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that's just wasteland, baby

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Lucy had always loved beautiful things.

As a kid she always colored inside the line (which would be a surprise to absolutely no one), and hung up her work carefully on her wall, her ceiling covered with meticulously arranged plastic, glow in the dark constellations. She had picked out the colors to paint her bedroom walls, when she was twelve, with the seriousness and intentionality of a surgeon.

She had always wanted things to look good. When they looked the way she wanted them too, she felt better, even when that seemed impossible.

As she got older she spent hours curling her hair, carefully brushing out the curls with her fingers to make the ringlets into soft waves. She picked out thin gold jewelry, that she would wear like a security blanket (the gold studs she even wore with her uniform, when she wore her hair in a utilitarian, but still immaculate, bun). Picking out clothes that flowed and cinched in the right way, that fit her aesthetic, her palate, her mood.

She knew she was beautiful, too, but that seemed less important. She likes cultivating beauty, so it felt earned.

Her apartment, half Jackson’s, half hers, was filled with light and art, and candles. She bought plants, and spent hours researching where to put them, how much water and shade they needed. She moved things back into place when they shifted; she liked things a certain way.
They were all the things that helped center her when she came home from a particularly hard day of work.

Her mom would have a field day with that. Why would she want to go into such a flawed profession, in a city with more demons than angels (and a lot of those demons wore the same uniform as her), when she loved things that were simply, beautiful.

Like tattoos.

She had always loved that her tattoos were beautiful.

They meant something bigger, sure, but that wasn’t the whole truth of it.

She got them because she wanted to. Because they were beautiful. Because they looked beautiful on her skin. Looking at herself in the mirror in the tattoo shop, before she could get it done, the ink imprint before the needle, was a thrill.

She remembered how giddy she had been, at eighteen years old, getting her first.

It looks beautiful, she had thought, I look beautiful.

She lifted her shirt, alone in the station locker room, looking at her reflection in the mirror and she felt a strange and awful disconnect. This was not her body, that was not her tattoo, those were not her eyes staring back (her eye’s didn’t look like that, haunted).

It had been a few weeks, since, everything.

There would always be the before and the after, now.

Before she went on a date and ended up tattooed, assaulted, buried alive. Before the hospital, where she had been stitched up, and prodded, and where everything ached. Before spending a week in bed, trying to convince herself that nothing would happen to her if she just got out of bed and did something.

Now she was back at work, and that was good. She was excited for her first shift, for things to be normal, it was a good thing.

She touched the ugly dark ink, and felt the slightly raised skin, it didn’t sting, but it should. It should hurt. It shouldn’t be like her other tattoos, healed in a couple weeks, just a part of her skin like freckles.

This thing was ugly.

“Lucy.” Tim was standing in the locker room. Her locker room, which was totally unfair, especially when she was in uniform pants, and a tank top (half off), with her short sleeves laying on a bench a foot away. He of course was ready for patrol, looking every bit the poster boy for the LAPD, that he didn’t want to be.

Her eyes welled up, despite herself.

There are a lot of things that could have broken her heart, at that moment.

The look on his face.

The sadness in his voice.

But, none of that got to her.

No, what made her have to blink back tears, was the fact he called her Lucy. Not, Boot, not Chen, not Rookie.

Lucy.

He never called her Lucy.

Lucy pulled down her shirt quickly.

“You can’t look at me like that.” Her voice sounded harsh to her own ears, and that was good. She needed to be tough, she needed to be strong. She wouldn’t survive coming back if she wasn’t.

“Like what?”

She wanted to say like I’m broken, but she couldn’t bring herself to. How would he react, after all? She wasn’t sure what would hurt the most. Him brushing it off, or making it a joke, or ignoring the comment all together.

(Him agreeing, that would hurt the most).

“Nothing,” Lucy muttered, looking at the floor. “What are you doing here anyway.”

“You ready?” He sounded like her TO, and a wave of relief rolled over her.

“Of course,” Lucy nodded, mechanically, “You don’t have to worry.”

“I do worry.” It was so Un-Tim that she looked directly into his eyes for the first time, “I mean your my-”

If she was braver, she would have asked, your what.

But her bravery was all used up.

“I’m your Rookie,” Lucy tried to smile, but she is sure it was more like a grimace.

