Tasha didn’t have to actually say the words, and Patterson hoped she wouldn’t. She didn’t need to hear them. It was completely obvious, and it was slowly killing her. It hadn’t started right away. The team had come back together and everything was fine and normal, but when Tasha found out Reade had a live-in girlfriend, she’d gotten weird. Reade suddenly became the topic of almost every conversation and her new obsession.
At first Patterson was confused. Tasha had never shown even the slightest bit of interest in Edgar Reade. He was her friend and former partner and that was it. He’d tried to kiss her once. Tasha told her all about it in great, horrified detail one night over shots and stale bar popcorn. She wasn’t interested. But here they were, another night at their favorite bar, and Tasha had somehow brought their conversation back around to Reade.
And while she was droning on about her new obsession, all the signals Tasha was sending were completely fucking with Patterson’s head.
Tasha excused herself after their fourth drink and disappeared into the bathroom. When she returned, she slid onto the bench next to Patterson claiming there was a draft on her side of the booth. Once their next round appeared on the table, though, Tasha’s right hand was firmly on the inside of Patterson’s thigh, roaming up and down and tracing intricate little patterns that were driving her crazy.
Patterson would have brushed it away if she had the willpower. Truth be told, Tasha was her best friend, and despite all their time apart, Tasha’s move to the CIA, and Patterson’s stint in Silicon Valley, she still had a crush on her. Instead, she put her own hand on top of her friend’s and brought them both up onto the table where it was safe. Tasha began to immediately play with her fingers as she giggled about something “so funny” that Reade said earlier in the day and Patterson just let her. She was helpless to stop her.
When Patterson smiled – it seemed like an appropriate response when Tasha paused her monologue that Patterson was beginning to think of as an Ode to Reade – Tasha returned her grin, leaned in, and kissed her on the cheek. And then again just below that until Patterson felt the Latina lick her earlobe and bite it gently. Patterson knew she shouldn’t encourage her, but she turned her head anyway and kissed her deeply as she twisted the Latina’s hair around two fingers.
It wasn’t the first time Tasha kissed her, and it wouldn’t have been the first time they’d gone back to Patterson’s place together and made out on her couch. She couldn’t let that happen today. Not this time. Patterson kept holding out hope that Tasha would come to her senses and realize that Reade would never want her the way that she did, but hope was starting to dim. And it was frustrating as hell.
Tasha Zapata was a self-proclaimed straight girl, but Patterson was less and less convinced that was the case. Sure, plenty of straight girls made out with their friends at the bar if only to get free drinks from the horny and drunk guys watching them, but how many of those girls went home with their homoflexible friends to make out and grope on their couch until 3 a.m.? Not many, Patterson wagered.
She pulled away from their kiss even though she wanted to kiss her neck and maybe leave teeth marks behind.
A branding, Patterson thought as she licked her lips.
There was something about kissing Tasha. Maybe the other woman meant it as just a flirty, fun sign of affection between two friends, but it lit a fire in Patterson. If she didn’t stop the kiss now, she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop it at all and they would wind up back at her place. Possibly horizontal with hands everywhere but always stopping short of sex. Always.
Tasha lingered a few inches from Patterson’s face before breaking into a big grin and then she was off again, this time heading to the bar with their empty glasses in hand. Time for refills, not that either of them needed more to drink.
Patterson checked the time on her watch. Last call would be coming up soon, and she wondered how she’d ever be able to get up in the morning to go to work. She’d probably be hungover, even if sitting with Tasha like this had an incredible sobering effect on her. Her entire body was humming and on alert thanks to the way Tasha had been touching her, but her mind was completely clear.
Who was Tasha trying to kid? Why was she suddenly so into Reade? And, more importantly, why couldn't she see how Patterson felt about her? It wasn't like it was a secret. Patterson had invited Tasha to stay over, to escalate their make out sessions, on more than one occasion. She’d kissed her and touched her and left a mouth-shaped bruise on her collarbone that, try as she might, Tasha was unable to hide from their friends at work the next day. Tasha never turned her down or discouraged her. It was always the opposite: Tasha was the instigator.
Patterson knew she should just put a stop to it, but she couldn't. She still had hope that maybe one day Tasha would see her and realize no one would ever love her the way she did. It felt like a pipe dream, but Patterson clung to it.
Two new beers appeared on the table as Tasha slid back in alongside Patterson. She smiled in a way that Patterson could only read as seductive and set down one of two shot glasses. Before Patterson could grab for it, Tasha was already on the move, pushing Patterson’s shirt down slightly to reveal her cleavage and nestling the glass between her breasts. And then Tasha’s face was there, grabbing the glass with her mouth before pulling away and tipping it backwards.
