This shift was dragging on forever.
Judy had had that thought about twice an hour since she first clocked in.
In the year she’d worked as an EMT, she couldn’t recall a single time they’d gone this long without a call. She was on the night shift, as the person with least seniority when it came to scheduling requests, and usually that meant she was there for the weirdest calls.
People who’d been in places they shouldn’t have without enough light to see by. People who’d stuck things in themselves they shouldn’t have.
Those were always her favorite. Least likely to do permanent damage, while the most likely to entertain her family when asked to regale them with gross medical stories.
Well, her sister.
It was important to the family to maintain the illusion that Will as still a kid, so Judy supported that fiction by keeping her stories PG, and allowed her parents to hold on to that belief just a little longer. Will himself was doing so little to uphold the illusion, its collapse was truly inevitable.
But this shift was not living up to previous experience. They hadn’t left the station house once tonight, but it’s not as if they could truly relax either. You never knew when that klaxon would go off and send them scrambling to the scene of some accident or another.
So Judy sat, rising to do a lap of the station house or a set of push-ups every hour or so, careful not to exhaust herself the way she was wont to do on days off, when she hit the gym. It would hardly do to spend all her energy here, then be sluggish out on a call.
After what felt like another eternity, the alarm sounded, and Judy and her partner jumped up to head to the ‘buses and race out of there.
Judy sometimes felt uncharitable, getting excited by these calls, because it meant someone else was hurt or in danger, but she figured that was the sort of detachment that would make her a good doctor one day. There was no great sin in enjoying her job, after all.
What felt like mere moments later, they were pulling up outside a building downtown. Now that they’d arrived, Judy realized she'd actually been here before. A few weeks ago, a fight at this bar had ended at the hospital, when someone had put a beer bottle through another person’s side. They hadn't been able to be treated at the scene, but Judy had found out the next day from a friend at the hospital they'd been transferred to that they were on the mend.
What fresh idiocy is this? Judy thought as she hopped out of the passenger seat to assess the situation.
Whatever happened, it looked as though it had brought the good times to an end. People were closing their tabs and gathering their coats as Judy and her partner entered the bar.
“I'm fine, Tam. You didn't need to call an ambulance,” a voice could be heard over the din.
Judy turned to Aiko, who always drove when they were both on duty. She nodded her head in the direction of the voice and started walking that way, knowing her partner would be right behind her.
She took a few steps, the crowd seemed to part, and then... she saw him.
Judy was far too professional to get tripped up by a cute guy, but damn.
If this were a movie, this moment would be in slow motion. But instead, Judy didn't miss a step walking towards her patient.
“Hello,” she greeted the pretty bleeding man and his companion, “What's happened?”
“Nothing, I’m f-”
“You’re not fine, dumbass,” the man’s friend (girlfriend? Judy wondered) cut off his protest. She turned to face Judy and Aiko, who had joined them.
“So my friend here steps away from our table for like a minute. He sees some shit about to go down and hauls his ass over there. Some dude's about to pick up a chair and hit somebody with it! Don steps in - somehow, nobody else gets hurt, but he gets thunked on the backswing.”
“I'm pretty much fine; You didn't need to call anybody,” the man who must be Don mumbled from his seat.
“You're bleeding all over the damn place - of course I needed to call!” his friend snapped. Don seemed to see she was genuinely worried about him and subsided.
Judy took a step closer and let her training take over.
“Alright, Don, is it? I’m Judy and this is Aiko, and we're here to help. I can see that your nose is broken. Are you hurt anywhere else?” Judy asked as she began to palpate the sides of his nose to feel the break.
“Wait, wait, you mean like, broken-broken?” Don asked.
“See, good thing I didn't listen to you!” his friend snapped. “If you had it your way, you'd have just taken a few more drinks, and then your face would look like this forever.”
Aiko had taken that moment to check around to see if anyone else had been hurt. Finding no one, she returned to see Judy and her patient arguing.