“Yah.” He said, and she didn’t think she was lying exactly. He was her TO, she was his Rookie, but things were greyer than they had been, at least for her.

He had taken care of her. The whole squad had taken care of her, but Tim. He was always there.

When she wouldn’t get out of bed, Jackson called him, and he made her go for a walk with him. Then they started walking every day. They watched old movies together. He brought her groceries, and put them away. He interrogated Jackson, when he thought she was eating enough, getting out enough. Had she been sleeping.

They went on runs together. She hated going on runs. He pushed and pushed, saying it would keep her in shape, to return to work earlier. He teased her the whole time, and it had been the first time she had laughed since the hospital.

(Of course he had been the one to make her laugh in the hospital, too, which should have been a clue that she was absolutely screwed).

He helped fill out paperwork so she could work desk duty for a week, and he helped her fill out even more so she could come back to active duty. He didn’t believe in therapy, but he drove her to her appointments, when Jackson couldn’t. He was the reason she was still a Rookie, still going to be a police officer.

“I’m ready to go back.” Lucy said, answering the unasked question.

“I believe you.” He looked like he actually did (she wondered how long it had taken her to get really good at reading Tim, probably as long as it took to call him Tim in her head).

“Good.” Lucy grabbed her uniform shirt, tugging it on, and doing the buttons up, trying to ignore Tim looking pointedly away.

“You ready?”

As ready as I'll ever be.

“Yes.” Lucy slammed her locker closed, “I am ready.”

 

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It had been such a long shift. Lucy’s first hard shift, really hard shift since being back.

She got too involved, emotionally involved. But there had been a woman, who had the same look in her eyes that she had in the hospital, and the man who hurt her wasn’t dead. She had one solace, on the ambulance ride back, when Tim told her that Caleb was dead. This woman, she didn’t even have that.

It took everything not to rip his throat out when they arrested him.

She wouldn’t look at Tim, but she could feel his eyes on her the rest of shift.

Tim started to say something as they clocked out, but she had muttered a goodbye, and slipped into the locker room before he could finish. She had changed out of her uniform (this was one of those days she was really happy to leave it behind); she made a beeline towards the parking lot, hoping that Jackson was waiting for her, and they could go home and watch something stupid with a couple of glasses of wine.

She spotted Jackson, leaning against his car, almost immediately.

“Hey Jackson,” she said, trying to put a smile in her voice, but his voice fell as soon as he heard it.

“I’m fine-” Lucy lied, trying to infuse some brightness into her voice.

“I’ll drive you home.” Tim’s voice was firm behind her, and Jackson gave her a questioning look, his eyes flitting back and forth between the two of them.

“Fine,” Lucy muttered, figuring it was easier. She would tell Tim she was fine, he would walk her in, complain about the lack of groceries in their fridge, and go home (to Rachel, and she tried to ignore the sting that this particular thought delivered).

She didn’t look at him, as the buckled in, and he didn’t say anything. Maybe, she thought, he won’t say anything. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. It was hard to fall asleep, but it was easier when Tim was nearby (she tried not to dwell on that particular fact) and if he wasn’t going to ask, she wasn’t going to answer. Maybe she could even get a nap out of the deal.

She dozed off, and only woke up when she felt the engine turn off.

She looked around, and felt panic seep through her system.

“Where are we?” Lucy spit out.

“It’s been close to two months.” Tim said calm, “If you want me to take you home I will, but-”

“Good, do what you said you would,” Lucy said, her voice crackling, “Or I will just call a Lyft, I can’t believe-”

“You are close spinning out.” Tim said, his voice quiet, “I saw it today. You can’t change everything but, if you are keeping that on your body, it’s going to be a choice. You will be making a choice. You can make that choice if you want. Keep it like a bullet wound scar, you can do that. But you don’t have to.”

Lucy looked where they were parked. It was a tattoo removal clinic. He probably, knowing him, got her an appointment and cleared it with their shitty insurance.

“No,” Lucy shook her head, feeling the panic fade away leaving something close to resolve, behind.

“Chen-”

“I want a cover up tattoo.” Lucy looked him dead in the eye, “I know the shop I want to get it done at.”

