Melissa groggily finds herself waking to the telltale sounds of a stranger doing a clumsy rendition of the morning-after shuffle somewhere from the vicinity of her bedroom floor.
Needless to say, it’s unexpected. In fact, it’s been nearly twenty years since she’s last been involved in the intricacies of the Walk of Shame, either as the one walking or the one watching the walker go. Despite being out of the game for so long, she instinctively remembers how her part in all of this is goes, and so, ignoring the persistent throbbing in her head and the uncomfortable pressure of her bladder screaming at her to get up and pee, she sticks to protocol and pretends to be asleep until whoever she brought home with her last night is gone.
The man digging around in various corners of her room looking for his clothes eventually manages to gather them all and slink out the door.
Once he’s gone, Melissa sighs in relief and reaches over to fumble around in her nightstand drawer for some aspirin. This headache is a familiar headache. It means she had tequila last night, which explains everything. Tequila can be blamed for every bad decision she’s ever made, her failed marriage included.
Moments after she swallows her first pill and gets up to get dressed, she realizes that whoever she brought home with her doesn’t understand how the Walk of Shame protocol works.
Because instead of hearing the front door open and close like she’s supposed to, she hears the distinctive sounds of pots and pans being messed with in her kitchen.
She groans. Leave it to her to pick the one guy in Beacon Hills who doesn’t understand the protocol and tries to stick around to make breakfast.
Melissa has horrible taste in men. It is, as John says, not an accident or a coincidence, but a tried and true pattern. She wishes she could be attracted to John sometimes, but he’s too damn decent and nice and functional as an adult for her tastes. Life would be so much easier if she liked John. He looks good in a uniform and their children are practically siblings already.
But instead, in true Melissa fashion, she stumbles downstairs to the kitchen and instead of John, or someone decent and functional and kind of like John, she comes face to face with Bobby Finstock, setting fire to her stove.
Before she can say anything, the smoke alarm goes off overhead as the bacon in the pan he’s using goes up in a ball of greasy flames.
His first words to her that day are, “Holy shit, good morning! Do you have a fire extinguisher?!”
Her first words to him are a combination of, “Oh god,” and “why,” as she pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers and points blearily to the cabinet under the sink. She watches him desperately digging around for the fire extinguisher in the cabinet and notices that there’s a hole in the back of his pants, revealing a sliver of ratty looking red and white heart boxers underneath. “I am never drinking tequila again,” she vows out loud.
He manages to get the fire out eventually, but her kitchen smells like charred pig fat for three weeks afterwards.
She doesn’t remember too many details of the circumstances that had her waking up with Finstock setting fire to her house, but she does know that it involved a lot of shots on her part, seeing Rafe having dinner with some pretty UCBH grad student in the restaurant dining room, and the girls’ night out with the other hospital staff devolving into a one-woman a bender the likes of which Melissa hadn’t seen since she was in college and on spring break in Cabo.
The lessons she’s learned from her night with Bobby Finstock are that Mercedes is no longer allowed to be the group DD, and that no matter how much distance may be between them now, part of her still hates her ex-husband with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.
Her abuela always used to tell her that the handsome ones couldn’t be trusted.
After the fire is put out on the stove, Melissa ends up taking her son’s former lacrosse coach out for breakfast at Denny’s, mostly because no one respectable in town goes there to eat so she doesn’t have to worry about gossip, and a little because he’d gotten really bent out of shape about failing to make her a proper breakfast after the “vigorous sex we had while you were incredibly drunk. I was sober. Eighteen years now. Iced tea.” (His exact words.)
She would have slapped him at that point, but her head still hurt and then he’d gone off on a random, but passionate tirade about how gas stoves burned so much quicker than electric stoves plus maybe she should buy thick cut bacon in the future, just because it’s so much more satisfying after a rough night.
Then his mother had called before Melissa could get a word in either way, and she’d clutched a cup of coffee against her chest blearily while listening to him alternately scream and sooth old Mrs. Finstock about how he wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere just because “I didn’t call to check in because I’m an adult person, Mom!”
Apparently his mother calls him Cupcake.
Melissa thinks this might be the saddest morning after she’s ever had in her life, and that includes that one time in nursing school where the guy she brought home with her stole her television and all of her roommate’s underwear on his way out.
It takes a few days after the incident with Finstock for Melissa to get the full account from her coworkers about what, exactly, happened that night. From what Janet says, Melissa had walked in to the lobby of O’Malley’s Restaurant and Bar, taken one look at Rafe nursing a coke while his cute blonde conquest finished her third mojito, and stormed past the dining room and set up camp at the bar. What was supposed to be a ladies’ night of dinner and drinks after a tough week in the ER turned into Melissa taking up residence next to Finstock and making one bad decision after another while her coworkers looked warily on. Mercedes had tried to interject at one point, but apparently Melissa’s response had been so scary Mercedes had run crying back to her car and went straight home after that. This only serves to verify Melissa’s suspicion that all Physician’s Assistants are wimps.
