears his eyes away from Drimmer. Shea is on her knees, blood soaking into her jeans, with her hands on her side and there’s blood.
Shea rocks back on her heels, off balance and falling to the side away from the body. There’s blood and it’s not on the floor and it’s not on her jeans – it’s on her hands, squeezing out from between her fingers.
Lassiter hears his door open in the back of his mind, but he doesn’t turn, dropping to his knees beside Shea. He flicks the safety on the gun before setting it down (the blood is seeping into the cracks and it’s Drimmer’s and Shea’s and he knows weeks from now he’s going to be cleaning the gun and the rag will still be coming away rusty red but he doesn’t care). He presses his hands against Shea’s and he can feel them both shaking and he thinks he might be speaking but he doesn’t know what he’s saying.
“Lassie, Lassie, Lassie,” Shea keeps saying, babbling and stumbling over her words. “Lassie.”
And then there’s a hand on his shoulder and it’s a good thing the safety was on his gun because he has it in his hand in a heartbeat only to turn and see Juliet’s stricken face behind him. Henry and Guster are still in the doorway. Guster looks as shell-shocked as Lassiter feels while Henry is screaming into his phone, demanding an ambulance five minutes ago.
“Put the gun down,” Juliet says.
And oh. He’s still pointing that at her. Decades of training prevent him from just dropping it. As soon as the gun is on the ground Juliet falls to the floor beside him, hands immediately joining his and Shea’s. He’s struck by how pale everyone’s skin seems compared to the scarlet blood staining their knuckles. He can feel Shea’s pulse with every fresh gush of blood.
Shea starts giggling again.
“Shea, man.” And god, when did Guster get that close? He’s cradling Shea’s head in his hands, pulling her attention away from her own stomach. “Shea, you have to breathe.”
She huffs a rattling breathe and then her face screws up in pain, all hysterical laughter gone. “G-gus, it hurts.”
Lassiter looks back down at the mass of hands and there’s so much blood. It’s covering their skin and her shirt and dripping onto her pants and it has to have hit a vein or an artery. And then there’s another set of hands, this time holding a blanket Lassiter knows came from his couch and oh, Henry’s off the phone. Juliet and Lassiter move their hands to press down the cloth and Shea chokes and her own hands fall away, clutching at Juliet’s shirt and Gus’s pants.
For once Guster isn’t betraying a weak stomach at the sight of blood, even when it’s all over him.
“It’s okay, Shea. It’s okay,” Guster says. “You’re gonna be okay. Everything is fine.”
Lassiter doesn’t know who Gus is comforting anymore.
Too many heartbeats later, sirens drown out the sound of Guster’s meaningless words and Shea saying ithurtsithurtsithurtsithurts. Red and blue lights fill the room and then there’s paramedics everywhere and then Shea and Henry are gone in an ambulance because family only and Lassiter and Guster and Juliet are all standing in the middle of the parking lot with blood on their clothes and their hands.
Lassiter can’t remember if he says anything, but then they’re all in his car, lights and sirens on and screaming, flying down the road and weaving around late night traffic. He feels like he should maybe care more that he’ll never be able to get the bloodstains out of his car either, but he doesn’t, just notes it with the same detachment he did his floor.
Nobody says anything in the car. Guster keeps shifting in the back seat. Juliet is staring at her hands. Lassiter refuses to look away from the road.
Lassiter lets Juliet and Guster out at the front of the hospital. Juliet stumbles and Guster catches her by the arm. Lassiter parks quickly and barely remembers his keys or to close the door.
The lot is too empty and too quiet and too dark in the wake of gunshots and sirens. Lassiter finds himself practically sprinting across the lot, bursting into the ER panting and shaking. Juliet and Gus are sitting in stained plastic chairs closest to the counter. Henry is sitting across from them. They all look up when he makes his entrance.
“She’s in surgery,” Henry says, his voice rough. “Now we wait.”
Gus can’t stop staring at his pants. They’re his favorite pair of khakis. He’s had them for years. He got them dry cleaned two days ago because he had a date today, but then Shea dragged him into the Lassiter-Chavez case and he had to cancel. He remembers being really angry at her. But he still canceled.