“I have to set it, otherwise your face really will get stuck like this,” she bit off.
“I know, I just - just give me a minute,” Don practically whined.
“You big baby, just let the woman do her job,” his friend threw in from beside him.
He sighed, gave a nod to Judy, then braced himself on his chair.
With an audible crack it was done.
“Owowowowow” he mumbled under his breath.
“See, there. Finished,” Judy spoke over him. “Now, are you hurt anywhere else?”
“Aside from my whole face throbbing? No,” he responded shortly.
“Aiko can give you something for that,” Judy continued in her calm professional tone. She turned to tilt her head at Aiko, who went through her bag for an analgesic she could give him without a doctor.
“What about your head? Any nausea, dizziness?”
“Do you know today's date?”
“November 15th. I know who the president is, too, but please don't make me say it,” Don added sarcastically.
Judy chuckled. Then immediately tried to snap back into professional mode, but it was too late. Don chuckled too, and the slightly hostile atmosphere dissipated.
“Listen,” he began, “I'm sorry about all - just, thanks, doc. And,” he turned to his friend, “thanks for calling them Tam.”
“Well don’t get all mushy on me.” The woman, Tam, reached over and ruffled her friend’s hair. He flapped a hand at her in a token show of resistance, but didn't put up any further protest.
“No need to apologize." Judy offered her own reply. “Like I said, I'm here to help. And I'm not a doctor. Not yet, anyway” By the time she was done, she’d turned away and hunched her shoulders a bit.
Don turned back to her with a smile that would have knocked her socks off if she had been looking directly at it.
“Well, whatever they call you, I really am glad you were here. I owe you one.”
Aiko stepped in to give Judy a moment. She handed Don a packet with a few pills.
“Here’s something for the pain. It's over the counter. When you get home ice your face. That bruising will get worse before it gets better.” She turned towards Tam. “If you notice any dizziness, nausea, or confusion, you should go to the hospital.”
“I’ll make sure he gets home ok,” she assured the two EMTs.
“Have a good rest of your night, then.” Aiko nodded, then turned to go. Judy followed, but not without one more look at Don.
He gave a wave and small smile, and then they were back out on the street in the bracing cold air.
“So...” Aiko began, “he was cute.”
“Shut up!” Judy gave her a small shove before clambering back into her seat on the passenger side.
As Aiko got back behind the wheel, she turned to her friend.
“But yeah,” Judy admitted in a small voice, “he was.”
A few days later, Judy had nearly forgotten the whole thing. Or at least, that’s what she’d been telling herself.
She’d signed up to volunteer a few days at the food bank in the run-up to Thanksgiving so long ago that she’d nearly blown it off when it was finally time. Back in October she hadn’t anticipated how much her few precious days off work would mean to her, but she’d made a commitment, so here she was.
The good thing about being just one of a group of volunteers was that all she had to do was follow instructions. No one was expecting her to make life and death decisions today.
“I’m just saying, Ava-” a familiar voice was just a touch too loud in the early morning quiet.
“You’ve been ‘just saying’ the whole drive over. We’re here now. Just shut up already. And give me that; Go get the rest of the stuff from the truck.”
Judy looked over to see a woman take a box full of dry goods out of Don’s hands, as he turned around and presumably went back to get more boxes.
The woman brought her offerings up to the closest folding table, the one where Judy stood.
“Morning,” she said to the group as a whole. “Where am I putting these?”
One of the coordinators came over to answer her question, and Judy saw Don come back, carrying two full boxes under his arms.
He looked towards his friend, then caught Judy’s eye.
There’s that smile again. Is he trying to kill me?
“Doc!” he called out.
“I told you, I’m not a doctor.” He flapped his hand in dismissal.
“Whatever. Anyway, what are you doing here?”
“Shouldn’t it be fairly obvious?” Judy gestured to the piles of dry goods and other volunteers. “I’m planning a jewel heist.”
She let that sit a moment before continuing.