Tim grabs his phone and opens it to google maps. She types it the name, and they are there a few silent minutes later.

“Hey Val,” Lucy said, as they walked in, and she looked around. She loved getting tattoos, the pain never bothered her. It always had been worth it. Now, though-

“You can go,” She said walking towards the sample book, flipping through but not really looking.

“Not a chance.”

She didn’t have it in her to ask him to leave again. She didn’t know what would happen if he agreed.

The next few hours were a blur. Like she was outside her body, talking with the artist, picking the design, with Tim next to her, always in her eye line.

He’s still here. He hasn’t left.

She surprised herself when she reached out and grabbed his hand, as the needle punctured her skin for the first time.

He surprised her, when he didn’t let go.

They stayed like that, and time slipped away, until-

“It’s…” Lucy tried to find the words, looking at her ribs that would never have that day carved into her, again, instead it was just roses, “Beautiful.”

Red, and raised, as it was, it was perfect, and tears pricked the sides of her eyes.

“Yah,” Tim replied, and it must have been the throbbing on her side, or being awake for 24 hours, but she could have sworn he wasn’t looking at her new tattoo.

He was looking at her.

 

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It had already been hard, to ignore that tug in her chest when she saw Tim, before she was put in a barrel in the ground and her whole world tilted on its axis.

But now, after weeks of him ‘stopping by’, watching movies together, him sleeping on the couch for three days so she wouldn’t be alone when Jackson was out of town-

(When he had held her hand for six hours while a needle covered up her proposed day of death, and she had cried, and he hadn’t said anything, and just stayed squeezed a little harder.

When Val had told her she had a great boyfriend and she hadn’t corrected her.

When he dropped her off, she hugged him, ignoring the burning on her side, and she had slipped inside.

When Tim dropped off Aquaphor, and ibuprofen, the next day, without saying a word.

When Tim was, well, Tim),

She had thought there would only be one before and after, chopping her life into a binary.

It was fucking impossible, to look at him the same way. To not think about how it would be if she wasn’t just his Rookie, his little-sister-esque responsibility. If she got to be with him, without distance.

But she couldn’t, so she kept her head down, and she kept working.

There were moments where she wondered.

“You spend a lot of time with him,” Jackson said, when they were putting away dishes. Tim had just left, after bringing groceries.

And cooking them dinner, she amended, and loaded the dishwasher-

“Sure, he’s my TO,” She reasoned, not even pretending she didn’t know who he was talking about.

“I am not hanging out with Lopez tonight,” Jackson said pointedly, “Didn’t hang out with her last night either. Or the night before.”

He had been with his boyfriend the night before, Lucy was pretty sure they had plans later tonight. Lucy blushed despite herself.

“Things have been different,” Lucy tried to explain, what she wasn’t sure, “Since-”

“I know,” Jackson’s voice was softer, “I just want to make sure you don’t get hurt.”

“He wouldn’t hurt me,” It embarrassed her, how quickly and surely she said that. But she knew, she just knew that he wouldn't hurt her.

“No,” Jackson said, with a half smile, “Not on purpose.”

Lucy turned away, under the pretense of looking for space in the cabinet.

He was right of course.

After that night she thought about dating (even after her promise that she wouldn’t be doing that again). She downloaded a dating app without telling anyone. Curated what photos she would put on, what quips she would include.

She couldn’t bring herself to publish.

She couldn’t picture anyone taking her out, or buying her drinks, except for Tim.

Well she was well and truly fucked.

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Months passed, and Tim was always there: to teach her, to push her, to make sure she was okay. It was better than nothing, of course, but it didn’t stop the wondering, in the hazy time before she fell asleep.

What if he saw a woman, not just a Rookie, when he looked at me.

But then Jackson’s voice would come back. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her on purpose, but that didn’t mean her heart couldn’t get broken.

She hugged that stupid, sweet bear Nolan got her and she shut out that silly, hopefull voice in her head, and she would try to sleep.

Lines are healthy, she reminded herself, Boundaries keep us safe.

She would ignore the moments, where things got even more uncertain. When he caught her looking too long, or she caught him doing the same, (trying to ignore the pure electricity that always shot through her system when it happened).

They were just close, they were bonded by trauma, and he was important to her.