Now his favorite khaki pants, the ones he always wears on first dates, have rusty red smears on the thighs that look suspiciously like handprints. The stains are dried and set in now, and he knows he’ll never get them out. These pants won’t even make it to the Goodwill donation bin. He’ll have to throw them away. He thinks he might burn them instead.
Hearing his best friend in the world, a girl who he’s known for as long as he can literally remember, crying and shaking and frightened as she begged him to make the pain stop – that hurt.
He’ll definitely burn the pants.
Juliet is sitting beside him, and she hasn’t moved since she sat down again. Her palms are turned toward her face on her lap. She left a few minutes ago with Lassiter to wash their hands. Her nails are still lined with red. There’s more red on her jacket, discarded next to her, but it missed her grey slacks. Her hands are shaking, just a little bit. Gus wants to sop the shaking and the staring but he can’t move, can’t open his mouth.
He looks away.
Henry is sitting across from them for now. He keeps standing and pacing only to sit down again. He looks angrier than Gus has ever seen him, and he and Shea once burst a water pipe in his backyard. Gus wonders if he realizes that there’s blood on the knees of his jeans, wonders if he’s going to burn his pants too.
He looks away again.
Lassiter hasn’t sat down at all, but he’s not pacing either. He’s standing by the magazine rack, flipping through an issue of Cosmopolitan that’s more falling apart than holding together. Lassiter never had a jacket, but took off his shirt. The borrowed green scrub shirt is at sharp odds with his carefully pressed black slacks. Gus can’t see them against the dark fabric, but he knows there’s red soaked into the fabric. Maybe he and Lassiter and Henry can all burn their pants and Juliet can burn her jacket together.
He looks away.
Man, these pants really are ruined.
Shea hasn’t been to the station in a month. Not since Drimmer. Lassiter knows she’s okay, by some definitions of okay, because he gets updates from Guster every day.
“She’s okay? You’re okay?”
Lassiter knew who was calling and what she was calling about immediately, even without an introduction or the use of names.
“We’re both fine. Even the suspect will be fine. IA will clear Juliet as soon as she files her report. The shooting was clean.”
“You guys are both good, though, right?” And God, he can still hear the panic in her voice, can practically see her hands shaking.
“Yeah, Shea. We’re okay. Everyone’s okay.” Are you?
There’s a shaky exhale on the other line followed by a bubble of hysterical giggling. “So how does it feel to be the star of an action movie?”
And here is familiar ground, even if her voice is shaky and uneven. “Spencer, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He’s proud of his deadpan.
“You can’t be a western star. You’re not rocking the lone wolf anymore; you have a partner. So you have to be an action star. Unless this is a buddy cop movie. Does that make me the comedic relief?” Lassiter fights his smile, determined not to let his amusement show even if she can’t actually see him. “You’re totally smiling right now. I am the comedic relief. Goddammit. I wanted to be the token tough female with a soft side.” Sometimes he wonders if she isn’t actually psychic.
“As the generic macho action hero, I claim the right to express no emotion. I never smile,” Lassiter says, a grin tugging at his lips.
“And I hate pineapple.”
There’s a pause for a minute and Lassiter inhales to ask Shea where she’s been for the past three weeks (he knows exactly where she was for the first week and, god, he hates hates hospitals, hates their stupid magazines) but then –
“I’m glad you’re okay. I gotta go.”
“Come to dinner with me.”
Juliet is very carefully not startled. She leans back in her chair and sets down her pen and looks at the woman before her.
Her hair is lank and probably unwashed and the shadows under her eyes are purple and she’s too pale and her hands are shaking and there’s a stain on the edge of her shirt and her jeans are too loose and her boots are dirty and her eyes are too bright.
“Shea, it’s midnight. Why are you here?” Juliet speaks slowly and deliberately, a stark contrast to Shea’s deluge of words.
“Ah Jules, the real question is why are you here and not at dinner with me?”