“I try to do some volunteering at least a few times a year. Somehow, it always ends up being March, August, and this time of year.”
“So what I’m hearing is you just can’t stop being a do-gooder even when you’re not on duty,” he replied. He followed her lead as they spoke, sorting things on the table.
He very carefully didn’t ask himself why he wasn’t turning around to leave. After all, he’d only promised Ava that he’d drive her and the donated goods from the garage here, and scoffed when she suggested he stay and help.
“Why do I get the feeling that, coming from you, that’s hardly a compliment?” Judy questioned with a raised eyebrow. She herself only wondered why he wasn’t working next to the friend he’d come here with. She could see her at another table in what looked like a friendly conversation with one of the event coordinators.
“Eh, that’s just never been me.”
“Helping other people ‘just isn’t you’?” she asked shortly.
Don could see in the tick of her jaw that he was losing her. He still couldn’t help but say what came next.
“Looking out for myself is kind of a full-time job, Doc. I’ve got enough troubles of my own.”
She pursed her lips before continuing.
“Begs the question, what are you doing here?” Her tone was working hard to stay polite.
Don paused before responding. He looked down at the progress he’d made sorting the table in front of him. He looked over at Ava.
What am I still doing here?
“You know what? You’re right. I only drove Ava here cause she’s my boss. She thought getting involved would be good for the garage’s reputation. I guess that’s not a pure enough motive for you, huh?” He could hear himself being a dick; he just couldn’t stop.
“I’ll see you around, Doc.”
Don turned away and started walking back to the truck. Ava already knew she’d need a different ride home.
Way to go, dumbass. You can’t even pretend to be nice for five minutes.
Well he may be cute, Judy thought, but by god is he aggravating.
Getting back to work, Judy wondered if she’d tell Aiko about this little run in the next time they were both on shift.
“So, is he against mutual aid as a concept, or just doesn’t think it’s his problem?” Penny asked as she took another sip of her wine.
As a first year college student, she technically shouldn’t be drinking, but seeing as Judy had dragged her along to Aiko’s apartment, specifically to talk about this, she figured she was owed. They certainly couldn’t have had this conversation at home, not without Mom, Dad, and Will throwing in their two cents.
She looked over at Aiko, who seemed endlessly amused by all this. Perhaps because she’d been there when Judy had first met the man she’d been rambling about for almost five full minutes.
“I don’t know!” Judy finally replied to Penny’s question. “I couldn’t tell if he believed anything he said or if her was just acting like an asshole on purpose. Ugh! Ok, whatever, I’m done.” She reclaimed her seat next to Penny and picked up her own wine glass. “Sorry for the rant, you guys.”
“No, no,” Aiko said with a laugh, “I never get to see this side of you. It’s great. I trust you’ll keep us updated if you run into him again, but for now, I’ve got no new business to report. Penny?”
She turned to the younger woman, who shook her head.
“Alright, in that case, are we watching something we all know and playing the drinking game, or something that’s new to all of us?”
“I know it’s a little late for this, but can we watch Hocus Pocus?” This suggestion came from Penny. “I never get tired of it.”
“An excellent suggestion,” Aiko announced, pulling out the remote.
“That’s perfect,” Judy agreed, sinking back into her seat. “Bette Midler is the right movie for any time of year.”
“Here’s your total, and one of the guys will bring your car around in a moment.”
“Thanks,” Judy said, swiping her card. She caught her breath and took another swig of her water bottle before stepping outside to wait. It wasn’t long before she saw it pulling up in front of her. She didn’t notice the driver until he stepped out of the car and called to her.
“Doc!” a familiar voice said.
Judy looked up to see Don, who’d crossed her mind a few times, but less and less over the last week since movie night at Aiko’s place. Of course, now that he was in front of her, she remembered why she’d almost stopped in her tracks when she first saw him.
He was wearing an orange jumpsuit with the garage’s logo on it and his hair was an unruly mess Judy wanted to run her fingers through.