According to Tanya from pediatrics, who is a good, level-headed judge of situations, the choices in single gentleman at the restaurant that night had been Rafe, Finstock, and Lydia’s dad, whose name always escapes everyone because he’s boring and probably dead inside.
Melissa thinks she needs to move to a bigger town.
Finstock calls her a week after the morning after. He says, “Hello, this is Finstock.”
Melissa answers with, “How did you get this number??”
He says he definitely hasn’t been going through all of his old players’ emergency contact info sheets from the past few years, but if he had been, it’s perfectly legal for him to have them because the staff is supposed to retain all written records of that sort for an unspecified number of years before they can put them into storage on account of parents possibly suing the school upon discovering that organized sports might be the reason their children develop brain damage in their thirties.
“Right, uh huh,” Melissa answers.
He fumbles a bit, then begins with a stilted, “Hey, do you maybe wanna get a…”
Melissa hangs up on him.
She remembers sometimes, why she’s not attracted to John.
He laughs heartily at her over their standing Wednesday afternoon lunch date, handsome eyes crinkling into impossibly distinguished-looking crow’s feet at the corners as he steals fries off her plate despite her constant threats to call and tell Stiles that he’s cheating on his diet while the boys are off at UCSD for their first semester in college. Scott is supposed to learn how to surf next weekend.
“Bobby Finstock?” John mutters again, around another stolen fry. For an officer of the law, he sure has some lax policies about petty theft. “I mean…”
He must sense the dangerous look Melissa is giving him, because he sobers quickly, clearing his throat and taking a sip of water. “I mean. How drunk were you?”
“You probably would have had to put me in a holding cell if he hadn’t taken me home,” Melissa admits, and pushes the rest of her fries in his direction, mostly because her appetite is gone at the thought of how intense that hangover had been.
“You’ve always had horrible taste in men,” John says, with no ill-intentions whatsoever. It’s actually somewhat fond. This is why Melissa thinks John would be horrible to date. He’s too damn straightforward. Women like men who will try to protect their egos a little bit.
John just nods to himself and accepts the plate of leftover fries without a word. He looks thoughtful in that way that Stiles has inherited from him, all consideration around the eyes and mouth. “Well,” he admits, after a moment of contemplative silence, “I like Finstock more than McCall, if that means anything.”
Melissa hums and supposes it is something.
John eats the rest of her fries. She doesn’t tell Stiles about it, because she’s awesome, and he doesn’t tell anyone about Finstock, because he’s pretty okay sometimes too.
Finstock calls again exactly a week after the first call. Melissa doesn’t answer, because it is her day off and she plans on spending it with a bottle of wine and a marathon of truly horrible telenovelas. Her phone eventually stops ringing, but buzzes once with a voicemail. Curious, she picks it up and plays it while absently staring at the TV, where some bizarre story about a man who murdered his own twin and took the dead twin’s life but then lost his memories and really thought he was originally his twin plays out in rapid fire Spanish she can’t quite keep up with. The voicemail is easier, and admittedly, just as entertaining.
“Hey, so it’s me. Bobby. Coach. Finstock. I mean, but you can call me Bobby. Anyway, I figure I owe you food, since you bought breakfast, and probably a frying pan, and maybe a fire extinguisher too, but I was thinking. It’s teacher’s appreciation week and on Friday there’s a dinner…”
In the background, there’s the sound of a door opening and woman’s voice asking, “Cupcake, who are you talking to? I thought we were going to the grocery.”
Finstock responds with a burbled, “I’m on the phone, Mom! We had this conversation already! You knock before you come in! Jesus. Okay, look, we’ll go to the grocery. Just. Go.” Then back into the phone, “Pretend that didn’t happen. My mom is 77 and she thinks it’s still 1982. Anyway. If you want, we’ll let the school board provide the food I owe you, and I’ll bring a frying pan. And a fire extinguisher. You can call me at this number. Or at the school, if that’s easier for you. If you still have the school’s number. Okay. Bye.”
There’s a click that ends the voicemail, and Melissa ends up staring at her phone for a moment before inexplicably bursting into laughter.
She runs into her ex-husband at the grocery store as he’s buying orange juice. It’s so out of the norm from what she’s used to with him she isn’t sure what to say first.
He looks older than she remembers. But then again, she probably looks much older than he remembers too. They’ve both come a ways since their disastrous marriage, and while part of her will always hate him, just like part of her will probably always love him because he helped create Scott, in the bright lights of the local Trader Joe’s, she can be a little bit grown up and maybe admit that she’s proud of Rafe for cleaning up his act in the end.