Juliet doesn’t speak for a long moment. Shea licks her chapped lips. Her hands tap out an uneven rhythm on her jeans. Her nails are bitten to the quick. Juliet blinks and she swears that she sees blood dripping from her fingertips.
“Because I have an officer involved shooting report to file by tomorrow.” Juliet softens her voice when Shea can’t restrain her flinch, hand twitching toward her side. “Shea. When’s the last time you slept?”
Shea smiles and her lips stretch too wide, the expression bordering on manic. “Sleep is for the weak, darling. So. Dinner. I’m sure I can find candles and roses even at midnight. IHOP is twenty-four hours. Not the classiest first date, I know, bu-“
“Shea.” Juliets interrupts. Shea’s words skid to a stop, her mouth still hanging on the edge of a sentence. “Shea, I can’t go on a date with you.”
Every time she sees Shea, every time she even thinks about her, she can feel sticky-wet on her hands and smell gunpowder. Every time she gets stuck on a case, her first thought is Call Shea, but then she’ll remember Lassiter and Chavez and guns and hospitals and she just can’t. She can’t sit at IHOP under fluorescent lights and smell air thick with syrup and eggs and listen to Shea talk without saying anything at all because all she can think about is blood and dying.
Shea’s mouth closes softly and she licks her lips again. Her fingers freeze and she doesn’t blink. For a long moment, Juliet looks Shea in the eye and sees honesty and desperation and so, so many broken pieces. She doesn’t know if her refusal hurts Shea or herself more. Juliet opens her mouth again and she doesn’t know what she’s going to say but –
But then Shea blinks and smiles and the emotion is hidden behind shutters again. “I get it. Paperwork is your one true love. How could I ever hope to compete with such a charmer?” She’s backing away as she speaks, twisting and twirling her hands with her words, too much, too fast. “I’ll be seeing you, Detective.”
And then she’s gone, the roar of her motorcycle the only noise for a long heartbeat. Juliet slumps onto her desk, grateful that she’s alone in the bullpen. She exhales once unsteadily. The bullet had been so close and Shea, Shea had broken into little tiny pieces that Juliet couldn’t even touch without bleeding. Maybe she’d always been broken. Juliet wonders if she cuts herself on her own shattered pieces.
Chapter 7: the difference between an apology and pity
Only a certain kind of person goes for a run before seven in the morning.
There's a reference to a certain someone in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Juliet can’t fall asleep. It’s 4:46 am, and Juliet can’t fall asleep. Her eyes are heavy and stinging and her mind is slow and sluggish and her limbs are too heavy to move, and Juliet can’t fall asleep. God, she wants to. She’s so, so tired.
“G-gus, it hurts.”
Juliet squeezes her eyes shut and forces her palms to press against her eyelids until little fireworks of color explode in the black and she stops seeing red. When she finally moves her hands and opens her eyes, her palms and her cheeks are wet.
“Come to dinner with me.”
“Shea, I can’t go on a date with you.”
This time when she exhales it comes out in a sob. And then another and another and ohgod she can’t stop crying. She curls in on herself, pulling her arms in towards her chest, hidden behind her knees, and the tears just keep flowing.
She’s dimly aware that she’s speaking.
“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”
And she doesn’t know what she can’t do anymore. Can’t stop seeing Shea’s blood. Can’t stop smelling the hospital room. Can’t go on a date. Can’t can’t can’t can’t won’t.
The tears finally stop and her breath stops rattling in her throat and when she opens her eyes the clock reads 5:10. Goddammit. Juliet gets up.
She still can’t sleep, doesn’t even want to anymore, so she grabs her sneakers and shorts and heads out the door.
It’s still dark outside, Juliet notes, her breath coming out in harsh, even pants. She can still see the moon and the stars. The sun won’t be up for another hour at least.
She makes her way to a park about a mile away from her apartment. She passes one or two other runners, the hardcore fitness junkies. They nod at each other, but otherwise continue on their own ways.