Then she remembered their last conversation.
Be cool, she told herself.
“Hi Don!” No. Too chipper. Try again.
“Hey.” Judy threw him a casual wave. She hoped he wouldn’t point out that she’d just greeted him three different ways.
Don walked around the car to hand her the keys.
“It’s too bad I didn’t put together that this was your car. I would’ve come out to say hi while Ava was finishing up.” He offered her a smile and used both hands to return her keys.
“I wouldn’t have been out here anyway. When they told me how long it would take, I went for a short jog around the neighborhood.”
Judy just then remembered that she was sweating and probably looking like a hot mess. She hadn’t minded when it was just the cashier she was dealing with.
“I figured, I had the time to kill, and I couldn’t leave, so...” she went on. “I didn’t know this was where you worked.”
“Yeah, Ava got me the job a couple years back, then last year she bought the place from the previous owner, so she’s my boss now.”
Judy didn’t think she’d ever find a graceful way to do this, so she forged ahead.
“Is it weird working for your girlfriend?”
Don’s mouth dropped open, before he tilted his head back and let out a full-out guffaw.
“No! No, no, no, no, no,” he finished with a chuckle. “She-”
A car horn cut him off and turned both of their attention to one of his coworkers pulling up behind Judy’s car. Another customer stood behind her waiting impatiently for them to move along.
“Ah! I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll see you around, Doc.” In a moment he disappeared back into the bowels of the garage.
Judy snapped out of it and got into the driver’s seat to head home.
How important are philosophical differences, anyway, with a man who looks like that?
The day after Thanksgiving, Judy was on shift again. She’d worked the day before as well, but the holiday itself had been uneventful.
Black Friday, however, was an entirely different story. It seemed as though everyone in the county had last their damn minds.
Judy and Aiko had been called to the scene of three fights, four different people who had somehow gone through glass doors, and several traffic accidents that had somehow happened in parking lots.
Judy was using all of her faith in humanity to believe that they were genuine accidents. The alternative was just too awful to contemplate.
Aiko turned to her from the driver’s seat.
“As soon as the shift is over,” her friend began, “we are going out. We are gonna commiserate about the sorry state of the world, and maybe play darts while we’re at it.”
Judy cracked a smile.
Two long hours later, they were freshly showered after their shift, if not exactly dressed up for this impromptu night on the town.
“Where are we headed?” Judy asked. “I can meet you there.”
“I actually know just the place. Let me give you a ride; we both know I’m the better driver anyway.”
Judy failed to notice the conniving smirk on her friend’s face.
In no time at all, they pulled up in front of a familiar building once again.
“Aiko, what are we doing here?” Judy asked. “There are bars closer to your apartment, and we’ve responded to two fights here.”
“If we couldn’t go anywhere we’ve responded to a call, we’d never be able to leave the house. Plus, this is the only place we know we might run into that guy. Come on, he’s probably not even here. This is just a bar like any other.
Aiko got out of the car, leaving Judy no choice but to follow. She made an excellent point; what were the odds that Don would be here tonight?
Very good, it turns out.
Judy and Aiko were waiting at the bar for about a minute before Don suddenly appeared at her elbow, accompanied by his friend Tam once again.
“Doc, fancy seeing you here,” he said, turning to catch the bartender’s attention.
“It was all Aiko’s idea,” Judy shot back, gesturing to her friend.
Aiko gave her a shit-eating grin.
“I figured there had to be something about this place. We keep getting called to deal with fights here.”
“It may have something to do with nickel shot night on Sundays,” Tam called out to heard over the noise of the crowd.
“Oh, then we’re definitely coming back here.” Aiko nudged Judy’s arm.
“The real question is, where is the dart board in this joint?”
“Oh, yeah, Judy used to be an athlete, so she’s like crazy competitive. Don’t let her hustle you.” Aiko gave her a little shove out of her stool.
Judy recovered neatly and turned to Don.
“Lead the way?” she asked.