She set the glass back down and grinned wickedly at Patterson. And then continued on with her favorite new topic. This time, however, the conversation, albeit one-sided, revolved around Meg and didn't it just seem so weird that Reade was living with someone and using words like “love"?
Patterson zoned back out. She nodded from time to time and gave non-committal one-word responses where appropriate. With all the drinks and her new favorite topic, Tasha didn’t seem to notice that she had just drifted away. She didn’t mean to ignore her. That was really the last thing she wanted, but listening to Tasha talk ad nauseum about Reade was mind-numbing. She loved being with Tasha, just sitting with her and talking all night long, but this new fascination was tiring.
What did Reade have that she didn’t? Nothing, that’s what. Reade had a girlfriend and had long since given up that he and Tasha might ever be together. She’d flatly rejected him. Patterson, on the other hand, had never given up on Tasha. She’d never reject her. Ever. She picked up the phone at all hours of the night for her, texted back instantly no matter what she was working on, and absolutely lived and died for Tasha’s smile. The real smile. The one that came so easily with a subtle wrinkle of her nose and a sparkle in her eye. It was a far cry from the smile she used day-to-day in polite conversation. The real smile was the one that stopped time and made Patterson melt.
There was a short time when Patterson wondered if Tasha returned her feelings or if she’d just fallen prey to the dreaded straight girl crush and Tasha was just taking advantage of her kindness and friendship. But no, Patterson decided, that wasn’t what was happening. She was sure Tasha felt something other than friendship for her. If it were only friendship, then why was her hand running up and down her inner thigh?
Tasha said something that Patterson didn’t quite hear but the Latina was laughing so Patterson joined her. She was instantly rewarded by Tasha moving even closer to her, kissing the barely exposed skin of her shoulder and then resting her head there as her fingers continued to dance up and down the blonde’s leg. Patterson kissed the top of Tasha’s head and returned to her thoughts, letting the silence wash between them.
This had to be some kind of torture, Patterson decided. Self-inflicted torture at that. She could have easily told Tasha to stop or just moved away from her or even told her she needed to leave but this was comfortable and Patterson’s brain had nearly shut down when Tasha had taken the shot from between her breasts.
Why couldn’t Tasha see what she was doing to her? Why didn’t she see how much Patterson loved her? Why wouldn’t she think about her the same way she was thinking about Reade?
That wasn’t a fair question. Tasha did think about her all the time. The evidence of this was in the form of text messages sent to Patterson’s phone all day and night long. It was in the post-it notes signed with a heart or smiley face that were left on her desk. It was in the delivery of take-out when she was working too late. If Tasha never thought about her, she wouldn’t do those things. Instead, Patterson was the first person Tasha came running to with gossip, news, and every problem she encountered. Best friend, sure, but Patterson was convinced there was more to it. Especially when Tasha chose that moment to lift her head off her shoulder and kiss her jaw just below her ear.
Patterson wanted to cup both sides of Tasha’s face and spell it all out for her. She loved her. But she couldn’t do that. There was the chance Tasha would reject her again.
She didn’t like to think about that, but there’d been that one night when Tasha had rebuffed her. They’d been on Patterson’s couch, nearly spooning with Tasha leaning into Patterson’s body. It’d been a movie night. Patterson couldn’t remember which movie they’d watched only because she’d spent most of her time just looking at Tasha and smiling whenever the she laughed at the film or sighed as she shifted in Patterson’s embrace. It’d been comfortable and nice, and when the movie had ended, the rest of their night began. She could still feel Tasha’s lips on her own and yes, that had been Tasha’s hand on her breast. They’d made out long enough and hot enough with hands moving everywhere that Patterson, despite her better judgement, had suggested they move into her bedroom.
Tasha hadn’t pulled away or done anything that dramatic, but she’d shaken her head and kissed Patterson on the nose. She said those words that Patterson was sure she’d never forget: I wish I could, but I just can’t.
There’d been other nights just like that one, but Patterson never made that suggestion again. She’d learned her lesson. Maybe one day she’d suggest it again, but not now. For now, she’d live with her gay angst and listen to her friend obsess about Reade all while she obsessed about Tasha.
One day she’d realize Reade didn’t want her like that, Patterson rationalized. One day Tasha would realize that the person who could complete her had been there the whole time. One day Tasha would turn around and see Patterson. One day Tasha would be honest with herself and realize that she loved Patterson just as much as her friend loved her.
When? Patterson didn’t know, but she was sure it would happen. Some day.
She heard Tasha say his name again and it snapped her out of her thoughts. Patterson took hold of the hand that was making circles on her thigh and squeezed it before sliding away slightly and looking for her jacket. Last call. Time to leave. She smiled as Tasha wrapped up the story about something Reade had done earlier in the day.
He’ll never love you like me, Patterson thought.