20 minutes later and Juliet can only hear her own breath and her own heartbeat and can only smell the dirt and the trees and can only see the path ahead of her. She has to be at work at 7, so she has time yet. Maybe if she runs hard enough, runs fast enough, the memories won’t find her until after she gets home. And then she’ll run again.
Still, she stops eventually, standing in front of a city-installed water fountain and catching her breath. It’s almost 6, and she should go home to she can shower and hide the sleeplessness under makeup before work.
“Jules? Is that you?”
Juliet whips her head around fast enough that she fears whiplash for a moment, choking on the water in her throat. Shea Spencer is standing five feet away from her. It always surprises Juliet how small the psychic is, no matter how often she sees her. Shea claims 5’1’’ on a good day but sullenly admitted to 5 feet after a few drinks. She’s maybe 110 pounds soaking wet, and it shows right now. Wearing a loose tank top and baggy shorts, Shea is all pale skin and wiry muscle.
“What are you doing?” Juliet blurts out. Shea is Shea. She spends her afternoons napping and watching movies and scoffs at the concept of gyms and marathons.
Shea smiles and it doesn’t look nearly as broken as it had a week ago. Somehow that hurts Juliet more, little needles punching her in the heart. She hasn’t seen Shea since then.
“Running. Exploring. Making new friends. Did you know that there’s a guy who runs 10 miles a day in this park? Dude, and he’s like 80. He looks like Santa on steroids. His name’s Bill.”
Juliet blinks and thinks of whiplash again. She wants to accuse Shea of following her, of lying, but dismisses the ugly thought as soon as it creeps up. She’s been out here for an hour without seeing her, and she didn’t notice anybody when she left the house. Also, Shea is covered in sweat from her own run, plastering short, dirty blonde hair to her forehead and neck. Her cheeks are flushed under her freckles. Her lips are red and wet.
Juliet swallows. “Oh. I, uh. I didn’t know you got up this early?” Juliet curses herself for the uncertainty in her own voice.
Shea lights up again, another smile stretching across her face. Runner’s high, Juliet thinks. “What else would I be doing, Detective? Sleeping?”
Juliet finds herself smiling. “Like a regular person? You? Never?”
Shea laughs and Juliet laughs too and it feels good. There’s a question on the tip of her tongue, and maybe Shea can sense that because she stops laughing and her eyes shutter away the amusement. Her smile is less genuine this time.
“Where have you been?” Juliet forces her voice out, desperate to keep Shea from turning and running (again).
“England. An old friend needed some help getting out of trouble.”
This is good. This is safe, Juliet thinks. She didn’t leave because of me.
“What kind of trouble?”
“Stopping human Skynet, faking his own death – the usual.”
And Juliet laughs because that’s just ridiculous. Shea chuckles a little, too.
“Fine, don’t tell me.” Juliet breathes and waits and then Shea starts to turn and – “Wait.”
Shea stops, half turned. She doesn’t look at Juliet.
“You should be. You probably haven’t cleaned your sneakers in the past two years, have you? Tsk, tsk, Detective.”
She was right about the shoes, but Juliet ignored that. “No. I’m sorry.” Shea’s hands are shaking a little. Juliet should stop but she doesn’t. She can’t. “I’m sorry I didn’t come see you after the hospital. I’m sorry I said no. I’m sorry, Shea, and –“
Shea cuts Juliet off with one word, her voice shaking and quiet.
“You don’t get to be sorry. I can deal with rejection. Rejection is fine. We’re still friends, and that’s fine. I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re fine. But don’t you dare presume to pity me. I don’t need or want your sympathy, Detective O’Hara.”
By the end Shea’s entire body is shaking and there are tears in her eyes and her voice is raised and she’s looking Juliet in the eye. The tears don’t fall, though.
Juliet can feel tears in her own eyes, but her voice is stuck in her throat, and this time she can’t force herself to speak when Shea turns away.
Anybody get the reference?
Chapter 8: sundresses and smoothies
The tension around the station doesn’t snap like a rubber band; it dissolves like sugar as soon as Shea walks into the bullpen. She’s wearing a white lace sundress and flip-flops and a smile. Gus trails in behind her, trying to look sullen but failing miserably. Shea is shining and bouncing and beaming, passing out smoothies from the tray in her hand. Even Lassiter is smiling a little.