Before he could even turn back to look at her, Tam piped up.
“Yeah, go snag a table back there. Me and – Aiko? - will grab the first round.” Tam waved Don off and took a step closer to the Asian woman. They could be seen exchanging entirely unsubtle winks.
Judy followed Don to the far side of the room. She took her jacket off and laid it on a free table to claim it.
“You want first shot?” Don asked, gesturing broadly to the board behind him.
“Sure, I like an early lead.” Judy picked up a handful of darts and took position.
“So, Doc, you keep saying you’re not a doctor yet. What’s the story there?”
“Not much of a story. I’m studying to get into med school. Working as an EMT gives me relevant experience and I’m saving up for school next year. Hopefully.” She mumbled that last under her breath.
“Well,” he began, flashing her a smile, “I’m going to keep on calling you that, even when it becomes true.”
Judy gave a small quirk of her lips in return.
Just then, their friends returned, laden down with beer and nachos.
“So, Judy, Aiko was just about to tell me how you two met,” Tam announced as she set down the drinks.
Judy turned to her.
“We got to be good friends in college. We were taking a lot of the same pre-med and science classes. Then when I was talking about this job, we ended up applying together.”
“We end up working a lot of the same shifts,” Aiko finished for her. “Not always, but I always drive when it’s us.”
“And are you planning on med school, too?” Don asked.
“Nah, the sirens and the driving-as-fast-as-I-want are a big part of it for me.”
“Well it’s definitely a perk when you like your job. I’ve been at the garage for even longer than Don and I still love it.”
“I didn’t know you worked there too! I was just there–”
“I know,” Tam cut her off. “I heard all about it from Don. For the rest of the day. And the day after that.”
Tam swatted Don away as he tried to stop her from divulging this particular bit of information.
“So, anyway...” Aiko spoke over the noise of the friendly tussle, “Judy finish your turn so I can go next.”
Judy set down the beer she’d nearly finished and resumed the game.
Don alternated between encouragement and trash talk, no matter whose turn it was.
In the end, a few beers later, Tam was declared the victor, with promises of a rematch some other time.
“It is time for me to retire at the top of my game,” she announced, gathering up her coat. “And as I’m your ride home,” she directed at Don, “it’s time to call it a night.”
“Alright, just give me a second to-” He cut himself off.
Don turned and said good night to Aiko first. She raised her final, empty beer in acknowledgement. Then he turned back to Judy.
“This was fun tonight. You should come out this way again next time you’re free and you’re not wasting time on charitable endeavors.”
The smile faded from her face at his final words. He in turn dropped his I’m-so-charming grin when he saw her reaction.
“Wasting time?” she repeated. “You really think it’s wasting time to-” Judy heard how high and loud she’d gotten, and let out a breath.
“You know what? Whatever. Have a good night Don. Tam.”
“Wait, Judy, I-” Don began.
“I said good night,” Judy repeated a little louder to emphasize her point. “Come on Aiko, I’ve gotta settle up at the bar.”
The two EMTs gathered their coats and were gone before Don could muster a reply.
He sputtered for another moment, before tipping his head back with a groan.
Tam, meanwhile, was practically cackling after watching that train wreck unfold.
“Smooth, man,” she got out through her laughter. “A little shaky on the dismount.”
“That looks terrible man, and you’re still bleeding. You have to go to the hospital.”
“You know I can’t go to the hospital, Don,” Evan gritted out between clenched teeth. “Where’s the first aid kit? We must have some gauze around here somewhere.”
He continued to try and staunch the bleeding from the gash on his forearm from one careless move in the garage. The only things easily to hand were oil-stained rags, so it wasn’t going well.
“Evan, I know you don’t have insurance, but-” Tan tried to argue before he cut her off.
“Exactly! So I can’t go to the hospital, ok?”
Don could hear from how thin his voice was that Evan was trying to act tough, but he was truly hurting and scared. He didn’t want to do this, but he’d had a thought, and if Evan truly wouldn’t go to the hospital, it may be the only option.