She was important to him. She was pretty sure she was important to him.

But not too important. After all, he had Rachel.

Rachel, she felt guilt pool uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach, whenever she thought about her.

She loved Rachel, and these feelings of her’s, were absolutely unfair to her friend of over ten years.

(She set the two of them up together, for God’s sake.)

She had been avoiding getting coffee with Rachel for a few weeks, a couple months after the coverup (and the cosmic shift), which just made the guilt deeper and more profound. She didn’t know how she could look in her eye’s and not blurt out the awful, inevitable truth.

Rachel kept asking, and she knew she couldn’t avoid it any longer (plus, she missed her friend, and she wasn’t in the position of alienating anyone who stood by her after everything, not after everything they had all done for her).

“Hey, Rachel.” Lucy smiled, and Rachel smiled back, and her heart hurt.

They talked for a bit, small talk and work talk, and some updates about friends from college and it was almost normal. She had forgotten how good a friend Rachel was, which wasn’t fair. She had been there at the hospital, she made her soup on her first night back in the apartment. She was a good person.

She is good for him.

It should have hurt more, but it kind of helped, and Lucy found herself laughing at stupid inside jokes like this was before. She was able to breathe again, and then Rachel knocked out her breath in five words.

“I broke up with Tim.”

“Oh.” Lucy hated how breathless and stupidly underwhelming that sounded.

“A month ago,” Rachel continued, looking at her coffee, not at Lucy, “I wanted to tell you right away, but I didn’t. I am sorry this is so fucked up, but I was angry with you.”

“It’s okay,” Lucy said automatically, still stuck on processing the break up to wonder why Rachel would be mad at her.

“It’s really not.”

Unless Rachel knew.

How Lucy felt.

About Rachel’s boyfriend.

Oh, fucking, no-

“No it’s really not,” Rachel repeated adamantly, her hands gesturing as if to calm a small child, “You didn’t do anything. Tim was very clear about that-”

“Clear about what?” Lucy’s head was spinning, and she wanted to understand, but she was also not sure she was ready for whatever came next.

Tim never said anything about a break up-

“That nothing has happened between the two of you.” Rachel repeated looking as confused as Lucy felt.

“He is in love with you.” Rachel said like it was an indisputable fact, “You knew that right?”

“He’s not.” Lucy said it quickly, automatically.

“Did he even tell you we broke up?”

“No,” Her voice was small and she hated it.

“Typical Tim,” Rachel rolled her eyes, with a tint of affection and hurt in her voice. “All he talked about was you, less towards the beginning. But I mean, even at the start half his stories started with your name. What you did, what you thought. At first I thought it was because you introduced us, you were our point of connection. He takes his work so seriously. But after…”

“My abduction.” She didn’t fault Rachel for not being able to say it. Lucy had more practice, after all.

“Yes, after that,” Rachel looked halfway grateful, halfway something else, she couldn’t quite name, “It was like an obsession. He talked about you constantly. And he spent half of his off duty time with you, and the other half staring at his phone waiting for you to call or text, or just, need him. He had such a look of relief when you asked him to do anything. That was the thing that got me. He needed you to call, he didn’t feel guilty or responsible, he just wanted to be with you.”

“Rachel-”

“It’s okay,” Rachel flashed a small, sad, sort of smile, “We weren’t that serious, but I mean, still didn’t feel awesome. When I broke up with him he didn’t even look surprised. I told him he was in love with you, and he looked, resigned to it. I should have ended it sooner. The way he looked at you while you slept, in the hospital room. I knew then, but I couldn’t. I should have ended it sooner.”

“I don’t know what to say,” She said, but it didn’t sound like her voice to her own ears.

“He’s a good guy.”

“Yah,” Lucy whispered, her thoughts cloudy and jumbled “He couldn’t, I mean he doesn’t-”

“Why Lucy?” Rachel said, and she reached out and squeezed her hand, once, before bringing it back to her coffee mug “You believe the best about people. You are beautiful, inside and out. You're good for him, and I think he’s good for you.”

Why didn’t he didn’t say any of this, if it’s true?

Rachel took another sip of her coffee, and changed the subject to a client of hers that had been doing well, the last few weeks, not quite meeting Lucy’s eyes.