It's a short one today, but hopefully you all enjoy it!
Gus knows that the station has been tense lately. He's been back a few times over the last couple of weeks to make his statement and fill out paperwork and tie up all sorts of loose ends left over from the worst night in his life. Juliet wouldn't meet his eyes last time he came, but Lassiter asked if he knew if Shea was still up for their regular Friday night bar visit. Gus hadn't known, but Shea sent him a picture of Lassiter with a beer-foam mustache that Friday. Monday morning and Shea was smiling and a bouncing and insisting they bring smoothies to the station and try to bum a case off of Lassiter.
The tension around the station doesn’t snap like a rubber band; it dissolves like sugar as soon as Shea walks into the bullpen. She’s wearing a white lace sundress and flip-flops and a smile. Gus trails in behind her, trying to look sullen but failing miserably. Shea is shining and bouncing and beaming, passing out smoothies from the tray in her hand. Even Lassiter is smiling a little. Gus hadn't realized exactly how much Shea had been missed.
Shea is bright and out of place and so sure of herself that nobody much cares.
“No, Gus!” Shea shouts. “Lassie gets one of the pineapple ones – I’m educating him on the virtues of the Great Yellow God of Fruit.”
Gus rolls his eyes, but grabs the mango one from Lassiter’s hand and replaces it with a neon yellow smoothie. “Shea, pineapple is not a religion.”
Shea gasps theatrically, clutching her own smoothie to her chest. “Gus, you don’t mean that. Clearly you haven’t worshiped at the altar of Golden Goodness recently.”
Gus almost drops his tray of smoothies when Shea thrusts her half empty drink into his arms. “Dude!”
Shea waves him off, snatching his tray. Carrying two trays now, Shea makes a show of ‘psychically’ anticipating which officer and which detective wants which smoothie. She always gets it right, and she has exactly enough for everybody in the station. Gus shakes his head.
“How did you know how many people were going to be here?” He whispers in her ear when she pauses, only two smoothies left.
Shea turns and, now that one arm is free, raises a hand to her temple and twiddles her fingers. “Psychic!”
Gus shakes his head again as Shea makes her way to the last officer. Juliet has been sitting at her desk for the past ten minutes, studiously completing paperwork and very pointedly not looking up. Even Gus had noticed.
“And the mango for the station’s prettiest detective!” Anybody else wouldn’t have noticed the slight dim in enthusiasm or the extra distance between the detective’s desk and Shea. Gus did.
When Juliet looked up, he thought maybe Juliet noticed too.
“Thanks, Shea,” Juliet said with a forced smile.
Shea’s answering smile was as bright and genuine as all of her others, but then Shea made a living on lying. Gus thinks about the first weeks after the shooting. He think about how the nights he didn’t get a phone call at 2 am were worse than the nights he did. Then he thinks about what came next. He thinks about morning runs and smoothies and getting better and wondering what changed.
“So who has a case for me to divine?”
And then he stops thinking.
“You can’t divine the actual case, Shea,” he says. “You divine the answers to the case.”
Shea rolls her eyes. “I’ve heard it both ways.”
Juliet sounds like she’s choking on her smoothie, but Shea ignores the noise and her, spinning and twirling over to Lassiter’s desk, the hem of her dress swinging half an inch from a public indecency charge.
Shea starts rifling through the head detective’s files and he starts trying to bat her away and Gus stops paying attention to them. That’s normal. Juliet sitting quietly at her desk and staring at her smoothie cup as though it contains the answer to life, the universe, and everything, however, is not.
Juliet’s eyes snap up, head jerking like she’d been shocked. “What?”
“The answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42.”
She stares blankly. "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?"
“You looked like you were looking for an answer,” he shrugged.
“Oh.” She huffs out what could charitably be called a laugh and sets down the cup. “Just… Nothing, Gus.” And then her eyes drift over to Shea and Lassiter, and Gus doesn’t understand, not really, but he can make the connection.