She still wouldn’t ever take him back though.
His eyes flicker to meet hers across the aisle and he coughs. “Hey, Mel,” he says, trying for charming but sounding somewhat sheepish instead. It’s the exact same sheepish puppy-dog look Scott got from him. She’s always had a soft spot for it, but now, after seeing it on her son’s face, she knows which of the two she prefers.
“Morning,” she says simply, and breezes past him to the frozen food aisle. There’s a sale on Lean Cuisine this week and she can store them in the fridge at work for whenever she needs to grab a quick bite in between emergencies.
Rafe looks like he wants to say something else, but she doesn’t really have the time to stick around for it.
Instead, she buys her groceries and calls Scott on the way to work. He answers sounding sleepy but pleased to talk to her, and as they chat about how hard his classes are and how much everything in San Diego doesn’t smell anything like home, her heart is filled with an aching sort of fondness that tells her she made the right choice when she decided Scott was going to be the number one guy in her life for the rest of her life.
After she hangs up, she inexplicably finds herself thinking about Finstock and his 77 year old mother. She thinks about how he takes her shopping on Sunday afternoons and lets her call him Cupcake even though he’s a grown man. She wonders if Scott will do that for her one day, when she’s brittle and senile and can’t move too well on her own anymore.
He probably will. Scott has always been a good kid, and is well on his way to being a good man. Maybe that’s just a thing good men do for their lonely mothers once they grow old.
She doesn’t end up going to the teacher’s appreciation dinner with Finstock because one, it sounds awkward and horrible, and two, because she’s on shift that night. Even still, throughout the twelve hours she’s working the ER that Friday, she finds herself wondering whether Finstock actually did buy a new frying pan and fire extinguisher to bring with him to the event, on the offhand chance that she would agree to go with him.
On Saturday night, after her shift ends at five, she heads back to O’Malley’s for an early dinner because they have happy hour specials until seven. Rafe isn’t there with his UCBH grad student this weekend, but Finstock is, sitting alone at the bar and aggressively cutting into a medium rare flank steak like it’s his personal worst enemy. Melissa finds herself going up to the bar and taking the empty seat next to him.
“Two questions,” she begins by way of greeting, causing Finstock to jump about six inches off of his bar stool before turning to regard her with wide, surprised eyes.
“Er…shoot,” he manages around a mouthful of food when he finds his voice again, his fingers fumbling nervously with his steak knife.
“Why do you eat at a bar if you’re a recovering alcoholic?”
Finstock swallows his steak. Sits up a little straighter. “To prove that I am stronger than my urges. To overcome my own…”
He must catch the look of skepticism on Melissa’s face, because he deflates just as quickly as he inflated. “Because happy hour specials are only at the bar,” he admits. “I have to subsist on a teacher’s salary, you know.”
Melissa feels her lips quirk up slightly at that as she hangs her purse up on one of the hooks under the bar. “Ah.” She waves to the bartender. “I’ll have what he’s having,” she says, with a jerk of her head towards Finstock’s plate.
The bartender waves in acknowledgement. Melissa turns back to Finstock. “Second question.”
Finstock takes a deep gulp of iced tea. Swallows nervously. “Okay.”
“Who’s with your mother right now?”
Finstock relaxes somewhat, as if that hadn’t been the question he was expecting at all. “Oh man, I thought you were going to ask me how I felt about a restraining order or something. Uh. Not that there’d be grounds for one. Anyway, I have a 69 year old aunt who drives in from Beacon Park on Saturdays and takes Mom to bingo night at the senior center. They have a more rollicking weekend social life than I do. I mean, once, my aunt came back from one of those things with a really persistent case of gonorrhea so I can only assume…” he pauses to wince, like he’s just bruised his own brain with those kinds of thoughts and desperately wants to take both himself and Melissa back to the time before they existed.
Melissa kind of wants to scrape those mental images out from her own head too, to be perfectly honest.
There’s a beat of awkward silence after that, punctuated by the sound of the bartender lazily shaking a martini into existence.
“So can I buy you a drink?” Finstock asks eventually, pushing his potatoes around on his plate.
Melissa considers him for a moment, taking in the hopeful light in his eye and the simultaneously anxious curve of his shoulders over the bar. She’s probably seen worse in her time than this, she realizes. This, while terrible, is definitely not the most terrible situation her tastes have ever put her in.
So she takes a resigned sort of breath and eventually says, “Yeah. I’ll have tequila, please,” very deliberately. She tells herself that if it’s like this, at least she’ll have an excuse for it all in the morning.
She ends up downing six shots with her steak that night and figures that all the regrets that come with them can wait for her hangover tomorrow.
Hopefully, by then, Finstock will know better than to try and make them breakfast.