Lucy didn’t realize her hands were shaking, until she tried to hold her own coffee, and half of its contents spilled over the sides.

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She half expected things to be different when she saw Tim later that night, but it wasn’t.

He was gruff, with the same protective edge that didn’t read, to her as romantic, (it was like having a bunch of big brothers and sisters, working on the force, right?)

He smiled at her more than he used to, but that was because everything had shifted. She wasn’t just his Rookie anymore, they formed a bond. He was her friend, she was his partner. It didn’t mean there were any other dynamics at play.

She wanted to ask about Rachel that first night, but she didn’t. Months passed and it was easier to live in this middle space, seeing Tim at work and after, and on their days off. He never mentioned the break up, and she never mentioned her and Rachel’s coffee, and she found him becoming the most important person in her life.

For a long time, he was the most important person for a long time.

She convinced herself that she was okay with all of this.

Then she saw the ring sitting on his bedside table.

They had been watching a movie, and she had spilled half her beer down her front. He had nodded at his bedroom, and told her to get one of his shirts, and she had to suppress the little thrill that ran through her at the thought of wearing his clothes.

She had to suppress the fantasy that he would look at her and suddenly see someone different.

Someone beautiful.

She bit her lip as she opened different drawers, pulling out a worn LAPD t-shirt, that would be too big on her. As she pulled the soft fabric over her head, tugging it down, she saw it.

The ring.

It had been one of her favorites. One of the many beautiful things she cultivated, that she stored in a pretty tray with other pretty things. She had put it on, and curled her hair and when on a date.

And then her life had changed forever.

She was going to be sick.

She slipped out the back door, while Tim was in the kitchen, and she drove home with her head spinning.

He found her ring, and didn’t tell her.

He found her.

All these pieces had jagged edges and she didn’t know how to put them all together.

Lucy ignored Tim’s call, and sent a text that she had a migraine, and wanted to sleep in her own bed, and she would bring his shirt back tomorrow.

He texted her goodnight, and she didn’t know what to feel.

I always knew he was going to break my heart, didn’t I?

 

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She knocked on his door at seven the next morning. She had been up since three, but she couldn’t knock on his door in the middle of the night.

That would be crazy, right? The only crazy thing about all of this, right?

She wanted to pace, but he couldn’t see her like that, when he opened the door. She was vibrating, and all that energy needed to escape or she would explode.

He opened the door, and looked surprised.

Asshole.

Tim was beautiful, and he would have hated it if she called him that, and she was so angry at him but also wanted to pull him close and never let go.

She shoved his shirt into his chest (she had done a load of laundry at four) and pushed past him, leaving Tim looking shell shocked in the doorway.

“You have my ring.” Lucy said, trying to be firm, but she could hear her voice shake, “I want it back.”

“What.”

“My ring the one, that I was wearing when- I dropped it and-” Lucy said, out of breath and she wasn’t quite sure why, “I want it back.”

“Sure, whatever you want,” He was following her, and being reasonable and it just made her want to scream.

Why does he always get to be cool and collected? Why did she always have to be the one falling apart?

Fucking asshole.

“You were the one who found me, who saved me-” She didn’t want to cry, but she was so tired, “You didn’t just do CPR, and hold me while we waited for the ambulance came, and watched me sleep in the hospital came-”

“I didn’t-”

“You found me, not Nolan, not-” Lucy ignored him; she wasn’t going to listen to anymore lies, “And you didn’t say anything. Not a single thing.”

“You saved yourself,” Any other time that would have built her up. She was a badass cop, she can take care of herself.

She can save herself.

But right now she just felt fucking crazy.

“Bullshit,” Lucy continued, “You found me, and you have been putting me back together, and we are just friends, or co-workers or Rookie and TO, and Rachel said, but then you lie to me. Why would you lie to me, after everything.”

“Lucy,” He was breaking her open, didn’t he know that?

“You can’t call me Lucy,” She ran her fingers through her hair, “I know you and Rachel broke up.”

“That’s between the two of us-” For the first time this whole, awful exchange Tim seemed angry.

Good, this I can work with.

“Pretty sure I am part of this too.” Lucy shot back, “According to Rachel I am and you didn’t tell me. Even if I’m not- I thought you were my friend. But you must hate me, or pity me or I don’t know resent me if you don’t share even the most basic parts of your life with me. .”