He looks between the two women, one forlorn and the other… Shea, and sighs. “What did you do?”
Juliet’s eyes snap back to Gus’s, and all he can think about is a dear in headlights. “I uh- wh- Shea told you?”
Gus sits down in a chair next to the desk, lowering himself so that he and Juliet are eye to eye. He folds his hands and looks at the detective very quietly for a moment. “Shea wasn’t doing so great for a while. And then you and Lassiter almost got shot, and suddenly she was fine. But the two of you haven’t spoken since. I may not be psychic or a detective, but I like to think I’ve picked up a few things.”
Juliet seemed to collapse on herself, all the stiffness gone from her limbs as she just drooped. She rolled the bright red straw of the smoothie between her fingers as she sat in silence for a moment. “I messed up, Gus. But I need to fix it, not you. So just let it go for now, okay?”
This time when Juliet met his eyes, Gus could see some steel behind her eyes, and he nodded. He picked up his own smoothie as he stood and turned and then –
“Gus! We have a case!”
Chapter 9: since when do we need words?
Shea has a secret. Gus finds out, and then so does Henry.
They were 15, and Gus had just had his first kiss a few weeks ago and he was positive that Julie Jensen was going to be his wife. He thought maybe Shea was a little jealous that she hadn’t kissed anyone yet, but Shea was always the first one. So Gus was basking in the glory, milking it a little too much.
Today, though, he was determined not to bring it up. Even if he and Julie did have a date at the roller rink on Friday, which meant missing movie night with Shea. He’d just tell her tomorrow. Or maybe he’d just call in sick.
Gus was still mulling over the issue when the door opened.
“Shea! You’re supposed to knock.”
Shea strode into the room, confident and utterly unembarrassed. “Why? You knew I was coming, you know when I was coming, and you left the door unlocked. I just saved you, like, 30 seconds worth of effort, dude.”
Gus sat back on the couch, crossing his arms sullenly. “Whatever. Did you bring your stuff for the project?”
Shea responded by flinging her backpack onto the coffee table in front of him. Inside he heard the sound of plastic hitting plastic.
“That sounds nothing like a binder full of notes on the solar system, Shea.”
“Nope,” she replied, popping the ‘p’ as she flun herself down on the couch beside him. “That would sound like sadness and boredom. This sounds like an all-American classic.”
Gus fought to keep the frown on his face as he crossed his arms. “You promised me that this time we would finish the project early.”
“Gus! Buddy! Have I ever let you down before?”
This time the frown was real.
“Okay, maybe a few times. But I hooked you and Julie up!”
“Fine, fine!” Gus through his hands up. “We’ll watch the movie instead.”
Gus managed to keep the pout on his face all the way to the kitchen. He really, really hadn’t wanted to do this project. And he could pretend that tonight was the same thing as Friday night-movie night.
“Don’t forget to put chocolate chips on the popcorn!” Shea hollered from the other room as she set up the movie.
“Dark chocolate?” He yells back over the sound of popping kernels.
“You know me so well!”
Halfway through the movie and a bowl of popcorn later, and Gus kept picturing Julie as Molly Ringwald. He liked Ducky better, but Andie ended up with Blane at the end, so he tried to think of himself as rich with a nice car instead. Shea was talking about how she wished she had Ducky’s hair, picking hers up and piling it on top of her head, when Gus saw it.
“Is that a hickey!?”
Shea dropped her hair and laughed. “A lady never kisses and tells, Gumdrop. But yes it totally is and you should be jealous.”
“Who?!” Gus couldn’t stop yelling and gaping. They were supposed to tell each other everything. Especially about the new stuff.
“Annie Jensen,” Shea said with a wink.
“Julie’s older sister? She’s a senior!”
“And she looks like a blonde Molly Ringwald.”
“Whaaaaaaat,” Gus said, smiling now and holding out his hand.
The handshake that followed involved jumping, a cartwheel, and a failed handstand. The movie kept playing in the background, but Gus and Shea were too busy talking about the Jensen sisters and a possible double date on Friday to pay it any attention.