He turned to face Tam. With Ava taking a rare day off, the two of them were the most senior employees here. While everybody else was scrambling to find the first aid kit, they’d listen when the two of them spoke.
“Do you have her number?” Don asked her tentatively.
“Her, who?” Tam asked with a tilt of her head.
Don couldn’t tell if she was being coy on purpose, but with Evan still bleeding, now wasn’t the time to be shy.
“Aiko,” he clarified. “I figured you two would exchange numbers, the better to mock me with. She’s an EMT, she could help.”
With a sly smile, Tam pulled out her phone. She took a few steps away, so Don turned back to Evan. He had wrapped his arm pretty well, but who knew how long it’d hold.
Across the bay, Tam gave him a nod. All there was left to do was wait.
A small eternity later, he heard a car pull up and hoped Aiko would be able to patch Evan up. If she couldn’t, and he really had to go to the hospital, he’d never be able to come up with the money.
Two sets of footsteps approached.
“Seriously, thank you for coming,” Tam said.
“Yeah, th-” Don cut off when he finally looked up and saw a different EMT than the one he was expecting.
“Ok, so I’m here, but I’m not here, got it? Evan?” she directed at the young man still bleeding in front of her. She continued as she reached for his arm and began to look it over.
“I am being dead serious. Aiko’s working right now, so she sent me instead, but I am absolutely not here in any official capacity. Like, I’m just a helpful friend, not an expert of any kind right now.”
“Alright, alright, Doc, we get it,” Don recovered enough to say.
She threw him a look, before returning her attention to her patient.
Seeing that his friend was in good hands, Don stood and withdrew to where Tam looked on from across the bay.
“So...?” They’d been friends long enough that she’d heard the implied ‘what is she doing here?’ asked in a single word.
“I called Aiko, I did!” Tam defended. “But she’s literally driving an ambulance this very minute. She gave me Judy’s number. Which I now have.” She raised her eyebrows at the end of her explanation.
He heard clear as day what she wasn't saying, ‘and you could have had it too, if you weren't such a dumbass.’ He threw her an exasperated look before changing the subject.
“Not it, on telling Ava about this.”
“Oh, absolutely not,” Tam scoffed. “You'll call her yourself right now. I will, however, deign to be here while you do it.”
“Ugh,” Don sighed, bowing to the inevitable and pulling out his own phone. “At least there's no HR department, no incident reports.”
“Just a question of cleaning up the blood,” Tam shot back.
Don scrunched his nose in a look of disgust as the phone rang.
Ava took time off so rarely. She owned the place now, and had every right to take a step back and spend time away from work. But she loved the garage, and instead had to be convinced to have some time to herself. Don hated to call her on the only day she hadn't worked this month.
More specifically, he hated to be the one to call her. Ava was definitely the type to shoot the messenger.
“What is it Don?” his oldest friend asked in a short voice.
“Hey Ava, I’m sorry to have to call.” In their years of knowing each other, he’d learned it was often best to start with an apology.
“There was an accident at the garage. Everyone is going to be fine.” He hurried to get out the last sentence when he heard her take in a breath to start tearing him a new one.
“What the hell happened?!” Ava shouted down the phone.
“Evan cut himself. But he’s getting patched up right now, he should be fine.” He looked over at Judy’s confident demeanor and hoped he wasn’t lying. “And everybody else got back to work. We’ve got just a few more pick ups today before close.”
“Jeez. Ugh. Ok.”
Don could practically see the way she was probably running her hand over her face and through her hair, the way she always did when she was stressed.
“Alright. No new jobs the rest of the day. You and Tam are on closing – send everybody else home when they’re done with what’s already there.” She snapped off orders rapid fire. Then her voice softened.
“And you tell Evan to show his face first thing tomorrow, so I can see with my own eyes that he's ok. He is ok, right?”
Don smiled to himself. Ava acted tough, and she was, but she cared about her people. It’s what made her great boss.