“You are my friend, of course you are,” The anger drained from his face, and now he looked panicked; it was unnerving, “I don’t hate you. What did she say-”

“That you are in love with me,” Lucy supplied, her voice crackling with electricity, “Don’t worry I don’t believe her.”

“You don’t-” Now he looked confused.

Mother fucker.

“I mean, you obviously don’t respect me enough to tell me the truth.” Lucy spit out, “You obviously don’t love me. I can’t believe I wasted all this time. You could have broken my heart months ago, and I could be over all of this by now-”

“What are you talking about,” Tim looked annoyed again.

Good.

“I am, crazy about you.” She could feel tears streaming down her face, “You have to know that. I look to you. For everything. You are the best cop I know, you push me to be better. You help me up when I fall, and I can’t put you in a box anymore, things have shifted for me, I can’t push them back-”

Tim pulled her in by the waist and she felt like he was gravity and this was all inevitable, and how wonderfully, stupidly, perfect that was. But he was going to break her heart-

What was he doing-

He was holding her face in his hand, like she was something precious, and he was looking at her like she was something good, like she’s something beautiful.

“Then don’t.”

And then he kissed her, and everything was better, and she was pulled even further into his orbit, wrapping her arms around his neck, and leaning in.

“That was a bad idea.”

“No it wasn’t” He looked broken and everything was slotting into place, “Don’t say that.”

All those jagged, uneven pieces, were becoming clearer. The look on his face when she tells a bad joke. That time she caught him bragging about her to his poker buddies (“Well my book, can run a seven minute mile, in full tactical gear, so-”). That time he blushed when she came to get drinks in that red dress of hers.

Rachel was right.

“You feel it, too” Lucy said, and it was like everything was shifting.

Again.

But this time for the better.

“Lucy,” He didn’t say anything else, he just looked at her, and whipped something from her cheek (tears, the only thing that made sense was tears).

That was okay though, she knew. All of that uncertainty, and now everything was crystal clear.

“I still have two months as your Rookie,” She hated bringing that up but, it wasn’t like anyone would let her forget it, if they found out.

“I will find you someone else to work with,” Tim said quickly, “Someone good. I can pull a few strings-”

“Will you wait for me two months,” She interrupted, “We can be co-workers, and people will still be judgmental assholes, but less, and we won’t have the same weird power thing-”

“I’d wait for you,” His voice broke, “A lot longer than two months.”

“Okay,” Lucy said breathlessly, and then she was throwing her arms around him, pulling him into her orbit this time. This time was different, she knew how singularly focused he could be, but this was overwhelming. One minute she was standing on her own two feet, and the next her legs were wrapped around him and she was pressed up against something, a door, a wall, did it actually matter?

She wanted to drown in it, but she couldn’t.

She tore herself away, out of breath, (but still between him and the wall or door, with electricity pooling between her legs).

“That was the last one,” Lucy said, more to herself than Tim, as she forced herself to pull away (and put two feet firmly on the ground), “For two months anyway.”

“Okay,” His eyes were doing that annoying twinkly thing.

(Annoying, mostly because she wanted to drag him back to his bedroom, and ignore what she just said.)

“I will see at work tomorrow,” Lucy said, out of breath and so, so happy. She didn’t want to leave, but if she stayed, she would never leave.

“Okay,” She turned away, forcing herself to walk to the door, only turning back when she heard her name, “Lucy.”

“Yah?”

“I am not going to go easier on you now.”

Lucy smiled, and she felt like she was radiating sunshine.

“Counting on it.” She wanted to laugh or giggle or run back and kiss him again, until they were both laughing. Instead she bit her lip, and gave him a little salute, and turned away again.

Lucy felt his eyes on her as she walked away, but she didn’t turn back and look. If she did, she wouldn’t be able to walk out that door.

Two months.

She could handle two months.

She looked at her phone, as she plugged it into her car’s charger (the one that she finally replaced), and saw a text from Tim.

I’m crazy about you too.

Just for the record.

As she drove home, she turned on the radio, and couldn’t keep a stupid, huge grin off of her face.

LA is beautiful in spring. How could I have never noticed that before?