A month later and Shea is sitting on a park bench at midnight with tears running down her cheeks and no shoes on her feet.
“Henry found out about Annie.”
And all Gus can think is oh because it wasn’t until that exact moment that he remembers Shea was supposed to have been straight.
Shea lets out a watery laugh and pulls her knees up to her chest. “Yeah. Oh.” She wipes away the tears drying on her cheeks and looks away. “How’d you find me?”
Gus walks over and sits beside her on the bench. Neither of them look at each other. “Your dad called my house to let my mom know you were going to spend the night a few hours ago. She asked me where you were, and I told her we were going to see a late movie and that I was meeting you there. Then I just started looking.”
Suddenly Gus finds himself wrapped in Shea’s skinny arms, squeezing just a little too tight. He can’t move one of his arms, but he wraps the other around her head, curling his fingers in her hair. She doesn’t start crying. They sit there like that until Gus’s arm is asleep and his neck has a crick, but he doesn’t move until she does. When Shea finally leans away, her face is dry even if her eyes are shiny, and she’s smiling. It’s small and watery, but it’s a smile.
“Thank you,” she says, and he smiles back.
For a heartbeat there are no words, but then –
“You still wanna see that movie?”
“Pretty sure there’s a no shoes, no service policy.”
“C’mon, Tinkerbell. We all know I can wear your shoes.”
“My house has The Breakfast Club and pineapple.”
“To the Guster residence!”
Gus and Shea never really talk about what Henry said or why she stayed on a park bench for hours in the dark or about that night at all. But sometimes he’ll see somebody flinch away from Shea and one of her dates or he’ll hear a snide comment about those people, and he’ll remember Pretty in Pink and the Jensen sisters, and he’ll always be grateful that the first time someone knew about Shea, it was him.
Chapter 10: progress is made
Juliet makes a phone call and asks a question that's been bothering her. Lassister continues to be observant.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Here’s a truth:
There’s a difference between being lonely and being alone.
Here’s a lie:
You’re only lonely when you’re alone.
She wasn’t trying to do this. This wasn’t what she wanted.
She wanted to feel that spark jump up her spine. She wanted to feel warm fingers on her hips, a hot breath on her throat.
She wanted to walk to the cafe on the corner, shoulders bumping up against each other. She wanted the bright starburst of pineapple on her tongue, a tinkle of laughter in her ear.
She wanted to go back and fix it. She wanted to apologize, more than anything, to be absolved.
She wanted Shea.
Juliet didn’t know what to do. After the park.
She tried, so hard, to apologize. But Shea said no. Said she didn’t want pity.
Shea thought that Juliet was pitying her. Shea thought that Juliet wanted to hurt her and that sank in her stomach like an iron weight.
And Juliet hated it.
And. So. She was drinking wine on her couch at noon on a Saturday. All alone in her pajamas with an old rerun of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. on in the background.
And she thought… She doesn’t know what she thought. She tries to care about Monica and Chandler but none of it matters and the words slip out of her ears as soon as she hears them.
She pick up her phone.
Ring. Ring. Ri--
For a minute Juliet doesn’t know if she picked up or hung up but then
“... you there ?”
Juliet swallows, hard, suddenly unsure and confused now that she’s forced to deal with the consequences of alcohol and adrenaline and guilt .
“Y-I. Uhm. Yeah.” Juliet stares at Shea’s icon on her phone, the seconds ticking up on the call time. “Hi Shea.”
“Is there a case or something?” Shea sounds distracted, like she’s not really engaged in the conversation.
Juliet wants .
“No. N-no, nothing like that.” Juliet stops, lips wavering, unsure as to what comes next. The silence lasts too long to be normal.
“Look, Detective,” and it hurts how annoyed Shea sounds. “ Is there… What can I help you with?”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, honestly,” Juliet’s mouth says without any input from her head. Her eyes go wide and she claps a hand over her mouth. “I mean. I, uhm. I don’t need anything from you.”
“You’ve made that very clear, Detective.”