“Sure thing boss, we’ll take care of it.” He turned back to Tam. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Well?” Tam asked as he pocketed his phone.
“Oh like you didn’t hear the whole thing.”
“You’re right,” she smiled. “I think everybody will be done in an hour or so. Which leaves you with just enough time.”
“Time for what? There isn't that much blood to clean up.”
Tam rolled her eyes and pointed behind him. He turned to see Judy helping Evan to his feet. She looked around and caught his eye before heading in his direction.
“Ok, he's going to be fine. I’ve told him what to do to take care of it, and you guys know how to find me if you need me.”
She turned to Evan again.
“Basically, if it starts to turn green or smell, go to the hospital.”
Judy took a few steps to the door, then turned to address Don once again.
“Now, I need to get out of here, before a professional ethics board, like, senses a disturbance in the force or something.”
He chuckled, then noticed the rather unsubtle head tilt Tam was giving him. Before Judy reached the door, he jogged to catch up with her.
“Wait! Uh...” he hesitated before continuing, “let me walk you to your car. It's the least I can do.”
“The very least,” Judy replied. “Alright I'm this way.” She gestured to her right. They fell into step on the sidewalk.
“So I know Tam said it, and probably Evan did too, but for real, thank you. Tonight would have been a lot worse without you.”
“I would say 'no problem, anytime,' but I would much prefer you guys stayed safe and never needed to call me again.” She let out a deep breath.
“We’ll try our best.”
Don figured he'd never get a better chance than this. He barreled ahead.
“What if I just wanted to call you anyway?” he asked.
She tilted her head as she turned to face him.
“I don't know, it seems like every time we see each other it ends in a fight.” She gave him a considering look.
That wasn't a no. That was another volley.
“Maybe, but before that, we have a ton of fun. C’mon, Doc, what's the worst that could happen?”
“Don’t you know never to say that?!” Judy gave a dramatic gasp. “It's just asking for trouble.”
“Some things are worth the risk,” Don finished with a wink.
Judy finally cracked a smile, the ritual back-and-forth complete. She pulled out her phone and handed it to Don.
“Text yourself. Better hurry; this is me.”
Don looked over to see she was right. They'd stretched this out as far as they could, but she hadn't parked far away to begin with, and they were practically standing on top of her bumper. He fired off a text to his own number and handed her back her phone.
“Have a good night, Doc,” he said softly as she unlocked her door and got in the driver seat.
“You too, Don. I'll talk to you soon.”
And with that Judy flashed him one more quiet smile, pulled away from the curb, and was gone.
Don watched her for a moment, before turning to head back to the garage. He had a sneaking suspicion that Tam would be lying in wait as soon as he got back. She and Ava both lived to give him a hard time.
Never one to disappoint, she stood at the bay doors and walked right over to him.
“So?” she asked with a shit-eating grin on her face. “What happened?”
“Can we at least-” he tried, before she cut him off.
“Clean up was easy, the cars are done, Evan's gone home, and you and I are just waiting for pick up. So quit stalling, and spill.”
He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. Nothing else for it now.
“There’s not much to tell. We talked a little, and I got her number.” He couldn't help the small smile that crossed his face when he relayed that development.
Tam had no choice but to roll her eyes.
“Well it took you long enough. Do you think you'll go on a date by the time I’m an old woman?”
“Hey, c’mon,” he gave her shoulder a shove, “I'm going to call her tomorrow. Mockery won't make me move any faster.”
“Oh, but Don, mocking you is my favorite pastime. You just make it too easy.”
Judy hadn't lasted long, spilling every detail of the emergency trip to the garage the minute Aiko called her when she got off shift.
Penny hadn't had to interrogate her for details either. Almost the minute she got home, Judy was telling her everything that had happened.
Of course, her sister was much less interested in the details of Evan’s injury and treatment than her fellow EMT.