“No! N-no! That’s not- I didn’t. I meant this isn’t about a case, Shea,” Juliet trips over her words, waving her hand and almost knocking over her wine.
“The spirits aren’t really giving me any hints here.”
“Who was that guy you went to dinner with?” Juliet blurts out. And, oh wow, that’s not what she thought she was going to ask.
“Are you talking about Oropax?” Shea sounds shocked, the first time Juliet’s ever really heard her be completely caught off guard. “You seriously didn’t recognize him?”
“I--” Juliet stops, cuts herself off. “Why would I recognize your date, Shea?”
A long pause.
“Detective, that was Pierre Despereaux. I was undercover. I thought you knew that.”
Static crackles over the line. Juliet closes her eyes and cradles her head in one hand.
“Please stop calling me ‘Detective’,” Juliet whispers into the speaker.
Shea, when she finally answers, sounds broken .
“I don’t know what you want from me, Juliet. Please, just… please stop being guilty . What happened to me wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I asked you out; it wasn’t fair to put you in that position. It was a mistake.”
A long pause while Juliet tries to find the words to describe the lump in her throat and the emptiness in her gut and the chill in her fingers, stretching and stretching. Shea sighs, another burst of static.
“Don’t forget to drink water and eat something with that wine, Jules. I won’t remind you about this conversation.”
She just sounds tired now.
“God dammit ,” Juliet says to a blinking CALL ENDED screen.
It was a mistake .
Juliet looks at the clock. 3:32am.
She swallows, rolls over to look at the ceiling.
“Fuck,” she whispers.
What comes next? She can’t apologize, apparently. It always comes out wrong, cruel, placating.
Giving up on going back to sleep, Juliet sighs and rocks upright, leaning heavily on her knees. After a long moment she gets up, wanders to the kitchen. The tile is cold under her bare feet, and it wakes her up a little bit. When she opens up her fridge, it’s more idle habit then actual desire.
There’s a pineapple on the shelf.
Juliet had forgotten she bought it.
The rind pricks her fingers when she picks it up, and the only reason it hasn’t rotted is because she stuck it in the fridge when she first bought it on impulse almost a month ago.
Juliet bites her lip and looks at the clock and the fruit in her hand.
It’s a slow day at the station. Carlton normally hates slow days, but he twisted his ankle tackling his last perp and it’s nice to have the excuse to stay off his feet.
Carlton side-eyes his partner.
She’s been twitchy all day, fiddling with her pens and papers and paper clips nonstop. She even got to the station before him today. It would drive him insane normally, too, but there’s an edge of anticipation to her face and Carlton mostly just wants to know what the hell is up.
“O’Hara?” He finally calls out after she touches her desk drawer for the fifth time, voice firm enough to hide his confusion.
And Juliet jumps. Actually flinches, like she had forgotten she wasn’t alone and that other people might be watching her.
She covers it quickly, though, and turns to face him like nothing happened.
Carlton gets up and walks over to her desk, sitting calmly in the deskside chair (Spencer’s chair) and just looks at her. She looks tired under her make-up, faint purple bags under barely bloodshot eyes. There’s fine lines around her lips.
Her face goes from expectant to confused the longer he waits.
Silence is an old tool, but always a useful one.
“What?!” She finally snaps. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“What’s in your desk drawer?” He finally says.
Juliet bites her lip and glances down, hand half twitching towards it before she catches herself. She sighs.
“It’s a surprise,” she says, just a little petulant. “For Shea.”
Carlton blinks and leans back. He thinks about how strange things have been between his partner and the resident psychic. How Shea went from talking about O’Hara non-stop on Friday nights to flirting half-heartedly with the waitresses. How gutted Juliet looks everytime Shea walks away from her.
“You didn’t use any cherries, did you?”
Juliet reels back, mouth falling open just a little. Then she smiles, soft and a little bit relieved.
A door slams and he can hear the beginnings of an off-key rendition of a Led Zeppelin song.
He stands up and turns to go back to his desk.
Surprise! I'm not dead -- and neither is this story!