Both of them had reacted about the same - though Penny found much more colorful language to express her exasperation at ‘fools dragging their heels for no earthly reason.’
When Don had called the next day to ask her if she’d join him at the bar, she’d had to decline because she was working night shifts for the next two weeks. She’d made a counter offer of lunch on one of her days off, but Don was working at the garage every day.
They'd texted back and forth, getting to know each other and sharing jokes or stories about their day. Judy did not get Don's taste in music. Like, at all.
The week before Christmas, by some miracle, Judy had the morning free on a day that Don wasn't working at the garage. They'd agreed to meet for a late breakfast.
Don had never in his life been early for anything, and he still wasn't, but this time he came close. He arrived at the cafe where they’d agreed to meet to see Judy staking out a table. She looked up when the bell above the door announced his arrival.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” Judy replied.
For a moment, neither spoke. The awkward pause was broken when Judy began to laugh. Soon enough Don joined her, until both were out of breath, and no one could say what exactly was so funny.
Judy started simple.
“I ordered for us already. Sit down, they'll call us when it's ready.”
“Sounds good,” he said, taking the seat across from her. “It's good to see you. I'm glad we're getting the chance to do this.”
“Yeah, me too. I didn't really see how busy work has been keeping me until I tried to make plans. Now I get why everybody thinks the night shift is the worst one.”
“So it hasn't been putting a damper on your social life?”
“I mean I live with my family, so they’re there when I get home, and Aiko is usually working the same time as me. What more social life do I need?”
“Five minutes to yourself to go on a date, for one thing,” he replied.
“What did Tam say when we were all out? It's a good thing when you like your job.”
Judy heard her name called from the counter and hopped up to retrieve their food.
“You know, now that I think about it,” Don began when she returned, helping her set up the table, “I'm exactly the same way. I go to work, where all my friends are, and then hang out with those same people after work.”
“It’s not a bad way to live,” Judy concluded. “But what I’m hearing is that we both could use, like, a hobby or something.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, Doc.”
Don deployed that brilliant smile of his again, then they both tucked in to eat.
After a few minutes, Judy picked up the of the thread of their text conversation. They'd been talking the other day about Tam and Ava having an idea to turn some scrap metal from the garage into an art piece. Don hadn't believed it would work, but he kept taking pictures of their progress on Judy's request, who wanted to see how it’d turn out.
That flowed right into a conversation about Penny’s writing, then Aiko’s tattoo artist, and before they knew it, the cafe was starting to turn over from breakfast to lunch.
That's when Judy finally noticed the time.
“Don, I’m having a great time, and I don’t want to leave, but I’ve got to. This is why it was so hard to find a day to do this.” Her tone was apologetic, but direct.
“Hey, it’s no problem. You’ve gotta work when you’ve gotta work.” Don stood and cleared the remains of their breakfast from the table.
“Actually, I’m not working til tonight. I committed a few hours to the food back a while back.” She gave him a sheepish grin. “Actually, I think I told them I’d come back the last time we were there together.”
Contrary to popular belief, Don wasn’t entirely stupid. He had stepped on this landmine before and after the meal they’d just shared, he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
“You know,” he said, turning back to her, “could they use another set of hands? I have been told I need a hobby.”
Judy's jaw dropped open for a moment before she recovered enough to reply.
“Are you sure? I know it's not your thing.” This was a lovely gesture, but Judy didn't want him to regret it.
“Judy, I think this should be obvious by now, but I like spending time with you.” Don squared his shoulders and faced her fully. “If that’s where you’re gonna be, I want to be there too.”
Judy's smile, which had grown slowly as he spoke, finally took over her whole face.
“Don, that is just the sweetest goddamm thing. They can always use another set of hands.”
Judy hopped out of her seat and grabbed his hand.
“C’mon,” she said, racing for the door, “if we get there early, we'll have a few minutes to fool around before everyone else gets there.”
And Don wasn't stupid. He hurried to keep up with her and hoped that for the first time in his life, he’d get where he was going early.